Category Archives: travel

Empty Theme Parks…

My family just got back from its (almost) annual trip to Walt Disney World in Florida.  It was a marvelous trip… as always… and we had a wonderful time.  Each year, we have VERY high expectations for the trip and for the service we’ll receive from the cast members at Disney.  We usually stay “on-property”, and this time it was at the Kidani House section of Animal Kingdom Lodge.  Last year we stayed at Jambo House – Animal Kingdom Lodge.

Betty White Tour - Stop #5 (Walt Disney Studios)

Betty White Tour – Stop #5 (Walt Disney Studios) (Photo credit: Loren Javier)

The reason I bring that up is that, while we go with high expectations of guest services, each year they manage to find some way to exceed our expectations.  This year was no exception…   One of the unexpected little treats was at the Grand Floridian.  We usually take a day to visit some of the different resorts to see where we might want to stay in the future, search for “Hidden Mickeys” and just relax a little.  While visiting the Grand Floridian, my younger son asked if we could go to the top floor of the main building to look down into the atrium.  When we got to the elevators, we figured out the the top 3 floors were all Concierge level and there was no access for non-guests of the Concierge level.  But, one of the cast members who happened to be getting off of the elevator asked if we needed assistance.  When my 4 year old told him what we wanted to do, he escorted us to the 5th floor and proceeded to tell us all sorts of interesting facts about the resort, hidden Mickeys and other Disney trivia.

That wasn’t our only experience… but it illustrates the ability of Disney’s staff to take it upon themselves to do “just a little more than expected” to give their customers a better experience…

View of main lobby from second floor balcony.

View of main lobby from second floor balcony. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But the actual reason for the post…

I used to work for Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, VA when I was WAY younger.  And ever since, I can’t help but think back to that experience while walking through a theme park.  One of my favorite things about working at the park was being there after it closed.  One of the jobs I had kept me in the park as much as two hours after closing… and all of the guests would be cleared, as well as many of the other employees.

Walking through an empty theme park is quite enjoyable.  The park is clean, quiet and there is no jostling or crowds.  It might be a false reality… I wasn’t really walking through a Bavarian village of two centuries ago, or New France… but it was much different than walking in most other places… and it was REALLY quiet.  It was almost eery, but not in a bad way.  Maybe unexpected is a better word.

Working in a theme park is a fun experience for a young adult.  There are a lot of things that happen that make for fun stories later… the people that you encounter, strange weather and even a different kind of work ethic.  It is quite entertaining and even possibly enriching.

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Wayback Wednesday… Winter Driving

Just last year we had a long and snowy winter break (kids home from school and many people unable to get to work….).  And while for many it meant just bundling up and staying indoors, for many others, that wasn’t an option.

As mentioned in the original post, I grew up in Michigan and Minnesota… and have spent a fair amount of time driving in snow.  That does NOT mean that I don’t take it seriously.  I take it VERY seriously.  In fact, in addition to caution while driving, I keep a cold weather survival kit in my vehicle pretty much all of the time.

Winter driving has its rewards.  The scenery is different and can be quite beautiful.  It is a lot of fun to visit places and shoot pictures of things we hardly ever see covered in snow.  And sometimes, there are other rewards… last year I helped the Piedmont Hospital group by delivering staff and supplies to a couple of their local locations.

Some of the things that you should keep in your vehicle all of the time (regardless of the weather) include:

  • Charged Cell Phone (or at least a phone and a charger).  You never know when you might need to call for help.
  • A few bottles of water, and maybe an energy bar or two… no, not for a quick snack on a road trip, but in case you are stuck someplace waiting for help.
  • A blanket.  There are LOTS of uses for them, in addition to covering up and keeping warm, they can be pillows and slings.

I-85... abandoned... spooky

When the weather turns colder, there are a few more things to add to the kit:

  • Mittens… they work better than gloves to keep your hands warm when it is REALLY cold out).
  • A warm coat.  Even if you are just running around town, you never know if you are going to end up having to walk… or having to sit in a cold car waiting for someone to show up.
  • Shoes you can walk in…  Boots are even better.
  • Lighter.
  • A sharp Pocket Knife or Multi-Tool.
  • A bag of sand in the trunk isn’t a bad idea.

If you are going to get really fancy, then you might also carry a few other things:

  • Saw and/or a hatchet.
  • Air Horn.
  • Snow Pants.
  • Compass.

Awaiting my load of hospital supplies

A lot of it is overkill when you are driving around Atlanta, but you never know.  And honestly, the chances of facing a brutal survival situation in most metropolitan areas is pretty slim.

Then again, a few years ago I was returning from Michigan and was stuck in a snow storm for hours near Cincinnati, OH.  If I didn’t have 4wd, a full tank of fuel and food, I would have been VERY uncomfortable.  Had I hit the storm a couple of hours further up the road, especially if I wasn’t in a 4wd truck, I could have been in trouble.

Hopefully you’ll never need to use the stuff in your emergency kit.  But if you do, you’ll be glad it was there.

Here is a link to the original post from last year.  It features tips for actually driving in Georgia’s Winter Weather.

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Wayback Wednesday… The Dad Seminar.

Rock 'n' Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith, Wa...Let me start by saying Thank You to my Dad.  I miss him just about every day, and I had NO idea how much he did, hid, put up with and shouldered… without ever saying a word.

Last year I wrote a post about our last trip to Disney World… specifically about the “rolling dad Seminar” that I was able to engage in.

“Rolling Dad Seminar, you say?”

You have to check out the post to see the details, but the short version is that there seemed to be a lot of clearly defined “Dad Duties” in the parks.  And I watched Dad after Dad performing these tasks… sometimes I was right along-side, performing the same tasks for my family.  And while we were engaged in the “wait” portion of “hurry up and wait”, I talked with a few other Dads… and it was a LOT of fun.

We talked about vacations, family, cars (of course), work, rides… ALL kinds of stuff.  One of the funniest things that happened was a “walking-by high-five” with a Dad I met in a ride line.  He’d managed to score some prime Fast Passes for a show with a VERY long wait.  My wife raised an eyebrow as I walked by the stranger and just high-fived him.

There are a few other little tidbits you might catch in the original post

Photo Friday… Hop’s Place…

Hop's has been around since the 1940s...

There is a fair chance that when you run into me, I’ll be wearing a “Hop’s Place” T-shirt.  I have a BUNCH of them.  My Step-Father has worked there for a long time, and gets me a shirt or two each year.  They have really cool street rods on the back, advertising their paint products.

Obviously, I’m not advocating everyone in Gwinnett County, GA run up to Hampton, VA to get some car parts…

But, Hop’s is a symbol of a dying breed, the independent auto parts store.  There just aren’t many left.  They are being pushed out by the chains even faster than the “Mom & Pop” retailers are being killed off by WalMart.

Hop died a few years ago.  He was well into his 80s.  When I was in high school… which is NOT recent… I used to buy parts from him for my cars.  He was “Old Man Hop” back then.  One of my Car Guy mentors knew him pretty well… and he was “Old Man Hop” to him, too.

There is nothing wrong with Pep Buy, AutoZone, Advance and the like.  I have done business with all of them.  But, I still like dropping into a place like Hop’s.  The guys on the counter have been there for 20 years… and might still be there 20 years from now.  Assuming that the shop is still there.

And I wouldn’t be shocked if there were some vintage speed parts lost in the backroom somewhere…

Photo Friday… ROAD TRIP!!!

White's Ferry, MD

The old school way across the Potomac

A couple of years ago, my pal Pat and I took a road trip to MD to pick up some furniture.

We have a history of road trips… mostly Jeeping adventures… and they are generally pretty interesting.  In fact, a lot of our stories start with “we were on the road, and”…  A couple of trips to Moab, UT, a couple of runs up to VA and a couple days of camping and trail scouting for the GBR4wd Club near the TN/KY state line come to mind.

Meanwhile, Gail, my wife, and I have had a lot more trips… numerous runs up to MI and OH, New Orleans, UT and enough trips to Disney World in FL that we have a SunPass so that we don’t have to slow down for the tolls… and WAY more.

I am only missing a couple of states to have the complete set.  When I was a kid, we always had a summer road trip.  And I never got out of the habit.

’tis the season.  The kids are out of school, so it is road trip season.

Crossing the Potomac

So much cooler than a boring ol' bridge.

One of the things that I clearly remember from my childhood is that we got out of the car.  So often, we are in such a hurry to get where we are going that we forget to be where we are. There are some really cool places just off the Interstate.  There are scores more that are on the road less traveled.

On this trip, we had 3 days to drive from Atlanta to the DC area, load a trailer with furniture and drive back to Atlanta.

For day 1, we drove to my mom’s in southeastern VA.  On day 2, we drove up to DC, picked up the trailer and loaded it.  Day 3 was the blast back to the ATL.

Even though we knew that we were going to be spending a long day in the truck, Pat knew where this ferry was and we worked it into the trip.

We left his mom’s close to sunrise, so the morning fog was still burning off the river when we got to White’s Ferry.

Depending on how traffic might have been on our other route, this might have added 30 minutes to the trip…  Or maybe it was shorter.  We’ll never know.  More importantly, we’ll never care.  The adventure was worth it.

Get out there…

I hope you the chance to go on a road trip this summer.  And when you do, build a little time into the schedule to visit some spots along the way.  You can research them beforehand, or just give in to one of those crazy billboards along the highway.  While you are at it, drop into a “Mom & Pop” store or restaurant along the way, too.  They’ll appreciate it, and you might discover someplace really cool.

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