Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, Punta Cana (DR) - a stay review.

 
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Here’s my review of our stay at this hotel this summer. Please remember that this is a personal review and does not mean you will have the same experience as we did. Please comment below if you’ve stayed here and tell me about your trip!! I’d love to compare anecdotes!

Before we go into specifics, check out some Do’s and Don’ts when you vacation at an All-inclusive here.

THE LOCATION

 Aerial view of the resort. I found it from the plane! Do you see the pools?

Aerial view of the resort. I found it from the plane! Do you see the pools?

Hard Rock Hotel has locations all around the world. We chose this particular one due to a “deal” we found that lured us into looking at it. It is located in the area of Bavaro, in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. You fly into the Punta Cana Airport and make your transfer to the hotel. I urge you to have your transportation set up before arriving. If you can’t or don’t know how to, don’t panic!! There is a counter FULL of transportation agencies right outside the airport with information and people eager to help you. It is just a good idea to plan ahead of time to avoid getting potentially scammed. We were recommended Dominican Plus, and they were very professional and reliable, so I recommend them. Just make sure you tell them that you want to be picked up at the group lobby when you go home, to avoid misunderstandings. The hotel has two lobbies and this can create confusion, and delays…believe me, you don’t want any delays when you are heading to the airport.

The hotel’s entrance is off a main road, but it was quite strange…the gated entrance says “Hard Rock” but it continues into a development of condominiums for sale. Perhaps those are part of the golf course? I don’t know, but after another mile or so inside the gated community, there’s another gate to the actual Hard Rock Hotel. So it’s pretty safe and private in there.

THE SERVICE

Service was OK. The front desk clerk was an absolute delight. Everyone else, not so much. For some reason, besides the entertaining personnel and a handful of waiters, most employees looked like they hated their job. Seriously. Rarely any smiles, not very good at interacting with guests (even when I spoke to them in Spanish), they just didn’t look happy. We witnessed a few guests being terribly mean to some waiters and bartenders, so I am sure they don’t get treated well by the occasional A$$(redacted)**. We tried to be nice and kind, and we received smiles and kindness in return. Just remember that.

THE ROOMS

Well, you have a variety of rooms to chose from, depending on your budget. But, just so you know, ALL rooms have a jacuzzi inside the room. Yes, I repeat. ALL ROOMS have private jacuzzi. All rooms are also equipped with a minibar full of drinks, beer, water, and liquor. You have access to a rum and coke 24/7. I do have to admit, the room was absolutely beautiful and comfortable. Very well decorated, with a large granite counter bathroom and double shower. You will feel like royalty.

ROOM SERVICE

Since all your meals are included in what you already paid…why not order some room service? Their room service was fast and they brought everything we ordered. Very easy to order and just as delicious as if you go eat at the restaurant. We opted to order breakfast for room service. Plenty of hot coffee and fresh fruit. It was great. I do have to say though, the room service menu was a little short, so not too many options for you to chose from.

GETTING AROUND

To get around this massive resort, you can either walk, take the trolley, or rent a golf cart for your stay. If you decide to walk, make sure you are wearing comfortable shoes, because you will be doing a LOT of walking. To get from your room to the pools, or to the beach, or to a specific restaurant, depending on your location, sometimes it’s a long way. If you take the trolley, fear not! There are trolley stations all around and they run every 5-15 minutes depending on the time of the day. There are also maps of the premises all around so you don’t get lost. If you want to have fast and reliable transport at anytime, you can opt to rent a golf cart. Parking for golf carts are conveniently located all around the resort, so it’s easy to get in and out.

THE RESTAURANTS

With 9 different restaurants on the premises, you won’t go hungry. Try them all!! You can walk in for lunch, but for dinner, make sure to have a reservation. Some of these restaurants book days in advance and they won’t let you in without reserving a spot. My tip: When you first arrive, head over to the front desk and make all your reservations for your stay. They have a booth dedicated to reservations in the group lobby of the hotel. BUT BE PATIENT… It can get crowded and the clerks take their time with each guest. When you bypass the waiting, you can decide where to dine each day of your stay. Enjoy anything from Mediterranean, Italian, Japanese, Brazilian steakhouse, Latin American, or artisan brick oven pizza (which by the way is absolutely amazing). When you are done with dinner, have a coffee and pastry at the coffee place, or enjoy some of their magnificent ice cream at the ice cream parlor (no reservations required for the coffee or ice cream!).

THE POOLS

13 pools, which includes 3 kid pools, and 4 swim-up bars. The central pool area (and most pools really) fill out rather quickly. My tip: Head to the pool right after breakfast and claim your seat. All pools have accessible bathroom conveniently located within a short walk, and towel booths. ALSO, all pools have bars nearby and snack foods available at all hours (mostly chicken tenders, french fries or pizza)… PERFECT for when the kids (or adults) say “I’m hungry” in between meals. No need to leave the pool for anything! Poolside servers will bring you a cold drink anytime you want. Make sure to tip them at least once guys. These men and women work really hard, long hours, in the sun. Spare a dollar or two.

Do not forget to check the activities schedule for the central pool. They host competitions and fun games each day for the whole family. You can always enjoy live music or an crazy foam party at the pool.

THE BEACH

The beach at this resort is breathtaking. Beautiful white sand, intense blue waters. My only complaint…the ocean is rough in this part of the island. And when I say rough, I mean ROUGH. Most of the time they won’t allow you to get in the water. It is still nice to sit on the beach and put your toes in the sand.

THE SHOPS and Central area

OMG this place looks like a mall inside. The long long hallways are full of stores on both sides. Clothes, shoes, jewelry, souvenirs, Hard Rock memorabilia, chocolate, and a liquor store. Pretty cool to browse around when you are waiting on your dinner reservation. Most restaurants are located in the central area of the hotel, right where all the shops are; and the bars. It’s a cool place to walk around.

NIGHT LIFE AND ENTERTAINMENT

The bars are right there in the central area. 4 bars which host different activities each night. The Moon Lounge has Karaoke every other night. Kids are welcome in, but only till 11pm…and then the adult party stars. Do you prefer live music? Or perhaps you want to dance all night? They got you covered.

The theater also hosts different shows each night to entertain the crowds of all ages. Check out the shows schedule and make your plans ahead of time. My tip: Plan dinner around the shows to get the most out of your stay.

THE CASINO

The casino is HUGE! 45,000 square feet to be exact. Seriously, you can find all the typical games like poker, blackjack, craps, roulette, and obviously slot machines. One thing I noticed though, they are extremely serious about age restrictions in this place. No one under 18 is allowed to even set foot in the casino premises. Not even if you want to take a shortcut to your room. NOPE. They uphold this rule to the fullest extend. Sorry kids, can’t play on the slot machines.

THE KIDS CLUB

Fear not! Kids can still have lots of fun while the adults enjoy an evening out. The kids club offers lots and lots of activities for the little ones. Most activities are musical related…but it’s the Hard Rock Hotel, duh!

During our stay, our daughter refused to go to the kid’s club and leave our side… but seriously, this was totally OK since there was so many other things to do at the pool and around the hotel, that we kept busy. She even sang karaoke with us one night. It was great. Other options for family activities are: the arcade, escape room, and mini-golf.

THE TOURS

When you book your room, you will get points, and their amount depends on how long you stay and what room you book. Either way, DO NOT FORGET TO USE YOUR POINTS.  It is not a scam.  Redeem them towards a tour or some souvenirs.  They are like hotel cash (kind of).  We booked a dolphin and snorkeling tour directly with the hotel and it was fantastic.  In fact, it was easy and cheap.  You only pay the tax, which we gladly did if it meant that we got to interact with a dolphin so close for about 45 minutes, and snorkel in the beautiful clear and docile waters of the Caribbean.  I am not sure of the location of the snorkeling waters, but they were very calm and clear, not like the waters around the hotel, which were deep blue and very rough.  Either way, it was amazing!!!

There are many other amenities at this hotel that we didn’t have time to check out.  The spa is supposed to be amazing, so it the golfing.  If you want to get more fancy, you can become a member and enjoy MANY member-only amenities they offer.  Things like private pools, private areas, private golf cart pick ups. But I’m sure it cost a pretty penny to do it. 

I would recommend this resort because of its many amenities and great restaurants.  However, I was very disappointed in the entertainment and the themes/quality of the shows they offered.  I have seen many, much better, more elaborate, and more impressive shows done by street performers in cities around the world.  Maybe I expected more because, you know, it IS the Hard Rock Hotel and I imagined concert like experiences. I was wrong.  Regardless of this, it was fun and memorable.  Have you been here? Tell us what you thought down below in the comments!

Always,

Mia.

Punta Cana: A guide to an all-inclusive family vacation

When hubby said, "We are going to Punta Cana" I was excited, but not incredibly thrilled as I've been with other trips. The truth is, I didn't know what to expect.  Either way, we packed our bags and headed to Dominican Republic, an island shared with Haiti, located between Cuba, Jamaica and Puerto Rico, in the beautiful Caribbean ocean.  

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First things first. We always look for the best travel deals and family friendly spots. For more information on how to travel on a budget read this first.  

When you budget for a vacation, it is important to remember a few factors. First, how many are traveling. Not to be obvious here, but the more people, the more expensive it can get, but even with large families, there's always the option of Airbnb.  

This time, we wanted to do an all-inclusive type of hotel.  Dominican Republic is known for its many resorts and beautiful beaches, so we gave it a chance. We found an amazing deal (Expedia unreal deals are great sometimes) at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino.  

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Granted that sometimes, if you book your hotel directly with the hotel's site, you can find even better deals. Sometimes this hotel (depending on the season) has up to 40% off and kids stay free.  Of course, they do these types of deals when kids are in school and chances are that you will only find adults there, but hey! If you can afford taking your family on a school week without missing any important tests or projects, this can be a very affordable option.  

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Either way, we always pack light. Even when kids are traveling. I've adopted a minimalist way of traveling and I'm loving it.  For a list of things to pack when traveling with kids, check this out.  

WHAT TO EXPECT AT THE PUNTA CANA AIRPORT

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It is hot. The plane landed and we got off the plane and onto a bus, which took us to their immigration port of entry. Lines were long, so be prepared to wait. Have your immigration AND customs paperwork filled out and ready. Once you go through immigration, you proceed to pick up your luggage and go through customs... which is technically just an officer collecting your form. They might do a random baggage search, but we didn't see any of that. In fact, there are people that work at the airport for a tip that will help you get your luggage through the side so you don't stay in line...most of them know the custom's officers and they let them bypass the crowd. Weird, yes, but it worked for us.  

Make sure you have transportation set up in advance. 

We were recommended Dominican Plus, and we are glad we used them. Very reliable, incredibly friendly staff, and we felt safe the entire time. Not to mention, very much affordable.  You can rent a van just for you and your family and they will pick up at the airport, and take you straight to the hotel.  Round trip.  No other stops, no other people in with you.  Private van for a very affordable price. You can go to their website or check them out on Viator (which by the way is highly recommended) to see their tours and other services while in Punta Cana.  

A TIP GOES A LONG WAY

One of the good things about an all-inclusive vacation is that tip is included in the price…well, that’s what they tell you. In fact, it is written on what’s included with your trip. But, look at it this way: yes, you might’ve paid enough to get there and have your dream vacation, so yes, it should be included in the price, BUT these people make no money out of it, and work incredibly hard every single day. They will not get rich if you tip them a little here and there, in fact, they will treat you like a VIP.

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Here’s what you do: Always tip your drivers and bell-person at the hotel. Pick your favorite bar and get to know your bartender or poolside server. Tip him/her well ($10 might not be a lot for you, but it is for people in other countries), that tip, at the start of your day will create a ripple effect… Your glass will not be empty, you will feel like a VIP, because they will treat you differently from those who do not tip, IF you are drinking alcoholic beverages (Why not?! It is all-inclusive!) they will make sure your drink is better than all others. Don’t believe me? Try it. You will be treated like royalty…it is your dream vacation after all.

HOTEL EMPLOYEES ARE HUMAN TOO. BE KIND.

This is something that you would think is obvious, but I was surprised by how many people treated hotel employees and drivers like they were trash. It was sad. Yes, they are there to help you and make sure you have a great time, but please remember that a kind word, a smile, and a simple thank you can make a difference in the day of others… and it will give you good karma points.

TRY ALL THE DRINKS

It’s free! Yes, if you are drinking a Pina Colada, and suddenly your taste buds decide you need something more dry…Do it! No outrageous-cocktail-price guilt attached. And after that try a specialty coffee to wake you up before karaoke night. Yes, you get the idea.

TAKE CASH

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We are all so used to plastic, that it’s easy to forget to withdraw some cash before your trip. Take cash with you because you will need it. American dollars are OK. It comes in handy when you tip or when you want to buy a quick souvenir. Keep in mind that most of these resorts have many stores and many choices to find small (or big) gifts.

PACK SOME FANCY CLOTHES

If this is your first time at an all-inclusive resort, you probably think that all you need is your swimming suit and flip flops. Well, yes, that is great if all you plan to do is to stay by the pool. But the truth is that you are going to want to try the amazing gastronomy that these resorts have to offer… INCLUDED IN THE PRICE.

Side note: To eat at some of these restaurants, you must dress up… a little. So pack a nice dress or two, and fancy flats or sandals. You will regret it if you don’t. By the way… it doesn’t really have to be so fancy, just something other than shorts and a tank top.


DO KARAOKE, GO TO THE DANCE BAR, GO SEE A SHOW

But, I have the kids with me! Yes, I know. We did too… Besides the casino and specific adult-only designated areas, most all-inclusive hotels that allow children are very family oriented and kid friendly. So, things like karaoke, shows, and dance night are open to all ages. They might have a curfew for kids, but it’s usually by midnight. Believe me, you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy yourself and your kids will love it too.

USE YOUR POINTS

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When you book at certain hotels, most have a reward system or point system that gifts guests with incentives. Get informed about their rewards and use it! You may think that it’s a scam to lure you into buying extra amenities or packages..blah blah. Not always. We used our points (given to us by just booking on certain days) and used them towards excursions. All you have to pay is tax. We were able to swim with the dolphins and snorkel in the Caribbean ocean for next to no money! Thanks to the points we cashed. No questions asked, no extra spending. USE YOUR POINTS! If you don’t like excursions, you can also use points towards the spa or even to buy souvenirs.

A side note: I did notice that the actual city of Punta Cana is quite dirty. The touristic sites are kept well and clean, but the rest of the city and streets are extremely dirty and full of trash. That sight made me double pledge to keep trash in bins and recycle ALL my plastic at home.

RELAX BY THE BEACH

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Chances are your resort is on the beach. If so, take advantage of the privacy (or semi-privacy) that all-inclusive resort locations have to offer. Depending on the location, you might find paradise in your back yard. It is easy to get lost in the amenities that resorts have to offer, just take at least a few hours to admire nature and put your toes in the sand.

RELAX BY THE POOL

This one is pretty straight forward. Just pick a pool and enjoy. Most likely whatever all-inclusive you pick is going to have several pools to chose from. The best thing to do is wake up early, have breakfast and head to the pool of your choice to reserve a chair. Pools get pretty packed starting mid morning and afternoon. But if you know that you will be spending your day doing nothing, sun bathing or enjoying cocktails while you read your favorite book (see suggestions here!), pick your pool and claim your seat. Get to know your bartender and/or poolside waiter, tip them well, and you will LOVE your day.

ALSO, HAVE FUN BY THE POOL

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In many hotels, they reserve the main or central pool to conduct family friendly pool activities. Take a day or afternoon to get our of your shell and release your inner weirdo… in a good way, and not in a creepy way. Pool entertainers are usually pretty outgoing and with a contagious sense of adventure, get lured in and participate. Fall off the giant inflatable in front of everyone, rock on in a pool of foam, paddle across the pool competing for best time, play polo or water sports. Just do relax, and have fun.

LAST THOUGHTS

All inclusive resorts are great if you have a budget and a family. You can drink, eat, and have fun without the guilt of overspending as everything is pre-paid. Want some ice cream at 10 pm? Get it! Decided to try all flavors of coffee and accompany them with different pastries…do it! No-guilt attached… other than the overload of calories you will intake, your wallet won’t suffer.

Go ahead! Find your best choice for your family and do it. Looking for deals might be a tedious task sometimes, but it is sooooo worth it when you finally hit the jackpot. Piece of advice: search on Wednesdays and/or Thursday nights, since I’ve found that many deals are released on those days. If you search for vacations on the weekend, chances are that you will pay more… this is not always the case, but it’s worth the try.

ENJOY YOUR VACATION!

Do you have any other tips or recommendations? Comment below! I would love to hear about it.

Always,

Mia

A Week in NYC. What to do? A Kid-Friendly guide

 
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Visiting the big apple can be overwhelming if you don't know what to do, where to go, where to start.  The best thing to do when visiting NYC, and any other new place really, is to educate yourself on the best places to see, how to get from point A to point B, and about how much things are going to cost you (so you can budget, and also, so you don't get ripped off by the seldom opportunist hustler).  We put together a guide of kid-friendly things to do when you visit The Big Apple; from where to stay, to how to understand transportation, and some good places to eat we found along the way.  So, keep reading and plan your trip!

WHERE TO STAY

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Basically, the answer to this question depends on your budget.  As you may already know, NYC is divided into boroughs, and they all vary in price considerably. If you stay in Manhattan you will probably pay a tad more than if you stay a little farther from the touristic sites. We always check out deals that include airfare and hotel on Groupon, or Expedia, or even just lodging through Airbnb for the best prices. 

HOW TO BOOK LODGING/AIRFARE AT A REASONABLE PRICE

Don't settle by checking just one site. Check them all, several times a day, several days a week as the specials change by the hour. We have noticed that a lot of good deals are released on Wednesdays and/or Thursdays nights. If it's Saturday, and you want to book your vacation right away, you will pay more. Similarly, if your stay includes a weekend, you can also pay more as hotel rooms, and plane tickets increase in price if your travel plans include Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. Try booking during the week and you could pay less.  

TRAVELING ON A BUDGET?  READ THIS!!!

I FOUND A GREAT DEAL, NOW WHAT?

Once you've found the ideal price for your flight/hotel, start loosely planning your days. We like to have a simple and flexible itinerary when traveling. Yes, sometimes is great to do things as they appear, but finding fun things along the way is not always that easy. You don't want to "waste" your day away while deciding what to do, where to go, and how to get there. Have a plan...IF you find something better along the way, then you can change your itinerary. Flexibility is key. 

RELATED: PACKING WHEN TRAVELING WITH KIDS

START YOUR FIRST DAY ON A LOW KEY

Don't burn yourself out on the first day, especially if you arrive to your destination later on the day.  Relaxing is a very important part of the concept of Vacation. Start sightseeing with whatever is closest and/or easiest to get to, or simply enjoy a good dinner and a short walk.  If you already feel rested, or you are one of those people with extreme amounts of energy, try to follow your itinerary the first day.  

HOW TO GET AROUND

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In NYC, you can walk, take the metro, train, taxi or Uber/Lyft. Up to you. Our preferred method for this visit was Metro. Since we knew we were going to use it a lot, several times a day, we opted for purchasing the week-metro card (about $35). You can purchase single tickets as well. Just don't try to skip the entry gate...if they catch you, it's not pretty.  

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First thing you want to do is to make sure you have Google maps installed on your phone.  Second, know where you are on a map to decide if you need to go in the "uptown" or "downtown" directions.  Basically, downtown is south, uptown is north...or pretty close. Plug in the address or landmark onto Google maps, and it will tell you, step by step, what train to take, and the times of arrival based on your location.  IT'S AMAZING! Even if the train is running late or if there are scheduled maintenance conflicts, this app will let you know and give your alternative routes and options.  

We recommend that you still get a physical map of the metro, just in case your phone dies or your internet stops working... you never know! Don't get overwhelmed by the map. Once you get familiar with the system, it becomes very easy to read. The trains are color coded and the connection stations are clearly marked on the maps. Grab one before you leave your hotel! They are usually free.

YOUR ITINERARY

Know what you want to see before you arrive to NYC. I've been to the city many times, and I still haven't see it all. Don't think that you can go see everything in a few days... you will burn out.  Here's a list of our recommended places to see and eat while in NYC. You can google the names to get the address and directions. Please note that this is just a personal opinion and does not mean these are the best things to do or eat. If you know of other sites or restaurants that are a must do/see, PLEASE comment down below and let us know!! We would love to try them when we come back!  

WHAT TO SEE

1. THE AMERICAN MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY

Do you know that museum from the movie "Night at the Museum"? Yes, the same! (and if things come alive at night, sign me up for the night shift!) We enjoyed our afternoon at the museum.  NOTE: wear comfortable shoes because it's a lot of walking! The museum is large and there's a lot to cover.  In fact, you might not be able to see it all if you try to rush. There are four accessible floors in this massive building. You might start on the second floor, as the iconic main entrance on Central Park West leads to the second floor. You will have the opportunity to purchase general admission and/or tickets for the additional attractions. The museum is divided by wings, which are pretty much divided by continents fauna/cultures/sub-cultures.  Then you can find ocean life, minerals, and of course, the dinosaurs on the fourth floor. It also has a great planetarium with a stellar presentation narrated by Neal Degrasse Tyson. Don't miss it!

2. TIME SQUARE

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This one is a big, "duh!!" Obviously you can't come to The Big Apple and not visit Times Square. The main things to do here are 1. admire the lights and colorful advertising on the buildings, 2. Great dinning, 3. Shopping, 4. Entertainment.   

PLACES IN TIMES SQUARE

RIPLEY'S BELIEVE IT OR NOT!

This place is AMAZING!! Definitely a must do in NYC. I've been to other Ripley's museums around the country, but the one on Times Square takes the gold. It's full of interactive, weird artifacts and fun activities for the whole family.  It also makes for amazing photo ops!!  It's worth it.

LIKE CHOCOLATE? VISIT M&M WORLD AND HERSHEY'S WORLD ON TIMES SQUARE

Yes, both of these MASSIVE stores are located diagonally from each other right in the heart of Times Square. Word of advice, they are obviously overpriced... like, I can literally buy the same amount of M&Ms at Target for a fraction of the price. The cool thing is that they do offer products that you can't find anywhere else or they are rarely available in stores. We tried to purchase the rare candy and stayed away from the normal products... save your pennies! 

THEATER... THE BEST

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Plays like The Lion King, Wicked, and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child are located in Times Square...unfortunately we couldn't purchase tickets in advance...and the fact that are incredibly expensive! You can, however, find great sales on Broadway tickets in Time Square! Keep an eye for those.  

Sleep No More is another AMAZING off-broadway interactive play.  Read the review here ... Just so you know, Sleep No More is NOT kid friendly...so adults only.  

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ENCOUNTER: OCEAN ODYSSEY

This fabulous interactive experience will take you into the deep ocean and will make you feel very close to the marine life of our world.  Parts of it feel as if you are inside the ocean, while other parts were a little cheesy. Overall, it was good. The kids thoroughly enjoy this guided tour of the seas.  

EATING AT TIMES SQUARE

Two of my favorite places are:  

BUBBA GUMP SHRIMP COMPANY 

Run Forest, Run! Yes, maybe because Forest Gump is one of my ultimate favorite movies of all times, or just because this place is pretty cool, the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company had amazing food! Have shrimp anyway you can imagine... this is the place for that. 

CARMINE'S

You better make reservations for this family style Italian Restaurant or you'll be waiting a long while for a table. The restaurant has been around since 1990 and continues the tradition of large meals for the whole table. Believe me... you don't need an appetizer if it's just two of you. The portions are SO BIG that are aimed for a family of 4+.  We didn't even have room for dessert and we just had ONE entree. It was fantastic!

 

3. CENTRAL PARK

This colossal green space in the heart of Manhattan is not only iconic, but also beautiful.  It's a green paradise away (and inside) a jungle of asphalt. Take a morning walk, or have a picnic by a lake while gazing over the city.  It's relaxing.  

4. CENTRAL PARK ZOO

While walking around Central Park, we encounter the zoo. It is NOT very big, but big enough to spend a good couple of hours observing the animals and shopping around.  

5. STATUE OF LIBERTY AND ELLIS ISLAND

Everyone knows New York's most iconic symbol, the Statue of Liberty.  Located on Liberty Island, it is worth visiting this lady at least once. She doesn't look that big from a distance. In fact, she looks faded and small if you observe her from Battery Park. Take a ferry tour (purchase tickets in advance.  Beware of scammers.  I learned that only Statuecruises.com is the direct seller, and most others will charge you an extra fee to get your ticket.  So go directly to statuecruises.com to get them).  When you see Lady Liberty close and in person, you'll realize that she's not only massive, but also bright and colorful.  We opted to do the Crown pass... We saw it as a once in a lifetime opportunity to climb up the very, very, very tight 354 steps to the top. The view was fantastic!

Once you are done with the statue, get on the ferry again towards Ellis Island. Here, you can walk through the shoes of the immigrants that entered this country so long ago.  The things they went through, the things they suffered, how they were treated. This fascinating museum is powerful and interesting.  Don't skip it!

6. CONEY ISLAND

We didn't get in the ocean, but the beach looked beautiful! We walked by the pier and along the boardwalk. It was a fun day of (expensive) carnival rides, and funnel cake! We stopped by NATHAN'S famous Hot Dogs, and shopped for souvenirs. The rides are good, but they cost a pretty penny, so choose wisely.  

WHERE TO EAT?

So many options!!! I cannot possibly tell you about every single place or this list would have to be a book.  Besides the two places in Times Square mentioned above, we visited a couple of local landmarks that are a must: 

LOMBARDI'S

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Established in 1905, it's said to be the very first pizzeria in the US! Now, I don't know how true this is, but this place looked pretty retro and has a great atmosphere. Beware! Cash only my friends!! Enjoy good pizza, but bring your cash, as plastic is not accepted. The walls are covered with pictures of the celebrities that have visited the restaurant.  

VENIERO'S

Hands down my favorite dessert place in the world...Another very old city landmark. If you want amazing desserts, go straight there.  Everyone that visits NYC should go here first. Serving pastries and desserts since 1894, this family owned cafe has been in business for five generations. Sweet and heavenly place this is.

BLACK TAP

Black Tap offers craft burgers and beer as well as the most amazing and creative milk shakes you would ever encounter. The milkshakes are massive and should probably be shared and not consumed alone....unless you are OK with the million calories you can ingest. They are deliciously tempting!

PATACON PISAO

In the mood for some good, affordable, Venezuelan cuisine? Go to Patacon Pisao. This very small hole in the wall is made for big taste buds. Get your food to go, or eat it there (if there's a table).  They cook the food as you order it, right in front of you. Guaranteed that you will lick your fingers.

 WHAT ABOUT BREWERIES? 

If you would like to taste some good craft beer you don't have to go very far.  NYC has a few breweries that are kid friendly, so no excuses!  

HEARTLAND BREWERY

With several convenient locations, Heartland Brewery offers great beer and good food.  Their Time Square location is within walking distance of many attractions, so swing by in between or have dinner with your beer!... Or beer with your dinner...whatever.

CONEY ISLAND BREWERY

Like the name suggest, Coney Island Brewery is located in Coney Island.  After a hot day of walking about the boardwalk, take a rest and have a cold one at the brewery.  We weren't sure how kid friendly this place is, but it seemed OK if you sit down outside by a shaded picnic bench.  Their beer was interesting, with cotton candy flavors, and other sours (which are my favorite).  Hubby enjoyed the IPA.  

BROOKLYN BREWERY

By far my favorite NYC brewery.  We tried many of their beers over the week and they were all amazing.  The facilities are very inviting, spacious, and kid friendly.  Definitely a place I would come back to.  Also, the staff is extremely helpful and friendly.  LOVED IT!

OTHER LANDMARKS

There were many other places we visited and many many more we wanted to visit but didn't have the time.  Here are other places you may want to consider for your sightseeing adventure:

*Empire State Building.  

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You can climb the stairs or take the elevator to see the city from this 102 floor building.  There's really nothing much else to do, just take a pic and make your way back down.

*MACY'S

I've never seen a store this big in my entire life.  This block long, 10 story building feels like a city within itself.  I am pretty certain that you could find anything you can ever need here.  Also, it's NOT cheap.  I couldn't find a cute outfit under $100.  Cool, but not my kind of store.

*9/11 MEMORIAL

Commemorate those who died in this tragic attack by visiting the museum.  Read the stories and learn about the history and the rebirth of the city after the attack.

*HOBOKEN, NJ

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Yes, I know this is not New York, but Hoboken is just a short train ride away.  Hop over the river into the shore of New Jersey, and observe New York skyline from the other side.  It's breathtaking and peaceful.  Also, Hoboken has plenty of restaurants and entertainment to offer!

*CHINATOWN

This culturally rich neighborhood in Manhattan has a lot to offer for a fun afternoon of great food and good, cheap shopping.  Hundreds of vendors and stores will try to lure you into their shops, while the smell of good food will lure your nostrils and wake your appetite.  Beware of scammers and be vigilant of offers that sound too good to be true!

There are many, many more attractions, museums, landmarks, and sites that I didn't mention. I mean, NYC is a place with 8.5 million people! I'm giving testimony of what I've experienced when I traveled.  Please feel free to add to this list by commenting below!!!

Bon Voyage!!

Always, 

Mia

Disney's Hollywood Studios: Travel Truths

 
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If you are looking for rides, you will be utterly disappointed when you go to Hollywood Studios.  There are only a handful of actual rides in the park.  Everything else is split between various kinds of entertainment shows, greeting of characters, shops and restaurants.  

Perhaps my least favorite park of them all (to read the reviews of all other Disney parks, click here), Hollywood Studios is still a beautiful park to see.  If you are more into the spectacles, Hollywood glamour, or Star Wars, then you'll probably like this park.  Let me break it down on what to do while visiting Hollywood Studios in Orlando. (disclaimer: types and availability of shows may vary by season).

THE BEST

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We like the thrills and rides with the technology and special effects that Disney is known to offer.  If you are up for a super, very fast ride, head over to the Rock 'n Roller Coaster.  You get on a "limousine" courtesy of Steven Tyler himself, and ride on the streets of L.A. on an incredibly fast, loud, roller coaster full of spins and twists, that may or may not make you throw up.  All while rocking to the songs of Aerosmith.  You can't beat that thrill!.

Also, next to the Rock 'n Roller Coaster you will find the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.  Now, I'd always wanted to ride this haunted elevator, since I was a kid.  Being a fan of the Twilight Zone since childhood, this ride was very anticipated.  You walk into a very haunted looking hotel lobby, with obvious spiderwebs and creepy decor.  Then you are taken to the elevator by the bellman.  You get in.  Sit down on the bench-like seat, fasten your seat belt (make sure to do this). 

The elevator goes up, and up, and up to the top floor, it opens a few times so you can see the scenery (pretty cool by the way) and then.... you scream.  The elevator drops several floors down.  Up and down, dropping with no warning.  It was fantastic.

The Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular was OK as well.  Not a ride, but a cool show that demonstrates how a film full of stunts is filmed (AKA Indiana Jones). 

FOR THE LITTLE ONES: 

Toy Story Mania was a cool little ride.  You enter the Toy Story world while shooting targets and collect points.  Play solo or challenge your friend.  It's playfully great! 

Also, if you reminisce of the good ole Muppets, the  Muppet Vision 3D, is the show to watch. It's sweet, funny, and just brings back good memories.  

FOR THE STAR WARS FANS:

Star Wars: Path of the Jedi, is a film experience that both parts of the movies, and real characters on stage.  The Jedi Training, will turn the little ones (4-12) into Jedi masters.  Star Tours: get in this simulator, travel the stars and feel the force.  

OTHER SHOWS:

The Voyage of the Little Mermaid, is a theatrical live short show with real characters, and special effects.  

For The First Time in Forever: Sing along to the songs of Frozen. Also, Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage, a Broadway style musical.  

Fantasmic: The one show you shouldn't miss.  Join Mickey and other Disney Characters on a magical musical adventure full of special effects and ... magic. 

Most of the entertainment in Hollywood Studios is in the form of short shows and meet the characters. The scenery is beautiful, but if you go with little ones, there is not going to be a whole lot to do (keep in mind that most "meet the characters" do not take the fast passes, so lines might be long).

Read our post on Disney's Do's and Dont's so you can plan your trip now!

There are plenty of restaurants, snack points, and shops along the park.  You will not leave without a souvenir! 

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I know I've said that Hollywood Studios is my least favorite park... Do you like it? What did I miss? Let us know in the comments and prove me wrong! (traveling is a learning experience). 

Always,

Mia

 

Disney's Animal Kingdom: Travel Tips

Animal Kingdom is one of the parks located inside Disney World in Florida, and it is perhaps one of my favorites! Before going to this park, I imagined Animal Kingdom as a jungle-looking park full of fun rides. Well, I was wrong and I was right. Parts of the park are decorated with the utmost detail to the many regions featured throughout the park; from the jungles of Africa, to the ride of a lifetime on Expedition Everest in Asia, or the magical world of Pandora. The attention to detail makes all sections unique, fun and unforgettable. Let me tell you a bit about each section.

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But before that, here are some tips:

1. Come early. If you don't already have the fast pass for your favorite rides, get there as soon as the park opens, and go straight to your chosen ride. You will be close to the first one in line.  Just so you are aware, since the World or Avatar opened, most people run in that direction to get on the two amazing rides featured in that section.  

2. Wear comfy shoes. Yes, lots of walking!

3. Bring a Poncho. It's Florida.  It rains... a lot.

4. Bring some water. Walking a lot will make you want a drink.  

READ MORE SUGGESTIONS :  TIPS FOR A PERFECT DISNEY VACATION.

OK, back to the park. Here are the sections explained:

ENTRANCE AND OASIS

As soon as you walk in through the doors, you'll see the fabulous Rainforest Cafe, a wild eating experience surrounded by a jungle that seems to come alive. Don't worry, real animals won't eat your meal, but the feeling that you are inside the jungle is pretty cool.  

This area is called the Oasis. You can walk around and enjoy the tropical gardens.  

All main paths will take you to the very center of the park. The Discovery Island.

DISCOVERY ISLAND

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Literally an island. This section is surrounded by the Discovery river, and features a GIGANTIC tree of life. The Tree of Life is the center piece to the park. It is a work of art within itself. There are trails and pathways featuring small animals through these paths. When you get to the tree of life, just observe the magnificence of the carvings on the tree. You will be amazed.

Things to do:  Wilderness Explorers- complete activities at your own pace.

It's tough to be a bug- 3D movie inspired on "A Bug's Life" where you lean about bugs, and feel some "special effects" This ride will take you inside the Tree of Life.  

Adventurers Outpost- Where you can meet Minnie and Mickey.

Also, many places to catch a bite to eat, and a couple of souvenir stores, but every section has lots of these.

Starting to the right of the park you will next enter Dinoland.

DINOLAND U.S.A.

Dinoland has a cute little fair ride-resembling section with Fossil Fun Games which is perfect for little kids, along with Primeval Whirl (warning if you suffer from back pain... the ride is old and very bumpy), and the TriceraTop Spin, which will take you flying over Dinoland. If you are into a more thrilling life style, head over to Dinosaur. A fantastic ride where you will encounter very realistic looking dinosaurs, right in front of your face... I mean, they are so close that you can probably smell their breath!  (might not be suitable for very small children if they get scared of screaming beasts).

ASIA

If you continue your trek to the right, you will enter Asia.  Full with magical appeal, Asia is filled with birds singing, and animals roaming. Yes, you can walk (self guided) the paths of southern Asia in the Maharajah Jungle Trek, where you can see tigers, monkeys, bats and a Komodo dragon. 

In Asia, please ride Expedition Everest. It's not only a beautiful sight, but also thrilling, fast, and high...very high. And, as if that wasn't enough adrenaline rushing through your veins, chill that high blood pressure with some splashes riding the Kali River Rapids. Wear a poncho for that one. Guaranteed you will get soaked.  

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There's also the Flights of Wonder- and exotic bird show, Rivers of Light, and other special shows that vary by season.  

AFRICA

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Get lost in a jungle and find Gorillas. Yes, literally a jungle with Gorillas, in Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail. This self guided path will take you to the tropical forest of Africa where you can see the wild animals in their habitat. Don't worry. For some reason the animals do not get close to you. Don't ask me how.

If you are into the wild life of he African Savanna, take the Kilimanjaro Safari and embark in a wild ride. You will be able to see lions, elephants and giraffes, among other animals. Animals are roaming free. Yes, wild animals roaming free to cross your path... but you are in a well protected caravan type of car, and I'm sure they have tricks and ways to keep the dangerous animals away.  

In Africa you can also sit, relax and watch a show in The Festival of the Lion King, or get in touch with your inner conversationalist and head over to Rafki's Planet Watch, where you can find out how the behind the scenes animal care looks like. Check out the hours on this one as it's not readily available all the time.

Now you made your way around...get ready for the best part. Although it is (for now) the smallest section of the park, the Pandora, World of Avatar is the most magical.

PANDORA- THE WORLD OF AVATAR.

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I have no words to describe this place other than magical and unbelievable. If you have seen the movie, Pandora, you will find this section of the park familiar. It looks and feels as if you are in a different world. If feels as if you are walking the jungles of Pandora, from the sounds, to the smells, to the vegetation and the landscape. It is so surreal, you are probably going to want to spend a long time here. But wait... you probably will if you don't get a fast pass for the Navi River Journey and the Avatar Flight of passage, the only two rides here. You can wait in line for HOURS, three or four hours for 10-15 minutes of your life. Worth it? yes. I wouldn't say that about many things, because waiting in line is not my favorite thing to do, but, especially the Flight of Passage, is the most unbelievable thing I've ever experience - and I've been to many places.  By far, number one favorite ride in the world.  IN THE WORLD.  Every single person that rides this will tell you the same. 

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What is the Flight of Passage? It's your chance to become an avatar of a Na'vi and fly on a banshee. You are genetically put into a machine and fly on a banshee. No, seriously, I'm not even exaggerating. It feels so real, that the theatricals of getting your DNA and blah, blah, blah (watch the movie) might be true.  Also, don't forget to adopt a Banshee when you are done.  They need homes too, you know. 

This very advanced 4D simulator is the best of the best. Do not leave the park without doing it.

What are fast passes, what to do in Disney, what rides are recommended? Here. Read this: RELATED:  OTHER DISNEY PARKS: A GUIDE, TIPS, DO'S and DON'TS

 There are many good places to snack, eat, and have ice cream in Animal Kingdom, as well as plenty of good shops. Just remember to get to your chosen first ride first thing in the morning (if you don't have a fast pass) and wear comfy shoes. That's all you need. Have the time of your life surrounded by nature. 

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P.S. Customer relations was amazing when we went. Hubby lost his wrist arm inside the Dinosaur ride. We thought it was lost in time, forever.  Well... since the wrist arms have credit card and fast passes info, we had to report it to customer service.... and voila! They actually found it! Apparently they are loaded with a very precises GPS locator. They are watching you! 

What is your favorite ride? Let me know in the comments!!!1

Always,

Mia

 

Iceland Excursions; Suggestions on what to see and do

So we have already shown you how/what to pack when traveling to Iceland and how to (somewhat) stay on budget. Now the most important part, what to see/do?!

Iceland is known for it's serene landscape and beautiful natural wonders and there is no end to the amount of amazing, once in a lifetime sights to see. 

This list will break down a few of our must see/do list while in Iceland. Of note, we booked all of our tours through viator.com. Not only were they the best prices around but they were efficient and organized which made the whole trip that much more enjoyable!

1) Cave Hike/Golden Circle Tour

This all day, action packed tour took us through the southeastern part of Iceland. We started out with an early morning exploration of a volcanic cave. There was lots of crouching, sliding, and some crawling involved but man was it fun! Check us out!

After a much needed lunch, we were refueled and ready for our afternoon which consisted of a hike around Thingvellir National Park, watching the roaring cascade of Gullfoss waterfall (insanely beautiful!), and awed over the massive Geysir eruption in the geyser fields.  

Because our tour guide was phenomenal (seriously Icelandic Adventures is the best!) we made a quick pit stop to feed and faun over some Icelandic horses. 

2) Waterfalls/Glacier Walk/Black Sand Beaches

This tour was a spur of the moment decision for us, we had booked and planned our entire trip prior to coming, leaving ourselves 2 free days in our week long vacation in case anything interesting appealed to us, and thank goodness we did! During our brew tour, we met a really cool couple who had taken this tour the previous day and raved about it, so we knew we had to check it out on one of our free days!

This all day tour took us to the waterfalls Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss (stunning), where we hiked behind the falls and then just generally stood drooling at the sheer beauty,

Next in the tour was a stroll along the black sandy beaches of Reynisfjara. This unique beach is comprised of basalt lava and is utterly breathtaking. 

After a quick lunch in Vik, we headed out for our glacier hike at Solheimajokull Glacier. This serene and peaceful site looked like something from a land before time. You can totally imagine you are the other person in the world standing looking at the rolling hills and snow white ice. 

 

3) Blue Lagoon

Now after all those days of hiking, and sightseeing, you would be insane not to take an afternoon to soak and relax at The Blue Lagoon geothermal hotsprings. 

FOR A MORE IN DEPTH LOOK AT THE BLUE LAGOON- CHECK OUT OUR ARTICLE HERE

Your entrance fee gets you admission into the facility, one towel, 2 drink vouchers, and unlimited volcanic ash face masks. 

We soaked our weary travel bones until we were sweaty prunes, and then soaked some more. With a swim up bar, we could honestly have stayed forever. The steamy haze and sheer size of the pool made the experience intimate and despite the crowd when checking in, spacial and relaxing. It was definitely one of our more memorable experiences. 

4) Food/Brew Tour

You all know by now that we are huge self proclaimed foodies who make it a mission to try all the local cuisine, including, strike that, especially the strange and unusual. Singing up for a food/beer tour will definitely knock off some of those must eat items from your list. We booked one that paired a local brew with a local sample sized serving of food. Expertly timed courses and great explanations of flavors, this was a fun one.

If you want to wing it- we recommend checking out this restaurant which offers a seven course meal which highlights all the unusual foods Iceland has to offer. We chowed down on horse, puffin, and whale to name a few. The step price tag of 70USD per person was worth it in my opinion to sample all these rarities in one stop.

5) Northern Lights Hunting

You can't visit Iceland and not try to catch a glimpse of the illusive Northern Lights. Hailed as one of the seven wonders of the world, this scientific phenomenon is simply put, magical. Our nighttime tour took us several hours outside of Reykjavik to literally, the middle of nowhere. Our gregarious tour guide kept the late night ride entertaining with old folk lore, Icelandic facts, and interesting stories along the way. While they (obviously) can't guarantee that you will see the lights, they do everything they can to make it the best possibility (they have scouted out several prime locations, kept a close eye on cloud coverage, and are flexible with viewing spots, etc) and will even offer to reschedule you free of charge for another day of your trip if the lights don't cooperate. While the lights weren't out in full force for our hunt, we did catch some truly magical glimmers. 

**Download the Northern Lights app if you are an iPhone user before you go and take pics from there with a steady hand for your best shot at catching the lights on camera. If you don't have a fancy one that is.***  

In addition to these stunning sights around the countryside, there is plenty to keep you occupied in the city of Reykjavik as well. A few must see places/activities within city center include:

- Weekly Fleamarket, Kolaportið which is opened every Friday/Saturday and features some really unique hand crafted items including jewelry, wool sweaters, hats, etc. 

-Saga Museum: Play dress up like a Viking and enjoy this 50 minute self guided tour through some of Iceland's history as depicted through wax figures. 

-FREE city walking tours" You don't want to miss the opportunity to take advantage of a FREE walking tour all through downtown Reykjavik. Sponsored by the city, this guided tour will show you all the historical spots around town in this two hour guided tour. 

-Elevator ride up to the top of Hallgrimskirkja church. Check out this view! 

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-Puffin/Whale Watching Tours: Depending on what time of year you travel, be sure to check out the puffin and/or whale watching tours. This was a fun (if cold!) few hours on the sea and a good alternative to hiking around the countryside if you have physical limitations or just need a more relaxed day. Experience the beautiful landscape from the sea!

Ballin on a Budget; Planning your trip to Iceland

As you guys know, we recently returned from a week long jaunt in Iceland, and had the time of our lives. 

We had heard that Iceland was an expensive country to visit, but were woefully under-prepared for just how expensive things could be. So we have complied a list of tips and tricks to make the most of your trip, without breaking the bank. 

1. Cheap flights:

With the emergence of bargain airlines, flying doesn't have to be as costly as it once was. Airlines including Spirit, Allegiant, and WOW can take you to many tourist destinations for a fraction of the price. The tricky part comes in scheduling which airport to fly from (they don't have hubs at all international airports), and understanding baggage and carry on rules.

WOW is the bargain airline which operates to and from the US to Iceland (and parts of Europe). Check their website to see out of which cities they operate. We took these cities listed, and looked to see which we could fly to on the cheap. A couple hours of research later and we were able to book flights from Charlotte, NC to Boston, MA to Reykjavik, Iceland all for the low low cost of $550 USD per person. (We also had some credit card points to redeem so our cost was under $500 per person- score!) Red eye flights are also considerably less expensive. We never flinch at a red eye, especially when it's international. Arrive in time to see the sunrise and you're ready to explore!

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Being a bargain airline, WOW makes up there revenue with charging for all bags, carry on, movies, and in flight drinks and snacks. No complimentary conveniences here! To save on the insanely overpriced snacks (there is no way I am spending $6 on a mini can of Pringles), I packed some snacks for the ride (Lance cracker, packages of nuts, some cookies), although I did cave and buy a Coke ($3) due to airline restrictions of boarding a plane with liquids. 

Each passenger is allowed one carry on (laptop case or smaller) and you must pay a fee to use the overhead bins. You also pay for each checked bag, and the weight limit was 35 lbs per bag which meant we had to be very careful in our packing and clothes selections. (I tend to overthink everything which inevitability means overpacking!)   

CHECK OUT WHAT I PACKED FOR OUR TRIP HERE!

2. Lodging:

While there are plenty of nice hotels in Iceland, if you are planning on staying for more than 2-3 nights, we highly recommend looking into renting through Air B&B. Not only is it less expensive per night, but they usually offer discounts for extended stays of more than 5 days.

We also took advantage of our kitchen/fridge to stock up on cereal/milk/snacks (which saved money on our food budget). One with a washer was an extra perk that allowed us to pack lighter and be able to wash clothes mid trip. We opted to stay in the Marina district. We were a mere 2 blocks away from the pick up spots for our tours and an easy 4 blocks from center city. It was the perfect location! 

3. Food/Drinks:

Food and drink prices are astronomical in Iceland, but there are ways to save money where you can. If you don't mind hotdogs/warm sandwiches/noodles, there are some really great stands throughout Reykjavik where you can pick up an inexpensive lunch (under $10).

One of my favorite parts about traveling is sampling the local cuisine, so I personally don't like hitting up the same spots to eat every day, I much prefer to try a new place everyday. BUT with as busy as we were, sometimes a quick lunch on the way to our next activity worked in a time crunch (and made our wallets happy).

Download the app "AppyHour" (Itunes and android) to locate where all the best drink deals are happening every afternoon. (Because no one wants to pay $14 for a pint or $22 for a cocktail!). With this app you can quickly locate drink deals across Reykjavik. (Typically BOGO or 50% deals). 

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Here are a couple of our fav cheap eats:

Baejarins Betzu Pylsur: Hot dog stand.  Good hot dogs, simple, but very reasonably priced.

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Ramen MOMO:  This little tiny restaurant is a hidden gem.  Only sits 10 people at the time, so you will have to wait.  They won't cook your food until you find a seat.  A must have! (And for $5 USD per bowl- a real money saver!)

 

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4. Sightseeing:

Iceland does not have a large scale public transport system like can be found in most large scale cities in the US, and across Europe. Mostly due to the vastly undeveloped landscape of the country, and the fact that the entire population is under 400k, there really isn't a need. This leaves you with 2 options: 1) Rent a car or 2) Book tours which include pick up and drop offs.

Keep in mind that gas prices (like everything else) are quite high. Roughly $3.00 per liter, and sights are very spaced out, so know this when deciding how you want to get around. We opted for tours which included pick up, and drop off as it was a more cost effective, and convenient option for us. The tours through viator.com were very reasonable and well run. (Note that this website is not Iceland specific- you can use it for booking all manner of international tours!)

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 You simply  cannot  travel to Iceland and not explore the beautiful countryside. I mean, check out this view!

You simply cannot travel to Iceland and not explore the beautiful countryside. I mean, check out this view!

NOT SURE WHICH TOUR TO BOOK? CHECK OUT OUR ARTICLE ON WHICH TOURS WE RECOMMEND!

5. SOUVENIRS

Like everything else in Iceland, souvenirs are also very expensive.  Yeah, you want to bring your mom, or your friend a bottle or Icelandic Liquor, or a taste of sea salted chocolate, or perhaps even a wool sweater.  Be prepared to pay a pretty penny for all of the above.  Almost all souvenir stores around the center city are very high in price.  We made the "mistake" of purchasing some very costly small items on our first couple of days, but soon realized that there are other ways to find the same items way cheaper.  How?

If you are looking for good quality wool sweaters, all the fancy stores around the city will charge you a couple hundred dollars for something nice.  Go to the Reykjavik flea market on Saturdays or Sundays and you will be able to browse a vast variety of hand-made authentic Icelandic wool items at a much cheaper price.  Even though this is a "flea market" the wool merchandise, and costume jewelry is hand-made and new. Yes, it's still a little pricey, but cheaper than a downtown store.

We also found that souvenir shops NOT in center Reykjavik have way cheaper prices. We shopped for small items and collectibles at the stores located outside the city when we went on tours.  

IF you happen to spend over $6,000 Icelandic Krona (roughly $60 USD) in one transaction (excluding food) keep your receipt, you might be eligible to receive up to 14% of your purchase back! Simply, take the receipt and fill out a form at the tax office located inside the airport, and they will reimburse your sales tax directly to your credit card AND, while at the airport, hit up the Duty Free store! Seriously, you will save a whole lot of money by buying booze and candy to take back home there, instead of a liquor store.  

There are not a whole lot of ways to save tons of money when visiting Iceland.  You have to do what you can to minimize the impact on your pockets.  Everything is expensive, but it's cheaper if you plan ahead. Planning is key.  Plan where you want to eat, buy your cold gear before arriving, purchase your alcohol at the duty free before leaving the airport, and definitely use the viator app for tours, and the appy hour app to search for half off dining and drink options.  Follow this and you will save some moolah.  Buy your souvenirs outside city center, and walk everywhere.  Taxis are costly.  Do you have any other tricks or tips? We would love to know!

Please comment below or shoot us an email! 

Safe Travels my friends! Have fun in Iceland.

XOXO,

Coco

 

 

 

THE WIZARDING WORLD OF HARRY POTTER- a review

 

By the way... this is a real live photo I took.  It's that out of this world it looks fake to the eyes!

I was still a teen when I got hooked on the magic of a boy named Harry.  I can honestly say that reading these books changed, and saved my life in ways that many people don't understand.  How can a kid's book change your life? Well, it did. 

You can read my open letter to JK Rowling HERE.  It remained secret for a long time, but it feels good to tell the world that being sad, or depressed shouldn't be a stigma.  

So because of this, and many other things that I won't go into detail with now, I can say that I'm a Harry Potter super fan, or simply (and proudly) a Potterhead.  

Going to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Studios, and Islands of Adventure Florida had been my dream every since it was announced in 2007. 

HERE ARE THE MAIN THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:

If you are going to the park for the first time, there are certain things you should know so you can make every second count.

1. GET A MULTI-PARK TICKET.

You have the choice of purchasing a single park admission (Universal Studios OR Islands of Adventure) or a multi-pass or park hopper ticket.  GET BOTH.  WHY? The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is actually split in both parks. While Islands of Adventure opened the HP World in 2010, an expansion of this magical world was opened in the Universal Studios area in 2014. Both areas are connected by the Hogwarts Express.  YOU WON'T BE ABLE TO RIDE THE HOGWARTS EXPRESS unless you have a ticket for both parks.  Believe me.  It's worth it.

2. HOW THE WIZARDING WORLD IS DIVIDED

Islands of Adventure houses Hogsmeade, many shops and restaurants, the Flight of the Hippogriff, and the Hogwarts Castle with the Forbidden Journey ride.  Take the Hogwarts Express to King's Cross (located on the Universal Studios side) and enter the mysterious Diagon Alley where you can find Gringotts Bank and a fire breathing dragon on top of it.

 

RELATED: UNIVERSAL STUDIOS AND ISLANDS OF ADVENTURE- TRAVEL TIPS.

WHAT TO DO FIRST.

The very first thing a true fan should do is to get your own magic wand at Olivander's.  Whether you enter through Universal or Islands of Adventure, both sides have an Olivander's store.  This should be your first stop as the lines can get long, and there's no fast pass for it.  They will let about 20 people inside at the time for a "mini-show" to meet the man himself, Mr. Olivander.  He will pick a random lucky person from the group to hold wands and recreate the famous scene when Harry's wand chose him.  It's a very cool experience to see so close and in person.  But don't worry, if you are not chosen (they only chose ONE person per group- usually a kid, duh!) You will be then guided to the shop, where you can purchase your own wand.  

RELATED: DIY Harry Potter Rug. Step by Step.

WHAT KIND OF WANDS DO THEY HAVE? 

You can choose regular, character-based wands, interactive character wands, or your own wand based on your birthday.  If we talk about looks, some wands tend to lean towards the "dark side", but it's pretty cool to see what wand you'll get.  The store personnel is usually standing by in robes ready to assist you.  The interactive wands are more expensive, but totally worth it.  WHAT DO THEY DO?  With your purchase, you'll receive a map of Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade with every single interactive point in the land, along with the specific magic spells that will allow you to showcase your magic skills...

WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY "MAGIC SKILLS"?

Step on the symbols marking the magic spots (carved in gold on the ground), wave your wand in the way it specifies as you say the spell and just watch what happens.  You will see it rain on other bystanders, lights flicker, things float, etc.  There are dozens of places for you to practice your magic with your wand! But remember! The WAND chooses the wizard, not the other way around.

3. RIDE THE HOGWARTS EXPRESS

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One of the most memorable moments of my life - don't judge- was when standing in line, there I was, awaiting patiently at King's Cross, right at platform 9 & 3/4 (which you can find between platform 9 and 10 - wink wink) when suddenly, I hear it. The powerful whistle of the Hogwarts Express as it approached our station.  I think I didn't cry just because my daughter was watching me, but I almost did.  I did squeal.  This amazing replica of the iconic locomotive is as beautiful as it looks on the films.  When you board, they will seat about seven to eight people per cart, and close your door.  The cart compartments look EXACTLY as they look in the movies.  Before departure, pay attention to the glazed doors of the cart.  You'll see shadows of the characters "talking on the hallway", the Trolley lady, and even dementors looking to take you to Azkaban.  Watch the window when the train is in motion to observe the beautiful landscape and the view to Hogwarts/Diagon Alley. You are not supposed to take pictures or video inside the train... (sad face). 

4. RIDE EVERYTHING.

Besides the Hogwarts Express, there are only a couple of actual rides inside Harry Potter World's, but there is SO much to do! Go into the Hogwarts Castle and see it inside while waiting in line to ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.  Look around, enjoy the magic! 

Before you enter the Forbidden Journey ride you will have to put ALL your belongings in a locker.  No backpacks, no lose items are allowed in this ride.  Do you remember the scene when Ron took the old Ford for a ride and landed on the Whomping Willow? Well, this ride will feel like this.  The magic bench (in which you will be seating) is controlled by a robot arm.  Combine this with the most amazing flying simulator, incredible props, and special effects, and you go on the ride of your life. 

The flight of the Hippogriff is a roller coaster designed to feel as if you were flying on Buckbeak, the hippogriff. It's fun and short, but not as amazing as THE ESCAPE FROM GRINGOTTS.  Yeah.  You literally (or simulator-ally)  go all the way down into the vault in one of those little carts guided by a goblin.  Then it gets intense.  That freaking dragon, man! It's a great thrill! You almost have to ride this twice to be able to appreciate everything there is to see as it goes magically fast. Oh, before I forget, stay outside Gringotts for a while and watch the dragon on the top of the building breath fire. We timed it to be every 15-20 minutes or so. It's great!

5. DRINK BUTTERBEER.

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I'm not a fan of sweet, creamy/sparkling drinks, but I obviously had to try butterbeer.  I've had it before at a different venue, but NOTHING, and I repeat, NOTHING compares to this butterbeer.  IT WAS AMAZING! Not too sweet, not too simple. It was just the perfect combination of sparkling, and creamy buttery flavors.  I opted to have it cold, but apparently you can also  order it hot.  

6. DINE AT THE THREE BROOMSTICKS, Leaky Cauldron OR have a brew AT HOG'S HEAD.

Great food, simple menu and the portions are big.  Two can split some plates.  Reasonably priced as well (for a theme park).  The atmosphere is cozy and the service is quite organized.  

7. THE SHOPS!!!! 

SO many shops! Most have basically the same merchandise but organized differently, so it's fun to see the props and different decor of each store.  Definitely don't miss Weasley's Wizard Wheezes trick and candy store.  It's very entertaining. Also, I was a little disappointed to see that they don't have a lot of small souvenir items for sale (other than key chains).  I was hoping to find cool Harry Potter inspired jewelry, or car stickers, or you know, things like that... nope.  Most stuff was apparel, and expensive collector's items.  There are stores dedicated to Quidditch items and apparel, others to robes, and you can even get your own post owl!

8. EXPLORE DIAGON ALLEY.

When you are in Diagon Alley you must adventure towards a small, not so crowded, alleyways and you'll be surprise what you'll find.  If you dare, you'll find yourself in Knockturn Alley.  There you'll see Borgin and Burkes, a store dedicated to the dark arts, just like the one Harry fell in after saying the wrong name with the floo powder. A replica of a moving, very life-like Nagini is showcased on the store's display.  

9. DON'T FORGET TO STOP BY GRIMMAULD PLACE AND THE KNIGHT BUS.

Outside Diagon Alley, on the Universal Studio's side, you can see a beautiful replica of Grimmauld Place.  It's funny that I got excited to see it, but most people walk by it thinking it's just a decorative building... well... it is, but you can still see it and take a pic, while imagining you were part of the Order of the Phoenix. The Knight bus is next to it.  Go inside.  Take a selfie.  

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10. WATCH THE CASTLE AT NIGHT. 

Since we only did one day at Universal (first mistake), we stayed there ALL day and into the night, to be able to do most attractions.  When night falls, it's a wonderful spectacle at Hogsmeade.  Yes, you need to make your way towards Hogwarts and watch the light show.  Just like they do it at Disney on Cinderella's castle, Hogwarts has nothing to be ashamed of.  It was actually superior than the one at Disney (READ THAT REVIEW HERE). They play a very familiar tune that dances to the marvelous lights reflected on the Castle.  I have no words to describe it, so watch this video instead and see for yourself: (disclaimer, it was Christmas time celebration when we were there, so they probably change it according to the season). 

 

SO MUCH TO DO! The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is fascinating, and truly a magical experience.  From the snow covered roofs of Hogsmeade, to the whistle of the Hogwarts Express, you will be delighted with this world and will want to go home and read (or reread) all seven books.  Yes.  Do it.  I know you want to.

IF YOU WANT TO READ THE BOOKS, GET THIS SET: Harry Potter Books 1-7.  It's worth every penny. 

Till next time.

Always,

Mia.

 

 

Top 5 Aromatic and Delicious Foods to Try in Morocco

Guest Post by Maria Bella.

I don’t know if anyone else has ever felt it, or it is just me. I sum up life needs in the 4 most important aspects to be considered -before spending valuable money. Number one is your family, then clothing, food and at last shoes. Wanderers might agree with it because your family is your ultimate responsibility, clothing and shoes are the reflection of your personality, and food is something that should be healthy, yet good enough to your taste buds. Out in the world there are many outclass cuisines that are enjoyed, especially from all over Morocco, Africa.

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Morocco is the land of aromatic spices, and exotic food recipes that gives you a tempting feel. Some food cuisines are derived from the Roman era while others let you enjoy the real Moroccan food. Spice up your love for food and show some real affection towards it, try the food with ingredients that adds up the taste to your life. Nomads are people who can easily adapt to the new and exciting changes and for them, food is something they can sacrifice anything for.  It is only enough to have some tasty and different food to taste.

Roaming around the local market of Marrakech, the aroma will lure you towards it. There are even times when their homes will grab your attention because of the delightful scent of yummy ingredients. The real way to enjoy the food is to feel its fragrance, breathe-in the aroma, and let your mouth filled with water by only gazing at it for a minute. That’s the way one can romanticize his breakfast, lunch and dinner too. So, foodies! here we have a list of some must try dishes in Morocco. Apparently, Marrakech is the city of delicious cuisines but Tangier is also giving a hard competition nowadays.

1. Tagine

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Let the spices melt in your mouth with the watery lamb cooked well with green olives (on choice). Tagine is more likely to be the national dish of Morocco. You can find it in any restaurant or a road side café where it is mostly served with breads.

2. Harira

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If you are visiting Morocco in the Holy month of Ramadan, you will find people breaking their fast with this particular dish. Harira is the common dish that is made from the ingredients like, chicken or lamb both, tomatoes, chickpeas, and lemon slices used for the garnishing while serving it to the guests.  

3. Zaalouk

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Whenever looking for irresistible food taste, one needs to look out for Zaalouk, prepared with salads scooped up with the bread. It is the combination of multiple salads, compellingly misty aubergine puree garnished with garlic, paprika, cumin and chilli powder.  

 

 

4. B’stilla

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For instance, you are enjoying holidays in Fez, which is also known as another charming city of Morocco, inviting food lovers to taste the cuisine that is a pastry pie filled with pigeon meat including cinnamon, saffron that gives the aromatic touch to the delicious dish. Sweet and savory taste will also give you an idea of trying a new and unique recipe at a cooking class.

5. Mint tea

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Its aroma is enough to hold you, and its fragrance arises nostalgic feelings. Refresh your emotions with the best drink of the world, you will forget the wine or beer after tasting this once. The refreshing taste of mint gives a soothing touch to the mind. While you are looking to relax for a moment, cherish that moment with a special mint tea of Morocco.

 

Moroccan Sweets

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Bakeries of sweets can be found at every corner of the street. Mint tea serving with the pastries and other sweet cuisines. In Morocco a sweet dish is considered as a necessary part of every meal, and all people of Morocco have a sweet tooth.  

 

If you are a food lover, and admirer of the spices and smells, then Morocco is the land for you. Once landed there, you will feel the aromatic air. A country is supposed to be adventurous in every manner; many companies are proving you lavishing tours that include cooking classes, don’t forget to avail that. If you are an observer who loves to give at least a try to every new thing or activity coming their way, then you must try the foods mentions in the blog.

Every city has its own taste that represent the regional and cultural differences of Morocco. Other than food, one will also get view of beautiful sights; moreover, tourists are always treated in a best way, they are invited to the local home cuisines every time. Accept the invitations and spend some wonderful time with the kind people of Morocco. Plan your Morocco Holidays now, and include all these dishes in your list!

About the Author:

Hi, this is Maria from UK. Nowadays, I am writing creative, historical and informative articles about traveling. I am interesting in writing to provide unique and creative content that enable the reader to understand the traveling experience and take help to plan a Cheap morocco holidays decision on the basis of provided information.