Aulani Disney’s Hawaii Resort Trip Report – Part 1

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Disney is like a drug. With all drugs, it always starts out innocently (well, relatively speaking) enough. In the case of that innocent start with Disney, it’s usually opting to purchase an Annual Pass instead of a 7-day ticket and then scheduling your annual trips to fall within 11 months of one another rather than a full year apart. That’s the gateway drug, so to speak, and 12 months later you have a moment of clarity where you look back and find you took 4 trips that you justified with that Annual Pass. The good thing, in the case of Disney, is that while this drug costs money like all the rest, that’s the only adverse effect to the ‘happiness high.’ (Well, unless you are addicted to Disney Turkey Legs, in which case there are other negative side effects, but still, Disney is a good drug as compared to the rest.)

Like with any addicts, we always find an innocent excuse to take our Disney addiction further. (I should be abundantly clear–this is all metaphor, we aren’t addicted to any other drugs besides Disney.) In this case, that excuse was that one of our friends told us that he was taking his grandpa to Aulani to celebrate his birthday, and offered us a stay in his room. With this on the table, we fell over ourselves finding ways to justify the exorbitant costs of airfare, food, rental cars, etc. For us, it quickly became a case of “we can’t afford not to do this!” Whether you’re in as deep as a pin collector who easily justifies buying that 1,453rd pin or simply someone who justifies buying a cupcake despite being full because it’s brand new and you have to try it, I’m sure fellow Disney fans understand what I’m saying.

I’ll be blunt: before our visit here, Aulani didn’t have much appeal for me. I’ve been to Hawaii before, and while I wanted to go back, I figured Disney wouldn’t compete with the myriad of real-world resort brands on Oahu. I know this seems harsh given that Disney does some amazing things with the parks, but I think when it comes to the resort hotels, Disney has fallen behind the pack of the world-class brands. At Walt Disney World, Disney has the advantage of location, so there’s really not such a “need” to keep up with the competition. In Hawaii, where most of the top tier hospitality chains have a flagship location, Disney wouldn’t have that proximity to theme parks as an advantage, and would have to run with the big dogs.

I figured we would make a trip to Aulani eventually, but probably as a day-visit while staying elsewhere on Oahu just to check out the resort. After hearing fairly mixed reviews about Aulani and many complaints about pricing and food quality, and how the Disney Vacation Club side of the resort had seriously botched the annual dues, I thought that Aulani was going to have serious issues. (Spoiler alert: all of my preconceptions were totally wrong.)

Even prior to committing to this trip, I did a lot of research about saving money at Aulani, and discovered that there were other restaurants nearby and a grocery store within walking distance of the resort. Although we wouldn’t have to pay for the room, we wanted to keep the costs of the trip down, especially if the food at Aulani would be an overpriced disappointment. We also found really good deals for airfare out of Indianapolis, so it seemed like–as far as trips to Hawaii go–this wouldn’t be too much of a financial stretch.

So, we agreed to go… (more…)

Walt Disney World Marathon Report – Part 2

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Picking up where the Walt Disney Marathon Report – Part 1 left off, after exiting the Magic Kingdom, we still had a fun stretch of track immediately in front of us, despite not entering another park for around 5 more miles. This was especially true for me, as I was thinking the next stop was going to be Epcot in another couple of miles, and I was excited about the prospect of morning light there. I don’t know why I thought this, as I knew the event began and ended in Epcot. I guess I just wasn’t thinking; I swear I wasn’t delusional–yet.

I realized Epcot wasn’t on the agenda pretty quickly, after we exited the Magic Kingdom. In reality, the course was set to go past the Grand Floridian, Disney golf courses, and through the Richard Petty Driving Experience before heading to Animal Kingdom.

There remained a lot of things to see and do along this park-less stretch of course, and all of this made it easy to understand why people love these runDisney events so much. Even if you aren’t stopping to get photos with the characters, or pausing to enjoy the high school bands or DJs, it’s energizing just to see and hear them. They truly give a palpable sense of energy to the course. As someone who doesn’t really like to run, I can see why so many people say, “I will never run an event that isn’t runDisney.”

I think this probably describes me: I like competitive events and am pretty crazy, but I’m not crazy about running 26.2 miles just for the sake of running 26.2 miles. The “Disney crazy” bit of me helps make the running part of it happen… (more…)

Walt Disney World Marathon Report – Part 1

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As I touched upon briefly in my previous post (spoiler alert: the title of that post gives away the ending of this report), I ran the Walt Disney World Marathon over the weekend, marking my first attempt at a 26.2 mile marathon, and only the second time ever that I’ve tried to run more than 10 miles in a single outing (see our Tower of Terror 10-Miler Review for the first). This post will cover my review of Marathon Weekend, some of my feedback after participating in a second runDisney event, and photos I took along with course. (I apologize in advance for the during-race photos in this post; I shot them with my Sony RX100, and often times, they were shot while running on semi-automatic modes. Many might be blurry, poorly composed, or just plain lousy.)

As with all of my trip reports, this will start with a bloated and wholly unnecessary preface before cutting to the chase and discussing the race. To begin with, I am an expert at doing idiotic things. Most decisions I make are bad ones. It’s sort of my thing. So last spring, eons ago it seems now, when it seemed like a good idea to register for the Walt Disney World Marathon without ever having run a half marathon and not really having run in a while, it probably wasn’t.

My idea at the time was that registering for the Marathon would be motivation for getting out and starting a regular exercise program. Unfortunately, I continued not making the time for exercise in the spring and summer. As fall approached, I thought about getting more serious, but we took a slew of trips, and when I was not traveling, I was playing catch-up at the office, editing photos, and trying to get blog posts done. Then we became busy with other things and suddenly it was the holidays. I enjoy running, but the holidays are a time for merriment, and exercise just doesn’t hold a candle to a good yule log and dark stout.

Just after Christmas, I realized that the Marathon was only about two weeks away. At this point, I knew I had to buckle down and start running on a daily basis, or else risk injury or not finishing. So, I went for a 4-mile run, which ended with blisters on my feet and knee pain. I am no stranger to knee pain when running, and actually used Vibram Five Fingers shoes for a while a couple years ago to correct my running form. Once I had that “fixed”, I moved to Nike minimalist shoes (due to blisters from the Vibrams), which was what I used for that 4-mile run. I figured at this point, since I no longer had a heal-strike problem, I could safely move back to shoes with more support, but I wanted to get fitted at a reputable running store. I delayed on doing this until the day I left for Walt Disney World, which was obviously another mistake, but again, it was tough to find the time. With no run training and some poor dietary choices made in the weeks leading up to the event, I knew I was setting myself up for disaster. (more…)

Hong Kong Disneyland Trip Report – Part 2

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Whenever we get off a new-to-us attraction, I always ask Sarah what she thought of it, first thing. I want to get her take before sharing mine, as I am very opinionated (to put it mildly), and I don’t want whatever I have to say to color her opinion. After she shared why she was blown away by Mystic Manor, she asked me what I thought. I was completely inarticulate, stringing together words like “music,” “monkey,” and “magic” along with a series of wows. In my defense, I was still on a bit of a high from the crazy sunrise that morning (if you missed that, make sure to go back and start from the beginning of our Hong Kong Disneyland Trip Report), and actually experiencing Mystic Manor just pushed me over the top. Like I’ve said, it’s really an amazing attraction–one of Disney’s bests ever.

That really set the tone for the rest of our visit to Hong Kong Disneyland. After experiencing Mystic Manor, there was no chance that Hong Kong Disneyland would be a letdown, or that we would regret visiting. It’s crazy to think that a single attraction could justify a trip to Hong Kong Disneyland–and we’re not saying that it does. For us, though, that attraction alone legitimized the park and gave it credibility. Unless the rest of the park were laid out like the Walt Disney Studios Park in Paris (since I had already seen it that morning and knew it was not), it would not be a disappointment for us.

Mystic Manor exits through a gift shop, and what a gift shop it is. I don’t often go crazy for Disney merchandise (I’m not sure I purchased any merchandise last year in the US parks), but I love some good attraction-specific merch. Mystic Manor has this in spades. That shop had more Mystic Manor merchandise than I’ve ever seen for any attraction, anywhere. Rivaled only by Splash Mountain, Expedition Everest, and Tower of Terror, to my knowledge. I was about to start going nuts in there before Sarah reminded me that we should do Mystic Manor a few times before the crowds got worse.

We did Mystic Manor a couple more times, seeing new details each time. One of the great advantages of the trackless ride system is that there’s the potential for it to be a slightly different ride experience depending upon which ride vehicle you’re in. The vehicles enter and exit the show scenes at different times, and in one case, take different paths. This adds re-rideability, and is really a smart move. It seems like there’s a bit of a trend towards ‘varied’ experiences like this, with Star Tours: the Adventures Continue probably being the best example.

At this point, we didn’t really take the time to explore the rest of Mystic Point, so I’ll come back to it later for my impressions of the mini-land as a whole. After a couple more times on Mystic Manor, we decided to see some of the rest of the park. Crazy idea, I know. We headed to Grizzly Gulch, where the wait for Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars was only 5 minutes. After seeing the trains fly around the track, Sarah decided to sit this one out. Although she’s fine on all of the Magic Kingdom coasters, Expedition Everest makes her nauseous. (more…)

Hong Kong Disneyland Trip Report – Part 1

In our “Grand Circle Tour” of the Disney theme parks, Hong Kong Disneyland was the last to cross off the list. Originally, we were just going to wait and visit it when Shanghai Disneyland opened. After all, both are in China, so it seemed easy enough to do it that way. We hadn’t exactly heard incredible things about Hong Kong Disneyland (far from it, actually), so we weren’t really in a hurry to visit.

Two new lands, Grizzly Gulch and Mystic Point, changed that. These new lands piqued our interest, and it seemed possible that Hong Kong Disneyland might be a park with at least some substantive merit. Still, we have to admit that flying to Hong Kong solely to visit Hong Kong Disneyland was not even in the realm of possibility for us. Even with the new lands, it was still mostly just a place to visit someday to “cross off the list.” What really changed things, though, was learning that we could fly via United to Tokyo with a stopover in Hong Kong for essentially no added cost (we cover how to do this in this blog post). At this point, the only “cost” became time, and since we had already been to Tokyo, we were okay with sacrificing half the trip for some time in Hong Kong.

We ended up spending 5 days in China: 2 in Hong Kong, 1 in Macau, and 2 in Hong Kong Disneyland. We definitely could have used some more time in Hong Kong itself, but two days in Hong Kong Disneyland was about perfect, we felt. Our mischief in Hong Kong and Macau is beyond the scope of this blog, so we’ll jump right ahead to our voyage to Hong Kong Disneyland…

We made our way to Hong Kong Disneyland after taking the TurboJet (it’s actually a boat…false advertising, right?!) back from Macau. The TurboJet “landed” in downtown Hong Kong, and from there we made our way via public transportation on the MTR to Hong Kong Disneyland. Of the places we’ve visited, Hong Kong has the best public transportation. It’s clean and efficient like Tokyo’s, but unlike Tokyo, it is not ridiculously complicated and confusing.

Perhaps we’re biased because we’re Disney fans, but the best rail line in Hong Kong is the Disneyland Resort Line, which is the MTR train that runs from the Sunny Bay station directly to Hong Kong Disneyland. While Paris, Tokyo, and Hong Kong have all had rail lines built to them, Hong Kong is the only place where it feels like this is an organic part of the master plan. Tokyo and Paris feel more coincidental, as the growth of the Val d’Europe and Maihama areas after Disney came to town might have necessitated rail lines to their respective Disney resorts (I know this isn’t actually the case–but it’s how it feels).

With that, we were at Hong Kong Disneyland… (more…)