Welcome to my blog. I write mostly about travel and in particular my love of Disney, with a few tidbits such as musings about movies or theater thrown in for good measure. I have stories dating all the way back to 1997 so be sure to explore! I don't post regularly, so if you want updates be sure to join and follow this blog (links below). Feel free to share, and if you want you can also click the Facebook or Twitter links below. You can also follow me on twitter. And be sure to comment letting me know what you think!

Friday, June 22, 2012

London and Greece

We will be leaving soon on a trip to Santorini Greece with stops in London and Athens. I will report back with thoughts on restaurants and attractions, and will be posting lots of pictures. And these will be much better pictures because 1) we will be in some of the most photogenic places on the plant and 2) the pictures will have been taken by by wife and two daughters who are MUCH better photographers than I am! So, check back a bit later, or better yet, follow!

I am still organizing the blog, but here are some quick links to some of the more popular posts:

Orlando 2010 including Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando
Adventures with my good friend Kirk including Walt Disney World, Vegas, Disneyland and more
A Daddy/Daughter jaunt to Walt Disney World in 1998
A trip to Southern California including Disneyland and Disney California Adventure in 2002
Middle School Rock Band trip to Walt Disney World  2010
Key West 2002
South East Florida 2012

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Kirk & John 2012 - DC and Williamsburg VA

May 3 - 7, 2012

Kirk and I have been talking about going to Washington DC and Busch Gardens in Williamsburg for years. Finally this year we got around to doing it.

The adventure started on Thursday may 3. After a full day of work I drove down to meet Kirk in Philadelphia. Kirk had lived in Philly for a while many years ago and went down a few days earlier to visit his old stomping grounds. unfortunately for him the weather was lousey. Still, I made decent time getting down there - not great but it could have been worse - arriving about 9:30. I met Kirk in the downtown Philly Radison hotel. I was hungry so we went to a nearby Planet Hollywood for a bite. We then walked around Philly for a bit before turning in.

May 4 - DC part 1 and the Nationals

We left Philly early and drove to DC. We first went to our hotel - the Best Western Pentagon. The hotel was a bit further from the National Mall then I expected, but still not too bad. We were told by the hotel staff that the best bet was to drive to the Pentagon shopping mall about 2 miles away and take the subway to the Smithsonian stop. When we got to the mall we were both very hungry (it was about 2:00), and we both had recalled that there are not a lot of dining choices in the National Mall so we decided to grab a bite at the food court. After eating we took the subway to the Smithsonian exit (about a 15 minute ride) and arrived about 3:00.

Once we arrived at the Mall we immediately headed to a directory to get the lay of the land. In terms of visiting the monuments our main goal was to visit the Jefferson Memorial as this is one that neither of us had visited in previous trips. If you know the layout of the area you'll understand why - the Lincoln memorial, the Washington Monument and many other memorials and monuments are scattered around the giant reflecting pond, while the Jefferson Memorial is located across a large tidal basin - quite a walk from the other monuments/memorials. Upon looking at the directory we realized that there are several new memorials and monuments located on this same tidal basin, so we decided to head off toward the Jefferson Memorial.

First stop on our tour: The Jefferson Memorial:

As I read the various Jefferson quotes I was hit with a thought: in today's political world, these quotes would have gotten Jefferson (who was the original proponent of a small federal government) labeled as a left-wing radical. Amazing how times change...

We then went on to the FDR Memorial. This was absolutely amazing. One thing we noticed as we went through it was that it is built in a sort of chronological order and that we were going through it backward. Oh well. Still, it is an impressive memorial and a powerful tribute to a man - and his wife - who were among the greatest figures of the 20th Century.



I have to admit to being particularly drawn to the statue of Falla, FDR's dog. I used to have a Scottie name of Merry. He was the greatest dog who ever lived...

Next we came to the Martin Luther King Memorial. Absolutely breathtaking with it's powerful imagery of overcoming adversity through sheer will...

The Korean War Veteran's Memorial, whith it's haunting images of war...


The Viet Nam War Veteran's memorial, a stunning portrait of a country wounded by the specter of  a divisive war that still holds an amazing power over visitors...


And finally the World War II Veteran's memorial, a tribute to the will of the American People.

And, of course the Lincolm Memorial and the Washington Monument.

Later that evening we went to a game at Nationals Stadium. We had gone to a Dodgers game when we went to California in 2009 and neither of us had been to the new stadium. As an added bonus they were playing the Phillies, a team that Kirk followed when he lived in Philly. I've heard a lot of negative things about this new stadium, but Kiek and I agreed it was quite beautiful. Of course it was an absolutely perfect night for a game so that didn't hurt.

One minor dissapointment for me was that I wanted to find a t-shirt for my oldest daughter Natalie that said "Nats" (her nick-name is Nat) but no such thing was to be found.

We ended up leaving the game when it was tied in the 10th inning as we were both hungry. After getting back to where we parked we drove around looking for someplace to eat but most of the restaurants were closed except fast food places. We used the GPS to locate restaurants but with no luck. We were about to give up and go to Arbies when we happened across a place called Los Tios Grill in Alexandria. Man did we luck out! The place was fantastic. The food is Salvadoran and absolutely delicoius. I had a taco and chile relleno, and it was served with an excellent green chile hot sauce. If you are ever in this area be sure to check this place out!

May 5 - DC Part 2 - Smithsonian

On Sunday we went to a couple of the Smithsonian Museums. We had wanted to go to the Museum of Science and Industry but unfortunately it was closed for refurbishment. We had also both thought that the Space Shuttle would be there - but it was at another location (I don't know what we were thinking to have thought that the Shuttle would have been there!) Still, we did go to the Air & Space Museum and the Natural History Museum.

Here are som pics from Air & Space:

And here are some from the Natural History Museum:

One can only hope...

After we were done with the museums we drove to Richmond, VA. I have prfeviously written about how much I like the show "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives" on the Food Network and how, when I get a chance, I go to one of the restaurants featured on the show. There are 2 such resturants in Richmond and we went to one of them - La Caraquena - Saturday night. La Caraquena serves Latin American food - and it didn't register with either Kirk or me that it was Cinco de Mayo! We sat outside, and in celebration of Cinco de Mayo, the owner started passing around tequila shots. I suspected he had already had a few himself and his mother - who also helps run the business - seemed none too pleased. Kirk doesn't drink and I had a long drive the next moring so we passed on the taquila. The food was quite good - very unusual. Honestly we agreed that Los Tios Grill was better, but we still enjoyed La Caraquena.

We stayed that night at the Best Western Plus Richmond Airport hotel - which was OK.

May 6 Busch gardens Williamsburg VA

In the Spring of 2010 Kirk and I went to Busch Gardens Tampa. For this trip we went to Busch Gardens Williamsburg. Our hotel was about an hour from Busch Gardens Williamsburg (BGW) so we rose early, had breakfast and hit the road. The idea was to be there 30 minutes before opening. As an experienced theme park goer, I can tell you that there is no better strategy to avoid long lines at the most popular attractions than to arrive early. I have found this to be true of all theme parks - whether Disney, Busch or Six Flags. Anyway, we arrived about 9:30, parked, and exchanged our vouchers for tickets. The gates opened anout 9:45 and we headed in.

The park is advertised as "The Worlds Most Beautiful Theme Park". Oooookaaaayyy... Um... I don't think so. Don't get me wrong, it's a pretty little park that uses the natural beauty of it's surroundings quite well. That said, this park is in a completely different league from any of the Disney parks as well as Universal's Islands of Adventure. I mean, I would not even attempt to make the comparison - it's really not a fair comparison to make. But when you bill yourself as "The Worlds Most Beautiful Theme Park", well you bettr be able to back that up. And BGW clearly can't. Still, I won't hold it against them - it still is a very nice park.

The first this on our agenda was Griffin. Like SheiKra in Busch Gardens Tampa (BGT), Griffin is a "dive coaster" - meaning it sends you down what is pretty much a vericle drop. We made our way through the park but were stopped at the entrance to Ireland and could not get to Griffin. We were right nex to Loch Ness, which was running. We hesitated because we were both hoping that our first coaster of the day would be Griffin, but it made no sense to wait so we rode Loch Ness which was a walk-on. Loch Ness is a fairly long Arrow coaster with several inversions. It's a very good ride which we both enjoyed. Once we finished Loch ness we could see that people were riding Griffin so we headed over there.

With a dive coaster like Griffin, the first row is definitely the place to be. At the top of the first big dive you are suspended momentarily before the big drop and the effect is most ipactful when you are in the front. for this reason there is usually a wiat for the front. For us the wait was 10 minutes while the other rows were walk-on. It was well worth the 10 minute wait. I don't know if it was my imagination - but that first drop didn't just seem to be totally vertical - it actually appeared to duck in a bit. Kirk agreed that he had the same sense. I don't know if it's true or not, but the overall effect is amazing. And to add an extra thrill, Griffin actually has 2 dives - though the second is somewhat smaller. Add a couple of inversions to the mix - as well as an amazingly smooth ride - and I would rate Griffin as a "don't miss" for any serious coaster fan. In fact we rode twice - the second time was a walk-on, sitting in the third row. And I will say this - it's a great ride from any row but the first row is the place to be!

We next headed over to Germany to ride Alpengiest. Big mistake. Alpengiest is a suspended coaster. I have ridden on many suspended coasters - but this thing messed me up big time. Kirk as well. In my it messed up my stomach - in Kirk's case it messed up his equilibrium. At any rate, after Alpengiest we decided to forgo any more coasters for a while. Instead we boarded the sky buckets in Germany. When we were kids we loved to ride the sky buckets  at Disneyland and take any chance we have to ride them in any park that still has them - especially sine they have been removed from most parks.

I love riding sky buckets because it gives you a unique view of the park. In the case of BGV you get sojme really cool view of the coasters.The sky buckets in BGW have 3 stations and they don't let you stay on if there is a line. We had to get off in England and there was a 10 minute wait - which made sense as England is close to the park entrance. We had to disembark again in France but getting back on was a walk-on. This brought us back to Germany where we started.Once in Germany we decided to check out BGW's newest coaster - Verbolten. Verbolten hasn't opened yet but we were hoping they'd be doing a soft opening. No such luck. They were doing ride testing, but no guests were allowed to ride. Bummer. 

We chilled out in Italy for a while then boarded the train at the Fiesta station in Italy and took it to the Caribou station in New France. It was 1:45 so we decided to head to Trappers Smokehouse for lunch. We both had BBQ chicken combos which were very good. 

After lunch we caught the train again at the Caribou station and took it to the Tweed station in Ireland. We checked out a couple of the water-themed rides - Escape from Pompeii and Roman Rapids - but in both cases it looked like riders were getting quite wet and we just were not into walking around soaked - so we skipped them both. There was one more coaster to check out however - Apollo's Chariot. One thing I haven't mentioned yet is that we opted to get QuikQueue passes - an option that costs extra and gets you to the front of the line on some of the most popular attractions. It was probably a waste of money for us, but we had them so we used them on Apollo's Chariot.

Apollo's Chariot is a solid coaster which is all about hills, it has no loops - but I have to admit what I remember most was something of a - mishap. At the top of one of the hills, at a spot where you would expect the car to slow down, it came to an abrupt stop. We sat there for a while when a voice came on and said "Raise your hands if you can hear me" - so we raised our hands. The voice told us that there was a problem with the ride (stating the obvious) and that we would be back on our way soon. I honestly thought that there was no way that the car would gather enough speed to make it through the remainder of the ride. After a few minutes I was proven wrong. The car started moving again and we did, indeed, make it through the ride - though very slowly. I have never been through a loop at that low a speed. It was definitely an interesting experience.

Next we sat and watched a show called "Mix It Up" at Teatro San Marco. The show was somewhat nonsensical - having something to do with chefs and food - but it had a fun mix of dance, singing and brass instruments which was surprisingly fun. 

After the show I went on Curse of Dark Kastle (CoDK) using the QQ. Kirk wasn't sure if he wanted to ride because he sometimes has trouble with "motion simulator" rides so I went on it with the intention of reporting back what it was like. I had heard that the ride mechanism was similar to what is used in "Spider-man" (SM) at Universal Islands of Adventure, It is true that, like SM, CoDK has a mix of 3D projections incorporated into a physical environment which you move through is a small motion simulator vehicle - but that is where the similarities end. First, obviously the story line is totally different. Regardless of the story line, the level of execution is vastly different. Where SM seamlessly blends all of the elements of the ride, CoDK seems rather thrown together. A good example was one effect which used fog to make it look as if you were passing through fire. OK, fine, but the fog made my 3D glasses all foggy which meant I missed the next few gags. There was one effect that worked really well, where the main antagonist comes out of a painting and looms above you - it was very convincing.

Anyway, after the ride I reported back to Kirk and he did not think it sounded like a good idea for him to ride it. This decision was reinforced by the fact that I told him it simply wasn't that good.

We then watched a live wolf show which was fun, after which we decided to check out "Europe in the Air". Based on how this was advertised we were thinking it would be something like "Soarin'" at Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Boy were we wrong. It was nothing but a big theater-sized motion simulator - and a particularly bad motion simulator at that. There is nothing worse than a motion simulator where the ride motion is not properly coordinated with the image. That was certainly true of this. The biggest offense was that the ride designers felt it was necessary to make the motion particularly herky-jerky and a much rougher ride than the image justified. Awful. Skip it.

We decided to end our day at BGW on a high note with another ride on Griffon - but ti was closed because of some technical glitch. Bummer. So we consoled ourselves with another ride on Loch Ness. After that we decided to try Griffon again and were rewarded - it was running again. So, our last ride of the day was what we both felt was the parks best coaster - a nice way to top off the day.

We left the park and decided to get a bite to eat in Williamsburg. Kirk had remembered a restaurant that he had visited some years ago that he really liked - but we could not find it. We ended up at a place that, unfortunately, I don't recall the name of. I will say it was quite good - we had a very nice light dinner (neither of us were extremely hungry after our big lunch). I wanted dessert but we decided to have dessert elsewhere - but then we could not find anywhere to go. We ended up at a grocery store we bought a pint of ice cream to eat in the room.

Here are some pictures I took at BGW:

Nice view
Roman rapids
Apollo's Chariot
Loch Ness and Griffon
May 7 - Richmond and head home

The next morning we decided to drive down Richmond's famous Monument Avenue and look at some of the statues:

Our final stop before heading home was another restaurant i had hear about on "Diners. Drive-ins and Dive": Dot's Back Inn. The restaurant is a very cute, funky little place with a fun atmosphere. I had an oyster po-boy and Kirk had meat load. My po-boy was absolutely fantastic - fresh and delicious. Kirk had equal praise for his meatloaf. This place is highly recommended.

After that I drove Kirk to the train station where he would catch his train I then drove the 8 hours back home. Nothing either eventful nor exciting to report there - probably a good thing.

Well that's it for this year. For next year we have something particularly exciting planned. The bad news is that we have to wait until August 2013. The exciting news is that we are going to the 2013 Disney D23 expo! WOOHOO! I can't wait!

More Adventures with John & Kirk:

Kirk Intro
2001 Part 1
2001 Part 2
2001 Part 3

2002 Part 1
2002 Part 2
2002 Part 3
2002 Part 4


2005 Catch-up