The Polite Traveler


24/02/2017 03:35 PM
Paris, France: Saving Money

How I Save Money When Visiting Paris, France


Eight Great Traveling on the Cheap Tips





Jet-leg confusion can cause travelers to do some pretty silly things, but over spending shouldn't be one of them.  Careful planning and some insider tips can help you save, even when traveling to the city of lights--Paris,France.  For my small business, I need to adhere to a strict budget and use the same philosophy when traveling.  Follow me as I share some of my favorite money saving tips.  

Rent an apartment

With a little due diligence, a couple can stay in Paris on the cheap and have a kitchen to boot.  Of all the tourists we interviewed, HomeAwaywas the most popular sites for finding great rentals.  For example, we found a cute, newly remodeled ground floor apartment in the quiet, but famous Montmartre neighborhood -- five minutes from the Moulin Rouge -- is € 500 per week plus a € 50 cleaning fee. 

Shop for hotel deals

For our most recent visit, we chose a small hotel in the heart of the Saint-Germain neighborhood, the sixth arrondissement, because we wanted to be within walking distance of most of the sights.  To save money, we researched hotels with the help and power of the Internet.  There are a number of websites where fellow travelers share their stories, like TripAdvisor and Rick Steves' Graffiti Wall.  In fact, our visits to the Graffiti Wall resulted in finding and joining a travel group that meets once a month. 

Visit off-season

While visiting ParisJune through August offers the very best weather, it is also the most expensive regarding flights and lodging.  We have visited in May and September and received quite a discount.  Those who are willing to pile on a heavy coat can save even more by traveling during the winter months. 

Eat on the run

Street food in Paris is amazing!  Street vendors sell a multitude of satisfying food choices, such as baguette sandwiches, paninis, crepes, and inexpensive beverages.  Boulangeries, found everywhere, sell excellent sandwiches for a few euros. 

Every morning I ate breakfast on the cheap with a croissant or pain de chocolate and a cup of cafe longue, which is a tall cup of coffee, for approximately three euro

Peruse the outdoor markets

Most outdoor markets in Paris don't just sell fresh fruits and veggies.  Many also sell cheese and deli items.  I pair these finds with a baguette and a bottle of wine -- both inexpensive in France -- and dinner is delicious and affordable. 

Sit at an outdoor café and still save money

Sitting at an outdoor café is a real treat when in Paris.  Besides people watching, it's just...relaxing, as Paris waiters do not rush diners. 

If hankering for a meal, I choose the meal of the day.  It's typically inexpensive and delicious.  However, my favorite choice is a croque monsieur -- an open face ham and cheese sandwich -- and salad, which typically costs around € 8.  If wine is your beverage of choice, save money by choosing a carafe or pitcher of the house wine. 

Seek out free entertainment

Besides the first Sunday of the month, museums are also free numerous other times during the year.  For example, cultural heritage is celebrated one weekend in September with most museums and government buildings open and free.  Additionally, street entertainers can be found in many parts of the city, especially the Latin Quarter and around Notre Dame.

Travel by the metro

The Metro, the Paris subway system, is efficient and easy

02/01/2017 02:57 PM
Venue Review: Hilton Hawaiian Village

Unexpected Upgrade at Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Hotel



For our most recent visit to the “Gathering Place”, better known as Oahu, we decided to split our ten-day stay between two excellent Hilton properties: Hilton Waikiki Beach Hotel (review) and HiltonHawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Hotel.   During our stay at the Hilton Waikiki Beach Hotel, I thought it couldn’t get any better.  We enjoyed our stay immensely.  Nevertheless, Hilton surprised us once more.

We’re upgraded to where? 

Yep, because we are Hilton Honors members, we were upgraded again to...wait for it…the Ali’i Tower!  Breathe, breathe.  Amazing upgrade.  Here’s a bit of the background about this excellent upgrade. 

Earlier this year, my husband noticed an unbelievable half-price deal on suites at the Hawaiian Village property.  So, without hesitation, he grabbed five nights for a Jr. suite in the Rainbow Tower.  We had never stayed in that tower and were looking forward to an excellent view in a lovely tower.  When he checked in online the day before our stay, he noticed an upgrade was available if he wished to accept it.  Easy decision.  Hilton upgraded us from a Jr. suite to a full suite in the most exclusive tower on the property and on the same floor royalty, celebs and government officials stay.   Even President Obama has stayed there.  Wow!

Slideshow of our stay

Our Private Oasis

Due to the Elvis Presley’s love of staying in the Ocean Tower, it was once called the Elvis Tower and is now called Ali’i Tower.  This is just one of the reasons it is so special, but there are many, many more.  It has a private welcome desk, concierge and private facilities, including a private pool, bar and gym.   It even has a library and free DVD rentals.  I know.  Who would want to watch a movie in a hotel room when the beach is just outside our door?  Well, it did come in handy when my hubby fell ill and needed to stay in for two days. 

The Ali’i Tower is located next door (ish) to the Tropics Bar & Grill where we had the most delicious burger to share.  It is a bit pricy at $18, but is large enough to share and the Seasoned French Fries and Onion Brioche Bun really sell it.  Even though it would be easy to purchase a meal, box it up and take it to our room, we chose to sit and enjoy watching the ocean from this lovely open-air restaurant. 

May we just live here?

After checking in at our “private check-in desk”—which was special, by the way – we jumped into an opening elevator.  As we exited the elevator, I noticed more housecleaning staff than I am used to seeing in a small area.  It appears that a housekeeper is assigned to very few rooms as opposed to other hotels—or towers.  Our housekeeper was a lovely, caring person.  I enjoyed my many conversations with her.

As we approached our room, I was again surprised with a double door entry.  Double doors?  That’s a first for us and just the first surprise.  Once those doors opened, I turned and asked my hubby, “Are we really supposed to be here?”  Check out the video.

The Village

As the name “Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Hotel” suggests, this is a huge resort.  I won’t list everything on the property, as this information is easily referenced on Hilton’s website.  However, I will tell you that you shouldn’t need to leave the village unless you want to.  It has 90 various shops including two ABC Stores and one Whaler’s General Store.  Deciding to stay in one night, we purchased deli items, rum, pineapple and pineapple juice at one of the ABC Stores.  Yum.  Usually a wine drinker, I love a good rum and pineapple juice. 

Besides shopping, there are 20 restaurants, bars, water features—including five pools—and plenty of activities.  I signed up for several complimentary lessons, like hula and ukulele, but never had time to participate. 

Between the five towers—the Ali’i, Tapa, Rainbow, Kalia and Diamond Head—each with its own individual charm and amenities, we found plenty to do and to explore.  My favorite shops were the ABC stores and the Honolulu Cookie Company—lots of free samples. 

Note

A $30 per day resort fee is added to hotel charges.  This fee pays for a number of amenities and is worth it.  Please read all it covers.


What are your experiences?



Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Hotel
2005 Kalia Road
Honolulu, Hawaii, 96815, USA
Tel: 1-808-949-4321

28/12/2016 04:13 PM
Venue Review: Polynesian Cultural Center

It’s all About Ohana at the Polynesian Cultural Center



Realizing that I would lose an entire day of my trip to paradise has kept me from visiting the Polynesian Cultural Center for years.  However, it got to the point that I had to ask myself, “Why?”.  Why would I consider visiting a place so full of history and island culture a waste of my time when I highly value ohana (family/home)?  Silly and wrong thinking.  I am so glad I finally made the commitment of a single day, because I found the experience to be an enrichment of the soul and exciting to boot.  It is definitely not a waste of an entire day. 

Getting there isn’t easy

Unless staying on the north end of Oahu, getting to the cultural center takes time.  It takes over an hour to reach the Polynesian Cultural Center from Waikiki.  Much of this is on a busy highway that has more than a few potholes.

But then again, don’t most of our highways need repair?  I’ll save that last comment for another article. 

Arrive early, but not hungry

It’s best not to dawdle when you arrive.  We made the mistake of stopping at the Pounder’s Restaurant for coconut crème pie (Yummy!).  As amazing as this was, it cost us time in the park and you’ll need every second of your time to see every show. 

The park is separated into different islands: Aotearoa (home of the Māori), Fiji, Hawai’i, Samoa, Tahiti, and Tonga.  The peoples of each “island” present a traditional performance—usually a dance and lecture every 30 minutes or so. 

Unfortunately, we missed the Islands of Hawai’ipresentation.  As wonderful and enjoyable the remainder of the shows were, I can only imagine this one is as well. 

Please watch these snippets of three shows I recorded to share with you. 



Are those people dancing on those boats?

Of all the performances in the park, the Canoe Pageant is the one to see.   Dancers from each island perform traditional dances atop a canoe, more of a raft, which is guided down the river that flows through the center of the park.  The pageant is narrated so guest learn even more about each of the Polynesian culture.  It was fascinating and something I will remember fondly.  I mean really, what could be better than large rafts topped with energetic dancers?  Well, perhaps it could be watching the unique play, Hā; The Breath of Life.

Hā; The Breath of Life

As wonderful as I imagined the play to be, I still wasn’t sold on sitting for 90 minutes at night after a long day of exploring.  To be honest, I thought I would want fall asleep soon after my behind hit the bench.  But, no.  There was no possible way anyone could sleep though this lively performance. 

Over 100 performers of each Polynesian island perform in this beautifully acted play.  The story revolves around a couple who flee their island as a volcano erupts.  Luckily, they arrive at an island just in time for the wife to give birth.  Friendly villagers—played by Tongans—take them in and offer them a home.  From this point, we watch the boy grow into a man, fall in love, fight off intruders and finally have a child of his own.  Each scene is played by a different island people.  I LOVED it!

The audience wasn’t allowed to record any of the Hā; The Breath of Lifeperformance.  However, there are several YouTube videos available that share portions of this unique show.  Have a peek:  


Why the fluttering hands?

While I enjoyed exploring and learning about each culture, I had a nagging question while watching the energetic and prolific Maori dancers.  During their dances, they flutter their hands quickly.  I knew it meant something, but wasn’t sure what that “something” is.  Luckily, we have Google and Bing to aid us in circumstances such as these.  Evidently, the fluttering hands symbolize shimmering waters, heat waves or breezes depending on the dance.  Makes sense! 

Tips 
What are your experiences?

Polynesian Cultural Center
55-370 Kamehameha Hwy, Laie, HI 96762
1-800-367-7060

28/12/2016 03:22 PM
Hotel Review: Hilton Waikiki Beach Hotel

Comfy and Friendly Hilton Waikiki Beach Hotel


View from our room.
Known primarily a business hotel, the Hilton Waikiki Beach Hotel is our new home-away-from-home when staying in Honolulu.  It’s close proximity to the beach, zoo, shops and all the happenings makes this a great jumping off spot as well.  

Our Comfy Room

The rooms are spacious and well-appointed with large flat-screen television, refrigerator, coffee maker and lanai.  Since we are Hilton Honors members, we were automatically upgraded from a city view on the 5th floor to an ocean view on the 29th floor in addition to free WiFi.  Hilton rocks!  It was a lovely room.  Check it out!



What you’ll find inside


The massive, lively lobby is adorned with numerous seating areas, welcome desk, bar/entertainment area, and hallways to the giftshop, Starbucks and M.A.C. 24/7.   M.A.C. 24/7 is the place to be for most anything you’d want to eat or drink.  Their happy hour is generous and the bartenders are always friendly.  Interesting fact, this property has three bars with all three staggering their happy hours, which makes for less expensive imbibing.

It’s all free in the executive lounge


Downstairs is the executive lounge, where—due to our Hilton Honors membership—we received free breakfasts and nightly appetizers.  The appetizers were more of a meal.  

Coffee and specialty tea flowed throughout the day.   I loved the unique herbal teas.   

We met some great people there as well.

Staying fit in Waikiki

Life just seems better after a good workout.  At this property, I had access to a full gym which help me burn off all the great free food. 

It’s not just a business hotel to me!

One night we decided to belly up to the lobby bar.  Serendipitously, there were two empty seats next to a pleasant looking couple.  The lovely female half of the couple ushered us into those seats and our lives are richer for it.   Soon, we found that this could has been visiting this same hotel through three different owners for 30 years.  Yep, that is 30 years!  What makes this story even more interesting is that they stay—each year—for three months!  Lew and Gena are now our best buds.  We plan to reunite next year around the same time. 

Another fascinating new bud we met is Aaron.  As an artist—among other interesting things—he is nurturing one of his daughter’s artistic ventures.  I have seen her work and am very impressed. 

Even without our new besties, if possible, we would jump on the next available plane just to be THERE.  The entire staff was exceptionally friendly and made a sincere effort to know us and to provide us with the very best experience.    In fact, the manager of the gift shop enjoyed helping me choose an ornamental flower for my hair, that she gave it to me as a gift.  She even showed me the traditional way to wear it.  Now that is the Aloha Spirit!

Your experiences?AHF

Hilton Waikiki Beach
2500 Kuhio Ave., Honolulu, Hawaii, 96815
1-808-922-0811

23/12/2016 10:09 AM
Venue Review: King’s Cross Station & The Hogwarts Express

What is Universal's King’s Cross Station & The Hogwarts Express


Channeling the excitement Harry must have had for his first ride on the Hogwarts Express – and finding platform 9 ¾ – I nearly ran through a wonderfully replicated King’s Cross Station to get to said train.  Totally unnecessary, but I couldn’t help it.  I am an old lady who still thinks she is a kid.

Let’s Make a Little Magic
Attention to detail is on overload at King’s Cross, right down to the perfume ad Harry and Dumbledore stood in front of near the beginning of the movie Half Blood Prince.  Slow down and try to appreciate the setting.  Gaze at the brick walls.  Appreciate the ubiquitous musician at the front of the station—very typical at the actual King’s Cross in London. 
Platform 9 ¾
Once up a flight of stairs, you’ll find an area that appears to be storage for luggage.  Check out my video showing people pass through the wall between platform 9 and 10.  Notice my hubby’s confusion about walking through a narrow walkway, which is what it is.  From my angle, it appears that all those around him – and ultimately, he too – walk through a wall.   Lovely sleight of hand.


(Video by TemporaryTourist)

The Train Arrives and The Fun Begins
Pass through the wall/hallway and onto platform 9 ¾ to find a perfect replicate of the Hogwarts Express.  Once inside the train and into your compartment, settle in for a short journey into the magical world of Harry Potter.   Notice the bench seats, upholstery and luggage racks.  Of course, all is on a much smaller scale than the movies, but still... . 

Once the train begins to move, it appears as if we are leaving London and traveling through the countryside due to a video playing on the “window”.   Characters from the movies appear adding to the experience.  
Beware the dementors at the door!  Watch the door windows as well.  I found myself whipping my head back and forth trying to catch each little gem.  At one point, Harry stopped a dementor in the train hallway and was awarded with a free box of chocolate frogs which escaped, each jumping across our door’s window.  
Tips
Essentially, the train is a vehicle to transport guests from Diagon Alley in the Universal Studios Florida Park to Hogsmeade in The Islands of Adventure Park.  So, you’ll need a park-to-park pass.
Ride very early, during mealtimes or later in the evening to avoid crowds.
Take the return trip from Hogsmeade to Diagon alley.  The story is completely different.  In my opinion, the return trip story is even more exciting. 

What is your experience?

22/12/2016 03:26 PM
Entertainment at Universal Orlando

Priceless Entertainment Surprises At Universal Orlando


Where can one find performances by The Blues Brothers and Marilyn Monroe, not to mention singing frogs and break-dancers?  As I have been to Universal Orlando, I have experienced some of the professional entertainment offer by the parks and was expecting some of the same.  However, I was pleasantly surprised during my most recent visit.

Marilyn woos my hubby.
Since my daughter is a fan of Marilyn (pictures adorn the walls of her home), I took every advantage to get photos of this iconic figure.  The actress playing Ms. Monroe is always in character and a hoot to meet. 
Checking our Universal Studios Florida park map, I found times – and place – where Marilyn and her “Diamond Bellas” would be performing and tugged on my hubby to venture on into “New York”.  There we found an interesting fellow dressed as a 1940’s movie producer frantically pacing the street.  Since we were first “on the set”, he complimented me on my “natural” hairstyle, reassuring me that it would be perfect for the shot and told my husband that he was glad to see him.  Should we be worried?  Yep.  


Soon, a vintage vehicle arrived carrying Marilyn and a bevy of beautiful women dressed in skimpy sailor uniforms.  Before helping Marilyn out of her car, our producer usher my hubby into the director chair.  Woops.  I am the ham of the fam.  He isn’t always so willing to be in the spot light.  Watch on to see how well he did under pressure.   
Schmooze all you want with Marilyn, but I have a future date with Elwood.

(Video by Elias Alberto Elvir Godoy) 
Wish I had a video of my five seconds of fame, but alas...no.  During a Blue Brother’s performance (awesome!) Jake promised a date with the pretty blond if Elwood sang Rawhide with him.  Of course, I played along.  As an unabashed ham, I couldn’t help myself.   
Hogsmeade: Mega amounts of spirit in this Spirit Rally, Frog songs & more.


On our previous visit, we watched the Hogwarts inspired performances, which I enjoyed immensely.   For this visit, I couldn’t wait to revisit the excitement and I wasn’t disappointed.
Diagon Alley: Tales of Beedle the Bard & Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees
Celestina and her Banshees wowed us again belting out tunes apropos for the setting, like “You Stole My Cauldron but You Can't Have My Heart," "A Cauldron Full of Hot Strong Love," and "You Charmed the Heart Right Out of Me.”  Celestina chooses an unexpecting man from the crowd to join her in one of her songs.  I had to laugh when my husband sank behind a vendor’s cart when she began looking around for her victim. 
We missed Tales of Beedle and the Bard this trip, but here’s a video from last time. 



Beat Builders & Flying Fish
What is it about men wearing a tool belt?  Or is that just me?  What makes these muscular males different than the average construction worker is what they do with those tools.  The “Beat Builders” use typical building supplies to make incredible music. 
Was that a flying fish?  Yep.  Acrobatic fetes await those who slow down to watch the show.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get a video, but “TouringPlans” did.  The song Fireball plays during the show, but appears to be muted in this video.   

(Video by TouringPlans) 

Street Beats


Music turns me into a dance machine; my body just starts moving.  Still, watching Street Beats confirms that this dance crew has moves I never had and never will.  The music is contagious and their acrobatic breakdancing is topnotch.  During their performance, they choose victims...ah...volunteers from the crowd to participate in a group dance, which makes this show even more fun.  Some had impressive moves.


Note: The map holds the key for the scheduling of most entertainment, but not all.  Ask a vendor in Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade for a schedule of entertainers in that area.  Amazingly, it also includes other areas. 

What is your favorite show?



22/12/2016 02:50 PM
Dining in Universal Orlando

Inexpensive Dining Tips: Universal Orlando


Dining while visiting Universal Orlando could get expensive.  However, there are inexpensive and yummy options.  So, follow along for some great tips. 
It’s always good to have a plan.
As is true with other parks, Universal Orlando offers a Dining Planthat provides a significant discount on meals, snacks and beverages.  The price varies from $14 to $28.  We are not huge eaters, so this program wouldn’t have benefitted us much.  However, with hungry young children, you might want to consider it. 

Speaking of children...
On the whole, restaurants catering to children/families tend to be the least expensive.  Some of these establishments offer a variety of choices   One of our choices this visit was “Fast Food Blvd” inside “Springfield: Home of the Simpsons”.  Inside this food court, one can choose between several eateries based on the television series The Simpsons: Krusty Burger, The Frying Dutchman, Flaming Moe's, Cletus' Chicken Shack, Luigi's Pizza, and Lisa's Teahouse of Horror.   So, one can find most anything, including the simple hotdog, which was our choice.  What surprised us most, though, was the delicious curly fries—the best in the park. 

Exciting Note:  Birthday babies received a free cupcake at the register.  Yum.
I’ll take the Danish pastry, please. 


Besides delicious pastries, cheesecake, cakes and pies, the Beverly Hills Boulangerie offers well-priced sandwiches, soup and salads.  It’s also a great place to sit outside to watch the parade pass by. 
Wands, spell books and...great food?


Inside both Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade are two of the best casual sit-down restaurants in the parks.  The Leaky Cauldron—inside Diagon Alley—and The Three Broomsticks—inside Hogsmeade—offer traditional British pub food for a decent price.  Cost of the beverages are a tad high though.  One exception is butterbeer—less than $5. 
Step outside the parks and explore City Walk to find a great meal.
A winding river separates the two parks from colorful and boisterous City Walk, home of thirteen casual to formal dining choices.  With so many choices, like the spanking brand new The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen (Wow!) and Emeril’s Orlando, how can one choose?  The great thing is, that we are lucky to have small appetites.  So, we can share one entrée here and one at another restaurant another night.

All restaurants and their respective ambiances are great choices, but the meal and atmosphere that resonated with me this trip was our meal at Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville.  To be honest, it wasn’t anything especially brilliant or complicated.  It was just perfect for the moment. 
Deciding to sit outside on the “Porch of Indecision”, we were entertained by a talented guitarist and lulled into a calm state by the warm breezes.  Our enthusiastic waiter, Kenny, briefly interrupted our sedate manner offering us a menu filled with diverse choices.  Since, we were especially hungry that night, but still didn’t want two meals, I chose a Caesar salad and my husband a Black and Bleu burger.  Seems rather simple, right?  Well…not so much.  My salad was huge, filled with Cajun chicken, house-made croutons and fried onions.  Fried onions?!  Awesomeness!  The combination of bleu cheese and bacon on my hubby’s burger was over the top delicious.  His fries were amazing as well.  Both meals were reasonably priced—around $15.  Wine was $8 for a generous pour.

Because we were celebrating my birthday, we also received a generous piece of key lime pie for free as well.  Yum!
There were other dining options that could be even less expensive on the walk, like the Bread Box where you can make your own sandwiches on their amazing homemade breads.  I highly recommend checking out the “Top of The Walk Food Court” in the City Walk.  Stop in at Menchie’s for a yummy frozen yogurt. 
What are your experiences?

21/12/2016 04:08 PM
Venue Review: Sapphire Falls Resort

Sapphire Falls Resort Shines at Universal Orlando



Do you ever arrive at a vacation destination and feel as if you’ve been misdirected?  This is somewhat what I felt at first sight of Sapphire Falls Resort.  We are supposed to be in Florida.  Right?  Well, what I am witnessing appears to be a piece of the Caribbean dropped directly adjacent to a deep-blue river leading to Universal’s Parks. 

The Hotel
Upon entering this Caribbean delight, I immediately felt tiny, as the lobby is impressively massive.  Tall ceilings, overly large light fixtures and a giant stone turret wall finished off this exquisite room.  The staff treated us like family, even to the point of the manager attending to us personally.  I had to ask myself if he mistook us for celebs.  Finding that our reserved room wasn’t quite ready, he upgraded us to a family suite, which meant that we now have two beautiful rooms instead of one.  We treated the extra room as our “dining room”.  Awesome! 


Dining: Amatista Cookhouse
We tend to eat smaller portions and wanted something simple for our first night’s dinner, so we visited the Amatista Cookhouse for an early dinner.  Typical Caribbean style options dotted the menu, like black beans, rice, fried plantains and jerked chicken.  We chose to share the Amatista Caribbean burger.   Yum!  The burger was topped with roasted pork, which was melt in the mouth delicious.  Caramelized onion and sweet plantain butter on the Cuban roll was the crowning glory.  It came with a surplus of fries, making this a filling meal for two.  At $17, we found this to be a great deal.  (Menu)
Receiving a great package deal from Universal, we enjoyed a free buffet breakfast each morning—worth $45 each person.  This isn’t the typical oatmeal, waffles, pancakes and cheap, uneatable pastries.  Nope.  This is over-the-top breakfast buffet options, including fine pastries (croissants are delish!), quiche, fresh fruit, various egg choices, yogurts, various meat choices, upscale pancakes, etc. 

Dining: New Dutch Trading Co
Most nights, we wanted to enjoy our grand room (s) before returning to the parks.  So, we chose to pick up our dinner at the New Dutch Trading Co, the “grab and go” dining option on the property.  They have fresh packaged cold and hot sandwiches, hot meal choices, ice cream, pastries, coffees and various packaged food items. 
Our favorite dinner choice was the “hot pot” options with rice.  Everyday there is a different meat option that is cut into chunks, sliced or shredded, rice, beans and fried plantains.  We chose the meat and rice, which is plenty for two ($8).   The full meal with all the options is $12. 
The staff at New Dutch Trading Co couldn’t be more pleasant.  Each person took the time to get to know us and even gave me a special dessert for my birthday. 
The Grounds
Lush greenery, massive lagoon-style pool and shimmering waterfalls surround a one-of-a-kind Caribbean inspired resort.  Walking around the pool – a mixture of hardscape and sand – takes some time as this is one extra large body of water.  At one end is a water fall/slide, which I ignored due to what I found setting next to it—a large stone turret labeled Drhum Club Kantine (menu).  Not ready to eat yet, I ordered tropical drink, sat for a while and soaked it all in.  Warmth...Excitement...Relaxation...Ahhhh.
Tip: Tropical/mixed drinks are a bit pricy.  Purchase your drink in a souvenir glass for $18 (Yikes!) and your following drinks are $10 each.
The Water Taxi
Since a video speaks clearer than words at times, check out this one. 
Notes:
Early park admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which is one hour before the theme park opens, is included with this property. 
Shuttle buses and water taxis are complimentary.  

What are your experiences?

21/12/2016 09:18 AM
Favorites in Universal Studios Florida

Special Cookies in Universal Studios Florida




Visiting Universal Orlando is like reliving a childhood only realized in a fantasy world.  Since I am a vintage variety of child who thrives on fantasy, this is the place for me.  What follows is my list of favorite “cookies” found around the two parks.


Hooray for Hollywood and ...
Turn to the right as you enter the park and you will find yourself in Hollywood—one of my favs and one of the best places to find iconic characters, like Marilyn Monroe and Lucille Ball.   One can also find...wait for it... Scooby Doo and the Gang!  The gang even drove the Mystery Machine.  As a die-hard Scooby Doo fan, I was ecstatic. 



Not so fast, Hollywood isn’t just about actors dressed up, it is also about setting.  The attention to detail is evident at every turn of the head.  This is true in every section of the park: Hollywood, Woody Woodpecker’s Kidzone, Springfield: Home of the Simpsons, World Expo, San Francisco, New York, Diagon Alley and Production Central.  Check out these photos.




“There's only one place we're going to get all this. Diagon Alley."
The entire area is a huge chocolate chip cookie dipped in chocolate!  It’s like walking through a Harry Potter movie.  For the maximum Potter experience, go very early and then again at night.  Nighttime lends an air of magic.


Is that a fire breathing dragon on that building?

Every 10 minutes (ish) a rather large Ukrainian Ironbelly dragon warms the crowds with a gigantic burst of flames.  Impressive during the daytime, but even more so at night.

“Ain't no safer place. Not one. Except perhaps Hogwarts."
Very impressive!  Attention to detail makes both Gringotts Wizarding Bank and Gringotts Money Exchange a must-see.   I could describe in detail the beautiful marble and gold of the bank, but a video is even better. 


At Gringotts Money Exchange, one can find bags of wizarding money and other trinkets for sale on display shelves; but the real draw is the grouchy interactive goblin bank teller.  Ask a question, he will answer.  For fun, exchange some of your muggle money for wizarding money to spend in Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. 


Curious, very curious
Since Ollivanders has been in the wandmaking business since 382 bc and Mr. Ollivander is considered one of the finest wandmakers in Europe, I decided to visit his shop...again.  Those of you who have read about my last visit to Diagon Alley and Ollivanders know that I was chosen to participate in the “wand choosing”.  Well, I must have perfected my “pick me face” because I was chosen again—even over all the children in the crowd.  I should be embarrassed, but no.  BEST DAY EVER!


Cookie alert!  Ollivander and his shop is worth the price of admission.  Slow down for a few minutes and take in the detail of his clothing, his demeanor, the wand boxes and the shelves on which they lie.  When in his presence, one is inside a Harry Potter book/movie. 
“You shouldn’t be hanging around in such a dodgy place”
Singing shrunken heads, dancing skeletons await those brave enough to venture into the dark and foreboding Knockturn Alley.  All of that aside, the real cookie here is Borgin and Burkes.  On every shelf, one will find an object directly out of the movie.  Check out the “Hand of Glory” that grabs Harry in Chamber of Secrets and the “Vanishing Cabinet”.  Listen carefully to hear the bird Malfoy placed inside the cabinet in the Half Blood Prince.  



Shop Windows in Potter Lands
Potter Heads really need to visit both parks to receive the maximum Potter experience.  After all, this is the only way one can ride the Hogwarts Express, which leaves from the King's Cross Station in Universal Studios Florida.  More about this in Special Cookies in the Islands of Adventure



For now, let’s just focus on shop windows.  Many of the shop windows in both Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade are filled with “magical objects” that move and make noise, such as the Monster Book of Monsters (Diagon Alley) and the crying mandrake plant (Hogsmeade). 

Tip: With an interactive wand, one can use magic at specific spots in both parks.  Look for the brass diamond in Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade.

Where is platform 9 ¾?
Saving the best for last is a tossup.  As much as I LOVE the ride to and from Hogsmeade on the Hogwarts Express, watching people disappear through a brick was is quite a treat. 

What are your experiences?



17/12/2016 03:03 PM
Favorites in the Islands of Adventure, Universal Orlando

Special Cookies in the Islands of Adventure





Everyone loves a good cookie and when on vacation, why not seek out the best.  Here I share with you the very best cookies I found during my most recent visit to Universal Orlando’s Islands of Adventure.

Pity the villains who dare to enter the Marvel Super Hero Island

When I first entered Marvel Super Hero Island, I wasn’t a fan.  Loud music and super hero posters lining the streets didn’t impress me.  My view completely changed on this recent visit.  Walking down the street in this area of the park is like being in a super hero comic book.  Only here, all the super heroes and villains are alive.  

 

Besides the Green Goblin sightings – which are always fun, as he pulls pranks on guests – the golden “cookie” here shows up at the top of the hour.  Near the top of most hours (check the schedule) guests are alerted, via loud speaker, that Dr. Doom and the Green Goblin are causing havoc and the Super Heroes will be on the scene soon.  Line up along the street to watch them arrive on motorbikes.  Super Cool.  Stick around to get your picture taken with your Super Hero of choice.


Beware the Gates of Kong!  Better known as “Skull Island”



 (Official Universal Orlando Announcement Video)

Even if you are not a ride person, peek through the fence of this new attraction to check out the intricate detail of Skull Island.  It is amazingly similar to the movies.   BTW I loved this ride!  I rode it four times and would have ridden more if time allowed.  It was amazing. 

To my knowledge, this is not like any other ride in the park.  Guests pile into a large jeep-like vehicle that feels as if it is driving.  It is a “trackless” vehicle.  I am not quite positive about the mechanics of the ride, but we do move—forward and side to side.  It is a 3D experience without the motion sickness.  It’s as if we are inside the most recent Kong movie. 

Tip: Sit in the 10th row—first or last seat.  Awesome!  Also, do ride more than once, as there are five different drivers and experiences. 

Strolling Through the Jurassic Era



I love some rides, but not those that could hurt me.  An 85-foot drop?  Well, that would leave a mark.  Nevertheless, this area of the park is great for the sights alone.  It is as if Jurassic Park actually exists.  Check out the Jurassic Park Discovery Center.  Here, one can name a newly hatched dino.  

There’s No Prince in this Castle


(Attractions Magazine)

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter -- Hogsmeade looks exactly like the books, right down to Honeydukes and The Three Broomsticks.  What really stands out, though, is Hogwarts.  It is amazing!  Even if not interested in the ride, tour the castle slowly taking all of it in.  The detail will excite all Potter Heads. 

Honeydukes



 Madam Puddifoot's


 The Three Broomsticks


Get Lost in The Lost Continent



Shopping bazaars and exotic eateries await guest directly outside Hogsmeade in The Lost Continent.  I found a beautiful pair of earrings and necklace at the “Treasures of Poseidon”.  However, the “Mythos Restaurant” is the real find here.  Carved images embedded into gigantic rock formations surrounded by waterfalls and pools of water hide one of the most unique restaurants I have ever seen.  Stop in to tour the restaurant and grab a cool drink of flavored water which is always available on the reception desk.

Note: Free flavored water for guests.


Things, Cat in the Hat and “Oh! The Stories You’ll Hear”



Walking through Seuss Landing is like walking through pages of Dr. Seuss’s books.  Turn around in one direction to find Cat in the Hat and the other to find, one of my favorites, “The High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride!”  It’s great fun to ride over other guests and through buildings.  However, the real cookie here is watching children enjoy listening to Dr. Seuss stories being read to them outside while they watch their reader engaged by one of the characters of the book.  I find it enchanting. 

What are your experiences?

17/10/2016 07:33 AM
Motel Review: Quality Inn, Flagstaff, AZ

Sleeping with Martians in Arizona


Quality Inn, Flagstaff, AZ



After a long drive, a motel sign welcoming “Aliens” brings a smile to my road-weary face.  Stopping for only one night, we found this Quality Innexactly that: quality focused.  Why?  Follow along.

The Location
One of the biggest benefits of this and many other Choice properties is that guests can find the properties easily.  To search for the night’s bed after a day on the road is never fun.  An additional benefit is that it is near the freeway, but also quiet.
The Lobby and Dining Room
A space ship could probably land in this lobby it is so large.  It is an interesting motel, as it serves—buffet style—most of the breakfast in the lobby, but dining is in a spacious, comfy upstairs loft with large windows which allow guests to enjoy a view while munching on scramble eggs, sausage and waffles.  There are many other food items available as well.  Coffee and tea is available 24/7 in the lobby as well. 
The Staff
As a college town, it figures that the staff would consist mainly of young adults.  We found them playful, energetic and personable.  When I approached any of them with a few minor issues, they attended to them promptly. 




The Room
Sure, this motel could use a facelift, however it was clean and comfortable.  It was basic, as it had no refrigerator or microwave.  The television was a flat screen and offered a wide variety of cable channels—great for unwinding after a long day. 
One Negative
My only complaint is that, even though this is a non-smoking property, I could smell cigarette smoke in the room.  Staff took this complaint seriously, but I doubt they can prevent it entirely.  With its close proximity to the Grand Canyon, it is a popular stop for international travelers who tend to smoke. (Quite a few of our citizens still do too) 
The property was so quiet all night, we had no idea it was entirely full—mostly with these travelers.  Two buses awaited dozens of guests the next morning.   It was interesting to share breakfast with those who spoke several different languages. 
Martians?
Although this property encourages visits from neighboring planets, regrettably none have accepted their hospitality...yet.
What are your experiences? 

Quality Inn, Flagstaff, AZ
2000 S. Milton Rd., Flagstaff, AZ, 86001 6301

12/10/2016 01:53 PM
Motel Review: Quality Inn, Boulder NV

Our Stay at the Quality Inn, Boulder City, Nevada


Good and Bad Traveling Through Nevada




Traveling for business can be a tiring, sometimes dreadful experience, especially when driving.  This trip was no different.  Once again, we drove thousands of miles from our hamlet in Davis, CA to the most northeastern corner of Arizona.  The reason for this trip was to present a couple of workshops for the Navajo students of DineCollege, which went very well.  Our return trip (post) wasn’t quite so pleasant.  That said, our choice of the Quality Innin Boulder City, NV was a good one.
The Good
Ah, finally.  After many hours behind the wheel, we found this motel, tucked behind a gas station, as a shining beacon of hospitality.  The setting was serene, even though near the highway.  As our room was overlooking the grounds and pool, it felt secluded, especially when sitting out on the spacious balcony. 

 
 


The room was clean and roomy; so roomy it felt like a suite.  It was also well equipped.  I love rooms with an extra—kitchen or bath type—counter with or without an extra sink and this room delivered.  It also had a fridge, microwave and television.  After so many hours on the road, eating in was a luxury.  And, the large table and chairs made it very comfortable.
The Not So Great
When we first arrived, there was an air of disorganization in the office.  A trainee—with her manager looking over her shoulder—informed us that she couldn’t find our reservation.  Double tasking, the manager was also trying to find a suitable room for another guest who had made a reservation.  Stepping up and smiling, I handed her our confirmation paper and made light about computer issues we all seem to have these days.  Within a few frantic minutes—for the trainee—she found us and our assigned room.  Calm wins again.
Unfortunately, the air conditioner was placed on the balcony.  So, even though it would have made for a lovely setting and welcome respite, we couldn’t enjoy it for long.  The exhaust from the unit was much too hot.
Additionally, the next morning—as many of the guests—we needed to leave around 6 am, which was an hour before breakfast was served.  Who does that??  They didn’t even have coffee ready.  Not happy. 
Will We Return?
On balance, it was a pleasant stay.  If we had to be in the area, we would choose this motel again.  However, I would rather have dental surgery than to make the drive through Nevada again.  Highway 95 was a nightmare.  

What are your experiences? 
Quality Inn

110 Ville Dr., Boulder City, NV, 89005


12/10/2016 01:45 PM
Motel Review: Quality Inn, Minden, NV

The Motel Next to The Sewage Treatment Plant

Quality Inn & Suites, Minden, NV



Traveling through Nevada stuck behind a long line of semis on the two-lane Highway 95 is not enjoyable, especially when one has food poisoning.  But, that’s another story.  Let’s just say, I was looking forward to a nice quiet motel room at the day.  Did that happen?  Ha!  This trip through the hell of high desert Nevada, didn’t end well.  As if traveling with food poisoning without the typical roadside restroom options was hellish enough, our choice of motels that evening was...well, it fit in with the theme of the day.


What is that smell?!
Stomach cramps, road weary and ready to shed my clothes to leap into bed, we finally arrive at our motel and are greeted with an overwhelming smell of a gigantic outhouse.  Yep, our motel was directly next door to the city’s sewage plant.  Great.  Figuring that I might not have to deal with the odor when I closed the door of my room, we rushed into the office to get our keys. 
Hey, aren’t these the inns of Q’s?

Quality Inn prides itself on what it calls its Q’s.  
·         Q Bed: Rest assured with premium bedding
·         Q Breakfast: Hot, fresh and healthy
·         Q Shower: A refreshing start to your day
·         Q Service: Professional, responsive and friendly
·         Q Value: Free high-speed internet, clean comfortable rooms and free coffee & tea 

Evidently, the employees and manager of this Quality Inn have no idea what Q’s are.   The previous night we faced friendly, but disorganized staff who lost and then found our reservations.  Other than that, our stay was generally positive.   At 4 pm this particular evening, we were faced with worse.   

Our room keys, please. 

This staff were unfriendly and uninterested.  There were no clean rooms available, no fresh coffee, and the manager didn’t offer us bottles of water—a perk for Gold Members like us.  When asked about the water, they informed us, “We don’t do that here.”  Instead, we were instructed to wait in the lobby for 20 minutes until our room was available.  Yea right.  And, pigs fly.  After 15 minutes, where we noticed little action, we decided our time would be better spent picking up take out.    

Whew!  Finally, we have a room.  But, what is this? 

At 5 pm our room was finally “clean”.  Nevertheless, we found the refrigerator hot and full of water, hair on the bathroom floor—yuck—missing toiletries and a used bag in the ice bucket.  Ugh.  So, out we went again to find everything that was missing.  Instead of simply gathering the items, the person in charge asked us to follow her while she gathered them for several motel rooms.  Weird.  They had two filthy rooms filled with supplies.  Nasty. 

What else is dirty or used??  I thought and kept thinking all evening and into the night.  I was afraid of the bed.  Did they change the bedding?  Carefully, I lifted the covers—then the sheets.  Everything looked fine, but the unsettling notion made for uneven sleep.   

Ready to jump ship.

Even though groggy from little sleep, we decided to leave early the next morning.  We also decided to skip the free breakfast due to the unclean, nasty looking buffet area.  Eww.  While grabbing a hot tea to go, I noticed the incredulous expression on my husband’s face as he was talking to the receptionist.  Shaking his head and heading out the door, I followed.  As he opened my car door (yes, he is a gentleman), he just laughed and muttered, “Figures.  They didn’t have our folio due to a lack of copier paper.”  Our copy arrived via email, but still...  

In Summary 

Will we ever try this motel again?  Ridiculous question, but easy to answer.  NO!  How about giving Quality Inn another chance?  Absolutely.  For the most part, we have enjoyed Quality Inns.  This particular property was an aberration, not the norm. 

Your experiences? 



12/10/2016 01:45 PM
Restaurant Review: Burger King, Tonapah, NV

Breakfast and Food Poisoning Served at Burger King, Tonopah Nevada


Good and Bad Traveling Through Nevada


Photo doesn't show exactly how filthy this place is.

For the last four years, we have been traveling south from Davis through California and into the most northeastern portion of Arizona to provide workshops for the students of the Dine′ College.  Every visit has been enjoyable.  However, since we are traveling thousands of miles—and we are members of the well-seasoned club—we tired of driving the same highways.  Driving through the Mohave, staying in Barstow and driving the arrow-straight Highway 40 was making me very cranky.  And, no one wants to see me cranky.  Thus, we decided to change it up by taking Highway 95 north through western Nevada and connecting with Highway 50 west for our return trip. 
Our First Stop
After seven hours of driving through a colorful, mountainous northern Arizona, we settled into a roomy oasis in Boulder City, Nevada.  (Review) With this, mostly, pleasant stay, I had high hopes for the remainder of our return trip to California.  Unfortunately, this was not to be.  Nevertheless, my impression of Boulder is positive.  It is rocky, hot, but beautiful, especially when looking out over Lake Mead, which our motel did.
A Long Painful Trek
The next morning, we set out too early for our “free” breakfast—one of my major beefs with this Quality Inn.  Evidently, management banks on travelers skipping out before 7 am when they slowly parcel out their packaged fare.  “No worries,” I thought.  I figured that we could grab some Starbucks coffee down the road and later stop in Tonapah for a late breakfast.  Not typically a “fast food” person.  I will stop at a McDonald’s for their Egg McMuffins sans the cheese.  Yum. 
Imagine my despair when we white-knuckled our way through Las Vegas commute traffic, to find ourselves on a two-lane, semi-filled desolate highway through more of the same type of desert we avoided in California, only to find that McDonalds moved and left we hungry travelers with the only viable option—a Burger King inside a truck stop.  Yikes!


I should have known when I bit into a cold ham and egg croissant.  Staved, I risked two more bites before tossing it while declaring that I may have to stay near a restroom for the remainder of our journey.  Yep.  So true, as I quickly became very ill.  The only positive was that mine was a light case of food poisoning.  Even so, I had stomach cramps for four days following.
Word of Advice
Please try to avoid driving the entire length of Highway 95 through Nevada.  There were very few restaurants, very few gas stations, and only two (that I found) rest stops.  If it is unavoidable, take your own food and beverages.  Fill up before entering the long stretch between Las Vegas and Minden / Gardnerville.  Finally, when faced with a cold sandwich that should be hot, do not eat it!
Good journeys to all! 

What are your experiences? 

http://www.bk.com/restaurants/nv/tonopah/1206-highway-95-16023.html
https://www.yelp.com/biz/burger-king-tonopah



06/10/2016 02:00 PM
Market Review: Nugget Grocery, Davis, CA

My Nirvana—Our Nugget Market



Nugget Market has been voted as one of the top 100 best places to work. I would not know it if I hadn’t read it.  Nevertheless, what I do know is that everyone seems to enjoy the day, every day.  And, they are eager to help their guests find exactly what we want.  

I have a ritual.  Actually, I have many.  However, this particular ritual involves a weekly visit to Nugget. Every Sunday my husband and I will stop in for coffee and a pastry.  It is typically very busy, even early in the morning. After all they make the best croissants this side of France.   

No one seems to mind that I mustabsolutely mix my coffee at their self-serve coffee bar.  I liken it to a well-tuned orchestra.  When an orchestra is comprised of just the right instruments and players it can bring tears to the eyes—in a good way.  Mine is always perfect.  Of course, the pastry is suburb whether or not I choose the croissants.  Nevertheless, I always have to take at least one chocolate croissant home to munch on the following week. They taste as if they were flown in that very morning from Paris.  I thank the friendly and ever helpful bakery and beverage staff on each visit. They are the best.  

Now that I have my coffee, and pastry is secured in my basket, it is time to search for the perfect cheese for tonight.  Typically, the cheese specialist is slicing rounds of cheese into consumer sized packages.  I won’t miss an opportunity for a sample and to learn more about each cheese. The staff trains constantly and works tirelessly to ensure that they are able to answer all questions. However, if I decided that I didn’t want a cheese plate for dinner, there are many options of freshly cooked items to choose from as well.  The choices are endless and scrumptious.  The butternut squash ravioli is my daughter’s favorite.

However, what about the wine for dinner? Nugget’s well-trained wine stewards can navigate and simplify what seems to be a daunting task of choosing just the right wine.
 After all, the wine department is vast. They make the visit even more rewarding with their knowledge and courteous assistance.  

If I am lucky enough to have some free time during the week, I will spend it visiting early in the morning.  On one visit, I sat with my coffee at one of their tables near the coffee kiosk.  A man came through with a broom to clean and apologized for being in my way.  Now, that is great manners. As I sipped, I noticed men in suits and retired ladies gabbing next to those who clearly define Davis—Birkenstocks, loose fitting jeans or sweats, and a thoughtful look on their faces all waiting to order their coffee.  I just had to smile at the thought of belonging to such a diverse and yet stimulating blend of people.  

Thank you to those who brighten our day.  Thank you to everyone at Nugget.  

Phone Number: (530) 750-3800
Hours: 6AM - 11PM
Address: 1414 East Covell Blvd.
Davis, CA 95616
  

06/10/2016 01:32 PM
Review: The Market Café

Food & Music Go Hand-In-Hand In New Orleans





I’ve always wanted to visit New Orleans.  With its reputation for good food, good music and penchant for celebration, I couldn’t wait to sampling all of it.  And, that’s just what I did recently.  What follows is my review of the Market Café.


NOLA Street Music, Including the Market Café
The Setting

At the end, very near, the famed French Market where one can find just about anything, the Market Café offers good food at reasonable prices.  Ample outdoor seating allows for people watching and close proximity to the ever-present jazz band—great music.  


There is also comfortable indoor seating surrounding a well-stocked bar.  Street facing windows advertise various drinks of the day to passersby.  I understand that the drinks are excellent, although I never indulged. 

Be sure to take your time to explore this area.  A statue of Joan of Arc rests directly outside the restaurant.  Art galleries, statues and various works of art line the vehicle-free walkway behind the restaurant. 

The Food



The Market Café serves traditional New Orleans style breakfast, lunch and dinner nearly every day.   The aromas of Cajun seasonings wafted through the restaurant.  All around me, I noted that their Gumbo, Po-Boy sandwiches and the “Taste of New Orleans” appeared to be the most popular meals.  The Taste of New Orleans is a sampler of Gumbo, Crawfish Étouffée, Jambalaya, and Red Beans and Rice.  Po-Boy sandwiches are typically packed with catfish or shrimp.  Here, one can find the buns filled with just about anything, including alligator. 

As a fan of sandwiches, I decided to try—twice—their Muffuletta.  Yum.  Baked slightly, this Italian style bread filled with thin slices of ham, salami, mortadella, Swiss and provolone cheeses, topped with a tangy chopped olive salad was a delight.  These sandwiches are so large, that one-half was plenty for the two of us.  The cost: $8.95.  Perfect!

The Service

Service is fast, efficient and friendly.  Servers are quick to give advice about specific dishes and to check on diner’s satisfaction.  

Would I return?

Oh yes.  In a heartbeat.  I loved the location, food, music, ambiance and the people.  When in NOLA, I will be there. 

Market Café 

www.marketcafenola.com
1000 Decatur St, New Orleans, LA 70116
(504) 527-5000




03/09/2016 02:22 PM
Restaurant Reviews: Universal Orlando Islands of Adventure—Hogsmeade

Restaurants in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter--Hogsmeade


Are they Expensive & Overrated or Good Food Reasonably Priced? 



Ah to be young, free and playing my day away in the sun.  Well, that’s exactly what I did for my 60th birthday, except that I shared it with thousands of others at Universal Orlando immersing myself in everything Harry Potter.  This included trying out as much of the various food options offered by those in the Wizarding world.  In this case, I’m eating my way through Hogsmeade.  Was it worth it?  Follow along to find out.

Three Broomsticks  

 

(Video by iThemePark)

As my travel buddy/husband and I trekked our way from the Hogswart Express into Hogsmeade I fought tears of joy.  It looked and felt so much like the books and movies.  One difference is the mass of muggles.  
Glancing to my left, I see a building adorned with three broomsticks.  I have arrived!  Walking in, I was astonished at how well the magic makers of Universal recreated the atmosphere I remember from the movies.  Antlers on tall wooden walls, stone floors, cozy hideaways, wine barrels, music from all the Harry Potter movies playing in the background just oozes ambiance.  Fold in the special effects, like owls flying and I’m in Harry Potter heaven. 


Note: The Three Broomsticks is the only restaurant in Hogsmeade.

Much like The Leaky Cauldron, patrons line up, once at the front of the line, we are directed to a register to order and pay.  We pick up our drinks and we are directed to our seats.  Our food is brought out to us.  Sitting inside to immerse yourself in the experience is—at least once—a must.  Nevertheless, sitting outside next to the water is wonderful.  It’s like an outdoor rock-walled courtyard overlooking the Hogswart castle.
But, how is the food?


(Family Feast--feeds four)

The Three Broomsticks serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.  The breakfast menu mirrors the one of The Leaky Cauldron with a set price of $15 for adults and $12 for children.  They serve traditional English and American breakfast with eggs paired with the usual suspects—sausage, bacon, potatoes and black pudding (depending on which breakfast you order).  


Other choices are Continental breakfast or oatmeal with fruit and a croissant, pancakes served with a croissant, sausage and bacon.  There was also a Smoked salmon breakfast served with eggs and a croissant.  All appeared a decent price for the food offered. 



For lunch and dinner, one could dine on a variety of interesting choices.  The Great Feast feeds four for $50.  It is substantial, as it generously includes salad, half of a roasted chicken, spareribs, corn on the cob and roasted potatoes.  Since it was just the two of us—and I wanted to be able to move after our meal—we abstained.  However, of all I asked who ordered the meal, loved it.  The only complaint was that while the chicken was moist, it was a bit flavorless.

Other choices were:

Children’s meal choices—much more than The Leaky Cauldron (Check out the menu)

The Three Broomsticks offers a varied beverage and dessert menu.
Our choices? 
Of course, we couldn’t try everything.  Nevertheless, what we did try, we enjoyed. 

 

Stopping in for lunch, my fish-loving husband chose fish & chips, while I chose ribs.  He was very happy with the moist, plump fish inside the crispy, flavorful coating.  As a bbq fanatic, I was in hog heaven with these fall-off-the-bone ribs, sweet corn on the cob and crispy, well-seasoned, roasted potatoes.  All the servers were in character and attentive. 
Hog's Head Pub



The Hog’s Head Pub is directly in the back of The Three Broomsticks and has its own entry.  It’s a great way to enter The Three Broomsticks to get pictures too.  
The tavern has a real feel of the Harry Potter/Hogsmeade world with its solid wood bar and a large stuffed hog’s head mounted prominently on the wall.  Watch out; he occasionally growls.  


(This is me enjoying my frozen Butterbeer-less than $5.) 

Here, we bellied up to the bar to order our Butterbeer, while others ordered their pumpkin juice ($4), beers ($8) and mixed drinks.  The drink menu is limited.  In fact, one morning we only wanted coffee and found that the only place to get a cup—besides Starbucks outside of Hogsmeade—is in the Three Broomsticks.  Interesting. 
Food Vendors 

Food carts line the street of Hogsmeade selling croissants, fruit, various snack items, water, pumpkin juice and Butterbeer.  The most noticeable cart is anchored directly out front of Honeydukes and appears to be a huge barrel on top of a cart.  Witches and wizards line up to get their Butterbeer, which seems to flow directly out of the barrel.   
Honeydukes


(Here I am performing a spell out front of Honeydukes)

As a die-hard Potter Head, I was compelled to visit Honeydukes.  I was happily surprised to find nearly all the candy mentioned in the books and films, like Chocolate Frogs with the collectible wizard cards, Fudge Flies, Bertie Bots Every Flavor Beans and even the Exploding Bonbons.  Near the register, there is a large case containing fresh yummies, like Cauldron Cakes—absolute chocolate heaven.  

I purchased a package of Chocolate Frogs, roughly $10 and was pleasantly surprised at the amount of chocolate, which was solid chocolate—much like a Hershey’s candy bar.  The quality of the packaging and the collectable card is the real value here, especially for a true fan.  My card is a Rowena Ravenclaw. 
In my opinion, dining options, albeit few, are a tad less expensive here in Hogsmeade.  The lunch/dinner menu offers some solid dining choices for a reasonable price.  Most meals, my husband and I could have shared and been quite pleased.  Of course, everyone is an individual and we don’t eat much since we are older; this is a consideration as well. 
Your experiences?



03/09/2016 02:05 PM
Theme Park review: Live Shows and Entertainment in Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure

Is the Entertainment in Universal Studios Florida Worth the Price of Admission?


There's More to Do Than Just Ride Rollercoasters in These Parks




Turning 60 is a major life event for a woman.  Or, is that just me?  For my 60th, I wanted to play like a kid again and indulge my love of everything Harry Potter.  Consequently, I decided to spend my hard-earned vacation dollars at Universal Studios Florida.  Nevertheless, I couldn’t just spend all my time, drooling over the new Diagon Alley and Hogsmead—which includes the Hogswart Castle.  I hoped for Galleons of entertainment.  After all, Universal Studios is an active movie studio.  Was I disappointed?  Follow along to find out.

Muggle note: Galleons is Wizarding Money.


Meet your favorite movie, cartoon, and comic book characters.



Smitten with super heroes?  How about a classic movie actor of the past?  Well, I certainly am. I don’t know of any place—except the perfect dream—where one can meet Marilyn Monroe and Spiderman, except right here at Universal Studios Florida.  I met the lovely Marilyn as she leisurely walked down the road, had my picture taken in front of the Scooby-Doo mystery machine and marveled at the massive Megaton—all on the same day.  

Enjoy live entertainment.
Whether you like music, action or live theater, you won’t be disappointed here.  As a Harry Potter fan, I found the live theater/puppet show depicting the legend of the Deathly Hallows from the book The Beedle and the Bard (held in Diagon Alley) enchanting.  

 

Held in Hogsmeade, the presentation of the “Triwizard Spirit Rally” reflected a portion of the movie “Goblet of Fire” quite nicely.  The Durmstrang students were spot on.  


(Video by Attractions Magazine) 

Also in Hogsmeade, the musical group, “The Frog Choir”, sang a few A cappella tunes and wowed the crowd.  Each presentation included plenty of humor as well.  



I found Beetlejuice's Graveyard Revue a bit boring; let me know what you think.


(Video by Attractions Magazine) 

My favorite, however, was the Blues Brothers.  They rocked the crowd!  People of all ages sang, danced and clapped through their entire musical and dance presentation.  All four entertainers nailed their parts! 

(Video by Elias Alberto Elvir Godoy) 

Buy an interactive wand and create your own entertainment!



For a mere $45 anyone can become a wizard or witch, performing spells while at Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade.  Bronze medallions mark spots where the wand will work.  At each location, you can wave your wand—each spell is engraved in the medallions—and watch as a flower awakens, a skeleton dances, an old suit of armor reassembles, and more.  Serious Harry Potter fans shouldn’t miss the fun.  I didn’t.


(Videoof the movie cast using the wands in the park)  
  
There is so much to see that it absolutely free with the price of admission.  Not a ride person?  No problem.  Just watch all the free shows and enjoy the beautiful and sparkling clean parks. 

Tip: Carefully read the map you receive as you enter the park.  It includes the schedules of all the live entertainment. 



03/09/2016 01:38 PM
Theme Park Review: Shops in Diagon Alley

Hokey or Realistic?  Over-Priced or Worth Every Penny? 


The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Universal Orlando--Diagon Alley



I’ve always been the mature one, the one to be counted on to be responsible.  However, when I turned 50, I decided that I needed more fun and color in my life.  Out came the purple hats and coffee with friends three times each week.   
As I was about to turn 60, my hubby asked where I’d like to go for a special vacation.  Instead of considering a much more “mature” vacation of sitting on a beach somewhere or visiting a museum-laden city, I decided to give in to my inner Potter Head and venture across country to Orlando Florida.  Universal Orlando and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter for me baby! 
Since there is so much to see and do in Diagon Alley, I will focus on just the shops in this article.
Stocking up on wizarding supplies in Diagon Alley. 
Weasleys Wizard Wheezes is difficult to miss as we entered Diagon Alley.  It’s bright orange, topped with a huge Weasley head lifting his stovepipe hat up and down as a rabbit appears and disappears.  It’s quite clever.    

Inside the store is exactly what a fan would expect, as it remarkably similar to the movie, including the multiple staircases.  However, it’s not all about the look of the shop that is important, this is a joke shop after all.  Many items mentioned in the movies, like $23 Extendable Ears, $15 Pygmy Puffs and Sneakoscopes—plus, many more—adored the shelves.  
Affordable candies such as Puking Pastilles and Fainting Fancies ($7 each) brought a smile to my face as I remember them so well from the movie, Order of the Phoenix.  Clothing items, like Weasley t-shirts can be found here as well.  These sell for $27; a bit pricy for a regular t-shirt.
Quality Quidditch Supplies


Quality Quidditch Supplies is directly next door.  It was a particularly chilly day when we dove in to warm up.  I desperately needed a sweatshirt and found the very one for $55 (after a 10% discount—mention American Express mobile app).  I am now an honorary Gryffindor.  


In addition, we found everything a Quidditch player needs and then some.  There were brooms, apparel and equipment.  Fan wear for our favorite Quidditch team (shirt $33) was available as well—go Chudley Cannons.  The item that really caught my eye though was a very detailed, very expensive chess set—over $300.   
Note: Please read my product reviewof the sweatshirt.  Additionally, we experienced excellent customer service in this store.  A young assistant took time to talk to us for quite some time.  I’d return in a heartbeat with service like that.   
Madame Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions 


(Video by UndercoverTourist.com) 

Madame Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions is a one-stop shop for house robes—around $110--and various other apparel choices, like the “H” and “R” sweaters knitted by Ron’s mother each Christmas (high quality, but expensive $85).  Also on display were perfect reproductions of gowns from the movies, including the elegant choice of our favorite witch, Hermione Granger for the Yule Ball. 
Upon closer inspection, the robes appear of good quality polyester and cotton.  The cleaning tag does suggest dry cleaning, which could be an issue.  However, I noticed many children—and adults—wearing these around the park.  I tried one on and it was comfortable.    

Ollivanders

Continuing down the main street, we came to the place I’ve dreamt of—Ollivanders!  As this was my birthday celebration, I sported an “It’s my birthday” badge and the biggest smile possible by a human being.  So, obviously, I was chosen for the “Wand” experience.  And, what an experience it is.  It’s very much like the scene from the movie Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, including some realistic special effects.
Those who want to share in this experience enter into the second Ollivanders’ doorway.  A witch or wizard guards this door, so it’s easy to spot.  Those just wand shopping enter into the main store.  It’s full of replica and interactive wands—boxes and boxes of wands.   

I chose Dumbledore’s interactive wand for $45 (replica wands are $35).  All interactive wands come with a very nice map of the two Wizarding areas indicating where the wand will work and what spells to perform.  It would have been good to know what is supposed to happen during these spells though, since some aren’t so clear. 

My wand is lovely and made of resin—remarkably detailed.  There is a strip of runes around the part of the wand where one would hold it.  There is no information available of what these runes mean.  The map is printed—both sides--on golden colored paper making it appear older.  (Please read my wand review)  
Tip: Go early in the day if you want to experience the wand choosing.  There’s a better chance at being chosen and there isn’t much of a line—we had none.  In addition, this store is less busy than the one in Hogsmeade.  Go figure.   
Wiseacre’s Wizarding Equipment


Wiseacre’s Wizarding Equipment is the gift shop we found as we excited the Escape from Gringotts ride (right of Gringotts).  This is one impressive place!  The giant star-chart globe and telescope adoring the ceiling alone held my attention.  



A few very unique items caught my eye, like $49 crystal balls—I dearly want one—compasses, hourglasses and ornate chess sets ($300).  We also found smaller keepsakes, like collectable key chains ($19).  The Hogwarts house emblem adorned mugs and glasses were intriguing as well.  

Magical Menagerie (to the left of Gringotts) 
Nope, these Hegwigs didn’t fly.  They, and all the other animals from the books and movies, lined the shelves awaiting a new home, like Fluffy (the three-headed dog), Scabbers, Buckbeak...all of them.  The fluffy cutie I feel in love with was Fawks.  Nevertheless, the $25 price tag halted that impulse.  Most stuffed items cost $17-$32 depending on the size.   
Scribbulus Writing Instruments 
To the right of Gringotts’ Bank is Scribbulus.  It didn’t really interest us much at all, since the focus is on stationary supplies.  Quill pens for over $14 were a bit much.  The glass inkwells were interesting, but cost over $20. 
Shutterbutton’s Photography Studio 
For fifty dollars, visitors can have a scrapbook type DVD created for them.  The magic makers of this shop use stock photos and the visitor’s image projected onto a blank screen to create this piece of magic.  We didn’t partake, but maybe we will next time we visit.  Now that I’m home, I miss my Universal adventures making the expense seem worth it. 
Gregorivch’s Wand Shop 
This very small wand shop sells the exact same wands as Ollivanders and most often there is no crowd.  
Borgin and Burkes (Knockturn Alley)


Crowded!  This is a very small, claustrophobic store.  Nevertheless, it is an imperative visit for all Potter Heads.  It’s best to visit this store early, late, or during meal times.  
  

Vanishing Cabinet
Surrounded by dark-art objects, I inched my way passed skulls, jewelry (probably cursed) and many collectables.  Best of all were the items from the movies and books, like the hand that grasped Harry’s when he mistakenly landed in the shop, a trunk with what appears to be a Bogart and the vanishing cabinet from the “Half-Blood Prince”.  Listen carefully and you can hear a bird chirping.  This place was worth the price of admission! 
The Death Eater robes are more than twice the price of the others, although I doubt these are any better quality than one sporting a house color.  I’d just visit this store to immerse myself in the atmosphere, not to shop.
All in all, I would say that many of items are a bit overpriced.  However, some items are so unique and of good quality that most fans will overlook the price tag.  The shops?  A work of art, simply marvelous--albeit very small.

What are your experiences?



03/09/2016 11:38 AM
Theme Park Reviews: Shops in Hogsmeade

Are the Shops Over-Priced or Provide Merchandise that is Worth Every Penny? 


The Wizarding World of Harry Potter—Hogsmeade in the Universal Orlando Resort





Even though I could have vacationed anywhere for my 60th, I chose Universal Orlando specifically to enjoy everything “Harry Potter.”  I wasn’t disappointed, but surprised that my hubby and I enjoyed it much as we did.  In fact, we even enjoyed the shops.  Here I share our experiences with those in Hogsmeade.

Escaping for a bit of fun in Hogsmeade 

These stores are very small and a bit claustrophobic.  I didn’t have much of a problem with people literally breathing down my neck.  Nevertheless, some may.  Therefore, it’s my suggestion to visit the stores in the early morning, during meal times or in the evening just to soak up the ambiance.  Most of the items you might wish to purchase may be found at the various outdoor kiosks, from the many gift stores throughout the parks—Universal Studios Florida & Island of Adventure—and on the “City Walk” outside the parks. 
Most of the stores, like Madam Paddifoot’s and Ceridwen’s Cauldrons, were merely storefronts, albeit excellent replicas of what one would expect to find in Hogsmeade. 


Check out the detail on this storefront. 
The Kiosks 
I found all the different wands in these kiosks, including the interactives.  Collectable $10 pins, such as “Head Boy/Girl,” key chains and other small items are available as well. 
Honeydukes (Shares space with Zonko's)


(Picture of me out front of Honeydukes performing a spell with my new wand)


When Hogwarts' students were allowed to visit Hogsmeade , where was the one place all students flocked to first?  Most Potter Heads know the answer to this...Honeydukes!  This Honeydukescarries nearly all the candy mentioned in the books and films, like Chocolate Frogs (including the collectible cards), Fudge Flies ($6), Bertie Bots Every Flavor Beans ($11) and even the Exploding Bonbons—just to name a few.  Pumpkin juice was chilled, a bit sweet for me, and sold for $7.  The bottle was interesting.  There are interesting freshly made goodies--like $10 Cauldron Cakes--inside a case as well.    




Purchasing a package of Chocolate Frogs, even though it was roughly $10,  I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of chocolate, the quality of the packaging and the collectable card.  Mine is Rowena Ravenclaw. 
Tips: ask about the daily specials.  Purchase your chocolate later in the day or have it delivered to the front of the park for pickup.  It costs nothing and your chocolate won't melt in the Florida heat.
Dervish and Banges 

(Video by WizardingWorldHarryPotter.com)

For me Dervish and Banges appears to carry most everything found in all the Diagon Alley stores combined.  I noticed Timeturners for $60, Quidditch gear ($17-$23), house apparel (robes $120 & wizard hats $25, etc.) and wands.  Stationery items were available as well, like quills, quality journals and parchment paper ($10-$30).   
Some high quality, high-ticket items caught my eye.  A Quidditch chess set for $300, wand sets (Example: all four Tri-Wizards $150) and replica brooms for $250+.  Ouch!  I honestly considered the chess set though.  Who else has one with pieces of all four houses? 
The item that really impressed me—nearly purchased it because it’s so realistic—was the battery powered “Master Book of Monsters”, which I felt was reasonably priced at $35.  After all, it was safely stored it a box because it really bites—all in fun. 
Ollivander’s Wand Shop 
Crazy line to enter Ollivander’s, as only 25 guests are allowed to enter at a time.  The queue winds around, snake-like for what seems to be miles.  The wait could be nearly an hour.


Once inside, a lucky witch or wizard is chosen for the wand experience.  This ceremony is much like Harry’s when Ollivander was trying to find the right wand for him.  Ollivander chooses several different wands, handing each to the witch/wizard informing him/her what spell to use and on what.  The special effects adds to all the great fun.   (Please read my wand review)

Note: Visit the Ollivander’s in Diagon Alley instead, especially in the morning—much less crowded. There are no wands for sale in this store.  Continue on to the adjacent Dervish and Banges for your choice in wands. 
Filch’s Emporium of Confiscated Goods 




As the landing room for the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride (excellent btw), I found a large variety of items to ogle in a variety of price ranges.  Hats, lots of them, dotted the store.  My favorites were Dumbledore and the Sorting Hat for the affordable price of $30 each.  Similar to the other stores, there was apparel, mugs (under $20), Omnioculars and backpacks, which were pricy at $40-$53. 
Less expensive items were playing cards, puppets and luggage tags ($8-$15).  More expensive, but very interesting, collectable was the framed Marauder’s Map for $70.  I just wish the footprints moved.   
One note: there’s a bigger, better supply—or was when I was there—of house scarves here for $35.


 

03/09/2016 11:15 AM
Theme Park Review: Minion Mayhem Universal Orlando

What is the Minion Mayhem Ride at Universal Orlando & is it Worth My Time?


(Video by darthvader92)

Minion Mayhem 3-D ride is an adventure--a very funny, sweet adventure.  It begins once you enter the queue with videos and trivia on raised screens.  An informational video about our “safety” goggles--our 3-D glasses—greet us as we enter the building.  It’s hilarious.

Most Universal rides revolve around some sort of story.  For this ride, we humans are to be trained to be minions—yea us.  After our informational video, we enter into another room.  Here, we watch a video about the process of our transformation into banana-craving minions.  The video screen is huge, so it appears as a “window” of Gru’s control room.  This contributes to the feeling of actually being in the same room with Gru, his daughters and some of his minions.  Once our orientation is finished, we enter the room where we will all become minions.   
We are securely seated in a theater in front of a huge screen.  Once the movie begins, our seats move according to the 3-D movie.  The seats are secured to the floor, but move up and down tipping this way and that.  The effect is quite realistic.   
The story is exciting and yet very heartwarming.  We first become minions and begin our training, but things go very wrong quite quickly.  Our new love for bananas cause a rift in the machinery.  Not to go into the entire adventure.  Nevertheless, I can say that it was an amazing ride that ends with a very happy family gathering.   
I enjoyed it so much that I rode it twice even though before our visit to Universal Orlando, I wasn’t even a fan of the movie.  That is no longer the case, as I fell in love with the characters via the ride.  
I recommend this ride for everyone, especially those with children.  Although I didn’t have any and there were plenty of others without children as well.    
The only negative could be motion sickness.  The movie is in 3-D, which makes some nauseous.  The seats move, which is another motion sickness trigger.  I have problems with motion sickness, but the slight problem I had with the ride wasn’t much at all.  In fact, I couldn’t wait to do it again!

What are your experiences?



03/09/2016 11:06 AM
Theme Park Review: Orlando Universal Studios

Universal Studios Florida & Universal's Island of Adventure is a Park for Everyone!



To celebrate my 60th birthday, my husband and I decided to visit the Orlando Universal Studios.  I was a bit concerned about our choice since we are not "roller coaster" people anymore and that seemed to be the focus of the park.  However, I wanted—more like needed--to see and do everything Harry Potter.  Universal Orlando delivered on that essential and more.  Surprisingly, we both loved every single moment of our four-day visit.

It’s not all about the rides!
Also surprisingly, this theme park is not all rides.  It is full of real movie sets.  Each is like a unique world where the guest can immerse him or herself deeply into the experience.  For example, guests can meet and mingle with “Spider Man “and many other super heroes on the Island of Adventure.
Shows and more shows! 

(Video of The Beedle & The Bard)

Most are live theater as if the action was happening at that very moment and we, the guests, are part of the action.  The actors are skilled, believable and entertaining.  Plenty of music as well. 

Speaking of music (and dance), the wizarding-world’s most popular performers Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees treat guests several times each day inside Diagon Alley.   Alternately, the wizarding world may have Celestina and the Bandshees, but The Blues Brothers rock an entire block in "New York".  People of all ages danced and sang to the songs delivered perfectly from these talented performers.


(Video of the Blues Brothers by Elias Alberto Elvir Godoy.)

 But, what about the rides?
There are rides for everyone is this park.  Some rides are a bit too violent for small children and older guests like me.  However, we found many that we could experience.  Since Universal is a studio, not just a theme park, most of the rides included a “story “which we found enchanting.  For example, inside the “Transformers” 3-D ride, we joined Optimus Prime and the Autobots fight Megatron and the Decepticons. 


(Video of the Transformers 3D ride by TheCoasterViews.)

How about those with disabilities? 
 

The Universal park designers appeared to have everyone in mind when planning this park.  There are ramps and elevators everywhere for those in wheelchairs.  Those with “invisible” disabilities like me—I have MS—found assistance as well.  Universal offers a “Guest Assistance” pass.  This pass allows people like me to skip the main line if the wait is more than 30 minutes.  More often than not, I was allowed to skip the line anyway.  No one wanted me to stand in line.
Note: please do not abuse this generous gift if able bodied.  It’s not fair or polite to Universal or to those who tire easily.
Final Notes

The parks are squeaky clean and beautiful.  Employees are helpful, polite and approachable.  Everyone appeared to want to make our visit amazing—and it was. 
This is a park for everyone—old, young, with or without children.  There is something for everyone inside the gates.  Will we return?  Absolutely! 
What are your experiences?



20/08/2016 01:54 PM
Hotel Room Review: Comfort Inn, Carmel, CA

Our Room in the Comfort Inn Carmel by the Sea, CA


Room and Hotel Review



Since this was our last stop of our California road trip—for now—we didn’t want to spend much on a hotel room when we would only be in town for two days.  Thus, we chose an inexpensive hotel near downtown Carmel.  It was much more important to us to be within walking distance of everything than to be surrounded by extravagance for that short amount of time.  This Comfort Inn lived up to our expectations.  It is old, a bit tired, but adequate. 
First things first: the location.


To absorb everything this top-10 rated city in the U.S. has to offer, it is best to get out and walk it making this motel choice perfect.  This small hotel is located on a main street that travels directly to the ocean.  Ocean St. is lined with numerous unique boutiques and restaurants.  The best of Carmel was within walking distance to our room. 



Our Small Dark Room
What more does one need besides a bed and bath?  In this room choice, we received just slightly more.   The queen bed was comfortable and nearly filled the entire room.  However, there was room for a desk and armoire which allowed for storage and a television stand.   The bathroom was a typical smallish room with a very small sink/vanity.  A coffee maker took quite a bit of the counter space, so we moved it into the bedroom.  (not shown in the picture).   


When Compensating for Limited Space...
Unfortunately, we had to pack a variety of lotions with us due to a skin allergy I was dealing with at the time.  So, finding a convenient location for these in the bathroom was a minor challenge.  As you can see from these pictures, the open drawers worked perfectly.  Sometimes you just have to think out of the...well, drawer. 


Lovely Flowery Grounds
I love flowers and greenery, even more so since we are in the fifth year of a drought.  No drought worries here.  Everything seems to be in bloom, especially here at the Comfort Inn. 
The first and second story railings were decked out with flower boxes filled to the brim with multicolored blossoms.  Vegetation surrounded and adorned the tidy grounds that offered multiple opportunities for enjoying an alfresco meal or beverage. 
Breakfast Room
This is a very small motel.  The smallness is vividly displayed in the breakfast room/welcome desk area, which is decked out with a lovely fireplace.  There are a few small, but quaint tables adorned with red table cloths.  It really felt like being in a warm cozy bistro, except for the food.  The free breakfast wasn’t bad though.  It featured hot choices, like eggs, sausage and waffles.  Cold choices included yogurt, fresh fruit and cereals.  Guests had access to free coffee and tea 24/7.  I love hot herbal tea, so I was in heaven.
Warning!
Even though check-in is in the afternoon, it is advisable to arrive early in order to find safe parking.  The parking lot is tiny.  So, those unlucky late—or on-time—arrivals end up parking on a side street with very little space for through traffic.  I would worry about our vehicle all night if we parked there.  We were one of the lucky ones as we snagged the very last parking space in the lot. 
All in All
Our room, grounds and breakfast room were all very clean and the staff is friendly and helpful.  Albeit small, I would definitely stay here again.  It was quiet, even though located on a main road into town. 

Comfort Inn Carmel by the Sea
Ocean Ave & Torres St., Carmel, CA, 93921

Please share your experiences.

20/08/2016 11:21 AM
CA Road Trips: Monterey & Carmel

Last Leg of Our California Road Trip


Monterey & Carmel




For those of you who have been following along with my latest road trip, the next few sentences probably read like, “Blah, blah, blah.”  However, for those of you who have just tuned in, here is a little background to my road trip series of posts.

My Sis Cheryl

My baby sister just turned 60 and wanted to spend her special day with family at the happiest place on earth.  Since LA is a mere seven hours from our California hamlet, we decided to drive.  Thus, we could take the slow road home through some of the most beautiful places in our state.  Sounds great, huh?  Well, besides the southern California drive, it was.  (SOCAL has crazy traffic!!)

Smell that salt air.

Leaving Paso Robles early in the morning, we headed up highway 101 to Monterey.  It is a lovely 2-1/2 hour (includes a short stop at a Starbucks--yum) trip.  Most of the landscape is agricultural—green and fertile.  Reaching the salad bowl of the west, Salinas, we took the CA68 west toward Pacific Grove/Pebble Beach highway.  It didn’t take long before a familiar smell wafted through our vehicle.  Ah, the Pacific! 


Monterey

As our destination was Carmel, we had a measly few hours in this iconic ocean-side city.  Even though I’ve visited countless times, I always find something new, especially when visiting the wharf.  I love the vibe of the place.  The people...the restaurants...the shops...perfect.   During our short stay, servers of most all of the restaurants welcomed passersby with samples of clam chowder.  It smelled yummy.   

As we looked out into the bay, we could see several different types of seal, sea lions and otters.  It isn’t unusual, however, to also see dolphin and humpback whales.  For our next trip, I vow to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  The current buzz is around their amazing, colorful octopus.

Part of the Wharf

It was a typical sunny day for this temperate climate and I had forgotten my wide-brimmed hat.  Thus, we dipped into a number of souvenir-filled shops where we found countless knickknacks representing the coast/California/sport teams, etc.  You name it.  If it is California coast related, you will probably find it here.  However, even though there were a number of shirts and baseball type hats, I didn’t find one that spoke to me.  I have a surprise coming in Carmel.


Carmel by the Sea

Carmel can be a tad chilly since it is so close to the ocean and those ocean breezes.  However, we were lucky to find mild warm weather for our 1-1/2 days devoted to this idyllic ocean-side city, home to the lovely Doris Day and the still hunky Clint Eastwood.  References to these two celebs were everywhere.  If you are lucky, one or both might be sitting next to you at one of the abundant, excellent restaurants.  One of which we visited for a marvelous early dinner.

A Girl’s Gotta Eat


The Le St. Tropez, located on Dolores Street, is a small restaurant with a full bar and outdoor seating.  The ambiance—specifically, the food and garden seating area—is refreshingly reminiscent of southern France.   We decided to dine al fresco in their charming flower and water fountain adorned garden.  The setting was a perfect foil for an unforgettable meal of “Wild Mushroom Raviolis with Madeira-mushroom cream/French truffle oil sauce” for my husband and a “Bistro Steak Et Frites”.  Yum. 

Mine was a grilled New York steak with a hot Dijon mustard sauce and crisp fries.  My husband was thrilled with his meal.  Mine was somewhat simple.  Having had a similar meal a few days ago at the “Tangerine Grill Patio” in Anaheim, which was amazing, this was simply passible.  I’d still try this restaurant again since I tend to be picky, but I still found their mushroom raviolis amazing. 



About Town

In my opinion, the most rewarding activity in Carmel is walking the enchanting streets.  There, one can find family-friendly parks, a cadre of shops, bars and restaurants, and the occasional street art.

Stepping into one of those shops is rewarding as well.  A great example is the Trio’ Carmel wine, art, and olive oil shop.  Here, we sampled dozens of olive oil and balsamic vinegar—no wine this visit.  My favorites included the Meyer Lemon infused olive oil and the Fig Balsamic.  Check out their recipes www.TrioCarmel.com/recipes.

My Surprise

As I mentioned previously, I forgot my wide-brimmed hat to protect me from the bright sunshine.  So, even though I doubted I would find anything reasonably priced in this touristy town, I kept my eyes open for an opportunity. 

Since Carmel is actually a small town catering to a large number of tourists, there are many unique boutique shops tucked inside courtyards located between street facing buildings—very interesting.  Thus, as we were venturing around town, we came across one such courtyard full of classy boutiques.  One, luckily for me, was an old-fashion hat shop.  They even make many of their own hats.  Although I don’t typically favor baseball type hats, I instantly fell for the beauty in the following picture. 



I hope you enjoy your visit to Monterey and Carmel.  Please share your experiences with us.




18/08/2016 01:53 PM
Cruise Room Review: Grand Princess L307

Comfy, Rocking Room on the Grand Princess




What does a person really want in a cruise ship stateroom?  Well, I suppose the answer would be different with each passenger.  For my hubby and I, we wanted to be able to see the ocean and be comfortable.  Since this was a relatively chilly weather cruise, we skipped a balcony room and chose an outside cabin with a window.  Not many were available when we decided on an Alaskan cruise however.  Even so, I think ours was perfect.  Not too small and not too expensive.  After all, this is our second Alaskan cruise, so I did not feel it granted an extravagant suite.  Actually, we are not that type anyway.


Where’s our room?
We knew our room was on the Lido deck.  Check.  Nevertheless, we couldn’t find cabin 307.  Everyone would just point down the hall when asked, which it was.  That said, there were no cabins down the hall near the entry to the pool area.  So, we just kept going in circles until one gentleman walked us to an unmarked door and opened it.  Inside was a short hall.  Our room was at the end.  Weird, but it helped keep noise from filtering into the room.  I’ll take the weird again, please.
Rock-a-bye Baby
I was leery about our cabin choice of L307, since it is at the top and front of the ship.  I have a problem with seasickness, as vertigo is an ongoing problem for me.  Nevertheless, with my Bodine pills (one each day for the first three days) I was perfectly fine.  So fine, in fact, that I want to be in that same area again.  Being in the room was like being rocked gently by someone who truly cares. 
Home away from home.
The room itself was ample with a large, floor to ceiling window.  A refrigerator, television, desk and a comfy bed rounded it off well.   A half wall separated the bathroom and storage area from the main room.  Behind it and directly left of the entry door is a tall cupboard, an ample closet and a bathroom.  Inside the cupboard is shelving and the in-room safe.  Not surprisingly, the bathroom is a typical cabin bathroom with small shower, sink and toilet. The sink area also has storage built into the side wall.  Very convenient. 
Men, you might want to skip this part.
From a woman’s point of view, the shower is an issue.  It is so small, I found shaving my legs to be a difficult task.  Since I didn’t want to go au naturel, I tried a number of contortions trying to reach razor to leg inside the small tube of a shower.  Grrrr... Not happening.  Never one to admit defeat, I looked for an alternative.  Noticing that the toilet is directly next to the shower, I used it as a ledge for my foot.  Problem solved.  I made a mess of the area since my leg was outside the shower, but my legs were hairless. 

Okay, men you can join in again.
In my opinion, the bathroom entry could pose a hazard.  There is a five-inch (ish) ledge separating the bathroom from the rest of the cabin, which means one needs to step over it to enter and exit the room. I realize it is there to protect the room from water overflows.  Still, it wouldn’t take much to trip over it and fall into or out of the bathroom, especially for those taking advantage of the numerous bars on board.  I found that I just naturally held onto the door frame every time I entered and exited anyway.  Thus, no stitches for me this trip.
Summing it all up.
Honestly, I loved our room on the Grand Princess cruising to Alaska.  We have four more cruises lined up.  Each cruise will place us in different rooms on different decks on different ships.  So, tune in to find out more about the cabins of various Princess Cruise Ships.

What are your experiences? 

Good Journeys!