Donald Fink

Artist’s Paint Pots

Artist’s Paint Pots

Artist’s Paint Pots is an attraction in Yellowstone National Park. Located about three miles south of the Norris Geyser Basin along the Grand Loop Road, this is a collection of over 50 springs, geysers, vents, and mud pots.

As one of the “out-of-the-way” locations, this area seems to get a little less traffic than some of the more popular areas of the part, but if you happen by, it’s worth a stop.

The trail loop is about 1.2 miles in total with an 80 rise in elevation. We enjoyed this location early in the morning. The cold air made the steam rising from the various features more dramatic.

Posted by Donald Fink in Blog, US Parks, Video, 0 comments
The Green Army Drum Corps

The Green Army Drum Corps

Walt Disney World remains closed for now, but if you were able to visit, a must-see stop would be a performance of the Green Army Drum Corps in Toy Story Land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. This is a percussion trio outfitted in the style of the Green army Soldiers of the Toy Story movies. They march and perform several times a day, so check a Times Guide when you’re there.

Posted by Donald Fink in Blog, Disney, Theme Parks, Video, 0 comments
Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort: A Photo Tour

Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort: A Photo Tour

Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort has gone through some changes over the past two years, so we thought it might be time for another look. From the new Skyliner, the new neighbor to the north called The Riviera, to new buildings outside Old Port Royale, the resort has seen changes to its skyline.

The Skyliner

There’s a new form of transportation available at Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort, and that’s called the Skyliner. The Skyliner is an aerial gondola that runs to Hollywood Studios and Epcot. It makes a stop at the new Riviera Hotel and has connecting services to Disney’s Pop Century Resort and Disney’s Art of Animation.

When the Skyliner first opened, we took a ride from Epcot to Hollywood Studios with a stop at the Skyliner Station at Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort. We found the ride comfortable and very enjoyable. It affords a unique view of some of the Disney Skyline we hadn’t seen before.

The newest transportation system at Walt Disney World is the Skyliner. this is an aerial tram similar to trams used all around the world, mostly at ski resorts. There is quite a bit of speculation about how this system will work in the heat of Florida’s summers since they do not have air conditioning. Our experience has been positive so far. There are several windows in each cabin and there’s quite a bit of air flowing when it’s moving. We’ll see.
Disney’s new Skyliner has a central hub at Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort. Guests leaving here can travel to Disney’s Art of Animation and Pop Century Resorts on one line, Hollywood Studios on another, and a third line goes to Epoct with a stop at the new Disney’s Riviera Resort. Photo by Bonnie Fink.
There are two entrances to each Skyliner. Here is an entrance for wheelchairs. the coach is brought off the main line and stopped, allowing more time to board. It’s then re-inserted into the flow when everyone on-board is safely situated. Other passengers will board a slowly moving tram as it makes its way around the terminal. Photo by Bonnie Fink.
There’s a Joffrey’s Coffee Kiosk at the Beach Resort Skyliner Station, just in case you need something to drink or a big ol’ donut. Photo by Bonnie Fink.

Our understanding is that bus service from Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort to both Epcot and Hollywood Studios has started running every hour instead of the customary 20-minute interval found at most resort bus stops. This is because of the Skyliner service to these parks. It’s like Disney hotels that have boat service to another attraction, like the Yacht and Beach Club to Hollywood Studios. So, if you’re not fond of the Skyliner, your wait for a bus could be a bit longer than you expect.

The Grounds

Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort is situated around a water feature called Barefoot Bay. Each country has a beachfront along this small lake, but the nature of being along a lakefront means that things tend to get spread around. In fact, one of the biggest complaints we see on social media about Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort is that it’s too big. It takes too long to walk from your room to the food court and lobby at Old Port Royale. Fortunately, there’s a bridge in the middle of the hotel that connects old Port Royale from the countries on the opposite side of the lake. There’s also an internal bus service that moves guests around the hotel grounds. It’s really not hard to get around once you know the drill.

This bridge, which spans the narrow part of Barefoot Bay, goes between Caribbean Cay Playground and Jamaica and Aruba. Another smaller bridge connects Caribbean Cay and Old Port Royale. Photo by Bonnie Fink.
Take a look at some of the things we found as we walked the grounds at Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort.
Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort is themed after five different Caribbean Countries: Trinidad, Barbados, Jamaica, Aruba, and Martinique. Here is a view of Barbados, located to the left of the bridge near the Main Entrance. Photo by Bonnie Fink.
Each one of the countries at Disney’s Caribbean Beach Hotel has a beach. No swimming or wading is allowed as you can see by the fence at the shoreline, but you can enjoy a total of six swimming pools on the property. In the meantime, if your aim is some quiet downtime on the beach, you can grab one of these hammocks or a lounge chair. Photo by Bonnie Fink.
The main swimming pool at Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort is called Fuentes del Morro. It’s patterned after a Spanish fort of the 18th century; an architecture that’s prevalent all throughout the Caribbean. This is the main fun spot for the resort, located near all the other amenities like Old Port Royale and the Banana Cabana. Photo by Donald Fink.
There are five quiet pools at Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort. This pool is at Aruba. Photo by Donald Fink.
The attraction to Caribbean living and Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort for many people has got to be the party atmosphere, especially for the kids around the main pool. But sometimes you just need a quiet spot to reflect or do whatever you might do in a quiet spot. Fortunately, there are many secluded and quiet areas around the resort that offer a place to unwind. Photo by Bonnie Fink.
The new lobby at Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort is at Old Port Royale. The old one, at the Customs House, was removed to make way for the new Riviera Resort. Photo by Donald Fink.
In October, 2018 the check-in to Disney’s Caribbean beach resort moved from the Customs House to Old Port Royale. Photo by Bonnie Fink.
In most Disney hotels, there’s an area where kinds can entertain themselves while you take care of the business of checking in. And of course, the TV is playing Disney. Photo by Bonnie Fink.

The Food

 Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort has several places where you can grab a meal. The most obvious is the main food court in Old Port Royale, called Centertown Market. You can get all three of your meals and there’s inside or covered outside seating available.

If you’re in a hurry, there’s Centertown Market Grab & Go, where you can get salads, sandwiches, and snacks already made and ready to enjoy. You can get bakery items too.

Dining is at Sebastian’s Bistro, which is outside Old Port Royale in the building it shares with the Banana Cabana. Sebastian’s in only open for dinner.

The way you get your meals at Centertown Market is that you first place your order at this order desk. From there, you make your way to the pick-up windows, located to the left of this image. Photo by Bonnie Fink.
Just around the corner from where you place an order at Centertown market is where you’ll find the pick-up windows. Photo by Bonnie Fink.
You can also place your orders through your MyDisney app on your phone, and pick it up here. It’s a good way to avoid the lines. Photo by Bonnie Fink.
Like many of the Disney Resorts, the food courts have a toaster or two and a microwave for your use. You can bring your own food and prepare breakfast if you prefer. Photo by Bonnie Fink.
It might be Florida, but it certainly looks like the Caribbean when you sit down to enjoy your meal at Centertown Market. Photo by Bonnie Fink.
The Grab N Go in Centertown Market is a great place to go if you’re looking for a quick dessert. Photo by Bonnie Fink.
At Centertown Market, there’s covered seating outside too in case that’s more to your liking. Photo by Bonnie Fink.
Sebastian’s Bistro opened in Oct. 2018 and is open for Dinner. Photo by Donald Fink.

Sebastian’s Bistro is the new dining restaurant at Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort. It is a new building since 2018, located outside Old Port Royale and next to the Fuentes del Morro Pool. Sebastian’s replaced Shutters, which was located inside Old Port Royale.

Sebastian’s is considered casual dining with island-inspired cuisine, like Jerk Chicken with Black Beans, Cilantro Rice, and Dark Rum Glaze. You can find their menu here.


There’s a comfortable bar next to the Fuentes del Morro Pool called Banana Cabana. It’s a walk-up bar and also has seating in a covered area. You can enjoy tropical drinks with names like Caribbean Smuggler, Guave-Rita, or a Bourbon Breeze. And yes, there’s beer too. Photo by Bonnie Fink.

And Finally

The skyline is changing at Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort. To the west is the Skyliner, but north of the hotel is the new Riviera Resort. This is Disney’s newest Disney Vacation Club resort and has been open for only a short time. Photo by Donald Fink.

There’s a lot to like about Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort. The times we’ve visited and even stayed at this hotel, we couldn’t escape the feeling that there was a lot of emphasis placed on the party atmosphere of Caribbean life. The Fuentes del Morro Pool seemed to be the center of activity around the resort, promoting outside activities all day, every day.

Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort seems to have a place for everyone. Whether your notion of fun is an active day at the pool or a quiet place by yourself to reflect, it’s here.


Posted by Donald Fink in Blog, Disney, Theme Parks, 0 comments
Frontierland

Frontierland

The Liberty Belle River Boat in Frontierland at Disney’s Magic Kingdom has been off-line and out of service since January of this year. It has been going through an extensive refurbishment, as all things in Disney do from time to time.

A couple of days ago, we happened to be walking through Frontierland and noticed that this magnificent old boat is back in the water and traveling around the Rivers of America. She’s not taking passengers just yet, but we’re told that she will be in the next couple of weeks.

Oh, and for you folks who are sticklers about the details, the Liberty Belle has a new whistle.

The newly refurbished Liberty Belle River Boat at Disney’s Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, Florida, is back on the Rivers of America at Frontierland. She’s making trial runs for now, and will resume carrying guests in the near future.
Posted by Donald Fink in Disney, Florida, Theme Parks, Video, 0 comments
Cruising the Fjords of Norway

Cruising the Fjords of Norway

This year’s Europe trip involved a cruise through some of the west coast fjords of Norway. We left Southampton, UK, on a Princess Line’s ship, the Sapphire Princess, and headed north through the North Sea to Norway. We made our way as far north as Geiranger, which is far enough north that, had there been enough darkness, we might have been able to see the Northern Lights. Sunset was around 10:00 pm with sunrise at around 4:30 am. In between, it didn’t really get dark.

There were four stops on our tour of the Norwegian Fjords

There was plenty to see and do on this cruise. On some days, we took a quick tour to see a bit of the country-side and others, we just walk around town. On one day, we did both. Overall, we think this is a cruise worth doing again.

Here’s a video of some of the sights we found on the cruise, and after that, enjoy some of the images we made along the way.

The Fjords were not unlike the scenery we’ve seen in Alaska. We didn’t visit any glaciers on this trip, but it’s probable that we simply didn’t get far enough north. Up close, the trees were predominately deciduous, with lots of birch instead of aspens. We were expecting more pine trees but were told that most pine forests in Norway were planted from trees imported from Germany.
Posted by Donald Fink in Blog, Cruising, Europe, Video, 0 comments
The Towel Animals

The Towel Animals

Not long ago, we were on a Caribbean cruise aboard the Carnival Breeze. One morning, we awoke to a sight that we’ve never seen before on a ship.

If you’ve been on a cruise, you’ve most likely seen the Towel Animals. They appear in your cabin, either in the evening as you enjoy your evening meal, or in the mornings as your cabin steward cleans. But have you ever seen the entire ship completely inundated by these critters?

That’s what we found on this particular morning as we passed the main pool on Deck 10 on our way to breakfast. And admittedly, it wasn’t the entire ship, but instead a good portion of Deck 10 around the main pool, but it was still impressive.

Towel Animals were everywhere on Deck 10 near the pool as we made our way to breakfast aboard the Carnival Breeze.
Posted by Donald Fink in Blog, Cruising, Video, 0 comments
Thinking about Cruising

Thinking about Cruising

We’re getting ready to head out on a cruise. This time we’ll be leaving Fort Lauderdale and making our way to southern California, arriving in San Pedro Harbor, Long Beach, shortly after New Years. We’ll travel on the Princess Cruise line’s Coral Princess as we make our way through the Panama Canal.

Here’s a quick video we put together to help us get in the mood. It’s a series of clips we made aboard the Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas, but to us, a ship is a ship!

We’re thinking about cruising, so we put together this quick video. We’ll be cruising aboard the Coral Princess and these video clips are from the Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas, but to us, it’s more about being on the water and less about the actual ship.
Posted by Donald Fink in Blog, Cruising, 0 comments
Seeing Yellowstone in a Quick Trip

Seeing Yellowstone in a Quick Trip

What if you had only one, two, or three days to see Yellowstone? Where would you go? What would you see? It turns out that a close member of our family is planning just that in the near future and was asking what thoughts we might have about it. As we thought it over, it occurred to us that other people might have the same time constraints and might appreciate some thoughts about where to start.

Before we start, we should point out that it would be easy to spend a year or more exploring Yellowstone. There’s more to see and do than you could imagine. But most people don’t have that kind of time all at once, so we need to spread it out a bit. With that in mind, here we go with our recommendations.

Where to Stay

Camp sites are simple but cozy at the Madison Campground at Madison Junction. Sites do not have hook-ups but there is water and toilets in the campground. No showers. Photo by Don Fink.

Our family folks will be travelling by 5th wheel travel trailer, so they’ll be interested in places to stay surrounding that travel medium. They’ll be entering Yellowstone from the north through Gardiner, so the first, most obvious place to set up camp would be Mammoth Hot Springs Campground. This campground is a typical national park campground: it has no hookups but offers a place to stay close to the park, since it’s actually in the park. Since they’ll be staying only two or three nights, and since they will have a small generator with them, no hookups shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Mammoth Hot Springs Campground is the only park campground that’s open year round.

Another park service campground that’s worth considering is Madison Campground. Madison Campground is located at Madison Junction, just east of the West Yellowstone Entrance. It’s along the Madison River, although there are no views of the river from the campground. Like Mammoth Hot Springs, this campground has no hookups for RVs. The maximum length here is 40 feet. It usually opens in late April and this year they’re planning to close October 14th (October 14th, 2018).

The only campground in the park that has hookups is at Fishing Bridge RV Park. Fishing Bridge is located near Yellowstone Lake where the Yellowstone River exits the lake. Unfortunately, Fishing Bridge RV Park is already closed for the season and is scheduled to remain closed for the 2019 camping season due to construction and improvements.

So, what if you want hookups? You know, water, electricity, and so on. There are some options outside the park.

Starting at Gardiner, there are two that come to mind:

First, there’s Rocky Mount RV Park and Cabins. They can accommodate pretty much any size rig and offer up to 50 amp power, water, sewer, cable, and WiFi. Unfortunately the close this year on September 30th, so time is getting short.

Next in Gardiner, there’s Yellowstone RV Park. This facility can accommodate most big rigs with some sites up to 65 feet. Some sites have 50 amp power, and all RV sites have water, at least 30 amps, sewer, cable, and WiFi. Our information doesn’t give us a closing date for this year, but the do advertise off season rates in October.

The Yellowstone Grizzly RV Park has everything. Full hook-ups, showers, rec room, you name it, it’s probably here. It’s located just outside the park at West Yellowstone. Photo by Don Fink.

The next RV park to consider outside of the park is the Yellowstone Grizzly RV Park and Cabins, in West Yellowstone. This campground is in West Yellowstone, near the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center. You can probably hear wolves howling in the morning if you stay here and are located near the front. Surely, you can hear them if you walk about a block down the street at about 6:15 each morning.

The Grizzly RV Park and Cabins is a reasonably large facility, and can accept pretty much any size RV. They have all the amenities including all the usual hookups. They don’t say on their web site when they close, but we’ve been here in the winter. It’s unlikely they are open year-round. A call or email to them would be appropriate if you plan to come to Yellowstone late in the fall.

What to Do

Our focus in Yellowstone has always been on the wildlife and the geology, and that will naturally drive our thoughts when it comes to finding things to do here. We picked the above camping locations mainly because they offer close proximity to those activities.

Day One

You should not pass up an opportunity to see Old Faithful in action if your visit Yellowstone National Park. It’s the icon of the park and may be one of the reasons the parks even exists. Photo by Bonnie Fink.

On the first day, we would suggest a road trip from wherever you’re staying to Old Faithful. You’re visiting Yellowstone. Not seeing Old Faithful would just be wrong. Old Faithful erupts every day and more or less regular intervals that range from 30 minutes apart to 120 minutes. You can find predicted times posted in most of the buildings in the area, or you can visit Geyser Times and get an idea of when the geyser might erupt. There are listings of all “predictable” Yellowstone geysers listed on this site. Arrive at least 30 minutes early, not only for your best chance at a spot to view, but to be reasonably certain you’ll be there when it goes off.

If you’ve ever wondered how geysers work, we posted a quick explanation about them awhile back. You can read about it here.

When you’re finished with viewing Old Faithful, be sure to take a walk around to the back side and head out to Geyser Hill. This is a short (less than a mile) walk that will take you past geysers, bubbling springs, and steaming pools. You should see some of these geysers active since something is usually in progress in the area. The eruptions won’t be anything like Old Faithful, but it’s interesting to see these features in action. If some members in your group don’t feel like making the walk, there’s always a chair on the porch and ice cream at one of a couple of different.

The Walk around Geyser Hill should take 30 minutes to an hour, depending on how interested you are in geologic features as you stand in one of the worlds most dangerous and active volcanic cauldrons.

Elk gather in many places for the rut and winter in Yellowstone, but seem to concentrate along the Madison River between Madison Junction and West Yellowstone. Photo by Bonnie Fink.

After viewing Old Faithful, head over to Madison Junction and take a drive down the Madison River. In the fall, you’re likely to see bison and elk all along the river. Starting in September, the animals tend to congregate in this area and remain there through much of the winter. The drive is special because it allows you to get closeup views of the animals as they go about their business in or near the river.

As you head toward West Yellowstone (about 23 miles east of Madison Junction), you’ll come to a spot that crosses the river. Instead of driving on the north side of the river, you’ll find yourself on the south side. When this happens, start watching the tops of the trees as you drive. You’ll soon come to a spot that has an active eagle nest. It’s been active as long as we’ve been visiting the park.

If you make it all the way to West Yellowstone, you can visit the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Cnter. Here, you can view grizzly bears and wolves, up close. There’s also an iMax theater in town as well as two reasonably good grocery stores.

That’ll take care of day one. Of course, doing these things won’t take the entire day, but the way things go in Yellowstone, there are always distractions along the way. There an animal along the road or a geyser that will undoubtedly catch your eye and before you know it, you’ve spent the entire day having fun.

Day Two

The wide open spaces of the Lamar Valley allow for some great wildlife viewing. Photo by Bonnie Fink.

On day two, we would suggest a trip out to Lamar Valley. This road is an area located in the northeastern part of the park that begins at Tower Junction. To get there from Mammoth Hot Springs, head southeast along Grand Loop Road. Tower Junction is about 18 miles from Mammoth Hot Springs and there’s plenty to see along the way.

At Tower Junction, turn left at the intersection just after the gas station and head east. You’ll cross the Yellowstone River and almost immediately and start seeing animals. Watch for bison, antelope, bears (both grizzly and black bears), elk, coyote, and if you’re really observant, you’ll be able to catch a glimpse of wolves. It’s all here, and never the same.

Day Three

Swans are common in Yellowstone. This year we were seeing them in the Hayden Valley in the Yellowstone River. In years past, they have been in the Madison River, east of West Yellowstone. Photo by Bonnie Fink.

If there’s a day three, we’d suggest a trip up the Hayden Valley along the Yellowstone River. You’ll see lots of wildlife here including many of the birds that frequent the park. For us, the Hayden Valley is more about the scenery, but the wildlife is fun too. At Fishing Bridge, you can turn left or continue straight if you wish. Either route will put you along the shore of Lake Yellowstone for some more scenic driving. This year there’s serious road construction from Fishing Bridge east, so we’d recommend that you head south. You can either complete the loop back around to Old Faithful or simply drive along Lake Yellowstone for a bit and turn around.

If There Was Only One Day

If we had only one day to spend at Yellowstone, we’d head immediately out to Lamar Valley. It’s all about the wildlife, and while the variety of critters found will never be the same from one trip to another, it has never disappointed us in the decades we’ve been visiting the park.

Guided Tour

There are several tour operators working within Yellowstone National Park. This one, Xanterra Parks and Resorts, operates is several other national Parks as well. Photo by Bonnie Fink.

Many people choose to use one of the guide services operating within Yellowstone National. There are many. One advantage to using a guide service when you don’t have much time is that you spend time with someone who’s most likely been coming to the park all summer. They’ll know their way around, and know where the interesting things are. They’ll know which Osprey nests are active, for example, or know where the wolves have been hanging out this week.

We can’t personally recommend any of them because we’ve never used them, but the park service maintains a list of approved service providers on their web site. You can see their list here.

Conclusion

Whatever your pleasure might be at Yellowstone, the important thing to remember is to get out and move around. You’ll find something interesting pretty much anywhere you might go.

Posted by Donald Fink in The West, Travel, US Parks, 0 comments