Tag Archives: new experiences

Dinner at the Ahwahnee

Dinner at Ahwahnee

In place of the luxury tax on the traditional Monopoly Board, the National Parks edition has Dinner at the Ahwahnee which is located in Yosemite Valley inside the Ahwahnee Hotel. This is an upscale restaurant requiring a casual dress attire or more in order to enter and be seated. There were those wishing to dine that did not have the proper dress attire of collard shirts and long pants or a dress, skirt or slacks and blouses for the ladies who were given two choices: either borrow the proper attire from the hotel or dine elsewhere.

The Entrance to The Ahwahnee Hotel with Thurman the Truck Just Off to the Side.

We had made reservations a week earlier as our schedule was tight and we wanted to be sure and fulfill this location on our board as there are no intentions of returning to Yosemite National Park before this board game is complete. As our time neared, as usual we were running a little late so I quickly made my why to the host stand to check in and let them know we were running late but were there for our reservations. The host looked at me with my t-shirt, shorts and hat just about to remind of the dress policy when I cut him off explaining that we would be late because we needed to change before being seated. Turning back towards the rest of my family we proceeded to a changing area. Many of you would call it a restroom but for us it was our changing room for the evening.

The Ahwahnee Hotel and Restuarant During the Day

Returning to the host stand waiting to be seated the host once again asked if we had reservations to which I replied yes, gave him the name and mentioned I was the one who moments before stopped by. Surprised he said he didn’t recognize me and quickly found us a table. I guess that could be considered a good thing. Once seated we were given drinks and bread along with being introduced to our waiter George. George has been at that restaurant for 42 years and is the most senior member of their staff. It seemed fitting that we should be served by the most senior member in our efforts to complete this board.

Inside This Historic Dining Room

Once inside the atmosphere was beautiful. Built with numerous windows to take in the sights of Yosemite while dining and decorated with stone and wood added to the overall experience of this park. It has been obviously updated since originally built to include electric lighting but still gives the feel of dining by candlelight for an authentic experience. A piano was softly being played to add to the ambiance of this historic dining room. During the evening we recognized many of the songs being played as the kids have practiced most of the music during their efforts to learn how to play piano.

Having looked over the menu on-line we knew ahead of time the selections available for dinner along with the hefty prices for those plates. In past experience when a meal is fairly pricey the portions are generous as well. In this case I was somewhat disappointed in the amount of food we received for the cost. Anticipated generous portion sizes we had determined ahead of time that we would share meals allowing us enough room for dessert in the end without any leftovers. Turns out we could have each had our own entrée and still had room for desert.

My Rotisserie Chicken

I indulged in the rotisserie chicken which comes in a seafood sauce. I’m not a fan of most seafood so I was living on the edge to begin with. The chicken was excellent and the sauce was to match except for the scallops and that is strictly due to the texture of scallops which I do not care for. In addition I ordered a spinach salad which was small but delicious. To end our meal we ordered a red velvet cake. This was definitely the best part of the meal! Sorry, no photos of the desert as the batteries died on the camera. We ate it to fast and didn’t think of capturing this with the camera first.

Enjoying Dinner at the Ahwahnee

Finishing desert it was time to locate the Monopoly Board to get another property signed. I made my way back to the vehicle we were using to locate our board along with the pen to be used and hurried back. Night was fleeting and we wanted to get to the top of the mountain for the sunset and take in a clear star filled sky later. Discussing our intention of our travels with people at the host desk they suggested George be the one to sign it (it wasn’t until this moment that we were informed of his tenure at the Ahwahnee). They quickly fetched him and the board was signed. Completing our experience we explored more of the hotel and headed out to witness the end of another day.

The Ahwahnee at Night

Pennekamp State Park in Key Largo

Entering Key Largo

This park first came up while researching things to do in the Florida Keys a couple of years ago but we ran out of time so were never able to visit. There is a trail or two to hike and a visitors center to explore but John Pennekamp State Park is all about the water. One trail meandering through the mangroves needs some maintenance with broken and rotting boards and an entire section of the trail closed. Unfortunately the section that is closed includes an observation tower where you could look over the mangroves out towards the ocean reefs. Once your focus turns to the water though this park shines.

While exploring Pennekamp we kept trying to decide if we wanted to go snorkeling and if so where. The water in Dry Tortugas National Park was cold and that was further south indicating that the water in Key Largo must be even colder. Enjoying the reefs is something we rarely get to do so when the opportunity arrives we try to take advantage. There was still plenty of hesitation do to a couple of factors. First, the water was cold as people continued to remind us as they were coming out of it. Secondly, in order to snorkel the reefs you need to purchase a snorkeling or scuba tour and we had already spent what is a lot of money to do this already on this trip. So if we weren’t going to snorkel why did we go to Pennekamp State Park?

The Sea Grass Bed

There was never really the intention to go snorkeling with a paid tour however through researching this place there were reports of designated snorkeling areas right from the shore. Our hope was find some of the colorful reefs near shore however after arriving we found that the designated swimming/snorkeling areas where sea grass beds which tend not to be as colorful thus reducing the motivation even further to enter the water. Back to trying to justify spending more money on a snorkeling tour. While exploring the park and discussing our options to spend our last afternoon in the keys we went into the visitor center. This is a nice building with several aquariums to display the ocean habitats around this part of Florida. Yes, the motivation to go snorkeling increased while looking at these reef aquariums but not yet enough to get our gear.

Visitor Center

Walking around the visitor center and exploring the park on foot seeing the swimming areas and mangrove trail was a nice way to spend the day. Fortunately it was sunny and warm and we were content just enjoying the scenery and weather without getting our gear wet which would require us to wash and dry it so it could be packed for our flight home the next morning. After strolling around John Pennekamp for an hour or two we sat down on one of the beaches taking in the views and talking with a few people who had braved the cold water to snorkel. They mentioned seeing some fish but nothing really extraordinary and getting use to the water took some time. That about seals it, we’ll enjoy this place from the land for today.Mangroves

And then we witnessed something I have never seen before…. Check out the next post for more on this story.

Being Chased by Irene Continued…

Creeks Nearing Roads and Bridges

Further into New Hampshire we started encountering road closures due to flooding. It seemed as though every detour ended in another closed road requiring yet another detour. Crossing rivers became more nerve racking as the water was getting closer and closer to the roads that we could drive on causing me to wonder if the road was ready to give while driving over it. After about an hour and a half we made it out of this perpetual detour and found open roads again. Finally, the Vermont state line, not far now. At least this is what we thought. Daylight was once again leaving us making our task a little more difficult and discouraging.

Raging Rivers

Many of the creeks and streams were now raging rivers and nearing the roads that were open and covering the rest or washing them out. Once again there were constant detours as more and more roads where being closed. As the night wore on the only roads not closed in the areas we wanted to get to where interstates. Unfortunately there are only two interstates in Vermont and to get to Montpelier we need to drive south to almost the southern border on one interstate to get to the second one in order to get to this capital city. That was going to add 3-4 hours to our trip and we had been driving for 11 hours now. One last road and if this one is closed we’re going to find a place to stay and admit defeat. You guessed it – another road closure. Irene had won! It was time to quit driving for this day and re-evaluate our final destination another day.

More Flooded Waterways

At the worst point during the night there were 250 road closures in Vermont with video of cars and houses tumbling down the rivers. I felt frustrated and defeated because we were unable to get to Montpelier but also thankful that we were all safe. Our hearts went out to those who had lost so much and not sure of where to go and what to do. My desire to experience a hurricane is now gone. I enjoy storms but hurricanes are primarily wind and rain. The enjoyable parts of storms are the thunder and lightning so really the hurricane was disappointing. Also, being in the winds that hurricanes can produce for the length of time they can produce them is unappealing. Fortunately Hurricane Irene was less than expected but still provided plenty to remember.

Adding Biscayn N.P.

Boca Chita Key with Miami in the distance

While I’m sure we could spend many days exploring the Everglades National Park, we have chosen to visit nearby Biscayne National Park as part of our excursion to Southern Florida.  This destination is not on our National Parks edition of Monopoly but is a place we highly look forward to experiencing.  It is common for us to add non-board destinations to our trips which help both in tiring us out and packing more experiences into each trip. We have planned for one full day at Biscayne National Park so I hope the weather is nice.  This is not enough time to do all that we would like to do I’m sure but does give us a taste of this park which is the intention of our visits to all of the National Parks on our board.  


Most of Biscayne N.P. is underwater (95%) which is one of the features that really draws us to it.  Snorkeling is a favorite activity whenever we are in tropical waters with reefs.  Kristy is anxious to travel to Southern Florida as this will be her first attempt at snorkeling.  This will be Lysa’s second time snorkeling.  Her first experience was in Cozumel, Mexico three years ago. I am excited to take them and let them experience life on a reef.  They have both looked over pictures of reefs and fish and we have a small saltwater aquarium with corals and fish but to be able to see everything going on at a natural reef is so much more mesmerizing.  Fortunately by watching how different animals work together in our aquarium, Kristy and Lysa will have the opportunity to notice many things that can be missed when snorkeling such as how the cleanup crew (snails, crabs, shrimp, and sea stars) scavenge around the reef and interact with the fish.  Watching all of this will make the day go by exceptionally fast!  

Our home reef away from the reef


While snorkeling appears to be a great way to explore Biscayne National Park, there are other activities that highlight the diversity of this park.  There are hiking trails, the Dante Fascell Visitor Center at Convoy Point, boating, fishing, and a lot of history according to the National Park Service website.  The beginning of the Florida Keys is considered by many to be in Biscayne N.P. – Elliot Key.  Since we won’t have a boat to freely move about the reefs and keys, we need to plan ahead to use the park vendor for boating excursions in order to be able to experience this area and see what we can.  I would like to see the lighthouse on Boca Chita Key and Stiltsville in Biscayne Bay along with snorkeling.  Kristy and Lysa enjoy becoming Junior Rangers at all of the national parks that we visit so this will be a priority at Biscayne National Park as well.  

Motivation and Anticipation!


Camping is allowed on Elliot Key and Boca Chita Key which would be a great way for us to really enjoy and explore this wondrous area.  Unfortunately, we are limited by our arrival to Miami late the day before and have commitments early the day after.  I would love to watch the sun set and rise again from a key while star gazing and surveying the nighttime Miami skyline.  These are some of the things we may have to explore on another trip after completing our National Parks Monopoly Board.  

As I write this I am looking forward to this trip more and more.  Maybe it is time to stop writing about this national park and focus on the upcoming holidays.

Our Next Destination

The Great Egret Among Cypress Trees

Our next National Parks edition monopoly board property has been chosen and planned – Everglades National Park!     

We are planning on spending only two days there which is going to be enough time to start to experience all that this park has to offer.  Our intentions on these trips are only to get an introduction to these parks and experience many different areas of the United States.  Once Lysa and Kristy are older, they can return to whichever locations they may want to explore further and do the activities that interest them.  For now, our family will explore some parts of the Everglades to get a general idea of the intricacies of that park.    

Some interesting information about Everglades National Park:    

  • It is the 3rd largest national park in the lower 48 states with 1.5 million acres
  • Created in 1947 when President Harry S. Truman dedicated the original 460,000 acres
  • This is a sub-tropical environment with a distinct dry season (December – April) and wet season (May – November)
  • Wildlife include the American Alligator, American crocodile, indigo snake, Florida panther, West Indian manatee, many different birds depending on the season, freshwater and saltwater fish, along with many different amphibians
  • Known as the “river of grass” and has the largest continuous stand of sawgrass prairie in North America


 Exploring the everglades    

There are a number of different ways in which to explore this vast area.  Driving, hiking, biking, canoeing, fishing, or boating all are options that can give different experiences and perspectives to the diversity of life in Everglades National Park.  For the diehard adventurist there is the option to camp overnight.  We have chosen to enjoy the comforts of environmental controls typically associated with a hotel.  Hiking, driving, canoeing, and boating are the modes of transportation that we are researching currently.     

Once arriving at Everglades National Park we will find out what ranger programs are available and begin to plan our two days according to which programs are of interest to us.  I always enjoy these ranger programs and gain some great information.  Being able to identify some of the flora and fauna or knowing some of the planning and history can really increase the enjoyment while we are out exploring the park on our own.     

There appears to be other tours available such as tram trips, boat tours, bird watching trips, canoe trips, and fishing trips.  These all would give different aspects to the wilderness of the everglades but due to our limited time we can only participate in a few activities.  How do we determine which actives will provide the best experiences for us?  We have to prioritize what we want to do and see the most.

Florida Bay


Once we get a list of the ranger programs we can determine which of those we want to attend and we know that Lysa and Kristy want to get their Junior Ranger badges.  Visiting the Everglades without riding on an airboat doesn’t seem like a complete visit so that is something we want to schedule in.  We will take some time to drive through as much of the park as we can to see how the scenery changes as Everglades change from the saltwater of the ocean to the freshwater rivers and streams that flow through the park.  While driving around we will likely stop in a number of locations to enjoy some hiking at a number of different trails.  If there is time, canoeing would be a great addition to the experience for a couple of reasons.  First, Lysa and Kristy have never really been in a canoe before. Secondly, much of Everglades National Park is based around water so seeing the park from this perspective can enhance our adventure.    

We have much more planned with our trip to southern Florida which I will write about in a later post.  For now, we are excited and looking forward to exploring Everglades National Park and including this location on our monopoly board!    

The Concept

The concept of being a Monopoly Traveler is to travel to each of the destinations on a particular version of Monopoly. These destinations come from the properties on that Monopoly board.      

The National Parks Board that began our adventures as Monopoly Travelers

First, decide which board(s) you want to travel. Next, choose how you want to get to each location, and finally determine what you want to do once you get to your destination.  It’s that simple!  There are over 1,800 versions of Monopoly with more being created every year.  Many of these boards are full of destinations that allow you to become a Monopoly Traveler.    

 Why become a Monopoly Traveler:     

The purpose of being a Monopoly Traveler is to experience new destinations. Some of these destinations you may be familiar with while others will be places you have never experienced before.  Using a specific Monopoly Board to determine your destinations increases the chance that you will experience a place you never knew existed and would not have planned on exploring if it weren’t for becoming a Monopoly Traveler.      

Each edition of Monopoly has locations that were chosen by somebody else for a specific reason.  Chances are that each location has significance and is worth experiencing.  Determining your travel destinations in this way helps eliminate your biases and become more of a pure explorer, open learning about places which will positively surprise you.  These locations will likely be of interest because they’re are on a board that you have chosen which means there where places of interest to you already on the Monopoly board.      

Surprise yourself and make the commitment!     

The Monopoly Traveler Concept is born:     

My wife (MT Karen) and I were traveling to Hawaii for a beautiful beach wedding.  There were many excursions such as snorkeling, fishing, and a Luau we wanted to experience while in Hawaii since we had never been there. One of these excursions was visiting the USS Arizona Memorial.  During our visit to the USS Arizona Memorial we entered a gift shop to look at souvenirs.  While browsing I came across a Monopoly Board of the National Parks.  I loved playing Monopoly while I was younger so this edition caught my attention.  While looking over the National Parks Monopoly box, I saw several destinations that I had heard about while growing up but never visited and would like to see ‘some day’.  You can imagine how often some day comes around.  As I was putting the box back I mentioned to MT Karen “Wouldn’t it be fun to visit all of the properties on this board?”  She smiled and said “uh huh”.  That was the end of the conversation for many years.     

Since that time our family was growing and our children were getting older.  That were a number of conversations about where we wanted to take the kids and what our wishes were for them to explore while growing up.  We firmly believe the things they learn in school have a larger impact if they get to experience teachings first hand.  A few years ago I looked at MT Karen one morning and told her I thought it was time to travel the National Parks Monopoly board.  We wanted the children to get a taste of many of the different areas of the United States so that they could experience so many new places that were both similar and different to their home.  Well, both MT Karen and I would get to do the same.  The Monopoly board provides more of a random collection of destinations than we would have chosen which accomplishes our goal of exploring different destinations across America.     

The Monopoly Travelers entering Grand Canyon National Park

Being Monopoly Travelers:    

We feel very fortunate to be able to live one of the goals we set out many years ago and have become National Park nerds.  While traveling to the parks that are on the board, we will often visit other parks that are somewhere nearby.  Being a Monopoly Traveler does require commitment in order to complete a board.  There are around 28 destinations on each board.  Some have more and others have less.  There are destinations that you will enjoy more than others but there is guarantee – you will have experiences that last a lifetime.  These experiences will provide bonds with those you choose to participate with and create memories that will bring a smile to your face.  It is these memories and bonds that make being a Monopoly Traveler gratifying.   


Welcome to Monopoly Traveler!    

We will share our experiences and what we learn over the course of our travels and invite you to share yours with us.  Let us know which Monopoly board you would like to travel!