Race Recap – Hair of the Dog 5k – January 1, 2019

Happy New Year everyone!

This year’s running adventures started off not with a training run, but rather a race.  This is the second straight year that I’ve run a race on New Year’s Day.  I have to admit that getting out of bed after watching the ball drop is harder than it used to be for this soon to be 40-year old, but knowing that I got my year started off with some exercise is always a good thing.  It was also easier getting out of bed for this year’s race than last year.  The temps on January 1, 2018 were a balmy 21 degrees with a wind chill in the single digits.  This morning, the temp at race time was a muggy 66 degrees according to my Garmin.  The race website posted a race temp of 69.  I’ll take today’s temps every time.

This year’s race was the Hair of the Dog 5k in Williamsburg, Virginia.  Williamsburg is about 45 miles from home.  I chose to make the trip there because the Virginia Beach option to run would have been at Mount Trashmore and considering the miles that I log there during the year as well as the 5k I’m running there on the 12th, I wanted a change of scenery.

This 5k runs you through the campus of the College of William and Mary.  It was certainly a more scenic course than just running through the streets of a city, but I’ve seen prettier college campuses in my travels.  All in all though, it was an enjoyable run (is any 5k really enjoyable?) and if in town, I would certainly do it again.  It’s always fun to run a race where you get to meet up with some local running friends.  Several from our Running Turtles group showed up for this race. Here’s a few shots from before the race.

Now for the race itself.  I had a goal of running this race in 28 minutes or less.  I honestly knew when I woke up that based on how my body felt that it probably wasn’t going to happen so I made my ‘B’ goal to get in under 30 minutes.  My plan was to use a 2:00 run/:30 walk strategy for this race.  This interval pretty much guarantees me to be sub 10 minute miles and considering how I like to push the finish, I felt that I could get under 30 with that.  Well, what I wasn’t prepared for were the hills on this course.  If you live in a more rural area with lots of rolling hills, this course probably wouldn’t have seemed too bad.  I live on the coast.  I have no hills to train on, so for a 5k course to be this hilly, threw me for a loop.  Take a look at the elevation profile.

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The start was congested like most races, although I found it compounded by the fact that several walkers chose to not start at the back of the pack.  Despite having to work my way through the congestion, I ticked off the first mile in 9:14.8. 28 minutes was still in sight if I could somehow manage to hold that pace.  That didn’t happen. Miles two and three were certainly much more hilly than the opening mile and it took its toll. I finished mile 2 in 9:41.3. 28 minutes was not happening, but 30 was certainly still in sight.  Just past mile 2 the hills caught up to me.  My heart was flying and I knew that I had to back off my interval. I switched to 1:30/:30 for the last portion of the race.  I was going to be cutting it close to hit thirty minutes.  Well, after pushing as much as I could down the stretch I crossed the line in 30:02. Ugh!!  I can think of several spots where I’m sure I could have made those 2 seconds up.  I still finished in the top half of the field (163/421) and I was just below the middle spot of my age group and the men’s bracket.  Not bad for a guy that as of this morning was tipping the scales at 255.

It could be pretty easy for me to look at that finish time and get mad at myself.  However, on January 1, 2018, I ran a 5k in 35 minutes and change on a very flat course. I’m also 19 pounds lighter than I was at this point last year.  I still have a long way to go, but I’m going to get there. I get a crack at a flat 5k course next Saturday when I run the Freezer Burn 5k at Mount Trashmore in Virginia Beach.

This race came with very basic swag.  Every participant received a shirt and upon finishing, you received a finisher’s medal.  Post-race eats were pretty standard fare.  I only had a water as I am doing intermittent fasting and my window to eat had not yet opened.  I saw oranges ,bananas, granola bars, as well as the usual adult beverages.  The race was put on by Mettle Events and was very well organized.  I liked that it was a fairly small race but not so small that it felt lonely on the course.  If in town, I will definitely plan on running this race next year.

So, if you are a runner, did you run a New Year’s Day race?  What race and where did you run?  Do you have any specific running goals for 2019?  Let me know in the comments.

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2018 – What A Year

I almost decided to forego with the typical year end blog, largely because a lot happened that I don’t wish to recall.  However, I am reminded of something that my wife said just a couple of days ago. The hard times of 2018 have provided some major learning experiences and I can very honestly say that I am not the man I was just one year ago.

THE BAD

On January 13 of last year, I received word that my mom had been found unresponsive in her home. This was the trigger event that would begin a series of bi-weekly trips to Maryland to check on her.  Finally on Monday, March 12, Mom was taken from the ‘rehabilitation’ facility she was in back to the hospital and we were given the difficult news that her body was shutting down.  We placed her in hospice care and spent the last few days of her life at her side.  On March 15, with myself and her sister Patsy by her side, Mom quietly went home to be with the Lord and to be reunited with Dad and with her parents and oldest sister.  Losing both parents in 8 months is something I would have never fathomed having to go through, but God’s ways are higher than mine.

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Then in November, I received word that my Grandfather (Dad’s dad) had passed away. I am now left with no parents and no grandparents.  I have learned to greatly appreciate the family that I have here and to make sure that I never take them for granted.

THE HARD

Last year, I had my attempt at running my first marathon derailed by my own health issues.  After Mom passed away, I resolved that I was going to do it this year.  On October 20, in Baltimore, I achieved my goal.  I ran the marathon and just to prove my own insanity, I am going to run another next year in Richmond.

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THE GOOD

It would not be right for me to leave out the really cool stuff that happened in 2018.  If you know me, you know that I love broadway shows.  This year, I was able to add two phenomenal shows to my list of performances seen.  The Durham Performing Arts Center is an amazing facility to watch shows from and it’s only 4 hours away so it is an awesome quick getaway location for Beth and I.  This year, we were able to see Phantom of the Opera and then we were fortunate enough to score tickets to see Hamilton.  We already have tickets to see Lion King here in Norfolk in 2019.

Also in the world of music, I was able to cross a concert off of my bucket list.  I had the awesome opportunity to see my favorite band, Toto, play a show here in Virginia Beach. The musical prowess on that stage was unbelievable.

I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t include some theme park and roller coaster stuff here.  We made several trips to our two local parks, Busch Gardens and Kings Dominion.  It was at Kings Dominion where I got to experience my first giga-coaster (300 feet tall), Intimidator 305, and my first coaster from Rocky Mountain Construction (Twisted Timbers). both are absolutely amazing rides.

I also reached a milestone in riding my 100th coaster (Phoenix at Knoebels), and added a second giga coaster to my list on a trip to Carowinds.  Fury 325 is currently my favorite roller coaster on the planet.

Finally, the highlight of my theme park year was our family vacation to Walt Disney World in Orlando.  This trip was a fantastic way to spend our Thanksgiving together as a family and enjoy some world class theme park experiences.  It was an amazing way to cap off the year.

2018 provided it’s twists and turns and I am honestly not sad to say goodbye to it in just a few hours.  That said, I have learned a lot about myself and about God. I am excited to see what is in store for 2019.  I plan to continue my running and them park excursions. I plan on becoming a better worship pastor. Most importantly, I plan on becoming a better father and husband. Beth and the kids deserve the best from me.

I hope that each of you have an absolutely amazing 2019. Happy New Year everyone!

Magic Kingdom: My Survival Guide

So now, it’s time to dive in deeper to each individual park at Walt Disney World Resort. In this series of four blogs I will give some observations about the park (including must see attractions) as well as telling you which attractions to attempt to get Fast Passes for.  I hope that these observations help you as you plan your trip to the Happiest Place on Earth.

OVERVIEW

Magic Kingdom is the quintessential Disney park.  There are few things as iconic as the view of Cinderella’s Castle as you head down Main Street USA. This is also the most attended park and consequently, the busiest park. Don’t stress. Despite the crowds, you can still get a lot accomplished in a day at Magic Kingdom.  Just remember that there is A LOT to do at MK so if at all possible, you want to plan to spend a solid two days covering this park.

MK is broken up into several lands.  They are Main Street USA, Adventureland, Fronteirland, Liberty Square, Fantasyland (includes new Fantasyland), and Tomorrowland. Cinderella’s castle serves as the hub and there is access to each of these areas from the central hub.

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MUST SEE ATTRACTIONS

There are several attractions at MK that can be considered must see.  For thrill seekers, you want to conquer all of the mountains (Space, Splash and Big Thunder) as well as the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.

For those who want to enjoy the more nostalgic side of the Magic Kingdom you don’t want to miss Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Haunted Mansion, Peter Pan’s Flight, It’s A Small World, and The Carousel of Progress.

From the entertainment side of things there are so many things to choose from.  I would classify the must see experiences here as Mickey’s Philharmagic Symphony (a 10 minute 4d movie experience), Enchanted Tales with Belle (this is my new favorite and if you have kids, trust me, do it), and Happily Ever After Fireworks. There are so many more that you can see here, but these are my personal favorites.

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Hannah dancing with Belle at Enchanted Tales with Belle

STRATEGY

Based on the consistent wait times that we saw at the park, here are the rides that I would recommend trying to obtain a Fast Pass for.

  1. Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
  2. Space Mountain
  3. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
  4. Splash Mountain
  5. Peter Pan’s Flight
  6. Haunted Mansion
  7. Dumbo the Flying Elephant
  8. It’s A Small World

I know that you can only get 3 Fast Passes to start your day.  I recommend that you book them early in the day. Why?  After you have used your 3rd FP, you are allowed to go into the app or use a kiosk in the park and claim an additional FP.  You can repeat this process after you use each subsequent FP.  If you have kids that want to do a character meet and greet, use one of your initial three FP for that.  You’ll be glad you did as the standby lines for those can often reach an hour.

Now, there are two strategies that you can use at the opening of the park.  I tried both and depending on what you want to accomplish, they both have their advantages. If you are unable to obtain a FP for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, I would recommend rope dropping this attraction.  Get to MK no later than an hour before official opening and make your way to the Fantasyland Rope Drop.  This is the second rope drop that you will come to on the right hand side of the castle.  The first is Tomorrowland. When the rope drops, follow the cast members directly to the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train queue. We did this and were on the ride in 5 minutes. I would find it hard to think you would wait more than 15 minutes as long as you weren’t way back in line at rope drop.

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This was our spot in line for rope drop when we did Mine Train

If you have a FP for Mine Train, you have two options.  Rope drop Space Mountain, or do what we did our first day in MK and head straight to Adventureland and knock out several attractions very quickly.  When we did this, we managed to ride Jungle Cruise, Magic Carpets of Aladdin, Pirates of the Caribbean, and we met Aladdin all within the first hour we were in the park.  I’m not sure that you could knock out another section of the park in an hour if you rope dropped it.

When it comes to booking Fast Passes, have a plan A, B, and C and be flexible.  I also recommend you knowing the layout of the park and try to book Fast Passes in a way that will logistically make sense.  We made this mistake one day.  Our three FP were Pirates, Space Mountain, and Big Thunder.  This had us going back and forth in the park for the first part of our day.

I also highly recommend taking an hour or so out of your day and enjoy a relaxing table-service dinner, even if it means stepping out of the park for a bit.  Magic Kingdom is exhausting and it’s well worth it to get out of the heat and into the A/C to enjoy a meal.

Finally, you can’t miss the Happily Ever After Fireworks.  We actually watched them every night we were at Disney. All but one night was from our hotel, but you have to see them from in front of the castle. It’s simply magical.IMG_2197.JPG

Well, that’s the Magic Kingdom in a nutshell.  There’s so much more I could have gone into, but hopefully this gets you started.

If you’re a frequent visitor to Disney, what are your tips and tricks for MK? Leave them below in the comments.

Top Ten Wooden Coaster List

A few days ago I unveiled my top 10 steel coaster list.  Now it’s time to unveil my top 10 wooden coasters.  In all honesty, I found this list harder to compile than the steel list. This is most likely because I just haven’t ridden a ton of great wooden coasters.  Let me be clear. A good wooden coaster is one of my favorite experiences in an amusement park. However, so much of their quality is dependent on the level of care and maintenance that the park is willing to put into them.  Consequently, 3 of my top 10 are now defunct.  If you’re a coaster enthusiast, try to guess which 3 they are before going through the list and let me know if you got them right.  Now on to the list.

10 – InvadR – Busch Gardens Williamsburg

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The inclusion of this coaster in my list probably reveals two things.  First of all, that I haven’t ridden a ton of really good wooden coasters.  Second, Busch Gardens Williamsburg is my home park and I have a soft spot for most of the coasters there.  InvadR is a new coaster built by GCI that opened in 2017.  It’s certainly not the wildest and craziest ride out there, but for a smaller coaster, it’s a lot of fun.  You get much more airtime than I expected out of it and whether you’re in the front or the back, it’s a fun ride.

9 – Wildcat – Hersheypark

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We move from a new GCI coaster to their very first build.  Up until a few years ago this ride would not have made my list.  It was so rough that it was almost unridable for me.  Then, they replaced the trains and gave the ride some TLC and it’s running great.  That doesn’t mean that it’s a smooth ride.  It’s not. It simply runs and rides the way I believe it was intended to when it was opened in the late 1990’s.

8 – Twister – Knoebels

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This is an often overlooked wooden coaster at Knoebels because of the park’s other woodie, Phoenix. However, Twister is a fantastic ride.  This is not an airtime machine, but it packs a pretty solid punch with lateral forces.  The double helix on this ride is massive and pretty forceful.  Combine that with the very unique layout of this ride and you have a winner.

7 – Wild One – Six Flags America

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This is one of the oldest coasters in the country and it is simply a classic. I love the feel of an old classic wooden coaster and this is one of the best out there.  It’s got a little bit of everything and if you’re in the DC area, you need to check it out.

6 – The Beast – Kings Island

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Is it really a top wooden coaster list if this one doesn’t make it?  The Beast is one of the most iconic coasters out there.  It is still the longest wooden roller coaster in the world and promises to throw you in every direction possible for over 4 minutes of ride time.  There are those enthusiasts that call this ride overrated. I’m not one of them.

5 – Rattler – Six Flags Fiesta Texas (now defunct)

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Few wooden coasters are put in such a dramatic setting as this.  The lift hill rising above the quarry wall before dropping you through an insane layout.  Several years ago, this wooden beast was given the RMC treatment and is now Iron Rattler.

4 – Gwazi – Busch Gardens Tampa (now defunct)

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This wooden gem featured one of my favorite ‘gimmicks.’  It dueled.  Riders could ride either Lion or Tiger and get a completely different ride experience on each side. Dueling coasters are so much fun with the constant fly-bys and crossovers.  Gwazi utilized these so well.  It has been standing but not operating for several years and earlier this year, it was all but officially confirmed that RMC will be working their magic on this coaster.  Can’t wait!

3 – Son of Beast – Kings Island (now defunct)

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Long before the days of Rocky Mountain Construction and their mastery of twisting wood into inversions, came this mammoth coaster. This coaster was absolutely massive and it included a loop! I was fortunate enough to ride this during its inaugural season and fell in love with it.  Unfortunately, this coaster aged very poorly and became increasingly rough.  They tried to salvage it by removing the loop, but it didn’t work.  It stood without operating and was ultimately torn down.  The inverted coaster Banshee now takes up this plot of land at Kings Island.

2 – Lightning Racer – Hersheypark

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Remember when I said that I loved dueling coasters?  Lightning Racer is a perfect combination of dueling and racing.  The two layouts, Thunder and Lightning, are not identical.  You get several fly by moments and plenty of racing action.  In my opinion this is one of the best coasters that GCI has ever built.  What’s even better?  It rarely has a line.

1 – Phoenix – Knoebels

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Phoenix will forever hold a special place to me.  It became my 100th roller coaster ridden this summer.  This is another coaster that many feel is overrated. I strongly disagree.  This wooden coaster is smooth. It is an absolute airtime machine. Couple that with the fact that there are no seat belts and the only restraint is an old-school buzz bar and you have a masterpiece of a ride.  If you don’t know what a buzz bar is, the only way I can describe it is to tell you that despite being a grown man of over 200 pounds, there was a good 8 inches between the top of my legs and the bottom of the bar.  This meant that I spent more time out of my seat than in it.  I honestly felt like I was standing up at several points of the ride.  It was great.

Well. There you have it.  I’m sure my list will change next year as I will get to experience Mystic Timbers at Kings Island.  Then again, maybe it won’t.  That’s the beauty of roller coaster lists.  They’re completely subjective.  Each rider has things they like and things they don’t like that will help them determine which rides make their list. What rides make up your list?  What coasters did I leave out that surprised you?  What coasters did I include that you disagree with?  Leave a comment below.

Darling’s Disney Tips

For the first of my more in depth looks at our recent trip to the Walt Disney World Resort, I thought that I would share some tips that we learned both from others sharing with us, but also from experience this trip.  It had been 15 years since Beth and I had traveled to Disney (they were using paper fast passes and only for certain rides) so to an extent this was a brand new experience for us.  I feel that we learned a great deal to make our next trip in a year or so even more enjoyable.  Let’s get started.

FLY – Don’t Drive

Unless you live very close to Orlando, FLY! We chose to drive to save some money and while it did save us some money, it made the trip even more exhausting.  I drove down with just the kids so we split it up into a two day drive (six hours each day), but after Beth flew down to join us mid-week, we drove back in one day.  After spending countless hours in Disney parks for a week, the last thing your body wants is to be stuck inside of a car for 12 hours.  Our kids handled it phenomenally (they slept most of it), but for Beth and I it was brutal.

In addition to travel time being saved, there are several other reasons to fly.  As long as you fly into Orlando International and not Sanford (which is an hour away anyway), Disney will pick you up at the airport and take you to your hotel using Disney’s Magical Express. (Side note – you must be staying at a Disney hotel, to take advantage of this service for free.)

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Another reason to fly is parking fees. In the week we were there, I drove my car twice and only left Disney property once. That said, we were charged a parking fee that totaled $24/night just for our car to be on the hotel’s lot.  That fee would have been more if we had used valet parking.  It is noteworthy that the fee changes depending on which level of resort you are staying at, but still, it’s money in your pocket and not theirs if you don’t bring your car.

The last reason to fly is the ease with which you can get around Disney property.  Every hotel provides some form of transportation to the parks.  If you stay at the Grand Floridian, Contemporary, or Polynesian Resorts, you have monorail access to Magic Kingdom and Epcot.  I believe that those resorts also have boat access to Magic Kingdom. The other hotels provide bus service to all of the parks as well as Disney Springs.

There is a small caveat here.  Going from resort to resort may require the use of an Uber or Lyft. Had we not driven I would have needed to do this one time when we had dinner reservations at the Cape May Cafe and Disney’s Beach Club Resort.

STAY ON DISNEY PROPERTY

I don’t care if you stay at a value resort or if you splurge on a deluxe resort, you have to stay on property.  I’ve already addressed the transportation benefits of staying on property, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  Each resort is uniquely themed and I can promise you that the guest service you will receive is second to none.  Oh, and if you stay on property, you don’t have to drive a car to the parks and pay the parking fee for the park.  It’s a no brainer, and to be honest, it’s part of the whole Disney experience anyway.

Another perk of being on property is something called Extra Magic Hours.  There are days where a certain park will either open early or stay open later exclusively for guests staying on Disney property.

We used a travel agent that we highly recommend. MamaMouse If you happen to book through her, please let her know that you heard about her through this blog.

TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE DISNEY DINING PLAN

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I get it.  When you first see the price (regardless of which option you choose) it seems like a lot of money.  Let’s be real.  You’re not leaving the park to eat unless you’re going back to a resort restaurant in which case you’re paying Disney prices anyway.  Get the dining plan and then your food is already payed for (minus gratuity) and you don’t have to stress over not wanting to order the most expensive thing on the menu in a sit down restaurant.  I also encourage you to get a plan that include one sit-down mean per day.  You need to be able to sit down in the A/C for an hour and enjoy a very good meal.

MOBILE ORDERING

Disney has recently rolled at mobile ordering for counter service restaurants in the parks via the My Disney Experience app. Take advantage of this. On busy days, you can easily spend 20-30 minutes in line for food. With the app, you can order on your way to the restaurant, submit the order upon arrival, and typically have your food in 3-4 minutes. This is a game changer and based on the lines we saw, one that very few are taking advantage of.

BOOK YOUR TRIP AT LEAST 6 MONTHS IN ADVANCE

While spontaneous trips are fun, if you do Disney on a moment’s notice, you will ultimately short change yourself some experiences.  You are allowed to make dining reservations six months before your stay starts.  I was online the minute that our booking was allowed and still missed out on one of the reservations we wanted.

You are also allowed to book fast passes 60 days before your stay begins.  I will dive into which rides you should FP and how you should try to plan them out in the individual park blogs, but I will tell you this: there were multiple rides that we were unable to obtain a FP for and consequently we did not ride them as the stand-by lines were just too long to attempt to navigate with two kids.

GET TO THE PARKS EARLY ENOUGH TO BE THERE FOR ROPE DROP

What is rope drop?  About an hour before the parks officially open, you are able to get in through the gate and proceed to the main hub of the park.  Each spoke of the hub leads to a different section of the park and will be roped off.  Crowds gather at all of these spots.  Then at the park opening, cast members will drop the rope and (in a brilliant move to prevent stampeding) lead the group into that section of the park and direct them to the lines for each ride.  This is a great way to be able to experience a ride that you don’t have a fast pass for without waiting in a terribly long line.  For example, at Magic Kingdom, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train was posting a 2 hour wait all day our first day there.  The kids and I braved the 2 hour line at the end of the night to ride it.  On our second day at Magic Kingdom, we did rope drop and went straight to the same ride.  We were on it in 5 minutes.  I recommend being at the parks no later than an hour before the park opens.  This should assure you a solid spot in line for rope drop.

TAKE ADVANTAGE OF PHOTO PASS – PURCHASE MEMORY MAKER

This is something that you simply have to do.  For $169 ($199 if you wait until you’re there to purchase it) you have access to every photo taken by a Disney photographer during your stay. Simply by scanning your magic band, your photos will appear in your MyDisneyExperience app.  If a ride takes a photo but doesn’t have a place to scan your band, don’t sweat it. The receiver in your magic band will send a signal and your ride photos will show up in your account.  It’s pretty incredible technology and it’s well worth the investment.  Also, in some locations, the photographers are able to add a little magic to your photos.

*Note – if you purchase your memory maker in advance, you can not use it for at least 3 days so make sure to purchase it early enough that you don’t lose out on any photos.

IF YOU SEE EITHER OF THESE SIGHTS HEADING YOUR DIRECTION….JUST GET OUT OF THE WAY.

Ok, I’ll admit that I’m being slightly humorous with this one.  That being said, I learned very quickly that moms with strollers are to be feared when roaming around the Disney parks. They are typically on a mission and will not let anything slow them down.  Trust me, it’s best to just step aside.

Now, as for the other picture. It’s a very common sight to see groups wearing matching shirts at Disney and it’s a good idea to be able to spot people from your group.  Unfortunately, some groups use these matching shirts as a method to force their way into a line.  It was not uncommon to see one person from a group enter a stand-by line and then two minutes later, here comes the other 15 people from this group pushing their way through the line to get to the lone member of the group that went ahead.

What other tips and tricks do you have?  Share them in the comments below.

My Top Ten Steel Roller Coasters

I have begun to add a little bit more theme park related stuff to my blog, so it seemed only natural to at some point include my top 10 roller coaster lists.  I will post my favorite steel and wooden coasters and then I will finish the series up with a post of my top ten overall coasters.

For the sake of background, I have been riding coasters since I was 6 or 7 years old, but would probably only call myself an enthusiast for the last couple of years.  My coaster count is modest at 111 (112 for those that count Sea World’s Journey to Atlantis as a credit).  What I really love is that my oldest daughter is becoming a bit of an enthusiast as well.  In the few years that she’s been riding, we have her count up to 44 (45 with Journey to Atlantis).  Next year we will both add several credits as we make our first ever trip to Cedar Point and my first trip to Kings Island since 2000.  I’m certain that that trip will impact my list, but as we’ve reached the closing of 2018 and I know I won’t add any new credits in the next month, this seems like a great time to post my lists.

We’ll start with number 10.

The Incredible Hulk – Universal’s Islands of Adventure

I haven’t ridden this coaster since 2003.  That said, the initial uphill launch into the first inversion is something that you don’t quickly forget.

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Photo Credit tripsavvy.com

Number 9

Alpengeist – Busch Gardens Williamsburg

This may be controversial for some enthusiasts as I rank this my second favorite inverted coaster.  While it hasn’t aged as well as others, this ride is absolutely relentless.  I love it.

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Number 8

Twisted Timbers – Kings Dominion

This is the only RMC on my list probably because it’s the only one I’ve ridden.  Next year that should change.  RMC took a bad wooden coaster and turned it into a smooth as glass airtime machine.  I also really like the barrel roll drop on this ride.

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Number 7

Cheetah Hunt – Busch Gardens Tampa

One of three Intamin rides on my list.  This is a triple launch coaster that packs a great punch.  If I could change one thing about this ride, it would be the restraints.  I would love to see them go to the softer restraints like I-305 has.  It would make the ride much more comfortable.

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Number 6

Drachen Fire – Busch Gardens Williamsburg (Now Defunct)

Oh how I wish this ride was still in existence.  Easily the most unique layout that Arrow ever attempted.  It certainly had its flaws as it was notoriously rough. Despite the roughness, it was an absolutely incredible ride.  I’ll cause some controversy again and say that the layout of Drachen Fire was far superior to its ‘sister’ coaster, Kumba, at Busch Gardens Tampa.  I rode Kumba again this year and found it to be running incredibly rough.  I hope that I just got a bad ride on it, but that was my experience.

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Photo from Pinterest

Number 5

Montu – Busch Gardens Tampa

This is my favorite invert.  Up until last week, I hadn’t ridden it since 2000 and consequently I would’ve ranked Alpengeist ahead of it.  It isn’t.  Montu has aged better, delivers a smoother ride, and uses the terrain even better than Alpie does.  It’s a great invert.

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Number 4

Mako – Sea World Orlando

B&M Hypers are great rides, however, most of them are incredibly similar.  Prior to riding Mako, Apollo’s Chariot was my favorite of these coasters.  Mako is just an amazing ride.  The banking on a couple of the turns is crazy and there are some airtime hills where you float out of your seat and stay there for what seems like forever.

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Photo Credit alcapones.com

Number 3

Skyrush – Hersheypark

You either love this ride or you hate it.  I love it.  It delivers one of the most out of control ride experiences out there, especially if you’re on the wing seat.  The restraints are the issue as they get tighter and tighter on your thighs as the ride goes on.  This has earned it the nickname ThighCrush. All that aside, this is just a crazy ride.

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Number 2

Intimidator 305 – Kings Dominion

This is the first giga-coaster I ever rode and boy does it pack a punch.  This is also the only coaster that I have ever greyed out on.  Intamin knocked it out of the park when they built this machine.  I wish it delivered some more air time, but this ride is about speed and fast turns.

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Number 1

Fury 325 – Carowinds

What a ride.  This may be B&M’s perfect ride.  It’s smooth as glass and delivers airtime in bunches.  Aside from the 325 foot, 95mph drop, my favorite moment on this ride is the treble clef turnaround.  The element looks great and is a nice change of pace from the typical B&M turnaround.

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Well, that’s my top 10 steel coaster list.  What are your thoughts?  What does your list look like?  Do you have any strong disagreements with my list?  Leave your comments below and don’t forget to follow The Journey of Ascent on FB and Twitter.

Darlings Do Disney

Earlier this week we returned from a week long excursion to the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida.  For those that are really into theme park stuff, I will do some more detailed blogging about each park in the very near future. However, understanding that some of my readers would find that discussion boring, I thought I would give a quick run-down of what was an absolutely amazing trip for our family.

On Sunday, November 18, I left Virginia Beach with only my two daughters in the car with me.  Beth had classes on Monday and Tuesday that she could not miss so she would fly to Florida and join us on Wednesday.

We broke the trip down up into two segments.  We drove to Summerville, SC on Sunday where we would spend the night.  While there, we were able to meet up with several friends from the area for an early breakfast at Cracker Barrel. I was absolutely blown away at how many folks came out at 7:30 am to say hello and share a meal.

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From Summerville, we would continue our journey to Orlando.  Realizing that we were going to be passing through Jacksonville, I shot a message to a college friend of ours to see if he would want to meet up for lunch.  It was great to catch up with Larry as well.IMG_2173

The girls and I arrived at the Walt Disney World Resort around 5 pm on Monday and checked into our hotel.  As I mentioned in an earlier blog, this was a bucket list trip for us, so we stayed at the most amazing hotel I’ve ever stayed in before, The Grand Floridian.  Here are a few shots from around the hotel.

 

On Tuesday, the real fun began as we started our first of five days in the Disney parks.  We would do two days at Magic Kingdom and one day at each of the other parks (Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and Epcot).

As it was Thanksgiving week, the parks were absolutely slammed, but that didn’t stop us from enjoying our time there.  Of course, once Beth arrived on Wednesday afternoon, it was even better.  I can tell you that taking two kids around a Disney Park without any other adult backup is exhausting.  That said, it was an amazing time with my girls.

For the sake of brevity and not getting too in depth of the details, I will show you a few pics from each of the parks we visited while at the MK.  My in depth blogs about each park will have more photos, but I just wanted to give you a taste of each park in this blog.

Magic Kingdom

 

I will pass along one Magic Kingdom tip.  If you can get a Fast Pass for the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, do it.  If you can’t, get to the park about an hour before opening and go to the Fantasyland rope drop and head straight to the ride.  We waited almost 2 hours to ride it on Tuesday night.  By doing the rope drop on Sunday, we got on the ride in a matter of 5 minutes.

Animal Kingdom

 

Before the questions come, we were not able to ride Flight of Passage.  I was disappointed, but after being unable to secure Fast Passes for it, we were not willing to give up 3 hours of our day to stand in line for it.  We did have Fast Passes for the Na’avi River Journey and let me say this.  It’s an absolutely gorgeous ride, but if you don’t have FP for it, please do NOT wait in a 2 hour line for it.  If I had waited in the standby line for it, I would have been incredibly disappointed.

Epcot

 

I really like Epcot, but be prepared to walk A LOT. This park along with Animal Kingdom has its attractions much more spread out. If you have the opportunity to go during the Christmas season, their Festival of the Holidays is amazing.  The centerpiece of this event is the Christmas Candlelight Procession.  What an incredible show.  In fact, this coming Tuesday night, December 4, at 8:15, Disney will be live streaming the event.  I would highly encourage you to check it out.  Neil Patrick Harris will be the guest narrator for that night’s production.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios

 

Until Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is completed, Toy Story Land is the big draw of this park.  For the same reason we couldn’t ride Flight of Passage, we couldn’t ride the Slinky Dog Coaster here.  I’m really bummed on that one as it is now the only coaster credit at Disney that I don’t have (sorry, I got coaster nerdy there). This is my favorite of the parks there that are not named Magic Kingdom (it’s in a league of its own).

We did one non-Disney related thing on this vacation.  On Saturday, Beth and Hannah stayed at the resort to rest while Carrie and I went on a coaster credit binge.  We hit Sea World and Busch Gardens Tampa and were able to ride most of the coasters in both parks.  It was a ton of fun. I’ll also blog in much more detail about that in a separate post as I have some commentary regarding Busch Gardens Tampa that wouldn’t fit into the theme of this blog.

I can safely say that my family has been bitten by the Disney Bug.  While we certainly won’t be able to stay at the Grand Floridian again (at least not for a long while), we are trying to plan to go back to Disney about every 12-18 months.  It truly is a magical place that if you have never experienced it, you should.  I also highly recommend staying at a Disney Resort if you are able.  They provide transportation to all of the parks from their hotels and they’ll even pick you up at the airport (as long as you fly into Orlando International and not Sanford).

Look for more in depth blogs about the parks, food, and resorts in the coming days.  Be sure to subscribe and you can also follow The Journey of Ascent on FB and Twitter.