Sunday, March 4, 2007

Is This What You've Been Waiting For?

I received a few emails lately from some friends who had been avid readers of the blog while I was away. And, they wanted to know when I would be making another posting.

OK... my first reaction? Are your lives at such a state that my trivial wanderings through South America have become important to seeing you through your week? Wow.. that's so cool.

I mean, really, I started this blog for two reasons... 1) To have a place to post my photos; and, 2) So my mother wouldn't worry. I'm thrilled that others have taken the time to read it. Really, knowing how crazy busy everyone is, I really am grateful that you would take time out of your day to follow along.

I don't know when the next trip is. I'm still researching a few things. So, to carry you over, and to express my thanks, I'm offering the following as a token of my appreciation. (And, mind you, I'm doing this knowing that I'm about to start the search for my next career move -- yet, I'm placing this photo on the web. This, Dear Blog Reader, is my gift to you.)

This photo arrived in my in-box this week. Alan was kind enough to send it along. Yup, it's me. I'm in the costume, or "Fantasia" as the Cariocas would call it, from the Carnaval Parade in the Sambadrome.

This is what I've done with my vacation. This is where I spent my time "finding myself" between jobs. This is why you haven't seen any more detailed blog entries about Carnaval.

And, I guess I got what I wished for. It's not plastic bottles as Chris wore a few years ago. It's a bit more fancy than that. In fact, it's a LOT more fancy than that. And, it involved a lot of feathers. I feel a bit like a reject from a bad Vegas show. And, as Rob pointed out, I look a bit like a deer in the headlights.

Now... imagine seven of us dressed like this... on a street corner in Ipanema... trying to hail three cabs to get us to the Metro station. The trunks of the cabs couldn't fit most of our stuff.

Then filing into the Metro, among others in various costumes, and among the citizens of Rio... some going to the parade, others just going about their day. But, everyone in the Carnaval spirit.

While we were on the train, three young guys boarded. They had just spent the day at the beach. As the train pulled from the station, the guys started drumming and singing Samba School songs. Suddenly, the entire car was singing and dancing. This continued for the 15 minutes we were on the train. When one song ended, someone else started another.

I found this energy, spirit and love of life with many of the people of Brazil during my stay. It was everywhere -- at the Sambadrome, in the streets of Ipanema, on the Metro. Imagine a subway car in New York breaking out in song. In New York, if someone were to break out in song, most people would get out at the next station and switch cars.

We made it to the Sambadrome about 30 minutes before our school marched. It took another 30 minutes to make it out of the staging area and into the main parade area. Once we were there, the energy was incredible. Fireworks going off. Crowds cheering. Drums banging. It was a moment we'll all remember for many, many years.

Afterward, we were in a cab back to the apartment. The costumes? Believe it or not most of them wind up in a pile at the end of the parade route. Thousands of hours of work, and incredible detail, and a few hundred bucks to buy them and march... all in a pile for the trash.

Clearly this part of the Carnaval parade could best be considered "cash flow" for the Samba Schools. Though the thousands of tourists dressed in these Fantasias fill out the parade, they also generate a good deal of revenue for the schools. And, if there's any question this is all geared toward getting the tourists signed up, take a look at this guy. Does he look out of place, or what?

OK... off to work on editing some more shots... to figure out where the next trip will take me... and to call a bunch of potential employers and encourage them NOT to read this blog entry.

The Mouse

So, we did Disney. I know, I know. Everyone said, "How could you possibly go to a place like Disney when you've just spent a month in South America?" It's as if we're going to see the imitation when I just had 30 days of the real thing. Well, we went for a few reasons:

1) My brother, Rick, and his family were there and we wanted to spend some time with them and the kids;

2) I had been lucky enough about a year ago to attend a reception marking the launch of the new Animal Kingdom ride, Expedition Everest and I wanted to see the ride. At the reception I met the chief "Imagineer" behind the ride and it was truly amazing to hear about all of the planning, research and effort that goes into building a ride like this.

The Disney team made multiple expeditions into the Himalayas to research the ride and the legend of the Yeti. Charles, a friend who works in Disney's Corporate Communications department, has been kind enough to keep me in the loop on the ride and other Disney events so I was anxious to see the real thing; and,

3) I genuinely like Disney World. I know what you're saying, but come on... I love a good amusement park and nobody does it like the Mouse. I have many great memories of Disney World and seeing the park through the eyes of Richard and Catherine (my niece and nephew) was a wonderful experience. And, these kids know Disney. Up early. At the park when it opens. Done with one park by mid-afternoon and on to the next one. Fastpass this ride, while we run to that one. They're good!

You can see from Rob's pictures here that we had a blast. The weather was great. The crowds were light. And, our long days went into enjoyable nights as we saw each of the three major fireworks shows in the Magic Kingdom, Epcot Center and Disney/MGM Studios.

A few highlights of the trip stood out:

- We stayed at the Swan, the Westin property within the parks. I had read a lot of reviews online that said the Swan (and it's sister hotel, the Dolphin) were dated and not worth the stay. We found just the opposite. Our room and the hotel common areas were all freshly renovated. The staff was wonderful. And, the location can't be beat -- a short boat ride into Epcot and MGM; and a short walk from where Rick and Ann were staying at The Beach Club.

- The Fastpass works. I know they've been around for a while, but they're brilliant and an amazing testament the study of process management.

- The classic rides are still the classics. Though we love Tower of Terror and Rockin' Roller Coaster, Space Mountain is still a great ride. Think about it. It was built 30 years ago, but its still as thrilling as any other ride in the park. (I still remember my best friend, Teddy Councilor, coming back from a Disney vacation and bragging about riding Space Mountain.)

- But, the new rides are fun, too... including Expedition Everest. Hats off to the Imagineers and everyone behind this ride. Backwards/forwards and a face-to-face encounter with the Yeti. Great fun.

Thanks to the Fast Pass and short lines, we did the ride about three times each. Look closely in this picture and you'll see Rob -- on the right, red shirt -- hands up, of course!

All in all, we had a wonderful weekend... which was extended by a day due to the ice storms on the East coast. In fact, we had so much fun, we're headed back down to Disney in late March when the rest of the family is there for their vacation. This time we'll be checking out the water parks and heading down the road a bit to visit another classic Orlando attraction -- Sea World.

I'll keep you posted.