Details about my VIP Tours at Disney World and Universal Studios Orlando

Details about each VIP Tour

Disney Ultimate Day of Thrills VIP Tour

Larger group, we had three Disney “plaid” guides. The VIP tour guides all wear the plaid pattern. If you know this, you can spot them throughout the park. The Ultimate Thrills VIP tour is all about riding the big rides in each park except Epcot. We met up in the morning at the ice cream parlor on Main Street in Magic Kingdom. We all got name tags and VIP badges on lanyards. We also turned in our order for lunch so there’d be no wait for food. For the rest of the day, the guides walked us from ride to ride. We went straight in as a group into the fast pass lane. When it came time to change parks we were escorted through back ways to access the back lot where they had three white vans waiting for us. The guides each then drove a van and took us to the next park as a convoy. This was the most efficient way to get from park to park because using the public transportation would have taken a lot longer. The vans could take us right to where we needed. When we arrived at Animal Kingdom or any of the parks we weren’t getting dropped off at the front door like all the other guests we were somewhere in the back so we could zoom right to the Everest ride. The guides were nice and I thought one of the best values was the knowledge they shared with us. This really made the tour special. They all had interesting tidbits to share about the park and each ride. They would point out Hidden Mickeys and even Hidden Donalds and Oswalds to look for. They told us interesting things about the Haunted Mansion which made the ride that much more amazing.
I would recommend the Disney Ultimate Thrills VIP Tour if your goal is to ride all the big rides without the hassle of planning fast passes and logistics of getting from ride to ride. There is almost no way for someone to complete what we did without the access that we had. If you’re going to skip a ride here and there I might reconsider as this tour is pricey. This tour is not for slackers. It is at a brisk pace. They have an agenda and it is to accomplish as much as possible before the day is over. This means that there is no time for souvenir shopping or dilly dallying. Unfortunately, there is barely time to go to the bathroom. Now, the guides will help arrange potty breaks but as a large group it always seemed hurried and an interruption. I loved that the guides were super friendly (we had three guides and two awesome, the third meh). They really enjoyed their jobs and were still excited about riding the rides after the umpteenth time. They would discuss amongst themselves: “yes you take them on on Haunted Mansion, I love the Tower of Terror I will take them on that one”) Lunch was at the Brown Derby in Hollywood Studios. It was a nice sit down restaurant. They had our orders already and we had place cards with our names printed on it so our food came out to us without a hitch.

 

Universal Orlando VIP Experience

Maybe it was because of our tour guide but I thought she really made the VIP Tour special. We had a smaller group (8 total) with one guide. That ratio was very nice. We had one family of 4 with us who had done the tour the day before and were back again and had requested the same guide because she was so awesome. That really told me a lot about how awesome it was going to be. At Disney we were escorted into the fast pass lanes as a group but at Universal we were directly zipped to the ride without waiting in ANY line. We almost always made our way to the child swap area where our guide would patiently gather our belongings so they were safe, she would make sure we would get the seat we wanted whether in the very front or the very back and then we would be on our way. We got an hour free time for lunch which was nice. We at at the Three Broomsticks. The food was fantastic. We got fish and chips and ribs and corn on the cob and butter beers of course. Then we had some time to browse the candy shop. Our tour guide also shared really cool insider things with us. One happens on the train going back towards Gringotts. *wink wink* We got secret tips on how to score high on MIB.

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

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).

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

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

My Journey to Ultralight

Well, it’s begun…my ultralight backingpacking trip has been planned and a goal has been set. 25lbs or less. That’s including everything:pack, gear, food and water. These days I have been scouring the internet for merchandise and information. I have been mostly using ebay, REI, Feathered Friends, Montbell, GoLite and other misc websites to look for gear. I’ve also been looking at UL blogs to see what other people have to say. A lot of people have a lot of different opinions. Here’s what I gathered:

It can be done. 25 lbs is actually kind of high for most diehard UL backpackers. I’d say most are closer to the 10-15lbs range. I have been looking forward to this whole adventure because I have been mostly used to super heavy packs on my mountaineering trips. When you’re hauling around tons of ropes and carabiners and metal stakes I guess there’s just not much use in cutting back on a few ounces. So 25lbs sounds heavenly…until I started thinking about it in a different light. Picture carrying around a 10 lbs bowling ball all the time. That doesn’t sound like much fun. That’s all the motivation I need to try and beat this 25lbs goal!

There’s also something called THE BIG THREE: tent, sleeping system and the pack itself. It’s pretty much common sense to take your three heaviest items and make sure they are light to begin with. Then there’s your consumables: water and food. The goal on my trip is to keep it under 25lbs and that’ll include two weeks of food. No resupply for me.

This whole exercise is very interesting and enlightening (no pun intended) to me. It’s neat to see what we can do without. Its nice to remind ourselves how little we need.

Every ounce counts. And therefore, I’m researching everything, weighing everything and reconsidering everything. Do I really need it? Can something substitute for it? Can this thing be used for multiple purposes? Does it’s usefulness justify it’s weight and place in my pack? What’s the lightest version they currently make? Are there alterations I can make to it to be lighter? There’s also the consideration of cost. It’d probably be easier if I had unlimited funds and just bought top of the line UL everything but for most people this is not a realistic endeavor. But does this mean my goals are unattainable? Absoultely not. But it does mean I will work smarter and be informed about what’s out there and what my best choices are. I think ultimately ultralight will be a lifelong endeavor and not something bought and carried out in a weekend.

Inner Space Caverns – Wild Cave Tour

Another day of ouchies. I’m covered in bruises and scratches. My knees look awful.  Saturday I went on the Wild Cave Tour at Inner Space Caverns north of Austin on I-35. You have to book this tour ahead of time. You can’t just show up. For $100 you get 4 hours of crawling on your hands and knees, a chance to drink off the cave floor, the use of dirty elbow pads and knee pads, and as much mud as you would like. Basically…a super-fun bargain! It was a blast diving head first into cracks in the cave and descending into the depths. There were two “coral crawls” that tore me up pretty good but the “canyon walk” was amazing. You can’t be clausterphobic or afraid of heights. Afraid of heights?? you say? yes! there are places where the floor opens up into a pit of darkness. But that’s what makes it so AWESOME! We had one guy on our tour that was probably 6’2″, 250ish pounds. There was only one place he kinda struggled but he definitely made it. Our guides, Katie and Dawn, were awesome. They were knowledgable, friendly and enthusiastic! Basically, everything you’d want in a guide.

As for gear, it’s defnitely nice to use theirs (elbow pads, knee pads and gloves) cause you can give them back all muddy and let them deal with it.

They also lend you a helmet with a light on it.

Shoes-make sure the bottom are grippy. There’s a lot of slick rock and mud. Some people wore the Five Toes and they seemed to do fine. I used old running shoes that I threw away afterwards.

Shirt-they recommend short sleeve but I think next time I’d go with long cause my arms got scratched up from all the crawling. At  Inner Space they also take a “before and after” picture. My brother and I wore white t-shirts. Our before and after pictures were extra hilarious cause of the marked difference in amount of accumulated mud.

Pants-some people wore jeans, military pants, yoga pants. I wore scrub bottoms so I could just throw everything away.

Bandana-Definitely recommended. It’s nice having something catching all the sweat dripping down your face.

Gloves-They get super muddy. If you bring your own, be prepared to throw them away or donate to the caves like I did.

Elbow and Knee Pads-make sure you find a pair that fit really well when you get to Inner Space. The knee and elbow pads unavoidably shift as you crawl through the tightest spots. The same goes for your pants. Make sure they stay on by not having bulky pockets or belts that catch.

 

There’s no food, water or bathroom breaks in the caves. I didn’t find that to be a problem but it’s something some of y’all might want to consider. This definitely not the same tour that you go on when you were little on your school field trips. This tour lets you see some stuff that other visitors might never see and definitely gives you an experience not felt by many.

At the end of our adventure, we popped out of the hidden passages and right in middle of one of the regular cave tours much to the surprise of the tour guests. We were all sweaty, muddy and dishelved. But to sum it all up, one of the kids saw us and pointed to us and said,”I wanna do that! They’re on the FUN tour!” And you know what? She was right.

10 Great Places to Have a National Park Adventure

I found this article in USA Today (7/1/2011).

10 Great Places to Have a National Park Adventure

  1. Yosemite National Park, California-Hike Half Dome, 17-mile round-trip trail passes two waterfalls and includes a 60-degree ascent
  2. Acadia National Park, Maine-tour this popular oceanfront park by sea kayak
  3. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii-Kilauea, the world’s most active volcano
  4. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona-the best way to see it is not just from the edge but backpacking rim to rim
  5. Canyonlands National Park, Utah-raft Cataract Canyon
  6. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming and Montana-during early spring the park is closed to cars so it’s great for cyclists
  7. Joshua Tree National Park, California-one of the best places to rock climb
  8. Everglades National Park, Florida-canoe through the famous “River of Grass”
  9. Glacier National Park, Montana-700 miles of trail and 3 dozen glaciers
  10. Virgin Islands National Park, St. John, U.S. Virgin Island-225 yard snorkeling trail through a coral reef in Trunk Bay

 

 

 

Warrior Dash Obstacles

I participated in a super fun recently called Warrior Dash. It was a 3.22 mile course with many obstacles along the way. Even though I thought it was pretty tough because of the hilly course (it was set on a dirt bike trail that had many moguls) I had a lot of fun. I think they vary the obstacles at different locations but these are some of the obstacles that I went through:

  • Big a** fan – they had a huge fan (like from a boat) blowing at you as your tried to run
  • mud slide – you had to sit down and scoot down
  • crawl – they had a really low tent set up that was really dark and hot inside that forced you to crawl on your hands and knees on the dirt and rocks. knee pads might have been useful here
  • wooden fences – jump over low wooden walls
  • nets – crawl up and down a net and also a horizontal net (there’s a fast way to get through the horizontal one)
  • spider web – make your way through random ropes set up like that movie Entrapment
  • logs in a pond – wade through a pond and get over floating logs
  • hay bale pile – crawl up and down a stack of hay bales
  • fire – jump over a few burning logs (not difficult, mostly a photo op)
  • mud pit- the pie de resistance, you have to army crawl under barb wire in a mud pit

Top Ten Ways to Stay Warm (When Sleeping on a Glacier)

Here’s a list of all the things we did to stay warm while out on the glacier. It took me a while to find which combination helped me stay warm at night.

  1. wear many layers top and bottom- I also tried the just sleeping in my base layers method and that did not work for me.
  2. wear a fleece cap- I think this helped because my face was the only part exposed to the cold air and with my hat on and the sleeping bag cinched down mummy style the only thing that was frosty in the morning was my nose.
  3. exercise-We would jump around, do jumping jacks, pushups, basically anything to get warm before jumping in the sleeping bag. The theory being that if we started off warm we would stay warmer. We even did situps while in our sleeping bags.
  4. food-we were all told to eat before going to bed so that we would be warmer at night. Chocolate was a popular option.
  5. hot water bottles-Although the most tedious, I think this was my favorite method. Right before bed time, we would stay up to boil water and fill our nalgene bottles with boiling water. You have have have to make sure that they are sealed tight. If there’s any defect or doubt do not use that water bottle. Last thing you want is to have a wet sleeping bag when you’re trying to stay warm. Also, there’s the risk of burning yourself. That being said none of that happened to any of us and we thouroughly enjoyed the hot water bottles at night. You’ll soon discover where you like to put the hot water bottles.
  6. insulation from the cold ground-I used a thinsulate sleeping pad under my sleeping pad. And although I like my sleeping pad I was willing to try anything to stop from being cold at night. So it was suggested that I try my best to get myself farther from the ground. I did this by laying my rain jacket and pants under the thinsulate sleeping pad. This probably helped a little bit.
  7. a better sleeping bag-See my previous post about my lamina sleeping bag. This was suggested by my fellow camper Nate. He suggested that I stuff my sleeping bag with any clothes I wasn’t using . I think this method helped a lot. Not that I had many extra clothes but whatever I did have I stuffed down near my feet and consequently I finally had a night where I did not constantly wake up from being miserably cold.
  8. Snuggling-I definitely thought it helped that we all slept so close to each other in the tent. Not that we had much of a choice though.
  9. Dry socks-No matter what we would all put on dry socks at bed time.
  10. Go potty-The less heat your body has to generate the better.