Music Instrument Museum deserves (at least one) encore appearance

Suspended instruments in the Music Instrument Museum's main staircase foyer

Suspended instruments in the Music Instrument Museum’s main staircase foyer

 

"Electric acoustic" guitar from South Africa at the Music Instrument Museum

“Electric acoustic” guitar from South Africa at the Music Instrument Museum

 

Visitors use wireless headphones to hear streamed music samples at exhibits

Visitors use wireless headphones to hear streamed music samples at exhibits

Videos demonstrate instrument performances

Videos demonstrate instrument performances

One of my favorite exhibits, homage to Adolphe Sax

One of my favorite exhibits, homage to Adolphe Sax

The Music Instrument Museum is “number one” among Phoenix area museum attractions on Tripadvisor.com. In December I had the opportunity to find out why. It’s like a Disneyland for music lovers; one could easily spend the entire day here, and still wanting more.  I suppose if you absolutely hate music, maybe one day is enough.  It’s not merely a museum for old folk instruments; and it’s certainly not just all about music. It’s more about global cultures and all forms of expression, communication – the total human experience. During our recent visit, I immediately began making notes how my next visit could be enhanced. Here are some things to know before you go:

1. Go early. Naturally if you haven’t been to the MIM yet, you’ll just have to trust me: Time will pass very quickly. I’d recommend getting there soon after the 9 a.m. opening and be prepared to spend a good chunk of the day.  We arrived shortly after 10 a.m. on a Monday morning and before we realized what was happening, we had already spent three hours and we were still in the first geographic exhibit room.

2. Visit on a weekday. One drawback about visiting the MIM when schools are in session is you may be competing with field trip tours for quality listening space. You may want to steer clear of the school groups as you move about the exhibits. However, on the day we visited, the loud school groups were gone by lunchtime and we virtually had the entire second floor to ourselves. I found this advantageous for taking photos (non-flash) of the exhibits or spending extra time listening to various recordings. If a large family or school group is concentrated on one exhibit, simply move to another then circle back later.

3. Consider bringing your own wireless headphones. I didn’t really have any problems with the headphones given to me at the counter, but I had wished I had a pair to better cancel out extraneous, external noise. Sometimes it is a bit hard to find the “hotspot” of the streaming music at particular exhibits, and several times I was picking up streams from other nearby exhibits.  I thought it may be a better listening experience to have premium equipment. But of course, the experience is only as good as the recording, in most cases.

4. Have lunch in the cafeteria. This is a special treat in itself. Much of the menu comes from local farms and food sources.  Don’t miss this! Plan to take a leisurely lunch break and enjoy farm fresh and deliciously prepared menu items. Even the beer and wine are local. Kick back and enjoy the bright and airy lunchroom. You will need a lengthy lunch break to give your eyes, ears and feet a well-deserved rest.  Portions are fairly large: we split a sandwich, salad and dessert.

5. Plan your self-guided tour.  Next time we’ll know this: map out your route around the rooms before embarking the exhibition expedition. Each of the geographic galleries has its own merit. Because we started chronologically through Africa, the Middle East and Asia, by the time we got to America, we were already tired and hungry.  On our next visit, I think we’ll start in Europe and North America with popular, contemporary music, then work our way back through time.

6. Don’t miss the special galleries. No matter where you start your tour of MIM, don’t forget the first floor galleries, including a “hands-on” experience gallery where you can pound on drums and pluck harp strings; a rotating gallery featuring a famous musical artist’s life and work; and a special exhibition gallery for traveling exhibits.

7. Watch instruments being restored and preserved. In the conservation lab, visitors can watch through a window as technicians preserve, restore and repair instruments for display.

8. Check the concert calendar. Because we visited during the Christmas season, the calendar included holiday music. These evening and matinee performances are fee extra, but well worth consideration. For example, Grammy winning composer-songwriter Jimmy Webb is in the house this week.

9. Consider leaving the toddlers at Grandma’s house. Although there are several instruments children can try playing in the Experience Gallery, most exhibits would simply not appeal to children younger than elementary reading age. I think most toddlers would simply be bored by visiting MIM. I’d recommend bringing them along when they are old enough to appreciate the listening and learning about music.

10. Know at least one more visit is required. Even after six hours, we still didn’t see it all, but we acknowledged that with the traveling and rotating exhibits, some instruments being repaired, there was no possible way to see everything. Just knowing that the geographical galleries were still being filled and expanded prompted us to anticipate our next visit to the Music Instrument Museum.  There’s so much happening here, you’ll want to sign up for its newsletter and announcements, or even consider becoming a donor or volunteer.

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Cure winter blues with tropical vacation memories

Recent freezing mornings in Arizona prompted me to recall a January trip to Costa Rica. Just revisiting my photos from the trip brought back great memories and helped thaw out some winter blues. Here are some reasons we’ll be anxious to return:

Los Suenos Resort's gardens
Los Suenos Resort’s gardens

 

Views of the marina, Herradura Bay and Los Suenos Resort from The Hook Up Restaurant and Bar
Views of the marina, Herradura Bay and Los Suenos Resort from The Hook Up Restaurant and Bar

 

Many species of birds like this egret are common sights at Los Suenos
Many species of birds like this egret are common sights at Los Suenos

 

Manicured gardens and covered walkways in the Los Suenos Resort/Herradura area.
Manicured gardens and covered walkways in the Los Suenos Resort/Herradura area.

Spend a day or two at Marriott Los Suenos Resort

While the others in our vacation group we’re out on the La Iguana Golf Course, the rest of us enjoyed exploring the resort — its beautiful gardens, arbor-covered walkways, creeks and canals, expansive pool area and marina. Tip: It’s an easy stroll to the marina village. Consider a leisurely lunch at the nearby sports pub, The Hook Up, overlooking the Herradura Bay and marina. This luxurious resort has all the finest points of superior lodging. But for the room rates, we’d expect to be on a nicer beach property. Nearby to Jaco, and other Costa Rica resort towns, the resort makes a nice option for a fine dinner, spa treatment or shopping venue.

One of the best Costa Rica vacation memories -- the wonderful coffee
One of the best Costa Rica vacation memories — the wonderful coffee

Visit Cafe Milagro in Manuel Antonio

While in Costa Rica, we enjoyed Cafe Britt coffee also, as that seemed to be found everywhere, and we brought some of it back with us. But we had a special memory of eating a delicious breakfast and sipping some the best coffee I’ve ever tasted at the Cafe Milagro restaurant on the morning before our trip to the Manuel Antonio National Park. Once back in Arizona we were pleased to know it was easy to order this coffee online — both brands. There’s no better way to bring back tropical vacation trip memories and fend off chilly Arizona mornings than a cup of great Costa Rica coffee.

Warm waters throughout the winter -- Manuel Antonio beach
Warm waters throughout the winter — Manuel Antonio beach

Water temperature = 83 degrees

While my swimming pool is probably 40 degrees or so, I can’t help but think about the warm waters in Costa Rica. Checking online for water temperature reports I found a great surfing info website. It gives me a great sense of warmth just knowing that somewhere there’s a destination within a five-hour flight with beautiful beaches — a lush tropical paradise with a seemingly endless amount of activities stretching across one’s imagination of vacation dreams. Sorting through Costa Rica vacation photos is great way to cure the winter doldrums — even in sunny Arizona.

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Checking in? Consider these items before your next hotel stay

Hotel Room Key Atop the Bed

We’ve all been there. Here’s the scenario: You’ve just completed your hotel front check in and you’re on the way up the elevator to your room. You suddenly think, “I wish I had asked about _____________.” You make a mental note, thinking you’ll go back to the front desk later, but after you get settled and start your vacation, later never comes and that question you had falls to the least important thing in your memory.

I’ve been jotting down some of those common concerns and questions many of us have wanted to ask before, during or immediately after we check in, but the vacation excitement of ‘first night syndrome’ takes over. To seasoned business travelers, these issues may be automatic but to the typical family vacationer who travels a couple of times a year — not so much. So here are some common items to consider when you check in:

1. Ask about the room itself. What’s the view like from your window? Which direction does it face? What floor is this on? Am I near an elevator, ice or vending machines, housekeeping closet or stairwell? Does my room overlook the roof air conditioning system? Does the room look out to a back alley or parking garage? If you’re concerned about noise or views, obtain or ask to see a hotel property map or room layout before the front desk staff runs your key cards. Many clerks usually will provide a map once you’ve completed registration, but not always. If there’s any doubt, ask to see the room first before you make your decision. A website and mobile app called Room 77 allows users to see the views from popular hotels in select U.S. cities. Think of it as a sort of a Seat Guru for hotels.

2. Ask about the property’s activities. Are there any construction projects happening during your stay? Are all restaurants, shops, services open and operating? Are there any major events occurring the same time – such as conventions, large weddings, etc.

3. Find out about extra fees and local tax rates. Are there daily resort charges? You’ll want to ask about daily parking fees, Wi-Fi or Internet charges, phone call charges and convenience charges for items such as bottled water, snacks and newspapers. Are there early departure fees? (Here’s an interesting item about resort fees.)

4. Special requests usually are made at the time of your reservation.  A day or two before my arrival date, I normally will call directly to the hotel property and confirm my reservation. At that time I will also verify they have received any special requests I have made.  Often special requests made on a website booking or through a toll-free number tend to get ‘lost in the shuffle.’ Popular special requests include room upgrades, connecting rooms, bed types, smoking preference, ADA access, views, specific phase, wing, room or floor location, early check in or late checkout. (At most hotels, bed type and room access usually are standard room rate preferences. Also, an increasing number of hotel chains are now smoke-free.)  Obviously, a good time to request an early check in is at the time of reservation, with a follow-up when you call ahead to confirm your reservation. But if you want to make a special request such as a late check out, and haven’t done so during your reservation, feel free to do it at check in. And it’s best not to overdo the special requests. If you make too many, they may not honor any of them.

5. Room discounts probably should have been a choice when you’ve made your reservation but in case you forgot, it can’t hurt to mention your eligibility for an automobile club, rewards points membership, travel credit card, professional affiliation or senior, government or military discount at check in.

6. Here’s some additional miscellaneous considerations:

  • Check out time
  • Wi-Fi passwords or computer access instructions
  • Special dining features (such as free breakfast buffet or continental breakfast), deals or discounts at gift shops or on entertainment (especially in Las Vegas)
  • Express check out procedures
  • Pet policies
  • Public transportation options such as buses, shuttles, taxis, rental cars
  • Luggage assistance

This list of hotel check in questions includes only what I have jotted down from my travels in the past couple of years, so I’m sure there are many other items to consider. Readers: I’d like to know your tips. What do you want to know about at a hotel check in?

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Holiday hiking at San Tan Mountain Regional Park

Chilly New Year's Day hike at San Tan Regional Park

Chilly New Year’s Day hike at San Tan Regional Park

Day hiking on holidays has become a sort of tradition for AzGetawayTravel. For the past several years, on Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas Day or New Year’s Day, we have plotted out a hike for a short two to three hour outing. Last year on New Year’s Day, we took a loop section of the National, Pima Wash and Mormon Loop Trails on South Mountain.  This year, we made a loop at San Tan Mountain Regional Park.

In past years at San Tan Park, we normally would hike to the top of the Goldmine Mountain, to see wonderful views of the Southeast Valley. The park is a popular destination on holidays. On one Easter Day hike a couple of years ago, a group of hikers had placed Easter eggs along the trail for their family members to find.  Some of the steeper trails have a few patches of slippery gravel and steep sections but nothing too difficult for novice hikers or even those recovering from too much Thanksgiving turkey or Christmas eggnog.

This time we decided to keep it simple, and start out ‘Day One’ with ease — taking a rolling stretch of trail along the Moonlight, San Tan and Hedgehog Trails, creating a five-mile loop. Fortunately we climbed up away from the sandy washes of the park and circled around a hill, allowing for more scenic walking. This loop appeared to be very popular other park visitors, because it was heavily used by all — mountain bikers, families with small children and dog walkers. It’s a great destination for your out-of-town guests.

San Tan Regional Park has a wide variety of events coming up in January – there’s something for everyone in the family: archery, photography, birding, stargazing, lunch with the snakes. (Wait a minute… lunch with what?) Just check out the website for more information. And while you’re on the website, take a closer look at the Maricopa Trail, a network of trails and canal paths connecting communities throughout the county. When this is finished it will link all 10 Maricopa County regional parks. You’ll be able to literally walk, run or bike around the entire county! Learn more and see the maps on the Maricopa County parks website.

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San Tan Mountain Regional Park trail hikes and outdoor events are perfect for family outings

San Tan Mountain Regional Park trail hikes and outdoor events are perfect for family outings

 

Wide range of views from Goldmine Mountain at San Tan Park

Wide range of views from Goldmine Mountain at San Tan Park

Spring produces hedgehog cactus blooms along San Tan Park trails

Spring produces hedgehog cactus blooms along San Tan Park trails