Run 50 States – Columbia Gorge Half Marathon Hood River, Oregon

When deciding on a half marathon in Oregon, I knew that I definitely wanted to run one somewhere near Portland. I decided on the Columbia Gorge Half Marathon in Hood River which was a little more than an hour from downtown Portland. It’s run in the fall, which is my favorite time of year to run, the temperature is usually perfect and it’s always easier for me to train during the summer than the winter since I’d much prefer to run in heat and humidity than snow and ice. Little did I know just how magical fall is in Oregon even if the weather ends up not being perfect for running.

Columbia Gorge Half Marathon Views

The race weekend is also included a Marathon. When signing up for the race, I noticed the logo on the website which stated it’s “The Most Scenic Marathon in the Country” Even reading that I was not prepared for just how scenic the race would be!

A little bit about the general area before I get into the race details. Hood River is located about 70 miles east of Portland and is located where the Hood and Columbia rivers join. It’s located in the heart of the Columbia River Gorge and while in the area, you must check out the waterfalls along the Historic Columbia River Highway. In Hood River itself watersports take center stage, from sailing to kayaking to stand up paddle boarding to kiteboarding. But it’s the windsurfing that makes Hood River so famous as it’s known as the windsurfing capital of the world.

Mount Hood Railroad

Take a ride along Mount Hood Railroad. This historic century-old railroad runs scenic rides thru the Hood River Valley on weekends from late June thru the end of October each year. Take in the beautiful views of the river, the foliage and views of Oregon’s tallest peak, Mt. Hood. Hood River has a beautiful downtown area full of one-of-a-kind shops that is definitely worth checking out. There are also numerous restaurants that I visited while I was there:

Kickstand Coffee – Not just your everyday coffee shop, this shop is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. They serve Oregon’s own Stumptown Coffee. And their food is made with local ingredients with a global twist.

Romuls – This Italian restaurant located in downtown Hood River is the perfect place to go to carb load for your race. The food is fresh and homemade.

Full Sail Brewing Co. – This brewery is located in Hood River and has a brew pub to dine in. I was unable to dine here, but purchased some beer to bring back to my hotel and they were delicious.

Solstice Wood Fire Pizza – Located along the river not far from the start and finish line of the race, this family-owned restaurant serves up delicious inventive pizzas with more than your typical pizza toppings.

Hood River Event Site

Now that you see how much there is to do in Hood River, it’s time to get to the race! The packet pickup took place at the local running store in downtown Hood River. It was a very quick process. For swag I got a beanie, which was nice but as I had a blanket made with the shirts from my first 25 state half marathons and planned to do the same for the second 25, I was slightly disappointed in no shirt. Although a quick glance at the website later, they didn’t mention a shirt, so I should have known. Not to fear, due to the race day weather a shirt was purchased after I finished the race, but that’s a story for later.

The race started and finished at the Hood River Event Site which is right along the river. It was within walking distance from my hotel, Hampton Inn Hood River, so it was fairly easy to get too, there was also plenty of parking available at the site. When I was walking over to the race, the weather wasn’t too bad, it was in the high 40s and cloudy, if only it stayed that way!

Columbia Gorge Marathon and Half Marathon Start Line

The half marathon started at the Hood River Event Site and went into downtown. Once downtown it went along the main road thru downtown and then down near the river. Then the race started its ascent up what seemed like a mountain! There is a total elevation gain of 1,112 feet in the half marathon and I’m pretty sure that all took place in the first couple of miles, it was never-ending, and the grade was 5%. Thankfully I wasn’t the only one who decided for a nice early walk break up the hill and found some other runners to talk to for a majority of the way up. One of the girls was from the area and she assured me that once we made it up this hill, the rest of the race wasn’t that bad. I won’t lie, this race made me long for rolling hills (which I normally hate), that’s how steep this hill was!

View of Hood River from above

There were some positives to this crazy hill being at the beginning of the race though. Since the race was an out and back course, that meant a nice long downhill at the end of the race! And the views both going up and especially at the top of the hill were stunning!

Stunning views

The hill leveled off, and there were a few more hills, although it really felt to me like it was one really long hill that went on for miles with some leveling off in between the less steep sections after the really steep part at the beginning.

Views from the course

The race followed the Historic Columbia River Highway State Park Trail. This trail used to be part of the Historic Columbia River Highway. This historic highway was built in 1921 and then in the 1950s, after the present highway down closer to the river was built, the road was shut down. In 2002, sections of it opened as a state trail. This state park trail is used for hiking and apparently running!

One of the highlights of the trail and the turnaround point of the half marathon is the Twin Tunnels. These tunnels were built in 1921 to allow the road to go thru the rock in the area. When the road closed, they filled the tunnels in with rocks. For the Historic Columbia River Highway State Park Trail, they restored these tunnels and even unearthed graffiti dating back to 1921 when motorists were snowbound for days in the tunnel. The tunnels are definitely a great experience to run thru.

Running thru the Twin Tunnels

Remember I mentioned earlier that I wish the weather had remained cloudy? Well shortly after leaving the tunnels, the skies opened, and it poured for the remainder of the race! I’m not a fan of running in the rain at all, only if it’s a warm summer day and it’s a light rain which ends up being refreshing. This was a cold, soaking rain! Needless to say, the remainder of the race was run with a poncho on! Thankfully the fall views somewhat distracted me from how miserable I was with the weather.

It was definitely a beautiful race; I can only imagine how miserable I would have been if the views weren’t so amazing to take my mind off of the rain temporarily. Needless to say when I finished the race, after being in the rain with temperatures in the 40s, I was pretty cold. Remember I was upset about not getting a shirt for the race? Well first thing I did when I finished was go to the tent and buy a quarter zip race shirt. It felt so nice to have something dry on me. Of course, as luck would have it by the time I walked back to the hotel, the rain had lightened up to a drizzle, figures!

I will say, that even with covid, the post-race food and refreshments were great. They had beer from a local brewery, which if you can believe it, I didn’t have, I was that cold, all I wanted was a hot cup of coffee and it was delicious. They also had a taco bar and cookies for dessert. I definitely ate well after this race.

Post race taco bar

As wet and cold as this race was it was also one of the most beautiful races I have ever run, I may just try running it again someday, maybe. If you are looking for a race to run in Oregon, this is definitely the one for you. And even if you aren’t a runner, if you ever thought of visiting this area of Oregon, fall is definitely the time to visit!

The Columbia Gorge Marathon and Half Marathon will be held on October 16th in 2022. Remember that Beyond The Miles Travel would love to help you plan your next racecation, maybe that can be to Hood River Oregon!

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La Isla del Encanto – Puerto Rico

The Spanish word Encanto has been brought to the attention of many non-Spanish speaking people with the recent release of the Disney movie of the same name which takes place in the country of Columbia. But did you know that Puerto Rico is known as “La Isla del Encanto” which in English translates to “The Island of Enchantment”. And after visiting Puerto Rico, I could not agree more with this.

The island of Puerto Rico is located in the Caribbean and is a territory of The United States of America. This makes it a very easy destination for US visitors as passports are not required. But this beautiful island is more than just tropical beaches and relaxation. It’s full of history, culture and outdoor activities.

Tropical waters in Puerto Rico

Old San Juan

When flying into Puerto Rico, most will fly into the capital of San Juan. While visiting a tropical climate, you may be eager to spend your week at the beach or the pool at your resort, but Old San Juan is definitely worth taking a half day or full day away from the beach.

Old San Juan is the historic district in San Juan. While Caribbean islands may not be the first places that come to mind, did you know that San Juan is the second oldest city in the Western Hemisphere? In the US, most of us have heard of Juan Ponce de Leon who discovered Florida while searching for the Fountain of Youth. Prior to discovering Florida, he discovered Puerto Rico and became their first governor. One of the historic attractions you can visit in Old San Juan is Ponce de Leon’s mansion.

San Juan National Historic Site

The most popular of historical attractions in Old San Juan though has got to be the San Juan National Historic Site. Visiting this historic site, will take you back 500 years in time. On this site, you can see the remaining city walls along with two forts, Castillo San Felipe del Morro (commonly referred to as El Morro) and Castillo San Cristobal. These forts took 200 and 150 years each to be built. Both forts were used to defend the island of Puerto Rico and during World War II, El Morro was used by the USA to keep watch on German submarines in the Caribbean.

The park is open daily (except for Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Years Day) from 9:30am – 4:30pm and admission is $10. You can tour the forts on your own but look out for the ranger talks going on in the fort while you are there to learn more about the history.

While at the San Juan National Historic Site, make sure to check out the beautiful views of the surrounding area, they are certainly breathtaking!

View from San Juan National Historic Site

Seeing El Morro from the outside by the water is also a beautiful experience. Take a walk along the Paseo del Morro which follows along the coast. The walk does dead end at the fort as seen in the photo below, but it’s not a long walk and the views are worth seeing again on the walk back.

Paseo del Morro connects to another great walkway in Old San Juan, Paseo De La Princesa. This beautiful walkway also offers stunning coastal views. Along the Paseo De La Princesa, you will come across street vendors and the Fuente Raices (Roots Fountain). This fountain is in honor of the 500th anniversary Spain’s discovery of the New World.

Fuente Raices

These two walkways are not the only great places to walk in Old San Juan. Walking the historic streets is definitely quite the treat. Old San Juan is full of colorful buildings that are just stunning to see as you walk thru the historic city streets.

My favorite thing I saw while walking around Old San Juan was located on Calle San Jose. There I found the famous door painted as the Puerto Rican flag. This is definitely an Instagram worthy location for your Old San Juan visit.

Puerto Rican Flag Door

Along with all that I mentioned, Old San Juan also has many great shops and restaurants. You could definitely spend a good portion of a day here.

Beaches

Of course, no vacation to somewhere in the Caribbean would be complete without some beach time. Just like other Caribbean islands, Puerto Rico is full of beaches. Right outside of San Juan there are many beaches, the three most popular being Condado Beach, Ocean Park Beach and Isla Verde Beach. If you are staying in a hotel or renting a house or condo near San Juan, chances are you will be right near one of these beaches. All of these beaches are great for relaxing, swimming, taking a walk and watching the sunset.

The most beautiful beach that I visited while in Puerto Rico was Luquillo Beach. Located about 30 miles from San Juan, Luquillo is known as the la Capital del Sol (the Sun’s Capital) which is probably why this beach is just so perfect. This beach looks like it’s straight out of a postcard and is the perfect spot to spend a relaxing afternoon.

While you could bring a picnic to the beach, I highly recommend visiting Los Kioskos de Luquillo while at this beach. These beachside kiosks feature restaurants, bars and gift shops. It’s the perfect spot for some authentic Puerto Rican food like Mofongo. If you are unfamiliar with Mofongo, it’s mashed fried plantains with garlic and olive oil and can be accompanied by meat or seafood. I had never heard of Mofongo before I visited Puerto Rico, but I definitely fell in love with it while I was there, so delicious!

Mofongo at Los Kioskos de Luquillo

El Yunque National Forest

Located about 5 miles from Luquillo Beach is the only tropical rainforest in the United States National Forest Service, El Yunque National Forest. This rainforest gets on average 120 inches of rainfall each year. Oddly enough after running a half marathon in tropical downpours and getting stuck in tropical rain on the beach for two days straight, the day I visited the rainforest was the first day I didn’t see rain in Puerto Rico, go figure!

El Yunque National Forest

Like many National Parks in the United States, El Yunque National Forest has moved to a reservations system to visit the rainforest. Reservations can be made up to 30 days in advance with timed entry during a 3-hour time frame. One reservation per car is required and there is a $2 reservation fee.

Trees in El Yunque National Forest

El Yunque is full of gorgeous views, waterfalls and hiking. Climb the Yokahu Observation Tower to view the lush rainforest from above. The tower is located at 1,575 feet and is 69 feet high. The views from the tower are stunning and on a clear day you can even see all the way to the Virgin Islands.

Being a rainforest, El Yunque has many waterfalls to check out. One of the easiest ones to see is La Coca Falls. This waterfall is located right by the road, so no hiking is necessary. These 85-foot falls are stunning to see and definitely make for a great photo op.

The most popular waterfall in El Yunque is La Mina Waterfall. This waterfall is 35 feet tall and offers a pool at the bottom that you can swim in. There is a 3/4-mile hike to the waterfall along La Mina Trail. While this trail is short, it is rated as moderate to difficult due to the 500-foot elevation you will gain on your way out of the waterfall. The trail follows along the La Mina River and there are stairs at points along the trail. Be prepared for crowds as this is the most popular trail in El Yunque.

Since the damage from Hurricane’s Irma and Maria in 2017, the trail has been closed. Make sure to check the website to see if it has reopened.

Cueva Ventana

An often-overlooked attraction in Puerto Rico is Cueva Ventana. Located about an hour east of San Juan, this hidden gem is worth the drive. Cueva Ventana translates to Window Cave in English. The view out the window of this cave of the lush landscape below is absolutely stunning.

Cueva Ventana is open from 10am – 4pm daily and guided tours are offered frequently throughout the day. The tour takes you thru the cave giving you a little history of the cave and surrounding area and gives you plenty of time to take photos of the window.

Make sure to dress appropriately, leave the flip flops and sandals at the hotel and wear either hiking boots or sneakers. Hard hats and flashlights are provided for the tour.

While in the area, make sure to drive thru nearby Arecibo. This coastal town has some stunning views that are worth the short detour.

Caribe Hilton

If you are looking for a great hotel to stay in, I highly recommend the Caribe Hilton. This beautiful resort is located just outside of San Juan and is set on a beautiful private beach. But even if you are not staying here, it just might be somewhere you may want to visit as it’s the home of the Pina Colada! That’s right, in 1954, a bartender at the bar at the Caribe Hilton created this delicious tropical drink and since 1978 it’s been Puerto Rico’s national cocktail. Everyone wants a tropical frozen drink while traveling in the Caribbean, why not enjoy one at it’s birthplace.

Puerto Rico is a beautiful island to visit and as you have read above, there is so much more than just the beach. Is this Caribbean Island now on your bucket list?

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Epcot’s International Festival of the Arts

Throughout the year, Walt Disney World’s Epcot Center features many festivals. The first festival of the year is the International Festival of the Arts. In 2022, from January 14 – February 21st, you can immerse yourself in culinary, performing and visual arts when visiting Epcot Center. This festival will definitely bring the arts to your day, Disney style!

Culinary Arts

Just like other Epcot festivals, there is a big emphasis on food, but this festival focuses on the presentation and artfulness of the food dishes. There are multiple food booths throughout the park.

By far the most popular the first weekend, was Pop Eats. If you are a Disney fan, I’m sure you have heard of the hours long (I think some people waited up to 6 hours!) lines for the Figment popcorn bucket filled with rainbow popcorn. The popcorn bucket was certainly cute, but I’m not one to stand in line for hours to purchase something. On the 4th day of the festival, after selling 500,000 buckets, the popcorn bucket sold out.

Day 4 – Sold out of the Popcorn Buckets

While I’m sure there were plenty of disappointed people, I was actually happy they had sold out of the popcorn bucket, as one of the festival food options I really wanted to try was being sold at the same booth. I’m a big fan of grilled cheese and tomato soup and it was a chilly florida winter day so soup sounded amazing! The tomato soup was served in a soup can and was topped with sour cream and it came with two small pieces of grilled cheese to dip in it. I also had a Brooklyn Brewery Pulp Art Hazy IPA to wash it down. It was delicious and I’m so happy I was able to try it, sorry Figment popcorn bucket fans, but I’m glad those buckets sold out.

Pop Eats Booth – Tomato Soup with Grilled Cheese and Brooklyn Brewery Pulp Art Hazy IPA

Another popular booth that has been there in past years is the Deconstructed Dish which features favorite dishes presented in a deconstructed manner. I tried the Deconstructed French Onion Soup which was a beef broth ravioli, gruyere and onions. It was so delicious. I paired it with a Blood Orange Cosmo which I got from the nearby Refreshment Port.

Deconstructed French Onion Soup from The Deconstructed Dish with a Blood Orange Cosmo

With the popularity of the new Disney animation film, Encanto, the Vibrante and Vivido: Encanto Cocina was another popular booth. But the film isn’t the only thing to make this booth popular, the food was amazing! Still chilly from the cool Florida winter day, I tried the Spice Ajiaco Soup. This soup had all my favorite things, Guajillo and Arbol Chili-Spiced Chicken, potatoes, avocado and corn. I highly recommend this soup. My sister got the Chorizo and Potato Empanada which she said was delicious. The one notable thing about the Empanada was the portion size, it was definitely a regular size empanada as opposed to a tasting size.

Spicy Ajiaco Soup from Vibrand and Vivido: Encanto Cocina

There were plenty of desserts that I wish I had tried but didn’t get to. The one dessert I did try was from the L’ Arte di Mangiare booth. At this booth, I got the bomboloni which came with a hazelnut dipping sauce. I of course also had an Italian Margarita with this as it’s my favorite drink in Epcot since I love limoncello in my margaritas! Since the drink was frozen, I’m glad I got this on my first day when it was in the 70s.

Bomboloni and Italian Margarita from L’Arte de Mangiare

Of course, no Epcot festival is complete without a flight! At the Artist’s Table, I got the beer flight which featured beers from Kentucky and Florida craft breweries. At the same booth, my sister got the Symphony in Chocolate Flight which paired sipping chocolate with cream liqueurs. Maybe one of these days, they will find a better way to present the beer flights, the cardboard box doesn’t really go with the artistic presentation of the Festival of the Arts.

Beer Flight from Artist’s Table

Performing Arts

Although the food and drinks are my favorite parts to Epcot festivals, there is so much more to the Festival of the Arts. There are quite a few ways to experience the performing arts at the festival.

One of the most popular is the Disney on Broadway Concert Series. These concerts take place nightly with three performances each night at 5:30, 6:45 and 8pm. The concerts feature Broadway stars from the Disney musicals. It’s really great to be able to see these talented singers outdoors in a much warmer location than Broadway. For the guaranteed best seating to the shows, you can purchase a dining package at select Epcot restaurants for a pre-fixed lunch or dinner that day. This is a great way to guarantee a seat at the show if there is a Broadway star you are set on seeing.

Disney on Broadway Show

One of my favorite parts of the festival is the chalk art! Featuring Disney characters and scenes from around the world, it’s amazing how the artist can make the walkways look like a piece of art! Check out the slideshow below on some of my favorite chalk art over the years:

Some of the best chalk art displays are the 3D art. The people and places in the art jump out to you and you can even take a photo in the art, and it will look like you are part of it.

One of the really neat aspects of the festival is being able to see the artist creating the chalk art right before your eyes. I think it’s both inspiring and therapeutic to watch the artists in action!

Chalk Artist at Work

It’s not just the chalk artist that you can find at work during the festival, other artist are also working on their art pieces throughout the festival.

Artist at Work

Visual Arts

Does watching the artists at work make you want to create your own masterpiece, be a part of a masterpiece or purchase one of these masterpieces from these talented artists? Well, you can do all of this at Epcot’s International Festival of the Arts!

Be a part of creating a masterpiece at the festival but contributing to the paint-by-number mural! Each person is given a section and number to paint on the mural. Paint and brush are provided and there is no additional charge for this. They also give you a postcard so that you can see what the finished product will look like just in case you aren’t there when it’s finished. This is definitely a fun activity for the whole family!

Paint-by-Number Mural

Have you ever wanted to be a part of a famous painting? Well at Epcot’s International Festival of the Arts, you can do just that. Be a part of famous paintings such as Mona Lisa, The Scream or Washington Crossing the Delaware. These photo ops are so much fun and help to bring out the creative side even in people who may not be that creative. You can take your own photos or at some of the photo ops there are Disney PhotoPass photographers to take your photo if you purchased Memory Maker.

Artful Photo Op

Speaking of Disney PhotoPass, there are also special festival Magic Shots available to take. You may get a Magic Shot like the one below that can be a great memento of the festival or one with figment holding a paint brush.

Festival of the Arts Magic Shot

After seeing all this art at the festival, what better way to remember it all by, than to buy a piece of art to bring home! Throughout the park are many markets where art is displayed for sale. And one of the great things about these markets is you can meet the artist whose work you are purchasing. There are so many beautiful pieces for Disney and non-Disney fans alike.

This festival has it all and adds a little bit of culture to your theme park day. Great way to enjoy something different while visiting the theme parks in Orlando with your family. If you can’t make it there this year, it runs every year from mid-January to late February. Make sure to check out my posts on other Epcot festivals: Epcot’s International Flower and Garden Festival and Epcot’s International Food and Wine Festival. Beyond The Miles Travel specializes in Walt Disney World Travel and would be more than happy to help plan your future trip to visit one of Epcot’s many festivals.

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Sculptures along Boston’s Commonwealth Avenue Mall

Boston has many wonderful areas to enjoy a nice walk. One of these areas is the Commonwealth Avenue Mall. Located in the Back Bay neighborhood of Boston, Commonwealth Avenue is divided by a park running down the middle of the street. This park connects the Public Garden to the Fens as part of the Emerald Necklace. It’s a beautiful spot to enjoy in all four seasons.

Along the Commonwealth Avenue Mall are many different sculptures. As someone who walks along the mall frequently, I have always been curious about these sculptures. This post will guide you thru these sculptures, starting as you cross Arlington Street onto the mall from the Boston Public Garden.

Alexander Hamilton

The first sculpture you will come across is of Alexander Hamilton. This sculpture has been here since the mall opened in 1865. Alexander Hamilton is a big part of the history of the United States. Not only was he the first Secretary of the Treasury, but he also signed the Declaration of Independence and fought in the Revolutionary War. Due to his part in history, he is also on the US ten dollar bill.

John Glover

Designed by Martin Milmore in 1875, is the second sculpture which is for John Glover. Also famous for his part in the Revolutionary War, where his regiment from Marblehead, MA saved George Washington at the Battle of Long Island and then on Christmas night in 1776, Washington asked Glover to help row him across the icy Delaware River for an attack in Trenton, NJ. This Massachusetts soldier became quite the asset during the war and gained George Washington’s respect.

Patrick Andrew Collins

Patrick Andrew Collins was Mayor of Boston from 1902 until his sudden death in 1905. He was the second Irish-born mayor of the city. This memorial used to be located elsewhere in the city but was moved to the Commonwealth Avenue mall in 1966 due to construction at its former site. There are two figures on each side of the memorial. One wears a crown of laurel leaves and holds a shield, representing Liberty. The other one wears a crown of shamrocks and holds a harp, representing Patrick Andrew Collins birthplace of Ireland.

Vendome Firefighters Memorial

The next memorial is in memory of the lives lost in one of the biggest tragedies to happen in Boston, the Hotel Vendome Fire.

The Hotel Vendome was located at the intersection of Commonwealth Avenue and Dartmouth Street. On June 17, 1972, a fire broke out at the hotel causing part of the building to collapse, trapping and killing 9 firefighters. It was the worst firefighting tragedy in Boston history. The memorial was dedicated in 1997 on the 25th anniversary of the fire. The memorial features a bronze hat and jacket and a timeline of that tragic day.

William Lloyd Garrison

Massachusetts native, William Lloyd Garrison was an advocate for equality in the 1800s. He fought for the emancipation of slaves and women’s suffrage. His biggest accomplishment was as editor of the abolitionist newspaper, The Liberator, which was published from 1831-1865. The statue features Garrison on his leather office chair.

The view from the back side of the statue in the fall is just stunning and always a spot that I have to turn back and catch a quick look or a photo.

Samuel Eliot Morison

Born and raised in the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Boston, Samuel Eliot Morison is related to the famous poet T.S. Eliot. He was a Harvard graduate and professor who was known as a very well-respected historian.

He has written over 50 books about history with an emphasis on American Maritime History, including two Pulitzer Prize winning books: Admiral of the Ocean Sea, a biography of Christopher Columbus and John Paul Jones: A Sailor’s Biography.

On one of the rocks next to the statue, is Morison’s advice to young writers, “Dream dreams, then write them aye, but live them first” I really enjoyed this quote, very inspirational.

Boston Women’s Memorial

The Boston Women’s Memorial is my favorite of the sculptures along Commonwealth Avenue mall. The memorial honors three women who were very important to the history of Boston. The idea of this memorial started in 1992 and the memorial was finally finished in 2003.

The women featured are Abigail Adams, Lucy Stone and Phillis Wheatley.

Abigail Adams

Abigail Adams was the wife of the second president of the United States, John Adams and mother of the sixth president, John Quincy Adams. She was often giving advice to her husband while he was president, so much so that some consider her as part of the Founders of the United States. She also spent a lot of her time fighting for women equality.

Lucy Stone

Lucy Stone became the first woman in Massachusetts to graduate from college in 1847. She was very active in fighting for women’s rights and even held the first national Women’s Rights Convention just an hour from Boston in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1850. She also started the Women’s Journal, a women’s suffrage publication. But it was not only women’s rights that were important to her, she was also an abolitionist and orator. William Lloyd Garrison (also memorialized on Commonwealth Avenue) hired her to write and deliver many abolitionist speeches.

Phillis Wheatley

Phillis Wheatley was an African born woman who was shipped to the United States and sold as a slave. But she did not let her unfortunate life of slavery stop her from following her dreams. She became one of the best-known writers in New England as her book of Poems, “Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral” became the first book published in the United States by an African writer. She was also the second woman to have a book of poems published.

Three inspiring women that lived in Massachusetts. This is a memorial that everyone, especially women need to visit.

Domingo Faustino Sarmiento

Domingo Faustino Sarmiento was President of Argentina from 1868 to 1874. He had spent time in the United States to study educational reform. It was during this trip to the United States, that he became inspired by Boston educator Horace Mann and founded Argentina’s public education system.

In 1917, Argentina offered a statue of Sarmiento as a gift to Massachusetts for their gratitude of Horace Mann’s influence of Sarmiento and to celebrate the relationship between Argentina and the state of Massachusetts. Unfortunately, due to World War I and the sculptor passing away, it took almost 60 more years before the statue made it’s way to Boston in 1973.

A Historic Walk

With so much history in Boston, I feel the history behind these sculptures definitely gets missed. Many people walk down the Commonwealth Avenue Mall to enjoy the beauty of it and never think twice about the sculptures. I myself would notice the sculptures but never knew much about them. I’m glad I was able to do a little research, it definitely makes walking down the mall that much more meaningful when you know how many great people from the past are memorialized along this beautiful city walk.

I hope that on your next visit to Boston, you can find further meaning to the Commonwealth Avenue Mall and it’s sculptures.

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Running into 2022 – NYRR Midnight Run

We are all very familiar with New York City’s Times Square New Years Eve celebration, but in a city so large, that is definitely not the only way to ring in the New Year! Why not ring in the New Year the healthy way by running 4 miles thru Central Park? That’s exactly what I did this year!

NYRR Midnight Run

For years I have had the NYRR Midnight Run on my race bucket list. Back in mid November, probably less than 2 weeks before we even heard of the Omicron variant of covid that would rapidly spread throughout the world, I decided that this would be a great year to finally check this race off the bucket list! I was lucky enough to find a hotel room for the night where I could use my Hilton points (which was great since most hotels were going for $600 a night plus due to New Years Eve) and got a cheap train ticket there from Boston. It was like it was meant to be!

Well then comes December and covid cases start to increase in the US, starting with New York City where they were out of control, causing many a breakthrough case in the vaccinated, hours long lines for testing (they seem to have testing on every corner in busier parts of the city!) and record breaking case numbers. I went back and forth on whether it was a good idea to go or not. As it got closer, the weather forecast called for temps in the 50s, so I knew I could at least not be too uncomfortable eating meals outdoors and since I live alone and work from home and plan to head home and not go anywhere or see anyone else for a couple of weeks, I figured, I would just mask up and go (fingers crossed a few days from now I don’t regret this decision!)

I took the train down to NYC from Boston on Friday morning, arriving just before 2pm. I got one of the many little warm ups for the race that day taking the long walk from Penn Station uptown to my hotel on 52nd Street. After I checked into the hotel, I met up with a friend and we walked over to the NYRR Runcenter to pick up my race bib. For those that aren’t familiar with NYRR, they are a major race director in New York City that hold numerous races throughout the year including the famous New York City Marathon each November. I have ran numerous races with them as I ran the 5 borough series in 2016-17, which included the Brooklyn Half Marathon, Queens 10K, Bronx 10 Miler, Staten Island Half Marathon and the New York City Half Marathon. Their races are incredibly well run which is one of the reasons the Midnight Run had been on my bucket list. While picking up my bib, they checked my vaccine card as vaccination is now required to run any NYRR races.

After that we headed to the Upper West Side for dinner and margaritas (need to carb load before a race right). Since it was a beautiful evening with temps in the 50s and no wind, it was rather comfortable eating outside. After dinner, we headed over to Levain Bakery, which is known to have “New York’s Most Famous Cookies” I bought one of their Chocolate Chip Walnut cookies to bring back to the hotel as a post race treat. I of course couldn’t resist having half of it before I left for the race, more carb loading, right? Haha! It was definitely delicious, so make sure to check out one of their locations next time you are in New York City!

Levain Bakery Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookie

After relaxing at the hotel for a bit, it was time to head over to Central Park. There were two entrances into the park for runners, from the east and west side at 72nd Street. At the entrance, they checked for your bib as only runners and guests (each runner was permitted one guest) were allowed in. Runners were given wrist bands at bib pickup for the their guest, the guest were required to show their id and vaccination card to be let in.

Once you are in the park, there was a large area for runners to gather while being able to remain distanced. They had corrals lettered A to L for runners based on their estimated finish time. I of course was back in L, which was a bit strange, it’s been a minute since I’ve been in the very last corral for a race. The corrals closed at 11:50pm. As the time got closer to midnight, the excitement grew and just before the race started they had a countdown and fireworks at midnight. It was such a fun way to start the race and being in that final corral worked to my advantage as I was then able to enjoy more of the fireworks before running.

Check out the fireworks below:

The fireworks lasted a good 20 minutes, I remember thinking at mile one, “wow they are still going off” This would definitely be a good fireworks show for any guests you bring with you to the race.

The route started going east on 72nd and then headed north and followed the inner loop in Central Park. If you have ever been to Central Park, you know that it’s a very popular place to run, but you may not notice that it’s not flat until you actually run it. The first time I ran in Central Park was when I ran the NYC Half Marathon in 2017 and I was so surprised at how hilly it was! The Midnight Run started right off with a hill of course! But the hills are rolling, so there was plenty of great downhill portions as well.

Around the two mile point the course went west and then headed south again back to 72nd Street. The course was really great and I was actually very happy at how well lit it was. I have a hard time seeing in the dark, so I was grateful that there were plenty of lights along the course.

Not only did they have a water stop on the race course, there was also a sparkling cider stop as well. During the race there were people dressed up with 2022 glasses, new years hats and even some people wearing fancy dresses over their regular running tights. The weather could not have been more perfect. Who would have thought it would be 51 degrees at midnight in December in New York? On a normal year it’s usually at least a good 20 degrees colder than that. I even had to take my running jacket off a half mile into the races I was so warm.

At the end of the race, they gave out water, bagels and fruit with plenty of room in the park to enjoy the post race food while keeping distanced.

This was really a perfect way to ring in the new year, especially as someone who is older and isn’t interested in partying in the new year. After the race I had an almost mile and a half walk back to my hotel. Earlier in the day I was a little nervous about walking this far alone at 1am, but thankfully there were so many people out and about and so many cops all over the streets of New York, that I felt incredibly safe.

One of the really great things about heading to New York City for this race is that the holiday season is so magical in New York City!

Rockefeller Center

I’ve been to New York during the holiday season quite a lot, but it’s been a number of years since I’ve been there during this time and I had definitely forgot just how magical it is. There are Christmas trees and holiday decorations everywhere! Check out my post on the Holiday Season in the Big Apple to learn more about all there is to see in New York City during the holidays.

While running my 4 miles to start the new year, 15 thousand people were packed into Times Square for the first time since 2020 (all fully vaxxed and masked) ringing in the New Year by seeing the ball drop at midnight. Even pre-covid, I don’t think that would be something I would enjoy but I definitely enjoyed heading over to Times Square the following afternoon and seeing the ball and the 2022 digital signs.

New Years Day in Times Square

Even though I was hesitant to head to New York City during the Omicron surge, I am definitely glad I did. The race was a perfect way to ring in the new year and definitely beat sitting at home alone on the couch. If you ever have the option to run this race, I highly recommend it.

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Chasing Waterfalls Across the US in 2021

2021 was definitely a better travel year than 2020. It was a great year to explore more of my own country, since there were no restrictions to travel within the US. To be on the safer side, I tried to take trips that involved lots of outdoor activities and when looking back at them, I realized I saw a lot of waterfalls during my travels this year. From east coast to west coast and in 5 different states, there was plenty of waterfall viewing and hiking in 2021.

Here are all the beautiful waterfalls I saw in 2021:

Great Falls Park in Virginia: In April, I headed to West Virginia to run a half marathon. I flew into Washington DC on Earth Day and knew I needed to make a stop on my ride to West Virginia to spend some time outside in nature to celebrate the day. I had also recently purchased an America the Beautiful National Park Pass, so I did a search to see what parks I could stop at on the way to West Virginia. That is when I found Great Falls Park located just a half hour from Washington DC in Virginia.

Great Falls Park

The falls are located on the Potomac River and can be viewed from both the Virginia and Maryland sides of the river. They are made up of multiple 20-foot waterfalls and cascading rapids with a total drop of 76 feet. At the park there are three different overlooks to view the falls from different angles. For the adventurous people it’s a great place to kayak the class II to V rapids, for us non-adventurous types like me, it’s a lot of fun to just watch the kayakers! There are also 15 miles of hiking trails and plenty of picnic areas for the whole family to enjoy. To learn more, check out my post on Great Falls Park.

Blackwater Falls State Park in West Virginia: From Virginia, I drove over to the northeast corner of the “mountain state” of West Virginia to visit Canaan Valley. One of the biggest attractions in the Canaan Valley is Blackwater Falls State Park.

Blackwater Falls

The 57 foot tall Blackwater Falls can be seen inside Blackwater Falls State Park. They can be viewed from two different viewing platforms. The closest platform involves a boardwalk and 200 steps down to the falls. At this platform you are quite close to the falls, so it’s definitely worth the walk down. For a more accessible platform, you can drive to the other side of the park to take the very short .02 paved Gentle Trail for a view of the falls from a further distance.

Besides the falls, Blackwater Falls State Park also offers 20 different hiking trails, swimming, fishing, boating, camping sites and even cabins. It’s the perfect outdoor location. For the winter lovers, it has the longest sled run on the east coast of the United States. To learn more about the park and the nearby area, check out my post on the Canaan Valley.

Idaho Falls, Idaho: Next up I headed west at the end of May/beginning of June for a trip to some National Parks. The first stop on my way to Yellowstone from Salt Lake City was the town of Idaho Falls, Idaho. The Snake River runs thru Idaho Falls and it was the rapids along the river that inspired the name of the town in 1891. Years later, a hydro-electric dam was built on the Snake River creating the man-made waterfalls in Idaho Falls. The waterfalls are along the River Walk which is a great area, not just for waterfall viewing, but also for picnics, walking and running.

Idaho Falls

Yellowstone National Park: After Idaho Falls, I continued north to the first National Park in the US, Yellowstone National Park. While Yellowstone is known mostly for its wildlife and hydrothermal features, it also features 100s of waterfalls, 45 of which are named. With so much to see and do in Yellowstone, I barely scratched the surface when it came to waterfall viewing, but I definitely saw some beautiful ones.

Yellowstone Falls

If you are looking for one must see waterfalls in the park, Yellowstone Falls is a must! Located in the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, this impressive waterfall includes and upper and lower portion which can be seen from many different viewpoints, including the famous Artist Point viewpoint.

Yellowstone Falls as seen from Artist Point

You can even take a short hike down to the brink of the lower falls portion. This hike is suitable for the whole family and will be a very busy trail. The view will definitely make dealing with the crowds worth it though. They say to try and get there in the morning to see a rainbow, but I visited in late afternoon and was able to see a beautiful rainbow in the canyon at the bottom of the falls.

Along with Yellowstone Falls, I also saw Gibbon Falls and Lewis Falls while in Yellowstone, although both were smaller, they made for a great quick stop to break up the long drives while traveling from place to place in Yellowstone.

If you would like to learn more about these waterfalls and more to do in the park, make sure to check out my Yellowstone Park post.

Grand Teton National Park: Located south of Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming is Grand Teton National Park. The only accessible waterfall in the park is Hidden Falls. This waterfall is located near Jenny Lake, which is a must-see spot in the park. To reach Hidden Falls, you can either take a ferry across the lake or hike the Jenny Lake Loop Trail, which is 7.6 miles roundtrip. Once you reach the ferry dock, you can take the one-mile roundtrip moderate hike to Hidden Falls. This hike is family friendly only gaining 200 feet of elevation. The 100-foot Hidden Falls are stunning! Since I visited in late spring, the falls were quite strong from the annual snowmelt.

Hidden Falls in Grand Teton National Park

From Hidden Falls, you can continue on for another one-mile roundtrip hike with 300 feet of elevation to Inspiration Point for beautiful views of Jenny Lake. This was the final waterfall I discovered on my National Park trip this summer.

To learn about more to see check out my Grand Teton National Park post and my Jackson Hole post for more to do just outside the park.

Historic Columbia River Highway in Oregon: This fall I headed west again to the state of Oregon. Located a half hour east of downtown Portland, is the National Historic Landmark, the Historic Columbia River Highway. This was the first scenic highway planned in the United States and located along this scenic highway is a 13-mile stretch known as “waterfall alley”. These waterfalls are fairly accessible from the highway, making them great for the whole family to see.

Latourell Falls

For those looking for more than just waterfall viewing, there are many hiking trails that will take you closer to the falls, both short and long trails make it a great area for all different hiking abilities.

Bridal Veil Falls

The waterfalls get pretty busy, leading to traffic on the roadway and full parking lots during the busy times of year. For this reason, thru the summer and early fall, they offer a Waterfall Trolley to make your waterfall viewing along the Historic Columbia River Highway less stressful.

The most popular of the waterfalls along the Historic Columbia River Highway is Multnomah Falls. This 620-foot two-tier waterfall is the most visited natural attraction in the Pacific Northwest. It’s quite the site to see and even on a rainy day in late October it was very busy with lots of traffic and full parking lots.

Multnomah Falls

While these waterfalls are beautiful to visit all year long, when I visited in late October at the peak of the fall foliage season, they were just stunning as was all of the scenery along the Historic Columbia River Highway. If you would like to read more, check out my post on the Historic Columbia River Highway. Chances are you probably will fly in and out of Portland and this city is worth checking out, for a full city tour and a great way to replenish the calories you burned hiking the waterfalls, check out my post on the Donut Tour in Portland.

Do you have any favorite waterfalls you visited in 2021? I’m looking forward to exploring new waterfalls in the United States and maybe even other parts of the world in 2022.

Happy New Year, here’s to an even better 2022 than 2021!

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Disney’s Genie+ and Lightning Lane

Updated 2/25/22

Things are always changing at Walt Disney World and all changes come with their pros and cons and some people may love the change and some may hate the change. In October 2021, a new skip the line program called Disney’s Genie + and Lightning Lane was instituted in the parks. It’s come with a lot of criticism as it does involve an additional charge added on to an already expensive ticket price. As a travel agent who specializes in Disney Travel, I decided to try it out. This is my honest review on the system, but I must warn, it really is up to the person, everyone will have their own opinion and I think it’s good to hear what other people are saying and then make the best decision for you on whether or not you pay extra for this service.

Seven Dwarf’s Mine Train at Magic Kingdom

History of Ride Tickets: Before I get into my review, I think it’s important to talk about the past as this is by no means the first change that the Disney parks has made when it comes to rides.

When Walt Disney World opened 5 years ago in October 1971, guests would pay a general admission price of $3.50, seems really cheap right? Well, on top of that, they would also have to pay for ride tickets. The rides were classified as A-E rides with simple rides such as Cinderella’s Golden Carousel being an A ticket which cost 10 cents to the more popular rides such as Haunted Mansion being an E ticket which cost 90 cents. Ticket books were sold with a variety of the lettered tickets for 7 tickets at $4.50 or 11 tickets at $5.75. Although these seem like very small dollars now in 2021, if you wanted to go on a lot of E ticket rides, it could really add up.

They continued with the lettered ride tickets thru the 70s, although with price increases almost annually. Towards the end of the decade, they started selling two-day passports which gave guests two days admission to Magic Kingdom with unlimited rides, these tickets started at $18.

Expedition Everest at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

The Long Lines: Eventually the lettered ride tickets went away and all rides would be included in your ticket to the park. Being one of the most popular vacation spots in the United States, the lines for the rides were long. Throughout my entire childhood, part of going to Disney World involved standing in lines a good portion of each day. It might have taught me a bit about patience, maybe.

While some rides might have had shorter lines, the former E-ticket rides like Space Mountain were known to very frequently have an hour plus long lines. While no one enjoyed standing in these long lines, they were part of the experience, it was a time to talk about what ride you were going to hit next, plan where you were going to have your meals and to just enjoy the time with your family.

Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure at Epcot

The introduction of FastPass: In 1999, Disney came out with a solution to the long lines and introduced FastPass, which allowed guests to basically skip the long lines. When FastPass started, they were paper passes. You would walk to the attraction you wanted a FastPass to and insert your park ticket and would get a paper FastPass to return to the ride during a specified hour time frame. I remember when they first came out with it, me and my sister were very against it (Disney fans seem to just not like change!), but we learned to like it. It definitely did have its downfalls though, imagine everyone rushing to the big E-ticket rides as the park opened to secure a FastPass and then spending the rest of the day going back and forth to rides to get a FastPass, only having to come back to that ride later to actually use the pass. Sometimes the time of the FastPass may also not be convenient and you had to make sure you didn’t lose the paper FastPass before you got to use it!

Thinking back on this now, I can’t believe this is how things were all the way until 2013 when they started using FastPass+ which was a digital version of the FastPass system. Not only did you no longer have to worry about keeping track of the paper FastPass, but you were also able to reserve three FastPass in advance. If you were staying at one of the on-property Disney World resorts, you were able to reserve these three FastPass 60 days before your trip. If you were staying offsite, you could reserve them 30 days before your trip. This definitely creates an added stress to planning your trip, having to be on the website bright and early 60 or 30 days out to make sure you get the FastPass that you want.

Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Introducing Genie+ and Lightning Lane: In the summer of 2020, when the parks opened back up after being closed due to the pandemic, FastPass did not come back. For a little over a year, it was back to the pre-1999 waiting in lines for rides. Due to the on-going pandemic, the lower capacity limits kept the lines down, at least that’s how it felt to someone like me who went to the parks plenty of times pre-FastPass, those that hadn’t visited the parks much before FastPass definitely have a different opinion on this.

But I will admit that as the capacity limits increased in the parks, the lines did get longer. In October 2021, FastPass’s replacement Genie+ and Lightning Lane was introduced. The names Genie+ and Lightning Lane can be confusing. Here is a quick breakdown of the new terms, Genie, Genie+, Lightning Lane and Individual Lightning Lane:

  • Genie – This is a free tool within the My Disney Experience App that will give you suggestions to help plan your day, like what rides to go to next. I haven’t played around with this too much, but in my quick glance, it really didn’t seem that helpful to me and I’ve heard the same from other people. The worst part about it, is that it is easy to get confused with Genie+
  • Genie+ – If you are looking for the FastPass replacement, this is it! A number of the more popular rides are included in Genie+ (see photo below).
  • Lightning Lane: The FastPass lanes at each ride have been renamed Lightning Lanes. Not to be confused with….
  • Individual Lightning Lane: At each park the two most popular rides are not included in Genie+ but instead you can purchase an individual lightning lane to ride these rides.

Not sure why they had to have similar names, nothing like confusing people while they are on vacation!

Update – from 2/25-8/7/22, Frozen Ever After, Space Mountain and Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway will be part of Genie + instead of Individual Lightning Lane.

Genie+: The biggest change between FastPass and Genie+ is that it is no longer free. Genie+ costs $15 plus tax per person per day. For a family that can really add up when you think of paying that on top of the already very expensive tickets to the park.

The good thing is that you do not need to decide if you are going to purchase Genie+ when you book your trip, it can be purchased the day you are going to the park. This can help you budget out your money by paying for it separately. Also, if you are visiting Disney World for a week and have a 7-day park pass and wait until the day your going to the park, you will not need to commit to spending the $15 each day, you can basically pick and choose which days to purchase Genie+. You can purchase Genie+ right on the My Disney Experience App starting at midnight the day you are visiting the park.

Jingle Cruise at Magic Kingdom

My opinion is that Genie+ is worth the money at Magic Kingdom. With so many rides on the Genie+ list and being that the park is usually pretty crowded you could definitely get on more rides in less time by purchasing Genie+. Hollywood Studios is usually pretty busy so that may be another good park to purchase it for but there just as many rides offered so you might not feel you are getting a return on your money. For me, Epcot and Animal Kingdom just don’t seem worth purchasing Genie+ for. The rides with the longest lines at these parks are part of the Individual Lightning Lane (to be discussed below) and not part of Genie+.

Tower of Terror at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

My Experience with Genie+: When I visited Walt Disney World in November, I knew it would be busy, as it was the first runDisney race weekend since before covid, so I thought it was the perfect time to test out Genie+. I was going to try it out the day I was scheduled to go to the Magic Kingdom, but that day it was pouring rain so I didn’t spend much time in the park. The following day I was going to Hollywood Studios and planned to hop over to Magic Kingdom for the evening since it rained the day I was supposed to be there. It was the perfect day to try it out.

I woke up early that morning and purchased Genie+. You can make your first Genie+ reservation at 7am, this is for both on-site and off-site guests. I had read that you could then make another reservation every 2 hours. I seemed to have missed where it said, “starting at park opening”. After trying for quite a while trying to make another reservation after 9am and having no luck, I went to the Guest Experience Team (just look for the blue umbrellas throughout the parks) and they explained the 2 hours starts after park opening, not 7am. If it hasn’t been 2 hours yet, but you have used your reservation, you can reserve another one. Luckily my first reservation was at 10:20, so I was able to make my next reservation before the 2 hours were up. You can even have overlapping times (see example below). This is something that you couldn’t do with FastPass, so I really enjoyed this.

Genie+ Screen on My Disney Experience App

I would set a reminder on my phone for every 2 hours so that I knew when to reserve another ride, if I didn’t use a reservation before the two hours. It did make having a charged phone (always bring a portable charger with you to Disney!) important and added a bit of structure to the day by having to go on and make the reservation every two hours, but I actually didn’t mind it. Since I was planning to go to Magic Kingdom that evening, I was able to start reserving rides for there while I was still in Hollywood Studios. The only downfall that I saw with Genie+ is that you can’t pick the time for your ride reservation, you just have to choose the next available and sometimes it will say one time and then you click on it and it actually reserves a different time, this happened to me, but it was only a 10-minute difference, but definitely something to pay attention to.

The parks were very busy the day I used Genie+, I skipped an hour long line at Tower of Terror and in the Magic Kingdom, I used it to get on Jungle Cruise (which during the holiday season is changed to Jingle Cruise and all decorated for the holidays, making it even more popular than usual) which said it was a 75 minute wait, but I heard a guy as he was getting on the boat say he had waited closer to 2 hours, I got on in a couple of minutes.

Rise of the Resistance at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Individual Lightning Lane: For a real time-saver on 2 of the most popular rides at each park, you can purchase Individual Lightning Lane. These costs anywhere from $7-$15 plus tax per person depending on the ride. The prices of these rides might fluctuate depending on the day. You can purchase up to two Individual Lightning Lane rides per day. Staying at an onsite Walt Disney World Resort has the benefit of being able to purchase and reserve your Individual Lightning Lane rides starting at 7am. If you are staying offsite, you will need to wait until park opening time to purchase and reserve the Individual Lightning Lane rides. The great thing about the Individual Lightning Lane, is that you have the ability to pick a time to purchase from the available time slots. Being that you are paying for just one ride, it is good to be able to pick a time.

Standby Line time for Rise of the Resistance

The rides the Individual Lightning Lane is offered for typically have very long lines, usually an hour plus. Rise of the Resistance at Disney’s Hollywood Studios is the most popular ride at Disney World right now. It used to be a virtual queue and then went to a regular standby line in September 2021. The standby line is normally hours long, see above photo, the line was over 3 hours long the day I was there. This made me very happy with my $15 purchase of the Individual Lightning Lane for this ride. This ride is definitely worth the money, especially if you have never been on it.

Final Thoughts: I really enjoyed using the Genie+ service in November and plan on using it again in January 2022 when I visit Disney World next. I go to Disney World quite a bit and after all this time, I just don’t want to stand in long lines for some of the rides. It was nice being able to get more rides done than I normally would. I liked that you could use it for more than one park if you have a park hopper pass or an annual pass.

I do think it could get pricey for a family, but it could be something you use for one or two days instead of every day of your trip. If you were going to pick just one park to use it at, Magic Kingdom would be my first choice since there are so many rides available. A tip for you: if you use Genie+ for Hollywood Studios and want to ride Slinky Dog, definitely purchase it before 7am, so you can be on the app right at 7am to reserve Slinky Dog, that ride sells out usually in minutes.

I recommend setting a reminder on your phone for every two hours, so you don’t miss your opportunity to reserve another ride and can get your full money’s worth. If you don’t want to be pulling out your phone alot during your vacation, then Genie+ may not be for you. And a note on phones, wifi in the park can be spotty sometimes, so be prepared to use your mobile data if there are wifi issues.

The best way to get the most out of Genie+ and Lightning Lane is to know all you need to know about it. So check out the Walt Disney World website, read the blogs (thank you for reading this one), watch the youtube videos and talk with your travel agent about it. Then it’s really a personal decision on if spending the extra money will make sense for you.

Need help booking your next Disney Vacation and want someone to help you navigate all the details including Genie+, contact Beyond The Miles Travel today.

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Run 50 States – Brew City Half Marathon Milwaukee Wisconsin

The Brew City Half Marathon is a very well-run small race in Milwaukee Wisconsin. Normally run in April each year, in 2021 due to covid, it was run in September on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend. When you travel for a lot of races, vacation days at work become limited, so I always love finding a race that is during a holiday weekend. It doesn’t require taking any vacation days from work and you can have a nice long weekend to explore the city.

Welcome to Milwaukee

Flights into Milwaukee were somewhat expensive and there were no direct flights from Boston, so I ended up booking a direct flight into Chicago Midway. This ended up being a great idea, not only did I save me a lot of money, but I was able to land in Chicago before 8am instead of taking the majority of the morning flying to Milwaukee. The drive from Chicago to Milwaukee was only an hour and a half.

Normally I would have headed to pick up my race bib when I got to Milwaukee, but my only complaint about this race was that there was no bib pickup on Saturday. Bib pickup was only on Thursday, Friday and race morning on Sunday. Not too convenient for out of town runners. Thankfully it worked out picking my bib up on race morning, it wasn’t as chaotic as I thought it might be.

Since I didn’t have to pick up my bib on Saturday, I planned a fairly busy day seeing the sights. I grabbed an early lunch and then embarked on a day learning all about the history of Pabst beer in Milwaukee by taking a tour at Best Place at Historic Pabst Brewery followed by a tour of the Pabst Mansion. After a busy afternoon, I headed back to my hotel and then over to the Milwaukee Brewers game. This was a great way to relax before the race the next morning and I carb loaded on beer and french fries, not the healthiest carb loading, but you only live once! 😉

Historic Pabst Brewery

After a very early flight and a busy day seeing the sights, I was grateful that the half marathon didn’t start until 8:20am. As someone who runs alot of runDisney races which start at 5am, this race seemed like it started really late which was perfect in my opinion.

In addition to the half marathon there is also a 5K which starts at the same time and a 10K which starts 25 minutes later at 8:45am. The race started on the lakefront at McKinley Park. There was plenty of parking but some of it was a ways from the start. As always, I was running a bit later than planned, so I had to park pretty far away by the marina, but it made for a great warm up and I was still there in plenty of time to grab my bib and have some time to relax before the race started.

McKinley Marina

The weather was perfect for a race, with the race being in early September, it could have been really hot, but thankfully it wasn’t. The race started by running in McKinley park for a bit and then it took a bridge over to the Oak Leaf Trail.

Oak Leaf Trail

The Oak Leaf Trail is a 135 mile trail system running thru Milwaukee county. This paved trail has many different access points and runs along some beautiful parts of the area like the lakefront and Milwaukee River. Along the trail there are numerous parks to explore. I was very impressed with how clean and well kept the trail was, definitely a great asset to the city and it’s residents.

Oak Leaf Trail

The race went along the Oak Leaf Trail from the lakefront along the Milwaukee River to Lincoln Park where we turned around and ran back to McKinley Park. The sun did get a bit warm towards the end of the race, but since it was a very flat course and the weather was perfect for most of the race, it ended up being my fastest half marathon of 2021. I finished in 2 hours and 57 minutes, definitely not my fastest half marathon ever, but I’ve been struggling with my running this year and actually wasn’t properly trained, so I was very happy to finish in under 3 hours. The race does have a 3 1/2 hour time limit.

Sunny last couple miles of the race

At the finish line, they had live music and being that this was a race in Milwaukee, they had brats and beer at the finish line as well. I enjoyed being able to relax and enjoy a beer from one of the local breweries while taking in the lakefront views.

Post Race Views

After the race, I headed back to the hotel and then to Historic Third Ward to grab lunch at the Milwaukee Public Market and walk around for a bit. Later that afternoon I took a tour at Lakefront Brewery to celebrate my half marathon finish. Beer and food are my favorite way to celebrate a half marathon finish and Milwaukee is definitely a great place for that!

If you are looking for a race to run in Wisconsin, I highly recommend the Brew City Half Marathon, it was very well run and there is so much to see in Milwaukee that it makes for a great racecation. Check out my post on how to spend a long weekend in Milwaukee. In 2022, the race moved back to April and will be held on April 23rd.

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Boston’s Holiday Market at Snowport

One of these years, I will make it over to Europe in December to visit some of the Christmas markets, but until then I’m glad that many cities in the United States have started their own Christmas Markets, including right here in Boston. Although not exactly the same as the Christmas Markets in Europe, it is nice to get a little taste of it here at home.

New this year in the Seaport neighborhood of Boston is the Boston Holiday Market at Snowport.

The Seaport neighborhood is part of the bigger South Boston neighborhood of Boston. It’s the closest part of South Boston to downtown Boston. Located right on the water, it used to be nothing more than an industrial area with a couple of long-time restaurants right on the water and some parking lots. The area has since been revitalized and is unrecognizable to what it looked like in my childhood. It’s one of the most popular areas of the city, with plenty of restaurants, bars, shops, hotels and plenty of great areas to sit and relax by the water when the weather is nice. It’s one of my favorite areas of the city as it has one of the best views of the downtown skyline in the entire city in my opinion. I’ll let you be the judge from the photo below.

Fan Pier in Boston’s Seaport

The Seaport host “Snowport” each holiday season as a way to showcase the neighborhood with some fun outdoor winter activities. From holiday shopping to curling lessons to dining in an igloo, Snowport has it all. New this year is the Holiday Market at Snowport.

Holiday Market at Snowport

The Holiday Market features over 60 local merchants, making it the great place to find a unique gift and support small local businesses all at the same time. You can find all sorts of gifts from these merchants. From jewelry, bath and body products, and apparel to home decor, art and candles. Many of the merchants are woman-owned or black-owned businesses. In keeping with the spirit of the season, the merchants are referred to as “Merry Makers”.

One of the Merry Makers shops

And since this is a holiday market, there is no shortage of Merry Makers selling Christmas ornaments. You will find classic ornaments, ornaments to personalize, Boston themed ornaments and unique handmade ornaments.

Holiday Market at Snowport

For the foodies on your gift list, there are Merry Makers selling truffles, candies, cookies, hot sauce and coffee. And if shopping for these goodies makes you hungry, well there are quite a few food and drink Merry Makers to help satisfy your appetite. Try a waffle, apple cider, hot chocolate, donuts, tacos, seafood, pizza and more. Nearby restaurant Tuscan Kitchen has a dining tent where they sell pizza, calzones, cocktails and more. Featuring seating inside and outside the tent, it’s the perfect way to relax after shopping in the holiday market. And since the weather is cold in Boston during the holiday season, there are plenty of outdoor heaters to help warm you up.

Dining Tent at Boston Holiday Market at Snowport

While walking thru the Holiday Market, make sure to write your wish on the “winter wish” wall. There was a quite a crowd when I walked by so I didn’t get to write anything down, but I know my number one wish is for covid to just go away and everything to go back to normal, I’m sure I’m not alone when it comes to that wish!

Wish Wall

Need a Christmas tree to put all the gifts you bought at the holiday market under? You are in luck, located right at the Holiday Market is the Tree Market at Snowport where you can choose the perfect Christmas tree or wreath for your home.

Tree Market at Snowport

Speaking of trees, while at the Holiday Market at Snowport, stop by the nearby Seaport Common to check out the Seaport Christmas Tree. On Friday December 3rd, the tree will be lit at 7:15pm. The tree lighting will take place during a four-hour event from 5pm-9pm featuring local musicians and a holiday stroll. Along with the main tree, there are many smaller trees within the Seaport Common to enjoy as well.

Right next to the trees are iceless curling lanes. Not to fear, if you don’t know how to curl, the New England Curling Club will host free 30 minute lessons 2pm-4pm each Saturday from November 20, 2021 – February 19th, 2022. Make sure to RSVP well in advance, as these spots are sure to fill up.

Curling Lane at Snowport

The Holiday Market at Snowport runs thru January 2, 2022. It’s open the following hours:

Monday – Thursday 3pm-8pm

Fridays and Saturdays 11am-8pm

Sundays 11am – 7pm

Holiday Market at Snowport

Whether you’re a local or visiting from out of town the Holiday Market at Snowport is a must visit spot this holiday season in Boston. Get in the Christmas spirit, enjoy time with friends and family and get some holiday shopping done. While it’s not the beautiful Christmas markets of Europe, it’s definitely worth a visit while in Boston.

Looking for other great ways to enjoy the holiday season in Boston, be sure to check out my post on some Boston Holiday Favorites.

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runDisney Is Back!

After almost two years, runDisney is back with in-person races!

February 20-23, 2020 runDisney Princess Half Marathon weekend took place. The weekend started off with frigidly cold temperatures and wind (48 degrees in Florida feels way colder than 48 degrees in Boston!) and a migraine coming on while I was in my beloved Epcot. But from there on out it improved. There was a ride on Rise of the Resistance, character photos, sunshine, my favorite fireworks show Happily Ever After, the most fun character breakfast ever and of course the best kind of fun, running down Main Street USA with thousands of other Princesses! Despite the rocky start it ended up being a magical long weekend.

runDisney Princess Half Marathon 2020

I left Disney after this long weekend trip excited that I would be returning in just three weeks to celebrate my birthday. But we all know what happened just a couple of weeks later in March 2020, so I did not return to Disney again until a year later than planned in March 2021. One of the things that I missed the most in 2020 was runDisney races, there was so much hope in their return. Just before lockdowns began, I registered for the Wine and Dine Half Marathon, then that went virtual. Next, I signed up for the 2021 Princess Half Marathon truly thinking that would happen, but it wasn’t to be, that also went virtual.

While the medals are great to get for the virtual races and many people choose to run them on Disney property, which I did this past March when I completed the virtual rundisney Princess 5K, it’s not the same as the atmosphere and excitement of an inperson runDisney race. I longed for the race expo, the thousands of other runDisney friends running with me, the photo pass photographers along the course, the character stops, the post-race photos, the cheese in the post-race snack box (yes, I’m one of those who loves the cheese!) and even the 3 am wake ups!

In June of this year, while I was at Disney World for a quick weekend trip, there were rumors all over social media of a big runDisney announcement. The following week, the announcement happened, in person runDisney races were back starting with the Wine and Dine Half Marathon Weekend in November 2021.

runDisney Wine and Dine Half Marathon Weekend

Being that I was still nervous it would get changed to virtual again (even though in June things seemed back to normal, remember how great June was? If only things stayed that way!), I was already signed up for two other half marathons in October and since I was determined to be at the very first race back, I only signed up for the 5K for Wine and Dine Half Marathon Weekend. I won’t lie when I say that I was on edge thinking that it would get cancelled, even when I was packing my bag, I just kept thinking, “Is this really going to happen?”

But here we are a couple of weeks later and it actually did happen. It was a crazy weekend, lots of rain and some cold weather, but none of that could dampen the spirits of thousands of runDisney runners! The weekend began on Thursday with nice warm weather in the 70s, the temperature couldn’t be more perfect. I started the day carb loading for the next morning’s 5K (of course even short 3-mile races require lots of carbs!) with a Mickey beignet at the newly opened Disney’s Port Orleans French Quarter. What a perfect breakfast and view to start a runcation!

Mickey Beignet at Disney’s Port Orleans French Quarter

After spending some time at Epcot, I headed over to the race expo at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. New this year, the race waivers are digital, which made things so much easier. A few weeks before the race weekend, they sent out an email for you to login to your runDisney account and digitally sign the waiver. I was lucky to not have any issues with this, but apparently quite a few runners had problems where the waiver and even their registration wasn’t showing up on their account. New system, so hopefully they iron out the kinks before Marathon Weekend in January. Then a few days before the race weekend, they sent out an email to download your Expo Check-in Pass. This is what is needed to pick up your race bib and you can only get the Expo Check-in Pass after digitally signing your waiver.

I’ve never been so happy to be at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports!

Not to fear if you had issues with your digital waiver, there was a line for people to take care of their waiver at the expo. Definitely do the digital waiver if it’s possible though as it will save you time in line. It was so great to be back at a runDisney expo. I enjoyed checking out some of the familiar vendors, buying race merchandise I don’t need, seeing the race medals for the first time in person and getting some photo opportunities

The expo was so much fun and started to bring back all the excitement of a runDisney weekend. But of course, there was the looming bad forecast for the 5K the next morning to turn some of the excitement into worry. The forecast called for all rain the next day, pretty much starting right about the time we would all be waking up for the race. I absolutely hate running in the rain, but I did just run a half marathon in the cold 48-degree rain in Oregon a couple of weeks prior so a rainy 5K with temps in the 60s shouldn’t be too bad.

I woke up at 3am (yes you read that right, rundisney races start before the sun comes up!) A light rain was coming down, so light that I walked out without putting my pre-race poncho on. I barely made it to the bus though before I put it on. I’m not a morning person, but the excitement of being on a bus to a race so early in the morning was the best feeling! Due to the rain, I decided to actually check a bag at the race, which is something I never do, but I wanted to make sure I had a dry shirt and light rain coat for after the race, which was a perfect idea!

The bus arrived at the start line area and it was like I was brought back to February 2020, where everything was normal! The only real covid protocols that they had was that masks were required on the bus, which was fine as everything else was outside. One difference from past runDisney races was that instead of character photos before and after the race, they had photo spots set up with themed backgrounds. Since this race weekend was villain themed and the 5K race medal featured the Evil Queen from Snow White, this photo spot with the Evil Queen’s mirror was a popular spot for a photo. I do wish the photopass photographers had a way to get the glare in the mirror though.

Pre and Post Race Photo Op

New this year, instead of doing the lettered corrals, they were doing numbered start groups. For the 5K there were 3 start groups. Since there is no proof of time required for the 5K as it’s considered a fun run which is untimed, the start groups were assigned based on the anticipated finish time you put on your registration. Although you cannot change your start group, you are able to go to higher numbered start group (for example from start group 1 to start group 3) if you have friends that you’re running with who may be slower. Within each start group, they started smaller waves every few minutes, starting at race time of 5am. I was in start group 1 and started in the 3rd or 4th wave and my start time was 5:09am. I was pretty happy to be in start group 1 as that would mean less time waiting in the rain! I kept my poncho on until they started at 5am, so I was somewhat dry once I started the race.

Wine and Dine 5K Start Line

The race started in the Epcot parking lot and went into Epcot where we ran around the World Showcase. Running around the World Showcase in Epcot in the dark is a truly magical experience in my opinion. All of the countries are lit up and there is music playing, it was so magical, that I almost forgot all about the rain and there was nothing but smiles from me!

They had a few character photo opportunities, but due to the rain, some of the characters had to go inside so they were just photos with a backdrop. But there were a couple that braved the rain. Due to covid, the character photo ops are more socially distanced, just like character photo ops in the parks. I personally don’t think this took too much away from the experience and I feel it kind of made the lines go a bit quicker.

Socially Distanced Character Photo Op

After running around World Showcase, we ran into Future World for a bit. Somewhat disappointing on the day of the 5K, was that Spaceship Earth was not lit up. It’s always lit up for races and was for the other races that weekend. Not sure what was up with it not being lit, but it did make for a rare photo.

An unlit Spaceship Earth during the Wine and Dine 5K

After passing by Spaceship Earth, it was the final stretch to the finish line just outside of the park in the Epcot parking lot. The fun thing about running the 5K is the entire race is in the dark, it’s so much fun to run across the finish line in the dark. How many people can say they ran an entire race before the sun came up on a rainy morning?

Wine and Dine 5K Finish Line

After the race I grabbed my bag and put on my dry raincoat, which felt great. The rain, which was light during the entire race, stayed fairly light until after I got back to the hotel thankfully. The race may have actually been the driest part of the entire day as it really started to pour rain the rest of the day. I took a couple of photos and of course had some goodies from the snack box, it had the cheese in it, yay!

Wine and Dine 5K Race medal, bib and snack box

Then it was back to the hotel to dry out and get ready for the rainy day. On the bus back I kept thinking of how much fun I had and regretting not also signing up for the 10K. But thank god I did not sign up for the 10K, as the weather the next morning was much worse, not only was it raining harder, it was also windy and colder. I definitely would have been miserable. The weather dried out for the half marathon 2 days later but it was quite cold that morning. All in all I’m glad I had signed up for the 5K only.

One thing you must do after running a runDisney race is take advantage of the photopass photographers in the parks and get some fun photos with your race medal. They really are great at taking some wonderful photos.

Are you now itching to run a runDisney race? The Springtime Surprise Weekend takes place March 31 – April 3, 2021 and will feature a 5K, 10K and 10 mile race. Registration opens on December 9th and is sure to sell out quick, so mark you calenders! And remember if you need help planning your Disney travel plans for a runDisney race, Beyond the Miles Travel is here to help with the planning!

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