Three Nights In Colorado Springs

Recently we had the opportunity to explore Vail, Colorado as part of a business conference that was being hosted at the Four Season’s Vail resort. Everyone else opted to fly into Denver and head straight to Vail while we chose to take this time to drive so we could stop off in Colorado Springs. We also wanted to take a more scenic route, so this allowed us to be able to pull over whenever we wanted to take pictures or shop local.

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First of all, if you are on I40 making the trek to Colorado, do yourself a favor and stop at the Big Texan in Amarillo. It’s been on my bucket list for awhile now and although I did not want to partake in the steak eating challenge, I just wanted to see the legendary steak on ice and enjoy a smaller more manageable steak. I’m so glad I had on yoga pants, because everything on my plate was delicious. Plus, they have fudge and I just had to get a few pieces to go…and by to go I mean that we were only a mile out of the parking lot. Pulling into Colorado Springs kind of late, we got settled into our hotel and headed out for dinner since we knew we wanted to set out early on our hike at Garden of the Gods.

On our first full day in Colorado Springs, we rose early to check out our view and the sunrise was just beautiful. We got to Garden of the Gods early, so we were literally the second car in the parking lot. It amazed me that this beautiful park was only about a 7-minute drive from our hotel. The park is free and there are numerous hiking trails, some are even paved. We started out taking pictures from the viewing deck then grabbed a map and hit the trails. This backpack came in handy, it folds up nice in your suitcase and is light weight so it’s not cumbersome on a hike. So much wildlife was just right off the trails and if you are into photography like I am, you will get some amazing pictures of Pike’s Peak on these trails. If you have time, the park shows a great film in the main building and has some pretty cool souvenirs. We like to snag Christmas ornaments when we travel since we have a second tree in our house specifically for sentimental ornaments. More importantly, leave a small donation if you can.

Our next stop that day put us in the next town over called Manitou Springs. I loved this place and have been planning a stay here on our next trip through Colorado. After a five-mile hike, we were starving! I found Savelli’s Pizza on Trip Advisor and it did not disappoint! Check out our full review here. We then headed over to Cave of the Winds Mountain Park for our lantern tour. There are a couple of different tours they offer but we opted for this one. At first, I was a little anxious about going through the caves in the dark with nothing but a small lantern, but it wasn’t too bad once we got into the tour. You do go through some cramped spaces and it can be spooky at times, but it’s an experience you will talk about for months to come. When we got to our conference in Vail people were saying “you did what???” I will say on our next visit, I want to do the catapult swing that goes out over the canyon.

Our second full day we had originally planned on hiking the Manitou Incline, but it was closed for repairs, so we opted to head to the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. Again, we got there right when it opened, and crowds were light. This is a good point to mention that Colorado in October requires you to dress in layers. We were freezing that morning at the zoo but then the sun came out and it was gorgeous. At the zoo, you are immediately greeted by the giraffe exhibit. Buy some lettuce and take part in feeding them. It was so fun to be that up close. Just watch your hands, my husband turned his head to try and get my attention to come feed one and the lettuce was snatched from his hand. This zoo is well mapped and probably one of the best I’ve ever been to. Since it’s built into the side of a mountain, we decided to stop at the top at a small stand that offered beer, wine, and other beverages. The seats there offered amazing views.

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On the way to the zoo, you’ll pass by The Broadmoor. It’s been on my bucket list for awhile, but we opted to stay at a Hampton Inn this time since we could stay three night there for the price of one at The Broadmoor. However, I did want to at least visit. We talked to our bartender at the zoo (I know zoo and bartender are probably not used in the same sentence very often), and he recommended that we check out the Seven Falls restaurant called 1858. We made reservations and were encouraged to arrive early since you take a shuttle to the park. Once you get to the park, there is an entrance fee. If weather permits, take the walk to the restaurant along the paved path because the views are spectacular and its just a beautiful little walk to set the tone for your dinner. On our next visit we will probably do the hike around Seven Falls, then go to 1858 for lunch.

Overall, I thought the two jam packed days we were there were a blast and I found enough things to do that we could have stayed a week, and we are definitely planning a trip back with our son. If you love outdoor adventures, you could probably spend three weeks in Colorado and not get bored. Our third day, we set out on our scenic route to vail. Stay tuned for our post about that!

Caribbean Cruise Packing

Must Pack Items For A Caribbean Cruise

I’m sitting here preparing for an upcoming trip to Colorado and an Alaskan cruise and I’m starting to realize I’m a little out of my packing comfort zone for these two destinations.  The last ten years of trips have been to tropical paradises by way of an all-inclusive resorts or cruises.  Hopefully, after these trips I will be able to provide you with a must have list for colder weather destinations.  For now, here’s the things I can’t live without on a Caribbean cruise.

  • Two Bottles Of Sunscreen: Every cruise we’ve been on I just stick one can in my beach/deck bag and one in my husband’s backpack because inevitably we will only take one or the other’s bag and the sunscreen is conveniently left behind in the wrong bag. This last cruise we just did two bottles to make sure we always had one on hand.
  • Camera Battery Charger: I’m old fashioned I guess and still like to take picture with my camera not my iPhone.  So, if you’re like me, pack the small charger or bring extra batteries.
  • A Book: Again, I’m old fashioned and I genuinely like to still read a book vs. using a kindle. This last cruise I read Lion and couldn’t put it down.
  • Binoculars: I really enjoyed having these up on the deck at night looking at other boats and stars. I also liked using them early in the morning as we would pull into port.
  • Towel Clips: This was an item that when I first saw it suggested I thought, what kind of first world problems do I have when I need to order clips for my towels. However, they were cheap and I thought it would be a great little gift to hand out the night before the cruise.  This was probably the best thing I took because the first two sea days we had a ridiculously strong winds that every time you got up to go to the bathroom on the ship or get a drink, your towel would go flying.  These keep your towel nice and neat and no flyaway.  It also came in handy to hang wet swim suits up in the shower.  On a side note… pack two swim suits because it will take a full day or two for yours to dry.
  • Small backpack: One of our excursions had a hike to Mayan Ruins and this backpack came in handy to put waters, wallets, sunscreen, and camera. It doesn’t take up hardly any space and is very affordable.
  • Luggage Tags: This is not a necessity by any means, but they do keep your paper luggage tags nice and dry. When we dropped our bags off this last cruise before we went to park it was kind of misty outside and our luggage got a little damp but our tags stayed nice and dry.
  • Medicine: stomach, allergy, and motion sickness… it’s cheaper to get the small bottles of this ahead of time vs. paying for it on the ship or at a port.
  • Hat: Baseball hat or even a big floppy hat just something to give your face a break from the sun.
  • Plastic and Ziploc Bags: throw a couple in your day bag and suitcase… they’re great for dirty/wet clothes and keeping your camera and phone dry.
  • Wipes: Face or baby wipes come in handy to wipe off your hands when port bathrooms aren’t up to par.
  • A Pullover: Some of the theatres and lounges can get a little chilly and there were even some cool nights on the deck so a simple pullover came in handy many times.
  • Bug Spray: This is an item I didn’t pack that I wish I had because my feet got ate up by sand fleas in Belize.

 

I’m a little OCD about my packing lists but I think I just like being prepared and I don’t like to waste money on my trips on things I could have brought with me.  Hope this helps you on your next cruise!

Before You Leave

Maybe I’m just an OCD list lover, but does anyone else make lists of things to do before they leave on a trip?  I’m not talking about a packing list… I’m talking about the list of papers to print, things to arrange, etc… I keep an open list on my phone for about a month before I leave so I can check off and add things to the to do list when they pop in my head.  Here are a some of things I write on my list to check off before I go anywhere.

  • Create a to pack list: We all have that moment during the day where we think, “oh, I need to remember to pack xyz.” Just have a list (yes a second list).
  • Create a travel folder: Print color copies of your passports, travel itinerary, any confirmations you receive, travel insurance, etc… I also make a copy to leave at my house with my mother.
  • Notify your bank: I learned this the hard way. I was once on a road trip and used my card in two different states and then did an online purchase where the transaction was processed in a different state, which led the bank to shut down my card.  Go by your bank a few days before you leave and let them know where you are going and if you need to remove any limits on transactions.
  • Safe deposit box: This may be my insurance background going into overdrive, but I’ve always kept a safe deposit box that holds important documents and when I travel I let the bank know to give access to my mother and/or husband if something were to happen to me. I keep car titles, my husband’s adoption papers, birth certificates, our will, and copies of life insurance documents.
  • Insurance: I make sure whoever is watching over my home knows who to call if something were to happen to the house and claim needed to be started. I also make sure that whoever is watching my child has a copy of my health insurance card.
  • A will: If you don’t have a will and you have a child at home, get a will before you leave on your next trip.
  • Alarm: I always call my home monitoring company and give them the number to whoever is watching or staying at my home while I’m gone so that if it gets set off, that person is immediately called. Also make sure this person knows your password and alarm code.
  • House keys: Again, we learned this the hard way. We returned home during a power outage and our garage door wouldn’t open and my mom had already left to return home… with our house key.
  • Medical: If you have a child at home, make sure you leave a notarized document granting a certain person the right to make medical decisions for your little one while you are gone.
  • Pay your bills: You don’t want to return home to your water being shut off because you forgot about it.
  • Take out your trash: You don’t want to return home to a stinky garage or kitchen.
  • Cash to tip with: We always carry an envelope with enough bills in small denominations to cover tipping.
  • Car maintenance: If you are going on a road trip, have your vehicle looked over for any issues during the oil change prior to leaving.

What are some things you make sure are done before you travel?

Road Trip Through Waco

 

Last month I headed to Houston for a summer visit.  My niece wanted to come back with me so we decided to take a little detour through Waco to visit the beloved Silos at Magnolia Market that serve as the background to one of our favorite shows on HGTV.

We checked in to the Hilton in Waco, which I must say, was just top notch.  The price and location was great.  We arrived a little early but they said we could go on and check in.  It is right across from the river and suspension bridge.  You cannot beat the location, which is why I can’t wait to return for a football game.

We headed out to the Silos the next morning so we could be there right when the doors opened.  Our hotel was right by the trolley pickup but it was a nice morning so we opted to walk.  We got there about 10 minutes before the doors opened and there was already a line, but don’t worry, once the doors open it moves quick.  It was a Saturday so it was a bit a crowded.  We had a hard time being able to look at stuff and considering we had a stroller for my son, that made it even tougher.  Had my husband been there, he probably would have stayed with my son out on the lawn to play games until we were done.  We made it to the merchandise area and grabbed t-shirts, hats, and coffee mugs.  There will be a line at the bakery but just do it, it’s worth the wait.  I let my niece play with my toddler out on the lawn while I got the cupcakes.  The lemon lavender was like having a unicorn do a little dance in your mouth.  On our next trip, I’ll probably try to go on a weekday so I can browse some of the home décor.

We then headed back to the hotel to unwind before we hit the road again.  We took a nice stroll on the bridge to get some great pictures.  I also wanted to read all the monuments because I’m a history nerd.  Apparently though, no trip is complete without a stop at In and Out Burger so we had to try one.  I confess, it was delicious.

So, if you get the chance and are doing a road trip through Texas, just take the time to stop off and visit Waco.  You can get a night’s rest and visit a couple things the next morning and still be on the road by lunch.  Also, if you are driving through the town of West, Texas which is just about 15 minutes or so north of Waco on I35, stop at the bakery there call Little Czech Bakery. I always stop to get cookies to bring back.

Cruise Review: Carnival Freedom 7 night Caribbean Cruise

Cruise Review: Carnival Freedom 7 night Caribbean Cruise

In April of this year we took our second cruise, first on the freedom, to the alternate Caribbean route you can choose leaving Galveston.  Our stops included Cozumel, Belize, and Roatan.  We booked ours during a time of reduced deposits about 9 months in advance and booked our excursions 6 months in advance.  That may seem like way too far in advance for some but it was nice having everything paid for completely three months before we ever left.  We also traveled with my Dad and Stepmom.

Day 1:  My Dad and Stepmom live about two hours from the Galveston port, so my husband and I drove in the night before to stay and their house and ride together.  My best advice for embarkation day is

  • GET THE FASTER TO THE FUN PASS: We chose an 11 o’clock check in and we were on the boat having lunch (I recommend Guy’s Burgers) and drinking a beer by noon.  Also, since this pass allows you to board so much earlier, take about 10 minutes to just walk to the ship and get acquainted with the different areas.  We stayed on deck 7 towards the back of the boat and we were within two floors of most of the areas we wanted to be in so we rarely took the elevators.
  • DOWNLOAD THE APP: Carnival has their own app so link up to their WIFI, put your phone on airplane mode, and find the other people in your party with their ID number so you can text while on the cruise.  This app also has an itinerary for what’s happening on the ship, a map of the ship, and a quick view of your bill.
  • ENTER THE SPA DRAWING: Yes, you must take a tour of the spa and they encourage you to book services for that night but if you’re lucky you’ll win one of the gift cards. I won a $100 gift card which I used towards a keratin treatment.
  • UNPACK YOUR SUITCASE: You will be so happy you did when come day three your room doesn’t look like a bomb went off, and your stewards will also thank you.
  • EAT IN THE DINING HALL: This just really sets the tone for your cruise.  Not to mention, the food is just amazing.
  • FOR THE COFFEE LOVERS: I’m a coffee drinker.  Like I can’t function without it.  So, at night I would put out the door hanger asking for my coffee to be delivered for whatever time I wanted to wake up.

Day 2:  This was our first sea day.  I loved having a balcony room.  I would sit out on the balcony sipping my coffee and enjoying the sunrise.  Downside, the people next to us were smokers so once they came out for their morning cig I would go back inside.  I loved taking a cruise with my family for this reason… we all got to do our own thing.  So, we all started out having a bloody mary together but my husband and I wanted to lay out and get some sun and my parents wanted to just roam the ship and piddle around.  We all did our thing then met up later that evening for formal dinner and dined together.  After dinner, we all literally went and did our thing and loved it.  One person wanted to go read their book out on the deck, one wanted to gamble, one wanted to go to the comedy show, and one wanted to go watch the movie on the top deck.

Day 3: Cozumel.  There were 3 ships in port that day.  We chose the excursion “la casa en la playa.”  This was a beach house retreat and on an excursion, that usually has 40 people, there were only 22 of us so it was very relaxing and we got a lot of attention.  It’s an all-inclusive excursion so the drinks were flowing and food was always available.  One of the guides took people snorkeling and sent us the pictures at no charge.  You are right on the beach but if you would rather cool off in the pool, it’s there too.  You can also get a massage right on the beach as well.  They also bring you back with plenty of time left to shop.

Day 4: Belize.  We anchored in Belize right as a massive storm hit.  In Belize, you must use tender boats to get to shore.  We were the last tender boat allowed to leave and most other excursions were cancelled.  People were falling down the stairs of the tender and since the storm was so bad we were an hour late starting our Mayan Ruins excursion, which took an hour to get to anyway.  The ruins were great once we got there but we were wet and rushed and honestly just wished we would have gotten our money back and stayed in the spa that day.  We were so frazzled that we had to have a glass of wine when we got back before we even got ready for dinner.  On a positive note, the ruins were incredible to see.  There are also Howler monkeys all over the ruins that make the sound of a T-Rex.  I’m not joking.  The sounds they make are the actual sound that was used for the T-Rex in Jurassic Park.  I had a bit of a Jeff Goldblum moment where I looked around for the closest Jeep to make an escape. Here’s a tip though when booking your excursions… That morning when excursions were getting cancelled, Carnival was helping people get refunds or rebook something else.  If you didn’t book with Carnival you were SOL.  Also, if your excursion returns late to the tender boat, the ship will wait on Carnival excursions but not for non-carnival booked ones.

Day 5: Roatan.  If I could insert one of those praising hands emoji’s I would.  This port is BEAUTIFUL!.  Again, the Faster to the Fun pass comes in handy when you want to get started on your excursion.  We chose a private beach cabana rental.  It’s a flat price of $250 for up to 4 people.  It had lounge chairs, a hammock, a deck with more chairs, and a private indoor area if you needed some shade.  However, the outdoor deck was shady enough and the misters were going off over the hammock.  This isn’t an all-inclusive cabana but a server from Fat Tuesday’s is coming by every half hour or so.  And even though your ticket says six hours, you get it for up until the boat is leaving.  It’s got its own security so we felt safe leaving our stuff while we cooled off in the water.  This is worth every penny!  We got there right about 8:30 and didn’t head back to the boat till 3, which left us time to go to the shops under the pavilion where you can get locally made stuff.  Grab a bag on Honduran coffee and a handmade cross.

Day 6: This sea day was a rain out.  So I myself started out at the lounge bar drinking a bloody mary while my husband went to the gym.  They have early games of bingo so once he was done we headed to that.  Guess what?  I won the grand prize game!  Oh but there’s a catch… you have to do a bean bag toss.  I had to send my husband since I was two drinks in already and we won $250 to which I immediately headed to the Invicta watch sale and walked away with a gorgeous watch.  Winning!  We spent some time in the casino that day and took naps.  My dad and I gambled at slots while my husband played blackjack.  One thing about rainy days on a cruise ship is it does push people inside so our ship was really smoky.  I really don’t remember our cruise on the Magic being so bad but on this trip our clean clothes in our suitcase still smelled like cigarette smoke.  Not to mention huff and puff in the room next to us smoked every night to so when we went to bed we could smell it.

Day 7:  Our last sea day was perfect weather.  We had already gotten so much sun that we just sat in the shaded areas and drank our fruity drinks while we day dreamed about other trips we wanted to take.  It’s also a great day to hit up the sales in the gift shop and jewelry store or book a massage.  One thing I will say about the spa, is that the camp carnival is right above it so just expect to hear some stomping.

Day 8: Debarkation Day.  We opted to take our suitcases with us that morning vs. leaving them in the hallway the night before since we have the FTTF pass.  We still went up to the lido deck and had one last omelet.  Then we were through customs and in our car to head back by 8:30 that morning.

Pros about our cruise:  It’s a great way to travel with family and there’s a little something for everyone to do on ports and on the ship.  Plus I love getting to pay a chunk towards it each month.

Cons about our cruise:  The cigarette smoke made it almost unbearable to be in some areas and when you pay for a balcony, you kind of expect to be able to enjoy it.  If we were to do this itinerary again I would honestly wait for the Carnival Vista to get to Galveston before going again.

 

Cruising With Your Family

 

Cruising With Your Family…

We’ve all had those moments around the holidays.  The wine is flowing, bellies are full, and everyone is getting along.  A light bulb moment happens for someone.  “You know what, we should all take a trip together AS A FAMILY.”  “Yeah let’s do it!”  It’s kind of one of those moments you brush off and think oh we weren’t serious… were we?  A few months go by and I see an alert for half off deposits on a cruise I’ve been eyeing.  I send my husband a text to let him know it’s booking time and he responds, “so are you going to tell your Dad?”  I send a group text to my dad and stepmom thinking they’ll say no, but to my surprise they both respond with excitement.  Did we just book a cruise with my parents?  Yep.  I’m here to tell you though, this is hands down the absolute best way to do a family vacay!  Here’s a few tips and reasons why this should be your next option when that conversation happens again at Christmas this year.

  • Use a travel agent: I’m not talking about calling up the cruise line and using their booking agent.  I’m talking about your local travel agency.  I’ve been using Kathy Cardott, Travel With Kathy, for years.  The good thing is that even though my family is 6 hours away from me.  She spoke with them and handled them like they lived down the street.  She’s so good that my family will continue to use her despite the fact that they are in Texas and she is in Oklahoma.  When my dad brought up having side-by-side rooms, Kathy emailed me and said “no, no, no… you need at least two rooms as a buffer.”   Close but not too close.
  • Pictures: While it’s sometimes annoying to have the cruise line’s camera crew in every area of the ship, you do tend to see a few nice family shots.  The last family photo I have with my dad is from my wedding.
  • There’s something for everyone: There was literally a night where all four of us were doing something different on the ship.  I wanted to go watch the movie on the top deck, my Dad wanted to go to the comedy show, my husband wanted to go play blackjack, and my stepmom wanted to have some quiet time listening to the waves and read her book.  Everyone did something different and everyone was happy.
  • You still get alone time: My husband and I both work crazy hours so were thinking we wouldn’t get to have any time to just relax alone together since we were on the cruise with my parents.  There were three sea days on our cruise and for two of them my husband and I did our own thing on the ship then met up with family for lunch and dinner.  The third sea day we had quite a bit of rain so we spent the day together playing bingo, playing slots, and just hung out.  It was great!
  • Dining: If you go hungry on a cruise it’s your own fault.  There are so many options between the buffet deck and all the options in your dining room that you won’t have to worry about the “well I’m hungry for this” argument.
  • Bathroom breaks: Nothing makes me more upset then getting in the car and twenty minutes into a trip I hear “I need to go to the bathroom.” Enough said.

When the trip ended, I started to feel a bit bummed.  Not because we were leaving the ship and all the tropical paradises’ we had just visited, but because I genuinely had a great time with my dad, stepmom, and husband.  My dad is 70 and I got to see a whole different side of him compared to the family trips we took as kids.  I also go to see a side of my stepmom that I’ve never really given her a chance to show.

3 Nights In Branson

 

I’ve made quite a few trips to Branson over the last several years and it seems to be a place that always calls me back.  I love the lake, the shows, and the food.  Mostly, I go to Branson because every summer I take my niece on a trip and each time we’ve been to Branson, we’ve left saying “next time we need to do this…”  So out of all my trips I’ve compiled, what I think, is a great itinerary.

Day 1: Driving In.  So we drive in from Oklahoma City and I would suggest making two stops on the drive there.

  • Fantastic Caverns in Springfield- You will literally be in the middle of nowhere and begin to wonder is your map is leading you to the wrong spot but you’ll get there. I like this cavern because you can ride in a jeep all the way through.  My son was little so I didn’t have to worry about walking slippery surfaces with him in a stroller or holding him.  It take about an hour and a half in total by the time we got our tickets, waited for the tram, took the tour, and got our picture.
  • Lamberts- After we left Springfield to head towards Branson, we made another pit stop and had an early dinner. It’s off Hwy 65 somewhat half way between Springfield and Branson.  It may look like it’s super crowded, but trust me they move people in and out quick.  And keep your head up because they will throw rolls at you.  They also only take cash so either bring some or hit up the ATM they have.  Also, take a cinnamon roll with you for breakfast the next morning.

Day 2:

  • Silver Dollar City- Get your tickets early and they can often be combined online with other tickets to other attractions for a discount. We arrived right when the park opened on a Friday and were done with all the rides by 1 o’clock.
  • Dixie Stampede- Sit a couple rows up because the dirt from the horses will fly up. This show is great!  My toddler son even enjoyed it.  Also, the seating is divided by the North side and the South side and audience participation is key.  You will also be eating with your hands… don’t worry, it’s not like they are serving spaghetti.
  • Take in an evening Ferris Wheel ride.

Day 3:

  • Start off your day by going on an early Duck Tour- This is a great way to view Table Rock Lake and learn about the history of the town and lake. They even let my nine-month-old come up and take the wheel for pictures.  We saw people parasailing, which is new, so we put that on the list for the next trip.
  • Grab Lunch at Mel’s Hard Luck Diner- The food is great and all the wait staff sings!
  • Right across from Mel’s is the North Pole so grab a souvenir ornament while you are there.
  • Sight and Sound Theatre- go early for a behind the scenes tour. It’s amazing what gets put into these shows and how the animals are trained.  Then stick around for the show.  I’ve seen Moses and Jonah there and each time I left just in shock of how great it was.  Also, if you want to be close to the animals when they come down the aisle get in the middle section close to the aisle.

Day 4: Before we head back we like to grab breakfast and piddle around the shops on Branson Landing for a bit. Continue reading