Nomad by Trade

A travel blog for the kid at heart.

Category: Leisure Travel (Page 1 of 3)

Spaghetti Eis in Munich, Germany

The Coolest Ice Cream in the World

A trip to the local ice cream shop is great, but the world offers so much more than just a scoop of chocolate or vanilla. Summer is heating up in the Northern Hemisphere, so it’s the perfect time to indulge in an icy cold treat. Check out this list of the coolest ice cream in the world from a group of globetrotting travel bloggers.

Eyescream & Friends – Barcelona, Spain

By Kylie from Between England & Iowa

Eyescream & Friends in Barcelona, Spain

Photo by Kylie

Eyescream & Friends originated in the Barceloneta neighbourhood in Barcelona, Spain and have since spread to several locations around the world.  They serve shaved gelato that look like ‘splat monsters!’  There are 7 different flavours to choose from, including one frozen yoghurt flavour, then 2 little sugar eyeballs are placed on top.  Each of the flavours create a different colour Eyescream & Friends character!   Next, customers choose 2 pots from a huge range of toppings, anything from different flavoured sauces (I tried watermelon!), gummy bears, variations of chocolate, sprinkles, nuts and many more!  The bowl of shaved gelato, the 2 topping pots and a spoon, all slot into a handy take out box…that also make for a good Instagram picture!

See more from Kylie on Facebook and Twitter.

The Kitchen Sink – Walt Disney World

The Kitchen Sink at Beaches and Cream in Walt Disney World

Photo Credit: Walt Disney World Resort

The Kitchen Sink is the premiere sundae at the Beaches and Cream Soda Shop between Yacht and Beach Club resorts in Disney World (that’s the one in Florida). You can go straight to the hotels or walk from the back entrance to Epcot. You’ll need a small army to finish this enormous dessert. It features eight scoops of ice cream and every topping in the shop, ranging from sprinkles to Oreo cookies to brownies. It’s finished off with an entire can of whip cream. The whole mess of deliciousness is served in a metal bowl that looks like an actual sink. When it’s served, the lights in the cafe flicker and the Kitchen Sink is announced to all diners present. The true Kitchen Sink can only be had by dining in at Beaches and Cream, but a smaller, less challenging version can be purchased at the shop’s walk-up counter. Since it’s in one of the hotels, it’s a great Disney experience if you’re in the Orlando area and don’t want to spend a fortune on park tickets. Do you think you can handle it?

Ices Plain & Fancy – St. Louis, Missouri

By Christina from Our Sweet Adventures

Ice cream being made at Ices Plain and Fancy in St. Louis, Missouri

Photo by Christina

Ices Plain & Fancy is an unique ice cream shop in St. Louis, Missouri and one of our favorite spots to go to every time we visit. What makes Ices Plain & Fancy ice cream special and unique is that they incorporate local and seasonal ingredients with liquid nitrogen!

Liquid nitrogen gives ice cream a distinct texture similar to Dippin’ Dots (which is also made with liquid nitrogen). The ingredients for the specific ice cream flavor are placed into the mixer, followed by the liquid nitrogen poured into the ice cream base using a coffee thermos. Next, the base is mixed on high speed and the “smoke” from the liquid nitrogen performs its magic and freezes the ice cream. After the ice cream is fully incorporated they use a torch on the outside of the bowl in order to loosen up the ice cream – yes, it is that cold! Eventually when the ice cream becomes pliable, they remove it and place it in a serving bowl for the customers. Finally, guests eat their wonderful ice cream in awe of the magical and delicious creation made right before their eyes.  Now I realize that all ice creams melt in your mouth, obviously, but, liquid nitrogen ice cream initially “warms up” in your mouth and then melts away, which makes the flavors even more profound. Ultimately, every ice cream is very smooth, creamy, and packed with flavor!

This whole process can be seen by the customers once they place their order. The customer can watch the employees through a glass divider as they pour the ice cream base and liquid nitrogen into the Kitchen Aid mixers. It is a really nice touch as it allows customers to be a part of the experience! Watching the process of your ice cream is fun for not only the kids, but the adults too!

Ices Plain & Fancy make their liquid nitrogen ice cream flavors with either milk, coconut milk or soy milk and have a small selection of sorbet as well. Their menu has a lot to offer with classic flavors like vanilla and chocolate as well as boozy flavors like a dark and fancy. The flavor that is the most unique and a crowd favorite is their Campfire S’mores. For this flavor they use a smoke machine to infuse flavored wood chips into the ice cream. Once the smoke is infused into the mixer, they quickly put the ice cream into the serving bowl and then cover the bowl so that the smoke is captured. Once a guest takes the lid off, a wave of smoke seeps out, making it the best ice cream experience ever! The experience is one thing, but the flavor is also amazing. The smoke literally makes the ice cream taste like it was made over a campfire as the smoky taste lingers until the very last bite. Folded into the ice cream are small bites of mini marshmallows, chocolate chunks and ground graham crackers. Finally, there are graham cracker halves placed on top and then drizzled with hot fudge. This Campfire S’mores liquid nitrogen ice cream is AMAZING!!!! Hands down the best.

If you ever find yourself in St. Louis make sure you find your way over here, especially on a nice, hot summer day.

See more from Christina on Facebook and Instagram.

10 Below – New York, New York

By Kelly from Girl with the Passport

Ice cream from 10 Below in New York City

Photo by Kelly

This rolled ice cream purveyor not only uses fresh, organic ingredients, but they also churn out their delicious ice cream, to order, right before your eyes. So not only do you get a decadent, confectionery delight, but you also get a front row seat to the entire ice cream making process.

Inspired by ice cream making in countries like Thailand, 10 Below begins the ice cream making process with advanced cold plates that are cooled to -10 degrees (hence the name). Fresh cream is then poured atop the plate, while various mix-ins are added in, based upon the flavor you order. Employees slowly roll the ice cream atop until they achieve a smooth and creamy consistency that is totally worth the wait. The result? Fresh, delicious ice cream rolls in two minutes, without any added fat or emulsifiers. They literally look like little ice cream tacos that will make anyone’s stomach, and heart, happy. This ice cream is truly, a little bit of heaven in your hand.  And with innovative flavors like Cookie Monster (Yum), Fruity Bam Bam (Yum), and I Love You a Latte, there really is something for everyone in this funky, New York City ice cream parlor (They have a menu of mix ins to choose from so you can create any flavor combination you want).

See more from Kelly on Instagram and Facebook.

Spaghetti Eis – Munich, Germany

Spaghetti Eis in Munich, Germany

The first time I visited Munich, I was alerted to the existence of spaghetti eis by a friend who’d had some in the past. Things came up, and I didn’t get to try it that time, so I made sure to grab some the next time I was in town. Spaghetti Eis is ice cream that is squeezed through a noodle press so that it resembles spaghetti. It’s then topped with fruity red sauce so so that it looks like a bowl of spaghetti. It’s sweet, fruity flavor is so much better than pasta though! It’s the perfect treat for cooling down while strolling through the historic streets of Munich’s old town area. It’s available from multiple vendors, so keep an eye out as you explore the area.

Helado Obscuro – Mexico City, Mexico

By Lauren from Northern Lauren

One of my favourite ice cream shops in the world has to be Mexico City’s Helado Obscuro, which sells all kinds of quirkily named, alcoholic flavours. Yes, you read that right, (almost) all the ice creams, slushes and lollies sold in this quirky chain are laced with a healthy splash of booze. Honestly though, my favourite flavour (and this is coming from a non-vodka lover) is Dark Vader, a rich chocolately-vodka combo that totally plays on the punny name of the ice cream store itself (Helado Obscuro, a.k.a. ‘Dark Ice Cream’ is a play on the phrase ‘lado obscuro’ a.k.a. the Dark Side). There are tons of mezcal, tequila and rum spiked options, to name but a few, if you’re not down for vodka though.

I particularly like the Roma branch of Helado Obscuro, but there’s a few dotted around the city. Top tip: the one in the Zona Rosa also doubles as a bar.

See more from Lauren on Instagram and Facebook.

Ice Cream City – Tokyo, Japan

By Marie-Pier from Cravings of a Wanderher

Ice Cream City in Tokyo, Japan

Photo by Marie-Pier

During my trip to Tokyo, I heard about an indoor theme park, which had a section for foodies. I had to go see that! When I got there, I discovered there were in fact three food “theme parks” dedicated to pan-fried dumplings, ice cream, and dessert.

That’s where I discovered Tokyo’s Ice Cream City. It consists of 2-3 ice cream shops, among the incredible Soft Cream Bar and Cup Ice Museum shops.

Cup Ice Museum shop specializes in the most unique ice cream flavors of the world. While you can buy a cup of classic ice cream flavors, such as strawberry, vanilla, blueberry, or chocolate, you can also taste special flavors like pumpkin, melon, red bean, sunflower, or custard. If you’re brave enough, you can also try some of the most disgusting flavors: curry, miso noodle, caviar, corn, etc. They even sell a cup of garlic ice cream, which is called Dracula!

I didn’t try those weird flavors because I didn’t want to get sick over ice cream, so I went to Soft Cream Bar shop, where there is an awesome variety of soft ice cream: white peach, soda, sea salt vanilla, melon, soybean flour, wasabi, grape, strawberry, etc. Although it’s unusual, the wasabi flavor was quite good!

Tokyo’s Ice Cream City is hidden in Namco NamjaTown, an indoor theme park located in the Sunshine City complex (Ikebukuro area, Tokyo). Namco NamjaTown may seem boring to people who don’t speak Japanese, since all the attractions have Japanese instructions. That’s probably why it’s often overlooked by tourists! But it’s only a few dollars to enter and it’s definitely worth the visit!

See more from Marie-Pier on Facebook and Instagram.

Penn State Berkey Creamery – State College, Pennsylvania

By Karen from Wanderlustingk

Ice cream from the Penn State Creamery in State College, Pennsylvania

Photo by Karen

If you love ice cream, you need to visit the Penn State Berkey Creamery in State College, Pennsylvania, USA! The Penn State Creamery is run by the Pennsylvania State University Department of Food Science.   Since 1865, Penn State has been perfecting the science of ice cream and it’s where Ben & Jerry’s (among others) learned how to make ice cream. The line can be very long when Penn State has football games and you cannot mix flavors without being a US president (Bill Clinton asked!), so ask for a small portion as the portion is huge.  The ice cream flavors change daily as new flavors are invented by Penn State Food Science students every day, but you can find all the basics in addition to more experimental ones.  My favorite is the chocolate chip cookie dough, which tastes as good as the real thing.  Be warned that their ice creams are super rich with a butterfat percentage of 14.1%.

See more from Karen on Instagram and Facebook.

Sakura Ice Cream – Japan

By Cory from You Could Travel

Sakura ice cream in Japan

Photo by Cory

The first time I went to Japan, I heard a lot about matcha tea sweets. Naturally, I tried a matcha tea ice cream and loved every single bit of it. The second time I went to Japan, I tried Sakura flavoured ice cream. Now, this was the time I forgot everything I’ve ever known about ice cream, because this Sakura icy treat, just rocked my world. Is it hard to describe the taste of cherry blossom ice cream? I’m going to start with the fact that this ice cream is pink. It’s sweet and full of flavour. It’s the creamy texture which makes so much more intriguing than your ordinary ice cream. The taste is a little earthy and fruity, with a bit of rice pudding after taste. I can’t imagine anything better than sakura ice cream. Should you ever find yourself in Japan, forget matcha treats and go for the Sakura instead. I promise you won’t regret it.

See more from Cory on Facebook and Instagram.

Wild Flavors – Miyajima Island, Japan

By Kallsy from Pages of Travel

Photo by Kallsy

Japan is a country known for many unique and sometimes strange sweets. While in Hiroshima we took a day trip to Miyajima Island. There we found some of the most bizarre ice cream flavors we had seen! We opted for a black sesame sake swirl and a wasabi cone. The black sesame and sake had a mild red bean and smoky flavor mixed with a light touch of alcohol from the sake. We both expected the wasabi to taste incredibly spicy but it wasn’t! Instead, it had a creamy almost cucumber flavor with a kick of wasabi for the aftertaste. The best part of all though was the croissant donut cone that each of these bangin’ ice cream flavors came in. It added a nice sweet crunch to balance out the strange yet appetizing flavors. If you find yourself in Japan don’t be afraid to try out one of the many unique flavors of ice cream the stands have to offer! 

See more from Kallsey on Instagram and Facebook.

Which one sounds like it would be your favorite? Let me know in the comments!

Globetrotting travel bloggers from around the world share the coolest ice creams they've ever had.

Globetrotting travel bloggers from around the world share the coolest ice creams they've ever had.

Globetrotting travel bloggers from around the world share the coolest ice creams they've ever had.

Globetrotting travel bloggers from around the world share the coolest ice creams they've ever had.

Cinderella Castle and the Hub at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World

The Most Important FastPass+ at Every Disney World Park

Booking your FastPass+ reservations is an essential step when planning a visit to Walt Disney World. Not all FastPasses were created equal, however, and it’s important to make the best choices when making your selections. I’ve put together a guide to the most important FastPasses at each Disney park. I factored in the popularity of the ride and the usual standby wait time along with my own personal preferences. Your choices will obviously vary based on your tastes and the people in your travel group, but here are my best recommendations for your initial three Disney World FastPasses.

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First Timer’s Guide to the Garden of the Gods

I’d somehow never heard of Garden of the Gods until I started planning a trip to Colorado Springs. As soon as I saw pictures of it, I knew I’d have to visit. It’s an incredible naturally formed area full of red rock formations that will dazzle you. I loved wandering through the enormous boulders and spires and marveling at the power of nature. Bring your camera and some hiking boots and be prepared to explore some awe-inspiring scenery. Best of all? It’s free!

What to Do

Perkins Central Gardens Trail

Kissing Camels formation in Garden of the Gods Colorado Springs

So cute!

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Hiking the Gem Lake Trail

Rocky Mountain National Park is full of gorgeous scenery and offers all kinds of hiking trails, from an easy stroll around Sprague Lake to a climb to the summit of Longs Peak. As Midwesterners (aka from low elevation) of average fitness level, we stuck to the easy/moderate rated trails. Mostly. Our last hike of the weekend challenged us a lot more than we expected, and left us so exhausted that we barely made it out for dinner that night.

Hiking the Gem Lake trail in Rocky Mountain National Park taught us a very important lesson: always be very clear about your level of fitness when inquiring about hiking trails in the mountains. We were pointed toward Gem Lake by a NPS volunteer at one of the visitor centers and eagerly headed off to check out the views he talked about. The problem: when we told the first park volunteer that we were looking for a moderately easy trail to fill up the rest of the afternoon, she called over this other guy and didn’t relay the message that we weren’t looking for something strenuous. Based on his enthusiastic recommendation, we set off to hike to Gem Lake, with stomachs full of elk and bison burgers, fries, and pop.

Gem Lake Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park

There will be a lot of stairs along the way.

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What to Pack for a Disney Vacation

Your resort is booked. Your dining reservations are set in stone. Your FastPasses are all scheduled. The only question that remains is what to pack for your Disney vacation.

Packing for Disney parks

Packing for Disney parks can be daunting for first time visitors. There’s a lot to think of ahead of time, and I really don’t like having to waste money buying overpriced essentials at the airport, parks, or hotel just because I forgot to bring something I need. I usually start my packing lists about a month in advance and keep them on my laptop so they don’t get misplaced. I have sort of a “master” list in one file that I alter for each specific trip.

Suitcases and a dog

My dog wouldn’t stay out of the picture, so I gave up and just took the shot with him in it.

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The Best Time to Visit the Louvre and Orsay

Everyone says that to go to the Louvre, you need to get there first thing in the morning to avoid the crowds. That was our plan all along until we realized that it’s open in the evening on Wednesdays. We decided to give that a shot because we only had two full days in Paris and wanted to fit in as much as possible. Going in the evening allowed us to use our days for places that closed at 5. Plus, the famous pyramid was even prettier lit up at night. It turns out that we inadvertently found the best time to visit the Louvre and Orsay museums.

Visiting the Louvre

The Louvre pyramid at night in Paris, France

This is my favorite shot of the Louvre.

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25 Pictures to Put Iceland on Your Winter Bucket List

You’ve probably heard about the spectacular beauty of Iceland. After spending a week roadtripping around the country, I’m convinced that it’s the most condensed concentration on natural beauty that I’ll ever see. It’s a relatively small island, but every corner is crammed with swoon-worthy sights. 80% of the landscape doesn’t even look like it belongs on this planet. Here are my favorite 25 pictures that will put Iceland on your winter bucket list.

Blue ice cave in the Vatnajokull glacier in Iceland

We were incredibly lucky to have this ice cave in the Vatnajökull glacier to ourselves for a few short minutes. The blue light filtering through the ice was incredible. We visited as part of a snowmobiling and ice caving tour – read about our adventure here.

Blue ice cave in the Vatnajokull glacier in Iceland

This one looks like something out of a sci-fi movie.

Sunset over the fjords in Borgarnes, Iceland

Sunset over the water from Borgarnes was the perfect way to end a day. The pinks and purples on the snow-covered mountains were spectacular. Don’t miss the fjord region on your visit.

Northern lights in Iceland

Seeing the Northern Lights has been on my bucket list for the longest time. We got incredibly lucky and saw them on four different nights on our trip. We relentlessly refreshed cloud tracking maps hoping and hoping for clear nights, and on this evening driving along the Ring Road, we appeared to be in the only pocket of clear sky in the whole country.

Northern lights in Iceland

A tripod and a slow exposure are key to getting good Northern Lights pictures, but don’t forget to enjoy the show yourself while snapping pictures.

Icebergs in the Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon in Iceland

This zebra striped iceberg floating in the Jökulsárlón was my favorite. The black stripes come from volcanic ash deposited by long-ago eruptions.

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The mirror-like water of Jökulsárlón was thoroughly captivating.

Icebergs in the Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon in Iceland

I could’ve spent an entire day just taking pictures of Jökulsárlón.

Dusk over Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon in Iceland

Jökulsárlón is just as magical at dusk.

Ice boulders on Diamond Beach in Iceland

After the icebergs leave Jökulsárlón, some of them make it out to sea. Others get washed up on the shore at Diamond Beach. The black sand there is covered with ice boulders that have been pushed in by the relentless waves. It’s a stunning scene.

Entrance to an ice cave in the Vatnajokull glacier in Iceland

The entrance to this ice cave looms at the base of the Vatnajökull glacier under the pink skies of sunset.

Entrance to the cavern hiding the Gljufrabui waterfall in Iceland

Gljúfrabúi, the “secret” waterfall hidden behind a rock ledge peeks out through the opening  carved out by the stream flowing away. In order to see the whole waterfall, you have to wade through the water to enter the cavern or climb up the front of the rock wall. Read about exploring it here.

Gljufrabui, the

Getting to see all of Gljúfrabúi is worth getting a little wet.

Seljalandsfoss waterfall in Iceland in winter

Seljalandsfoss is one of Iceland’s most famous waterfalls. You can walk behind it along the edge of the cavern in the rock wall during the warmer months.

DC-3 plane wreckage in Iceland

In 1973, a US Navy plane crash landed on this stretch of black lava desert – don’t worry, all crew members survived – and the wreckage has sat here exposed to the elements ever since. It’s about a 4km walk from the Ring Road, but it’s an eerily beautiful sight. This picture wasn’t black and white – it’s still in true color. The sky was perfectly grey that day.

The Blue Lagoon in Iceland

The Blue Lagoon is one of Iceland’s most famous attractions. It’s not the ultimate experience, but it’s still a lot of fun. I enjoyed the swim-up bar and the relaxing artificial cave. If you visit in the winter, make sure to explore the whole lagoon to find the warmer spots.

Northern lights over the Geysir area in Iceland

We stayed across the road from the famous Geysir area one night and were treated to some spectacular Northern Lights. The geyser Strokkur erupted several times as we watched the dazzling show in the sky. It was an incredible Iceland experience.

Horseback riding on a black sand beach in Vik, Iceland

The adorable Icelandic horses can be spotted all over the country, and what better way to get up close and personal with them than by taking a horseback ride? I think we found the best spot possible  when we stumbled across riding stables in Vik. Trotting along the black sand beach with the iconic Reynisdrangar rock formations just offshore was incredible. Read about that experience here.

Northern Lights over the Foss á Síðu waterfall in Iceland

The Northern Lights weren’t as bright when we passed by this lesser-known, but still beautiful waterfall called Foss á Siðu, but they make for a perfect backdrop.

Steaming earth and an eruption of Strokkur geyser in the Geysir area, part of the Golden Circle in Iceland

The Geysir area is covered with steaming pools and geysers that give it an unearthly feel. Though the famous Geysir rarely erupts any more, the smaller geyser, Strokkur, right next to it shoots water into the air every few minutes.

Gullfoss waterfall in Iceland in winter, part of the Golden Circle

The snow and ice surrounding Gullfoss make it somehow more beautiful.

Winding road through the Golden Circle in Iceland

This road, part of the popular Golden Circle route winds through the Icelandic country side.

Waterfall in Þingvellir National Park in Iceland, part of the Golden Circle

This waterfall, found in the Þingvellir National Park tumbles down into the rift valley formed by the North American and Eurasian continental plates separating.

Rift valley in Þingvellir National Park in Iceland, part of the Golden Circle

This broad flat valley formed by the continental rift was also the site of the first Viking parliaments, giving it both geological and historical significance.

Icelandic horses in Iceland

Don’t pass up the opportunity to see the beautiful Icelandic horses while you’re visiting. You’ll want to spend hours photographing them.

What would you most like to see on a visit to Iceland?

Looking for an itinerary that encompasses all of these photo spots? Look no further. Here’s my perfect 6-day southern Iceland roadtrip itinerary.

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25 photos to put Iceland on your winter bucket list. Includes the Golden Circle, Blue Lagoon, Jokulsarlon, ice cave, and the Northern Lights25 photos to put Iceland on your winter bucket list. Includes the Golden Circle, Blue Lagoon, Jokulsarlon, ice cave, and the Northern Lights25 photos to put Iceland on your winter bucket list. Includes the Golden Circle, Blue Lagoon, Jokulsarlon, an ice cave, and the Northern Lights

Visiting the Hockey Hall of Fame

As a lifelong hockey fan, visiting the Hall of Fame in Toronto is always a highlight. I was especially looking forward to this visit because in the years since my last trip, several of the players I’d idolized as a child had been inducted. I was excited to see their plaques and get up close and personal with the best trophy in professional sports – the Stanley Cup.

Getting There

The Hall of Fame is located in downtown Toronto in an area full of restaurants and hotels. There are numerous parking garages around, though like any big city, navigating the one-way streets can be challenging. The area is very walkable – it was well below freezing the day we visited, and we still hiked the few short blocks from our hotel.

Entrance to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Ontario

Actually getting into the Hall of Fame can be a little tricky for first-timers. It’s located inside of a mall in downtown Toronto, which has always struck me as a little odd. Once you enter the mall, you take an escalator downstairs to the lower level, and the entrance will be hard to miss.

As luck would have it, we happened to visit just two days after an enormous statue of Gordie Howe – arguably the most famous of my beloved Red Wings – was unveiled at the entrance. He had passed away the previous year, and this was a nice tribute.

Statue of Gordie Howe outside of the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Canada

Inside the Hall of Fame

Once you’re inside, you’re surrounded by displays stretching out in all directions. If I have one complaint about the Hall of Fame, it’s that there is no flow to the exhibits. We started looking at memorabilia in one area and then found ourselves backtracking all over the place trying to cover the entire area.

Steve Yzerman jersey on display at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Canada

Most of the center section of the Hall of Fame was taken up by memorabilia dedicated to notable players throughout the years. Some of them were fully inducted members, but a lot of them were not. There was also quite a bit of space dedicated to current players, which I didn’t really care for. In my mind, the HoF should focus on the players who’ve been inducted. We did come across a pretty moving video tribute to Steve Yzerman, my favorite player of all time, in that section, which was nice.

Vancouver Canucks jersey on display at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Ontario

There was also a fun display highlighting different jerseys throughout the years. There was one featuring the Batman logo, as well as the classically bad yellow/orange/brown Vancouver Canucks jerseys from a couple decades ago.

Montreal Canadiens dressing room recreated at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Ontario

The Hall of Fame had also recreated the Montreal Canadiens’ dressing room, complete with replica gear from the era that the players played in.

Interactive Games

In one corner, we came across a bunch of interactive games. Judging by the lines for them, they were clearly geared towards kids, but that didn’t stop my dad and me from taking a turn. A lot more adults joined the lines after us, so I think everyone was just waiting for someone else to make the first move. I took a turn shooting pucks at a digitally projected goalie. Sadly, I didn’t score any goals so I guess an NHL contract isn’t in my future. There was also an option to play the role of the goalie and try to stop pucks that were launched from a screen.

Interactive games at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Ontario

If playing the game isn’t your thing, there’s also an option to try your hand in the broadcast booth. I took a shot at reading off some highlights and let’s just say that I don’t see a future in front of the camera for myself.

The Holy Grail

The Stanley Cup is by far the coolest major American sports trophy. It’s presented directly to the players instead of the team owner, they take turns drinking champagne out of it in the locker room, the names of each champion are engraved on its side, and each player gets to spend a day with the Cup doing whatever he wants whether it’s a charity event or eating ice cream sundaes out of it. Seeing it in person is by far the highlight of any visit to the Hall.

Stanley Cup display at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Canada

The Cathedral of Hockey

The Cup, along with the other NHL trophies, is housed in what used to be a bank lobby on the second floor of the museum. The sign pointing toward the entrance to area with the display calls it the “Cathedral of Hockey,” and it’s not wrong. The surroundings are gorgeous, and well-befitting such a storied prize. My favorite team – the Red Wings – had won the Cup four times in the last 20 years, so getting to see my favorite players’ names up close was very cool for me. It was fun to reminisce about the great teams of the past and see the names of players I’d forgotten about over the years.

Detroit Red Wings player names engraved on the Stanley Cup 2008

There is an official photographer stationed in front of the Cup to take group photos, but you can also use your own cameras and phones to snap pictures. If you’re driving in the area, getting an official photo may be well-worth your money – when we were there, the photos cost $10 for a print and included a digital download and a $10 gift card for a Canadian gas chain. We knew we’d have to stop for gas on the way home, so the way we saw it, as long as we stopped at that chain, we’d basically be getting a free family picture with the Cup.

Stanley Cup displayed at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Canada

You’re also able to wander among theother hardware housed in the area. Trophies like the Conn Smythe – awarded to the playoff MVP each year – and the Norris Trophy for best defenseman can be viewed in glass cases throughout the lobby area.

Old bank vault in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Ontario

One of the coolest parts is inside the old bank vault. Here you can see the old bands of champions’ names that have been removed. As years went by, the Cup got taller and taller as winners’ names were inscribed. Eventually, the older names had to be removed. Every few years, as the bottom band is completed, the oldest is removed and stored in the HoF.

Old Stanley Cup bands on display at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Ontario

The Inductees

There are currently 392 players, builders, and on-ice officials honored in the Hall of Fame. Each has a plaque dedicated to his or her accomplishments and a brief bio. It’s a sign that I’m getting old that most of my childhood hockey heroes are now enshrined here. In the decade+ since I last visited, more than half a dozen of my favorite Wings have been inducted.

Steve Yzerman's plaque in the Hockey Hall of Fame

The way the plaques are displayed makes the ones in the top row a little hard to see – especially for us shorter folks – but it’s cool to stroll through the rows of legendary names. This is definitely the part of the museum that’s best suited toward the hockey geeks out there.

Angela Ruggiero's plaque in the Hockey Hall of Fame

In recent years, a couple female hockey players have been inducted as well, so it’s nice to see the women’s game getting some recognition.

International Hockey

Steve Yzerman Canada jersey in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Ontario

The final section of the museum showcases jerseys from international hockey teams. There were tons of jerseys from Olympic and World Cup competitions, as well as some from professional teams in Europe. My favorite was a jersey from the Miracle on Ice at the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid. Even non-hockey fans from the US should be familiar with that story.

1980 United States Miracle on Ice jersey in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Canada

There’s the classic exit-through-the-gift-shop at the end, of course. I found the prices to be pretty reasonable compared to NHL merchandise that is available in regular stores. I took home a Red Wings Lego zamboni kit that I’m quite pleased with.

Have you ever visited a sports Hall of Fame? Which one is the best?

Tips for visiting the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, CanadaTips for visiting the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Canada

An Ode to Wishes

The Magic Kingdom’s nighttime fireworks spectacular, Wishes, will soon be performing its final show. It has been inspiring guests to trust their heats and make wishes since it debuted in 2003. As a former Cast Member who spent several months working at the park, I’m particularly attached to Wishes and was devastated to hear of its upcoming finale. Wishes’ replacement, Happily Ever After, is slated to have its opening performance on May 12th. The clips of the new show that have been released look very good, but before we welcome that new show, it’s time to look back at what has made Wishes so magical for so many years.

From the iconic flares that kick the show off to the castle-framing fans of light to that evil face that I was always determined to see right-side up to the spectacular beauty of the finale, Wishes was not to be missed. No fireworks show will ever capture my heart quite the way Wishes did.

Wishes fireworks show at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World - Orlando, Florida

Who would think something as simple as a flare would be such a dramatic part of the show?

Being an intern at Disney World meant working the closing shift, and while that had the downside of ending late at night most of the time, it also included the perk of daily Wishes viewing and/or listening. Within a few weeks, those of us who worked at night had seen and heard the show so many times that we could tell how far into the performance it was based on just the sound of the firework bursts. The soundtrack wasn’t played in the ride station, and even though it’s open air, you couldn’t see the fireworks in the station, but we quickly learned to judge how far along the show was by the sound of the explosions echoing through the park. The light, airy bursts from the love section, the crackling sizzle that accompanied the villains portion, and the thundering booms leading up to the finale were as distinct as the music that accompanied them. This wasn’t just fun – it was a valuable skill on nights when the park remained open after Wishes, because the end of the show would signal an upcoming rush of people wanting to board.

Wishes fireworks show at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World - Orlando, Florida

That silhouette still makes me smile.

If there weren’t many guests around to load and unload, we’d have our own sing-alongs providing an off-key, but spirited soundtrack to the invisible fireworks. And, let’s face it, sometimes the presence of guests didn’t even deter us from performing – hey, they call us Cast Members at Disney because we we’re all part of the show, right?

Wishes fireworks show at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World - Orlando, Florida

It’s even pretty when viewed from across the Seven Seas Lagoon!

By the end of our time working there, Wishes was so ingrained in my heart that it would bring a tear to my eye during the finale. That’s also when my favorite firework of all time explodes – the biggest, loudest shimmery gold one you can imagine. Wishes was an almost nightly ritual for several months, and I spent my last evening as a Cast Member standing on Main Street singing along. Just like certain songs can transport you back to a place and time that you remember fondly, this 12.5-minute long combination of lights, music, fireworks, and a flying fairy will always make me think of some of my happiest days.

Wishes fireworks show at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World - Orlando, Florida

This one! This is my favorite firework of all time.

I tried to make it back to Orlando to watch it one last time, but the whole full-time job thing made that impractical. I’ll have to console myself with listening to the soundtrack over and over again. As luck would have it, I’ve taken enough pictures over the years that I could probably reconstruct it if I arranged them all together. These are some of my favorites.

Wishes fireworks show at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World - Orlando, Florida

What would you wish for?

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“When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are.”

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“If your heart is in your dream, no request is too extreme.”

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This is perfection.

Wishes fireworks show at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World - Orlando, Florida

The genie has some wishes to grant!

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Uh oh, be careful what you wish for.

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Always let your conscience be your guide.

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Good news: the Blue Fairy is here to save the day.

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The Hercules music used in this section is perfect.

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“Wishes! Dream a dream. Wishes! Set it free.”

Wishes fireworks show at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World - Orlando, Florida

“Wishes! Trust your heart. Just believe!”

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And the grand finale.

I know Wishes isn’t the height of all entertainment, but it will always be near and dear to my heart. I have so many amazing memories associated with this show, and it’s the only way I want to end my evening at Disney World.

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The Wishes firework spectacular is ending its 13-year run at the Magic Kingdom. Look back on some great memories and photographs with a former Cast Member.Pin - Wishes2The Wishes firework spectacular is ending its 13-year run at the Magic Kingdom. Look back on some great memories and photographs with a former Cast Member.

A Weekend in Niagara Falls

While I was working in the Buffalo area, I had to stay out there for a weekend. Since it’s so close to Niagara Falls, and Niagara Falls is only a few hours from home, I invited my boyfriend to join me on a semi-work-funded mini-vacation. Niagara Falls is the perfect weekend destination. There’s just the right amount of scenery, attractions, and nightlife to keep you entertained in any season.

Wandering Buffalo

He had to drive in from Detroit after working a full day, so I had Friday evening to kill on my own. I decided to head to downtown Buffalo to find some dinner, but quickly realized that that wasn’t in the cards because the Sabres had a home game that night. I wandered around a little looking for somewhere to pull over so I could look up some other areas on my phone and ended up stumbling across an outdoor hockey rink with a bar and restaurant attached. That was good enough for me, so I grabbed a seat at the bar and watched some kids play through the glass. It was such a cool location right along the river and as a life-long hockey addict, I loved hearing the sounds of pucks and skates echoing while I had my dinner.

Outdoor hockey rink in Buffalo, New York

When I was done eating, I decided that it was time to head up to Niagara Falls to check into the hotel. I had booked the Holiday Inn on the Canadian side because it’s super cheap (at least during the winter), only a couple blocks from the falls, and I generally have good experiences at IHG properties. I had looked and looked to try to find a reasonably priced room with a view of the falls, but I ended up choosing price over such niceties and was generally pleased. I also appreciated the free parking right on site.

Waterfall Fireworks

I was planning to wait to go see the falls until the next morning with my boyfriend, but the hotel clerk mentioned that there were fireworks displays on Friday nights and I wasn’t going to pass up a chance to see fireworks over a waterfall. I walked down to the overlook and tried to find a spot that would allow me to see the fireworks over the Canadian falls. This would’ve required a lot more walking than I was prepared to do at that point because the location the fireworks were being shot off from was further down by the American falls.

Fireworks display at Niagara Falls

The fireworks show was nothing mind-blowing, but it was kind of neat. It’s definitely a unique setting for a display like that. It wasn’t very crowded on a Friday night in December, but I would imagine it could be pretty crowded in more popular tourist seasons. The fireworks don’t go up very high, so getting there early to grab a spot by the railing would be a good idea if it looks like it’s going to be crowded.

Of course, the lights on the falls provide a spectacular enough view that there’s really no need to dress them up any further, but fireworks are always appreciated by this blogger.

The Main Attraction

If you’re visiting Niagara Falls, you’re obviously going to spend some time enjoying the view of Mother Nature’s handiwork. When we got up the next morning, we grabbed breakfast across the street from the hotel at the Fallsview Casino. We ate at the Famous Diner, a little restaurant with thoroughly cute décor and delicious food.

American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls in Niagara Falls, New York

The American side. The Canadians definitely won the waterfall game.

After that, we started our walk along the overlooks at the falls. We stopped to take pictures from every imaginable angle, of course. My boyfriend had never been there before, and it had been years since I visited, so we took our time enjoying the view. You get the best wide-angle view from a little ways down the walkway, but don’t miss the chance to look straight down at the brink of the falls. The thunderous roar and sight of the water rushing over the edge really gives you a feel for the power of the river as it tumbles downward.

Brink of Horseshoe Falls in Niagara Falls, Ontario

Clifton Hill

I had discovered a coupon for a thing called a Beaver Tail in one of the guidebooks at the hotel, and as a lover of all things sugary, I absolutely had to have one. We walked down to Clifton Hill, what I would classify as the cheesy tourist area of Niagara Falls, and hunted down the delicious fried pastries covered in an assortment of sugary toppings. It’s both very good and infuriating that there isn’t an easily accessible location where I can get these little bites of heaven on a regular basis.

Beaver tails on Clifton Hill in Niagara Falls

This was eight kinds of delicious.

If you’re looking for family fun, this is the place you want to be. Every corner had attractions ranging from fun houses to wax museums to Ripley’s Believe it or Not. Even on a chilly day in the off-season, it was bustling with people.

Exploring outside of town

We opted out of the cheesy tourist attractions (sadly, the Maid of the Mist boats were not running since it was winter) and instead hopped into the car to drive up to the whirlpool where the river takes a sharp turn to the right. It’s so pretty up there and we got a good view from the cable car platforms that were closed for the season. We decided to keep going up to Niagara-on-the-Lake and stopped at a few other scenic overlooks along the way.

Whirlpool at Niagara Falls

Niagara-on-the-Lake was a cute little town, but it was swarmed with crowds of people that day. There appeared to be some sort of festival going on, but we couldn’t figure out what it was. We ended up finally finding a place to park at a little lakeside park, so we walked down to Lake Ontario and climbed around some of the boulders on the shore.

Dinner with a view at the Skylon Tower

We had dinner reservations at the rotating restaurant at the Skylon Tower for their early prix fixe meal. This also entitled us to a free trip to the top of the tower. Don’t make the mistake we did – go early for your reservation. We showed up with enough time to ride to the top before our time slot, but we ended up seated in the interior of the restaurant behind a tall group of people (seriously good genes in that family) so we couldn’t see anything out the windows.

American Falls in Niagara Falls, New York lit up at night

Since that was kind of the point of eating there, I asked if there was anywhere to move. All of the window tables were full, but we were offered a pager to wait for one to clear. We decided to do that and headed up to the observation deck to kill some time before we could eat. When our buzzer rang, we went back down and were seated at a perfect table, but discovered that we were no longer allowed to order off of the prix fixe menu. It made dinner a LOT more expensive, and I wished that the staff had told us that waiting for a table would mean that we’d have to take the late dinner menu.

The food was delicious though, and even my boyfriend who hadn’t been feeling great all day downed his entire dinner. You really can’t beat the view from up there, and my boyfriend was excited to have his first meal in a rotating restaurant. I’d never been up in the tower on my previous visits, and getting an aerial view of the falls was amazing. They’re especially beautiful at night, and spending that much time up in the tower gave us a chance to see the lights rotate through the different color patterns.

We had also gotten free tickets to the Skylon Tower from the hotel, so we decided to use those the next morning to check out the view during the day. I wouldn’t have paid to go up again, but since they were free there wasn’t much sense in letting them go to waste. Daylight definitely brings a different perspective to the falls. Whereas the lights at night give them a soft, dreamy feel, seeing the roaring water tumbling down into the gorge during the day gives a much more impressive insight into the raw power of mother nature.

Horseshoe Falls in Niagara Falls, Canada from the Skylon Tower

Ice wine

This part of Ontario is actually quite famous for its wine. The Canadian climate also provides for a unique type of treat: ice wine. This super sweet local specialty is made by allowing grapes to freeze on the vine and then very quickly harvesting them while they’re still frozen. I don’t know a lot about the wine-making process (outside of that one episode of I Love Lucy), but the freezing process somehow makes the wine extra sugary, which, as noted above, is exactly my kind of thing.

We took the ice wine home and drank it a couple weeks later and it was incredible. I’m not a wine fan at all, but this was so sweet it was more like drinking juice. It’s hard (and expensive) to find elsewhere, but if you find yourself in the Ontario wine region at any point, definitely make a point to try it.

Have you visited Niagara Falls? What’s your favorite thing to do there? Let me know in the comments.

Read about another winter weekend adventure in Canada:

Highlights of a couples weekend in Niagara Falls, including the best sights, dining, the Skylon Tower, and ice wine.Pin - Niagara2Pin - Niagara3Pin - Niagara4

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