I’m still here in Charleston. My quick 48hr trip has pulled me into a week now. It’s destroying this place for me. The moment I came back into orbit things went off the rails. Ridiculous things that only could happen in my dark sector of the universe.
The whole point of this adventure was to get away and center. Coming back was hard and disappointing while exciting and welcoming. As I curl up in some hotel room, I think about how I have got to get out tomorrow. I’m being dragged back in.
Florida and St. Mary’s has been jerked away with me having to stay in town to handle business. Kentucky moves up since Will would let me stay a lifetime if I wanted. I feel off balanced. This isn’t how I heal.
Everyone can agree that Disney is the most magical place, something the Walt Disney Company strives hard to maintain. Despite extreme confidentiality agreements, tidbits leak out. Sometimes you get lucky and meet a rogue cast member who opens up and tells you all about what it is like at the happiest place on earth. Last week, that someone was me.
Before we dive right in, by no means do I think I’ve become an investigative journalist with some breaking story. I was simply riveted by what I was being told. I asked a lot of questions, made lots of notes, then took to the internet to see what I could find in supporting evidence (which lead down a rabbit hole of google searches that probably have me on some very sketchy watchlists now). All of the information I could support has been linked. Though I enjoyed the scandalous tidbits, there is a lot on inside park info for the everyday reader. Here we go!
For the sake of my delusion that someone somewhere is going to read this, we’re going to call the former cast member Peanut Butter & Jelly (PB&J).
I know, you have the same questions I had. Everyone loves Disney! Why would PB&J talk to you? Maybe things have changed since PB&J’s summer at Disney. You’ll probably end all of it the same as I did with a big, “no way.” We’ll cover all of that.
PB&J spent a summer as a cast member at Walt Disney World. PB&J assured me that he still has friends in employment who verify that it isn’t much different and are having the same experiences he did.
PB&J had originally wanted to be Tigger only he fell short of the 5’9”-6’ height requirements. At a height of 5’8” he played the role of 5 different characters: Buzz Lightyear, Eeyore, Rafiki, and Green Army Man.
Fun Fact: Due to the height requirements of Mickey & Minnie about 90% of the actors are female.
PB&J also served as a character escort and a backup for Mickey Mouse. Character escorts are just that, they guide the characters around, do the talking for them, etc. Character backups are not stand ins for the suit, they are backups for the voices. At all times Disney has character backups on staff in the park. In the event of a technical difficulty, the show can be delayed while a cast member is pulled in to read off script.
Originally, I was impressed with the thoroughness of Disney’s planning with a small part of me being a little weary of how they really have thought of everything. This is obviously a well oiled machine. The more I learned, the more I realized how powerful that well oiled machine runs.
Being a Disney employee does grant certain perks like free access to the parks and adoration of visitors from all around the world. It does come with a tiny paycheck and a great deal of stipulations.
According to Glassdoor, cast members pretty much all fall under the $9.50 an hour mark, that is about a dollar over Florida’s minimum wage. Unless you’re a stunt actor (or a princess in some locations) there is no union. Disney really has the upper hand here. Everyone wants to work at Disney, they have unlimited employment options.
Really though, how much would it take for you to wear a fur costume during the summer in Florida? Now underneath that, add a fat suit. Sound hot? Yep, especially when your only ventilation comes through your eyepiece. Factor in that the happiest place on earth attracts weirdos of all kinds who you can’t do anything about without losing your job.
Kids are disrespectful, teenagers are the worst, and the families encourage it. When dressed as Eeyore, kids pulled PB&J’s tail. As Pluto, his tongue was the constant target. You just have to suffer in silence. Speaking while in costume is grounds for immediate firing. According to PB&J, his is why characters and their escorts have silent communications for when a guest needs to be handled.
Ever see a terrible child get a hug from the character they’ve been terrorizing? They’re not hugging it out. Chances are that Disney character has leaned in close to lay down the law. For extra terror they use the child’s name that they’ve probably heard used or the child is wearing it.
Have you seen a parent take a solo picture with a character? You’d be surprised how often they’re slipping the character notes. It seems there’s a lot of women slipping Mickey notes that Minnie would not approve of, but remember that fun fact? 90% of the time, that’s a girl. PB&J, our former Pluto, says keep an eye on the hands especially when they take pictures sitting down. People have their hands all over his crotch.
Relations with guests is strictly forbidden with immediate grounds for firing while on or off the clock, on or off the property. That’s right, you read that right. ON the property.
But, what? Where? How? A simple Google search of “sex at Disney World” brings on a plethora of hits. I’ve read through them. Meh. Mostly they’re stretches and have lots of warnings of cameras. PB&J gave me the lowdown. When asked if he ever made use of the spaces, he told me no then added that they are great people watching spots. From there you can see people all but getting it on.
The “go to spot” for getting it on is inside Planet Earth at Epcot. Also favorable places: Rocking Roller Coaster, Space Mountain, Haunted Mansion, Starship Earth, and Tree of Life, and the green rooms.
I cannot even imagine what would happen if you got caught in the green rooms. Breaking any law on property is punished by being banned for life, what would they do if you snuck off with a cast member to the tunnels? The tunnels referred to as “Sacred Ground?” It is well documented online that cast members get it on among themselves a ton. I’d say not to be judgmental, but I’m going to be judgmental. I would think if you’re making less than $9.50 an hour you can’t have that many responsibilities. Probably a lot of college kids living it up. Euroweb shared a story from just last summer about it.
I digress. No one cares about college kids getting it on. And there is definitely some interesting getting it on to discuss.
Let the kinks come out to play! No, I don’t mean furries who get off by costume boinking. I mean people who want to hit it with a character just for the character. They want Woody’s Woody, to get it Pluto style, to bop a storm trooper, and a particular dark round of kinks who want to be choked by Darth Vader.
Stories? Rumors? Disney keeps close track of all their costume parts even though it seems all they really want are the head, the shoes, and the gloves. Except one Buzz Lightyear managed to sneak his out. Every year there is a beauty line that won’t be named who rents out the entire park. One particular year at Planet Pizza, Buzz had a woman slip her his room key with the instructions to make sure to bring the head.” He just might have managed to get his costume out where he was rewarded with a “great deal of money” for a perfectly timed “to infinity and beyond!”
Unbelievable, right? How could things like that happen at Disney? Because Disney keeps that machine tight and in house. They have their own EMS and Fire Department, that means no outside authorities on the grounds.
Sounds like a lot of conspiracy theories? Maybe. Disney would never hide something like that, right? Not like how no one talked about the two phases of an undercover sting operation that made 100 arrests of pedophiles included Disney cast members. PB&J told me and sure enough CNN and Washington Post covered it. Orlando Weekly too. Makes you wonder.
The blogger in me that I’m trying to nourish says to keep on schedule. The marketer in me knows you’ve all joined me as road warriors for the holiday and aren’t paying attention this Thanksgiving Eve.
In the last 6 weeks I’ve covered a lot of highway, 5 states to be exact. The Florida round up will come, just a delay for the holiday. I’ve returned to Charleston for a short 72 hrs. I’ve been grappling with my emotions. It wasn’t that long ago I was a Hallmark movie counting down the days until I got to go home. This last holiday destroyed that for me. With that in mind, I was curious as to what my return to Charleston would mean to me.
While on the road, each town I visited I’ve asked myself if this could be my new home. Nowhere has stirred that within me. Returning to Charleston, I was hopeful. There hasn’t been the excitement of coming home yet. Even though my heart hasn’t fluttered, I’ve missed it here. This is the place that I love. I’ve found myself purposely letting myself get lost in my town. This is my community. Even now I find it difficult to put into words, what is just shy of saying this is my home?
Maybe I was hoping to have the curves of Park Cirlce call to me, that this is my home. The ducks at the pond should call out to me. My heart still hurts and being here reminds me of it with every neighbor I see, every hug I receive. There’s the comfort of knowing that this is where I’ve belonged that is sharpened by my heart’s betrayal of not crying out “this is my home.” Each time that I’m baffled it has only been 6 weeks, my gypsy soul reminds me that that just isn’t long enough to fix my heart that hurts.
I’ve promised an update for my week in Florida and you’ll get it. We’re pushing the schedule back. Wednesday will be Friday, Friday will be Saturday. What I’ve experienced makes for blog worthy content I know you’ll enjoy. I’m just not commercialized enough yet to tell you about where I’ve been when my present is weighing so heavily on me.
Enjoy this time you have with the ones you love. I’ll be alright, I’ve still got 48 hrs to embrace the past I’ve left behind for a life on the unknown. There’s more to explore before I come back. Tonight I’m contemplating where home is to me. Coming back hasn’t been the warm fuzzies I’ve hoped for. There’s no where else I could see me returning to, but who knows. Adventure awaits.
I know I said this week’s Travel Tip was going to be on finding crazy cheap flights, instead we’re talking Orlando. The crazy cheap flights will be a little later for two reasons:
1.) This just makes more sense since this week is all things Florida
2.) The holidays mess up cheap flying anyways
If you are insanely disappointed, let me know. We’ll find you a flight together. Promise!
Instead, I’m going to tell you all about how I:
Did all the parks on a budget (without media passes)
Picked the dates to make sure there was virtually NO waits for rides
What’s worth the money & what isn’t
Avoided the crowds in the park
Ended up with unexpected expenses
and all kinds of other good tidbits!
So let’s get started!
As much as I am trying to embrace going with the flow, there are just some things that you need to plan for in advance especially when you’re trying to save or get it all in.
Preparing for the crowds of the theme parks, I am sure you have come across the crowd calendars. Undercover Tourist probably has the most popular one. It can be helpful, however, it is definitely not worth it to purchase one over the freebies out there. I did study them and did factor that into my date selection. In reality, it was common sense in planning that made the days at the parks a breeze (okay, and a little bit of dumb luck as well).
Going on a weekend was an obvious avoidance, luckily I had the freedom of going during the week. Here’s where the brains came in…the weekend before my visit was Veteran’s Day (a 3 day weekend and active military were admitted for free), the week after was Thanksgiving which is a very high volume time. With all that time off school or work, the crowds were going to be large. Going smack dab in the middle of those two dates insured a drop in crowd attendance. Again, going right before a holiday is a luxury of my schedule. It isn’t an option for everyone. People say to go in February. It’s risky. You never know what schools in which area are going to have a random winter break. Now my dumb luck is something you can factor in on purpose.
Each park at Disney World has one day a week they close early, that happened to be the day I went to Magic Kingdom. If you plan on doing a whole park in a day, you need to take that into consideration. Even though I had a hopper pass for Walt Disney World, I really only planned on visiting the Magic Kingdom. If I had planned on hitting another park after that, it would have been disastrous on the crowd meter. As soon as Magic Kingdom, closed everyone flocked to another park.
Here’s why it was a phenomenal happen chance: the crowds avoided Magic Kingdom that day due to the early closing time. Double bonus, the next day was Mickey Mouse’s birthday and a big Christmas extravaganza. People skipped Magic Kingdom in order to come for the large crowd activities the next day.
All the Disney Bound blogs suggest doing the park first thing that morning then heading back to the hotel for the afternoon for pool time to avoid the heat of the day and return for the fireworks in the evening. Now if you’re an adult, you can swing a 12 hour day at the park. If you have small children, not going to happen without a major meltdown.
My advice, push aside that little voice in your head that says you’re not getting your money’s worth and hit the park on a day it closes early when everyone else is listening to that little voice. The lack of wait time is well worth it. Our fast passes had us wait at most 7 minutes for rides. Really, you’re getting more park in less time.
Those same big events and crowd planning paid off at Universal Studios as well since everyone wanted to be in attendance for Mickey’s birthday. Maybe there was a lot of cake or something, I don’t know.
One of the cast members advised me when inside the parks, take the side paths to bypass the herds. It’s usually the designated smoking area, but if you can ignore that you’ll miss a majority of the people meandering along. You know the ones. It took all I had in me not to tell them to walk with purpose! Otherwise, get the move on.
If going to Disney, get Disney’s app My Disney Experience beforehand. That’s probably a given for all you die hard Disney fans. For those of you not familiar, the app lets you track your reservations, book Fast Passes in advance, find characters, wait times; basically anything you could imagine at Disney. If you know what you want to do, book those Fast Passes before you head to the park. You can even do it months in advance. This is going to be a big help for the popular rides that will book up early making you get on a wait list for them. Pretty much as soon as you know your dates for Disney, book your adventures that minute.
Bill & Brenda from Dayton, Ohio have been coming to Disney every year for the past 9 years with their granddaughters. Not being the Disney pro they are, I asked them what they found worth it and not worth it. Of course, being grandparents what isn’t worth every penny for their granddaughters?
We finally narrowed it down. They decided as neat as the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique is, it was not worth it. Not only does it take several hours, it is expensive. The outfit comes with shoes and they are just not practical, day in the park, walking around shoes. Instead of spending the cash, come in your own outfit and have a fairy godmother sprinkle you with fairy dust for free.
What has been a super magical memorable experience from their 10 visits in the last 9 years? During one trip, one of the granddaughters dressed as Merida from Brave. Apparently, no one ever comes as Merida. Cast members all remarked on her outfit. No one comes as Merida and they all told her how awesome it was to see her. Personal not: it makes me kind of sad that little girls aren’t all over the princess who saves herself. Save yourself little ones!
What do Bill & Brenda say really is worth it (and not just for seeing the kiddo’s eyes light up in wonder)? Dining with the characters. Make the most of the expense and book a later dinner that way when you get out of dinner you get to enjoy the Magic Hour. Being in the park after it closes with hardly anyone there truly is a magical experience.
Disney starts Christmas at the beginning of November, which I could have done without. Bill & Brenda said that if you are there for the holidays the stories of Santas from each culture and centuries is a fascinating. More of a Halloween fan? Don’t miss the Halloween Dance Party at Downtown Disney.
My other big planning tip also falls under my unexpected expenses: those flipping toll roads. On my drive from Georgia to Miami I spent $25 on tolls. If I had planned ahead, I would have been able to route around them.
Florida touts the turnpike as the “Stress Free Way” and I am calling bologna. Not only did I feel like I was being held hostage on the toll roads, traffic was unbearable. Everyone was hopping on the Stress Free bandwagon.
The entrance to the Florida Turnpike at Okeechobee Boulevard Tuesday, June 30, 2015. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)
Granted, they have amazing food courts for when you need to stretch your legs. Just make sure you stretch those limbs real good because anything inside of there is going to cost you an arm and a leg. Gas at the designated service stations was also .25 cents more.
Last week’s Travel Tip Tuesday I discussed stopping at the “Official” Florida Visitor’s Center for my Universal Studios tickets. The signage along the interstate had offers of $69 for Universal Studio tickets. That was tempting. The next sign for “buy one pair of boots, get two pairs free” peaked my interests. It was the sign for the 14 foot alligator that made me pull in. Heads up, the alligator is 14 feet long. It is not alive. I was informed that due to insurance reasons they couldn’t have a living one. The next stop a couple of exits up does have baby gators though! Live ones!
Now I did go all el cheapo and sign up for a “presentation” in order to get my hopper pass for both Universal parks for $64 after tax plus a free breakfast. While I found the timeshare presentation fascinating, I probably would have bailed much earlier on if I was anyone else. Poor Antonio probably thought he had me hook, line, and sinker with all my questions and note taking. That’s an experience to share for another day. The “Official” visitor center, aka Westgate Resort’s official visitor centers aka how we lure you into timeshares, did have largely discounted tickets. There are discounted tickets available ALL over the place. Buying tickets in advance of the trip is NOT something I recommend. Sorry to all my travel agent buddies on that one.
My super discounted hotel turned out to be one of the best deals of the week. Great location, clean, free parking, and free park shuttles, Friday AND Saturday for less than $70 after tax for both nights. All about that, Harry Potter World, and the rest of the week in Florida in tomorrow’s Where Have I Been Wednesday!
So where am I today? Last night, I arrived in the charming town of St. Mary’s, Georgia. Remember how I said that despite everyone’s perception of me jetsetting around, I’m actually poor? Remember the whole camping vs sleeping in my car debate? I put it out there that if anyone needed a sitter of children, pets, or house to let me know.
Well, that’s how I ended up in St. Mary’s. Lola’s cherubs needed an extra set of hands while they are out of school. Ta-da! Here I am earning my keep! A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of watching Liz’s pups. Later this week I’ll be back in Charleston to take care of Jill & Beverly’s four legged creatures.
Let’s just reinforce how seriously legit I was when I put that out there. I’m just out here making my rounds!
I’m still having a hard time grasping that it has been 6 weeks and in 48 hrs I’ll be back in Charleston.
We all know that Hotel KLA is my safe space. Part of the original deal I made with KLA was that I could wander the world always having a home base at Hotel KLA, but I had to come back for my 6th A&J Thanksgiving. Even before I moved to Charleston, I came out for Thanksgiving with them.
Sadly, I don’t know that my Muffahontas dress will be available to make an appearance this year. Do y’all all know the story of how Muffahontas came to be my Thanksgiving tradition? If not, let me know and I’ll share.
This year is going to be hard, not just for the lack of Muffahontas. Last week, Hotel KLA flooded. More than 6 inches of water demolished the entire first floor of the townhouse and the neighbors next door. Everything has to be ripped out, all the furniture has to be replaced, all the big things, all the little things, all the important things like KLA’s wedding photos. KLA & Dr. Ryan have to vacate for at least 2 months.
God love KLA. We talked after the flooding, she vowed we will have Thanksgiving. We may all sit on the floor she told me, but Thanksgiving is family and we are family. It tears me up that there isn’t anything I can do for the people who have always been there for me.
In addition to family, I’m coming to witness The Barbeque Joint‘s Thanksgiving at the Ship Yard. They feed 1,000 Ship Yard employees in about 15 minutes. It’s going to be insane.
The Barbeque Joint is just pretty amazing in general. They have always stepped in when I needed help with something in the community or an event. Plus, 5 days a week I get to tell bad jokes on their Facebook page. It is highly entertaining. You need to check them out, like them when you find them funny or at the very least do it in support of me.
Like what do you call it when you mix a pig and a dinosaur? Jurassic Pork!
From Charleston, I am going to head back to St. Mary’s for a couple of days to help out. There is an island of wild horses! After that there are two options. It just happens someone in Orlando needs a housesitter for the next 4 months. If that pans out then I’ll need to be back in Orlando in a week or so to meet him. I’m still trying to decide if I should just grab a cheap flight out of Orlando to Cincinnati or not. Just so many decisions that involve things that don’t work well just going with the flow! Either way, still on for the Gin Wigmore show December 5th in Columbus, Chicago on the 9th, LA on the 14th!
We’ll just have to see how it plays out! This week is all things Florida! Tomorrow is Travel Tip Tuesday! Wednesday we’re recapping Florida! The Keys, my mini Miami adventure, Disney, and Harry Potter World! Friday for the Hell of It, I’m super pumped about! It is definitely going to be a different side of Disney than you usually see with inside stories from a former Buzz Lightyear!
I get it all the time, how am I managing all this traveling? There’s a lot that goes into it. By nature, I’m drawn to finding a good deal. The hunt for a good deal plays into my inquisitive researcher nature (that’s right, I just spun “geek”) and my love of planning. One day I’ll have to share the story of how I became a 5 star General in bridal warfare at The Running of the Brides.
Let’s get down to the gritty of it! Orlando! Tomorrow I leave the Keys and head up to Orlando for 3 nights and 2 days of Disney and Harry Potter World (the rest of Universal Studios doesn’t interest me at the moment). The whole excursions including hopper tickets and my hotel stays, but not including my food, is at a current bill of $81. What?!? Yeah, I know. Let’s dive in!
Do not worry, I hear you all grumbling all the way down here in the Keys that I got media tickets for Disney. Never did I think that would happen. Ever. It didn’t hurt to ask. Universal said no. Disney blew my mind and said yes.
My first tip is going to be hard for y’all to handle. Sometimes you just have to ask. It goes against everything Southern in us to ask. It just seems so rude! So tacky! So imposing! You can do this though! Think of every party you’ve ever attended.
How many times have you popped your head in the kitchen to ask the hostess if there was any little thing you could help with? You would never dream of not doing it! What would they think of your manners?!? Who raised you?
So channel those manners and ask! Maybe you’re not media, maybe you know someone. Media is allotted two tickets each year (every 12 months). Even though I didn’t need two, they gave me two. So I asked the world, does no one want to come with? You would be surprised at how hard it is to give a free ticket to Disney World is to giveaway. Luckily, Lola is bringing her cherubs and coming down! Now Disney tickets aren’t cheap. There are military discounts, agents, even Florida resident discounts.
Double lucky, Lola has offered to let me stay with her and the cherubs since I’m sharing my tickets. Snap! I already booked a no refundable room with Expedia!
*UDPATE* Lola booked her room at Disney All Star Resort on property for less than $100 a night 2 days prior
Guess what I did? I called. They called the hotel and asked if I could not be penalized for moving my reservation back a day since I was staying with the same hotel, they gave their approval. I knew that a Friday night would be more expensive than my weekday reservation. Much to the shock of the lovely lady at Expedia, the room was twice the price.
I had booked a room at the Orlando Metropolitan Resort. I was also told by credible source that the Red Lion was clean, safe, budget friendly, and great location. What set this 2.3 star hotel apart from the rest?
Free shuttle to both parks
No resort fees
An outdoor pool
*UPDATE* I ended up booking at Red Lion instead. They are 1 mile from Universal Studios with a free shuttle. There is a $9 resort fee.
Thanks to big brother, Expedia had noticed my recent search without booking and sent me an alert for the room rates. Prices have dropped! Do I want to book now? My weeknight room was only $48 after tax.
Double the money may not have been that bad for the area. Expedia Wonder Woman didn’t agree. She gave me a complete refund anda $50 voucher. Now, I only asked to move my dates. Just asking that, I now have my hotel room for $21 after tax out of pocket.
We all know I’ve been going with the flow and that it’s been my struggle. Part of this going with the flow is getting there when I get there. On the way to Miami, shortly after crossing into Florida, I kept seeing signs for the Official Info Center! Tickets to Universal for $69! Yeah, right.
Then I saw ether signs for the boot store, buy 1 pair get 2 free! My hunter radar kicked in. Nevermind I’m a nomad living out of my car. Then came the sign for 14ft alligator! That’s worth stopping for!
Spoiler: there was a 14ft gator. It just wasn’t alive. Technicalities.
With low expectations, I went up to the counter. Those aren’t $69 hopper tickets are they? Nope. Though they do offer a pretty steep discount on tickets, about $50, they were still expensive. I could always do the promotion! Of course I could. Except with the promo my hopper ticket is only $64 after tax and comes with a free breakfast. If I want to stay at the hotel, it’only $55 a night after tax with free parking and shuttle.
Do I want to take a tour of Westgate Resorts? No. Is that tour worth saving $110? Hells yeah it is! I’m just going to snag every bagel and muffin not nailed down.
I always ask about a media discount. I always ask what offers are available. I always ask who I might know (like the park employee who is a friend of a friend who can’t give out tickets, can give out Fast Passes). Think how much y’all want to help me along my way, there’s versions of you out there. Just ask.
Next week: discounted flight across the globe without knowing anyone like my ticket from Chicago to LA with a personal item, a carry on, and wifi on United for $64 after tax.
Need trip help? Don’t hesitate to ask! I’ve got a whole bag of tricks up my sleeve that do me no good if I don’t share!
All across America, small towns are flagging down the tourism industry with dowtown revitalizations. Right there on the band wagon is Thomasville, Georgia with one big difference. They have everything you’re looking for and more to come.
While most small towns have painted a block or two of their downtowns with the hopes you’ll come paint their town red, Thomasville has block after block of shopping, dining, and historical sites. The revitalized area covers not just a few blocks, but a few streets. In fact, streets that are still paved with the original brick roads.
Led by the best tour guide around, original Thomasville resident, Liz Williams. No joke, walking downtown we stopped to chat with her old high school music teacher that we bumped into along the way. It’s okay, I can say exactly who she is because she’s a pillar of her community that’s going to be one of our For the Hell of It Friday guests discussing her charity work in Thomasville. I just jumped the gun on the introductions.
Liz awaited my arrival on the front porch of her adorable house. We had dinner plans also awaiting my arrival! The historical society was having their annual chicken pilau dinner.
The next day, Liz picked me up for lunch. All this chauffeuring me around for food was starting to soften me up (literally). Right on Broad Street you can walk up to the window at Billards Academy and for $2 get a hot dog and a Coca Cola classic in a real bottle! Sitting on one of the tables outside is where we encountered Liz’s old music teacher.
In search of something sweet, we wandered across the street to the local bookshop (in Thomasville, everything is enchantingly adorable), The Bookshelf. After attempting to devour every title, I attempted to decipher which of the truffles to devour first. The options seemed endless for both booms and sweets.
That evening, we ventured to Sweet Grass for wine and charchuterie. Just making up for that missed opportunity in Saxapahaw! Zach answered our questions bringing us a delightful board and Phil was enlightening. I get it, Sweet Grass is based there. The family is strongly entwined with the town, the streets in Liz’s neighborhood are even named after the daughters. The cheese is obviously local. The meats and most of the other menu items are not, at least that was the impression I was given. That impression was later confirmed by me asking of every item put in front of us “is this local?” The cheese is, the honey is, the pecans are, but not really anything else.
Georgia is an agricultural state, Thomasville is pushing their down home Southern charm; the elk and blueberry sausage from a distributor that was packaged in Illnois destroyed the experience. That sounds extremely harsh, but let me give another example of how deflating it was for me. Zach, the Assistant Manager was a wonderful host. During the discussion of how the town is growing he mentioned the microbrewery that had recently opened up. They had even recently done a tap takeover at Liam’s dos the street. Do you have any of their beers on tap? No, they only purchase through their distributor. Come on! Support local! Help out the little growing guy! Don’t worry, I’m not hiding behind a screen. I absolutely shared that sentiment.
My only other beef with the selection at Sweet Grass was the literal lack of beef…or any meats. The boards lacked meats in their mixes. Excellent cheeses, no proteins. I believe one of the boards doe have one meat. Ours only did because I asked for them. I did love me some pickles. Not pictured were the ginormous bowl of citrus olives. Definitely tart with the punch of citrus but delightful.
With events and festivals, Thomasville only seemed to lack a music venue and hotel downtown. Both I have been told are being remedied with incoming developments.
Strolling along the sidewalks on my own, I didn’t run into any of my old high school teachers, but did find adorable shop after shop.
Rich in history, distracted by the opportunity to do laundry I followed the path of clean clothes. Can you blame me? This is life on the road! Plus I had Liz’s adorable pups awaiting me.
I’m available for random house or pet sitting!
For my last evening in Thomasville and Liz’s first back after convention, we tried Moonspin Pizza.
It wasn’t Park Circle Pizza, but the cheesiness was delicious. Our teenage waiter also had channeled his inner Zach Morris from the hair to the shirt to the pants. If only he had completed it with a phone in a bag!
Thomasville was the perfect break before the world of Key West. Just before the Florida line and 30 minutes from Tallahasee, it surrounds you with the song of the south.
Everyone says the big push of being successful is to have a schedule. FINALLY! Scheduling! This whole flying by the seat of my pants has not been my forte. I’m rocking it, it’s just a struggle rock. Like Fraggle Rock, but without the muppets and with more issues.
So scheduling! But how often? Amongst bloggers I know there’s a variety of answers. I can’t be churning out posts like Secrets of Saxapahaw every day! During my never ending drive yesterday, I made a plan. Ready? Of course you are! You’re going to love it!
Monday’s are Muffy Monday’s: you get your fun life of Muffy updates. It’s like the blog-that-wasn’t-a-blog on Facebook throw backs!
Tuesday’s are Travel Tip Tuesday’s: like how tomorrow is Tuesday and I’m going to tell you all about how I’m doing Disney World and Universal Studios for 3 nights under $200
Wednesday’s are Where Have I Been Wednesday’s: this is where you get the blog posts that go in depth of the city, the restaurants, the lodgings, the whole shebang! On deck we’ve got Patriot Inn in North Carolina, the charm of Thomasville, Georgia, and Miami & the Keys!
Friday’s are For the Hell of It Friday’s: it’s what ever strikes the fancy! Concerts, events, random, it’s a modge podge of fun! I’ve even got some great guest bloggers lined up! For reals, you’re in for some treats. Real nuggets of good reading!
Get ready kiddos! It’s all getting real! Just like MTV in the 90’s. Crazy how far we’ve come since that first reality show? Now I put random things on the Internet for strangers to like. Cray!
The trip originally winded me up north. While exploring AirBnB, I came across the yurt at Frog Pond. This had to happen. I know, I’ve been roughing it for almost two months, why in the world if I was going to pay somewhere would I not stay somewhere with all of life’s luxuries? The answer is: I don’t know. There was just something about it and I was hooked. I could not get this yurt out of my mind. Even after the northern portions of my adventure fell out of place, I wanted to book it.
I attempted to dissuade myself and started looking at yurts, even teepees, along the new route. No. Then someone booked the yurt out from under me! Was I interested in the other yurt on the property? Maybe the converted school bus? No. It had to be that yurt. I was going tomorrow. It was done.
It was phenomenal, all of it. The people, the village, the food, the yurt…All of it. Where do I even start?
So where is this magical village of Saxapahaw, NC? (and yes, it’s a village with just less than 2,000 people) It sits outside of Durham, North Carolina, a couple of hours from Charlotte, and 4.5 hours from Charleston. It made for an easy drive.
If you’ve been following along on Facebook or Instagram, you’ll know I was somewhat concerned about starting a fire. I stopped along the way at the exit before at the local Food Lion. It was crazy busy. I told myself it was just the regular Tuesday after work rush. Then I overheard someone say “you’d think it was going to snow!” Crap. I really should have checked the weather forecast. Even though it didn’t smell like snow (it’s something you pick up after many snowy winters), I picked up two packs of fire starters, grabbed a jug of water, and a 6 pack of hard cider (it seemed appropriate and I love a good theme) then headed onward. I had already let Linda & Steve know I would arrive after the usual check in time (the whole trying to just go with the flow thing #struggle) and secretly sent up a prayer they wouldn’t be put out by me asking for assistance in starting a fire for me.
Pulling up the mountain with plenty of daylight left, I passed giant foliage photographs hung like banners in the trees.
I was greeted by not just Linda & Steve but lots of pups!
Linda was delightful from the get go and seemed like she was ready to give me a hug the moment I stepped out of the car. A quick introduction to the pups then she showed me around. The bath house was right there not 50 yards from my yurt. We stopped to to turn the heat on there for me before our parade of creatures headed down to the yurt that sits directly on the pond. Linda pointed out where the lights were along the path (how smart of them) and took me to the doll house-esque mini front door. “Here goes nothing,” I thought to myself. I knew it was 30 ft in diameter, it just seemed my head didn’t realize how large 30 ft in diameters was in real life. Spacious with with a high ceiling capped by a ginormous circular skylight, the yurt was cozy. Imagine a grandmother decorating a tent. It was that only perfect.
This had clearly all been well thought out. Linda showed me where the light switches were, which ones controlled the Christmas lights, made suggestions about the ceiling fans, gave a guided tour of the space. The “closet” had more than enough linens and towels. There were arts & crafts supplies, board games, kitchen accessories, etc. They even had a big old water cooler! No need for my jug!
On the deck she pointed out my lighting options: fire pit, tiki torches, or remote activated fairy lights all over looking the pond. To the right of the deck, she showed me all the buttons for the hot tub.
This was not going to be roughing it. This was glamping at it’s best.
Back inside, Linda showed me the workings of the wood burning stove that already had a roaring fire blazing! Blankets were piled up at the foot of each bed. Everything had been thought of and considered. It was like a woodsy version of Hotel KLA! On the table, Linda had information on all that Frog Pond and Saxapahaw had to offer.
They had to be old hands at this, not so! Linda moved to Saxapahaw 23 years prior from LA, buying Frog Pond. For the life of me, I wish I had thought to ask her why there. Frog Pond had originally been a massage therapy school. The main yurt where I was staying was where they held classes. The hot tub was used for therapy, equipped with mega jets and lounge seats underwater.
Even though they’ve owned the property for 23 years, they have only started renting it in September! They didn’t think anyone would be interested in renting there, the whole bathhouse bit.
My dates could be off, but I think Linda said while they were closing or shortly after, a tornado came through ripping off the roof of the local cotton mill and dye house. Getting the hint from Mother Nature, the village reinvented itself. The old mill now houses shops, businesses, a school, and restaurants in what seems to essentially be the entire village. Linda informed me that I needed to go down the hill and have dinner. The Saxapahaw General Store was renowned. She’s from LA and knows I’m from Charleston, I feel like I can take her word on that. Though the Haw River Ballroom gets a lot of shows, nothing was really going on on a Tuesday night.
It was perfect and peaceful here though, how could I venture out? Linda told me she understood. The last guest was a mother who came alone for the weekend. She slept the entire time. Linda left me to be inspired and told me to help myself to the art supplies! A cider and a selfie later, I settled on the porch listening to the woods around me come alive and the creatures of Frog Pond lived up to their name.
It wasn’t long before the honking started. A pair of geese were making their way past the chickens to the pond for the evening. After all this driving, it was exactly the type of traffic jam I wanted.
The sun finally dropped down taking the temperature with it. The fire pit seemed beyond my capabilities, with my luck, I’d take the whole property down with me. Realizing I of course didn’t have anything I needed in the bag I brought in, I headed out the front to the car. Right by the front door were a pair of flashlights to help guide my way. Further investigation found another set at the back door. See what I’m saying about all the details! Grabbing a handful of dog treats from the jar, aso by the door, I walked up to my car with my new dog posse. Down the hill I go!
It’s all right there in one strip, which I drove right past without even realizing it was where I was going. Between the General Store and Eddy’s Pub, I went with the pub. Sitting at a bar having small talk held more appeal.
I’ve attempted to think back on what I was expecting when opening the doors, it’s impossible. What I walked into was so far beyond my expectation that I can’t grasp the concept I had preconceived. Linda had told me that the Ballroom had a hipster crowd for the shows, the pub reflected that; not that the Ballroom and Eddy Pub are the same place.
A jazz trio played to a room pf people amid obvious historical wood beams and industrial touches. It was modern and timeless all at the same time giving nods to the mill it house in another life.
Grabbing one of the few empty seats at the bar, I was disappointed to hear from Maggie, the bartender, that despite being above the brewery they didn’t offer beer flights. Not disappointed enough to inform her that my new dog friend at the yurt also named Maggie. She did offer insight and suggestion before letting me try a sample of local brew. Largely based on her suggestion, but mostly swayed by how well the name fit my yurtastic adventure in the woods, I started off with the Sisters of the Moon IPA.
It is often that my enthusiasm and overly friendly persona comes across as….in-genuine? Alright, if I’m being honest, when servers don’t know me, they think I come off as a patronizing bitch. Luckily, Maggie took it in stride when I asked her what she thought I should try on the menu. Everyone is crazy for the eggplant fritters, meatloaf, and the housemade sourdough bread and honey butter. Great. I’ll take all three. I had been leaning towards the charcuterie, but if that’s what is to be had then let’s do it. In hindsight, I’m a little perturbed about the charcuterie. Someone later asked me if I had any of the meats, they were made right there. If I had known that, I definitely would have given them a try as well. Plus, hello! 5 choices for only $18?!
While waiting on my food, I fell into conversation with the gentlemen next to me. Both locals one is an artisan jewelry maker, the other a writer. Much to my surprise, they didn’t know about the yurt at Frog Pond. They did know Steve. Unbeknownst to me, Steve is a famous photographer. I made a mental note to pay more attention to the poetry walk prints. The writer was Mark Spano who had just self published his first after writing it 30 years ago. Unfortunately for me, he didn’t have any copies for me to buy. Since I don’t have an address to ship to and I like my books without batteries, it looks like I am out of luck for now. If one of you reads it before me, let me know what you think.
After sampling the Cottonwood Pumpkin Ale, I agreed that the pumpkin flavor wasn’t overpowering (I’m not a PSL kind of girl), the aroma was too much. I switched over to Haw River’s St. Benedicts Breakfast Dubbel. Warned that it was dark, it wasn’t too heavy. By now my food had arrived and I was glad I had ordered multiple things.
Of course, the sourdough and the honey butter was wonderful and served as a perfect breakfast the next day. The bed of coleslaw that the fritters sat upon had a mustard base. Referencing back to the menu, I realized that I couldn’t taste any cheese in the eggplant fritters because eggplant fritters didn’t exist. I clearly had the pig head fritters. They were better than alright, just falling somewhere above good. The coleslaw mustard was the zinger. The pickled onions paired well with the meatloaf, the sauce was just there. Nothing made me clear my plate. The majority of it was boxed up to go for a late night snack or a modge podge breakfast. The leftovers have a point that I’ll circle back round to in a few.
For the briefest moment, right here in writing and not in real life, I am going to live up to the misconception of being a bitch. Give me a second, I need to put on my Sarah with an H hat for this (dude, I am never going to let that go).
If it hadn’t been so unbelievable, it would have ruined the whole experience. Here’s what happened: Once I clearly had fall into making new friends with locals, I asked Maggie, the bartender with the same name as the dog who was almost great in menu/bar suggestions and only missed the mark by not telling me about the meats, how late they were open. “You’re fine! I’m here until whenever!” Perfect. The evening continued to develop into a lovely time. Then my check appeared in front of me and each of my new friends. I hadn’t asked for it, I was not even finished with my second beer. For nondrinkers, that means it hadn’t been long. Fine. I remember my food and bev days. ” Hey Maggie, I’ll close out, but can I get another beer before I do?” At this point, we were far from being the last people there. With the tab closed there would be no stopping her from settling the drawer, sidework, or whatever she needed to do. Right? Legit, I’m asking. That’s how it worked in my day (which thank you very much was not that long ago. I did a stint at Wild Wings when I moved to Charleston a few years ago).
Remember how we used our imagination for the decor of the yurt? Gear it up. Imagine a child actor on a Disney Channel sitcom overacting delivering a sigh, rolling her eyes, and slumping her shoulders. It was so over dramatic I was taken back. I did manage to squeak out an apology, she had just asked that man if he wanted another beer. He works there. How was I supposed to know? Fine. She’ll let me have a smaller beer, but not a full size beer. I’ve only had two with food, it isn’t like I’m on the verge of being cutoff. Little beer or not, I think I was still charged full beer price. Stunned. Later, I heard her ask a guy from the kitchen if he was going to the bonfire. That made sense. Somewhere her nothing to do Tuesday night making money off a tourist turned into a bonfire party after work. She had places to be. Like I said, I was in F&B. I get it. And if it hadn’t been such a grand show of how much she didn’t want to have me at her bar anymore, instead replaced with a simple “sorry, we really are closing out” I would totally have gotten it. Flies with honey kiddo, flies with honey.
On the way out, I briefly met the chef, Isaiah Allen. You know the fairy tale of the witch that lures the children to her home made of gingerbread? How greedy were those kids? Chef Allen’s hearty welcome and generous smile was the happy fairy tale version of that (you never know though, I was told they do their own meats locally). Meeting him made you want to pull up a chair to his table and devour anything he put in front of you. The excitement he had in wanting to discuss about his food is the same I have….well, frankly, when people bring me food. He’d asked me to come back the next night to do a tasting and discuss the menu. Alas, I’m a rambling rose! I’d be gone before they opened. He did give me his contact, much to my disappointment, I have not received a response from him. I waited as long as I could. Maybe this will cross his way and he reaches out. Chef Allen, reach out and I’ll do a whole bit on you!
I would really love to know how he came to Saxapahaw where they are clearly creating a culinary niche. The trio of small plates I had were good on the Charleston scale, phenom for the rest of America. Would I come back again? Absolutely, eagerly. The menu intrigued me, the scale of farm to table impressed. The flavors of the small plates were enough that I want to know what Chef Allen’s main course creations were like instead of a stand alone.
Feel that curve? That’s me circling back to the point! One of my culinary buddies who I had originally intended to see and shocking! It fell threw (damn those best laid plans) managed to close up the restaurant in record time and come down to surprise me. I bring it up only to support two points. The first is that even though I am notoriously known for being antidomestic, my palate is actually quite well developed. That is what happens when you literally eat out every meal, have restaurants as the majority of your client base, and predominantly date chefs. My culinary companion completely agreed on the food based on the leftovers. My point being, I told you so. I know what I am tasting. That zinger of the mustard slaw? It all jumbled in the to go box. While it was fine on the fritters, it added what was missing on the meatloaf and raised the standard of the dish. If you head to the pub, get the meatloaf with a Memphis of mustard slaw then let me know if I was right.
A nice bottle of wine, leftovers, a soak in the hot tub, and gossip by the roaring fire lulled me into a cocoon of much needed slumber. Knocked out like a rock, I snored like a giant. The next morning the yurt was still comfortably warm making it impossible to pull myself out of bed. Was I just beyond exhausted from traveling or was that bed crazy comfy for a futon? This is the support of point two: the futons were in fact crazy comfy. An hour easily went by listening to acorns fall while I tried to rationalize another night’s stay.
My new pup pal had stood sentinel outside on the porch all night, doubling as my escort anytime I left.
The open road won out. I had places to be and things to explore. On my way out, I meandered to the Saxapahaw General Store.
It’s legit the local general store with gas pumps and everything. Only this general store’s shelves more closely resembled those of a Whole Foods.
I left my order up to the counter trusting them to decide. Hunger had overcome decisiveness. Their selection was spot on. This really was your 5 star general store.
Hunger sustained, I walked along the storefronts to see the river below. The community and the concepts were remarkable. Need something on the shelf? Take what you need, leave something for another if you choose.
Just past that was Shift Work, a shared work/creative space. Here I am with my bucket full of wishes, I wish I had more time to dig into them. I think I’ll reach out to find out if they could share more about themselves. Going down the sidewalk I passed a magnet school, the previously mentioned butcher shop, a hair salon, the brewery, a coffee shop, and the outdoor theater on my way to the riverwalk.
If it didn’t get so cold up there, I could entertain the idea of staying.
Feeling the pull of the schedule gone awry, (I swear, I am working on just letting go) I made a quick visit of the Saxapahaw Museum. Even with the history, it emphasizes that the village is a community telling more of the story of the locals who make up the town than just the town.
By no means am I the first to stumble into this experience for all the senses. The New York Times did a write up in 2012. Before that the Washington Post in 2011. Do let me be the last person to tell you and get yourself up the road. Soon this spot won’t be undiscovered.
It has just been a rough couple of days. Foolishly, I thought heading out on this journey would eliminate bad days from my life. Not quite so much.
I know, you all want to hear about the yurt. I’m still awaiting an email from the chef at one of the restaurants before I wrap that up. He had asked if he could tell me more about the menu, I’ll give it until tomorrow to see what he has to say. Really though, Saxapahaw is a hidden gem that I can’t wait to tell you about.
For today, you’ll just have to settle for me; which has not quite been enough for everyone lately. I just want to scream “I’m trying!” Though I do feel like I need to clear up one thing: I’m going to be okay. I know I’ll be okay. Of all of my flaws, lack of confidence in my capabilities has never been one of them. Always the optimist, I can’t really imagine everything not turning out alright. I mean, okay, things got bad but what other option is there than for them to turn out alright in the end? (This is probably where I get struck by lightening or some other fluke to prove me wrong.) Someone once told me that they should change it from Murphy’s Law to Muffy’s Law. There’s been a few more bumps in the road than I would have preferred in my life, but I always turn out alright.
Over the weekend life was gloriously average. Well, except for the fact that it’s probably not average to have pretty much everything you own in your car. Remember those 6 Rubbermaid bins of belongings I kept and how everyone said how little that is to keep? Turns out, I’m an excellent packer and you can get a lot of stuff in there.
With the help of the amazing Savanah, I emptied my car, sorted, stored, and packed. Two giant trash bags full of garbage, one trash bag full of donations, and a Rubbermaid bin later the car is organized and loaded. We even cleaned it! There’s a bag for each of my big climate destinations like Miami and Chicago, a bag of things I’ll need between here and Ohio that will stay with the car, and a “final destination” bag that has all the things I’ll need and will take on the plane. It took a whole day.
Halloween I got to accompany a tiny ghost and a little ice princess trick or treating.
It’s crazy how regular stuff makes things seem balanced and I clearly am better off unbalanced. As much as I enjoyed it all, regular just throws everything else off. Today when the plan fell out again and I found myself wondering what the hell am I going to do? I decided to F it. It will work out. Okay so maybe some small panic, I regrouped. Big sorry to those that got caught in the panic tornado. Michael has to be so proud of me! I decided to buy a tent!
Hello, I love a theme! Do I camp? No. Have I ever in my life had an interest in this before now? No. What makes it appealing now? 1. It’s a free option. 2. It eliminates me needing to rely on anyone else.
It isn’t just that instead of having beef stew in York I ended up in an Econolodge in Greenville (what happened? Well, it’s not something I feel comfortable telling the world now, but it wasn’t good and I sat in the middle of nowhere crying for a good long while), there’s been a lot of baggage following me around.
I constantly am not what people want me to be anymore. Did I change? Did I grow out of being pleasant? I don’t think so. I think somewhere along the way I chose me. When I started making my happiness a priority, it got in the way of all the people who have used me or have taken advantage of me for so long. It’s still a work in progress, it’s hard realizing all the things you’ve ever known weren’t genuine. Eventually, I’ll be strong enough on my own that I can stand up for myself without the emotional breakdown on backroads where old men in trucks drive down from their homes to see why I’ve been sitting out therefor so long only to become completely uncomfortable that I’m the one breaking down and not my car.
And it’s coming from everywhere. It seems to have gotten around how my wellbeing after Matthew and then Mizzou was pushed aside by people who were supposed to love me; making it the final straw for me. It was the final push to go.
My family is haunting me. How can I be so selfish? So unforgiving as to not let them in my life? Isn’t my sister the fucking saint for attempting to guilt me into speaking to my family. You know my sister, my only sister? The one who forbid my family from telling me about her wedding, the same one who was appalled that I RSVP’d “no” to the same wedding invite (I did end up going, huge mistake). The one who just last Christmas said in front of the entire family “I don’t know why you came, no one wanted you here.” Only to have the family support it in their silence. Remember that? The whole crying at the Chinese takeout place vowing to never return again?
Why won’t I talk to my aunt? You know, the one who attempted to pull me from a moving car yelling I was trying to run over my mother? Which would not even be physically possible, by the way. I don’t know people?! Why don’t I?!
Would it mean so much to my mother if I reached out to her? Tell me, Saint Mary Jane, would it mean as much to her as it did when she wrote me a fucking Dear John letter and mailed it to me through the US Postal Service saying she couldn’t be my mother anymore? I’m in my 30’s it isn’t like I needed her to change my diapers. How much work is it to be a mother to a grown adult? Clearly, less work than it is to get around me blocking all your phone numbers and emails. Don’t give me a forgiveness lecture, if I had been hit with a fist instead of words that hurt just as much over and over again, would you be so quick to encourage me to forgive?
So camping it is! Won’t this be fun! Walmart has an Ozark tent for $17!
It’s a two person children’s tent. Based on a review, it can fit an adult diagonally. I think I’m going to buy it then set it up at Jami’s to see if an air mattress will fit. I want to spend no more than $50 on camping gear. Why? Because I don’t know that it will be worth it to check luggage just to bring it with me out west. Yes, I know I can get cheaper, better quality stuff on Amazon but where would I ship it?
Let’s do a checklist for what I think I need:
Air mattress & pump
That works, right? Is there really anything else I need beyond that? I don’t want to go off into like serious wilderness.
So that plan, it’s out the window. Miami the 13th, Charleston the 23rd, Columbus Dec 5th, Chicago Dec 9th, and LA Dec 14th. That’s all that counts, mostly because they involvepre-purchased tickets.
Last night, I attempted a restful treat yo’self evening at the Econolodge. Not quite up to par on restful. It’s the last hotel treat until Orlando. For my anonymous sponsors, Orlando is for you. Thank you. No more spending. Except after I purchase a replacement power cord to my chromebook THEN no more spending. There’s some great posts lined up like how I manage to find the deals I do! Just need the power cord to proceed, they don’t hop from the notebook to the blog on their own. Talk about a crimp in the system!
Travel safe and be well kiddos! I’ve got a sneaky feeling this new take charge attitude is going to make for new adventures and the further away I get the lighter my heart is going to feel. Plan for a *clap* great day!