Category: 1000 Places


The Sunshine State

Moving on in a similar tangent as the Disney World series, it’s time to cover all the glories that Florida has to offer. Time to break out my trusty copy of 1000 Places and go through where I have been.

-Daytona Speedway

-Kennedy Space Center

-The Everglades

-South Beach

-The Florida Keys

-Sanibel & Captiva Islands

I’ll include links to the Disney World series here since it is on the 1000 Places list.

When & Where to Stay

Magic Kingdom

Epcot

Hollywood Studios

Animal Kingdom

Miscellaneous

 

Daytona Speedway is on the Atlantic coast north of Orlando, located in the city it’s named after, Daytona. It’s the Indianapolis 500 of NASCAR. And for those completely out-of-the-loop when it comes to car races, that means they are the biggest races of the season. There is a museum called the Daytona 500 Experience, where you can ride simulators, catch an IMAX movie about the race and learn more about NASCAR. There is also a Richard Petty Driving Experience here if you want to take a spin around the track. I’m personally not a big fan of NASCAR, but my father is so we went there as a family when I was younger. Will I go back? Probably. There is also a great beach there that is heavily visited for Spring Break, as well as Bike Week. If you choose to go for either Spring Break or Bike Week, expect crowds. Bike Week in Daytona is second only to the Sturgis Bike Week in terms of attendance, with almost half a million bikers visiting Daytona Beach.

A little over an hour south of Daytona Beach on the Atlantic is the Kennedy Space Center. Named for JFK, the president who launched the Apollo program, it is the home of a plethora of space-related activities. With the space shuttle program a thing of the past now, it’s only used for satellite launches. I was young when I went with my family, so I don’t remember much about the visitor center. When we went we were however lucky enough to see one of the shuttles on the launch pad, an image that has remained with me ever since. If you want an idea about how massive the Vehicle Assembly Building is, FL-528 runs along the south side of Kennedy heading to and from Cocoa Beach, and I’d say it is a good 5 miles away. You can see it easily from that far away. Now, about the center itself. The visitor center has a collection of rockets from the very early days of NASA, including the ones that put the first US astronauts in space and other significant memorabilia from the 50 years of NASA’s existence. There is also the launch simulator and an IMAX theater. And while there won’t be any shuttle launches, they are flying the shuttles to their new homes around the country, from New York City to Los Angeles within the next few months. So you may want to see them take their final flight to their new homes. The highlight of any trip to the Kennedy Space Center is obviously the tour of the grounds. You load up on a bus which takes you around to see the launch sites of the Apollo program and the shuttles, the assembly area for the ISS and the Vehicle Assembly Building amongst other things. If you are planning on visiting, I would see if there are any upcoming satellite launches. If memory serves, certain areas of the center are blocked off for security reasons. I say this because I think we weren’t able to get close to the launch pad while we were there because of the upcoming launch. Both Daytona and Kennedy Space Center are excellent day trips if you are going on a trip to Orlando since they are about an hour away.

A further 3-4 hours south on the Atlantic coast (depending on your final destination) is the Florida wetlands known as The Everglades. Once covering most of southern Florida, the sawgrass prairie that defines the Everglades is now mostly confined to the area south of I-75 as it goes east-west across the peninsula. The quintessential Everglades experience is an airboat ride through the grass. Home to alligators, turtles, herons and a plethora of other animals, the airboats take you out into the Everglades to get up close and personal with the animals that call this land home. The best way to get to most of what the Everglades has to offer is to take Route 41 or via Homestead, south of Miami. Off Route 41 is Shark Valley, which offers 2-hour tram rides into the heart of the park as well as a hiking and biking trail. For a nominal fee, you can drive your car in a short distance to a parking lot and look through the surrounding wetlands for alligators. One of the most spectacular views of the park is from the observation deck at the south end of the trail loop. All along Route 41 you will see many places to take airboat rides as well, but probably the best place to find them are in Everglades City on the gulf coast. If you are truly an intrepid adventurer, there is also Flamingo. Currently a ghost town which serves as a base for the rangers of the Everglades National Park, there is also a marina and seasonal cafe, as well as a visitor center and campground. I’ve always enjoyed visiting the Everglades, even if it was just a drive through it on the way to Miami or the Keys.

Also on the Atlantic Coast is Miami, home to the hedonistic South Beach. Located on the Miami Beach barrier island, South Beach is a neighborhood that lies south of Indian Creek and Dade Blvd. South Beach is also home to Joe’s Stone Crab, which is also on the 1000 Places list, however I’ve never been there. Known for the LGBT community and art-deco architectural masterpieces, South Beach never sleeps. Between the beach during the day and the clubs at night, there is enough to keep you busy. Most of what you associate with the iconography of South Beach is on Ocean Dr. near Lummus Park – art deco hotels and cafes festooned with neon lights at night. The first time I was here was before my family left for a cruise when I was younger, so we just took a stroll on the beach and got lunch at a cafe. Perfectly harmless during the day. At night, South Beach is a different monster. The last time I was here was New Year’s Eve. Granted it was a special holiday, but Ocean Dr. was shut off because of the amount of people partying. Normally it is really difficult to get into the clubs on Ocean Dr. for tourists, but we had no problems getting into Mango’s Tropical Cafe, which was the hotspot that night. All we had to do was buy a $200 bottle of champagne to enjoy through the evening. I felt bad for the huddled masses in Times Square because we were having the time of our lives in South Beach. To help calm down, we went to the Keys a couple days later.

I could really devote a whole post to the Keys, that is how much I love them. If I were to win the lottery, I’d buy what land I could and buy a self-sustaining/hurricane-resistant house and would probably rarely leave. With that in mind, I will do a quick run-down. Driving down US-1 is one of the best drives I’ve ever done. You start off with Key Largo in the north and end with Key West in the south and are blessed with views of palm trees and turquoise waters. In between, you will pass an overabundance of hotels, marinas and roadside cafes as you drive through the islands that dot this archipelago. You will not find many beaches, as the wave activity needed to create sandy beaches is pretty much non-existent. Most beaches you find there are man-made to appease tourists staying at local hotels.

If you want beaches, travel to Sanibel and Captiva islands on the gulf coast near Fort Myers. My grandparents owned a home in Fort Myers, which they have left to their children and grandchildren, so I have been lucky enough to visit these islands multiple times. Home to some of the best seashell pickings in Florida (maybe even the world), the public beach by the lighthouse is a popular destination. There is a very small parking lot for access to this beach, so arrive early if you want to visit. There are other public beaches on the islands, but most have the same small parking lots, so they get crowded early. Another popular activity is the Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge. There’s a drive through the wildlife refuge with plenty of places to pull off and snap pictures of all the wildlife. There are herons, egrets, roseate spoonbills, anhingas, storks and alligators – a lot of the animals you would hope to see in the Everglades. There are also sailing tours you can take around the islands, which are very relaxing. You may even spot a stray manatee or dolphin!

One thing I highly recommend doing while you are in Sanibel and Catpiva is lunch at Cheeburger Cheeburger. Aside from a Dairy Queen and Subway there aren’t any fast food or chain restaurants, thanks to a local law prohibiting them. And while Cheeburger Cheebuger is technically a chain restaurant now, the one on Sanibel is the first. They specialize in cheeseburgers, shakes and malts and is themed after 50’s era burger joints. The food is delicious and their list of toppings for the burgers and shake and malt flavors is HUGE. And if you are one of those “Man vs. Food” types that enjoy food challenges – their famous full-pound burgers. If you can finish it off, they will take your picture and add it to their Wall of Fame. My only relative who’s been successful in this challenge is one of my cousins. We usually only stick with the “Semi-Serious,” which is only a 1/3 of a pound. We always stop here whenever we visit the islands!

So there you have it – the Sunshine State in a nutshell. Check back later for a post on the Keys, my favorite place in the whole state. Yes, I like it even more than Orlando and Disney World!

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1000 Places, a Photo Album

Remember how I said I was going pin-crazy on Pinterest? Well, I have completed the task I set out to do. If you ever want to flip through a photo album of all the places in the 1000 Places to See Before You Die book, click below:

East, West & Southern Africa

North Africa

The Islands of the Indian Ocean

The Middle East

East Asia

South & Central Asia

Southeast Asia

Australia, New Zealand & the Pacific Islands

Great Britain

Western Europe

Eastern Europe

Scandinavia

United States & Canada

Mexico & Central America

South America & Antarctica

The Caribbean, The Bahamas & Bermuda

Viva Las Vegas!

Ah, the City of (Neon) Light. Where to begin? The casinos? The food? Hotels?

It seems logical to start with hotels. If you’re completely new to anything involving Las Vegas, 99% of what you’ll want to see is on a 4 mile part of Las Vegas Boulevard called The Strip. It begins in the south with Luxor, Excalibur, Mandalay Bay and MGM Grand and ends in the north with Stratosphere.

There really is no slow season in Vegas since there are always conventions going on, so when you go is totally dependent on whether or not you can handle the desert in the dead heat of summer. Since it was January when we went, it was actually pretty cold – around 50-60 degrees were the high temperatures. And since 18 of the 25 largest hotels in the world are located on the Strip, there really won’t be a shortage of hotel rooms. So where you stay is dependent on where in the Strip you want to be.

Personally I think anyone’s best option would be to stay somewhere towards the middle of the Strip – around the Las Vegas Boulevard/Flamingo Road intersection. This is where the bulk of the casinos are located anyways, so you can walk to most of them and take a cab to the outliers.

Speaking of cabs, every casino has a taxi stand to pick one up at. They can’t stop and pick you up on the street, so find the closest casino and get one there. There is also the monorail, but it’s not actually on the Strip and is a couple blocks away. I’d just stick with cabs, but that’s me. If you don’t mind the walk, they do offer unlimited 24-hr and 3-day passes on top of single fares.

I’d HIGHLY recommend using the foursquare app on your smartphone. Most, but not all, casinos have specials for checking in. Mostly it’s for free drinks or discounts on the buffets. But if you’re not much of a gambler like myself, cheap or free drinks are a plus. And yes, you can drink as long as you’re playing at a table. Just don’t forget to tip your waitress.

One thing I wish the casinos had more of were low limit tables. Even in old Vegas (Fremont Street) it was hard finding $5 tables. I only budgeted for $100 in case I was unlucky at the tables, and sticking to the low limit tables was my plan to keeping to that budget.

I’d also highly recommend learning about the games before you go if you’re a newbie to gambling. I was looking for a poker table and there are so many different versions of poker! And of course the one version I was looking for – Texas Hold ‘Em – was hard to locate and usually full. We mostly stuck to blackjack, roulette and the occasional slot machine.

One of the few things I had to do in Vegas was the rides at the top of the Stratosphere. I bummed I missed out on the roller coaster they had a few years ago, but the 3 rides they have now are still a lot of fun. It costs $16 to get up to the observation deck, then $12-$13 per ride, or they have packages for both the tower admission and rides. We got the 3 rides and tower admission for $31, so it’s a pretty good bargain. One spins you around on a pendulum off the side of the tower, one is a see-saw/roller coaster hybrid and the third shoots you up into the air. They also have a free-fall/zip-line ride that’s an extra $110. Also, as an aside, the Stratosphere observation deck is a great place to enjoy an evening because it has a great view of the Strip and the sun setting.

My friend that went with me had gotten there the previous evening and he was up $100 at that point, so he wanted to treat us to a really nice dinner. We decided on steaks, since if there’s one kind of food Vegas is famous for, it was steak. After a quick google search, we decided on Delmonico at The Venetian. Whoa baby was that some good steak. The only bummer to the nice restaurants, especially if you’ve never been to one of that caliber before, is that it’s all pretty much á-la-carte. If you want any kind of side to go with your big hunk of delicious beef, you gotta pay for it. My friend who had been there previously said we should get the potato gratin, and I would recommend the same to anyone eating there. We also got the sauteed mushrooms, which were quite yummy as well. Top it all with an excellent wine (we got a Malbec), and it was a very delicious dinner.

While at The Venetian, we did do the gondola ride. It was a fun trip through the shopping area of the casino. I have yet to go to Venice, so I can’t make any comparisons with the real deal, but the “scenery” along the Grand Canal is actually quite nice. The gondoliers enjoy a good song and try to keep things romantic for the couples. Kinda awkward since my travel buddy was a guy, but we weathered it. It was getting late at this point, so we called it a night.

The next day was our grand adventure. We started at the south end with the Luxor and slowly made our way north, stopping at Excalibur and New York New York. We got the buffet at Luxor just to get the experience. I mean, who goes to Vegas without going to a buffet? I’m sure there are bigger and better buffets, but we went with Luxor because it was lunchtime and we were hungry. We played a bit of roulette and moved on to Excalibur. We couldn’t find any tables that struck our fancy so we moved on to New York New York. Now here is where we blew a few hours on blackjack. We were successful finding a table!

I do admit I don’t see the thrill in gambling. To me I just see my money going down the drain, not the thrill of potentially winning more. Call me a realist, I suppose. But if I had to pick a game, it would be blackjack. It’s easy to figure out. I was bummed because we missed out on the roller coaster at New York New York, but there’s always next time.

We walked through almost all of the casinos and played at a few tables as we worked our way up the strip. The day is a wee bit of a blur thanks to those free drinks, but I do remember the show at Treasure Island, the fountain at the Bellagio and finding a pay phone at Caesar’s Palace. Yes, we found the pay-phone “bank” at Caesar’s so we could pretend to be Alan from The Hangover. It’s only one phone and we had to ask a few employees where it was. We finally found one that knew about it and he was just smiling when we asked. He knew what we were up to. The Strip kind of stops abruptly after Treasure Island and The Venetian. You’ve got the Wynn right there, but the next big casino is the last one – Stratosphere.

The next day was our day trip to the Grand Canyon. We purchased our tour from Grand Canyon Tours for $80. It’s pretty much an all-day thing. They have a shuttle that picks you up at your hotel and takes you to Planet Hollywood where the buses leave from. You pick up a breakfast item and a drink then board your bus. There a few tours that the company offers and we took the longest – the South Rim tour. After much deliberation on my behalf we went with the South Rim because I had heard that the South Rim has prettier views than the West Rim tour. With the West Rim tour, you’re not gone as long, but it only takes you to the Hualapai reservation and Skywalk, which is an additional $30 on top of what you paid to get out there. Anyways, the South Rim is absolutely gorgeous. And the bus ride out there isn’t too bad. You make a couple of pit stops for lunch and for gas, you take Route 66 for a bit and there’s lots of pretty scenery to look at along the way. You only spend 2 hours at the canyon, but it’s enough to whet your appetite if you’ve never been. And I learned a valuable tip for when I go back during the summer – the donkey rides are impossible to book. You need to call ahead 2 years before you want to go for reservations.

On the return trip from the canyon we did slow down for a view of the Hoover Dam. Alas, it was dark so you really only saw the lights. If you book through this company I would recommend getting something to eat when you stop for gas on the way back – there is a Subway in the gas station. You do get back into town at a decent hour, though. It was a little after 9, so the night was still young. Seeing as this was our last night in Vegas we hit up the last few casinos that we hadn’t been to yet, like the Flamingo. We also went to Fremont Street to check out “old” Las Vegas and tracked down the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign (hint: it’s south of Luxor). Just a tip – Fremont Street is way out of the way of the Strip. It was $30 one way to get out there!

Will I go back? Of course! I need to ride that roller coaster, after all. The City of Sin may not be as sinful as it was, but it is still a city of decadence. Whether it’s the hotel casinos, the gambling or the food, there is plenty of Vegas to go around. Pick what strikes you as fun and interesting and lose yourself in the City of Neon Lights.

I have slain the beast erstwhile known as jet-lag (and also been working more than usual). Now, to blog!

First off, I’m going to do a quick review of Delta’s mobile app. It’s something that I’ve used before and I love it. You don’t have to worry about printing and/or losing your boarding passes anymore since it’s all on your smartphone. You can find out if your flight has been delayed and all that jazz right there. A feature that has been added since the last time I used it is the luggage tracking feature. Since I was checking luggage, I was looking forward to trying this feature out. All you have to do is scan the bar code they give you at the check-in desk (or on Droids you have to type it in). The app saves your number so you can pull it up whenever you want during your trip. Using the inflight wifi is free when you’re accessing the app or the Delta website, so once you are on your flight, just pull up your claim number and it will tell you where your luggage is. If you’re lucky enough to have your luggage on-board, it will look like the image on the right. It really did give me peace-of-mind since I packed pretty much everything into my suitcase (find me a woman who can pack for 10 days into a carry-on and you’ll find yourself a saint). My only complaint is that on a couple of legs of my trip the info on the app wasn’t updated. Granted, my bags weren’t lost at the end of the day, but the only info I got on baggage tracking was that it was checked in at the desk. Overall, it is a wonderful tool for when you’re traveling.

Now, onto the fun stuff.

My first day there, my friends took me to Cabrillo National Monument, named for the first European to set foot on the west coast of the United States. I brought crummy, cloudy weather with me, but even with the weather, the park still has a spectacular views of San Diego Bay and the city on one side of you and the Pacific Ocean on the other. There are also some tide pools, which were fun to climb around. Apparently there are sea otters around there in the kelp forests, but we didn’t see any. I love those cute little guys. There is also the original lighthouse, where you can get a little taste of history and see what life was like the those stationed there over 100 years ago while playing Angry Birds on your smartphone. Overall, it was a great place to see the city from and those tide pools were fun to climb around and watch the waves crash against.

After Cabrillo, we went down to Coronado, home of the famous Hotel del Coronado. It’s mostly home to the Navy base, which I got to visit as well (my friend’s hubby works there). The hotel is gorgeous! It was on the list in the original 1000 Places to see Before You Die before it was updated, and you can clearly see why. I wish I had taken more pictures of the lobby area, but I only took one of the chandelier. I finally can say I’ve been from sea to shining sea, as well. We walked out onto the beach and I touched the Pacific Ocean. By this point, jet lag was catching up pretty harshly, so we called it a day.

Day #2 got off to a slow start, but we made our way up to Los Angeles. Originally we were going to spend that day at Disneyland, but it didn’t end up that way since we left so late. We ended up going to Hollywood instead. And Hollywood Blvd. is the tourist trap I thought it would be. For being such a movie fanatic, you would think I would’ve been more excited. I really only had 5 goals – Grauman’s Chinese Theater, a good shot of the Hollywood sign, Johnny Depp & Marilyn Monroe’s stars and a shot glass from a souvenir shop. Well, I got all 5 in and we were only there for maybe 2 hours tops. Luckily it’s very compact right there and pretty much everything is within a few blocks – unless you really want to see all of the Walk of Fame. The mall that is right by the Kodak Theater has a great vantage point for the Hollywood sign, the Chinese Theater is right there by the Kodak Theater and luckily Johnny and Marilyn’s stars weren’t too far off. A bit of advice for those interested in the Walk of Fame – save yourself the money on Hollywood Blvd.and check out the website. They have the addresses for the stars and you can just do a quick map check on the old smartphone when you get there to find the ones you are looking for. There are also a lot of interesting characters roaming the boulevard, literally. People in costumes tend to hang out in front of Grauman’s. Figuratively, there were certainly questionable fashion choices made by some natives, and I’m sure they thought they looked fabulous. I saw one guy in neon pink skinny jeans and a leather jacket. Really? Anyways, Hollywood Blvd. was fun and good way to spend a couple hours in LA.

Next up was Disneyland. I was excited to see if my theory about great times to visit Disney World would be similar at Disneyland. I was right. It was pretty slow around Disneyland both days we were there, which was great because we had a 4 month old with us, which meant frequent stops for feedings and diaper changes. I think the longest we waited for anything was maybe 20 minutes. And as an added bonus, I got on most everything twice with the Child Swap.

The most jarring difference between Disneyland and Disney World is size. I just looked at the numbers on Wikipedia. California Adventure and Disneyland combine for a measly 152 acres, which is only 10 acres more than Magic Kingdom down in WDW! But, that’s the price you pay when you’re developing a theme park in a very urban area. Orlando pretty much sprung up around WDW and it still have lots of land to grow on. But I digress. We’re here to talk Disneyland.

They were renovating the main entrance to California Adventure to make it look like Buena Vista Street in Burbank when Disney arrived and set up shop, which will be amazing I’m sure. But, regardless, we had to take the long way into the park, which spit us out by Soarin’. Now, this is one of my favorites down at Epcot, so it was nice to see the same thing. They also have a clone of The Tower of Terror, my favorite ride from Hollywood Studios, as well as Muppetvision 3D and Toy Story Mania. My top 3 California Adventure-specific rides would be California Screamin’, the Ferris wheel and Ariel’s Undersea Adventure (she’s my favorite princess).

California Screamin’ is your typical roller coaster. It shoots you off into a track of twists, turns and a loop. Overall, it’s pretty darn enjoyable. Of the Disney coasters I’ve been on, it’d be in the top 3 behind Expedition Everest and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster.

Depending on your constitution in regards to motion sickness, there are two rides on the Ferris wheel. There is the standard, boring track around the outside, but then there is a track on the inside where the cars move back and forth. If you’re like me and love pushing your limits, take the swinging cars. Between the momentum of the swinging you would get naturally and our carefully-timed rocking, we made our car go vertical a couple of times.

And how can I forget Ariel’s Undersea Adventure? It’s nothing special, just a dark ride similar to Peter Pan/Alice in Wonderland/Snow White. But as an avid Ariel fan, we had to do it. I am not ashamed to admit that I was singing along most of the time with my friend. Her husband was luckily in another car with the baby, so he didn’t have to put up with us.

Also of note in California Adventure is Grizzly River Runs. As it was barely in the 60’s when we were there, we forewent the water ride. I am sure it is great in the middle of summer, but it was too chilly to walk around with wet clothes.

There is also an attraction called Blue Sky Cellar, which is essentially a preview of things that they are constructing at California Adventure. There were models and schematics of the Buena Vista Street and Cars Land construction projects, so it was neat to see what Disney Imagineering had up their sleeves for the park. As a side note, they could certainly use something like this at WDW.

There is also an attraction called Disney Animation, which was actually a lot of fun. They brought Turtle Talk with Crush to this building, as well as a couple of other interactive exhibits centered around the Disney animated movies. The lobby of this area is great – they focus on a certain movie and project images from that movie and play some of the music. It is also home to the Animation Academy where they’ll have an animator come out and show you how to draw certain characters. We went through twice and drew Pluto and Jack Skellington. If we waited for a third time, we would’ve learned how to draw Mickey, but it was getting late at that point.

Now, onto the original – Disneyland!

In terms of layout, it is pretty much a dead ringer forMagic Kingdom aside from the size of the park. You walk in and head down Main Street, with all the shops and food. On the right is Tomorrowland, which then loops back towards Fantasyland, Mickey’s Toon Town and then into Frontierland and Adventureland on the other side. Disneyland has the added lands of Critter Country and New Orleans Square, as well.

We skipped a whole lot of Disneyland, mostly because I wanted to do things that I’d never been on since it’s not in WDW. I did go on Star Tours because I wanted to see what they had changed. Since I last did Star Tours, they’ve changed the film and it is now 3D. And not only did they change the film – there’s different adventures that you go on. I had 2 different films, but I’m not sure how many they are using now. We also did the Nemo submarine ride. It’s nothing spectacular to be honest, but I do enjoy my Nemo.

In Fantasyland we rode the tea-cups. We got it spinning so fast it took me a long time to recuperate from the dizziness. One thing I was particularly sad about was the fact that Matterhorn was down for repairs. All the more reason to go back, I suppose. Also back in Fantasyland is where you will find most of your traditional Disney princesses. We hit the jackpot and got to meet all 6 of the traditional princesses, as well as Rapunzel from Tangled. Anyways, there’s a spot called Disney Princess Fantasy Faire. Of course you won’t know who you’ll meet until you actually enter, but we lucked out. Ariel, Cinderella and Belle were there for us. My friend told me that she’s also seen Mulan and Tianna from The Princess and the Frog there as well.

Mickey’s Toon Town is alright from an adult’s perspective. If you want to meet Mickey and Minnie, this is where you’ll want to go. There’s also a Roger Rabbit ride back here that’s pretty fun. It broke down on us just as we were reaching the exit, so we had to wait, but it was still fun. I’m sure the people who got stuck behind us got an eyeful of behind-the-scenes fun.

A small Disney Princess note for those who will look for them – we found Sleeping Beauty and Snow White around the castle. If you are looking at the castle from the park entrance/Main Street USA, we found Sleeping Beauty on the left. She was pretty obvious and easy to find. On the right side of the castle there is a small niche. You’ll probably think nothing of it, but Snow White is back there with her wishing well and a waterfall with the Seven Dwarves.

Frontierland and Adventureland are also pretty much the same as their counterparts in WDW. We only did Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Indiana Jones and Pirates of the Caribbean back in those areas. The Indiana Jones ride is pretty awesome. It reminds me of The Mummy ride in Universal Studios Orlando – you’re in a Jeep and they take you through an adventure, in this case with Indy. Pirates of the Caribbean and Big Thunder Mountain are almost the same as the rides in WDW, but those are a couple of my favorites. New Orleans Square and Critter Country are also tucked back in this area of the park.

So, enough about Disneyland.

What else is there to do in San Diego? I’d highly recommend checking out Balboa Park, formerly the site of a couple of expositions back in 1915 and 1935. There are 16 museums which are housed in the buildings from the expositions and loads of gardens here. It’s also home of the world-famous San Diego Zoo. Time was limited so we only went to the Natural History Museum. Next time I will certainly be going to the zoo, the Museum of Man and the Museum of Art. Back in LA I’ll be wanting to hit up the rest of the places listed on the 1000 Places list, like Santa Monica and what not.

1000 Places to see Before You Die on this trip: 2 completed.

Next up: Vegas, baby!

I have safely returned from not one, but 2 trips to Chicago. The first time was for a mini-family vacation and the second was for Lollapalooza. I was also there for a few days last summer with a girlfriend of mine and we did a whirlwind tour and hit a lot of the tourist hotspots. Time to report in, so to speak.

For anyone planning a trip to Chicago, don’t feel obligated to stay downtown. The city has an excellent transit system, so as long as you have a bus stop or El (subway) station within walking distance, you’re golden. I’ve stayed as far out as Evanston and was not more than half an hour away from the heart of the city. I’d also recommend buying an unlimited CTA pass on their website. They have 3-day and 7-day passes and are the best option if you plan on using their transit instead of driving everywhere. It’s a lot easier than trying to track down $2.25 in exact change each time you need to hop on a bus.

Now, what’s there to do in Chicago, you ask? A lot, let’s be honest. There’s Museum Campus, shopping on Michigan Ave., the Sears/Willis Tower, etc. etc. etc. When I was there last year we got CityPass, which back then got you into the Shedd Aquarium, Adler Planetarium, Museum of Science of Industry, the Field Museum and either the SkyDeck at Sears/Willis Tower or the observation deck at the Hancock Building. Now apparently you get to choose between Adler and the Art Institute. And all this only costs you $76! You’re saving about $80, so it’s really the best economical choice you can make.

Here’s a quick rundown of what I thought of everything:

– Shedd Aquarium: It’s the most popular tourist attraction in Chicago. That was glaringly evident when we were there last summer. I love aquariums. If there’s one to go to where ever I am visiting, I want to go. But it was near-impossible for me to enjoy it because there were so many people there! And it wasn’t just families that were clogging it up. It was enjoyable, don’t get me wrong. I mean, there was a baby beluga! How can you not enjoy that? But the crowd level was definitely detrimental to my visit. Either be prepared for the summer tourist crowd or go during the other seasons when tourism is at lower levels.

– Adler Planetarium: Nicely done, but I wish I had the option to go to the Art Institute last year like they have now. The exhibitions are presented very well, I am just more drawn to art museums. It’s also a sad state of affairs in our educational system when a grown woman answers all the elementary-level questions in the Sky Theater show when any average kid should be able to answer it by high school. But I digress. If you’re a science geek like me, there is plenty to enjoy.

– Museum of Science and Industry (MSI): Love it! There’s so much to see and do here! There’s the Science Storms exhibit, which I loved! There’s a giant Tesla coil to simulate lightning and a wave simulator tank to demonstrate how tsunamis form. My personal favorite was a periodic table where you would place a pog onto an element, combine it with pogs placed on other elements and see what kind of reaction you would get. Examples: 1 Na pog and 1 Cl pog will give you salt, 2 H pogs and 1 O pog will give you water. For the life of me I can’t remember what gave you this reaction, but you can also get a volcanic explosion and some other explosive material. I think I spent half an hour alone just playing at this table. But that’s just scratching the surface.

– Field Museum: Whoa buddy is this museum a big one! Another one of my favorites. It’s home to Sue, the largest, most complete T-rex skeleton ever found. There’s loads of things to do here, from the Ancient Americas exhibit to Evolving Planet to the Hall of Gems.

– SkyDeck: This is the observation deck at Sears/Willis Tower. It’s technically called Willis Tower now, but it’ll always be Sears Tower for me. It’s a 60 second ride to the top and has some beautiful views of downtown Chicago. If you have the stomach for it, there are these glass boxes that extend out over the street so that you’re standing 103 stories up in the air. It’s a trip, let me tell you. I have yet to go to the observation deck at Hancock, but from what I understand there is a bar there. 🙂 It’s also on Michigan Ave. so you’re closer to the lake and can get a view of the shopping.

– Wrigley Field: Home to the Chicago Cubs! It’s not so much about the game at Wrigley, it’s an experience. Instead of building a baseball stadium and developing the area around it, Wrigley was plopped down in the middle of an already existing neighborhood. If you go during baseball season, I’d pick up some tickets and enjoy an afternoon/evening of baseball and some beers.

– The Art Institute: A wonderful way to spend a day. They have quite a collection! They’ve got pieces from all of my favorite artists…Monet, Picasso, Dali, Van Gogh. It’s also home to pop culture icons “American Gothic” and “Nighthawks.” I only got to spend a couple of hours there, but it’s easy to hit the big stuff in that time frame. I will definitely be spending more time there next time I’m in town.

– River Architecture Tour: We went on a Wendella cruise of the river and lakefront. It starts in the shadow of the Wrigley building and Trump Tower and takes you along the river. The guide will point out various buildings and rattle off some fun factoids about them. If you like pretty buildings, I’d give this a go.

Now, as far as Lollapalooza is concerned…

Wow, what a trip. It was one of the best weekends over my life by leaps and bounds. I didn’t get to see a lot of the smaller bands like I originally intended to, but I wanted kick-ass seats for the headliners – Muse, Eminem and Foo Fighters. Seeing all 3 of them made it worth the trip. Like I’ve been telling everyone now that I’m home…despite getting soaked to the bone twice, muddy, bruised, kicked by crowdsurfers and spraining an ankle, I had an excellent time. I think it’s a sign of a good weekend at a rock concert if you come back broken, bruised or remember the weekend in a haze. The whole weekend I was wondering why I haven’t been there before. I’ve even gone ahead and booked a hotel for next year! I’m ready to do it all over again already. There are some handy tips I will pass on for my sake next year and for those who plan to go in the future. A) Bring water. You’re allowed to bring 2 bottles in a day, so save yourself from paying $6 a bottle and bring your own. They also have Camelbak refill stations, so that’s another smart way to go. B) Plan for all types of weather. Bring what you need to get you through heat and rain because you’ll be going through both at some point. C) If you’re uncomfortable in crowds,  or can’t handle being outside and on your feet for hours on end, save yourself the time and money and don’t go. Also, for the women out there, please don’t think of this as an opportunity to show off your fashion sense. You will get sweaty and muddy and all-around gross. If it rains, your hair is going to get ruined and your makeup will run. Just save yourself from looking like a tool. It’s a rock concert, not a fashion show. Wear something comfortable that you don’t mind getting stinky and dirty in. I for one will think more highly of you. Believe me, I saw less and less glitz and glamour as the weekend progressed.

Now, for a bucket list of things left that I haven’t done: the gangsters tour, a Segway tour, the Lincoln Park zoo, a show at Second City, the Chicago History Museum and a Bears game at Soldier Field. Someday soon I’ll be able to knock all that off my list of things to do and see.

1000 Places to see Before You Die on these trips: 5 completed.

Up next, a trip to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter!