Tuesday, 25 March 2014

The simplest way to make the best of your Australian smart phone in Orlando

Australians have proven themselves to be hopeless in using their mobile phones whilst overseas.

The beautiful stories have gone on for years about Aussies jumping on planes - using their phones in the air, using them in foreign countries and then coming home to discover - surprise surprise - none of it was covered in their data pack.

Some people just seemed to think they could keep using the phone, the same as at home, and hey - it's not going to be THAT expensive?! Well - guess what suckers? IT IS!

"A student received a bill for $8265.57 after a two-week holiday in Malaysia. When she called her telco to ask them to switch on global roaming before the holiday she was not informed of the high cost of making calls and using data when overseas"

Australians are SOOOO bad at this we have had at least two Federal Government enquiries and late last year the Australian Communications and Media Authority instigated rules on all the carriers.

" One small businessman reported receiving a $9000 bill from Telstra after using international data roaming for one day in Singapore."

And the carriers will just continue to adjust their plans (like Telstra's 500% adjustment) and pricing structures to work around this - as long as Aussies WON'T TURN OFF THEIR FREAKIN' PHONES.

"Sydney student asked Telstra to unlock his handset so he could buy an international SIM but they failed to do it. Telstra promised to waive the bill but after two months in the United States he was sent a bill for $25,000. After a battle, Telstra dropped the bill."
So I am going to make this REALLY easy for you.

Buy a pre-paid USA phone sim card.


I like to purchase from Travel Gear - you can purchase a variety of SIM cards - as a rule of thumb AT&T is recommended for the iPhone and T Mobile for android. These cost roughly $30 for the card and phone number and then $2 or $3 / day, including calls, SMS and internet data. Maybe $100 all up if buying a 1 month bundle. Far cheaper than the thousands of dollars the hapless and lazy pay.

NOTE: AT&T and T Mobile are the only two networks in the USA compatible with Australian purchased handsets. The USA mobile network is different in technology and transmission frequencies than Australia, and also between each USA carrier company. (Unlike Australia where all carriers operate the same and phones are interchangeable). Other carriers are incompatible with our phones. It's HORRIBLY complicated, and changes all the time. eerrkk.

So you can buy one of these sim cards in advance, get a USA phone number, and on arrival in the USA, just pop the card into the phone and they work immediately. Also buying a carrier sim card means they work just like a normal phone - just start dialing.

Another option is to buy a non-carrier card - like this Woolies one:

There are heaps of these kind, sold everywhere - TravelSIM, Australia Post, GO etc. These work slightly differently - you have to dial their special number, the phone hangs up and then calls you back,  and then you can connect to the number you want. So complicated at first but they are also cheap and easily available.

On Facebook, Janette asked - "are there any good apps for staying in contact with each other during convention?"  Nice question.

So after my thorough research I would say  ... no... sort of.  You could always SMS each other, and most phones will let you send a message to multiple people. If you have one of those unlimited SIM cards, you may as well use your allowance.

The Princess Bride is not a Disney Film (source: texts from dog)
Did someone mention Facebook? Oh it was me! well - Facebook messaging is also as good as any app. You can have multiple people involved in the message and, if all your group are on Facebook, you don't need to know anyone's phone number.

You can also do instant chat through Google using Hangouts or Gmail. I have used their video conferencing and whilst a bit shaky - it works and is FREE! You can have up to 10 people in one conversation.

Finally, for those going to Disney, you get free WIFI all over the resort - in hotels and in the Parks. Disney have done a deal with AT&T and have expanded the network and are claiming SPEED FOR ALL!

Also the Walt Disney Company is 51% owned by Apple - so you'll see lots of iPhone support and Disney themed accessories for sale. (Tough luck those of us on Samsung - no Mickey phone cover for you!)
(source: disneyeveryday.com)
The Marriott World Centre is not so generous. They have free wifi in the public areas - but when I was last there it was so poor I was unable to use it. They charge $15 or $18(high speed)/day for wifi in your room. I think I will be using my phone as a hotspot and taking advantage of the datapack on that sim card.

So how connected are you? Addicted to the interwebs? Have to stay in touch with everyone, all the time? or do you like to turn everything off when on holiday?

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Kill, Refurb or Marry - World Showcase Counter Service - FOOD! YES!


Mouse on the Mind and This Happy Place Blogs have delightfully been the inspiration for half of my posts over the past 6 months. And here they are with a FOOD CHALLENGE!


This time we are eating around the world - World Showcase in Epcot.

Creme brulee on the lagoon - does it get any better
I am going to set my own rules - only permanent counter service locations - not the moveable ones that appear during Food and Wine Festival and the Flower Festival. And I am also going to put aside all the drinks vendors - I know you love getting smashed on the margaritas and the grey goose slushies - but I am all about the food.


Disney counter service just has so much not going for it! At least in World Showcase the bad food is themed for your entertainment.
I tend to avoid counter service cause it can kill YOU!
and guess who I think is in need of a good fire?

Tangierine Cafe!
Maybe some people think this is exotic. Let's not embarrass them here. But felafel wraps, hummus and tabbouleh are - let's say it out loud - late night drunkards food.  The donor kebab shop in Sydney is famous for the late night munchies, wacky tobaccy and brawls with cab drivers. But you do get the next day off work recovering from the food poisoning. Even the freakin' parsley can kill you in these places. I go to Disney to get away from the real world for a while - not to have it follow me in all its bacterial glory.


This is sooo difficult. So many places come with the promise of the great street food of their homeland. With just a little tweaking and being more authentic, they could become wonderful. Just when you think - "Wow! Disney's discovered okonomiyaki!" you bite into it and discover it is greasy and stodgy. And yes - I lay the same complaint at the Yorkshire Fish and Chip stall (sacrebleu!).

The place I think holds the most promise for a menu refurb is ........
Liberty Inn
This place does the olde worlde "publick" dining thing - with roasted meats? corn cobs? pumpkin pie? NO - none of that olde worlde crape here! Liberty Inn serves USA ALL THE WAY burgers, hot dogs and chicken nuggets!  Really? Really? Rise up to meet your theming and take pride in your slow food heritage.


you know what - I'm gonna stay single 

STREWTH - did I just ... break the rules!!

C'mon - maybe the custard inside the school bread at Norway? but the cafe is cramped and mostly boring. Tacos and Nachos? Am I Beavis or Butthead?

There just isn't anything left that justifies standing in the queue at Town Hall to see the mayor (even Mayor McCheese).

Oh well - please excuse me whilst I go back to my Chateaubriand - oh - and don't get saucy with me Bernaise. (that joke doesn't work when written)

OK - now GO GO  and check out the other blogs and the other recommendations  - that will slowly populate below over the next few days! learn more about World Showcase than I could ever have taught you!

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Survival and food in the great wilderness

Come with me, like Mr Peabody, into the way back machine to the early 1800's to discover the story of Col. Ezekiel Moreland, and his daughter Genevieve or Jenny.

You see, the Col. in 1823 set out to explore the USA Pacific Northwest. A war veteran and recently widowed he went looking for a new life. Then he stumbled upon the most beautiful valley, with a small creek running through it and beautiful forest surrounds.  The Col. named this spot Silver Creek Springs.

The Col. and his party decided to remain at Silver Creek Springs for it provided everything he needed - protection from the worst weather, plenty of food and fresh water and beautiful surrounds. Over a two year period the Col. made his fortune in beaver pelts and other furs and soon was settled enough to invite his daughter Jenny to come out and join him.

And with her, she brought a small troop of men to build a permanent lodge - resting place for all the other travellers moving west. 

Jenny built the lodge following the design and style of the great lodges of the north west national parks, particularly Yellowstone and Yosemite. Using lodgepole pine from Oregon, they created a huge 8 story atrium.

They installed a beautiful fireplace, using the local stone that was stratified, just like the Grand Canyon.

The continuous supply of fresh water gave them security and constancy, and made their lodge one of the most popular places to stay.

The success of the lodge allowed them to expand and improve, always drawing inspiration on their local surrounds.

Jenny, also appreciating the beauty of the landscape, invited out an Austrian artist: Frederick Alonzo Gustaf, to both capture the beauty in art himself, and support a visiting artist programme.  Gustaf's favourite place to paint was from a large rocky bluff, where he could get a clear view of the landscape.

(source: onlywdworld.com)
Of course, there is a funny story of how one day the earth beneath his feet trembled and Gustof discovered he was standing on a geyser! He and his easel fell backward, but he kept returning to this spot time again to paint more. 

As the lodge become more successful Jenny hired an ex-army sergeant, and opened a formal dining room, named after Gustof, as Artist PointArtist Point still operates today, and in the same way Jenny envisaged. And with Gustof's murals around the walls and ceiling.

(source: walt disney company)

The basis of the menu is locally available and seasonal foods, cooked in a fresh and simple manner to enhance the main ingredient.  You can read the current menu on the restaurant website.  However, there are some dishes for which this restaurant is famous, and guns would be drawn at their withdrawal! Items like the Smokey Portabello & Shiitake Mushroom Soup, Buffalo striploin steak with wild game sausage and Penn Cove mussels.

I enjoyed 3 of their all time favourite dishes:

Mixed field greens, with shaved stone fruits, sunflower seed granola, blue cheese, candied walnuts and ice wine vinagrette

THE signature Cedar plank roasted King Salmon with lemon butter sauce, accompanied with sour dough bread and black sea salt butter
and of course dessert - and, of course, the signature dessert has to be a seasonal fruit cobbler.What else to have in the wild west?

mine was berry with black raspberry ice cream
I admit I entered Artist Point at the end of the Food and Wine Festival and was already in a Mr Creosote state. In fact I started the meal with peppermint tea in an effort to aid my digestion throughout. So I chose a standard meal. It is however possible to go totally Mr Creosote style if you have no restraint - just go read that menu again.  So I will give the restaurant 2 Mr Creosotes for the ability to constrain one's consumed volume.

but for yumminess, and the potential for even MORE yumminess, Artist Point has to have 3 spoonfuls of sugar.

We will be visiting Artist Point for dinner on Saturday, 28 June. If you are coming to Convention and would like to join with us, please contact me asap - preferably via the Mrs. Banks Facebook Group 

If you would like to see more of the dishes available at Artist Point, the Disney Food Blog has two very good reviews, and the Disney Tourist Blog has beautiful photos.


Sunday, 23 February 2014

Environmentality - the sweet, refreshing smell of...

.... garbage.

In a follow up to my original Environmentality post, The Orlando Sentinel this weekend published a 'story' - about a local firm with a composting breakthrough and their work with Walt Disney World.

Apparently, they take all the food scraps and turn it into electricity and garden fertilizer! How cool is that?

There is an awful amount of broccoli in there - Did 'ohana have a slow week? (source: orlando sentinel)
Can you imagine the amount of food scraps WDW generates - the parks, the resorts and the restaurants - and all the unsold produce in the shops?

Check out this neat video from the Orlando Sentinel which demonstrates the process being used at WDW. Give it a second to load and it should play automagically.

Built and run by Harvest Power - this is fabulous. Check out their webpage for Florida which has the greatest title - I can't write it here - you have to do read it to make it work!

The Orlando Sentinel first told the story .

I will never worry about not finishing my vegetables at 50's Prime Time Cafe again.

So gentle reader - what do you do with your food scraps? 

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Kill Refurb Marry .... Live Performances

Mrs. Banks is experiencing THAT time of the month again.

Kill Refurb Marry Blog Hop

 It's time address the challenge laid out for us by This Happy Place and Mouse on the Mind!

As I have promised you before - this monthly challenge is the only way you will get your park content - unless you read one of the other 546 blogs which covers the parks.

But you don't!!

You read ONLY Mrs. Banks!!


see how I spared you the versions with giant bosoms - you're welcome

Movie based musical/theatre acts.  Most of them. The Little Mermaid - gone. Beauty and the Beast - time to vacate the theatre. Finding Nemo puppe....fjgdsklaffff OH OH I am sorry - I just drifted off there for a moment thinking about the Finding Nresffffdklj - OOPS - did I snore??

I saw this show during my first visit to WDW in 1993 - and it is still going.
Then there is the Indiana Jones Stunt show (also viewed during my 1993 visit) and the Lights Motors Action car stunt show - KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL.

These things are REALLY lame and/or really OLD. That time trick of "oh no - there's a problem!" is deployed but suddenly "time's up! all resolved! everyone sing "under the big blue ocean" again and all be happy. clap clap clap. Some dangerous people in world history were revisionists too, you know Disney. just saying ....

Disney have been pumping out new movies for years - especially since they 'integrated' Pixar. PLEASE can we have new theatre shows?

Whilst I am here, have I spoken to you about the Castle Show? that's pretty bad - 'believe in the power of dreams and all your wishes will come true!' Just setting up the kiddies with poor expectations for real life. Oh Phooey!

Oh how much can a koala bear?


Because I basically ignore almost all live entertainment in the parks - I suppose what could be refurbished is some of the parades. Fortunately, over the past 3 years WDW has been doing just that. We can all thank the power of the universe and Tom Staggs for putting the 5,4,3,2,1, Pixar Fun parade to eternal sleep. And Disney are on the verge of releasing their brand spanking new day parade - Festival of Fantasy

Keep it up Disney - you can bring all the parades in each of the parks up to speed.


These chaps from Hollywood Studios Park:

Stone Granite and Bo Wrangler from the Citizens of Hollywood

I've seen these guys three times now - I really love how they interact with the kids. The way they deliver their jokes, their lines from the '99' series and their general all round banter and characters. All of these Citizens are great and really add to atmosphere of the park - I can listen to them all day.

Now go and read the other links that will slowly populate below over the next day and check out all the entertainment you can enjoy at the Parks.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

The change you've been looking for - hints on tipping in Orlando

We Zontians are always up for a bit of controversy and discussion. We are not phased by robust exploration of multiple perspectives and allow differing opinions to co-exist.

And with such a spirit I boldly write the TIPPING IN THE USA post!

Let the flood gates open and the rush of advice and conflict pour in!  However, there are some topics I will not debate with you, including:
Guidelines from the Tipping Sticky on the DisBoards
Act 1 - Setting the Scene

The Australian walks nervously into the hotel. Heightened sense of awareness - looking and watching for the smiling, helpful people. A hand reaches forward towards the luggage and the Aussies lurches forward, grabbing the bag and blurts awkwardly "no worries, mate. I've got it".

Walking into the bar, the Australian decides to order the Midnight Madness specialty cocktail.  After handing over a $20 bill, the barman gives back all of the change in coins. The Aussie wonders how much of the coinage can be jammed into pockets.

The average Australian arriving in the USA will be cautious - tipping rarely happens here but we don't want someone to spit in our drinks. Everyone knows that it is the deal and everyone has a different opinion about how it works and what to do.

Act 2 - The Cast

The leads - Wait staff in table service restaurants : In Orlando, I tipped between 18 - 20% of the pre-tax bill, and that is average. Disney very conveniently calculate an 18% and 20% tip for you - I added that and then rounded up the bill. Your tip is the same for buffet meals - they still bring drinks, clean the plates away, make sure you have what you need. And apparently bar staff are meant to be tipped - especially depending on the complexity of your order. And maybe sommeliers. (I have never done this).

I always charge the tip to the room account with the whole bill, but you can pay cash. This one is a given - unless you have truly dreadful service.

Thank you Touring Plans Blog - who have the most wonderful article on tipping

Regular appearances - Mousekeeping (Housekeeping) staff: Pretty much everyone tips the housekeepers. $1 per day per person in the room. In fancy homemade Disney themed envelopes.

yes - it's a thing. Have you chosen your theme for your homemade tip holding envelopes?
So there is a huge debate about whether housekeepers are a "tipped" position or not. Whether you leave daily amounts or a big lump at the end (you may have different housekeepers throughout your stay). If you end up with a room full of sand or you've spilt the toiletries everywhere - then leave a tip. You won't find a trashed room if you don't tip. Any loose change left lying in the open will be assumed a tip and taken by the housekeepers. Sometimes I tip - sometimes I don't. I have NEVER gotten better service (extra toiletries, towel animals etc) because I left a tip.

except for the time they left me this towel kitten

Wardrobe and Costume - Baggage Handlers: This one is like those drinking games. If someone touches your bag - that's $1 - per bag. Touches 3 bags? $3 dollars. Bus driver loads your bag - $1, bellhop holds your bag in storage - that's $1. Bag delivered to room - another $1.
Mickey now expects $8
At Dallas Fort Worth airport they have curb-side check in. You pay extra for it AND you tip the bag handler $1 per bag.

Carry your own bags and avoid this pain.

Transportation - valet, limo, bus drivers, taxi's: Cab drivers - just give them 15%, say nothing, accept it and you won't risk abuse coming your way. Bus Drivers are a mixed lot. I have never tipped a Disney driver. However - other bus companies are not so accommodating. $1 / $2 per person will suffice. Bus' usually have a sign up front that indicates if a gratuity would be nice.

Getting picked up at the airport by one of those town cars? 20% - no argument. In cash - to the driver.

FL Tours take away all doubt
Valet - OK - this is my sore point. I just don't get the point of tipping the valet. When I tip wait staff, whilst their pay structure includes tipping, the wait staff add value and service to the food delivery. But Valet is parking your car for you - and you pay for it. It already is the value add thing to car parking. Is that the kid ran to get the car instead of walking? Isn't that a management / supervision thing? I mean - how does the kid add any value to the valet process?  The other aspect is if you pay on arrival, your car will come back faster. I suppose valet is one of life's mysteries to me.

OK - he is paid a poverty wage.  So if the dude runs for your car - esp in the rain or heat - give him a dollar or two.

Make up! - Hairdressers, beauticians, massage therapists: Always 15 - 20% of the total cost of the service. I have stopped going to US spas, massage and beauticians - FAR too expensive. The cost of a massage is about 25% higher than Australia. Then I have to add 20% to the therapist. Then they push products at the end. Their spas and salons are very plush and you will have a luxurious time - but you will pay exorbitantly for the privilege.

Act 3 - The story plays out

I suspect tipping is the reason why the USA still has $1 notes.

The Guest Services / Reception / Check in Desks at the hotels will exchange your big notes for $1 bills.  It is poor form to ask a service person for change when tipping.  So keep a stash of $1 notes ready.

This, too, is a thing. Disney have their own currency system, which you can use on WDW property. Except not recommended for tipping.
You don't have to tip in the theme parks - except the wait staff at any table service restaurant. So no tipping guest services / tour guides / ride loaders / counter service / food cart people. At Disney, the staff member will refuse the tip if offered.

Disney hotel concierge will decline tips, but the Marriott concierge will accept! Especially if you have asked for a complex thing.

There is a lot of variation and inconsistency with tipping. These guidelines are the average - sort of. Disney are famous for their incredible customer service. Tipping doesn't really change the level of service you will get. Because you tip AFTER you receive the service, this is not a mechanism to get the waiter to like you. No-one is going to give you bad service because you didn't tip (although some taxi drivers might complain)

Whatever you are budgeting for your trip to Convention - just add 20%. It will cover all that tipping and leave you a bit for additional expenses always encountered.

If not sure, just ask. The kayaking tour guys didn't accept a tip - they said they were the owner of the business and there was no point!

Act 4 - You've seen the ad, now read the book.

a real book -  and guess what? the amount you tip has nothing to do with service. available from Amazon

Google is your friend. You will find a plethora of ideas and guidance on tipping. Every guide book, every chat board and travel forum will have lots of discussion on tipping.

This blog post from Touring Plans is a great post in itself AND at the end has links to more very good advice sites.

Let the heckling begin!

Saturday, 25 January 2014

The insider's guide to the mystery that is WDW Park Tickets

In Sydney this summer we saw the opening of a new Wet and Wild water park. Supposedly the largest W&W in the world. Also, seemingly the most problem prone.

But one of the biggest complaints has been sticker shock. The Season Passes, whilst majorly expensive to buy for a whole family, were sold out in a flash. Visitors are now only able to purchase daily entrance which runs at $70 p.p. + extras like locker hire ($10) and food.

Wet and Wildly expensive
When it comes to tickets for WDW, whilst they still carry the expense factor, there are a lot more options for flexibility. LOTS more flexibility.

There are no greater mysteries than the Gordian knot, the Bermuda Triangle and Disney Park Tickets.  So let's take a wander through the options - and I will limit the options to what is worthwhile during convention period.

Gone in the mists of time

Step 1 - decide how many days you'll be wanting to visit the parks.

You may be like Mrs. Banks and her little group who are staying at the Boardwalk Villas and expect to visit the parks most days. Or perhaps you just want to visit for 1 day? (HA HA HA HA HA - good luck with that approach .... oh sigh...)

Tickets are sold from 1 to 10 days entry, and the expiry clock starts ticking from the first day's use, and lasts 14 days. Work out how many different days you wish to enter a Disney Park.

The other joy with multi day tickets is that Disney want you to spend ALL of your holidays in Disney theme parks. So every extra day you add, the per day rate of the ticket drops dramatically. See the image above - it costs you $280 to buy the first 4 days of entry. After that point every extra day is only $10. So lay down another $60 for an additional 6 days, for 10 days in total, for only $340! Those extra days are practically free!

Triple your days for only $60
This is Disney's way of pushing people from coming for a long weekend to coming for a whole week or more.  Once you've got a ten day ticket in your hand, well you might as well just keep entering the Parks day after day with no limits, no rushing, forgetting about time. 

Ummm ... yeah .... our Aussie group - buying the 10 day ticket. 

Electronic swipey entrance now the thing

Step 2 - decide how you want to spend your day and if it is likely you will swap parks during the day

So Disney money spinner no. 2 - the Park Hopper option.

Say you're at the park, and it gets to 1pm and it is really hot! you decide to (OMG) leave the park. But if you just walk out, well you've wasted one of the days off your ticket. And say later that evening when the temperature has dropped you decide you want to go back into a park - but you can't. 

So the Park Hopper option was created.

For a flat fee of a mere $59 (regardless of the number of days) you can come and go from any and all of the parks as much as you want. Go commando and do all 4 parks in 1 day (OK - you can wear underpants, if you must). Imagine 31 million tourists a year paying $59 - and it costs Disney nothing to provide. Sweet, simple earner.

Yep - park hopper option is going onto the Aussie's tickets

RFID "Magic Bands" now carry your tickets (and your room key, dining reservations & charge card)
Step 3 - decide if you want to do something other than a theme park - water parks, golf - real and mini, sports etc

Did you say YES! Then you need the "Water Parks and More" ticket option added on. For just a flat $59 you can add 10 more activities to your park tickets. If you are bringing the kids you will want this option. Considering a single entry to a Water Park is $56, this option gets you into both water parks and those mini golf games, and the computer games centre - all the things the kids need to do whilst you collapse from the heat. So it is brilliant value - if you do those things.

Us Aussies - nope - not doing any of those. Not a kiddie among us. (childlike - but not that much)

$84 for everything is pretty sweet
And that's it! See relatively painless! (if comparing to a dentist's drill)

So to summarise: the Aussies are staying at Boardwalk Villas for 7 nights, and then we have convention for 5 nights. So they are going to buy a 10 day ticket + park hopper option - which will last them for 14 days and they come and go from Disney whenever they feel like. 

wave your magic band past the special magic band scanner
As for me - I have an Annual Pass - but that's a whole 'nother story. Along with Florida Resident tickets.

Do you want to visit Walt Disney World? What is your time frame and what ticket might suit you best? And do you like to do the parks commando style?