Aulani for Cheapskates

IMG_0419by Mark Harbeson
So, you’d like to travel to the Aulani Resort in Hawaii, on the island of Oahu.  Maybe you love Hawaii and think it looks like a beautiful place to stay.  Or maybe you love Disney resorts, and you’ve seen pictures of place and want to experience their customer service away from the theme parks in a more relaxing setting.  Or someone mentioned a swanky resort in Hawaii and you decided, “Hey, what the heck?”  Or all of the above.  So far, so good.

But there’s a problem…or two or three.  You might have what the kids refer to these days as a “budget”.  Said budget typically doesn’t include eating out at fancy restaurants such as Outback Steakhouse, let alone Hawaiian vacations.  Or you might have a large family, and you know from experience that Disney does many things well, but one thing they struggle to do is provide reasonably-priced accommodations for families who have committed the unpardonable sin of having more than 2 kids.  And this was before looking at the average prices for gas, food, and…well, just about anything in Hawaii.  Vacationing there seems like a pipe dream.

Well, we’re here to help.  The following is a handy guide that we hope will help you make a Hawaiian vacation at the Aulani Resort a reality without forcing you to sell vital organs on the black market.

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Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol review

What’s it about? 4th in the line of Mission: Impossible movies, this one involves the IMF team being framed for a break-in at the Kremlin gone horribly wrong.  As a result of escalating tensions between nations, the U.S. disavows the entire team, leaving them completely on their own to discover the identity of the true bad guy and clear their names. 

What’s good about it?  The producers pulled off a masterstroke by hiring Brad Bird, director of Pixar animated classics “The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille”, to make his live-action debut here.  Bird delivers a movie that is full of energy, suspense, humor, and jaw-dropping action sequences.  Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner, and Paula Patton make an appealing team, and the “team” aspect is played up better in this movie than the others–it’s not a one-man show.  Cool spy gadgets abound, and just about every sequence set in Dubai is amazing.  See it in IMAX if you want the full vertigo-inducing effect of watching Cruise clinging to the edge of the Burj Dubai, tallest building in the world.

What’s not-so-good?  Just picking nits here.  The villain is mostly a background character and doesn’t really stand out as a huge threat.  And after the sensational scenes in Dubai, the finale in Mumbai seems a little less spectacular in comparison.  But these are minor complaints.

What age would be appropriate for kids to watch this movie?  8 and up should be ok.  There’s standard action-movie violence, some people are killed onscreen, but little blood or gore.  Maybe a couple of curse words.  Overall, it’s a fairly tame PG-13.

Is there anything a Dad can teach his kids from this movie?  I wouldn’t call this a “deep” movie with any sort of message.  It’s simply out to entertain you for 2 hours.  But no dad will ever turn down a chance to show his kids how awesome explosions and cools stunts/gadgets are.

Thumbs up or “not thumbs”?  Two thumbs way up!

Book Review: Unbroken

What’s it about? 

Unbroken is the true story of Louie Zamperini, a long-distance runner and member of the U.S. Olympic Team in 1936.  He had aspirations of competing for gold in future Olympics, but World War II intervened and he joined a bomber crew fighting in the Pacific.  During the war, his plane went down in the Pacific, and he survived 47 days floating on a raft in the ocean…only to be captured by the Japanese and tortured in a POW camp. (more…)

Captain America review

What’s it about? Scrawny, asthmatic Steve Rogers is desperate to do his part to join America’s effort to fight the Nazis in World War II.  He finally gets his chance when a scientists asks him to participate in the U.S.’s Top Secret Super-Soldier program.  He is injected with a serum that turns him into exactly that: super-strong, amazingly fast, and possibly the first of a new breed of soldier.  He is soon dispatched to Europe to fight Hydra, a new threat rising from the folds of Naziism.

What was good? Chris Evans does a good job portraying the earnest, too-good-to-be-true Rogers without ever seeming cheesy or forced.  The WWII period setting is a blast, and the addition of comic book sci-fi elements make it feel like it’s as close as we’ll ever get to a live-action Wolfenstein movie.  Hollywood’s go-to bad guy Hugo Weaving actually underplays the role of the Red Skull a bit, which easily could have gone over the top.  The action is entertaining, the pacing is fast, and Alan Silvestri’s score is an old-fashioned throwback to the glory days of John Williams.  Tommy Lee Jones basically plays himself in the cranky old man role, but is so funny in his delivery that he basically walks away with every scene.  Plus there’s a guy who carries a shotgun and fights while wearing a bowler hat.  And I cannot tell you how refreshing it was to have a superhero who wasn’t dark, brooding, and full of angst, but instead was ready and willing to fight evil.

What was not-so-good? The movie feels somewhat like a “greatest hits” version of Captain America.  (I’m not a comic book guy, so I have no idea how faithful it is to the source material.)  You get a nice montage of missions, but don’t really get down and dirty watching them succeed or fail.  And Hydra doesn’t feel like it’s fully developed as a villain or a threat.  More menacing bad guys and a sense that our heroes are facing monumental odds would have helped enhance the suspense.  The ending is also a blatant set-up for The Avengers, rather than bringing a story to a close.

What age would be appropriate for kids to watch this movie? I’d say 10 and up would be ok.  The Red Skull is exactly that–his face looks like a red skull.  Missing the nose and everything.  That could creep kids out.  And there’s a nod to a famous death scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark that could have them talking.

Is there anything a Dad can teach his kids from this movie?  Sure, there’s plenty to talk about.  The need to stand up and fight evil.  The sacrifices soldiers make for the rest of us back home.  WWII in general.  Why shotguns and bowler hats make a killer combo.  Whether a super-soldier could outrun a car.   Tommy Lee Jones’ awesomeness in general. 

Thumbs-up or “Not-thumbs”-up?  Two thumbs up!

When Were You Bitten By the Disney Bug?

I first went to Disney World somewhere in the late 70’s or very early 80’s.  My parents loaded us into the family station wagon (remember those?) and we drove down to Florida, staying in a trailer (before they were made to look like log cabins) in Fort Wilderness.  I have mostly vague memories of the trip–it was before EPCOT was built, so it basically involved seeing the Magic Kingdom and splashing around in River Country (holy cow, I’m dating myself!).  (more…)

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