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Thursday, December 30, 2010

BEST OF 2010: Winery and Brewery

Travel should be fun!  One way we like to have fun on vacation is to visit local vintners and breweries to see what great wines and beers we can try.  Sometimes, we have gone on a trip just to try the wines, like we did in Napa Valley and Amador County last year.  Here are our picks for the best winery and brewery we went to last year:


Story Winery makes some great zinfandels.  I really like their Red Passion Zin and their Miss Zin which is a 50/50 blend of zinfandel and mission grapes.  While this is all well and good, visiting Story Winery takes the experience to a whole new level.  


It takes some persistence to find this little tasting room, in an old miner's shack, located down a series of ever smaller winding country roads.  Once you do get there, past the sign warning equally to beware of rattlesnakes and not drinking another wine maker's product on the premises, you are rewarded with a cool glass of champagne before you even think about tasting the wine.


But do go ahead and taste.  The wines...especially the reds...are spectacular and the staff are fun and down-to-earth.  Bring a picnic, buy a bottle, and step outside to one of the most spectacular picnic areas on earth where you can enjoy your lunch and wine at the edge of the Consumnes River canyon overlooking the rows of old vine zinfandel trailing down the hillside.


Not far from the tourist mega center of the Disneyland Resort, off of the Chapman exit of the 57 freeway near the junction of the 5, an anonymous industrial park holds a great beer find.  The Bruery makes an assortment of ales, mostly Belgian style, that are truly awe inspiring.  Only open on weekend nights, go here and you'll think you're finding a particular good speakeasy from the prohibition days.


Each time we go, we find another brew worthy of taking home.  They also brewed a sour Flemish style ale that took a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver.  Unfortunately, they ran out and are now in the middle of the 18 month (!) process of making the next batch.


On certain days they also tap a keg and pour via the only hand-pump tap I've ever seen in America.


Congratulations to our winners.  


You might also like to take a look at our Year in Review.


-Darryl

Monday, December 27, 2010

Best of 2010 - Hotel

In the lobby at St. Louis

Best Chain - Drury Inn and Suites.  Wow.  What don't you get at this great hotel chain?  Free hot breakfast, free cocktail hour, free wifi or ethernet internet (your choice!), free popcorn and soda all day long, free hour of domestic long distance each day, free 15 minutes of calls to Mexico or Canada each day, free snack/light dinner each night.  I'm probably missing something else that they give away free with your room here too.

And the rooms?  Ranging from great to spectacular.  A small upcharge gets you into a large, two room suite which are also available as accessible units with roll-in shower in a large bathroom.  There are also fitness rooms and swimming pools.  Stay at their line of Plaza hotels and you'll be in the lap of luxury.  Among the locations we were at was The Plaza at the Arch in St. Louis which is among the most luxurious hotels we've seen this year.  I'd go back there in a second, what a great hotel!  This all for around $70 - $120 at most locations.

To win our award, a hotel must allow you to book an accessible room online.

I should also mention that the staff here is so friendly and helpful that you'll be spoiled for anywhere else.

Best independent hotel - Flamingo Resort in Santa Rosa, California.  Great, true resort hotel very close to Napa Valley.  If it had slot machines, you'd swear you were in Vegas circa 1960.  This Flamingo was built around the same time as the Vegas version and is a perfectly restored piece of retro Americana.  A huge courtyard with an olympic size pool as the centerpiece invites a relaxed, party atmosphere in the summer.  Nearby, a large restaurant and nightclub complete the scene.

We like the large accessible rooms in the Executive wing at the back of the property.  At around 500 sq. feet, this room is as big as a suite and features a king size bed, a large sofabed, large flat screen TV, and an accessible bathroom with roll-in shower.  Rooms normally run around $150 but frequent specials can be found here for less than $100.

Although there is a fitness room on the property, guests also have access to a huge fitness club located adjacent to the back of the hotel.

A great location with numerous good restaurants withing walking distance, downtown Santa Rosa a 5 minute drive or bus ride away, and a quick half-hour jaunt over the hills will put you in Calistoga at the top of Napa Valley.  Sonoma is also nearby.

Congratulations to this year's hotel winners.


While you're here you may want to check out our Year In Review.

-Darryl

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Best of 2010 - Accessible Destination

There were two strong contenders for this year's title.  Both had great accessible transportation and nice, compact downtown areas to walk around in.  Both had great accessible sports venues and both had a nice variety of accessible hotel rooms.  It was close, and St. Louis was almost chosen but it loses out to our winner due to not having as much to do in its downtown area and also the wheelchair unfriendly Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Park (the Gateway Arch) and riverfront.

Our winner is the capitol of the Golden State: Sacramento, California.  Great accessible light rail service augmented by a good bus system serves this area well.  In the downtown area are many sights to see and activities to do.  We especially like Old Sacramento on the riverfront (easily accessible), the Capitol Building, Sutter's Fort, and especially walking across the golden Tower Bridge to Raley Field to watch the Sacramento River Cats play baseball.

See our report on this year's winner here:  Sacramento Trip Report.

Congratulations to this year's winner.



While you're here you may want to check out our Year In Review.

-Darryl

Monday, December 20, 2010

Best of 2010 - Airline

Do a job well and do it consistently.  Two ways to easy success.  Why is it so rare to find somebody that can do it?  Well, someone can and for the second year in a row, Southwest Airlines wins our airline of the year cudos.

Consistency, on-time performance, no hidden fees, friendly and helpful staff, comfort, good prices, and good equipment handling are longtime hallmarks of this year's Airline of the Year - Southwest Airlines.

Long known as a no-frills, budget carrier Southwest, by being consistent, has evened it up with the legacy carriers. This year's flight to Cincinnati, on another "big" carrier (who ended up merged with another) we were subjected to wheelchair loading rules made up on the fly...one time we were boarded first, another time last...told no seat changes were available only to have our seating assignments changed without our permission; and big fees for checked luggage. 

It's bad enough that you have to endure the indignities of TSA when you get to the airport, it's another when your airline continues proving that the worst part of traveling is the actual traveling.

On the other hand, Southwest had clean planes, friendly cabin staff, the best baggage handlers when it came to loading our chair, free checked luggage, free snacks - on the longer flights even approaching a light meal, free use of pillows and blankets, no delays, and low prices.

The only knock I can think of is that there is no assigned seating on Southwest and it can be a free-for-all to find a seat. Get there early if you don't qualify for pre-boarding to get one of the first boarding passed - Southwest has three tiers, A, B, and C, and are handed out first-come, first-served. A boards first, B second, and C last.

Congratulations to Southwest for being consistently (there's that word again) the best airline we've flown.


While you're here, you may want to see our Year In Review.

-Darryl

Friday, December 17, 2010

TRAVELS IN 2010...

It's getting to that time where we look back over the last year and reflect.  Soon, we will also be posting our selections for our "Best of 2010" winners, and then it's back on the road!  Here is where we were over the last year, we didn't get to any international destinations this year...except a quick jaunt across the Mexican border...but did manage to see a hunk of our own country.  Click on the links to view the reports, photos, and videos:


Our travel year starts off after Christmas when we're worn out from the preparations, the parties, the dinners, the luncheons, etc.  This year, our first trip was a road trip up to Napa Valley.  It was a bit rainy at times, cold at others, but it was still a fun trip highlighted by one of our favorite resorts, great wines, and a restaurant list inspired by Guy Fieri.

Part one of Napa Valley
Part two of Napa Valley


Next, I assigned Tim the task of planning our family's big trip of the year.  He has never had anything to do with trip planning before so I thought this would be a good learning experience for him.  It was.  I asked Tim to blog about it here and he responded with a series of posts title "Trip Planning 101."  Here are the lessons he learned along the way:

Trip Planning 101 - Chapter 1
Trip Planning 101 - Chapter 2
Trip Planning 101 - Chapter 3
Trip Planning 101 - Chapter 4
Trip Planning 101 - Chapter 5
Trip Planning 101 - Budget Update

Before Tim's trip is taken, we take a little time to head to one of our favorite undiscovered weekend destinations.  Don't laugh...it's Bakersfield, which is actually a dynamite location for a quick, cheap, getaway from Los Angeles:

Bakersfield Part 1
Bakersfield Part 2

Late in May, we started on the Great Midwest Baseball Tour, of course planned by Tim.  We flew to Cincinnati, and then embarked on a road trip of massive proportions to continue on to St. Louis and then Kansas City before flying home:

Midwest Baseball Tour Part 1
Midwest Baseball Tour Part 2
Midwest Baseball Tour Part 3
Midwest Baseball Tour Part 4
Midwest Baseball Tour Part 5
Midwest Baseball Tour Part 6

The end of summer took us on a three-legged tour through the middle of California, starting in Sacramento, continuing on to one of my favorite parts of the state...the suprisingly almost tourist-free Gold Country of the Motherlode...and then up the the jewel of the Sierra, Lake Tahoe for a beach day before coming back down for wine tasting and some great food.

Sacramento and the Gold Country
Amador County Wine Country
Lake Tahoe and the Motherlode

Next up was a first-hand look at medical tourism along the border of California, Arizona, and Mexico.  We visit the medical mecca of Los Algodones...a tiny speck of a Mexican border town near the extreme southeastern point of California...get some glasses, and continue on where we spend some time in a Yuma prison.

Medical Tourism - Los Algodones, Mexico
Medical Tourism - Yuma, Arizona

While in Yuma, we shot an on-location Cocktail Hour video featuring a premium tequila tasting with two of my Mexican uncles who also happen to be quite the tequila experts.

Tequila Tasting with the Tios

Speaking of The Cocktail Hour, the (fairly) weekly drinking show has proven to be one of the most popular features on the blog.   Not specifically a travel feature, it usually spotlights a drink recipe or taste off, but we did take it on location a few times besides the tequila party in Yuma:

Belgian Beer Festival - Sierra Madre, California
Tequila Party at Rudy's - Monrovia, California
Cincinnati Pub Crawl

Back on the road, we featured a trip to Monterey, Pacific Grove, and Carmel:

Monterey and Pacific Grove Part one
Monterey and Pacific Grove Part two

And then we finish up this year's travels with a new trip to another unknown destination, Southern California's Inland Empire:

Inland Empire Part one
Inland Empire Part two
Inland Empire Wines
Inland Empire Amusement Parks

That wraps up 2010's travels for The World on Wheels.  We're on a slight travel hiatus right now due to home construction and the holidays but will be back on the road very soon.


Watch for our "Best of..." picks coming up, some new Cocktail Hours, a few Classic Trips to fill the blank spaces, and you can also follow me (Darry Musick) on Facebook for the daily goings on of The World on Wheels family.

-Darryl

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

TRIP REPORT: Inland Empire Amusement Parks


Everybody knows about Disneyland, most people know about Knott’s Berry Farm and Universal Studios, and many also know about Six Flags Magic Mountain.  Those make up the Big Four amusement parks in Southern California.  What most don’t know is that there are several smaller parks dotted around the region.  Today, we’ll focus on those in the area east of Los Angeles known as the Inland Empire (IE).

Besides seeing a slice of Americana you’d be hard pressed to see in the neighboring area to the west, these smaller parks have an added advantage of being at least half the price of their better known Southern California brethren.

Fiesta Village is a small park in Colton, just off of the 215 freeway at Washington Street.  A hillside location and a surplus ski lift enabled it to open up some popular waterslides in the summer, expanding on their miniature golf.  Now, they’ve added a few small amusement park rides for thrills and a roller rink for spills.  Free admission, various charges for rides and attractions.

Picture courtesy of Flickr
Lorena Javier under CC-BY license

Scandia, part of a chain of family fun centers, operates a fairly extensive park next to Interstate 15 in Ontario, between the 10 and 60 freeways.  Of note here is the Scandia Screamer, a highly rated roller coaster that will give you some real thrills as it dives through its metal skeleton.  Also featuring such standard rides as tilt-a-whirl, hammerhead, and a swinging ship.  Free admission, unlimited ride passes are $22.95 for adults and $17.95 for kids.  Individual ride tickets are also available.

The granddaddy of the Inland Empire amusement parks is Castle Park in Riverside, along the 91 freeway between the La Sierra and Polk exits.  Started as a miniature golf course in 1976, this park was the product of the imagination of Bud Hurlbut who created such iconic rides as the Log Jammer and the Calico Mine Train at Knott’s Berry Farm.  Now owned by a large amusement park company, the park has over thirty rides including three coasters.  It’s also home to a large and imaginative mini golf course and a go kart track.  Ride park admission is $21.99 for adults and $14.99 for kids which includes unlimited rides.  Separate prices for other attractions.

-Darryl
Copyright 2010 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

TRAVEL GEAR: Christmas Gift Ideas for Travelers

It's Support the Blog Day here at The World on Wheels.  Below are links to products at Amazon.com that we think would make great presents for those on your holiday gift list.  By visiting Amazon and buying your gear through these links, you also help support our mission financially at no extra cost to you. 

If you'd like to support the blog in a more direct way, you can donate to this site via the PayPal button to your left labeled Tim's Tip Jar (all money generated by this site goes to support him).  We also accept advertising, if interested shoot us an e-mail at dmusick - at - gmail.com and we'll discuss opportunities for you.

Thanks for your support...
If you're going to Europe, Rick Steves produces just about the best guide books there are.  This would be a great present for any of your friends or family that might be planning that trip across the pond next year.
This is essential for traveling out of the country.  The world has many different electric systems with their own style of outlets.  This item has come in very handy for us to use hair dryers, laptops, charge cameras, and more.  A little money goes a long way with this adapter. 
My wife bought a few of these a few years ago and we've been using them ever since, both at home and on the road.  This will save many stubbed toes and banged knees when you're trying to find the bathroom in the middle of the night in an unfamiliar room.  Just plug into an outlet and a dim green glow will allow you to navigate in the dark without interrupting your sleep.
Love this overnight bag.  Holds all your toiletries in one convenient place.  Fold up and carry like a satchel, or open up and put in your suitcase, where it lies flat...especially if you have your liquids in larger containers.  When you get to your hotel, just hang up in the bathroom and you have an instant medicine cabinet without sacrificing any counter space.
Finally, we'll put in this manual wheelchair for those of you who'd like to travel but find taking your power chair is too much of a hassle.  Tim bought this chair prior to our Midwest Baseball Tour last year and said it's the most comfortable manual chair he's ever sat it.  For less than $350 with free shipping, it's also a great deal.  Also qualifies for most FSA reimbursements.

So that's our Christmas suggestion list for our traveler friends.  We hope you have a happy and easy holiday shopping season and thank you for visiting Amazon.com via our links and supported our blog.

-Darryl