Friday, July 30, 2010

Frenchtown Roller Rink

Another field trip we took was to a roller skating rink. We must have gotten a really good deal, since we drove nearly an hour to get to the Frenchtown roller rink... when there are quite a few in between. Apparently they've had a couple championship speed skating teams, so there were some neat photos on the walls in one area.

The rink was old (and wooden), and they're renting out part of their parking lot to a tubing company (that takes people to the Delaware River to go tubing). There's a little window where you pay, then you walk straight in. There are no lockers. There is a snack bar, a seating area, and an arcade. There are benches to sit on while you put on your skates. There was, however, only one person working behind the skate window the majority of the time, so getting all of the kids through took some time. It's mainly a quads place (aka rollerskates), but for $1.50 more you could rent inlines. I paid the difference and was given a pair of 8s that were too big (I take an 8.5 in skates), so I swapped for a pair of 7s that were very tight. No half sizes, and the skates had no padding, so your foot was up against plastic everywhere, making for crushed toes pretty quickly. The buckles were also in terrible shape, and at least three out of my six were stripped. I made do, but wasn't very happy about the situation.

I was surprised at how many kids had NEVER skated before. And not just the kids, but counselors, too! The summers of 1998 & 1999 were solid skating for me... that's just what we did as high schoolers. And when we were younger, at least one person a year had a birthday party at a skating rink! A couple of us who knew what we were doing made it a mission to get each of the kids around the rink at least once. This was working great for a while, but the problem was too many of them were giving up within half an hour, before one of us could get to them. This was complicated by the fact that the non-skating counselors weren't always being encouraging to the children. Either way, I was able to pry quite a few off the wall, and delighted in the fact that I was able to help a few others understand how it works (we had a few who just tried to scoot back and forth, not realizing how angles, weight balance, etc. affected movement).

Like the past couple trips, most of my photos have children in them. However, because of the lighting and movement at the skating rink, I have one that's blurry enough to not really reveal anyone yet clear enough that you can get an idea of the age of the rink (just look at the wall design!) After skating for a couple of hours, we packed up and drove to a park so we could eat our lunches. I wasn't a big fan of the idea of leaving my sandwich and fruit on a bus in 90-degree weather, so I packed a muffin and some cheez-its that day, LoL. The park was Bulls Island Recreation Area, and I wasn't really impressed. It probably would have been nice for walks or a couple spending the day together or something, but for kids it wasn't ideal. The playground was pretty small, so we didn't utilize it. There were some picnic tables (enough for everyone to sit down), but there were no trash cans. Apparently NJ is doing this thing to encourage people to bring their trash out with them (cutting the jobs of those who empty the trash in the meantime). Except children don't carry trash. And for those with brown paper sacks, you weren't going to convince them to keep lugging their beat-up and torn bags (those things get so mangled in just a few hours!). Regardless, we ate peacefully and with a nice breeze, then boarded the buses for a long ride back to camp. I will spare you the shenanigans that took place on the way, but for those who know me well, ask and I'll tell you.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Hershey Park, Part III

We spent some time over in ChocolateWorld, which allowed for the more educational stuff, and some great tastings. We didn't really know what to expect, and I for one was rather perturbed that the activities were a la carte and rather high-priced. $15 to make your own candy bar? Anyway, we signed up to take a chocolate tasting class together ($10 each, and I'd say it's worth that), but it wasn't for about an hour, so we did the "official" chocolate tour ride. We were among the few who read all of the information leading up to the ride (aka the signs on the walls while you walk through the queue), and learned quite a bit. We also saw a video about how the cacao plant is harvested and how the beans are turned into chocolate. Then, when we got to the platforms, we rode in cars that had two rows of two (or three if you're a kid), and they went through a bunch of rooms to tell the story of Milton Hershey and see how the different parts of the factory worked (starting with the cows the milk comes from, shown below). It's kinda neat, but I wish we moved a little slower throughout. I could definitely go on it again. The neatest part was probably the Chocolate Tasting "seminar" we attended. We sat in the second row, and had quite a few things in front of us on the table. The "instructor" was pretty cool, although some of the stuff was stupid-funny, obviously geared for the children in the audience. We got to taste five different items, and again learn a lot about the process used to create the chocolates. We also hit on the differences between dark chocolate and milk chocolate and white chocolate, which was interesting. Lastly, we each received a Master's in Chocolate Tasting, which I kinda thought was awesome. Then we walked through the candy store (couldn't get the whole thing in a photo, but part of it is below), and Jonathan purchased a few candy bars that are hard to find regularly. I asked specifically if I could buy TasteTations there, but sadly the answer was no (they were the chocolate hard candies that were popular in the late 90s), they really did stop making them completely. We parted ways as his parents headed for their hotel and we went back into the park to enjoy a few more rides. We headed straight for the SooperDooperLooper, an older coaster that actually goes upside-down without an overhead restraint (reallly rare these days). It has a quadruple helix near the end, which is neat to look up at when you're on the bottom rung. There was literally no line, so we stayed in our seats and rode it a second time. If it was a bit more exciting we would have gone again, but it's fairly simple and you don't see anything really special.

From there it was on to Trailblazer, an old-west themed coaster that reminded me a little of Big Thunder Mountain in Magic Kingdom. It has one of the lower height limitations, so there were more children with parents in line for this one than there were at any of the other coasters we rode. The ride is probably about 75 seconds long, and it's pretty gentle. HOWEVER, the safety of it is kinda in question if you ask me. I could've reached out and touched trees/grass on it (probably could have done this to the ground in SooperDooperLooper as well), PLUS a taller person might have hit his head going through the tunnel. But, again, it's an older ride so that's probably what you could get away with back then.

We wandered around the water park area to get a better understanding of the different rides. It was still kinda rainy, so the water would've been pretty cold, so we decided to wait until next time to hit up the water activities.

There are quite a few rides we didn't get a chance to go on (again, the park is GIGANTIC), plus we didn't see any of the shows, so our go-back passes will get a great deal of use. :) Now, the question is when will we get there before Labor Day??

Monday, July 26, 2010

Hershey Park, Part II

Then, it was on to explore the park. We started with getting a locker, which uses an RFID system. You have unlimited access to it ALL DAY for $10 (or $15 for a large), and you wear a wristband that has the RFID chip in it. Crazy handy! The only problem is that Jonathan couldn't go to the locker without me, since I wore the band (ours was pink, but depending on the location of your locker they're different colors). No big deal for us, but if 4-5 people wanted to share, I could see it being an issue.
Our first ride was the monorail, which we walked right up to and stepped right on, luckily. It was a nice ride, as it goes out of the park and into DOWNTOWN HERSHEY for a short bit. It's narrated by a recording, so we learned quite a bit. When we got off, it had started to rain, so we hopped on an indoor ride: Reese's Xtreme Cup Challenge. It's like Men in Black or Buzz Lightyear in that you're in a cart that moves along a track and you're shooting targets for points. The only difference here is that the chocolate car in each group is against the peanut butter car, competing for a better overall score. It was cheaply done in comparison to Florida parks, but a good time.

We headed over to ZooAmerica shortly afterward, and took the "recommended route" through that park. It's a small zoo... in fact, I think I'd rather just call it a collection of animals... but it has a few neat things. Nothing exceedingly rare or difficult to care for, but they do have indoor and outdoor exhibits. If you go to just the zoo, it's like $15, but it's included in the admission for HersheyPark, so if you're already there, stop on through - it doesn't take too long.Our first rollercoaster of the morning was StormRunner, which has a horse theme. Again, I freaked out slightly. Once we were in the train, we waited for our turn (they load two trains at once and switch the tracks as necessary). We could see how the coaster started, and knew that we'd come out of the station and come to a complete stop before being storm-rushed forward. Well, after our "complete stop," our train rolled backward a few inches (which is supposed to happen, but it's so slight I couldn't see the other trains doing it and freaked out), then we flew forward and up like I had never seen before. In fact, we went 0-73mph in less than 2 seconds. It's called an accelerator coaster, and only goes about 200 feet high, so the ride goes pretty quickly, about 40 seconds or so.
We re-joined Jonathan's parents and we all went on the Kissing Tower, which has a nice view of the park, rotating as it goes up and back down. I got a few nice shots, but could have done much better if there had not been rain droplets all over the glass, LoL.
Lunch was catered, and was the standard fare of burgers, hot dogs, barbecued chicken, macaroni salad, fruit salad, and ice cream novelties. Burgers were okay, fruit salad was very fresh.

We hit up Great Bear, which is the park's only inverted coaster (meaning the track is above you and you're suspended). It's a smooth ride, very enjoyable, although I was surprised it didn't go higher. It's only a 90 foot climb and the first drop is 124 feet. We sat in the second row, but this is absolutely the easiest coaster to go front-row on. Of course, this is comparing it to some of the inverted monsters in Florida, of which there are quite a few. (in the photos below, you can see the train hanging from the track)

Saturday, July 24, 2010

HersheyPark, Part I

Once again, Jonathan's company got us a great deal to a themepark. This is the third time we've taken advantage of the opportunity (once in FL and once in CA), and this time the park was HersheyPark, which is about two hours away from us, given the fact it's mostly turnpike and that generally means traffic.
We took off as soon as we could on Friday (which ended up being close to 6pm), and stayed the night in Harrisburg, less than ten miles from the park. It was a Motel 6, which I haven't stayed in for a really long time. The front desk clerk spoke poor English (which doesn't bother me, but might be a point of interest to some), but the only hard thing to understand was how to best reach our room (stairs vs. elevator, etc.). It was small and visibly aged, but clean and with a decent view (which is hard when you're at an intersection in the middle of nowhere). We didn't end up actually booking a hotel until a day or two before, and since Hershey is near nothing (except the state capitol, but apparently people aren't digging Harrisburg), we may have gotten one of the last rooms left ANYWHERE AROUND (and we were about ten miles away from the park), since we know there were no vacancies when we went to check-in.

We had a "preview" pass, which allowed us access to the park starting at 6:30pm the night before our admission. Our plan was to go ahead and do the water rides (they have a rather large waterpark area within the theme park), but it turned out that they shutdown that at 8pm, and it was close to 9 when we got there (there are surprisingly few signs for parking and trams and such at HersheyPark). To make things crazier, three different areas share the same parking lots (ChocolateWorld and the concert-stadium-amphitheater), and Dave Matthews was playing. On the plus side, you can totally tailgate and completely hear the music, and even get a few views of the band (strange staging!).

Anyway, we decided to ride Fahrenheit, one of their bigger rollercoasters. I was kinda freaking out as we waited in the queue, since it's been over a year since I had been on a big ride, and the set-up of this one was quite unique. The initial launch is close to 90 degrees (meaning you are leaning STRAIGHT BACK in your seat), and once you go over the curve, you're beyond 90 degrees (97 degrees, making it the third steepest IN THE WORLD), which is pretty much insane. The rest of the ride is kinda crazy and fairly long (probably close to 90 seconds), considering. I was jaw-locked and white-knuckled at the end, but it was a darn good ride! That was all we had time for, since the park closed at 10, so we just leisurely made our way out, doing some light planning for the next day. (We had studied the map to some degree, but the actual size of the park is much larger than we anticipated. It beats out Universal or IoA, easy. I might even say it's larger than Magic Kingdom.)
The next day, Jonathan's parents met us at a diner for breakfast. I had tried a donut hole at the complimentary breakfast before we left, and it was super fresh. The Cocoa Diner/Grill (get it? cocoa like chocolate, LoL) was a nice little stand-alone that's open 24/7 except for Monday nights. We waited about ten minutes (maybe less), and had fairly prompt service, considering how busy they were. Breakfast was pretty standard in both pricing and quality, but that's about what is expected from any random diner. Jonathan and I would both recommend you NOT get the pancakes... they were pretty bad. Otherwise, everyone liked everything... eggs, toast, bacon, hashbrowns, etc.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Carlucci's Grill

By this point, you may remember me mentioning Carlucci's before (especially if you follow me on Twitter). It's a family in the area that owns and operates a bunch of different restaurants. Well, it was finally time to try out the one we probably saw first, all things considered.

The only downfall was that we had eaten a late (and rather large) lunch of ribs and potato salad, so we weren't super-hungry. The appetizers alone were very filling - complimentary bruschetta and some sort of focaccia cheese bread. Service was pretty prompt, and it was nice to hear an atypical birthday song being sung to other tables throughout the evening.

Jonathan's parents shared the Pizza Del Mare, which is the same thing I ordered. I thought it was different - a wood-fired pizza with shrimp, scallops, and calamari. It was pretty good fresh (not as delicious in reheatings), but I think it would have been much better with a white garlic sauce rather than marinara.

Jonathan, on the other hand, went traditional and chose the lasagna. He got the New England Clam Chowder to go with it, and really enjoyed the soup. He kept trying to make me taste it, but I don't care for the milk-based chowders most of the time. He also thought the lasagna was excellent, but it wasn't my style. You could hardly taste the noodle, which to him was a plus but to me is a negative factor.

I don't know that we'll be back. The menu was pretty large, but there were probably only two other things that sounded outstanding to me, and with the plethora of good Italian places around, this one didn't really stand out. It's biggest draw is probably its location, honestly.

Friday, July 16, 2010

FreedomFest in Allentown, NJ

So this one kinda caught me by surprise. It was our second camp field trip, and all I had heard for the longest time was that "FreedomFest is a big carnival thing." Later, someone added "it's in Allentown." Eventually I decide to look it up online and learn that it's the State Ag Fair in New Jersey. I then paused, since I didn't realize there WAS an Allentown in New Jersey, LoL.

I was kinda excited going into it, since I like fairs a great deal. I was also kinda nervous, since I had three little boys (read: 6-7 years old) to watch that day, and was afraid there wouldn't be enough young-kid rides to keep them occupied. However, there certainly were. There were a handful of things that they were too short for, but they could get on about half of them, I'd say.

We started with the Ferris Wheel, and got the short end of the stick. Meaning, we were second-to-last car to board, but first car off. They didn't notice tho, and since I didn't pay real money/tickets, I didn't really care. We did bumper cars next, and they enjoyed them a lot. I should also mention that many counselors rode while the children drove, but I had a kid too small to drive so I drove for our car... meaning we managed to bump everybody else while many cars were stuck and only bumping the same car or two over and over. Then, it was on to tilt-a-whirl, which was really fast... I think because the weight was on one side (ahem, me) so we spun a lot more than balanced cars. I actually got slightly dizzy, and was a little worried for a minute there.

After that, we split from the rest of the first-grade group. My three seemed to be a bit more adventurous than some of the others, and were pulling on me to let them go on bigger things than the teacups, LoL. I let them do the swings (I held their bags), then we hopped on the tornado (two realms of spinning while you get raised in the air), where all four of us rode together again. I almost got nauseous, LoL. Then we had lunch, followed by the giant slide, the fun house, and a firetruck that kinda just went in a loop. They thought they wanted to do the gravitron/spaceship3000, but then two of them chickened out (one after he was inside and they were just about to close the doors), so just one rode.

They were really interested in the gimmick show that was next, which was a guy who blows up a gigantic balloon (with a leaf blower) and then climbs inside. It was pretty different, and kinda creepy.
They did the funhouse again, the little bumper cars (so they could each drive), and then it was time for carnival games. I tried to persuade them not to spend their money on that stuff, but two of them insisted on paying $5 each to throw the ping-pong ball into the bowl and win a fish. At least they both succeeded before they were out of balls. Unfortunately, it was in the upper 90s that day, and one of them had a floating fish by the time he was picked up from camp that afternoon... not sure how his parents handled that one.

In the end, it was an interesting time. Not as cool as the county fairs we went to ten years ago, but since this was an agricultural focus, that may be why. We never made our way over to the petting zoo or the animal/vegetable exhibits. I took way more pictures than this, but they have the kids in them, so can't post them.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A True Independence Day

For the 4th of July this year, we went to Philadelphia. There really was no other logical choice, given the extensive history of the city and how it served as the birthplace for so many pieces of our nation's history. So, since it's only a half-hour drive, we felt it was pretty much our civic duty as Americans to celebrate in the very place that it all started.

Philadelphia celebrated the nation's birthday for 11 days this year, concluding Monday, July 5th. There were various events going on across the city during this time, but we just made it down for the big day. Our goal was to be there and ready to go by 10:30, so we could catch the parade. I was really surprised at how small the parade was... the maps only showed it going about 8 blocks, LoL.

We got down there with plenty of time, and planned to park about half a mile from the end of the route. But the lots there were empty, so we moved closer. We ended up able to park at the Constitution Center, which was a mere three blocks away. We also had front row to the parade (right about 5th & Market), which was pretty neat, since it was HUGE. As in, took two hours to pass by, even though the schedule read as if it would only take an hour. There were all kinds of fire engines and floats and dancing troupes. There were groups from Wyoming, Missouri, West Virginia, Washington DC, and more. I had forgotten to charge my camera, so after the parade I have very few photos of the rest of the day, oops.

lots of different cultural dancers
police van. really.
the German group had a gigantic bicyclereally old firetruck old dairy truck video

After the parade we went to lunch in Chinatown. I was excited about a true Chinese meal (omg do I miss California food!!), but got silly-nervous about the prospect of not having any English again. Jonathan picked out a place called Joy Tsin Lau that was doing a discount for the 4th (10% off with events calendar), and we went in for dim sum. We were seated after a short wait, and had delightful service throughout. Our waters were refilled twice (very important when it's near 100 degrees out!), and the carts came by at pretty good intervals. The food was fresh and hot (at least three out of five of our dishes were fresh-out-of-the-kitchen), and very good. We had pork dumplings, shrimp dumplings (but a different kind), bacon-wrapped shrimp, pork fried rice, and something that now escapes me. The cart-pushers knew the names of the meats in English, and that's all we really needed so that was fine.

Then we did a little shopping. We browsed a Chinese bazaar and a Chinese bookstore before heading back to the Historic district. We popped in a giftshop and picked up some document replicas that we've been meaning to collect. Then we decided it was time to move the car. While Philly has a pretty decent public transit system, the morning events and the afternoon/evening events weren't really conducive to easy back-and-forth. Plus, the garage we chose in the morning had a 6pm limit anyway. We drove across town (and by this I only mean like 4-5 miles) and found parking about 8 blocks from the street fair.

We staked out a nice shady spot on a grassy hill and set-up camp with a towel and some books. We enjoyed reading and people-watching for a couple hours, then took turns getting dinner (to save our spot). I wandered the options and went with a sausage-peppers-onions sandwich. Jonathan tried a gyro, and we split a plate of fresh-cut potato chips. The chips could have used some seasoning, and it wasn't the greatest gyro for $9, but we didn't feel ripped-off, either. Around 8pm the opening band started, then The Roots came on about 8:25, but they played over an hour. We got up and moved toward the end of their set, as we realized that our shady tree was going to block our view of the fireworks. We found a good place to stand, and watched as Goo Goo Dolls performed next (again, a little over an hour). We were kinda disappointed in them as a live band (timing of songs, acoustic vs. electric, pauses, etc.), but overall they did an okay job.

The fireworks didn't get going until around 11pm, but they were magnificent. A full 20 minutes of beautiful works of art in the sky. I guess that's what a big city can do for you, LoL. Now, it wasn't Disney or anything, but it was darn good. Where they really failed, however, was with musical accompaniment. There was some, but it was quiet, unfitting, and ill-timed. Opening with Miley Cyrus' "Party in the USA" is one thing, but then straying from the patriotic canon was kinda unacceptable.

We beat the rush heading back to our car, but poor police traffic control made it beyond difficult to exit the city in a reasonable manner. I'll spare you the details, but know that it took about 90 minutes to go a mile (maaaybe a mile and a half) to get to the highway. Once we were on that, no problems and a straight and quick drive home.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Trenton Thunder Game

We went to the Trenton Thunder baseball game on July 3rd as part of our friend Bryan's birthday. He and Emily go to the games every now and then, but it was our first time.

The Thunder is the AA version of the Yankees, and they have two mascots, an ugly bird named Boomer and a lighting bolt named Strike. But what's really cool is that they have a "bat dog" who collects bats and balls. He's a golden retriever.
That night they were playing the AA version of the Washington Nationals. The game was pretty standard, but it was kinda interesting since we learned a little bit about the fancy way to keep score (like what each person hit, ran, etc.) from Bryan & Emily.
We had dinner there, and can report fabulous things about the cheesesteak (but strange provolone-cheez-whiz) and the breaded chicken sandwich (not Chick-Fil-A quality, but good). We also tried the Stewart's root beer on tap (tasty!) and some Chickie & Pete's crab fries (not made of crab. regular fries with Old Bay seasoning).

After the game they had a nice fireworks show, and I got a couple good shots found below.

Monday, July 5, 2010

New Plum Tree Garden & Lemonleaf Grill

Well, we finally found the Asian place near us that's really good. It took almost 11 months, but it's probably safe to say that any and all Chinese we get from here on out will be from New Plum Tree Garden in Langhorne. They also have a Thai menu, and it was pretty good too, but we already have a Thai place, hehe. (No website, but the menu is online.)

We called in an order for pickup, and it was ready when we got there, so that's a big plus. I ordered one of the chef's specialties, the Shrimp Amazing. It had really large shrimp and a variety of vegetables, cooked in a Peking sauce that was slightly spicy with a great flavor. It came with white rice, and the overall dish really lived up to its name! Jonathan went for the Thai side, and had Khao Pahd Supparot. It's a coconut & pineapple fried rice with chicken, peanuts, and fried onions. He thought it was kinda different, not overly strong in flavor, and very good.

For an appetizer we got two shrimp egg rolls, which were a tad over-wrapped (if that makes sense), but otherwise very good. The shrimp were plentiful and the overall flavors were balanced nicely. We also got the gang sarong, which were deep-fried shrimp wrapped in thin, crispy noodles. They were okay... not worth the price, but the sauce with which they were served was fantastic.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

FunPlex

So the camp where I'm working takes a field trip once a week, so expect to get 7-8 posts about the random places we go. The first one was FunPlex in Mount Laurel, NJ. From what I heard from repeat counselors and staff members, it was a place that had go-karts and a bowling alley and an arcade. It ended up being much more than that!

Now, for starters, let's remember that I was a chaperone. This means I couldn't just do whatever I wanted, so I can only report from the overview point, primarily. But still. This place is pretty much a dream for a kid. There's an indoor building, and that included two bumper cars, an electric go-kart track, an arcade, a bowling alley, laser tag, a motion simulator, and this big thing called Foam Frenzy. The latter consisted of a big room that is two levels, but the middle is open, atrium-style. There are probably a thousand foam balls (probably a little smaller than tennis balls) in there, and they can be shot out of cannons, guns, and a variety of other machines. There are also some collectors to get balls from, a tunnel to hide in, and some air holes if you want to play with levitating balls. The kids really get a kick out of the place, and that was good since it and the bumper cars were included in our "package."

Then there was the outdoor section. There was a small waterpark with a few slides and other things. Then there were a couple carnival rides, like tilt-a-whirl & a free-fall. Plus some kiddie go-karts, outdoor adult go-karts, bumper boats, and two mini-golf courses. I didn't try any of these things, but a bunch of the counselors (probably close to 20 of them) did the outdoor go-karts. It was fun to watch, but buying tickets a la carte was a bit much. I would have preferred to get a wristband for $20 that lets you do unlimited everything (except bowling & the waterpark stuff), and I totally think that the options are worth that price.

We also all got $5 worth of tokens. That was pretty cool, and allowed everyone to do what they wanted, since the choices were many. A lot of kids spent some on skeeball. I personally used mine on DDR Supernova and Guitar Hero, which were pretty fun. I wasn't thrilled with the selection of songs on this DDR (Dance Dace Revolution), but that's life. Air Hockey was another favorite, and a lot of the kids stayed with the redemption games only, so they could earn tickets to buy stuff. A few of them had great prizes when we left, including a lava lamp and a 4-foot stuffed Phillies bat.

The only negative thing I have to say about the amenities at FunPlex is that the pizza wasn't very good. So, either get something else (I don't really know what else was offered), or eat before you go.