Archive for the ‘Things to Do’ Category

Frightfully Good Fun

October 30, 2015

Who doesn’t love a good scare?  Halloween is this weekend and in every city across America, haunted houses are opening up offering some frightfully good fun.

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Decades ago, I “worked” in a haunted house with a friend of mine who was in charge of a “room”.  Boo76_004His theater group got a percentage of the profits in exchange for hosting a room.  I got recruited to lay in the coffin and “look dead” – that’s what friends are for.  This haunted house was sponsored by the local Jaycees, a community organization.  The Jaycees host a haunted house in many communities as do the Shriners.  In fact, in Seattle, the Shriners boast the only “haunted golf course“.  Local radio stations are also big sponsors of haunted houses.  Listen and you could even win passes!  The weekend before Halloween, Salt River Fields was the site of  “Spooktacular” – a balloon glow in a field where kids could trick-or-treat between hot air balloons!

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In larger markets, there are companies who set up elaborate haunted houses such as “13th Floor”, the one I recently visited in Phoenix.  AMAZING!  Great, elaborate sets and agile ghouls who manage to get ever so close to you without ever touching you and then magically slip away.

13Foor

Several tips for finding a great haunted house:

  1. Be sure the house fits the attendees.  There are some venues which are more family-friendly than others.  Visit the website or Facebook page for the prospective haunt and see what they say as well as what others who have already visited say.
  2. READ THE REVIEWS!!!
  3. Really young children are perhaps better suited for a corn maze or other less scary options.
  4. Opt for the VIP or shortened line option if you can.  Lines – especially on Halloween weekend – can get frightfully LONG.  If you spend a little more, you can usually jump the line.

zinsOf course you can always stay home and hand out candy.  If you do, consider having a few bottles of themed wine on hand and some small plastic cups for the adults who are accompanying the children on the neighborhood trek.  7 Deadly Zins is my personal favorite and what we will be pouring if you ring our doorbell.

 

 

 

 

                      You can keep up to the minute with the Travel Queen on Twitter or Instagram (TravelQueenSunny)!

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Staycation! Tourist in your own town

October 27, 2015

When I was a kid, we didn’t have a lot of disposable income.  kansas-city-missouri-downtown_at_twighlightWe certainly didn’t have money for camps or family summer vacations.  That doesn’t mean I had a boring childhood – quite the opposite.  One year McDonald’s gave out a cartoon type map of Kansas City showing both local landmarks and of course, their restaurants.  My mom took that map and used it as a “Tour KC Guide” and each week we went on an outing.  Again, we didn’t have the funds to “eat out” – even at McDonald’s – each week so she packed picnic lunches for us.  What a great time we had and what wonderful memories!

McDonald'sYou can do the same thing even without the help of a McDonald’s map!  Before you say “I’ve already done everything there is to do in this town” you may want to think about it.  Likely there are new museums, galleries or attractions that have opened.  Others I suspect it has been a LONG TIME since you visited.  Maybe it’s time to go back to the aquarium, the science center or Northwest Trek.  Do you have a friend who moved to your town in the past few years?  Invite them along.

 It’s always fun to play tour guide.

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Great WheelMy Seattle list includes riding the Great Wheel, the giant Ferris wheel on the waterfront in downtown Seattle.  The harbor seals have a new home at the Seattle Aquarium I might have to check out.  Northwest Trek has added a zip line and I do love zip lines.  I’ve never made it to Wolf Haven but it interests me – anything with animals interests me.  Which makes me wonder,  what might be new at Woodland Park Zoo.  Fall is a great time to visit a zoo or wildlife sanctuary where the animals are more active in the cooler temperatures.  There’s also the Chihuly Garden and Glass which I got a glimpse of as we rode the elevator up to the Space Needle for a special dinner.

Chihuly Garden and Glass

When you don’t have to factor in the cost of transportation and accommodations, a vacation gets much more affordable making a “Staycation” an attractive idea.

There are lots of great memories to be made right in your own backyard.  With a little internet research and a spirit of adventure you can make this a year to remember no matter what your budget.

Out of the Blue

October 7, 2015

The FIRST EVER “Cruise for Wildlife” fundraiser for Liberty Wildlife took place Saturday night on a stunning houseboat on Lake Pleasant.  Nautically dressed Scottsdale residents (just less than 60) were treated to a very memorable evening!

Out of the Blue

Out of the Blue

Start with the houseboat “Out of the Blue”–  It’s fabulous!  Elegant, gorgeous and comfortable for your family or a group.  You don’t have to wait for a special event, you can rent this gem for your friends and family. What a great vacation option!  Plenty of space, a lake in the desert for swimming and water sports – a perfect formula for great memories.  Getting married?  Why not have your special day aboard this special vessel?  Company events? Charity events such as the one I attended?  Reward your staff or raise funds in style!

Then cruise miles of hidden canyons and the scenic shoreline of Lake Pleasant on a perfect desert evening.  The beauty doesn’t end when the sun goes down – look up.  Yes, you can see the Milky Way with the naked eye.  Stargazing away from the light pollution of the city and have some wishes handy, look – there’s a shooting star!

But this special evening was a fundraising event for Liberty Wildlife.  If you live in the Phoenix area and don’t know Liberty Wildlife, you should!  This wonderful organization rescues injured, imprinted or orphaned birds and other native wildlife (yes, even snakes and Gila monsters) with an eye to releasing rehabilitated animals back into the wild.  Megan Mosby was on hand to share information about the great work done by Liberty Wildlife as was Carol, the volunteer coordinator and of course,  handlers for “Aurora”.  20151003_183706_resized

John, Sunny & Aurora

John, Sunny & Aurora

How about getting up close and personal with Aurora, one of Liberty Wildlife’s resident bald eagles!?!  We’ve all seen pictures, eagles on television or movies but nothing prepares you for the size and majesty of standing next to one of our national treasures!   Even though she’s not a “night owl”,  Aurora seemed happy to stay up late and sail with us for the evening.

The food was plentiful and delicious – from wraps to shrimp to hummus and roasted veggies.  Great wine, beer and cocktails too.  A nice sweet treat to end the evening?  Personalized cookies!

Please, please, please make this an annual event!  But if you missed it and are interested, there are other wildlife events throughout the year open to the public and you can access the calendar here.  Stay connected to Liberty Wildlife as they prepare to move to their new facility next spring.  Once there they will be open to the public – something you’ll surely not want to miss!

Lions and Tigers and Bears…Oh My!

October 2, 2015

I’ve always had a thing for animals.  Not just the domestic types, but the big “I could eat you if I wanted” type.  So when I had the chance to do the private training course at Hollywood Animals, I couldn’t resist!

Kipling

Hollywood Animals, located in Santa Clarita, California provides big cats to the movie, television and advertising business.

Felix

Felix

 

If you saw the movie, Evan Almighty with Steve Carell, the 2 lions, 2 tigers, 2 spotted leopards and the hyena from that movie were all cast from Hollywood Animals.

These animals travel all over the world to work with actors and models so they need to be socialized – continually exposed to a variety of people and comfortable performing in different environments.

The animal training course is not just about petting tigers or hugging bears (though you do get the chance to do that – eventually).

Bear Hug

Bear Hug

Five days a week you work a typical 8-10 hour day that starts with prepping food for each of the dozens of animals on property.  Imagine handling and weighing approximately 10 pounds of raw meat each day for each big cat.  This is not a job for the squeemish! In addition to the food, you also have to cube some of the meat into 2″-3″ chunks to use as treats when training.

Then there are enclosures to clean.  Cats are moved from one part of the spacious enclosures to another and locked off so you can rake, sweep, rinse and clean their living space.  Yes, it’s a lot of work and physically demanding, but the reward – if you find a whisker during your cleaning, you get to keep it!  I have one of Flynn’s affixed to the mat framing a photo of him that hangs on the wall in our home.

Flynn, my blue-eyed beau!

Flynn, my blue-eyed beau!

Safety is always stressed.  NEVER turn your back on a big cat.  NEVER, NEVER, NEVER.  Even though the animals at Hollywood Animals are specifically raised from cubs and are at least 5th generation born in captivity, they are still large, potentially dangerous animals.  Even if not intending harm, if a big cat were to pouce on you like your domestic cat is known to do when playing – it could hurt!  When a trainer is inside the enclosure with an animal, another person is at the entrance with a fire extinguisher to provide distraction if needed.  These simple, but carefully followed guides along with the wonderful care the animals all receive is likely why they have not had an incident requiring even a band-aid in all their decades in business.

Animals are trained using a positive reinforcement method.  Treats for good performance, not unlike what works best with humans.  That little bamboo stick in my hand is just to point and direct the animal – it wouldn’t serve as much of a defense weapon!

The bears in particular have a sweet tooth and will do just about anything for a marshmellow – even take it from my mouth!

Bear

Bear “Kiss”

They call it a “bear kiss” because bears pick up their food with their tongues and bring it into their mouths to chew. Warning!  Don’t try this at home or on your next camping trip, but hold a marshmellow in your teeth and stands still…then be ready to need to wash your face!  He’s not “foaming at the mouth”, that’s melted marshmellows…we’ve been “kissing” awhile!

My weeks at Hollywood Animals were some of the most fun and educational I’ve ever spent.  If I were to live in the LA area, I would sign on as a volunteer and spend at least a day or two a week working with my animal friends.

They also offer a weekend course at times so perhaps YOU might want to check it out for yourself!

Desert Authors Lunch

November 15, 2013
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Kathy Reichs at the podium

Every November, typically the first or second Saturday, some of your favorite authors can be found at the Arizona Biltmore in Scottsdale.  The Annual Authors Luncheon is now in its 23rd year raising money for kidney patient services ranging from transplants to medications or dialysis transportation.  The Arizona Women’s Board continues the tradition started by Erma Bombeck by inviting a handful of MAJOR authors to speak at the event.  A local bookstore sets up shop in the lobby so you can buy the latest book and the authors are available both before and after the luncheon to personalize and sign your books.  What great holiday gifts!

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Wally Lamb signing books

This year’s all-star line up of authors included:  Delia Ephron, Linda Fairstein, Wally Lamb, Kathy Reichs (Bones TV show) and Lisa Scottoine.  Last year Brad Thor was a crowd favorite.  Past years have included some of my other favorites such as Susan Issacs, Anthony Horowitz, John Sandford, Gregory Maguire (Wicked author), Lee Child (Jack Reacher books)  and countless more.  With rare exception, the authors are gracious and happy to chat or even pose for photos while signing your books.

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Brad Thor & Sunny Kobe Cook aka “Travel Queen”

If you spend some time in the Phoenix area to escape the weather where you live, why not sign up to be on the mailing list for this great event?  What better way to spend a Saturday in November than decked out with 1000 ladies (and a few men) in the ballroom of the Biltmore listening to some of your favorite authors talking about their new book, the writing process, how they got started writing and much more?!?  My sister and I go every year.   As we listen to the authors share their stories, we make a list of people on our holiday list who would enjoy each person’s book and a chunk of our holiday shopping is done by the end of the day. Even if you don’t see your favorite author on the list for next year, I guarantee you will have a NEW favorite by the end of the luncheon! 

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Ladies at the luncheon

Hard to imagine having so much fun AND helping to support a great cause.  Hope to see you there next year.

Chocolate Lovers Dream

August 23, 2013

Name your favorite food.  For so many people the answer is chocolate.  Those who regularly eat chocolate like to justify it with “health benefits” but let’s face it – it’s chocolate!  Did you really need a good excuse to indulge?

Chocolate TastingHow about a weekend of indulgence?  How about indulging at a discount?  Home Run, one of the daily discount sites is offering admission for 2 on Sunday, September 22nd to the Northwest Chocolate Festival.  Sample chocolate from over 50 artisan chocolate and pastry artists plus learn more about your favorite food.  I’m sure you can find lots more reasons to justify your love of chocolate!  Sounds like a great way to spend a weekend with someone you love – or a fellow chocolate lover and for only $35 – that’s HALF-OFF!  Have an odd number of friends (3, 5 or more?) Living Social has the same value on single tickets!

Can’t make that Chocolate Festival?  There are LOTS of chocolate festivals to choose from.  Type “Chocolate Festival” into your favorite search engine and be prepared to be amazed – I certainly was!  February is “off season” at the beaches of Washington so you can book a reasonable priced room for the 7th Annual Chocolate on the Beach Festival.

Portland has Chocolate Fest in January.  Enumclaw paired wines with Chocolate for their festival.  Port Orchard will have their first Chocolate Festival in November which opens with a Chocolate Ball followed by 2 days of chocolate fun!

Tasty Chocolate Festivals are not limited to the Pacific Northwest.  You can make a Chocolate Festival part of your travels to placeschocolate_fest ranging from Mobile, Alabama to Belize to Hawaii and beyond!  Communities both large and small are hosting Chocolate Festivals – many as fundraisers for worthy charities (see, another good excuse to indulge).

hershey-kisseesOf course, the “ultimate” for chocolate lovers could be “Chocolate-Covered February” in the home of Chocolate here in the USA, Hershey, Pennsylvania.

Great memories often center around great food.  Take a girl friend, your sister, your lover, your spouse and indulge in a little chocolate.  Life is so much sweeter – with chocolate!

Nothing to “Wine” About

August 16, 2013

WAWine2011Washington Wine Weekend has begun.  When you think of a wine vacation, you may automatically think of Napa, Sonoma – the California wine region.  Certainly you can go there any time of the year and visit wineries, taste great wines and have some fun.  But there are also wine festivals all over the country, including some places you might not expect!

Here in Seattle there are wine events all year long.  Home to many boutique wineries, you can book a tour or just go visit on your own. Wine Country On the other side of the mountains in Eastern Washington, where the grapes are grown, there are even more wineries.  You can find wine events all over the area including one next weekend at Snoqualmie Casino complete with live music and over 20 local wines.

But don’t think you have to be on the west coast to enjoy a wine getaway!  There are wine festivals in North Carolina, Florida and even Iowa!  A useful website is http://www.localwineevents.com.  You can find wine events all over the country in places that range from actual wineries to art galleries.  With all these great options available in all price ranges, you surely will find nothing to “Wine About”!

Aruba-doo

August 4, 2013

Aruba is blessed with an average of 20 mph wind ALL THE TIME.  It can be more, sometimes less and aruba-doo95% of the time in an easterly direction.  What that means is that it’s more comfortable (less humid) than most of the rest of the Caribbean in the summer.  It will mess your hair, but we grew fond of what we came to call our “Aruba-doo”.

The wind and their location beyond the typical hurricane belt is why we selected it for our annual July honeymoon this year.  There are a lot of other pluses to Aruba as well.

Aruba signIt’s billed as “One Happy Island” and indeed, the people are very nice.  English is spoken EVERYWHERE.  The electric outlets are the same voltage and configuration as here in the US so you don’t need converters or special plug adapters.  US dollars are also accepted everywhere and many prices are even quoted in US dollars.  They drive on the same side of the road as we do here in the States so if you rent a car, for a day or for your entire trip, you won’t have trouble driving.  It’s clean – we didn’t see a restaurant we would be afraid to eat in and we found the food to be both familiar enough and still different enough to be interesting.  There are also a number of casinos so there is adult entertainment for after dark and various musical entertainment at the different resorts as well.

A great resource if you want to plan an Aruba vacation is called “How to Enjoy Aruba”.  It’s a free booklet full of practical, useful information on everything from where to stay to what to do and even where to eat.  The author was raised in Aruba and visits several times a year so it’s like having a local show you around.  I took much of his advice and found it helpful.

Here are the LAND BASED things we did that we especially enjoyed:

The caves.  There are 2 you can visit and we went to both.  They are both in the Arikok National Park so once you pay the Guadirikiri Cavesadmission, plan to visit both.  You can do this on your own with a rental car or you can book the tours with one of the local tour companies.  We went on our own but did see the tour group as we were leaving the first cave.  Fontein features both Indian paintings and a natural spring “fountain”.  There is a local there to show you around and answer questions.   The Guadirikiri Cave  didn’t have a guide but there was a sign that it is home to bats.  Yes, we saw some but they didn’t seem to pay any attention to us.  This cave is large and you can visit 2 chambers.  We used the flashlight apps on our cellphones as our torches and that was sufficient to see in the dark passages between the chambers.  We didn’t see any lizards or iguanas in the park but they were in abundance at our resort.

Iguana

While in the park you can visit the sand dunes.  Not the most impressive dunes you’ll ever see but hey, you’re there so you might as well take time to appreciate them.

Casibari Rock FormationsCasibari Rock Formations.  These natural rock formations are interesting and there are paths to let you explore them.  Some stairs and not handicapped friendly but worth a visit if you can appreciate them.

Same is true for Mt. Hooiberg.  Sure, calling it a “mountain” is a stretch – more a hill but it is the highest point on the island Stairs up Mt. Hooibergso it’s their “mountain”.  Not for the weak kneed, it’s 587 steps – yes, actual STAIRS – to the top.  There are a couple of places to stop on the way and catch some shade and have a sip (be sure to bring water).  It’s still a LONG steep uphill climb.  You’ll be grateful for the wind.  Great view (and even more wind) from the top.  Not a good place to sit and take it all in but we managed.

Top of Mt. Hooiberg

Donkey Sanctuary ArubaAfter your visit to the top of Mt. Hooiberg, stop at the Donkey Sanctuary.  For a donation you can make friends with the donkeys and even have them eating out of your hand!

Nearby (at the coast) is the “natural bridge” – the big one collapsed a few years agoBushirbana Gold Mine Aruba but there still is one to see though not as impressive.  Also the Bushirbana gold mine smelter ruins dating from 1825 are a fun place to explore and take some creative photos.

Lastly, the Ostrich Farm.  It was a little pricey to visit and the only big attraction was getting to feed them for a photo opp.  We had planned to have lunch there, the cafe shown on their website looks great and hey, an ostrich burger at the ostrich farm sounded just wrong enough but when we arrived we learned it had burned down earlier in the year so there was no place to eat.   No, to date they haven’t updated their website…

Ostrich Farm Aruba

You can skip a visit to the California Lighthouse unless you are just checking off Lighthouses around the world.  Someone jumped from the top a couple of years ago so you can no longer go inside.  There’s a great Italian restaurant in the shadow of the lighthouse so you can snap a quick picture when you go to dinner if you are so inclined.

Caspari "signage"In the booklet I mentioned earlier he stresses how little signage there is along the roads.  THIS IS TRUE.   We had to “feel our way” a lot – we could see Mt. Hooiberg but the road that leads you to it is not marked and takes you though a neighborhood.  The locals have made their own sign to point you to the Casibari Rock formation, no doubt tired of pointing the way to countless lost tourists.   If you go prepared to make wrong turns and consider it part of the adventure, you’ll not only be fine, you’ll have fun! 

Tourist in Your Own Town

July 12, 2013

When I was a kid, we didn’t have a lot of disposable income.  kansas-city-missouri-downtown_at_twighlightWe certainly didn’t have money for camps or family summer vacations.  That doesn’t mean I had a boring childhood – quite the opposite.  One year McDonald’s gave out a cartoon type map of Kansas City showing both local landmarks and of course, their restaurants.  My mom took that map and used it as a “Tour KC Guide” and each week we went on an outing.  Again, we didn’t have the funds to “eat out” – even at McDonald’s – each week so she packed picnic lunches for us.  What a great time we had and what wonderful memories!

McDonald'sYou can do the same thing even without the help of a McDonald’s map!  Before you say “I’ve already done everything there is to do in this town” you may want to think about it.  Likely there are new museums, galleries or attractions that have opened.  Others I suspect it has been a LONG TIME since you visited.  Maybe it’s time to go back to the aquarium, the science center or Northwest Trek.  Do you have a friend who moved to your town in the past few years?  Invite them along.  It’s always fun to play tour guide.

Great WheelMy summer list includes riding the Great Wheel, the giant Ferris wheel on the waterfront in downtown Seattle.  The harbor seals have a new home at the Seattle Aquarium I might have to check out.  Northwest Trek has added a zip line and I do love zip lines.  I’ve never made it to Wolf Haven but it interests me – anything with animals interests me.  Which makes me wonder what might be new at Woodland Park Zoo.  There’s also the Chihuly Garden and Glass which I got a glimpse of as we rode the elevator up to the Space Needle for Christmas dinner.

Chihuly Garden and Glass

When you don’t have to factor in the cost of transportation and accommodations, a vacation gets much more affordable making a “Staycation” an attractive idea.

Kenny LogginsThere are lots of free concerts in parks and plenty of other outdoor concert venues where you do need a ticket.  Many let you bring a picnic meal while others have food for sale at the venue.  For the over 21 crowd, the outdoor concert space at Snoqualmie Casino is my personal favorite.

There are lots of great memories to be made right in your own backyard.  With a little internet research and a spirit of adventure you can make this a summer to remember no matter what your budget.

Riding the Waves

July 5, 2013

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We love catamarans for riding the waves.  You can find various sailing options at many island and ocean side destinations.  Here are some points to consider when weighing your options.

The first question is what type of sail you want.  Sunset sails with champagne are a more sedate, romantic outing.  Catamaran sails to snorkeling sites combines two popular water activities.  We prefer the “Tradewinds Sail”.  Typically these are about an hour and a half and if you like a high octane adventure as we do, opt for a breezy day.

On Waikiki there are 2 catamarans side by side on the beach.  We did the same Tradewinds sail on each and found some interesting differences.

On the Waikiki Rigger the ladder used to load and unload the catamaran is at the side and is tied off at the front left (port bow) as you sail.  The “railing” around the boat is actually just a safety line not intended to be used for holding on for extended periods.  This boat wants guests seated and encourages sitting on the large net areas up front or on the benches in back if you’d rather not get drenched.

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Notice the ladder ties up at the front and the railing is only solid in this area which is blocked from guest use during sailings. The rest of the “railing” is just the safety line which is an enforced rope not intended for holding on except in emergency situations.

We like to ride standing up as close to the front as possible.  I find the nets to be uncomfortable because you have to sit with no back support and your legs straight out in front of you.  The net also leaves a deep impression pattern in your skin.  We stood as we like to do and found it difficult to hold on because the safety line cut into our hands as the boat pitched in the waves.

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The other catamaran is the MaiTai.  This is our favorite boat for several reasons.  The crew seems more professional, the ride was less expensive ($28 vs. $30) and the boat is a better design for maximum adventure.  My goal is to point out those design differences so you can evaluate catamarans before you get on board.

The MaiTai ladder is in the CENTER.   This leaves both points of the boat open for maximum adventure.   They also offer ample bench seating with waterproof storage areas for what you bring on board (sandals, towels, beach tote).  If you don’t want to get wet, this is the place for you.

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The ladder here is in the center leaving the entire front points open for guests to enjoy during a sail. The railings are solid and provide a great handhold when underway.

However, if you want to ride the waves, grab a spot along the rail and hold on.  Yes, the MaiTai has a solid handrail all around the boat giving you a secure and comfortable hold in the waves.  If this appeals to you, take a close look at the railings before choosing your sail option.

We look for solid railings and unobstructed front points for our catamaran adventures whether on Waikiki or any other destination.  Booking on line, zoom in on the photos of the boat to look for both ladder placement and railing type before you click “book it” and enjoy the ride!


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