Tag Archives: travel

Disney World Melange

Over the past two weeks I’ve shared pictures and reviews of Disney’s parks: Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios and EPCOT and Animal Kingdom. Today’s post is an odd assortment of stuff: blurbs about the water parks, Old Key West, pictures of an amazing solar corona (or a 22 degree halo??), and my Top 5 Tips for those of you that might be headed there this summer. This is my “honorable mentions” post. :-D

Old Key West

We stayed at the Old Key West Resort, which was kind of ironic because Craig and I were just in Key West this past January. I loved the resort, although we didn’t spend much time there. Most of the time we were at the parks. But we did spend one half-day lounging around the pool. (Cats: give them anything and their favorite toy is the box it came in; kids: take them anywhere and their favorite place is the hotel pool ;-) ). There was a sandcastle water slide, an awesomely comfortable hammock, and a bar. Heck, it was *almost* my favorite place too!

Old Key West Hammock

DISNEY: THE PERFECT PLACE FOR MERMAID TAILS

DISNEY:
THE PERFECT PLACE FOR MERMAID TAILS

If you're going to stay at Old Key West, the buildings in the back off Old Turtle Pond Road are quiet with beautiful views

If you’re going to stay at Old Key West, the buildings in the back off Old Turtle Pond Road are quiet with beautiful views

Other Thoughts

Water Parks: My kids loved them. I thought they were okay, but that’s probably just because I’m not a huge fan of water parks. Disney has two: Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon. BB has a one-acre wave pool. Basically, it’s a ginormous water mixer. TL has a wave pool with six-foot swells. Needless to say, that made TL the favorite. Hmm… what else? Lines for the slides are long. The line for the bar was shorter. Empty chairs are practically non-existent. Get there early!

Downtown Disney: I’d never been before this trip and was glad we were able to fit in a visit, however short. This is a waterfront area that has lots of restaurants and shopping. We had dinner at Raglan Road our first night there. What’s not to love about an Irish band and a flight of beer?

 

Where's Wally/Waldo/Archer? Here's me, strolling along Downtown Disney's boardwalk

Where’s Wally/Waldo/Archer?
Here’s me, strolling along Downtown Disney’s boardwalk

22 Degree Halo

This thing was one of the most amazing astronomical events I’ve ever seen. Or maybe it was just an “optical phenomenon.” I honestly have no idea. Who can help me out and tell me what this thing is? To us, it looked like a giant eye in the sky. Very Melancholia-ish. (If the world were ending, would Disney be the place you’d want to be? Debate.)

eye in the sky w palm tree and contrail

Does the contrail make it more or less surreal?

Does this look like a giant eye or what?

Does this look like a giant eye or what?

Top Five Tips

If you’re going, here are my top five tips:

Magic Bands1. Get the Magic Bands! Magic Bands are Disney’s newest way of making things more convenient for visitors. And are they! They are waterproof wristbands that work as a hotel key, credit card (linking purchases to your room), park admissions ticket, Fast Pass ticket, and PhotoPass. In other words, you can leave your room with just one thing: your Magic Band. (Well almost… for Magic Band 2.0, Disney needs to find a way to connect it to your cell phone… I heard they are working with Apple…. KIDDING! :-D )

Two Musts: a hat and a magic band

Two Musts: a hat and a magic band

2. Use Fast Pass and make restaurant reservations! The ride lines for the popular rides are incredibly long. The only way we were able to ride so many of them is because we used Fast Pass. And if you want to actually sit down and eat a meal (versus just getting chicken fingers from a walk up window), you gotta make reservations. (Most on site restaurants won’t even take walk-ins). That said, we didn’t make many restaurant reservations. We didn’t want to be tied to both a Fast Pass schedule AND a restaurant schedule. Instead, we ate breakfast in our room and packed snacks in a backpack. Speaking of backpacks, what else was in there?

Florida rain storms3. Bring sunscreen and a rain jacket. You’ll need both! Two of the days it rained (torrential downpour type stuff) for about an hour in the afternoon. But then it was over. That’s Florida. (Floridians, do you agree? Very stormy in spring and summer but weather moves in and out quickly).

Sneakers4. Wear good walking shoes! Oh, the walking. Everywhere. All day. Good exercise but leave the flip-flops back at the hotel.

5. HAVE FUN! Obvious, right? But Disney can be stressful sometimes too. The crowds, the lines, an over-packed schedule, the blatant commercialism. It can all be a bit much. But Disney’s commitment to its visitors is impossible to miss. When your Fast Pass time for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad ends just five minutes before your Fast Pass time at Space Mountain begins (two attractions on opposite ends of a 100+ acre park filled with tens of thousands of people) and you find yourself corralled with the rest of the crowd watching a third Festival of Fantasy parade while your Fast Pass times dwindles down to nothing… well, it helps to remember that they really do want you to have a magical day. ;-) :-D

And you will!

So how about you? Have you seen a 22 degree halo before? Have you been to Disney? Have any other thoughts or tips to share? Do you plan on going this summer? What are you most looking forward to? Lemme know in the comments! Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there! Have a great weekend, everyone!

 


Disney World: Beyond Movies and Magic

We went to Disney World this year for Spring Break. Typically, we stay local for SB so venturing south to stay in Lake Buena Vista was a real treat for us. Last week, I posted my thoughts about my two favorite parks: Hollywood Studios and the Magic Kingdom. Today, I’m posting pics and thoughts about Epcot and the Animal Kingdom. Next week, I’ll wrap up my Disney posts with some final bits and pieces and advice for anyone who’s considering going.

EPCOT

Epcot

I really enjoy visiting EPCOT (the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow). Arguably, however, it’s the least popular park. The parking lot (especially compared to the Magic Kingdom!) was a ghost town. But in Disney parlance this just means there were gazillions of people instead of bazillions. One of the neatest areas for me is the World Showcase, which showcases the culture and cuisine from 11 different countries. It’s fun to eat there. (Germany’s Biergarten, where Oktoberfest is celebrated all year long, was a favorite of ours last time). Unfortunately, this time, we didn’t make it to the World Showcase part of the park. Instead, we stayed in the Future World part of the park.

As an aside, it’s worth noting that Epcot’s theme is “celebrating the human spirit” — a terrific theme. But the park’s execution of it seems odd. The two parts of the park, the World Showcase and Future World, seem disparate and unrelated. It’s as if the park’s attractions are the other parks’ outtakes. Each of the other parks can be summed up with a word (Hollywood Studios = MOVIES; Magic Kingdom = MAGIC; Animal Kingdom = ANIMALS). With Epcot, that word would be WORLD but since the world includes everything, the park feels a bit scattered in its mission. It offers world culture, future technology, and environmental/nature related exhibits. That’s a lot of ground to cover. But maybe I’m being unfair.

Regardless, the park is worth visiting. We didn’t do it this way, but if I could reschedule our visit to this park, I would do Future World first and then head over to the World Showcase in the afternoon and have dinner there. Okay, so that’s what we didn’t do. What did we do?

TOPIARIES!

Some of you may be laughing. Who flies 900 miles to look at topiaries?! Well, I do. (Or at least, I will, if topiaries are part of a seasonal exhibit somewhere I’m visiting because, as the rest of you know, I think topiaries are really neat). I love the combination of nature, whimsy, art, and imagination.

RIDES

Mission: SPACE

Ride Story: You’re an astronaut on a mission to Mars.

Ride Thrills: Depends on which level of intensity you choose.

My Take: An exercise in not tossing my cookies. I mentioned last week that simulator rides can be tough for me. Well, duh, I probably should have listened to the eighteen million different warnings Epcot gives riders about NOT choosing to be a part of the Orange Team for this ride if you suffer from occasional motion sickness. The ride has two levels of intensity: green and orange. The Green Team experiences a typical simulator ride. The Orange Team experiences a centrifuge that spins and tilts to simulate launch and re-entry speed and G-force. It’s supposed to be “authentic NASA-style” training. Uh… obviously I’ve never trained for NASA but it felt pretty authentic to me. I managed not to hurl but it took me about 90 minutes to regain my equilibrium and not feel as if my brains were scrambled after the ride. Lesson? If I weren’t already too old for astronaut training, I could probably rule that out as a career choice. Craig and the kids? Ha! They were ready for ice cream and another ride the minute they exited the building.

Chevrolet’s Test Track

Ride Story: Design your own concept vehicle and then test drive it.

Ride Thrills: There is a slight coaster feel to the last part of the test track when the car gains speed around some turns. Unless you suffer from back or neck trouble or are a small child, this ride is pretty tame.

My Take: A giant car commercial. In fact, there’s a fun interactive exhibit in the exit lobby where you really can make a car commercial based on the car you designed for the test track. I chose a deep, cowboy-type voice-over to go with my red oversized, overpowered truck. :-D (Half the fun is designing something that’s completely opposite your vehicle type).

There are lots more attractions and things to do at Epcot. I wish we’d had more time. For my next visit, I’d love to see the Sea Base and the Land Pavilion (the fish farm and greenhouses), as well as a couple of shows (the Jeweled Dragon Acrobats and Serveur Amusant look pretty cool).

ANIMAL KINGDOM

For me, Animal Kingdom can be broken down into two parts: Everest and Everything Else. Everest was my favorite ride this time. Maybe it’s because I’d never ridden it before. Maybe it’s because it featured yetis in a frozen wasteland, two things I’d been excessively thinking about over the past year because White Heart of Justice features both as well, albeit a bit differently. Or maybe it’s because the ride is just plain great.

RIDES/ATTRACTIONS

EverestExpedition Everest: Legend of the Forbidden Mountain

Ride Story: For years, the Royal Anandapur Tea Company shipped tea through the Forbidden Mountain deep in the Himalayas, but after a series of mysterious accidents possibly involving yetis, the rail line closed. Adventurers and yeti seekers, never fear! The rail line is open once again. Himalayan Escapes, Tours and Expeditions now offers a train ride through the icy peaks and passes.

Ride Thrills: Lots! I love that I have to give a SPOILER warning for a ride, but I do! Part of the fun of riding this ride for the first time is experiencing the unexpected. So if you don’t want to know what’s in store for you, skip down to Kilimanjaro Safaris. For those of you that want to know exactly what this ride offers: the usual high-speed turns and drops, including one 80 foot plunge and several corkscrews. But the ride also “ends” at one point when the track becomes impassable. Ahead the rail line is severed. All that remains are a few feet of twisted, mangled tracks hanging off the edge of a cliff. First time riders are left wondering what’s next. The brakes finally release and the ride is reversed. Bonus: Lots of yeti sightings!

My Take: If you go to Animal Kingdom and like coasters, this ride is a must. It wasn’t as intense as Hollywood Studios Rock-n-Roller Coaster, but was probably a bit more than Magic Kingdom’s Space Mountain. It wasn’t as “jerky” feeling though and the story behind the ride is great. If your kid is tall enough to ride the ride, they’ll love it. We rode it twice.

Kilimanjaro Safaris

What’s the deal? One of Animal Kingdom’s attractions is a 110 acre wildlife sanctuary for native African animals such as wildebeests, warthogs, lions, gazelles, elephants, and antelope. Visitors can take a twenty-minute open air bus tour around the reserve.

What’s the thrill? For me, it was the giraffes. Yeah, I know they’re not as exotic as some of the other animals, but I think they’re neat. I wanna know why they couldn’t be domesticated. (Did anyone read Guns, Germs, and Steel? Are any of you biologists? What the deal with them? They look friendly enough…) ;-) :-D

My take: I have mixed feelings about zoos, reserves, and sanctuaries. They’re unnatural. Florida isn’t Africa. How comfortable can an African lion really be living in Florida on 110 acres of land? On the other hand, there’s a lot of education going on in Animal Kingdom for those that want to take the time to learn. Some people don’t have the resources to take a real African safari. This tour gives visitors an opportunity to see the animals in their natural habitat (sort of). The sanctuary has also been a home for animals that are rare (okapi), endangered (white rhino), and even extinct in the wild (scimitar-horned oryx).

Rafiki’s Planet Watch

What’s the deal? Right beside Kilimanjaro Safaris is the Wildlife Express Train station, which will take you to Rafiki’s Planet Watch. This is an off site area where visitors can learn more about the care and feeding of the animals that live at the park.

What’s the thrill? Inside the Conservation Station, there’s a viewable on site research facility and wildlife tracking center (which gave the place a vague Jurassic Park feel), a vet treatment room (no patients while we were there — probably a good thing!), and an amphibian, reptile, and invertebrate display. Outside it, in the Affection Section, are various domesticated animals.

My take: I thought the Conservation Station was neat and I would have liked to have spent more time in there. But my youngest was on a beeline to the Affection Section. I kept telling her there wouldn’t be any cats but I don’t think she believed me until she saw the goats and pigs. No matter. If it has fur, she will love it and hug it and squeeze it… and it will try to eat her jeans, her shirt, her hair, her shoelaces…

Penny

Have you been to Epcot? Have I judged it unfairly? Maybe next time, with different places to explore, Epcot will end up being my favorite park. What about Animal Kingdom? Have you been there? What do you think about zoos, reserves, and sanctuaries? Have you ever been on a real safari? Lemme know in the comments! Have a great weekend, everyone!


Disney World: Magic for Everyone!

Last week, we went to Disney World in Orlando, Florida. It was fantastic! My husband and I have been before, once after I graduated from law school and a second time when our girls were still young enough to want to do Bibbity Bobbity Boutique and the character breakfasts. Each trip we’ve done both new and favorite things. Below are my thoughts on Hollywood Studios’ and Magic Kingdom’s rides and shows. Next week, I’ll do another post on the other two parks and, after that, a third and final post with some Disney odds and ends. If you’ve been to Disney, tell me your thoughts in the comments, or if you plan on going in the future, lemme know what you’re most looking forward to!

Main Street

HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS

Hollywood Studios Sorcerer's Hat

The Sorcerer’s Hat

In the past, the Magic Kingdom has been my favorite park but for this trip, Hollywood Studios was. Why? Well, it’s a park devoted to MOVIES for one thing AND my kids were finally tall enough to ride all the fun rides. Also, in fairness, it was probably also my favorite park this time because we stayed there the longest and saw a lot. We stayed for dinner and ended the night with the amazing Fantasmic show, a twilight show starring Mickey and all of the other Disney characters with music, fireworks, lasers, stunts, and boat floats.

RIDES

DorothyThe Great Movie Ride

  • Ride Story: Tour Hollywood’s movie sets. Includes sets inspired by Aliens, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and The Wizard of Oz.
  • Ride Thrills: It’s a tram tour through faux movie sets. But if you love movies like I do, it will be entertaining.
  • My Take: Ride this first, as an introduction to the park. The line queues through a full-scale reproduction of Grauman’s Chinese Theater where you can view props, set pieces, and movie memorabilia. These change so the lobby is kind of like a temporary movie museum exhibit. At the end, there’s a fun “celebration of movies” montage.

Rock n Roller Coaster

  • Ride story: You are a passenger in a stretch limo on LA highways heading to an Aerosmith concert.
  • Ride thrills: 0-60 mph start, loops and a corkscrew. One of the fastest and loudest rides in all of the parks.
  • My take: FUN! We rode it twice.

Hollywood Tower HotelTower of Terror

  • Ride Story: Tour the “infamous” Hollywood Tower Hotel, a fictional hotel supposedly favored by LA’s rich and famous until lightning struck it in 1939. You are introduced to the hotel, its last inhabitants, and the creepy backstory by Rod Sterling of Twilight Zone fame as he welcomes you to the 5th Dimension.
  • Ride Thrills: You and your party get in an elevator (albeit one where you sit down and buckle yourself in with a seatbelt) and take a haunted house type ride up to the 13th floor where 5 unlucky souls disappeared from the very elevator you’re sitting in. And then the fun begins — it turns into one of those “big drop” rides.Thunderstorm outside of Tower of Terror
  • My take: AWESOME!! I rode it twice and my kids rode it three times. It continues to be their favorite ride in all of Disney World, which is interesting since they think the Double Shot in Ocean City, NJ is boring (see how much story matters?! :-D ) The fact that the ride was inspired by the Twilight Zone TV show is brilliant. And how lucky were we that our Fast Pass time happened to occur during a giant thunderstorm? When the elevator doors opened to the outside, the view was almost surreal. Instead of an azure Florida sky, there was a deluge of rain and thunder. We plummeted toward the ground amidst a lightning storm. Walt Disney himself couldn’t have designed a more authentic backdrop.

AT-ATStar Tours

  • Ride Story: Explore a galaxy far, far away! :-) This ride is based on the Star Wars movies.
  • Ride Thrills: It’s a simulator ride, but it’s manageable if you suffer from occasional motion sickness.
  • My Take: Loved it. Simulator rides can be tough for me but this was fine and fun. There are over 50 different story combinations with new destinations and characters each time so I would have loved to have ridden it again if we had gone back to the park on a different day. (Riding a simulator ride twice in a row would have been hard for me).

Toy Story Midway ManiaMr Potato Head

  • Ride Story: Tour Andy’s room, listen to an Audio-Animatronics Mr. Potato Head introduction, and then get ready to shoot!
  • Ride Thrills: You sit in a car and are powered around to shoot at all sorts of different Toy Story themed screens. Great for people who like games where you shoot at targets.
  • My Take: It was fun. I was slightly suspicious of how the scoring worked since my husband and I (who were in separate cars) had the EXACT SAME SCORE. Coincidence? I think not… but maybe we’re just that good. :-D

Toy Story

The Writer's Stop at Hollywood Studios

The Writer’s Stop at Hollywood Studios Books, Pastries, and Coffee!

SHOWS

Voyage of the Little Mermaid: Cute. My youngest’s current favorite character is Ariel. (Surprising, right? Since more recent characters like Merida, Anna and Elsa are so popular right now. I think it’s because Santa brought her a mermaid fin this year. ;-) )

Miss Piggy FountainMuppet Vision 3D: Worth seeing if you like the Muppets and just because it’s neat to see how Disney takes its shows off-screen so that the theater itself becomes part of the show. Tip: Don’t throw your sunglasses in the 3D glasses recycling bin! :-D (My MIL did and we spent a few moments post-show digging for them).

Fantasmic! => Fantastic! If you go to Hollywood Studios and can stay until this show, see it! My MIL bought light-up, battery-powered mouse ears for my girls right before the show from a kiosk outside of the amphitheater. When the ears went dark just before the show, it kinda creeped me out because it made me realize (yet again) just how “soup to nuts” Disney really is. I thought it was almost too big brother-ish that the park could control my girls’ mouse ears so as to not interfere with the light and laser show. Little did I know! The “Glow with the Show” ears were dark only for a dramatically timed few moments. They then lit back up throughout the show, timed with the music and color-coordinated with the lights. You be the judge… creepy or not? I decided to embrace it and go with the crazy insanity of it all. After all, it WAS pretty cool to see ALL of the other kids’ mouse ears synchronized with the show.

Glowing Mickey Ears

“Glow with the Show”

MAGIC KINGDOM

My second favorite park this time was the Magic Kingdom. It’s a massive park and super crowded. Even when there’s not a parade going on (which happens pretty frequently), the streets and sidewalks feel like a packed bar.

The only thing that makes it okay is that there are no cars to worry about and everyone is in a good mood. Sure, people look exhausted and weary at times, but not as much as you’d think considering the heat and long lines. The vibe is very friendly. Everyone who works there is unbelievably helpful and everyone you bump into is unbelievably apologetic. If you’ve ever elbowed your way through a crowd at a concert or sporting event or walked along the streets of New York… well, it doesn’t feel like that, which is nice.

Disney is an expert in transportation and the logistics of moving insanely large groups of people from one place to another without chaos. During our trip, we rode in planes, trains, and automobiles… as well as busses, ferries, ATVs, trams, golf carts, and the monorail. But the lack of chaos and everyone’s I’m-on-vacation speed means getting anyway takes FOREVER. Think of going to Disney like you do home improvement — everything will cost 3x as much as you think it should and everything will take 3x as long as you plan.

boats planes and trains

RIDES

Haunted Mansion

  • Ride Story: Take a “Doom Buggy” ride through a haunted estate.
  • Ride Thrills: Good, plain haunted house fun for everyone. There are ghosts, ghouls, and a graveyard but there are more smiles than scares.
  • My Take: An older ride with sentimental appeal that my family loves because we love haunted house rides.

Space Mountain

  • Ride Story: A journey to the edge of the galaxy and back.
  • Ride Thrills: Not quite as crazy as the rock n roller coaster at Hollywood Studios but a very decent coaster ride. No loops but lots of fast turns in the dark make-believe world of space!
  • My Take: I’d never ridden Space Mountain before. Don’t know why I didn’t the first time I visited and the second, it was closed for repairs. So I was glad I had the chance! It was fun. We rode it twice.

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

  • Ride Story: You’re on a runaway train traveling through a haunted mine.
  • Ride Thrills: As coasters go, this one’s pretty tame. A few dips where your stomach drops and a few turns where your smashed into the person sitting next to you.
  • My Take: It’s okay. Once is enough but we rode it twice. :-)

Splash Mountain (Are you sensing the mountain theme?)

  • Ride Story: Based on the 1946 Disney movie Song of the South. You glide in a hollow log on a bayou past Br’er Rabbit, Br’er Fox and Br’er Bear.
  • Ride Thrills: One 5 story drop with a watery splash at the end.
  • My Take: I’ve never been a fan of Br’er Rabbit. Log flume rides can be fun though. Sit in the back and wear a rain jacket if you don’t want to get wet! (If your phone isn’t in a LifeProof case, put it in a Ziplock before you go to the park).

PARADES AND FIREWORKS

Festival of Fantasy

This was a terrific parade! (We also saw some of the Animal Kingdom parade, which made us appreciate the spectacular grandeur of Magic Kingdom’s Festival of Fantasy parade). There were tons of floats featuring many of Disney’s biggest characters. Even the newer ones like Merida and Anna and Elsa had their own floats. Everything was timed with the music, which seemed to play from everywhere when the parade went by. Each float had a handful of performers — singing, dancing, and doing stunts. But the pièce de résistance was the brand-new-this-spring magnificent Maleficent float. It’s a HUGE steampunk inspired dragon, complete with a spinning wheel and real fire in its belly.

Disney also puts on a “Wishes Nighttime Spectacular” fireworks show every night at 10:00 p.m. Worth watching at least once per visit. It’s like a Disney vitamin. :-)

So those are my 2014 thoughts on Hollywood Studios and Disney’s Magic Kingdom. What about you? Have you been to either of those parks? What did you think? What are your favorite rides and shows? Are you planning on going to Disney World this year? Lemme know in the comments! Next week, I’ll load up some pictures from Epcot and Animal Kingdom. After that, I’ll post my thoughts about where we stayed, the water parks, and a few other bits and pieces. Have a great weekend, everyone!

Mickey Lawn


Lark Howard’s Pilgrimage to Marfa

Writer and traveler Lark Howard wrote a wonderful post that has something for everyone in it: gliders, Liz Taylor’s GIANT, art, cowboy boots, a book, a hint of the supernatural, and two handsome Frenchmen. Even if you are not planning on visiting West Texas anytime soon, it’s a must-read for anyone who likes to travel or just enjoys a good story. Welcome, Lark!

“Marfa is a town where jeans and cowboy boots are appropriate pretty much everywhere”

For years I’d heard stories about Marfa from Houstonians who had fallen in love with the quirky West Texas town. But it wasn’t until I read Colleen Thompson’s romantic suspense, TRIPLE EXPOSURE, that I was inspired to brave the nine hour road trip to spend a week in Marfa myself.

A friend and I rented an adobe house on the main drag for a week and set off. For anyone who hasn’t been to West Texas, let me say there’s a whole lot of nothing between San Antonio and El Paso. The speed limit is 80 mph but you can go 95 without worrying about hitting anything or failing to see a radar trap, and you can drive on I-10 for 100 miles without passing a gas station.

Marfa is where much of the 1956 movie GIANT with Liz Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean was filmed—the parts in the Chihuahuan Desert aka Middle-of-Nowhere-Texas. Sand, rock, and a sprinkling of scruffy bushes pretty much describes the landscape here and yet the wild beauty of so much open country inspires awe.

Marfa Texas

In TRIPLE EXPOSURE photographer Rachel Copeland flees Philadelphia for her hometown of Marfa after being acquitted of murdering a young man who had stalked her. Her father, who pilots gliders, welcomes her back and soon she gets involved with a seriously hot, cowboy-type artist who works in wood. The story brings to life the town where artists, ranchers and Houston/Dallas socialites somehow manage to coexist, if not always happily. Book in hand and with advice from Colleen Thompson, I made my list of must-dos.

First was going up in a glider. At the local airstrip I found Marfa Gliders and met the owner, Burt Compton, who admitted to reading and liking TRIPLE EXPOSURE “even if it was a romance.” Fifteen minutes later we were soaring noiselessly over the stark and breath-taking countryside in a two-seater glider. The immediacy of the experience was a rush and as close to being a bird as I’ll ever get. First must-do was definitely a thrill.

Marfa Gliders

At noon I lined up in the pavilion in the center of town, waiting my turn at the Food Shark—a Colleen Thompson recommendation– where I ordered Marfalafel and ate it with gusto at picnic tables crowded with local regulars and a couple dozen visitors. (Incidentally, the only spot in town with cell phone reception is about twenty feet south of the third post of the pavilion and only the public library had reliable wifi.)

Food Shark Marfa Texas

Most evenings at dusk we drove out of town to look for the Marfa Lights—naturally occurring mysterious glowing orbs that hover on the plains. There’s a viewing outpost along Highway 90 with telescopes with a great view of the desert where they’re most frequently spotted, but we never did see them. In the book the Lights are not just an eerie and mysterious phenomenon, but have a creepy twist that I won’t spoil here. I’m still determined to see the Marfa Lights one night—maybe this winter.

Marfa is a town where jeans and cowboy boots are appropriate pretty much everywhere, even the “fancy hotel” where Liz Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean lived while filming GIANT. But unlike most Western towns, Marfa is famous in the art world. In the 1980’s Donald Judd founded an art museum and artist community in a former U.S. Cavalry post and prisoner of war camp, Fort D.A. Russell, which is now operated by the Chinati Foundation.

The tour of the 340 acre complex takes about three hours, and the November day I went our group mainly consisted of artsy retirees and middle-aged tourist couples traveling off-season– and two handsome young Frenchmen oozing with Parisian style. I’m sure everyone was wondering how they ended up in Marfa of all places. Being a writer, I had to ask…in French. And they told me…also in French which left everyone else still wondering. They were brothers traveling around the United States for six weeks before the older one—an architect– got married. A French artist they’d met in Los Angeles insisted they detour to see the Judd installation and there they were.

Chinati Foundation

The architect was awed by the art and the museum buildings, his brother wanted to know the best place in town to get Mexican food and margaritas—something I’d become an expert on in the past five days. When the tour was over, they got into a dusty Landrover and went off in search of fajitas and tequila, and two pairs of authentic cowboy boots.

I headed for the courthouse to look at the view of the town and the plain beyond from the lookout tower. Perhaps one day I’ll use Marfa as a setting for a story of my own. Maybe it’ll start: Everyone fell silent when the Frenchmen walked through the door of the noisy cantina. Clearly they weren’t from around these parts.

More About Lark

Writing and traveling have always been such important parts of Lark Howard’s life, it’s only natural for her to set her stories in the places she loves best. The first two of her romantic paranormal adventure series are set in Paris and the Caribbean, specifically the British Virgin Islands and St. Barts. The third is set in Glacier National Park, Montana. No doubt Durands, the powerful family of psychics who “star” in the series, will find trouble in England, Scotland and New Orleans at some point. When not traveling to far-away places, Lark lives in Texas with her brilliant designer husband who brainstorms some of her best plot twists.

I love the idea of visiting a setting that you read about in a book. Has anyone else done that? If so, where did you go? Let me know if you want to guest blog about it! :-D

Thank you, Lark, for sharing your great story with us! I haven’t read TRIPLE EXPOSURE but I’ve seen GIANT. (My mom and I used to love to watch it together). If I ever find myself in West Texas, I’ll have to visit Marfa!


Beer! (and the Cape May Brewing Company)

Cape May, Cape May Brewing Company, beer, micro-brew, vacation, New Jersey, day trip, travel

CAPE MAY BREWING COMPANY TAP ROOM

Last week I was on the Jersey Shore. Most of the week I spent on the beach, reading during the day and visiting the boardwalk or watching the moonrise at night. But I visited two places that are very good day trip destinations: the Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum and the Cape May Brewing Company. This is the last post in a three-part series I’m doing to say sayonara to summer. If you like beer or touring micro-breweries (come on, who doesn’t?) then read on!

Cape May, flying, aviation, pilot, Cessna, day trip

Ready for Take Off

Before visiting the brewery, we met some friends of ours for a flight around Cape May. It was cloudy and visibility was low, but otherwise it was a fun flight. The perfect precursor to a beer tasting!

Waiting for other traffic to land

Waiting for other traffic to land

Cape May, flying, aviation, pilot, Cessna, day trip

CAPE MAY LIGHTHOUSE

Garden State Parkway aerial view

GARDEN STATE PARKWAY

beer, micro-brew, Cape May Brewing CompanyThe Cape May brewery started in 2010 with the plan “to open the first micro brewery at the Jersey Shore and put New Jersey on the map as a craft beer state.” They are located within walking distance of the Cape May airport. They now serve over 40 bars and restaurants in Cape May and serve up to 12 beers in their tap room.

Centennial IPA = Best IPA at the 2012 Atlantic City Beer Fest

Cape May, Cape May Brewing Company, beer, micro-brew, vacation, New Jersey, day trip, travel

People eating, drinking, and hanging out

We toured and tasted: I tried the Watermelon Wheat (I’d probably make a terrible sommelier. I couldn’t taste the watermelon at all), the Saison (IPA + Wheat + Belgium Double = my favorite), the Centennial IPA, and the Hitching Post (a bourbon stout). We left our kids in OC, but the place is kid-friendly. They serve root beer (for kids and pilots!) and, in reverse BYOB fashion, they allow you to bring in food and eat at their picnic tables while sampling the beer. I loved the feel of the place. It was warm, inviting, friendly, and fun. Very casual and laid back.

Cape May Brewing Company, beer, micro-brew

My husband, Craig, and me

Flying Back to Ocean City

Gray Skies

Gray Skies

My husband is a good pilot — very responsible. And he knows I sometimes get motion sickness… especially when flying after an afternoon of beer tasting! (check out my ridiculous selfies below) He has an IFR, which allows him to fly through clouds and low visibility weather, but when he saw thunderstorms closing in around the OC airport, he decided to turn back.

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No pilot would intentionally fly into this

We landed at Cape May again, tied the plane down, and decided to wait out the storm in the FBO (Flight Level Aviation). We weren’t the only ones stranded by the storm. There were also two BoatPix helicopter pilots there. For over an hour we huddled up in the FBO, keeping one eye on the storm and the other on the TV (SyFy channel was playing Sharknado, which was as impossibly hilarious as everyone said it was. In fact, some Sat when I have absolutely nothing else to do, I may watch it again. It was that horribly good.) (Also, as an aside, the FBO is new and they were awesome. Sarah kept the place open late just so we could all wait out the storm. Pilots: please gas up there if you land in Cape May! :-D )

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About twenty minutes earlier, we were sitting in those chairs watching the storm come in

By sunset the storm had passed and we were able to take off again and this time make it all the way into Ocean City… to find we’d left the sunroof of our car open… LOL. What a day!

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Hard earned beer for the pilot Home at last!

Hard earned beer for the pilot
Home at last!

Other links you may be interested in:

Don’t forget to take my READER SURVEY and tell me what you most like to read here and/or want to see here.

Rosie the RiveterFinally, if you want a chance to win the Rosie the Riveter bag (can be used for books… or beer!) that I bought at the Cape May aviation museum, then comment below or send me an e-mail: archer at jillarcher dot com. US only.

Have you ever been to the Cape May Brewing Company? Do you like microbrews? How about beer? :-D Have a fantastic Labor Day, everyone!


Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum

NASW, Naval Air Station Wildwood, Cape MayLast week, I visited the Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum, which is actually in Cape May, New Jersey (very close to Wildwood). If you are an aviation enthusiast, a fan of 1940’s memorabilia, and/or are interested in reading about interesting places that are great for day trips, then read on! This is the second post in a three-part series I’m doing to close out summer. Yesterday’s post was on Ocean City, New Jersey and tomorrow’s post will be on the Cape May brewery. While I was at the museum, I bought some things in their gift shop to support them. One of the items was a Rosie the Riveter tote bag (pictured below; perfect for carrying books!). If you’re interested in entering your name in my Rosie tote bag giveaway (US only due to mailing costs), comment below or just send me an e-mail: archer at jillarcher dot com.

Atlantic Ocean, Ocean City, Cape May, New Jersey

We took off from Ocean City and landed at Cape May. Both airports are small and un-towered. The flight was pretty and the ocean was the flattest I’ve ever seen it. Hard to believe this is the Atlantic, right? It looks like a backyard pond! :-D

The Cape May airport was built in 1943 as a naval air station for training pilots in WWII. It’s original name was the “Naval Air Station Rio Grande” but the story is that all of its mail kept getting delivered to Rio Grande, Texas so they changed the name to the “Naval Air Station Wildwood,” which is actually in Cape May. In October of 1944, the airport hit its peak of take offs and landings with 16,994 in that one month period! (Hard to believe since the airport has a small, almost sleepy feel to it now).

The big hanger is currently a 92,000 square foot “all wood truss hangar/aviation museum” that is listed on the National and State Register of Historic Places. The museum serves as a memorial for the 42 known airmen that lost their lives training there, as well as a site for community events and fundraisers. I flew in with three generations of aviation enthusiasts: my husband, father-in-law, and nephew. After watching an intro video in the old ready room, we started touring the museum.

Cape May, New Jersey, Naval Air Station Wildwood, museum, history, travel, vacation, day trip

The museum has the old Bader Field tower

Bader Field, near Atlantic City, opened in 1910 and was the first U.S. municipal airport to support both sea and land based planes. The Civil Air Patrol was founded there in 1941. In 2006, Bader Field was closed and the air traffic control tower was given to the Cape May aviation museum.

Cape May, New Jersey, Naval Air Station Wildwood, museum, history, travel, vacation, day trip

They have a great Coast Guard exhibit, including an HH-52 helicopter you can climb in

Coca-Cola

“Drink Coca-Cola”

The museum recently added a “1940’s Room,” which recreates a typical house during WWII. They also have tons of Coca-Cola memorabilia there!

1940's, WWII

Welcome to the 1940’s

My grandfather was a pilot in WWII. He never trained at the Naval Air base in Wildwood. Instead, he trained in California and was later stationed in Okinawa. I had thought the plane below might have been the type of plane he flew in.

1940's pilots, WWII, history, aircraft, aviation

OE-2 Bird Dog

But when I got back home and compared it to pictures I had from my grandfather (below), I don’t think so. The plane at the Cape May museum is an OE-2 Bird Dog, which wasn’t used until the 1950’s. I briefly considered but quickly rejected the low wing North American T-6 Texan, so I need more time to look into it… Anyone else know?

1940's, airplanes, aviation, history, WWII

Picture my grandfather took of the type of planes he used to fly

After our visit, we were hungry! So we had lunch at the Flight Deck Diner. We sat at the counter and ordered cheesesteaks and root beer floats. The waitress who worked there was super friendly and the food was great. I’m a huge fan of airport diners. They’re fun even if you don’t plan on flying anywhere that day.

airport diner, Cape May

Flight Deck Diner

Cape May air museum, aviation, history, 1940's, pilots

NASW
Naval Air Station Wildwood

Too soon, our afternoon was over and we were ready to fly back to Ocean City. We had a fantastic time! If you’re in the area, NASW is having its 17th Annual Air Fest THIS WEEKEND (Labor Day 2013). Stop by and check it out!

NASW, Cape May

Other links you may be interested in:

Don’t forget to take my READER SURVEY and tell me what you most like to read here and/or want to see here.

Rosie the RiveterFinally, if you want a chance to win the Rosie the Riviter bag that I bought at the museum, then comment below or send me an e-mail: archer at jillarcher dot com. US only.

Have you ever been to the Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum? Have you ever been to Cape May? Are you interested in the 1940’s? WWII? Aviation? Do you even like to fly?!? :-D Hope everyone is having a terrific Friday!


Ocean City, New Jersey

Ocean City Beach PatrolLast week, I was at the Jersey Shore. I’ve never watched the “Jersey Shore” reality TV show, but I’m betting the Jersey Shore I know and love is very different from the MTV version. If you’re interested in seeing a few pics and reading about a classic Jersey Shore family vacation, then read on! This is the first post in a three-part series I’m doing to close out summer. The next two posts will be on the Cape May Aviation Museum and the Cape May Brewery. While I was at the museum, I bought some things in their gift shop to support them. One of the items was a Rosie the Riveter tote bag (pictured below; perfect for carrying books!). If you’re interested in entering your name in my Rosie tote bag giveaway (US only due to mailing costs), comment below or just send me an e-mail: archer at jillarcher dot com.

Ocean City, New Jersey, travel, beach, east coast, vacation

SAND DUNES

Ocean City, New Jersey, boardwalk, beach, vacation, travel, east coast

BOARDWALK

Every year we hit the same places: Manco and Manco’s Pizza (which we still call “Mack and Manco’s” even though all traces of Mack have been scrubbed), Playland’s Castaway Cove (the Hurricane and Double Shot are old favorites but the park recently installed some neat new rides like Air Race), Johnson’s Popcorn and Fralinger’s for salt water taffy. And, of course, my kids take every opportunity to replenish their depleted hoard of plastic shovels and beaded jewelry.

Blue Moon, Ocean City, beach

“The day, water, sun, moon, night…
I do not have to purchase these things with money.”
Plautus

There was a blue moon while we were there this year. A blue moon is the third of four full moons in a season, although a blue moon can also be the second of two full moons in a month. Blue moons are rare and explains where the “once in a blue moon” phrase originated. Regardless of the scientific or seasonal explanations for the blue moon — seeing a full moon rise over the ocean was pretty spectacular and something I’d never seen before. (I took a lot of pictures, but none of them effectively convey the experience. Walking along the beach in the moonlight is about a lot more than one snapped shot, and besides, my cell phone takes crappy nighttime pics :-) ). In any case, we took more evening walks on the beach than usual this year.

Ocean City New Jersey, beach, travel, vacation

The sunsets were almost as neat as the blue moon. Bayside, you can see the sun set over Peck Bay or Great Egg Harbor, but we stay within a few blocks of the Atlantic so it’s easier to lug all our stuff down each morning. So the sun sets over dunes and houses for us. Still pretty though…

Ocean City sunset, sand dunes, beaches, east cost, travel, vacation

We took our little Cessna down so that we could enjoy some afternoon and sunset flights (more on those flights in the next two posts!).Ocean City New Jersey Airport, aviation, flying

New 9th Street Bridge and Visitor's Center OCNJ

Aerial View of New 9th Street Bridge and Visitor’s Center

I drove in on the new 9th street bridge before flying over it. Even though I’ll admit that the new bridge is much improved, I couldn’t help feeling sentimental about all the times I’d crossed the old drawbridge on the way into town. I’m not the only one. Check out this 2011 post by Douglas Bergen in the Ocean City Patch where he bid farewell to the old bridge with a brief bit of wonderfully written nostalgia:

“What child didn’t get goosebumps hearing the telltale hum of car tires rolling over the metal grates of the closed drawbridge? The sound signaled that the beach and Boardwalk were near.

And like record albums, encyclopedias and other quaint notions we have to explain to our children, will they look at us funny when we explain how a little mechanical arm dropped down, and the whole roadway cleaved and lifted up to let boats pass by?”

East Coast Beaches, aviation, travel, flying, vacation, beach

Ghost crab

“Sandy” the ghost crab

Ghost crabs (or sand crabs) aren’t as easy to see and catch on the Jersey Shore as they are in the Outer Banks, but we still managed to capture this little guy (long enough for him to be dubbed “Sandy” — after the hurricane — and then we let him go).

Ghost crab

The Mad Scientist's Guide to World Domination

WHAT I READ

Shrimp, clams, and mussels

WHAT I ATE
My husband made this tasty dish and served it with linguine. Other nights, we steamed snow crab legs or fried fish. By the end of the week, even I was ready for some red meat!

Mojito

WHAT I DRANK
When I first attempted to make this drink, it looked like the concoction on the cover of THE MAD SCIENTIST’S GUIDE TO WORLD DOMINATION (see above). I realize purists will likely scoff at the martini glass but that’s the beauty of *my* Jersey Shore. Presentation is irrelevant. :-D

Ocean City Airport

Ocean City FBO

Rosie the Riveter

Here’s a picture of the tote bag I bought at the Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum. I think it looks perfect for carting around books and all sorts of other stuff. Even though summer is over, who can’t use another beach bag? :-D Leave a comment or send me an e-mail to enter to win it. US only. And stay tuned for parts 2 and 3… the Cape May museum and brewery!

What did you do this summer? What’s your favorite part about going to the shore? Do you like Rosie the Riveter? Have you ever made mojitos? Are you from Ocean City? What do you think of the new 9th street bridge?


Dog Days of Summer

When I was young I always thought the phrase “dog days of summer” had something to do with dogs lounging around on porches with their tongues lolling out. Then I found out that the ancient Romans coined the phrase because it was the time of year when Sirius, the “dog star” (a part of the constellation Canis Major) rose and set with the sun. Even though Sirius’ place in the sky has moved, the term has stuck and now everyone uses it to describe those lazy, hot days of late summer. What have I been doing during my Dog Days of Summer? Traveling and reading, mostly, with a few other lazy and not-so-lazy things thrown in for good measure.

sunflowers, dog days of summer, gardens

Returned to find our sunflowers had blossomed

ROAD TRIP TO TENNESSEE

There’s something about the open road that is like a siren’s song (with an HEA ending). Maybe it’s that the United States is so big or maybe it’s because we are raised on the idea that cars = freedom. Or maybe it’s just that road trips are a part of our culture. Who knows. Probably everyone has their own reason for hitting the open road every once in a while. Me? I don’t think I’d like to travel exclusively by automobile, but I love our annual summer trip into Tennessee.

Blue Ridge Mountains, road trip

SEE WHY THEY CALL THEM THE BLUE RIDGE MOUNTAINS?

Charlottesville, Virginia

We’ve made the trip from Baltimore to Knoxville in one day, but usually we like to break the trip into two days so that we can stop at interesting places along the way. We got a late start this year and so only made it to Charlottesville, Virginia before calling it a night. We had dinner at the Downtown Grille (loved their Thai Marinated Tuna Tartare, the Steak au Poivre, and the Seafood Linguine, which sounds boring but tasted amazing — and, no, I didn’t order all that food just for me! :-D ). I think the place is best known for its wine selection, but we behaved ourselves since we were looking at 6 more hours in our car the next day. I tried not to be too disappointed that they wouldn’t make the bananas foster table-side. (Isn’t most of the fun of that dish watching the flames as it’s being made? Does anyone even serve it like that anymore? And, if not, do we blame the lawyers or common sense?)

Downtown Grille, Charlottesville, road trip

Downtown Grille in Charlottesville, VA
(on the right)

The next morning we hit Bizou for brunch. Sat outside and had the Bizou Florentine (poached eggs are something I would never attempt at home. Someone once told me that they always decide what to order by choosing what they can’t make at home. Sounds like excellent advice, although it still leaves most of the menu for me to choose from, regardless of the restaurant). The waitress told us that “bizou” means “little kiss” in French. I haven’t been able to confirm, but I can say I’d happily eat there again.

Bizou, Charlottesville, road trip

Inside Bizou — Vintage Movie Posters
(check out ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN!)

Of course, I had to stop at the bookstore: Blue Whale Books. It’s a used and rare bookstore that also sells prints and old maps. Instead of a cat, they have a dog — Gizmeau (cute, huh?) I peered through the glass at a book signed by Teddy Roosevelt in 1909 and then wandered over to the SF/F section. Too soon my kids were yanking on my arm, leading me away to Alakazam, a toy store that sells swords, shields, fairy wings and skirts… and zombie finger puppets.

rare and used bookstore, Charlottesville, Blue Whale Books

BLUE WHALE BOOKS
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA

zombie finger puppet, Alakazam

Come on… you know you want one! :-D

Bubble blowing contest

Six hours on the road gives you lots of time to do things you don’t normally do… Like having a “Who Can Blow the Biggest Bubble” Contest, play car bingo, and argue about what the song of the summer should be (because NONE of us thought it should be “Blurred Lines”).

Time in the car is good for clearing your head… and then filling it with the things that are important. Road trips can turn any day into New Year’s Eve. It’s a celebration and a time to think about priorities and resolutions.

Knoxville, Tennessee

My dad and step-mom live in Knoxville so we go to visit them. But we still managed to eat at a few local restaurants while we were there (Calhoun’s on the River, The Tomato Head (LOVED their pizza!), and Rita’s — even though we have a Rita’s not 20 minutes from where we live at home.

Calhoun's on the River, Knoxville

Calhoun’s on the River
Instead of boats, this dock had geese! These guys were adorable and followed us all around the dock begging for food.

Knoxville Market Square Rita's

You know the thing I love most about this Rita’s
(besides the kid size wild black cherry gelato)?
It used to be a shoe store. (Check out the front sidewalk).
Anyone who reads my books or knows me well, knows I’m fascinated by how people’s use for a place changes over time.

Paddleboarding

I said I wanted to try something new this summer and I did — Paddleboarding! Seems like everywhere you look, someone was paddleboarding this summer. A spur-of-the-moment stop at the Outdoor Knoxville Adventure Center after lunch one day introduced me to a group (River Sports Outfitters) that rents paddleboards for use in and around Knoxville. We took six of them out for two hours on the Tennessee River. Yes, I fell. Twice. Once, all the way in the water. Clearly, racing is a bit beyond my abilities right now. But what an experience! It’s always fun to try something new.

Tennessee River, paddleboarding, Outdoor Knoxville, River Sports OutfittersTennessee River, paddleboarding, Outdoor Knoxville, River Sports OutfittersTennessee River, paddleboarding, Outdoor Knoxville, River Sports Outfitters

So, how about you? How’s your summer going? Have you taken any road trips? Tried something new? Eaten out? Dropped by a toy or book store? Have your end-of-summer flowers bloomed? I hope so!

If you’re interested in any of my other “Tennessee” posts, here are the links:


Snakes, Sharks, and Planes: Lesley Carter of Bucket List Publications Encourages Us To Dream BIG

Lesley Carter is a travel adventure blogger I discovered through WordPress. She has posted about traveling all over the world, extreme adventures closer to home, as well as sporting events, spa days, and the importance of friends and family. Her online magazine, Bucket List Publications, is still relatively new and yet has an impressive number of subscribers and followers. Her core philosophy (live life to the fullest) is inspiring no matter what your age or tolerance for risk. She’s currently competing in an online competition to win a trip around the world and hopes to spread the word about it. So I asked her if she’d be willing to answer a few questions and share a few photos. She happily agreed. That’s her, upside down, in the biplane picture below.

Biplane

Jill Archer: Your blog is all about embracing life. You’ve often said that some people have a bucket list because they are dying, but you want one because you want to live. When did you first discover this unquenchable thirst for living life? Were you an adventurous child?

Lesley Carter: While other kids were playing dolls and dress-up, I was playing airline attendant and explorer. The passion to see, explore, and experience more was always there. Even at 8 years old, I planned a trip for my brother and I to fly and see my aunts who lived in a different province. I went as far as contacting the airline to see if we could travel alone. It’s in my blood.

JA: You write about pursuing life’s dreams. Bungee jumping, sky diving, adventure travel, etc. But what about the dreams you have while sleeping? Want to share one of your funniest, or scariest, nighttime dreams with us?

LC: Those are the things I dream about while sleeping. In most of my actual dreams, I can fly; not like with wings, but just fly. It’s peaceful and natural. Sometimes I’m flying to save someone from a burning building or sometimes I’m flying to get somewhere. I have a recurring dream that I’m flying to school but when I arrive I can’t stop flying, literally. I guess I’ve mastered the flight, just not the landing.

Snake

JA: Many of my followers are bibliophiles and book addicts. #39 on your personal Bucket List for this year is “Be a Motivational Speaker at an Event.” If you were speaking to a room of library and book lovers, how would you inspire them to pursue their passion in a new and unique way? In your extensive travels, have you discovered a place which would be “the perfect place to read” or “the best bookstore in the world”?

LC: In The Time Keeper by Mitch Albom, my favorite author, he says, “The true value of time is that you’ve got to make your decisions in each day count, otherwise you could live forever and it won’t make much difference.” I try to reflect on that quote or at least that philosophy daily. We are only given one shot at this life, as far as I know, so it’s important to live life to the fullest. If you dream of visiting Italy, go! If you dream of skydiving, get up there and do it. Make this life count. Don’t ever wake up and say, “I wish I would have….” Your older, happier self will thank you.

As for the perfect place to read – the airplane! All you have is time. ;-)

JA: Although many of the things you’ve written about are extreme adventures (flying with a jet pack, swimming with sharks), some are about quieter moments (experiencing a spa day, seeing the sun rise)and some are just about the joys of being with family (giving birth to your daughter, returning to your childhood home, the importance of your husband and sister in your life). How do you stay so well-balanced?

LC: Each night, I reflect on what I’ve accomplished that day and what I’d like to accomplish in the days to come. I’ve learned that if I don’t find balance, I can’t truly enjoy the things that I love. For example, I wanted to swim with the whale sharks at the Georgia Aquarium a few months ago. Athena was sick, though, and the drive to Georgia was frustrating. She was fussy and I was starting to feel terrible myself. Darren and I were up all night and I hadn’t really slept in a few days. I decided that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity so I went anyway. I got into the tank, started to swim, and passed out. If I would have changed the date, it would have been the most memorable, positive experience; instead, I had to be pulled out of the pool and miss the swim. The next weekend we went to Asheville for a spa day. I learned my lesson.

Sharks

JA: I think one of the neatest things about your blog is that you’ve not only encouraged others to pursue their dreams through your posts, but you’ve also organized a handful of bucket list adventures for others. Please share a bit about how you make OTHER PEOPLE’S bucket list dreams come true.

LC: In the last year and a half, I’ve gained a substantial following and support. I currently have 16,032,115 page views and 58,685 subscribers. I’ve used those numbers and klout to help others make their dreams a reality. People send me their bucket lists regularly and I do everything in my power to make them a reality. You can see examples by clicking here. I organized and found a way to offer these experiences for free for my readers. One reader drove a NASCAR and hung out in the pit with the crew, another reader went skydiving, and another went heliskiing at one of the top resorts in Canada. These are just a few examples.

Mud

JA: You’re currently competing in My Destination’s Biggest, Baddest Bucket List Contest. (And you’re currently in FIRST PLACE). If you win, you’ll have a chance to win a trip around the world and $50,000 to help you pay for expenses along the way. What is your tentative travel plan? What do you hope to accomplish with this trip? Of course, we’re happy for you! You sound amazing and inspiring! But what can we look forward to READING while you’re on tour? What’s your plan for keeping in touch with the folks that voted for you?

LC: Once the winner, me, is selected, My Destination will help make the travel plans. There are some countries that I haven’t seen that will definitely make the cut including:

  • South Africa
  • Kenya
  • India
  • Malaysia
  • Thailand
  • Australia
  • New Zealand
  • Austria
  • Iceland
  • Russia
  • Brazil

Darren will not be able to join me on the trip, but I plan to bring Athena. I have a great friend, Jessica, who I’ve traveled with in the past. She will join me as Athena’s nanny. Most days we will participate in activities together, but when I want to experience extreme adventures, Jessica will take Athena for a playdate. With a lot of planning and organization, it is all possible and who better to help plan it than My Destination? During the trip, I will continue to post daily or as much as possible. I want my readers to experience the world with me. Maybe you physically can’t be there this year, but I’ll make sure you don’t miss a thing. Like when I was in Fiji, I will utilize all forms of social media including WordPress, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and my website. After all, this is my wildest dreams come true. Traveling the world and sharing my experiences with others… it doesn’t get any better.

[JA: Darren is Lesley's husband and Athena is her daughter. She blogs about them too. :-)]

QUICKIE QUESTIONS

  1. Favorite comfort food? McDonalds
  2. Best food you’ve ever had while traveling? Anything and everything in Italy!
  3. Favorite book? The Five People You Meet in Heaven
  4. Top resource for travel info (besides you ;-)) Other bloggers or travelers

If you enjoyed this interview, please consider voting for Lesley’s entry in My Destination’s Biggest, Baddest Bucket List Contest by clicking here so she can stay in first place, win the competition, and keep inspiring and entertaining us! :-D A big thanks to Lesley for doing this interview. Hope everyone is having a terrific week!


The Chesapeake Bay is a 4,480 Acre “Water Park”

St. Michael’s Lighthouse

Usually when you think of water parks, you think of slippery slides, wave pools, and raging man-made rivers. Those kind of parks are fun, but there are natural water parks all over — ya know, they’re called lakes, rivers, and bays. ;-) My favorite? Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay.

My in-laws keep a small motor boat docked on the Eastern Shore. Earlier this summer, we took a boat ride from Kent Narrows to St. Michael’s. It’s a ride we’ve taken many times, but it’s easy and enjoyable — an almost straight shot south across Eastern Bay that allows you to enjoy both the bay and the quaint and utterly charming town of St. Michael’s, Maryland.

Chesapeake Bay is a Boat Lovers Paradise

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the area, the Chesapeake Bay offers some of the best boating in America. It’s the largest estuary in the U.S. Two hundred miles long and, at its widest, 30 miles across — the bay’s total shoreline (including tributaries) is over 11,600 miles! You could spend every weekend for the rest of your life exploring each of its nooks and crannies and I still don’t think you’d find them all. Luckily, you only need a day to have fun on the bay.

Kent Narrows & Dock Bars

The Bay Bridge spans the Chesapeake Bay from just outside Annapolis to Kent Island, a large island that is separated from the Delmarva Peninsula by no more than the narrowest strip of water — a continuously dredged channel that connects the Chester River to Eastern Bay. “The Narrows” is full of boats and bars (okay, there’s food and fuel too :-)). When we were younger, my husband and I spent a considerable portion of many of our weekends at those bars. The music was loud, the drinks plentiful, and you could always walk “home” — to your boat! :-D (We’ve now settled into calmer weekend rhythms, but I sometimes miss those late nights out!)

Red Eyes Dock Bar in Kent Narrows

This is what we miss when we fly into Bay Bridge Airport (a tiny, un-towered strip to the right of Bay Bridge as you cross onto the Eastern Shore) — TRAFFIC! This traffic isn’t even that bad. As any Marylander can tell you, the Bay Bridge can be bumper-to-bumper during summer weekends!

St. Michael’s, Maryland

Patriotic View from the Town Dock

St. Michael’s is a historic town dating back to colonial times. The place is full of charming cottages, beautiful boats, churches, the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, and lots of great restaurants. We ate lunch at the Town Dock. I spontaneously and sentimentally ordered a Pimm’s Cup (thinking of the ones I used to drink at the Napoleon House in New Orleans), but either my palate has changed or adding lemonade really does make a difference. (Anyone else a fan of the Pimm’s Cup? Have any tips on how to make a good one?) In any case, the Town Dock’s waterfront deck views were sunny and sparkling and it was nice to just sit in the shade, watching the boats in the harbor. Later, we took a leisurely stroll through town.

The Crab Claw in St. Michael’s is another great place to eat. Crabs, beer, and boats… What could be better?

Want to know what else to do in St. Michael’s? Here’s a list of 50 Free Things!

Other Chesapeake Bay Options

If you’re not up for docking and eating, another option is to pack a picnic and beach your boat on a sandy spot. My kids love jumping off the boat into the water and playing in the sand. I usually opt for lounging with a book.

Nice sandy spots are popular!

On the way back, you can look for osprey nests…

Watch the sunset…

Or just blow bubbles at the marina…

Want to know more about the Chesapeake Bay (as well as where I got my facts from)? Click here and here.

So readers, how about you? Have you ever been on the Chesapeake Bay? If so, what’s your favorite thing to do there? Do you like to go boating? Where’s your favorite place? Have you visited the Eastern Shore? Would you like to? Do you still blow bubbles? Watch the sunset? Eat crabs? Love a good Pimm’s Cup? Whatever your plans are for the weekend — Enjoy!


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