Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Edwin B. Forsythe Wildlife Refuge

We figured that our little getaway couldn't be all hot tubs and stuffing our faces. We needed to do at least one non-food related activity, so we decided to check out the Edwin B. Forsythe Wildlife Refuge in Galloway, New Jersey.

I didn't have huge expectations for our visit. First, it was the middle of January, not a very active time for wildlife. Second, I usually prefer my wildlife refuges to be filled with sloths. I will say that I came away pleasantly surprised.

The Edwin B. Forsythe Wild Life Refuge was built to be a safe haven for various animals who required an escape from all of the city sprawl of downtown Atlantic City.

Usually there is a small entrance fee, but we happened to show up on a no entrance fee day.

We started out by milling around the information center. We like fancy displays and reading plaques.

We were asked if we'd like to watch the informational video. Of course we would! We got the whole movie room to ourselves as there were no other visitors. The movie was very well done. It gave a brief history of the refuge, then it showed what the refuge looks like through each of the seasons. It definitely made me want to come back to see the refuge during the other seasons, especially in late fall when the place gets an influx of Monarch butterflies.

We picked up a map, then hopped in the car to drive the 8-mile nature viewing loop.

There was a silent, magnificent beauty in the starkness of winter.

Everything was all neutral tones, mixed with silvery light.

I imagine that during the height of the shore season, this place can get crowded, and the cars can get backed up. With the exception of a few other cars, we had the place to ourselves, thus, we took our time to really soak it all in.

There wasn't a lot of wildlife to view in the winter. We saw otter homes, but I'm sure the otters were keeping warm and cozy.  We were treated to an array of birds and geese that didn't seem bothered by the cold.

The wildlife refuge is a fantastic place for picturetakers. We were constantly pulling over to the side to snap a photo, or just to watch an interesting bird pick up a couple of snacks in the water.

I was truly surprised by how lovely the refuge was. I wondered how even more lovely it would look in spring, or summer, or fall.

The wildlife refuge has several hiking trails that I'm sure are very nice, but it was too chilly for any lengthy outdoor air exposure. Just another reason to go back.

The next time you plan a trip to the New Jersey Shore, head to the Edwin B. Forsythe Wildlife Refuge, and take in some natural beauty before heading to the beach and the boardwalk. I will most certainly return.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Eating Old School at Angelo's Fairmount Tavern

Birthday Dinners #2 and #4

Yes, you read that correctly. We ended up liking Angelo's so much that we ate there twice during our trip.

We were on a roll after our Iron Room dinner, so we decided to try another off the boardwalk/not in a casino restaurant.

Established in 1935, Angelo's Fairmount Tavern is deliciously old school. It's easy to imagine that back in the day people hid guns in the bathroom and made offers that other people couldn't refuse in this restaurant.

It's also the Winchester House of restaurants. It just keeps going and going in a winding maze of variously decorated rooms. I'm pretty sure that at least some of the decor hanging on the walls has been around since 1935.

We decided to start off with one of the evening's specials, the fried vegetable platter. I know, I know, this was wildly unhealthy, but this is not the restaurant if you are looking for a kale and quinoa salad. We figured when in Rome, or in this case, when in old school, Italian, Atlantic City.

The batter was thin, light, and crispy. There is nothing like biting into a fried piece of zucchini. Hot and crisp on the outside, and soft and juicy on the inside, yum. Our appetizer was accompanied by marinara sauce, and a lemony sauce that went great with the fried green beans.

Of course an Italian meal wouldn't be complete without some fresh, crusty bread, and a couple of glasses of red wine.

Our meals came with a salad served family style. The house dressing was delicious.

For my entree, I went with my favorite Italian dish, manicotti with meatball.

Can you ever go wrong with pasta filled with cheese?  It was tasty, but didn't quite beat out Villa di Roma (Italian Market in Philadelphia) as my absolute #1 manicotti. The meatball was fantastic. Growing up I had a Great Aunt Francis whose meatballs were the stuff of legend. I think what made them particularly good was the crusty, slightly charred outside. The meatball at Angelo's brought back memories of eating meatballs in the finished basements of family members during showers, graduation parties, etc...

Shannon got one of his favorites, lasagna.

There was probably enough lasagna to feed at least two people. It was a good thing our room had a fridge for leftovers. He gave his lasagna a thumbs up.

We would have ordered dessert, but we were incredibly stuffed.

When we ate here the second time with our doing stuff partners in crime Scott and Paulette, we got an order of the cheesy garlic bread. Yes, it was as good as it sounds, and looks.

We also got a carafe of the house red wine. I'm almost always disappointed by a restaurant's house wine, but Angelo's house red was quite enjoyable. Don't be afraid to order it if you go. It's a good amount of wine, and split between four people, it was a great deal.

I've been to a couple of Italian restaurants at the casinos, and none of them even come close to being as delicious and authentic as Angelo's Fairmount Tavern. If you park at Caesar's, it's not too far of a walk, and it is completely worth a visit for some home cooked Italian food and a setting that will make you want to leave the gun and take the cannoli.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Iron Room-Atlantic City

Birthday Dinner #1

The first thought I had when we walked into The Iron Room was, wow this is small, which was immediately followed by the thought, wow, this is cool.

Located further inland in Atlantic City, New Jersey, The Iron Room sits in the back of a liquor store, giving it the feel of a modern day Atlantic City Speakeasy. We were there on a weeknight, so the crowd was light, but I imagine that reservations are a must during the weekend.

The Iron Room is known for its expertly crafted cocktails, and although our intention beforehand was to try one, we found ourselves in the restaurant on half-price wine Wednesday and well, our plans changed. 

We agonized over the menu. It consisted of many delicious sounding tapas. I feel like we should take a March Madness type bracket sheet with us when we go to tapas restaurants to help us whittle down our choices.

Due to our affinity for charcuterie and cheese boards, we started out with that.

Our board included a selection of meats, including pheasant pate, which was a first for both of us (the pheasant, not the pate). Though I can’t say that I’m a huge adorer of pate, it was pretty tasty.  I love blue cheese like other girls love chocolate. I also love that Shannon likes blue cheese less than I do, so I get to eat most of it. This blue cheese was especially good. I'm also a fan of the cornichons (little pickles). Unlike a lot of restaurants that give you a speck of meat here and a dab of cheese there, the charcuterie and cheese board at The Iron Room was huge. It could easily feed four people if not more. After consuming it, I was glad we didn’t go too crazy with our tapas ordering.

Next to arrive to our table were the goat cheese croquettes. 

We’re suckers for croquettes. I was a little surprised because I was expecting the center to be gooey-melty, but the inside had more of a goat cheese mashed potato filling. They were yummy, especially with the honey Dijon dipping sauce. If you get them, you must use the sauce.

In all of the reviews and posts I read about The Iron Room, everyone said you had to get the Udon noodle mac and cheese. Who am I to argue?

Oh my. I’m with everyone. If you go to The Iron Room, order the mac and cheese. I liked the use of the Udon noodles to give it a little something different, but the best part was the cheese. Sometimes mac and cheese can be a bit bland, and I’m not sure what blend of cheeses they use, but there was a touch of sharpness, mixed with a distinct tanginess. It was a creamy, cheesy, mouthful of delight. If it had been appropriate, I would have licked the remaining cheese out of the bowl.

For our final dish, we were presented with seared wild scallops with tahini gazpacho, and heirloom tomatoes in a parsley sauce. The scallops were perfectly cooked. As frequenters of seared scallops, we both enjoyed the tahini gazpacho, which was more like a sauce. It added something unique to the usual scallop sauce offerings. We even ate the tomatoes slowly because they were so good.

I would have to say that the desserts were a little uninspired. I got the donuts, and because I’m me, I ordered a side of chocolate banana gelato to go with them. 

They weren’t bad, but were on the dry side. The gelato helped a lot. We weren’t sure what happened with Shannon’s. He thought he ordered the assortment of gelatos, but the server brought out an assortment of sorbets. 

We weren’t sure if the server got the order wrong, or if the menu meant that they had either an assortment of gelatos or sorbets every night. Shannon said his sorbet was good, but not great. I think when go back, we’d probably skip dessert and order an additional tapas dish instead.

The next time you find yourself in Atlantic City, skip the overpriced casino restaurants, and have a meal at The Iron Room instead. Not only is the food great, but you have to give these guys points for moxie for attempting to compete with the boardwalk restaurants.  We can’t wait to go back.  

Friday, March 18, 2016

Marriott Fairway Villas at the Jersey Shore

As it turned out, this year we each got a birthday trip. 

For Shannon’s birthday we went to Pittsburgh and Fallingwater. For my birthday, we went to the New Jersey Shore for an eating extravaganza weekend (of course).

Our friends who have a timeshare used their timeshare in Galloway, New Jersey for the beginning of the week, and let us use the timeshare for the latter half of the week. 

We stayed at Marriott’s Fairway Villas.

I must admit that we are getting a bit spoiled by these huge suites. 

We had two bedrooms/bathrooms, a large kitchen and eating area, and a cozy living room with a fireplace.

The bed was amazingly comfy.

There was also a nice little screened in porch, but being January, it was a bit too chilly to use.

The outdoor pool area looked like a fun time when it's not the middle of winter.

Fortunately for us, they also had an indoor pool area. 

Though it didn’t have the pzazz, the fruity drinks with umbrellas, or the always entertaining people watching of our favorite indoor pool at Harrah’s, we did enjoy a few peaceful, relaxing soaks in the hot tub.

There was a game room. We thought we would have some time to play a little pinball, but alas, that did not happen.

There were also games located outdoors. Again, just a bit too chilly. 

I bet in the summer, this place is hopping, but with the exception of some giddy cheerleaders who had a tournament that weekend, the place was quiet and fairly empty, just what we needed.

We soaked in the hot tub, went out for some fabulous dinners, and then loafed in front of the room’s fireplace. It was exactly what we needed in order to exhale all of the stress of a hectic holiday season, and inhale all of the anticipation of a new year of adventures.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Disney World-Things We've Never Done Before...

...or haven't done since we were kids. 

"What time did you say The Magic Kingdom closes tomorrow?" Shannon asked.

"Ten. That's what the website said," I replied.

"Well this," he said, waving the park schedule provided by our resort, "says that it doesn't close until midnight." 

"Really? Are we going to do it then? Are we going to stay until midnight?"

The answer was yes.

After enjoying the opening ceremony, we grabbed coffees on Main Street, then made our way to Tomorrow Land. As we enjoyed our caffeine seated under a tree, Shannon said,

“You know, I’ve never been on the Astro Orbiter. The line is usually too long."

“I’ve never been on it either,” I replied, noticing the almost non-existent line. “The line looks pretty short, we should go on it now.” 

And so began a plan for our fifteen hour day at The Magic Kingdom. We would do things we’ve never done before, or at least haven’t done since we were kids.

Astro Orbiter

The Astro Orbiter was awesome. It goes faster than it looks, and you get amazing views of the park. Perhaps not the best ride for anyone who is afraid of heights however. 

It was so much fun.  

We loved it so much that we book ended our day, riding Astro Orbiter as our first attraction, and then riding it again as our last.  I think it is even cooler at night with all of the lights and colors whirling around.  

It will now be on our must do rotation.

Dumbo the Flying Elephant

I have a confession, until that day, I had never been on Dumbo. 

It is one of the most iconic Disney attractions, but it always seemed like a waste, taking precious time away from something more fun like Haunted Mansion.  Since it was still early in the day, and there wasn’t much of a wait, we decided I needed to ride Dumbo at least once in my life. 

The ride is very cute. 

I would certainly ride it again, but not if there was a particularly long wait. 

Prince Charming Regal Carrousel

The Carrousel is always one of those attractions that we think we will get to at some point in the day, but becomes one of those attractions we could ride, or we could do Splash Mountain one more time… I think we both have been on the Carrousel as youngsters, but we have never been on it as adults. 

I think the best part of riding the Carrousel is watching other people ride the Carrousel. 

The music is also nice. 

The horses go up really high, and then dip down really low. I have no idea how Joey and Ashley from the See Ya Reel Soon Vlog are able to coordinate a kissing picture every time they ride.

Mad Tea Party

We've never done The Mad Tea Party, and since we were on a roll...

Probably the most disappointing of the things we’ve never done before.  I feel like Disney can spice up average/general rides to make them feel special, but the tea cups are still just the tea cups. 

I’m okay with skipping them, though I do regret not riding the Disneyland version at night  under all of the glowing lanterns.

Enchanted Tales with Belle
We’ve never done Enchanted Tales with Belle because there's usually a long wait time, and it seemed more geared to little kids. Being a huge Beauty and The Beast fan, and seeing as Belle is my favorite Princess, I knew I had to do it at least once. 

I hope that the cast members at Enchanted Tales with Belle make a lot of money. They may have the most difficult job at Disney World.  I’m sure they are told how great the job will be because they are acting in a show, then surprise, you are also, mostly, a kid wrangler.

Enchanted Tales with Belle is an interactive show where every child who wants a role can get one.  It takes a lot of coordination on the part of the cast members.  At the end there is a ball where all of the kids get introduced and get to have their picture taken with Belle. Belle is lovely and sweet to everyone, and is able to coax even the shyest child into taking a perfect photo. 

There was one little girl who was with some sort of make a wish organization. She was introduced as Princess Amanda, and went up to meet Belle. You could see how excited and happy she was, and it might have gotten a little dusty for me.  The whole show is super heartwarming. I would definitely do it again.

Monster's Inc. Laugh Floor 
This one was for our friend Len, who was saddened and shocked when we mentioned that we had never seen, and always skip, The Monster’s Inc. Laugh Floor.  

I’d always assumed it was more for the kids, but it’s actually, legitimately funny, even for adults. Another one I would gladly do again.  My favorite joke of the show,

“Why should you never let Princess Elsa hold your balloon?”

“Because she’ll just let it go, let it go…”

Main Street Electrical Parade and Fireworks

Another terrible confession, I’ve never seen the fireworks from inside of the park, nor have I ever seen the Main Street Electrical Parade. When I went to Disney when I was younger, we left the parks at dinner time to eat somewhere more affordable. As an adult, we usually leave the park to see the fireworks in a place that isn’t crazy crowded. I begged that just this once, I wanted to see the fireworks from inside the park.

We landed a great viewing spot right up close to the castle, and it was without a doubt, a mass of crowded chaos. 
The electrical parade was fun, perhaps because I am a huge Elliot fan, but it could do with some updating.

The best part of watching the fireworks from inside of the park, is the castle projection show. You can’t really see the projections well from across the lake, and the show is pretty cool.

Despite the crowd, I loved watching the fireworks inside of the park.  

Everything is right on top of you. It feels very amplified, and once again, it got a little dusty. 

Your wishes can come true, I kept thinking as fiery color burst in the air. It was a fantastic experience, but I am also okay with enjoying the show in a more peaceful and relaxing setting like the dock at the Grand Floridian, the Ferrytale Wishes Cruise, or the California Grill.

A lot of people left the park after the fireworks, but we wanted to use every minute we had left to take advantage of the shorter wait times. Despite feeling a touch tired as we were going on hour fifteen, we made it until midnight. I had never been in the park at midnight, so it was another spectacular first to end the day on.