Wanderful Memories

Majesty of the Seas

Almost seven years ago, Robert and I went on a remarkable vacation that’s been on my mind a lot recently…

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GraduationI had just graduated from undergrad, and Rob and I were celebrating our third anniversary as boyfriend and girlfriend. Up until this point, I had only been on a handful of other trips that had taken me far away from home.

This trip was among the first that Robert and I took alone, and it was the trip that made me feel that, despite our incomes, traveling and vacationing together was possible.

Neither one of us were making a lot of money – Rob had a part-time job at Blockbuster (R.I.P) and I had just finished my work-study job, which had ended my last week of school. But, this trip was important for us.. we wanted to celebrate, so we planned a trip that felt manageable, and we saved, and slowly paid this trip off piece by piece.

I firmly believe that cruise vacations provide a great opportunity to travel under tight budget constraints. They allow you to pay for your trip in installments and so much of the food and entertainment on-board is included in the cruise costs. As a poor college student, this made creating and sticking to a budget super easy.

I tried looking up what prices would be for this cruise now, but I can’t seem to find it on the Royal Caribbean website, however, a lot of their 4-night Bahamian cruises, and their 5-night cruises out of Florida, range from $268-$589 per person. I can’t find my old confirmation emails, but I feel like for both of us the cruise cost under $700.

Cruise Ship Line-up

Cruising also felt manageable to me in other ways. Because I was so inexperienced with traveling, I felt as though cruising took the pressure off. I didn’t need to worry about how I was going to get from one place to another; I had the opportunity to just relax on deck all day next to the pool if any of the ports felt too overwhelming; I could enjoy a drink (or two) at the bar, and not worry about getting back to my room safely; etc.

We flew into Miami and stayed at an inexpensive, albeit lovely, hotel near the Port of Miami. I always prefer flying in the morning, so you can enjoy a full day of wherever it is you’re traveling to. We hadn’t rented a car, and were warned that taxi traffic to South Beach could be a nightmare, so we stuck to exploring the local area around the hotel on foot.

We discovered Bayside Marketplace, a very South-Florida-vibey outdoor mall area. It was such a beautiful, warm evening and we spent it walking around, sipping on fruit smoothies, listening to the live music, and soaking up the sunset harbor views.

The next day we boarded a 5-night Royal Caribbean cruise, which brought us to Nassau, Key West, and CocoCay (the Royal Caribbean private island).

On Deck

We fully embraced our inner-tourists in Nassau, and boarded a bus to visit Atlantis, Paradise Island . We piled into a 1994 white Dodge Caravan, with spotty air conditioning, alongside our fellow cruisers, and drove past brightly colored buildings plastered with “CLOSED” signs (clear indications of a struggling economy), Bahamian locals on their morning commutes, and vendors rushing to port with their carts to sell conch fritters & chowder to disembarking day-trippers.

Nassau

In true rookie fashion, we had misread the daily itinerary that housekeeping had laid out on our freshly made bed each morning. We thought we had to be back on board at noon… instead of midnight. So we left Atlantis around lunch and headed back to the very empty Majesty of the Seas, accepted our defeat, took a nap and spent the rest of the afternoon bellied up to the pool bar. After dinner in the dining room, we headed back out with the intention to explore the shops in port, but decided that a stroll along the pier to watch the last glimmer of sunlight dip over the horizon suited us better than the overcrowded Del Sol shop.

Drinks on CocoCay

The second day was a relaxing stop at Royal Caribbean‘s private island, CocoCay. We spent the morning swimming in the warm Bahamian water, dodging cruise photographers and well fed seagulls, who were way braver than I’m comfortable with. We gorged ourselves on the buffet (as is the way of cruising – isn’t it?) and grabbed heavy-handed rum cocktails to sip while sunbathing on plastic beach loungers. Within the first two hours of arriving on CocoCay, and despite my excessive use of SPF 50, I had gotten sun poisoning. Blistered and nauseous, we boarded the ferry back to Majesty. Lesson learned.

Key West

The final morning of the cruise, we arrived in Key West (covered in Zinc). The ship docked later in the day, so we began our sojourn with a ‘cheeseburger in paradise’, at Cheeseburger Key West on the famous Duval street, which has unfortunately gone out of business. The location was perfect to sit and people watch. Again, we let our inner Tourist spirits soar, and spent the day trolleying around Old Town, sampling Key Lime Pies, exploring the aquarium, and taking obligatory pictures of us posing with wax figures outside of the Key West Art & Historical Society Custom House Museum. We strolled past Sloppy Joe’s and Ernest Hemingway’s house and said “hi” to his six toed cats. We window shopped for tin roofed houses and picture perfect porches adorned with gingerbread detailing, covered in shade of the Spanish Moss.

Posing with Wax Figures

After the cruise, we flew (we know better now…) from Miami to Orlando, to visit our friend Emily, who had recently moved down there to work for Disney. The year before, we had only visited Epcot when we visited Disney with Rob’s family. This year (2011), Emily, Rob and I had planned to hit the remaining three parks over the two and a half days we would be in Orlando with her.

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Emmy

Emily picked us up at the airport and we made our way over to Universal’s City Walk for Tex-Mex, beers, and karaoke (not my favorite pastime, but Emily and her roommate were clearly regulars at this particular bar).

Our first Disney day was split between a morning at Animal Kingdom and an afternoon at Hollywood Studios. It’s worth mentioning here that Rob and I are ‘full day at a theme park’ type of people. We want to get the most of our time and our money, so to us spending a morning in one park is considered a quick stint. So, I recall our time in Animal Kingdom as brief, even though we got to experience a lot of what the park had to offer, especially since we weren’t much into roller-coaster experiences at the time.

Still, we strolled through the Maharajah Jungle Trek and Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail, rode Kilimanjaro Safaris, escaped Kamikaze-bird-poop disaster in the Oasis Exhibits, became transformed into bugs in the It’s Tough to be a Bug! show inside the Tree of Life, just kept swimming alongside Dory and friends in the Finding Nemo, the Musical show, and helped an Iguanadon time travel to the present on DINOSAUR.

Have a Wild Time!

Our afternoon and evening were spent in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Robert’s favorite park. But so much had changed since his last visit, so we let Em be our tour guide. Before moving to Orlando to work for Disney full-time, Em had participated in the Disney College Program, where she had worked on The Great Movie Ride (another R.I.P) – obviously, this was a must-do-to-do. Em was so excited to show us around her ol’ stompin’ grounds.

We spent a lot of time in the Walt Disney Presents galleries and I sobbed my way through Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream (and have every time I’ve seen it since… yes, I’m one of those Disney people who’ve proudly drank a healthy serving of the proverbial Kool-Aid). We had dinner reservations at 50’s Prime Time Café, where for the first time in my life someone asked me if I wanted my glass of white wine, “For here, or to go?”. (And that, my friends, is the true magic of Disney… portable beverages.)

We didn’t ride a lot of rides after dinner, but spent a good amount of time walking around the park, perusing shops and searching for Mickey shaped ice cream sandwiches.

The last morning we were up bright and early for a full day at the Magic Kingdom. Strangely, I remember very few details about the day itself. I couldn’t tell you the rides we rode, or the foods we ate. I just remember feeling lucky to be there. To this day, Magic Kingdom is not my favorite of the Disney theme parks (Epcot will always hold that crown), but it is unarguably the most iconic, so I think this was the first time that I really felt the, “holy s**t, I’m at Disney World,” feeling.

It is never lost on me how lucky Robert and I are that we have had so many opportunities to visit Disney World. For many families, Disney is a once in a lifetime trip. For my family, it has become an annual pilgrimage, and I am always grateful that we have been fortunate enough to do so, so far.

We ended that trip, sitting cross legged on the ground at the end of Main Street, USA, watching Wishes fireworks explode in the sky above Cinderella’s castle projections, appropriately named, The Magic, The Memories, and You! 

The perfect ending to a trip, designed to celebrate the promise of our future.

Happiest Place on Earth

No, you’re a Disney Addict!

Ahoy, my friends! & Happy Holidays!

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Disney’s Winter Summerland Mini Golf

 

With the holiday season winding down, my summer-baby soul is starting to miss balmier climates. So, it seems as good a time as any to revisit our trip to Florida this past October.

A Very Vero Vacation Kickoff!

Planning a weekend at Disney’s Vero Beach Resort before all the pre-scheduled vacation craziness, was ingenious. I hadn’t realized how badly I needed to step away from my daily routine, until I breathed my first breath of salty, humid Florida air. A relaxing weekend at the beach (Disney style) was exactly what I needed to help re-ground myself.

I really had no idea what to expect from a Disney beach resort. I wasn’t quite sure it would feel like… well,… Disney. I should have known that Disney would never disappoint.. and sure enough, it did not.

My only regret (if one were to be had) was that we couldn’t stay longer (although, if we’d known then what a disaster company Carnival Cruise Line is, we definitely would have spent the remainder of the week… a different blog post for a different day). In fact, I’m fairly certain the first words out of my mouth upon arrival were, “Uh oh, Robert. I smell a tradition brewing.”

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Robert isn’t much of a ‘relaxer’ on vacation. He, typically, doesn’t enjoy laying on a beach for hours or sitting by a pool. He’s an ‘up and at em’ kinda guy – which is great. But, for this particular part of the journey, I was really hoping for a weekend of mindless beach and pool lazing. Luckily, Vero provides a healthy mix of activity and relaxation – and we never even had to leave property. (Huzzah! No extra driving for this NYC commuter!)

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Robert and I by no means took advantage of all the resort had to offer. We spent most of our time on the beach, by the pool, at the Green Cabin Room, or playing mini-golf. For some reason, I don’t remember researching the recreation all that much before we went, and didn’t realize until it was too late that we could have rented bikes or played tennis. We also, always seem to miss the campfire s’mores.. Oh well, next time!

When we were there in October, Vero had three on-site restaurants – ‘Bleachers’, a poolside, quick service; ‘The Green Cabin Room’, a bar/lounge; and ‘Shutters’, a casual/formal, sitdown restaurant. However, they were undergoing renovations while we were there, and the website suggests that these have changed since then – Shutters and Bleachers seem to have been replaced with ‘Wind & Waves Grill’, which has a marketplace available for quick service, take-away.

Truthfully, the renovations didn’t affect our trip at all. We liked the Green Cabin Room, because there was always some sort of activity happening. Trivia night was so much fun (which was a pleasant surprise because I’m really not much of a joiner usually). We even won a round! Go ‘Team Good-Not-Great!’ (My idea.)

The menu offers a good variety of pub-grubby things and the views can’t be beat – to say nothing of the incredible bartenders who work there (shout out to Nikki/Nicole & Trevor!)

Ughhh.. Can we just go back already?

PS: I HIGHLY recommend the Habañero Lime Margarita and the Rye Manhattan. Robert really enjoyed the Pimm’s Punch.

I’m finding it difficult to express just how much I loved my time at Vero Beach. Since returning, I haven’t stopped daydreaming about my little hotel suite with balcony or my bar stool overlooking the Atlantic Treasure Coast. I can’t stop closing my eyes and trying to recreate the feeling of Florida’s hot, humid air on my shoulders, or the smell of the seabreeze. There are very few places in the world that feel more like home than home, but Vero has become one of those places for me after just one brief visit… and I am counting the days until I get to go back.

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Disney Planning Tools, How We Prepare

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Obviously a Countdown App!

We’re officially 40 days out and the excitement is mounting! At this stage in the game, all of the planning and scheduling we wanted taken care of in advance is done.

Rob and I really enjoy the planning stages, in some cases almost as much as the vacation itself. Planning helps build anticipation and gives us specific things to look forward to. I understand that some people like to leave a lot of their trip to spontaneity, and I think spontaneity has its time and place (ha..irony). Respectfully, Disney is not one of those places.

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Dodging 3pm summer rain storms with a beer in ‘Germany’ at Epcot!

My father-in-law, also a planner, introduced me to Disney Worldfor the first time and I am so grateful that he did. For that first trip we only had 1 full park day and he wanted to make sure we got the most out of it. He had strategically mapped out the best route around the park, made sure we rode every ride (this was before the My Disney Experience App, where you can now reserve Fast Passes in advance, none-the-less), and still make it to our 7:30PM dinner reservation in ‘France’. Perhaps, this is where my pre-planning-bias was born.

It’s one thing if you live in or near Florida and can visit Disney World all the time. If that’s the case, it doesn’t really matter if you have set plans before arriving or not. However, as an out-of-state visitor, I really want to make sure that we get the most bang for our buck in the most magical place on earth, during one of their busiest seasons. Especially this year with soo many new and exciting things happening!

That’s where Disney’s planning tools really come in handy.

DisneyWorld.Disney.Go.Com, Plain and Simple

Let’s start from the beginning. Disney World’s home page is an obvious and user-friendly place to start. For us, this is where our magical journey begins (Could I be more cheesy? Yes, buckle up). The website makes it really easy for users to compare prices for resorts on-property. We really enjoy staying on property because of the convenience. Yes, it’s more expensive generally, but also worth it not to fight our way through busy parking lots.

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Not Models.

The entire user interface is extremely engaging and easy to use. It is also the place where the proverbial drinking of the Disney ‘Kool-Aid’ begins. All it takes is just one picture of a smiley model family in Mickey Ears riding Dumbo, maybe eating a Mickey ice cream… hook, line, and sinker.

Once we choose a resort, we select our ‘vacation package’. Meaning we add-in park tickets for however many days we plan to visit the parks. Usually, we visit the parks for fewer days than we’re staying on property. This is where you can add in meal packages as well, but we prefer to have more freedom in our dining choices.

My Disney Experience 

This may be my favorite tool of all. You can access your My Disney Experience account from your computer and phone. I visit this page often throughout the planning stages…like, almost daily (Note: There’s no need for this, I’m just excitable).

You can manage your entire trip through My Disney Experience. This is where we make our dining reservations, fast pass selections, check wait times, get park maps… the list goes on. If you wanted, you can plan your whole trip on the app, including booking hotels and park tickets.

This is dangerous for us and has in the past led us to make spontaneous hotel reservations (i.e. trips to Florida from New York) on whims… Uh oh, but PJ… you said spontaneousness and Disney don’t mesh. True, but My Disney Experience allows you to add plans to your spontaneous adventure.

I love having access to My Disney Experience in the parks. If we want to change our fast pass selections, or if we’ve used all 3 of our fast passes and want to make more, we can do it from anywhere in the park. So easy.

Guest Services Page

Ok, real talk. I have been to Disney World every year since my first trip in 2010, sometimes twice a year. I have visited the DisneyWorld.Disney.Go.Com website multiple times for every single visit since… and only this year did I discover the Guest Services page. This strikes me as the type of page that you really only find out of necessity, which is exactly how I stumbled upon it.

Because we are visiting Orlando for a wedding, we will be traveling with a suit and bridesmaid dress is tow… and because Orlando/the wedding is the last leg of our trip, we imagine those garments are going to need some freshening up before the big day. Luckily, Disney offers dry cleaning services, but the hotel websites are pretty vague about the details. Disney’s guest services page helped with filling in the blanks.

This page is super useful for finding out general information on where you can find ATMs, how to complete an online check-in, find resources for guests who have Special Needs, and where the Nikon Picture Spots can be found around the parks (a service I have obviously been in desperate need of)!

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Maybe the only picture of us with the castle?

Seriously, get a Countdown App.

I think mine is called ‘Countdown for Disney’, but we use it for just about every trip we go on. There’s just something about a countdown app that adds to the excitement for an upcoming vacation.

There’s plenty you can choose from and many are free to download. Just do it, it’s fun.

YouTube & Streaming Videos

I don’t know if we use this as a ‘planning’ tool per se, but we always look up vlogs and videos on Disney and Universal before we go. It’s a great way to see what’s new at the parks. YouTube is a great resource to find out about new restaurants or construction updates from people who live in the area and visit the theme parks all the time.

Vlogs are also a great resource for finding out information about the surrounding areas, if you need a break from the park (I’ve heard rumors that these people exist, but I don’t know any thank goodness). A YouTuber – see ‘The Tim Tracker’ – is how we found out about Cowfish at CityWalk, which is now one of our favorite restaurants.

Before I really got introduced to the wonders of YouTube & vloggers, Rob and I would watch Disney Parks, Behind the Scenes videos on Netflix. Buyer beware, the song is catchier than Small World and will immediately get you excited for all things Disney. It’s that Kool-Aid again. Unfortunately, they’ve since been removed from Netflix, but you can still find them on Amazon.

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As mentioned in previous posts, Rob and I are just a traveling duo of adults. If you’re traveling with kids or if you’re traveling in bigger groups, Disney also has some really excellent planning guides and resources on their website, including a Moms Panel.

Ok, so now you’re fully equipped to go an plan your own Disney adventure. See you at the margarita cart in Epcot!

Summer, I’ma let you finish, but…

I am a summer baby, through and through. I never want summer to end. My fellow New Yorkers think I’m crazy for thinking that this 90 degree, 90% humidity we’ve been living in for the last several weeks is paradise, but I love it.

That being said… Universal Studios Orlando is working some special kind of magic on my brain and making me wish so hard that it was October already!

Recently they announced the final of the houses for Halloween Horror Nights 26 and I am about as excited as a human being can be before spontaneous combustion occurs. I can NOT wait for it to be October!

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Jack’s Got Your Back – Halloween Horror Nights 25

Orlando seems to be one of those vacation destinations that people often roll their eyes at. Sure, there are plenty of things to do for families and for kids, and the various theme parks certainly have skilled marketing experts who are hired specifically to let you know just that. But I have only ever been to Orlando as an adult and every single time it drags me in and leaves me wanting more.

October is one of my absolute favorite times to visit Florida in general, but without question my favorite time to visit Orlando.

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There’s a lot to say about the fall in Orlando. The weather is starting to cool, the crowds are thinning out, the decorations are unmatched, and Horror Nights…

This will be our third year in a row going to Horror Nights and I feel like it only gets better from one year to the next. It’s also possible that last year was exceptionally good because of the 25th Anniversary, but we have high hopes for HHN 26.

Over the last couple of weeks, Universal has been slowly releasing the themes for this year’s houses, the last of which was announced just yesterday. The list includes: Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the Exorcist, Walking Dead, Halloween, Krampus (!!!), and American Horror Story – to name only a few.

Luckily, Universal has thought of everything and has strategically placed liquid courage carts around the scare zones and houses so that I don’t chicken out and run for the hills (It’s Florida, PJ.. there are no hills).

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Liquid Courage before getting chased by Walkers! Delicious & necessary

For us, the best thing about Horror Nights is the production value. This is not your ordinary neighborhood Haunted House (although, some neighborhoods are certainly excluded from my visual of corny rubber masks and create legit terrifying experiences). The make up and costume designs are worth the trip, even if haunted houses and Halloween aren’t normally your ‘thing’.

The scare actors at Universal are top notch. Again, you will find no cheese here. They don’t just chase you with chainsaws, grunting. They interact and engage with visitors and really get them involved in the whole production. You, the visitor, become part of the whole experience.

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Bayou of Blood Scare Zone – HHN 24

This year, I think I’m most excited about the following things:

  • Krampus house – I insanely feel this connection to the Krampus story. Not because of the movie, but because of how deeply I fell in love with Bavaria last December. I obviously, don’t expect much cultural authenticity – I do, however, expect a truly terrifying interpretation of the Bavarian anti-Santa.
  • The Repository – a virtual reality experience, that you can add on to your HHN tickets for $49.95. I’m not sure if we’re really willing to spend that much for the experience (translation: I’m trying to convince hubby), but it sounds incredible. (description found here)
  • Extra houses! Again, we’re fairly new to the HHN game (this only being our third visit), but in the past there have been only 7 houses, this year there seems to be 9! We better invest in some excellent insoles for our shoes.
    • Actually… this is worth a little side bar. If you do go to HHN, be prepared to walk, a lot. Every time we’ve gone, we leave barely making it back to the car. This, unfortunately, is not an exaggeration. Do yourself a favor and sit from time to time and invest in really good shoes. You’ll thank me later.
  • Wizarding World of Harry Potter as a potential holding zone – If you buy a park ticket for the same day as your HHN tickets, you are allowed to “Stay and Scream”. This allows you to stay in the park while it closes for visitors without HHN tickets, in holding zones. It also allows you to have access to the houses right when HHN opens for the night, so you often beat some of the early crowds. Holding Zones are scattered throughout the park and are often near places where you can grab a quick bite or have a drink while you’re waiting for the park to clear out. Last year, Wizarding World was available as a holding zone. We lucked out and the whole area was practically empty.We easily found a bench to sit and enjoy some Dragon Scales (beer). Definitely one of my favorite parts of last year’s trip to HHN.
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A totally empty Gringotts!

Of course this list changes constantly as they release new announcements and updates and as my brain wanders from one point of excitement to the next.

So, Summer, I’ma let you finish, but… October better hurry up!

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Straight cheesin’

How to Train Myself That a Weekend Trip is Enough

Checking back in after nearly 8 months…

Hi guys!

We have a lot to catch up on, it seems. Once again, sorry about my negligence. Let me fill you in on what’s been happening in my life since January.

Shortly after my last post (Jan of this year..yikes!), I was hired for my first full-time job out of grad school. Hurray! It’s an incredible position, at an amazing institution, with some lovely human beings. But now, I have to learn to adapt to a schedule where I’m allotted 2-weeks vacation time, and a few personal days here-or-there – you know, like a normal person.

To say nothing of those looming other restrictions – budgetary ones. Occasionally, being a home-owner means you have to part ways with some hard earned money for less than fun, often unforeseen, expenses. The hubs and I had some unexpected repairs that needed tending to, while simultaneously saving to buy somewhere new. Adulting is hard.

So, now I’m faced with the task of learning to scratch that pesky travel itch under much more restrictive parameters than in the past. Teaching myself that, sometimes, a weekend is enough.

Canada Day in Toronto, Fourth of July in NY.

To avoid using any of those precious vacation days, Rob and I have been trying to utilize any and all built-in long weekends.

Fourth of July weekend we headed north to celebrate our friend’s 30th birthday in Toronto. My first time ever visiting our neighbors to the north!

Three days was a perfect amount of time to see some sights, relax, and chow down on some local eats (poutine and steaks all day, err’day!).

We flew in very late Friday night and spent all day Saturday and Sunday in Toronto, before driving to Niagara and eventually home on Monday. Initially I was concerned that our weekend would be too jam packed full of things to do that we wouldn’t get to really enjoy everything, or we’d be too tired to really appreciate it. This, thankfully, was not at all the case. We had such a wonderful time! This trip definitely made me realize that weekend jaunts up north (or south for that matter.. *hint hint, Rob*) are just as worthwhile and enjoyable as longer trips.

Enjoying a delicious Pilsner at Steam Whistle Brewery, Toronto

Sunbathing on the roof of the Hyatt – great views of the CN Tower

 

Took a Waterways Cruise to Toronto Island – Absolutely gorgeous!

 

 

Birthday Libations in North Fork Wine Country.

Next up was my birthday! The hubs planned an incredible weekend for us in Long Island’s Wine Country. I’ve lived in New York all my life and I never knew such a place existed. If you’re able, go check it out someday. Great wine with beautiful views. We will definitely be returning someday – I suspect sooner than later.

A little extra planning was involved on this one – and the hubs delivered! He researched and researched to learn what some of the best ranked wineries were, and which vineyards fit our specific tastes and interests. Croteaux Vineyards (specializing in Rosés) and Lieb were two of my favorites. Luckily, I don’t need to wait for my return to North Fork to restock – both sell their wines online!

Me & the Hubs at Croteaux Vineyards drinking out favorite – Merlot 181

Enjoying conversation, wine flights, and snacks at Lieb Vineyards.

 

I mean… Is this not the most beautiful table? Yum!

So now we’re convinced and there will be many, many more weekend trips in the future and I can’t wait to share them with you!

Thanks so much for reading, and if you have any suggestions of weekend trips from NY, please share!

 

The trouble with a travel blog (for me)

Oops! It seems like I’ve let nearly 4 months go by and became a totally negligent blog-parent. I’ll try my best to get better at this. It turns out that when I’m busy graduating/traveling/planning upcoming travels… I forget to share those things with you!

After returning from our Florida roadtrip in August, the rest of the month was dedicated to studying and preparing for my comprehensive exam – which I’m happy to report I passed!

September had a few surprise mini-trips and a few planned ones as well: took a long weekend down to Washington D.C. to help a friend move out of her apartment and get ready to move across the pond for a year abroad; a farewell roadtrip up to Maine with the same pal; Orlando weekend full of Halloween Horror Nights and Disney’s Food & Wine Festival; and a bachelorette weekend in the Poconos!

The majority of October and November were dedicated to the job hunt, and at the end of November we embarked on our very exciting trip to Munich and London!

Anyway, I figured I’d check back in with a quick post about my disappearance, and will continue back with recaps of all of these fun adventures and a few more coming up in 2016!

Long time, no see!

Home, sweet home! Kinda. We hit the ground running as soon as we landed. Robert is off to begin a new job and I’ve been ‘hard at work’ studying for my comprehensive exam coming up in just over a week.


Fernandina Beach, Amelia Island, Florida

We got up bright and early at 2:50AM to make sure to have ourselves and the house ready for the shuttle to pick us up at 4:00AM, which changed to 3:45AM, and then again to 3:30AM by the shuttle company… A bit hectic and stressful, but we managed.

Sunrise over JFK

We arrived at the airport around 5:30AM. Who knew the airport was so happening that early in the morning? Typically Robert and I fly in the evenings, so this was a first for us. We waited about 30-40 minutes to get through security, which is the longest we’ve ever had to wait, which makes us totally spoiled. It wasn’t so much the wait time that irked us, as much as it was how disorganized the lines through airport security were, which is pretty typical for JFK, actually. But long lines and poor attitudes from the shuttle dispatcher were not enough to darken our travel day!

The flight went quickly and smoothly, and picking up the rental car could not have been easier. I seriously recommend you look into National rental car if possible. Completely hassle free and no one tried to upsell us on unnecessary rental car insurance. From there it was an easy 30 minute drive from the airport to town.

Let the roadtrip begin!

Let the roadtrip begin!

Our room wasn’t ready when we arrived so we decided we would wait it out with some lunch in town and beach time.

I'm sure it was 5 o'clock somewhere!

I’m sure it was 5 o’clock somewhere!.. Am I tan yet?

It was a perfect day for the beach.. hot & muggy, just the way I like it, and just about the only way I can get Rob in the water. I can’t brag enough about the beaches on Amelia Island. The water is warm, yet refreshing and the sand is flat enough that when you’re laying down you don’t need to do much sand squishing to avoid lumps in your spine.

Unfortunately, Florida’s been getting hit with some nastier-than-usual weather this summer, so the water was a tad murkier than I remember, which only freaked me out because of all the shark attack stories I’d been hearing lately. Still, a little murky sea water didn’t keep me from my beloved ocean.

A little island exploring before dinner.

A little island exploring before dinner.

We begrudgingly left the warmth of the sand due to the daily August thunder shower, checked into our hotel room, and did some exploring in town before meeting up with Robert’s aunt for dinner at her farm. The less time we spent in the room the better. Sleep was too tempting after such an early wakeup. We headed out to Centre Street, the main strip in Fernandina Beach, walked around, took some pictures with the locals (haha), and had a celebratory anniversary cocktail near the docks at Brett’s Waterway Cafe. The first time Robert and I came to Amelia Island we ate here with Robert’s family and had a really lovely meal.

We got there before they set up for the dinner crowd, which comes in around 5:30, so they let us take our drinks out to the porch to look at the water and for the first time in my life I saw real live seal mammals in the wild (with the exception of a seal once when we were on Cape Cod)! Unfortunately they were too far away to photograph or really identify, but without question we saw two dorsal fins swimming just off shore. This made me entirely too overjoyed.

Then we headed over to Robert’s aunts farm to enjoy some family time and dinner, and meet the new horses!

Meet Indy! An impressive 2,500lb logging horse.

Meet Indy! An impressive 2,500lb logging horse.

We were pretty tuckered out after dinner at the farm and headed back to our hotel. It was an incredible first day. We did so little and yet so much. The next day we headed over to St. Augustine and into the worst storms of our trip, but that’s a different story for another day. =)

I still have many, many pictures to sort through to share with you all and think that dividing the trip up into a few different blog posts is best. The next post will be about our day trip to St. Augustine, then a post about Orlando, then Tampa!

Then, with my test nearing and anxiety mounting I’ll be preparing for a weekend getaway to Maine with my dear friend, the expat.

Thanks for sticking with me, even with the large gap between posts. I hope you enjoyed reading and I hope you share your summer adventures with me as well!

Travel Styles & Preferences #2

Rolling Luggage V. Backpacks:

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I use the ‘Expedition Travel Pack’ by L.L. Bean. They’re without a doubt one of my favorite brands for luggage – tough and durable, but lightweight. Robert uses the ‘Expedition Duffle’. I don’t think they make these exact models anymore, unfortunately; however, I’m sure L.L. Bean has bags that are comparable. We’ve brought our packs with us on several long trips, including an 11 day trip to Florida and on our 16 day honeymoon to Italy. That being said, we are not ‘backpackers’ and therefore if that’s the kind of bag you’re looking for, I can offer little insight into which bags are appropriate.

For rolling luggage, I’ve been using the American Tourister 20″ Spinner DeLite Hardsided carry-on in black. Hard-sided luggage can get a bit pricey, so I’ve avoided taking the plunge until this little guy went on clearance at Target this past winter just in time for me to visit a friend in Orlando for an extended weekend. I’ve used it on about 3-4 trips now and I think it works great. This is the bag I plan on bringing with us to Florida for this next trip. Before now, the longest I’ve ever packed this bag for was 5 days, so 8 days might be a bit of a stretch, but I think I made it work! Robert’s rolling luggage came from a flea market type of place, and I have no idea what the brand or model is, and truthfully it’s not the most durable bag on earth, but it works for what he needs and has so far {knocks on wood} never let us down.

There are pros and cons to both types of bags.

L.L. Bean Expedition Duffle

L.L. Bean Expedition Duffle

We bought the L.L. Bean backpacks because we didn’t want to deal with rolling luggage on the cobblestone roads in Europe. The 11day Florida trip was a dry run with the bags, and I thought they worked out well. Most obviously, the biggest downside to these types of bags is, of course, the weight. If you’re not careful or if you’re going on trip longer than a week (or if you’re like me and like to have clothes for a variety of situations) the weight can get really very cumbersome. But, if you’re going on a trip where your attire is more straight forward {i.e. you’re going on a business trip and need less casual or evening wear} than the weight thing may not problematic at all. It all depends on how much you know you can realistically carry around. For Italy, my backpack was just over 40lbs — which when you do a test ‘drive’ around your living room seems like nothing at all, and then when you carry it for hours around the airport seems like the biggest mistake you’ve made that day. Also, if you don’t pack the bottom layer as flat as possible, it may get a little uncomfortable against your back.

That all seems like negatives, I guess. But in truth, I did love the convienience of having everything on my back. We had no trouble walking the unpaved side streets of Italy with our backpacks and, because they’re carry-on size, enjoyed having everything so compact. The L.L. Bean bags fit perfectly in the overhead compartment on airplanes, much easier than my rolling luggage, and because they’re soft-sided smush down smaller if necessary. 11-16 Days was a stretch, with regard to weight, but both of these bags would be perfect if you are able to bring less items with you when you travel. On the website, L.L. Bean refers to this bag as a ‘weekend’ bag, and the newest model measures at 22.5Hx14Wx9D. My personal opinion, is this bag is great for much longer than a weekend, but not for much more than a week.

Another consideration with backpacks is to think about what kind of personal bag you’ll be using on the plane, if you’re going to be using one. As a woman, it’s not a problem – I use my Longchamp Large Le Pliage tote and just hold it on my arm or in my hand. However, as a man your options become much more limited. My husband likes to use a bookbag as his personal bag or sometimes even his camera bag and finds it very challenging to to have both bags be backpacks. A messenger bag might be a better option.

L.L. Bean Rolling Duffle, Large

L.L. Bean Rolling Duffle, Large

Rolling luggage, in general, is great for so many reasons. Weight is not an issue, especially if you have a well built bag. I’ve had many rolling bags over the years, including the L.L. Bean Rolling Duffle, in ‘Large’. I bought this bag before going to Paris on a study abroad trip, thinking that it would be my ‘European Luggage’ {haha, oh how naive I was!}. I way overpacked using this bag, I brought probably everything I owned and very little of what I needed. I also brought it with me on a few vacations after that, and realized, slower than I probably should have, that this bag was just ridiculous for one person. I have to say, that the only times I’ve ever liked rolling bags, is in carry-on size. Anything larger than that for luggage of any type gets very unwieldy.

The American Tourister bag is turning me, quickly, into a convert for life. This upcoming Florida road trip is the longest I’ll have used this bag on. So far, I’ve brought this with me on a few long weekend trips and it’s served me very well. For our 8 days coming up, the fit is a little snug, but everything fits well enough. I love the 360° spinning wheels, it makes it so you don’t have to drag your luggage behind you, which can get extremely uncomfortable after long periods of time. The hard-sided feature can take a beating without me worrying about my luggage inside. Yet, even though it’s hard-sided, it is still extendable if you need a little more room. I usually prefer not to use that feature, because the more compact, the better.

With rolling luggage, you can use any type of personal bag you’d like – backpack, tote bag, camera bag … the possibilities are endless, which is ultimately what led Rob to want to use his rolling bag on this trip.

It seems, that rolling bags are most people’s preference. They are in abundance whenever you walk down the luggage aisle of most stores, whereas duffles and backpacks are harder to come by. It’s hard to say what my preference is, because I love both of these bags for very different reasons. For European adventures, I really don’t see myself ever using anything except my L.L. Bean Expedition Pack. There’s just so much more walking from one place to another and I’d rather not have to drag a bag behind me. I’m much more mobile with the L.L. Bean bag than with the American Tourister, oddly. However, my rolling bag has been great when I’m traveling by myself, or to places where I know exactly where I’m going an don’t have to do much walking.

I’d love to know what your preferences are, and what brands you use and love (or hate!). Thank you for reading, and I look forward to your sharing!

What’s in my personal bag?

Thankfully, this will be a much shorter post than the one on what’s in my carry-on! But, I really love seeing how other people pack and organize themselves for trips and I had so much fun writing the posts in this ‘series’. That being said, this is just one photo and a explanation of what I’ll have in my personal sized carry-on bag.


 

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Sorry this one’s a little dark, I had some camera troubles!

From the top!

1. Reef Flip-flops. I know it might seem silly to put these in my personal bag, instead of in my carry-on, but I like having very easy access to them. I’ll wear my sneakers to the airport, because they’re the heaviest shoes I’m bringing, but I never know how swollen or puffy I’m going to get once airborne.

2. My travel journal for jotting down blogging ideas and inspiration once we arrive!

3. Fuji Film & Fuji Film Instant Camera: Probably excess baggage, but I love these. We bought a few for our wedding last summer and I really enjoyed using them and think it will be fun to play around with these on our travels!

4. Passport/Wallet: My BFF just bought me this Kate Spade Passport Wallet for my birthday in early July and I love it! I like having everything in one place. I’m always nervous I’m going to forget my passport, but I {knocks on wood} have never forgotten my wallet.

5. Paper Towns, by John Green: After much consideration about which book to bring for the plane and beach/pool side reading, I decided to go with Paper Towns. My decision wasn’t easy but my reason for choosing this book was simple: It takes place in Florida (Orlando specifically, I believe) and the movie is coming out so soon and I’d like to have read the book before it does (or at least before I see it).

6. The black case to the left will hold all of my small chargers, i.e. cell phone & camera.

7. Sunglasses & sunglasses case, again for easy access once we get off the plane!

8. The little red case hold my camera, so I can take lovely pictures of our trip to share with you all!

9. EcooPro Lightweight Portable Adjustable Over Ear Stereo Headphones.

10. My laptop & charger. I probably won’t use this on the plane, because I usually just take advantage of the personal screens on JetBlue flights, but it’s easier to go through airport security if your electronics are someplace easily accessible, and at 5:00AM I have no interest in prolonging that particular experience.

11. My cell phone, of course! Equipped with the charging case I mentioned in a previous post.

12. The bottom row is all skincare and moisturizing products: (warning: If you have no interest in reading about these products, skip ahead.)

  • A little detergent (although it’s really supposed to be a Shout Wipes, but I have to pick some up still)
  • Deodorant wipes, you can buy these at Whole Foods, or Amazon. I was hesitant to buy these at first because they do tend to run on the pricier side, but they are WELL worth it to throw in your gym back or while traveling to hot locations.
  • Caudalie Grape Water. Definitely the weirdest purchase I’ve ever made, but I liked the idea of having something to spritz on your face while traveling to freshen up, and I love it. I bought this last year before traveling to Italy (13 hours each way! yikes.) and I was so glad I had it!
  • Clinique Dramatically Different Moisturizing Lotion+. Just a little face lotion to keep away any skin dehydration from flying.
  • Balance Me Wonder Eye Cream, a little sample I got in my BirchBox subscription! Again, I realize this seems like a lot of skincare products (at least it does to me) but we’re leaving at 4:00AM for the airport, and I could use all the help I can get!
  • Bio Republic Face Masks: Aloe & Cucumber for when I get the inevitable sunburn from hell. I also received these in a Birchbox. I doubt I’ll use these on a plane, or anywhere public for that matter, but I think it’ll be nice to have them on the trip to help my skin recover from travel and exposure to the sun.
  • Jouer Luminizing Moisture Tint Sunscreen – want to guess where I got this little sample? If you said Birchbox, you’re keen on picking up themes! Hoping this little guy will help brighten me up after a long, early morning of traveling and a little extra sun protection never hurt anyone.

Thanks so much for reading! I’d love to know what you all bring with you in your personal bags when you travel. I look forward to you sharing!

Only 3 days left!

Only 3 days left!

Weekly Inspiration

Sorry it’s been so many days since my last post! It’s been a crazy hectic week of leaving jobs and internships & finishing graduate school to move on to new an exciting adventures! I’ll try to be more consistent with posts going forward! And will finally have some traveling to talk about!


There’s been an awful lot of inspiration this week! Here’s a look at some of the things that almost ruined my credit score.

1. NCL – 7 Day Cruise from Copenhagen to Norway.

Lately I’ve had a major itch go on another cruise and to visit Norway, but it hadn’t really occurred to me to put those two together. I was perusing the new Norwegian Cruise Line brochure and my curiosity for their European cruises peaked. A few years ago, Robert and I began thinking about our honeymoon and one of the original suggestions was to go on a European cruise. Immediately following a wedding, this seemed more stressful than just picking a few cities to visit, so we put it on the back burner. When I went to the NCL website, I discovered they had several options for a cruise to Norway! Well, it’s been a mental planning session ever since.

NCL

Let’s go Fjord hopping together!

2. Glamping.

I love camping. I used to go all the time when I was in high school and early years of college. There’s something to sleeping outdoors. Some of my best nights’ sleep have been in a tent. However, I’ve never really been able to fully embrace the not being able to shower for a few days at a time thing. Glamping seems to be the best of both worlds, and I’m more than a little obsessed with looking at pictures of it on Pinterest.

Glamping

#DreamHome Anyone?

3. Snaps!

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, SnapChat Live Story Feeds are always inspiring. They are mini-reminders that people around the world are different in beautiful ways, but also not so different as we’d think.

SnapLive

4. Kings Landing, Croatia.

Dubrovnik seems to be a trending topic among the travel sites I follow, and among my friends who are enjoying their summer Eurotrips. As a relative newbie to travel, I have to admit that until recently, Croatia had never really been on my radar (a huge mistake on my part, I’m realizing rapidly).  This is changing with haste, and not just because I’m more than a little in love with Game of Thrones. Croatia looks as close to Paradise as one can get, and I want to be in those glistening blue waters as soon as possible, please?

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Me and Cersei will definitely be enjoying some wine together while becoming new BBF’s.

5. Last, but most definitely not least – my Italian honeymoon.

This coming Monday, August 3rd is my 1 year wedding anniversary to Robert. So, Tuesday is the anniversary of our departure to one of the most magical trips I’ve ever been on. We spent over 2 weeks in Italy, visiting Rome, Florence, and Venice. Leaving Italy was heart wrenching, I could have stayed there forever – improved my Italian and eaten carbs like it was my job. Without question we will return one day, but until then I will just keep flipping through our beautiful pictures…

If you're considering locations for a honeymoon, I HIGHLY recommend Italy. Absolutely the best trip I've taken to date.

If you’re considering locations for a honeymoon, I HIGHLY recommend Italy. Absolutely the best trip I’ve taken to date.

Thanks for reading & I look forward to hearing what inspired your wanderlust this week!