Starting anew is always a good thing! Here is Vol. 1 of "Artful Living on the Bluff" for you to enjoy. While I am not contributing new material to this blog, please feel free to look around and then visit me at the new and (hopefully) improved "Artful Living on the Bluff" blog at

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Universal Studios - just a few helpful hints!

Thanks to all of those who have been following my Disney advice posts! It's been great hearing from you via comments and emails :)

Today I'm going to touch quickly on Universal Studios in Orlando. I had promised this post yesterday - please forgive me but things got busy and then my husband and I had a gig last night so time got away from me!

So.... Universal....
Universal Studios consists of 2 separate theme parks - Universal Studios Florida and Universal's Islands of Adventure - and City Walk. In this post I will concentrate on the theme parks but we have enjoyed a nice cool afternoon break catching the latest 3-D release at the IMAX theater located in City Walk. It's a really nice theater complex and something you might want to consider doing while you're there.

As with the Disney tickets - only buy the tickets from the Universal website or at the gate on the first day of your visit. Buying tickets anywhere else may leave you disappointed as we have heard stories of tickets being counterfeit or pre-used. Don't chance a scam - get them from the source!

If you have 2 days to spend at Universal - get a 2-day ticket and spend a day at each park (adding the "Park-to-Park" option to those days if you like). If you only have one day available to spend, there is a 1-day/2-park ticket option and you should definitely take that option. While Universal Studios is my personal favorite of the two - you won't want to miss the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (truly remarkable!!) or the general splendor of the visually stunning Islands of Adventure.

Also offered is something called "Universal Express" - it's sort of like Disney's Fast Pass program only you have to pay extra for it. IMO, it's not worth it but feel free to visit the website to find out more and decide for yourself. Now, if you are staying at a Universal resort, it's included with your stay...

As you enter the park and pay for parking you will be directed to park in one of two very large, 3-story parking ramps. Make sure to remember in which section you are parked!! I say this from personal experience - we laugh about it now but it was not very funny at the time - we spent a LONG time wandering through looking for our vehicle. If this does happen to you, be smarter than we were and call security to help - they will be happy to assist you.

 There will be a series of escalators and moving walkways leading to the main entrance of the resort area. Along this route will be a bag search area - like Disney, they search every bag on every person whether it be a fanny pack or a duffel bag. If you can avoid it at all - do not carry a bag into these parks. Several of the attractions require you to check all loose articles in a locker before riding - it's a pain. If you want advice on how to avoid carrying a bag - please read my Disney Advice Post 1 where I talk about what to wear at theme parks. Also in that post is some advice for parents traveling with small children - if that happens to be you - read that part, too!! The opinion given there also pertains to Universal Studios but to an even greater extent!

If you only have one day - start your day at Universal Studios. The basic overview of a perfect 1-day/2-park experience:
Morning at Universal Studios
Late lunch at Mythos restaurant at Islands of Adventure (We suggest you make reservations for Mythos by clicking here.)
Spend the afternoon at Islands of Adventure
In the evening be sure to catch the show at Universal Studios - Universal Cinematic Spectacular! (It wasn't running yet when we were there this year and we would love to know what  you think!)

The main reason to start your day at universal is everyone races over to Harry Potter (Islands of Adventure) first thing and it's super crowded in the morning. Unless you really want to buy a wand at Olivander's - visit Hogwart's in the afternoon.

We consider just about everything at Universal Studios a must-see but if you are limited on time - here's the absolute must-see list. All rides marked with (*) require you to stow loose items in a locker before entering the line and those marked with (SR) offer a single rider line option. If your party doesn't mind being split up - the single rider option is always the way to go.

Men in Black (*) (SR) - Our absolute favorite ride at the park! Hands-down, you will love this ride! If you don't, you must be crazy... 'nuf said. If you are a true fan of the movie, the regular line is mildly interesting but sometimes winds outside and can be really hot and long - my advice, take the single rider option.
Revenge of the Mummy (*) (SR) - Possibly tied with Men in Black for the top spot - this is a not-to-miss themed coaster ride - fantastic!
The Simpsons - I'm not even a fan of The Simpsons and I love this ride! Fun from top to bottom...

Classic attractions we never miss:
TWISTER - Ride it out - One of my faves - stand in the front row if you're feeling adventurous!
E.T. Adventure - Hokey? Yes! But a classic and should be included in your trip

3-D Movie Experiences we like:
SHREK - OK, it's actually 4-D and the moving seat gets a bit much sometimes but from the pre-show through the wild adventure - it's pure, silly fun!
Terminator 2 - Also pretty hokey but some of the best 3-D imagery around!

If you are REALLY short on time skip shows altogether but the one we try never to miss is Animal Actors - I'm a sucker for shows featuring fur and feathers! This is a truly entertaining show!

Dispicable Me! is new and wasn't open yet when we were there last but it sounds like something we would like! And despite being a self-professed, coaster-lover, I have never ridden the Hollywood Rip-ride Rocket - I know... I know... If you ride one or both of these - let me know how you enjoyed them. Everything from the line-waiting experience to the exit.

If for some reason you do not feel inclined to eat at Mythos - our eating place of choice at Universal Studios is the San Francisco Pastry Co. - tasty sandwiches and salads along with creamy cheesecake selections for desert! This little eatery obviously doesn't merit mention on their website - but we love it and recommend it highly :)

*If you are planning to eat lunch at Mythos (highly recommended!!) Make reservations in advance of your visit. 

As soon as you enter this park, you will be captivated by the scenery. The Port-of-Entry is fantastical and one of my favorite parts of any Florida theme park. I find myself wanting to move in and stay! Here is another spot to catch a quick bite - we like Croissant Moon Bakery where the faire is much like the San Francisco Pastry Co. Hmmm... I see a pattern emerging.... :)

After lunch go straight to "The Wizarding World of Harry Potter". There are lots of cool things to see and do at Islands of Adventure but you really want to make sure to take this one in! Take your time, stroll through the streets of Hogsmeade to window shop while sipping a creamy butterbeer (yum!). If you time it right, be sure to catch a performance of the Frog Choir. Despite the fact that the main attraction - Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey - does have a single-rider option, stand in line for this ride. The line is nearly as entertaining as the ride and we see people all the time that stand in the line but don't intend to go on the ride - it's that cool! There is an entirely separate website devoted to this section of the park that is really wonderful to explore - check it out at

After you've had your fill of Hogwarts - head out to explore the rest of this beautiful park. It really is a stunner! Of all of the rides - there are only two that we do not recommend for our own personal reasons: The Hulk and Dr. Doom's Fear Fall - we found both be be rather rough and they gave us headaches. Also - as far as we're concerned, and despite it looking super cool from the outside - Poseiden's Fury is just not worth the enormously long wait - enter at your own risk!

Our not-to-miss list is as follows:
Of course, everything in "The Wizarding World of Harry Potter"
Mythos restaurant
The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man

The Cat in the Hat - Another hokey ride but too cute to miss!
If you must get wet - and you will - these are truly great water rides:
Jurassic Park River Adventure 
Dudley Do-right's Ripsaw Falls
Popeye & Bluto's Bilge-Rat Barges

If you still have time at the end of the day - you can always go back and grab another ride on any of your favorites because you have a 2-park ticket!

So, sorry there are no secret passageways or hidden treasures to pass on where Universal is concerned. Maybe you'll find a few of your own - be sure to share them in the comments. Above all, enjoy your trip! :)

Friday, June 22, 2012

Favorite Disney Photos

I'm having a bit of Disney overload, you guys! Talking about it just makes me want to be there! I am a true Disney-phile (despite not really liking some of the connotations connected to the suffix "-phile"). So I decided to pull out some of my favorite Disney photos from past trips so I can look forward to going again. While they may not be representational of the typical tourist photos from Disney - they hold special memories for me... Enjoy!

Just a cool shot I took in the park that I really like :)
Toy Story Mania! It's almost my turn!

A section of the mosaic wall leading up to The Land Pavilion
The Land Pavilion
Roasted Beet Salad with Goat Cheese and Candied Pecans! YUM!
Inside the Mexico Pavilion
The China Pavilion

A small section of the mosaic inside Cinderella's Castle
A wide shot of Fantasyland at dusk
The Castle at Night

Approaching Everest

(all photos by Cindy Caraway)

Going to Disney World? Here's some advice... I almost forgot!!

At EPCOT you should also make a visit to "Club Cool"! I can't believe I almost forgot it! At "Club Cool" you can sample sodas from several different countries - and it's a cool drink for FREE! Another Yay!

Photo by Cindy Caraway
My favorite is the Beverly soda from Italy - it's bitter-tasting and I see lots of people scrunch up their noses and dump it out - but I love it! My second favorite is a tough one but it would probably be the watermelon-flavored one from China. Anyway... "Club Cool"... add it to the must-see list!

Going to Disney World? Here's some advice... Part 3

I'm so glad people seem to be finding some value in my Disney advice posts! I've always wanted to pass some of this knowledge on - I'm glad it's of value!

So, today I promised to point out some less traveled pathways in some of the parks and point out attractions that I think are "not-to-miss" but before I do that, I'll talk about some of the places we enjoy eating at in the Disney parks.

Now, a disclaimer... we are not fancy eaters. We like tasty food that doesn't cost an arm and a leg and, while we love to eat, we don't want to spend too much of our time doing it - there are too many other things to see!

We really do love EPCOT! In Part 2 I mentioned the tasty beet salad we always get at the food court in The Land Pavilion. There are lots of other really delicious options - all made to order. Unless you want to experience the dining at one of the pavilions in the World Showcase, the food court at The Land is the place to go!

Other places we have eaten at EPCOT (and they were all delicious and worth the extra cost!!) are: Teppan Edo - Teppan Chefs prepare authentic Japanese cuisine at your table - it's really dinner theater!
San Angel Inn - This is located in the beautiful Mexico Pavilion and has wonderful ambiance. The Mexico Pavilion itself is a feast for the eyes and the food is pretty yummy, too!
Le Cellier Steakhouse - In the Canadian Pavilion, this is a sweet and sort of out-of-the-way little spot. Very nice and not too pricey.

I've always wanted to eat at the Restaurant Marrakesh in the Morocco Pavilion. If you go and are lucky enough to eat there - let me know how it was!

I will admit that we have only rarely eaten at Hollywood Studios or The Animal Kingdom. Sorry to not really have any info there.... :)

As for the Magic Kingdom - our favorite place, hands-down, is Cosmic Ray's. It is definitely fast food at it's best. Cosmic Ray's is located in Tomorrowland and is a pretty busy place. It's a bit confusing because they have 3 "bays" - one has burgers and hot dogs, another has roasted chicken and BBQ pork and the last one has a selection of salads and sandwiches. (Click here to see the lunch menu) The confusing thing is that if you want a hot dog and someone else wants a BBQ pork sandwich, you can't order at the same "bay". So, that's a draw-back to dining at Cosmic Ray's. If you can get everyone to agree and want the same fare - you're in luck!!

We are also pretty fond of another little place in Tomorrowland called "Auntie Gravity's". They have some super delicious ice cream treats - perfect for a mid-afternoon, cool-down snack.

So, now that "eating" is out of the way... let's move on to some of my favorite undiscovered spots and less-traveled walkways in the parks. It's not like I have a ton of them - let's face it - there are lots of freakin' people there pretty much all of the time.

Undiscovered Rest Rooms and walkways
There is a restroom at The Animal Kingdom that, no kidding, we have NEVER seen another soul in. It's also along a lightly traveled walkway that runs between Dino-Land and Expedition Everest - so, not only will you find a quiet and clean restroom, you also have found the quickest and easiest way to get to Expedition Everest!! Yay! Here is a bit of the map - hopefully it will make some sense to you...

I have drawn a path from (roughly) the front gate to the restroom located just next to "Finding Nemo - The Musical" theater. If you continue along the main walkway (in pink) you will find yourself smack dab in front of Expedition Everest where you can get your Fast Pass for later or join the Single-rider line to get on in no time!

Another favorite undiscovered walkway is in The Magic Kingdom - it winds nicely from Space Mountain to the back part of Fantasyland. It's not a short-cut, per-say, but it's a pleasant stroll away from the crowds. Also notice I have a secret restroom circled. It's not as secret as the one in The Animal Kingdom - but pretty close and like the one at The Animal Kingdom, it's along the quickest and least traveled path to Tomorrowland! So, here's how you go... You're walking up Main Street with 10,000 other people entering the park. Stay on the right side of the street and turn right at the Ice Cream Parlor. A short way down the walkway is a low-traffic restroom. As you come out of the restroom, turn right again. The walkway looks like it goes into The Terrace Restaurant but it actually passes through it! Hang to the left and you've found the quickest and least crowded way to get to Tomorrowland from Main Street USA. Score! Here's a shot of the map...

Two more of my favorite walkways are pretty clearly marked on the map but appear to be much larger than they are in reality. They pass along the backside of Cinderella's Castle. While they can sometimes be a bit crowded when compared to the other routes I've shown you, the crowds here are nothing as compared to walking through the "Stroller Capital of the World" - FantasyLand! These walkways enable you to travel from the Adventureland/Frontierland areas of the park to Tomorrowland relatively painlessly. Remember what I said about snagging Fast Passes in yesterday's post? These walkways make Fast-passing that much easier!

Also marked are the secret restroom from the other photo as well as a path that appears to run over several shops on Main Street USA. This is actually a path through the shops and easier than trying to navigate the crowds (and sometimes a parade) on Main Street. If there is a parade, you have to come at this path from the Adventureland side. It makes exiting the park easier at the end of a long day plus it's air-conditioned! Yay! You might even want to stop for that last-minute souvenir, too!

Last but not least is a quick and dirty run-down of our absolute favorite attractions (in no particular order) at the various parks This list won't include our "so-so" or "no-go" attractions and everyone's list will be different but these are the ones we rate pretty dang high!:
Magic Kingdom
Be sure to go inside Cinderella's Castle to see the truly majestic mosaic art on the inside. I don't think most people ever see it but it's really beautiful!
Walt Disney Railroad
Pirates of the Caribbean
Splash  Mountain
Thunder Mountain Railroad
The Haunted Mansion
Mickey's Philharmagic
Space Mountain
Buzz Lightyear's Ranger Spin
The People Mover
The nighttime Firework Show
Small World and Jungle Cruise - but only because they are classics!
Be sure to visit this park at night - it's beautiful at night

The Animal Kingdom
It's Tough To Be a Bug!
The walkway around and through the Tree of Life in the center of the park
Primeval Whirl
Expedition Everest
Festival of the Lion King
Wildlife Express Train

Spaceship: Earth
Ellen's Universe of Energy
The Sea Pavilion has some wonderful aquarium exhibits
The Mexico Pavilion et al
The Gardens surrounding the China Pavilion
The Land Pavilion et al - Be sure to take a look at the magnificent mosaic work along the walkways going up to the building. I also love the decor inside the building - don't forget look up!
Make sure to take a stroll through the World Showcase for the scenery alone! You might also stumble upon some of the excellent street performers.
The evening show - Illuminations!

Hollywood Studios
Toy Story Mania!
Star Tours
Rockin' Roller Coaster
Tower of Terror
Beauty and the Beast Show
Muppet Vision 3-D
"Honey-I-Shrunk-The-Kids" Movie Set - this is actually a playground area meant for kids but I think it's pretty cool :)

So, I hope this info will help some of you on your next trip to Disney. Tomorrow I will talk about Universal Studios Florida. There just aren't as many secrets there but I'll try to share what few I might have with you! See you then :)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Going to Disney World? Here's some advice... Part 2

So, yesterday I offered some advice on going to the Disney World theme parks in Florida and today I'll cover some other points of (possible) interest: organize your days at Disney, the joy of park-hopping, Disney's Fast-Pass system and how to use it, and where we love to eat in the Disney parks.

As a reminder and for those who may not have read my earlier post - this is really advice meant for adults who are going to Disney without children (or kids who are at least 12 and older).

When my mom and I travel to Disney World, we always get a 3-4 day ticket with the park-hopper option. The "Park Hopper" option costs extra but it's worth it. For example, on the Walt Disney World website the price for a 4-day adult base ticket is $256 - adding in the park-hopper option and it goes to $313 - just $57 more or just over $14 per day. On the base ticket, you get entry to one park each day - period. If you go to The Animal Kingdom in the morning you can leave and walk back into the Animal Kingdom as many times as you want but you cannot gain entry to The Magic Kingdom that evening see the fireworks.

So, here's the main reason we love the park-hopper pass... the parks are not all open during the same hours everyday. Every morning the parks open for all ticket holders at 9am. The Magic Kingdom stays open until 11pm most evenings (sometimes midnight!) while Epcot and Hollywood Studios close at 9pm or 10pm depending on the day and The Animal Kingdom closes as early as 7pm some days. A little bit of planning and a park-hopper pass means more bang for your buck! When The Animal Kingdom closes at 7pm, you still have 4 hours of fun available to you at The Magic Kingdom! Hop onto the free transportation and travel to the next park or feel free to drive your car - your parking pass is good for the entire day - just show it to the gate guard as you enter the next parking lot.

Here's a quick sample of a possible park-hoppin' day at Disney... Park at The Magic Kingdom and take the complimentary transportation to The Animal Kingdom. Ride "Everest" (one of the coolest coasters ever!!) and "DINOSAUR" before going see "The Festival of the Lion King" at The Animal Kingdom. Travel to Epcot to enjoy lunch at "The Land Pavilion", ride "Spaceship Earth" and "Ellen's Universe of Energy" at Epcot, hop on the monorail to the Magic Kingdom where you can have an ice cream sundae for an afternoon snack at "Auntie Gravity's", enjoy the 3-D experience of "Mickey's PhilharMagic", and, after a quick bite to eat at "Cosmic Ray's Starlight Café", you can still get to Disney's Hollywood Studios that evening to ride "The Rockin' Roller Coaster". If it all works out just right, and you aren't totally exhausted, then go back to The Magic Kingdom for the 11pm fireworks show and sneak in one more ride on "Pirates of the Caribbean". This is not everything you'll see or do in one day but the point is, with a park-hopper pass you CAN do all of these and much more ALL IN ONE DAY!! See what I mean? Park-hopping rocks!! Get the park-hopper option.

When we were a bit more spry, my mom and I would have days like this. We aren't that crazy anymore! But we do use our park-hopper pass quite a bit. For instance: we love The Animal Kingdom in the morning - the crowds aren't so fierce and the animals are more active so we got there in the morning. We love eating lunch at The Land Pavilion at Epcot and will travel there just to have lunch some days! The Roasted Beets and Goat Cheese on Fresh Mixed Greens with Raspberry Vinaigrette and Candied Pecans is TO DIE FOR!! Get this salad and any number of other yummy selections in the Food Court. When things heat up in the afternoon - around 3pm or so - we usually head back to our hotel for a little break. Around 6pm or so we head to The Magic Kingdom for the evening. This park is so incredibly beautiful in the evening!! We love it there. We eat dinner at Cosmic Ray's and head out to enjoy the park.

The park-hopper pass is not the only way to get the most out of your trip to Disney - you will also want to take advantage of Fast Passes. Visit the web page to get the basic idea of what they are and how they work and then come back here for some additional pointers...

Rule #1 - Appoint one person in your party to be the ticket keeper. This makes getting fast passes SO much easier. That person can quickly feed the tickets in one-at-a-time and retrieve a fast pass for each person in the party. On the fast pass it will give you a window of time during which you can return to the ride and by-pass the regular lines. You can return ANY TIME during that window - not before and not after. After the designated time, your pass is void. If you have a REALLY nice gate attendant, they might feel sorry for you and let you in late but most likely not. One thing most people do not notice written on the bottom of their pass is the time at which they can get another fast pass.

So, here's an example of how it works for us.... we get a fast pass for "Space Mountain" at 9:15am and it says to return between 10:30am and 11:30am. At 10:30am we're eligible to get another fast pass with our tickets. Instead of waiting breathlessly at the gate to "Space Mountain" for 10:30am, we go and enjoy other attractions. At 10:30am we snag another fast pass from some other ride like "Thunder Mountain Railroad". Go ride "Space Mountain". Our return window for "Thunder Mountain Railroad" is between 12:20pm and 1:20pm. At 12:20pm we snag yet another fast pass - maybe this time from "Buzz Lightyear's Ranger Spin" and go ride "Thunder Mountain Railroad". Our return time for "Buzz Lightyear's Ranger Spin" is 2:30pm. At 2:30pm get a fast pass for "Peter Pan's Flight" and go ride "Buzz Lightyear". Anyway, do you see where I'm going with this? Get your next fast pass as soon as you are eligible for one and then go ride your other ride.

Now, there are some lines that are fairly pleasant to wait in and others that down-right suck! Not all rides offer a fast pass option but here are the rides you may want a fast pass for and why (in order of importance):
Peter Pan's Flight - I don't know why but this kiddie ride always has an insane line - it's almost always 45 minutes or more. It's hot and long so, if you must fly with Peter (OK, it is pretty cool for a kiddie ride!) get a fast pass if you can. The same goes for The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad - Another line that it really hot and uncomfortable to stand in. Absolutely get a fast pass! This is a super fantastic roller coaster! If you can't snag a fast pass, stand in the line (but wait until the sun goes down) - it's worth it
Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin - While this line does sometimes ramble outside in the sun, it is mostly enclosed and air-conditioned but this line is LOUD!! Inside you are constantly pelted with very loud,  military-like drum cadences that never end. Get a fast pass and save your sanity (and your hearing).
Space Mountain - A very LONG wait - sometimes over an hour - but it is shady and air-conditioned. Also, they have some pretty fun video games to play while in line which make the wait seem a bit shorter but fast pass it if you can.
Splash Mountain - One of the best rides in the park! The line can be long but it is shady and cool - one of the most pleasant line-standing experiences around. I don't mind standing in this line one bit! Only get a fast pass for this if you can't get one for the other rides I mentioned.
Jungle Cruise - In recent years I have not seen a line long enough to warrant getting a fast pass for this attraction. Don't waste a fast pass on it.

Soarin' - Fast pass, absolutely! This is the only attraction at Epcot for which a fast pass is an absolute must!! Go to Epcot in the morning and get a fast pass straight away before doing anything else! The line is VERY long and tiring despite being inside and air-conditioned.
Mission: SPACE Pavilion - I can't say honestly what this line is like. I'm pretty much ready for anything but I rode this the first year it was open - I hated it and have not missed it! You'll have to check out the wait times and decide for yourself.
Captain EO starring Michael Jackson -Huh? They offer a fast pass for this? I have yet to see crowds clamoring to get inside the theater - not worth getting a fast pass for IMO.
Maelstrom is located at the Norway pavilion in the World Showcase. It's interesting enough and worth checking out and the line can be really long. I'm not sure why except that there aren't very many rides at Epcot - get a fast pass if they are available but it's no big deal if you don't.

Expedition Everest - Get a fast pass! Like Soarin' at EPCOT - get there in the morning and snag a fast pass ASAP. If your party doesn't mind being split up, this is one ride that offers a single-rider option. There is a separate line for "Single Riders" and the wait is minimal - sometimes as short as 2 minutes! We always take advantage of the single rider line for this ride but if you must ride together - fast pass it!
DINOSAUR - A really fun ride - not to be missed! The lines the last few times we've been there have been pretty short - less than 25 minutes - and we've never found it necessary to get a fast pass. You'll have to judge for yourself.
Primeval Whirl - Again, a really fun ride - I didn't notice that they were even distributing fast passes for this one this year. The lines were extremely short - literally 5 minutes long. Don't waste a fast pass on this one!
Kilimanjaro Safaris and Kali River Rapids - We have not gone on either of these for several years now. The line for the Safari trip, in the past, was long, hot and fairly uncomfortable - I don't know if the line situation has changed or not. If available, get a fast pass to be safe.

Toy Story Mania! - This ride is new and thus in high demand - it's also a ride like no other and you will not want to miss it! Super fun! While we find the line fairly entertaining it might be worth it to get a fast pass if you don't like standing around for an hour. Get one early in the day as there are a limited number of fast passes available and they go fast!
Rock 'n' Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith - This ride, like Expedition Everest, offers a single rider option - take it if your party doesn't mind being split up. Otherwise, get a fast pass. This line is another that is long and tedious to stand in. Can't get a fast pass for some reason? Stand in line anyway! If you love roller coasters, you do not want to miss this one!
The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror - I don't really mind this line standing experience too much but get a fast pass if you can.
Star Tours – The Adventures Continue  - Another fairly new attraction but the line is inside, air-conditioned and fast-moving - it's also fairly entertaining! Not a bad line to stand in but you might want to fast pass anyway. 

So, if I haven't' already lost you - be sure to tune in tomorrow for tips on getting around inside the parks. Yes, believe it or not there are some walkways (and restrooms!) that seem to be undiscovered territory. Also, I will list attractions and other stuff that really, truly are, IMO, the not-to-miss things - some might surprise you! I hope you'll stop back - feel free to comment and ask any questions you might have regarding today's post. I'd love to hear from you!

In the works...

Here's a quick peek at my work table today... a lovely bead soup in shades of peach, ivory and sage green being embroidered into pretty pendants, earrings, and more...

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Going to Disney World? Here's some advice... Part 1

I am not a travel blogger but I feel like I have some expertise in this area. I have spent most of my working life in hospitality and tourism – several years working on the entertainment staff at various theme parks, 10 years on cruise ships (Carnival, Norwegian, Royal Olympic and Dolphin Cruise Lines), spent a summer season at a Catskills resort (The Pines) and a year at the Bretton Woods resort area of New Hampshire (mostly behind the front desk of the magnificent Mount Washington Hotel). I have visited 48 countries on 4 continents and have traveled to every state in the U.S. Besides that, my mother and I have taken a “girls only” vacation every summer for many years, this summer marked our 13th trip to Kissimmee, FL to visit the “Happiest Place on Earth” - Disney World – and Universal Studios.

Whenever someone finds out that I've been to Disney World so many times, they inevitably ask for some advice: what are the “must-do” attractions, is there a secret to navigating the parks, etc. So, here I am offering my valuable advice on how to make your trip to Florida's Disney (and Universal) Parks a bit easier.

Now, that being said, I have only traveled to the parks as an adult. If you are going with small children (basically anyone under the age of 12 or 13) these tips will be of little use to you. My mother and I do not spend time getting dolled up like princesses (even though it looks super cool and you SHOULD do that if you have little girls), nor do we chase down Mickey or Pocahontas or Buzz Lightyear to get our autograph books signed.

But here's my two-cents to those who do have small children *Please note - I did say MY two-cents – I'm sure others have their own opinions on this*
If your child is too small to navigate the park on their own two feet – please wait until they are older. Most very small children we see in the parks are either too young or too short to ride most of the rides, they spend all day in a hot stroller (don't EVEN get me started on strollers!!!) looking at people's knees and either screaming, whining or sleeping. Their parents look tired and frustrated. Possibly it's the thought of having spent roughly $90 per person (before the cost of food) so they could ride “It's A Small World” and say “hi” to Mickey Mouse. Sounds like fun, right?? Wrong!!! The parks at Disney World are not kiddie parks... period... If your kid isn't tall enough or old enough, wait until they are. I think somewhere around 8 to 10 years is the perfect age for a first trip to Disney provided they are at least 44” tall.

OK...moving on...

Now, if you have never traveled to Disney World before, you might want to get a feel for the parks by visiting the Walt Disney World website. You can get park maps, check out ride descriptions, and even take a look at eating places inside the parks (with menus!!). In these posts I am not going to cover how to get there or where to stay – you're on your own with that one, folks!

So, here we go...

Buy them at the park on your first day or purchase advance tickets online from the Walt Disney World website. Do NOT stop at any kiosk or shabby storefront do-hicky that says they have cheap Disney tickets – it's a crock or a scam or both. If you are planning on spending at least 3 days at Disney – pop the extra cash for the park-hopper option – you'll be glad you did but I'll cover the reason in a later post.

My first rule: no bags!! Every theme park in Kissimmee does a bag search at the gate. Every person with a bag of any sort has to get their bag searched whether it's a fanny pack or a duffel bag. This is before you get to get into the line to enter the park. So, by bringing a bag you have to stand in one line in order to stand in another line. Avoid the fiasco of having to wait behind the people with the double stroller and the already screaming children to unpack the diaper bag, the cooler and the other 15 parcels of crap they couldn't leave home without. Travel light and smart and you can skip the bag search lines and get right into the park. An added note: it's required at some Universal Studios attractions that you stow bags and other loose articles in a locker before riding – what a pain... Final word – Don't bring a bag, purse, camera bag, backpack or fanny pack!! Also, don't bring a stroller or a diaper bag (please see highlighted paragraph above!) - just kidding... sort of...

My way to travel bag-less? Trusty cargo shorts with big pockets and, my favorite, a fishing vest with several pockets, inside and out. I wear one or the other when I visit the parks. They do not search pockets no matter how much stuff you might have crammed in them and will never make you take off your shorts to ride Space Mountain!

Wear comfy clothes and sensible shoes (NO Flip-flops!!). My typical costume for a day at the theme park is a light colored camp shirt or polo, cargo shorts, a light-colored baseball cap and Teva sandals (like these - not like these). My face is bare except for sunscreen and my hair is pulled back so it comfortably fits under my baseball cap. Bear in mind that by the end of the day you will have walked several miles. You are going to get hot and sweaty – and probably wet, if you ride a water ride – your hair is going to frizz or go limp or whatever – and your make-up is going to look like crap (avoid this by not wearing any). Trust me when I say that no one is looking at you but you - unless you are the silly girl hobbling around in her high heels at the end of the day looking like she'd rather die than take another step and the car is still a ½ mile away (yes, I have witnessed this!). Then people will look and think how silly it was for you to dress like you're going to a garden party instead of a theme park.

Back to the cargo shorts and/or fishing those pockets be sure to have the following:

Plastic zip-lock baggies for stowing tickets, money, credit cards, camera, phone – anything you don't want to have get wet on the water rides.

Band-aids for the blisters on your feet. I am always amazed that my most comfortable shoes, shoes I practically live in otherwise, will cause blisters at Disney.

A small zip-lock baggie with a few aspirin, just in case you get a headache. Aspirin is not cheap in the theme park gift shops!

A cap/hat of some sort that can be quickly folded up and stowed in one of your pockets. You'll want the shade – trust me on this – please take a cap! But you will need to take it off to ride most attractions so make sure it's small enough to stick in a pocket.

A small tube or refillable bottle of sunscreen. Like aspirin, a teeny, tiny bottle of sunscreen costs a pretty penny inside the parks so apply it liberally before you leave in the morning and bring a little with you for re-applying during the day as needed. I am addicted to lip balm and have some with SPF 30 – not only does it work on lips but also noses, chins, the tops of your ears and that pesky part in your hair (again, bring a cap!)

Sunglasses – a really cheap-y pair - small enough to stow in one of your pockets - that you won't miss if they get lost or broken.

If the weather calls for rain, stop at a Walgreens or other such place and buy the cheapest rain poncho you can find. Again, you want it to fit inside your pockets somewhere when not in use. When we went this year, Tropical Storm Beryl was dumping a bit of rain on Kissimmee so we went to Walgreens and bought rain ponchos for $1.99 each and they rocked!! Of course, they do have fancy schmancy rain ponchos available in the parks – they cost around $15 and are heavy and bulky and you end up carrying them once the rain stops – bummer...  Are the parks worth going to if it's raining? Absolutely! The weeney people leave because their hair might get ruined which means way shorter lines and, with the whiners gone, you'll have a much better time! :)

Stop by tomorrow for more tips! I'll talk about how we organize our days at Disney, the joy of park-hopping, Disney's Fast-Pass system and how to use it, and where we love to eat in the Disney parks.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Busy Weekend at The Hayloft Gallery

My second art show of the season was this past weekend. Sales were slow but the weather and the company was terrific - so it's all good!

I worked the two-day show by myself so now I know I can do it! I was next door to a real sweetie named Jennifer (Jewels by Jay - I couldn't find a website or any images of her great stuff - sorry!!) who makes super cute upcycled clothing and hats. 

The show was at The Hayloft Gallery in Oregon,WI which is a small, privately owned gallery/workshop in a lovely setting just a few miles south of Madison. Here are a few shots sent to me by some folks who visited - Thanks for the pics and the great weekend! :)

My Booth (I took this one!)
Meeting fellow beader Jean Upton face to face!
Me and my stuff!
Me working on a new project (Thanks for the pic, Bill!)

Friday, June 15, 2012

Fairy Tales and Bead Embroidery

The The Etsy Bead Embroidery Guild (EBEG) is coming up on their third Bead Fest. It's not a contest but we do choose a theme and all members are encouraged to take part and use the theme as inspiration for a project. The theme this time around is "Fairy Tales". I wasn't sure I would have time to do a project by the June 30th deadline - but rumor has it that we may extend the deadline. Yay! So I started putting together pretty beads, bits and baubles for a fairy-themed neckpiece.

The starting place for this project is a mixed media necklace that I have had in my inventory for quite a while now - "Titania's Bower". It was fashioned entirely from vintage jewelry components...

I love this piece and have been amazed that it never went to a new home! I added it to my list of pieces to re-make a while back. Titania is the Fairy Queen in Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and thus a perfect choice for the challenge.

So, I pulled together a pretty bead soup full of golds, blues, pearly whites and bronze-y browns. Added in some beautiful lace and pieces of vintage gold and faux pearl jewelry. There will be bead embroidery, certainly, but this piece will also be a mixed media creation - hopefully a supremely beautiful one!

Here are some teaser shots of the bead soup and other treasures I hope to incorporate into a new piece called "There Sleeps Titania". Ooooh! I'm so excited to get started!! :)

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Deep Forest Cuff Bracelet

Here she is! The "Deep Forest" cuff bracelet...

DEEP FOREST features lovely shades of lime and forest green, deep bronze and vivid reds. This cuff will fit just about any wrist - in its center is a metal cuff which allows you to have the fit you want. It is fully embroidered using seed beads and Czech glass beads with a centerpiece of repurposed wood. It is backed with reclaimed leather and beautifully edged in beads. A work of art to wear with just about any outfit - casual or dressy.

As stated before, this cuff is fully adjustable and will fit almost any size wrist. It is 1 5/8" wide at the widest point.

She's for sale on Etsy - I'm planning to take her to my craft show this weekend so grab this beauty while you can!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Monday, June 11, 2012

No apologies... OK, just a little one... and some new beadwork!

I know in the blogosphere there are a plethora of apologies made everyday because people have neglected their blogging practice for a while. I try not to be either of those people - I don't want to neglect my blogging practice nor do I want to feel like I have to apologize for having stuff going on sometimes! So, here goes... I'm sorry I feel like I should apologize for my absence but I have a really good reason... really... I do! Several, actually...

First, I was thinking of changing over to WordPress and spent WAY too many hours designing and investigating only to find out that I like BLOGGER!! Yay! So, after many hours of packing up to move, I had decided to stay right here at "Artful Living on the Bluff".

Second, some of you may know that I am starting to do summer art and fine craft shows. My first, DubuqueFest, was a wonderful success! I thought my booth display was pretty good, the weather cooperated and I made enough sales to be genuinely happy with the profits. I wish I had some great pics to share - I promise to be better about taking a camera and actually using it next time! Here's a couple I snagged from my friend Gail...
DubuqueFest 2012 - Cindy Caraway and Ali Levassuer
My Boothmate, Ali, and I having a great day!
Gail Chavenelle wearing Cosmic Renegade by Cindy Caraway
Here's Gail wearing her latest Cindy Caraway creation - Cosmic Renegade!
My boothmate was Ali who makes sweet bags, purses and other cool stuff like patchwork scarves - she has a limited supply up for sale in her Etsy shop - AliRags - but be sure to mark her as a favorite for when she re-stocks.

Besides being an incredible metal sculptor (visit her Etsy Shop - ChavenelleStudio), Gail Chavenelle is my best cheerleader, a fierce collector of art and the energizer bunny of arts supporters! She is always there to lend a keen eye and great advice - I love you, Gail!

Thirdly, I went on my annual vacation to Disney World with my Mom. We go every year and and have a great but insanely tiring time. This year was no exception! Tropical Storm Beryl left Kissimmee, FL relatively unscathed and we had a wonderful time riding rides, eating Ice Cream and enjoying the parks.

Now I'm home and doing my best to get caught up! One thing I did make sure to do this week was a little bead embroidery. I made up a couple of "bead soup" recipes and went to town! I have another show coming up this weekend and wanted some brand new pieces to sell. Here are some of the beaded pendants I made. They are a great size for wearing - the oval pendants are just 2" long - but are satisfying to create and I can still feel proud to put them out there with my big pieces. I'm starting on some cuff bracelets and maybe some earrings this afternoon! Can't wait... :)

Bead embroidered pendants by Cindy Caraway

Bead embroidered pendants by Cindy Caraway

Bead embroidered pendants by Cindy Caraway

Bead embroidered pendants by Cindy Caraway