Shades of Green

I could never cover all the things you should see and do at Disney World.  There are already blogs upon blogs covering every aspect of your Disney experience.  I wouldn’t even attempt to be the authority on how you should use your Fast Passes, what experiences you should book 6 months in advance, where to stand to watch the fireworks or what time you should visit Space Mountain if you are at the park on January to avoid the longest line.  People have covered all of these things and more.  The blog that covers the statistical analysis  on when to use Fast Passes is amazing.  Unfortunately, I never took a statistics class so I have nothing of the sort to offer you.  All I have is my review of the Shades of Green (SOG) resort.

If you aren’t familiar with the Shades of Green resort, you are not alone.  Shades of Green is not open to the general public.  It is actually a Department of Defense owned property that has strict eligibility requirements.  It offers very competitive room rates (based on rank) to the men and women of the Armed Forces and their families.  If you are eligible (the requirements are listed on their website) it is a great place to stay and enjoy all that central Florida has to offer.

Posing with the Army Flag

Posing with the Army Flag

You need to book your trip well in advance as the resort can fill up rather quickly.  We reserved our room for Christmas back in April.  Make sure you are eligible before you book to avoid being disappointed when you arrive (they will check your ID).

Problems Specific to Shades of Green:

-I only had one real “problem” with staying on the Shades of Green property.  You can only make your Fast Pass reservations 30 days in advance while the typical Disney resort allows you to makes them 60 days in advance.  Depending on when you go and what you want to do it may not make much difference, but we were unable to make Fast Pass reservations for the Seven Dwarfs Mine Cart because all the Fast Passes were used by the time I went to reserve our times. If you have no idea what a Fast Pass is, you need to Google it and learn about it before you go. It is a science all by itself.  You will also find that you do not get Magic Bands (another Google topic) with your stay at the Shades of Green, but they can be purchased separately at the park. Not really a huge problem but something to be aware of.

Benefits to Staying at Shades of Green:

-Location:  The resort is about at 10 minute walk to the Polynesian Hotel which provides you with access to the monorail system which takes you directly to the Magic Kingdom.  We also enjoyed taking the ferry from the Polynesian at night to enjoy the breeze and the Light Show that occurs every night on Lake Buena Vista (I swear the light show hasn’t changed in over 40 years). SOG is very convenient for trips to the Magic Kingdom.  Shades also has a bus that runs to all of the other parks at regular intervals.  The buses were always very punctual and the times were convenient through the day.

Posing at SOG

Posing at SOG

-Price: The rate varies by rank, but my rate was as good if not better than all of the other resorts. My room may not have had a fancy Disney theme, but I found we spent so little time in the room that it didn’t matter. You can also purchase your park tickets at the resort and usually at a discounted rate.

-Rooms: I already mentioned the room was cheap, but it was also huge.  We didn’t spend too much time in the room but when we did we never got that claustrophobic, “on top of each other” feeling.  Our room also opened out to the pool so we could go back and forth very easily. The rooms might be starting to show their age a little, but not so much it took away from our time at the resort. I didn’t notice anything that a little paint couldn’t fix.

We had this many stuffed animals with us on our trip

We had this many stuffed animals with us on our trip

-Food: Dining in Disney can be an expensive undertaking all by itself.  We did some of the character experiences and dined at some of the themed restaurants and they all cost a bundle.  We should have eaten most of our meals at the resort.  The dinner buffet was some of the best food I had the entire trip, and probably the cheapest meal we had. They had a number of different options at the resort and all of the ones we visited had courteous staff and good food.

-Staff:  I read some reviews that claimed the staff wasn’t very friendly but I didn’t find that to be the case at all.  I found some were extraordinarily friendly (bus drivers, the coffee bar) and didn’t think anyone was rude. I would have rated them higher than most hotels I have stayed at.

The hotel lobby

The hotel lobby

-Magic Hours:  Guest at Shades of Green enjoy the Extra Magic Hours at all of the themes parks as well.  This allows you extra time before and after the park open to the general public to enjoy the attractions.  For those of you that want to squeeze every possible moment of fun out of your trip, this can give you a couple of extra hours.  Which parks have extra hours changes day to day, but you will receive a pamphlet when you arrive at the resort that will provide you with all of that information.

*****If you can stay at Shades of Green you should.  You get the enjoy 99% of the benefits that others get by staying on the Disney Property and you can save a bundle.  Any trip to Disney can be pricing but the saving you get from staying at Shades can help you afford that fancy dinner in Cinderella’s Castle.

Dinner at Cinderella's Castle

Dinner at Cinderella’s Castle

For more information:

http://www.shadesofgreen.org/

***They also have DoD facilities in Hawaii, Germany and South Korea (the requirements to stay vary for the different resorts).

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Return to Sunny Maple

I recently had a chance to return to Ole Mink Farm Resort when I discovered the Ft Ritchie duathlon I had entered was located only about 20 minutes away. Last time we stayed there it was winter time and I thought I would add/update my review.

In case you missed it, here was my review from last winter: https://mdracereviews.com/2013/11/12/sunny-maple-ole-mink-farm-resort/

The most important things remained unchanged for me. It was still peaceful, restful, quiet, tranquil up there at Ole Mink Farm. There are more people up there this time of year at the various campers/cabins and motor homes, but I still thought it was just the right level of isolation for me. They still allow for pets in some of the cabins and it is important to me that we can bring Denver (aka Big Buddy).

Enjoying the outdoor

Enjoying the outdoor

The owners, the Irons family, were amazingly friendly, just like the last time we stayed with them. They give you a package of delicious cookies on check-in and ensure you know the lay of the land. Here are two examples of how they bent over backwards to help us:

  1. Last visit we had pizza delivered late at night and because they have a security gate the pizza guy could not get on to the resort. The owner paid for our food and brought it to our cabin (where we paid him back).
  2. This visit we arrived to the office/general store right after they closed, but the owner came out and let us in to pick up a few essentials (candy) without a grumble.

None of this is news if you read my last review. Here are some new items from our most recent stay:

Some items that were closed in the winter were open. We got to try out the pool. The pool is pretty big and has some funky sloped sides (the girls used them as makeshift slides into the pool). They also had a ton of those water noodles, and a beach ball you could play with. The pool never got overly crowded and the people we met were all very friendly and outgoing.

Headed to the pool

Headed to the pool

The girls also subjected Denver to the dog washing station. I don’t know how they lured him into the elevated wash tub but he came back smelling fresh (wet dog fresh) and wagging his tail. Denver also met some new friends in the dog run. He always approves of a stay at Old Mink Farm.  It is very convenient and appreciated to be able to travel with your pet.

Sunny Maple itself had undergone some big changes. The dated kitchen was refurbished and included new cabinets, flooring, lighting and counter tops. They were some really nice touches. I was concerned that the cabin might be too hot in the summer but the AC and fans kept the place nice and cool. I am tempted to try a different cabin when we visit next, but we have such a wonderful time at Sunny Maple I can’t imagine finding a better choice.

 

S'mores by the campfire

S’mores by the campfire

In addition to the plentiful activities at the resort, there are some nearby attractions that you might want to try out including: Catoctin Zoo and Wildlife Preserve (the Wildlife Safari is worth the price of admission), Cunningham Falls State Park, and numerous other hiking trails.

Bison feeding at the zoo

Bison feeding at the zoo

The Irons family is celebrating 50 years in business in 2014. I am not surprised at their success based on their customer service and beautiful location. I wish them the best and 50 more years of prosperity.

http://oleminkfarm.com/

http://cwpzoo.com/

http://dnr2.maryland.gov/publiclands/Pages/western/cunningham.aspx

 

Easy Does It Ranch

The Family

The Family

We went to Sandbridge, Virginia (the southern part of Virginia Beach) for vacation this year and I knew my daughter would be thrilled if we could incorporate some type of equine activity into the week.  She has recently started taking lessons and had 2 weeks of horseback riding camp this summer. A quick Google search brought us to the Easy Does it Ranch in Virginia Beach.  It offered trail rides and was only 15 minutes down the road from our vacation rental.  Perfect!

The Easy Does it Ranch Missions Statement:

“We are dedicated to giving second chances to horses of all kinds who have suffered through starvation, abandonment, abuse and neglect. Our mission is to love and heal! The horses that come into our facility have a forever home here and will never have to worry about missing a meal or being left out in the cold. They are all spoiled and given the utmost care. Our staff is educated and trained to their full ability to make sure these horses have the care they deserve. It is a family atmosphere out at the ranch, where we allow people from all around to experience these great animals and see how much love and they give to us in return. We want to show the world how horses are creatures of passion, knowledge, care, and affection, whose friendship is greater than ever imagined. We need help and donations to be able to support our new and incoming family of horses and this is where you can play your part! Support our great efforts by taking a trail ride or by contributing a tax-deductible donation to the Pungo Equine Rescue and Rehab.”

 

Kay and Maverik

Kay and Maverick

 

I didn’t see an option to make a reservation online so I called the phone number provided on the website. I got to speak with Malinda, who operates the Easy Does It Ranch. Malinda was very personable on the phone and you could tell she was very passionate about her horses. She told me about their Back Bay Trail Rides which consisted of an 1.5 hour trail ride and featured a dip for the horses and riders in the Back Bay.   We made a reservation over the phone for a Tuesday morning trail ride for my wife and daughter. I was hoping that a morning ride would be cooler and hopefully less likely to be cancelled due to rain/weather.

I called the day before to confirm the time and what the girls would need for their ride. The ride was scheduled to start at 0800 and Malinda suggested older sneakers for the ride (they are gonna get wet).  Everything else you could need was provided.

They loved it…

Into Back Bay

Into Back Bay

They arrived about 15 minutes early for the 0800 appointment. Malinda was just finishing up getting the horses ready. My daughter rode Maverick and my wife rode Pungo. They walked down a combination of trails and roads until they got to the centerpiece of the ride – Back Bay. Malinda led all three out into the Bay and the horses got to play and enjoy the water.

This was the highlight for my wife and child. They said the horses were making moaning sounds because the loved being in the water so much. Pungo loved blowing bubbles under the water and Maverick spent time trying to splash everyone. Malinda talked about the horses, their histories, and different personalities while they strolled around the Bay. My wife said she is extremely knowledgeable and passionate about the Ranch and her horses.

Frolicking in the bay

Frolicking in the bay

After the ride was over, they got to give the horses some treats and Malinda took the time to hug Meredith and Kay and thank them for coming. Her staff took a ton of pictures for us to enjoy and remember the special day.

Bottom Line – My daughter was looking forward to this more than anything else on her vacation and she came back thrilled. She loved her time with the horses and the opportunity to ride them into the bay. I honestly know very little about horses, but I do know a happy 10-year-old when I see one. She would love to go back next time we stay in Sandbridge and that is probably the best endorsement I can give.

End of the Road

End of the Road

http://www.easydoesitranch.net/

3581 Muddy Creek Road
Virginia Beach, VA 23456
Ranch Office: (757) 721-4646

 

 

10 Tips for Great Wolf Lodge (Williamsburg)

No race this week, but I wanted to review something.  We went to the Great Wolf Lodge in Williamsburg Virginia for my birthday so I figured I might as well review that and pass along any lessons/tips I discovered.

I should mention up front that I received no discounts or anything special in return for my review.

Since it was my birthday we went ahead and tried just about everything.

Tip #1: This place is great for kids, and even better for a group of kids.  I probably wouldn’t come here if it was just my wife and I or a group of adults.

Tip #2: If you are planning on going to the other attractions in the area, there are cheaper hotels.  You are paying for the water park and the hotel cost isn’t worth it unless you are using the water park.

Tip #3: Get a Pup/Paw/Wolf Pass: We got both girls Wolf Passes and this worked out for the best.  The Wolf Pass gives you a bunch of extras and you save about 35%:

The girls with their Wolf Passes

The girls with their Wolf Passes

  • One MagiQuest or ShadowQuest Game
  • Compass Quest
  • Choice of Classic or Color Wand, Topper or Belt
  • One animal from Creation Station (outfit not included)
  • 12oz Mike and Ike® Candy Cup
  • Great Wolf Lodge Branded Swim Goggles
  • One Glitz Glitter Tattoo
  • 3D 6×8 Paw Prints Photo
  • One Play on Howlywood XD Theater
  • Two Plays at Olivers Time Challenge
  • One Play at 4D World
  • One Leather Treaty Bracelet or Keychain

Tip #4: If you get a wand and a game of Magiquest you will probably have to help you kids complete it.  Be prepared to wander up and down the hallways and stairs for a few hours.

Tip #5: This is a super place to go during the off-season.  No worries about the weather, the pool is always open.

Tip #6: Cabanas: Overpriced but would be great during football season (you get a TV). Otherwise go early and claim a prime spot/chairs.

Cabana de Chamberlin

Cabana de Chamberlin

Tip # 7: Room near, but not right next to the lobby.  The higher the better. It can be a bit of a jaunt from one end of the hotel to the center where everything is.  If you get too close to the main lobby area you may get annoyed by the kids running up and down the floors playing the Magi/Shadow/Compass Quest games. I prefer the top floor because I always seem to be below a pack of angry elephants stomping the floor  (or so I imagine)

Tip #8: Food. If you aren’t too tired, get away and eat at a cheaper restaurant.  They have a Dunkin Donuts and a Pizza place in the Lodge for cheaper options.  The snack bar by the pool had some descent snacks.  I liked the pretzel with the beer mustard.  The problem is that it is just too easy to stay in the hotel and eat at the overpriced buffet.  I never eat close to the amount that I am paying. I would suggest the Dunkin Donuts for breakfast, the Snack Bar or Pizza for lunch and get out of the place for dinner.

Tip #9: The arcade is a money sucking pit.  You play games, get tickets and trade them in for “prizes”.  You can easily spend money to get cheap prizes you would never buy.  That being said, my daughter always drags me in and we always leave with weird knickknacks.

Tip #10: Repeat customers get email deals which can help with the cost of the room.  Another good idea is to share a Suite with another couple and you can split the cost.

Happy Birthday to me

Happy Birthday to me

I would also like to say that the staff is always extremely friendly and helpful.  The seem truly interested in customer satisfaction and customer feedback. The lifeguard staff is particularly watchful.  I never saw them just chatting amongst themselves or not paying attention to their area. I don’t know what their training program is like but it is effective.

Website: http://www.greatwolf.com/