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May 1, 2009

Kidani Village – Part 4

I arrived at the Animal Kingdom Lodge this morning around 8am. The first thing returning visitors will notice is that the guard shack has been moved as it now serves two sections of the resort. You will also notice signs for Jambo House and Kidani Village.




When I arrived at the check-in desk, a number of cast members were waiting to help me - all of them smiling broadly. It was obvious they were excited to be a part of the opening team at this new resort. While I was checking in, a number of them were eager to impart information about the details designed into this newest Disney Vacation Club.

The first bit of trivia they shared was the fact that all of the artifacts below the check-in counter and behind them on the wall were different types of ancient African currency. In addition, the marble counter was quarried in Africa.



I also learned that the front desk offers balloon baby-sitting. Because of the danger to the animals, Disney requests that all guests purchasing a balloon check it at the front desk so it doesn't accidentally find its way to the savanna.

And here's an interesting bit of detailing. It seems that the night sounds of Africa, like crickets and other insects, were recorded and are played in the evening in the outdoor areas. It was hoped that this would add a bit of realism to the ambiance.

Since many of you peppered me with questions, I spent some of my check-in time asking Claudia and Lisa for the answers. Here's what I found out.

* Valet parking is available.
* Bell services are available.
* Magical Express serves both Jambo House and Kidani Village.
* Airline check-in is available at both Jambo House and Kidani Village.
* Additional buses have been added to the Animal Kingdom Lodge route to handle the increased number of guests. This will continually be monitored to maximize service.
* Refillable mugs are available at the Jahari Treasures merchandise shop and the Maji Pool Bar. They can be refilled at both Kidani Village and Jambo House.
* Coffee is served at Jahari Treasures merchandise shop.
* The only indoor fireplace is located at The Library.
* Survival of the Fittest Health Club does not offer massages.

A limited number of covered parking spaces are available on the first floor of the resort underneath the guest rooms. The second picture is of the parking lot elevator.



Since this was opening day, the hotel was empty and I was able to get my room immediately. I am staying in a studio.


I mentioned in my very first blog that Kidani Village has three themes: Fabric, Art, and Proverbs - and each proverb is designated by a butterfly.

When I arrived at my room, I found a washcloth shaped as a butterfly and a proverb card on the bed. In case you can't read the card it says: "A family is like a forest, when you are outside it is dense, when you are inside you see that each tree has its place."


Here are a few pictures of my room.






The television has a dedicated box so you can plug in and play your video equipment easily.


Take a close-up look at the curtains. Here you'll find characters from the Lion King.



Here's a picture of the balcony and chair.



And finally, here is a picture of my view. I'm on the third floor. At the moment, the only animals on the savanna are humans. I'm hoping for more exotic creatures later in the day.


I'm off now to do some exploring. More later.

May 2, 2009

Kidani Village Part 5

For lunch yesterday we went to the Maji Pool Bar. Disney offers two options for lunch at this location. The first is a more casual menu of premade sandwiches and salads at reasonable prices. These are handled by the bartender and service is immediate.



The other option is called Private Dining (in other words, room service). Located at one end of the bar is a phone with a direct line to the kitchen. Just pick up the receiver and you'll be connected to an operator. This menu is more substantial with prices to match.



After placing my "Private Dining" order I was told there would be a $3 delivery charge and an automatic 18% gratuity. I was also told there would be a 35-40 minute wait for my food. Located next to the phone were large numbers to place on the table. I was asked to select one so a cast member could find me later. To my surprise, my order arrived in just a little over 10 minutes.

The food is beautifully served in a Bento Box and the display is well worth the extra cost. I ordered the Tandoori Chicken for $14.99. It was served on Naan Bread and it came with a cucumber dressing, a small green salad, and pineapple custard. All of it was extremely good and the chicken a little spicy. In fact, my lips were tingling after each bite. My friend Donald ordered the Club Sandwich on Multi-grain bread for $11.49. It was good, but nothing out of the ordinary. However, this meal comes with two sandwiches --- enough for a couple to share.




The Maji Bar is the perfect spot to enjoy a lunch. African music plays in the background and the pool is nearby. And when the Pembe Savanna is completed this fall, animals will be within sight of the bar.


Also in the pool area is a Walt Disney proverb. But I won't tell you where. You'll have to find it on your own.


After lunch we headed to the Savanna Overlook that juts out into the Sunset Savanna. Here we spoke with Greg who is a Curator in the Animals Program department. One of the things he wanted me to share with you is the hours that the animals are available for viewing in the Sunset Savanna.



Every morning at 6am, the animals are encouraged to return to an enclosed area for general care and treatment. And while the vets and other experts are tending to the animals, the horticulturists and groundskeepers use this time to maintain the savanna. By noon, all of the animals are returned to the grounds and will remain available for viewing until 6am the next day.

The reason this time of day was chosen to care for the animals was that it was thought that the majority of guests would be busy in the morning getting ready to go to the theme parks and interest in viewing them would be at its lowest. Then, in the afternoon when you return from the parks, these magnificent creature would be waiting for you.

My next stop was the sports area. Located next to a small retention pond you'll find a half basketball court, two tennis courts, two shuffleboard courts, and a covered picnic area with tables and four BBQs.






Here are two Hidden Mickeys for you. All I'll tell you is that both of them are located in the lobby.



Something I want to warn you about is the resort's size. In order to maximize the number of rooms that have views of the savannas, the buildings needed to be long - extremely long. So if you have a room at the far end of one of the wings, it can be a substantial walk to the lobby, Sanaa Restaurant, or the Samawati Springs pool area. If you have mobility problems you would most certainly want to let Disney know when making your reservation and again when checking in.

Now that I've stayed a night at the Kidani Village, there are a few odds and ends I'd like to share with you.

The exhaust fans in the bathroom are motion activated and remain on for several minutes after leaving the room. Normally I don't see this as a problem, but if you have light sleepers in your group this could wake them at night.

The bathroom vanity is well designed with plenty of space to store your toiletries.


The clock-radio has a docking port for iPods.


The balconies are large and reasonably private. However, noise travels and conversations from adjoining balconies are easily heard.


There are no recycle trash bins in the room. Shame on Disney since I know these are available at other Disney World resorts. Maybe they were just missing because it was opening day and they hadn't arrived yet.

One reader asked me what floor offers the best views of the savanna. After giving this question a bit of thought, here's what I came up with.

The public viewing porches are located on the second floor. Obviously someone thought this would be a good location to watch the animals. However, the Grand Villas, the most expensive rooms, are located on the fourth and fifth floors. So it appears that Disney doesn't have an answer for this question either.



I found out that Night Vision Viewing of the animals is only available at Jambo House.

The pool's maximum depth is 4'11".



Each day when the restaurant opens for lunch and dinner (11:30 a.m. and 5 p.m.), a number of Sanaa cast members sing an African welcoming song to those guests in the lobby, waiting to be seated. This certainly isn't a "knock-your-socks-off event," but it is a pleasant way to start a dining adventure and it made me glad I had 5 o'clock reservations so I could experience it. Also, the first several guests to enter the restaurant are greeted by additional cast members who carry long, grass-like sticks and they wave them at you as you pass between them. I'm sure there was ceremonial significance to this, but I was so awestruck by my surroundings that I forgot to ask.



Donald and I were the first party seated on May 1st and thus became the very first guests to have dinner at Sanaa. Our server was James and he epitomized the perfect Disney cast member. He provided us with enough conversation to be friendly, but never intruded. He was also extremely knowledgeable when it came to the menu. And the meal was timed perfectly. There is nothing I hate more than to be in and out of a nice restaurant within 45 minutes. Our meal took two hours as we were allowed the time to enjoy each course before the next was anywhere in sight.


We started our meal with the Indian-style Bread Service for $8.99 (serves two). Here you can choose three flatbreads (from four) and three dipping sauces (from eight). For the breads we chose Roti, Paratha, and Paneer Paratha and for our dipping sauces we selected Coriander Chutney, Mango Chutney, and Tamarind Chutney.



To be honest, I really couldn't distinguish a lot of difference between the breads. But the chutneys were a different story. Each had a very distinct taste with the Coriander ranking as our favorite. But please note, while the other two were flavorful, the Coriander was kick-in-the-pants spicy. I would definitely order the bread course on a future visit just for the sauces.

For appetizers we decided on the Sampler for Two ($14.99). This included Roasted Cauliflower, Pulled Duck with Red Curry Sauce, and Potato and Pea Samosas. James left the dipping sauces (from the bread course) on the table just in case we wished to use them with the appetizers. I felt the Cauliflower and Duck held their own, but we both added some sauce to the Potato and Pea. There is a fourth appetizer that is not part of the Sampler. Although we were happy with these selections, we weren't blown away by them either. Good, but not great. I think next time I'll try the stand-alone appetizer of Mustard Seed Crusted Scallops.


For an entrée, Donald tried one of the combination meals ($18.99). Here you can chose two from the following: Chicken With Red Curry Sauce, Paneer Cheese and Spinach, Shrimp with Green Curry Sauce, and Beef Short Ribs. Donald opted for the shrimp and ribs.


I make short ribs at home and Sanaa's version definitely had that distinctive short rib taste. But there were other subtle flavors infused in the meat that my down-home recipe is lacking. If there had been salt on the table, I would have used it, but the ribs were quite good and extremely tender.

In a way, I would have to describe the shrimp in the same manner. It certainly tasted like shrimp, but there were other flavors playing with my taste buds.

The gentleman at the next table opted for the spinach and cheese selection. He told me that it tasted like nothing he'd ever eaten before. When I asked him if this was good or bad, he said, "Good." But the flavors were so new to him that it took a moment for his palate to become accustomed to the 30 spices used in the dish.

For my entrée I selected the Spice-crusted Cornish Game Hen with Turnips and Cherries ($17.99). I thought this dish was outstanding. I also make game hens at home, but they taste nothing likes this. Sanaa's bird was heaping with flavor. So much so that the chef-selected wine is Pinot Noir (a red wine, not a white). And to be honest, I feel a more flavorful wine should be paired with this dish. Please note, the meal is spicy, not spicy-hot. However, James did tell me that the chef can add some "kick" to any dish if you request it.


For dessert I ordered the Cardamom-Butter Cake with Orange Supreme and Saffron Syrup for $5.49. This offering has a subtle taste. I did like it, but after my spicy hen the cake seemed mild. I think this dessert would be better suited to follow a less spicy dish.

Donald ordered the Chai Cream with Tea Tuile. This was probably the highlight of the meal. A creamy custard, served in a glass, with a taste that's very difficult to describe, but oh so delicious. I know what I'm getting on my next visit.


Here is the view from our table.


I've eaten at Jiko five times and have yet be overly impressed with the food. But I think Sanaa is on the right track. A few dishes might need some fine tuning, but this spot has the beginnings of a unique and fine Disney experience.

For pictures of Sanaa, see Blog 2 in my Kidani Village series.

That is it for this blog. I'll be writing one final entry and it should be up sometime tomorrow.

May 3, 2009

Kidani Village – Final Blog

In this final blog I'm going to try to tie up any loose ends and answer a few more questions.

When I checked into Kidani Village early on May 1st, I was the only guest at the front desk and I had seven eager cast members ready and willing to tell me everything there is to know about Kidani Village. When I mentioned that I had lunch reservations at Sanaa, in unison they said "Try the pork chop."

Yesterday, it was time to put their recommendation to the test. But before I ever arrived at my table, I learned something new about the restaurant. It was designed to look like a stylized outdoor marketplace and all of the waitstaff are referred to as merchants. I realize that this is sort of gimmicky, but it works. Hey, it's Disney and getting lost in our imaginations is what it's all about.

Take a look at the design in the middle of the tables at Sanaa.


Since I knew I'd be writing a mini-review about lunch at Sanaa, I felt it important to order two different meals. Since Donald and I were both still full from our large dinner the night before, we decided to skip appetizers and desserts and only order entrees. But now the hard decision - who gets the Grilled Port Chop ($17.99)? It was finally decided that Donald would get the recommended selection.

This chop is available at lunch only and is the sole pork item served. Because this meat is not commonly served in Africa or India it was decided to limit its use. In fact, the bacon used on the Club Sandwich is Turkey-Bacon.

The Grilled Pork Chop is glazed with ginger and pickled lime sauce and served with sautéed spinach. However, Donald opted for the stir-fried green beans.


Donald did allow me a small bite of the pork and we both agreed that the front-desk cast members were right - this dish is a winner. It was tender, moist, and flavorful. Note, I would call the serving size a "lunch" portion, but there was enough food here to satisfy Donald.

For my entrée I tried one of the combination meals ($18.99). Here you can choose two from the following: Chicken With Red Curry Sauce, Paneer Cheese and Spinach, Shrimp with Green Curry Sauce, and Beef Short Ribs. I opted for Chicken Curry and Paneer Cheese.


The Chicken Curry was good; however I wish there had been a few more bites of meat in the bowl. As for the curry, I liked it. Curry is certainly a robust flavor, but it wasn't overpowering. It had a slight tingle, but not so strong as to scare away those of you who don't like spicy-hot food.

The Paneer Cheese and Spinach was interesting. I want tell you more, but I'm really not sure what to say. I finished it all so it must have been good, but words escape me when I try to describe it. Sorry.

Overall, I'm pleased with Sanaa. The menu is diverse and it would take several visits to try everything. And the food is unique. Even though I found it difficult to describe the Paneer Cheese and Spinach, I'm still glad I ordered it. It was fun to try something new. And I love the décor of the restaurant. The designers created one of the most inviting and warm spots at Disney.

Now it's time to move on to some final odds and ends about Kidani Village.

High Speed Internet Access: Each room is equipped with a cable to connect a laptop to the internet. You'll find the cable in a cloth bag hanging in a closet. The price is $9.95 for 24 hours. However members (and their guest) get this service for free. Non-members making general reservations must pay. Also, if you take the cable home with you, you'll be charged $9.95.

Disney is installing WiFi in many of the public rooms of their resorts. It will eventually make it to Kidani Village, but no date has been set for this to happen.

Throughout the resort you will see wonderfully shaped pieces of colorful glass in a number of chandeliers. This glass was crafted by Savoy Studios. For more information, check out their website. http://www.savoystudios.com/




Take a look at the hidden Mickeys found in the hallway carpet.


In your room, look for a "Wildlife Field Guide." On it you'll find a list of animals that roam the savanna and a brief description of their habits.

Of course, as nice as the resort is, the real reason anyone would stay here is to see the animals. Greg, Curator in the Animals Program Department, told me that when you see the animals on the Kilimanjaro Safari, it's only for a brief moment. But when you view them from Jambo House or Kidani Village, you can actually watch them behave and interact over a period of time. This gives you a far better understanding of the animals than a quick "drive by" can provide.

All of the pictures below were taken from my room on the third floor.










May 4, 2009

Dinoland U.S.A. - Disney's Animal Kingdom

In case you're not aware, McDonalds no longer sponsors Dinoland U.S.A. at the Animal Kingdom. Their 10-year contract expired and as a result, Disney has been busy removing all signs of this corporate giant from the park.

The first place you'll notice a change is Petrifries. This quick-service eatery once sold, you guessed it, McDonalds' fries. Now this spot is called Trilo-Bites and sells smoked turkey legs.


Just past Trilo-Bites is a sign welcoming guests to Dinoland U.S.A. Look closely and you'll see the McDonalds' logo has been removed along with the banner that said "OVER 3 BILLION UNEARTHED."

Dinoland USA Animal Kingdom

A McDonalds billboard once stood across from the entrance to Chester & Hester's Dino-Rama. It too, is gone.

Dinoland USA Animal Kingdom

The Dinosaur attraction has also seen a slight change. After viewing the preshow with Drs. Marsh and Seeker, you enter a corridor. Up until recently, an announcement could be heard saying something to the effect of, "And now, get ready to go back in time... thanks to a generous grant from the McDonalds Corporation." But no more.

When exiting Dinosaur, many guests strolled past a series of Dinosaur/McDonalds posters.

Dinoland USA Animal Kingdom

Here too, McDonalds has been edited out.

Dinoland USA Animal Kingdom

And finally, Chicken McNuggest and McDonalds' Fries are no longer served at Restaurantosaurus. But don't despair, chicken nuggets and fries are still available, they're just not a name brand anymore.

While I was at Restaurantosaurus, I was checking things out, trying to find something of interest to blog about. And I think I came across another cool detail.

Everyone is aware of the water tower out front of this eatery.

Dinoland USA Animal Kingdom

But have you ever looked at the back side of the tower? Painted on it is a large target.

Dinoland USA Animal Kingdom

Across the way, on the porch roof, we find two patio chairs, a cooler, and other paraphernalia.

Dinoland USA Animal Kingdom

If you look closely, attached to the wall is a rack full of plunger-type arrows and a couple of bows. Also, connected to the eves is a pulley and rope.

Dinoland USA Animal Kingdom

If you follow the rope, it stretches all the way to the water tower and has a bucket full of arrows attached to it.

Dinoland USA Animal Kingdom

It appears our paleontologist have devised a unique game to play in their off hours and have come up with an interesting way to retrieve their arrows.

May 6, 2009

Stitch’s Supersonic Celebration

Ah, the sacrifices I make for you all. Today (May 6) was the official opening of a new Tomorrowland show in the Magic Kingdom called Stitch's Supersonic Celebration. It takes place in a new venue that was especially built for this event. And to make sure you read about it on Allears®.net and not some other website, I made sure I was in the Magic Kingdom at opening today so I could cover the show and blog it. It's a tough job" ;-)

The first showing was at 10am, but I was there a little after nine (I wanted to be in the front row). The first thing you'll notice about the theater is that there are no seats. However, cast members were busy laying out mats on the ground directly in front of the stage so a small number of children (and some of their parents) could sit. Arrive early as this space is VERY limited.

Stitch's Supersonic Celebration

Stitch's Supersonic Celebration

In reality, I was glad I got there when I did. About 30 minutes before the show started, the large monitor positioned over the stage began a slide-show presentation - a very clever presentation if I do say so. I'm not sure it's worth going out of your way to see, but if you're a true Disney geek like me, then you'll want to watch the entire set of slides. The complete cycle took about ten minutes and played twice.

Stitch's Supersonic Celebration

Stitch's Supersonic Celebration

Ten minutes before the show, the Tomorrowland News Network began broadcasting. A number of topics are discussed, among them a piece about the supersonic sensation Tip Trendo and the Galactic Girls who will be performing at Tomorrowland in honor of "Galaxy Day."

Stitch's Supersonic Celebration

Stitch's Supersonic Celebration

Stitch's Supersonic Celebration

The cosmic weather and traffic are also discussed. Look closely and you can see that two of the Astro Orbiter rockets were involved in a head-on collision.

Stitch's Supersonic Celebration

Stitch's Supersonic Celebration

When the news completes, Tip Trendo and the Galactic Girls appear on stage. Tip is a true lounge-lizard. Don't believe me, look at his suit. The material looks like scales. And the Galactic Girls are a combination go-go dancer and extraterrestrial hybrid. They spend the first several minutes with introductions and a high-energy song and dance number.

Stitch's Supersonic Celebration

Stitch's Supersonic Celebration

Stitch's Supersonic Celebration

Stitch's Supersonic Celebration

Stitch's Supersonic Celebration

After their first song, Stitch appears on the monitor overhead. You soon learn that he can interact with the audience like Turtle Talk with Crush at Epcot. In fact, if you've seen the Stitch show at Hong Kong or Paris Disneyland, you'll recognize the set and some of his pranks.

Stitch's Supersonic Celebration

Stitch's Supersonic Celebration

Stitch, being Stitch, soon grows bored and wants presents to cheer himself up. He goes online to Robo-Mart and orders a custom made robot. If you've watched the preshow that I mentioned earlier, you're already familiar with Robo-Mart - and their dubious quality. A few moments later, two "mechanical men" are transported to the stage and begin a great dance number.

Stitch's Supersonic Celebration

Stitch's Supersonic Celebration

Stitch's Supersonic Celebration

Stitch's Supersonic Celebration

Stitch's Supersonic Celebration

Stitch's Supersonic Celebration

Stitch's Supersonic Celebration

Eventually Stitch wants to join the Galaxy Day festivities and he too beams to the stage - resembling his Elvis persona.

Stitch's Supersonic Celebration

Stitch's Supersonic Celebration

Stitch's Supersonic Celebration

Stitch's Supersonic Celebration

This show is a lot of fun. It is every bit as much for adults as it is for kids. The Galactic Girls rendition of "These Boots Were Made for Walkin'" is worth the wait alone.

The show runs for 25 minutes and is presented multiple times a day. Check your Times Guide on the day you visit.

May 10, 2009

Magic Kingdom Odds & Ends

I have a few more bits of trivia to share with you, so sit back and enjoy.

Let's start at City Hall.


Inside this building are two paintings hanging on the wall behind the receptionist desk. (I only have a picture of one.)



Did you know, these paintings appeared in the "movie" section of the Hall of the Presidents attraction?

Currently, the Hall of the Presidents is undergoing and extensive rehab. I do not know if these paintings will be part of the show in the future. But for 37 years these works of art could be seen at two locations in the Magic Kingdom.

Speaking of the Hall of the Presidents"


This next tidbit was brought to my attention by my good friend Anita Answer. On the side of the building, in a second story window, are two lit lanterns. You remember the old warning, "One if by land. Two if by sea."


Now let's venture to Fantasyland. I shared this next bit of trivia in my Disneyland Paris series, but just in case you missed it, I think it bears repeating.

Timothy the Mouse holds a whip at the Dumbo attractions in Tokyo and California. In Florida, Hong Kong, and Paris he holds Dumbo's magic feather.


Now let's visit Mickey's Toontown Fair and Minnie's house.


It seems that this talented mouse is quite an artist. She has set aside one room in her home as an art studio.


If you look closely at the paining on the easel, it seems that Minnie captured a pivotal moment in Goofy's aerial career.


And if you look out the window, you'll see the actual view Minnie had while painting this masterpiece.


Now let's move next door to Mickey's house - specifically, his garage.



It seems that our industrious friend has quite a workshop here.



If you look closely behind the books and containers on the shelf, you'll find three cans of Mojave Oil.


If you're thinking to yourself, "I've heard that name before," you're right. You probably have. Mojave is the oil company whose tanker truck is washed away at Catastrophe Canyon at Disney's Hollywood Studios.


That's it for this time. But don't worry. I'll be out there searching for more interesting bits of trivia to share with you.

May 19, 2009

The Great Piggy Bank Adventure

A new exhibit opened today (May 19, 2009) at Innoventions West in Epcot. Called "The Great Piggy Bank Adventure," this attraction teaches children (and adults) the importance of saving and planning for the future.


When I was first invited to cover this event I thought to myself, "Who's going to want to learn about dry financial matters when they visit Disney World?" But Disney has been educating us for years in entertaining ways so I attended this grand opening with an open mind - and I'm glad I did. I had a good experience and I think others can too if they take the time to check out this latest Innoventions attraction.

Shortly after I arrived at the press event I was introduced to Todd Cleary, Director of the Retail Division of T. Rowe Price. We spent the next half-hour discussing The Great Piggy Bank Adventure as he walked me through the various games used to teach us how to save and invest wisely. One of the first questions I asked Todd was how Disney and T. Rowe Price came together to create this new exhibit. I was told that a little over three years ago, Disney decided they wanted to showcase the importance of saving money and felt Innoventions was the perfect spot to accomplish this goal. After scrutinizing a number of financial institutions it was decided that T. Rowe Price and Disney shared similar philosophies and the teaming of the two would be a good match. Representatives from T. Rowe Price and Disney Imagineers then sat down together and tried to come up with a fun way to learn about a staid subject.

At first the Imagineers wanted to create scenarios that allowed the guests to easily save money and win the game. But since T. Rowe Price is a regulated company, it was required that the challenges be true-to-life and teach us that there are hazards along the way and achieving financial security takes some hard work and smart choices. With this new information in hand, the Imagineers came up with four stations that teach us how to invest wisely. These are, Pick Your Dream, Save It, Inflation Race, and Diversify.

I'm now going to walk you through the game and give you and idea of what's in store at The Great Piggy Bank Adventure.

As with all Disney attractions, you start in the queue. It's here that we're first introduced to the hero of our story, P.I.G. (Personal Investment Guide). In the following portraits we can see him enjoying the Ultimate Vacation, a College Education, Retirement, and an Extreme Bedroom Makeover.






Once past the queue we enter a child's bedroom. We tap on one of the touch sensitive screens and our PIG comes alive. After a short explanation of how the game works, we are asked to select a goal, which are the same as the portraits we saw earlier. We're also asked how many people will be playing the game, one, two, or three.



After the selections are made, we're requested to open one of the drawers where we find our own PIG guide which will accompany us during our financial journey.


The second station teaches us the importance of saving money. When we arrive, we place our PIG on a conveyor belt to the left side of the machine. As he moves into the mechanism, our PIG is transformed from a three-dimensional piggy bank into a two-dimensional cartoon character who will now help us learn to save money.



After a brief explanation, coins of various amounts start to fall from the top of the screen. At the bottom of the screen are various buckets labeled, Savings, Candy, Toys, MP3s, and Outfits. The idea is to direct the coins into the pots marked Savings. But just when you think you have all of the levers positioned correctly, a wolf appears and switches the position of the pots. This forces you to constantly change the levers so that your money is being saved rather than spent.


The lesson here is obvious. We need to be constantly aware of how we spend our money and not forget to save along the way.

At the conclusion of the "Save It" game, our PIG is returned to us and we take him to the "Inflation Race" kiosk. We place our hero into a pneumatic tube, push a plunger, and away he goes on his way to help us learn about the dangers of inflation.



On this next screen our PIG floats from balloons and is carried on currents of up and down drafts. Coins, and the wolf, are also present and you must work as a team to maneuver your PIG around the display collecting money and avoiding obstacles (inflation). Once again, when the scenario completes, your PIG is returned to you and you move on to the final station.


At the "Diversify" kiosk we use magic wands to move our money into various pots. Each pot has a growth factor associated with it. The higher the number, the faster your money will grow in that pot. At first you might think that the smart thing to do is move all of you coins into the higher numbered pots, but occasionally the game comes to a stop and the wolf appears. He sneaks around the screen and snatches money randomly from different accounts - and you have no way of knowing where he might strike. Thus we're taught not to put all of our eggs into one basket. We must diversify our money.




We have one final stop along the way. Here we return our PIG and find out if we achieved the goal we selected at the beginning of the game. If you did well, your cartoon pig sprouts wings and flies happily to his destination. If you failed, like I did twice, you land in the mud. The entire game lasts between 15-20 minutes.



I think this is a fantastic way for children to learn the importance of savings. And the debut of this attraction couldn't be better timed with today's financial climate as it is. But I strongly feel that The Great Piggy Bank Adventure is something that a parent should experience with their children. The games are appealing to the younger set, but some of the lessons might be lost without some guidance from an adult. But the good news is, the games are engrossing enough to keep us older folk entertained as well.

If you want to continue the fun once you get home, check out the link below for the home version of The Great Piggy Bank Adventure.


At 10 o'clock, the official grand opening of the event occurred. Dan Cockerell, Vice President - Epcot, Jim Hunt, Senior Vice President - Walt Disney World, Brian Rogers, Chairman and CIO - T. Rowe Price, and Edward Bernard, Vice Chairman of T. Rowe Price were on hand for the official ribbon cutting. And of course, no Disney event would be complete without an appearance from the big cheese himself, Mickey Mouse.



I know that many of you only visit Innoventions when it's raining or you want to escape from the heat. But there are a number of engrossing exhibits here if you'll take the time to explore. Are they as exciting as Test Track or Soarin'? No. But they can be a lot of fun if you give them a chance. And The Great Piggy Bank Adventure falls into this fun category.

May 21, 2009

SeaWorld – Manta

I'm okay with roller coasters, but I have my limits. I like Rock 'N' Roller Coaster and Expedition: Everest, but they're at the edge of my comfort zone. And after riding, I need to let my tummy rest for at least an hour before going on anything raucous again. So when I was invited by SeaWorld to preview their new coaster Manta, I wasn't sure I wanted to take the assignment. But of course, being the good Allears reporter that I am, I accepted the challenge.


I arrived at SeaWorld around 8am and was met by Jayce, a Marketing representative who would be my guide for the morning. After introductions she told me that SeaWorld has actually built two new attractions, an aquarium and a coaster. We decided to start with the tamer of the two.



Replacing the original aquarium that opened in 1973 and closed in 2000, this new exhibit houses over 100 species of fish including eight types of rays. The marine life is housed in ten different tanks beautifully designed along an indoor pathway. Interestingly, no Mantas can be found here as they are usually considered to be too large for most aquariums.




One of the more unique creatures you'll find here is the leafy sea dragon. This fish is closely related to seahorses and pipefish and use their unusual appearance to hide among undersea foliage.


A truly unusual chamber in the aquarium is the Overhead Room. Here, you walk underneath a plate of glass and watch the rays swim above you.


Another aquarium allows kids, and crazy adults, to crawl inside a tank.



The aquarium is self-paced so you can spend as little or as much time as you like here.


After strolling through the undersea world it was now time for me to pull my nerves together and ride Manta. Our first stop was at the lockers located next to the entrance. Before you can ride you must empty your pockets of keys, cell phones, and anything else that you cherish. In addition, there are NO storage compartments on the coaster so you cannot bring your camera, purse, or anything other than yourself. The lockers cost 75¢ for a small unit and $1 for a larger model.


Also located outside of the attraction are warning signs and a duplicate of one of the actual chairs you'll be sitting in. This allows you to check it for size before waiting in line.





Much of the queue for Manta travels along the backside of the aquariums we saw earlier. This will help pass the time while waiting in line. But since I was attending a press event, Jayce and I walked straight to the loading platform.

The idea behind the Manta Coaster is that you're secured to the belly of one of these magnificent rays. After you're seated, your chair retracts and you're now in a facedown position - and it's too late to chicken out now.



Manta speeds riders through four showcase inversions, including two in-line spins, one flat spin, and one pretzel loop. Specially crafted rails make Manta one of the world's smoothest coasters as it reaches speeds of 56 miles per hour.

I was hooked up for sound, video, and stills so my first ride could be captured for posterity.

Here are some pictures of Manta in motion.











I have to admit, when I got off, my stomach was a little upset. But there was a coaster fan club also present and some of these enthusiasts had already ridden ten times and were queuing up for more. They loved it!

I think Manta is an excellent attraction for coaster lovers. And it's definitely more intense than Rock 'N' Roller Coaster. If you're okay with RNRC, then I think you should give Manta a try. However, if RNRC is too intense for you, then stick to the aquarium.

Of course, just like at Disney, there is a Manta shop nearby selling T-shirts and other logo merchandise.


SeaWorld Orlando is a beautiful park. If you haven't already experienced it, you should. Take a day off from Disney and treat yourself to a new adventure.

May 22, 2009

Star Wars Weekends 2009

Star Wars Weekend 2009 Disney's Hollywood Studios

Star Wars Guide Map - Very large file

Star Wars Weekend Tips

Additional Star Wars Weekend Information

I went to Disney's Hollywood Studios today to check out the opening of Star Wars Weekends. I arrived at 8:30am and the lines to get into the park were already long. This picture was taken five minutes later. I was standing at the ticket booths and as you can see, the lines extend all the way to the security check point.


To keep the crowd entertained, Storm Troopers were on hand taunting and threatening us.

Star Wars Weekend 2009 Disney's Hollywood Studios

While waiting for the park to open, I struck up a conversation with some folks in line. I learned that if you want an autograph and/or photo opportunity with the "celebrity of the day," you need a FastPass. These are handed out on a first come, first issued basis at the far right side of the ticket booths (outside the park) starting at around 8:15am. The people I was speaking with told me they were in the FastPass line at 5:30am and they were definitely not the first to arrive.

A limited number of these "celebrity" FastPasses are available, but if you're lucky enough to secure one, you're guaranteed the opportunity to see your favorite Star Wars hero. Just show up at the designated location during your 15 minute window. After all of the initial FastPasses have been distributed, a limited number of Stand-by FastPasses will be handed out. However, these "secondary" tickets do not guarantee you an autograph or photo session - but it's worth a try.

Celebrity FastPass Star Wars Weekend 2009 Disney's Hollywood Studios

The celebrity of the day will autograph their photograph and any merchandise you bring with you. A number of people brought in posters to be signed.

Star Wars Weekend 2009 Disney's Hollywood Studios

Star Wars Weekend 2009 Disney's Hollywood Studios

Star Wars Weekend 2009 Disney's Hollywood Studios

Also handed out early in the morning outside the park are color coded wrist bands. These allow shoppers priority entrance into Wicket's Warehouse where you can buy limited edition and collectable Star Wars merchandise.

Star Wars Weekend 2009 Disney's Hollywood Studios

Located through out the park are various Star Wars character meet-and-greet locations. Unlike the celebrity sessions, you do not need a FastPass for these photo ops. But be warned, within minutes of the park opening, every one of these venues had a long line.

Star Wars Weekend 2009 Disney's Hollywood Studios

Star Wars Weekend 2009 Disney's Hollywood Studios

Star Wars Weekend 2009 Disney's Hollywood Studios

Star Wars Weekend 2009 Disney's Hollywood Studios

Star Wars Weekend 2009 Disney's Hollywood Studios

Star Wars Weekend 2009 Disney's Hollywood Studios

Star Wars T-shirts are seen everywhere and some folks pull out all the stops and dressed to the nines.

Star Wars Weekend 2009 Disney's Hollywood Studios

Star Wars Weekend 2009 Disney's Hollywood Studios

Here is yours truly as a Storm Trooper. Not to menacing, am I?

Star Wars Weekend 2009 Disney's Hollywood Studios

Always a favorite, but especially during Star Wars Weekend, is the Jedi Training Academy. Here kids can find out if they have what it takes to become a Jedi Warrior. Children are selected at random and it's best to arrive early (at least 30 minutes during Star Wars Weekend) if you want your little one selected.

Star Wars Weekend 2009 Disney's Hollywood Studios

Star Wars Weekend 2009 Disney's Hollywood Studios

Some of the other activities include the "Padawan Mind Challenge." Here, Younglings use their "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" knowledge to pass the trivia trials and become an official Padawan learner. This event is for children 11 and under and registration begins at the Star Wars Information Desk beginning at 9am.

At the Premiere Theater you can see host Ashley Eckstein in "Clone Wars: Behind the Force" - a show that explores the excitement of "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" with a fascinating look behind the scenes led by the voice behind "Ahsoka" and other guest celebrities.

Since this blog is all about Star Wars, I thought I'd share some Star Tours trivia with you.

When you enter the building, the queue makes a switchback or backwards "S." You know why?


Because this section of the queue was loosely based on the Star Tours attraction at Disneyland in California.

But do you know why the queue follows this configuration at Disneyland?

It's because the Disneyland building originally housed Adventures Thru Inner Space. When the attraction was retired to make room for Star Tours, there was no reason to rip out this perfectly good walkway so the Imagineers just did some retooling with the props that surrounded it.


And while were on the subject of Adventures Thru Inner Space, did you know you can see a section of the Mighty Microscope from that attraction on Star Tours?


When Disney replaces an older ride with a new attraction, they try to leave some sort of legacy behind. In other words, gone, but not forgotten. For example, in the Winnie the Pooh attraction at Walt Disney World, there is a picture of Mr. Toad handing over the deed to the property to Owl. And at Mission: Space in Epcot, the old Horizon logo can be seen on the rotating space station in the queue area. The same is true for Star Tours. This attraction pays homage to Adventures Thru Inner Space. Here's what to look for:

As you begin your Star Tours adventure, you unexpectedly take a wrong turn. Then your vehicle drops off the edge of a platform and plunges downward. As Captain Rex regains control of the craft, he pulls you out of your freefall. At that moment, if you look to the right-hand side of the screen, you can see the Mighty Microscope. You must look quickly, but once you know what you're looking for, there is no mistaking it.


And here's a bit of personal trivia for you. I went to school with Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) in Yokohama, Japan. We were even in a school play together. It's not a very good picture, but I'm on the left and Mark is on the right.


Star Wars Weekend is very popular. If you're visiting Disney World over the next several weeks and you're a Star Wars fan, then you should definitely visit Disney's Hollywood Studios during one of these days. But if you're not a Star Wars fan, visit other parks on the weekend and save the Studio for a Monday through Thursday.

May the force be with you.

May 27, 2009

Treehouse Villas at Saratoga Springs

Treehouse Villas Entrance Sign

In 1975 a unique accommodation opened at Walt Disney World, the Treehouse Villas. Nestled deep within a pine forest a short distance from the Walt Disney World Village (now Downtown Disney), these octagon-shaped suites offered a full kitchen, two upstairs bedrooms and a downstairs den which was later converted into a third bedroom. These units had a loyal following and many felt that they had "bragging rights" if they had stayed here. But over the years time took its toll and this once special place became tired and showed its age. In 2002 this property was closed to the public. For a short period of time, many of the international cast members and those on the college program called these units home. However Disney knew that this wasn't the best use of the property and eventually decided to give this area a much needed facelift. But how do you do this without destroying the very forest that makes this place so special.

To begin with, all of the treehouses were razed down to their foundation. In an effort to be environmentally friendly, over 65% of this demolished material, including concrete and metal, was recycled. Then a unique construction process began. For the first time since the Contemporary and Polynesian Resorts were built, these houses were constructed modularly. The living area is comprised of three sections and were built in Pennsylvania and trucked down Interstate 95. The roof is comprised of two modular sections and these were built locally. The deck makes up the sixth section.

On any given morning during construction, the three sections of the basic house were brought onsite. A giant crane lifted each section up and over the trees and dropped it into place. In the afternoon, the two roof sections and the deck arrived and by 2pm the basic structure was complete.

Treehouse Villas Under Construction

Treehouse Villas Under Construction

Treehouse Villas Under Construction

Treehouse Villas Under Construction

Opening on June 1st, these new villas are now part of the Saratoga Springs, Disney Vacation Club complex. All sixty units are identical and offer a living and dining area, three bedrooms, and two bathrooms. They are perched ten feet off of the ground and sit on a pedestal and beams designed to blend into the forest. They sleep nine and offer modern luxuries like flat-screen TVs and high-speed internet connection. For you DVC members, the Treehouse Villas are considered a "two-bedroom equivalent."

I think Disney did a great job with the décor. They captured a rustic feel yet were able to incorporate modern amenities into the design. These units are very warm and inviting. The home we visited today is located on the 17th hole of the Lake Buena Vista Golf Course.

Treehouse Villas Exterior View

Treehouse Villas Exterior View

Treehouse Villas Exterior View

Treehouse Villas Golf Course 17th Hole

Treehouse Villas Front Door

Here are pictures of the kitchen and living area.

Treehouse Villas Kitchen Area

Treehouse Villas Kitchen Area

Treehouse Villas Kitchen Area

Treehouse Villas Dining Area

Treehouse Villas Living Area

Treehouse Villas Living Area

Treehouse Villas Living Area

If you look closely, you can see hidden Mickey's in the carpet.

Treehouse Villas Carpet

The end table is also designed to be a hidden Mickey.

Treehouse Villas Hidden Mickey End Table

Following are pictures of the master bedroom and bath.

Treehouse Villas Master Bedroom

Treehouse Villas Master Bedroom

Treehouse Villas Master Bedroom Bath

Treehouse Villas Master Bedroom Bath

Treehouse Villas Master Bedroom Bath

Here are pictures of the other two bedrooms and the "guest" bath. Notice the bedspread on the bunkbeds.

Treehouse Villas Bunkbed Room

Treehouse Villas Bunkbed Room

Treehouse Villas Bunkbed Room

Treehouse Villas Bunkbed Room

Treehouse Villas Bunkbed Room

Treehouse Villas Second Bedroom

Treehouse Villas Second Bedroom

Treehouse Villas Second Bathroom

Treehouse Villas Second Bathroom

Every unit has its own BBQ. Also, there is no longer any living space on the ground floor.

Treehouse Villas BBQ

Treehouse Villas Underneath Building

The Imagineers decided to keep the original pool, but it had a depth of 8 feet, which by today's standards, is a little deep. The pool was filled in and now sports a depth of 3 feet to 4 feet 11 inches. There is also a spa and restrooms in this area but no food or beverage service is available. Note, this pool does NOT have a lifeguard.

Treehouse Villas Pool Area

Treehouse Villas Pool Area

Treehouse Villas Pool Area

Treehouse Villas Pool Area

Treehouse Villas Pool Area

Check in for the Treehouse Villas takes place at Saratoga Springs. There is a lovely walking path between the two areas and a cast member will be happy to use an electric vehicle to transport you and your luggage if you don't have a car.

Internal transportation is provided by a bus that makes the rounds between Saratoga Springs and the Treehouse Villas. For transportation to the theme parks there are two bus stops located among the treehouses. For transportation to Downtown Disney a new dock has been constructed on the Sassagoula River for a leisurely boat trip.

If you're not in the mood to cook, head back over to Saratoga Springs (via bus or walkway) and try Artist's Palette and the Turf Club Bar and Grill. No room service is available at the Treehouse Villas.

I think future occupants of the Treehouse Villas will also have bragging rights. This is a wonderful spot to spend your vacation.

According to one of my readers, there are 3 units that are ADA compliant. They have ramps instead of stairs, and have roll-in showers.

AllEars Founder Deb Wills, along with Debra Martin Koma and Jack Marshall will be spending the first 2 days at the Treehouse Villa beginning Monday. Look for more photos and updates from them next week!

May 28, 2009

Bay Lake Tower

Yesterday (May 27, 2009) I was one of a privileged few to be allowed to view a Grand Villa at Disney's Bay Lake Tower, a Disney Vacation Club property. Scheduled to open in early August of this year, this new resort is sure to become one of the most popular at Walt Disney World. Its close proximity to the Magic Kingdom combined with its beautiful styling will put this property at the top of many folk's lists.

Bay Lake Tower Exterior

Since Bay Lake Tower is still under construction, we entered the building through a loading dock rather than the main entrance. We boarded an elevator and up we went to the top. Upon entering the Grand Villa, everyone's reaction was the same" Oh my god! The view of the Magic Kingdom is stunning when seen from this level through two-story windows. We were all blown away.

Bay Lake Tower Exterior

BLT Room Door

BLT Living Room

Here are a few more pictures of the living room. Note, the flat-screen television is wired for surround sound.

BLT Living Room

BLT Living Room

BLT Living Room

A dining table seats ten and can be expanded to twelve.

BLT Dining Table

BLT Dining Table

The kitchen has a very modern design and features granite countertops and stainless steel appliances.

BLT Kitchen

BLT Kitchen

A Grand Villa has four spacious balconies, one off of the kitchen and others off of the three bedrooms. The balcony off of the first floor bedroom can also be accessed from the living room. Take a look at the view!

BLT Balcony

View from BLT Balcony

View from BLT Balcony

View from BLT Balcony

This next picture hangs in the entryway. Also, notice the hidden Mickey on the rug.

Mickey Mouse Picture in Entry

Hidden Mickey in Rug

Since the resort is still under construction, many of the amenities like towels and small appliances were missing from this unit. In addition, we were asked not to take pictures of the beds since they did not have sheets or bedspreads.

Here are some pictures of the master bedroom and bath located on the first floor. The bathtub is separated from the sleeping area via sliding doors.

BLT Master Bedroom

BLT Master Bedroom

BLT Master Bath

BLT Master Bath

BLT Master Bath

Now we venture upstairs where we find a loft and laundry room. There is also a second door to the hotel hallway on this level.

BLT Stairway

BLT Stairway

BLT Loft

BLT Loft

BLT Loft

View from BLT Loft

BLT Laundry Room

These next pictures are of the second-story bedrooms and baths that flank each side of the loft. Note, the bedrooms have windows that look down into the living room.

BLT 2nd Story Bedroom

BLT 2nd Story Bedroom

BLT 2nd Story Bathroom

BLT 2nd Story Bathroom

BLT 2nd Story Bedroom

BLT 2nd Story Bedroom

BLT 2nd Story Bathroom

BLT 2nd Story Bathroom

I think Disney did a great job of creating a "contemporary" décor that doesn't sacrifice warmth for styling. From what I could see, the color palette looks vibrant and compliments the dark woods chosen for the cabinets and flooring. I'm looking forward to seeing one of these units when all of the final touches have been added.

Here are two pictures of the pool area. The pool offers zero-entrance.

BLT Swimming Pool

BLT Shuffleboard Court

I asked a few additional questions of my guide, and here's what I found out. The Contemporary and BLT will share the existing bus stop for folks traveling to the Animal Kingdom, Disney's Hollywood Studios, Downtown Disney, and the water parks.

Check-in, concierge, and bell services all originate at the Contemporary.

As of today, only members staying on points and guests of members staying on points may use the lounge at the top of Bay Lake Tower. Guest using cash to stay here are not eligible for this perk. But please note, this policy is still in flux and could change frequently until all the dust settles and actual demand can be determined.

As far as food service, the lounge at the top of BLT will offer light appetizers (afternoons and evenings), but that's all. At this time, I do not know what food will be offered at the pool.

There are no restaurants at BLT. For these you need to walk over to the Contemporary.

Room service is available at Bay Lake Tower via the Contemporary kitchens.

The entire resort and all of its amenities will open simultaneously.

In all, Bay Lake Tower will offer 295 units made up of studios, one, two, and three bedroom plans.

May 30, 2009

Magic Kingdom Opening Show

"Good morning. Good morning. It's great to stay up late. Good morning. Good morning to you, and you and you and you."

Anyone who has made the effort to be at the Magic Kingdom before opening will have this song stuck in their head all day long - or at least until they ride "it's a small world."

I've always advocated being at the parks as early as possible if it's your desire to experience the rides with as little wait as possible. But there is an extra added bonus for you early birds - a show. All four theme parks present a short opening performance before rope drop. All are entertaining, but I think the Magic Kingdom's is the best.

If you want to see this show, I suggest you arrive at the Magic Kingdom (not the TTC) at 8:30. On slow days this might be a little early, but on busier days, you'll be glad you arrived at this time. Once there, proceed through the turnstiles. The show takes place up in front of the train station so anywhere in the courtyard offers good viewing. However, if you plan to take pictures, you might want to move to the right side of this area so the sun is at your back.

To keep the little ones entertained before the show, Disney provides a number of hula-hoops for their enjoyment.

Children with hula-hoops

At about 8:50, a citizen of Main Street appears and welcomes everyone to the Most Magical Place on Earth. By the way, Disneyland in California is the "Happiest Place on Earth." The Magic Kingdom is the "Most Magical Place on Earth."

Citizen of Main Street

After a short introduction, the Main Street Singers appear and present a lively rendition of "Good Morning." Written by Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown, most of us are familiar with this song from the 1952 movie "Singin' in the Rain," but in reality, it first appeared in the 1939 movie "Babes in Arms."

Main Street Singers

Main Street Singers

Main Street Singers

Main Street Singers

When their number completes, we hear a whistle in the distance. A few moments later a steam train chugs into view to the tune of "Casey Jr." and "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah." Onboard we see Mickey Mouse and a number of his friends waving to the crowd below. Also onboard is the "family of the day."

WDW Steam Train

WDW Steam Train

Mickey Mouse and Citizen of Main Street

Snow White & Alice in Wonderland

After the guest family is introduced, a backwards countdown from ten proceeds to officially open the park. At zero, the guest family throws pixie dust onto the crowd and canons erupt, sending streamers flying.

Family of the Day

Family of the Day

The entire show lasts less than ten minutes, but it's a lot of fun. It also allows your children the opportunity to see some Disney characters first thing which might pacify their urgent need for a few moments.

This show sets the mood for your day to come. If you haven't already seen it, I strongly suggest dragging yourself out of bed a little early one morning and make the effort. You'll be glad you did.

May 31, 2009

Fort Wilderness Swimming Pool Update

Fort Wilderness Pool Entrance

Back in April, I wrote a blog about Fort Wilderness activities and the reopening of the swimming pool. At that time, the kiddy pool was not complete and I promised to return and take pictures once it opened. Also, a number of you requested additional swimming pool pictures. So today (May 29, 2009), I returned to Fort Wilderness with camera in hand.

First the bad news. The kiddy pool still isn't ready.

But the good news is, it appears that the kiddy pool will open any day and I was able to get some pictures that will give you a good idea of what to expect once it's done. It looks as if the water surrounding this slide is only a couple of inches deep. It also seems that their might be some water sprays emanating from the top of the structure.

Fort Wilderness Kiddy Pool

Fort Wilderness Kiddy Pool

Fort Wilderness Kiddy Pool

Fort Wilderness Kiddy Pool

Next to this new slide is another children's wading pool. The depth here is about one foot.

Fort Wilderness Wading Pool

Fort Wilderness Wading Pool

Here is a picture of the spa.

Fort Wilderness Spa

The following pictures are of the main swimming pool and the new slide. As I mentioned in my previous blog, the barrel on the slide came from River Country.

Fort Wilderness Swimming Pool

Fort Wilderness Swimming Pool

Fort Wilderness Swimming Pool Slide

Fort Wilderness Swimming Pool Slide

Fort Wilderness Swimming Pool Slide

A number of construction fences still surround various portions of this area. But from what I could see, everything looks close to completion and I have to believe Disney is doing their best to finish everything before summer.

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About May 2009

This page contains all entries posted to The “World” According to Jack in May 2009. They are listed from oldest to newest.

April 2009 is the previous archive.

June 2009 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.