10 Year Anniversary Trip Recap (Part One – Disneyland Paris)

As you may know, on August 24th, Rachel and I headed out for a 16 day trip to Europe to celebrate 10 years of marriage bliss. Today will be the first of a series of blog posts highlighting this amazing trip. Without further ado…Part One – Disneyland Paris!

The first stop on our trip was to Paris, France, or more specifically, Disneyland Paris. We left Thursday evening and arrived in Paris on Friday morning (Central European Time).

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After getting our bags and finding our driver, we made our way out to Disneyland Paris, which was roughly a 40 minute drive from the airport. Let’s just say…the first experience of Paris was a little rough. It was absolutely pouring and our driver basically drove like the police were after him. Needless to say, I was happy to get to our hotel.

We had booked a hotel on the Disneyland property at the Sequoia Lodge, which ended up being quite nice. It had a little bit of a Wilderness Lodge feel to it (not as nice, but still pretty great). After checking into our room and dropping off our stuff, we made our way over to Disneyland Paris for the afternoon/evening. Fortunately, the hotel was only about a 5 minute walk from the Disney Village (the Paris version of Downtown Disney) or roughly 15 minutes from the two parks. (Just FYI…Disneyland Paris is split between two parks, Disneyland Paris and Walt Disney Studios)

Once we got over to the Disney Village, we stopped off for lunch as it was already after 1pm Paris time. We knew we were going to be dragging quite a bit the first day, but if we were going to adjust to the new time zone, we needed to start the first day.

After lunch, we hit up our first park, Walt Disney Studios (WDS). We were excited to see WDS, as they have a whole section dedicated to Ratatouille, which was absolutely wonderful. We walked around the majority of WDS, including riding the Ratatouille ride.

Plus, we scored a lunch reservation at Bistrot Chez Remy (the Ratatouille restaurant) for the next day, which was a nice surprise! Both of us gave Bistrot Chez Remy 2 thumbs up!

One of the big things we noticed about WDS is how similar a lot of this park is to Hollywood Studios in Orlando. Plus, the park is quite a bit smaller than the second park we hit up, Disneyland Paris. Still, we enjoyed our time at WDS over the course of the 2.5 days we were at the parks.

The second park, Disneyland Paris (DLP), was definitely the best of the 2 parks! We probably spent 75% of our time exploring all this park had to offer. And while it had a lot of similarities to the American parks, there were several things that truly made this park stand out.

  • Disneyland Hotel Entrance The first thing you come to when arriving at DLP is the Disneyland Hotel, which serves as the entrance to the park. You literally walk through the hotel and into the park. This was a neat touch and really sparkled at night. Plus, the entrance right inside the gates was truly magical as well!

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  • Sleeping Beauty’s Castle The DLP castle is probably my favorite castle of the 3 parks I’ve been to so far. From the waterfall to the left of the castle and walking below the castle (with an animatronic dragon underneath the castle) to walking through the castle and up the stairs to look out over the rest of the park, the castle did not disappoint!

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  • Phantom Manor, Alice’s Curious Labyrinth and More So while a lot of the rides at DLP were similar to the American parks (except for the French language), there were a few new rides or similar rides that really stood out. Phantom Manor (DLP’s version of Haunted Mansion) was a totally new story and might have been my favorite ride at DLP. Alice’s Curious Labyrinth is literally a maze that takes you through the highlights of this animated classic. Plus, I personally think Thunder Mountain and Pirates are probably better at DLP. Also…Rachel will tell you that DLP’s Space Mountain was easily the best one she’s been on.
  • Side Streets on Main Street U.S.A. One of my favorite parts was the fact that on both sides of Main Street U.S.A. (literally on the other side of the store fronts) was an indoor walking area that takes you to the front of the park. The US parks could 100% use this, as it gets so crazy and hot down Main Street a lot of days/evenings. Just saying…

And while we had a great time and a great experience overall…a couple of other observations should be made…

  • The Cast Members were definitely not as friendly as the ones you encounter in the American parks. No one was ever rude to us at all, it was just a small, but noticeable, difference.
  • Smoking, while only allowed in designated spots, was not monitored at all. Almost everywhere we turned, we came across smokers. Definitely took a little bit away from the Disney magic.
  • Finally (and this was probably a good thing as we didn’t spend a ton of money) the Disney merchandise in the Paris parks was definitely not as good. Almost all of the stores were noticeably smaller and not nearly as crowded as you would find in America.

Anyway, we had a great time exploring all these parks had to offer over the 2.5 days we were there. And by Monday morning, when we checked out of the Sequoia Lodge, we truly felt like we had experienced Disneyland Paris and were ready to continue on our trip with our next stop, Paris!

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I’m Back!

Hello friends! After almost a month off, I’m back with a ton of stuff to blog about. Here is a small snapshot of what’s coming…

  • 16 Day Trip to Europe to celebrate our 10 year anniversary
    • Disneyland Paris
    • Paris
    • Barcelona
    • Disney Mediterranean Cruise with stops in Naples, Pompeii, Rome, Florence, Cannes and Nice
  • Dopey Challenge Training (time to get serious about my upcoming 4th full marathon)
  • Things I’m looking forward to this Fall
    • Movies
    • TV Shows
    • Trips (including another trip out to Disneyland in California!)
  •  Races (including another Triple Peach Challenge in Atlanta)
  • Guest Posts (hopefully we will get a post or two from Rachel and her perspective of our European vacation, amongst other musings…)

Anyways…lots to talk about on the blog. Stay tuned! Until then, here are a few pictures from our Europe trip. Enjoy!

SeaWheeze Half Marathon Weekend Recap

A couple of weekends ago, Rachel and I headed up to Vancouver via Seattle for a quick trip so I could run the SeaWheeze Half Marathon. If you remember from before, I ended up scoring a free entry into this very exclusive race. And while our big anniversary trip was scheduled just a short 10 days later, I knew we couldn’t pass up this opportunity to see this beautiful city and run this very popular race.

On Thursday evening, we flew out of Atlanta to Seattle. We have some great running friends (Justin and Devin) who live in Seattle. Justin (who was also running) and Devin invited us to crash at their place on Thursday night and then drive us up to Vancouver. This ended up saving us quite a bit of money as flights to Vancouver are significantly more than Seattle.

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That next morning we made our way up to Vancouver for the race weekend. Crossing the border into another country by car was a first for me. But everything went smoothly.

Once we got to our hotel, we checked in and walked down to the Vancouver Convention Centre for package pickup. Package pickup went very smoothly and included a Lululemon track bag!

After walking around for a little bit and grabbing some pictures, we made our way back over to the hotel to hang out for a little bit. We ended up grabbing a pretty early dinner before calling it a night.

The next morning came fairly early, although since it was Pacific Time the early morning wasn’t too terrible.

Now this race was going to be interesting for two reasons…

  1. This race would be my official 25th half marathon and first outside the U.S.
  2. My left knee has been giving me issues the past month and has really affected my pace and overall distance. I was curious to see how I would do running 13.1 miles.

All that to say, I knew I was going to have to be mindful of my body and “try” not overdo it too much. Plus, I had no time goal in mind, but to finish with a smile on my face!

Long story short…I ended up having a great race! The weather was absolutely perfect, which I know played a huge part. But also, the course was, for the most part, very flat and scenic. And bonus, my knee felt great the whole time! That was easily the biggest win for me!

You spend the first 7-8 miles running through the city. In fact, Rachel and Devin ended up seeing me around mile 7, which was a nice surprise.

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The rest of the race takes you around the “seawall” in Stanley Park, which is surrounded by waters from the Vancouver Harbour and English Bay. It was definitely unlike anything I’ve run before.

The race ended back in the Vancouver Convention Centre area, where I picked up my finisher medal and a finisher pair of sunglasses (which was a cool surprise), along with water and fuel. I ended up finding Rachel, Justin and Devin in the finisher’s area after a few minutes and we grabbed a few pictures before heading back to the hotel for showers.

Before I continue with the rest of our weekend… A couple of positives and negatives for the race…

Positives:

  • Beautiful course and scenery
  • Lululemon swag, including shorts, track bag, sunglasses and finisher’s medal
  • Self-seeding in starting corrals, which is always a good thing.
  • Awesome weather and hang time with good friends

Negatives:

  • Self-seeding (positive, but also negative)…as the crowds were crazy in all of the corrals. I ended up getting stuck towards the back corrals because of how small the starting area was and how many runners were crowding in.
  • The course, while quite beautiful, is pretty narrow at times. I really felt like I never truly broke away from a good amount of runners. Even with the larger crowds at Disney, I typically feel like I have room after the first few miles. But definitely not for this race.
  • The finisher’s area was a little chaotic at the end. You end up walking basically in the midst of everyone till you finally get to the medals and water/fuel. At that point, we came to a bottleneck of runners waiting to get their runner’s box of food. I ended up jumping out of that line and meeting up with the rest of my crew. It definitely saved me a good 15-20 minutes.

All that to say…for a free entry, it was 100% worth running. I totally get the love and popularity of this race. But I’m not sure if I would run it again or not. Honestly, if Rachel ever wanted to, I’m sure I would run it. But otherwise, I’m probably a one and done. But all in all, I was super pleased to finish my overall 25th official half marathon with no knee issues and a solid time!

To finish up…after grabbing showers and cleaning up a bit, we met up with Justin and Devin for a celebration lunch. Now one thing I haven’t mentioned yet is the awesome gift Lululemon ended up sending me for completing my 25th half marathon. Lululemon got wind on social media of this special race and ended up sending me a $200 (Canadian money) gift card to Lift Bar and Grill in Vancouver for a celebration meal! It was a crazy nice surprise!

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So…we ended up celebrating with a late lunch at Lift Bar and Grill. We ended up sitting outside because the weather was so crazy nice. It was wonderful meal for sure!

After eating, we ended up walking around Vancouver and Stanley Park for several hours just taking in the sights and enjoying the weather and company.

Later that afternoon, we headed back to the hotel for a dinner, before calling it an early night. We headed back to Seattle the next morning for our afternoon flight back to Atlanta. Justin and Devin were so very gracious to drive us the whole trip.

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All in all…it was a great (and short) trip to the Pacific Northwest! And while we didn’t get a ton of time in Vancouver, I definitely enjoyed getting to see and run in this great city.

 

Ch-Ch-Changes Coming to Disney Parks (Guest Post)

(The wife is taking over the blog today to talk about her thoughts on the changes that Disney announced last month at D23 in Anaheim.)

In July, Disney held their biennial D23 conference, during which Disney typically makes big announcements, specifically about the Disney parks (see: 2015’s conference, when they announced the new Star Wars and Toy Story lands).

This year’s conference was chock full of announcements, some surprising and some already rumored, some fun and exciting and some, not so much (depending on who you ask, of course).

Inspired by a recent podcast from my friend, Justin, of WDW Tales, I decided to write about my non-official and personally biased take on what’s coming to the world of Disney that I love so much.

Star Wars

Back in 2015, it was announced that a Star Wars land would be coming to both Disneyland and Walt Disney World (to my knowledge, they are intended to be identical). Allen, being the Star Wars lover that he is, was very excited. Me, being a liker of Star Wars, was completely and totally fine. Basically, I’m in for anything new.

This year, the official name of the land(s) was announced: Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. I have to say that the model of the land looks pretty cool, and will involve two new rides as well. It’ll be just like Star Tours! But an entire land and less bumpy (presumably)!

The piece of Star Wars news that truly weirds me out is the announcement of a Star Wars-themed resort at WDW. Per Chairman of Walt Disney Parks & Resorts Bob Chapek, “It is 100% immersive, and the story will touch every single minute of your day … ” I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be thinking about Star Wars when I’m washing my face at night.

I also read that there won’t be any functioning windows in the resort – they’ll be fashioned to appear as if you’re looking out into space. No, thank you! Additionally, the resort cast members will be in character during your stay. I’m sorry, but this is one step away from a creepy Westworld reality – all we need is robot “hosts” instead of real people. Needless to stay, I will not be patronizing the resort.

Pixar

There were a few Pixar-related announcements at the conference, the first being the official opening of the new Toy Story Land at Hollywood Studios in summer 2018. Yay, Toy Story! I think this land will be fun and adorable, and I am there.

It was also announced that Paradise Pier, located in California Adventure, will be re-themed to Pixar Pier. I’m torn on this one. I absolutely love Paradise Pier. It’s one of my favorite lands in the entire Disneyland Resort, and I am resistant to see it change. California Adventure has gone through many different variations in its 16 years of life, and has almost exclusively changed for the better, but I’m reserving judgment on this one (give me a Wall·E presence and we’ll talk).

Alongside the announcement of Pixar Pier are several limited-time (?) events at the Disneyland Resort. One is Pixar Fest, which will bring about the move of the current, cute Pixar Play Parade to Disneyland, alongside a new fireworks show, as well as the return of Paint the Night (my fave!) to California Adventure. I’m assuming this will all go down around the time of the Disneyland Half Marathon weekend, which is Pixar themed this year. (Side note: Don’t leave me, Soundsational! Otherwise we’ll have words, Disney.)

Magic Kingdom

Tron! Tron! Tron! This is a pretty exciting announcement (even for someone who doesn’t care about Tron: The Movie and Tron: The Movie Before That One). Shanghai Disneyland’s awesome TRON Lightcycle Power Run is coming to Tomorrowland, and it’s going to be amazing. It’ll be located somehow behind Tomorrowland Speedway and next to Space Mountain, so best of luck to the team that gets to plan that traffic flow! (Side note #2: Don’t mess with the PeopleMover! I beg you.)

Another possibly cool announcement is the addition of a new theater on Main Street. It’ll be modeled after the Willis Wood theater in Kansas City (about which I know nothing), and I’m excited about the prospect of a new (indoor) show.

Epcot

A park in desperate need of some refurbishment (or maybe a complete overhaul), there are a few exciting new attractions coming to Epcot. The first (and maybe most controversial) is the replacement of the Universe of Energy with a Guardians of the Galaxy-themed ride. Having never ridden Ellen’s Energy Adventure (I know), I can’t completely say whether or not I agree with this decision; however, it’s unlike Epcot to rely on flashy Disney properties to sell visitors on this particular park, so I’ll be interested to see how this works within the completely revamped Future World.

Speaking of Future World, a fun announcement is the addition of a space-themed restaurant near Mission: SPACE. I’m excited about this announcement – it sounds like fun. If nothing else, it will give me a reason to venture to that corner of the park (seeing as how Mission: SPACE is the only Disney ride I will not ride [aside from the swinging gondolas of death at Mickey’s Fun Wheel]).

There are still some swirling rumors about adding new countries to the World Showcase, as well as some possible future updates (e.g., adding a Coco overlay to the Gran Fiesta Tour in Mexico); however, one confirmation is the addition of a Ratatouille ride in the France pavilion, which is super exciting and appropriate. I can’t wait to ride the current version at Disneyland Paris – I’ll report back about how awesome it is.

Hollywood Studios

Guys. This park has been down in quality as of late, mainly because it can’t decide what, exactly, it wants to be. It’s all over the place. Already in this blog post, I mentioned that the park is getting the new Star Wars and Toy Story lands. At this point, you might as well start taking bets on how quickly this park will be renamed Walt Disney Studios.

However, the most controversial change coming to Hollywood Studios is the replacement of The Great Movie Ride with Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway. We can all agree that TGMR is dated, but it’s a classic ride and the freaking centerpiece of the park. What will be its emblem now? A train station? Not sure to expect there.

I trust the Imagineers and hope that they will do a great job with this new ride, but it feels like kind of an odd move for the park. The ride will also feature the new style of animation used on the Disney Channel, which seems less stylistic than the full-length animated films. I’ll reserve judgment for now, but I remain skeptical.

Marvel

I touched on a few Marvel-specific updates earlier, but there are yet more to report. One is some sort of Super Hero universe in California Adventure, presumably near the new Guardians of the Galaxy: BREAKOUT ride that recently commandeered the former Tower of Terror (which, by the way, looks completely out of place among the mostly old-timey look and feel of the park, but I digress).

Another update is re-envisioning Disney’s Hotel New York in Disneyland Paris with a Marvel theme. Pretty innocuous, in my opinion, and also, do Europeans like Marvel? I guess they’ll have to, since Disney has decided to shove it down our throats over the next who knows how many years.

WDW Transportation

Two new transportation options for Disney World were announced. One is Disney Skyliner, a gondola system that will connect several resorts with each other and Epcot and Hollywood Studios. To which I say, Okay…? I mostly feel neutral. One thought is, why not connect some of the more outlying resorts and not those that are already so close to those parks, but all right, fine.

The second new transpo option at Disney World is Minnie Mouse-themed vans. I basically have no opinion on this other than they look adorable! It’s basically a flat-rate Uber that will take you anywhere on property. Just add it to the list of upcharge options Disney is pushing.

Final Thoughts

I truly love visiting the parks, and I can’t imagine any of these announcements will change that – hopefully it will all be better in the long run. Plus, when has Disney ever steered us wrong?

Seattle/Vancouver Weekend Trip

This afternoon, Rachel and I will be traveling to Seattle to stay with our friends Justin and Devin. On Friday morning, the four of us will head up to Vancouver, Canada for the weekend. Justin and I will be running in the SeaWheeze Half Marathon on Saturday morning. Several months ago, I blogged about how I received a free entry into this very exclusive race. And the weekend is finally upon us!

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We are looking forward to a few days with our friends in two great cities. So make sure to follow me on social media to stay up to date on all of our amazing adventures this weekend!

Instagram: @allenwhittaker
Twitter: @allenwhittaker
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/allenwhittaker

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Dad’s Wedding Weekend

Last weekend, I had the amazing privilege of helping officiate my Dad’s wedding. And I’ll be honest, that first sentence was never a sentence I expected to write, but that is where we are.

You see, when my Mom passed away over 4 years ago, I think we all wondered (and hoped) that Dad might eventually meet someone. He was/is a very young man with many years left in front of him. We certainly thought it could happen. So when he began dating Suzanne (his future wife) about 3 years ago, I believe we all wondered if this would be a good thing.

Now watching a parent (especially one who was married for over 40 years) date someone different brings about very different feelings and emotions for sure. But I think our family did a beautiful job of welcoming Suzanne into our family and allowing her to get to know us.

And after dating for a good 3 years, my Dad and Suzanne finally got to their wedding weekend. And friends, what a beautiful weekend it was!

Friday evening, all of the Whittaker clan gathered with Suzanne’s family for a rehearsal and rehearsal dinner. It was such a wonderful time getting to meet all of Suzanne’s family, including her two sons, who believe it or not, I still hadn’t met yet.

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On Saturday, Rachel and I spent some time driving around Enterprise. It’s been quite a while since I’ve just explored my hometown. A lot has changed and yet so much has stayed the same. We were able to get by my grandparent’s old home and stop off to see my mom’s and grandparents’ graves.

Around noon, my side of the family gathered with my Dad for a little time together. My sister-in-law Deanna captured a beautiful picture of the 5 of us Whittakers gathered around our old kitchen table. I love this picture of us sitting down the same way we would when we were kids. And honestly, it’s probably the last time we will gather in this house around this table. Obviously, there were quite a few emotions…

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Later that afternoon, we made our way over to Enterprise First United Methodist Church (my childhood church) for the wedding ceremony. Now I was responsible for several parts of the service. I was playing guitar/singing one song and then leading a good portion of the actual ceremony. To say I was a little anxious would be an understatement.

 

I thought the service was absolutely wonderful and involved all of us kids. My brother Will played piano, sang and helped lead the ceremony, my sister Julie read scripture and was one of the bridesmaids, and my older brother Warren was best man (and “eye candy”). It was one of the sweetest ceremonies I’ve ever been to.

After the wedding, we headed down to Southern Broadway for the reception. We got to see so many family friends. People who practically raised me. It was such a meaningful time together celebrating Dad and Suzanne.

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Sunday morning, we met up at the Enterprise Country Club for brunch with both sides of the family and one last time together. After brunch, Rachel and I made our way back up to Atlanta.

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All in all, it was a wonderful weekend celebrating Dad and Suzanne. We are all so happy for them and hope it will be years of blessings for the happy couple!

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Check out my brother Will’s perspective of the wedding here

Friday Favorites

Welcome to a quick and fun edition of Friday Favorites. Here are a few things I am enjoying in my world.

Brooks National Parks Collection Brooks and REI are teaming up for a Brooks National Parks Collection celebrating our National Parks across the US with 5 unique shoe designs and t-shirts. Each shoe is stamped with its own unique national park crest. I picked up a pair of these shoes this week at REI and I love them! I can’t wait to start wearing them once the weather gets a little cooler in a few months.

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QALO Silicone Wedding Ring The QALO wedding ring is designed for those with an active lifestyle. And since my wedding ring is a little on the looser side, I decided to pick up one to wear when running. Looking forward to trying it out soon.

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Dad’s Wedding Weekend Finally, this weekend, my Dad is getting remarried, to a wonderful lady named Suzanne. It’s been over 4 years since my mom passed and we are all very happy that Dad has found someone to be with him to continue on this journey of life. Rachel and I are heading down to Alabama this afternoon to celebrate with family and friends. The ceremony is on Saturday evening and I will be helping officiate this joyous occasion.

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Hope everyone has a great weekend! Until next time…