John L

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John L

John L

USA

Working in China, exploring Asia

Feb162015

Tour/Activity

Tokyo Studio Ghibli Museum Afternoon Tour

Tokyo, Japan

My Rating
3 star rating: Worth doing

My Review

I am an Anime fan but not a big Ghibli Studio fan. My children both love all their films and we wanted to give them a kid-centric tour. They loved it, the Museum is small, great for kids, and centered around showing them how the films are made, ideas created, and process of animation making. The best part is the special exhibit and the short movie theater screening. On the roof walk behind the robot statue to find the hidden path to the bamboo garden and rock garden behind it! Both of my children loved the large cat bus to climb on and play with, there is a line and there are rule so do help them out as the guides speak little to no English. Again the museum is small, 3 floors, with lots of smaller rooms and places for kids to explore and see. Its good for grown ups too, the bigger the fan of the movies you are the better it will be. No Photos inside, they are strict about this. Our guide was excellent and the tour well organized we met at a hotel, walked to the subway station, got on 1 train, transferred to another, hopped on the Ghibli themed bus, arrived at the museum. Pay attention to times as the theater lines are long and the museum closes early, make sure to see the short film! Nobody from our group got lost. If you want to stay longer you can but getting back to Tokyo on your own at night will be an adventure as this is a small suburb! We loved it, but for grown ups it gets tiring after a while. There is a food court and outdoor area we saw most of the grown ups at but decided to stay with the kids and have fun with them, better memories that way.

My Photos

  • Ghibli at dusk
  • Welcome
  • Ticket Counter Totoro
  • Bus from subway station to museum

Feb152015

Tour/Activity

Tokyo Morning Tour: Meiji Shrine, Senso-ji Temple and Ginza Shopping District

Tokyo, Japan

My Rating
5 star rating: Highly Recommended

My Review

Our tour guide, May, was very informative and anticipated the groups needs with interesting facts and history for the sites we visited as well as information about Tokyo between sites. We had a hotel pick-up which was very convenient and a must as the bus station where the tour "starts" is hard to find and get to the right area where the tours leave from. We visited the sites as advertised, Shinto, Imperial gardens, and lastly the Buddhist temple. We did a half day tour and they dropped us off at the shopping district not too far from the National Kabuki Theater (a must see!).

We learned the major differences between Shinto and Buddhism as well as the Imperial system and how the Shogun era impacted Japan and its culture. The shrines were actually not much to see in themselves but we saw 2 wedding parties, a Shinto monk procession, and the ceremony of tolling the shrine bells. The Imperial gardens were nice and a great break from the concrete and glass of Tokyo. The Buddhist temple was interesting but extremely crowded. A lot of excellent shops and stalls on the main street and there are people walking around in actual kimonos and period dress (men and women). Get some of the snacks and small objects here as they are much easier to find, but no bargaining as in other Asian cities.

We took our 2 small children, 5 and 8, and they kept up and managed the entire half day tour easily. Plenty of photo opportunities every where on this tour, even on the bus as you will go past the Tokyo Tower and the Sky Tree. Take some spending money for Buddhist Temple area. Take advantage of the hotel pickup. If you do the half day tour, there are restaurants close to the drop off point. Make your way back to the National Kabuki Theater and Sony Showroom for sure. Shows are short and very interesting but kids have to be quiet and no photos. Great cultural and photogenic tour of Tokyo!

My Photos

  • Buddhist Temple
  • Garden gate from inside the entrance
  • Famous corner of the Imperial garden
  • Walls and trees
  • One of the marriages we saw at the shrine
  • Shinto Monk Procession
  • More empty Saki barrels
  • Shinto Shrine Saki display

Feb142015

Tour/Activity

Tokyo Robot Evening Cabaret Show

Tokyo, Japan

My Rating
4 star rating: Recommended

My Review

I had read all the reviews and looked for all the pitfalls and only found a few. First off, this is an AMAZING experience. So cheesy at times its excellent, at others its honestly incredible. It's loud, but your ears aren't ringing like after a concert, show time is about right though intermissions are on the long side, few interactions with the crowd but still fun.

You can take pictures but no flash, must have a really good camera to pull off usable shots. Communication equipment requires you to put phone in airplane mode so crew and performers can communicate. Costumes are family safe and not risque at all. Not too scary for 5 year olds but the crowd can get rowdy after a few intermissions from the beer girls. The whole family had a great time. Skip the food package and eat before hand, plenty or restaurants in the immediate area.

The place is easy to find, Google Maps got us there no problem from main street where the taxi dropped us off. Look for the DVD store sign and other's photos and finding it won't be a problem. You MUST get tickets from the counter, even if you have your voucher. Check in and get in line for your tickets and drink coupons. The house band is great and the waiting room is so over the top its fun. Expert tip - Get there 1 hour to 45 min before meetup time, have dinner in the area, go to the ticket area with voucher and check in after words, get a table next to the bar or head there before they announce the show is open, you go downstairs from behind the bar. Sitting on the back row gives best view for photos as space is tight. Snacks are reasonably priced.

My Photos

  • Opening Drum beats
  • The show is about to begin
  • Drink and snack girls
  • Live band entertaining between shows
  • 3rd Floor Lounge area
  • View of front of building, entrance is arond the corner
  • Robot Restaurant Building front

Oct032014

Tour/Activity

Skip the Line: Crypts and Roman Catacombs Small Group Walking Tour

Rome, Italy

My Rating
3 star rating: Worth doing

My Review

The tour was fairly long and there is climbing involved and some bus rides. Big item to know, cameras are not allowed during the actual catacomb tours and if they were it is quite dark and they would not come out well. The tour is more for information on early Christian burial rites and conditions they had to go through. The history is fairly good to learn and our guides had great insights into details that made it all come together. We did have to wait around 15 minutes which threw off the remainder of the tour, making our last stop rushed and they were closing as we walked out the door, making gift shop buying rushed. We visited 3 sites, the actual Catacombs first, St Clemente (not really a catacomb) and the Cappuccini monastery which is where the bizarre bone art and displays are, not recommended for younger people or those squeamish at seeing actual bones of people on display. We enjoyed the tour and learned quite a bit but it was not as initially expected. For those believing this will be similar to the Paris catacombs it is not, outside of the last location you are seeing holes in walls at learning what occurred during the burial rites of the first Christians.

Our guides were professional, knowledgeable, and well organized. We did run into a problem at the first start where our tour was clashing with a group of nuns and we had to wait for them as the management sorted out the situation. Unfortunately this led to rushing through the remainder of the sites. St Clemente is not a catacomb per say but was a great site seeing the multiple levels and history of its site and name sake. I would recommend seeing this cathedral on its own separately as there are many things there to get more information on. The tour was worth while and I was happy to have taken it as was my wife, not Christian, who learned quite a bit and has a much better understanding after it.

My Photos

  • Cappuccini monastery
  • St Clemente Basilica entrance
  • A view of the Catacomb site from the parking lot

Oct022014

Tour/Activity

Rome to Pompeii Shuttle Bus & Independent Day Trip

Rome, Italy

My Rating
3 star rating: Worth doing

My Review

A good visit and amazing site but a long bus ride from Rome and not much time during rest stops. We got the upgraded guided tour and are very happy with that as Pompeii is vast and the maps available are poor at best. The rest stops the bus makes offer about enough time to have a restroom break and buy some water, nothing more. Pack a lunch and snack BEFORE you go. There is a canteen in the site but it is crowded and can run out of food. There isn't enough time to purchase food or snacks during the bus stops and before the tour begins at the drop off point.

The tour itself was fantastic and very informative and reviewing the ruins and explaining what they know about life in early Pompeii and Naples. A lot of the artifacts and bodies have been removed and are in the museum in Naples for preservation, just a few items actually on-site. A few of the buildings are in a restored state and much of the site is just ruins of foundation outlines. The best portion was the free time after the tour where we found the theater, a must see, and the southeastern side of the city. One word of caution. There are 2 exits, know which one your bus will pick you up at and get confirmation of this on the way there as the 2 exits are a good 8-10 minute walk from each other and bus schedules are very tight! The guided tour was worth it but not having enough time to get food at our bus stop and supplies made it a bit frustrating as did going to the wrong exit and almost missing our bus back to Rome.

My Photos

  • Pompeii Forum
  • Pompeii Amputheater
  • Famous  and quot;Beware of Dog and quot; mosaic
  • Mount Vesuvius

Oct012014

Tour/Activity

Papal Audience Tickets and Presentation

Rome, Italy

My Rating
5 star rating: Highly Recommended

My Review

For the faithful and religious this is a must see if you are in Rome on Wednesday. Check the web to see if the Pope is in town during your visit and if the tour times match your availability. I read some reviews complaining about the price, seats, and initial part of the experience. Yes, the tickets are free, you can get them on your own but it is a process and requires a lot of pre planning and some running around the day before, Tuesday. The price was well worth the saved efforts as we were on tours the Tuesday needed to get the tickets, and dealing with the church embassies to request the tickets in the first place. Yes, if you can get tickets on your own, and get in line at 6:30am exactly you will be able to get better seats and if you know the route of the Pope Mobile through St Peter's Square you can get there too, again this requires a lot of hassle and time to do which we didn't have time for. Our guide was very informative, funny, and helpful. She got us good seats with a decent view and I was able to get a frame filling picture of the Pope Francis from his Pope Mobile and a 200mm lens. In the summer this will be a very very hot visit. In October it was still hot but not too bad. Security check was not too bad but you MUST go to the bathroom prior to getting inside as the line inside are too long and far from the seats, it took my wife 35 min to go and get back and she almost missed the beginning. I was happy with the tour as I was able to plan the rest of our Rome tours into this without worrying about getting into lines or on waiting lists at the American Catholic church site on Tuesday and avoiding the mad dash for seats when the square is opened. It is general admission and there are no seat reservations for anyone, except the area for married couples.

Sep302014

Tour/Activity

Vatican VIP Experience: Exclusive Breakfast at the Vatican with Early Access to Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel

Rome, Italy

My Rating
5 star rating: Highly Recommended

My Review

This was an excellent and our favorite tour while in Rome for a week. It was well worth the early morning and taxi ride to the meetup area. Our tour started at the bottom of the steps from where the taxi dropped us off. There were 2 groups at this time but it never seemed crowded or rushed during the breakfast portion. You have to go through security at the Vatican so be aware and keep metal items in your bags to speed things along. The breakfast was lite but ample and filling. The espresso was excellent and spending sunrise in the garden, watching the sun illuminate the gardens was spectacular.

The tour itself was excellent but a bit rushed. By the time we got to the tapestries other tour groups were rushing past ours. We got to see many fine art works from sculptures, tapestries, and paintings to the famous frescoes and freezes of the Vatican Museum. For most of the tour cameras are fine, just no flash, but remember NO CAMERAS in the Sistine Chapel! We witnessed a kid trying to be sly and sneak a picture and the guards quickly rush him and make him show them the pictures and delete them off the camera. They never touched him or took his property but they were forceful and diligent in enforcing the policy so please head it. There are plenty of postcards and books with professional photos of the frescoes available.

Our tour ended in St Peter's Basilica which was amazing. Our guide explained the major parts of the Chapels inside the basilica and highlighted recommended places to visit after the tour. Unfortunately it was very crowded at this time and my wife got separated near the middle of the basilica part of the tour. The tour guide did what she could short of stopping the tour and searching for her (another couple got lost as well and were with her). We found them at the entrance/exit area and their headphones all were broken so they could not hear our guide calling for them. The end of the tour is really crowded so please pay attention.

Sep302014

Tour/Activity

Ghost and Mystery Walking Tour of Rome

Rome, Italy

My Rating
3 star rating: Worth doing

My Review

While I was expecting something different based on the title of the tour I am happy we took it. You aren't visiting any supposed haunted or supernatural sites, besides the old bridge near the middle of the tour. Our tour guide was very enthusiastic and covered the history of each site we visited (5 locations only). This is a walking tour and the pace was quite quick. The sidewalks in Rome are narrow or non existent so be careful at night is some of the areas. We learned a lot on the tour, namely the small overlooked details of early Roman life and some of its infamous citizens never mentioned in history books. I think the tour was good and worth taking but I was expecting something different given the title. Still it was very educational and fun to learn about some of the politics and lives of early residents and how their lives shaped and impacted history.

Sep292014

Tour/Activity

Skip the Line: Ancient Rome and Colosseum Half-Day Walking Tour

Rome, Italy

My Rating
5 star rating: Highly Recommended

My Review

This was a very good and informative tour for out first day in Rome. One item I found perfect for this and all following tours were the personal headphone receivers to hear the tour guide directly. Getting to the meet-up point was easy. The tour starts in the old Roman Forum area and you get a very good tour of the area including the old temples, Forum area, and Circus Maximous area so no need to go to these areas in a different tour is needed. We visited the Colosseum last and spent the end of the tour there. We added the upgrade of the lower and upper levels and this is a must, otherwise the tour will be short and you will not get the full sense of the size and scope of the building. Our guide was very informative, run by City Tours, and provided a lot of information on each sites, ruin, and area we visited. The pace was good but if you have issues with hills or steps please note there are a lot on this tour. The elevator in the Colosseum is limited and saves you just a few steps overall. This is a must do tour when going to Rome.

Aug232012

Tour/Activity

Singapore Duck Tour: Captain Explorer DUKW®

Singapore, Singapore

My Rating
3 star rating: Worth doing

My Review

This is my scond "duck" tour in Singapore. Last time we did a walk up ticket and this time I wanted to skip the lines. As the tour day varied and no times were given I mistakenly believed you could join any tour in progress. You MUST call the day before and state the time you want to go, I suggest before lunch and afternoon showers. Besides the timing issue the tour was fun and covered the downtown square and major sites well, the bay and surrounding areas was good as well. My 2 year old had a good time but Duck Tour people did not try to rearrange the group so we could sit together, we sat across from each other but this was fine for me, if not for you you will have to speak up and demand this before the tour begins. Good photos and my daughter had fun so it was well worth it.

My Photos

  • Duck Tour meeting spot

Aug222012

Tour/Activity

Singapore Jurong Bird Park Tour

Singapore, Singapore

My Rating
3 star rating: Worth doing

My Review

Jurong Bird Park was fun and a great experience for my 2 year old. Not much time for exploring on 1/2 day tour, just tram ride, 2 shows and 10 min to get souvenirs. A/C tram was under repairs, I wish this would have been advertised. Park is clean, friendly staff, not too crowded. Shows are entertaining and educational. Did not get time to eat at the park, drinks and snacks are available. Man made waterfall is not much more than a photo op, just a few birds to be seen. Birds of Pray and Bird Buddies shows are the best for kids. The bus ride is about 40 min so entertainment for younger kids is a must as is a bathroom break BEFORE getting on the bus.

Aug212012

Tour/Activity

Singapore Zoo Breakfast with Orangutans

Singapore, Singapore

My Rating
4 star rating: Recommended

My Review

This was my 2nd trip to the zoo and 2nd breakfast. My daughter enjoyed seeing the orangutans and has talked about it for a week after, a long time for a 2 year old. We skiped the tram ride at first to see the apes and other animals more which was good for us. As you get unlimited tram access we got picked up after the African big cats and got off to see the white tigers. It was a bit difficult to manage the tight time lines but it worked out fine, you do have option to take taxi back for around $30SD. Park is clean, excellent staff, construction for new Panda exhibit sounds fun when completed. For younger kids breakfast tour is great, older kids a whole day is needed, there is a kids park inside. My only issue was with pickup service, had to call as driver was 30 min late in arriving. Bus ride is around 30 min so some entertainment for younger kids is advised as is bathroom break before getting on the bus.

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