Our Trip To Wisconsin Dells (Part 3) – Restaurants

Two days ago I discussed our lodging while staying in Wisconsin DellsYesterday, I provided details regarding the numerous attractions and water parks within Wilderness Resort.  Today, I’d like to share our restaurant experiences with you.

Field’s At the Wilderness – Located in a separate building on the Wilderness Resort property, this steakhouse absolutely won me over.  It was by far my favorite.  I particularly appreciated the interior’s tasteful design, the elegant ambiance, and the rare combination of both friendliness and professionalism displayed by the staff.  Our waiter in particular, a young man, conducted himself seriously, yet also offered a ready smile and jovial demeanor.  Yes, the menu is expensive, but I consider Field’s a treat worth the expense.  We ate here at night after checking in at the Glacier Canyon Lodge, and it provided the perfect respite after the long drive.  Visit Field’s website HERE.

Buffalo Phil’s Pizza and Grille – Both friends and online reviews urged me to take my family to Buffalo Phil’s, so we made sure to pop by around two in the afternoon for lunch.  Located not quite a mile from Wilderness Resort, Buffalo Phil’s is right next to perhaps the nicest outlet mall I’ve ever seen.  Once again, this staff conveyed both warmth and professionalism.  Don’t expect the elegance of Field’s, though!  Buffalo Phil’s is decorated with all kinds of stuffed critters, including an enormous buffalo.  It has a small arcade with a very friendly claw machine, but the rear of the restaurant feeds into a giant–and I mean giant–arcade called Knuckleheads.  The real attraction of Buffalo Phil’s, however, is the fact that your food and drink will be delivered by a model train on rails.  My kids absolutely loved this feature, and I did, too, honestly.  They took this premise very seriously.  We we got drink refills, even they were transported to us by train!  When I walked in, I was sure to tell the host we wanted to sit by the tracks for the train delivery, and he assured me it wouldn’t be a problem.  This turned out to be true.  The whole eating area is arranged so that a train can reach virtually any table.  Our waiter was friendly and capable, and the food tasted delicious.  Be aware–they give you more than you can probably eat.  It’s pretty rare when I can’t finish a sandwich, but they had so much meat piled on mine that I had to give up.  I heartily recommend you give Buffalo Phil’s a try.  Visit their website HERE.

Sarento’s Italian Restaurant – The Internet counted Sarento’s Italian Restaurant among the best in the area, so we thought we’d try it out for dinner.  Located just around the corner from Wilderness Resort, Sarento’s sports lovely decor as well.  However, the staff, while polite, did not quite reach the standard we experienced at Field’s and Buffalo Phil’s.  In fact, when I got up to use the bathroom, I saw the hostess on her cell phone.  Maybe this shouldn’t turn me off as a customer, but it does.  Furthermore, our waiter did not impress me at all.  He struck me as a bit too informal, and seemed almost annoyed to have to wait on us.  He didn’t know much of anything regarding the menu, and told me to look at the flier when I asked about the specials.  For the amount of money I was about to spend, this did not sit well with me.  I actually wanted to leave before we even ordered, but my wife talked me into staying.  Though a young man, I expected better.  I would like to say, however, that at times a young woman would check in on us, and she maintained a personable, capable persona that I appreciated.  Had she been our primary waitress, I imagine the experience would have been much different.  Though the food tasted good, I can’t really recommend Sarento’s over Field’s or even Buffalo Phil’s, for that matter.  I would put it at the bottom of our list.  You can visit Sarento’s website HERE.

Moosejaw Pizza and Dells Brewery – I’ll be honest–I had no desire to visit this restaurant.  We’d spent a long day surrounded by other people’s children and the last thing I wanted to do was visit a restaurant that I knew would be teeming with more of the same.  However, a good friend told us we had to check it out and my kids genuinely wanted to go, so I relented.  I’m so glad I did!  We had a fantastic experience at Moosejaw.  The hostess must have sensed my distress because she placed us in a room virtually by ourselves in a spacious corner next to a stone fireplace.  Our waitress, Lynn, was phenomenal–probably one of the best wait staff I’ve ever experienced.  She was funny, friendly, helpful, knowledgeable, engaged,  and just a true delight.  She made amazing recommendations to us, offered to take our picture as a family when she saw us snapping the kids, and made sure to clear away any garbage almost immediately–even the straw wrappers!  Our pretzel bite appetizer was delicious, my personal pizza tasted great, and our Sasquatch dessert for four left us giddy.  Thanks to Lynn, this restaurant both impressed and satisfied.  I highly recommend it to families visiting the area.  You can check out their website HERE.

So there you have it!  We were only in the Dells for a few days, but we managed to eat pretty well, wouldn’t you say?  If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask in the comment section below.

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(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

 

 

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Our Trip To Wisconsin Dells (Part 2) – Water Parks and Attractions

Yesterday I discussed our lodging while staying in Wisconsin Dells.  Today, I’d like to talk with you about the attractions we experienced.  Again, the whole goal of traveling to Wilderness Resort in the winter was to take advantage of the indoor water parks, so I’ll start with those.

Wild West (click to see gallery) – Located in the Wilderness Hotel, we entered this water park as soon as it opened on our first day.  As a result, we managed to easily grab seats near the giant play house.  This park by far proved to be our favorite.  They say it’s the largest of the three, and that seemed to be true.  My youngest daughter loved the play house with it’s mini-water slides.  I rode a few of them, too, and even though they were mini, they still provided a thrill.  My oldest daughter and I tried out the huge tube slides as well.  Though you have to climb quite a few stairs to get to these slides, it’s totally worth it.  The descent is a series of twists and turns in total darkness — it’s a blast!  The tubes are so long that they jut out from the building for several curves before reentering the facility.  We managed to get my youngest daughter onto the four-person tube slide, and she loved it, too!  If we’re being honest, I would recommend spending all of your time at this water park between the three.  More on that to come.

Klondike Kavern (click to see gallery) – We entered this water park on our second day.  Though we arrived twenty-five minutes after it opened, we literally could not find a seat or table.  We had to rest our things on the edge of a rock feature.  With that being said, my youngest again enjoyed the play house.  It was very similar to the other one at the Wild West.  My oldest particularly liked the lazy river.  However, as you probably guessed, this park was packed, so the lazy river felt more like bumper cars to me.  Also, lots of feet jutting out everywhere.  Lots.  Of.  Feet.  My oldest daughter and I also enjoyed the giant water slides, but they weren’t quite as fun as those at the Wild West.  I had to do one of them on my own, which was pretty cool, called The Hurricane.  One of the workers described it as like being flushed down a toilet, and he was right!  You start down a tube, enter a giant enclosed bowl, then spin around and around before dropping into a smaller tube.  As I said, I had to do this one by myself, and right before I started I noticed a sign that said not to panic if you become stuck in the bowl — someone will come help you!  That got the heart racing.  Luckily, I didn’t get stuck.

Wild Waterdome (click to see gallery) – This isn’t really much of a water park in the New Frontier area of Wilderness Resort.  It’s an enclosed section that allows sunlight through — kind of like a greenhouse.  It’s main, and almost only, attraction is the Great Wave, which is an enormous pool that creates giant, six foot waves.  My daughters and I stayed pretty far back in the pool where the waves weren’t quite so extreme.  It was fun at first, but the novelty soon wore off.  Again, because the place was so packed, every wave sent you careening into someone else.  We were in it for about forty-five minutes, and the lifeguards had to stop it three different times during that duration in order to jump in and save someone in distress.  People insisted getting as far into the six-foot deep end as possible, but once the waves started, couldn’t keep themselves afloat.  Not to worry — all three individuals were fine.  We got out because my daughter lost her footing and scraped her knee on the floor.  After the friendly first-aid worker patched her up, we sat along the edge of the Great Wave and watched the sea of humanity floating up and down like flotsam and jetsam.

Again, I would plan on an hour or two at Wild Waterdome, skip Klondike Kavern altogether, and spend most of your time at the Wild West.  It could simply be that because Wild West was much bigger, we didn’t feel quite so crowded, which increased my overall enjoyment.  Now on to the attractions in the Wilderness Resort that were not actually water parks.

Wilderwoods Go-Kart Trail (click to see gallery) – This was a blast!  These little go-karts could seat one individual or two, so my wife drove one with one of our daughters and I drove with the other daughter.  You begin by working your way up a corkscrew ramp, then you race down another ramp in circles as well.  They give you about five minutes to race.  In my experience, wherever your position was at the start of the race pretty much guaranteed your position at the end of the race, but it was still a ton of fun!  This feature costs extra, but you can purchase a pass that packages it with some other fun activities.  By the way, the workers were super friendly here.

Northern Lights Sky Ropes Course (click to see gallery) – Literally located above an arcade, this course also delighted us.  Before you begin, you will be tethered into an aerial track that prevents you from falling.  We all enjoyed this feature — even my six-year-old!  You will walk across balance beams, tight ropes, and rolling barrels.  I’m generally afraid of heights, but I felt perfectly safe and at ease because of the tether, so it proved quite fun.  Be aware, they make you remove all cell phones, purses, keys, wallets — anything that can fall off of you.  However, they provide you with a locker and key in order to protect your valuables.  You are allotted thirty minutes on the course which totally flies by.  I’m sure you could stay longer if you wanted.  They write the time you start on a wrist band and you are expected to follow an honor code.  I highly recommend that you give this one a try.  Again, this feature costs extra, but you can purchase a pass that packages it with some other fun activities.  The workers here were very safety-minded, engaged, and friendly.

Marshall Training Lazer Maze (click to see gallery) – Total waste of money.  Don’t bother.  It was included on our fun pass, so we gave it a go.  You enter a small room with lasers shining everywhere.  The worker gave us no instructions, no pointers, no information at all.  We had no idea what we were trying to achieve.  It lasted about two minutes.

OK Corral Lazer Tag (click to see gallery) – This was also included on our fun pass, and we loved it!  You are outfitted with a vest that has targets on both the front and the back.  A laser gun is attached to the vest.  You are thrust into a giant room with ramps, windows, walls dividing up areas, and even a stage coach!  Your gun shows you a time limit, so you have to try to earn as many points by hitting opponents as possible as quickly as possible.  It’s very dark with black lights providing the only illumination, so you have to be careful where you walk.  Though there’s no danger of falling off of anything, I nearly collided with several kids!  Once the game ended, you’re given a score card with all kinds of cool statistics about your performance.  My youngest wasn’t too cracked up about this one, but my oldest daughter thought it was really cool.  The main worker explained things well and seemed to genuinely want everyone to have a good time.

Wild West Bumper Boats (click to see gallery) – Located in a pool within the Wild West water park, these bumper boats were pretty fun.  They never get moving too fast, so the bumps are never too jarring.  The boats are also very easy to operate.  My ten-year-old had no problems moving the boat around at all.  Be aware, though, that they also have spray guns shooting ice cold water.  We all got shot in the face on numerous occasions.  If that’s not your thing, avoid this attraction.  It was included on our fun pass, though, so we gave it a try.  The worker was super friendly and helpful here.

Wild Abyss 3D Mini Gold (click to see gallery) – Also included on the fun pass, this little nine-hole course provided for a fun twenty minutes.  Though not terribly difficult, my kids both enjoyed not only the holes, but also the black lights, the 3D features, and the aquatic theme.  Honestly, though, my six-year-old got a little freaked out by the sound effects.  You can find this attraction beneath the ropes course off to the side.  The worker at this course barely spoke to us and seemed more interested in her phone than anything.

Mega Prize Arcades (click to see gallery) – There are arcades literally everywhere in Wisconsin Dells.  Wilderness Resort is no exception!  My oldest daughter loves video games, especially claw machines, so she had a blast sampling the various arcades located, well, everywhere.  The system in the Wilderness is interesting.  You load a card with a certain amount of money, which equates a particular amount of credits.  Each game costs a specific amount of credits.  You swipe the card through a reader on the game, which then deducts the appropriate amount of credits.  However, you’re also awarded “tokens” onto the card after each game.  When you’re ready to claim your prize, you go to the prize counter where a worker will swipe your card to find out how many “tokens” you earned.  You can then choose a prize accordingly.  In my experience, most of the workers would round up the token amount to the nearest ten.  They also have machines around that will tell you your “token” amount as well in case you fear the trustworthiness of the workers.  Most of the claw machines are scams, as you would assume, but there was one claw machine that awarded a win virtually every time I saw a kid use it — including my own!  This machine was full of giant, rubber spiked balls with faces printed on them.  I’d say they were probably twice the size of a basketball.  My daughter won one on her second try, and we saw kids lugging these balls around all over the place.  By the way, the workers at the prize counter were incredibly helpful and friendly at the Northern Lights Arcade beneath the rope course.

Timberland Playhouse (click to see gallery) –  Rejoice — this attraction is free!  My six-year-old would have happily spent our entire visit in this gargantuan play land.  Divided by netting, kids can climb up several levels and experience swings, slides, bridges, and obstacles.  Even though it was full of kids, it’s so big that my daughters never felt crowded or overwhelmed by too many people.  There’s plenty of seating next to the play house, so parents, this could be a good time to regroup, relax, or veg out.

I hope you found this information useful.  If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask in the comment section.

(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Our Trip To Wisconsin Dells (Part 1) – Lodging

As an educator, I’m enthusiastic about taking advantage of the ample vacation time we’re afforded.  Winter break can always be unpredictable due to the weather, but my wife and I decided to brave the relatively short drive north to Wisconsin Dells in order to enjoy the incredible indoor water parks we’ve heard so much about.

We weren’t sure if we wanted to stay at Great Wolf Lodge, Kalahari, or Wilderness Resort.  Ultimately, after getting advice from friends and doing a little online research, we settled on Wilderness Resort.  More specifically, we opted for Glacier Canyon Lodge, which is a component of the Wilderness Resort campus.  The two bedroom deluxe suites appealed to me, thus we booked it online.

If you’re also interested in this destination, my recommendation to you is to call them directly in order to book your room.  I’ll explain why momentarily.

Let me begin by saying that nearly everyone we encountered at the Glacier Canyon Lodge were perfectly friendly and helpful.  Our check-in process was fine and trouble-free.  Our check-out also proved uneventful.  In fact, we forgot to download new movies from Netflix for our youngest daughter before we checked out, but didn’t realize this fact until eating lunch at a nearby restaurant.  Because Glacier Canyon Lodge was literally across the street, we drove back to see if we could still use their free Wi-Fi from the parking lot.  We couldn’t, so we went inside.  I explained the situation to a young man at the front desk, and he promptly signed us in on my daughter’s iPad.  He explained to me that he had a two-year-old and a four-year-old, so he realized the importance of movies on road trips.

The rooms were very nice.  My children loved the bunk beds.  We found it quite homey and comfortable.  I liked that the kids had their own space as well as their own bathroom, yet we still shared family space in the kitchen, dining area, and living room area.  We were placed on the ground floor near the entrance.  At first I thought this was an advantage, but I soon realized that everyone who used that entrance essentially walked by our window, which frankly unsettled me.

These are not traditional hotel rooms, meaning that, yes, housekeeping will switch out your towels and take your garbage, but they will not make your beds, vacuum, clean the toilets, or anything else like that.  Keep in mind that you also have a fully stocked kitchen, though, which includes coffee mugs, plates, cups, bowls, silverware, pots, pans, and cooking utensils.  You are expected to load the dishwasher before you leave.  House keeping will actually run it for you and restock the cupboards.

Furthermore, as it turned out, we were literally as far away from the skywalk as one could possibly be.  The skywalk is an enclosed walkway from the Glacier Canyon Lodge rooms to the Wilderness indoor water parks.  We were told it would be a ten minute walk from our room, but it actually took us closer to twenty.  This is not a big deal, but with a six-year-old in tow, it got old fast.  After our first day, I actually started driving my family around the campus to the indoor area we wanted to visit.

We had a floor above us which initially did not concern us at all.  However, on our first night there, we encountered a serious problem.  The suite we reserved could sleep up to seven people.  The room above us had at least that many people, and they apparently belonged to a gymnastics team or a dance troupe or maybe even a jump rope brigade.  They started bouncing around at 10:30 at night and kept it up solid until 2:00 a.m.  Okay, whatever.  I thought maybe it was their last night and they were living it up.

Unfortunately, on the second night, at the same time, it started anew.  Once it got close to midnight, I called security.  This seemed to only exacerbate the problem.  At that point, I felt sure they would pay my room a visit, or perhaps even the aforementioned bedroom sliding glass door right next to the complex’s entrance.  Needless to say, my family did not sleep well that night, and I couldn’t go to sleep for fear of reprisal.

The next day, I visited the front desk and explained the situation.  I told them that if the guests above us were not checking out that day, I’d need another room.  To their credit, the staff at Glacier Canyon Lodge moved us immediately.  They gave us a top floor suite, just like the one we had.  Sure, it took us a while to repack our things, but it wasn’t that daunting.  However, when we entered our new room, it wreaked of bacon.  I mean, this room was pungent.  We called the front desk and told them this room wasn’t going to work either.  The stench gave me an immediate headache and my wife’s stomach turned sour which forced her to sit in the hall.  The manager got on the line with us, and, honestly, I didn’t care for his disposition.  He tried to be polite, but I could tell we were annoying him and I didn’t find him too eager to guarantee our satisfaction.  Nonetheless, we were placed in yet another new room.  The good news is that it was far closer to the skywalk; the bad news is that it was quite a walk with our luggage rack to the new location.  Luckily, the new room did not have any exterior entrances nearby, did not stink, and did not have loud neighbors above us.

If you’re excited to visit an indoor water park in Wisconsin Dells, I would not hesitate to recommend Glacier Canyon Lodge.  However, remember that the floors between rooms are very thin.  We could hear our above neighbors walking around even in our new room, but they had a more sensible bedtime and did not disturb us at all.  Just to play it safe, be sure to call in person and request a top floor.  Also, talk to someone personally and tell them that you’d like to be as close to the skywalk as possible.  These simple steps will ensure an even better experience.

I’ll soon discuss the indoor attractions as well as the local restaurants we tried.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

The Kingdom Is Magic: Family 2018 Disney World Vacation (Part 7)

Am I saving the best for last?  Yes, you bet I am!  I won’t lie–Magic Kingdom is our family favorite park at Walt Disney World.  I’d say it’s the only place that truly has something appealing for each member of my family.  Remember that, at the time, my daughters were 9 and 6.  I can’t wait to give you a full account of the rides, the attractions, and the restaurants that we experienced.  By the way, we met many, many characters while at Walt Disney World.  I plan to write a separate piece detailing our encounters with them, so be on the lookout for that.

Rides

At this point, you probably know that I am the only member of my immediate family that loves high-intensity rides.  My wife will have nothing to do with them, my 6 year old is too young (in my opinion), and my (then) 9 year old is just starting to enjoy a few.  Therefore, I won’t have much to say about some of the bigger rides.  All in due time, right?  I have no doubt that one day my kids will love these things as much as I do.  For now, though, I’m going to address the rides aimed at the younger kids.

Jungle Cruise: This is a slow moving river ride, though you’re actually on a track beneath the water.  Trust me, you’re in no  danger of going off course.  During this expedition, you’ll see lots of jungle animals as well as a few natives.  It’s exquisitely designed and very realistic, but it’s not thrilling as far as rides go.  Fun?  Definitely.  We got one little jump when going through a cave–some robotic snakes caught my kids off guard and they let out a whelp.  Your captain entertains you throughout the ride with some super lame jokes, which I happened to love.

Peter Pan’s Flight: In 2017 we had no trouble getting on this ride, but for some reason during our 2018 trip, we couldn’t get on this thing without a Fast Pass, even right before closing!  Its popularity soared between the two trips!  My oldest daughter loves this ride, but my younger daughter didn’t want to do it in 2018–she thought it was too intense after riding it in 2017.  You’ll jump into a cute little boat and then take off into the sky.  This is an indoor ride that has you suspended from an above track.  Most of the ride has you looking down at the city of London and then the world of Never Never Land.  Everything is built to scale to make you feel much higher than you actually are, but you are still fairly high up–too high for my youngest daughter’s tastes.  Be aware, though magical, this is a very short ride that’s over almost as soon as it begins.

Pirates Of the Caribbean: I rode this back in 2017, but during this 2018 trip I got my oldest daughter to join me!  She enjoyed it thoroughly, though not as much as Haunted Mansion (more on that soon).  I got a kick out of the fact that she first thought Captain Jack Sparrow was an actual actor.  (He does look pretty real, to be honest.)  Again,  like Jungle Cruise, this is slow moving and more entertaining than anything.  If you’ve never done it, you sit in a long, flat canoe that takes you through a Caribbean locale set during colonial times.  You’ll see tons of automated pirates, villagers, animals, and Captain Jack Sparrow–and all of whom are doing something funny.  The ride occurs at “night,” so the ride is fairly dark with only “torches” lighting the way, but again, this is not a scary ride at all.  It’s pretty funny throughout.  I personally think it’s a little overrated, but it’s certainly a classic at Magic Kingdom and worth experiencing.

The Many Adventures Of Winnie the Pooh: This is one of those rides where waiting in line is almost as fun as the ride itself.  … Almost.  There are lots of little activities for kids to do in line as they wait, but the ride itself is surprisingly fun.  You will sit in a honey pot/car and ride along a track through the world of Winnie the Pooh.  At one point you’ll enter a dream of Winnie’s, and that’s when things get really weird (but in a good way).  Though it’s a short ride, both of my kids really enjoyed it.  It’s got a few sharp turns that my oldest enjoyed, and my youngest liked seeing all of Winnie’s friends.  The ride is not especially well lit, but I wouldn’t say it’s dark, either.  My youngest never felt frightened, so I’d say it’s a good all-ages ride.

It’s a Small World: You’ve got to do this classic ride, right?  Though pretty tame by today’s standards, It’s a Small World still retains a charming quality that makes the ten minutes well worth your time.  During this slow indoor boat ride, you’ll experience rooms created to represent different parts of the world with little dolls serving as representatives of that specific locale.  I personally enjoy the ending of the ride and its unifying message that my oldest daughter easily discerned.  Bright, cheery, and cute, It’s a Small World is a can’t-miss for the little ones.

Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin: We didn’t really know what to expect with this, but we all had a blast!  During this slow moving ride, you sit in a “ship” with two lasers affixed to the dash.  At that point, you move through Emperor Zurg’s lair and blast away at anything with a target sign on it.  Your gun keeps a tally of hits, so you get to watch your score rocket up.  The carriage has a joystick in it as well that allows you to spin around.  This is handy for any targets you may want a second shot at.  All in all, we had a great time with this.  It was easy enough for my 6 year old to enjoy, but challenging enough for my 9 year old to take pride in her score.

Under the Sea–Journey Of the Little Mermaid: Though similar to The Many Adventures Of Winnie the Pooh in several ways, this ride has its own special quality.  You’ll sit in a shell as you slowly follow a track through Ariel’s domain.  Because you are under the sea, this ride is not especially well lit, but many of the characters are brightly illuminated so I wouldn’t describe it as “dark.”  My youngest got a little nervous when Ursula appeared at the end because the meanie is pretty big and very close to the shell.  However, she wanted to do the ride several times, so Ursula wasn’t enough to keep her away.  With your favorite music from the film and all of the fun characters, this ride was a hit with the entire family.

The Haunted Mansion: My youngest daughter would have no part of this, but my elder daughter decided to go for it.  She was very nervous in the beginning, but by the time it was over she absolutely loved it.  As you enter the ride, you’ll stand in a room with a large group of people.  Soon enough, the room gives the illusion of slowly descending.  Be sure to look at the pictures on the walls as you drop–there’s some funny stuff happening.  Once you finish your descent, a door appears and then you get into a buggy to ride throughout the house.  This is a very dark ride, but the mood is pretty humorous.  It could be intense for little ones who don’t pick up on the jokes.  When taken at face value, the holographic ghosts, tomb stones, and coffins could be considered scary.  My daughter heard the funny narration and noticed the gags, though, so she realized it was meant to be more of a thrill than a fright.  She loved it so much, we were sure to hop on a few times during our stay.

Attractions

Tom Sawyer Island: Though we didn’t visit this little island found in Frontierland in 2018, we gave it a try in 2017 and found it charming.  It’s exactly what it sounds like–a replica of Tom Sawyer’s backwoods turf.  You’ll follow paths, find small caves, cross a few hair-raising bridges, and eventually even stumble upon an actual military fort.  Be warned, though, you can only get across and back by using a small ferry.  As you’re on this little island, it’s easy to forget you’re at Magic Kingdom.  It’s a transitional experience.  We particularly found it appealing because it wasn’t nearly as busy as the mainland.  The kids had room to hike, explore, and bounce around.

Prince Charming Regal Carousel: I lost count of how many times my daughters rode on this carousel–they obviously loved it!  This huge carousel is pretty much right at the center of the kingdom, and though there is always a line, it moves fairly quickly because there are almost 100 creatures to ride upon.  You may remember that we like to close out parks, so once it gets near closing time, you can jump on this carousel pretty much at will.

Enchanted Tales With Belle: If you have a fan of Beauty and the Beast in your family, this is a must.  First of all, you enter an amazing room belonging to Maurice with so many fun, fun details.  You next enter a big room with the talking wardrobe.  At that point, she will ask for child volunteers to play roles in a reenactment of the famous story.  Trust me when I tell you that there is literally a part for every child in the room.  Next, you are ushered into Belle’s library.  The adults sit on benches and the children wait along the walls ready to rush in when appropriate.  Belle herself soon enters, and I guarantee you will hear a collective gasp when she does so.  The kids are absolutely mesmerized by her.  We were fortunate in 2017 that my oldest daughter got to play the lead role opposite Belle–we were amazed!  Best of all, every child in the room gets a photo opportunity at the end with Belle , and then the princess will personally give the child a small gift.  Like I said, if you’re a fan of Beauty and the Best, you can’t go wrong with this attraction.

Liberty Belle Riverboat: Though this is a steamboat replica in almost every respect, it clearly follows a track under the water.  It’s especially fun because the 20 minute ride is narrated by Mark Twain himself!  The ride takes you along a vast river which sometimes allows you a good view of the park.  It also takes you through the wilderness, though, and at that point you’ll see the life of frontiersmen and indigenous wild.  We did this ride in 2017 but passed on it during our 2018 trip.  I definitely think it’s worth enjoying at least once.  With three levels for passengers to sit, it wasn’t crowded at all and my daughters got to stand at the front of the boat exactly where they wanted.

Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor: If you need a break from the heat, this will be an entertaining 10 or 15 minutes.  While seated in a theater, Mike Wazowski informs you that they’ve figured out how to use laughter to fuel their batteries rather than screams.  At that point, his fellow monsters come out–digitally on screen–and try to make you giggle.  The jokes are corny but fun, and they even get the audience in on the act.

Mickey’s Philharmagic: Right next to the carousel, Mickey’s Philharmagic is another attraction that my daughters simply couldn’t enjoy enough.  I have no idea how many times we saw this show between our 2017 and 2018 trips, but it was a lot.  You’ll sit in what looks like a classic theater while wearing 3-D glasses.  Once the show starts, your kids will be mesmerized.  Donald Duck basically loses Mickey’s magical hat right before a symphony begins and must travel through the worlds of Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, and more while trying to recover it.  Each world presents a famous song from the movie with astounding 3-D effects.  I caught both of my kids on several occasions reaching out for items that they thought were stretching from the screen toward them.  It’s also really fun because the back of the seat in front of you will blow out puffs of air in coordination with what is happening on screen, as well as a few other surprises that I’m not going to spoil for you.  Be sure to look behind you and up at the end of the show, by the way.  You’ll see a sight that delighted my kids every time.

Happily Ever After: This is the famous Magic Kingdom fireworks display.  Amazingly, they also shine a digitally projected show onto Cinderella’s castle.  These fireworks have ruined me–I can never view a 4th of July show again without muttering, “Can’t compare to Disney.”  The show on the castle is fantastic, the fireworks are gargantuan, and you even have a special treat at the very end in the form of everyone’s favorite fairy flying from the top of the castle across the park.  I wouldn’t want to be that performer!  Be aware, everyone wants to see this show.  You will be standing shoulder to shoulder no matter where you are in the park, and you will have to be assertive in maintaining your space.  Also, when the fireworks end, there is a mass exodus out of the park.  If you can stay for Magic Hours, make your way to the perimeter of the park and enjoy whatever rides are available until the masses have departed.

Restaurants

Be Our Guest: This was an impressive locale made to look like the Beast’s castle from Beauty and the Beast.  We ate in the main ballroom, which, frankly, looked exactly like it did in the cartoon.  Amazing detail!  We were seated next to a window with fake snow falling through the night sky outside.  Dessert was delicious, the gray stuff in particular, but the food struck me as fairly mediocre, especially at the extravagant prices.  You’re not here for the food, though, are you?  This place is all about the ambiance.  I would like to say that the servers were especially nice here, and that’s saying something considering that all cast members in the park are incredibly helpful.  Be aware that you can eat here as a Quick Service lunch and save a Table Service dinner if you’re on the meal plan.

Cinderella’s Royal Table: Truthfully, I think this was the worst meal I had during our entire stay.  I got ribs in our hotel’s cafe that blew this place away.  Anyway, although the food was terrible, everything else about this restaurant was super cool.  The kids met Cinderella immediately upon entering and then we climbed a spiral staircase to the top of the tower and sat in a wonderfully designed banquet hall.  Each of my daughters received a wand with a star affixed to the top of it.  We also enjoyed meeting several princesses as we ate including Jasmine, Snow White, Ariel, and Aurora.  They were all very kind and gracious, as one would expect.  The wait staff, though, left a little to be desired.  With the gratuity built in to a bill that would buy us a week’s worth of groceries, our waiter didn’t put forth much effort.  We rarely saw him and he didn’t strike us as particularly friendly or helpful.  Keep in mind, by the way, that if you’re on a meal plan, this will count as two Table Services.  As an adult, I felt the whole experience was a bit of a scam, but my kids loved it completely.  I mean, you can’t beat eating at the top of Cinderella’s castle, right?

1900 Park Fare:  Located in the Grand Floridan, this buffet specializes in breakfast and dinner.  We ate late in the afternoon, and so we got to enjoy Cinderella yet again with all of her supporting cast.  I think my oldest might have experienced love at first sight when Prince Charming made his way to us almost immediately after we were seated.  We also met Cinderella’s evil step-mother who honestly intimidated the hell out of me, as well as her two mean step-sisters.  They blow through quickly, though, so have your autograph books at the ready!  Don’t get me wrong, they spend several minutes at each table, but once they move on they likely won’t be back.  Our waiter was pretty good, and when he found out that we didn’t have our autograph books ready, he took the books “backstage” and had the characters “sign” them.  I’m under no illusions that the actual characters signed them, but at least he had different handwriting for each signature.  Everything about the Grand Floridian is ornate, and this restaurant is no exception.  And though it’s a buffet, it proved to be my second favorite meal.  My only complaint is that they sat us in a corner and we were packed in so tightly that we all had to get up to make room if even one of us wanted to go back to the buffet.  Like the above restaurants, this is a place you need to reserve way ahead of time–we’re talking weeks if not months.

Thanks so much for reading.  If you have any questions, please feel free to ask in the comments.  I’m soon going to write about meeting dozens of characters and I’m also going to dedicate an article to the “magical” moments we enjoyed while visiting Walt Disney World.  See you soon!

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(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s latest book HERE!)

Do You Like Vintage Arcade Games? Visit Arcadia In McLean, IL!

If you like vintage arcade and pinball machine games, you have to visit Arcadia in McLean, IL.  McLean is about 20 minutes south of Bloomington along Interstate 55.  It’s a very small town, but this arcade makes it well worth the trip!

Arcadia is nestled within an old building, but they’ve made it about as charming as they can.  The lighting is very pleasing, there’s a jukebox, I loved the hardwood floors, and–best of all–they’ve got great games!

If you’re looking for the original Donkey Kong, Pac-Man, Galaga, and tons of awesome pinball machines, this is the place for you!  They’ve also got old racing games, fighter jet simulations, sport games, and old school versions of Terminator, Tron, Star Wars, and Aliens.  I even got my tail kicked by Mortal Kombat II.

Plus, each game is either 25 or 50 cents.  Don’t have a ton of change on you?  They’ve got two change machines that can take singles, fives, and twenties, so you’re in luck.  We had a few cases of our quarters being eaten, but overall everything operated as expected.

We’re not huge into video games, yet this place kept us entertained for about an hour and a half before we ran out of quarters.  For the experienced gamer, I suspect those quarters would go a lot farther.

If you live in the area, I totally recommend that you give Arcadia a visit.  There are a few places to eat in town such as a Dixie truck stop, a Blimpie, and a McDonald’s.  Remember, McLean is in McLean County, so be sure to search the actual town, not the county.

Apparently Arcadia even has rooms to rent if you’d like to spend the night–and they look pretty nice!  To learn more, visit their website …

Arcadia: America’s Playable Arcade Museum

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(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Seeing Hamilton In Chicago – Our Complete Journey

My wife recently celebrated a milestone birthday, and so I thought it would be nice to mark the occasion with a special event.  Because she’s been dying to see Hamilton for years, I figured that would be something special for us to do.

However, tickets for Hamilton are always in demand, so I had to plan ahead if I wanted this to work out.  Way back in January, I bought tickets for the May 19th matinee.  (You can do the same by clicking HERE.)  Be prepared, the tickets range from ridiculously expensive to fairly overpriced.  Unless you buy at the very last minute, you’re going to spend a pretty penny.  But our loved ones are worth it, right?  Absolutely.

We originally planned to take the Amtrak train from Normal to Chicago.  We’ve done this in the past and it’s always been a simple endeavor.  Shockingly, Amtrak cancelled our train the week before departure.  Again, I scheduled these tickets back in January, so this proved unwelcome news.  I discovered when I called to find out what caused the cancellation that they had transferred our train tickets to bus tickets without telling us, so I immediately cancelled those and told them we’d be driving ourselves.  Oh, by the way — the reason for the train cancellation?  Line work.

I don’t mind driving into Chicago, but it does introduce a new set of challenges —  primarily the issue of parking.  Fortunately, this turned out to be easy.  I found a website called iParkit which allows you to reserve a spot.  This particular spot could be found in a parking garage near the theater.  I just had to mark the date, the arrival time, and the departure time.  They then sent me a QR code via email.  When I got to the garage, I simply scanned my code and drove in.  When it was time to leave, I scanned my code again and left.  We reserved our spot for ten hours and it only cost $13, which I prepaid.  It could not have been less complicated.  (If you want to reserve a space at the garage we used, click HERE.)

We took I-55 literally from Normal to downtown Chicago.  I think we only actually had to make three turns from the time we got on the interstate to the time we reached our garage.  Driving into Chicago from two plus hours away can be an unpredictable adventure.  The show began at 2:00 and we knew we wanted to grab lunch, so we left at 8:00 a.m.  We reached the garage in just over two hours.  I’ve never reached downtown Chicago so quickly!

After parking the car, we walked around a bit and got our bearings.  We specifically made sure we were clear on where to find the CIBC Theater — home of Hamilton.  We took a look at a few restaurants before settling on Miller’s Pub.  It had great reviews online and rightly so — we loved our meals.  If you have a chance to eat there, I recommend it.  It’s got a great atmosphere with a diverse menu.

By the time we were done eating, we had about an hour before we wanted to enter the CIBC Theater.  We shopped around a bit, then made our way to the show.

We arrived about twenty minutes before showtime.  A large crowd blocked the entire front of the theater.  We walked around them and made our way through the doors.  I’m still not sure if they didn’t realize they could go on in, if they were trying to buy tickets, if they were just gawking — not sure.  Once we got into an actual line, we moved indoors at a good pace.

Security checked my wife’s bag.  We noticed they were confiscating drinks and snacks.  Signs were posted clearly prohibiting such things, but it still caught us by surprise when we saw them throwing away people’s drinks.  Be aware — don’t try to sneak in any food or drink!

We climbed a few flights to the mezzanine.  Upon entering the actual stage area of the theater, a few things struck me.  First of all, I’m not sure there’s a bad seat in the house.  The theater is a relatively small space, but when one considers that it was built in 1906, this may not come as much of a surprise.  We were high up, yet we were still fairly close to the stage.  No need for binoculars, that’s for sure.  Also, the seats are very close together, both in terms of width and leg room.  Don’t plan on stretching out.  Luckily, I had my wife on one side of me and an average sized woman on the other, which afforded me plenty of shoulder and elbow room.  Had a man similar to my size or bigger sat next to me, it may have been uncomfortable.

My wife loved the actual show itself.  Miguel Cervantes starred as Hamilton.  He performed magnificently with a charismatic voice and fun comedic timing.  Cervantes aptly pulled off both song and rap, and could also deliver more sentimental moments.  His blend of charm, intelligence, and street toughness felt authentic.  I won’t run though the whole cast, but no one stuck out as performing poorly.  Everything seemed top-notch.  The voices, the dancing, the costumes, the choreography — perfect.  (If you want to learn more about the cast, click HERE.)

Theater is always hit or miss with me.  I’ve loved things I thought I would hate and hated things I thought I would love.  Hamilton fell somewhere in the middle for me.  I didn’t love it, but I also didn’t hate it.  My wife described it as a musical history lesson, and she did so affectionately.  However, in my view, that’s an apt description, but for a different reason than my wife’s.  Hamilton is a lot of standing around explaining.  There are few scene changes, few costume changes, few moments of actual action.  Dancing is happening all of the time by the background dancers, but Hamilton, Burr, Washington, Jefferson — they are all mostly standing still while singing to us about things that are happening.  As a writer, I believe firmly in the old adage:  “Show, don’t tell.”  I found all the explanation a little boring, to be honest.  Show me what’s happened and happening, don’t just tell me about it.

Even with that being said, though, I want to be sure to voice my appreciation at the genius of the writing.  The musical unfolded in complete song.  To deliver so much exposition in perfect rhythm and rhyme — it felt Shakespearean.  Seriously.

Speaking of Shakespeare, I’d like to make a few comparisons … if I may.  First of all, I love Shakespeare, yet I’m the first to admit that he also could lean heavily into explanation.  I feel that the more I study Hamilton, the more I’ll probably grow to love it.  Also, some are very troubled by the fact that Hamilton is not entirely historically accurate.  All dramatist are known for fudging facts a bit for effect.  Shakespeare also played fast and loose with historical fact if it meant a good payoff for the audience.  Let’s not get too bogged down with historical accuracy when seeing a musical, okay, folks?  Take a history class at your local university or community college if you want textbook precision.

On a related note, I found the cast diversity thrilling.  I noticed it, but it did not bother me in the least.  I’m glad this musical is more than willing to give people of color their shot.  Talent should be the driving factor in doling out these roles, and let me tell you, the talent shined.  Again, for those crying foul, for those concerned that every major historical role in the play was filled by a person of color — relax.  I don’t think anyone but the severely uneducated are going to walk out of Hamilton believing that George Washington was black.  This is not a big deal.

Speaking of “shot,” I personally found the themes of seizing the moment and working against time interesting.  I think we can all probably relate to these themes, which may explain the musical’s popularity.  Knowing Hamilton’s ultimate fate, we could forgive his burning desire to achieve at the cost of his personal and family life, even as his friends and family couldn’t.  That’s called “dramatic irony,” by the way — when the audience knows things about the plot that the characters don’t.

For the financially minded — are the tickets worth almost $200 at the minimum?  Frankly, no.  It astounds me that the floor prices were over $500.  I saw some near the $1000 mark.  However, we are a economy that thrives on supply and demand.  I’m not going to begrudge the artists, management, or the theater itself for taking advantage of the musical’s fame.  It’s hard to make money in the art business — go for the profits while you can!

Including the intermission, the musical concluded at just under three hours.  My wife and I did not use the bathrooms, but from what I understand, there are not many of them in the theater and they are not very big.  Again, considering the venue’s time of origin, this shouldn’t come as a huge surprise.

Leaving the parking garage offered no problems.  I scanned out as easily as I scanned in.  Google Maps took us on kind of an odd route out of the city, but I think that was due to construction.  We still made it back home in just over two hours.

All in all, it was a wonderful time.  We had a ton of fun, my wife loved Hamilton, and it was nice to spend the day together as husband and wife.

If you’re thinking of attending the show, I hope this serves as a helpful guide.  Thanks for reading.

Hamilton

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)