Hollywood Studios

Our visit to Hollywood Studios was on day four.  While it was lacking in rides and is undergoing a lot of construction it also had some of our favorites of the trip.  The park itself was also not very busy, so we were able to go on a few things multiple times.  We took advantage of extra Magic hours that morning.  This was the first morning that we had some trouble with the shuttle services.  The wait time kept increasing and by the time the bus got to our hotel there were too many people for it.  We decided to take a taxi to the park.  While not an option for every trip, we were glad we spent the $15 or so to not have to deal with the shuttle.

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The main ride that we had to use our Fastpass for was Toy Story Midway Mania.  It consistently had 60 minute plus wait times throughout the day.  We had a Fastpass for it in the morning.  While we used our Fastpasses they really weren’t necessary for any of the other rides.  Upon arriving at the park we booked it over to Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster for Brian and I to ride it.  I think we did the rider swap but it wasn’t necessary as the park was just opening.  We really liked that ride.

Eilam absolutely loved riding Star Tours.  We went on that ride three times.  He and his daddy also got to make their own Light Sabers after one of the rides.  He was too little for the Jedi Training though but loved seeing all the characters walking around.  When we were leaving the Great Movie Ride, many of the characters were marching by on their way to one of the many Star Wars shows.

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Toy Story Midway Mania was an Eilam favorite (and a parent favorite too).  We had a lot of fun shooting the targets.  Another ride that was a big success for us was surprisingly the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.  We were worried because of how most of it is in the dark, but he sat between the two of us and held hands.  He still talks about the elevator drop ride to this day.  Whenever playing with his stuffed toys, they usually go to Disneyworld to go on the elevator ride.

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Other highlights of this park, was Eilam finally giving Mickey a hug.  Once he met Sorcerer Mickey we took him to get his Mickey ears.  Brian found a great drink of cider with a shot of Fireball dropped in it.  We also had some delicious chocolate Star Wars cupcakes.

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After lunch we went back to the hotel having ridden/done everything we wanted to do.  So our plan was to lounge after nap and go back to Disney Springs for dinner.  However, when I was playing with the Disney app a Fastpass time came up for Midway Mania.  I snatched that time up and back to the park we went for a late afternoon ride.  We were very lucky to go on this ride twice without having to wait in line.  We still ended up heading over to Disney Springs for dinner.  Which we had a very hard time finding someplace that had an open table and we ended up just eating at a quick service type restaurant.

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While Hollywood Studios was definitely smaller than the other parks, we really enjoyed the rides/experiences they offered.  Hopefully with the updates and expansion it will be a full day destination in the future.

I think I have finally finished recapping our Disney vacation..only one year after going.  While I was worried about taking a three year old to a full week Disney World vacation and spending serious money on something that he probably won’t remember, we had a fantastic time.  He was such a trooper with the long days and constant stimulation.  He still talks about our trip and his favorite rides and things he saw.  Overall, it was a very fun trip and we look forward to someday doing it again with older children.

Animal Kingdom

The third park we visited was Animal Kingdom.  We had our Fastpasses reserved for Expedition Everest, Dinosaur, and Kali River Rapids.  Unfortunately when making reservations for this day there was limited availability so everything was just a one time ride.  Also, this park has the shortest hours so that limits the options as well.  While the park itself is huge, there is limited rides and attractions.  We skipped a Fastpass for the Kilimanjaro Safari as we were getting there early with the extra Magic Hours.  The plan was to head straight there to hopefully skip the line and see the animals first thing in the morning.  If this is an option for you, I HIGHLY suggest doing it this way.  We were some of the first people in park.  When we got back to the entrance of the Safari there was already a huge line, well it actually wasn’t a huge line it was just extending out into the park as they hadn’t opened the actual entrance yet.  Once they started allowing people in, we walked (all be it in a very Disney twisty walk) straight onto the ride.  The animals were all out, active and eating.

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After the Safari we had dining reservations at Tusker House for a Donald Duck hosted character breakfast.  We thought that by the third day Eilam might warm up to the idea of meeting some of the characters and breakfast food is his favorite.  We tried meeting Mickey on day one at Epcot and he was not a fan.  He really enjoyed the breakfast and watching Donald, Mickey, Goofy and Daisy dance around.  He was definitely still apprehensive and shy when they came around to meet him though.

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Brian and I loved Expedition Everest.  That was a fantastic roller coaster.  Even though Eilam was tall enough for Dinosaur, we decided at the last minute he should forgo that ride.  We ended up doing the rider swap and both of us agreed that was the correct decision.  We enjoyed the Kali River Rapids as it was late, late afternoon and felt nice to get splashed.  Unfortunately Eilam and I were seated in the two seats that got the most wet.  He enjoyed the ride up until the huge wall of water crashed into us.  Everyone else was just nice and splashed but we were drenched.

We spent a long time at the Boneyard play area in Dino Land.  All the slides and rope walkways and things to climb on were a great break from walking around the park.

While we enjoyed all the rides we went on and seeing all the animals, we felt for the size of the park it was lacking in attractions.  This was last year though, I know they have extended their hours with Avatar land opening soon and they were starting a nighttime show as well.  It is a park I would like to go back to in the future with older kids.

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Magic Kingdom

We planned for two days at Magic Kingdom as it seemed like it had the most rides and activities to offer younger children.  Again, we planned to go there for the morning extra Magic Hours.  We utilized the extra Magic Hour to go on the Seven Dwarf’s Mine Train so we didn’t have to use a Fastpass for this ride.  We were at the park when it opened and headed to the ride.  While there was a lot of people there, the time in April we went was considered low season.  Magic Kingdom was the busiest of all the parks during our visit.  We were constantly utilizing the Disney app to update and look for Fastpasses which really helped our line wait times.

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Our plan was to concentrate on half the park one day and the other half on the second day thinking it would be a lot like Disneyland.  However, we were surprised at how small it was.  We ended up riding almost all the rides on the first day and utilizing the second day to ride our favorites again.

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He really did like this ride.

Eilams’s favorite rides at Magic Kingdom were Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin and the Tomorrowland Speedway.  He loved steering the car on the Speedway.  Luckily for us the only ride he wasn’t big enough for was Space Mountain.  So while one of us was riding that the other was enjoying ice cream and a rest with Eilam.  He liked all the fast rides and did well on The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Splash Mountain.  Splash Mountain Magic Kingdom is a lot better for kids as you can smush them inbetween you unlike Disneyland where you are seated front to back instead of side to side.  The only attraction that was a major failure throughout our entire trip was Stitch’s Great Escape.  He was tall enough for it but the entire experience is in the dark and Stitch is big with lots of scary noises.  There were a lot of tears throughout the experience and we felt really bad that he was so scared.  So I highly suggest skipping this one if your kids are little.

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A little bit of Disney magic.

Magic Kingdom was definitely the most little kid friendly of all the parks.  I think we went on almost every ride.  We didn’t make time to see any of the parades.  It just wasn’t a priority for us this trip.  There were no fireworks for us either as that was just pushing it a little too late for Eilam.  No Dole Whips for us but we did stop in at Gaston’s Tavern for a giant cinnamon role.  We also did not have any dining reservations at this park.  We ended up eating at Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Cafe for dinner both of our days here.  It was seriously good Mexican food at a quick service restaurant over in Frontierland.

 

Epcot

During the planning of our Disney vacation, I was unsure of how well Eilam would do going all day at the parks.  We had a full five days to visit the parks and the afternoon of our arrival.  Our plan was to visit one park each day and visit the Magic Kingdom twice.  Our arrival evening we were going to visit Disney Springs.  We went in with the attitude we would be at the parks when they opened and then go back for an afternoon nap and then just play it by ear.   If Eilam was up to going back we would, if not we would spend the evening at the hotel and go swimming and relaxing.  We were pleasantly surprised at how well Eilam did.  We would go back for an afternoon nap but whenever he got up he was ready to go back to the parks and go on more rides.  We would usually get back to the hotel between 7 and 9pm.  So we only ended up going swimming only one evening.

We planned each park that we would visit based on the extra magic hours.  So our first day was at Epcot.  Epcot was lacking in the younger kids rides but Eilam did enjoy the Finding Nemo ride.  He was exactly 40 inches which meant he could ride most of the rides at all the parks.  While Brian and I did the rider swap or used Fastpasses for anything that he couldn’t go on.  He did really well on the Chevy Test Track and we went on it twice.  We were able to go on Mission Space in the morning when there wasn’t very many people around and did the rider swap, even though at that time it wasn’t necessary.  We both just walked right onto the ride.  After nap, then we ate and drank and walked around the World Showcase.

The character meet and greets were not a success.  For a kid that loves Mickey Mouse Clubhouse he was not excited to meet Goofy, Mickey or Minnie.  We tried each day until he was comfortable though.  Epcot is feeling outdated and we could have done a half day at this park but Brian and I wanted to go around the World Showcase.  Which we really enjoyed, Eilam had fun but definitely wasn’t his favorite part of the trip.  (Note we went to DisneyWorld before the Frozen ride opened.)

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Someone is excited to be at Disney World
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Our Test Track creation
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World Showcase
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Goofing around in Italy.

Maine

In mid-October we took a couple days off work and road tripped from Arlington, Virginia up to New England.  We went as far north as Bar Harbor and then down to Portland over through New Hampshire and Vermont and then back down to home.  We wanted to see the fall foliage and check out Acadia National Park.  Our itinerary was pretty aggressive as we only had five days for this trip and we were driving.  This was a pseudo last minute trip so accommodations were sparse which went into our itinerary decisions.

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We left on a Friday morning very early, around 5:45am.  We wanted to miss DC, Baltimore and hopefully New York traffic.  Our plan worked, the worst traffic we met was on the freeways outside of Boston, which was late afternoon.  We drove up I95 through Maryland, New Jersey turnpike and all the way through Providence, RI.  The Rhode Island detour probably added an hour to our trip but we had never been to Rhode Island and figured we couldn’t bypass it.  We kept going on 95 until Highway 1A turn off to Bar Harbor.  We stopped for a sit down lunch in Connecticut and dinner along with multiple potty stops and leg stops.  The whole day took about 14-15 hours.  Drive time alone would have been close to 12.  It was a long day but we were glad we powered through this day so the rest of the trip didn’t have as much time in the car.

We stayed at the Hampton Inn in Bar Harbor.  Bar Harbor has limited chain accommodations and this weekend we were only able to get reservations anywhere for Friday and Saturday nights (thus the 15 hour drive day).  Eilam really did great on the long trip.  He was definitely bored at times but we kept telling him that the next day we could go hiking and play outside which seemed to appease him some.  The hotel was very nice with a nice continental breakfast.  It was set up on a hill above Bar Harbor view a nice view of the surrounding areas and the water.

Saturday was our Acadia National Park day.  We were really lucky with the weather on Saturday.  It started out foggy but the sun broke through and it was a beautiful day.  The National Park pass is good for 7 days.  After purchasing one in the morning at a visitor center, we started on our exploration of the area.  We drove the Park Loop Road with many stops at beaches and lookouts along the coast.  We went on a hike/walk along the Carriage Roads at Jordan Pond.  After a late lunch in Bar Harbor and we went back to the park and drove out to the Bass Harbor Lighthouse.  We went on another small hike out there and then headed back into town for a lobster roll dinner.  The area was beautiful and we would have taken advantage of the numerous hiking trails but many were not kid friendly, or at least preschool age friendly.

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Hiking along the Carriage Roads

Our plan Sunday was to get up, check out and drive up to the top of Cadillac Mountain.  We did do this but unfortunately it was blowing rain so hard that you couldn’t see 10 feet in front of you.  We drove along the coast part of the way towards Portland.  We stopped at Pemaquid Point Lighthouse.  It was still raining but not quite as hard, so we wondered around some.  Then it was back into the car for the remainder of the drive down to Portland.  We didn’t book a room downtown due to cost, so we stayed at the Doubletree out by the mall area.  It was still raining so hard, we just headed to the mall to stretch our legs there.  Dinner was at Sea Dog Brewing Co where Brian enjoyed a full lobster dinner.

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Playing at Pemaquid Lighthouse

Monday we got up and drove through the downtown area of Portland and then headed on to our trip through New Hampshire and Vermont on the beautiful sunny day.  The trees driving through New Hampshire were just beautiful.  All of the colors were so brilliant.  I never realized how many shades of oranges and red there are out there.  Lunch was at Whetstone Station Brewing in Brattleboro, Vermont.  After lunch we headed north with a stop at Hamilton Falls.  The trail head isn’t very well marked but it was a nice little hike down and a good place to stretch your legs.  Our day continued into New Hampshire with a stop at a state park where we were able to run around a big field and a lake.  After a break with kept heading south down into New York for the night.  This left a short 5-6 hour drive on Tuesday to home.

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Perfect timing capturing a fun moment.

Overall, the trip was quick but enjoyable.  Acadia National Park was beautiful and it was a nice time to be there.  The foliage was in peak condition and really breathtaking.  The National Forests in this area were quite unlike the National Forests we are used to in the Pacific Northwest (much higher population density).  We are glad we were able to make the trip and Eilam was an excellent car traveler.

Philadelphia

Oh my, I am so far behind in posts.  Since the end of September we have visited Philadelphia, road tripped to Maine, attended local Halloween activities and spent two and a half weeks on the West coast visiting family (along with an adult only trip to Vegas).  When I arrived home, I had an awful head cold.  Along with working full time and trying to feel better, writing blog posts have taken a back seat.  I decided to finally finish a post about our trip to Philadelphia over a month after I started writing it.

At the end of September we headed North to Philadelphia for a weekend.  Neither of us had ever been and with all the history there it was always on our list to go.  We left on a Friday, late morning and took Amtrak from Union Station to 30th Street Station.  The trip was about 2 hours and it was very nice and relaxing.  Eilam watched videos and looked outside while I read and Brian played games on his phone or tablet.

 

We found hotel prices in the Downtown/City Center to be very expensive so we ended up staying at the Embassy Suites City Center.  It was under $200 and we knew it provided free breakfast and happy hour.  It was an older hotel in a decent location.  It was a one bedroom with hide-a-bed.

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View from our hotel.  You can see the Franklin Institute with the columns to the left and the building at the end of the long road in the distance is the Museum of Art.

Friday afternoon after checking in, we walked to the Terminal Square Market.  What a busy, bustling place.  It reminded us of Pike Place Market in Seattle.  It was fun to walk through and look at all the different booths and stands.  We saw the various Amish made goods and food.  We stopped and got some ice cream for Eilam and milkshakes for Brian and I.  After exploring the Market we walked over to Franklin Square as it had a carousel and playground.  I would probably skip this as we were not really impressed by either.

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Due to a late lunch and then big milkshake, we really weren’t hungry for dinner.  I ended up buying tickets to go up to One Liberty Observation deck.  It was a nice view to look out at all the city lights.  Benjamin Franklin’s shoes are on the ground floor with his head on the 57th floor.  As you walk by the shoes lightning strikes, which really scared Eilam.  I bought our tickets online beforehand to save money.  There is a shopping center right there as well with a Bloomingdale’s Outlet.  We had never been to one and we could have spent a LONG time there.

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The next day we woke to the fire alarm going off.  After getting dressed and grabbing my purse, we walked the 20 flights of stairs down to the ground level.  Multiple fire trucks and ambulances came.  After about 10 minutes we just decided to go find a Starbucks and start our day.  So after a quick breakfast we walked down to Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell.  We got in on the 9:30 tour of Independence Hall which was very informative.  Between March and December timed tickets are required and can be picked up at the Independence Visitor Center.  After the tour, we got in line for the Liberty Bell (no tickets required).  While the line looked long, it moved fairly quickly and was only for security to get into the building.  After checking the Bell out, we were ready to head back to the hotel to shower and get ready for the day.  We bought a day pass for the PHLASH bus.  So for $5 we could ride this bus around town which stops at most of the tourist destinations and our hotel was at a stop.  It was convenient and cut down on some walking.

After showering and getting into clean clothes we walked over to the Franklin Institute.   It was a fun museum.  There were a lot of interactive science and technology exhibits.  Eilam was a little young but he still enjoyed our time there.  After over an hour exploring the museum, we were getting hungry and you can’t go to Philadelphia without having a cheese-steak.  We walked over to Cleaver’s.  Brian got the 1 pound Cleaver and I went with the Effin Hot Steak.  Eilam got the chicken fingers and we also got the loaded fries.  HOLY TOO MUCH FOOD (but really good).  Then back to the hotel for a quick nap.

After nap, we took the PHLASH bus up the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  Eilam and I ran up the stairs.  We passed on standing in line to get our picture taken with Rocky though.  It was a beautiful day and there were a lot of people out and about and a lot of traffic.  So we had to wait a while for the next bus.  When it arrived we took it down to the Old Town/Waterfront area.  The bus has business type hours, so we did have to walk back to the hotel when we were done.  Dinner was at a random place we walked by going back to the Embassy Suites.  It attracted our attention though because it served breakfast all day and Eilam loves his pancakes.

Sunday we took a taxi to Mixto for brunch.  A few years ago Brian and I hiked the Incan Trail to Machu Picchu and one of the other hikers in our group lives in Philadelphia.  After a nice meal and visit, he dropped us off at the train station for our midday train back to D.C.

Philadelphia was a great city to visit for the weekend.  There were plenty of kid friendly activities and it was a very easy city to get around in.  Overall, it was a very nice weekend getaway.

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Planning for Disney World

Taking a family vacation to Disney World takes a lot of planning and organizing.  I did not realize how much until we had decided to go.  I am not even talking about deciding on a hotel or booking flights, but how each park will be attacked, what Fast Passes to use where and when, what dining reservations to make, shows to see, etc, etc.  The following is a brief overview of what we did and how it worked for us.

Magic Bands

One of the first decisions to make after booking a trip to Disney, is the customization of the Magic Bands.  This involves picking colors and naming them.  Eilam was excited to get his favorite color green.  Magic Bands acted as our room key, park ticket and credit card.  Each adult picked a pin number to enter when using them to buy meals or souvenirs.  They also scan your finger print when entering the park to match the person to the band.  Any time an official park photo (ride, character, etc) is taken, the Magic Band can be scanned and then sent to your Disney account to access later.

Park Tickets

We bought a five day park pass.  We opted not for the park hopper option as we really weren’t sure about how well Eilam would do going all day, every day and the distance between parks.  The plan was a park each day and visiting the Magic Kingdom two days.  It worked out pretty well.  Each day we would be at the parks when they opened for their extra Magic Hours and then take a couple hour break during the afternoon and then go back after nap.

Dining

The only dining reservations we made prior to arrival was for the character breakfast at the Tusker House in Animal Kingdom.  On our Hollywood Studios day, we ended up back at Disney Springs for dinner.  It was really difficult to find a place that wasn’t all booked up for dinner that night.  So we ended up at more of a quick service place, but still good food.  The day we arrived we went to Disney Springs and didn’t have any trouble for dinner.  Every time we ate inside the parks we ate at a quick service restaurant.  At Magic Kingdom we ate at Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Cafe in FrontierLand.  We liked it so much the first night that we ate there again on our second day.  They had delicious fajita plates.  We did make reservations once we got there for the Boma, the African buffet at Animal Kingdom Lodge, which was delicious.  We made this reservation for our Animal Kingdom day as the park closed at 6pm, so we knew we would be back at the hotel.  Again, not knowing how well our 3 year old would do was the main reason we did not want to have set dining plans.

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Tusker House character breakfast

Memory Maker

Disney offers Memory Maker, a Disney Photo Pass option for $149 advance purchase.  It includes unlimited digital downloads of all photos taken in the park.  These include your ride photos, dining photos, character meet photos, and all those photos from the people that line up and down Main Street, in front of Cinderella’s castle and throughout each park.  Since we were going to be there 5 days, we decided to purchase this.  You can link everyone in your group too.  We took our GoPro and our phones for cameras, so we planned on stopping at a lot of people to get our pictures.  Overall, they were really great and we feel like we got our money’s worth.  Some of them didn’t turn out great, but were helped with a little editing.

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Family picture using Photo Pass and Memory Maker

What We Packed Around the Park

Our son really doesn’t use his stroller any more and is a really great walker.  However, with the extra long days and hot sun, we knew he would want to be carried.  Luckily,  my husband really doesn’t mind putting him on his shoulders and carrying him that way.  So we did the five days sans stroller.  It was great to not have to pack the stroller for the plane, the bus transportation, and worry about it at the park.  I bought an inexpensive Jansport two pocket backpack to carry all of the things we would need for the day.  This worked out really well.  It carried an extra pair of clothes for Eilam, my wallet, both Brian’s and mine sunglasses cases, GoPro camera, water bottle, sunscreen, a few snacks and Eilam’s favorite small stuffed animal Bei Bei the panda.  This left room for anything that we bought during the day.

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Eilams’ mode of transportation

Fast Pass+

This was the most difficult part of the planning for our trip was determining the time and rides for our three Fast Passes.  You can make these reservations 60 days prior if staying at a Disney Hotel or 30 days otherwise.  We changed these a lot, even once we got there.  We always tried to have 3 rides in the morning.  Once the 3 rides were up, we were constantly checking for other rides.  This worked out well for us at Hollywood Studios as we went on Toy Story Mania in the mid-morning and when I was checking the app during nap time, Toy Story Mania popped up as open in the early evening.  So we went back to that park just for that one ride and skipped the hour plus wait.  If you don’t want to use the Disney app there are Fast Pass kiosks throughout the park but having the app made it so you could make changes and constantly add them throughout the day.  We selected Fast Passes for roller coasters too and one of us would just go on them twice using Eilam’s band because they all have to be used before you can select another.  Since we utilized the extra Magic Hours there were some popular rides that we hurried to get on during this time instead of using a Fast Pass (Safari ride at Animal Kingdom, Mission: SPACE at Epcot, 7 Dwarfs Mine Train at Magic Kindgom, Rock’N’Roller Coaster at Hollywood Studios).  This worked out well for us each morning.  The Safari was great as it was early in the day and the wait was as long as it takes you to walk through the waiting area maze, same with Mission: SPACE.  We didn’t even need to utilize rider swap there.  Rock’N’Roller we utilized rider swap but there was a small line.  The Mine Train had the longest line but  it was about 15-20 minutes.

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Expedition Everest-Brian’s first time, he went twice taking Eilam’s band for the 2nd ride