Sunday, July 29, 2018

THE COCKTAIL HOUR: The Runaway


Greetings from Jamaica! This week's cocktail is our latest invention, the Runaway.

A little background...when we travel, and especially if we have a comped in-room minibar...we like to play around with it and invent a cocktail from the ingredients within.


WATCH THE VIDEO!


This week, we're at the all-inclusive Luxury Bahia Principe resort in Runaway Bay, Jamaica. Our minibar includes a massive bottle of rum, some Coke, Sprite, orange soda, and beer. We augmented this by visiting a nearby market to get some coconut water, lime juice, and orange/pineapple juice.

Using our resort's location for the name, here's what we came up with.

INGREDIENTS

splash of lime juice
splash of coconut water
1 oz. gold rum
1 oz. orange/pineapple juice
top off with orange soda

Mix all ingredients in an ice-filled cup and enjoy.

Cheers!

Darryl

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

FIELDS OF DREAMS: Marlins Park, Miami, Florida


One of the newer stadiums in baseball, this retractable-roof facility was built a little outside of downtown, closer to Little Havana. It's the home of the Miami Marlins, who have won the World Series twice in their short life but are also known for shipping off their expensive players once that plateau has been reached.  


The team is owned by Bruce Sherman and former Yankee shortstop, Derek Jeter.



Previously, the team shared open-air Joe Robbie stadium with the NFL's Dolphins. The team began as an expansion team in 1993 and went on the win the 1997 World Series under owner Wayne Huizenga. Claiming the team lost money on their championship season, Huizenga trades some of his best players...such as Moises Alou, Kevin Brown, Bobby Bonilla, and Gary Sheffield...in what became known as the 'fire sale.'


After their 2003 season, new owner Jeffrey Loria did the same but on a smaller scale.  

Let's take a look at the stats:


Opened: 2012
Surface: Platinum TE Paspalum
Construction cost: $634 million
Capacity: 36, 742 (37,442 with standing room)
Field dimensions: Left field - 344 ft; Left center - 386 ft; center field - 407 ft; right center - 392 ft; right field - 335 ft.
Home team: Miami Marlins (National League - MLB) 2012 - present
Events attended: 1 game

Marlins Park is a noisy stadium. Cheerleaders, a marching drum band in the stands, multiple loud cheers from the PA system mean you're not going to have a quiet night at the game. Beer and food prices are among the most expensive we've seen. There is a weird policy of not allowing any fans, except those in the premium Diamond Club seats behind home plate, into the main team store so if you want souvenirs, be sure to visit it from the outside before going in.


There is good access all around the entire stadium. Wheelchair seating is plentiful all around the seating bowl. Decks overhead may block some of your views from the accessible seats.


Ticketing is easy, just go to marlins.com to click 'Tickets' at the top of the page, choose a game date, and click on on 'real time ADA seating.'  We had no problem getting seats for the wheelchair and two companions.  Dynamic pricing means there are no set ticket prices but our seats behind home plate were around $40. 

Public transit via the city's rail system will get you within a mile of the stadium. From here, you can catch a ride on the free trolley system or public bus, which are both accessible. We walked the last mile to the game and took the trolley back to the station after the game.

There are very few lodging options in the immediate area but many more in downtown Miami.

Food choices are not as extensive as you'd think and prices are very high. $14 for a beer was quite a shock but there is a tent outside the main entrance called the 5th Base, where you can sit in air conditioned comfort sipping $6 Modelo beers before and after the game.


The concessions concourse is open and there was no issue with lines at concession stands, mainly because there are very few fans attending games here these days. In fact, I think there were more Dodger fans in attendance than those for the home team.  

A security guard told me it was his opinion that Derek Jeter is running the team into the ground and that's why fans are staying away. I couldn't ask anyone else because I never saw an usher in our section the entire game, we were only guessing that we were in the right seats.

This is one of baseball's newest stadiums but lackluster service and weird fan policies make this a rather humdrum place to watch a baseball game.

Copyright 2018 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Jungle Fever: Our Tropical Destinations Rated


Over the past few years, we've been focusing on tropical destinations in the Caribbean, Central America, Mexico, and more.  For now, we're turning the chapter on that particular kind of trip but have come to some conclusions as to our favorites among the destinations we experienced.

Here is our list of tropical beach destinations, from our least favorite to the best.



NASSAU, BAHAMAS - Run down, very little wheelchair accessibility, about the only thing we could do is visit the bars. As the late, great Merle Haggard said, "I think I'll just sit here and drink.


JAMAICA - Yes, it's beautiful and has some amazing beaches.  The nightlife is wonderful as can be the food.  Wheelchair access at the hotel was extensive but away from it, hardly existed.

Over a quarter century ago, my wife and I went and had a grand time but that was also before we became so wheelchair aware.  This time, it stood out in relief as we went to attractions that promised to be accessible but were not when we arrived.

Add to this the incredible knot of trying to navigate immigration and customs upon arrival and the hotel not giving us near what we paid for of what was promised turns us off of the Island of Irie.

Twice was nice but a third time is not in the cards for us.


MAUI - On the other hand, I am willing to go to Hawaii again it's just not high on our list right now. Since it's in the U.S., access is good (not great). Scenery is wonderful as are the many beaches.

What keeps it placing higher is the exreme high prices you have to pay for basics when you get there and a 'barely tolerated' attitude towards visitors when you're there.  It's a beautiful place but I can't really call it too friendly.  Several trips have re-inforced that feeling though there are a few friendly faces here and there, enough to make me not strike it off the revisit list completely.


COSTA RICA - I want to like this verdant Central American destination better but something's just keeping it from rating higher. 

It has wonderful access (better that Hawaii in some cases), enough that wheelchair users can actually take part in some of the eco adventures like zip lining and canopy tours.  Public buses and many taxis are also wheelchair friendly and accessible rooms are not hard to find.

On the down side, the beaches on the Pacific side are not at all what you'd expect from a tropical beach paradise...the water's muddy and the sand more like wet dirt. While the vast majority of the people are friendly, helpful, and honest, there's a pretty big slice of people who live to rip you off from car rental counters, zoos, and dishonest tour operators.

The buyer really has to be aware in Costa Rica. 

Would I go back? I wouldn't rule it out but instead of a beach vacation, I'd rather go there for the volcanoes and rain forest experiences.


PUERTO VALLARTA, MEXICO - Ah, Puerto Vallarta! Lovely city, great beaches, miles of jungle, wonderful food, a great variety of nightlife, incredible hotels...what's not to like?

Nothing, actually. It's a perfect destination...if you can walk.  If you're in a wheelchair, obstacles abound.

We came here almost every year when Tim was young and it was not as big a deal to lift him over the obstacles but he's grown bigger and heavier, and I'm older and more decrepit.  It's just not possible anymore.

I hear PV is getting more accessible but from what I can see, it's just not quite where it needs to be to get us to come back, yet.  I would really love to go back.  It is almost perfect, otherwise.


PUNTA CANA, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC - This one could be technically a tie between the next entry. Wonderful place, extremely friendly people, gorgeous beaches, excellent service, great food, drink, and nightlife. Accessible where it needs to be.

The only downside is that Punta Cana is rather far from any other parts of the Dominican. Would love to be able to visit the historic sites and go to a few baseball games without having to spend hundreds on a taxi to get there.


ST. CROIX, U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS - My personal favorite on this list. What's not to like? Friendly people, outstanding accomodations (especially the Buccaneer Hotel), good (but not great) access...it is part of the USA, after all, and the ADA applies...great food and drink, spectacular beaches, and fun, accessible attractions.

While access could be a bit better...we could not find a boat that could accomodate us no matter how much we and the concierge tried and the old Cruzan distillery couldn't be done in a wheelchair...we did find more than at other destinations as far as attractions go.  Cruzan couldn't be done but Captain Morgan allowed full access at their facility. The waterfront in Christiansted...the main town...is fully accessible and even the jungle bar with the beer-drinking pigs had an access ramp.  The accessible room at the Buccaneer was nothing short of fabulous.

There's still a way to go, transit is very spotty and there are very few accessible taxis, but from the incredibly warm people, outstanding service and stunning beauty make this a great destination.

And with that, we close out our latest tropical chapter here at The World on Wheels.  We're going to point our spotlight at other destinations for awhile but I'm sure we'll be back to a couple of spots on this list at least.

Darryl
Copyright 2016 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved



Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Been There, Done That, Bought the T-Shirt: Tim's Souvenir Wardrobe


As we spread our tentacles into the world, we document our travels with these posts, pictures, and video. Tim, on the other hand, likes to have something solid to bring back with him  We've talked about his collection of iconic structure reproductions but he's also into the wearable memories.

Tim likes to buy and wear t-shirts from the destinations he's visited.

We've put together a video showing a small selection of his collection, which you can watch below.


Watch The Video!




He's collected shirts  from destinations such as Prague and Mexico. Memphis and Costa Rica. Miami and The Bahamas. Shirts from baseball stadiums across the country as well as a few other sports.



It sometimes presents a logistical problem as we try to figure out where we'll put them all...luckily, the eventually wear out and we use those for rags...but Tim loves them and wears them just about every day.

Check out the video and see what we mean.

Darryl and Tim

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2018 - All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

PENNSYVANIA - Part 1

Penn Station, in New York, is appropriately named. We’re leaving here for Pennsylvania today. The station itself is a rabbit warren of a maze, especially if you’re in a wheelchair looking for that elusive ramp or lift to the next level. While Grand Central Station is massive, with soaring ceilings, stone walls, and magnificent artwork, Penn Station is cramped with low ceilings, dry wall, and has all the charm of the post office.

It’s hard to navigate our way through. Penn Station has notoriously bad signage, and it takes us a couple of laps to figure out where we’re going. We finally find the Amtrak ticket counter and lounge and also receive the bad news that there will be no checked baggage on this train. Our big suitcase (we all share one big suitcase along with each of our small carryons…you just can’t avoid checked baggage with a wheelchair) will have to ride with us.


Once the hectic pace is done and we board our train, with the help of Amtrak’s staff and a wheelchair lift, it’s a quick, 75 minute ride through the “scenic” wonders of New Jersey to the station in Philadelphia.

We pick up our rental car, a Suzuki Grand Vitara…which my wife keeps calling the Grand Viagra. It’s doable with a manual chair and is not too hard to transfer Tim into the front passenger seat. It is pretty stained due to sitting under a wet, rusty roof in the parking lot. As long as it runs well, which it does.

We head west out of Philly to our destination of West Chester. Our intention is to stay in this quieter suburb and take the train into Philadelphia for sightseeing and activities. Arriving at the West Chester Microtel, we notice a lot of construction going on. We booked Microtel because you can guarantee a roll-in shower on their web site. I had called the week before to confirm that. However…

We are told that the lady staying in the room we had booked does not want to leave and that there is nothing the hotel can do. Funny, because I remember being told “no” in no uncertain terms once when I wanted to extend my stay because someone else had booked that particular room.

What to do now...I was offered another room at the hotel but there was no other accessible room that we could use. I was adamant that it had to be accessible, Tim needed somewhere to bathe. The manager offered to put us up at another nearby hotel. I agreed as long as it was an accessible room.

The “best he could do” was the Microtel at the Philadelphia airport. I told him that I specifically avoided that location because I did not want to be near the airport…which was also not close to where we were. I was told it’s only a 30 minute drive and basically “take it or leave it.”

A 2-hour drive later puts us as the Microtel, Philadelphia airport. Indeed, it was an accessible room with roll-in shower and a good staff. The whole experience, especially when I complained to the corporate office and the manager of the West Chester location e-mailed me back, angry that I had complained when they had “done so much” to accommodate us, put me off of the Microtel brand…which usually comes highly recommended by travelers with special needs.

Bad hotel experience behind us, we decide to enjoy what we can. It’s a Thursday morning, so we decide to take a drive around the city to see what we can find before we go to our ball game.
We’re driving around, just south of downtown, when we make a random turn and find blocks full of old looking stalls looking like something from Little Italy around the turn of the 20th century. It’s looks very interesting, so we park and start walking around. It turns out that we stumbled onto the Italian Market (forgive me, but I’d never heard of it before), a marvelous place with many old-time grocers, meat markets, cheese shops, fish mongers, bookstores, and restaurants spilling out into their stalls in the street. We find a place that sells pizza for breakfast (!), have a couple of slices along with donuts and coffee.
It’s a lot of fun just exploring. We go into a nearby butcher shop, D’ Angelo Brothers, and get some dried meat for later. I ask the lady working behind the counter what the deal is with this neighborhood and she explains to me that it has changed relatively little over the last 100 years or so. Families still run their businesses, as theirs does, being passed down through the generations. She shows me a butcher block, worn down into curves, that has been in continuous use for over a century.

What a fascinating place. We continue on looking in all the shops.
Come game time, we head even farther south to Citizens Bank Park, home of the Phillies. It’s a day game versus the Los Angeles Dodgers. Being an Angel fan, Tim despises the Dodgers so he finds it easy to root for the home team. I’m pretty much indifferent about L.A.’s team. I liked them when they were owned by the O’ Malleys; lost some enthusiasm when Fox ran the team; and can’t stand the ownership team of the McCourts so I heartily cheered the Phillies on too.  Our seats were in the second deck, in right field, on a straight line with second and third base.
Being at the top row of that level, we were shaded on what turned out to be a hot and humid day. Surrounded by 5 food stands, a souvenir shop, and nearby restrooms, we were set.

We had a great view and hung out with some great Philly fans that were gracious and friendly with the out-of-towners. The staff was friendly too. We had some great ushers who kept our area clear and told us where the best food in the stadium was.
The "Pool Suite" at Citizen's Bank Park
Unfortunately, our cheering didn’t work because the Phillies went down to the Dodgers that day but they’d rebound to make the playoffs and then take the World Series the next season.

That game ended this trip’s baseball stadium quest with three more stadiums added to the list; Yankee, Shea, and now Citizens Bank Park.
Picture courtesy of Wikimedia
Bobak Ha'Eri under CC-BY-SA license

After the game, we had a choice to make...Pat’s or Geno’s. We make our way north a ways to find the center of the cheese steak universe on the corner of 9th Street and Passyunk Avenue. The two Philly Cheese steak legends duke it across the street from each other…Pat’s a kind of plain-Jane looking stand while Geno’s is a garish neon outpost that I don’t doubt can be seen from space.
Pat's and Geno's
Which one to choose? They both have their fans and detractors and both seem to be good so it came down to which one has the shortest line. At this time, that would be Geno’s so off we went.

Ordering at either of these places can be intimidating. Signs are posted on how exactly to order. Kind of in a Soup Nazi way, you make your way to the first window where you order your sandwich and you must be ready. Know what you want…steak sandwich; cheese type (provolone, wiz…cheese wiz, or American); wid (with onions) or widout. People who are indecisive are sent to the back of the line to start over. After the sandwich window you go to an adjacent window to get your drinks and fries.

At Geno’s, you are also faced with signs that proclaim that this is America, when ordering “speak English,” which has caused no shortage of controversy (and free publicity) in this town. Owner Joe Vento says his family had to learn the language when they came to America and encourages others to do the same. Despite the sign, he says he’s never refused anybody service due to their language but says that he can’t guarantee their order will be right if they don’t.

Once past the intimidating gauntlet of procuring your food, you take it to one of the outdoor tables and dig in. It is a delicious, juicy, cheesy, greasy pile of sliced rib eye on a bun. I have no dog in this fight, so if you are put off by Geno’s English bias, try Pat’s across the street where you just have to run the same drill in ordering. It’s a Philly thing and despite the intimidation factor, the people there are nice. Go for the unique experience and the delicious sandwich.
Across the street from our hotel is a station for the SEPTA commuter train. The next morning we leave the car behind and take the train into the city. At the Reading Station, we get breakfast at the adjacent Reading Market which is an expansive indoor market with produce sellers, butchers, meats, and more…kind of like an updated Italian Market. They have an Amish themed “Pennsylvania Dutch” section where we have some unbelievably good soft pretzels.

One more stop on the line puts us at Independence National Historical Park. Here is where you go to see Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell.

At the visitor’s center, we pick up our free tickets for a tour of Independence Hall. We have about an hour to wait (each ticket is good for a specific time), so we head across the street to Christ Church Burial Ground to find the grave of Benjamin Franklin. There are also four other signers of the Declaration of Independence buried here. We pay the $5 admission to get in, only to find that Franklin’s grave is right next to the fence…we didn’t need to go in to see it. It is covered with pennies from people who toss them on as a tribute to him…a penny saved is a penny earned.
Franklin's Grave
Wandering through the cemetery, I notice a fresh grave. I ask the caretaker if they still bury people here. Yes they do, although it is just for people who have already bought plots. They are selling no more but he said they’d make an exception if someone notable like a U.S. president wanted to be buried here.
It’s time, so we head over to Independence Hall for our tour. There is a security point manned by some very nice and patient people who go through every nook and cranny of your bags before passing you through the metal detector.
This is Where It Happened
Inside, we are lead by a ranger on a tour of the old courtroom which is across the hall from the meeting room where the Continental Congress met, drafted, and signed the Declaration of Independence. Of course, you can just feel the history oozing throughout even though most of the room is recreated. George Washington’s Sun chair at the top of the podium is the real deal though.

The tour continues upstairs and Letty goes on up while Tim and I wait below due to the inaccessibility. We are shown a photo album of what is upstairs while a ranger explains it to us.

When the tour is over, we wander around the shady grounds for a bit and explore the surrounding historic neighborhood. It is still hot and humid and I can imagine how our founding fathers must have felt without air conditioning in the beginning of summer.
Across the street, we go and see the Liberty Bell, which is in its own display building. Another security point must be negotiated before you see this but it requires no tickets or advance notice to see.

Our afternoon of history over, we wander over to the Delaware River, separating us from New Jersey, and find a Belgian pub with some great, refreshing brews to help cool us off before going back to our hotel.

And with that, we’re done with Philadelphia. Part 2 follows below and we travel to the land time forgot, Lancaster and Amish country.

-Darryl
Copyright 2010 - Darryl Musick