Inside the Georgia Aquarium - Picture of the Week

Georgia Aquarium
To help get me in the mood for our trip to Atlanta, here's one of my favorites from our trip there two years ago. The purpose of the trip was to see Paul McCartney in concert at Piedmont Park, but we managed to squeeze in a visit to the awesome Georgia Aquarium. If you're ever in Atlanta, it is definitely worth the cost of admission.

Enjoy Your Stay

Welcome Aboard Magical Blogorail Teal

Welcome to the first stop aboard Magical Blogorail Teal. Enjoy the ride as we introduce ourselves, our blogs and share with you our inspirations for writing a Disney blog.

"To our new passengers: Aloha, and welcome aboard." OK, so I couldn't resist...

Today, for my first post as a contributor to Magical Blogorail Teal, I'm supposed to write about one of the most difficult topics there is....myself. My journey into the world of blogging was a rather simple one. Perhaps the biggest passion in my life is travel, but what I found over the years is that aside from the photos and a handful souvenirs, I didn't have much to show for my adventures. Over time, many of the stories began to lose their luster, and some of the details were lost in the "Gringotts Vault" that is my memory. So I decided to start a blog, partly in hopes of contributing to the online travel community, but also as a journal of sorts that I could look back on years down the road.

Tiananmen Square

In my short life, I've been fortunate to visit some amazing places, from Korea and China, to Amsterdam and Barcelona, with countless cruises on the high seas in between. My wife and I have traveled to Paris twice in the last few years, and both trips naturally featured a visit to Disneyland Paris. In addition, a couple years ago we ventured to California to celebrate New Year's at Disneyland, leaving only the Asian parks for us to scratch off our Disney "bucket list."

Seemed like a nice place to nap

When I first started blogging about my travels, almost none of my posts were related to the place I actually visited the most...Disney. The reason I didn't write about Disney was simple: I didn't consider it to be "travel." My wife and I reside in Central Florida, and have been Disney Vacation Club members for several years. As a result, we are fortunate to visit the Mouse once or twice a month. Back when I started my blog, I viewed our visits to Disney as just routine, and the last thing I wanted to write about was everyday life.

Central Park

What I soon came to realize, however, was that the few times I did write about Disney, those posts seemed to get the most activity in the blog-o-world. They were also the easiest posts to write, thanks to my vast wealth of incredibly useless Disney information. After pondering these phenomena for a while, as much as I wanted to hold on to my identity as "travel blogger," I decided the absence of Disney on my blog simply made no sense. To everyone outside of the Central Florida area, Disney is travel, so why fight it?

Us and the Gang at Club 33

Beyond that, Disney isn't just a place where we go to get away for the weekend. Like many, it's a place that has held a special place in my heart since I was a kid. Beginning in the early 80's, my family and I would travel to Disney every October so my Dad could take part in the annual Disney Golf Classic. Those trips were the most memorable of my childhood, and were something the entire family looked forward to every year. As an adult, my love of Disney has only grown, and thankfully, I found someone who's equally nutty about the Mouse in my awesome wife. She was very quick to agree when I suggested 3 years ago that we be married at Disney...

Our wedding at the Boardwalk

Since I've began writing more about Walt's Place, I've been fortunate to meet some great people in the Disney blogging community. It's fun to be a part of groups such as this one, and to relate experiences with people who share the same passion. It didn't take me long to learn that the Disney bloggers community is far from a small little group of friends. As the guy on the "Fun Spot" commercials would say....It's Huge!

Dinner at Victoria & Albert's

In my heart, The World of Deej is still a "travel blog," and those who stop by often will likely find reviews from my various adventures around the country, and sometimes the world. But in the end, it's Disney that plays the biggest role in my travel and blogging life.

Thank you for joining me today. Your next stop on the Magical Blogorail is

Here is the map of our Magical Blogorail loop should you happen to have to make a stop along the way and want to reboard:

1st Stop ~ The World of Deej
2nd Stop ~ YourFirstVisit.Net
3rd Stop ~ DisneyFAITHful
4th Stop ~ The Many Adventures of a Disney-Lovin’ Spectrum Mom
Final Stop ~ Capturing Magical Moments

~Insert Dude-like Closing Here~


Sabore - A Local Review

In an effort to get in a little better shape and help out the old ticker, over the last several months I've slowly taken up running. After a few admonishments from my wife for not having proper running shoes, we decided to take the short ride up to Gainesville, which is home to the nearest track shop. I consulted a friend and fellow foodie that lives in Gainesville as to where we should have dinner, and he suggested we simply walk next door to the track shop and try Sabore.
Sabore Gainesville Sabore is located on the west side of Gainesville in the Tioga Town Center. My first impression when we arrived was that I'd spend a lot of time in Tioga if I lived in the area, because it would be hard to resist the TCBY yogurt and Flour Pot Bakery. We arrived at Sabore just after their open at 5pm, so I wasn't surprised to find an empty restaurant. The hostess sat us in a nice banquette, but after surveying the surroundings, I actually wished we'd chosen to dine at the awesome L-shaped bar in the corner of the dining room.Sabore GainesvilleThe menu at Sabore is done tapas style, which put them in good favor with me from the start, considering it is my favorite type of dining. As I looked through the diverse menu, I was reminded of a previous tapas dinner in Asheville, because both times I was presented with the same problem...I wanted to try everything. The beauty of tapas, however, is that one doesn't need to feel ashamed for ordering 7 different dishes.Sabore Gainesville For our first round of food, we started with the yucca and beef empanadas. The yucca was paper thin, crispy and sprinkled with mojo seasoning. I don't particularly care for yucca, but prepared this way, I was definitely a big fan. In addition, the empanadas were also a hit, and I particularly enjoyed the spicy aioli they were served atop. Then again, I would eat aioli on pancakes if given the opportunity...Sabore Gainesville Next I moved on to the tuna tartar. If you happen to read along often, you've probably realized this is one of my favorite dishes, because I order it just about every time I find it on a menu. The presentation here was awesome, and while the tuna itself was great, its flavor was lost in the overabundance of chili and avocado. This is just my own taste, so others will likely find it differently, but to me the focus of tuna tartar should be the tuna, not everything else.Sabore Gainesville For round 3, we ordered the crab cakes and shrimp croquettes. The crab cakes were perfectly fried, and served atop the same avocado salad as the tuna tartar. This officially put me in avocado overload, but I enjoyed the cakes nonetheless. I also found the croquettes to be good, somewhat thanks to the spicy aioli, but unless I had read menu, I would never have known there was shrimp in them.Sabore Gainesville For our final round of the evening, we shifted away from seafood, and went with the Cuban pork loin and the papadella short ribs. Having grown up in a family where Cuban pork is a staple, I'm happy to say that this dish was without a doubt the best of the evening. Perfectly cooked, tender, and amazing flavor...there's not much more to ask from Cuban pork. As for the short ribs, I must admit I did not try them, and my reasons were simple really....a) I was full, and b) it looked like beef strogonoff, and Deej doesn't do beef strogonoff. Long story there, but as for the dish, my wife raved about it, and even had some leftover for lunch the next day.
Sadly, we simply had no room for dessert, although that feeling was soon lost when we walked out and saw the TCBY sign.
Overall, we had a great experience at Sabore, and I'm certain we will be back in the future. The service was excellent, and there was a lot of value for the price paid in my opinion. I only wish that we lived just a bit closer to experience it more often.
Oh, and if you think you'll need a midnight snack after dinner, hop over to The Flour Pot Bakery and grab a chocolate chip cookie. You won't be disappointed...

~Insert Dude-like Closing Here~

Sabore on Urbanspoon

The Simatai Great Wall of China

A few days ago, I was going through some old photos in search of a "Picture of the Week." While clicking through iPhoto, I stumbled across the pics from my adventure to Korea and China, and spent some time reminiscing on that great trip. It was my first time traveling abroad, so almost everything about that trip was memorable, but without a doubt the most amazing part was the hike on the Great Wall of China at Simatai.Great Wall of China Simatai
As I shared in a much earlier post, the purpose of my trip to Asia was to visit my college roommate who was teaching English in Naju, South Korea. When we began planning the Beijing portion of our trip, I was most interested to know about our visit to the Great Wall, because I assumed it would be the highlight of the adventure. The private tour we had booked included a stop to the Badaling section of the wall, but after a bit of research I soon learned that this portion was very touristy, and might not provide the most authentic of experiences. After perusing many message boards and blogs, it became clear that to maximize our experience, we needed to visit the Great Wall at Simatai.Great Wall of China Simatai
I contacted our tour company to see if a visit Simatai would even be possible, knowing that it was considerably further from Beijing than Badaling. I had my mind made up at this point, and if they could not oblige, then I would simply find another way to get there outside of our private guide. Thankfully, they were happy to accommodate this request, although due to the extra travel time needed, it came at the expense of visiting other sites that day. I was happy to trade visiting yet another temple for the hike on Simatai...
Great Wall of China Simatai
We met our guide and driver in our hotel lobby at 6am, for the two hour drive out to Simatai. About halfway into the drive, our guide informed us that he would not be accompanying us on the hike, as he was not "licensed" for that section of the wall. I didn't find any problem with this, because I assumed there would be others hiking the wall as well. This assumption proved to be hugely inaccurate....Great Wall of China Simatai
We arrived at the entrance, which consisted of a small parking lot and a ticket booth. Our guide purchased our tickets, while I looked around and noticed there were no other cars in the snow covered lot. We were given our tickets, as well as those to cross the bridge, which I didn't know existed, near the end of the hike. Our guide gave us his cell phone, and showed us how to dial the driver should we need their help. My nerves began to get the best of me, because I couldn't help but feel we were being dropped in the wilderness, and our guide doubted our survival.Great Wall of China Simatai
My nerves were quickly replaced by a feeling of amazement as we began our hike, and it didn't take long for me to understand why most said Simatai was the most authentic portion of the wall. Many sections of the wall were crumbling away in spots, and some of the watchtowers were all but gone. Shrubs had overtaken the wall in places, and there were even a few spots where the wall stopped altogether, and we had to detour in order to get back on.Great Wall of China Simatai
The first half of the hike was almost straight up one of the mountains, with the second half being downhill and much easier. At the peak watchtower, we stopped to eat our box lunch and to rest. My buddy and I had also planned ahead, and brought a small flask to toast our adventure. That feeling of being dropped in the wilderness was always very present, because there was no development in sight for much of the hike. While I enjoyed my ham sandwich and chips, I looked across the tree covered hills, and couldn't help but wonder what the heck I was doing there.Great Wall of China Simatai
Aside from the wall itself, perhaps the most incredible thing was that we didn't see another sole the entire journey. The lone exception was a local couple that tagged along with us for almost the entire hike. At first, I was a bit annoyed by their presence, but after coming across a section where the wall ended, I was sort of glad they were there to show us the way. It wasn't until the end of the trek that we learned their reason for coming with us...they wanted us to buy a book on the Great Wall. They asked for the equivalent of $8, and I gladly handed over three times that. The way I figured it, outside of our guide's cell phone, they were the only other people on the planet that could have helped us if something bad happened. As I looked through the pics the other day, I couldn't help but wonder where they are, and if they're still helping lost tourists like me.Great Wall of China Simatai
As we completed the hike, I was met with a feeling of accomplishment, but also relief. I knew that there was a better than not chance that I'd never have that same experience again, but I was also glad to have made it through safely. Apparently the Chinese government also had some concerns with safety as well, because they indefinitely closed the wall at Simatai last year. It is said that a renovation is to be done, and while I'm sure it will help keep tourists more safe, it saddens me that the experience I had may be lost for future visitors.Great Wall of China Simatai
Looking back, I'm grateful I took the time to research the wall before our trip, because the adventure to Simatai turned out to be the greatest story of my traveling life.

Enjoy Your Stay

Starbucks in the Forbidden City - Picture of the Week

Starbucks Forbidden City
While touring Beijing's Forbidden City, I couldn't resist the opportunity to purchase an iced coffee. Shortly after my visit, the company was forced to close the location due to outrage over a Starbucks being located on such a historic site. I might be a devout Starbucks junkie, but I can't say that I blame them...

Enjoy Your Stay

Review: AMC Fork & Screen Theater - Downtown Disney

In about a half dozen locations across the country, AMC Theaters has rolled out a concept that is a twist on the idea of "Dinner and a Movie." Capitalizing on the notion that many of their customers also dine out when hitting the movies, AMC has decided to combine these two activities into one through their new "Fork & Screen" theaters. These select locations offer a full menu of food and beverages, served in your theater seat while you enjoy the movie. "Dinner and a Movie" all in one place...what's not to like?AMC Fork and Screen Downtown Disney
I must admit that I'm not a big fan of going to movies, but when I learned a portion of the AMC Theater at Downtown Disney was converted to a "Fork & Screen," I was excited to give it a try. Given the blistering heat of Florida in summer, taking in lunch and a matinee seemed the perfect alternative to a miserable day at the theme parks.AMC Fork and Screen Downtown Disney
We arrived to the theater about an hour early. Our original plan was to walk around the Downtown Disney area, but it was so hot that all we could think of was finding some A/C. Thankfully, the lobby area of the theater features a full service bar, and one can also order appetizers for a before movie snack. We passed the time by enjoying a couple beverages, as well as some onion rings and cheese dip, which were both fairly good.AMC Fork and Screen Downtown Disney
About 15 minutes prior to the start of our movie, The Hangover 2, we made our way to the auditorium. One big difference between these theaters and a traditional one is that all seats are assigned. This makes sense given the theater is essentially a restaurant, which also happens to be showing a movie. Our server directed us to our seats, which felt more like a Lay-Z-Boy when compared to normal movie theater chairs. These chairs were so comfortable, if the movie didn't keep my attention, there was a distinct possibility I'd fall asleep.

When it came to our meal, I wasn't expecting much from the food, as I had heard the menu was on par with a Chili's or TGI Friday's. I ordered the chicken quesadilla, and my wife had the "Lime Chicken Griller" sandwich. Both were unremarkable, and I had a hard time even rating these dishes as high as my local Chili's. I hadn't expected much, but seemed to get even less.AMC Fork and Screen Downtown Disney
Overall, the concept of the AMC Fork & Screen is a great one, and will no doubt be successful. If people are going to continue to show up and pay a premium, however, the food will need a bit of work. Otherwise, there won't be much incentive to skip dinner at Ruby Tuesday's in favor of dining at the theater. But for a guy who doesn't like the movies, this approach certainly makes going to the movies a more enjoyable experience.

Oh, and as for Hangover 2...If you've seen the first, then you've already seen the second.

Enjoy Your Stay

AMC Fork & Screen on Urbanspoon

Review: Fado Irish Pub - Austin

Several months before heading to Austin, I noticed a potential conflict with the dates of our trip. As you may have learned from previous posts, I'm a bit of a soccer nut, and a proud supporter of Manchester United. The conflict came in the form of the Champions League Final (think Super Bowl), which was to be played the Saturday during our trip. When I discovered this bit of info in February, I paid little mind to it, as at that point United's appearance in the final seemed unlikely. Fast-forward 3 months, and that's exactly where they ended up. As a result, I was in desperate need of a place to watch the game, but as luck would have it Fado Irish Pub in Austin was the perfect solution.

Fado Irish Pub Austin
I had a good feeling about Fado from the start, as their website had a full schedule of soccer games to be shown in the pub. Any place that lists their Sunday hours as "Early...See Sports Schedule" had to be OK in my book. I was still a bit concerned however, as I've watched many United games in various bars, and I tend to get weird looks when I ask the bartender to turn on Fox Soccer. The game was not until 1:45pm, but we walked by around 10am just to check it out and get a feel for what lay ahead. As we walked through the outside bar area of the pub, the United gear on the walls, and the fans in their jerseys already enjoying a brew, made it clear we were definitely in the right place.
Fado Irish Pub Austin
We returned about an hour later to find the place absolutely packed. Austin it seems is home to a loyal group of Reds, and they were already enjoying themselves, a full 3 hours before the start of the match. We grabbed what I felt had to be the last table in the place, and settled in for what was sure to be a long, but incredibly fun afternoon.

Since it was lunch time, we decided to order some food, assuming that getting service might be difficult once the game had actually started. This assumption proved right on, as soon the pub was standing room only, and there was no way our poor server would have been able to fight through with a tray full of food. We started with a cheese dip, which was served with boxty wedges. The dip was good, but the real hit were the boxty wedges, which I couldn't seem to stop eating. Next, we moved on to some chicken tenders, which were fried in a light batter, and had more resemblance to sweet and sour chicken, than the typical over fried tenders in most restaurants. Both dishes were solid pub fare, and my only regret from our visit to Fado is that I was unable to explore more of the menu.

As the game got underway, I could not have been happier. Songs and chants filled the air from the overwhelming number of United supporters. And at any moment I was sure the place would explode, should the boys in Red find the back of the net. Barcelona struck first, and while the response was measurable, it was nothing compared to when Wayne Rooney struck back.... (careful, the true volume kicks in halfway through)

Sadly, glory in London was not to be United's that day, as Barcelona proved that they're not only the best team in the world, but perhaps the best ever assembled. Win or lose, the day would not have been nearly as fun were it not for Austin's Fado Irish Pub. The food is good, but the atmosphere is why you visit. There are many locations across the country, and if you ever find yourself looking for a proper pub, or just a good time in general, Fado is sure to deliver.

Enjoy Your Stay

Fado Irish Pub and Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Deej's Picture of the Week

Lincoln and Washington MonumentA view of the Washington Monument and Capitol, through the columns of the Lincoln Memorial. I look forward to returning in July to see more of the sights, and to see Manchester United earn payback against Barcelona.

Enjoy Your Stay

Review: Zax Pints & Plates - Austin

After the great experience we had a Red's Porch, my wife and I decided to abandon the dinner plans I had made for our free night in Austin. Originally, I had made us reservations at the Four Seasons Hotel, but at the last minute we decided to venture out in search of something a little more interesting than a hotel restaurant. We didn't have to venture far, because around the corner from our hotel was a place who's name immediately sucked me in....Zax Pints & Plates.

Given that we had to rise at 5am the next morning for wedding festivities, our goal was to have an early dinner. We arrived at Zax around 5:45 expecting a large after work crowd, and instead found a completely empty restaurant. In addition, the kitchen did not begin their dinner menu service until 6pm, but this fit perfectly with our routine of arriving early for dinner in order to enjoy a beverage at the bar. I found the empty restaurant and "late" start to dinner service a bit odd, but then again, I'm used to living in a town where the Early Bird is king.
Zax Austin Once things got underway in the kitchen, we made our way to a nice table still in the bar area. The restaurant is fairly small, so to call one area the "bar" and another the "dining room" isn't exactly accurate, as they share the same space. I liked the simple design of the interior, and found our high top table in the bar quite comfortable.

Zax AustinAs the name suggests, a big portion of the story at Zax is beer. Behind the bar, they feature no less than 15-20 local craft brews on tap. When we arrived, the bartender was updating the taps, as the offerings change daily. Following my pre-dinner Manhattan, I moved on to a 512 Pale Ale and enjoyed it thoroughly.
Zax Austin
Our original plan was to have a tapas style dinner, and enjoy many appetizers as opposed to an entree. I started with the crab cakes, which I found to be good, but a little too cooked on top. For whatever reason, one of my pet peeves is forking into a crab cake, and having the entire top of the cake slide off with it. The cakes were served with a plantain chip and slaw, which I might have enjoyed more than the cakes themselves.
Zax Austin
Next we decided to split the Crab Louie salad, which was a hit. The lump crab meat paired with the spicy Louie dressing was in a word...awesome. This salad was big enough for two, so the decision to share proved a good one as wellZax AustinThe reason I earlier said our "original plan" was tapas, is things didn't exactly pan out that way. After our first two courses my wife and I both were feeling carnivorous, and the tapas approach simply wasn't cutting it, so we both opted for a steak. I went with the Steak au Poivre, and asked to substitute the steak fries for goat cheese and pistachio polenta. The steak was cooked perfectly and cured my beef craving, but without a doubt the polenta was the best thing about the dish. Its creaminess was the perfect contrast to the spice of the peppercorn on the steak.

Overall, I'd rate our experience at Zax "above average." I enjoyed the food, but there wasn't anything that made me stop and say "wow." The service was excellent, as it should have been given there was hardly anyone in the restaurant. Perhaps we went on an off night, but I was also hoping for a livelier atmosphere, and that may have taken some away from the experience. That aside, if you're looking to enjoy one of Austin's many local beers, Zax is most definitely your place.

Enjoy Your Stay

Zax Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon

Review: Red's Porch - Austin

Perhaps the best meal we had on our trip to Austin, also happened to be our first. What's more impressive, given my OCD nature in planning trips, is that the meal was a total spur of the moment decision while driving the streets of Austin. Rarely, if ever, do I simply "whip it in" somewhere for lunch, but that's exactly how we found ourselves at Red's Porch.
Red's Porch Austin
The restaurant is somewhat hidden behind a Bank of America, and as we turned off busy Lamar Street, we thought we were lost. Fearing Red's was one of the many food trucks in Austin and had gone mobile, we started to turn around. Thankfully, we spotted the restaurant in the back, because otherwise we would have missed out...
Red's Porch Austin

As we approached the hostess stand, we were given the option of dining indoors downstairs, or upstairs on the "porch." Given that hardly anyone was inside, and I could hear the lively atmosphere upstairs, we opted to dine outside. Despite being in Texas in late May, it was a very comfortable temperature, aided by a nice breeze.
Red's Porch Austin
The menu at Red's is very extensive, with everything from pot roast, to Mexican, to their famous burgers, and everything in between. Once at our table, I pulled up the restaurant's website, and noticed the fried chicken entree was the featured photograph, so I figured it must be worth ordering. This assumption proved dead on, as it might have been the best thing I ate during our entire trip. The chicken breast was fried and incredibly tender, but not too heavy or greasy. Usually after eating fried chicken, the gallon of Crisco leaves me feeling pretty lousy about myself, but far from the case here. Having paired the chicken with a pint of Austin's own Live Oak Hefeweizen, I finished lunch feeling quite content. 

While the food was fantastic, the best thing about Red's is without a doubt the atmosphere. Red's was the kind of place that I could sit for several hours, just enjoying my favorite beverage and the company of friends. As I looked around the porch, it seemed that was exactly what most were doing, as there was little food on the majority of the tables. Don't let the bar type atmosphere fool you though, because the food really is worth the visit.

Overall, I'm really glad we "whipped it in" to Red's Porch, as it was the perfect way to begin our trip to Austin. The great thing about travel is that even simple experiences, like a restaurant with a porch, can turn out to be memorable ones. And while I wish there were more places like Red's in my hometown, their absence helps me appreciate them more when I'm away.

Enjoy Your Stay

Red's Porch on Urbanspoon