Basilica di San Marco, Venice, Italy

Off the Beaten Path in Venice, Italy

Venice, Italy

Venice – Off the Beaten Path

Venice is known for its canals and romantic gondola rides.  It is a destination on everyone’s wish list with its artistic jewels and monumental architecture.  There are many highlights that every traveler in Venice cannot overlook.  San Marco Piazza is the largest and most important public square originally built in the ninth century.   The Basilica di San Marco, also known as the Golden Basilica, for its golden mosaics is within the Piazza and adjacent to the Doges Palace (“Palazzo Ducale”).  The Doges Palace is a masterpiece of Gothic architecture.  The interior comprises vast council chambers, delicately-decorated residential apartments with works by artists such as Titian and Veronese.Read more

Korean Barbecue

Creamy Potatoes with Vegan Barbecue

Creamy Potatoes with Vegan Barbecue

This meal was inspired by the wonderful Vegan Barbecue from the EPCOT Food & Wine Festival’s South Korea booth.

Korean Barbecue

The inspiration for this recipe


Creamy Potatoes

  • 6 Yukon gold potatoes (I used red potatoes)
  • ½ cup cashews (soaked)
  • 1 yellow onion (diced)
  • 2 cups peas
  • 1 can cannellini beans
  • Seasoning (oregano, garlic powder, etc).
  • Optional vegetables (carrots, cauliflower, celery, etc.)
Korean Barbecue

Ingredients to make the potatoes

Bring the potatoes to a boil in a large pot.  Once boiling, add the seasonings, onion and other vegetables, reduce heat and simmer covered for about 25 mins.  While boiling, take the cashews with soaking water and blend until smooth.  After the 25 mins, stir the cashew blend into the pot.   (*Drain any excess water prior to adding cashew blend).   Add the peas and beans and simmer for another 5 mins or so.

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Weekend Getaway: Anna Maria Island

WEEKEND GETAWAY: Anna Maria Island, FL

Weekend Getaway: Anna Maria Island

Anna Maria is a barrier island about seven miles in length located south of Tampa Bay and in Manatee County on the west coast of Florida.  It is an absolute treasure that is geographically stunning with gorgeous blue waters and sandy beaches accessible only by fabulous bridge crossings. This “Island in the Sun” was originally used for hunting and fishing by various Indian tribes and was not inhabited by permanent residents until the 1890s. Anna Maria preserves the feel of old Florida while still feeling fresh with charming restaurants, shops and entertainment. The island is broken up into the three cities of Bradenton Beach, Holmes Beach and Anna Maria City that each seamlessly blend together.

Pier at Bridge Street - Anna Maria Island

Pier at Bridge Street

Traveling Gals Tip:  Always check local events calendars to see what special events are going on in the area during your stay!

Anna Maria City is farthest north on the island.  The bay side has views of St. Petersburg and the striking Sunshine Skyway Bridge.   A highlight of Anna Maria City is Pine Avenue.  This street is lined with cute shops and restaurants and ends at the bay leading onto the City Pier.  This pier and the next pier over “The Rod and Reel” both have great restaurants.  These are also the piers where the locals fish.   It is great chatting with the amateur fisherman and grabbing a bite afterwards.   Plus you can’t beat the scenery!   The hidden gem of Anna Maria City is Bean Point.  Bean Point is the northernmost tip of the island where the Gulf of Mexico meets Tampa Bay.  It is nestled past the City Pier in a residential neighborhood.   Its entrance is a tree lined path between two residences and you can only park on the street.  It is a serene oasis and the perfect place to watch the sunset as the cruise ships go by on their way out to the Gulf.  You may have to ask directions, but it is worth it when you find it!

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Book Review: The Vacationers

The Vacationers By Emma Straub

The Vacationers is a novel about a family in crisis forced together on vacation in a rented house in Mallorca for 2 weeks.  Each person is at a crossroads and inadvertently work out their problems together in a witty and funny way.  Although set in gorgeous Mallorca, this book is far more than a beach read.

The Vacationers Book Review

The Post family has drama involving each generation and a couple friends to boot!  While they each have problems on their own, they also have lingering issues with each other that are masked at the beginning of the trip but trickle out the longer they are together.   The parents are embroiled in their own relationship problems.  The son is grappling with establishing himself in adulthood.  The daughter is newly graduated from high school and dealing with insecurities involved with the transition.  Close friends staying with them are having their own issues with adding to their family with kids or not.

Each character is relatable and the family dynamic is especially relatable.  Although a family may seem perfect on the outside, there are always setbacks, misunderstandings and dramas.   This family manages to get through all of them in a funny, interesting way.  The individual stories are very emotional, but the storytelling is charming and clever.

This book is hard to put down and engaging all the way to the end!

Interested in reading the book? Buy it here! The Vacationers by Emma Straub *

*This is an affiliate link. If you make a purchase through this we may receive a commission.

Or check out your local library!

Have you read any good travel books lately? Let us know in the comments!

The Traveling Gals

Food and Wine Fest

Disney On A Budget: Food and Wine Festival $25 Challenge

Savor the 2015 EPCOT Food and Wine Festival with only $25!!!!!

We are always trying to think of ways to save money for travel without skimping on the things we love. Kary decided to challenge herself and buy a $25 festival gift card and spend only that amount this Friday evening at the Food and Wine Festival.   While the tastings at each booth around the World Showcase are reasonable, they can add up quickly! It is always a challenge to pick the healthiest fare and spend the least amount of money.

$3.50     Festival Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles at Chew Lab

  • I wanted to try something at this new booth and the cabernet sauvignon is one of two wines created especially for the 20th anniversary of Food and Wine. At tastings over the last few years I have switched to mainly reds because there are so many to try! This one was very nice and not as heavy as some cabs. Paso Robles, California is defined mainly by cabernet varietals. The climate and growing conditions echo those of Bordeaux, France. Their cabernets are award winning and great addition to the Festival.

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Why You Should Try Afternoon Tea (At Least Once!)

We <3 Afternoon Tea!

By all accounts, in the 1800’s the 7th Duchess of Bedford, Anna was a prominent figure in London society and a close friend of Queen Victoria.  She complained of having that “sinking feeling” in late afternoon and wanted something small to tide her over until dinner.  From this, the Afternoon Tea tradition was born and has become the celebrated event it is today.

I have been enamored with Afternoon Tea Service for many years.   I have high regard for the tradition, appreciate the ritual and enjoy the luxurious surroundings that accompany a tea service.    It is an experience that is wonderful alone, but made even more special when being shared with the other gals.

We are from Chicago so have attended several tea services in the city.  The Four Seasons, Ritz Carlton, Drake and Peninsula are some of teas we have attended.  Although the Drake is the most iconic, the Peninsula is my favorite.  I revel in the strings playing in the balcony above and classy but contemporary feel of the the Lobby.  They have also added a vegan tea service in recent years that features many of my favorites so I can indulge with everyone else.  This is a real game-changer for me!

Traveling Gals Tip:  Afternoon Tea is a great addition to your traveling itinerary!  Try experiencing tea service in different countries and different hotels around the world.   You do not even have to like tea to enjoy  the experience!

Often when traveling we try to reserve an Afternoon Tea.  To name a few, we have had tea at the Ritz Carlton Boston Common, Fairmont Olympic Seattle, Opryland Nashville, Grand Floridian at Disney World, Hotel Don Cesare St. Petersburg and aboard the Queen Mary 2.   The tea room at the Grand Floridian is elegant and classy.  It is a welcome diversion from its casual surroundings.  Tea service at the Opryland was also wonderful.  It was stylish and surprisingly refined with a fun southern twist.  The service was great, but more friendly than formal.  Of course, tea on the Queen Mary 2 was formal and always accompanied by beautiful live music.  The service was exceptional.  We always tried to plan our daily activities around it so we would not miss this treat each afternoon.

I aspire to having tea all over the world.  The British have historically had such an influence on countries around the world so Afternoon Tea is global.  For now, my thirst for afternoon tea will have to be fulfilled at the Ritz Carlton Sarasota this winter!

Have you experienced Afternoon Tea before? Let us know in the comments!

The Traveling Gals


Afternoon Tea


A Scary Good Time at Halloween Horror Nights - The Traveling Gals

A Scary Good Time at Halloween Horror Nights

A Scary Good Time at Halloween Horror Nights - The Traveling Gals

Halloween brings out all the ghouls, goblins, horrors, and hauntings. None do it quite as well as Halloween Horror Nights (HHN) at Universal Studios Orlando. Considered one of the top Halloween events in the world, this event transforms the park into a seriously scary place with haunted houses, scare zones, and shows. This year being the event’s 25th anniversary, they did it up big which meant a scary good time for everyone attending.

Because we have premier passes to Universal Studios Orlando, one of the great perks is one admission into HHN on select days. We decided to go on a Sunday so that we could arrive to the park early and not have to wait in the long entrance lines when the event opens.

This year’s main attractions: (the one’s in bold we went through and will put our review after the description)

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Top 5 Spooky Scotland Experiences from Tots2Travel

Thank you to Tots2Travel for sharing this post with us! If you are interested in family travel, they have a wonderful blog! Here are some seriously spooky experiences in Scotland that you can enjoy with the kiddies.


Nowhere does Halloween like America but this year if your family is looking for history and atmosphere on All Hallow’s Eve then you should definitely let Scotland cast its spell. Here is Tots2Travel’s Top 5 spooky days out to frighten your little devils.

Picture 050

Courtesy of The Real Mary King’s Close

Mary King's Close1 EDINBURGH The Real Mary King’s Close – what’s underneath your feet in Edinburgh can make you shudder – Mary King’s Close is a seriously creepy subterranean warren of underground streets. A few hundred years ago this close was home to entire families therefore all age of visitor can relate to the tales unravelling before them. Many ghost-hunters have explored the streets to see if the area is haunted but most modern tourists are attracted to the social history experience on offer.

The worst version of the close’s story is that the streets were bricked up during an outbreak of the plague leaving the inhabitants to slowly perish. Discover the truth from costumed tour guides who uncover a slice of Edinburgh street life frozen in time since the 17th century.

Costumed Character Tour Guides

Courtesy of The Real Mary King’s Close

witch-949055_12802 AYRSHIRE – One of Scotland’s best loved hoot of a poem about witches, the devil and haunted graveyards is ‘Tam O’ Shanter’. Its liveliness engages kids with Scots literature, if you don’t mind the booze references. The poem tells the raucous tale of drunken Tam who walks home inebriated and spies witches having a fair old party accompanied on the bagpipes by the Devil in Kirk Alloway. When Tam’s spotted by the wildest witch, Cutty Sark, the coven makes chase but Tam escapes over Brig o’ Doon on his trusty mare Meg. The tale’s a whirlwind of witches, music, pub banter and devilment. By taking a trip to Ayrshire you can visit Kirk Alloway, the bridge Tam famously galloped over, the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum and the Tam O’ Shanter Inn.

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How To Decide Your Next Travel Destination

How To Decide Your Next Exciting Travel Destination!

Traveling the world is full of endless possibilities.  It is exciting to think you can go anywhere in the world.  The hard part is deciding where to go!  Planning your next trip requires many different considerations and options.  The following are some strategies to help you select your next journey.

How to Decide your Next Travel Destination

WHO will be traveling?  The choice of who to travel with is significant. Planning a trip with your family is different than planning an adults only or couples trip.

WHAT is your budget?  Spend some time carefully considering your bottom line budget for this trip (including dining, shopping and extraneous spending money).  This is a very important step.  It allows you to be realistic in choosing a destination and experience that is attainable.

WHEN are you able to get away?  The time of year is very important.  The weather is such a vital component in a successful trip.  Some destinations are accessible only during certain times of the year.    The southern hemisphere seasons are reversed from the northern hemisphere.  The cost is different depending on time of year, also.  The time you are available can open up possibilities you did not think were possible or preclude you from you thought were easily attainable.

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Book Review: Getting Genki in Japan by Karen Pond

Getting Genki in Japan: The Adventures & Misadventures of an American Family in Tokyo

By Karen Pond | Illustrations by Akiko Saito

Every time I visit Mitsukoshi at the Japan pavilion in EPCOT, I peruse the rather large book section.  I have read many interesting books from there and Getting Genki in Japan is no exception!

Getting Genki in Japan

A good book and a glass of wine.

GENKI = Energetic, Exciting, Full of Life

Getting Genki in Japan is a very clever and delightfully illustrated book about the adventures of an American family living in Tokyo.  Tokyo is a character in the book that is both difficult to deal with and amusingly charming at the same time.   Each chapter highlights the everyday struggle of moving to a foreign country and particularly one where the language and culture are so significantly different than America.  This family was very brave to dive right in and immerse themselves in a whole, new life.  It is both impressive and humorous reading the tales of getting through mundane situations in Japan and with children nonetheless!

I relish hearing about all the new and unfamiliar foods, words, customs and occurrences in Japan.  As a traveler, I appreciate touring but savor the little things you learn about day to day life of people living in other countries.  This book is a terrific, light-hearted read that highlights those exact aspects of life in Tokyo.

Traveling Gals Tip:  Reading fuels your passions and interests.  If you are feeling uninspired, grab a book and that should change quickly!

The sign of a good book to me is when after reading it I want to immediately hop on a plane and visit the destination.  Genki  definitely bolstered my determination to spend time in Japan.  I am ready to pack my bags and set out to the Land of the Rising Sun!

Interested in getting the book? Getting Genki in Japan *

*This is an affiliate link. If you make a purchase through this link we may receive a commission

Or check out your local library!

Do you have a favorite travel book? Let us know in the comments!

The Traveling Gals