Cruising – A Different Type of Vacation

Have you ever gone down a waterslide, ridden a roller coaster, rock climbed or tried walking across a tightrope hundreds of feet above the ocean? Sounds crazy, right? But a vacation cruise allows you to have these sorts of adventures and more! With so many of us planning our next vacation after such a long time dealing with COVID having shut so many things down for so long, I encourage you to take a look at all that cruising has to offer.

With over 50 different cruise lines available with over 320 different ships to choose from in the world currently, there are TONS of options for every type of traveler. There are cruise ships that sail in the ocean and ships that are solely built for cruising along rivers. Cruises can be as short as 2 nights or, currently, the longest cruise is 274 nights and offers its passengers a trip around the world, literally.

I recently had the opportunity to take a short cruise out of the nearby port in Long Beach, CA and visited Catalina, CA and Ensenada, Mexico. It was a great adventure, as I had never been on a cruise before. Before your cruise even starts, you decide what type of cabin you want, and there are lots to choose from, everything from an inside cabin, an ocean view, a balcony or different types of suites. What you choose depends on your preference and also on how much money you want to spend. Many people think cruising would never be an option because it’s too expensive, but there are cruises available for less than the cost of a hotel per night, if you really look for them. You might have to be flexible on your accommodations, however.

Once you are on the cruise there are so many things to do. Whether you like sitting around relaxing by the pool, playing Bingo or trivia for fun prizes, watching a show, or even playing basketball or miniature golf, there will always be something fun for you to do. There are special areas just for kids and teens, broken up by age group so you can meet others on board your age. The rooms have activities geared towards the specific age group including games, activities and video games and special parties. There’s also a variety of restaurants on board including a buffet, a main dining room or even special fine dining restaurants where you pay an additional fee, otherwise most food is included, which may result in you eating way more than you normally do in a day.

Sometimes you choose a cruise just for the cruise itself, and sometimes you choose a cruise for the ports you will visit. My family chose our destination just as a fun getaway right before school started back up, so it was a little bit of both, just to experience what a cruise was like and to visit a few places. Once in port, you can explore the town on your own or take a tour to a location that interests you. Every person who goes on a cruise will have a different experience based upon your likes and dislikes, so next time you don’t know where you should head out on vacation, check out all of the available cruising options as a different kind of vacation, especially if you’ve never experienced one before. You won’t be disappointed!

Movie Review: Minions: The Rise of Gru

Are you looking for a fun activity to do with friends or family before everyone heads back to school?  If you want a fun, comical and entertaining movie to watch together, look no further than Minions: The Rise of Gru. Released on July 1, 2022 by Illumination and Universal Pictures this animated movie is sure to put a smile on your face. This new prequel sequel to the Despicable Me franchise, “Minions 2” tells the story of Gru growing up in the 1970s. Kevin, Stuart and Bob are all back with their new “boss” eleven year old Gru. Added to the bunch is Otto, a new minion. Having always admired the “Vicious 6” a group of dangerous criminals and the world’s greatest super villains, Gru is excited to get to interview to become one of them and the chaos ensues.

Typical of what you’d expect from a Minion movie, mayhem and destruction, explosions, fights and battles take place during the approximately 90 minute movie. This issue of the franchise was particularly amusing as Gru is kidnapped and taken to San Francisco where a group of minions travel to rescue Gru.  You will see places you may have visited like Chinatown in true to life animation. Without revealing too much of the storyline, you can assume much of the movie revolves around comical criminal activity and hysterical animation including seeing the backside of minions with and without their trunks on. Rated PG for action/violence and rude humor, this is an animated movie that is fairly family friendly if only for a few crude jokes and animated bombings and similar. I’d recommend it to all of my family and friends looking for some lighthearted fun where you can laugh your worries away whether you are 1 or 101.

A Trip Around Lake Erie

Summer has just begun and now that Covid is clearing up many people are taking their long-due vacations. For vacation this summer, my family and I decided to go for a trip around Lake Erie which is one of the 5 great lakes in the northeastern part of the United States. During our time there we drove through 4 different states and a different country.

We decided to start by taking a four hour flight over to Cleveland, Ohio and from there we took a short drive to Cedar Point. Cedar Point is an amusement park in Ohio that my dad has been wanting to go to for years. We spent a couple days there, then went on a ferry to a little island called Put-in-Bay. Put-in-Bay is a village on South Bass Island in the middle of Lake Erie about a mile from Sandusky, Ohio. We spent a day there driving around in a golf cart and exploring the island. While the island is very small, it houses a US National Park called Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial which is a memorial to those who fought in the Battle of Lake Erie in the War of 1812.  After we got back to the mainland, we went to another amusement park called Kings Island in Mason, Ohio, and we spent another 2 days there.

After fully exploring these fun places in Ohio, we packed up and took about an 8 hour car ride towards Toronto, Canada. At the US/Canadian border we were stopped by border agents who asked us many questions about where we had come from and where we were going. They also made sure we had properly completed the ArriveCan app information which is an app required to enter Canada now due to COVID. We stayed in a small suburb of Toronto called Vaughan where Canada’ Wonderland is located.

All 3 of these amusement parks are owned by the same company that owns Knott’s Berry Farm here in Orange County. While the idea is the same, ride rides and eat lots of food, the environments and the experiences at each park were quite different. I enjoyed them all in different ways. When we were done with our amusement park thrills we headed over to Niagara Falls where we went on the Maid of the Mist which is a boat that takes you right up to the bottom of the falls. While they do provide you with ponchos our entire family still ended up getting soaked.  After Niagara Falls, we drove all the way back to the Cleveland airport through Pennsylvania and back to Ohio, then flew all the way back to California. It was a great adventure with a lot of new experiences including the theme parks and multiple thunderstorms unlike anything we have in California. While I enjoyed it greatly, it’s nice to be home.

Book Review: Animal Farm

Animal Farm is a novel written by George Orwell and published in 1945. Animal Farm is about a group of mistreated and malnourished animals on a farm that is run by an alcoholic farmer that neglected his duties as a farmer. The fable reflects the events leading up to the Russian Revolution and into the Stalinist era of communism and the Soviet Union in the form of animals on a farm.

The book starts off with Old Major, oldest and wisest pig telling all the animals that he has a dream of a society where the animals would have control of the farm and everyone would have equal jobs and roles in the farm. A day passes and Old Major passes away and the rest of the animals decide to make Old Major’s dream come true and decide to start a revolution and kick the farmer off his own farm. The animals create a set of rules that make them all equal and have the same rights. The pigs are appointed to run the farm because they are the smartest and the pigs decide to slowly change the rules of the farm for their own benefit. The animals begin to run the farm and discover that the pigs are slowly becoming more human-like which was exactly what they didn’t want to happen.

I really liked this book. It is very interesting how the society slowly evolves and the pigs begin to manipulate the rules for themselves.  I found it interesting how every character and type of animal each have their own traits that represented an aspect of the Russian Revolution and Stalinist era. Animal Farm is a true classic novel that I would recommend to anyone interested in reading it.

Animal Farm by George Orwell is available to checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available to download for free from Libby.

Movie Review: Sonic the Hedgehog 2

Sonic the Hedgehog is without a doubt one of the most popular and well known video game characters. He is a fast, funny, and blue hedgehog. What’s not to love about him? Sonic made his big screen debut originally in September 2020. Two years later, Sonic found himself on the big screen again in the sequel, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, which hit theater screens in the United States on April 8, 2022.

The film stars Ben Schwartz as Sonic and Colleen O’Shaughnessey as Tails, a fox who has two tails and aspires to be as cool as Sonic. Together, they take on Jim Carrey as Dr. Eggman and Knuckles the Echidna played by Idris Elba, who are trying to take control of the Master Emerald. With the power of the Master Emerald the person who controls the emerald has the ability to turn thoughts into reality. The movie revolves around Sonic and Tails trying to track down the Master Emerald before Dr. Eggman and Knuckles get to it.

I really enjoyed this movie. I loved the interactions between Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, and the humans. I liked the story for the most part, but there were some loose ends and pointless scenes revolving around the humans that took up about 40 minutes of the already long 2 hour movie that wasn’t even part of the main storyline. I think this part really could have been tightened up a bit. I did, however, really enjoy the CGI battles between Sonic and Knuckles, and the way they showed Sonic’s speed compared to the other characters.

Overall, I would give this movie a thumbs up and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who just wants to see a fun, lighthearted movie with friends or family.

-Brandon G.

Game Review: Pokemon Legends Arceus

Pokemon Legends Arceus is a Pokemon game unlike any other we have seen before. Published by Nintendo for the Nintendo Switch, this new take on the Pokemon genre completely changes the formula of all the games before it.  Pokemon Legends Arceus takes place in the Hisui region based upon the island of Hokkaido in Japan in ancient times. It serves as a prequel to Nintendo’s previous releases of Pokemon Diamond, Pearl and Platinum set in the Sinnoh Region based on modern day Hokkaido. Pokemon Legends Arceus is an open world, action role-playing game in which the objective is to explore the entire region by riding different Pokemon, and to catch all 242 Pokemon available throughout all of the five different biomes in the region in order to catch Arceus who is the Pokemon that sets you out on your journey.

With Pokemon Legends comes a completely new battle and catching system unlike anything else. Instead of having to engage in battles in order to catch Pokemon, you can instead catch them in the environment with a variety of different Pokeballs. The Pokemon can interact with the environment, other Pokemon, and the player. In addition to this, instead of battles being turn based, the player can alter the turn order by using agile style moves, which makes their next turn come sooner but decreases power, or strong style moves, that are stronger, but makes their next turn come later. Some other features include alpha Pokemon, which are stronger and bigger Pokemon, Mass Outbreaks, which are swarms of specific Pokemon that occasionally spawn. 

I really enjoyed this game and have nearly completed it. The gameplay is so different from other Pokemon games and has many new features. I really loved the hub world, Jubilife Village, and the many side quests that you could accept. I also liked the starter Pokemon that you could pick: Oshawott, a water sea otter; Cyndaquil, a fire mouse; and my personal favorite, Rowlet, a grass owl. I would recommend this game to anyone who loves Pokemon or is interested in checking out why everything Pokemon has become an international phenomenon.

-Brandon G.

A Separate Peace by John Knowles

Set in New Hampshire during World War II, A Separate Peace by John Knowles tells the story of Gene and his best friend Finny and their lives during this extremely difficult time in history. The novel begins with Gene returning to Devon boarding school after fifteen years and continues as he recounts his time at Devon. 

Gene and Finny are roommates at Devon boarding school. Gene is quiet, introverted, and focuses on his schoolwork and studies. Finny is the complete opposite. Finny is extroverted, adventurous, and carefree. The book is not plot driven, but instead it is about the relationship between Gene and Finny. 

What I really enjoyed about his novel was the characters. The characters are some of the most well-developed and interesting characters I have ever read about. I really enjoyed the interactions between the various characters and how different they are from each other. All the characters have their own individual personality and were developed very well. 

Throughout the book you could start to see the effect of the war on each character and how they all react in different ways. Some of the characters enlist in the military to fight in the war, while others completely deny the existence of the war. Gene and Finny and their friends are a lot like all of us today.  We all choose what to focus on in life and do something about, and some choose to turn the other way and pretend things don’t exist. 

Another thing I enjoyed about this book is the symbolism and foreshadowing in the book. Right from the beginning of the book Gene states that something bad happens during his time at Devon and where it happens, but then we don’t actually find out what happened until much later when it happens in a flashback. It is a unique way of telling a story that keeps the reader interested in what may be coming next.

I would recommend this book to anyone in middle school through high school as I believe they would be able to genuinely relate to the characters in many ways. Adults may also find the details of the relationships that transpire during a tumultuous time in history an interesting read.

-Brandon G.

A Separate Peace by John Knowles is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Game Review: Marvel’s Spider-Man

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to run up and down walls and swing from building to building in Midtown Manhattan?  The Spider-Man action adventure game developed by Insomniac Games allows you to do that. Released by Sony Interactive Entertainment on September 7, 2018 exclusively for the PlayStation 4 and recently released for the PS5, Spider-Man allows the player a third person perspective of a superhero wandering around New York City, taking on missions and battling the bad guys.  With over 13 million copies sold, Spider-Man made it near the top of the list of most games ever sold for the PlayStation 4 version and it’s easy to see why.

I really enjoyed this game for multiple reasons. One of the reasons is because of the variety of unique suits. There are 47 different suits each with an ability that you can mix with any suit you want. With these suits you can dress up with some of the suits in the movies as well as some suits from the comics. You can also unlock suit modifications which give you additional abilities like reducing damage or increasing the time enemies need to spot you.

Another reason why I liked this game is because of the advanced combat system. Through the skill tree you can gain additional attacks and abilities giving you an infinite amount of combinations for defeating enemies. In addition to this, you can also unlock gadgets which can do various tasks to help you in missions and battles. An example of some of these gadgets are the electric web which allows you to activate certain electronic parts like a fuse box.

 My favorite part of this game is the massive replica of New York that you can swing from building to building and collect backpacks, open research stations, and stop crime. This scale replica of New York  includes many famous landmarks such as the Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, and Central Park. When you find backpacks, open research stations, or stop crimes you earn tokens which can allow you to buy new suits, gadgets, or suit modifications.

Overall, this is a great action-adventure game, rated T for teens, that most everyone would enjoy. I highly suggest you check it out. You can even borrow it from the Mission Viejo Library.

-Brandon G.

Marvel’s Spider-Man is available for checkout at the Mission Viejo Library.

Event Review:  Holiday Candy Houses

On the evening of Saturday, December 18, 2021 the Mission Viejo Library Teen Advisory Board, which is overseen Mr. Allen Kesinger, the Teen Services Librarian at the Mission Viejo Library, put on an amazing  and fun, family event. The Annual Candy Holiday House Event invited “children and families to build their own cozy cottages of confectionery!”

As we arrived, we were greeted by Mr. Kesinger who showed us the way to the fun!  There were so many different varieties of candies to choose from and to decorate your house with that it was difficult to decide.  Everyone started at one end of the table to collect their supplies for building their Candy Holiday Houses. For the structure of the house we used graham crackers and had the choice of using vanilla or chocolate frosting to construct the walls and roof. There were many candies to choose from to decorate the Holiday Candy Houses including chocolate or peppermint Hershey’s Kisses, multi colored gummy bears, peppermint colored marshmallows, mini candy canes, peach rings, M&M’s, and my favorite of all mini Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups!

While the construction of the houses is always fun, another obviously fun part of making Holiday Candy Houses is getting to eat them, which we all did gladly! We are lucky to live in a city that cares enough about our citizens to put on such fun events.  Thank you to our amazing librarian Mr. Kesinger and his Teen Advisory Board for making our Holidays a little bit brighter!

-Brandon G.

Event Review: The Magical Yule Ball

On the evening of Saturday, December 4, 2021 the Mission Viejo Library put on an amazing family friendly event called “The Magical Yule Ball.” The invitation was geared towards families inviting all “wizards and witches…for a delightful evening of crafts, live music, and refreshments.” This event was based on Harry Potter, so I had to check it out!

The event did not disappoint! It started when you checked in and got to pick a house for your group from the sorting hat. My group got Griffindor.  Many of the attendees were dressed up as a wizard or wore festive holiday attire.

As you moved through the stations at the event you were given a ticket after your participation in a craft,  that you would bring to a special table and deposit in your House’s jar to help your House win points.

There were crafts where you could make your very own wand out of sticks and crystals, craft a broomstick from a pencil, paper and string, and a prophecy orb to hang on your holiday tree.

After making all of these great things, our group was hungry so we headed over to the snack tables where we found Hagrid’s Rock Cakes (Nature Valley Granola Bars), Cloud Cakes (Rice Crispy Bars), Edible Flue Powder (Pop Rocks Candy), Licorice Wands (Twizzlers), Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans (Jelly Belly Beans), and Golden Snitches made from Ferrero Rocher candies with little paper wings stuck to them. Of course, there were also bottles of Felix Felici’s Liquid Luck (apple juice) to quench your thirst!

The live string quartet was great and even included a harpist.  They played a variety of instrumentals including lots of holiday favorites.

We are lucky to live in a city that does so much to bring our community together. I highly suggest you check out other events put on in the future by the Mission Viejo Library and other city groups because you will not be disappointed!

Oh, you ask which House won?  Perhaps you should check out this event next year and find out for yourself! 

-Brandon G.