Sunday, May 30, 2010

Penguin Hotel - Miami Beach, Florida

If you've already read my review on the "Paradise Beach hotel" you'll know I was unhappy with both of my hotel choices on Miami Beach.  Unfortunately the Penguin Hotel didn't fair much better than the Paradise. Just a short walking distance from one another I found the Art Deco theme on Miami Beach to be more like "Cheap Deco and Uncomfortable Deco".  The simplicity of the room was overdone and tacky - I was so glad we were only staying for one night before our return home to Washington. 

The bed was hard, tables made of plastic and the man standing in the hallway for an hour having a conversation at 1am sounded like he was standing at my bedside.  Although you could of heard mice running down the hallway if they have them in Florida. 

The room smelled of bleach when we walked in, and it was so strong we had to crack open the window and go out for a walk before settling in.  Although don't get me wrong, I enjoy clean, which is probably one of the only compliments I have for this hotel, but they obviously used watered down bleach for cleaning the entire room. 

As for location, this hotel is directly across from the beach and you can't get any closer, but you pay the price!  It's also closer to the stores on the Beach than Paradise was.  I don't recommend these hotels if you're staying in Miami beach unless being on the beach is a must! Next time I will be staying farther from the beach in the city for comfort and amenities. ShareThis

Saturday, May 29, 2010

An eye opening trip to Rural Middle America

Recently I joined my parents for a trip to visit family and little did we know how far our travels would take us from our daily amenities. I have traveled to other countries, some poor, some small, some remote, but my trip to Goodland Kansas took me for a spin!

After a long 3hr drive from Denver Colorado, seeing nothing more than flat farmland and the occasional tree, we finally arrived to Goodland Kansas and luckily had a room at the newest hotel in the City, the Holiday Inn. We settled into our room and made our way out to visit some family. I could not believe how many empty buildings, stores, and hotels were just sitting as if they were abandoned one day out of the blue. Some stores appeared open, but they were not and the only places that were available were of course the local Wal-Mart and a few food joints. Yet this sleepy town occupies just over 4,000 residents and has its own community college and schools. With more residents dying than being born each year, this town appears to be in a slow decline.

So what did we do in Goodland?  Besides visiting family we took our own little tour of the 4 mile wide by 4 mile long city in about an hour. We were able to literally stop in the middle of the brick paved Main Street to capture a photo of the historic buildings and broken down classic cars. My parents and I got excited when we saw playground toys even they remember playing with as children - still planted in the local parks. Remember the merry-go-rounds you’d spin on until you fell off or got sick, and the spring loaded bouncing animal rides? They still have them and they were fun to play on! Something that would most definitely be deemed as “unsafe” in my fast paced city and removed immediately.

My eyes were opened to the fact that even though I live in a growing and very populated city that there are places right here in America that are living in the past - and yet stuck in the present hard economical times. Travel is usually about fun for me, but this time it was also an eye opening experience that places in need are not just in other countries, but in our own backyard!

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Friday, May 28, 2010

Foto Fun Friday - May 28th, 2010

What western City displays the "I see what you mean" Big Blue bear

This 40 Foot tall, 10,000lb fiberglass Bear peers into the Convention Center downtown and cost the City more than $400,000.

I'll give you a hint; I visited this City for the first time this week!
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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Holiday Inn Express - Goodland, Kansas (A renewed love for Holiday Inn)

What's in Goodland, Kansas? Well, a whole lot of nothing, but we were on a trip to visit family and this City was in our itinerary and thank goodness for the new Holiday Inn Express! This hotel almost seems like a diamond in the rough if you’re driving through Northwest Kansas. A few other hotels in this ghost town have come and gone, leaving just a couple to choose from.

It has been years since I've stayed at a Holiday Inn and I didn't recall any fond memories of them in the past. I was more than impressed with the new simple, yet stylish decor and clean atmosphere the new Holiday Inn Express & Suites offer. I had no idea that they were in the midst of revitalizing the hotel chain by remodeling with significant changes both inside and out of their over 3,200 hotels across the World. To find one, simply look for their newly updated, hip logo on the outside of the hotel and this is signifies the updates have been made.

Our room was spacious with a King size bed and couch that pulled out into another bed. I was traveling with my parents so the couch was mine for the night and it was decent for a pull out, although I was envious of their plush looking comforter and mattress they got to sleep on. The room had a nice little sink area with a microwave and small fridge, perfect for keeping our drinks cold. There was also a nice flat screen TV and a desk area for your computer.

To my surprise I hadn't noticed when I pre-booked the hotel that there was a morning breakfast provided. My dad just about jumped for joy when he saw his favorite - Biscuits and Gravy available along with the eggs, bagels, breads, cereals, cinnamon rolls, and fruits. I didn't expect much out of this Holiday Inn when I booked it online and the breakfast was fresh and an added bonus I hadn’t planned on.

Our stay was a brief one night, but it has made me reconsider future stays in the Holiday Inn Express hotels. Their efforts in creating a fresh, clean updated hotel has quickly put them back into my books as a good hotel chain. I would highly recommend this Holiday Inn if you’re on the road through Kansas and have to make a stop in Goodland (Just a three hour drive East of Denver, Colorado) ShareThis

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Leaving the kids behind - Why, When and how

Have you done it yet? Left your child at home while you travel? I am often surprised at how many parents answer "No" to this question. Many who are just completely mortified at the thought of leaving their child behind for any amount of time and then there are those who just maybe don't travel much, let alone without their children.

My first trip away from my daughter was unexpected when she was 9 months old. My grandfather passed away and I left her home with daddy to fly to California with my parents. I remember how sad I was at first and being it wasn't the happiest of situations in the first place it made it even harder. The trip was quick and I remember getting home feeling like I had missed so much.

Taking the leap - Like a Band aid
A few months later my husband and I decided it was time for a trip without our daughter to have some much needed couple time. We didn't wean ourselves into the process; we just took a week long cruise thousands of miles away from our baby girl. She was home with Grandma - happy as can be. We had a good time (except for those moments I cried on the phone listening to her babble) and she had a great time being spoiled at Grandma's for the week. Taking that trip without the kids, you may find they are having a better time then you are!

Why without the kids?
A few years, several trips and one more child later we have found that our trips away from our precious children are just as important as the ones we take with them! Taking the time to be alone and away from the sometimes stressful routine of diapers, ballet, soccer, school, and work is beneficial to our marriage. We get to spend time together that we may not find at home and experience new things together, reminding us of those more simple times before our children came along. Then, when it's time to come home we miss our children dearly and appreciate our time with them even more.

Cover the bases
So you're considering the first big trip, or maybe you've made a couple already. Have you created a Will? Not something we parents like to even think about, but it's something I guarantee you'll feel better about once it's done. For us it was simple and we used a program we purchased at Costco to state our wishes of who will care for our children and how the property is to be divided if something should happen. A horrible thought, but I felt relieved to know my children would be where I wanted them if anything happened. If things are more complicated in your household, speak with an attorney to have one drawn up for you.

My little "good-byes" left behind
No matter how much I travel I can NEVER seem to get over this slight fear of flying I have. I spend my nights before a flight awake and sadly playing over the flight instructions for an emergency landing in my head. It's a feeling I can't help and usually once I'm at the airport my nerves get better. With those fears comes a thought of my children and ever since my first time leaving my daughter at home I always write a letter before I leave. This is a private letter especially for each child that I seal and put in our safe that is to only be opened in the case that I don't return. I know this all sounds sad and makes vacation sound more like a funeral arrangement, but really it's not! I know that horrible things happen in our everyday lives and it's just that flying sometimes reminds me that life is not infinite and I want my children to remember me forever. So, I have a few letters in my safe right now, I think I had thrown away the first couple I did, but have since just kept them in there. I figure if anything they will be something to read years from now with my children when they are older. The process of writing them can be difficult, but if they were ever to be read, I wouldn't of wanted it any other way.

Tips to make that first trip Easier
  • Leave them with a family member or someone they are very comfortable with and if they are not used to babysitters, begin taking them for occasional daytime stays before you plan a trip, then when the trip gets closer they will be used to you being away. 
  • Try a one night sleep over night before the trip if you're unsure that your child or YOU may not be ready
  • Leave your child with pictures of you and/or your spouse and take some of your own with you
  • Write a letter like the one I described above, it helps to get things off your mind and assures that they will always know how much you love them
  • Start with a short trip if you're not ready for the big leap, even just a getaway in the next town is a good start
  • Provide your babysitter with a list of eating habits, sleep habits, favorite toys, activities and those little quirky things they may not know about your child. This is even more important if your child is not yet talking and can not express themselves to others.
  • Be sure to also provide emergency numbers and a letter of authorization for your babysitter for medical care (simple peace of mind)
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Monday, May 24, 2010

Beach Paradise Hotel - Miami Beach, Florida

Location and a cheap meal is about the only thing this hotel has going for it.  My trip to Miami Beach was thankfully a brief one and I was not happy with either of my hotel choices during our stay before and after a cruise vacation (the other hotel mistake will come later this week).

Upon check-in at the Beach Paradise Hotel the man at the front desk took copies of the front and back of our credit card and licenses, he explained it was their policy.  Something neither my husband or I was comfortable with, but we were already booked there.  They apparently keep them on file if you ruin the room and run off during your stay.  Be sure to request upon check out for them to give those copies BACK to you - we did.

The Hotel is in serious need of updating and renovation.  Our room was about as basic as a Motel 6 and costs as much as a four star resort in downtown Seattle.  Not to mention our TV wasn't working and the noise from outside and inside was horribly loud.  Luckily our stay was only for one night and we spent most of our time out on the beach front and checked out early the next morning.

If your set on staying in Miami Beach don't be surprised to see mostly older hotels set in the "art deco" theme, basically meaning bare bones basic and cheaply renovated and at a HEFTY price.  I may have been able to find something a little nicer on the beach had I spent a lot more money, which was not worth it to me.  Our next trip to Miami we will definitely be a stay in the downtown area which appeared to have nicer hotels and would be just a quick ride to the beach.  
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Saturday, May 22, 2010

Disney's Coronado Springs Resort - Disneyworld, Florida

First off I will say, I am digging into my memory bank on this review, but my vacation to Disneyworld several years ago is still one of the Top on my list and Coronado Springs was part of that reason!

When we pulled into the Disney Resort I felt as though I had entered a whole new world, with it's Southwest Spanish style theme, everything is transformed.  This massive resort has several buildings, fountains, a 22 acre lake, 3 pools and a Grand pool with a Pyramid slide.  You can also find restaurants, a health club, salon, babysitting and shopping all within the resort.

My first trip to Disneyworld and Coronado was with my parents and best friend.  My parents were very strict growing up, so I was surprised when they allowed us free range of the Disneyworld property for a couple of days.  The resorts have buses that come every couple of minutes and at Coronado there are bus stops in front of almost every building they have.  You hop on the bus and head for which ever Disney park your heart desires.  Even something a parent can feel comfortable for an older, responsible teenager to accomplish on their own. 

We spent 8 days at the resort and after every long busy day at the park we were happy to come back to the resort for a swim in the pyramid pool and dinner at the "Pepper Market" inside the resort.  I recall every night having dinner with my parents and we'd sit  and talk about all the great stuff we saw and did that day.  GREAT memories I still have!  Some people complain about pricing at the resorts, but it's a theme park and everyone knows when your inside a park prices go up (just because they can), so don't expect to find any cheap eats inside any of the resort hotels or Disney parks.  Save up your money and make this a good trip. You can also purchase a refillable mug for fountain drinks at Coronado during your stay, well worth the money!

Since my trip was awhile back, I looked into the Coronado Springs Resort today and they have since updated their rooms with the newest flat screens, plush bedding and updated decor.  Even nicer looking than I recall and during my first stay, and we had enjoyed the nice rooms as they were.  My FAVORITE part of the trip...turning on the TV each morning on the resort channel hearing "Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay, My, oh, my, what a wonderful day!"...everyday was truly a wonderful day for us at the Disneyworld Resort.  An unforgetable and memorable trip with my family.  I can't wait to take my children there someday!
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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Foto Fun Friday - May 21, 2010



On what Alaskan Glacier do I stand upon?
(Read in a Shakespearian voice - just for fun!)

Hint: This is a tour you can take via helicopter from Juneau


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The Best Souvenir to enjoy once a year!

Who loves souvenirs? Not me!  Well, at least not most of the them and I definitely don't care for getting them from people who have gone somewhere I've never been.  I can't display the knickknack you gave me because if I do, someone is going to ask "where did you get this interesting thing?" and I probably won't remember and I won't have the interesting story they are waiting to hear. So there it would sit, no story, no love and collecting dust!

My One and only Souvenir collection
One souvenir I do collect for myself though is Ornaments.  You know, "Ho Ho Ho, here comes Santa Claus", lets decorate the tree! 

My first ornament was from my honeymoon in Maui and I didn't really collect any for a while after that.  It was a few years later that I had picked up a couple more on a trip and just in the past couple of years have made it a tradition when I travel.  Since we take a lot of little trips here and there I mostly collect them on my longer more memorable trips we take.  Although I did pick one up last weekend in Ocean Shores just because we travel there often and it will hang on the tree in memory of all those great beach trips we take each year.

The best part about these souvenirs is that you won't find yourself spending a ton of money on something you may never use again.  I can typically find a nice ornament for $3-$10.  If you can't find an ornament, pick up one of those knickknacks your friends don't want, something that resembles the destination your visiting, and attach a string to it.  If an ornament doesn't have a year on it, just write the date on the back or bottom when you get home. 

The Ornament is a great souvenir that you don't have to keep out year-round or try to match with your house decor.  They can look like anything and in fact, having them unique is what makes it fun.  If you don't want to mis-match your beautiful tree decor you can set up a fun little mini tree some where else in the house, just with your travel ornaments.  Enjoy the time putting up your Christmas tree while reminiscing in past travels, telling stories and maybe even giving you the urge to plan your next adventure!

(PS - If you want to buy me a sweatshirt, I do like them, even if I haven't been to "I ♥ New York")
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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Chaos in Bangkok - But still selling fruit

My husbands Uncle lives in Thailand for parts of the year with his wife who is from the area.  They always send wonderful photos and enjoy their time in Thailand.  He is there now and visited Bangkok yesterday in the midst of the current protests. His alarming moment turns to humor due to his small Thai vocabulary.

"Went to Bangkok yesterday to pick up some clothes, and the streets were empty except soldiers, black smoke was visable from a couple locations, and while getting my stuff I heard a loud speaker comming down the street on the roof of a truck, and quickly asked my wife "what's happening?" and she said "they are selling Rambutan (fruit)" " ShareThis

Governor Hotel - Olympia, WA - Disappointment near home

I love to explore away from home and see new places I've never been. But I had never really thought about what was available to tourist in my own city.  I thought my town was at least worthy of a weekend trip, but had doubts after a recent hotel stay.
My parents had planned a night out but were unable to make it at the last minute.  So my Mom offered the trip to my husband and I, and she would stay with the kids. Woohoo! We set off to Olympia for what I had hoped would be a romantic, fun night for two.  The hotel sounded very nice from what my Dad had been told and was right in downtown.

A Hidden Gem...I think NOT!
I knew of the Governor Hotel and had passed it many times.  As with many downtown cities, the older buildings often hold a hidden treasure inside, but not in this case.  When we walked into the lobby it was very small, in need of updating, but fairly clean.  I wasn't impressed and had hoped our room was where the goods were.  We went out for dinner first and when we got back to our room I was very disappointed.  A one star at it's best, it was in desperate need of updating, cleaning and even a large leak in the ceiling was needing repair.  About the only good thing was that it was a large room with a separate seating area.  The view from our room was a small park and the downtown streets of Olympia, which wasn't bad, but even a direct view of the Capitol wouldn't of made this any nicer of a Hotel.

Dirty plates anyone?
After getting a few hours of sleep on the not so comfortable bed, we headed down for the complimentary "Breakfast Buffet".  I figured we could grab a bite before headed back home.  I wasn't expecting much since I had yet to be impressed, but I was completely grossed out!  One word: DIRTY plates! And a greasy looking employee that came out to refill the food while we glanced at what they called a "buffet".  I think there were eggs and sausage in the buffet, and a loaf of bread sitting on a table still in the grocery bag with a home toaster to toast it with.  Wow! My husband and I just looked at each other and walked out to the Starbucks across the street to grab a quick coffee and pastry for the road. 

Before this one night adventure I had never considered whether or not my own City was tourist worthy and I'm scared to say that accommodations seem slim.  I plan to take another look at Olympia and hope to find some great places for tourist to stay while they visit this beautiful City.  Aside from this horrible hotel, Olympia has some great attractions and beautiful sites to see.  Stayed tuned for some nice hotel recommendations in Olympia, I know they are out there!

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Stretching your Cruise dollar - Travel Tip Tuesday

Travel Tip Tuesday - May 18th, 2010
Many people who cruise choose this form of travel for several reasons. One usually being it's one of the most economical ways to travel for what you get.  Another way you can make your dollar stretch on a cruise is by eating free the entire trip.

If your planning your schedule for a day at port, think about meal times when booking excursions and tours. We try to have breakfast on the ship, schedule a tour or do our own thing in the morning and be near the ship to hop back on for lunch. And depending on how long the ship is in port, we head back to town for the evening and back in time for dinner. Now you can't always plan around meal time, but we have been able to do it on most of our cruises to at least save money on several meals off the ship. If your worried about getting hungry while your walking around port, grab a banana or snack from the buffet that will last in your pack during the day. It'll keep you from drowning your hunger in that delicious looking ice cream at the stand on the corner of "tourist have extra money to waste town"!

Secondly, limit your casual alcohol drinks to maybe "one fun night of drinking" and stick to the free juices, milk and water the ship provides. Or if you must have soda, buy the unlimited card they offer at the beginning of the cruise.  Alcoholic drinks can definitely add up if you don't pay attention to your shipboard account...just wait for that jaw drop when you see the bill at the end of your cruise!

Thirdly, don't waste your money on the paid dining.  More cruise lines are offering "extra special" paid restaurants or even a Johnny Rockets hamburger shop on Royal Caribbean cruise lines - but really people? There is so much gourmet food on a ship in the dining rooms and buffets that paying the extra money isn't worth it! 
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Monday, May 17, 2010

Credit Card Stolen...Lesson learned!

Unfortunately these days we will still have to deal with the fact that vacations might not always be full of joy, and credit cards, wallets and important items can get lost or stolen during our travels.  Even booking our trips online can lead to fraud with someone hacking into our personal information.  Thankfully there's also the other great part of the story! Credit card companies are very helpful and giving in these situations and for the most part will cover these fraudulent charges and go after the Theif and not your wallet for the stolen money. So everyone lives Happily Ever After, right? Wrong! 

Don't make the mistake (as I did) in thinking that since your credit card company is taking care of things on their end by cancelling your stolen card and sending you a new shiny one - that it's all over. 

Auto Pay - How convenient
Remember those nice and easy auto pays you agreed to do for your club membership, phone bill, and kids swimming lessons?  Well, they are still "auto-taking" your money, but guess what, it's not there! And did you read the fine print when you agreed to auto-pay? If you don't pay (for whatever reason) they charge you a fee or interest charge.  Not just to be mean, but because their bank charged them for your card not going through.  So, my $5 a month payment to hold my membership, became 5+5+20(fee) for those two months while I forgot to call them with a new credit card number!  Can someone say I was Piss...Furious!

So, lesson learned and now shared with all my lovely fans!  Don't forget to pull out your last credit card statement and call any vendors you have set up on a monthly auto-pay.  If you don't, you'll be hitting yourself in the head like I was and mad all over again at the person who stole your card in the first place! ShareThis

Sunday, May 16, 2010

5 Fun Things to do in Ocean Shores, WA

This small City boarding the ocean in Washington State is among one of the favorite beaches for many Northwest Families.  If you drive along Hwy 101 through Aberdeen you'll run into Ocean Shores.  You won't notice much there but take a better look and you'll find plenty of fun family activities for a long weekend at the shore!

The Beach
On the beaches of Washington State you won't see many swimmers or surfers unless they are in wet suites;  but bundle up and bring out the kids for some fun Kite flying, sand castle building, beach combing, and clam digging. You can drive onto the shore and find your own special spot to hang out.     

Horse Back Riding
In the late spring and summer seasons you can take a ride along the beach for $20 per hour per person.  What a great deal and a fun adventure!  We asked one vendor who's age limit was 6yrs old (although my daughter was still too small at 6yrs) and they didn't allow double riders, but later that day I saw another group taking a small child on a solo walk with the horse and trainer by it's side.  Check along the beach if your interested in children's rides, they all have different policies and services to offer.

 Pacific Paradise Family Fun Center
This fun activity is on a road located behind the McDonald's and the city Convention Center in the middle of town (Minard Ave NW).  Here you'll find miniature Golf, bumper boats and a small arcade for big and little kids alike.  Games inside range from $0.25-$0.50 and can keep kids entertained for a little while, depending on how fast they can burn through that $5 bill you give them.  My daughter and I rode the bumper boats for $6 to share and they were generous on our time in the water.  Golfing is fun for the whole family and they even have tiny little clubs for the toddlers. 

BJ's Family Fun Center
There is another family Center on the main road of Ocean Shores that has bumper cars inside and a go-kart race track on the outside.  It's been a few years since we've done the go-karts but they can get spendy if you have a large family and the kids want to double up and also beg to rid the bumper cars.  I personally can't stand the smell inside the bumper car area, but everyone has their "thing".

Bowling
One of my favorite pass times in small towns.  Our entire family enjoys bowling and it's bound to take up a couple hours at the least.  Ocean Shores Bowl is located across from the Convention Center & McDonalds.

There are plenty of other activities in Ocean Shores if you search for them, but these are just my 5 favorite things to do when we head up for the weekend with the kids.  We try to head for the Ocean during nice weather but when it's raining and cold outside you can do many of these activities rain or shine!  Need a place to camp? See my blog on Ocean City State Park ShareThis

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Meteor Crater - Winslow, Arizona

A Meteor Crater - Just a big hole right?  Well, kinda...but it's one interesting and bigger than life hole that has a great story to tell!

"50,000 years ago a fiery giant meteor mass weighing several hundred thousand tons hurtled through space and impacted earth. Today, Meteor Crater is nearly one mile across, 2.4 miles in circumference and more than 550 feet deep "

The Meteor Crater in Winslow Arizona is the worlds best preserved Meteor site any where on Earth!  For price of admission you can tour the Visitors Center that has interactive videos, movies, pictures and interesting facts like; who first found the crater, what historical figures thought the crater was and what scientist have done over the years to learn more about the crater.  One man even thought the Meteor was still below the surface and spent his entire lifetime and earnings to dig under ground in search for one.  You will also be able to see and touch an actual piece of the crater that hit the Earth 50,000 years ago!  They have no need to strap it down, this small piece of Meteor weighs more than any man could ever lift.

Be sure to take the walking tour to the edge of the crater.  From the visitors center you'd think you can't get any closer, but the view from the rim is even more amazing, and it's FREE!  Tours run hourly between 9:15am and 2:15pm, just be there on time, because they don't wait (I learned the hard way)!

If you plan to visit the Meteor Crater it is $15.00 for adults, Seniors $14.00, $8.00 (age 6 through 17 years) and 5 and under are free. ShareThis

Friday, May 14, 2010

Foto Fun Friday - May 14th, 2010

Recognize the trunk of this famous Banyan Tree (behind my mother, two kids and I)?  What City is in?

This Banyan Tree was first planted in April, 1873. The tree was imported from India was only 8 feet tall. It now stands over 60 feet high, has 12 major trunks in addition to a huge core. It stretches over a 200-foot area and shades 2/3 of an acre.

It resides in one of my favorite Hawaiian Island Cities!
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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Where is your vacation "Really" taking you? This helpful little tool will show you!

When I decide to take a trip to a new destination, whether it's with the family or not, I always want to know as much information that I can.  I find that many websites and destination guides always do their best to dazzle you with beautiful photos and talk up all the great things about their City, activities and hotels.  I recently came across a wonderful way to really "see" where your going in true form before you get there! 

Find out what's really next door to your hotel with a 360° view or what the streets look like in a particular City.  You can even travel your route from the airport to get an idea of where your headed.  How?  Well it's pretty easy! 

Go to Google Maps  In the top search area, type in the address or area of your destination.  As long as your not traveling to the outskirts of a town, your more than likely to find what your looking for.  Now, grab that little Orange man on the top left and drag him to the location you want.  If the street highlights in blue, your good to go, if not then there may not be a street view of this area. (Example: I am staying at this hotel next month with family in Denver and typed in the address...this is what I get Hyatt Summerfield)  Once you have your man on the road a 360° view will pop up for you to play with.  Follow the arrows down the road to check out the city or drag the little man to another area to get around faster. 

I love this google map and now have a reason to use it more often when choosing my travel destination.  It could make or break a hotel choice on which one actually looks nicer and now I can see with my own eyes what's in close proximity to where I'm staying.
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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

ALL ABOARD!! White Pass railway train ride - Skagway, Alaska

Step into the past as you board the White Pass Railway in Skagway, Alaska.  Learn how the people of the Gold Rush traveled this route by foot for many years before the railway was born.  You'll be amazed by the beautiful scenery as you pass by rivers, bridges, tunnels and steep grades climbing through the Alaskan mountains. 

We took this tour with a group of 8 and we all seemed to enjoy this relaxing time on the train.  If your looking for something very interactive, this is not the excursion for you.  I enjoyed finally taking a moment to be able to sit back and see more of Alaska than we had seen on most of our time on the cruise.  If you enjoy mountains, trees, history and trains, I think you'd enjoy this tour

The ride is a couple hours long, so be prepared to mostly sit for this amount of time.  If you have children, you may want to bring some activities for them to keep busy if they are unamused by the scenic route.  There is no food provided on the train so pack a few small snacks as well if needed (I usually grab a banana out of the buffet if I'm cruising), but they do provide water bottles if you get thirsty.  You can get up during the ride and walk around to the front or back of the cars and a couple people can stand on the outside landings between each car for a good photo shot without the window.

Sit on the LEFT side of the train if you can.  You will see both sides of the view no matter where you sit, but they provide you with better narration on the way up the mountain of what your seeing on left side of the train.  Also, if your taking the ride in the cold season, heating is limited on the trains, so dress very warm!

Activities and hotels kids in Alaska on Trekaroo
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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Travel Tip Tuesday - May 11th, 2010

If you missed this one on our Facebook page, thanks to a Travelers Barista Fan (Erin B.) for today's Tip! 

"Babypowder will remove sand! For those times where you are at the park and have sandy feet or if you are at the beach and dont want to have to put the baby in the shower, sprinkle some baby powder and you will be fresh and clean! Stays in the beach bag!"

Do you have a Travel Tip you'd like to share? email me at crystal@travelersbarista.com and I'd love to share your tips as well!
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Monday, May 10, 2010

Ocean City State Park - Ocean Shores, WA

Ocean Shores is one of the most popular beaches in Washington State.  Many families go there for kite flying, sand castle building and many other activities.  You won't find any large stores or shopping malls in Ocean Shores but this small town has been a favorite in our family for years.  For us it's a quick drive and if you are lucky enough to get good weather, the beach can be fun!
We spent the weekend at the Ocean City State Park, located in Ocean Shores.  This is a nice state park and has private spaces for camping in your tent or with a camper in tow.  We of course have our trailer and landed in spot #144 which was a great spot.  It wasn't very large but the privacy was great and our kids had fun climbing the trees over looking the fire pit.  The beach was a quick walk from our campground, or as we prefer, a quick drive onto the beach.  We like to drive the truck so we can pack toys, snacks, etc and take a break inside it if the weather is windy (which is normally is). 

The kids had a great time riding their bikes in the park as well as on the beach.  The ranger in the park was nice and gave the kids stickers and a Junior Ranger pack for my older daughter.  If you forget firewood, you can purchase it on the spot for $5 a bundle.  Showers are available in the bathrooms if your in a tent and there were a few nice looking Group camps for larger groups.

This was a very nice and great State park and I recommend it to anyone headed to Ocean Shores.  There is also another State park in the City (Pacific Beach) which is right on the water, but you loose all privacy and park in stalls lined up on concrete.  So in my opinion the privacy is worth the short walk to the beach. ShareThis

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Marriott Fairfield Inn - Anaheim, CA (Disneyland)

A couple years ago we decided to take my daughter for her first trip to Disneyland.  This was exciting and as much as I wanted to stay on the Disney Resort property, I didn't find it worth the extra money since my daughter was so young at the time and hotels off Disney were much cheaper.  My parents wanted to tag along to see their first and only grandchild (before my son) walk into the wonderful world of Disney. 

I found the Fairfield Inn that appeared close to Disneyland and at about $100 a night.  When we arrived to Anaheim in our rental car we pulled up to this large beautiful Marriott hotel.  I thought it was too good to be true and my husband came back to the car and told me this was not our Marriott we booked (if only I was that good at getting a 5 star at a 3 star price!).  We went further down the street and found our correct hotel.  Not as big and beautiful as the other but nice enough for our weekend stay with the family.  There was a decent outdoor pool in the sunshine that we used a couple times and we were glad to see our rooms had been placed next to one another. 
Fireworks & Snack bars
We got up bright and early the next morning and took an easy walk to breakfast, there were plenty of family style restaurants near by.  From there we walked to the Disneyland entrance which was just a couple blocks over and at night we could see the fireworks at Disney from our room.  After a LONG day at Disneyland we were very comfortable in our air conditioned rooms and when my daughter wanted a late night snack, snack bar inside the hotel was convenient.  They had grab and go sandwiches, fruit and of course your greasy pizza to boot. 

To Sum it Up
The location of this hotel to Disneyland and California Adventures makes this worth the money in my opinion.  I don't recall anyone complaining about anything during our stay and the rooms were clean, basic and comfortable for a small family.  I do however remember that the elevators were very slow, always full and we even got stuck in one for a short time, which was a little scary.  I can't say whether this is still the case or not, but if your not fond of elevators in the first place, it may be something to consider or ask about if you book a room.  We were on the top floor, so stairs were rarely an option for us with a stroller and other supplies. 

Hotel Ammenities
Air Conditioning (necessary on hot summer days)
Snack bar in hotel
Close proximity to Disney Resort and Restaurants
Free Wi-Fi
Cribs Available
Mini-Fridge

Activities and hotels for Kids in Greater LA and Disneyland area on Trekaroo ShareThis

Friday, May 7, 2010

Foto Fun Friday - May 7th, 2010

Which Cruise line is known for having this awesome surfing, knee boarding contraption called the "Flow Rider" on the back of their ships?

Yes -that's me making a fool of myself trying it out, but having a BLAST while doing it!
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Thursday, May 6, 2010

Marriott Residence Inn - Flagstaff, AZ

When I arrived to the Marriott Residence the lobby appeared typical of a family hotel, but I was pleasantly surprised at the size of my room.  It was a big room for one person on a solo trip.  The studio room had a full "L shaped" couch, Fireplace, standard TV, nice little kitchen and desk area for working.  I could have comfortably fit a family of four.  The weather outside in February was absolutely FREEZING so I didn't go in search for the pool facilities and my trip had me there for other reasons than play. 
My first morning I woke up and took a quick little walk over to the Lobby where a full, hot breakfast was available to guests.  This was not just a couple grab and go items, but they had cereal, fresh oatmeal, waffles, pancakes, all sorts of breads, fruits and a buffet with hot sausage, eggs, etc.  To wash it down there was hot coffee, milk and assorted juices.  Plenty of nice seating and as I watched a few families gather in the dining area, it made me miss my family. 

I drove around town and spent a day in Winslow, AZ and a trip to the Meteor Crater (blog coming soon on that one) and several other natural sites that I found very interesting and fun!  I also realized how close I was to the Grand Canyon and had I taken the trip as a family we could of easily spent the day there and returned to the hotel in Flagstaff.

If your needing a nice hotel for you or your family, the Marriott Residence is a good place to stay for the price.  There's nothing fancy about it, but it covers the basics if your wanting a full kitchen, breakfast provided and a nice staff.  I had even forgot my shaver and toothpaste and they happily brought me some.

TIP: The hotel is laid out "Condo style", one room up and one down.  If you'd rather not do Stairs, request a downstairs room and it's much nicer.  The parking is also great and right in front of your room...no walking! 

Activities and lodging for kids around Grand Canyon on Trekaroo:
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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Tips on Tipping - Add these items to your Travel expense list!

When you take a family vacation what's usually a major factor in where you stay, what you do and how long you're there?  For most of us, that's COST!  "Where can I get the best deals and save the most money?" is what many people consider when booking.  One extra cost that can add up quickly that many of us don't think about is TIPS!

Earlier this year we stayed in a nice hotel with a fancy (aka Expensive) restaurant inside and we found it was our most convenient place for meals in the morning before rushing out and at the end of the day after touring the City of Washington D.C.  The hotel had given us a half off coupon during our stay for the restaurant.  We kept our receipts so we could be sure our room was charged correctly, and it was.  But one thing I noticed as I double checked the charges was how much money we spent on Tips, just on food!

At the risk of sounding like a modern day Scrooge, I will tell you I'm not a fan of tipping and one must go above and beyond the call of duty to get a few extra bucks from this girl!  I have worked my share of serving jobs as a teen and appreciated receiving tips, but I believe tips are earned and I'm definitely not giving my Barista a $2 tip for my $4 cup of coffee, sorry!

Now that I have that cleared up, I wanted to remind you of a few TIPS you may be dishing out (if you chose to do so) during your vacation and if money is your priority for planning, be sure to include these items!

CRUISING:   Gone are the days on a cruise where you would hand your waiter, room steward and other attendants an envelope at the end of the cruise with your desired tips.  Now days tips are automatically applied to your shipboard account and charged at the end of the cruise.  Unless you request otherwise at the pursers desk to have it removed or changed.  A typical gratuity applied by the cruise lines is about $10 per day per person, including children in your cabin.  They divide accordingly to their staff.  With Free-style cruising this is a good way to tip, since you don't have the same waiter and staff each night.  Don't be afraid to lower the tip as you deem necessary, they don't ask questions just change as requested.  Or if you feel someone has done an outstanding job for you on the cruise, hand them a personal tip directly to assure it gets to the right person.
You'll also have your baggage handler at the cruise terminal try their hardest to get a tip from you, and as stated this is always optional.  They do not hand carry your bags all the way to your cabin, but take them to the luggage stations for handling onto the ship.

HOTEL:  At a hotel stay you may find your room maid to be outstanding or sadly disappointing.  This may not be someone you normally tip, but given the right situation you might want to.  Of course a valet parking attendant or baggage handler may also lend a hand while reaching out a hand for a couple dollars.

RESTAURANT:  Of course this is the typical place most tipping goes on.  Whether you sit at the bar for a quick drink or order a full course meal for the family, be ready to add this cost to your trip if you prefer to tip the waiters.  Also remember if your traveling with a party of 8 or more and eat out, you may subjected to an Automatic 15% or more tip on your bill.  If service is less than tip worthy, don't be afraid to speak with the manage to remove or change the amount of this automatic tip, it can be done.

TOURS: While traveling many of us enjoy booking a excursion to highlight our destination.  Don't be surprised when your tour guide reminds you of the wonderful day you've had and how your money helps him survive day to day.  If the tour was amazing and informative, I don't mind giving a couple dollars. I figure if there are at least 30 people on my tour, plus the several other tours they do in a day, my $2 is sufficient. I did already pay to be on the tour in the first place.

What are your thoughts on Tipping?
Do you believe it's necessary or something that is automatic? ShareThis

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Travel Tip Tuesday - May 4th, 2010

Planning a cruise to Alaska?  Book at the end of the Season, last half of August and September and you'll find that vendors have marked their store items and great Alaska souvenirs down 50-75% off.  Most shops in these small Alaskan towns rely on tourist to operate and once the cruising season is over they close up shop.  They put their revenue out at remarkable prices!  I got a few great souvenirs for myself and even a nice sweatshirt for less than $12.  Also you'll find the cruise ships mark their Alaska related souvenirs on sale as well, but the best deals are on land! 
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