Walt Disney World and Universal Studios Orlando Extravaganza (2016 Holiday Season)

By DD - Last updated: Wednesday, January 11, 2017

wdw-epcot-holidays-guidemapI am not sure how many times Mama D and I have been to Walt Disney World together; my guess would be at least 5 times because I remember having been to Port Orleans Riverside twice (Magnolia Bend Mansion and Acadian House), once in a Boardwalk Studio, once staying at an Airbnb Condo for a month in Kissimmee, and staying at the Floridays last January. This would have been our 6th visit together and my 8th visit to Walt Disney World but it was both our first time visiting Universal Studios and we were not disappointed: We had a blast!

On this First Class Trip we stayed 5 nights in a Boardwalk 1 Bedroom Villa (Dec 6-11), and 4 nights in a Lowes Royal Pacific King Suite (Dec 11-15). We were lucky enough to be able to upgrade both our return flights to Business Class with Air Canada and had a complimentary microwave (usually $15 per day, first come first served) at the Royal Pacific saving us a lot of money. “For the first time In Forever” we bought the Memory Maker at WDW, using the money we saved with the 25% savings for Canadians on Park Tickets, and had our picture taken as many times as we could with characters or in front of landmarks.

universal-studios-orlando-grinch-windowUniversal was out of this world! Staying in a Universal De Luxe Resort came with the perk of the Express Pass and we liked it a lot more than the Disney’s Fast Pass System; with Express Pass, you can walk in front of the lines as many times as you want! You could do the same ride 20 times a day if you wanted to. We had already purchased our tickets online and all we had to do was go to the photo booth after our check-in where we entered our hotel room card and were issued an express pass with our picture. We bought a lanyard to safely store our park to park ticket and our Express Pass. A woman told us she learned the hard way to buy one after losing her tickets once; It can turn out to cost a lot less to spend $8.99 for the lanyard… The regular line waits were not as long as Disney as the longest waits we saw were 35 minutes but even then we saved a lot of time (at least 2 hours a day) and were able to fit in a park per day getting there late morning.

Mama D and I both have different degrees of motion sickness and mine is a little higher than hers. On many days we had to take Gravols (Dramamine). Some days I only took one and wished I had taken two like on the Simpson’s ride at Universal; most of the rides at Universal are simulated rides with big screens and 3-D glasses. On the Simpson’s ride you ride a roller coaster that breaks down and that really messes up with your brain. It was the worst ride for me. I didn’t get sick but I had to close my eyes often and wish I hadn’t gone. We didn’t do any of the big coasters that bring you upside down like the Hulk one that we could feel the Roar’s vibrations  every minute from our hotel room; Thank goodness the park closed at 7 the week we were there.

The New Soarin’ Around The World at Disney was breath taking and on the first ride I had tears in my eyes just like the first time I did Soarin’ over California and said that ride was worth the cost of the whole ticket. Another new ride for us at Disney was Frozen that replaced Maelstrom in Norway. We were able to do Soarin’ 3 times one day hoping we’d be in the front row which didn’t happen but we sat each time on different sides.

It was great to be able to have a Villa with a full kitchen at Boardwalk and to be able to come back to our room after the parks and eat a nice homemade meal. Sure we were exhausted but there’s nothing as comforting as flavors we know and our own tried and tested recipes. Not to mention that with my many sensitivities it’s best to keep the forbidden foods to a minimum. We planned our menus in advance taking in consideration the fact that we would only have a mini bar fridge at Royal Pacific and crossing our fingers we would be able to get a microwave. We made our grocery shopping two months in advance with Garden Grocer. I brought some small containers of jams, spreads and peanut butter. We never went to bed or to the parks hungry!

Universal Studios exceeded our expectations from the hotel to the parks. I  had read that service was not on par with Disney but having now been there I can say that if Universal wasn’t on par with Disney it is catching up and is definitely a serious competitor. The only downside to Universal is that we can’t pack a lunch and are forced to eat at their restaurants. Now the upside of that downside is that we got to have a different experience and chose two table service restaurants and one counter service: Mythos (excellent), Lombard’s Seafood Grille (Good), and Leaky Cauldron (Good). Mythos was an attraction in itself with excellent food (make room for the delicious artisan bread), decor, and service. Lombard’s decor and service were awesome, food was decent but the sourdough bread was awful and most likely artificially soured. The Leaky Cauldron was good and service perfect as well but each dish had just a tad too much pepper. All in all we were satisfied with our choices for lunch on our 3 day visit.

It was our first time visiting during Holiday Season and it was nice to see all the decorations and people dressed up in their best and or worst. We had the warmest weather in all our trips to Orlando ever. The only rain we had was when we arrived at the airport and it was pouring as we were in the Magical Express but that was to wash away the dirt and make everything sparkle for our first class trip! Mama D found it easier to understand the map at Universal than at Disney. We did a lot of walking and the average for Disney was 10 km and 8 km for Universal. Here is a breakdown of our activities for the whole trip:

Tuesday December 6th (7.43 km)

Early rise at 3:30 am and left the house at 4:15 to catch 5:50 am flight from Moncton to Orlando with a transfer in Montreal where I met with mama D. Mama D had spent the night at the Airport Marriott’s Hotel. We stopped by the Maple Leaf Lounge to have a tea, a banana and a muffin. We grabbed some magazines before heading to our gate. On the plane our business class breakfast consisted of a parsley omelette with cottage cheese, roasted potatoes, red bell pepper relish, fresh fruits and yogurt: it was delicious! Mama D watched The Secret Life of Pets while I napped. It took us an hour of turning around before we were able to land. Unfortunately the employee in Montreal didn’t put a Priority tag on Mama D’s luggage so we had to wait 40 minutes for hers while mine was among the first to come out. At 1:15 pm we were waiting in line for the Magical Express. After checking in to our Boardwalk One Bedroom Villa number 4004, and putting our Garden Grocer delivery away, we took the boat taxi to Hollywood Studios, got our tickets transferred to our magic bands and did The Great Movie Ride, Star Tours and Toy Story. We didn’t have a fast pass for Toy Story but the line was short because everybody was at the special Christmas show. As we were leaving, there was artificial soap foam snow falling down, the same they use in movies; it’s very realistic. We walked back to our hotel at 7 pm as the line for the boat was too long. We were very pleased with the view from our room; we could see the Swan Hotel, the river and the boats, and a bit of the fireworks at Hollywood Studios. I had brought some light decorations for our stay and had a mini table Christmas tree, table cloth, table runner, window stickers, tea towels, hand towels, garlands and little sparkling bows to put on hooks and cupboard door knobs.

Wednesday December 7th (Epcot, 10.9km)

The bed was so comfortable; I was glad I had my polar blanket and memory foam pillow that I usually bring for extra home comfort. After a lazy morning and a big breakfast, we left at around 10:30 by foot to Epcot. We did Soarin’ Around The World 3 times, toured Epcot, and shared a Napoleon and an Eclair at the France Pâtisserie. We had my healthy shepherd’s pie for dinner and went to bed at 10:30. The attractions of the day were: Soarin’ Around The World, Journey Through Imagination With Figment, Grand Fiesta, Living With The Land, Spaceship Earth. We had our packed lunch at The Electric Umbrella as usual although it wasn’t as quiet as it usually is as there was a band playing. We grabbed our free cola at Club Cool – my favorite is the VegitaBeta from Japan – and sat on one of tables outside in the shade.

Thursday, December 8th (Magic Kingdom, 8.5km)

We left at 10:45 after another big breakfast. We spent the day at Magic Kingdom. We both felt a little nauseous after Big Thunder Mountain Railroad but it didn’t last too long and didn’t ruin our day at all. We waited in line to have our pictures taken with Chip and Dale, and at the end of the day waited 45 minutes for a picture with Tinker Bell. As usual, we had our packed lunch at the Columbia Harbour House. Our attractions of the day were: Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, The Seven Dwarf’s Mine Train, Pirates of the Caribbean, It’s a Small World, Jungle Jingle Cruise, People Mover, Carousel of Progress and Haunted Mansion.

 Friday, December 9th (Epcot, 5.8km)

As we walked from Boardwalk to Epcot and across the countries to get to our Frozen Fast Pass attraction, we had our pictures taken with Snow White and Donald Duck. Every time we waited in line for a picture with a character, I was trying to think of something to say to them. I told Snow White the one I loved found me, and Mama D as well. I told Donald Duck we had met the night before and danced and partied all night but he probably didn’t remember me because he had too much Sangria! It was so funny none of us could stop laughing and poor Donald looked a little embarrassed. I told Anna I wished I had a sister like her and she said we could be honorary sisters for the day! I told Elsa I sat on melting ice and now I had a wet butt! (It was from the wet seats on the Frozen ride! :)) They both commented on my sparkling shirt and called me Princess and Mama D the Queen! We decided to have our lunch at Seasons in The Land building that day to get away from the usually quiet Electric Umbrella terrace. For dessert, we shared a Strawberry shortcake and a cinnamon bun. We did some shopping and took the boat taxi back to Boardwalk. We had my famous fish stew for dinner and started getting ready for our transfer to Universal in a couple of days by doing laundry and doing some cooking.

 Saturday, December 10th (Animal Kingdom, 7.12km)

I took a walk to the Bakery and got us an almond croissant and a cinnamon bun that we shared for breakfast with our usual fares. We got to Animal Kingdom a little past 11. We had a Fast Pass to Kilimanjaro Safari, that we used after looking all over for Tarzan and found him at Rafiki’s Planet Watch but he didn’t have a photographer with him! We had our picture taken with the Chipmunks again and with the racoon that I forgot the name. We found a new spot to have our packed lunch, behind the Flame Tree Barbecue, facing Discovery River and Expedition Everest. We were able to find a nice quiet shaded table, away from the crowds. Our favorite spot has always been on the hidden trail, parallel to the main trail, between Asia and Africa across from The Tree of Life but this time we didn’t want to walk that far since we had a Fast Pass to an attraction in Dinoland USA. Our last attractions were Primeval Whirl and Dinosaur. Back to our Boardwalk Villa, it was time to pack up and take down those Christmas decorations. That One Bedroom Villa was so nice!

 

Sunday, December 11th (Disney’s Boardwalk – Universal’s Royal Pacific, 1.4km)

We left at the latest possible time to get the maximum out of that beautiful Villa. I had booked our Mears private SUV for noon so we could take our time checking out at 11. We left Boardwalk at 11:50 and got to Universal’s Royal Pacific at 12:30. While we waited for our room to be ready, we got our Express Passes and lanyards, and went to have our packed lunch on the Islands Restaurant’s outdoor tables. It started to rain just as we finished and got a text telling us our room 1601 was ready. I was so happy we were able to get a microwave! So convenient for us. Our room in Tower 1 on the 4th floor was facing the front side of the hotel and we could see the bridge to the lobby and a portion of Islands of Adventure’s Incredible Hulk’s Coaster; we could feel the vibration from its roar every minute! We had a comforting dinner at the room: Chicken noodle Cup’a Soup, Chicken Nuggets with vegetables and Idahoan Instant Mashed Potatoes (our new favorite!).

Monday, December 12th, (Universal IOA & Studios, 8.65km)

We left our room at 9:45, took a Gravol (Dramamine) and walked to Islands of Adventure. Started counter clockwise in Seuss Landing with The Cat in the Hat (= wdw Epcot’s Journey Through Imagination) and The High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride (= wdw MK’s People Mover). Then we went on to The Lost Continent where we were just in time for Poseidon’s Fury (no= wdw), then we took the Hogwart’s Express (no = wdw) to Diagon Alley, Universal Studios. We rode the Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts (?  wdw ) after putting our backpacks in the free lockers that use our fingerprints. There were some hiccups but the employees are always on hand to help. The Gringotts Ride was one of our favorites and we returned on our 3rd day. We had lunch at Leaky Cauldron where the lady who brought the food to our table offered a substitution so I could enjoy my meal and it was so awesome! I was able to have a mini Fisherman’s Pie with a Toad in the Hole! Mama D and I shared a Butterbeer from the same glass; we both loved it and I would say it’s a cross between Root Beer and cream soda. Our next attraction after lunch was Men in Black Alien Attack (= wdw’s Buzz Lightyear Spin Range with more spin) where we had to put our bags in a locker. Then it was up the many stairs to The Simpson’s Ride; another 3D simulated ride and I don’t really remember much after the roller coaster breaks down. This one should have been a 2 Gravols ride and I would probably have hated it anyway. It’s a no-go for me next time. Now the best part of the day was Animal Actors on Location! (=++wdw’s AK Flights of Wonder) They had cats, dogs and birds . We took the Hogwart’s Express train back to Hogsmeade, got some popcorn on the way out and some desserts at Croissant Moon Bakery: blueberry cheesecake and a cream horn. We walked back to Royal Pacific again because we didn’t know where to catch the boat taxi. We went to bed early at 9:30.

Tuesday, December 13th

Our plan for the day was to do the opposite as we did the day before, that is the other half of each park starting with Universal Studios and ending with Islands of Adventure. This time we knew where to catch the boat taxi but the security guys made me go back to my room to get rid of my extra mini Swiss Army knife. We were already a little late so we did our first attraction at 11:45 after waiting for our Gravol to work but it was worth it: The Amazing Adventures of Spider Man! That was such a cool ride! I loved it! It is truly a spectacular ride, and in my opinion, one of the best rides at Universal. Reign of Kong was unfortunately temporarily closed so we had to skip it. I hopped by myself on the Jurassic Park River Adventure ( = + wdw’s Splash Mountain) because Mama D was afraid of getting wet. I had goose bumps and couldn’t believe I was finally on the ride after wanting to go for so long! I recall last year at the Floridays, one day when we decided to stay in, the 3 Jurassic Park Movies played on FX back to back. I loved the online promotion they did for the last Jurassic World movie with the fictional Jurassic park website and the webcams. That drop at the end of the ride is so long! I loved it! After putting my poncho away, we took the Hogwart’s Express train to Hogsmeade and had lunch at Lombard’s Landing. We skipped The Mummy roller coaster but we walked the Express Line and opted out, and I shot a super cool video of the Pharaoh on stilts: he was so awesome! The Beetlejuice street actor was phenomenal! He was so fun to watch! And then we saw Shreck and the Donkey having their pictures taken by a Universal photographer and boy was that Donkey funny; even the photographer couldn’t stop laughing! We watched Shrek 4-D on stationary seats, Despicable Me Minion Mayhem on stationary seats as well and after we sat down on the sidewalk to watch the Macy Parade. We then did E.T. Adventure (=wdw Peter Pan) where E.T says goodbye to each individually at the end, saying your name! We then did Transformers 3-D and finally the last ride of the day was Terminator 2 3-D (= wdw HS Muppet Vision 3-D with action and violence) on stationary seats. I don’t have the kilometers for that day but I’m sure it equals to if not more than the previous one which was 8.65. What a day!

Wednesday, December 14th (Universal IOA & Studios, 8.83km)

On our last day, we did all our favorite rides in both parks: The Cat in the Hat, The High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride, The Amazing Adventures of Spider Man, and finally Skull Island: Reign of Kong was open and we were able to ride twice in a row! We had never seen anything quite like this before. Mama D decided to join me for a Jurassic Park River Adventure, and then we did the Flight of the Hippogriff (=+-Seven Dwarfs Mine Train) for the first time. After checking in to our next day flight and upgrading our seats to Business class (yay!) we were able to get a lunch reservation at Mythos. We had a great meal and great service in a great setting! We then took the Hogwarts Express one more time and did Men In Black Alien Attack, did Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse Coaster (=+-Seven Dwarfs Mine Train) for the first time. We revisited E.T, and did Transformer 3-D (=+- wdw Dinosaur with 3-D animation instead of animatronics and more bumping); This is where there was a girl yawning next to me and when I told her the ride would wake her up, she didn’t understand what I was saying and I had to speak slowly and then she repeated what I told her to her boyfriend in their language and she was such a grumpy cat! She had her arms crossed the whole time and still had a grumpy face at the end and her boyfriend was so happy and he looked like he was having fun … maybe she was nauseous? I don’t know but I never saw somebody so grumpy in an amusement park. Poor guy stuck with such a grumpy princess!

If you’re reading this, it means you read through all of the article or did you jump? If you did I understand but if you read all the way, thank you! It was an amazing trip and I’m sure I must be forgetting some things since we packed so much each day. I didn’t take as many notes as I usually do and I had to rely on the pictures and memory. I tend to try not too take too many pictures and enjoy the moment but on the next trip I’ll try to improve on pictures and notes; I’ll have a helper with that! The next trip will be with Dami; we are going somewhere just the two of us for a whole 2 weeks! The day is coming soon and I can’t wait to tell you all about it. We already have activities planned with some tickets bought and reservations made. Thank you again for reading! 🙂

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July 2016 Nova Scotia Tour (11 nights) Part 2

By DD - Last updated: Tuesday, October 4, 2016

uniacke-estate-lakeAfter postponing writing this second part many times it’s about time we post it. We’re so thankful for taking notes! A pictures paints a thousand words but still, there are some details we wouldn’t have remembered without notes. This article is about the second part of an 11 night trip to Nova Scotia we made this past summer. We toured the Nova Scotia Museums, among other attractions, using a Parks Pass, skipping those we had already visited before.

We started our trip in Moncton, driving counter clockwise. In part one (Day 1-5) we drove through Truro, Wolfville, Annapolis, Yarmouth, Liverpool, Lunenburg and Bridgewater.

Day 6

Our day started in Halifax at the Best Western Chocolate Lake Hotel. We weren’t very happy with our kitchenette suite, one of the last rooms not refurbished yet but it had everything we needed, including a delicious complimentary breakfast looking out the lake. Despite being cold and rainy, we had a great day and did all we had planned.

Our first stop was at the Museum of Natural History. This was DD’s second visit and her favorite parts were the wildlife dioramas and the indoors bees nest connected to the outside world by translucent tubing. We did a quick tour of the Halifax Public Gardens right across the street while we still had some money in the parking meter. After a quick visit of the Maritime Museum we drove 35 minutes to what would become one DD’s favorite houses in Canada: Uniacke Estate Museum. Before our tour, we had lunch in the car admiring the grounds behind the rain drenched windshield. Later, as we were touring the house, DD had this feeling of dejà vu, this sense of having been there before and told the lady working there about the movie Somewhere in Time which she had never heard of. In the movie, Richard Collier (Christopher Reeves) travels back in time at the Grand Hotel to be with the love of his life, Elise McKenna (Jane Seymour). Then, walking to another room, DD got a flash back all the way to the Big Island of Hawaii at the Jacaranda Inn, the old Ranch Hotel that we had almost all to ourselves back in 2007. We walked around the property and along the lake and it was with great sadness that we left the Estate as if we had to go back to 2016…

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Day 7

After another plentiful breakfast buffet we started the day at the Halifax Citadel where we used our Canada Parks Pass. Although it was still grey, cold and windy, thankfully it didn’t rain. It was Dami’s first visit to the fort and DD’s second; DD had visited with Mama D before. We went on a French guided tour then explored some more on our own and had a comforting cookie and a soothing hot beverage at the coffee bar before heading out to Shubenacadie Wildlife Park (home to the famous groudhog Shubenacadie Sam), a 45 minute drive from Halifax. On the way there, we realized we had left our binoculars in the room; We gave the park a call and they reserved two pairs of binoculars for us at The Greenwing Legacy Interpretive Centre! We were able to use them on the trail around the pond and in the park as well so we were able to get a better view of the animals that were further away. Even though we only did two activities we still did a lot of walking: DD’s phone registered 13000 steps and 8.5 km: almost a Tater Tour day; A little later on our trip, in Sydney, we spoke to a woman with an organized tour group called the Taters. They are a group of people that travel across America and hike ten kilometers a day. We’ve seen them at a few places we stayed at.  We’d love to participate in one of their tours!

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Day 8

After leaving Halifax, driving towards Cape Breton Island, our first stop was at the Fisherman’s House. The lady there highly recommended we stop at Memory Lane Village which we were glad we did. The highlight of our visit was playing and cuddling with Laurel the tabby kitten who had lost his brother we presumed was named Hardie. We also met a widow at the church who told us she was wed to her deceased husband in that same church a long time ago; it was a special moment.

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Our next stop was the Sherbrooke Village we had been wanting to visit for so long! But before doing so, we checked-in to our hotel Liscombe Lodge which was on our way to the Village. We started our Sherbrooke Village tour with a very disappointing lunch at the Tea Room. We were expecting a meal like the ones we had at Louisbourg, Le Pays de la Sagouine, King’s Landing or at the New Brunswick and the Nova Scotia Acadian Villages but The Tea Room was more like any ordinary diner with nothing special and a very limited menu. We should have listened and have eaten at Memory Lane. The best part of our visit at Sherbrooke Village though was that the streets were almost empty as it was the end of the day and we had our picture taken at the photo shop using the original 1860’s wet plate collodian ambrotype process. It was so neat as we dressed up and stood still for the photographer. We would like to go back next year for another picture which was a lot more exciting than our Passport pictures! We drove twenty minutes back to our cabin at Liscombe Lodge.

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Day 9

Liscombe Lodge has a beautiful setting but the bed as in other cabins we rented in Nova Scotia, was not comfortable. We’d love to go back but unfortunately our cellphones were not working in the area so we will not be able to go back as we need to stay connected at all times for our work. After a morning walk, we set off for the longest drive on the trip (five hours total) to Canso, another place we had been wanting to visit for a long time; Every time we drove to Cape Breton Island and saw the signs to Canso. For some reason, everywhere we went was quiet but whenever we mentioned it we were told it was either super busy earlier in the day or the day before which was fine by us. On the road, not far from Canso, we stopped at a lookout where there was a plaque and information about “The Chronicles of Prince Henry Sinclair’s Voyage to the New World in 1398”: Who knew? At Canso, we took a boat ride to Grassy Island that we had all to ourselves for an hour and we could have stayed longer if we had wanted to but we still had a long way to go to Sydney. The island is a berry picker’s and a birder’s paradise. We didn’t find any berries as they had all been picked along the trail but we did hear a lot of different bird songs we hadn’t heard before. On our way to Sydney, we stopped in Guysborough for lunch at the Days Gone By restaurant and bakery. It was a very busy place and food was better than at the Sherbrooke Village in our opinion. DD had a seafood chowder and Dami a bowl of chili with a spinach salad. We shared a bowl of bread pudding. We arrived at The Hampton Inn Sydney early in the evening, did some laundry and had the last of our prepared meals.

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Day 10

A day at the Fortress of Louisbourg! One of our favorite places in Canada. Before taking the bus from the Welcome Center to The Fortress, we hiked the short trail next to the parking lot. We like that trail with its view of the Fortress. On the bus to the Fortress, we were disappointed there was no introductory recording –  that on our previous visits reminded us of the ones on the Disney buses to the parks – but we were still happy to be there once again. Since we moved to the Maritimes, we’ve been to Louisbourg at least once a year and some years twice so that would make it at least our 6th visit. We were told at Canso Islands to mention we were from Canso when at the gate of the Fortress and if the guard knew his history we’d be put in jail but no luck, we walked straight in! As always it was very windy but it was sunny and for once all the buildings were open. In one of the houses, just as I mentioned we hadn’t seen any cats yet (we’re always on the lookout for cats), I turn my head and there I see it, a drawing of a family with children playing with a cat in a cradle! We saw the sheep and goats and had a delicious turkey meal with a vegetable and rice soup and bread pudding for dessert. We left Louisbourg with some freshly baked buns to take with us from the bakery.

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Day 11

After two nice days of blue sky, rain came back with a vengeance so we decided to go shopping and we got three dwarf African frogs to bring home; they don’t sell them in New Brunswick anymore. It was so much fun to have them in the hotel room with us! We had a little precious Cargo the next day on the ride back home. They made it fine and adapted very well to their new tank with our other frogs, tetras, plants and snails. After shopping we came back for lunch to our room and then went for a walk at the Petersfield Provincial Park trail. It was a lovely trail with beautiful views of the water. And that is the end of our July 2016 trip to Nova Scotia. We can’t wait to go back next year! It was an awesome trip.

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Back in the spring, Mama D and DD were in Alberta and British Columbia and while at the Calgary Tower were lucky enough to be there while they were filming the last season of The Amazing Race Canada. We waited anxiously for the season to start and enjoyed watching the show, especially the Western Canada part and the Maritimes! We have been to almost all the places they visited in Canada and it made us so proud to be Canadian and have such an awesome Country! We were so happy for the winners: Steph and Kristen; they are on our pictures of day! DD posted the picture she took as they were the first to come out of the elevator at the top of the Tower. Mama D and DD have a trip coming in December. Can you guess where they are going to?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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