Sunday, May 31, 2015

Shenandoah National Park: Limberlost Trail

Date of Visit: May 13, 2015

Limberlost Trail is the one accessible trail in Shenandoah National Park. It technically is not entirely accessible, but mainly because it is too steep to meet the current ADA standards. However, we've certainly been on less accessible trails. Even the trail we did a few days before this at the Natural Bridge was tougher than this one.

There is a nicely detailed explanation of the trail on the sign by the trailhead. It explains how part of the trail is up to current ADA standards. Thus, if you start that way, you can do a there and back instead of the whole loop if the rest of the trail seems too difficult. However, it actually is kind of easier to do it the other way as a loop because this makes the most steep parts downhill.

The path is mostly crushed greenstone. Normally probably wouldn't use the freewheel for this type of trail, but with the caster being so messed up at that time even the it was helpful for even the smoothest of surfaces.

There is also some boardwalk as part of the trail.

The bridge is where it is no longer recommended for wheelchairs.

It's really not that steep, though, with the main thing being that going this way it ends up being 9 to 12% uphill near the end.

Overall it's a decent trail in that it is very accessible. However, Mik thought it was not any more interesting than what he could see on the rest of Skyline Drive. Having done other trails the previous day with Dad and actually getting some better views and seeing waterfalls, I'd have to agree that this particular trail is kind of boring. Apparently, it has a lot of mountain laurel, though, so it might be more interesting when they're in bloom.

Destination Info:
Limberlost Trail
Milepost 43 Skyline Drive
Shenandoah National Park, VA

Monday, May 25, 2015

Hyatt Place Anaheim Resort/Convention Center

Date of Visit: May 16-24, 2015

When we lived in AZ we used to always use Mom's Hyatt points and stay at the Hyatt Regency Orange Country. Now that we have to fly we've tried out the Hilton and a Best Western since those are close enough to walk to the parks from. Last D23 Expo the Hilton worked awesome, but we wiped out Mom's points there and they seem to take longer to earn enough for stays compared to Hyatt, which is why she focuses on earning Hyatt points. Thus, we were very excited to see that Hyatt now had one at the convention center when looking at options for the D23 Expo this summer. Being able to use Hyatt points for the hotel also made it feasible to add a May trip this year and make even more use of our Premier annual passes.

I messed up on dates when booking the hotel, so I ended up with three separate reservations including two different ADA room types and one night that didn't let me choose an ADA room. Totally my fault in that I accidentally booked the dates I was originally planning the trip, but had actually ended up with an extra day on both ends in order to use mom's airline miles for the trip (yes, I even had finished booking that before the hotel). Thus, I was totally okay with our first night being in a non-ADA room as long as we were then moved to what I reserved the rest of the trip. However, the guy at check in talked with his manager and found an ADA room that we could use the whole stay if we just waited a few hours for it to be ready.

We ended up with a tub instead of roll-in shower as I mainly booked, but it had a shower seat and it was better than having to change rooms. Really just the extra space for wheelchair and grab bar is why we need the ADA rooms, although when possible the roll-in showers are convenient.

We ended up in what they called a King specialty room. I have no idea what that means, but we're assuming that is about it having bunk beds in the area with the corner sofa bed. Not having to pull out the sofa and still have two beds (well, actually three, but we only used two) was very convenient.

We have long loved Hyatt Places for not only the cheaper point cost, but it being like two rooms with the sitting area and the bed/beds area. This one worked out even better than the others we've stayed at because it really is two rooms with sliding doors that close between the two areas. This might also be a specialty room feature.

Another nice feature is that the blinds are controlled with a remote, which is something I've always wanted for home and now Mik understands why I think it'd be awesome. Of course, he also enjoyed that we each had a TV and it was DirecTV so he knew the channel numbers for his sports and other favs, which was a real treat for him now that we can't have DirecTV and we axed the not as good more expensive Comcast.

Overall we really enjoyed our stay at the Hyatt Place Anaheim Resort/Convention Center. The staff was always very friendly, attentive, and welcoming. And we actually did have to interact with them several times because our keycard kept getting demagnetized the first two days and we also mistakenly were charged for parking. The breakfast was as expected, although with food being one of Mik's favorite parts of Disney we mostly skipped it.

As much as we love this place, it's borderline far to walk to parks. Totally will be great for D23 Expo and would stay for other future trips, but the Hyatt House under construction even closer to Disneyland is an extremely appealing option once it opens this December. It'll probably be more points, but weighing that with being closer and having a kitchen may make it our pick for Disneyland when we can't use DVC for Grand Californian. Until then, though, the Hyatt Place is enjoyable and makes it possible we may be able to do Disneyland not just every other year for the Expo again, especially if we can snag mileage award tickets to/from Orange County with mom's miles, which doesn't seem to be easy without planning way in advance (6-9 months) and/or being extremely flexible (ex. flying up to Seattle to get to D.C. and 3 hour layovers). 

Hint/Shoutout to Mom: Keep traveling for work and racking up the American miles and Hyatt points, please. We love them almost as much as you!

Destination Info:
Hyatt Place Anaheim Resort/Convention Center
2035 S. Harbor Blvd.
Anaheim, CA 92802

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Disneyland Diamond Celebration 24-Hour Event

Date of Visit: May 22, 2015

We didn’t actually last 24-hours, but we never planned to and actually Mik ended up lasting much longer than I expected. We left the hotel around 4:30am and Mik enjoyed his Diamond Mickey Rice Krispy treat that I had brought back for him a previous day.

 We were in line for security by 5am. It was much like the Expo, although the park was already opened so it actually was moving pretty smoothly by the time we got there. Once through security it was no line to get into Disneyland. We briefly stopped in the entrance plaza to get a photo of the diamond as the day before too many people were taking pictures when we tried and this time mostly people were rushing to get on to Main Street. Even stopping for some pictures we were on Main Street by 5:30am.

Main Street was a little crazy with it being wall to wall people back to the Emporium. Mostly people were not pushy, though, and the only real issue was that we got mixed in with the Emporium line. Once we figure out how to get out of that and then trying to get enough space to go at the right angle across the tracks it we ended up in a decent spot to wait for the park to open.

While we were around the corner from being able to see the fireworks go off over the Castle, we still got to enjoy the fireworks go off behind the train station and the shops on Main Street. Then it was the normal surge of crowd at park opening other than it was much farther backed up on Main Street. Still we got through and walk on to Buzz Lightyear within 10 minutes.

We just missed the wheelchair vehicle when we got to the front, so we actually had to wait to ride, but that’s pretty normal and actually had a nice conversation with the Cast Member since the ride was still empty and they didn’t have to direct people unloading much. As usual we went around twice. The second time we got stopped in the photo tunnel and I racked up one of my best scores.

After Buzz Lightyear, we wandered over to the Castle to get some photos with the 60th logo, which had been unveiled after we left the park the day before.

We then walked over to the Toontown Station and rode the Disneyland Railroad around the park once. I thought it was funny when we went by Autopia and Mik asked what that ride was. I guess it’s been awhile since we last took him on it.

After the train, it was not even 7:30am and Mik was already asking to go back to the hotel. We stopped for some breakfast in Fantasyland including a 24-hour event souvenir mug and then got a 60th bucket in Frontierland before he decided that we should brave the pin store line before leaving.

The line for the Little Green Men Store Command ended up reminding us of the D23 Expo. It certainly does seem crazy to stand in line for what ended up being five hours just to spend money. Honestly, I probably wouldn’t do it if Mik wasn’t interested in it. It’s just ends up being good quality time and certainly preferable than ending up back at the hotel after only a few hours in the park, which is what happens most days with Mik. About two hours into the wait they announced that they were out of the Being Up All Night Makes me Dopey pin, which is the pin Mik really wanted. We didn’t want to bail, though, because we had already waited so long and we knew there was still a decent amount of other pins to choose from even though we didn’t know exactly what they were.

In the end, though, when we got to the front they had the Dopey pins (restocked at some point?). This gave Mik enough motivation to stay in the parks for lunch before heading back to the hotel. At first we went to the nearby Tomorrowland Terrace, but after 15 minutes of the line going nowhere I bailed that idea and decided to find somewhere else with a line actually moving. We ended up at the healthy snack spot in Tomorrowland, which had no line and was actually a much better option all around for lunch for both of us. Also, picked up some Mickey pretzels at a nearby cart with very short line to carry back to hotel for a snack later.

After refueling and resting a little from standing in line for hours, we headed out of the park leaving around 1:45pm. The park was crowded at this point and apparently it closed for capacity not longer after that, but actually it was not as crazy as we thought (Buzz line was still only 20 minutes when we left and we’ve seen worse on spring break and summer trips) and it was the longest park day with Mik in years. Definitely glad we did it even if we did miss out on most of the special event stuff.

Destination Info:
1313 South Harbor Boulevard
Anaheim, CA 92802

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Disneyland: Sleeping Beauty Castle Virtual Walkthrough Experience

Date of Visit: May 21, 2015

Mik wasn't interested in going on any rides this morning after two rounds of Buzz Lightyear. However, he still wanted to hang out in the parks long enough to get lunch. Thus, we wandered over to the castle for him to visit the dwarfs, which he likes doing and for once there wasn't some character hanging out over there and we got to really enjoy it including seeing the whole fountain show. Then I remember there was the accessible version of the castle walkthrough, which we've never done before.

The accessible experience is located in a room off to the left of the path through the castle when looking at the back of the castle. The room is decorated with things that fit the theme including a case of royal crowns, jewels, and trinkets and a royal seeming bench that you can watch the virtual walkthrough from.

The virtual walkthrough is a video that plays on loop. It is basically an animated version of going through the attraction and the story is read aloud as well as shown with captions on the screen. It is really well done and Mik thought it was good for what it was, but we only watched a little bit of it because he just isn't interested in Sleeping Beauty at all.

Destination Info:
1313 South Harbor Boulevard
Anaheim, CA 92802

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Shenandoah National Park: Skyland Resort

Date of Visit: May 12-14, 2015

We stayed on the lower level of the Laurel building at Skyland Resort. I had booked an accessible preferred room (it’s the only type that was available at least at the time when I clicked to show accessible only). The website didn’t give any specifics of what accessible meant like I’m used to seeing when booking on places like Hyatt and choosing between tub or roll-in shower, so honestly all I was going for was making sure we didn’t end up on the second floor when it clearly said that no buildings had elevators.

At first when we drove up to the building we were confused that the second floor is actually level with the parking and our room was down a level.

There is a ramp to the far right of the building that leads down to that level, which I only noticed after going down the stairs to scope out the room.

The room did not have an accessible bathroom, but considering Mik would have gone with camping in a tent here if they had electricity roughing it without an accessible bathroom was fine.

The only real accessibility issue with the room for us was that it had a raised threshold. It seems that the rooms on the upper level are actual more level with the hallway, which also makes us wonder if there are any actual accessible rooms in the sense we think of normally on that level.

One night we ate in the dining room. Well, actually we ended up eating in the taproom with the dining room menu because the lift down to the dining room was broken. It was still enjoyable, but it would have been nice to have the view you get down in the dining room.

Also, note that there is a path up to the dining room building from the lodging buildings. However, it very clearly says it’s not accessible. You can go on the road for a more accessible path grade wise, but it’s still going up a hill and quite a long way around.

Of course, Dad decided that we should just do it anyway and pushed Mik up it when we went to eat at the dining room. Yeah, it really is very steep and it is especially not safe to go back down. Thus, Dad went and got the truck to go back to the room after dinner.

Overall we enjoyed staying at Skyland Resort. The view from the balcony was good, except that at night it kind of ruins the whole feel of being in a national park when you really notice that civilization is right out there with all the lights.

Destination Info:
Skyland Resort
miles 41.7 and 42.5 on Skyline Drive
Shenandoah National Park, VA

Shenandoah National Park: Byrd Visitor Center

Date of Visit: May 12, 2015

We mainly stopped at the Byrd Visitor Center to get the National Park passport stamps there. We had already done most of the Skyline Drive and gone to the Natural Bridge and back by that point, so MIk was ready to get to the Skyland Resort and be done for the day. Thus, we didn’t check out the movie that was starting right when we got there. However, we did check out the exhibit.

The exhibit is an interesting one about the history of the park. We accidentally went through it backwards, which worked okay, but would’ve probably been better to go in  chronological order from the start. Some of the highlights are the parts on controversy of eminent domain to take private owned land to create the park and the 1930s and 1940s desegregation in the park.

Destination Info:
Byrd Visitor Center
Milepost 51 Skyline Drive
Shenandoah National Park, VA

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Virginia's Natural Bridge Park

Date of Visit: May 12, 2015

The Natural Bridge is something I've been really wanting to see since reading about it in the 1940s Virginia: A Guide to the Old Dominion. While it was out of the way, it ended up making a good thing to add to our Skyline Drive trip.

You start at the visitor center, which has a ramp entrance off to one side. You also need to make sure you go out that same door because you can't get to the ramp from the other doors.

The path down to the natural bridge has steps, but they run a shuttle that has a lift. The regular stop involves steps out the back of the visitor center, so they call them to do a pickup in front of the visitor center when needed. They don't do tie downs, so Mik transferred to a regular seat on the way down. On the way up he decided to just stay in chair and didn't complain at all. It's just a short drive up and down the hill and they go slow, so really it is a rather smooth ride.

The trail from the shuttle to and under the natural bridge is a paved path. The Cedar Creek Trail continues on to a waterfall after that. This part of the trail is gravel and a little steep near the first bridge, but we has no issues until we got to the lost river. Of course, the free wheel was a big help, especially since one of Mik's casters is currently totally messed up to the point the freewheel was useful even for the paved path.

The Cedar Creek Trail goes past a Monacan Indian village exhibit, a saltpeter mine, and a lost river. We skipped the exhibit because we weren't interested. The saltpeter mine has a very smooth bridge over to where you can peek in a little.

The lost river was the one part of the trail that was tough as the bridge over it isn't level with the ground. It wasn't that hard, but we did wait for Dad to catch up to make sure we didn't do something like at Pipestone.

It is worth going over the bridge because the trail is just as good as before the bridge and it is a nice viewpoint of the waterfall, especially considering Mik didn't get to see the other falls Dad and I hiked down to in Shenandoah National Park the next day.

Destination Info:
Virginia's Natural Bridge Park
15 Appledore Lane
Natural Bridge, VA 24578