All posts by S.W.Lothian | Author

EPCOT | Walt Disney World | Florida | Part 1

Wow! That EPCOT preview video looks very retro now (and cheesy), but it was cutting edge at the time. I can still remember watching the opening of EPCOT on TV in 1982 and dreaming that I would go there one day. For a young kid on the west coast of Australia, a new theme park in Florida seemed like another galaxy. It was about as far away as anything could be and I had visions that it would be a place that was unlike anything else.

My first visit to EPCOT was in 1998, my second in 1999. But it’s taken another 15 years to return, this time with my kids in tow.

IMG_3028
Family selfie on arrival.

As soon as we saw the familiar silver globe, it felt like our last visit was only yesterday. The iconic landmark didn’t look like it had changed and it’s familiarity was welcoming. EPCOT is less theme park, more discovery and exhibition, which can result in wide opinions from visitors. They either like it or hate it, depending on what they want to experience in a Disney park.

EPCOT has a larger focus on learning rather than fun, but it provides a nice alternative to the other parks within Walt Disney World. Out of all of the Disney Parks, it would be my least favourite, but one that I am still happy to visit. Although it’s very large, one day was enough to do all of the things that we wanted to do.


Guide Maps

First off, to get your bearings, click on the guide maps below to see what is contained in this park

WDW EP Guidemap - Front WDW EP Guidemap - Back
Ok, now it’s on to some of our favourite attractions, the rides. As mentioned earlier, EPCOT is more learning and less riding, but it does have some cool rides that I think are a must-do for any visitors.


Mission: SPACE ®

MIssion Space 3

I don’t think that Mission: SPACE ® was there when we last visited, so it was on top of our list. It’s an amazing centrifugal-motion-simulator-thrill-ride that launches you from Earth and takes you all the way to Mars. There are two versions available. One is less intense (for chickens) and one that is very intense (for those with bravery beyond question). Of course, we did both versions.

MIssion Space 1

Each capsule has seats for a navigator, pilot, commander and engineer, and each rider must do their bit for the mission when instructed during the ride. The main difference between the two versions is the degree of G-force that riders feel. In the more intense version the G-force is 2.5 – more than double the Earth’s gravity. It effectively multiplies the rider’s weight by 2.5. Let me say that at 2.5Gs my body and head were firmly thrust back into the seat and my face actually spilled backwards like melting wax during take off. Awesome feeling!  (Sick bags are within reach if you can lift your arms to grab one if needed – LOL)


Test Track ®TestTrack Epcot 4

Test Track ® was just opening when we last visited (from memory) but we didn’t get to ride it, so it was one that I had told the kids to look out for. In the first part of this attraction riders use computer consoles to design their own car. Somehow, your design follows you through the actual test ride and interim results are displayed on screens for viewing.

Based on your design’s good or bad points the ‘test track’ plays each rider’s design against other riders in the same car. After the effects of wind, speed etc are factored and ‘tested’ on the ride, a winning design is revealed at the end. It is mostly a dark ride with lots of swerving and speed changes, but the best component by a long shot is the outside portion.

TestTrack Epcot 6

The ride’s climax is a full speed race around a huge elevated oval test track outside the building. It’s brilliant, it’s fast, it’s fun and it’s exciting. Don’t miss this one if you’re at EPCOT. Use your FastPass+ to avoid the lines.


 Random Thoughts and Pics
IMG_3036
There are plenty of great shops packed with souvenirs and the usual impeccable Disney theming.
IMG_3068
World Showcase – Germany – There will be more about this section of EPCOT in part 2.
IMG_3101
World Showcase – United Kingdom – There will be more about this section of EPCOT in part 2.
EPCOT construction
Here’s a retro pic, which obviously I didn’t take. I found it on the Disney Parks Blog that I regularly visit. Click on the image to jump over there to find more information about its inspiration.

In a nutshell

EPCOT does  provide a wonderful experience for visitors, which is different to that of other Disney parks. It’s quite unique.
This post has become bigger than I expected, so I’ve decided to break it into 2 parts. Make sure that you check out part 2 of our EPCOT visit when it’s published.


Here is a cool Disney Parks tilt-shift video of EPCOT to show you the sights and sounds from another perspective.


Be sure to take a look at my other posts about our travels as they go live, or check my previous Travel Adventures posts for the ones already published. If you’re not a current follower, just click the FOLLOW button on the sidebar.

PS: I have no affiliation or relationship with WDW, except that I am a customer and fan.


Book Panel 2

YA Book Review | The Hunger Games – Mockingjay (HG3) | Suzanne Collins

HG 3 MockingjayMOCKINGJAY (HG 3)
by Suzanne Collins ★★★★

Kindle edition / Amazon purchase

My name is Katniss Everdeen.
Why am I not dead?
I should be dead.

Katniss Everdeen, girl on fire, has survived, even though her home has been destroyed. Gale has escaped. Katniss’s family is safe. Peeta has been captured by the Capitol. District 13 really does exist. There are rebels. There are new leaders. A revolution is unfolding.

It is by design that Katniss was rescued from the arena in the cruel and haunting Quarter Quell, and it is by design that she has long been part of the revolution without knowing it. District 13 has come out of the shadows and is plotting to overthrow the Capitol. Everyone, it seems, has had a hand in the carefully laid plans–except Katniss.

The success of the rebellion hinges on Katniss’s willingness to be a pawn, to accept responsibility for countless lives, and to change the course of the future of Panem. To do this, she must put aside her feelings of anger and distrust. She must become the rebels’ Mockingjay–no matter what the personal cost. GOODREADS


My Review

This final book in the Hunger Game series was full of lessons. Be careful what you wish for, because what you get isn’t always what you expect. Having fought hard and beaten her enemies twice, Katniss finds herself amongst friends with a common cause.

She has been singled out as the most valuable tool they have against the oppressive government. Even though she’s with friends, she still feels like a puppet. Just a pawn used by others to fight a bigger battle. The plot clearly demonstrates the power of information, and sadly, it’s easily relatable back to our real world. It shows the cunning manipulation of the media by each side to project a story and image to the viewers. Everything is carefully created, carefully staged and carefully packaged. How could viewers ever know the full truth? Unfortunately, this is so synchronous with real life.

Both Peeta and Katniss had a role to play in the war. President Snow seemed to have all of the power. His ultimate plan was to use each one to destroy the other, but the battle wasn’t as easy as he had predicted. Although at times it was extremely difficult for them, Katniss and Peeta’s true character refused to be defeated.

If I swing the focus away from Katniss and Peeta  for a moment, I need to mention that I was heartened when Prim showed amazing wisdom beyond her young age. Like her sister before her, Prim had to grow up fast. She was a product of the tough experiences she had endured in her short life. Her life changing nomination for the games, the distress of her sister’s sacrifice to take her place, her sudden role reversal with her mother – needing to take over whenever Katniss was away. All of her strengths had built quietly in the background of the story, while the world focussed on Katniss. But, in the end, her strength helped inspire Katniss in her fight.

This book was full of action and energy, building towards what I expected would be a major showdown between Katniss and President Snow. I’m sorry to say that I was disappointed with the outcome of her mission. I felt there was no real fitting action-filled-I’ll-show-you-who’s-bad climax before the plot’s big twists were revealed. It’s a shame, because I really love this series and do recommend it as a great read. I felt that Katniss didn’t get the opportunity to deal with what happened to Prim, when it happened. That part of the story seemed a bit rushed to me. It wasn’t until after everything was revealed that she could react. It seemed too late for me. Now I need to watch the movie.


In a nutshell

The Hunger Games is a brilliant series. I’m glad that I finally jumped on the bandwagon and joined its fans.

Even though I was a little disappointed with the outcome of this final book, I recommend it to all dystopian fans.


Check out my other Hunger Games reviews below:


Note: I don’t claim to be a pro-reviewer, I am a reader. My reviews are based on my personal thoughts around the story that the book is trying to tell. I try to focus on the story (which is the reason I read) rather than dissect the book and pass comment on typos, writing style or structure.



Book Panel 2

New Trailer | The Quest Series | S.W.Lothian

The Quest Series has been with me for a long time. I started working through the original concept and overall plotline on 14 July 2008. Then, once I had mapped it out and decided how many parts there would be, and of the plots for each book, I started to write The Golden Scarab, then The Cursed Nile, and The Fallen Pharaoh. I’m currently writing book 4, The Missing Link.

When I released book 1, I created a book trailer for The Golden Scarab, which eventually became obsolete in April 2014, when I redesigned my covers for books 1 to 3.

Finally, I have managed to get around to creating a new book trailer, which covers all of the books in the series (including the final book, The Missing Link, which is due for release later this year).

It gives me great pleasure to share the result with you today. I hope you like it.


Book Panel 2

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter | Diagon Alley | Universal Orlando Resort

IMG_3474_edited

If there was part of our US vacation that was the most anticipated, it had to be The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™. As a huge HP fan and someone who has been totally inspired by, J.K. Rowling, it was a dream come true. To be able to physically step into the world created by J.K. is a mind-blowing experience.

EARLY WARNING: I have so many photos that it is nearly impossible to pick my favourites. There are lots of photos in this post.

Diagon Alley

IMG_3432_edited

Diagon Alley opened in August 2014 to surging crowds and excited fans. It’s the second HP themed park to open, the other is Hogsmeade (my post will be online soon). Universal has been very clever.  Diagon Alley is situated within the Universal Studios park, and Hogsmeade is in their neighbouring park, Islands of Adventure. For those of you familiar with Universal Studios, you may remember the area that contained the Jaws attraction and Cabot Cove, well now it’s London, complete with the Knight Bus and Diagon Alley brilliantly nestled behind the Leaky Cauldron.

IMG_3957_edited

Once you enter from the London frontage, through the jagged brick wall, you are transported into the alley. It’s packed full of excited muggles gasping and exploring the stores from the books, and plenty of (cast) wizards and witches roam free.

IMG_4220

IMG_3424

IMG_3430

IMG_3439

IMG_3451

The detail in the buildings is beyond description and I’m sure that the cast who work there everyday really believe they are in the HP books and movies. I heard passing cast members exchanging comments, “Who let all these muggles in?” A small touch that added to the magic and memories.

IMG_3589_edited

IMG_3596_edited

IMG_3454

IMG_3598_edited

IMG_3463

Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts™

IMG_3593 IMG_3587IMG_3583 IMG_3881

Gringotts Bank takes pride of place and is the focal point as you walk down the alley. Nestled high on its roof is the dragon, which roars loudly and exhales huge flames every so often. The rumble will give you warning of the imminent flames, so there’s time to get your cameras ready.

IMG_3584

The bank houses the dark  ride of Diagon Alley, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts™. It’s an incredibly well done and exciting multi-dimensional thrill ride, where you plunge into the depths below the bank and encounter Voldemort and his evil sidekick, Bellatrix Lestrange.

IMG_3689

The main hall of Gringotts serves as part of the line and it is filled with extremely life-like animatronic goblins working at their desk as they gaze at the crowds before them. The height of the room is spectacular and it has enormous chandeliers that shine and glisten high above your head.

Below is some footage I took of the Goblins as we passed them.

IMG_3691

IMG_3706

Then, as you weave your way through the corridors there’s plenty of other amazing sights, like silhouettes of HP and co chatting on the other side of glass doorways, lifts that descend deep into the earth, and spiral staircases that lead you into the main cavern where you board the ride vehicles.

Below is part of the pre-ride instructions riders receive before entering the rickety lifts that descend to the depths below the bank.

IMG_3707Once you’re strapped in and have your 3D glasses on, the ride kicks off. It’s full of surprises, coasting, spins, fog, amazing detail, 3D experiences and dangerous liaisons. This ride immediately jumped to the top of my favourites list. We loved it so much that we rode it half a dozen times during our stay.

One thing to know is that all loose objects (eg. bags, backpacks) must be stored in lockers before you enter Gringotts. The lockers are free for a decent length of time, but take note, they are always extremely crowded with pre-riders lodging items and post-riders collecting items. Just make sure that you remember your locker number.

Knockturn Alley

IMG_3608

At the end of a lane to the left of Gringotts Bank, there is a dark unassuming alley that you must look out for. If you’re brave enough to enter the darkness you’ll find yourself in the famous Knockturn Alley, full of darkened shops filled with dark magic and curios. I can well imagine that this area lays unknown to those who don’t know to look for it.

IMG_3605

IMG_3604

The whole HP Diagon Alley area is a marvellous creation. Its stores are filled with amazing curios, souvenirs and memories. Everything from feather pens, to Hogwarts gowns, to chocolate frogs and every flavour beans. It’s impossible not to feel the extreme need to get yourself something amazing and magical. Interactive wands let young wizards and witches cast spells that cause magical things to really happen. There is so much more that I haven’t even mentioned. Another post in the future is definitely needed. If you’re wondering about the Hogwarts Express, it’s covered in my Hogsmeade post (soon to be online).


In a nutshellI don’t think my words can describe how great Diagon Alley is. The best I can do is ramble a bit and show you some of the thousand or so photos I took. My compulsive picture-taking didn’t go unnoticed by my kids.

A visit to Diagon Alley is absolutely essential for all HP fans.


Here’s a special treat. See some of the HP cast as they experience Diagon Alley for themselves.


Be sure to take a look at my other posts about our travels as they go live, or check my previous Travel Adventures posts for the ones already published. If you’re not a current follower, just click the FOLLOW button on the sidebar.

PS: I have no affiliation or relationship with Universal Studios, except that I am a customer and fan.


Book Panel 2

YA Book Review | The Fault In Our Stars | John Green

The Fault in our StarsTHE FAULT IN OUR STARS
by John Green ★★★★

Kindle edition / Amazon purchase

Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.

Insightful, bold, irreverent, and raw, The Fault in Our Stars is award-winning author John Green’s most ambitious and heartbreaking work yet, brilliantly exploring the funny, thrilling, and tragic business of being alive and in love. GOODREADS


My Review

I had big hopes for this book, given that the subject matter was so close to home. But as I reached the 5% mark doubts started to creep in as to whether I would get through to the end. My first impressions of, Hazel, the main character, were that she was too sarcastic and dry. These are qualities that I normally find interesting, so I was a bit confused at what it was about her that didn’t gel with me. But I ploughed on anyway and grew to like and understand her. It was her way of coping.

As expected, I related to much of her parents’ anxiety and feelings about her health, her future, her wellbeing, and the Cancer Meetings with doctors. Having been through it with my young daughter I felt a link, and there was one quote in particular that struck a chord with me. Every time I read it , it has an almost overwhelming impact.

“…and my father was trying so hard not to sob that when he did, which was regularly, it was an earthquake.”

Childhood/Teen cancer is devastating for the whole family. It’s a journey that is tough and not chosen, but one that must be endured if it is thrust upon you. You simply have no choice but to deal with it.

The underlying story definitely had me, I could relate to it, I could feel it, I could understand it. The only thing that I struggled with was that (in my opinion) the dialogue didn’t match the age group. Would a couple of teens really banter in such an intellectual way? Maybe, maybe not. It was something that I had trouble ignoring.

The grenade. Wow, what a metaphor. It’s brilliant really. Terminal illness is just like a grenade. The illness and the patient are one, and when it goes off, the shrapnel stings everything around it. John Green nailed it.

As I reached the 25% mark I was enjoying the story, but not loving it. Probably because romance isn’t really my favourite thing and there was plenty of it brewing. Even so, there were plenty of other endearing qualities to keep me reading. In all honesty, I was quite surprised when the big twist arrived. I didn’t see it coming.  Throughout the story I had focussed on Hazel and her illness, and not so much on the other characters, so I was definitely surprised at the turn of events. And then when Peter Van Houten turned up out of the blue, I wasn’t sure whether to be pleased or angry. In the end, I look back on this one as a great read.  Now I need to watch the movie.


In a nutshell

This book rekindled things I’ve often felt during my daughter’s Cancer journey. The absolute dread, the sadness, the fear, the helplessness, the waste. And even the guilt that she survived, while others we met along the way weren’t so lucky.

It’s a book with a heavy subject, one that I hope remains just a story to most people, but one that I know is familiar to far too many.


Note: I don’t claim to be a pro-reviewer, I am a reader. My reviews are based on my personal thoughts around the story that the book is trying to tell. I try to focus on the story (which is the reason I read) rather than dissect the book and pass comment on typos, writing style or structure.



Book Panel 2

Kids TV Trailer | Thunderbirds Are Go – TV Series | 2015

Hiya, This is just a quick post to let you know that I’ve added a new kid’s movie TV trailer to my KIDS MOVIE TRAILERS page.

THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO – NEW TV SERIES (2015)

THIS WAS A FAVORITE FOR ME AS A KID … IT’S EXCITING TO SEE IT RETURN ….. I’ll stop shouting now.

Remake of the hit 1960’s television show. In the 21st century, Jeff Tracy, a former astronaut, amasses a colossal fortune and decides that he must use it to benefit others. His answer to this desire is to create International Rescue, a unique private emergency response service equipped with customized designed vehicles and equipment that enable the organization to react to any crisis whether it be in sea, air, land, or space.

Jeff’s five sons volunteer to operate as the pilots and field agents, as well “Brain” who acts as the teams engineer. In addition, Jeff’s friend, Kyrano and his daughter Tanusha aka Kayo (based on the original series Tin-Tin character) agree to be the support staff. In addition to the field team, IR also maintains an intelligence network with Lady Penelope and her ex-con chauffeur, Parker as the chief agents in this arm. The series depicts this team as they answer various calls for help around and beyond the world while they prevent enemies like the Hood from learning and exploiting their secrets.. (IMDB)

If you liked that, then click the MOVIE TRAILERS link at the top of this page or click on the MOVIES category in the right hand margin to see all of the other new and favourite trailer links I’ve posted.


Book Panel 2

Hollywood Studios | Walt Disney World | Florida

As the name suggests, Disney’s Hollywood Studios aims to reproduce the magic and glamour of Hollywood, and take it from me, it does a great job. Crammed with amazingly detailed and authentic looking streetscapes that would be at home in any number of movies, it lets visitors step from one great setting to another.Hollywood StudiosWe knew this park has some great rides that would provide us with some great thrills, so, after a quick coffee and a sugary food hit we headed off to a day of Hollywood magic. This park has far more attractions than I can possibly cover in this post (see maps below), so I’ve decided to just focus on some of our favourite memories from our visits.

Guide Maps

WDW HS Guidemap - Front

WDW HS Guidemap - Back
Click either map for a larger view
The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

Hollywood Tower of TerrorOne ride that we were all looking forward to was the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. We had all been to its namesake in California, and my wife and I also had great memories of this one in Orlando. If you’re not familiar with this one, think old-time Hollywood Hotel blended with the Twilight Zone.

Hollywood Tower of Terror - Lobby
The lobby of the Hollywood Tower Hotel = creepiness

Check in, get ushered to the service lift, head up to your room but end up in doom. If you like to get your senses tingling in a spooky atmosphere, with creepy hotel staff, and have your stomach flip up to your throat as your haunted elevator drops in darkness from the thirteenth floor, then this one is for you. The screams from some of the riders at that precise moment of the drop are brilliant. Make sure you smile for the photo though, or just show your natural terror face.

Hollywood Tower of Terror - Doorway
Another load of guests just before the elevator door closes

As expected, we totally loved this attraction (no surprises there). We made sure the we went to this ride early, as soon as we arrived at the park. That way we had an early ride with no lines at all. Then we booked a time for later in the day with our FastPass+. Check out the video at the end of this post.

Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith

Rockin Roller 3Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster is a super fast indoor dark roller coaster. If you don’t like dark, or speed, or twists, or turns, or loops, or loud music, or screaming riders then I suggest you give this one a miss. The premise of the ride is that you’re in a stretch racing through the freeways of LA to get to an Aerosmith gig. You start from a stationary position and are suddenly thrust at high-speed into the darkness. Music blares at top volume from speakers on each side of your head as you race through the darkened freeways with street signs flashing past as you twist and turn.

Rockin Roller 4My kids loved this one (me too – I loved the speed). We rode on it half a dozen times during our visit and used our FastPass+ to skip the lines for a few of those. It’s a very popular ride, so be prepared for the line or plan ahead and book your times with your FastPass+.

Sci-Fi Dine-in Theatre Restaurant

Sci-fi Dine In Theatre Restaurant

Lunchtime arrived and we decided to try our luck at securing a table in the Sci-Fi Dine-in Theatre Restaurant. We had tried to make a booking using the Disney App, but unfortunately it was booked out. A little birdie told us that if we turned up at a particular time (about 10.50am) we may be lucky to get a stand up table. We gave it a go, and were pleasantly surprised to get in -woohoo high five- and even more surprised to score one of the sit-in cars -double woohoo high five-. What a brilliant place! Each car has seating for 6, and faces towards the big drive-in screen at the front, which plays cartoons and B-grade movie highlights from the golden era of drive-in theatres.

Sci-fi Dine In Theatre RestaurantWe binged on sodas, burgers, fries and shakes, all while sitting in our sporty little red car. The service was great and the setting was really well done. Give it a go if you visit this park, but I suggest booking ahead to avoid disappointment (or try your luck like we did).

ABC Commissary

IMG_3395 cropDuring our visit we also ate a couple of times at the ABC Commissary. Although it was crowded and a little hard to find a free table during peak times, the burgers and cakes were tasty. One thing that my wife and I always  do when travelling in the US is to share main meals. The servings are usually huge, so one meal is enough for both of us.

Keep in mind that when you’re at Disney the food is Disney, so the available choices are consistent wherever you are (except for their ‘higher-end’ specialty restaurants). Not all places offer cakes (as seen above) but keep an eye out for them to up the calories and sugar levels. The theming is the main difference between Disney restaurants. I suggest that you leave your dreams of healthy eating at home and just go with the flow of calories. You can always eat healthier when you get home.

Wandering Oaken’s Frozen Snowground

Frozen snowland

Another great attraction, which I think was a holiday season special, was the Wandering Oaken’s Frozen Snowground. It was an unexpected find that gave our kids (from the land of no snow) an opportunity to see and touch snow inside a themed building. Decked out with snow-covered fir trees, lumber fencing, and snowy ground (although quite compacted and not naturally produced by Mother Nature) it was way different to anything our family had ever experienced. The kids had a great time digging and building their first mini snowmen. The hue of blue lighting, mixed with the icy chilled air created a truly great atmosphere. Two thumbs up to this awesome attraction.

 Thoughts and pics
IMG_2952
A great view up the main street as we entered the park. Mickey’s Sorcerer’s Hat can be seen in the distance. In recent weeks it has been removed, which gives visitors a clearer (and better) view of the Chinese Theatre attraction that has been hidden behind the hat for many years.
IMG_3300
Mickey’s Sorcerer’s Hat was a landmark in the centre of the park for many years. This shot is now just a memory of what once was.
IMG_3282
Mr Potato Head keeps you entertained as you move through the line system of Toy Story Midway Mania at Pixar Place.
IMG_2950
I loved how the stroller rental was styled like a gas station. Very clever.
IMG_2954
This in one of those quiet side areas that you can find throughout Disney parks. They’re a great place for a quick recharge away from the main crowds. Keep an eye out for them.
IMG_2963 crop
It’s hard to believe that this scene is painted on a wall. It’s a great place to take a selfie or family shot.
Star Tours 4
Star Tours has been around forever. We enjoyed the ride, but I think it needs a rehash to keep up with the thrills that visitors expect from rides these days. We didn’t feel the need for multiple rides.

IMG_2972

In a nutshellOur days at Hollywood Studios were great. With some planning we were able to get plenty of rides on the most popular  attractions and there were some great dining choices.

Recommended for everyone


Check out this cool video of the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. You might spot a familiar face. It’s included if you purchase a Disney PhotoPass package.


Be sure to take a look at my other posts about our travels as they go live, or check my previous Travel Adventures posts for the ones already published. If you’re not a current follower, just click the FOLLOW button on the sidebar.

PS: I have no affiliation or relationship with WDW, except that I am a customer and fan.


Book Panel 2