10 Must-Dos in London

10 Must-Dos in London
10 Must-Dos in London

Venice Trip Report

Venice Trip Report
Venice Trip Report

Disneyland California Trip

Disneyland California Trip
Disneyland California Trip

Walt Disney World ICP - Day 78 - My first visit to Disneyland: The best day of my life - 19th August 2013

Disclaimer: This is a long blog post which only attests to how much I loved today.

This morning Becky maingated herself, me and Rachael into the park so we all had a 1-day, 2 park hopper to explore the parks with. We started off the day with the premiere ride here - Radiator Springs Racers. This is where you get in a car from the hit-film ‘Cars’ and race against another car - I was so, so excited for this land and it did not disappoint. It was beautiful in every way possible. Radiator Springs Racers in particular has to be one of my favourite rides - it’s just so much fun, the characters inside the ride are incredible and it really is one of those things that you just have to experience in person. The key is to be there at park opening when we got on in 30 minutes instead of 90 minutes or more - but it does have a single rider line which is useful.

Radiator Springs Racers

Cars Land

Radiator Springs Racers - one car always beats the other in the race

I am so glad that I came to Anaheim to Disneyland for Cars Land alone. It is so worth a visit! That’s me excluding the rest of the park which is stunning too, and I instantly started to like it a lot more than Disney World. At California adventure they have the best of the Disney World parks all in one place, Toy Story Midway Mania is really fun, just as it is in Florida, with queues often being some of the longest in the park at 30-45 minutes; California Screamin’ is a really fun rollercoaster - it doesn’t have any particularly incredible elements but it is just fun and a long ride; Soarin’ is a fun ride with only a 20-30 minute wait unlike at EPCOT in Walt Disney World where it regularly gets 2 hour waits. Test Track and Radiator Springs Racers use the side ride system by the way with Radiator Springs winning by a long shot. The Tower of Terror is here too for those who enjoy that.  There’s even a land in the park dedicated to It’s a Bugs Life - how great is that!

We also went on this today which is a ferris wheel which rocks - terrifying!

One of the best themed areas in my opinion is the Grizzly Peak area with Grizzly River Run being a fun water raft ride that gets everyone at least a bit wet, but one or two people get soaked! It’s a much longer ride that Kali River Rapids in Disney World, gets quite a bit of speed and is really fun to ride.

It's a bug's land.

Grizzly Peak area

The Aladdin musical is hilarious and set in an actual theatre with proper seats and lasts about 45 minutes! This is almost worth the admission price on its own. Buena Vista Street at the park entrance is nice and nostalgic, and overall there’s just so many fantastic things in this park to do. I highly, highly recommend a visit.
Aladdin: The Musical with the hilarious genie.

When it hit about 3 o’clock we were tired so we headed back to the hotel and came back for the 6 o’clock parade at Disneyland to meet Becky and Rachael. Here’s another cool thing - they repeat the parades at each park twice a day! Soundsational has to be the best parade I’ve ever seen - the musical theme is great, the characters are actually stunning, and look so so much like the cartoon versions, the performers play live music, the floats are great and it’s a 20-minute long parade.

Jack went over to California Adventure and I tried to do some of the rides that aren’t available at Disney World with the girls such as Snow White, Pinnochio’s Scary Adventures and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. It was fun to ride and re-ride some of these classics. The Matterhorn Bobsleds ride was unfortunately closed until Friday which was frustrating but hopefully I’ll get on it then.

We went through the park and did bits and bobs and eventually it was time to get something to eat before watching the 9.30pm shows of the ‘Magical’ fireworks and little did we know how our night was about to change. We couldn’t decide where to eat so I and Jack ate at one place and the girls at another in Tomorrowland. What happened next was purely the result of luck and incredible timing.

Jack and Becky were walking and talking and I and Rachael were doing the same. We were both ride operators at Disney World and were saying how annoying strollers were there when they were parked in the wrong place, and how one of our favourite things to do at work was to move people’s strollers as far away as possible if they did this (Yes it’s mean, but people learn their lesson and it’s fun :P). We said this as we both put our drinks in a bin and as a Cast Member was there moving the strollers.

We kept walking and a couple of steps later, he called for us and said he’d just overheard our conversation. He asked us if we were former Cast Members and we replied “Yeah” so we stopped and chatted to him (his name was Julius, from Star Tours by the way) about how we’d just finished the Disney World college program and how we both worked there. He seemed gobsmacked to hear that we’d worked there and he was just so interested in our program that it made us feel really special, something you don’t feel when working at Disney World where CPs are seen as bottom of the pack. It was a really nice change. Jack and Becky caught up with us at this point and we all had a discussion about how different it was here and there. For example at DW we call our co-ordinators ‘co-ordinators’ whereas they call them ‘leads’ and we call parade people ‘PAC’, they call them ‘PSO’ or something.

A few other Cast Members got involved in the conversation and soon there was a PAC person, a VIP cast member, us and a couple of Star Tours cast all discussing the differences between working at the two parks. He then offered us rider switch cards so we could get on Star Tours at any point and also gave us some cute cards with Stitch on them telling us we can re-ride when we’re tall enough as a souvenir. This was great and we were so grateful. He asked us what we were going to do next and we said “Watch the Fireworks” and we had a debate about how we’d heard Wishes was much better and he said Magical was better (though the VIP Cast Member disagreed) and so we were told we might be able to get into the VIP viewing area for the fireworks and were escorted off.

'Magical' fireworks from the VIP area - a perfect view.
I cannot tell you how special we all felt being able to walk through the crowds, past the ropes and being taken to a special roped off area just at the right distance from the castle. Here we were able to sit on benches and relax and truly appreciate the fireworks. Nothing would ever match this view. As such when the fireworks came on I didn’t really get any photos as I was so enthralled in them and knew I’d see them again later so I had to appreciate this view. Even though the fireworks weren’t my favourite (Wishes is much better), the view was incredible and they do have Dumbo flying over the castle (and Tinkerbell for a long time), and proper shooting stars which they don’t at Disney World. Oh, and there was even a proposal during the fireworks in the VIP section which was cute to watch. To top it all off, Rachael gave me two of her un-used 1-day tickets which really made my day as it meant I'd be able to visit Disneyland a few times when she was gone. I really cannot thank her enough. The whole experience had completely made my night, my trip, my life and there was more to come. I cannot thank Julius enough, he’s the nicest Cast Member I’d ever met and he really did go above and beyond.

We had planned to see Fantasmic at 10.30pm which is easily doable when you have the two shows in one park so with our Rider Switch cards we rode Star Tours and then walked over to Fantasmic. We got there maybe 10 minutes before it started and got a perfect view of the show.

The Dragon in the Disneyland version of Fantasmic
The show is much better than the one at Hollywood Studios with more elaborate sets, more fireworks, more projections and it’s longer too. Don’t get me wrong, it is 90% the same as the Disney World version but it seems that at Disney World they got rid of all the best bits - like the huge animatronic dragon in California, the pirate ship and some of the projection sequences. I was so glad I hadn’t watched it in advance online and really enjoyed the show.

We had five minutes left until park close so opted for a quick ride on Splash Mountain. The ride is similar to the Disney World version but shorter and...you get wet. Very wet. Especially sitting at the front, as Rachael found out. She left the ride drenched - as wet as if she’d been in the shower. At that point, it was the end of the day and we were ready to leave - each of us at least a bit wet and still excited form the fireworks and Fantasmic.

Soaked on Splash Mountain

We couldn’t however leave without thanking Julius so we went to Guest Services at City Hall and did exactly that - though we couldn’t say what he’d done for us as allowing Cast into the VIP viewing area is a no-no. So when the Cast Member there (sorry, we didn't get your name!) asked what Julius did for us we said “He was very courteous, he had good show, was very efficient and very safe.”

Jack then mentioned that we weren’t weirdos who simply knew the 4 keys and then we explained how we’d just finished the College Program as Cast Members. She said she wouldn’t have been surprised if we were just guests as the locals know stuff like that here. She asked us all about our college program, and when I said I worked at Philharmagic I got the reaction that everyone gives me “Oh, I LOVE Philharmagic!” - Julius said the same thing. The Cast Member asked if there was anything we hadn’t done that we’d like to do tomorrow. It was Rachael and Becky’s last night before going to New York tonight so it was up to me and Jack - we said “Space Mountain” as we hadn’t ridden it yet. She left for a second to go and get us our surprise. I looked down at the guest comment card and she’d written “Very safety” in the commotion which made me laugh.

She came back with First Visit pins for everyone and also gave us a Fastpass valid for up to 6 people made out for tomorrow for Space Mountain. This was truly the icing on the cake and not something we’d been expecting so we really appreciated it. We thanked her and knew that it had been a stroke of luck to get all that magic tonight so I guess we have to thank all the guests who park their strollers in the wrong place for all that luck. So “thank you!”

Our Fastpass for the next day!
It does seem like the cast at Disneyland are even more empowered to go “above and beyond” than we were at Disney World, even if we were encouraged to do it. The Fastpasses, the height check cards as souvenirs, letting us into the VIP area for the fireworks - it all attests to Disney's fantastic guest service and the cast members who make the magic. It cost Disney nothing but gave us memories to last a lifetime and made our visit an unforgettable one!

Next Post: Walt Disney World ICP - Day 79 - I'm at the original Disneyland! - 20th August 2013

Walt Disney World ICP - Day 77 - Over to LA! - 18th August 2013

Before hopping on the flight over to LA there was one place I needed to visit and that was Grand Central Station. Even though visiting it would take me out of the way by 30 minutes, that’s exactly what I did. And it was worth the trip - it was beautiful inside and truly evoked an era where train travel was glamorous and really only a domain for the rich.

Grand Central Terminal - stunning.
The station even has a small shopping mall. For lunch it was a nearby Five Guys burgers which ticks another thing off my bucket list - the burger was incredible, by far the best burger I have ever had. The fries not so much, but definitely go there for the burgers - they are made fresh as well!

Waiting for our flight at Newark airport.

The flight over to LA was uneventful which is always nice. United decided it’d be smart to charge for the in-flight entertainment after thirty minutes so that went unused, but surprisingly the 6 hours flew by (no pun intended, ha ha) which really surprised me.

We boarded the Disneyland Express which seemed really dodgy and is totally unaffiliated with the Orlando version run by Disney. Whilst on the trip Jack texted Rachael and Becky who also did the ICP and who were already in Disneyland. This bus service isn’t run by Disney, is charged and has no magic at all - so don’t expect it to be anything like the Disney Magical Express if you’ve used that before. We eventually arrived about 45 minutes later in Anaheim and we had a bit of a surprise as Rachael had offered to “maingate” us into the park to watch World of Color.

We checked into our hotel at the Best Western Plus Pavilions being a bit wary about the outside, but we were very impressed when we went in at the cleanliness and size of the rooms, as well as the amenities offered. Next we speed-walked all the way to the theme parks.

Let me explain “maingating” quickly for those of you who are wondering what that is - essentially as a Disney employee we get a shiny blue card which allows us and 3 guests to enter any of the Disney parks around the world for free for 6 or 12 days depending on your contract length. Unlike the Disney ID which we used to get into the parks in Orlando, the maingate has no expiry date on it and expires one year after issuance. So, we were allowed to use this to get into Disneyland for free! We met Rachael and Becky just after 9:30pm and they main-gated us into California Adventure.

The park is absolutely stunning - I literally cannot put it into words so hopefully I’ll be able to post a lot of photos of the park to show you. Particularly impressive is Cars Land where Radiator Springs Racers allows you to experience the world of cars for yourself as you actually race in Radiator Springs. It is beautiful and looks like so much fun!

We walked over to World of Color and went into the 10.15pm show where they weren’t taking Fastpasses as it was so quiet in the park. We waited for the show to begin and from the moment it started I was mesmerised - it is over 25 minutes of non-stop incredible music, projections and incredibly powerful fountains.

World of Color
Photo: DisneyTouristBlog.com
Just take a moment to go watch a few seconds of the show from 00:57 on YouTube below and prepare to be amazed.

To end the night we went to Denny’s by our hotel and had a breakfast/pancake thing which was really nice and I can see becoming a staple of our days. We looked into the park schedules whilst there as well and incredibly the parks both open at 8AM every single day with early entry from 7AM - and I thought we were crazy at the Magic Kingdom! Disneyland Park closes at 11PM whilst we’re here and it’s 10PM for California Adventure. On the weekends they close an hour later - that just seems like an incredibly long operating day to me.

Next Post: Walt Disney World ICP - Day 78 - My first visit to Disneyland: The best day of my life - 19th August 2013

Walt Disney World ICP - Day 75 & 76 - Exploring New York - 16th and 17th August 2013

16th Aug
I was up nice and early because I had booked myself to be on a walking tour for a large part of today. The tour was by Free Tours by Foot and lasted 6 hours covering Lower Manhattan in quite a bit of detail. We explored all kinds of different areas from the big hotspots such as the 9/11 memorial site to Little Italy, Wall Street, Chinatown and some lesser known areas.

On Wall Street - if you close closely on the ground near here you can see a part of the original wall which stood on this site.

The tour did include a lunch break for an hour and a second 15 minute break too. The tour could have been really lonely as most of the other people were in groups, but I got chatting to a French guy called Alex who was living the dream - an internship in New York for 6 months where he gets paid, has an apartment, free travel and free gym membership. What more could you want? The tour was fantastic and I thoroughly recommend it - although it is a walking tour, you do use the subway twice to save time whilst travelling across town.

After the tour I went back to the apartment and relaxed for an hour or so as I had something very special lined up - a broadway show.

I had heard rave reviews about Newsies on broadway so I booked tickets more than 6 months in advance. I got some great seats. The show itself was incredible with great singing and a fantastic storyline about how the Pulitzer enterprises tried to charge newsboys more for “papes” (newspapers) and they instigated a rebellion changing the future of newsboys forever. It may have even made it into the top spot of my favourite theatre show ever, though I’d have to think about that one carefully.

17th Aug
I met up with Jack today who I will soon be traveling to LA with. He had spent the last few days in Washington DC and raved about it so that’s somewhere I’ll definitely have to visit in the future. Today though, the aim was to explore a bit more of Manhattan. I only really had two full days in New York so I had a lot to get covered today and that’s exactly what we did.

We met up at 9:30am at Penn station and got the subway downtown to board the Staten Island ferry.

The ferry is one of those fantastic things that everyone should do whilst in New York and it’s completely free! Essentially it’s a leisurely form of transportation from Manhattan to Staten Island but the best bit is that it goes right past the Statue of Liberty allowing you to get some great views (and photos) of it. Once we reached Staten Island we walked around a bit looking at the architecture - it feels very European and very much unlike Manhattan, and then we got the next ferry going back to the city centre.

Next, it was a walk to the Brooklyn Bridge which I had had the bright idea of crossing, once we reached it we were exhausted and decided against it. Instead we walked to the nearby 9/11 memorial. On the walking tout the day before, the tour guide told us how to get tickets for the memorial free of charge at a visitor centre, so we headed there. Whilst we were waiting in line for the tickets, a man came past with tickets he no longer wanted and gave them out to the last few people in line, so I and Jack got tickets to go into the memorial without having to queue which was great.

I was much more excited than I should've been to see this Apple store.

The rest of the day was spent shopping, walking around Central Park and just admiring the city. One of the highlights of the day was sitting in Central Park with Jack and a man putting a speaker on the bench next to us. We moved to a different bench so we could have a look at what was happening. Over the next 15 minutes or so, people from all walks of life turned up and sat on the bench, the man got some talcum powder out and wrote "Tango" on the floor and started to play music. People got up and started to tango in the middle of the park in a free tango class. It looked like great fun and everyone was enjoying themselves.

The start of the tango class.
We caught the subway and went for dinner at Outback Steakhouse to round off the night - the steak wasn't too bad at all! It was really good to get to see a bit more of the city today, but I will definitely need to come back to see the city better as tomorrow I only really have a few hours in the city before I have to fly to LA.

Next Post: Walt Disney World ICP - Day 77 - Over to LA! - 18th August 2013

Walt Disney World ICP - Day 74 - New York here I come! - 15th August 2013

So today was the day for me to make my way to New York, the city that never sleeps. I got the Magical Express at 8:45am, which was actually the one before mine but I managed to get on board anyway as it wasn’t too busy.

Breakfast at the airport was at McDonald’s as there were no remotely healthy choices. I felt really bad for having breakfast there but I did need to eat.

The plane journey started off very well - I was surprised to get offered a drink throughout the flight as that wasn’t something you’d get back in Europe for such a short flight. Then about two hours into the flight the captain told us that because there was a holding pattern in Newark and there were at least ten aircraft ahead of us we wouldn’t have enough fuel to hold for an hour above New York so we were going to have to stop in Washington D.C. for a quick refuel. This quick refuel ended up taking about an hour and a half and then we had to wait an extra 30 minutes on the runway before take off. It was an absolute joke and the flight ended up taking closer to 5 hours than the 2h45 that was originally scheduled.

The view of Manhattan from the AirTrain at Newark Airport

When we eventually arrived, as I had no checked bags, it was a quick journey out of the airport as domestic flights don’t go through immigration or customs. I used the AirTrain to get from Terminal C to B and had a Subway sandwich there, and then made my way to New York Penn station on the NJ Transit. I was really surprised by how old the trains were with brown leather seats. It was very odd.

My housemate Tom had told me that going to New York was like “stepping into a film” and it really really was. As soon as I came out at Penn station I thought “Wow, this is exactly like how I imagined it.” There were the yellow cabs everywhere, the huge skyscrapers, all the people, the smoke coming out to the road from the subway, etc. After one day I could already tell that New Yorkers are definitely more rude than Floridians and have an “i’ts-all-about-me” attitude. Good customer service isn’t really the norm here clearly either. It’s a bit like London but Londoners are definitely more friendly!

Times Square!

It was only a 15-minute walk to my hostel, so instead of getting the subway one stop I walked it and I got to take in New York a bit more on the way too. The hostel is in a great location - right in the middle of the very expensive and fashionable district of Chelsea and just opposite a police station so safety wasn’t going to be a concern. The room is basic, as I expected, with nothing but a bed and lockers but the ensuite bathroom is spotless and so much better than what I had back in my Disney housing so I can’t complain really - and I’m in the heart of Manhattan which is so, so convenient.

After dumping my things, I bought a weekly MetroCard for $31 and went over to go to the Top of the Rock - I bought tickets for an hour later at 10:05pm and went up to enjoy the view. It was really cool seeing New York from above and central park being a huge part of that in the middle, but I feel it would have been much better during sunset - that was the original plan but the airline delays ruined it. So, if I ever came back, it’d be just before sunset. I had a photo taken at the top as well as part of the premium ticket which made for a nice memento. One of the best things about the Top of the Rock is that you can get a photo with the Empire State building in the background which you can’t do on that building itself.

View of the Empire State Building from the Top of the Rock

I took the subway home - they’re fast and 24/7, but not the cleanest - and went to bed shattered. I’ve got a busy day planned tomorrow.

Next Post: Walt Disney World ICP - Day 75 & 76 - Exploring New York - 16th and 17th August 2013

Walt Disney World ICP - Day 72 & 73 - Universal and Resort Hopping - 13th to 14th August 2013

13th Aug
Once again, somehow we managed to enter the Universal parks around 9:40am but this time we headed for Universal Studios first. Rip Ride Rockit was first via single rider and I was on within 15 minutes. Then I wanted to re-ride the Mummy with my brother as it was only a 10 minute wait and my parents went to see Disaster. The plan was to meet in front of Men in Black.

Whilst on Revenge of the Mummy our train stopped on a block brake, an automated announcement came on and we sat in near darkness for about 10 minutes. The lights came on and I knew we were going to be evacuated. A message played confirming this and we were evacuated so we got to see the Revenge of the Mummy ride with lights on which essentially is a big building with black curtains everywhere and a rollercoaster track going through it. It was my first coaster evac! And we got to see backstage at  Universal which surprise surprise is exactly the same as at Disney - boring steel containers and unpainted walls. I could tick a coaster evac and seeing backstage at Universal off my invisible bucket list though. Once we were evac-ed, we were given a re-admission slip as compensation which allowed us to skip the line for one ride of our choice.

The new spinning ride Twirl n Hurl in the Simpsons area was next. It’s just like Dumbo but you can target the Simpsons characters whilst going round. It’s been opened for only a few days so we were one of the first people on it! I also got a photo with Duff Man and Chief Wiggum.

The ET ride was next, along with the Woody WoodPecker kids coaster. Animal Actors was next and it was a below-average show; Flights of Wonder at Animal Kingdom is ten times better. We all enjoyed Terminator 3D which is still astounding as to how good the 3D effects are and how well everything works together. Shrek was also good though I got a lot more wet this time than I last remember. Transformers and Despicable Me both had queues of 100 minutes and no-one was particularly fussed about them so we ventured over to Islands of Adventure.

There was really only one goal here - to ride Jurassic Park. We used our re-admission slip to skip the line which was great. I and my brother were in the front seats and we got drenched. I got so much more wet than last time I rode it.

I wanted a last ride on the Hulk before I left so I waited 20 minutes for that. Then, my entire holiday came full circle: the first ride I experienced in Orlando was the Amazing Adventures of Spiderman and that’s how I finished it, with it being my last ride. It was fantastic as usual and I can’t say there’s any other rollercoaster else like it - it is just pure fun.

Thinking about it, my favourite 3 rides in Orlando are all outside of Disney World - Number 1 is the Incredible Hulk, Number 2 is Spiderman and Number 3 is Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. If I had to choose a number 4 it’d be Manta at Seaworld.

Overall, everyone in my family was really glad they came to Universal and said it was great to see something different - something other than Disney.

14th Aug
Today the only thing in the plans was to return our car so we slept in a bit. We went to Premium Outlets to get me a Disney holdall for my travels to New York and Los Angeles. It was only $10 and our baggage space was getting more and more limited as we begun to pack.

We dropped off the car near Magic Kingdom and used our return shuttle service to take us to Wilderness Lodge, instead of our actual hotel. I showed my parents around the hotel and they both loved it saying that we might even stay there one day. We got one of the boat launches over to Fort Wilderness which was nice to see. It really is a campground and it was my first visit to this resort so that’s another one ticked off the list.

Walt Disney World resort boat launches
After that, we got a boat launch over to Contemporary for lunch at the Cafe which is really laid back and I bought a second Kingdom Keepers book to keep me entertained even though I was only half way through the first.

We went back home to Pop Century, relaxed and then I went to watch the fireworks at EPCOT from the fifth floor of our hotel. Admittedly you couldn’t see the ball or the water fountains but I timed it to a recording on YouTube and heard the music looking back and forth from my phone and the real fireworks in the distance. It was a bit odd but I’m glad I did it.

I walked to my room, grabbed dinner and finished packing. Tomorrow we’re off - my parents and brother are going back to London and I’m off to New York. I’m so excited!

Next Post: Walt Disney World ICP - Day 74 - New York here I come! - 15th August 2013

Walt Disney World ICP - Day 69 to 71 - I'm finally on holiday! - 10th to 12th August 2013

10th Aug
I woke up to the realisation that it was all over. The college program was done. It was a bittersweet moment, but it also meant that today was the real beginning of my summer holiday.

To kick things of it was time for a visit to the beach. Yes, I’d been living in Florida for over two months and not once been to the beach. So the plan was to go to the best one in Florida, Clearwater Beach. I had booked us a hotel about twenty minutes away from the beach and we got there around midday. Check-in wasn’t until 3 o’clock but we thought we’d try and check anyway. Lo and behold the rooms weren’t ready but we were told that they would be in about an hour.

Photo: TripAdvisor
So, we made plans for the beach but only ten minutes into the journey I spotted a sign for Steak n Shake and we stopped off. After lunch we went back to hotel, checked in and then drove down to the beach.

We were at the beach for 4 or 5 hours which was nice but I wouldn’t have wanted to stay any longer. It was a nice change from the parks though. The sand was so white and the water was so warm...I’d never seen anything like it and we all declared it the best beach we’d ever been to. One advantage of being on the beach was that I could catch up with reading which is exactly which I did with Kingdom Keepers, a series based in Disney theme parks. It’s not a literary marvel but it is a fun read...so much fun that I easily got through 100 pages in a couple of hours. Dinner was at Applebee’s and it was interesting seeing how a local one was very different from one in Orlando - this one was more intimate, darker, smaller and themed better. I preferred the Orlando Applebee’s more anyway.

11th Aug
Today was the second day at the beach and there’s not much to report - it’s a beach at the end of the day. We checked out, headed to the beach and relaxed. I went for a walk along sea which was nice and popped into a few shops, including the very popular Ron’s Surf Shop which everyone seems to have a T-shirt from. I bought a Clearwater top and we went to get some souvenirs before driving back to Orlando.

12th Aug
We were meant to be at Universal at 9am. However, my family were clearly not as excited as I...nor did they believe me when I said the queues were horrendous at Universal. After driving in and exchanging their vouchers for tickets, we eventually got in Islands of Adventure at 9:35am. We dashed straight for Harry Potter to find the wait time posted at 90 minutes. I convinced my parents to wait in line to see the queue and they really enjoyed the inside of Hogwarts. It actually took 60 minutes to get to the front of the ride, instead of 90 minutes which was great.

The Phoenix at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
The rest of the day we hit other popular rides such as Spiderman which everyone enjoyed and Hulk which I went on my own through single rider as my brother was too scared (there was not a single person in this line and I walked straight onto the ride with no wait!). We did the Seuss Landings rides but not Cat in the Hat as the wait was ridiculous. We also steered clear of the water rides as my brother didn’t want to get wet as he was wearing all-white clothes. Finally, we watched the Sindbad show which to be honest I can’t recommend. It wasn’t great.

We called it a day for a few hours and went over to check-in to our hotel by Universal. We were surprised at how close it was to Universal being only a 10-15 minute walk away or a couple of minutes’ drive.

We relaxed for a few hours and at night we went back. We only really had time to do one or two things before the nighttime show but I had already forewarned my parents that the show wasn’t great. We ventured over to Universal Studios and rode Revenge of the Mummy whilst my parents grabbed an ice-cream. Men in Black was also fun and we have a good family photo on there. My PhotoConnect card has definitely paid itself off with all the photos I've got over the past few months.

Inside the Men in Black queue line - so cool!

The Simpsons Ride was loved by my brother, but hated by my parents as they said it feels like a real rollercoaster - they have no idea. The fireworks and projection show didn’t really impress anyone so we walked out before it concluded looking back at the finale whilst leaving.

Next Post: Walt Disney World ICP - Day 72 and 73 - Universal and Resort Hopping - 13th to 14th August 2013

Walt Disney World ICP - Day 67 & 68 - The end of a journey - 8th and 9th August 2013

8th Aug
Today the reality that my program was coming to an end really hit home. What with graduation last week and my final day of work yesterday, it really set in today when I had to pack up my room. My mum came over to help clean and empty out my room and it was really sad seeing it empty. Blair was at the parks with his friends and Dan was with his parents so I never got to say a proper goodbye to either which was sad but hopefully we’ll see each other in the future. It really seems that you only get to say goodbye to those you spend most the time with and towards the end of the program that was my Fantasyland friends!

It’s almost impossible to say bye to everyone you met on the program!

 I checked out of the apartment, handed in my key, kept my Disney ID card and nametag as souvenirs and was bid “good luck” by the front desk!

The room I've spent the whole summer in...empty :(
My parents, brother and I went to Walmart and I bought us a Disney photo frame and photo folder for $8 each which was a bargain compared to the park prices. Admittedly they weren’t quite as nice but they were a great deal!

After that it was the Poly beach for Wishes which was great, followed by a tour of the other resorts around the Seven Seas lagoon as my family had yet to go on the monorail.

9th Aug
Today I checked into Pop Century officially with my parents which meant having to check out and back in again, but we kept the same room which was good. The goal for today was to visit all four theme parks and do the things which were left in each. I’ll let you know now...we failed.

At Animal Kingdom I rode Expedition Everest through the single rider line, then we all went to watch the Festival of the Lion King which was great of course, and Flights of Wonder which surprised me by how entertaining it was! It was really quite funny!

Lunch was at the Captain's Grille at the Yacht Club which was delicious and Cast get 40% off dining at select resorts which made the meal even better!

The lobster sliders were incredible!

We walked over to Epcot and my family wanted to watch a few of the shows at World Showcase, so while they ventured to Reflections of France and the American Adventure I went and rode Test Track as a single rider. At this point we realised we were shattered and if there was one thing I wanted to do today it was watch Wishes on Main Street, so we called it a day for now by going back to Pop Century. Walking past Spaceship Earth I thought it would be a shame not to do a last quick ride on it so off I went with my brother - fun as usual.

Back at the hotel, I had a nice two-hour long nap, only then realising how tired I was. The night was perfect just as planned, though my Dad decided not to come. We watched Celebrate the Magic, followed by Wishes with a few more tears in my eyes...but no crying. Then it was time to tick off a few of my favourites after I had dinner at Cosmic Rays. In 30 minutes I rode Under the Sea, followed by Philharmagic where I said a final final goodbye to Oriol, Patricia and Ashleigh and then it was a quick dash to Space Mountain. As well as this I even managed to fit in getting my graduation ears embroidered.

We got a few final photos of Main Street with my graduation ears and I walked out for the very last time. It felt so strange hearing the turnstile click as I went through and knowing I wouldn't be coming back in - it was the end of an incredible journey.

A last look at the castle before it all ended.
The Disney international college program was the best summer of my life, I met some incredible people, made incredible unforgettable memories and had incredible fun. To anyone considering doing it - do it, apply! You will love it and I can guarantee you won’t regret it one bit. It’s a time unlike any other you’ll ever have in your life. Apply now and have memories you will cherish for a lifetime.

P.S. I’ll be doing a full post on the pros and cons of the Disney College Program in the near future on the blog.

P.P.S - If you were simply here reading about the Disney college program experience then you can stop reading now. However, if you want the rest of my summer’s blog then here’s what you can look forward to: Clearwater beach with the family, Universal Florida, New York, Disneyland in Anaheim, Hollywood, LA and Universal Studios Hollywood and anything else that crops up in between. Just keep reading the blog for more future posts. Either way thank you for your readership.


Walt Disney World ICP - Day 66 - My last day at work - 7th August 2013

It was time to visit Hollywood Studios this morning with the family and I managed to ride Toy Story which everyone enjoyed. I and my brother went on Rock N Rollercoaster, we all went to see the Indiana Jones show, we saw the full Backlot tour show, and did a few other bits and bobs.

The backlot tour at Disney's Hollywood Studios

I went over to the Magic Kingdom for work and allowed plenty of time to get there. As I was so early it was time for some shopping. One of the staples I buy every time I go to Disneyland Paris is a calendar and I’ve had Disney parks calendars on my wall for the last two years. I was in luck here as I found something I had never seen before - a 16-month Walt Disney World calendar! It covers September 2013 to December 2014 so that’s next year’s calendar covered. I was genuinely a lot more excited than I should’ve been but I was really pleased to have bought it.

As I walked up Main Street I caught the finale of the Dream Along with Mickey show but the characters had to leave a bit before the end due to the thunder so they just set off all the fireworks and let the song play till the end which was weird to see having seen the real finale.

As it was my last day of work, my goal was to create as much magic as possible. I spent a good half an hour tasking by blowing bubbles with a little girl dressed as Tinkerbell who said she’d rather blow bubbles than watch the fireworks. Her mum said that was fine and she’d let her do whatever made her happy - it really is true, the most simple things are what make kids happy, not these lavish experiences and rides - sometimes something as simple as blowing bubbles can make a kid’s day. Her mum got great photos, I was having fun and the girl was loving life.

When Wishes came on I was in the greeter position at Philhar so it looked like I was not going to be able to see the fireworks as I was under the attraction’s entrance. So, I asked Patricia to swap with me so I could do strollers - this meant that I got a really good view of Wishes of course and I and Marly went into the crowd for our last ever viewing of the fireworks as she was leaving today too. Tears were in my eyes but I refrained from crying as Marly told me not to. We went our separate ways to continue the night and I never got to say goodbye to Marly - she was a really cool girl and a great friend. Marly did say she didn’t do goodbyes and she stuck to her word!

Throughout the night as people left it was goodbye after goodbye. I initially thought I wouldn’t mind the goodbyes but they were actually really sad, but I assured everyone if they ever came to London they’d have a place to stay. So hopefully it will be more of a “See ya real soon!” than a goodbye. I closed the Philhar theatre today which was a fitting way of ending my time here and it was a sad moment when the guests handed me the glasses as they left after the last show.

Philharmagic empty after closing
At Track Talk (when we review the day as a group at the end of the night) one of the coordinators mentioned it was my last day so I had a round of applause which nearly got me all emotional again - even if most of my friends I had made had left the week earlier those who were still there I was still really close to and it was a heart-touching moment. The manager did a little congratulations speech for me, asked what I was doing after the program and how long I had left in school and said she hoped to see me back one day. We all rushed to CDS to clock out and Mickey appeared on the screen for the very last time to “Thank you for helping Make the Magic.”

Next Post: Walt Disney World ICP - Day 67 & 68 - The end of a journey - 8th and 9th August 2013

Walt Disney World ICP - Days 63 to 65 - Work, Work, Work - 4th to 6th August 2013

4th Aug
We were up bright and early today at 7:30am and got to Animal Kingdom just after opening - Expedition Everest was first, followed by Dinosaur which my mum actually went on - she said it wasn’t as bad as she thought it would be. Next I and my brother rode Primeval Whirl, followed by a family ride on Dinorama. Kali River Rapids was next while my parents watched the Finding Nemo Musical. We got soaked as we went directly backwards - it was fun but my brother was not pleased. To dry off we ventured onto Expedition Everest again with Fastpasses and then the whole family rode the Safari which we all really enjoyed. We also took a quick journey over to Rafiki’s Planet Watch.

By 1:30pm we were done with most of the big attractions, except the trails, Tough to be a Bug, Lion King, and Flights of Wonder. I got the bus to the TTC, the monorail over to the Magic Kingdom whilst my family went back to the hotel. I got to work early so did the WDW Railroad again. Work was uneventful from 16:00 to 02:45, whilst my parents visited the World Showcase at Epcot.

5th Aug
So after finishing at 2:45pm yesterday the last thing I needed was to get home and my room door be locked. Basically, my roommate had locked it and didn’t open it when I banged on the door in the middle of the night. Cue me sleeping in the empty room with no bedding fully in costume and almost freezing to death. The best bit? I had work at 11am today. So, after waking up about six or seven times during the night, I then went to my room to find that the door had miraculously been unlocked after I had texted my roommate at 5am.

Work was weird as I got to hear the most ignorant conversation ever as one American at work speaking to another groaned that “I shouldn’t learn to speak other languages because I’m in America and we speak one language...American.” The question is...Is American a language? No. Other phrases included “A good 40% to 50% of all foreigners are rude”. I and a French girl Lisa just walked off unbelieving that this conversation was happening between Cast Members in our break-room. Wow.

Barring that, the 13-hour shift went by extremely quickly and I managed to give away half of my 13-hour shift tomorrow to Myriam so that’ll help ease these days.

6th Aug
I haven’t really got many notes of what happened today. I met my family at 10:30am and showed them briefly around Magic Kingdom to show them where the shows they hadn’t seen were located. After my 6 and a half hour shift I went over to Hollywood Studios to meet them again. There, it was a trip on the Great Movie Ride, a viewing of One Man’s Dream which my parents really appreciated, dinner and the finale of the night was of course Fantasmic. My mum’s said it was her favourite nighttime show even if she was half-asleep throughout it.

Fantasmic at Disney's Hollywood Studios


Walt Disney World ICP - Day 62 - EPCOT with the family - 3rd August 2013

I stayed overnight with my parents at Pop Century as I had today off. Epcot was the park of the day. My parents weren't up for Soarin' so I and my brother went on it. It was scarier than my brother thought it'd be in terms of how high up you go but he really enjoyed it.

Next, it was time for Test Track which I thought I'd managed to convince both my parents to go onto but my mum chickened out after not even one minute in line. My dad and brother loved it though.

The on-ride photo on Test Track - all on the back row
Next it was Mission Space - the orange more intense version naturally. My brother loved it but was glad he hadn't had anything for breakfast as I had recommended.

Ellen's Energy Adventure was next and my mum loved it. The others not so much.

Ellen's Energy Adventure in the Universe of Energy pavilion
Next it was Sum of all Thrills in Innoventions. The coaster we designed only went upside down twice so the operator asked if we wanted to go “upside more times?" Yes. "5 times?" "Sure!" It was great but it would have been fun to ride our own too.

Lunch was at Sunshine Seasons. Yum. It was followed by Living with the Land which my mum enjoyed, and The Circle of Life.

We then visited the Seas pavilion and did both the Nemo ride and then Turtle Talk. No one was particularly impressed with either though my parents thought the technology behind Crush was really cool.

Spaceship earth was next. They all enjoyed it, particularly the interactive section at the end.

Journey into Imagination with Figment was next which I thought no one would enjoy, but my mum, surprisingly, really enjoyed it. The end was still startling as usual as it blasts you with air.

Next we walked through the right-hand side of World Showcase without stopping, except in the UK pavilion briefly. The aim was to go to a supermarket off property. We walked to The Boardwalk to catch a bus to Downtown Disney. From there we walked 25 mins to Goodings supermarket at Crossroads and bought some essentials and snacks for non-park days. The cab back was a shocking 25 dollars.

Entrance to Downtown Disney

At the hotel we decided we'd cancel the Via Napoli reservation as we'd have to go straight back out and we were all tired. None of them are used to walking that much - my GPS tracking app on my phone said we walked about 18.6km that day so it was understandable. Clearly I was tired too as I napped for half an hour.

We got the bus for a viewing of Illuminations and said we'd have dinner back at the hotel. We got some nighttime photopass shots on the way into the park which should look very cool. Illuminations was liked by all and they said they appreciated not being packed for the fireworks like on Main Street at MK. We got a great view from the bridge between France and the UK pavilions. There's a little secret viewing area - behind the Rose & Crown pub by the chip shop - the catch is, it only opens up 10 minutes before Illuminations starts.

We walked slowly and got an Epcot ball photo holder from MouseGear that mum wanted. We caught a bus (which are very regular at park closing) and were home 15 minutes later.

We stopped by the food court and I got a salmon burger meal. The others had hamburger kids meals which are a great deal - fries, burger, dessert and juice for only $6! It's a small burger but it's half the price of an adult meal! We paid $25 for all 4 with a $5 cast discount - great deal and tasty.

The plan was meant to be for Hollywood Studios tomorrow but I noticed they need a slower-paced park so I'm going to go with them to Animal Kingdom in the morning and then go to work for 4pm until 2:45am shift. Good luck to me - only 4 days of work left!

Next Post: Walt Disney World ICP - Days 63 to 65 - Work, Work, Work - 4th to 6th August 2013

Walt Disney World ICP - Day 61 - Taking the family to the most magical place on earth!... - 2nd August 2013

We were up bright and early at 7am and got the bus at 8:10am for the opening show at the Magic Kingdom. When we arrived at the Magic Kingdom at 8:35 the turnstiles weren’t working so we were allowed in and one of my complimentary days didn’t get used which was great. As a Cast Member I get 6 free entry days on my program for up to 3 guests but my first day wasn’t used so if my parents want they can still go in another 6 times!

We watched the opening show at 8:45am and I could see that everyone was enjoying themselves by their smiles - even my Dad and brother!

The Welcome Show in the Morning
Photo: Disney Parks Blog
We started off the day with Space Mountain for myself and my brother whilst my parents went on the PeopleMover. We grabbed a Fastpass for Splash Mountain and went for breakfast at Starbucks. Peter Pan was next and luckily my friend Tori was working so we got on through the disabled access lane and skipped the entire queue. This was followed by Pooh and the Barnstormer which my dad rode which surprised me - he was clearly scared. Dumbo was next, followed by Under the Sea and then it was time to use our Splash Mountain fastpass. Splash was down, so we went on the Haunted Mansion, got a Big Thunder fastpass and had lunch.

We then rode the Flying Carpets and Pirates of the Caribbean which everyone agreed was rubbish compared to the Parisian version. Pirates had the longest queue of the day at 30 minutes long. Then it was time to use the fastpasses for both the Frontierland mountains and we watched the parade. It was 3:15pm and we had done most of the park! The plan had worked. We left the park as everyone else was tired and chilled at the hotel for a few hours.

We had dinner at Tony’s and as we were on the way out of the hotel we saw my Canadian friend Marie Pier who I’d said a final goodbye to the day before - what were the chances?! We got the bus to the Magic Kingdom, did a tour of the park on the Walt Disney World Railroad and went for dinner at Tony’s.

I can’t say I can recommend the food there - we were thoroughly disappointed.

Next we watched the 9PM electrical parade where a really rude PAC Cast Member kept shouting at everyone to move, instead of using her manners. She was by far the worst Cast Member I have ever encountered. It was then a night of action as we watched Celebrate the Magic, then Wishes. We rode Buzz Lightyear, watched the Carousel of Progress and finished off the night with the last ride on the Tomorrowland Speedway - an action packed day!

Next Post: Walt Disney World ICP - Day 62 - EPCOT with the family - 3rd August 2013

Walt Disney World ICP - Days 59 to 60 - Goodbyes and Hellos - 31st July to 1st August 2013

31st July
Today was our graduation ceremony when we all got to dress up and celebrate completing our program. I went over with Dan to Chatham square field where the event was being held. We got a wristband on the way in which would later allow us to get free food. First though, we went over to collect our certificates of completion and our memory box that Disney provides, it’s where we can store all the little mementos of our time working at Disney and is a great souvenir.

Graduation was great as it was a chance to see people I hadn’t seen in weeks or even months! I got some photos with loads of my friends with Donald and Daisy. We also got another photo with Goofy in his graduation gear and Pluto too! At that moment I realised I’d completed my bucket list goal of getting photos with all the fab 5 characters which was great! We could have met Mickey in his graduation attire but the queue was over two hours long!

We got food next which consisted of chicken, a burger, salad and a hotdog which was delicious, as well as iced tea!

Finally, I met up with all my Philharmagic crew and we all got photos with the UK flag, the US flag and the Mexican flag which was really fun and it was nice to all have a photo together in something other than in our work uniform for once!

At work, today was also a lot of people’s last day with Ali, Argentina and Ana Victoria all leaving today. I swapped with Ana Victoria so she could see the fireworks on her last day and I took her position. It was also the last day that the carousel operated before going down for 3 weeks for refurbishment so we all got two final rides on the carousel before saying goodbye to it for the summer. After work we all went to Ale house - no ale was consumed but it was a fun evening none-the-less. Even one of our coordinators came.

The last time I'll ever have to look at the carousel panel.

1st August
Today was day 9 of 9 of work in a row, and to round it off Disney had me working from 11:00 to 23:45. I put in for an ER (early release) and thought it wouldn't be granted. Eventually around 17:00 I had resigned to thinking that it wouldn't be accepted. After my 6pm break I logged back in to CDS and noticed that today's hours had dropped dramatically. My early release request had been accepted by my manager and I was out at 18:45 - 5 hours earlier than scheduled and I could meet up with my family who were arriving today.

I texted my parents and looked online and found out that they were 2 hours delayed in Charlotte. That was after a lengthy 4 hour layover anyway so it wasn't ideal.

I also said bye to quite a few of my American friends today whilst at work as they had come especially to visit me - my housemate Kevin, and Courtney, Sarah and Katie. It was sad as I'd never see them again.

To fill time before my parents arrived, I ventured onto the Carousel of Progress and then went on the Peoplemover. Whilst in the queue I looked back and saw that my friend Marie-Pier was there. Yesterday was meant to be the final goodbye, but it was nice seeing her again. It was her last day in the parks!

We rode the Peoplemover and the friend she was with went to meet some other people, so I and Marie went to get some food. Well, I went to get some food because Marie had just eaten at Be Our Guest restaurant! We then rode Peter Pan and of course skipped the line. I still have never queued for that ride. Or even used a fastpass. It's been priority entrance all the way - friends in high (flying) places, huh?

We went to see the electrical parade next and then split for Wishes and Celebrate the Magic. Her friends were right by the castle at the front but I knew that wasn’t a very good view. We bid our final farewells.

I met up with Kevin and the others and watched Celebrate the Magic and Wishes. Blair joined us too for the fireworks even though he doesn't like Magic Kingdom apparently. At the end, all the Americans burst out into tears, with me and Blair looking on awkwardly. We got some very teary photos - they’d been here since January and it was their last time watching Wishes! Sadly I have to say that Wishes has lost it's charm for me after having watched it daily about 50 times now.

I split from them and had an emotional goodbye and promised Courtney we would see each other when I'm over in LA as she'll be working there next on the Disneyland college program in a few weeks. Wow! From one Disney program to another.

I got the guest bus over to All Star Music and waited...and waited for my parents. I explored the shop in detail and started looking through my photos on my camera to kill time. Eventually a Disney Magical Express bus pulled up and off stepped my family. It was surreal seeing them after 2 months half way across the world, but I was very happy to see them.

At check-in there was some sort of hitch as the lady said "ah ha" and then left. She came back with the offer of moving us to Pop Century as it was a newer hotel and as a thank you as I was a cast member. To be honest, I think they were just out of rooms but we were happy to take the offer as it was in fact a newer hotel.

To be fair the front desk Cast Member was great: she called a cab for us which took us directly over to Pop Century. It was complimentary and we were given a sheet which essentially acted as a voucher for the cab driver.

We pulled up to Pop a few minutes later and explained the situation and were checked in quickly. It turns out the upgrade was worth it: our room is located close to pool and lobby which is great but not so close that we’d hear the noise - awesome!

The room isn't huge but it's adequate and most importantly - it's clean! It's so much nicer than the horrible apartments we live in as Cast.

We settled in and noticed the fridge had been disabled so we made a note to let them know tomorrow morning. We also bought a couple of refillable resort mugs too. Time to take them to Magic Kingdom for the first time tomorrow.


Walt Disney World ICP - Day 58 - Seaworld!!... - 30th July 2013

I and Oriol were up bright and early and met outside my apartment at 7:45 for an exciting day at Seaworld. Today was really a spur of the moment idea but I was so excited to visit a new place! We got the 25cent-for-CMs iRide trolley and were at Seaworld at 8:30 for the 9:00am opening. The secret is that the park actually opens 15 minutes earlier so we started going in at about 8:45am. Even at 8:30am there were already a lot of people in line. Probably 200-300 which granted is a lot less than other parks but it was still a lot more people than I expected.

Oriol had an annual pass so knew the secret about the lockers - you need 4 quarters to rent one and they cannot be re-opened so he got change for them whilst we waited for park opening.

The new ride of course at Seaworld is Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin. We were on within 10 minutes which was great because the line reached 100 minutes later in the day. It was an interesting ride to see as they use the new trackless technology vehicles but they definitely didn't use them to their full potential which is a shame. The reveal with the penguins was really cool and the score was nice too, I feel it was just too over-hyped but I went in with low expectations and enjoyed it!

Next it was time to experience the flagship ride - Manta - which was my first flying rollercoaster. The wait time said it was only 20 minutes but it ended up taking more like 45 minutes as only one of the stations was operational and the ride broke down a few times. It was an absolutely incredible coaster, it was really comfortable and the feeling of flying is great - the upside down loop was really intense but so much fun. I wanted a memento of my time at Seaworld so I got a photo package - it was really affordable at $35 for 3 photos printed including the frames - one for each of the big rides.

Manta - my first flying coaster!
Next it was time for Kraken, a coaster I’d heard about for years and the biggest coaster I had ever done. It was my first floorless coaster and I chose the back row which was really intense and rough but the 7 loops were great.

Next it was Journey to Atlantis which was a long wait at 30 minutes long - I wasn’t too impressed to be honest though some of the effects were cool on the ride. I did manage to get absolutely drenched on it on the front row. Every other row seemed fine though...

That was it. All the big rides were done so it was time for lunch which we ate at the smokehouse. It was surprisingly really nice and the meat was cooked for perfection.

A trip to Seaworld isn’t complete without a visit to see Shamu, so Shamu’s One Ocean show followed. We left a few seconds before it ended to get ahead of the crowds and got on the kid’s Shamu rollercoaster next.

Shamu - One Ocean!
With just a few hours left before work - yes I had work after this day - we managed to ride Manta twice more through single rider lines and had one more ride on Kraken. I collected my photos from the front of the park and had a look for some merch but there wasn’t anything that caught my eye.

We got the lynx bus over to the TTC, caught a monorail and then Oriol went to work as he started a bit earlier than me. I went to grab a Starbucks and caught up with my friend Eilidh who I hadn’t chatted to properly for over a month. Work was alright but I managed to ride stop the carousel again because a guest jumped off it as the cycle was finishing and then I forgot to hit another button to park it. Not great. However a ride on Winnie the Pooh instead of Track Talk cured my annoyance at the carousel issue. A very tiring day but I’m so glad I did it!