A Last Minute (But Awesome!) Day at Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival

Epcot Food and Wine Festival 2017

I’ve been to Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival many times throughout the years…in fact, I’d have to sit down and really think back to figure out the exact number of times.

In the past, I went to eat my favorite samples (escargots from France, fried goat cheese with honey and pistachios from Greece, and the cheddar cheese soup from Canada)…but more than anything, I went to drink, because all those extra Food and Wine Festival booths allowed for a great change of pace for someone who has gone Drinking Around the World as many times as I have.

To be honest, the past couple times I went to the Food and Wine Festival I wasn’t all that impressed with the food samples. They changed the way they served the escargots, the fried goat cheese just wasn’t as good, and while the soup was fine, by itself it wasn’t worth braving the crowds and long lines that have plagued the festival much more than they used to.

I also remember hearing complaints about the portions not being worth one’s money, and while I personally didn’t actively complain about this, I also didn’t disagree. So imagine my surprise when I visited Epcot this past weekend – on the second-to-last day of the 2017 Food and Wine Festival – and experienced not just large portions but also cast members who kept things flowing so that we never waited more than 5 minutes to order (and rarely more than a couple minutes to get our food).

My one rule this year was that I would try different samples, and having someone to share them with allowed me to order a lot more than I have in the past…

epcot food and wine festival 2017

Clockwise from top left:
The Cheese Studio – Savory Caramelized Onion and Boursin Garlic and Fine Herbs Cheese Tart
Flavors from Fire – Smoked Corn Beef with Warm Crispy Potatoes, Pickled Onions, and Blonde Ale Beer Fondue
Refreshment Port – Croissant Donut
Australia – Lamington
Brazil – Pao de Queijo

I also got to taste the Grilled Beef Skewer from Earth Eats, the Loaded Mac-n-Cheese from Active Eats, and yes, the Croissant aux Escargots from France. While none of my samples were bad, the only ones that really stood out were the Croissant Donut (I’ve had “cronuts” before but this one was the best ever, trust me) and the Grilled Beef Skewer (it was a pleasant surprise, especially as it featured apricots and feta).

Overall, I was really happy with the food this year…which does a good job of making up for the fact that the drink options were average at best. In fact, nothing that I drank was particularly memorable; mostly I’m just sad that I missed out on trying the Chilled Coffee from Belgium and the Mmmhops Pale Ale from Block & Haus (yes, “Mmmhops” – it’s from the Hansen brothers’ brewery, and yes, I’m as shocked as you probably are that this exists). But hey, there’s always next year!

Epcot Food & Wine Festival 2017

RunDisney: What I’ve Learned & How I Got Hooked

rundisney 2017 wine & dine 10k

For what seems like half my adult life, I’ve had friends who participated in RunDisney events, but even though I’ve been running on a regular basis since 2004, I never really thought about participating myself.

In fact, I didn’t even run my first 5k until 2012, and while I really enjoyed it and ran several more throughout the years, I never really planned on doing longer races. Between that and the expense involved in traveling to Orlando on top of the cost of the RunDisney races themselves, I couldn’t really justify doing any of them.

Of course, fast forward several years and here I am, once again living in the Orlando area. And yet if it weren’t for the Star Wars Half Marathon weekend, I’m still not sure I would have entered a RunDisney race. But this is me we’re talking about here – obviously I couldn’t pass up doing a Star Wars themed race! I actually wanted to do the 10k, but by the time I heard about these races at all that one was already sold out. (Seriously, that’s RunDisney Lesson #1: Register as early as possible!)

rundisney 2017 star wars 5k epcotThankfully the entire weekend wasn’t sold out, and I was able to run the 5k. Honestly even with the money I paid to run the dang race, I’m still surprised I dragged myself out of bed for it…there were a lot of 5k’s I would have liked to run back in Greenville but could never bring myself to sign up for because they started at, say, 8 AM on a Saturday. (I’m just not one for getting up that early on the weekends.) The race time for the Star Wars 5k at Disney was 6 AM…with participants required to be in their corrals by 5:30 AM.

I live 45 minutes away from Disney. It was a very, very early morning.

But I’m getting ahead of myself! The day before my race I had to go to Wide World of Sports to pick up my bib, and because I didn’t read everything they sent me when I registered, I had no idea that there was a whole expo going on during bib pick-up hours! Tons of running gear and RunDisney merchandise, on-site massages, even freebies here and there – I never thought I’d walk into a marketplace for runners and have to spend the entire time reminding myself that I’m a broke artist who can’t afford $100 compression running tights or an $80 shirt that says “Running + Wine” on it. Talk about RunDisney Lesson #2: You’ll want to buy a lot of stuff, so save up that money! (Or if you can’t/don’t save up money, maybe don’t go wandering through the expo.)

They even had RunDisney vacation planners there! Now, you can’t simply register for the races – they’re there to help you plan a full RunDisney vacation , which I learned only after talking to one of them for about 20 minutes. However, I’m still glad I spent that time talking to them, because if I hadn’t I wouldn’t know RunDisney Lesson #3: If a race is sold out, there’s a chance you can still get in if you book a vacation package with it. In fact, that’s how I was able to register for the Disney Princess Half Marathon in February – it was sold out online, but I booked two nights at one of the All Star resorts and was able to snag a race spot along with that. Now I’m just trying to convince myself it’s worth the expense because I’ll get to sleep about an hour longer and not have to drive home right after running 13.6 miles.

rundisney 2017 star wars 5kI’m sure you’re wondering how this is all worth it, when RunDisney race registrations cost three to five times more than your average race registration. The thing is, I know that for most people it’s probably one of those “you won’t understand until you try” things. That’s how it was for me, anyway, even though for years now I’ve had several friends telling me how fun these races were…which I guess makes that RunDisney Lesson #4: You have to experience a RunDisney race firsthand in order to understand it [and likely – possibly inevitably – get hooked].

The excitement was palpable the morning of the Star Wars 5k. There was music, a fun announcer, participants dressed up in fun outfits (and sometimes even costumes)…it was impossible to not be excited. And then along the race course there were photo ops with characters and tons of photopass employees snapping pictures of the runners…not to mention the fun of running through Epcot at dawn.

And if that’s not enough to convince you, at the end you’re handed an actual medal! (No other race I’ve ever run has given out participation medals, and the RunDisney ones are AWESOME!) Not only that, there’s plenty of free bottled water and gatorade, fresh fruit, and snack boxes…and then even more photo ops, both in front of a RunDisney background and with more characters…and in my case those character photo ops were a huge plus because yes, they were Star Wars characters!

rundisney 2017 star wars 5k bb8

rundisney 2017 star wars 5k captain phasma

My one regret from my first RunDisney race was that prior to the run, I didn’t know RunDisney Lesson #5: They don’t time their 5k’s. So just keep in mind that if you want to know your race time one of their 5k’s, you have to clock it yourself.

As much fun as I’ve had running races in the past, none of them even come close to how amazing that Star Wars 5k was…and not just because it was Star Wars. I loved it so much that when I got home later that morning, I immediately signed up for the Wine & Dine Half Marathon Weekend (which took place just last weekend) and the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend in January 2018. For Wine & Dine, I had to sign up for the Two-Course Challenge, as that’s all they had left. This meant running a 10k on Saturday 11/4 and then a half marathon on Sunday 11/5, which seemed crazy at the time and unfortunately still seems crazy now, as I ended up with a bum hip prior to the race weekend and was only able to run in the 10k, anyway.

I keep trying to tell myself it’s okay that I listened to my body and didn’t overdo it by running the half last weekend…and anyway, I’m registered for the half marathon – and only the half marathon – in January. I have over two months to heal and train, and if I’m honest with myself, I need that time in order to run the best race I can for my first half marathon EVER 🙂

rundisney 2017 wine & dine 10kWith the Wine & Dine 10k, I also got to run through another park, as both Hollywood Studios and Epcot were part of the course. And despite the problems I’ve been having with my hip and the fact that the RunDisney courses are far more crowded than most of your average local road races, I ran my first official 10k in 1:13:03. (Although that’s the official RunDisney time; my personal ‘stopwatch’ on my phone says 1:13:00.18!) And as a side note, that brings me to RunDisney Lesson #6: People will cut you off – a lot. Most of the time they aren’t doing it on purpose, but it will happen. People will also pass on the left. I passed on the left. If you’re running in one of these races and care about your time, you will inevitably cut someone off (hopefully not on purpose!) and/or have to pass on the left. If you don’t care about your time, don’t get too frustrated or yell at people for mistakenly cutting you off or for passing on the left. (I personally did not get yelled at for cutting anyone off, nor did I yell at anyway, though I did definitely get frustrated a couple of the times it happened…and yes, I did pass on the left and get yelled at for it.)

I’m sure that I’ll learn more lessons when I run in the half marathon and the Princess half marathon early next year, but for now I’ll leave you with RunDisney Lesson #7: Be prepared for some fun outfits/costumes. And if you’re so inclined, definitely wear one yourself! I personally probably won’t wear a crazy costume, but I have tried to wear fun yet comfortable running outfits for both of my races…and I’m still trying to come up with some more fun outfits for the next two. Any suggestions?

rundisney 2017 wine & dine 10k donald duck

My Personal “Most Fun Cities” List

Recently timeout.com made a list of the most fun cities in the world. This list included 18 cities, and I’ll admit, I’ve only been to about a quarter of those places.

Still, I don’t really agree with some of their choices, and while I sadly have to limit my list to North America and Europe, I can’t pretend that I’ve yet been able to satisfy my dreams of visiting Great Britain, Norway and Sweden, Turkey, Israel, Egypt, Morocco, Japan, Australia, and Thailand…at the VERY least. That said? I know I’ve been lucky to travel as much as I have. Privileged, even. So this Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for the chances I’ve had to explore this world and I hope that I’ll have more of them 🙂

But I still have my own opinions about the most fun cities out there, and I also don’t think 18 is a high enough number…even if I were to include every city in the Time Out article. Again, this is coming from someone who has been to many Caribbean islands, almost 3/4 of the states in the U.S., and a dozen European countries. I’m sure there are likely Asian, Scandinavian, Middle Eastern, African, and/or Australian locations that should be added…but I stand by my personal North American/European selections for now.

While I do believe that some of these cities are more fun than others, I couldn’t possibly put them in any order that I’d be 100% satisfied with, so instead I’m just going to list them alphabetically 🙂

Amsterdam, The Netherlands
My sister and I spent several days in Amsterdam in 2007. It was a long time ago, but on my first day there I knew that this was one of those cities I would be obsessed with returning to at some point in my life. We experienced art, we experienced history, we experienced food, and we experienced partying…partying in ways that can’t be described, ways that you can only experience in Amsterdam.

Most Fun Cities Amsterdam

Berlin, Germany
Berlin was one of those places that I considered a stop on the way to somewhere better, and to be honest, even after spending several days there I was ready to move on. (It didn’t help that a lot of our time was spent doing things like walking up and down the Berlin Wall, visiting a nearby concentration camp, and other such unhappy historical things.) Anyway, what’s important is that after I moved on, I couldn’t get Berlin out of my head. I still can’t. It is, like Amsterdam, one of those places I’m dying to visit again.

Most Fun Cities Berlin

Boston, Massachusetts, USA
I’m from New England, so I had to include a New England city, of course! While I’ve had amazing times in Providence, Rhode Island and in many little New England towns scattered throughout Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine…Boston is always the place that stands out. The breweries, Boston Common, the Freedom Trail, Cambridge but also its *nightlife*, and of course Fenway (especially if you can see a Red Sox game). And honestly, combine the breweries and a Red Sox game and some of that nightlife and you can’t help but have a great time.

Most Fun Cities Boston

Budapest, Hungary
There’s a lot to love about Budapest. The crazy public transportation, the confusing money, the castle on its hilltop (and the cellar wine tastings that can be found up there), the thermal baths, the beauty combined with a lively vibe that you almost wouldn’t expect…add all of that together and I can’t imagine not having a good time in this gorgeous city.

Most Fun Cities Budapest

Charleston, South Carolina, USA
There’s literally nothing better than a random weekend in historic downtown Charleston. I’m not big on shopping, but doing it here is a total blast, mostly due to the open market – but there are also some great art galleries/stores spread throughout the historic district. There are carriage tours, walking tours, even tours by car that will tell you everything you want to and more about the city…and at the end of the day, there’s “The Original” Pub & Brewery Tours of Charleston, which offers the best historical pub tours and brewery bus tours in the city, as well as other events throughout the year. I’ve been on three of their tours and I can’t speak highly enough of them! (P.S. Charleston has great beer and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!)

Most Fun Cities Charleston

Chicago, Illinois, USA
After several trips to Chicago the best thing I can say is that I still don’t feel like I’ve experienced enough. The museums, the lakefront, and the Miracle Mile are all great; but that’s nothing compared to a Wrigleyville party, a pizza pot pie and some wine or beer paid for in cash at Chicago Pizza & Oven Grinder, a night at Second City, or a baseball game. Chicago is easy to navigate and there is something for everyone and I know I’ll return again and again.

Most Fun Cities Chicago

Denver, Colorado, USA
Denver is another place that surprised me when it came to mind as I made this list. But then I realized that it’s close to a major airport, close to amazing skiing, and has its own fun draws as well. If you’re up for a toke, for instance, pot is legal…but the last time I was there the most fun thing was to map out a brewery tour that left from my hotel and circled back around to it. The best thing? This tour allowed me to walk no more than a half mile at a time (and even that longer distance only happened twice between stops), visit (in the end) half a dozen Denver breweries, and just generally lead me on a fun tour of the city. There is so much to do in and around Denver that I can’t imagine anyone not loving this place.

Most Fun Cities Denver

Dublin, Ireland
I’ll admit, I visited Dublin just once…and it was over 16 years ago. But the fact that it hasn’t faded from my memory even after all this time is what says a lot. I was awkward and shy in high school, and I’d only just started coming out of my shell when I ended up in a college that shoved me right back into that shell…only thankfully, around that time I had the opportunity to go to Ireland for spring break as part of a study program (including a scholarship that paid for most of the trip), and I fell in love with Dublin the moment I stepped off the bus from the airport. It was March, it was dreary, and it was beautiful. The Guinness brewery was a ton of fun, the Temple Bar area was great, and everywhere I went, people wanted to talk to me. I don’t mean for that to sound stuck up; I was used to being in the background, feeling awkward at the least and anxious at the worst. But suddenly, in Dublin, I felt *alive*. I felt like I was part of things. And that memory has never left me.

Most Fun Cities Dublin

Greenville, South Carolina & Asheville, North Carolina, USA
I think I would be remiss if I didn’t include Greenville, because despite growing up in Connecticut and living in Massachusetts, Virginia, and the Orlando area off and on, Greenville is the one place I always go back to. Sadly, while I can’t admit that it deserves an entry all its own, by combining it with Asheville (which also doesn’t deserve an entry all its own), everybody wins. Greenville has some great restaurants, bars, and breweries – and if you’re a Red Sox fan, seeing their farm team (The Greenville Drive) at Fluor Field is a must. Combine that with even more breweries in Asheville, the Biltmore House (which has a winery and a tour that includes samples), and the generally picturesque surroundings, and you can have an amazing long weekend and still not experience everything that this area has to offer.

Most Fun Citites Asheville

Most Fun Cities Greenville

Key West, Florida, USA
You know what the most surprising thing about Key West is? Technically, you’re *not* supposed to have open containers on the streets! But you know, just don’t be stupid and you won’t have to worry about that 😉 That said, there are tons of other awesome things to experience here…the Southernmost Point, the Hemingway House, Blue Heaven for brunch (great Bloody Marys!), Cuban Coffee Queen if you need a pick-me-up, Sloppy Joe’s or the Green Parrot for late-night bars, and Fort Jackson if you want a good beach. Most of the historic district is walkable, there’s plenty of other stuff to do, but let’s not lie – Key West is mostly about the party.

Most Fun Cities Key West

Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
Does. This. Even. Need. An. Explanation?
I could say gambling, clubs, great restaurants, no open container laws, champagne brunches, shows, and more, but…
The answer is no. You really only need pictures. (And I’m only going to include one picture each from my last three Vegas trips – just FYI, I’ve been twelve times!)

Most Fun Cities Las Vegas

Most Fun Cities Las Vegas

Most Fun Cities Las Vegas

New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
I’ve been lucky to have not one but two amazing trips to NOLA. The first time was during Mardi Gras season – not over the holiday itself, but as it happened we were there when the Saints won their first ever (and so far only) Superbowl…and the second time was for Halloween, which was a complete blast, if not quite as epic as my trip there in February 2010. Regardless, there’s so much more than Bourbon Street (although that’s quite a party) and the French Quarter…there’s Frenchmen Street if you want some great music, the Garden District if you want to see gorgeous houses and other historic sites, Tipitina’s for even more great music…and one more quick French Quarter shout out, Napoleon’s for the food and the Pimm’s Cups. The people are friendly, there’s history and nightlife…what more could you want?

Most Fun Cities New Orleans

Orlando, Florida, USA
Walt Disney World. Universal Studios Orlando. Church Street. Lake Eola Park. Some of these things surely sound familiar to you while some of them may not, but all of them are amazing. Is Orlando historical? No. Is it beautiful? Not really. But if you want to have some fun, you can drink around the world in EPCOT at Disney, try brews in Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade at Universal, hang out in the Church Street Station area, or even just take a walk around Lake Eola Park and check out some of the bars and restaurants in that vicinity. But hey, let’s not lie, you’re more likely to come here for the theme parks qwe454or a convention 😉

Most Fun Cities Orlando

Most Fun Cities Orlando

San Francisco, California, USA
I think the best part about San Fran is that you can visit all of the touristy places and also fit in a few less likely stops in just a few days…and in those few days, there are plenty of fun options that don’t involve the touristy stuff. But really, how can you convince yourself not to visit Haight-Ashbury? Or if you’re a geek, find George Lucas’s house with the faux robot out front? And don’t even get me started on hanging out in Alamo Square to get a picture of the Full House house in the background. If you’re a baseball fan and can afford the drinks, the Giants stadium is gorgeous (with a great view) and they keep the alcohol flowing. Then there’s the usual stuff like Fisherman’s Wharf, Alcatraz, and of course the Golden Gate Bridge. I honestly can’t even imagine visiting this city during Pride; it would probably be the most amazing experience of my life. Everything about San Fran is fun and welcoming and there always seems to be some sort of party going on.

Most Fun Cities San Francisco

Vienna, Austria
There’s these sausages you can buy. They hollow out a small loaf of French bread, pour some sort of life-changing mustard sauce in it, and then insert a cheese-infused sausage. And it’s the best thing I’ve ever tasted. It’s the perfect late-night snack, or hey, you can have it for lunch (with a cold beer) in the middle of the day…all while exploring the gorgeous sites of Vienna. The Spanish Riding School, St. Stephen’s Cathedral, and the Schonnbrunn Palace, just to name a few. There’s also the infamous Vienna Schnapps Museum, and, if you’re looking for nightlife, the area they call “The Bermuda Triangle“. I sincerely believe that there’s something for everyone in Vienna, and when I explain it to people I call it “the other Paris” – where people are more friendly, accommodations are cheaper, and you can actually experience the local festivals without fighting to be there in every way possible.

Most Fun Cities Vienna

Maybe this is too little too late, and above all please excuse me for using so many pictures of myself. One never knows how one’s friends will take to being featured in a blog entry, after all 😉

I’d love to hear some input on the best Middle Eastern, African, Asian, and Australian cities, so please feel free to leave a comment. There are a lot of places on my “to visit” list, but it can’t hurt to make that list longer and hope for opportunities! For instance, I didn’t list any cities in Alaska or Hawaii, which are both must-sees in my opinion, but sadly don’t include a “most fun city” (at least in my opinion). Like I said, though, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Not a Con 4.0: VEGAS WARS

Not a Con Vegas Wars

Soon after the very first Ice & Fire Con in April 2013, a group of friends and I planned a trip back to the convention’s first location, Ravenwood Castle. It took place in October of that year – about halfway between Ice & Fire Con 2013 and 2014 – and even though the “attendees” (and now the location) have changed, Not a Con continues to be an annual tradition that I wouldn’t miss for the world.

(Although I guess technically it’s being replaced by Beach City Con next year, but I swear we’ll have a winter Not a Con to make up for that!)

We held three Not a Cons at Ravenwood; in 2013 we went with a pirate theme (for the most part, anyway); 2014 was A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones; 2015 was Harry Potter. While we didn’t go all-out with the theme this year like we did the first three times, that was mostly due to the fact that Not a Con 2016 took place in Las Vegas. Still, we threw a bit of Star Wars into the mix and therefore dubbed Not A Con 4.0 “Vegas Wars”.

Not a Con Vegas Wars

So what do you get when you mix four nights in Vegas, a Mirage hospitality suite, ten amazing people, and a whole lot of crap…s?

Well, one of the best Vegas trips I’ve ever had, that’s for sure.

While I used to visit Vegas more often, the past few years I’ve limited my visits and instead made sure that when I do go, I go all out. This time around, I hadn’t been out to this crazy city for almost two years (the last time being over New Year’s 2014-2015), and thanks to the fact that my friends were willing to go along with so many of my crazy schemes, we stayed in an amazing suite *that had a pool table*, I got to spend an evening riding around in a limo, we all took a day to laze and drink at a pool party, see the Chainsmokers perform, and then we wrapped up the trip by experiencing an absolutely perfect VIP table at HYDE Bellagio (with a view of the fountains and all).

Not a Con Vegas Wars

Oh, and yes, we played (or watched other members of our group play) a lot of craps.

So without further ado, I bring you the basics of this Vegas trip, because to tell any more would be to forsake that infamous rule, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”…


Not a Con Vegas Wars

Star Wars…sort of

Not a Con Vegas Wars

“Auntie Tara” a.k.a. the one who got stuck with a $14 charge when someone touched the mini bar in our suite
“Brian E” a.k.a. Chocolate King
“Katherine” a.k.a. The Newb
“RJ” a.k.a. The Responsible One
“Jasmine’s Brian” a.k.a. The Quiet One
“Jasmine Venusaur” a.k.a. The Slot Queen
“K2D2” a.k.a. The Napper
“Frank” a.k.a. Poop Trousers
“ASHURISAN” a.k.a. The Best Selling Author of “If I Did It”
“Ser Dunkin Keith” a.k.a. The White Castle Culprit
* With special guest appearances by: *

Not a Con Vegas Wars

Basically everywhere on the Las Vegas Strip but mostly…
– The Linq
– Harrah’s
– Any “Shoot to Win” Craps Machine
– The Mirage (specifically suite A22)
– Sephora at The Shops at Caesar’s
– Mon Ami Gabi at The Paris
– That shady casino across from The Mirage
– The Las Vegas sign
– Fremont Street
– Some Brazilian Steakhouse
– A horrible California Pizza Kitchen
– Chuck Malcolm’s ledge at Hakkasan
– The Rockhouse at The Venetian…or the Palazzo…whatever, I can’t remember
– The Drunk Canadian Tour Guide’s Luxor Experience
– HYDE Bellagio
– Cravings Buffet at The Mirage

Not a Con Vegas Wars

Drinking some more
Gambling some more
A couple decent meals
Drinking some more
Gambling some more
Awful late-night snack decisions
The Bathtub Incident
Drinking some more
Gambling some more
Oh and dancing, there was dancing too
(And a lot of walking. Like almost too much walking, even for me.)

Not a Con Vegas Wars

Not a Con Vegas Wars

Not a Con Vegas Wars

Not a Con Vegas Wars

All I have to say is that this was definitely one of my best Vegas trips ever – certainly in the top three – and that I can’t wait to plan another Vegas trip, OR another Not a Con…though next time I think we’ll continue our trend of visiting different places. Let’s just say that I’m still pushing for Not a Con 5.0 a.k.a. SKI KHAAAANNN 2.0 in Colorado in early 2018 😉

Travel Tuesday: My Las Vegas Bucket List

Okay, I’ll admit it – most of this list is copied from my old blog. But hey, most of the pictures don’t show up there anymore, and on top of that, I have more Vegas trips under my belt…and another one coming up soon. So here’s my Vegas bucket list so far!

Also, I apologize for some minor formatting issues. Sometimes WordPress hates me ::sigh::


1) Stay up all night
This is one that I’ve actually accomplished several times over 😉 I’d say the most epic time, though, was in May 2011 – when I woke up at 9:30 AM and somehow stayed awake until my 2:30 PM flight the next day! Those last several hours were rough to say the least, but I made it! (That said, probably the second most epic all nighter was with my best friend Jenna, because we both caught flights on the east coast at like 6 AM and stayed up until 7:30 AM Vegas time the next day…and a lot of those wee hours of the morning were spent hanging out with a guy who just hangs out on the Strip playing the saxophone and hearing his crazy decades worth of Vegas stories.)

Las Vegas 2011

Las Vegas May 2011


2) See a show
Another one I’ve experienced more than once! I saw the Cirque du Soleil Beatles show, LOVE, and Peepshow back when Holly Madison was in it. Both were epic, though Peepshow was a lot more, you know, Vegas 😉 However, they were trumped by Absinthe, which I saw on my New Year’s Vegas trip 2014-2015.

Las Vegas December 2010 Peepshow


3) Spend someone’s 21st birthday in Vegas
This was actually my second trip to Vegas – I took my baby sister there for her 21st! We were joined by our other sister Christy, our cousin Katie, and our good friend Lauren, and to this day it is still one of my favorite trips ever (yeah, not just one of my favorite VEGAS trips – one of my favorite trips EVER 😉 )

Las Vegas September 2008


4) Visit Vegas over Halloween
Some day…some day…


5) Visit the Hoover Dam
When I took my baby sister to Vegas for her 21st birthday, the Hoover Dam was the one thing we did to prove to my parents that we weren’t just in Vegas to party…haha.

Las Vegas September 2008 Hoover Dam


6) Get a tattoo
I finally accomplished this on my last trip to Vegas! My friend Natalie and I had quite the adventure finding a tattoo parlor that had been suggested to us and that turned out to no longer be open…but we tracked down one of the artists at another shop and I finally got my number 13 on the back of my neck 😉

Las Vegas January 2015 Tattoo


7) Stay in a suite
This is another two-timer! Most recently we had a suite at the Mirage for my 30th birthday, but it was definitely most exciting the very first time 😉 That said…I’ll be doing it all over again next month with some amazing friends, many of whom have never even been to Vegas, and I can’t wait!

Las Vegas September 2011

Las Vegas December 2012


8) Spend New Year’s Eve in Vegas
Thanks to my lovely friend Natalie (who convinced me to meet her, our other friend Natalie, and their friend Gabby in Vegas for New Year’s), I finally accomplished this over New Year’s Eve 2014-2015. I don’t think I’d do it again (it was a bit crazy even for me), but I did have an amazing time!

Las Vegas December 2014

Las Vegas December 2014 New Year's Eve


9) Visit Red Rock Canyon
Kind of a random decision, really – but another time where I thought, “I’ve seen so much of what Vegas has to offer, maybe I should get outside of the city and explore a little bit.” And what better time than during my 30th birthday trip? (Well, minus the fact that it was freezing cold that day…)

Las Vegas December 2012 Red Rock Canyon

Las Vegas December 2012 Red Rock Canyon


10) Get a table/do bottle service at a club
This activity has become kind of a staple, because I’m old now (heh) and like to be able to, you know, sit down once in a while. Even when I’m out clubbing in Vegas 😉 I got hooked on this the first time I did it, for sure.

Las Vegas September 2011 Body English VIP

Las Vegas September 2013 XS VIP


11) See a Vegas wedding
Okay, so *technically* it was a vow renewal, but since it was a full-blown Elvis-themed vow renewal at one of the infamous Vegas chapels, I’m counting it! I actually attended this just this past weekend – the cousins of my good friend Natalie did it – and it was hilarious and a blast and such a cool way for them to celebrate their 15th anniversary!

Las Vegas September 2013


12) Go to one of the big pool parties
So I had attended a sort of pool party at Bare at the Mirage many years ago – but I wanted to check out one of the named ones! Though we went on a Thursday and it wasn’t nearly as insane as it is on the weekends, we rented a bungalow at Wet Republic and it was amazing…and after my upcoming trip I’ll be able to say I did a cabana at The Linq pool party as well!

Las Vegas September 2013 Wet Republic

Las Vegas September 2013 Wet Republic


13) Spend MY birthday in Vegas!
In 2010 I went the week after my birthday, but in 2012 I planned a big 30th bday trip with some awesome friends. It was my best birthday ever and the perfect way to spend my 30th…I’d do a Vegas birthday again in a heartbeat, for myself or anyone else!

Las Vegas December 2012 30th Birthday


14) Rent/ride in a limo for no reason
Since I’ve visited Vegas with sizable groups of friends several times over the years, we’ve actually taken a lot of random rides in limos – often doing so ends up being the same price as (or cheaper than) taking a cab, when you’ve got 8 or more people and you’d have to split up anyway. But there was one time when five of us outright rented a limo for the evening kind of “just because” – visited the Vegas sign, and downtown Vegas, and then had it drop us off at Encore so we could go to XS for the night. Champagne was included (well, a bottle of it was) and it was a blast! (Not surprisingly.)

Las Vegas December 2010


15) Go on one of the helicopter rides/tours over the Strip


16) Get a picture with the Las Vegas sign
I’ve actually visited the Vegas sign twice, but honestly it’s hard to get a decent picture there! I hope to return to it on my next visit, for sure 🙂

Las Vegas Sign September 2013


17) Two words: Champagne Brunch.
Seriously, if you’re in Vegas on a weekend there is no reason to NOT hit up one of these. They have them at most hotels, though some have better food (Mandalay Bay) and some have freer-flowing champagne (Planet Hollywood).

Las Vegas June 2010 Planet Hollywood Champagne Brunch

Las Vegas December 2010 Mirage Champagne Brunch

18) Visit Lake Mead
(Okay, *technically* I’ve done this, but I’m not really counting it as I just went to an overlook. One day, when I’m in Vegas and the weather is nice, I’d love to go out here and boat on the lake for a day!)


19)  Check out “Old Vegas”
I mean, why not? Cheap[er] drinking. Cheap[er] gambling. It’s kitschy and while you don’t need to spend a ton of time there, it’s fun!
 Las Vegas 2007 Fremont Street


Las Vegas September 2008 Fremont Street


20) Play blackjack!
To me this is just the quintessential Vegas game – so again, this almost always happens when I visit. Sometimes I even win 😉 (Okay, USUALLY I win if I’m at a table with the right people. If you’ve ever played Blackjack you know what I mean. I prefer Binion’s because hey, $5 buy in, but I’ve won the most money at Planet Hollywood. Twice.)
Las Vegas May 2011 Binion's


21) Introduce Vegas to someone who’s never been before.
Out of the 11 times I’ve been to Vegas, at least four of them, I got to show this ridiculous and amazing place to friends who’d never before visited, and honestly, that makes the experience even better than it already would have been 🙂 (And since I’ve never had a bad trip to Vegas, that’s saying a lot!) As a special note, the following picture was taken on the last morning of my second Vegas trip, and I was the only one of the five of us who’d been there before…


Las Vegas September 2008


People who’ve thought/assumed that I was a prostitute. One time a guy who I thought I’d just been having a polite chat with asked me how much I went for (“$1,000 an hour?” Hey, I guess he aimed high?) and another time I was playing computer poker at a casino bar at 5 AM and this guy was offering to pay me more money than I care to mention to go back to his room with him. It got to the point where the bartender had to ask him to leave because my increasingly firm refusals weren’t making any difference. Oh, Vegas. (Also, if you want to know what one guy’s idea of a $1,000 an hour prostitute is, this is me the night I got that little “compliment” ::rolls eyes:: Oh and the person behind me is my friend, not the guy who thought I was a prostitute. Heh.)


Las Vegas December 2010


Like I said, I’ll probably add more to this list as I finish the last few goals that I have yet to accomplish…but these are my general suggestions for awesome things to do in Vegas. I could never live there, but obviously it’s one of my favorite places to visit…and I already can’t wait to go back!

SDCC 2016 Highlights

This year I attended my third San Diego Comic-Con, and it was by far the best yet. I experienced a few great moments at SDCC 2014, and last year was definitely a lot of fun – but 2016 bested both of those years.

Due to work schedules and money, I had to arrive late Thursday night and depart Sunday night, but despite not being there for Preview night or anything on Thursday, and despite missing the Friends of Comic-Con dinner Sunday night, I can’t imagine having had a better time. And that also includes the fact that I, err, shut off my alarm on Saturday morning and missed the couple of things I wanted to attend earlier that day. The thing is, all of the things that I *did* get to do more than made up for that 😉

A Geek Saga SDCC 2016

I was lucky enough to room with my good friend Ashley, and our mutual friend Amin helped us with the rooming situation by setting us up in USA Hostels on 5th Ave in the Gaslamp. It was about half a mile from the convention center, surrounded by restaurants and bars (and Pokestops!), and actually within my budget. I’d never stayed in a hostel before, but honestly, the bathrooms were extremely clean and my only complaint is that we got one of the rooms that didn’t have an air conditioner or a proper window. But the people were friendly, there was free breakfast, and again…it was in my budget. I’m sure having a great roommate helped, as well.

Friday we got up early and headed down to pick up my badge and get in line for the Steven Universe singalong/panel combo. It was an hour and a half long and worth the hour and a half that we spent in line – especially considering that Kevin Smith and Greg Runberg delivered donuts! That said, my boss and close friend Angel from The Geekiary got there much earlier than we did and I still owe her a coffee for that.

SDCC 2016 Greg Runberg donuts

The singalong and panel were of course amazing. I laughed, I cried, I enjoyed every second that I was there. I just wish that so many people hadn’t asked questions that couldn’t be answered…but then, I guess that’s kind of a staple of Comic-Con. (At least in my experience.)

SDCC 2016 Steven Universe

Ashley and I also checked out the Nerdist and Geek & Sundry Camp Conival for a bit, where I got to interview Zachary Tyler Linville, author of Welcome to Deadland. It was awesome meeting him and great to talk to a fellow former Orlando resident!

SDCC 2016 Zac Linville Welcome to Deadland

Later that day I met up with Diamond Select Toys Marketing Supervisor Zach Oat to check out some of DST’s Comic-Con exclusives and new reveals…so many awesome toys! I even came home with their SDCC 2016 exclusive Spider-Gwen PVC statue

Spider-Gwen Diamond Select Toys

Now, while I had an awesome time all three-ish days that I was there, I have to say that Friday was probably my favorite overall. Not only because of what I’ve already mentioned, but because later that evening Ashley and I met up with my fellow Geekiary staff member Erin and went out to a couple of different bars. We met new people, saw some celebrities, and other than one problematic situation, had an amazing time.

But before I get into the good parts of that night, let me remind any man who is reading this that buying a woman a drink and offering her food – when she hasn’t asked for either and even tries to decline both – does not entitle you to anything. A woman starting a conversation with you doesn’t entitle you to anything, either. I have to praise the men who apologized to me when they saw their friend freak out on me for choosing to go somewhere with my ladies rather than going anywhere with him, though here’s another reminder – being drunk isn’t an excuse to treat a woman that way.

SDCC 2016 Nobu

Okay, that said, we did get to meet Aly Michalka (Peyton from iZombie), and when we ended up at the Hilton we had drinks and wonderful conversation with a gentleman who essentially works on the set of American Gods. Sadly, all this out-and-aboutness and the fact that none of it included food after about 2 PM caused me to ignore my alarm on Saturday and sleep until 12:30…and then I couldn’t do anything other than shower (no air conditioning means at least one shower a day) and finally get some food. My bad, my bad.

SDCC 2016 Aly Michalka

But once I had some food in me and was walking around in the [much cooler] outside air, I eventually felt better, and it helped that we also had an amazing time with our panel, the “A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones Fan Discussion” featuring three Podcast of Ice and Fire hosts and yours truly 🙂 You can check out the full audio from our panel – along with an intro about mine, Ashley’s, Amin’s, and Kyle’s SDCC 2016 experiences, on the Podcast of Ice and Fire website.

SDCC Ice and Fire Con

After the panel a big group of us – panelists, attendees, and local friends – went to Basic for pizza and drinks. It was a good time and we hung out for quite a while before finally going our own ways (for the most part). This included Ashley and I going back to our room to freshen up for the last big night of Comic-Con, including a trip to The Pool Club at the Hilton for drinks with Admin Angel and Erin from the Geekiary, as well as a few other friends (both ‘old’ and new). I even got to meet Bear McCreary. I’m a huge fan of his music on The Walking Dead and Battlestar Galactica, but he’s also known for the music on shows like Outlander, Black Sails, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and more.

SDCC 2016 Bear Mcreary

Soon enough we had an invite to a Geek and Sundry pop-up party, so Angel, Ashley, and I headed to Fluxx for that, and it was a BLAST. I even ended up dancing with Matt Mercer from Geek and Sundry’s Critical Role, though I had no idea that’s who he was until someone told me. (I’m really bad at recognizing celebrities, okay?) Seriously though, I just thought I was dancing with a fun dude, and that’s exactly what I was doing. I’d love to actually sit down and talk to him sometime!

SDCC 2016 Geek and Sundry Critical Role Matt Mercer

Yes, it’s a bit blurry, we were dancing in a club! 🙂

I’ll be honest, it was a late and messy night and it was worth every minute, even if having to roll out of bed and get out of our room before 10 AM the next day was a bit rough 😉 I blame Angel and Ashley. Not myself at all, no no no… (Yes, I’m kidding.)

SDCC 2016 Geek and Sundry Fluxx

Thankfully I still got to do a few fun things and attend some great panels on Sunday before heading to the airport for a rough red-eye flight home. My absolute favorite moment that day was meeting author Pierce Brown, who wrote the Red Rising trilogy (which I’m completely obsessed with at the moment – SEVROOOO! RAGNARRRR!). I got my copy of Morning Star signed, and was even able to get a copy of Red Rising signed for my bf Bekah. Oh, plus he complimented my hair (hopefully it was an actual compliment, anyway) and took a picture with me 🙂

SDCC 2016 Pierce Brown Red Rising

I also attended Nerd HQ’s Sherlock panel and it was amazing. I’ve attended one Nerd HQ panel each year (The Walking Dead in 2014 and Bad-Ass Women last year) and the Sherlock one this year did not disappoint. After that Ashley and I also went to the Bisexuality and Beyond panel run by BiNetUSA.org, which was wonderful.

SDCC 2016 Nerd HQ Sherlock

And that was basically the end of my SDCC weekend, though we did a bit of wandering around after that last panel and I got a few more awesome pictures. So I’ll leave you with those, and – for the first time – with hope that I will absolutely be able to attend SDCC next year!


SDCC 2016 American Gods

SDCC 2016 Ghostbusters


ChicagoCon Part 2: Pokemon GO, Harry Potter, Baseball, & More

ChicagoCon Part 2 Chi Wizard Tournament

These days almost every trip I take has a convention nickname, because so much of the time I’m visiting or vacationing with groups of my convention friends. We’ve had Not-A-Con in the fall for three years straight, with another one approaching this October. When a bunch of us went to West Virginia in February 2015, it was SkiCon (or rather, SkiKAHHHNNNN). Sometimes I even go to conventions themselves and they’re renamed, such as C2E2 in March of this year being ChicagoCon Part 1, or MegaCon in May being “KiwiCon”. (In quotes because KiwiCon existed before I got to experience its awesomeness.)

Therefore, when I visited Chicago yet again this past weekend, it was quickly dubbed “ChicagoCon Part 2”. And if I erase the awful trip home from my memory (bad weather, flight diversions, flight delays), it was yet another awesome success.

ChicagoCon Part 2 Taste of Chicago

I arrived on a Thursday afternoon, but unfortunately my Chicago-local friends were working and the other two out-of-towners in our group weren’t arriving until the following night. Not that I let that stop me…I checked out Taste of Chicago, had a very interesting but delicious appetizer and drink experience at The Gage, and then did a Google search for LGBTQ+ bars nearby and had an amazing evening making new acquaintances at Brian’s Speakeasy. After several very strong gin and tonics, I headed back to my hotel room for a quick online hangout with my BFF Bekah and a good hour or so of writing. I even broke 80,000 words on my next novel, which means I’m within 20,000 or so words of finishing!

Chicago Con Part 2 The Gage Red Rising

On my first full ChicagoCon (Part 2) day, I got to have lunch with a friend I hadn’t seen since 2011, and then lazed away the afternoon by devouring Red Rising by Pierce Brown. Seriously, I could have gone out. I kept trying to convince myself to do so. But I had to finish that book first. And when I did, and it was only 4 PM, and no one else was going to be around until after 8 PM? I visited the closest Barnes & Noble at DePaul University, but they didn’t have the second Red Rising installment in stock. Thankfully they were awesome and called the next closest store, who did have it in stock. This led to me walking four miles round trip to the Barnes & Noble on North State Street to pick up Golden Son. (Which also happened to be on the buy 2, get 1 free table – thanks to the associate who checked me out, I got two more books off my wishlist and Golden Son ended up being free!)

Later that night I had an amazing dinner with Brian at Russian Tea Time by the Art Institute. I have to be honest, the best part was that we were practically alone in the restaurant. I know this place is popular and that doesn’t usually happen, though, but still…the menu was lengthy and the food was great so overall I just really loved the experience.

Also I started playing Pokemon GO while I was there. And downtown Chicago is amazing for that game. Thankfully almost everyone that I hung out with while I was visiting plays it, too, which meant bonding over yet another thing we all love 🙂

ChicagoCon Part 2 Pokemon GO

Saturday was The Big Day – The Chi Wizard Tournament! Team “10 Pints for GRYFFINDOR!” assembled and did quite well getting stickers from other teams in our VALOROUS attempt to win the Chi Wizard cup (see what I did there, guys? P.S. I’m Team Valor on Pokemon GO haha). And even though we didn’t win the “Tournament”, it was still a lot of fun. While I wasn’t very fond of two out of the four bars on the pub crawl (one was just too small and the other had some really rude employees), I got to chat with some great new people AND hang out with my friends…all while wearing Harry Potter gear and enjoying this “Fantastic Drinks and Where to Find Them” event!

ChicagoCon Part 2 Chi Wizard Tournament

ChicagoCon Part 2 Chi Wizard Tournament

ChicagoCon Part 2 Chi Wizard Tournament

ChicagoCon Part 2 Chi Wizard Tournament

And even when the pub crawl was over, a group of us returned to a friend’s apartment to hang out, play a card game, and randomly re-watch the last two episodes of Game of Thrones season 6 while chowing down on delivered Lou Malnati’s pizza. So that was pretty much perfect.

(Okay, I’ll be honest, we never finished the card game 🙁 )

Sunday was a bit up in the air even after we all woke up that morning (I mean hey, we did participate in a crazy Wrigleyville pub crawl the day before), but in the end five of us gathered together for a trip to U.S. Cellular Stadium to see the White Sox play the Atlanta Braves. Unfortunately the White Sox lost, and yes it was hot as hell in those bleachers, but I’m excited that I added another baseball stadium to my list! (Which now includes many trips to Fenway along with visits to SafeCo Field, Wrigley Field, AT&T Park, and of course U.S. Cellular Field.)

ChicagoCon Part 2 Chicago White Sox

Chicago Part 2 Chicago White SoxChicagoCon Part 2 Chicago White Sox

After the game it was a quick trip to Kuma’s Too so that Ashley and Brian could finally experience metal music, whiskey on tap, and crazy burgers…though Kuma’s Too was a bit more trendy than Kuma’s Corner, where I ate on a trip to Chicago in the fall of 2014. And from there I headed back to my friends’ house with them, had a good evening hanging out with my friend Dave (a.k.a. “Unky Dave”) when he came home and was shocked to see me chilling on their couch, and even got to O’Hare early the next day to walk around and visit Pokestops and catch Pokemon.

I’ll leave out what happened after I boarded my plane in Chicago, because yeah, other than some travel snafus there, this was definitely a successful Part 2, and may need to become at least an annual thing 😉

A Key West Wedding Weekend

Key West Southernmost Point

Earlier this month I attended a close friend’s wedding in Key West, and I have to admit it: I’ve fallen in love with that place.

I’m not kidding, if it wasn’t so inaccessible – both by air and road – I would move there in a heartbeat.

It has charm and architecture similar to Charleston with the nightlife of New Orleans and some of the most friendly people I’ve ever met. I stayed about a mile from most of the wedding activities (just a few blocks from the Southernmost point) but never felt unsafe walking to and from my hotel.

To make a long story short, I can’t wait to go back.

Key West WeddingThe wedding itself was amazing; props to my long-time friend Jamie and her new husband Cory for putting together a perfect weekend! I met Jamie on my very first Walt Disney World College Program and – I’m aging us here, oops – fifteen years later, we’re still close, despite living over a thousand miles away from each other and leading the busy lives that adults lead 😉

Other WDWCP friends were there as well, so it was a mini reunion as well as a great vacation. I traveled by myself but never had a shortage of people to talk to, whether they were fellow wedding guests, other travelers, or locals. (Seriously, everyone was SO nice.)

I ate at some great places – most notably Blue Heaven and Cuban Coffee Queen – and of course did some touristy things, like attending the sunset celebration in Mallory Square and visiting the Hemingway House, the Southernmost Point, and Fort Zachary Taylor Beach. I also rekindled my strange obsession with Ernest Hemingway, and am weirdly excited that I’ve now visited both places he lived while he worked on For Whom the Bell Tolls, which wasn’t exactly my favorite Hemingway novel (okay, I didn’t really like it), but hey, seeing both his suite at the Sun Valley Lodge and his home in Key West, where he did most of his work on that novel, is just really awesome to me!

You know, plus there were cats. (At the Hemingway house, I mean.)

Key West WeddingAs for the wedding itself, we got to do a sunset cruise with Fury Tours on Thursday night, followed by the bachelorette party, and then on Friday the rehearsal dinner was at Bagatelle on Duval Street and it was a blast. The wedding itself was held at the Pier House and everything was absolutely beautiful.

I think the best part, though, was how much Key West inspired me to read and write. I honestly spent half my time in bars reading while I sipped my drinks, and I don’t know if it was the heat, the sea air, or just the place as a whole that made it hard to leave my computer and notebooks behind to go out and actually do all the touristy things I did. It was a blessing and a curse.

I was glad to go home but like I said, I can’t wait to go back. I’ll leave you with a few more pictures from my trip and the suggestion that if you ever have the chance to visit Key West, just GO 🙂

Key West Sunset Celebration

Key West Hemingway House cats

Key West Hemingway House

Key West Wedding

Key West Fort Zachary Taylor Beach

Key West Sunset