Thursday, July 19, 2018

Disney World Trip Highlights - May/June 2018


Every few years we book a week+ long trip to Disney World in May.   Typically we do this around Mother’s Day but since Dave started with a new company last year his vacation allotment reset, causing us to take advantage of the Memorial Day holiday to minimize vacation use.   We figured there would be a noticeable difference in the crowds for the holiday weekend, but it actually wasn’t any worse than earlier in the month. 

We’re going to cover the highlights in the post vs. a day-by-day account of our trip.   We spent the first 6 nights at Bay Lake Tower (attached to the Contemporary Resort) followed by 4 nights at Boardwalk Resort.   We are DVC (Disney Vacation Club) members.



We landed early Friday evening and rushed through MCO to our rental car.   We dropped everything off in the hotel room so we could head right into the Magic Kingdom to see the Happily Ever After fireworks show.   Holly was a big fan of Wishes and we both decided the new show was not a very good replacement – definitely less pyrotechnics and more castle projections (which are hard to see with all the darn kids on parents’ shoulders).

Memorial Day Weekend marked the last few days of Epcot’s Flower and Garden Festival.  This put the pressure on us to hit all the food booths around World Showcase that we wanted to try.   Overall offerings this year were not as good as they have been in the past.   Epcot did look great and it was fun to watch the flowers slowly disappear later in the week when the festival closed.   We took in The Spinners at the Garden Rocks concert.  Fun show!






Trader Sam’s at the Polynesian is still a fun place to enjoy the evening (outdoors).  We were happy to see that Disney did not get rid of the guitarist/singer on the terrace. 





California Grill is back on our top dining list.   We had really bad service on our last visit to the restaurant and the changes to the menu items at that time were not our favorite.  Now with the former Jiko chef at the helm things are back the way we like them.   We ate a late (10pm) dinner one night at the bar and then a normal time dinner the following evening.   The filet with the tamarind BBQ was as good as ever.   Our motto for Disney dining in May still held true:  If Zellwood corn is on the menu get it.  The corn chowder was fantastic!





We dined with friends one night at Victoria and Albert’s Chef’s Table.   We had a great night watching the kitchen team in action and enjoying great food and wine.   That evening will get a detailed post of its own.





We had a surprisingly good lunch at The Wave in the Contemporary.  We didn’t want park food or food court food and found this a decent option.  We split the appetizer mussels and Asian pork belly buns.   There were a few decent beers on tap.   This is a perfect break from the Magic Kingdom.
Disney Springs has become an enjoyable place to eat and drink.   We experienced Paddlefish, Dockside Margaritas, Polite Pig, The Edison, Morimoto Asia, and more.
 Afternoon tea at the Grand Floridian is still a fun break from the Magic Kingdom.

 This summer Animal Kingdom started an event in Dino Land called Donald’s Dino-Bash.   The premise is Donald Duck discovers ducks are descended from Dinosaurs and throws a party. Uncle Scrooge is fighting with some rival duck over whom was the first duck clan of Scotland.  There’s some decent theming and backstory in the Uncle Scrooge photo opp area.  Other photo opps include Launchpad McQuack, Chip & Dale in cute dinosaur onesies, Pluto, Daisy, and Goofy.   We hit the character stops before they opened (at 10am) and breezed through them.   In the afternoon the hold a dance party in the courtyard.   By dance party think Disney Jr. vs. Dj Elliott.

 Incredible Summer was occurring in Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland.   Characters from the Incredibles movies were out along with some photo opp backgrounds and a stage show/dance party.   Banners were all over the place and the regular Tomorrowland music loop was replaced by an Incredibles themed soundtrack.   We weren’t fans of this since 1) we don’t really enjoy The Incredibles and 2) it replaced the theming of Tomorrowland.   Dino-Bash was an add-on vs. an overhaul.   There’s rumor Edna Mode is going to narrate the Tomorrowland Transit Authority.   If that’s true it’s time to bring headphones with us to stream an old narration.

We dined at Spice Road Table in Epcot’s Morocco for the first time.   We never included this location on our dining list before because the outside patio area was usually empty when we passed by.  They have a great location on the water so something must be wrong if it’s empty.  We booked a table in time to see Illuminations (fireworks show) and enjoyed how close we were to the action in the lagoon.  Then we remembered this used to be where we watched Illuminations before they built the restaurant.   Food was good, portions were large and reasonably priced.  We could come back and share an appetizer and share an entrĂ©e and be content.




Several months ago Dooney & Bourke  released a purse with a Disney dog pattern that Holly was after.  She missed out online at the release date (setting an alarm to get up in the middle of the night).  While we were on property some were being released in very limited amounts.    We got to Animal Kingdom later than we normally would one morning and she missed it by 10 minutes.  We started rope-dropping stores selling purses vs. attractions for a few days after that.   No luck.





Flights of Wonder bird show in Animal Kingdom was overhauled to be Up! A Great Bird Adventure.   By doing this they have incorporated characters from Up! into the show.   The birds are basically the same, just the main narrator’s “Eat, Pray, Love” shtick is more annoying than the tour guide shtick from the old show

Even though it was his birthday, Dave agreed to go to the princess character breakfast at Trattoria al Forno in the Boardwalk Resort.   Characters are not his thing, especially ones that talk back.   The food was good – can’t argue with steak at 8am and the character interaction was quick.    They had the annoying kid parade around the restaurant and other songs so be ready for that.   The characters were nice and knew to limit interaction with Dave, even when they found out it was his birthday.   This is worth a try if you want to see Ariel, Rapunzel, and related princes.



Since we are on the topic of the Boardwalk Resort we’ll cover our check-in mishap.   We left Animal Kingdom around 3:45 and finally got the notice that are room was ready.   We arrived, asked Bell Services to bring our bags (we dropped them off earlier that day), and went to our unclean room.   The room had not been serviced.   Dave called the desk (which is a central line for all the hotels) while Holly went to the desk directly.   We were told it would be 45 minutes and received some compensation for our troubles.   45 minutes turned into almost 2 hours.   After some additional conversations were received 3 bonus Fast Passes (shorter wait tickets) per day.   





We were going to write a glowing review of Matboukha Groove at Epcot’s Morocco Pavilion but the band is no longer there.   They engaged the crowd with their high-energy performance.   Sahara Beat is the replacement act.




Brown Derby’s outdoor lounge in the Hollywood Studios is still enjoyable.  It’s a really nice dining venue with great appetizer selections and the chance to get Zellwood corn soup from the inside menu if you ask nice.    Sitting at a two-top we were not given the advantage of an umbrella for shade.   While dining around noon the breeze had stopped and the sun shifted perfectly over us.   It was HOT!



Those were some of the highlights.  We'll return back to Disney World Labor Day Weekend for a few fun days at Epcot's International Food & Wine Festival (Tiffany is performing that weekend) and to check out the Studio's new Toy Story Land.   This will also be our first time staying at The Grand Floridian Resort.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Charity of the Month: Sarcoma Foundation of America

Charity of the Month is a way Team Tizzel is helping to support some very worthy organizations. As part of this program, we will dedicate a post to a charity that we will sponsor through the month by donating Holly's training run money.


In March we sponsored Chicago's Brookfield Zoo Share the the Care Program with a continued donation to Hudson the polar bear and a new adoption of Potoka the giraffe.   For April, May, June we didn't find any charities to feature during this time.  Nothing stuck out to us.   In late May Holly decided to use Facebook's "Dedicate Your Birthday" to charity function as a way to promote one of our favorite organizations: Give Kids the World.  We decided to donate 3 months worth of Charity of the Month funds to this cause.  Thanks to the generosity of our friends Holly raised $600 through her Facebook post.  We kicked in another $400 to make it an even $1,000.     

July Charity of the Month:



Our friends Bob and Barb Kennedy will be participating in the Pittsburgh Cure Sarcoma 5K in memory of a family member.

"Sarcomas are cancers that arise from the cells that hold the body together. These could be cells related to muscles, nerves, bones, fat, tendons, cartilage, or other forms of “connective tissues.” There are hundreds of different kinds of sarcomas, which come from different kinds of cells.


Sarcomas can invade surrounding tissue and can metastasize (spread) to other organs of the body, forming secondary tumors. The cells of secondary tumors are similar to those of the primary (original) cancer. Secondary tumors are referred to as “metastatic sarcoma” because they are part of the same cancer and are not a new disease." - SFA website

Brief History of Pittsburgh Cure Sarcoma (PCS) Organization
In January 2011, Drs. Hussein Tawbi and Kurt Weiss with UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, chaired a start-up committee of 12 members who joined with the Sarcoma Foundation of America to fundraise and raise awareness for the Pittsburgh area and beyond. The group pursued a 5K event with a goal to raise awareness and support others who have been affected by this rare cancer. This event, along with the creation of the website, garnered much attention in the Pittsburgh region and gathered many families who have been affected by sarcoma cancer.

The overwhelming success of the initial 5K fundraiser in 2011 set the foundation for this to be an annual event, which has continued to grow each year in participation and funding to support research. To date this event, as well as an annual golf outing, has raised over $1,000,00,000 to support sarcoma research here in Pittsburgh and across the nation through the Sarcoma Foundation of America (SFA). Since 2012, the SFA has presented a research grant named in honor of Pittsburgh Cure Sarcoma to a sarcoma researcher in the United States to continue efforts to development innovative treatment approaches for sarcoma. This would not be possible without the support and participation of major sponsors in the Pittsburgh region and involvement of generous patients and their families.

Please join us to help ensure that our progress to support sarcoma research continues.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Doing Lincolny things in Springfield Illinois

In April we spent a weekend in Springfield marathon to visit with our friends Stan and Pam and for Holly to run in the Lincoln Presidential Marathon Half Marathon.  She had wanted to do this race for many years but the timing was never right.  Of course the year she finally pulls the trigger, they move away from their iconic penny style medal to a top hat style. Still nice, but not the same.   

We arrived in Springfield early-evening on Friday.   Unfortunately Holly had booked our room at the Hilton Springfield, MISSOURI instead of Springfield, ILLINOIS.  Apparently it happens all the time. Lucky for us they still had vacancy.  We did have to coordinate the front desk teams of two hotels to talk to one another so they wouldn’t charge us for the room in the next state.  After an Italian dinner in an old-school restaurant we walked a few blocks to have a beer at Obed and Isaac’s.  Their operations occupied several buildings on the block and they had prime real estate near the capital building and the Lincoln Home historic site.  The beer was good.



Saturday was race morning and it was cold.  Low 20’s with a bit of a windchill.   With our hotel a few blocks from the start the lobby was packed with runners trying to stay warm.  Pam and Dave saw no need to make their way to the start.  They chose to eventually make their way to Starbucks for breakfast and spectate at one spot before heading to the finish.   Holly was trying to beat a goal time and missed it by half a second.  Dave blames himself for being on the course, causing her to slow down for a few seconds.  The finish line after-party was on the grounds of the old capital building.  Abe and Mary Lincoln impersonators were out for photo opps and handed people pennies.  While we were in the finish area we happened to be standing near the shirt exchange table (trade in your shirt for a new one if the one you picked up did not fit).   The man working the table left which gave people the idea the shirts were free for the taking.   Dave couldn’t tolerate this behavior and took it upon himself to man the table.  It was fun to watch him send people away and take the time to re-sort the shirts into the proper size/gender piles.








Stan and Pam dragged us to another brewery for lunch.  Engrained Brewery featured a farm-to-table menu and a variety of beers on-tap.  Most of the beers we sampled were approachable true-to-style brews made to please everyone.  We decided to try a Springfield favorite: the horseshoe.  It’s a burger served on a piece of Texas toast, topped with fries, and covered with a cheese/herb sauce.  For us it was too much.


Our next stop on our jaunt was next door at the Scheel’s Sporting Goods Store.  It put our local Bass Pro Shop to shame.  There was a Ferris Wheel in the store along with an arcade, shooting gallery, and mammoth taxidermy display.






Eventually we made our way to the Lincoln Home National Historic Site.  They had a small museum with a few displays of furnishings, household trinkets, and a model of town that traced Lincoln’s funeral procession route.   Tickets to tour the home are (surprisingly) free thanks to the provisions the Lincoln family put on the property as a gift to Illinois (now the National Park Service runs the property).  The park encompasses several homes from the period and keeps the street as true to the period as possible.  By day these homes are state government buildings.   Tours of the home are guided to 1) give you facts about the home and it’s decor, 2) to control the crowd flow, 3) make sure you don’t touch anything.  



Since we were on one of the later tours of the day we did not have time to visit the Illinois State Museum.  Maybe next time.  We did find time to grab a couple beers at Buzz Bomb Brewing   We sat in a comfy section of their upstairs taproom and worked in a few games of Uno while we enjoyed our beers.   For dinner we returned to Obed and Isaac’s to enjoy pizza, Mac and cheese, and bacon wrapped dates.  We had an after dinner drink at Celtic Mist - nice space and good beer selection on draft.



***
Sunday breakfast was at Charlie Parker’s Diner - made famous nationally by Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives.  The restaurant is in an semi-circle-shaped military building on the edge of town.   Inside the decor is diner-retro.  Here you can get a breakfast Horseshoe twice the size of our lunch Horseshoe or a mammoth pancake (one is all you need).  Pictures below are a snippet from Google Images.



Our final stop of the day was Lincoln's Tomb.  It's pretty big.   We rubbed the nose of the bust like everyone else does (for luck) before walking into the tomb.  As visitors make their way around the hall they can see several bronze statues depict moments in Lincoln's life and read plaques about significant milestones.

We really should plan another visit to Springfield to take in the museum.  Another brewery/distillery is expected to open soon (Anvil and Forge), providing 3 breweries in walking distance of downtown.  














Sunday, June 10, 2018

Fun in Portland Oregon

Our trip to Oregon/Washington for the Blooms to Brews Marathon was rather short. We flew in Friday night with enough time to catch dinner and a few drinks with Lee and Laura (they arrived hours earlier from San Diego).  We flanked the pre-race night with hotel stays at the boutique chain McMenamin’s.  We discovered this chain in 2012 when we spent a night in downtown Bend, OR at the St. Francis School.  McMenamin’s buys old buildings and repurpose them into hotels with breweries, soaking pools, concert halls, bars, wineries, and other fun things.  

Our Friday night was spent at The Kennedy School - an elementary school opened in 1915 that is now on the National Register of Historic Places.  Every corner of the property is decorated with paintings, concert posters, or other hand-painted touches.  Our room was named for the book Ireland and featured artwork relevant to the story.  The Courtyard Restaurant had to have had over 100 unique light fixtures.   We dined in the school’s Boiler Room which is now the pool hall/game room for the hotel.  We had a hard time picking another bar to drink at:  Cypress featured turntable reggae and rum, Detention played jazz, and Honor played opera.   We chose to have a drink at Honor because the bartender was lonely.   He gave us some insights on activities for our next day (none of which we ended up doing). 




The next morning we mulled over our plans at breakfast.  The waterfalls were too far out of the way of our final destination of Woodland, WA.  It was overcast, so the view of Mt. St. Helen may be limited from its visitor center.  We decided to do some things in Portland but did not know anything about the Portland sites.  The ladies at the next table heard our conversation and ended up giving us two free passes to the Portland Japanese Garden.  Why not?

The gardens were built into a hill overlooking the city. The $15 adult price gained us access to walk the grounds, see special displays (bonsai tree competition), buy gifts / snacks, or listen to the stringed instrument presentation.   We spent our time following the trails and taking pictures.    The weather was cooperating by not raining and giving us some sun for a few minutes.   We spent about 90 minutes walking the grounds.



















How did we follow-up the Japanese Garden?  By taking a trip to the Chinese Garden.  The Lan Su Garden was in an up-and-coming area of town. That’s being kind.  There were several nice businesses near the garden, but the area was generally sketchy.   Lan Su is a walled-in oasis in the middle of some run-down areas.   For $10 each we could tour the gardens and dine in the restaurant.  We arrived in time to take a 30 minute (included in price) guided tour of the garden.   Our guide explained how all the components balanced each other and the significance of certain structural elements.  The tour was worth it.   It was amazing how much they squeezed into 2 acres.











For lunch we headed to the Pearl District (hip, clean, higher end than our last location) for lunch at a brewery.  Thankfully two of our favorites were across the street from each other.  Ten Barrel had a 35 minute wait for a table, and Rogue had no wait.  Rogue for the win!  Food was great and there were a number of beers available on tap. 

Before heading out of town for Woodland, WA we stopped at the city’s second Voodoo Doughnuts location.  Our wait here was only ten minutes - much shorter than the line we saw downtown. The people at Voodoo may have been the ones who started the gourmet doughnut craze. We picked up a dozen to eat over the next two days.


***

After the marathon we headed back to Oregon for a fun afternoon at McMenamins Edgefield.  Located east of Portland Airport the large property was once the county poor farm.  Hotel rooms were created in the main dormitory and the infirmary.  Our room was large, but some of the furnishings were really old and worn, plus we were next to the common bathroom for those choosing rooms without baths.   We heard the clicking of the lock all night.



We spent the day bar hopping the property.  We ate lunch in the old Power House, had cocktails in the stables-turned-distillery, drank wine made on property in the cellar while listening to live music, and had dinner at the main bar.  We enjoyed exploring the gardens and would have considered a round of pitch and putt if it wasn’t raining.   Another unique aspect of the property was the in-house glass blowing studio.  If we wanted to see a movie the theatre was showing the new Avengers movie released that weekend.   Edgefield was the kind of place you’d check into for the weekend to just relax and explore all the property had to offer.   We liked it enough to consider a return trip back to do just that, or use it as a stop-over for a return trip to Bend.







While Portland isn't famous for sites we found there were plenty of things to see and the best source for options came from talking to the locals.  Servers, housekeepers, bartenders were all very helpful and wanted to be sure we saw some of the best their city had to offer.