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

Observations on the US

This summer was my first opportunity to visit the US. I had never stepped foot in the States and I think it was fair enough to say that I had some preconceived notions about this new place I was about to step foot in though I'm not 100% sure what they were. This post is my ramblings on what I found out about the country. Some of the things I simply found unusual, other things I appreciated, others I loathed. It is no way meant to be taken as a political commentary but I understand the the nature of the post may make it appear to be so.

1. Weight - Lets tackle this issue head on. It is no secret to the world that most of the US population is overweight - in fact the figures show that around 2/3 of people are overweight, obese or morbidly obese. In the UK it is half that number (which is already worrying). Maybe it's because I was working at Disney where the people do a lot of physical exercise - both cast members and guests - but I wouldn't say that people seemed to be particularly overweight on the most part - it definitely didn't seem like 2 in 3 people to me.

However, I did see some people of a size that I previously thought was not possible. In fact this summer whilst I was working the American Medical Associated voted to classify obesity as a disease. Disgusting.

Here are a few solutions on how to solve the obesity epidemic as observed by myself and many others I worked with:
  • If you are fat, you do not need a mobility scooter - walking is exercise and will do you good.
  • You do not need a car for everywhere you go. Yes, America is "the land of the free" and so most people feel they are entitled to drive wherever they want. But a 2-minute trip does not need a car, and yes I knew people who made them. Also public transport exists - use it.
  • Drink sizes need to be reduced - This isn't related to alcohol, but soft drinks. Everywhere I went provided unlimited refills which is great value to some extent but there were drink sizes that were about as big a protein tub?! There were drink cups that had a drink cup built into them to stop them collapsing under their own weight. That's simply wrong. The size of a small US drink is the size of a large here in the UK. The large drink is 32 oz or 946ml! How does anyone think that is an acceptable amount of fizzy drink to put inside themselves worries me.
  • Vitamins - Some sort of regulation needs to be introduced. I saw hugely unhealthy food and drink being marketed with the words "vitamins" on the front in a huge text size because as well as all the crap in them, manufacturers had managed to artificially add six different vitamins. They should not be allowed to make it appear that there could be any sort of health benefits to their products when there really aren't.
  • Healthcare - Although this is a different debate altogether, free healthcare for everyone would mean that doctors could council people on how to live a healthy lifestyle from a young age.
2. Sense of national pride - Last summer when we hosted the Olympics, the whole of the UK banded together to create a country so united you wouldn't believe. This is how, in my experience at least, it always is in America - people are proud to say they're American, abandoning their past to claim their newfound nationality. I can't say it's the same here. But it's admirable. American flags everywhere, however, are not necessary.

3. Turn right on red - This makes no sense. So, you're a pedestrian - the traffic lights for you go from "red" to "white" and you start to cross. You wonder, why is the traffic light not green? Because there is no green option. Because there is never a moment where you can cross in America and guarantee that you will not be run over.

When a  traffic light is red in America and white for pedestrians, as a driver you can turn right, DESPITE THE FACT THE LIGHT IS RED - I repeat 'RED'. This involves usually going over 2 pedestrian crossings whilst the pedestrians take their chance to cross. Although pedestrians have priority, through my experience not all drivers stop. And you wonder why people don't walk to places in the States.

4. Racism - I have never seen as much racism in a country that prides itself on inclusivity as in America. No more needs to be said. Just Google the controversy about Barack Obama. The exception I found was with younger people who seem to have grown up in a society where people from all around the world live together - these people seem to ignore race, much like most people do in the UK.

5. The TV is a joke - I could never sit and watch US TV - and we had cable in our apartments in Florida. When there is a show on there's a 95% chance it's a reality TV show, when that's not on you can flick through the incredibly biased and right-wing news channels such as FOX news, or why not sit and enjoy the 22 minutes of ads every hour. There's almost nothing remotely engaging or educational on TV. A lot of potential is being missed.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know.

Top Tips for the Disney College Program

So, if you’re reading this chances are you’ve been accepted into the Disney College program, if so - congrats! Or...you’re thinking of applying and are mega curious as to what you should do to make the most of your Disney college or Disney international college program. Having done the program myself, these are my top tips for the program in no particular order:

1. Bring a car - This is hands down the number one thing I wish I had whilst on the program. If you have a car - bring it! Yes, Disney do provide you with transport as part of your accommodation; yes, it’s free; yes you don’t have to pay for gas/petrol if you take the bus. However, buses are the best way to be late - they either don’t turn up, are running late, are running early or any combination of these. Once you’re on the bus there’s no guarantee you’ll make it - I was once on a bus that broke down 7 (yes, seven!) times on my 45 minute journey to work! Once I was on a bus and it started to smoke. And the worst bit is when bus drivers change over and you spend 20-25 minutes sat at one of the bus stops - on the way to the work. Avoid them as much as you can! A lot of the time they were fine to work but then on the way back when a park closes there is no way you’re going to fit thousands of college program cast members onto a bus that comes every 15 or 30 minutes. The good thing about the buses though was the social side - I met quite a few people on them...and whilst waiting for them!

2. Get more roommates/flatmates - I was in a flat/apartment with 5 people and it was great but there were quiet times. There were time that there was no one in. There were other times we were all in. Although 6 people in one apartment may already seem like too many, I’d advise you to go bigger - live with 8 people. The people you live with do to some extent define your program, I met so many people through my roommates and by meeting different people you get to do different things. If it weren’t by meeting one of my roommates friends for example I would never have visited Celebration or Old Town!

3. Save up before you go - I will tell you now, the money you earn is barely enough to live on and if you want luxuries be prepared to pay out of your own pocket. Some of my friends on the program were $4000 and $5000 down over just 6 months or less. You are not going on this program to make money - so get saving now before the program. You really, really, really don’t want to miss out on some of the amazing experiences you can have on the program because you’re short on cash. Work your socks off until you get to Disney to save up and then do the same once you're there - and don’t be expecting overtime at Disney, they will avoid giving you it at all costs.

4. Never say no - Take every single opportunity that is given to you on your program. Whether it’s attending housing events, going out for a meal, going to a theme park, on a date, meeting someone else’s friends, going somewhere alone, a drive to the beach, a dip in the pool at midnight, extra responsibilities at work or anything else you are offered. Especially don’t say no if it’s something that you’ve never done before - within reason of course!

5. Relax sometimes - Despite my previous point about never saying no, sometimes you just need to chill and relax. It will happen - you’re tired, you’ve had 9 days of work in a row and gone out before and after every day, and you just want to have a break, you just want to say no. Do it. Spend a day in bed, sunbathe by the pool, sit around the apartment and watch TV - you’ll find it will do you wonder, it won’t be the most exciting day of your program but you’ll be fresh and ready for the days which will be.

A post reminiscing about the Walt Disney World International College Program

It’s been about six weeks since the end of my Disney World International College Program contract and I thought I’d write a retrospective piece summing up my experience.

I’m going to very quickly get those of you who didn’t read my blog up to speed. Hi, I’m Gio from the UK and this Summer (2013) I participated in the International College Program at Walt Disney World. I was an attractions cast member working at Mickey’s Philharmagic and Prince Charming’s Regal Carrousel in the Magic Kingdom. My program was about ten weeks long and I successfully completed it.

I had already done one set of working for Disney back in 2011 at Disneyland Paris and I suppose to some extent I expected my ICP to be very similar, but longer. I was prepared for more heat, for more guests and (hopefully!) less of a language barrier in the US.

This all proved true - sure Florida was hotter than Paris, yes the Magic Kingdom is the world’s busiest theme park and yes (for the most part) I didn’t have to translate things in my head in the US. What I wasn’t prepared for was the fantastic people I would meet, for the fun I’d have at work and for memories that would last a lifetime.

The Disney ICP sign-up materials billed the program as a “living, learning, earning and cultural” experience, so I thought it appropriate to review my ICP in those terms.

I suppose this is made up of two things: actually living in a shared apartment, and my free time - what I did on my days off.

As far as living in a shared apartment was concerned I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. I had opted to live with two other guys from the UK and then we were asked to be put in an apartment of 6 people total - this would mean we’d meet three new people we didn’t know. They could have been from anywhere in the world - the US, Canada, France, South Africa, China, etc. We ended up living with 3 Americans which was actually really great - although we hardly ever saw one of them, and one of them was hardly the most social person.

Because our housemates had already been part of the program for almost six months, they already had a ton of friends and we got to meet loads of them, and ended up becoming as close to their friends as our own housemates. Through one of my housemates, Kevin for example, I ended up meeting Courtney who had more of a similar schedule to me. Through Austin, I met Adrienne who I ended up having a fantastic day out with in Celebration (Courtney was there too! See, two people I met through others!).

As well as that there was of course the other 200-odd UK ICPs that came across from the UK that I met up with on days off, and of course everyone I met from work.

On my days off it was fantastic - there was almost always someone who had the day off, or who wanted to do something before or after work. One of the great perks of working for Disney of course is that you get free entry into the parks every day of the year, and you can even let your family in a set number of times.

Unsurprisingly, almost all of my favourite moments on the program were from my “living” experience - meeting new people, going out to places and having fun!

It’s not all bright news though for living - your housemates may be loud, they might drink, they might do drugs - all of which are not tolerated on the program and will result in them being “termed” ( that's “fired” for the uninitiated).

One of the worst bits of living in CP housing though is the buses - if you have a car, bring it! I have a friend who drove all the way from Quebec in Canada to Florida because of how bad the buses were on her previous program. The buses are late, packed, small, noisy, they break down and can never be relied on - beware of them!

This is a tricky one, as ICPs are not allowed to take advantage of the “study” side of the program, unless you are doing the program through your university directly.

Let me briefly explain what this is: in the US while you are at Disney you can still study your University course online and do exams at Disney. BUT Disney also offers courses of its own - on things like management and guest service - these are things that Disney leads the way in. It is a great chance to look inside the company, but this wasn’t something we were offered as ICPs. To be honest, personally I wouldn’t have had the time to do them anyway but it would have been nice to have had the opportunity.

Having said this, there were opportunities to come to drop-in sessions about interview techniques and resume/CVs reviews.

Learning happened on my days off and at work as I learnt about different aspects of American (and other) culture. As well as this, I was provided with some top quality training at Disney. Yes, I was taught how to operate the theatre and the carousel and all the emergency procedures, but I was also taught so much more.

Disney University where Traditions training happens.
Photo: whitneyswdwcpdreams.blogspot.com

Disney really prides itself on its customer service.  It was one of the most important things we were taught in our training - that’s everything from never saying ‘no’ when you don’t know the answer to a question, to a three hour class on how to treat people with disabilities so they don’t feel patronised yet get all the assistance they need: there’s even a “people-first” policy, Cast say a “guest with disabilities” not a “disabled guest”. These are all lessons that if I ever run a business myself, I will hopefully try and emulate.

Even when we toured the parks we were taught some important business lessons about Disney keeps guests happy, like never having a trash can further than 30 feet away, angling Main Street as a hill, so guests find it easier to walk down at the end of the day and all the important “show” elements that make sure customers are never distracted from the “show” that Disney puts on 247 in its parks - simple things like the costumes cast wear, themed phrases we use when delivering safety messages, not allowing guests into the parks with offensive clothing, not having background music in certain areas and so, so much more. Disney really does invest in the training of its cast.

We all knew that we weren’t doing the ICP to make money - it was all about the experience. To be perfectly honest this is something that TWDC knows and takes advantage of: ICPs and CPs are the lowest of the low as far as pay is concerned. You are working for minimum wage, in very hot conditions, with very demanding guests and you really do work for your money.

The money you earn just about covers your basic living expenses: after housing and tax I was usually left with between $90 and $150 which is just about enough for most people. You might be able to save some money - this is if you rarely go out, or eat out.

Me in costume outside Mickey's Philharmagic. 
I was hugely disappointed with the canteen when I arrived on my first day at training. Despite the poor pay, Disney does not subsidise the prices of the food. Granted they are not as expensive as the food upstairs but a decent burger costs $4 plus another $3 for a drink and fries. That’s $7 total. Maybe I was spoilt when I worked at Disneyland Paris but the food there would have cost you half the price PLUS it was much healthier. In DLP I could get salmon and pasta as a meal at any time of the day; at WDW the food was unhealthy and the limited healthy options they did have stopped being served after lunch!

Despite the negatives I have mentioned about work, it is generally a really fun job - there's not many places in the world you get paid to stand and say “Welcome” or blow bubbles, or press a few buttons for a living. You do get a lot of guest interaction, some really funny moments, and you get to meet people from all over the world - both guests and fellow Cast Members. It can be a repetitive job but it's what you make of it and very dependent on the team around you - my friends are really what made my job so much fun!

Magic Kingdom parking lot entrance - every guest coming in by car or bus sees this.

For the most part, the management and coordinators are great and will do their best to accommodate your requests whilst at work, though don’t expect them to offer any flexibility when you’re ill or need a certain day off, those sort of requests are all up to you to sort out.

There are definitely a lot of things going on that would be deemed illegal under EU and British law in the UK - such as giving people “points” when they are sick/ill. Too many and you can get fired. For being sick. This also applies to other things like not clocking in/out. The other major concern I had was when were made to work unfeasibly long days back to back - sometimes I had nine days of work in a row. Sometimes I only had 8 hours and 30 minutes in between shifts. During this time I would have to clock out of work, get the bus out of the park, get a bus home, have dinner, sleep, get up, get ready, get the two buses to work, have breakfast and clock in. It is simply impossible to do and feel good the second day. In contrast, in the UK workers must have at least 11 hours in between their shifts which at the very least allows you to get a good nights’ sleep if nothing else. There were also people on 60 and 70-hour weeks which just seems dangerous to me.

One of the most frustrating things was that if I called in for any reason on my last week - it didn’t matter whether I was laying in bed, ill or had broken both arms in a car accident - I would be immediately terminated and given a negative re-hire status. In my case as an international, this would also lead to me being deported. This is just wrong in my opinion.

Just as a side note but not everyone makes a pittance: Some of those who work at Full Service restaurants and buffets are raking in $1500-$2000 or more per week because of tips.

Cultural Exchange:
I genuinely believe the International College Program has changed my perspective on the world, I met people from all around the world - I now know people from all over the US, and I now have some great friends from Mexico, Singapore, France, Canada and Spain too. I even met people from all across the UK! The US government says that the experience is a “cultural exchange” and it really is; some of the most fun conversations were figuring out what different things we did in the UK to the US, or finding out for example that things in Mexico are a lot more similar to the US than the UK! I think if anything this was the aspect of the program I enjoyed the most!

I now have friends from around the world!

In conclusion...
The most startling thing about the program though is how quickly time disappears. I remember being with Courtney, Sarah, Kevin, and Katie watching Wishes on their last day. I had known them for 10 weeks, yet all of a sudden they were leaving, they had known each other for 8 months and all of a sudden it was all coming to an end. You would not believe how much they cried as their whole program finished. The last two weeks of your program you try to do everything you can, with the people you care about the most and unfortunately time just gets ahead of you sometimes. As cliche as it sounds it only feels like yesterday we were dropped off outside out apartment and were lugging cases up the stairs.

I highly recommend you do the program. Yes, you will go home poorer than you came. Yes, you will have long, hard days at work. And yes, the CP buses suck. But despite, all the caveats I mentioned in this post, I had the summer of my life -it was a very different experience to working at Disneyland Paris and I am SO glad I did it. I met so many incredible people, I made memories to last a lifetime and I have learnt so, so much about myself in the process. Do the program, apply and I promise you whatever expectations you have, even if they are as high as mine were, they will be blown out of the water and you will have an experience like you never thought possible.

Thank you Disney for the incredible time I had.

Walt Disney World ICP - Day 82 & 83 - My final days in the US! - 23rd and 24th August 2013

23rd August

Today was a day back at Disneyland and Jack’s last day - I still had all day today and tomorrow morning and afternoon to enjoy the parks. We got there for park opening and rode the Alice in Wonderland ride which was actually quite cool and felt like a very long ride. They should definitely add it to the other parks!

Look how quaint Disneyland is with it's tiny castle.

We spent most of the day re-riding favourites and went back to the hotel to relax for a bit too. The Matterhorn Bobsleds which had been closed for the whole of our visit opened in the afternoon. This was a cool attraction to go on but it is a really, really rough ride and definitely shows its age, but it was cool to ride a classic nonetheless!

The Matterhorn Bobsleds
In the afternoon, we met up with my friend Courtney from Disney World and we all rode Radiator Springs Racers which was once again fun and we did a few other rides. Then we had a very ambitious plan which I and Jack had come up with - see all three night time shows on the same night. And would you believe it - apart from missing the first 4 minutes or Fantasmic because we were eating that’s exactly what we did, and we got a great view of the fireworks and World of Color!

Proof we saw all 3 in one night!

We even had time in between Magical and World of Color to get some graduation pins from City Hall. Jack earned an Honorary Citizen pin by answering a pretty tough question on the spot - name the first 10 Disney princesses.

Cars Land is possible even more stunning at night than during the day

World of Color was a great end to the night and it was sad to leave it behind, but that just attests to how much of a spectacular show it is.

24th August
Today I got up relatively late as there wasn’t much of a rush to do anything in the parks as I’d done it all now. We checked out of the hotel around 10.30am and I left my bag in the storage area which was so useful as I’d checked with Cast Members and there is no luggage storage at Disneyland at all which shocked me!

On my last day!
I spent the morning at California Adventure and did my favourites there - Soarin’, Grizzly River Run (I got soaked and didn’t have a change of clothes before my flight so this proved a terrible idea!), and California Screamin’. Unfortunately Radiator Springs Racers was down.

I then spent the next few hours with Courtney and her parents and we explored Fantasyland, rode Pirates, Haunted Mansion, Indiana Jones Adventure and then Matterhorn. Space Mountain was down too but I wasn’t fussed considering all it does is spin you in circles. And that was it... my last ride was the Matterhorn. It wasn’t just the last ride in Disneyland, but the last ride of my summer and there couldn’t have been a more fitting way than to end the summer than on a 50-odd year old rollercoaster that according to Wikipedia was the “first tubular steel continuous track roller coaster ever constructed”. I was at the original Disney theme park, I was with a great friend for life I’d made that summer, I was all the way on the other side of the country and it was all coming to an end. I bid my goodbyes and promised Courtney we’d see each other soon, whether in Disneyland or back in the UK.

Side note: If you want a general overview of my time in Disneyland make sure to check out my photo trip report with over 150 photos here.

I left the park by getting the monorail over to Downtown Disney, walked back to my hotel, got my suitcase, walked to the Disneyland hotel, explored the lobby and caught the Disneyland Express to LAX.

At LAX - Los Angeles International Airport
I checked in (and I’d cheekily upgraded to Premium Economy in the hope I’d sleep on the flight home) for my 10pm flight and was shattered. Whilst checking in, the check-in agent asked if I’d like to be moved closed to the exit and away from the toilet which was nice as it’d be a better seat.

By the time my flight came around (I got there four hours early!) I’d watched an episode of Breaking Bad, had dinner, explored the shops and charged my laptop fully - the airport has free wifi which is great by the way! When boarding I noticed how lucky I had been to get my new seat - it was a bulkhead seat with no more seats in front of me - I could actually stretch my legs all the way out which was great. Premium Economy was worth the upgrade - we got a welcome drink, very attentive service, food on china plates, wider seats and by a stroke of luck I had all the leg room I could ever want - and they even brought us leg rests in that row.

Look at the leg room!

I watched Les Mis whilst on board which was a great way to pass the time, read a magazine I'd bought, had dinner and surprisingly even got 2 hours or sleep which I didn’t expect half way through the flight. The 10 hours fly by and the English breakfast was just what I needed before we landed. Maybe one day I’ll pay the extra £1400 to upgrade to Upper Class and get a fully flat seat bed, eh?  - Not anytime soon but the upgrade to Premium was 100% worth it and I had a great flight.

Arrived in London Heathrow
My whole family greeted me at Heathrow which was nice as I was only expecting my mum and brother, but my dad turned up too. I arrived about half an hour early, immigration was a breeze thanks to my biometric passport and not even needing to see a border agent anymore. My suitcase was unfortunately damaged somewhere along the way at LAX, BUT luckily for me it had been taped shut and not a single thing was missing despite the fact it had clearly been ripped open by a conveyor belt or something - even my iPad Mini was there so I would to thank the Virgin Atlantic staff as it was wrapped very well in fluorescent orange tape!

As we drove home it had hit me that only a few hours before I’d been in Disneyland, I’d been in California and so much had happened that summer - that’s always the way it is; it felt like a dream. I made so many great friends and I would not have changed the experience one bit. Thank you to Disney and the US government for making the experience possible, thank you to the friends I made, and last but not least thank you to you for reading this blog series. I will be doing a full reflective post soon and a Q and A page as well for all the questions I’ve got from you - until then, see ya real soon!

Walt Disney World ICP - Day 81 - Universal Studios Hollywood - 22nd August 2013

One of the big reasons I had wanted to come to California was to visit the original Universal Studios in Hollywood - in fact I’d say it was the main reason for coming, even though I proved to enjoy Disneyland more in the end. The big reason within Universal was to do the Studio Tour - a tour of the real working sets at Universal Studios.

So, once again I made the long journey to Hollywood which this time included getting a tram to Universal Studios which was on a hill. I’d looked online into how to do the park effectively and worked out that I could be done with the park by about 1 or 2PM if I got there at park opening.

Although I missed park opening by around twenty minutes or so, it was not an issue as I had a plan to get through the park quickly.

First up, it was a go on the Simpsons Ride which is an exact clone of the one in Florida, but with a smaller screen and surprise surprise a lot more water. They love to get people soaked at every opportunity here in California. Despite the 20-minute posted wait I walked onto the ride with no wait at all. Then I headed to the Studio Tour which had the longest line I actually waited in all day - 20 minutes! To be fair, it is a tedious queue which just winds round with nothing to see or do apart from a few posters.

Universal Studios Hollywood is in the middle of a mountain
When I got to the front of the line the tram approached and I instantly knew I was in for an exciting time. What can I say? The tour is worth the admission price alone as you step into real Hollywood magic - you don’t just see the sets, but you get to experience being part of the movies too. There’s a 3D 360 degree section of the tour where your car is thrust into the middle of a battle between dinosaurs and King Kong, a Mummy section (which is being closed next month so I was one of the last people to experience it), real sound-stages where productions were being filmed inside, and huge outdoor sets. We also had a very close encounter with Jaws, a visit past the Bates Motel, experience a flash flood and so much more. There was a live guide and pre-recorded section by Jimmy Fallon too which really added to it. In total I think the whole experience was about 45 to 50 minutes long, and as I say it is totally worth it. There’s nothing more Hollywood-esque than being on a tram crawling up the hills and experiencing real movie magic. I think if I ever go back I’ll do the VIP Studio Tour as apparently it’s much longer and even better.

I knew that the rest of the park could be done within hours so I went down to the bottom area (using the 3 sets of escalators to get there) and looked around - Jurassic Park River Adventure was first - it is similar to the Floridian version but on a slightly smaller scale, though you do get much more wet. Single rider meant I walked on with no one in front of me.

The Revenge of the Mummy was fun to go on, as it’s very different to the Orlando version and it was fun to see how they adapted the two. Once again I walked on with no wait with the Single Rider line - in fact I re-rode it, but waited about 10 minutes the second time round. This version of the ride has a very long backwards section, some cool bug effects but has a very weak ending that leaves you thinking “Oh, is that it?”.

Transformers was also very good (it’s dentical to the Orlando version, which I couldn’t remember too well) and I only waited about 5 minutes in single rider. I had lunch in the Jurassic Park themed place which was bland and overpriced, as well as having extremely long queues. After that experience, I was then ready to go and be entertained by the shows.

The shows at the park were incredible and I’d wish they were shown in Florida where there’s a lack of any good show. The Special Effects show was really, really fun and the WaterWorld stunt show was spectacular. I highly recommend both shows but if you do watch WaterWorld and sit in the “soak” zone be aware that you WILL get soaked by jet skis, explosions and the fact that the actors actually fill up buckets of water and throw them at you! It’s an incredible show though and so, so worth watching - it’s not for the faint hearted though due to all the explosions.

By that point I was finished with the park. There’s not a huge amount of things to do as you can see, but there was a couple of things I didn’t do - there is the Shrek 4D show here but as I’d seen it in Florida I didn’t waste my time, and there’s the House of Horrors which in my aim not to have a heart attack, I didn’t even go near.

One of the things I liked about the Hollywood version of the theme park versus the Orlando one was how many more random characters they had walking round the parks. I saw Dracula at one point, the interactive Donkey from Shrek and Transformers - all were great. What you have to understand is that this is a real working studio with a theme park attached and not the other way round. The fact it is a movie studio makes for a really cool atmosphere -  they even lay out a red carpet at the entrance for their guests.

Overall, it was a great fun day out where I got to do something I’d wanted to do for years and got to do some of my favourite rides again - even some that were slightly different like The Revenge of the Mummy and Jurassic Park. I highly recommend a visit but if you’re used to the Orlando parks just be prepared for a slower paced day with less things to do - it’s more about the movies here and less about the thrills!


Walt Disney World ICP - Day 80 - Exploring (the real) Hollywood! - 21st August 2013

Having travelled 6 hours from New York across the entire country, I wasn’t simply going to stay in Disneyland for 6 days - I was in California with so much to see and do. If I’d had an extra day or two I would have flown over to San Francisco but alas I had to settle with Hollywood - it’s a tough life, huh?

Photo: Wikimedia
So yes, today it was off to Hollywood to walk about, see the Walk of Fame, the Chinese Theatre and do a bus tour. The big problem was getting there - it took me almost 3 hours. I’d researched everything on Google but the buses come at 25 minute intervals so I got a bus to Anaheim Metrolink/Amtrak station which took about 15 minutes and then bought my ticket - then it was a 40 minute wait for the next Metrolink (regional overground train).

As soon as I was on the Metrolink it was fine but it was that initial bus journey which took an eternity as I couldn’t afford to miss my trains, so I always ended up getting the earlier bus. The Metrolink took about 45 minutes to get me to Los Angeles Union Station where I then got a Metro underground train to Hollywood, which was about another 20 minutes. The ticket for the Metrolink even gave me free Metro access in LA which wasn’t bad for $18 return.

Eventually I got to Hollywood and the Walk of Fame and WOW is it a strange place - there were people dressed as Spiderman and Batman everywhere vying for tips and blocking the pavement, but it was exactly how I imagined it - with the Chinese theatre which you can’t stop to take a photo of without being harassed by the lycra-clad superheroes and the stars all along the walk of fame.

On the Hollywood Boulevard Walk of Fame

I walked down the Walk of Fame and saw the tour bus I’d researched online stopped at the first stop. I wasn’t in any rush so went into a couple of shops then crossed over. I managed to get a ticket just as the bus was departing, went upstairs and was ready for my tour of Hollywood.

And little did I know that I’d see a lot more than Hollywood - I ended up doing 2 of the bus loops and was pleased with the value for money I got out of it. It’s strange doing a bus tour of somewhere like Hollywood as unlike London or Paris there’s no real history and a lot of what was said on the pre-recorded British (yay!) commentary was about film stars or films I’d never heard of - however there was also a lot of really interesting stuff in there too which I appreciated and even some dry British humour.

Home to the rich and famous.
After I had seen a lot of Hollywood itself I switched routes at one point and even went all the way to Santa Monica beach which must have been 20 or 30 miles out of LA and made it worth the money alone. There was also a tour of downtown LA which I didn't get to do, but there were already so many cool little things along the 2 routes I did do that I didn’t feel like I missed out. I wouldn't even have known where to start otherwise as I was all alone! I only spent about 5 or 6 hours on the buses including lunch as the last train going back to Anaheim left at 6:30PM from Union Station, which was ridiculously early.

Just before going back home, I explored the big shopping plaza by the TCL Chinese theatre and got a really good view of the Hollywood sign from there before journeying back.

Next: Walt Disney World ICP - Day 81 - Universal Studios Hollywood - 22nd August 2013

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

Seeing as yesterday we spent the majority of the day in California Adventure, today was the day to go to Disneyland, the original theme park. We got there for park opening and bee-lined for Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage as I'd heard it was very good. It was - it was a completely unique experience where you go "underwater" and explore the Australian coast whilst bumping into Nemo and his friends. I can truly recommend it but I'd advise you visit it first as it does get some of the longest queues in the park.

Finding Nemo Submarine ride

After the submarines we went on Astro Orbiter and Astro Blasters. Then we went for breakfast in Adventureland. We also grabbed a Indiana Jones fastpass which is meant to be an incredible ride.

One thing that I think Disneyland has done well is not putting Fastpass everywhere which is the mistake Disney World made. It means that the lines are much more manageable with most rides being a 25 minute wait or less. The big rides do have big waits but that's largely attributable to fastpass in my opinion. A good example is Peter Pan's flight which regularly had a wait of 90 minutes or more in Orlando, here it is "only" a 30 minute wait.

After breakfast we rode Pirates of the Caribbean which is much better than the Orlando version but not as good as Paris'. Haunted Mansion was almost an identical clone of Orlando's but it is much darker inside which is cool.

Indiana Jones was an experience. Basically, in line these two women is their mid-to-late 40s asked if it was our first visit - one of them was absolutely crazy. Before we got in the vehicle she said "you've never ridden Indiana, till you've ridden it with me. Last time I got kicked off the ride by security and had to be escorted out." That was worrying. In conclusion, I ended up sitting next to her. Throughout the entire ride anytime we went round a corner she flung herself onto me and put her arm in my mouth and face and tried to do the same to Jack. Then she held my hand and skipped when we got off the ride, told me she was looking for a husband and did I pay child support. At that point I held back as they walked off. Wow. Californians are insane - something they themselves had told me earlier in line. I wish this were made up but it is sadly a 100% true story.

Me in Disneyland!! Look how small the castle is!
We watched the newest stage show in the park - Mickey and the Magical Map - which was cool though the animation on the screens seemed to lag which ruined it a bit.

We explored a land that none other of the Disney theme parks currently have - Mickey’s Toontown Fair, and we visited Mickey's house. Minnie had her own house too - I thought they were married?! The meet and greets had a really fun queue as you go from room to room inside the house.

Inside Mickey's House - how he keeps his gloves clean.
We re-rode Indiana Jones and funnily enough I enjoyed it much more the second time round when I could actually see what I was looking at. The ride uses the same cars as Dinosaur but uses them much more effectively. It’s a really fun ride and it’s probably the only ride I’ve been on at Disney recently that I completely forgot I was in a show building as I was completely immersed in the experience in the temple. I really, really enjoyed this ride and I do sincerely hope that one day it makes its way over to Disneyland Paris.

We explored inside Sleeping Beauty castle which is small but the story is told well there with some cool effects, but it’s nowhere near as lavish as its Parisian cousin.

We also rode Space Mountain using our 6-person anytime Fastpass with my friend Tori who worked at Peter Pan in Orlando as she spent some time with us.

We went back home for a break and took the monorail out of the park to Downtown Disney which is a fascinating idea for me and we managed to ride up front with the pilot! So cool!

In the Pilot's booth on the Disneyland Monorail
For dinner we went to eat at Blue Bayou which is actually inside the Pirates of the Carribbean ride. The food was alright but you're definitely paying for the setting more than the food. I really want to try the one in Paris though as they have a more fish-based menu. Despite the photo below it wasn't actually that dark and you could see perfectly fine.

At Blue Bayou
It was another great day and it was really good to explore the park a bit better. It is surprising how quickly you can walk across the park though, as everything is so close together. It’s clear the park was designed for “smaller” people as well back then - the turnstiles on rides are tiny and definitely would not fit some of the people that came through the turnstiles in Disney World and there are narrower passages which just wouldn’t exist at Disney World. I guess a lot of it is also the fact that the Disney World parks today are also more accessible which they only thought of to some extent in 1955 and I noticed that loading disabled guests can be really cumbersome for them. Hey, Walt even forgot to build water fountains in his original Disneyland theme park when he opened it, so he wasn’t perfect and times have definitely changed!

Next Post: Walt Disney World ICP - Day 80 - Exploring Hollywood! - 21st August 2013