Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy Holidays from Orlando!

Wishing everyone a very happy 2011, and offering some tips to follow for visiting Orlando with a family over the winter vacation:

TIP #1: Don’t bother getting tickets for the Magic Kingdom or staying in the Magic Kingdom area unless your kids are big Disney fans. We
hear the parks fill up fast and the traffic getting to Disney is insane!

We took Yamini to “Downtown Disney,” a shopping and entertainment area and got her a princess makeover - hair, nails, makeup, a bag of stuff to keep -- all for $56. Total deal, unless you go and buy the ugly princess dresses.

TIP #2: Get the multi-day passes to the parks you like, because the price isn’t much more and then you feel more free to come and go. We did 2 days at Sea World and a 7 day pass to Universal. (Best tip - stay at one of the Loews Hotels on the Universal property, then you get a free Express Pass on the rides and you can walk or take a mini boat ride to the park.)

TIP #3: Get to parks EARLY. We got shut out of Universal Islands of Adventure one day. Next day we got there by 8am and there were 5 minute waits for some of the rides! If you wait in a long line with your kids, Universal has this nice "kid swap" area, where one of you can go on with the kids, the other person holds the bag, jackets, etc, and then the other adult can go on, so the kids get two rides without waiting in line twice.

Best roller coasters, ranked by my family:
  1. Manta (at Sea World) - you are strapped in and the seat then moves up, so you are horizontal. It feels like you are flying!! So beautiful.
  2. Tie between Hulk and Dragon Challenge (kids like the blue cars better on the latter)
  3. Rip Ride Rocket
  4. Kraken (at Sea World)

Other awesome rides - Ripsaw Falls (great log flume with Dudley Do-Right jokes) & the Mummy (small roller coaster, but in the dark!).

For those of you (like me and Trevor) who are into Harry Potter - there were huge lines for everything!! But, the stuff we saw was pretty well done . . they have lots of cute details like the shops from Hogsmeade and Daigon Alley, etc. The Butterbeer and Pumpkin Juice were good!

At Sea World, don’t miss some of the shows - we got to see a new Baby Shamu at the killer whale show and cracked up at the corny Seal and Otter Show, “Clyde and Seamore”! :)

TIP #4: Try not to eat any full meals in the park or on International Drive, unless you like Chain Restaurant food. We ate breakfast in the room or at WAFFLE HOUSE (yum). We at lunch at Whole Foods (10 minutes from Universal) and we ate dinner in downtown Orlando or the Winter Park neighborhood. On Xmas Day and New Year’s Eve, we made dinner in our time-share.

Best Orlando restaurants:
  • We love Houston’s (aka Hillstone Grill). It is in a beautiful setting here and has great food, drinks and service.
  • Old School Steak House - Linda’s La Cantina -- checkered tablecloths, great salad and awesome steaks!
  • Four Rivers Smokehouse - great variety of BBQ to eat at outdoor picnic tables (BYO), yummy BBQ sauce and very friendly management!! Our faves were the brisket, St. Louis ribs and pulled pork, but the chicken was pretty tasty too!
  • For desert, we went to Jeremiah’s (an italian ice and soft-serve stand), Mochi Frozen Yogurt (YUM!), or for the peppermint milkshake -- Chick-fill-a!!
TIP #5: If you are in Orlando for your whole winter vacation, remember not to spend all your time in the parks. We slept late, played mini golf, went outlet shopping (didn’t buy much), and relaxed in the room reading, doing homework, watching TV, and hanging out with each other! Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

December in New York City

The holidays are always hectic but fun in NYC.
On some sunny days, the boys
headed off to the basketball courts with some old friends to run around. Battery Park City is pretty throughout the year, but when the crowds start to thin in the winter time, it can be particularly peaceful.

Also in December, I always try to take my Global History classes to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. School can be a little crazy right before the winter break, and it is nice to get
out of the building during the holiday season and to look at some of the wonderful museum pieces from the different time periods the kids need to know about.

In the Middle Ages, we found some nice items for the Christmas season -- my favorite somber wood carving of the Virgin & Child, and a little tiny crib for Jesus that people used to keep in their homes or castles!

This year, in the Egyptian Wing, one of my students found these hidden shelves with some items from the pharaohs' tombs. . On one shelf were the tiniest little animals carved out of beautifully colored stones. It is amazing how much time you can spend at the Met and still discover new things!
And of course, what holiday season would be complete without some kind of musical performance. The kids in my school chorus did a wonderful show, but the Downtown Community Center really outdid itself this year.
. .They combined all the after-school dance programs into one huge Nutcracker with many different dance pieces.

There were over 150 hand-made costumes and a full dress rehearsal the day of the performance. Yamini was lucky enough to be Clara in the opening scene, and she got to turn the pages of the big "Nutcracker" book on the stage!
Finally, on the last weekend before the vacation, we took Yamini to see
the Mark Morris version of the Nutcracker ("The Hard Nut") at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
Our seats were awesome - obstructed view right over the orchestra pit - only a tiny bit obstructed, but we
could see the dancers so closely!!
The snowflake scene was just so beautiful -- male and female dancers leaping across the stage, as bits of snow flew up from their hands and sprinkled down on them while they danced. Pure joy!