Day Four: Universal Studios

Today was the day I’d been slightly stressed about – Universal Studios! Because this is the one day that we wouldn’t be with Laura’s family, and I would have to get my family around Universal Studios all on my own. It turned out totally fine, though now I see that a few of our family drama sessions probably would have been avoided if I followed Laura and Jessica’s rule of making sure everyone is well fed and consistently off their feet for some periods of time.

But that’s getting ahead – today we woke up around 6ish in order to get out the door by 7:30am. Strangely, I felt like I was in a weird time warp for this entire trip. I could wake up at 6am and be ok. I could go to bed at 1:30am and still be ok. Magic! Actually, I think the afternoon naps we could have in the hotels made all the difference.

Breakfast was dinner leftovers, since we had to change hotels and we didn’t want dinner to go to waste. So to be specific, dinner consisted of cous cous, broccoli and salmon – YUM!!! I actually am glad I had such a hardy breakfast because of the long day ahead.

Then I called a car and the Uber arrived within 5 minutes. We had a very quiet driver driving a minivan (it seems like the norm for rideshare people in Orlando to drive minivans) who was very nice in helping us get to the Universal Citywalk. I’d set the destination to Universal Studios Florida, it led him to the employee administration building, and lucky for us, he didn’t just dump us there. I can’t possibly be the first person that happened to!

I knew that the rule of theme parks is to do everything that’s popular first thing in the morning. Jessica had been like, DO NOT stop for pictures or anything other than Harry Potter! Well, we’d ended up stopping almost immediately for doughnuts at VooDoo Doughnuts and just stood around eating them. Everyone was in a MOOD because my dad couldn’t find his sunglasses, blew up and blamed my mom, then as I was calling the hotel to check for them while they were cleaning out our room, he found them in his backpack. AND had the nerve to be like “WHO PUT THESE IN MY BACKPACK!” Dealing with my dad is the epitome of “it’s not even worth it.” We finished our donuts at 8:45am and by then I had a pretty defeatist attitude and felt like there was no point in rushing then. So when we entered and made our way towards the Harry Potter stuff, I was pretty leisurely about it and didn’t mind taking tons of photos in the Simpsonsland.

I don’t think I would have changed much of what we did – I guess it would have been nice to get there even earlier to take better morning shots of Diagon Alley without the crowds, but generally it seems kind of meaningless to get beautiful, people-less shots of these sorts of places that are trafficked by so many people every day.

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Meanwhile, Simpsonland was practically empty!

Well, we took our Simpsons pictures, which probably confused everyone because I had started the morning with “DO NOT STOP FOR ANYTHING UNTIL WE GET TO HARRY POTTER!” The strange thing was, I had assumed that from the entrance, you’d see a ton of signs pointing towards the Harry Potter worlds, but there was truly no signage ANYWHERE. I kept thinking maybe we were lost, but I left the maps with my brother, and he was like “well … this whole park is a circle and we’re here and that’s there so we can’t possibly be going the wrong way.” Also, there were very few people in the park (I made the assumption that everyone had already arrived and was in the Harry Potter worlds but the more likely situation is that it was just a quieter day) and I had thought all we had to do was follow the crowds … but there was no one to follow! We eventually came across the King’s Cross Station, but it really DOES feel like … if you didn’t know about the entry into Diagon Alley, I could totally see some people just heading straight into King’s Cross and thinking, welp I guess all that’s here is a train!

I don’t know how non-Harry Potter readers do it – there is no way I would have realized there was the Diagon Alley area, or known what the point of certain things were. It is done REALLY well here, but I guess maybe only readers would really appreciate all the details in Diagon Alley. As someone who usually isn’t too impressed by these sorts of things – I WAS IMPRESSED and kind of wanted to just pause to take it all in.

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This made me think we entered Hogsmeade but it was Diagon Alley!

Well I couldn’t do that because I had three people with me who had no concept of what we were looking at and probably had not interest in waiting around for me to inspect every detail. So we headed to the Gringotts ride – one of my favorites. We did Child Swap, and I’m surprised to see that almost NO ONE else did. I seriously couldn’t figure out the locker situation so Child Swap seemed easiest, especially with two parents who didn’t mind being the swaps. (Child Swap is when you could have at least one person sit out – theoretically to hold a child who can’t ride the ride, but in our case, that person would hold onto everyone’s bags which weren’t allowed on rides. Then when the first group finishes their ride, the person sitting out can head straight to the ride and can bring up other people with them. So essentially, at least two people in our group got to ride things twice with Child Swap)

I loveeee the queue decor for Gringotts, it’s so well done. Now that I know that Diagon Alley came after Hogsmeade, I can really tell the difference in quality in the rides and walking areas. The ride was fun, though like every other ride at Universal Studios, it relies a LOT on screens, which I kind of hate. But it’s cheap!

From here, we just walked around a ton of the Diagon Alley stores. I’m sad not but too sad that it never worked out for us to get a wacky ice cream flavor at Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour. The merchandise throughout the Harry Potter worlds was surprisingly good quality, but I didn’t buy anything. Jessica had lent us her wand, which was a really fun idea, and my mom loved trying it out (she achieved two water spells with significant help from nearby adults and children). My favorite store was probably Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes because of the bright colors and unique products. We didn’t even bother with Ollivander’s since I wouldn’t be buying a wand anyhow. It was a strange disappointment to go into the Magical Menagerie and see that it was just stuffed animals. I mean, I don’t know what I would have expected from a shop of magical creatures, but I was a little deflated. I wonder how many families miss Knockturn Alley – there’s nothing critical to see there, but the entrance REALLY looks like a corridor to an employee area. Finally I led us back out to take the train to Hogsmeade/Islands of Adventure … SO COOL!

My brother and I noticed that Kings Cross is FAR MORE better air conditioned than the Hogsmeade station. An intensely noticeable difference. I guess that’s what a few years buys you, though you’d think they would have known the importance of AC even when they were building out Hogsmeade!!!

So we crossed into Hogsmeade, took a TON of pictures in the crazy hot sun, then went under the shade of the Owl Post for a while to eat our foods and recoup from the sunlight. We didn’t really even explore the shops here, just took a lot of photos of the exteriors (by now this area was really crowded) then headed to the Forbidden Journey ride. Cool concept, it’s almost like a quick summary of all the main Harry Potter settings, love the length of the ride. At this point, I thought maybe we’d forgotten an important area of Hogsmeade and completely bypassed it – but it turns out Hogsmeade is just that small!!!

Our first non-HP ride was Kong, HORRIBLE! I’m not a fan of Universal’s strategy of just using screens to stimulate the roller coaster. However, it’s always super fun to witness my mom experiencing these rides. SO much reaction!!! Excitement, fear, amazement. The one thing I’ll definitely give to Universal Studios is that nearly all their rides have indoor, air conditioned lines, which makes such a huge difference.

We passed the Jurassic Park area but didn’t do any rides (they just had the water ride, which had a HUGE wait, and a fun looking hang glider kind of ride, but it was mainly for kids). Skull Island basically just had the Kong ride – again, terrible, but the ride queue felt like it look up a ton of real estate. Then came Toon Lagoon, which was pretty cute. We ended up eating at the first place we could find with indoor, air conditioned seating. The place was called Blondie’s and they served a Dagwood sandwich. I didn’t understand the significance of this, but Laura later said that this is some sort of comic book sandwich – supposed to represent a huge sandwich. Well the sandwich wasn’t that huge, and I mistakenly read their menu and assumed that $1 would give us chips AND a drink with free refills. Turns out $1 gave us chips but no drink. And we ended up paying extra for the soda, which I CHUGGED because I thought we had free refills, which we weren’t given!!! Truly upsetting.

Next up was Marvel’s Super Hero Island. We rode the Incredible Hulk coaster (my dad sat out). Surprisingly my mom really enjoyed it! I can’t tell if what she’s responding to is feeling like she’s gotten her money’s worth by riding every ride, or if she actually enjoys roller coasters. I think it’s possible that she actually just enjoys roller coasters! I remember it feeling EXTREMELY hot at this time. We also did the Spiderman ride, which was a fun, inside conveyor belt kind of ride where the Spiderman was the classic TV style. We skipped Doctor Doom’s Freefall (I had mistakenly thought the whole time that this ride was associated with Doctor Strange – I still have no idea who Doctor Doom is).

Then, my favorite part of the whole trip, Seuss Landing! I loved the decor here, it was very whimsical. It was, however, EXTREMELY hot with very little trees for shade. We might have taken the most photos in this area, and I think everyone – even my brother! – really enjoyed it. Also, my favorite ride of the trip was here – the Cat in the Hat! It was a VERY long ride, air conditioned, and kind of like the Alice in Wonderland ride at Disneyland if you multiplied the length by 3. As much as we loved it, Jessica later was like, Seuss Landing hasn’t been repainted regularly, it looks so dumpy! Meanwhile, I was like, I assumed they were going for a pastel look!

We still hadn’t really explored Universal Studios Florida, so we made our way back to the Hogwarts Express, and it was already some time past 4pm. I actually had no concept of time at this point in the day, and thought it was like 2pm, until I told my brother we should try to catch a 5:30 show and he was like “uh … it’s 5:30 now.” Whoops. Anyway, back on the Hogwarts Express. Again, this is where we realized that Hogsmeade’s station is NOT properly air conditioned, if at all. It was a noticeable difference when we got off the train and were walking back in King’s Cross.

I think we ended up back on the other side around 5:30pm. My brother contemplated riding the MIB ride on his own and skipping the shows I wanted our parents to watch (a chance to sit and relax!) but in the end he didn’t separate from us. I decided we’d watch a 6pm showing of Animal Actors on Location, then that’d give us time to go watch a 6:45pm showing of the Horror Make Up Show. Since we had a little extra time, and were passing through Simpsonsland (haha I just checked the map, and quite sensibly, what I termed “Simpsonland” is just called Springfield), my brother and I were like, hm this Simpsons ride is only a 10 minute wait, why not! WELL it ended up taking FOREVER to load up the ride and I started to freak out. To the point that any time I looked at my brother, he’d tell me the time without my asking. I hadn’t told my parents I was trying to make it in time for a show, so they were blissfully unaware of my slow building panic. We ended up coming out of the ride at like 5:58 and I RACED to the show.

Turns out my panic was completely unwarranted because the show was in an outdoor area, so people could join at any time. This show has a ton of animals doing tricks – the number of animals that came out was ASTOUNDING. Dogs, birds, cats, but also things like OTTERS and pigs!!! I can’t even remember them all. But it was a great show, I think everyone enjoyed it, even though there was very little air flow and it was HOT.

From here then we walked over to the Horror Make Up show. We ended up rushing again, a little unnecessarily, but we spent that extra time soaking in the AC. This show was ok, more of a funny look at the special effects that go into a horror movie.

After the show, my brother and I looked at the map to figure out what we wanted to do with the last few hours at the park. We decided to skip San Francisco, since that would require us walking all the way back toward Harry Potter, and the only ride in that side was the Fast and Furious ride (Jessica later told us we made the right decision). He really wanted to ride The Mummy Returns, and as much as I HATE Jimmy Fallon, I thought a “ride” through NY sounded fun. So we ended up doing our last little loop (everything was much closer than I was imagining) starting with The Mummy Returns, which our dad skipped out on. By this time of the day, he just wasn’t in the mood for rides, and I was more than happy to have him sit, relax, and watch over our bags. I don’t even remember what happened in that ride – maybe it was similar to Indiana Jones.

Then our whole family went to the Jimmy Fallon ride. The line queue is curiously large – they made it feel like you were actually in the 30 Rock studio, going to watch his show, and I can’t imagine who would find this level of detail interesting. The ride itself was like a HUGE platform that felt like a Back to the Future car but many times larger. The ride operators here were much more stringent than I’d ever seen in the entire park – I got yelled at for having part of my backpack sticking out from under my seat!

While Jimmy Fallon was, as always, insufferable, the end of it became a little more like a Mario Kart ride which made it kind of fun. Jessica says they are building out a Mario land! So that sounds like a slam dunk ride.

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Rip Ride Rockit coaster in the back

Finally, last ride of the night, the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit which is a loud, near vertical up and down with lots of twists and loops. I guess their cool niche thing is that you get to choose what song you listen to during the ride. Which I was really excited by, until realizing that you could really only choose from like 25 songs, and they had clearly not been updated since the ride was first opened. My mom later said, this ride is terrible, and they probably added the music component to distract people from how terrible the ride is. HA. It wasn’t fun, and the ride really hurt my body. And that’s my old lady perspective!

And that concluded our day! When we lined up, the sun was just setting and when we got off the ride, it was dark. I think we left the park around 8:15pm and the park was going to close at 9pm. I kind of can’t believe we finished EVERYTHING even without fastpasses! I briefly debated walking around the entire City Walk just to see it, even though we were all probably at the end of our string and just wanted to get home, AND none of the restaurants looked exciting anyway. So my brother made the very good call to just head back the way we came. I called a Lyft and set the destination for Disney Springs. My brother wanted to eat at Murimoto, the express area (as opposed to the more expensive dine-in option where you could get food like sushi and peking duck).

Our Lyft driver was super nice, obviously a talkative driver but a great conversationalist because his rating was REALLY high and it people gave him compliments “great conversation.” He had previously worked at Disney and was clearly a fan. He showed me his Thanos magic band, which apparently lights up with the colors of the infinity stone and makes sound when it connects to readers. Which, as someone who doesn’t care at all about the avengers, even I find that very cool! He also knew a lot about all the restaurants at Disney Springs, and gave us a ton of recs, though he mistakenly assumed we were going to the dine-in Morimoto so all his recs were a level above our price range.

Anyway, he dropped us off in the parking garage, clearly he knew the area so well that he could bypass the Lyft drop off zone. Then we walked over to Murimoto. This is one of those instances where it was very difficult to make EVERYONE happy. One, everyone was already kind of ready to snap, because it’d been a long day, and the only thing keeping us from our wonderful hotel room was a meal. Two, my brother LOVES cooking shows, and he’d been really excited to try Murimoto, I guess he’s an Iron Chef? I could tell this was his first choice restaurant, but I also could tell that he felt like he was compromising by having the family eat the express food, when he would have rather had the dine in option. BUT, I could also tell that for my parents, having to order, pay and wait for a $12 ramen was not their ideal choice, especially when we had TONS of ramen in the hotel room that they’d brought from home. ANYWAY, combine all these forces and find yourself … sitting outside on tables that have had tons of turnover throughout the day, and a grumpy dad who is upset at having to eat on “dirty” tables when he can see other diners sitting in very nice tables inside, but doesn’t understand that the menu they’re eating from is like 4x the price of the food he’s eating.

We ended up ordering two different ramen bowls and bbq ribs to split. I NEARLY got a $6 boba because my better sense came to me and I was like “NO do NOT buy $6 boba, I refuse to buy a $6 boba in ORLANDO.” What was stupid was, I ordered a dan dan ramen for myself but I got the sense that my dad didn’t particularly love his ginger chicken ramen, so I let him try mine. I think we mistakenly believed the other person preferred the other’s ramen, so I let him eat all my dan dan ramen before realizing he probably enjoyed the ginger chicken ramen more than I hated it. It was too late though, so I ended up eating VERY little at this restaurant. We originally had the plan that my mom wouldn’t order anything here (she explicitly had no interest in anything on this menu) and preferred to just get an order at Chicken Guy later. I was like, great! I’ll split a sandwich with you! WELL she ended up eating just enough at Murimoto that she was like, I don’t need a sandwich anymore. While I was like UH I gave dad all my ramen, I am VERY HUNGRY!

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Unfortunately, I don’t think my parents were craving asian food in Orlando

Well in the end, even though our family all got kind of upset at each other because everyone had gotten into ANOTHER MOOD, I said “the last thing I need to do is walk to Chicken Guy and then decide if I need to order a sandwich or not.” For whatever reason, no one was directly mad at me, so everyone quietly followed behind me, everyone in a FUME! Once I stood in front of the menu though, my heart and stomach told me, no! So we walked back to the shuttle area. I think I made the right choice because a sandwich really would have been too much food. And I think everyone else was just ready to go home.

Funnily, the Kuos had a completely different day from us – they hadn’t gone to Universal Studios but instead went to … I think Magic Kingdom for a food tour or something. They’d had a much more relaxing day, but had also ended up going to Disney Springs at night for dinner/drinks, and I suspect they actually headed back to the hotel just one shuttle before us! Our unexpected shared experience though, was that both of our families arrived at the shuttle stop to the Grand Floridian right as the bus was about to pull away. And both families had someone run to the bus, and some employee managing all the buses yelled at all of us “you’ve missed the bus! stay behind the yellow line!!!” but both our bus drivers kindly stopped for us and let us in. We found this out when I was like “omg we almost missed our shuttle because of this mean bus manager guy but thank goodness for our driver!” and Laura was like US TOO!

So during the day, our hotel stay had changed from the Animal Kingdom to the Grand Floridian. Sadly I have NO pictures of the Grand Floridian room!!! Bummer. On the flip side, Laura took a video tour of the Grand Floridian room, but not of the Animal Kingdom room. I never took photos because when we arrived at the Grand Floridian, I was SO exhausted, and just glad that I had been able to find the room based off Laura’s directions. Delightfully, Laura had ordered a cake styled like Mary Poppins Hat, for Jessica’s birthday, and we all got a little slice to enjoy before turning in for the night. What a day!

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Day Three: Resort Day

We’d only done one theme park but because we had flown in on a Thursday, Jessica and Laura ended up choosing Saturday as our hotel day. At first I kind of wished that we had the hotel day a little later into our vacation so we could really feel like we were taking a break from rushing around theme parks. But looking back, I really loved the order we did things, and the wisest choice was probably to do the hotel day on a Saturday anyway, to avoid weekend crowds.

We started the morning with breakfast oatmeal around 9am. Unfortunately, Jessica woke up feeling ill, so she chose to stay in the hotel and sleep for most of the day. Everyone else took the shuttle to Disney Springs. HA I just remembered that my mom was busy taking photos outside of the hotel and caused us to miss the shuttle, and we had to sit there for THIRTY MINUTES. Let me tell you, if I play out the entire day, those thirty minutes of us just waiting at the shuttle stop caused us all to miss a free hotel tour of the kitchens. BUT WHATEVER.

From Disney Springs, Laura ended up leading us to a completely different section of the shopping area, one that I hadn’t even realized existed when we had visited on Thursday. Turns out the entire complex is HUGE, and even includes a circus tent for Cirque Du Soleil (though it was closed). I don’t remember if we came with this expectation, but I think we did make sort of a beeline to Guy Fieri’s Chicken Guy. It became, MY FAVORITE RESTAURANT of the entire trip!!! I love me a fried chicken sandwich.

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All the sauces at Chicken Guy!

Their main thing at Chicken Guy is the sauces for their delicious chicken tenders. Even their sandwiches are really just two chicken tenders. My family ended up ordering a Bourbon Brown Sugar BBQ sandwich, the Southwestern Chicken sandwich (this was my choice, with Pepper Jack, Special Sauce, Avocado Crema, Cumin Lime Mojo, Charred Corn, Roasted Peppers, Black Beans, Lettuce, Tomatoes and Crispy Tortilla Strips), the Southwestern Salad (which was great to have some actual veggies, but this was just my sandwich in salad form), a loaded mac n cheese (I thought this was below mediocre), some chicken tenders so we could try the sauces, and triple double mint shake! I loved my sandwich. The shake was just ok, but I didn’t love that they had actual chocolate chips on top. My mom loved the BBQ sandwich, and without thinking, I gave half of my brother’s mac n cheese to Laura’s family. It is a testament to how nice he is that he didn’t yell at me…

I actually completely forgot my dad’s salad in my original order, so I jumped back in line. Laura came over and said “this is great! can you order my family some fries too?” I said of course but once I got to the register … I FORGOT! The only thing I could think about was getting my dad’s salad!!! I ended up getting the salad, heading back to our tables, grabbing a cup to split half my mint shake for Laura, and then stopping midsentence and going “OH. MY. GOD. I’m SOOO SORRY I FORGOT THE FRIES!” I think Laura was a mix of exasperated and bemused.

Anyway, a somewhat disastrous trip to Chicken Guy, though everyone loved the food. My brother then ended up heading home on his own, because he had been tasked with cooking dinner in the hotel room, and the groceries had just been delivered from Amazon Prime. Meanwhile, the rest of us went to Uniqlo and my parents became super obsessed with the Disney shirts and went on a tshirt shopping frenzy.

We eventually made it out of Disney Springs (I’m glad Laura dragged our family out because I think my parents could have spent another hour at Uniqlo). I think we then took the shuttle to Magic Kingdom and then started our Monorail adventure across a bunch of resorts! Wilderness Lodge, Contemporary Resort, and Polynesian Village! There’s also the Grand Floridian but since we’d be staying there for the second half of our vacation, we skipped that for resort day.

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Views from the Monorail! I wish I had taken more actually, especially of the wedding chapel

My favorite of the three was Wilderness Lodge – it has a huge lodge and huggeeee grounds. This was actually where we came for our first night’s dinner. Apparently you can even bring RVs here or go camping here, which seems ingenious. A vacation stay at Disney grounds for ANY family! The lodge itself had tons of wooden totems which made the decor great. And of course, it’s very green. A family favorite!

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EDIT: Laura said I misstated stuff in this entry but I’m too lazy to go look for what the corrections were. I think maybe Wilderness Lodge and Fort Wilderness are two different things – the former being the nicer hotel we visited on resort day, and the latter being the campgrounds-like area we went to for dinner on the first night. I can’t be bothered!

If the weather had been nicer, we might have gone on some of the trails by Fort Wilderness, but it was TOO HOT! Even just taking a few pictures outside was a bit exhausting. We then took the monorail to the Contemporary Resort, which is their convention center style hotel. And apparently one of the first resorts built at Disney World! I liked this place because it was boring but felt much more familiar – it was a “typical” hotel, other than the monorail that ran through the center of it.

Next on the stop – the Polynesian Village Resort. I thought this would be my favorite, but it ended up being the most boring! Laura had mentioned that the villas here are the most expensive lodging option, because they’re on the water, like in Bali. We randomly watched a youtube video of people reviewing the villas and one of the most hilarious moments of the entire trip was when the youtuber took the camera out onto the room’s deck to show off the hot tub, and was greeted with the LOUDEST ferry blast. Turns out that the ferries sound their horns about every twelve minutes. And according to one review, it’s the kind of horn that stops all conversation. Crazy!

Well, the lobby was nice, but it wasn’t too big. Maybe the pools would have been nice, but it was still too hot to explore. Actually, we’d end up coming back here two days later to try out Trader Sam’s, their tiki bar. So it’d probably be fun to walk around at night, but not at 4pm, which was when we were there. (Also, this is where you can get alcoholic Dole whips!)

Then off we went, back to our hotel. My brother was cooking, at the very beginning of when all the food was about to get heated and cooked. When we opened the door, it was a BLAST of curry powder smell. It probably still smelled like that the next day, which was our check out day, which I’m sure is very annoying for the housekeepers. Laura, her mom, my mom, and I left to use the hot tub (the one and only time we ever used the pool!). I only went because my parents had scoped out the grounds in the morning, and confirmed that the hot tub would be shaded.

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Photo from my parents walking around the pool area in the morning

We were in the hot tub for a little bit and then Laura and I left to try out the water slide. My FIRST water slide experience! I’m pretty sure. Then my mom wanted to try it too, and that seemed like a reasonable request, considering the slide dropped people into a 3 foot 6 inch depth. I went to wait in line with her, and it was EIGHT children deep! PLUS two kids CUT in front of us, which really annoyed my mom, but it felt really weird to tell these two children off, so I said to let it go. I asked my mom whether she wanted to go first or me, and she wanted to go first (presumably so I could encourage her to go down the slide in case she chickened out). I don’t think she realized this would mean that when she went down the slide, I wouldn’t be there to watch her. But again, both Laura and I had told her, “just stand up!”

WELL down she went. Then the light went green so I went down. And when I made it into the water and got my head out, my mom was yelling at me, “I almost drowned!!!” I went “WHAT? You’re joking” and she went “no! I did almost drown!” and the lifeguard was walking behind her, caught my eye, and smiled and nodded. Turns out my mom couldn’t fight the current, and wasn’t able to stand up, but was somehow able to stick her head of the water and say “help!”

We walked back to the hot tub – I am really relieved my mom is the type to be shocked but still in high spirits following a near drowning – and Laura asked “how was the slide?” and my mom responded “fun!” Then I said “she almost drowned!” and Laura went “what?!” assuming we were joking, until my mom went “yup! I almost drowned!” Laura and I still don’t understand how she wasn’t able to just STAND up but Laura’s mom immediately started saying “EXACTLY that’s what I’ve been telling you!”

Then we went back to the hotel, showered, and around 7pm, dinner was served! My brother had made salmon steaks (he requested salmon fillets but they did him WRONG!) and roasted veggies and cous cous! Somehow we were able to fit our entire 8 person group around a table meant for four. Great meal! I only partially wish I had told my brother to make dessert too, even though Laura and Jessica had said he didn’t have to.

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That’s because after dinner, everyone was so stuffed, we decided to walk over to Jambo House and got two cupcakes (FOR $5 EACH!). Which we then split for a Frankenstein cupcake that was split between our families.

I think on this night, we attempted to watch a bunch of youtube videos, like Celine Dion’s carpool karaoke but we kept getting distracted. By what, I can’t remember!

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Day Two: Animal Kingdom

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Today’s wake up call was 7am, and we had to leave the hotel by 8:30am. Laura’s mom made ramen for breakfast and we have a giant bag of oatmeal for other breakfast options. Off we went to the Animal Kingdom! Laura and Jessica’s Disney style is to reserve fastpasses and get there very early to do other popular rides first, then take it very easy during the day with an afternoon hotel relaxation break and shows peppered in between. It is the best way to play it, but it’s a bit startling at first if you’ve never experienced it because the first thing that happens when you enter the theme park is you ignore every sight around you and basically just speed off to whatever attraction.

The good thing is that the Animal Kingdom is not that big, and by the end of the day, it kind of felt like we’d seen pretty much the entire park. Our first ride was a 5 minute wait for an extremely boring ride that has now become my go-to joke ride when I want to evoke a ride that’s a long wait and low value (it was the Na’Vi River Journey). Anyway, it was a very boring ride, but thankfully we had zoomed straight here the moment we got through the entrance, because in the time it took us to ride it, the wait time jumped from 5 to 40 minutes. It did bring us to Pandora where we spent the next hour+ taking photos and watching a drum show.

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This is probably my favorite pic I took during the entire trip – I waited so long for crowds to pass!

After the drum show, Laura sprung a one hour break on me, meaning our families would split and meet back at Pandora in an hour. I think they ended up going to a lounge for drinks whereas my family headed back towards the entrance to look at all the stuff we had zoomed past earlier. Looking back, Laura probably figured there wasn’t that much to do in this theme park, and her parents wouldn’t want to walk back and forth too much, whereas my family would have preferred walking around looking at the animal exhibits in Africa and Asia. At the time though, I was very much like “WHAT I don’t know where to go around here!”

We ended up exploring about half of the Africa section of the theme park and walking around the Tree of Life – honestly as I look at the Animal Kingdom map to try and jog my memory, I feel like there’s so many exhibits that were probably closed at the time, or other attractions that I don’t recognize the name for but we probably did actually experience it. Anyway, I distinctly remember being in “Africa” and have tons of pictures of The Tree – and then we headed back to Pandora to meet up with the Kuos for our first fastpass ride.

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More of Pandora

I like Pandora from the perspective of treating it like a funky botanical garden. Our fastpass was for Avatar Flight of Passage, which was my mom’s favorite ride, and my favorite experience purely because I got to sit next to my mom and half the time I was turned to her to watch her delighted reactions. My mom is actually fantastic to sit next to on rides, because she voices EVERY emotion she’s feeling.

I think from here, it was kind of close to lunch time, and we ended up unexpectedly splitting up again – Laura’s family went to eat lunch in Pandora whereas my family wasn’t that hungry. We headed right back toward the entrance, but this time headed to “Asia.” It was not as obviously laid out to me as “Africa” was, though maybe that’s because there were significantly more people at this point in the day. We did bird exhibits and I honestly can’t remember what else. All the animals are A BLUR!!!

Even though everyone claimed not to be hungry, I figured everyone was just too hot to eat. Though we only had ten minutes left before we had to meet Laura’s family again, this time for our fastpass to Kilimanjaro Safari Rides, I made a quick decision to stand in line and ended up buying an Asian Chicken Wrap (which I stuffed into my backpack because it was wrapped in foil) and a single Beef Teriyaki Bowl which we stood and shoved into our mouths. I was at HIGH STRESS because I didn’t want to be late, but in the end, we were only about six minutes late and everyone felt a little happier now that we’d eaten something.

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So many safaris out during the day – I felt like I was on a factory tour

The safari ride was much more interesting than I’d expected. We actually ended up going on it a second time, as the final ride of the night. I voted for it because it’s a pretty long ride, and Laura said that more animals come out at night.

The best part of this ride was having my mom sit on the side so she could take photos. I forgot that she is TERRIBLE at taking action photos – she would constantly turn off her phone, and then realize she wanted a photo and would spend precious seconds unlocking her phone and by the time she got the camera app up, we would have already passed the animals. My absolute favorite was when we gave her PLENTY of advance notice that a tree she really liked was coming up … and this is what she got:

After the safari ride, our groups split between people who wanted to watch a bird show (Laura and her parents) and people who would go on the Gorilla Trek (Jessica and my family). Jessica mainly wanted to see a baby gorilla whereas I figured my parents LOVE walking anywhere that’s green and leafy. Unfortunately for Jessica, the baby gorilla didn’t make an appearance. I had assumed the baby gorilla would be in a little hospital-like viewing room, but it’s actually just out in the wild with its mom! Besides getting to see explore this huge animal exhibit, we also ended up speaking to one of the animal experts and some things I learned include: 1) they purposely bring female gorillas around to different zoos so they can see other mother gorillas take care of children and learn how to be good moms, and 2) the female gorillas are on birth control so they can prevent inbreeding, since they’re in the same area as their father.

Then our next fastpass was for Dinosaur – which was a TERRIBLE ride. At the end of it, Laura leaned over and was like “this was once the flagship ride of this theme park” and I responded “what? THIS?!?!” I can’t even remember what the ride was like to be honest.

Wait a minute … I’ve read this post several times and only now, on July 7th 2019, more than a month after, I remembered that our group actually headed back to the hotel after riding Dinosaur. LOL I have no idea what we did at the hotel! Or what was the first thing we did when we returned to Animal Kingdom! Or maybe we didn’t leave the park? WHAT A BLUR!!! I only remember exiting Dinosaur and there was some slight confusion within my family because Laura said their family might go back to the hotel to rest, but if anyone wanted to stay in the park, she was planning on continuing on. And my family is TERRIBLE at making snap decisions so no one could decide whether they wanted to stay or go. Meanwhile, Jessica was already starting to head back, and I think my brother was probably the first to say he’d head back to the hotel, so then my dad followed, and then I was like, you know what it is so hot I would love to go back as well.

Again, I have no idea where the hours went in between, but when we returned to the park, we watched the It’s Tough to Be a Bug Show, which I’d never seen even when it was in CA Adventures. Nice to just be in AC! Then we headed over to ride the roller coaster Expedition Everest, and I think Laura and Jessica may have been slightly surprised that my parents wanted to go too. Their parents ended up getting a salad at the same place where we’d bought lunch. This was the first ride where we had to go through standby and it actually took more than 10 minutes to wait in, so we got to see the queue decor. And that’s when I realized, it’s possible my mom actually would have loved to take pictures of some of the queue’s decorations, but we’d never see it because for all the longest waits, Jessica already got fastpasses! My mom’s favorite thing about all the amusement parks though, was clearly any time we had a fast pass, because she’d always ask “how long was standby?” so she could feel superior for not having to wait.

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View in the early afternoon
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View before sunset!

By the time we got out of Expedition Everest, the sun had set, and our last ride was the Kilimanjaro Safaris at night. Which I also loved! There was pretty much no line, and apparently the animals are more active at night. Though it is harder to see the animals, it’s a nice experience to just sit in the ride and enjoy it without feeling any need to take photos. Also, I thought the driver for the second one was a bit more lively, and there were fewer cars out on the road so it didn’t feel like such a conveyor belt of a ride.

The main thing the Kuos wanted to do was see Pandora at night for its night illuminations. It was cool but not worth more than a 20 minute stay. Then we headed out to the exits, and happened to see some sort of projection show on the Tree Of Life. Then jumped on a shuttle back to our lodge … Laura’s family decided they wanted to go our hotel’s lounge (Sanaa, the same one where my mom and I had taken a cultural tour the night before) to get small bites and drinks. My family isn’t the lounge type, and we hadn’t really eaten a proper dinner, so we ended up going to the Jambo House and going to one of their restaurants that was open late, The Mara. I think the place we were staying in, Kidani Lodge, has more suites so it’s quieter, whereas Jambo House has a more typical hotel feel, is much larger, has more pool area, and much more restaurants/common areas.

The Mara ended up being FANTASTIC! Our family was really happy with what we got – African Potije which was really just like a curry and ONLY $8.50!!!, a Braai Chicken flatbread which was basically like chicken w pesto sauce, a pulled pork BBQ sandwich, and a drink. Turns out the drinks have a RFID chip in them so it knows how many times you refill – you can refill 3x in a 24 hour span. Once we found this out, it felt like we were required to get 3 refills, so I made my brother make a half and half to go, and I basically chugged one serving’s worth of half and half at the table.

Another delightful thing that happened here – near us, a lady was celebrating her birthday and she had gotten a chocolate mousse cake, and was going around offering it to people! We politely declined but only once because we definitely wanted that cake!!! It was delicious, especially because it was a perfect serving size for us four. So kind of her! I’m certain her room would have had a fridge too, so it was really nice of her to want to share it with others.

Then back to our hotel for sleep! Next day was … resort day!

Day One: Orlando

EXHAUSTED which I think I should take as a sign that I’m not as fit as I SHOULD be. I should not be brought down by a mere red eye flight and mild theme park activity!!!

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Our first hotel lobby!

So Wednesday night I went straight from the office to SFO. Weather reports indicated heavy rainstorms starting that night.  I left the office around 6:30pm and there was next to no one on the caltrain or bart. It always feels a little doomsday-ish to stand on such empty platforms when it’s still technically commuting hours. Luckily it didn’t rain heavily while I waited at the caltrain platform. By the time I reached the airport, it was POURING and right when I got off the airtrain, an employee came out to put out a sign that said the airtrain was out of service. Very good timing!

I ended up arriving at SFO around 7:30pm and my flight was at 10:30pm. Somehow the time really passed. I walked slowly around the United Airlines terminal, which looks like it was recently remodeled, and I decided to get SuperDuper only because it seemed like the best valued option. I really wish they would just put in a Chick Fil A though. $11.24 for a mini cheeseburger and garlic fries – I felt disgusting afterwards but at least I wasn’t starving on the plane. I then spent an unexpectedly long time answering some small work e-mails. And then I had to rush off to my gate!

The flight was awful because the seats were SOOOO uncomfortable. My flight was scheduled to take off at 10:35pm but it didn’t actually leave until 11:05pm due to “paperwork” which I always assume means “the pilot is still hanging around in the airport lounge.”

I “slept” until 2:15am and after that, I definitely wasn’t getting any sort of good sleep in. I kept listening to the same Today Explained podcast episode over and over again. I got off the plane in Orlando around 7am, whereas my parents and brother had arrived around 6:40am. Since it was so early, the Disney shuttle experience was super easy since there wasn’t anyone in line and the bus only had one other family. I never really looked up the distance for anything on this vacation, so I was not expecting the drive to take 40 minutes! I loved it though – it was perfect after that red eye flight.

My mom kicked off this 7am (4am PST) morning with an intense amount of pictures, starting with the shuttle line entrance signs. Her love for stupid photographs, which is normally infuriating, was great for this morning because I had no real plans for the day, and we ended up being able to kill A LOT of time just wandering around the Animal Kingdom Lodge and taking photos. Thankfully our room ended up being ready for us at 10:30am, while we were walking around the pool area of Jambo House, and we walked back to the Kidani Lodge to check in. We got into the room so early in the morning it feels like we got a free hotel day out of it! I’m glad we ended up choosing a red eye flight because it was a very nice way to ease into the vacation and feel like we were making the most of our hotel room.

We eventually set off for Disney Springs (their version of Downtown Disney) around 12:30pm, arriving at 1:00pm. I really didn’t comprehend how much stuff constituted “Disney World” or how far everything is from each other. We walked around, it felt pretty hot, and we got onto a ferry boat that took us to the other side of Disney Springs. The ferries here are a great touch and very enjoyable. We looked at a bunch of restaurant menus but the entire time I knew I wanted Earl of Sandwiches. Which we got! Everyone got one sandwich and we pretty much split them four ways. I got my usual tuna melt. Turns out the sandwiches here are A DOLLAR cheaper than in CA!

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Ferries available at Disney Springs

We kept walking around after lunch, but by this time it was getting VERY hot and even my legs were pretty tired. And if you’re not really in the mindset to look for merchandise, just seeing so much Disney products turns your brain off. We ended up heading back to the hotel around 3pm. I feel like every time we decide to head home, suddenly any walk seems like the LONGEST walk ever, even if just minutes before I had felt pretty energized. The walk from Disney Springs to the Animal Kingdom Lodge shuttle stop was laughably far away.

Once we had been able to sit in the AC’d shuttle though, I kind of felt re-energized again so we batted around the idea of doing hotel tours upon returning to our room. I thought we could do a 4:15pm culinary tour, but I didn’t realize it was in the Jambo House section of the Animal Kingdom Lodge (we are staying at Kidani Lodge). Also, when we arrived back in our hotel room, it was already 4pm. My mom and I decided to go to an art tour that was in our hotel … except when we asked someone where it was, they directed us to a different tour – the Cultural Tour! One that NO ONE else had joined. So we arrived around 4:10pm and I was like “sorry! did the tour already leave?!” and two “cultural representatives” emerged from whereever they were hanging out (probably hoping that no one would come ask for a tour). The cultural tour sounded the least interesting on paper, but it was actually great! We spent nearly an hour just slowly walking through the hotel restaurant Sanaa, and they’d point out different decorations and tell us the use/significance of it in African culture. The two guides were nice, and turns out one had been in America/on the job for 2 months and the other had arrived just TWO weeks ago!!!

The most delightful part of the tour though, was the complimentary naan and dips that they gave us at the end, and we could just sit in the bar lounge at our leisure. My mom and I were super hungry, so we scarfed the whole thing down. Then we headed back to the hotel room, and within the next 30 minutes, the Kuos arrived!

We had 8:30pm reservations to eat at the Hoop De Revue. Once again, I didn’t realize how long it’d take to get here, but we had to leave the hotel at 6:30pm and we reached the restaurant entrance around 8pm! This involved a shuttle ride to the Magic Kingdom then a ferry ride to Camp Wilderness, which was pretty great. Good mix of low key activities!

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On the ferry to dinner!

The Hoop De Revue is a dinner and a show. When you arrive at the dining table, there’s already a bucket (yes a bucket) of salad and loaves of cornbread. Then the show starts and they’ll bring out buckets of fried chicken (REALLY good), ribs (not bad but we didn’t ask for seconds), beans (fine but not my fave), mashed potatoes (good but I didn’t want to get too full off potatoes) and corn (AMAZING!). We got three servings of chicken – I had three chicken legs myself – and the night ended with three huge strawberry shortcakes for the table. I tried my best to leave nothing behind but whipped cream – but alas maybe half of the last shortcake was left behind. Still proud of what I accomplished though! Maybe last night I would have said I shouldn’t have eaten that much shortcake, but now I’m glad I did because I’ve been hungry for several hours now and that feeling of disgusting-full has left me.

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Photo taken on our way to dinner (it was completely dark on our way back)

The sun had set just before we went in for dinner, and dinner ended around 10:30pm. It seemed like the only people riding the ferries back were other diners, and it was a really pleasant, peaceful ride back. The shuttle dropped us off in front of Magic Kingdom, where we would jump on a shuttle back to the hotel – I’m pretty sure I was asleep nearly the entire shuttle ride back – and then showers for everyone then SLEEP! It was probably 1am here when I went to bed and I woke up the next day at 7am.

Colorado: Day Five

So on Tuesday morning, departure day, we did our usual Hampton Inn breakfast. Then packed up and headed out to Denver – I’d planned just one activity which was the Denver Botanic Garden! It takes 40 minutes to get there, and I think we arrived around 11am. My flight was at 5:20pm that day, plus we had to return the rental car and get gas, so at first I was a little frantic but we ended up finishing the entire botanic garden by 1:45pm, so actually, everything timed out perfectly.

Actually, I did do an additional thing before heading back to Denver – we stopped by Chautauqua Park, since it was only about a fifteen minute drive from the hotel – just to take pictures at the entrance. The prior day, it was raining and there was no visibility and I always thought Chautauqua Park looks so impressive, I had to make sure my parents knew where they had been yesterday! This was totally a worthwhile stopover.

There’s not much for me to say about the Denver Botanic Garden … it’s nice but much more crowded than I was expecting for a Tuesday afternoon. It’s very well laid out, there’s a nice orderliness to it, and as my mom remarked, there are a TON of benches laid out throughout the grounds. My mom and I had both researched, and her arboretum membership covered the admission for this place as well. BUT the cashier told us that it didn’t, and we pushed back gently, but after she said no, we were like “um … ok then” and paid the $31. THEN after the charge went through, somehow the cashier figured out that she was mistaken and gave us a refund. Technically my mom’s membership only covered two adults, but presumably since we were so polite about having to pay, and because the whole interaction had taken up SO MUCH TIME, she said she’d let all three of us in. So I guess that was nice in the end, even though I think it’s stupid for the cashier to not know how to properly look up the partnering gardens because how much else is there to know about botanic gardens admissions?

What else … prior to arriving, I had yelped what was good to eat in Denver, and it seems like there’s a ton of “food halls” that looked interesting. I thought we’d end up going to one after the gardens, but I ended up deciding we’d eat whatever snacks/leftovers we had while we were in the gardens, then get to the airport earlier and eat at Chick Fil A (yes this was me selfishly trying to get another Chick Fil A meal in). This ended up PERFECT because I got to save about $30 on the rental car by returning it early, plus I’m positive my parents would not have enjoyed the food halls, plus my mom LOVES when the snacks are eaten to completion.

The only other thought I have about the gardens is that their parking situation is CRAZY insufficient! I mean, it was a TUESDAY afternoon, and I was one of six cars circling for parking. I eventually left and parked across the street at the park, which thankfully had no parking restrictions at all.

After this, I just drove to get gas, returned the rental car, had a very annoying hour at the airport because my mom was being very obnoxious but it all worked out, got to eat Chick Fil A with my parents in the airport, and I ended up having just 20 extra minutes before I had to board my flight (my mom managed to waste over an hour just in the check in / security process). Despite the past hour where I’d been REALLY annoyed at my mom, of course once I left them at their gate, everyone was VERY SAD. Another concluded family vacation~

Colorado: Day Four

All right, I’m now that person who has to check work e-mail despite being on vacation. Previously, I felt no guilt about never opening my inbox until the day I returned to work, but for some reason, I feel like there’s a SLIGHT potential that someone a level above me is going to e-mail me and I’ll regret not knowing what’s going on. I hate that feeling! Even though I only spent like ten minutes of my life checking my inbox, I feel some slight relief that nothing huge happened but I also HATE that I felt compelled to check in the first place. I do NOT have an important enough job for this!

Chautauqua Park

Anyway, today was going to be my “local Boulder” hikes day – I had planned for a half day in Chautauqua Park (mainly Enchanted Mesa then driving up to Realization Point to try the Tenderfoot Trail), then potentially a walk at El Dorado Canyon State Park. WE didn’t end up completing any of these. It pretty much drizzled/light rained all day long. We had breakfast and headed out to Chautauqua Park, donned in rain gear. It wasn’t raining too bad, and I’m glad we hiked when we did because the rain only got heavier in the afternoon. But Chautauqua Trail ended up being more inclined than my dad likes, and was much muddier than my mom likes, so they were both pleased when I said we could do a very short route and head out earlier.

We still ended up walking for over an hour, though it was only about 1.2-2.0 miles (I truly don’t understand how to read miles on the trail map). My mom and I wanted to go into the Boulder Central Library, and I’m sure my dad was just happy to not have to walk anymore. So we headed to the library! Delightfully, they have 90 minutes free parking in downtown Boulder. You enter your license plate into a machine, which seems very advanced.

The library IS really nice, particularly the children section which is HUGE, and the cafe, which has beautiful ceiling to floor window walls overlooking Boulder Creek Path. I did not get any pictures though because it felt really weird to take photos of the library. Here’s some photos from IG though…

 

 

 

 

:*( there are not exactly shots that are what I would have liked… but there was a ton of people sitting in the cafe and it would have been truly weird to try to take a picture.

I was pretty hungry by the time we left the library around 1pm, but my parents claimed they weren’t, and my mom was adamant that we finish leftover pizza from our first night. She told me I could buy WHATEVER I wanted for lunch, which gave me the freedom to go with Terra Thai (if I had to factor in my parents’ preferences, I probably wouldn’t have chosen an Asian place). We went for takeout and I got pad see ew and what was essentially like braised beef with rice, but I can’t remember what it’s called right now. Then we drove the 20min back to our hotel to eat everything in the dining room. Which would make it the SECOND time that trip that we ate in the hotel dining area! It’s something I never think of doing but it was perfect because I hate having the hotel room smell like food, and there was hot water so we could all drink tea, and there wasn’t anyone else using it anyway.

I’m glad I had gotten two entrees, because it turns out everyone was pretty hungry and we ended up with the perfect amount of food, including our leftover pizza. Then it was about 3pm so I decided we’d head to Celestial Seasonings for a free tour, since I couldn’t think of anything else to do since it was still raining. Somehow this makes it the SECOND time in my life that I’ve done this tour! haha It was still quite a sizeable tour group though, and it was a good 45 minutes tour + 30 minutes spent in the gift shop, and it added some variety to my travel itinerary.

From here, my dad decided he’d use the hotel’s hot tub early, at around 5pm, while my mom and I would go for another walk and then get take out for dinner. I was debating between Tenderfoot Trail and a flat walk around Wonderland Lake. It wasn’t raining, but it was cloudy, so Tenderfoot Trail was out because I’d read it has great views, which would have been obscured. I definitely want to go another time! Plus my mom voted for a flat walk, because she really does not like inclined walks when it’s just rained. Wonderland Lake ended up being a great choice – I think it might have been 1.8mi roundtrip, but we turned it into an hour long walk because my mom kept wanting pictures. It was extremely tranquil walking around there, it seemed like the type of place people go after work to walk dogs.

Then I drove to Sweet Cow for ice cream, because I had loved the honey mint SOOO much from the night before, and it was our last chance for ice cream! The server there recognized us from the night before! (because we’re Asian, I’m sure) and she was like “welcome back!!!” (so cute!) and I told her “we had to come back because we’re from CA and we’re leaving tomorrow!” and she was like “no way! your ice cream is on me then!” which made my mom shriek with delight and ask for a picture with her (Cassie was her name). This time we got honey mint and espresso bean which was also extremely delicious.

Honestly one of the best ice cream I’ve had

Then I drove my mom and myself to Good Time Burgers, also a repeat destination, because we all loved it. Sadly they messed up our order – we were supposed to get one burger and one chicken sandwich, but ended up with two burgers. I also overdid it with the sides – wild fries, green chile mac n cheese, and onion rings – but I wouldn’t know which side to remove, and we ate the leftovers the following day anyway! We also brought all this back to the hotel to eat, for our THIRD meal in the dining room. Once again, everyone was DELIGHTED! I thought the entire vacation was paced well – first day being arrival and leisurely walk around Pearl St, second day being hike-heavy, third day being rained in and very relaxed, and fourth day with a full exploration of the Denver Botanic Garden before heading to the airport.

I ended up being really lazy after dinner and just sat in the room while my parents were back in the hot tub/gym. I eventually got up for a late night gym session at 11pm, which is truly one of my favorite things to do ever. I wish I could get back in this habit – I’m used to going to the gym very late back in high school, college, and then the early days of living in Santa Clara when I’d go to Planet Granite after working late. I feel like that time is perfect for clearing my mind so it’s almost meditative to be on the gym equipment, plus I like showering right after the gym and right before bed. I ended up sleeping at 1am that night which made me tired enough the next day to sleep through much of my flights! Just the way I like it~

Wonderland Lake

Colorado: Day Three

Today the weather forecast said afternoon rain, though it didn’t seem heavy. I decided to head down toward Red Rocks Amphitheater for our Sunday, also because I figure it’ll be more relaxing to do Chautauqua Park on a weekday. In hindsight, I made the right decision – it really didn’t rain very hard on Red Rocks day, plus saving Chautauqua Park for a weekday was perfect because there’s parking fees on weekends, and it was easier to find alternative-Boulder-centered events on Monday when it rained harder.

Hiking in Red Rocks Amphitheater

We started off the morning with our Hampton Inn breakfast (as we would every morning). I always overeat on carbs here – toast is my favorite thing here. They have the kind of toasters where it’s a conveyer belt toaster oven, which always reminds me of Berkeley. I love me some toast with a little single serving of butter, so I always get that. Then Hampton Inns always have waffle batter, so I always make a waffle for everyone to share (even though I don’t care THAT much about it). The oranges here are REALLY good too – we got so many and I actually felt fairly nutritious during the trip, despite eating quite a bit of fast food.

For most of the trip, I think I was pretty much awake around 6:30am, which means 5:30am in CA!!! My parents use the restroom first, then I’ll eventually get up and by the time we leave for breakfast it’s 8am. My parents are VERY slow in the bathroom, which is great because then I can lie in the bed longer. Despite them waking up SO early, it takes SO long for them to even be able to get out of the room because they end up spending SO much time reorganizing their bags every morning … EVEN THOUGH WE’RE NOT LEAVING YET! Even after breakfast they’ll somehow find reason to reorganize before we head out for the day. I’m trying to learn for myself that I should anticipate this buffer time, and just manage my time around it.

Today I decided we’d go to Matthews Winters Park for a ~5.1mi loop, then drive four minutes down the road to explore Red Rocks Amphitheater. I had a backup park, Eldorado Canyon State Park, but didn’t end up having to go because we took SO long at Red Rocks. I’m pretty happy with how our day turned out though.

I was worried, but parking at Matthews Winters wasn’t bad at all – I think we arrived around 10:15am so several early birds were just pulling out. The trail here is pretty much three connecting loop trails. What I didn’t think about until I started driving to this park was that I’d never checked the trail conditions (other than easy vs moderate vs strenuous) and I realized that it was really likely that all the trails in Boulder that I had found were not shaded, which my mom HATES. There was a ranger/volunteer at Matthews Winters and when I asked if the hike was pretty shaded, he responded “NOT AT ALL! It’s not shaded ONE BIT!” and I went “…oh…”

Look at my mom trying to shield herself from the sun

My mom looked pretty peeved when I told her, but we’d just driven 40 minutes to get here, so she didn’t say anything. We started walking, and it was truly very unshaded – like walking around a ranch. The sun was shining and my mom was very quiet … but luckily in the near distance there was a HUGE storm cloud headed our way. It gloriously covered the sun about 15 minutes into our hike and it didn’t really rain until like 30 minutes later, and even then, it was only a drizzle. It did however, thunder very loudly, which made my parents eager to head back. We ended up going pretty far on the hike and hit a portion of the last loop before we turned around, because we’d reached a pretty steep downhill and it was starting to actually rain. We returned to the previous trail junction and I told my dad he could walk straight back to the car but suggested that my mom and I continue on the trail, because I suspected the rain was not going to hit us since I couldn’t hear thunder anymore. Turns out, this was the right decision! It might have sprinkled just a tiny bit, but my mom and I were able to see some pretty interesting rock formations, get some good incline, and get more steps in. Meanwhile, my dad was pretty delighted to get to return to the car. All in all, positive outcomes for everyone!

Some views at Matthew Winters

By the time my mom and I returned to the trailhead, my dad had been there for about thirty minutes, and had just spent his time walking around that front area, and he seemed very pleased. I told my parents we’d just be eating snacks for lunch today, and we’d eat a heavy hamburger meal for dinner. This delighted everyone because my mom had collected all these pastries from Hampton Inn, plus she’d brought snacks from home that were never eaten, and this was the opportunity to clear it all out! So we had our picnic of snacks by the trail entrance, which conveniently had a picnic table near a small creek. By then, the thunderclouds had scared off most people, so we didn’t see very many people and the parking lot was only about 1/5 full. Even the rangers/volunteers seemed long gone, so it was quiet and felt like we had the place to ourselves.

Off to Red Rocks!

It was about 1:30pm when we left, and from here, I drove us four minutes down the road to  Red Rocks Amphitheater. I honestly thought we’d spend max 1 hour here, since my parents don’t care about live music anyway. What I didn’t account for was how long it takes to actually walk from the parking lots to the top of the amphitheater, and I forgot about the 1.8mi Trading Post Trail. I think we ended up spending close to 3.5 hours here. They loved the amphitheater! They were even somewhat interested by the exhibits in the visitors center, because they both knew who John Denver was. We took quite a long time just exploring the amphitheater and we still hadn’t even done the Trading Post Trail! My dad didn’t go with us on the Trading Post Trail and opted to just wait in the Trading Post shop. I’m glad – honestly that trail felt MUCH longer than 1.8 miles, and at some point, even my mom got tired, so there’s no way my dad would have enjoyed it. But it was a REALLY nice hike – I think from the name I assumed it’d be a nothing hike, but there were really great views of crazy rock formations and panoramic views and nice, gradual inclines. We even saw deer!

View just from the theater entrance!

We finally got back in the car around 5pm and headed straight to Mountain Sun in Boulder for burgers. This is the one restaurant I really remember liking from my first trip here …  but my parents thought it was just ok. It is truly VERY salty – something I didn’t really remember from the first time I ate there. The best thing about this restaurant was that there was ZERO wait because we got there at 6pm, and this is the kind of place that is open till 1am. Turns out my parents’ favorite meal of the trip was the Goodtimes burger place where we got a huge meal for three people for $20. Guess where we’ll be going back to tomorrow?

Post meal, we were all STUFFED and my mom now wanted to do another walk around town. Meanwhile, my dad was super annoyed because we’d previously said we’d head back to the hotel after dinner, and now something was standing in his way of relaxing in the hotel hot tub. I personally was exhausted but also thought it was a bit early to head back to the hotel. I decided we’d drive to 0.4mi away from the restaurant and repark at the main parking lot for the Boulder Creek Path – something I’ve wanted to do since Day 1 but we kept putting off because the sun kept setting before we could do so. I’m really glad we finally did it today – it was really quiet at the time, the sun was just setting and it had just rained, and there wasn’t another good day to do it. We didn’t walk far but we did take a TON of photos. We discovered the Boulder Central Library and it is a truly BEAUTIFUL library.

Front of the library
Boulder Creek Path

From here I decided I wanted to try an ice cream spot – I am glad I tried it because it was DELICIOUS but it did generate a lot of tension between EVERYONE in my family, because my dad was getting more upset about the hot tub delay. I can’t say I really regret it though, because I loved the ice cream SO MUCH and I got to eat there twice! The place is called Sweet Cow and it’s seriously tastier than a lot of ice cream places in  the Bay Area, even though the design makes it look like it should be on par with a Coldstone Creamery. I got a honey mint scoop and a Ozo coffee scoop (Ozo is the name of some coffee place). UGH so good! Ok tomorrow, is going to be a “best of Boulder” day where my parents and I are going to have Goodtime burger and Sweet Cow again.

Final view of the Red Rocks Trail at the amphitheater

We finally got back to the hotel around 8pm – probably the earliest this trip (usually we do 8:30pm or 9:00pm). Everyone sat in the room quietly because tensions were STILL HIGH. My parents went to the hot tub at separate times and not a single other guest came into the jacuzzi that entire night – this hotel is even emptier than ever!!! I love it but it does seem … odd. There’s honestly probably only like 5 cars here for other guests.

OK I can feel the wave of exhaustion hitting me now. GOOD NIGHT. We’ll see how much I can recollect of Day 2 when I eventually write that post.

I must include this photo of the beautiful library!

 

Colorado: Day Two

Views while walking Trail Ridge Road

Rocky Mountains National Park! You know what … I thought this was a much bigger park but it doesn’t seem to be one of the more popular national parks. Also, the area we were in seemed to go by Estes Park more than Rocky Mountains National Park. I’m still a bit confused by this, but I managed to plan out a full day without knowing much nomenclature, thanks to two visitors centers.

We started the day with our Hampton Inn breakfast, OF COURSE! I had intended to start the day off very early, but we didn’t, and it ended up being exhausting anyway, and fairly well paced out. I originally planned to do this park on Monday, but it looked like it’d rain and snow in this area, so I moved some plans around (and it all worked out well!) There is a farmers market on Saturdays in Boulder, and it seemed to be very popular, so I wanted to stop by Pearl St for it. It also happened to be an Easter festivities day, so there were egg hunts for kids set up in the park. The farmers market ended up being much smaller than I was expecting – my favorite farmers market is still Ballard! This turned out well for us, because then we didn’t spend toooo much time here. We did end up getting pastries at this bakery stand and they were SO GOOD. We got an almond croissant, one of the best I’ve ever had, and a peach kouign amann. It seemed like the bakery lady could tell we were new buyers, and she turned around and cut a kouign amann in half and gave us each a third of it. It was quite a sizeable sample, and when the entire bill came out to $8 for two pastries, my mom was like “we got a $2 value!”

Then off we went to Estes Park, only an hour away. The visitors center was right across a pretty commercial center, with a Safeway and several fast food restaurants. I decided we’d get two Subway footlongs to go, which I’m REALLY glad that we did. For some reason I thought we’d probably only spend an hour or two hours driving in the park before returning out to hike. NOT SO. We were in the park for like six hours, and those sandwiches were a genius idea.

My parents’ favorite place to eat

At the visitors center, I basically learned that the trail I wanted to do – Emerald Lake Trail – was under 45 inches of snow, so we wouldn’t be able to hike it. But, the lady at the desk gave me a very useful map showing me the main viewpoints to drive to. She told me to head to Alluvial Fan then Many Parks Curve Lookout. Per Google, alluvian fans “are usually created as flowing water interacts with mountains, hills, or the steep walls of canyons.” This alone took quite a long bit of our day, and I wasn’t expecting a short hike at the stop, but you do walk a bit to get to a giant rocky area with a waterfall.

The Alluvial Fan

Then we drove along and had a few occasional pullovers before reaching Many Parks Curve Lookout. We luckily snagged a spot – it was one of the most crowded parking areas. Oh, did I mention this weekend was free national parks day?!?! I was concerned about crowds but my mom was like “a busy day in Colorado is nothing like a normal day in California” which is totally true. She was basing this off the Easter Egg Hunt crowds earlier in the morning, which were not crowded at all. My mom was like “imagine this Easter Egg Hunt in Arcadia – the whole park would be packed!” Anyway, before we got out of our cars to lookout, we ate the Subway sandwiches in the car, which was a GREAT idea.

The lookout was cool but I’m sure there’s even better views once you are able to get out and actually hike. Then, I actually took a wrong turn and ended up continuing the drive down Trail Ridge Road – I thought it would dead end but it went much farther than I was expecting. This turned out to be a great accident though because when we eventually reached the end point of the road – they close it during the winter – I was able to snag a spot on the side of the road and walk on Trail Ridge Road where it’s closed off to vehicles. We went pretty far, and I wanted to walk more than my parents did, but I eventually did turn back. Major bummer that we couldn’t complete the drive to Alpine Visitors Center – another reason I have to come back!!!

Trail Ridge Road

From here, we drove back toward the entrances and I headed to Beaver Meadows Visitors Center. I don’t think I was expecting to spend much more time in the park, but I decided to ask the ranger there if it was worthwhile to drive down to the trailhead of Emerald Lake, even if we couldn’t hike the trail. She was like “YES absolutely!” and she recommended walking around Bear Lake and Sprague Lake. These turned out to be really worthwhile stops, considering we were about to leave without seeing them, and the walks really filled out the day! First, my mom spent a LONG time in the gift shop, taking forever to choose 6 magnets to purchase (they only had 8 designs to choose from so I have no idea what took her so long). Then we watched a 20 minute video to rest. Then we drove to Bear Lake, and there were a TON of people. Also, it’s possibly the largest parking lot that we saw in the entire park, so it is clearly a very popular destination in the summer months.

Look how high the snow is!

The walk to Bear Lake was only a couple hundred feet but it took us FOREVER because the trail was covered in snow and ice. Luckily no one took a tumble. Bear Lake was completely frozen over, which was NOT what I was expecting. There were several people who were brave enough to walk onto the ice – something I would NOT be doing. Somehow in the last ten minutes that we were there, the wind VERY suddenly picked up and it started raining, so everyone dispersed and we ended up being one of ~six people there.

Bear Lake frozen over

From here, we drove back toward the visitors center before I made a last minute decision to go to Sprague Lake. This had not come up in any of my searches for top trails in the Rocky Mountains, but it was much more scenic than I would have expected. We decided to walk around the lake, it says it’s 0.8 miles but it really did feel longer than that… about half way through, it started to rain more heavily and my dad headed back to the car while my mom and I decided to finish the entire trail. Another excellent decision! It luckily never rained THAT hard and I’m glad we got to see the whole thing.

Sprague Lake

By then it felt freezing and it was raining so we headed out of the park. I stopped back at the Estes Park Visitors Center, with the idea of wanting to do the Lake Estes Trail. Surprisingly, both my parents were game for this … until we stepped out of the car and I was the first to say “UH it is REALLY cold!” The sun was also starting to set, so I decided we’d just drive back to Boulder, since I didn’t really want to drive in the dark. Also an excellent decision!

More of Sprague Lake – you can see how quickly the weather turned

None of us were very hungry, even though I kept suggesting that we either go to Safeway or a fast food restaurant for dinner. For some reason, my mom was convinced that we had to go to Carls Jr, which was not something I really wanted to do, and we kept debating back and forth what we should eat (this is so much harder to do when no one is actually hungry). She thought my dad would enjoy Carls Jr, and after I laid out the options of 1) Safeway, 2) Carls Jr, 3) a new fast food restaurant we’d never been to, my dad commented “I never wanted Carls Jr – I don’t want to eat that while we’re not at home!” And my mom and I were both like, WTF why didn’t you say that EARLIER!?

Oh well – it ended up FINE because I found Good Times Burger is Boulder, and by the time we drove to the place and ordered, everyone was sufficiently hungry. I was not expecting this, but the place did not have any indoor seating and it was freezing outside, so I decided we’d take the food back to the hotel and eat in the dining area. My family’s never really done this, but the staff was SO nice about it. Turns out, eating in the hotel dining area is PERFECT because no one is ever there, but you have actual dining tables and chairs, and there’s usually hot water and tea available right there. Plus, all you have to do is dump the trash and then head up to your room! It ended up being my parents favorite meal of the trip, both for food and ambiance. I can tell this is going to be the new standard when traveling with my parents – buying take out and taking it back to the hotel.

Best meal of the trip

Colorado: Day One

Current music: EVERYTHING BLACKPINK

It’s 12:13am right now in Colorado (it really throws me off that Colorado is not in the same time zone as California – we’re so close to one another!) and I am pretty exhausted right now but I also feel like I so rarely bring my computer with me now on vacations, so it seems like the perfect opportunity to blog! It’s pretty clear to me now why I never have the energy to blog while on vacation – once I get back to my place of lodging, the most important thing to do is check instagram, then twitter, then youtube, then maybe tumblr (depending on if I have an obsession of the moment) and then curate a photo for IG and then of course shower and then lie around in bed. When traveling with my mom, there’s an added “go to the gym and soak in the hot tub.” So blogging is … NOT HIGH on the list.

I flew out of SFO on Friday morning … a 8:10am flight which meant waking up at 5:45am. I decided to take an Uber Pool to get to SFO and it honestly probably only added 10-15 minutes to my overall trip (compared to if I had taken a private car) but in the moment it probably felt like additional 30 excruciating minutes. I don’t remember how early I got to the airport, but I had some time to spare. My parents left from LAX, and it turns out they both woke up earlier than me and left for the airport around the same time … except THEIR flight departed a full three hours AFTER mine. Clearly we run on different schedules.

This whole trip was a result of a cancelled 2018 vacation, originally to visit Glacier National Park. A wildfire had broken out about a week before we were supposed to go, and since the airlines allowed us to change our flight without any change fees, I decided to cancel everything. I’m glad I did, because it turns out the fire had made visibility nil, and I wouldn’t have wanted to breathe that air anyway. I was also partially relieved because in hindsight, all the hikes I really wanted to do at GNP seem way too strenuous for my dad. I’ll have to go again, solo! I wanted to try to go again this year on my own but I already have too much booked up – I feel like there is a VERY narrow window when one can visit GNP without risk of snow or fire. Maybe next year – I will have to keep an eye out on GNP weather conditions this year for data collection purposes~

My parents had never been to Colorado before, so I decided to go here (the main factor was finding a place to go that wouldn’t cost much more than the original flights to Kalispell which were actually VERY cheap). I’d been to Boulder before with friends and enjoyed it. So here we are!

I was able to score a nice window seat on the flight here – but the window was not directly next to me, it was a little off center. But I was so tired from waking up so early (I’d gone to bed around 2:30am the night before, so only had about 3 hours of sleep) so I slept through most of the flight. Everyone else had their window shades down, so I felt obligated to do the same, even though I am the type of person who wants the window shade up AT ALL HOURS. I wish I’d been awake to take photos though – occasionally I’d stir awake and realize we were passing snow capped mountains and it was BEAUTIFUL! No photos though 😦

I arrived in Denver about three hours before my parents. I hadn’t eaten breakfast and I was THRILLED to see someone walking around with a chick fil a take out bag. DELIGHTFUL! I only wish I had remembered to ask for pepperjack cheese instead of the default American. I always remember when I order in Sunnyvale, but the airport line felt TOO stressful and I forgot in the rush – the line took so long, I think because they’d hand over your order before you left the register. Their fries were a bit undercooked here, but OH WELL. The important thing is the chick fil a sauce anyway.

I scarfed down my sandwich, with just enough time to walk around the terminal before hopping on the airport tram to get to my parents’ gate. It’s fun to be able to greet people right at the gate when they exit! My mom said she was really relieved that I was able to find them, because she didn’t think she would have realized that she needed to get on a tram and would have probably just wandered around in circles until asking someone.

From the airport, we picked up our rental car (a Nissan Sentra which does NOT have a powerful engine AT ALL) and headed to our Hampton Inn in Boulder. I LOVE Hampton Inns, particularly when traveling with my parents. I normally would not want a free breakfast in America, but with parents, it’s a huge relief to not have to find breakfast spots every day – plus my parents LOVE a buffet and truly hate eating at restaurants that aren’t majority-Asian. I also have to admit, I’m not a brunch fan anymore, and even when traveling, finding a restaurant for brunch kind of just delays the day and overstuffs everyone’s stomachs. The hotel felt really empty here, almost a little like The Shining – the only time I ever see any other guests is at night when it seems like everyone wants a turn at the tiny little hot tub (this only happened Friday and Saturday, by Sunday and Monday, we never saw a single person using the hot tub OR the gym).

We ended up arriving at the hotel around like 3:30 or 4:00 after driving from Denver airport, so by then, we couldn’t really go on a major hike. I had on my first day itinerary to: 1) walk around Pearl St, 2) grab dinner, 3) go for a post dinner walk along Boulder Creek Path, 4) walk Tenderfoot Trail (1.5mi) if additional exercise was needed.

We got up to #1 and #2 and by the time we finished, it was already 8:30pm so NO post dinner walk! Walking around Pearl St took WAY longer than I was expecting, even though we didn’t buy a single thing. I think today we got in a little over 10,000 steps, even though we’d essentially been sitting in transit until 4:30pm, so that seems quite successful!

Pearl St with little easter eggs

For dinner, I stupidly decided we’d eat at this Italian place I had yelped – the one place I really want to eat at in Boulder is a burger place I’ve been to called Mountain Sun. But selfishly, I was very not hungry because of the 1pm Chick Fil A. Even from Yelp I could tell the Italian place was mediocre, but I thought it was the best option on Pearl St that suited my parents, because everything else was a brewery. I realized that night that Boulder is a very young town and everyone seems to be a resident so it really doesn’t seem like a  popular vacation spot, especially for older people. I also realized … I don’t think the food in Boulder is that good.

As I feared, my parents really didn’t like the Italian place. They’d probably be happy eating at Subway and fast food burger places if they could. They hated the wood fire cooked pizzas because it charred the crust a bit, which they did not approve of. Though I can’t quite blame them – even I thought the pizza wasn’t great, on top of the service being VERY slow and having to sit outside. I’ve learned my lesson (I’d like to think this, but I probably haven’t). Post dinner, my parents were both very cold since we had been seated outside, and my dad seemed very crabby, so we headed straight to the car and drove back to the hotel. My dad went straight to bed and didn’t want to go in the hot tub because there were people in it, while my mom and I went to the gym then hot tub.

(By the time I finished this blog post, it’s already Sunday night and I’m EXHAUSTED. I’d intended to write Day One and Day Two on Night Three, but I’ve basically spent all my energy writing about this day that is THE MOST BORING DAY OF THE TRIP!)

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If we had come to Colorado just a few weeks later, it’d probably be super green and in bloom

Day Nine/Ten: Oslo

I’m not sure if I’ve ever really attempted to blog about a vacation entirely after it’s concluded. My memory’s not great but I tried to take notes every day on what to write about! The hard part will be trying to motivate myself to blog while also sorting through pictures and making sure to post pictures to my blog all by Saturday, which is when I’ll drive back up to the Bay Area. THEN once I’m back in the Bay Area, who KNOWS when I”ll be free again to blog?! And then my memory will be gone within a week~~~

Maybe I’ll start with the last day then…

We woke up in Prague and had our hotel’s breakfast before taking an Uber (our ONLY one!!!) to the Prague Airport. The hotel breakfast was pretty good but since we’d gotten up relatively early, I wasn’t particularly hungry so couldn’t quite stuff my belly full of bread and cheese and salami. The hotel even had hot dishes like scrambled eggs! And yogurt w/ toppings (which I never get at hotels because I’m terrified of eating other country’s non-sugar-filled yogurt). And TONS of cut fruit which I ate a ton of. I’m almost certain we were the first hotel guests to arrive at breakfast, even though it had started at 6am. I ate a normal amount of food and then we went back to our room to finish up packing. Then, off we went!

I fell asleep in the Uber for most of the way, so I’ll never know what the roads looked like on the way to the airport. I have a very vague memory of the Prague airport, as I now only really remember the Oslo airport. Oh ok, it’s slowly coming back to me as I concentrate … it’s relatively small, closer to the size of Burbank than LAX. I spent quite a bit of time just going back and forth from the bathroom to the duty free shops, where I’d smear as much moisturizer as I could from free sample bottles onto my extremely dry, flaking face. The flight to Oslo was only two hours and we arrived around 2pm. There’s an airport express light rail that took us straight into central Oslo. I’m certain there is another, cheaper light rail route that is not the express line, but it would actually require effort to look for it, so we just hopped on the airport express (which cost $20 one way!!!).

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Riding that light rail honestly felt like I was living in the future. It was quiet, the ride was smooth, the seats were clean, there was a huge flat panel tv in the center displaying news and airport departure times and the weather in a calming color palette. The passing scenery was snowy, at first with a few spread out houses, then a long tunnel, then Oslo itself with tall, glass modern looking buildings. The walk from the train station to our hotel was about ten minutes and not bad at all. Thankfully it wasn’t snowing and the sidewalks weren’t super icy.

The hotel felt like a super nice hostel, it reminded me a lot of the KEX hotel in Reykjavik in that it felt like it’s catered towards young travelers. The Comfort Xpress stressed environmental and social good, and hip design. It’s the kind of place that has a wall of vinyls and a vinyl player in the lobby, doesn’t provide plastic or paper cups in the bathroom but does stock small glass cups in the lobby, has a brown paper bag hanging by the mirror in case you want to donate any unwanted clothing/shoes… and calls their reception desk the “barception” because it also doubles as the bar counter. I wanted to take tons of pictures of the small design touches but honestly the lighting in there was SO dim, it was a little difficult.

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hotel lobby!

We unpacked in our tiny, tiny room (this was probably the smallest room yet but it had a nice design and comfortable beds). Then we walked around Oslo for a few hours. We had arrived at our hotel around 3:30pm and the sun set at 3:21pm that day. I think we started walking around 4:30pm and were done with dinner by 6:15pm. So really, not that much to see! We basically walked through the main shopping area, where all the stores were closed because it was New Year’s Eve. We had unfortunately missed the Christmas Market here too, BY ONE DAY!!! (they had closed on the 30th). And lots of restaurants were closed, though Kim and I agreed that the restaurant we DID end up choosing was likely what we would have gone with, even if everything had been opened.

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pretty representative of the NYE crowds in oslo

And that’s because the place we chose was a fast food burger joint called Max Burger! The meal is still relatively expensive for what it was, but probably our cheapest option in the entire city excluding McDonalds. Most menus we saw would’ve been $20+ for a single entree. Max Burger is essentially an equally delicious, less greasy Jack in the Box. I opted for something called the MaxBurger which is basically a cheeseburger with special sauce (a lot like in the In N Out sauce minus the relish). AND these DELICIOUS chili cheese poppers that were easily the best poppers I’ve ever had – a great cheese to breading ratio. It took me a long time to decide what to get, I ended up going with beef which is what I was craving at the moment, I’m bummed I’m not more of a glutinous monster and couldn’t sample their chicken, salmon or this “halloumi” burger as well. They also had shakes but since I’m sick, it seemed like a dumb idea to drink milkshakes in 30 degree weather.

 

Overall, it was the perfect choice for Oslo – we got to try a foreign fast food establishment AND it was only a $15 meal. I try not to think about the idea of spending $15 at a fast food joint for a hamburger and a side that would’ve cost $5 in the US.

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the recycling station in this Norwegian fast food establishment was INTENSE

Other memories of walking around Oslo were: 1) a street musician playing the clarinet EXTREMELY well – he looked like he was doing it purely for fun and not for money, and 2) a street guy who was blasting music from his radio and at one point, played a VERY cool remix of Despacito which I am really sad I didn’t capture on video because now I’ll NEVER FIND IT~~~

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We got back to the hotel by 8:30pm and after lying around in bed, I decided I’d shower. Which basically is throwing in the towel and saying, I’m not leaving the hotel after this! We checked with front desk and they said their rooftop would be open for a great view of Oslo’s New Year’s fireworks. Then Kim and I basically fell asleep at 9pm! VERY COOL FOR NEW YEARS!!! She must have set an alarm because she woke up at 11:50pm because it rang, and then we got up, put on more layers over our very comfy clothes, and went up to the 9th floor to get to the rooftop deck.

I was surprised to find people on the deck AND that everyone one of them was dressed up!!! Hello, we are Americans and we are SLOBS! The fireworks show was ok, there wasn’t a main display to really focus on but there were tons going off simultaneously. We were probably up there till 12:15, and even though there were still some fireworks going off, we headed back to our room and went to bed.

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Our next day flight was at 12:25pm and we left around 8:30am. We were through security and sitting at the gates by 9:30am! Once again, I spent most of my time walking between the duty free shops and the restroom – this time’s duty free choice was a very nice Lancome moisturizer. On an impulse buy, I ended up spending about $40 in Norwegian chocolate (is this a famously excellent region for chocolate? I don’t think so) mainly because of this website that told me what to get: https://sweets.seriouseats.com/2011/07/a-guide-to-norwegian-and-some-swedish-candy-slideshow.html

Note from the future: the Norwegian chocolate was SOOOO GOOD!!! I’m a little bummed I didn’t buy more. Well, this was airport prices, so I guess I’m most bummed that I couldn’t hit up an Oslo Costco of some sort and stocked up on their chocolate. They have a brand called Walters Mandler which was REALLY good. Then I bought this thing called Smash! for Robyn and that was SO delicious and unique – kind of reminded me of chocolate bugles. I also got her chocolate covered marshmallows in the size of gummy bears but I didn’t sample it.

We spent a long time in the Oslo airport, and hunkered down near this food court area that was designed to look like a food truck park, which was very cute! I just kept walking to the same places, and then when our boarding time opened, Kim was like “I’m going to go over there first” and I said “ok I’ll come with you then come back out and fill up my water and everything.” EXCEPT it turned out that when we arrived at our gate, it was SO crowded and they were already checking passports and herding people into the smallest waiting pen ever. Somehow we ended up getting checked through and before I knew it, I was trapped in this waiting pen with no water fountain and a water bottle only HALF FULL before an INTERNATIONAL FLIGHT!!! I freaked out, managed to resist filling my bottle with bathroom sink water, and in the end, I conserved my water so much that I survived. But definitely this is NOT the way I like to travel.

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the airport terminal! there’s an upstairs bar area too

Kim and I had bought our tickets separately and we couldn’t even check in until we were in the airport. Honestly, I’d read such terrible things about Norwegian, I was concerned the entire time that they’d kick us off the flight because they’d overbooked. Luckily everything was fine – and I ended up in my NEW FAVORITE INTERNATIONAL SEAT EVER – the VERY last row, aisle seat in the middle section. Ok maybe it was my favorite because no one sat in the middle seat, so there was even more room to space out. But here’s why it’s great – usually I prefer a window seat so I can have as little human contact as possible. In my experience with aisle seats, people often knock into you as they’re walking past the aisle. But in the LAST row, the right of me was the bathroom wall, not a row of seats, and most people just lean toward the wall. Then, I get to stand up as often as I like, and hang out in front of the bathroom whenever I want. And now the absolute best part – I absolutely can’t stand when my chair gets knocked in any way by the person behind me, so the last row was PERFECT!

And if there were any smells coming from the bathroom, I’m currently so plugged up from being sick, it worked out in my favor.

I wasn’t expecting any food because I know I didn’t pay for it, but a flight attendant said I was on the list! Let me tell you, unexpected free airline food, IS THE BEST!

For the flight, I watched an episode of Bob’s Burgers, some short documentary on Prague (I wanted to see if the city was more interesting than I found it to be in person – it was not), Keanu (it truly is only delightful as a cute cat movie), Crazy Stupid Love (this movie is PROBLEMATIC!), and fast forwarded to my favorite bits of The Devil Wears Prada.

Then LAX! Said goodbye to Kim – what happened to the customs area of the exit? – my parents picked me up at LAX around 3pm and I’ve basically been sleeping ever since!!!

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leaving oslo