Nova Scotia & Prince Edward Island

This is an easy destination to travel to – a two hour flight to Toronto and another two hours to Halifax.   We drove from Halifax to Cavendish on Prince Edward Island and spent time visiting the Anne of Green Gables area and seeing a play in Charlottetown.  The scenery is beautiful and it is not very populated.  We visited a historic home, museums, enjoyed the beautiful seaside villages along the way and found wonderful places to eat and stay.   You could easily spend more than a week traveling around Prince Edward Island and just enjoying the area.

We then drove back to Halifax to enjoy the sights around there.  We visited the iconic Peggy’s Cove, and then on to Lunenburg which is a world heritage site, they are both very close to Halifax.  In Halifax, we visited the farmer’s market, the Citadel, the Titanic Cemetery, the Public Gardens and Pier 21, which is the immigration area like our Ellis Island.  So many great places to visit that our seven days were quickly gone and it left us wanting to see more.  The people were very friendly and the scenery was spectacular.

         

Iceland … So Much More Than Spas.

Iceland is best known for several things, their natural geothermal spas, the Aurora Borealis during their winter months, their fishing industry and people. I can tell you first hand, Iceland is much more!!

Do take in and experience one of their many geothermal spa opportunities, there is nothing like it. The most popular geothermal spa is the Blue Lagoon and you will pay accordingly. It is very large, beautiful and offers food service also. My favorite spa experience was the Fontana Wellness Steam Baths. There is a wonderful Golden Circle excursion that includes the Fontana Wellness experience. You will enjoy the beautiful scenery while indulging in the hot steam baths. At the Fontana Wellness center you can also experience the taste of Icelandic rye bread which is slow baked in the natural hot springs, just like the Vikings did thousands of year ago. Delicious 🙂

Currently they are in the process of building the only 5 star property on the island located at the Blue Lagoon. Iceland has several beautiful 4 star properties predominately in the ‘old’ downtown Reykjavik area. These range from uniquely designed properties along the pier to various properties sprinkled around Reykjavik. One property in particular is in the same building as an old paint factory and is decorated as such. Another you enter from street level, proceed down the stairs to a beautiful lobby decorated in an eclectic Icelandic/Scandinavian style.

The winter months in Iceland are equally beautiful especially when blessed with a fantastic display of the Aurora Borealis. Because the days experience more hours of darkness this is the perfect time of year to view this scientific beauty, the Auroras! There are various ways to enjoy this opportunity, by boat, by jeep, or simply standing outside enjoying the night sky. While there in March the temperatures were not as cold as the temperatures back home in Rochester, MN. Traveling this time of year allowed me the opportunity to experience many winter activities such as volcanic caving, 4×4 Advetnure on a glacier to the top of an ice cap, geothermal and steam baths, viewing the Auroras by vessel, the Golden Circle tour, waterfalls, UNESCO site of the Tetonic Plates, great food and drink and so much more!

In the summer months, the list grows significantly from rock and glacier climbing to camping, (including cabin rentals and glamping) hiking, scuba diving, fly fishing, chartered fishing, whale viewing and the viewing of the brightly colored Atlantic Puffins.

Iceland with their 332,000 residents is a melting pot of mainly Scandinavians, Germans and settlers from the British Isles. With over 200,000 living in the capitol city of Reykjavik the remaining are scattered through out the island. Iceland, also known as, “The Land of Fire and Ice” is beautiful all year round, or at least for this girl from Minnesota! Icelanders are known for strong family ties, ethical behavior and storey telling. From my experience, the stories are ,most often than not, accurate and center around their history and family lineage. Over the years Iceland has brought in more and more award winning chefs to create and entice the pallet with their local harvest of seafood, beef, sheep and Icelandic horse. Their economy has seen a great boom with their higher than ever tourist trade and it shows by the hotels and resorts they are building literally year round. The island is very safe and is supported by the fact that they have less than 100 people incarcerated. This is an island where the farm animals can roam without worry of poaching, people respect and trust each other. The residents receive ‘free’ heat due to the tremendous amount of heat that is generated by this island, the children receive schooling and families insurance via their taxes. The cost of living is higher in Iceland, however, with most of the major expenses covered by government programs it makes living in Iceland a pleasant experience.

Whether you are looking for an active, adventurous travel experience or a relaxing cultural experience, Iceland has something for everyone!

Bleisure: Mixing Business and Leisure

What is Bleisure? 

This term is coined from combining a business trip with a leisure trip.  Why would anyone consider this type of travel?  One nice perk is that your airline ticket and hotel accommodations are likely being paid for by the company requiring you to travel.  I’ve personally had many clients bring their family or significant other along and extend their stay to enjoy some quality time as a family. Many of them can attest that it makes the stress of business travel more bearable.

There are multiple options for a bleisure trip.

  • Pre-stay: your family or significant other joins you prior to your business meeting and they take off once your conference begins
  • Post-stay: your family or significant other joins you after your business meetings
  • Bleisure at its best: your family will stay the entire time to explore the destination, even though you’re in meetings you can rest easy knowing your family is nearby exploring.

The next time you are required to travel for work consider extending your stay. Especially if you are heading to a destination that you and your family have not yet visited. 

Spring Break Alternatives After Hurricanes Irma and Maria

We all know that the Caribbean has suffered a horrible hurricane season this year with the devastation caused by hurricanes Irma and Maria. Many of the destinations will take months and even worse case scenario, years to recuperate.

All is not lost for winter and Spring Break 2018, though. There are many destinations in the Caribbean that did not get hit by Irma or Maria. Mexico is also a very safe and still wonderful choice too.

As of the beginning of October, probably the worst hit is Puerto Rico where people are without food, supplies, water or electricity. Barbuda, Dominica, St. Maarten and the US. Virgin Islands were not devastated as badly, but it will be some time before they are back on track and functioning as per usual, although cruise ships are already preparing for docking at many ports of call that were hit.

What didn’t get hit is a very nice list. Two of the major destinations, with their non-stop flights out of Minnesota , were not devastated or even suffered one bit of damage are the Dominican Republic or Jamaica. Each of these islands have their own personality and distinctions that are very popular with American tourists looking for culture and gastronomy.

Other more remote Caribbean islands that were passed over were St. Kitts and Nevis, Bahamas, Haiti, Martinique, Antigua, St. Lucia and Aruba. If you are interested in Caribbean islands that are a little less accessible, but gorgeous and relaxing, the Caribbean is still an option.

Lastly, Mexico is still a fantastic choice for sunshine, white sand beaches and teal blue water. There are many activities to experience and the scenery is wonderful. Mexico’s welcoming hospitality is still intact, and the food and beverages are still top notch. Tourist safety is the number one priority for both American Travel Agencies and Mexico. You can have as much nightlife as you wish or as much relaxing as you wish, for safe memories that will last a lifetime.

Treat Your Culinary Desires on your Honeymoon!

Mexico is where it’s at for great culinary experience—thinking Peruvian, Italian and Asian food on your honeymoon!

The Riviera Maya is home to the El Dorado Maroma, Playa Maroma. It is where you will be surrounded by white sand beaches, teal blue water and swaying palm trees in the warm Mexican breezes. The property is gorgeous, lush with green foliage and flowers. The El Dorado Maroma is also home to it’s first of a kind in Mexico, Palifitos, over the water bungalows just like Fiji without the long plane ride.

So if you like diversity with what you eat, the El Dorado has plenty to keep your palate entertained. Lima Limon is a Peruvian style restaurant featuring signature cerveches and Peruvian style prepared meat and seafood dishes, and the presentation is just as beautiful as the white sand beaches … 5-Stars.

Mio Cuccina Italiana specializes in classic fresh fish dishes like Carpaccio and Frutti di mare and homemade pasta, daily in an intimate restaurant setting.

As for Asian, the staff at Kiyoko does a fantastic job with a selection of Sashimi, teppanyaki and other specialties. Chef will even customize a meal for you.

If the Caribbean is what calls you, there is plenty of opportunity for fabulous gastronomy as well.

Sandals is always a wonderful luxury go-to in Jamaica, but the Sandals Royal Plantation raises the bar for French inspired cuisine, Escargot, La Coquille du Pecheur, and of course nightly featured chef-prepared entrees. And of course the red wine will be flowing.

If afternoon tea is the experience you desire, scones, pastries and clotted cream served on fine china is available.

For a little more casual dining with high-end flair, try the Wobbly Peacock Gastro Pub. With traditional mahogany furnishings and an inviting atmosphere, The Wobbly Peacock features Confit Salmon and Lamb Rump as two classic Brittish entrees.

So whatever destination you choose in Mexico and the Caribbean, there are endless options for fantastic gastronomy to go with all of the beautiful beaches.

A Day in Cuba

Our Arrival

I recently took a mother and daughter trip with my high school best friend. We were on a 5-night cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Empress of the Seas and one of our stops was Cuba! Our arrival in the Havana port was early in the morning. We were up on the deck on the bow of the ship by 6:30 am.

It was a surreal experience watching Cuba come into view as we pulled closer to the island. The first thing you see when you come into the Havana harbor is a fort. The next thing you know the ship is at the pier facing a busy road and all you can see are the old cars! You know there are going to be old cars on the island but you’re still not prepared when you actually see them. The others … not so much. They are fascinating to watch.

On Land

After we cleared customs I exchanged some US Dollars for Cuban Dollars. We then headed off on our shore excursion – Old Havana City Sightseeing. We were on a brand new motorcoach with air conditioning.

Our first stop was the Cementerio de Cristobal Colon (Colon Cemetery) named after Christopher Columbus. We walked around and saw some amazing marble statutes, mausoleums, chapels and family vaults. After that we did a 10 minute pit stop to see some of the old cars up close. We got our picture taken in them.

We took the Havana Tunnel under the harbor channel to see Havana’s statue of Christ the El Cristo de La Habana.  Then we stopped at a cigar shop and the majority of us on the tour bus bought cigars and rum. Then it was more shopping at the Almacenes San Jose Artisan’s Market.  After we wondered around the market for an hour we got back on the motorcoach and headed back to the ship.

Back to the Ship

Once back at the port I had some Cuban money left over and luckily there was a shop right there so I could do some last minute shopping before getting back on board. I hope to spend more than just a day in Cuba soon!


   

Enjoy a Summery Disney drink at Pongu Pongu!

Don’t miss out on these great frozen drinks at the Pongu Pongu lounge at Walt Disney World Resort!

Come to Disney World for the magic, and stay for the drinks! Once you try them, you’ll see what I mean. Inside Pandora – The World of Avatar you’ll find the Pongu Pongu Lounge where you can get some of the best frozen drinks the park has to offer! Pongu Pongu (literally translated to “party party”) serves two exciting and delicious frozen beverages, the Night Blossom, and the Mo’ara Frozen Margarita.

The Mo’ara Frozen Margarita is a frozen drink made with Sauza Conmemorativo Añejo Tequila, strawberry and blood orange flavor, and topped with strawberry boba balls. For a little extra, your drink will be served in a souvenir cup with a glowing Unadelta seed.

Looking for something non-alcoholic? They’ve got you covered! The signature drink at Pongu Pongu is the Night Blossom, a non-alcoholic frozen drink. This drink is a mixture of limeade with apple and desert pear flavors, topped with passion fruit boba balls. Just like the margarita, choose the souvenir cup and watch your drink glow from the Unadelta seed!

Maybe a trip to Disney World isn’t in the cards for you right now, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get to enjoy a great summer drink! One of my personal favorites to make is Pineapple Iced Green Tea. Here’s how you make it:

Ingredients

  • 5 fresh mint leaves
  • 3 ounces iced green tea
  • 3 ounces pineapple juice
  • Orange wheels for garnish

Directions

Place 4 fresh mint leaves in a shaker glass. Add ice and equal parts iced green tea and pineapple juice (approximately 3 ounces each). Shake well to bruise the mint leaves and strain into an ice filled wineglass. Garnish with fresh mint sprig, and orange wheel.

Don’t miss ‘Ohana at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort

My favorite restaurant is ‘Ohana at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort.  So many favorite foods here, it’s hard to pick just one!!

In the morning, you can Hang Loose with Stitch and friends.  It’s so much fun watching and playing the different games they do here.  The crowd interaction is cool. Games such as coconut races and also hula contests, really make you feel like you’re part of the family while you dine here. Breakfast selections include scrambled eggs, Island-style fried potatoes, Hawaiian pork sausages, smoked bacon and a variety of fresh fruits and bread.

Dinner with Hawaiian Hospitality does not disappoint. Let the call of a conch shell welcome you to an evening of Hawaiian-flavored specialties, storytelling and more games. Watch in awe as the servers dash between tiki torches and tropical greenery to bring skewers of sweet and sour chicken, oak-grilled shrimp and steak to your table, as well as dumplings, stir-fried veggies, lo mein noodles and salad.

Halloween with Mickey!

When you think of Disney you probably think about rides and characters and food. But did you know that during the year they have special events and one of the events that takes place during the fall is Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party? This annual event takes place on select nights and promises to be a frightfully fun evening! Everyone gets to put on their favorite costume, even your favorite Disney characters, and trick-or-treat around Magic Kingdom! You do need to purchase a separate ticket for this event and for guests who do not purchase a ticket they are asked to leave Magic Kingdom at 7PM. Bummer! Magic Kingdom is decorated with pumpkins and grinning ghosts so be on the lookout. And don’t worry, this event is called not-so-scary and that means children of every age can enjoy in the fun. Be ware, while Disney encourages you to be creative they also value safety and good judgment so there are rules that must be followed.

General

  • Disney reserves the right to deny admission to or remove any person wearing attire that is considered inappropriate or attire that could detract from the experience of other Guests.
  • All Guests may dress as their favorite character, but may not pose for pictures or sign autographs for other Guests.
  • Costumes must be family-friendly and may not be obstructive, offensive, objectionable or violent.
  • Costumes may not contain any weapons that resemble or could easily be mistaken for an actual weapon.
  • Costumes may not contain sharp objects, pointed objects or materials that may accidentally strike another Guest.
  • Guests who do not adhere to these guidelines may be refused entry into, and/or removed from, unless his or her costume can be modified to meet the above standards.

For Guests ages 13 and under:

  • Costumes and some masks may be worn, as long as the mask does not cover the entire face and eyes are visible.

For Guests ages 14 and older:

  • Layered costumes or costume props that surround the entire body are strongly discouraged and may be subject to additional security screening.
  • Costumes may not reach or drag on the ground. (e.g.,full-length Princess dresses)
  • Capes may be worn if the length does not go below the waist.
  • Themed T-shirts, blouses, sweatshirts, and hats are acceptable.
  • Acceptable accessories include: transparent wings, plastic light sabers, toy swords, and tutus. Headwear may be worn as long as it does not cover the face.
  • Masks of any kind may not be worn.

I know, rules are never fun, but you don’t want to be kicked out of the party! If you are traveling during this special time you don’t want to miss this event! And remember, nobody does it like Disney.

Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith

Jody’s favorite ride is the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith.

Who doesn’t like Steven Tyler and the gang rockin’ and rolling to the fun music.  Enter the queue line through a small tent, with boxes designed like instrument cases decorating the scene.  Curve through the typical Disney ramp that takes you back and forth, around a building behind the giant electric guitar and into the “G-Force Records” recording studio.  Enter the circular room with a high ceiling and posters all around.  Check out the LCD screen and see if your name is displayed when you walk past.  (How does Disney doooooo that?)  Go through the small room of instruments and then join other guests to enter Aerosmith’s studio.  Of course, sing “Walk This Way”, while hand and fingers thrown up into the air!!!  And the rest………..well, you just have to ride this coaster to find out!

A Journey Down the Na’vi River

I was lucky enough to preview Pandora in May 2017.  Many people will tell you about the thrills of Avatar Flight of Passage, but I want to share about how cool the Na’vi River Journey was.  First of all, imagine “It’s a Small World” but with characters from Pandora.  It is a family friendly ride, but I do have to mention it is very dark but that allows the glowing plants and animals to really pop.  You feel like you are in a black light club with bright neon, but the atmosphere is serene with nature sounds, while on a slow moving raft ride through other worldly flora and fauna. 

When riding, you need to look up, down, and all around because the animals and insects of the jungle come to life around you. Disney has used incredible new technology so you can see the shadow a frog-like creature jumping on a lilypad over your head, while floating jellyfish obscure the view of larger animals in the background.  Near the end of the ride, you are blessed by the Na’vi Shaman’s song.  Only 4.5 minutes long, you’ll be in a raft that has 2 rows of seats each fitting 3 adults comfortably.  There is no real story to this ride, just an experience of the nightlife of the jungle on Pandora.

Puerto Vallarta from Horseback

This excursion was definitely a highlight of our trip.

While vacationing with my family at the Iberostar Playa Mita, I was able to pre-arrange a horseback riding experience to Rancho Montalbena. We were picked up at our resort and whisked away to the ranch (which also offers zip ling and ATV tours). The guide gave very good instructions to everyone on how to control the horses.  We had beginners to advanced riders in our group, along with two guides (one in the front, one in the back) and also a professional photographer to capture all the perfect photo moments.

Thanks Felipe – Iberostar tour desk – for helping us set up this perfect excursion!

  

 

 

 

 

 

Honeymoon Hopping

The Hawaiian Islands, how do you pick the right one for your honeymoon? Easy, you don’t have to pick just 1 island, you can hop to multiple islands!! Each island offers something different and I am here to help you find the perfect fit. Let’s explore a few of the islands….

O’ahu

In so many ways, O’ahu is ideal for the first-time visitor to Hawaii. Within a fairly compact area there are many iconic activities and attractions associated with the Hawaiian Islands: Pearl Harbor, Waikiki beach, Diamond Head, pineapple fields, surfing beaches, just to name a few. O’ahu provides a unique town and country experience. The energy and excitement of this city is just a short drive from the true country experience or nature excursions and working ranches. O’ahu appeals to clients who are active and energetic in both body and mind. This area is rich in culture, arts, history and cuisine. (Don’t forget to try Spam- it is very popular in Hawaii!!!) You can take surfing lessons, paddle an outrigger canoe and if you travel north you can go horseback riding.

Maui

This island is ideal for travelers seeking variety and spontaneous adventure and offers countless experiences that reflect its diversity of landscape and culture. Get up early and bike down Haleakala Crater, the sunrise is amazing and you won’t be disappointed. Take a drive along the road to Hana—this is about a 50 mile drive, but it takes you about 2 1/2 hours and the views are amazing! You have to share the road with fellow travelers so make sure one of you keeps their eyes on the road! Whale watching is a popular excursion on this island and if you go between mid-November to mid-May there are amazing opportunities to see the humpback whales. If  you visit during the summer months the whales will be up in Alaska so keep this in mind if whale watching is on your list.

Kauai

If you have not been to Hawaii before I’m certain that the Hawaii you envision looks and feels like Kauai. This island personifies the ideal of tropical paradise and countless movies and TV shows have been filmed here. On Kauai you will find white sand beaches, lush rain forests and groves of coconut palms. If you are seeking the ultimate romantic destination, whether it’s for a wedding, vow renewal or honeymoon, or are seeking a respite from your busy, over-scheduled life then Kauai is the island for you. For the more adventurous  you can hike through Waimea Canyon, kayak down one of the many rivers, zip line over a rain forest or explore the Napali Coast on a Zodiac raft.

Hawaii Island

Better known as the Big Island- This island offers just about every type of landscape associated with Hawaii. On the Kona-Kohala coast you will find black lava fields spreading out below as your plane lands.  Surely you don’t think of this when you think Hawaii. You will also find snow, yes snow, on this island in the mountains of Maunakea and Maunaloa. Typically when clients first visit this island they will visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, with a stop at the Kilauea Visitors Center and Thomas A Jagger Museum, and then ending with a drive along Chain of Craters Road. Taking a helicopter ride over the Big Island would be a great way for you to see the contrasting landscape, fiery lava flows, volcanic steam, lush rainforest, rock lava plans, black and white sand beaches and stunning valleys, waterfalls and coastlines only visible by air.

When you are ready to honeymoon island hop let me know!

Don’t Miss the Grand Marnier Slush at Epcot

Disney Recipe: Grand Marnier Slush from France Kiosk in Epcot

One of my favorite things at Walt Disney World is the Grand Marnier Slush from the France kiosk in Epcot. This is one tasty treat you won’t want to miss … if you are of age. Please be careful though is this is one of those drinks where the booze is hard to detect and it’s VERY delicious.

You can make this at home too. Here is the recipe for you …

Ingredients

  • 1 part Grey Goose Vodka
  • 1 part Grand Marnier
  • 1 part simple syrup
  • 2 parts Quickway sweet and sour mix
  • Ice

Directions

1.) Mix all ingredients in a blender until completely smooth. You can be a little more lenient with some of the alcohol to get it to your liking.

2.) To get the orange coloring such as seen at Epcot, simply add orange food coloring to the blend.

Now indulge!

On the lighter side….Disney’s Ohana Honey Lime Salad Dressing

I absolutely love trying new salads and new salad dressings.  It’s amazing what a difference in the taste of a leafy salad, when you change up the dressing!!!  I’m sharing my favorite Disney salad dressing here today!  I first experienced this at Ohana – located at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort at Walt Disney World in Florida.  A quick monorail ride from the Magic Kingdom, this restaurant is top on my list and well worth the stop!

Honey Lime Dressing

Ingredients

1/2 C honey
1 tsp dry mustard
1 tsp salt
1/2 C cider vinegar
1/4 C lime juice
1/4 C diced onion
1 C canola oil

Method:

Place all ingredients except oil in food processor and blend until smooth. Slowly add oil until it is well incorporated into the dressing. Makes 2 Cups.