Hitting the Empty Nester Lifestyle Hard

disney-fireworks-jfk

Sitting in the airport waiting to board our Southwest Airlines flight to Orlando, Florida, I felt a mix of excitement and guilt. We were traveling to the Happiest Place on Earth without our kids. It was definitely a weird feeling. When John and I talk about our happy places, it is different for each of us. Mine is a pool or Spain. His is Disney World. We hadn’t been back since 2010. How was that possible? It didn’t seem like it could be that long ago. Sheesh. How old are we? The short answer is old, but not too old for Disney World!

We were quickly struck by how much had changed. We had wristbands that contained our park passes and room keys, which, it turns out, was very convenient. We later found that the bands also held our photos from rides and character encounters. Wow. It was awesome. A little freaky for privacy seekers, but overall very cool and useful. Also, the refillable cups are now equipped with sensors that know when your stay is over, so no more bringing back last year’s cup and getting free soda for a week. We were never that organized but other people must have been to lead the Disney powers that be to put chips in those cups. That can’t be cheap, can it?

We began our week with the excitement of our recently married selves when we last visited Disney without kids. The approximately 25 years difference was almost immediately obvious by our earlier bedtime and willingness to call it a day sooner than our young selves would have. We were logging over 20,000 steps daily and feeling every one of them. We noticed a plethora of motorized scooters and can proudly and gratefully say that we are still young and healthy enough that the many, ever-present scooters annoyed us.

west-orange-trail-view

We also took the opportunity to go on a mid-week bike ride. As you can imagine, Florida has a number of wonderful trails from which to choose. John’s research lead us to two trails that both sounded great. One trail went through an area that was described as having a lot of opportunities to see wildlife and sounded more isolated. Readers of this blog know how I feel about wildlife… I thought that it sounded like there was a distinct possibility that one or both of us could be eaten by an alligator and no one would know. So, while in theory I’d love to see a bunch of animals with a variety of diets up close during a scenic bike ride, in practice, the answer is actually (as kids these days say) a hard no. Which nudged us toward the West Orange Trail. It is a flat, paved, rail trail that included key points such as, 20 easy miles and restaurants along the route. It was also closer to our vacation accommodations in Orlando, and offered a conveniently located bike rental shop, Bikes and Blades, at the Killarney Station trailhead.

west-orange-trail-bridge

We set out with our newly rented bikes on a really nice, sunny and warm day. We peddled along feeling proud of ourselves for taking a break from the happiness of Disney to ride. But mostly I was feeling grateful to be doing something other than walking. We enjoyed the peaceful ride with few other people on the trail. We managed an ambitious 24 + miles total. We were tired but very pleased we were able to ride in February.

We were back in Disney World by mid-afternoon and moving onward with our agenda of fun. We took a quick trip to Epcot to ride Soarin’. Twice. It was different than the last time we did it, and still very fun. We then raced off to the Magic Kingdom for a quick dinner and reservations for the Fireworks Dessert Party at the Tomorrowland Terrace. It was a delicious dessert buffet and front row seats for the fireworks. It was all quite fantastic, and the next morning I couldn’t move. I was so sore and tired, I decided I needed a day by the pool. John, however, did not want to chill by the pool, but instead went off to see Stars Wars things in Hollywood Studios.

disney-selfies

Two additional big changes we noted were how much Disney Springs (which was called Downtown Disney the last time we were there) had grown. There were a lot of new restaurants and shopping! It was fun to spend the evening there. We went almost every night. We also decided to try Animal Kingdom again.

animal-kingdom-elephant

The last time we were there it was maybe a year old, and I wasn’t impressed. This time, it was very enjoyable. We saw a lot of animals and really thought it was worth the trip.

animal-kingdom-lion

We decided we could have easily stayed another week, which means we may be back in Disney sooner than last time.

 

A Winter Trip to Buffalo, Yes, Please!

Beautiful Canal and Bridge, Buffalo, NY December 2014

Beautiful Canal and Bridge, Buffalo, NY December 2014

Thinking of taking a trip to the Buffalo/Niagara area, why not do so over the winter?

Yes, I just suggested that you should plan a trip to one of the reputed snowiest places in the U.S. that is not known for its skiing. To the very city where, on November 18, 2014 , a heavy snowstorm left a 7 to 8 foot swath of snow, courtesy of Lake Erie, on neighborhoods and highways in Buffalo suburbs in surgical fashion. The places that were hit, were hit hard. Others just minutes away got a dusting. The snow has long since melted. We were trekking up to visit family just after Christmas. The weather was mild and perfect for travel.

Most of the folks I know that go to Buffalo, go to visit family or have planned a family vacation to Niagara Falls. That is all well and good. However, I want to give you an awesome tip on a fun, family vacation in which Buffalo is THE, if not A destination, as well. There are plenty of fun things to do there now, including skating, curling, or biking (yes, I wrote biking. Ice biking, to be specific) on the new and recently opened Canalside ice rink. It is, as they say,  “on fleek”; awesome and amazing and wonderful all at once. I was very eager to skate on the rink, as soon as I saw pictures of it. I found, tried on, and then packed my skates. I was so excited.

Canalside Ice Rink When Closed.

Canalside Ice Rink When Closed.

Unfortunately (and fortunately all at the same time), the weather was very mild. It was too mild to skate on Saturday. The rink was closed, but because we were going to the Buffalo Sabres hockey game that night, we went downtown early to check out the recently developed Canalside area and the new HarborCenter. We walked around the waterfront and then ambled over to where the ice rink is located. It looked really nice and was a good size. We walked around it and moved on to our next stop: the new (716) Food and Sport restaurant in the HarborCenter that John really wanted to try. (716 is the area code for Buffalo.)

We had heard from family members that the restaurant is a huge hit and there is usually a wait. So, we thought we had planned accordingly. We got to Canalside around 3:00 PM and wandered around. There were a lot of people everywhere. This is a complete change from before the downtown redevelopment started. It used to be more like a ghost town than a destination.

But, clearly, it has become a destination. We walked over to (716) to put our names on the list at about 3:30/3:45 PM. There was a line of people snaking around under a pop up tent outside the door. As we were getting our bearings and finding our way into the line, we heard the young lady with the clipboard saying, “There is a three to four hour wait for a table at this time.” Wut?

Yes, she said that. Our perfectly planned outing hit another snafu…the first being the ice rink was closed due to the mild weather. It was not going to work for us to get a table, eat and make it to the hockey game on time.

Waterfront, Buffalo, NY December 2014

Waterfront, Buffalo, NY December 2014

 

Happily, with the help of John’s sisters and a nephew, we were able to find another restaurant that could seat us almost right away. We ate at the Liberty Hound, a quaint restaurant situated in the Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park, at the original terminus of the historic Erie Canal. Afterwards, we walked over to the First Niagara Center for the game. It was a great game, which ended in a Buffalo win in a shootout.

 

Canalside Ice Rink Open! Buffalo, NY December 2014

Canalside Ice Rink Open! Buffalo, NY December 2014

Fast forward to Sunday. We found out that the rink was going to be open that afternoon. Hurrah! I was very excited, although some in our party were less than thrilled with the idea of going ice skating–at first. As soon as we got there and saw the throngs of people, the excitement spread through our party.

All Smiles!

All Smiles!

The ice was filled with people skating. We saw the ice bikes and they looked fun and manageable. We also saw a group getting a curling lesson and really wanted in on that activity. It was almost too much to take in, but we focused and found our ticket line. It seemed really long, but it went really fast. There was such a steady turnover of skaters that we hardly noticed the wait. I had my skates, but everyone else needed to wait in a second line to get their skates. That line didn’t take long either, thankfully. John zipped over to (716) to put our name on the list again and was told there was a 2 hour wait, which was perfect for us to skate then head over.

 

We all had so much fun on the ice. It was a blast. Some of us hadn’t skated for several years, so we were lucky to stay on our feet the whole time.

Happy Skaters!

Happy Skaters!

 

 

 

 

 

The entry fee and rental fees were very reasonable. I wished we had more time to take the curling lesson and to try the ice bikes. But, just about the time when we were starting to get fatigued, John got the text from (716) that our table was ready. Alyssa was able to get her skates off and sprint over to the restaurant first, to ensure we didn’t lose the table. The rest of us moved as quickly as we could to get there too. And, we were not disappointed. The food was fantastic. I had a house salad with steak on it that was delicious. There is no doubt that we will get back to Canalside on our next visit, and we highly recommend it – even in the winter.

 

Me and John Skating Together, Canalside Buffalo, NY

Me and John Skating Together, Canalside Buffalo, NY

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canalside Ice Rink at Night Buffalo, NY December 2014

Canalside Ice Rink at Night
Buffalo, NY
December 2014