Disneyland is Still Special

It’s been 55 years since Walt Disney opened his Magic Kingdom in Southern California. It’s been over 30 years since I first traveled there myself as a young child. After high school, I didn’t spend too much time there but since being married and having children, I have been fortunate to visit every year for the past ten. There have been countless changes just in those last ten years. A new hotel, The Grand Californian Resort, has opened. An entirely new theme park, Disney’s California Adventure, has been built and is now undergoing a significant transformation as it redesigns several areas and expands. Downtown Disney, a separate attraction in itself with many restaurants and stores, has also opened. With all this evolution, it’s no wonder the area is now referred to as Disney’s California Resort.

On a recent trip we followed our usual modus operandi: one day Disneyland, one day California Adventure, one day back at Disneyland. In between we enjoyed good food, good shopping, and great rides and shows. Want to enjoy a 50 minute Broadway show in a theater that would rival any on Broadway? See “Aladdin” in the new California Adventure theme park. Hankering for great food and maybe some wine? While the original park still doesn’t sell alcohol, the new park does and has wonderful meals at the Wine Country Trattoria. Want to learn more about the parks and the famous Mr. Disney? Take one of several personally guided tours of the parks including the popular “Walk in Walt’s Footsteps.” Of course many of the old favorites are still at Disneyland including the recent return of one of its signature attractions, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, which Disney created for the World’s Fair in 1964.

What motivates me to travel to Disneyland year after year? Honestly, it’s the faces of my children and my wife as we spend several days with each other. It’s the small town feel of walking down Main Street USA and exploring the western rivers of Frontierland by steamboat. It’s the clean walks and pathways, the beautiful landscapes, and that fact that there is always something old and something new to see. And it’s the food – Murphy Family tradition dictates a great breakfast at the Carnation Café on Main Street, lunch at the Wine Country Trattoria, and a fantastic dinner at the Blue Bayou Restaurant, adjacent to the water of the popular ride Pirates of the Caribbean.

It’s been years since Sports Leisure visited the Magic Kingdom. Any takers?

Southern Boy Learns Midwest Hospitality Along the Lincoln Highway

The Sports Leisure Vacations Lincoln Highway II tour last month was one of the most memorable trips I have ever escorted. With many returning travelers, along with some new additions to the Sports Leisure Travel Club, our group set off to see the Midwest along the Lincoln Highway, from Chicago to Cheyenne. I must confess that this is a portion of the country that I have often overlooked in favor of the glitz and glamour of large cosmopolitan coastal cities, and had never taken the time to truly experience. Stopping at museums, roadside attractions, and, small town diners and restaurants, we enjoyed the hospitality and goodwill of Midwestern people as we slowed down and returned to the main streets of small-town America. Three occasions stick out in my memory, and have endeared this portion of the country to me forever.

Let’s start with the food. The first meal our group had was on the outskirts of Chicago at a place called Del Rhea’s Chicken Basket. Being a Southern boy, I had always assumed that Southern folk had the market cornered on fried chicken. I hate to admit that I may be wrong. Actually a longtime Route 66 landmark (that famous route starts in Chicago, while the Lincoln runs along the outskirts of the city), Del Rhea’s serves up the crispiest, juiciest fried chicken I have ever had. Add to that real homestyle mashed potatoes and gravy with corn fritters (think hushpuppies with corn drizzled with honey) and we are talking about some good eating. It makes my stomach growl just thinking about it. If I am ever back in that area, and I hope to be, they had better have me a seat ready!

Another meal that stands out is the Maid-Rite loose meat sandwich. It sounds a little funny, but it’s definitely something worth trying. It’s basically an unformed hamburger. The meat is browned and seasoned, and piled high on a bun, topped with cheese, a generous smear of yellow mustard and covered with dill pickles. The group loved it, and some even went back for more—Larry Mullnix, I’m talking to you—and I even took one home to eat cold the next day!

In Shelton, NE, a tiny town, there is small museum dedicated to the history of the Lincoln Highway. We were greeted by Bob Stubblefield and his wife and other volunteers with smiles, coffee, and cookies. The museum had original signs that lined the highway on display and even original paving bricks from the highway. The buildings are conjoined and in true Midwestern fashion, the corner is a bank that looks out diagonally towards the intersection, a feature that welcomes in the bank’s patrons and their money. The original vault is still intact and one can feel the history of the building. Mark posed inside the vault for some funny pictures. We tried but could not get the door closed fast enough so we had to take him with us.

In Kimball, NE, you would think the President himself was traveling with us, because it seemed the entire town showed up for our arrival. We stopped to visit the historic Wheat Growers Hotel that is currently undergoing renovation. The town is raising funds in the hopes of restoring the hotel to its original grandeur. There is much work to be done and much need for funding. Sports Leisure Vacations helped with their cause with a $250 donation, which was presented to the mayor of the town in the presence of the media—the one local reporter. It was truly a big event for them and they treated us like small-town royalty. I wish them the best in their efforts. Hopefully one day I will be able to say that I returned to enjoy the elegance of the restored Wheat Growers Hotel.

Our journey had it all, even the passage of a Barnum and Bailey circus train on its way to its next stop in rural Illinois. (We all kept watching for the car with the clowns!)

In 2011, Sports Leisure Vacations will embark on the third leg of the journey from Cheyenne to San Francisco. There will be many more sights to see and fun to be had. I encourage you to come along, slow down, and enjoy seeing the country and the land, instead of simply jetting over it. Take the time to reconnect with the history and appreciate the life along the historic Lincoln Highway.

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An (Almost) Perfect Baseball Day

Mark shouted across the hall to me, “Wanna escort the Giants vs Dodgers baseball group on Wednesday?” “Sure!” I reply, wanting to take advantage of every opportunity to get out on the coach I can. Then he adds: “If the Dodgers win the game don’t bother to come back…” I cringe slightly because I sense a hint of seriousness in his voice. He is a baseball fan after all, and though the team he holds dear to his heart are the Cards, he naturally supports the Giants, doesn’t everybody in this town? “Please God, let the Giants win on Wednesday…”

It’s no secret that Sacramento in the summer is my least favorite place to be. I don’t do hot. Strange for a girl raised in Honolulu, but that’s another blog. So even though I’m not a “real” baseball fan, I did consider myself blessed to take a group of our clients to “The City” to see their beloved Giants play the rival Dodgers. When the motor coach pulled up alongside AT&T Park to drop us off, the temperature outside was 69 degrees… I smile because I know that Sacramento will be 90ish hot today.

By the time the scoreboard tells us we are in the bottom of the fifth, I realize that there has been a steady stream of people walking by my seat in section 130 and I laugh to myself because they are almost always holding two cups of beer in their hands. You could have told me it was “Ocktoberfest” and I would have believed you. Somewhere between yet another homerun by the, ahem, Dodgers and the umpteenth hundredth two fisted beer drinking fan walking by, I take it all in…the perfect weather, the fans flying their team colors, McCovey Cove, the right field upper deck, the ML pennants flapping in the breeze, the beautiful blue skies…and realize that I am genuinely enjoying this moment!

People often ask me why an Island Girl like myself would want to live anywhere else. It’s not for lack of love of my Island heritage or appreciation for its beauty. I love and appreciate it all, even more since I moved to Sacramento in ‘96. But for days like this, and I’ve had many here on the “mainland”, the Islands simply can’t compete.

God didn’t answer my prayer for a Giants win this time, and Mark graciously lifted his ban to banish me and told me I could come back (he must have realized he needed the extra body in the office). I understand now why some people just love baseball…it was (almost) a perfect day!