Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Summer Road Trip 2015: World of Coca-Cola


Copyright Disclaimer under section 107 if the copyright act of 1976, allowance is made for "fair use" for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing. Non-profit, educational or personal use tips the balance in favor of fair use.

This review is my personal opinion. I am not paid by anyone. I do not receive any amenities (free or discounted).

All photos contained in this article are for the purposes of news reporting. These photos contain the logos of Coca-Cola and are trademarked and copyrighted by The Coca-Cola Company ©®.

World of Coca-Cola
World of Coca Cola, Atlanta, Georgia

After you have seen what Atlanta has to offer culturally and historically; after you have had your fill of either the Civil Rights Movement, the Civil War and perhaps even Gone With The Wind, you will invariably find your way near Centennial Park and across to the exhibit/museum/greatest advertisement in the "person" of the World of Coca-Cola. 

John Pemberton statue
John Pemberton, the pharmacist who invented Coca-Cola

If you have not been to Atlanta since 2006, you will learn that the museum is no longer near Underground Atlanta (a shopping and entertainment district that has seen better days). Obviously, moving the World of Coca-Cola has affected the economy of the Underground, with more tourists now staying in the Centennial Park area. For some reason, the old building is still there, overgrown with trees, seemingly decaying.

Former World of Coca-Cola, Atlanta Underground
Former location, near the Atlanta Underground

The relocated museum is a tribute to Coca-Cola and its products of course, but it can also be seen as an extreme example of American capitalism, the power of advertising and it's influence throughout the world and the unique combination of business, entertainment and a part of the American way of life that is rivaled by other such corporations such as McDonald's, Disney and Apple, in my opinion. Whole industries have been built upon simple products (such as Hershey Park). You may be amazed at how the world of advertising clearly is woven into our way of life, dictating our wants and even our vacations. I wonder what international tourists think when they tour such a place.

Coca-Cola artifacts
All things Coca-Cola (registered trademark by The Coca-Cola Company)
But digressions aside, this is a fun place. The amount of memorabilia and artifacts is a history lesson in itself. Indeed, Coca-Cola is credited with our modern visual of Santa Claus. The popular artwork of the rotund, rosy-cheeked jolly fellow was immortalized largely based on Clement C. Moore's description in his poem " "Twas the Night Before Christmas," forever cementing the American personification of St. Nick (along with other previous illustrations). Along with the greeting card industry, the Coca-Cola Santa played a major influence in the commercialization of Christmas in America, for better or worse. Mr. Moore's description of Santa delivering toys added to the creation of the secular portion of the holiday. Throw in the 1947 motion picture, "Miracle on 34th Street," with a child in the court room pointing out Santa definitively, obviously based on Coca-Cola's drawing and gift giving now centered around the toy industry and you have the makings of numerous sociological studies about the American psyche.

Illustration of the Coca-Cola Santa
Santa Claus, as imagined by Coca-Cola (registered trademark of The Coca-Cola Company)

Indeed, Coca-Cola seems in awe of itself and presents a fair account of its history, it's influences, even acknowledging its mistakes such as trying to change to formula of classic Coca-Cola. The company can be credited, along with Hallmark, McDonald's and Kodak, with changing the in-your-face style of television ads during the 1960's to the more subtle approach of the 1970's, with movie style cinematography, messages of peace, world love and family life through slogans, songs and campaigns presenting Coke as part of your life, part of your rites of passage, a member of the family. All of this is part of the museum, along with toys, clothing, and interactive exhibits.

Coca-Cola Polar Bear
Polar Bear, for your photo op (registered trademark of The Coca-Cola Company)

There are what can be considered a few major highlights: the promise that you will see the vault where the original formula is kept, but that's all you see, is the vault, not the formula, which is supposedly inside, a photo op with the Polar Bear character and, the room with all of the flavors and products of the world. If this seems like deja-vu to Disney Epcot fans, it's no coincidence. You can slurp and burp your way around the world as you sample flavors of carbonated (and some not carbonated) drinks (not all cola flavors). Some are extremely sweet and a few taste like tonic water. At the end, before you exit through the obligatory gift shop where you ca get your fill of all items Coca-Cola, you are given a small bottle of the famous classic formula. Drink the soda and save the bottle, since the bottling location is considered important, sort of like where your money is minted.

Photo of the Vault
The Vault

If you read every line, examine every artifact, and pass through every gallery, including the room where decades of television ads are screened, you will get your $16 worth can you can conceivably be there for hours. I can imagine on a rainy day the crowds that must be there. 

World of Coca Cola, 121 Baker Street NW, Atlanta, Georgia. 1-800-676-COKE.

Summer Road Trip 2015: Philadelphia

Summer Road Trip 2015: 1st Stop Philadelphia

We're traveling with a 13-year-old and she had never seen Philadelphia. We were only staying in the area for a day and a half, so we hit some highlights knowing we would save some sights for another trip. 

We arrived late in the afternoon so we did the fun thing first and visited the Rocky statue at the foot of the Philadelphia Art Museum steps (2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway). In that area are some the USA's greatest museums including the biggest collection of Rodin's works outside of Paris and the famous children's Please Touch museum. It's a great bike riding area also. By the way, Rocky is also at the Visitor Center. 

We walked a bit in the historic area so that we could plan the next day. It was extremely hot, even for Philly so the National Constitutional Center (525 Arch St. $8-14.50) was in the back of my mind just in case. Normally, it's a must do, but we decided to save it for the next time for her. I've been there and it is a great experience. The U.S. Mint is across the street, another great tour. 

We walked down Arch Street. Along the way you'll see the Christ Church Burial Ground where you can glimpse Ben Franklin's grave right on the corner (or you can pay a couple of bucks to go in). You'll also pass the Arch Street Meeting House (remember, you're in the land of Quakers). Near there is the oldest Jewish congregation, Congregation Mikveh Israel in a beautiful, modern building. 

At Betsy Ross' house (where you can decide for yourself whether she sewed the first American flag or not), you'll take a self-guided tour, with or without audio, of an extremely tiny house. The items are either authentic of the era or good replicas. 239 Arch St., $4-$7. 

Head down N. 4th Street to Market Street toward Franklin Court, an interesting group of buildings and remains of buildings. The Post Office is real, the Printing Shop will give you a demo of house items were printed back then and you can see where Ben's house was. A surprisingly interesting building is actually gutted out to show the architectural and archeological aspects of the building: a good site for architects and historians. These attractions are free but the must see Benjamin Franklin Museum has a small fee ($2-5). 

Come out the other side to Chestnut Street. Normally, the National Liberty Museum has an admission fee but that day they were promoting local artisans so it was free. The message feels a bit preachy but there are some powerful exhibits. Or go back out the Market Street side to the National Museum of American Jewish History (another one we saved for next time). 

Walk across the street to see Carpenters Hall and then head back to the Independence Mall area. 

The Liberty Bell Center may have a long line.  Go early or toward closing time. You will have to pass through security airport style (keep your shoes on!). There is a series of exhibits before you see the bell itself. It's the real bell, the one in the belfry of Independence Hall is a replica. 

You have to get tickets at the Independence Visitor Center for Independence Hall. You will see the real room of the Continental Congress (Carpenters Hall, location of the First Continental Congress is down the street). If you've seen the movie "1776," you'll note that the set designers did a great job. You'll have to go through security. In the evening, you don't need tickets but the line is L-O-N-G. Plan this if you really want to see it. 

From Independence Hall, walk down to 419 S. 6th to see Mother Bethel AME Church, the oldest African American congregation. 

After lunch at the Reading Terminal Market (where half the booths were closed because it was Sunday), we went to the L-O-V-E sculpture at JFK Plaza, near City Hall. Across from there are the famous sculptures of board game pieces, apparently a very popular place for skateboarders. 

The day before, my niece and husband snacked on Philly's famous cheesesteaks but from Dalessandro's, (600 Wendover St.) a local eatery but not a well kept secret. Grab the menu first, they don't seem to be too patient for first timers. 

There is more to see in this area but we saved some for later. If you're driving, you'll want to pass by Penn's Landing and other areas. 

Summer Road Trip 2015: Hilton Head, SC


Copyright Disclaimer under section 107 if the copyright act of 1976, allowance is made for "fair use" for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing. Non-profit, educational or personal use tips the balance in favor of fair use.

Hilton Head beach
Hilton Head, South Carolina

Hilton Head, South Carolina, can be considered one of the premier East Coast beach areas to visit. It's full of luxurious resorts, noted golf courses and fine dining. I always thought it was a bit out of my league, and in high season, you won't find those $50/night specials. But, it was time to finally visit.

Foundation of Baynard Plantaton
Baynard Plantation Ruins, Harbour Townm Hilton Head, South Carolina
I decided a taste of Hilton Head, SC was better than no nibble at all. Since I am a vacation club owner, I really didn't want to spend an astronomical amount at a resort when I could use my points. But then, what if I didn't want to trade all my points for a week? 

I decided to bite the bullet and just pay to stay for two days to check it out, rather than trying to book a resort through my vacation ownership exchange. After sifting through reviews on Trip Advisor, I warily booked the Red Roof Inn. I needed not have worried. For two days, this motel was adequate, particularly only if one needed someplace to sleep (they do have a pool and a very small complimentary continental breakfast). I am not a very picky lodger and I didn't require luxury for this part of my road trip. Clean and safe is all I needed and that's what we got. But, before your book any lower priced lodging, always check out the latest reviews of your favorite travel site.

Red Roof Inn, Hilton Head, So. Carolina
Red Roof Inn, Hilton Head, South Carolina

The motel was on William Hilton Parkway, a major thoroughfare for the island. A car is definitely required if one wants to take advantage of the sights. For those who would be flying in, I would recommend staying at a beach front resort if you don't rent a car. 

Bicycling around the island is also a great option. The flat terrain, bike lanes and bike racks almost command you to park the car for your entire stay. We had our own bikes, but there are bike rental places everywhere. 

Cycling in Hilton Head, So. Carolina
Bicycling around Harbour Town, Hilton Head, South Carolina

So what was the hype? If you're a golfer, you're in absolute heaven. If you just want to sit on the beach, you could do that, too, until it rains. If you want to eat, there are all types of options from fine dining to Dunkin' Donuts. If you want to get in shape, you can jog or bike ride around US 278 for miles. 

The ambiance of the island is due to the low-key physical appearance. Town ordinances specify how construction is done resulting in the entire island looking like it was decorated by the same interior designer in varying shades of sage and taupe. Also, some buildings must be behind trees to preserve the forest look of the island. We rode right by what seemed to be the only miniature golf place in town because it looked like it was built right into the terrain. Despite these restrictions, the island abounds with businesses including shopping outlets right over the bridge in Bluffton. 

Lighthouse, Hilton Head, So. Carolina
Harbour Town Lighthouse

For our beach experience, we chose Coligny Beach Park, because it was a public beach. It was clean, yes, popular, but accessible. Parking is not the best and you need to read every single sign. There are paid parking lots. 

Always plan for inclement weather when staying near the shore. Hilton Head, South Carolina, Coligny Beach Park.

As ritzy as the place is, one might be surprised to learn it is actually the home to descendants of slaves and those of Gullah background who stayed after the Civil War. The island celebrates its place in U.S. history and you can visit relics of a plantation on the Sea Pines Resort (Stoney-Baynard Plantation). You can pay for a day pass to explore Sea Pines.

Plantation Ruins, Hilton Head So. Carolina
Stoney-Baynard Plantation, Sea Pines Resort, Hilton Head, So. Carolina.

If you want Vegas-y style nightlife or a noisy, lit up Time Square-like boardwalk, this is not for you. Hilton Head is a place to relax, retreat, get in some recreation and to refresh. Go on down, it just might do you some good. 

Anthem of the Seas Review: Part 1


Copyright Disclaimer under section 107 if the copyright act of 1976, allowance is made for "fair use" for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing. Non-profit, educational or personal use tips the balance in favor of fair use.

This review is my personal opinion. I am not paid by anyone. I do not receive any amenities (free or discounted).

Anthem of the Seas Cruise Ship
Royal Caribbean's Anthem of the Seas

Well, let's start by saying this: I sailed, for the first time on the Anthem of the Seas and for the second time with Royal Caribbean, right after the infamous episode when the ship was caught in a storm and turned around to return back to Cape Liberty, NJ. The next scheduled voyage was ours. 

Cruise ship docked at Cape Liberty
Royal Caribbean's Anthem of the Seas, docked at Cape Liberty, NJ.

Unfortunately Royal Caribbean did not handle disseminating information very well. Originally, we received no email nor any other communication that our trip would sail as scheduled. I finally called them. The representative was very pleasant and cordial if not taken aback by the fact that there was no information available regarding the upcoming voyage. Coincidentally, or maybe not, almost 24 hours after that conversation, there was a notice on the website that the Anthem would sail as scheduled. I am not sure if Royal Caribbean was planning their strategy or if they were waiting for confirmation from some higher authority but we literally did not find out that we were really going to sail until three days prior. In addition none of the Twitter accounts ever mentioned that the next trip would go on as scheduled. 

Cape Liberty Cruise Port
Cape Liberty, New Jersey

So, we arrive at Cape Liberty. Parking was a bit pricier than some ports ($20/day, but this is considered a NYC area port, so there you go). However, parking for the week is still cheaper than flying to Florida for two during peak season. Presidents Day week, mid-February, is considered peak season for New York because schools are closed for mid-winter recess. Advice: bring jumper cables in case your car sits in zero degree weather for nine days. We didn't need it, but it's been known to happen.

Anthem of the Seas entrance at Cape Liberty

Royal Caribbean has a very nice check-in system, if you take advantage of the online process. Upload your photo when you check in online and all you have to do is have your ID, show your boarding pass, get it scanned and you're checked in (keep the boarding pass out until you get to your cabin). Your cabin key/card is on the ship in the mailbox outside of your room. Normally, boarding would be quick, but we were delayed while the ship and crew went through a full drill. However, Royal Caribbean/Cape Liberty gave us snack boxes and provided extra seating. The port is big enough to seat everyone if necessary and it turned out to be needed. They added chairs in the area where you disembark and even had enough heat (it was one of the 9 degree days). They also boarded in groups to avoid a huge backlog and made periodic announcements about the progress of boarding. We got more communication at that time than we did the whole week prior.

Boarding process

Warning: if you are used to bringing a travel electrical strip, Royal considers that an extension cord and it will be confiscated. You can get it back at the end of the voyage. I brought the same one on the Jewel of the Seas but they have changed their permitted items on board. You will get a ticket and if you don't want to go back to your car, they will hold it for you. Also, they sell some items in the port. They tell you that if you buy a lanyard, they will punch a hole in it on board so that you can use the clip attached. This is not true. You can't punch a hole because it will disable the chip in the card. You need to use the plastic sleeve. If you want a souvenir lanyard, buy it onboard.

Boarding the Anthem of the Seas
Boarding the Anthem of the Seas

Also: most cruise lines are now prohibiting bottled liquids except wine, including water and your own soda. They are selling 12 packs of water at discounted prices but honestly, just bring a nice wide mouth empty bottle and fill it up at the buffet. Some still allow canned sodas. This is because people are sneaking liquor on board, most notably the 18-20 year-old crowd. This includes when you re-board at ports en route. You have to finish all drinks, even water, before coming back on the ship.

Greeted with Champagne
Greeted with champagne

After we boarded, Royal greeted us with glasses of champagne and a free bottle in our cabin. I am not sure if this is standard or because of the incident the week prior.

Complimentary bottle of Champagne
Complimentary bottle of champagne

PS: we were surprised at the number of people who will drive from as far away as 8 hours to sail from the NYC area. Apparently, no-fly cruises are very big in the North as the South, even in the winter. Also, there is the allure of touring New York either before or after. As for the rest of us, getting to a port in a half an hour (and home again) is worth the parking fee alone.

Next up: the ship itself.