Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year: The Year of the Monkey

Chinese New Year

February 8, 2016 – The Year of the Monkey

The Chinese animal zodiac is shengxiao in Chinese and means “born resembling”.  It is a repeating cycle of 12 years, with each year being represented by an animal and its corresponding attributes. There are many stories about how these animals came to fruition, but common belief is the animals simply represented dates on the calendar.  It is said the Jade Emperor created a race of animals and the first twelve to win the race would be chosen.  Prior to the race, the cat and rat were best friends.  The rat promised to awaken the cat so they could arrive at the race early.  The rat forgot and ran into the tiger, horse, ox and other animals that ran much faster.  So the rat offered to sing for the ox if the ox would carry him across the river.  The ox agreed assuming he would automatically win the race.  The rat slid of the ox at the end and ran ahead to become the first lucky winner of the race.  The other animals arrived and that is why they follow the rat on the zodiac calendar in the order of Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, Pig.  The cat overslept and was too late to participate and hated the rat from then on.  This is why every time they meet, the cat will chase the rat.

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Sailing to the Caribbean

Sail Away on a Caribbean Cruise

Sail Away to the Caribbean on a Cruise!

Every year our family goes on a Caribbean cruise out of Tampa with Royal Caribbean. It is a great way to relax and have fun in the warm tropical weather. This year’s cruise was 5 nights and stopped in Cozumel and Grand Cayman. It was especially nice because we left while Florida was having a bit of a cold spell, but the weather in the Caribbean was great.

We have been fortunate enough to go on a lot of cruises over the years and have become very loyal to Royal Caribbean due to their fantastic loyalty program, Crown & Anchor Society. You can read all about this program here.

The ship we were on this year was the Brilliance of the Seas. She is a medium sized ship that has great amenities and a fantastic crew. This is our favorite size ship to sail on.  Here is an overview of our 5 day cruise with our tips. We will also have a list of our best tips at the end!

Day 1: Tampa, FL

Brilliance of the Seas in Tampa, FL

We suggest that you head to the cruise terminal around 11am. If you go to early, the ship’s not ready and you have to wait. If you go later in the afternoon, that’s when most other people arrive so you also have to wait. Unfortunately boarding the ship usually requires waiting in a few lines, so be patient and prepared by eating a snack beforehand. Luckily we did not have to wait too long and headed straight to the buffet for lunch.

Check out our tips for first time cruisers.

We always like to take a tour of the ship to see where everything is and what’s going on. It’s good to know where the Guest Services is located, the dining room, and your room. Typically the rooms are not ready until around 1 or 2pm and your luggage should be in front of your door. If it’s not, don’t panic yet! It’s probably on it’s way. When the room is ready we like to unpack and freshen up a little before heading to the Sail Away Party on the Lido Deck!

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‘Real Food for Healthy People’ – A Great Resource for Healthy Eaters

Real Food for Healthy People by Carol D’Anca

One of our passions is healthy eating and we are lucky enough to have a close family friend who has written two great books on the importance of why we need to eat healthy. Carol D’Anca has found her passion in healthy eating and encouraging others to take the steps to plant-based nutrition. She has two advanced degrees in nutrition and has spent the past two decades helping others regain their health. Carol hosts an excellent cooking class called “The Academy” where she provides tips and hands-on cooking classes to show that eating plant-based can be fun and delicious. We have personally attended a few of her classes and they are wonderful! Carol also hosts small group trips to Italy that focus on the “Mediterranean Way of Life.”

Ravello, Italy

Ravello, Italy

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Rio Guadiana

Rios de Guadalquivir and Guadiana

Rios de Guadalquivir and Guadiana

Rio Guadalquivir

Rio Guadalquivir

Photo via

The Iberian river of Guadalquivir is the second largest in Spain.  The Guadalquivir is distinctive due to its plant and animal life being the most varied in Europe.  It begins in the national park of Cañada de las Fuentes from flowing streams cascading down the Cazorla mountain range.  It passes through Córdoba which was originally part of the Islamic Caliphate that comprised most of the Iberian Peninsula and a capital city of the Roman province.  This unique history provides an historic quarter anchored by the Mezquita, an Islamic mosque turned cathedral which serves as a reminder of the importance of Cordoba during medieval times.  It then flows through Sevilla which is the capital and largest city of the area known as Andalusia.  Sevilla also shares a Roman and Islamic history and its Cathedral is the burial place of Christopher Columbus.  The river ends at a small fishing village of Bonanza before emptying into the Atlantic Ocean via the Gulf of Cadiz.

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Stay On Track with Your New Year’s Resolutions

How to Stay on Track with New Year’s Resolutions!

How many of you are maintaining your New Year’s resolutions?  For most, by now good intentions have given way to bad habits.  Without a realistic plan and steps to achieve your goals, resolutions fall by the wayside.  Now that the fun of the holidays have passed and everyone is back into their regular routine, it is a good time to review your resolutions and create a solid plan to achieve those objectives.

Stay on track with your New Year's Resolutions - The Traveling Gals

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Panama City: More Than the Canal? - The Traveling Gals

Panama City: More Than the Canal

Is there more to Panama City than the remarkable Canal?

The capital of Panama, Panama City is a modern, vibrant city juxtaposed by a cobblestone center and flanked by shantytowns leading to the Panama Canal.   It is a splendid mix of the old and the new.  Panama was founded by the Spanish in the early 1500’s.  It was under Spanish rule until 1821 when it gained independence from Spain and joined with Colombia.  Independence from Colombia came in 1903 and Panama City was established as the capital of the independent Panama.  The USA handed over control of the Panama Canal in 2000 giving Panama control over one of the world’s most important trade routes.

Casco Viejo is the old quarter of Panama City and was the first European city built on the Pacific Coast of the Americas.   After decades of decline, Panama City received an influx of revitalization after the US dethroned Panama’s dictator, Manuel Noriega in 1989.  It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997 in recognition of the extensive restoration and preservation of historical structures.    The Plaza de la Independencia is the main plaza where on Sundays the men used to promenade in one direction and the women in the other direction in a distinctive form of courtship.    There are many churches, municipal buildings and a museum.  Cobbled streets and wrought iron balconies give a true feeling of going back in time.  Although a small section of the city, it is absolutely worth the time to explore.

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Lunch in Paris and Picnic in Provence by Elizabeth Bard: Book Reviews

Which do you prefer…Lunch in Paris or a Picnic in Provence?

Lunch in Paris, A Love Story with Recipes

Picnic in Provence, A Memoir with Recipes

By Elizabeth Bard

Elizabeth Bard is an American journalist who moved to Paris, fell in love and settled in Provence.   She was raised in New Jersey and New York City.   Both of her memoirs received much critical acclaim and commercial success.

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New Year's Russia

New Year Celebrations Around the World

Happy New Year from The Traveling Gals!

Celebrate this year with a new tradition from around the world!

Austria – Austrian revelers burn mortars which is believed to ward off all the evil spirits and negative energies of the past, and ensure everything pleasant and positive for the coming time of the New Year.

Denmark – Danish New Year’s celebrations are raucous.  It is their tradition to save up old dishes and plates all year in order to hurl them at the doors of family and friends. The shattered glassware left littering a person’s front door represents how beloved they are, depending on how many well-wishers turned out to destroy plates in the name of friendship.

New Year's in Ecuador


Ecuador – Ecuadorians start the New Year literally on fire.  Each New Year’s Eve, life-sized or miniature models of public figures, celebrities or fictional characters that are believed to be “sinners” are set on fire at midnight. This is meant to banish the evil of the previous year and clear the air for the New Year.

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Christmas at Disney World

Christmas at Disney World [Updated For 2017]

Celebrating Christmas at Disney World

Our family has spent Christmas at Disney World for many years. It is our favorite place to spend the holidays. We love all the decorations, music, and holiday events throughout the World. Although we are sad that our beloved Osborne Light show is gone, there are still some wonderful things to do. Because our family is small, we enjoy being able to go out of town to celebrate Christmas at the most magical place on Earth. When we lived in Chicago, we would exchange gifts and have our big Christmas dinner a few days early before escaping the cold weather and heading down to Orlando. Now that we live only a couple hours from Orlando, it is easier than ever for us to hop in the car and celebrate Christmas at Disney World.

Christmas at Disney World - Magic Kingdom

  • Magic Kingdom

Of course there is nowhere more magical then the Magic Kingdom. (Or more crowded.) The decorations here are so beautiful and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is probably the most fun event. It is also a great way to enjoy the park with less of the crowds.


At EPCOT there is the Holidays Around the World (which has basically become Food & Wine Festival Part 2). This is a fun way to learn about holiday traditions in other countries around the World Showcase. You can also try different seasonal food and drink favorites. The Candlelight Processional is a beautiful retelling of the story of Christmas with celebrity narrators and a 50-piece orchestra. You also can’t miss Illuminations which has an added holiday presentation that is breathtaking.

  • Hollywood Studios

While we are very disappointed that the Osborne Lights are no longer at Hollywood Studios, they have sort of made up for it with the decorations, the new event this year called Sunset Seasons Greetings and Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! We still really miss the magical feeling of the Osborne Lights.

  • Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom doesn’t have any specific holiday celebrations, but we love the decorations! Also check out the decorations at Animal Kingdom Lodge!

  • Disney Springs

Now that everything is open at Disney Springs (and we love it! Check out our review of the Town Center) they have really brought the Christmas magic. You can also meet Santa, sing Christmas carols, and more. Oh, this is also where you can SHOP! And there is even stuff on sale! Our new favorite store is definitely Uniqlo.


What are your holiday traditions? Have you ever spent Christmas at Disney World? We would love to hear about it in the comments!

The Traveling Gals




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Celebrate Christmas at Disney World!