Archive | July, 2011

Blizzard Beach vs. Typhoon Lagoon: If You Have to Choose

31 Jul

Last year, my family was lucky enough to enjoy an extended stay at Walt Disney World Resort, allowing enough time to visit Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon, the two waterparks on Disney property in Orlando.

Both were great and provided a nice break from the major parks, but each had some distinct advantages:

Best thrill ride: Summit Plummet at Blizzard Beach

I tried to beg off this ride, claiming picture-taking duties, but my kids (ages 9 and 12) wouldn’t hear it. So down I went on this very high (120 feet), very fast (60 mph), and super-wedgie inducing free-fall body slide. It was awesome.

Best pool: The Surf Pool at Typhoon Lagoon

This giant pool alternates between bobbing waves and a giant 6-foot kowabunga wave that is announced by a conch-shell whistle (followed by excited shrieks from the swimmers). The kids played for hours in the pool while we enjoyed a few Coronas on the “beach.” What’s better than that?

Best theme: Melting Ski Resort, Blizzard Beach  

Disney is all about theming, and Blizzard Beach is one of its best concoctions. The premise is that a ski resort was built up during a freak Florida blizzard and is now melting away. Mount Gushmore, a Chair Lift , Toboggan Racers, and a “Warming Hut” all play off the theme. It’s a nice chilly mind-play in the hot southern sun.

Best attraction: The Shark Reef at Typhoon Lagoon

The sharks may be small, but the cool factor is big. After quick instructions, visitors snorkel across a frosty, salt-water pool while getting a peek at tropical fish, sting rays, and, yes, leopard sharks. It’s great for major bragging rights when you return home.

Best for little ones: Blizzard Beach

Tike’s Peak (under 48 in) and Ski Patrol Training Camp (under 60 in) allow kids to splash, play, slide, and even zip line under the very watchful eyes of the Disney lifeguards. For the little ones, Blizzard Beach’s low-key wave pool (Melt-Away Bay) is also far better than its roiling counterpart at Typhoon Lagoon.

Shorter lines: Typhoon Lagoon

Blizzard Beach is newer, has a killer theme, and, with Summit Plummet as a huge draw, tends to have longer lines. Disney tries to keep you cool as you wait, but it’s Florida, and it’s hot, and crankiness can rear its ugly head after waiting 30 minutes for a 30 second slide. The lines at Typhoon Lagoon are shorter, in my experience, and the vibe is a little more laid back.

If you have to choose: Typhoon Lagoon

Both parks are amazing, but in my opinion the wave pool, snorkeling with sharks, a new Crush ‘n Gusher water coaster, and an overall more relaxed atmosphere has Typhoon Lagoon winning out.

Whichever you choose, arrive early, hit the big-draw attractions first, and make sure to leave some time to float around on the lazy rivers at each park.

It may be Walt Disney World, but you deserve a little downtime to float and relax at the happiest place on earth.


A Peek Under Edinburgh’s Kilt

24 Jul

Years before the world ever heard of Harry Potter and Platform 9 3/4, I stood in King’s Cross Station waiting for a train to take me to a castle. Though I was on my way to Edinburgh and not Hogwarts, the trip promised to be just as magical.

A Chilly Weekend in Scotland

Margaret's Chapel at Edinburgh Castle

It was 1995, and I was studying abroad in London when two friends and I decided on a weekend trip to Scotland’s capital.

When we arrived in Edinburg after our five-hour train ride, I was in need of a bathroom. What I found was a Superloo. Before the U.S. was supersizing, well . . . everything, Scotland was giving its train-weary patrons a giant W.C.

I loved the place immediately.

Admittedly it might have been the McEwan’s Scotch Ale that endeared me to the city more than the Superloos. Either way, by the time we were headed back to England two days later, I was smitten.

It was characteristically blustery during our March visit, and I think it suited the city perfectly.

Shaking off the cold every time we entered a pub. Pulling scratchy wool blankets around ourselves each night at the hostel. Shopping for beautifully woven Scottish sweaters. Exploring the stark, stone enclaves of Edinburgh castle. The experience wouldn’t have been quite the same if we had more temperate weather.

Mary King's Close, 1995.

The Most Haunted Place in Britain

The nip in the air was matched by the chilling stories of Edinburgh’s gruesome, often bloody history.

There may not have been any wizards in Edinburgh, but there were plenty of stories of witches and ghosts.

One night my friends and I stumbled upon a ghost tour. We joined in and learned about the public witch hangings at the Mercat Cross. As we passed by ancient cemeteries, our guide told us of the city’s history of frequent grave robbings and body snatching, a profitable practice since the University’s medical school paid well for cadavers in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Perhaps the most disturbing story is that of Mary King’s Close. The narrow street, or “close,” is rumored to have been hit particularly hard by the plague. To limit the spread of disease, as the story goes, officials walled up the close allowing doomed occupants to starve and die. (Mary King’s Close was opened to the public and is now a tourist attraction.)

Hooray for Scotland, or Ireland?

After seeing people around town wearing team colors, we discovered that our trip coincided with a big Scotland v. Ireland rugby match being held in Edinburgh.

I don’t remember who won, but the night after the final game provided the quintessential U.K. pub experience. Remember the scene in Titanic when Rose visits the peasants’ quarters? Well, that’s what it was like: arms linked to strangers, singing Molly Malone (Cockles and Mussels), and dancing as broken pint glasses crunched under foot.

The age-old kilt question

Well, now we know.

Before leaving the city, we stopped at one of the dozens of stores that were draped in Scotch paid and filled with every imaginable type of country-themed souvenir. It was like stepping into the old Mike Myers’ “If it’s not Scottish, it’s crap!” skit.

We made a few purchases and the store clerk asked if we wanted a photo with him. Why not? As we posed, he said to us, “You know, Scotsmen don’t wear anything under our kilts.” The camera flashed, and so did he.

I’m sure many things have changed in the 15-plus years since I traveled to Edinburgh. But hopefully, not too much.

The next time I go, there’s still one thing that I know won’t change. I’m still not trying the haggis.

Three Generations Take a Hike in New Hampshire

11 Jul

When I mentioned going for a hike, my dad loved the idea. My children were not quite as enthusiastic.

We are at a cabin on Lake Kanasatka in New Hampshire.

Lake living has a lot to offer: canoeing, fishing, floating on the lake, loon spotting, and my personal favorite, hammock napping.

But “The Pines,” as our temporary home is called, happens to be located in the heart of New Hampshire’s Lakes Region, between the larger Winnepesaukee and Squam lakes. As a result, there’s a lot to do in the surrounding area.

And Sam and Will have a Mom who likes a lot to do.

So off we went to West Rattlesnake Mountain, a 1200’ peak not far from the center of Holderness, NH.

Three generations of would-be hikers—my father (late 60s), my husband and I (mid-30s), and the boys (13 and 10 years old)—arrived at the easy, windy trail by mid-morning.

At the start of the ascent, my dad apologized in advance for being the weak link in the group.

Scott and I looked at each other knowingly; he had never hiked with Will before.

About 200 yards into the walk, Will asked if we were almost there and started to lag behind. When my dad called for a break, here or there, Will would exclaim, “Thank God!”

By contrast, Sam was bounding uphill, a blur in the distance. He was our off-trail explorer, crunching through leaves, climbing up rocks and over fallen logs.

“Wait up,” we’d call to Sam. “Catch up,” we’d plead with Will.

Before we knew it, we were at the summit.

As the guide books promised, the views of Squam Lake were breath-stealing, almost unreal.

The glassy lake was dotted with tiny, pine treed islands. Motor boats cut short scars of white across the expanse of blue. Quintessential New Hampshire.

We sat on the rocky outcroppings and silently enjoyed the reward for our efforts.

When the kids started threatening to throw each other off the ledge, we decided to head back down. Thirty knee-pounding minutes later we were back in the car.

“That was cool,” the kids admitted.

“Yeah, I’m glad we did it,” my dad said. The sandwich generation agreed.

Now back to the lake. My hammock is waiting.

When the Vacation Ends: Burning Up On Re-entry

6 Jul

A new art installation in our bedroom is called "I'll Unpack When I Need The Suitcase."

When the alarm went off this morning I was in denial. The dog scratched at the door, and I pressed my eyes shut. The cat pawed at his food bowl, and I yanked the sheet over my head.

There is one universal, no-good, sucktastic thing about all vacations. They end.

A mere eight days ago, I was so naive. Full of joy and anticipation for the upcoming trip. “Stressed” about which bathing suit to pack and which winery to visit. Smugly, I told co-workers, “Oh, sorry. Can’t make it to the meeting. I’ll be away next week.” I didn’t even try to suppress a grin.

Away. Sigh.

Clearly not thinking about how the house will get painted.

Away is such a lovely word. When you are away, lunches for summer camp don’t have to be made. Weeding and lawn cutting can wait. Someone else can walk the dog and feed the cat. When you are away, your time is your own. And there feels like there is an abundance of it.

Until you have to come back.

Back is just no damn fun. “Oh, you’re back,” everyone says cheerfully. What are they so happy about?

Back is doctor appointments, and checking account balances, and responding to overdue emails. And, gasp, eating and drinking in moderation. Back is unpacking (eventually), exercising (well, maybe tomorrow), and laundry.

Did I really expect to eat this and still fit into my clothes?

I tried to cheer myself up by reading posts from travel bloggers about how they’ve made “away” their everyday. It helped a little.

Maybe someday, but for today I’m here.

I’m home, where there’s a comfy bed with no chance of bedbugs and a fridge stocked with non-indigestion-inducing foods. There’s a pool where I can float without being splashed or bumped, or forced to listen to Margaritaville for the seventieth time. There’s time for my blistered feet and sunburned shoulders to heal.

Ah, well. Maybe it’s not so bad. At least I have reliable Internet–so I can plan my next trip.

The Walmsley Family Road Trip: Part 2

2 Jul

After a second day of coasters (see Part 1), a few water slides added for good measure, and a Parasailing adventure, we left Cedar Point in the rear view. It was an awesome ride, to say the least.

Grilled Cheese and Beer

When we got to the greater Cleveland area we stopped at Melt Bar and Grilled for their famous grilled cheese sandwiches. The menu has 20-plus artery clogging, but delectable, sandwich choices. Beer and fries rounded out the meal perfectly, or so I thought. The boys insisted on getting a deep-fried Twinkie to finish things off. Gah!

Somehow we were able to get up from our seats and make our way to Cleveland’s next cheesy offering.

You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out

Every year on Thanksgiving night we pop in the A Christmas Story dvd and Ralphie Parker rings in the holiday season for us. Imagine our delight when we found out that the exterior shots of the house from the movie were filmed in Cleveland.

We stopped by and snapped a few shots of the fish-net-adorned leg lamp in the window (It’s a major award!), and, luckily, the Bumpus’s hounds stayed away.

Cleveland Rocks!

After an unplanned but exceptionally beautiful stop at the Cleveland Botanical Gardens (who knew?), we arrived at The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

It has six floors of everything a music lover could ever want to see from Janis’s Porsche to MJ’s jacket from the ’84 Grammys, and from Lennon’s grammar school comics to Hunter Thompson’s letters to Rolling Stone’s Jann Wenner.

I made up for not being able to take pictures in the Hall by taking tons of shots of its architecturally awesome exterior (designed by I.M.Pei). You can imagine that the kids exhibited an abundance of patience during this indulgence.

Somewhere over the Rainbow Bridge

The next day we were off to Canada and Niagara Falls. We stayed in the Clifton Hill district which is dripping with touristy schmaltz—wax museums, arcades, houses of horror. Naturally, the kids were in heaven. Eventually we were able to turn their attention to the giant water fall down the street.

We went on The Maid of the Mist, hung out at Table Rock, and saw the nighttime illuminations at The Falls.

‘Cuse and BBQ

The next day, we left Canada and drove down to Syracuse–home to my alma mater, the first apartment Scott and I shared, my first “real” job, and, of course, the place where we welcomed Samuel into the world. A trip down memory lane incited many eye rolls: “Look over there! It’s Wegmans. That’s where we grocery shopped!”

After a walk around the university’s campus, we ate at Syracuse’s number-one, can’t-miss, worth-enduring-the-New-York-Thruway-for rockin’ rib joint: Dinosaur Bar-b-que. The ribs. The brisket. The mac salad. It’s crazy good, unspeakably delicious, and it will take a month in the gym to work it all off.

Home Again

It’s time to go back to Rhode Island. We’ll return with sore feet, sun burned noses, and a lots more miles on the car. There was some whining, a few wrong turns, a little less “downtime” than was probably needed, but we undoubtedly had a blast.

The past seven days flew by, but so have the past seven years. The time for family road trips is far too short. I’m thankful we made time for this one and all the memories.