Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Horsing around - Saratoga Springs and Spa

With Bob Iger as CEO of Disney, the company has become obsessed with franchising.

Creating new princesses, building Cars Land and sticking characters into the historical rides.

I wonder if UNICEF commissioned a Stitch for the original it's a small world? (source: findingmickey.com)
Two weeks ago, the new Art of Animation Resort "value" resort was opened at WDW. The four wings of this mega resort each cover Finding Nemo, CarsThe Little Mermaid, and The Lion King.

This dumbing down leads to this:

Hmmm ....whilst we're here, where do you think the picture of my horsey friends is set? Could it be at the famous Saratoga Springs racing track in upstate New York?

Just like Disney constructing purpose so it can "franchise" the characters, let's pretend we are in Saratoga!

Saratoga Springs was first settled in 1819 and it grew as a tourism destination due to the draw of it's natural mineral springs. It soon became a spa town and several grand European-style spa hotels opened. And then in 1863 the famous racecourse opened.

So why do I suddenly care about Saratoga Springs??

Cause I'll be staying at the Disney fake copy hotel: Disney's Saratoga Springs and Spa Resort!

This resort is bundles up all the main features of the real Saratoga Springs - lots of horsey things, a day spa and it's located "out of town". Look way over there on the left - in the light blue area - No. 18. about as close to the WDW border as you can get! (BTW below blue, in orange print "To Orlando & International Drive": that is the location of the World Centre Marriott)

One of the least conveniently located resorts. Click to embiggen source: wdwinfo.com
The architectural style of the buildings is turn of the century, upscale horsey barns and country manors. There are over 1000 guest rooms all in horsey named buildings like The Paddock and The Grandstand. Their restaurant is called The Turf Club.

source: theinfomouse.com
The Spa is simply called The Spa - and is the largest in WDW (currently - there is a new spa in construction at the Grand Floridian). But alas - there are no natural springs - just a highly chlorinated jacuzzi.

see - I told you  (source: travelpod.com)
However - you can buy the famous Saratoga Mineral Water - in bottles!

For those times when Disney water is not refreshing enough
Earlier this year Disney began a soft furnishings refurb at the resort: carpet, curtains, bedspreads, upholstery etc. And guess what they did?! Yep - Franchising! However, gentle reader, let me ask you: when you think of classic Disney characters, who are the horsey ones?




Yep - that's right  - It was all started with a rabbit mouse - not a horse.

Anyway - let's take a look at a Studio room - which has enjoyed a refurb and check out the new franchised inserts

Yep - even the narrator didn't recognise the characters*

Anyway - at least you can see the insertion of the characters has been fairly minimal - unlike those Art of Animation Resorts mentioned above.

Saratoga Springs and Spa would be one of the least kiddie friendly, the least conveniently located, have the smallest rooms and have the most boring decorating. Have I sold you??

SSR&S - the nadir of DVC construction (source: yourfirstvisit.net)
Maybe I need to have a script more like this chick? (note: this video repeats itself. So you can stop halfway. But it does show more of the grounds and spa)

Only drugs can produce that level of happy delusion.

At least - it does have reasonably good quality rooms and fixtures (esp. in those newly refurbished rooms), free parking at the door to your building, every room has a nice view - no car parks or loading docks here - all water and golf course.And it comes with all the nice perks of staying onsite. (like additional hours in the parks; shopping transport service; free WDW transportation; free theme park parking; etc)

Most important of all SSR&S is very cheap! That's the reason why I am staying there. I'm doing a budget trip - just to test how it works. See how I sacrifice myself for you - again!

So I don't recommend first timers stay at SSR&S. If you are going to visit the World - stay somewhere in the centre of action, with strong theming (like the Polynesian or Wilderness Lodge) and really enjoy immersing yourself.

If you have a large group coming AND want to pay the same low price, stay at Old Key West Resort or one of the family suites at the All Star Music value resort.

I mean, why bother? You might as well just stay across the road at the non-Disney hotels.

Well - that settles it - The "Why Bother" is my new name for SSR&S.

There is an unoffical SSR&S Fan website.
In an upcoming post I'll explain the different ways you can access accommodation in Orlando - including these timeshare resorts for the most value visit, where you can experience "the wonder of Disney with a hint of nostaligic magic!" (someone got paid to write that)

*BTW - apparently the cartoon horsies are from Disney's versions of Sleeping Beauty and Tangled.

Monday, 17 September 2012

In Finland, men can't be President.

My niece is about to sit the Higher School Certificate and finish school! Wow! Gee they grow up in the blink of an eye and she will be 18 this year. Over the years, it didn't matter what we were speaking about, she had no concept of an applied gender differential. 'Anyone can do anything' seemed to be the way she approached life.

But it hasn't always been this way for women in our world, and still isn't. Michelle Bachelet came to Canberra and reminded us how it isn't and in what ways.

So let's go back a step: Michelle Bachelet is the Executive Director of UN Women, and an Undersecretary of the UN. She has also been the first female President of Chile. She is truly global person, having lived several careers, has a mantle covered in awards - all whilst being a single mother of three children.

Michelle was meeting with the Australian Government and AusAID in preparation of attending the Pacific Island Forum with Julia Gillard and Hillary Clinton. Whilst in Canberra she snuck in a quick speech - probably the same one she presented at the Zonta International Convention.

"100 years ago only 3 countries allowed women the vote. Australia was one. Now in every country people continue to stand up for equality"

Michelle primarily spoke about two things:
  1. How UN Women operates, and how it is different to the now defunct UNIFEM; and
  2. Why UN Women is still needed, using lots and lots of stats and stories.
Basically UN Women was formed from UNIFEM and a couple of other parts of the UN to create a body which works quite differently. Instead of organising and supervising projects targeted for women and girls (the work of UNIFEM), UN Women uses a gender mainstreaming approach. It seeks to co-ordinate the other UN agencies to ensure all their policies and projects are gender neutral and do not generate perverse outcomes for women and girls. In this way, gender issues are no longer silo'd within one agency, but there is the opportunity to embed outcomes across the board.

This new agency has three priorities:
  1. equal economic participation, including political participation and engagement of women in peace talks
  2. more inclusive society
  3. end violence against women and girls

Huge leap forward - as long as the other agencies agree to play along.

And so why is UN Women, and by extension Zonta, still needed?

According to Michelle, 1/3 of all women will experience domestic violence; women still do the vast majority of unpaid work; women on average earn less than men. Even though 125 countries now recognise domestic violence and have made it illegal, 600 million women live in countries where it is not recognised. And for those women neither do they have land rights, travel freedom, permission to sign a contract or borrow money, or receive an inheritance.

Even here in Australia where we have a wonderful life, still only earn roughly 85% of the average of men's salaries; only 1/3 of our pollies are female and women make up less than 10% of ASX top 200 company board members. How can balanced decisions be made in these circumstances? The Australian Government has a target of 40% female participation in government appointed boards, committees and panels - and we are not there yet.

In France they have a saying: "If a woman becomes involved in politics, she is changed. If lots of women become involved in politics, the policies are changed"

Michelle asks how can people make good decisions if participation is not 50/50? She points out that women's participation in peace talk negotiations has been less than 10% of the participants, and that peace talks, on average, fail within 5 years. And that research has shown that the most important success factor for a child is the education level of the mother. That when the economic status of women is advanced, women are more likely than men to put their money into their family and reduce hunger rates, reduce illness, increase education rates of children and this generates more jobs in the local economy.

So let's take a break and you can see this short video, filmed by AusAID, (with Canberra in the background). Michelle speaks of Australia's foreign aid program and support to UN Women, and some of the successes of the UN Women programs.

However, the picture is even worse in the South Pacific, where conditions for women are pretty much the worst in the world on every count. How bad? This AusAID poster summarises some stats:

So let's just check that again:
  • 1/3 of Australia's women experience domestic violence, but in the South Pacific it is 2/3rds! And the UNHCR has pronouced that the Solomon Islands has a rate of domestic violence that is pretty much the highest in the world.
  • In Australia, we average 1/3 of our pollies being female, the South Pacific is less than 5%, and in some countries it is 0%.
Michelle came to recognise Australia's foreign aid contribution to turning around this situation. Australia is one of only 2 countries in the world to be growing our foreign aid budget, to now $7.5 billion. And an increased chunk of it is heading towards the South Pacific women's projects, such as their "Women leading change" program, aimed at increasing the number of women as parliamentary representatives.

Take a look at this AusAID video:

So AusAID have increased their funding for South Pacific projects, expanding with projects for:
  • Peace and security - helping more women to be involved in peace talks and anti-violence projects
  • Women leading change - supporting women in the Solomons and PNG to enter parliament and step up their role as leaders in their communities
In closing her presentation, Michelle took a question from the floor about what inspires her to keep going:

"In Finland, A woman was head of state for over 12 years (Tarja Halonen), and she was visiting a kindergarten asking the kids what they wanted to be when they grew up. She was getting the usual answers: a doctor, a teacher, a fireman. She asked one boy: "Would you like to be President one day?" and the boy replied "Men can't be president!".
Michelle closed by saying this story made her realise: in changing mindsets, role models help more than policy.

So gentle reader: who have been your role models for advancing the status of women & how have they changed your mindset and driven you to action?

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Orlando Link Festival - Part 3 and our ending

I've been too busy to post - going to some really interesting events that I'll type up for you all shortly.

So I am motivated to wrap up our link festival of all the things you can do in Orlando to fill your days.

You'll remember we are working through this video .....

... which set you off before dawn kayaking or golfing. We then spent our day in the theme parks and out shopping ... and so now the sun is setting and it is time to have a squiz at all the things you can do in the evening (if you haven't collapsed with exhaustion yet)

22. Richard Petty Exotic Car Racing has been inserted here

23. Random people eating - Regular readers would know by now that Orlando has everything from the simpliest donut, the stupidest junkfood through to world class, award winning cuisine. Keep reading! More food porn to come!

24. Amway Centre - This whopping huge indoors stadium facility hosts all kinds of events. It hosts those Disney on Ice shows, pop stars shows, convention type events and is also the home for some major league sports teams including the Orlando Magic basketball team and the Orlando Predators AFL team. So if you want that typical American sports experience of cheerleaders, hot dogs, huge shouting crowds - this is the place for you! Keep your eyes on their events calendar. Oh - and yes you can land your helicopter on their roof.

25. Cobb Plaza Cinema Cafe - catch up on the latest movies whilst enjoying your dinner. Yep - this is one of those complexes that is a full restaurant.

26. Random nightclub - Sorry ladies - I'm not a night club person so I have no idea about this one. Google 'nightclubs in Orlando' and a huge list comes up.

27. Ballet! You want ballet? Orlando has just as much ballet as horse-riding! And if you think Orlando is  just for red neck theme parks you need to go see the Orlando Ballet Company with its accompanying School. The school has been awarded as the best in the USA, and is world class. There is also the Central Florida Ballet Company, and the Russian Ballet of Orlando, who perform the Russian classics such as Sleeping Beauty & The Nutcracker.

28. Theatre - There is tons of theatre in Orlando and the best place to track what's on is through the Orlando Sentinel. There is a Shakespeare theatre, Repertory Theatre, a Performing Arts Centre - even the Mad Cow Theatre. Between them they cover every style for any taste.

29. Blue Man Group. In 1997, 3 chaps based in New York painted themselves blue, designed an avant garde, experimental, piece of performance art and being anonymous, quickly franchised themselves out across the world. The show is a bit hard to describe - it is loud, flashy, electronic, active, colourful and is an audience immersive experience. Universal Citywalk host the Blue Man Group Theatre - have a look at their website where there is a short video giving an example of a show where you celebrate the joy of life!

30.  Some kind of horsey show and/or circusy thing inserted here

31. Cirque de Soleil - La Nouba: Mirroring Universal's hosting of those blue chaps, Disney hosts a permanent Cirque show. Due to frequent touring, Australians would be familiar with the Cirque format - a collection of amazing "circus" type performers with live music and wacky costumes. This Cirque show is as fascinating as the others and highly recommended.

32. Fireworks - unidentified fireworks but the biggest fireworks shows are on at WDW every single night of the year. And they come with dessert!

I have finally finished this link festival! And yet this video didn't include segway tours, swimming with the manatees or even the Tupperware Museum!

I'm hoping this festival has shown there is more to Orlando than concrete and kiddies theme parks - there are options for thrill seekers, back to nature lovers, luxury indulgers and supporters of the arts.

When 2014 comes around, perhaps we can organise a bulk booking?