Sailing to the Caribbean
Cruising

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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New Year's Russia
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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

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
Disney

Christmas at Disney World

Updated November 10, 2018

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 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, parade, and fireworks are definitely worth seeing. Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party really is worth the money, as well. It is such a fun event and a way to experience Magic Kingdom with a little less crowds.

  • EPCOT

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. Sunset Seasons Greetings transforms Sunset Boulevard Hollywood Studios Tower of Terror into a very festive area. Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! is a definitely a must-see. New this year (2018) is holiday decorations in Toy Story Land. We still really miss the magical feeling of the Osborne Lights.

  • Animal Kingdom

New this year (2018) is UP! A Great Bird Adventure Show featuring Russell and Dug that will have a special Diwali celebration from November 8th to January 1st.

  • Disney Springs

Meet Santa Claus, explore the 27 different trees along the Christmas Tree Trail and more at Disney Springs.

Another thing you must do is go hotel hopping! The resorts all get beautifully decorated and there are some fantastic Christmas trees to see. We love Grand Floridian, Contemporary Resort, Yacht & Beach Club, and the Boardwalk. The Swan & Dolphin also has a lot of fun holiday activities. Another fan favorite is Fort Wilderness Campgrounds. The guests here go all out with decorating and it is definitely worth a stroll through to see.

Merry Christmas & Happy Holiday!

Do you enjoy spending the holidays at Disney World? 

The Traveling Gals

 

 

 

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USA Travel

WEEKEND GETAWAY: Universal Studios Orlando

Weekend Getaway: Universal Studios Orlando [UPDATED FOR 2017!]

Of course we are unashamed big fans of Disney World. It is our favorite place to go, and we just love love love it. There is another theme park in Orlando that we also love, and that is Universal Studios. On some websites we have found that many Disney fans hate Universal and think Disney is far superior. While we think Disney exceeds Universal in certain aspects, we think it is a little ridiculous to say one is better than the other. They are different and we absolutely think you should spend a few days at Universal when you are in Orlando. Especially with all the exciting new things happening there!

Halloween Horror Nights 2016

First things first, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter absolutely exceeded any expectations we had. We thought Hogsmeade was amazing, and then were actually blown away by Diagon Alley and the Hogwarts Express. You feel like you have just walked into the movie. There are massive rumors swirling that Universal will be announcing a third Harry Potter section this summer. (Our vote is for The Ministry of Magic!) If you don’t really care about seeing Universal, we still think visiting the Harry Potter areas is worth it.

TIP: If you want to ride the Hogwarts Express, you have to buy a park-to-park pass.

Hogsmeade is obviously home to Hogwarts and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. This is one of the most unique rides we have ever been on. If you get even slightly motion sick though, you may want to skip this one. You should still go through the queue thought because you never know what magical surprises you might find.

Hogwarts Castle - Universal Studios Islands of Adventure

So you can either start at Islands of Adventures or Universal Studios. Islands of Adventure usually closes earlier, so we suggest starting there. First you will go through the Port of Entry. While most people run right by this, there are actually a lot of neat details in this area. IOA is basically a big circle, so you can choose to go either right or left. If you go to the right you will hit Suess Landing, The Lost Continent, Hogsmeade, Jurassic Park, Skull Island, Toon Lagoon, and Marvel Super Hero Island. Each of these “islands” are a lot of fun to walk around. If you are here around the holiday season, Suess Landing celebrates “Grinchmas” with great decorations and special events.

TIP: Mythos is consistently voted one of the best theme park restaurants in the world. Even if you don’t want to have a sit down meal, peek your head inside to see the impressive theming. If you are looking for healthier fare, this is the place to be.

Weekend Getaway: Universal Orlando Islands of Adventure

Our favorites: Spider Man, Jurassic Park River Adventure, Harry Potter & the Forbidden Journey.

Things to Skip: Reign of Kong Skull Island was disappointing. The building and the queue were the best part of the ride. It was way too short and utilized the same screen and simulator technology as many of the other rides. If there’s no line, check it out but we wouldn’t wait in line for this one. Dudley Do Right’s Ripsaw Falls is fun, but you will literally be soaked head to toe no matter where you sit.

You can then either walk over to Universal Studios Florida or take the Hogwarts Express.

TIP: Take the Hogwarts Express in both directions. Just do it.

Weekend Getaway: Universal Studios Florida - Diagon Alley

Universal Studios Florida seeks to put you in the middle of all the moviemaking magic. While we think it misses the mark a little as far as theming goes, it still has lots of neat details to see and fun rides and shows. This is also where there are special events throughout the year, like Mardi Gras and Halloween Horror Nights.

Our favorites: Revenge of The Mummy, Harry Potter and the Escape From Gringotts, Despicable Me, Transformers The Ride, Horror Make-Up Show.

Things to Skip: Hollywood Rip Ride Rock-it was so shaky and choppy. It was the opposite of a smooth ride, and while it is fun to choose your own music, it was not worth the headache. Also, while Springfield is super cute and fun to walk around, The Simpson’s Ride is also very shaky and uncomfortable. It probably needs a technology update. We do suggest grabbing a drink at Moe’s!

If you still have some energy left, City Walk is quite fun to walk around, shop, eat, and drink. Our favorite is the dueling pianos bar, Pat O’Brien’s!

Universal Orlando City Walk

There are five on-site hotels at a variety of price points. The hotels all offer either bus or water taxi service to the parks. When you stay on-site you get early access to the parks as well, which is a nice perk.

NEW: Volcano Bay, the “water theme park” opens May 25th. Race Through New York With Jimmy Fallon is now open. The Fast & The Furious Ride is set to open in 2018.

So now we want to hear what you think of Universal! What are your favorite things to do and things to skip? Have you eaten at any of the restaurants at Universal or stayed at any of the hotels? What did you think? Let us know here or on Facebook.

The Traveling Gals

 

 

 

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Be Prepared with Healthy Snacks while Traveling - The Traveling Gals
Healthy Living

Be Prepared with Healthy Snacks While Traveling

 

How Do You Snack Healthy While Traveling?

BY BEING PREPARED!

The easiest way to make bad nutritional decisions while on the road is by not being prepared and giving into temptation by the airport or gas station snack options.  This applies to a day trip or a month long journey.  Vacation is a good time to splurge, but only in moderation and only when it is really worth it.

Traveling Gals Tip:  Prepare snacks in advance of any trip.  It may take extra time beforehand, but is well worth the effort!

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Weekend Getaway: Anna Maria Island
USA Travel

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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Travel Tips

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

 

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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.

halloween-959049_1280

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.

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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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Beach - The Traveling Gals
World Travel

5 Ways to Fight the Post-Vacation Blues

Tips for Fighting the Post-Vacation Blues

You get home from the airport. It feels so great to use your own bathroom and sleep in your own bed. You head back to work, get back into your routine, and all of a sudden it feels like you never even went anywhere.

Anyone who has been on a trip, particularly a long trip, knows this feeling. It is kind of strange when you are sitting work thinking, ‘Wow last week at this time I was snorkeling/hiking/lounging next to the pool drinking a Mai Tai.’

Beach - The Traveling Gals

Would rather be here.

While this may seem like a ridiculous problem to have, post-vacation blues (or post-vacation depression) is actually considered a real psychological thing that people experience.

Here are some tips that we use to try to not get so dang depressed after coming back from a trip.

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