Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Anegada: Ugly Photos and Video

There's been a lot going on so it took a little while to go through the Anegada video file only to find we really didn't have that much video. Dave was playing around with time-lapse photography so he really didn't concentrate too much on actual filming. On the video we have some good film of Holly talking about her morning on Loblolly, some time-lapse created by taking photos every half-second, and shots taken from our flight from Anegada to St. Thomas via Tortola.

Time for some ugly photos. Used an app called Image Chef to create some text blocks and the usual suspects of Snapseed and Photo Wizard.

Used Twirl effect in Photo Wizard to create a wave out of the beach scene

Used Phoster for this one
PicClone for this piece of art

MobileMonet + Photo Wizard to mask out the sky and replace with the planets

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Planning for the Greek Islands: Part Three

Here is Part One of this series
Here is Part Two of this series

One of the reasons for writing this series is to demonstrate how easy it can be to coordinate your own trip to popular destinations without a travel agent. The resources available online today are amazing.

We thought the hard part was over when we secured frequent-flier tickets from Chicago to Santorini, Greece. Nope. The hard part was choosing lodging for our trip. What's nice about Santorini and Mykonos is the fact that most of the lodging falls in the category of bed and breakfast or small boutique hotel. What's an issue is picking one. They all look alike!!!! White walls, blue accents, overlooking the water. Virtually all hotels offer free breakfast (including Greek yogurt) and wifi. We had no idea where to start and how to figure out what was important for us to look for (since all we knew about our destination was that it was indeed a Greek Island - the only requirement for this trip).

The original plan was to spend a few nights in Santorini, ferry over to Mykonos for a few nights, then fly back to Santorini and on back towards Chicago. We even booked two hotels. Then we found out the ferry didn't leave the day we wanted out of Santorini. After some scrambling to book ferry tickets (a May ferry was filling up in December) we ended up switching the agenda. We settled on one night in the town of Fira (Santorini) with access to the ferry dock, then take off for Mykonos, and then finally fly back for our remaining days in Oia (Santorini).
For our lodging research we turned to a very trusted helper: We started our search in the town of Oia (Santorini). This was the place to watch sunsets so we wanted to get a decent cliff side hotel. We entered our dates and started filtering by user ratings and price. More prices were listed on the site in December compared to now (March) since rooms are booking up by now. The first few were a bit out of budget but hotel #6 was reasonable. So we dove into Ikies - Traditional Houses....

Reviews were excellent, mostly 5's with a large sample size.

Photos looked nice.

Lots of restaurants within a very short walk.

Once we decided to consider Hotel Ikies, we went to their website. An English version was available and we found it very easy to navigate. Lots of images and information about the property. They had their own booking engine (which seems to be used by many Greek hotels) that allowed us to see which houses (room) were available and at what price. When a room was selected another page appeared with more information about the room and several room specific photos. This made it very easy for us to discuss the options and book the right room.

Sample Dates

We followed a similar process for Mykonos. We narrowed down to two properties and then took a Facebook break. Coincidentally, a post from Conde Nast Traveler came through Dave's feed and had a familiar photo accompanying the article:

That helped to make our decision. The Mykonos Grand website functioned similar to the Ikies site. They used the same booking engine. We picked our room category, booked, and promptly got a return confirmation.

One hotel charged a 30% deposit and the other one did not. We made sure we used our credit card that had no foreign transaction fees since all charges would be in Euros. It was easy to cancel the reservation when we had to shift dates due to the ferry schedule - there was a "cancel" link in the booking confirmation email. We clicked it, received cancellation confirmation email, and re-booked again under the new dates.

We didn't spend too much time researching our Fira hotel. We were staying there one night and picked from selections that were close to the ferry terminal. We picked Anteliz Suites based on Tripadvisor ratings, price, and proximity to ferry and town.

We still need to find a hotel in Vienna for our overnight layover as well as figure out what there is to do in Santorini and Mykonos.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

2014 Princess Half Marathon Race Report and Video

Here's Holly's report on the Princess Half Marathon at Walt Disney World:

Part two of the Glass Slipper Challenge has me getting up at 2:15am. This is why I am going to be taking a break from Disney races. These early mornings are way too tough! Dave was tagging along to the start line this morning, he would then go to the Magic Kingdom to cheer us on.

We arrived at the Epcot starting area way too early again and had a lot of time to kill. I was trying to find another runner who was in Corral E and was thankful that my friend Laura was in that corral. She is faster than me, but I was grateful to have someone to pass the time while we were waiting in the corrals. I was excited to be so far forward for a Disney race. I could actually see the Start line from my corral. Laura was great and said she would run with me in the beginning and see how she felt. We ended up running the whole race together and had fun running and stopping for characters.
This course is also the same course as the January half marathon and it started out the same way, with the kites at mile 1 and the pirate ship at mile 3. I was thinking this was going to be boring. But they had the villains out right before the TTC and thankfully Laura and I decided to wait in the huge line. It took about 10 minutes, but it was worth it! Soon we were running into the Magic Kingdom and saw our cheering section! Thanks Dave and Stan.

We managed to photo bomb Eddie and crew at the Winnie the Pooh ride. After a quick pit stop at those famous Frontierland bathrooms we were soon exiting the Magic Kingdom. I told Laura the one picture I have never stopped for, but that I wanted was with Stitch by the Polynesian. We first stopped for a picture with Mary Poppins and Bert. We got to Stitch and he was there with Lilo! Very Cool. Unfortunately when we were next in line, Stitch left to take a break. I was disappointed, but I think Laura felt worse for me than I did.

After that we had one more picture we wanted. All the heroes/princes were out. We stopped for that one and it was worth the wait! We were both getting tired now, but still having fun and we were happy to get back to Epcot and see our cheer squad again. We did get on last picture with Princess Sophia with no wait! A quick lap around spaceship earth again and we were heading into the finish. A fun race for sure. It was a warm race and Laura and I both wanted a cold beverage. Champagne for her and beer for me! The Glass Slipper Challenge was complete!

Dave's Comments
My original plan was to skip spectating entirely (evidenced by my lack of camera equipment) and just sleep-in and eat some pancakes. But then as I started to think about it, I could sleep some other day. I went to the start area and hung out with Holly and friends, then a few of us made our way to Magic Kingdom and arrived just when they let folks into the park. I'm usually nervous about snagging my preferred spot, but luckily spectating at this race seemed more relaxed and we got to the Tomorrowland Bridge with no issue.

Since I didn't have to worry about cameras I had my hands free for coffee and a chocolate croissant. When Holly and Laura passed us on Main Street I moved over towards the castle to film them (with my point-and-shoot) leaving the castle. After that I moved down Main Street to chat with a Facebook friend I never met before. While walking around I noticed people were on the Omnibus watching the race. I had to go up there! Great perch for spectating even if you are only seeing runner's backs as they turn the corner onto Main Street. I saw our friend Pam and was able to give her husband Stan, still at the hub, an early warning of her arrival.

I waited for Stan to make his way down Main Street then we made our way over to Epcot via Monorail. We did not have the usual transportation hassles associated with Marathon Weekend and made it quickly to Mile 12. We watched our wives from this vantage point, then high-tailed it over to the finish area.

Here's our video from the weekend


Monday, March 10, 2014

2014 Disney's Enchanted 10k Race Report

Here's Holly's recap of the Enchanted 10K:

I was registered for the Glass Slipper Challenge which involved doing the Enchanted 10k on Saturday and the Princess Half Marathon on Sunday. After some travel mishaps (again) Dave and I made it to Disney World Friday around noon and went right to the race Expo. It was not crowded and I was able to pick up everything very quickly and even was able to buy a couple pins with a small line at the official runDisney booth.

The Enchanted 10k was the same course as the 10k in January and I wasn’t really looking forward to it since it was such a boring course. My plan for the weekend was to try and run hard but still stop for some character pictures since I didn’t stop for any in January. Dave was not registered for any races this weekend and he was looking forward to a more laid back weekend with some spectating thrown in. Saturday morning I woke up at 2:30 and got ready to leave. I left a lucky Dave sleeping as his plan was to bring a pot of coffee out to the Boardwalk and start cheering around 5:30. I got to Epcot way too early and wandered around until I found some friends. It was nice to be able to talk to them to pass the time. I spent the time in the corrals with Mike and Michelle and it was fun to discuss our future race plans. Finally we were off and running.

The course was very crowded in the beginning and I had trouble running the pace I wanted to. The first character area was on the overpass and was a very neat Frozen display with Elsa interacting with the runners. No character pictures possible here, but I stopped to get a picture of her. Next up was the White Rabbit which I didn’t stop for. Then it was Pocahontas and Meeko. I was excited for that one and stopped. It was a pretty long line, but I was on a good pace so I stopped anyway.

Now the long boring stretch until you get to Epcot. I had a fast mile on this stretch and was feeling good. A quick stop for a picture with the toy soldiers and then back through the backstage area of Epcot. We came out at China and then did a short lap around the showcase. Characters here were Jiminy Cricket, Tiana and Naveen, and Marie. I didn’t stop for any of these. Next up was the lap around the Boardwalk and Beach Club, which is my favorite part. It is really pretty in the predawn light. I stopped for a picture with Baseball Goofy. It was a huge line, but again my pace was good and I wanted this rare picture.

Dave was just up ahead with his pot of coffee and he made me go back and come at him again because he wasn’t ready. After that section you head back into the backstage area of Epcot and come out right by the Imagination pavilion. A quick run by Spaceship Earth and the finish line is around the corner. I felt really strong and was pleased with my time, which included a bunch of time waiting for characters. I still think the course is boring and that they need to add more to the highway portion of this race.

Dave's comments

The first thing I did when arriving at the race Expo was to visit Guest Services to see if they could help me with some theme park ticketing issues. That particular location couldn't. So then I went to the cafe and bought a beer in a RunDisney souvenir cup. The beer with cup was $8.50 but you could get $4.50 refills. One of Disney's better values so I had to make sue we got a second one.

The morning of the 10K I made it to my spectating spot at 5:30, which was about 25 minutes too early since this was mile marker 4-point-something and runners would not be here for a while. I saw Baseball Goofy come out from ESPN and practice a photo with the handler. I ran over, seeing this as my only opportunity to get a photo. When I asked the cast member, he kinda hesitated and said "he's here for the runners". In my head I'm coming up with all kinda smarty retorts like "no kidding", "Do you see any runners right now"...but I held my tongue. In the end he snapped my picture.

This was a very odd spectating experience for me. I had just my small point-and-shoot and iPhone for electronics. I sat on a bistro chair putting me eye-level with runners while I had my pot of coffee on the table. This prompted many runners to talk to me. Great! I was an on-course spectacle. I had fun watching my friend Eddie speed by, taking pictures of other friends, and doing some Facebook photo updates of friends passing by. Holly had texted me that she was in line with Goofy, and I texted back asking for warning when she was almost through with him. She missed that text and caught me off-guard. So yeah I sent her back to get the one shot of video of her from the race. That video will be part of the Glass Slipper Challenge video which will be included with the Princess Half Marathon post.


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Anegada: Loblolly Bay

In today's post we'll take a look at Anegada's other main beach destination: Loblolly Bay. This beach area has the same amenities as Cow Wreck, but the main difference is the beach's proximity to the snorkel reefs. Loblolly is a bit rockier, with worn down reefs right on the shoreline. A quick swim out brings visitors to some decent snorkel viewing (or so we heard). Overall this was still a pretty beach, but Cow Wreck wins the beach battle because there were less rocks and the water was a little rougher at Loblolly.

There are two beach bars on Loblolly. You can walk between them if you have the time, or take a 3 minute drive between the two. Big Bamboo was the busier, more established bar. It's been there for a while. They managed a few rental cottages with very nice beach views and connected them to the restaurant via a long concrete sidewalk. There was a gift shop selling t-shirts, sunscreen, liquor, and other assorted trinkets. One of Big Bamboo's best features is the bar. It's set with an elevated view of the beach. The one day we ate lunch here Dave got the lobster 1/2 order. Big Bamboo offered some beach seats which were really uncomfortable benches.

Taken from
The other bar we visited was Flash of Beauty. Its decor was familiar: open-air concrete/stucco pavilion painted some bright color. The nice thing at Flash was the beer was self-serve. The bad thing was the restaurant had a very limited view of the beach. Flash of Beauty provides Adirondack chairs for the beach, but they weighed a ton and were not so comfy. To give visitors some shade, there were crude little canopies you could move the chairs under.

We have one more Anegada post coming up..... Hopefully there is enough material to make a quick video and maybe Dave will add a few "Make Anegada Ugly" photos.