Friday, October 17, 2008

ABD Spirit of America - Day 8, Williamsburg to OKC; summary

Friday, October 17, 2008 – Day 8 –Williamsburg to OKC

Pictures to be added later.....

Breakfast was in the hotel this time – typical breakfast buffet fare with an omelet station – Rhys’ favorite. We returned to the room to gather the rest of our belongings and headed down to the lobby to meet everyone for the first run to the airport at 8:30. Other Adventurers who had later flights were on the 2nd motor coach run to Richmond at about 10 am. It was pouring rain outside – the first wet day in the whole week that we’d been here. Many Adventurers marveled at how Disney was able to arrange such good weather for us this last week.

We said goodbye to Maria at the hotel and settled in for the 45 minute drive to Richmond watching the rest of National Treasure on the way down. Gary had fixed the video monitors on our SDACMC. At the airport, we said our final goodbyes to Milca and hoped to catch her sometime working the front service center at Hollywood Studios.

In summary, it was a fabulous week. There were many pros and few cons to our trips. There was a little bit of family dissent with the earlier family photo ops with complaints that it was taking too long with 40 Adventurers and that we were doing a lot of waiting while pictures were being taken one by one. IMO, with the time saved with pre-check in, pre-ordering of our meals, and pre-purchasing of our tour tickets, we more than made up for the waiting around that we did while pictures were being taken. To their credit, Maria and Milca did a marvelous job with taking them and were always gracious about taking pictures with our own cameras as well. The only other “likes” that I have would be larger beds – we were not used to sleeping on double beds. Most of the time when we travel, I book a room with a queen or king and pull-out sofa bed for the kids. I’m not sure if this was even a possibility at each hotel but it would have been nicer.
I was a little worried because I had not booked a thing for this trip – a first for me. Going into a trip with free time and no dinner reservations made me uncomfortable but from what I had read, it didn’t seem to be a problem and I would now agree. In Philadelphia, we checked with the concierge who recommended Bookbinders for seafood and in Washington DC we again used the concierge who recommended the Trattu. Both restaurants were very good and we’re pretty critical about good food and wine. A few more random thoughts….no cup holders on the motor coach. It was great having the table in the back of the SDACMC for the kids but I still wonder how many things were left behind and what kind of condition the back of the bus was in after it was all said and done.

We had a really nice group of people with us on our Adventure. Could it be because everyone on this trip was, to some degree, a Disney fan which selects out for nicer people in general? Everyone was courteous and, unlike some other group tours that we’ve done, everyone was very attentive to our set meeting times. At some of the restaurants where we ate together as a group (City Tavern, B Smith’s), the food service was a bit off – inattentiveness, forgotten orders or requests, some waiters had abrupt personalities. We speculated that perhaps pre-paid gratuities was not such a good thing.

I really came to appreciate and understand the free time that we were given allowing us to explore some things in more detail that others might not be interested in. I was also impressed with how flexible Maria, Milca, and Gary were picking up and dropping off different groups, allowing some families/couples to go out on their own if they wished to, and, in particular, how accommodating they were to Deborah who was having some difficulty keeping up while walking and doing a lot stairs. It was a lot to keep track of but we never left anyone behind. There were other options for portions of the tour such as the scavenger hunt in Philadelphia, the National Zoo (some opted to go back to the Smithsonian museums instead), and offering a guided bus tour instead of riding the bikes. Snacks were also a little TOO plentiful, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the kids eat so much junk food in one week. Heck, I ate way more junk food than I have in a long time as well because it was JUST THERE, iykwim.

As mentioned earlier, I wish that I had taken some more dressy outfits to wear. I was envisioning just what Disney would have considered “resort wear” but would have changed into something nicer for a few of the places that we went to including Café Promenade and B Smith’s.
Finally, I had read on the DIS boards that bloggers who had taken this trip were sworn to secrecy about certain aspects of their trip - surprises that their Guides and ABD had arranged or given to them. We were never advised to keep anything secret so I've included just about every detail that I can think of and have blogged as I normally do.

Adventure by Disney - Day 7 - Williamsburg

Thursday, October 16, 2008 – Day 7 –Williamsburg

Pictures to be added later.....

It really did sound like an alarm clock going off at first and it was at least 10-15 seconds before either of us realized that there was a light flashing indicating either a technologically advanced Great Wolf Lodge wakeup call or it was a fire alarm. It was about 6:15 am. Seth checked the front door and I looked out the back window and we were both thinking the same thing – surely it was a false alarm. Soon, Deborah knocked on our door to let us know it was a real fire alarm and that we had to leave the hotel. Flashbacks of elementary school fire drills went through my mind as we got the kids up and threw some clothes at them before going out the door. I later kicked myself for not grabbing my camera. We headed down the stairs and out of the hotel easily spotting our ABD group in the parking lot. We had a nice assortment of looks standing outside in the dark parking lot with some Adventurers fully dressed, some in their pajamas, and some were just somewhere in-between. I was honestly impressed that both Milca and Maria were wearing Disney pajamas – Grumpy and Mickey respectively.

We stood around outside for about ½ an hour when Seth and I decided to walk around the facility. The fire truck sirens had already been blaring but we were on the side of the hotel and could not see them. We made an almost complete circle around the hotel and saw nothing. By the time we reached the front of the hotel, there were 5 fire trucks and as many paramedic rescue vehicles parked in front. All of their county vehicles, I suspect. As Seth pointed out, it did not look like any of the firemen were moving with any real sense of urgency. We were soon updated by the hotel staff that there was an electrical shortage in the downstairs game room with a panel smoking and that we would be let back into the hotel soon. Breakfast in the café would be delayed by at least an hour so Maria was on the phone making alternate arrangements with our Williamsburg guide. To their credit (and something that I totally expected), Maria and Milca took this twist in complete Disney fashion. Our entire wonderful Adventure group also took everything in stride and joked about what a nice Disney surprise it was this morning marveling at how the entire hotel was in on the magic as well. The only thing missing was Mickey himself riding one of the fire trucks from Main Street USA.

At around 7:30, we were finally let back into the hotel. We agreed to meet in the lobby in about 40 minutes to board the SDACMC (super deluxe AC motor coach) to be taken elsewhere for breakfast. Milca gave us a rundown of the day’s plans and, in usual fashion, quizzed us on what the theme of the day was. “Fire drill!” everyone yelled. The word of the day was unanimously agreed upon to be “Alarm”. We also received our pin from yesterday. Gary drove us to a nearby Golden Corral and all 43 of us descended upon the restaurant which had not been crowded at all.

We re-boarded the SDACMC, met our Williamsburg guides and were given our tickets/stickers which allowed us into all of the various historical displays. We were divided up into 2 groups and headed first to the Capital building touring the various chambers where town business and trials were conducted by the Governor. Amina proudly pointed out that the Atlantic Ocean had been misspelled on the map (“Atlantick”).

The gunsmith was our next stop and it was very interesting to see the various tools used in the process of gun making. There were antique guns displayed and the gunsmith/interpreter explained that it was a working gunsmith and that it took about 400 hours to make a gun. Many of the buildings that we were visiting today were working/living museums producing their crafts in the same traditions as the 18th century craftsmen. We visited the apothecary next which would have housed the travelling physician as well as the various herbs and medications that he used. The practice of medicine was one of the few trades that did not allow girls/women to pursue at that time. The interpreter explained that most minor injuries or illnesses were cared for by the family who would come to the apothecary every so often to stock up on various supplies. The apothecary jars were interesting to see and a giant mortar/pestle sat on the counter as most of the herbs and remedies were ground up and compounded with wine.

The silversmith was next and the interpreter explained that, in lieu of a bank, a family’s silver money could be melted together and crafted into anything they wanted – usually something practical. She pointed out that a large silver coffee pot would have represented about a year’s worth of pay for a family. The silversmith was paid with the various pieces of scrap silver shaved off during the crafting process. Even the floor was covered with a wooden grate that could be lifted to sweep up the other smaller pieces of silver to be salvaged. Silver trinkets were for sale in the next room which were pretty pricey but understandably so given the amount of work that went into crafting them.

We gathered in front of the King’s Arms Tavern for lunch at about 11:30. Again, lunch had already been pre-ordered. I had the turkey sandwich which was actually a club sandwich with sun dried tomato and bacon. It was very good. We also had salad, curried cole slaw with raisins, and veggie chips. As we exited the Kings Arms Tavern we walked by the “Cure for the Refractory” which was the area where those who broke the law were tarred and feathered.

At this point, we broke away from the main group who continued on their walking tour with the guide. Amina and I went into the Barber and Peruke Maker shop where human hairs were imported to make wigs. The interpreter commented that our weather was too hot and dry to be conducive to nice hair so the hair was imported from abroad. We briefly visited a small gift shop and Amina hinted strongly that she wanted a straw hat and colonial costume to wear for Halloween.

At the blacksmith shop, Seth and Rhys stayed for a while watching the blacksmiths really working while Amina and I went to the DeWitt museum to catch the Fiddle show starting at 1:30 which was listed in the weekly program/map that Milca had given to us. The museum was a little farther than I thought it would be and we arrived just a little bit late. The fiddler was Dean Shostak who demonstrated various instruments including the hurdy-gurdy, the stroviol, and the saltry – none of which I had ever seen before. When we arrived he had just gotten done demonstrating the miniature violin (I forgot what he called it) which was a small violin with a normal sized neck, fingerboard, and pegs. He then demonstrated the hurdy-gurdy which was a giant stringed instrument resembling an oversized mandolin that was cranked with the right hand and played with the left hand. As an audience member pointed out, it sounded a lot like the music in the movie, “Last of the Mohicans”.

At this point, he told us that his favorite fiddle player was Davy Crockett and that he had been the one who restored Davy Crockett’s original fiddle in San Antonio and is the only artist to have recorded with the Davey Crockett fiddle. He didn’t have that fiddle with him but did play a few fiddle tunes for us on his regular violin. The next instrument he showed us was the cigar box violin which had only 2 strings tuned to D and A. The fingerboard was an old True Value ruler and the sound box was the cigar box complete with a hinge closing. No cigars, he told us after an audience member asked if there were any in the box. He then demonstrated a short tune on the cigar box violin.

Next was the stroviol which was a combination of a saxophone and violin on which he played a short tune that sounded like an old phonograph recording. The saltry was next which, he said, his daughters referred to as the “pizza box” instrument. It was played while resting on the right knee and both arms held a short bow which resembled more like the bow for an arrow rather than a violin bow. The sound was very delicate and sounded more like a music box. His last pieces were played on his regular violin and he ended, of course, with the Orange Blossom Special. The entire program was about 45 minutes long and we lingered a bit afterward to see the instruments up close. Mr Shostak also did a Crystal Concert on Monday, Wednesdays, and Fridays this month where he would demonstrate his glass violin and Glass Armonica – the instrument that Ben Franklin had invented with spinning crystal bowls threaded on their side through a spindle ranging from large to small and played similar to someone playing water filled glasses with their fingers. I would have liked to be able to attend that concert but our Adventure was sadly coming to a close tomorrow.

We browsed the museum store for a bit and I picked up one of Dean Shostak’s CDs of Celtic music, a small book with old fiddle tune music, and a book about the Willamsburg hospital for Seth. Amina and I then went upstairs to the hospital display. It was the Public Hospital of 1773 and was the first institution in America to be dedicated specifically for the treatment of the mentally ill. To be admitted to the hospital, you had to be deemed “A person of insane and disordered mind” by the court as the hospital was “For the support and maintenance of ideots [sic], lunatics, and other persons of unsound minds”. The displays were very interesting and we took a little time in the portion of the museum before walking to the Market Square.

We browsed a few shops and Amina was disappointed that I was not going to buy her a cape ($145) or colonial outfit (several hundred dollars) consisting of a top, skirt, and hat. We wandered into the Colonial shop where we picked up a Christmas present for Deborah. By this time it was almost 3:20 and we had to the Kings Arms Tavern where we were meeting the others to get back to the hotel at 3:45. We did have enough time to run into a small store where we picked up a red gingham apron for Amina for $24. She was satisfied with this and agreed to wear it for Halloween. I did promise to make her a ribbon decorated straw hat to go with her outfit.

We met up with the group in front of the tavern and watched for a short while the live performance in the street set at the very beginning of the revolution. We then re-boarded the SDACMC for the short drive back to the hotel.

We let the kids loose in the hotel when we got back – they were going to hit the arcade, Magiquest, as well as the water park for a little while but I made them swear to stay together the whole time, no running, and be back by 6 pm or suffer the consequences. Seth and I went for a run outside in the parking lot. One lap around the outside of the parking lot was approximately 0.65 miles. I was slow today running 5 km in about 29:30 – must have been all the yummy food on this trip.

At 6:30, we met with our group for one of the last times down in the lobby. Milca handed out small flags to each of us. I had already read about this part of the Farewell Dinner and knew what to expect. Soon, a flag bearer with a British flag and 2 Red Coat soldiers – one with a fife and the other with a drum - came up the stairs and a proclamation was made that the Adventures by Disney group would be escorted to dinner. We followed along behind, around, and in front of the parade snapping pictures and video along the way. Other people in the hotel were a little confused about what was going on – some of them joined in but soon realized it was a special event for our group. We marched together out the front door, turned left in the parking lot and headed down to the conference center while the band played. We were then invited to drop our things off in the conference room that had been set up with a buffet, bar, and nicely decorated tables, and return for family photos with the band. This time, even Milca and Maria posed for pictures.

The buffet included salad, corn on the cob, cole slaw, ribs, steak, salmon, and baked potatoes. The kids had a separate station set up outside with hamburgers and hot dogs. There was beer, wine, juice, and soda offered at the bar. While we ate dinner, one of the band members played his mandolin for us stopping for a little while at each table. After we finished dinner, we were invited outside to the courtyard to learn some dance steps. We were lined up with gentlemen on one side and ladies on the other and were taught dance steps that resembled square dancing. It was a lot of fun and very easy taking just a few rounds for some of the kids to catch on. Dessert was strawberry shortcake, brownies, and fruit.

We received our final pin: “Fare thee well” and went around to each person as we had that very first day sharing what we liked most about our trip. I really enjoyed the bike ride through the mall and knew that would be one of the highlights of our trip for me. I also really enjoyed the fiddle concert and expressed how much admiration I had for Milca and Maria. It was so reassuring to know that even after a long day doing what they do, doing the “Disney thing” all day long, that by the end of the day, they still put on Disney pajamas before going to bed. Now that’s a real belief in ones’ “product”. We also found out that 4 of our fellow Adventurers were actually Cast Members who were travelling with us to experience ABD. They each worked with the travel industry through Disney.

Our final portion of the evening was a beautiful slide show presentation that I had originally recorded with my camera but accidentally erased afterwards. There were many great pictures of all of us – surely ones that we will be purchasing when we receive our Photopass information later. We had also received a few more family postcards and an offer for a $100 per passenger discount on our next Adventures by Disney if booked by the end of November for 2009.
We each thanked Milca and Maria giving them their tip envelopes that I had filled earlier with cash from the ATM in the lobby and my business card in each one. I should have brought more cash with us for this portion and was just a little surprised that there was no option other than cash. Thank goodness the ATM’s cash withdrawal limit was just enough to cover the tips. Maria also passed out a form for each of us to enter our names and email addresses which would be copied and given to each family in the morning.

We said our goodbyes and I checked us in on our morning flight in the business center but the printer was out of order so we didn’t get our boarding passes. It was strange that we had free wi-fi in the rooms but I was charged for internet time in the business center ($3 for 30 minutes but it subtracted time when I tried to print out our boarding passes). We packed up our things and called it a night hoping we wouldn’t have another rude awakening in the morning.

Adventure by Disney - Day 6 - Washington DC to Williamsburg

Wednesday, October 15, 2008 – Day 6 – Washington DC and Williamsburg

Pictures to be added later....

Luggage pull was at 7:30 this morning. It was a good thing that ABD gave us duffle bags because it came in handy today as our “swim bag”. We packed our suits, swimming accessories, water shoes, and Magiquest wands in it storing it in the overhead bin on the bus. We had breakfast one last time in the Café Promenade then returned to the room to hang out until it was time to board the bus. At just before 8:45 we headed downstairs and onto the bus. Our first stop this morning was the White House for a group photo and family photos. The small park near the White House was overrun with squirrels of all different sizes and colors. After taking pictures, we re-boarded the bus saying goodbye to some of our fellow Adventurers who were skipping the zoo this morning and going, instead, back to the Smithsonian area.

The National Zoo was very close to the Mayflower hotel – just up the street on Connecticut Avenue. We were let off and had a couple of hours before having to be back on the motor coach at 11:45. We also had to squeeze in lunch during this time. Maria and Milca recommended the pandas as well as the elephant bath at 10:30. We viewed the pandas both outside and inside then made our way over to the elephant house. We were a little confused at first as to where the elephants would get their baths but a staff member redirected us back into the elephant house where we just caught the beginning of the bathing event.

The elephant was hosed down by the staff worker and stood patiently as the staff member scrubbed the elephant with a giant brush with soap. The elephant handler then had the elephant lay down on different sides so that its legs, back, and rear end could be scrubbed. When the scrubbing was done, the elephant stood back up again to be rinsed off. All the while, the handler was giving the elephant treats to eat. The elephant was very entertaining.
We visited the ape house and reptile house then it was time to start heading back to the bus area. On the way, we stopped off like everyone else near the panda museum store to buy lunch before getting back on the motor coach – an assortment of hamburgers, hot dogs, boca burger, and chicken sandwiches with French fries. We got back on the motor coach and headed towards the Smithsonian’s Air and Space museum to pick up the other Adventurers singing along with Elvis as we headed over. Gary, our bus driver, had been married by Elvis in Vegas and we all passed around his wedding photos.

Just after we started on our way and the rest of the movie, National Treasure, started to play, Milca came back to adjust the video screen above our heads which wasn’t working but the unit popped off its bracket with Milca catching it just in time. Gary pulled the bus over for a while as Seth tried to fix the broken monitor’s brackets. In the end, it was easier to unscrew the wires and completely remove the monitor but then none of the other monitors worked either. So, we listened to Elvis again down to Williamsburg with one brief stop at a rest station for a biological break.

We arrived in Williamsburg at the Great Wolf Lodge at around 3:30 pm. We were already pre-checked in and after grabbing some lemonade and cookies from the nice GWL reception for us and a brief tour/orientation, we were on our way to our rooms. This Great Wolf Lodge was quite a bit different than the one in Grapevine which seemed larger. There were only 4 floors compared to the 10 or 11 floors at the Grapevine Lodge. The rooms were very roomy compared to our 2 previous hotels with 2 queen sized beds instead of doubles but I had to agree with Seth that the mattresses were not as comfortable as our previous hotels. There was free wi-fi internet and I spent the next couple days uploading all 500+ pictures that I had taken onto my Smugmug account.

We got our swim suits on and went down to the water park which was very similar to the one in Grapevine except that there were a couple fewer slides. This Lodge also had a Flow Rider and I was surprised that Rhys tried this ride a couple of times. The water park felt nearly deserted I assume because it was a little “off season” and it was the middle of the week.

Instead of another movie night, Maria and Milca brought pizza, drinks, and Krispy Kreme donuts to the water park. I suspect that was one of the reasons they had movie night in Washington DC instead of this evening. The turnout would have been very small compared to the water park and Magiquest. After dinner, the kids and a few adults rode the Howling Tornado together. At about 6 pm, the kids left the water park and went on the hotel’s Halloween scavenger hunt which, oddly enough, was all Disney characters (Maleficent, Jafar, Shrek, Cruella, et al.) stationed in different areas of the hotel giving out treats. The kids completed the scavenger hunt in no time.

Next, it was time for Magiquest. We went back to the room to change and get our wands. The Magiquest shop was located on the 2nd floor above the check-in counter. The cost was the same: $9.99 for a game and $14.99 for a wand with additional charges for other accessories. Since we had brought our own wands, we just had them activated and we were off playing after receiving our guide books. This Magiquest was somewhat different than the one in Grapevine with most of the Magiquest items being located on floors 3 and 4 flanking each side of the central elevator with stairs on either end. This made for a much quicker game. The quest trees were located centrally on the 3rd floor. The kids and I did a couple of rune quests together and then split off to do our own quests. Within a couple of hours, I had the quests completed and had started the Pixie Adventure compared to the Grapevine Magiquest which took probably twice that long to get to an Adventure. By about 9 pm, we called it a night with Amina questioning why we couldn’t play until 11 pm as we had in Grapevine. “Because I said so” came to mind but we did actually have to be ready for an 8:15 am departure in the morning.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Adventure by Disney - Day 5 - Washington DC

Tuesday, October 14, 2008 – Day 5 – Washington DC

Pictures to be added later......

I was up this morning before 6 am and went out for a run. I had asked for suggestions from the concierge for running routes and he highlighted a map that seemed pretty straight forward. Unfortunately, navigating the streets of Washington DC is not as easy as the maps make it look. I got lost and a 3 mile run became an almost 5 mile run because I had trouble finding my way back to the hotel. What was interesting to me was that I had stopped to ask a few business people making their way to work how to get back to Connecticut Avenue and a couple of them did not know.

I got back to the hotel at just after 7 am. We had breakfast in the Café Promenade again – thank goodness Ron and Deb had gotten a big table, by the time we got to the Café, there was a long line. We met the rest of the Adventurers in the lobby at 8:15 am and boarded the bus for Mount Vernon. Greg was with us for one more day and reviewed the history of both Mount Vernon and Alexandria on our way to the Estate. We walked to the information center and looked around a little snapping pictures with the life-sized bronze figures of the Washington family. George was of average size but Martha was very short. We looked at the color map of the grounds and Ron pointed out that the last time he was here, they arrived right at the mansion. Indeed, the information center had just been built and opened in 2006. I stopped by the small souvenir stand and found a Mount Vernon magnet for our collection. The group met down by the model of the mansion and then went into the theater for a showing of the film “We Fight to be Free” which was a very good re-enacted account of Washington and the crossing of the Delaware in the middle of winter.

After the film, we left the information center and walked the grounds towards the mansion. When we reached the bowling green, Gary pointed out interesting facts about the grounds and then directed us towards the figures sitting on a far bench. We walked around the bowling green and met the costumed characters portraying their roles as servants – sewing a hat and knitting. We continued on to the mansion and were divided into 2 groups to tour the mansion. We saw the “newer” part of the mansion – the dining hall which, at the time, was a huge room and ornately decorated on every wall and on the ceiling. We moved on to the older portion of the house and saw the other dining areas, sitting rooms, and bedrooms. The kitchen area was last and then we moved out on to the grounds and took family pictures by the river.

We strolled leisurely back to the information center and went immediately into a private area of the Mount Vernon Inn restaurant where we were to have one of our pre-ordered lunches but before we were served, we were introduced to our “special guest”: Dr. Crain. The interaction with Dr Crain was very interesting and entertaining – he was one of George Washington’s closest friends and was trained in Edinburgh as a surgeon. Dr Crain served as the country’s first “surgeon general”. He answered questions for quite a while with a good amount of humor sprinkled in on top of his Scottish accent. When he finished, he then passed out our pins with the theme for the day: “Proudly we Hail”.

We all had the honey fried chicken which was very good served along with vegetables (squash, onion) and mashed potatoes. For dessert, we had the cherry pie. We thoroughly enjoyed our lunch and were given about an hour after lunch to explore the grounds. Gary took a group on a walking tour, Ron and Seth went to the gardens, and I took the kids to the interactive museum where we saw more about the life of George Washington and then watched the multimedia film about him complete with vibrating chairs and “snow” falling. We shopped the gift shop for a bit where Rhys bought a pop gun and Amina bought a small liberty bell before meeting the group in the lobby at 1:30.

We re-boarded the bus and went to the Capitol building where we posed for a group picture and then family pictures. From there, Deb went back on the bus back to the hotel and the rest of us walked to the Smithsonian museums. Amina and Ron went to the American Indian museum while Rhys, Seth, and I went next door to the Air and Space museum. We had agreed to meet at 5:15 to take the metro back to the hotel.

The air and space museum was very interesting but I would have liked to see one of the Imax films if we had had more time. After visiting most of the exhibits, we visited the museum store where Seth bought a couple of t-shirts and cap. Rhys got a spaceship pen and water toy that drips different colored oils – he was very entertained by this toy. We got Amina patriotic earrings (flag design painted on wood). We met up with Ron and Amina then made our way down to the metro station. Ron had bought Amina a beaded necklace at the American Indian museum gift shop as well.

The metro was pretty easy to navigate – we could take either the blue or orange line to the Farragut West stop – about 5 stations down the line. We got back to the hotel at about 5:40 and went back to the room to drop things off and freshen up. At just before 6, we met the other Junior Adventurers down in the lobby for their special pizza and movie night. Maria and Milca took us downstairs where they had tables/chairs and a pizza/drink station set up. In the room next door, they had a popcorn/drink station, large screen television, and plenty of blankets and large pillows on the floor. The kids were very excited and would spend 6-9 pm with Maria and Milca this evening.

We had made reservations at Café Promenade at 6:30 but didn’t really need them – the restaurant was not very crowded. For appetizer, I tried the avocado and crab meat which was lump crab meat mixed with avocado and a couple triangular pieces of flour tortilla crisps with more crab and black caviar on top. This was followed by the clam chowder and for the entrée, I tried the pan fried duck breast with figs and teriyaki reduction. We also ordered a bottle of malbec wine which, of course, was not going to be covered by Disney. Otherwise, the entire meal was Disney’s treat. The food was delicious and the service was very good. My only regret was that I had not anticipated needing anything “nice” to wear so I had nothing but running shoes and tennis shoes with me. We finished dinner just before 9 pm and picked the kids up sending them back up to the room to get ready for bed while Seth and I stepped out quickly to the CVS pharmacy looking for a Washington DC magnet but we never did find one. We decided to leave the packing for in the morning and turned lights off at around 10 pm.

Adventure by Disney - Day 4 - Washington DC

Monday, October 13, 2008 (Columbus Day) – Day 4 – Washington DC

Breakfast this morning was in the Café Promenade downstairs which was already very crowded by 8 am. We were shown to our tables and jumped right in to the buffet which wasn’t quite as varied as the one at the Hyatt. I had granola with lowfat yogurt and fresh fruit. After breakfast, I went to the concierge for their recommendation regarding dinner reservations. The concierge recommended an Italian restaurant within walking distance of the hotel – Giovanni Trattu and offered to make reservations for the 6 of us.

At 8:45, our group had gathered in the lobby and we boarded our “Super Deluxe A/C Motor Coach” headed to Arlington National Cemetery. The drive was pretty short and we walked from the parking lot to the information center while Greg kept a running commentary about more monuments and sights. He also went into great detail about the relationship between Robert E Lee and George Washington and more about the person who had owned Arlington (George Washington’s step-grandson, George Washington Custis). As we entered the information center, Milca passed out carnations to each of us to place wherever we wanted. We had other tourists asking us where we had purchased our carnations.

We milled around in the info center for a while reading the information on the walls, examining the pictures, the television monitors and the replicas.

Rhys found the computer station that allowed for searches within the cemetery and entered in our last name. Interestingly, about 9 names popped up but neither Ron nor Deb recognized any of them.

Soon, Greg gathered us up at the model of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and explained how the changing of the guard ceremony would be performed.

We then headed out of the information center and boarded a tour bus which took us to the Kennedy gravesite.

Along the way, we marveled at the differences in sizes and shapes of the headstones – some were ornately designed and very large, some were obelisks, others were very small, plain grave markers. Each grave marker or head stone included the soldier’s name, rank, branch, and dates of service. If a soldier had a spouse buried with them, it was noted on the back of the grave marker. There were areas for “special” people including an area where the Supreme Court Justices were born as well as a few movie stars.

We walked from the Kennedy graves to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and arrived just before 11 am when the next guard change ceremony was to be. Gary advised us all to stay as close as possible to the right side of the Tomb where most of the interesting changing of the guard will take place. Within minutes, the inspector came out and, in a very precise and mechanical fashion, checked the new guard’s weapon thoroughly and then his uniform.

Following the changing of the guard, there were also 2 other wreath hanging ceremonies for which we stayed and watched. Milca had told us that it was “off-season” for the cemetery so guard changing was only once an hour instead of every half hour. During the summer months, the Adventurers usually watched the 10:30 am changing but we were the first group to do an 11 am changing which then also included the wreath hanging ceremonies. Apparently, we were the first group to get to see everything.

After the changing of the guard, we explored the nearby grounds and visited the USS Maine memorial as well as the memorial for the space shuttles Challenger and Columbia. We left our carnations at these memorials.

Most of the group decided to walk back to the information center rather than try to squeeze on the next shuttle. Along the way, Gary pointed out the gravesites of Lee Marvin and the Brown Bomber.

After reaching the info center and taking a brief “biological break”, we boarded the bus, were given our “National Treasures” pins, and drove a very short distance to the Columbia Island Marina where we were to have lunch.

We were seated under a large white tent outside at a buffet style lunch. Across the way we could see the Pentagon. The day was perfect for a lunch outside. We dined on BBQ chicken, ribs, hamburgers, hot dogs, beans, cole slaw, and watermelon. The food was delicious and for dessert, we were offered different types of popsicles. The kids got done early with their lunch and played on the grass for a bit.

After finishing lunch, we re-boarded the motor coach and drove past the memorial at the Pentagon located on the side that the United airplane had collided. We also drove by the Navy overflow offices and hotel that the low-flying United airplane almost hit as it descended on the Pentagon. The Air Force memorial was not yet constructed or it would have certainly been hit as well. Next, we were taken to the Iwo Jima memorial which was a real sight to see – the memorial was gigantic – much larger than what I had imagined. We did our typical family pictures in front of the memorial.

We were then taken back to the Mall area and the motor coach made several stops dropping different Adventurers off at different locations. We were dropped off at the Natural History museum where we saw the Hope diamond as well as the dinosaur display but we were running short on time so we left the natural history museum, walked through the nearby sculpture garden stopping for a bit at the unusual optical illusion house and the beautiful fountain then continuing on our way past the Navy memorial and up the street to the International Spy Museum.

Deborah waited in the café while we went through the museum which was actually very interesting showcasing everything from famous spies to essential spy equipment, to bugging devices, etc. Rhys really enjoyed this museum stopping at every single display and reading every single word but we didn’t finish the last 2 areas so that the kids could browse through the museum store. Rhys bought an intruder alarm and secret spy pen while Amina bought a book.

We headed back to the hotel at about 5:30 to make our 6:30 dinner reservation. We walked to the nearby metro station and easily navigated our way back to the Mayflower hotel via the Farragut West metro station taking the red line towards Shady Grove. The fare was only $1.65 per person. We walked back to the hotel, took another bathroom break, and I checked with the concierge about our reservations which had been made at Giovanni Trattu’s just 1 ½ blocks away. It was an Italian restaurant which came highly recommended by the concierge for homemade pasta, unpretentious atmosphere with reasonably priced dinner wine. I had some of Seth’s Kobe beef carpaccio, followed by the Caprese salad, and the Osso Buco. We also had a bottle of Sangiovese wine which was delicious with the Osso Buco.

While we ate dinner, Milca and Maria also came by the restaurant to have dinner – they had been to this restaurant before and really enjoyed it. For dessert, Rhys and I shared the marinated pears with vanilla ice cream which was not nearly as good as Amina’s white truffle ice cream. We walked home and went immediately to bed after a long day.

Adventure by Disney - Day 3 - Philadelphia to Washington DC

Sunday, October 12, 2008 – Day 3 – Washington DC

Seth and I were up at 5:30 this morning to go on a run. It was Sunday and I needed to get in my long run for the week – at least 6 miles. I had gotten directions for a 6 mile run through downtown Philadelphia but Seth didn’t think it was safe to run in the dark in that area. The turn-around point for this run was the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art a la “Rocky”. We opted, instead, to run by the Delaware River. We ran together for about 4 miles then I ran another 3.1 miles by myself for a total of 7.1 miles in about 1:10. Our Tower of Terror 13 km race was in less than 2 weeks and it was looking good for finishing in under 1:20 – my goal.

I showered and we packed up our things for luggage pick up at 7:30. We were instructed to put our luggage by the door and they would be picked up by Milca and the bellman. We went downstairs for breakfast then met everyone in the lobby at 8:45. I snapped a few pictures of the kids who had planned on a Nintendo-fest while on the bus. Almost every single child in our group had a Nintendo DS and they shared games and made plans to “link up”.

The bus ride (aka “Deluxe Motor Coach”) to Washington DC was very pleasant. Maria and Milca gave us our instructions for the trip in airplane flight attendant fashion and everyone chuckled. After a bit of technical difficulty, the movie National Treasure was played for us. The children were remarkably quiet at the back of the bus where there was a table for them to play on. We stopped at about 10 at a rest stop just after Milca handed out some sweet and savory snacks. We visited the bathroom for a “biological break”, as Milca put it, and then picked up some Starbuck’s coffee. We resumed our bus ride and finished watching National Treasure. Milca was up and down the bus frequently with a garbage bag to pick up trash.

We arrived Washington DC at just before noon and drove by Union Station where we would be having dinner later in the week. Our first stop in DC was the ESPN zone where we had lunch buffet style including 2 kinds of salad, fresh fruit, mini hamburgers, pasta, chicken strips, and dessert.

The kids were particularly excited to learn that they would each get a $10 card to play the games downstairs which were primarily, of course, sport related video games. After a few games of air hockey, basketball, and playing a few rounds of various car driving games, we gathered again in front of the ESPN zone to put away our things on the bus that we would not need for our bike ride.

6 Adventurers, including Ron and Deb, decided to remain on the motor coach for the deluxe coach tour of the monuments. We then walked down the street to the Bike and Roll store where we were each fitted with helmets and a bicycle. They had small sacs to attach to the handlebars to put personal belongings in as well as bottles of water. We posed for pictures then met our tour guide, Dan, who gave us a safety talk and then headed on our way with about 12 Adventurers in our group. We were instructed to ride single file with another Bike and Roll guide bringing up the rear.

The day was perfect for riding – sunny and warm but cool in the shade and once we started riding, the breeze felt wonderful. We rode for a short distance and stopped to look at the White House then rode around to the other side of the park and stopped for Dan to give some history about the area as well as answer questions.

We re-mounted our bikes and rode to the World War II memorial which was Dan’s favorite memorial. A beautiful fountain spouted water in the middle of this memorial and was surrounded by pillars – one for each state.

We then made our way to the Lincoln Memorial and stopped to take pictures of the Reflection Pool on the way to the bathroom. The bicycle ride was very easy but a teensy bit challenging when crossing streets, riding around pedestrians, or negotiating between poles. A couple of girls in our group wiped out on their bikes but were not really injured. Amina and I went up to see the Lincoln memorial and took time to see the inscriptions on either side of the memorial as well.

When we headed back to our group at 3:15 pm, we were told that Milca was at the ice cream cart treating everyone to a cold treat. We walked over and ran into Ron and Deb as well.

We didn’t have time to finish our cherry Italian ice treats when the group was ready to move on. Some of the Adventurers in our group requested to see the Jefferson memorial so we had to move along and get going as this monument was a bit farther away. We stopped briefly in front of the Roosevelt memorial and then biked on.

We spent a little bit of time at the Jefferson memorial then rode back to the Mall and stopped to talk about the Capitol building before riding the rest of the way to the shop. This concluded our bike tour.

We boarded our motor coach again and were taken to our hotel – the Mayflower which had been described as the second best address in DC next to the White House. The lobby of the hotel was gorgeous with chandeliers, ornate railings, gold leaf, and huge fresh flower arrangements.

The kids were a bit disappointed that there was no pool but there was a fitness center on the mezzanine level. After a slight snafu with our room keys, we finally got into our rooms and hung out for a bit unpacking and resting. Maria had given us an envelope with some pictures they had taken made into postcards. We had also been told that our group would be getting a special surprise – dinner on Disney. The kids would have an extra movie night on Tuesday night and the adults were invited to dine at the Café Promenade for dinner either on Monday or Tuesday evening compliments of ABD. At 6 pm, we met downstairs in the lobby to head out for dinner at B Smith’s at Union Station.

Along the way to the restaurant, Greg, our tour guide, pointed out many interesting historical areas, monuments, and told us a lot of historical facts. We reached Union Station and the bus parked in the underground parking lot. We walked through Union Station and out the front entrance around to B Smith’s restaurant.

There was a brief wait out in the lobby of the restaurant, then we were shown into the Cabinet Room.

We were served salad followed by our pre-ordered entrees. I had the salmon which had a maple glaze and was delicious.

The service was a bit off – they kept running out of bread, butter, and didn’t do a very great job filling water glasses and such. Milca and Maria kept having to run out to get things and check up on things. For dessert, we had bread pudding with lots of raisins – yummy.

Rhys and Daniel handed out our pins for the day before we left the restaurant and headed back to the hotel.

On our way back to the hotel, Greg again pointed out more sights and their historical significance. Once we reached the hotel, it was time for lights out immediately. Everyone was asleep in no time.