Check Out Time - The Week In Travel

Today, the plan is to eat and drink my way through 29 different countries, states, and regions. Impossible you say? Not if you attend the Epcot Food & Wine Festival! Before I eat myself into a food coma...

Here's what you may have missed around The World of Deej and beyond...
Random Pic of the Week - With any luck, this will be me in a few hours.

And did you see?...
  • Struxtravel shared the best travel inspiring movies of 2012
Here's to an insanely great week ahead, wherever you might be in the world.

Enjoy Your Stay

What Time Is It...? Food & Wine Time!


It's that time of year again. The best 6 weeks of each and every year are finally upon us once more...The 2012 Epcot Food & Wine Festival. Naturally, I'm hitting the booths hard this weekend, so there's bound to be plenty of awesome updates on Facebook

And if that's not enough to cure your Food & Wine fix, check out my video recap of last year's event....

A full report on all of the delicious adventures to come later next week. Until then...

Enjoy Your Stay

Napa Valley Bike Tour - 16 Miles of Wine and Torture

What I envisioned for one of our last days in California was a leisurely bike ride through the vineyards of Napa Valley, with random stops sprinkled in along the way at small, off-the-radar wineries. We'd knock on an enormous barn door where the vintner would personally greet us with open arms, and invite us into his barrel room to taste some of Napa Valley's finest. Delighted that someone chose to stop at their little winery, as opposed to the nationally distributed behemoth down the street, they would invite us back for dinner, because Mary makes a meatloaf that'll melt in your mouth.

Yeah, that's not how it works at all.

Apparently the wineries frown upon those that show up unannounced and wander the vineyard in search of their barn. Most, including the off-the-radar ones, not only require advance reservations, but actually charge for the privilege of tasting their wine. This revelation totally shattered my dreams and added yet another entry onto my list of things to plan.
Napa Valley Bike Tour
"And the wine is bottled poetry"...Brilliant

The folks at Napa Valley Bike Tours made the process a little easier, by providing along with our booking confirmation a map of the area and a few suggested routes. A few of the routes were described as "challenging" or marked with a black X which I assumed translated to "You're kidding, right Deej?" Then there was the 16 mile "Rutherford" loop, which was outlined in a pretty green color, and described as "Flat with a few rolling hills." Yup, that was the one for us...
Napa Valley Bike Tour
Plenty of this along the way...

Of course, there are no less than 87 wineries on the Rutherford loop, so picking a route didn't exactly narrow things down. There were many names that I recognized, and plenty more that left me clueless. So I figured the best approach was to plan half our stops at wineries we knew we liked, and the other half at some of the lesser known names. That way we were guaranteed some good wine, just in case the smaller guys served grape flavored rubbing alcohol.
Opus One Winery
MJ and her expensive taste.

The morning of our ride was cool and crisp, so we decided to get a little earlier start than originally planned to beat Napa's afternoon heat, which was pretty brutal even for this Florida boy. The shop for Napa Valley Bike Tours was located directly across the street from our hotel, so we walked over and were fitted for our bikes. The shop manager gave us his cell phone number so we could call him just in case we ran into trouble, or more importantly, to pick up any wine purchases we made along the way. After strapping on the always flattering bike helmet, and checking the map one last time, MJ and I were off...

And immediately got lost...

Napa Valley Bike Tour
Yeah...we were lost already.

No, I'm not kidding. We made a wrong turn on the very first street, and didn't discover our error until a mile or so down the road. Thankfully, MJ has learned to double check my directions and stopped to confirm our route shortly after we left the bike shop. Otherwise, we might still be peddling around in search of our first winery.
Napa Valley Bike Tour
"See..I told you I knew where we were going..."

Back on track, we made our way up the St. Helena Highway to the first stop on our wine tour....Cakebread Cellars. This was an easy choice for the itinerary, because Cakebread's Cabernet has long been one of my favorites, and they happened to be in the perfect location since I tried to space out our stops equally. Our tasting appointment was at 10am - never too early for wine - and we peddled up the driveway just as the front doors were opened. Nothing like having a great winery all to yourself...
Cakebread Winery
Great times at Cakebread

We had a private tasting at Cakebread which was perfect because I didn't feel so embarrassed asking amateur questions. I learned plenty from our host, not only about their wines, but also gained a better understanding of my own palate. This red wine snob discovered there's not much better than a cool glass of white after a few miles of peddling a bicycle.
Cakebread Winery
Where Cakebread keeps the good stuff...

Naturally, Cakebread was our first stop, and we were already running behind schedule. That is if it really takes the hour I set aside to ride a bike 3 miles down the road. Turns out, it doesn't. So we ruffled the feathers of our next winery - Round Pond - by showing up about a half hour early. They seemed confused and unsure of what to do with us, but eventually we found ourselves at a table with wine. In the end, that's all that really mattered.
Round Pond Winery
Looking down the drive at Round Pond

The setting at Round Pond was simply incredible. Although I had not heard of this winery, it turns out they are one of the largest in Napa in terms of acreage. Their tasting area was on a huge outdoor terrace with a stunning panoramic view of the surrounding landscape. They also offered a few small bites to pair with the different wines, which was a nice touch since the only way to serve great wine is paired with equally great food.
Round Pond Winery
The terrace at Round Pond

After discovering that I had allowed way too much time between wineries, when we were finished at Round Pond we backtracked to a corner store to pick up some snacks. Our rental from Napa Valley Bike Tours included a boxed lunch, but our schedule didn't sync up with the wineries to which the shop could deliver. So we asked them to hold the lunch until we returned later that afternoon. This would prove to be a huge mistake...
Caymus Vinyards
The entrance at Caymus

Following a stellar lunch of Dorito's and Oreos, we continued down Rutherford Road - the top section of our square shaped route - to Caymus Vineyards. This was my second "in case the other wines stink" choice, and like its partner Cakebread, proved to be one of the more informative tastings of our tour. We were taken into a boardroom of sorts and were joined by a few other tasters, one of which was a fellow biker. They poured about a half dozen of the latest offerings, and one of the vintners also joined us in the fun. The only downside was I didn't get the opportunity to ask any questions, thanks to the couple with a wine cellar at home who liked to hear themselves talk...
Caymus Vinyards
Where Caymus keeps the good stuff...

Right about now was when lunch would have been a great idea. The cool air of the morning was replaced by an oven in the afternoon, and we had about a 7 mile trek down the Silverado Highway - the right side of our square - to the next winery.  I gulped down a gallon of water in hopes of offsetting the bottle of wine I'd consumed already, and prepared for what I feared would be 7 miles of hell.
Caymus Vinyards
"Yeah, I'm ready...Let's do this..."

I was right. My legs were jello, and barely managed to keep moving. The steady wind blowing into my face wasn't helping any, and I was going so slow it was a challenge just to keep the bike upright. MJ was a few hundred yards ahead peddling along like this was some Sunday afternoon stroll, meanwhile I was dying. I figured the vineyards of Napa Valley was as good a place as any...
Napa Valley Bike Tour
"I'm dying...No big deal."

I caught up with MJ about 6 miles into the stretch, but only because she had stopped to wait for me. It seemed we had reached a 21st century fork in the road. Our map from the bike shop had us continuing up Silverado for another mile before turning, yet the good folks at Google were telling us to make a right on what appeared to be someone's really long driveway. We decided to trust the guys in Palo Alto.
Napa Valley Bike Tour
"Google says go this way...."

To say we were "off the beaten path" would be an understatement. This unmarked, unpaved path led us through the fields of Behringer vineyards. Farm hands passed by in trucks and waved as if seeing lost tourists on bikes was totally normal. Still, I feared some guy in overalls would eventually come out waving a shotgun, carrying on about trespassers being shot on site. Eventually, the path turned out of the vineyard, became a paved road once more, and led us straight to Goosecross, our final winery. Never doubt the guys in Palo Alto.
Goosecross Vinyards
The vineyards at Goosecross

Goosecross turned out to be the most unique stop of the day. They are a small winery owned by two college buddies, and the atmosphere in the tasting room is totally laid back. It was late in the day, and clearly most of the other guests had made far more than three stops in their own tasting adventures. This made for a fun time, and the miserable 7 mile ride was quickly forgotten.
Goosecross Vineyards
Where Goosecross keeps the good stuff...

Unfortunately, our snails pace ride to Goosecross actually did put us behind by this point, meaning my legs were put back to work far too soon. Thankfully, it was only a mile or so back to the shop in Yountville, where our wine purchases, lunch and the hotel pool were patiently waiting. I have never been so excited for a ham sandwich in my life...

For the better part of our two week California adventure, I lost all contact with my travel comfort zone. Our trips usually consist of some sightseeing, nice hotels and restaurants, and plenty of time in the lobby with a book and an adult beverage. What they don't include is physical exertion. Although I contemplated waving the white flag many times, in the end our two-wheeled adventure through Napa Valley was one of the most fulfilling days of my traveling career. Of course, that could be the wine talking...

If you go...
  • Take a backpack to carry lunch and other provisions.
  • Be prepared for lots of wine club sales pitches.
  • Have a smartphone with Google Maps.
  • Use it.

Enjoy Your Stay


The B Ocean Resort - Check-In Florida

Welcome to the latest installment of Check-In Florida, our monthly visit to some of best hotels and resorts of the Sunshine State. This month's stop takes us to the B Ocean Resort in Fort Lauderdale Beach.

When you live in Florida, you learn to deal with the extremes of Mother Nature. The heat, humidity, and afternoon thunderstorms come with the territory when you call the Sunshine State home. Then there's hurricanes, which as we learned during our visit to the B Ocean Resort in Fort Lauderale, have a funny way of cropping up just in time for your long awaited weekend at the beach.
B Ocean Resort Fort Lauderdale

The outer bands of Tropical Storm Isaac began to wash ashore, as day turned to night during our drive to South Florida. The storm was still hundreds of miles away, and technically wasn't due to arrive for 3 more days, but as often happens with tropical storms, the effects were being felt well in advance. A driving rain and howling wind welcomed us to the B Ocean Resort, and no doubt made the valet's job a little more adventurous as he dealt with a line of cars ahead of us. There was no time for pleasantries and information on how to call the car, this was an every man for himself sort of arrival which, like the wind, had us howling with laughter as we sprinted to the door.
B Ocean Resort Fort Lauderdale
Hanging out with Crush in the lobby

In contrast to the relative chaos outside, the lobby was a scene of total serenity. We were surrounded by a sea of white from the marble floors to the walls, which were accented by alternating lights of blue, pink and purple. The crashing waves outside carried onto the walls that were textured to resemble the surface of the ocean. All of this combined with a background of pulsating music, set the scene for the next two days.
B Ocean Resort Fort Lauderdale
Lots of comfy places to sit...my kind of lobby...

A team of four desk agents welcomed us to the hotel, behind a desk that seemed barely big enough to accommodate two of them. After an effecient check-in which involved a manual credit card imprint - circa 1986 - we headed up to room 903 for what I assumed would be a view of swaying palm trees.
B Ocean Resort Fort Lauderdale
For some strange reason, the elevator on the left is called with it's own button...

Someone from the hotel must secretly visit this site, because #903 turned out to be my favorite category of room...the corner room. These are usually found at the end of the hall in hotels, and often feature windows on two sides instead of one. This may sound like a small thing, but for a guy that loves natural light in my hotel rooms, it's sort of a big deal. If given the choice between a corner room or a suite, I take the former every time. OK, so maybe I'm not fooling anyone with that sort of crazy talk, but you get the drift.
B Ocean Resort Fort Lauderdale
The beauty of a corner room...

Once I got over my excitement for the corner room, I noticed the sleek furnishings, and of course, the all important white duvet. The room was also clearly built for the 21st century traveler, with complimentary WiFi, iPhone dock, and enough outlets by the desk to fuel a Chevy Volt. MJ noticed none of this, because she was preoccupied with figuring out how to sneak home the stuffed turtle from the bed without me noticing.
B Ocean Resort Fort Lauderdale
What's not to like?

The next morning I had high hopes for a break in the weather, so we could make the most of our short visit to Fort Lauderdale. First, we had to B Nourished with a visit to B'stro on the Beach for coffee and pastries.
B Ocean Resort Fort Lauderdale
Every hotel should have machines that dispense wine...

Tropical Storm Isaac showed no signs of letting up, but MJ still insisted that we B Active with a run down A1A. Personally, I'd have preferred the treadmill to the gale force head wind we seemed to encounter going both directions.
B Ocean Resort Fort Lauderdale
"Seriously? You want to join that one guy?

With a full day still ahead of us, the question was "what's next?" It was sort of hard to B Adventurous and explore Fort Lauderdale during a tropical storm. I suggested we could B Indulged with a couples massage in the spa suite, but MJ ixnayed that idea. Her position was if we were going to spend that kind of dough, it would be on new clothes at the giant Sawgrass Mills outlet mall. You can probably guess where we went next...
B Ocean Resort Fort Lauderdale
Not a bad place for a meeting or to B Wed

On our way back to the hotel, it was clear our goal to B Relaxed by the pool simply wasn't going to happen. So we did what any self respecting Floridian does during a storm...we picked up some provisions - read: adult beverages - and planned a marathon game of Gin Rummy in the lobby.
B Ocean Resort Fort Lauderdale
A little small, but no one cares during a Tropical Storm...

After pummeling MJ in cards, we took advantage of a break in the rain to B Glutonous with a pizza from Primanti's, located next door to the hotel. Fans of the Food Network may have seen their original location in Pittsburgh featured on an episode Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives. The place is definitely a dive, but their pizza made being cooped inside all day totally worthwhile.
B Ocean Resort Fort Lauderdale
My buddy Steve was quick to point out I should have had a brownie. They're REALLY good!

Of all the things the hotel encourages guests to B, the thing I loved the most was the ability to B Myself. Trendy, beachfront hotels in South Florida sometimes have a coolness requirement for guests that shuns 30-something, balding guys who walk like a duck. Not so at B Ocean, where hipsters to families all seemed to fit in just the same.
B Ocean Resort Fort Lauderdale
Florida

In the end, our buddy Isaac may have washed away most of our plans for the weekend, but there are far worse places to ride out storm than the B Ocean Resort. And with locations coming to Miami and Orlando within the next year, soon Florida will have even more options to B Spoiled.

Enjoy Your Stay

Special thanks to the B Ocean Resort for hosting this edition of Check-In Florida. As always, all opinions and pontifications are my own. 

Check Out Time - The Week in Travel

Fall is here! You wouldn't know it in Florida where the high temperature will reach 90 today. There's hope for cooler days ahead, and more importantly, some of my favorite annual travel traditions are nearly upon us.

Here's what you may have missed around The World of Deej and beyond...
Random Pic of the Week - This shouldn't be a problem...

And did you see?

Here's to an insanely great week ahead, wherever you might be in the world.

Enjoy Your Stay

Culinary Institute of America - Picture of the Week

Culinary Institute of America St. Helena

To the untrained eye, it's just another pretty building, but there's magic going on behind these walls. The Culinary Institute of America's campus in St. Helena is a must stop for anyone venturing through Napa Valley. Who knows, a future 3-star chef could be the one that makes your latte at their coffee bar...

Enjoy Your Stay

The Napa Valley Lodge - Yountville

Choosing a hotel in Napa Valley was easily the most difficult task of planning our California adventure. I'm accustomed to traveling to cities, where once the most important decision is made - location - the choices are narrowed to a small selection within that quadrant. The problem with Napa Valley, was first deciding which of the small towns to use as our home base, in an area spread over hundreds of square miles. We debated between Calistoga, St. Helena, and Healdsburg, before eventually landing on the tiny town of Yountville and the Napa Valley Lodge.
Napa Valley Lodge Yountville
Uh oh....scaffolding.

Even though the selection process felt like a game of "pin the tail on the donkey," the Napa Valley Lodge proved to be a brilliant choice in terms of location. It was within a short walk of two restaurants I had picked out for dinner, not to mention the delicious Bouchon Bakery. I was surprised to see that the lodge was also directly across the street from the bike rental company we were set to use for a winery tour. I'd like to say all of this was just as I'd planned it, but it was luck more than anything else.
Napa Valley Lodge Yountville
The walk to the lobby

As we pulled into the lodge, I started to wonder if that luck had run out. The first strike was the exterior hallways, something I've long despised in hotels because it usually means I'm staying somewhere I would rather not. The second strike was the work crew jack-hammering away on the concrete wall out front of the hotel. It wasn't the construction that bothered me, but the thought of what else was being worked on during our stay. Did I commit a cardinal sin and book a hotel undergoing a renovation? There was only one way to find out...
Napa Valley Lodge Yountville
The vine covered walls leading to the courtyard.

There were no signs of construction as we stepped into the small and, more importantly, quiet lobby. I wasn't going to bring up the hard hat area out front, but when the desk agent apologized for the noise I seized the opportunity to find out about the rest of the hotel. She assured us the front drive was the only area being worked on in the hotel, and it would wrap up in a day or two. Just like that, my worries faded away, and after an efficient check-in we were off to our room.
Napa Valley Lodge Yountville
While on one of my early morning strolls...

The Room

I was prepared to be underwhelmed, considering we were coming from the Lodge at Pebble Beach, where "standard" is something bigger than our house. Plus, how often do you find an awesome room at an exterior hallway kind of joint? Apparently pretty often, because for the second time in as many hotels, I was thoroughly impressed by a room I entered from the sidewalk.
Napa Valley Lodge Yountville
So we prefer two queen beds...big whoop!

Although the room didn't approach "bigger than our house" territory, it wasn't far from it. This was mostly due to the vaulted ceilings, and the room's abundance of open space. Too often, hotels cram a bed, armoire, desk, sofa, table, and nightstands into a space designed for a bar stool. While our room had all of the above, it didn't feel cramped in any way, and made our standard room feel more like a junior suite.
Napa Valley Lodge Yountville
MJ later hid all of the mini-bar snacks

The bath was equally spacious and featured one amenity I've grown to appreciate in hotels: a separate sink and powder area. These keep me out of MJ's way while she's getting ready, and in turn, out of trouble early in the morning.
Napa Valley Lodge Yountville
MJ's area...stay away.

The Hotel

One of the main things we wanted from our hotel in Napa was something that felt, well, Napa. I'm not entirely sure what I thought that was, but I knew the last thing we wanted was a cookie cutter Westin that we could find just about anywhere. While I may have scoffed at the hotel's appearance from the road, I had a quick change of heart as I explored the interior courtyard.
Napa Valley Lodge Yountville
A fire in the pit and a glass of wine will do...

There was a fire pit surrounded by numerous comfortable chairs, lush green grass with a fountain providing the soothing sound of falling water, and a pool that practically begged for a dip after a long hot day at the wineries. Yes, this felt like Napa, and was exactly what I had in mind.
Napa Valley Lodge Yountville
For some reason this random bench made me think of Forrest Gump

Another reason we booked the Napa Valley Lodge was their breakfast offering. Anytime I see the words complimentary, Champagne, and breakfast, all squeezed together in the same sentence, I'm bound to get excited. The irony, however, is that I chose to walk to Bouchon Bakery every morning, and never once took advantage of the spread. On the other hand, MJ enjoyed breakfast in bed each day thanks to the hotel's complimentary breakfast delivery service....me.
Napa Valley Lodge Yountville
The breakfast spread

Finally, one of the things I appreciated most about the lodge was their assistance in getting home all of our souvenirs - read: wine. Over our 5 day visit, we had accumulated about ten bottles, and hadn't given a whole lot of thought to how we would get them home. I asked the front desk for some ideas, and they suggested using a local shipping company that specialized in delivering wine. They would pick up and package the bottles, and have them delivered to our home in about a week. I was a bit hesitant just leaving 10 bottles of wine with the front desk, but sure enough about a week after we returned home, our wine arrived as promised. For a few dollars extra per bottle, not having the stress of lugging a package through the airport was well worth the cost of shipping.
Napa Valley Lodge Yountville
The pool...

Although I wasn't too sure what to expect when we booked it, the Napa Valley Lodge turned out to be one of the best surprises of our California adventure. If you're like me and have an aversion to exterior hallways, get over it. The location, rooms, and value can't be beat, and most importantly, it has that Napa Valley feel. If we are lucky to return to Napa, I'm confident we would choose the lodge once again, but next time, I just might try the breakfast.

Enjoy Your Stay

Adventures with Uncle Deej

This weekend, life changed in a pretty big way... I became an uncle.

It's not like it wasn't expected. Afterall, there was about 9 months of advance notice. In that time, however, the gravity of this event never fully sank in. When my brother and I talked about the impending arrival of his son, in my mind it was this far off event that was going to come...one day. Well eventually "one day" became today...

I became an uncle once before - one of the most rewarding features of the benefits package I received by marrying MJ - but my niece was already several years old when she entered my life. This would be my first experience welcoming a new member to the family from day one. Standing in the delivery room, looking at my nephew still in the first hour of his life, I watched as his grandparents and aunts greeted him with the type of emotion one might expect from a new baby. What caught me off guard, however, was my own response to the moment. 

I went to mush. In fact, it's four days later, and I'm still mush. In that moment, all the mumbo jumbo about how a baby changes your life seemed very real. A switch had been flicked, and the old Deej was gone forever. I was now Uncle Deej, and my mind began to race with the possibilities. 

There is so much I hope to teach this kid. So many places I want to show him, food I want him to try, and corny jokes that MJ will pass along that I'm sure his parents will just love. But of all the dreams I have for my nephew, there's one that trumps them all...

I don't care if he grows up to hate donuts, The Beatles, or calls the Pig Sandwich by its actual name. All I want is for him to know that his Uncle Deej loves him more anything, and there's a big world out there just waiting to be explored.

Dad introduced him to the Gators....I took care of Mickey.

Enjoy Your Stay

All Aboard The Napa Valley Wine Train

Trains....for most they are simply a point-A to point-B proposition. A means to an end. A nearly extinct mode of transportation, called upon only when a car or airplane is otherwise unavailable. Few would choose to ride the rails just for the fun of it, but each and every passenger aboard the Napa Valley Wine Train does just that. Their journey from point-A to point-A is one willfully taken and paid for. Of course, the combination of a spectacular view, gourmet meal, and yes, plenty of wine, all tends to have that effect on people.
Napa Valley Wine Train
Anything called Le Gourmet Express has to be good...

The wine train takes guests on a three hour journey through the picturesque landscape of Napa Valley, aboard fully restored dining cars which date to the early and mid-1900s. The railway which the wine train uses dates to the 1860's, and was previously used to transport guests to the resort town of Calistoga and the healing waters of its hot springs. Today, the route begins in downtown Napa, wanders through the vineyards and tiny town of Yountville, before turning around in St. Helena for the return journey.
Napa Valley Wine Train
The view for much of the ride...

We booked the wine train for our first day in Napa Valley; the idea of a nice relaxing ride paired with a four course lunch, seemed like the perfect way to begin our visit. A sense of dread washed over me, however, at the sight which greeted us upon arriving at the train station. Tour busses...two of them. The kind which dot the interstates of Florida, transporting droves of retirees to casinos and their nickel slots. As if reading my mind, MJ took the opportunity to remind me that this was a "wine" train. Relief would come soon enough...
Napa Valley Wine Train
Of course, by "relief" she really meant this...

While we waited for the train to arrive, and our fellow passengers set to hoarding the free samples of Merlot, we killed a little time by visiting the wine shop. Our meal on board the train only included a glass of sparkling wine, so we decided to pick up a bottle to enjoy throughout the journey. We went with an old favorite - Chateau Montelena Chardonnay - which was pretty fairly priced considering we were a captive audience at a tourist attraction.

All Aboard

We reserved our ride in the Vista Dome car, who's elevated seating and domed windows was said to offer the best panorama of the passing landscape. There are two other options for dining aboard the train: the "Gourmet Express" and the "Silverado BBQ." Both were appealing in their own way, but the view from the Vista Dome was an easy sell.
Napa Valley Wine Train
Our booth in the Vista Dome

After settling into the cozy booth, our server brought the glasses of sparkling wine, and put the bottle of Chateau Montelena on ice. We shared a toast as the train slowly pulled away from the station, watching as the scenery changed from the narrow streets of Napa to a seemingly endless expanse of vines.
Napa Valley Wine Train
More of the view...

A short while later, it was time for the main event...lunch. It couldn't have come at a better moment, since I had worked up quite an appetite in my fully relaxed state.
Napa Valley Wine Train
MJ's Tomato Soup
Napa Valley Wine Train
My salad...
Napa Valley Wine Train
The shrimp and scallop appetizer. Yes, that's salmon roe on a train...
Napa Valley Wine Train
Rarely can you go wrong with Beef Tenderloin

Toward the end the main course, our server let us know that the air conditioning in our half of the Vista Dome car had stopped working. She warned that it could get a little hot, and invited us to take our dessert in the adjacent lounge car where there were two seats reserved for us. We had just come to a stop in St. Helena, so we took this as a perfect opportunity to explore the rest of the train...
Napa Valley Wine Train
Practicing for my very own "Whistle Stop Tour"

Napa Valley Wine Train
MJ waving to her adoring fans...

Just as the server had warned, when we returned to the Vista Dome car our section was a little steamy. So we put in our dessert order and headed to the more comfortable confines of the lounge car. We sat down just as the engine passed by to hook up on the opposite end of the train for our return to Napa.
Napa Valley Wine Train
The engine passing by to take us home...

While I know many would have kicked up a giant fuss over being moved out of the Vista Dome, I actually liked the lounge car quite a bit better. The swivel chairs were incredibly comfortable, and it was nice having a different perspective on the passing landscape. Not to mention that right about now, most of our fellow passengers were into their second or fifth glass of wine, so we became fast friends with a few of the tour bus crowd.
Napa Valley Wine Train
MJ had a pleasant trip back to Napa...

Next Stop...Napa

The return to downtown Napa seemed to pass quite a bit faster than the outbound leg of the journey. You wouldn't have guessed that, however, given the grumbles from the nickel slots that we returned nearly an hour late. MJ and I were enjoying ourselves too much to notice, although we got off the train just in time. The wine was wearing off, as was my patience for the whine coming from our fellow passengers...
Napa Valley Wine Train
The creme brulee helped also...

When it comes to attractions like the wine train, there's two investments that should always be considered: money and time. The wine train was a good value for the price paid, however in my opinion the $139 fare for lunch in the Vista Dome warrants an additional glass of wine with the meal. I realize that alcohol sales probably keep the business afloat, but when you board a wine train you expect there to be more...wine. It also didn't make much sense that there was a $15 corkage fee for a bottle purchased at the their own wine shop.
Napa Valley Wine Train
The traditional dining car.

The other investment is that of time. If you are only in Napa for a day or two, I'm not sure that devoting a large chunk of a day to the wine train is the most efficient use of that time. While it is an awesome experience, if you are looking to explore the area, the wine train isn't going to show you much. On the other hand, if you are in Napa for several days like us, then the wine train is a great alternative to yet another day filled with tasting rooms.
Napa Valley Wine Train
The bar car...This place had potential...

Easily the biggest highlight of our experience on the wine train was the food. I had read many positive reviews of the meal, but I still came into our visit with pretty low expectations. My theory was the wine train is basically a giant mobile banquet...how good could it really be? As it turns out....insanely good. Each plate was beautifully presented and tasted even better. This food snob was impressed, and that's one thing I didn't expect to say as we disembarked the train.
Napa Valley Wine Train
So much awesome food...One tiny kitchen.

In the end, there's one thing that can't be denied about the Napa Valley Wine Train... It is truly a unique experience, and one that is quintessentially Napa Valley. There aren't many places in the world that can attract busloads of tourists for a point-A to point-A train ride, but when you combine incredible scenery, insanely great food, and even a few glasses of wine, it's easy to see why this is one of the most popular attractions in Napa Valley.

If you go...
  • Take a bottle of wine
  • Visit the lounge car, even if you're in the Vista Dome
  • Check out the wine tasting in the bar car
Enjoy Your Stay

Special thanks to the Napa Valley Wine Train for hosting our experience on board. As always, all opinions, including that of tour groups, are strictly my own.