Another day in Tokyo

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As we were getting ready to leave for the day on Monday, Clarissa and I decided to hang out on the balcony only to discover that it was raining. We put on our rain jackets, grabbed Clarissa’s new umbrella, and headed down the hill to McDonald’s. Thankfully the rain stopped by the time we finished breakfast.

Our first stop of the day was Tokyo Station for Tokyo Character Street. Clarissa was very excited to find some Yokai medals. We also found some fun things in the Studio Ghibli Store and the Lego Store.

Next we headed to Yurakucho for the Muji Flagship Store. It was three stories and wonderful. It reminded me a little of Bed Bath and Beyond. It would have been more exciting if we lived in Japan because a lot of the cool things were too big for my suitcase. But if you live in Japan, I would definitely visit.

Tim wanted to check BIC Camera since it was across the street. Then we headed to The Little Bird Cafe. Tim was reading about this cute little gluten-free cafe in the suburbs. We found it, went up to the third floor, and discovered that it was closed for the week! Oops. Thankfully across the street from the station was a fun little cafe called Freshness Burger since it was 2pm and we were getting hangry. The food was great. They had several different kinds of burgers, fries, and smoothies reasonably priced. Bring yen because they don’t take credit cards.

We headed back to Shinjuku to visit our favorite bookstore. Kinokuniya has an entire floor of English books. We found several that we liked and bought a few. A lot of books were about double the price that Amazon charges so if we could find it in Amazon cheaper, we put it back. It was helpful to be able to flip through the books since we don’t have many English bookstores with new books at home.

Hungry, we headed to Shibuya for dinner for some yakiniku. We found Han No Daidokoro Kadochika without a problem (right past the Shibuya 109). We read online that if you don’t have a reservation you should come right when they open or it will be too busy. We were there right at 5 and they weren’t quite ready for us. The place was still pretty empty when we left about 615 so that isn’t accurate on a Monday night. There were several different options to choose from. We chose a more expensive option with drinks and plenty of meat. It was delicious! It even came with seaweed and rice for Clarissa.

Satisfied, we headed to the wolf shrine (Miyamasu Mitake) we were looking for the previous day and found it in the middle of a city block, up several steps. Before one of our previous trips, Tim had a dream about the Shibuya wolf and I think this is it.

On our way back, we stumbled upon a Hedgehog Cafe. It was on the second floor, very clean, and the staff was very friendly. We paid for 30 minutes and they assigned us two hedgehogs to pet and feed. We had to wear gloves and were given specific instructions on how to hold the hedgehog. Clarissa loved it! It was about 7 pm so the hedgehogs were sleepy. We were going to leave before our 30 minutes was up, so the staff spent some time teaching us about hedgehogs and letting us hold another. The hedgehogs rotate every other day so they get a break from playing with customers. I think this was one of the highlights of Clarissa’s trip.

The last item on our list was the Haiyo Miazakyi clock in Shimbashi. The GPS was a little off with wifi so we had a hard time finding it. We eventually took a taxi. It looked great. I bet it looks better during the day or during the special times each day that it moves (we missed it by 10 minutes). We discussed taking a Ghibli vacation one day.

30,000 Steps without the Stroller

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When we decided to leave the stroller at home for this vacation, I had my reservations. Clarissa is not quite 5 and we walk a ton on vacation. But she did really well. We only had to carry her for a few minutes here and there.

She woke up an hour before my alarm on Sunday, so we had plenty of time for a McDonald’s breakfast before heading to the Ueno Zoo before they opened at 930.

The baby panda turned one last month and apparently is still quite popular. By the time we got to the zoo entrance, the line to see the baby panda was over two hours long! Thankfully, Clarissa understood that we had other things to do today and would not be waiting in that line. We did see everything else in the zoo, however and spent 3.5 hours there.

We all really enjoyed the zoo. There are several different species of animals with large monkey and bird sections. Clarissa was especially excited about the polar bears, penguins, elephants, giraffes, crocodiles, and zebras. There was a window viewing area for the polar bear that she was especially excited about because she said she called him and he came right up to her.

We headed to Odaiba for Diver City mall next. We started outside with the new Gundam Statue. Tim needed pictures and Clarissa thought it was very cool but wondered why it was such a large statue.

The original plan was to eat lunch but the lines for all of the food were rediculously long so we found a corner to eat the protein bars we brought and headed to the Gundam Base on the 7th floor. It was very different from our last visit. Last time it was set up like a museum with things you could buy. This time it was definitely more of a shopping experience but they did have several limited edition items.

We headed downstairs for the Hello Kitty Cafe for some ice cream to hold us over. We went to a few stores including a virtual reality store were we bought some astronaut food and a rainbow umbrella. At one point we went to the bathroom and had to wait in line and Clarissa said, “Why do we have to wait in line for everything in this town?” We quickly decided that we needed real food and headed to Shibuya.

Our wifi Hotspot wasn’t working so we couldn’t find our planned restaurant, but we found a Coco Ichybanya instead (Tim’s favorite Japanese curry restaurant). Then we found the Mitake Shrine.

We actually took a taxi (our first ever in Tokyo) to Kippy’s for some ice cream. They are vegan so most of their ice cream and juice choices are made from coconut water and some kind of fruit. They also use either dates or raw honey and organic ingredients. The prices weren’t bad either. If you are looking for a sweet treat, I recommend finding it in Harajuku. It is in a quieter part of town and we enjoyed the walk back to the station.

Mother Daughter Day at the Aquarium 

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One of the main reasons we came back to Japan this fall was for Tim to attend Tokyo Game Show today.  We loved Japan at Christmas and wanted to see more.  But it had to be this week for Tim. 

Tim had a great day with some friends.  One friend he met at PAXEast in Boston when I was pregnant with Clarissa.  Another he used to work with in Korea.  He made a few friends today as well. 

I was so proud of myself for making a plan for today that I thought Clarissa would enjoy and figuring out how to get there myself since Tim is usually the navigator. The original plan was Shinagawa Aquarium,  Tokyo Fire Museum,  and Tokyo Toy Museum.  

The first leg of the trip was more complicated than I thought.  We have mostly been using the JR lines,  which have plenty of English.  We needed the Keikyu line,  which does not.  I got on a rapid train by mistake that passed my stop,  but I figured it out eventually. 

From Shinagawa station,  you have to take the local train to the Omori kaigan station.  It is a very small station.  When you exit,  there is a sign that tells you which direction to go for Shinagawa Aquarium.  Cross the pedestrian bridge (there is a elevator) to the other side of the road.  Walk until you get to the big dolphin statues and turn right.  

Walk through the park and turn right at the aquarium sign.  You can see the aquarium from there.  It sounds complicated,  but it was only a five minute walk. 

On our way,  there was a small parade.  I have no idea what it was for.  Maybe it was a drum school because it was mostly kids?  Whatever the reason,  Clarissa and I enjoyed our private parade. 

There was stroller parking at the aquarium,  but I saw families with their strollers inside as well.  The price was great,  1350 yen (like $13)  for adults and kids 3 and under are free. And you can reenter the aquarium all day. 

It is not the biggest aquarium that I have been to.  But it was a great value for the price,  and stroller friendly with ramps and elevators. Clarissa and I both really enjoyed seeing all of the animals.  There were fish,  turtles,  penguins,  sharks,  sea lions,  and dolphins among other things. 

We spent about an hour at the aquarium before we went to see the sea lion show.  Clarissa loved it!  I thought it was great as well.  

The dolphins were swimming in a nearby tank and she kept asking if she could swim with them.  I told her that one day when she is older and knows how to swim we can take a cruise or something and she will get to swim with dolphins then.  

Since we had seen everything at the aquarium,  I was ready to eat lunch and then head to the Tokyo Fire Museum. But Clarissa wasn’t finished. I told her it was lunch time and she had a choice.  We could leave and go to the Fire Museum and the Toy Museum or we could’ve come back to the aquarium after lunch.  She chose the aquarium. 

There is a sit down restaurant and a hot dog/ice cream stand outside the aquarium.  The restaurant had a 30 minute wait so we opted for the hot dog stand.  Clarissa said she wanted ice cream instead of the French fries so I ordered her ice cream and got hot dogs and French fries for myself.  She started eating her ice cream before my food was ready.  Once my food came out she told me that I could have the rest of her ice cream and confiscated my French fries…

We finished lunch in time to get a seat for the dolphin show,  which was wonderful.  They did all kinds of fun tricks!  They could hula hoop and flip and jump high. Clarissa really enjoyed it. 

After the show,  we did another walk through the aquarium before there was an underwater show.  This one was looking through a tank and we were almost late so Clarissa had to sit on my shoulders.  She didn’t mind.  

Then,  we did a photo booth.  The English button didn’t work,  but for 500 yen  ($5), we got two good pictures.  I think Clarissa would have stayed at the aquarium all day if I let her,  but after four hours,  I was ready for something else.  We stopped at the gift shop on th way out.  She found a wind up clown fish to go in the tub like her Dory.  I got a cool multi color pen. 

We walked around the park before we headed back.  No parade this time. 

Back at the hotel room,  Clarissa immediately started to fill the tub so she could play with her new toy.  She kept saying things like “the show will start in 5 minutes”  and “watch this truck.” We had a snack and did some of her school sticker books while we waited for Tim to get back from Tokyo Game Show. 

We went out to dinner before her real bathtime where she continued to “watch a show.”  At bedtime,  she asked me if I could watch the sea lion show with her.  I have a feeling that we will be watching a lot of youtube videos this week… 

Disney Sea and Dinosaurs 

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We thought Thursday would be the least crowded day to head to Disney Sea.  So we took two different trains to the resort.  Then,  there is a special Disney train that takes you the rest of the way (you do have to pay,  but it’s only 260 yen and you can even use your subway card).

We stayed up late Wednesday so we slept in on Thursday and didn’t arrive until lunchtime.  We ate in Mediterranean Harbor.  We ordered the tomato and mozzarella pizza for Clarissa,  chicken and olive pizza for me,  and Tim ordered both kinds of pasta.  I should not have ordered anything for Clarissa.  Though delicious,  she refused to try her pizza.  Three year olds… Also I was pleasantly surprised by the prices of the park food.  Everything was reasonably priced and tasted great.

Over lunch,  we planned our route. Clarissa did not seem cooperative but we decided to start walking and figured she would get excited as we passed things.

She did like the Ariel things in Mermaids Lagoon.  Not enough to ride anything.  But she did enjoy looking at the different rides and statues.

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In Arabia,  there was a camel statue that you could sit on to take pictures.  She wanted to do that.  But when you sit on the camel,  apparently it makes noises so she got scared.

Then we tried Sinbad’s Storybook ride.  It was pretty cool.  You ride a boat and go through some of the stories from the Arabian Nights.  Clarissa covered her eyes for the giant.  Tim was holding her and said she was shaking.  But at the end,  she said it was awesome and wanted to go on more rides.

In the Lost Delta,  there was a place to meet characters.  Clarissa wanted to meet Minnie Mouse.  The sign said it would take 40 minutes.  After we had been there a few minutes,  a cast member came by and changed the sign to 50 minutes.  Need to say,  we were all ready to meet Minnie.  They let you take one photo with your camera or you can buy their pictures.  Minnie hugged and kissed all three of us at the beginning and end.  Clarissa was thrilled.  I took a picture of it at the end and they scolded me because I already had my one picture,  even though it was the staged family picture and not the Minnie mouse is kissing my three year old picture.

After meeting Minnie,  we were on a mission to find Nemo.  We actually found Dory and Hank.  But the Nemo ride isn’t finished yet so we never found Nemo. There was a ride with Crush.  But the kind lady who worked there said it was just talking and all in Japanese so we didn’t bother.

We did however,  find Woody.  But the line for his ride was two hours.  So we just hung out in Toyville and looked at the character toys and statues.  Clarissa took pictures on both Bullseye and Ham.  Apparently,  we cut the line,  but I really didn’t notice there was one.  Oops.

On the way to dinner,  we passed by a show. The speaking was in Japanese so we kept walking.  But the songs were in English and Clarissa liked the costumes so Clarissa wanted to watch it.  We ended up finding a spot and watching the rest of it.

We at dinner in the Cape Cod Cook Off.  We tried their Halloween season special burger which was beef with pumpkin and bacon.  It was actually very good.

We weren’t thrilled with the souvioneers in the shops.  Clarissa was devastated that at the end of the day,  we had still not found Nemo.  But Tim saw Nemo toys at the toy store in Akihabara the night before so he thought we should take her there.  Day made.

She picked out a baby Dory toy.  We also found a used bookstore with an English section.  I didn’t find anything for me,  but Clarissa got three books.

All things considered,  it was a great day.  Tim would like to take Clarissa back to Disney Sea next spring when the Nemo ride opens. The Studio Ghibli museum tickets were sold out for our trip again this time so we may need to do a weekend in Tokyo next year for those two things.

We noticed that Disney Sea was geared towards older kids. Clarissa was afraid of some things.  Next year she may enjoy it more.  But the teens and adults love it.

Friday,  we headed to Ueno for the National Museum of Nature and Science.  There were six floors of exhibits.  Clarissa especially liked the animals and the dinosaur bones.  Those were all labeled in both English and Japanese.

Some of the other floors had interesting interactive exhibits.  Tim’s favorite was a heat sensor. We all had fun playing with that one.

There were video screens you could press for information in English.  The teaching videos were all in Japanese though.

I think most families would enjoy the museum.  The price is very reasonable.  620 yen for adults.  Everyone else is free.  The special exhibit was an additional 980 for adults and 600 for children so we skipped it.

After the museum,  we headed down the road to the Toshogu Shrine.  The rain was starting to pick up so we put on our raincoats.  I am glad we did because after I took the first picture,  it started pouring.

This shrine is the oldest in Tokyo,  built before the Edo period.  The architecture and design reminds me very much of the two castles we visited earlier this week,  especially Nijo jo in Kyoto.

There was one more electronics shop to check out in Shibuya.  Tim was unsuccessful in that area.  But his feet have been bothering him since the monkey park,  so when we passed an Adidas store,  we decided it was time for new sneakers.  Problem solved.

The best English bookstore is in Shinjuku,  so we decided to head there.  Kinokuniya actually had a great selection.  They had mostly hardback books so they were a little expensive.  Their kid’s section was awesome.

After our day of shopping and exploring,  we realized that we never ate lunch.  So we decided to splurge on Outback for dinner.  My steak was great.  Tim had some pasta.

Shinkansen and Akihabara 

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This morning,  we checked out of our Kyoto hotel and took the shuttle to Kyoto station to catch our Shinkansen train (bullet train) to Tokyo. 

Clarissa wanted to ride on top of a suitcase instead of the stroller.  She and Tim had a great time together. 

The Shinkansen has some similarities to the KTX trains.  They are both very long and have sections with assigned seats.  The shinkansen also has a few cars with unassigned seats. KTX from Daegu to Seoul is about two hours.  Shinkansen from Kyoto to Tokyo is the same but the distance is almost double. Both trains have toilets and overhead storage for luggage. 

The KTX has an area at the back of each car for larger luggage.  We didn’t see that on our Shinkansen train so we stored our two large suitcases and stroller overhead. 

The Shinkansen train was slightly larger inside.  KTX is two seats,  an aisle,  and two seats.  Shinkansen is two seats,  a larger aisle,  and three seats.  There is also more leg room on a Shinkansen train.  The ticket from Kyoto to Tokyo also costs about 1/3 more than a ticket from Daegu to Seoul,  but again the distance is almost double.  

We really enjoyed our train ride this afternoon.  The train was on time.  There were only 3 stops.  Clarissa enjoyed the space.  She made herself comfortable on the floor for a bit.  She had plenty of room between the seat,  my bookbag,  and my legs.  The rest of the time,  she sat in my lap so we didn’t have to pay for her ticket. Clarissa even peed in the toilet while the train was moving.  I was impressed. 

We stayed in Shinagawa at Christmas and loved that part of the city.  We chose a different hotel this time,  slightly closer to the subway station. 

Since we arrived early afternoon,  we decided to explore after we settled in.  We headed to Akihabara to see if Tim could find the rest of his wishlist.  The funny part is that he didn’t find anything in Electronic Town,  but Clarissa and I did.  I lost my sunglasses yesterday and found some cute new ones today.  Clarissa found a few things.  She and Tim built a model of Dory tonight and now have a remote control submarine for the bathtub. 

“Look mom.  A robot.  Take my picture!” We actually have a small version of this guy at home that we bought at the Gundam Storefront  in December.  

…And we’re back

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When we were with Tim’s friend on Saturday, we aquired subway cards that are similar to our Daegu Toppass in that they can do any train or bus and you can recharge them easily in a subway station. The difference is that in Daegu, there is a flat rate to ride a train or bus and in in Tokyo, you pay based on how far you travel.

With our new pasmo passes, we decided that we would be adventurous and check out some different train lines and go out of the city a little bit.

We only went one town over to Mitaka, but still. We took the JR Yamonote line to the JR chuo line to the metro Marunochi line. Then, we got off at the train and took a bus to the Tokyo Edo Open Air Museum.

We had to walk through a park to get there. It was a nice park with trees and grass and families playing. There was even a big train. It was behind a fence though, so Clarissa was disappointed that she couldn’t get super close to it.

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I was really excited to see what the houses and buildings looked like in Japan in the past. Unfortunately, when we got there, it was closed. We planned the trip to go home on December 28 because we read that a lot of things close for New Years the last 2-3 days of the year. Apparently, this museum closed on December 26. Oops.

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All was not lost though. We walked back to the train station instead of taking the bus so that we could see what a normal (not in the big city) neighborhood would look like in Japan. There were houses and duplexes. A few villas, but not tall apartment buildings like in the big city. We did see a shrine on the way. I think most neighborhoods have their own shrine.

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Also, I thought it was funny that they had 7-11 in Japan, but most of them had this sign…

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We took the train back to Nakano, which is supposed to be the most crowded neighborhood in Tokyo. Tim’s friend told us about a shopping area there that Tim should check out for video game, anime, and gundam model stuff. So we headed to Nakano Broadway, as it was on the same train line.

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We were hungry so we went to Lotteria for lunch. They have them in Korea too, but the sandwich choices were way different. I got a teryaki burger with egg and Tim got the Kobe burger. Clarissa, of course, ate french fries. We ended up sitting next to a mom and her little girl. Clarissa made a new friend. They had a great time playing together, even though they didn’t speak English and we don’t speak Japanese. The little girl was three.

Then we headed to Mandrake. There were several different stores in the four story shopping mall. Tim found a Gundam model he has been looking for for a long time. Clarissa found a Ponyo doll. We also bought a Totoro puzzle to do together. It was a very successful trip.

We thought we would head back to Shibuya for dinner. We went to Shibuya Hikarie becasue it is supposed to have several shops and places to eat. It did. But most were overpriced. We decided on a Chinese restaraunt, but the service was terrible, and they wouldn’t let us order a bowl of rice for Clarissa. So we left. The trip wasn’t a total waste though because the views from the 11th floor were pretty cool.

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We went back to Shinagawa and ended up at Royal Host. It was actually a nice little restaraunt. They had a special menu for kids and brought Clarissa a bib with a bee that she actually wanted to wear. Tim ordered pancakes, french toast, and sausage. I ordered a steak burger with fries. Clarissa wanted fries, but surprised me and actually ate some of my burger after she finished her fries.

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The cool thing about the pasmo card is that you can return it and get a refund of the cost of the card (500 yen, about $5) and whatever amount you have left on the card. So we returned our cards on our walk back to the hotel.

We headed home on Monday. We took the airport limosine bus back to the airport and were pleasantly surprised that there was a special line for families. Most people had to wait in a long line, but we only had to wait about five minutes before it was our turn.

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They also asked us if we wanted to use their stroller while we were in the airport. The check-in girl was confused because we were headed back to Busan on our American passport. She wasn’t familiar with the special visa that we have. Tim had been warned to bring his letter of employment, and that was exactly what we needed to get through.

The flight went well. Clarissa enjoyed watching part of the Minions movie as well as some Mickey Mouse. They let her pick out a present again. This time she chose an airplane.
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The food was great, yet again. Japan Airlines really feeds you well.

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The flight attendants were very nice and even walked by to tell us we could see Mt Fuji out the airplane window. Tim got a couple of really cool shots.

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We got through immigration in Busan without a problem. We were able to catch the next bus back to Daegu. That was totally a God thing because we only had to wait 20 minutes and ended up with the last two seats on the bus.

Saturday wanderings

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Tim has a friend who lives right outside of Tokyo.  He met him at Pax East in 2013 and has kept in contact online.  The plan was to spend the day with him.

We had two things on our list before we met up with him.  I wanted to see the view from the Caretta building and the Tsukiji fish market.  Both were closed when we arrived so we wandered around Ginza until we got to our meeting place : the Sony Building.

Tim was very disappointed in the Sony Building.  He had read that they had displays of the new technology as well as video games. It was basically four floors of showroom and things to buy.  Nothing super interesting or new.  We didn’t last long there.

We then hopped on the train to Shinjuku to see the Square Enix Artnia building.  It was a little cafe with a store to buy Final Fantasy and other video game items. The art was neat and Clarissa really enjoyed the different stuffed animals. She was upset that I would not buy her one.

Along the way we passed the Hanazono shrine and decided to check it out.

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We had sushi for lunch.  I usually get a California roll,  but they don’t really sell that here.  So I was adventurous and tried a few things.  I actually ate raw shrimp,  salmon,  and tuna.  I was rather proud of myself.

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Tim and his friend were right at home with the plethora of options.

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The cashier gave Clarissa a lollipop that looked like sushi!

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After lunch we rode the Tokyo metro for the first time to Asakusa. Clarissa actually fell asleep on the way and slept in her stroller for an hour.  I was super impressed because she fell asleep on me and stayed asleep when we transferred her to the stroller.  I also don’t ever remember her sleeping in her stroller.

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We went to see Sensoji Temple.  The temple was built in 628 and is the oldest temple in Tokyo.

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There were so many people there! Apparently around the New Year holiday,  it will be much worse,  so many people you can barely move.

There were many shops and stalls selling things.  I actually bought a small tapestry for my wall and Tim wanted me to try some pastries.  The pastries were fish shaped with red bean paste in the middle.  Even Clarissa enjoyed them.  We also tasted fried octopus,  which is very popular.  I wasn’t a huge fan.  It didn’t taste awful,  but I definitely only ate one.

On the way back to the metro,  we saw a sign for a special Star Wars exhibit at Sky Tree.  We decided to check it out and headed to Sky Tree Town.  After dinner,  we finally found it but discovered that it was at the top of the tower and cost 2850 yen each to go up so we decided to pass.  We had pumpkin ice cream from Coldstone and started the trek back to the hotel.

Clarissa was super disappointed when we left Tim’s friend.  She asked for him four different times on the way home.