Vignettes of Yountville, Day Two

Day two in Yountville didn’t start out well for us. We came out to one of the vineyards up on the hills early Saturday morning with Napa Valley Aloft for a hot air balloon ride (and a champaign breakfast after), but the weather had other plans. We were hoping it would clear up, spending our time taking photos of the fog-covered vineyards and half blown-up balloons while waiting. But the fog just got thicker by the minute.

Our guides were very apologetic though (although it’s hard to blame them, the weather can be unpredictable), and they made up for it by having unbelievably delicious Bouchon chocolate cupcakes waiting for us when we got back. And we still enjoyed the view.

Hot Air Ballooning with Napa Valley Aloft (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Hot Air Ballooning with Napa Valley Aloft (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Hot Air Ballooning with Napa Valley Aloft (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Hot Air Ballooning with Napa Valley Aloft (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Hot Air Ballooning with Napa Valley Aloft (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Hot Air Ballooning with Napa Valley Aloft (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

Bicycle Ride Around Yountville

With our hot air ballon ride canceled and it being too late to go back to bed, we had to find another way to spend our Saturday morning. Luckily our hotel (North Block Hotel) lets guests use their cruiser bikes for free, so we decided to explore the town on them.

We rode our borrowed bicycles along Washington Street past the main strip and the town limit to where the vineyards are, and then on the bike path along St. Helena. The bike ride was a lovely experience, and certainly a good way to see the rest of Yountville.

Yountville (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Yountville (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Yountville (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Yountville (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Yountville (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Yountville (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Yountville (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Yountville (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
M(a)isonry (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
M(a)isonry (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bouchon Bistro (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bouchon Bistro (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
French Laundry (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
French Laundry (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

Richard Reddington’s Redd Wood

The bike ride was also a fantastic way to work up an appetite. Afterwards, we had a light but super tasty breakfast at Chef Richard Reddington’s Redd Wood, complimentary of North Block Hotel: eggs (sunny side up and an omelet), bacon, roasted rosemary potatoes and toast. And the arugula was amazing and fresh.

Redd Wood at North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Redd Wood at North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Redd Wood at North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Redd Wood at North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Redd Wood (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Redd Wood (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

We also had supper there that evening; and unsurprisingly, the restaurant serves amazing dishes for dinner (much like most of the restaurants in this town… I seriously think they have a ban on bad food and bad chefs in Yountville). For starters, we had the crispy Fritto Misto that I couldn’t get enough of. We followed it up with the super light Prosciutto Crudo Pizza and amazing Shrimp Linquine. And for desert we had their yummy Pot De Creme Coffee Espuma Whip and Biscotti.

Redd Wood (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Redd Wood (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Redd Wood (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Redd Wood (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Redd Wood (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Redd Wood (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

Bardessono

Before heading off to the Taste of Yountville festival, which we had tickets for, we simply had to stop by Bardessono, one of the greenest hotels in the country (that’s no exaggeration, mind you! This hotel goes out of their way to be eco-friendly, which gained them the hard-to-acheive LEEDS Platinum certification. I talk more about this in my recently published piece on eco-friendly trip ideas for Earth Day…).

Anyway, the hotel is not only very friendly to the environment, it is also beautifully designed. We had a quick tour of its grounds and buildings that blended modern simplicity with natural touches, which I absolutely loved. And they have a spa onsite too. It was smaller than the spas I’ve been too, but Yountville is all about relaxation so we simply had to squeeze in massages before we joined the festivities.

Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

After our lovely massages at the Spa at Bardessono, we walked over to Washington Street, which was bustling with people. We were in town on the same weekend as the town’s annual Taste of Yountville and Yountville Live!, and having obtained complimentary tickets to both festivals (thanks to the kind folks at Fuller & Sander and the Yountville Chamber of Commerce) we decided to spend lunchtime sampling wine and food from many of the local restaurants and wineries that were participating. There were out of town participants as well.

It was a fun experience, going from one tent to another. We spent a couple of hours walking up and down the main strip, tasting different wine and samples of delectable food (even the firefighters’ tent served amazing barbecue), and chatting with some the locals.

This is day two of our Yountville adventures. Vignettes from Yountville, Day Three is coming soon. Stay tuned!

 

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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.

 

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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.

Four Reasons to Take the Kids to Disneyland This Summer

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.

Courtesy Disney
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.

Courtesy Disney
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

Courtesy Disney
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

Courtesy Disney
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.)

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.

“Fast & Furious – Supercharged” Sets Universal Studios Hollywood Ablaze

Sizzling celebrities. High speeds. Explosions. A car flying in the air and through a billboard. Universal Studios Hollywood certainly welcomed the latest family-friendly addition to Los Angeles’ favorite theme park with a bang!

Tuesday, June 23, saw the launch of the new Universal Studios ride, “Fast & Furious – Supercharged,” and fans of the movies as well as families with kids are in for the ride of their lives.

Photo by David Sprague | Courtesy Universal Studios Hollywood
Photo by David Sprague | Courtesy Universal Studios Hollywood

The high-octane but very kid-friendly adventure is an exciting hydraulic motion-based ride pumped with adrenaline, state-of-the-art 3D audio and 3D-HD imagery systems, other sensory special effects, and the world’s longest and most expansive 360-degree screen. The ride features some of the stars from one of the biggest movie franchises in history, including Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, and Tyrese Gibson, who all reprise their roles to fight the bad guys in an exhilarating car chase!

Expect rockets, debris, bullets flying and explosions as you get caught in the midst of all the action. And get ready to get a little wet. The best part? Dwayne Johnson, who plays DSS agent Luke Hobbs in the franchise, joins them with big guns blazing!

Photo: Michelle Rae
Photo: Michelle Rae
Photo: Michelle Rae
Photo: Michelle Rae

Kids, teens and adults will truly be impressed with this new ride that Vin Diesel himself called, “…incredible, ….really remarkable. It’s not like anything I’ve ever seen.”

“Fast & Furious – Supercharged” is expected to become a mega-hit like its big screen counterparts. It joins the ranks of War of the Worlds, Desperate Housewives, Psycho, Jaws, and other Universal Pictures hits as it now serves as the epic conclusion to the park’s popular Studio Tour, which attracts people young and old from all parts of the world. It is set to open to the park goers on June 24, 2015.

So what are you waiting for? Rev your engines, fasten your seatbelts, and race to Universal Studios Hollywood now for this thrilling ride!

(Originally published on MiniTime.)

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.

Going Beyond the Magic: Disneyland Exceeds All Expectations with 24-Hour Diamond Celebration

One of the really cool things about my job is getting invites to fantastic events and awesome trips that I probably wouldn’t have access to if  I weren’t working in the travel publishing world. It’s one of the many perks of the job that I’m truly grateful for as it definitely opens doors to new experiences for me.

This week, I’m headed to Disneyland – along with many bloggers and members of the press – to help the original Disney park usher in their 60th anniversary with their Diamond Celebration extravaganza and 24-hour event, which I am super excited about. They’ve got a lot of awesome things planned for the celebration and it’s going to be epic.

I’ll be sharing the latest updates before and during the Diamond Celebration event through the MiniTime website and social media as well as on my Twitter and Instagram accounts, but for now read on after the jump to find out more about what Disney has in store for the festivities.

'DISNEYLAND FOREVER' TAKES GUESTS UNDER THE SEA (Courtesy Disney)
‘DISNEYLAND FOREVER’ TAKES GUESTS UNDER THE SEA (Courtesy Disney)

Something simply amazing is happening at Disneyland this May.

With July 17, 2015 marking the 60th anniversary of the “Happiest Place on Earth,” Disneyland in Anaheim, CA, is beckoning Disney lovers everywhere to take part in theDisneyland Diamond Celebration festivities that starts on May 22, 2015. And as is Disney tradition, the resort is going all out!

Going beyond bedazzling Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park and their iconic landmarks and locations – including the Sleeping Beauty Castle, Main Street, U.S.A, and Carthay Circle Theater – to usher in the new era, Disney has prepared a multitude of incredible events, attractions and surprises that kicks off with a 24-hour event, starting at 6am on May 22nd.

MACK AND THE CARS CREW PREVIEW "PAINT THE NIGHT" (Courtesy Disney)
MACK AND THE CARS CREW PREVIEW “PAINT THE NIGHT” (Courtesy Disney)

With this all day/all night party comes an array of entertainment, new attractions, and commemorative merchandise, including the debut of three nighttime spectaculars:

  • “Disneyland Forever” Fireworks – Disneyland ups the ante of their traditional pyrotechnic display by using Main Street, U.S.A, the Matterhorn, Rivers of America, and “it’s a small world” and featuring some of Disney’s most beloved fairy tales like Lion King, Finding Nemo, and of course, Frozen, to take their guests in a spectacular, full-on magical experience from the street to the sky.
  • “Paint the Night” Parade – Dazzling lights and music will excite and astound guests, especially the little ones, with this new after dark parade at the Disneyland Park. “Paint the Night” will showcase favorite Disney characters like Tinker Bell, Lightning McQueen, Ariel, Buzz Lightyear, Belle, and Anna & Elsa like you’ve never seen them before – magically illuminated as the revelry shimmies and shimmers down Main Street, U.S.A.
  • “World of Color – Celebrate! The Wonderful World of Walt Disney” – An even more impressive version of World of Color, this outdoor nighttime display, hosted by Neil Patrick Harris and Mickey, will showcase the best Disney moments – from Walt’s earliest creations to the newest feature, presented in an breathtaking package topped with a water, fire and laser show that will leave spectators in awe.

It’s going to be an unforgettable Disney visit for you and your kids and a wonderful way to welcome the warm days of summer. So buy your park hopper tickets, book that hotel room, and get ready to celebrate!

See you all there!

(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.

Remnants

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Here’s the deal: relics of an almost forgotten time only remembered through Hollywood’s very loosely-adapted Western classics, rotted and rusted – typewriters, cash registers, p.o. boxes, horse-drawn carriages – are littered all over, amidst whatever skeletons are left of this old silver-mining town and the considerably cheaper, wild western version of Disneyworld (cotton candy, fake gold panning, coin-pressing machines, the works!) on what used to be Calico’s downtown/red light district/main street. There are only 9 residents left in this town today but everyday from 9 to 5, tour buses and SUVs pile into its dirt parking lot and tourists from China to France walk its streets to “experience” how life was like in the wild wild west. It’s got the markings of a tourist trap but if you step outside the traffic, whether to the northeast where an abandoned hotel was carved on the sides of the rocks or to the northwest where the old schoolhouse stand, you can almost feel the ghosts of the past, whispering tales and anecdotes about miners, cowboys, Chinese immigrants, and saloon girls .

And the truth is, it’s kinda swell.

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Destination: The Big South

The massive and powerful waves of the Pacific and the jagged rocks at the bottom of the California coast constantly meet with such intensity and force.

To say that the fate of any poor soul who gets caught in between is bleak is a great understatement. But from the safe and distant haven above, atop the cliffs, this dangerous scene transforms into panoramas so stunning, so breathtaking that one might be inspired to risk descending down to it just to experience its beauty at close range.

Such is the magic of Big Sur. And one could not look at its beauty without trembling with inspiration.

It was here in the Big South where I decided to celebrate (or lament, depending on one’s perspective) my thirtieth year of being alive and find some calm. Or perhaps just buy myself time to lick my wounds.

Whatever it was I was trying to find, I couldn’t tell you for sure. And whether or not I found whatever it was I was trying to find, I couldn’t say either. But I definitely found something.

In this quiet retreat just several hours north of Los Angeles, where Kerouac himself found temporary respite from alcohol abuse, there is great power vibrating from the sea and the land itself. But there is also a peaceful and soothing feeling that could cure the weariest traveller and convert the hardest skeptic.

Here, the wind blows strong but clean, and the Santa Lucia Mountains stand majestic yet also humble and ever green, even in the grayest of winter. Here, the land is preserved and the tranquility is ever so carefully maintained, with general stores standing in place of food chains and a few rustic cabins replacing a sprawl of modern concrete buildings.

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Here, endangered California condors fly unafraid and so close to the land, you can almost feel the wind under their wings. Beaches are wild with weeds and sea fans washed ashore. Redwoods grow high and undisturbed. Creeks run clear and steadily. Cows pasture and sea otters wade happily at their leisure. And occasional predatory cats feast at their hearts content, without any fear of starvation.

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Here in Big Sur, between the stunning Bixby Bridge in the north and Ragged Point in the south, is a seemingly endless land of daunting temperament and of gentle treasures – from snow-white waterfalls to blue-green coves to unexpected delights and secret nooks and passages. It’s a land of wonderful contrasts so spectacular and inviting you’d want to stay forever.

Destination: Darwin

“But why think about that when all the golden lands ahead of you and all kinds of unforseen events wait lurking to surprise you and make you glad you’re alive to see?” – Jack Kerouac, On The Road

* * * * *

It was the first time I had heard of Darwin, that one uneventful morning at work when I picked up a copy of the Los Angeles Times. There on its front page sat a very sympathetic article about the small, desert town’s residents’ technology-related plight. Apparently, the reclusive folks of this virtually unknown town to the west of California’s Death Valley have been fighting for their right, despite their geographical seclusion, to high-speed Internet. A necessity to the rest of the world, broadband connection remained an extravagant luxury to them, at least as far as the Internet providers were concerned.

My heart went out to Darwin’s residents, possibly cursed to forever endure their sloth-paced Internet made worse by the 90s robotic squeals coming out of their modems; really, it did. I still remember those days when I sat in front of my computer, my fingers tapping to sounds of dial-up, my brain trying to decide against that compulsive thought of grabbing that flimsy metal box and shoving it through the thick glass of my colossal monitor just to end the torture. I remember how that felt. Is there anything technologically worse than trying to watch Mad Men on Netflix using dial-up? These days, surely not!

Before I even finished reading the article, however, I’d already moved on to something else, something that had crossed my mind the moment I learned that the Darwinians did not get their mail delivered to their doorsteps. (Oh no, I’m not exaggerating; to get their mail, they had to actually walk to their post office, which by the way could have passed for an authentic Wild West structure save for the fact that Bart Simpson’s stuffed yellow face was peeking out from one its boarded windows.) To be entirely honest, I was already consumed by one thought: I needed to go to Darwin and soon, before any other analogue portrait photographers discovered the place, before technology caught up with the town, before its iconic Wild West post office was replaced with the sad grays of concrete. My brain was already thinking of the possibilities, the photo shoot potentials, the exciting road trip through the unforgiving desert that could very well take me to a point of no return, the many wonders there that sat waiting to be used and abused.

Should I have felt guilt over my evil scheming ways while Darwin’s artists and loners suffered? Should I have felt remorse, pushed my self-serving thoughts aside, and shifted my focus on their grievances? Nah. They didn’t need my sympathy. They needed a drastic change that only the good people at Verizon had the power to make, if their hearts just bled a little. So I moved on to my personal endeavors.

It took some hesitation before I found myself on the desert road to this little eccentric town, for fear that I would end up tied upside-down and gutted in an old sinister barn nicely decorated with sharp bloody weapons and freshened with the smell of rotting flesh. They were morbid thoughts and unreasonable, I know, but Hollywood’s endless stream of ridiculous slasher movies had made a huge impact on my perception of middle-of-nowhere America. And Darwin, well, it was as middle-of-nowhere as it could possibly get.

It took me three weeks to push my paranoia aside, figure out the way, arm myself with two grown men who I knew would protect me, and finally leave the urban comforts of Los Angeles for Darwin, California.

And so, along with my little dude, all four of us drove north on the Hollywood Freeway, very shortly on the five, and for miles and miles through Southern California’s golden land on the 14. It was a long journey through the Mojave Desert, dotted only with lonely suburbs, pit stops, and a McDonalds every 15 miles or so. For more than two hours, we occupied ourselves with games, inside jokes, and a Subway lunch on the side of the road, every once in a while gazing out the window to make sure that we haven’t wandered off into the Twilight Zone yet.

At the northern end of the 14, where it merged with an interstate highway and just when our patience was wearing thin, we found ourselves on State Route 395. We still had a few good miles ahead of us at that point but to be off the 14 was a huge relief. There, the roadside scenes changed drastically. Suddenly, there were wooden structures, some unoccupied and rundown. Suddenly, there were small-town locals going about their Sunday routines, oblivious to the four sets of city eyes that looked at their humble town with wonder.

Then we were on the 190, which veered west off of the 395. Again, we surrounded again by desert land, barely alive except for its brown shrubbery, cacti, venomous rattlesnakes, and powerful clouds of dust that enveloped some parts of the road. At one point, I almost demanded that we pull over to take portraits in a particularly thick cloud. Almost. I didn’t. Clouds of dust were almost as foreign to me as the Martian terrain and I just wasn’t prepared to face it without a “desert-trained expert” by my side. I wish now that I did, the portraits would have been stunning!

We continued on, uninterrupted, anticipating. We drove on with renewed eagerness, more determined than ever to gaze upon the town we had traveled hours and hours to see. There were barely any cars that passed us on the other side and when a couple did, we smiled and waved like wary travelers happy to see signs of the familiar civilized world. Nobody reciprocated but we didn’t care. We were on the road about to venture an unknown place. We were adventurers, thrill-seekers, trailblazers. We were the Spanish conquistadors and it was the Age of Exploration. We were so close to our destination we could smell the desert decay and neither the unfriendly faces nor the lack of cellular reception could make us turn back…

(Epic song playing in the background… Camera zooming out, presenting a bird’s-eye view of the car and the barren land…)

Too much? Okay, I’ll tone it down.

Further east on this dust cloud-ridden highway we went. The desert hills loomed over us at a distance, heavy with old abandoned mining structures. The sun’s rays burned harshly on the roof of the car as the winds pushed against it with force, seemingly adamant to prevent us from reaching our destination. Further east we went, doubt slowly creeping in, pounding in our heads louder by the minute. “Did we miss our turn?” “Are we lost?” “How’s our gas?” “God, I hope we don’t get stranded here!” Nervous thoughts were shared but left unspoken.

But then a light finally appeared at the end of our seemingly never ending tunnel. Finally, we saw the sign. “Darwin. Estab 1874,” it proudly said.  “Population 50 or so.” We made it! We weren’t lost! We might just live another day.

A sleepy Darwin lay lazily behind it, with the sun beating down hard, punishing it for selecting such a hard land to set its roots on. We drove silently down its main boulevard. Not a single soul was about. Pick-up trucks and trailers were everywhere, in no proper order, bordered only by flimsy fences, debris, and desert fauna. Little well-tended green gardens here and there made the shack houses and underground dwellings look a little more welcoming, breaking the desert-gold monotony. And mile or so away, on the side a hill, lay white stones that spelled out the letter D.

The town wasn’t as visually impressive as we anticipated. Perhaps we just created so much hype about it in our minds that we expected mind-blowing stuff. It was just like any other small town in America. You know, humble, unassuming. It was just like any other small town in America, only it was different. It was proud and had character. While its unpaved streets were at that time devoid of any human activity, they still echoed with individualism and spirit, with passion and creativity, and with the kind of courage necessary for voluntary seclusion from the modern comforts of the world.

Darwin did not disappoint. It stirred something in us that LA never had. We traveled more than 200 miles through the Mojave Desert, through heavy dust storms and an endless stream of McDonald’s restaurants, through doubt and Hollywood-induced paranoias, and it was all worth it. You know when people say that it’s not the destination so much as the journey that counts. Well, as amazing as our journey was that day, it sure as hell didn’t compare to the destination.

Into the Woods

We had long thought of visiting the gardens but we always found ourselves occupied with other things. As it turned out, when we finally got a chance to, it was perfect timing.

It was a few days after it rained heavily in Los Angeles and I had never in my life seen my city so green. The trees and the rollings hills were so lush they were reminiscent of the Tuscan vineyards (except, of course, for the busy freeways that were ever intimidatingly present, heavy with vehicles of all shapes and sizes).

I have always loved the famous golden hills of LA but the greens were a pleasant surprise and got me dreaming about the rainforest on the Olympic Peninsula, the only rainforest found in the United States. It’s always been a dream of mine to roam about its moss-covered floor. The fascination, I think, comes from living in a city whose hills, for the most part, look more like desert dunes than actual hills. The idea of an actual living rainforest seems inconceivable to me and wildly exciting.

Someday soon, I will get my chance to experience it. For now, I have Los Angeles. I cannot wait for it rain again.