Year in Review: Travel and Leisure


The past year seemed to fly by. There was no shortage of fun and exciting stories in the Travel & Leisure section. Let’s take a look back at some of the best ofs, month-by-month throughout 2019.


Popcornopolis Tour

Jan. 19 was National Popcorn Day. To celebrate, LA-based, family-owned popcorn company Popcornopolis opened its doors to select media members to tour the factory and experience the taste kitchen in a trial effort that may eventually lead to public tours. New flavors on display from the test kitchen include smoked sea salt popcorn, unicorn popcorn and golden turmeric popcorn.


Norwegian Cuisine Review

Two hundred miles north of the Arctic Circle I wasn’t expecting to find gourmet cuisine. Yes, Oslo has six Michelin-starred restaurants offering sophisticated spins on Nordic food, but I was exploring my Norwegian roots in Tromsø, so far north it seemed like the edge of the known world. Nansen and Amundsen had left from here hoping to reach the North Pole. I didn’t really expect to find much in the way of original food. I was wrong.



Route 66 Still Kicks

This saw a trip along the western part of Route 66 that runs from Pasadena to the eastern edge of Arizona. With a storied history uniting the country along one road, the eventual decline and then the revival in its popularity, this road is an American icon. All Americans should make the entire trip at least once in their life. The Mother Road is still alive and kicking in many little towns strung along what was once Route 66 and these provide endless hours of enjoyment and stories. Many of the shopkeepers and diner owners are original family owners who have taken over from their parents or grandparents who ran the business in the heyday of Route 66. Many share stories of growing up in that place and time, giving a personal touch to the history of the highway. There’s lots to see along this stretch of road.



Revisiting La Cabañita

Though I review lots of new restaurants, I think restaurants that have been around for a long time are just as worthy of a good, thorough, deep-dive as any new place. Take for example La Cabañita. It’s a Montrose-Sparr Heights staple and, for nearly 30 years, the Jimenez family has been serving up authentic Mexico City flavors.


Captain Marvel

As little as two years ago conventional wisdom in Hollywood believed that casting a woman as the lead in a superhero tentpole movie or going with an all-black cast would mean the kiss of death at the box office. [Then with Wonder Woman,] Hollywood changed its collective mind. While Marvel aficionados are still waiting for Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow to get a crack at a movie all her own, Carol Danvers, aka Vers, Marvel superhero from out of the past will soon be saving the universe in a theater near you.


Cats (The Musical on Stage)

Before, there were cute videos of cats playing the piano. Even before we all heard the first rendition of “Smelly Cat” on “Friends,” there was T.S. Elliot, the ultimate lover of all things cats. T.S. Elliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” was first published in 1939. It is a series of poems about his Jellicle cats. Those poems inspired Andrew Lloyd Webber to write and compose the Broadway play “Cats,” which played at the Hollywood Pantages through March 24.



Knott’s Boysenberry Festival

The history of Knott’s Berry Farm as an amusement park has more to do with Walter Knott’s wife, Cordelia, and her chicken dinner restaurant but the original attraction to the roadside stand, even before the chicken, was the little boysenberry plant, which Walter sold clippings of and boxes upon boxes of cultivated boysenberries. Now, 87 years later, the theme park that bears his name is still paying homage to Walter and the berry that started it all. Each spring, Knott’s Berry Farm hosts the Boysenberry Festival to delight guests with the many applications of boysenberry in different foods, giving twists to old favorites and making new dishes a little more “boysen-flair-ry.”


Dark Arts at Hogwarts Castle

Harry Potter is the boy who lived. But without the Dark Lord, young Potter would just be another kid. The story of the hero is nothing without a villain. And yet, in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood, the villains have been oddly absent. The main ride, “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey,” has monsters and elemental evils like Dementors and giant spiders and a dragon, but no real villains who act on forethought and malice as opposed to hunger and instinct. Now, for the first time, the villains are getting a spotlight in the land with a fantastic new nighttime light show, “Dark Arts at Hogwarts Castle.” Notable in this new projection show is the use of coordinated light up drones that are called in to create a 3D flying Patronus.



Avengers Endgame

After 22 films, 11 years, $20 billion at the box office and countless memories, the Avengers have finally Avenged. Starting with “Iron Man” way back in 2008, the idea of a cinematic universe was created and perfected through these films – some as good as “The Avengers” (2012) and some as meh as “Iron Man 3” (2013) – and they have all been woven together to create the massive tapestry that is “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Endgame.”  “Endgame” went on to take $2.798 Billion worldwide and become the highest grossing film of all time.


Calico River Rapids Opens at Knott’s

In 1987, a new area was opened at Knott’s Berry Farm. Dubbed “Bigfoot Rapids,” the tub-raft rapids ride developed by Intamin Amusement Rides took guests on a wet and turbulent ride through the backcountry wilderness at the Indian Trails edge of Ghost Town. And although the sculpted rocks and mountainous landscape were well-maintained, there was no hint of theming to actually have anything to do with Bigfoot other than a couple of large concrete footprints, which were later filled in. All that changed last week when, after closing last year, the ride was reopened under the name Calico River Rapids. And this time, it has theming.



E3 First Impressions by Jake Bowman

E3 is a massive spectacle with huge game developers and tech companies pulling out all the stops to impress customers and get people excited for their new projects. This is my first E3 and, to be honest, what struck me as the most fascinating wasn’t all the craziness surrounding the big guys, but the passion the little companies and game developers have.



Jurassic World – The Ride at Universal Studios Hollywood

Jurassic Park – The Ride opened at Universal Studios Hollywood in the summer of 1996, after the massive success of the film three years prior. The water ride was a technological marvel at the time, with life-sized audio animatronics of stegosaurus, parasaurolophus and even Tyrannosaurus rex. Then, 22 years later after the success of the film franchise reboot, the ride was rebooted, too. With updated effects, refreshed animatronics and all-new scenes, this ride does what the successful films do as well – add to the story with new, better effects that couldn’t be done in the ’90s, but still stay very reverent to the original.



Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland

The Land is fully immersive; guests really forget that they are standing in a former orange grove in Anaheim about 1,200 feet from the 5 Freeway. The First Order stormtroopers, Rebellion heroes and scoundrel smugglers intermix with the guests, who are encouraged to interact with the characters like a huge LARP (Live Action Role Play) playground. Think RenFaire level commitment to character for every single cast member from Kylo Ren all the way down to the shopkeepers and food merchants. Guests can stroll around sipping blue milk – a rice and coconut milk slushy drink – and build lightsabers in the secret, underground workshop of Savi, or go to Dok-Ondar’s Den of Antiquities for all their Jedi or Sith relics from times long gone when the Force sensitives were alive and well. But carrying a lightsaber or Jedi relic may put a target on your back for the First Order troops who are looking for Rebel sympathizers, and they may very well stop you and intimidate you into swearing allegiance to the Galactic Empire.



CVWeekly’s 10th Anniversary

It’s been 10 years since we founded this paper. A lot has changed in those 10 years. For one, we started the paper on a dining room table with four people – Robin Goldsworthy, editor, Mary O’Keefe, news reporter, Luci Corona, layout designer, and me, entertainment reporter, photographer, videographer, tech wizard, webmaster and whatever else needed to be done. We all traded off stuff to do – Robin would write stories, Mary took videos, I proofread articles. That’s how we still do it; it’s one thing that hasn’t changed. But now we’re in an office and some, including myself, work off-site, with a pool of contributors in the dozens over the years.


Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood

Usually, Universal does all intellectual property IP-based mazes (haunted walkthrough attractions based on an existing IP – a franchise or idea, typically based on movies or inspired by the music of the band, etc.) with incredibly high production values. This year is no different, except that there are two original mazes alongside the collection of IP mazes USH is known for. And to top it all off, the mazes are all fantastic. Out of nine new mazes, all nine are good-to-great with each one having some aspect of note that stands out.


Knott’s Scary Farm

One of its new haunted houses folds all of this into one maze then adds some classic Knott’s attractions from the old days, like the Catawampus, Sad Eye Joe and more to reveal the origins of how the town of Calico became Ghost Town. “Origins: Curse of Calico” is probably the greatest maze Knott’s has ever done, putting it high in the running for greatest maze of all time, anywhere.



Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party at Disney World

This event has been running for over a month now, nearly six weeks by the time I made it out there so the event is in full swing and well-practiced by cast members now. Mickey’s party is a trick-or-treat in the park event similar to the one held here in Disneyland Resort, but turned up to 11. Guests come in costume to visit the Magic Kingdom after closing hours and fill their goody bags with candy, hit some popular rides and take pictures with their favorite characters, who are also dressed in their Halloween costumes. There is a special parade, stage show and fireworks show during the event. Some of the rides get special Halloween twists just for the party, like live actors as pirates on Pirates of the Caribbean and as ghosts in front of Haunted Mansion, or a lights-off experience on Space Mountain with a spooky horror-movie style soundtrack for the ride. California does Haunted Mansion Holiday and Space Mountain: Ghost Galaxy on their rides for Halloween but those run all day. What Florida’s event really does best is something that California doesn’t capitalize on – anticipation and exclusivity.


Studio Movie Grill Opens in Glendale

Glendale’s mayor, Ara Najarian, with other councilmembers, nearly a dozen corporate executives and managers, and 30 or so of the newly-hired servers, bartenders and other “team members,” officially opened the Studio Movie Grill, an upscale movie center at 128 Artsakh Ave., anchoring the city’s Arts & Entertainment District.



Baby and Beyond Expo

Los Angeles Magazine hosted its first ever Baby and Beyond Expo in LA at the Skirball Cultural Center. This gathering gave parents – both new and veteran – the chance to see what resources are available for kids of any age. From nursing clothes and spit-up blankets to organic baby foods at different stages of complexity as the child ages to strollers and cribs that will transform for the growing child – all was found at the Expo.


Gilbert, AZ Getaway

Just an hour’s flight from LA lies the small town of Gilbert, Arizona. Hiding in plain sight only 20 miles southwest of Phoenix, this desert gem is the family getaway/weekend escape you’ve been looking for. And don’t be fooled by its size; Gilbert offers cutting edge attractions. There’s live music everywhere, from bluesy jazz at the speakeasy-style White Rabbit in the Historic District to Tuesday evening easy listening at the Garage-East winery and country-western among the sliders and slaw at Dierks Bentley’s Whiskey Row. There’s cleverly constructed design everywhere, too, from Tia Hawkes’ original costumes for the musicals performed at the elegant Hale Centre Theatre to individually designed cocktails mixed by Tyler and Dylan at the White Rabbit to re-imagined tintype images produced from selfies in the photo lab of Art Intersection.



Knott’s Merry Farm

Knott’s Berry Farm has transformed park-wide into Knott’s Merry Farm for the season. Knott’s has some fun offerings for the holidays like its Christmas Craft Village near Ghost Town where artisans sell unique gifts, an ice show featuring Snoopy and a Wild West stunt show, “Frontier Feats of Wonder.”


Universal Studios Hollywood’s Grinchmas and Christmas in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Grinchmas returns for its 20th anniversary event, celebrating the Christmas that Mr. Grinch brought back. He was the Grinch Who Stole Christmas but, when his heart grew three sizes, he brought the celebration back and has invited LA to share in the fun. And around the corner in Hogsmeade, Christmas is in full swing. Snow-capped roofs are complemented this time of year with brightly-lit garlands and wreaths. Hot butterbeer flows to every cup and the sound of a magical frog choir croaking out holiday favorites dances through the air. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter lights up at night with Christmas decorations and brings back its annual Christmas show –The Magic of Christmas at Hogwarts Castle.


The Rise of Skywalker

After 42 years, nine films and multiple iterations for television, the “Star Wars” saga is fairly familiar to a great number of people. “The Rise of Skywalker,” which presumably brings the Skywalker saga full circle, is like a Christmas tree. You know it’s dead but there are so many shiny objects, colored lights and glittering decorations on it that you’re distracted despite yourself. All that’s necessary is for that opening crawl to pop onto the screen, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,” and for John Williams’ expansive and iconic score to blast its first notes into a screaming audience and the journey begins.