Game On

For Christmas the boys got their first Nintendo Wii games, Mario Party 9 and Just Dance Disney Party. They had played a couple of our old Wii games before (they particularly loved beating the heck out of each other on Wii Sports Resort), so the fam gave them a couple of their own. I added Toy Story Mania shortly thereafter.

Ladies and gentlemen, my sons are gamers, and I love it.

I got my first video game system, an Atari 5200, when I was maybe 6. Jungle Hunt was my game of choice. It was so long ago, the TV I used had a dial to change the channel instead of buttons or one of those new-fangled remotes. Although the systems changed and improved over the years, I’ve been a gamer ever since. Mario and Zelda on Nintendo. SimCity and Super Baseball Simulator 1.000 on SNES. Goldeneye on N64. Grand Theft Auto III and Dragon Quest VIII on PS2. Skyrim and Demon’s/Dark Souls on PS3. So imagine my joy at seeing my sons pick up one of my longest-running hobbies.

No, they aren’t quite ready to smoke you in Call of Duty, but Jonathan is slowly learning the basic concepts of the Wii. Well, OK, sometimes he thinks he’s playing but really isn’t, but give him some time. Brenden, though, is really getting the hang of several of the Mario Party mini-games as well as numerous iPhone games. Now that he’s learning how to read, he doesn’t need as much help with the instructions, either.

Oftentimes Brenden plays alone. Sometimes Jonathan tries to play with him, but I think he’ll be a better gaming buddy in 6-12 months. Sometimes Jenny or I play with Brenden. Once all four of us even played Mario Party at once! It was a bit like heaven combined with a train wreck, but we had a blast. We bought the boys kid-size Wiimotes that fit their hands better than the normal ones and come in bright colors. I’m so excited for them that I stayed up past 4:00am on my night off playing through Mario Party to unlock all the stages for them. I guess that’s the gamer equivalent of staying up all night sewing a dance costume, right?

Although we certainly won’t force them to play, I hope they will maintain their interest as they get older so it can be a way for us to spend time together guy-style: bonding through a shared activity. As they mature, their skills will increase. I will need to go all-out in some cases to beat them. Perhaps someday they will even surpass me, and the Circle of Life (r) will continue.

Their growing interest in gaming also provides another excuse reason to stay on top of things in the gaming world. Brenden and Jonathan surely need a Wii U, don’t they? Gaming is great for hand-eye coordination, problem solving, spatial reasoning, perseverance, and manual dexterity. I’d hate to deny my children any advantage in their development. :-D

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Weekend Getaway: Dinner and a Murder

Jenny and I will celebrate our tenth anniversary on January 4. We’re planning a trip to Walt Disney World next month with the boys, but we also wanted to do something for just the two of us. So I bought tickets to a murder mystery dinner theater in Addison at the Hotel Intercontinental and booked a room there for the night.

Hotel

After dropping the boys off with my parents (thanks again!), we drove to Addison and checked in. We both love staying in hotels and trying new ones, so we generally pick a new, upscale hotel in the area each year around our anniversary. The murder mystery led us to the hotel, and I splurged on a loft suite. I’ve wanted to try a two-level suite for years, but they are rare and usually quite expensive. This one was right at our hotel and somewhat reasonable.

The hotel was beautiful and seemed nearly empty this weekend. The checkin guy kindly switched us to a different suite that overlooked the city rather than the parking garage. In honor of the holidays, the staff had decorated several Christmas trees and hung lights everywhere, giving the hotel a lovely glow. Our room was beautiful as well, classy rather than gaudy, with large flat-screens downstairs in the living room and upstairs in the bedroom. Each floor provided its own bathroom. This would be a great room for anyone who wanted to entertain guests. You could keep the party downstairs while maintaining some privacy upstairs. The bathrooms sported granite and brushed nickel plus a garden tub in the master bath. Both levels included large windows with a great view.

Frivolous? Perhaps. But we loved it. Here are some pictures of the hotel and room.

Murder Mystery Dinner Theater

Around 7:30, we went downstairs, took some pictures, and checked in for our murder mystery dinner. I performed in a murder mystery dinner theater during college at a tiny church, but the show was a traditional play. This show was interactive, like the one Jenny did during high school. Our event included five tables and 20-30 people, several of whom were actors who were actually part of the show, although you didn’t know until later whether or not a given person was a guest or a plant. Jenny correctly spotted at least one from the beginning, but a few others whom we thought were actors were actually just guests. Our host told us from the start to talk to – no, “interrogate” – as many people as possible over hors d’oeurves, salad, main course, and dessert. So we never knew for sure whether to trust the people we were talking to, which makes for an odd but fun dinner party. I won’t give away the plot, but it involved searching the room for evidence, listening and reading carefully as the homicide investigator presented new information and talked to various guests (or are they actors??), and trying to figure out what’s really going on.

At one point, the investigator singled me out as a person of interest, saying that my “background check” had turned up seven counts of indecent exposure (!), charges for which I might be getting blackmailed. I took offense to these accusations, as any exposure I’ve had was perfectly decent! Oh well. He did bring me up to the front briefly for questioning, and after that other guests kept coming by asking for handwriting samples. Since I was already in the hot seat, I tried to act a bit suspicious to mess with people.

The food and service were good, particularly the main course of chicken breast with mashed potatoes and asparagus, although it would have been nice to have a few choices rather than a fixed menu. They smoothly scheduled the food delivery during periods that we were up and around gathering clues and talking to people. The homicide investigator did a great job, deftly blending the script with impromptu guest interactions and bits of humor. (ask Jenny about Mama’s biscuits!) Obviously, this company has been performing these shows for some time and ironed out the wrinkles.

The whole event lasted about three hours, making it a great way to spend an evening trying something unusual. If you’re terrified of interacting with people, this probably isn’t for you, despite the website’s assurances to the contrary. If you hate the idea of getting dragged up to the front and handed a microphone for brief questioning, don’t book the reservation in your name. But if you like mysteries, live theater, and the unusual experience of interacting with strangers who might or might not be whom they seem, a murder mystery dinner theater might be for you. Jenny and I agreed that although it was fun as a couple, going as a group would be even better. One of the tables had a group of seven or eight, and they seemed to have a blast.

One final note…my wife is a genius and almost figured out whodunnit and why by the end. She also cracked a code that appeared among the evidence and deciphered a message from a murderer. However, I was a bit lost and pretty much gave up on figuring it out around halfway through, for two reasons: 1) I am NOT an auditory learner, so it’s hard for me to remember and process information that I hear, particularly names. I’d be a terrible detective. 2) I was a murder mystery noob, so I wasn’t sure exactly where to take my investigation. Was the answer hidden in the physical evidence, held by one of the actors who is waiting for me to ask the right questions, or some combination thereof? When we try another one of these, I’ll have a better feel for how they work and what I should do. That being said, for me they would be even more fun on the other side of the curtain as one of the actors. I wasn’t a fabulous actor back in high school and college, but I did dabble in it and enjoyed the experience. How fun would it be to assume a character and mess with the guests at something like this?

The Week Ahead

This is a crazy but very exciting week for the Box household. Here is our agenda:

Monday – the boys start swim lessons at the Grapevine public pool. They’ll go five days a week, thirty minutes a day for the next two weeks unless we have something else going on. They took a few lessons last year, but these will be a bit more involved.

Tuesday – We hope to close on our refi around lunchtime! Then we’ll pick up the boys from school and go to Great Wolf Lodge in Grapevine. This will be the boys’ first night in a hotel and first night sharing a bed with each other, and I’m not sure how it will go. We’ll do our best to wear them out in the indoor water park.

Wednesday – Play at Great Wolf in the morning, nap, and then swim lessons.

Thursday – Jenny has Mommy Day, so I’ll be taking the boys to and from school and then to swim lessons. (oh boy…help, Jenny, what do I do?!?) While they’re at school, I hope to run or do some yoga and then meet my mom and her parents for lunch. That night, our babysitter is coming over to watch the boys while we see The Dark Knight Rises at Studio Movie Grill.

Friday – I hope to visit the office of Gary Tylock to discuss getting LASIK for my right eye. Yep, I finally decided to go for it. In the afternoon, I’m taking Brenden to his friend Landry’s birthday party at 4:00. Then we’re hosting Brenden’s 4th birthday party at 6:30 while the DVR records the Olympic opening ceremony. Jenny’s parents are taking the boys home that night because…

Saturday – Jenny and I plan to ride in our first organized bicycle ride, The Goatneck in Cleburne. We’ve already gone farther in training than the 27 miles we signed up to ride there, so I’m confident we can finish this one. We’ll spend the rest of the day trying to recover and watching the Olympics.

Stats for the Week

Movies seen: 2 – Dream House, which was OK, and The Avengers, which was awesome
Sodas consumed: 1. But to be honest, it was a huge movie soda, so it probably counts double. OK, triple. It was big. With no ice. Don’t hate.
Miles run: 21.2, including two PRs (woohoo!)
Miles cycled: 11.3
Bicycle crashes: 1 (on the trail, landed on grass, no injuries except to my ego. don’t tell anybody)
Diversions at work: 1 (LAS-HOU diverted to AUS due to thunderstorms)
Shifts worked: 7
Flights affected by bomb threats at work: 2 (SNA-PHX thanks to some clown – read more here – 811 was mine)
New contracts at work: 0, despite much speculation to the contrary
People pissed off: unknown, probably a few!
Controversial/inflammatory statements withheld: several. See, I’m getting better! Sort of. Wooooooosaaaaaaa….woooooosaaaaaaa….
New followers of AndyBox.com: 1 (welcome, Leslie!)
Most popular blog post: Norwegian Cruise Lines vs. The Competition
Highest-profile blog endorsement: awesome AC/DC cover band Back in Black posted my review of their concert last June on their Facebook page
Trips to the doctor: 1 (pink eye. again.)
Years since I proposed to Jenny in Austin: 10, as of Friday. Happy engagement anniversary, or whatever the proper term is!

Posted in Fun

Random Observations from This Weekend

For Jenny’s birthday weekend, we stayed at a hotel in Addison, enjoyed some great food, slept a lot, and enjoyed getting to talk for long periods. Here are a few observations/factoids/highlights/whatevers:

  1. Tokyo One makes really, really good sushi. It’s a sushi buffet in Addison. Although a bit expensive for dinner, the service is good and the quality and variety of the buffet are outstanding. On their website, you can print a coupon for 10 percent off and a free piece of birthday cake if you eat there within a week of your birthday.
  2. At Tokyo One, I tried several new and weird items: blue marlin (very tender and mild in flavor, although I’m not sure whether it’s a very sustainable food source), jellyfish (looks like grilled onions, tastes like generic seafood when doused in soy sauce like this was), lychee (a strange, brown, tropical fruit with hairlike projections on the outside and sweet white meat inside), and luo han guo or monkfruit (a light brown tropical fruit with sweet white meat inside much like lychee). I seem to have outgrown the picky phase from my younger years in which I would only eat toast and french fries.
  3. Marriott beds are very, very comfortable, almost Tempur-Pedic comfy. Overall, we were very impressed with the Marriott and would stay there again.
  4. I still think it’s cheap and lame to charge hotel guests to park at your hotel. I understand charging non-guests, especially in an urban environment with lots of business people and limited parking spaces, but a parking spot should be included in the price of my room. Both the Marriott and the Anatole charge for parking. The Omni Mandalay in Irving, however, does not.
  5. I continue to be amazed that guys in the men’s locker room at King Spa feel the need to cover their bits with a towel when they walk around, as if their bits are somehow different or special compared to ours. One guy used his hand. Really, dude? That’s what toddlers do when they have to pee.
  6. I saw a guy with a black tramp stamp. Is that weird, or is it just me?
  7. Male…um…grooming habits vary widely from man to man.
  8. I performed a simple heart rate experiment in the spa area. The main hot tubs were 106-108 degrees. The steam room was about 118, the dry sauna maybe 170. While my resting heart rate stays around 60, it rose to maybe 100 or more in those hot areas as my body tried to cool off. Then, after a few minutes in the 65-degree cold plunge, it dropped to around 50 as my body tried to preserve its heat.
  9. We had breakfast Sunday morning at Einstein Brothers, one of our favorite breakfast places. A man and his sevenish-year-old son were in line ahead of us. First, the dad yelled at him not to touch anything. Next, he criticized him in front of the cashier for putting his pants on backwards, something about being “incapable of seeing the tag in the back”. Finally, they sat down and ate breakfast together. I chose to sit on the other side of the room so I didn’t hear any more, snap, and go off on the guy. I’m not sure they said a word to each other as they ate. As a father myself, I certainly understand getting frustrated and impatient with one’s children and being less kind at times than one should, but tearing a kid down constantly doesn’t do either of you a bit of good.
  10. We walked into 300, an upscale bowling alley (ever heard of that?) in Addison. The furnishings are plush, the menu offers a much broader variety of food and drinks than a typical bowling alley, and giant screens above the pins were showing a Beyonce video and the Final Four game. We would’ve stayed for dinner and a couple of games, but it was really loud and ruined our Zen from King Spa. Maybe some other time. It would be fun with a group of friends.
  11. BJ’s Brewhouse makes a tasty berry cider, great crispy fries, and a really good club sandwich.

King Spa versus Spa Castle

This weekend was Jenny’s birthday, and we celebrated by sending the boys to her parents’ house (thanks, Jim and Marilyn!) and spending Saturday at King Spa. Last year I blogged about King Spa, a Korean spa/movie house/restaurant/novelty that provides a great way to relax and try something a little different.

At the end of the day, we heard from a friend that a bold new competitor to King Spa had just opened. It’s called Spa Castle and is near the corner of 190 and Old Denton in Carrollton. So we took a tour. Both are Korean spas at heart, but the experiences are not the same. Based on what we saw, read, and heard from our friend, here are some of the key differences:

Style

King Spa is bizarre and quirky. Huge giraffe statues guard the driveway. A gigantic metal horse greets you when you walk in. The chairs are pink and white in a 60s style. Some TVs show sports, while another shows Korean game shows with no subtitles. Artwork is a blend of Korean, Roman, Egyptian, and Simpsons. Throw in a bunch of gold and glam. Somehow it works.

Spa Castle looks like an upscale Vegas hotel or swank country club. The reception area and locker room reminded us of Life Time Fitness with large lockers, granite countertops, and plenty of space. A pool bar offers a variety of adult beverages and would fit well in a L’il Jon video.

Features

As Korean spas at heart, many of the basics are the same. Both offer single-sex spas in various temperatures, scrubs, massages, and 9-10 different coed sauna rooms, each of which claims to offer its own (sometimes dubious) benefits. Both offer food and places to rest, relax, and watch TV.

However, each spa offers some features that the other doesn’t.

King Spa features a large movie theater showing a variety of movies throughout the day. At one point yesterday, Justin Timberlake’s 2011 film In Time was showing. Across from the theater beckons an authentic Korean restaurant with several unusual offerings that this American guy doesn’t try often such as Korean BBQ, papaya juice, aloe vera juice, and a surprisingly tasty dessert made from fruit, rice, and sweet beans. King Spa provides karaoke, another Korean favorite, if you know where to look. Although King Spa’s spa menu is much smaller than Spa Castle’s, its women-only wormwood steam treatment is only available there.

In fitting with its more upscale brand, Spa Castle offers a much wider selection of spa services and pool options. The spa brochure includes six pages and offers several services that King Spa does not, including manicures, pedicures, waxing, wraps, and hot stone massages. In addition to the same-sex, nude spas near the locker room like King Spa provides, Spa Castle also offers coed (suits required) indoor pools, outdoor pools, and saunas so that couples and mixed-gender friends can relax together, a major improvement in my mind over King Spa. Apparently, King Spa is planning an indoor water park for next spring, surely in an effort to stay competitive with Spa Castle. Finally, Spa Castle plans to open an on-site hotel in a few months, allowing guests to relax even longer without worrying about getting home.

Price

As you might expect, Spa Castle is more expensive across the board. Admission to Spa Castle is $35/day, which they call a “grand opening” rate that could rise in a few months, versus $27/day at King Spa. A 60-min body scrub with massage is $100 at Spa Castle versus $85 at King Spa. A 60-min massage is $110 versus $70. Plus all tips are included at King Spa, whereas I assume they are not at Spa Castle. So a spa enthusiast could blow a ton of money really quickly up in Carrollton.

Food and Drink

While King Spa offers one restaurant with tasty Korean food, Spa Castle offers several dining choices and doesn’t focus only on Korean cuisine. Options include Starbucks, sushi, juice bar, salad bar, poolside grill, and alcoholic drinks. King Spa doesn’t sell alcohol and claims to deny entry to anyone who has consumed alcohol recently. However, that policy could change next year as King Spa is planning to open a pool bar in the new water park.

Target Market / Clientele

King Spa is run by and for Koreans. Much of the writing inside uses both Korean and English. Korean culture infuses all aspects of the experience. The facility is actually open 24 hours a day and caters to Korean families who want to visit for long periods of time and even sleep overnight in their comfortable chairs. Nearly all employees appear to be Korean, and some of the therapists speak limited English. The majority of the customers are Korean or possibly from another Asian country. During the week, almost all of them are Korean. Non-Koreans are very welcome, and we’ve always felt comfortable there, but we aren’t the primary market.

Spa Castle is focusing on a broader market and deliberately downplaying its Korean soul. It’s essentially a high-end, Americanized Korean spa. Although I’m sure some Koreans will visit, the customers we saw last night were more of a mix of backgrounds. With its upscale American decor and broader variety of dining and spa options, it’s trying to attract people who like the spa concept but are hesitant to try something like King Spa that might seem a bit too exotic.

Conclusion

Both spas offer a relaxing, fun, and unusual experience. If you’re trying to decide which one you want to visit, consider your priorities and the type of experience you’re looking for. If you want to immerse yourself in Korean culture, King Spa is probably the better bet. If you want a more American spa experience with a larger variety of spa services, recreation, and dining and are willing to pay more, Spa Castle is probably the right choice.

Jenny has gift certificates to visit King Spa a few more times this year, and she looks forward to using them. But we do plan to spend a day at Spa Castle and see how we like it.