Friday, June 6, 2014

Conservation Preservation

When I'm planning a trip, I always love to look into concerts or theatre shows.  I knew that New Orleans had a great music scene, so hearing some jazz seemed like a no brainer.  Most of the guidebooks I read said that Preservation Hall was the best place to hear New Orleans jazz.  The one downside is that the line to get into Preservation Hall is unbelievable.  Everything I read warned me to grab some snacks and camp out for at least an hour before showtime to guarantee that I would get into the concert.

Here's how it works.  Every night there are three concerts at Preservation Hall.  I believe the show times are 8:00 p.m., 9:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m.  A line forms outside the concert hall and right before the show (like literally 2 minutes before) the doors are unlocked and they pack people into this tiny little room.  There is limited seating available, so it's likely that you will be standing for the concert.

That is unless you purchase yourself one of these:

I read about the "VIP" ticket that you could purchase for the concert.  The tickets are about $30 (don't quote me on that price) and allow you to enter the concert hall before everyone else and get a seat right in front of the band.  It is an amazing deal.  Especially if you are short and claustrophobic like me.  Mike and I were able to see the musicians up close (we were probably a foot from the saxophonist) and we were able to have a somewhat comfortable seat for the entire show.

Whether you just stand in line or get the VIP ticket, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band is not to be missed.  In all of my travels, this is maybe one of my most favorite experiences.  There are no words that can describe the music.  It's not just the music, but it's the feeling that jazz gives you from the tip of your hair all the way down to your toes.  Hearing it live in this hot, old, cramped room just amplified the experience.

A couple of tips if you do purchase the VIP ticket.  Number one is that you can totally bypass the line and just wait right at the front door.  My Midwestern values told me that cutting in front of this long line was super rude even if we had bought the ticket, so we actually stood in the line for awhile because the front door is totally locked up until right before the show.  The second tip is that once you are seated, make sure to really take up your entire seats.  Mike and I were being all cute and cuddly and then a man decided that we had enough room on our bench to seat another person and he just sat down.  I would have been all hey, the more the merrier, except we actually paid for that seat and this man got in for free.  We had to enjoy the concert on a bench made for two with three grown ass people.  It wasn't all that VIP.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Seas with Nemo and Friends

I call this ride, The Ride Formerly Known as the Dumbest Ride in Disney History.  If you remember The Living Seas of Epcot old, you know what I am talking about.  The Living Seas used to be a big whatever in Epcot Center.  I guess if you were really into fish it could have been somewhat interesting.  I enjoyed a good aquarium, but that was really all there was to see in The Living Seas.  It wasn't even that great of an aquarium.  Although I think there was maybe a manatee.

After the success of Finding Nemo, Disney people came up with the brilliant idea to make The Living Seas a themed area with the theme being the characters in the movie Finding Nemo.  It has greatly improved the fun factor of this area and was a much needed renovation.

In order to access the exhibits inside The Seas building, you first need to get on a cute little ride with Nemo and all of his pals.  You board a "clammobile" (Disney's term, not mine), which essentially takes you through a shortened recreation of the Finding Nemo movie.  Nemo swims along with you and takes you through the sea complete with sharks, jellyfish and turtles.  Towards the end you are shown a live aquarium where you can see real fish swimming along with the Nemo characters. 

This ride is the cutest, just like the movie.  They stay pretty true to the Nemo story and bring it alive in a creative way.  It's a neat ride because I enjoyed it, but I also noticed that very little children were excited to find Nemo, so it's entertaining to people of all ages. 

My one piece of advice is to have a sweater when you enter the ride area.  For some reason the queue to the ride is super long.  Not long as in you will wait a long time in line, but long as in from where you enter the line to where you board the clammobile is a long distance to walk.  And it's always really cold in the queue area.  I am such a baby about being in the cold in a tank top or sundress, so I always reach for my cardigan before heading into the ride.  You will thank me for this tip!

I love this ride as much for it's cuteness as for the fact that it is so much better than before.  4/5 or 8/10 stars!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Pangani Forest Exploration Trail

In the Africa section of Animal Kingdom, they have a nice walking path called Pangani Forest Exploration Trail.  This path takes you through a more "zoo-like" area of Animal Kingdom so that you can see more of the animals in the park.

Here are some examples of animals that you will see:

One of the things that I love about Animal Kingdom is that you get really good views of the animals.  The Pangani Forest Trail is no exception, and I think it is one of the best examples of how up close and personal you can get to the animals while visiting Animal Kingdom.

The best time to go is early in the morning right when the park opens.  The trail can get crowded with lots of people up at the front of the barricades trying to see the animals.  In the mornings, the trail is almost empty, and we are able to see everything very well.  Another added bonus to being there first is that the animal experts are usually free to answer any questions, or to give more information about animal behavior.  The third reason to go in the morning is that the animals are fed in the mornings and so are more active.  For instance, the gorilla was super active on the morning pictured above, and I was able to get tons of great pictures of him walking around.

I give this attraction a 4/5 or 8/10 stars.  I always wish these trails were a bit longer with more animals to see.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Sonoma Stole My Heart

When Mike and I were planning our honeymoon to San Francisco, we both insisted that we get a couple of days outside of the city to relax.  What better place to relax than wine country, right?  As soon as I told people that we would be going to wine country, I was inundated with recommendations for wineries, hotels, B&B's, etc.  Everyone has their favorite spot in wine country it seems.

After a lot of internet research, I settled on Sonoma, California for our two days of wine and rest.  The main draw was that Sonoma was the closest city to San Francisco.  While Healdsburg and Napa are not that much further away, I didn't want to have to drive any further than necessary.  I also wanted something that was quaint and not filled with tourists and I had read that Sonoma was just such a place. 

When we first drove into "downtown" Sonoma and I was greeted with this site, I knew I had chosen wisely.

How cute is this city hall?  Directly to the right of city hall is this magnificent site, perfectly accentuated by an almost full moon.
The whole town was beautiful and everything you needed was within walking distance.  We stayed at a hotel right in Sonoma, The Ledson Hotel, which I will review on the blog in the future.  Staying in Sonoma was a bit more expensive, but the nice thing for us was that we didn't have to drive anywhere.  We could walk to all of the wineries' tasting rooms in the city.  There are also FABULOUS restaurants in Sonoma, all within walking distance. 

My favorite thing was that a block away from our hotel was a general store that sold wine, cheese and crackers.  They had the absolute best cheeses.  You could go in and sample the cheese too!  I made a fool of myself with the cheese.  We settled on a habanero cheddar and had the perfect snack in our hotel after a long evening of wine tasting.

I will be posting a lot on Sonoma in the coming months from our hotel recommendation to wineries, but for now I just wanted to post about how calming two days in Sonoma was for us.  We had the best time and left feeling totally rejuvenated.  We have often talked about our next trip to Sonoma and I can't wait for that.

And if any Bachelor fans need a further push to visit Sonoma, I give you Bachelor Ben's winery...
Down this row of beautiful ivy covered arches is the Envolve winery, which is owned by Bachelor Ben.  Funny side story, on our second afternoon in Sonoma, Mike was really tired and took a nap.  I got antsy and decided to explore the town.  I had this grand dream of going into the Envolve tasting room, sitting down to the bar to sip wines by myself and getting Bachelor Ben to spill all the Bachelor's dirty secrets to me over a nice chardonnay.  So, I went into the tasting room and there was no one there because it was 10:30 A.M.  There was this guy working with his back turned to me, and I had a panicked moment of it actually being Bachelor Ben.  What would I say?  Would I look like a complete weirdo drinking by myself before 11:00 A.M.?  So, I turned around and RAN down this nice cobbled street like a lunatic and then stood there wondering if I should go back and check if the man inside was Bachelor Ben. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Ghost of Booth

I was looking at photos from my recent trip to Washington D.C. and I came across this photo which freaked me out!  My mom and I toured Ford's Theater while we were in D.C.  I was extremely excited about this tour as I had never been to Ford's before and had just finished reading the book Killing Lincoln.

With everything fresh in my mind from reading the book, the tour was kind of amazing.  Inside the actual theater, the box seat is set up to look exactly how it did on the night that Lincoln visited and was killed by John Wilkes Booth.  It was from this box seat that Booth shot President Lincoln and then jumped over the balcony to the stage.  

How freaky is this photo?  It looks like I captured the ghost of John Wilkes Booth.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Green and White Stripes

When I was planning a recent trip to New Orleans, all I thought about was the food.  The restaurant scene in New Orleans is no joke.  We ate and drank almost the entire trip, and everything we had was delicious.  During my research I quickly realized that we could not possibly go to every place that I wanted.  I had to be discriminatory and brutal.  I wanted the best of the best and at the end of our trip I knew that I did well.  

One non-negotiable in my itinerary was a trip to Cafe du Monde.  I have heard so many people talk about their beignets and I was looking forward to trying them myself.  Can I make a confession?  I cannot say the word "beignet" properly.  I took years of French class and was always praised for my near perfect diction.  But I cannot say beignet, so ordering at Cafe du Monde was intensely embarrassing.  

Anyways, here is the iconic Cafe du Monde:
At Cafe du Monde, you seat yourself.  There are a ton of tables under the awning and in the building, but the place is always pretty busy.  If you want a table that's right on the edge of the awning where you can people watch, you need to either get there at 3:00 A.M. or wait it out.  

Once you sit down, a waiter will come and take your order.  The only food on the menu is beignets.  You can get a coffee, milk, soda or orange juice.  It's kind of crazy that a place with only one thing on the menu can be this busy.  Another confession that I have to make is that I have never loved beignets.  Before Cafe du Monde, I had tried beignets a few times and never understood the fuss.  I don't really love powdered sugar, and beignets are basically doughnut pillows covered in powdered sugar.  Not my jam.  

Mike and I ordered just one plate of beignets to split.  There are three beignets per order.  When the plate came, we quickly dug in.
To my pleasure, these were nothing like the beignets I had before.  They were warm and soft and the sugar was stuck onto the doughnut so it didn't fall all over my dress.  I was in heaven and then Mike and I had to duel for the third one.  We did the right thing and split it in half, but I would be lying if I didn't say that I really wanted it for myself.  

When the plate was empty I felt like crying.  I wanted more, but my waistline said that 1.5 was enough.  It's tough listening to my hips.  This is a very sad plate.
If you can't find a table at the cafe, you can order beignets and coffee at the to-go counter.  These would be a great treat to take back to the hotel after a night of libations.  Just remember to get an extra order, you will thank me later!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular

Truth Squad: I have only seen two of the four Indiana Jones movies.  And one of them was the craptastic Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.  The other one that I have seen is The Last Crusade, which is why whenever anyone asks me my favorite Indiana Jones movie, I always respond with "The Last Crusade," and then the people always say, "Really, that one is my least favorite."  I have no excuse for not seeing the movies.  It just wasn't something I was interested in when they were popular, and now I have better things to The Real Housewives of New Jersey, on repeat.

At Disney's Hollywood Studios there is a pretty great stunt show featuring stunts from the Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark movie.  This show has been around since they opened the park in 1989 and not much has changed since then.  In all honesty, this is one of those shows that doesn't need any upgrades because it's pretty perfect just the way it is.

First, the theater is HUGE.  And shaded.  While it isn't air-conditioned, it's usually pretty cool because you are out of the sun and they have large fans going.  The show runs about 25 minutes, so it can be a nice respite from the midday sun.  They only run the show a few times per day, so you want to check the show times when you first get to the park. 

The show has some really great examples of extreme action stunt work.  I haven't seen Raiders of the Lost Ark, but even I can appreciate the famous scenes that they recreate before the audience.  I would even go as far as to say that what you see is incredible.  It really is that good.  There are choreographed fight scenes, pyrotechnics, audience participation (there is one gag in particular that gets me every time), and great acrobatics.  I have seen this show many times, and yet every time I notice something new. 

This really is an amazing show to see.  I wouldn't miss it during your trip.  5 out of 5 or 9 out of 10 stars. 

On a side note, one of the difficult things about Hollywood Studios is timing out your day.  There are several shows and parades that make it difficult to get everything in on one visit.  My expert advice is to plan on visiting the Studios at least twice during your visit.  I don't think you need to spend a full day either time, but it will make it easier to fit everything in if you space your visits on two separate days.  The Indiana Jones show is on an opposite end of the park as Lights! Motors! Action!, and I have noticed that they usually space the shows where you could only do one in the morning and one in the afternoon.  When you factor in walking time, time standing in line, and time waiting for the show to begin, it eats up at least an hour and a half of your time for each show.  To me it makes sense to spend two mornings at the Studios, or a morning and an afternoon so that you can fit everything in.