10 Best Comic Book Stores in the US

Comic books aren’t just for shy and bookish kids anymore. Thanks in part to Hollywood and to the upsurge of counterculturalism, the world of fantasy, superheroes and villains that once only belonged to introverts is now a cool thing. Just look at the crowds that swarm ComicCon in San Diego every year.

One of the best things about comic books – aside, of course, from the fact that they promote heroism and assert that good guys always triumph in the end – is that they’re easily the most accessible and the most effective way to distract the kids, especially on long flights or drives.

So if you happen to be visiting one of these cities with the kids and they’re getting somewhat antsy, a pit stop at these awesome comic book stores might just be what your vacation needs:

 

Austin, TX – Austin Books & Comics

Austin Books & Comics in Austin, TXAustin Books & Comics in Austin, TX (Google Maps)

Opened in 1977, Austin Books & Comics is one of Texas’ biggest and longest running comic book stores. Taking your comic book fans and young collectors here is a must while in the Texan capital. Not only do they sell the latest issues and lines, they also carry many first editions and back issues as well as an entire department dedicated to collectibles, which means that you might have to discuss their shopping allowance before your visit. (5002 N Lamar Blvd, 512-454-4197)

Baltimore, MD – Atomic Books

Founded in 1992 in downtown Baltimore, this independent Hampden comic book store sells alternative and underground comic books as well as zines and books. If the young comic book fans in your family are ready to upgrade from the usual superhero stories to the more experimental or unconventional titles and comic lines, they’ll definitely enjoy a visit or two. This store is so radical, in fact, that director John Waters actually picks up his fan mail there regularly. (3620 Falls Rd, 410-662-4444)

Charlotte, NC – Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find

What’s in a name? Well, with an epic one like “Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find,” this North Carolina comic book store, owned by HeroesCon founder Shelton Drum, impressively lives up to expectations. It’s not only one of the largest comic book retailers in the US, it also has an impressive collection of back issues as well as prides itself in the diversity of its comics, carrying lines from virtually every genre. (1957 E 7th St, 704-375-7462)

Chicago, IL – Quimby’s Bookstore

Quimby’s Bookstore in ChicagoQuimby’s Bookstore in Chicago (Flickr: Pat Loika)

An independent bookstore in Chicago’s Wicker Park, Quimby’s is more for those with a taste for the avant garde. They specialize in underground comics, unusual publications and independent zines. If your teen is tired of the usual superhero in spandex tale and is looking for less mainstream reads, this bookstore is definitely a necessary stop while in the Windy City. (1854 W. North Ave, 773-342-0910)

Los Angeles, CA – Meltdown Comics

Located on the famous Sunset Boulevard, this 14,000-square-foot comic book store is frequented by comic book fans visiting Los Angeles. And its massive collection of not just the latest, but also the best comic books is but a tip of the iceberg. Meltdown Comics also has a lot of cool collectibles, merch and toys for your young collectors and an art gallery for the artists in your family. (7522 Sunset Blvd, 323-851-7223)

New Orleans, LA – Crescent City Comics

With their friendly and knowledgeable staff who are more than willing to offer recommendations and a treasure trove of comic book goodies – from comic books and graphic novels, some staff-curated, to action figures and other toys and memorabilia – this Big Easy comic book store is a sure hit with the locals, young and old. (4916 Freret St, 504- 891-3796)

New York City, NY – JHU Comic Books

JHU Comic Books in New York CityJHU Comic Books in New York City (Flickr: Joey)

NYC has a number of impressive comic book stores, including fan favorites Midtown Comics and Forbidden Planet, but JHU Comic Books is more of a purist’s paradise. While other comic book stores in the city fill their shelves with other products like cards and board games, JHU focuses more on the comics themselves, with shelves filled with great selections of the latest releases and back issues from wall to wall. Plus, the staff is very friendly. (32 East 32nd St, 212-268-7088)

Portland, OR – Floating World Comics

Floating World Comics in Portland, ORFloating World Comics in Portland, OR (Floating World Comics)

A true Portland establishment, Floating World Comics is more than just a comic book store. It’s a hip community, hosting art shows and a tiny vinyl department. Priding itself on cool aesthetics and style, this is a comic book mecca with a vinyl store feel where independent works, art books and zines fill shelves just as much as the more mainstream comics, graphic novels and mangas. Both the future artists and the comic book lovers in your family will more than appreciate a stopover during your Portland vacation. (400 NW Couch St, 503- 241-0227)

San Francisco, CA – Cartoon Art Museum Bookstore

What can you expect from a store that is attached to the only comics and cartoon museum in the West Coast? Where do we even begin? To start with, comic books and cartoons vie for shelf space with history, how-to and art books. Then there are the DVDs, toys, postcards, and other comics and cartoon-related merch. And just because this bookstore in San Francisco’s Financial District is packed to the brim with virtually anything you’re looking for in a comic book store, doesn’t mean they don’t have space for other things. They also support local young artists and regularly host hip community events. (Cartoon Art Museum has temporarily closed its doors to prepare for a move to a new location, and have temporarily moved to the Renaissance Entrepreneur Center (275 5th Street). Keep checking their site for updates on their new home.)

Washington D.C. – Big Planet Comics

If the cool aesthetics of their blue-and-yellow exterior doesn’t get the kids dragging you through the doors, then Big Planet Comics’ impressive collection inside will. This store, originally from Georgetown, prefers the more independent, small-press titles as well as stuff from Europe and Japan that your kids probably haven’t even heard of, but they also carry the more popular ones. True to its name, BPC has established its own comic book world, with podcasts, book signing and meet-and-greet events, and their very own, albeit tiny, comic book publishing house. (1520 U St NW, 202-342-1961)

 

(Originally published on MiniTime.com)

all rights reserved. no part of this blog post may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission from the author.

Best Ice Cream Sandwich Parlors in the US

Sweet Republic's assortment of ice cream sandwiches in ScottsdaleSweet Republic’s assortment of ice cream sandwiches in Scottsdale (Sweet Republic)

Ice cream is arguably the one dessert that everybody, adults and kids alike, cannot help but love – maybe it’s because not only does it cool you down on hot summer days, it’s also very comforting. Or perhaps it’s partly because whatever dessert flavor your taste buds fancy, you’ll most likely find that flavor in ice cream – whether it be vanilla, chocolate, or something more unusual like honey lavender or even bacon.

With National Ice Cream Sandwich Day taking place on August 2, we’ve selected 9 of the best ice cream sandwich parlors in the country so you can properly celebrate the occasion:

 

MOOmers Homemade Ice Cream. Moomers has been name-dropped by many as one of the best ice cream shops in the US, and that’s hard to argue with, especially when this Traverse City ice cream paradise milks its own cows. Its cowpie ice cream sandwich, either with chocolate chip or sugar cookies, is to-die for. 7263 N Long Lake Rd. Traverse City, MI 49685; 231-941-4122.

 

S'mores ice cream sandwich at Coolhaus in Los AngelesS’mores ice cream sandwich at Coolhaus in Los Angeles (Coolhaus )

Coolhaus. This delicious LA haunt started as a food truck, but mixing unusual flavors (blueberry sweet corn, brown candied bacon) with popular cookie flavors (chocolate chip, red velvet) all wrapped into edible wrapping paper apparently works since Coolhaus blew up into a successful ice cream sandwich shop that’s a favorite with Angelenos. 8588 Washington Blvd, Culver City; 310-424-555.

 

Magnolia Bakery. The ice cream sandwiches are seasonal here and only available during the summer months so hurry up to this New York City bakery, which offers Ronnybrook Dairy ice cream packed between delicious cookie “buns” that come in different types, including double fudge brownie, lemon bar, and red velvet. These sandwiches are a sure treat for those humid NYC months.11 Fulton Street, New York City; 855-MBAKERY.

 

Sweet Republic. This all-natural, handmade artisan ice cream shop is an institution. It prides itself in using the purest local ingredients and recipes that set it apart from all the rest. And its ice cream sandwiches? Well, they’re made to order with freshly-baked cookies so that the experience of eating them is as delightful as the flavors themselves. 9160 E Shea Blvd, Scottsdale; 480-248-6979.

 

Fresh delivery from San Francisco's Garden CreameryFresh delivery from San Francisco’s Garden Creamery (Garden Creamery)

Garden Creamery. “Sweet cold treats made fresh,” is San Francisco’s Garden Creamery’s slogan. Much like LA’s Coolhaus, it made a name for itself in the streets as an ice cream truck. Garden Creamery’s handcrafted dairy delights are made from the freshest local ingredients; and its Classic Vanilla Mouse Oatmeal Cookie Sandwich, half dipped in chocolate, will keep kids as well as adults coming back for more. Check out the truck’s weekly schedule on their website.

 

Chocolate truffle with backyard mint sandwich at Jeni's in Columbus, OHChocolate truffle with backyard mint sandwich at Jeni’s in Columbus, OH (Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams)

Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. This Columbus, Ohio ice cream shop indeed has a splendid and surprising collection of flavors – from brambleberry to goat cheese to saison with sunflower seeds and flax. And their ice cream sandwiches come in chocolate hazelnut, chocolate truffle and mint, oatmeal, salty caramel, and even orchid vanilla. If that doesn’t make your mouth water, then what will? Find a shop near you on their website.

 

Diddy Riese. Dreaming of building your own ice cream sandwich? Dream no more. LA’s Diddy Riese, an ice cream and cookie shop, has been the City of Angels’ go-to tasty treat shop since 1983; and for less than $2, your kids can make their own ice cream sandwiches with the freshest cookies, mixing and matching them any way they want. With ice cream flavors like Strawberry Cheesecake Chunk and Mint Chip as well as several types of cookies including chocolate with white chocolate chip and peanut butter, the possibilities are practically endless! 926 Broxton Avenue, Westwood; 310-208-0448.

 

Payard. French macarons are heavenly enough on their own, but somebody had the brilliant idea of combining them with ice cream. Chef Francois Payard created the culinary innovation that is the macaron ice cream sandwich as a fusion of the American and French food cultures. Even better, they come in delightful flavors like coconut mango and raspberry pistachio. 1293 Third Ave, New York; (212) 717-5252.

 

MILK's macaron ice cream sandwiches in Los AngelesMILK’s macaron ice cream sandwiches in Los Angeles (MILK)

MILK. And speaking of these ingenious inventions, LA’s MILK isn’t just about cookies and sundaes. Their macaron ice cream sandwiches that come in different MILK ice cream flavors, made with seasonal ingredients, are not only to-die for, they are also massive. No wonder it’s become one of the favorite dessert haunts in Los Angeles. 7290 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles; 323-939-6455.

 

(Originally published on MiniTime.com)

all rights reserved. no part of this blog post may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission from the author.

5 Best Milkshakes in America’s Big Cities

Take the kids out for a special foodie treat.Take the kids out for a special foodie treat. (Flickr: Jim Champion)

Since the 30s, milkshakes have been one of America’s favorite drinks. And with classic favorites like chocolate, strawberry, and banana, it’s hardly a mystery. Kids, teens, and even adults just can’t get enough these ice cream treats, so much so that you can pretty much get them in most restaurants nowadays, from fast food joints to fancier cafes.

Like with pretty much everything, however, some milkshakes are just undeniably better than others. If you happen to live or find yourself in one of these five cities, take the kids – heck, take the entire family – out for a treat at one of these spots, which incidentally serve some of America’s best milkshakes.

 

Franklin Fountain (Philadelphia)

Franklin Fountain is not just an old-fashioned soda shop in Philly. It’s an American institution. Locals and tourists make sure to stop at this spot housed in a turn-of-the-century building and treat themselves to Franklin’s famous homemade ice cream that come in yummy flavors like vanilla bean, chocolate chip, franklin mint chip, teaberry gum, and maple walnut. But the best part is they can make any of their ice cream flavors into a shake, so that anyone, but especially the kids, can enjoy their legendary ice cream with a brightly-colored straw. 116 Market St., Philadelphia; 215-627-1899.

 

Edzo’s Burger Shop (Chicago)

Milkshake at Edzo's Burger Shop in ChicagoMilkshake at Edzo’s Burger Shop in Chicago (Edzo’s Burger Shop)

“Nothin’ fancy here” is what this favorite burger joint says of their milkshakes – you know, just vanilla ice cream with the patron’s choice of Oreos, peanut butter, or bananas. That might be true, but it hasn’t prevented Edzo’s Burger Shop from becoming one of Chicago’s best burger joints and America’s best milkshake shops. Like their delicious grassfed and freshly made burger patties and their hand-cut fries, their milkshakes are made from hand-dipped vanilla ice cream and blended with old-style slow mix machines, making their shakes some of the creamiest and smoothest shakes you and the kids will ever have in your life. Tell the kids to ask for their off-the-menu flavors for a yummy surprise. 1571 Sherman Ave., Evanston; 847-864-3396.

 

Lexington Candy Shop (New York City)

Chocolate milkshake at Lexington Candy Shop in New York CityChocolate milkshake at Lexington Candy Shop in New York City (Lexington Candy Shop)

Take a trip back in time and go retro at NYC’s Lexington Candy Shop. This luncheonette is as eye-catchingly timeless as its samplings are delicious. Vintage kitchen appliances, a historical Coca Cola display, and old photos hanging in frames on the walls treat your eyes while their famous ice cream shakes and malts, made from Bassetts Super Premium Ice Cream and come in classic flavors, will satisfy your hungry troops. And of course, don’t forget to sample their grub – you’ll regret it if you don’t. 1226 Lexington Ave., New York; 212-288-0057.

 

Milk (Los Angeles)

Milkshake at MILK in Los AngelesMilkshake at MILK in Los Angeles (Credit: Rye N.)

This Westside favorite makes their own desserts and confections – from cookies to cupcakes – and they also churn their own frozen delights. While famous for their wonderful ice cream macaroon sandwiches, which come in unbelievably huge helpings, they’re also frequented for the dripping goodness of their shakes and floats. Kids and adults alike can have their pick from the menu, which include flavors like coffee toffee crunch shake, the MILKIE way, and triple chocolate, or they can DIY their way to milkshake heaven. 7290 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles; 323-939-6455.

 

Ted’s Bulletin (Washington, D.C.)

Ted’s Bulletin's milkshakes in Washington D.C.Ted’s Bulletin’s milkshakes in Washington D.C. (Ted’s Bulletin)

In their father’s honor, Mark and Ty Neal opened Ted’s Bulletin, a Rammy-nominated family-style and owned restaurant that’s made its name in the capital with their hearty, home cooked-style meals. But delectable helpings of ham steaks, eggs, and burgers aside, Ted’s milkshakes have proven to be an attraction all on their own. And with flavors like root beer float, s’mores, PBJ, and apple pie for the kids and Grasshopper, White Russian, and Tequila Sunrise for the adults, it definitely comes as no surprise. 505 8th Street SE, Washington DC; 202-544-8337.

 

(Originally published on MiniTime.com)

all rights reserved. no part of this blog post may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission from the author.

Cool Road Trip Must Haves for the Kids

PlanetBox bento boxes for enjoyable lunch stops.PlanetBox bento boxes for enjoyable lunch stops. (Courtesy PlanetBox)

The sun is high, the days are long and temperatures are rising. It’s summertime once again, and with the kids out of school, families are leaving their cares behind and gearing up for a summer vacation that takes them to their dream family destinations for an extended period with nothing to do but simply relax and unwind. Some will fly; others will take to the sea, cruising their way to exotic ports and beautiful lands. A fraction more will go on the road, favoring the surprising sights and spontaneous stops and detours the open road has in store.

If you’re one of those families hitting the road this summer, pack your bags, load up the car and don’t forget those multi-use Ziplocks (you’re bound to find some use for them during your trip!) But before you pull out of your driveway and head to a new adventure with the kids, consider bringing these five very handy yet admittedly cool road trip accessories with you. Your kids will love them, and you’ll be eternally grateful for them.

 

PlanetBox’s Bento Boxes

Two of the trickiest things about being on the road are being able to save money on food and eating healthy. An easy solution is to fill that ice cooler with your family’s favorite meals, drinks and snacks and load it up in the back (or in the backseat for quicker access, if there’s space), and you’re all set!

To keep your food organized and also have well-portioned meals, PlanetBox’ sturdy, eco-friendly bento boxes, are a great way to go. Whether your packing wraps and sandwiches or proper meals with meats, veggies and desert, these awesome lunch boxes are perfect for different levels of appetite as they come in three different sizes – Shuttle, Rover, and Launch. Each box also come with different compartments for a balanced meal, an easy-to-use latch to keep your food nice and secured, and a fun magnet design set for personalization.

Complete the set and get a no-spill Big Dipper container for thick soups and wet dishes, a Little Dipper dip container, a BottleRocket drink container and an insulated carry bag to keep the kids’ food nice and warm. Purchase one for every member of the family, and road trip lunch stops will be easier than ever! PlanetBox lunch boxes start at $34.95.

 

Little Passports

Take Little Passports with you during your road trip.Take Little Passports with you during your road trip. (Courtesy Little Passports)

Adorable activity booklets packed with games, trivias, information, DIY instructions and even simple recipes as well as stickers, postcards, and other fun travel-related items will not only inspire your little travel bugs and get them excited about your trip but also provide the perfect fun and educational entertainment for those long stretches of road where there’s nothing to see or do. Little Passport’s travel subscription boxes, which include a brightly-colored carrying case, making them convenient to carry anywhere, are for kids 3 to 12 years of age, but teens and adults will love them too! Monthly subscriptions start at $11.95.

 

Flip’n’Check

Flip 'N' Checks are perfect car games!Flip ‘N’ Checks are perfect car games! (Courtesy Flip ‘N’ Check)

There’s nothing better to keep the younger ones entertained than with everyone’s favorite activity games, but paper activity books are so wasteful and downloadable mobile games keep our kids glued to their devices. So try Flip ‘N’ Check’s awesome line of educational games instead, which delivers a new twist on classic games like crosswords, mazes, word searches, Mad Libs and other puzzles with an awesome dry-erase feature.

Each Flip ‘N’ Check glossy, colorful activity book comes with a variety of 20 educational game sheets, a dry-erase marker, and a panel with a thick, clear dry-erase board so the kids can play the games as much as they want without leaving a single mark on the sheets, making it easy to reuse, reduce and recycle! And it travels well with its compact design and hard cover, making it great for road trips as well as flights and family cruises. Flip ‘N’ Check activity games are perfect for kids ages 5 and up.

Best of all, they were developed and designed by entrepreneurial teens from New York City under the not-for-profit Teen Entrepreneur Boot Camp, a program that teaches entrepreneurship to high school students, so you’re giving back with each purchase. Each Flip ‘N’ Check activity book retails at $14.99, with all the proceeds going back to the program.

 

onanoff BuddyPhones

Kids love BuddyPhones.Kids love BuddyPhones. (Courtesy Onanoff)

A few years ago, it was High School Musical. These days, it’s Frozen. They make for great family sing-a-longs, especially on long drives; but adults can only listen to “Let It Go” so many times. Along comes onanoff BuddyPhones, the ultimate listening companions for kids so they can listen to their favorite Disney album on repeat or play their Nintendo 3DS games to their heart’s content while parents enjoy some peace and quiet. What’s more, these headphones’ built-in sound control feature that maintains volume levels at 85 decibels so they’re safe for our little ones’ gentle ears. And they’re durable and flexible too! An onanoff BuddyPhones retails at $24.95 each.

 

OneStepAhead Backseat Entertainment Car Organizer

Driving for many hours with kids, it’s hard to keep your car clean and tidy. Your newly-washed and vacuumed vehicle will eventually fill up with pieces of food, wrappers and toys, among other things. Along with a couple of trash bags, OneStepAhead’s Backseat Entertainment Car Organizer will keep those pesky messes away, with its expanded pockets that can carry anything from toys, books and electronic gadgets to water bottles, sippy cups and snacks to wet wipes and tissues. It’s everything you need to stay organized and avoid feeling crowded during your drives. But make sure that the kids are staying on top of organizing their own stuff too! A non-personalized Backseat Entertainment Car Organizer costs $19.95.

 

(Originally published on MiniTime.com)

all rights reserved. no part of this blog post may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission from the author.

Four Reasons to Take the Kids to Disneyland This Summer

Disneyland Park in AnaheimDisneyland Park in Anaheim (Courtesy Disney)

When the days are longer and the temperatures are higher, many families make that journey out west to Southern California where the weather is always perfect, the beaches are glorious, and there’s unforgettable, assorted fun to be had everywhere you turn. This summer, spend a day or two at the Disneyland Resort with the kids during your family vacation to complete the experience. Here are a few great reasons why.

 

1) The Fun Doesn’t Stop at Nightfall

Just because the sun has set, it doesn’t mean the fun has to end. In fact, at Disneyland, family fun’s only beginning. After spending the entire day running around from ride to ride, it’s time to set-up shop on Main Street U.S.A. (or in front of the Ferris Wheel at California Adventure) to see the three new spectaculars that will dazzle both kids and adults.

 

Ariel and King Triton are among your favorite Disney characters making an appearance at the Paint the Night Parade.
Ariel and King Triton are among your favorite Disney characters making an appearance at the Paint the Night Parade. (Courtesy Disney)

Paint the Night. Disneyland lights up with a river of some 1.5 million LED lights streaming down Main Street U.S.A from the new Paint the Night Parade. As part of the park’s 60th anniversary celebration, this parade of colors and lights is a one big moving musical party, featuring our favorite Disney characters – including Lightning McQueen, Ariel, Belle, Anna and Elsa, and Mickey – glittering and glowing from atop their illuminated floats. Kids aren’t likely to forget when a Disney princess blows them a kiss and will wonder how the performers seemingly control the lights on their costumes with their dance movements.

 

Journey to familiar but faraway lands with Disneyland Forever.
Journey to familiar but faraway lands with Disneyland Forever. (Courtesy Disney)

Disneyland Forever Fireworks. A visit to Disneyland is never complete without the fireworks over Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, but with the Disneyland Forever Fireworks, you’ll go beyond just watching the sky light up. Also a part of the Diamond Celebration, this nighttime spectacular transports you and your kids to familiar but faraway worlds without having to leave the park. One minute you’re standing on Main Street U.S.A. watching Tinker Bell start off the firework show, the next you’re in Ariel’s colorful world under the sea, in the middle of an animal migration in Africa, and in Arendelle with snow falling on your heads. After your magical journey, you’re transported back on Main Street for a perfect kiss goodnight.

 

World of Color – Celebrate! The Diamond Celebration extends to California Adventure and to one of its most popular attractions. During your visit, make sure to grab a FASTPASS for the nighttime showing of the bigger and better World of Color, hosted by Neil Patrick Harris and Mickey Mouse. The new and improved attraction will take you on a nostalgic experience as it showcases Walt Disney’s artistic journey, featuring his early creations and his very first visions for the Happiest Place on Earth.

 

2) Your Favorite Rides Have Reopened… With Swanky Upgrades

Keep an eye out for the Hatbox Ghost at the Haunted Mansion.
Keep an eye out for the Hatbox Ghost at the Haunted Mansion. (Courtesy Disney)

Haunted Mansion. Over in New Orleans Square, the kids’ favorite “scary” ride has reopened so families can once again experience the supernatural happenings in this ghoulish mansion. During your haunted tour, keep an eye out for the Hatbox Ghost as rumor has it that he’s back with a vengeance after a long absence!

Soarin’ Over California. Who doesn’t enjoy seeing California’s beautiful lands from up above? This family-favorite ride showcases everything the Golden State has to offer, from its irresistible Pacific coast to its rolling vineyards to its awe-inspiring High Sierra forests. And with updates to its screen and projection system, the ride feels even more real than before.

Matterhorn Bobsleds. Go on a bumpy ride, staggering down the famous Alps mountain, at the Matterhorn Bobsleds, which has also reopened for the Diamond Celebration. Watch out for the Abominable Snowman – he’s more ferocious than ever, especially after you come upon his stolen treasure.

 

3) Star in a Disney Musical

Diamond Mad T Party
Diamond Mad T Party (Courtesy Disney)

We all love to sing and dance along our favorite Disney movies, and secretly, we all want to part of those movies. At both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure Park, you can let go of your inhibitions and just let your inner princes and princesses take over. Kids and kids at heart will have plenty of opportunities to partake in a Disney musical with events like the Diamond March-Along, which lets guests join a Disney parade, the Diamond Sing-Alongs, the Diamond Dance-Alongs,Dream-Along and the Diamond Mad T Party.

 

4) There Are New Collectibles to Be Had

One of the best things about visiting a Disney park is you can take home that magic with you in the form of Disney merchandise. Whether you love collecting Disney pins, ear hats or shirts, enjoy decorating your home with Disney home accessories, or the kids want to spend their “park allowance” on a huggable plush toy, there are Diamond Celebration merchandise and souvenirs all over the park to splurge on and remember your visit by. Additionally, you also grab some Diamond Celebration cupcakes at both parks to satisfy your sweet craving during your visit.

For a family-friendly hotel on-site, consider staying at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, which features that famous Californian rustic and outdoorsy décor, themed pools with waterslide, special direct access to the California Adventure park, and early admission to the parks. For an off-site luxurious option, splurge at the beautiful and kid-friendly St. Regis Monarch Beach, which currently offers the “Monarch Magic” Disney package that includes chauffeured transportation to and from the Disney parks, four 1-day base tickets, a Mickey Mouse pancake breakfast for four and two 60th anniversary ear hats, as well as easy access to the beach for a taste of that irresistable California coast.

 

(Originally published on MiniTime.com)

all rights reserved. no part of this blog post may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission from the author.

8 Reasons to Spend Your Family Vacation at Boca Raton Resort & Club

Boca Raton Resort & Club exterior and poolBoca Raton Resort & Club exterior and pool (Courtesy Waldorf Astoria)

On Florida’s eastern coast not far from Miami is Boca Raton Resort & Club, a Southern luxury escape that presents an idyllic setting frequented by families and other patrons since the latter part of the Twenties. Not far from Florida’s major destinations but far enough to be pleasantly secluded, it’s the perfect option if you’re looking to get away from your hectic city life.

Here are eight wonderful reasons why you should spend your next vacation with the whole family in this Gold Coast resort.

 

It’s a quiet hideaway. While only an hour away from buzzing Miami, less than 30 minutes from Fort Lauderdale, and around two hours from Orlando, Boca Raton Resort & Club feels like you’re in another land altogether, nestled far away from the hustle and bustle of the city life. It’s the perfect spot for families looking for a relaxed, unaffected getaway without being far removed from civilization.

 

Its year-round tropical climate. Whether taking the kids during spring break, in the summer, or over the Christmas holidays, you will be treated to pleasant, sunny weather and warm, blue waters.

 

Beautiful front exterior of the resortBeautiful front exterior of the resort (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

Its beautiful architecture. The lovely façade of its original structure greets visitors as they pull into the main drive, peachy-pink in color and resembling the fictional Grand Budapest Hotel. The main lobby inside is just as remarkable, with bright interiors that feature high ceilings and windows, multiple archways, and an intricate design. Further into the property are gardens, fountains, mosaics, open air corridors, and other accents that help make this resort a romantic setting for a picturesque vacation in the South.

 

One of the many kid-friendly activities at the resort.One of the many kid-friendly activities at the resort. (Courtesy Waldorf Astoria)

It has many kid-friendly activities. Beyond the resort’s several kid-friendly pools, active families will find a good number of options to entertain the kids and keep them from getting bored, a task easier said than done. Arts & crafts, quests, and golf and tennis camps provide fun, educational experiences for the kids while the surf school, the new kid-favorite FlowRider, and other land and water activities keep them occupied. With the help of the resort’s well-furnished Mizner’s Quest Club and its trained staff, planning a fun vacation for the kids is effortless.

 

It has great activities for adults, too! Kayak or paddleboard out into the beautiful, pristine waters, rent a boat, learn to surf, golf, play a game of croquet, have a spa day, or go sunning at the beach or by the pool while enjoying a nice fruity drink. Whether you’re looking for an active vacation or an idler one, there’s always something for adults to do at the resort.

 

Private beach at the Boca Raton Beach ClubPrivate beach at the Boca Raton Beach Club (Courtesy Waldorf Astoria)

It has a private beach on the Atlantic. The privilege of having access to a private beach, quiet and uncrowded, is underrated and underappreciated… that is, until you’ve lazed around in one. Boca Raton Resort’s beach is exclusive only to its guests and members, making it safer and more peaceful, with more space for large families to spread out and kids to run around.

 

Waldorf Astoria SpaWaldorf Astoria Spa (Courtesy Waldorf Astoria)

The spa is an experience in and of itself. The resort’s onsite spa, Waldorf Astoria Spa, has repeatedly been named one of the best spas in the world. It’s a much-deserved distinction, as proven by the spa’s unforgettable signature treatments that include a luxurious caviar facial and 50-minute Ritual Bath. If a relaxing vacation is what you want, then a spa day here is an absolute must.

 

Its got one of the best restaurants in Palm Beach County. Its contemporary furnishings, friendly staff and high-vantage views of the Atlantic and the Intracoastal Waterway aren’t the best things about Boca Raton Resort & Club’s New American restaurant, THE BLUE; it is, as it should be, the food. From its fresh seafood selection to its heavenly meat dishes to its equally memorable side dish offerings, THE BLUE is dedicated in giving its guests a wonderful dining experience that’s less based on fluff and gimmicks and more on the actual meal.

 

(Originally published on MiniTime.com)

all rights reserved. no part of this blog post may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission from the author.

Family-Friendly Must-Dos in Newport Beach This Summer

Newport Beach, CANewport Beach, CA (Courtesy Visit Newport Beach)

Scenic coastal paths, rock-dotted sandy beaches, a quiet harbor, and golden sunsets represent everyday life in the small, affluent beachside community of Newport Beach, CA, a city where the cool modern meets that easy beach lifestyle.

In this idyllic, contemporary destination in the OC, less than an hour away from the ever-busy Los Angeles, families can de-stress, unwind and immerse in a slow and trouble-free coastal life while still having access to the conveniences of the modern one. If this sounds like the family vacation you’re looking for this summer, then step out into the sunshine and step into family-friendly Newport Beach.

For a family-friendly hotel to stay in during your visit, consider Hyatt Regency Newport Beach, which offers beautiful, bright rooms and suites with stunning bay views, kid-friendly amenities, and easy access to many attractions that you and your kids will enjoy.

 

SlapfishSlapfish (Courtesy Slapfish)

Enjoy fresh seafood. Newport Beach is in the middle of a food revolution, with new concept restaurants and farm-to-table kitchens sprouting all over the city, and like most seaside towns, their focus is on seafood.

For a casual lunch, enjoy some crispy fish tacos or Chef Andrew Gruel’s signature clobster roll at the highly rated Slapfish (2727 Newport Blvd. Suite 302), a new seafood restaurant that emphisizes simple food preparation techniques centered on fresh, sustainable seafood and other ingredients.

For dinner, the Blue Crab Tarte and the Salmon Carpaccio are favorites at Sushi Roku (327 Newport Center Drive).

See a Shakespeare play by the sea. Summer is prime time for outdoor festivals, so squeeze in some culture by taking the kids to see a Shakespeare play near the beach. Available on weekends, every production starts at 7 pm so you and the kids can watch a performance under the stars! Dress warmly and bring blankets, as nights can get really chilly even in the summer; and bring beach chairs and some food and drinks for a nice picnic while enjoying the show. Best of all, every show is FREE so you can take the whole family!

 

Cottage at Crystal CoveCottage at Crystal Cove (Courtesy Crystal Cove Beach Cottages)

Explore a historic district on the beach. Abandoned beach cottages, rustic and hidden behind cliffs, border the beach – along with a restaurant, newer beach houses still in use, and tide pools teeming with marine life. And nearby, on the legendary Pacific Coast Highway, is a famous shake shack frequented for it hearty servings and delicious milkshakes. A family visit to the Crystal Cove Historic District, accessible from a parking lot via a tunnel that passes under the PCH, is a charming way to spend a day in Newport Beach. Bring a picnic basket or order burgers, fries and milkshakes at Ruby’s Shake Shack; explore the ruins; and go tide pooling. And if one day isn’t enough, you can always stay overnight at the family-friendly Crystal Cove Beach Cottages.

 

Pirate's Cove Pirate’s Cove (Courtesy Visit Newport Beach)

Visit a movie location. With such close proximity to the movie capital of the world, it comes as no surprise that one of Newport Beach’s most famous attraction has been used as a movie location for several Hollywood movies and TV shows. Halfway between the city and Crystal Cove State Park is Pirate’s Cove, best known as the filming location for 60s TV show Gilligan’s Island. Despite its impressive résumé, families come here mostly for its charm and its calm waters. And nearby are grassy lawns with shaded areas, barbecue grills and tables for a lovely lunch picnic with the family.

 

Whale Watch with Newport WhalesWhale Watch with Newport Whales (Courtesy Newport Whales)

Whale-watch. What’s more exciting than witnessing the largest mammals in the world in their natural habitat? Leave the sand behind for a couple of hours and venture out into the deep blue with the kids for a chance to see pods of majestic whales in the wild with the Newport Beach Whale Watching, a whale-watching tour company that operates all year round. From May through November, see giant blue whales as well as finback whales pass along the California coast, and from late December through April, get a chance to witness the annual migration of the California Grays. It’s an awe-inspiring experience that the kids will remember forever.

 

(Originally published on MiniTime.com)

all rights reserved. no part of this blog post may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission from the author.

Visiting Japan with the Kids

Japan.1Japan countryside (Flickr: Moyan Brenn)

One of the best things about traveling with the family is having opportunity to experience new cultures and explore different lands, and Japan is perhaps one of the most kid-friendly destinations for it. When the kids are old enough and ready to venture out of the country, this small island nation in Asia offers picturesque gardens and temples, vibrant metropolitan attractions, theme parks and an amazing gastronomy scene that will leave everyone in the family breathless.

 

Places to Visit

Japan.2Tokyo Disney Resort (Courtesy Disney)

Whether you’re sticking to one area or hopping from one city to another (an easy endeavor thanks to the country’s extensive train network and the money-saving Japan Rail Pass), the family-friendly attractions are amazingly diverse and numerous.

In the capital, Tokyo, must-visit places include Oedo Onsen Monogatari where you’ll be taken back in time to historical Tokyo, the Ghibli Museum that fans of Studio Ghibli movies will love, Miraikan (The Future Museum), the waterfront commercial complex of Odaiba, the historical Meiji Shrine, the Tokyo SkyTree, the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, and, of course, Tokyo Disney Resort.

 

Japan.3Fushimi Inari Shrine (Flickr: coniferconifer)

In Kyoto and Osaka, about 3.5 hours and 4 hours from Tokyo by rail respectively, family-friendly attractions include Universal Studios Japan, the Floating Garden Observatory atop the Umeda Sky Building, the Nijo Castle, the famous Fushimi Inari Shrine, Dotonbori for shopping and the neon lights at night, the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan, the UNESCO World Heritage site Kiyomizu-dera, and Universal Studios Japan.

 

Etiquette

Japan.4Traditional Tea Ceremony (Flickr: mrhayata)

Japan is a country of traditions and practices, many of which are rooted in their main religions, and vacationing the kids in this country requires a bit more planning. While the Japanese are more forgiving with visitors, it might be a good idea to do some research and find out which customs and rules of conduct are worth knowing and might be expected of you as a visitor before you go. Not only will this give a lasting impression with your hosts, it’s also a good way for the kids to know more about the country and it’s people.

Removing your shoes when entering someone else’s home, not sticking your chopsticks up out of your bowl of rice, pointing your finger at the person you’re talking to, and blowing your nose in public are some good points to remember and practice with your kids.

 

Japanese Cuisine

Asian cuisine is rich and tasty, and generally well received by many; and Japanese cuisine is no exception. However, if it’s not something that the kids are used to or if your kids are picky eaters, a good way to prepare them for your Japan trip is to have a special Japanese dinner night at home. After all, you don’t want to be stuck with only eating fast food during your trip.

A convenient and fun way to explore cuisines around the world is with Try the World, a gastronomy subscription box that sends a curated box of authentic gourmet food right to your doorstep every two months. Try the World’s July-August box, available online now, is on Japan, and contains a box-full of Japanese food products and ingredients that you can use for your Japanese night at home, plus a couple of items for snacking.

 

Here are a couple of recipe ideas that use some items from your Try the World Japan box.

Japan.5Chicken and Shiitake Mushrooms Soba Noodles (Photos: Michelle Rae Uy)

 

Chicken and Shiitake Mushrooms Soba Noodles

Ingredients:

  • 8 ounces soba noodles (from your Try the World Japan box)
  • 1 lb boneless chicken breasts
  • Salt & ground black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 Tbsp sesame oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1.5 cups cabbage, finely shredded
  • 4 ounces shiitake mushrooms, thinly slides
  • 4-5 scallions, sliced
  • 1/8 cup soy sauce
  • 1 ½ Tbsp rice vinegar
  • ½ Tbsp sugar
  • 1 Tbsp mirin (rice wine)

Directions:

  1. Lightly season chicken breasts with salt and ground pepper. Set aside.
  2. Bring a pot of water, lightly salted, to a boil then cook the soba noodles for 4 to 5 minutes. Drain, rinse with cool water to stop the cooking, and set aside.
  3. Heat vegetable oil and 1 Tbsp sesame oil over medium heat in skillet or wok. Add chicken and stir-fry until cooked, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer chicken to cutting board and allow to cool.
  4. Add remaining sesame oil to skillet and sauté garlic. Add cabbage and cook until soft. Then add shiitake mushrooms and stir-fry for 3 minutes.
  5. Add scallions and combine well. Remove from heat.
  6. Slice chicken into 1/4 –inch diagonal pieces and add to the cabbage mixture.
  7. To make the sauce, combine soy sauce, rice vinegar, sugar and mirin. Make sure the sugar is dissolved.
  8. Add sauce to soba noodles and toss.
  9. Add chicken and cabbage mixture to the noodles, and serve.

 

Okonomiyaki

Ingredients:

  • Okonomiyaki kit (from your Try the World Japan box)
  • 2 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 1.5 cups cabbage, finely shredded
  • 1/8 cup green onion, finely chopped
  • Thinly-sliced strips of pork, ground pork, mushrooms or tuna (“okonomi” literally means “to one’s liking”)
  • 2 eggs
  • Dried seaweed (from your Try the World Japan box)
  • Okonomiyaki sauce
  • Mayonnaise

Directions:

  1. Mix water and the yam powder from the okonomiyaki kit in a large bowl until powder is dissolved. Add the batter mix from the kit and blend until dissolved.
  2. Grease pan or griddle with vegetable oil and preheat to 400 F.
  3. Add cabbage, green onion, tempura crisps from the kit, and eggs into batter. If you’re using ground pork, mushrooms or tuna, mix those in as well. Mix until evenly distributed.
  4. Pour mix onto griddle like you would a pancake. The mix makes two pancakes, approximately 2 cm thick. Cook one side for 3 minutes or until golden brown.
  5. If using pork strips, line them up on top.
  6. Flip the oknonomiyaki pancakes and cook the other side for about 3-5 minutes.
  7. Apply okonomiyaki sauce on one side with a brush then add mayonnaise.
  8. Sprinkle with dried seaweed and serve while hot.

 

(Originally published on MiniTime.com)

all rights reserved. no part of this blog post may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission from the author.

Vignettes of Yountville, Day One

I’ve been living in California for a long time now; and while I have seen many of the Golden State’s most beautiful places (Yosemite and Big Sur come to mind), I have to admit that I haven’t  fully explored it yet. To me, that’s a good thing because there’s still a lot in my state that pleasantly surprise me.

Take Napa Valley for example. I have avoided it for so long because of several reasons, including the fact that it just seemed to me very predictable, just another tourist destination that’s bland and trite. But during a recent weekend visit to Yountville, California—Napa Valley’s culinary center—I am not ashamed to admit that I was proven wrong…

There’s a reason—or rather a few remarkable reasons—why Yountville is considered Napa’s culinary capital. This idyllic haven is home to some of the most stunning sceneries you’ll ever see in California as well as many of the most amazing restaurants and wineries not just in California but also in the country.

M(a)isonry

M(a)isonry (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
M(a)isonry (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

Our first stop during our visit was M(a)isonry, a wine collective and art gallery that not only offers tastings of the best wines produced in the region but is also home to an eclectic collection, all for sale, of cool and eccentric art pieces. We very much enjoyed our tasting paired with Redd Wood’s cheese and charcuterie board, but we LOVED exploring its gorgeously decorated rooms and garden.

M(a)isonry (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
M(a)isonry (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
M(a)isonry (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
M(a)isonry (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
M(a)isonry (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
M(a)isonry (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
M(a)isonry (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
M(a)isonry (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
M(a)isonry (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
M(a)isonry (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
M(a)isonry (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
M(a)isonry (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
M(a)isonry (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
M(a)isonry (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

North Block Hotel

North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

I’ve stayed at a number of hotels and resorts over the years, some of them simply fantastic, luxurious and award winning. I have to say, however, that North Block Hotel has officially made it to my top 10 favorites.

Staying at this lovely boutique hotel during our Yountville weekend, we were able experience and take advantage of most of its complimentary offerings (we had to skip their spa because we were scheduled for treatments at Bardessono—more on that later). These include a glass of wine upon check in and cruiser bikes that you can pretty much use anywhere around town. The staff is also super friendly and always happy for a nice chat during non-busy times.

North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

Our gorgeous, newly-renovated room boasted an intimate furnished patio; a luxurious bed with oversized pillows and a pretty chandelier overhead; mood lighting everywhere; a massive bathroom that has a separate shower, a big tub and yummy toiletries; free WiFi; and complimentary filtered water and espresso.

North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

We also enjoyed the surprisingly spacious pool and whirlpool area, which has a big heated pool, several lounge chairs and free Cabana-style seating with Moroccan decor.

North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

Insider Tip: North Block Hotel also offers complimentary use of their all-new Volvo XC90 SUVs. See guest services or call ahead to schedule your preferred time.

North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

ad hoc

It doesn’t take long for Yountville to unravel its many charming qualities. Our first day there not only included cheese and charcuterie tasting at M(a)isonry, but also an unforgettable dinner at one of Chef Thomas Keller’s highly-rated restaurants. Bearing in mind the fact that I travel all the time and have had the pleasure of eating at some of the most wonderful restaurants, it’s definitely saying something when I say that our dinner at ad hoc is one of the best meals I’ve ever had in my life.

ad hoc (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
ad hoc (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

ad hoc has a four-course, family style, prix fixe menu that changes daily, and it just so happens that the restaurant was serving their legendary Buttermilk Fried Chicken the night we dined there. The chicken was addictive, and so were the other items on the menu—Endive Salad (yummy), Clam Bake (more spinach please and how is that corn so very juicy?), Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam (best preserve, cheese and biscuit combo ever!),  Butterscotch Pudding, and the cheesy grits and greens as slides. Even their cocktails were amazing.

ad hoc (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
ad hoc (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
ad hoc (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
ad hoc (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
ad hoc (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
ad hoc (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

It’s no surprise that every single item on the menu here is amazing, considering that the kitchen staff work like a well-oiled machine (General Manager Elias Mandilaras was kind enough to show us the behind-the-scenes action.) The kitchen was basically an obsessive-compulsive person’s (like me!) dream—clean, neat and super organized.

Insider’s Tip: ad hoc’s daily menu is available at around 9 am every day. Check their website to see what’s on the menu that day or let them surprise you. The restaurant also hosts Sunday brunch at addendum, its garden-slash-outdoor space.

ad hoc (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
ad hoc (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
ad hoc (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
ad hoc (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

This is only day one of our Yountville adventures. We have a ton more to share so stay tuned for Vignettes from Yountville, Day Two.

 

all rights reserved. no part of this blog post may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission from the author.

How to Make the Most of Your Disneyland Getaway

While it may not be as big as Orlando’s Disney World, the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim is just as packed with rides and attractions for both the young and the young-at-heart. Before you go, expect that you won’t be able to see the entire park, let alone go on every single ride there, in a day. However, you would want to get your money’s worth and experience as much of what the park has to offer.

Here are our ten tried and tested tips on how families with kids can make the most of their Disneyland getaway:

 

Come Early. Depending on the season, both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure usually open around 9 or 10 am Monday thru Thursday, and Disneyland opens around 8 am Friday thru Sunday. One great way to make the most of your visit is simply to come early – not only will you have more hours to spend there, you’d also beat the crowds to the ride lines!

Jungle Cruise is one of the many attractions at the park with a FASTPASS.Jungle Cruise is one of the many attractions at the park with a FASTPASS. (Courtesy Michelle Rae Uy)

Don’t Underestimate the Power of the FASTPASS. It’s completely FREE with your ticket purchase and super easy to obtain. A FASTPASS will help you bypass the long lines at some of the popular attractions, so you won’t have to spend 45 or so minutes of the time you could be spending on other attractions at the park. Simply go to a FASTPASS distribution station, insert your ticket and you will get a FASTPASS ticket with your Return Time to skip ahead. In the meantime, you can enjoy other attractions (ones with shorter wait times), grab a snack, visit the shops or just explore the park in general. Note that sometimes there’s a wait period before you can pull another FASTPASS, so use it wisely!

Start with the Attractions You Really Want. Don’t just go from one ride to the next, without a plan. Before you go, do your research and find out which attractions you want to see and rides you want to go on the most. Save the rest for later when you have some time to spare!

Family getting on the Little Mermaid Ride.Family getting on the Little Mermaid Ride. (Courtesy Michelle Rae Uy)

Don’t Ignore the Less Popular Ones. Especially when you have some time before your FASTPASS Return Time, don’t hesitate to go on the less popular rides. They might not be big hits, but you might just enjoy them. Consider attractions like Ariel’s Undersea Adventure, where your little mermaids get to ride on colorful clamshells and sing along Part of Your World with Ariel, and Pirate’s Lair on Tom Sawyer Island, where you and your little ones can explore caves and tunnels and cross a rope bridge.

Wear Comfortable Shoes. Think about it – if you’re not wearing comfortable shoes, your feet will hurt after a few hours of walking, and chances are, when your feet hurt you’d want to take a lot of breaks – which cuts into your fun time – and you won’t enjoy the rides as much since you’re in pain.

Just Avoid the Crowds. Skip the crowds and go on a weekday instead of a weekend, visit between holidays, or before and after school breaks.

California Adventure ParkCalifornia Adventure Park (Courtesy Michelle Rae Uy)

Buy a Park Hopper. While Disneyland is full to the brim with attractions, there will some rides you’d want skip if the thrill factor is too high or if the ride is too age-specific. If you have a park hopper, then you’d be able to hop on over to California Adventure next door, where there are more exciting, adrenaline-pumping rides that even the younger kids can appreciate. Kids 44 inches and up can take on California Screaming while kids 40 inches and up will enjoy the floating sensation going down The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. Later, the whole family can cool down in the rapids on Grizzly River Run.

See the Parade. It’s normal for the little ones to start getting tired and grumpy, especially after all that exploring, so pick a nice spot on Main Street, USA where you can sit down and rest. Make sure that you have a good clear view of the parade – the festivities will perk your grumpy ones right up!

Wait for the Fireworks. It’s the perfect and most magical way to end your magical day at Disneyland – to watch the spectacular fireworks over Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. In fact, it never seems like a complete Disneyland experience without it.

Grizzly River Run at California Adventure ParkGrizzly River Run at California Adventure Park (Courtesy Michelle Rae Uy)

Stay Another Day. A single day just isn’t enough to explore the park completely, and we bet your little princes and princesses haven’t had their fill yet. So why not book a family-friendly hotel nearby (and there’s a lot, on-site and off-site) and stay another day? You are on vacation so make the most of it. After all, if you’re going to spend your hard-earned money on something, it might as well be on experiences for you and the kids. And Disneyland is definitely an experience.

 

(Originally published on MiniTime.com)

all rights reserved. no part of this blog post may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission from the author.

First Look: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood

I was lucky enough to be one of the journalists invited to preview the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood before it officially opened the next day. Here are some of the photos I took during the special Media Preview.

Hogwarts at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Hogwarts at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Warwick Davis, Evanna Lynch, James Phelps, and Oliver Phelps during panel discussion with media. (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Warwick Davis, Evanna Lynch, James Phelps, and Oliver Phelps during panel discussion with media. (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Evanna Lynch, James Phelps, Oliver Phelps and Tom Felton during panel discussion with media. (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Evanna Lynch, James Phelps, Oliver Phelps and Tom Felton during panel discussion with media. (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Hogsmeade (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Hogsmeade (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Yay for Butterbeer (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Yay for Butterbeer (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Hogsmeade (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Hogsmeade (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Hogwarts students (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Hogwarts students (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Ollivanders (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Ollivanders (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Hogsmeade (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Hogsmeade (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Honeyduke's (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Honeyduke’s (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Wand Selection Ceremony (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Wand Selection Ceremony (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Wand selection ceremony (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Wand selection ceremony (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Inside Ollivander's (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Inside Ollivander’s (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Travel writer Ashley Burnett tries her hand at magic (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Travel writer Ashley Burnett tries her hand at magic (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Frog Choir Performance (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Frog Choir Performance (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Even the bathrooms were designed like the bathrooms at Hogwarts (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Even the bathrooms were designed like the bathrooms at Hogwarts (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
More of the stars from the movies (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
More of the stars from the movies (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
The Monster Book Of Monsters (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
The Monster Book Of Monsters (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Entrance to Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Entrance to Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Sirius' motorcycle (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Sirius’ motorcycle (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Shop at Hogsmeade (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Shop at Hogsmeade (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

 

Seven Things You Need to Know About Oahu Before You Go

Oahu is a US destination, and yet it feels like a completely far off place thanks to its Polynesian roots that remain alive and thriving today. This uniqueness, coupled with its impressive mountains and stunning beaches, puts the island (and the rest of Hawaii for that matter) at the top of everyone’s–as pedestrian as this might sound–bucket list.

During our weeklong visit to ring in 2016, we discovered some things about Oahu that many wouldn’t know unless they’ve been there. And we thought we’d share them with you.

Below are some things you need to know about Oahu before your visit:

IMG_7416
Boneless Chicken with Brown Gravy and Macaroni Salad at the Rainbow Drive-In (Photo: Michelle Rae)
  1. The food is really good. Everyone who has been to Hawaii has complained about how underwhelming their local food is. As a result, we kept our expectations low. Much to our surprise, Hawaiian food is actually pretty good if you know where to go. In fact, we ate like kings during our visit. The trick is to skip the Hawaiian fast food chains and go where the locals go. Click here to see our Oahu restaurant recommendations.
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Cinnamon Girl at Ward Warehouse in Honolulu (Photo: Michelle Rae)
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Eden in Love Boutique (Photo: Michelle Rae)
  1. There’s plenty of shopping to be done. Hawaii may be on the expensive side, but there’s something about walking along beachfront Kalakaua Ave, Honolulu’s main shopping strip, that just gets you in the shopping mood. And it has a lot of our favorite brands – from cheap H&M and Forever21 to the more expensive Kate Spade, Tory Burch and Coach. At Ward Village, there are specialty boutiques like Cinnamon Girl and Eden in Love that sell the most adorable items! And then there are also the Walgreens stores that carry pretty much every single flavor of Mauna Loa and Hawaiian Host imaginable! Needless to say, our bags were twice as full on our trip home.
DSCF1680
Surfers at Puaena Point (Photo: Michelle Rae)
  1. Surfing is THE way of life. Pick any beach in Oahu with good-sized but safe swells and you’re bound to find a surfer riding those waves. It’s to be expected, considering that the now internationally renowned sport originated in Polynesia and has been practiced in the Hawaiian Islands as far back as the 1700s. During your visit, why not do as the locals do? You’ll regret it if you don’t as surfing is one of the most exhilarating and liberating water sports there is. There are several local surf schools by the beach, if you haven’t done any surfing before. Not ready to stand on your board just yet? Body boarding is just as fun!
DSCF1661
Sea turtle at Aweoweo Beach (Photo: Michelle Rae)
  1. Don’t get too close to the turtles. These majestic animals are irresistible, but they are endangered and we should all do our part to preserve their species. Sometimes, people do not realize the difference between a simple touch and going as far as sitting on a turtle’s shell. So it’s best to just avoid getting too close altogether.
DSCF1927
Ruins hidden in the woods (Photo: Michelle Rae)
  1. Everything is less than 3 hours away, and yet one week is still not enough. You can pretty much drive around the island in a single day. It’s that small. But that doesn’t mean that a week is enough to explore and experience the whole island. There’s just too much to do from the busy streets of Honolulu to the quieter and more adventurous North Shore and everything in between. We stayed for a week and tried to pack in as much as we could, and we still missed a lot of stuff! Stay for two weeks or more!
  1. Everybody drives at 35 miles an hour! When you come from a big city like LA, the island’s slow pace might be a little hard to get used to. People certainly take their time doing stuff. This includes service at restaurants and driving. So if you’re used to doing things fast, you need to bring plenty of patience with you.

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  1. Waikiki Beach is great, but you can do better. Waikiki Beach is probably the most touristy beach on the island, probably because it’s the most accessible. And while it’s nice and affords a beautiful sunset, it’s certainly not the best beach on the island. We actually visited a number of beaches during our trip and have a few favorites. Do your research before you go, and you might just find one that not a lot of people know about.

 

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The Ends of the World

There’s a vast sea in eastern California. Not of water but of desert. Death Valley, the lowest elevation point in North America, is another world entirely. The vast landscape broken up by mountains is not only remote but also defined by its incredibly low elevation.

Some destinations are at the heart of civilizations, whose charm comes from the bustle and constant change such as Paris or New York. Some places, like Death Valley, are fascinating for being maybe not the opposite but being remote and being away from it all.

 

Northernmost City in the US

About 4,500 people consider Barrow, Alaska, home. Considering this is the northernmost settlement in North America, sitting within the Arctic Circle, there’s a strong cultural aspect to the city. The Inupiat Eskimo have been settled there for over 1000 years; but Barrow is also home to Americans, Filipinos and other ethnicities. From Barrow, you can take tours to Point Barrow, the northernmost destination in Northern America, such as those offered by the Top of the World Hotel. If you’re there during the winter, make sure to step outside (or look outside) at night to witness the amazing Aurora Borealis.

 

Southern Most City in the World

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Ushuaia and the Beagle Channel (Photo: Remi Jouan)

Three different cities claim to be the southernmost city in the world, all located in South America. Of the 3, Puerto Williams in Chile is actually the most southern. But it is also much smaller, home to under 3,000 people. The other two cities are Punta Arenas, also in Chile, and Ushuaia in Argentina. From Ushuaia, take the End of the World train to the Tierra Del Fuego National Park facing Antarctica. You won’t be alone though. At the end of the world here, you’ll see a series of ponds created by beavers. If you can, climb to the top of the Cerro Guanaco for a great view or walk the 800-meter De La Isla path along the waters.

 

Wettest Place on Earth

Tutunendo in Colombia is among a few destinations in the world vying for title of Wettest Place on Earth. In Western Colombia, near the Pacific Ocean, Tutunendo is covered by constant clouds and experiences on average 354 inches of rain a year. If you visit, you’ll find incredibly lush jungles covering much of the region around Tutenendo.

 

Designated Dark Sky Places

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Sark Island (Courtesy Sark Tourism Office)

Ever wonder where those pictures are taken of the Milky Way and where every star is as clear as flecks of paint on a canvas? Thanks to designated dark sky places across the world, wonder no more. One such place is the Isle of Sark in the UK. A small island in the English Channel off the coast of Normandy, there is so little light pollution that the island gained their status in 2011. Helping its status is the fact that there is no public lighting and cars are banned. Naked-eye astronomy has never been better.

 

The World’s Hottest Place

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Death Valley’s Badwater Basin (Photo: Photographersnature)

The lowest point in North America is the Badwater Basin. One of the largest parks in the United States, Death Valley, home to Badwater Basin, is a world unto itself. A vast desert that most people think of as a wasteland, Death Valley is an ecological wonder, home to many species of animals, most notably the Bighorn Sheep. Visit the Artist’s Drive where you’ll see a rainbow of colors across the rocks caused by the oxidation of different minerals. In the spring, parts of the park come alive with desert wildflowers.

 

all rights reserved. no part of this blog post may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission from the author.