A Day on San Diego Bay

“Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than those you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from safe harbor. Catch the wind in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ~ Mark Twain

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Off to a 3 Hour Sail!

Upon planning a long weekend getaway to meet up with some friends, I really wanted to sail and thought September would be a lovely time in San Diego. After reading several reviews, I stumbled across a 3-hour sail out of Shelter Island Marina with the option of sailing in the bay or out in the open water.


The marina is located approximately 5.5 miles from downtown San Diego. So, we just caught a quick Lyft and road on over. The marina is located right behind the Island Palms Hotel. The captain came out and greeted us at the marina and led groups to their boats. The best part about this tour is they don’t take more than 6-8 people! We only had 6 passengers plus the captain on our boat. We hung out on the bow of the boat and it felt like a private charter for the three of us. But of course….

Shelter Island is located within Point Loma in San Diego. It’s actually not an island at all, just an extension of a narrow strip of land. Shelter Island was developed in the 1950’s and includes restaurants, hotels, marinas as well as a parkland. The island is 1.2 miles long and a few hundred feet wide, although it seemed much larger.


Shelter Island Marina

The Port of San Diego controls Shelter Island, which is known as a “SuperYacht” destination due to the deep waters that house the over sized vessels. Somehow we missed the annual SuperYacht Fest held every September! The San Diego Maritime Museum displays two 19th century tall ship replicas along with mock gun battles during the fest.   


A sailing competition was taking place while we were in the bay. It actually seemed as if our little sailboat were in the middle of it all.  It was fascinating to hear the sails whip in wind and watch the teams transfer from side to side as the boats turned. During the 3-hour sail, we passed Point Loma Nazarene University and saw Baja California in the distance. The trip was so peaceful, we sailed past sea lions laying out on buoys. It was the perfect sailing day with sunny, clear skies and not much wind. We dressed a little too warm because the temperature was only 70 degrees that day and visiting from Hawaii, that seemed cool!

We booked the 3-hour sail through GetYourGuide.com for $98.00. They offer various sailing trips for those 13 years old and over. The company is based out of Berlin, so don’t be alarmed, as I was, if/when your credit card company red flags the purchased from a foreign country. It was legit and everything worked out fine; however, my credit card company did call me to authorize the on line, foreign purchase.


Tips~ The tour advertises beer and wine on board. Unfortunately, the beverages were brought on board just as we set sail so they were warm. We were really looking forward to a glass of chilled, white wine during our sail but didn’t finish it because it was warm. I did notice that a couple on our tour brought their own small ice chest with drinks and light snacks. I highly recommend doing that if you sail at noon. We had a light breakfast and were very hungry by the time we got off the sailboat at 3 p.m. Fortunately, there is a restaurant at the marina right as you step off of the boat and we were able to find some very cold drinks there!

Sonoma Food, Wine & History Tour

Drinking good wine with good food in good company is one of life’s most civilized pleasures ~ Michael Broadbent


As we ventured off to California for an Ironman, we thought it would be fun to schedule a wine tour. We’ve always wanted to ride the wine train along vineyards. After calling several wine tour companies, we were told the minimum age was 21, which posed a problem as our daughter is 17. We researched further and stumbled upon a Sonoma Food Tour that our daughter could enjoy as well.

IMG_0942First stop, the Depot Hotel, which is no longer a hotel, yet a fabulous, Italian IMG_0945restaurant. The owner of the restaurant was born in Little Italy and purchased the building in 1985. He and his wife have a cooking school and own three other restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area. The tour began at the hotel located at 241 1st St W in Sonoma. The meeting point was on a cute bench located in front of the restaurant entrance. We sat outside in a shaded patio area with a beautiful pool and relaxing sounds of a fountain. The chef came out and presented two types of pizza, the Amatriciana and Amalfi- oh how I love anchovies. It was wonderful to sit poolside, sipping wine, eating pizza and getting to know others on the tour. Had we stayed in Sonoma, we would have booked a reservation at the Depot Hotel Restaurant for dinner.



Guide describing the history of Depot Park

On our walk, we stopped in front of an old rail car at Depot Park Museum. Our guide shared historical facts as we stood in a shaded area with Sonoma breezes. The City of Sonoma owns the Old Northwestern Pacific Depot, pictured above. The historic train was destroyed by a fire in 1975, yet the Society held a fundraiser to rebuild the Depot which is now a museum free to the public. The land across from the rail car is Depot Park. There are three temporary exhibits each year at the Depot Park Museum.


Who doesn’t love cheese? Our next stop on the walking tour was Vella Cheese which began in 1931. The visit included multiple samples of cheese such as Habanero, horseradish, rosemary jack, pesto jack, garlic jack and more. Vella cheeses are used as an ingredient, sprinkled on top of your favorite dish or served with crackers and wine. The cheeses are all natural, made with only 1% salt. The hard cheese that we purchased could be stored outside of the refrigerator for up to 7 days. Be sure to purchase some to take home! The habanero dry jack was our favorite! We grate it on top of salad.

Vella Cheese uses the finest quality ingredients to include herd breeding, feed, milking and transporting of the milk. The cheeses are quite unique in flavor, texture and variety. It was the perfect second stop on the tour, right after wine and pizza. Mia does a fantastic job of describing each cheese prior to the tasting. It was our first time attending a cheese tasting.


Pepper tree

On our stroll over to the mission, we stopped and viewed some vineyards and took in the aroma of California Pepper trees. It was our first time seeing a pepper tree and until that point, we didn’t realize pepper grew on trees. The California Pepper tree naturalized in Southern California and they grow rapidly to about 40 feet tall and branches just as wide. The trees have a unique appearance, lacy because of the compound, pinnate leaves. The leaves, which grow up to 12 inches long, are what gives off the peppery aroma. An added benefit to taking part in a walking tour versus a train or trolley~ stopping along the way, discovering nature.


IMG_0968Next stop, a California mission! My husband and I grew up in California, where touring missions was something every student did in elementary school along with writing an essay and building a model. Our daughter, who was not raised in California, has never been to a mission so this was a wonderful addition to the tour. After the Sonoma Food Tour came to and end, we returned to the mission to look inside.


Barracks at Mission Sand Francisco Solano

Mission San Francisco Solano was the 21st and final mission built in California. Built after Mexico gained independence from Spain, as the Governor’s wish was to have a strong Mexican presence on the Pacific coast. The Mission had a short life of just eleven years but was successful even though it had lower productivity than older missions in California.

IMG_0984IMG_0973Ready for olive oil tasting at Figone’s? Our daughter had just returned from Italy and had been olive tasting in Lucca. This was the first time for my husband and I. Quite different from what we had expected. After all, olive oil tasting just doesn’t have the same intrigue of beer, wine, chocolate or cheese tasting. Surprisingly, they were very flavorful! Some tasting were that of salad dressing, while others were infused with herbs, great for fish or pasta. My favorites were the balsamic tastings! I had no clue that balsamic vinegar could be so sweet, made with strawberries, raspberries, chocolate, white peaches, pears, pomegranate, cinnamon, and figs. Some of Figone’s balsamics are sold to restaurants for making cocktails. Yum!


Figone’s produces and sells specialty olive oils and balsamic vinegars. Customers canIMG_0974 sign up to become a member of the “La Visione Club” and receive four shipments each year. Members will receive two 250ml club items of their choice upon joining. Items ship in March, June, September, and December. Choose one olive oil and one vinegar or two olive oils for $48. You may also choose two vinegars for $58. Take your time to browse around their gift shop and bring home small bottles of olive oil and balsamic as souvenirs or gifts.


IMG_0990La Casa Restaurant & Bar of Sonoma~ IMG_0999

Where to begin? We have traveled to Spain on more than one occasion as well as Mexico. Love, love Mexican cuisine! The dish served on the tour, Avocado Relleno, was deliciously unique with a surprisingly, healthy but bold, spicy flavor. I took the picture in hopes of recreating it. The dish is made with a whole avocado cut in half, topped with black beans, queso fresco and green chili. Served with salsa Fresca and chili pasilla sauce. The chips and salsa were fabulous and how could you go wrong when margaritas are served?

La Casa Restaurant is family owned, opened in 1967 and has turned into a Sonoma landmark. La Casa has a vivacious atmosphere, set in wine country and is popular amongst locals and visitors.


Final stop, saving the best for last, Wine Country Chocolates!! I didn’t take any pictures of the inside, probably because I was too preoccupied with sampling ganache in the chocolate tasting room. Enjoy tastings of raspberry and apricot ganache and several different types of chocolate ranging from milk to dark increasing in the percentage of cacao. You can even join their Truffle Club and have delectables sent to your door! Sign me up. It was a perfect ending to a great day!


The Depot Hotel Restaurant Sonoma

$$ Saving Tips~ With each blog post that I write, there are always $$ saving tips included. The tour guide brings along a small bottled water (8 oz.) for each guest. If you feel that you want more water, I would recommend bringing along your own bottle. We definitely needed water during the cheese sampling as some cheese were hot. It was also a warm day in July. I recommend bringing along a small bag to put items purchased in. There are gift shops at the cheese company as well as the olive oil and chocolatier shops. You cannot beat the value for the price of $89! Most of the wine trains we looked at were well over $100 plus you have to pay at each winery for the sampling. This tour included all the food, drinks and samples plus historical information over a 3 hour period. Be sure to tip your guide! Mia is fantastic and even emailed us a some photos of our family from the tour.

Reserve your tour at https://www.sonomafoodtour.com/

San Juan In A Day


San Cristobal Castle

My great grandparents were born in Puerto Rico, so it was a “must-see” for us while visiting the Eastern Caribbean. San Juan is the capital of Puerto Rico and an unincorporated territory of the United States, purchased in 1898. Similar to American Samoa, Mariana Islands and Guam, Puerto Rico is an organized, self-governed territory consisting of locally elected governors and territorial legislatures. Founded by Spanish colonists in 1521, San Juan is the second oldest European-established capital city in the Americas. Half of Puerto Rico’s 2M people live and work in San Juan. Old San Juan is a colorful neighborhood of cobblestone streets and historic Spanish Colonial buildings from the 1500s. While visiting San Juan, we had to explore the historical, defensive fort San Cristobal.


First stop, San Cristobal Castle~ Castillo San Cristóbal, also known as Fort San IMG_7251Cristóbal, is part if the San Juan National Historical Site and was built by Spain to guard Puerto Rico against land attacks. San Cristóbal was completed in 1783 on 27 acres of land and is the largest fort that the Spanish built. Built on a hill, Cerro de San Cristóbal contains cisterns (tanks to store water) that are 30 feet high and 60 feet wide which were used during the ages of the Spanish Colony. The cisterns doubled as bomb shelters during World War II. Tourists walk around at their leisure, exploring the grounds and reading the historical significance.


IMG_7301Let’s eat!!!! At Barrachina Restaurant in Old San Juan, you can eat, drink and even get married!! There are usually people standing around waiting for their name to be called, a sign of how popular and fabulous the restaurant is. The piña colada is the national drink of Puerto Rico since 1978. National Piña Colada Day is celebrated on July 10th in the Caribbean. Ramón Portas Mingot claims to have created the drink in 1963 at Barrachina Restaurant. The piña (pineapple) colada (strained) is made with rum, coconut cream or milk, and pineapple juice. They offer virgin pina coladas for the kids. Try the specialty sampler or monfongo! It was our first experience eating monfongo, which is made of plantains.


Special Sampler with grouper, calamari & plantain

Barrachina Restaurant Old San Juan is recognized as the king of “Paella”. They have been serving up creative Spanish and International cuisine for over 50 years.



Mofongo is an African-Puerto Rican dish made of fried plantains. The plantains are picked green, before they are ripe and mixed with garlic and salt. Mofongo is served in a variety of ways but most commonly with fried meats and soup. The dish is often  packed with vegetables, chicken, beef, shrimp or octopus. Mofongo relleno has seafood inside along with braised meat or seafood poured over the top, pictured above. I would describe it as very firm, dense and not much flavor.


Shopping District

Shopping!!! There are several places to shop in Old San Juan, Calle (street) Fortaleza,IMG_7286 Calle San Francisco, and Calle del Cristo to name a few. Calle del Cristo has higher end shops such as Coach, Ralph Lauren, Burberry, Tommy Hilfigger, Dooney & Bourke, Crocs, and Polo. You’ll also find galleries with Puerto Rican crafts, local cigar shops, clothing and shoes stores as well as boutiques and souvenirs.  Calle Fortaleza, also known as SoFo, has shops, restaurants and hotels for up and down the street for blocks. It is considered the main shopping district for Old San Juan. Calle San Francisco is the place to shop for artisans, skateboard & surf wear, street fashion and bistros. The Mall of San Juan, Plaza del Sol and Martemar Plaza are located in Calle San Francisco.


$$ Saving Tips: The portions at Barrachina are huge, so be sure to split. We took a guided tour through Old San Juan, but it’s really not necessary to pay for a guided tour if you just want to shop and walk the streets of Old San Juan. The streets are accessible from the cruise ship and there is a lot to see and do. Bring your own sunblock, hat & bottled water as it is very hot! We were there mid-March and it was humid and sticky.


Old San Juan



Labadee, Haiti



View From the Ship

When planning a trip to the Eastern Caribbean, initially I was hesitant to spend time in Labadee, Haiti. After researching Haiti, I learned that Labadee is a 260-acre port built in 2009 along the northern coast of Haiti- truly a private paradise. The resort consists of lagoon-like bays, very touristy and guarded by private security. Guests are permitted from leaving the area. Royal Caribbean International leases the beach-rimmed peninsula from the Haitian government through 2050.


The minute you step foot on the island, you’ll be greeted by the welcome band, playing traditional music and dancing. Make your way through the excursion desks,IMG_7117 pick up a colorful map and you’ll see an open-air shuttle that takes guests to the various stops on the island. I wasn’t feeling great that day and didn’t plan on getting off the ship so my husband and kids explored. I decided to get off later and met up with them. While wandering around looking for them, I felt very safe.

What is a Labadoozie? Wait staff walk around all day selling the Labadoozie made of Orange, Pineapple, and Papaya Juice, Coconut Cream, Dark Rum, Coconut Rum, Grenadine and crushed ice. Royal Caribbean provides all of the food for the barbeque, bottled water, and cocktails (for purchase) on the island from on-board the ship.


Time for zip lining!!! The Dragon’s Breath Flightline is the longest zip line over ocean in the world! The scariest part may be the ride up to the zip line, 500 feet above the beaches, in an open safari vehicle, along a winding road. The tour includes an orientation and then the practice begins over at the “Little Dragon” zip line. Enjoy the thrilling ride down at 40-50 mph overlooking 2,600 feet of gorgeous beaches and the Caribbean. The zip line ends at the Dragon’s Breath Rock, where you can step off the zip line and play in the ocean or wander on over to a jerk-chicken style barbeque.


Arawak Aqua Park

The first thing that we spotted upon disembarking the ship, were the inflatables. It was like a huge jungle gym afloat in the Caribbean, perfect for families. Arawak Aqua Park includes fun, floating trampolines, water slides, a riding and rolling log, as well as several other floating toys.


Dragon’s Splash Waterslide~ This saltwater slide is fun for the entire family! My husband went down at a snails pace and couldn’t quite get the rhythm while our kids came barreling down doing spins. The slide is just under 300 feet long and ends in a 18-foot splash area. The pathway to the slide is called Columbus Coves’ forest where you’ll climb a stone pathway through the jungle to reach the Dragon’s head. The waterslide pass is good for the entire day!


There is so much to do in Labadee!!! We cruised into the port on Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas ship. As you can tell by the pictures, it was an overcast day with bright sun and then rain the next minute. In addition to the excursions that we participated in, there is a DreamWorks Photo Safari, Dragon’s Tail Coaster, Haiti coastal cruise, lounge chair & cabana rentals, yacht sailing, Sandbar Island Adult Party, beach bungalow rentals, full day beach bed rental, kayaking, historical walking tour, sport fishing, snorkeling and jet skiing. We are definitely doing the jet skis next year!


Shopping!! Shop for beautiful handmade, local artwork, woodwork and crafts. Some of the vendors can be pushy and I read in reviews, that they can be aggressive as well. We did not experience any aggressive vendors. The shopping area is separate from the lounging beach area and the vendors cannot leave the shopping area. I noticed beautiful jewelry, sculptures and purchased an ornament. The shopping area is very clean and strategically placed on the pathway to the waterslide, inflatables, and jet skis.

Interesting Facts~ Royal Caribbean employs 200 locals at Labadee and allows another 300 to sell their wares on the premises. Royal Caribbean pays the Haitian government $12 per tourist.


Fabulous day in Labadee

We will definitely be heading back to Labadee next year for Spring Break!!! Ironically, it was our favorite port in the Eastern Caribbean.



The Amazing Race Excursion, St. Maarten



Fill the cup up with sea water using a single sponge




Ferry Ride

We’re always looking for something fun an exciting to do as a family while on vacation. Our kids are very athletic and love to be outside. So, after reading about Tri-Sport Eco Tours – The Amazing Race, we were all in!! Since our favorite family game is Clue, a scavenger hunt was right up our alley. The Amazing Race tour is the perfect way to sightsee while running (or walking) through St. Maarten. 3 hours of fun for $75 per person. A staff member was waiting at the meeting location to lead us to the ferry for a short ride over to the race starting point.



Reading the Challenge Card

Enjoy the gorgeous views while sailing on over to the starting point. The waters of St. Maarten are emerald-green with tropical breezes and colorful umbrellas lining the white sand beaches. We were fortunate to meet fun and energetic competitors on the ferry. Upon arrival, the guide suggested that we team up in groups of 4-10, so we teamed up with two other people. Then, it was time to choose a team name. After careful brainstorming, we came up with Team Mana (magical power).



Next, the guide starts handing out the first clue and reviewing the rules. Pay close attention, to ALL of the rules as we learned the hard way and took a penalty. E.g. don’t use your phone to research answers on the quizzes. You may use your phone to snap pictures of sites and structures that you’ll need to remember later. Keep in mind, there is a quiz at the end of the competition so be sure to read the information on the monuments and statues. The guide ran through the rules very quickly and people were talking all around us.


Team Mana

Team Prep~ Get to know the strengths of each person on your team. For example, my knee wasn’t real strong at the time so we chose another team member for the intense exercise drills. Choose a team leader and know who can interpret the clues fast and reiterate to the rest of the team. Since our family of four was on the team, we chose a ‘non-family member’ to spit out the clues to avoid any arguing. Ha! Most of all, designate a photographer to capture all of those candid moments.


Ready, Set, Race!!! Let the race begin through 2.5 miles of downtown Philipsburg. Each team is IMG_7340issued clues and must use those clues to find the location of an item, which may be in a shop, store window or a symbol on a building. The guide encouraged our team to walk the race and take in all the sights; however, our team consisted of an IronMan and an avid runner so we all chose to run the race!


Racing through Philipsburg

The website mentions bonus point challenges consisting of mental and physical challenges such as building a sand castle or sampling foods. We were not presented with bonus challenges.


If you have questions during the challenge or if you’re heading the wrong direction, there are friendly staff in bright green shirts along the way to assist. At one point our entire team was running the wrong way and the other teams were following us, so the staff turned us around. Ha!

IMG_7377The finish!!! Keep in mind that the team who crosses the finish line first doesn’t necessarily win. The final score is calculated based on the finishing time AND the total points for the challenge.  Our team crossed the finish line first but did not result in the most points. Either way, we’re winners in our own right and scored a bottle of rum! It was refreshing to have a cold cup of rum punch (punch for the kids is available) at the finish. The staff is really fun and friendly. Although, I do believe the rules could have been outlined or explained more clearly.



IMG_7354Tips~ Definitely wear tennis shoes, a hat and apply sunblock. A bottle of water is provided, but I highly recommend bringing your own. It was a long, hot day and we were running a lot and would not want to be limited to one bottle. Eat a hearty breakfast as only a small snack is provided at the end and there isn’t much time to go out to lunch afterwards if returning to a cruise ship. Most importantly, have FUN and LAUGH a lot.


Book your tour at:


Château de Versailles


While visiting Paris, The Palace of Versailles was top on our list of sites to see. I grew up following my mom around from home tour to home tour, and listening to Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous playing in the background, so maybe it is in my blood? When I became an adult, I loved attending home tours put on by benefits and charities. To this day, I am fascinated by palaces and mansions.

Plan on taking your time going through Versailles. Don’t plan Versailles and other sites on the same day. Similiar to that of the Lourve, Windsor Castle, or Vatican, it is not something you can rush through.

The Palace of Versailles is located 13 miles outside of Paris which takes approximately 38 minutes by car. It is a World Heritage Site and noted as a great achievement of French 17th century art. To say that this blog post covers a fraction of the Palace would be a gross exaggeration. To put it in perspective, the Palace is capable of holding up to 20,000 people, 700 rooms, more than 2,000 windows, 1,250 fireplaces, and 67 staircases, spread over 26,000 acres. Throughout the years, Versailles has undergone many phases of restoration and construction. I won’t dive too deep into the various renovations. I recommend booking a tour to avoid the overwhelming feeling when you step foot onto grounds and ask yourself, “Where do I begin?” We booked a tour which included transportation to and from Paris. The great thing about group tours is that generally, they include free time to explore.


I love the picture above so much, that it is the screen saver on my laptop to which I view daily. One thing to note, we toured the Palace of Versailles in December and from the pictures it was overcast, gloomy and cold. I always use my own photographs when blogging, which takes me right back to the exact moment, temperature of the day and experience. I travel vicariously through my own memories via photographs.

If planning a trip to Versailles, do research to consider the best time of year, weather and crowds. I loved visiting the Palace in December. While I don’t have any other time of year to compare it to, I can say that it was not crowded. There is something magical about entering the palace, bundled up in heavy coats and boots with gloomy skies. The only disadvantage I can think of, is that we were too cold to spend much time walking about the beautiful gardens.

Background~ When the château was built, Versailles was just a small village in the 11th century. Today, Versailles is a wealthy area outside of Paris. The fascination with the palace is not just its mere grandeur, it is the history of political power, The French Revolution, Louis XIV and the royal family dating back to 1682.


Gate of Honour

The picture above is the Gate of Honor which can be seen from the three main avenues that meet to form the Place d’Armes. 10 million people walk through this gate annually to tour the estate! The original gate was made of 80m of wrought iron and gold leaf. The picture above is an exact replica which cost £4 million, over two years to contruct and 100,000 gold leaves formed in the shape of crowns, makes of Apollo, and cornucopia. The original Gate of Honour was created in the 1680’s.


Queen’s bedchamber in the Grand Appartement de la Reine

The grand appartement de la reine was the residence of three queens of France to include Marie Therese d’Autriche, Marie Leszczynska, and Marie-Antoinette. The apartment represented heroines from years past while adding balance to the room’s decor.  The apartment consisted of seven rooms with doorways in line on the left-wing while the right-wing was almost an exact layout of the grand appartement du roi.


Ministers Courtyard

The palace has a massive cobblestone courtyard, above, which opens up to gorgeous, detailed, architecturally designed buildings to make up the Ministers Courtyard. The name represents the two long ministerial buildings standing on either side. The Versailles chapel, located in the center of the courtyard is assessable from inside the palace. I enjoyed walking through the courtyard and looking up, taking in the size and detail of each structure.


Bronze Statue of the Rhone River

Fe Brun and Le Nôtre collaborated on the numerous fountains at the palace.


The Mercury Room

The Mercury Room, also known as the Mercury Salon, is located in the King’s Grand Apartment. The room is fascinating as it houses the original, royal bedchamber in the State Apartments. It is referred to as “the bedroom”. The room is decorated with tables, mirrors, andirons (metal supports that hold wood in a fire-place) and chandeliers made of silver. The nook is separated from the rest of the room by a terrace made of silver. While much of the furniture in the Mercury Room has been recreated, the bed is the original bed that was placed by Louis-Philippe when he transformed Versailles from a royal residence into a museum.



The Palace of Versailles, as we know it today, was completed by the death of Louis XIV in 1715. There are two enormous asymmetrical wings on either side of the Royal Court totaling 1,319 ft in length. 


Chapels at Versailles~ I love touring cathedrals and chapels throughout Europe, taking in the columns, colored marble, ornate detail throughout, and of course the murals. The ceiling in the chapel is breathtaking.

Since the palace began, five versions of the chapel at Versailles have evolved. The current chapel, located at the south end of the north wing, is The Chapel of the Palace of Versailles, the last major project for Louis XIV. The Chapel represents French Baroque architecture and ministerial decoration. The Chapel was dedicated to Saint Louis, patron saint of the Bourbons.


Galerie des Glaces

The Hall of Mirrors~ I have to say the most popular room seems to be The Hall of Mirrors, whose construction began in 1678. The picture does not do it justice. Obtaining a picture without anyone in it is nearly an impossible feat! As you can see, I managed between the tours. The official name is ~ The Galerie des Glaces, perhaps the most celebrated room in the château of Versailles. Jules Hardouin-Mansart replaced Le Vau’s large terrace, facing the garden on the west, with the most famous room of the palace, the Hall of Mirrors. The Hall of Mirrors north side displays art work inspired by the Salon of War, depicting the king’s victory against a European coalition.  While the south side of the Hall, displays art work inspired by a Salon of Peace. It is famous for many of the ceremonies of the French Court during the Ancient Regime. There are numerous renditions around the world, but there is only one Hall of Mirrors. Comparable to being in Florence and settling for the replica of the Statue of David.


Gardens of Versailles

The Gardens of Versailles~ The gardens represent a French formal garden known as jardin à la française. The garden has a specific style in a way of calling nature to order. Notice the symmetric lines, the garden was designed by Andre Le Notre for Louis XIV. We would have loved to have spent more time exploring the gardens but it was so cold in December. Nonetheless, they were very beautiful even in December.

Interesting Facts~ 181 films have been shot at the Palace of Versailles. A television series called Versailles set during the construction of the Palace in Louis XIV’s reign premiered on November 16, 2015 in France and later in Canada, Britain and the U.S. Dior filmed one of the most glamorous commercials in the Hall of Mirrors featuring actress Charlize Theron advertising the fragrance J’Adore at the Palace of Versailles in 2012 to Depeche Mode’s song Enjoy the Silence.


Versailles is definitely worth the time that it takes to tour the grounds. Make a day of it!

See the world

Eiffel Tower in December



There are only two places in the world where we can live happy: at home and in Paris ~ Ernest Hemmingway

When you think of Paris, the Eiffel Tower has to be the first thing that comes to mind. My mom and I planned a trip to Paris and London in 2014 and had an amazing time running all over the place. I truly believe that you will never regret making memories through travel with the ones that you love. First stop, Eiffel Tower!! After all, it is the one of the top recognized structures of the world and the most visited monument with almost 7 million people per year. After touring Paris in the winter, le croissant and French onion soup are a close second! The Eiffel Tower, named after Gustave Eiffel, is built of wrought iron and located on Champs de Mars. The iconic tower was built from 1887-1889 for the World’s Fair.

Upon checking into our hotel, located on George 5th, the Eiffel tower was located to the right a couple of blocks down. We were fortunate enough to be able to walk to the tower during the day and at night, walking anywhere in December can be bone chilling cold.


A quote from one of my favorite movies, Sabrina~ “La Vie En Rose: It means seeing life through rose colored glasses, but only in Paris where the light is pink”

As you can see, in the picture above, the Eiffel Tower in December is often surrounded by gray clouds, blistery cold wind and rain or mist. The tower stands 1,063 ft tall, which equates to an 81-story building, making it the tallest building in Paris. As the elevator takes passengers to the observation deck, it can be a little scary looking down. If you are afraid of heights as my mom is, close your eyes. At one time, the Eiffel Tower was the tallest man-made structure in the world and remained such for 41 years until the Chrysler Building in New York was built in 1930. The Eiffel Tower is the second tallest building in France.


View from the lift

As we reached the site of the Eiffel Tower, I was taken aback by the number of guards carrying automatic weapons pacing back and forth, of course this was in 2014. I was familiar with high levels of security as well as police in the United States at touristy areas, but couldn’t remember at that time seeing military with semi-automatic weapons. I wasn’t sure if I felt safer or if it made me more aware? The picture above on the left is standing on the observation deck and the picture to the right is standing in line.


The tower has three levels which visitors can explore. The first & second levels have restaurants while the upper level, also known as the observation deck (906 feet high), is a fantastic place to take pictures. If you love to climb, tickets are available for visitors to access the tower via stairs. Keep in mind it takes 300 steps to reach the first level. No thanks! I could barely climb the Leaning Tower of Pisa, but then again those stairs are leaning. We opted to take the elevator (lift) complete with large glass, viewing windows.


View from the top

$$ Saving Tips~ There are several different modes of transportation to/from the Eiffel Tower. Check with the concierge if you are staying at a hotel or preview a map. We walked from our hotel. It is not necessary to book a tour of the Eiffel Tower, but may be convenient if you are traveling with an elderly family member or small children to ensure less walking, waiting and standing. Many of the tour companies pre-pay the tickets to bypass standing in the line. Some of the tours include dinner at the restaurant within the tower. Others tack on sailing the Seine River. If traveling in the winter, there isn’t a need to purchase the fast pass Eiffel Tower tickets because the lines are short. Save your money and purchase the regular ticket. It was a total of 20 minutes from the time we stood in line until we were at the top of the tower.


Touring Tulum



Ferry Ride to Tulum

Tulum is the site of the pre-Columbian, Mayan, walled city ruins which lie on 39-feet tall cliffs dating back to 13th & 15th centuries. Tulum is located along the Caribbean Sea in Quintana Roo, Mexico and is one of the best-preserved of all Maya coastal sites. Tulum is one of the last cities inhabited by the Mayan people. Old World diseases brought by the Spanish settlers appear to have resulted in very high fatalities, disrupting the society and eventually causing the city to be abandoned.

We sailed into Cozumel and then took a ferry ride to Playa del Carmen, which is located in the state of Quintana Roo. We hopped on a tour bus in Playa del Carmen for an hour ride to Tulum.


Tulum was formerly known as Zama, The City of Dawn, due to it’s position facing the sunrise. Sitting along the Caribbean Sea, Tulum means wall, fence, or trench. Designed as a fort, with access to land and sea, it was a site to defend against invasions, worship and operated as a crucial trade hub. The population is estimated to be 1,000-1,600 inhabitants.


Europeans discovered Tulum during the Spanish expedition of 1518, Juan Diaz specifically. As described in the novel, Incidents of Travel in Yucatan, Tulum was described as tall, impressive buildings according to the authors John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood. Maps and sketches were created of the site and discovery of an inscription date of AD 564 on the stele (stone), showing that the stone was most likely transported to Tulum from someplace else.


On your way out of Tulum there are amazing food options! We had the best tacos of our lives served with a plastic bag of pico de gallo to pour over. They serve HUGE margaritas with a salt rim. If you are on a tour, be sure to pay attention to the departure time, especially when drinking those margaritas. We almost missed our tour due to the language barrier and….possibly tequila.

$$ Saving Tips~ Be sure to have pesos, Tulum does not accept US currency. I would advise against using a credit card, unless you speak Spanish. I love sharing all of our “lessons learned the hard way” with travelers. We used a credit card for lunch after we ordered and ate the food, of course, then realized that the waiter could not relay what the credit card machine was saying. He was handing us the pin pad but our credit card doesn’t have a pin, didn’t know if it was asking for a zip code or what? Then he went back into the kitchen to tell the cooks in Spanish and they all were staring at us but apparently, no one spoke English. It took so long to figure out that we almost missed our departure time.

I advise against ordering a Dip n Dots ice cream unless you’ve never had one and are absolutely dying to try it. Our daughter was insistent on having an ice cream on the blazing hot and humid day in March so they ordered one and next thing we knew, we were totally ripped off! Of course, they only accept pesos but it equaled $10 US dollars for one tiny cup.


Taco Time!!!







Port Falmouth, Jamaica


After four years of construction, the $220-million, purpose-built Historic Falmouth Cruise Port, opened in 2011. Located on the north coast of Jamaica, Falmouth is the capital of Trelawny parish. It is 60 miles from Ocho Rios port and 18 miles from Montego Bay.

Prior to exploring any port, always do your research first. When sailing with Royal Caribbean, we made it a point to read the customer reviews on Jamaica. Most were fair, some were poor relating to safety and theft. All of the reviews about Falmouth Port were favorable, as vendors are approved, the port is well guarded and only cruise ship passengers can get in. So, we decided to browse around the port and see what it had to offer. Normally we book an excursion or tour when in port, but this time we decided to explore on our own.


Jamaican Patty

First stop, Jamaican patty!  What is a patty? It’s a type of pastry filled with meats such as ground beef, pork, lamb, chicken, lobster, or fish and mixed with spices, vegetables and cheese. Patties are similar to a turnover but not sweet. Turmeric is added to give the pastry a golden yellow color. Patties are common in Jamaica, the coast of Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Patties are considered a meal often eaten with coco bread.


Hair braiding

252Why is hair braiding so popular in Jamaica? Cornrows got the name due to the raised braid in a continuous row. In the Caribbean, braids are known as canerows, which is an ancient traditional African hairstyle using an underhand style very close to the scalp. Cornrow braids originate from Africa dating back thousands of years. Cornrows are a specific type of braid, small and tight. They are very popular with Jamaican men and women. Cornrow braids are also appealing to tourists and for this reason, hair braiding is available all around the port.




Margarita Hot Tub

Margarita Hot Tub

Of course we ended up at Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville!!! Complete with a pool, swim-up bar, mini version of Dunn’s River Falls, and a hot tub shaped like a margarita glass (pictured). Even though it is very touristy, we loved grabbing lunch at Margaritaville- something different than the cruise. As you step foot off of the ship and into the terminal, you’ll be greeted by red-roofed, Caribbean-style buildings, housing, and businesses. There were musicians performing in the center of the port and plenty of craft markets, rum and jewelry stores. We felt very safe and no one approached us to sell merchandise.

Despite what you may think, Jamaican music includes much more than just reggae. There is Jamaica folk, ska, rocksteady, dub music, dancehall, jazz, mento and reggae fusion. The music culture is a fusion of elements incorporating Trinidad and Tobago.

Tip~ don’t sample rum unless you plan on buying a lot! My husband was sampling several different types and then we were obligated to purchase and ending up giving it all to our room attendant as we carried on luggage.


For those of you who like to venture out a bit and explore, check out some of the architectural sights such as Falmouth Court House and St. Peter’s Anglican Church. We did not explore outside of the port; however, several tourists complained of being hassled by vendors. I would recommend booking a tour through a tour company and not walk around on your own if you’d rather not be hassled.


$$ Saving Tips~ Discuss cost of hair braids with the vendor prior to getting your hair braided. Please note, you can bring alcohol on board the ship and they will hold it for you until departure but you cannot take it to your room.


Fortnum & Mason, London

“I am not the same, having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.” ~ Mary Anne Radmacher



Entering Fortnum & Mason reminded me of stepping back in time to the department stores featured in old movies. A store complete with glass candy jars, sculptures made of colored chocolates, free samples, an array of sliced meats sold by the pound, decorated Christmas trees, smiling staff, velvet overstuffed sitting chairs, the sound of Christmas music, shiny staircases and a fireplace. The display windows are breathtaking at Christmas time. Nothing in the U.S. compares to Fortnum & Mason.

The Holiday Window Displays


2015 Christmas Display Window



Window Display

Located in the Piccadilly Circus shopping area of London in the city of Westminster, Fortnum & Mason is famous for their holiday window displays which change with each season. In 2016, the theme was Together We’re Merrier incorporating unusual pairs using 3D sculptures.  In 2015, pictured above, Fortnum & Mason opted for a traditional scene complete with reindeer, instruments and festive food which was an instant favorite with kids.  Fortnum & Mason collaborated with Kristjana S Williams to create hand-painted geese, puddings and sweets. In June 2016, Disney took over the windows displays to promote the release of ‘Alice Through The Looking Glass’. Disney is the first company to take over designing a window display for Fortnum & Mason in 309 years! The window displays captured Tim Burton’s version of the Lewis Carroll story using such props as a looking glass, chess piece, butterflies, teacups and pendulum clocks. No matter what season it is, the window displays are always a conversation for the viewers.


White Chocolate Ice Skates

There are some blog posts which have one or two main pictures. Not this one, there are so many fantastic pictures which capture the true feeling of Christmas at Fortnum & Mason. Just one of the many specialty items were the meringues, big, fluffy and made to perfection. They were absolutely colossal! For those of you who are not familiar, a meringue is a dessert made of whipped egg whites, sugar, salt, cornstarch, powdered sugar. When the powdered sugar is added to the meringue, it forms a pavlova (meringue cake). When making meringues, it is all about the stiff peaks! Meringues are often flavored with vanilla, almond, coconut by infusing with oils rather than using extracts. The staff are happy to hand out samples and it was my first time eating divinity.




Fortnum & Mason is best known for supplying high quality foods. The brand picked up recognition and saw rapid growth throughout the Victorian era. Even though they are more of a department store today, they continue to carry a variety of exotic, specialty products. More recently, in 2012, The Queen opened the Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon on the fourth floor. Eventually new departments were created such as the Gentlemen’s department on the third floor. The third floor is also the location of a celebrated tea shop and several restaurants.


Fragrances~ Fortnum & Mason carries an exclusive collection of soaps, lotions and 1707 fragrances for men and women. In addition, they are an exclusive retailer for high-quality perfumiers. An example of some of the fragrances sold at Fortnum & Mason are Clive Christian No 1 for Women, 50ml at £450.00, Imperial Jubilee No1 costs £650 ($1043) for 50ml.


Christmas Time at Fortnum & Mason

Hampers~ Fortnum & Mason sells loose-leaf teas and world-renowned luxury picnic baskets, known as “hampers” in England. These hampers were originally sold to Victorian High Society events. The hampers contain Stilton Cheese, champagne quail eggs, and smoked salmon at a cost of £35 to £25,000.


Interesting Facts~ Fortnum & Mason began in 1705 by Hugh Mason as a small store in St. James Market. What is a British Royal Warrant? British Royal Warrants grants the retail establish the permission to advise that a specific product is sold to the Queen. These warrants can only be granted by Queen Elizabeth II, Duke of Edinburgh and the Prince of Whales to companies selling goods & services. In November 2010, PETA UK started a campaign against Fortnum & Mason’s sale of foie gras (duck or goose liverwurst). Fortnum & Mason is privately owned by Wittington Investments.


img_7040$$ Saving Tips~ Fortnum & Mason is an experience in itself whether you shop or not. Samples are available at the meat, cheese and confectionary counters. We chose to purchase very small, inexpensive items as souvenirs, plus we wanted the cute, green bag and the complementary gift wrapping which comes with all purchases. I purchased two Christmas bars of soap. Stop in to their tea house and have a cup of tea, after all, it’s Queen approved! We didn’t have a chance to sit down for tea at the store but we found a smaller Fortnum & Mason at Heathrow airport in Terminal 5. It’s the perfect way to end your trip before saying goodbye to London!


Fortnum & Mason Terminal 5, Heathrow Airport