Saturday, June 24, 2017

Paige and Ree's Epic Vacation: Part 4

*sigh* Sometimes I ask myself why I bother starting these things if I'm not going to finish until 3 months later...

Anyway, if you've been following along, you know that I've been documenting my trip to Florida with my bestie in March. We spent a week in Orlando: four days at Universal (Wizarding World of Harry Potter!!), one day at Magic Kingdom, and the rest of our time relaxing at our resort. This is the final part of this dragged out four-part saga. If you've stuck around, congratulations. I love you. You're a star. 

Ok, moving on! If you have read my other posts about this trip, you'll know that we had already spent three days at Universal and our day at Magic Kingdom, so all we've got left is one day at Universal, and our "going home" day. This post is mostly just talk and not too many pictures, I'm afraid.



Friday, March 31

So, as I mentioned, Friday we went back to Universal. We had decided ahead of time that we would save our last day for doing things we had missed out on, re-doing things we had enjoyed, and buying souvenirs! The shuttles always had to be booked 24-48 hours in advance, so we had figured that since we were staying later for the fireworks at Disney on Thursday, that we might want to sleep in Friday, so we booked the 11:15 shuttle to Universal.



There wasn't a whole lot else that we wanted to do in the parks. We had more or less exhausted all that we want to do in the Wizarding World, aside from souvenirs. And there wasn't much in the rest of the parks that either of us were very interested in. Except...

I told Paige that since we had one more day, and we'd already done the Wizarding World rides a couple times, and the rides at Magic Kingdom weren't terribly exciting... that I wanted to do one other "thrill" ride in the park, but that I would leave it up to her which one we would do. The options were:

1) Hollywood Rip-Ride-Rocket
2) Doctor Doom's FearFall
3) Jurassic Park River Ride
4) The Incredible Hulk Coaster

Neither of us wanted to get wet, so that ruled out the river ride. She also very quickly ruled out Doctor Doom because she couldn't do the drop. So it came down to the Rip-Ride-Rocket or the Hulk Coaster, and she decided that the Hulk was the lesser of two evils, haha! So we did that fairly early in the day. It was pretty awesome. We went the single-rider route, once again, so that we could get on faster. It was definitely a thrilling ride, and I'd have to give that one 10 out of 5 stars! It was great! I don't know how much Paige enjoyed it, but she didn't seem too traumatized. :D I didn't take any pictures of the ride, but here is a video of it from YouTube:

So we mostly spent the rest of our time wandering between the two parks, taking more random pictures, and buying up souvenirs. I was really hot that day. I mentioned in an earlier part of the saga that we had every intention of sampling Butterbeer in all available forms, so we went and got Butterbeer Icecream from Florean Fortescue's (it's pretty much just butterscotch soft serve...).


A cool Pumpkin Juice advert, and Florean Fortescue's Ice-Cream Parlour
Mmm... Butterbeer Ice Cream...

Even though it was wicked hot, we hadn't yet tried Hot Butterbeer, and we wanted to get some before we left. So we went to The Hopping Pot (because we hadn't been there yet), but they said it was out of season. What?!? How is that even possible?! We were so miffed. So instead, Paige got Otter's Fizzy Orange Juice, and I tried the Fishy Green Ale. Hers was a basic orange-flavoured carbonated drink. The Fishy Green Ale (I read about it on a blog and wanted to be adventurous) is a mint & cinnamon-flavoured drink with blueberry flavoured pearls (the "fish eggs") in the bottom. It sounds weird and gross and looks strange, and it was kind of good (well, it wasn't disgusting), but I could only drink about half of it, and that took me quite a while because I was only taking little sips (which is unfortunate since they cost enough...). I did quite enjoy sucking up and squishing the blueberry bubbles. :)

The Hopping Pot

Fishy Green Ale

It was a pretty hot day, and we decided that we wanted to have time to relax a bit back at the resort, so we had no intentions of staying until 7:15 to get the shuttle. So we instead decided to grab a taxi back around 5pm. It was handy and easily accessible, and an enjoyable ride, but, if I were doing things over, I would not do the taxi! It ended up costing a small fortune ($63 CAD). We knew it would cost a bit, but weren't quite expecting it to be that much. Had we made arrangements ahead to book a private shuttle, it would have cost us much less, but we didn't really know what we were doing. Oh well. Live and learn!

So once back at the resort, we munched on leftovers and all the snacks we had bought earlier in the week, hung out at the pool, packed our suitcases, and generally just chilled out.



Saturday, April 1

Paige's flight was around 11am, so her airport shuttle was supposed to be picking her up at 7:20am. This proved to be a bit complicated because the resort shuttles couldn't be booked ahead, and the office only opened at 7 (we had asked at the front desk a day or 2 before, and they told us to just call right at 7 and it should be fine). So she called at 7, like they had told us to do, and said that she needed to be at the desk at 7:20 to meet her shuttle. It apparently took them a really long time to get organized, and she had to call a couple times to remind them her shuttle was picking her up in X minutes, and let's just say she very nearly missed the shuttle, but thankfully the desk staff held off the driver long enough.

Unfortunately, my flight wasn't until 9pm, so I had most of the day to kill. Which would have been super fine, if I could have hung out in the villa, but I had to check out at 10am. So... I got a ride over to the main building with my bags, checked out and left my bags at the front desk (this was about 9:15am), then walked over to the commercial area to get breakfast.

Because my dad is an "owner," we were considered owners for being there in his place, but he hadn't given me his owner card (because they didn't tell him he had to), so I didn't have proof. This wasn't a problem during our stay because we had key cards to prove it. But once I had checked out, I no longer had a key card, and also didn't have my dad's owner card, so I couldn't prove "ownership" to get the discounts due me, so I had to pay a lot more for my breakfast than I should have. Not a big deal, but kind of annoying.

So, I ate my breakfast, then I stayed there writing postcards to my pen pals. That really didn't take very long, and I didn't feel comfortable staying at a table for no reason, so I went to buy stamps to mail my postcards. They sell stamps in a little dispenser machine that only takes quarters, and an International stamp is $2.50. (I knew this, but didn't really register it. In Canada, we have a national rate, a rate to send to the U.S., and another rate for International - I sort of assumed it was the same from their end.)

The postcards I mailed from Florida

After getting that all settled (and using up most of the American money I had left), I walked over to the main building to put my cards in the mailbox. I would have considered watching a movie at the little theatre, but the movies didn't start until afternoon. So I sat in the lobby and tried to read for a while. There were always so many people in the lobby, it's really not a relaxing place. It was very distracting. So I alternated between reading and people-watching. But then I just got sick of all the noise, so I walked back over to the commercial area, settled in on a bench outside in the shade, and read and people-watched some more, and surfed Facebook.

At some point I got kicked off the WiFi and couldn't get back on, so I had to give up on that. As it got closer to my shuttle pick-up time (4:20pm) I walked back over to the lobby, got my bags from the front desk, and found a table to sit at to try to read while I waited. It was a very long afternoon. Finally it was time, and the shuttle, and off we went.

It only took about 20 minutes to get to the airport, so I was ridiculously early, and I didn't really know what I was supposed to do. There was nobody at the Air Canada counter to ask, so I just checked in at one of the machines, and wandered out into a big lobby-area. I knew I needed to check my bag somewhere, but I didn't see any signs for baggage check (it had all been very straightforward and clearly marked in Montreal). So I asked a flight attendant where I was supposed to check my bag, and she was kind of confused and indicated that it would be at the airline counter... so I went back.

There was still nobody there, but somewhere along the way I had heard that the Air Canada counter would only be open at 6pm (because they only had 2 outgoing flights that day, ours at 9pm and another at 11pm), and by this time it was about 5pm. So... I took my place at the head of the line and waited! People eventually trickled in behind me, and I had the pleasure of telling them we had to wait until 6 to be served. Anyway... 6pm eventually rolled around, I checked my bag, and then hustled off to security and my gate.

After that, it was all pretty normal and straightforward and uneventful. My seat mate on the flight left her overhead light (which seemed to be pointed right at the top of my head) on for the whole trip, so there was no chance I was even going to doze. We got into Montreal right on time at midnight. Baggage claim took forever, it was 1am before I even got my bag, and everything just seemed to take much longer than necessary, but maybe that was just because I was sick of waiting. I think it was 1:30 by the time we left the airport (my parents were waiting for me), and with a few stops, it was 4am before I was home in my bed, and at least 6am before I was able to sleep. It was an extremely long and tedious day filled with so much waiting, but considering some of my other adventures, a rather routine and unexciting trip home. :)


Harry Potter souvenirs! Clockwise from the top:
Ginny Weasley's wand, souvenir Butterbeer mug,
Fizzing Whizbees, Chocolate Frog, Bertie's Every Flavor Beans,
Pumpkin Juice bottle, Ravenclaw sweater & pin, Ollivander's pin,
and Universal Studios magnet <3

So, that's it! It was an amazing and super fun trip. New York would have been fun, but doing the Wizarding World of Harry Potter was definitely the better choice, for this year anyway. Maybe someday we'll do New York - it's really not that far away.

I would most definitely go back to Universal at some point, but if I was going back to Orlando, I would probably try to get in more time at Disney World and only one or two full days at Universal. And as much fun as the resort was, next time I would probably seriously consider booking a complete package and staying on site and stuff. We thought that doing it this way was cheaper, but in the end... I'm not entirely sure that it was! I still haven't added everything up to see how I did compared to my budget... Another post, maybe.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Paige and Ree's Epic Vacation: Part 3

Hi there! If you haven't been following along, I have been recounting, in detail, my recent trip to Orlando with my best friend, Paige. You can read the story behind the trip in Part 1, and our first couple days in the theme parks in Part 2.

To summarize, just in case you haven't got time to read all that, both Monday and Tuesday we went to Universal (Universal Studios & Islands of Adventure) and did ALL THE HARRY POTTER THINGS!

Wednesday (March 29)
On Wednesday we took the later free shuttle from the resort, which left at 11:15am, and came back at 7:15pm - earlier in the week we had taken the 9:20am shuttles and found that we were exhausted by the end of the day and our feet were just killing us. It turned out to be a smart move, as having just a few less hours of standing/walking in the heat, we felt so much better at the end of that day.


By this point, we were still very much into the Harry Potter stuff (Harry Potter stuff can't get old, right?), and we decided to dedicate our time to experiencing again the Harry Potter rides we had enjoyed the most, and also using our wands. So we went straight to the Dragon Challenge ride, the most exciting one. We ended up on the second dragon (there are two tracks) so it was a slightly different experience, and we got split up so that we could get on the ride faster, and the line was still pretty short at that time of day (which was around 11:45-ish, although I don't think I ever saw the sign say more than a 20 minute wait for that ride). After the Dragon Challenge, we went through Hogwarts for the Forbidden Journey ride again. We went back over to Diagon Alley for lunch at The Leaky Cauldron again because we preferred the atmosphere and experience there over The Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade.






We spent the rest of the afternoon practicing our charms and spells in both parks. The spells in Diagon Alley (and Knockturn Alley) were fun & interesting, but we had a miserable time getting most of them to work for us! There are witches wandering about to help you, but there are only a couple of them, for a dozen spell spots, so we didn't get too much assistance. And there were tons of kids around lined up to take their turn at practicing each spell. So it made me feel a bit silly to be standing in line with a bunch of kids and then not be able to make the thing work. I tried very hard to leave behind my insecurities and just have fun, but this was one situation that I could not let go of.
Posing with wands for a double selfie is really difficult...
There were a few more spells to do in Hogsmeade, but of course that day, half the village was "jinxed" so nobody's spells were working, which was unfortunate. We did, however, have an amusing conversation with the Hogwarts Express conductor. There weren't really as many cast members around as I would have expected, and it wasn't clear with most of them whether they were actually in character or not, but with the conductor, it was very clear (once we caught on!)... We asked if we could take his picture in front of the Hogwarts Express, which he consented to. He said he hadn't known when he took the job that he'd become so famous, it was the train who was the famous one! He then asked us where we were from, so we said Canada, of course. And he confirmed that it was still pretty cold there. He then proceeded to ask us why we (and everyone else) were dressed in summer clothes when it was so cold? We especially, being from a colder climate, should have known to bring warmer clothes! He himself needed his longjohns and the fur liner in his coat to keep warm! We had a good chuckle! :) (Because the buildings in Hogsmeade all have snow on them, you see.)


After we had had our fill of spell casting, and as it was nearing the time for the shuttle, we slowly headed toward the entrance. Earlier in the week we had seen Toothsome Chocolate Emporium in CityWalk, and had taken a peek inside. It is a 19th Century steampunk-themed chocolate store, restaurant & bar - which is about as awesome as a thing can get! We had also seen a girl from our shuttle with one of their milkshake cups which we thought we ought to try, so that's where we headed Wednesday afternoon on our way to the shuttle. The milkshakes were an outrageous $13 USD (plus tax), but they were quite something. I got the brownie one, which had a huge fudge-y brownie on top with the straw stuck through it. The straw was actually full of brownie, though, which wouldn't budge and resulted in me spilling milkshake all over myself and my bag. They were pretty tasty, but sooo filling! While we were sitting on the patio enjoying our shakes, there was a lady in full steampunk costume (apparently called Professor Doctor Penelope Tibeaux-Tinker Toothsome, which I found out after doing some research once home) who walked around talking to customers... she wasn't talking to us, but her costume was awesome! I wish I had taken a picture. I wasn't feeling it too much at the time when we were there, but if I were ever to go back to Universal, I would definitely like to spend a little more time at Toothsome - get a meal and whatnot. :)

Thursday (March 30)
Thursday was Disney's Magic Kingdom day! We had decided before the trip that we would go to Disney on Thursday, as it's supposed to be a "less busy" day at Magic Kingdom. We knew that we wanted to stay later for the fireworks, and knowing how tired we had been earlier in the week, we decided to take the last shuttle that went to Disney, at 12:15pm, which came back at 10pm. If I were doing it again, I think I would put in a few more hours at Disney, especially because we were only there for one day. I was tired at the end of the day, but we didn't get to do everything we had wanted to, and it felt a bit rushed at some points during the day, so a few more hours could have been put to good use.



The shuttle from the resort actually only goes to Epcot Centre, so we then had to take the Disney Monorail over to Magic Kingdom. It was really hot that day! We had made a vague list of things we wanted to see/do, but of course had forgotten it behind at the resort. So, we started wandering, took the obligatory selfie-in-front-of-Cinderella's-castle pictures, wandered through shops on Main Street to get out of the heat, etc. There aren't too many "thrill" rides at Magic Kingdom, but there were a few we had in mind to do, so we headed over to Frontierland first (totally bypassing Adventureland, which is actually where Pirates of the Caribbean is and a few other things we wanted to see, so we never even saw those things, and didn't realize until we were back at the resort!!). On the way to Frontierland, were caught part of the Muppets' Memorable Moments in American History show in Liberty Square. Then we got in the long line for Big Thunder Mountain. There is entertainment along most of the line, and the ride was fun, but I think my childhood memories were more exciting. I'd probably give it 3/5 stars.


After we got off Big Thunder Mountain, there was a parade happening, so we had quite a time getting to where we wanted to go! But we eventually made it over to Fantasyland and did It's A Small World, Little Mermaid: Ariel's Undersea Adventure, and the Mad Tea Party. It's A Small World is one of those classic Disney rides, but in hindsight, we could have skipped it because it wasn't all that great. I don't think that the Little Mermaid ride was there when I was a kid, if it was I never went on it, so that was kind of cute, lot of music to sing along to. (Haha!) I told Paige that if we had time and it wasn't a ridiculous line, then the Mad Tea Party was a must because I didn't get to do it when I was a kid and it was a sore spot. ;)

Beauty & the Beast's castle!

We would have loved to eat at Be Our Guest,
but it was booked solid for the week!

Statue of Gaston
After those rides we got supper at Cosmic Ray's Starlight Diner in Tomorrowland, which was delicious! I got a pulled pork burger, and it was just amazing. After that we headed over to Space Mountain. It was a ridiculous wait time (80 minutes!) and while there were some interactive games along part of the path, for the most part it was just a lot of standing and shuffling a few paces at a time. We got separated on this one too so that we could ride faster. It was so exciting and exhilarating! I loved it! I think Paige liked it in the end... That one gets 5/5 stars, for sure. It was just as I remembered it as a kid!

Next it was time to do our souvenir shopping and find a spot for the amazing Wishes fireworks show! So we headed back to Main Street, spent an hour or more shopping, and then found a perfect spot for the show beside a super sweet young family. While waiting we got some snacks - we had both wanted Mickey straws but forgot to order them with our meals, so then we were running around Main Street trying to find some, but the best we could do was chocolate-covered marshmallows on straws. The Wishes show was a spectacular 15 minutes long and so beautiful! I am so, so glad we included it in our itinerary! Immediately after the show we headed out with the masses to take the monorail to Epcot in order to catch our 10pm shuttle back to the resort!

Part 4 detailing the last two days of our trip is up now!



Magic Kingdom souvenirs! <3

Monday, May 8, 2017

Paige and Ree's Epic Vacation: Part 2

So, as described in Part 1, we arrived at the resort around mid-day on Saturday, March 25th (Paige a little later than me). We were at Westgate Vacation Villas and Resort in Kissimmee. It is a huge place! Our villa was a 5-10 minute walk from the main building. They do have a little shuttle and golf carts to get you around the resort, if ever you don't have a car (which we didn't) and have stuff to lug around because it's quite a big place. The villa was really nice, basically a small apartment. There were two bedrooms, one with two double beds, and the Master bedroom with a King size bed. There was also a pull-out couch that makes a Queen size bed in the living area. There was a fully equipped kitchen, washer/dryer, dining area, living area, and patio. The Master bedroom had an en suite toilet, shower, and jacuzzi. The other bedroom had access to another washroom with toilet & tub/shower. So we each claimed a room and had our own bathroom, which was nice.
The resort offers a free shuttle service to SeaWorld, Universal, and Disney's Epcot Centre, so Monday and Tuesday we reserved the earlier (9:20am) shuttle to Universal, which came back at 7:15pm. We were kind of grumbling thinking that that wasn't very convenient hours, but we quickly discovered that that is a long day of walking around in the heat! The temperature over the week varied from 29-33 degrees Celsius, which is not much different than summer here, but I, for one, wasn't ready and didn't handle it very well.

So here's a somewhat condensed overview of those first two days in the parks:




Monday (March 27)
We went to Universal Studios first, and pretty much made a bee-line for Diagon Alley (basically the whole reason for this destination was our mutual love of Harry Potter). That first day we wasted a bit of time just being so in awe of everything and not quite knowing where to start. Before you enter Diagon Alley, you see King's Cross Station (where you go to take the Hogwarts Express), the Knight Bus, and Grimmauld Place. We were so lucky to get to Grimmauld Pace right when Kreecher made his appearance in the window! Then, upon entering Diagon Alley for the first time and soaking in those first few sights, the dragon breathed fire and we were in a perfect position to capture pictures of it! It was totally awesome!!


So, after getting inside Diagon Alley, and taking pictures of nearly everything we saw, the next thing we did was get in line for the Escape from Gringott's ride. It was a long wait (I believe it was 60 minutes - which really isn't bad in theme-park terms), but the line moved pretty fluidly so it didn't feel so long. The line winds all through the inside of Gringott's bank, which made it an interesting wait. Such beautiful things to see! We didn't have our phones because you are supposed to secure all loose belongings in a locker, so we didn't get any pictures inside. We saw lots of people had smuggled their phones in, but we didn't think it worth the risk of potentially dropping them while on the ride. The ride itself was fun and exciting, but not terribly memorable, and the ending was kind of abrupt and disappointing - we both kind of expected a bigger finish. I give it 3.5 out of 5 stars.


After that, we had lunch at The Leaky Cauldron - fish & chips, of course (so good!), with Butterbeer. It was our intention to try Butterbeer in all it's forms offered in the parks, so that first day we tried the cold version. Delicious, but very sweet. (I've been asked about this a lot, so I feel it necessary to explain: Butterbeer is a non-alcoholic beverage referred to in the Harry Potter books, which has been recreated for the parks! It is most often described as butterscotch flavour, but the cold version is kind of like cream soda with butterscotch "foam" on top.)  We also bought our interactive wands at Ollivander's right away, with the intention of using them throughout the week (we had decided ahead of time that we would only buy any real souvenirs, aside from our wands, at the end of the trip).


Lunch at The Leaky Cauldron, Ollivander's Wand Shop, some of the other shops


We had bought park-to-park passes specifically so that we could ride the Hogwarts Express, which is so much fun and a must do! The line on the Diagon Alley side meanders through King's Cross Station, bringing you through the wall to Platform 9 3/4! That first time we went through, I didn't see the wall, but I caught a quick clip of it later on. The train itself is such a good replica, so cute. The cars hold up to 8 people, and the windows/door have projections, and it's a different animation in either direction you travel. So well done! Except that the voice of Hermione is not Emma Watson's, which seemed odd...


We didn't stay long on the Hogsmeade side that first day because there were so many more people, and it was hot, and just... Yuck. So we just had a little sit-down, got some cold drinks, had a quick look around, and then took the train back.

Back in Diagon Alley, we did the Ollivander's wand experience. When we first went to the shop to buy our wands, the line for the experience was huge, but when we went back later in the afternoon there was nobody! That was such a fun experience! I'll talk more about that in a later post...

If memory serves, that was pretty much all we did that first day. Before leaving the park to wait for the shuttle, we stopped at a little snack kiosk to get pretzels, and they were totally gross and disappointing and a waste of money. Once back at the resort, we hopped in the pool, ordered a pizza, watched TV, and generally just relaxed after a super fun, magical first day in the parks!



Tuesday (March 28)
Back to Universal on the 9:20 shuttle. This time we started off on the Islands of Adventure side, and again went straight to the Harry Potter section, of Hogsmeade. We decided to get some rides out of the way first, because things had seemed to get busier after lunch the day before. So we did the Forbidden Journey ride. Once again, the wait was entertaining, and didn't seem as long, because the line went around the inside of the Hogwarts castle with lots of interesting things to see. Again, we had to secure everything in a locker, so we don't have any pictures inside :(, but trust me when I say that it was awesome! The ride was a lot of fun, very exciting and entertaining, and seemed a decent length. I'd probably give that one 4.5 out of 5 stars.




By the time we got done with that ride it was around 11:30, so we went to get lunch at The Three Broomsticks, and got in just before the lunch rush! We still had to wait, but not nearly as long as we had the day before. I got the Shepherd's Pie, which was quite good. Paige tried the frozen Butterbeer this time, and I had a taste. It was basically a caramel flavoured slush. We sat there for a bit enjoying the air conditioning and letting our food digest... And then got in line for the Flight of the Hippogriff ride.

Oh my gosh. We were expecting the Dragon Challenge ride (we were confused!), and the line for this Hippogriff ride was super long and not that interesting, and then the ride itself was so short, and fun, but not really that exciting. It was definitely only 2 out of 5 stars for me, pretty big disappointment. The best part of the whole thing was walking by Hagrid's Hut in the line, and the animatronic Buckbeak.
The Three Broomsticks

Lunch at The Three Broomsticks

Hagrid's Hut


So after that, we got in the actual line for the Dragon Challenge ride, which was only a 20 minute wait! And boy, it's not called a thrill ride for nothing, let me tell you! The line took us through... well, I'm not sure what, actually. It's as if you're going down into the castle dungeon or soemthing? Anyway, the ride was full of twists, turns, climbs, drops, swinging sideways and upside down... it was AWESOME! So much fun! 6 out of 5 stars, definitely!

Poor Paige hadn't done many rollercoasters before this trip and so she didn't know if she would like them or not... This ride didn't help her choose! Haha. We were so dizzy after, and I didn't have my head against the seat as you're supposed to, so I got a headache from getting knocked around a bit, so we went and got some refreshments and had a short rest.

The rest of the day was spent wandering through the rest of the Islands of Adventure: we did some of the kiddie rides/attractions in Seuss Landing (Caro-Seuss-el, High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride, and walked through the Truffula tree forest) and watched The Eighth Voyage of Sinbad (kiiiinda lame, but kinda fun :D ). We also caught the Universal Superstar Parade, which was... well, it was a something. Hah! I'm sure it's much more interesting/exciting for little kids.
Part 3 and Part 4 are live now!


Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Paige and Ree's Epic Vacation: Part 1

The last couple months have been a blur. I drafted a few different blog posts (on all my blogs) before the fact, talking about my recent trip to Orlando, Florida with my best friend, but in the end, I don't think I had actually published any of them. So you may be wondering what I'm blathering on about! Patience, I am going to tell you! If you know me and my writing at all, you know that I tend to babble on and on, so I've split the tale of this week-long vacation into four parts. This one is basically just sharing how we got there and the first couple days at the resort.

Ok, so let's start with the back-story. A couple of years ago, when I was turning 28, I decided to write a bucket list of 30 things I wanted to do/accomplish/achieve before my 30th birthday. I was kind of freaking out about the fact that I was closer to 30 than 25, regretting not doing more things with my youth, and I had been seeing a lot of these bucket lists around the internet, for various milestones. I loved the idea, and decided to do it to help give myself some solid goals to aim for over the next couple years.

One of the items on this list was to travel with my best friend. We have been friends for 12 years now. That's crazy! Over those 12 years (and previous, in her case), we have both done a bit of international traveling. One of the main points we have in common is our love of travel, adventure, and world cultures. So it may (or may not) come as a surprise that we had never actually traveled anywhere together!

Spending New Year's Eve in New York City is on her life's bucket list, so that was our initial plan as a trip to do together. Fast-forward to September 2016 when we completely abandoned those plans and decided to go to Florida instead! We also never get to celebrate our birthdays together, so this was a sort of early 30th birthday bash for us to do together. Ok, now let me share!



Saturday, March 25th, we both flew down to Orlando. Our flights were supposed to arrive around the same time, but hers was delayed almost 2 hours. We stayed at a Westgate Resort in Kissimmee, so after Paige arrived, the rest of Saturday was basically spent doing a bit of exploring around the resort and hanging out at the pool, nothing too exciting! Sunday we were *supposed* to get a free breakfast and other stuff (long story, but one word should explain: "timeshare"), but when that didn't work out, we went and got some breakfast & snack foods at the little convenience store, and hung out in our villa (which is like an apartment), and at the pool some more, did some more exploring on the other side of the resort - found the water park, the mini golf, the bike & pedal boat rentals, etc!







Paige had plans to go to a church event with some friends Sunday evening, so we walked over to the main building together to meet her friends. After they left, there is a little movie theater room (Disney movies only!) in that main building, so I hung around and watched Tangled. Then I walked back to the villa, but decided to stop at the pool on the way, to sit and read for a bit. When I went back to the villa, my key card had demagnetized, so I had to walk over to the main building again to get that fixed.

I decided to get a ride back to our rooms. I wanted to experience the resort "train" shuttle. I had seen the stops all over the place, but had never seen the shuttle itself. So I asked the security guard outside where the shuttle stopped and when it would be back. He told me that it would be back soon and I could just stand there with him to wait, he didn't mind. So we had a little chat, he asked me where I was from, if I was finding it too hot, what plans we had for the week, etc. After several minutes, I asked again about the shuttle, and he said it shouldn't be long, but not to worry I was fine there, so I stayed chatting a bit more. I asked how long he'd been working there, he said two weeks. Then he said, "Oh there, see that bus down there? That's the shuttle. Now I'll be sad because you're going to leave me." Haha, so I was surprised about this bus thing. Again, I hadn't seen the train so I didn't know what to look for, but I was kind of expecting one of the big golf carts. Anyway, so the bus stops, and the driver asks if I'm going to the Towers (the other Westgate Resort across the highway), and I said no and gave him our unit number. And he was like, "Oh, this is just a shuttle between the resorts, but... (I must have looked distraught) you're the only one, so I can take you over, it's not a problem."

So I eventually got a ride back, and made a couple of humorous acquaintances along the way. I then tried out the jacuzzi in my room before settling in to watch some TV until Paige got back. It was an amusing way to start the vacation. :)

Monday we started our park adventures, which you can read about in Part 2!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Year in Review - 2016

Hello Readers! I apologize for not posting sooner. My last post was months ago, and my only excuse is that life happened, and I've been giving a lot more attention to my book review blog and Instagram accounts.

So, here we are at the end of 2016. So many people are raging about how terrible this year has been and how anxious they are for it to be over. This year certainly has had it's ups and downs, but I think I have to say that, for the most part, 2016 has been a good year for me. Let me attempt to summarize the highlights:

January: Nothing very exciting happened that I can remember, just the usual recovering from the holidays, celebrating the elder nephew's birthday, figuring out new technology, etc.

February: My friend Kelly and I went into Montreal for the annual Je T'aime en Chocolat event and some shopping, and we stayed to see the chocolate fashion show at the end, which was a lot of fun!

March: I had some fun cake orders, we celebrated Easter...

April: My brother and I went to Montreal for a Walk Off the Earth concert. It was my first-ever concert, which is noteworthy enough on its own, but it was also Walk Off the Earth, one of my all-time fave bands! It was awesome!! We also celebrated my dad's and younger nephew's birthdays.

May: My brother and I went to the first food truck festival of the season in Montreal, we witnessed some particularly beautiful apple blossoms throughout the month, and we celebrated my brother's birthday.

June: We had a visit from Ontario family, celebrated Father's Day, celebrated mom's birthday... Went to a drive-in movie (Finding Dory) - another first for me!

July: Canada Day! Family get-together to celebrate 3 June birthdays and July 1st... We went to Knowlton (I did the Three Pines Friendly challenge in the village)... We took a week's vacation traveling to/from Ontario visiting family...

August: My 29th birthday, another food truck festival in Montreal, annual family rivalry for decorated cupcakes at Cookshire Fair (mine won)...

September: My brother and I drove to the Maritime provinces for the weekend - I spent it with my bestie in NB, he went to his friends' in PEI.

October: My parents and I took my nephews to Parc Safari, we celebrated my parents' 40th wedding anniversary, we experienced a beautiful autumn, had a fun Halloween party at the community centre. 

November: Packing Operation Christmas Child boxes, the first snowfall of the year, Christmas craft sale...

December: Baking, parties, decorating, gifts, CHRISTMAS!!


It really has been a great year. Bad things happen all the time; it's just a matter of looking for that silver lining, choosing to see and to celebrate the good in spite of the bad, and striving to do better (despite what may come) this next year.

And with that... Happy New Year <3


Thursday, August 25, 2016

"There's no running away."


"It's in every person's life, around 27 to 29 years old, the stars and the planets align themselves to exactly the way they were when you were born. You're faced with yourself. There's no running away." 

- Lykke Li

Well... it happened. My 29th birthday came and went, and I'll be honest... it wasn't so bad. But that doesn't mean I'm happy about it in the slightest.
 
The day itself wasn't a big deal at all. I did have the afternoon off of work, because it happened to fall on that day of the week. My nephews were staying with us for the week, so we were all pretty busy entertaining them & preparing for the local county fair on the weekend. My aunt & uncle came over for supper, not because it was my birthday, just because it was the only evening that worked for everyone. And that was about it. Overall, however, it was a good birthday. My birthday celebrations usually get spread out over a week or so, for various reasons, but also because I insist on it. :) The Friday before my birthday, the whole family went to Foresta Lumina again (I went last year for my birthday, for the first time, and it was so awesome!). It ended up being terribly humid & raining, but we still trudged around in the woods for an hour, doing the circuit. It was nice, but I'm really glad I went last year. If this had been my first time, it wouldn't have been a very good experience.

So then, I already mentioned what happened on the actual day (Tuesday). My pass for Foresta Lumina was technically my brother's birthday gift to me, but he also gave me a Michaels gift card on my birthday, which was really sweet. My parents gave me a gorgeous baking cookbook and some crafty things I've been wanting. I also received some cards/letters/small parcels from friends and penpals. Wednesday I got a parcel from my BFF containing the next two Harry Potter books I was missing, some Harry Potter socks, and a cute journal, which was so fun! When I went to visit her over Labour Day weekend, she also gave me 2 Harry Potter movies as part of my birthday gift, and a couple PEI souvenirs from her summer. She's just the sweetest! :)

Friday I got my Owl Crate box. It wasn't technically a birthday gift, but it arrived during my birthday week, so we'll call it my gift to myself... We took the kids to mini putt & the fair, which also wasn't for my birthday, but it still all counts, ok? ;)

Saturday morning my cousin stopped in with a nice little gift of a fun notebook, 3D cookie cutters, and coloring pages. Then my sister & brother-in-law came for lunch and to get the kids. They gave me a Three Pines tote bag (swag related to my favourite author, Louise Penny), and the newest Louise Penny book. The books are only released August 30, so I'll get it in the next couple weeks, but that just means my birthday is extended a little more. ;)

And Sunday I requested a birthday lunch at a restaurant with my family. I chose East Side Mario's because we rarely go there, and any time I've gone I really enjoyed it. I couldn't decide what I wanted, hesitated between a pasta & a rice dish, but took the rice one because it's not something I would normally order. It's not something I'll be ordering again, either. :/ Sadly, it was not very good, and did not sit well the rest of the day.

So there you have it. I'm still working away at my 30 Before 30 bucket list. It's becoming increasingly obvious that I will not be able to accomplish everything on my list. But, I guess the important part is that I'm trying. Because, as the quote at the beginning indicates, there's no running away, no slowing down or turning back time... 30 is coming, whether I like it or not, so I just need to try to make the most of it.



Thursday, December 31, 2015

Year in Review - 2015

So, I've been trying to write this post for about 3 months now. I started it mid-November, but didn't feel ready to post it. Then the beginning of December I edited and added a bit, but I wanted to add some pictures or something before posting, and then I forgot about it. Today, however, I said to myself, "Enough is enough! The people want an update, for crying out loud!" Which is totally not even true, nobody cares, but that's entirely beside the point. ;)

Originally, I was just writing a sort of update-on-the-last-few-months kind of post, but since it's very literally the end of the year, I've decided to go ahead and do the whole year-in-review for you.

So let's see... This time last year, I was enjoying the time off after finishing up the Pastry course, and was starting to put feelers out for a job (with not much luck because a lot of places were closed for the holidays). The year then proceeded as follows:

January: I started having a bit more luck with my job search, and by the end of January/beginning of February I had started working 2 days a week at the Bistro Kapzak as Pastry Chef. My best friend Paige and I started a writing challenge, which only last a few weeks, but was quite fun! I also made my nephew Alexander's 12th birthday cake - a Minecraft grass block with Steve and other blocks on top. I wasn't too impressed with the results, but he seemed to like it.

February: Near the end of the month, I also started working 3 days a week replacing the cook for Meals on Wheels in Lennoxville. It was only supposed to be for a few weeks, maybe a couple months, but there were some complications. My cousin's little girl, Sofia, turned two, and I had the pleasure of making her Mickey & Minnie Mouse decorated cookies! My friend Mandy and I decided to have an international culinary experience, so we made our own Indian food, which was mostly a success.

March: Not a whole lot of excitement happened. My friend Kelly and I tried making maple candy treats for her aunt to sell at her sugar shack. We had some successes and some failures, but it was a fun excuse to get together. :)

April: This was a very busy month for me. Still working the 2 jobs, I also had five cake orders! A smash cake and several dozen cupcakes for a first birthday; another Minecraft grass block cake; a regular buttercream cake for a 90th birthday; a Minnie Mouse birthday cake with buttercream transfer; and then a John Deere tractor cake for my nephew David's 10th birthday!

May: My poor Loretta the Jetta had some pretty serious issues between the end of April to mid-May. I had to replace brakes and a few other things, and then had to replace the motor. It was a really sad time for me. Also in May I had the lovely privilege of making a small "topper" cake and 60 cupcakes for a carnival themed wedding, as well as the bride & groom topper (polymer clay). It was a lot of fun, being my first wedding and all!

June: The month of adventures and dreams! Paige and I started planning an adventure for next December. I started PostCrossing! My brother and I went to La Ronde in Montreal for the first time ever, on Saint-Jean-Baptist. June was also my mom's 65th birthday, and my sister and I secretly collected birthday cards and wishes from her friends near and far to present to her on her birthday! I also wrote a post about the thirty things I'd like to do/see/accomplish before my 30th birthday!

July: Still working both jobs. Again, not a terribly exciting month, but we had a Christmas-in-July potluck supper at the Brookbury Hall, which was a lot of fun.

August: I celebrated my 28th birthday by going to see the Foresta Lumina in Coaticook with my family - so much fun!! I also made a first anniversary cake for some friends, a My Little Pony birthday cake (with handmade Rainbow Dash topper), and a birthday cake for my sister and I. We submitted entries to the local fair and my "best decorated cupcakes" (Minnie Mouse theme) won first place! I also placed first for my collection of six agricultural photographs taken around the area, which I was super happy about. We visited the Saint-Benoit-du-Lac Abbey, as well, something I've been wanting to do for a while! We bought yummy cheese and chocolate. :)

September: After the Meals on Wheels cook came back near the end of August, I filled in a bit here and there, and then mid-September took on the position of "Service Agent" in the Community Aid office (organization offering services to seniors, such as Meals on Wheels), still working 2 afternoons a week at the bistro. I also did a cake for a wedding at the bistro - three tiers of lemon cake with blueberry filling and Swiss buttercream frosting. My first real tiered wedding cake (which had to be transported, as well), and I was very pleased with the results. We also went on the dinner cruise in Magog (Rebecca & gang as well) to celebrate the end of Mom's chemo & radiation treatments! That was a lot of fun.

October: Let's see... there was Thanksgiving, of course. With the cruise in Magog, we got free passes for the gondola at Mount Orford, so we went Thanksgiving weekend to see the foliage - very nice, but quite cold! Middle of the month I abruptly lost my job at the bistro (long story). We had a Halloween party at the Brookbury Hall and had a pretty good turnout! But, we barely had any trick-or-treaters at home, which was kind of disappointing.

November: Things got kind of crazy busy at the office, the month was a blur! Somewhere in there, I attended the graduation ceremony for the Pastry program. The evening was nice, but kind of drawn out. It was fun to see my classmates, and a few of us went out to Caffuccino later, which was really nice.

December: So busy! Helping prepare for the Sawyerville Christmas Ladies' Meeting, with about 130 ladies attending. Then the Community Aid Christmas Party for clients and volunteers, which brought in around 150 people. Plus the general craziness and busy-ness leading up to Christmas. Speaking of which...

Christmas: I had all my gifts bought by November, but I kept picking up more little things to add to them, because I just love giving gifts, and I kept finding great stuff or coming up with new great ideas! I'm usually pretty good at gift-giving, and everyone seemed to be pleased with their gifts this year, so I think I've still got it. I didn't end up having time to make Christmas ornaments for my nephews this year (so, two next year?), but aside from that, I was most excited about the handmade gifts I gave, which weren't many this year, but they turned out really well. I put together a gift basket of homemade treats (caramel corn, candied nuts, peppermint marshmallows, salted-caramel hot chocolate mix, sour lemon drops, and peppermint bark) for my sister and brother-in-law, and I have to say, it looked pretty awesome! (And the treats are pretty tasty, too ;) ) And then I did a Sharpie plate & mug set for my friend Mandy and her kids, that say "cookies/milk for Santa," and are personalized with the kids' names. I had them done up in cello-wrap with cookies and treats on the plate. Definitely one of the funnest gifts I've ever made, and one of the best reactions. :)

I was really pleased with the gifts I received this year as well! From my parents, I got some nice warm winter socks, a book I wanted (Winter by Marissa Meyer), Inside Out on DVD, and some other little goodies. My best friend sent me some really awesome coordinating jewelry from Ardene's that is totally my style. My sister (and her family) scored big with the super awesome VW bus crocheted bag she had made for me by a friend of hers - so cool! And my brother gave me some gift cards for Dollarama and Tim Hortons, my favourite hand cream, and a whole bunch of postcards! Other years I've sometimes felt a bit disappointed - like others didn't put the same thought and effort into it as I did - but this year I feel like the gifts I received showed a good sense of the things I like. It makes me feel good knowing that the people I love know me well enough to give me things I truly like.

For the past few years, we (parents, brother, and I) have been doing stockings by picking names, so everyone has to fill a stocking, instead of giving a gift to that person. This year, Mom wanted to try doing "twelve days of Christmas," so instead of filling one stocking to open on Christmas morning, we each have twelve small wrapped gifts to open for the twelve days following Christmas (still picking names to know who we were giving to). It's kind of fun and different! I like trying new things sometimes, but I also like traditions, so I kind of missed my stocking. :)

Oh, I also got myself a new phone for Christmas - a little "from me, to me" gift! ;) It's a Samsung Galaxy Grand Prime, and it's pretty cool. I also now have Instagram (amjb1999). I have yet to decide if I'll follow the masses to join Twitter or not. But anyway, one more thing to cross off the Thirty Before Thirty list! :)


Well, I think that about sums up 2015. It has been mostly a good year for me. I had a lot of good experiences professionally; I'm ending the year with a steady almost-full-time job, even if it's not in the field I want at the moment; my car is falling apart, but still runs and gets me where I need to go (most of the time); I'm "meeting" lots of new people and having fun with my snail-mailing adventures; and I've got a few good friends to keep in touch with and hang out with on occasion. There's always room for improvement, but life is pretty ok right now. :) The only "resolutions" I have for the new year are to do some purging (literally and figuratively), and continue to aim for organization and simplicity. One of these days I'll get there!

Here's hoping that in 2016 life only gets better. Wishing you all a new year full of love and good health. :)