Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village, Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan
Hidden from Sun Moon Lake by mountains lies the Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village. You can take one of the regular buses that circle Sun Moon Lake, however as the park entrance ticket (NT$780) includes transfer from Ita Thao on Sun Moon Lake via a rope-way (cable-car), we recommend you choose this option. The cable car offers panoramic views of both the lake and mountains and is an attraction in itself.
The park consists of nine authentically reconstructed tribal villages displaying traditional homes and architecture of the nine principal Taiwanese aboriginal tribes. As well as exploring the villages you can see aborigines making traditional handicrafts, carrying out cooking and weaving demonstrations or performing one of the excellent traditional dance shows that take place throughout the day. You can also try your hand at Blowpipe Archery, Seediq Archery, pottery making or one of several traditional games.
In addition to the traditional villages there is a theme-park area with thrill rides including the UFO an 85 metre free fall ride, Caribbean Splash a themed log flume where you will get soaked, and the super aggressive, vomit inducing, spine shattering, 4.5G roller-coaster the Mayan Adventure. This thing really should come with a safety warning. I kid you not!
The European Palace Gardens, make up the final area of the park. Claiming to be the finest European-style garden in Taiwan. We decided to take their word for it and skipped this area. It’s a bit of a shame really as judging by the high quality of the rest of the park I’m sure it would have been lovely, however, the park is enormous and we were already starting to feel the effects of the blistering heat and excessive humidity, before the roller-coaster tried to rattle us into an early grave.
We really enjoyed our day out at The Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village, and were staggered by how quiet it was. Unbeknown to us we visited during the Taiwanese school holidays, and despite this we almost had the park to ourselves.
For more information click here to visit the official web page for Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village
It’s been said that Disneysea is what you get when you give the Imagineers an open cheque-book , so we couldn’t wait to check it out when we recently visited Tokyo.
DisneySea consists of seven themed areas: Mediterranean Harbor, Mysterious Island, Mermaid Lagoon, Arabian Coast, Lost River Delta, Port Discovery and American Waterfront. The park loosely follows the spoke and wheel pattern, popular at many of the other parks, with the hub in this instance being a 100 foot volcano.
Turning left as you enter the park you enter Mediterranean Harbor, the first part having a Portofino Bay feel, the second part is distinctly Venice. How Venice? Well, Venice enough to fool a Venetian (we tweeted a photo whilst we were there and did just that!)
The detailing is extraordinary. Forget what you’ve seen at the other Disney Parks, this really is another level. The canal walls have water marks and moss on them, there are imperfections and erosion on the brickwork, and the buildings are individually detailed and convincingly aged. It’s no exaggeration to say it’s perfect, you truly are transported to Venice.
And this exceptional detailing continues throughout the park. Continuing clockwise the next “land” is American Waterfront where the SS Columbia resides, an exquisite replica of a steam liner, well I say replica, I’m still not 100% sure, even after boarding it and wandering around tapping on the surfaces I can’t say if it’s a real liner or not!
And so, it continues. The park is a visual marvel. A masterpiece. The piece de resistance of theme parks.
Or is it?
Isn’t there more to consider here than aesthetics?
What about the attractions?
When the rope dropped we headed straight for Mysterious Island, and jumped on one of the subterranean vehicles at the parks No.1 attraction “Journey to the Centre of the Earth”. As the vehicle trundled through unimpressive tunnels adorned with glow-sticks, our enthusiasm started to dip, and then the finale, a short drop at a relatively mild speed and it was over….
Unfortunately this was not a one-off. It was very much a taste of things to come. I get the distinct impression the Imagineers put so much effort into the detailing of the park, that they were all burnt out when it came to the rides. It’s the first park I’ve ever been to where the queueing area is better than the attraction it precedes!
And what have you done to Tower of Terror?!
The Disney classic has been reimagined, without the Twilight Zone theme, and when I say reimagined, I actually mean ruined.
It really is a shame. I can’t over emphasise how special the park is visually, but the attractions are unforgivably poor, beautiful but entirely uninteresting.
And there’s one other thing.
I thought this was a Disney Park!
Where’s Mickey, Donald, Goofy, and Pluto, and what’s this Duffy bear meant to be??
Everywhere you look, Duffy this, Duffy that, Duffy Cupcakes, Duffy T-shirts, Duffy backpacks. What the hell is a Duffy?
So, is Disneysea the best Disney theme-park in the world?
The attention to detail is unsurpassed, and it’s a beautiful park to walk around, and enjoy the sublime detailing. But the rides are hugely disappointing, and it just doesn’t feel magical. Maybe that’s the bears fault, or maybe it’s something else, but Disney without magic, is just not Disney.
For us the best 3 Disney Parks are all still in Florida.
What do you think? Which is your favourite Disney park & why? Leave a comment below.
Mandeville, Destin, Seaside, Crystal River, Orlando, St Pete Beach, Key West and Miami
Our first stop in Louisiana was at Breaux Bridge, the self-proclaimed Crawfish Capital of the world. We chose the crawfish platter at the “Crazy ’bout Crawfish Cajun Café”, a festival of all things crawfish.
It turns out Crawfish isn’t that nice.
If you’ve not tried them, they are a bit like a tiny prawn (shrimp), that has grown up in a swamp, and that’s exactly how they taste.
So all Crawfished out we moved on to our overnight destination. We we’re lodging just outside Mandeville, a town just across the bay from New Orleans. We had chosen Mandeville for our Louisiana stop rather than New Orleans as we wanted to experience a real Louisiana town, rather than a tourist hotspot, and definitely not because we were intimidated by the appalling crime rate in the Big Easy.
Mandeville was beautiful and made all the more spectacular by the dense fog that blanketed the town on the morning we arrived. The old plantation style houses, Spanish Moss covered Cyprus Trees, and waterfront were transformed into a perfect horror movie setting. It looked like a scene from “Silent Hill”, which is ironically anything but a perfect horror movie.
The Tammany Trace, a scenic biking and hiking trail, connects Mandeville with the nearby Fontainebleau State Park, an attractive 2,800-acre park located on the shore of Lake Pontchartrain. A nice spot for a tramp through the wilderness occasionally interrupted by alligators, snakes, and various creepy crawlies.
Having survived the state park we popped back into Mandeville for a bite to eat before heading on, with a slight regret that we hadn’t allocated more time to Louisiana. If Mandeville is anything to go by we’d definitely sold ourselves short here.
Destin was neither of our first choices, we actually wanted to stay in Seaside, but the budget said otherwise.
Actually Destin turned out to be a pretty nice place, with a fantastic unspoilt and uninhabited beach partnering a crystal clear sea and a pretty Harbour Walk area, sporting plenty of places to eat and drink. We also got very lucky on the accommodation paying just $70 per night at the Hilton Home2 Suites. We don’t often give a shout out to hotels, but this place was incredible for what we paid, a real suite with a kitchen and sofa, and immaculately clean. Do bare-in-mind however it was off-season and the place had only just opened, so you may struggle to grab the same deal.
Seaside is every bit as cute and quaint as it looks in the movie “The Truman Show”. The quintessential seaside town; but how could it not be with a name like that? Seaside hosts shops, bars, restaurants and more than its fair share of art galleries, all impeccably clean and manicured and if that’s not enough, it also boasts what was probably the whitest powder sand beach, and crystal clear water, we have seen anywhere on our travels to date.
Our only reason to visit Crystal River was to see the Manatees, and it’s clear that this is the towns major draw. Personally I’m not really sure why these docile sea cows are such an attraction, they don’t do a great deal. For the most part they just hang about at the bottom of the water, looking a lot like big rocks. But for reasons I can’t quite fathom, we both wanted to witness this, so we bought our passes to the 3 Sisters springs and boarded the tour bus (the only way to get there as there is no parking at the springs). The tour bus passes though the centre of Crystal River before reaching the springs. As it happens Crystal River has a pretty old town area, which we were quite unaware of when we booked our accommodation on the outskirts of town.
3 Sisters springs features a boardwalk area around 5 natural springs where Manatees visit to warm themselves during the winter months, as well as a large wetland walking area. As it happens we had fallen lucky with the weather, that is for the rest of our trip, not for Manatee spotting purposes. The sun was blazing and the temperature was in the 80’s. That said we did see a couple of adults and a calf. Apparently on colder days the springs are teaming with them.
The springs, and surrounding wetlands are pretty, and even Manatee free they are worth a visit. Just watch your step, there are alligators in the wetlands, and having almost tripped over one before he hot footed it into the lake, we counted our wildlife-spotting excursion a definite success.
Well actually International drive, but there’s only one reason we’re here, and that’s to visit Orlando’s second best Theme Parks. Soz Universal, but we both know it’s true.
That said, since the Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened, the divide has reduced significantly, and we were keen to see if the expansion into Diagon Alley had made up further ground.
It had, but only a little. As it happens Diagon Alley is very similar to the Wizarding World, and the Gringot’s Mine train, a similar experience to the Forbidden Journey, just not as good. I guess you’d have to experience the Hogwarts Express to know for certain, unfortunately its another $50 to do this, not something we could justify on a travellers budget.
One thing we did like was Knockturn Alley, a dark and spooky area tucked away right at the back of Diagon Alley.
We stopped off at John’s Pass for lunch on our way to St Pete Beach. The area consisted of a small village of gift shops shouldering a waterfront boardwalk hosting several restaurants. The whole area had an air that perhaps it had seen better days, or perhaps it had just lost its way, with a Hooters restaurant sitting uncomfortably with a turn of the century fishing village theme.
St Pete Beach itself was one of the bigger disappointments we experienced during our road-trip. The resort was entirely unremarkable, a little run down and the beach was more shell than sand. The not so appealing water was divided from the beach by a border of red seaweed, and an abundance of dead molluscs, and crustaceans.
Accommodation options for the Everglades appear to be Everglades City on the West side, and Florida City or Homestead on the East. We choose Florida City as we wanted to get an early start for the next leg into the Keys.
The plan was to drive the Tamiami Trail through the Everglades stopping off at the Shark Valley Visitors Centre en-route. Then do the “Flamingo” trails on the second day. However this plan was scuppered when we reached the visitors centre only to find the car lot full and vehicles filling the grass verge as far as the eye could see.
Had we done a little more research we may have chosen a different base. As we approached our hotel the local scenery inspired Leanne to check out the crime stats for the area, something we immediately regretted. This unease did not dissipate when we checked in to our hotel and found the door limiter latch had been broken off! No doubt having been kicked off by an Uzi wielding meth-head.
Having survived the night we were keen to get into the relative safety of an Alligator infested wilderness. We pulled back the curtains to be greeted by the perfect manatee spotting weather, just one week too late. So we donned our winter clothes and set off. As it happens, the sharp drop in temperature and accompanying drizzle turned out to be a blessing in disguise. As we pulled in to the Royal Palm Visitors Centre we were one of only 5 cars in the car park. The weather had not dissuaded the vultures however, who eyed our rubber bits with eager anticipation, fortunately we had been tipped off about their penchant for car munching and grabbed one of the complimentary tarpaulins.
The Anhinga Trail, was definitely the trail for gator spotting. Not 2 minutes out of the car and we were face to face with a 13 foot beastie. This was the first of 12 alligators we saw along this short trail, as well as a couple of turtles and a huge number of birds including the Anhinga from where the trail gets its name.
Working our way along highway 9336 walking the majority of the trails along the way, we eventually arrived at the Flamingo Visitors Centre, and the end of the line. By this time we were both a little beat and the weather had taken a significant turn for the worse. We grabbed something to eat and were just about to head home when we spotted a small crowd gathered at the waterfront. Reluctantly we decided to brave the weather and investigate.
Manatees! A decent group of them, including a mother and calf, were at the surface of the water’s edge. It looked like they were trying to suck the barnacles off the harbour wall, though I couldn’t swear to that.
The Everglades had been a great success, though not a beautiful day in the traditional sense, I doubt we’d have enjoyed the same peace and serenity if the weather had been better.
Florida City served its primary purpose of being convenient exceptionally well, and less than an hour from check-out we were in the Florida Keys. If you’re like me you’ll probably have visions of a stunning beach side drive rivalling that of the Pacific Coast Highway, I’m here to tell you the drive to Key West is nothing like this. Unless you are on one of the bridges that connects the islands the only giveaway that you are in the Keys is the fact that you are on a single carriageway. The drive is one of the least scenic, and most gruelling we had come across.
Our guesthouse in Key West was a quaint little place, just off Duval Street. And when I say just off, I do mean that. The property was accessible from Duval Street via a tiny driveway that was generally occupied by a ticket booth. The man in the booth had to secure all his wares and wheel his booth out of the way every-time someone wanted in or out. I think he may have just set up on the morning we left, as he did not look happy….
I think out of everywhere we visited Key West was the most like we had expected. We really enjoyed just ambling around the beautifully manicured streets enjoying the Caribbean style buildings. The place has a really nice vibe, as well as plenty of restaurants and bars, many hosting live acts.
The sunset celebration at Mallory square was the only let-down, being punted as some kind of evening extravaganza, with live entertainment, and dining options abound, it was a bit of a lame duck. There was live entertainment, but certainly not up to the quality we had enjoyed elsewhere in the States (including elsewhere in the bars in Key West), and with dining options limited to nuts, popcorn and hot dogs it’s not going to winning any culinary awards anytime soon. Add to this that the fact that you can’t see the sunset from Mallory Square due to the cruise ships that dock in the harbour and you’ve got 3 strikes.
We stayed in the heart of the Art Deco district just off Ocean Drive in South Beach. The location was perfect for exploring the pretty old buildings and close to bars and restaurants without being noisy. Our first stop was the beach. Perfect baking bodies littered a beautiful stretch of sand boarded by beautiful clean blue waters. We took a couple of pics of including the obligatory lifeguard tower shot, before moving on. Beaches aren’t really our thing, Leanne is a prismatic ginger-nut and if I lay in the beach too long, Greenpeace come along and push me into the sea.
We pulled a map off the web and ticked off the iconic landmarks, all of which can be visited on foot in a couple of hours. As a bit of a film buff the highlight for me was seeing the building from the famous chainsaw scene in the film Scarface. It was undergoing refurbishment and had construction boards up, and despite being flanked by 2 far more iconic hotels, I took more photographs of this than anything else in Miami.
From a distance, evenings on Ocean Drive look like the place to be. Café’s line the pavement bathed in a neon-glow from the elegant historic buildings, smartly dressed folk sip wine and munch seafood, and live music escapes numerous bars, covering everything from salsa to rock. However walking down Ocean Drive you soon start to notice something, it’s subtle at first. “Wow, Margarita bowls are popular here”, then “isn’t the food at this place very similar to the last place” and then “hang on a minute isn’t this the same “special” as the last place had?”
I’m not sure if they are all owned by the same company or if it’s some kind of cartel, but it would appear the vast majority of the establishments that line Ocean Drive share the same menu and the same prices!
I guess it’s kinda funny that I loved the Scarface connection but this didn’t sit very well with me.
Last stop Disney.
No visit to Florida would be complete without a stop at the home of the world most famous rodent, and it was a fitting finale for our trip across America.
There’s no way I can relegate the happiest place on earth to a few lines at the bottom of a road-trip post. I’m not an animal! Disney deserves it’s own dedicated post, and guess what, you’re in luck.
So that’s it then. 5,000 miles, across 9 states, crammed into a Hyundai Accent along with all our worldly possessions (sure “Dollar Rent a Car” it’s clearly “similar” to a Ford Focus. Oh, apart from it being considerably smaller of course!) We’ve seen sublime scenery, eaten magnificent food, enjoyed stunning architecture, visited historic sites, and we’ve experienced clear blue skies, dense fog, snow, hail, rain, and blistering sun, and that was all in one day on route 66 between Kingman and Seligman!
The USA is an incredible country, so beautiful and so diverse and I know we only scratched the surface. Tell us about your favourite places, and what we missed out on. If we get enough suggestions we might just do it again….
And if you haven’t read them already don’t miss the first 2 parts of the road trip.
Albuquerque, Santa Fe, San Antonio, Houston and Galveston
Our first stop off in New Mexico was in a town called Truth or Consequences. We knew little about it, but with a name like that we were expecting a proper wild-west outpost. The truth is, the consequence of our stopping here was a feeling that perhaps we should do more research. It wasn’t bad, bad, just a little run down, and unremarkable.
Fortunately this was not an omen for the rest of New Mexico, which turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip.
It’s a little embarrassing to admit that everything we knew about New Mexico we had learned from the TV show Breaking Bad. If it hadn’t been for the exploits of the rolling meth lab, we would have been unaware of the beauty of the area, and there’s little chance we would have visited.
The majority of our ABQ tour was around the various Breaking Bad locations. Walt’s house, Jessie’s House, the building next to Saul’s office (easy mistake, it looks so different without the inflatable). The highlight was eating at Los Pollos Hermanos. It’s actually a “Twisters” restaurant now, but they still have some of the décor from the TV Show.
We did make it to the downtown area, despite this being off the BB trail, and despite waking up to a winter wonderland on our second day. The old town is really quaint and charming. The snow really added to the beauty of the adobe buildings.
We took the Turquoise Trail to Santa Fe on the advice of a man who sold us some blue meth. The meth turned out to be candy, but the advice was good. New Mexico is truly breathtaking, the scenery is just stunning. Desert plains with rocky outcrops, and perfect blue skies. The vibrancy of the colours were amazing.
We stayed in a lovely little B&B in Santa Fe called the Inn on the Paseo. Fortunately it was only a 5 minute walk from the centre of town, as it was freezing cold, and the snow made it slippery underfoot.
Santa Fe is a truly beautiful city. Despite being the capital city of New Mexico, it had a cosy small town feel. Adobe buildings surrounded a picturesque square in the centre of town, where Native Americans gather to sell unique hand-made trinkets. Santa Fe also hosts the oldest house in the USA and the oldest church, as well as some great restaurants, museums, and a cool art district.
We followed the oldest alignment of Route 66 from Santa Fe to Amarillo, which took us though more awesome scenery, before we joined back up with the freeway, reaching Tucumcari. Tucumcari was nothing like Seligman. The depressing and slightly unnerving town, acts as a very stark reminder that route 66 essentially hosts towns that were left behind when the highway was built.
Our first stop in Texas was just over the border at The Cadillac Ranch. Not an actual ranch, an art installation of several Cadillac cars semi buried nose-first in a field, where visitors are encouraged to add their own mark to the paint-work.
The eye-popping rugged scenery soon gave way to barren flat plains, and the crisp clean air was replaced by the whiff of cow poo and crude oil.
We overnighted in Abilene before arriving in San Antonio. Another city we knew little about (does anyone see a pattern here?) We booked in to the Menger Hotel, next to the Alamo, reputed to be the most haunted hotel in the USA. The room did contain evidence of past lives, but that was more to do with poor housekeeping than supernatural forces.
The Alamo, originally a mission, is most famous for the historic battle that took place here during the Texas Revolution. The Mission is well-preserved and the grounds host a number of interesting exhibits and talks. For more information visit the official site http://www.thealamo.org/
The majority San Antonio’s attractions can be found in the vicinity of the pristine and beautifully manicured river walk, an epicentre of restaurants, and bars lining the banks of the San Antonio River.
We stayed on the outskirts of Houston rather than in the city centre as we luckily discovered that there was a marathon running through the city on the day we arrived, and many of the roads were closed, including the one that the hotel was on that we almost booked! Phew…
We couldn’t really visit Houston without visiting the space centre. A working facility as well as a museum, housing real space crafts, and spacesuits, as well as a number of educational displays and a large screen cinema showing short films.
The only slight negative for us was the tour of mission control. They do still have the real, actual mission control from the moon landings on site, but that’s a different “special” tour. We got to see the brand new mission control that was about to go live. I have to say if you have worked in an office you could probably afford to give this a miss. It wasn’t that dissimilar to the offices I used to work in when I sold waste services (except we didn’t have a picture of the bin-men on the wall)
50 miles south of Houston you will find Galveston Island. But let me save you the trouble of visiting yourself.
In fairness the downtown area on the north of the island isn’t too bad. It’s not an unpleasant place to amble around, and boasts some half-decent restaurants and bars, but it’s a real working harbour blighted by oil platforms. It’s hardly the most picturesque resort. The south of the island is much worse. The sea is brown, and the beach, uninviting, and what could have been the one redeeming feature, the Historic Pier, charges a $10 entrance fee just to set foot on it. Trust me, it wouldn’t be worth going out of your way for, if it was free.
So Texas had been something of a mixed bag. The scenery had certainly been less impressive than that of New Mexico, and Galveston was a total flop. But San Antonio was really lovely, and we had a great time there.
Next stop Louisiana, and then we’re on the home straight………
If you have enjoyed this blog make sure you check out Part 1 If you haven’t, check it out anyway, it’s much better, we promise…
Las Vegas, Death Valley, Seligman, Tucson and Tombstone
Myself and Leanne first met whist working as holiday reps in Majorca (Spain) in the summer of 2000. One night, over a table full of empties, the conversation stumbled onto future plans, and a common dream emerged.
To drive across America.
And so we agreed. “We’ll do it together”
I doubt either of us really believed it would happen, let alone it becoming the final leg of a trip around the world. However, fast forward 17 years, and that’s where we find ourselves.
We flew in to Las Vegas on the 21st December, with the intention of spending Christmas and the New Year there, before picking up our hire car and hitting the road.
The first few days in Vegas were a blast, and it was great to finally be seeing some real Christmas spirit. (Sorry OZ & NZ, you just don’t take it seriously enough!)
However, despite what you may have read about Las Vegas being the ultimate bargain destination, I need to make one thing clear. You can “visit” Las Vegas on a budget, but you cannot “Vegas” on a budget. To do it properly you do have to see the shows, drink margarita-filled guitars, feed the slots, and pretend to be Dirty Harry at the local gun-club. Unfortunately we are on a budget, so we decided to cut the Vegas leg short.
We started our trip East by heading in the wrong direction. Our first stop was in a town called Beatty, this would be our jumping off point for Death Valley. Beatty reminded us of Radiator Springs, from the movie “Cars”. I’ll be honest, the “rustic feel” was a bit of a shock for us, having only previously experienced city-life in America.
Before heading into the national park we called in at a nearby ghost-town called Rhyolite. Founded in 1904 Rhyolite is a quintessential gold rush boomtown. With a population exceeding 10,000 at one point, by 1916 the mine was exhausted, and the town was deserted.
Death Valley National Park was certainly worth the diversion. We first stopped at an old borax mill, before heading to the salt flats, and then finally Artist’s Drive. Artist’s Drive was the highlight of the day for me, and we almost missed it, as the Death Valley official website said it was closed! We asked at the visitors centre after we saw other cars driving towards it, and found out it was in fact open.
The name refers to the diverse range of colours in the rock’s. But it’s not just the exceptional scenery that makes Artist’s Drive special. It’s like being on a roller coaster as you drive through tight canyons, over steep hills, and down into twisting canyons.
Route 66 Seligman
Next we headed south picking up the Mother Road at Kingman. The stretch of 66 between Kingman and Seligman was both beautiful and eventful. Talk about 4 seasons in one day! At one stage we could barely see the bonnet of the car the fog was so thick, then next moment the sun was blinding. We had torrential rain, high winds, and hail, but when the weather broke we were rewarded with breath-taking scenery in every direction.
Seligman was exactly what I had pictured a Route 66 town to be like, quirky and fun. We soon found that this was a somewhat romanticized version of a route 66 town, rather than a representative example, but it was good whilst it lasted.
Following reports of snow in Flagstaff, we decided to head south in search of warmer climates.
We visited the highly rated Senora Desert Museum, at Tucson which did not disappoint. That said, the scenery inside the National Park was not too dissimilar to the scenery outside it. The desert plains that had previously divided the imposing mountains, were now home to an abundance of cacti.
Our next stop was Tombstone. Home to the famous gun fight at the OK Corral. The town was a bit touristy, with daily re-enactments of the famous shootout, but still definitely worth a visit. The Bird Cage Theatre was awesome, exceptionally well-preserved and home to a bounty of historical artefacts including the card table where Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday played. Boot Hill cemetery was also interesting, being the final resting place of many of the Wild West’s most famous hero’s and villains.
Tombstone was our last stop in Arizona, and a great was to say goodbye to the area. So far our American Road Trip has been everything we hoped for and more. We’ve been halfway around the world now, and the scenery we have driven through over the last two weeks as been as beautiful as we had seen anywhere. Next stop New Mexico…..