Creative Travel

Where to Eat: Sao Thai – Tupelo, Mississippi

By March 31, 2016 Day Trips, Family Travel, Food/Wine

We went to a Thai restaurant this week.  Sao Thai.  The sign on the building had the wrong name and the service was horrible.

The food tasted good, but I thought the portions were small.  The waitress was on the phone and did not get off to seat us.  We were the first ones there and it seemed to take a long time for our order to be taken and for the food to come.

Two other tables come in shortly after.  We had our food by 6 p.m., which as you know, is dinner time.

I ordered the Drunken Noodles with beef.  Mike had the Basil Ground Chicken Thai Style with over easy egg over rice.  David had Chicken Pad Thai.  John ordered his usual appetizer and side dish.

Mine was good, but as I said I thought the portion was small.  Mike’s didn’t look that good and they didn’t put the egg on it.  Mike waited while the rest of us went on and ate.  Mike said his food was on the cold side when he got it and was hardly worth eating by the time the egg came.  There was very little meat in his dish.

David’s was on the sweet side, but good.  As a diabetic, I’m more inclined to pooh-pooh a dish because of sweetness.  It was good and David ate every last bite.

John ordered pot stickers and sticky rice.  Now that he’s been fixing pot stickers (from Costco), just about every Monday for dinner, he has an opinion.  He didn’t like the pot stickers or the sticky rice.  He didn’t complain and ate everything.  But since the pot stickers were an appetizer, he didn’t get much to eat.

I didn’t find the restaurant particularly clean.  It wasn’t dirty, don’t misunderstand.  I’m just really picky these days when it comes to cleanliness.

Lori’s rating:  I could do that again!

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Where to Eat, That is the Question Woody’s Tupelo Mississippi

By March 24, 2016 Day Trips, Family Travel, Food/Wine, USA Travel

We took the family to Woody’s here in Tupelo the other night.  We had a wonderful meal.  It’s always a good time with my boys! 

Finding a great place to eat can be a challenge even in your own home town.  Knowing where to go and an idea of what you’ll spend is a godsend.  Here’s my review:

We were greeted as we walked in the door.  We were there with the intent to be consuming our meal at 6 p.m., which is dinner time at our house.  My point?  We were pretty much the only ones there at 5:20 p.m.  We were setter immediately.

Our server, Trudy, was there in short order, took our drink order and asked if we’d eaten there before.  After six months in Tupelo, this was our first time dinning out with the boys.

Trudy returned quickly with our drinks:  two waters, an ice tea and a coke.  Straws all around!  I know, you’re thinking, “Lori!  What!  No wine?”  I know, but I had work to do when we got home.  And there is no working during drinking hours.

We took a long time to decide what we wanted to eat.  We looked over the specials menu and the two sided regular menu.  Woody’s has all kinds of interesting, adventurous items on the menu.

Mike ordered his usual, two appetizers.  This night it was Soul – Spring rolls and Andouille and Chicken Gumbo.  I tried a bite of the spring rolls.  They were very good.  The even had black-eyed peas in them.

John had a baked potato with butter and the Smoked Gouda Mac.  He liked both.

David and I had intended to share the Prime Rib Dip and Southern Fried Quail.  (Like I said, they have some interesting items.)  As it turned out, they were out of prime rib.  We got the Robert Irvin’s Catfish Sandwich.  Both the Quail and the Catfish were from heaven!  I’m still a little disappointed I didn’t get any prime rib.  Woody’s is a steak house after all.

Over all the food was outstanding.  We waited for a long time while they cooked the wild rice for Mike’s gumbo.  It was unfortunate because Mike doesn’t really like wild rice.  Will we eat at Woody’s again?  Without a doubt.  It’s all about the food.  I can’t wait to try a steak next time.

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Where to Stay: A Quick Look at Differences Between On-site and Off-site Hotels at Walt Disney World

By March 18, 2016 Disney, Family Travel, Hotels

You’ve chosen to spend your hard earned money to go to Walt Disney World (WDW).  Where will you stay?  We are taking a quick look at on-site vs. off-site hotel accommodations.  Do you stay on Disney property or not?

There are advantages to staying at a Disney property, aka “on-site.”

What you get:

WDW:  Extra Magic Hours, complimentary transportation to and from the airport and parks, free self-parking – at the parks and hotels, making Fast Pass +  bookings 30 days sooner, priority tee times at WDW golf courses, room charge privileges, Merchandise delivery to resort, WDW info channels, Dinning Plan, Advanced Dinning Reservations, clean and accommodating Disney level of service.  Disney service is beyond most.

Off Site Hotels:  (OSH) Typically larger accommodations, some offer free breakfast, some offer free self-parking, some have limited transportation to and from WDW parks, often times at a cost, closer to non-Disney attractions, restaurants, and shopping, discounts to non-Disney attractions.

Understanding what is included at your hotel of choice is very important.  We’ll look at the pros and cons next week.


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What it takes to Plan a Successful Walt Disney World Vacation

By March 2, 2016 Disney, Family Travel

Walt Disney World (WDW) is a magical place.  Our childhood memories are wrapped up in neat little bows.  WDW is a place where characters are larger than life and our dreams really do come true.

Over the next couple of weeks, we’re going to look at planning at WDW vacation.  There are three main areas that we will look at:  Time of Year, Where to Stay and How Disney Works

Today we’ll talk about the time of year.  We have touched on this in prior blog posts.  Now we will take a closer look.  I’m sure you’re thinking, “I already know when we’ll go.  The kids get out of school in the middle of June, I have vacation time to use, and it won’t really be summer, yet.  July 4th is the holiday to avoid.”  As far as July 4th goes, you are correct.  You fail on the other accounts.

June is hot in Florida.  We went last June.  It was hot.  That was after five years in San Antonio.  Florida is more humid than San Antonio.  My recommendation is to avoid June, July and August.

If your children are in high school or they just can’t miss school (that’s another discussion), try spring break.  The crowd level will be similar to summer, but you won’t melt.

“Hey, Lori, what about Christmas?”  Good question.  It is magical!  Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is a blast!  Christmas and New Year’s week is the busiest time of year.  The Magic Kingdom has been known to close on Christmas Day.

If this is your time of year to go, expect crowds.  Go as soon as the kids are out of school.  Take them out a few days early even.  Crowds begin to increase around December 20.

My favorite time of year to go is during the Epcot Food and Wine Festival.  The dates are September 14, to November 14, 2016.  The weather is great and the crowds are lighter.  The quietest time will be September or early November.  (Bear in mind that September is still hurricane season.  We’ve had a trip delayed because of storms.)

If this is your time to go, be sure to attend Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party.  Those dates have increased over the years, just like the Food and Wine, so don’t rule out September.

The quiets times of the year are late August and the second week in January to the first week of February.  You’ll find the best pricing on Disney owned properties and less people.  My pick during this time is late January/early February.  You want the weather to warm up just a bit, but you don’t want to get too close to Valentine’s Day when crowds pick up.

If you’re from Canada, that second week in January might just be perfect.  The crowds will be at their lowest and it will feel warm to you.  It’ll feel cold if you’re from Texas.  When will you go?  Let me know.

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Knowledge is Key

By February 26, 2016 Disney, Family Travel

As with anything you do; learning is at the heart.

Learning about your destination is important for your enjoyment. The more you know, the better prepared you’ll be.

For example; our first trip to WDW, I was a novice at travel (and Disney).  I didn’t know anything.  I’d been on a cruise with a girlfriend and I’d road tripped with my parents as a young adult. That’s it.  I left everything up to Mike and learned as we went.

On our first day out, to the Magic kingdom we went.  We parked, road the tram in from the parking lot, took the boat to the Magic Kingdom and then waited outside the open gates until it was park opening time.

Our mistake here was that we thought it was “Early Entry” and that they wouldn’t let us in.  With Early entry, now Extra Magic Hours, you are required to be staying at a Disney Resort in order to participate.   Little did we know that the parks generally opened, for all guest, 30 minutes early.*  At the very least, we could have strolled down Main Street and been present for a rope drop.

Live and learn.  Our second trip, which I never thought would happen – we’d been once; I was good – I bought a guild book and read.  I found a website (or two, or four) that was all dedicated to Disney and I researched.  I was armed with a great deal of knowledge.  I was ready.

This was the trip that changed everything!  Going to WDW unarmed is a huge mistake.  Take it from a well seasoned veteran; WDW takes guts and knowledge to make it the best place to be.  Go forewarned.


*Disney seldom does this anymore.

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What is a Budget?

By February 22, 2016 Family Travel, USA Travel

Let’s define budget.  A budget is a pre-defined amount of money for an item.  The item in this example will be your vacation.  At the beginning of the year many individuals with sit down with the calendar and decide when to take their paid time off.  Or maybe you need to take into account a child’s school or sporting schedule.  Once you’ve decided what your year is going to look like, you determine the money you have to spend on vacations, travel in general.

My idea for a budget, back in the day, was to find out what something was going to cost and that was my budget.  Did we spend more?  Oh yeah, all the time!  Because that’s not what a budget is.

If you stick to your budget this year, next year will be that much easier to plan for.  And as planned, your salary goes up, the travel budget can go up, too!

Another way to budget for travel is to set the money aside each month and when it comes travel time, that’s the money you have to spend.  And you start over when you return with no credit card debt to pay off.

The best way to travel more is to plan for it.  And the best way to snatch up that early booking or last minute deal is to be prepared for it.  You know you want to travel more.

What are you willing to give up to go to that All-Inclusive in Mexico? What about eating out once a week, will you give up just one meal out each week?  If you’re feeding grown children, teenage boys for instance, a reasonably nice meal out it going to cost you about $100 for the four of you.  One hundred dollars a week, over the year is $5,200.

That’s going to cover that week at the All-Inclusive Resort in the Caribbean, where once you get there, there is nothing left to think about, except relaxing and enjoying your time.   Five-thousand dollars will even cover ten days in Orlando visiting with Mickey and/or Harry.

Let me know what your plans are for this year.

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Vacation: Spend only Your Grocery Money

By February 19, 2016 Family Travel

I’ve vacationed on just my grocery budget. We were able to do this because we own a timeshare.  Did we eat out?  No, cooked all the means in the condo.  Did we do things that cost money?  No, we picnicked on the beach; we swam in the pool; we used the facilities at the resort; we hiked; we watched a movie together.  Could we have done this at home?  Absolutely!  The staycation is NOT my favorite, but still workable in a pinch.  Just like with any vacation, you’ll need to do some travel preparations for staying at home.  This will work for any length of time; it might even become a weekend ritual!  The staycation is a way to spend very little money, but still reap the rewards of vacationing.

1)  Clean house.  Now I know, it’s only going to get messy, there is no housekeeper to come in and clean before and after your time.  The cleaning falls to you.  (If you have a little bit of money, you can always hire the house cleaning out at the end of your vacation.)

2)  Grocery shop.  Plan your meals and shop for what you don’t have on hand.  For me, I’m in vacation mode here and I’ll spend a bit more for something like steaks rather than chicken.  I’m not eating out.  Steaks (for the hubby to grill OUTSIDE), premade cinnamon rolls or a coffee cake for breakfast, I try to make it fun and have something special for everyone and I don’t want a lot of clean up.

I buy things that I normally wouldn’t have around the house.  I also keep in mind that I don’t want to do all the cooking.  This is a shared proposition.

I find that I don’t always know what my family really wants, so I ask.  Most of the time I’m right on the money, but other times my jaw is on the floor.  Someone, every now and again surprises me.  Ask, it’s easy enough to do.  If you have to preface your question about what they might like to eat with, IF, do it.  “If I can do what you ask, I will.”  My kids know when things are a done deal and when they’re not.  And sometimes I apologize because things just didn’t work out the way I thought they would.

3)  Plan activities.  Talk to your travel mates to find out what they might like.  You don’t have to do and make all the decisions yourself.  Depending on the time of year, for most, this might be in the summer when the kids are out of school, you can set up some sort of water activity in the backyard.  (If you live in an apartment, you already have a pool.)  Plan ahead.  What will you need outside to keep everyone entertained?  Music?  A cooler (you don’t want everyone running in and out of the house wet)?  What snacks does your family like that you can prepare ahead of time?  One of my favorite cookbooks is by the Diva of Do Ahead.  She knows what freezes and what you can keep in the refrigerator for a week or just a day or two.

If you have a sunny back year you might want to think about creating a shady place.  As strange as it is, not every likes to sit in the sun.

And although it may sound strange, put the sunscreen in the backyard and don’t put it on the minute everyone walks outside.  Give everyone just a few minutes in the sun without sunscreen on.  Crazy?  Not really, sunscreen, blocks the harmful rays of the sun, yes, but it also blocks the vitamin D that we get from the sun.

Now, if you just know you’ll forget to put the sunscreen on once you’re outside, put it on right away.  Better to miss out on the vitamin D one morning than to have everyone sunburned.  Sunburns are no fun.  (You might want to pick up some aloe-vera while you’re out, just in case.)

4)  Pack.  Pack the clothes you’ll wear for your vacation hanging them in your closet.  One of the greatest advantages of staying at home to vacation is you have your whole wardrobe!  I still recommend selecting what you want to wear before hand and (try to) stick to it.  The thing about vacations is spending time together and thinking about what to wear in advance will translate into more time with your travel mates.

If anyone has other helpful ideas for staycations post them here!

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Baby Swapping. It may sound strange, but it comes in handy.

By February 17, 2016 Disney, Family Travel, USA Travel
Hear That

I’m not talking about trading babies with the neighbors.  I’m talking about switching children with your significant other while vacationing at Walt Disney World (WDW).

At WDW they call it Baby Swapping.

As you may have read in previous blogs, we’ve been to WDW a number of times.  Since the time our oldest was six-years-old and the middle child was nine-months-old.  We’ve ridden the rides that have height requirements many times together and with our oldest all because of Baby Swapping.

Here’s the gist of it:  Mom, Dad, and two children, one rider, one non-rider, be that because they are not tall enough or one is not yet old enough to wait (in the gift shop) at the end of the ride by him- or herself.

All members of the group approach the cast member at the entrance of the ride and lets s/he know that you want to baby swap.  The cast member then instructs you with exactly what to do.  In some cases you will stay together until you get to the ride at which time Dad and the rider will ride and Mom and the non-riding will wait.  (Whether at the end of the ride or beginning, non-riders will be instructed where to wait.)

When Dad finishes the ride he takes the non-rider and Mom takes the child that just road and rides the ride.  Yup!  A twofer for the rider!  Jessica loved this; what roller-coaster-loving child wouldn’t.  Disney is great about having places near the end of the rides for those waiting to hang out.

One of my favorite places to wait in the Magic Kingdom is the play place beneath the train depot near Splash Mountain.  I’ve been there more than a few times when the boys were little.  The boys would slide on the slides and run around.  It was a great opportunity for them to be out of the strollers.

There are benches for the waiting parent to sit on and coin-pressing machines, too.

One time when the boys were about three- and five-years-old, the three of us were playing there.  I’d just pressed a penny and was taking some photos of the boys playing.

These are some of my fondest memories.  Sure running around the parks like crazy is fun, too.  I liked the times when I was one on one (or in this case, one on two) when there was time to have more of an exchange.

So here I am snapping photos and the train pulls into the station sounding its whistle.  Johnathan stops, cups his hands around his ears and exclaims, “Hear da’, hear da’?!”  He was so excited; he loves trains.  He ran over to David, grabbed David’s arm and asked, “Do you hear da train?”

I’m sure the only real memory that John has of this event is my regaling of it.

Ah. . . the joys of family vacations!

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Raising A Roller Coaster Rider

By February 16, 2016 Disney, Family Travel, USA Travel
Magic Kingdom Jan. 2000

I’ve been thinking lately about our first trip to Walt Disney World (WDW) with our youngest.

David’s birthday is October, so he was about 15-months-old that following January.  Being the planner that I am, Christmas is a time to give gifts that will be useful on the upcoming vacation.  This year we bought the children an Up and Down Roller Coaster, .  It was wonderful!  The kids loved it.  John our middle child who is typically our non-rider, (he rides once, but that’s it) even loved it.  The two boys played for hours.  I really liked this easy and safe way to expose them to the adventure of roller coaster riding.

I had planned this trip for months.  And at the time there were not height restrictions on Goofy’s Barnstormer, now Barnstormer with the Great Goofini.

Here were are, we’ve done an Extra Magic Hour, early entry and completed Fantasyland and are heading into Mickey’s Toontown Fair for it has just opened up.  It’s still pretty quiet in the park because January is one of the slowest times of the year.  (I miss quiet and slow times in the parks.)  Jessica has the front car to herself, Mike and Johnathan follow behind her and David and I have in the third row; we’re all set!  I’m excited!  I can’t wait for David to have his first “real” roller coaster ride!

The Cast Member behind the podium looks and me and says, “Ma’am, is he two-years-old?”  I remember staring blankly back at her.

I wanted so badly to say, “Yes!” but instead the good Christian woman in me came out and responded with, “No, he’s 15-months.”

“I’m sorry, Ma’am, I have to ask the two of you to exit the ride.  He’s not old enough.”  Devastation!  Not for David so much, he didn’t realize what he was missing.  We had not gotten into a ride vehicle like this; he didn’t know that we were supposed to go around the tracks and up and down.  We just walked off and went to look at the things in the gift shop at the end of the ride.  I think that was also the trip I wanted to get his hair cut at the Main Street Barber Shop, but it was closed for refurbishment, but that’s another story.  Foiled!

So now it’s the next trip and David is over two.  We march up to the entrance of Goofy’s Barnstormer.

As we approach, I notice a Cast Member there with a stick.  I’m thinking, “No!  This cannot be happening!”  Because, of course, I’ve built it up for David, to make it more fun, right?!  Wrong.

The stick easily swung over his head.  Telling this Cast Member what happened last time didn’t change anything.  He did let me know that children, now had to be 36″ tall and be 3-years-old.  Foiled on both accounts!

Needless to say, David has been ridding roller coasters since he turned 3-years-old.  One of the things I appreciate most about WDW is that it is for everyone.  Yes, there are rides where height matters, but so many more that do not.

Our very first trip to WDW, Johnathan was only 9-months-old and he road Pirates of the Caribbean, Peter Pan and It’s a Small World to name a few.  Sure he doesn’t remember the rides, but I do.

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Road Trip! The Natchez Trace Parkway — An All-American Road

By February 15, 2016 Day Trips, Family Travel, Food/Wine, USA Travel
Natchez Trace Visitor Center Outside Tupelo

Bare trees and gray skies reflect the winter in Northern Mississippi back to you as you drive along the Natchez Trace Parkway or the Trace as locals around Tupelo call it.

The Trace is more than a parkway from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee it is home to four eco systems with all its flora and fauna, historical sites and architectural marvel.  More than a motor way, at certain mile markers you can deport the road traveled by car and to see landscape seldom seen, traveling back in time to a place when technology had not been encrusted.

The Natchez Trace is managed by the National Park Service and holds the designation of an All-American Road.  To earn this honor a roadway must show significance in a least two of six categories.  These categories are:  archeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational and scenic.  The Trace qualifies in all six.

Embracing the South mostly by the land, the Natchez Trace Parkway captures a host of historical sites, camp grounds with outdoor adventures and cultural heritage along the 444-miles of pavement stretching through three states.  The Old Trace is a foot path used by the Native American Indian tribes of the Natchez, Choctaw and Chickasaw, as well as animals.  It’s most notable recognition is for use by the Kaintuck boatmen, Kentucky conquistadors, who floated their flatboats filled with goods to New Orleans and would sell boats and all, then walk home via the Trace.

Along the way, you’ll want to keep your eyes open for towns that have birthed celebrities, including Oprah Winfrey, who was born in Kosciusko, MS; Elvis Presley, Tupelo, MS; Meriwether Lewis of Lewis and Clark died in Hohenwald, TN; and even President Andrew Jackson spent his honeymoon on the Natchez Trace.  W. C. Handy, notably the father of the blues, born in Florence, AL and Helen Keller, born in Tuscumbia, AL are also worthy of mention.

As for its architectural marvel, the bridge crossing over near Franklin, TN into Nashville is one of a kind.

The drive is peaceful; the speed limit is no higher than 50 mph.  Free from road signs the roadway of the Trace is a pleasure to drive.

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