7 Magical Fairy Tale Vacation Destinations That You Have to Visit

Guest Post by Carmela Rodriguez with Alltherooms.com*

From romantic castles to picturesque towns and peaceful forests, there are some places in the world that are truly magical and enchanting. Travel company AllTheRooms has rounded up the seven best fairytale destinations in the world:

1. Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany

If you’ve ever seen Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, a trip to Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany will be like stepping into the movie. It’s a large white castle that sits on top of a hill surrounded by green forest in the heart of Bavaria. The castle, which dates to the 19th century, was built by King Ludwig II of Bavaria as a homage to the medieval era. Today, it is one of the most visited castles in the world as it looks like a picture-perfect fairytale castle. The castle has been featured in several movies, such as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the Great Escape. It also served as inspiration for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty.

2. Bamboo Forest, Japan

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The bamboo forests of Kyoto, Japan, are arguably one of the most serene and peaceful places in the world. The forests are filled with rows upon rows of green shoots that soar to the sky and move gently with the wind. In Kyoto you can hike through miles of bamboo forest and along the way you’ll see temples and quaint houses nestled into the forest. For many in Asia, the bamboo plant has a symbolic meaning, as it wards off evil.

3. Sintra, Portugal

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Sintra, Portugal is a historic town filled with stunning romantic-era architecture, pastel-colored villas and the grand Pena Palace, which sometimes sits above the clouds (weather depending). Pena Palace is known for its elaborate tile work and colored torrents. From the palace, you can see sweeping views of the surrounding mountains and forests. It’s an easy day-trip from Lisbon.

4. Lake Bled, Slovenia

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Lake Bled in Bled, Slovenia, is a fairytale-like lake with an island that sits in it's center. There are several buildings on the island, including a pilgrimage church that was built in the 17th century. If you’re observing the lake from afar, you can see the peaks of the alps in the background. The scenery is at its most dramatic in the winter, when the forests and mountains surrounding the lake are white with snow. In the spring and summer, the lake is an emerald color, and is equally beautiful.

5. Colmar, France

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Colmar in northern France is often described as one of the most beautiful towns in the world. It’s an enchanting town filled with cobblestone streets and colorful timber-framed houses that look like something out of Walt Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. It’s the perfect place to take a lazy afternoon stroll, where you walk beside the canal and observe the fine Alsatian architecture along the way.

6. Waitomo Glowworm Caves, New Zealand

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It’s hard to believe that the twinkling lights in the Waitomo Glowworm Caves in Waitomo, New Zealand, are caused by mother nature. The caves feature a jaw-dropping display of lights that are created by glowworms, which are tiny insects that are the same size as flies. Entering the caves is a surreal experience that many liken to floating amongst the stars, as the dark grottos are filled with twinkling lights that have a blue hue. You can visit the caves on a boat tour and find out more about the history of the caves.

7. Cappadocia, Turkey

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Cappadocia in Turkey is known as a natural wonder of the world thanks to its famous hoodoo chimneys, which are fairytale-like towering structures of naturally formed rocks. The land has been used as a place to live for centuries as the soft-rock of the natural structures makes it a good place to build. Today, you can see ancient houses and religious structures that were carved into the hoodoos, with some of the structures dating as far back at the 8th century. Most people come to Cappadocia to hike and explore the hoodoos or, if they have the cash,to ride hot air balloons above the natural spectacle.  

About the Author:  

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Carmela Rodriguez is a Journalist from London. She quit the rainy UK and moved to sunny Medellin, Colombia, where she is a Content Writer for Alltherooms.com. Her favorite travel adventures have been staying at a hostel in the middle of the Caribbean sea, and riding a motorbike in Vietnam

*All images and content provided by Alltherooms.com

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.

BEST BOOKS TO GET INSPIRATION TO TRAVEL

Guest Post written by Rebecca Pittore from Alltherooms.com

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Reading your first travel book is something like meeting your first love. You can have thoughts and experience emotions that you have never felt before, and be inspired to go places and do things you otherwise would have never considered.

Just like you can fall in love again, you can always catch the travel bug again if you find yourself in a rut. Keep reading for AllTheRooms’ guide to Best Books for Inspiration to Travel.

 

 

ON THE ROAD by JACK KEROUAC

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A definitive American travel novel, Jack Kerouac’s masterpiece On the Road defined an entire generation of restless road-trippers, and continues to inspire travelers of all ages.

On the Road is essentially a memoir of Kerouac’s travels between the years of 1947 and 1950, crisscrossing the USA with very little money, while accompanied by his lunatic but fun-loving friend. The language of the novel is deliberately reminiscent of the improvisational and flourishing jazz music of this era.

This rhythm of language also typifies the spontaneous spirit which overcomes you as you embark on a new adventure with no goal or purpose in mind. Kerouac himself called the work a “journey to find America and to find the inherent goodness in the American man. It was really a story about two buddies roaming the country in search of God. And we found him."

Indeed, this accidental, improvised travel masterpiece is if nothing else spiritual, but not “traditional” or contrived spirituality by any means. It’s pure travel and soul-searching for the sake of nothing else but those things. As life goes, it’s equal parts downs and ups -- ecstasy, depression, exploration, captivity, freedom and limitation.

But it’s always on the road. And there are few things more tempting than “the road”. It means getting away and forgetting about your responsibilities for a while. In small measures this is wonderful.

 

A WALK IN THE WOODS by BILL BRYSON

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A Walk in the Woods is another spiritual buddy-travel tale written by an everyman, but of a completely different sort.

Whereas Jack Kerouac is celebrated for his melancholic thrill-seeking, Bryson is renowned for his hilarious observations and unwavering optimism. In 2017, CNN put A Walk in the Woods #1 on their list of funniest travel books ever written.

Published in 1998, A Walk in the Woods recounts Bill Bryson’s often disastrous hike along the Appalachian Trail with his vastly overweight and alcoholic friend. This book established Bryson as a distinguished travel writer, and the preeminent travel author in terms of humor.

What distinguishes Bryson from other travel authors is he is a truly relatable author. Although his writing style is remarkably eloquent and descriptive, at the end of the day this is a chubby, unathletic, middle-aged man embarking on a journey and making the same observations you would, but putting them into words that make you spit out your coffee with laughter.

Beyond its humor, A Walk in the Woods is a spiritual tale of redemption. The isolation and humility felt when undertaking an endeavor such as the Appalachian Trail has the capacity to humble and bring out the best in virtually anyone, regardless of their station in life and past failures. Bryson’s journey through nature reflects our own odyssey on the rugged path of life.

 

THE ROAD TO WIGAN PIER by GEORGE ORWELL

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When traveling, it’s easy to get caught up in the the comforts, pleasures and sightseeing of the journey, and think about...well, ourselves. That’s usually the very point of traveling and vacations. But what about the locals? What about the folks making a living, just scraping by, in the towns and cities that we are passing through for our own amusement?

For those passionate about travel, it isn’t just about pleasure and distraction. Few people traveled as extensively as George Orwell, and even fewer were as observant as he was of the people he met along the way. The Road to Wigan Pier is an account of Orwell’s experiences with working class people on his journey through northern England.

As Orwell traveled through this part of the country, he noted in detail the squalor lived in by these families, as well as the shocking and dangerous working conditions of those lucky enough to have a job. There was no comfort or pleasure for the locals here, who were routinely ignored or mocked by the upper class of society.

Orwell notes not only the inhumanity of ignoring the plight of the locals in our travel destinations, but the missed opportunity in learning valuable lessons from them. He observes the sense of happiness and fellowship among the working class, compared to the constant discontent and and grief of the wealthy.

This is an observation we all make in our travels, but perhaps forget after a moment: the laughing and smiling of those with so much less than us, in spite of their extreme daily struggles. Encountering gratitude and humility is one of life’s greatest rewards, and one that is just as easy to notice as it is to ignore.

After you add these books to your library, head over to AllTheRooms for all your accommodation needs.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rebecca Pittore is a writer with Alltherooms.com.  

 

GOT INSPIRED??? Check out our Travel Page for destination ideas and tips!

NEED MORE BOOKS? Look no further!!!   Coco's Bookish Corner will help your imagination fly

New York City: Sleep No More will blow your mind.

A few years ago, we visited NYC to attend NYCC (New York Comic Con), which by the way, was AMAZING.  This was before we started blogging our adventures and shenanigans. While we were in New York, we also wanted experience NYC style theater, so we attended a play that was highly recommended by a good buddy.  "Sleep No More".  

So we bought four tickets (2 couples) and just showed up for the show. I have to admit that I did some research beforehand, and learned that most people recommended wearing comfortable shoes and clothing.  What? To a play? Yes. Here is why:

SLEEP NO MORE IS LIKE NO ORDINARY PLAY.

This is the epitome of interactive theater. Sleep No More is not only a beautiful play, but also an immersive experience. You are the audience, but you are allowed to live the play. You are FREE to explore, investigate, and solve the mystery as the act develops in front of you. You can touch things, read letters, discover secret passages and hidden characters, eat candy, have a drink with the actors while in character (if you are chosen), follow any character to learn their story, or just explore around this magnificent place.

THE SET UP.

The first thing you need to know is that the play is set at the McKittrick Hotel.  The entire five story building is the set. The McKittrick Hotel does not look like anything fancy from the outside. In fact, when we got there we were utterly confused about the location. There weren't any big signs or fancy billboards that would tell us we were at the right place. We knew the address was correct, so we stayed outside the double doors where our phone GPS indicated as the spot (we were a little early). Then we noticed that people began to gather outside the door, so we got in line. There's a VIP line (you pay extra for it) and a standard ticket line. We purchased the Maximilian's Guest tickets which allowed us to skip the long line and be escorted inside to a bar (the Manderley Bar) to a reserved table while we waited for our turn. 

They also give you a poker card and a white creepy mask...don't lose it.

Ok, so let me back up a little. The McKittrick Hotel hosts several venues that are all basically connected. The Manderley Bar, which is a jazz cocktail lounge; the Heath, which is a restaurant that has live performances; The Gallow Green, their rooftop bar; and Sleep No More.  

So, when you are escorted in the hotel, you check in your coat (if any) and you are taken to the Manderley Bar. Then the fun begins. NOTE: While you are in the bar, there are some actors that are in character and walk around. You'll be able to spot them.

Remember the poker card they gave you? Well, that's how they call you into the elevator and how they chose the floor they dump you on.  

THE PLAY

There are five floors in the McKittrick Hotel. Each floor has different sceneries. The play revolves around a redefined version of Shakespeare's MacBeth. You don't need to know about the play to understand it. I was very afraid that I was going to be lost, because there is SO MUCH going on around you that could be overwhelming; but you quickly catch up to the act and to what is happening. 

Before the play begins, they give you the rules. Basically, you must wear your white mask AT ALL TIMES, and you cannot say a word, take pictures, or be interrupting (touch the characters, or interfere with their act, etc). This is how you know who is an actor and who is the audience.  Every single audience member is standing around wearing the masks (kind of how the death-eaters look when they are standing around Voldemort). It looks cultish, but it's super cool. You feel like a ghost. You are free and anonymous. Nobody knows who you are, and no one cares.  There are a few people wearing the same masks but black...those are the guards; they make sure people obey the rules at all times ~ they better not catch you with a cell phone or speaking. They are super strict~

The play begins with a ball. The actors dancing (they are all amazing dancers), and the emotions, and dialogue is basically expressed by dance and body motions. There are very, very, very few words spoken by the actors. Some of them say nothing at all in the whole play, yet, you can understand everything. 

THE EXPERIENCE

After the ball scene, the actors break out into their own characters, and scatter around the building. At this point I recommend that you pick one actor and try to keep up with him/her.  Remember when I said to wear comfortable shoes? Well, you will be running at times if you wish to keep up with your character. You will learn the play through his/her point of view.  Each character have their own unique scenes and adventures that intertwine with all others. 

 Photo from Vanity Fair* (sorry folks, we were not allowed to take pictures while inside!)

Photo from Vanity Fair* (sorry folks, we were not allowed to take pictures while inside!)

There are times that the scenes might get boring if you didn't follow one of the main characters. You can either hang out and just observe, or switch gears to a new character.  Sometimes you will lose your character, so don't panic! You will find him/her again at some point. Or just explore room by room, floor by floor (you can move freely throughout the floors), scene by scene, trying to learn the play piece by piece. It will all come together in the end.  

You will see bloody murder, fights, love scenes, creepy witchery cult ceremonies, naked people really close to you (be prepared...there's a lot of this- but don't freak out! Enjoy the art and remember that no one is judging you because no one knows who you are). There are secret passages that you should explore and discover so you can see extra scenes. One of the floors has a forbidden forest kind of setup that will blow your mind. (Go to the tree house at the very end...there's a secret there).

Some of the actors will chose audience members to whisper secrets in their ears OR to take them away into secret rooms and show you secret scenes, so don't be scared! This is all part of the act and the experience.

Become a detective and try to solve the mystery.  Perhaps the actor you chose to follow is the killer or the victim, or neither. You will know something that other audience member don't know yet.

After a little while I was worried that I would miss out on other scenes, but then I realized that some scenes were repeated. Yes, in order for everyone to get a chance to see everything (mostly everything) the whole play repeats three times while you are in the hotel. So yeah, at some point you can follow the killer, and then the victim, or the people investigating, and you can see the play through each point of view. It's a dream come true!

At first, I paired with Coco and the hubbys paired together, and coordinated to meet back at the bar at the end. If I had the chance to do this experience again, I would just adventure solo - no offense Coco!-.

Let me explain.

It's cool to have a partner to talk about the scenes with at the end, but it's extremely difficult to keep up with your character AND with your partner at the same time. We got separated several times and it was challenging to find each other since everyone is wearing the same mask!  So, for the sake of the experience, walking around by yourself is the way to go, even if you go with a group.

Bottom line. If you go to NYC, you much go to Sleep No More and just live it yourself. It's been a few years since we saw the play, and I'm STILL obsessed with it. If you do end up going (or have been) share your opinion of the play below! I would love to discuss!

Till next time. 

Always,

Mia

***WANT TO EXPLORE WITH US? CHECK OUT OUR TRAVEL BLOG!

My First Disney Trip: Preparation Stage

I'm *** years old (I reserve the right to that number) and I've never been to Disney. My hubby has been there a few times as a kid, but it's been my dream since childhood to, one day, say hi to Mickey in person.

My daughter is now 7, and we both agreed she's old enough, tall enough, and mature enough to grant a trip to Disney.  Well... he didn't have to convince me. I said yes before he even finished the word "Disney".  

The one thing I didn't know is how much preparation it takes to make this trip, not only affordable, but also hassle free. Just to start, we've been planning for months!

RELATED: HARRY POTTER MIDNIGHT RELEASE

The trick is to do a little at a time. If you try to book everything, and try to figure out the fast-passes, the dinner reservations, the accommodations all at once, you will go insane. So, take a deep breath and know that you can take your time so that everything is not rushed at the last minute... Let me explain:

1. DECIDE WHICH PARKS TO VISIT

You can pick and choose which parks to go and accommodate your budget accordingly. Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios. Additionally, Universal Studios and literally hundreds of other attractions (not part of Disney but in the vicinity).   

This is your first step.  Do you want to visit all parks? Or just Magic Kingdom? Do you want to spend one or two days in one park? This will determine your length of stay, which will determine your hotel accommodation as well. 

2. STAYING INSIDE DISNEY OR A NEARBY HOTEL?

Now that you know which parks you want to see, you can calculate how many days you need to spend, and where to stay, another important decision when it comes to budgeting. If you decide to stay in one of the many Disney Resorts, you will get a MagicBand with your stay.  This option is awesome, because these waterproof bracelets will allow you to link everything together. You can open your hotel room, access the parks, make purchases, link your pictures to your photopass (if you get one) and much more. You can also use a hotel shuttle, monorail or boat to get to the parks (depending on where you stay), complimentary with your booking.  That will definitely save you the hassle of parking.  

Staying outside Disney, in the vicinity, is also a good, cheaper option. You won't get a MagicBand, just an access card to the parks, but the prices are considerably lower. You do have to, however, find your own transportation to the parks.  Using AllTheRooms,  Airbnb or HomeAway to find a home or condo nearby might be a great alternative for large groups or families.  

RELATED: Check out this Alltherooms.com list for traveling with kids!

3. GETTING THERE.

Unless you live in Florida, traveling to Orlando can be a bit of a long road trip. So, the next thing you need to determine is if you want to drive or fly. Many budget airlines like Allegiant Air, Spirit, or Southwestern Airlines offer round trips to Orlando for very low prices. But here's the catch: usually, these flights don't depart everyday. There are only certain dates and days that these low-cost air tickets are offered. 

RELATED: PACKING LIST WHEN TRAVELING WITH KIDS

You also must consider that if you are traveling with lots of luggage, you might want to chose a regular airline instead. Just remember, low-cost airlines charge for every, single, anything.  They charge for carry-on, for printing your boarding pass, for any drinks or food, etc. in the end, you'll end up paying the same price as in a regular flight IF you are not careful.    

The alternative?  Road trip!

RELATED: LOOKING FOR HAPPINESS? JUST TRAVEL

4. MEAL PLAN and MEMORY MAKER PHOTOPASS

When you stay at a Disney Resort, you can also purchase a Disney Dining Plan or the Dining Plan Deluxe. This includes two meals (3 with the deluxe) -counter or table restaurants- per day, a snack, and drink.  If you do this, make sure to make restaurant reservations at least 60 days in advance so you don't lose the opportunity to dine with your favorite characters. Even if you don't purchase the dining plan, you should go ahead and make reservations in advance.  

Another great feature I came across is the Memory Maker photopass. Now, I still think you should take candid pictures and maybe a selfie or two while you are there, but with the memory maker pass, you don't have to worry about asking people to take a picture of you and your family, because one of the hundreds of professional photographers at the park will do so, and will link your picture to your Disney online account by using your Magicband or card.  it's that easy. This is particularly great for a mom that is ALWAYS taking pictures of every family member having fun, and there are NO pictures of mom. Yeah. That's me. If it's not a selfie, there's not a picture of me posing in cool places. I'm actually excited about this feature!

RELATED: DOLLYWOOD: FUN FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY

5. FASTPASS

Want to skip the line? Get a fastpass! Everyone is eligible to get a fastpass to the most popular attractions. You get 3 fastpasses a day, and once you used them, you can obtain more fastpasses using your Disney Experience app or by logging on into your account (use the app...it's way easier).  So, you schedule a time for a specific attraction, and you have up to 1 hour to show up for your ride and skip the line. Trust me, you want to go ahead and schedule your fastpass+ times at least 30 days ahead of your visit (60 days ahead if you stay at Disney Resorts). Times fill out rather quickly, so don't forget to do this for each park!  

Go online or on the app and explore each park and learn about each attraction to determine which ones to get the fastpass to.  (I will tell you about my experience with this later this year!)

Planning can be exhausting but, in my opinion, it's well worth it. We are leaving soon, so expect a recount of my experience and other tips! I feel much more comfortable once I know where, how, why, and what we are doing. Visiting a new place is always exciting, but it can be stressful if you don't know anything about it. So, get familiar with it, look it up online, read other's experiences and advice, and enjoy!

Do you have any suggestions for me before I go meet Mickey???? Let me know! Please comment below.

See you guys later!

Always,

Mia

 

Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden: Chinese Lantern Festival

Always one to explore local festivals and exhibits, when I heard that Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden would be hosting a Chinese Lantern Festival I, of course, had to check it out. 

Located just outside of Charlotte, NC in nearby Belmont Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden is a quick trip down 85. I had actually never visited the gardens before but it is definitely a place I will return with gusto! (A Christmas visit it at the top of my list now also- I hear they do an amazing lights exhibit!) 

I purchased my tickets online (a tad pricey at 21.95 per adult but well worth the money) and made sure to arrive with time to spare as the exhibit ran from 5:30-9:30 and I wanted to make sure I had plenty of time to check out everything. (Plus, I loathe waiting in lines so anytime I can purchase tickets online and breeze past lines- I seize the opportunity.) There was a ton to explore, winding pathways of lanterns (obviously), food trucks, kids crafting areas, a stage with scheduled entertainers, and lots of unique stalls erected selling all sorts of trinkets and souvenirs made by local craters and artists. 

Upon entering the gardens, the first thing we did, obviously, was head to the food trucks. There was tons to choose from, plenty of variety for any palate, and we decided on the kabob truck. Shrimps and bottles of water for all! After a quick stop at the wine booth we were ready to see the lights!

The lanterns were handmade in China and featured tons of unique elements including some moving exhibits with sound effects. We meandered through the walking trails, snapping pictures and admiring the handcrafted art. In total there were over 800 lanterns spanning the sprawling 12 acres of the gardens. Here are a few of my favorites: 

We made it to the stage in time to watch the Kung Fu Show, where a group of Kung Fu aficionados showed off knowledge of this ancient art. This was followed up with an opportunity for people to come up on stage and partake in a demonstration themselves, learning some of the basic moves of Kung Fu! My hand eye coordination is paltry at best so I opted to hang back and take in the show from the audience.

At the end of the exhibit, the walking trail puts you at the tent filled with stalls of handcrafted wares. Local artists booths were arranged within the tent selling anything from hand-painted pieces of art, exquisite jewelry, delicate sugared candies, and so much more. We took our time perusing the stalls and purchased two bookmarks, handmade (of course) cut shapes of each of my children's Chinese zodiac signs (a tiger and a pig!) Take a look at this beautiful artwork:

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The entire exhibit was a beautiful foray into Chinese culture and history, imaginative and ethereal. When the sun fell and night rose, the gardens truly came alive in a unique and wondrous way. If you ever get the opportunity to visit, take it! You won't be disappointed. 

Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens is located at 6500 South New Hope Road, Belmont, NC 28012, P: (704) 825-4490 and you can visit there website for a calendar of other events being hosted throughout the year.

XOXO, 

Coco

READ ABOUT OUR OTHER FUN TRAVEL EXPERIENCES HERE!

Myrtle Beach, SC: Pirate Voyage and more

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I have been to Myrtle Beach, SC hundreds of times, and every single time we go I look at the billboards advertising Pirate Voyage and my inner child bursts with excitement. Unfortunately, we never have the time to go check it out...until this summer.  When hubby stated out loud "who wants to see pirates?" I knew exactly what he was talking about! (I think I cried a little).

Ok, so I had no idea what to expect.  We had been to Medieval Times Dinner before, which lead me to believe that this was going to be similar.  I was right, but I was wrong.  

Pirate Voyage is located on North Kings Hwy in Myrtle Beach, SC, next to the Grand Opry.  The building stands tall with a very Colonial style facade and big red letters that read "Pirate Voyage".  They tell you to arrive at least one and a half hours before your scheduled dinner (highly recommended to purchase the tickets online in advance to guarantee a seat...the place was packed!).

RELATED: CAROLINA BEACH: FAMILY WEEKEND

Why get there so early?  Well, they want you to hang around their restaurant/bar/shopping area while you are thoroughly entertained by the pirates.  ALSO, they want your kids to beg you so they can have their face painted or get a pirate tattoo.... yeah, ours convinced us.  We are weak. (Just between you and me... my daughter chose the pirate package- face painting - and oh lord... the makeup was horrible.  She looked like a cheap ***,  not going to say the word I was thinking of, but it was not worth the $20 we paid.) 

ENTERTAINMENT FOR ALL

The place is beautifully decorated with all sorts of pirate and mermaid stuff.  The bar mixes specialty drinks served in skull shaped mugs that you can keep (we got two!). The pirates walk around the bar and in between the long tables while they talk to people, take pictures with kids, and crack a joke or two.  

At some point some of the pirates get on the small stage and do all kinds of juggling and dare-devilish stunts, even with fire.  It was quite awesome.

SHOW TIME

After a while, they call the two sides to their seats... when you purchase your ticket you can choose red (Crimson), or blue (Sapphire) teams.  The teams seat on opposite sides.  The center of the "arena" is a pirate ship and the rest is water....pretty amazing view.  

RELATED: MEDIEVAL TIMES, MYRTLE BEACH, SC.

So you are sitting facing the giant pool and the show begins.  The pirates come out and introduce themselves; they ask you to cheer for your respective team; they start competition after competition between the teams, keeping score of who wins.  There's a plot to the story though... the captains of the red (a female pirate) and blue (a male pirate) teams start a battle against each other, racing to be the first ones to find a hidden treasure. The audience is engaged; even participating in some of the competitions. There are aerial acrobatics, seals, dogs, fire, sword fighting, and scary spirits... very scary, giant spirits.  (Good thing we love Halloween!).  But, the best part of all...the mermaids.  I wish they had more of the mermaids, they only come out for a minute or two... but it was just magical.

THE FEAST

And then we eat. Well, you eat while the show is going on in front of you. The menu is simple and it's the same for everyone.  Remember... you are there to be a pirate, so you must eat pirate food.  Vegetable soup, bread, a quarter roasted chicken, BBQ pulled pork, corn on the cob, tater tots, and apple pie.  It's a lot of food, and it was surprisingly not bad at all. The chicken was falling off the bone, so it was nice and tender. There is also a vegetarian option if you prefer.  Drinks included with dinner are water or tea and you can purchase any drink from the bar and they will bring it to you.  

Bottom line.  Don't procrastinate like me.  Become a pirate or a mermaid and let your inner child scream Ahoy Matey!

Always,

Mia.

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Craft Beer Breweries: Hops Paradise in Asheville, NC

My dear friends (and future friends),  you all know that we love to travel, and that we love to sample craft beer, so needless to say, we felt as if we landed in hops paradise when we visited Asheville, NC.

I mean, it's a shame that we hadn't been there before! Asheville is just a couple of hours drive up from our homes in Charlotte. Now we know. Get ready breweries! We will conquer you all!

We have sampled brews many times before in our hometown.  One of our favorite places, Flying Saucer is literally a beer emporium (here's that review), also, our friends at Salud recently opened a new brewery and we were there for the grand opening of Salud Cerveceria, which was amazing.  And of course, there's the beer festivals that we try to attend often, and don't forget about Oktoberfest in Helen, GA.  PROST! 

You've got to understand that it's not about the drinking, don't judge us before you hear this: It's about the hops, the aroma, the pleasure to taste the carefully crafted flavors in these beers. It's like tasting wines, or coffees, or cheeses...our thing is craft beer....and food, and yeah what the heck, wine, and coffee, and cheese, but you're making me miss my point. 

RELATED: GOODHOPS BREWERY, CAROLINA BEACH, NC

So moving forward with my point, Asheville, NC is famous nationwide for the dozens of fabulous breweries you can find.  

OUR FIRST STOP:

SIERRA NEVADA BREWERY.  If there was any instance in this trip that I had to say OMG out loud, it was when we arrived at this place.

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Located about twenty minutes south of Asheville (in Fletcher, NC), Sierra Nevada Brewery, originally from California, opened a second brewery which sits atop of a mountain.  No joke.  We felt as if we were entering an extravagant country club, as the rod-iron gates adorn the entryway along with the Sierra Nevada emblem, and the gorgeous natural views of the mountain.  Once at the top, we were greeted by a massive building home to the brewing facilities, taproom, gift shop, and indoor/outdoor entertainment. They even have a stage for outdoor concerts! They offer tours of their facility (we didn't take one because we forgot to make reservations), and it's fascinating how they are totally committed to be environmentally friendly (there's no smoking allowed anywhere, and solar panels provide energy)- kudos Sierra Nevada!

And their beer... as always, their commercial beers are great, and offered there, but we couldn't leave without trying their small batch selection which is only sold in the taproom.  We enjoyed their Hop and Sour, and sampled Hopporium (triple IPA) and their ginger beer, Oktoberfest, and the Southern Gothic Session Pilsner. The food was great too. We had the Moroccan Skewers, and duck fat fries... amazingly tasty!

STOP 2.  BURIAL BREWERY.

After being overwhelmed by the massiveness of Sierra Nevada, we stopped at Burial (checked in our hotel in between and walked there).  Burial was small, but their beer taste was big.  We sampled their Keeper's Veil Honey Seisson, and ordered rabbit wings (rabbit legs), and the gigantic hushpuppies from Salt&Smoke.  This place was packed to the roof...we all know why...their beer is pretty awesome.

STOP 3.  GREEN MAN BREWERY: DIRTY JACK'S

Curious little place this was.  Dirty Jacks is Green Mans original tasting room, before they expanded to the brewing facility (next door). This rustic establishment is decorated with the spirit of the green man for sure.  You can find green man everywhere you look.  On the walls, on the windows, wherever you look you will see something relevant to the culture of this brewery.  The outdoor space was comfortable as well, and you can enjoy your beer and pet some puppies.  There was this little dog, Citra, that kept bringing me a toy to throw.  If I ignored her for a second (while taking a sip of my beer) she would look for the next person willing to play.  Adorable!

STOP 4.  BEN'S TUNE UP. (BEER GARDEN).

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Not a brewery, but this place is worth mentioning because of their food.  I would call it Asian fusion maybe? Either way, I have to say that I had the best egg rolls I've ever had, as well as a the Thai Basil Chicken...awesomeness in a plate.  Accompany your food with a draft of your favorite local beer and you are set for a good start.

STOP 5.  THIRSTY MONK BREWERY AND PUB

This was a cool place.  They have a constantly rotating beer menu, so I guess you will find different beers every time you visit.  I tried the Monk Easy Gose...it was good and sour.  They divide this between upstairs and downstairs with a different selection of beers, which was pretty cool.

STOP 6. SKYBAR ROOFTOP BAR

Also, not a brewery, but we wanted to check it out.  Located inside the Historic Flatiron Building, they will check your ID at the very entrance, and you wait in the atrium for a very antique neoclassic elevator that will take you all the way to the top floor (7th I think).  You get out of the elevator and into the Skybar...but, where is the bar? Well, there's no "bar"...there are many waiters eager to take your drink order...by the way, before you get in the elevator, they tell you that you MUST have at least one drink to go up or they won't let you in.  So we did.  I had a cucumber vodka drink that was quite yummy.  Although there are cool views from the top, this place seemed to me like a glorified outdoor staircase...because you stand in a staircase, literally.  There are only a few bar stools around, but that's it.  Nothing too impressive...Not a place you would hang out all night.  Just cool for a picture or two.

STOP 7. BARLEY'S

We ended the night at this cool taproom.  Downstairs you can enjoy amazing pizza, and upstairs you can order a beer from their large selection (29 taps), play some pool, or darts, or foosball, or simply hang out in their spacious venue.  It was the perfect way to end our craft beer journey.

Then we walked back to our hotel, which was just a few blocks away.  Drank plenty of water, and woke up to an amazing breakfast buffet.  

There are so many more amazing breweries that we missed and/or didn't have time (or liver) left to visit.  We will definitely organize another trip to Asheville soon and hit a few more!

What is your favorite brewery in Asheville? Let us know! Please share or comment below!

Always,

Mia

Wise Acres Organic Farm

This Mothers Day my mom requested we visit a local, organic farm to pick some strawberries, have a lazy lunch, and explore the grounds. She had heard about this place from a friend, and at only 15 minutes from her house, we had to check it out. 

Owned and operated by Chicago implants, this organic farm has been in business since 2013 with the mission to provide the highest quality produce, free of pesticides and chemicals found in many other conventional farms. Not only do they turn out some pretty stellar strawberries, but they support other local, like minded farmers by selling honey, eggs, meats and cheeses from neighboring farms. 

 Absolutly in love with this sign! 

Absolutly in love with this sign! 

Located in rural Indian Trail, NC, this farm is easily accessible to the Charlotte and surrounding areas. Boasting strawberry fields, an outdoor wood fired oven, wooded play area, livestock, and homegrown items for sale, there is plenty to keep you busy for a couple hours on a beautiful May day. 

We started off with the strawberry picking. For $3.29 a pound, you can pick to your hearts desire (or until your wallet runs out of money!). They accepted cash, check, and cards which is convenient, I know a lot of us don't carry much cash these days. We filled up a conservative two buckets (big plans for some strawberry jam in our future, more to come on that later!), paid, and wandered around to see what there was to see. 

The kids had a blast playing in the wooded play area and taking rides on the barrel train. There were a variety of swings, zip lines, and re-purposed tires to play on. When we needed a cool drink, we popped over to the barn where they boast an assortment of drinks and snacks. We bought a few slushies (100% fruit juice). They also offer organic popcorn,  organic cotton candy, and other organic snacks and drinks. The slushies were sweet and cold, perfect for a warm May day! 

After a nice little stroll to look at the grounds and check out the animals (chickens, goats, and bunnies!), we put in our order for a Wise Pie pizza. Cooked in an outdoor, wood fired oven, these pies are made with all locally sourced, organic ingredients and let me tell you.... they were divine. I don't think they could have tasted any better if Jesus himself had had a hand in crafting them. We tried the pepperoni and margherita pizzas but they do offer gluten free and vegan options. Open on the weekends during strawberry season, you'd be insane not to try one while you are out. 

After we had eaten our fill of pizza, and slurped up our share of slushie, we lazily made our way back out into the world. Wise Acres Organic Farm is one that I will definitely return to not only for the strawberry season, but also for the fall pumpkin season. As if the grounds, food, and strawberries weren't enough to win me over, everyone we encountered was just so nice. From the sweet woman grinding out the delicious pizzas, to the Farmer himself pulling the hayride and barrel rides for the kids. Everyone was sincerely friendly, and just looked like they were enjoying life. You can't ask for much more than that! 

Check out the Wise Acres Organic Farm website here and make an afternoon of it! Whether you come with family, book a field trip for your class, or host your child's birthday party here, I guarantee you will enjoy every minute of it! 

LET US KNOW WHAT YOU THINK! Please share or comment below!

Travel Wanderlust: Plan, budget, pack, and go!

You have a busy life. We get it. We do too. Traveling is not in your budget... We get it. It's not in ours either. But excuses like "Right now it's just not the right time to travel." We... well... we don't get that.

Maybe because we suffer from a condition called travel wanderlust. Travel wanderlust has no cure, and those who suffer from it have to find alternative ways to cope with the effects of this syndrome.  

Symptoms associated with travel wanderlust include: An immense desire to see other places, uncontrollable road-trip fever, constantly checking air fare and hotel websites, memberships to HomeAway and AirB&B, flashbacks of previous vacations, browsing of pictures from yours or friends vacations (and unashamedly, complete strangers), and obsessions with Google Earth, amongst others. 

Ok, ok you got me. Yes, we always have travel wanderlust, and it is not easy as being a blogger, a full time worker, a full time mom, a wife (AND everything that comes along being a mom and a wife that is not in the job description), our schedules are more than FULL. So, yes, needless to say, we are talking to YOU too.

Yes, YOU.

YOU, the single mom (dad) that has no time for herself/himself because she/he spends all her/his time caring for her/his kids and her/his job(s).  

YOU, the couple that doesn't see each other much because you are forced to work alternative shifts (freaking child care is expensive, man!).  

YOU, young and ambitious person that just graduated college and has never taken a vacation, because, let's be honest, college kids survive on ramen noodles and cans of tuna.  

YOU, the family with or without kids that doesn't think traveling is important.  

I'm going to give you travel wanderlust..... 

STEP 1. PLANNING

Planning where to go is the most important and also, not so important. Let me explain.

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The best trips I've been to have been spur of the moment trips, last minute deals (Expedia's mystery deals are great!), or just "why not" road trips. But also, there have been times when I've been mad for not researching and planning for weather, holidays, or travel conditions. The devil is in the details!!  

An easy way to decide a location (or narrow it down) is to answer these series of questions: Beach or mountain (determine weather), air or car (determine transportation and accommodations), active or passive (determine the amount of activities: lots of sight seeing vs relaxation), kids or no-kids (trust me, we need breaks from our little humans too, and some places aren't as kid friendly as others), Hotel vs B&B (depending on the amount of people per room, sometimes it's WAY cheaper to rent an apartment. We use HomeAway or AirBnB).  Brainstorm your location, plan your destination, and start daydreaming...

STEP 2. BUDGET

Budgeting is THE hardest part of ALL. Yes, it is indeed. We are not going to lie. We travel a lot it seems like, because we save our pennies, but boy it's hard!

SO. Saving your money when you go paycheck to paycheck is the hard part. I already said this. BUT I'm saying it again because you are going to finish reading this article and go on with your life and not actually do what I'm telling you to do, EVEN THOUGH YOU KNOW YOU NEED TO DO IT.  

SO HERE:  Maybe this will help:  SAVE MONEY AROUND YOUR HOUSE AND TRAVEL

Make a promise to yourself that you will at least try.  

You can do this.  Budget your money little by little because you deserve it. You might not go to Paris tomorrow, but you will one day. You don't need the latest IPhone or the latest designer handbag, you need to see the world. You can eat a home cooked meal instead of spending money at a restaurant and save yourself those dollars. Make a travel jar and actually label it "travel money", it's a good incentive... but don't spend it on cigarettes or beer or candy or whatever it is that tickles your fancy!

To help budget your travel also do some research on airlines and airplane tickets.  Discount airlines like Spirit, Southwest, Allegiant and even Jetblue fly from regional airports and offer super discounted flights. Score some tickets for next to nothing if your have flexible schedules or if your are flying light on baggage. Always do your research... We will post more about this at a later time.  

STEP 3.  PACK.

Oh packing, once a nemesis of mine, conquered by a brave backpack. I'm proud to tell you that I can pack for a ten day trip in one, ONE, comfortable backpack/carry on. No more check-in your luggage for me. Well, unless you go with kids, then yes, because we have to take "the" blanket AKA cobija... the sacred, furry, and very ancient mother of all blankets, the one and only thing my child will not go without. EVER.  

I have a list of things to pack if you travel with kiddos :  LIST HERE  and if you want to learn about packing all your stuff in ONE back pack, check it out HERE

STEP 4. GO

Seriously, go! What are you waiting for! You worked so hard budgeting your money, and whether it is a night at a bed and breakfast just twenty minutes from your house, or a beach, or the mountains, or another country, it doesn't matter. What matters is the fact that you are traveling and getting out of your routine, alone or as a family, it will make your life better. It will make you happier. How? Because when travel wanderlust kicks in, it will ignite a desire to explore the world. It will wake up you most inner desire to be human and to live, to see your planet, to love your planet.  It is so contagious, and so wonderful we want you to have it.  We want our kids to have it. We want to teach you how to do it.  

TRAVELING MAKES YOU HAPPY

Follow us as we try to figure this out and share it with you. WE CAN DO THIS!

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Always,

Mia

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Cruising Do's and Don'ts: When I planned ahead and when I didn't plan with my head.

Being that this was my second cruise I thought for sure I was adequately knowledgeable about the ins and outs of what to expect and what to bring. Turns out packing/cruising for 7 is a tad different from the small party of two that was the last trip. 

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-BRING A LANYARD: I don't know why I didn't think about or remember this from the last trip- but please for the love of god bring a lanyard to keep your sail and sign card on. Since cruises are non cash accepting zones, these things are needed for everything (get on and off the boat at port, buy drinks, pick up souvenirs in the gift shop, play in the arcade/casino). They are linked to whatever CC you set it up with (or pre-loaded cash) and I can't tell you how annoying it was to have to keep it in my wallet the whole trip which I was then forced to carry around on the ship the entire 7 days. Mia was smart and brought one as a "just in case" item. They *do* sell them on the boat, but my cheap ass wasn't paying $13 (per lanyard) for both my husband and myself. Lesson learned. Bring a lanyard! 

-IF GOING IN A GROUP, A WALKIE TALKIE IS A LIFESAVER:

Being that we were traveling outside of the US (without an international data package) we knew we would not able to communicate with each other using cell phones while on board. Even our normal tricks of using WiFi to text via WhatsApp wasn't an option being that Carnival charges a daily Wifi fee that I was definitely not going to fork over (cheap ass remember?) Thank goodness Mia came up with the brilliant plan (she comes up with most of them if I'm being honest) of bringing a set of long range walkie talkies with us in the event that we wanted to split up so we could still communicate when/where to meet back up. Or to prank call each other from our rooms at night/in the AM, whateves. The boys scoffed at us, but they quickly realized how useful they were and everyone was happy we forked over the $15 per couple to buy them from Amazon. 

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-CHEERS! PACKAGE OR NAH?

So the Cheers! package is an unlimited alcohol package for when you are on board the ship. At about $50 per day per person- this one isn't for the casual drinker. We weighed this option very carefully and did ALOT of math when determining if it would be worth it for us (see kids, math DOES come in handy when you are adulting- tabulating drink costs on a cruise ship for 4 of age adults is no joke!). In the end we decided to fork over the $800 per couple total cost just to have the peace of mind of not mentally tabulating our sail and sign bill each time we ordered a cocktail. (I should clarify that *I* didn't worry about calculating that bill but hubby saw that as the total to beat and kept track of every drink we each had in order to calculate if we really got our monies worth...we did....and then some in case you were wondering). At between $6 and $10 for your most bought beer and cocktails, they can add up quick! Throw in 3 full days at sea with no ports (and let's be honest- three kids who while adorable and lovely- can drive you up a wall)- and we easily met our moneys worth. We were also able to use them to get the kids some fancy (non alcoholic) drinks and sodas that we would have normally had to pay for, so all in all it was a good deal for us. 

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- TO TIP OR NOT TO TIP- THAT IS THE QUESTION:

When given the option to pre-pay for tips up front when we booked the cruise, we opted out. (Now hold your horses people- we are really great tippers and always tip well when we receive a service- over 20% in fact). We were unsure of how the staff was actually tipped out from this option and wanted to tip individually to those who provided us with services (room stewards/bar tenders/waiters) to ensure that our tip money was actually going to those serving us. Turns out, everyone is charged a flat fee for tips, they just give you the option to pay it up front or your card will be charged at the end of the cruise. We found this out the night before setting sail which was kind of an annoyance (my husband had already taken out a couple hundred dollars...in ones...) but c'est la vie. Because we firmly believe in over-tipping, especially when the service is phenomenal- we went ahead with our original plan and tipped our servers individually anyway. These guys were some of the most friendly, efficient, hard working service industry professionals I have ever met and they deserved every dollar (and more), so when given the option to tip- do it. 

- DOWNLOAD THE CARNIVAL HUB APP-

A free app with cruise specific info, this thing was a life saver most days at sea. Set it up with your own unique login and password, and it keeps an electronic tab of all your purchases on the boat as well as a schedule of all the events going on onboard each day. It allows you to mark items you are interested in and it will alert you when they are coming up we found it really handy! The best part? The app will work on the boat and will not charge you for wifi (app is free and to use is free even in international water). Score! 

- WHAT TIME TO DINE?

Upon booking your cruise you will asked to choose a dining time for dinners at your assigned dining room. Three options are given, Early, Late, and 'Your Time". I would choose the "Your Time" dining option as it is the most flexible of the three, allowing you to go early or late depending on what other activities you guys have going on on any particular day. With so many fun and exciting activities both onboard and onshore it's nice to have this flexible option. 

- BEACH TOWEL BONANZA: 

Carnival does provide beach towels for your use (one per person will be folded up for your use in your room) BUT if you loose one during the day they charge your room $20 for a replacement. Since they all look alike and the whole boat had them, it is very easy for people to pick them up thinking they are theirs and they are YOU are stuck with a bill (happened to me on our first cruise- so annoying!) So I say bring your own distinct beach towel so no one mistakes it for theirs.

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-WATERPROOF CAMERA IS A MUST!

I originally planned to just get a water proof case for my phone but I chickened out when it came to the deep blue ocean... I mean, let's face it... even though my phone is ancient, I paid like an arm and a leg for it, so I didn't want it ruined! I did test the case, and it did have good reviews, but I'm a nutcase and I couldn't make myself submerge my iPhone under the sea. In a pool, yeah. In the ocean. No. So I went online and bought a (Yuntab Action Camera Sport) cheap version of a goPro, and OMG that little camera is awesome! Paid just $20 for it, plus $10 for the 32gb memory card, and I have to say that the pictures and the video quality are off the hook! This tiny (super tiny) camera with a very good waterproof case did wonders under water... here's a video of me snorkeling:

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-JOT DOWN YOUR MEMORIES.  

Take a journal. Yeah. It might sound a little juvenile to you, but taking trips down memory lane 20 years from now when you find your journal in a drawer or in a box will be awesome. (You are welcome in advance.) Also, pick your favorite picture from your trip, print it, and throw it in there. You'll eventually forget about it, but when you find it, it is sure to bring a smile to your face. 

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-FOR GOODNESS SAKE, CHILDREN, GIVE OCEAN CLUB A CHANCE.

 Do it for your parents. They deserve a break. Our little humans were excited to go check it out and were there for about two hours. When we picked them up, we could see them dancing and laughing and doing crafts, but as soon as they saw us they changed their attitude. We asked "Did you like it!?"... "Nah" They all said they didn't want to come back, they all wanted to spend 24/7 with us because (and I guess this is partially our fault) they enjoyed the activities that involved music, and singing, and trivia, and games, and although family friendly, they weren't catered to children. Oh well. Next time we will probably approach it in a different way and maybe they'll have more kid time and we can have more adult time.  

-TAKE AN EXCURSION! We took ours in Grand Turk. Reserved through the Carnival website. They took us snorkeling to two locations, over the coral reef, and then swimming with sting rays. Yes, those things are scary looking. After our outing we were treated to some rum punch they even fed us freshly prepared (caught in front of you) Conch salad. n awesome experience and highly recommend!

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There are many "Do's and Dont's" that I can write, that may or may not pertain to you, so bottom line, go have fun! Enjoy the sun, the water, the people, don't forget that the people that work there are people too and those people are super cool actually... as they have met sooooo many more people than you. Be kind and you'll have a great time!

Bon Voyage!!! 

Cruising the Caribbean: The Highlights Reel

So here I am, not even a week post cruise and I'm already dying to go back. We have spent the last seven days gliding along the Atlantic, hitting up spots in Nassau, Half Moon Cay (a privately owned Carnival island) and Grand Turk (which my 6 year old affectionately dubbed "Turkish" for the entirety of the trip) and we have lived to tell the tale! I'm happy to report that Mia did not fall off the boat, or get eaten by a shark, or get left on an island as the cruise ship sailed off and left her alone, nor did the zombie apocalypse occur while we were in international waters, or really any waters for that matter. Oh, we had a plan of course in case such a situation arose, but I digress.... Nothing but a little sea sickness and in the grand scheme of things- it was pretty benign. 

Traveling with a large group (7) including three kids, we did have our fair share of meltdowns, tears, whining, and general pestering, but by and large it was a truly fun trip. So, of course, we have to break down our favorite things about cruising and our ports of call. 

1) I'm not sure what kind of list this would be without mentioning the most important item for us when traveling (or let's be serious, just generally in life), THE FOOD. Being that it was an all inclusive trip, all food costs were covered in the initial price of booking, and for real ya'll, we ate our monies worth. From Guy's Burgers, hot and fresh taco bars, cafeteria styled feasts, to formal sit down dining, a cruise is the place to be for any foodie. Sit down dinners were my favorite meals of the day as they always featured unique menu items along with the more traditional fine dining meal options (steak lobster, etc. ) I am proud to share that I sampled escargots and frog legs among many other carefully crafted delicacies. I may have left the 7 day cruise 10 pounds heavier, but my stomach has never been happier

RELATED: MY FIRST CRUISE

2) You may not know this about us, but we are a pretty competitive bunch. Well, let me clarify, the husbands are a pretty competitive bunch so you can pretty easily guess that we took all the onboard activities very seriously on our trip. From bingo to scavenger hunts, Harry Potter trivia (which we were were ashamed not to know all the very tricky answers!)  and roulette, we were on a mission to win any and all competitions (even self made) with extra bragging rights if an actual prize was involved. We were dubbed ping-pong champions , back stroke masters, scavenger hunt aficionados, bingo extraordinaires, and family challenge victors. Between the two families we won over a dozen medals, a cruise ship shaped trophy, a bottle of champagne, and $340 in bingo spoils. There is always something fun going on onboard, and we always add our own flare/style to the events! As a funny side story, at the scavenger challenge, one of the items was to get a bikini top and bring it to the stage...well, Mia's hubby had the fantastic idea of snagging her bikini top. Thank goodness she had her cover up on because he was serious about it (umm hello? bragging rights and a snazzy plastic medal were at stake!) and took off with it! Unfortunately he was not quick enough, and my hubby snagged the victory on that one. ;)

 Our team name was "The Incredibles" and we ROCKED the family challange! 

Our team name was "The Incredibles" and we ROCKED the family challange! 

3) Out of the three ports we visited, my absolute favorite was Grand Turk. There was something for everyone; chitzy & craftsman style shopping, white sandy beaches, fun and exciting excursions, and of course....places to eat. This was the island we had chosen to go on our excursion, snorkeling with sting rays. We took a motorboat out into the water to three separate spots to explore various reefs and sea life with the last stop at a small island cove where we got up close and personal with some sting rays. Riding the motorboat back inland, the crew whipped up a fresh from the sea conch salsa (so good!) and some rum punch. 

4) THE PEOPLE. Yes. We met pretty fantastic and interesting people on this trip. Oddly enough, none of which were fellow cruisers...well, not really odd because, let's be honest here, we are not "walk up to random strangers and make friends" type of girls. Hello! Social anxiety!  We actually made an effort to speak with and made friends with the crew of the ship.. they looked much more approachable (maybe it's because they are paid to be nice to you? ;) ) It happens that the crew consists of a very international and diverse community and talking to people from so many different parts of the world (parts that we had never heard of before) is kind of amazing. We met people from all parts of Indonesia, Vietnam, India, Romania, Peru, and different parts of the US. What we found even more amazing is how humble, and hard working all these people are, and to be honest, I think we found some great friends in this trip... in fact, our next big adventure might be to Transylvania! 

So, bottom line my friends: Pack your bags and take a cruise!!!!! Enjoy the good food, the beautiful places, and the great people. Then go home with some amazing memories and share them with the world!

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Snow Tubing Fun!- Hawksnest, Seven Devils, NC

When you are not a very sporty person, the idea of spending your weekend participating in what your mind is perceiving as a extreme sport, is not very appealing. It gets even harder to admit that you are crying inside when your six year old is over the moon excited and fearless.  

Living in Charlotte, North Carolina we don't get a lot of snow around here. Maybe once every few years we'll see a few inches of snow (and the whole city shuts down). That being said, we don't own snow gear, or snow clothes, or anything of that sort... but we are resourceful. You should've seen me in layers of leggings, and sweatpants, and an old pair of Uggs. Throw in a rain jacket, and you have the perfect snow tubing outfit. Although, for my daughter's fashion taste, I looked "embarrassing". I didn't care. I was warm and dry. 

Maybe a little bit too warm, if I want to be honest. It was a scorching 55 degrees at the top of the mountain and I wasn't feeling so good, as the windy roads messed up my stomach and I almost puked, twice.

But this weather was not ideal for snow activities. It's basic science folks...snow melts on anything that is over freezing temperatures. Who would've thought that it was going to be so (relatively) hot at the top of a mountain in the middle of winter??? -Global Warming people!

We had to pay $5 for parking (cash only) when we got there...and... none of us had any non-plastic money.

**mental note to check do's and don't online before visiting a new place**

We started sweating even before we got out of the car. We worked hard to gather those $5 guys! Fortunately, there were enough quarters and dimes in the car. The attendant didn't seem too happy to receive this heavy, and quite annoying form of payment. Money is money, and she let us through.

I was quite disappointed to see mostly green. Green hills, green grass everywhere (well, dead grass, mostly), and then I saw the snow.  Tons of "snow"...cause I'm assuming it's fake, just on the track lanes. Not quite what i was expecting. What ever happened to the sight blinding shine of the white snowy hills you see in the movies? I guess not in NC. It hasn't snowed in a while around here.  

We stood in line with a couple hundred other people. We got there pretty early, so we were like second in line, which was nice. When they opened the gate, they directed us to grab a tube per person and proceed to the tracks.

I was nervous, my heart was racing, my legs were shaking. My daughter and hubby went down the hill as I watched them. They seemed fine, so I went. I sat on the tube and let go.  Weeeeeeee. I made it out alive.  No broken bones, no injuries.  I was fine. You might be thinking... It's JUST snow tubing lady! Stop whining... No.  You don't understand.  I am clumsy and I tend to always get injured...so I was very proud of myself here, friends!

When you successfully get to the bottom, you must get your tube and step onto the "magic carpet", which is a slider conveyor carpet, that will pull you, and the tube, up to the top.  Although, it takes like 15 minutes for it to get all the way up.  It was the boring part of the ride.  It goes slow because it has no handles and it's very easy to lose your balance off of it, believe me.  I almost did.

If you pay for one session, you only have 1 hr and 45 minutes to "play". Trust me. That's plenty.  I couldn't have done it longer. I didn't get wet as people suggested, but instead, I was sweating to death, and dying to sit down and drink something cold.  

The snow tubing ended up being a lot of fun, despite my earlier doubts. They also had zip lining, but that would've been too much excitement for one day.

This might be something we would do again. We all had lots of fun. My daughter keeps talking about it, and how much fun she had.  

Here's a short video of me sliding down the mountain...

So if you are in the area, visit Hawksnest in Seven Devils, NC.  It's the largest snow tubing park in the region, and guaranteed fun for the whole family.  **kids 3 and up are allowed to ride**

Have you guys been there? I didn't fall out...did you?