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Happy New Year!

I hope that every one of you had smashing time greeting the New Year!

We did our usual thing with a group of our good friends, gathering around the table, eating, drinking, laughing around, eventually moving on to karaoke and movie-watching. We did this in practically the same company for years before moving off to England, and picked it up last year on our first New Year’s Eve back in the States. We will probably be celebrating this way for years to come.

Celebration lasted well into the morning, and then we picked it up after just a few hours of sleep with a post-celebration breakfast, followed up by more communal movie-watching. The movies we watch on these occasions are predominantly the ones that we have seen in the past and know quite well, providing for often-hilarious background commentary by every member of the party.

Good times! Hopefully, the year will be similarly filled with joy.

The year that ended was obviously an extraordinary one, our first full year back in the US after having lived in Europe for a while. We brought another child into the world, and that by itself marks the year as special. As with any other year, there were ups and downs, good happenings and things we may want to try to forget, so as is customary at this time of the year, we are hoping that the coming year will only be better. May your 2011 be better than 2010 as well!

I finished the year with two consecutive weeks of vacations, the first of which I spent entirely at home. It was the first such occasion in 3 years, but that previous one was when Natasha travelled to Russia without me, and I was playing housedad for the kids. This time around, I endeavoured to help Natasha at home, but mostly spent time in my study working on various computer issues. Sad, really. I never liked being type-casted as a computer geek (even though I am definitely one). And one my week free of work all I did was work on computers.

The second week, however, I took Kimmy to Orlando. She has not been to Disney parks since she was about 3 years old, and a family of our closest friends were spending a week in Orlando, so the stars aligned somewhat for me to get out of the house and focus on making my 10-year-old happy. We managed to visit 7 different parks, including all of the major Disney World parks, the Sea World, Universal’s Islands of Adventure with its newest Harry Potter-themed attractions, and the Kennedy Space Center. Each of them was impressive in their own right, even if we had to contend with enormous crowds of people. Going to Disney during school holidays is always a testing proposition. (Have you ever heard of a park closing for new admissions in the morning on account of being full? On the day of our arrival to Orlando, we fell victims to this arrangement at the Magic Kingdom, which we reached around noon. We were advised to come back after 2pm.)

No matter how well you plan and execute your visits to amusement parks, at the busiest times of the year you cannot avoid bumping into impossibly long waits at popular attractions. The FastPass system at Disney parks helps to mitigate it somewhat, but we had several occasions of coming to get the FastPass fairly early in the morning, and still getting it only for a late-afternoon time-slot. Plus, in a number of cases, even a FastPass does not get you directly to the attraction; you bypass most of the line, but still have to endure a noticeable wait afterwards (as, for instance, we had at the Toy Story Midway Mania ride at the Disney’s Hollywood Studios).

Your child may think it worthwhile no matter what, but I tend to dislike spending anything over 40 minutes in line for a ride that lasts all of 3 minutes itself. And with such long waits, there is practically no chance to go on the same ride for the second time during the day.

Which brings us to the excellent choice Kimmy and I made in regards to the Magic Kingdom. After our first-day fiasco (we went to the Animal Kingdom instead then), we decided to go there late in the afternoon and stay for as long as we could (it closes at 1am). We had multi-day “hopper” passes, so the sting of spending the same amount of money for “half of a day” as we would have spent for a full day was not as painful. We targeted less than a dozen rides as musts – and managed to get on every single one of them, with none of the waiting periods lasting over my arbitrary limit of 40 minutes and only one FastPass acquisition. There were still tons of people at the park, but between 5-6pm the crowds started to get thinner. Some of the most popular rides still showed 60-minute waits as late as 9pm, but practically none had a wait of more than a few minutes after the fireworks display at 10pm.

My hands-down most favorite amusement park ride in the world is the Splash Mountain (sorry, the daredevils in the audience – I don’t do roller-coasters). We kept putting it off as one of our last targets, and it paid off spectacularly. At about 10:50pm, we basically walked onto the attraction without a single second of waiting and got into the boat to ride. After getting off, we immediately walked around to the entrance and got on it for the second time. When that second ride was complete, I noticed that no one was even waiting to get on at that moment, and asked the girl attendant if we could just stay in our boat and go on one more time. She waved us through. We probably could have done it the fourth and fifth and tenth time if we chose, but we decided that three times was just the right quantity.

Kimmy now professes that the Splash Mountain is her favorite ride in the world as well.

She had the greatest time, and I enjoyed the trip as well.

The added bonus was that we entirely missed the big snowstorm in the Northeast. Natasha and Becky managed to clear our driveway with an important assist from a good neighbor with a snowblower – a job that would be mine otherwise. Monday’s commute – and my walk to the bus – is still likely to be horrible. Sidewalks are not cleared, piles of snow are filling up shoulders which buses use during rush hour. I’ll chance it on Monday, but may elect to work remotely for the rest of the week if it gets too intolerable.

Let’s see how the New Year is going to greet me.