Walt Disney World: Wishes

 

 

Wishes 101

The Wishes Nighttime Spectacular is a firework show that goes off nightly (weather permitting) at Magic Kingdom. It's a wonderful tapestry of choreographed pyrotechnics and music orchestrated by Jiminy Cricket and the Blue Fairy (both of 1940's Pinocchio fame). There's a reason folks claims their spots in front of Cinderella's Castle an hour or two before showtime. But, what if you don't want to battle the crowds on Main Street? Where's the next best place? Here's some candidates...

Think Outside the Hub

There's a neat projection show on Cinderella's Castle before blastoff. Unless you're in front of the castle (either in the hub or on Main Street), you're going to miss it, and you'd definitely want to see it at least once. With that said, there's some great places to catch Wishes in the many lands around the hub. Mom and I caught an impromptu showing in Liberty Square, complete with music and ear-drum-shattering "booms" and "bangs". We were running to an attraction, but it's tough to say "no" to a firework show. We huddled close to a dimmed lamppost for a somewhat cockeyed viewing angle, but the fireworks looked so dynamic and animated! Think 4K quality. If anyone ever does a VR experience of Wishes, I'd want them to do it from this sort of vantage point. Speaking of full immersion, I've heard that the fireworks are shot from somewhere behind Fantasyland, and that the views from Fantasyland are like no other. If you could find a place to lay down and gaze up at the night sky, this might be the ticket! I've also witnessed Wishes from a race car at the Tomorrowland Speedway. As expected, nothing to write home about.

Around the Seven Seas Lagoon

Three deluxe resorts surround the Seven Seas Lagoon. If the Magic Kingdom is 12 o'clock on a clock, the Contemporary, Polynesian Village, and Floridian are 4, 6, and 9, respectively, with the Contemporary being the closest. Disney pipes the Wishes music to most of the vantage points at these resorts, so you're not missing out in the least. In fact, watching Wishes from a resort has to be one of the most subdued, relaxing experiences during a Disney vacation. Mom and I caught Wishes atop the Contemporary at the California Grill. The servers are very good about pacing your meal to accommodate Wishes. We finished our main course and then jetted for the viewing area. After the show, we arrived back at our table where fresh coffee and desserts waited. And we got that reservation the day earlier! Sometimes it pays to be spontaneous at Disney. For a significantly cheaper dining experience, give Gasparilla Island Grill at the Floridian a taste. If you get there early enough (I'd say twenty minutes before blastoff), you can snag a table outside with great views of the castle. And the view is so unique! I liken it to viewing a play behind the curtain, off to the side. You can really get an appreciation for how Disney pulls it all off. As for food, the Grand Gaspy Burger cannot be beat. Maybe I was in a overly good mood, but this burger festooned with pulled pork was one of the best I've ever eaten.

In the Seven Seas Lagoon

Don't think about jumping in with your inflatable doughnut and a six-pack in tow. You can charter a boat. How did mom and I do it? We enlisted in what might be the craziest, silliest adventure we've ever been on. They call it Pirates & Pals Fireworks Voyage. You have to book this months in advance. After checking in at the Contemporary (conference area in the main building, but it changes night to night), we were invited to partake in a scavenger hunt. It's a time-waster, and although it sounds like fun now, the Contemporary's leather couches were just more appealing at the time. We were then ushered into a conference room swarming with kids ravenous for Mickey Premium Bars and gold chocolate coins. Smee and Hook were also there posing for photos. After an hour watching ten year-old's loot pounds of candy from the treasure chest (which the attending cast member was quick to replenish), we finally got our photo and were assigned a boarding crew. We walked to our pirate ship, I mean water taxi, wherein the pirate in charge welcomed every family by name and entertained us with family-friendly jokes, trivia, and songs. We were first treated to an up-close and personal view of the Electrical Water Pageant (a highlight no doubt), and were then positioned for Wishes somewhere between Magic Kingdom and the Floridian. The view was kind of a let down! The boat floats, so you're in continuous, albeit slow, motion. Add this to the fact that the water taxi has a roof on it, and you can begin to appreciate that the viewing experience is not too seaworthy. Mom and I are hoping that Disney offers this adventure with an adults-only option. I'm not criticizing the kids, but it would be so fun having a pirate tell more graphic tales while at sea. Our pirate did a great job satisfying both the young and old, but it would've been cool to have seen him open up his repertoire for the adults.

It's Not All About "Where"

Sometimes who is more important than where. Although there are some killer Wishes viewing areas in and near Magic Kingdom, I'm sure the best is wherever you and your loved ones happen to be. And isn't this true? Living three-thousand miles away from my parents and brother, I'm often reminded that "the place to be" isn't necessarily a top resort or swanky locale, but with family and friends. In the same vein, the perfect view of Wishes might not necessarily be a view, but an experience creating memories with folks you cherish.

Disneyland: June 2016

 

There is no place quite like DIsneyland. When you think about all of Disney's resorts worldwide, Disneyland is the only one that Walt actually set foot in. There's something to be said about this. It just feels different compared to Walt Disney World. Smaller? Yes. But, it has a vitality and energy that you can't get anywhere else.

Mom and I visited on a Thursday in mid June. It wasn't packed, but had we not taken advantage of the single rider lines, we would have missed half of the attractions on our to-do list. We could have leveraged Fast Pass, but having driven in from the Inland Empire with tons of traffic, we arrived too late to really capitalize on it. Two single-day park hoppers ran us $300+. And no, a Walt Disney World Annual Pass does no good here!

We first stopped by Disney's California Adventure (DCA). It's a cross between Disney's Hollywood Studios and Disney's BoardWalk (but with rides). I visited DCA about fifteen years prior to this visit, and I honestly didn't think much of the place. That has changed! Car's Land is a master course in theming. It's like all of the quintessential parts of Route 66 somehow teamed up and settled in Anaheim. The Cozy Cone Motel is what I love so much about DIsney. Where else can you buy macaroni and cheese served in a cone made of bread? It's called Cone Queso, and it's one of the best things I've ever eaten. Not far down is Radiator Springs Racers— a 20x-more fun and engaging ride than its cousin in Epcot called Test Track. Next, we hit Grizzly River Run wherein you navigate two plunges and some strong currents in a circular, eight-person raft. It's similar to Kali River Rapids in Disney's Animal Kingdom in that you either leave very, very soaked or bone dry (there is no in-between). We then made the obligatory trek to the Tower of Terror— a somewhat stripped down version of the original in Disney's Hollywood Studios, but exhilarating nevertheless. We then made it over to Paradise Pier where we rode Goofy's Sky School (similar to Primeval Whirl in Animal Kingdom) and Silly Symphony Swings. We also ate at the Cove Bar. I'm not much of a drinker, but apparently this place has a secret drinks menu. Neat stuff. We tried their vaunted Lobster Nachos, and while tasty, we didn't get as much lobster as some of the vloggers on YouTube. Next time, I'm bringing a camera.

We then made the short walk to Disneyland Park. This is where it all began. Walking down Main Street USA, you can't help but feel like you're being transported to a place where all of your dreams do come true. We did too much to name everything in this post. Culinary-wise, the skewers at Bengal Barbecue are tender and tastefully affordable. The fried chicken dinner at the Plaza Inn is both wholesome and mouth-watering (perhaps the best deal we found all day). We did sample the 60th anniversary cupcake, and yes, it was good too. Mom and I were able to hit our favorite, the Enchanted Tiki Room. We also braved the single-rider line for Indiana Jones, and it was well worth it— I wish Dinosaur at Animal Kingdom was this fun. We also jumped on the Haunted Mansion, the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, and Storybook Land Canal Boats.

I'm not going to say that Disneyland Resort is better the Walt Disney World. They are two entirely different beasts! I think some get caught up in the comparison game because both parks have similar attractions; however, that's missing the forest for the trees. Disneyland Resort boasts many traditions, attractions, and culinary delights that World does not have, and vice-versa. I come to this conclusion: Walt Disney World has quality and QUANTITY. Disneyland had QUALITY and quantity. There's a pride in DIsneyland that's palpable.

Playing with NBA Stats

stats.nba.com is one of the coolest places on the web. If you've ever wanted to have fun with "Big" data and happen to be a big fan of the Association, check it out. I'll show you how to get started.

Step 1

Download Python. There's hundreds of ways to get Python. I suggest installing Continuum Analytics' Anaconda. It's popular in the Python community. It also comes with a couple of Python modules that we'll use to scrape and contextualize.

Step 2

Download my Python scripts from my GitHub. These scripts scrape stats.nba.com and do some very, very basic data contextualization. The goal? We want to plot each team's all-time field goal shooting percentage (FG%). This requires obtaining each team's FG% for every game they ever played. That's what the file get_teams.py is for! The other script, plot_teams.py, generates our targeted plot.

Step 3

Run the Python scripts. The required Python modules are at the top of each Python script. You will likely need to install nba_py. To do this, simply issue the following command:

$ pip install nba_py

You can execute get_teams.py from the command prompt as follows:

$ python get_teams.py

Provided you have Internet access, you'll see several .csv files (each belonging to a different NBA team) fill up in your working directory. To start processing this data, execute plot_teams.py (in the same directory) as follows:

$ python plot_teams.py

This will generate a violin plot conveying each team's field goal percentage distribution throughout its history.

This is a fairly intuitive result.  It makes sense that, on the average, when a team wins, its field goal percentage is higher than when it loses. This is why the green KDEs are shifted above their blue (loser) counterparts.

Gibson City, Illinois

 

Where do I begin? Situated north of the mighty Sangamon River at the convergence of a few county roads lies Gibson City. Never heard of it? According to TripAdvisor, the top attraction in Gibson City is the drive-in movie theater. There's also a McDonald's that ranks highly among Gibson City's eating establishments. But, this post is not dedicated to this town's take on the Big Mac. We're here to discuss the Bayern Stube. "Bayern Stube" loosely translates to "Best Darn Bavarian Food Around". Yep, it's tasty! Avoid the sticker shock from Lufthansa. Travel to Gibson City instead.

What makes the Bayern Stube great is not necessarily the hearty fare, but the details. As you approach from North Sangamon Avenue, it's almost as if Gibson City is being transformed into the Marienplatz. And this feeling occurs before ordering a beer! Once you step in, welcome to Heaven! The aroma hits you first. Then, it's the decorations. Once you're seated, let your arteries brace themselves. Loosen your belt and have the antacid ready. Order a beer. I suggest the radler. Dig into the menu. Order a pretzel. Pick an entree— it's all good. Eat the pretzel. Order another beer. Eat as much of the entree as possible. Struggling to keep up? Don't worry. Your waitress will be back with the dessert tray. I suggest the carrot cake. Pay the bill. Now for the moment of truth. Can you exit this sacred place without toppling over? Once back on Marienplatz, as you approach your vehicle, Gibson City will return. Let your significant other do the driving. You need a nap!

Cincinnati, Ohio

 

I explored Cincinnati in the late winter of 2016. I neither came in with high or low expectations nor did I leave overly satisfied or dissatisfied. Midway through my trip, I was reminded of what Gertrude Stein said about Oakland, California: "There is no there there". Did she mix up Oakland with Cincinnati? Initially, I could have swore she did! My first impressions of Cincy were of a big, sprawling Midwest city. Been there, done that. You got your gigantic strip malls, wide highways, and flat, nondescript terrain. But, after awhile, the city grows on you. I'll make a few posts about Cincy. For my first, let's talk animals!

The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden is a cool place. I cannot recommend it enough. If you're in Cincy for a couple of days, visit the zoo. You won't regret it. But, before I heap more plaudits on this place, I have some criticism. $27 gets you in at the gate. Tack on an extra $10 for parking. $37 total! Cincinnati Zoo, you're not Disney's Animal Kingdom or San Diego Zoo. Please lower those prices. Also, I visited when the botanical gardens were patches of dirt, but there's no discount for that. Additionally, the food service was kind of a letdown— long lines and lackluster choices. Finally, too many empty exhibits. For example, aside from us patrons, the Jungle Trails attraction (home to orangutans, gibbons, and bonobos) was devoid of primates.

The highlight of the Jungle Trails attraction.  Aside from these signs, there was not much to look at.

The highlight of the Jungle Trails attraction.  Aside from these signs, there was not much to look at.

The gorilla exhibit was perhaps the most fascinating thing to see. A ton of money went into this. The gorillas were utterly fascinating to watch. They looked so docile, yet undeniably powerful at the same time. You might recall that a gorilla was shot here when a boy somehow breached the enclosure. I visited one month prior to this event, and although I'm not sure if I saw that particular gorilla (Harambe), I have no idea how a kid could have gotten down there.

A sign at the gorilla exhibit.  I wonder if Harambe is on here...

A sign at the gorilla exhibit.  I wonder if Harambe is on here...

The rhino exhibits were quite impressive. I believe the zoo had white, black, and Indian rhinoceroses, and to my amazement, not too many folks lined the fences to see these guys. They were worth the price of admission. Just watching them eat and observing how they interact was spectacular.

The zoo also had an impressive cat exhibit. Cougars, tigers, and cheetahs feature, but the cheetahs were on vacation when I was there. Noticing a theme?

You can get very close to these big guys.  There's a thick piece of glass separating this feeline from me.

You can get very close to these big guys.  There's a thick piece of glass separating this feeline from me.

The African Savannah was both unexpected and very well done. Although no amount of foliage and giraffes cold have convinced me I was anywhere but Ohio, the exhibit was nevertheless enthralling. I recall getting very close to giraffes and flamingos. Separated from this exhibit were the elephants.

The were also polar bears and manatees. Overall, great zoo. If I lived in Cincy, I'd gladly buy a season pass to this place.