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…

Welcome!

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.

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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.

Blogging About Blenders

Move over Hamilton Beach and Cuisinart, there’s a new blender in town.  It’s big and it’s colorful and it goes by the name of Margaritaville.

The Margaritaville Frozen Concoction Maker.

Now, I’m not one to wax poetic about kitchen appliances.  Or cooking in general, for that matter.  You will rarely see me writing about recipes or anything that requires me having to prepare my own food.  Aside from the occasional baking of a key lime pie or the pushing of a button on the microwave, I try to stay out of my kitchen.  We’re all safer that way.  I do have a thing for celebrity-chef inscribed products, and admit to owning a couple of them, but they generally stay nice and neat (and safe) in their respective spots.

Bringing a bit of the tropics to my kitchen counter.

The Margaritaville Frozen Concoction Maker (Bahamas model) is the one exception.  I LOVE this thing.  This blender practically thinks for itself.  It’s smarter than I am.  I like that in a kitchen appliance.  Just fill it with ice, pour in your favorite liquid concoctions and flip the switch.  That’s it.  The machine does everything else.  You don’t have to stop it and stir and scrape globs of stuff off the sides of the pitcher.  It shaves ice perfectly and I have yet to receive an icky drink.

Tropical concoctions just waiting to be consumed.

I had been wanting to purchase this brilliant blender for quite some time.  At around $200, it was a bit out of my price range.  Imagine my surprise when I found it on a clearance shelf marked down to $139.  Still a little high, but it was my birthday (well, close enough to my birthday…) and I decided to just go for it.  At the counter, it rang up at $64.  After my mouth dropped to the floor, I happily paid and left.  Talk about a birthday bonus!

My deal of the day.

This beautiful lime-green, cream, and silver-accented tropical contraption sits on my kitchen counter just waiting to shave ice and blend magical mixtures into delicious frozen concoctions.  Sure, I love my Paula Deen steamer pot (“smell those shrimp, they’re beginnin’ to boil…”), but my Buffett blender is the prize of my kitchen (“… and soon it will render…”).  Thank you Mr. Buffett.  Fin’s up.

“…and soon it will render…”

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.

Far-Out and Fab on Florida’s Gulf Coast – Frenchy’s Oasis Motel

Groovy, cool, neat-o and any other ‘60s saying you might surmise aptly describe the space that makes up Frenchy’s Oasis Motel.  A classic motor lodge with a courtyard-style pool and back “yard” marina, Frenchy’s is located just a walk away … Continue reading

Bicycles, Bonfires and a Trip Around the Sun

…I’m just hanging on while this old world keeps spinning / And it’s good to know it’s out of my control / If there’s one thing that I’ve learned from all this living / Is that it wouldn’t change a thing if I let go…

This is one of my favorite lines from one of my favorite songs, which just so happens to be sung by two of my favorite people.  If you’ve been reading this blog for very long, you’ll already know that one of those people is the baron of the beach himself, Jimmy Buffett.  The other one owns one of the sweetest and most powerful (have you heard “Whatever You Say?”) voices in country music, Martina McBride.

Here’s the video.  I love the bicycles and bonfire on the beach.

“Trip Around the Sun”

I’m celebrating my own trip around the sun today.  That would be a birthday in case you weren’t paying attention in science class.  I know I wasn’t so it’s nice to have Buffett and McBride remind me.  And maybe it wasn’t science class…astronomy?  See, what did I tell you?

I also won’t be mentioning exactly how many trips it has been.  Some things can be left to the imagination.

Reflection, revelation and the making of resolutions seem to be the “grown-up,” things to do on a  birthday but, like the song says, I prefer to “just enjoy this ride.”

If I must have a goal of some sort for the coming year, I’ll just say that I resolve to do more bicycle riding, attend more bonfires and go on a diet eat less s’mores.  It’s all about the little things.

My Mission to Margaritaville

The baron of beach bums, Jimmy Buffett, in concert at Bristow, Virginia – Jiffy Lube Live.

Once upon a time, I sold t-shirts for Jimmy Buffett.  We workers in the Merchandise department at Kings Dominion were responsible for that type of thing at concerts…. that little stand where consenting consumers happily hand over their cash to purchase t-shirts, decals, buttons, hats, etc…etc…

As a seventeen-year-old, it was a pretty cool deal to be able to listen to a free concert while selling souvenirs to Parrot Heads.  Since I was not born under a rock, I was familiar with the Buffett brand but didn’t really know much about his music past “Margaritaville.”

Once the feeding frenzy that is the merchandise stand settles down, a form of magic takes over.  As the heat of the day subsides, the lights dim and dusk settles in, it’s just the roar of the crowd and the sound of the song.  I’ve been a fan ever since.

That’s my Parrot Head indoctrination story and I’m proud of it.  Ironically enough, the term “Parrot Head” originated at Kings Dominion’s sister park, Kings Island, in Cincinnati, Ohio.  You can even read about it by clicking right here.

I’m on a mission to visit every Margaritaville Café in every state, island or province where there is one.  I’ve been to Key West (the original and, so far, my favorite), Orlando, and Myrtle Beach but have quite a ways to go.  At the rate Jimmy is going at developing new ones – including a hotel in Pensacola and the casinos in Las Vegas and Biloxi (can’t leave them out) – it may take a while to get to all of them.  I have patience.  I am on island time, after all.

The original Margaritaville – Key West, Florida

CityWalk at Universal Orlando features a bunch of famous name restaurants, including Emeril’s, Bob Marley’s, Bubba Gump and Margaritaville.  We are big fans of Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure and always make it a special point to make a stop at Margaritaville.  It is my mecca in the  middle of MCO.  That would be Orlando, in case you didn’t know.

Margaritaville Orlando at Universal’s CityWalk features the Lone Palm bar and a giant replica of Jimmy’s plane, The Hemisphere Dancer.

More Margaritaville Orlando.

The Myrtle Beach branch of M’Ville is located at Broadway at the Beach and has a really cool ship and lighthouse exterior.

Margaritaville Myrtle Beach at Broadway at the Beach, South Carolina

And the interior….

Interior view at Margaritaville Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

As a writer, I’ve gotten the opportunity to write about several Margaritaville products and partnerships, including LandShark and Ocean Conservancy’s Fin-tastic beach cleanup tour, Parrot Head sun care products, the opening of the Biloxi Margaritaville Restaurant and Casino, as well as many other Margaritaville restaurant news and events.  I hope to have many more.

Tequila, LandShark and mixers aside, I’m a big fan of M’Ville products.  I’ve recently acquired the Margaritaville Frozen Concoction Maker (Bahamas version) and am hooked on it.  A regular blender has nothing on this baby.  Oh, and I don’t go anywhere without my M’Ville sunglasses.  Best ever.  Now I just need to check out that Parrot Head sun care and I’ll be set.  “Watchin’ the sun bake…..”

Fins Up!

Mmmmmm…..motorboating…

Little Big Town had me at “Boondocks” and they’ll be keeping me for a long time with their latest song “Pontoon.”  We owned a pontoon boat for several years.  As a matter of fact, here it is…..

“Who said anything about skiing?’ – Little Big Town
That would be my dad holding the lines. Handsome fellow, isn’t he?

As fun and convenient as they are, they do not go fast.  And that’s okay.  But when you have an eight-year-old that likes to go fast, you sometimes need to upgrade.  Or side-grade, whichever the case may be.

Thank you Little Big Town for renewing my memories of my “crawling condo” and giving me the inspiration to get this written up and all of my favorite boat photos posted.  Some are way more extravagant than ours. Some might even be ours.  Most are not.

Boats really are a floating form of magic carpet, gliding and glistening across the water (pontoons even have that extra astro-turf to them).  Just like the commercials, everybody waves and wants to follow in your wake. Well, maybe not the wake of a pontoon boat but you get the idea.

Following the Wake

This serene scene was taken on a sightseeing boat ride aboard the Crystal Dawn, which leaves out of Pirate’s Cove Marina.  Oh, and I will be posting some of the yachts found in Pirate’s Cove.  I like to think that the people in the boat are waving.  I can’t really tell.  So, yeah, they are waving.

Sunset ride across Roanoke Sound in Manteo, NC.

Pirate’s Cove is full of beautiful boats and mega-yachts like this.  This shot is a favorite of mine.  I just love when those clouds cooperate.

Pirate’s Cove Marina, Manteo, NC.  This is the place to go for charter fishing trips and mega-yacht oogling.

Ta-daaaaa!  Here is one of my favorite boat scenes.  This was taken in Clearwater, Florida at Frenchy’s Oasis Motel (which I will definitely be blogging about at some point).  We spent three wonderfully fun and sunny days with this as our “backyard” view.  Pelicans and seabirds converged on the dock every morning to check out the stash of goodies and handouts at the restaurant next door.

The backyard view at Frency’s Oasis Motel in Clearwater, Florida.

This is another one of my “always-take-a-photo-no-matter-how-many-I-already-have” locations.  I just love the sparkly look of the water and the line-up of docked boats.  This is at Sturgeon Creek Marina on Lake Anna, Virginia.  The jet-ski in the foreground is ours.

Sturgeon Creek Marina at Lake Anna, Virginia.

Okay, so kayaks and canoes are not technically “motor” boats.  But these are cool and colorful and offer a peaceful glide across the water.  Both of the following photos were taken in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

Colorful canoes in Roanoke Sound, Manteo, North Carolina.

And the kayaks…..

Colorful kayaks in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

You’ll notice that a lot of my photos are from the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  My camera pretty much never leaves my side.  Here is another one from the harbor in Manteo.

Boats in the harbor – Manteo, North Carolina.

My favorite time of day to snap photos is all day early evening.  The light is usually softer and gives off nice shadows and reflections.  I particularly like the moss on the post in this one.

Jordan Point Yacht Haven, on the lower James River – Hopewell, Virginia.

A few years ago, some good friends of ours decided to get married on the island of Tortola in the British Virgin Islands.  It was also the year of our tenth anniversary.  What better way to celebrate two wonderful occasions than with a tropical trip.

Sailboat, Tortola, British Virgin Islands.

This was also taken in Tortola.  The island is simply amazing.  I love the way the mountains come straight down to hug the water.

Small marina in Tortola, British Virgin Islands.

This is what our friends sailed off on after the wedding.  I’m sorry to say that Barefoot Cruises is no longer in business.  This was an amazing boat….errr….”ship.”  Funny story….we had an opportunity to go on board and look around (and I will say that the interior is just as gorgeous as the exterior).  My husband inadvertently called the vessel a boat and was kindly reprimanded by one of the shipmates, “It’s a Ship.”  We still laugh about that.

Barefoot Cruises – Tortola, BVI.

The front…

Barefoot Cruises aboard the Mandalay – Tortola, BVI.

…and the back….

Mandalay – Tortola, BVI

Key West always offers great boat photos.

Sunset under sail – Key West, Florida.

In Florida, both birds and clouds cooperate.  How great is that?

Key West, Florida.

That concludes the Boats section of my favorite tag-line…..”boats, beaches, bridges and the islands they inhabit.”  I made it up myself.  Cool, huh?  I have written a previous post on the Bridges section and hope to soon get with it on the rest of group.

Pondering Paddleboarding

Stand-Up Paddleboarding

The art of Stand-Up Paddleboarding – Photo Credit: Flickr/CC/Madmarv00

I’ve been thinking about trying stand-up paddleboarding for a while now.  That graceful image of balancing atop a big board while floating across the water keeps drifting through my mind.  No odd-shaped balls to catch, no chance of being pummeled by said odd-shaped ball and no muscle-y teammates to deal with (I have bad memories of high school gym class … but then, who among us doesn’t?).  So, in all aspects, the perfect sport for me, right?

I do have a couple of really good reasons for wanting to embark upon this increasingly popular and peaceful past-time … 1.)  It looks really fun.  2.)  Jimmy Buffett does it and really, if Buffett does it we all should be doing it.  3.)  I take  yoga; how hard can it be?

I will be in the Outer Banks a couple of times over the summer and hope to take in a lesson or two at Kitty Hawk Kites.  Stay tuned for an update in the coming weeks.  Oh, and wish me luck.  I have a feeling I’m going to need it.