Sunday, 8 June 2014

Countdown to International Convention ....and Kennedy Space Centre

A matter of days ....

that's all the time I have left ......

.... then I'm leaving on a jet plane

for New York baby! Yeah!  - oh and a little thing in Orlando - the Zonta International Convention.

When in Orlando it is pretty cool to LEAVE Orlando - and drive a fast car, for 90 minutes, on the expressway to the Space Coast and Kennedy Space Centre.

I, like squillions around the world, grew up with I Dream with Jeannie after school every day and wondered about this place called Cocoa Beach.

Finally, I got in my hire car and drove out there to check out this internationally famous American icon.

Leaving Orlando ...

.... arriving on the Space Coast. Soggy.
There are few stories that so clearly define a universal USA mental model than space exploration. So much of the countries confidence and technology developments have been drawn from NASA and the race to the stars.

Famous for the creation of Project Management, NASA have been instrumental behind miles of innovations including LEDs, artificial limbs, car tires and baby food.

yep - the front entrance gate - don't let the dogs out
Back when I visited NASA still had sole use of the base - now days it is a commercial space port, the space shuttle has been tucked inside and private contractors such as SpaceX are shooting off the rockets for satellites.  Back then I took the "launch pad" tour, which started in their little bus depot.

... you are here
Do you know why KSC is located here on the Florida coast?

Back in the 60's, it was the cheapest, most eastern, and closest to the equator, territory of the USA. Being on the east coast and on the bulgiest bit of the earth saves substantial energy when trying to fling rockets out of gravity's grip. 

On our bus, they had a host who told us lots and lots of great info.

Still soggy
We started off at the public viewing spot for launches  - off over there somewhere

On entering the base, we went past lots of viewing towers and office blocks, eventually reaching the Vehicle Assembly Building.

Where the rocket capsules are stacked together

One's stacked rocket is loaded onto the tractor carrier

The tractor trundles down this gravel road.  3 miles to the launch pad takes all day.
The gravel road is a feat of civil engineering capable of handling the weight. Then we arrive at the launch pad.

This was as close we could get and the pouring rain limited visibility

imported from Houston - the original control centre reconstructed
Standing in the rain got too much for me, and so I went inside to see the museum.

On display is a large range equipment and media stories from the time, including bits of rockets and old capsules.

crispy - all that's left of Apollo 14
 The main selling point is this:

An entire, unused Saturn rocket
This is clearly the highlight of the museum - it's HUGE and lies horizontally through the length of the room. Far too big to photograph.

As long as a football field
Essentially a big spacy airport and runway, KSC gives the public easy access to incredible adventure of space travel. In terms of content, it is fairly light and easy to understand. No astrophysics here but enough to tease one's thinking about how a huge industry going to the moon must have been.

KSC offers other attractions too - like a little garden planted with old rockets, an IMAX cinema with stunning film of the astronauts, and of course a little shop. With the finalisation of the space shuttle program, a brand new display featuring Atlantis has been installed.

poor old Explorer - absolutely stripped bare and plonked out the back in a walkway.
Did you see the original broadcast of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk on the moon? Will you make the trip to discover outer space?

That man-on-the-moon broadcast was totally dependent on the NASA transmitter dishes here in Australia, in Parkes and just outside Canberra at Tidbinbilla. The Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex at Tidbinbilla also houses a magnificent space museum which rivals KSC for quality - just missing the aircraft and rockets.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Why Orlando shopping should be 1 of the 7 deadly sins ... you know .. if deadly sins are your thing ...

After 3 years of Mrs. Banks, I am less than a month away from jetting off to the USA!

Time for a bit of budget recalibration. Have I put aside enough money for this trip - and really - can you ever have enough??

When it comes to the shopping question, how long is a piece of string? or how long will the magnetic strip last on your credit card?

To go completely materialistic / commercialistic is one aspect of Orlando. This may not be a side of me of which I am outwardly proud, but that there is a hidden part of me that LOVES a bargain!

The prices on many items between Australia and the USA are shockingly different. Australia is a small market and we don't get the range, variety and bulk volume discounts of the USA.  If you are wondering about the difference between shopping prices and bargains between Orlando and Australia,  let me share my experiences:

Cost the same / gave me no real advantage

  • Vera Bradley luggage (but not available in Australia and SOOOO colourful! so I still bought it ...)
Ewww - my eyes! Clashing multiple VB patterns cause seizures
  •  My Portmeirion crockery pattern, Wustof knives and many other kitchenware products - esp if from UK or Europe - possibly goes for other UK dinnerware brands too.
  • Lego (although they do have the magic wall where you can buy individual pieces!)

Jam as many pieces as possible in a milkshake container
  • Disney products at WDW
  • Samsung Tablet accessories (Orlando appears to be an iPhone town)
  • Brand name handbags - only because Australian Oroton is excellent and WAY cheaper than the expensive big brands seem to sell well there.
  • Eyewear / glasses frames - couldn't even find my great European eyeware designers
  • Cheese and wine - and possibly a whole range of foodie products - probably just as good here.

Reasonably cheaper / had a greater range available / gave me a marginal thrill
For my niece - I love you but Orlando love is only 2/3rds Australian love.
Red Rover polar fleece opera cape - purchased at Winter Park

50% cheaper or more - go nuts in Orlando

Ummm ... the more recent of my purchases
  • Ladies suits from Ann Taylor, clothing in general.
  • Swarovski crystal at the Premium Outlet Mall
to remember my past little ones...... at a quarter of the price of Australia

  • Pandora jewellery at Mall at Millenia
  • Aveda shampoo / products
  • US brand cosmetics / skin care / make up like Estee Lauder range of brands and products
  • Cameras from the Sony shop at Mall at Millenia
UPDATE: My research is showing that Lindt chocolate are now running two outlet stores - Premium Outlet Mall and Lake Buena Vista Factory Stores - bringing extra discounts!


  • On Qantas you can pre pay for extra baggage for $123/bag up to 23 kgs. Buy enough stuff and it is cheaper than postage. USPS postage for 23kgs = $263 or 9 kg for $123
  • Don't buy mobile phones or household electrical appliances. They won't work on Australian mobile systems and our voltage will make them explode!
  • Although many battery powered devices (laptops, cameras) come with variable voltage transformers and work fine - check for those.
  • Electronics, batteries and high value precious items must go in your carry on.  
  • Buy goods online in advance and have them posted to your hotel. Take advantage of USA free shipping within the USA - even with that pre-paid bag still cheaper than postage to Australia.
  • Shop for shoes first thing in the morning before your feet swell.
  • Remove all the packaging
  • Take less stuff and buy new and use immediately.

On this trip I will be looking for magnificent dress fabric in New York; a new pants suit for work; top up on my cosmetics; a Ted Baker jacket for my nephew; maybe tablet accessories? Of course my beloved Ferragamo shoes and chocolate supplies. Oh ... and am I supposed to buy The Ken Man a souvenir too?

What about you? What are your favourite holiday purchases?

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Don't make the rookie error ..... know your Mary Blair

Let's compare:

it's a small world

Alice in Wonderland

(source: liveauctioneers)
and the Contemporary Resort's Grand Canyon Concourse

(source: omniluxe)

What do you think brings them all together - besides being Disney things?

it's Mary Blair!
(source: Mary Blair Gallery)
For me, Mary Blair is one, from among many many Disney luminaries, as one who is special.  Every time I see her unique work I feel like I am gaining a glimpse of true American culture.

So Mary was an artist - and worked as one of the original animators for Walt. Her strong sense of design was behind many Disney's pieces including Alice - and also:

Peter Pan


and Song of the South

Mary did about a decade in the fifties away from the Disney studio doing private work for advertising and Little Golden Books - her most famous being I Can Fly


Lured back to Disney, Walt put Mary to work not on films, but on building things! 

Mary's murals decorated Tomorrowland 

Go read the whole post on Yesterland - it pays magnificent homage to the murals and tells the story of where the murals are now
The Gran Fiesta Tour in the Mexico pavilion at Epcot

(source WDW Magic)
And most famously Mary designed it's a small world for the 1964 New York World's Fair to benefit UNICEF. 

I like these attractions at the parks - I feel like I am immersing myself into American art history - not just riding a dumb old Disney thing with a ear worm song. I feel the style is strong and unique and captures a spirit of lightness, movement, naivety - childhood dreams - the way we wish it was. It is isn't about intellectual or inaccessible. This art is congruent in its style, colours, themes and ultimate application. So it works.

My favourite is the Grand Canyon Concourse in the Contemporary Resort 

(source: Mouse Planet)
Over 18,000 hand made tiles, over 90 ft tall and wrapping around the sides of this central elevator column, this magnificent mural captures the spirit and colours of the Grand Canyon.

(source: Burning Settlers Cabin)
I love that I can walk up to and run my hands over the knobbly tiles.

It celebrates the people of the canyon

and the skunks (source: all
There's this cute bear

(source: onmiluxe)
I can't wait to get you there and make you search for the infamous 5 legged goat! 

(of course, if you are coming to the California Grill fireworks dinner you get into this wondrously decorated elevator riser)

This short you tube mini - doco is really charming, full of her art and story, describing how Mary's style emerged.

This partner piece by the young chap includes clips from those final films including Donald and that cute train.

When we are in Orlando, be aware and you'll begin to recognise Mary's influence all over the place.

So how do you find the art of Mary Blair?

(source: Magic of Mary Blair)

If too much Mary is barely enough - with the 50th anniversary of its a small world, Mary Blair displays have been popping up everywhere. Check out:

Friday, 25 April 2014

This is my Happy Birthday Song and it isn't very long

Just when you thought I had gone away ......

Grumpy Cat Birthday : It's Your Birthday, I'm Controlling My Excitement - by Anonymous
It's Mrs Banks 3rd Birthday!!
Ohhh .... so you know those people who never quite finish anything? The finish line is in sight and we just wind down? I bet you are seeing Zontians at Club and District level doing it right now ... only a month to go ....

Aussie comedians Roy and H.G. would describe it as running a race and just in the last 10 metres the lead runner would get out the esky, big umbrella, fold up chair and sit back and watch everyone else cross the finish line.

Well - maybe, just maybe a bit of that maybe happening here on Mrs Banks ..... just maybe.

Only 2 months to go and we'll be together again in Orlando. Oh I have the excitement of grumpy cat ...

3 years I've been pumping out the posts - time to go for the big final push in our last few posts together.

Firstly, let's fire up the Google Analytics and see who's been doing what

Spaceship Earth
Readership Geographical Location
Still the case that the USA is just pipping ahead of our Aussie readers - but ..... no-one else?? O Canada ... why aren't you reading me?

But my Aussie readers win again in that they stay for double the time on the site (because of our super slow broadband speeds here??), they read 1/3 more pages, and 91% of them hit the site, stay and read. YAY!!

Post of the Year
After a 2 year stella run, my anti-Disney Princess rant only came in at No.3
This year, you were all about something else - Mary Poppins! Yes - this post about P.L. Travers and the writing of Mary Poppins from back in July 2011 was the most hit post. My only explanation is that I was probably ahead of my time and picking up collateral damage from the Saving Mr Banks movie.

And where is Zonta in all this? Post No. 6 - Announcing the dates of International Convention. The only Zonta post in the top 10.  My consolation is that people coming to look at my Disney posts are surreptitiously exposed to Zonta!

Finding Mrs. Banks

1/3 by organic searching. Well - Thank you Google - but they are looking for Disney Princesses or Capital Theatre Seating Maps. Oh well.

The red bit is referrals from other sites - and because there are no other Zonta blogs out there, all those referrals are from other Disney fan sites like: Mouse on the Mind, This Happy Place, the DISboards and Aussie Blog Chicks. This would be a direct boost from the new Kill, Refurb, Marry post series.

The green chunk is direct hits and google searches - people looking deliberately for me. Much like the the light blue which is Facebook - so a 1/3 actually DO want to be here!

so after all these stats and graphs, I think we deserve some birthday cake

Is it not magnificent?! (source: cake central)
It is my privilege to serve my readership. Some 16% of all hits are regular returns, and it is humbling to reflect that people give up some of their precious time to come to Mrs. Banks - and make sure I am still alive .... or not batshit crazy .... or whatever.

It's been like having a VERY long engagement. For 3 years we have been planning our trip to Orlando. It is now only a matter of weeks before Mrs. Banks reaches her ultimate purpose.

So what say you? Will you come join us at International Convention?

now - I have to go find the Ken Man and get that cup of tea....

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."

Aussie TV show The Checkout now shows what I'm talking about in pictures and talky bits!

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!)
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?