Monday, May 22, 2017

Hyatt House Herndon/Reston

Date of Visit: May 20-21, 2017

Location wise this ended up being farther out from D.C. than I thought, but it didn't really matter in that we were just trying to stay somewhere sort of close for a reasonable rate while Dad had a party on our boat. It ended up being a good option in that it was cheaper than most of the Hyatt Place locations that I could've chosen and you get a kitchenette at the Hyatt House. However, I more chose the Hyatt House because they supposedly have a hot breakfast included rather than just the Hyatt Place more continental breakfast, but that didn't seem to be true in this case.

We stayed in an accessible studio room. Overall we liked the layout, but it seemed a little tight to move the chair through, which I know partially has to do with Mik now has a wider wheelchair (we just switched out our home ramp to a standard ADA 36-inch, though, and it is not a tight fit at all). The only real problem was that the living room chair made the path too narrow to get to the rest of the room, but that was easily fixed just by moving it closer to the couch a little.

Mik liked the bathroom layout as he found it easy to get on the toilet himself since the wall and bars were to the left of the toilet. I was disappointed in that it was a tub, but I couldn't find our reservation saying I booked a roll-in shower specifically even though I really think I did. Not that we really needed it for one night, but the tub really was useless as even if they have seats you can request the shower head is not removable and I had to stand on the edge of the tub to move it just to be able to even take a shower myself since it was set up at a very awkward angle.

The breakfast was really disappointing to us, especially since we have stayed at the Hyatt House in San Diego several times and they offered a real full breakfast buffet similar to the ones at Hyatt Regency restaurants. This breakfast at the Hyatt House Herndon, though, is basically the same as the typical ones we have had at a Hyatt Place.

The only difference was they had little omelets instead of the breakfast sandwiches, which was better in my opinion because they didn't have any meat in them. They have signs everywhere saying you can create your own omelet, which I thought was like the other Hyatt full buffets were they are made to order right in front of you, but it is actually just a little topping bar of things to put on top of the mini omelets.

We were also disappointed the room didn't have a DVD player, which I specifically remember being in the room amenities/features when I was booking. They do have it setup so you can easily plug in such devices to the TV, so I guess it may just be that feature is badly worded on the website.

Destination Info:
Hyatt House Herndon/Reston
467 Herndon Parkway
Herndon, Virginia 20170

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Renwick Gallery

Date of Visit: May 2, 2017

Considering Mik enjoys art galleries, I'm not sure why I often overlooked suggesting the Renwick Gallery for an outing, especially since I remember it having a permanent exhibit in the Grand Salon that was my favorite back when I first lived in D.C. However, I now have been reminded that the Renwick Gallery closed for several years recently and they no longer have what I think was called something like Treasures of the Smithsonian. The exhibit in there now did turn out to be Mik's favorite part of the permanent exhibits, though.

As a historic building that was the first art museum in the United States, it is not surprising that the main front entrance is not accessible. The accessible entrance was easy to find on the 17th Street side of the building. While it does mean you enter through the basement that is more of a staff entrance, it is very well designed including a button operated door. There was also friendly security/bag check that didn't just point us to the elevator, but told us which level was for the temporary exhibits and which was for the permanent without even having to ask for information.

We started our visit with the temporary exhibits on the first floor. Since we came up the elevator, we ended up starting in the middle of the June Schwarcz exhibit, although you easily can navigate it from the start if you turn left for the center of the building instead of right into the exhibit like we did.

The June Schwarcz exhibit ended up being Mik's favorite part of the museum. He particularly enjoyed the bowls. He also had fun photographing them in different magic modes on his camera, especially since the museum has signs everywhere encouraging photography, which is the opposite of many art museums.

The first floor also has a gift shop, which normally I wouldn't mention even though gift shops are a must visit for Mik. However, this one is worth mentioning because the first thing Mik noticed about it is in the entry area there is a companion bathroom.

The second floor houses the permanent exhibits. Overall this area didn't interest us much. We did enjoy the little exhibit about the building's history, though. Mik also liked the carpet in the Grand Salon. The sparseness and just a hanging artwork and carpet make the space nice for multi-use, but the simple exhibit there really disappoints me in comparison to what it used to house.

Destination Info:
Renwick Gallery
1661 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC 20006

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

National Museum of American History: World War I and Ella Fitzgerald exhibits

Date of Visit: April 18, 2017

We had been meaning to check out the new exhibits at the National Museum of American History for a few weeks now, but we haven't been motivated to really go anywhere since Mik's manual wheelchair had gotten to the point of barely functioning and he just never has gotten into using his power chair (and our current home ramp situation doesn't make it much of an option). Friday we finally managed to not only find a place to get him a new manual wheelchair, but actually lucked out that they had a returned one that worked out for him. Thus, today we headed to the National Museum of American History to not only check out the new exhibits, but also go for a decent walk to really test out the new chair.

The new exhibits we were interested in seeing were related to World War I (Gen. John J. Pershing and World War I, 1917-1918 and Uniformed Women and the Great War). Mik was disappointed in the exhibits because they were all just one or two small displays in the hallways/atriums to the main exhibits. I thought they were interesting, but I agree they were small. It would be nice if they had a real temporary exhibit instead of all these little ones, although I now realize a few of them were perhaps just finishing off the third floor wing as they are currently indefinite rather than temporary. However, I am still a fan of how they do the wall exhibits (Modern Medicine and the Great War and Advertising War,) and how they slowly rotate out to regularly be something different to see.

"The First Lady of Song: Ella Fitzgerald at 100" was an exhibit we didn't originally intend to see, but decided to wander over and check out since it was another recently opened temporary exhibit. It is also small, but it feels more like a true exhibit, I guess, because it is in it's own little space. Also, it had video playing along with artifacts to give more of an immersive experience.

While the museum was sort of a bust this time, the new chair is thankfully not. Not only was his last chair hard to use because it was falling apart, but we never really liked it because even new it couldn't handle minor sidewalk cracks. Thus, we really enjoyed that we not only didn't have worry about the little bumps that we used to, but we could actually go on the National Mall's dirt paths and it didn't even seem like any extra effort.

Destination Info:
National Museum of American History
1400 Constitution Ave NW
Washington DC

Metro Accessibility Note: Closest metro station is Federal Triangle (Blue/Orange/Silver). Smithsonian (Blue/Orange/Silver) is often also recommended as nearby for this museum and if you take the escalator exit it probably is closer or same distance as Federal Triangle, but the elevator is several blocks further, so Federal Triangle is definitely closest if you are exiting Metro via elevator. We used to just use Archives (Yellow/Green) since it was a shorter train ride for us to take Yellow instead of Blue into D.C. and it's only a little more walking. Now that we live in the District, though, we just walk since it's free as well as usually faster.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

National Gallery of Art: West Building

Date of Visit: March 21, 2017

Today was yet another day we planned to visit the Sackler Gallery and ended up going somewhere else instead. This time it was because we realized a new exhibit we're interested in opens at the Sackler next month and some exhibits we were interested in at the National Gallery of Art recently opened.

Finding the entrance to the museum seemed simple as their website says that the accessible entrance is on 6th Street. This is kind of a confusing way of putting it, though, because to me that would mean an east or west side of building entrance and not the north side where 6th Street dead ends at the building. Thus, it's really on Constitution if you ask me. Really it still is easy to located, especially since every other entrance directs you to the accessible one.

Now finding where we wanted to go inside the museum was truly not anywhere near as easy as I thought. I even grabbed a map, which is something we rarely do these days in the museums around D.C. because we tend to just be heading to one specific exhibit and know the floor/wing for it. This time I knew the floor and everything from the website and had grabbed a map and yet only found the exhibits without asking because I remembered 11 years ago there was a special exhibit over by the 7th Street entrance and that really is the temporary exhibit spaced called Inner Tier on the website. Of course, it would've just made sense to ask where the exhibits were when I asked at information for a map, but I really thought a map was all the information I needed.

The main exhibit we went to see was "East of the Mississippi: Nineteenth-Century American Landscape Photography." We found it an interesting look at early photography. Mik particularly liked the smaller ones because they were easier to see, which is probably since they weren't displayed and damaged by light as much.

This was Mik's first time visiting the West part of the National Gallery of Art, but he was too tired to explore more than the temporary exhibits on the Main Floor (and the gift shop, of course). He did get enough of a glimpse at the permanent exhibits to want to visit again and see more. In particular, we enjoyed the "Masterpieces of American Furniture from the Kaufman Collection, 1700-1830" exhibit that we passed through to find the temporary exhibits.

Destination Info:
National Gallery of Art - West Building 
4th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden

Date of Visit: February 24, 2017

Yesterday we originally set out to visit the Sackler Gallery, but instead ended up at the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden. It's been on our list to visit for quite awhile and since it was nice warm day, we decided to enjoy the nice weather and save the Sackler Galley for when it may be too hot (or cold) to enjoy an outdoor activity.

Mik enjoyed checking out the various sculptures in the garden, In particular, he had fun playing with the different art modes taking pictures of the globe sculpture. It is also nice that while it isn't really any bigger than the National Gallery of Art one on the other side of the mall and may even have fewer sculptures, it seems more like more of an experience because of the tiered design.

The tiered design does mean there's stairs, but there are nice long ramps to access all areas.

While the garden is all concrete/brick paths, the ramp access is only from the mall, which is a packed dirt/little bit of gravel path.

Another one of Mik's favorites was the vertebrate. I thought they looked like noses and Mik thought they looked like bones, which we found they were when we found the sign (this is the one thing that was sometimes annoying because they aren't always right there and some are hidden by overgrowth).

We also enjoyed playing Pokemon Go here as there was a gym that you could easily battle while also enjoying the music that plays in the one area. Also, you could get three Poke stops at once in the other part of the garden. Mik even thought this statue looked kind of like a Pokemon.

Destination Info:
Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden
7th St SW & Jefferson Dr. SW
Washington, D.C.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Frozen Sing-Along Celebration at Disney's Hollywood Studios

Date of Visit: February 7, 2017

At first I thought Mik just agreed to do the Frozen Sing-Along fastpass+ because it was what the rest of the group was doing and it was one of the few things he could actually do. Turns out that he was actually interested in checking it out even though he wasn't sure he'd like it.

We ended up entering the fastpass+ queue before the rest of our group because Mik wanted to avoid the noise of the March of the Order going on. We figured our group was big enough to be split up inside anyways, but they ended up catching up and being allowed over to the area we were waiting for the upper accessible seating. It seems it's similar to Fantasmic in that they keep the row in front of the top row clear for the whole group to be "together," although we all were able to sit in the top row with Mik since there was room.

We had the option to go up front, but from recent experience with only having front row for Country Bear Jamboree and past experience of choosing front for the Mickey's Magical Map show led Mik to choose the back. At the end when it snowed, Mik was particularly happy that he choose the back as it only happens in the front two-thirds or so of the theater.

Overall we all enjoyed the show more than expected mostly because of the humor. I thought it was too much story and not enough singing considering the show's name, but at least it is a different way of experiencing the story with the historian narrator characters.

The only thing we found disappointing was that there are screens in the area you wait for the doors to open, but not by where they have the upper wheelchair section and we felt like we missed the preshow experience, which could easily be fixed with just installing one TV. I mean, after all we think the best part of Soarin' is the preshow now that they changed the attraction to be around the world.

Destination Info:
Frozen Sing-Along Celebration
Hollywood Studios
Lake Buena Vista, FL

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Akershus Royal Banquet Hall at Epcot

Date of Visit February 6, 2017

Akershus Royal Banquet Hall has been on our list to try for awhile. We even had a reservation to go on one of our trips last year, but decided to cancel a few days before because we weren't sure about the whole character dining aspect. To some extent, I am glad we saved it for this trip as at least we had one person into the princesses/characters, but I also kind of wish we had already done this place and realized it isn't worth it when it was just us and done something different (i.e. at least cheaper and likely much better experience) for our larger family trip.

The main thing that appealed to us about Akershus is the Norwegian inspired menu. It didn't really disappoint in this regard, especially for the meatball lovers. However, I had thought it was entirely a buffet and it was only the appetizers that were. This didn't bother us so much except that it was fixed price per person and then dessert was a specific trio of desserts for the table rather than each ordering your own or a buffet.

We were mainly disappointed in Akershus because there wasn't much of a character experience, which was why we had chosen to even do this restaurant after we took too long to plan dining and couldn't do the character breakfast we wanted. There are several princesses that come by, so the number of characters is nice. However, they seemed to be in a rush and there was barely time to have them sign the autograph book and take a photo with the kid. Thus, by the time the kid got used to the concept they were already done. All other places we've done the character dining with her, the characters came around more than once. I kind of remember this was the same way the time Mik, my Dad, and I ate at Cinderella Royal Table, but at least there you have a fun castle atmosphere and we had service.

One of the reasons we did not like Akershus was the price. We knew that going in it would be expensive, but somewhere I had gotten in my head that lunch was never more than $50 and it was $57 per person (at least that was before the annual pass discount). The price wouldn't have really bothered us if at the same time we had gotten the character experience we expected (or even just some attentive service...never saw waiter after ordering until they were trying to rush us to finish and clear the table at end, so drinks never got refilled, and they force you to pay 18% gratuity for nothing).

Add to all that, they squeezed way too many tables into the space that it is almost impossible to even dine there with Mik. In order to get him into the table I had to lift and slide the chair sideways up to his spot. It wouldn't have been too bad if it was a regular table dining experience, but since there is a buffet aspect it was extremely annoying to get out around him (and almost impossible). This was the only reason we were glad the whole meal wasn't a buffet, but then we kind of wish none of it was.

Bottom line is I better just book that character breakfast six months out next year. Also, for princesses, Mik and I recommend Cinderella Royal Table over this. I don't remember the food being anything special and we had the characters skip us, but we still really enjoyed that dining experience simply for the castle atmosphere.

Destination Info:
Akershus Royal Banquet Hall
Lake Buena Vista, FL

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