TR: Smoky Mountain Pseudo-Christmas Pt. 3: Drive Home (11/29-30/14)

Usually for weekend trips, Saturday is our biggest day of activity. This being a weird holiday weekend trip, Saturday was basically set as a travel day to get us out of Pigeon Forge and near to Cincinnati for the final stretch of driving. As a travel day, it did still offer us a number of different things to do for entertainment and exploration. I had a short list of things I wanted to do and remembered a few items from the trip down which I felt might be worth brief exploration. Continue reading

TR: Smoky Mountain Pseudo-Christmas Pt. 2: Black Friday at Dollywood (11/28/14)

The engine that drives the development of the whole Pigeon Forge tourism machine exists just a short drive away from Gatlinburg. Not Dollywood, though that was the focus of this particular day, but rather the Smoky Mountain National Park, America’s most visited such park. We were a bit strapped for time this Friday morning, having bandied about several other ideas before finally settling on a scenic drive as we pulled away from the hotel. Sure, there’s other tourist junk we could have done, but isn’t this why everyone comes? Isn’t this why most are here? Entry is free, which only encourages floods of people. On this particular morning, we drove about 2/3s of the way to Cades Cove, then turned around so that we could arrive at Dollywood in a reasonable amount of time. The drive itself reminded me of heading north on Route 8 out of Connecticut and into Western Massachusetts – hilly, but not terribly so, running alongside a river, with many options for short hikes and walks within a short distance of an otherwise busy road. Continue reading

TR: Smoky Mountain Pseudo-Christmas Pt. 1: Pigeon Forge/Gaitlinburg (11/26-11/27/14)

Somewhere around August, it was made aware to my wife and I that our plan of staying home and having Thanksgiving with my mother-in-law was simply not going to happen. She had different plans – plans in New Zealand. That left us in a strange position of not having any plans for a huge chunk of time off. So began a period of several days where we scouted airfares and hotel prices in a desperate attempt to find something that would work. Nothing really did. How could I ever justify paying $450 or more to fly to Orlando? This left us stumped and searching for ideas. Finally, one came to me – we had season passes for Silver Dollar City acquired back in June. Silver Dollar City season passes give a 50% discount on Dollywood tickets. Dollywood, while roughly 11 hours away, is not somewhere we’d fly to, but actually somewhat feasible by automobile. Why not? Continue reading

TR: Exposition on Ontario Exploration – Blue Mountains, Niagara, Toronto Suburbs (11/15-11/16/14)

Trips happen for a reason. Sometimes there’s a specific ride. Sometimes there’s a large idea framing the trip planning process. This was a solo trip to Canada birthed around an event- a “world title” boxing bout in Mississauga, Ontario with low-priced tickets that interested me. So why not go? And since I’m crossing the border, I suppose I should do some other stuff. How about a coaster? How about some random amusements and a world-famous natural landmark? I guess I’d have to drive a lot, but I’m grown. I can do it. Continue reading

TR: Cedar Point Closing Weekend & Toledo Zoo stop (11/1-11/2/2014)

The weekend after Halloween this year represented the end of most seasonal theme park operation in the United States and Canada. While I recognize the “season end,” I’m also keenly aware that I’ll probably be visiting amusement rides via automobile in two of the subsequent 4 weekends after most theme parks close. But then, after that, things will change. Whether or not I’m properly prepared for it mentally, soon the option of visiting Cedar Point simply won’t exist, which makes going when you still can on a weekend such as this one all the more important for those obsessed to the entertainment derived from these sorts of places. Meredith and I, we’re the lucky ones with options and alternatives gifted to us by economic status. For a lot of people, the winter is cold and long. Continue reading

TR: Jewel of the Seas 2014 Caribbean Cruise Pt. 7 – San Juan Post-Cruise (10/18 & 19/2014)

“These damn Dominicans, always stealing my cab rides! They just come here and take advantage of us.”

My mother, bless her heart, is not a huge fan of Puerto Rican culture or people. She’s approaching 60 now, an immigrant from Poland who’s lived in or around Hartford, CT for the majority of her life. To her. Puerto Ricans move to the greater Hartford Metro area and take advantage of her generosity, or something like that. To aging WASPs, my Catholic mom’s entry to America was a violation of the founder’s desires. To Dominicans, that sorts of criticism is levied towards Haitians. All over arbitrary social constructs. What gives? In this real life example, our cabbie was gonna get someone going further than La Concha from the San Juan cruise port and got heated. Life is tough. I was able to get her in a different and more cheerful place mentally by the time we arrived at the hotel, but still. Continue reading

TR: Jewel of the Seas 2014 Caribbean Cruise Pt. 6 – Barbados & Sea Day (10/16 & 17/2014)

By the time our 5th day on the boat had arrived, we had fallen into certain patterns of activity. The coffee drinks in the Starbucks were one that we’d enjoy. Another was the TV programming produced on board the ship. Not the morning show or even so much the game shows replayed from nights prior. For some reason, the shopping consultant talks replayed over and over with Lee, the boat’s shopping consultant, were mesmerizing. Our favorite was on one program where he informed us that an overwhelming percentage of people notice watches on people and judge them on their watch, then mentioned that we almost assuredly had noticed he had two on. We laughed about how no one in our peer group we know aside from myself wears a watch and that, indeed, we hadn’t been that interested as to notice that he had two on. Apparently one of the regulated the nervous system by magic microchip. I don’t know about you, but I’m not rushing to acquire untested-by-the-FDA cyborg control chips from commercial retailers. Continue reading