Category: Travel Reviews

Orlando Trip-Part 2


This article is about the actual planning for Orlando. Which in itself is probably the BIGGEST part of the entire vacation. If you don’t get this right, then the whole trip will suffer. Ok, now that I have scared you to death, let’s have some fun!

I will break this down into 4 parts. Accommodations, travel (flying or driving), if you fly-rental car, and attractions. More than likely (depending on where you are traveling from and how many is in your party) the accommodations will take the largest chunk out of your budget. In my planning, it was just 3 of us-2 adults and 1 child. You can also go to to purchase a package that can include everything.

  • ACCOMMODATIONS-The very first decision you need to make is WHERE??? Do you want to stay on the Disney Resort, off the resort nearby or in a more central location of all the attractions? Obviously if you stay at one of the Disney properties, it will cost more. We stayed half of our trip in Kissimmee (since we also included other attractions besides Disney) and then stayed the rest of our trip in our timeshare on the Disney property. But if your main focus are the Disney Parks, it is the most convenient. On the Disney property, there is 6 categories of accommodations. Ranging from low budget hotels and campgrounds to Deluxe Villas. The lowest price is the campground where you bring your own camper/RV starting at around $49 per night. The most expensive is around $2,000 per night.
  • TRAVEL- Depending on where you are coming from and how many is in your party, will determine if flying or driving is better.   If it will take more than 15 hours to drive, I would suggest flying. However, if you have a lot of people in your party, you might want to drive no matter where you are coming from. For us 3, it was easier to fly and rent a car when we arrived in Orlando. If you decide to drive, make sure you have plenty of things to do for the small (and big) kids in your party. Anytime we do a road trip, I normally put together a scavenger hunt. First, it keeps the children interested in the trip instead of stuck in an electronic of some sort. Second, the competition of the hunt gives an incentive at the end. It could be the winner gets to pick the place to eat once at the final destination. Or the winner can get a prize at one of the theme parks (which can be a souvenir you would probably have bought anyway). Third, the adults actually get into it as well. It gives the whole family some bonding time. Even if it’s a competition, make it fun. Also, you can play the license plate game. That’s always a great one. I usually put all the states on the same page as the scavenger hunt so I can keep up with the plates as well.
  • RENTAL CAR-This is a no brainer, I’m sure. But make sure you rent a vehicle that is large enough for your entire party AND still have enough space for luggage and room for comfort. No matter if you are only using the vehicle to go from the hotel to the theme parks, you don’t want everyone to be cramped in and start the days out on a sour note. If you are planning on staying on the Disney property and only doing the Disney Theme parks, I wouldn’t bother renting a vehicle. There are shuttle buses, trams, and ferries to whisk you from your hotel to the parks. There is also a shuttle from the airport to the Disney resorts. But if you are planning on visiting other attractions in the area, I would suggest a rental car.
  • ATTRACTIONS- There are just too many to list. Here are the places we visited. All 4 Disney Parks, both Universal Studio Parks, LEGOLAND in Winter Haven, FL (about 47 miles from Orlando) and SeaWorld. We didn’t have enough time to do anything but the theme parks. My favorite out of all of these was Hollywood Studios at Disney. My least favorite-SeaWorld. The reason SeaWorld was my least favorite (my husbands and 9 year old sons least favorite as well) it just seemed so much smaller than the other parks and was more of a large aquarium to me. Don’t get me wrong, it was ok but I probably wouldn’t go back in place of any of the other parks. It just wasn’t worth the expense (my opinion). So before you get to Orlando, figure out the attractions you and your family want to do for sure. Leave a day or 2 open in case you want to just relax or explore the smaller attractions. After you decide which attractions, make sure you plan the days you want to go where. I know this sounds a little overboard but if you don’t plan correctly, you won’t be able to get the most out of the parks. HINT-If you stay at one of the Disney Resorts, there are days where you can either go in early or stay late. Beware though, a lot of people are in these resorts and more than likely the majority will be using those extra hours as well. What I did was try to steer clear of the days that offered these extra hours. Not every day has extra hours and not every park are on the same day. I planned more on the days that stayed open later for everyone. Yes, I know it sounds weird but it worked for us. I would suggest taking one full day for each park you visit. No Disney Park hopping. There is so much to do in each and every park. We started slow at the beginning of the week and ended with our longest day.
  1. LEGOLAND-This was probably our most laid back day. If your kiddos like LEGO’s, make sure you try this park. It was nice, not too big and not too small. We were able to get everything in and still leave early evening. That allowed us to rest up for the next day.
  2. Universal Studios-We did decide to get the park-to-park tickets for Universal. We did everything we wanted to do (and then some) in one park and then headed to the other park. These parks are a walk apart so it doesn’t take hours to go between them like it does at Disney. We ended the day doing some of the big rides at the other Universal Park. The 2nd day, we made sure to go to all of our favorite rides again and enjoyed the Cinematic Spectacular at Universal Studios. Check the website for show times. You can print off maps from the website and highlight or circle the rides/shows you want to do the most. I highly suggest this. On the back of the map, write down the show times of each of the shows you want to do so you can plan before you get there so you are not wondering around trying to figure out what to do and lose precious time.
  3. SeaWorld- Did this on the spur of the moment and was not impressed. If you decide to go, make this a half day and definitely before you go to the exciting parks so you won’t be let down.
  4. Disney Parks-There is a cool option to customize each parks map for the rides/shows and attractions your family wants to do. Go to and sign up for My Disney Experience. You can make an itinerary and customize your own maps according to your itinerary.

One activity we did in each park is look for the hidden mickeys throughout each park. Mickey’s heads are hidden all through the park. It could be in a shrub shaped as his head to lights glowing in the shape of Mikey. Check out this website to get some clues on where to find them. There is so much to do in each park, I’m going to give you a few things that we did that some might not know about.

  • Animal Kingdom-One of the cool things we found was the Wilderness Explorers. It is based off the movie UP. A very fun adventure that includes ALL of the areas in the park. You pick up a field guide near the front of the park and it leads you to each location with fun self-guided activities. You collect badges for each group of activities. Go here to learn more about the Wilderness Explorers
  • EPCOT-For the young ones who like the show Phineas and Ferb, there is an Agent P World Showcase Adventure to complete. You have to choose a country to play in but it takes you all over that country. It was actually pretty interesting, even for the bigger kids (aka, my husband). They give you a communication device that looks like a cell phone that you get clues from. You use those clues to find the next clues. Very interactive and it gets the kiddos excited about the country they choose for their mission. For more information, check out this link
  • Hollywood Studios-My son loves Star Wars and this extremely interactive activity put him right in the middle of the action. They train with a Jedi master and then get to fight Darth Vader. Jedi Academy chooses 12 guests between the ages of 4 and 12 for each show throughout the day. So if you want to participate, you must be at the ABC Sound Studio at the beginning of the park opening. This was my son’s favorite activity the whole trip so it was most definitely worth it. For more information, check out this link.
  • Magic Kingdom-This is probably the busiest park out of all the Disney Parks. Of course, it is probably the largest as well (my opinion). The castle alone is one of the most photographic locations out of the whole park (again, my opinion). So much to do at this park but one activity that I found out about is for both small and big kids (adults) alike. The Pirate’s League. Basically you sign up all the people in your party who wants to become a part of the Pirate’s League. At the appointed time, you go in and the resident pirates there (they really get into their characters) paint up your faces and you have the option of purchasing costumes (extra $). There are a range of pirate or fairy faces you can choose from. My husband and son got inducted into the Pirate’s League. The Pirate Characters make it very fun for all!!! We even were able to meet Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean (not the real Johnny Depp L ) but it was fun nonetheless.  To do this, I would highly recommend making reservations

Jacob Pirate

As you can see, there is so much to plan and do in Orlando. I am a planner at heart but even if you are not, this trip is a MUST to plan. From experience, if you don’t plan your trip in Orlando, there will be a lot you overlook and it might be a little overwhelming when you get there if you don’t have a tentative itinerary. So I hope this article helps. Plus check these other sites out for more planning ideas:

 Most Importantly-HAVE A MAGICALLY FUN TRIP!!!!!!


Blog image-Orlando
Magical? Yes, very! Planning-Overwhelmed? EXTREMELY!!!
I’m going to start out by saying, this was my family’s 3rd trip to Orlando since my son has been born. The first, he was way too young to appreciate it. The second, we were all sick throughout the entire week stay. So I was bound and determined to make this one really count. Since my son is 9, I knew that I would have to research deeper to find “bigger” kid activities. Even though when ANYONE goes to Orlando (especially Disney World), you become a kid instantly. Part of the MAGIC.
First things first. Before you even start planning the actual trip, there are a few things to get the family into the Magical! My son and I created a “Countdown to Orlando” wall hanger. Basically, a square piece of construction paper with characters of all the places we intended to visit in Orlando: Disney World, Universal Studios and Lego Land (in Winter Haven, FL). Then, we cut out strips of construction paper to make rings-one for each day remaining. We hooked the rings on the bottom making a chain. Each day, my son pulled one off and it built the anticipation. Especially when he would count the rings left after he pulled off the day’s ring.

Another thing we did to get in the “Disney Mood” was watch some of our favorite Disney movies. (When we were actually at Disney World, we would ride a ride or watch a play and I’d really want to watch that movie.)
We didn’t do this one, but I really would have loved to. Create your own autograph book. It not only serves a purpose of letting your little kiddos get all the autographs of their favorite characters, but it also gets them (and you) pumped up for the trip. Get a small notebook (about a 3X5 notebook) and decorate the front. You can use stickers, embellishments, ribbons, etc… Make it your own. The dollar store has a lot of this for very cheap. Make sure you get a notebook with a lot of blank pages. You can also go a step further and designate pages for each character by putting the name or a sticker on it, then leave some in the back blank.
Order custom shirts for your whole family. I bought red t-shirts and put a Mickey Mouse silhouette on my husbands and sons. Mine had Minnie Mouse silhouette. On the back, I put our last name and a jersey number for each of us. My husband had 01-Me-02, my son-03. They were very cute. (See picture)Blog Picture-Orlando 2
This one didn’t actually get us into the mood per se, but was very necessary. I took an empty box (a tote, bag, laundry basket, etc… would do) and started filling it with the essentials for the trip. Little by little I would buy items that we could possibly need. Here is a brief list, you can add or take away at your discretion:
1. Ponchos-you can buy them at the park but I decided to purchase mine beforehand. Much cheaper and didn’t have to rush around to find a store in the park to buy one when it started to rain or we decided to ride a wet ride.
2. Kleenex
3. Anti-bacterial wipes-especially useful when we would finish a sticky treat
4. Anti-bacterial sanitizer hand gel with holder. The holder is very important so you can strap it on somewhere inside you backpack for easy access.
5. Glow sticks- During the parade and firework shows, there are a bunch of glow-in-the-dark items you can purchase but they are very expensive. You can get silly glow-in-the dark glasses and wands and the dollar store for a fraction of the cost.
6. Travel activities for the kids-whether you drive or fly, get a few things that will keep the kiddos preoccupied. At the Dollar store, they have travel size games-Yatzee, cards, etc… Coloring books, small cars for boys, and of course handheld video games.
7. Snacks-granola bars, fruit snacks, cheese crackers, etc…
8. Change-I know this sounds kind of weird but my son loves getting pressed pennies at the different locations we visit (btw-cheapest souvenir EVER!). Make sure you get a coin purse or baggie to put the coins in.
9. Small First-Aid kit-for all the scrapes and blisters that just comes with excitement, kids and walking miles a day in theme parks.
10. Small sewing kit-actually very handy, especially the safety pins.
11. If you have small children, take some stuffed animals or characters. Staying in the resorts on the Disney property, the housekeepers are said to arrange the stuffed characters in the room.
12. Also if you have smaller kids, instead of buying toys at the parks and pay double or triple the price, purchase a few small toys to give out during your stay. Maybe use it as a bonus at the end of the day as an incentive for good behavior. (Come on, we all do it-If you are good, you can have fill in the blank).
13. Sunscreen and lip balm. A definite must!
14. Any medicines that are prescribed and some that are not. A few examples-Pain reliever for the aches and pains, Pepto & ginger root pills for upset stomach and motion sickness. Anti-bacterial ointment for blisters and scrapes.
15. Camera case
16. Extra batteries for any electronics you take
17. Chargers for phones, tablets and video games
18. And of course, a backpack with multiple pockets but not so large that it breaks the back of the person who is carrying it.
Now the above is only a brief list that does not include the regular clothing, shoes and accessories.
Some more sites for packing lists and special activities to get in the mood:
This article was more of preparation to do before you go to Orlando, besides the actual sitting down with a budget and planning the travel, accommodations and tickets. Look for Part 2 of our Orlando Trip for tips on budgeting and planning the itinerary.

Last stop on out West trip-March 2012.

Let me start by saying, I had expectations of Vegas as being a party town before I even made arrangements.

We arrived on a Saturday around the beginning of Spring Break. First mistake!  Spring Breakers everywhere!!!  I felt so out-of-place. This is definitely not a place for people who do not drink or gamble. As far as the eye could see we’re skimpy outfits, drunks, and outrageous behavior.  I kept trying to push that out of my mind and just enjoy the things I could.

So here’s the positives–We stayed at the Bellagio.  It was absolutely gorgeous.  This is the hotel with the huge fountains in front that dance to music nightly.  The rooms are beautiful and spacious.  The lobby very classy and a plus was that I didn’t have to walk through the casino to ge to the front desk.  Of course we had to walk through it to get to the elevators to our room.  One thing I was ready for that didn’t happen was the sound of the slot machines.  Everyone said that is all you hear when you are in Vegas.  Surprisingly, it was a lot quieter than I expected.  The other casinos ranged from dowdy to beautiful.  We explored the majority of them and enjoyed this just as much as the other things we did.  The Luxor was gorgeous-Egyptian style.  We went to 2 exhibits at this casino-Titanic and Body (an exhibit of the inner workings of the body).  We saw The Phantom which I thoroughly enjoyed although my husband didn’t.  I kind of expected that too.  He is not much on plays/operas.  Hoover Dam was fascinating.  We took the tour there with All Las Vegas tours, Hummer 2 style with Scott.  He was an awesome tour guide.  As if we were out-of-town friends he was showing around.  I would highly recommend this company and Scott in particular.

Cons–As I said before I felt so out-of-place that I was ready to leave the day I got there, even though I expressed the positives above.  The positives did not out weigh everything else.  Too much craziness for this girl.  I love traveling and experiencing new things but I could have done without experiencing Vegas.  The food at almost every place we went was bad.  Not gross per se, but I definitely did not get full.

There was only one place that I ate almost every bite.  The Cheesecake Factory.  I ate the Asian lettuce tacos and topped it off with a Snickers cheesecake.  Delicious is not the word, much more than that.

So my suggestion-skip Vegas if you do not gamble, drink, party, enjoy seeing half-dressed people, etc…  I will not be back, that is for sure.

On the 2nd leg of our Western couples trip, we visited the Grand Canyon for 2 nights.  As we drove in from the eastern side of the canyon, we stopped at a little must see near Tuba, Arizona.  The Dinosaur Tracks, the Navajo Indians give you a short tour along the dried up river bed of all the dinosaur tracks found.  It was extremely interesting to see. The guide was very informative of the area, pointing out the mountain peaks and explaining the legends of the tracks, how they might have come to be.  If in the area, this is a must do for sure.
Once we arrived at the Desert View side of the Canyon, we stopped at the watchtower.  Breath taking views is an under statement.  The canyon spreads out for miles and miles, dipping and curving in places, with sheer drops in others. We continued driving, stopping at the visitor center, which is not a whole lot.  The main place to go is the Grand Canyon Village. Here you can find information, museums, restaurants and hiking trails. The rim trail takes you on paved walkways and rough & rocky trails.  They have many Park Ranger tours for free. Make sure to pick a few throughout the day. They are interesting and very informative. The Hermits Rest trail can be traveled by bus, which I definitely recommend since it is a long trail and this is where many of the rough trails are located. The rim trails follow the cliffs tightly in some areas.  When we were there, there was still some ice and snow on the ground which made hiking near the cliffs extremely scary for me.  I didn’t realize I was scared of heights until this trip.
We ate at the Bright Angel restaurant one night.  I did not like the food.  I maybe took 2 bites of my meal- quesadillas. My husbands wasn’t much better- prime rib. One night we ate at the Condor Room- a nice restaurant at our hotel in Tusayan, AZ- a few miles south of the Grand Canyon.  The food here was decent. Better than the majority of the meals on this trip. Our waiter was what made the meal enjoyable.  Joe was very nice and suggested items to try on the menu. I was celebrating my birthday on that day so we wanted a dessert. I asked him to recommend something and he asked if I had any allergies or aversions to any food. My only aversion- coconut. He said he would surprise me, which he did. The cake was delicious. And without coconut! Lol.
Now the bad– we stayed at the Best Western Grand Canyon Squire Inn. One of the worst hotels I’ve ever been. The service was absolutely horrible. The room was pretty bad. The shower curtain had some junk on it that I really don’t want to mention. Uckkk!!!!
All in all- visiting the Grand Canyon is a must see.  One of the 7 natural wonders of the world, it really goes without saying. Just be prepared to not eat a whole lot. And stay in the Grand Canyon Village if possible.

Our annual couples trip took me to the West this time. The first leg of the trip, we flew into Vegas and rented a car to drive to some of the West’s beautiful country.

Zion National Park in Utah looks like an untouched alien land.  The cliffs and peaks show beautiful colors in their most natural forms. I never realized that rock formations could actually be a rainbow.  I was pleasantly surprised. The natural reds gave way to royal purples, brilliant oranges and vibrant yellows.  The formations themselves rolled as if they were waves instead of hard rock.  The peaks topping beautifully among the clouds. The cliffs spread out beneath like sand on the sea-shore.
We took an off-paved-road tour with Zion Jeep tours to explore the land where it is a little harder to get to with our Traverse SUV. Our guide-Bruce- was amazing. We were the only two on this trip since it was still early in the season. He answered all of our questions with enthusiasm which, in turn, made me more enthusiastic. He pointed out certain plants, wildlife & rock formations.  He took us to a peak where we saw a formation that looked like an Indian face silhouette.  My husband took an amazing picture of this one, with the sun setting behind it.
We ate at a little cafe called the Bit & Spur, southwestern cuisine. The food was ok, not as spicy as I would have liked & lacked a little flavor.  But all in all, it was a decent meal. The little shops were quaint and fit into the landscape of the area.
We stayed at the Best Western Zion Park Inn which was a cute little place. Modestly priced & comfortable.  Nothing too fancy but it stayed with the theme of the park.
The next day, we drove through the other part of Zion National Park, on our way to the Grand Canyon (see my review of the Grand Canyon).  Driving through the cracks & seams made by God & man was breath-taking. The colors swirled even more with the sun hitting the rocks at the right angles.  There are 2 tunnels to drive through on this leg of the journey. The first is actually pretty long, with the only lights being headlights and a few holes to the outside world placed along the way. This was actually a little claustrophobic for me. The 2nd, was a lot shorter.
To sum up this place- a definite must see. In my opinion, about as beautiful as the Grand Canyon with less traffic & tourist.

Boston, MA

Boston, MA-3 Postcards out of 5

My husband and I took an East Coast road trip in the Spring of 2011.  The end point was Boston.  We stayed here for 2 nights.  Ok enough of the formalities.  Now for the fun stuff.  I loved Boston!!!  It mixed the new and the old in a brilliant and interesting way.

The hotel was gorgeous; it was very classy and grand.  The Lenox staff was very pleasant.  Now for the cons-the rooms are on the small side.  Not really a con but if you are not into the sophisticated or upscale hotels, this one is not for you.  I’m more of a down-to-earth kind of girl so I like the luxury but not in this type of atmosphere.  So it might just be my taste rather than a con.  All in all, this hotel was nice but I don’t believe I would stay here again simply because it was a little too much.

We took the Trolley around to see the sights.  It was inexpensive and we could stay at each location as long as we wanted.  The Trolley drivers tell about the sights while you are riding.  It was a great way to get information.  All you have to do is ask questions if there is something they don’t go over.

Some of the sights we seen-Paul Revere’s house.  For the time period, his house was pretty large.  I like history, but love it even more when you compare it to the time we live in now.  Revere’s house was stuck in the middle of the new, but preserved impressively.  USS Constitution-Nicknamed “Old Iron Side”, it’s a warship that was built out of wood but during battle the cannon balls practically bounced off the sides hence its nickname “Old Iron Side”.  It was fascinating to see how the sailors lived and how they defended the country back in that time.  Old State House-the sight of the Boston Massacre.  When we heard a lecture about the actual incident, it made me stop and visualize how it really was.  It actually made me sad to even think about it.

The Aquarium at the Long Wharf Seaport was nice but more of a kids trip.  We decided to go on the Harbor Cruise.  It was a great way to see the city from the water and very inexpensive.

Restaurants:  Cheers-the place where the show was based off of.  It is actually more of a café than anything else.  The food was good and it was surreal to see the inspiration of the show I watched when I was little.  When we went to Little Italy, we enjoyed a Cannoli at Mike’s Pastry.  It was so worth the calories.  If pastry could be a piece of heaven, this would definitely be it.  If I could go right now and get one, I would.  Can we say yummy…!!!  Joe’s American Grill-great atmosphere and wonderful food.  The cheesecake was amazing.  Atlantic Fish Company-this was an upscale restaurant with great food.  The Crab Crusted Haddock was mouthwatering.  Of course the cheesecake with bananas foster was heavenly.

So as I write, I am realizing that what I remember the most is…the food.  Particularly the desserts.  The whole Boston trip was wonderful.  I would definitely recommend this city, especially for those who like their history mixed in with the modern.

NYC-5 postcards out of 5

Ok now people-Who loves NYC???  Me, Me, ME!!  This is truly the city that never sleeps (even though I had to).

I have visited this awesome city twice.  The first was a day trip when I vacationed in the Poconos.  No where near enough time to see the city.  The second was 3 days & 2 nights.  Still not a lot of time, but enough to get a taste that makes me want more.  The sights and sounds are so different from the small town I live in.  It seemed as if every building had a story about it, a history that inspired me.  Of course, we stuck to the Times Square area, venturing out only a tour but I loved every bit of it.

And for those people who say New Yorker’s are rude, I say-Not all of them are!  That is definitely a stereotype.  Sure, there were some people who were rude but hey, they are everywhere.  Actually, the majority of the people I met were very nice.  I can say this, they say what is on their minds.  And if that is something rude, then so be it.  But as I said, the majority were nice.  There were some people in particular that just LOVED my southern accent.  They wanted to hear me to talk and I am good at that–wink–.

A few places I do want to mention that we visited:

-The Statue of Liberty:  We took the free water taxi out to see her.  She was magnificent, brought a tear to my eye looking at her and thinking about what she stood for-literally.

-9/11 Memorial:  Now this place exuded emotions.  I can’t believe I held back the tears that stung my eyes.  We had a moment of silence within our tour group and everyone heard my sniffling.  The lives lost and futures stolen were too much for me to handle.  Yes, I’m a softy but who wouldn’t get emotional about the significance of the memorial?

-Central Park:  We took a carriage ride through the park.  It was a chilly day, with overcast but it was romantic cuddled up in the blanket.  I was a little nervous when we got out to take a picture with the horse.  He eyeballed me like I was a giant apple to eat.  I even have a picture of my fear.

-Ellen’s Stardust Diner:  I really enjoyed this out-of-the-way place to eat.  The wait staff are aspiring actors/singers and sing to the customers throughout the whole meal.  The food was usual cafe food but ENORMOUS portions.  Enough to feed 2 people.  I would definitely go back.

-Wicked on Broadway:  This is the story of the Wicked Witch of the West from the story Wizard of Oz.  It tells what really happened with her.  I can say, I felt sorry for her after seeing this show.  I loved it!!!!  If I’m able to, I will see it again.  I recommend this show to everyone!

-OnBoard New York Tours:  This is a fantastic tour company.  The buses are small enough that it can maneuver the busy traffic of NYC.  the guide was amazing and knowledgeable.  We stopped at a lot of the famous sights and he told us things that I never heard before about each place.  The price was reasonable especially for all you get.

-The Rockefeller Center:  I was a little apprehensive about going all the way to the top.  I’m not afraid of heights so to speak.  I’m more afraid of the many floors we would have to go down if there were a fire.  But it was spectacular, especially the view of the city.  I took a picture on top of “The Rock”.  I love Dewayne “The Rock” Johnson so this was kind of special for me–giggle–.

All in all-NYC is a fantastic place to visit.  Even if you are like me, a small town girl, you would enjoy the many things to do and see.  It is like Disney World for adults.  If I get the chance (and I’m betting I do) I will be back to explore more of the city.  Because I know there is much more to explore.

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