Sunday, December 8, 2019

Never Homevember: 2019 Walt Disney World

Our travel schedule for November got full quickly.   Our traditional Thanksgiving vacation to Jamaica was booked in the summer of 2018 when we found a crazy cheap promotion for one of our favorite hotels.  We booked a short Disney World trip centered around the Swan and Dolphin Hotels’ Food and Wine Classic event and our wedding anniversary.   This summer a friend suggested we should join him in Las Vegas for the Rock and Roll Half Marathon - which of course was the weekend between the other trips.   We were on the fence about Vegas but when we canceled our Labor Day trip to Florida, due to Hurricane Dorian, we used the airline credit and budget from that trip to book the Las Vegas trip and then drowned our sorrows in Milwaukee (an hour from our house) over Labor Day Weekend.  That meant we would not be home 4 weekends in a row.  Of course this came at extreme busy times at work so lots of time was spent on the laptops at night during the work weeks.

Disney Highlights

Stayed at the Polynesian using our Disney Vacation Club.  We booked a lake view room which offers a view of the Magic Kingdom from the 2nd and 3rd floors.   We of course ended up on the first floor with no view.  Oh well...  One benefit of our location was the quick walk to the Transportation and Ticket Center to grab the Monorail to access to Magic Kingdon, several resorts, and Epcot.  Another plus was access to Trader Sam's Tiki Bar for the chance to get the Hat Box Ghost mug.


Checking out the new land in Disney's Hollywood Studios:  Galaxy's Edge.   We were really looking forward to experiencing the land, especially after missing opening weekend.  Since the land’s opening crowds at Disney World were low....but not on Veteran's Day Weekend.   The place was packed with lines out-the-door to get into shops.

We experienced a lot in a short amount of time thanks to Holly's tenacious attack on Disney's online reservation system.   The morning started with cocktails and beer at 10am in Oga's Cantina. "Fortunately" they still had all the collectible tiki glasses including the Rancor tooth flight glasses and tray.  Next we went to build our custom remote control R2-D2 style droids. Around noon we finally got in the 105 minute long line for Smuggler's Run - the Millennium Falcon simulation.  Holly let people go ahead of us at role assignment time so we could be the pilots.    2pm:  Time for more cocktails since we had another Oga's reservation.   4pm: Build light sabers.








Overall the world was very well thought out, just wish we could have had the non-crowd experience of the prior months.   Dave felt it needed a little more nods to the old era like having the Jawas trade with guests and more random creatures walk around the area.

Food:  This whole trip was supposed to be centered around eating, but we had to cram all the Star Wars stuff in after cancelling the September trip.   We had a great night at the Swan and Dolphin's Food and Wine Classic.  The event gets better each year with more offerings and themed areas.  Epcot was still hosting their Food and Wine Festival.   Our original wish list of 75 items was created in August when we had two trips to spread the eating.    We culled that down a bit before the trip and maybe ended up skipping a 1/3 of what we wrote down.    We enjoyed the new night time show - Epcot Forever. Too bad it's temporary.




We grabbed a drink at the new Enchanted Rose Lounge in the Grand Floridian. The bar is a lightly themed to Beauty and the Beast and replaces Mizner's Lounge in a much larger space.   It will be nice to spend some time on their outdoor deck during a longer trip.

We decided to celebrate our anniversary dinner at The California Grill.   Food was good as always, but we had some issues with the check-in desk.  They had us wait a 1/2 hour past our reservation time in some dank corner of the Contemporary 2nd floor and weren’t sure they would have called us if Dave didn't check on the progress.   We had it noted all over the place it was our anniversary - so where do they sit us?  A booth in front of the chef's pass.    Not cool.   We told them we were not happy and were reseated a few minutes later.    Kinda put a damper on the mood and we left 5 minutes before the fireworks.    We did catch them at TTC - good spot for them.   

We scored a Mickey's Christmas Tree popcorn bucket.   It's our Christmas Tree this year.  Dave was really tempted to buy more for ebay after seeing the after-market price, but we believe in letting people have a chance to get one in-park.


Once again we were able to squeeze a lot into a short amount of time and had a great trip.   

The video below is our experience making custom light sabers in Galaxy’s Edge.  Dave gets to show some Star Wars nerdiness when a cast member asks him a question.








Friday, November 22, 2019

Mount Desert Island Marathon Race Report and Video and Acadia National Park - October 2019

Holly’s Report

This was the Maine marathon I wanted to do for my 50 State Challenge, but it never worked into our travel/work schedule.   This would finally be the year.   The course pictures always looked great.   I was always scared by the hills, but figured I would give it a go.   The Mount Desert Island course is a point to point course that starts in Bar Harbor and ends in Southwest Harbor.  You wind your way along the course and through the edges of Acadia National Park.  We were staying a short walk away from the start and got there about 7:30 for the 8:00am start.   Enough time for one more bathroom break and then got in the corrals.    Pretty soon we were off on a nice downhill start.  Unfortunately that didn’t last long.   The first hill was crazy and long.   I was mildly concerned.  (Ok,  majorly concerned).   I decided to just enjoy the scenery and whatever happened, happened.  





The scenery was amazing.  Beautiful fall foliage, rocky coastlines and cute harbors.   No boring sections on this course.   Dave wasn’t sure how he would be able to get around, but he did fine and saw me several times (starting at mile 7).    I kept running up those hills (walking some of the steep sections) and was doing well.   I started to tire in the last miles, but I’m happy with how I did.   The camber of the road was tough as we were mainly running facing traffic on open roads.  That would be my only real complaint.









The finish was great and I got my name announced which is always fun.   I got a really cute lobster claw medal, a few snacks, and then we hightailed it out of there.  




Race video


I was motivated to finish quickly and get back to the hotel because we had a reservation at the Jordan Pond House for their famous popovers.   That was their last day of the season, so it would be our only chance.    Dave did a stellar job of parking the car close to the finish.   We made it back to our hotel, showered, and made it to Jordan Pond with 35 minutes to spare!   The popovers were worth every hill I climbed.   I highly recommend this race.








Dave’s Race Chasing notes

The race materials cautioned to only spectate at several locations and made it very clear you couldn’t follow the course easily.   I figured out some back roads to get to mile 7, which ended up being a very isolated section of the course.   After seeing Holly I was able to follow the course until mile 14.   I connected backup with the course at mile 17 and followed until 21.  After that, I took the long way around to get to the finish area.  

Bar Harbor and Acadia

First the positives:   The area is very pretty, especially with the foliage this time of year.   The town of Bar Harbor was really cute and everyone we encountered in shops, restaurants, and bars were very friendly.   Bar Harbor is a town of about 5,000 residents that shuts down by November.   The business district is 2 blocks x 4 blocks and it’s filled with bars, restaurants, and lots of shops.  This is a great launch point for Acadia National Park touring, whale watching and puffin sighting tours, and lobster boat rides.

Now for the negative:  This small town is a popular cruise ship port.   Some days the cruisers outnumber the population.   Driving in town is difficult when ships are in because the cruisers do things like stand in the middle of the road, don’t look before crossing streets, and block narrow sidewalks with their indecisions on what shop to go into.   The grocery store parking lot is a nightmare!  Our hotel, The Harborside, was next to one of the cruise ship tender docks which provided us some entertainment.  

Some highlights of town were Atlantic BrewingFinback’sSide Street Cafe, and our favorite was Cottage Street Pub.









Our time in the Park was fun.   We started at the Visitor Center to figure out what to do.   We ended up driving to Cadillac Mountain observation for a panoramic view of the island.  Next we took the Gotham Mountain Trail to its summit for some pretty views.   That picture by the summit marker was taken ten seconds before Dave had the rocks slip from underneath him and he fell hard.  The camera and Dave are both fine.  

















Sunday, November 3, 2019

Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon Ace Report and Video - October 2019

My marathon for the year is the Mount Desert Island Marathon in Maine.   I have been training all summer for it and my motivation was not there.   The training was a grind mentally.   I had a 50 State hangover!  I had one more long run before the Maine Marathon and was dreading one more boring 20 mile run by myself in the neighborhood or on the treadmill.   I saw that the Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon was the same weekend.   I had wanted to do this one some day so now seemed as good as any.   I would get a supported long run and hopefully it wouldn’t be boring.   


The marathon is a point to point and starts north in Grafton, WI and ends at the Milwaukee Summerfest grounds.  With the race on Sunday we dropped Dave’s car off in a garage in Milwaukee since he’d leave for work from the city on Monday morning.  We stayed at a B&B in Cedarburg, WI since it was close to the start and we had heard it was a cute town.   It is a cute town, but not that much to do.   An afternoon was perfect.   Touring included Fermentorium Brewery, lunch at , chocolate shopping at , bourbon tasting (for Dave) at Handon Distillery.  The town was also hosting Oktoberfest this weekend so we made a stop in for a beer.  Dinner was Holly’s traditional spaghetti and meatballs at Tomaso’s.









We got to Grafton High School early and there were a lot of people.  It was nice that they let us in the school, so you could use a real bathroom.   Long lines though!   Soon we had a Disney race day like walk to the start corrals.   The course is flat with more uphill sections than I thought there would be.   It was a beautiful day for a marathon.  


The course had some boring parts in the beginning as you ran through farmland.  Then you started going through some beautiful neighborhoods by the lake.   I was feeling good and having fun.    I did have a volunteer tell me to stop walking and get to running.   I admit I yelled at him.   Not cool dude.   He obviously doesn’t know the Galloway Run/Walk/Run method.   I may have said, I have run 60 of these, I think I know what I’m doing.  











My only other complaint was the water on course.  Every stop but two of them used a garden hose hooked up to people’s houses.   I don’t know if it was the hose or Milwaukee’s water, but the smell and taste were awful.   Thank goodness for Dave to fill up my bottle.

The finish area was great.   You were immediately greeted by a medical person to see if you were ok.  Then got your medal and then they handed you a huge bag of snacks!   Dave had procured me a free beer and we sat and enjoyed that, the snacks, and listened to a great band.   All in all a pretty good day for a last minute “training” run.



Video from the race



After the race we were going to explore the Brady Street section of the city but decided to just hang out by our hotel downtown and hit up some of our favorites.  We hadn’t been in Milwaukee since our Labor Day Disney World trip was cancelled due to the hurricane so there were a few places we missed on that trip that we enjoy.   The burgers at AJ Bombers were excellent as always.    We tried to visit Uncle Buck’s in the new entertainment district by the stadium but it was crazy crowded with people watching the Packers.    We moved over to Ale Asylum Brewery and then Buck Bradley’s (we are done with that place - turned tourist trap).   We discover a new bar (to us) called The Trio with $5 Absolut drinks.  Score!   We had a dinner of Mac and cheese at Water Street Brewery before heading back to our hotel (Saint Kate) bar Giggly for a champagne cocktail nightcap.   It was nice to see Dave’s commute to work from Milwaukee was only 20 minutes longer than it is from home.  




Saturday, November 2, 2019

Zion National Park - Las Vegas and Utah - May 2019

Las Vegas/Utah Trip Overview


The main portion of Zion was just a 90 minute drive from Bryce.  At the beginning of our trip we visited the Kolob Canyon section in the northern part of the park.   The two areas are not connected through the park.  

We entered the park through the Eastern Entrance which meant our first experience in the park would be viewing the checkerboard mountains.   After a quick stop and a pass through the small carved out arch over the road we stopped near the long tunnel for a quick hike on the Canyon Overlook Trail.  Nothing too difficult other than the steep rock ramp at the beginning of the trail.   Some lady coming down came sliding by us on our way up and Holly saved her from a nasty tumble.   

This was a great place to stop and help us understand how different the scenery would be here vs. what we just experienced in Bryce.   A lot more mountains with straight verticals and more woodlands.

Of note, this was the first day we could be comfortable in shorts and t-shirts.   The cold spell had moved on.















Next it was time for the tunnel.    The thing was carved like a hundred years ago and it's long and creepy.     About this time we realized we never really drove our rental car at night and auto headlights were not turned on.    Dave panicked because he couldn't find the switch for the lights and ended up flashing his high beams off and on until exiting.   Sorry people.




When we made it to the visitor center we could tell the weekend crowds were starting to build.  What makes Zion different from the other parks is cars are not allowed to drive through most of the park.   They have a shuttle bus system that takes visitors to the sights.  This holds for guests of the lodge as well.    We weren't able to get reservations in the lodge and ended up staying in Springdale, UT - a real town at the edge of the park.  We were surprised at the efficiency of the shuttle system.  We maybe waited 5 minutes at most any given time we wanted to take a ride.

Our first stop on the shuttle was number 5 to visit Emerald Falls.  Some rains earlier in the season had closed a few of the trails and sights including Upper Emerald Pools and The Narrows.  We visited Lower Emerald Falls with the rest of everyone else in Zion that morning.    It's a short and easy walk on a paved trail to get to the falls.













Time for lunch.   The only place to eat is the lodge, unless you want to go back to town.   The two options here were table service or quick serve.   We fought the masses and chose quick service.  The bright spot was a beer cart from Zion Brewery in the middle of the outdoor seating area.   After lunch we hopped back on the shuttle to tour the Riverside Walk area and the entrance to The Narrows.  At one of the shallow points we took off our boots and stepped into the water.   Dumb idea - it was freezing!








The rest of our park time that day was spent hopping off-and-on the shuttle to see a few of the sites like Mossy Cave and Court of the Patriarchs.   Zion did have a lot of short walks to get to some fun areas to tour.  Once we were done touring we drove over to the Zion Brewery.   We lucked into outdoor seating with a great view of the mountains.  Dinner that evening was at a bar next to our hotel - Jack's Switchback Grille.   











***

Up early again so we can beat the crowds to the rest of the sights of Zion.   We started the morning off by getting to the visitor center parking lot and take a nearby hike on The Watchman Trail.   Lines for the shuttles were long; filled with people wanting to hike Angel's Landing before the heat of the day sets in.   We decided we were skipping Angel's Landing because it was described as strenuous and not for those with height issues.  The Watchman Trail had a few steep portions, but nothing too terrible.   We were happy we did this one before the sun came out because we could see it was having a toll on people coming up while we went down.













We took the Archeology Trail to the Pa'rus Trail in order to make our way to the museum for the park movie.    The turn-off for the museum wasn't well-labeled and we ended up walking way more than we intended.   Our easy walk still turned into a dash so we wouldn't miss the movie start time.    We did some more exploration around the area, including the easy portion of Angel’s Landing Trail before heading to the Zion Lodge for lunch.   We chose the sit-down option on the 2nd floor deck which gave us great views of the mountains.  The lodge served the perfect Prickly Pear Margarita - it was in a small martini glass so the balance to tequila to mix was perfect.









Next up was our horseback riding tour.  About 12-15 people go up the Sand Beach Trail in a straight line with a couple of guides.   When horses were handed out the man asked Dave when was the last time you've been on a horse?  40 years ago was the answer.   We chose to wear helmets.    Holly also suggested Dave not bring the big camera, but he did and ended up losing the lens cap somewhere on the trail.  At the top of the trail we had an excellent view of the surrounding valley and The Patriarchs.  Somehow Dave ended up in the back of the horse line-up with the seven year old the only one keeping an eye on him.   We survived and it was a unique way to experience the park.













After our ride was over we crossed the street to visit The Zion Lodge one more time.  We grabbed some beers from the cart, took our shoes off, and sat on the lawn watching people go by and a kid throw a frisbee very poorly.   We evaluated what else we wanted to do in the park and decided it was nothing!  We shuttled to the visitor center and walked over to the Zion Brewery.   It took us a few minutes to get the outdoor seats we wanted, but once we did we settled in.    Dinner that night was across the street from our hotel at the Bit and Spur.  This place was excellent and is a must-do if you are in the area.   

***
The next morning we were up early again.   Our flight back home was late in the day but since it was Dave's birthday he wanted to spend some more time back in Las Vegas.   The drive back was a little over an hour so not too bad.   We parked for free at The Venetian and spent some time playing slots at The Linq.   An added birthday surprise was finding a horse race game at The Linq with the little mechanical horses going around the track! The Linq also had a nice beer bar right on The Strip - a perfect place for people watching.    Lunch was at Noodle's Asia in the Venetian - also a good choice.  When we left Las Vegas for Utah we were up $13.   That was not the case when we headed off to the airport!

As many of our readers know a week hiking in National Parks is not our typical vacation.    We were actually surprised how much we enjoyed our time in Utah.  The uniqueness of the area and the diversity in scenery makes this part of the country a must-do.