About Me

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I'm a 30 something who loves to travel.  I have a full time job and enjoy writing (or blogging) about my travels.  I've traveled through several countries in Europe as well as Russia and Egypt.  I also enjoy domestic travel in the United States, including Disney.  My long term travel goal is to do a round the world trip.  

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal

Having read the Harry Potter series right before visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Islands of Adventure I was really excited; but sadly, the Wizarding World was missing some magic.  

Visually, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter was fabulous.  Great care was taken to make you feel like you were in Hogsmead and walking to Hogwarts.  There were no wide expansive walkways like you would find in an amusement park, Hogsmead was tight and cramped like you might find in a real British town.  The shop windows exhibited items Harry might have seen walking in Hogsmead, or items you would recognize from the books.  It was a nice tribute to the books.  Annoying, but great, was the screaming mandrake and Moaning Myrtle as you entered the ladies room.  

The Three Brooksticks is the restaurant for this area of the park and it had a unique menu, not your typical amusement park fare, but British Pub fare.  I was a bit skeptical when I saw the menu but the chicken was tasty, and the grilled potatoes were mouth watering.  The best fast food I've had at an amusement park.  

The Forbidden Journey was a great ride, but this was where I started to notice problems. The locker area was really crowded and we were there for park opening on a relatively quiet day.  I can't begin to imagine what that place would be like on a busy day.  But once we went through the queue, which was FABULOUS, I noticed more issues.  There are two ways through the queue, one for people riding the ride the other for people who want to walk through.  However, they do not advertise the walk through so everyone was trying to take pictures as they walked through the queue, I spent more time waiting for people to take pictures then for the actual line to move.  The staff there occasionally yelled for people to keep moving, which didn't add to the ambiance, nor did they inform people that they could walk through after the ride.  The ride was pretty cool, a cross between Spiderman and Soarin, but with a Harry Potter theme. Though I have to say, some of the stuff in it I didn't remember from the books or movies, hmmm.

Flight of the Hippogriff was a nice kids roller coaster; but, the only special thing about it was that you could see Hagrid's Hut from it.  I didn't ride Dragon Challenge (formerly known as Dueling Dragons) because my brain was scrambled from when I had rode Hulk earlier in the day.  
Yes, the Butterbeer was good
One issue I have with the whole Islands of Adventure Park is that the rides are very intense. My friend has back problems and rode 1 ride the whole day - The Cat In the Hat and even that was overly intense for a children's ride.  If you have any physical restrictions keeping you from rides then you need to know you may not be able to ride ANY rides at this park.  

Ollivanders was one of the best experiences I had at the park.  Ollivander chose a wizarding aged child and a wand chooses them.  I'll let you see the show yourself, but the girl who was chosen genuinely seemed to have a great time.  Of course if you don't want to wait an hour for that you can just go into the store from the other entrance.  

I saw 2 shows while there, one was the Triwizard Spirit Rally featuring the wizards of Beauxbatons and Durmstrang.  This show was pretty good, a reenactment of there entrance during Goblet of Fire.  But the Frog Choir was plain old weird!  I would have left but I was sitting in the front. 

The staff assigned to the area were hit and miss.  Some were great, like the Hogwarts Express conductor, I saw him a couple times and he was always in character.  But other people acted like it was just a job, that took away from the atmosphere.  This was the biggest disappointment since it really took away from the experience.  

The shops were very busy (especially Filch's Emporium), small and lacking in merchandise. If you just wanted T-shirts, a broom, a snitch or a stuffed something or other (I'm a fan of Fluffy) then you were fine.  Outside of that, the merchandise was a little weak.  You could by from a decent selection of wands, but even that seemed a little limited.  Forget any jewelry type of stuff or cell phone cases.  I had seen a lot of things on the WB website, a lot of it was not available at the park.  Actually, you could buy the same exact stuff at the airport or the shop at City Walk.  

For those planning a trip I think visiting this area of the park would be best either early or late in the day, mid day seems to get most crowded.  

I would like to mention that I did write a letter to Universal with my thoughts about what was good and bad.  Mike called me 3 times, he really wanted to speak to me personally about my letter and let me know that it was being passed on.  Whether things will change, I don't know, but Mike seemed to really care about what I said.  

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Monday, February 27, 2012

Photo of the Week: France

View from the Arc de Triumph, Paris, France

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Friday, February 24, 2012

An Epic Post - as in the ship

As the Norwegian Epic gets ready to return to the Western Mediterranean I thought I would offer up all my posts on the ship in one place.  Go forth and read!

Epic Dining

Epic Entertainment

More Epic Entertainment

Epic Photos

The Mediterranean in 2012

Studio Cabins

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Dining in Walt Disney World

On my December trip I tried a few new restaurants at Disney - here's the run down:

Via Napoli - I went here as part of the Candlelight Processional Dinner Package so based on a pure price standpoint, it was overpriced.  But I paid for seating at the Candlelight Processional too.  The food was very good.  My friend and I both had Pizza and the tomato and mozzarella appetizer.  The server was cute, actually they all were.  This place has good food but even better eye candy.

Hollywood Brown Derby - This is a pricey restaurant at the Hollywood Studios, but it had a nice atmosphere since it replicated the Brown Derby in Hollywood.  The food here is fabulous.  I split a salad with my friend and it was the perfect size and delicious and the pork was the best pork I've ever had in my life.  I didn't care for the grapefruit cake though.  My server was also excellent, making this a great dining experience.

The Plaza - Located in the Magic Kingdom, but a bit hidden from view just off Main Street was underwhelming.  While the prices were some of the most reasonable I paid in Disney World, the food was no better then I found in quick service places and my waitress was barely average.  I've heard good things about The Plaza, but I don't plan to go back anytime soon.

Portobello - Located in Downtown Disney I thought was was good, but not great Italian food.  Living near NYC I know good Italian food and this was just ok.  I think if you're used to Olive Garden or other chain Italian you'll enjoy the food here.  But if you're picky about your Italian then you should probably skip eating Italian in  Disney World.

Coral Reef - Located in Epcot and set back a bit from the action this restaurant is hard to find if you arne't looking for it.  Yet it's a busy place.  The theme is that you're eating under the sea in a coral reef, the entertainment here are the fish in the tanks that line one wall of the resturant.  The food here was very good, my friend and I both had steaks (yes, we had steak in a seafood restaurant).  The food was tasty and the wait staff good. 

Captains Grille - Located at Yacht Club this was an accidental meal, our last lunch in Disney World.  My friend is allergic to crab and when she asked for her burger without crab meat on it the waitress insisted on having the chef come out.  The chef was really nice and made our burgers to order, they were the best burgers we had on-property. 

Chef Mickeys - A buffet located at The Contemporary Resort featuring the Fab 5 (Mickey, Minni, Donald, Goofy and Pluto).  I've eaten here before and had a pretty similar expereience.  The buffet is ok and the character interaction great.  If you want to see the Fab 5 this is a great option, if you want good food I would choose a different restaurant.

Cinderella's Royal Table - My friend and I choose this for the venue and the chance to meet the princesses.  A good but expensive breakfast, the venue and the characters are what make this worth the price tag.  When you enter you get a photo (included in the price) with Cinderella and then princesses come around during the meal for photos, we met Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Belle, and Ariel.  Our waiter was very good and friendly.  The character interaction was a little weird, I'm not used to interacting with face characters and I'm not sure I was a fan of it.  But the girls all did a nice job.  It was a fun once or twice in a lifetime experience.
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Monday, February 20, 2012

Photo of the Week: Washington DC

Washington Monument, Washington DC

Happy President's Day!

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Friday, February 17, 2012

More Vacation Plans

I am excited to announce my next tour this summer - Contiki's Northern Adventure

After much deliberation over whether to go to South America, Europe or to stay close to home, I decided to stay close to home and see the National Parks out west.

I surprised myself with this a bit.  But I decided South America fit into my long term travel plans better.  And the flights to Europe this summer were going to be expensive.  Everyone I asked, and I mean everyone, thought I should do this tour.

So I'll be starting in Chicago and ending in Los Angeles.  Now that the tour is booked, I just need airfare. And to pack and research some of these places.  If you have any tips, feel free to share, I've only been to Las Vegas, LA and Grand Canyon (via helicopter).

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Ancient Rome

I've been to Rome, I saw the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, the Vatican, and Piazza Navona.  On my Mediterranean Cruise it was time to dig deeper (pun intended), I decided to go inside the Colosseum and into The Roman Forum. 

For tickets I suggest getting them anywhere except the Colosseum, the line was extremely long.  I got mine from the pushy lady at the visitors kiosk in Civitavecchia.  The line at The Forum was long, but not nearly as insane as at the Colosseum.  But there were also 4 ships in port that day bringing somewhere around 10,000 extra visitors to the city. 

I opted not to do any sort of tour of the Colosseum, while I'm sure I missed some because of it, I also didn't feel like I missed a real lot.  If you're not going to do a tour I would suggest reading up a bit on the Colosseum before hand.  I didn't find there was much information provided inside the Colosseum.  But the walk through the Colosseum was worth it, the inside was just cool.  You could walk through several layers and see the different view, though I never did figure out where the box seats of the day would have been. 

I've heard rumors that they are going to cover the underground area of the Colosseum, it's above ground now but was underground when the Colosseum was in use.  Then they will offer tours of the underground section.  A small portion was covered when I went, leading me to believe the process has begun.  If that's the case, I think it takes away one of the reason to go inside the Colosseum.   Looking at the underground tunnels is a key component of the Colosseum.

I also did not do a tour of The Forum and I wonder if I should have.  I honestly thought it was a bit boring.  There were more signs here then there had been at the Colosseum, so there was some information available here.  But most of the area seemed like park land where you couldn't go on the grass.  

Inside the Roman Forum
I would suggest skipping The Forum in favor of some of the other interesting sites in Rome, but I do think the Colosseum is worth entry if you have more then a day or two in Rome.  The outside of the Colosseum is impressive in its own right, but with so much history in Rome it's hard to prioritize visiting the inside of the Colosseum if you're only there for one day.   

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Monday, February 13, 2012

Photo of the Week: Orlando

Grand Floridian, Walt Disney World, Orlando, FL

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Friday, February 10, 2012

Travel Tip - Bring copies

Whenever I travel I like to bring copies of all of my important documents - drivers license, passport, visa's, reservations, and credit card information.  I also keep an electronic copy of all these documents and give photo copies and electronic copies to a member of my family.

When I travel domestically I'm less likely to do this, mostly because I'm lazy.  But, I always do this when I'm traveling internationally.  While I've never had a problem, I like knowing that if I'm away and lose any of this information I can easily access it to make police reports and to obtain new documents.  I like having a variety of ways to get this information too.  If my suitcase gets lost and the photo copies were in there, then I can just go to my email account and print out new copies.

So my tip this week is to have copies of all your important documents.

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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Ports Of Livorno and Civitavecchia

Port Side in Livorno
The port of Livorno, Italy is the closest port to Florence, a popular stop for ships in the Western Mediterranean.  The port of Civitavecchia is the port that is closest to Rome.  I just want to take a moment to set your expectations accordingly for the immediate port areas. 

The good view at Livorno
Livorno is a VERY industrial port.  You will not be able to walk off the ship at this port and do anything.  Actually, I'm not sure that even a few miles from the port there is much to do.  I'm sure their is a town nearby, but I distinctly remember driving for a decent bit before seeing anything that remotely resembled the Tuscany in my dreams.  I haven't heard of anyone getting off the port for a little while to just enjoy the area.  I highly suggest planning a tour either through the cruise line or privatly if you want to get off the ship.

Starboard Side in Livorno
Civitavecchia is a little better.  You cannot walk out of the the port area, you must take a free shuttle bus out of the port to Cicitavecchia, but here there is an actual little town.  It's nothing fancy, but there are some shops, restaurants and a beachy area.  This isn't the type of place you'll spend a day, but it would be perfectly suitable if you just wanted to escape the ship for an hour or two without the cost and energy required to visit Rome or take another excursion of the area. 

I was quite shocked when I visited Livorno, I expected the port area to be somewhat industrial, given that it's the place where shipping happens.  But, from what I could tell their was nothing there to entice those who stayed onboard for the day to take a quick trip off the ship for anything.  Civitavecchia was much closer to my expectations, but probably because of the research I had done prior to the cruise.

Happy Sailing

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Friday, February 3, 2012

Travel Tip - Bring Contact Information

So on my last trip to Disney World I was meeting my friend Terye at the Port Orleans French Quarter resort (I'll be posting about the resort in a week or two).  I was flying in that day and she was driving over from Tampa.  When I got to the resort I went to pull up Terye's information for check in and it was NOT in my phone, ACK!

I had recently fixed an error in my phone book and her phone number and address got lost.  I had thought to double check, but thought I had checked it already, apparently not.

I did get in contact with Terye through Facebook and email and she called me, so it worked out.  But my tip is that if you're supposed to be meeting someone on your trip, double and triple check that you have their information.

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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Port Orleans French Quarter

For my last trip to Disney World my friend and I choose the Port Orleans French Quarter Resort.  It's a moderate resort with a lot of charm, I really liked it.

My stay here started with a ride from the airport on Disney's Magical Express, I was fortunate to be the first hotel drop off.  When I got off the bus I was given beads, it must be Mardi Gras everyday!  I had no wait to check in.  

The only other resort I have stayed at in Disney World was All-Star Sports and this was a big improvement.  The resort had a much nicer setting, bigger rooms, a nicer pool area.  Even though the resort has a similar motel like structure, you never felt like you were at a motel. 

The rooms had good lighting (and I like a bright room), were tastefully decorated to the theme of the French Quarter.  The rooms had been refirbished in 2010-2011 (or something like that) and I was worried that the new queen size beds might make the rooms feel smaller, but there was plenty of room for my friend and I.  I think a 3rd person would easily be accomodated there, and a 4th would be fine depending on the relationship of the travelers.  The new queen size beds were comfortable too.

The room had a table and chairs, nightstand, 3 dressers drawers, a refrigerator, flat screen TV, double sink in the bathroom, a typical hotel hairdryer and a small safe.  There was no formal closet, but a clothes bar in the bathroom with a shelf.

The bathroom had two seperate areas.  The toilet and shower were in a seperate room (the lighting was kinda dim) and the sinks were outside that room with a curtain you could use to section off the sink area from the rest of the hotel room, a great privacy feature.  I loved the two sinks, 2 mirrors and all the extra space that comes with that.  It was nice to be able to spread out my stuff on the sink. 

The resort itself is the smallest of the moderate resorts and I found it was a very easy resort to get around and there really is no bad location.  We weren't close to anything, but then again, nothing was far away either.  Everything was under a 5 minute walk from our room (in building 2 - 2221). 

Port Orleans Riverside is the sister resort of French Quarter and I did get a chance to take a walk there one afternoon, the walk was about 10 minutes along a river and we took the boat back to French Quarter.  The river provided a great setting for both resorts and made it more picturesque. Riverside is a much larger resort and much more spread out.  While it also had a great theme, I don't think I would have liked how spread out it was.  But it does have a larger store, a sit down restaurant, a larger lobby and more activities.

I thought the location of the resort was MUCH better then the All-Star Resorts.  It was was much closer to everything (except that Animal Kingdom).  Whether we drove or took Disney Transportation, it was never a long drive.

Dining at the resort was only quick service, but they had a pretty good variety of foods.  I had heard the beignets were great there.  As much as I love fried dough, it was just fried dough with powdered sugar.  I found the lunch menu was kinda boring, but the dinner menu had a good variety of foods, not what I would have expected from quick service.

Overall, I thought French Quarter was a great resort, I would recommend it to anyone.  For couples it has a more intimate feel then some of the larger resorts.  For the price it has a good location (you can't compete with the monorail resorts or the Epcot resorts), a great setting, great ammenities and was a managable size.

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