Disney's Hollywood Studios: Travel Truths

 
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If you are looking for rides, you will be utterly disappointed when you go to Hollywood Studios.  There are only a handful of actual rides in the park.  Everything else is split between various kinds of entertainment shows, greeting of characters, shops and restaurants.  

Perhaps my least favorite park of them all (to read the reviews of all other Disney parks, click here), Hollywood Studios is still a beautiful park to see.  If you are more into the spectacles, Hollywood glamour, or Star Wars, then you'll probably like this park.  Let me break it down on what to do while visiting Hollywood Studios in Orlando. (disclaimer: types and availability of shows may vary by season).

THE BEST

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We like the thrills and rides with the technology and special effects that Disney is known to offer.  If you are up for a super, very fast ride, head over to the Rock 'n Roller Coaster.  You get on a "limousine" courtesy of Steven Tyler himself, and ride on the streets of L.A. on an incredibly fast, loud, roller coaster full of spins and twists, that may or may not make you throw up.  All while rocking to the songs of Aerosmith.  You can't beat that thrill!.

Also, next to the Rock 'n Roller Coaster you will find the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.  Now, I'd always wanted to ride this haunted elevator, since I was a kid.  Being a fan of the Twilight Zone since childhood, this ride was very anticipated.  You walk into a very haunted looking hotel lobby, with obvious spiderwebs and creepy decor.  Then you are taken to the elevator by the bellman.  You get in.  Sit down on the bench-like seat, fasten your seat belt (make sure to do this). 

The elevator goes up, and up, and up to the top floor, it opens a few times so you can see the scenery (pretty cool by the way) and then.... you scream.  The elevator drops several floors down.  Up and down, dropping with no warning.  It was fantastic.

The Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular was OK as well.  Not a ride, but a cool show that demonstrates how a film full of stunts is filmed (AKA Indiana Jones). 

FOR THE LITTLE ONES: 

Toy Story Mania was a cool little ride.  You enter the Toy Story world while shooting targets and collect points.  Play solo or challenge your friend.  It's playfully great! 

Also, if you reminisce of the good ole Muppets, the  Muppet Vision 3D, is the show to watch. It's sweet, funny, and just brings back good memories.  

FOR THE STAR WARS FANS:

Star Wars: Path of the Jedi, is a film experience that both parts of the movies, and real characters on stage.  The Jedi Training, will turn the little ones (4-12) into Jedi masters.  Star Tours: get in this simulator, travel the stars and feel the force.  

OTHER SHOWS:

The Voyage of the Little Mermaid, is a theatrical live short show with real characters, and special effects.  

For The First Time in Forever: Sing along to the songs of Frozen. Also, Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage, a Broadway style musical.  

Fantasmic: The one show you shouldn't miss.  Join Mickey and other Disney Characters on a magical musical adventure full of special effects and ... magic. 

Most of the entertainment in Hollywood Studios is in the form of short shows and meet the characters. The scenery is beautiful, but if you go with little ones, there is not going to be a whole lot to do (keep in mind that most "meet the characters" do not take the fast passes, so lines might be long).

Read our post on Disney's Do's and Dont's so you can plan your trip now!

There are plenty of restaurants, snack points, and shops along the park.  You will not leave without a souvenir! 

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I know I've said that Hollywood Studios is my least favorite park... Do you like it? What did I miss? Let us know in the comments and prove me wrong! (traveling is a learning experience). 

Always,

Mia

 

THE WIZARDING WORLD OF HARRY POTTER- a review

 

By the way... this is a real live photo I took.  It's that out of this world it looks fake to the eyes!

I was still a teen when I got hooked on the magic of a boy named Harry.  I can honestly say that reading these books changed, and saved my life in ways that many people don't understand.  How can a kid's book change your life? Well, it did. 

You can read my open letter to JK Rowling HERE.  It remained secret for a long time, but it feels good to tell the world that being sad, or depressed shouldn't be a stigma.  

So because of this, and many other things that I won't go into detail with now, I can say that I'm a Harry Potter super fan, or simply (and proudly) a Potterhead.  

Going to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Studios, and Islands of Adventure Florida had been my dream every since it was announced in 2007. 

HERE ARE THE MAIN THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:

If you are going to the park for the first time, there are certain things you should know so you can make every second count.

1. GET A MULTI-PARK TICKET.

You have the choice of purchasing a single park admission (Universal Studios OR Islands of Adventure) or a multi-pass or park hopper ticket.  GET BOTH.  WHY? The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is actually split in both parks. While Islands of Adventure opened the HP World in 2010, an expansion of this magical world was opened in the Universal Studios area in 2014. Both areas are connected by the Hogwarts Express.  YOU WON'T BE ABLE TO RIDE THE HOGWARTS EXPRESS unless you have a ticket for both parks.  Believe me.  It's worth it.

2. HOW THE WIZARDING WORLD IS DIVIDED

Islands of Adventure houses Hogsmeade, many shops and restaurants, the Flight of the Hippogriff, and the Hogwarts Castle with the Forbidden Journey ride.  Take the Hogwarts Express to King's Cross (located on the Universal Studios side) and enter the mysterious Diagon Alley where you can find Gringotts Bank and a fire breathing dragon on top of it.

 

RELATED: UNIVERSAL STUDIOS AND ISLANDS OF ADVENTURE- TRAVEL TIPS.

WHAT TO DO FIRST.

The very first thing a true fan should do is to get your own magic wand at Olivander's.  Whether you enter through Universal or Islands of Adventure, both sides have an Olivander's store.  This should be your first stop as the lines can get long, and there's no fast pass for it.  They will let about 20 people inside at the time for a "mini-show" to meet the man himself, Mr. Olivander.  He will pick a random lucky person from the group to hold wands and recreate the famous scene when Harry's wand chose him.  It's a very cool experience to see so close and in person.  But don't worry, if you are not chosen (they only chose ONE person per group- usually a kid, duh!) You will be then guided to the shop, where you can purchase your own wand.  

RELATED: DIY Harry Potter Rug. Step by Step.

WHAT KIND OF WANDS DO THEY HAVE? 

You can choose regular, character-based wands, interactive character wands, or your own wand based on your birthday.  If we talk about looks, some wands tend to lean towards the "dark side", but it's pretty cool to see what wand you'll get.  The store personnel is usually standing by in robes ready to assist you.  The interactive wands are more expensive, but totally worth it.  WHAT DO THEY DO?  With your purchase, you'll receive a map of Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade with every single interactive point in the land, along with the specific magic spells that will allow you to showcase your magic skills...

WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY "MAGIC SKILLS"?

Step on the symbols marking the magic spots (carved in gold on the ground), wave your wand in the way it specifies as you say the spell and just watch what happens.  You will see it rain on other bystanders, lights flicker, things float, etc.  There are dozens of places for you to practice your magic with your wand! But remember! The WAND chooses the wizard, not the other way around.

3. RIDE THE HOGWARTS EXPRESS

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One of the most memorable moments of my life - don't judge- was when standing in line, there I was, awaiting patiently at King's Cross, right at platform 9 & 3/4 (which you can find between platform 9 and 10 - wink wink) when suddenly, I hear it. The powerful whistle of the Hogwarts Express as it approached our station.  I think I didn't cry just because my daughter was watching me, but I almost did.  I did squeal.  This amazing replica of the iconic locomotive is as beautiful as it looks on the films.  When you board, they will seat about seven to eight people per cart, and close your door.  The cart compartments look EXACTLY as they look in the movies.  Before departure, pay attention to the glazed doors of the cart.  You'll see shadows of the characters "talking on the hallway", the Trolley lady, and even dementors looking to take you to Azkaban.  Watch the window when the train is in motion to observe the beautiful landscape and the view to Hogwarts/Diagon Alley. You are not supposed to take pictures or video inside the train... (sad face). 

4. RIDE EVERYTHING.

Besides the Hogwarts Express, there are only a couple of actual rides inside Harry Potter World's, but there is SO much to do! Go into the Hogwarts Castle and see it inside while waiting in line to ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.  Look around, enjoy the magic! 

Before you enter the Forbidden Journey ride you will have to put ALL your belongings in a locker.  No backpacks, no lose items are allowed in this ride.  Do you remember the scene when Ron took the old Ford for a ride and landed on the Whomping Willow? Well, this ride will feel like this.  The magic bench (in which you will be seating) is controlled by a robot arm.  Combine this with the most amazing flying simulator, incredible props, and special effects, and you go on the ride of your life. 

The flight of the Hippogriff is a roller coaster designed to feel as if you were flying on Buckbeak, the hippogriff. It's fun and short, but not as amazing as THE ESCAPE FROM GRINGOTTS.  Yeah.  You literally (or simulator-ally)  go all the way down into the vault in one of those little carts guided by a goblin.  Then it gets intense.  That freaking dragon, man! It's a great thrill! You almost have to ride this twice to be able to appreciate everything there is to see as it goes magically fast. Oh, before I forget, stay outside Gringotts for a while and watch the dragon on the top of the building breath fire. We timed it to be every 15-20 minutes or so. It's great!

5. DRINK BUTTERBEER.

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I'm not a fan of sweet, creamy/sparkling drinks, but I obviously had to try butterbeer.  I've had it before at a different venue, but NOTHING, and I repeat, NOTHING compares to this butterbeer.  IT WAS AMAZING! Not too sweet, not too simple. It was just the perfect combination of sparkling, and creamy buttery flavors.  I opted to have it cold, but apparently you can also  order it hot.  

6. DINE AT THE THREE BROOMSTICKS, Leaky Cauldron OR have a brew AT HOG'S HEAD.

Great food, simple menu and the portions are big.  Two can split some plates.  Reasonably priced as well (for a theme park).  The atmosphere is cozy and the service is quite organized.  

7. THE SHOPS!!!! 

SO many shops! Most have basically the same merchandise but organized differently, so it's fun to see the props and different decor of each store.  Definitely don't miss Weasley's Wizard Wheezes trick and candy store.  It's very entertaining. Also, I was a little disappointed to see that they don't have a lot of small souvenir items for sale (other than key chains).  I was hoping to find cool Harry Potter inspired jewelry, or car stickers, or you know, things like that... nope.  Most stuff was apparel, and expensive collector's items.  There are stores dedicated to Quidditch items and apparel, others to robes, and you can even get your own post owl!

8. EXPLORE DIAGON ALLEY.

When you are in Diagon Alley you must adventure towards a small, not so crowded, alleyways and you'll be surprise what you'll find.  If you dare, you'll find yourself in Knockturn Alley.  There you'll see Borgin and Burkes, a store dedicated to the dark arts, just like the one Harry fell in after saying the wrong name with the floo powder. A replica of a moving, very life-like Nagini is showcased on the store's display.  

9. DON'T FORGET TO STOP BY GRIMMAULD PLACE AND THE KNIGHT BUS.

Outside Diagon Alley, on the Universal Studio's side, you can see a beautiful replica of Grimmauld Place.  It's funny that I got excited to see it, but most people walk by it thinking it's just a decorative building... well... it is, but you can still see it and take a pic, while imagining you were part of the Order of the Phoenix. The Knight bus is next to it.  Go inside.  Take a selfie.  

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10. WATCH THE CASTLE AT NIGHT. 

Since we only did one day at Universal (first mistake), we stayed there ALL day and into the night, to be able to do most attractions.  When night falls, it's a wonderful spectacle at Hogsmeade.  Yes, you need to make your way towards Hogwarts and watch the light show.  Just like they do it at Disney on Cinderella's castle, Hogwarts has nothing to be ashamed of.  It was actually superior than the one at Disney (READ THAT REVIEW HERE). They play a very familiar tune that dances to the marvelous lights reflected on the Castle.  I have no words to describe it, so watch this video instead and see for yourself: (disclaimer, it was Christmas time celebration when we were there, so they probably change it according to the season). 

 

SO MUCH TO DO! The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is fascinating, and truly a magical experience.  From the snow covered roofs of Hogsmeade, to the whistle of the Hogwarts Express, you will be delighted with this world and will want to go home and read (or reread) all seven books.  Yes.  Do it.  I know you want to.

IF YOU WANT TO READ THE BOOKS, GET THIS SET: Harry Potter Books 1-7.  It's worth every penny. 

Till next time.

Always,

Mia.

 

 

New York City: Sleep No More will blow your mind.

A few years ago, we visited NYC to attend NYCC (New York Comic Con), which by the way, was AMAZING.  This was before we started blogging our adventures and shenanigans. While we were in New York, we also wanted experience NYC style theater, so we attended a play that was highly recommended by a good buddy.  "Sleep No More".  

So we bought four tickets (2 couples) and just showed up for the show. I have to admit that I did some research beforehand, and learned that most people recommended wearing comfortable shoes and clothing.  What? To a play? Yes. Here is why:

SLEEP NO MORE IS LIKE NO ORDINARY PLAY.

This is the epitome of interactive theater. Sleep No More is not only a beautiful play, but also an immersive experience. You are the audience, but you are allowed to live the play. You are FREE to explore, investigate, and solve the mystery as the act develops in front of you. You can touch things, read letters, discover secret passages and hidden characters, eat candy, have a drink with the actors while in character (if you are chosen), follow any character to learn their story, or just explore around this magnificent place.

THE SET UP.

The first thing you need to know is that the play is set at the McKittrick Hotel.  The entire five story building is the set. The McKittrick Hotel does not look like anything fancy from the outside. In fact, when we got there we were utterly confused about the location. There weren't any big signs or fancy billboards that would tell us we were at the right place. We knew the address was correct, so we stayed outside the double doors where our phone GPS indicated as the spot (we were a little early). Then we noticed that people began to gather outside the door, so we got in line. There's a VIP line (you pay extra for it) and a standard ticket line. We purchased the Maximilian's Guest tickets which allowed us to skip the long line and be escorted inside to a bar (the Manderley Bar) to a reserved table while we waited for our turn. 

They also give you a poker card and a white creepy mask...don't lose it.

Ok, so let me back up a little. The McKittrick Hotel hosts several venues that are all basically connected. The Manderley Bar, which is a jazz cocktail lounge; the Heath, which is a restaurant that has live performances; The Gallow Green, their rooftop bar; and Sleep No More.  

So, when you are escorted in the hotel, you check in your coat (if any) and you are taken to the Manderley Bar. Then the fun begins. NOTE: While you are in the bar, there are some actors that are in character and walk around. You'll be able to spot them.

Remember the poker card they gave you? Well, that's how they call you into the elevator and how they chose the floor they dump you on.  

THE PLAY

There are five floors in the McKittrick Hotel. Each floor has different sceneries. The play revolves around a redefined version of Shakespeare's MacBeth. You don't need to know about the play to understand it. I was very afraid that I was going to be lost, because there is SO MUCH going on around you that could be overwhelming; but you quickly catch up to the act and to what is happening. 

Before the play begins, they give you the rules. Basically, you must wear your white mask AT ALL TIMES, and you cannot say a word, take pictures, or be interrupting (touch the characters, or interfere with their act, etc). This is how you know who is an actor and who is the audience.  Every single audience member is standing around wearing the masks (kind of how the death-eaters look when they are standing around Voldemort). It looks cultish, but it's super cool. You feel like a ghost. You are free and anonymous. Nobody knows who you are, and no one cares.  There are a few people wearing the same masks but black...those are the guards; they make sure people obey the rules at all times ~ they better not catch you with a cell phone or speaking. They are super strict~

The play begins with a ball. The actors dancing (they are all amazing dancers), and the emotions, and dialogue is basically expressed by dance and body motions. There are very, very, very few words spoken by the actors. Some of them say nothing at all in the whole play, yet, you can understand everything. 

THE EXPERIENCE

After the ball scene, the actors break out into their own characters, and scatter around the building. At this point I recommend that you pick one actor and try to keep up with him/her.  Remember when I said to wear comfortable shoes? Well, you will be running at times if you wish to keep up with your character. You will learn the play through his/her point of view.  Each character have their own unique scenes and adventures that intertwine with all others. 

 Photo from Vanity Fair* (sorry folks, we were not allowed to take pictures while inside!)

Photo from Vanity Fair* (sorry folks, we were not allowed to take pictures while inside!)

There are times that the scenes might get boring if you didn't follow one of the main characters. You can either hang out and just observe, or switch gears to a new character.  Sometimes you will lose your character, so don't panic! You will find him/her again at some point. Or just explore room by room, floor by floor (you can move freely throughout the floors), scene by scene, trying to learn the play piece by piece. It will all come together in the end.  

You will see bloody murder, fights, love scenes, creepy witchery cult ceremonies, naked people really close to you (be prepared...there's a lot of this- but don't freak out! Enjoy the art and remember that no one is judging you because no one knows who you are). There are secret passages that you should explore and discover so you can see extra scenes. One of the floors has a forbidden forest kind of setup that will blow your mind. (Go to the tree house at the very end...there's a secret there).

Some of the actors will chose audience members to whisper secrets in their ears OR to take them away into secret rooms and show you secret scenes, so don't be scared! This is all part of the act and the experience.

Become a detective and try to solve the mystery.  Perhaps the actor you chose to follow is the killer or the victim, or neither. You will know something that other audience member don't know yet.

After a little while I was worried that I would miss out on other scenes, but then I realized that some scenes were repeated. Yes, in order for everyone to get a chance to see everything (mostly everything) the whole play repeats three times while you are in the hotel. So yeah, at some point you can follow the killer, and then the victim, or the people investigating, and you can see the play through each point of view. It's a dream come true!

At first, I paired with Coco and the hubbys paired together, and coordinated to meet back at the bar at the end. If I had the chance to do this experience again, I would just adventure solo - no offense Coco!-.

Let me explain.

It's cool to have a partner to talk about the scenes with at the end, but it's extremely difficult to keep up with your character AND with your partner at the same time. We got separated several times and it was challenging to find each other since everyone is wearing the same mask!  So, for the sake of the experience, walking around by yourself is the way to go, even if you go with a group.

Bottom line. If you go to NYC, you much go to Sleep No More and just live it yourself. It's been a few years since we saw the play, and I'm STILL obsessed with it. If you do end up going (or have been) share your opinion of the play below! I would love to discuss!

Till next time. 

Always,

Mia

***WANT TO EXPLORE WITH US? CHECK OUT OUR TRAVEL BLOG!

My First Disney Trip: Preparation Stage

I'm *** years old (I reserve the right to that number) and I've never been to Disney. My hubby has been there a few times as a kid, but it's been my dream since childhood to, one day, say hi to Mickey in person.

My daughter is now 7, and we both agreed she's old enough, tall enough, and mature enough to grant a trip to Disney.  Well... he didn't have to convince me. I said yes before he even finished the word "Disney".  

The one thing I didn't know is how much preparation it takes to make this trip, not only affordable, but also hassle free. Just to start, we've been planning for months!

RELATED: HARRY POTTER MIDNIGHT RELEASE

The trick is to do a little at a time. If you try to book everything, and try to figure out the fast-passes, the dinner reservations, the accommodations all at once, you will go insane. So, take a deep breath and know that you can take your time so that everything is not rushed at the last minute... Let me explain:

1. DECIDE WHICH PARKS TO VISIT

You can pick and choose which parks to go and accommodate your budget accordingly. Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios. Additionally, Universal Studios and literally hundreds of other attractions (not part of Disney but in the vicinity).   

This is your first step.  Do you want to visit all parks? Or just Magic Kingdom? Do you want to spend one or two days in one park? This will determine your length of stay, which will determine your hotel accommodation as well. 

2. STAYING INSIDE DISNEY OR A NEARBY HOTEL?

Now that you know which parks you want to see, you can calculate how many days you need to spend, and where to stay, another important decision when it comes to budgeting. If you decide to stay in one of the many Disney Resorts, you will get a MagicBand with your stay.  This option is awesome, because these waterproof bracelets will allow you to link everything together. You can open your hotel room, access the parks, make purchases, link your pictures to your photopass (if you get one) and much more. You can also use a hotel shuttle, monorail or boat to get to the parks (depending on where you stay), complimentary with your booking.  That will definitely save you the hassle of parking.  

Staying outside Disney, in the vicinity, is also a good, cheaper option. You won't get a MagicBand, just an access card to the parks, but the prices are considerably lower. You do have to, however, find your own transportation to the parks.  Using AllTheRooms,  Airbnb or HomeAway to find a home or condo nearby might be a great alternative for large groups or families.  

RELATED: Check out this Alltherooms.com list for traveling with kids!

3. GETTING THERE.

Unless you live in Florida, traveling to Orlando can be a bit of a long road trip. So, the next thing you need to determine is if you want to drive or fly. Many budget airlines like Allegiant Air, Spirit, or Southwestern Airlines offer round trips to Orlando for very low prices. But here's the catch: usually, these flights don't depart everyday. There are only certain dates and days that these low-cost air tickets are offered. 

RELATED: PACKING LIST WHEN TRAVELING WITH KIDS

You also must consider that if you are traveling with lots of luggage, you might want to chose a regular airline instead. Just remember, low-cost airlines charge for every, single, anything.  They charge for carry-on, for printing your boarding pass, for any drinks or food, etc. in the end, you'll end up paying the same price as in a regular flight IF you are not careful.    

The alternative?  Road trip!

RELATED: LOOKING FOR HAPPINESS? JUST TRAVEL

4. MEAL PLAN and MEMORY MAKER PHOTOPASS

When you stay at a Disney Resort, you can also purchase a Disney Dining Plan or the Dining Plan Deluxe. This includes two meals (3 with the deluxe) -counter or table restaurants- per day, a snack, and drink.  If you do this, make sure to make restaurant reservations at least 60 days in advance so you don't lose the opportunity to dine with your favorite characters. Even if you don't purchase the dining plan, you should go ahead and make reservations in advance.  

Another great feature I came across is the Memory Maker photopass. Now, I still think you should take candid pictures and maybe a selfie or two while you are there, but with the memory maker pass, you don't have to worry about asking people to take a picture of you and your family, because one of the hundreds of professional photographers at the park will do so, and will link your picture to your Disney online account by using your Magicband or card.  it's that easy. This is particularly great for a mom that is ALWAYS taking pictures of every family member having fun, and there are NO pictures of mom. Yeah. That's me. If it's not a selfie, there's not a picture of me posing in cool places. I'm actually excited about this feature!

RELATED: DOLLYWOOD: FUN FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY

5. FASTPASS

Want to skip the line? Get a fastpass! Everyone is eligible to get a fastpass to the most popular attractions. You get 3 fastpasses a day, and once you used them, you can obtain more fastpasses using your Disney Experience app or by logging on into your account (use the app...it's way easier).  So, you schedule a time for a specific attraction, and you have up to 1 hour to show up for your ride and skip the line. Trust me, you want to go ahead and schedule your fastpass+ times at least 30 days ahead of your visit (60 days ahead if you stay at Disney Resorts). Times fill out rather quickly, so don't forget to do this for each park!  

Go online or on the app and explore each park and learn about each attraction to determine which ones to get the fastpass to.  (I will tell you about my experience with this later this year!)

Planning can be exhausting but, in my opinion, it's well worth it. We are leaving soon, so expect a recount of my experience and other tips! I feel much more comfortable once I know where, how, why, and what we are doing. Visiting a new place is always exciting, but it can be stressful if you don't know anything about it. So, get familiar with it, look it up online, read other's experiences and advice, and enjoy!

Do you have any suggestions for me before I go meet Mickey???? Let me know! Please comment below.

See you guys later!

Always,

Mia

 

Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden: Chinese Lantern Festival

Always one to explore local festivals and exhibits, when I heard that Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden would be hosting a Chinese Lantern Festival I, of course, had to check it out. 

Located just outside of Charlotte, NC in nearby Belmont Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden is a quick trip down 85. I had actually never visited the gardens before but it is definitely a place I will return with gusto! (A Christmas visit it at the top of my list now also- I hear they do an amazing lights exhibit!) 

I purchased my tickets online (a tad pricey at 21.95 per adult but well worth the money) and made sure to arrive with time to spare as the exhibit ran from 5:30-9:30 and I wanted to make sure I had plenty of time to check out everything. (Plus, I loathe waiting in lines so anytime I can purchase tickets online and breeze past lines- I seize the opportunity.) There was a ton to explore, winding pathways of lanterns (obviously), food trucks, kids crafting areas, a stage with scheduled entertainers, and lots of unique stalls erected selling all sorts of trinkets and souvenirs made by local craters and artists. 

Upon entering the gardens, the first thing we did, obviously, was head to the food trucks. There was tons to choose from, plenty of variety for any palate, and we decided on the kabob truck. Shrimps and bottles of water for all! After a quick stop at the wine booth we were ready to see the lights!

The lanterns were handmade in China and featured tons of unique elements including some moving exhibits with sound effects. We meandered through the walking trails, snapping pictures and admiring the handcrafted art. In total there were over 800 lanterns spanning the sprawling 12 acres of the gardens. Here are a few of my favorites: 

We made it to the stage in time to watch the Kung Fu Show, where a group of Kung Fu aficionados showed off knowledge of this ancient art. This was followed up with an opportunity for people to come up on stage and partake in a demonstration themselves, learning some of the basic moves of Kung Fu! My hand eye coordination is paltry at best so I opted to hang back and take in the show from the audience.

At the end of the exhibit, the walking trail puts you at the tent filled with stalls of handcrafted wares. Local artists booths were arranged within the tent selling anything from hand-painted pieces of art, exquisite jewelry, delicate sugared candies, and so much more. We took our time perusing the stalls and purchased two bookmarks, handmade (of course) cut shapes of each of my children's Chinese zodiac signs (a tiger and a pig!) Take a look at this beautiful artwork:

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The entire exhibit was a beautiful foray into Chinese culture and history, imaginative and ethereal. When the sun fell and night rose, the gardens truly came alive in a unique and wondrous way. If you ever get the opportunity to visit, take it! You won't be disappointed. 

Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens is located at 6500 South New Hope Road, Belmont, NC 28012, P: (704) 825-4490 and you can visit there website for a calendar of other events being hosted throughout the year.

XOXO, 

Coco

READ ABOUT OUR OTHER FUN TRAVEL EXPERIENCES HERE!

Myrtle Beach, SC: Pirate Voyage and more

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I have been to Myrtle Beach, SC hundreds of times, and every single time we go I look at the billboards advertising Pirate Voyage and my inner child bursts with excitement. Unfortunately, we never have the time to go check it out...until this summer.  When hubby stated out loud "who wants to see pirates?" I knew exactly what he was talking about! (I think I cried a little).

Ok, so I had no idea what to expect.  We had been to Medieval Times Dinner before, which lead me to believe that this was going to be similar.  I was right, but I was wrong.  

Pirate Voyage is located on North Kings Hwy in Myrtle Beach, SC, next to the Grand Opry.  The building stands tall with a very Colonial style facade and big red letters that read "Pirate Voyage".  They tell you to arrive at least one and a half hours before your scheduled dinner (highly recommended to purchase the tickets online in advance to guarantee a seat...the place was packed!).

RELATED: CAROLINA BEACH: FAMILY WEEKEND

Why get there so early?  Well, they want you to hang around their restaurant/bar/shopping area while you are thoroughly entertained by the pirates.  ALSO, they want your kids to beg you so they can have their face painted or get a pirate tattoo.... yeah, ours convinced us.  We are weak. (Just between you and me... my daughter chose the pirate package- face painting - and oh lord... the makeup was horrible.  She looked like a cheap ***,  not going to say the word I was thinking of, but it was not worth the $20 we paid.) 

ENTERTAINMENT FOR ALL

The place is beautifully decorated with all sorts of pirate and mermaid stuff.  The bar mixes specialty drinks served in skull shaped mugs that you can keep (we got two!). The pirates walk around the bar and in between the long tables while they talk to people, take pictures with kids, and crack a joke or two.  

At some point some of the pirates get on the small stage and do all kinds of juggling and dare-devilish stunts, even with fire.  It was quite awesome.

SHOW TIME

After a while, they call the two sides to their seats... when you purchase your ticket you can choose red (Crimson), or blue (Sapphire) teams.  The teams seat on opposite sides.  The center of the "arena" is a pirate ship and the rest is water....pretty amazing view.  

RELATED: MEDIEVAL TIMES, MYRTLE BEACH, SC.

So you are sitting facing the giant pool and the show begins.  The pirates come out and introduce themselves; they ask you to cheer for your respective team; they start competition after competition between the teams, keeping score of who wins.  There's a plot to the story though... the captains of the red (a female pirate) and blue (a male pirate) teams start a battle against each other, racing to be the first ones to find a hidden treasure. The audience is engaged; even participating in some of the competitions. There are aerial acrobatics, seals, dogs, fire, sword fighting, and scary spirits... very scary, giant spirits.  (Good thing we love Halloween!).  But, the best part of all...the mermaids.  I wish they had more of the mermaids, they only come out for a minute or two... but it was just magical.

THE FEAST

And then we eat. Well, you eat while the show is going on in front of you. The menu is simple and it's the same for everyone.  Remember... you are there to be a pirate, so you must eat pirate food.  Vegetable soup, bread, a quarter roasted chicken, BBQ pulled pork, corn on the cob, tater tots, and apple pie.  It's a lot of food, and it was surprisingly not bad at all. The chicken was falling off the bone, so it was nice and tender. There is also a vegetarian option if you prefer.  Drinks included with dinner are water or tea and you can purchase any drink from the bar and they will bring it to you.  

Bottom line.  Don't procrastinate like me.  Become a pirate or a mermaid and let your inner child scream Ahoy Matey!

Always,

Mia.

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Craft Beer Breweries: Hops Paradise in Asheville, NC

My dear friends (and future friends),  you all know that we love to travel, and that we love to sample craft beer, so needless to say, we felt as if we landed in hops paradise when we visited Asheville, NC.

I mean, it's a shame that we hadn't been there before! Asheville is just a couple of hours drive up from our homes in Charlotte. Now we know. Get ready breweries! We will conquer you all!

We have sampled brews many times before in our hometown.  One of our favorite places, Flying Saucer is literally a beer emporium (here's that review), also, our friends at Salud recently opened a new brewery and we were there for the grand opening of Salud Cerveceria, which was amazing.  And of course, there's the beer festivals that we try to attend often, and don't forget about Oktoberfest in Helen, GA.  PROST! 

You've got to understand that it's not about the drinking, don't judge us before you hear this: It's about the hops, the aroma, the pleasure to taste the carefully crafted flavors in these beers. It's like tasting wines, or coffees, or cheeses...our thing is craft beer....and food, and yeah what the heck, wine, and coffee, and cheese, but you're making me miss my point. 

RELATED: GOODHOPS BREWERY, CAROLINA BEACH, NC

So moving forward with my point, Asheville, NC is famous nationwide for the dozens of fabulous breweries you can find.  

OUR FIRST STOP:

SIERRA NEVADA BREWERY.  If there was any instance in this trip that I had to say OMG out loud, it was when we arrived at this place.

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Located about twenty minutes south of Asheville (in Fletcher, NC), Sierra Nevada Brewery, originally from California, opened a second brewery which sits atop of a mountain.  No joke.  We felt as if we were entering an extravagant country club, as the rod-iron gates adorn the entryway along with the Sierra Nevada emblem, and the gorgeous natural views of the mountain.  Once at the top, we were greeted by a massive building home to the brewing facilities, taproom, gift shop, and indoor/outdoor entertainment. They even have a stage for outdoor concerts! They offer tours of their facility (we didn't take one because we forgot to make reservations), and it's fascinating how they are totally committed to be environmentally friendly (there's no smoking allowed anywhere, and solar panels provide energy)- kudos Sierra Nevada!

And their beer... as always, their commercial beers are great, and offered there, but we couldn't leave without trying their small batch selection which is only sold in the taproom.  We enjoyed their Hop and Sour, and sampled Hopporium (triple IPA) and their ginger beer, Oktoberfest, and the Southern Gothic Session Pilsner. The food was great too. We had the Moroccan Skewers, and duck fat fries... amazingly tasty!

STOP 2.  BURIAL BREWERY.

After being overwhelmed by the massiveness of Sierra Nevada, we stopped at Burial (checked in our hotel in between and walked there).  Burial was small, but their beer taste was big.  We sampled their Keeper's Veil Honey Seisson, and ordered rabbit wings (rabbit legs), and the gigantic hushpuppies from Salt&Smoke.  This place was packed to the roof...we all know why...their beer is pretty awesome.

STOP 3.  GREEN MAN BREWERY: DIRTY JACK'S

Curious little place this was.  Dirty Jacks is Green Mans original tasting room, before they expanded to the brewing facility (next door). This rustic establishment is decorated with the spirit of the green man for sure.  You can find green man everywhere you look.  On the walls, on the windows, wherever you look you will see something relevant to the culture of this brewery.  The outdoor space was comfortable as well, and you can enjoy your beer and pet some puppies.  There was this little dog, Citra, that kept bringing me a toy to throw.  If I ignored her for a second (while taking a sip of my beer) she would look for the next person willing to play.  Adorable!

STOP 4.  BEN'S TUNE UP. (BEER GARDEN).

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Not a brewery, but this place is worth mentioning because of their food.  I would call it Asian fusion maybe? Either way, I have to say that I had the best egg rolls I've ever had, as well as a the Thai Basil Chicken...awesomeness in a plate.  Accompany your food with a draft of your favorite local beer and you are set for a good start.

STOP 5.  THIRSTY MONK BREWERY AND PUB

This was a cool place.  They have a constantly rotating beer menu, so I guess you will find different beers every time you visit.  I tried the Monk Easy Gose...it was good and sour.  They divide this between upstairs and downstairs with a different selection of beers, which was pretty cool.

STOP 6. SKYBAR ROOFTOP BAR

Also, not a brewery, but we wanted to check it out.  Located inside the Historic Flatiron Building, they will check your ID at the very entrance, and you wait in the atrium for a very antique neoclassic elevator that will take you all the way to the top floor (7th I think).  You get out of the elevator and into the Skybar...but, where is the bar? Well, there's no "bar"...there are many waiters eager to take your drink order...by the way, before you get in the elevator, they tell you that you MUST have at least one drink to go up or they won't let you in.  So we did.  I had a cucumber vodka drink that was quite yummy.  Although there are cool views from the top, this place seemed to me like a glorified outdoor staircase...because you stand in a staircase, literally.  There are only a few bar stools around, but that's it.  Nothing too impressive...Not a place you would hang out all night.  Just cool for a picture or two.

STOP 7. BARLEY'S

We ended the night at this cool taproom.  Downstairs you can enjoy amazing pizza, and upstairs you can order a beer from their large selection (29 taps), play some pool, or darts, or foosball, or simply hang out in their spacious venue.  It was the perfect way to end our craft beer journey.

Then we walked back to our hotel, which was just a few blocks away.  Drank plenty of water, and woke up to an amazing breakfast buffet.  

There are so many more amazing breweries that we missed and/or didn't have time (or liver) left to visit.  We will definitely organize another trip to Asheville soon and hit a few more!

What is your favorite brewery in Asheville? Let us know! Please share or comment below!

Always,

Mia

Wise Acres Organic Farm

This Mothers Day my mom requested we visit a local, organic farm to pick some strawberries, have a lazy lunch, and explore the grounds. She had heard about this place from a friend, and at only 15 minutes from her house, we had to check it out. 

Owned and operated by Chicago implants, this organic farm has been in business since 2013 with the mission to provide the highest quality produce, free of pesticides and chemicals found in many other conventional farms. Not only do they turn out some pretty stellar strawberries, but they support other local, like minded farmers by selling honey, eggs, meats and cheeses from neighboring farms. 

 Absolutly in love with this sign! 

Absolutly in love with this sign! 

Located in rural Indian Trail, NC, this farm is easily accessible to the Charlotte and surrounding areas. Boasting strawberry fields, an outdoor wood fired oven, wooded play area, livestock, and homegrown items for sale, there is plenty to keep you busy for a couple hours on a beautiful May day. 

We started off with the strawberry picking. For $3.29 a pound, you can pick to your hearts desire (or until your wallet runs out of money!). They accepted cash, check, and cards which is convenient, I know a lot of us don't carry much cash these days. We filled up a conservative two buckets (big plans for some strawberry jam in our future, more to come on that later!), paid, and wandered around to see what there was to see. 

The kids had a blast playing in the wooded play area and taking rides on the barrel train. There were a variety of swings, zip lines, and re-purposed tires to play on. When we needed a cool drink, we popped over to the barn where they boast an assortment of drinks and snacks. We bought a few slushies (100% fruit juice). They also offer organic popcorn,  organic cotton candy, and other organic snacks and drinks. The slushies were sweet and cold, perfect for a warm May day! 

After a nice little stroll to look at the grounds and check out the animals (chickens, goats, and bunnies!), we put in our order for a Wise Pie pizza. Cooked in an outdoor, wood fired oven, these pies are made with all locally sourced, organic ingredients and let me tell you.... they were divine. I don't think they could have tasted any better if Jesus himself had had a hand in crafting them. We tried the pepperoni and margherita pizzas but they do offer gluten free and vegan options. Open on the weekends during strawberry season, you'd be insane not to try one while you are out. 

After we had eaten our fill of pizza, and slurped up our share of slushie, we lazily made our way back out into the world. Wise Acres Organic Farm is one that I will definitely return to not only for the strawberry season, but also for the fall pumpkin season. As if the grounds, food, and strawberries weren't enough to win me over, everyone we encountered was just so nice. From the sweet woman grinding out the delicious pizzas, to the Farmer himself pulling the hayride and barrel rides for the kids. Everyone was sincerely friendly, and just looked like they were enjoying life. You can't ask for much more than that! 

Check out the Wise Acres Organic Farm website here and make an afternoon of it! Whether you come with family, book a field trip for your class, or host your child's birthday party here, I guarantee you will enjoy every minute of it! 

LET US KNOW WHAT YOU THINK! Please share or comment below!

Snow Tubing Fun!- Hawksnest, Seven Devils, NC

When you are not a very sporty person, the idea of spending your weekend participating in what your mind is perceiving as a extreme sport, is not very appealing. It gets even harder to admit that you are crying inside when your six year old is over the moon excited and fearless.  

Living in Charlotte, North Carolina we don't get a lot of snow around here. Maybe once every few years we'll see a few inches of snow (and the whole city shuts down). That being said, we don't own snow gear, or snow clothes, or anything of that sort... but we are resourceful. You should've seen me in layers of leggings, and sweatpants, and an old pair of Uggs. Throw in a rain jacket, and you have the perfect snow tubing outfit. Although, for my daughter's fashion taste, I looked "embarrassing". I didn't care. I was warm and dry. 

Maybe a little bit too warm, if I want to be honest. It was a scorching 55 degrees at the top of the mountain and I wasn't feeling so good, as the windy roads messed up my stomach and I almost puked, twice.

But this weather was not ideal for snow activities. It's basic science folks...snow melts on anything that is over freezing temperatures. Who would've thought that it was going to be so (relatively) hot at the top of a mountain in the middle of winter??? -Global Warming people!

We had to pay $5 for parking (cash only) when we got there...and... none of us had any non-plastic money.

**mental note to check do's and don't online before visiting a new place**

We started sweating even before we got out of the car. We worked hard to gather those $5 guys! Fortunately, there were enough quarters and dimes in the car. The attendant didn't seem too happy to receive this heavy, and quite annoying form of payment. Money is money, and she let us through.

I was quite disappointed to see mostly green. Green hills, green grass everywhere (well, dead grass, mostly), and then I saw the snow.  Tons of "snow"...cause I'm assuming it's fake, just on the track lanes. Not quite what i was expecting. What ever happened to the sight blinding shine of the white snowy hills you see in the movies? I guess not in NC. It hasn't snowed in a while around here.  

We stood in line with a couple hundred other people. We got there pretty early, so we were like second in line, which was nice. When they opened the gate, they directed us to grab a tube per person and proceed to the tracks.

I was nervous, my heart was racing, my legs were shaking. My daughter and hubby went down the hill as I watched them. They seemed fine, so I went. I sat on the tube and let go.  Weeeeeeee. I made it out alive.  No broken bones, no injuries.  I was fine. You might be thinking... It's JUST snow tubing lady! Stop whining... No.  You don't understand.  I am clumsy and I tend to always get injured...so I was very proud of myself here, friends!

When you successfully get to the bottom, you must get your tube and step onto the "magic carpet", which is a slider conveyor carpet, that will pull you, and the tube, up to the top.  Although, it takes like 15 minutes for it to get all the way up.  It was the boring part of the ride.  It goes slow because it has no handles and it's very easy to lose your balance off of it, believe me.  I almost did.

If you pay for one session, you only have 1 hr and 45 minutes to "play". Trust me. That's plenty.  I couldn't have done it longer. I didn't get wet as people suggested, but instead, I was sweating to death, and dying to sit down and drink something cold.  

The snow tubing ended up being a lot of fun, despite my earlier doubts. They also had zip lining, but that would've been too much excitement for one day.

This might be something we would do again. We all had lots of fun. My daughter keeps talking about it, and how much fun she had.  

Here's a short video of me sliding down the mountain...

So if you are in the area, visit Hawksnest in Seven Devils, NC.  It's the largest snow tubing park in the region, and guaranteed fun for the whole family.  **kids 3 and up are allowed to ride**

Have you guys been there? I didn't fall out...did you?

The Southern Christmas Show

It's no secret that Christmas is my favorite holiday. Twinkling lights, Christmas trees, cookies, wrapping gifts, SANTA. There is nothing about Christmas that I don't like. 

One of my favorite annual traditions that always gets the holiday season kicked off for me is The Southern Christmas Show.  Located at The Park Expo and Conference Center in Charlotte, NC, the show runs from November 10-20 and features a wide array of craft and artisan booths as well as more mainstream realtors. Tickets are $12 at the door or $10 if you buy in advance online (so, ummm duh, buy them online).

Make sure you block off the day to fully enjoy all that The Christmas Show has to offer. I can literally spend all day browsing and perusing the various stalls and booths. Good thing they are open from 10-6 on Sundays, Mondays, and Tuesdays and until 9 all other days! 

 They never fail to deliver beautiful displays while making your way into the building!

They never fail to deliver beautiful displays while making your way into the building!

In order to keep up your shopping stamina, make sure to grab some food at one of the many vendors set up at the show. Take your pick from a cafeteria style set up, or stalls with hamburgers, sandwiches, hot dogs, or pretzels! A stage toward the end of the first building is set up with ample seating to stop and rest your tootsies while taking in some local musical talent. The Christmas Show hosts a number of local choirs and bands throughout the day and evening to keep the Christmas spirit going all throughout the show.    

Now. Onto the shopping!

Check out some of my favorite vendors.

The Christmas Mouse is a must! A Christmas tradition in my family is to gift each child (or in my case adult) with a new ornament each year in his/her stocking. The ornament is usually symbolic of something accomplished during the year or an especially memorable experience. One year my husband received a beautiful American flag ornament when he became a citizen, I was given a stunning crystal chandelier in remembrance of watching The Phantom of the Opera on a family trip to London, etc. It's really amazing to look at our Christmas Tree each year and remember significant life events, and fun vacations from over the years. All of these unique items, we purchase the The Christmas Mouse.

 

You can't go the the Christmas Show and not stop by to try Helmut's Strudel. Featuring several different types of their award winning strudel, I always opt for the cheese. Located in the last building at the end of the shopping day, I'm always excited to scoop up a box (or two) and indulge in the flaky, cheesy goodness this pastry has to offer. 

Shea's Wildflower Company. This exhibitor is located right smack dab in the beginning of the first building. Filled with charming, rustic Christmas decorations, you are sure to find something in here to bring home and adorn your walls, shelves, or gardens. Boasting both natural and artificial decor, I have to seriously control myself because I want it ALL! I mean c'mon, look at all these goodies! Everything from wreaths and topiaries, to lighted figurines and decorative houses, it's all beautiful and well crafted.   

This last vendor was a new one (new to me anyways) that featured beautiful little succulent container. These adorable miniature gardens were fashioned out of small plastic ornaments which can be hung to adorn your tree, or, thanks to the flat bottom, can liven up a shelf or table. I chose to display mine on a shelf in my library. Doesn't it look fantastic?! 

If you are in the Charlotte, NC or surrounding area, do yourself a favor and grab your BFF, mom, sister, grandma, cousin, whoever, and make a day of The Southern Christmas Show. Arm yourself with comfy walking shoes, a tacky Christmas sweater, and loads of Christmas cheer for a day of laughs and fun!

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Huzzah! Travel to the Renaissance Time!

 The queen and her court

The queen and her court

I've always dreamed about being a princess.  Since I heard the happily-ever-after stories of Snow White, and my favorite, Beauty and the Beast, I often fantasized (and still do) about Prince Charming on a white stallion.  Then, I learned about King Arthur, and the amazing stories of Camelot.  Oh it was love at first....word...cause I learned about it when I read my books.  

Nothing, and I mean, NOTHING gets closer to being part of those times, than a Renaissance Festival.  Just imagine yourself, walking down a village from the middle ages, with small cottages, and artisan stores.  Where peasants (in full attire) roam the village, singing, and showcasing their arts.  Where you can feast on huge turkey legs, while watching knights jousting to entertain the crowd and the King. Where you can see fairies, and magic walking trees; where you can test your archery skills and other medieval arts.  

Yes, there is a place where you can do all this and much more!  The Carolina's Renaissance Fair is one of the largest in the nation, with over 500 full costumed villagers, knights, and royals walking around and interacting with the visitors.  For 22 years, it is the best way to spend a whole day daydreaming about medieval times while participating in the many activities, shows, games, and magic around you.  Come in early (they have ample free parking), and enjoy yourself!

The stores are incredibly crafty and you can find amazing hand made art and artifacts. One of my favorite stores is Broomhilde . Here, you can find all kinds of magic wands and walking sticks, as well as flying brooms! -get ready Hogwarts!

This is a place for the whole family.  My daughter had a blast riding in the (fully man-powered) pirate ship, giant rocking horse, Davinci ride, and interacting with the very beautiful fairy. Her make up is perfect and my daughter truly believes she is a real fairy...or maybe she is.   

Acrobats from Barely Balanced -who are amazing!- walk around in stilts greeting and meeting people. You can also, if you are lucky, can catch a glimpse of the queen and her court walking through the village, saying hi to the people. And don't forget to look out for the knights! You can meet them too, while they are not jousting, throughout Fairhaven.  

If you get hungry, don't fear! Just feast on one of the very many food stands and accompany your giant turkey leg with a cold beer or sparkling mimosa.  

Our day was full of daydreaming and adventure. We tried our hand at archery, threw tomatoes at a obnoxious jester, found pirate coins throughout a maze, visited a dungeon, witnessed a pirate eat fire, shook hands with a walking tree, rode a camel, got a present from the fairy, saw a vulture perform tricks, found the perfect magic wand, and were amazed by the acrobats performance.  

Our day in the village of Fairhaven, at the Carolinas Renaissance Festival was epic. Huzzah!! 

for more information visit: www.carolina.renfestinfo.com

Prost! Oktoberfest fun in Helen, GA

For the past three years we have traveled to Helen, GA for their annual Oktoberfest festivities with a few friends for a weekend in October. Our friends parents own a cabin in Helen and have graciously opened their home, and traditions, up to us these past years, forevermore converting us into Oktoberfest-aholics! 

Quaintly situated in the rolling hills of Georgia, Helen is a perfectly picturesque town modeled in the German style of architecture. It is a mostly touristic town, with it's main claim to fame it's two months of Oktoberfest festivities in September and October (longest running in the US I might add!), but they still boast plenty of other fun activities throughout the year including the annual fasching event in February. Only a three hour drive from our hometown of Charlotte, NC, this makes for a perfect weekend getaway. 

We typically arrive on Friday afternoon and spend this time visiting and catching up with friends, sipping on some brews, and soaking in the beautiful scenery surrounding the cabin. Saturday we rise early; maybe go for a hike at one of the numerous scenic hiking trails, or like this year, explore a local corn maze. Lee Anderson Farms is a quick drive from the cabin, located in the small town of Dahlonega. We arrived at opening time, 10AM and moseyed on over to the charming barn to collect a bottle of water (included in the admission price of $10!) and check out the petting zoo before heading off into the maze! (As a side note can I just add that I have added "baby goat" to the list of animals I want to own that my husband says no to?) Now of course, we had to make things interesting and wager a bet. After hashing out the details, it was decided. Girls vs. Guys, loser takes a shot of stroh. (Not familiar? It's an Austrian rum that smells divine but unfortunately, tastes like gasoline. I was fooled the first year of Oktoberfest and have since learned my lesson. That stuff is an *ahem* acquired taste.) We snapped a few pics then headed off into the corn! Of course the girls crushed it and finished the course in a little under an hour. I can't really take any credit if I'm being honest, Mia is a whiz with a map and she has a keen sense of direction. Me? Not so much.

 It was a gorgeous day to explore outside! Sunny and blue skies! 

It was a gorgeous day to explore outside! Sunny and blue skies! 

After coming home to freshen up and have lunch, we headed out into downtown Helen. The small downtown area is filled with local eateries, small chintzy souvenir shops, and numerous artisan shops with everything from handmade wooden cuckoo clocks to German-styled alpine hats. Of course we had to pick up a hat the first year we visited, and each year since have bought a commemorative pin to decorate and remember the years past. 

Before nightfall approaches, (the FestHalle fills up fast and we wanted good seats near the stage!) we make our way over to the FestHalle for a night filled with live music (polka of course!), pitchers of Dunkle beer, bratwursts, and more rounds of "das boot" than I can count. Not familiar with das boot? You can purchase a boot from the FestHalle filled with beer. Everyone passes around the boot drinking from it before passing it to the person to your right. The person immediately before the one who finishes off the boot has to buy the next round. This is one of my favorite Oktoberfest games! The FestHalle has a good selection of food to go with that beer and you really can't go wrong with whatever you choose. Pretzels with beer cheese, bratwurst plates, sour kraut, German potato salad. It's all delicious! Men and women dressed in German livery fill the Fest Hall to the brim making for an entertaining and delightful night of merriment. We always leave red in the face (from dancing or beer I couldn't tell you ;) ) feet sore, and bellies aching from laughing. 

 Did I mention Mia bought us cute suspenders for the trip? Unfortunately mine took a swim in the toilet right before this picture was taken. It was tragic and also comical. Story of my life! 

Did I mention Mia bought us cute suspenders for the trip? Unfortunately mine took a swim in the toilet right before this picture was taken. It was tragic and also comical. Story of my life! 

Oktoberfest is always a great time and we are so fortunate our friends extend the invitation each year to join them. We would definitely recommend checking it out if you are in the area! 

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Medieval Times Myrtle Beach

With summer winding down and the quickly approaching reality of early mornings, homework, and strict bedtimes, hubby and I decided to treat the kids to a long weekend at the beach. 

Myrtle Beach, SC is usually our go-to beach, and we make at least one trip down there a year. Being that it's only a three and a half hour drive from our hometown of Charlotte, is very family friendly, and has tons of activities to keep the kids busy, it's really a no-brainer for us.

RELATED: CAROLINA BEACH, NC FAMILY WEEKEND

This trip, we were looking for something different to do. We have played all the same mini golf attractions, eaten our fill at the iconic Big Crab Restaurant, fished off the pier, and explored the little shops and rides at Bearfoot Landing. Now don't get me wrong, these things are all a lot of fun but we wanted to try out something different. At the behest of a work friend, and our very own Mia, we bought tickets for the dinner show at Medieval Times. 

Medieval Times is located conveniently off Fantasy Way and was a short 20 minute drive from our hotel. Your $53.95 ticket entry fee ($26.95 for kids-as of 2016) allows you to step back into time and experience an authentically unique medieval experience. Guests are grouped into various colors based on your seating. There is a section devoted to the Red Knight, the Green Knight, the Yellow Knight, and so on. 

While dinner is served (a quite hearty portion) a performance is put on by the King, Princess, and various Knights who compete in jousting tournaments, perform horse tricks, and fight to the "death" to win the coveted title of champion. Yelling, cheering, booing, and general crowd interaction are not only allowed, but encouraged (much to my children's delight). Pleasant wait staff (dressed in appropriate medieval garb of course) cater to each guests every need for the duration of the 2 hour show. Dinner was served in courses, tomato bisque, warm baked bread, roasted chicken, sweet buttered corn, herb-basted potato, and the pastry of the day. Be warned, the authenticity of the night includes time period appropriate dining ware, no forks/spoons/knives. Be prepared to use your hands! 

Be prepared to pay a pretty penny not only for the initial ticket price, but for alcoholic beverages and souvenirs. The lobby of Medieval Times sells tons of wares, everything from princess crowns and children's swords, to unique and artisan style knives and metal figurines. 

Despite the sticker shock with admission prices, I am so glad we bit the bullet and took the kids. They loved every minute and left with huge grins. Don't have kids? This show is still very entertaining and engaging for an adult, either way it's a win/win in my book!

RELATED: HOW TO TRAVEL ON A BUDGET

*Travel Tip- most hotels in the area have free coupon books where you can score some discounted tickets, and always look online too. We were able to get the kids tickets free with the purchase of an adult ticket- score!

Carolina Beach, NC. Family Weekend. What to do, where to go.

We are about a 3 1/2 hour drive from Wilmington, NC. and we try to visit this beautiful place often.  Wilmington is the "commercialized" part of this amazing area.  It's full of great restaurants, bars, museums, tours, and it's home to the USS North Carolina, a real life battleship open to tours all year round.  

Once you are in Wilmington and you continue driving south on US 421, you will encounter Carolina Beach.  Go a little further down and you can also enjoy (my personal favorite), the beautiful Kure Beach, and Fort Fisher.  

There are many things to do in Carolina Beach, and most of them are family friendly (and that's why I love this place!).  Here are my top places and things to do with the whole family:

1. OBVIOUSLY, THE BEACH.

Carolina Beach can be crowded in the summer time or holidays, but even so, it's still provides a great place to relax and get some vitamin D from the sun.  You can also go down to Fort Fisher if you are looking for a more secluded beach... there are very few restaurants and stores down at Fort Fisher but the beach is beautiful and peaceful.

2. TAKE A STROLL DOWN THE BOARDWALK

Honestly this boardwalk is amazing.  It's full of shops, restaurants, bars, ice cream parlors, and doughnut shops.  In the summer, you can find live music and fireworks every week.  Kids can freely run and play while enjoying some good live (and free) entertainment.  

3. SEASIDE AMUSEMENT PARK

Yes, there is a permanent amusement park right by the ocean.  Located at the boardwalk, this amusement park has rides for all ages.  It's free to walk around and each ride takes 2-3 tickets.  You can purchase tickets at one of the stands around the park, or you can get an armband (better deal) for $25 and have unlimited rides.  There are no big roller coasters, but you can find your typical Ferris-Wheel, Carousel, giant slides, pirate ship, and many others.  And don't forget to get some funnel cake!

4. ENJOY SOME GOOD HOTDOGS AFTER A DAY AT THE BEACH

We tried Island Hots... and I loved it.  Their menu has hot dogs for every taste, and their onion rings are to die for. (probably the best onion rings I've had in a long time).  Hot dogs go great while sitting on their outside patio, enjoying the weather.

5. TASTE SOME CRAFT BEERS

There are many breweries in the area.  We tried Good Hops Brewing in Carolina Beach.  LOVE IT! What I love the most about this place, it's kid and pet friendly.  I don't feel bad about bringing my six year old with me because they actually have board games, and outside games to entertain everyone. Dogs are allowed inside and outside (must be on a leash), and they even have a doggie water station for our furry friends.  And the beer?  Awesome.  a must try!

6. VISIT THE AQUARIUM

Just a few minutes down Carolina Beach, you will encounter Fort Fisher, home to a beautiful North Carolina Aquarium.  You can enjoy many exhibits including a huge tank which is home to sharks, eels and many, many gorgeous and colorful fish.  You can also meet their albino alligator, Luna!

7. FORT FISHER AND MUSEUM

If you are in a history mood, you can also go across the street from the aquarium and take a look at the actual fort.  There is a small museum with civil war artifacts and lots of history!

8.  GO FISHING

If you enjoy fishing, there is nothing better than spending a couple of hours at the fishing pier.  You can buy a license in the store and pick your spot on the beautiful pier.  The view is breathtaking and the kids have lots of fun.  If you are a little more adventurous, you can try the Jetty at Fort Fisher, but I believe you need a license through the state park to fish here. (don't quote me on that one)

9. RENT A BIKE

Riding a bike is a perfect way to get around the area.  Ride a bike around town, or on the beach.  Enjoy the weather with the whole family

10.  USS NORTH CAROLINA

On our way back home, we stopped at the USS NORTH CAROLINA site.  This impressive battle ship is open to the public for tours every day of the week.  This is a great history lesson for the kids (and adults).  The USS NC is a beautiful memorial and it's actually fun to see the inside of this colossal ship.

Whether you are into history, ice-cream, or just want to put your toes in the sand, Carolina Beach, Kure Beach, and Fort Fisher are full of family fun, endless entertainment, and unforgettable memories.  

To learn more about the area click here.

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