A Visit to the Orchards of Warwick, NY

Is it even fall if you don’t drive upstate for the soul purpose of overindulging in apple products?

Applewood Winery is located in Warwick, NY and is a little over an hour and a half drive from New York City. While we’ve spent the last four years or so frequenting the same apple orchard (shoutout to Wilken’s Fruit ad Fir Farm), we figured it was time for a change of pace. A quick Google search yielded a dozen results, but we quickly narrowed it down to two locations within a fifteen minute drive from each other: Apple Ridge Orchards and Apple Dave’s Orchards.

I had a good feeling about Apple Ridge from the moment we pulled up aside it, and were told that while the lot was completely full we could  park along the side of the road to our left, down a grassy hill of residences.

A) A packed lot, I assumed, meant this was a popular and thus worth-visiting location.

B) Despite the packed lot, we were given directions to any alternative spot for parking which was only a two minute walk away from the orchard.

C) This place must be filled with some friendly people, because have you ever attempted parking outside someone’s house in a back in the city?

Exploring Apple Ridge Orchards & Apple Dave's Orchards | Warwick, NY | A Great Big Hunk of World | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com

Apple Ridge Orchard’s screams “family fun”, though the bright, sunny day may have played a large hand in that. The decor consisted of scarecrows, crates of pumpkins, potted flowers, and a coop of chickens. I won’t lie, I was way more excited than some of the kids about the dozen chickens available for watching. But the major win was the amount of apples still available for the picking! While I’ve found some orchards to be rather scare outside of a two-week window in September, and others ravished by bird-nibbles or apples that looked as if they would turn to mush any second, Apple Ridge has acres of every variety, many in great condition.

My friend and I noted how quickly we were able to fill our 1/2 bushel bag, not with one but three different varieties. For the record, one bag is totally adequate to split between 2-3 people. While at first we were taken aback by the $30 per bag price, a bit steeper than what we’ve experienced at other orchards, we quickly realized we’d be able to fill this bag with way more than we typically do.

Little update: one bag fit enough apples for both of us to make a pie and have a little under a dozen leftover.

Exploring Apple Ridge Orchards & Apple Dave's Orchards | Warwick, NY | A Great Big Hunk of World | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com

Of course, being adults (and I use that term lightly) we were excited to get over to Apple Dave’s Orchards, due in a large part to it being home to Applewood Winery.

Apple Dave’s Orchard is also in Warwick, NY and is a quick drive from Apple Ridge . If you happen to be traveling with a family of both adults and children, or just prefer to have various experiences in one trip, these two spots are super easy to hit together.

Exploring Apple Ridge Orchards & Apple Dave's Orchards | Warwick, NY | A Great Big Hunk of World | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com
There are a variety of options in terms of ciders, wines, and brews, but we settled on two ciders to try: The Applewoody, a pumpkin hard cider with Apple Jack and cinnamon; and Naked Flock Currant Hard Cider, which is made with tart currents from the Hudson Valley.

What I loved about the Applewoody was how the pumpkin flavor came through more as an aftertaste as opposed to an overwhelming pumpkin taste that I’m not often fond of in beverages. Similarly, the Currant cider had a mildly sweet taste that you’d expect, but was counterbalanced by the tart currants. Both options were incredibly smooth, and I’d have a difficult time choosing which I enjoyed more.

Exploring Apple Ridge Orchards & Apple Dave's Orchards | Warwick, NY | A Great Big Hunk of World | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com

What goes best with a cider tasting? According to Apple Dave’s Orchard/Applewood Winery, it’s pizza.

I was very wary of trying the pizza here, mainly because being from New York City means that I’m a total pizza snob. I also noticed as they were being removed from the oven that the crusts were way thinner than I was used to, and all I could picture was the flabby-like consistency of an Ellio’s.

But thankfully the thin crust was not only cooked perfectly and held up to the cheese and ingredients, but it was pretty dang tasty. Was it mind-blowing? No. Does it compete with legitimate pizza establishments back in the city? Not even close. But it was decently delicious, and worked as the perfect accompaniment to our cider.

The Applewood Market is not different from many other orchard markets, which is not an insult in any way. I wait around all year to visit these markets, and often come home with bags of butters, jams, and pastry mixes. But don’t worry about doing a little shopping; the prices are totally reasonable and everything is fresh, delicious, and free of all those additives you’ll find in most supermarkets. For granola lovers, I highly recommend grabbing a bag of Chocolate Cranberry Granola if you happen to stop by.

But of course, we all know the main reason for visiting an apple orchard.

The apple cider donuts.
This line was long. I’m talking 30 minute wait long. As in the baker had to come out and announce that there were only 500 donuts left and he couldn’t guarantee us all that we’d be able to get our hands on some deliciousness. Well, I’m sorry for those who missed out, but fortunately for us, we were able to get our hands on a dozen.

Naturally, we devoured most before even getting back to the car.

Exploring Apple Ridge Orchards & Apple Dave's Orchards | Warwick, NY | A Great Big Hunk of World | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com

We strolled a bit, and made a in the distillery to grab some cider to bring back; and if we hadn’t arrived so late we probably could’ve spent another hour just enjoying the surroundings.

New York State is pretty popular when it comes to pick-your-own orchards, but I’d definitely look into Apple Ridge Orchards and Apple Dave’s Orchards should you be overwhelmed by choices.

But remember:

Exploring Apple Ridge Orchards & Apple Dave's Orchards | Warwick, NY | A Great Big Hunk of World | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com

Interest in visiting? Pin to Pinterest for future reference?

Exploring Apple Ridge Orchards & Apple Dave's Orchards | Warwick, NY | A Great Big Hunk of World | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com

Advertisements

A Very Merry Christmas Guide to New York City

Queue “Silver Bells” by Bing Crosby.

If there is one thing I love most about New York City, it’s the way the atmosphere seems to change around the holiday season. There is something about the holiday lights shining bright amongst the city lights, while grey slush puddles shoppers fill the streets that just makes this city seem a little more magical.

I have always been a winter person. Some people tell me it’s because I was born in February, but I’ve always believed it’s because the holiday season here is like no holiday season anywhere else. After 24 years, I have yet to grow tired of all there is to experience at Christmastime, and I think it’s time to share the wealth.

The Holiday Shops

The Union Square Holiday Market – Union Square Park, Southern Side, New York, NY
November 16 – December 24, 2017
Nearest Subways: N,Q,R,4,5,6,L

While this area of Union Square is typically reserved for the Union Square Greenmarket, during the holiday season it transforms into a holiday marrket of approximately 200 vendors, selling everything from custom artwork, to handmade to jewelry, to leather goods.

A Very Merry Christmas Guide to New York City | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | A Great Big Hunk of World

Winter Village at Bryant Park, 476 5th Avenue, New York, NY
October 28, 2017 – January 2, 2018
Nearest Subways: F,B,Q,R,N,6,1,2,3

Bryant Park’s Winter Village is by far my favorite of the Christmas markets and is the one I visit most frequently. With a huge ice rink and a 64-foot tree in the center of it all, it makes for a fun, half-day of holiday fun. Be sure not to fill up before dropping by; you don’t want to miss out on the macaroons, fried pickles, and Max Brenner Hot Chocolate.

A Very Merry Christmas Guide to New York City | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | A Great Big Hunk of World

Grand Central Holiday Fair, 89 E 42nd Street, New York, NY
November 13 – December 24, 2017
Nearest Subways: 4,5,6,7,S

If you’re visiting New York for the first time, I’d be surprised if Grand Central Station wasn’t on your list of sights to see. Visiting around the holiday season technically makes this spot a two-for-one. This market is one of the only one’s that lets you get in on the Christmas market fun without having to endure the New York winter outside.

A Very Merry Christmas Guide to New York City | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | A Great Big Hunk of World | Photo: Marc A. Hermann / MTA New York City Transit

Columbus Circle Holiday Market, Central Park West and 59th Street, New York, NY
November 29 – December 24, 2017
Nearest Subways: Q,N,W,R,1

You’re in New York City, you’re within walking distance of Central Park (the 3rd most visited attraction in the world), and it’s Christmastime. Now add on the 50 vendors all selling unique crafts, art, food, and home accessories, and you’ve got a great day of holiday festivities.

A Very Merry Christmas Guide to New York City | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | A Great Big Hunk of World


The Holiday Shows

The Radio City Christmas Spectacular
November 10, 2017 – January 1, 2018

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t once dream of becoming a Rockette, but unfortunately I stopped growing at about 5’4. Still, that never stopped me from my almost-annual tradition of going to see the Rockettes, live in action. Between the sets and costume changes, special effects, heart-felt storyline, and amazing dance numbers, this is a hard show to top when you’re visiting for the first time, and especially when visiting during the holiday season.

You can purchase tickets to the 84th year of the Christmas Spectacular here. Since tickets have been on sale since around July-August, I’d recommend snagging yours as soon as possible.

A Very Merry Christmas Guide to New York City | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | A Great Big Hunk of World

Elf the Musical
December 13 – 29, 2017

What’s better than spaghetti with sugar and Will Ferrell comedies? Elf the Musical live from Madison Square Garden! While this show may not the list when up against some other popular shows, it’s a great choice for something that will entertain the whole family.

The Nutcracker at the New York City Ballet
November 24 – December 31, 2017

For a little over a month each year, visitors can experience George Balanchine’s Nutcracker with the New York Ballet Company at Lincoln Center, a building worth a visit in it’s own right. Other season favorites also include Romeo & Juliet, and Swan Lake.

A Very Merry Christmas Guide to New York City | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | A Great Big Hunk of World

A Christmas Carol
November 24 – December 17, 2017

A cast of only seven bring this classic alive, with a wonderful retelling of the story of Scrooge and his adventure with three Christmas spirits. Smaller in size, the Beckett Theater provides a more intimate feel than other large-scale theaters, which is exactly the type of environment needed for this show. Tickets can be purchased here.

Handel’s Messiah, David Geffen Hall, 10 Lincoln Center Plaza, New York, NY
December 12 – December 17, 2016

Experiencing a performance by the New York Philharmonic should be on every New York bucket list. For one week, you can experience Handel’s “Messiah”, which is considered a holiday favorite. Tickets can be purchased here.

Screen Shot 2017-10-14 at 1.57.01 PM.png


Christmas Windows

Fifth avenue takes on a whole new vibe during the holidays, and I’ve never been able to go a season without a self-guided tour passed the Christmas windows. Designs range from mannequins dolled up in their finest holiday fashion, to avant-garde, light filled displays; to windows like those at Macy’s, designed and arranged to tell a new story each holiday season.

Macy’s Herald Square, 151 W 34th St, New York, NY
Nearest Subways: B,D,F,M,N,Q,R,W

A Very Merry Christmas Guide to New York City | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | A Great Big Hunk of World

Lord & Taylor, 424 5th Ave, New York, NY
Nearest Subways: B,N,Q,W,R,2,4,5,6,7

A Very Merry Christmas Guide to New York City | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | A Great Big Hunk of World

Saks, 611 5th Ave, New York, NY
Nearest Subways: B,D,F,M,1,6,N,Q,R

Screen Shot 2017-10-14 at 2.22.49 AM

Bergdorf Goodman, 754 5th Ave, New York, NY
Nearest Subways: Q,N,W,R,F,1,4,5,6

A Very Merry Christmas Guide to New York City | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | A Great Big Hunk of World

Barney’s, 660 Madison Ave, New York, NY
Nearest Subways: Q,N,W,R,F,1,4,5,6

15747458_1273570172665825_1173052275279862442_n

Bloomingdales, 000 Third Avenue, 59th Street and Lexington Avenue, New York, NY
Nearest Subways: Q,N,W,R,F,1,4,5,6

960114_528223760607735_1620788956_n

Tiffany & Co., 727 5th Ave, New York, NY
Nearest Subways: Q,N,W,R,F,1,4,5,6

A Very Merry Christmas Guide to New York City | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | A Great Big Hunk of World


Ice Skating Rinks

One of my favorite lines, from one of my favorite films, P.S. I Love You is “If we’re all alone we’re all together in that too.” While Kathy Bates character wasn’t talking in the same context, I’ve always related it to New York City. Despite the fact that you can pass thousands of people on the street regularly, most New Yorker’s tend to be caught up in their own little world. I always get chills when I’m skating around a packed ice rink with some friends, surrounded by dozens of smiling people all together, while the city and Christmas lights glisten in the background. This may sound super cheesy, but I guess we can blame the Christmas spirit coming out a bit early this year.

Most ice rinks also stay open a months after the Christmas shop season has ended, so it’s a great addition to any itinerary for those who weren’t able to visit earlier in the season.

The Rink at the Bryant Park Winter Village, 476 5th Ave, New York, NY
October 28, 2017 – March 6, 2018
Nearest Transportation: F,B,Q,R,N,6,1,2,3

This one was mentioned earlier, but I’ll reiterate how much I recommend going. It’s the prime location, surrounded by holiday shops and may be the best time for you to whip out that pair of ice skates you have thrown in the back of your closet since skating is free but rentals cost a small fee. FYI, the line for the ice rink can often wrap around the entire perimeter of the park. Get their earlier in the day, and try to plan your visit for a couple of weeks before Christmas Day for the shortest wait time.

A Very Merry Christmas Guide to New York City | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | A Great Big Hunk of World

Wollman Rink at Central Park, 830 5th Ave, New York, NY
October 23, 2017 – February 28, 2018
Nearest Subways: A,B,C,D,1,N,Q,R,F

The Home Alone vibes are alive and well here, at least for me since I’ve never been able to think “Central Park at Christmas” without thinking about my favorite Christmas movie. Wollman Rink is not as huge as some others, but the city skyline in the background and close proximity to Central Park definitely makes it a worthwhile spot. Price of admission runs about $12 per person, $6 for children under 11, and skate rentals run at $9, tax included.

8694929174_05e6ff312a_b

The Rink at Rockefeller Center
October 7, 2017 – January 1, 2018
Nearest Subways:B,D,F,M,1,6,N,Q,R

Skating at this rink is popular amongst visitors during the holiday season, due to it’s close proximity to Radio City Music Hall and the ever-so-popular Rockefeller Christmas tree. Since the price of admission is a bit higher than others, roughly $25-32 a person depending on the season ($15 for those under 11), and skate rentals at $12 per pair, this is a slight splurge when visiting with a large family. For those looking for a more in-depth experience, add-on’s like Breakfast with Santa and Christmas Spectacular tickets are available.

A Very Merry Christmas Guide to New York City | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | A Great Big Hunk of World


Christmas Themed Bars

Some local bars go all out for the holidays, and while this list could be quite extensive, I’m going to share my favorite festive bars which all happen to be in pretty close proximity of each other. Holiday pub crawl, anyone?

Rolf’s, 281 3rd Ave, New York, NY

I have a love/hate relationship with Rolf’s. This German restaurant and bar has gone viral every year due to their insane amount of Christmas decorations, which stay up until sometime in May. The wait time, in my personal opinion, isn’t always worth it as pictures are quite deceiving in how large the space actually is. That being said, the holiday drinks are strong, and the decorations are in fact as outlandish but amazing as you’d imagine. If you don’t mind waiting in a 40 minute line to get in, definitely make this stop #1 on your pub crawl to get it out of the way. Another option is making a reservation for dinner, which you should do weeks in advance if possible, and enjoy some decent and overpriced German faire while taking in the surroundings. FYI, the Spiked Apple Cider and Holiday Smoothie are top notch.

A Very Merry Christmas Guide to New York City | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | A Great Big Hunk of World

Pete’s Tavern, 129 E 18th St, New York, NY

Just how many lights does Pete’s Tavern string across their ceiling during the holiday season? The world may never know. But what I do know is that you didn’t do Pete’s Tavern right until you’ve tried one of their Spiked Eggnog’s.

A Very Merry Christmas Guide to New York City | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | A Great Big Hunk of World

Paddy Macguire’s Ale House, 287 3rd Ave, New York, NY

Paddy’s does very minimalistic holiday decor, but the tinsel-ordained shop-front and strands of tinsels, lights, and wood-working fireplace inside make this Irish pub seem like the perfect laid-back spot to finish off your year with a cold one, and a few of your closest friends.

o

Molly’s Pub, 287 3rd Avenue, New York, NY

This pub, which looks as if it were plucked from the streets of Galway and dropped into New York City, also follows the less-is-more approach; but it’s still one of my favorite bars to visit during the holiday season. This spot doesn’t have an extensive holiday drink list, but after dropping over $10+ a drink at many other spots, it’s nice to kick-back with a more reasonably priced beverage.

o (1).jpg

Lillie’s Victorian Establishment, 13 East 17th Street, New York, NY

While Lillie’s sticks to the typical train-style floor plan, it feels a bit more spacious than some others, though I’m sure there are nights where that isn’t the case. Being a bit further away from the other’s, this is a perfect way to end the night.

A Very Merry Christmas Guide to New York City | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | A Great Big Hunk of World


Other Worthwhile Holiday Experiences

The Dyker Heights Christmas Lights, 11th Avenue to 13th Avenue and from 83rd to 86th Street
Nearest Subways: D,M

This Brooklyn neighborhood has received much acclaim for their awesome holiday displays. While some families go all out; one house used to have a small-scale moving ferris wheel being ridden by elves, some go a more simpler route, covering their entire home with 30,000 LED lights. Some displays even cost home owners upwars of $15,000! I’ve recently seen tours being offered, because who wouldn’t want to bank off the popularity, but in all honesty, I’d recommend grabbing some hot chocolate from Dunkin Donuts and tackling the neighborhood on your own by either foot or car. You can find more specific details on which streets to walk here.

A Very Merry Christmas Guide to New York City | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | A Great Big Hunk of World

Santacon, TBD
December 9, 2017

The first time I ever experienced Santacon, was freshman year of college while walking to work. You’d imagine by surprise when I was suddenly thrust into a cluster of what felt like 2,000 Santa Claus’s. Of course, I decided to take part in the nonsense the following year.

Santacon has become a popular pub crawl over the last few years in a handful of cities, and involves dressing up as Santa (or a reindeer, or an elf, or in some cases Jesus, himself) and crawling from bar to bar, beginning around 10am. Usually, only brunch is an excuse to day drink, but I guess Santacon can be added to that list. The price of admission, which gets you a wristband that usually allows for some discounted drinks gets donated to that year’s charity of costs.

As usual, Santa’s route isn’t released until decently close to the day of, but you can sign up for updates here. Santacon is not for the faint of heart, and those with anxiety of large groups may prefer a different activity.

15393547713_a8891eb202_b

The Rockefeller Tree Lighting, 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY
November 29, 2017
Nearest Subways: B,D,F,M,1,6,N,Q,R

Each year, a tree is brought in from upstate New York and dropped in the middle of Rockefeller Center. The tree, which can sometimes average 94 feet tall and 56 feet wide has become a focal point for holiday excursions around the city. Live performances usually take place the day of the lighting from 7-9pm, followed by the lighting of the tree, which will remain lit until January 7th.

A Very Merry Christmas Guide to New York City | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | A Great Big Hunk of World

Visit Santaland at Macy’s, 151 W 34th St, New York, NY
November 24 – December 24, 2017
Nearest Subways:B,D,F,M,N,Q,R,W

During my freshman year of college, I actually worked seasonally as an elf at Macy’s. After all, Santa’s real elves were busy back at the North Pole making gifts and Macy’s offers their elves a really nice hourly. It was always amazing seeing the excitement on the faces of children, not only when meeting Santa but during the entire experience. To make the wait a bit more tolerable, and just to add to the fun, the entire queue is designed to take you on a guided walk through the villages of the North Pole. After passing through the rock train that takes you to the North Pole, you pass magical snow globes, brilliant train displays, caroling snowmen, and more all before ever reaching the big guy. There’s also a couple cute photo ops along the way, which you can purchase along with your Santa photo once you’re done.

A Very Merry Christmas Guide to New York City | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | A Great Big Hunk of World

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, From 77th Street and Central Park West to Macy’s Herald Square at 151 W 34th St, New York, NY
November 23, 2017

Little fact about me; I was actually in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade from about age nine, to age seventeen when I finally aged out. As I always still wanted to remain a part of it, because to me the parade signifies the official start to the Christmas season, I join my grandparents each year as a make-up artist, helping to paint the faces of all 900 or so clowns you seen make their way down the parade route. It involves waking up at 3am, and by the time I get home, I usually crash as the parade replays on tv until dinner, but it’s always been one of my favorite parts of the year.

I’ve met dozen who’ve told me that they come all this way each year just for the parade, even lining up early in the morning despite how cold it may be that day. If you’ve ever gotten excited just seeing the parade on television, it’s a whole other feeling seeing it in person if you’re able. The parade concludes with Santa and Mrs. Claus making their way down the route in his sleigh, on his way to Macy’s where you’re able to meet him beginning the day after Thanksgiving.

Find out where to park your family by checking out the parade route here.

A Very Merry Christmas Guide to New York City | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | A Great Big Hunk of World

The Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Garden, NYBG Main Entrance, 2900 Southern Boulevard, Bronx, NY
November 22, 2017 – January 15, 2018
Nearest Subways: B,D,4,2

Enjoy miniature New York landmarks as part of carefully put together train displays at the Holiday Train Show, located in the Bronx. Tickets run around $23-30 per adult, and $10-18 for children 12 and under, but the show is definitely a great value for your money.

A Very Merry Christmas Guide to New York City | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | A Great Big Hunk of World

See the Lighting of the World’s Largest Menorah, Fifth Avenue and W 59th Street, New York, NY
December 12-19, 2017
Nearest Subways: N,W,R,F

For a week straight, you can enjoy the lighting of this menorah which stands at about 32-feet tall and weights close to 4,000 pounds. Over in Brooklyn, you can enjoy the lighting of a slightly smaller menorah at Grand Army Plaza, where you can enjoy a concert and latkes on the night or the first lighting.

15672970_10154332576449482_209277733960362037_n

The Tree Lighting Under the Arch at Washington Square Park
Washington Square N, New York, NY
December 7, 2017
Nearesr Subways:A,B,C,D,E,F,M

The second longest running tree lighting is right under the arch at Washington Square Park. For closet-singers, this a great time to let your inner star shine as Washington Square Park is one of the best spots for caroling. And at 5pm, enjoy the lighting of this 45-foot tree in front of one of the most popular backdrops.

1465229_10153674894550795_8412603921278246828_n

There’s no denying that New York City is one of the amazing cities for the holidays; and there is so much more to make your holiday merry and bright, like stopping by every holiday photo op such as the giant ornaments near Radio City Music Hall, or enjoying Christmas Eve Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. But you’ll never be bored, and you’ll probably never experience a Christmas as magical as one in New York when it’s Christmastime again.

oatmeal A Very Merry Christmas Guide to New York City | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | A Great Big Hunk of World

3 Spooky Day Trips & Overnights from NYC

October is just a day away and the season of Instagram-worthy apple orchards, haunted attractions, and corn mazes is officially upon us. October has always been one of my favorite months, but lets be honest, most Halloween events in New York City are not only overpriced but generally underwhelming. Instead, I usually choose to spend my October planning haunted little day trips and spooky little getaways; because everybody needs some autumn plans to distract them from watching the Halloweentown series on repeat, every weekend.

Historic Hudson Valley (approx. 1 hour from NYC)

10132280765_0a90780738_b.jpg

This spot has become an annual tradition for me, and offers an array of activities to take part in. One of the most popular Hudson Valley Halloween time experiences is The Great Jack’O’Lantern Blaze, a walkthrough of various pumpkin carved arrangements from Jurassic Park to a fully-functioning pumpkin carousel. Visitors can visit an assortment of historic buildings, purchase tickets to variously themed graveyard tours, and experience Irving’s Legend, a dramatic storytelling of the Legend of Sleepy Hollow by master storyteller Jonathan Kruk. But one of my all time favorite experiences is Horseman’s Hollow. While you wait, grab some hot chocolate and be alert as you may spot the headless ghoul himself; but the real haunts come during the almost 30-minute walkthrough which passes through historic locations like Philipsburg Manor and Ichabod’s Schoolhouse. While this haunted walk is done at various times, I highly recommend checking the sundown time and purchasing tickets after dark for a way more thrilling experience.

Warning, tickets for each of these events often sellout and typically days before you plan to go so plan on grabbing yours at least a week in advance.

Perfect Addition:

During our annual Hudson Valley day trip, we usually plan to head to the area early to make a stop at Wilken’s Fruit & Fir Farm. September is prime apple-picking season and December is when the Christmas trees are ready for picking, but October is all about the pumpkins. Disclaimer: you won’t actually be picking pumpkins off of a vine, but the assortment of pumpkins you can find scattered throughout the pumpkin patch are perfect for all of your carving needs. And if you happen to visit during the first week of October, you may be able to grab a few good apples along the way.

But if I’m being honest, the Bakery and Apple Farm Market are easily the two best reasons for going. Repeat after me, “apple cider donuts.” Between jams, marmalades, cider, pastries, and Holiday decorations, you may not want to forget your wallet in the car.

Eastern State Penitentiary  (Approx. 2 hours from NYC)

3899581034_d6a9f2f522_b.jpg

Eastern State Penitentiary is a former American prison turned historic site, but during the Halloween Season the site opens up as ‘Terror Behind the Walls’, a chilling walk through six different attractions within the cell blocks. When you enter the attraction, you have the option for a spooky experience or a totally haunting experience, your choice of which will be represented by a specific colored glowing necklace. If you choose the spooky experience, you will experience a typical walk through. However, the other options allows the actors to touch you and essentially add you to the show. No, you will not be hurt or locked anywhere you do not want to be. But you may get placed on a girny in the ‘infirmary’ or directed towards a tunnel away from the crowd in ‘the machine shop’. Great actors, outstanding detail, and a hell of a good value.

Perfect Addition:

I highly recommend arriving to Philly a bit earlier and doing the non-spooky day tour of Eastern State Penitentiary. If you’re a history buff, like me, you’ll get a kick out of exploring the cellblocks, seeing art installations, and exploring the area all while learning more about the past through your provided audio guide. You’ll even get a chance to see Al Capone’s outlandishly decorated cell. Visitors can also take part in short, interactive experience through the hospital, dining hall, punishment cells and other areas.

Canobie Lake Park (Approx. 4 hours from NYC)

Screen Shot 2017-09-29 at 10.27.46 PM.png

After 6PM during the month of October, Canobie Lake Park becomes a Screeemfest. Visitors can expect monsters and zombies, zombie paintball, shows, and five different themed haunted houses: The Culling, The Canobie Lake Hotel, Carnivus, The Village, and Black Hollow Cove. The spook level is high, and the attention to details is even higher; at one point while nervously walking through the Village, you even began getting chased by zombies with what sound like real chainsaws. (Spoiler alert: they’re most likely not real chainsaws.) And should you need to step back from the haunts, head on over to Rocktoberfest! for some cover band rock music which runs the same month as Screemfest.

Perfect Addition:

If you don’t mind a 40 minute drive, head on over into Massachusetts and visit Salem, the town most infamously known for the 1692 witch trials. Between historic landmarks like the Witch House, the former home of a trial judge; the Salem Witch Museum, the Witch Dungeon Musuem, and an array of other attractions, this town makes for an authentic, chilling, and historic October trip.

 

Pin this to Pinterest for safe keeping!

3 Spooky Day Trips & Overnights from NYC | Halloween Things to Do in October | A Great Big Hunk of World | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com

3 Spooky Day Trips & Overnights from NYC | Halloween Things to Do in October | A Great Big Hunk of World | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com

A Week in 3 Minutes | Walt Disney World

 

A quick, sneak-peak at my week at Walt Disney World, where we checked out Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival and Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party.

When it comes to the fall and winter holidays, Disney is worth a visit based on decor alone.

For help planning your own Disney adventure, whether it be in or out of the kingdom, visit Map to Magic Vacations and begin charting the path to your magical adventure!

 

‘Street’ Art of Animal Kingdom’s Harambe Village

The banging of drums sounds from one end of the village to the other. The thick, humid air smells of boerewors and curry. A few steps away stands the entrance to the Harambe Wildlife Reserve, where you just came within yards of lions, warthogs, and as many as thirty different types of wild animals. The signs on the walls, some in Swahili, seem to say “Welcome to East Africa.” 

'Street' Art of Animal Kingdom's Harambe Village | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com

“Welcome to East Africa”

But alas, you are 8,000 miles away in Orlando, Florida, in a park that welcomes approximately 30,000 guests each day to ‘Africa’, ‘Asia’, and the newly opened and imaginative, ‘Pandora’.

While Animal Kingdom typically rates below Magic Kingdom and Epcot in terms of popularity, it’s always been my personal favorite. Every inch of theming at the Walt Disney resort is perfection, but there is something about the authenticity of Animal Kingdom that is absolutely capitvating.

'Street' Art of Animal Kingdom's Harambe Village | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com

After year’s of visiting, I finally took a stroll through the Harambe Village, while for the first time, realizing just how much street art and proverbial knowledge there is to find on the way.

  1. “You Are Most Beautiful”

'Street' Art of Animal Kingdom's Harambe Village | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com

This wall is pretty difficult to find, and used to be the type of spot you happen to stumble upon. However, it’s recently blown up as an Instagram sensation. What you can’t tell by the image is that if you look right, there is a walkway to a behind-the-scene cast member area. Due to the location, it’s the first thing Disney cast members see on their way in and on their way out; and if that doesn’t automatically set you off on the right foot for your work shift, nothing will.

But something about this wall is very sweet and innocent, and despite it’s simplicity, is one of my favorite walls in Harambe Village.

2. “It does not matter who you are or where you are from, we are all children of the world.”

'Street' Art of Animal Kingdom's Harambe Market | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com

To me, this quote has so much meaning behind it. It’s also something I wish more people were able to grasp. It’s pretty self explanatory, but I’m sure we all believe (at least those reading this) that regardless of what continent you’re born on, what language you speak, or where you happen to fall on the economic spectrum, we are all children of the world; and the world does not owe you more than it owes anybody else.

3. “To get lost is to learn the way.”

'Street' Art of Animal Kingdom's Harambe Market | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com

Of all the quotes that bring out my inner wanderer, and there are many, this one really tugs on my travel heart strings. I have always said that I have “reverse-homesickness”. For some reason, I’ve always felt more at home when I’m as far away from home as possible. Yes, because traveling is a passion of mine, but also because life seems to sort itself out, things start to put themselves into perspective, and problems don’t seem as large whenever you take a step back.

There are times when you need to step off of your planned trail in order to find your way, whether it be by traveling, by changing your career, by switching your major, or just making a small change. Sometimes you have to get lost before you figure out in which direction you have to go.

4. “A person who is in too much of a hurry stubs his toe.”

'Street' Art of Animal Kingdom's Harambe Market | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com

When I first read this Swahili proverb, it instantly reminded me of the old “slow and steady wins the race” lesson. But once I had some time to think about it, it seemed more about being present. Often we are in such a hurry, or spend so much time focusing on where we want to be, that we miss what’s right in front of us.

Similarly, if you’re walking too fast and not paying attention to what is going on around you, you could stub your toe. And we all know that definitely falls high on the list of worst physical feelings.

5. “Kila mango ha unfunguwo wake.”

'Street' Art of Animal Kingdom's Harambe Market | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com

‘Kila mango ha ufunguwo wake’ when translated, means “every door has it’s own key.” I’m sure this could mean a million different things to a million different people, but I personally feel it’s referring to people as individuals.

Each person is unique, therefore each person learns/lives/thinks in a unique way. Similarly, it takes different methods/actions/strategies to make each person open up or to help each person reach their maximum potential.

 

 

I’m sure some of these proverbs and sayings could mean different things to each person, and I’d love to read your interpretations in the comments!

 

Like this post? Pin it on Pinterest for later!

'Street' Art of Animal Kingdom's Harambe Village | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com

 

 

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Must-Try Bites at Epcot’s 2017 Food & Wine Festival

I have been to four Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Parties, Epcot’s Flower & Garden Festival, and just experienced my first Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, and still I think the Epcot Food & Wine Festival may have taken the top spot as my favorite annual Walt Disney World event. While many may overlook the Walt Disney resort when it comes to fine dining or food travel, frequent visitors know that the dining options offered at Disney are most often some of the highest quality dining you will experience. It’s not all Mickey bars and churros.

Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival, which is currently in it’s 22nd year, offers visitors a chance to experience cuisine from the around the globe even outside of their showcased eleven countries. From top-notch culinary chefs to the freshest ingredients right out of Disney’s very own greenhouses, this really is a don’t miss event for for food lovers. Recently, I spent two whole days eating around the “world” and while I unforutnately wasn’t able to try every single offering or every single pavilion, I did get pretty close. So starting with my favorite, I’m going to sum up every pound I put on at Epcot’s 2017 International Food & Wine Festival.

 

Brazil: Escondidnho de Carne & Crispy Pork Belly

I had been drooling over the description of Brazil’s Escondidinho de Carne for weeks before the festival. And while this may at first glance seem like your typical meat pie, the seasoned meaty inside takes this simple dish to a whole other level. To top things off, figuratively and literally, the top layer is mashed yucca as opposed to your typical mashed potatoes, adding a mildly sweeter flavor. While visiting “Brazil”, we also grabbed a crispy pork belly; and while I wish the pork had been seasoned a bit more, the tenderness, and black bean and tomato combo definitely helped elevate the mild flavors.

 

Islands of the Caribbean: Jamaican Beef Patty, Mojo Pork – Mojito

The Mojo Pork had an A-rating the minute I laid my eyes upon it just because of portion size. The tapas size portions at the festival are great for sharing, and for saving room for other options but I appreciated the helping of pork after a long hot day. Being half Dominican, I have high expectations when it comes to my pork and the Islands of the Caribbean pavilion definitely did it justice! But with plenty of seasoning and red onions, it’s hard to go wrong. Jamaican beef patties aren’t usually my favorite thing, as I typically prefer the crispier shell of an empanada, but the meat filling of these mini patties had so much flavor and paired perfectly with a frozen mojito.

 

Active Eats: Loaded Mac’n’Cheese and Sweet Avocado Crema

Earth Eats: Ricotta and Zucchini Ravioli

The three of these tapas sized dishes were so memorable, I probably wouldn’t be able to rank them in order. The Loaded Mac’n’Cheese, which was loaded with some peppers, onions, bacons and scallions, had a spicy kick to and was topped off with some sautéed bread crumbs it which reminded me of my mom’s hot sauce seasoned baked mac and cheese; always one of my favorite Thanksgiving side dishes. I wasn’t expecting much from the zucchini and ricotta ravioli, as it’s something I’ve tried numerous times, but it ended up being one of our favorite. The ratio of the filling was perfect, but it was the sweet undertone of the tomato sauce that really made it a winner.

Of course, I had to finish off these two neighbor pavilions with a Sweet Avocado Crema, as I’m not one to walk passed anything with “avocado” in the name. The avocado flavor was definitely there though not as strong as you’d imagine and ended up tasting amazing when combined with the strawberries and moist yellow cake tiers of this mini trifle. A small layer of tortilla streusel added for a tiny bit of crunch. All-in-all this dessert left me super impressed with the innovativeness of Disney chefs.

 

Hawaii: Kalua Pork Slider – Maui Splash Sweet Pineapple Wine

Most of the non-grape wines we tried at the Food & Wine Festival were slightly sweeter than most typical wines and really had the undertone of the fruit base that was used. This one may have had a pineapple undertone, but really just tasted like a typical white wine for the most part; though definitely not a bad white wine.

As for the sliders, I was so upset that each serving only came with one instead of two. The meat, perfectly cooked and seasoned, was paired perfectly with a spicy mayo that reminded me of an aioli. The sliders were finished off with a pineapple chutney and if you know me, anytime I see a dish combing pineapple with a protein base, it’s most likely what I’m ordering.

 

Patagonia: Beef Empanada and Grilled Beef Skewer

For those who may not know, Patagonia refers to the southern most cone-shaped part of South America shared by Argentina and Chile. This was one of the first stops we checked off on our “must stop at” list because…empanadas. Empanadas or Pataleos is one of the staples in my family and while I have tried and love numerous empanada variations (because love comes in all shapes and sizes) the best ones are made by one of my aunts. Well, the empanadas at this year’s festival tasted almost exactly the same. In case you were wondering, that means these empanadas are top notch.

The beef skewer was good, though honestly not much to write home about. The chimichurri sauce was tasty though and I really enjoyed the boniato puree underneath.

 

Germany: Roast Bratwurst and Apple Strudel

Germany has always been one of our favorite pavilions, due in a large part to the sweet smelling caramel shop and the large-sized bratwurst, so we were super excited when we saw the menu. The bratwurst was served in a pretzel role and despite being one of the most flavorful sausages I’ve ever eaten, the pretzel roll tasted nothing like a pretzel roll. But the bratwurst still gets an A+ for flavor.

The apple strudel was warm but served on top of a cold vanilla sauce. If you’re an apple pie fanatic like myself then this is for you; the apples were not only cooked to the perfect balance of soft but still in tact but also were seasoned with just the right amount of cinnamon. It may not look like much in terms of presentation, but it was outstanding!

 

China: Beijing Rosted Duck Bao Buns, Chicken Pot Stickers – BaiJoe Punch

The BaiJoe Punch is a combination of Chinese Bai Jiu Spirit, Lychee, Coconut, and Pineapple Juice. While Coconut and Pineapple are two of my favorite flavors, and I had no issue finishing the drink, it was a bit too sweet for my taste. The Duck Bat Buns were lovely, and so easy to eat due to how tender the duck was cooked; complete with the usual toppings of Hoison sauce, red onion, and scallions.

I did have one issue with the chicken pot stickers, and that that there were only two in a serving. All-in-all China is a must-stop and from what I hear, is one of the most popular pavilions every year. Easy to see why.

Canada: “Le Cellier” Wild Mushroom Beef Filet Mignon – Apple Ice Wine

If you’ve ever eaten at Epcot’s “Le Cellier” than you’ll understand the appeal of this booth. While steaks at Le Cellier aren’t the cheapest option, the Canada booth pretty much gives you the option to try a steak a third of the pie of the original, for $8. The steak, covered in truffle butter sauce and mushrooms, is easily just as good as its full-sized counterpart. The Apple Ice Wine was also my favorite drink at the festival, giving off the taste of a spiked apple juice.

 

Belgium: Beer-braised Beef and a Belgian Waffle

The Beer-braised beef, wonderfully flavored in it’s own right, was served over Gouda Mashed Potatoes which is what solidified this dish as a must-eat. The addition of roasted carrots adds to the home-cooked stew feel of the dish, which I personally love.

With Florida humidity, safe to say this wasn’t the crispiest of waffles even after only two minutes of ordering. While cutting we expected the worst but surprisingly, the chocolate ganache and whipped cream saved the day and still made this a worth while semi-dessert.

 

Ireland: Roasted Irish Sausage, Warm Irish Cheddar Cheese and Stout Dip, Warm Chocolate Pudding – Guinness Blonde Ale

While reminiscing on last summer’s trip to Ireland, we decided to go down the menu when it came to the Ireland pavilion. And while half of our order we’d re-do in a heartbeat, the other half was great just for a try. There’s this quote that reads, “Roasted Irish Sausage is always a good idea”, or something like that. In this case, it definitely a good idea; perfectly cooked with potatoes and onion gravy. Followed by the Warm Chocolate Pudding, topped with a Irish cream liquer, these were two of our favorite dishes while dining around the world.

I had tried the Blonde Guinness at the urging of my sister who was interesed, and all I have to say is…stick to original Guinness. I’m not a general fan of light beer in general, so for those who enjoy it, this may a drink worth trying. While I didn’t strongly dislike the Cheddar and Stout Dip, I didn’t particularly love it. Considering this is one of my favorite dips when munching on bar foods at pubs in New York, I was a little disappointed. But as usual, even my not-so-favorite’s had a saving grace, in this case, the brown bread.

 

Flavors from Fire: Piggy Wings and Sweet Pancake

Flavors from Fire was the first booth we tried at this year’s Food & Wine Festival and it definitely got us pumped for all of the other pavilions. The Sweet Pancake was topped with spicy chipotle chicken sausage, onion jam, and maple butter syrup. If just the description of that dish doesn’t blow your mind, than the taste definitely will. Yet another delicious combination, leaving in awe of the innovation of these chefs.

We had also ordered some Piggy Wings and while the sauce of the Korean BBQ was super tasty, we found them to be almost to tough to bite into and lacking in an adequate amount of meat. But you win some, you lose some.

 

Mexico: Rib Eye Taco

Mexico is usually my go-to pavilion in general whenever strolling Epcot and looking for a pick me up, but I still had to grab a taste during the Food & Wine. The real winner of this dish was the chipotle sauce, which elevated the flavors of the meat and provided a much needed kick. Similarly the decent amount of scallions added some crunch to the sauce moistened tortilla.

While we unfortunately missed out a handful of other pavilions, due to time constraints and lack of adequate stomach space, we had one of the best time’s at Epcot’s 2017 Food & Wine Festival. And while I wish I could’ve described a few of the other things we ate: like the Spanakopita from Greece, Mango Mama Wine from Farm Fresh, the Ginger Pork from Japan, Beef Tenderloin Tips from Africa, and the Chartucerie Cone from Spain, I think it’s best to just say that you should go and have a try for yourself.

From Disney-lovers, to foodies, to wine connoisseurs, the Food & Wine Festival is truly a dynamic event for everyone. For those looking to be even more immersed in the experience, there are seminars and events ranging from wine pairings, to chef demonstrations, to cheese seminars. For travel or design enthusiasts, you’ll get a kick of out the design of each booth which are built to reflect the culture and regions they are representing.

I’m easily an advocate for all Walt Disney events, but the Food & Wine is truly something spectacular.

 

For help booking your visit to Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival, click here.

Found this post interesting? Pin it for later!

Must-Try Bites at Epcot's Food and Wine 2017 | A Great Big Hunk Of World

 

 

SaveSave

The Benefits of Booking with a Travel Agent

Picture this: You just landed in an exotic location that has been on your bucket list for years. The weather is perfect, and despite being a little jet lagged you’re ready for a day filled with experiences. You wheel your suitcase over to the check-in, hand them your ID, only to be told that even though you booked and payed for a deluxe suite, the system has placed you in a standard two-twin room on the side of the hotel furthest from any ammenities. Would you rather:

A) Call the online booking site you used for your getaway, and wait in a two hour queue before receiving nothing but an apology and an attempt to get you in your preferred room the following day.

B) Get into a heated debate with the receptionist who says she can do nothing for you as the system says you booked a standard two-twin room.

C) Phone your travel agent who will work on rectifying the issue while you take a deep breath and go have a meal.

Whenever I mention working for a travel agency, nine times out of ten I’ll receive a confused look followed by “people still use travel agents?” For some reason the rise in technology and convenient online booking services  like Expedia and Booking.com have led people to assume that travel agents are obsolete. However, statistically, while old-fashion storefronts boasting travel agencies may have decreased significantly the amount of independent agents working from their homes or remotely has almost quadrupled in the last decade. Working remotely is a benefit in itself, as you can now have one agency of five different agents working and knowledgable about five completely different regions.

For many such as myself, planning a trip is almost as fun as the adventure itself, and I have a complete method to madness which often begins a year before I plan to travel if traveling domestically. And yet, there are  several locations where I would most likely turn to a travel professional to make sure I get the most out of my time away.

It seems too frequently I have to dispel the myth that travel agents are irrelevant, but honestly that debate never gets to far due to the significant amount of benefits that come from booking with a travel professional.

IMG_8624

Time Savings

While I find that many clients look for a travel agent because they aren’t sure where to begin in terms of research, there is a decent size group that either does not have the time to plan a trip or simply does not want to spend their time stressing over putting a trip together. Travel agencies give clients the option to say “Here is where I’d like to go. These are some of my interests. Help me plan something amazing.”

Knowledge and Experience

Knowledge and experience are developed in a variety of ways. Some agents have extensive travel experience, both internationally and domestic; have a strong understanding of a specific region or multiple regions, have a degree or an educational background in the travel and tourism field, or any collection of the three. While it’s easy to do a Pinterest search and throw together an average itinerary, in the end I’d prefer a trained or experienced pilot driving my plane than someone who has simply watched planes fly.

Cost Savings and High Quality Ratio

Any agent you are booking with should have a grasp on common cost saving methods, even ones as minor as knowing which day of the week to search for a plane flight, to which weeks to avoid traveling to which areas. However, most agents will also prioritize quality; meaning they will aim to plan within your budget while still piecing together a trip that will meet or exceed your expectations.

Less Stress

If you’ve ever booked a trip package or planned a trip piece by piece, you have most likely experienced the frustration of being stuck on a phone chain as you’re transferred from department to the other. If you’ve booked with an accommodating travel agent, you should expect to not only be able to rely on them before your trip but during your trip as well. While the agent handles any discrepancies or issues, you’re free to begin your trip the minute you arrive.

Personal Experiences

At Map to Magic Vacations, there is an emphasis on personalized client experiences. Map to Magic Agents will get to know each client and their travel party as much as possible during the first days of correspondance from travel preferences and interests, to specifics like “Grandma loves rides that spin but hates rollercoasters” or “Jenny loves fish but is strongly allergic to shellfish.” Similarly, having multiple agents with varying niches allows the opportunity for a perfect client-agent match. While some agents have more experience traveling with young children, another may focus on traveling with allergies or traveling with handicap accommodations. While it can be difficult to entrust your entire trip in the hands of someone else, the aim of any good agent will be to get to know the client almost as much as they know themselves.

 

The Benefits of Booking with a Travel Agent | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | www.maptomagicvacations.com

 

 

The 7 Friends You End Up With on Every Road Trip

Aside from growing up in a city where there is almost always something to do, there was another huge benefit to living in New York. With the Northeast being as concise as it is, most states just require a weekend, and a decent car to be able to visit. Naturally, as soon as most of my friends were of driving age, it was impossible to stop us from venturing out to a new town whenever we had the opportunity. Eventually, our road trips extended slightly further down the East Coast. And while we have yet to take on any extensive cross-country trips, you get a good sense of each of your friends travel personas when you’re stuck in two cars during a fourteen hour drive to Myrtle Beach.

Screen Shot 2017-08-12 at 1.30.45 AM

Circa. 2013

The Co-Captain

This friend, found in the passengers seat, holds many important responsibilities including managing the GPS, having all necessary addresses readily available, and making close calls when it comes to turns on foreign roads. This role is essentially one of the most important, as the driver is too busy being a responsible driver and keeping his eyes on the road to be able to make any Apple Maps or GPS adjustments. Aside from making sure everyone gets to their final destination in a timely manner, the Co-Captain may also inadvertently become manager of the aux cord which is largely responsible for the theme of the drive.

The Hype Man

This friend doesn’t always offer much other than loud singing, non-stop talking, and narrating every sign that you drive passed. But what would a road trip be without that friend who shouts “cracker barrel!” every time you pass a rest stop?

The Nag

This the friend who you generally love, but who finds a way to grind everyone’s gears on a road trip; Generally by nitpicking the tiniest of details, and by having a problem with virtually everything. Like being the only one who doesn’t want to stop at that roadside diner, or wanting to specifically sit on that one side of the car for no other reason but preferring it. Luckily, if you grew up with siblings, it’s easy to tune out this friends negativity for a majority of the ride.

The Photographer

This is the friend who has no problem forcing the driver to pull over at the side of the road because “the angle of that distant mountain range looks beautiful from here” as if you’re not headed in that direction anyway. But who else would develop a full Facebook album of trip photos that the rest of the group could miserably look through while they’re back at work the next week?

The Ghost

This friend isn’t even there, in a figurative sense of course. This friend is not part of any of the conversations, bad singing, or rounds of “Don’t Get Me Started” during the ride because they are sleeping during the entire trip. But they do make occasional appearances during food breaks, at rest stops, or during boarder crossings.

The Survivalist

This friend may be high in the rankings as everyone’s favorite friend to road trip with, due in part to the bag of the snacks and cooler of water bottles that enter the car along with them. In my group of friends, this friend is also the one who loves to drive the longest stretches, carries a flash light with two sets of extra batteries, and always has a pocket knife and a new box of matches. If I had to choose one person to be on my zombie apocalypse team, this would definitely be my first choice.

The Concierge

This friend has researched all the most popular sights and attractions in every town you’re passing through. And while you may not be particularly interested in visiting the “World’s Biggest Whatever”, this friend also has the names and Yelp rating for all the local food spots along the way.

18922117_10211613630029440_6138084075766472323_n

One of the most spectacular parts of traveling is meeting new people, but often some of the greatest people are the ones who were along for the ride. We’ve had our share of mishaps, from wrong directions, to spontaneous blizzards, to car sickness, but I still  can’t wait to be back on the road, in an overly packed car with my best friends, while jamming to “American Pie.”

 

 

 

Liked this post? Pin it for later!

The 7 Friends You End Up With on Every Road Trip | A Great Big Hunk of World

 

 

A First-Timer’s Guide to A Day at Old Orchard Beach

Growing up in Brooklyn, New York, it should come as no surprise that a significant amount of my summer memories trace back to the Coney Island Boardwalk. Whether it was for a stroll and a hot dog (or two) at the original Nathan’s, or a night of fireworks and back-to-back rides at Luna Park, there was always something memorable about a day at the boardwalk.

It’s those memories that are the reason I’ve always had a fondness for coastal boardwalk towns. So naturally, when we began planning our extended weekend to Maine, we knew we couldn’t leave Old Orchard Beach off of the itinerary.

Old Orchard Beach has gone through various transitions throughout it’s long history, at one point being home to a racetrack, the area of which was purchased in 1952; and even spent five years as the home to an Animal Fair. But many parts of it’s historic past still remain: Pier Fries has been feeding visitors for almost a century, and the Old Orchard Beach Pier has been a hangout for beachgoers since 1898!

Despite all of the activities to currently available to enjoy in the area and our limited time, we managed to have a pretty jam-packed day.

Get Down to the Beach Bright and Early

20229058_10213414471453298_6240517590191857020_n (1)

I typically prepare for any trip including those shorter in length by researching all of the popular “where-to-go’s” and “what-to-see’s”; and remember virtually every “Must Visit Beaches in Maine” article having Old Orchard Beach pretty high in the rankings. Like most beaches, I’d suggest trying to arrive earlier in the morning to claim a spot and unwind before the noon crowds roll in.

What I enjoyed most about Old Orchard Beach is how it provides the best of both worlds: the liveliness and excitement you’d find at many popular pier-inclusive beaches, but also the relaxation and beauty of beaches like Myrtle Beach. And while there was a steady influx of visitors, we still never felt the beach was overcrowded or chaotic, making for a pretty relaxing morning.

Take a Walk Along Old Orchard Beach Pier

As expected, the pier was packed; but once you get passed the hoards of people Old Orchard Beach Pier is the ideal chill-out spot for people of all ages. Considering there is almost no way to avoid it, kids will definitely want to stop at Pier Pizza before heading down the Pier. Those looking for that summer kick-back atmosphere can head on over to Tequila Frogs for some Mexican Bulldog Margaritas. But if you’re just looking to get out of the sun for a minute and enjoy a relaxing meal, Hurricanes Raw Bar is definitely the spot.

While weekend beach vacations can be the ideal go-to for college students, I have always felt that these trips are perfect for families as they’re often affordable and generally don’t require too extensive of a drive if you’re living on the East Coast. Families can add Old Orchard onto their spring break idea list without fear of a bad time, because there truly is something for everyone.

Relive Your Childhood at Palace Playland

4933747602_5ed8861a30_b

Palace Playland, which boasts being New England’s only beachside amusement park, is exactly what you look for when it comes to coastal amusement parks: a wide variety of nostalgic rides, complete with a slight grittiness. As we walked up, the first ride that caught our attention was the Pirate, which you’ll generally find a variation of at most amusement parks or block parties, making it the perfect first stop for our nostalgic trail through Playland.

Considering the inflated per-ride prices at many of the places I used to frequent as a kid, we were amazed to find out that a Day Pass got you unlimited access to every ride in the park. Needless to say, we ended up staying at Playland a bit longer than we had originally anticipated but it was entirely worth it.

Play a Relaxing Round of Schooner Mini Golf

Schooner Mini Golf is about a five minute drive from Old Orchard Beach Pier, and is your typical 18-hole mini golf course..if that course was complete with a large replica Schooner! On this day there were only about two other groups on the course, which was ideal as it gave us the chance to take our time but also saved us from the occasionally extensive wait. Per usual, I ended up coming in second to last place, which I accepted with pride as I still managed to beat my usual score. Portland Schooner Mini Golf plays off its theme so well, and provides an array of holes that are actually pretty challenging, but the staff also add to the experience. There aren’t many places that have workers that leave you in a better mood after a quick two-minute conversation while purchasing tickets.

And don’t think you can leave Schooner Mini Golf without grabbing a Cookies’n’Cream shake for the road. I mean that literally, as you can’t exit without passing by their on-property ice cream window; but considering that it was around 92 degrees at the time, there wasn’t a better way to end of the evening.

IMG_4770

Our day at Old Orchard Beach was packed with excitement and still there are so many things we wish we had gotten the chance to do, like parasail passed the pier, enjoy the Thursday night downtown fireworks, or drop by the new Harmon Museum. But as always, it’s just an excuse to return.

But until then, we’re left with some great memories and a craving for some Pier fries.

 

*Quick Tip: Old Orchard Beach is a pretty popular spot, so parking was definitely a bit challenging. Come prepared to pay for parking and check out a list of local parking lots and their contact information here.

Like this post? Pin it for later!

A First-Timer's Guide to a Day in Old Orchard Beach | Maine | agreatbighunkofworld.com

 

A First-Timer's Guide to a Day in Old Orchard Beach | Maine | agreatbighunkofworld.com

6 Must-Have Experiences When Visiting Portland, Maine

Our quick, long-weekend trip to Maine was originally planned with the intent of checking off our last Northeastern state. But our one-and-a-half days spent exploring Portland ended up providing some of the best experiences, memories, and some of the most delicious eats.

       1. Take the Sunset Kayak Tour with Portland Paddle

Did you really visit Portland if you didn’t take part in the array of water activities available in the Casco Bay? After a quick overview on general kayak skills and safety instructions, we were in the water and ready for an hour and a half of adventure. Our guide was attentive, friendly, and knowledgable, providing us with information on the surrounding Casco Bay islands and pointing out a couple of Bald Eagles as they soared above us. Aside from the beautiful sunset, which ended up coming through as vivid as ever despite the clouds, my favorite part by far had to be when we carefully kayaked passed a small island covered in gulls and surrounded by seals. While we were instructed to not purposely paddle too closely to any wildlife, a few of the younger, more curious seals couldn’t help but swim up to a few kayakers in our group.

 I cannot recommend this tour enough, as I’m a sucker for sunsets and wildlife encounters, but Portland Paddle offers an array of other tours, including a Moonlight Kayak Tour and Lighthouse & Fort Full-Day Tour that I’m sure are equally as amazing! Since pictures rarely do anything justice, watch more clips of our kayak experience here.

 

2. Grab some donuts from the Holy Donut.

At this point, trying out popular foods fads has crossed over from an occasional overpriced hobby into a dedicated passion, so naturally I couldn’t visit Portland without  visiting their most publicized donut spot. But this donut shop is far from ordinary; selling donuts made from all-natural ingredients, including Maine potatoes. Yes, potatoes. Coming from someone who is typically not a fan of donuts whatsoever, I’m thankful I live six hours away because I would be here on a regular basis.

Of course, living so far from this gem meant I had to get in my share of flavors and so I ordered three different flavors even though one could easily feed two people. While the Blueberry Lemonade was the clear winner for me, the Coffee Cake Donut and Chocolate Sea Salt were nothing short of excellent. And if you’re worried about trying something out of your comfort zone, I did steal a bite of a friend’s maple bacon donut, which was out of this world!

 

3. Go sailing with Portland Schooner.

There is no better way to make the most of a hot day in Maine than by enjoying the breeze from an old-school Schooner as it sails down the Casco Bay. Portland Schooner is BYO, meaning you can bring your own lunch, beer, wine, etc. But be careful to hold onto your things when tilting from side to side; leaping to grab my backpack which was filled with all my camera gear, as it slowly slid towards the ledge was way more stress than I needed. Between the views, perfect weather, and “Come Sail Away” by the Styx playing in the background, this made for two of the most relaxing hours of our whole stay in Maine

 

4. Have a meal at the Lobster Shack at Two Lights.

Picture this. You’re sat along the rocky shore of Cape Elizabeth, with views of the waves as they break and Portland Head Light, the world’s most photographed lighthouse. Oh, and you’re eating the most affordable, yet fresh tasting seafood you’ve ever had. On first bite, I could already tell that my haddock had most likely been caught that same day and while I have had my share of outstanding seafood, this was beyond all expectations. Each “plate” at Lobster Shack is served with french fries, a biscuit, and a pickle-topped coleslaw. Easy to say I had a difficult time finishing, but of course when in Maine there is always room for blueberry pie. The blueberry mini pie at Lobster Shack is adorable and topped with a brown sugar, cinnamon crumble which pairs perfectly with the fresh blueberries. Forget Maine, this might be one of the best seafood spots I have ever eaten at.

 

5. Take in the view from the Portland Observatory.

Portland may not be the first city you think of in regards to scenic observation decks, but the Portland Observatory, which is definitely not a lighthouse, is a landmark worth visiting. For the last 210 years, the Portland Observatory has provided birds-eye views of Casco Bay and Portland Harbor, as well as a relaxing breeze during hot summer days.

 

6. Have breakfast at Three Sisters.

Three Sisters is actually in Biddeford, about 20 minutes outside of Portland, but if there was ever a breakfast spot worth going out of your way for, this is it. We learned rather quickly that Portland doesn’t have a substantial amount of breakfast spots, and after arriving at the uber-popular American Bayside Cafe only to be told there was a 50 minute wait, we decided to head to the first high-rated breakfast spot that we could find on Apple Maps. Besides being on the lower end price-wise, the dishes at Three Sisters were actually so good that we ended up going again the following day.

I wish I could’ve snapped a photo of my delicious Monte Cristo, which I ordered both days, but I ended up devouring the entire meal in about five minutes. If ham and Swiss sandwiched between two pieces of French toast, served with a raspberry jam and hash browns sounds as mouth watering to you as it did to me, this dish might be right up your alley.

 

Planning your own trip to Portland? Pin this on Pinterest for future reference!

6 Must-Have Experiences in Portland, Maine | A Great Big Hunk of World