Archive for the ‘Reports and Reviews’ Category

Have you been to Busch Gardens Christmas Town?

December 8, 2011

Christmas Town: A Busch Gardens Celebration – Williamsburg Va.

Busch Gardens decks out its park holiday splendor for the annual offering of Christmas Town. Now through December 31, the popular park is illuminated with more than two million twinkling lights.

Check out the shows, holiday treats, Santa’s workshop, live penguins, and the park’s 50-foot tall, light-animated Christmas tree.   Sure, it’s a little over the top, but is it ever fun!  And the lights at night are magical.  Not all of the rides will be operating, but many will be. Don’t miss taking a ride on the train because that is really special.

Now for the shows.  One tactic might be to try and see the shows when the park opens, while it is still light. Because you will want to walk around a lot when it gets dark.

I’m going to give you fair warning about one of the shows: “Rejoice” in Ireland.  It’s singing monks. In sparkly robes. They are good singers and everything but I am going to go out on a limb here and say it is delightfully ludicrous.  I was terribly entertained by it but I had to stifle my amusement because most of the audience apparently thinks this is really moving, emotional stuff.  And it is — but it also has a highly cheesy element to it.  So maybe don’t drink before “Rejoice” if you think sober singing monks walking in formation in silver lame is funny or you might get some hard stares if you collapse into giggles, like I almost did (and I was not under the influence).

Also please note, it gets REALLY dark in the park after dark.  It is easy to lose track of kids so illuminate them if you can: I bought a sparkly Christmas necklace and that did the job.  If (like me) you have a hard time seeing in the dark, just allow yourself plenty of time to navigate out of the park when it’s time to go.  My son had to help me out!

There’s LOTS to eat.  It’s like going to the fair, but in the cold.  There are “sit down” meals but I think it’s more fun to buy from the sidewalk vendors.  We liked the grilled bratwurst in Germany and the wassail in Italy.  The bakery treats were lots of fun to see.

You don’t even need a car. You can take the train from DC or Alexandria to Williamsburg, cross the street to the visitor center, and hop on the free the shuttle bus to Busch Gardens.  It takes you there in minutes.

Admission is $23.99.  Call 800-343-7946 or visit for more information, including a complete operating schedule.


Christmas Radio! WASH-FM 97.1 starts holiday programming

November 18, 2011

Photo; Orjan F. Ellingvag/ POOL

Ready for your holiday sound track for baking cookies, shopping, or just feeling seasonal?  WASH-FM 97.1 starts their holiday music programming today.  You can also listen online.

What are your favorite Christmas pop songs?


Cool Yule Bargain Alert: 1/2 Price Colorful Trees at Sam’s Farm

December 8, 2010

My new pink Christmas tree

I dropped by Sam’s Farm in Falls Church, Virginia on Leesburg Pike (address at the end of this post) and was impressed by the beautiful decorations and trees they had there, at very good prices, too.

Half-off all artificial Christmas trees and artificial garlands

Even though I have a lot of Christmas decorations, I could not resist this pink tree for my bedroom. My bedspread has pink dots on it (imagine a Barbie bedroom and you would not be far off) and this tree will be perfect. The price was perfect, too. All the artificial trees are marked down half-price. So I got to take home this $25 tree for only $12.50, plus tax. They had some beautiful shades, including silver, gold, platinum, white, pear and lime green, purple, and soft blue.

Poinsettias a very good value

Not on sale but a very good value were the most beautiful and healthy looking poinsettia plants I have ever seen. I have my eye on one that is a soft rose coral color. It was immense and only $19.99. They had a range of prices for the poinsettias (some larger, some smaller).

Wreaths, Greenery, and Real Trees

I was also impressed with the artistry of the decorated wreaths, garlands, and centerpieces. They were exquisite, with fresh greens bedecked with magnolia leaves, floral picks and ornanments, lights in some cases, and lots of ribbons. Gorgeous! They were not on sale, but for the work and detail in these items, I thought they were quite a good value. They would be just the thing if you are entertaining, or if you have an office or restaurant and want to really impress your visitors.

Stop by Sam’s Farm, and tell them “Cool Yule” sent you 🙂 From Route 7/Leesburg Pike (east bound from Tysons), it’s a quick right turn right before Shreve Road (where the McDonald’s is). It’s directly across the street from George Mason High School. Here is the address

Sam’s Farm

7129 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22043

phone (703) 534-5292

Cool Yule Shopping Review: Colonial Williamsburg

November 29, 2009

Christmas ornament at The Santa Mouse

Williamsburg is a three-and-1/2 hour drive from the Washington, DC area — and 95 South is never any fun until you pass Fredericksburg — but it may be worth a visit for you if you are in the mood to mix holiday shopping with historic sightseeing.   I just spent the Thanksgiving holiday with my mom in Colonial Williamsburg and Jamestown and we discovered lots of treasures in the local shops, in addition to wonderful dining and sightseeing.  Best of all, everyone was amazingly friendly to us.

On Thanksgiving night, The Christmas Mouse was open and we explored two floors of decorated trees and walls of ornaments.  The prices were reasonable, and the staff was helpful. Some ladies were visiting from Canada (where the dollar is stronger) and were buying out the store.  I found a sparkly green sea horse ornament for my tree, and mom took home a bevy of ballerina ornaments for her ballet buddies.

Christmas Mouse

Decorated trees at The Christmas Mouse

Mom making her purchases at The Christmas Mouse

There is all kinds of great shopping in the Colonial Williamsburg area.  One of the best Christmas music compilation CDs I have seen is available at Everything Williamsburg for $14.95.  I also liked their seasonal soap set ($12 for a set, $2 for each small bar) in scents like orange and clove, fig pudding, and pomegranate.

Saturday Morning Farmer’s Market

Check out the outdoor farmer’s market on Saturday morning in Merchant’s Square (adjacent to the historic section of Colonial Williamsburg).  Vendors offered everything fro holiday greenery, fresh goat cheese, Greek pastries, honey products, and handmade gingerbread houses.

Gingerbread houses for sale at the Farmer's Market in Williamsburg

Mom checks out the greenery for sale

Wreaths incorporated elements such as pineapples, pomegranates, red peppers, magnolia leaves, and even cotton bolls

Binns of Williamsburg, a local fashion boutique, presented a beautiful selection of gifts at their outdoor display at the open-air market, including Faberge-style Christmas ornaments (about $36 each), wooden German pyramids (the kind that are candle-powered), and Christmas candies.  The display reminded me of a Christkindl Market from Germany.

Binns of Williamsburg outdoor display

German pyramids at Binns of Williamsburg

Faberge-style egg ornaments

A Christmas Carol

If you go, try to catch one of the free, street performances of “A Christmas Carol” presented by two gentlemen from Virginia Theater Machine.   It’s only 17 minutes long and it’s hilarious!


Cool Yule Shopping Review: Fair Oaks Mall

November 25, 2009

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again. I’m incredibly glad that for once I followed my own advice and got my shopping done before Black Friday.

Last night, which was the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, William and I went to Fair Oaks Mall in Fairfax, Virginia.  Fair Oaks is one of my favorite malls, if not my all-time favorite.  This is what we found at the mall last night.  Tremendously organized and well-stocked stores.  Extremely helpful and gung-ho sales people.  No lines to wait in at the cash register or in the restaurants.  A very short line for Santa.  Parking a-plenty.  Even some sales!

Christmas Decorations

The Christmas decor in the mall is the same as it has been for a few years now; life-sized stuffed animals, white lights, and red poinsettias.

In the center of the mall, there is the big snow globe and a very small Santa’s court, with a Polar Express-The Movie theme.  We went through just to get snowed on.  Did we ever.  We were covered with tiny white plastic flakes.  I would not say that was a magical experience, however.  Just a little bit fun.  It could have been, but it was pretty commercial.  It didn’t really say “Christmas” to me.  It didn’t make me go aww! or catch my breath.  You know, back in the day, Santa lands were set apart from the shopping areas in their own little environments.  That’s part of what made it magical; you really felt like you were entering a little fantasy land.  That element was missing from this open style set-up.  You could clearly see stores, and the elevators, and shoppers all around you.  But I think the Polar Express decor also contributed to the plastic and less than magic feel.


We found some great deals at JCPenney (which is where I buy more than half my clothes, but we bought something for someone else, I can’t say who, or she might guess what she is getting!).  So we knocked one person off the list.

The Corner Bakery

Then we had a quick dinner at Maggiano’s Corner Bakery Cafe on the second level of the mall.  It’s one of the better and more affordable dining options at the mall. Our dinner came to just over $10 for both us.  I like it because I can get half a hot reuben sandwich and tomato soup.  William had the plain turkey sandwich.  Let me just say that this is the second time I have had the same cashier and he was, as then, super-nice, especially because I always need help deciding what to get, and he never has become impatient with me.  Do they ever do customer-service right there.  We were happy campers.

Bath and Body Works

Then we headed to Bath and Body Works, on the first level, and that really gets five stars for customer service and selection.  Bath and Body Works is always a Christmas shopping destination because it is the gift that fits everyone and is non-fattening 🙂  Everybody loves Bath and Body Works.  Well, the store looked beautiful.  The sales people were incredibly helpful and upbeat.  One gentleman working there made some excellent suggestions for two people on my list who are not easy to buy for, and I got my shopping done pretty quickly.  Still, I had to browse a bit.  This year, they had sparkly lotion in tubes for $5, including my favorite scent of warm brown sugar.  One year, I got everybody sparkly body lotion, not realizing that no one I know actually likes their skin to sparkle — except myself.  I am all about the glitter.  So, I bought this $5 Christmas present for myself and I couldn’t be happier.

The selection was terrific.  Bath and Body Works had pre-packaged gifts for $10, $15, $20, and more.  I did not see a whole lot over $30.  I recommend the lip glosses.  I use the lime one myself and they are yummy and they really add a nice shine and dimension to your regular lipstick color.   This year they are adding them to some $15 gift sets, including shower gel, lotion and fragrance, which is a real bargain because ordinarily just the lip gloss retails for $7.  So snap those up!  They also had stocking-stuffers: 3 for $10 bath products and fragrances and $1 hand sanitizer.  You know you can never have too much hand-sanitizer while flu is going around.  This is one recession-friendly place.  I really think, in comparison to last year, there were more bargains to be had, and nicer packaging.  So, if you have women to buy for (and men, too), this place is defintely worth a stop.

A quick look at Macy’s and XXI

We peeked in Macy’s, not to buy anything, but just to look around.  Just to compare, a nice gentleman there tried to sell me on the Dolce Gabbana new rose scented gift scents ($70 an $90).  Designer status aside, your money could go a lot farther at Bath and Body Works.  I politely passed. The clothes that I saw were nice, however.  Just out of my budget.

With its flashy window decorations and chandeliers, William and I couldn’t resist peeking inside the 2-story XXI.  It’s a fashion store really geared to teenagers and young 20-somethings.  I was surprised that they had a lot of youthful but affordable accessories, like fashion rings and bracelets, some under $5.  I also saw a pewter, lurex, tiered-style, racerback, sleeveless camisole that would look great at a club or party, maybe even over a tissue-weight white or black t-shirt with some skinny jeans, that retailed for only $19.90.  But it’s kind of a young look for me, given that I’m 44!  so I didn’t get it.  But as you can tell, my teenager heart wanted it 🙂

A Peek Inside Sephora

I wasn’t buying anything at Sephora, but  we walked in anyway, just to check it out.  I noticed that they had some very nice sets which would thrill anyone on your list who likes makeup.  Go in now and snap up the tiny Sephora compact for $15.  I would have bought it myself, except that the only person I could think of who really would love it was myself.  Since I already bought myself  the lotion, I passed.  But hey: the set is amazing. It has 8 or 10 tiny eye shadows in some fabulous colors, 4 tiny lip glosses, and what looks like a powder blush.  For $15, you can’t beat it. They also had some great little mascara and lip gloss duos.  My favorite set was in the back, and it was called “My First Makeup Kit.”  It had some small sizes of a lot of make up essentials that almost anyone would love.  They also had some other combination sets, including nice ones from Benefit (pricey but worth it – I recommend the concealer kit which has a sample size of their fabulous pink eye-depuffer, lemon-aid, and highlight beam)  And those mini nail polishes (Sephora brand) for $5 are a nice stocking stuffer, too.

A friendly young saleswoman was rocking a unique eye shadow look and I complimented her on it.  She said that at Sephora, they like to teach their customers how to do different makeup looks, and that she would be happy to show me how to get that look.  I passed, but sometime I will take them up on it.  She said usually they do one eye  and then coach you through how to do the other eye.  That sounds like fun to me.

Piccomolo Italian Ice Cream

By that time, we were ready for something refreshing so we walked to the Piccomolo Italian Ice Cream on the second floor (near Hot Topic).  You must check this out if you go to Fair Oaks Mall.  I’ve had their gelato before and it’s wonderful.  Get the small size; it’s huge, and they give you two flavors.  But this time I wanted to try their frozen yogurt.  I had it accessorized with fresh raspberries and it was plenty big for William and me to share for under $5.  Was it ever yummy!  Tangy and not too sweet, no fat, and really refreshing.

Cool Yule Shopping Review: Gatehouse Shop at Claude Moore Colonial Farm

November 25, 2009

Info: The Gate House Shop at Claude Moore Colonlal Farm at Turkey Run
6310 Georgetown Pike, McLean, VA 22101
Open Wednesday – Sunday, 10 am to 5 pm
(703) 442-7557

I’m a fan of the Claude Moore Colonial Farm at Turkey Run, which presents a farm as it might have appeared in 1771, complete with historic interpreters.

If you’re hoping to avoid mall crowds for your holiday shopping, check out this small gift shop, which is located on the farm premises (right next to the CIA).  William and I went to their Holiday Open House on Tuesday, November 17.

You’ll find an assortment of jewelry and ladies watches priced at $12 and up, enchanting, ornate enameled boxes priced at $15 and up, a selection of honey and preserves, hand-crafted soaps, and children’s toys.  The shop also sells some second-hand items and I found a Fitz and Floyd china Santa Claus ornament in perfect condition for $2.50.

Cool Yule Shopping Review: Tysons Galleria

November 23, 2009

This is the Santa beagle Santa gave William at Tysons Galleria

Today, William and I went to Tysons Galleria.  I had been obsessing over a pair of $2.95 long handled tongs I had seen at Sur La Table a few weeks ago.  I didn’t get them last time I was there for I don’t know what reason, then I burnt myself frying something or other and I thought “this wouldn’t have happened if I had just bought the doggone tongs.”  So, today being a rainy day and a good day for mall-walking, we set out.

Holiday Decor

I don’t normally shop at Tysons Galleria because it is way out of my budget.  I will say however that it makes for EXCELLENT window-shopping.  So, if you just want to walk around, and gasp a bit at the amazing fashions (and prices), I highly recommend it because there are no crowds, easy parking, and nice Christmas music playing.  It’s really quite relaxing.  I’m seriously contemplating going there to just hang out with a good book.  The Christmas decorations are stupendous, very modern and wild.  Kind of hard to describe — lots of snowflakes and mirror balls.   They also happen to have some equally wild glass pieces on display that kind of look at home with the Christmas decorations.  I would have taken a picture but the last time we took pictures at Tysons Galleria, we were chastised by security. They don’t allow cameras!

Santa Claus

We stopped to meet Santa who was holding court in this sparkly blue and snowflakey area.  Compared to Tysons or Fair Oaks,  subtle and tasteful decor.  Not to knock their Santas at all, they’re wonderful, it’s just the display areas are kind of out there at Tysons and Fair Oaks.  Maybe the kids love it, but I find the Santa areas at the other two malls a little overwhelming, think I would if I were a little tot, anyway.

Well, this Santa was the genuine article with real whiskers and everything.  I did the quiet explanation, and there was no one else there, so it was a good time for William to visit.  The assistant and Santa were very, very kind to my son.  He has a nice, low-key way about him that made my son relax.  He spent some time gently talking to him and drawing him out of his shyness.  William asked where the reindeer were and he seriously replied that they were on the roof.  A nice moment. Then Santa gave William a little stuffed Santa beagle.  I offered to pay the young lady for that, but they said it was a gift.  And they let us talk to him without having to buy the $21 photo package, and absolutely no pressure. Very sweet. I will remember that.

Window Shopping

So, go and check it out, especially after November 27 because then it’s supposed to snow inside the mall.   The window shopping is fun — Cartier, Betsey Johnson, Neiman Marcus, all kinds of designers.  And there are some affordable options, if you must buy something.  There is a Hallmark store.  It had a nice (and full) selection of holiday jingle bell necklaces and dainty little snowflake earrings and the like for the young and young and heart, as well as a lot of yummy looking treats in cellophane bags for about $5 each, in addition to some beautiful cards, ornaments and wrap and toys that played music when you pressed a button.

Where to Eat

We weren’t hungry today but if you get hungry, you can always go to Maggiano’s Corner Cafe Bakery, which is affordable, really the only affordable dining option at the mall, besides Starbucks.  They also have Cheesecake Factory, which I’m not wild about, and the Daily Grill, which sadly isn’t worth a visit at any price, including free, and I speak from personal experience (check out my reviews on Yelp).  Legal Seafood was good the last time I was there, but I haven’t been there in a while, because it also pricey.

Back to Sur La Table…

We got the tongs, by the way!  The folks at Sur La Table were quite friendly.  Nice selection of goods, including a melamine mixing bowl set for $30 that would probably come in handy around the holidays.  I have a set from Crate and Barrel I got a couple of years ago, but if you’re in the market for some nice bowls, might want to check it out.

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