Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Welcome to New York: Weekend Guide



New York is one of those cities you have to visit at least once in your life. It truly is not like any other place. You really need about a week to get a fill of the city and that still might not be enough! However, that's not how we do things around here, weekend trips are my specialty and I'm here to recap my most recent visit to the Big Apple and give you some tips along the way. We visited the city Friday night to Sunday evening and saw so much that I can't wait to share!

We arrived Friday evening via LaGuardia International Airport around 7:30pm. I would highly recommend flying into LaGuardia, it is much smaller and easier to navigate than JFK and a little closer to the city. There wasn't a ton of traffic so in about 30 minutes the hotel was waiting (just an FYI cab drivers drive FAST, don't be alarmed it's part of the experience :)

Our hotel was the wonderful Marriott Marquis in Times Square which is one of my favorite hotels, you are literally in the middle of Times Square! I'm talking billboards from your windows, play and musicals right across the street from the hotel Starbucks middle of times square. That being said, if you dislike crowds, bright lights and double decker busses this may not be the hotel for you. Something calmer on the east side like the New York Marriott East Side might suit you better. I have stayed at both and are two great choices!


Since it was only about 9pm, I wondered if anything was still open (HAHA) this is NYC everything was open plus it was a Friday night. We took Times Square by storm and by storm I mean we walked around looking at the different play/musical marquees (so many big names on Broadway right now), shopping (got the cutest pair of blush lace-up flats), browsing the touristy souvenir shops (hello Statue of Liberty foam hats), and snagging a piece of Junior's cheesecake (food coma) so all in all a pretty fun night! Utilize every minute you have in this fabulous city!

The next morning we were up before our alarms set at 7:30am beeped off and out in Times Square again to decide what we wanted to do on our full day in the city. I have found it easy to walk and take the tourist bus systems (yes, the double decker) and get the package which can take you all over town. Unless you are with a local or are a former one, you will get lost and/or not know where you are going. The bus helps alleviate some of that and you won't rack up on expensive cab fares. We used Grayline and found it to be a good service. So after we got our tickets we decided to walk over to Top of the Rock which was only a few minutes away. I love Top of the Rock, it allows you to see the whole city from a bird's eye view! Just a suggestion, get there early, I'm talking when they open at 8am since it is such a popular spot so you will avoid long lines.



After seeing the city from atop the Rock, we boarded our bus (look for your respected busses everywhere but be sure to ask which way it is going such as Uptown, Bronx, Downtown,etc.) to make a stop at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. The Museum opened last year and I knew it was definitely something I wanted to see in person. The Memorial which is the two water pools you see engraved with the victim's names has been around for a few years and it always makes me tear up a little to see them. There are usually flowers placed on names, probably by a family member or loved one who misses them. Be mindful around this entire location, yes, it is a museum but it is also a site where many lives were lost. It's not a tourist attraction, it is a part of history and an area to honor those who are no longer with us.
 
 
After you purchase your tickets (you can do so in person or online) you walk into the museum and have the option of downloading the app to hear the walkthrough tour (narrated by Robert DeNiro) or having a recoded version with headphones that cost $7. The app is free but will drain 20% of your phone battery and if you choose the recorded version you must leave your I.D. with the front desk. It is the same tour narration, we didn't want to drain our phones since we had a full day ahead of us we went with the recorded version.
 
One of the first images you see is a chilling yet serene picture of the skyline, the last photo taken a minute or so before the attacks. This picture symbolizes pre-9/11, something that is hard to remember and may be non-existent to teens and young adults who were born during and after this time. How the world once was photographed in time.
 

There are several sections to the museum, numerous artifacts including the steel tower which was a clearly seen in the days following the attacks, stairs where survivors fled, painful reminders of what once was and an art piece that contains different shades of blue, all painted by those who try to depict what color blue the sky was on that day.
 




You may take photos in certain areas but you will enter a portion of the museum (the bulk of it) where no photography is allowed. It's an area of the museum where you see the newspapers of that day (it's odd to see how the headlines would change in the coming hours), replays from the attack from the famed Today Show during the time the first tower was hit, first responder calls, eye witness accounts, clothing that was found from suitcases and powerful images including those jumping from the buildings. A lot of this portion is difficult to walk through and if it is hard for adults it might not be the best idea for sensitive children to experience. The museum is beautifully done and I think it is not to be missed. It's important we don't forget what happened that day and remember those lost.
 

It's fitting that 15 years later the city of NYC is stronger than ever and has even completed the new One World Trade Center. You can now visit the One World Observatory to get a glimpse of the city in one of the tallest buildings in the world. The building is breathtaking!
 

After a little more sightseeing and a pit-stop in China Town (yes, you will be surrounded by faux designer bags and you probably will want one but be careful here! Do not follow anyone into any buildings even if they promise you a real life Louis Vuitton for $20. It's a fun area but be cautious.) it was time for lunch at Serendipity! Please tell me you have all seen the classic film!? If you haven't go watch it now. Well finish this blog post then go watch it!
 

This cozy, charming restaurant offers the famous frozen hot chocolate as well as other decadent desserts such as the "Forbidden Broadway Sundae", "Strawberry Fields Sundae" and if you are really looking to splurge the "Golden Opulence Sundae" which comes in at a cool $1,000. I'll stick to the frozen hot chocolate. They also have a variety of sandwiches, salads, burgers and some of the best fries I've ever had. This is a can't miss for me each trip! I recommend going for lunch or a late night snack (they stay open till 2am). My one rule...MAKE A RESERVATION. I can't stress it enough this is a small restaurant and lots of people want to eat here so that makes for quite the crowd at all hours of the day. Give them a call a couple of days before your visit and make a reservation so you have your spot!
 

We still weren't satisfied with the sweets we just had (lol) so time to make a pit stop at the Sprinkles Cupcake ATM (dreams do come true!), there are some really great cupcake spots including the famous Magnolia Bakery, Billy's Bakery, and Prohibition Bakery to name a few! Speaking of food, NYC has some crazy good stuff out there including the newest craze Rainbow Bagels! These can be found over in Brooklyn or you can have them shipped out nationwide from The Bagel Store. Did I mention there is funfetti cream cheese involved?
 

A little shopping on the East Side and it was time to return to the hotel for a nap, well at least rest for an hour then it over to Broadway! I love Broadway plays and musicals, I like to see at least one on a visit, they are a perfect way to relax, get off your feet and enjoy a live spectacle! The choice for this trip was Waitress, a musical version of the Keri Russell film plus music and lyrics by the talented Sara Bareilles. First off when you walk into the theater is smells like fresh baked pie, also they were selling mini-pies! The play was fantastic and would definitely recommend, the cast was amazing and I still have some of the songs stuck in my head.

There are lots of awesome plays and musicals right now, here is a full list! I have Aladdin, School of Rock, Fully Committed (with Jesse Tyler Ferguson aka Mitchell from Modern Family) and Finding Neverland on my personal list. I am also dying to see Hamilton but it is sold out and tickets are super expensive to buy via StubHub but I did learn there is a lottery where they give out 21 tickets a day so try your luck!
 

After the play, it was raining a little so we had dinner at this yummy Italian place in Times Square, NYC has some of the BEST Italian food, my all time favorite is Carmine's! After a late night it was time for bed but another early morning awaited us. 

First up, the Empire State Building! We had the two day bus pass so we just hopped on and hopped off, this is another attraction to arrive early at! The view is incredible and not to be missed, the observation deck is open to 2am, I think it would be amazing to go on a clear summer night!
 

After conquering my fear of heights, we walked for a bit then decided to visit Greenwich Village. It is a fun area that has a total hipster vibe, tons of cute, unique boutiques, restaurants and shops. I absolutely loved the boutique, 3NY, they had tons of cute clothes and fun graphic tees. They were so helpful I'm giving them a special shoutout!

Around lunchtime, we decided on Jekyll and Hyde's. Y'all this is such a fun restaurant! It's almost like a Disney attraction (think Haunted Mansion) with animontronics, creepy waiters, a true themed restaurant. I bet this place is really happening in the after hours, go by for one of the yummy drinks and enjoy your time taking everything in!



For the rest of the day we mostly just explored the neighborhoods and started our trek back to our hotel. It was a bit further than we realized but it was a nice day and it was fun to tour the city. We did go to this really cool record store, I mean they even have cats there. Nope, I'm not "kitten" you haha ok I'll stop with the jokes!




Sadly it was time to hail a cab back to the airport but I came back with fantastic memories and an urge to go back to the city soon! 

So to recap, if you are going to be in NYC for the weekend or 2-3 days, you can't see it all but you can see a lot!

1. Utilize bus transportations! If that's  too touristy for you, there is always the subway.

2. Walk! You can walk almost everywhere in NYC, yes some places take longer to get to especially if they are in opposite directions but nothing is better than sightseeing on foot.

3. Avoid looking like a tourist. If you have a guide map, looking constantly at directions on your phone or straight up look confused then you will be more succeptable to people who may not have the best intentions. 

4. NYC is a big place and can be confusing to navigate. With that being said remember if the numbers on the signs go up you are going Uptown if the numbers on the signs go down you are headed Downtown. That's all you need to know! 

5. Have frozen hot chocolate at Serendipty. You will thank me later. 

6. Visit Top of the Rock for a good view and there is even a restaurant! This area is also close to the Today Show, SNL and NBC studios. 

7. You have to go to the Empire State Building observation deck at least once in your life for the breathtaking view.

8. Go to the Carmine's on the upper West Side to get your Italian fix.

9. If you want to go to the Statue of Libery and Liberty Island, go first thing in the morning or one of the last boat stops at night. 

10. Take in the City! NYC is a place like no other, it's no wonder they call it he greatest city in the world. On any given visit and day you never know what hidden gems of shops, restaurants even people you may come across. No matter what you do in NYC make sure you have an adventure!


Happy Travels! 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Disneyland and California Adventure in a Day


As you can tell, I love traveling but with my schedule I stay busy and unfortunately can't take the time to spend long amounts of time away from home. However, I frequently make mini-trips and have become somewhat of an "expert" on these short on time, big on adventure trips. I'm going to show you how to take on both parks, Disneyland and California Adventure in one day!

For my first tip, if you can stay on site do so. We stayed at the lovely Grand Californian Hotel but if you are looking for the most budget friendly, check out the Paradise Pier Hotel.  It is known as the "value resort" of Disneyland and one I highly recommend. Unfortunately, it does book fast so try to nail down your dates as soon as possible and look for discount rates (for all Disney hotels) throughout all times of the year. However, you can't deny the Grand Californian is the most elegant and beautiful of all the hotels!

 
Grand Californian Hotel Lobby 

 
After you book your room, you need to figure out what you want to see and do. Are you traveling in a group? Friends? Couple? Family? Each situation brings a new experience to the table. Couples probably want to have a romantic dinner at least one night whereas families are looking more to find quick service restaurants that can accommodate large crowds and foods for all members. As for the parks? I can give you one word of advice...ARRIVE EARLY! Yes, little ones (and some not so little ones) will hate the idea of getting up early but they will be happy when they are riding Space Mountain when others are outside in an hour wait.

You can find a time schedule here (bonus of staying at a Disney resort, Early Admission Hours).
 
Wall Art at Disney's California Adventure park

Now as we were discussing restaurants, there is one must do for those venturing over to California Adventure, is the Cove Bar. It has the best seat in the house for the some of the most scenic areas in the park. Oh and adults, they have the yummiest drinks! They even have a secret menu that has some fun drinks you have to try!
 
Line around 10:30am for 11am opening of the Cove Bar
Word to the wise, this place fills up early! We got in line about 30 minutes before opening (11am) and there was already a bit of a wait in line. Disney parks are all about arriving early! Once you realize this the more you will accomplish in a short time!
 

Yes, there are drinks with cotton candy that exist here! Lunch is also a good time to plan out the rest of the day since you will have probably accomplished quite a bit so far. Especially since you have been up early and arrived when the parks opened :)
 

On this particular trip we went to California Adventure first since there were more things we wanted to do at Disneyland and knew it would be easier to cross our must-do's off at California Adventure. Then we would be able to spend the bulk of our day at Disneyland. Luckily both parks are an entry-way from each other and withing walking distance so you can easily park-hop if you choose to. Here is a breakdown of park hopping ticket options here!
 

Disneyland is more compact than it's bigger counterpart over in Orlando so it is easy to cover lots of ground in one day but you will be walking ALOT so wear your comfy shoes! If you have younger kids, tackle Fantasyland first always. The rides are slower to load thus make the lines move at a snails pace at times. Now if you are touring with older kids, teens, adults, etc. then you can pretty much start wherever. Star Wars is a hot commodity right now and the newly launched "Hyper Space Mountain" is one you can't miss! That is if you like roller coasters (no, it does not go upside down) however, you can check out all the Star Wars Summer events here no roller coaster necessary.
 

Mini-trips also mean you can budget your money a little better without the week long stay. One of my biggest tips is food choices. I do not care about eating at sit-down restaurants each meal, there are so many snacks that we love and some we still need to try that it is sometimes better to forgo the large meals (and price tag) and snack your way around the parks. Choose one restaurant for your "big meal", I recommend lunch, dinner is automatically more pricy. No, snacking on churros, ice cream, pretzels,etc. is not the healthiest option but one day is ok to splurge a little! I also love getting fresh fruit at the snack stands and substituting fruit for fries with chicken fingers. Little cuts along the way can be healthier for you and easier on your wallet!
 

I do advise hitting some of the classic attractions like The Haunted Mansion (pictured below), the Pirates of the Caribbean, It's a Small World (yes, I know annoying but a classic), and Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. Also, if you frequent the Florida park then try some of the rides that are not offered at Disney World like the fantastic Indiana Jones Adventure and Roger Rabbit's Cartoon Spin. Check out a map of Disneyland attractions here and Disney's California Adventure here!
 

While you may want to go, go, go all day and the parks are fun so you may not want to take a break but you need to! Take a short nap for an hour or two, catch some pool time, explore the Downtown Disney District. You will feel refreshed and ready to tackle the parks (and crowds) again! We love going to the parks after dark. There seems to be less people, cooler temps and it's fun to see the parks at night! Even though you are only there for a short time, still take your time to enjoy yourself!
 

I hope you all enjoyed some of my tips on conquering the Disneyland parks in a day! Any tips I missed? What's something that you want to share? Let me know!

You can find all the information on Disneyland, California Adventure, rides, restaurants, hotels and more right here! Oh and Disneyland is still celebrating it's 60th Anniversary so there is lots of cool stuff happening, it's summer, you need a vacation, why not go to the "happiest place on earth"?

Happy Travels!

xoxo,


 

Monday, May 16, 2016

Tinker Bell 10k 2016 Recap

Hello all! I'm excited to recap one of my favorite race weekends, the Tinker Bell Half-Marathon, which takes place at the Disneyland Resort every Mother's Day weekend in May. The race used to be held in January a week after the Marathon Weekend in Orlando at the Disney World Resort. It made it difficult to do both races so I'm glad they moved it to May, it's the perfect way to kick off the summer!

We left Bham around 10:45am and our flight finally arrived a little after 4pm. It was the longest flight process ever due to weather which then led to delayed flights. The flight was bumpy and we were happy to be on the ground (hello layover in Vegas!) and from Vegas the flight is a quick 30-40 min to Orange County. After checking in at the beautiful Grand Californian Hotel we simply walked over to the Race Expo (held at the Disneyland Hotel) to pick up our bibs. It was an easy process, I find it easier to already have your waiver printed out but they also have printers available. The expos are fine but there isn't anything I have to have from there so we did a quick walk around then got ready to explore the parks!


We were starving and there are always so many treats we want to try at Disneyland that we decided to check a few things off our list. My absolute favorite was the Churro Funnel Cake...yes, you read that right! You can find this delicious concoction over in the Disneyland Park in "Critter Country" at the Hungry Bear Restaurant. Seriously. This may be my favorite Disney snack ever.



From there we basically just walked around the park, it was crowded for a Friday night but not too terrible. I love that Disneyland has so many hidden gems and fun things for you to spot, like our frog friends from The Princess and the Frog at one of the windows in New Orleans Square. That's one thing that does give Disneyland an edge over Disney World, all the little details!


Another cool thing we discovered was over by the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, for just a quarter you could get a "fortune" delivered to you by this pirate. Kind of a fun souvenir that is unique and won't break the bank. Breaking the bank at Disney Parks is easy to do so when you find something like this of course I have to share!


I was thinking we would get back to the room at a decent hour, yeah we pretty much closed the parks down. Oh and we were on Alabama time so that's about two hours ahead, I love going to the West Coast since it almost feels like sleeping in and gaining hours!
 
Waking up was easier maybe because of all the excitement, or maybe we were just ready to get it over with, either way the race was quickly approaching! Getting there was easy, it was maybe a 10 minute walk, the weather was a bit rainy at first (always pack a cheap poncho) then the rain ended shortly before the race began.


We were in Corral B so it didn't take long before we were off! This is a really good 10k course, if you are looking for your first 10k, I highly suggest a runDisney one. The best part about this particular 10k is that most mileage is in the parks! A definite bonus especially since they can be on the pricier side.
 

You are only on the roads for like a mile before you enter the backstage of the parks, you see some really cool stuff that you wouldn't normally get to see and who doesn't want to run through an un-crowded park!? I mean you get to see...The classic Matterhorn....
 

The whale from Pinocchio....
 

The cutest little carousel...
 

Obviously... what you paid for, to run through the castle!
 

Just your typical Saturday run scenery, right? Well maybe not but it really is beautiful to see the sun rise over the parks and everything feels quite serene even in such a rushed, excited atmosphere.
 



 
After Disneyland you head to California Adventure, where you can get a pic with the man and the mouse himself. I love this statue, it really is amazing to think of what a visionary Walt Disney was and a man who truly was able to make his dreams become a reality. This is always a popular spot for a pic!
  
I mean no race is complete without a jumping pic, I think it's a law you have to do one. Just kidding but they do look pretty cool! The race is starting to wind down at this point in the course, yes there are character stops, I saw several fairies (including Tinker Bell) but I couldn't name any of them if I tried and the lines were super long so I just decided to get pics around the park that didn't have a 20 minute wait.


By mile 5, I was ready to be done so after passing the "fun wheel" and exiting California Adventure you run past the Downtown Disney area and finally you are at the finish! The finish line is always a celebration plus you get an awesome medal!
 
Bling bling! I was doing the 10k in part of the Pixie Dust Challenge along with the half marathon the next day so one down, one to go! I didn't have the time to make a costume so I did a bit of a Zootopia theme and I didn't see anyone else with the same thing on and got lots of compliments. Always do a little costuming at these races, it makes it more fun!
 
 
One more jump shot! Stay tuned for how to do Disneyland and California Adventure in one day and the recap of the half-marathon tomorrow!


Happy Travels!

xoxo,