Category Archives: Travel

Gone, John, Jax and Eric

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Are you ready to travel?

I’ve been obsessing with two “professional” travellers right now.

First is Gone John. A Canadian who has recently made the leap from disk jockey to backpacker and is currently jumping around South East Asia. I follow him on Instagram and Facebook and sigh heavily every time he posts. His site is a well of information of cheap and off-the-beaten path travel. He and his boyfriend (who currently lives in Japan and writes about Tokyo Disney, the lucky so and so) are on the precipice of becoming part of an elite group of people to have visited EVERY Disneyland in the world. I am simultaneously jealous and in awe.

Secondly is Nomadic Fanatic – a cubby lad Eric, and his massive cat, Jax, roaming the US in a collection of RVs (currently on his 4 version of mobile home since starting out). I’ve been watching 2-3 episodes per day since discovering his channel and I’m gobsmacked and envious that he is able to just drive with no set destination. And after delving further into his story, I’m even more gobsmacked that this is actually quite popular – there is a sizeable sub-culture of non-working people just driving around, living 24-7 on the road, with no base or home to speak of. I have yet to find out how he can afford this – gas and maintenance and vet bills do pile up – I am hoping there is an episode where he explains how all this came about.

And before you comment, yes, if I really wanted to drop everything I could travel for the rest of my life – nature finds a way, right? But I don’t. As much as I love travelling, I’d be missing Sheldrake and the cats and a familiar bed and kitchen where I don’t have to guess where the pots are, after a long while.

 

Star Wars Day at Sea – Star Wars Day (at sea)

501st, Disney, Travel 2 Replies
Mellon Wars

The big day arrived and we race to the top deck to see what is in store for us.

In terms of decorating the ship – it was zero. Not like Xmas or Halloween, but what could they do? Spread sand everywhere? Evacuate the air? I don’t know what I was expecting but I was a little let down in that regard. I think that if Star Wars morphs into a religion or some sort of national holiday* some time in the far future, we’ll have Sith Trees and Bantha holly and Jakku carols. But for now, all we got was a stage in front of the kids pool made up to look like a Tantive IV doorway.

Costumes. So many kids costumes. Purchased at the parks before boarding the ship, untested and ill fitting (sorry, 501st coming out in me). So many Kylo Rens. So many Reys. A couple Fynns. One on fleek Death Star (see pics below, it’s awesome). One older gentleman in a good rendition of a rebel pilot in boxers (see below. Fleek).  And the guys from the Ottawa Garrison. Damn them for brining their full armour. Damn them! So jealous. Wherever they went they were stopping crowds.

When you boarded you were given a card of three photo op (sorry – Character Experiences) choices: Dark Side, Bespin or Tatooine. You were left to guess who you might see at each, but you were only going to get 2 out of the 3 AND they were totally random – Dark Side could be Darth Vader, or Darth Maul. Tatooine could be C3P0 and R2D2… Bespin could be Willrod Hood… I had submitted my choice within minutes of getting the form and wound up with tickets to “Dark Side” and “Tatooine”. Our first experience was at 9:30am. I was dressed in my Imperial Deck Officer and ready. God bless SharkBoy for walking around with a 50 year old nerd dressed up as a symbolic neo-Nazi made up in Space Gear all day long…

We get to the meet and greet and while we were waiting, the tiny pocket bear of an Assistant Cruise Director (I swear to god I wanted to hug the New Zealand stuffing out of him) asked if we wanted to know who we were meeting, I couldn’t wait and said yes.

“The greatest captain the First Order has ever known…”

I nearly fell to the ground in tears. I knew she was an option and knew that the chances were 1 in 3 and boom – lottery! I have a slight obsession with Captain Phasma – Yes I was let down that she only had maybe 6 minutes screen time but the hype around her before the movie had me in it’s charms. Plus she’s damn shiny.

We get our turn with her and all I can do is stammer and nod – I don’t remember at all what I said to her other than “Ahuyuck!” laughter. “She” had several digitized sound file conversation clips the actor could choose from and I got “I have heard of you rising through the ranks. Here’s hoping you’re not a disappointment” Or something. I was too busy Ahuyuck-ing and gawking at “her”** to remember entirely what was said.

We wander the decks looking at people’s creative costumes and seeing roaming characters. After a while I was hot so we grabbed our shorts and hit the main pool to watch a couple episodes of Star Wars Rebels on the Funnel Vision TV, floating while the cartoon played. Shortly a small child of maybe 12 years old started to swim in front of us – back and forth. He had no Stranger Danger filter and thought it was ok to talk to two older, bald headed bearded guys in the kiddie pool. Back and forth, all the while asking us questions.

Who is your favourite Star Wars character?
What is your favourite Star Wars movie?
What’s your favourite line?
What ship would you have if you could have one?
Is Yoda really dead?
Rebels is really Star Wars – that guy there is really Luke Skywalker.

The last was not a question, obviously. When he exhausted his list of questions he moved into firm statements about Star Wars.

He. Did. Not. Stop. I looked around for his parents. I was going to steal this child because his spirit was Star Wars through and through.

But at the same time, I was conscious that two adults chatting with a kid in the pool for more than a few minutes could be regarded as pedo. This kid went on for a solid 44 minutes (two Rebels episodes) and though I welcomed the rapid fire questions, it did get tiresome. He was an awesome kid though. I’d call him a friend in another life.

Out of the pool, back into uniform and we had our second Character Experience with Darth Maul. He didn’t say a word. I didn’t say a word except Hello, and The Empire thanks you for your service! All I got was a stern stare.

Other things happened: roaming characters like Jawas (I missed), Sandpeople and bounty hunters (Zam Wesell!) were all over the place. I only saw a few, sadly!

There were periodic Empire Announcements on the Funnel Vision TV.

After dinner there was a brief show of all the characters on stage (in case you missed them during the day) and a fireworks show.

At the dance party after the fireworks we saw the Pool Kid mentioned previously. Dancing alone to the remixed Star Wars themes, set to a disco beat. He had some serious moves, which made me want to steal him even more. However, I did not see any parent or guardian around him at all and I surmised that this child was actually my spirit, manifest in human form, going free.

There was a midnight buffet not 2 hours after we just finished our big dinner. I have never…EVER… felt so full. I had a taco and somewhere in my body I could hear a gland weep with exhaustion. Some of us were drunk and tired. Some of us were food smacked and tired. We were all tired.

I went to sleep happy.

I do have to call out Dave who I think had the best fan costume I saw all day: he was wearing a very accurate Han Solo outfit with the hilt of Kylo Ren’s sabre stuck into his chest. It was suggested that Thom should walk in front of him with a Spoiler Alert sign. Good job!


 

*May the 4th is a strong contender. Though people will put up their lightsaber tree on May 25th – they will be know as Old Republic Traditionalist.

**I say “her” because I didn’t see any woman over 6’5″ on the cruise. Trust me, I was looking.

Star Wars Day at Sea – Grand Cayman

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IMG_1246

Oh Grand Cayman, home of many Canadian banks that hold twice as much money than any of us could imagine. You can practically smell the data transfers.

GC is an island surrounded by coral so the large cruise ships are forced to tender their passengers. I think it’s just a way to filter out the lazy cruisers from visiting the island. We should have been one of those cruisers…

The process of getting 4000+ people off a ship with 3, two hundred seater boats running constantly between mainland and ship is a bit long. It took us close to an hour from deciding to get off the boat to hitting the port. Disney had the line going constantly and to be fair it was a disciplined process, even when 1/3rd of the passengers had strollers.

We hit the port and wander around for a bit with no goals in mind. We took a few pictures and then decided it would be fun to “go to Hell”. Hell is a tiny village on the north tip of the island that has a gift shop that is run by an insane person who wears a dollar store red cape and may or may not have pointy devil horns on his head. Depending on the day, I guess. It also is the home of volcanic rock formations that make the place look like… Hell! Yes you win a prize!

SharkBoy sees a bus stop with locals standing all around and we head over to ask which bus will take us there. The steward directs us to a dilapidated mini van and ushers us into the empty vehicle. The driver waved at us from across the parking lot as we sat. And waited. And waited. And waited. “Island time”, right? And waited. And then we got out when I suggested we go find a private cab at the port to take us. Of course we were yelled at we walked away. Thankfully they didn’t take our fare and we got away scott free.

At the port the same thing happened. We asked for a cab, got shown a similar van and were ushered in. This time there were other people in it. I slowly discovered that the couple near the front were going to Seven Mile Beach, the other couple were going to a fish farm and we were probably last on the list. And we waited. And waited.

In both instances the cab driver wanted to fill the van before leaving. I get it, efficient and saves gas. But damn our luck.

We got out and I swear to god the couple at the front glared at me and I might have imagined it but I thought I heard a whispered “Please take us with you!” from couple #2.

Windy return to the ship

Back onboard the boys went back into the Spa for a round of specialty showers and a lay down on a heated ceramic bench. They claim the bench makes them doze off. The thought of me dozing off in public fills my head with images of drool, saggy body parts and air leaving my body. Nobody needs to see that.

In preparation for the next day, the day we all signed on for, the guys from Capital City Garrison brought their buckets to dinner. I was utterly jealous.

Star Wars Day at Sea – Cozumel

Disney, Travel 1 Reply

I’ve been asked if Disney was showing any Star Wars stuff during the 7 days at sea. Nope – the cruise was “regular” up until that one day. They were keeping their cards close to their chest like a sexier 70s version of Kenny Rogers, not the current, slice-and-dice face version of Kenny Rogers that scares kids and can be used as a Mayan sacrifice mask. All of the Star Wars magic was being held for the second last day of the cruise.

We docked at Cozumel and the weather was beautiful. Sunny and warm, just like a vacation should be – took us 4 days to get to it.

Thom and Dave went on a snorkelling excursion and we lost them immediately after breakfast. According to their stories and pictures they shared at dinner, they had a great time.

Sharkboy, Beta Mike, JohnnyB and I went shopping. Not touristy, just outside the port, sugar skull-shopping*. No. We hit up the MEGA store, steps away from the port! Imagine if Costco and the saddest Walmart had an affair and popped out a bastard love child shop. Mega would be it.

As we’re walking around the store I was hit with an American-like culture shock – I couldn’t read the Spanish signs. Duh, Ted, you’re in Mexico? Then I get the brilliant idea to fire up my phone and pop open Google Translate. If you’ve not used the camera feature on this app it’s a lot of fun pointing your phone to a label or sign and seeing the fumbled translations on product names. Mystery products like “potato” revealed themselves to be “Child of the ground” or “milk” became “leaky boob stuff”. It was worth the Roaming charge.

My great takeaway? An orange C3P0 t-shirt and Tang. Muevo Mexican Tang in all the rainbow flavours no longer legal to sell in Canada! Yum!

Pro Tip: with Disney enforcing the wine and beer only onboard policy, this is a great place to stock up on your cabin drinking supplies – it’s a short haul back to the ship. The shop took US$ and Peso.

We then wandered away from the port. Our first stop was a mass of colour just past the Mega. A carnival! A carnival of dubious copyright infringements! Nearly dilapidated rides air brushed brightly coloured, somewhat familiar cartoon characters to make the bambinos smile! One carousel boasted 20+ infringements including a Woody Woodpecker on all fours that suggested more of a gimp’s position, rather than an inviting pose for kids to ride on his back.

Next was a church. It was pretty against the saturated blue sky. I’m not much of a religious person but the washrooms were nice.

After that we wandered and found a soccer pitch and sat in the shade of the bleachers. Petted a dog and looped around to the far side of the city and found a small hole-in-the-wall place that sold $1.25 tacos. Yes. I had a couple, smothered in a chopped green chilli that when ingested, numbed my lips with it’s heat. I should have pulled out Google Translate and asked what it was…

Back to the ship where SharkBoy and Beta Mike went to the spa while  Johnny and I spent the rest of the afternoon sitting in the adult pool discussing family and life and whatnot. When the boys returned from the spa they brought us chicken tenders and fries.

It was the perfect day.


 

*We did get a sugar skull.

Star Wars Day at Sea – At Sea

Disney, Travel 2 Replies
Not the best weather starting out

The first full day on our cruise was just a day at sea. No ports, no nothing.

The first day and the weather wasn’t that great for sitting outside on a deck chair, reading a book and being served cocktails like you would on a 1940’s trans-atlantic cruise, no. It was downright cold in the morning. But there was a lot to do, the ship was always bustling with something and we did…stuff… but for the life of me, I cannot remember what we did that day!

For sure we got in and out of the hot tub/adult pool and had a couple beverages but that wasn’t until mid afternoon, as we got into warmer waters.

Even though we had just spent two days in the park and a day getting on the ship, this day felt like the actual start of the vacation for me. I like to think my lack of memory is based on a great weight had been lifted and my mind turned off for the day and not some sinister “boring old day” excuse. I just went with the flow. No plans, no worries, no needs other than the 2pm/4pm/6pm visits to the unlimited chicken fingers dispenser*.

I do remember we went to Palo that night. The dinner was amazing, as usual and this time I managed to pace myself and made it to the lava soufflé without feeling like I was going to explode. Pro Tip: Force yourself not to fill up on the antipasto or the bread. Trust me on that one. Even though the aged parmesan cheese with basalmic vinegar drizzle with a baby-sized ball of prosciutto is placed in front of you and whispers to you to “eeeeat meeeee… eaaaaat meeeee…”, save room for the mains and the dessert.


 

*Actually I had more free ice cream this trip than free chicken fingers. I feel like I let someone down here.

The Oh! Manatee Tour – Day 3

Photography, Travel 1 Reply

After a breakfast of hot peaches and omelettes (oh my god, you guys!) we hit the road to drive into the Everglades. Naples old folk homes fade into outlet shopping malls fade into strip malls fade into construction into…

Flat.

The road seem to just go for stretches at a time with the odd soft curve, while the trees and shrubs broke every so often to reveal huge expanses of swamp.

After a slight struggle with distances on our map we managed to find the Smallest Post Office in the US. As we drove in a sad minivan sped out of the lot. The only car in the lot, for that matter. When we got to the door a sign welcomed us saying the place was closed for a 2 hour lunch. Typical postal service.

Onward we drove, carefully looking for our next exciting destination: The Skunk Ape Research Center. Nestled in the deepest part of the Everglades is a campground that hosts a small museum dedicated to the mystery of the Skunk Ape – the Everglade’s own Sasquatch. Photos of foot castings and actual foot castings adorn one side of the gift shop, you know, as proof that there was a Skunk Ape. Yet as we looked at these wonders, we were easily distracted by a door out to an adjoining barn. A barn full of curiosity and wonder! Okay a barn full mostly of rescued exotic pets that were abandoned by idiots. And a couple gators.

For $5 we were able to get into the barn, have an amazing chat with the caretaker and take a ton of pictures. Two city boys with big cameras and wide eyes. The caretaker obviously loved his menagerie  and was eager to place whatever creature we were discussing at the time somewhere on our bodies.

He would describe the animal and finish off with: “Would you like to hold him?”

To which both us City Boys would be polite and stall and errr and umm. He would cut us off at the knees and say louder “That is not an answer… WOULD YOU LIKE TO HOLD HIM?”

We would always respond “Yes.”

After spending way too much time there, I left realizing I had not asked one question about The Skunk Ape.

Shrug. The barn was 1000% better.

On to our next destination: The Shark Valley Visitor Center.

There are no sharks here  (or at least we didn’t see any), but it is known for having a ton of aligators that lethargically sun themselves on bike paths. We eagerly rented two.

However, no one mentioned to us that this late in the day, this late in summer, there would be no aligators on the bike path (not my video, sadly). Though we did hear the hiss of one early on in the bike ride and *did*  see one slithering away in the water a few yards away. Regardless, it was a pleasant afternoon 15 mile bike ride. I saw two grasshoppers having sex.

We motored on. At this point I could tell you all about the air boat ride we decided to take before hitting the other side of the Everglades, where the logo was the most misshapen ‘gator I’ve ever seen, where the collection of goons running the operation scared me a bit, where our co-riders were a bunch of yammering idiots, where we felt robbed of $80+ tax and saw only 2 gators, but why bother?

We were tired, so we motored to our next hotel: the Sea Dell Motel. Lovely. All low slung bungalows kept in decent shape, clean and orderly but with nothing older than the 70s. Night time decoration for the Sea Dell was magical Xmas lights along the eaves of the buildings. The pool was “chilled” and most welcome after a day of holding critters and sitting in that car.

The Oh! Manatee Tour – Day 2

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We leave the Sea Chest hotel with its expansive bedroom and kitchenette (I love the word “kitchenette” – makes me think the fridge should be wearing a mini skirt) and we hit the road back to Weeki Watchee.

I’m glad we did.

It started to rain the moment we pulled in, but we were undeterred. We were here to see Mermaids, dammit! And so was half of the Bible Belt of central Florida apparently. We had some time to kill before the show so we decided to take a small boat tour of the spring run-off down to the ocean. While in line two families were discussing their past weekend which included a trip to Starbucks (they made it sound like they were visiting New York City for the first time) and the sermon one mother was giving another outside of Sunday church.

“Her beliefs are not MY beliefs because I believe in the GOSPEL!”

This went on for a while and I eventually stopped listening to the nattering.

Boat ride over, we headed to the Mermaid theatre.

It was spectacular.

It was the most surreal piece of theatre I’ve ever seen.

It was America times one thousand.

It was a cast of 5 kids in mermaid outfits (one doubled up with mermaid/creepy turtle costume) huffing air from garage tire hoses while they swam round and mouthed the words to songs that were one note off from Disney copyright.

It was unconsciously sexist. The opening number was about how mermaids would make horrible wives, men! Mermaids, we are told, do not  cook or clean so just get use it and look at beauty. The choreography incorporated rump and breast shaking as a metaphor for celebration. There were no Mermen.

It was not to be missed.

SharkBoy and I just looked at each other when the lights came up and burst into laughter.

We got back into the car and booted it down the interstate to Bonita Springs. After checking into our 90% powerless hotel (a burnt out transformer next to the hotel means reduced room rate!) we headed over to Captiva Island and The Bubble Room Restaurant.

The Bubble Room is decorated as if Pee Wee Herman had a psychotic break. Slightly pricey but worth the visit. When we arrived the waiter (dressed in Bubble Scout uniform with a felt roast chicken on his head) sat us in the Honeymoon Nook. We were forced to sit side by site looking out over the restaurant for all to see – THAT WE WERE IN LOVE. awww! I had the Some Like it HOT HOT HOT shrimp (yes, they were) and SharkBoy had the Marilyn Mignon. After desert and drinks, it came to about $80.

We did a bit of a photo safari after dinner and came across a large scale Nautilus sub in the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea room, from the movie of the same name. The waiter said it was one of 3 left in the world. I touched it. It was like touching James Mason’s beard.

We drove back home along Captiva Island where the homes start in the $1M range. Beautiful. Just before hitting the hotel we found a tacky mini golf place and SharkBoy won by 2 strokes.

Sleep came fast.

The Oh! Manatee Tour – Day 1

Photography, Travel, You Magnificent Bastard Leave a reply

Here’s the first day of our Oh! Manatee Tour for you to look at! Look!

As you may recall SharkBoy and I worked Andrew’s PWA Garage Sale (as well as the Fabulous BobaFuss, Doug, TK Butters, Kevin and many others) all day Saturday the night before, so we were very tired when the alarm went off at 3:30am.*

The flight down to Florida was uneventful but full at 6am, Sunday. The first two weeks of September are usually the best for seeing things in Florida with an unobstructed view of kids. But the flight was full of them, regardless. Thankfully they were as dead as we were – quiet flight!

We grabbed our rental car, a silver Dodge Avenger (I wanted a cape on it) and headed straight to Silver Springs.  Sharkboy says (via the ever trustworthy internet) that this is where Creature of the Black Lagoon was filmed. When I posed a pic on Instagram, I got one person disputing that fact, even though the oldest tour guide in the history of mankind repeatedly showed us crystal clear spring water holes where the Creature menaced many a fair young maiden.

I also got to sit beside the Smelliest Feet Girl in all of Florida. Her mouth was pretty dirty too. “Look at that FUCKING turtle!!”

Back into the car where we spent the rest of the afternoon driving to  Weeki Watchee – home of the “City of Mermaids”

So we got a little lost, the iPad/paper map wasn’t helping much and we decided to motor down to our first hotel without finding it.

On our ride to the hotel, we decided that an early start and return to Weeki Watchee would be a good idea, even if it meant losing out on seeing the Gloria Swanson Memorial Parking Lot. We were going to find that eventually finding the Mermaid city was going to be a highlight of the trip…

At this point we were starting to get an idea of how long the distances between our road side attractions were going to be. A lot. But we both like car trips so it wasn’t an issue, however we found ourselves planning the next day under the cover of whatever hotel’s wifi we had access too. It kind of killed our free spirited travel concept.

First hotel: The Sea Chest Motel in Treasure Island, Clearwater FL. I liked it! 50s swank meets sad end-of-season destitution with clean rooms, comfy beds and working AC. The partying over 50s that hung out by our window were a bit of a worry but they were respectful and clammed up at 10pm.

 

*Beeteedubs, the Garage sale netted in over $1900 woo!!