Disney World Ultimate Day of Thrills VIP Tour & Universal Orlando VIP Experience

December 2015

Some of you may not have heard of the VIP tours available at Disney World or Universal Studios Orlando. Or maybe you have heard of them and are wondering if they are worth it.

Let me tell you about our experience.

The tour prices are in addition to regular ticket price. And because of the nature of the tour (do everything without the wait) you have to get the park ticket with the park hopper. This is true for both Disney World and Universal Studios Orlando. If you haven’t been to Disney World it consists of four parks (Epcot, Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios). Universal Studios Florida is actually two different parks and each side has different major Harry Potter attractions. The Gringots bank is in one park and the Hogwarts school is in the other park.

The park tickets are not cheap. The addition of the multiple park option in one day is another add on. The VIP tours is then another cost on top of that. It’s a lot of money. No doubt. Is it worth it? I thought so. We don’t live near Florida and we don’t anticipate a return trip soon. It was important (as always) to be as efficient as possible with our vacation time. I always want to try and do as much as possible. I realize as with any trip you can’t do everything. But I do prioritize and choose what’s most important to us. And this time it was rides. We’d miss out on most of the “shows” but try to take in a fireworks extravaganza every night. The VIP tours really took the stress out of the planning for me. I didn’t have to try and figure out how we were were going to get to each ride, in what order or how to organize our fast passes. By doing the Disney VIP tour right at the beginning of the vacation we got all the major rides we wanted under our belt and that left the rest of our Disney time open to wandering around and actually stopping to smell the roses. It was nice knowing that we had ridden everything we wanted to (without the wait times) and now everything else was just icing on the cake.

I had a great time and had no regrets. I would recommend both tours. It was not cheap but this trip was in celebration of my birthday and what a birthday trip it was!

If I did it all over again this is what I would try to remember:

  1. Take public transportation to get to Magic Kingdom. Driving to the parking center and THEN commuting via boat or bus take FOREVER. boo
  2. Do not book Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party for the same night as the VIP Tour
  3. Do not book anything after Ultimate Day of Thrills VIP Tour. We also had dinner reservations at Beast’s castle.
  4. We made it to both dinner and Mickey’s VMCP after the tour but I was _EXHAUSTED_.
  5. Bring a bottle of water. Getting something to drink is difficult on a fast paced tour.
  6. Having ponchos in Disney is helpful especially if you don’t want to get wet on a ride.
  7. Having a backpack in Disney is ok. There are places to store stuff.
  8. Having a backpack at Universal is more of a hassle. Probably, I would have a bottle of water and sunglasses and that’s it.
  9. The Universal Studios VIP Experience comes with valet parking.

Details about each VIP Tour to follow.

 

6 Days in Washington D.C.

This was our itinerary in Washington D.C. It was pretty packed, very tiring and very fun. Get your walking shoes on.

April 7-12, 2016

Wanted to make it to see the famous cherry blossoms but alas they had already come and gone. There were sporadic cherry blossoms around the city. Still very beautiful to see. Am inspired to plant some of my own. Found some at the Arbor Day Foundation website.

Weather: highly variable, a few days of rain, some sunshine and a lot of cold windy days. Bring lots of layers. We called it menopause weather. One minute we’d be freezing, no feeling in my toes and then inevitably we’d be baked to death inside buildings where there’d be little to no ventilation or have the heat on high. We brought an umbrella and we definitely used it.

Thursday

Monuments by Moonlight, Old Town Trolley Tours

Our driver/tour guide: HW (which he said stood for Hard Work) was a knowledgeable guide and had lots of interesting tidbits about the city. It was cold the first night and sitting in the trolley was nice. They can roll down the plastic sides to fend off the wind. The monuments have a different look at night. They seem just a little bit more austere and grand at the same time. A bit more peaceful. However, do not expect that you will find yourself alone cause at certain times the crowds can be just as thick as in the day time.

Sights seen:

  1. White House (seen from Trolley)
  2. Capitol (seen from Trolley)
  3. Lincoln Memorial
  4. FDR Memorial (walk through)
  5. MLK Memorial (walk through)
  6. WW II Memorial (from afar)
  7. Iwo Jima Memorial (walk through)
  8. Arlington National Cemetery (drive by)
  9. Washington Monument (seen from Trolley)

Many statues and other buildings were pointed out as we drove by.

Friday

Segway Tour-We went with Capital Segway (tour guide: Lucas) because there time slots fit our schedule best. It was definitely a fun way to see the city and try out a segway which I had never been on before. It seemed a little wobbly and scary at first but we all got the hang of it and were zooming around by the end.

Sights seen:

  1. White House (got a picture right in front)
  2. went through the sculpture garden at the Hirschon (only because we had a small group of 4 and the garden had no other tourists)
  3. Lincoln Memorial (walk through)
  4. Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial (walk through)
  5. WWII Memorial (segway’d past)
  6. Washington Memorial (segway’d past)
  7. Capitol (zoomed right up to it)
  8. Newseum (seway’d past)
  9. Einstein’s statue (segway’d past) he has a shiny nose

Lunch at The Hamilton -as recommended by our Segway guide. Ate at the bar. Super awesome. Highly recommend. Ordered: Fish and Chips and Crab Cake, Hamilton Mule (it kicks).

Capitol Tour-as arranged through our Senator John Cornyn’s office. Very awesome. Best picture of the trip: off the front of the balcony of the capitol looking across the mall towards the Washington Monument. After the Capitol tour we wandered over to the Library of Congress. Note that there is a direct underground tunnel that will lead you to the Library from the Capitol. The Botanic Garden is not very far away and easily reached from the library.

Library of Congress-very crowded, spotted the two famous bibles, took a gander at Thomas Jefferson’s personal library.

National Botanic Garden-orchid exhibition currently, very gorgeous, wish we had more time to explore.

Spy Musuem-so many exhibits to look at. My favorite were the guns concealed as other items like umbrellas and boxes. We also learned the Julia Child was once a spy.

Dinner reservations at Jaleo-highly recommend. get reservations. ordered: flight of red wine (fun), seafood paella (yum, filling, good value), garlic shrimp (classic), quail (well done), sausage (least favorite), mixed croquettes (surprise favorite, filled with creamy bechamel)

Saturday

Rainy Day

Bus to National Arboretum/Bonsai Musuem-surprise favorite. The National Arboretum is not to be confused with the National Botanical Gardens. On the grounds of the National Arboretum is the National Bonsai Museum. They have 400 year old bonsai trees there! It was really surprisingly awesome. The ground of the arboretum are huge and since we arrived by bus and had no car we paid the nominal fee for the tram tour. It takes you all the way in back to see all the different sections of the arboretum. We bought some cute little bonsai starter kits in the gift shop.

Sunday

Metro to Eastern Market-cute little street market,right next to the metro stop, there’s also a CVS there and an awesome bakery. bought apple cider from one of the fruit vendors. Probably could have spent more time here if we didn’t have to make it to Bike and Roll by 11:30.

Metro to King St Station

Free King St Trolley to Bike and Roll

9 mile bike ride to Mt.  Vernon-can’t say enough about Mt. Vernon. It was beautiful. The views are gorgeous. And even 3 hours was not enough time to do everything. I really wanted to eat at the restaurant that served some old fashioned recipes but we didn’t have enough time. The bike ride was pretty easy. There are a couple of hills but it wasn’t too bad. We took a break on one of the park benches and had a snack.

boat ride on Potomac back to Old Town Alexandria

Natural History Museum-our favorites: the ocean creatures, the gem stones and minerals collection, super cool.

Monday

Marine Corps Musuem-very well done. Kind of a trek away from DC, we opted to rent a car and I think it was worth it. If you look at the Marine Corps Museum website it doesn’t look so impressive so I didn’t expect much from the museum but I was wrong. They went all out. It is a world class museum of the highest caliber.

Quantico-Home of the Marine Corps and the FBI training school. The base of Quantico actually surrounds the mini town of Quantico.

Art Musuem-beelined for the Da Vinci, only one on permanent display in North America, even the back is painted

Museum of American History-Lincoln’s hat, Dorthy’s ruby red slippers, the star spangled banner that inspired our national anthem

Seafood at the Docks (A dozen boiled blue crab $22)-was an awesome experience for me cause it seemed filled with locals rather than just tourists. Don’t be shy. Step up. Ask how to order. Enjoy some really fresh seafood.

Georgetown Cupcake (closes at 9pm)-there was still a line going out the door at 8:50. Awesome cupcakes. Flavors we tried: strawberry cheesecake (awesome cheesecake), strawberry, red velvet, chocolate squared, cherry blossom, chocolate coconut, peanut butter chocolate

Tuesday

Udvar Hazy Air and Space Center-this is another that’s kind of hard to get to. We used our rental car to drive out to Dulles airport which is right next to the museum. The museum houses real life planes in giant hangars. There’s even a real space ship. Very cool to see. And we agreed that the Udvar Hazy Air and Space near Dulles was cooler than the Air and Space museum in DC. The air and space museum in DC is more exhibits. Udvar Hazy has the real life planes including the Enola Gay.

National Zoo-Pandas-was surprised that I got such good views of the pandas including the baby. We were lucky cause 1. we were there on a week day and crowds were thin and 2. around 1:30 the pandas were fed a snack so there was a lot going on with the pandas.

 

I think we did pretty much everything we wanted to do this time. Next time I go back I’d like to spend time in Arlington National Cemetery, get tickets to go up the Washington Monument, see where money is printed, get a tour of the White House, and maybe a Pentagon or FBI tour. The places I didn’t get to eat at that I would visit next time: Ben’s Chili Bowl and Toki Underground (several people mentioned it and I saw great reviews online).

8 Frame Beehive vs. 10 Frame Beehive

One of the first decisions you will have to make is whether or not you want a 8 Frame or 10 Frame Beehive. 8 frame beehive means there are 8 frames hanging inside each box and 10 frames means there are 10 frames hanging inside. According the Brushy Mountain Bee Farm 2016 Catalog: “The 10 frame hives do not build up as fast as the 8 frame hives because the bees don’t want to work the outside of the frames, requiring less manipulation of the hive. Every time you work your hive, you set the bees back a couple of days to a week. The bees like to move vertically so it may be difficult to get them working the outside frames.” The main advantage of 8 frames is that when full of honey it will be lighter and it’s easier to carry because your hands will be closer to your body because it is less wide than a 10 frame. The obvious disadvantage of 8 frame is that your hive will fill up faster and you will have to work it more and buy more supers (boxes that are superior to the hive body) and frames for those supers as they fill up.

So it really is a personal preference. Will you be able to lift a fully loaded 10 frame super or hive body? Fully loaded meaning with frames and foundations full of bees, honey, pollen and whatever else. If the answer is no, then 8 frame is your answer. I’m choosing 10 frame and the idea is that from here on out all the equipment I get will be for 10 frames so I won’t have to worry about coordinating supplies…everything will work for a 10 frame box.

What Makes Up a Beehive?

All the parts of a beehive:

Let’s start from the top down.

  1. Telescoping Top-It is the very top cover of the beehive tower. It’s “telescoping” because the sides come down like a lid. Its helps provide protection from the elements.
  2. Inner Cover- This piece is very important because the bees produce this stuff called propolis and it’s sticky like a glue and the bees have a tendency to glue everything down. It’ll be easier to pry off this flat inner cover with a hive tool than the telescoping top that has sides that come down and can be super hard to get off…or so I’ve heard.
  3. Supers-First of all, supers is short for superiors. Any box that is superior of the hive body (the big box where the queen lays eggs at the bottom). Supers are where the worker bees store honey. Supers have different sizes: shallows, medium. Apparently, shallows are often used as comb honey supers. I’m going with the more popular medium honey storage and extracting super.
  4. Queen excluder-this simple layer does what the name says it keeps the queen in her own space and away from the honey you will extract later. The excluder prevents the queen from laying eggs where you don’t want them just by making the openings smaller so that her large body won’t fit but the other bees can move through easily. I’m not getting this piece of equipment right off the bat.
  5. Hive body-this is the brood chamber which is where the queen lays the eggs and is basically the nursery for the little baby bees. Some people use the same size box for their super as for their hive body. This is nice in that all your boxes will be uniform, of the same size, and interchangeable. All the frames you use to put in those boxes will also therefore be of the same size and it’s easy to move stuff around without having to coordinate sizes. I however, am going with the bigger hive body that uses 9 1/8″ frames and medium supers on top of that. I want to give the queen as much space as I can to make babies and spread out without worrying about her running out of room.
  6. Bottom board-the latest thing in bottom boards is called a screened IPM Bottom board. IPM stands for Integrated Pest Management. The bottom board goes below the hive body. In the old days, they were just a solid piece of board. Nowadays, they have a screen in them like you would find in a window screen. The idea behind a screened bottom board is two-fold: 1. better ventilation. When it’s hot, especially down south where it’s also humid, the bee hive can get very hot. The screen helps with ventilation. 2. there are pests that can invade your hive (that’s a whole other topic!) and the screen actually allows the pests to fall out of the hive and out onto the ground where I’ve heard they get devoured by ants. How gruesome!
  7. Entrance reducer-just a simple piece that makes the opening to the hive smaller. It helps the hive keep in heat in the winter and also helps keep unwanted pests out.
  8. Hive stand-I think most real beekeepers just use cinder blocks instead of buying some commercially made product. You just need something to keep the hive off the ground so they are farther away from pests and excess moisture. I’m going with the cheaper cinder block route.

Adventure in Beekeeping Series

Well folks, I’ve decided to enter the world of beekeeping! When I try anything new, I always relish in the fact that during this novice time period that I know nothing. Nothing at all. It’s always an interesting experience into a whole new world filled with lots of people talking a different lingo with their own unique culture. As I embark on this adventure I’ll document what I learn and my progress.

Here’s what I’ve done so far…I’ve attended to local beekeeper meetings. These have been very helpful in that they lots of resources, not just seasoned beekeepers that have a wealth of information to share but also simple things like books and dvds on beekeeping. At the beekeeper meetings I’ve already met many people who were eager to help and lend a hand or just be available for our many questions.

I’ve also been online and scouring catalogs trying to piece together what kind of equipment and bees I will get. This is a tremendous job in itself. You have to make a few decisions right of the bat. What strain of bees do you want? What size hive? What size hive body? What size supers? Wow, look at me spewing lingo already. I’ll detail in a later post what kind of equipment I’m choosing and why.

So far, I’ve learned this much: start early! Start going to meetings, read books, get online, and talk to beekeepers. You will want to start deciding what equipment you want to work with and get all that in order and in place before you bring any bees home. And on that matter, you will need to figure out where and when you will get your bees. As I’m typing this in March I have found that most bee sellers are already sold out and I will be getting my bees in the second wave of availability in May. I will also have to drive to another city to pick them up which isn’t ideal but I’m eager to get started!

In the end, there’s a lot to learn and a lot to decide but you gotta start somewhere so I’m jumping head first into this interesting world of bees and I’m looking forward to the day I can look back and remember there was a time I knew nothing about bees.

3 Sock System

Let me teach you about the three sock system. When camping and backpacking for long extended periods of time a 3 sock system can be put into use. Almost all of us used the 3 sock system when we were on the NOLS Lightweight Rocky Mountain Backpacking trip.
When trying to keep pack weight at a minimum and comfort and safety at a maximum 3 pairs of socks seem to be the magic number.
The basic premise for three pairs of socks are:
1. Most of the time your hiking shoes will be wet (from stream crossings and not having the proper conditions to dry them out).
2. It makes no sense to put on dry socks when they will get wet inside your damp shoes.
3. It’s important to keep your feet dry for at least 8 hours a day to prevent trench foot.
4. It’s important for safety and comfort to have dry, warm feet when sleeping.
5. Wet socks will draw heat away from the body especially when moving less (i.e. while in camp).
3 socks system
1. the treasured sleeping socks (must be kept dry at all times)
2. camp socks (the socks that you change into when you get into camp
3. hiking socks (the socks that inevitably stay wet as you hike and cross streams)
When waking up change out of your sleeping socks and store them in the inside bottom of your sleeping bag. This is where they live. Change into your damp hiking socks before slipping on your damp hiking shoes. After a long day of hiking, change out of damp socks and put on dry camp socks. Dry camp socks should be used in conjunction with a method to maintain their dryness. Some campers have dedicated camp shoes or if you were trying to go lightweight like we were simple plastic bags can be slipped on the feet after dry socks to maintain a barrier between sock and wet shoe. Don fluffy sleep socks to warm up toes at night. Repeat daily.

Top Ten Things We Want to Remember (or Forget)

Ok, there’s more than 10. Too many memorable things happened on our short little trip (NOLS Lightweight Rocky Mountain Backpacking)
1. amoeba water/shrimp water
2. lake forging
3. animal sightings: grouse, chipmunks,nutcrackers, deer, pika, and marmot, osprey, red tail hawks, a seagull?!, meese (two moose)
4. rock fall and pock marks in the glacier
5. rock climbers climbing, yelling, carrying huge packs
6. search and rescue
7. battered and blistered feet
8. lightening storm overhead
9. always being on the move (never have I been in motion for that many hours over that many days)
10. student evac
11. running into other NOLS instructors on the trail
12. chatting with seasoned thru hikers
13. passing through sheep pastures and being herded by dogs
14. hummingbird escorts

NOLS Lightweight Backpacking By the Numbers

Team members:12
Instructors:2
People per tent group: 2
Total pack weight including 5 days food and 2L water: 25 pounds
Total vertical feet gained: 9000 feet
Total miles hiked: 100
Camps made: 13

Average Morning on a NOLS Course

Average Morning on a NOLS Course
0600 Wake up to stinky moist socks and wet droopy tent
0601 Find yourself half off sleeping pad cause you’re on a rocky slope
0615 Try to stuff giant sleeping bag into compression sack which is like trying to get a cat into bathwater with sunburnt sun bumpy hands and ouchy cuticle cracked fingers
0617 Pull off comfy “sleep socks” and put on aforementioned wet stinky socks
0620 Put on wet shoes
0625 Throw pack explosion that multipled itself while you were sleeping out the tent door
0626 Crawl out of tent as gracefully as you can
0627 Remember to look for and put on gaiters
0628 Repeat shoe process
0629 Pack up pack explosion while trying to locate chapstick and sunblock
0630 Remember to bandage multiple blisters and tape up toe nails hanging on for dear life
0631 Repeat shoe process
0634 Take down tent
0634 Lose tent stake in grass
0637 Stuff yucky wet tent into pack
0639 Stumble uphill to kitchen far far away (why do kitchens always end up uphill??)
0640 Crash bear bag onto ground after undoing impossible knot that braided itself during the night
0641 Note to self: must repair huge gash in bear hang bag
0645 Decide between granola and huevos rancheros
0646 Try to locate lighter
0647 Stare at dirty bowl and spoon
0648 Contemplate skipping breakfast
0658 Shovel food down as quick as you can
0715 Collect amoeba water (or some other type of water with mysterious but visible live swimmers in it)
0720 Remember you forgot to start aquamira
0746 Emergency! Need to “find tent stake, bear spray and soap asap”
0756 Stroll back into camp knowing that it’ll be 24 hours before you’ll have to “dig another hole”.
0757 Smear on sunblock that won’t rub in
0758 You’ve made it! You’re on time. We’ll be ready to roll at 8am sharp!
0800 Somebody has to go potty

NOLS: Not Just a Walk in the Woods

I’ve made it! I survived NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) Lightweight Rocky Mountain Backpacking! What a great and memorable time I had in Wyoming. Two weeks of carrying my food, water and shelter around. Two weeks of digging cat holes and no showers. Two weeks of beautiful scenery and gorgeous night skies. Two weeks of back to basics.
I learned some concrete skills:
1. pooping in the woods, digging cat holes
2. existing in bear country, bear hangs
3. stream crossings
4. cooking on cat can stoves with denatured alcohol
I learned to really appreciate the conveniences of modern life when I got back:
1. having clear running water at my disposal
2. clean, dry feet
3. tissues! for that perpetually runny nose out in the field
4. food that is not nuts
5. going to the bathroom whenever without having to plan and/or dig a hole
6. being able to see at night without strapping a light to my head
7. the ability to talk to people via cell phone
8. lunch
9. living life without having to contemplate turning the corner and running into a bear
10. a warm cozy bed