Thursday, September 10, 2015

Start Spreading the News!

Alert! Alert!!! Something terrible has happened! I've fallen in love... With New York City!
Never in a million years would I have thought this could be possible. The mass of humanity, living upon eachother and breathing in filth- who would want that? Well, this girl I guess!
To be honest, I fell for the quiet neighborhoods and rich history of the city. This past weekend I met up with a friend and we explored the city in a wandering, stroll of two friends who are more interested in spending time together than seeing the sights. For me, it was the first time back in NYC since I was a child so there were too many tourist traps to check off in just 4 days. We didn't even attempt things like The Empire State Building or Statue of Liberty.
No, instead we both made a short list of Must Do's and tried to cross off as many of them as we could. Below is out lists and our actual itinerary. It was such a great weekend and I can't wait to see my Kiwi again soon. NYC treated is right and I know I'll be back.
Tracy's List:
New York Pizza
Central Park
Broadway Show
Walking tour
Roof Top Bar at Sunset

Nicki's List:
Coney Island
Central Park
Dinner with friend Grace
Time Square shopping

Day 1: Friday, Sept. 4th
I landed crazy early and thought I would check my bag into a 24/7 locker place in Manhattan, but turns out their hours had changed for the holiday weekend. My next thought was to go to our hotel and store it with their bell services. That way I could go explore and get some great pre-dawn pictures. Well much to my delight, they had a clean and ready room at 6:30am and let me check-in! Marrakech Hotel was delightful and so convenient next to the 103 Subway stop on the 1 line. The only downside was that  it was a 5 floor walk up to our room- No Elevator! Still it was a lovely room and staff went above and beyond to make our stay enjoyable.
Once I was checked in all thought of photography fled my mind. I crashed for a few hours and then rushe out the door to meet Nicki, who was coming into town with her Contiki Tour. I got there a little early so I grabbed a bite to eat in Chealsea at this hip burger joint: Black Iron Burger. I followe the advice of the waitstaff and ordered a Hashbrown Burger with Aoli fries. I also had a local beer: Coney Island Mermaid Pislner 
It was as good as it looks!
Once I had met up with Nicki and we dropped off her bag. We took the metro down to Time Square and strolled around for a bit. It was getting close to dinner when we stumbled upon this great Cuban place, so we stopped for dinner and drinks! Havana Central, I highly recommend the Paelle- but split it! It's so much food!!!! 

Day 2: Saturday, September 5th
Slept in. #noregrets But once we were up and going we head to Brunch, my favorite meal. Yelp directed me to Crepes On Columbus and while the wait was little long and the service was SLOW, the food was divine! We each ordered a savory crepe and then we split a sweet one.
In the afternoon we met our Sandeman's New Europe walking tour of Midtown at Grand Central Station and enjoyed hearing the histories of the train station, the Chrysler Building, New York Public Library, 5th Ave, Bryant Park, Time Square, Broadway and Shubert Alley,  and Rockefeller. It was very educational and Jesse was a great guide.
That evening we went to dinner with Nicki's friend, Grace at The Smith just across from Lincoln Center. The food was excellent and I recommend a cocktail. I had the gnocchi, so rich and creamy!
After dinner we decided to have a drink at a little Irish pub near Columbus Cirlce. It was pretty low key, perfect for Nicki and I to plan out our next day ad have some girl talk.

Day 3: Sunday, Sept. 6th
Coney Island in the morning. It's a long train ride, but with my first Pumpkin Spiced Latte of the season in hand i didn't seem to mind. Plus it was a nice quiet ride and I chatted with a local family who was heading to the beach. It was nice to get a local's view of Manhattan living. Their kids were both under the age of 5 and handled the metro like pros. I was impressed.
The visit for Coney Island was a must for both Nicki and I since we became friends while working for Disney's Boardwalk Resort. So much of that hotel was inspired by places like Coney Island, we just had to visit! 
Plus! I got my New York Hot Dog and Nicki tried a lobster roll for the first time. 
Once we spent a little money on merch, we took the train back into town to buy some Broadway tickets! We ended up getting great seats for Les Mis at 50% off. We were thrilled! 
We headed back to the hotel to get gussied up and then rushed back to the show. 
After many tears and awed silences of the musical, we met up with some of Nicki's tour mates who were celebrating birthdays. They were at this pub with live music called The Mean Fiddler. We had a blast with the music, dancing and good drinks. 

Day 4: Monday, Sept. 7th- Labor Day
This was the longest day, but worth every step! We took 2 walking tours and threw a museum into the mix. By the time we had to climb up to the hotel room we were both nursing swollen feet!
It started with a 10am tour of Central Park from this great tour company that our previous guide Jesse had recommended: Free Tours by Foot. They were so cool and offer several off-the-beaten-path tours that we decided that we'd also take their tour of the High Line Park as well! If we could have, I'd have like to take their Bushwick Graffiti tour too, but it wasn't offered that day!
Our tour of Central Park started at The Pullitzer Foutain and included the Plaza Hotel, the South End- the kids section, the ice rink, zoo, the poet's walk, Betheda fountain, boathouse and lake, and Strawberry Fields with The Dakota.
We stopped at the boathouse for lunch, then heade to the Met! 
 The Met was a lot to take in, but we had a blast. It started with goofy snapchats in the Greek area- tons of Disney's Hercules references. Then we branched out to modern art and the armory, to name a few. There was also this big exhibit in the Costume department, but it was the last day and was crazy packed. We had a hard time experiencing it. So we went to grab a coffee and have a much needed sitdown.
After the Met we grabbed the subway down to Grenwich to meet our High Line tour. It was spectacular. It's this old elevated railway that was converted into a park. It's breathtaking. A view of the city most people have never seen before! It's very industrial meets organic and the art installations are swapped out annually. This year's theme was Visualize. It was designed to make you see something in a different way. My favorite piece was this huge bronze telescope, but did doesn't work. It's suppose to get you to think about what you SHOULD see and BOOM! There's Lady Liberty across the river. So cool. 
After the tour, our guide Dante suggested a little pizza joint down the street. "It's not 'New York' pizza, but it's pretty good even by New Yorkers' standards." It was called Artichoke Basille's Pizza & Bar. They have this great deal where you can try 3 different slices for just $17, so Nicki and I each tried 3 different options and cut them in half! So we basically had one of everything. #noregrets.
Then it was back to the hotel to pack and head to the airport bright and early the next morning. 

Overall, a great time. And I was so happy to spend it with an old friend. New York, thanks for the memories!

Sunday, March 29, 2015


Sorry this was so late, but it's still a good read.
As I said last year, I wait all year to see my boys and to have fun with them. This year we decided to spice things up and since I no longer work for the mouse it required some new key players! This year's crew included:
Ryan (the leader of the pack)-
Ethan (our tech king)-
Lexi (one of my besties and fellow slave to the mouse!)- 
Holly (you remember her from Italy?)- 
And lil Kirsten (The girl child)- 
Various other friends joined us throughout the week, but those were our key players. 
We stayed off property, which I would highly recommend. Disneyland hotels are very expensive! Plus the good neighbor hotels are just as close- easily walkable to Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure. We chose to visit during Spring Break, but even then it didn't get busy until the last day. 
For those of you who are like me, a Walt Disney World pro then you need to be forewarned: Disneyland is a whole new beast! Over 50% of the annual business is based on Locals/Annual Passholders. And they are the smart ones! They come in for a few hours here and there. It's rare for them to come in for a whole day. So if you are rushing around like a crazy person fueled by the addiction of old school fastpasses, you're going to stand out.
Disneyland has a much more relaxed feel to it. Think EPCOT but within the Magic Kingdom or Hollywood Studios! It's all about taking your time and relaxing. Don't ruin your trip by being in a hurry!
So here's how it went down:
Day 1- LAX arrival.
When you've got 2 different starting points for 6 people, flights can get confusing. The Kansas crew arrived first, and we all managed to get the same flight. Holly had frequently flier points coming out of her nose (ugh, lucky B!) so she booked the best priced flight through Southwest. Lexi was on a budget so she'd been scanning the skies and found a great deal through Delta. Luckily, Holly and Lexi's flights were at similar times so they rode to the airport together and landed pretty close in time. Unfortunately, LAX has this thing where your plane has reached the ground but Taxiing will take another 35-40mins... 4th least favorite airport ever!!! (1-CDG, 2-ORD, 3-JFK, 4-LAX)
Once all together at the airport, we took the shuttle to our hotel. It's the shuttle advertised through Southwest. We've used them both times I've been to Disneyland and they're great and a fair price!
We stayed at Tropicana Inn & Suite, my 2nd visit to their lovely hotel. It's affordable and directly across the street from the Main Gates- less than a 5min walk! The room wasn't ready yet so we stored our luggage and went exploring. We hit up DTD (downtown Disney, for you newbies) and had lunch at this great New Orleans themed place. My shrimp PoBoy was way too much and I'd bought  dessert for everyone... We took the dessert back to the hotel! Then we did some shopping and explored the 2 hotels on property.
Holly and I were about to talk our way into a small tour of The Grand Californian. Very cool.
 Love the craftsmanship of these beds!
The Club Lounge from one of the rooms.
The pools were killer!
After that, Lexi, Holly and I headed back to the hotel room. I hadn't seen them in person since December, so we needed some girl talk! It was great just hanging out and catching up. The kids, as we call them were off shopping and photo shooting. We all agreed to save our first day of the parks for when we could actually spend a quiet morning there. Lexi had never been before, so we were looking forward to showing her around.
Day 2- Disneyland!
Rise and shine for park open. Nothing like a good rope drop to get your blood pumping in the morning... Except coffee, which was my first stop on Main Street! 
This classic was our next destination. Everybody wanted get to Indy so we hit Adventureland first thing. Lexi hated our next stop but I don't come to Disney without this ride!
Our skipper never did tell us who Pat was...
We did all the must dos that day, including something I'd missed on my first visit- Mickey and the Magical Map!!!!
I loved it and went a second time on this trip with Lexi. It was THAT good. 
Seriously, go see it!!!
We had lunch at Carnation Cafe on Main Street, it was Walt's favorite and he always ordered the Chili. They've removed my favorite thing from the menu: PB&J soda. "It's not bad," was my slogan last trip.
The groups broke off and us girls kidnapped Ethan. The lovebirds can make a single guy a little sick, so we brought him with us. My other must do was ToonTown! There's so much hidden magic in that area and some great photos too.
That evening was Fireworks as fastpasses to Fantasmic. No pictures because I'd seen it before, but it was nice to just take the show in without a screen in front if my face!
Day 3- California Adventure
I love this park. It's so well designed. It's everything I hope for Hollywood Studios after the remodel. This park breaks down into 5 lands: old Hollywood, Bugs Life kiddie park, Carsland, Grizzly Gultch, and the old Boardwalk carnival.
Now those may not seem like they match up but the beautiful design of the park makes your experience streamline. I just love the transition. My favorite areas? Old Hollywood during the day and Carsland at night- all that neon.
The Newsie's Street show was on Lexi's Must Do list. And Holly loves Heimlick's Chew-Choo... She's a nut! 
Lexi fell in love with Carsland, I knew she would. We spent a lot of time just taking photos.
And then I got to introduce my 2 favorite Disney experience to them: the Animation Hall- all the art and storyboards and music, that place is my Happy place! And World of Color!
Words can not describe WOC. You just have to live it. That show is beyond... It's just simply... Yep, indescribable. Go see and then tell me what you'd say!
Day 4- Park Hopping
This day was all about 2nd rides and experience we may have missed. We went to WOC and Fantasmic again. We also had Holly talk us onto the fastpass line of Big Thunder at night... I don't know why that ride is better in the dark, but it just is and I don't argue with the facts!
I got to see more of the fanstatic Streetmasphere that Disneyland is known for. Below is the Nickle and a Dame group.
And I got the girls to get their fortunes from Esmerelda on Main Street. She's always spookily accurate!

All in all, it was a good trip and good people. I can't ask for more. Sadly, this will be my last DISNEMAW trip. Next year I have a few big trips so all the little trips are on the back burners. It's sad, but all good things must end. I'll miss my boys and our bonding time.

Playing Catch Up

Long time, no post. That's my usual M.O.   So don't take it personally! I'm just trying to get my life back in track.
I moved back to the Midwest, Orlando wasn't cutting it for me! It's a real shame because since then I have discovered some amazing deals for international travel that depart from there... Oh well!
Since I last posted I've moved back to Kansas City, become a manager of locally owned Salon & Spa, starting taking cooking classes for fun, and taken a few trips! 2 of those trips were just return visit to Orlando to see friends and enjoy EPCOT's Food & Wine Festival. The most recent one was #DISNEMAW3 and this year we went to Disneyland! It was amazing. Check out the next post to learn more about how to do Disneyland on a Dime!
My next big adventure is up in the air. I'm considering a couple of options. I have 7more countries to reach in the next 2 years if I'm going to hit my goal of "30 countries in 30 years". My thought was one more crazy backpacker's trip through Europe where I would hit Switzerland, Belguim, Wales, and Norway. Or I can take a cruise an try to visit the Bahamas, St. Maarten, and Puerto Rico or Jamacia.
I already know that I'll be taking a cruise for my 30th birthday that will leave Venice and visit Croatia, Greece, and Turkey! I think its all doable... I just need to start planning.
Any way, it's good to be back! Expect several posts in the next few weeks. I've got tons to talk about. I've also started planning trips for friends at request, so lots of fun itineraries to post! Chat at you soon.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Let the kids help!

Picture this: beautiful countryside, breathtaking adventures around every corner and just off to the side- there's you 12year old playing Fruit Ninja on their tablet!
Sounds frustrating, but that's the reality of our high tech world. It takes more than natural beauty and wonder to get our kids hyped up for your vacation.
However, there is hope! There's a lot of ways to get your children more involved in your next trip. Planning for a family vacation should be a whole-family process. Not only will it excite them for the coming adventure, it's a great life skill for when their out wandering on their own. So bring on the lil' vagabonds and let's get to it!

Step 1. Create the itinerary
I know this might be harder with the young ones, but it's important to be fair. You need to hit something for everyone and while you might know all there is to see in Washington D.C., the kids don't. So rent some travel DVDs or look up a few episodes of your favorite travel show. Personally, I'm a huge fan of Samantha Brown and she's done it all- Weekends in  your favorite US locales, European hotspots, even trips to central and South America!
Once the kids know what there is to see, have them create a list of their top 5 ( less if you're only going for a few days). Build your itineraries around these Must Do's. This way, everyone feels there's something for them.
Tip: If you find overlap: everyone wrote down "Go to the zoo"- add it to the itinerary, but still find a unique item on each kids list. It's says to that child "hey, this moment on the trip is all about you!" That's an awesome feeling for kids.
Tip: So you've got a teenager. - sigh- It happens to the best of them... Actually, it happens to all of them, sadly! And you've watched to videos, read the travel books, looked up all the Must Sees and they still don't have an item for the list? Get creative! Online research some bizarre or high tech tourist options. Maybe find the hottest, most hip restaurant in town- where their favorite actor eats"like all the time!" In short, con them! ;)

Step 2. Start a Countdown. This works great with younger kids. Create something visual that you can make a big ceremony of by ripping of each day. With the older ones, you might want to go high tech again. I use an app with built-in reminders for my trips. This might not be the exact thing your teen needs, but there are several count down apps to choose from.
This could be any iconic shape: Big Ben, The Space Needle, St. Louis Arch... Be creative!

Step 3. Save for Souvenirs. With little ones this might be harder or if you have an allowance set up. But if you create "piggy bank" type saving options for the kids that let them know all that money is money they can spend on the trip! For whatever they want!! It's a lot of freedom and a great way to build your trip up.
Tip: beware the teenager! Let them know that this fund is for fun on the trip. Just because they saved $40 in their fund does not mean that they can spend it on iTunes or apps. This is for something to remember the trip by!

Step 4. Make travel kits. Again, more for the little ones here; but if you're road trippin' it's a must! I suggest a combination of old and new. Make sure you take the security blanket or Mr. Stuffington, but also include new coloring books or trip specific bingo. If you're driving along Route 66, there are going to be things that you can only see there!
Tip: Target has $1 spot and there are some great options for creating an awesome Travel Kit!


Step 5. Relatable Vacation Reading. Some school assign summer reading lists -and you're welcome to go off of that when helping your kids find something for your trip. However, if you don't have a book picked out I suggest finding something that matches your destination! Actually, I do this for myself pretty often. I read Dan Brown's DaVinci Code right before going to Paris and it really added a cool layer to the sights I was seeing!

Step 6. Limit the technology. I'm not saying they can't keep their iPod or cell phone, but there's no reason they need their Laptop, SD, cell phone, iPod, tablet, Ereader, and portable DVD player... I say 1. And don't let me trick you! If one is taking their laptop and another wants the portable DVD player, but they each NEED their phones... They are playing you!

Step 7. Packing. Again, this is a bigger deal for the little kids... Then again, if you remind your teenager that these will be the pictures you're tagging them in on Facebook or Twitter- I bet that will get them REALLY involved! Just make sure you're monitoring, last thing you want is little Bobby packing all his awesome Dino tees and no undies.

Step 8. Prep the pets. If you're taking them with you, great! Let the kids help you pack their things. If they are getting a sitter, let the kids help you outline a schedule for them. If they are going to a Pet hotel, let the kids know what Fido is going to do on his own vacation!
Tip: make it fun, if you can! Maybe work out a doggy photo shoot where he spends a day at the spa or something equally funny. The kids will love to see that the dog was enjoying himself while all those pesky humans were away!

Step 9. Talk to the Teachers. If you are pulling them out for a day or two, it's not the end of the world. But by letting the teachers know, they might be able to assign something more interesting than the regular homework! Teachers are the most creative people I know, so give them a chance and they'll probably make your life a little easier.

Step 10. This is the last one: Give each person a job. Something to be responsible for throughout the trip! Maybe someone loads the suitcases every time. Or someone is in charge of the gps. Growing up, I like to be in charge of picking the lunch location! I'd spend at least an hour looking for every rest stop I thought would work. It was fun.

My final tip: research, Research, RESEARCH! You know your family better than anyone. Find the things you know are your style and be ready to make these the trips they talk about with their kids some day! 
Good luck and watch out for the teenagers... They're everywhere!!!!!