Niagara Falls Canada

A couple of weeks ago my wife and I went to my cousin’s wedding near Niagara Falls Canada.  We had visited Niagara Falls a few times but always during the warmer time of year.  This was the first time we were going to adventure there in the middle of January.  I’m originally from Canada but have been located in the states long enough to have forgotten how brutal winters can get up there.

When we left Orlando it was about 60 degree, but we were headed to Buffalo Airport which ended up being around 4 degrees and quite a bit of snow.  We got our rental car and headed towards the border.

The temperature seemed to get colder as we got further into Canada.  The roads weren’t too bad, but the wind just cut right through whatever clothing you had on.  After about an hour and a half we were near St. Catharine’s Ontario which is where the wedding was going to be.  On the first day we were invited to the rehearsal dinner which wasn’t until later on in the day.  So I took the opportunity to try and find a penny machine.

Just on the out skirts of Niagara Falls I found a place called Souvenir City.  This is basically the biggest gift shop I’ve seen with all stuff Canada and of course the Falls.

If you like maple syrup they have a whole wall of it and things made from it.  There is also a lot of Ice Wine products (yum!), T-shirts, sweaters, stuff animals and more.

In the middle of the store right near the check out area is a “Penny Crusher” machine.  This was a little unique as it had a bright road light running inside the machine flashing different colors while you use the machine.  It was a little distracting up close, but from a distance looked kind of cool.

Now please note, that this machine cost $1 Canadian which if you are not familiar is a coin called  Looney (there is a Loon design on the coin), and you then supply your own penny.  However you are NOT to use a Canadian penny as it’s against the law.  Also on a side note Canada has stopped created pennies so most stores don’t even have them to give out.  So make sure to bring some of your own American pennies for pressing.

The designs at this machine are of attractions all around the Falls.  The White Water Walk, the Butterfly Conservatory, Maid of the Mist, and a Good Luck Center with horseshoe and maple leaf.  By the time we were done picking up some gifts we headed back to our hotel and had a great time at the rehearsal dinner catching up with our family.  The next day we got up early, had a quick breakfast and decided to try and check out Niagara Falls before the wedding later that afternoon.

Not many people were out on this cold morning which made visiting the falls kind of enjoyable.  We parked near the side of the street and just ran over to see the falls partially frozen.

Seeing the river frozen, and the ice forming along the sides of the falls was really unique and something we had never seen in person before.  After we were pretty frozen through we got back in the car and had time for one quick stop.

Near the falls is a Great Wolf Lodge resort.  A few years ago I had visited one of these near the Poconos in Pennsylvania and was blown away at how cool it was.  This location was no different and fully themed.

There are animatronic characters all over the place, and of course these resorts are known for their indoor water parks.  Even thought it was freezing outside the water park did look pretty enticing.

Just outside the gift shop in the main lobby of the resort was a penny machine.  This one also took $1 Canadian coins, and right beside it was a change machine if you needed help getting Canadian money for the machine.

These pennies were designed around the Lodge and the falls.  The images included a Wolf dressed like a Mountie, a Barrel going over the falls, a Paw Print, and Violet one of the Lodge characters.  This happens a lot when I’m on a roll (ha) pressed coins, and was running out of time.  We quickly (but carefully on the ice) got back to our hotel, changed and made it to the wedding ceremony with just a few minutes to spare.

The wedding was wonderful and the reception was a lot of fun.  By the end of the day we were pretty tired and had to get an early start the next day.  Up early we said goodbye to our family staying in the same hotel, and made our way back to the US Boarder.

Eventually we were back in Buffalo and got to the airport in plenty of time for our flight.  But this is where our adventure home really got crazy.  Because of the bad weather in Buffalo our flight was canceled and another wasn’t available for 3 days.  We decided to drive to New Jersey and stay with my sister until we could get a different flight out of Philadelphia the following day.  It took a little longer than anticipated but we finally got back home to Florida and were happy to see the sun and warmer weather.

Our trip was definitely a unique adventure but it was nice to see the falls in the winter, collect some new pressed pennies and of course visit with family.

ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex

Click here to see my YouTube channel video on this destination
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Growing up in Canada we are pretty much born with a hockey stick in hand.  I’ve always loved pretty much any kind of sports, but always had a special place in my heart for Hockey.  But in Canada we do have a few weeks of warm weather from time to time and during that warm time I did play quite a bit of baseball.  During middle school and high school I played basketball, volleyball and even some Rugby for a very brief time.  I think it was partly due to the competition I loved, but also the camaraderie with my team mates and the satisfaction with improving your playing skills.  When I was young the facilities we played at were pretty limited, but they did the trick and we enjoyed playing wherever we could.

Flash forward years later and now that we are living down in Florida hockey is around but not like it was in the Great White North.  So what is a sports fan to do.  Of course with the internet and TV I can still watch all my favorite teams, but there is still something about amateur sports.  During a conversation with my parents about Spring Training Baseball they mentioned the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Disney.

I’ve mentioned in the past that for the last few years they started coming down to Florida to see their beloved New York Mets over in Port St. Lucie.  Usually they would try to visit other teams in central Florida and a few times came to the ESPN complex to watch some games.  I looked up the complex online and was amazed at how big this place was, and it isn’t just baseball/softball fields.

There are fields for Soccer, Track and Field, Tennis, and indoor arenas for Basketball and Volleyball, plus I’m sure a lot more I didn’t even notice.

After parking in the lot you walk up to a central hub with the complex logo in the middle.  This is a big photo-op for the athletes, their family and all fans looking to document their trip here.

Just up a little walkway from the hub is the main entrance that takes you to the different fields and restaurant inside.  Tickets are required to get into this area, but for most of the events the prices are pretty inexpensive.

Back down by the hub is the ESPN Clubhouse which is like the souvenir shop for the complex.  No admission is needed to access this store.

As with all the other gift shops on Disney property there is a lot of character merchandise, but also a lot of ESPN stuff as well from t-shirts to shots glasses.

In the back of the store near a Cast Members only door/backroom area in among some sweatshirts was the main reason for my visit this morning.

This machine has had the same designs for a few years now.  I remember visiting this machine years on a previous trip and it was located at the front of the store near the cash registers.  When visiting keep and eye out for it as they seem to move it around from time to time.

The machine is a three design electric model.  The images on each of the pennies included the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex Logo, Minnie & Daisy, and Team Mickey.

Also during some special events there is an additional penny machine located in the J Center Arena.  I went during the Wine & Dine Half Marathon weekend to use this machine.  You can read out it here.

This is a cute little set of pressed coins.  Getting to the complex without a car can be a little difficult, but there are Disney buses from time to time taking guests over there or of course you can take a cab or uber.  You can check the complex website to see a schedule of games that are going on year round.  Be sure to buy some tickets and support the young athletes (and some professionals) as their teams play here.  This is kind of a hidden gem but a really nice place to take in a great morning or afternoon of sports.  The competition is great, the complex is fun and there is even a penny machine for a quick souvenir of your visit.

WonderWorks – Orlando, FL

Click here to see my YouTube channel video on this destination
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When visiting the Orlando area and you have had your fill of the Theme Parks there is another stretch of road you can check out.  International Drive runs pretty much parallel to the insanely busy I-4 Highway (avoid at all costs), but is packed with all different types of attractions all vacationers may be interested in.  On trips past I always remember driving down International Drive and it was almost like Florida’s version of the Vegas Strip.  Neon lights everywhere, interesting characters wandering the streets,  all sorts of restaurants  and entertainment.

One of the unique buildings I remember seeing along the roadside was an upside down building.  My parents were never interested in checking out these hackney attractions but as I got older I found some of them actually quite interesting.  This past weekend I decided it was time to see if this upside down building was still there and go inside to see what it was all about.  Sure enough it was there and is called WonderWorks.

From the outside I guess  I assumed it would be like a Ripley’s Believe it or Not with strange exhibits found all over the world, but instead it’s more like a science museum.

There is an area where you can experience a simulated hurricane, or dance on a large piano like Ton Hanks in the movie Big.

Some areas have arcade like games which actually mask a learning experience and kids seem none the wiser.

It also includes a 4-D theatre, Rope Coarse and Laser Tag but I didn’t check those out on this trip.  Maybe when my daughters are a little older I can convince them to come and try them.  The “museum” is spread out over two floors and winds through various rooms each designed around a certain theme.  Eventually you head back downstairs to a very small little snack bar area which seems to usually be filled with birthday parties.  As you slowly make your way past the party tables you end up in the gift shop.

There is the usual candy, t-shirts, coffee mugs and shot glasses here as well as some other interesting keepsakes.

Just as you exit the gift shop area but before heading back into the main entrance there is a four design hand crank penny press machine.

As you can assume these pennies all have designs themed around the exhibits.  The images include WonderWorks Let your imagination run wild!, the Upside Down Building, Albert Einstein, and I Survived Hurricane!

All in all I was pretty surprised by this place.  The interactive exhibits were fun and educational without seeming like a stuffy science museum.  It was busy and there were lots of kids running around, and I’m sure this gets worse on weekends when there are plenty of birthday parts.  But you could easily spend a few hours here having fun inside some Air conditioning, and press some more pennies on the way out.

Nightmare Before Christmas Penny Set – Days of Christmas Store in Disney Springs

Thanksgiving is just a couple of days away and Disney has definitely started helping people in Florida get into the Holiday spirit.  It’s still a little strange to be walking through the theme parks with fake snow falling from the rooftops and Christmas trees everywhere you look but I’m still wearing shorts and a t-shirt with mid-70 degree weather.  This is going to take some getting used any.

Of course Disney also has some places that celebrate the holiday’s year round including one store in Disney Springs called the Days of Christmas.  This place is almost always very busy regardless of the time of year.  People just really love Christmas and who can blame them.  While working today I got a notification that a new 8-Design penny machine was just released and located in this store.

Inside is the biggest selection of Christmas ornaments I have ever seen, and they are Disney, Marvel, and Star Wars related.  Some can be customized which is fun to watch the cast members with steady hands working endlessly on these special souvenirs.

The dated ornaments with the year listed on them are always popular with people commemorating their trips.  I’ll admit I am one of them as well.  Towards the back of the main store is another room that has some clothing, Santa hats, and other souvenirs.  This is where I found the new machine just near the door.

I’m not sure if I’m surprise or not but this was another 8-design penny-sized token machine.  These have definitely become the popular option for new machines of late on Disney property and even Universal.

I had to double-check on some of the characters as I didn’t initially remember all their names.  This is a pretty cool set and I’m sure this is a first appearance in coin form for a lot of these characters.  The designs include images of: Jack Skellington, Sally & Jack in the moonlight, Zero, Oogie Boogie, the Mayor of Halloween town, Sally with a veil, Jack clasping his hands, and Barrel.

As usual I have not intel on whether this is a temporary machine or not.  But since this store is holiday themed all year round, and does include quite a bit of Nightmare Before Christmas merchandise I think it’s a same assumption that this machine will be around for a while.  This is a very popular movie, and people really love these characters so I’m sure this machine will be very popular.  Make sure to get your set as this is definitely a nice additional to any collection.

 

Silver Screen Collectibles – Universal Studios Orlando

I’m going to try my best and start keeping everyone informed on new Penny machines that become available throughout the Universe Studios resorts.  I must be a glutton for hard work and long hours.

I’ve always been a Disney Fanboy at heart, it’s my favorite vacation spot and now that we live in Florida I had a Disney annual pass within hours of crossing over into the state.  I would never say I get tired of Disney as it’s a true passion for me, the movies, stories, characters, parks, resorts and pressed coins are all things I’m completely obsessed with.  But Orlando is the Theme park capital of the world so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to spread out a bit and see what others may be interested in as well.

My last trip to Universal had been earlier this year during a quick trip (at that time) down from Jersey to Florida doing some house prep before our move later that summer.  I raced through both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure trying to document all the machines and jump on a few rides in between.   After almost 6 months since my last trip I thought it would a good time to check on if anything had changed.  As luck would have it I found a new machine.  Shortly after you walk into Universal Studios you come across a store called Silver Screen Collectibles which in the past primarily specialized in Betty Boop merchandise.  However more recently an area of this store had changed over to a small little cat.

Hello Kitty seems like a strange choice, but even though the picture above doesn’t show it that place was pretty packed with people later on in the day.  Must be more popular than I thought.

As with a lot of new machines I’ve been coming across lately this store has a new 8 Design penny machine.  Touch screen and just like the other machines it supplies penny sized zinc tokens.

Now as you can tell from my above ignorance of Hello Kitty’s popularity I really have no idea who any of these characters are.  But I’m making an educated guess that they are all part of the Hello Kitty universe.  Each coin does list the name of the character and my daughter thinks they all “look soooo cute”.  So I’ll take that as a stamp of approval on this new set.

With all the Hello Kitty merchandise in that store I don’t see this machine leaving any time soon but you just never know.  I’ll keep checking back at these parks to make sure and document any more new machines.

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Click here to see my YouTube channel video on this machine

Old Town – Kissimmee, FL

Click here to see my YouTube channel video on these machines
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Continuing my journey down Highway 192 I came across another interesting little place called Old Town.  It’s a little back from the Highway, but not hard to find.  The side street kind of winds around a bit before you find a parking lot.  This place does get busy on weekends, but I was here pretty early on a Saturday and Old Town seemed to be just getting going for the day.

With my daughter Hanna along for the trip we started at the far end furthest from Highway 192 so we could make sure we didn’t miss anything.

There appear to be old roads running through the middle, but no actual cars can drive here so its open for just the pedestrians.  Buildings line both sides of these walkways and have shops of various types selling anything you can image.

One of the first places we stopped into was the Black Market Minerals which was a place I don’t think I’ve ever seen before.

Inside the shop sold all types of rocks, and minerals, jewelry made from these beautiful stones and a lot of very unique gifts.

Just inside the main door was a four design electric penny machine.  I’ve only come across this style of machine in a few places and think the last time I found one like this was in North Carolina at a zoo.

These designs are actually kind of a great set for this type of store.   They include images of different dinosaurs: A Triceratops, Pterodactyl, Brontosaurus, and a T-Rex.

My daughter Hanna was fascinated by the large bins of very colorful stones.  You could sort through them and pick out the ones you liked to fill a bag for a set price.  I convinced Hanna to just pick a few as a souvenir before we headed back out to the street.

You can also find some restaurants, and a few bars here which seem like they would be quite the hang out after dark.

There was even a Haunted House attraction if you dare.  It was closed when we passed by, but Hanna didn’t like the looks of it so we crossed to the other side of the street to be on the safe side.

We kept walking and eventually came across a Leather Shop at the far end of Old Town.

They sold bags, and wallets, belts, and all sorts of products made from genuine leather.  Most could be customized if you had the time to wait or come back.

I will admit I didn’t come her to buy and leather, I’m not particularly fond of it myself but decided to check it out as they had two penny machines inside.

The designs from the first machine seem to be more of the generic rest stop variety.  I’m still new to the area so these are still new to my collection, but get the feeling I’ll be seeing more of these along the way.  The designs included an Alligator, My Lucky Penny, I Love You, and a Florida Sunset over the Water.

On the other side of the door was the second machine which is always nice to have close by.  This was a hand crank model with 4 additional designs.

This set included another design of an Alligator, The Lord’s Prayer, an American Eagle with USA Map and Flag, and finally another cool Florida Beach Scene.  Hanna didn’t seem to impressed with the leather shop (not enough bling she mentioned) so we headed outside and back towards where we parked.

Along the way we did pass by Tiki Jim’s which sounded right up my alley.  I love all that Tiki stuff and would decorate my house like the Polynesian Village Resort if I could just figure out how to convince my wife.  One last stop was for Hanna to get some Strawberry flavored popcorn from the Kissimmee Popcorn Company.  FYI they give out free samples of all their many different flavored popcorn so be sure to try it out, they have some really fun flavors.

This was a really cute little area to just leisurely walk around and so some window shopping.  I can definitely see how it can get busy and crowded as it’s not a very big area.  Plus with the bars around it may get a little rowdy, but when we visited before lunch it was very peaceful, and worth a visit.

Changes to Once Upon a Toy Store – Disney Springs

The big toy store in Disney Springs known as Once Upon a Toy Store has been a haven in the past for penny press machines and at one point had 3 different machines.  However this store is currently going under some renovations and about two-thirds of the store is closed off.  Due to this two of the machines have moved from this location.

The first machine to move was an 8-Design Star Wars machine.  the designs are still the same but this machine is now located over at Epcot in the Mouse Gears store near the Star Wars merchandise.

The second 8-Design machine shown below was the second machine relocated just down the walkway still in Disney Springs in the World of Disney mega store.

With those two machines gone there was only one last machine still in the Once Upon a Toy store and had the same designs it’s had for quite a while.  Until just recently when these designs were changed out.

This is a 4 design hand crank machine located just inside the main entrance doors.

The images pressed on these coins included Mickey Mouse, Dory & Nemo, Buzz Lightyear, and a Little Green Man Alien.

This store has definitely been a starting point for some new pressed coins machines and I’m curious to see what happens once the entire store if reopened.  Will it get new machines or just have the other ones moved back.  Only time will tell, but I’m crossing my fingers for even more machines.

Click here to see my YouTube channel video on these new designs.

Space Mountain / Tomorrowland Light & Power Gift Shop – Magic Kingdom, FL

As a child my family took a couple of trips down to Florida and a couple to California to visit the various Disney parks.  Usually the vacations flip-flopped between a Disney vacation and what my sister and I affectionately called “Educational” vacations like the Grand Canyon, or a tiny town in upper Ontario Canada called Moosonee (check it out it does actually exist).  My sister has always loved thrill rides and I’ve mentioned in the past that they just weren’t my thing.  I already preferred It’s a Small World, or the Haunted Mansion as the most thrilling rides I could handle.  Every so often she would get me on Splash Mountain, but one ride that I always held out on was Space Mountain.

Photo credit: Disney Parks

This was for a few reasons, first was it’s a roller coaster and second it was in the dark.  As the years went on my sister kept trying to get me on, and this even continued up until a vacation together about two years ago as adults.  I still held out.

Just a few days ago a new penny machines was released in the Magic Kingdom, through Tomorrowland and right near Space Mountain.  It’s actually located in the Tomorrowland Light & Power Co. building which is the gift shop you exit through after riding Space Mountain.  Now if you are like me you do not need to ride this attraction in order to access the machine.  You just walk in to the gift shop and it’s towards the back of the store.  However on this trip I decided to do something I pledged I would never do, and try to ride Space Mountain.

The new machine is a touch screen 8-design model which are definitely becoming more popular within the parks of late.

As with similar machines the designs are pressed on penny sized token blanks.  This set was all themed around the coaster just next door.  Images on these coins include: Space Mountain Logo, Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, Mickey/Donald/Goofy in Space Mountain Ride Car, Mike & Sully in Ride Car, Mickey & Minnie in Ride Car, Mickey in Spacesuit, and Space Mountain Chip & Dale.

This is a really cute set and I always like when they incorporate an attraction at the parks.  This machine does replace the 3 design quarter press machine that used to be in this store.  The other two machines (4 Design Penny Press, and 4 Design Dime Press) are still here for now.  After pressing these coins I decided to head back home.  Oh you wanted to know if I made it on the ride?

That’s me in the middle seat.  It wasn’t as bad as I thought and was actually pretty fun.  I don’t know if I would want to ride it by myself again (the other guys with me were single riders as well) but next time my sister is in town I’ve got a big surprise for her.

Click here to see my youtube channel video on this new machine.

Tower of Terror 8-Design Machine – Hollywood Studios, FL

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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the Tower of Terror scares me and I get uncomfortable even going near it.  I’m a fan of the original Twilight Zone TV show, but the thought of being sat inside an elevator car and being dropped numerous times down the elevators shaft is not my idea of fun.  Walking anywhere near that area of Hollywood Studios I can just hear the screams coming from the ride and just shake my head.  But I know that this has a huge following, and there are a lot of people who truly enjoy that experience.

Usually I just try to stay away from this area of the park but one day I received a note that a new 8-Design penny (sized token) machine was place in the gift shop of the Hollywood Tower Hotel.  I psyched myself up and headed over to the park.  Now I will say right up front I did not ride the Tower of Terror, thankfully you can access the coin machines without having to ride.

If you are like me and would prefer to avoid the ride then you can just walk past the queue line entrance and you will eventually see the gift shop exit/entrance.  They do have some cool Tower of Terror themed merchandise in here, and there is a lot of Stitch stuff too for some reason.  Towards the back of the gift shop near where the photo preview area where riders can see their terrified faces as they drop down the elevator shaft.

I apologize for the dark photo above of the machine, this area is really dark inside and with the bright light of the marquee makes taking pictures here pretty difficult.  This was the best of the bunch I tried to take.  As I mentioned earlier this is another 8-Design penny sized token machine.  One design is $1 or all eight for $5.

These are all themed around the Hollywood Tower Hotel and includes designs of: Bellhop Goofy, Bellhop Mickey, THE Bellhop, Bellhops Chip & Dale, Hollywood Tower Hotel Key, Est 1917, Bellhop Stitch, and Bellhop Donald.

As I used the machine to press my sets I could hear groups of people checking out their pictures behind me laughing and truly having a good time.  As much as that ride terrifies me there are people who can’t wait to experience it.  My niece is 5 years old and loves this ride, I’m worried she will try to drag me on the next time she comes for a visit.  If Disney decides to move a new penny machine into the queue of the ride may be the only way I attempt going on this attraction.  But for now I’m glad the penny machines are available to all visitors regardless of how much of a chicken they are.

Click here to see my YouTube channel video on this new machine.

South of the Border – Dillon, SC

So I’ll start off by officially announcing that we have moved to Florida.  I think I have mentioned this in brief passing in some previous posts which also explains all the short trips to Orlando over the last few months.  This was partly due to Family and partly due to work but it was a big move for our family and we are taking this new adventure one step at a time.  Of course being in the Theme Park capital of the world is also going to help everyone with that transition.  Anyways, we have been here about a month so far and still have boxes all over the place.  As I was going through some bags I found a pressed coin that I was able to press on our moving trip down to Florida.  The first day we drove to North Carolina and stayed in a hotel.  The next day we got up early and hit the road.  By the time we crossed the border into South Carolina we were all ready for a quick bathroom stop.  As luck would have it we had been seeing billboards for about 50 miles advertising THE MUST STOP PLACE South of the Border.  We saw the exit sign and did as we were told.

As you exit the highway you can this huge character known as Pedro showing the way.  We pulled right in the parking area below this huge sign.

It’s actually a very interesting area to wonder around.  There are different stores, restaurants, a gas station, reptile museum, and a huge fireworks store if that’s your thing.

The buildings, and colors of this place are very unique but interesting at the same time. We didn’t want to spend too much time here as we still had a long drive ahead of us but we found the restrooms inside a building called Mexico Shop East.

Of course you know the restrooms wouldn’t be right at the front but instead all the way towards the back.  This way you can walk through the huge store of souvenirs and all sorts of crazy nick knacks.

You can get carried away buying some of this stuff if you aren’t careful.  My kids were in heaven with all the toys but we had very little room available in our car at the moment so we limited them to one small toy to keep them occupied for the next 8 hours.

The penny machine that is located in this store is right inside the main door you enter when coming in from the parking area.  It’s a 1 design electric press and still costs only 50 cents plus your penny.

   

On the left is a close up of the marquee sign on the machine with instructions on how to use it.  Since there is only one design you pretty much just put your coins in the slide and push it back.  A few seconds later and your new pressed coins drops out the bottom.  As you can see the finished coins did press a little short, but the design still came out pretty nice.  There are notes on pennycollector.com that there is another machine in one of the restaurants but it has the same design.  I didn’t have time to try to find it to confirm but their website is usually pretty accurate in my experience.

Thankfully I had some extra quarters and pennies stashed away in my car.  I’ve said it over and over again you just never know when you will come across a machine you didn’t know about.  After seeing the machine I went back to my car grabbed some change and added another cool pressed coin to my collection.