POSTS WE LIKE: Share Your Best Disneyland Tip

A fellow blogger, Travel With Grant, posted this entry today that says:

I need your help! My niece, her husband, and their two kids ages 5 and 3 are coming to visit me in Southern California. And what’s top on their list of experiences? Well Disneyland, of course 🙂

So they asked me, their favorite Aunt and travel expert, for tips about saving money at Disneyland. Yikes, I haven’t a clue. I love Disneyland, but haven’t been in years, so I’m not at all in the know. But I am hoping the TWG posse has some great ideas.

DLJoe&ShaNow, Joe and I are pretty good for helping out and answering questions when it comes to Walt Disney World, but for Disneyland? Well, we’ve been there a few times and are even going back this fall, but to give advice about ways to save money when you’re actually inside Disneyland? Not so much. However we’re always willing to help someone with a request and even if we can’t answer her question, we suspect we have readers who can. So do us a favor by doing them a favor and if you have some ideas for money saving measures at Disneyland, go over to Travel With Grant‘s page and let them know. Tell them Sharon and Joe from Your Mileage May Vary sent you. Thanks!

Our Favorite Central FL Restaurants Off Disney/Universal Property

We know that lots of theme park fans don’t like to go off theme park property when they vacation in Central Florida. We used to be like that, too. Eating at a theme park is usually faster than traveling off property to dine, it keeps you immersed in the theme park experience, etc. And we get it – there are indeed some really nice places “on property” that give you awesome food and/or theming, and you get to maximize your time in the parks. But if you limit yourself to just eating on property, you are denying yourself some incredibly good eats that usually cost a fraction of Disney’s and Universal’s prices and often taste even better than anything you can get in the parks or on property.

These are some of our most favorite “off property” restaurants. We’ve listed them in alphabetical order, since it would be almost impossible to put them in order of which is best, second best, etc., and they run the gamut in terms of price point, food type, dress requirements and distance from the parks. Many offer meals throughout the day (i.e. breakfast, lunch, brunch, high tea), although we’re specifying our experiences with them for dinner. Most are places you can’t find anywhere else (or at least have only limited locations), they’re all “not to be missed” and some, we admit, are really just for adults (we’ve included level of “kid friendliness,” based on our observations, in each of the narratives).

ARTISAN’S TABLE
22 E. Pine St.
Orlando, FL 32801
(407) 730-7499
Approx. distance from WDW: 17 miles (via I-4 East)
Approx. distance from Universal: 10 miles (via I-4 East)
Read what other people say about it on Yelp, TripAdvisor, Zagat

Restaurant-ArtisansTable
Photo courtesy of Artisan’s Table

Located in Downtown Orlando, this modern, trendy restaurant opened in 2014 and has been growing their following ever since. The food is fresh and delicious, with a menu that changes frequently. They have a fully stocked bar and a wide variety of cocktails. We strongly recommend the ox tail dinner and the apricot sidecar (a fruity house-invented drink which is usually no longer on the menu but most of the bartenders can still make it). We have seen children at Artisan’s Table (albeit not regularly), and those that we have seen were very well-behaved.

BERN’S STEAK HOUSE
1208 S. Howard Ave.
Tampa, FL 33606
(813) 251-2421
Approx. distance from WDW: 71 miles (via I-4 West)
Approx. distance from Universal: 79 miles (via I-4 West)
Read what other people say about it on Yelp, TripAdvisor, Zagat, Wikipedia

BernsRed
Photo courtesy of bernssteakhouse.com

Yes, it’s far from the parks. It’s also, by far, the most fancy and expensive restaurant on our list. However Bern’s Steak House, 61 years old and going strong, is an experience you will never, ever forget as a special night out for the adults in your party. The decor of its various dining rooms screams 1960s and 1970s, but the service and food are old school and impeccable. The menu is huge (and the wine list even moreso! Bern’s has the largest wine list of any restaurant in the world!) and can be a bit overwhelming for first-timers but your waiter can walk you through it with ease. Anything you get at Bern’s will be incredible and cooked exactly as you request. Don’t forget to take the tour of the wine cellar and kitchen after your meal, and save room for dessert in the Henry Waugh Dessert Room, upstairs – because how often do you get to eat dessert in a wine barrel?

CHEF’S TABLE AT THE EDGEWATER
AND/OR!
TASTING ROOM AT THE CHEF’S TABLE
99 W. Plant St.
Winter Garden, FL 34787
(407) 230-4837
Approx. distance from WDW: 20 miles (via FL-429N)
Approx. distance from Universal: 15 miles (via Florida’s Tnpk N.)
YES! Two different (VERY different) awesome restaurants, with the same owners, at the same establishment! Chef’s Table became so popular that the owners opened The Tasting Room a few years later.
Read what other people say about Chef’s Table at the Edgewater on Yelp, TripAdvisor, Zagat

Restaurant - Chefs Table at the Edgewater
Photo courtesy of Chef’s Table at the Edgewater

Housed in the historical Edgewater Hotel (which now is run as a B&B), Chef’s Table opened in 2008 and has been winning award after award ever since (as per owners and married couple Kevin and Laurie Tarter: “We just won the Orlando Sentinel Foodie Award for ‘Central Florida Gem’ from their food critic, the Dec 2016 Open Table dining award put us in the top 100 restaurants in the USA based on our diner feedback, Florida Trend gave us the golden spoon which only goes to the best restaurants in Florida, Orlando Magazine honored Kevin in 2015 with a Culinary Hall of Fame award, Orlando Magazine also awarded us in 2016 with Best Service, Best Chef’s Table, Most Romantic and Our Tasting Room won best appetizers and best cocktails.”) A small establishment with just a handful of tables, they offer a nightly three-course prix fixe menu, with options of a cheese course and wine pairing, that rotates regularly. Laurie is a skilled sommelier, Kevin has worked in the kitchen of WDW’s Victoria & Albert’s and New Orlean’s Arnaud’s, and both have worked front of house of WDW’s California Grille. If you visit Chef’s Table, expect a full evening of deliciousness for the adults in your party.

Read what other people say about Tasting Room at the Chef’s Table on Yelp, TripAdvisor

Restaurant - Tasting Room at the Chef's Table
Tasting Room at the Chef’s Table

Meanwhile, in 2011, Laurie and Kevin opened Tasting Room at the Chef’s Table just adjacent to Chef’s Table at the Edgewater. This is a much more casual restaurant, with a focus on tapas (small but shareable plates), much of which has a Creole influence, thanks to Kevin’s past work of living and working in New Orleans. Our personal favorites are the asian beef, lobster mac & cheese and the duck fat fries (oh, the duck fat fries!) – let us know what you and your kids like best!

COLUMBIA
649 Front St.
Celebration, FL 34747
Approx. distance from WDW: 8 miles (via World Dr.)
Approx. distance from Universal: 14 miles (via I-4 West)
Read what other people say about it on Yelp, TripAdvisor

Restaurant - Columbia (PC- The Columbia)
Photo courtesy of The Columbia

The original Columbia restaurant opened in Tampa’s Ybor City in 1905, making it the oldest restaurant in Florida. It’s also been owned by the same family for all that time. Now expanded to 5 restaurants through the state (Tampa, Sarasota, St. Augustine, Clearwater and Celebration), the Celebration location opened in 1997 and is the closest to the theme park corridor and only about a 10-minute drive from the southern parts of WDW property. The menu features Spanish fare and I can never decide if I like their chicken, pork or shrimp dishes best, but I can tell you that their white sangria is to die for! Definitely a kid-friendly establishment!

4 RIVERS SMOKEHOUSE
874 W. Osceola Pkwy.
Kissimmee, FL 34741
Approx. distance from WDW: 8 miles (via W. Osceola Pkwy.)
Approx. distance from Universal: 13 miles (via I-4 West, FL-528 R & John Young Pkwy.)
Read what other people say about it on Yelp, TripAdvisor, Zagat (Zagat review is for Winter park location – no reviews seen for Kissimmee location, sorry)
We know, we know – there are lots of places that offer good BBQ. And we realize that you may want to stand by your Texas, Louisville, North Carolina or Kansas City BBQ and that’s absolutely fine. But 4 Rivers is still darn good ‘Q. Established in a single location in Winter Park (about 20-25 miles from WDW) in 2009, hour-long lines were almost immediately out the door. Since then, 4 Rivers have expanded to 7 locations within Central Florida, 6 locations in further-out locations in Florida and, as of this writing, are expanding to Atlanta any day now. What can we say? It’s BBQ, it’s delicious, and we love it. So will you and your kids. Give it a try! Heads up that all 4 Rivers locations are closed on Sundays.

HANAMIZUKI
8255 International Dr., Suite 136
Orlando, FL 32819
Approx. distance from WDW: 8 miles (via I-4 East)
Approx. distance from Universal: 3 miles (via International Dr.)
Read what other people say about it on Yelp, Trip Advisor, Zagat
We’ve been to Japan 4 times and love when we can find a stateside Japanese restaurant that is what we would call “absolutely authentic and traditional.” Hanamazuki is most definitely the epitome of that. Tucked into a strip mall shadowed by the Orlando Eye (it’s the same strip mall as Sleuth’s dinner show, which is also a good landmark in terms of the 8 million strip malls in the area), you will be greeted with “Irasshaimase!” as you enter, and a menu that is written in Japanese with English subtitles. We love the shabu shabu and ishiyaki, although you can’t lose with the udon or soba noodle meals, either. Children are welcome and heads up that Hanamizuki is seasonally closed on Mondays, so check the website first.

HEMINGWAY’S
On the ground of Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress
1 Grand Cypress Blvd.
Orlando, FL 32836
Approx. distance from WDW: 2 miles (via Hotel Plaza Blvd.)
Approx. distance from Universal: 8 miles (via I-4 West)
Read what other people say about it on Yelp, TripAdvisor

Restaurant - Hemingway's
Photo courtesy of Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress

The 1,500 acre Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress resort opened in 1984 and unlike several Grand Cypress restaurants that have come and gone (including our beloved but dearly departed LaCoquina – it had the best Sunday brunch EVER!) Hemingway’s has stayed around since Day One. This steak and seafood restaurant is island-inspired and the decor is decidedly Key West. It offered great food and service for the entire family.

SEASONS 52
Plaza Venezia
7700 W. Sand Lake Rd.
Orlando, FL 32819
Approx. distance from WDW: 6 miles (via S. Apopka Vineland Rd.)
Approx. distance from Universal 3 miles (via Turkey Lake Rd.)
Read what other people say about it on Yelp, Trip Advisor, Zagat

Restaurant - Seasons 52
Photo courtesy of Seasons 52

Seasons 52 is the only restaurant on our list that has more than, at most, just a few locations (over 40 of them in nearly 20 states). However the Orlando/Sand Lake Rd./”Restaurant Row” location is, not only the closest to the theme parks, but also the original location, which opened in 2002. Oh, and those mini desserts there you see everywhere? Seasons 52 invented those – they call them “Mini Indulgences.” Focusing on American and generally “healthier” fare, the restaurant’s menu changes seasonally, although some items seem to remain year-round. It is, by far, our #1 “go to” restaurant and our personal favorites include the meyer lemonade (if any of you remember the Adventurers Club, it tastes like a Babylonia’s Brew, but with booze!), filet mignon, pork tenderloin and chocolate s’more or chocolate peanut butter torte desserts. Children are welcome but as the restaurant is frequently host to convention parties as well as couples on “date night,” we’d say that well-behaved children are appreciated.

These are just a few of our favorites and obviously, there are LOTS of other “off site” restaurants in the Orlando area – which are YOUR favorites?

#TBT: Japan Trip, April 2005: Shinkansen, Hiroshima, Peace Memorial Park

I’m writing this on my PDA (MODERN DAY NOTE: A PDA. Wasn’t that CUTE?!?!?!) while on the Shinkansen (Bullet Train) from Hiroshima back to Kyoto. If you can read it, that means I’m much more computer-savvy than I give myself credit for (grin).

Today was pretty stress-free, since we’re getting more of our bearings when it comes to trains, shuttles, scheduling, maps, etc.

After yesterday’s near-fast (grin), we made sure to make room for meals today. We took the 9:20am shuttle from the hotel to Kyoto Station and, after a quick detour to a touristy place under Kyoto Tower to buy postcards, we had breakfast at a restaurant in the Station called “Beef Stew.” And I’m not sure, but I’m pretty sure that’s what Joe and/or Steve (our friend on this trip with us) had for breakfast (grin). I, on the other hand, had bacon and egg on French bread with a side of salad and Miso soup (Yeah, salad and soup with breakfast. That’s what they do here. Different culture).

So we made it onto the Shinkansen to Osaka (15 min ride), then switched trains to go to Hiroshima (90 min ride).


Waiting for the Bullet Train


Here it is!


The trains are VERY comfortable, with padded seats and foot rests. They have bathrooms, offer snack/beverage service, you name it.


This train is 8 cars long and each car has its own set of “rules”….reserved seats vs. non-reserve, smoking or non-smoking, “silence car,” etc.

At Hiroshima, we took a trolley car to the museum area that we intended to see. The first thing we saw was the Peace Park, which encases the remains of the “A-Bomb Dome.” That is a building that (sort of) survived the atomic bomb attack (“sort of” because all that’s left is the skeleton of the building and a few inner wall structurings…as opposed to all the other buildings in the city, which were totally obliterated).


The A-Bomb Dome as you approach from the trolley.


Information and history about the A-Bomb dome.


Beauty, destruction and modern times.


Information about the destruction of Hiroshima.


The Peace Memorial Park area. In the hours and days after the bomb hit, thousands and thousands of bodies floated in this river.

The park also houses several memorials (to the various thousands of people who perished), and the history museum. Here are a few of them, with explanations when possible:


Memorial Tower to the Mobilized Students (middle- and high-school students who were working for the government to help make fire paths. Over 3/4 of the mobilized students died from the A-bomb.)


Close-up of the base of the Memorial Tower to the Mobilized Students


Cenotaph for A-bomb victims (Memorial Monument for Hiroshima, City of Peace).


Short explanation of the Cenograph


Children’s Peace Monument. This memoriam is to Sadako Sasaki, a teenager who died of leukemia over a decade after being explosed to the A-bomb at the age of 2. Her goal was to make 1,000 origami cranes, in the hopes that doing so would cure her. She didn’t live to finish, and her grieving friends raised the money to erect this memorial to her. People from all over the world still bring thousands upon thousands of paper cranes to her memorial site.


The golden crane inside the Children’s Peace Monument.


Short explanation of the Children’s Peace Monument.


A small percentage of the thousands of cranes at the Children’s Peace Monument.


This mound of dirt is made from the cremated remains of the people who perished in the days, weeks, months and years after the A-bomb hit. Most of the people whose ashes are in the mound were unidentified.


(from front to back) Flame of Peace, Pond of Peace, Cenograph (partially obscured) and the center area of the Hiroshima Peace Museum.

The museum was amazing…it went through the history of the city of Hiroshima, the history of the invention of the atomic age, the events that led up to 8:15am on August 6, 1945, the immediate effects of the bomb, as well as the after-effects, some of which (birth defects, cancer, psychological, etc) persist to present-day time.

The museum houses thousands upon thousands of artifacts, from clothing people were wearing on the day of the bombing, to lunch boxes (melted, with burnt food still inside), to a pocket watch that was permanently stopped at 8:15am, to steps from a former bank that still had the faint shadow of the person who was sitting on them when the bomb hit and he/she was incinerated on the spot. There’s no way that my writing or our our pictures could ever do it all justice, but this website can give further information.

Besides the obvious tragedies of the loss and illness of thousands upon thousands of people, the one disturbing thing to me, as an American, is that the museum portrays not just the city, but the entire country as an innocent victim of the U.S.’s actions. Pearl Harbor and the rest of Japan’s part in WW2 was VERY minimalized in their presentation. Then again, as Americans, WE have learned an entirely different view of history. All depends on your perspective, I guess.

It was raining when we left the museum, but with umbrellas in hand, we checked out the various memorials within the park (see pictures above) and each took a turn ringing the Bell of Peace.


Me ringing the Bell of Peace


An explanation of the Bell of Peace

After that, we caught a trolley back to Hiroshima Station. In the months before we went on vacation, we had gotten a lot of “Japan advice” from someone we knew who had spent about 6 months living and working there, circa 2001-2002, and he recommended if we were going to eat in Hiroshima, to try to go to a restaurant that served okonomi-yaki style, since Hiroshima was famous for it. Okonomi-yaki is grilled ramen noodles, egg, vegetables and a batter, with meat, that you make into a sort of loose pizza in front of you (think of Benihana-style but smaller scale, the food comes all mixed together and you heat it up yourself). We found such a place near Hiroshima Station and had dinner there. VERY tasty!


Steve enjoying his okonomi-yaki.

After dinner, we got our tickets for the Shinkansen back to Kyoto (no changing trains this time!) and here we are on it (remember, I’m writing this on my PDA).

Tomorrow is our walking tour and I think it’s laundry day, as well. Until next time, sayonara!

We’re Going To Do The Pan Am Experience!

As you guys may have figured out, Joe and I like to travel. But we like to think our travel is different from that of most people. Oh sure, some people like to go to the Caribbean, or to Italy or to go hiking. And some of those are nice sometimes (well, except the hiking. I’m not a hiking sort of person). But for us, especially for me, the more unusual, the more different, the more of an adventure, the more off the beaten path, the better. And if you can add a little kitch to it, well, THEN my life is just complete. So when a friend posted an article on Facebook about the Pan Am Experience, my eyes perked up. I did some research and quickly realized we could potentially visit during our trip to Phoenix, the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, Disneyland and Los Angeles this fall, so I learned as much as I could about it.

It sounded really cool! Here’s what their website says about the experience:

Relive the Magic of Flying Onboard a Luxurious Pan Am 747

Anthony Toth
Photo Courtesy of Danny Liao / Air Hollywood

“From its birth in 1927, Pan American World Airways was the pioneer airline whose routes spanned 6 continents and more than 80 countries. Almost a century later, the name Pan Am is still a very powerful brand, and inside this Southern California motion picture studio sits an exact replica of the airline’s Boeing 747 and everything that made it so special.

Your Pan Am Experience begins at our exclusive First & Clipper class check-in desk. where our Pan Am customer service agent provides each passenger with a 70’s style boarding pass, ticket jacket and first class carry-on tags.

Anthony Toth
Photo courtesy of Danny Liao / Air Hollywood

You’ll be invited into the Clipper Club where you’ll have an opportunity to peruse the vintage Pan Am memorabilia including authentic uniforms, airline seats, handbags, artwork, and more. You can mingle with other enthusiasts at the Clipper Club lounge, share stories, and make new friends.

Soon thereafter, you’ll board “Clipper Juan T. Trippe”, our dedication to Pan Am’s first Boeing 747, where you’ll be sprung back in time to the 1970s. As soon you set foot inside the aircraft, your Stewardesses adorned in original Pan Am uniforms will welcome you onboard with a fine cocktail of your choice as Frank Sinatra’s soothing voice will transport you back in time.

With libation in hand, we encourage you to explore the aircraft – from First Class on the main deck, to Clipper Class aft of the galley, and the Upper Deck dining room. The interiors of each cabin have all been uniquely restored to Pan Am’s original cabin décor and branding elements.

PanAmMikeKelley7
Photo courtesy of Mike Kelley / Air Hollywood
PamAmMikeKelly2
Photo courtesy of Mike Kelley / Air Hollywood
PanAmMikeKelley1
Photo courtesy of Mike Kelley / Air Hollywood

Before we “take off”, the crew will perform an in-flight safety demonstration followed by a brief welcoming message from the flight deck. Soon you will be asked to take your seat as a stewardess sets your table for a truly memorable dining event. Main Deck passengers will sit back in plush Sleeperette seats and relax in a quiet, intimate dining setting while Upper Deck passengers will climb the winding staircase and enjoy a dynamic social atmosphere. Everything from the china to the glassware is authentic with careful attention to the exquisite service delivery of the era and menu offerings of Pan Am.


In classic Pan Am style, you will be served a delightful, gourmet five-course meal, starting with bread selections and appetizer choices like shrimp cocktail or tomato and mozzarella drizzled with a pesto glaze. For the main course, we serve a traditional Chateaubriand carved from the trolley. Guests with dietary restrictions may request in advance a choice of Roasted Chicken with Peppercorn sauce or a vegetarian pasta entree that is sure to please. Each meal comes with garden fresh vegetables and roasted potatoes. Your fourth course is a fine selection of fruit, cheese & biscuits accompanied by port wine. And finally your fifth course is a dessert cart with a large selection of digestifs. Tea & coffee completes the meal.

Anthony Toth
Photo courtesy of Anthony Toth / Air Hollywood

At the end of your flight, we offer all passengers an optional tour of the various production sets at Air Hollywood, including the original cockpit from cult classic Airplane! as well as sets and props used in major motion pictures such as “Bridesmaids”, “The Wolf of Wall Street”, and the hit television show “Lost”.

For the first time since Pan Am ceased operations, you can now relive the magic of this golden era in travel. We cordially invite you to personally experience this unique “flying” opportunity in the tradition of Pan Am.”

DOES THAT SOUND COOL OR WHAT??? Since I got Joe to say we could try to go (it did’t take a whole lot of arm twisting at all), the last hurdle was getting a reservation…and apparently they are NOT easy to get. Like, as in “they generally only offer the event once every 2 weeks and have space for less than 50 guests per event” not easy to get. As it turned out, we lucked out and of the exactly 2 nights we could even possibly do this during the course of our vacation, one of them was one of the nights in October they were going to offer the Pan Am Experience. So reservations for the next few months went on sale last week and guess what? I GOT A RESERVATION! So yeah…we’re doing the Pan Am Experience in Los Angeles! I can hardly wait!

Stay tuned…trip report to follow this fall…

 

FOR NEWBIES: When An Airline Breaks Something In Your Luggage

I went to New York with a friend not long ago, just for a couple of days, to see a bunch of Broadway shows. We were only going to be out of town from Tuesday to Friday morning, for about 70 hours total, so we were able to get away with just using carry-on luggage, thereby saving us the time of having to pick up our luggage from baggage claim, as well as the worry of them losing our bags or breaking something in them.

Since I grew up in Brooklyn and Staten Island, whenever I’m in Manhattan, the times when we’re not in shows are generally dedicated to food – either the yummy things, like pizza and bagels, that aren’t quite the same down here in Central Florida, or restaurants that were simply an important part of my life before I relocated from the Big Apple. Anyway, while we were at one of these restaurants (Serendipity 3, on E. 60th, between 2nd & 3rd), I bought a glass Christmas ornament, just because. It wasn’t very expensive, only $12.50, and I suspected it would give me warm fuzzies every year when I put it on the tree, so I got it.

On the Delta flight home, thanks to (A) the Delta gate people saying the flight was 100% full, (B) being in Zone 3 (of 3) and (C) 95% of the other Zone 3 people already standing on line while the pre-Zone 1 “people who need extra time” folks were being loaded, by the time my friend and I got up to the gate before loading onto the plane, anyone who had a carry on bag that, like mine, was around the size and shape of a regulation 22x14x9 was told they needed to gate check because there was no more room on the overhead. I told them I would prefer not to, but of course that got me nowhere. The Delta employee said the bag would be brought up with strollers at the gate, so no worries. Not wanting to rock the boat and risk not being allowed to go on the plane at all, I agreed and gate checked it.

As it turned out, there was indeed space for my carry-on suitcase above our seats, and I suspect even more space for it above the 2 empty seats directly in front of us AND above the 2 empty “exit row” seats that I saw several rows behind us when I went to use the lavatory. Cue the feeling of minor annoyance. Increase the annoyance to mid range when I was told, upon landing, that my luggage would not be brought up to me at the gate after all, but would go to regular baggage claim, thereby adding a good 20-30 minutes before I could get to my house. And then I got home, unpacked and discovered that my Christmas ornament, which was packed to be safe as carry-on, but not when it was undoubtedly thrown from place to place by Delta employees, was broken into a million little glass crumbs. ARGH!!!

Photo Mar 24, 3 19 54 PM
Part of my broken ornament. The rest was glass dust all over the bottom of my suitcase

Joe tweeted Delta, saying “Wife having to gate check bag on flight home = broken Xmas ornament. Vacuuming out luggage not how we wanted to spend today.” To their credit, they wrote back quickly and said we should call their customer service number. I had a couple of false starts because I didn’t realize I would need my SkyMiles and flight confirmation numbers in front of me (so I had to find those), plus I wasn’t sure if the contents of my baggage counted as “baggage” or not (NOTE TO NEWBIES: It does.) but I finally spoke to a sweet lady named Shay, who said I needed to fill out their online form. She did give me some helpful suggestions (ignore the “reference number” request, photo must be small or just say that you have a photo available upon request, etc.) and off I went to Delta.com to fill out my “Comment/Complaint” form. I got an auto reply the next day that said:

Dear Mrs. Heg,
Thank you for contacting Delta.
We look forward to working with you to resolve this matter. You will receive a response regarding the status of your claim within 2-4 weeks.

We appreciate your selection of Delta and will work to resolve this in a timely manner.
Thank you very much.
Sincerely,

Customer Care – Baggage

That was on March 25th.

On April 10th (16 days after I contacted them – on the lower end of 2-4 weeks), I got a phone call from a Delta representative but let it go to voice mail because I didn’t recognize the 800 number they used and nowadays, if I don’t recognize the number, I just don’t pick up the phone – sorry, I just don’t feel like listening to another robocall about adjusting a headset. They also sent me an email:

Dear Mrs. Heg:
Thank you for the additional information (NOTE: I didn’t send them any other additional information but OK), and we’re sorry to learn that you encountered a problem with your baggage while traveling with us recently.
Please be assured that every precaution is made to have a passenger’s luggage arrive in the same condition as when it was checked into our care (NOTE: yeah right). We succeed with few exceptions, and regret the mishandling on your trip (NOTE: if you had let me keep my luggage with me as intended, and especially since there was indeed room in the overhead, this wouldn’t have happened).
Our check for $13.61
(NOTE: $12.50 + 8.87% NYC tax) to reimburse you for the damaged property will be mailed under separate cover. You should receive it within the next ten business days.
We appreciate, and thank you for, your choice of Delta to provide your air transportation and look forward to being able to welcome and serve you, once again, on board one of our flights.
Sincerely,

Claims Manager
Customer Care-Baggage

And on April 22nd, which was indeed within (albeit JUST within) 10 business days, I received my check.

DeltaCheck2
So there you go – I’m reimbursed. Am I happy? Well, not being out the $13.61 is nice, especially since they were the ones who broke the thing in the first place. But honestly, I’d rather still have an intact ornament as a memory of my trip, and would have been a whole lot happier if I had been allowed to keep my carry-on in the first place, and then none of this would have happened.

With airline travel so uncomfortable and not-user-friendly nowadays, you would think the airlines could at least make “keeping the items they say customers can have with them, with them” would be more of a priority in terms of customer service. Oh, and speaking of customer service, I got a “Give Us Feedback of How We Handled This Situation?” email from Delta on April 11th, the day after they said they were going to send me the check. Only problem was that several of the survey questions had to do with whether or not I was happy with the situation once it was completed…which it wasn’t, because I hadn’t received the check yet. There was still a possibility something could have happened and the check wouldn’t be received, which would have affected my answers. So I held onto the email and waited. But when I tried to fill it out a few days after I finally did receive the check, the survey had expired. So yeah…customer service.

I know I’m not the only one who’s been through something like this. Did an airline ever break anything of yours? Did you have a happy ending with it?

Posts We Like: “When An Airline Proves Twitter Support Is Officially Worthless”

TwitterWe read other travel bloggers all the time, for tips, ideas, news and anything else that can pop up in the world of miles and points. We saw this post earlier this week, from another travel blogger, One Mile At A Time. It discusses how Twitter can be the best or the worst thing ever when you’re trying to fix a problem with an airline.

We just recently used Twitter to fix our reservation with JetBlue and they were great, but we admittedly sent a direct message to them instead of a public tweet. We also tweeted Delta to help us get money back on an item they broke in transit and they were great in quickly giving us a phone number to get started. But in One Mile At A Time’s article, they showed how the airlines’ priorities can sometimes get in the way of good customer service. We agree that it does depend on the airline (or hotel) and the problem you are asking them about.

Have you ever tweeted a company to help get resolution for a problem? How well was it resolved (or not)?

#TBT: Japan, April 2005 – Kyoto & Nara (Shugakuin Imperial Villa, Nara Dreamland, Nara Station)

The first part of our day was stressful because of timing factors, the second part of our day was hysterically funny and the third part of our day was, well, hungry (grin).

Well, we THOUGHT we had it all figured out…how to get to the Shugakuin Imperial Villa. You have to get special permission to go and we had gotten that the day before. Joe, who had been obsessively planning this trip for the past 9 months, had every street, bus and subway map known to man, plus how to get from Point A to Point B throughout the country…but apparently only carried SOME of the written material we needed today…so today was the day of “miss the bus by ‘this’ much and have to wait 20 to 40 minutes for the next one.” We grabbed some pastries at a local bakery for breakfast (didn’t eat them yet because Japanese people don’t eat on the streets and we were traveling) and waited for the next bus.

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A shot of the pastry shop.

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This flamingo place was actually directly across the street from the bakery, so while we waited for the bus (the bus stop was directly in front of the bakery) I wound up taking a good half-dozen pictures of the flamingo. With a zoom. Without a zoom. Trying to not get a bus or car into the picture as they were passing by (grin). I have no idea of what this store was. In fact, it didn’t even look like it was open for business yet, but with how much I like flamingos, it gave me a good giggle.

Anyway, after the bus let us off (we also had no idea of where to get off the bus. I gave the deer-in-the-headlights look to the driver and said, “Shugakuin, kudasai?” [Shugakuin, please?], so he would tell us when our stop was), we had to figure out which direction to go. Joe’s books just said to look for the place when we go off the bus. Well, it certainly wasn’t anywhere in sight. And we didn’t see any signs. Not in English, anyway. So I, being a female, was more willing to stop and ask for directions. I went into the local liquor store (I think that’s what it was) and asked the proprietor (who had like, 4 teeth), my now-obviously-helpful, “Shugakuin, kudasai?” (hey, it got us off the bus inn the right place, didn’t it?). His response was to point, give me 2 fingers, and said, “Left. Up.” OK, so when we go out of the store, we have to walk down 2 blocks that way, make a left and walk up the hill, towards the mountains. Gotcha. And sonofagun, it worked. Pity it took almost a half-hour because the “hill” was a half mile of a residential neighborhood with winding streets and a canal through the center of it.

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The neighborhood on the way to Shugakuin Imperial Villa

We finally made it to the Villa, albeit 15 minutes late and they were gracious enough to lead us to the rest of our 10:00am tour…which, as it turned out, was spoken entirely in Japanese.

Oh, great.

Well, the views of the outside/hills/farms were pretty and I guess it was an interesting tour…something about land that had been owned by the Emperor but then the emperor moved to somewhere else so the farmers took back the land and when the officials found out, they decided to allow them to keep their land because it wouldn’t be right to take it away from them. And some of the land is still used for farming. As you may be able to tell from my description, except for the English handout they gave us, I had NO idea of what this place was (grin). Since I’ve gotten home though, I’ve found this website, (MODERN-DAY NOTE: the original website I linked to no longer exists. This is a new one) which gives a decent history of the place. Not to be outdone though, here are a few of our own pictures of our visit:

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Everything on the walls were painted by hand.

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Some more hand-painted wall decorations. And “not orbs.”

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A different style of wall decoration inside of one of the buildings.

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Our tour group looking at the outside of some of the buildings.

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Me walking away from one of the ancient buildings. Or maybe it was the ladies’ room? I forget.

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A view of the rest of the property, and beyond, from the highest hill in the complex.

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A view of Kyoto from above, as seen at the Shugakuin property.

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Steve’s newest friend, who he met on the tour. Yeah, Steve really WILL talk to anybody (grin). (MODERN-DAY NOTE: Steve is a friend who went on this trip with us)

After the 90-minute tour, we stayed at the front gate and ate our pastries, then decided to go to Dreamland, which was in Nara, a 40-minute express train away. Saturdays in Kyoto are HUGE tourists days so noon was not the best time to be taking a bus. An hour and a half later, we were back at Kyoto Station, finding our express train to Nara. No time for food…we had to find our train! We eventually got it, as well as our bus to Nara, and there it was…Dreamland!

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Now, for those of you who never heard me talk about it, Dreamland (MODERN-DAY NOTE: Nara Dreamland closed in 2006, so its official page, which I had originally linked to, no longer exists. But you can read all about it with a quick search of NARA DREAMLAND) is a small amusement park that was built in the early 1960’s. It’s a total ripoff of Disneyland, complete with knockoffs of the train station, castle, Matterhorn, Jungle Cruise, Teacups, Main Street, etc., except with a budget of a carnival, with horrible upkeep and few visitors. It sounded wonderfully awful…the kind of place that you go to and just make fun of. I heard about it right after I got back from Japan in 1994 and, after learning out it, kicked myself for not going. So this was a “must see.” And see it we did…we got there at 2:45pm and the park was scheduled to close at 5pm…more than enough time, right? Here’s a photo review of the place, including the good, the so-bad-that-it’s-funny, and the ugly:

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The kiosks where you pay to park, if you drive to Dreamland. Don’t know if you can read it, but it costs almost $20.00 to park there (parking is VERY expensive all over Japan) (MODERN-DAY NOTE: Remember, this was written in 2005, when $20 to park WAS expensive). The kiosks look so friendly, so inviting, so well-themed…well, maybe if you’re going to a jail.

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The front entrance actually looks pretty darn nice, huh?

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The back of the train station. If you look carefully, you can see me doing my impersonation of Evita Perón.

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A walkabout character in the “town square.” I don’t know who he is or if he even has a name…his image isn’t ANYWHERE else in the park (whose logo seems to be a soldier). He just stands there and for about $1.00, he plays a game of “Rock, Paper, Scissors” with kids, who win a trinket if they outsmart the oversized Frito Bandito. He took one look at us and started picking his nose. No, really!

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The Dreamland fire department, right where you would expect it to be, on the left side of the “town square”.

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And every fire department should come equiped with a pink Cadillac and a Jeep, right? You can’t tell the angle of this picture, but the Caddy was being held up by cinderblocks.

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A view of their version of “Main Street” and their castle, far off in the distant background (it’s hard to do the forced perspective thing when the buildings and trees are all the same size).

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A closer image of one side of the street.

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Ooooooo….now THAT’S pretty. Yeah, this place really IS a DIVE (grin).

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Good emulation there, because Disney “Main Streets” ALWAYS have a utility truck parked on them, right?


Ewwwwwww!


Note the name of this restaurant on “Main Street”…Woody Garden!?!?!?

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This HUGE fountain encompasses most of “the hub” area (this view is looking towards the train station). It looks like it would be pretty nice, if they turned on more than just the one center set of water jets.

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The castle doesn’t look half-bad if you’re not CLOSELY close-up, even though it doesn’t have a whole lot of detail.

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Of course, EVERY castle in Japan should have a statue of George Washington in its moat.

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And Abraham Lincoln too!

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And a Joe (wink).

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Their “Matterhorn” looks like it’s made out of cardboard, doesn’t it?

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Or maybe it’s papier mache. I like how the Skyway goes right through the center of the thing, like Disneyland’s used to. The Dreamland Skyway was closed, by the way. It was constantly moving (maybe they were afraid if they stopped it, they’d never be able to get it started again?), but no one was on it and no one was manning either entrance.

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Here’s the monorail, with the Matterhorn in the background. The monorail wasn’t running either…just sitting there, collecting dust and dripping grease.

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I love what they did with their landscaping.


The Swan Cycle ride. You go in a molded swan boat that has bicycle pedals in the bottom and PEDAL your way around the ride! No, REA

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Teacups???

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European-made Carousel (American-made ones go counter-clockwise). The horses didn’t even go up and down.

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Sure, cuz EVERY Disney knockoff park should have an Octopus ride…

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….and swings…. (MODERN-DAY NOTE: This was before Disney’s California Adventure had  Flik’s Flyers, Golden Zephyr or Silly Symphony Wings…)


…and a Mirror Puzzle…

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…and Bumper Boats. Nice line of scum on the bottom of the boats, huh?

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We never figured out if this was the entrance to a haunted house or to the Matterhorn.


Grand Prix Raceway it ain’t!

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The Flashdance ride. What a feeling!

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Screw Coaster, huh? Well, I guess EVERYONE is screwed when they come to THIS park (grin).

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I dunno. I guess it’s the “ride that used to be there but isn’t there anymore” attraction. Joe suggested it was a UFO landing pad.

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The one GOOD ride they have there….a roller coaster called Aska. I don’t “do” coasters, but Joe and Steve said it was very, very good, with LOTS of airtime. Meanwhile, look at the throngs of people in this picture!

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They had a lot of baby rides at this park.

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I like the white fences that they put around some of the rides. Really high-tech.


Someone called this the “ride that goes nowhere” ride. Walk up the stairs, go across, go down the stairs. Fun, fun, fun!

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And we complain about poor maintenance at the Disney parks…..HA!

By 4pm or so, Steve was starting to get hungry, so we stopped off at what looked like an abandoned picnic ground with an overhang. One of the food places nearby was open…
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…and Steve saw they had some sort of meat dish for about $20.00. He picked that and the owner motioned for us to sit down at a picnic table. The guy brought over an ashtray…”Smoke? Smoke?” (EVERYONE in Japan smokes) “No thanks, we don’t smoke.” He went back to (we thought) preparing Steve’s meal. By this point, I left to go in search of Dreamland souvenirs. By the time I come back, the guys had this portable hibachi unit on their picnic bench, which is connected to a gas line coming out from under the table. And they were sitting there, grilling the food!
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They said the guy was wonderfully nice….gave each of them a plate, utensils and dipping sauce (and a set for me too, for when I came back) and there was LOTS of food. The guy came over several times, to “help” them cook…I guess he figured they didn’t know what they were doing. He even offered to take our picture…
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He started talking with us more and more, asking where we’re from and how long we’ll be in Japan, His English was just slightly better than our Japanese, but we were still able to converse, albeit in a simplified way. At one point he looked at Joe and then at Steve and said, “Your son?” We burst out laughing at that (well, Joe and I did [grin]) and I pointed to Joe and said, “No, my husband!” The guy said, “Oooohhhhh!” But then he got this really confused look on his face, looked at Steve, looked back at me and said, “Who three?” We laughed again and said, “He’s a friend.” “Ooooohhhh!” Then he pointed to the woman behind the counter and said, “My wife!” The guy must’ve been embarrassed that he referred to Joe as Steve’s son, so he gave me an ice cream cone. Hey, who am I to say no to free ice cream?

Before we left the nice, unwittingly hysterical man, Joe said, “This food was very, very good. Thank-you very much. I would like to know the name of it, so that I can ask for it again. What do you call this kind of food in Japan?” And the guy looked at him and said, “Ahhhh…in Japan, we call this barbeque!” We almost wet out pants!

We bid out goodbye to the guy and his wife and took their picture before we left:
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They were just another part of the reason that Nara Dreamland became such a strong, strangely pleasant memory for us.

The one ride that the 3 of us went on was the Jungle Cruise. I think this one had to have been the worst of all. Take a look at this:

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The entrance to the ride.

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One of the boats. It didn’t look particularly seaworthy, but we figured if worse came to worse and we sank, the water couldn’t have been more than a few feet deep and w we’d be able to walk to shore. Of course, we’d have to fumigate ourselves after being in the scuzzy water, but….

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The boat was not on a track (I guess when the Dreamland Founding Fathers came to Disneyland to steal their ideas, they couldn’t see through the murky water of the REAL Jungle Cruise ride to tell that the boats were on a track) and the driver (the guy with the red windbreaker that says STAFF) just pressed a button to start a pre-recorded shpiel so he could drive the boat uninterrupted. Note that all of the “jungle natives” are, um, “people of color.”

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Ooooo….scary tiger! Well, scary he’s in that bad condition, anyway.

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The snake is in 4 or 5 pieces. I guess it’s cheaper to buy it that way. But they sure did a lousy job of hiding where one piece ends and the next piece starts!

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Oh give me a home, where the flamingos roam, and the rhinos stand behind them all day…

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The picture doesn’t do this justice at all. You see, it’s an action shot. The cheetah is on wheels on a track. The wheels move up and down the side of the log at a snail’s pace, which therefore SSLLOOWWLLYY rolls the cheetah to and from the embankment! We almost wet our pants laughing at that one!

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Watch out for that stationary elephant with the garden hose coming out of its trunk!

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Someone must’ve used a real gun to shoot the hippo, cuz it was deader than a doornail. It just laid there, half-in, half-out, not moving.

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And here, ladies and gentlemen, is where we have a pheasant, an ostrich, 2 parrots and some toucans, all living in harmony in the same place. It doesn’t matter than in real life they’d be on different corners of the earth…in Dreamland, anything can happen!

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Oooo…the suspense is killing me more than the ride is…here comes the dark, scary, cave!

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What was in the cave? 3 sets of bats. That’s it. This picture is set #1. Only 2 of them still flapped their wings. I especially like how they hang rightside up from the stalactites.

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Another “action shot.” This alligator had a stick coming out of its tail and the stick was connected to a motor that made the whole thing spin in circles. So that, my friends was the Dreamland version of an alligator in a death spin. Us Floridians prefered to call it gator on a spit.

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Shot taken after we exited out boat (nope, it didn’t sink!). Native #1 looks like he had a stroke. Native #2 looks like he’s scared of the bamboo that’s growing in front of him. And native #3 just looks…um…very happy with his lot in life.

it really is an awful park. But we turned it into a REALLY fun afternoon. By the way, this is an article some other people wrote about their trip to Dreamland in 2004. Their website also have some nice video links of the place. MODERN-DAY NOTE: Joe is positive we have some videos of Nara Dreamland too, but we can’t find them. As soon as we do, we’ll put them up on YouTube so you can share in the so-awful-that-it’s-great -ness.

Made it back to Nara Station…a tiny train station, so no food there, but we figured we could get something at Kyoto Station when we got back there. Not. The restaurants were PACKED, with lines outside every restaurant. SO…we decided to catch our shuttle bus back to our hotel and eat something there. Shuttle arrived on time at 8:40pm and we got back to our hotel at 9:20pm…and EVERY restaurant AND room service closed at 9pm. By this time, with just a noon pastry and 2 bottles of soda (Fanta sweet grapefruit…mmmm!) in me, I was hungry and hypoglycemic. And the guys were hungry too. And so, with chowing down on the “Take Five” candy bar that I had bought during our stopover in Chicago 2 or 3 days ago, we went to bed at 11pm.

Between the walking and the steps and the lack of most snacks, I’m gonna lose a LOT of weight this trip.

Tomorrow is Hiroshima. And food. We will make sure to leave time for food .