Famille Du Pentium

Another Day, Another Llama Video

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Even More Summer Vacation Pics

A new assortment as we start to pull pics off of cameras and so forth… plus we went to A Day Out with Thomas yesterday, GREAT pics from that event…

Indian Echo Caverns, PA: http://gallery.famille.org/main.php?g2_view=core.ShowItem&g2_itemId=582

A Day Out with Thomas:  http://gallery.famille.org/main.php?g2_view=core.ShowItem&g2_itemId=581

posted by Michael Humphries-Dolnick at 9:32 am  

Sunday, August 20, 2006

More Family Photos

I’ve posted more family photos to the Gallery.  I’ve reorganized them, added more from this summer, and also posted the long-overdue pictures from our spring NYC trip. 



posted by Michael Humphries-Dolnick at 7:51 am  

Wednesday, August 9, 2006

Indian Echo Caverns – Hummelstown PA

This was one of our activities on Saturday, when we had some free time.  After we spent the requisite one hour at Hershey’s Chocolate World, we made our way to Hummelstown to check out the Indian Echo Caverns.  These are fairly complex caverns about 190 feet below ground.  There is a gift shop, and several other money-making activities that we generally ignored.  It cost us $11 per adult and $6 per child to take the tour.

The tours are lettered, and after you buy your tickets they call out your letter and several dozen people join the group at an appointed location outside the gift shop.  WARNING: There is no apparent accomodations for people with disabilities.  There are ~70 stairs down to the caverns, and ~70 stairs up, with no elevators or ramps.  Also the cavern tour would be very very difficult to navigate with a wheelchair.  You should be prepared to decend and ascend by foot, and tour the caverns themselves on fairly slippery, narrow paths.

That said, it’s a hell of a lot of fun, and a cool 52 degrees farenheit year-round.  The only criticism I have is that the various tours starting at different times cross each other often and you have to stop and allow for other groups to get by.  But that wasn’t a huge issue.  The tour includes a large area and several paths going in to smaller areas.  The tour guide was not a geologist, but was very knowlegeable about geology nontheless.  Everything was well lit and easy to navigate visually.

If you’re in the Harrisburg / Hershey area and need a break from Hershey Park (although not a break from the workout I’m afraid) you should visit this attraction. 

posted by Michael Humphries-Dolnick at 8:42 pm  

Wednesday, August 9, 2006

Hotel Review – Holiday Inn Independance OH

This is the last hotel we stayed at during our vacation.  Overall, it was a good hotel – same room configuration as the Bucks County, PA hotel – but a few differences show the good from the bad.

The wallpaper was peeling.  There were missing tiles in the bathroom, both that could clearly be seen by sitting on the commode.  One near the floor, and one around where the shower curtain rod screwed into the wall, leaving the screws for the shower curtain rod exposed.  When we checked in, the lights and clock on 1/2 of the room didn’t work, and it took 2 calls and several hours to get maintenance up to have a look.  It turns out a rather overloaded extension cord was pinched under the headboard and had to be extracated and reattached to the outlet.  Also the remote didn’t work, and required batteries.  

These were all realatively minor issues, but issues that should have been picked up by housekeeping all the same.  A little attention to detail would make this hotel a better place for it’s guests. 

posted by Michael Humphries-Dolnick at 8:35 pm  

Wednesday, August 9, 2006

Hotel Review – Holiday Inn Bucks Country PA

This is a couple of quick blogs to finish off our trip report.

The Holiday Inn Select at Bucks County PA is excellent.  We had a standard King / Queen foldout room (not suite) and there was plenty of room for us and our kids.  The rooms were clean, well maintained, and didn’t show the signs of mis-repair that most hotels do (like peeling wallpaper, bare carpets, and missing tiles).  The only downside we found was that the shower/baths don’t have safety grips on the floor of the tubs, and no rubber mats are provided, so it’s very slippery. 

The pool looked good but we spent so much time in the water at nearby Sesame Place that we never had time to try it out.

The most appealling feature is the restaurant staff.  They advertise that they carry 110 beers, and they’re right.  The selection is well spread across local and foreign, bottle and tap, and even a few cans for good measure.  But best of all the staff is very knowlegeable about their beers and can tell you about the brewery it came from, how it was made, and even suggest (and give samples of) other similar beers that you might like.

Overall an excellent experience, and we’ll go back again. 

posted by Michael Humphries-Dolnick at 8:29 pm  

Sunday, August 6, 2006

Preliminary Trip Pics

Go to the Famille gallery page to see some trip pics so far… not organized yet, and not all uploaded, but it’ll give you a taste… http://gallery.famille.org/main.php?g2_view=core.ShowItem&g2_itemId=351&g2_fromNavId=x48a715c1

posted by Michael Humphries-Dolnick at 3:44 pm  

Saturday, August 5, 2006

Review – Hershey Chocolate World

I cannot believe that there were people arriving, parking miles away and taking trams, to attend this Hershey Park area activity all day.  We arrived at approximately 9AM (it opens at 9, about an hour before Hershey Park), parked up front, did everything we wanted to do (which was basically take the Hershey Factory Tour Ride and buy some overpriced chocolate from the gift shop), and left by 10.  There is a little more to do there, but not much.

The factory tour ride is well worth the five minutes we waited to get on.  Any more than that, and it’s probably not worth it.  It’s interesting, but not inspiring.  At the end, they hand out "samples" (a miniature Take Five bar in my case) and you can buy photos. 

There is a "trolly tour", I don’t know where this goes but be advised – these are just buses.  If your kids are looking forward to some sort of rail-driven event, you will be disappointed.  It’s some sort of tour, and I think it actually costs money, but at the end of the day, it’s a bus ride.

In a corner of one of the gift shops (and there are many) there is an area where the kids can actually "participate" in a Hershey’s Kisses production line.  This consists of waiting for wrapped Kisses to fall down a "production line" and they catch them in a box.  If you want to keep the box, you have to buy it.  They take pictures, and you gotta pony up ten bucks to get them back. 

Overall it’s mostly a mall, with shops and fast food and shops and shops and shops.  Plan to spend money. If that’s what turns your crank, go for it.  Don’t come here expecting to "experience Hershey" (unless you define "Hershey" as "every other strip-mall corporate America presence you’ve ever ignored while driving home from work.")

My advice – go early (parking is free for the first 2 hours), take the tour ride (free), buy some crap, and get out.  The hoarding masses will thank you for your front parking spot as you leave.

posted by Michael Humphries-Dolnick at 4:09 pm  

Saturday, August 5, 2006

Hotel Review – Hampton Inn Harrisburg East

Following are my experiences and observations at the Hampton Inn, Harrisburg East on Union Deposit Road in Harrisburg PA.  We stayed here three nights, checking in on Friday August 4th and checking out on Monday, August 6th.  As you’ll note by the posting date, we’re still here, so there’s probably more to come.

 I’d like to say that every hotel I stay at (and I stay at a lot) gives an outstanding experience.  By and large, most do, and some just give an acceptable experience.  But unfortunately one or two now and then fail miserably.

We had my family (five – two adults and three kids) plus my in-laws, so we got adjoining rooms.  One room was in absolutely poor shape – wall paper peeling off in very obvious places, the AC unit barely kept the room luke warm, and old thread bare carpet.  The other room was marginally better – same old wall paper but at least it wasn’t peeling.  The AC managed to keep up with the 90 degree F heat in Harrisburg this weekend. 

The "free" breakfast was overcrowded and under stocked.  In order to get a selection of items you wanted, you had to keep going up to get them at different times because nothing was fully stocked all the time.  They clearly can’t keep up with the level of bookings that they are taking at this hotel. 

The worst part was the pool experience.  I took my oldest and youngest sons to the pool.  Aaron wore his t-shirt and flip-flops and I brought my room key because Marla and Ethan were going out.  We were swimming in the outdoor pool for about 30 minutes when I noticed that my room key and my son’s t-shirt, which we had left on a table by the pool, were missing.  I remembered that the pool "guard" (their term for someone who sits and talks on her cell phone) had just left recently, so when she came back I asked about my belongings.  She replied that she had taken my key to the front desk and the t-shirt to her pool room.  She returned the shirt, and told me to go to the front desk to get my key.  I looked around, and other swimmers (about 20 at the time I was there) had also left their belongings on tables and chairs around the pool.  I was completely mystified as to why my belongings were singled out for seizure.  I asked at the front desk, and was unapologetically told that they were taken because they were left on the table.  They could offer no explanation as to why my belongings were chosen, when several dozen other people had safely left their belongings on tables and chairs.  When I argued that I felt that it was inappropriate to single out personal belongings without warning when clearly other similar belongings were fine, they replied that I shouldn’t worry, after all, I had gotten my shirt back, right?

The behavior of the pool "guard" and the response of the front desk staff was out of line, and I would not recommend this hotel to anyone staying in the Harrisburg area.  Hopefully I will leave this hotel review as is – but if I encounter more infamous "Hampton Inn Attitude" I’ll post it here.

posted by Michael Humphries-Dolnick at 3:41 pm  

Friday, August 4, 2006

Sesame Place Review

It’s Friday about 4:26 PM (EDT), we’re now in Harrisburg, PA.  Yesterday we went to Sesame Place.  I’ll give my review of that first, then possibly a few entries about our travels.  There was good, bad, and ugly at Sesame Park.  Overall, a great experience, but there are some tricks and traps you should know about.

Sesame Place is great.  It’s expensive; not Disney expensive but still, a steep chunk out of your pocket.  We spent ~$400 up front for admission tickets and reservations for the "Breakfast with Elmo" character breakfast, which gets you into the park one hour early and lets you have premium picture taking time with the characters.  We have a family of five, all three children are over their "free line". 

The breakfast food is ho-hum.  In fact, it was terrible.  The eggs were runny, the bagels were stale, about the only thing that tasted right was the orange juice and the sausage.  If you are going to the character breakfast for food, skip it.  It is not worth it at all.  If you’re going to have premium time with the characters, by all means, go – it’s worth it.  One note, they have professional photographers walking around taking pictures (you’re allowed to take your own).  They have a photo ID bracelet that lets you collect all your photos later, but the "Big Bird" photo op at the breakfast doesn’t use this system … and of course, they lost our photos with Big Bird.  Why they don’t include the Big Bird photos with everyone else’s photo ID bracelet system is beyond me, and as suspected they don’t do it right and pictures thus get lost. 

Enough grousing.  The park layout is absolutely fabulous.  There are big rides interspersed amongst wading pools, zero depth pools, and other splash attractions.  Many of the review websites warn this but you just can’t say it enough … be prepared to get and stay wet.  Dress and pack like you’re going to a local pool or water slide park.  I wore shoes, mostly to save packing space on the drive out (no room for my sandals in my bags).  I ended up buying ill-fitting flip-flops at the park.  You cannot go barefoot (no rule against it, but some of the walkways are rough on the bare feet, and very hot) and your shoes will get soaked.  Really, go prepared – sandals or water shoes, wear your swimsuit, put on sunscreen early and often, etc.  We rented one of their double strollers, it was a great tool and there was no place it couldn’t go. 

You’ll still get plenty of opportunities for photos and meeting the Sesame Street characters just walking around the park.  Be aware that around mid-day is the most busy and the lines start forming, and in the heat the characters (which I learned have to wear RUBBER SUITS under their costumes… ACK!) must go in often for cool-down and water.   Either get in line early, or be prepared to wait while the characters have their cool-downs.

I was a bit surprised, having been to Disney where credit cards are swallowed en masse like Lattes in Seattle, that fewer places take credit cards and the clerks don’t seem to know how to process them.  One place kept insisting that all of my credit cards (and oddly all of the patrons around us) were being declined, until a manager was summoned and pointed out that the clerk had not "totalled" the bills prior to running the cards.  They claim that everywhere except their "Kiosks" take credit cards but I was surprised to find what constituted a "Kiosk" … almost every drink and snack shop.    Water bottles are outrageous, more than even Disney – almost $3 a bottle, cash on the barrelhead for each one. 

Overall, we were very happy with our experience.  By 4PM, the kids had done all they could handle and were ready to go back to our hotel.  We covered probably 80% of the park from ~10AM to ~4PM.  If we had stayed until closing time (8PM) we would have done it all, probably at the expense of our kids sanity.  The tickets also allow you a second day’s admission, but we passed on that as we headed out to Philadelphia to visit the Liberty Mall (more later.)

posted by Michael Humphries-Dolnick at 3:25 pm  

Wednesday, August 2, 2006

Day 2

Feasterville Trevose / Bucks County PA:  

We made it to our first extended stop.  Considering we got on the road really late today, we made excellent time.  Credit where due, the PA State Troopers were all going the other way today.  We went from Boardman (on the OH / PA border, near Pittsburg) to Feasterville Trevose, just outside of Philadelphia. 

It occurred to me as we were making the last interchange (I76 to I276 East) that in the last six days, I have literally travelled from coast to coast.  As some of you know, I ended last week in Portland Oregon on the Pacific coast.  Tonight, roughly six days later, I’m heading to dinner and a few beers just a few minutes from the Atlantic coast. 

It’s not quite as exciting as a few years ago, when a London -> Hong Kong -> Tokyo -> Chicago trip left me circumnavigating the globe in about 2.5 weeks.  But it’s something. 

More tomorrow after we go to Sesame Place.

posted by Michael Humphries-Dolnick at 4:14 pm  

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