Monday, December 28, 2015

Tans-Siberian Orchestra Review

We were in St. Louis last night to catch the Tans-Siberian Orchestra at the Scottrade Center. I first got wind of the band when my college roommate brought home a copy of "Christmas Eve and Other Stories" back in 1996. Today, they're one of the top-ten ticket selling acts in America, having gone directly to area shows without playing clubs or serving as an opening act for any other band. That's pretty impressive. And so is their stage show.

I should mention for those who don't already know that Trans-Siberian Orchestra isn't really an orchestra. They're a progressive rock band that performs rock operas with the assistance of some orchestral elements. They're kind of like Yes without the pretentiousness. Or Meat Loaf with talent. So, if you do decide to attend a concert, be aware that you're not going to encounter something like The Pops. You're going to have to strap yourself in and ride the wave of the rock opera where a story is being told. Whether or not that's something you want to see is up to you.

For us, we really enjoyed it. The entire show is an incredible visual spectacle framed around heavy metal music with a Christmas connection. We were expecting the show to last about an hour and ended up with something close to two and a half hours. The worst I can say about the Trans-Siberian Orchestra show is that there wasn't a true intermission, which one would expect from such a long show. We powered through it, though, and we were glad we did. During the second half of the show is when they really go all out with their stage show and they even use to moving arms that slowly hoist a performer above the crowd. That was pretty thrilling to look at, but you couldn't pay me enough to get on something like that myself.

All things told, we had a great time. The folks who make up Trans-Siberian Orchestra sure know how to put on a show and we definitely felt that we got our money's worth. We'd see it again in a heartbeat.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Medical Compensation Department Calls Me

I got a call from a heavily accented caller claiming to be from Medical Compensation Department. The number he used was (432) 266-9010. It's not a working number that seems to belong to Cingular Wireless. Anyway, the scammer wanted to know if I had been on any blood thinners. It was an obvious attempt to sell me on some sort of class action lawsuit scam. When the Medical Compensation Department rep ran off a list of blood thinner meds, I picked the last one from the list: Xeralto. When prompted for a year, I just went with 2006. Turns our Xeralto wasn't released until June of 2011. I tried to explain it away by saying I was part of the clinical trials for Xeralto, but, the telemarketer was way too angry to listen. He did calm down after I poked a little fun at his accent and scolded him for trying to bilk money for people. He seemed to accept my explanation, but when I angrily asked for an apology, he hung up. So, if you get a call from (432) 266-9010, I guarantee you, it's a scam.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Stopping In Destin, Florida

He's Trying To Disguise Himself As A Flamingo
We're winding our way back up to the Midwest today and we've stopped in Destin, Florida for some food and to have a look at the waters of the Gulf. Destin is located on a Gulf barrier island and is renowned for its white beaches and emerald green waters. The sand on Destin's beaches is some of the whitest in the world. It comes from the Appalachian Mountains, and is made of finely ground quartz crystal giving the appearance of sugar. This, of course, draws in many tourists, making Destin "The World's Luckiest Fishing Village". Some refer to it as "The Redneck Riviera". However you'd care to refer to Destin, Florida, there does seem to be a lot of places to stay, places to eat, and things to do. There are signs all over the place for dolphin cruises and dolphin encounters.

We're not spending too much time in the area. We just came out to see the beach, the waters of the Gulf and to do a little dolphin watching. Although, I wouldn't rule out taking a trip down here next year. Meanwhile, I got some pics of the local wildlife and it seems as if quite a few of the egrets and herons were missing some limbs. I'm told that this generally happens when the bird's appendage gets tangled in fishing line. The line eventually cuts off circulation to the limb and causes amputation. Many tangles occur in the nest, when hatchlings get wrapped in unsafe nesting material.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Disney's Typhoon Lagoon

Miss Tilly Erupts A Guyser Of Water Every 30 Minutes
According to Disney legend, a typhoon wreaked havoc upon a formerly pristine tropical paradise. Ships, fishing gear and surfboards were all strewn about by the storm, including "Miss Tilly", a shrimp boat that became impaled upon a mountain named "Mount Mayday". What was left in the storm's wake became Disney's Typhoon Lagoon, the second most visited water park in the world. And, as theme parks go, Typhoon Lagoon feels decidedly un-Disney. And that's not a bad thing. First off, parking was free, which shocked us so much that we drove around in a circle because we figured we missed the collection attendant. Second, the food at Typhoon Lagoon is both tasty and affordable. Be sure to pop for the refillable mug if you're going to spend all day there.

Typhoon Lagoon was such a hit with every member of my family. The wave pool was the highlight for everyone. It's simply amazing how Disney imagineers can create a wave that can literally knock you down but not harm you. Typhoon Lagoon also boasts a shark reef where you can snorkel with the tropical fish, rays and sharks. We took a number of pictures of them with an underwater camera. I personally liked the water slides the best, enjoying the storm slides much more than the Humunga Cowabunga. Although, if I wasn't so out-of-shape, I could have been happy to climb the stairs all day to ride any of the water slides. I also enjoyed the lazy river. but it's hard to relax when some stranger's feet suddenly float right in your face. I also wish it moved a little faster. If I were to make one nit-picky criticism, it's the bathrooms. They're adequate, but dated.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party

Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party is either the can't miss Disney event of the holiday season, or it's just another way for The Mouse to squeeze an extra $250 out of your vacation spending budget. For me and my family, who had never visited the Magic Kingdom before today, it leans more towards the former.

Ice and Snow. ICE AND SNOW!
Admission to Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party is treated like a separate event. You have to buy special tickets for it. On days when Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party is being hosted, the Magic Kingdom closes at 4pm and re-opens at 6. So, don't do use your regular Magic Kingdom admission tickets for a day when the party is scheduled, as you'll be ushered out of the park when it closes. Instead, do a resort day or something and then hit the Magic Kingdom when it re-opens for the party. We opted to spend the day at Disney Springs and have lunch at the T-Rex cafe before coming back to the resort to rest up before the party. Once we got to the Magic Kingdom, we were happy to notice that, due to limited ticket availability, the rides and attractions had significantly shorter wait times than what one would expect on a normal Magic Kingdom day. Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party offers up a Frozen themed stage show at Cinderella's Castle where Elsa uses her ice powers to cover the castle in snow and ice. There's also a Christmas themed stage show at the castle starring Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy and Pluto as well as a Christmas themed parade down main street featuring all of the iconic Disney characters. Throughout the night, free hot cocoa and sugar cookies are available at various refreshment stations. Personally, I'm not much for parades or for Disney characters in general, but I have to admit that the Christmas parade down Main Street was pretty awesome. And seeing Cinderella's Castle all adorned in ice lights was quite the spectacle. They even go so far as to blow snow across the main parts of the park in order to really get you into that Christmas spirit even though it's 60 degrees out. Only at Disney, my friends, only at Disney.

Our older girls were much more interested in taking advantage of the shortened wait times on the premium rides to bother with the parades and stage shows at Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party, so, I took the liberty of recording the shows for the girls so that they could see them later on. I'd post them here, but I don't need The Mouse to get all litigious on me, so I'll embed some better recordings from professional sources here so that my readers can get a look at them:

A Frozen Holiday Wish Castle Stage Show

Celebrate The Season Stage Show

Mickey's Once Upon A Christmastime Parade

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Disney's Hollywood Studios

Disney's Hollywood Studios first opened in 1989 and today is the fifth most visited park in the United States. The theme is dedicated to show business, drawing inspiration from the heyday of Hollywood in the 1930s and 1940s. When it originally opened, it was known as Disney-MGM studios thanks to a licensing agreement between Disney and MGM. After a series of lawsuits between Disney and MGM, Disney re-branded the park as Disney Studios and then Disney's Hollywood Studios. Rumors of yet another name change have spun out of a recent shareholder meeting earlier this year, so don't get used to the Hollywood Studios name.

Although there are a lot of rides, shows and attractions, this is another one of the parks that you can do in a half day if you really want to. I was particularly fond of the Muppets 3D show. Our boys are fans of Star Wars and we tried to get one of them involved in the Jedi Training: Trials of the Temple only to find out that you have to sign up at the park gate or behind the Indiana Jones Stunt Show. Slots are usually all taken by 10:30am and once they are filled, that's it. These little tidbits of information weren't available in the My Disney Experience App, so we missed out and our child was hugely disappointed. That being said, it's still a very cool show. A group of kids appear on stage to be trained by a "Jedi Master". He teaches the kids a series of moves with the lightsaber ("block high," "duck," "cut low") and they learn them in a specific order. They run through it a few times, until they all have it down. Darth Vader comes out and then the Jedi Master informs Vader that the young padawans wont join him on the dark side. Vader then duels with a few kids, as the Master calls out moves to perform, just in case the child has forgotten. When it's done, the Jedi Master announces that Vader has been defeated and the Sith Lord marches off. Then the kids all get cool little certificates.

Ozzy And Sharon did a great job!!!
We stayed long enough to catch the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights. According to the official story, Arkansas resident Jennings Osborne and his family loved the holiday season so much. In 1986, Jennings asked his youngest daughter Breezy what her Christmas wish was and replied that she would like to see their whole house covered in lights. They had quite a large house but Jennings was determined to make his daughter's Christmas dream come true, so the Osborne family covered their home with a modest 1,000 red lights. With each passing year, the Osborne family added more lights and eventually purchased property adjacent to their own in order to expand the display even further until the display grew to millions of lights. This attracted onlookers from all over Arkansas. Displeased by the resulting traffic jams, the local residents asked that the Osborne family stop the annual display. Legal intervention was sought, and it appeared that the Osborne's beloved tradition was about to come to an end. When Disney got word of this, the mouse offered a venue where the Osborne lights could be shared with visitors from around the globe. In 1995, Residential Street at the Disney's Hollywood Studios became the home of the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights. Whenever the Christmas music is played, the lights dance to the music. It's a beautiful display that captures the spirit of the holiday season. This was probably our favorite part of our visit to Hollywood Studios. Sadly, I hear that this will be the last year that Hollywood Studios hosts The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights. I'm not sure if it's true, and, if it is, whether or not the display will be hosted elsewhere.

The Osborne Family Spectacle Of Dancing Lights Soundtrack: 

  • "Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12-24)" by Trans-Siberian Orchestra 
  • "Jingle Bells" by Barbra Streisand 
  • "A Mad Russian's Christmas" by Trans-Siberian Orchestra 
  • "Feliz Navidad" by José Feliciano 
  • "Here Comes Santa Claus" by Elvis Presley 
  • "Parade of the Wooden Soldiers" by Arthur Fiedler & Boston Pops Orchestra 
  • "Nuttin' for Christmas" by the Plain White T's 
  •  "Christmas is Starting Now" by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy 
  •  "Winter Wonderland" (Original arrangement by Dan Stamper) 
  • "What's This?" by Danny Elfman (from The Nightmare Before Christmas)

Monday, December 7, 2015

Disney's Animal Kingdom

Disney's Animal Kingdom opened on April 22, 1998 (Earth Day) and today is the fourth most-visited theme park in America, drawing more than 10 million visitors a year. Animal Kingdom is best known for its live animal exhibits (hence the name) and its Expedition Everest roller coaster. For us, a family of five (plus our niece), we saw it as little more than a glorified zoo. Of course, Disney's Animal Kingdom is filled with the marvels of Disney imagineering and the overall "Disney Magic" philosophy, but it doesn't quite feel like a Disney park. It was a decent place to visit for half a day and there are some cool rides. We especially liked the Yeti and the Dinosaur ride. We also really enjoyed the Safari ride, and it was nice to be able to get a close up view of the animals, but overall, The Safari was rushed and it stopped for only a few seconds when driving by some of the animals.

A Safari Group Gets Up Close And Personal With A Giraffe at Disney's Animal Kingdom

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park

Monument to Illinois Soldiers
We stopped in Georgia for the night last night on or way to Orlando. This morning, we made a quick stop at the Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park. On June 27, 1864, General Sherman and his Union Army opened up a furious artillery bombardment against the Confederate soldiers entrenched in the Kennesaw area. The resulting battle ended in a tactical defeat for Sherman, his army losing 3,000 soldiers to 1,000 on the Confederate side. This would end up being the last of Sherman's full frontal assaults during the Atlanta campaign. The site of the battle is now part of Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park, where both Confederate deliberate trenches on top of the mountain and some Union rifle pits are still visible today.

The Battlefield Park itself is nearly 3,000 acres and has about 18 miles of hiking trails. Along the trails, you will see historic earthworks, cannon emplacements, and various interpretive signs. There are three monuments representing some of the states who fought there: Illinois, Texas, and Georgia. There's also a visitor's center with a small museum and auditorium. During our visit, the Kennesaw Mountain staff was super friendly and got the kids involved in various activities.

Friday, December 4, 2015

The Giant Superman Statue In Metropolis, IL

The family and I loaded up the mini-van this morning and we're trucking it down to Orlando for some theme park hopping. Along the way, we decided to make a quick stop in Metropolis, IL, home of the Giant Superman statue in Superman Square.

DC Comics first mentioned the fictional town of Metropolis in Action Comics #16 (September 1939). It was modeled after Toronto and New York, not the little hamlet of 6,000 people in Illinois. Still, the inhabitants of Metropolis, IL embraced the notion of being Superman's home town and, on January 21, 1972, DC Comics officially declared Metropolis, IL the "Hometown of Superman." On June 9, 1972, the Illinois State Legislature passed Resolution 572 that confirmed this, declaring Metropolis the "Hometown of Superman". The next year, the "Amazing World of Superman" museum opened in town. Metropolis had plans to build a thousand-acre, $50 million Superman theme park featuring a 200-foot-tall statue of Superman that cars would drive under when entering the park. Unfortunately, the 1973 oil crisis hit Metropolis especially hard and the plans had to be scrapped and the "Amazing World of Superman" museum closed its doors. The town was able to raise enough money in 1986 to erect a life sized fiberglass statue of Superman, but the Man of Fiberglass fell victim to vandalism. This led to the statue being replaced by a 12 foot bronze statue that still stands in front of the Metropolis court house today. And you'll find the Superman Museum across the street with interesting exhibits such as George Reeves' belt and the green power crystal from the 1979 movie.

A somewhat lesser known, more mild mannered statue also exists in Metropolis, IL. Constructed in the 1960s, Big John the grocery clerk stands in front of the Big John Grocery store near the Metropolis welcome sign. The owner of the Big John grocery store had wanted something to symbolize the hard working Southern Illinois people. He came up with the statue, representing the coal mining industry that was the driving force in Southern Illinois at that time. It relates to the song, "Big Bad John". Originally, the Big John statue held a bag of groceries in each arm. Big John's right arm fell off in August of 2014 and it was returned without the grocery bag in May of 2015. Now, I'm not saying that the Big John statue and the Superman statue are the same statue....but the two statues have never been seen together in the same place before.