Wednesday, February 22, 2012

To Disney, Animal Kingdom, and Beyoooonnnnnnd!

We stayed at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.  It is one of the deluxe resorts, but is also one of the least expensive.  I visited several of the other more expensive deluxe resorts and the only thing about them is they're a little closer to Disney.  I'd rather stay here with the animals and amazing staff and ride a bus 10 minutes longer!  One evening we stood around a bonfire while a guy from Victoria Falls in Africa shared stories about his country, and about all the animals that are attracted to Victoria Falls.  The sounds of the crashing water filled his town, and when he moved to the US he couldn't sleep because it was too quiet.
The real Victoria Falls in Zambia

The lobby was gorgeous, and right outside were zebras, giraffes, ostriches, and more

When we booked the room, we didn't have what they call a "savanna view".  But when checking in, we asked for a free upgrade and got a partial savanna view.  I really didn't expect such a wonderful room with great views of the animals.  There was a huge bird building its nest right in front of our patio.

Here's a good little secret tip - when in Animal Kingdom, get a table in the sun room at Yak &Yeti restaurant about 15 minutes before the parade starts.  You won't have to battle the crowds, and you'll have a beautiful view of the parade eating delish and reasonably priced food!  I had a sushi appetizer for $10.

I faced my fears of roller coasters and rode this one - the first since I was in second grade!

 The Grand Floridian will set you back $600+ a night! I liked my hotel better, and it was fun to come enjoy this place for lunch.

 Dinner at Sanaa.  The food is really unique and not just "dialed in"  I really expected Disney to be a lot more cheesy.  I've traveled all over the world but I was so impressed with the attention to detail in the parks, the food, the staff, and the hotels.

Tao's ready to eat at Yak & Yeti!

Gorgeous tigers in Animal Kingdom

Disney does an amazing job capturing the essence of countries a world away.  If you can't get to them, Disney is the second best place to experience the feel of travelling internationally.  I've been to some of the places Disney replicated, and was so impressed with the authenticity achieved.

Safari at Disney if you can't go to Africa!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Coastal Georgia Tour - Cumberland Island to Savannah Georgia

Between my full time job as a school social worker and painting at night, I had run myself ragged and needed a little weekend getaway.  I recruited an old friend I had met working on a horse farm, a fellow horse lover, and planned a weekend in Cumberland Island and Savannah.  Here, the Kennedys wed, the wild ponies wander, and the moss seems to soak up the sunlight and hold on to it, drenching the ancient oaks in an ethereal glow.

See the ethereal glow??

For me, the ponies were the stars of the show.  You can get very close to them, but if you get close enough to touch, they'll squeal and start turning their hindquarters to you - an equine signal that you're about to get kicked.  Hard.  These ponies have a combination of many breeds, mostly those owned by the Carnegies who eventually set them free.

Cumberland Island used to be a playground of the rich and well automobiled.  There was a row of these old cars, rusting in the elements.  They must have once been so grand.

This is the mansion that is now in ruins on the island.  

Here's my wonderful friend Pamby, climbing one of the majestic old oaks.

There are two ways to spend the night on Cumberland Island.  You can either camp (we tried to do that, but it was fully booked) or you can stay at Greyfield Inn.  We also had wanted to rent bikes when on the island, but when we got there, all the bikes had been rented (The ranger claimed that this is a rare occurrence).  To make sure you get a bike, you may want to bring your own.  Bikes are not allowed on the ferry, but there are private charter companies that will bring your bike over.  Also, be sure to bring bug spray with deet.  Even if the mosquitoes aren't biting, spray your feet to keep ticks off!

The Greyfield Inn, which has appeared on many of the travel industry's best-of-the-best lists, including those of Condé Nast, Travel & Leisure, and National Geographic. Built in 1900 by the Carnegies for their daughter, it is still run by descendants of the original family.

We stayed the first night in St. Mary's, caught the 9 am ferry to Cumberland Island, spent the day there, then spent the second night in Savannah.  We stayed in The Thunderbird Inn, which is one of the few budget accommodations in the historical district of Savannah.  Actually, it's more on the periphery of the historic area, but it was within walking distance and didn't break my starving artist budget.  It was clean, quiet, updated, and served as a restful place to sleep, if nothing more.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Patagonia in Chile

Images of Torres del Paine, Puerto Natales
This photo of Torres del Paine is courtesy of TripAdvisor