Saturday, May 28, 2016

May 2016 Walt Disney World Trip Highlights

Every few years we'll take a long trip to Walt Disney World in Florida. This was our first long trip in three years. The long trips allow us to actually take advantage of other things to do on property without feeling we are sacrificing park time. We'll just hit some highlights vs. a full blown daily report.

Logistics: We flew into Orlando early Thursday evening and rented a car for the entire trip. We spent 6 nights at Bay Lake Tower in a Magic Kingdom View room followed by 5 nights in a Boardwalk View room at The Boardwalk. We used our DVC (Disney timeshare) points for booking our rooms in the 11 month booking window. We used Uber a few times to make traveling easier, especially for dinners at other resorts or to-from Disney Springs.

Top of the World flatbreads

Magic Kingdom After Hours: WDW started a new add-on event that keeps the Magic Kingdom open for three extra hours to guests willing to pay. For $150pp guest get 3 hours more in the park with most rides open (no shows with performers) with virtually no waits. Also included were ice cream bars and bottled beverages. The event wasn't selling well at that hefty price tag so Disney has offered discounts. We took the bait at half-price. Since we booked this for the day we arrived we unpacked quickly, grabbed a beer at The Wave, ate dinner and had drinks at Top of the World Lounge, and made it in the park in time for an attraction or two and nighttime spectaculars.

At the $75pp price-point this was a worthwhile event. We believe we hit 18 rides during that time including a 2 minute wait to meet Anna and Elsa. We had our own Splash Mountain boat and were asked if we wanted to stay on for a second ride. Peter Pan, Mine Cars, Space Mountain all walk-ons. Having our own boat on Pirates allowed us to really hear the attraction without other people talking over the track. We walked out with a couple bottles of Coke to drink later in the trip and had a few ice cream bars.

Signature Dining: Usually on a long trip we'll have 14+ ADRs (dining reservations) booked. This trip we decided to scale it back to allow for more relaxed-pace grazing and impromptu moments. Our first dining event at The California Grill was a disaster. We had a horrible server - served our wine and appetizers while Holly was not at the table, all within 3 minutes of taking the order. We didn't get to test the wine first. We both ordered filets and when they came out it looked like Disney had changed the quality of meat we were used to. What we think actually happened is we were served the bison filet because the filet mignons at the pass were good looking. The menu lists traditional filet and bison on the same line so we guess she entered it wrong in the system. Even after complaining to a manager no guest recovery was attempted. The soup was good though.

Brown Derby

Jiko did not disappoint. We both knew what we were ordering before arriving: wild boar appetizer and the filet mignon with the "secret" Mac and cheese side. Our sever was great and dinner was well-paced.

We had a lunch at Brown Derby mainly so we could have the seasonal soup. Zellwood corn is seasonal and usually available in May at Disney restaurants as ingredients. Brown Derby makes an incredible triple corn bisque with shrimp fritters. Our entrees were the Cobb Salad and Andouille-Crusted Chicken Sandwich.

In Disney Springs we experienced the new Morimoto Asia. The restaurant is beautiful and modern - has that big city dining feel. We got a great table and tasty meal. We shared baos and the hoisin rib appetizer. Entrees were Chicken Pad Thai and Ramen. All that and a beer each kept the bill pretty reasonable. Only complaint about the place is they have giant Connect 4 board games around the restaurant and it creates a bunch of noise that detracts from the atmosphere.

Other Dining: We have a ton of food photos we won't post. With Flower and Garden Festival at Epcot several lunches or dinners were provided by the food booths. At Disney Springs we had a fun lunch with friends at The Boat House (great food and atmosphere), sushi at Splitsville, and drinks at Jock Lindsey's. Of course we got a pie and calamari at Via Napoli in Epcot and had a some wines and light snack at Tutto Gusto a couple nights. We tried lunch at Magic Kingdom's Skipper's Cantina - worth the visit for the food and the amount of detail in the restaurant. We had appetizers for dinner one night at The Territory Lounge for dinner one night (Wilderness Lodge), another night we had mussels at Narcoosee's and then other appetizers at Trader Sam's (Grand Floridian/Polynesian). We split a sandwich at ESPN Grill at the Boardwalk, got a free preview of the new ice cream shop (Ample Hills), and did a character breakfast at Garden Grill in Epcot. Animal Kingdom lunches came from the Yak and Yeti counter service. On two occasions we split a sandwich in France for dinner.

As much as we love sitting down and having a great meal in a fantastic environment we actually enjoyed the pace of our dining this trip. It was a bit spontaneous and keeping to smaller meals allowed us to experience more options.

Entertainment: Epcot's Flower and Gardent Festival has headliner concerts on weekend evenings. The first weekend we watched a set from The Gin Blossoms - who we liked in the 90's - just forgot every song was slow except for "Hey Jealousy". The next weekend we watched Darlene Love. We did not know too much about her other than "(Christmas) Baby Please Come Home", and ended up enjoying her show. Great performer and easily wins the crowd over. Epcot ditched the Lumberjacks and has been adding temporary bands in Canada. We saw a set from Alberta Bound, and enjoyed their show. We went another day at a different time and found it was the same set - ok, they must rotate them per day and we'll get a new set in an hour for the next show. Nope - same set each show. This was disappointing, but we think it's by design so they don't recreate the fan frenzy that existed for Off-Kilter. While in Animal Kingdom we enjoyed many sets from the Harambe-based band Buradika (on Spotify as Wassalou) They vary their sets per day but always end with "Waka Waka". We watched Finding Nemo the Musical (still enjoy it) and Festival of the Lion King (still hate it).

Activities: We tried a few new things this trip. After a lunch from Captain Cook's at the Polynesian we each rented a water sprite. The little boats don't go too fast but they are a fun way to tool around the lakes. With our discount (annual pass or DVC) we paid around $55 for two boats for 35 minutes. Dave got his haircut at the Harmony Barber Shop in the Magic Kingdom, including Rip Taylor levels of glitter. In the Land Pavilion of Epcot we took the Behind the Seeds tour of the green house. Well worth the ~$18pp price except for the fact that Dave now wants a backyard hydroponics kit. We visited Typhoon Lagoon one day for a few hours. In our two visits to Animal Kingdom we completed the Wilderness Explorer badge game. Players perform tasks or answer questions to earn stickers. We got them all.

Photopass: Our Annual Pass included Memory Maker/Photopass. The photos taken by in-park photographers would be available to us almost immediately online. When we got home we could edit them and add special borders and stickers. This saved Dave the frustration of getting pictures with our own camera.

Overall, another great trip. A good mix of park time and relaxation.


Friday, May 20, 2016

2016 Providence Marathon Race Report and Video

Here is Holly's Providence Race Report along with video and Dave's comments on spectating and touring the area at the end:

There are not many options for a marathon in Rhode Island as you could imagine. I was excited to see this one as the weekend was a good timing for me. I was going to target this one as the one that I would race and try to get a good time. We stayed at the Omni which was a great location for this race. The Expo was at the mall right next door and I could see the start and finish line from my hotel room. I stayed in the room until a half hour before start time. This was such a nice change from the runDisney races a few weeks before. The marathon was going to have a separate start time and its own course vs. the half marathon and there were about 1000 of us lined up for the full. The weather was perfect at the start but rain was in the forecast and I was worried I wouldn’t be done before it started. This was more incentive to run faster!

The beginning of the course was nice and went by Brown University. After that it got pretty boring. We were just running in coned lanes on busy roads. I was not really enjoying the course. My legs weren’t feeling great either, but thankfully they did loosen up around mile 7 or 8 and I was able to keep close to my goal pace. The course got a bit prettier around the half-way mark, but overall it was just on some paved trails through the woods. I was hoping for some more water views and they were few and far between. The water stops were plentiful and they had water, Gatorade, and some had bananas and gels.

I was hoping to get under 5:15, but I just couldn’t get there. 5:17:53. I was still very happy with this time as it’s my second fastest marathon. Another incentive to run fast was the beer garden was only going to be open until 1:00pm. I made it to the beer garden and had a delicious Naragganset beer. Dave unfortunately got stuck in traffic hell because downtown Providence decided to schedule three major events at the same time. I felt bad for him, but he did such a great job of seeing me several times on the course and he is always super supportive.

I’m glad Rhode Island is finished and I wouldn’t rush back to do this one again, just do to the non- scenic nature of the course. However, the organization, medal and support were amazing.

Dave's Comments

We made it to our hotel in time enough to hit a local restaurant before the kitchen closed. Union Station Brewery wasn't very active for a downtown bar on a Friday night, nor were their beers some of our favorite, but at least the food was good. It's no longer a John Havard's location so maybe that had something to do with it.

Saturday we decided we could hit the expo later in the day and tour Newport in the morning. It was a 45 minute one-way drive. I found a blog post about a ten mile drive around the peninsula, but didn't have anymore details. Thank goodness for the visitor center and their knowledge of the route. We followed the route to see Fort Adams, the Portugese Monument, kite flyers, new beautiful homes, and the famous mansions. It was a bit of a killer for me to drive by all the crappy tourist shops and nautical dive bars knowing we were not visiting any of them. We did get out of the car and walked around the fort, the monument, and The Breakers mansion. As we were exiting town the traffic coming in was significant so good call on the morning visit.

We headed back to town for lunch at Trinity Brewing. They have been around for a long time and their restaurant was a bit quirky. Beers were good and true-to-style and the food was very good. We visited the race expo held in an empty mall store (think of when the Halloween costumes fill an open slot). While there we killed time in a couple of stores and I bought a sweet Boba Fett wallet in Spencer's.

Afterwards we headed outside of town to visit another brewery. Revival Brewing is housed in the basement of Brutopia Restautant. The restaurant has all their beers on tap and the downstairs brewery can serve samples (state law), mostly stuff you can't find upstairs. The basement was all about play with free pinball, ping pong, bags, and a chalk-drawn box ball court. Beer-wise we preferred their brown ale and coffee stout (shocker). Dinner was at Trattoria Zooma up on Federal Hill. Great atmosphere and delicious food.

The morning of spectating went relatively smooth save for a few glitches. Around mile 13 I missed Holly due to an unforeseen premature road closure. By the time I hoofed it over to the trail she was on I missed her within a minute (confirmed by iPhone tracking). That miss had me divert way around the course to get to a new spectating area 4 miles later. I planned to spectate at Mile 24, and actually stood there for two minutes, then thought better of it and headed back to the hotel. The drive through the Brown University area was nice but after that things got ugly. The convention center was attached to our hotel and next to the finish line. Besides the races and associated road closures you had a college graduation, the Providence Food and Wine Festival, and usual downtown traffic all colliding into one mess. Adding to the fun is the fact that the streets around here come to odd angles. I was feet away from the hotel and the police would not let me turn. This diversion led me about 3 miles out of town. On the way back in the police wanted me to go straight, but I turned right and yelled out the window "I'm staying at The Omni". By the time I parked Holly texted she was in the beer garden. I was not in a good mood for hours.

Holly was correct that the map of the course was deceptive. It looked like there would be plenty of water views. Actually the water was always just a block away. There were plenty of opportunities for snacks, and it was real fun to have a big donut at mile 11 and eat it slowly in front of the runners. I think I had over a dozen viewing opportunities so navigation (with a few exceptions) was not too bad.








Friday, May 13, 2016

Namibia: Serra Cafema Camp and Scenic Drive

Other Posts: Trip Overview, Little Kulala Lodge, Sossusvlei and Deadvlei, Sesriem Canyon And Scenic Flight, Swakopmund Sandboarding, Walvis Bay Dune & Sea Tour, Doro Nawas Camp, Damarland Sites, Damaraland Living Village Song, Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp, The Skeleton Coast, Hoanib Game Drive and Lions

It's always a bit sad to leave a camp or area that has provided so many great experiences. We would miss Hoanib but we were looking forward to pressing north for the final camp of our trip - Serra Cafema. When booking the vacation This leg was a choice between Etosha, a large and popular game area, or the desolate northwestern corner of Namibia. Etosha could offer some incredible game viewing at the expense of crowds, but we chose Serra Cafema for its quiet pace and chance to experience a little bit of the nomadic culture of the Himba.

Three others were on our flight, Andrea, a solo travler from Switzerland we've overlapped some nights with, and our new arch-nemes─ôs Tony and Valerie (more on them later). On the ground below the dark brown mountains gave way to lighter color stone as the sand turned from white to orange/red in places. After landing we exited the plane and found nothing. Truly nothing but open land, sand, small mountains, and three vehicles: two jeeps (open air vs. closed-in types) meeting our flight and one jeep managed by another camp outfit sitting there empty. The Wilderness Safari guides had tables with snacks, drinks, and champagne set up for us. We were assigned to Albert, along with Tony and Val, while Andrea had her own guide.

The ride to camp would take about an hour. No biggie except for the fact that the wind was picking up - a lot. Valerie in her infinite wisdom pulls out her bound itinerary book and it blows out of her hands. As we are watching the desert claim it she yells to Albert to get it. He dashes off and actually does retrieve it, but he looks beat. After that we knew it was going to be a long ride and we ordered beers from the cooler. Maybe not the best thing to drink while getting pelted with sand. Aside from the sandstorm the ride was quite pretty and there is an unveiling moment when you cross a hill and get the first view of the LUSH RIVER AREA. Other than the ocean this is the first water we have seen this trip.

A little more about Tony and Val: they are British and in their 70's. He's quiet and she states things all the time: her opinions, tidbits about her travels (in a Commander McBragg fashion), and other facts. Mostly she yells at Tony. One night at dinner he got it for at least 30 minutes about getting HIS steak with the offered sauce on it vs. on the side. Another time they show up to breakfast ten minutes before we were to depart and ordered eggs and such instead of having a quick buffet. What really got us was when we were sitting in the tiny pool with drinks and she dives in splashing pool water into our beverages. Both of them were completely oblivious to their environment. It was fun though to watch her take pictures on her point-and-shoot fully zoomed in while the jeep was going full speed.

The camp was decorated in the classic safari camp style of the 20's. Wood and leather was all the rage back then. All tents were along the river. The pool had a great view of the mountains while meals were often served on the river deck overlooking Angola. The walkways over the grounds provided shelter for the Himba donkeys that stayed by the river for a constant water supply. As an anniversary surprise the camp placed us in the honeymoon suite. Our tent was situated with a view of both the mountains and a small waterfall in the river. We had a deck big enough to entertain the whole camp! Lots of birds around camp vs. our former locations.

Front of our tent - both roofs

This is not a game viewing area. Only animals up here were a few starving oryx (heart-breaking to look at) and crocodiles in the river. The main activities at camp are: scenic drives, scenic boat rides, scenic walks, Himba visits, fishing, and quad-biking. Our first night in camp we had no activity so we sat on the deck and watched the river go by (great night), but the next night was a scenic drive with Tony and Val.

This picture was taken with an improper white balance setting. Did the best we could to get the rocks right but the sky is purple.

Our cocktail stop for the evening was at the base of a really cool rock formation. We had our drinks and witnessed the moon rise from behind another set of unusual rock formations. We played around a lot with the GoPro.

This was an unplanned shot but awesome. Love Albert and Tony staring off in other directions.
Tony was an unintended surprise
Tony and Val keeping to their own schedule again.

Our dinner that night was poolside. Luckily we were at a table for two and not with our jeepmates. This was the night Tony was getting it for putting sauce on his steak.

We have not yet mentioned how great the camp staff is at Serra Cafema. Everyone was constantly checking up on us and sharing a bit about their lives with us. Very service oriented and friendly.

This last picture was posted by our camp's parent company's Instagram Account. About a month after we left it rained in the area for the first time since 2012. It's amazing to see specks of green in all the places we viewed as vast seas of brown.



Wednesday, May 4, 2016

2016 Disney World RunDisney Star Wars Dark Side Race Weekend

Disney grabbed us for one more RunDisney race series. In January we participated in another Star Wars themed race weekend - The Light Side. Florida's Disney location offered a companion series in April with the kicker of a bonus medal for doing the half marathons on both coasts. Like January, we were both signed up for the 5K and10K while Holly had the half marathon. The combination of the 10K and half marathon earns a challenge medal.

We arrived Thursday night, the night before the 5K. We did not have a chance to go to the expo so we were hoping our race bibs would be available at the start area. We checked in at the Boardwalk and figured we had enough time for some quick dinner at Epcot's Flower and Garden food booths. We split four booth offerings before meeting up with friends to watch Illuminations (Epcot fireworks). After the show we headed back to Boardwalk, enjoyed some time in BelleVue talking to one of our favorite WDW bartenders, then went to the room and fell asleep around midnight.

At 3:15 the wake-up call arrives the same time our phone alarms go off. Ugh! The race started at 6:00 but Dinsey logistics demands runners to arrive early. We drove to Epcot vs. taking the resort shuttles and arrived early enough at 4:15. We got our bibs no problem. With time to kill we decided to take advantage of the new character photo op setup that was available all three days (before and after the race). There were different Star Wars character/scene sets lining the stage area. You could have photos with Darth Maul, Darth Vader, Boba Fett, Captain Phasma, First Order Troopers, BB-8, Jabba, and rattarps. Disney photographers were on-hand to take photos for the runners (posted online and free to download for Annual Passholders and Memory Maker subscribers). Since we were early we could knock a few out with little wait. After that it was hang out with friends, wait on bathroom lines, and then wait in corrals.

The above statements can be applied to the other race mornings except for the race times. Each morning the start was a half hour earlier. The alarm went off around 2:15 on Sunday for the half. Dave stayed in bed that morning and met up with everyone later.


We entered Corral A (first to start the race) about twenty minutes before the race. Almost as soon as we crossed in race staff announced they were closing the corral. So many people were still milling about and using bathrooms. Our corral ended up having less than 500 participants of a 7,500+ person race. As we were starting we noticed the family of a friend waiting at the side of the corral for their left behind family member using the bathroom. The course was the usual Epcot Course 1st mile parking lot, other miles Epcot.

The 5K is the only distance we can do together because of our separate paces and tolerances for intervals. We saw R2-D2 was the first character stop passed mile marker 1. We skipped it. The World Showcase was lit a bit differently for the race and Star Wars music was playing over the speakers. Fun! The characters from Rebels were at the American Pavilion and Chewbacca was by the Friendship dock by the International Gateway. We skipped both. The final character stop were Some New Order Stormtroopers on a platform by the Future World Fountain. Yep, skipped it. We crossed the finish line, collected our drinks and goodie boxes, took a picture with Boba Fett, and left.

Having Photo Pass was a nice touch. By entering a code and your bib number into the My Disney Experience App we had access to the race photos within a few hours - for free (with our pass). This helped to offset the ridiculous cost of RunDisney races.

Overall the 5K was "same race, different overlay". Seeing people in Star Wars outfits was fun, but nothing on course was different than expected. An appearance by Kylo Ren would have been nice. It was humid as expected this time of year.


"Let's wake up earlier than yesterday". The worst part of race weekend is the early start. Being back in the room before the first firework show starts is a miserable feeling. We carpooled over to Epcot with our friends Lee and Laura. We were still pretty early so we killed time with character photo lines. We met up with more friends and eventually shuffled the almost 1/2 mile to the start line. Shuffle is literal. They opened the gates and we all slowly moved our way to corrals. Dave was the lone Corral B member of our group. Since he's slower he decided to take the head start and figured we'd finish around the same time. To make things worse - we were finishing the race at Wide World of Sports which meant we had to rely on busses to take us back to Epcot or the resort's.

Here's the race from Dave's POV:

"Somehow I ended up too far in the front of my corral. Once we crossed the line we were all really packed together for a while. Then came the off-ramp that narrowed to accommodate a single car - going from 4 lanes to one was crowded for me. It was warmer than the day before and I wasn't feeling it. Adding to the fun was I kept burping up the nasty Clif Bar I ate before the race. This was going to be slower pace than yesterday, even though I had a faster first mile (Likely caused by the push of the crowd and search for isolation).

Epcot looked the same as the day before and it was fun to go counterclockwise to UK pavilion. This was a good place for the bathroom. The Boardwalk was fun to go through, but then the narrow path to the Studios was not. At the front of the Studios there were a few members of the 501st out for photo ops. It was nice, but nothing like the California half marathon. I took a few pictures in the Studios and took advantage of the Tower of Terror restrooms. Since the rest of the course was not through parks or resorts I decided to take advantage of the familiar. I'm not one to stop for character photo opportunities, but they had Palpatine's chair at the 1/2 way point. Just had to wait on line.

The rest of the course was not much fun. Concrete and Trees. Right before Mile 5 participants crammed onto a narrow dirt paths for almost a half mile. That was really fun. Near the end of the course a few more members of the 501st were out, including a Darth Vader. Since I had a Darth Vader shirt on I decided to stop for a picture. I knew through text messages Holly and crew were nearby. I stood off to the side before crossing the finish to see if they were coming into sight, but then figured they may be stopping for pictures with the characters and moved on. I got some poor finish line photos because I was chatting with Rudy, the greatest race announcer in the world, as I crossed. He asked if Holly was close by. So much fun to know a race announcer.

I'm in the minority of my friends when I say I wish it was the race was on the traditional 10K course of Epcot-Boardwalk-Yacht-Beach-Epcot. There was not enough to engage me on this course passed the half way point. I really hated the fact that we had to wait on line 30 minutes for a bus back to Epcot. Apparently the wait was up to 70+ minutes later that day

Half Marathon (Holly's Report)

This is now the third morning wake up in a row for me. It was the earliest one yet at 2:15 am! Lee and Laura were driving this morning and I knocked on their door at 3 am. We made it to Epcot in no time at all and we now just had to wait two hours until we would actually start running. This was when it finally sunk in that I was done with runDisney. I love seeing and running with my friends but we are all so tired from getting up so early, that I would like to pick another race weekend that doesn’t require such early alarms, or just go to Disney with everyone and not run.

We once again had a long slow shuffle to the corrals and waited around for our turn to go. It was the same entertainment as the previous two days. The course would be a new one again so I was excited for that. We started in Epcot and ran along the Beach Club today to get to the Studios (Dave came out to see us along the Boardwalk path). Ran through the Studios and then out to Osceola Parkway to Animal Kingdom and back on Osceola to finish again at Wide World of Sports. It was a cooler morning this morning and we had a group of nine of us running together today. We all had fun and I think we were running a bit faster because it was cooler. We did slow down at the half way point because we were getting tired after three days of running! As with the first two days the characters on course were lacking. The 501st did save the day and I enjoyed running through three parks.

The medals were great, especially the Kessel Run medal that I got because I did the half marathon in January at Disneyland. We were all disappointed to learn that there was no beer available after the race due to the fact that the race ended in Osceola County and you can’t sell beer in the morning in that county. Something tells me that they will be changing the course next year or getting a special permit. They left too much money on the table, which is something that Disney does not do.


My overall feelings on the race weekend are that they are a fun weekend if you like Star Wars. They are way overcrowded however and the magic of running at Disney is over for me due to the overcrowding and the overall process of getting to the races so early to sit around and wait to start.