Monday, December 5, 2016

U.S. Botanic Garden: Season's Greenings 2016 - National Parks and Historic Places

Date of Visit: November 24 & December 5, 2016

I misremembered what day we had gone last year and we ended up only seeing the Christmas tree (and Yellowstone model) in the West Gallery on Thanksgiving because there was no way we were going to wait in a line out the door and around the building to see the trains when we've always seen it with no wait and it's crowded enough in the exhibit then.

Today we visited right when it opened and enjoyed it at our own pace without too many other people in the exhibit, although there were quite a few little kids that I kept almost running over because I couldn't see they suddenly got in front of Mik.

We particularly enjoyed the exhibit this year with the theme being National Parks and Historic Places. Mik did not have a favorite this year, but only because he truly liked seeing all the different models representing the places. My favorite was the Grand Canyon National Park display because they featured the train station, which totally fits the model train theme and is also the only way we have ever visited the Grand Canyon.

We enjoyed seeing the models of some of the National Park units we've already visited and other National Parks and historic places we still want to see, such as what we call the other Monticello (the real one...not our home/boat).

Overall this was our favorite Season's Greeting theme, yet, but the tunnel area really disappointed us. They always have a tunnel and in general it is a great feature, especially for kids. However, Mik is always afraid he won't fit under and this year in fact he couldn't. He was still able to mostly see the little scenes by looking in from each end, but it's not the same, especially when it's meant to resemble the drive through tree experience. At least we have actually done that for real.

Destination Info:
United States Botanic Garden
100 Maryland Avenue SW
Washington, DC 20001

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Walt Disney World: Epcot - Disney Vacation Club Lounge

Date of Visit: November 17, 2016

We meant to check out the lounge last trip, but forgot (and it probably would've been too crowded to enjoy like the rest of Epcot was most of that trip since it was during the Food & Wine Festival). Since not even the holidays had really started at Epcot, it ended up being a good time for regular Epcot stuff including checking out the DVC Lounge.

To access the lounge there are steps and to take the elevator up they have someone bring it down as it apparently is set up to only be called by the button from upstairs, which makes sense as a way to control access to the lounge since check in is downstairs. Mik liked the interior styling of the elevator and it's unique shape (reminds me that I have to take him to the National Gallery of Art East one of these days as he'll really like those ones).

We enjoyed taking a break in the lounge, especially since they have almost more outlets than seating so you can recharge your devices. We also enjoyed that they not only have free fountain soda, but it is the Coke Freestyle machines. They also came around once while we were in there with a snack cart that you could choose something from for free including gummy bears, chips, and Cheez-its.

Destination Info:
Lake Buena Vista, FL

Friday, November 25, 2016

Walt Disney World: Magic Kingdom - Country Bear Jamboree

Date of Visit: November 21, 2016

Finally got Mik to see the Country Bear Jamboree this trip. He enjoyed the show for the most part, but didn't like the wheelchair seating only being up front, especially afterwards when he realized it resulted in him missing one entire segment.

To enter the show there are turnstiles. We were confused what to do because unlike most attractions with turnstiles there is not an area right there with a rope and a wheelchair symbol to know where to go. After a few minutes a cast member showed us over to another door around to the left that leads you inside to wait in a separate part of the lobby for the doors to open.

The only option for wheelchairs is to sit in the front row. Since usually you end up in the back, it is kind of a nice change from most shows. However, for this show in particular it means enjoying some of the best parts is hard to impossible to do.

One part I wasn't sure Mik would be able to enjoy was the animal heads on the wall to the right. Once I pointed them out to Mik, he did glance at them, but you don't really get the same experience when you have to remember to look back up at them as when you sit up on the higher rows.

Overall Mik enjoyed the show, but when talking to him later I asked what he thought of the view of the part when the bear is singing from a swing and he didn't know what I was talking about. Turns out he was totally confused by that part of the show because he thought it was just singing with no bear to be seen because he didn't know he had to look up to see it. Not that he really missed anything because from the front all you can do is look up at her butt.

Destination Info:
Country Bear Jamboree
Magic Kingdom
Lake Buena Vista, FL

Monday, November 21, 2016

Walt Disney World: Disney's Polynesian Villas - Deluxe Studio w/ Roll-In Shower

Date of Visit: November 15-21, 2016

We picked Disney's Polynesian for this trip because it was on the monorail and thus would be easy to get over to the Contemporary for the Destination D event. In the end, it really wasn't all that convenient for that as we really aren't fans of the ramps up to the monorail at the Transportation & Ticket Center and Magic Kingdom in the first place and then found we really hate the setup for the station at the Contemporary and to some extent also the Polynesian (not enough elevators for the traffic in the Great Ceremonial House at peak times). For the most part, we just used the ferry boat from the Ticket & Transportation Center to get to the Magic Kingdom and then walked to the Contemporary, but we found the Resort Monorail was the only option to get to the morning sessions.

Despite not being a fan of the monorail, the Polynesian is now our favorite DVC resort (at least when it's just us and we can do a studio). If we do Destination D again, we probably would stay somewhere else and do the bus to the Magic Kingdom and then walk to Contemporary, but for regular Walt Disney World trips the Polynesian works because as long as we weren't going to the Magic Kingdom before park opening we found the ferry to be an option, especially since we were in Pago Pago, which is the closest building to the Ticket & Transportation Center. While Epcot is still only accessible by Monorail from the Polynesian, we avoid having to go up the ramp at the Transportation & Ticket Center by usually starting our day with Toy Story Mania at Hollywood Studios and then taking the boat to Epcot and at Epcot the Monorail station has an elevator along with much lower grade ramps, so we only have to deal with the steep ramp going down once.

The main reason we are a huge fan of the Polynesian is that the doors are set almost like the ones that we love on the Disney Cruise ships. The door doesn't automatically open when you unlock it with your Magicband, but it does once you push it slightly and when you pull it slightly to leave. There is also a button inside, which I assume is supposed to activate it open to leave, but Mik was quickly disappointed that it did absolutely nothing when he pushed it. We didn't get around to asking about it, but it was either broken or it could be something that you have to ask to be activated for your stay.

We also mostly really liked the layout of the studio. It is nice how the studios here have a bathroom as well as another room with a second sink and shower. As just two people, we don't need that extra area to get ready, but it was nice to have roll-in shower in the main bathroom and still also have a regular shower for me to use instead of having to use the roll-in shower, which is often not that great of an experience.

Mik particularly liked the bathroom layout as he quickly discovered he could easily roll up next to the toilet to park his chair. He also found the space easy for going to the bathroom on his own, which isn't always the case for him in "accessible" hotel bathrooms.

We also liked the bed that folds down from below the TV as I used that and Mik used the queen bed, so we didn't have to deal with the fold out couch and always had plenty of floor space to maneuver around.

The only problem we had with the room was the kitchen area. It was not at all designed to be accessible. For the most that didn't matter to us, but the microwave is even higher than a regular home kitchen that has one mounted above a stove that even I almost couldn't use it at all. This was extremely disappointing to us in that the first time (and possibly only other time) we've done a DVC studio was the only time Mik has ever been able to use a hotel microwave because it was below the counter.

Overall, though, we really enjoy the room and the resort location. The only other thing that we didn't like was that the beverage and food options for grab and go are extremely limited, especially compared to what we got used to from the cafeteria option on our last trip when we paid to stay at a value resort, but it was also more limited than we have found at the other DVC resorts shops in terms of beverages and grocery type items. However, you can't beat that the Polynesian Resort has Dole Whips, so it's sort of a wash.

Destination Info:
Disney's Polynesian Village Resort
1600 Seven Seas Drive
Lake Buena Vista, Florida 32830-8423

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Walt Disney World: Moana at Disney's Polynesian Village Resort

Date of Visit: November 18, 2016

Every time Mik has seen a preview for Moana, he has been excited to see the movie. We were planning to try to see it in the next few weeks, but first we want to find time to see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Thus, as soon as I noticed the email to RSVP for an advanced screening of Moana at the resort we're staying at I signed us up.

The movie was shown in an outdoor setting on the beach in front of the bungalows at the Polynesian Village Resort. Mik was worried when we walked past it to check in that he would have to go in the sand and was ready to bail until he noticed some boards put on one side that looked like they had some wheelchair access on the beach, which they did.

Overall we enjoyed watching the movie, but it was kind of awkward how they had the wheelchair area raised up with a large slant edge so that I was several feet from Mik when I sat in the chair next to him. Mik also didn't like the sound partly because it was loud, but mostly because there was an echo at times (more so during the pre-show content than the actual movie). We're glad we did it, but it really wasn't that special like the D23 movie events we've done and in the future we probably will just wait a week and pay to see it in an actual theater.

Destination Info:
Disney's Polynesian Village Resort
1600 Seven Seas Drive
Lake Buena Vista, Florida 32830-8423

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Walt Disney World: California Grill

Date of Visit: November 17, 2016

California Grill is a restaurant I have been wanting to take Mik to for years and it did not disappoint. Mik particularly enjoyed the seating and the view even though he couldn't see much due to the way the inside lighting reflected on the windows and we weren't right next to the windows.

Getting to the restaurant was confusing as it isn't clear that you are supposed to check in on Level 2 to be able to escorted up the elevator to Level 15. We also found the monorail situation at the Contemporary annoying as it isn't clear which way you are supposed to get off the elevator and line up (much prefer the one general line and elevator is not just for Monorail set up at the Polynesian where we are staying even though the queue area and those elevators aren't enough to handle the evening crowds). In the future, we only plan to visit this resort how we have done in the past, which is to walk from the Magic Kingdom (or a bus perhaps if we're at another park).

Because we wanted to make sure we had room for dessert, we decided to share the tomato salad as an appetizer and ordered sushi instead of entrees. Mik chose the sashimi and I chose the tuna three ways.

Mik's favorite part of the meal was the dessert. He got the S'mores Creme Brulee.

Destination Info:
California Grill
Disney's Contemporary Resort
Lake Buena Vista, FL

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

President William Jefferson Clinton Birthplace Home NHS

Date of Visit: November 5, 2016

Since we had visited the Jimmy Carter national park unit earlier this trip, it seemed natural to stop by the Clinton one when we were driving through Arkansas. At first it was confusing if it was accessible because the parking signs are only on the street by the railroad tracks, which has steps up to the Visitor Center. Mom went in and asked if it was accessible and discovered there is a parking lot behind the house. There are no actual handicap spots, but it's a decent size parking lot and we were pretty much the only ones there.

We got there right as it was the time for them to give a house tour, so we started with  the tour. The first floor is mostly accessible. Mik particularly liked that unlike most historic homes this one had no barriers keeping you from areas. Thus, it really seemed more like people had actually lived here. The second floor isn't accessible, but the ranger gave Mom and I the quick tour of it separately while the other one of us  waited with Mik downstairs.

Overall Mik enjoyed the stop because it was a really quick one. However, it is a little disappointing in that it seems a little too limited. They do have a small exhibit about Clinton and his family members, but it's kind of odd the only artifacts were basically campaign buttons.

Destination Info:
President William Jefferson Clinton Birthplace Home NHS

Saturday, November 5, 2016

American Airlines Center: Portland Trail Blazers @ Dallas Mavericks

Date of Visit: November 4, 2016

Mik and Mom talk about going to a basketball game at a new arena every season to make progress towards having seen a game at every one, but in the past 5 years they still have only been to the Phoenix Suns and the Washington Wizards (this one at least was before it was our local team). As part of our current plan as we go road trip, we decided to finally try to see a game.

We originally tried to see the Memphis Grizzlies, but we couldn't get accessible seats. This has frequently been an issue and actually the biggest reason why their plans to get to more arenas haven't happened. We know in the case of the Suns it was often about getting to the right department that sold them and the Wizards we just have always bought the tickets at the box office. Thus, we considered just going to the Memphis box office to ensure they really didn't have any accessible tickets available. Then I realized we were near Dallas and was able to actually buy tickets on Ticketmaster.

Since Mom isn't exactly allowed to take the truck into parking garages (and Mom had Hyatt points for a free night), we walked to the American Airlines Center from the nearby Hyatt House. This ended up working out okay, but there is a lot of construction going on making it difficult to find an accessible route. There is a point we had to cross and the other side doesn't have a ramp, but at least this road is set up for entering the parking garage around game time making the traffic not an issue. The people directing parking were also willing to stop the traffic to let us just walk in the street until we got to the ramp at the next block.

We sat in Section 101. I had purchased two tickets for the wheelchair row and one in the row in front, but since they have a chair for each spot and plenty of room behind the row of chairs the usher said I could just sit behind Mik if I wanted. Mik liked that it was the level we entered and we didn't have to find an elevator. He also like the view of the game from this level.

Overall Mik enjoyed watching the game at American Airlines Center. However, it was a little loud for his liking. Also, it failed the cup holder test. The rows in front have them. Even the folding chairs in the wheelchair row have them, but when you move it out of the way for a wheelchair to roll into the spot the cup holder goes away.

Destination Info:
American Airlines Center 
2500 Victory Ave
Dallas, Texas

Friday, November 4, 2016

Fort Smith National Historic Site

Date of Visit: November 3, 2016

I had already been to Fort Smith, but I wanted to the Centennial stamp since we were pretty much driving right by it. I remember the museum being worthwhile, but let Mik decide what we do. He just wanted to visit the bookstore and walk around the outside exhibits (mainly to get the Poke Stops).

There are several parking areas around the Fort. The one closest to the building is just a few spots right off the road. Since the one handicap spot was already taken, we parked in the biggest one, which is on the other side of the Gallows. The handicap spots here are the furthest away and mostly work except they are currently doing work on the gazebo and blocking the sidewalk meaning it's confusing to find a path to the Visitor Center with a ramp up to the sidewalk (it's near the street).

Mik enjoyed walking around the fort, although the gazebo project also blocked the path down to the Trail of Tears overlook, so we couldn't quite fully explore the grounds.

Mik also liked that the Visitor Center entrance has buttons to open the doors. There was also a family restroom.

Destination Info:
Fort Smith NHS
301 Parker Avenue
Fort Smith, AR 72901

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Burke's Book Store

 Date of Visit: November 2, 2016

After a disappointing search for books in Savannah with two out of the three bookstores being entirely inaccessible due to stairs and none having 1940s books, we both enjoyed visiting Burke's Book Store in Memphis. There were very few areas that Mik couldn't get to, but for the most part he could easily roll around and browsed his favorite genres.

The fact that they had a parking lot was also something that made this one of our favorite used bookstores we've visited because most of the time they end up only have on street parking, which often makes it difficult to get Mik out of the truck.

Destination Info:

Burke's Book Store
936 South Cooper Street
Memphis, TN 38104

Jimmy Carter National Historic Site

Date of Visit: November 1, 2016

I was close to having visited 100 National Park units, so I wanted to do it this year while it was the Centennial. I also wanted my 100th to be something cool. Thus, I chose Jimmy Carter National Historic Site because we have the same birthday and he is also Mom's favorite president.

We started our visit at the Plains High School Museum and Visitor Center. There are parking lots in front of and behind the building. We liked that it clearly pointed to the back parking lot for the accessible spots as the ramp entrance to the building is the back entrance. However, we did not like the parking spots because neither one had an access aisle. Since there weren't many other visitors no parked next to us anyways, but we still were blocking the vehicle next to us if they needed the wide access like we do.

The museum has several rooms set up as the school would have been, a movie showing in the auditorium, and a timeline style exhibit on Jimmy Carter. Mik enjoyed the movies about the school that included students talking about their time there.

Our favorite part of the museum was the Resolute desk replica.

After the museum, we walked over to the Plains Depot, which was the 1976 Campaign Headquarters. It was worth walking over there for us as we battled the two Pokemon gyms that were between the museum and the depot. We had Mom drive the truck over rather than walk back to the museum, though because there was a better handicap spot by the depot, though, and we didn't want to have to cross the railroad tracks and the highway again.

The Plains Depot has a good exhibit about its history as the campaign headquarters. The main part of the exhibit is up on the platform level, which has ramp access by the parking lot. The other part is not accessible from inside the building due to steps, but there is a door to it at street level.

Destination Info:
Jimmy Carter NHS
300 North Bond Street
Plains, GA 31780

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Black Swan Books

Date of Visit: October 29, 2016

For the past few years I've been seeking out 1940s books at used bookstores when traveling. Mik enjoys browsing bookstores, but often he quickly gets bored because they aren't very accessible and he can't explore that much of the stores. While he didn't end up finding anything he wanted at Black Swan Books, he was actually the one we had to wait for to be done browsing because he could easily roll around the whole store.

Destination Info:
Black Swan Books
2601 W. Main Street
Richmond, VA 23220

Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site

 Date of Visit: October 29, 2016

We started our visit of the Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site by watching the movie at the visitor center. The movie is very well done and definitely a must see. However, Mik was then ready to go and found the house tour not that interesting because he thought it was just then repetitive information. Thus, he thinks in hindsight it would have been better to see the house and then watch the movie (or really he probably thinks the movie is all you need to do here AND it is worth visiting just for it).

Mom and I both really did enjoy the house tour, but agree that the movie is the best part of an everyday visit here. The best part for our visit, though, was that one of Maggie Walker's relatives was filming an interview at the house and we got to talk to her and learn about how Maggie Walker's legacy continues to carry on today.

Not sure if the tour always begins from the back, but there is a ramp to the enter through the back, so that's how the tour began for us. The tour does also include the second floor, but it is not accessible nowadays, so we broke off and left the way we came in when they got to that part of the tour. Interestingly, Maggie Walker was in a wheelchair towards the end of her life due to diabetes and they had an elevator that used pulleys for her to get between the floors.

Overall accessibility was surprisingly good here, especially considering it is an old home and a smaller National Park unit. We did find the handicap stall in the bathroom almost too small, though. Also, it is just neighborhood street parking and some of the sidewalks are quite a mess from tree trunks pushing them up, but growing up in a historic neighborhood ourselves the fact it even has sidewalks the whole block is something.

Destination Info:
Maggie L. Walker NHS
600 N. 2nd St.
Richmond, VA 23219

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Walt Disney World: Magic Kingdom - The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

Date of Visit: September 20, 2016

While Mik will usually do an accessible ride once per trip even if he isn't a fan of it, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is one I haven't been able to get him to do for years. The only reason I even got him to do it this time was it was raining and it was a way to stay out of the rain and waste the last hour until Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party began.

After riding it again, Mik is definitely against riding it again unless perhaps it's raining and I agree because if I'm going to have to ride alone I might as well just ride it when I go to the park to do the rides he can't do. It's not so much that he ends up riding alone that bothered him, but that the hunny pot is huge and yet designed in such a way that his wheelchair didn't fit (or at least they didn't give us enough time to try to get it all the way to the side) and have the seat come down for somebody to ride with him.

Destination Information:
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
Magic Kingdom
Lake Buena Vista, FL

Saturday, September 24, 2016

D23 Presents Bedknobs and Broomsticks: 45 Bewitching Years

Date of Visit: September 24, 2016

The D23 Presents Bedknobs and Broomsticks: 45 Bewitching Years event began with being able to shop the UNIGLO store before it's normal operating hours. That part we didn't so much care about, but it was worth going early for this part because it included breakfast. I thought the breakfast part was going to just be like fruit and pastries, but it included eggs, bacon, sausage, potatoes, and french toast as well as fruit and some pastries.

The main event was seeing Bedknobs and Broomsticks at the AMC Theater. Before the movie there was a presentation about the making of the movie, which Mik particularly enjoyed. Of course, we also enjoyed seeing one of our favorite movies on the big screen for the first time.

Destination Info:
AMC Disney Springs
Lake Buena Vista, FL

Friday, September 23, 2016

Walt Disney World: Magic Kingdom - Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party 2016

 Date of Visit: September 20, 2016

After not enjoying Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party two years ago, we kept going back and forth on doing it this trip. Finally, we decided to just do it because Mik really got into the treat trails when we did Disneyland last year and if it was bad again at least we'd get this year's Halloween card for my Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom collection.

Since we went into it with low expectations, it actually wasn't as bad as we remembered. In particular, the treat lines didn't seem that bad and we even learned afterwards that it was more crowded than normal because Sunday had been rained out and people were given tickets to come back on our party day. For one, the treat lines were queued up better making it easier to find the end to them then we remember from last time. Also, we found the lines all seemed to move quite smoothly and weren't anywhere near as long as some of the ones we did last year at Disneyland. We even ended up doing them all before 9:30pm.

The line that took us the longest was actually the rather short, but very slow moving line at Friar's Nook to buy a Ghoulish Strawberry Lemonade Slushy. It was a good treat and worth it, though.

Overall we did enjoy the Halloween party, but again not sure we would do it again at Magic Kingdom. The biggest disappointment was they don't have the healthy treat options like they have at Disneyland. Also, they don't do a pre-party thing, although it was raining until right before the party started, so that might not have been enjoyable anyways. Finally, we were disappointed that the guide map lists Werther's, but none of the treat spots were giving them out.

Destination Info:
Magic Kingdom
Lake Buena Vista, FL