Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Walt Disney World: Epcot - Soarin'

Date of Visit: September 19, 2016

We said we'd never do Soarin' at Epcot again unless they changed it to Soarin' Over Florida. While that isn't what happened, they did in fact change it so we were excited to give it another try, although we are sad that they also changed it in California.

Like last time, we used Fastpass+ for this attraction. I do miss that there is no aviation hall of fame to go through like in California, but since it's the Fastpass line you don't spend much time in line. However, you do still end up spending time waiting in the ramp hall down to where they assign you to rows and that is annoying because you're often stuck on the incline for awhile.

Overall we still like Soarin' as one of the few transfer rides I can do with Mik. However, we just didn't end up really enjoying the around the world version as much. Mainly, it just didn't seem quite as realistic throughout. Thus, we probably would one do this maybe every few trips and only with Fastpass.

Destination Info:

Lake Buena Vista, FL

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Arlington House, the Robert E. Lee Memorial

Date of Visit: September 15, 2016

After a hot and humid summer, it was nice to finally have a Thursday forecast that was clear and with a high below 80. We mainly had been waiting for a Thursday to go with Dad to get the rest of the NPS Centennial stamps on the National Mall, but we decided to also finally do Arlington House since we decided to take the metro to Arlington Cemetery and walk down the mall from that end.

The hill at Arlington Cemetery makes it quite a trek to get to the various sites, especially with Arlington House being at the top. The real annoying part, though, is the signage at Arlington Cemetery is horrible. It does have signs to the Kennedy gravesite and to the Tomb of the Unknown, but no where does it point which roads to take to get to Arlington House. Also, depending on where you are at the signs to the Tomb of the Unknown are pointing to the inaccessible stepped Crook Walk to it. Luckily, Dad had grabbed a map and we were able to figure out the most direct way to Arlington House (Mik wasn't up for the extra time to trek to the Tomb of the Unknown).

On the way to Arlington House, we stopped at the Kennedy gravesite. The stepped path up to the eternal flame is still not ideal and it is annoying that there is no ramp to get to the other part of the memorial, but at least it wasn't raining like last time we visited, so it wasn't slippery.

 We also checked out the Civil War Unknown Monument, which was on the path we discovered we needed to take to be able to get up to the Arlington House as the more obvious direct path is steps by the tour bus stop.

The paths around Arlington House and the other buildings are dirt/gravel, which Mik didn't particularly like, but for the most part they were packed down enough to be easy enough to push him through.

To visit the house there is a ramp up to the porch. The ramp up to the front door is a little awkward. Dad asked me to hold it open and I'm glad I noticed it had a stopper you could put down to hold it open because there really isn't room to stand to hold it open without getting run over.

The house is a self-guided tour and there are no signs to give any information (at least not on the first floor), but there is a ranger that you could ask for information. On the first floor there are three rooms to see and then you end up at the conservatory, which has steps down to it, so we turned around and went back out the way we came in. I think there is also a second floor and basement to tour, but since Mik couldn't access them, none of us visited them.

On the grounds, there is two slave quarters buildings, a flower garden, a kitchen garden, and a museum. The slave quarters buildings and the museum are all level with the path making them more accessible to enjoy. The slave quarters buildings just have the doors open. The museum has an automatic door button, although it wasn't working. The museum is small, but it provides a good timeline of Robert E. Lee's life and a little on the Custis family.

Our favorite part of Arlington House was L'Enfant's grave and the view overlooking D.C.

Destination Info:
Arlington House, the Robert E. Lee Memorial
Arlington Cemetery
Arlington, VA

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Monday, August 29, 2016

The Birchmere: The Oak Ridge Boys

Date of Visit: August 28, 2016

The Oak Ridge Boys are definitely the ones you got to get there early for to get a good line number as we were 70 or so back since we arrived a little after 5pm and it was similar experience when Mom and I went last year. With Mik, though, they ended up noticing us and taking us through the gift shop to enter a little after they started calling line numbers. However, this time it wasn't sold out, so even if we hadn't been with Mik we easily would've gotten one of my favorite tables by the bar in the raised area to the left.

Mik liked The Oak Ridge Boys, but not as much as Brandy Clark (he's excited she's playing here again this year). They're still my favorite to see live, especially since they always change up their set list including often basing some of the picks on requests they get through Twitter before the show. Mik said he probably would only see them again if they played at The Birchmere, which is mainly because he again ordered off the specials (chicken fried steak) there are still several headliners he wants to try.

Destination Info:
The Birchmere
3701 Mount Vernon Avenue
Alexandria, VA 22305

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine

Date of Visit: August 25, 2016

Fort McHenry has been our list to revisit since 2014 when we considered going to the Star Spangled Banner Bicentennial. Since we are trying to collect the National Park Passport Centennial Stamps this year, it seemed like a good time to finally go and it just happened to work out that our first free Thursday was the actual National Park Centennial.

Usually Mik is into the military history sites we visit, but neither of us found this all that great of a visit. At least the site is mostly accessible as the main part Mik couldn't access was the walkways up around the edge of the fort. I think it mostly wasn't enjoyable because it suddenly got crowded when we started to explore it, but it was also because there wasn't really any signage to help direct where to explore (the pamphlet also didn't even have a map of the park) and very oddly there wasn't a single park ranger (or even a volunteer) to be found except back in the visitor center.

Another area Mik couldn't access was the bombproofs, but he did enjoy that he could still look down in there. Most of the other exhibits were in the buildings in the fort with ramps added to the entrances/exits as needed.

Destination Info:
Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine
2400 East Fort Avenue
Baltimore, MD 21230

Hampton National Historic Site

 Date of Visit: August 25, 2016

We arrived around 9 a.m., so had about an hour to wait for the first tour of the mansion at 10 a.m. We spent the time exploring the grounds around the Hampton Mansion. There really isn't much to explore that is accessible, though, so Mik did get a little impatient. At least there was a Pokemon Go gym to entertain him at the top of the falling gardens that just required going in the grass a little to get the the gravel path in the backyard that leads to it.

We attempted to go to the cemetery because it seemed close enough that we could go there and back before the tour, but the gravel turned out to be quite thick on this path. This is also the path that goes down to the farm area, which I think might also have its own parking area, but we wanted to also fit in Fort McHenry today. Also, Baltimore is an easy day trip for us, so we figured instead someday we'll come back and remember the freewheel to make exploring the grounds not a big deal.

As a historic home originally finished in 1790, Hampton House is not exactly accessible. However, the tour starts in the hyphen with a ramp up to the entrance. Once inside there is then a lift to get to the first floor. The tour does end up going down to the kitchen and up to the second floor (3 bedrooms and special exhibit room), which I did while Dad waited with Mik, but really they didn't miss out on too much and got to see the best parts. In particular, we liked that the tour guide adapted the tour to include them the most by making sure they could hear when she talked about the bells in the hall on the way down to the kitchen and most of the information on that area. She also did the whole first floor area before we did the second floor, so they could wait outside and explore the grounds rather than wait inside for us again.

After the tour we headed back down the road to the museum shop to get our National Park Passport stamps. This road is a little steep for Mik's liking and we probably would've just parked at the top by the mansion if it had been open to get the stamps when we first got there.

Destination Info:
Hampton National Historic Site
535 Hampton Lane
Towson, MD 21286

Friday, August 19, 2016

Smithsonian Castle

Date of Visit: August 19, 2016

I know I've been in the Smithsonian Castle several times, but not sure if Mik ever has or just doesn't remember. I probably actually never took him inside, though, because I always just think of it as the visitor center and why not just go to the actual museums. Turns out it is actually a really great starting point to visiting the museums (or in our case just learn about Smithsonian history).

There are two public entrances to the building (north and south). The north entrance from the mall has a ramp entrance to the right. There is a button to open these doors. Make sure it actual activates to open both doors as we scrapped through when it only opened one side. It worked fine on the way out, so it just seems it may sometimes get stuck. The south entrance is also accessible, but it involves a lift to get up the steps that are right inside the entry.

We got there around 12:15 p.m. and ended up taking our time browsing the "Welcome to Your Smithsonian" and "The Smithsonian Institution: America's Treasure Chest" exhibits in the west wing while we waited to do the 1:30 p.m. Castle Highlights Tour. We particularly enjoyed the "America's Treasure Chest" exhibit as it has a sampling of the items in the collections of the different Smithsonian museums. Mik especially enjoyed the sports case.

Mik was a little hesitant to wait around for the tour, but he ended up really enjoying it. We learned a lot about the founding of the museum as well as the Castle's architecture. Also, while all the areas on the tour you can visit on your own, we would have missed some if we hadn't done the tour. In particular, we probably would've totally missed the Smithson Crypt because we didn't know about it and you only end up walking by it if you come in the north entrance with steps.

The Smithsonian Castle is probably the one part of the Smithsonian we aren't likely to revisit on our own, but it was definitely worth visiting once and likely a place we would start if we were with others that hadn't been before again.

Destination Info:
Smithsonian Castle
1000 Jefferson Dr SW
Washington, DC

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

One Life: Babe Ruth at National Portrait Gallery

Date of Visit: August 3, 2016

Usually we wait until September to start going back to the museums, but when I told Mik about the Babe Ruth exhibit he wanted to go when it opened. That didn't happen due to my slow healing pinky and then the weather (humidity and rain). Today we finally managed a decent weather day and even decided to roll/walk home instead of taking the metro so Mik could get a better feel of the neighborhood and using his power chair again (recently got repaired after being out of commission for over a year).

The exhibit was a little disappointing in that it is just one small room. It's well done and gives a good overview of Babe Ruth's life, but we've been to the Babe Ruth birthplace museum in Baltimore and this exhibit just seemed a very small scale version of that museum. However, that museum is not accessible (or at least was not back in 2009), so Mik liked this exhibit a little for easy access. He didn't like that he couldn't get close enough to be able to touch most of the options to play the videos on the one multimedia part of the exhibit, though.

Even though the exhibit was disappointing, it was still a fun outing because there's always something interesting to discover at the National Portrait Gallery. For example, Mik enjoyed seeing the portrait of Kevin Spacey as President Frank Underwood from House of Cards in the Recent Acquisitions area. Plus, we enjoyed catching some Pokemon while sitting out front having a snack.

Go here to see our review of the National Portrait Gallery for more general accessibility info. It's a few years old, but all still applies as far as we've noticed (Mik has no desire to ever recheck that tiny elevator).

Destination Info:
National Portrait Gallery
Between G St and F St and 7th and 8th St
Washington, DC