Yelp communities around the country hosted a “Passport” week for its many members. Every day last week, Tampa Bay Yelpers were invited to explore a different place within Downtown St. Petersburg. I was especially excited—I love DTSP! Among the lucky victims of the Passport week were a couple restaurants, a bar, and even a cupcake shop.
Thankfully Yelp has its own page for members to review events rather than on the venue itself (lest reviews get skewed for all the freebies offered). And freebies they are! Besides all the Yelp-embossed items up for grabs, the Passport events included munchies, tours, and even free services or goodies. Besides the highlighted business, other companies such as photo booths, catering companies, and restaurants were invited to show off on the side.
Blech—I was only able to attend four of the eight events. (Due to limited spaces, not every event you RSVP for gets you in) Oh well—I had OTHER non-Yelp events every night I wasn’t Yelping it up bwahahaha.
ART IN ACTION
With Central Avenue’s growing arts district, it was almost a given two venues there would make the list.
On Wednesday, not only did Yelpers get to ogle the art within the Florida Craftsmen Galleries, but we also got to tour the studios on the second floor. The working artists up there were very welcoming and ready to talk about their choice of media. Melkshake and I lightly touched the stained glass works of Lee West, stroked Rebecca Skelton’s copper sculptures and chatted with Marie Gagne on her necklaces created from bicycle gears.
Back downstairs, my love of unique and quirky gifts could’ve walked off with half the items for sale. Bracelets made from license plates, purses from board games and lots of jewelry. I decided to be content with postcards imprinted with instructions for converting the postcard into mini airplanes.
A last minute cancellation allowed Shoes and me to attend Friday’s event at the Painting With Fire Studio. A handful of Yelpers sitting around a table covered in wire, glue, and shiny stones greeted us. Jewelry! My specialty. We were encouraged to create sea glass necklaces coiled in copper wires. In the side room, torches were firing full force as we were given metallic beads to coat with colored glass enamel.
In being an “experiencer” I’ve always battled with so-called “foodies” because I feel they limit themselves too much. I was glad the normally “foodie-oriented” Yelp decided to give us the experience of CREATING art instead of just the typical ingesting of food… and did I mention we got to create the jewelry we created?
Partner Shoes and I exchanged the jewelry we created. Awww we’re so corny (But I’ll treasure it forever)
ALL BLACK AND WHITE
For Sunday’s “Black and White Ball” (held outdoors at the schmancy Vinoy Renaissance Hotel) my party arrived very late. With no more cocktails or food left, there wasn’t much to enjoy at the event… except get jealous at the streams of people floating by enjoying the outdoors. We couldn’t waste our B&W costumes! Time for a little modeling! Plus the inside of the Vinoy is great for picture taking.
AND FINALLY WE RESTED
The last event on Monday took place at Pia’s Esthetics Spa. (A Spa? I’ve never been before!) where my sis Angie and I had our first manicure ever. Other attendees also had the option of getting their eyebrows waxed or even tinted (I didn’t know that was possible). Of course there was a little more dawdling time here because there were only so many spa staff to handle each “appointment.” Luckily enough snacks and sangria kept us occupied.
My nail technician was very sweet and painted my fingernails with a nice gray gel. I also received a little nail care swag. I love the results! I think I’m inspired to continue keeping my nails nice.
Thank you Brett and the Yelp team for once again delivering some great experiences for this little blogger. I really enjoyed these events because they weren’t the typical food-centered affairs. Here’s to one of my favorite Florida places– Downtown St. Pete! (creaming Tampa)
My eyes are opened (or shut in fear) to the crazy, scary Halloween fun I can find… in my neighborhood!
I’m not talking about crazy and scary as in that neighbor who can’t drive or even true haunted houses involving grudges of deceased residents.
I’ve only read about the “homemade” haunted houses in St. Petersburg, FL, but I’m no stranger to these things. I’ve had my share of the sardine-packed crowds at Howl-O-Scream or Halloween Horror Nights (at Busch Gardens and Universal Studios respectively). With Mr. “Shoes” unable to attend my past Halloween excursions this year due to travels yet finally returning to the Tampa Bay area last October 31, I wanted him (and me) to get a new Halloween experience we wouldn’t forget.
REVIEW OF HELLVIEW CEMETERY AND THE RADLEY ORPHANAGE
Don’t run over the trick-or-treaters! That night, the surrounding neighborhoods were saturated with costumed people taking advantage of the plentiful houses with short driveways. I saw lots of houses—were we lost? Suddenly we saw a rising stack of smoke illuminated by flashing lights, and a line of people waiting to enter an absurdly dilapidated-looking building. We were in the right place.
Even without a lot, parking was never an issue. We easily parked on the streets in front of houses and normally just a block away. Although the lines appeared about 40-60 people deep, Shoes and I never waited longer than 30 minutes. Luckily there were enough costumed freaks running around to keep us amused.
The best part of these houses lies in the gatekeeper. The gatekeeper ONLY lets your party into the house then makes sure you are a good distance away before letting the next party in. No more of that typical conga line at the theme park houses! It was a psychological scare in itself feeling like you were alone yet knowing there were a bunch of ghouls ahead waiting to scare you. Shoes and I were literally holding each other the whole time as we tip-toed from one room to the next. The spacing also allowed us to experience every single scare actor in there. Often at theme parks you’d witness the person in front of you getting screamed at… but you get nothing in that same spot.
Since this was run by volunteers, I had low expectations. I’m glad to be wrong. Great first impression with the front cemetery filled with dried up foliage, eerie headstones, and a great, looming archway where you enter. This scary entry was only slightly marred by the very cheery group of volunteers who had set up a table in the hopes of catching donations benefitting St. Jude’s Children Research.
The décor inside was rather simple and honestly I don’t recall much “cemetery theme” inside, but the scares were the most memorable. Each scare was well timed and often had me jumping. During the last half, someone in army fatigue silently followed us—a very creepy method of getting us to walk faster. It felt like every scare jumbled together in the last 10 seconds as we had almost four people coming at us from different directions.
THE RADLEY ORPHANAGE
Just from the outside this house screams ‘professional’ complete with a preshow movie. Yet the Radley Orphanage is just the pet project and hobby of a regular guy. The creator is obsessed with detail and he built most of the house himself starting in May.
True the detail inside was excellent! Little things like picture frames or lace on windows really made me feel like I was entering an abandoned orphanage. More of the scares in here were slow and eerie rather than jump-in-your-face AHHH!
However my brain didn’t get into the fantasy during a couple scares obviously performed by children. Believe me that silent little 6-year-old rushing out from under a staircase with a mask and knife in hand startled me, but my next thoughts were, “Whoa. That’s a kid! Kids that age can never work in the theme park houses. I wonder if he got pulled from trick-or-treating tonight.” Yes yes, silly thoughts but ones I couldn’t stop.
Although the detail and scares were better in this house (Shoes enjoyed the other house more) the timing could be better. Less than 20 seconds in we ran into another couple. We tried to compensate but overall we could easily hear and see the group in front and behind us. Just as we had weaved through the backyard and then through the orphanage with a pause in the scares, and suddenly we were thrown back outside. Abrupt ending. Awwww. Finished.
GREAT HALLOWEEN ALTERNATIVE
With each house suggesting a donation of less than $5 this is a freaking cheap, low cost, and high value Halloween entertainment. Easily impressionable children probably won’t enjoy it, but teens and adults who’d rather get scared than bump and grind at the clubs will enjoy. Plus no need to pay the $30-$80 admission charged by theme park events. True there’s no thrill rides or shows to accompany, but there’s many perks; shorter lines, all scares to yourself, the option of creating your own fun or eating before and after without spending a fortune.
I will definitely return next year.
It’s not every day I step into a tourists zone and get chased down by a flying dragon.
The Asian Cultural Expo was already in full swing by the time we entered at 11am. A Chinese dragon held up on sticks by dancers weaved around the grounds—and nearly mowed me over in their dance. Something tells me it’s lucky to get run over by a dragon so I guess next time I won’t squeal and run.
On the nearby lake, the Dragon Boats had already begun their competition. Long, needle-like boats covered in bright colors were flying over the water. The boats only motor were the synchronized rowing of its passengers to a drummer’s beat. Throughout the Expo’s grounds and in Downtown Disney itself, many of the rowing teams could be seen flitting around in their colorful, tight spandex uniforms from store to store. Something tells me it’s not as lucky to get run over by a dragon boat team.
The Expo’s main feature took place on the short, unassuming stage (could we raise that platform or add a backdrop for next year?). A handful of Asian countries delivered cultural performances for the eager crowd. Besides the traditional tinikling, the young Filipino performers added some hip-hop flavor to the second half of their dance through bamboo poles. Polynesian dancers waved their hips to a pulsing beat. Even Peking Opera was present in the form of two ladies fresh from performing the same act in front of President Obama. Sprinkled among the performances were martial arts demonstrations. The finale (always a crowd pleaser) were the Taiko drummers.
Multiple workshops allowed the crowd to get their hands on learning a bit of the traditional dance moves. On the Expo’s grounds, other activities included areas to learn a bit of origami or get your name/phrase written in Chinese calligraphy.
Although every possible space was conquered by a booth, I would’ve preferred more booths showing off Asian activities rather than sponsors (although for a free exhibition like this I guess having sponsors around are necessary). Hey! I can write names/phrases in the old Philippine writing—I want a booth! Or in true Disney fashion, can’t we have more tents selling cutesy Asian goodies?
Glaringly obvious was the lack of Asian food. I expected there to be no food at this festival because of the probable competition against the Downtown Disney restaurants… but two non-Asian food trucks parked at the Expo’s side always had a line.
Sweating from the outdoors and with the beat of the Taiko drums fading away, my crew still had the rest of Downtown Disney to explore. Visiting so many Asian countries made us hungry.
Here’s the things-to-do checklist for most people visiting Las Vegas: gamble; buffet; show. All these can be completed while in the airport… except watch a show.
Enter Zarkana. Playing five days a week at the beautiful Aria hotel, you can tell this Cirque Du Soleil show is relatively new because of the intense banner promotions around the hotel. Like many Las Vegas shows on a Monday, there was an obvious need to fill the theater. Our $65 ticket (even with a Las Vegas resident’s discount should’ve placed us in the nosebleeds) got upgraded several times until we were directly in front of the sound technicians, smack-dab at the center of the audience. It was perfect seating to view everything.
As the curtains rose, Zarkana’s introduction was intense. Pulsing vocals set the dramatic mood even as clowns who could’ve been designed by Tim Burton ran around. It was a wild ride ahead of us.
We were taken through a dozen performances resembling typical circus acts except with huge quantities of steroids injected in (the acts, not the performers). The largest group of performers were the ‘cheerleaders’ doing many flips and towers over each other—but it’s crazier because whenever the tower disassembled into the arms of their teammates, the jumpers never landed horizontally (like typical cheerleaders) but always stayed on their feet. One of the first acts involved a petite lady and her strong partner balancing each other on a straight ladder. Soon, it became the guy balanced at the top of the ladder WHILE holding another straight ladder with her perched on top WHILE all this on top of a piano… and nothing leaning against anything!
In between acts, we were introduced to the comic relief—two clowns who keep getting into trouble. At one point their antics gets one of them blasted out of a (fake) cannon—resulting with the clown slowly flying over the audience in an incredible illusion of him flying through space… which quickly bursts into hilarity as he takes off his shirt revealing pasties over his chest.
With movie screens bordering the stage and covering the rear, I marveled at the endless background possibilities! Unfortunately the backgrounds often ate the performers by being visually distracting. It was difficult to see the brown-clothed tightrope-walking duo jumping over each other and avoiding the flaming pendulum while against the background of constantly slithering, fat green snakes. Distracting! In another performance featuring performers zipping around inside metal hoops, tiny versions of them were shown zipping upwards and around the stage on the screens. The effect made their tricks less daring because… oh look! The animated guy in the screen can do it too! Distracting!
While most costuming and decor were on par with other Cirque shows, there were many instances where I had to scratch my head. The main singer with her haunting voice normally appeared in very elaborate costumes in unexpected locations, but when she was the ‘snake lady’ she was sporting a very Halloween-costume-store hat sprouting Medusa-like vines from her head. Most performances sported only the performers and their props on stage opting instead for those screens to decorate.
In comparison to Mystere, O, Love, and Ka, Zarkana is at the bottom. I’d say this was very similar to La Nouba in Orlando. While the talent and acrobatics were definitely on par, the presentation was definitely lacking and it was missing that special magic oomph found in other Cirque shows.