Monday, July 24, 2017

USA Series: San Diego

San Diego is the eighth largest city in the US and 2nd largest city in California, it is located 120 miles south of Los Angeles adjacent to the border with Mexico. Known for its mild year-round climate, natural deep-water harbor, extensive beaches, and long association with the United States Navy. There is plenty to see and do here.

The San Diego Zoo located in Balboa Park not far from downtown, is one of the most famous Zoos in the world. This zoo was the pioneer in the concept of open-air, cageless exhibits that re-create natural animal habitats. This zoo is home to over 3,700 animals of more than 650 species and subspecies. It is open every day of the year including holidays. The Zoo also operates the San Diego Safari Park. The Safari Park is located approximately 32 miles from the Zoo in Escondido, CA. It is visited by 2 million people annually, houses over 2,600 animals representing more than 300 species, as well as 3,500 plant species.

Balboa Park is also home to many other Museums and Cultural Experiences including, The Fleet Science Center, San Diego Air & Space Museum, San Diego History Museum, San Diego Model Railroad Museum, Japanese Friendship Garden, San Diego Natural History Museum and many, many more.

The region is well known for its many excellent craft beers, some of which are being offered nationally and internationally. A few breweries are within walking distance around the downtown area, not far from the Embarcadero or Convention facility, these include Ballast Point, Stone and Karl Strauss to name a few. Other are just a short cab ride away.

Speaking of the Convention center and Embarcadero, Seaport Village located in between the two, is one of the best places for tourists and convention goers to shop for souvenirs. This fun, outdoor shopping area is filled with unique shops and restaurants as well as typical souvenir stands. In the center of Seaport Village is a hand-carved Carousel dating back to 1895. The Carousel is open daily and rides are just $3.

Located just down from Seaport Village on the Embarcadero is the USS Midway and Museum. The USS Midway was America's longest-serving aircraft carrier of the 20th century, from 1945 to 1992. Approximately 200,000 sailors served aboard the carrier, known for several naval aviation breakthroughs as well as several humanitarian missions. A self-guided audio tour, narrated by former Midway sailors to more than 60 locations, including sleeping quarters, engine room, galley, bridge, brig, post office, pilots' ready rooms, officers quarters, and primary flight control. Other features include climb-aboard aircraft and cockpits, videos, flight simulators, and a narrated audio tour for kids.

Coronado Island is accessible by car or for more relaxing experience while enjoying views of San Diego Bay and the downtown skyline take the 15-minute Ferry ride from the Embarcadero. The Ferry will deposit you in an area with restaurants, shops and a small beach. If you want to explore more of the Island, take a bike along with you on the Ferry, otherwise you will likely want to drive over the bridge to the island. Coronado Island is also home to Loews Coronado Bay Resort. The hotel situated on it’s own 15-acre peninsula offers stunning views of the San Diego skyline. The resort also has 439 luxury guest rooms and 37 suites, it features three heated pools, a hot tub spa and sauna. The Crown Landing restaurant serves unforgettable Southern California Coastal Cuisine and the Sea Spa is known for it’s signature spa treatments and therapies. 

Back near downtown San Diego located on India Street between Beech and Laurel Streets is Little Italy. The area is reputed to be among the best Little Italy’s in America. Many restaurants have great happy hour offerings of great food, wine and beer at lower prices. If you are visiting the area on a Saturday, check out the region’s largest farmer’s market. Come to shop or for breakfast or lunch from one of the many street vendors. The market is open from 8 am to 2 pm, go early as it is extremely popular. The area is walkable from the Cruise Ship terminal and many downtown hotels.

"Old Town San Diego”, a 10 minute Trolley ride from the Santa Fe Depot in Downtown, contains historic buildings and renderings from San Diego’s long historic past. Also you will find a large concentration of Mexican restaurants, shopping and several bazars.

Moving north up the coast to La Jolla is Birch Aquarium a world renowned Scripps Oceanographic Institute - It is located overlooking La Jolla Cove from the north and the Pacific Ocean. Guest will enjoy hands-on encounters as well as the many exhibits.

Situated on the cliffs overlooking the Pacific on the north side of La Jolla is Torrey Pines, golf lovers won’t want to miss out on an opportunity to play here, make sure to make reservations in advance of your visit as it is a very popular place to play. Tiger Woods won the US Open here in 2008. Torrey Pines will play host to the U.S Open again in 2021.

Hidden gems can be found in nearby scenic Temecula. The area boasts over 40 craft wineries. Due to the weather, topography and soil, a greater variety of grapes and therefore wines are available here than in Napa Valley. You can do it as a day trip, as it is a little over an hour from downtown by car, or plan an overnight at one of the area’s unique family owned hotels or more popularly known chains, and then from a prearranged mini-bus be shuttled among a number a wineries before being returned back to your hotel at day’s end. If there is a beer lover in your group, Temecula also has several craft beer breweries to try. "Old  Town Temecula" has a number of  unique boutique shops to check out.

The San Diego area is also conveniently located near several popular theme parks including Sea World, Legoland in Carlsbad, and Disneyland in Anaheim. 

Travel Tip- October is Kids Free month at the Zoo and many museums in the San Diego area.

Client Review: Bermuda Cruise

We are lucky to have another review from Tracy and Chris of their 7 night Bermuda cruise on Norwegian. If you'd like to explore which cruise line may be right for your family, email me or set up a time to chat. 

Norwegian 7-Day Bermuda Cruise
Round-Trip from Boston

We had never traveled on Norwegian, so we weren’t sure what to expect. Here are our initial impressions (especially when compared to Carnival, our typical cruise company). The food is tasty with larger portions. The freestyle dining is easy and we only had to wait one night to be seated. We did not visit any of the specialty dining restaurants and therefore saved money. We were satisfied with our choice to stay in the main dining rooms. Often there are promotions on Norwegian, including prepaid gratuities, free drink package, and specialty dining. We chose prepaid gratuities and were happy that we did. Our cabin was
an inside cabin that included bunks to allow for up to 4 to stay in the room. While the bathroom was bigger than Carnival, the room seemed MUCH smaller with the way the bunks are hanging on the wall, instead of coming out of the ceiling. When traveling on Norwegian, you cannot bring any beverages on board and should pack a white outfit because one of the highlights is the “White Hot Party”. We also felt that the shows were of a higher caliber than we typically see.


On this cruise, we spent 2 ½ days in port and were so glad we did. When we began our journey, we had the mentality that we needed to “soak everything in since it was a once in a lifetime experience”. Once we got there, we knew we’d be back! It is a gorgeous island that is easy to navigate with good public transportation. It’s expensive, hot, and there can be a lot of walking, but we didn’t mind. While you can arrange taxis and tours to take you to the places we visited, we preferred to save money and stick with public transportation.

Client Review: Alaska Cruise Shore Excursions

Tracy and Chris are avid cruisers. They took a round trip from Seattle Alaska cruise in 2017. Here's their review of the ports. 
Mendenhall Glacier 

Like many people, an Alaskan Cruise was a bucket-list item for us. Here’s what we did at each port while we were cruising. Angie is a pro when it comes to booking Alaskan cruises, but if you have questions and want to contact us directly, feel free to ask Angie for our contact information. --Tracy & Chris Dietel

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Client Review: Xel-ha and Xplor

When visiting the eastern coast of Mexico, you have a lot of options for excursions. Allison and her family including her 8 year old daughter and 5 year old son explored Xel-Ha and Xplor. 

Xel-Ha is a natural, aquatic theme park about 76 miles south of Cancun. Here's their promotional video: 

The first one we went to was Xel-Ha.  Overall, a very good day! 

Mexico All Inclusive Resort Review: Now Jade Riviera Cancun

Allison B and her husband booked an all-inclusive resort vacation in Riviera Maya, Mexico for her family including an 8 year girl and 5 year boy to now Jade. We decided this would be a great fit for her because of the fun activities, different choices for restaurants, and overall modern vide of the resort. 

You can take a peek with my 3 minute resort tour below:

Here's what she thought:

Hi Angie!

Our vacation was wonderful.  We had a fantastic time!  

We really liked a lot of things about Now Jade.  It's a beautiful resort.  When we arrived, they met us outside with champagne for the adults and Shirley Temples for the kids.  We then walked into the lobby and were amazed by the gorgeous view and the attentive staff.  Our room was lovely- very pretty and clean, although smelled a little bit musty.  Although we had paid for a garden view, we were super lucky to actually have a pretty decent ocean view. 

Our balcony was spacious, which allowed us to enjoy that view.  The one thing that our room didn't have that we really needed was conditioner, which was problematic when you have two girls with long, curly hair.  I usually travel with it but left it out this time since I figured a nice resort would definitely have conditioner!  I guess not- oops!  

I had read online reviews that said the beach wasn't that great.  We actually thought it was nice.  The staff did an excellent job of keeping the seaweed cleaned up.  Although neighboring beaches were very rocky, ours was smooth.  The water was very pretty and clear too.  The kids loved playing in the same, and we felt like they were safe doing so.  There was plenty of distance to walk up and down the beach too.  Running down the beach was a little more challenging due to the rocky parts at the neighboring resorts, but the resort gym is really nice and not very crowded.  

We generally spend more time at the pool, and this trip was no exception.  The pools were gorgeous.  There was even an infinity pool close to the ocean that had pool seats built into it. 

The main pool was very large and had a swim-up bar.  There were plenty of chairs around the pool but a limited number of umbrellas (that were fixed in place).  Although the resort policy stated that if you left your belongings at a chair for longer than a half an hour that they would be turned into lost and found, that was never enforced.  It ended up being like every other place we have stayed at where people throw their stuff on a chair with an umbrella or under the pergola early in the morning and leave it there all day (and use it for maybe 30 min out of the day).  We actually spend more of our time at the pool, so we have to play that game too by getting out to the pool around 7am to get seats under an umbrella.  The pool atmosphere was really nice.  In the morning, it was very calm and relaxed.  In the afternoon, part of the pool is a little rowdier when they start playing volleyball, and the other part is crazy when they play some games.  Unlike most resorts we have been to, a lot of people seemed to participate in the activities they put on.  

There is WiFi throughout the resort, and it's pretty fast.  Each room has its own WiFi connection that you access with your last name and room number.  The pool and several different areas have their own connection as well.  We never had trouble getting connected or had issues with speed.  

Initially, we felt bad about having our kids go to the Explorer's Club.  We took them for a couple of hours one day (they give you a pager and will beep you if they need you).  Our kids really loved it!  In fact, they were even disappointed that they couldn't go on the days that we were on excursions and probably would've stayed all day if we let them.  We ended up taking them for 2-3 hours each day that we were at the resort.  They loved the activities (face painting, donut eating contest, etc) and VERY cute crafts (an octopus out of a recycled water bottle, a balloon filled with sand that they decorated to look like themselves, etc) that they got to do.  They also loved that the Explorer's Club went to the buffet for lunch where they could pick anything they wanted to each (and my husband and I liked that it allowed us to go to a sit-down restaurant and have a nicer meal).  The Euro-bungee is sooooo much fun.  It's at 3pm every day, but that's the only time it's offered.  You have to sign your kids up by a certain time in order to be able to do it (I want to say noon, but I don't remember for sure).  If your kids are at the Explorer's Club at 2:45, they will page you, and you have to come check them out and then supervise them at the Euro-bungee.  The "camping" night on Friday was a hit with our kids too.  They painted their faces like natives and then took pillows out to the lawn where they watched a movie on the lawn.  I have to say that the staff of the Explorer's Club were probably the nicest and most professional that we encountered.  We were thoroughly impressed.  

I believe we tried all of the restaurants.  There is one adults-only restaurant, and we were able to try it while the kids were "camping".  I think our favorite restaurant was Spice, the Asian restaurant (their regular menu, not the Hibachi-type meal).  Ryan and Keira went to Hibachi one night that Elliott and I had room service because he was too tired.  They reported back that the meat wasn't seasoned very well, but the fried rice and vegetables were excellent.  The kids liked that every restaurant offered a kids meal- the standard chicken nuggets, spaghetti, macaroni and cheese, etc. so that they could order off of it if they didn't like what else was on the menu.  Overall, the food was delicious.  The only issue that we had was one morning at the buffet, I went to take a bite of my eggs and found a giant dead horsefly in them.  I showed the waiter, and he took my plate away, apologized, and then promptly removed the entire pan of eggs from the buffet.  There are some made-to-order options at the buffet, like omelets and crepes.  There is something for everyone.  

We were really impressed by the entertainment in the evenings.  Every night, they would have 2 movies and would have self-serve pizza, french fries, and popcorn.  I believe one movie started around 7pm and then the other at 10pm.  The earlier one would be a kid friendly one and were all recent movies that our kids actually had an interest in seeing (Zootopia, Home, Boss Baby).  Sometimes they were in the theatre, sometimes out on the lawn.  It depended on where the live entertainment act was going to be.  Live entertainment usually started around 8:30pm.  The fire show was thrilling and entertaining.  I really enjoyed the Beatles Love show and the Circus (more like a cirque show).  I really thought the entertainment was the best we've experienced at an all-inclusive resort.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Client Review: Cruising Alaska with Kids

Deana C. and her family took a 7 night Alaskan cruise round trip from Seattle on the Norwegian Pearl. Her sons were 17 year old, 14 year old, and 12 year old at the time of sailing. 

Here's what she thought: 

Monday, July 17, 2017

USA Series: Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park

When clients tell me that they want to "head West", but only have a 7 nights, I recommend a Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park trip from Las Vegas.

Most cities have a good round trip routes in Las Vegas

Bryce Canyon National Park offers fantastic views and hiking. Fun fact: Bryce Canyon is not technically a canyon. The park is known for large, natural amphitheaters with colorful pinnacles called hoodoos.

Zion National Park was Utah's first national park. You will be in awe of the sandstone cliffs in pink, red and cream. Zion National Park partners with the town of Springdale to run free shuttles to the park and then throughout the park. There's a tunnel there that was built through the mountain in the 1920s that is an amazing feat of engineering and definitely worth the drive through it. A park pass is good for multiple days and allows you to either drive the trail or walk in and use the shuttle system. Be sure to be prepared for changes in temperature and pack lots of water when hiking. Desert heat can be sneaky if you are used to a more humid climate.

Sample Itinerary:

Day 1  Head to Bryce Canyon
Enjoy your time in Bryce Canyon hiking or taking Horse Back Riding Tours.
Day 4 - Head to Zion National Park
Day 7 - Return to Las Vegas
  • Drive to Las Vegas – 2 ½ hour drive
  • Check into Golden Nugget – I chose the Golden Nugget because it has a great pool at a low price point
Day 8 - Fly home
If this type of trip intrigues you, email me

**Affliate links included in this post.**

Monday, July 10, 2017

USA Series: A Guide to the Badlands - Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse

Many families have started exploring our national parks and monuments. Here's a guide to the Badlands including Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, Custer State Park, Wall Drug, and Badlands National Park.

Drawing visitors from around the world, the Badlands National Park is home to one of the world's richest fossil beds. Ancient mammals such as the rhino, horse, and saber-toothed cat once roamed here. The park’s 244,000 acres protect an expanse of mixed-grass prairie where bison, bighorn sheep, prairie dogs, and black-footed ferrets live today.

Monday, July 3, 2017

USA Series: Free Family Friendly Activities in St Louis

To celebrate July and summer, we are going to focus on family friendly itineraries in the United States.

We are kicking off the series with St  Louis, Missouri.

Katy, our travel concierge, shares her local perspective on this great city:

Ever wondered what there is to do in the middle of the country? In St. Louis, MO? A lot! And much of it is free.

Known as the Gateway to the West, visitors arriving into downtown St. Louis by car from Illinois will be greeted by the iconic 630-ft Gateway Arch, the nation’s tallest manmade monument. Visitors wanting to stop and take a closer look can ride to the top of the monument and then check out the Museum of Westward Expansion afterwards.

St. Louis has many free and low cost attractions.  Many of these are located a short drive from downtown in Forest Park. The St. Louis Zoo was recently voted “Best Zoo” by USA Today. General admission is free. Some attractions charge an extra fee such as the sea lion show, the 4-D Theater and the railroad. The Zoo lot charges for parking, but free street parking is within walking distance.

The St. Louis Science Center, also located in Forest Park has free general admission with some special attractions charging a fee. Exhibits focus on ecology, dinosaurs, energy, the human body and how food grows.  You can park for free by the Planetarium and walk over the sky bridge across the highway to the main museum or pay to park in the main Museum lot. 

Several other attractions also free in Forest Park are The St. Louis Art Museum, The Missouri HistoryMuseum, and The Muny. The Muny, the nation's largest and oldest outdoor theater has seven live musical performances each summer starting in mid-June and ending the first part of August. For every performance, there are nearly 1500 free seats available at the back of the theater. They are available on a first come, first served basis.

Other great paid attractions in St. Louis include:
Six Flags for those roller coaster fans.

St Louis is a great Sports Town. You can watch a St. Louis Cardinals game at Busch Stadium or a St. Louis Blues Hockey game at Scottrade Center. Both Busch Stadium and Scottrade Center give Stadium/Arena tours and tour packages for Busch Stadium can include the Cardinal Hall of Fame Museum across the street. 

You may be hungry after checking out some of these great area attractions. Foods to try that are native to St. Louis include Toasted Ravioli, Provel Cheese, St. Louis style pizza, Gooey Butter cake, A Slinger (a St. Louis diner meal consisting of two eggs, hash browns and hamburger, steak, or other meat, all covered in chili, onions, and cheddar or American cheese), St. Louis style BBQ,  and a Frozen Custard Concrete. Many of these dishes and treats can be found in local bars, and restaurants.

What are your favorite St Louis attractions?