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, January 30, 2013

Yellowstone - Mud Volcano and Mammoth Hot Springs

Ok, I'll admit it, neither Mud Volcano nor Mammoth Hot Springs are the prettiest places in Yellowstone.  But they are interesting because they are different then the typical landscapes you would see elsewhere.

Mud Volcano is where the not pretty is emphasized.  Unless of course you like mud...  The landscape here is similar to several other areas of Yellowstone, except instead of pretty water there is a mud like substance.  Mud Volcano was discovered in the 1870s, and "went off" shortly after.  It has left behind as a smelly, bubbling spring.  It would be wrong of me not to warn you, the place smells of sulfur or rotten eggs.  But because of its uniqueness it's worth a quick visit, I just would choose to do a hike in this area.

Mammoth Hot Springs have an interesting formation, from the NPS website, "The step-like terraces form as heated water moves along the Morris-Mammoth Fault. The hot water carries dissolved calcium and bicarbonate to the surface of the terraces where pressure lessens. Carbon dioxide then escapes as gas and the carbonate combines with calcium to precipitate as travertine." This means that the formations are constantly changing.  You wont notice a difference from day to day, but if you visit years later you may.  If you climb to the top you'll get the payoff - the view of the valley below is gorgeous.  So, although it's a hike to the top, it's worth it.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

New To Me Disney Attractions

Sum of All Thrills design your own ride, a fighter jet, bobsled or roller coaster.  You get to pick the types of twists and turns in your ride, making it as intense or tame as you choose. I did the bobsled the first time and it was a bit tame, the second time I did the roller coaster and that was more fun.  This is a fun ride and being hidden in Innoventions it doesn't get as crowded as it could potentially be. 

Impressions de France the prettiest boring film I ever did see!  Seriously, France looked beautiful in this film, but it had no personality.  This film could be great if they added a bit of narration to make it more interesting.  Or, I could see a Soarin type of attraction here instead using similar video.

Reflections of China a circle-vision film with the highlights of China.  It has a nice vibe, historical and proud and most importantly, it made me want to visit China.  I think that makes the case that it was good.

Dinosaur  This may be the worst ride in all of Disney World.  It's dark, jerky and annoying.  The ride vehicle for this is the same as the one for the Indiana Jones ride in Disneyland, and that is a good ride.  But this ride, it was very dark, the ride jerked around, I guess to scare you, though I'm not sure because it was so dark you couldn't see a reason for it to jerk around.  Then dinosaurs popped up and made noises.  Ok, that made sense.  The whole ride was actually irritating and the faces of the riders in the photos when you get off the ride tells the story, no one looks scared, but annoyed.

Voices of Liberty A pre-show of sorts for the American Adventure.  It's a group of 9 men and woman singing patriotic songs.  The performance lasts 10-15 minutes and is a nice chance to relax for a few minutes.  If you can't get a seat on a bench, sit on the floor around the circle in the middle (the signers will face the entrance to the theatre on the right). 

Vision House at Innoventions in Epcot.  A 20 minute walk through of an energy efficient house.  This was interesting if you're into energy efficiency and home design.  I had two issues with it though.  First, it was extremely cold in there, the thermostat was set for 65 degrees, not very efficient.  Second, they rambled off the names of the stuff in the house, but then didn't even offer a place to get information about them if you were interested.  But it did help get me to think of ways to conserve. 

Main Street Electrical Parade An old school parade that was brought back to replace Spectromagic.  I found the music a bit repetitive, and the look and feel a bit old.  But, it was a fun, whimsical parade.  I went to the second showing of the parade and it was much less crowded then the earlier one.

Stitches Great Escape I remember this ride from when I was a child, when it was Alien Encounter, and it's not a fond memory.  Seriously, it's a scary ride and not in a good way.  It's a ride themed after a childrens character that does bad things.  I think silly bad things are fun, like the farting (Not my thing as an adult, but for little boys...), but escaping and attacking us.  Yea, scary and not in a fun way.  I've added this to my list of rides to never ride again.

Astro Orbiter This is one of those simple spinney rides, what could go wrong?  Well, first, the elevator smelled, then the ride vehicle was uncomfortable. Ugh, not cool.  And I thought we would at least get cool views of the park, but not really.  Most of the view was of a roof.  Another ride to skip in the future.
Liberty Square Riverboat If the boat had more seating this would be a nice ride around Tom Sawyer Island, but it doesn't.  I did sit on my ride and I was a bit bored, which would be fine if it was a 17 minute break from a long hot day in the parks. But if you're not guaranteed a seat on one of those days, I would rather just sit through Hall of Presidents. 

Friday, January 18, 2013

Giveaway - Neither Here Nor There

One of my goals for 2013 was to clean out my bookshelf, which I worked on this past weekend.  Usually when I'm done with a book and don't want to keep I give it to a friend.  If no one is interested I donate it.  But when I went to clean out one of my travel books I thought I would give it to a reader. In this case the book is Bill Bryson's Neither Here Nor There Travels in Europe.

The book was published 10 years ago and I read it at least 5 years ago, but it's still a classic Bill Bryson book.

To enter the giveaway you need to either comment on this post with a travel book recommendation for me to read (I'm looking for a travel book to read) or send me a tweet with a book recommendation.  You can find me on Twitter @Travelingiraffe

I'll give until January 31 for entries and then I'll pick a winner using Random.org.

Thanks and good luck

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Yellowstone National Park

Back in June on my Contiki Northern Adventure we had a day and a half stop in Yellowstone.  I've been to numerous National Parks, all very beautiful, but Yellowstone is MASSIVE and has a wide variety of beautiful scenery.

On our trip we visited several different areas of the park; Mud Volcano, Yellowstone Falls, Mammoth Hot Springs, Norris Geyser Basin and on our last day we visited Old Faithful and West Thumb Geyser Basin.

In this post I'll just talk about the overall experience there.  First, we were very lucky on our trip, we saw all of the infamous animals, which is not normal for a group traveling as quickly through the park as we did.  Buffalo were everywhere.  Actually, it was annoying the second day when we were stuck in traffic by all the people who apparently had not seen a Buffalo and were not used to seeing them everywhere.  Yes, Buffalo were everywhere.  As were deer and elk.  But wolves, bears and bald eagles are not everywhere, yet we managed to see them all! 

A couple points of interest, Yellowstone is volcanic, as in, one day a volcano will erupt there.  Luckily, this is highly tracked so they'll know well before it happens.  Yellowstone is also considered our first National Park.  But most importantly, it was chilly there for June.  Hey, when you're sensitive to the cold that is an important detail. 

But if you're planning a trip here you really need to plan.  There are so many different types of things to do there, that you really need to plan what types of things you are interested in doing and find the best spots to do them.  If you just show up there, you'll drive by pretty lakes and stuff, but you'll miss the most interesting sites, some of which don't sound like the most intersting from their names.

Have you been?  What are your favorite areas of the park?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Animal Kingdom Lodge

In November I had the opportunity to stay at one of the places on my Disney Bucket List, The Animal Kingdom Lodge.  The Animal Kingdom Lodge is a deluxe resort at Walt Disney World positioned near the Animal Kingdom, the primary attraction at this resort is the animals.  The resort is made up of two separate areas, Jambo House and Kidani Village and  has several savannas where animals roam free and are viewable from room balconies and general guest viewing areas. 
The view at night from my balcony

I stayed in a Arusha Savanna view standard room with 2 queen sized beds.  The Arusha Savanna rooms appears to be the largest section of the resort (though I could be wrong) and while room rates only start at $265 a night for a rooftop view during value season, you'll find that prices quickly rise if you want a savanna view room, which I'm guessing is the case for most people.  For a fall weekend in November expect to pay $330 for that parking lot view.  I paid $420 a night, plus taxes. 

My frame of reference for Deluxe Resorts is a stay at the Polynesian in a standard room and a stay at the Boardwalk in a villa. 

The simple things that I loved about the resort - it was simply beautiful, the rooms were accessible by hallways (no walking outside), and it had giraffes!

Themeing is where this resort excels.  The lobby is designed after an African lodge and it felt like an African lodge, though I guess I wont really know that until I actually go to an African lodge.  It had all the little touches you would expect and even the ones you wouldn't expect, like giraffes in the fire extinguisher grating. 

One thing that was cute, but annoying is that the hallways were named, such as the giraffe trail or the zebra trail. It's cute, but not effective in communicating to new guests locations. It reminded me of when I was on the Carnival Elation and the decks had names instead of numbers, highly ineffective. You'll notice that most ships have deck number instead of names. To add to the confusion, the hallways/trails are not well marked.

The themeing was so great that at night the place even smelled like animals.  Maybe I just got "lucky" on my two nights there, but there was a definite animal scent in the evenings that wasn't all that pleasant.

Rooms were well designed, they had lots of drawer space, a proper closet, 2 sinks in the sink area, which was separate from the toilet and shower (an issue I had with the Poly).  What I didn't like was that the room was a bit small for a Deluxe Resort, significantly smaller then at the Poly and because the room was small the sitting area was next to the TV.  That's a typical design in a Value or Moderate resort, I expected more space with a better sitting area at this resort. 

One thing that I found odd was the water pressure, it was strong in the sinks, but sucked in the shower.

Unless your an Animal Kingdom fan, the location is probably the worst of all the deluxe resorts.  You'll need to take bus service to all parks and it's not always a short ride.  Though, I did think the bus service was better here then at the Epcot resorts, which has 4 stops and takes forever. 

Common Areas
There are 2 restaurants and 1 quick service location at the resort.  I'll talk about my dining experience at Boma in another post.  I did not get to eat at Jiko on this trip; but, I did eat at The Mara a couple times.  The Mara had a lot of the usual foods you would expect and a few African items too.  There were pizza's, flat breads, couscous, chicken fingers, burgers and African stew.  I did try the African stew and it was tasty, I would put it in the good food, but not the great food category.  The thing I didn't like was that there always seemed to be a line for food.  However, at dinner time they did bring your food to your table which made it a better experience at night. 

The Zawadi Marketplace was a fairly large and had a lot of the typically stuff you would find in a Disney gift shop, plus a few unique items to the resort too, in the African and animal theme.
Even the vending machine was themed
The last thing I'll mention about Jambo House is the night vision goggles, they are available just off the pool area and allow you to see the animals roaming at night. This was a nice little feature if you can fit it in.  But, I found that at night if you had binoculars you'll be able to see the animals with the ambient light in the area.  

Kadani Village
I did take a quick little tour of Kadani Village.  Although I thought the resort was about the same size in footprint as Jambo House, the lobby and shop were significantly smaller.  In this case, smaller was better, the resort had a much more intimate feel to it.  Also, the common area to view the savanna's was smaller and had one larger viewing area instead of several smaller little spots, making it easier to see the whole savanna from one point.

Overall I really liked this resort, I particularly liked the giraffes.  I did have trouble reconciling the price of the resort with the resort offerings.  If there were no animals here, the resort would be significantly overpriced, particularly when compared to the other deluxe resorts at Disney World.  While I was able to easily say I could see myself staying at French Quarter or Art of Animation, I don't necessarily see myself staying at this resort again unless I had a specific reason to. 

Friday, January 4, 2013

Travel Tip: Confirmation Numbers

Here is another Disney tip, when making dining reservations bring your confirmation numbers with you.  On my trip in 2011 I found on several occasions that the restaurants didn't have my reservations on their screen.

I'm not sure how they do the reservations in their system, but it seems the easiest way to find them is by confirmation number.  Nope, name doesn't help.  They need your name, phone number and first born to find your reservation without a confirmation number.  Of course now that I always bring the confirmation number with me I haven't had an issue, which means I'll keep bringing my confirmation numbers with me!

Has anyone else had this issue in the past?

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Cody Rodeo and Bars

After visiting Keystone, Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse and Deadwood it was time to head West again, this time to Cody, WY.

Cody is known as a bit of a Cowboy town and features the Cody Nite Rodeo which is famous enough that when I posted on Facebook that I was there, several friends and family said they had also been to this rodeo.
The night we were there is was cold and windy.  As I recall the temperatures were in the 40s or 50s with wind gusts in the 30-40 MPH range.  Cold for the middle of June when you don't have a jacket with you.  I think I wore 3 layers and bought another when I was there to fight off the coldness.  I emphasis this because the rodeo is outside and surrounded by open fields and I didn't really enjoy myself because of it.  I think the rodeo itself would have been fun otherwise, but the cold and wind really took the fun out of it.
The rodeo has stadium seating on both sides with great views of the arena.  Before the event you can get photos with bulls or buy some food.  There was bull riding, bronco riding, team roping, barrel racing and a couple kids events.  The activities looked like fun between the wind gusts and it was fun to root for some of the woman and kids or to watch the guys go flying off the bulls.  I would recommend the rodeo, unless it's cold and windy, then I would just hit one of the bars.

The rodeo did have a little special Contiki event for us.  3 volunteers had to go out and dance and the crowd decided who was best.  I want to say a prize was given, but I haven't got a clue what it would have been so I don't think it happened.

After the rodeo, we hit the bars.  There we got to meet some real cowboys and this being the second time I had met some true western locals, I was growing a little concerned.  It seemed that when cowboys drank too much they got a little sloppy, not really showing their best face.  Fortunately, they were harmless and eventually went away.  But it did add to the fun of being out in a different environment then you're used to.