Monday, 18 June 2012

My Walt Disney College Program: One Year On!

Orlando, Florida became my home for three months last year. I had the amazing opportunity being a Cast Member at the Walt Disney World Resort. Future World North merchandise at Epcot enabled me to work with some amazing people that made my experience unforgettable. Disney life lasted for just under three months during the summer of 2011, it was utterly magical!

From the moment I smiled through my interview at University the whole experience seemed very surreal. I got the job and I couldn't believe I would be making the journey back to Orlando, Florida to work at the Walt Disney World Resort. For the first time visiting America I wasn't going to be a tourist so I had to make an appointment at the American Embassy in London for my visa interview. With a new sense of confidence I went down to London independently I secured my J-1 visa. I had already been very fortunate enough to experience the theme parks of The Walt Disney World Resort before on more than one occasion but working rather than being on vacation proved to be very different! The sweltering Floridian weather blessed the days I spent playing in the parks meeting the character performers, especially Princess Tiana from 'The Princess and the Frog!' Trust me, I saw a lot of characters! Yes, it was so exciting!

Looking back I can't believe that I worked at Walt Disney World Resort, cliche as it sounds I was living a dream. Working for the 'Mouse' nearly every night and day has led to been a very useful decision for future projects, lets just say other components of the experience are helping me now on my Virgin Atlantic Airways Placement. Chatham Square became my place of refuge when I could not find the willpower to smile any-more or wish a guest a magical day. Living at the Chatham Square Apartments was a truly great experience, well there were times when it drove me crazy. I was lucky enough to have a great flatmate, Chris worked in entertainment and had the coolest job in my eyes! Chris happened to be a Goofy character performer and allowed me to see some secret areas at Magic Kingdom that opened my eyes to the life behind the closed doors at Disney. Communal living away from university halls had me fronting new situations and characters who tested my patients!

Maintaining a work/life balance I managed to make the most of my days off and some of the late nights after my scheduled evening shifts. From lovely nights at the Polynesian Resort within Disney World Resort with my UK friends who all lived in Chatham Square, some were university classmates who were also working on the same college program. Those evenings in the parks were great because we didn't spend much money. I really enjoyed those low key evenings that were spent gorging on ice cream at the 'Kitchen Sink' ice cream parlour at the Beaches and Cream Soda Shop, the peanut butter ice cream was to die for! Downtown Disney was also a nice place to spend a quiet evening because I wasn't quite 21 years old at that point. The day down to Miami was amazing, it was such a long day but we soaked up the vibes of South Beach brought something different to our American experience! It wasn't all about the Mouse! No!

Leaving the Mickey Mouse appropriate night outs I regrouped with Zach and Alexis, we snuck out after hours to turn up the music at Pulse! It was Latin night at that Orlando Gay club, I had never experienced a night out before without consuming anything alcoholic! Remembering everything from that night with a clear head we moved onto 'Denny's' for some 'Eggs Over My Hammy!' That was what Zach had to eat! To my horror during June 2012 an unforgivable act of terrorism was committed at Pulse, a mass shoot out rained gunfire and bloodshed upon the same club that I had frequented the year before! No mistakes made, I had some unforgettable encounters of a Fuego Puertorriqueño with a period of summer love! I was learning so many things about myself, I loved what was unfolding because in my current American life those choices have prepared me for a part of life. No, it wasn't all as it seemed within Celebration, my squeaky clean neighbourhood harboured secrets! O, dios mio!

Working at Future World North was a complete pleasure, on the whole it was crazy to say that I worked at the 'Happiest Place In The World'. Whether If I would be cleaning strollers, selling gifts or making a magical moment at either Gateway Gifts or Camera Center. Believe me I did have some days when I didn't want to smile but the magic of the Walt Disney World Parks is infectious so I got over my sullen mood pretty fast indeed! I must admit that it was my co-workers that made it so special. There was so many people like Ritika, Janice, Alexis and of course the fabulous Zach Airstarr, just a few of the long list that made working at Epcot that lot more special. I'll keep in contact with you guys! I promise! Away from work I loved playing at EPCOT on my days off, I knew where the secret doors were and it was always great to talk with my colleagues who were busy at work. It was such an experience! See you soon, no goodbyes now!

It was definitely a case of international love at my department at EPCOT, I'm sure the whole of Central and South America had chose to work at my location! I had the best co-workers from places like Puerto Rico, Honduras, Dominican Republic and the good old United States of America that gave me a great insight to the beautiful people of the Americas. Who knew that my dear sister friend Fiorella Sanchez once worked as a Disney intern on her International College Program! I had been on holiday to Spain a few times before my working summer at WDW, during the summer of 2012 I learned a whole new tone of Spanish. From the Puerto Rican tones, the Dominican Republican quirks blended with the Honduran variations of that Spanish language. I definitely took those different strands of Spanish with me to Newark! I adored my time at FWN EPCOT, I didn't want to leave but university had me boarding my JFK Delta flight back to Manchester Airport, England. New York City was in my sights! Yes!

Don't be Strangers! 

Joseph Harrison

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

USA: Road Trips, Deserts & Hollywood...

My long weekend trip to Las Vegas was about to take another turn! Paolo could drive, that's why he had a hire care who we had called 'Marlene'. Packing into our care before sunrise we made our way into the Nevada desert en-route to Los Angeles, California! We loved our breakfast at Peggy Sue's before we crossed the state line into California! Hollywood was expecting us!

The Las Vegas three set off into the Nevada desert for the four hour drive to Los Angeles, California. We decided to take the plunge, setting off before the birds made their song 'Marlene' took us away from the glitzy of the strip into the desert. As we pulled away from the Monte Carlo Resort along Las Vegas Boulevard things were still very much alive, it was well and truly an all-night playground! I had a little bit of breakfast from McDonald's but that was around 5 AM in the morning, it would do for then as we entered the barren desert plains. We stayed ready! Things were quite straightforward, we hadn't hammered the booze really so we were fresh for the journey. It was just me that was getting those deserved tequila's done during our penny slot casino visits. I had wanted to see the Grand Canyon but being a birthday trip I went along with the program, going to Los Angeles was a group decision that I definitely approved. Yes!

What was our plan for the day? We had our route mapped out from Las Vegas to Los Angeles, I wasn't navigating so that was cool for me. Getting onto the road felt great, I snoozed a little bit after we had left the mayhem of Las Vegas Boulevard, the desolate Nevada turned up the hear but we had the air conditioning on, no worries! That plan! Both Paolo and Thomas hadn't been to Los Angeles before and I had so that was something I was proud I had been before! I was excited to see the Hollywood Walk of Fame in all of its craziness, the first time it served nothing but realness with many crazy folk along the boulevard. I still have to pinch myself, I have only been back in America for about four months and have experienced a lot already, there are no mistakes and that's for certain! The drive was going to be about four hours, less than two hours in I really wanted a proper breakfast! In the desert it didn't look like there would be anything around for miles, how wrong we were! Peggy, who?

Around two hours into our trip we needed some time to grab a little breakfast, my McDonald's orange juice wasn't going to sustain me since I had finished it before 6 AM! In the middle of nowhere we found Peggy Sue's Diner, a truly bizarre place that felt like it had stopped in time. Peggy Sue's was like mirage, was it even real? Our breakfast was quintessentially American with lashings of extra bacon and coffee to fill us up before we reach the city of angels! Peggy Sue's outlandish decor had us captivated, fashioned as a 50's diner we were surrounded by loud colours and endless film memorabilia. The mayhem of Las Vegas had begun to catch up on me, I wanted to be tele-ported to Hollywood Boulevard already! Fuelled and raring to drive onwards, I was really excited to reach the state border of California as we wanted to experience a brand new state! Thank goodness for Peggy Sue's 50's diner!

We soon left the desert behind us for the scenery started to change, civilisation seemed to be kicking in for it was a blessing to pass through the California Inspection post without any trouble. It was insane to think that we had passed through the Nevada desert! I was over the drive by the time we saw road signs for Los Angeles, bring on Sunset Boulevard! The sprawl of hills and trees slowly turned into houses and sooner or later we could see the urban sprawl of Downtown Los Angeles. I love the Downtown but we weren't going anywhere near that for certain! Growing ever restless to see the Hollywood sign for a second time in my life, I was like "Marlene go a bit faster please oh! It's the horrendous Los Angeles traffic!" Passing signs for San Bernardino had us feeling excited, the city of Los Angeles grew closer, Las Vegas seemed like distant memory! It was amazing to be almost back in Hollywood, my BB persona was living within that California comeback moment! Where's my sign!

Recognising the Hollywood & Highland complex it was time for us to park 'Marlene', our hire car had faithfully got us from Las Vegas, Nevada to Los Angeles, California without any hitches! Because Paolo had driven us all the way over from our Monte Carlo hotel resort, he stayed in the car for a well deserved nap whilst myself and Thomas found somewhere to have a drink to cool down at the Hollywood & Highland complex, the L.A humidity was no joke! It felt amazing to be back, I had first visited Los Angeles during December 2005 with my family to see Disneyland, Hollywood and to also experience a Royal Caribbean Cruise to Ensenada, Mexico for the Christmas holidays. During that June 2012 moment I was feeling very fortunate to be visiting that part of the country for a second time! The Hollywood & Highland complex looked very much the same, although that time I saw the 'Rupaul' pop up shop! Yes L.A, I came back! 

Paolo came back from his nap, the day could continue with the 'Las Vegas 3' being back together! I found the sign, well we did! We took a few moments to take the obligatory 'Hollywood Sign' photos for all to see on Facebook! I thanked them for welcoming me onto their trip, I had gatecrashed their pre-planned trip and had twisted the rules at my airport job to get some time off before I was allowed to do so. We toasted to our day in Los Angeles with a non-alcoholic drink because Paolo would need to drive us all back to Las Vegas later that day. I did a little bit of shopping at one of the sports stores, my auntie's in England had just babies, I had wanted to buy something for my cousins from the Hollywood & Highland complex but refunded those items because the finds in NYC were better purchases. Where would we be going to? We hit the Hollywood Boulevard, I was prepared but the other hadn't seen it before! The Dolby Theatre? I had remembered it as the Kodak Theatre!

Hollywood Boulevard hadn't changed one bit, it was still filled with tourists and those stars along the 'Hollywood Walk of Fame' looked just the same. I was having all kind of flashbacks, it was great to be back within that berserk environment once again. The other two hadn't seen the exclusive 'Beverly Hills' and 'Rodeo Drive' area of Hollywood. We booked up an open top bus tour, leaving right away we left the brash Hollywood Boulevard en-route to where the rich and famous called home. The driver liked the sound of his own voice a little bit too much, in retrospect I learned a few new facts like when Lady GaGa supposedly gave all her fans free pizzas whilst they waited for to appear from one venue that I didn't quite remember the name of. The other two saw this new experience without experience, for me me I able to see this part of Los Angeles through new eyes, some seven years later. That felt correct!

We passed the filming location used for 'The Osbourne's' and the 'Beckham's' former Beverly Hills residence. Shopping never looked so chic, Rodeo Drive still had the same glitzy feeling, the summer sun ensured those design stores shone their superiority over us! No, bow down to me! Seeing another famous sign solidified our location, the 'Beverly Hills' sign looked just as good as it had before! The tour took us back to the buzzing Hollywood Boulevard, the heat grew more intense and with the four hour drive ahead of us, we decided it would be wise to head back to the casino's and life of Las Vegas. The day had been full-packed with the searing heat of the desert, our 50's diner breakfast at Peggy Sue's and our brush with the stars! Los Angeles still looked good those years since my initial visit, it planted the seed to visit again in the future! We reached Las Vegas that evening, retiring to our hotel we rested, that was one epic day spent in two states! I didn't want to go back to NJ!

Road Trip! 

Joseph Harrison

Friday, 8 June 2012

USA: Viva Las Vegas!

Las Vegas, its Nevada's devilish deserts paradise that boasts casino's, hotels and wedding chapels. Not having lived long in New Jersey, I was so excited to be experiencing a whole new state! Sin City was the choice for my friends 21st birthday celebrations, being a complete freeloader I gatecrashed this trip that ended up to be a lot of fun! Hand me a tequila, please?

Las Vegas would be two flights away for the three of us friends, I chose Southwest Airlines whilst Tom and Paolo had already booked up with Delta before I had arrived in New Jersey. I reported early for my Phoenix bound flight with plenty of time to spare. Being a passenger for the first time since arriving into Newark Liberty International Airport felt amazing, the trip had been hyped up and then some! Visiting the check-in desks of my placement location to see my co-workers had to be done, I was mad excited to be on my way to Sin City! Taking my extra self from Terminal B to A via the Air Train had to be done. Boarded with cabin crew that were the friendliest I had met before that flight, I knew that I was in good hands for those flights to Las Vegas McCarran International Airport! Southwest Airlines kept me on time, for my Delta friends they were delayed from Newark Liberty! Yes, Southwest was the right choice!

In place of a hot meal, Southwest Airlines did things differently with cute snack boxes and free non-alcoholic drinks from their debit card friendly cabin service. I hadn't had much breakfast so Beverly helped me out with a few extra Nabisco snack packs! The flights purser gave such a reassuring pre-flight announcement and throughout that first flight her country drawl set the relaxed mood of the flight. I was thirsty and on my way to a crazy place, getting a gin for less than bar prices I enjoyed my first mixed drink nicely. One of the crew members had me covered for the flight over to Phoenix, needless to say I was on the right level for my Las Vegas arrival! Switching places in PHX allowed me to refuel with a Pizza Hut treat, boarding and negotiating another drink allowed me to arrive into LAS feeling just right, or down right on it? Clocking the Delta baggage claim belt I took a seat, set my alarm and initiated my first disco nap of the trip! Seeing slot machines in arrivals was so mad!

I don't stay in hotels that are squalid, so our accommodation the Monte Carlo Hotel Resort & Casino gave us the perfect pad to rest after our Las Vegas Strip escapades. I never had a reservation so I waited in the lobby area while the boys checked-in, I had to live up to my Britney B*tch persona from the very beginning of that Vegas trip! Las Vegas lures gamblers from far and wide, manipulating their wallets to give that extra dollar to win the jackpot, I was wiser! No sleep for the Nevada trio, we hit the Vegas Strip to see the countless range of casino's to try our luck and to just have a general nose around. I didn't quite understand the whole politics of the gambling games that were on offer in such venues like the MGM Grand and Planet Hollywood. Being extra in my own way, I embraced those Las Vegas experiences to their fullest! I just needed another tequila to keep that Vegas state of mind going! Lime and salt BB!

Throughout our time in Las Vegas along the strip, we marvelled at the amazing landmark hotels. Each hotel had its own personality, I loved the Stratosphere for its towering vista of the strip! Having a hire car allowed us drive away from the glitz and glamour of the Las Vegas Boulevard core tourism area, I was living for the street feeling that kept us aware at all times. We were used to the craziness of Newark, New Jersey so the wilder side of the Las Vegas strip made us feel closer to our mad placement home. Going with the flow, I didn't need to dictate where we went because it was Paolo's birthday and his choice took precedence for that trip only! We hopped from one casino to the other, I also loved the grandeur of the MGM Grand! As mentioned before I never envisaged going to Las Vegas, it was all meant to be that it all happened! Las Vegas is definitely a destination that's for the gambling first but having a great time applies to all, I'd return for something extra! I need a Cosmo!

Our epic assault that incorporated visiting at least seven of the provincial casino's was amazing! MGM was out-of-this-world I couldn't believe my half-drunken eyes, yes I had been drinking all day! Myself and my friends had hit the Las Vegas strip like the stars of 'The Hangover' movie! During a short break from gambling in Excalibur's casino I ran off to buy a vest that displayed a suggestive design, it was a Vegas moment! Collecting an array of poker chips, the feeling of this immense place exceeded all my expectations. You can't get away from the slot-machines in Las Vegas, I just decided to embrace every single experience because I desperately seek adventure! This time last year I was finishing my first semester at University College Birmingham getting ready to embark on my International College Program in Orlando, Florida. Did I mention that Tequila was my best friend for the whole weekend? Another shot, please?

Now, the stars of "The Hangover" film featured such casino's like the Bellagio and Caesar's Palace which takes centre stage out of all the other casino's on the Vegas Strip. But none of us were about to get married nor arrested! Suited, booted and ready to take on the night as the lights shone bright through the Las Vegas Strip we made our way to the Bellagio and Caesar's Palace to gamble the night away. Those casino's produced my biggest win of $106.00, which was not too bad for me. I loved the system in the casino's! I kept putting coins into the slots, those drinks were free-flowing for that period! Naturally, tequila became my new best friend as the waitresses' made their way around the casino floor. I didn't care for the big money tables as I was just loving and living for the moment for the memories I made that night could never have a price tag! From night to day the Las Vegas Strip did its business, we enjoyed our time but on our own terms! Come on, I just wanted to see that sign LaVe!

On Tom and Paolo's final day before we took our hire car back, we saw the world famous Las Vegas sign! Stopping for the perfect photo opportunity I didn't care taking any photos of myself in front of the sign, I was content with the photo captured above. It was a bucket list moment, I had never envisaged travelling so early into my placement period! The whole situation was meant to be! The sign sealed the experience, it begs the question if I would ever return to Las Vegas in the future? Yes, I never made it to the Grand Canyon and with the pace of the Strip I know that the residency shows will continue to evolve further. Bidding the boys a fond farewell, it was time for them to take the hire car back before they caught their overnight flights back to Newark. I wasn't about to fly via Memphis to arrive back into LaGuardia when we lived so epically close to Newark Liberty, I didn't have the time for that! Oh, that sign though!

Spending one extra night in the city I relaxed to the max in my New York, New York hotel room before my breakfast time flight headed back to Newark, New Jersey. The whole trip had been everything and more, even though I didn't make it to the Grand Canyon I had freeloaded onto an already planned birthday trip! I'll definitely make another trip to Las Vegas to see it from my own perspective as a solo traveller! The rest of the final day was a pretty sedate affair, the week had been mental with the drive to Los Angeles and back to Vegas in one day. Feeling refreshed and ready for another drink, the flight back to Newark Liberty via Pheonix got very boozy but I was good enough. All I needed to know was that my flights were on time and that the connection would be seamless just like the outbound sectors were. Making it home to Lafayette Street was a relief, this independent travel lark is still relatively new to me! Vegas was well worth it, Vegas was amazing and yes I loved it baby!

Bright Lights, Big City!

Joseph Harrison 

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Flying High... Southwest Airlines!

Flying from Newark Liberty, NJ to Las Vegas, NV via Phoenix, AZ with Southwest Airlines allowed me to see 'No Frills' from an American perspective. Whilst my friends Tom and Paolo flew with Delta Air Lines, would my budget Southwest Airlines experience champion their series of unfortunate events? So, America's answer to 'easyjet' impressed me for several reasons.

I must admit it was quite strange to be at Newark Airport as a passenger because my Industrial Placement takes up most of my time spent at the airport. Nevertheless holidays my Vegas holiday had arrived, after printing my boarding card and clearing TSA screening I felt the holiday vibe kick in! Bound for Phoenix, AZ with my Las Vegas experience about to begin my Southwest jet boarded in a manner that was both organised yet crazy. As I've had the pleasure of travelling with Ryanair, I was pleasantly surprised not to see passengers running to the boarding gate after the first announcement to wrestle for a seat. As I work for an airline the usual questions from passengers like 'is this the boarding gate for this flight?' Yes, I did the unthinkable by making the same mistake, to then later find out that on US domestic flights I.D doesn't have to be checked, even UK domestic flights require passport checks! But do they?

Southwest Airlines amazed me by not charging for their non-alcoholic drinks and snacks, well when I'm on my holidays soft drinks are simply a mixer, please! I was embarking on my very first holiday since starting my Industrial Placement and I wanted my flying experience to be as good as my holiday time! Our crew passed through the cabin shortly after take-off with their quirky clipboard and debit/credit card machines to take drinks orders, no trolley dollies on-board this Phoenix, Arizona bound flight. Due to the light load of passengers on this flight I made myself comfortable lounging in my very own row. Beverly, one of the lovely crew members fulfilled my request that was a Gin and Tonic, only $4 dollars as the tonic was free, what a bargain! As I neared the end of my first holiday drink I requested another Gin and Tonic brandishing my debit card to be told "Honey, don't worry about it" looking like it was free drinks, I was living my Southwest dream! No, Ryanair it was not!

Touching down at Phoenix's Sky Harbor International Airport feeling very boozy, making my way to the transfer screen to see which gate my Las Vegas bound flight would board from. Grabbing a small pizza, I needed to keep it together because my Newark flight to AZ had been boozy indeed. The experience transferring flights with Southwest was fine, I didn't have to change terminals or concourses so I had no stress, if truth be told I was quite apprehensive about changing planes. Boarding my Las Vegas flight I had to move because a passenger needed to sit by the window with his oxygen tank, I bargained for another drink because I was in that crazy Vegas mood, or just feeling like I had too many Gin and Tonics by that time? A bit of both I protest! Meanwhile Tom and Paolo had been delayed in Newark and had been transferred onto another flight, I didn't pay any mind because I had a smooth trip without any hitches at all! Yaass, SWA!

Looking back at the time when I booked my Southwest Airlines flight it was a very rushed decision, I wanted to fly from Newark direct with United Airlines but my budget would not allow those ridiculous prices, I know that making my Southwest choice to fly via Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport to Las Vegas was meant to be! United, thanks for being so damn expensive! I also looked at the possibility to fly on the same flights as Tom and Paolo but their flight times via Memphis were crazy and their return flight landed into New York La Guardia Airport! Newark Liberty International Airport only being twenty minutes or so from my Ironbound residence had me ditching any LaGuardia arrival! I am proud to say that all of my Southwest Airlines flights pushed back and arrived bang on-time, which worked great because I was pretty worse for ware on the return leg from Phoenix to Newark, actually I almost missed that flight! Oh Phoenix, you already know that Tequila was the one! Not good!

No meal service for Southwest Airlines, that's just not the way this airline does things. Southwest Airlines like to mix things up by offering snack packs, mind you I was starved so the crew slipped me a few extra treats. My special pre-Vegas cocktails kept coming throughout the flights, adding that my friends were on a different flight amazingly made the crew take care of me more. It was like no other set of flights that I had experienced, our flight service manager from Newark to PHX looked just like Dolly Parton with her country talk and bouffant hair style, comedy was served up in place of a hot air-plane meal. Southwest, an airline that serves every beverage with a smile, rivalling their budget Irish cousin Ryanair. Arriving at Las Vegas McCarran International Airport before my friends, I found a little spot in the middle of baggage reclaim to have a nap! I was a mess but it was completely justifiable because it was Vegas!

Honestly, speaking I usually travel with Delta Air Lines domestically within the United States so I've had the pleasure of transiting through the monster that is Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson International Airport so I know to keep my cool and look for the correct gate. Delta had my friends delayed and their inbound flight was just not something I wanted to deal, no overnight flights before work! The meal service might have been non-existent but I embraced the budget service, those snack boxes contained yummy treats like Oreos, Ritz crackers and more things I can't quite remember because I was so boozy. In-flight meals aren't usually very good so I was able to deal without one on Southwest. Would I fly with Southwest Airlines again in the future? The service was great and I arrived at my intended destination and back to Newark Liberty bang on-time! It goes without saying that Southwest Airlines are awesome, so I know I made the right decision over their market competitors! Fly S!

Fly Southwest Airlines!

Joseph Harrison