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John's Blog - More Travel

All Things Disney & More: Summer Vacation 2012

Minnie MouseOur Summer vacation for 2012 was a Disney Dream Caribbean Cruise along with a few days spent at various sites in Florida.

We started off in the Orlando area, home of multiple Disney Theme Parks as well as other attractions. We visited a few sites there (The Magic KingdomDisney's Animal Kingdom & Gatorland) and then headed off to the Disney Dream and a five-day cruise in the Bahamas. On our return we visited Kennedy Space Center and Downtown Disney.

For most of the trip we were in the company of the Baers (Robb, Melinda, Jack, Amanda) and, sometimes, Robb's folks Pam & Steve. It's the fifth vacation I've taken with Robb & Melinda (Italy twice, China, Yosemite/Safari West, and this trip). It's the third vacation Fianna has taken with Jack & Amanda who she calls "My Guys". Do kids take vacations?

Pictures and details after the 'read more'.

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2011 August: Tuscany, Italy (Week Two)

Tuscany 2011: Week 2After leaving the Val d’Orcia, we made a short 1.5 hour drive to Siena. Siena is an impressive city. At one time, Siena was in a class along with Florence, Venice, and Genoa, competing for political superiority. Siena’s grand hopes were wiped out, along with a third of the population, during the bubonic plague of the mid-1300’s. Florence’s military conquered them in the 1550’s.

After an eventful day in Sienna, we were off for another day in Volterra, and finally, five days in Florence (our second visit)

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2011 August: Tuscany, Italy (Week One)

Tuscany 2011: Week 1In August, the Bresslers went on our first two week vacation since Fianna was born (Feb. 2009). We used to take 3-4 weeks of vacation a year, so it was nice to get ‘back in the saddle’. Our destination... Tuscany, Italy. We’d been to Italy in 2002 and were looking forward to a return. Italy is a terrific place to vacation. Italians are nice folk with a good deal of respect for family, neighborhood & tradition. There is no shortage of historical sites either, which is a big plus in my book.

The big challenge for this trip was bringing Fianna, who recently entered her ‘terrible twos’ in full force. She has flown often, but we weren’t looking forward to locking her down for a couple of 11 hour plane flights. As expected, the flight to Italy was an exhausting experience, but isn’t every international flight? Unfortunately, at least on the way there, she had no interest in watching movies on the tablet and no interest in taking a nap. An additional test was carting her (40 lbs.), a stroller, an awkward car seat, and the additional luggage around. We managed.

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Back to Yosemite: August 2010

I'm a little behind, due to all the other work I've been doing on the site lately, but the weekend after our trip to Safari West with the Baers we took off for a 4 day trip to Yosemite. When I was much younger, I used to take many trips to Yosemite, Kings Canyon and other of California's parks. These were generally camping trips (tents or trailers). However, it's been a very long time. I'd guess that I haven't been back for at least 15 years.

Camping was probably out of the question with an infant (Fianna) and the Baer's two kids (Jakc & Amanda) in tow. We stayed at the Yosemite View Lodge in the village of El Portal, just outside the park border. The Lodge (really a motel) was a great place to stay and had very convenient access to Yosemite Valley. I'd guess it was 15-20 minutes to the Valley facilities. The big attraction of the Lodge, for me, was being right on the Merced river. In fact, we had a balcony overlooking the River and the wooded hills on the other side. Very nice. In addition, there were pools, hot tubs, and places to eat. While the main restaurant had ample menu and quality, the real find was the pizza joint right next to it. Some of the best pizza I've ever had, and... available by the slice. The only downside (and not a big one) was some severely limited broadband access and some rather rigorous policies on open containers. ;)

On the way into the park we walked around the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir a bit, and imagined what it would be like empty (as it may end up if more folks become convinced that it should be torn down).

We spent roughly a day and a half in Yosemite Valley, which is busier than I ever remembered it. By virtue of it being such a confined area it has become quite an anthill of activity. Certainly not someplace to find any peace and quiet, but with excellent availability of traveler services and transportation through the area. We did a couple of small (but rigorous) hikes there, with Robb and I sporting the baby backpacks for Fianna and Amanda. We had a pretty good workout. We also checked out the bar (of course) at the famous Ahwahnee Hotel.

Beyond the valley, we spent some time at Glacier Point where Robb took great photos. Farther down the same road, we spent another day in Wawona which was a national recreation area before there was a Yosemite Park, and has been an important stopping point for anyone heading into the park since the mid-1800's. We spent some time at the original settlement there, hiked through the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, and stayed for a BBQ on the lawn of the Wawona Hotel (established in 1876).

It was a good trip and I'm looking forward to getting back there soon to see Tuolumne Meadows and some of the other areas I remember as a kid.


California Safari: Safari West is a good place to get away from it all

Recently, our Family and the Baers (from SoCal) drove out to Safari West near Santa Rosa for a couple of days. About 30-45 minutes NW of Napa, we took our time getting there, stopping at a few wineries to kill time and relax before check-in.

Safari West is an 'African Wildlife Preserve and African Tent Camp'.  They have over 400 acres of open spaces, lakes, trees, dirt roads, and all that. They also have on-site lodging... big family size tents with all the frills (shower, sink, bed, electricity). I don't think there is air-conditioning and the space heater leaves a lot to be desired on a cold night, but there are plenty of blankets. No cellular service is available either (good).

Throughout the park are around 700 critters of roughly 80 species, including: giraffes, cheetahs, rhinos, cape buffalos, blue wildebeest, lemurs, gazelle, porcupines, zebras, and lots of birds. Many, if not most, of these are born at Safari West (most recently a new giraffe). 

A highlight of Safari West is the three hour tour, part walk and part open vehicle ride around the Preserve to see the larger animals. The Preserve is divided up into a few large sections by necessity as some of the animals just don't get along all that well (apprently Zebras are rather mischievous). You don't have to spend the night at Safari West to take the tour, the public is welcome to make reservations for the tour alone.

In addition to the animals, the tour, and the accomodations, there is an excellent buffet lunch & dinner available (reservations required), a snack shop with sandwiches/salads, and the service throughout the Preserve is first rate. No sulking unhappy faces around Safari West. No surprise as it seems like a great job to have. I'd highly recommend Safari West for a family, or romantic,  getaway. Kids will love the critters.

More pictures here.

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