When we were discussing our plans for April, we decided that since the BF had two days off for Easter, we could go somewhere and explore. Since his dad lives in Washington D.C., and it was relatively cheap for the both of us to get there (Amtrak for the win!), it made the perfect spot. The last time I had visited D.C., I was probably about eight years old, so I was excited to go back as an adult.
On our first day, we took the Metro over to the National Mall and walked around. I am absolutely obsessed with this gorgeous fountain that is right smack in the middle of the Mall. X tells me that they turn it into an ice skating rink during the winter months.
We then headed over to The Smithsonian Institute – National Museum of Natural History, which is completely free to enter. There are donation boxes all over the museum and you should probably drop something in if you can! Here you will find the elephant from the Night at the Museum movie! I think my favorite was either the Mammal Hall or the Ocean Hall.
After that, we made our way over to the National Air and Space Museum. On the way, you can get a nice snapshot of the United States Capitol as well as the Washington Monument.
The National Air and Space Museum has the world’s largest collection of historic aircraft and spacecraft, which is pretty neat and interesting to look at.
On our second day, we drove over to the United States National Arboretum, which features over 446 acres of trees, scrubs, plants, and flowers. It was a really nice day so we took a very leisurely walk around the grounds. We had visited during Azalea blooming, which was beautiful to see. There is also a very extensive Bonsai Exhibit in the museum – many of them are over a 100 years old.
On our third day, we drove to Virginia to visit the Luray Caverns, which is an underground cavern system with hundreds of stalactites, stalagmites, and columns. The entire trek is about 1.5 miles long and takes about an hour to finish. My favorite part was the Dream Lake which has a mirror-like appearance. The stalactites are reflected in the water, making them look like stalagmites. The water is only about 20 inches deep, but the reflection makes it look a lot deeper.
I didn’t end up taking any food photos – I know, how dare I?! But here are some amazing restaurants that I highly recommend –
I’ve been very fortunate to get to travel for work a few times a year. Most recently, I was in Austin, Texas for 4 days and got to explore the city a little bit in between work.
On my first night, I had a lovely dinner at Dai Due, a butcher shop themed restaurant that’s a little bit away from the main downtown area. The combination sounded a bit weird, but their Chicken Liver Mousse with Pickled Green Strawberries, Macerated Strawberries, and Grilled Buttermilk Bread was phenomenal! The creamy liver mousse contrasted very nicely with the tart/sourness of the pickled green strawberries and the sweetness of the macerated strawberries. I think this was my favorite meal of the entire trip.
On the morning of my first full day in Austin, I made the walk over to the State Capitol building just a little after sunrise. The building was quite beautiful in the early morning light and I had a lovely walk around the grounds. The inside of the building was just as impressive. They open every day at 7am and offer free tours as well for visitors.
My first official Austin lunch was at Iron Works BBQ, where I had some amazing brisket that just melts in your mouth. I know it’s not one of the famous BBQ spots where people line up for hours, but it was pretty darn good!
We also made the trek out to the South Congress Bridge to try to catch the bats leaving the bridge for the night. Our hotel gave us the tip of arriving by 7:30pm and going across the bridge to a small grassy area just under the bridge. This was a great idea as we had a great view of the bats coming out. You have to wait about 15-20 minutes after the sun has officially started setting. Then a few bats will come out first, to scope out the situation, and then go back in. Then, if they’re going to come out, they start flying out like confetti being shot out of a confetti machine. It’s truly an incredible sight!
I had a great time in Austin and had some truly amazing food. I can’t rave enough about the meals that I had in Austin – everything was so good! I would love to go back one day to explore some more.
Technically, we didn’t stay in LV for Day 5 and only spent half of Day 6 there. Still, since it was where we started off and ended, I’ll label it like so!
X and I woke up early to pick up the rental car from the airport and then drove back to pick up S and M. We ended up with a slow start since there was a hot choco issue in the car. Our first stop was Boulder City to pick up some sandwiches for lunch and to have breakfast at World Famous Coffee Cup, which S found online.
They were featured on Diners, Dives, and Drive-Thru’s so we wanted to try it. I made my own omelet with mushrooms, cheese, and avocado. Every omelet comes with a side of toast and your choice of fruit, hash browns, or home fries. I, in an attempt to be healthier, went with fruit. End result? I couldn’t finish all of it! The waitresses were all super nice and I really enjoyed our breakfast.
After breakfast, we made our way to the Hoover Dam. We arrived around 11:30am and brought tickets for the 12:00pm tour. We paid $30 for all three parts of the Dam – the dam tour, the plant tour, and the Visitor’s Center. You start off with a short video explaining the building of the Hoover Dam. Then you’re separated depending on the tour you’re going on. If you do the whole tour package, you’re first taken on a plant tour and then switched to another tour guide to do the dam tour.
Both of our tour guides were nice, informative, and very professional. It does get a bit cramped in the dam part of the tour so if you’re prone to claustrophobia, you might want to reconsider doing that portion of the tour. It is really quite amazing that they were able to build the Hoover Dam in such a short time and without the same machinery that we have now. It’s definitely worth a visit – whether or not you’re a history buff or an architecture buff.
Expect to spend about 2-3 hours and plan accordingly. I think we definitely didn’t plan enough time and ended up staying later than we thought we would.
After the Hoover Dam, we swapped drivers for the drive to the Grand Canyon South Rim. M drove and S navigated while X and I took a nap. We swapped again a few hours later, so I got to experience riding shotgun while driving in the dark with no roadside lamps. I don’t think I’ve ever done this before, so it was a new experience! We arrived at about 6pm at the Maswik Lodge, our home for the night.
The plan was to get some sleep and wake up at 6am to catch the sunrise at the South Rim. End result – we got up at 6am to a floor full of snow!
In retrospect, it was probably not a good idea to have a ton of drinks, get back to the hotel at 12am, and then have to wake up at 4am to make a sunrise hot air balloon. Despite the fact that we complained the entire time, I think we all agreed at the end that it was well worth it.
We had brought Groupons with Vegas Balloon Rides and opted to do a sunrise ride instead of a midday ride. For those skeptical about buying a Groupon for this, don’t be! Redemption was super easy and everyone in the crew was super nice. You make your reservation and call the night before to confirm if the flight is going as scheduled. We had to meet at their office by 5:45am, which was a bit hard!
Once everyone has assembled, they drive you out to a lot where they blow up the balloon and then you’re off! Our pilot told us that this was their first flight in 15 days, so we felt very lucky indeed. We managed to get over the canyons, which was beautiful. It was a bit scary being up so high, but the view and the experience itself was so worth it!
We ended our ride with champagne with the crew (none of them actually had any) and they even drove us back to our Strip hotel. We asked to be dropped off at the Cosmopolitan since we were planning to grab breakfast and then naps.
Breakfast was at Eggslut, which was recommended by a friend who had it in Los Angeles. Eggslut is a pretty popular new breakfast spot that specializes in egg dishes for breakfast.
I split the Fairfax Sandwich (cage-free soft scrambled eggs, cheddar cheese, and sriracha mayo in a warm brioche bun) and the Slut (cage-free coddled egg on top of a smooth potato puree, poached in a glass jar and topped with gray salt). To be honest, both were super delicious in their own way. It’s really hard to decide which one was better!
The soft scrambled eggs in the Fairfax Sandwich were really soft and gooey – really hit the spot. But the Slut was also really good – the potato and egg mixed together very well and tasted great both on the toasted baguette and by itself.
Our second day in Vegas began with a late brunch at the Wicked Spoon in the Cosmopolitan. The Wicked Spoon is one of the highest rated buffets on Yelp and TripAdvisor, so we knew we had to go during our week in Vegas. The buffet isn’t as big as say the Bellagio or Caesar’s Palace, but I definitely think the food is better.
I particularly like that a lot of the dishes are in small pots or pans – this really helps me portion control while eating!
We ended the day with Cirque du Soleil’s Beatles LOVE, which was an amazing show. I highly recommend it – especially if you’re a Beatles fan. X is and he absolutely loved it.
Our third day in Vegas started off bright and early at the Neon Museum, which is about a 15 minute car ride off the Strip. We had booked their first tour of the day since we also wanted to hit the Mob Museum and Fremont Street Experience that day.
The Neon Museum was really interesting and our tour guide, Beth, was informative, funny, and charismatic. I think we all enjoyed the tour very much. It was really nice seeing all the old neon signs and learn about neon. I had no idea how neon was made before this, but Beth really passed on a lot of info during the tour.
Our night ended at the Laundry Room after a fantastic Happy Hour at Park on Fremont (4pm – 7pm daily with discounted appetizers and cheap drinks). The Laundry Room was exactly what we needed and was a solid highlight of our trip. The Laundry Room is a speakeasy, so you have to text to make reservations ahead of time. The waitress will then let you in and explain their menu. They have a set menu of drinks, but their mixologist could also come tailor a drink to your tastes. I tried both options and loved both. Hands down, some of the best drinks I’ve ever had I my life.
Back in December, a few friends and I suddenly decided an impromptu trip to Las Vegas was going to happen in January. We started planning in the beginning of December. Or well, S and I planned. The boys, X and M, decided to leave most of the planning to us. We all decided a week would be a good amount of time to explore Las Vegas and allow for mid-week trip to the Grand Canyon (more on this later). Since X and I were flying from the East Coast, we both flew in the night before.
So technically, my first day in Las Vegas was a Friday night – but by the time I had landed, the day might as well have been over! So, I’m starting with our first official day, which was a Saturday, or AKA the day that S and M arrived.
After settling in, we headed over to Bruxie for a late breakfast that wasn’t quiet brunch. Bruxie, located near the NYNY, serves chicken and waffles. After much contemplation, I opted for their Buffalo Bleu Fried Chicken Waffle Sandwich, which features fried chicken coated in buffalo sauce and served with crisp vegetable slaw, bleu cheese crumbles, chives, and ranch dressing.
The chicken was very moist and tender on the inside and super crunchy on the outside. Surprisingly, the “structural integrity” (words that get thrown around when you travel with engineers) of the waffle was very strong. You can hold it up and eat it like a real sandwich without it falling apart!
Our plan for the day was exploring the Strip, which we did very efficiently. S and I had read online that you can’t walk the Strip in one day or you’ll be wrecked after walking through 2 hotels. These people were obviously not New Yorkers (or people who have lived in NYC, like X, S, and M have)!
We walked by the Paris hotel, which is pretty hard to miss with the neon hot air balloon and miniature Eiffel Tower. They have an Eiffel Tower Experience, where you can go to the top of the tower and get a gorgeous view of the Bellagio Fountains. We didn’t opt for it, but I’m sure the view is spectacular!
We also spent a fair amount of time at the Bellagio, checking out their Lunar New Year themed Conservatory and their gorgeous lobby ceiling. The highlight, however, is definitely their Fountains and the show. The Bellagio Fountain show comes on every half hour during the day and then every 15 minutes during the night. We saw the show a few times during the day and a few times during the night.
Cruising has always been one of my family’s favorite ways of vacationing. Cruises offer everything that one could possibly need on a vacation – quality restaurants, amazing nightly shows, a casino, a spa, and much more. You get to visit a variety of cities and countries and the best part is that all the traveling happens while you’re asleep! I quite like the fact that after a full day out in the port city, I can go back to the ship, have a nice dinner, maybe gamble a bit, and wake up the next morning to a completely different port.
However, not all cruises are the same and not all itineraries are perfect. Going on a cruise to the Caribbean or to Bermuda, for example, is completely different than going on a cruise to Europe or Asia. Recently, my family and I made the jump from our typical Caribbean/Bermuda/Bahamas cruises to an international cruise. At first, we were pretty overwhelmed with the choices. Which part of Europe did we want to go to? When should we go? Which port should we embark on? So many questions!
If you’re thinking about embarking on a European cruise but don’t quite know where to start – here’s a few (hopefully) useful steps to help you!
Step 1: Decide where in Europe you would like to visit. Read up on each part of Europe that cruise lines will follow and decide what interests you the most. One of the most useful resources I used was CruiseCritic.com
Western Mediterranean cruises typically stop in Barcelona in Spain, Italy, and the southern part of France. If you’re interested in arts, culture, café hopping, and boutique shopping, then the Western Mediterranean is for you! Visit the Vatican or Pompeii or go shopping in the leather markets of Florence.
Eastern Mediterranean cruises typically encompass Italy, Croatia, Greece, and sometimes Turkey. If ancient history, blue beaches, and beautiful villages are your thing, then definitely check out the Eastern Mediterranean.
A Baltic Sea cruise will take you to Scandinavia and Russia. For most Baltic Sea cruises, Stockholm, and Copenhagen are very popular ports of call – and most will also include Oslo, Helsinki, and St. Petersburg.
There are also Norwegian Fjord cruises as well as British Isles cruises that will bring you to England, Scotland, and London.
And of course, don’t forget the Canary Islands!
Step 2: Decide on which cruise line you want to use. Once you’ve decided where you want to go, figure out which cruise line is the best for your needs.
For most of the cruises above, the major, mainstream cruise lines will offer an itinerary that meets your requirements. Out of the most popular are Princess, Holland America, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Celebrity, Costa, and MSC. There are also a bunch of luxury lines like Regent Seven Seas, Oceania, Silversea, and Seabourn.
Take a look at the cruise ships themselves and what they offer. I always advise picking the itinerary first – because it’s better to have a good trip itinerary with a suboptimal room than a bad trip itinerary with a great balcony room. You’ll be spending too much time off the boat and around the boat to notice your stateroom!
Step 3: Decide on what to do in each port of call.
Each port of call will usually have an abundance of activities for you to do – some ports will have nearby cities that you can also visit if the port doesn’t entice you. Really get to know the port – and whether or not you want to stay in the port city or venture outside.
There are a bunch of free online resources – but there are also a ton of guidebooks available too. For my most recent Western Mediterranean cruise, we utilized Rick Steves’ Mediterranean Cruise Ports, which was the most helpful guide in the world. I also borrowed my cousin’s Fodor’s Italy guidebook to help me navigate the Italian ports of call.
Step 4: Decide on the specifics.
For most ports of call, after you’ve decided what you want to do, there’s the task of deciding how to do it. Cruise ships will offer you a variety of tours offered through them. There are pros and cons with this.
Pros: You’re guaranteed to make it back to the ship. If your tour misses the due-back time, the cruise will wait for you. You’ve already paid for the tour, you know you can trust people running it, and you can always bring up any complaints to your cruise line.
Cons: There is often an upsell involved since the cruise line is setting everything up for you. Most of the cruise tours are also large and impersonal so if you’re looking for a more intimate experience, it might not be for you.
For me, I found that booking a shared tour and then sharing it on your cruise’s Roll Call on CruiseCritic.com is a great way to get an intimate, personable experience while saving money by splitting the costs. It’s also a great way to meet new friends! We used Joe Banana Limo for Florence and Umberto at ItalyDriver.com for Naples and really had a great time on both tours.
Of course, there’s also DIY! I found that DIY-ing half of our ports really helped us save money and tailor the trip to our specific interests. Google Maps is a great tool for helping to navigate your way around new cities and of course, there are always guides both online and in print!
Step 5: And lastly, make sure you book all the necessary items and tickets.
We booked a pocket wifi for this trip because of how useful it was for me in Japan. We used Webspot, which is a French company but ships to all over Europe. It was super helpful whenever we wanted to DIY a port or simply check-in with our friends and family back home. It was also super helpful to use the Skype app to call our tour guide when we were running a bit behind in Rome.
It’s also important to book tickets in advance to major churches, museums, and tourist sites. For example, it saved us a lot of time pre-purchasing tickets to the Colosseum, Pompeii, and Sagrada Familia. The lines for tickets for those sites can take up hours during peak tourist season!