Tuesday, December 20, 2016

the city that never sleeps- part 2

On Monday morning, we were up early and in the rehearsal hall to check the girls out from their chaperones. After checking them out, we headed to the Statue of Liberty as a group.... A group of over 600!!  Spirit of America does a great job of managing such a large group, but its obviously a little slow pace.  We made our way to our first subway of the trip.  It turned out to be a memory I won't soon forget.  Since we had a huge group, we were literally stuffed like sardines onto the subway.  Our group of 20 was terrified of getting separated on the subway, so seeing us move when the doors opened to hop on was quite comical.  We stuck together and moved as one unit.  The common people of NYC were probably not too pleased with us, to say the least.  We made it to the Statue of Liberty Harbor Cruise and waited for a little while to get on our boat.  The wait was cold, but we survived.  Whenever we got on the boat, we claimed a park bench outside in a place where the wind was blocked.  Some of our crew got inside where it was warm.  I think everybody enjoyed seeing Lady Liberty.

We took the time on the boat to take a Kea family photo.  Lisa and Lucinda are mom's first cousins.  Kea is my first cousin.  This dance trip kind of turned into a family affair and I loved it.

Whenever we got off of the boat, we went to the 9-11 Memorial with a smaller group from Spirit of America and then made our way to Macy's.
The girls had to be back to the hotel and ready for NBC rehearsal at Macy's by 6:00.  We took the time to go to Ellen's Stardust Diner.  It's been more fun in years past when we have been, but I still love the place!  The waiters and waitresses are aspiring to be on Broadway and someone is singing the entire time.  They're very talented and it gives a fun atmosphere.  The girls stayed up late practicing and sorting their red jackets that had gotten mixed up whenever they took them off at Macy's rehearsal!

On Tuesday morning, some of our group was up at the crack of dawn to go to the Today Show.  Mom and I decided to wait since "Today Show" was on the Spirit of America schedule for the day and we thought it may be super crowded.  Turns out the majority of the girls opted to sleep instead of doing the Today Show at 6am.  After the Today Show, we went to McDonalds for breakfast and everybody did their own thing.  Beccy, Morgan, Lisa, Jaden, Jenn, Hanna, Kea, Mom and I went to the Brooklyn Bridge.  Figuring the Subway out stressed me out a little bit, but I had good help.  The Brooklyn Bridge was probably my favorite thing from this trip.  It was something I hadn't seen before and it was so, so pretty!

The view was awesome.  After we made it across the bridge, Mom, Landon Kea and I went down to Wall Street before heading back toward Midtown.
We made it to the Rockettes Christmas Spectacular a few minutes late, but we made it nontheless.  The boys slept through it and some of the girls did too!  They were so exhausted! After the show, we went and got pizza at Sbrarro and did some souvenir shopping.
Afterwards, mom and I got tickets to see Lion King the next night and then went to Bryant Park. We really loved Bryant Park.  It had a cute skating rink, Christmas tree, and cute little shops all set to Christmas music and lights. She got a treat that looked out of this world good, but I was still feeling a little sick so I didn't indulge.  Our night was cut short whenever a random guy ran into the table we were sitting at and then made a scene like I had intentionally tripped him.  I'm pretty sure he intentionally ran into our table!  A guy nearby saw what was going on and asked him if he had a problem.  I gave the guy who came to our rescue a thank you and we got out of dodge.  I found the mace in my purse after we had made it about two blocks.  Fail.

Wednesday morning, mom and I got up early (starting to see trend here?) and walked passed the Today Show to see Al and Matt.  We were planning to go back on Friday morning, but Al & Matt are off on Friday after the parade on Thursday.  We walked by a few times and got some pictures of them, and then went and got breakfast at a little cafe behind the hotel.  We took our breakfast to the rehearsal hall where the girls had started a dress rehearsal for their parents at 8am.
 I stayed long enough to see them perform their number with music once and then went back to the room to catch a break while I could!

We got the boys and headed to Macy's to shop a little.  I lucked up because all of Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade stuff was half off by Wednesday.  Score.  We ate at Sbrarro and then found a good place to wait on the rest of the group to make their way over to go to the Empire State Building.  By this time, I think everybody was completely exhausted and starting to feel the lack of sleep.  We have seen the Empire State Building at night before, and I think it was prettier!

It's still an awesome view though.  After the Empire State Building, most of the group went to Central Park.  We took some cute pictures and enjoyed being semi-laid back for a short time.

The Central Park skating rink is my favorite! After Central Park, we split up and a smaller group of us made our way up 5th Avenue and past Trump Tower. We found a place to eat and then mom and I went to see Lion King on Broadway!  Spirit of America offered an extra Broadway show (Wicked) for an additional fee whenever we registered.  We chose not to take advantage of the offer.  First of all, it already cost and arm and a leg and $120 extra dollar just didn't strike my fancy.  Also, I thought I would probably rather see Lion King if we saw another show.  I'm glad we did it, but I wouldn't have to see it again.  It may have been better if we hadn't been on the very tip top row of the theater!  We laughed a lot about how tired we were and the possibility of falling asleep during a show that costs us a pretty penny.  It was HOT up in there too and I stripped down to my cuddle duds.  Cuddle duds are like long johns.  They were thick and fleece, so it was kind of like leggings and a fitted top.  I also shucked my shoes.  Uggs make my feet hot hot hot.  Lets just say I probably didn't meet the dress code and thank goodness for dark theaters.

We took the well lit streets back to the room and got in bed as quickly as possible.  Every minute of sleep counts when you're getting up at 4am.  Thursday morning, we were on the road by 5am.  Whenever we walked out of the Hilton we saw quickly that we were not going to get a front row seat on our side of the road.  We crossed the road and gave up the luxury of a restroom for the next 6 hours to have a front row seat for the parade.  #worthit  We spread out blankets on the side walk to save spots for the rest of the spectators in our group.  Most of them were still helping the girls get ready whenever we made it out to the sidewalk!

 Parade morning was most definitely the coldest I got the whole week.  We were sitting in the same place for hours.  I had lots of layers, a blanket, hot hands, feet warmers, Uggs... and I was still pretty frigid.  I couldn't help but think about the dancers in their skimpy costumes and tights out there somewhere freezing their tails off!!  They were given wind blockers like runners use, but from what I've heard those didn't help too much!  There was a Starbucks near us but nobody would get one because we knew we would need a restroom and there wasn't one.  Not without crossing the road and potentially getting stuck over there!  Bathrooms in NYC are few and far between.  The security itself at the parade was something to see.  NYPD was everywhere.  We are pretty certain that an undercover cop was nearby us the entire time.  A middle age guy with a black coat on propped up on a mailbox behind us super early in the morning.  He was by himself and he stayed there the entire time.

The parade started at 9 and was in front of us around 9:30.  It isn't quite as magical as it is on TV with all of the background music and such, but it is still pretty awesome. Whenever the Spirit of America groups passed us, everybody lost their mind hollering and acting crazy.  Since we were in front of the Hilton where everybody was staying, that is to be expected.  We spotted a few of the girls, but I don't think they saw us.  We didn't make it back into the room in time to catch their performance on TV.  We may have if we had not been across the road!  After Santa made his way by us, we went inside to thaw out and thanked the Lord we were safe because there was so much hype about terrorism during the parade.

There was a lot of adrenaline going in the Hilton whenever the girls came back from performing and then they started to crash.
We got a group picture and gave everybody a time to meet downstairs to go to Thanksgiving lunch.  I called and bumped up our reservation, which thankfully wasn't a problem.  The parade didn't last as long as we thought it would and everybody was hungry.  I set out to have a few moments to myself and find the restaurant.  I had made reservations a month prior, but I wanted to make sure I knew where it was so I could give everybody directions.  It's hard to herd a lot of people even whenever they're cooperative and helpful! Especially whenever everybody is a little lost and the majority is just following the person in front of them with no actual clue where they are!  Haha.  Anyway. I found the restaurant and called mom with the directions.  We ate at O'Lunney's and they were very accommodating, had a wide variety on the menu and served us up a decent Thanksgiving lunch.  I ordered a quesadilla and started smashing it before I realized I probably needed to hold back.  My stomach wasn't doing me any favors, even this far into the week!

After we ate and about half the girls fell asleep in the restaurant, we found the Subway to the 9-11 Memorial.  Subway Selfie!
 About half way into our subway ride, they announced that the route we were taking was down.  Great.  So we walk up out of the subway lost with no idea which way to go!  Tina put the address into her iPhone and saved the day.  We made it right on time for our 4:30 reservation at the memorial.  I found a restroom in the memorial and went and stripped about 2 layers and put them in my backpack!  It got warm.  The memorial is very well done and worth seeing.

Most of its contents include things leftover from the buildings.  I was really interested in reading some of the first hand accounts of what happened that day.  If I hadn't been super tired and with a big group, we probably could have spent a little more time in there.  Whenever we got back close to the hotel, everybody split up.  A lot of our group went back to the room, but not us!  Mom, Beccy, Kea and I went back to Bryant Park.  Kea got churros and then we found the NY Public Library as well as Grand Central Station.  Grand Central was another favorite for me.  It was unbelievable!  We rode the subway from Grand Central into Times Square and finished up our shopping.
 After we got back to the room, we packed up our stuff and got ready for departure.

Friday morning, we got up early once again.  A crew of us went down to the Today Show where we were second in line shortly after 5am.
 We got into the plaza and the camera scanned us a few times but I don't think we got much camera time!  Beccy and I went ahead and left early because we wanted to go find Penn Station and get some detailed directions about what we needed to do to make darn sure we made it home.  We had a little trouble with the subway, so we just walked the wholeeee way.  I bet we walked 3 miles that morning!  We came in contact with someone super rude who told us where we needed to go whenever we got to Penn Station.  After we got back to the room, we learned that mom had stuck it out by herself at the Today Show and got on TV pretty good!  She also won a $25 Kmart gift card as a reward for sticking it out!  Haha.  My mother is a crazy person on vacation.  She doesn't eat or sleep-- she just goes full speed ahead for the duration of the trip wherever she is.  You should see her at Disney.

We all met in the lobby of the hotel and the bell man helped us each get taxis.  The trip to Penn Station was much shorter and cheaper this time than when we arrived, which nobody could figure out.  We were at Penn Station super early. After we got our luggage checked in, everybody left their carry-ons and went to get food nearby/shop at Macy's for a few hours. I stayed with everybody's stuff for awhile and then mom and I went to get something to eat on the train ride home.  I think we all felt a little relief as we waited for our train to arrive to take us home.  I did one thing on the way home- sleep. I don't think I've ever been so happy to see my house.  It was a fun trip, but I felt like I had been gone for half a month! I really cannot say enough great things about this group!  They were a lot of fun and I would do it all over again!

Saturday, December 17, 2016

the city that never sleeps-part 1

It has taken awhile, but I am finally finding the time to blog about New York City! It is a little overwhelming to try to condense an 8 night trip into one blog post, so I may drag it out a bit.  I didn't do a great job of taking pictures on this trip.  Since mom and I have been twice before, I already have pictures of the Statue Liberty, Radio City Music Hall, Rockefeller Center... You get the picture. Everybody else with us was taking pictures, so I figured I would just steal some of theirs!

First things first!  We showed up to the train station in Meridian super early since we were with a group of 20 and we had never done the train before.  We weighed luggage, checked it in and Mr. Mike Jamison led us in a group prayer for protection and a safe trip.

Not going to lie- I was a little sad about leaving my man for 8 days and 8 nights.  #newlywedprobs

Whenever the time drew near for the train to arrive, we headed out the big sliding doors and bid our final farewells to our husbands/daddys/and in my case grandparents!  (Mama Jim and Daddy Jim came to send us off and gave us a chunk of spending money.  They are the best!)

We stood near the track and watched the train pull in.  We were quickly on board.  I have to say, it was pretty neat.  They sat our group in the same car and we pulled away waving to all of the folks who dropped us off at the train station.  Mom and I sat together and we made ourselves comfortable.  I had no clue what the train ride was going to be like, I only knew it would be long.  It was surprisingly comfortable.  There was plenty of leg room and several contraptions to pull down to prop your feet on.  The seat also leaned back, which made it easier to sleep.  There was open storage above our heads and as far as I can tell, if you can get it on the train, you are welcome to bring whatever you like.  There were practically no security measures, which was interesting.  There was a snack bar and a dining cart where some of the girls made reservations to eat dinner.  There was also a place with tables to play cards that some of our group took advantage of.  It felt like we had the train to ourselves because there really weren't a lot of other people on with us whenever we left MS. 

I ran my phone down a few times, we watched dance videos, brain stormed recital songs, and I introduced mama to snapchat.  It was the funniest thing ever. The train made regular stops but only a few where we stopped long enough to get off and get some fresh air.  We took advantage of the opportunity whenever we had the chance. 

Mom and I decided to watch a movie on the laptop before bedtime and chose The Best of Me.  Mama said watching a movie with me was almost as entertaining as the movie.  I am by no means a movie watcher.  Austin and I have watched one movie since we have been married and that was the most recent Dolly Parton movie.  I don't follow the story line well, so I ask a lot of obvious questions.  Anddd... I don't like the parts that aren't happy.  I would take my earbuds out during the bad parts and if they ended up good, I wanted her to rewind so I could watch it!  There is a reason I don't watch movies.  I did NOT like the way the movie ended.  Oh my goodness- it was just heart wrenching.

In the middle of watching, it started to get dark outside.  I have a mild case of claustrophobia, and the darkness around me was making me feel a little trapped.  I swore to mama that my throat was tightening up and she just laughed at me.  I've had the same issues in an airplane going through clouds and on night flights.  I eventually got over it, took some Tylenol PM and slept for 8 straight hours.  I did toss and turn a good bit, but for the most part I was sleeping sound.  I don't think this was the case for everybody in our group!  The majority consensus was- we didn't sleep!  I can sleep almost anywhere and a little assistance from Tylenol PM did the trick for me.

The next day passed rather quickly.  We saw some pretty foliage and the Washington Monument.  Before we knew it we were gathering our things for our arrival at Penn Station in NYC! 
Whenever we got off the train, I panicked for a few minutes because I wasn't sure where to look for our luggage.  I felt like we were walking away from the train and our bags! We just followed the flow of people and it became obvious where we would pick the luggage up.  We gathered the girls for a group picture during our luggage wait.
After grabbing our things, we made our way out of Penn Station and walked up onto the streets of NYC!  Cabs were lined up for days, so we split up to take cabs to the Hilton Midtown.  The cab thing was an adventure in itself. 
Landon, Mom, Kea and I, four huge suitcases and a bunch of carry-ons all fit into one man's Pinto sized vehicle.  We were cramped and I rolled the window down for some air.  Hence the claustrophobia. We gathered a few at a time to get ready to go through orientation with Spirit of America Productions.  After an introductory video, we picked up our ticket packages for the week and made our way to our rooms.  A few of us were realizing how much we had over packed by this point!  I actually was not one of those people.

We set our things down and I sent a message for everybody who wanted to go to Times Square to meet us in the lobby.  The girls needed something to eat since they were about to practice until 11:00 that night and I thought they needed to see a little piece of the city before they were stuck in the rehearsal hall for days while we explored!  We walked to Times Square, ate at McDonalds (fancy) and I made a snapchat with the Taylor Swift song "Welcome to New York" playing in the background.  I had been thinking about that for several weeks.  Haha.  We made our way back to the hotel and I walked with the participants up to the rehearsal hall where they would practice from 6-11.
While the girls were practicing, Neesie, Lisa, Jaden, Mom, Beccy, Kea, Landon and I took a walk by Rockefeller Center, down 5th Avenue, by Central Park and back up to the Hilton.
The highlight of our walk was one of the highlights of the trip for me.  I hate the girls didn't get to see it!  Whenever we got to St. Patrick's Cathedral, they were having a service.  The lights were down, candles were everywhere and a lady with the most beautiful voice was singing.  The acoustics were crazy good and the Spirit was to be felt.  It was something to see and feel.  We were given candles that we placed at the alter where people were praying.  It seems that to open a place like this to tourist would take away it authenticity, but it did not.

We made our way to bed and Sunday morning mom and I slept in while the girls practiced and the rest of the spectators went on the Big Apple City tour. We had done that before and chose to sleep in instead of doing it again!  I actually woke up sick on this day.  I missed the trip to Top of the Rock with the other spectators  I stayed in bed practically all day and slept on and off since I had not slept the night before.  I was feeling well enough by Sunday night to make it to the Broadway show. The girls had practiced 6:30- 11 on Saturday night and 8-4 on Sunday, with the exception of lunch.  This was really their first time to do something besides rehearse!
School of Rock was awesome!!  In years past we saw Sister Act and Bring It On.  Mom's favorite to date is Sister Act.  I think mine is now School of Rock.  I was obviously trying to keep my distance from everybody because nobody wants to get sick in NYC and have to eliminate themselves from a performance in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.  That would have been just awful. After the show, the girls went to eat and we headed back to the room. I think they saw a little snow that night!  I stole some of the pictures from snapchat!
That wraps up Friday, Saturday and Sunday!  Come back later for the rest of the week! :)