Thursday, June 30, 2016

Tokyo Disney Sea

Tokyo Disney Sea is a theme park located outside of Tokyo with a nautical theme. Unique to Disney parks worldwide with it's water exploration concept, Tokyo Disney Sea is not actually owned by Disney but by The Oriental Land Company, who licenses characters and themes from Disney. When my daughters and I traveled to Tokyo, I was pretty sure that Tokyo Disney Sea would be on the itinerary. Being the only one like it in the world, it piqued my interest to see it,and that it has Ariel's Mermaid Lagoon, I knew my oldest daughter would have it at the top of her list. (My youngest daughter is more of a thrill ride seeker than a Disney aficionado but I knew she would go along)

Tokyo Disney Sea is accessible by public transportation so we started our day early at Shinagawa Station (and witnessed Tokyo rush hour and the white glove pushers first hand - but more on that in another post) taking the JR Yamanote Line to Tokyo Station where we transferred to the Keiyo Line to Mahaima Station where Tokyo Disneyland is located. (Be prepared for a very long walk at Tokyo Station when you transfer trains - Tokyo Station is huge and you will think you've gone too far but you haven't. We followed the signs and all the other Disney wearing passengers to our train.) You arrive right at Disneyland and pay a small fee for your monorail ticket - in a few minutes you are at the entrance to Tokyo Disney Sea. (In total, I think it took us about an hour from Shinagawa to the entrance to Disney Sea)

Tokyo Disneyland and Disney Sea tickets are less expensive than their US counterparts - a one day ticket cost 7,400 yen or about 72.00 USD. The first thing you see upon entering is the large world fountain.

And the crowds. I had been following the Disney crowd calendar online and it was stating that the Monday we would be there was at about a 6 until a few days before, when it went up to an 8. So it was a tad crowded. Our hotel didn't have breakfast and we all were a bit hungry so we headed into a restaurant first and had some delicious pasta - I mean really good pasta, especially for a theme park. Then we were ready to explore.

There are seven areas of exploration at Tokyo Disney Sea and we had started in the Mediterranean Harbor (hence, the pasta) with it's gondola ride and view of Mysterious Island. It was time to get some fast passes and the girls wanted to go on the Tower of Terror. But the fast passes were for 10pm that night - and we wouldn't be there then. And so it went with the fast passes - sometimes standing in long lines for the passes. We discussed just standing in the hours long lines for the rides but decided we wanted to see the park more. If we found a shorter line, we would do that ride. I strongly suggest you run for the fast passes if you want to ride anything on a crowd calendar 8 day!

So....we moved on. As one does. We still had a whole theme park ahead of us. We then walked through the American Waterfront seeing a replica of the SS Columbia and enjoying the Cape Cod area, especially it's unique signage.

We stopped for a quick snack at Port Discovery and the girls were able to get a fast pass for the Stormrider simulator ride. We headed on through the Lost River Delta area and turned the corner to the star of the show (for us), Mermaid Lagoon. My oldest daughter had seen a photo of Mermaid Lagoon awhile ago and  added it to her travel wish list. We took lots - and lots - of photos and got in line to ride Flounders Flying Fish Coaster. Twenty minutes later we were on the ride.

Then, surprise - we realized that you could go inside the Mermaid Lagoon! Made to seem like you are underwater, it's a delightful area with a few rides, gift shops and a large food court. We enjoyed lunch there and were on our way again.

A quick stop at the Arabian Coast area and then the girls were off to the simulator for their ride. I waited in a small park area and enjoyed people watching. Since this was my first time to visit a Disney park outside of the US, I noticed a few differences. For one, many of the visitors dress up in Disney costumes, especially the teens. The food offerings are different, also, with flavored popcorns being very popular. And Duffy the Bear and his sweetheart Shelly were the most popular characters in the park with long lines for meet and greets.( Duffy and Shelly are virtually unheard of in US parks.)This was also the first time I had ever worn a coat to a Disney park even though the day became much warmer and we stowed our coats in a locker.

We still had one area of the park to see - Mysterious Island which we walked through and then rode the monorail/train to Port Discovery. We walked through a few of the shops and then decided it was time for us to leave. The girls had plans to go out that night and we still had two train rides to get back to the hotel. So we said goodbye to Tokyo Disney Sea.

Having been to Tokyo Disney Sea only once, and not even for a full day, I couldn't pretend to be an expert on it. This blog post is more of a travel diary than a travel guide but I can recommend one blog, Travel Caffeine, written by Tom Bricker who is an expert on  Disney parks. He has written comprehensive guides on all Disney parks which I relied heavily upon for visiting this theme park.

How about you? Have you been to Tokyo Disneyland or Disney Sea?  I will say it was a real dilemma for me to decide to give up a day of touring or sightseeing to do a day at Disney. But in the end, we went with Disney and I'm glad we did. It was a new and different experience for all of us - which is my favorite part of travel!

This post is part of a link-up with: Weekend Wanderlust at A Brit and A Southerner, Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox , Weekend Travel Inspiration at Reflections Enroute and The Weekly Postcard at Travel Notes and Beyond!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Manitou Cliff Dwellings

The Manitou Cliff Dwellings are located just outside of Manitou Springs, Colorado and are an example of cliff dwellings built by the Taos Pueblo Indians of New Mexico. These cliff dwellings are not original to the site - they were originally built in the Southwestern corner of Colorado - close to Mesa Verde National Park's cliff dwellings. They were collected, packaged and moved by railroad from 1904 to 1907 to the Colorado Springs area and rebuilt using concrete and mortar - which is why you can tour, walk on and climb these ruins with no chance of damaging them. The move was to protect the ruins from looters and relic collectors before the federal government passed The Antiquities Act of 1906.

A Native American family lived in these ruins, as late as 1984. You can visit the ruins - and see the rooms where the families lived. The cliff dwellings protected the Taos people from invaders. They could pull up the ladders and essentially be safe from attackers - they couldn't be reached from above or below. You can see the hooks where they hung vegetables and meat - and see how low lying the ceilings are. This tribe was short!

When you visit the Manitou Springs Cliff Dwellings you can also visit the small museum and gift shop. The cost to visit is minimal - I think it was $7 - and it's a quick stop on your way to Pikes Peak. Our visit took maybe an hour, tops. I've not been to Mesa Verde and it's cliff dwellings so it was fun to visit and learn the history of these fascinating people.

This post is part of a link-up with: Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox , Weekend Wanderlust at A Brit and A Southerner and Weekend Travel Inspiration at Reflections Enroute!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

A Nashville Walking Food Tour

Nashville, Tennessee is having a moment. A big moment. Coming from country and western music, glittery Nudie suits and honky tonks on Broadway, Nashville has grown up quite a bit. It's now the epitome of cool - and that country music, those glittery Nudie suits and honky tonks on Broadway are cool now, too. And at the epicenter of it's coolness is it's food scene. Hot chicken, barbecue, bonuts (Biscuit Loves cross between a biscuit and a donut), tacos, burgers and everything in between, Nashville is on fire right now. 

I recently took a walking food tour with WalkEatNashville tasting at six different restaurants in the SoBro neighborhood of Nashville. (south of Broadway) The company's owner, Karen-Lee took us on our three hour tour which started in the heart of SoBro at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center.

Cherry Street Eatery and Sweetery
 Our first tasting was at Cherry Street Eatery and Sweetery, a small and quaint cafe tucked inside the Schermerhorn. And we started with a Southern classic, pimento cheese. We had a pimento cheese panini sandwich with just the right amount of tang - and a bit of uniqueness with it's olives and capers mixed in. A side note - if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of Broadway, Cherry Street is a delightfully quiet oasis inside the Schermerhorn.

Bakersfield Tacos
Our next stop was Bakersfield Tacos - Tacos. Tequila. Whiskey. Named after the Bakersfield Sound by such artists as Buck Owens and Dwight Yoakam, Bakersfield hand squeezes all it's own limes for their margaritas and has a selection of 100 tequilas and whiskey. We started with a shot of margarita and then moved on to the out-of-this-world short rib taco. From the menu: Braised short rib, queso fresco, crema, white onion, radish and cilantro. Order this if you eat at Bakersfield. Seriously. Don't question it. You'll be glad you did!

The Farmhouse
We took a short walk down Broadway with Karen-Lee telling us some history of the city and ended up at The Farmhouse. The head chef , owner and local Tennessee boy, Trey Cioccia, took the time to greet us and give us a brief overview of the restaurant. Local farms create local plates is their tagline and everything served in the restaurant is sourced locally - including the dishes which are made by a local potter. The menu is traditional southern cuisine with a modern flair. We were served bratwurst in beer cheese grits with tomato relish(Grits are a southern staple and are ground hominy) I can honestly say it was one of the best things I have ever eaten. Incredible. If you are in Nashville, make a reservation at The Farmhouse right when you arrive so you can experience it!

Husk Nashville
Next we headed uphill to the famous Husk. Set in a historic mansion in  Rutledge Hill, Husk Nashville is the second restaurant (the first is in Charleston, South Carolina) headed by James Beard winner and rock star chef, Sean Brock. Reservations are almost impossible to come by and all food must come from the South." If it doesn't come from the South, it's not coming through the door." We tasted pimento cheese on benne wafers and deviled eggs before we headed to the bar and enjoyed The Calm Before - a non-alcoholic (and very refreshing) drink with Blenheim Ginger Soda, cucumber, mint, lime juice and ginger cordial. 

Steadfast Commons
Steadfast Commons, a coffee and cocktail establishment, was our next quick stop. We tried their signature flash brewed coffee with orange peel. Served cold, it had a very different taste and I wasn't a fan but most of our group enjoyed it. Serving coffee and breakfast in the morning they then segue to cocktails in the evening.

The Goo-Goo Shop
Our last stop of the day was for dessert at The Goo-Goo Shop. The Goo-Goo Cluster was the first combination candy bar in the US and was developed in Nashville in 1912. It contains marshmallow nougat, caramel and roasted peanuts covered in milk chocolate. The Goo-Goo Shop is a store to buy Goo-Goo merchandise, a candy factory where you can see Goo-Goo Cluster's being made and a dessert bar where they use Goo-Goo's to make different desserts. We tried a Cluster, a specialty Cluster and a brown butter blondie with goo goos baked right in. Delicious and decadent, The Goo-Goo Shop is unique to Nashville and a very popular place to visit.

I highly recommend taking one of WalkEatNashville's tours - it was three hours of walking, tasting, history and fun. Karen-Lee is very prepared and organized - she offered us sunscreen, fans and bottled water to beat the Nashville heat - and she gives a fun tour with lots of little known facts. Now I just need to go back and take the East Nashville and Midtown tours!

WalkEatNashville offers three different walking food tours in Nashville. Tours are capped at 12 people each. Visit their website for the tour calendar.

This post is part of a link-up with: Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox, Weekend Wanderlust at A Brit and A Southerner,  Weekend Travel Inspiration at Reflections En Route and The Weekly Postcard at Travel Notes and Beyond!