Day Trip to San Antonio

For some reason, we had the idea to head down to San Antonio for the day. I think it started with Mariko mentioning that she wanted to go to Trader Joe’s. Then Koa chimed in that we should go to Ripley’s Believe It or Not and finally Bay said we should also go to the Tower of the Americas. I was pretty much along for the ride!

Our first stop was some breakfast/lunch and our route took us south to William Cannon. We were avoiding I-35 of course, especially with SxSW going on. A quick check on Yelp and Torchy’s Tacos was decided on as the destination. It was our first time at one of the actual restaurants (rather than a catered event) so it was cool to see all the different items on the menu. There were so many!!! I chose the deep fried avocado taco and the jerk chicken taco, Mariko had a salmon taco and a barbacoa taco, and the kids had breakfast tacos. All of them were huge, filling, and tasty. The fried avocado taco was the best, with a really good crunch on the outside! Delicious!

Torchy’s Tacos

After filling our bellies, it was time to head to San Antonio. We parked at our regular lot, which is the Rivercenter Mall parking structure. Might try a cheaper place next time, as it cost us $14 for the day. We had actually found a nice $5 lot, but it was a self-serve lot where you had to put the bills in a slot. Of course we didn’t have a fiver! At any rate, we parked the car and headed to Ripley’s Believe It or Not, which is right across the street from the Alamo. Ripley’s is a lot of fun, with some bizarre exhibits. I especially liked the headless chicken! After that, we went to the 4D movie next door which was pretty good but probably only worth $5 or so though. I’d recommend buying tickets online since you can save a couple bucks per ticket, and also skip the line at the actual attractions.

Ripley's Believe it or Not
Photo info: OLYMPUS IMAGING CORP. E-PL1, 0mm, f/0, 1/125 sec, ISO200
Ripley’s Believe It or Not

After Ripley’s the kids got their Dippin’ Dots ice cream and we relaxed for a bit in front of the Alamo. There were lots of people there for a re-enactment and it was neat to see all the old uniforms, artillery, guns and Bowie knives. We didn’t go into the Alamo to look for Pee Wee’s bike this time but we’ve all visited the Alamo before, so no biggie.

The Alamo
Photo info: OLYMPUS IMAGING CORP. E-PL1, 0mm, f/0, 1/1250 sec, ISO200
The Alamo

Next we took a stroll on the Riverwalk over to the Tower of the Americas. We decided not to go up to the observation deck (too expensive) and just played around down below by the fountains and water in Hemisfair Park. It was a really nice sunny day and we all had fun. Last time we were there, we just went up to the restaurant and had a beer and sodas and enjoyed the view. I’d recommend doing that if you don’t want to spend the money for a ticket.

Tower of the Americas
Photo info: OLYMPUS IMAGING CORP. E-PL1, 0mm, f/0, 1/320 sec, ISO200
Tower of the Americas

Finally, we drove over to Trader Joe’s and bought a bunch of goodies, then across the way to Starbucks where I picked up a coffee for the road. It was a fun day hanging out with the family in San Antonio and pretty cool that we could do it in a short day. We even had time to hit the gym afterwards!

Oh, lastly we saw some horsies down by the Alamo too!:

Photo info: OLYMPUS IMAGING CORP. E-PL1, 0mm, f/0, 1/400 sec, ISO200

Disney World Vacation

A few weeks back we visited Walt Disney World and spent a day at each of the four major parks: Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and Epcot. We had a total blast! In fact, it was one of my favorite vacations ever! I think what made the trip so enjoyable was the fact that we went with a Disney vacation plan that included airfare, hotel, and park passes (booked through JetBlue Getaways). That pretty much took away much of the worry I usually have about traveling. More about that in the rest of this post. Rather than give a play-by-play of each day, I’ll just sum-up and list a few pointers and things I really enjoyed.

Disney’s Magical Express. This is the shuttle bus service from the Orlando airport to the hotel and back. It’s super convenient and a great intro to the whole Disney vibe. The staff that greets you there are super-polite and you feel like you’re already in a Disney park. They even have a complimentary luggage delivery to the hotel room, so you don’t even need to go to the carousel. However, it might take a few hours for the bag to arrive, so I’d just get the suitcases myself next time and take them to the bus.

Staying at a Disney hotel. There are many to choose from, in lots of different price ranges. One reason to stay in one of these is that your “Disney Experience” is nicely integrated. You can use your room key to charge things to your hotel bill from everywhere in the Disney Resort, plus it also acts as your ticket to get into the parks and get fast-passes. Then at the end of your vacation, you get an itemized bill of all the charges you made.

Disney Shuttle Buses. These take you all around the Disney Resort. We used them to get from the hotel to the parks and also to Downtown Disney. The Downtown Disney buses run very late too! I love not having to rent a car and pay for parking!

Live Musical Shows. We saw the Beauty and the Beast, Little Mermaid, and Finding Nemo live shows, and they were fantastic. The cast in all of them sounded exactly like the characters from the movies. All the singing, dancing, and costumes were super. I was surprised that I enjoyed the shows so much.

The Food. I was worried that the food would be expensive and average quality based on my experiences at Disneyland in California. But I was pleasantly surprised that the food was pretty tasty and not crazy expensive! As a bonus, the portions were larger than I expected. We had great meals at the hotel we stayed at, and the food at the parks was delicious. Of course dinner at Epcot’s World Heritage park was excellent! (we ate at France’s Les Halles Boulangerie & Pâtisserie for breakfast and at Italy’s Tutto Italia Ristorante for dinner) So much to choose from at Epcot! At the burger place in Tomorrowland, the condiment bar had extra veggies including mushrooms, so our plain cheeseburger turned into a gigantic specialty burger. We also had an early lunch at Tamu Tamu Refreshments in “Africa” at the Animal Kingdom. The sandwich we got was big enough for two of us to share! So yeah, I enjoyed the food.

Traveling During Low-season. We are lucky that our kids’ school district has a 3-day student holiday each year in early February. This is a great time for family vacations since nothing is crowded. We visited Universal a couple years ago and had a great time. According to DisneyDad, early February at Disney World is the least busy time of the year. That is just what I like! The longest line we waited in for a ride was maybe 20 minutes. For the more popular rides, we used fast-passes which are wonderful! Just for comparison, the line for Pirates of the Caribbean was only 5 minutes. Not only were the rides for lines super-short, but the food lines were short as well. Most of the time there was no waiting at all and there were open tables so we could sit down immediately. No need for table-hunting! For the sit-down restaurants, I’d recommend still making a reservation, although when we ate at Yak and Yeti, we saw people getting seated after only a short wait. Just a tip: register for and use the Disney Mobile App on your phone to check and book reservations! One last thing I’ll mention about the small crowds was that the evening show “Wishes” at the Magic Kingdom was even better because we didn’t have to stake out a spot in advance. There was plenty of room for everyone to stand pretty much where they wanted.

I took plenty of photos during our vacation, and had a lot of fun shooting there. If you are a camera enthusiast like me, I’d recommend taking a super-wide-angle and a medium zoom. I mainly used a 10-20mm and a 16-50mm (on my 1.5x crop APS-C Sony). I also brought the 100-200mm and 35mm, but rarely used those. They are pretty small though so not a big deal to throw those in the bag. Speaking of bags, I opted to go with my North Face Base Camp backpack instead of my REI Transit messenger bag. The messenger is more convenient, but the backpack is more water-resistant (didn’t really matter) and two straps + sternum strap + waist strap is more comfortable. I put the camera insert in there, and the gear was well-protected.

Check out my Flickr set to see some of the photos I took! I culled my photos down to about 250, but I think I took about 1,200.

Here are a few to whet your appetite!

Iconic Monorail Astro Mickey It's a Really Big Hat Astro Orbiter Ariel Fantastic Fireworks!