Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Trip Advisor's Strangest Complaints Part 3

I get to write a lot of fun things while doing this blog. Telling stories about traveling with my kids, exploring new and different places, or even relating personal stories such as how Lori and I met, is a great way to spend my days. Without a doubt though, the most fun I have while writing is doing the research for my Trip Advisor's Strangest Complaints series. The bizarre things that people feel the need to complain about never fail to put a huge smile on my face, even if it does come at the cost of a little bit of my faith in mankind. One day people will stop complaining about silly things, but until that day, it's good to know that I'll always have plenty of material to keep me entertained.

If you haven't read the first two instalments of this series, you might want to start here:

Trip Advisor's Strangest Complaints

Trip Advisor's Strangest Complaints Part 2

And now here's the latest collection of...

Trip Advisor's Strangest Complaints - Part 3

"I wanted a nice view so I requested a high floor, but they put me on the 55th floor! That's too high. Also, the window didn't open. What if there had been a fire?"
- So your plan in case of a fire was to go out the 55th floor window? I always wondered where Superman stayed when he was in New York.

"I thought that housekeeping had stolen my wallet, but when I complained to the front desk they didn't seem too interested. It gave me a real negative feel towards the hotel, even though I later found my wallet in my wife's suitcase."
- This seems a little fishy to me. Every married man I know would assume that his wife had taken his wallet long before considering housekeeping as a suspect.

"The manager said that he gave me an upgrade, but I didn't feel any more special in my new room."
-That's really what the upgrade is about isn't it? Feeling more special? Maybe the manager should have sent flowers and chocolates.

"I wished for the bed to be bigger so it could be fitting all four of us"
- I really, really hope this guy was traveling with kids.

Yeah...something like that.......
"When we got downstairs for breakfast all the food was gone. This ruined our entire vacation!"
- This person takes the saying "Breakfast is the most important meal of the day" far to literally.

"The hotel is across the street from a fire hall but they look nothing like the firemen from the calendars."
- Apparently my wife now writes Trip Advisor reviews.

Lori's dream vehicle. A truck full of firemen with Batman strapped to the front!

"Although it was a nice hotel, I didn't really feel like I got my 140 cents worth."
- Did you use any toilet paper? Because that should be enough to break even on a rate like that.

"While sitting in the bar the manager threatened us with erection if we didn't quiet down."
- It's probably best that I don't touch this one...

"Housekeeping only took 8 of the cases of empties from the corner of the room."
- Only took 8? How were you even conscious enough to write this?

Finally, this guy may have a valid complaint, but I would have loved to see the hotel manager's face when he read this one:

"The hotel's walls were paper thin. We could hear everything from the amorous activities of the couple next door to the animals outside. At least, I hope the animals were outside."

Written by Steve Pratt

Monday, 27 January 2014

The Jelly Belly Factory Tour

There's only a few different ways that you can win an actual "Father of the Year" award from your children. One is to be rich and let them do whatever they want...there's no chance of that happening in our house. Another way is to spend every spare moment doting on your children, focusing solely on their spiritual, physical and educational needs while foregoing your own personal health and well-being. Strike two for my kids. The third method however, is a far easier path than the other two. Remembering that the only votes you need for this award are those of your children, the simplest way to be declared "Father of the Year" is to take your kids to a candy factory. Since Willy Wonka is fictional, this is how we found ourselves on the Jelly Belly factory tour

Fairfield, California, candy, tour

Now based out of Fairfield, California, the Jelly Belly company can be traced back almost 150 years to a small candy store in Belleville, Illinois. Gustav Goelitz began the company in 1869 and while the business was successful enough to be passed down from generation to generation, it wasn't until almost 100 years later in 1966 that the company was truly noticed. Sometimes though, it's who notices you that makes all the difference. In this case, the person doing the noticing was California Governor Ronald Regan, and when Governor Regan became President Regan in 1980, his trusted jar of Jelly Belly beans made the move with him to Washington, D.C. Eventually the world couldn't help but notice the ever present jar of jelly beans in the president's office and the Jelly Belly company was finally brought to the attention of a candy loving country.

jelly bean art, Jelly Belly, Ronald Regan
Regan inauguration captured in jelly beans

Jelly Belly relocated to Fairfield, California in 1986, giving them 27 years to get things smoothed out before our visit so I was fairly sure that everything would be prepared for our arrival. Coincidentally, 27 years is also the amount of lead time I need to get my kids out of bed in the morning, although I will say that the phrase "It's time to go to the candy factory" helps speed things along immensely. We arrived at the Jelly Belly factory just after it opened at 9 am. There were plans to take some pictures outside the building before heading in, but apparently one member of our group wasn't willing to wait any longer before getting inside.

Fairfield California, factory, tour

Upon entering, the first thing you're going to notice is long, roped off queue area. It looks like it's designed to hold hundreds of people (very similar to the line when I'm signing autographs), but early on a Sunday morning there were only about 20 people in line for a tour. Realistically this is about a perfect number for the factory tour as it allows everybody easy sightlines to everything and makes the distribution of samples much more expedient. Tours leave every 15 minutes and last about 40 minutes each. Fashion note: everybody on the factory tour must wear a hat. If you didn't happen to bring one of your own, you'll be allocated one of these premium pieces of headgear...

candy, tour, jelly beans, Napa

The tour takes place on an elevated walkway high above the factory floor. As our visit happened to fall on a weekend, the factory wasn't operating, but it was still very impressive to see the amount and types of machinery that go into producing the jelly beans. There are monitors mounted all along the walkway and at each stop we were shown a video clip about what happens in that area of the factory. I found it really interesting, but if the tour guide ever found anybody's interest waning all she had to do was start a sentence with "Now we're going to let you try a sample of...." and everybody's head would snap back around to see what kind of treat was being offered. We got to try jelly beans both before and after the shell was applied, and some new and different flavors that aren't widely available just yet. At the end of the tour we were each given a souvenir bag of Disney jelly beans and released into the gift shop. By the way, there is no photography allowed on the tour, but they do take your picture before you start and you are given the option to buy a copy at the conclusion of your tour.

Fairfield, California, tour, factory

The gift shop had a great sampling of all their products, including stuff that is only available at the factory itself. My daughters bought some Harry Potter jelly beans to take home to their friends, my son found the free samples of fudge being given out at the chocolate counter, and Lori and I loaded up on bags of rejects. Jelly Belly runs a pretty tight ship when it comes to the quality of their product, so it's only natural that there are plenty of beans produced that don't make it into the final product. They package these beans into two pound bags and sell them as a product called "Belly Flops", my new favorite road trip snack!

jelly beans, rejects, bulk, Jelly Belly
Then came the moment I'd been waiting for. My daughter came up to me and said "Dad...I've got something for you." Expecting a band to play and confetti to drop at any moment, I began to get my acceptance speech ready for my Father of the Year award, only to find out that what my daughter had were some jelly beans she had picked out for me from the sample bar in some rather unique flavors. I was presented with three jelly beans to try; one dog food flavored, one rotten egg flavored, and one barf flavored. Not exactly the kind of reward you'd figure would come with a Father of the Year award, but I reasoned that perhaps it was one last test to confirm my worthiness of the title. Dutifully I tried each of the three beans, and although I suspect that some of the flavoring may be psychological, each of the beans really were as awful as their names would suggest.

Amused by the anguish on my face, my children headed back off to the sample bar to see what else they could make Dad eat, but my patience was growing thin. I pulled my wife aside and asked her when I could expect to receive my prestigious award. After all, I had brought my children to a candy factory. This should be a done deal by now. My wife looked at me blankly and asked if I remembered taking my daughter to the dentist just before our trip. Of course I did. That $7K bill for her braces was the reason that we were in San Francisco and not on a beach in Aruba or somewhere more exotic. What did that have to do with anything?

And that's when I found out that people with braces aren't allowed to eat jelly beans. Who knew? I mean, thinking back I did remember my daughter giving me all her samples while we were on the tour, but I just assumed that it was because she was so proud of me and my impending Father of the Year status. Apparently those words being muttered under her breath weren't actually words of admiration. I had brought my candy loving daughter to a candy factory full of free samples where she wasn't actually allowed to try anything. Whoops. Looks like another year of winning the "Worst Father of the Year" award. That makes 15 years in a row now. Fortunately I have a speech permanently prepared for that honor.

Fairfield, California, exit

Written by Steve Pratt

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Cars Land Tips - Brought to You by the Letter S

Last summer we finally got our first look at Cars Land. I know, I know. For Disney fanatics we sure took our sweet time getting around to checking it out, but sometimes you just have to wait for a deal. What counts is that we did finally get there, and once we got a chance to try everything out, we loved it.

Cars Land California Adventure ride

Our favorite ride was Radiator Springs Racers. Disney did a great job building this ride around their Cars franchise and we enjoyed every second of our time on the ride. Unfortunately, for every minute we got to spend on the ride we had to spend 20 minutes standing in line. Therefore, since I'm a helpful kind of guy (don't laugh), I feel it's my duty to provide you with some tips to both shorten your wait time and make the most of your time on the ride. Since today is the Wordless Wednesday Blog Hop at Focused on the Magic and today's theme is the letter 'S', I'll be following Deb's theme to provide these valuable tips to you.   Ready? Here we go:

#1 - Single Rider Line

It took us about half as long to get through the single rider line as it did to get through the stand-by queue. Granted that still involves an investment of at least an hour, but that's way better than the two hours plus that the main line was taking.

stand-by line cars land California

#2 - Sunglasses

It's aesthetic, but if you're going to be bombing around the countryside in a fancy sports car, you really need to look like you belong in that car. Sunglasses give a person a "I know what I'm doing here" vibe, which explains why I never wear them.

Radiator Springs Racers Disneyland California Adventure

#3 - Seat Selection

If you have a choice, never sit behind the girls with long hair. 

Cars Land ride Radiator Springs Racers back seat

#4 - Sportmanship

Just remember that you're not going to win every race. It's nothing to get upset about.

Cars Land California Adventure Disneyland

#5 - Selebrate with a Shake

(Don't question my spelling!) Just outside of Radiator Springs Racers is Flo's V8 Cafe, one of the few places inside California Adventures that you can get milkshakes. They're pretty good milkshakes too. Of course they're even better if you're celebrating a big win over other racers. I wonder what that feels like?

Cars Land restaurant Disneyland California Adventure

This post is a part of Wordless Wednesday over at Focused on the Magic. If you didn't get here from there, you should really head on over and check out some of the fantastic people that hang out there on Wednesdays. Most of them could probably be described as Spectacularly Scriptive and Sophisticated, although a couple of them are Slightly Strange and Silly. Guess which camp I fall in?

Written by Steve Pratt

Monday, 13 January 2014

5 Reasons We're Not Very Good at Road Tripping

I have a blog I like to read called Tips on Road Tripping. It's about a family of six who take these crazy long drives across the country and stop in some of the strangest places imaginable, all while making it look like they're having the time of their lives (I highly suspect that someone in that family has taken a Photoshop class because they always look so happy). I enjoy following Joe, Deborah and their family on their adventures, and while I've always said that road tripping wasn't for me, secretly I've always wondered if they were on to something special. 

Fast forward to this years Christmas break and circumstances (aka my daughter deciding that she doesn't want to fly any more) led us to plan our first real road trip (I don't count the One Direction version). At least we called it a road trip. The Tips for Road Tripping gang would probably laugh at a simple 18 hour drive, but for us it seemed like an enormous endeavour. 18 hours would easily be the longest period of time that we'd ever spent in a car together, excluding the time that we got lost driving to Edmonton. So to be more accurate, it would be the longest period of time we'd ever intentionally spent in a car together.  That's a scary thought to dwell on while loading luggage into the van. 

crowded van bad seating arrangement road trip
We probably could have found a more comfortable seating arrangement

So how was it? Well we survived. Truthfully it was nowhere near as bad as I thought it was going to be.  We split the drive in two and stayed a night in Portland in both directions leaving only 9 hour shifts behind the wheel which really didn't seem too terrible. Still, I'm not sure that it's an excursion that we'll be in a rush to repeat. Despite what our friends at Tips on Road Tripping say, I'm not sure that road tripping is for everyone, and I'm pretty sure it's not for us. Here's five reasons I'm fairly certain we're not well suited to the road tripping lifestyle:

#1 - I like to be in control so I don't share the driving

I'd like to share the driving, really I would, but there's something in me that won't let me. Truth be told, pilots are lucky I let them fly the plane without me being in the cockpit offering suggestions. I seem to have some sort of control fetish, and that makes for really long days behind the wheel. It will only get worse next year when the boy is eligible to get his drivers license. There's zero chance of me relinquishing my grip on the wheel at that point. Plus there's the rule that the driver controls the radio, and we all know why that's important don't we? 

#2 - Apparently I drive at the world's most inconvenient speed

I'm not a speed demon, but if the speed limit on a road is 70 mph then I usually keep my pace somewhere between 70-80 mph. That seems reasonable to me, but for about 50% of the drivers on the I-5 last week, that's the speed a semi-truck climbing up a 45 degree incline while pulling a trailer full of anchors should be traveling and I must be some sort of pace car to be moving as slowly as I was. The other half of the drivers obviously thought that I was some kind of meth-fueled, speed crazed Canadian who had no respect for American speed limits. Add in the fact that I actually signal when I change lanes and I think everybody was completely confused by my driving habits.

#3 - The freedom to stop wherever you want

Most people who like road tripping will tell you that being able to stop and explore things that catch your eye is one of the best parts of driving instead of flying. I respectfully disagree. I'm a man, and my goal is to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible. Having to stop every time my wife spots something of interest doesn't speed things along at all. Besides, the only thing that ever catches my wife's eye while we're driving are outlet malls. Well, that and the occasional road sign which everybody feels the need to scream at the top of their lungs causing me to nearly drive the van into the ditch.

Yolo road sign California road trip

#4 - The service isn't as good as flying

Those of you who think it's a hassle trying to get a drink on an airline should try and get somebody to pass you a Diet Coke in my van. Three kids sitting in the back with their headphones on, and no matter how much I wave and motion, nobody is looking up from their iPad. Unless of course we drive past the YOLO county limit sign. That they all miraculously see. Lori isn't much better as a nine hour drive is the perfect opportunity for a nine hour Candy Crush marathon that means all drink requests have to "just wait until I finish this level". 

#5 - You don't get miles while driving. 

Every time I passed a sign detailing the remaining distance to San Francisco I would mentally figure out how many miles we would earn to our frequent flyer account if we stopped and flew from right at that point. With Alaska running double miles on most of their Bay Area routes right now, it was a little depressing to keep figuring out what we were missing out on. Fortunately, we shouldn't have to miss out on it again. After two 18 hour drives my daughter has decided that she's perfectly fine with flying again. Apparently road trips are the miracle cure for fear of flying. I wonder if Joe and Deborah know about this?

Written by Steve Pratt