Moroccan Sahara Desert Tour

 

Moroccan Sahara Desert Tour

Our desert experience was everything and more than we could have expected- riding camels into the desert on the caravan, sand boarding, savoring a Moroccan Tajine, laughing with new friends from around the world, sipping Moroccan Whiskey while enjoying traditional music around the campfire, stargazing, and camping overnight in berber tents – an experience that will never be forgotten.

Thank you Original Morocco Tours ! 

img_7728

The Tour Begins! 

Day 1: Through the High Atlas & Into the Valley

From Marrakech, we started our 3D/2N journey to the desert at 8am on Day 1 with our driver, Hamid (if you arrange to be picked up in Fes, your itinerary will simply be backwards). We drove through the highest pass in the Atlas Mountains, called Tizi-N’Tichka (which is actually the highest mountain pass in North Africa).

img_7507

We stopped to take pictures and continued our journey on to Quarzazate (Morocco’s Hollywood)On our way, we stopped at the Kasbah of Ait Ben-haddou, a Unesco heritage site, and famous filming location (Game of Thrones and the Gladiator, to name a few).

In Quarzazate, you have the opportunity to stop at the Film Studios (museums) and the Kasbah Taourirt if you wish. (What’s great about being on a private tour, is that you can tell your driver if you want to do something other than what’s on the itinerary, within reason – like not go to a museum if you’re not a museum person).

We continued our drive through valleys of palm trees, desert and just absolutely breathtaking scenery until we reached the Dades Valley, which is stunning. I usually fall asleep in long car rides, and I simply could not shut my eyes during this ride, even in the warm sun! We checked into our lovely hotel (which was all arranged by Original Morocco Tours), enjoyed a traditional dinner with music and enjoyed some shut eye for the night.

Day 2:  Ready to jump on the caravan!

After breakfast, we drove to the highest point to lookout over the Dades Valley, then we headed off to the Merzouga Desert, passing through the Boumalne Dades and the Rose Valley (which sadly, wasn’t in bloom but would be breathtaking if it was!). We walked through the Todra Gorge (It’s WAY to cold to swim in during the winter months) and stopped at a shop with traditional Berber garb to play “dress-up”. The flag we are holding below is the traditional Berber Flag. The symbol represents “Freedom” and the colors represent the sea, the land and the desert.img_7841

At this point we arrived at the Erg Chebbi sand dunes – think the beautiful red mountains of wind blown sand—we’re finally here!  We went off-roading and played in the dunes before meeting our desert guide and Camels (In Morocco, they call them dromedaries, which is a 1 humped camel). Note: Camels don’t love to snuggle like I thought they would!

Our guide, Hamid, who we had spent the last ~30 hours with, stays elsewhere for the night and kept our luggage safe (all you need is a small backpack to bring into the desert with warm clothes, pj’s, a toothbrush, etc. I would highly suggest bringing gloves, a hat, layers, and wool socks for the evening- it gets down to freezing temps at night!)

img_7660

We rode into the desert with our camels and new guide- it was pure bliss. Watching our reflections of the caravan on the red sand was something I could partake in for hours. After about an hour and 15 minutes, we arrived at our Berber Camp – traditional Berber tents surrounding an open fire, with pillows and Moroccan rugs and blankets everywhere.

img_7661We spent the rest of the afternoon sand boarding in the dunes and enjoying the sight of rolling sand dunes in every direction. That night, we enjoyed a traditional Moroccan meal, prepared for us by the berber men at our camp and then hung out by the camp fire – singing traditional songs, learning to play Moroccan instruments, dancing, etc. We drank lots of Moroccan Whiskey (Moroccan Mint Tea) and laid in the sand to stargaze.

 

Day 3: After an amazing night, we woke in the morning to ride our camels to the top of the dunes in time to see the sunrise.

img_7729

We finished our journey via camel back to where our original guide, Hamid, dropped us off. He was there to greet us with our stuff so we could shower and enjoy breakfast at a nearby hotel. We headed off to Fes, passing through Erfoud, the Ziz Valley, Azrou (where you may get to see monkeys!), Ifrane (The Swiss Village of Morocco/ where the ski resorts are) and the day ended in Fes around 6 pm/18:00 when we were dropped off at our Riad.

img_7843

Quick Pitstop for a Snowball Fight!

We had such an amazing, memorable experience on this 3 day adventure into the Sahara Desert, and it would not have been the same without our wonderful guide, Hamid! 

 

Practicalities of The Trip:  

The easiest and most convenient way to get to camp in the sahara desert and end up in Fes is through a Three (or more) day tour, with pick up in one city and drop off in the other – Marrakech/Fes or vice versa. We used Original Morocco Tours and they were absolutely wonderful.

We didn’t even consider renting a car to drive to the desert on our own. It was so convenient and hassle-free to have an experienced driver who knows the land, along with a private 4×4 that can handle the sand. A lot of the roads are less traveled on, and if you pop a tire you may not have assistance for quite some time- this would have been quite the problem for 2 city girls. Our driver also took us off-roading on the way to the desert, which was awesome. We felt extremely safe the entire time we were with the company – in terms of us being 2 solo females, his driving, keeping our luggage/belongings in the jeep under his watch, etc.

I was very confused between the different desert treks and I hope this can help clear it up. The 3D/2N trek takes you into Merzouga, which is closer to the Algerian boarder / deeper into the Sahara desert. The 2D/1N trek from Marrakech only takes you to the desert near Quarzazate. Coming from Marrakech, both tours pass through the same places to get to the desert, however, the 3D/2N also sees the extra valleys/gorges and has extra time to go off-roading, etc. On the 3D/2N trek, you spend your first night in Dades Valley, which is unbelievably beautiful. On the second night, you camp in the Sahara Desert in Berber Tents (the tents/grounds are actually operated as a hotel). This is nice because there were people there from other tours/groups/bookings staying there, so we ended up meeting a bunch of really fun guys that we hung out with that night. On the third day, you finish the journey to Fes, passing through new scenery and cities.

Shukran!

Thank you for reading and I hope your Sahara Desert Adventure is just as Amazing

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask!

Original Morocco Tours Can also answer questions and help you arrange your next trip! 

For $15 off your first reservation on booking.com, use this link

img_7659

Packing for SouthEast Asia

Organized backpacking to simplify your life

IMG_5608 IMG_5603

I will be spending 3 months in Asia, Summer 2015. After Michael and I decided we were setting forth on this adventure, I immediately began wondering what and how I was going to pack for such a long trip. I LOVE organization- specifically I love creating the organization. I put a lot of time and thought into my packing strategy for this trip, and put everything into my pack last night. Opening up the giant backpack can be overwhelming- it’s seems like a dark, bottomless pit. You need 1 item, but have to dig through your entire life. My packing strategy is to simplify my life while I am traveling, making it quick and easy to get to anything I need.

My biggest tip:

Pack versatile items. If you can only wear a shirt with one pair of shorts/pants, nix it. You want to be able to mix and match as much as possible to give yourself more options without taking up more space/adding weight. Also, think about specific activities- what do you think you’ll actually want to wear while bathing elephants in a river? Or riding a water buffalo in Vietnam? (You’ll get dirty, their skin may itch your thighs, etc– it really impacts the clothes you’ll pack when you start to think about specifics). Also, think light clothes- Asia is hot! My pack weighs a whole 24 pounds.

* I have in full detail almost everything I am bringing. I will point out where there are items for 2 travelers; since Michael & I will be sharing a few packed items.

If there was one item that I could not live without on this trip, it is my Sea to Summit Day pack. It literally weighs nothing, and folds up into a tiny ball so I can throw it in my larger carry on if needed for plane rides. It is pretty water resistant, so my camera/phone/wallet etc have all stayed dry. In addition, I take so many things out of my sack during the day that I tend to forget if I put it back (or accidentally left it somewhere) – the pack is great because you can actually feel through it without having to take it off your back (sigh of relief #42 of the day, I did remember to grab my phone off the table & pack it). It also stays in place on my shoulders and does not irritate my skin at all or make me sweat like a regular backpack would. I give this pack award of the year 🙂 Thank you Sea to Summit!

Random Tips…

Bring a large deotorant (3oz) rather than the travel size. 

Guys- pack athletic tops, not cotton! You will sweat right through the cotton. 

 Let’s Start with the pack

I  am bringing an Osprey Ariel 75 (fit for a women’s body). The pack is extremely comfortable and distributes the weight so I do not feel it. It has a zipper at the bottom and in the middle so you can access basically all of your pack without digging. The top has a draw string, which is designed so it can not open on its own. The top of the pack has an additional zippered compartment, providing a water proof shield for the contents in the pack…and a pillow if you fall backwards 🙂 The pack has 2 unzippered side compartments for water bottles, an umbrella, etc (these side items may fall out if checking a bag on the plane). There is also a small compartment inside the pack to hold smaller items you do not want getting lost.

Overview:

– 3 pairs of shoes: 1 pair of keens, 1 pair of nicer flip flops (with cushion), 1 pair of beach flip flops + a plastic bag to wrap each pair in for packing

– Swim wear: 2 bikinis, 1 extra pair of bottoms

– Pajamas: 2 loose t-shirts, 2 pairs of comfy shorts, 1 pair of leggings

– T-shirts/Tanks: 12 Total

– Long Sleeve Tops: 3 Total

– Bottoms: 3 Pairs of Shorts, 3 pairs of yoga leggings (Designed for hot yoga, so I will stay cool), 2 skirts

– Dresses: 4 Total (1 maxi, 3 above the knees)

– Coats: Rain Coat

– Underwear: 12 pairs // Bras: 2 Regular bras, 1 Sports bra, 1 bandeou Bra // Socks: 2 pairs

– Mt. Rinjani Extras : 1 pair of gloves & Ear Warmers (ONLY needed if climbing Mt. Rinjani in Indonesia), a headlamp, flashlight & extra batteries

– Accessories: Hat/Cap, Sunglasses, Umbrella/Rain Ponchos, Laundry Detergent (I brought powder, enough for ~6-7 loads), 1 bar of vegetable soap for laundry stains,  2-3 travel kleenex packs, Mosquito Net Hat, an empty water bottle, Hand Sanitizer, a book for reading, A place to keep your passports/money/wallet/ trip papers (Find the system that works for you, I explained mine below)

– Tolietries: Toothbrush, 3 travel size floss, 18 small travel toothpastes, a brush, small comb, pony tail holders/bobby pins, 7 oz of shampoo total, 7 oz of conditioner total, lots of body wash samples, 3 small bars of soap, mascara, eyeliner, tinted moisturizer, hair detangler, bug spray with various deet levels, lots of sunscreen- four oz bottles & 4 small samples, 15 pads, 20 tampons, 1 razor with 4-5 extra heads, travel size shaving cream  ***Turn to samples!!

– Medicine: We brought Probiotics, Tylenol, heart burn medication, Benadryl, Diarrhea medicine & Malarone. Also, a First Aid Kit including hand sanitizer, antibacterial cleanser, bandaids, gauze, medical tape, tweezers, nail clippers, safety pins, etc.

-Blankets/Towels: A Travel towel, wash cloth for your face, & optional travel blanket & travel silk sleep sheet/bag (we used these almost everywhere)

– Electronics: A Camera (Along with an extra battery and memory card) and a GoPro if you have one (along with extra memory cards)

I am going to start from the Bottom Up in terms of how I packed…

Shoes

I am bringing 3 pairs of shoes: a pair of keens, black Sanuk flip flops (they are slightly dressier than regular flip flops and have more cushion) and a pair of Jcrew elephant flip flops for the beach/activities involving mud (and I plan to leave them there).

Guys: 1 pair of flip flops & keens

I wrapped each pair of shoes in a grocery store plastic bag (since I am a total earth freak, I actually had to go out searching for these since I always use recyclable bags). This way, if a pair gets dirty and you do not have time to clean them, everything else will stay clean/dry. I put these at the bottom of my pack.

IMG_5503   IMG_5523

Swim Wear:

I plan on living in my bikini in the Thai islands/Indonesia/the Philippeans! I packed 2 bikinis and an extra pair of bottoms. I packed a few dresses that can double as beach cover ups (in the clothing section) along with shorts and loose tops.

I am keeping the dry bikinis in the little green mesh bag, and the wet bikinis (if we need to leave a place before one drys) in the drawstring backpack, to keep other clothes from smelling like mildew/getting wet.

Guys: 2-3 pairs of trunks &  stick them in a bag setup similar to this.

IMG_5513

Clothes: 

PJs: 2 old college t-shirts, 2 pairs of old what I call “comfy” shorts  and a pair of old leggings. I plan on donating my pjs at the end of the trip. The shorts will also come in perfect for muddy activities (bathing elephants). When choosing pjs, think about clothes you can walk around a hostel/hang out on the couch in and be comfortable after a long sweaty day and clean shower.

Guys: athletic shorts & old tshirts that can double for other things.

IMG_5502

T- Shirts/Tanks: 

I have 12 tops packed- 2 t-shirts, 1 short sleeve cardigan for the temples (shoulders must be covered) &  9 tanks (I took one out after the photo). IMG_5526

Bottoms:

I packed 1 pair of lulu lemon athletic shorts, 1 pair of jean shorts, 1 pair of soft cotton free people shorts, 1 light weight skirt, 1 loose flows skirt, 2 pairs of teeki leggings (designed for hot yoga, so they are great in the heat) & 1 pair of Altar Ego Leggings (slightly warmer than Teeki, which will be good when climbing Mt. Rinjani because the summit is freezing).

Guys: Pack lots of athletic shorts, 1 pair of long athletic pants & a pair of long, light weight pants for bars/nice restaurants if you think you may be headed to say Lebua or Vertigo for drinks in Bangkok. IMG_5519

Dresses / Beach cover ups:

I packed 4 dresses (one I threw in after the photo) that could all function as day, night or beach wear. They are all extremely light weight and comfortable. I packed 1 maxi & 3 dresses that end above my knees (the dress not pictured is a racer back Athleta dress).

IMG_5517

Long Sleeve/Jackets: 

I packed my North Face rain jacket, a sweatshirt material long sleeve top, and added in a long sleeve under armor cold gear top (for Mt. Rinjani & camping in Denver beforehand) and a flowy long sleeve loose cotton top.

IMG_5520

Under Garments: 

IMG_5515

I packed about 12 pairs of panties, all which I plan on leaving there; 1 sports bra, 1 bandeau bra & 2 regular bras (1 which I plan on donating)

Guys: 10 pairs of underwear should be sufficient

Warm Accessories:

I am bringing 2 pairs of socks, both of which I plan on leaving there- primarily for the airplane ride and our Mt. Rinjani climb.IMG_5521

The gloves and earmuffs (Michael has a winter hat packed) are for Mt. Rinjani.  

Toiletries:

Since Michael and I are traveling together, we strategized Our toiletries packing. The larger bag holds all of the toiletries we will be using most often, and the smaller bag holds all of our extras (extra shampoo, conditioner, sunscreen, bug spray, floss, tooth paste, body wash, etc). Since we are always checking our bags on the flights (they are too big to Carry on- in terms of size, not weight) we do not have to follow the zip lock bag rule for the amount of liquids we can bring.

IMG_5535IMG_5536IMG_5538
We packed various items to primarily share: 4 Travel Toms Deodorants, 18 Toms travel sized toothpastes (for 81 days), normal size toothbrush (because using a travel size toothbrush for 3 months would be just brutal), floss,shampoos, conditioners, body wash, shaving cream, Chapstick, tea tree oil facial pads, face lotion, face wash, hair detangler, a comb, 2 razors, pony tails, bobby pins, 2 elastic headbands, small sample perfumes, eyeliner, mascara & tinted moisturizer. We also packed plenty of bug spray from uncle dans with very high deet (we purchased 98%, 60% and 20%– while we typically are against deet, Laos and Lombok are both higher risk Malaria zones so we decided not to take any chances) and lots of sunscreen of various spfs. Facial Pads/wipes are great because the bag only gets smaller, verse holding onto a bottle that takes up the same amount of space regardless of how much product you have left.
IMG_5531

The squeeze tubes are great and can be refilled while there.

IMG_5533

I packed plenty of pads and tampons (I bought the mini Natra Care  ones at whole foods so  they take up basically no space for travel!)

IMG_5532

THe top of my Pack (The part on top that attaches on)

Towels: 

The blue towel is Michael’s  and the green towel is Mine. The blue is from sea to summit (we actually are bringing 2 of these) and the green from McNett (both Microfiber towel so). I put them in a mesh bag where they can dry, and then put the mesh bag in the white drawstring bag in case we are traveling when they are wet. The green towel came with the zippered bag, but it is difficult to put it in the bag so I am keeping two wash clothes in there to dry our face.

IMG_5510

Blankets: 

We are bringing 2 sea to summit blankets (to function as a blanket, sheet, beach towel, etc). I put them inside a huge plastic bag to hopefully kill any bed bugs that may latch on to them throughout our trip. At the last minute, we also threw in 2 Sea to Summit Silk Sleeping Bags. 

IMG_5511

the inside compartment of my pack:

Here we have 2 mosquito net hats from Sea to Summit (they both fold into the little pouch, and I opened one up for you to see), 2 waterbottles that we plan on leaving, an umbrella that I will leave, we each have a baseball hat (only mine is shown), 2 emergency rain ponchos, and a bag half filled with my homemade laundry detergent so I can do laundry in the tub and at our hostels/home stays that have on site laundry machines. I put the mosquito net hats, laundry detergent, rain ponchos & detergent all in a small plastic bag and put them in a the inside compartment of my pack. 

IMG_5507

IMG_5504 In another plastic bag, we packed a safety combination lock in case we want to lock our bag up, a flash light, a head flashlight & enough batteries to replace both lights. The flashlights are primarily for Mt. Rinjani, but I’m sure will come in handy at other points. I packed all of this in a Small plastic bag and put it in a compartment in my pack.

my carry on bag

IMG_5543My carry on bag! I plan on using this bag primarily for plane flights, and then using my Sea to Summit pull out backpack (weighs nothing) when we’re out and about. I put all of our trip papers in a plastic sleeve that Velcro’s , and is really easy to get into (and everything is paper clipped inside : plane flights, hotels, activities, itinerary, & info are all organized together). I have a little bag for hand sanitizer, a mirror, Chapstick, a small spf, small nail file, & a small tube of face cream (my face gets dry on flights), eye cream, a pad & tampon. I put all of our medicine in the palm tree sleeve, including my traditional medicinals Tea and air borne for the flight. I packed tissues and a Baggie of facial wipes for refreshing ourselves (primarily when we’re walking around sweating during the day), a brush, a book for the flight, our PacSafe, my wallet, headphones, sunglasses, my camera/GoPro (I will never check this on an airplane). I also packed coloring books and bags of crayons for random kids, along with a few old Disney tops, visors, etc that I can  leave at homestays/donate. I also threw in some snacks at the end which will be gone by the time we get to Asia, including nuts, bars, pb&j sandwiches 🙂

 First Aid/Medicine: 

I love my Adventure Medical Kit- it’s waterproof, light weight and so easy to get into.
Inside, there are band aids of various sizes, travel antibacterial cleaner for wounds, hand sanitizer, gauze, waterproof medical tape, pads for insect stings/bites, dramamine, Benadryl, tablets to ease the symptoms of food poisoning, blister band aids, safety pins, nail clippers, tweezers & more.

We are bringing Potable Aqua Water treatment tablets to put in the tap water so it is safe for drinking.

We are bringing 30 malaria pills each — We chose Malarone.

We both had a tetanus booster (Rec. every 10 years) and took the typhoid vaccine again (every 5 years) before we left.

In my pill container, I have Tylenol, IB Profen, heart burn/acid reducer pills, anti diarrhea medication, probiotics and laxatives (constipation often arises on long flights/while your body is adjusting to new food).

I am putting all of our medicine in a pouch so it is all in one place, separate from the Medical Kit bag.

IMG_5542

Jewelry:  

I packed fun, bright colored “fashion” jewelry – no diamonds, pearls, or anything worth value. 
 

Electronics: 

We are bringing both of our iPhones with international plans, my Cannon Camera & GoPro. I packed the battery charger, the cord, & an extra battery in case it dies while I am out. I also packed multiple SD cards, and we packed flash drives to store the photos on if we run out of space (we are not traveling with macbooks). For the GoPro, we brought the shoulder harness and the floating buoy. We put all of the accessories in the small zippered bag, and the camera and GoPro inside a mesh bag, and then inside the medium zippered bag– adding basically no weight (and the eaglecreek bags are waterproof!
 IMG_5546

IMG_5545

Overview of Bags: 

We brought a PacSafe to keep passports and credit cards in, and since it can act as an over the shoulder purse, I’ll also use this to go out at night. In addition, I will have my wallet during the day to keep the local currency in/have with me at the market since I find the PacSafe annoying to dig through – because it is SO secure. We are also bringing 10 extra passport photos each- in case we need them for visas, passport replacement, or whatever the situation may be and keeping them in the PacSafe.

The blue backpack is a sea to summit fold out backpack, and weighs nothing 🙂

IMG_5540  

IMG_5544We used drawstring bags (the ones you receive for free  at store checkout) to store clothes in (ex: bottoms together, tops together, etc). This makes it easy to grab the whole bag out of your pack and then find what you need within that bag.  IMG_5522  These Eagle creek bags are wonderful- they weigh nothing and are waterproof. We put electronic accessories in the smallest, electronics in the middle and my nice clothes in the largest, along with gloves/socks/head warmer to keep them from getting lost.IMG_5528

Happy Packing & Travels! 

Magical Tips to Disney World

bippity boppity boo!

Mouse ears, fairies, pirates & princesses. You have entered Fantasy Land of all young imaginations. Disney World is a place I believe every child should have the chance to go, however, there are many parents who dread being in this giant land of sparkles and never ending smiles. I personally loved Disney World growing up, and still love it today. Here are some Magical tips to get through Disney with your own munchkins….

Lodging

If finances allow, stay at one of the hotels on the Disney grounds. I have stayed both on the grounds and off- and thoroughly enjoyed both- but having access to hop on that monorail saves so much stress from not having to squeeze onto the crowded bus…with your stroller and children on  top of it. Plus, I was extremely fascinated by the monorail as a child – it’s like a ride in itself.

Trinkets

Everything at the park will be extremely over priced. It’s Disney. Every parent wants to make their child happy, which obviously means they are not saying no to a $25 pair of Mickey ears that will be worn once. Pick up Mickey/Minnie ears at home – on e-bay for $2.00 or even the Disney Store would be cheaper, try to find an autograph book (Or if you are crafty, make one- all you really need is blank pages for them to sign and you could have your children decorate the cover of a small notebook with markers or photos) ; bring a costume from home if your child is going to want to dress up (you know their personalities – I wore my Pocahontas shirt the entire trip). If your child is super into stuffed animals, consider buying some Disney characters at home as well and find a way to still make it special— 1) Pick one of the above “gifts” to give them when you tell them you are going to Disney. Wrap it, turn it into a scavenger hunt – make them guess that you are going to Disney. 2) Pack an item in your suit case without them noticing and pull it out once you get there.

Don’t forget to bring the small umbrella stroller if it fits into Disney’s permitted stroller dimensions…. those little legs get tired quickly in the big park!

Food

Disney will try and suck you in with a food package. Two things: 1- you will not utilize the food package to make it worth the money and 2-the food is very subpar. The best food value deal in the park? The Giant Turkey Legs at Animal Kingdom – and they taste Great.

Tip? Pack snacks – this is where that loaf of bread and jar of peanut butter come in handy. Some of the hotels have good restaurants, along with downtown Disney. Pack Kind bars, bring a homemade trail mix for energy and whatever snacks your family prefers to hold you over in between meals.

I would suggest having a character breakfast on main street (make reservations way in advance) (some hotels also offer them- Such as the Polynesian), but the one on Main Street is by far the best I have encountered.

Having lunch with Cinderella inside her castle was fun and definitely memorable (if you are traveling only with little princesses’, definitely do it), but the time spent with Cinderella is limited.

The Parks 

The Magic Kingdom : Plan on spending a full day here (Get there early, take a nap mid day if you have really little ones, and head back in the evening when the heat passes). Spend 2 days here if you are planning on missing half the day due to naps – there’s plenty to do between the tea cups, dumbo, splash mountain and more!

Epcot : Epcot is wonderful for adults and older kids. I went to Epcot when I was in high school and loved visiting all the countries. I had little interest in Epcot when I was 6 and 9 (there are a few rides, but very limited compared to the other parks). Make sure to check out the ride “Soaring”!

MGM/Hollywood Studios: The Hollywood Tower of Terror is a must if traveling with slightly older kids. This park also offers plenty of activities for younger kids — You will not need more than a day here, and this is a great park to split the day with hanging out at the hotel pool/relaxing.

Animal Kingdom: Animal Kingdom is great for all ages. I definitely recommend this park, and don’t forget to take the safari ride!

Blizzard Beach: Spend a day here if looking to escape from the typical theme park scene. There are awesome pools for all ages, water slides and lots of splashing.

Sea World: I am very opinionated on Sea World. We’ve all seen, or at least heard, about Blackfish — so why would we continue to pay money to enter the park, reinforcing demand? I am a huge believer on treating animals with respect – after all, we are keeping them captive from their native grounds- and making sure their quality of life is not being affected for the purpose of entertaining humans and providing them with pictures. Before I visit any site housing live animals, I always do research to make sure the animals are in a safe haven- I mean, why would I support a cause I am extremely against? If you want to feed sting rays, head to Grand Cayman and feed the friendly sting rays in the middle of the ocean.

Downtown Disney: Lego Land, Disney Quest — You could easily spend a few hours here, if not a day. There is plenty to do here, whether you head here during the evening hours or spend an afternoon here.

The Harry Potter World was built the year after I last went, but I encourage everyone to check it out!! It looks amazing!

There are a lot of shows you can attend (the Hoop de Doo (not my favorite but my aunt still loves it after seeing it 12+ times), Cirque Du Soleil (I really enjoyed this) and many more. If shows are your thing, definitely check them out — just remember to plan accordingly and factor in how tired you and/or the little ones will be that evening.

The firework show at the end of the evening is definitely worth staying for or returning to the park to see. Tink makes a pretty specially appearance 🙂

Enjoy the Magic!

6 Family Friendly Spots for All Ages (U.S. Based)

U.S. Vacation spots for Families of all ages 🙂 

Deerfield Beach

Deerfield Beach

boca2

Where will you be heading this year? Traveling with a significant other, children, maybe even grand children? Here are a few spots I have personally traveled to that make great getaways for all ages 🙂 I tried to list spots on both sides of the U.S. since I am centrally located in Chicago.

1) Florida Keys / Dry Tortugas 

I grew up going to the Florida Keys every March/April. There is so much to do- it’s a romantic spot for couples, there’s adventure for the soul seeker, and lots of child friendly activities. While the summer months are known for having more rain, the prices do drop significantly. Typically the rain is heaviest in June/July/August and August technically begins hurricane season (I would not let this stop you from going- instead, appreciate the price drops!), BUT I would aim for this spot between Early March-Late May if possible.

We typically stayed on Marathon or Islamorada because my father  went on daily fishing charters. Islamorada is known for the historic Bud n’ Mary’s Fishing Marina. The Dolphin Research Center – Make reservations in advance – is located on Marathon. You will drive across the 7 mile bridge to get to Key West, but if you are staying on Marathon or Islamorada I suggest walking on it at night when locals are out fishing…(you may get a close up of a shark!)

Schedule in …

There are plenty of state parks down the coast of the islands with wonderful snorkeling and easy beach access to reefs. I began snorkeling when I was around 5, so it’s fit for all ages- you just decide how far out you want to go.

** Many hotels also rent small motor boats to snorkel or fish from near the hotel.

While the snorkeling is great here, most of the beaches are smaller – it’s very different than southern Cali / Miami with the wide sandy beach that typically contain a bike path.  The majority of the hotels in the Florida Keys will have pools which is convenient.

The deep sea fishing is some of the best- look into what is in season during the month you’ll be vacationing and there are plenty of boats to charter — book in advance if traveling during spring break season!

Take a day trip to the Dry Tortugas – a 19th century fort surrounded by Crystal blue water about 70 miles west of Key West. There are tour companies that will take you there and back for the day, giving you the leisure to do as you please while you are on the island. Explore the grounds of the fort (your children can not escape 🙂 ), snorkel the clear blue waters and relax at the beach. This is an awesome spot for children and adults. The boat trip can be a bit rough, especially after being in the sun all day, so bring medication if you are prone to sea sickness. ** I spent Easter here when I was 9 – they set up a giant Easter Egg Hunt all over the fort, and I had a blast

My family always took day trips to Key West (I personally would stay on Key West if I head back on my own and recommend staying there as well). There is SO much to do- I never wanted to head back to the northern islands! Rent bikes or scooters to explore the island or hop on the Conch Tour Train if walking around all day is not your thing (or if you prefer to hear the island’s history), sign up for a day/half day water activity- enjoy banana boating, parasailing, jet skiing and more; visit the Hemmingway house or grab a bite to eat/drink at Sloppy joes; visit the southern most point-after all, you are 90 miles from Cuba! Dine at Sloppy Joes, shop at the outdoor markets, have your hair braided or wrapped & enjoy some Conch fritters. Remember to allow time to just sit back and relax/swim at your hotel or the beach!

Nighttime? There are plenty of bars to grab drinks at and check out Mallory Square for some outdoor fire breathing night time entertainment.

** Pack Sunscreen! Out of all my travels around the world, this is the ONLY spot I continue to get sun poisoning – every. single. time. (while wearing a minimum of 30spf)

Make sure to visit the Kinos Sandal factory- their address can be found on their website at this link : http://www.kinosandals.com/

2) Southern California  

Southern California is always a winner. The relaxed beach town vibe just can’t be beat. Escape from the traffic of LA to the beaches and you’re in another world. The Beach House in Hermosa Beach is an awesome beach front hotel for families and couples. The town offers plenty to do- with shopping, restaurants, the beach and neighboring towns (spend a day in Manhattan beach,  drive up to Santa Monica or head south)

3) Boca / Deerfield Beach 

Boca Raton / Deerfield is a great weekend getaway for couples and families. The beach is beautiful, there are fun beach side restaurants, board rentals, nearby shopping and more. We stayed at the Wyndham Deerfield Beach Resort, which had great beach access. This is a perfect 3-4 day February I can’t take the snow anymore, does sunshine still exist spot.

3) Atlantis, Bahamas

Taking a trip to Atlantis on Nassau is definitely worth the hype. Swimming in a water slide surrounded by sharks?  Casinos? Atlantis has it all- multiple pools, adult and teen clubs, casinos, shark feedings for the nature lovers, restaurants, pool side entertainment, a huge aquarium and a nearby shopping market on the island of Nassau that is definitely worth visiting (locals selling homemade crafts). The planning is basically all taken care of within the hotels offered activities. While I definitely suggest taking the ***Family*** to Atlantis (I went as a teen and loved it- I would not head back until I have kids of my own), the price builds up within the “hotel amenities”

Here are a few saving tips in case you want to travel on a budget….

– Cheaper hotels nearby sometimes offer package deals with access/use of the Atlantis property.

– Bring Snacks/Head to one of the little grocery stores (the least tourist looking the better) and pick up water and other food (depending on if you have a fridge) . Everything at Atlantis is very pricey — A bottle of H20 was $6 when lying by the pool.

4) Hawaii

Hawaii is home to wonderful people and an absolutely breathtaking island. I traveled here for a week with my mother as my 8th grad graduation gift.

We stayed at the Westin on Kaanapali Beach- The resort is filled with multiple pools- including water slides, jacuzzis inside man-built caves & a section primarily for adults. The beach front is breathtaking – beautiful sandy beaches, warm, blue water- I could have stayed in the ocean all day! The resort also provided various activities- my mom and I took a lei making class, I attended a few teen nights (which were really fun), and they had many other free structured activities. There are plenty of restaurants and shopping right outside the hotel (literally a 3 minute walk– and many of the restaurants have sand floors since they are located on the beach).

What to do while there?

There is SO much to do in Maui- my biggest advice is to think about what interests you most ahead of time so you do not fall into one of the “travel agent spiels” where they have you meet at a hotel and lure you in with free breakfast and special deals- yku end up spending half your morning inside some hotel banquet room and miss out on a lot of sunshine. It’s so easy to book with companies that have great reviews on tripadvisor and not have to do any plannig while there.

– Make sure you allow AT LEAST 1 full day just to soak up the beach and pool.

– take surf lessons (it’s about a 10 minute drive south towards Lahina and there are plenty of companies offering lessons. They basically all take you out in the same spot)

– Take a boat trip out to Molokini, the crescent shaped sunken volcano. The boat takes you to snorkel inside the crescent, and then to another spot to snorkel with giant sea turtles happily swimminf out in the ocean.

– take a day trip to Hana. You will have to wake up extremely early to make the sunset, but it is SO worth it! We went with a tour company that drove us to Hana, took us to visit the black sand beaches and then we flew part of the way back in a helicopter- flying along the coast and swooping down near the waterfalls. The views were incredible.

– take a day trip to Oahu to visit Pearl Harbor, the UsS arizona and Waikiki beach.

– have dinner at a luau one evening…enjoy traditional food like poi and watch the entertaining hula dancers. Be prepared, they bring a lot of kids and pretty ladies on stage!

**This trip is great for all ages!!

– Next time? I’m heading back to Kauai and taking the helicopter tour among the Napali Coast

5) Mexico 

Grab your sombrero and bikini! I spent a week in Cancun Mexico when I was 13- with all of my younger cousins, aunt & uncle. Children in Cancun?! Like any other destination, places with notorious college spring breakers gain negative reputations as family spots- but that reputation does not hold true year long. We had a wonderful, relaxing family vacation in this scenic oasis- the ocean has warm crystal clear water, lots of lush sand and plenty of sunshine. The resorts are filled with pools and night time entertainment (from karaoke to bands to trolleys to outside bars/clubs). Staying at an all inclusive resort in Mexico provides your family with a stress and hassle free week- the drinks and food are all at your hand- you literally don’t even have to get out of the pool. These resorts offer various restaurants to choose from- from fancy upscale dining to poolside tacos.

We left the resort one day to rent Jet skis at a nearby facility, which was a blast and they had other activities (parasailing, etc) as well. Most hotels also rent snorkeling equipment, boogie boards, etc. Now, all you need is that margarita you just ordered, while floating in the warm pool with the sun shining down on you 🙂

I loved this trip as a teen because the hotels are very large, providing space to explore (but not leave the grounds), there were plenty of activities that included those under 21 and there were tons of other teens to hang out with.

I recently spend a week in Tulum as an adult, and would highly suggest visiting – with or without children. Check out my post on Tulum for more info 🙂

6) Disney World

The Summer is a great time to head to Disney if you have kids you can not pull out of school during the school year, or want to save on peak prices. The lines are shorter in the summer, and dealing with the heat and humidity and potential rain throughout the day (typically comes and goes) is not as bad as it sounds when you schedule in an afternoon swim/nap in between all the Disney hopping.  Check out my Disney Post on more Disney tips!

Happy & Safe Travels!!!!!  Unfortunately a few of these trips were before the days of my nice digital camera, so many of my photos have been scrapbooked and no longer have files.

Spring Break Edition

Spring break 2015– decoding the hot spots

Spring Break is a wonderful, yet chaotic travel time. While I have always traveled during the spring break period, I am unfortunately homebound this what is no longer a “break” in the adult world, due to upcoming travels. Now that I am out of college, I prefer to travel to less crowded spots – even if that simply means heading to a secluded section of a beach. However, I had my share of party spring breaks….

1) PCB – Panama City Beach

This is the fraternity/sorority sophomore year spring break trip at many universities in America. Everyone piles into cars, road trips to florida, heads to the Wal-Mart for supplies (where everyone conveniently forgets to put on any sort of beach cover up), stays at the same hotel & you realize the sheets have not been changed from the last spring breakers and there is sand in your bed. The beaches are packed – there’s a DJ, beach contests and lots of sun. It is definitely possible to lay out if you disperse from the main location. The clubbing/bar scene is a hit, allowing you to get in at age 18– but they are very strict on drinking inside the building. I had a wonderful time in PCB, but I could never do it again. It was a giant party – people are friendly, everyone parties with everyone – in hotel rooms if it’s raining out, or on the beach – but it requires the energy of a 19 year old. You can also rent hotel rooms/ time shares next to the main hotel that everyone stays at. This would give you more space, cleanliness and more relaxation. image

2) Vegas

I went to Vegas with 2 of my college girlfriends our senior year for spring break- for 5 days. We had a blast, but 3-4 days would have been sufficient. The pools are just beginning to open, the weather is great and the parties are there. This is definitely a spot that is filled with all ages- from 21- as old as they come. We stayed at Treasure Island (the pool/people were great); As far as clubs go, we LOVED the day beach party at Encore, Marquee at the Cosmopolitan & having a drink on the rooftop of PURE (Caesar’s Palace) just for the view. My favorite hotels were Encore, the Cosmopolitan & the Venetian — but ours was great for the price. Tip? Pack bars, bread, peanut butter, powder packet chasers (lemonade, etc) & alcohol in your suit case. And don’t plan on sleeping….

Encore Beach Club

Encore Beach Club

image image image image image image

3) South Beach, Miami

The Beach, Shopping, Trendy Restaurants, Potential Celeb Sitings, Clubs & Ultra. South Beach is a great spot for those who are out of College holding “Adult paying” positions if you want to experience the trendy South Beach, with its steeper prices. There are also more budget friendly spots if you are looking for the College spring break beach party. And of course, if Ultra is up your alley- this is your spot.We stayed at the Loews Hotel and had a great experience – much more relaxed than the college spring break. 

Other Spring Break Party Hot Spots?

Daytona Beach, Acapulco, Cancun & South Padre Island

Looking for a non college/party spring break destination? You can still head to “spring break destinations”, just stay at nicer hotels and avoid the crowds on the beach- which are typically centered around the loud djs/music.

I grew up traveling to the Florida Keys (Marathon, Islamorada & Key West) and St. Pete Beach and they are both great family spots. Still aiming for the Florida Panhandle? Try Destin- very family friendly! Where are you headed this year? Have fun, be safe & happy Travels! 🙂

image