Saturday, 31 March 2007

March Madness

March went by fairly quick - A vacation in the middle of the month will do that. The trip to Atlanta was probably the best family vacation since the trip out east two years ago. The weather was warm and attractions were awesome. We will be going back. The rest of March Break was laid back - though it did cool down, so we didn't do much outside.

The last week of March warmed up considerably so we were able to fire up the BBQ a few times during the week and enjoy some chicken and hamburgers. Tina said the BBQ fired up on the second push of the ignition switch - that is a testament to the quality of Broil King Barbecues - the BBQ will be 7 years old this summer. It needs a good cleaning and a tightening of the bolts, but other than that, it works like a charm.

The bulbs and perennials are pushing their way through. Adam spent an afternoon trimming the plants while Jeremy played. It's amazing how a little warmth and sun changes the flowerbeds. The lawn is in desperate need of an overhaul - something that Adam will be looking into very soon.

Wednesday, 14 March 2007

Atlanta - Day 5 - Marathon

Today was strictly a travel day - travelling all the way to Windsor from Atlanta in one day. Adam figured it would be about a 12 hour or so trip back home - including rest stops and food breaks.

Tina and Adam woke up around 6:15 am and had a quick shower. Adam started to pack the van and get everything set up (such as the DVD players). By 7:15 we were on the road. We were amazed at the amount of inbound traffic on I75. It was bumper to bumper for many miles. About an hour or so later, we stopped at the IHOP in Calhoun, Georgia for a hot breakfast.

North of Corbin, Kentucky, Tina took over the driving, giving Adam a break and some time to rest up for the final leg home. Soon after, we stopped for a quick lunch at McDonald's - the kids weren't too hungry. Corbin was too involved in a game on his GameBoy and Jeremy was too busy watching a movie. Back on the road.

We managed to miss rush hour traffic in Cincinnati, but we had to pull over between Dayton and Cinci to get some gas - and some Tim Horton's coffee. Tina was dying to ask for a double-double in the US - and lo and behold they said they knew what a double-double was. But there was one catch - the cup sizes in the US are different from Canada. A US large is a Canadian X-Large. Good thing the server caught that before giving both Tina and Adam a huge coffee to go.

Adam took over the final leg. The weather was cooperative up until Toledo, where it started to drizzle. By the time we got into Michigan, the sky was dark and the rain a little more heavy. At the duty-free gas station at the Ambassador Bridge, it was cold and damp - people were wearing coats. Canada customs was a breeze. It was around 8:00 pm, so we stopped by Little Ceasars for some quick pizzas and headed home.

For an almost 13 hour marathon of driving, the day went well. The boys did not give us too much trouble. In fact, Corbin was quiet all the way home. Jeremy fussed and mussed a few times, but he did a good job of holding it together. It's the longest drive we have done as a family - the next longest was from Albany, New York.

All in all, it was the best family vacation. The weather was awesome, the attractions were amazing and the kids were outstanding. We will definitely be heading back to Atlanta in the near future.

Tuesday, 13 March 2007

Atlanta - Day 4 - The Great Indoors

The last full day in Atlanta. What better way to spend it then shopping.

We were in no hurry this morning but eventually headed out around 10 am or so. Adam did some research the night before and found two shopping malls - Discover Mills and the Mall of Georgia, both on the NE leg of I85. There was a mall near the hotel, however, it was being renovated and was much smaller than the two malls mentioned earlier.

Discover Mills is your typical large indoor-style outlet mall. It is similar to Great Lakes Crossing in Pontiac, Michigan, in that it is divided into neighbourhoods, has a central food court, has a large cinema complex and has as Bass Pro Shop Outdoor World. Discover Mills also has a Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament. We strolled around and stopped at a few stores. Tina didn't see any deals at The Children's Place. We did get some things at the Lego Outlet Store including some Star Wars Lego magnets for Joe & Jen and a knights costume for Jeremy.

The four of us were getting hungry, so we grabbed lunch in the food court. Tina and Adam went to the Great Steak and Potato Company to get a Great cheesesteak sandwich with fries and coke. The boys had some food from Burger King. We browsed around some more before driving over to the Mall of Georgia.

The Mall of Georgia is a recent development - and there are plenty of stores, restaurants and hotels around the mall. It has the usual assortment of stores plus a large movie theater with IMAX. There is an outdoor component - where we grabbed some delicious ice cream to cool off from the very warm weather. We browsed some more before heading back to the hotel.

Before returning to the hotel, we stopped at Costco to get gas and to check out this new Costco - our first visit to a foreign Costco. Compared to the Costco in Windsor - which is busy all the time, this store had very few people in it at 4 pm on a Tuesday. We bought one thing: a bag of pita chips.

Back at the hotel, we switched into pool mode and enjoyed a leisurely swim in the pool. Jeremy is becoming quite the fish and Corbin played with a couple of older boys. Later that evening, Tina went over to the nearby Target to do some shopping for herself and the boys - she took Corbin with her, leaving Jeremy with Adam. We packed later that night to get a quick start in the morning for our trip back to Windsor

Monday, 12 March 2007

Atlanta - Day 3 - Penguins & Sharks

Adam, Corbin & JeremyToday was aquarium day - the main reason we came down to Atlanta. We headed to downtown Atlanta and the Georgia Aquarium, the world's largest aquarium. The drive down I75/I85 was quick - we left after rush hour and utilized the car pool lane.

It took us about 10 or so minutes to arrive at the parking garage ($10 cash) beside the Aquarium. There was plenty of surface parking around the aquarium at cheaper rates. The Children's Museum of Atlanta is located a few blocks east and the new World of Coca-Cola is under construction (scheduled to open on may 24, 2007) right beside the Aquarium, so parking may become scarce in the near future. The Centennial Olympic Park is located across the street to the north.

Jeremy and one of his girlfriendsThe aquarium opens at 10 am today and people were already lining up to get into the facility. You can buy timed entry tickets online (which did not seem to work in Firefox), but Adam decided to chance it and buy tickets at that facility.

The reason for the line was the security check before you even enter the facility. No food, gum, drinks, tobacco, knives, guns or fishing rods (yes, they actually say fishing rods) are permitted in the facility. There was no line for tickets and the nice lady gave us a present for Jeremy (as in treating him as under 3 years old). We bought the package that includes tickets to the 4-D theater (more on that later).

Your tickets get scanned and you walk past two small tanks in a black hallway that opens up into a vast center galleria. Unlike many aquariums we have been to in the past (Ripleys Aquarium of the Smokies and the Newport Aquarium) where you wind your way past exhibits, the Georgia Aquarium utilizes a gallery layout, with each gallery built around a theme. This makes for a more pleasant visit since you can take time out in between galleries to rest, buy some munchies or make a trip to the washroom.

Fish in the coral reefThis place is huge. Each gallery - there are five - has different displays and activities. In Georgia Explorer, visitors get to touch stingrays, starfish, horseshoe crabs and shrimp. In River Scout, you watch freshwater fish swim over your head and get eye to eye with a tank full of piranha. Also in this gallery is the Asian Small-Clawed Otter.

We took a break after two galleries before heading into Cold Water Quest, the second largest gallery. This first display had Japanese Spider Crabs that were about two feet wide - some food would drop and it was neat watching the crab trying to find it. We learned that the Japanese Spider Crab can grow to the size of a compact car. We watched as Beluga Whales, Southern Sea Otters and California Sea Lions played around.

Jeremy and his friend, PenguinThe Sea Lion display included an outdoor viewing area where you can watch the Sea Lions jump out of the water and listen to their barks. This gallery included Jeremy's favorite animal, the penguin. He could sit for hours watching them swim and ham it up for the humans. Cold Water Quest had two floors worth of displays - so you may end up on the second floor when you are done.

The time was around noon and it was time to eat. The Cafe Aquaria was busy but Adam managed to find a table. Tina and Corbin waited in line to get some food. They have burgers, pizza, pasta, soups, sandwiches and amazing desserts. All the food appeared to be freshly prepared and was probably the best family attraction food we have ever had.

We headed upstairs to the 4-D Theater, a 20 minute 3-D presentation that also includes a live actor and special effects such as rain, vibration and compressed air. As you walked into the theater you were handed special glasses to wear. The 3-D effect was amazing - you wanted to reach out and touch the animated fish and Corbin did this several time. Much to our amazement, Jeremy not only kept the glasses on his faces, but he thoroughly enjoyed the movie - next to the penguins it was a highlight of his visit to the aquarium. Tina and Adam also enjoyed the presentation.

Jellyfish Swimming Around and AroundNext, it was time to see the Whale Sharks - the biggest sharks in the world - in the Ocean Voyager gallery. There are three Whale Sharks and they grow to be 33 feet long. This exhibit includes a tunnel and contains nearly 100,000 fish - it's impossible to just focus one fish or a school of fish. The highlight of this gallery is the second largest viewing window in the world. At 23 feet high, 61 feet wide and 2 feet thick, the view is mesmerizing. You can sit right up against the window - that's where Jeremy and Corbin were) or sit in the stepped sitting area and watch thousands of fish swim by. Adam could have spent hours enjoying this amazing view.

Corbin at the coral reef exhibitThere was still one more gallery to go - yes, this place is huge. Our last gallery was Tropical Diver, which focuses on life around a tropical coral reef. The most unusual display was the one with the garden eels - small worm like animals that pop out and back in to the sand. It was surreal. Jeremy found Nemo and Corbin watched the action in the living reef.

The last stop was the gift shop (which also served as the exit), which, in our opinion, wasn't all that great considering the size of the place. It was small and did not have a great selection of unique items. We bought some t-shirts and a few toys for the boys, but Tina was unimpressed.

We walked back to the van and headed back to the hotel. Unfortunately, the signed way back to I75/I85 requires a left turn at a left turn light that is very short and traffic was backed up for two blocks. We ended up heading north on Centennial Olympic Park Drive NW through the Georgia Tech campus, took a left onto 6th St NW and then a right onto Fowler St NW, followed by a right onto 10th St NW. The exit to I75/I85 is on the left (William St NW) after crossing I75/I85.

Sea Otter Hamming It UpThis is probably one of the biggest write-ups for a vacation attraction we have ever written - and it only touches the surface of what there is at the Georgia Aquarium. Everyone enjoyed the aquarium - we spent over five hours. We highly recommend this attraction and look forward to returning in the future. Combined with the soon-to-be-opened new World of Coca-cola and the Children's Museum, this area is jam-packed with things for families to do.

Sunday, 11 March 2007

Atlanta - Day 2 - The Great Outdoors

Given the nice weather forecast today and the chance of some showers tomorrow, we headed out to Stone Mountain Park. Located east of Atlanta, it was about a 15 minute drive (via I-285 and Stone Mountain Pkwy) from the hotel to the park.

The park is built around the largest exposed granite dome (825 feet tall) in North America and is 3,200 acres in area. You pay a daily parking permit of $8.00 per vehicle to enter the park. This lets you enjoy the various facilities such as picnic areas, trails, children's playground, Quarry exhibit and, during the summer, the Lasershow Spectacular. In addition to these facilities, the park has several attractions that can be paid for individually or you can purchase an One-Day All Attractions Pass.

Despite the off-season, many of the attractions were in operation, including the Scenic Train Ride, Riverboat Cruise, 4D Theater, Antebellum Plantation & Farmyard, Treehouse Challenge and The Great Barn. Despite spending just over 6 hours at the park, we didn't get to them all. Unfortunately, the SkyRide to the top of Stone Mountain was closed for maintenance.

We did ride the train round Stone Mountain which provided some awesome views of Stone Mountain. Jeremy and Corbin enjoyed the Crossroads, a replica of an 1870s southern town, complete with a blacksmith, glass blower and candle maker. We visited several shops including the gift shop and candle shop and candy shop. Corbin bought some sheriff's badges for himself and some of his friends. Tina and Adam picked up some candles for Jen and Adam bought himself a hat.

Jeremy and Corbin let loose in the Treehouse Challenge, which consists of two three-story forts - one for boys, one for girls - where kids had to guide colored balls into interactive stations to score points. Next we had lunch at Miss Katies, a full service restaurant, where they hand toss rolls at you. The food was hot and tasty. The kids food came on a Frisbee, that the kids got to keep.

Next, we checked out The Great Barn - a three storey barn where kids are given a bracelet that lets them earn points (again using colored balls) at various interactive stations. There were slides, trampolines, cannons and nets. Jeremy and Corbin thoroughly enjoyed The Great Barn.

We took a drive around the park to give the kids some time to calm down and relax and to get a better idea of what the park has to offer. Stone Mountain Park is a great attraction with lots to do and lots to see. We definitely would recommend it to anyone visiting the Atlanta area.

On our way back to the hotel, Adam took the long way home via the I-285 loop. It took us by the airport which piqued the interest of the boys, especially Jeremy, who loves airplanes. At the hotel, we rested for a short while and ended an awesome day by spending some family fun time in the pool.

Saturday, 10 March 2007

Atlanta - Day 1 - Horsing Around

After an excellent night's sleep - a king bed seems to do that - our walking alarm clock aka Jeremy, woke up and told us all that it was morning time and time to eat. So Tina and Adam had their showers and we headed down to enjoy a breakfast that included the standard items plus make-your-own waffles, biscuits, gravy, sausage patties and scrambled eggs. Overall, the breakfast met our expectations. We headed back to the room, packed up, checked out and took a very short drive to the Kentucky Horse Park.

The Kentucky Horse Park is a 1,200 acre facility for and about horses. It houses two museums, twin theatres, the National Horse Centre (offices of various horse related organizations), the Hall of Champions (where past winners 'retire'), a campground, shows, competitions and a under-construction therapeutic riding facility. This is in addition to the acres of pastures where over 50 breeds of horses run freely. In 2010, the Kentucky Horse Park will host the FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG), the first time the games will be held outside of Europe.

We arrived at 9:00 am and it seemed we were the only ones in the park. This was the end of the off-season, so not all the activities and events were up and running. We walked over to the Draft Horse Barn to see some of the biggest horses that any of us have seen. These horses are used to pull trolleys and carriages around the park.

We took a short tour on the trolley and then walked over to the Breeds Barn, where various breeds are shown off. One horse was being cleaned and we had a pleasant chat with the workers. They even brought the horse out for the boys to pet and to get the horse used to people.
Next, was a visit to the International Museum of the Horse, the largest museum of it's kind. From prehistoric to modern times, the history of horse is shown through various displays. It is quite the facility.

The last stop at the Horse Park was the gift shop. Adam bought a baseball cap and the boys got some souvenirs. Tina also bought a few gifts for Becky at the Windsor-Essex Therapeutic Riding Association. Speaking of therapeutic riding, a new state-of-the-art therapeutic riding centre is being built at the Kentucky Horse Park.

After spending two and a half hours at the Horse Park, we headed down I-75 towards Atlanta. A stop for lunch at the birthplace of KFC, Sander's Cafe, in Corbin, Kentucky. Yes, the stop was planned so we could took some pictures of Corbin in front of a sign with his name in it. Lunch was filling and delicious. Tina drove the next leg from Corbin, KY, to just inside the Georgia state line before Adam took over driving duties heading into Atlanta.

1,200 or so kilometres later, we had arrived at the Best Western in Atlanta.

Friday, 9 March 2007

Atlanta - Day Zero - Heading Out

Today was all about getting to Georgetown, Kentucky. This trip was different in that both Jeremy and Corbin, had their own portable DVD player (Adam bought one at Costco, and we borrowed another from our friends, Joe and Jen). This should prevent the fiasco on our previous trip from Cincinnati, where Jeremy talked for five hours straight.

dam packed the van and we headed out around 2:30 pm. First stop was picking up Jeremy at the sitter's. Next was dropping off Guinea at Sarah's house. Then it was getting some US greenbacks at the bank. It took us about 40 minutes to get through US Customs.

In Toledo, we stopped at Denny's for dinner and gas. The drive to Cincinnati was uneventful. An accident on the bridge over the Ohio River slowed things down, but it was clear sailing after that.

We arrived at the Comfort Suites in Georgetown, Kentucky just after 10:00 pm. Tina could not believe how warm it was - people were walking outside with no jackets. We settled into our King suite - the boys shared a pull out couch - and had an excellent nights sleep.