Na Pali

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If you’re sick of more Hawai’i posts after our vacation absence from the blog, well, I hate to break it to ya, but…

Instead of our normal day-by-day trip report, we’re gonna break down our latest, greatest Hawai’i trip into “experiences.”  This one came from our third full day on Kaua’i (which we’ll talk more about in another post).  I am a faithful user of TripAdvisor and had seen in the zygote-stages of our trip planning that the #1 rated activity on the island of Kaua’i was the Na Pali coastline.

The Na Pali coastline, like everything in the Hawaiian island chain, has been formed by millennia of volcanic activity, erosion, etc. etc. (Wikipedia, to my aid!)  The ruggedness of the mountains, cliffs and valleys of Na Pali have made roadbuilding untenable, so the only way to access the northwest side of Kaua’i is by helicopter or to hike (I couldn’t afford the former and am seriously too lazy to do the latter.)

After seeing trip report photos of Na Pali, I knew, in the deepest parts of my shallow soul, that I had to go to there.  It seemed beautifully, naturally impossible, and I had to see it.  I poured over several dozen reviews of different boat and catamaran tours of the Na Pali coast, and finally settled on the Southern Star sunset cruise run by Captain Andy’s out of Port Allen.  It wasn’t cheap (about $145 a person), but it included a freshly made-steak dinner and as many drinks as you could drink, so after doing some fuzzy math, Lance and I were able to justify the expense.

As soon as the boat left the dock, dozens of spinner dolphins came up along side to greet us, jumping and (duh) spinning wildly in the air.

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I don’t have the greatest photographic equipment, so no fancy jumping photos for you, dear readers!

Lance, of course, sobbed like a baby upon seeing a school of dolphins play in their natural habitat. “It’s the salt in the air!” he said, wiping away tears.

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The first half of the tour had us motoring up the coast, and the water was pretty choppy (and it’s supposed to be rougher in the winter!) so we got fairly soaked if sat anywhere outside (though why you’d sit inside the cabin at all during this tour makes little sense to me.)

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Sea cave!

The first stretch of Na Pali along the south side, right after you pass the naval station, is pretty “flat;” lots of red and brown and gray rock, shorn by pummeling winds which, we were told, only surpassed by the Cliffs of Dover for their intensity.

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Ahoy, mateys!

As we made our way north, the cliffs became much more rugged and fantastical.  These photos with my shitty point n’ shoot don’t do them justice.  Vibrant greens, reds, and browns highlighted this impressive, practically alien terrain.  Not only did we spot waterfalls cascading down these cliffs, but mountain goats too! (Unfortunately, no photos exist of the mountain goat because he was SUPER far away.)

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Once we approached Ke’e Beach on the north shore of the island, which is the last beach you can access via car from the opposite direction, the catamaran shut off its motor and the crew began hoisting the sail.  They also starting passing out “Sneaky Tikis,” a rum-based cocktail of which Lance took full advantage.

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As the sun set behind Niihau, the Forbidden Isle, (just behind Lance’s head in the photo above), our tummies full and, at least with Lance, heads a little fuzzy from too many cocktails, the Southern Star swept closer to port.

This post was hard to write because trying to articulate, much less justify, what we saw seemed impossible.  Nevertheless, we both said to each other, afterwards, that the expense was totally worth it.  Heck, it wasn’t even worth considering.  The sail was a marvelous experience, Na Pali spectacular.

Lance summed it up in a way that made my heart all tingly: “Best day ever.”

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25X: Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas

Last weekend, I got Disney World and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.  This past weekend, Lance got Dollywood and its Smoky Mountain Christmas.

To be fair to Lance, we’d joked (or so I thought) about going to Dollywood for Christmas for almost a year.  Lance loves Dolly Parton purely and without a spec of irony, and in such a wholly and devoted way that I’m not sure even I hold a candle to their special bond.  I’ll leave the “why” for Lance to explain, should he feel so inclined, but just know this: there was no doubt in his mind that the 11-plus hour drive to Dolly’s theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, was well worth it.

We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn Gatlinburg, a town over from Dollywood.  We’d stayed here on our one prior trip to Dollywood and loved it so much (it’s like a cabin with a fireplace and everything, but without the scary bugs and deranged woodsmen who come to kill you in your sleep!) we had to return.

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Above: Lance warming up by the hotel’s outdoor bonfire.  It was a little chilly during our visit!

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25X: Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party

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After a delicious breakfast at Boma: Flavors of Africa (you’ll have to check out our pics on Facebook for that one) and our Walt Disney World Resort holiday decorations tour, we headed to the Magic Kingdom for Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.

Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is one of Disney World’s two annual hard-ticketed events, where you pay separately (read: more) for admission since it’s not included in the regular park ticket price.  The party officially starts at 7:00PM, though party-goers can start entering the park at 4:00PM.  Seven hours in the Magic Kingdom with WAAAY reduced lines and special events, all for about 60% of what a regular park ticket costs? And being able to visit the park while it’s not oppressively hot?  SOLD! (more…)

Jeff and Lance, Big in Japan Part IV: 24 (and 9) Hours in Kyoto

If you’re just visiting for the first time, you’re probably experiencing a little bit of cognitive dissonance as to how the two whitest white guys you ever did see ended up in Japan.  You’ll obviously want to review Part I (Chicago!), Part II (Jetlag in Japan!), and Part III (“The Happiest Place on Earth.” How do you say that in Japanese?) to bring yourself up to speed.

The day after our visit to DisneySea, we’d planned on taking the “bullet train” (actually called the shinkansen) from Tokyo to Kyoto, Japan’s former capital and anagram of “Tokyo.”  We were only going to spend about 24 hours in Kyoto, per the original plan, and I wanted to make those hours count, mostly because the shinkansen tickets were hyperventilating-ly expensive: around $250 roundtrip, per person…and that was with a discount through Japanican.com! I fretted for awhile over whether we should spend that kind of money at all for such a short period, but when planning this trip, we were both operating under the understandable assumption that we’d never have the opportunity/resources to come back to Japan, so we figured we might as well do what we wanted.

It was around this point, though, some 60% or so of our vacation over, that I couldn’t ask either Lance or myself to keep pushing ourselves, dragging our luggage all over Japan, sticking to a rigid plan and feeling exhausted from lack of sleep and an overly ambitious itinerary.

See, I originally hoped to be out of the hotel and on the shinkansen to Kyoto by 8:00 or 9:00AM, but Lance took a late check-out opportunity as a sign that maybe we should just spend the morning relaxing and trying to catch up on some sleep.  I begrudgingly agreed–not that I wasn’t agitated about taking things slow, but I knew in my heart of hearts that if we kept pushing ourselves, one of us was going to break.

The view from our room at the Hilton Tokyo Bay.

As part of my membership level with Hilton HHonors, we were comped breakfast, and their buffet spread was enormous: your normal Western dishes, like oatmeal, eggs, bacon, and Japanese fare, and then…spaghetti.  Can somebody tell me which culture eats spaghetti for breakfast so I can thank them?

Around 11:00, we finally left the hotel.  Though I try to keep my tricket-y junk purchasing to a minimum these days, I was feeling a little light on souvenirs from Tokyo Disney, only having purchased the 10th Anniversary DisneySea book, so we stopped by Bon Voyage, the big Disney store near the main rail line in and our of the resort area, to see if I could find anything else:

I eventually purchased a little Chandu, the tiger cub in the bejeweled turban from Sinbad’s Storybook Voyages, and a lenticular postcard which I spent about $4.50 and have subsequently lost track of.  Ah, souvenirs!

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Jeff and Lance, Big in Japan Part III: Tokyo Disney Resort

Okay, folks, Part III of our Japan trip report awaits below! Still a lazy bum and haven’t caught up on Parts I and II? Check ’em out now before venturing on…to the photo dump…err, I mean, “Tokyo Disney Trip Report!”

[Side note: I am in tremendous debt to Carrie from Disney Travel Babble, whose 2010 Tokyo Disney trip report was a huge inspiration (and blueprint!) for our Tokyo Disney…and Japan in general!…trip. Thanks, Carrie!]

Here’s a little bit of Lance+Jeff trivia for you all out there: Tokyo Disney was the first thing we ever decided to do during our initial Tokyo planning discussions waaaaay back last winter.  In fact, we’d actually planned on going to Tokyo Disney long before the opportunity presented itself for us to go to Walt Disney World this past summer.

I’m sure plenty of you are asking (as I have myself, many times): why fly halfway around the world to go to a Disney park? (Because I wanted to, you dumb jerks! Don’t judge me! ::runs away to cry in a corner::)

Actually, there are good answers and there are bad answers to that question, and it really depends on what sort of traveller you are.  I’d like to think that I enjoy experiencing local culture, but I also love Disney.  I guess that’s the bad answer, since Disney isn’t Japanese, so therefore not local culture.

However, I would push back a little bit on the idea that Tokyo Disney is not Japanese.  First of all, for those in the know, Tokyo Disney is not owned or operated by the Disney corporation as we know it.  Instead, while it’s designed by Imagineers, the park is actually owned by the Oriental Land Company, which licenses the rights to Disney likenesses from the Disney corporation.  So, there’s a technical reason why the park is Japanese.

[The Oriental Land Company also spends what seems to be a bajillion dollars in elaborate theming, rides, and shows, so you could argue that the park is also more “Disney” than Disney-owned parks, since they are more likely to match in cash what the Imagineers dream up. They apparently spent $4 billion on Tokyo DisneySea, Tokyo Disneyland’s neighboring park, before opening day.]

The monorail taking us from Bayside Station (where the official resort hotels are) back to Tokyo Disneyland Station!

There’s also an emotional reason why this park is Japanese: I know I’m generalizing, but many, many Japanese people are crazy about Disney.  The photos below don’t accurately capture just how into the experience our fellow park guests were.  Now, I know it was right around Halloween when we visited, but so many people were wearing costumes, Disney hats, Disney sweatshirts, Disney changepurses and backpacks and carrying around Duffys in different costumes…there is a passion for Disney, especially in the teen/twenties set that you just don’t see in the same volume at the American parks.

Lastly, I wanted to visit Tokyo Disney for one specific reason: Tokyo DisneySea. This is the only Disney park that you can’t find some version of in the United States (thanks a lot, Santa Monica!) Ever since I stumbled upon its Wikipedia page years ago, I’ve been drawn to this park, a watery mix of Epcot’s World Showcase with the fantasy of the Magic Kingdom.

I didn’t and still don’t care that we spent, like, 20 percent of our trip at Tokyo Disney.  I loved it.

Well, maybe not all of it…

Due to some sort of Tokyo law where transportation has to charge a fee (so I’ve read), it costs about $3 USD to take the Tokyo Disney monorail one way!

Given our tight schedule on this first day at Tokyo Disney (remember, we’d already gone to the Ghibli Museum and seen the Shiki Theatre production of Beauty and the Beast), we purchased the After 6 PM Passport ticket to Tokyo Disneyland.  We did this for a few reasons:

  1. I read that lines in the morning at the Tokyo parks get really bad, so I changed around our hotels at the last minute so we could stay in an “official” Disney hotel the night before we went to DisneySea instead of taking the subway 30+ minutes from a Tokyo hotel
  2. Well, now that we’re going to be in the resort area that night anyway, why not spend the $40 to spend four hours at Tokyo Disneyland?  I hadn’t originally planned on visiting Disneyland at all, but this afforded us the opportunity to at least see a little bit of that park, too!

Above: me, introducing the escalator from Disneyland Station down to the park.

I’m ridiculously happy that we were able to visit during the Halloween season when everything was decked out for the holiday.  Above: scary coach which looks to have repurposed the horses from Cinderella.

Yay! We’re here! (more…)

Jeff and Lance, Big In Japan Part II: Let’s Lose Our Way Together

Didn’t read Part I of our trip report? You should be embarrassed! Go read it right now before all your friends point and laugh at you.

I will admit that my first impression of Tokyo-Narita Airport was not favorable.  Where was the futuristic Blade Runner design everybody was telling me Tokyo had in abundance?  Narita was gray and plain–did we just fly halfway around the world for a carbon copy of Philadelphia International Airport??

Thankfully, once you get past customs, you truly enter the Japan of your dreams: efficient and multiple modes of public transportation connect the airport to Tokyo, there’s new and exotic candy at the airport shop, and most importantly of all, seemingly crazy and elaborate vending machines!

I never did have Pocari Sweat (ick!). Thankfully, the Asian market close to our house keeps it in stock!

I love how nearly all of the drink vending machines actually have these displays in the door so you know exactly what you’re getting.  I’m not sure if it’s really that big of a deal and is kind of a space-killer compared to American vending machines, but having the actual product showcased to us consumer whores is somehow very appealing.

Above, Lance enjoys the peach tea concoction for which we never learned the actual name.  We instead referred to it by its slogan: HAPPY UP!

…We then proceeded to spend the next seven days checking every vending machine we stumbled across (and man, there are a ton.  Seriously, vending machines just in the middle of city blocks, on every train platform and inside every home!) for Happy Up! (more…)

Walt Disney World 2012 Day Three Trip Report

Click here for our Day One coverage….

and here for our Day Two coverage.

Now, onto Day Three!

Day 3: Alright, confession time.  This was the day in our trip where I didn’t really know what to expect.  Here was the itinerary I sorta laid out:

8:00am-9:00am: Take advantage of Hollywood Studios’ Extra Magic Hours to finally experience Toy Story Midway Mania

9:00am-1:00pm: Animal Kingdom

1:15-2:30pm: Lunch at Sanaa, in the Animal Kingdom Lodge Kidani Village

3:00pm-6:00pm: Blizzard Beach

See, I’d only been to Animal Kingdom once before, back in 2004, and was massively underwhelmed.  As its newest park, it’s also the resort’s most spartan in terms of attractions (the addition of Avatarland will help address that, though, as I’m sure many Disney-philes feel, I’m kinda sad Disney didn’t reach into its own catalog and pull out stuff from The Lion King or something like that instead. Maybe that’s too obvious…) Granted, I should note that, the one day I visited some eight years ago, it was also pouring down rain, it was pre-Expedition: Everest, and I was with my freshman year roommate, so things like Camp Minnie-Mickey didn’t really appeal to us.

I wanted to give Animal Kingdom another shot, though, since I know there’s a small but ardent fan base for the park.  Did I just miss something the first time around? The schedule was tight, but I thought we could do most of the major Animal Kingdom attractions in about 4 hours.

Well, as it turns out, after staying in the Magic Kingdom the night before until 2:00am and not getting back to the hotel until 3:00, we were bushed, and I couldn’t get myself to wake up at 7:00am to get my butt over to Hollywood Studios for the Toy Story ride.  We were working on a combined 9 hours of sleep over the past two nights and I just had to sleep in…until 8:00am.

Was I ever going to get to ride Toy Story Midway Mania??

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