Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Manassas National Battlefield Park: Stone Bridge Trail

Date of Visit: June 18, 2017

The Stone Bridge Trail is one of the accessible trails (or at least partly accessible) at Manassas National Battlefield Park. It is also one of the stops on the driving tour, so it has a parking lot next to it.

The Stone Bridge Trail is a rather short trail that is mostly a paved path that goes up to the Stone Bridge. The trail is only considered accessible up to the bridge.

Right before the bridge there is a bump to go over and the bridge is not technically accessible due to the slope, but it's not that difficult to go across the bridge. The trails on the other side of the bridge are where it really is no longer accessible partly due to it being a stepped trail down. While not much of a trail, Mik still found it interesting to be able to check out the bridge.

Destination Info:
Manassas National Battlefield Park
Manassas, VA

Manassas National Battlefield Park: Henry Hill Loop Trail

Date of Visit: June 18, 2017

The park actually does have some wheelchair accessible trails, but we ended up not getting around to checking them out except Stone Bridge Trail because we wore Mik out doing the Henry Hill Loop Trail. I am glad we ventured out on this trail first, though, as it was an interesting overview of the battle and while not technically accessible it was quite doable (amazing what a difference the new wheelchair makes as it would've been hard to impossible with his last chair except maybe with the freewheel).

The Henry Hill Loop Trail focuses on the history of the Battle of First Manassas (Bull Run), which mostly took place around the hill. The trail is mostly through low grass, although some parts are more dirt and gravel and there are definitely uneven pothole parts.

The first main stop on the trail is the Henry House, which was destroyed during the battle and rebuilt after the war. There is an exhibit with a movie and history on the house inside, but it is a huge step to get inside that has a big rock as a step making it not really doable to get inside with Mik. If it has just been regular two or three steps, we might've taken Mik inside because once inside it seems you can easily roll through and he would've found it interesting.

Even not being able to go inside the house this part of the trail has several things to see as there is a family cemetery where the only civilian casualty of the battle is buried and an 1865 monument.

Most of the bad parts are past the Henry House as you loop over to the Southern line cannons. You could probably easily skip the worst parts of the loop, which included a steep hill down and right back up, and still get a feel for the whole trail if you went to the Henry House, back to the Visitor Center, and then over to the Jackson statue and Southern line instead of following the whole loop trail.

Following the loop we went past some of the Southern line marked with cannons and over to the Jackson statue that commemorates where he got the Stonewall nickname.

Destination Info:
Manassas National Battlefield Park
Manassas, VA

Manassas National Battlefield Park: Henry Hill Visitor Center

Date of Visit: June 18, 2017

For Father's Day, I wanted to do an outing with Dad and we were originally going to go without Mik to Shenandoah National Park since I've been wanting to do Ranger Dan photos there. When I was looking at the map to see if there were any other National Park units nearby to also do I was reminded that Manassas National Battlefield was close to us. It was also somewhere Mik was interested in visiting as long as it was accessible, which we found after a quick look at the Manassas National Battlefield Park website led us to their accessibility page that has good details on what areas of the park have wheelchair accessible parts.

As usual for a National Park, we started our visit at the Visitor Center. We were impressed with the parking layout here as it laid out so that the middle walkway up to the visitor center has handicap parking on both sides in every row. Thus, you have the opportunity to avoid taking a spot close to the building when all you need is the extra room for loading/unloading.

The visitor center is accessible via a ramp to the side of the entrance and the double doors have a button to open them automatically.

There is also a ramp from the back entrance to go out to the Henry Hill Loop Trail or just view the area from the patio if you don't want to trek out on the grassy trail. There is also a ramp on the back side accessed from around the front that leads down to the basement level where the bathrooms are located.

The visitor center has a small museum, a gift shop, and a theater. We didn't end up seeing the movie because it is shown on the hour and both before and after doing the Henry Hill Loop Trail we would've had to wait 20 to 30 minutes for it to start (and Mik wasn't sure about watching a 45 minute movie).

Destination Info:
Manassas National Battlefield Park
Manassas, VA

Sunday, May 28, 2017

AMC Shirlington - Reserved Seat Recliner Theater

Date of Visit: May 28, 2017

In looking at showtimes to go see the new Pirates movie I found that a lot of the showings were reserved seat, which is kind of annoying to me, but now I get that these are recliner theaters that they seem to have put into a lot of the AMCs in our area. We just got tickets at the theater, but it is nice that you can do it online easily for accessible and companion if you want, which I suppose is actually a good thing because there have been one or two times that we've gone to the movies and there were no wheelchair spots left.

The only real problem with the recliner theater is that they do not end up having cupholders for the wheelchair seat. In the regular theater this has never been a problem because the seats always have them on both sides so there's enough for the person in the seat and the wheelchair next to it. The recliners only have them on the aisles and the middle armrest doesn't have one. I guess it doesn't because that armrest can be put up, but I don't see why they couldn't have made them with a cupholder like middle seat armrests in cars.

Overall we all really enjoyed the recliner theater. Mik definitely wants to do it again, but now that we know what the theater looks like we would probably actually take the seats on the sides in the back row that are not marked as accessible, but we could easily roll next to and transfer Mik to a recliner. That way he not only gets the whole experience, but more importantly a cupholder.

Destination Info:
AMC Shirlington 7
2772 S Randolph St
Arlington, VA 22206

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

Monday, February 13, 2017

Be Our Guest Restaurant at Magic Kingdom

Date of Visit: February 5, 2017

For years we've been wanting to try the dinner at Be Our Guest, but never seem to be able to plan out our dining soon enough to manage a reservation (we did the quick service lunch back before they did reservations for that). This time I only managed a reservation because I couldn't get one when planning our November trip and booking for February had just opened. I am glad we ended up finally doing it this trip as while it would've been enjoyable on our own, it turned out to be a great dining experience for our family trip.

There are three different rooms you can end up being seated in. We were in the main dining room and really enjoyed the atmosphere, although either of the other wings seem just as good and it would be interesting to end up in a different one if we go again.

We all enjoyed the appetizers and entrees we ordered and found the portions to be good. Mik had the potato leek soup and the pork chop. I had the sauteed shrimp and scallops.

For dessert, since no one else ordered it, I just had to try the grey stuff. Sadly, it was not delicious, but only because I don't like frosting. The tart it was on top of was good, though. Mik ordered the Elcair a l'Orange and that was very delicious.

Before leaving, we visited the Beast for a group photo minus Mik who didn't want to do it.

Overall we really enjoyed Be Our Guest. We liked that it had a good themed atmosphere and that while there was a character opportunity, it was very easy to skip if you wanted because it was separate rather than being something they send you through before seating you or having the character(s) come around. Not sure if we would go for dinner next time, but only because the breakfast menu looks interesting.

Destination Info:
Be Our Guest Restaurant
Magic Kingdom
Lake Buena Vista, FL

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Epcot International Festival of the Arts

Date of Visit: February 5, 2017

When we planned our trip the Epcot International Festival of the Arts hadn't been announced. Finding out we would be able to enjoy it when it was announced was exciting, but we were kind of disappointed it's only a weekend thing because we had already booked our two dining reservations for our week trip 2 of the 3 days we could've enjoyed eating at the festival. We did fit in trying a few things on Sunday for lunch before our early dinner at Be Our Guest, but Mik was disappointed we didn't instead eat at the festival booths on Monday, especially since it was the park we were in for our lunch and it turned out to be our worst Disney dining experience ever (not actually bad, but disappointing...will try to remember to do review later).

On Sunday, Mik and I park hopped by boat from Hollywood Studios and were planning to grab some lunch with my Starbucks gift card on the way over to meet up in Magic Kingdom for dinner. We had forgotten about the festival until we spotted the booth in Canada and then we picked up the little booklet that lists what all the booths have. Mik quickly spotted a picture of doughnuts and when I found the description we knew what we had to have for lunch.

On the way to get the doughnuts, we stopped at the E = AT^2 booth for some cold drinks. Mik enjoyed the Deconstructed Breakfast (non-alcoholic version), which is a spiced apple chai tea shake with maple syrup, a waffle crisp, and candied bacon. It reminded me of the pumpkin one they had at the Food & Wine, which was my favorite last time.

The Trio of Savory Croissant Doughnuts at the Painter's Palate did not disappoint. Mik enjoyed the chicken mousse one and I enjoyed the herb cream cheese with sea salt one. We split the tuna one. Mik's favorite was the tuna and mine was the herb cream cheese.

We also enjoyed the exhibits in the Showcase Plaza where Painter's Palate was located. In particular, we enjoyed seeing the Mary Blair art. However, they were rather small and left us wanting more of a real exhibit to experience.

Overall we enjoyed our little taste of the Epcot Festival of the Arts and hope to enjoy a lot more of it on Friday. In particular, it would be fun to get a photo in one of be part of the paintings displays.

Destination Info:

Epcot International Festival of the Arts
Lake Buena Vista, FL

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