It’s All in the Bag

I have a confession to make.  I’m a bit of a bag lady.  No, not that kind.  I mean literally, bags. As in those fabric-covered treasure chests in which to stuff all of the various junk deeply important items that I think know I will need at any given time.  Not one for shoe shopping (that alone keeps the spouse happy), I can’t resist scooping up the latest pretty print in the form of a beach bag, travel tote, shoulder bag or cute cosmetic case.

Of course, I have my go-to bag for quick trips to the pool or water park, and ones for longer beach trips, but there is always room in the bag basket for at least one or two (or three or four) more.  This is my current go-to beach bag, just throw a few things in and you’re ready to go.  Of course, I also have one with multiple pockets and a gigantic interior for towels, goggles, cover-ups and such but this one is tried and true.

This is my current all-around go everywhere type of bag.  You can't go wrong with Margaritaville.

You can’t go wrong with Margaritaville.

Given that I also have a big, and I’m talking BIG, theme park obsession, this latest round of bags I’ve discovered is now at the top of my “must acquire” list.

The Dooney & Bourke company was one of the first to get in on the Walt Disney bandwagon  with their well-known name, high-quality materials and pricey price tag.  Dooney certainly does Disney well.  Take a look.

Dooney does Disney well.

Dooney & Bourke wristlet
Photo: ©Dooney & Bourke


Dooney & Bourke Mickey tote
Photo: ©Dooney & Bourke

I especially love this design and bag style.


Dooney & Bourke Disney satchel
©Dooney & Bourke

This cute letter carrier bag is tied as a favorite, as well.


Dooney & Bourke Disney letter carrier bag
©Dooney & Bourke

Being the paranoic that I am, I don’t know if I would trust myself to spend a day at the theme park carrying around one of those super cool, but super pricey, Dooney bags.  Water rides, slippery snacks and the chance of rain would all but have me worrying more about protecting the bag than having fun in the World (or Land as the case may be).  I would probably reserve it for a special occasion.  That being said, there is another great looking bag in town that I am currently drooling over.

Lesportsac has a very happy version of Disney in their “Small World” collection.  Based upon the classic ride and the artwork of Mary Blair, the patterns are taken from the various countries, or rooms, of the ride and feature colorful scenes and ride icons.  It’s a Small World is my favorite ride/attraction at Walt Disney World (Yes, really, it’s my ring tone.  Don’t judge), so I am particularly fond of these bags, which are a bit lower priced than the Dooney ones.

Photo: ©Lesportsac

Lesportsac Well Wishes bag
Photo: ©Lesportsac

Well Wishes is based upon the Holland room.  Happy young ladies peer out from pretty pink and pastel toned fabrics.


Lesportsac Well Wishes tote
Photo: ©Lesportsac

I am actually torn between the girly pink pattern above and the one below.  I really like the iconic buildings and architectural elements depicted on the tote below.  I can definitely see myself using this as a beach bag or carry-on for books, sunscreen, snacks and what-not.

Lesportsac See the World totePhoto: ©Lesportsac

Lesportsac See the World tote
Photo: ©Lesportsac

The Fancy That pattern is from the England room of Small World.  The pattern features famous English icons and scenes.


Lesportsac Fancy That bag
Photo: ©Disney/Lesportsac

I love this bright, colorful Moroccan Sun pattern. It is, however, from the summer 2012 collection and is most likely not easy to find.  I just had to include it though.  You can also get an idea of what the backpack models look like.


Lesportsac Morroccan Sun backpack
Photo: ©Disney/Lesportsac

There is even a Lesportsac Small World diaper bag for the well-traveled baby and mom.


Lesportsac Wondrous Journey baby bag
Photo: ©Disney/Lesportsac

There is a great review of the Lesportsac Small World bags at  Check it out.

Next up is the big bag announcement of the week.  This was all the rage in my Facebook news feed the other day.  Yeah, I subscribe to a lot of Disney blogs, sites and pages.  It’s a weakness.  Now, without further ado….

It is none other than Vera Bradley, the queen of the widely popular and equally beautiful quilted bag.  Disney and Vera have joined forces, and these fabric designs will eventually be found in the form of the usual selection of Vera Bradley bags, totes, pouches and cosmetic cases.

Photo: ©Vera Bradley

Disney and Vera Bradley team up to bring a bit of the World to the quilted bag.
Photo: ©Vera Bradley

Here is a close-up of the pattern.  I wish they had done more of a “Hidden Mickey” type of design with the pattern, but that is just my opinion.  The colors are great and I can’t wait to see the completed product.

Pink design:Black design: Midnight with MickeyPhoto: ©Vera Bradley

Pink design: Just Mousing Around
Black design: Midnight with Mickey
Photo: ©Vera Bradley

Visit the Disney Park’s blog for more detailed information on the Vera Bradley Disney bag, which will debut this fall at Disney parks and will eventually be sold online.  I have not seen any information on price point but I’m thinking that they will be along the lines of the current Vera Bradley items.

That is my roundup of Disney-themed bags.  Please let me know if you know of any that I have missed, including non-Disney characters and patterns.  I’m always on the look-out for a useful and great looking bag.

Carry on.



This sounds better than any pancake I’ve ever had. Lemon and blueberries. How amazing is that?

Belle Grove Plantation Bed and Breakfast


If you are hungry and haven’t had a good meal in a few hours…

You don’t want to read this blog!

You have been warned!

Tonight I made a new recipe. It’s not anything out of this world or dramatic in appearance.

They just came out so good that I had to share them! 

They are….


Blueberry and Lemon Pancakes!


1 3/4 cups All Purpose Flour

1/4 Salt

1 tablespoon heaping Baking Powder

1/3 cups Sugar

1 1/2 cups Milk

1 Lemon (juice and zest)

1 large Egg

1 1/2 teaspoons Vanilla

2 tablespoons melted Butter

1 pint of Blueberries


Heat your griddle or skillet to medium.

In a large bowl, mix your dry ingredients (not blueberries). In a separate bowl, mix your wet ingredients (not blueberries). After mixing, add your wet ingredients to you dry ingredients. Mix until smooth, but may have a few limps in…

View original post 219 more words

Hoofprints in the Sand

I’ve always been a horse girl.  Posters, figurines and Black Beauty books surrounded me as a child, preteen and beyond.  While I don’t decorate my walls and shelves with equine icons anymore, I do still have an affinity for a soft mane and a friendly whinny.

Hi there.

Hi there.

When I can combine my love of horses with the sand and surf of the beach, that is just an added bonus.  We’ve ridden horses on the beach, or close to the beach, in Bermuda.  That was an awesome experience and, until recently, I’ve never seen beach horseback riding offered in less tropical locales.  Now, though, you don’t have to go all exotic to ride horses on the beach. From October through Memorial Day, Virginia Beach Horseback offers the uber-cool equine adventure of horseback riding along the sandy strand of Virginia Beach.

Giddy up.

Giddy up.


Hoofprints in the sand.

This is a great activity even for a beginner.  No experience is necessary and the operators give helpful tips on riding.  My eight-year-old has never ridden a horse by herself and she looked like a pro.  These horses are super gentle and practically walk themselves.  They even know at which point to turn around and head back to the corral.  Horses gotta eat too, ya know.  They know what’s important.

A horse girl in the making.

A horse girl in the making.

Once a horse girl, always a horse girl.

Once a horse girl, always a horse girl.

Hello.  Nice to meet you.

Hello. Nice to meet you.

The corral is usually set up somewhere around 31st street.  Just look for the King Neptune statue.  You can’t miss it.  If you do, you probably shouldn’t be riding a horse.

King Neptune

King Neptune

It’s a good idea to call ahead to check on their exact whereabouts.  If there is a festival or special event going on, they may be set up at another location.  For example, I was there last year during spring break and the horses were around 27th street, but last week there was a lot of dredging and such going on in that area and the horses were at 31st street.

Reservations are not necessary, but are suggested.  When we were there during spring break, we just managed to get a spot before they filled up.  We’re not real up on the thinking ahead.


Virginia Beach Horseback.

Virginia Beach Horseback has been in operation since 2006.  They offer half-hour and hour rides.  Special occasion rides, proposals and wedding packages are also available.  During the summer beach season, when it’s way too crowded for beach back riding, they offer trail rides.

According to the website, Virginia Beach Horseback will soon be offering an experience where you can ride while the horses swim through the water.  Now, how cool is that?

I’ve compiled a list of a couple of other locations that offer horseback riding on the beach.  I’m hoping to get the chance to try out some more of them.  Let me know if you’ve been to any of these, or if you know of any that I’ve missed.  I would love to add on to the list.  Have fun and hang on!

Horseback riding on the beach venues:

Where's my carrot?

Where’s my carrot?

Another bonus of off-season beach excursions is the abundance of seaglass.  My up and coming horse girl is an expert seaglass searcher.




Happy Wholidays from Universal’s Islands of Adventure

Seuss Landing is easily the most festively decorated spot in all of the Universe (Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure in Orlando, Florida, that is).  Sure, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is always snow-covered and stocked with snowmen and steam engines, but all of the greenery and red-trimmed wreaths just add a special sparkle to the Seussical air of Seuss Landing.

The Grinchmas Wholiday Spectacular at Islands of Adventure is a magical journey of music by Mannheim Steamroller, singing and dancing courtesy of the Whos of Whoville, and gallons of  Grinchy-ness that should not be missed.  I have to admit that I am not generally one for shows – I like to get right to the ride action – however, I’m grinchishly glad I made time for this one.  Yes, there will be a lot of “Grinchisms” sprinkled throughout this post.  It’s just fun.

As you enter Seuss Landing, this is the scene you will see.  Bear to the right and get in line for the Grinchmas Wholiday Spectacular, featuring everybody’s favorite green-skinned grouch and a whole bunch of happy Whos.


Seuss Landing in all of its festive finery.

As I’m sure you already know the story, I’ll let you experience the show through the following photos.

The Whos.

The Whos.

The Whos.

The Whos.

The Whos.

The Whos.

The Grinch.

The Grinch.


Enter Cindy-Lou Who.


Peek-a-boo Mr. Who.


The Grinch looks down on the Whos of Who-Ville.


Mr. Grinch


Mr. Grinch.


…and the Grinch thought up a lie…


Mr. Grinch


…and the Grinch’s heart grew three sizes that day.


Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.


Happy Wholidays!

And, yes, Max is a real dog.


The Whos.


Merry Grinchmas!

And we, we ourselves, got to meet the grouchy, green one himself.  F.Y.I., this Grinch is very much in character.  Think Jim Carrey.  This was the funniest meet-n-greet I’ve ever had.

Everybody is a Who in Seuss Landing.

Meeting and greeting the Grinch. Everybody is a Who in Seuss Landing.

More Seussical scenes.


Seuss Landing

The Cat in the Hat.

The Cat in the Hat.

Along with character breakfasts and meet-and-greets, Islands of Adventure is the place to be for Christmas cheer.  Come on over.  The weather is fine.

Merry Grinchmas to Whos everywhere.


Very Vintage, Virginia: Christmas Town at Busch Gardens Williamsburg

Welcome to Holiday Hills.

Welcome to Holiday Hills.

Miles of twisty, crinkly sparkly garland, vintage Coca-Cola signs, retro reindeer and more blow molds than you can shake a candlestick at, Christmas Town has gone retro with the all new Holiday Hills area.  If you’ve ever wanted to step back in time, Busch Gardens Williamsburg is the place to do it.

The Festa Italia section of the park has been transformed into a stroll through a 1950s Christmas card.  Oversized Santa heads, prancing reindeer, toy soldiers, singing angels, glowing candlesticks and classic Coke signs (complete with a sipping Santa) all give a nostalgic feeling of another place in time.  I really enjoyed this section and hope to make it back just to walk around some more, as well as catch a ride on the Peppermint Twist (teacups) and Snowman Summit.

Retro Reindeer

Retro Reindeer

Here are a few more of my favorite scenes from Holiday Hills.

Step onto Retro Lane.

Step onto Retro Lane.


Snowman Summit

Santa and classic Coca-Cola.

Santa and classic Coca-Cola.

The rest of the park is equally decked out in more than two, or three, or six million lights and holiday cheer.  The SkyRide takes guests high over the park for a great light-gazing show, while Mach Tower, operating at a slow pace, gives an even higher bird’s-eye-view of the park.  Take a frosty ride through the Black Forest on Verbolten, also open during Christmas Town evenings.

Mach Tower operates at a slow pace during Christmas Town - ©Busch Gardens

Mach Tower operates at a slow pace during Christmas Town – ©Busch Gardens

I like to take it easy, and Europe in the Air is much more my style.

Europe in the Air

Europe in the Air

Musical shows like Gloria! and Deck the Halls show off the immense talents of Busch Gardens’ performers.  Gloria! brings the story of Christmas and the nativity to life with songs like “Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem,” while Deck the Halls, in Das Festhaus, offers a lively song and dance ensemble of Christmas carols, along with a few favorite characters.

Here are a few favorites from Deck the Halls.






Deck the Halls

Deck the Halls

Deck the Halls

Deck the Halls

Deck the Halls

Deck the Halls

Deck the Halls

Deck the Halls

Deck the Halls

Deck the Halls

Miracles, in the outdoor Il Teatro di San Marco Theatre, is another must-see production that takes guests on a sweeping journey of classical music, song and dance.  The little ones will enjoy A Sesame Street Christmas featuring Big Bird, Cookie, Elmo, Abby Cadabby and the rest of the furry, fun-loving gang.

A Sesame Street Christmas in the Globe Theatre

A Sesame Street Christmas in the Globe Theatre

My interests always run to the merchandise side of things and Busch Gardens manages to put as much of the Christmas spirit into their stores as the rest of the park.




Nutcrackers of every size, shape and style.

Here is one of my favorite scenes at Christmas Town or any day of the year.  I can never visit the park without a stop at the Highland Stables.

Dear Santa...

Do you think he will fit under my tree?

Even rides that aren’t operating during Christmas Town offer the opportunity for magical decorations and lights.  Pompeii looks so dressed up in its coat of water-inspired lights.  I just adore the purple trees along the pathway.

Pompeii all lit-up in lights.

Pompeii all lit-up in lights.

Of course, Christmas Town can’t be complete without those cute, waddling guys in tuxedos.  Even if Mr. Popper is not around, penguins make any day much more fun.


Magellanic penguins on loan from SeaWorld.

Magellanic penguins

Magellanic penguins

Magellanic penguins

Magellanic penguins

African penguins on loan from the Columbus Zoo.

African penguins on loan from the Columbus Zoo.

African penguins

African penguins

Polar photo ops.

Polar photo ops.

Hi there.

Hi there.

O Tannenbaum is a spectacular light show choreographed to a musical score.  This 50-foot Christmas tree in the Oktoberfest Village is the place to be for a magical ending to any Christmas Town adventure.

Das FestHaus

Das FestHaus

O Tannebaum musical light show in Oktoberfest Village - ©Busch Gardens Williamsburg

O Tannebaum musical light show in Oktoberfest Village – ©Busch Gardens Williamsburg

On a final note, it is almost worth the admission price just to try all of the food, desserts and tasty treats available during Christmas Town.  You’ll notice I don’t have any photos.  My traveling companions tend to quickly gobble things up that aren’t glued to the plate.  I recommend the pumpkin cheesecake and anything from Trapper’s Smokehouse, which offers a wide variety of frontier-style meals such as BBQ ribs, sliced brisket, super thick turkey sandwiches, smoked chicken and the best baked beans and macaroni and cheese around.  Also, and this is just me, but I cannot leave the park without a freshly made pretzel from the German bakery.  Guests can watch through the window as the pretzels are being made.

For more information on Christmas Town, please check out my theme park column at

For a peek into Christmas Town Florida-style, including snow, head on over to Busch Gardens Tampa at

Merry Christmas!

Disclosure: The author received complimentary admission to Christmas Town as part of Busch Gardens’ Social Media Event.  All opinions expressed herein are solely those of the author.


Going ogre at the Gaylord National with ‘Shrek the Halls’ in ICE!

It takes a lot to get this girl to leave the house when the temperature dips much below forty-five degrees, let alone to don a big, blue parka, fuzzy gloves and fur-lined boots and walking willingly into a nine-degree dome of ice.  Though, you have to admit, I do kinda rock the fur-lined boots.

If there is one event that can achieve this feat, it can only be the Gaylord National and their annual ICE! attraction.  I am a big fan of the Gaylord and would go even if it weren’t a special event.  This just happened to be Media and Blogger Family Day, with the added bonus of Shrek the Halls in ICE!  Yeah, I’m up for that.  Plus, they have cool treats like this …

Chocolate chip cookie and Shrek-inspired cake pop. Yes, that cookie is really as thick as it looks. There was even ogre-colored milk to go along with it (it was family day, after all).

So, without further ado, here are a few of my favorites from Shrek the Halls in ICE!  Oh, okay, they’re all my favorites.

Shrek the Halls is appropriately presented by the ice cold refreshment of Coca-Cola.

The proof is in the picture.  Me, all bundled up in blue and standing within a nine-degree dome of ice.  And loving every minute of it!

Everybody is offered a big, blue, incredibly warm, parka.

Shrek and Donkey

Come on in. The ICE! is fine.

The ogre youngsters – Fergus, Fargo, and Felicia

The detail is amazing.

Two members of the Piglet trio.

This would be my wee one in the ICE! outhouse.

Puss tips his Santa-inspired hat.

Five ICE! slides provide the ultimate slip-n-slide party with the Three Little Pigs, and lots of flying Dronkeys overhead.

Fiona and the triplets warm up by an ICE! fire.

If I absolutely had to pick a favorite ICE! sculpture, it would have to be Dragon.  Take a look…


Pink Dragon

Shrek learns the true meaning of Christmas.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

In case you’re interested (and why wouldn’t you be – this is amazing), ICE! is created by forty talented master ice carvers from the Harbin International Snow and Ice Festival in Harbin, China, just across the border from Siberia (and I thought nine degrees was cold).  They spend more than a month carving, slicing, dicing and even splicing ice to make this wintry wonderland.

Ice for the Harbin International Snow and Ice Festival, is retrieved from the Songhua River.  While the Potomac River might make a frosty enough plunge for a Polar Bear Club member, it just doesn’t get quite cold enough to produce ice for sculpting and carving exquisite images of fairy tale characters.  The clear, white, and precisely-dyed colored ice for ICE! is custom-ordered from a manufacturing plant in Ohio.

Every ICE! exhibit ends with a dazzling Nativity scene cut out of crystal-clear ice.

Nativity scene in crystal-clear ice.

…and an ICE! Angel.

ICE! Angel

Character meet and greets are always fun, and one of my most favorite things … as long as I don’t have to wait in too long of a line (I’m impatient like that).  The Gaylord National offers the fun of DreamWorks characters such as Shrek, Puss-in-Boots, Po from Kung Fu Panda, and Alex the Lion of Madagascar (Mada-who-ha?).

Everybody’s favorite feline, Alex the Lion from Madagascar.

The whole gang with the mighty ogre himself, Shrek.

Gingy’s Gingerbread Decorating is a fun way to rest a bit.  Trust me, there is a lot of walking.  The Gaylord is gigantic.  A little down time is well worth it.

Gingy’s Gingerbread Decorating

Carefully decorating Gingy.

We chose the train.  Icing and a large variety of candies are included in the kit.  I might add that our train did not make it home….Gingerbread is yummy and my “children” could give Cookie Monster a run for his money, or cookies, as the case may be.

Gingy and the Gingerbread Train.  Yum-O!

We did not do the meet-n-greet with Gingy (too busy gobbling ginger….uh, candy…) but he did wave to us from the shop.  He is quite the friendly fellow.

The back side of Gingerbread.

Overnight stays are not required to participate in ICE! or many of the other super fun activities, though some do require a fee.  If you’re not too tired after a day of ICE! and walking the gorgeous grounds of the Gaylord, stick around and check out this…

The fountain comes to life with colored water that dances to choreographed music.

…or this…

60-foot glass Christmas tree and cascades of “Northern Lights.”

Along with the incorporation of those iconic Coca-Cola polar bears, the other three Gaylord resorts celebrate the season with their own special events and DreamWorks themes.  Gaylord Opryland, in Nashville, Tennessee, hosts A Country Christmas and Shrek the Halls in ICE!  The Palms, Orlando, Florida, puts on Christmas at the Palms and Merry Madagascar in ICE!  The Texan, near Dallas, Texas, offers A Lone Star Christmas and Merry Madagascar in ICE!

Check out for even more cool info. on Shrek and the Gaylord National’s ICE! attraction.

For a look at the Gaylord Palms ICE! event, check out

Merry Christmas!

Disclosure:  The author received complimentary admission to ICE! as part of the Gaylord National’s Media Day.  All opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author.

The Night I Became a Zombie – Kings Dominion’s Halloween HAUNT

I became a zombie for the night last weekend.  No, it wasn’t the zombie apocalypse.  I’ll be sure to give you plenty of notice when that time comes.  This was a Zombie Invasion dance party to open Halloween HAUNT at Kings Dominion.

Zombies in all shapes and sizes ripped up their clothes, painted their faces and rolled around in dirt and detritus to get that perfect “zombie ambience.”  Or maybe that was just us rolling around in the dirt and detritus.  You be the judge.  Here we are:

Us in all of our zombie glory. Yeah, we go a bit overboard.

Here’s a shot of me and my zombie child beneath the glowing eyes of the Eiffel Tower.

Striking a pose beneath the eyes of the Eiffel Tower.

The zombies did a little dance number and enjoyed some gruesome goodies (which were quite tasty).

Zombies do love their cake.

We then lumbered and stumbled off (zombies do that) to enjoy all of the haunted houses, scare zones and shows the park has to offer this year.

This was my first official visit to HAUNT.  We had been there several years ago, during the day, when the youngster was, well, younger. The haunted happenings were just beginning to get underway so we decided to try out a haunted pirate maze.

Okay now, let me remind you that the child was maybe four-years-old at the time.  She is not a scaredy-pants by any means and decided that she would like to try this maze.  While she seemed to enjoy herself – she was given the go-ahead to scream as loud as she wanted (a rare treat for any child, let me tell you) – that was the last time for that experience.

Yeah, we didn’t make Parents of the Year that year.  This time was different.  Maybe it was the zombie attire.  I don’t know, but she (and I) had a blast.

My zombie children. I’m so proud.

Now, I enjoy a good scare (while holding on for dear life to the nearest non-creature I can find), but I need a storyline to go along with it.  Blame it on the writer in me.  Kings Dominion definitely has the scares and the storylines.

Cornstalkers was a favorite.  As you wind and weave your way through a decaying cornfield (who doesn’t love a good cornfield?), the creatures of the corn come out to visit.  As the twisty, turny rows of corn confuse and distract your path, all kinds of mangled and dangled objects deter your journey.  This is one maze where you want to make it to the end.  And watch out when you get there.

Come this way to the creatures of the corn.

The glowing entrance to Cornstalkers.

Medieval Macabre tells the tale of a plague-ravaged town.  The survivors are holed up in a decrepit castle just waiting to take revenge on those that have taken their loved ones.  This was my zombie child’s favorite.

A daylight scene of the Medieval Macabre that overtakes the bumper car venue every year.

Some more daylight scenes…


Nimble skeletons climb the walls of International Street.

New to HAUNT this year is a haunted hotel called No Vacancy.  I would have to say that this was my favorite. Remember, I like a good storyline.  This maze takes travelers through an abandoned hotel where the housekeepers and staff have managed to stick around, long after everyone else has passed on (so to speak). Creep through the library chamber and inch past the kitchen, but don’t accept any “snacks” from the staff. Left-behind luggage, bags and bodies fill up the rooms and hallways of this hotel where the no-vacancy sign has a whole new meaning.

While the wait is expected, the Blue Ridge Bloodbath is always one to check out.  The Antique Cars provide the transportation through a “scenic” drive in the mountains.  This drive isn’t your grandma’s Sunday sojourn. Hop aboard and prepare for the ride of your life … if you’re lucky.

Blue Ridge Bloodbath.

What awaits in the covered bridge?

Outbreak: The Evolution is located at the Flight of Fear ride.  We were a bit worried that we were in line for the ride instead of the maze – it’s an indoor, dark coaster (with four inversions) somewhat like Space Mountain at the Magic Kingdom.  Or so I’ve been told.  I’ve never been on it myself.  I don’t do coasters.  Go figure.  Anyway, it was the maze (we checked) and it is all about the aliens and other test tube creatures of a medical facility.  Walk along the hallways and try not to become part of the experiment.

A few missed mazes include Club Blood (you guessed it, vampires), Camp Killauee and The Doll Factory (ya gotta have a doll house).  Since we have season passes (and the youngster loved the scare fest), we will be back for more Haunts.  See you there.

Of course, there are lots of daytime activities for those not into the haunting.  Roller coasters, thrill rides, family fun rides and Howl-O-Fest all make it a great day at Kings Dominion.  Check this one out…

The Crypt always makes for good entertainment.

To read more about HAUNT, go ahead and click here.  I dare you.

Going Outside with Richmond Recreation

Most would agree that Richmond, Virginia is the best town ever.  And by most, I don’t mean those that just happen to live there.  I mean an actual, bona fide ballot conducted by Outside Magazine.  And if you don’t believe me, you can check out the October issue (35th anniversary edition) of the magazine.  It’s on newsstands now.  That would be Richmond on the cover.

Reflections of Richmond and the James River

Outside Magazine partnered with American Rivers, a leading fresh water nonprofit, to conduct this tributary tally.  Fifty cities were evaluated on aspects such as environmental stewardship, cost of living, cultural vibrancy, access to the outdoors and job prospects.  After narrowing it down to 10 cities, the voting was turned over to Facebook fans.

Fans then voted for, and left comments about, their favorite river town, those cities that take a serious interest in outdoor recreation and environmental responsibility.  The winner was chosen by a combination of votes and comments about the town by these outdoor enthusiasts and river rooters.

Among others, the ten contestants included Hood River, Oregon; Asheville, North Carolina; Durango, Colorado; Boise, Idaho and Nashville, Tennessee.  Richmond racked up 9,315 votes – more than the next five towns combined.  Hood River, Oregon came in second with 6,500 votes.

Following is the list of top ten river towns (with their respective rivers in parenthesis):

  • Richmond, Virginia  (James River)
  • Hood River, Oregon  (Columbia River)
  • Nevada City, California  (Yuba, American and Bear Rivers)
  • Boise, Idaho  (Boise, Payette and North Fork Rivers)
  • Durango, Colorado  (Animas River)
  • Missoula, Montana  (Clark Fork, Bitterroot and Blackfoot Rivers)
  • Nashville, Tennessee  (Cumberland River)
  • Milwaukee, Wisconsin  (Kinnickinnic, Menomonee and Milwaukee Rivers)
  • Asheville, North Carolina  (Nantahala and French Broad Rivers)
  • Ithaca, New York  (Cayuga Lake, Finger Lakes National Forest and gorges)

Richmonders have always known the merits of their city.  Kayakers, mountain bikers, hikers, rock climbers and sightseers alike can enjoy the James River and its backdrop of the downtown Richmond skyline.  Every spring, extreme athletes from all over convene upon the downtown riverfront for the Dominion RiverRock Festival, a three day event featuring extreme sports such as slacklining, kayaking, mountain biking, mud runs, ziplining and a bunch of other stuff that I would never try myself.  There are also dog events and concerts.

Kayakers navigating the James River.

Richmond is the only urban capital with class III and IV rapids running through its downtown scene.  Bald eagles nest along the river, the same river that Captains Christopher Newport and John Smith sailed up from Jamestown back in the day (1607 to be exact).  There are smooth areas of the river as well, perfect for stand-up paddleboarding and peaceful kayaking.

The James River from Belle Isle.

Already a great mountain biking spot, a brand new Bike Skills Area has been built at Belle Isle.  The official dedication ceremony was last weekend and I just missed it by a few hours.  That’ll teach me to sleep in on a Saturday morning.  Conveniently located under the Lee Bridge, to eliminate run-off and damage to the dirt bumps from rain and weather, this cool park was built out of repurposed city materials and designed by the International Bicycling Association.  Bumps, logs, hills, and boulders allow bikers to practice their skills in a safe space.

Belle Isle’s new Bike Skills Area

Boulders and logs to test your biking skills.

The bumps at Belle Isle.

Biking the bumps beneath the Lee Bridge.

Pretty flowers provide background for the Bike Skills Area.

Bumping through the wooded area.

Handcrafted wooden sign at Bike Skills Area.

The gorgeous sign was provided by the skilled artisans at Dreaming Creek – authentic architectural timbering.

Dreaming Creek handcrafted sign at Bike Skills Area.

Here’s another thing you might often see along Richmond’s James River.  Look closely.

Swingin’ out into the James River.

Voting for Outside’s best town ever was also based on the enthusiasm of its residents.  It turns out that Richmond has enough enthusiasm for many larger cities put together.  Several comments were posted by top outdoor and recreation experts, as well as public relations representatives from many of the city’s top tourist attractions, all touting the merits and awesomeness that is Richmond.  Governor Bob McDonnell even gave an endorsement via Twitter.  Perhaps more creatively, and definitely athletically, 14 kayakers held up signs while floating down the James River.  Yep, that’s us.  We’re Richmond and we’re proud of our river city.

Howl-O-Scream and #FrightNight 2012 – The Dark Side of the Gardens

A couple of weeks ago, I received an invitation to a social media event, #FrightNight, scheduled for the opening weekend of Busch Gardens’ annual Howl-O-Scream event … read more… The above link will take you to the rest of my … Continue reading

Standing up to Paddleboarding

Sound-side at Kitty Hawk Watersports.

A while back, I was pondering the art of stand-up paddleboarding, or SUP to those in the know.  Watching those who glide seemingly effortlessly through the water while standing atop a sturdy, floating board just made me want to give it a try.  Since I am a bit of a wimp when it comes to adventurous stuff, I decided to test my stamina with something that seemed fairly safe and peaceful.  Goodness knows, the word “peaceful” doesn’t often come up in the world of outdoor sports.

The Sound behind Kitty Hawk Watersports and Miller’s Restaurant.

Kitty Hawk Watersports, in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, sits on the Sound side next to Miller’s Restaurant (which is a-may-zing, just so you know) and offers a great spot to practice and try something new.  Plus, they have these awesome water bumper boats that the husband and child took advantage of while I was enjoying my SUP experience.

The art scene at Kitty Hawk Watersports.

I decided that I did not need an actual lesson.  For once, that turned out to be a good call because the employee that helped me did a really good job of explaining the basics.  Now, for more advanced techniques, I would recommend a lesson or two.  But to just start out, it’s kind of nice to just “wing it.”

Practicing kiteboarding skills.

I discovered that paddleboarding is both easier and harder than I imagined.  Balance was my worry (I can trip over air).  Turns out there was nothing to worry about in that department.  Those boards are really wide and very sturdy.  If you can stand up, you can stand up on a paddleboard.

Now, the hard part was to be found in the rowing.  Yes, rowing.  As in with a paddle (hence the name, paddleboarding).  Let’s just say I am more spaghetti arms than rower’s arms.  I did not do too bad, if I do say so myself.  Which I do, as there is nobody to dispute my claims.  But boy were my arms tired.

If you’re wondering why there are no photos of myself actually on a paddleboard, remember that my traveling companions were soaking themselves on the water bumper boats.  They have their priorities.

Jet ski rentals at Kitty Hawk Watersports.