Monday, June 30, 2014

McMenamins - Portland, OR

Behind the International Test Rose Garden and Powell's Bookstore, the third most popular place I was told to visit was the Kennedy School. I get that I work in a school, but, still a school?

Thanks to our niece, Mary, we actually made it there when she suggested going there for dinner (dinner?) and a light bulb went off in my head. We took the craziest combination of mass transit but found the place.

The Kennedy School is an old school that has been converted into a hotel / restaurant / night club / reception hall / public pool / movie theater / etc. The Kennedy School was a school from 1915-1975. In 1974-75 the PTA struggled to find someone to take it over. The McMenamis brothers presented one of several proposals. There is a 22-year gap in their history. In 1997 it reopened as one of the McMenamis restaurants.

The inside is charming. McMenamis is a chain. We went to four of them during our brief visit to Portland. They are located throughout Oregon and Washington. Each one is in a historic building and is decorated differently. This one just happened to be in a former school. They have rooms such as the Boiler Room Bar, Detention Bar and Honors Bar. We dined in the Courtyard Bar, which is located in the former cafeteria. Trust me, you have never dined in a school cafeteria like this one.

The next night Ashley and I dined at the Ram's Head, which has more of a Colonial feel to it. It also had a more limited menu.

The next day we went to the Crystal Ballroom. It has quite a history for starting off as a fancy ballroom, and transforming itself with the times. Their website says "still grooving after all these years." 

Our last stop on the McMenamins tour was at the McMenamins Tavern and Pool, or as their website says "our name says it all." 

Though a chain, each restaurant has its own feel, its own flavor, its own menu. It was the last one that bothered me. Don had a hemp burger the first night (as I had one in Montreal last summer, I was more interested in a different menu item). The next night I thought I would get one. However, it was not on the menu at the Ram's Head. Instead I had a garden burger. Lesson learned -- next time I saw something I liked on one of their menus, I jumped on it instead of waiting for another opportunity. Fortunately I had the hemp burger a different night. Guess now I'll never be allowed to run for President. ;) 

Fireworks from It's A Small World

I recently wrote a blog post about the different places to watch fireworks around Disneyland. That was before I had a chance to sort through my pictures. Now that I'm looking through the pictures Don took while Ashley and I rode Small World (surprisingly, we did not have a boat to ourselves), and the ones I took, I wanted to share more pictures with my five PillsPress fans. It is the light show on the front of IASW that really makes it.

Here goes...

International Rose Test Garden (Portland, OR)

When we told people about our plan to go to Portland, OR, two must-dos kept being mentioned: Powell's Bookstore and the rose garden test center. The bookstore I understood, after all I am a librarian, but the rose garden? How exciting could a rose garden be?

The garden is beautiful. It is stunning. It is amazing. It is everything everyone told me it would be. It is also free (that is always a plus on vacation) and was only a mile (uphill-ugh) from our hotel.

The primary purpose of this garden is to test out new varieties of roses. That's it. Quite simple. They also hold competitions. When we were there we saw a girl taking quintenero pictures.

My favorite flower. I love the lavender color.

Cousin Mary met up with us at the park

A rare family picture on vacation

Love the stripes
Powell's was wonderful, too. They are undergoing a massive renovation, and things were moved around, but it was still a fun place to wander.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Disney Bounding

Ashley has been wearing costumes to Disney theme parks since before we bought our first digital camera in 2005. I think her first costume was Pooh -- which she also wore for Halloween that year. Princesses, as you can imagine, were a popular choice with her. Even her doll, Jenny, got into the action and wore her own costumes, which have since been passed down to Cabbage Patch Doll Pamela. 
The problem is, Disney has a little-known rule that costumes may only be work by children and not by adults. Anyone who has bought a ticket to Walt Disney World or Disneyland knows that Disney (unfairly) defines a child as 9 and under. Once you hit double-digits, you can't wear costumes anymore.

I understand the rule. Disney is concerned about adults dressing as characters and being mistaken as such characters. I heard a story about a 15-year old who dressed like Tinkerbell and even posed for pictures. She was asked to change and even offered appropriate clothing, but instead went home in tears. On our 2011 trip to Disneyland, I saw many people doing double-takes as Ashley walked by in her Alice in Wonderland costume. She was 9 at the time. The following year we did not go to Disneyland at all. 

When she was 11 we returned for the Disneyland Half Marathon and were pleasantly surprised to learn more people are dressing sort-of like Disney characters in a move called "Disney bounding." This really captured Ashley's attention -- it is a way for her to wear a costume, without breaking Disney's rules. 

Disney bounding = hinting at dressing like a character
Disney costumes = hitting you over the head with dressing just like the character

Disney seems to be offering more events for wearing costumes. The most recent was their 24 hour event held in May. There are also special Halloween events. Our favorite are Dapper Days. The trouble is, we live so far away it is hard for us to take advantage of these special days. Disney bounding is something we can do every time we go to Disney.

Here are Ashley's outfits:

Her favorite was Anna (from Frozen) because lots of people immediately recognized her as Anna. 

In the end she preferred Disney bounding to wearing costumes because with Disney bounding she was creating her own outfit, and because they were more comfortable. Still, most days she just wanted to be regular girl Ashley. She is the one I love the most.

I found this picture from May 2010. You could call it an early Disney Bound outfit, though she had earlier ones: 

I save my Disney bounding for races:

Viewing the Fireworks at Disneyland

Never on a trip have I watched the fireworks from so many different locations.

1) The classic spot is on Main Street with thousands of your new best friends. Get there early to get a good spot, or get there late (like I did) and the castle seems mighty far away. 

Lesser known places include:

2) The fireworks cruise on Storybook. I've tried to time this one since I first heard about it, but was not successful until this trip. Unfortunately, the trees block most of the view, but even more unfortunately the music is not piped to this location. There is also the "tennis match" feel to the fireworks -- some are behind you, some are in front of you. If you aim for this, sit on the dock side of the boat. I think Don had a better angle than I did.

3) My favorite is seeing them while riding Big Thunder Mountain. Not the best spot for taking pictures (obviously), but I love the feel of riding through the fireworks show. It is like being on a magic carpet.

4) Our hotel room. We always stay at HoJos Anaheim on Harbor Blvd. and request a room with a view of the fireworks. This year we booked too late and were on the second floor instead of higher up, but we could still see the fireworks from our room. No piped music, but I think we have the show's music memorized by now. If need be, we could watch the YouTube version at the same time. The link is to one taken by a friend who runs a Disneyland blog.

5) My new favorite spot, though, is in front of It's a Small World. There are lots of places to sit, and Disney adds a light show in front of Small World. Now that we know about this spot, we probably won't ever watch it again on Main Street.

Do you have a favorite spot to watch the fireworks? Do you have a favorite fireworks show (they do change throughout the year). I was sad it was too windy this trip to see Tinkerbell and Dumbo fly. Fortunately they still had the fireworks show each night.

Rivers of America - Disneyland

My ideal Disneyland trip takes place during the off-off-off-season, a time that both no longer exists, nor would it be possible to attend with a middle schooler. That said, our most recent trip was one of the few times we have gone to Disney during the peakest of peak seasons -- as soon as school let out.

Our first clue should have been the hours (8 AM to midnight EACH day). Even when we went last summer for Dumbo Double Dare, Disneyland closed at 10 on most days.

My real clue, though, was more subtle: The Columbia was up and running. In one 24-hour time period we went on all four modes of Rivers of America transportation, plus saw Fantasmic! a different day.

1) Tom Sawyer Island is only accessible by raft. One of my big Disney pet peeves about this is that sometimes a band of pirates plays music on this raft. To be completely sexist, Tom Sawyer Island seems to appeal to boys. Boys who wait less than 20 minutes to take a raft to an area where they can run around to their heart's content. Meanwhile, mostly girls are waiting 2-3 hours to see Elsa and Anna, or 1-2 hours at Princess Fantasy Faire to see 3 random princesses for 30 seconds each, and are not provided with a speck of entertainment. This trip, though, I only saw the musicians getting off of the raft, so I'm less peeved. I still think the girls deserve entertainment while waiting to see princesses.

While on Tom Sawyer Island boys and girls can run around and have less-structured fun. They climb on rope bridges, through tunnels, and up to look out points, all while hunting for treasure. 

Tom Sawyer Island opened to the public at Disneyland Resort in 1956. The attraction has the distinction of being the only one designed by Walt Disney.
Sharing a strong affinity for the world Mark Twain created in his novels, Walt found himself unsatisfied with the island’s original design. Days before construction was set to begin, he took the plans home and re-imagined the landscape design, creating the inlets, coves and overall shape that the island is known for today.
We often skip this attraction because it involves taking a raft and waiting around, but we are always happy when we do take the time for it.

2) A ride on the Mark Twain is very relaxing. You aim for a shady spot. On past trips we have ridden with the "captain" who lets you "steer" the boat. Years after doing this, Ashley told me how scared she was to do this (she seemed fine at the time). She thought she was really steering the boat. Well, that honor was already reserved for someone else, so we had to stand with everyone else.

3) Riding the Columbia is similar to the Mark Twain, but instead of three levels where you can look out, there is the deck, and below. The below area includes an historic reproduction of how the crew would live. I can't believe I did not take any pictures below deck.

4) I consider a trip around Rivers of America on the canoes, cross-training at Disney. Unlike the Columbia and the Mark Twain, the canoes are not on a track. You move as quickly as you can paddle yourselves around the island. Of course, there is a cast member at the front and the back doing most of the work, but you are still encouraged to do much of the work.

Ashley and I had a family in front of us. She had a little girl who kept splashing her, and I had a mom who was making sure her 2 year old did not go overboard. Don was behind us. He was teamed up with a guy in his 20s. The last time we did the canoes, behind me was a woman who normally works the canoes (it was her day off) and she considers this her exercise program. I graciously did not paddle so as to not throw off her stride (see, I can be nice). It is a nice way to do something quiet when the rest of Disneyland is getting crowded and those crowds are getting cranky.

5) A bonus: we saw the second showing of Fantasmic! one night. I'm always impressed by the show, but Don and Ashley are less enamored of it, so I often don't see it. When there is only one showing, you have to decide between seeing Fantasmic! or getting a good spot for fireworks. With two showings, it is easier to do both. It does make for a late evening.