Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Treasure Island Florida Getaway

My wife and I took a trip over to Treasure Island, FL over the Thanksgiving holiday.  We love the Tampa Bay area beaches and wanted to explore.  We had two main goals in mind for the trip:

1)  Explore the area a bit more than we have over recent visits to get a better feel for the area; check out some stores/malls, drive around the area more, go places we haven't been, etc.

2)  Get some more of our hometown Mark's pizza from the location in Riverview, just outside of Tampa

I'm happy to say we accomplished our goals.  We have always liked the beaches area over there, pretty much from Clearwater Beach south to St Pete Beach in that main area and we also like Anna Maria Island and the Sarasota area beaches a bit to the south as well.  The water on the Gulf side in several areas is as clear blue as you'll see in the Florida Keys or the Caribbean and the sunsets over the water ever night just can't be beat!  They also take full advantage of all the additional water over that way in the form of a ton more waterfront bars/restaurants to hang out and enjoy a great meal!  In addition, the area is much more diverse people wise than where we're currently at in the greater Jacksonville area.  In other words, much less rednecky.  ;)

We have been thinking that our next adventure in life may be to relocate over that way within the next few years, so any excuse we get to head that way, we have been taking advantage of.  This trip did not disappoint.  Well, that's not entirely true...We did learn a lot this trip.

We decided to stay in a 2BR/2BA condo at the South Beach Condo Hotel on the beach in Treasure Island.  Part of the reason for picking there was to see how we liked condo living with a beach view and wanted to see if living in an 850 sq ft condo was doable.  Well, the view was spectacular, the beach at that location was awesome as well, however the condo part, NOT for us.

Great view from the balcony, EXTRA wide beach/natural area

Amazing sunsets

We were on the 5th floor of a 6 floor building on an end unit.  First impression of the condo was that it wasn't a bad size.  It had been updated with some granite counters and new appliances.  We didn't care much for the neutral pink beachy color throughout, but overall it was fine.  It was all tile, another thing we wanted to try out because it is what we think we want in our next place of residence due to our pets. That's where the neutral/good parts stop.

We got the end unit, higher up because we figured that would insulate noise a bit from other units.  Well, the fact that all units are probably tile is not good when people are above you.  There was at least one child up there, because every morning at 6am sharp the little f'er (as we affectionately called him) would run from one end of the above condo to the other for most of the morning.  The parents were no better, banging around like elephants with no regard whatsoever that people might be sleeping on the floor below.  Luckily after the first night with earplugs, the air conditioner fan in the always on mode and a pillow over my head I would only wake up for a few seconds and fall right back to sleep. Which brings us to the last night...

We suspected that the people above had checked out on Saturday morning, so we were looking forward to getting some solid sleep for our last night there.  Well, not so much.  We were fast asleep at exactly 4am when BAM BAM BAM, someone was knocking insanely loud on our door.  WTF?  We both jumped out of bed and had no idea what was going on.  The wifey was thinking that maybe there was a fire or something going on, so we threw on some warmer clothes to wait and see if the fire alarm was going to go off or ?!  We went to the balcony to see if anything was going on from that side, but no one was around and things were quiet.  As we were walking around inside the condo, BAM BAM BAM...AGAIN someone was knocking.  This time we walked to the door and looked out the peep hole and saw a glimpse of a woman that appeared to be late 30s/early 40s and she was alone walking down the hall quickly.  I'm not sure if she was only knocking on our door or several or what.  She then disappeared down the stairwell, which was right next to our door.

I was not about to open the door, I've seen way too many news stories online about someone coming to someone's door asking for help or something, you open it up and get ambushed by several other people just out of view.  So we just stood there, checking the peep hole and looking out the windows for any sign of activity or whatever.  Nada.  We decided to try going back to sleep, which is kinda difficult when you're startled up from a deep sleep and have no idea what this person's intentions are or what is going on.  About 15 minutes later...BAM BAM BAM....AGAIN?!?!?!

Same type of situation, by the time we got to the peep hole, the person disappeared down the stairwell.  At this point we were debating whether to call the police, but figured if we did we'd have to be awake a bunch longer to wait for them to arrive, try to find the person, probably make a report, etc.  We said if it happens one more time, we'll call.  Well it did not happen again.  We got back to sleep about an hour later.  In the AM we talked to the front desk/management company and her suggestion was to come down to the front desk and use the phone there to call the security company at the time?!   Um, no I wasn't going to leave the condo having no idea what was waiting outside.  She then said it would be best to call the police.  We were more just telling them so they knew about it so hopefully that wouldn't happen to someone else.

In addition, 2 times when we had the balcony doors open, someone was smoking on their balcony and it was drifting right over and inside the condo, since there was always a breeze out there.  Not a huge deal, but if you lived next to someone that was constantly smoking and it was drifting right into your place, that would be a problem. 

Aside from that last night of events, the banging of feet didn't spoil our time by any means, but all of that combined definitely made us realize condo/apartment living is not for us.  The only possible way we'd consider it would be a small number of units in a single building where you only have like 2 units per building and you are in the unit on top with no one on either side.  But even then, it would have to offer a lot of things we really wanted before we'd even consider it.

That's enough for today, I'll post more about the good stuff later in the week!

Here is a post I did over on InfoBarrel highlighting some of the main attractions we visited in Clearwater entitled Clearwater Florida - Top Attractions.  

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

$400-$500 of Free $ With Minimal Effort

I have been keeping an eye on the Hot Deals Forum for Cyber Monday extended sales and came across an interesting offer.  Check out this post for the specifics.  And as they always say on the forums, YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary).

The way I understand it is this....

1)  Apply for a Rapid Rewards frequent flier account on SouthWest airlines website and try using Promo Code GNAVRPDRWDS.  That may give you an extra 250 reward points.  I'm not sure, since I already had an account.  After you fill out the info, write down the account number that appears on the site when you are done.  If you already have a SouthWest rapid rewards account, just keep your account number handy.

2)  You then sign up for a Visa Rapid Rewards Credit card via this link and if approved, you would receive the card in 1-2 weeks, make 1 purchase of any amount and then shortly afterwards they'll give you 50,000 points.  You will then receive those points in your Rapid Rewards account, which you can use towards airfare, or more importantly, any number of other stores/online retailers such as

It caught my attention because of everyone mentioning that currently those 50,000 points would allow you to redeem for $600 worth of Amazon gift cards.  That's at a current special rate on the Rapid Rewards site of 4,000 points being equal to $50 Amazon gift card through 12/15/2011.  The regular rate is 5,000 points for $50, so if that promotional rate goes away by the time you get your points, you'll still be able to cash those in for $500 worth of Amazon gift cards.  There are tons of other retailers/vendors on there that you can redeem your points for, so if Amazon doesn't appeal to you, check out this page for other options.

So what's the catch?  The only real catch is that I believe it is a limited time deal and there is a $69 annual fee for the card, which you will be charged right away for the first year.  But that is just a one time fee, assuming you just cancel the card within a years time, which is what I will be doing.  So based on the current deal for Amazon gift cards, you would get $600 - 69 = $531 for a few minutes worth of hassle.  Even if the deal for points for Amazon gift cards goes back to the regular rate, you would be getting $500 - 69 = $431.  If you ask me, getting between $431 and $531 for a few minutes of hassle is well worth it for me!  And if both you and your spouse/partner sign up you would get $862!  And if you don't want to bother for yourself, you could redeem the points for Walmart gift cards instead and donate them to a worthy cause!

Additionally, applying for a credit card may affect your FICO score ever so slightly, so if that is a concern for you, read further about that on the website.

I signed up for this deal for both myself and my wife and was approved for both online with no issues.  Several others in the forum post mentioned they did not get immediate approval, just a notice that it can take up to 10 days, so that is just something to be aware of.  I think that could be affected if the information you provide on the online form does not exactly match your credit files or you haven't been at your current residence or job for a long enough time, but not sure.  

Keep in mind, I have not actually gone through the entire process fully, since I just applied today, but several others in the forums have gone through the process and redeemed the points for gift cards already, so it should work as planned.  I'm just trying to pass this along to pay it forward and I hope it all works out as expected.  Good luck!

12/30/2011 UPDATE:  I ended up getting my points on 12/14, just in time to get the full $600 in Amazon Gift cards.   Here is a picture of the 24 cards to prove it!  You can also use them for other vendors, roundtrip airfare, etc.  What a great deal and my gift to you to start out 2012 with some cash money!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Happy Cyber Monday!


Today is Cyber Monday!  Most websites have their Cyber Monday deals on their main websites this AM.  Keep an eye out on the Hot Deals Forum, that's where people will generally post the best deals as they find them, but mostly for electronics. 

Best Buy apparently went live Sunday with Cyber Monday deals that are good Sunday and Monday.  A friend at work that has been watching for deals on 10" tablets, just as I have, got a 10" 8GB Acer Iconia tablet for $229 Sunday morning.  We were driving home from our long weekend getaway at the time (more to come on that later this week) and by the time I noticed the text they were sold out.  It is a very good deal, around the same as Best Buy's Black Friday deal for the Asus Transformer 16GB 10" tablet for $249.

Unfortunately, the Asus Transformer deal was a Best Buy door buster/in person only deal and you needed to be in line around 10pm to get a ticket for the item to be able to purchase one when the store opened at midnight.  Due to the large number of people in line when we drove by the St Pete, FL location around 4pm, we figured we didn't stand a chance, since stores were only guaranteed to have 10 in stock for sure.  There were about 40-50 people already in line at 4pm!  It appears they did not initially sell out right away, as a few stores showed in store availability on their site first thing in the AM when I got up on Friday, but within 30 minutes they were gone just about everywhere.  So we probably could have gotten that deal somewhere between midnight-4am, but who knows for sure.

Once I saw those were gone, I started checking out the forums and saw that GameStop stores had a limited quantity available in some stores for $299 as part of their holiday sale.  That was still $100 off the regular price of $399, so we thought we'd give it a shot.  We used our phones to find a few GameStop locations and the first location in a mall did not stock tablets, but they said another location close by did and they had a few left.  We ended up picking up 2 of them.  I was not 100% sure that was what I wanted for Xmas just yet, as I wanted to see what Cyber Monday or other Holiday deals came out first.  I asked what their return policy was and as long as it is unopened, I could return it with a receipt up until January 15th.  I knew the wifey would be keeping hers, so I would have until Jan 15th to check hers out fully and would still be able to shop the deals to see if something better comes out, if not I would keep what I had.  Win/win!

So far I am really impressed with the Asus Transformer tablet and the graphics are really quite impressive on a few games that came bundled with the unit!  I was considering possibly exploring some of the PS3/Xbox deals instead, but in reality I don't ever play with the Wii I have, so I wouldn't be likely to dedicate a bunch of time/$ towards games and what not, Xbox/PS3 online accounts, etc.  But I do play games on my phone a bunch, since they take far less time and are free for the most part, so the 10" tablet really is appealing to me more and more.  This particular one has an optional keyboard dock that is very cool.  The keyboard/dock was $99 on Black Friday, it's currently $112 on Amazon, but I expect other places will have that for $99 again.

UPDATE:  Brandsmart USA has the Asus Transformer tablet for $299 if you missed out previously.  Also GameStop has none available online, but I found an inventory tracker online where you can check to see if your store has them locally. 

An item my sister Jen is looking for are 32" TVs.  I noticed Best Buy currently has a Samsung 32" LCD TV for $277.99 and if you purchase it online and select in-store pickup, you get a $10 e-gift certificate emailed to you in 2-4 days after pickup.  Seems like a pretty good deal.  Not sure if it's the BEST deal out there for today, but might be worth a shot if it's still available at the time you are reading this.

Happy Cyber Monday shopping!  Drop me a comment or email to if you see any great 10" tablet deals on Asus Transformer, Motorola Xoom, Samsung Galaxy or Acer Iconia tablets.  I'm looking in the $249 or under range to make it worth my while to return what I have.  Thanks and happy hunting!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

With a few days off ahead, I wanted to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving!!  Safe travels to all that will be hitting the highways and flyways and good luck to all that will be hitting the Black Friday sales! 

Monday, November 21, 2011

Legend Of Zelda: Skyward Sword

Hard to believe it's been almost 25 years since the original Legend of Zelda was released on Nintendo back in 1987.  I was a teenager at the time and vividly remember rushing home to play the game for hours and hours at a time and I believe I finished the game, a few months later.  It was a great game.

The next release of the game was The Adventure of Link in 1988 and while I do remember playing the game all the way through, I don't remember it as fondly as the Original.  I guess that's generally the way it is, the original is generally the best since it's unique and new.  This one was more a side scrolling game similar to Super Mario Brothers for the most part.


It wasn't until Twilight Princess and the Wii came out in 2006 that I tried out Zelda again.  It had real nice graphics and was quite different from the original of course.  A lot changes in almost 20 years of gaming.  It was a free form action adventure game with lots of different goals/missions and lots of different scenic backdrops.  I think I played it for maybe a few weeks here and there, but lost interest after a while.  For the most part, I don't have the desire and dedication to spend the time required to play a lengthy game like that from beginning to end these days.

I haven't turned on the Wii in almost a year for more than maybe a few minutes, but a guy at work pointed out that there is a new Legend of Zelda coming out (yesterday) and that it got a 10 out of 10 perfect rating on IGN.  I thought that was pretty impressive, so I figured I would dust er off and see if she turns on and then might give this one a try. 

Much to my surprise, she did fire up on the first try and I started up Skyward Sword.  It starts out with several movie like scenes, which you can skip through and then you start the main game.  I spend several hours playing and I can say it definitely is quite impressive so far.  Like the review mentioned, there is a lot of cimematography and it is far more than just going from mission to mission.  You do of course have little missions to complete, however those are part of a much bigger picture where you meet lots of characters along the way and have a connection to the storyline. 

You start out in Skyloft, a world in the clouds where the main character, Link, grew up alongside Zelda.  There is a flying competition that you will be competing in and you will be riding on your trusty flying bird to win the competition and earn a specific item from Zelda.  That's as far as I got so far.  The flying portion was fun, very smooth and the game definitely takes full advantage of the Wii Motion Plus, which is required for this game.

All in all it was a good reason to fire up the Wii.  Looking at the screen shots of what will be coming up later in the game, I'm looking forward to playing the game some more.  I probably will not end up finishing the game fully, but it still has potential.  I think it will be a hit for the holiday season and may be one of the last great games released for the Wii.

Any plays to try it out or have any other must have games for the Wii that were released recently?  If you try it out, let me know what you think. 

Friday, November 18, 2011

Black Friday Individual Item Finder

As a follow-up to yesterday's post, based on a question/comment from my sister and fellow blogger Jen, I wanted to include some more info on where you can search for specific items or browse through categories of items for Black Friday. 

Fat Wallet's Deal Finder - This is a great spot where you can search for an exact item by name, browse a category of items such as TVs and then a subcategory like LCD TV or even just browse popular items.

For example, Jen asked about 32" TVs and Digital cameras.  I'll do a walk-through on how to check for those two items...

Go to the deal search link, click on Category, click on TVs in the top left and if you wanted to you could further limit it to a sub-category on the bottom left, by picking LCD TVs or just leave it at all TVs.  Then you can type in 32" in the 'search items' box and hit enter and you will have a list of most of the Black Friday deals on 32" TVs.   

Based on the results, it looks like a lot of places are discounting a Samsung 32" LCD for around $50 off to right around $279.  It's funny, the companies must have an idea of what their competitors are going to price items at, because BJs has it for $279.99, Sams Club $278 and Best Buy, $277.99.  Based on all of the reviews on Best Buy, with the exception of one bad one, it seems like a pretty good deal/TV.

For Cameras, I'd pick Camera and Video in the upper left, Camera on the lower left and then either just browse through what is there, or if you want to limit things down you can by a term in the search box.

We researched high end Point and Shoot and DSLR cameras a few years ago and went with the Canon SX10IS instead of the full DSLR.  I figured unless you were a professional, getting $ for your photos as a side business, there is really no need to pay the additional expense and the additional hassle/weight of lugging around your extra lenses in an oversized case.  I figured that additional hassle would be a deterent to actually bringing a camera along most places and we're happy we made the decision we did.  If we were to purchase a new camera right now, it would probably be the latest version of the one we have, which is the Canon SX30IS.  That takes the optical zoom from 20x on ours to 35x.  The wifey still loves the camera and the optical zoom is the most important factor since all cameras these days have plenty of megapixels.  

If you just want to browse a bit and see what other people are interested in, click on the 'Popular Items' to browse the list.  Happy Hunting!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Black Friday / Cyber Monday 2011

It's almost that time of year again.  DEAL TIME!  Time to check out all the Black Friday/Cyber Monday deals and see if there are any must have deals on must have items! 

The wifey and I are definitely not Black Friday early morning shoppers.  Mostly because we hate fighting crowds and are not morning people.  Cyber Monday I do like personally.  I enjoy searching for great deals online and do get a bit of a thrill out it, but generally only if it is a really great deal on an item that I already had an interest in and/or the savings are just too good to pass up.  

Here is the main site that contains the actual scans of the Black Friday sale advertisements from most major companies. Unfortunately, I haven't found a good site yet that shows Cyber Monday deals ahead of time.  Most sites recommend signing up for e-mail alerts from the main sites like Amazon, Best Buy, NewEgg and others to be the first to know when info comes out.  If you have any other good sites for Friday/Monday deals, please include them in the comment section.

I'm personally looking for good deals on 10 inch tablets and have found some pretty decent deals and one that we thought about trying one of the late night door buster sales for.  However, after reading some of the forums with people talking about setting up tents, meeting offline for strategy sessions a week in advance, etc. I think we'd be way of our league here.  So if you know of any online/Cyber Monday deals on 10 inch name brand tablets like Motorola, Asus, Toshiba, or Samsung that have SD card slots, front/rear camera and bluetooth for under $249, let me know!

This year stores are opening earlier than ever before, here is some store specific info:

Walmart, long known as a Black Friday Mecca, will open at 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving, then begin phasing in deals: 10 p.m. will feature toys, home and apparel bargains, then electronics deals begin at midnight. Other items will go on sale after 8 a.m.
BestBuy will kick off its Black Friday events at 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving at many locations with what they call "cinematic events" for those in line. Then, officially, their doors will open at midnight.
The Gap plans to open about 80 percent of its stores, including The Gap, Banana Republic and Old Navy, on Thanksgiving. For instance, one Old Navy will open 9 a.m. Thanksgiving, close at 8 p.m. and then reopen at midnight.
Bealls will open stores at midnight on Thanksgiving, compared to 4 a.m. on Black Friday last year, and hand out 100 scratch-off game cards for a chance to win an iPad2 or a $250 gift card.
Target will open the bulk of its stores at midnight on Thanksgiving this year — compared with opening around dawn on Black Friday last year — and will take a much more organized approach to crowd control. At the moment of opening, Target managers will let in groups of 30 people at a time, then pause for a margin of safety, and then let in anther group.
Macy's will open most of its 800-plus U.S. locations at midnight Thanksgiving, compared with 4 a.m. on Black Friday last year.

Any Black Friday/Cyber Monday plans?  What specific items are you looking for?  I'll try and keep and eye out for certain things and let you know if I find any.  Again, if you find other good sites with deals, especially on 10 inch tablets, please let me know in the comments or drop me an email at  Thanks and happy hunting!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Kindle Fire vs Nook Tablet

The wifey just mentioned possibly wanting a Kindle Fire for Xmas, so I thought I'd do some research on the device and might as well post it here to help others that might be contemplating the device as well.  My initial impression, before it came out, was that it's a cool looking, larger, somewhat more limited version of an Android phone.  I say that because of some initial reviews I read prior to the device coming out.  I'm very interested to see if that impression changes by the time I'm done here.  Keep in mind I'm a techie, so I'll be more critical than the general public probably would and this device is probably more marketed towards the general public than me.  I'll try to provide info from both angles. 

First off, the specs.  The main specs are that it is a dual core 1GHz processor, has 512MB of RAM, 8GB of storage, a 1024x600 7 inch color display and 8 hours of battery life for $199.  It's basically the same CPU as the Droid Bionic and Razr.  That is plenty of horsepower for most.    There is a good article that compares the Kindle Fire hardware to the Nook Tablet on this site.  Neither of the devices have front or rear cameras.  From that article I also found out that the Kindle Fire does not have an SD card slot, so you are limited to the 8GB of internal storage.  However, Amazon will provide 'free cloud storage for all of your Amazon content'.  But to me that means that anything you pay for like books/video/music through the Amazon store will be stored for free, not that you can put all sorts of personal content on there for free.  Amazon does provide 5GB of free cloud storage for free to anyone that wants it though, so you could potentially supplement your 8GB of internal storage with that service.

A quick comparison between the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet shows that for the price the Kindle Fire is decent and feature wise is pretty similar to the Nook Tablet, with the main exception being the SD slot being available on the Nook Tablet for more local storage and the Nook Tablet has a microphone as well.  The nook color is also $50 more at $249.

From the techie perspective, the Nook Tablet would be more appealing for the SD card slot in that there are lots of customized ways to hack the Nook Tablet into a full fledged Android tablet. However, that would void your warranty. 

For the general public, the Kindle Fire has the advantage of the Amazon App Store, over the Nook Tablet's Barnes and Noble app store. 

From the techie perspective, IF I were to want a 7 inch tablet, rather than a full fledged 10 inch tablet, I would go with the Nook Tablet with the ability to hack it and turn it into a full Android tablet.

For the general public however, if you were OK with spending $79 a year for the Amazon Prime service, I think the Kindle Fire would be the way to go.  Then you would have access to a bunch of content and it should be a relatively seamless experience.  That is how Amazon envisions the device, more as a conduit to access all of the different services that they provide online, rather than a standalone/offline tablet.  As an Amazon Prime member you would also get free 2 day shipping on any items you purchase through that are also fulfilled through Amazon directly.

Based on that though, if you do subscribe to Amazon Prime and do mostly streaming or storing of your data on the cloud, you will want to be sure that you have a good WiFi connection to access that data most of the time.

Amazon is keeping the price low and potentially even losing $ on the device, to get you to spend $ on subscription based services in order to generate recurring monthly revenue from the Kindle Fire customers.  They want you to be a lifelong customer, paying a fee every month/year to bring in more money over the long term.  A good strategy for a for-profit company and for anyone that owns stock in the company.

However to me, I prefer to buy a device like a laptop or tablet and have full control over what I put on the device, how I get the content and where I get it from.  So the Fire/Nook would not be devices straight out of the box that I would be interested in.  At this price level, I would be more interested in a bargain priced, full 10 inch tablet that is not locked down to a particular company such as Amazon or Barnes and Noble.  Perhaps there will be black Friday/cyber Monday tablet deals, but I'm thinking the higher likelihood will be deals about a month after Xmas.

I personally love shopping at Amazon and I'd say 80% or more of the time, Amazon is where I go to buy just about everything these days, I just don't want to have to pay monthly/yearly fees for content over what I already pay for services like DirecTV/DVR.  My DVR is just about full as it is, so right now I'm not interested in adding any more content, especially for an additional fee.   

I think this would be a great device for anyone that does not have a smart phone/data plan, that does not want to pay the regular $30 data fee per month for the phone, but wouldn't mind spending $79 a year for content instead.  For that person it would be a great way to experience just about everything a smart phone has to offer, at a reduced rate, as long as hey have a decent WiFi connection most of the time.

UPDATE 11:12am 11/16/2011  I found out that there is already a way to side load apps on the Kindle Fire, which means to manually install an Android App, so the hacking has already begun.  That changes my mind a little, in that the tablet would be more useful if you're not necessarily locked down to using everything from Amazon, but I still think it's more of larger version of a phone without the camera(s)/GPS.  

Any interest in a 7 inch tablet for $199 or $249?  I am interested to hear what everyone thinks, especially non-techie types.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Spontaneous Disney World Weekend Part 2

Continuing where we left off yesterday, we spent the day at Epcot/Magic Kingdom on Saturday then then headed to the House of Blues for a concert and got out of there around 11:30pm.  When we left there, we walked through Downtown Disney on the way back to the hotel and made a few stops along the way.

We stopped at the newer T Rex dinosaur based restaurant to take some pictures as they were clearing out for the night.  It was so amazing in there!  A colorful feast for the eyes! 

It was truly the most impressive restaurant setup we've ever seen.  It is along the same lines as a Rainforest Cafe, which is also at Downtown Disney, but on a much more colorful/bright/over the top scale! 

We did not check out the menu or anything, as they were shutting down, but it is definitely worth a visit to see it for your own eyes!  Lots of the dinosaurs even move, make noises, etc.  Very impressive!


Most of the shops/stores were shutting down around midnight, but one place that was still open and quite busy was the Ghiradelli Soda Fountain and Chocolate Shop

We stopped in there for a midnight brownie sundae/ice cream treat and whew, it was quite yummy.  I knew I should not be eating that at midnight, especially after having having some caffeine at the concert, but had to at least try it. 

We then headed back to the hotel to call it a night.  The tasty treat definitely kept my body from sleeping soundly for a while, but it was certainly good stuff.

Not our actual brownie sundae, ours was actually much bigger

The next morning we checked out and headed back to Downtown Disney to check out some of the stores and there was also something called the 'Disney Masters Festival of the Arts' going on. 

It was like a regular outdoor arts festival, on a much larger scale with a lot of it focused on Disney related art.  There were a ton of vendors along what was probably a mile or two from the one end of Downtown Disney's West Side all the way thru Pleasure Island and down to the opposite end. 

Lots of great art.  We didn't purchase anything ourselves, but there was no shortage of $ being spent!  The amount of people there spending $ both in the parks, resorts, shops, restaurants, etc. was insane.

All done in Legos

More Infinity and Beyond!
We then stopped at a new place in Pleasure Island called Paradiso 37.  It's a Mexican/Latin fusion place with a great waterfront view. 

They closed the bars in Pleasure Island back in Sept of 2008 in favor of revamping the place to include more restaurants and shops to make it more family friendly. 

That restaurant was very good.  We both shared the chips/guac and had the Chicken Enchiladas.  The wifey had the mole verde sauce, which is usually a chocolate based sauce, but it was more verde (green) in this case and was very good. 

I had the red sauce and it was a bit on the spicy/smokey side.  Both were good, but I'd go with the verde next time.  It also comes with some cilantro lime rice and beans.  All this is making me VERY hungry, since I'm typing this at lunch time and haven't eaten yet. 

View from the ourdoor seating at Paradiso 37
Chicken enchiladas, cilantro lime rice and beans
Disney World is a Magical place, both in their ability to provide a fantastic holiday entertainment experience and their ability to make the $$ in your wallet disappear. 

If you've never been to the parks during the holidays, I'd highly recommend it.  The Magic Kingdom was great in that aspect, with the holiday decorations, shows and the highlight for us was the lighting of Cinderella's castle. 

It was truly a jaw dropping/awesome experience with how great it looks all lit up.   At the Hollywood Studios park, they have the Osbourne light show each year, choreographed to music that is quite incredible from what I hear.  I don't think we've seen that in person ourselves, but being Florida residents and only 2 hours away, I am sure we'll do that at some point!

Have you been to Disney during the holidays?  Do you have some favorite places/events/insider info to share about Disney?  Would love to hear your experiences!  Have a Magical day!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Spontaneous Disney World Weekend

Main Street USA all decorated for the holidays!
We decided to do a spontaneous trip to Disney for the weekend about mid-day on Friday.  We had gone to a Queensryche concert here in town Thursday night and I liked it so much, I wanted to see them again at the House of Blues in Orlando on Saturday night.

I kinda jokingly emailed the wifey to say let's go to the concert in Orlando to see what she'd say and surprisingly, she was all for it.  The original plan was that I'd owe her any concert of her choice on demand anywhere within a 3 hour radius, but she saw this as an opportunity to change it up.

She agreed to the concert, but she's been wanting to visit Mickey lately, so she said as long as we can go to Epcot, she's in and that would get rid of the future concert obligation.  The key to a happy marriage is compromise, give and take, so we both agreed and put the plans in motion.

I lined up the pet sitter, got the concert tickets and after that I tried to book a room for Fri/Sat at one of the value Disney resorts.  Much to my surprise, when I called them directly, they only had 1 room left at all of their resorts and it was an Animal Kingdom villa for $750.  Umm, no I don't think so.

There were rooms for Saturday, but none for Friday.  That was surprising, but I guess because it was Veterans day, lots of folks had off and everyone decided to go to Disney.

It wasn't a major deal, but we usually prefer to stay at one of the Disney resorts due to the free and abundant fast transportation to the parks/Downtown Disney, easy ability to grab just about any type of food any time you want it quickly and it's always worked very well.

We instead stayed at the Hilton directly across the street from Downtown Disney and it was ok.  Nothing great, but it was a good location since we were going to Downtown Disney for the concert and they also had free bus transportation to the parks as well.  We still would have preferred to stay at one of the Disney locations like Pop Century or All Star Sports for cheaper.

Hilton Downtown Disney
We arrived Friday night and the hotel was decent, it had a Benihana restaurant, Italian restaurant, Sports/Lobby bar, place for breakfast/lunch and a 24 hour store with soft drinks, snacks, bagels, etc.  We had eaten a little before we left and we were kinda tired from seeing the concert the night before and then working Friday and driving there, so we just grabbed a quick sandwich and watched some TV and called it a night.

We got up Sat AM, spent a bunch on breakfast and caught the bus over to Epcot.  When we got the park tickets, we decided to make them park hopper passes, thinking it might be real busy since all the hotels were booked the previous night and since this was the last weekend for the Food and Wine Festival at Epcot and the weather was a perfect 75 and sunny with a nice breeze.

We definitely made the right call there.  Around 1pm the lines for people sampling the food and beer/wine were nuts, I'd say about 40 people deep in most lines and it was quite crowded in that area.  Luckily, that was not why we were there, we did the beer/wine/food last year and we were there more to just leisurely wander the park and hit a ride or two that we missed out on last time.

View of the Epcot globe from the other side of the park
We did just that, checking out the Captain EO Michael Jackson 3D show that they recently brought back after his death and that was cool.  Then we walked around all of the worlds, grabbed a pastry at France and hit the leisurely water ride in Mexico and the crowds had started to form so we jumped on the Monorail and a Boat Ferry over to the Magic Kingdom.

Ferry from the transport center to the Magic Kingdom
View of Saratoga Springs Resort from the Ferry

The Magic Kingdom was all decked out with Christmas decorations and music and that makes it look real nice and festive.  That really get you in the holiday spirit!

The park was quite busy, but not crazy busy like Epcot.  We hit up several rides that we missed last time around, the Haunted Mansion, Disney Motor Speedway, Buzz Lightyear shoot-em-up ride and the people mover.

That brought us until around 5pm and we definitely wanted to see the park all lit up after dark, so we headed over towards Cinderella's castle not knowing exactly when the lights would go on.  They had a parade circling in front of the castle and one of the workers told us the castle lights up at 6:15pm, so we hung around there for that and it was so worth it.

It really was amazing to see the lights.  I got a few pictures with the phone camera and they look great, but it is quite Magical, as they say, to see it in person!  Main street is all lit up as well, so after we checked out all the lights, we headed on out.

Haunted Mansion
Disney Motor Speedway, wifey in front of me
Castle as the sun is going down
Castle at dusk

Castle at night
Castle with colored lights
Castle lighting event...Amazing!
Main Street USA at night
It was around 6:30pm I think and we weren't exactly sure where the pickup for the Hilton hotel was at the Magic Kingdom, since we were dropped off at Epcot.

We were planning to just take a bus to Downtown Disney, but from the parks you can only go to hotels and then from the hotels to Downtown Disney.  So we jumped on the Monorail instead and got off at the first hotel, which was the Contemporary, the one the Monorail goes right through.

We got off there, had dinner real quick in their cafeteria and then headed to their ourdoor bus pickup spot around 7pm.  Keep in mind we wanted to get to the House of Blues in Downtown Disney by around 8:30pm when the opening band starts, shouldn't be a problem right?!

Typically at the larger Disney Resorts we've stayed at we wait no more than 5-10 minutes for a bus, 15 mins max usually.  Well, 45 minutes later and having seen 6 buses arrive to drop people off at the hotel, one finally shows up.

This was after getting swarmed by literally thousands of mosquitoes at the Contemporary bus stop.  I have no idea why it was SO bad, we've never seen anything like it.

Everyone was swatting at mosquitoes the whole 45 mins we were waiting and I was getting quite pissed at the delay.  We didn't see one other mosquito anywhere, they were all in that one spot.  We finally departed, but not without first stopping at the Polynesian hotel.

Due to the delay and mosquitoes, I'd never stay at that hotel, plus that hotel is one of the highest price Disney hotels anyway, so we wouldn't have stayed there anyhow.  But it is cool to stop there and check it out inside, not outside.  

View of the Monorail going through as we ate at the Contemporary
We got to Downtown Disney, booked it across the street to the hotel to grab the concert tickets, change and head back over to the concert.

We got there around 9pm after power walking what was probably 2 miles from the Hotel to the House of Blues and apparently the opening band was over.  No biggie, it was just a local band that we didn't know and someone said they were terrible, so even better.

The House of Blues is an interesting venue.  It has several downstairs bars, an upstairs bar and a standing area that overlooks the stage on the upper level.

Since we were kinda late, we didn't have a huge choice of where to stand, but eventually found a decent spot just to the side of the stage on the same level, which was neat.

However, the concert was much louder and better sounding, with a much better view from the Ponte Vedra Concert Hall, where we were on Thursday night.  It was still an excellent show and since that was the reason for bringing us to Disney also, it was well worth it!

I'm not too sure we would return to the House of Blues for a concert, the sound wasn't great and there are just too many spots where it's real hard to see. 

I'll save the few small things we did after the concert/Sunday for tomorrow.  Did you do anything Magical over the weekend?  Let me know! 

Friday, November 11, 2011

Queensryche 30th Anniversary Concert Rocked!

The concert Thursday night in Ponte Vedra Rocked!  It was a very small venue that was converted from an old church and it was a great room for a concert.  It was not too crowded, so you could easily make your way around the room and get to within I'd say about 10 normal rows from the band with ease.  It was like having your own personal concert with a bunch of friends.

I liked it so much, I convinced the wifey to go see them again on Saturday night at the House of Blues in Downtown Disney.  Much to my surprise she said it was a great show and she had no problem going to see it again, she rocks!  The only catch was she wanted to also go to Epcot during the day for their food and wine festival, which was fine by me.  I can't wait to see it again, they sounded awesome, played all the great tunes from back in the day and once just isn't enough.  Who knows when they will be around again, so couldn't pass up the opportunity to give it one more go 'round!  Ryche on!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Queensryche 30th Anniversary Tour 11/10/2011!

I grew up during the 80s and during that time, I was mostly into Metal/Hair Bands.  Some of the notable names were Metallica, Dokken, Motley Crue, MegaDeth and my favorite was Queensryche.  I was HUGE fan of their early albums and got into them around 1984 when Warning was released.  I liked their first album, which was a self-titled EP in 1982, but it wasn't until Warning came out that I really got on board.  My friends turned me on to them around that time and I was hooked.

To the best of my recollection, the first concert I ever went to was Metallica and Queensryche at the Rochester War Memorial.  According to the Google machine, that was on Mar 7th, 1989.   I also saw them with Type-O Negative at Darien Lake Performing Arts Center and in Weedsport when I was in college sometime around the mid 90s.  YOU KNOW IT'S SUMMER WHEN THEY'RE ROCKIN IN WEEDSPORT.  Heh, it's so funny the odd things I remember.  I have trouble remembering my name at times, but I remember that slogan from old commercials on TV for the small little Weedsport Amphitheater.  I think it was mostly played on Syracuse TV and because my college received Syracuse TV stations, that's where I picked it up from.  This dude knows what I'm talking about.  Haha...

I was/am a huge fan of their albums Warning, Rage For Order, Operation Mindcrime, Empire, Promised Land, Here in the Now Frontier and Q2K.  After that, which was around 1999 they kinda went in a different direction and I was still a big fan of them and their earlier work, but wasn't a huge fan of most of the songs on their subsequent albums.  That was similarly how I felt about Metallica around that same time frame.

However, I've always kept up with the band, their website and Facebook page and they're both quite active and updated daily.  Which reminds me, I was in college when the Internet first started and the first personal web page I ever created was a Queensryche fan page, complete with a background graphic, images and it even automatically played a midi file of the song Anarchy X!  Click the link to hear exactly what that sounded like.  That automatically played every time you went to the web page.  Very high tech for the time and I remember being very proud of the site.

I remember being part of a Queensryche 'web ring' as well.  Remember those?  I doubt it...It was a collection of similar websites where everyone would put the web ring link/picture at the bottom of their page and you could click next or back and scroll through several or 100s of similar web pages.  I just searched for my last name and Queensryche and still actually found links to the original page and was able to pull it up using, going all the way back to 1996.  How freakin cool!  None of the images are there, but the song still auto-plays!  Ryche on!

Their lead singer Geoff Tate has released solo albums, a wine label, etc.  They also have done a few 'Shiprocked' cruises also, but I haven't attended any of those.  Oh man, they're actually getting on the ship next week!  I wanna go.  I think it would be fun to see some of your favorite old bands on a cruise ship like that, but it would probably be more about the music and partying than the ship, ports and excursions I would imagine. 

I'm still a huge fan and much to my surprise, I saw online that they were coming to a very small venue in town!  I did not hesitate, I broke the news to the wifey that she was going along and ordered tickets the second they went on-sale.  The concert is this Thursday and I've checked out a few set lists from recent shows and I'm so psyched the majority of the tunes are from back in the day and hardly any, or possibly none, are from the albums I did not like.  I will be in the zone and loving every minute of it.  The wifey will probably be a bit lost, but she has an IOU for any concert of her choosing to redeem any time she sees fit.

If you happen to be in the NE FL area, there is actually a Groupon today for 50% off tickets and you can even get a meet and greet with the band and free autographed picture.  Too bad we already have tickets.  It will be a great show and I can't wait!  Ryche and Roll!!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Honda Asimo Robot - Freaky!

I came across this post on Engadget today and it seems robots are getting real close to making the movie AI a reality.  Pretty freaky if you ask me, but still pretty wild!  

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