DISNEY WORLD | TOWER OF TERROR INTERIORS

With the recent news that Disney's California Adventure's Tower of Terror would soon be no more, I can't help but fear that Hollywood Studios' counterpart will suffer that same unfortunate fate.  Hopefully, that day is far, far away and we'll have have many more freefall drops and trips to the fifth dimension in our future.  With that said, I thought it would be the perfect time to take a trip through one of my favorite queue experiences at Disney - the Hollywood Tower Hotel lobby!  I'm so glad that we were blessed with long wait times and a very slow moving queue the last time we were at Walt Disney World because I was able to get up close to so many of the spectacular details that we often have to whoosh by. 

Who else is a huge fan of Disney cobwebs?  Nothing immerses me into an attraction more than a good cobweb!  Don't you just want to reach out and grab them?  Or, if you're a neat freak like my husband and I, reach out and spray some Windex on them?  That reminds me of a really funny story in the fantastic book by RJ and Suzanne Ogren, Together in the Dream:  The Unique Careers of a Husband and Wife in the Early Decades of Walt Disney World, where RJ talks about having to reapply all the cobwebs in the Haunted Mansion due to a custodial worker cleaning them up thinking they were real.  They're just that convincing!

Another feature that I really appreciate about this attraction is that Walt Disney Imagineering used actual antiques for most of the props, some even dating back to the Renaissance!

I'm always excited when we end up right at a cut-off point here because it means I get to read the awesome directory with the plastic stick-on letters.  This is one of the areas where the Imagineers got it absolutely right and I'm almost certain that there's a Stardust Room in the Mezzanine and a High Society Suite in the Penthouse.  How amazing would it be if there was?  

Well, that concludes our little tour of the Hollywood Hotel Lobby at Hollywood Studios' Tower of Terror!  We are actually going to be at Disneyland in a few months and I look forward to documenting the ride at California Adventure before it undergoes the Guardians of the Galaxy Mission: BREAKOUT! redo (which - OK, OK - looks pretty cool).  Here's to hoping for another long wait time - see ya real soon!

ILLUSTRATION | LITTLE HAVANA

Recently completed these illustrations of a few landmark buildings in Little Havana!  From top to bottom, Versailles Cuban Restaurant (hands down, the best Cuban food in Miami), Farmacia Luis, and the Tower Theater.  Even though these buildings don't adhere to one specific architectural style, I had a lot of fun drawing each of them as they're each quintessentially Miami!

Art prints are available here and here.

DISNEY WORLD | EPCOT WORLD SHOWCASE | JAPAN

The last country in our brief but stretched-out tour of Epcot's World Showcase is Japan.  Japan is absolutely the country we spend most time during out visits.  Not only are we big fans of the restaurants (I personally love the quick service delight that is Katsura Grill) but we tend to spend quite a bit of time perusing the Mitsukoshi Department Store - the above gorgeous array of kimonos are from their selection.  Unfortunately for this blog, most of the time spent at the store is spent, well, spending so I don't have too many photos to share!

Mitsukoshi is, indeed, a department store and they have departments for pretty much everything.  I usually enter from what I call the "Hello Kitty" side as you are greeted by endless racks of Sanrio merchandise.  My husband and I love this area - me for the Monchichis and he for the Transformers - and they tend to get merchandise that's uncommon elsewhere in the U.S.  As you walk further, they have the Pick-A-Pearl station where you can select a pearl to go with various jewelry items which they have on sale.  While I've never purchased one, it's always fun to hear the excitement when they open the oysters.  It's one of those "You Know You're in Disney When..." sounds!  

Next to Pick-A-Pearl are countless other items such as stationery, household goods, clothing, and accessories and then a separate area dedicated to more traditional Japanese arts and crafts such as the beautiful dolls shown above and hand-painted housewares.  And then we've reached another one of my favorite areas at Mitsukoshi - the food market!

A little tradition that my husband and I have is stocking up treats from the marketplace and enjoying them throughout the rest of our trip.  We typically visit Epcot on our second day (yes, we have a system by now) so we make sure to get enough sweets to sustain us for a few days... because, you know, there aren't hundreds of places to eat at Walt Disney World.  Some of my favorites include Koala's March, Pocky, and the unfortunately-named but delicious Cream Collon.

And that, folks, concludes our trip through Japan and the World Showcase!  Like I said, I wish I had taken more photos but there's just too much to distract me from my camera in the pavilion.  I have always wanted to visit Japan and this place has always been a nice diversion until I can actually get there.  I will not end this post with "Sayonara"... I will not end this post with "Sayonara"...

DISNEY WORLD | EPCOT WORLD SHOWCASE | MOROCCO

Morocco has always been my favorite area at EPCOT's World Showcase.  The attention to detail throughout the pavilion is incredible and what I would imagine strolling through Marrakesh would feel like.  This was the only area of World Showcase where the country's government had input on the design and the king actually sent artisans to create most of the mosaics as well as the aged, irregular textures on the wall.

Oh, and here's something really cool I recently found out - you can see the Tower of Terror from Hollywood Studios while standing at certain spots throughout the pavilion so the top of the tower was designed to blend in with the Moroccan architecture!  I love Disney.

The shopping here is incredible and some of the best (non-Disney) merchandise you'll find at the resort.  The shops, which are meant to resemble a channel of interconnecting vendors in a souk, carry everything from clothing, accessories, belly dancing coin belts, snacks, and housewares.  I absolutely love their woven bags and am torn as to which one I want each time I visit!  I think I need to make up my mind next time... or just buy them all.

One of the reasons why I love the Moroccan pavilion so much is that it feels as if it's alive.  The hanging yarns, the incense, the way the dresses are displayed, the shelf styling - it's all very dynamic and a glimpse into what life might be like in a place thousand of miles away from Orlando.

Morocco is definitely one area you want to dedicate an extra bit of time to next time you're at EPCOT.  Perhaps it's because it's one of the countries I've never had the pleasure of actually visiting, but the richness in both the architecture and even the (seemingly) minor details always manages to transport me into the middle of a bustling Moroccan town... in Florida.

ILLUSTRATION | FIGMENT + APPLE PENCIL

I recently treated myself to an iPad Pro and Apple Pencil and they've been a fantastic investment!  I have previously used Wacom tablets for my digital art and had been debating on whether or not to get the Cintiq.  Well, I think my search is over as I am completely in love with Apple's combo!  Not only do the Pro and Apple Pencil deliver in terms of portability but their performance and range of apps is very, very impressive.  I used Procreate for the drawing above and have also downloaded AstroPad (which mirrors your computer screen onto your tablet, essentially letting your run full-fledged applications from the iPad).  Both apps have produced amazing results and the pressure-sensitivity on the Apple Pencil is comparable to that of a Wacom, in my experience.  I'm not quite sure where Apple currently stands as a professional illustration tool but I'm beyond happy with the results I've gotten.

Since I've been in the middle of recapping out Disney World trip, I thought I'd share a drawing of EPCOT's very own Figment which I completed this week.  As I mentioned, this was created entirely on Procreate. 

DISNEY WORLD | EPCOT WORLD SHOWCASE | FRANCE

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EPCOT holds a special place in my heart.  Even though Future World is currently a far cry from what it once was in the 80s , World Showcase, thankfully, has remained true to itself.  (OK, expect for Maelstrom but we won't go into that now. Sore spot.)

We love to travel so it's nice to get a little taste of the world while on a Disney vacation and the World Showcase offers just that, wrapped up in a nice little package - no passport needed!  I thought I'd share some snaps from a few weeks ago of our afternoon trek through France, Japan, and Morocco.  We'll start off with France where beautiful details, such as the above gorgeous perfume and soap display at L'Esprit de la Provence, abound!

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Perfumes, sachets, and colorful flowers make the France pavilion one of the most fragrant places in all of Walt Disney World.

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We happened to be visiting during  the Flower and Garden Festival and were treated to many gorgeous topiaries featuring Disney characters such as Belle and the Beast, Flower Skunk, and (one of my favorites), Lumiere!  Disney has always, in one way or another, featured elaborate topiaries throughout their parks but they have really gone above and beyond in recent years.

As I mentioned, I was very excited to discover the above detail which I had never noticed before in the thirty-plus years I've been visiting EPCOT!  I'm a complete Disney nerd when it comes to things like this so it really excited me.  I do remember actual scenes such as this along the Seine in actual Paris, though, which is just another reason why I enjoy exploring the World Showcase so much - the details!  See?  Nerd.

Anyhow, thanks for joining us through our little walk through France at the World Showcase!  I'll be posting about Morocco next - au revoir!

DISNEY WORLD | ANIMAL KINGDOM LODGE

We recently got back from an amazing stay at Walt Disney World's Animal Kingdom Lodge and I just had to share a few thoughts and snaps from our trip!  This is, by no means, a comprehensive review or trip report but I will be posting various nuggets from our little adventure over the next few weeks.  On a side note, I also have a November 2015 trip to Disneyland which I'm working on so to say I'm backlogged with Disney trips is an understatement (not a bad problem to have, by the way).  

Now, Animal Kingdom Lodge - wow!  When you hear people talk about "Disney theming" and "Disney details" when it comes to resorts, this is what they're talking about.  At the initial approach, the resort is definitely subdued and buried among trees and bamboo stalks.  This quickly changes upon passing through the entry vestibule where you're greeted with the above view!  We loved coming "home" every night after a day at the parks and being welcomed by this beautilful atrium.

The lobby at the Animal Kingdom Lodge is also one where you actually want to spend time in during your stay as opposed to a spot where you simply rest your luggage while you're checking in or out.  The savanna lodge-inspired furnishings are gorgeous (and comfy!) and the resort also houses a pretty impressive collection of African art.   

Animal Kingdom Lodge also boasts numerous places to wine and dine:

  • Boma - Buffet with American and African-inspired dishes
  • Jiko The Cooking Place - African Signature Restaurant
  • Sannaa - African and Indian-inspired Sit-Down Restaurant
  • The Mara - Food Court with American, African, and Mediterranean dishes
  • Maji and Uzima Springs Pool Bars
  • Cape Town Lounge and Wine Bar
  • Victoria Falls Lounge

As I'm writing this blog entry, you have no idea how I wish I could confidently offer a comprehensive dining review on each of these venues and show off close-up photos of decadent meals and drinks and desserts but, unfortunately, The Mara was the only on-site restaurant we had the pleasure of dining at.  However, as far as Disney resort food courts go, The Mara was pretty spectacular.  We had breakfast there every morning (Bounty Platter!) as well as dinner one late night after a long day at Hollywood Studios.  I had the Mediterranean Chicken Pita and it was delicious!  We were actually hoping to eat at Boma that evening but since all of the on-site table service restaurants close at 9:30. our only option was quick service since it is conveniently opened until 1am.  In the tradition of all restaurants at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, The Mara offers a nice blend of traditional American fare (burgers, salads, etc.) as well as quite a few African dishes such as stews, soups, and bobotie - a curry, almond, and raisin meat pie. 

Oh, and don't forget to try the Zebra Domes!  I had heard many a tale praising the deliciousness of the Zebra Domes but, for some reason, I was expecting something more along the lines of a cake pop.  They're actually closer in consistency to a mousse with a solid white chocolate shell.  Nevertheless, I happily devoured my serving as well as my husband's since he was not a fan.

The end of the lobby offers a fantastic view of the Savannah as well as a little courtyard area where they offer stories and games for children as well as performers - we saw a drum trio performing here a few nights of the week!  And how spectacular is that ostrich light fixture?  Can I get one for my house?

Now, on to the room!  We booked a Standard View Room on the official website and requested the Kudu Trail at online check-in.  If you've booked a Standard, I highly recommend doing this because it'll give you amazing views of the animals without the hefty price tag that typically accompanies an actual Savanna View Room reservation.  Word is, however, that Animal Kingdom Lodge actually has more savanna rooms than standard rooms so the odds of getting an upgrade upon checking in (which, I believe, is what happened to us) are very much in your favor!   Oh, and a word of caution for couples traveling child-free in hopes of a romantic getaway - most Disney resorts offer either two Queens (in Deluxe and Moderate Resorts) or two Doubles (in Value Resorts) with Kings being a rarity so be prepared for some Lucy and Ricky beds!

We were in room 3350 which was about a five minute walk from the main lobby.  One thing that I really appreciated about this resort's layout was that many rooms were located on the same level (Level 3) as the lobby so no stairs or elevator trips were necessary when getting to and from our room.  

Oh, and even though I don't have any photos (I don't know what came over me), the pool area was excellent!  The resort offers two pools (one with a slide!) as well as a large hot tub which we enjoyed often during our stay.  Tip of the Day: Strongly consider a resort with a hot tub when heading to Disney - you'll thank me after hours of walking!.

And last but not least, our spectacular views!  We saw animals at, literally, all hours of the day with mornings and late afternoons being the busiest times.  Zebras and giraffes were always hanging around followed by ostriches and wildebeests!  While Animal Kingdom Lodge, as a whole, is an amazing resort, there's nothing quite like waking up in the morning and seeing a whole menagerie grazing in your backyard. 

So, just in case you couldn't tell from my glowing review, we loved Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge and definitely plan on staying there again in the (hopefully) near future.  Not only is it a visually stunning resort but it is unmatched in terms of amenities and features.  I mean, where else can you wake up to a zebra outside your window?

WELCOME

Welcome!  You have no idea how excited I am to launch FINA and share my art and travel adventures with everyone.  I'll be using this blog to showcase my illustration and design work as well as photos, stories, and inspiration from places I've been to (you could say I'm a bit obsessed with traveling and trip planning) and things I collect (1950s hotel matchbooks anyone?).  

Thanks for dropping by and come back often!  Stay tuned as we work on a few things - we're going to Disney soon!