Walking Tour of old San Juan

Historic San Juan in a day Walking Tour
Whether you have an extended stay in Puerto Rico, or less than a day from a cruise stop over, here’s my walkable itinerary for seeing the best of San Juan.Puerto Rico in one day! Experience history, art, shopping, and admire tons of cool city architecture. 

The San Juan Port in the historic area. Grab some bottles of water from the shops around the port as you’ll head up the hill on Calle Marina street to Castillo San Cristobal, the largest fort built by the Spanish in the New world. 
Distance ~0.5 miles 
Along the way you’ll pass some squares with little shop tents if you’re a fan of the blown glass, one of the tents that is along the way makes little blown glass animals right there for figurines or jewelry. You’ll also see lots of brightly colored buildings and as you finish the uphill trek, you get an awesome view of the port looking down on the big ships docked there.
Peak down all the colorful alleyways as you trek up the short hill

Vising Castillo San Cristobal
Hours: 9:00-6:00 PM everyday 
Cost: (16+): $7.00 
*If you have a National Parks Pass, you can get 4 adults entry for free. 
This fort as mentioned is the largest Spanish fort in the Americas, spanning 27 acres. It took 150 years to build with construction beginning in 1634. It covers the Eastern gate of San Juan Island and its walls extend in either direction of the coast. There are 3 levels to explore: cannon embrasures, sentry boxes, tunnels to explore, and exhibits to learn about the former military quarters. All in all, it’s a great stop and won’t take longer than an hour for self-guided tours. 
**You can also get married here.. *swoon*
After San Cristobal, follow the sea coast along Calle Norzagaray where you can explore old parts of the wall that made up San Cristobal’s defenses with multiple garitas (guard towers) and historical markers. Learn about the La Perla area of San Juan where another fort used to be as you make your way to Castillo San Felipe del Morro. Here walk across the great lawn taking in all the kite flyers and the size of this incredible fort perched on the bay. 
Distance ~ 1 mile

Vising Castillo San Felipe del Morro
Hours: 9:00-6:00 PM everyday 
Cost: (16+): $7.00 
*If you have a National Parks Pass, you can get 4 adults entry for free.
If you have to choose between visiting the 2 forts, this would be the one to go with. While overall containing less “acres” than San Cristobal, this fort has 6 levels and unparallel’d views of the bay and San Juan Isle. While San Cristobal was built to defend against land invasions primarily, this fort was built to defend the bay. And defend it did as there is only one instance where the fort was penetrated by enemy invaders making it the most successful of all the Spanish forts built at that time. Construction began in the 1500s when the battery and tower were built to protect the harbor. In 1632, the governor of San Juan began construction on San Cristobal and the city walls. It was also the center of Spanish life at the time so the structures contained within the fort have a lot more complexity making the tour a bit more interesting.
After a visit to the fort, walk down the stairs on the right/ East side to the start of multiple trails. If you follow the same trail to the right/ East it will take you to the cemetery you pass as you approached the fort from the street. Heading left/ West the path wraps around the bottom of the fort and connects to the Paseo del Moro trail. 
Views looking East along the Paseo del Moro trail 

Paseo del Moro

This trail was my favorite part of San Juan. (shocker right.. I do love trails) It follows the old wall almost around the entire western side of Old San Juan with nothing else along the way besides the ocean and cats. The old wall has been wonderfully maintained dating all the way back to 1630! Between the wall and the ocean, it’s like walking into Pirates of the Caribbean scene.  Along the trail you can also watch the big ships leave from port back to the open ocean easily catch wildlife (other than cats) out in the water.  The area directly under the fort has multiple tide pools that can be peaked into, but be careful not to slip on the wet rocks or get soaked by a sneaky wave. 
Watching a large ship sail out of San Juan Bay
The area which is maintained by the NPS like the forts, is also serving as a cat sanctuary with little cat boxes, food, and water to help the strays out. There were so many adorable cats, most of which won’t let you get too close but will play with a bit of string if you have some. (My dad led a cat by the string quite a ways down the path as it follow and continually pounced on it)
After following the trail a ways (approx. 0.75 miles)  you’ll have two options to make you way back into town and then back to the port. The first option is to turn in at the Puerta De San Juan The Iconic red gate that served as the doorway for dignitaries and bishops to enter into San Juan back when there were only 5 gates into the city.  
Or another 5 minutes down the path, the trail ends at a beautiful fountain on the Paseo de la Princesa which is lined with shops, galleries, and also includes for those of you who skipped out on bathrooms at the forts, a public toilet.
Watching a cruise ship sail past the old San Juan walls out into open ocean 
Both gates are great options and worth seeing if you have to backtrack as the path between the two has beautiful trees overhanging the path and the fountain is really cool. The old gate takes you down Caleta de San Juan straight to the San Juan Bautista Cathedral. From either location, make sure to head over to Fortaleza street to see the fun umbrella covered walkway and explore more little shops and restaurants. And from there with whatever time you have remaining, head back to your hotel or cruise ship. 
Distance ~ 0.75 miles depending on the road you take

Walking Distance for entire loop ~ 3 miles/ 5 km

Colorful buildings of San Juan visible over the old wall
The Paseo del Moro is also a wonderful walk to do at sunset 

Other Points of Interest around San Juan to check out in a day:
Museum of Arts of Puerto Rico
Condado Beach 
El Yungue National Forest and waterfalls 
Tour of the Bacardi Distillery 

A Sunday morning in Jingshan Park

No trip to Beijing should be complete until you’ve viewed the immense Forbidden City from above- and the place to do that is at Jingshan Park. We happened to visit on day 9 of our trip… our last day, so we ended it as any busy trip should- with a lazy Sunday morning stroll through a park.

Possibly the best kept secret of Chinese tourism, I hadn’t even heard of this park until we arrived in Beijing and our Great Wall tour guide mentioned it to us. Luckily our hotel was an easy 5 minute walk from the East gate of the park which is right where you can find an entrance to the park.

View of the park hill from our hotel breakfast
It costs a couple of coins ( I suspect to keep beggars and homeless out) and is well worth the visit. We bought our tickets easily at the windows by the gate and headed in. The major draw of this park are the pavilions at the top of the hill, from which you have a sprawling expansive view of the Forbidden city. As we started our trek up a hill we passed a choir singing traditional music which we heard almost the rest of the way up.
At the top there were a few photographers setup with props you could pose with for a fee, and several others milling about but on this particular Sunday morning at 10, it wasn’t crowded at all. We snapped a few photos from the top pavilion where we got the best view of the Forbidden city in all its symmetrical and colorful glory. But it’s also to note how cool all the other directions are to see. You can see the temples to the North, West, and East, as well as city sky scrapers a little further out. It was peaceful up here among the small temples with views of ancient and modern combined in one.
 View to the West with the city in the distance
 Temples to the North of the park
But my favorite view is still of the Forbidden City
We headed down the hill to the West side of the park thinking we’d make a circle. At the bottom we passed a group of seniors perfecting the art of the Chinese yoyo, called a Diabolo which is a single or double string that the performer uses a stick in each hand to manipulate. The movement is like a dance and the performers were more graceful than I think I could ever be. The coolest part for me was the sound that comes from the Diabolo… the combination of sound and grace were mesmerizing and Braden had to practically drag me away from the group.
Luckily as we walked we passed another group of seniors dancing in a square with a boombox playing more traditional music and it seemed that no matter how far we walked,  we were surrounded by music. The park has so many paths and gardens intertwining that you could wander it for hours, especially on a sleepy Sunday morning when families young and old wandered hand in hand.
As we continued back toward the East gate to exit where we entered, we passed a historic marker of memorial plaques and the tree planted on the spot where the Emperor Chongzhen hung himself rather than suffer the humiliation of surrendering to an insurrectional army in 1644. While a little grim it was interesting to read about and see a little known piece of history.
We spent about 2 hours wandering around before we headed back to our hotel to pack our bags and prepare for the long day of travel ahead of us.
It took almost an hour to get to the airport and was a struggle finding the right check in counter so I’m glad we had a relaxing peaceful morning before a long series of flights home. 
That’s it! It was a wild ride but I hope my posts help you travel to China!

Day 9 costs: 
Breakfast included in hotel stay
Jingshan Park entry: $0.58
Train to airport $8.16
Lunch at airport $19
Day 9 Total: $27.74

Total costs in country: $2,220 for 2 people

Overhead Costs:
Plane tickets: $860
Visa Cost: $490
Dog Sitter: $120
Phone Bill: $100

Total Trip Costs for 2 people: $3,800

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Where to eat and sleep in Carbon County

First and foremost: Let’s start with the food 
GROGGS Pinnacle Brewing Co.
 Our first night in town we headed to the local brewery/ pub (because after ATVing all day, that seemed the natural progression). GROGGS while sounding medieval, turned out to be quite delicious. They had decent prices, and fantastic food. I got my usual bacon cheese burger (which I would put on top 10 burgers ever) and Katie’s in-house smoked prime rib sandwich looked pretty fantastic as well. This place is open 7 days a week (though closes at 8 on Sunday) so if you’re looking for a place to eat, particularly on Sunday, I recommend.

Tangerine Eatery
 If you’re looking for grub on a Sunday, again options are limited but one of those options includes the Tangerine Eatery. FanTASTIC sandwiches at a decent price. I got the Chicken Bacon Avocado sandwich that has a unique pesto aioli on it and plenty of the good stuff. Add a soup for only $1. 
*Skip the frozen yogurt here and get some ice cream from downtown helper. I’m usually a big froyo fan but none of the flavors were creamy or really stuck out to me. 
Udderly Ice Cream
Set on adorable Helper main street in the old Emporium building this ice cream shop serves up delicious Leatherby creamery options in a vintage ice cream setting. *ALSO OPEN SUNDAY! 
Family Fave: Balance Rock Eatery & Pub
Historic pub located on main street in Helper, the menu has it all. Breakfast served all day, sandwiches, burgers, salads, you name it. The portions are giant and prices reasonable, making this a stop I’d hit every time I pass through Helper. I loved the historic building, the incredibly- friendly service, and don’t get me started on the food. 
I got a bacon and cheese sandwich (wow… I stick with a status quo don’t I?) that was basically an entire chicken breast, amazing bacon, and a ton of cheese. It was SOOO good. Also try their in house made “rock chips” which have a light BBQ seasoning on them and there perfect crisp to pair. 
My #1 favorite eating spot in Carbon County. 
Happiness Within Coffee shop
If you aren’t hungry when passing through or don’t have time for a meal, then check out Happiness within for your caffeine fix. I loved the ambiance of the interior with exposed brick and art to gawk at. They had a nice range of offerings and I especially loved their October specials. Again small town friendliness adds to the appeal. 

Unfortunately that’s all we got to try that weekend but other honorable mentions based on local recommendations include:
1. Greek Streak for your Mediterranean craving
2. Los 2 Amigos
3. Sherald’s Drive in

Where to Sleep 
We stayed in the luxurious Holiday Inn Express that’s a mere 4 years old, has super comfortable beds, and a crazy good breakfast so as far as hotels go… that’s my top recommendation. BUT if you’re feeling adventurous, here’s a few of my favorites to check out. 
Nine Mile Ranch Bunk and Breakfast
$80-$95/ night for hotel room
$60-$95 for cabins *pet friendly 
Campfire songs, cowboy poetry and Dutch oven cooking are all part what make the Nine Mile Ranch bunk ‘n breakfast unique. Situated in the mouth of historic Nine Mile Canyon, “the ranch is a perfect place to get away from the busy world,” explained owner Myrna Mead. The location has camping, rooms, and even a Teepee with an all you can eat breakfast and dutch oven dinners. They offer tours, horse back riding and on foot. 
Next time I come down, I’m probably going to check this place out. 

Historic Knight’s Landing Apartment on Helper Main Street $99/night
Sleeps 4, book through AirBnb
Upscale apartment located in a historic 1918 building on Helper’s main street. Within walking distance to the local, market, two restaurants, art galleries, museum, the river walkway and everything else Helper’s historic main street has to offer.
Historic Helper House $96/night
Sleeps 4, book through AirBnb
Helper House is a cozy, single level home located on Helper’s Historic Main Street. Located close to the River Walkway, this charming house is in an ideal location for all of your explorations in Central Utah. Across the street is our famous “Big John”, Utah’s tallest coal miner, and less than 10 miles away is the USU Eastern Prehistoric Museum. You also will have a front row seat for the annual Helper Arts Festival and Utah’s Christmas Town’s Main Street Light Parade.

Artist’s River House $115/night
Sleeps 4, book through AirBnb
100 year old family home, restored with modern aesthetic yet maintaining original charm. King bed in bedroom with fold-down couch in living room and floor space for air mattress.
One block from historic downtown Helper with easy access to two diners, western mining and railroad museum, artist studios and antique shops.

2 Bedroom House $59/night
Sleeps 6, book through AirBnb
Entire upstairs of a house with Stylish decor – stainless appliances, warm blue interior paint, laminate flooring, & full tile shower with glass surround. An affordable place for a whole family.

Airbnb Guest Suite $35/night
Sleeps up to 5 guests, book through AirBnb
A 375sq ft space with a private secure entrance and private bathroom. There are no shared spaces. There’s a king size bed, sleeper sofa, and space for additional travellers! Perfect for budget minded travelers looking for a clean, safe and cozy space. Enjoy WiFi and Netflix.

Tips and tricks for visiting Universal Orlando

Alright saddle up now for the Universal Orlando Post! Probs won’t be as long as the DisneyWorld post in light of there only being 2 parks… but still plenty to come. And NOTE: This was my FIRST time ever to a universal park! So there’s probably other ways to go about it but I wanted my virgin experience to be perfect, and I can honestly say… it was pretty dang close.
So to start: We paid the mucho money to stay ON property. With attempting to do 2 complete parks in a day, we wanted the extra “magic?” hour that universal does for Harry Potter world starting at 8 AM. 
We stayed at the fabulous Royal Pacific which was a 5-10 min walk to the entrance of Islands of Adventure. Destination: Hogwarts. 

The place was pretty deserted that early in the morning I’ve gotta say. Staying at the Royal Pacific got us free unlimited fast passes but for that first hour, we honestly didn’t need them. We rode the Forbidden Journey in Hogwarts castle twice, the cute kiddie Hippogriff coaster once, and the Dragon challenge coaster 3 times and the park was just barely opening. 
The entrance to Hogsmeade and then onto Hogwarts! 
 And yes I did purchase a Hogwarts shirts and Braden got a Deathly Hollows hat just for this blessed day! 
Inside Hogwarts! Inside the line queues it is hella DARK! So we didn’t take too many photos but the animation is SO COOL. Here the whole time I’d been lead to believe that disney did line queues better. Well my friends that is FALSE. All of the rides had great waiting queues but the Harry Potter rides were best of all. Here I was watching all the paintings talk to each other! 
I took a photo because I laughed so loud when I saw the public conveniences toilet signs! They were perfect but I never actually used those restrooms haha 

At the entrance to the Forbidden Journey Line Queue! I was pretty obsessed with the outside details of the castles as well. 
We loved having Harry Potter world to ourselves for the first hour. Now as far as the rides go, Forbidden Journey is probably one of the coolest and well thought out rides I’ve been on. THOUGH NOTE THAT IF YOU HAVE ANY SORT OF MOTION SICKNESS YOU WILL WANT TO TAKE SOMETHING BEFORE RIDING THE MAJORITY OF THE RIDES IN THESE PARKS. I’m not especially prone to motion sickness but the forbidden journey can be fairly disorienting as it yanks you out of a simulator in a big screen to animatronics on a track. That being said, it’s a complete experience and we LOVED IT. Just a heads up to wear a patch or take non-drowsy Dramamine so you don’t start the day sick… the Hippogriff coaster (unless you have little ones) is a complete waste of time. It’s short, it’s kind of jerky, and well apart from the fun decor in the line queue and around, there’s not much point to it. Do yourself a favor and make sure you ride BOTH the dragons. We preferred the blue, whether this view is colored because that’s the first one we rode, I know not, but they were both AMAZING. The blue had you upside down more and I felt it went a tad faster. The red had some pretty spectacular moments of its own including one point where you soar right over the blue track you feel like your feet might hit it! 
As the park opened and the crowds started filling in at Harry Potter we moved onto more… deserted destinations…. We rode Jurassic Park right after and got a little wet from the big drop at the end but it felt great as the day started to heat up. 
We also hit the one place our fast passes essentially did no good as we must’ve just missed the first show, we waited for what seemed like 30 min with everyone else to see the Poseidon’s Fury. It is sort of a walk-through show that has different parts of the show happening in different rooms. It’s CHEESY to say the least, but we enjoyed it and the final bit of show with fire and water works at the end was such fun. 
We also rode The Dudley Do Right Rip-saw falls ride once (NOTE IT WILL SOAK YOU. This ride is designed above all others to completely drench you… I kid you not this is not like Splash Mountain. You don’t stand a chance) 
King Kong (AWESOME), Spider Man (cool), Dr. Doom’s Fear Fall (Fun), and the Hulk Coaster (AMAZING) We rode that one twice in a row it was so great, next to the dragon racers, this could be up there as one of my fav. coasters ever. Then we grabbed a quick bite at the Fantastic Four pizza joint (as it was roughly around 11:00 at this point and we had yet to eat anything) Headed over to Dr. Seuss land where we walked onto the Merry Go Round… just to say we touched all of the theme park, lol 
and then…. I Tasted my first Butter Beer. It was a magical moment that was followed up by another magical experience on the Hogwarts Express headed over to Universal Studios.
For our next piece of Harry Potter magic: Diagon Alley and the Escape From Gringotts ride. 
but first let’s talk about the journey

 The only way to ride the Hogwarts Express is to buy a park to park pass. (park hopper) which seeing as we only had 1 day, worked fine for us. It’s a quick train ride but everything is so authentic! I loved how not only did they have a little show in the window of “passing scenery” but the opaque doors of our train cabins also showed people walking by and talking outside your door. It was pretty cool.

You can’t even get into the train station without a park hopper pass. King’s Cross was pretty legit though I did wish they had a platform 93/4s trolley for me to pose with. Alas. I’ll just have to visit the real place. 
 A pano of the train. The line queue people are super efficient with the train and it leaves constantly. Fast pass or not, you will hardly wait for this ride at all. 
We rode Escape from Gringotts and grabbed snack numero dose in the Leaky Cauldron. I knew we wanted to eat at least 1 meal in a Harry Potter restaurant. Again even with the line, this place was built for efficiency and they even find a table for you and bring your food out quickly. We shared a Guinness meat stew in a bread bowl with Pumpkin Juice to drink. DELICIOUS 
As for the Gringotts ride, again VERY COOL. This ride made lot’s of use of simulator sensations with 3D screens but then combined it with a coaster so some parts were roller coaster esque and some parts were more simulation. My favorite part was probably the line queue again. So neat. After you walk through the bank, you enter an office where you discuss touring the bank as a potential client, then you hop on a very authentic elevator that takes you “down” to the vault carts where you board the coaster. It was so cool.  
My favorite part about the Harry Potter World in Universal is that it is somewhat “hidden”. You exit King’s Cross into the main part of the park, NOT Diagon Alley. So you see the purple Night bus which I highly recommend snapping a photo with them. THEY WERE HILARIOUS. The talking head engages you a lot. I.e I got complimented for my shirt design and he even said if he had a body he would wear my shirt. 😛 They seemed to be out there all the time and there wasn’t much of a line so I def. recommend stopping. 
So to find Diagon Alley, it’s like in the movie. There’s this huge “normal” building with a tunnel you walk through and then the bricks “open up” to reveal Diagon Alley like in the first movie. Braden just about walked right by the entrance and didn’t notice it as there’s no signs in the main park to direct you in. Really clever and well done I thought! 
More photos from King’s Cross Station
Inside the bank
The head Goblin guy at the bank. 
After exploring Diagon Alley, we headed over to the other Universal Rides: Transformers (which was a LOT like Spider Man. I thought it was cool just not that into Transformers so I liked Spider Man’s better) The Rip Ride Rockit Coaster which had JUST opened for the day after technical difficulties so it ended up being the longest line we came across all day. It was fun… but out of the big coasters we liked Hulk and Dragon challenge more. So then to finish up we rode the MUMMY ride. Which I honestly had no idea what type of ride this was. It ended up being a top 5 for me. LOVED it. It’s an indoor coaster with all the great scary chessyness you’d expect from the original Brandon Fraser movie. We rode it twice in row. 

And now by this time… we needed a break. So we headed out of Universal to go back to our hotel to swim, relax by the pool and have a few drinks. here’s the fun part, we’d actually had to check out of the hotel (there was no way we could afford it 2 nights in a row) lol so we’d stashed our swimsuits in getaway backs in the car so we stopped at the car, changed in the hotel lobby restroom, and got ride in to wash off the day’s sweat. Not 5 minutes after plunging in, there was “lightening within the area” ya it was a long ways off… but they kicked everyone not just out of the pool… but out of the pool area! haha so we quickly changed back out of our sopping wet suits into our clothes in the pool restroom, and since we still needed a break we headed to Margaritaville in City Walk where we got some refreshing beverages along with nachos to share…. As you can see we gave it our best effort but those nachos won out. They were insane and we were stuffed. haha so then back into Universal Studios we went. 
We started back with the extra-terristrial E.T ride (a lot like Magic Kingdom’s Peter Pan ride except wierder) where you sit on a bike and soar up to E.T’s home planet. It was cute but probably passable if you’re short on time. Then we hit up MIB which is like a tricked out version of Buzz Lightyear with 2 tracks going. I did a lot better with this one since you can pick up the gun to fire. Then we hit up the Simpsons Ride which… not all that regrettably I wasn’t into the Simpsons growing up so I thought it was all a bit weird and another simulator ride so if you aren’t into the Simpsons, again probably skiappable. Then we rode the Mummy 2 more times (def. not skippable) Gringotts again and hopped back on the train to Islands of Adventure. 
 The journey is actually different depending on the direction you go so I recommend riding it both directions. 
We were back in Hogsmeade with apox. 1.5 hours left in the parks hours. We hopped on the Forbidden Journey again, the Dragon Challenge another couple of times, and then hit up Jurrassic Park and Kong Island again. (with Kong, I recommend riding it twice and trying to being on opposite sides of the truck as different things capture you attention depending on the side. Also verified with a park employee, the best place to be is in the BACK of the truck) 
Then we back tracked to catch Hogwarts lit up at night.

 … And to grab another Butterbeer but this time FROZEN and let me tell you, I wish I’d had time to buy like 3 more of these babies because it was twice as good Frozen. Oh man it was crazy delicious.

And finishing the day where we started… JK We still had like 20 min left. So we booked it over to the Marvel area to ride the Hulk coaster 2 more times and with the last 4 minutes left booked it over to SpiderMan for our final ride of the day.
Cost Breakdown, try not to cringe:
  • Hotel: $400
  • Parking: $23 for both days/ night 
  • Park Admission for 1 day park hopper: $350 for both of us
  • We skipped breakfast
  • Butterbeer: $14 or $7 each (doesn’t matter frozen or not) It’s worth it friends 
  • Giant slice of pizza with salad and breadstick at Fantastic 4: $12
  • Guiness Stew and Pumpkin Juice: about $20 the stew was just under 14 and the drink made up the rest
  • Margarittaville Nachos: $14 and could seriously feed like 3 or 4 people plus drinks and tip $40
  • 2nd night in the hotel at the cheap Quality Inn not 10 minutes from the park: $50
Total Park Experience: around $900 for 1 day and 2 nights. OUCH But boy was it an experience
Ride totals for us with our fast passes:
  • The Forbidden Journey: 4 times
  • Dragon Challenge: 6 times (4 on the blue, 2 on the red)
  • Hulk coaster: 4 times
  • Spider Man: twice
  • King Kong: twice
  • Jurassic Park: twice
  • Hogwarts Express: twice
  • Escape from Gringotts: twice
  • The Mummy: 4 times 
  • Dr. Doom fear fall, Ripsaw Falls, Dr. Seuss Merry Go Round, Hipogriff coaster, Poseidon’s Fury, RiprideRockit coaster, Transformers, MIB, ET, Simpsons all once 
Total number of rides ridden in one day: 38 rides
Is the Fast Pass worth it? well do you like to ride rides… Then I’d actually say yes it is. It was absolutely magical never having to wait longer than 5-10 minutes for a ride and the fast pass can be cheaper in the less busier seasons. We  wanted the extra hour so we planned to stay on property. The lowest tier Universal hotel was $200 / night. The middle tier was $400 but included Fast Pass unlimited which would’ve cost us $150 pp in addition to park admission to buy it outright or $300. So staying in the middle tier saved us $100 off the fast pass and was closer to park entrances/ a nicer hotel. 
COULD you do it without the FAST PASS. YES I def think you could hit all the big stuff of both parks in 1 day without it. The longest lines we saw on a VERY busy weekend after the 4th of July was the ripride rock it at 120 minutes… but pretty sure that trimmed down a bit. Most bigger rides were like 40 minutes and if you are there the first hour of opening and last hour before closing, REGARDLESS of fast pass or not YOU WILL WALK RIGHT ON. We seriously wondered where everyone was when we did the Dragon Challenge another 3 times that night. And the things we only did once, like I said in the descriptions above, probs skippable if you’re in a hurry. 
TIP: Buy your park admission before, WAY BEFORE. As the price only went up as our dates approached. I figured buying them at check in from our resort would be the way to go. NOT! DON’T DO IT. Prices jumped like another $25 more pp from what I’d been seeing a month before. 
Harry Potter Wands: Were they cool? YA they looked really cool. Honestly I was jealous a lot of the people doing cool stuff with their wands in the shop windows. But cost?! The basic “magic” wand was $50 starting and went up depending on how cool of one you wanted. For a non-magic within the park magic wand they started at $40. Olivanders shop was a madhouse…. Needless to say it wasn’t a hard pass for me after all. 
Top treats: Butterbeer Butterbeer Butterbeer. But there’s something to be said that if it is hot, that pumpkin juice was pretty delicious too! And it was in a cute bottle with a pumpkin lid. (90% of the reason I got one. They’re killing it with marketing)
Final thoughts, I’ll always be a Disney Girl, but I’ve gotta say…. Universal, Fast pass or not, definitely stole a piece of my heart. I WILL be back. 

NYC posts- Brooklyn & Central Park

NYC Day 2: Brooklyn, Lower Manhattan, and Central Park

Despite the late night Broadway show before, we were up early and determined to hit the rest of the list. So first up was Brooklyn. It took about 40 min to get to the Bagel Store on Bedford Ave between 2 subway lines and less than mile of walking.

Rainbow bagel with funfetti smear: perfection.

Like a kid in a candy store! (or a cake store! haha) That bagel was legit like eating cake since they use cake batter in the smear. It was all my dreams come true! lol and even though it wasn’t the cheapest bagel in the world, around 6.50 it wasn’t bad and their other bagels were a bit cheaper and just as yummy looking. 
The Bedford Ave store put is in an amazing position for our next destination of the Brooklyn Bridge. It was just a short walk through the super cool culture haven that is Williamsburg to the base of the Williamsburg Bridge. (also beautiful in its own right) And from there a cheap ferry ride over to the Brooklyn Bridge. 
Finally seeing some bits of blue sky and sun peek through after all the rain the day before! Here comes the ferry! 
After you get off at the ferry stop, check the cool park area around. Lots of green walking paths and you can get this stellar shot of lower Manhattan! 
And of course from the ferry dock you get a great glimpse of the bridge to come. 
Starting out on the uphill climb for the bridge. 
Even more blue sky! This may have been one of my favorite sites on the whole NYC tour. I love the architecture of the bridge and the history.. which is why there’s about 100 photos of it to follow.. 
The Brooklyn Bridge was completed in 1883 and is the 3rd oldest bridge connecting Manhattan to surrounding areas. The first, King’s bridge has been demolished, and the 2nd oldest carries a water main aqueduct and is inaccessible to pedestrians or vehicles. So basically this is the oldest bridge there you can cross. It is also considered one of the oldest suspension bridges and at the time it was built was 50% longer than any other suspension bridge in existence. That is of course, because it is a hybrid bridge with both suspension and cable stayed bridge techniques. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964. 
My favorite bit of interesting history is that when designing the bridge, they added in lots of secret compartments which the city rented out in order to fund it. Some of those were used as wine “cellars” because they stayed a consistent 60 degrees. 
Even though she looks a bit small, you can easily see Lady Liberty our on Ellis Island from the Brooklyn Bridge. 
Another great photo spot. Important to note that if you want photos without 1,0000 other strangers in your shots, the earlier you get there the better. I think we were there around 10 and it was definitely picking up with field trippers and sight seers alike. 
Looking over at the other beautiful Manhattan Bridge. 
One last shot with our flag flying high and bright. Nothing like visiting some of American’s beautiful historic landmarks to inspire some patriotism. 
Once we were off the bridge it was another short walk to Ground Zero, the 9/11 Memorial. 
2 of my fave. sky scrapers from the trip that we passed along the way. 
I really loved the memorial. I can’t really imagine a more respectful way to recognize the events that occurred on 9.11.2001. We all remember exactly where we were and what we were doing when the twin towers were struck and will never forget those who lost their lives to that terrible act of terrorism.
Even though it was one of the more crowded areas we came across in NYC, everyone was very somber and respectful which was wonderful to see. 
Then time for our last subway adventure when we learned just how important it is to observe ALL the facts that Google Maps points out. Ie. if it only says get on the C line, only get on the C line because if you get on the A line which yes… goes in the same direction, you may just have gotten on the express which will take you 8 stops passed the one you needed to get off at. Thank goodness we figured it out in the subway station so our $3 bucks were still good and we just hoped on the C to go back a few stops. Added maybe 20-30 minutes to our transit time but otherwise.. not too difficult to get from lower Manhattan to mid Central Park. 

Because now it was Central Park time! First up we wanted to check out the Loeb boat house and Bow Bridge. 
Such a peaceful and beautiful area! We discussed a possible romantic boat ride together but decided to not. haha (which turned out to be a solid idea as we DEF would not have had time) 
Most of the places we wanted to see was as the center of Central Park and the hotel Watson was at the SW corner. (We still needed to go back and grab out bags we’d checked there for the day) 
The Alice in Wonderland statue! There was a solid amount of people waiting to have their photo taken here so I just decided to grab a shot between modelers and move onto the next site. Very cool (and large!) statue though and pretty close to the boathouse area. Definitely worth checking out if you’re in the area! 
And you know I couldn’t NOT check out Balto although he was a bit further from the center, he was still pretty on the way as we headed south though the park. 
Here comes the exciting part as these next 2 photos I essentially took at a run. We realized that the absolute latest train we could take in order to get back in time to catch the 7:00 ferry to Block Island… left at 1:20. and ya we were still at the Balto statue at 12:40 deep in Central Park. haha at this point nothing would get us back to the hotel for our bags faster than going through the park… so walk/run we did.
Finally a beautiful day and we were running to escape the city! Back at the hotel it took all of 3 minutes to recover our bags and then google was saying the fastest way to Grand Central (1 mile) was by car/ taxi for a 10 minute drive. OF COURSE all the taxis near our hotel were taken so we ran along the side walks (Katie dashing into the street to check for taxi cabs like a mad woman) and finally the right taxi cab found us. Of course he heard us say CENTRAL PARK instead of Grand central station so he took us like 5 minutes out of the way but he more than made up for it by completely disregarding the traffic laws and other drivers on the road, thus getting us to the station with about 10 minutes before our train left. Luckily we had used the apps and bought our tickets from the cab so now we only had to figure out what platform it was leaving from.
COMMENCE both of us running around Grand Central, plowing down people like mad women but thankfully we were dropped off on the closer side of grand central. We made it to our train with about 5 minutes to spare and at that point I rewarded myself with a famous NYC Black & white cookie (purchased from the bagel store) and relaxed on the journey back to New Haven. 

BUT the excitement did NOT stop there! OH NO cause the connecting train we’d planned on turned out to be an unholy expensive AMTRAK train and NOT the Shoreline east train even though it was on their schedule. That coupled with a ticketing agent telling us the next train wouldn’t leave for another hour had us in PANIC mode. We checked everything from bus schedules to Uber prices but just when we gave into our defeat by purchasing Sbarro pizza (the worst pizza ever) we discovered the ticketing guy was WRONG and there was a train departing only 30 minutes later than we had expected. So rush we did and home we got just in time to throw more bags and be on our way to our next destination!

So there you have it my NYC experience, a bit of doom & gloom, to glorious broadway, to bagels in Brooklyn, sunshine in Central Park, and plowing down people in Grand Central. Certainly an adventure I won’t forget

Costs of the day:
Rainbow bagel with funfetti shmear: something like $6.50. I believe it was a dollar or 2 more than the normal bagels.
black & white cookie also from the bagel store: $3
Ferry from Williamsburg to Brooklyn Bridge: $2.5 pp
All activities were free today
oh! except for the wild taxi ride which ended up around $7 pp
The trains to get back was the same as day before: $24.75
And of course the terrible Sbarro pizza was like $6 but a girls gotta eat.
Total for the day: $49.75 just under 50

Miles walked: around 5.5 with almost about half of that just in Central Park.

A rainy day in NYC

NYC Day 1: Bright and early caught the train from Old Saybrook Connecticut ( free parking and closer to Stonington so less traffic concerns) to New Haven Union Station where we then transferred to go  on to Grand Central. (Above: a horrible lighting selfie in Grand Central… you’re welcome) 
Shoreline East train from O.S. to New Haven: $7.25
Metro North train from New Haven to Grand Central: 17.50

Union Station in New Haven was pretty cool
A much better photo of the incredible ceiling in Grand Central station
Grand Central Station
The hotel we booked for the night was a mere mile from Grand Central so even though it was lightly sprinkling outside the station, we decided to walk to our hotel. Not the best decision as it would turn out as that “mist” quickly turned to full on rain and while our rain jacket kept our top and backpacks dry, it did nothing for my head, legs, or the most regrettably: shoes. 

But luckily enough, Hotel Watson had a room ready for us 1.5 hours early so we were able to go right up, dry off and change, and formulate a new approach for the day as we had previously wanted to explore Central Park.
NEW PLAN: Take the Subway downtown to the Chelsea Market since that was inside and see if we could bide our time till the rain let up.

Impressions of Chelsea Market: Let’s just say it’s way cooler than I am. Tons of eating options and cute little shops. We ended up with Iced Coffees and a loaf of break for $3 for a snacking option. 
The markets were almost like a more intimate version of a mall with different art and cultures mixing into one. These 3 photos from inside were my favorite parts, especially this pipe waterfall that drained right into the ground. 
But sadly, the markets couldn’t go on forever and once again we were faced with going out into the bleak weather of NYC.  But blue skies or not, we determined to check out the new park, the Highline trail that had an entrance just outside of the market. 
The trail is approximately 1.5 miles long and foot traffic only. It’s an old railroad track that was just recently converted into an incredible green space with loungers and flowers everywhere. 
Above: The view looking out toward Jersey City. 
The rain teased us while we were up there giving us a mix of down pour to a fine mist. There were a few spots to take cover during the heavier rain thankfully, but overall, the rain never let up. 
You can see these bench loungers are actually built right over the old track. 
Looking into the city from the Highline Trail. 
Some cool benches I really admired. Since we hopped on the trail near one end we walked first the shorter distance and then headed off on the longer route, determined to see the whole thing. 

Many views of the city from the trail. As you can see it was a near perfect day to be wandering around a park. 

Overall I would actually say that Chelsea market and this park are worth checking out if you are in NYC. ESPECIALLY if you have some down time on a nice day as those loungers would be a lot more inviting in the sun. The park also has a few bathrooms, shops, and elevators so it is wheelchair accessible. Great facilities all in all. 

So from there the trail ended not too far from Hell’s Kitchen so we hopped on the subway to check out Times Square. and the rain rained on. lol but we checked out a few souvenir shops searching for the one magnet that would speak to my soul (none ever did. I am a connoisseur of magnets and NYC seriously let me down on this front) and grabbed a street gyro (which turned out to be pretty delicious.)
And from there on it was a short walk (like .7 miles) back to our hotel.

Then it was time for a HOT shower and another change of clothes into a dress and park 3 of 3 shoes I packed for my whole trip haha. I was so over having wet toes you don’t even KNOW. We had 3 of us, me the pickiest of eaters and also probably the cheapest, a vegetarian, and Katie… so what could we possibly end up with in NYC? The answer is Ramen. Previous reports had recommended Totto Ramen which just happened to be on our way to Broadway so we headed that way. Only Totto Ramen had a line out the door with a likely 20 minute wait that we likely didn’t have time for. 
BUT after some 5 confusing minutes of looking at a sidewalk menu we realized that the sign saying Totto Ramen Next Door was a LEGIT place and we had been studying its menu the whole time! No wait we walked in and had some delicious Ramen and were right on our way again. 

And then we were there. Childhood dreams becoming a reality: Seeing THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA on Broadway. Show started at 8 so we got there 30 min early. PRO TIP: DO NOT EAT SALTY FOODS BEFORE SEEING A BROADWAY. Or at least if you do, chug plenty of water after. We were all so thirsty from the salty Ramen and the bottles of water here were $5! Crazy. 
Needless to say the show was INCREDIBLE. I would LEGIT see this show every time I go to NYC (although  I know there are definitely more incredible musicals to see) The singing, acting, and my favorite park the incredible stage props and backdrops made for a show I’ll never forget. 

Once out of the show we hit up a CVS/ or some other drug store to grab out weight in water bottles lol. Then we again walked back to the hotel (again in the rain which consequently soaked my 3rd pair of shoes)

It seriously didn’t stop raining ALL DAY!
NYC Day 1 Budget review: Trains total: $24.75
Subway 1 way ticket $3 (we used it twice so for the day: $6)
Loaf of bread and iced coffee: something like $8
Street Gyro: $7 
Ramen place: $12 plus tip so like $15 pp
Phantom Of The Opera tickets for Front Mezzanine seats: $100 pp
Hotel Watson for a 2 double bed room: $240/ 3 of us so like $80 pp
Total for day: Something like $240. (NYC ain’t cheap ya’ll!) 

Things to do in Coastal Connecticut

ok time for my last Connecticut post… the less historical visited sites and things to do. Starting with Mystic. As the weather decided to rain on my parade a large majority of the time, we decided to kill one evening by “happy hour hopping” in Mystic (one town over from Stonington) so first stop was: 
1. The Oyster Club where they had oysters for 1/$1. Consequently I tried my 1st and last raw oyster. It was terrible but the cocktail sauce helped. 
2. Pizzete were they have $1 slices of cheese or pepperoni pizza. You can go here if you’re on a budget but still want some “Mystic pizza” haha
3. The last place we were able to squeeze in before 5:00, the Engine Room. Pretty delicious cheeseburgers for $5 and a very cool vibe. Probably my favorite of the 3 we went to.
And of course happy hour being what it is, there were select beverages available for decent prices at each place also if you’re looking for that. 

Next up: Avery Point for some lighthouse action. Plus Katie really wanted to show me her old college stomping grounds. 1st impressions: small but absolutely lovely. 
The stunning Branford house that serves as the student welcoming center for UConn Avery Point Campus. 
Although the building was locked up for summer (I really wanted to go inside) I definitely appreciated all the pretty details of the building from the outside. (and admittedly walked around peering in the ground floor windows like a total creeper.)

A stunning sunset back in good ol’ Stonington 

Right around the corner from both Mystic and Stonington is Ender’s Island. (every time I heard it I couldn’t NOT think of Ender’s game…) It’s a cool little Monastic Caltholic retreat on it’s own Island… kind of. You drive over a very narrow little road to get out to it.

A few very lovely buildings, almost like a school campus that is almost entirely surrounded by water. 
Supposedly there is a store where you can buy delicious jams. I searched for said store but as I was on a bit of a time crunch and had a dog with me that likely would NOT be allowed into buildings… we just walked around the whole thing for a quick stop. 

And now onto the hike around Bluff Point state park in Groton. (Right around the corner from both the Griswold battle field and Nautilus museum. Groton is happening place ya’ll!

This state park is used for all sorts of activities including hiking, mountain biking, fishing, and general beach going although it’s a bit of a walk to the beaches.

 A snapshot of a deer in the more wooded section of Bluff point. Apologize for the blurr but it was all I could get with a very excited hound dog ready to chase after it. 

Some of the coastal views from the hike. From May-October, dogs are allowed to use the inland trails but not allowed on the beaches due to bird nesting grounds. (this being a wildlife preserve and all) so we mostly stuck to the trail but the views were still great. 
The main path is a loop that will follow the coast out to the point and then head back down through the middle of the peninsula called the Groton X-Town trail. I admit, this hike was really more of a trail walk/run but counting it anyways. (there was mud and wildlife haha) As you turn to go inland there are all these beautiful old stone barriers (fences) going this way and that and just about blending into the scenery; remenants of when this peninsula was a little farming community. There is even a placard in front of some of the larger ruins that mark where the Winthrop House (circa 1712) is. 
Overall loop hike length: 3.5 miles 

And finally the last great activity was kayaking out in Old Lyme. We went in the evening on one of the few days it didn’t rain lol and it was absolutely peaceful. Nothing like floating on a river with some drinks and good friends. Thanks again Katie!

I love kayaking! 
And that’s it for Connecticut (for now) folks! Onto NYC and Rhode Island posts!