A Day at the Sydney Fish Market

On the flight we talked to some of the locals about what to do while we were in Sydney who told us to go check out the Fish Market early in the morning! At first we laughed because we didn’t think we’d want to get up that early. When we woke up that first morning at 5:00 am we figured, “let’s do it!”

We had no idea what to expect, but it was kind of amazing. Any kind of seafood imaginable, it was there. Prawns and shrimp of all sizes, crab, squid, octopus (even baby ones!), lobster, oysters, snapper, cod – really everything. It was more than just fresh fish, there were café’s there stocked daily serving up food for the customers and workers.

Seafood wasn’t the only thing there was a ton of… The pelicans were EVERYWHERE, waiting around for the moment they could get some scraps. They’re friendly, but they really just want your food!

Disney Dream Wedding

Who hasn’t dreamed of being transformed into a princess on their wedding day? What if you could make that a reality, complete with a horse drawn carriage? And why not end the night with a fireworks display fit for royalty? You can make this vision come true with a Disney wedding!

I can’t think of anything more romantic or magical than spending the days leading up to your wedding (and after the big day) in luxurious accommodations, savoring uniquely themed dining experiences, indulging in divine spa treatments, and enjoying premium entertainment.

All of your Disney wedding details will be carefully crafted by myself and the dedicated Disney wedding team. Choose from assortment of wedding venues such as a gazebo drenched in flowers, a lakefront waterscape, or Cinderella’s castle at Magic Kingdom.

Flowers, photography, champagne toasts, and private receptions are just a few of the enhancements I will help you arrange.

In addition to your wedding plans, I will also take the stress off of your shoulders by making your stay on property a memorable and enjoyable experience. I will manage everything from creating your My Disney Experience account, ordering your personalized Magic Bands, making dining reservations, and reservations your Fast Passes!

Let me help you plan your royal wedding that’s sure to be an event your guests will be talking about for years!

Haven by Norwegian Cruise Line

The Haven by Norwegian Cruise Line offers guests a private world of luxury at sea. Every suite and villa provides guests with the finest amenities, and the expert services of our concierge and 24-hour butlers. Step outside your residence and you’ll enter a secluded Courtyard where you can spend your sea days relaxing, dining and enjoying exquisite privacy. We call it The Haven by Norwegian. You’ll call it pure paradise.

Available on Norwegian Bliss, Norwegian Breakaway, Norwegian Epic, Norwegian Gem, Norwegian Getaway, Norwegian Jade, Norwegian Jewel and Norwegian Pearl.

Touring the Taronga Zoo!

After the long, long flight to Sydney, we knew we were going to be exhausted, but we couldn’t let that get in our way so we dropped off our bags and got as far away from the hotel as possible! We decided to head to The Taronga Zoo for a behind-the-scenes tour of the Australian animals habitat.

 The zoo is easy enough to get to; it’s just a short ferry ride form Circular Key. No planning needed – you can buy your tickets right at the ferry!

Once the ferry ride was over it really hit us… WE’RE HALFWAY AROUND THE WORLD! That feeling is indescribable.

Touring the Taronga

When we got to the zoo, we rode the gondola lift – The Sky Safari! – up to the top. Since we had time before our tour started, we walked around a bit. It was just my aunt and me. It was nice to be able to explore the place just the two of us.

We were there during Vivid Sydney, an annual city-wide three-week celebration of lights, music and ideas. In celebration of Vivid, the zoo had a great display of giant animal light sculptures. It was fun to see the display before we got to the real animals!

A Different Kind of Zoo

We went straight for the wallabies. Wallabies look a lot like kangaroos, but they are a lot smaller. We got to feed them, and I even got close enough to try and take a selfie with one, because I couldn’t pass up that opportunity!

Guess what was next on the list! If you guessed koalas, you are correct! You’re not allowed to hold the koalas – in Queensland you can hold the koalas – but you are still able to get up close and personal. They were just hanging out in the trees, which didn’t look so comfortable to me, but must have been to them. We were even able to see some of the babies coming out of their pouches! And of course, I got a selfie.

After that, we went to see some smaller animals. First, the echidna – a flying squirrel – and then the bilbies – rabbit bandicoot. Then on to the kangaroos.

And, I couldn’t possibly forget about the Tasmanian devil! On our way out, we saw the giraffes. We even got to see the baby!

It was a great experience, and a great day at the zoo. The Taronga is a must do when visiting Sydney!

Conquering Fears and Great Heights in Sydney!

Climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge was one of the most exhilarating and rewarding experiences I have ever had!

I’ve wanted to climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge since my very first trip to Australia in 2013, so I wasn’t going to let my fear of heights stop me when I returned this year!

I got to check the bridge climb off my bucket list with a beautiful twilight climb to the top! I would highly recommend the twilight tour over a daytime tour. We started off the trek in daylight, as we reached the top we got to watch the sun set and watch the city lights begin to come alive.

Facing Fears

Before the climb, we got all suited up, and latched onto the steel safety beam, and then we were off! The feat starts with four sets of stairs, and only one person can ascend each set at once. It was a little unsettling being alone on the stairs, but I felt comforted knowing that my aunt was not too far behind me with another guide.

I was in full panic attack mode by the time I got to the second set of stairs, but I knew I had to do this; I had to keep going. I needed to conquer my fears and prove to myself that I could do it.

As if the heights weren’t bad enough, the steps are tiny and steep as can be! Each set of stairs brings you closer and closer to the open air of the top of the bridge. By the time you get through all four and are on the final ascent, you can look down directly into the Harbour.

Although I was white knuckled up the last three sets of stairs, I did it! I got to the top of the stairs and started off on the nice gradual climb to the very top. As we climbed, the guide pointed out many different landmarks down below, and we stopped to take some pictures. I managed to have the exact same look on my face for every picture.

What Goes Up…

We made it to the top and watched the sunset. That’s when I realized… We still have to take the stairs back down. There we were at the top of the stairs, and to get back down I had to turn myself around and go backwards down the stairs! I was crying before I even made it down the first set of steps.

It was getting dark by this time. We had lights, but we also had sunglasses, so most of my light was blocked. I had to stop after the first two sets of stairs to compose myself. My aunt caught up to me here to make sure I was doing okay. I told her yes. Even though I was mid-panic attack, I had to do it. At this point, I really had no choice.

The guide behind me started yelling encouragements and telling me I was almost done, and I was getting the same encouragement from my aunt. It was really what I needed that on those last 2 sets of stairs!

I got to the bottom and breathed a sigh of relief – I did it! I was so happy; happy to be back down off the bridge, happy to have faced my fear, and happy to have done something incredible. Check! It was one of the best experiences of my life and I am so glad my aunt and I got to share it. I honestly can’t wait to do it again!

Explore Europe by River

Cruising the River

While River Cruising in Europe I found the view from the vessel aw inspiring. In the Fall the color of the leaves only enhance the beauty of the castles that adorn the shorelines along the Rhine River. One of the many beauty’s of Europe is that it is a perfect blend of the ancient and the modern. Enjoy the timeless beauty and grace of the Old World with European river cruises along the Rhine, the Main, the Danube, and the Seine rivers. Explore the rich culture of countries like Austria, Germany, France, and Switzerland. There are endless breathless sights like the windmills of Kinderdijik, verdant vineyards in France, and ancient castles in the Rhine Valley.

The River Cruise Experience 

River Cruising allows you the opportunity to dock in quaint villages and towns that are not accessible via large ocean ships. These vessels also do not cater to thousands of clients but to a much smaller clientele which makes getting on and off the ship a breeze. The meals served are three to five course meals paired with local wines and/or beers from the region you are exploring. Dining on board the ship is more intimate and the service and meals are impeccable. There are numerous River Cruise companies ranging from companies that have a few vessels to numerous vessels and itineraries to choose from including companies that include port excursions to luxury vessels.

Top 10 Things to Do/See in Sydney, Australia

Australia is a MUST!

If you do not have Australia on your list of places to travel I highly suggest that you add it on … and near the top.

Here are some of my personal favorites:

  1. Darling harbour. Lots of restaurant choices including the Hard Rock Café, Chinese Garden of Friendship, Wild Life Sydney Zoo, Sea Life Aquarium, A carousel, a Huge Ferris Wheel and the National Maritime Museum. There is also were you can pick up your Harbour cruises, Dinner cruises, Set Sail with America’s Cup or just take a Jet boat out on the Harbour.

      

  2. Sydney Tower Eye. Enjoy 360 views of the beautiful city of Sydney. While you are up there you can choose to do a SkyWalk. It is a 45 min guided tour outside at the top of the Eye.

      

  3. China Town. You need to make a stop at Paddy’s Market and do some Souvenir Shopping. After you’re done shopping stop at the 3 Wise Monkey bar for a drink and some food.

      

  4. Bridge Climb. I would highly suggest a twilight tour.

        

  5. Panorama City Tour. Takes you all through the city including a stop at Royal Botanical Gardens, Drive by the most expensive street in Sydney, Head over to Watson’s Bay and then a stop at Bondi Beach.

      

  6. Rocks District. While you are there have lunch at Sydney’s Oldest Pub

       

  7. Take a Ferry from Circular Key. You can go just about anywhere in Sydney including the Taronga Zoo.
         
  8. Harbour Bridge Pylon Lookout. Experience breathtaking views of the Harbour and if you don’t get a chance to do the Bridge Climb, this is the next best thing.

      

  9. Sydney Opera House. A must visit don’t forget to stop at the Opera Kitchen and have Chocolate and Salted Carmel tart with Hot chocolate (Best when traveling to Sydney in the winter).

      

  10. Relax and take in the city. It is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever visited and there is so much to see and do.

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.