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

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!

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!

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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

 

And then...I fell. Traveling as a clumsy person.

I fall... a lot.

When I met my husband, one of the first things he said was "Wow, you're accident prone!" as I bumped my knee with the table for the 100th time the week we met. Do you know those kids that can't have a cup of milk on the table because it will be spilled? Yeah, that was me. Or the girl that decides to dress up and wear high heels for a party, and falls in the middle of the dance floor? Yep, guilty as charged.  

I'm not kidding.  

I fall, bump by knees, my head, my limbs...a lot. I'm so used to it that it has become part of who I am. I like to look at it as one of my quirky, endearing qualities. Yeah....

For the most part, I try to avoid dangerous activities as I know what the outcome could (probably will/eventually/inevitably/certainly) be. Although I have run a 5k obstacle course without a trip to the ER! **insert proud face here**  But then again the first (and last) time I tried paintball I got injured, like, bleeding injured.  Well, there as that time I went ziplining and survived! (another proud moment of my life).  So, from time to time, I do risk it a little...You've got to understand that what seems normal and fun for most, it's risky business for me.

Now that you know how my limbs and coordination fail me from time to time, just imagine what happens when we travel. We have been horse back riding in the Andes mountains, hiked up to a natural hot springs waterfall in Colombia, climbed to the top of Notre Dame, and the Saint Peter's Cathedral's dome - 37 stories high!-, walked hundreds of miles on the streets of New York, New Orleans, Paris, and Rome...a lot of falling is bound to happen for someone like me.  

I remember a couple of years ago when we spent our family Christmas vacation in Daytona Beach, FL. We rented a huge place to house 17 people for a long week. I was excited to explore the place, and as I was walking through the rooms and entered the playroom, I missed a step, fell forward, bumped my head on the table, and my knee bruised almost immediately. Oh well, what could I do other than laugh about it?. So I put myself together, limping through the rest of the house.  

The next morning we drove a few miles south to visit some friends, and again, as I was outside on their back deck, I accidentally took a step backwards, missing the fact that I was up on a deck...falling down backwards and turning in mid air-matrix style-, landing on my knees.  Bloody accident that was. I think I still have that scar.  

One of my most memorable falls was while walking through the gorgeous gardens of Versailles Palace in France. It was a rainy day, but the rain had subsided for the most part. The gardens are so big, you can literally get lost in them. We did. For a long while. We stopped a few times to try to find our way by puzzling out a (French) map of the grounds. I mean, the place looks like a maze of beautiful plants and rose bushes (it smells delicious). The maze-like part where we got lost has high bushes that serve as walls, giving the illusion of large corridors of green walls, and dirt floors under the blue (cloudy that day) skies. A little science lesson here for you guys:

Dirt plus water equals slippery mud.  

I learned that the hard way. We knew it was slippery. In fact, we were all walking quite carefully through the muddy patches. I think I was thinking to myself about how proud I was to make it so long without incident...and then it happened.  

My thoughts betrayed me as my feet unintentionally moved in a skating motion. In slow mode, my brain was thinking "what is happening?" while my legs were trying really, really hard to keep the balance. All of a sudden, my whole body tilted right and my legs gave up to the idea of saving me from the inevitable. 

I fell into a pool of mud.  

I fell so hard I thought I broke my wrist. The entire right side of my body was saturated with brown, wet, mud. My shoes, my jeans, my very white jacket...brown. Good thing I know how to handle these things with a sense of a humor and a little decorum. I was not ashamed of finishing my day, walking through a French Palace, covered in dirt.  

 GO travel and see the world! even if you fall...

GO travel and see the world! even if you fall...

So, dear fellow travelers, and fellow dreamers.  Don't hesitate to go see the world, and to do risky things from time to time if you are like me. I'm the queen of clumsy, but life is good, and clumsiness makes for great stories.  

What is your most memorable fall? Also, as you read this, can you guess how many bones I've broken? 

***Read about our travel adventures here!***

2016 Travels: The Good, the Bad, and the Funniest

2016 was good to us.  We were able to travel to and explore four different states in the US and two countries in Europe. We saw, ate, learned, and enjoyed different cultures, languages, food, and people. Our traveler spirit shone bright this year. We usually tell you the good and the best places to go and eat (we are all about positive thinking here!), but there are a lot of unsaid things when we post our articles. We thought it would be a good idea to actually tell you about the good, the bad, and the funniest parts of our experiences... because, let's be real, you are bound to have something funny happen when you are clumsy and curious at the same time.

NEW ORLEANS, LA

THE GOOD: We visited the amazing city of New Orleans this past spring. This is a city that has my heart and my soul and I will come back to visit any chance I get. That's a promise. I can't get enough of the beautiful architecture, the folklore stories, Bourbon St, hurricanes at Lafitte's, ghost and vampires, the gorgeous cemeteries, and of course, the food. If you haven't been to New Orleans, book your trip today!

THE BAD:  Nothing too bad in this trip. But I can say that in this trip we learned two things:  always bring comfy shoes, and rain gear. While we walked towards the Harrah's Casino on day 3, a torrential rain poured down suddenly and with no warning. People, when I say torrential, I mean TORRENTIAL. We stopped at a little store and were able to get umbrellas...that lasted 10 minutes, because ALL of our umbrellas were turned upside down by the wind, and we ended up getting soaked.  every single inch our our body was soaked.  It's no fun to gamble at the casino, and walk around with wet clothes.  

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THE FUNNIEST: While we eventually found the humor and were literally "dancing in the rain", one of the funniest parts was when Coco's hubby felt fearless and thought it was a good idea to climb a post on Bourbon St.  He was actually successful in his first few attempts, but he was abruptly stopped by the massive amounts of grease covering his last targeted post. His hands (and parts of his clothes) were saturated by gooey, greasy, gunk, which, by the way, was very hard to clean off.  After that, we danced with a parrot, a rabbit, a pig, and a turtle, and sang "Eye of the Tiger" at a piano bar.  Yeah, that happened.  

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PIGEON FORGE AND GATLINBURG, TN

THE GOOD:  Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg are great places to visit with the family.  Home to DOLLYWOOD, we had an amazing time this spring.   

THE BAD: Nothing too bad happened while we traveled to TN, other than terrible traffic due to construction. Unfortunately, due to the recent wildfires in the area, many of the city's iconic sites were lost. Our thoughts are with the wonderful people of these two great towns.  

THE FUNNIEST:  Another torrential unexpected rain. While in Dollywood, and towards the end of the day, the skies broke down and rain poured like an open faucet.  We sought refuge at the main gift shop inside the park, and were able to buy an overpriced yellow rain poncho (good quality though). Thank goodness it wasn't cold, as our little 6 year old was not a happy camper.

CAROLINA BEACH, NC

THE GOOD: This trip was great.  It was Memorial Day Weekend, and the weather was perfect. The craft beer at Goodhops Brewery was fantastic, and the fire works at the boardwalk rounded off a fun filled night.

THE BAD: We wanted to stop by and tour the USS NC, in Wilmington, but, and I'm guessing it was because it was Memorial Day Weekend, the lines were long, and the kids were whinny.  We saw it from a distance and learned a little about too. Maybe next time.

THE FUNNIEST:  There is a town fair at the boardwalk. Our daughter made us laugh hysterically when she compared a Carousel Rooster to her daddy (my hubby). I guess she found the similarity in the long neck and height? Either way, it was a hoot!    

PARIS, FRANCE

THE GOOD: This trip was almost perfect. We couldn't get enough of the food, the wine, the cheese, the coffee! So many places to go, so much to see, so much to do. It was simply amazing! My favorite part was when we got some wine and food to eat picnic style at the Tuileries Garden, in front of the Louvre. It was relaxing, and uplifting, and one of my favorite memories.  *Read our articles on what to eat, and what to do in Paris*

THE BAD: While we were in Paris, the EuroCup was in progress in France. Because of that, security in Paris was extra strict, which is good, but also, drunken soccer fans were everywhere.  And let me tell you, roving bands of loud drunken peoples, especially in a city you are not familiar with can be a bit scary. The Eiffel Tower perimeter was barricaded with police and body searches, and we weren't able to see the Eiffel Tower at night. Next time it is. ALSO, there was a very limited access to free WIFI around the city.  Cafe's and restaurants will lure you into thinking you can use their WIFI with "free wifi" signs, but it's a lie! They just want you to sit down and eat/drink something.  When you ask for a wifi password they will give you a bogus one. This happened in MANY cafe's (not all though) in the touristic areas. Won't fall for it next time. 

THE FUNNIEST: Everywhere we go, it seems to rain, torrentially. But luckily, this time we were prepared! We had rain jackets, umbrellas, and waterproof shoes. Bring it on rain! What I didn't count on, was the fact that rain makes dirt slippery. Imagine this: Walking down the beautiful vast gardens of the Versailles Palace, when suddenly your feet move in a skating motion trying to avoid your body from hitting the ground. You fail, and you must spend the rest of the Palace tour COVERED in mud. Covered. Did I mention I was wearing white?  Yay me! 

ROME, ITALY

THE GOOD: The food. Oh the fabulous food. *what to eat while in Rome** The historical places were amazing as well. The Coliseum was breathtaking, and the weather was just perfect.

THE BAD: Our flight to Rome got cancelled. - Insert full panic mode emoji- We got a heads up that it was cancelled by calling home (to the US) and talking to a family member who happened to look at our itinerary. We spent hours on the phone with the airline trying to reschedule a flight for 6. Our flight was rescheduled for later that same day and we got complimentary food vouchers while we waited at the airport.- insert happy emoji here-. Finally, beware of pickpockets. While we didn't have any experiences with stolen goods, we were very well aware of our surroundings. Pickpockets and thieves will try to lure you into thinking you are watching a street show, or will force you into buying something you don't want. Keep all of your belongings on you at all times when navigating the streets of Rome. Sadly, many thieves will use children to lure you, so don't fall for those puppy eyes.

THE FUNNIEST: Pigeon poop.  Yes. When a pigeon scared Coco (she actually screamed) and pooped on her later. That, my friends, was epic.  On another note, while at the Rome's airport, we thought it was a good idea to stop by Starbucks and get a latte.  They asked for hubby's name (Chase), and the attendant didn't understand the name and asked again, and again...then she gave up and just wrote it down... this is what was on his cup, and that's how I will spell it forever.  

HELEN, GA

THE GOOD: Oh Helen, Georgia, home of Oktoberfest in the south. We pack our bags every year in October, and head to the mountains of Georgia. This little gem of a town, welcomes us with open arms and lots of brews and great food. We all wear our Alpine hats full of pins that we have collected over the years as memorabilia of our adventures, and try to match our outfits, and dance Polka at Festhall...yeah, I know, dorky...but it's fun! 

THE BAD: We have always been very fortunate and have had a place to stay while visiting (thanks Stephanie's parents!) but if you plan to visit this town during the Oktoberfest festivities, better book your hotel way in advance. The town is small, and the few rooms available book out very fast. It's almost impossible to find a hotel within a few weeks of the fest.  

THE FUNNY: Das Boot is always fun to play. Drink as much brew as you can from this massive boot-shaped glass and pass it along.  IF you finish all the beer in it, the person that went before you buys the next round.  We also tried some Stroh.  This exotic rum, smells delicious (butterscotch), but as soon as you taste it, it will burn your throat, like gasoline.  It tastes nothing like it smells, and it will make you cry. Yeah, it was pretty hilarious to see the boys try it.  

This year we also found wild bunnies roaming around in the parking lot, and we tried to catch them...unsuccessfully of course. But it was good exercise. 

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Remember how I mentioned we like to match? That includes the matching suspenders bought for our party of 8 to wear. Those little boogers can be tricky to hook and unhook, just ask Coco. In an unfortunate bathroom incident, she simultaneously had her suspenders fly off her pants, into the toilet behind her, all while a drunken alpine dress wearing Oktoberfest goer barged into her stall. I'm sure the entire Festhall heard her startled screams.  Oh, I love Helen times!

 

 

2016 was a great travel year for us and we are grateful to have shared our memories with all of you.  Stick around to see where 2017 will take us! It's going to be epic!

Always,

Coco & Mia 

*** FOLLOW US AROUND THE WORLD! READ ABOUT OUR TRAVEL ADVENTURES HERE***

Medieval Times Myrtle Beach

With summer winding down and the quickly approaching reality of early mornings, homework, and strict bedtimes, hubby and I decided to treat the kids to a long weekend at the beach. 

Myrtle Beach, SC is usually our go-to beach, and we make at least one trip down there a year. Being that it's only a three and a half hour drive from our hometown of Charlotte, is very family friendly, and has tons of activities to keep the kids busy, it's really a no-brainer for us.

RELATED: CAROLINA BEACH, NC FAMILY WEEKEND

This trip, we were looking for something different to do. We have played all the same mini golf attractions, eaten our fill at the iconic Big Crab Restaurant, fished off the pier, and explored the little shops and rides at Bearfoot Landing. Now don't get me wrong, these things are all a lot of fun but we wanted to try out something different. At the behest of a work friend, and our very own Mia, we bought tickets for the dinner show at Medieval Times. 

Medieval Times is located conveniently off Fantasy Way and was a short 20 minute drive from our hotel. Your $53.95 ticket entry fee ($26.95 for kids-as of 2016) allows you to step back into time and experience an authentically unique medieval experience. Guests are grouped into various colors based on your seating. There is a section devoted to the Red Knight, the Green Knight, the Yellow Knight, and so on. 

While dinner is served (a quite hearty portion) a performance is put on by the King, Princess, and various Knights who compete in jousting tournaments, perform horse tricks, and fight to the "death" to win the coveted title of champion. Yelling, cheering, booing, and general crowd interaction are not only allowed, but encouraged (much to my children's delight). Pleasant wait staff (dressed in appropriate medieval garb of course) cater to each guests every need for the duration of the 2 hour show. Dinner was served in courses, tomato bisque, warm baked bread, roasted chicken, sweet buttered corn, herb-basted potato, and the pastry of the day. Be warned, the authenticity of the night includes time period appropriate dining ware, no forks/spoons/knives. Be prepared to use your hands! 

Be prepared to pay a pretty penny not only for the initial ticket price, but for alcoholic beverages and souvenirs. The lobby of Medieval Times sells tons of wares, everything from princess crowns and children's swords, to unique and artisan style knives and metal figurines. 

Despite the sticker shock with admission prices, I am so glad we bit the bullet and took the kids. They loved every minute and left with huge grins. Don't have kids? This show is still very entertaining and engaging for an adult, either way it's a win/win in my book!

RELATED: HOW TO TRAVEL ON A BUDGET

*Travel Tip- most hotels in the area have free coupon books where you can score some discounted tickets, and always look online too. We were able to get the kids tickets free with the purchase of an adult ticket- score!

Leavin on a Jet Plane

Dear Readers,

TODAY'S THE DAY! Can you feel our excitement all the way through the internets?!

Today is the day we embark on our ten day adventure through Paris and Rome armed with only a backpack, a good camera, and our wits. We have planned, plotted, and practiced in preparation (holy alliteration Batman!) for this trip and the day has finally come. Don't miss us too much while we're gone, we promise we will take tons of pics, eat all the food, drink all the wine, and share all of our adventures with you. It'll almost be like you're there with us :) 

We will be posting from abroad to give you sneak peaks into what we are up to, and as always we have prepared some quality posts for you to peruse while we are gone. Make sure to follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook so you don't miss out!

See ya on the flipside!

XOXO,

Coco & Mia

 

Pigeon Forge, TN: Where to eat, What to do.

When we decided to go to Dollywood, we drove close to four hours from the piedmont of North Carolina to the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee.  It was a nice (curvy) ride.  The view was spectacular as the mountain range appears in front of you.  

We stayed at the Willow Brook Lodge in Pigeon Forge.  The room was clean, the beds were comfortable, and they have an indoor and outdoor pool.  Our daughter loved this place since we were able to use the pool and the jacuzzi at night, before bed. They also have complimentary continental breakfast every morning, which was nice.  

On our way there, we passed the town of Gatlinburg, about ten minutes outside Pigeon Forge. The main road looks like a typical beach strip...but in the mountains. You see bargain souvenir stores and lots of mini-golf places everywhere. There are numerous restaurants, shops, arcades, and family friendly places. MagiQuest ads and Dixie Stampede billboards are everywhere luring people to get tickets. The atmosphere is relaxed and safe.  

RELATED: Dollywood, fun for the whole family

We chose to play "putt putt" at Hillbilly golf.  

This mini-golf course is arranged down a huge hill, and you are transported to the top by riding a rail cart 300 feet up. Once at the top, you descend the hill playing 18 holes through all sorts of machinery, and mountaineer equipment. The course is one of the most unusual mini-golfs I've seen. It was lots of fun for us, especially when I made three holes-in-one and hubby only got one. (insert smiley-mischievous face here ). 

At dinner time, we were recommended to go to the Old Mill Restaurant and eat some good old-fashion southern cooking.

This place was very neat. The restaurant looked like an old cabin on stilts from the outside, overlooking a creek. There was a wait for dinner, but it was worth our while. They bring you corn frites, with a sweet butter with a maple-ish flavor. We ordered the corn chowder, fried chicken (which came with mash potatoes and green beans), and hubby ordered the chicken and dumplings which were exquisite. The dessert was my favorite part. Blackberry cobbler with homemade vanilla icecream.  I honestly have no words to describe it, since it was so fresh and so overwhelmingly delicious. Everything was included in the price; appetizer, main course, and dessert. You can't beat all that food for a very reasonable amount.  

Needless to say, we came back the next day for breakfast.  Again, the price included eggs, a stack of pancakes, bacon, corn grits, and potatoes. They provide you with fresh orange juice and your choice of an alternative drink.  I got coffee, of course, which was perfectly brewed.  

The Old Mill area included a few shops around the restaurant. Their own general store, a pottery store, farmhouse kitchen store, a creamery, and a candy store (where I got lots of candy). This was a great place to spend a few hours browsing around, eating and admiring the beautiful landscape.

Overall, Pigeon Forge as well as Gatlinburg, are very family oriented places to spend a good ol' weekend; even if you don't end up going to Dollywood park, you can still find a million things to do around town.  

For more pictures of Pigeon Forge and Dollywood check out our Pics tab.

Always,

Mia.

***** Read about our other adventures here****

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Marie Laveau: Business Woman, Voodoo Queen

I have been to New Orleans before, and I’ve read a lot about it’s history and mystery on many occasions. This time around, we decided to take a walking cemetery tour to hear more stories and the history of one of the many fascinating cemeteries in the city.  

So we scored a good Groupon, and booked a tour with Witches Brew Tours (by the way, they are great, check them out if you are ever in NoLa! No problem redeeming the groupon).  

 Armstrong Park

Armstrong Park

 beautiful trees all around

beautiful trees all around

The stories were fascinating. Our tour guide, Andy was fantastic. He kept us entertained with a good mixture of humor, spookiness, and history. We toured Armstrong Park with its many gorgeous trees and sculptures, and we walked our way to the Saint Louis Cemetery number one built in 1789.  

 Inside the cemetery

Inside the cemetery

 

There, we listened to his tales about a strict Catholic cemetery in a segregated society where skin color didn’t matter after death. As long as you died Catholic, you could be buried there. But, beware of vampires! Andy told us how it was a common practice to decapitate the body, placing the head at the feet facing down, and stabbing the heart with a wooden spear all to prevent anyone suspected to be a vampire to return as such.

Why?

Well, interestingly enough, another practice in New Orleans was to keep the deceased body inside a coffin that was placed in an above the ground tomb and bricked in for a year and one day. Because of the usually hot weather of the region, this tomb act as an oven and the body decomposes rapidly leaving only the bones behind.

This process takes approximately one year. On some occasions though, either because of the weather or because the person was really a vampire (maybe), some corpses remained, skin and all, but as the muscles atrophy, and the skin dries up, the gum line recedes, and the fingers look long and bony giving the impression of a very thin person with large canine teeth and long monster fingers… a vampire.    

In this cemetery we also saw other interesting tomb sites, including one of a person that hasn’t died yet. Yes, you guessed it (or maybe you are waiting on me to tell you), Nicolas Cage’s massive pyramid tomb is in this cemetery, next to one of a queen. A voodoo queen I should add.  

 Nicolas cage's tomb

Nicolas cage's tomb

 This is the real tomb of marie leveau... according to the guide.

This is the real tomb of marie leveau... according to the guide.

 

This is the story that fascinated me the most. Marie Laveau was a creole woman borne in the late 1700’s who worked as a hairdresser for the wealthy white women of the town. Due to carelessness or lack of a sense of prudence, these women would talk freely about their affairs and other ailments in front of her and all other house servers.   

Marie Laveau took this opportunity and created an empire. Have you heard the saying, knowledge is power? Well, she was a visionary that possessed and gained all the means necessary to build her metaphorical kingdom.  

She would gain information by paying the helpers of other wealthy households for details about their landlords. She kept promises to all the rich and powerful men that came to her for help. She would always keep their secrets and cater to their needs.

 

Here’s how she did it. She used the spectacle of magic and combined it with her catholic rituals and beliefs to create "Voodoo" rituals.  This way she presented to her customers her knowledge of secret desires and/or information she had (privately) gathered from her client’s servers without their knowledge. All the gullible rich ladies really thought she was magic and that she knew all these things about them by invoking the spirits. And since she kept secrets and catered to the men’s desires she was well respected by the male society of the town. Marie Laveau made her business by collecting information behind people’s backs and making strong symbiotic friendships with the right crowd.  Marie Laveau was powerful, she was a voodoo queen.  

RELATED: TRAVEL THE WORLD ON A BUDGET

But she was also aging, and she saw the opportunity to continue her legacy with her daughter, also named Marie Laveau II. Her daughter assumed her role impersonating her in many instances, and her granddaughter after her, and as years passed, people started to believe that Marie Laveau was forever young and beautiful, immortal if you wish.  

Three women, one name. That’s why when you try to find a picture, or a portrait rather, of Marie Laveau, they all look different. No one really knows what she looked like (people didn’t walk around with their smartphones snapping pictures of celebrities back in the day) as she was one and three at the same time, a holy trinity made voodoo queen.  

Marie Laveau’s death was kept silent in order to keep her legacy and business going with her daughter. Her mausoleum at the Cemetery is said to be occupied by her granddaughter rather than her, but there are speculations that she was buried in a different tomb, the one next to Nicolas Cage’s pyramid.  Go figure.  

 marie leveau's tomb after it was re-painted and repaired

marie leveau's tomb after it was re-painted and repaired

Marie Laveau’s influence can be felt all around New Orleans. Her tomb (which is, according to the guide, one of the most visited tombs in the US) has been vandalized (was completely painted bright pink), repainted, and repaired to conserve this popular landmark. Voodoo practitioners and other curious tourists leave offerings by the tomb and request a wish to be granted, they then mark the tomb with three X’s and walk around the mausoleum and knock on it three times. Don’t quote me on this one… I’m just repeating what Andy (our guide) said. Obviously, marking the tomb with an X is considered vandalism, so you better not get caught.

 Her tomb before it was vandalized and repainted

Her tomb before it was vandalized and repainted

 As of April 2016 no one is allowed inside the cemetery unless they are accompanied by a certified tour guide, or unless they are visiting a family member’s tomb (and have proof of this). This strict measure might change in the future, but for now they want to prevent the tombs from being vandalized by uncaring people.  

Besides her tomb, the New Orleans Historic Voodoo museum on Dumaine St, established in 1972, is the oldest authentic voodoo artifact museum in the city. It has many of Marie Laveau’s belongings. Around the city it is easy to find plaques of the places where she used to frequent and live with her daughters.  

 House where she lived with her daughters

House where she lived with her daughters

Being a creole woman in a segregated society didn’t impede Marie Laveau from being powerful and having a legacy that carried for over a century. She found ways to play with people’s minds, making them believe she was a powerful priestess. As far as actual magical power, no one knows to what point this is true, but one thing is certain; she was powerful in the way she arranged her business, to the point that she was  recognized and remembered as the Voodoo Queen now and for generations to come.  

**** Read other articles about New Orleans here****

We want to hear from you! What good tour guides and places do you recommend?  

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How to travel the world on a budget

It's no secret, we love to travel, and traveling can get expensive, especially when you take a vacation with the family.  We try to take as many trips as the wallet allows.  We are not rich, nor we have a secret stash of money under our mattress.... We budget our money rigorously, so we can do what we love the most; making memories around the world. We have gathered some tips and ideas to help you also save up, and whether it is for travel or anything else you love, we hope you find these tips helpful. 

1. TURN OFF THAT LIGHT. 

I'm starting with the less obvious, most misunderstood way to save. It might not sound like a lot, but turning off lights and appliances that are not being used can save you some in your monthly electrical bill, especially if you are still using incandescent light bulbs. IF you are still using those, consider switching to CFL or LED bulbs. I promise you'll see the difference in lighting and savings. While regular incandescent bulbs use 60 or more watts, CFL and LED are energy efficient and only use 10-18 watts (and LED bulbs can last up to 20 years!) saving you lots of money a year if you add up all the bulbs in your house. Do the same thing when you are brushing your teeth or showering... turn the water off when not in use. Save money and help preserve our earth!

2. DON'T BE TEMPTED TO WINDOW SHOP.

I know, I know. This one is hard. For instance, I just love to go to stores like Target or Walmart or the mall to walk around and look at goods. Sometimes I do it because I have time to spare, but 9 times out of 10 I end up buying something I don't even need. Even if it's something small, if you don't need it, don't buy it and save that money!

3. MAKE A LIST

My friends will tell you, I like lists. I make a list for everything, and over time, I've come to learn that this actually saves me time and in many instances, money. Going to the store when it's only absolutely necessary was discussed above, but when you go, make a list. Only get the items on your list. For example, you can always make a schedule of recipes for the week (there's another list) and make your shopping list for the items you will need to have all your meals. Also, another good tip is to buy your non-perishables at whole-sale stores. You may pay a little more up front, but will end up saving money in the long run. Oh and before I forget, do not grocery shop while you are hungry! Your list will go to waste if your hungry stomach is demanding your brain to void the list and grab every edible item there is. True story.  

4.  LEARN HOW TO COUPON

If you have the extra time, couponing is a great way to save on your groceries and toiletries. It takes time and dedication, but you can get many things for a few cents and even free when you find a good deal. But beware! with this method, you will be tempted to buy things on sale that you do not need or that you will never use! It's happened to me, and to many people I know. Grocery stores have modified their rules on coupons over the years to prevent people from getting dozens of the same item at once, but there are always ways around it. Don't be tempted! If you want to learn the art of couponing you can check many websites that will teach you step by step how to do it and will give you a list (love lists lol) of deals by grocery store.  I use www.southernsavers.com and coupons.com for my coupons and information.   Using Groupons for amazing deals on restaurants (on special occasions or when you travel) and other services and items is a great way to save some money when you find the right product (but as always, don't forget to read the small print to avoid misunderstandings).

5. COOK AT HOME

Unless it's a special occasion, cook all your meals and don't eat out. I think this is what saves us the most money. Note, that this also includes your morning coffee...and nobody loves a good cup of Starbucks more than me! I make my own coffee each morning and pack my left overs for lunch that day. Each member of your family can do the same and save. Just think. The average cup of fancy coffee is $4-$5 (if not more), the average lunch including a drink could be $10-$15.  So if you visit the coffee shop and eat your lunch out every work day, you are spending about $75 a week (in the low end of price), plus your weekly groceries for the meals you do cook at home. If you and your spouse have the same habits, you are spending $150/week. I'm sure you can do math, but just to reiterate that is $600 a month that you can be putting towards your dream vacation.  -** see some ideas for delicious easy recipes***

6. BEING FRUGAL IS NOT BEING CHEAP!

Maybe it is because I'm not super techie, but I don't need the latest Iphone every time a new one comes out, or every apple device that actually does the same thing than the other (talking about iphone, ipad, iwatch...same thing, different size). Me personally, I only need a good laptop, a reliable phone, and a good camera (for our field of work). If you don't work with technology or computers, why spend hundreds on stuff you don't really need?  

I also, like most women, like to dress well. I don't like fancy clothes, but I do like for things to look nice. That's totally OK. BUT I have no need to buy a $300+ purse or $200+ shoes when I can get what I need for less than half that price. Well, if someone wants to gift it to me, I gladly accept it, but I'd rather save my money to go see the world. Material things are just that, material that the brand makes you believe you need.  Let me tell you a secret... you don't need that, but you do need to take vacations.

7. NAILS, HAIR, AND OTHER NON-ESSENTIALS

For years I would spend $150 or more getting my hair done every few weeks, or $30+ every couple of weeks getting my nails done. That adds up, quickly. One day, I wanted to take a trip out of town (before we started traveling often) and my husband informed me that we couldn't afford it that month. Fine, I thought; no big deal. But the more I thought about it, the more I envisioned myself with my toes in the sand for the weekend. I also had a hair appointment scheduled for that week, so I made a deal with hubby. I canceled my hair and nail appointment, and voila! extra money to get out of town!  This doesn't mean that I wanted to look like a slob, so, eventually taught myself how to fix my hair and do my own nails. Doing your own nails is especially easy when you take your time. I also learned how to give myself a hair trim and how to color my own hair (although this is still a work in process, it has worked pretty well so far). I understand that this is not something everyone can do, but it's a big saver if you are able to learn to fix your own hair and nails. This also applies to hubby's hair and children's hair. I became our little family hair dresser.

8. BARGAIN WITH THE CABLE AND CELLPHONE COMPANIES

You see a great deal for cable/satellite TV. You call them, and set everything up. You are happy for a short period of time, and suddenly, one day, you open your monthly statement and your rate has doubled. You all know this story because it happens to everyone. What I do: call them up and bargain. Before I do this, I do my research and I make sure to have their competitors comparable rates and offers on hand. That way I can subtlety throw in there their competitor's current offer to get a reaction. If you have paid your bill on time and don't call every month with a bogus complaint (yeah, they won't help you if you are a bad client), they will give you a deal. I do this every 6-12 months with each company (cable, internet, cell)- basically when they increase my bill- and that way I keep my rates stable. If they don't want to reduce or change my plan, I will switch to whoever gives me a good rate.  

Another good idea (if you are not a super obsessed TV show fan like sometimes we can be) is to cancel your cable or satellite all together and just get a streaming provider like Netflix, Hulu or Amazon to watch your shows and movies. Also, most network channels offer their last 5 episodes of popular shows for free streaming online, if you must have certain shows. There is a big difference in $120+ Cable bill and a $20 streaming provider a month. If you can survive without live TV and DVR, cancel your cable, stream your shows, and save that money.

9. HAVE A YARD SALE

I know this is not something you can do every week, but at least once a year have a big yard sale with all your old stuff. Clean out your closet, the kids's old toys, and all the "junk" accumulated in the garage and sell it out. You can also sell your stuff on craigslist or offerup.com. Some thrift stores will buy used clothes and toys if it's in good condition for a reasonable amount. Do this once in a while to clean out your house, and make extra travel money. You can also consider donating your gently used clothes, toys, and household items to your local womens shelter for extra good Karma.  

 

10.  SAVE A PENNY

Always be on the look out for bargains, deals, and best prices when it comes to buying the things you need. Make a list of things you want (not need) and set a separate budget for those. It's OK to give yourself a gift once in a while, but budget your expenses. For things you need (food, clothes, toiletries) find ways to get good quality things for less. Visit farmer's markets for fresh produce, buy wholesale when possible, and shop at specialty stores that offer organic products for less. I find that stores like TraderJoe's carry many items for way less than the chain stores simply because they are not the commercial brands that we are used to. I also shop at Aldi's and similar stores in the area. Save a penny if you have one to spare. You would be surprised on how much you can save little by little.

We are always open to other suggestions and ideas on how to save.  Whether it's to travel or to buy something you really want, how do you budget your money?

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