When you think of Epcot, you may recall fragrant florals from the “Flower & Garden Festival.” Or, perhaps, delectable dishes from the “Food & Wine Festival.” (I, too, love to ‘eat my way around the world.’) Most of all, I enjoy Epcot as a gathering place to meet friendly cast members from various countries. My last visit to Epcot’s Italy Pavilion did not disappoint.
Venice, Italy vs. Italy at Epcot
Through the years, I have come to love the “real” Italy, especially Venice. Epcot’s Italy Pavilion transports me back to Venice every time. Strolling through, I see architectural reminders of Saint Mark’s Square: the delicately intricate façade of the Doge’s Palace, and the Campanile (bell tower).
The entrance is guarded by two columns, topped with Venezia’s patron saints: Saint Mark’s Lion and Saint Theodore standing above a crocodile. (Though Epcot’s version is actually reversed)
Italy Pavilion at Epcot
Saint Marks Square in Venezia
Admittedly, Disney puts a spin on their presentation of each country. (Germany’s Bavarian region is famous for their large, scrumptious pretzels. But they certainly are not Mickey-shaped, nor come with cheese dipping sauce.)
If you’ve ever dreamed of visiting Paris, and wished upon a star to walk through Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant (Sleeping Beauty Castle), this is the year to do it. Disneyland Paris – the sparkling European jewel in the Disney crown – celebrates its 25th Anniversary in 2017. And they have been diligently preparing for you to ‘Be Our Guest.’
Park improvements progressed throughout 2016 to prepare for “It’s Time to Sparkle” the Disneyland Paris 25th Anniversary celebration starting March 26, 2017.
This article was first published on LaughingPlace.com on April 7, 2017.
The path wasn’t always sprinkled with pixie dust. “Euro Disney” – the fourth Disney castle Park – opened on April 12, 1992 to much controversy. There were protests against this invasion of American culture in France, including a one-day train strike that effectively cut off the Disney resort to anyone without a car.
This article was first published on LaughingPlace.com on July 25, 2016.
Star Wars Celebration Europe 2016 is in the books, but the shockwaves are still resonating like an ion cannon. Lucasfilm shared their latest news with fans from around the world who congregated in London July 15-17, 2016 for a Celebration to be remembered.
Rogue One was certainly THE highly-anticipated panel, and Kathleen Kennedy (President of Lucasfilm and Rogue One Producer) did not disappoint. Accompanied by Gareth Edwards (Director), Kiri Hart (Head of Story, LFL), and John Knoll (Executive Producer), Kathy welcomed us to the new world of stand-alone Star Wars films.
Gwendoline Christie (Captain Phasma, and our host for this panel) opened with a moment of silence for the lives lost the night before in the terror attack in Nice, France.
Rogue One, the first stand-alone Star Wars film.
The production team was initially concerned about whether there needed to be more introduction for Rogue One. It is the first of the planned “stand-alone” Star Wars stories (not part of the saga trilogies Episodes IV-VI, Episodes I-III, Episodes VII-IX).
From early screenings, Lucasfilm realized that fans understood immediately where Rogue One fit into the Star Wars timeline. This is the story of how the first Death Star plans were stolen; many lives were lost to get this intel to the Rebel base, to set up Luke Skywalker’s mission in Episode IV.
John Knoll (Executive Producer) developed the idea for Rogue One as a Mission Impossible-style story during the filming of Episode III in Sydney. While this story did not fit in with the live action Star Wars TV series planned back then, an opportunity arose when Disney announced a whole new set of Star Wars films.
Kathleen Kennedy described her visits to the set during the filming process of Rogue One. When she looked for director Gareth Edwards, she consistently found him with “a camera on his shoulder” trying to capture “different angles.” His style creates an “immersive” experience for the viewer unlike any other.
We were privileged to preview Shanghai Disneyland in May 2016, before its official opening June 16, 2016. With an impressive collection of opening attractions — many of them unique to Shanghai’s park — the top prize is claimed by “Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for Sunken Treasure” for its jaw-dropping cinematic beauty on an epic scale.
Having now seen all six Disney castles (Anaheim, Orlando, Tokyo, Paris, Hong Kong, and Shanghai), Shanghai Disneyland’s “Pirates” is one of the most impressive rides ever built.
The following is our first-hand perspective, taking you moment by moment through the attraction.
Winding through the queue, details in the rock work transport you to another time… Jack Sparrow’s “Wanted” posters are printed in multiple languages.
Reaching the launch area, you load onto boats with five seats across and a total of 30 guests on board. A very small drop with a splash….and the adventure begins…
0:03 The Jolly Roger talking skull, a definite nod to Pirates’ tradition. Everything is in Mandarin Chinese, but the tone is clear. Warnings for those who dare ride.
0:23 The boat goes past a water-front restaurant with lights, very reminiscent of the Blue Bayou in Anaheim and Tokyo Disneyland. In Shanghai Disneyland, this is “Barbossa’s Bounty,” a quick service restaurant with several food bay choices, and a nest of pirate-themed rooms to enjoy your meal.
0:37 Pirate skeletons come into view. The first one’s been run through.
0:56 The Brethren Lords sit at the Pirate Council — as skeletons — fighting over Pieces of Eight. Scene from “Pirates of the Caribbean, at World’s End.”
1:04 The jail scene, a definite tribute to all preceding “Pirates” rides. Only this time, all have joined the skeleton realm, including the dog.
1:40 Impressive transformation scene (not caught on this shot)… A talking skeleton re-animates to become Jack Sparrow, a full Audio Animatronic. He wishes you good luck…
2:10 …As you descend into the realm of Davy Jones. The onboard audio soundtrack is as moving as the imagery in this segment. Vast projection screens transport your boat deep into the depths of the ocean following the path of a large shark. Your boat glides through the ship graveyard and past other members of Davy Jones’ crew. It is beautiful, almost peaceful as you catch your breath under the water. Until…
2:34 The Kraken awakens. It is a giant octopus-like creature, ‘with an aura of foreboding.’
2:49 You follow the Kraken through the ribs of a shipwreck in the graveyard. How many ships have met their doom here?
3:20 Large crabs battle over something shiny (remember the crabs from “Finding Nemo”?)
3:23 The sweet siren call of mermaid’s song… and here are the mermaids themselves. The ship gathers speed and turns.
3:42 Talking heads — two members of Davy Jones’ crew are in the stocks having a lively conversation. It would be interesting to have this interpreted into English.
3:54 Mounds of sunken treasure…
4:01 You pass a twisted pirate ship with skeleton figurehead. The impressive movie projections extend all the way to the ceiling. You truly feel under water, deep in the ocean, watching the light and waves ripple far above your head.
4:15 Maccus, (the hammerhead First Mate of Davy Jones), has something funny to say (ha ha ha…).
4:23 The caverns echo with passionate organ music leading into the Flying Dutchman. This can only mean one thing….
4:33 Davy Jones is revealed as the mad musician. Sitting at his organ, he talks about explosions (the only Mandarin words I can make out). The Kraken slips away in the window beyond.
4:41 Jones pivots around, tentacles twitching, uttering more warnings about the treasure.
4:53 You sail down an underwater hall as the ship turns…
5:00 Watery images shimmer on the wall, as if an optical illusion.
5:01 The screens pull open to reveal…
5:04 A scene of epic proportions. A graveyard of ships that dwarf your own are resurrected — and you with them. Being pushed up from the depths of the ocean floor, you catch your breath…
5:16 And gasp at the reality of what just happened. Back from Davy Jones’ locker, bathed in a flaming sunset. You realize you have just made it past World’s End to the land of the living.
5:22 Your relief is brief, as Davy Jones surfaces in the Flying Dutchman with a giant splash, and nearly rams your tiny vessel.
5:32 You realize his battle is with Jack Sparrow, aboard the Black Pearl… and you are now caught in the middle.
5:39 With fierce cannon fire between Davy Jones and Jack Sparrow in their massive ships, you maneuver between them, immersed in one of the most cinematic scenes in ride history. The ships sinking before you are real on these vast projection screens.
5:48 You see a blast hole in the Black Pearl
5:58 Davy Jones disappears in a puff of putrid green smoke to battle Jack Sparrow
6:05 (sounds of sword fighting follow Jones and Sparrow as they battle on the upper deck, not quite visible on this video)
6:16 You sail backwards, spinning to witness Davy Jones and Jack Sparrow sword fighting in the hold.
6:22 Jack swings, rocking a net in the foreground.
6:30 The battle continues in typical Jack Sparrow style with swords and chickens flying, ensuing cannon fire, and massive flooding. Your ship is backing away, but not fast enough…
6:44 The explosion propels you up a small lift and waterfall drop through pitch darkness. You recover your thoughts. What did you just witness?
7:11 You drift slowly past a small sailboat, and hear the voice of Jack Sparrow… interrupted by Davy Jones.
7:23 A wall of pirate treasure glitters with gold and jewels…
7:28 …and turns to dust before your eyes, cursed by Davy Jones. Jack Sparrow is devastated.
“Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for Sunken Treasure” is an A+ attraction. A completely immersive experience, you will feel like you stepped into a Jerry Bruckheimer “Pirates” film.
The genius ride vehicle design, stunning visuals, moving musical score, and the brilliant cinematic presentation of this “Pirates” attraction exceeds all others to date. (And we include Spiderman, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Escape from Gringotts, and Fast and Furious Supercharged).
Add this to your Bucket List.
Special thanks to our Disney friends for this exclusive access!! We are so blessed by you for this special opportunity!
In the middle of cold and flu season, it is a struggle to stay healthy, especially when you are far from home. Time is so precious when you are on the road. You may be on a once-in-a-lifetime expedition to Antarctica, but you won’t fully enjoy your trip if you are sick. When illness strikes, having a medication “pharmacy” bag can make all the difference.
This is a true story. I was on a beautiful Mediterranean cruise. The ports were amazing. The ship was magical (actually, the Disney Magic).
One day, I was on a ‘beach day’ excursion. Walking along the sand in only knee-high water, an excruciating pain shot through my foot. Something venomous had stung me. I never saw what it was, but it caused extreme pain and swelling.
I saw the ship’s doctor. He gave me crutches and recommended applying heat to break down the toxin. With severe pain and swelling, I could not walk on the foot.
The next day’s port was Rome. My tour was not wheelchair accessible, but I wasn’t about to miss my first visit to Rome! I hobbled along on crutches.
While it was not ideal (I can’t remember most of what I saw that day in the Vatican Museum), I was glad for good friends, and the medications I had brought along with me…my personal “pharmacy.”
There’s a lot to be said for packing light, but I come prepared with my medications bag. I tell people that I travel with a pharmacy. It is compact, but effective. And it is much easier than finding medications while on the road. (Believe me, I’ve been there!)
Your medication ‘pharmacy’ bag should be with you, in your carry-on bag, at all times when traveling.
Your medications should never be in your checked luggage. You never know when you might need a medication, and meds may be very difficult to replace if lost.
On what I call ‘moving days’ — days of flying, train rides, switching hotels — have this bag with you, and not checked in.
Gather your prescription medications.
All your essential prescription medications are your first priority. Whether you’re going away for a weekend, or a month-long adventure — bring your medications!
It is a good idea to bring a written copy of your prescriptions, or at least a medication list. This is helpful in case meds need to be replaced, or in case of an emergency.
Savvy Traveler’s Tip: How to pack your medication pharmacy
I have found that packing medications into individual Snack-size zip-top bags really saves space!
We have all had some fantastic hotel experiences — whether it was the service, the location, or commemorating a special event …. and then perhaps some not so great hotel experiences.
In this series, I want to share with you some of the hotels that I have experienced.
It is a pleasure to share with you my review of The Westin Europa & Regina in Venice, Italy. This hotel is a gem in the heart of San Marco, and is conveniently located near museums and transportation options.
Westin Europa & Regina, Venezia
Last stay: May 2015
Rating Scale, for reference:
6=exceptional (rare ranking)
NE = no experience
Price — 4. Venice is expensive, and this is the best-value Starwood hotel in central Venezia.
Hotel Location — 6. Closer to Piazza San Marco than any other Starwood property, there are only 2 bridges to traverse from the Alilaguna stop to hotel.
Ideally located on the Grand Canal directly across from the iconic Santa Maria de la Salute church… It doesn’t get better than this.
Smartphones are indispensable in our daily lives. While in our country, I can check the weather, plan a route home that avoids traffic, research restaurant reviews, and update my Facebook account (not while driving of course) without thinking twice about how to connect to a network.
Therefore, it is very important that phone apps used while overseas work offline, or with Wi-Fi. Here, I share some more apps I have found particularly useful while traveling.
Currency – (Free) or XE Currency (Free).
Having a foreign exchange app is important to understand how much you’re actually getting for your dollar. Before traveling, check the exchange rate of the countries that you will be visiting. Updated currency exchange rates can be updated with a Wi-Fi connection while abroad. Right now, the euro is incredibly low against the US dollar. Time to go to Europe!! Continue reading 10 Must-Have Smartphone Apps for the Savvy Traveler→
Smartphones have made our daily lives immeasurably more convenient. Using GPS to map a route to the closest Starbucks, using Google to research Risso’s dolphins, uploading your pictures to Instagram – sometimes we may take the ease of obtaining information for granted.
It is therefore very important that phone apps used while overseas work offline, or with Wi-Fi. Here is a list of communication apps I have found particularly useful.
1. Google Translate: (FREE) Much improved, Google Translate can translate between 90 languages, and read aloud phrases in the chosen language. In addition, Google Translate now uses your smartphone camera to read written signs, and can instantly translate them on your smartphone screen.
This feature works instantly between English and: French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish. This app translates 36 total languages when you take a picture of the signs.