Weekend Getaway – Crystal River, FL in Summer

There are three main attractions in the Crystal River and Homosassa area of Florida – (1) beautiful natural springs, (2) manatees, and (3) scalloping! These springs offer fun all year round. 

For this weekend adventure, we went scalloping! Scalloping season is only open for a limited time during the summer (typically July), so it’s best to plan this trip as far in advance as possible. Home rentals for scalloping season typically open in January. The house we rented was an updated and adorable 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom house with a great layout and a dock out back.

Day 1

We left our house on a Thursday afternoon and made the 2 1/2 hour drive trailing our boat. Once we arrived, the men went to the nearest boat ramp to launch the boat while the women went to Publix to buy food for the next several days.

That night, we went to dinner by boat to The Crab Plant – this was recommended by a friend that grew up on Crystal River. Another popular spot is Cracker’s, which was right across the way. If you want good seafood, Crab Plant is the place you want to be. After dinner we cruised around Hunter Springs to spot some manatees.

Day 2

On Friday morning, we woke up to thunder and lightning (always be patient and understanding when traveling – especially in Florida during rainy season). We attempted to go out for a bit during a clearing but the storms were rolling in so fast that we had to make a quick run back in. Fortunately, we were with great friends and the Airbnb was stocked with games so we still had a fun day. Plus, we weren’t at work so we were happy!

Day 3

Saturday was PERFECT! After breakfast, we loaded up the cooler and made our way out to scallop. You won’t have to worry about not knowing where to go… just follow the other hundred boats that will be in front of you. We picked a spot in about 5-7 feet of water (we heard the more shallow spots get picked over pretty quickly on opening weekend). Be sure that you have a dive flag on your boat, a bucket, snorkel & mask, fins, and laundry bags to hold your scallops while you’re swimming around.

I floated and enjoyed the sun all day while the other 5 did the hard work. I didn’t think diving at 32 weeks pregnant was the best use of my energy so I kept a headcount of everyone and watched for boats coming by – this worked out extremely well and I highly recommend having a watch person.

They collected a ton! Once everyone felt like our little spot was picked over, we cruised a couple hundred feet and they dove back in. You’ll never know where a perfect spot is, so just shift a little throughout the day and see what you can find. Everyone ended up finding even more in our new spot. The thicker the sea grass, the better. There will be more scallops that have stayed hidden.

Around 3:00, we packed up and made our way back in. Before going back to the house we made a quick pit stop at Dockside Ice Cream!

Once we were back to the house and the boat was unloaded, the guys started shucking! They had an assembly line that seemed to work pretty well. You can pay to have someone do it for you but we thought $30 was a little steep. I cooked a pasta dish that night that was perfect with the delicious little scallops.

Day 4

On Sunday morning, we cleaned, loaded up, and made our way back home. Everyone had a great time and this is definitely something that we’ll do again. Hopefully we’ll have two full days of nice weather next time so we can have a day to play in all the springs! As long as you’re with a good group, nothing will damper your weekend.

If you don’t reside in Florida and/or don’t have a boat of your own, you can rent a boat or book a scalloping charter. I also recommend paddleboarding or kayaking through the springs.

Manatee tours are tons of fun, but you have a better chance of seeing manatees if you visit in the winter. When the Gulf temperatures drop, the manatees come to the springs, where the temperature is 72 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. I highly highly recommend SeaDaddys – https://www.seadaddysdivecenter.com/ – don’t worry, you get a wet suit so you won’t freeze!

Weekend Getaway – Palm Coast, FL

Are you looking for a weekend getaway for the whole family that doesn’t take much planning? Check out Hammock Beach Golf Resort in Palm Coast, Florida!

For my husband’s birthday, we decided to look for a getaway that would include golf for him and activities that our daughter would enjoy. (Yes, I was also considered but I just love vacation so my needs were already met.) We landed on Hammock Beach Golf Resort and booked rooms with two other couples and their children.

Nestled on the each coast of Florida between St. Augustine and Daytona, this resort had it all. There were five restaurants, a poolside café, and multiple bars. The pool complex included a lower-level pool with a slide, a lazy river, an upper-level adult pool, and an upper-level zero-entry beach pool. Close by, an indoor pool with two hot tubs. Not up for the busy pools? Play a round of oceanfront golf (pricey option) or a round of putt-putt golf (free!). Enjoy the beach access, play tennis, rent a bike, or book a treatment at the spa and wellness center.

Now, all the details (good and bad).

We visited in July 2021 and the resort was definitely struggling with staffing levels. Check-in was “4:00 PM or when the room is ready”. For one set of friends, their room was ready right at 4:00 PM. For us, it wasn’t ready until 5:30 PM. This made things difficult since we were traveling with a child and needed somewhere to get ready for dinner. If friends wouldn’t have come with us and had an available room, we would have had to cancel our dinner reservations.

We went to dinner at Atlantic Grille that Thursday night. It was wonderful! The food was great, the staff was great, the views were great!

After dinner, we played on the beach for a bit and finally made our way to our room. When we walked in, it was very obvious that the air conditioning wasn’t working. We had to call for maintenance and wait for someone to be able to come fix it. We asked if we could switch rooms so that we could get our daughter to bed and the answer was no because they were booked solid that weekend. So we had to keep her up late and wait until they were able to get it fixed.

The next day (Friday) we started our morning with breakfast at Atlantic Grille. The dads went to play a round of golf while the moms and the kids went to the pools. The zero-entry pool was perfect for our 2 and 3 year olds! It was easy to supervise them, the deepest part was only 3 feet, they loved that they could just walk in, and there was a bathroom extremely close by.

We ordered lunch pool-side and then went back to the rooms for nap time. When I arrived at my room, my key didn’t work. I called the front desk and they had to send someone up to open the door and give me a new key. I’m typically pretty patient when traveling, but it was starting to wear thin (as you can imagine).

In the afternoon, the dads took the kids and the moms went to the adult pool for some quiet time and drinks! Then, to Delfino’s Italian Chophouse. Again, the food was great and the staff was great!

After dinner, we all reconvened to have s’mores! The resort set up firepits and offered $5 s’mores kits. The kids ate s’mores and ran in the open space. Everyone had a great day.

On Saturday, we started with breakfast at Atlantic Grille again. Then we all enjoyed a full day poolside together. We primarily hung out in the zero-entry pool but also floated around the lazy river a few times! When the kiddos needed to nap, we all alternated keeping an eye on them and hanging onto our poolside chairs.

When it was time to get ready for dinner at Loggerheads, we made our way back to the rooms. I got to the door and my key didn’t work AGAIN. I called the lobby (a little upset, I’ll admit) and they hung up on me. Then I was beyond my patience tolerance level and called again. Thankfully, someone a little more understanding answered and sent maintenance to help. They informed me that the keys are temperamental and very sensitive to deactivation if they are anywhere near a magnet. Well, my purse has a magnet closure! Had I known that on day 1, I wouldn’t have kept the key in my purse. Thankfully, dinner was great and made up for my frustration.

On Sunday, we had breakfast and then spent some time at the beach before we needed to check-out and head home.

Overall, I would give the resort 4 out of 5 stars.

Pros: The property was gorgeous, the restaurants were really great, and there were tons of amenities to make the weekend fun!

Cons: Late/inconsistent check-in, the AC being broken with no room alternatives (but its a fun place, so its popular!), the issues with our keys, and lack of sustainable processes (the trashcans on property and the beach were overflowing with plastic cups and straws everyday).

GA Mountains – Ellijay / Blue Ridge

After all of our 2020 travel plans were cancelled, we ended up taking 2 road trips to the mountains in North Carolina (see posts: NC Mountains – Banner Elk area and NC Mountains – Asheville area). Our Banner Elk trip was in the summer and our Asheville trip was the week of Thanksgiving. Cameron loved the change of season and cooler weather for Thanksgiving so much, that he immediately booked a cabin for Thanksgiving 2021 when we got home! Normally, I’m the planner so I was shocked, but excited, that he took that initiative.

Day 1

After a year of waiting, we were on our way! This was our first trip with the dogs so we had a LOT packed and crammed into my SUV. We left the house around 6:30 AM to head north. Throughout our drive, we stopped at various Love’s Travel Stop’s for gas and restroom breaks. The reasons we always try to find a Love’s: 1) known for their clean restrooms, 2) fenced area for dogs to play, and 3) always busy so you’ll never feel nervous at night time.

Through various pit stops and wrong turns along the way, it took us about 11 hours to reach our destination. Oddly, there were two cars in the driveway of our rental…. Remember when I said that Cameron booked this cabin? Well, he booked our reservation to begin the NEXT night and not the night we pulled in….

We are so thankful that my sister’s cabin rental was just a few minutes down the road. So we crashed with her family on night 1. I will be the one booking for 2022! And this is something that we’ll laugh about every Thanksgiving.

Day 2

We woke up bright and early to head out for two beautiful hikes – Fall Branch Falls and Tumbling Waters Trail. Fall Branch Falls was about 35 minutes from our cabin rental on Gobbler Knob Drive in Ellijay. This is an easy (.9 mile out & back) trail to a cute little waterfall that has an observation deck. The trail was both kid and dog friendly (as long as your pet is leashed). There were no trash cans so please plan to carry your own trash! After this hike, Cameron and my sister’s husband headed to White Path Golf Club and the rest of us headed to Tumbling Waters trail.

From Fall Branch Falls to Tumbling Waters was a 45 minute drive. This trail was also fairly easy (1 mile out & back), kid friendly, and leashed-dog-friendly. You can stop at the bridge, or you can continue on to the various observation decks. One will be straight ahead on the trail and the other, you’ll cross the bridge first.

Tumbling Waters back to the cabin was a 35 minute drive. We all showered, rested, and then made our way to Ellijay River Vineyards. When you pull into the vineyard, stop to order wine, cheese, and a s’mores kit. Then drive down the hill to the firepit area. There were two large stone firepits, tables, swings, and a hammock nestled along the river. All of the kids had a great time playing and making s’mores!

Day 3

First stop, Ellijay Coffeehouse for breakfast! Then a short drive to Vets Memorial Park – a paved path around a sports complex that ends at a playground. The pictures online of this path look gorgeous! But they failed to include the baseball fields and industrial plant. But it worked out because the kids were able to run and play until Build an Ark Animal Rescue opened.

At 10:45, we left the park and drove to Build an Ark Animal Rescue. I highly highly recommend that you visit! It’s a very eclectic little farm that takes in any type of animal in need. The sweetest dog in the world will greet you at your car. She has spina bifida, which is obvious, but her personality doesn’t show it.

When you arrive, go to the table set up by the barn and pay $7 for a bucket of fruits and vegetables to feed the animals. We saw, played with, fed, and pet bunnies, kittens, pigs, horses, cows, donkeys, goats, ducks, chickens, and more. Harper’s absolute favorite was a little pink pig that LOVED cherry tomatoes!

After lunch and a nap, we ventured off to Bear Claw Vineyards. This place was great – indoor, patio, and outdoor seating, games for the kids, firepits, snacks, and great wine. BUT it was absolutely freezing when we visited. The inside and patio tables for beyond full so we tried sitting fireside but only lasted through one glass of wine before we went home. We picked up dinner, got the fire going at the house, and enjoyed the sunset.

Day 4

On day 4, I had a family photo session with Deana Lee Photography at Mercier Orchards. It was cold but it was sunny and beautiful out. After photos, we walked around the amazing property and went shopping inside the store. I could have stayed in there all day! I highly recommend the fried pies.

Later in the day, we stopped by Smokin E’s BBQ to pick up an early dinner before heading to Buckley Vineyards. The food was so good! They close at 4:00 so be sure to go early! Buckley was a cute and cozy spot with patio seating, outdoor seating, and firepits to sit around.

After a drink at Buckley, we drove just a couple minutes up the road to Ott Farms & Vineyards. It was really cold again so we stayed close to the building and let the kids run around the big open space!

Day 5

My sister and her family had to leave early this morning so they didn’t venture out with us to Amicalola Falls. The drive from our cabin to the State Park was about 45 minutes. We brought the dogs for this one so that they could get outside and burn some energy. With that in mind, we chose to hike the 2 mile loop (you can also drive to the top of the viewing area). Once at the top, there is a large staircase – 604 to get down to the next viewing area. If you went the opposite way that we did, it will be 604 up! The viewing decks are small so be prepared to be patient if you would like a photo.

After our drive back, showers, and a nap, we visited Engelheim Vineyards. Again, absolutely beautiful. I might be a little biased since I’ve never met a vineyard that I didn’t like! We loved walking around the property and snacking on the charcuterie board.

Day 6

Happy Thanksgiving! My mom booked her flight for this day so it was down to just Cameron, Harper, myself, and the dogs. Over the summer, Cam’s dad purchased a little cabin in Topton, NC. Since we were only an hour and a half away, we decided to drive up and check it out! The area around Lake Nantahala was gorgeous and we’re so happy we were able to see it.

Later, we had our Honey Baked Ham & Co. turkey for Thanksgiving dinner with some mac & cheese and green bean casserole.

Day 7

On our last day in the Ellijay / Blue Ridge area, we took a train ride on the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway. This ride was tailored for kids and included hot chocolate, candy, and a visit from Santa! Harper loved it. After the train ride, we stopped by Rum Cake Lady for lunch and made our way back to the cabin.

Later that evening, we went back to Blue Ridge for shopping and Christmas lights.

Day 8

Florida bound!

Costa Rica

While watching TV one night, I asked Cameron what places were on his bucket list. He said New Zealand and Costa Rica were two places he would like to go. I opened my laptop and looked up plane tickets for both. Round trip from Orlando to San Jose on Copa Air was only $300. Without asking, I booked it!

Tip: we went the first week of June, which is rainy season. Hotel and ticket prices are lower this time of year. It’s the same as what we’re used to in Florida during the summer, so we knew we’d be fine!

We flew into San Jose, rented a car through Budget, and made the beautiful drive to La Fortuna. The city has a lot of traffic but once you’re out, driving is pretty easy. Just be mindful that a lot of bridges are only one lane and biggest car has the right of way.

When we arrived, we checked into Hotel Los Lagos, which is at the base of an active volcano. The property is incredible! Our favorite feature were the hot tubs. There are several as you walk up the property and they are all fed by the natural hot springs from the volcano. The higher you go, the hotter they get!

Our first day in La Fortuna, we went to the waterfall park. There are 471 steps each way so wear comfy shoes! Also, be sure to wear a bathing suit so you can jump in at the bottom! The water was cold but it was worth it.

Our second day we went zip lining at Arenal Park. There are several companies in the area but we went with Sky Trek based on reviews and safety. It was an absolute blast! One of the zip lines is over 600 feet in air!

As I’ve mentioned before, Cameron is always a little skeptical when it comes to traveling. I love eating at ‘hole in the wall’ type places but he was not into that idea just yet. Until I finally convinced him to let me pick a dinner spot! We had passed Soda Las Flores the day before and I was set on going. We pulled up and the owner walked over from his hotel next door to seat us. We talked for a while and he gave us great food recommendations. Then his wife walked over and started cooking! They were incredibly sweet and hospitable. They sat with us and taught us various Spanish words and phrases that they thought would be useful on our trip. The food was so great that Cameron came around to my restaurant choices and hasn’t questioned me since! Soda Las Flores has been painted a different color since we visited, but here is a picture when we were there:

We stayed two nights in this area and then it was off to Manuel Antonio for our remaining 3 nights! It took a few hours to drive here from La Fortuna, so we arrived late afternoon.

We wanted to see the beach before dark so we drove straight there. You have to pay for parking but we just wanted to take a peak – only 15 minutes or so. The attendant was so sweet when we told him we just got into town. He told us not to worry about paying and to go enjoy! We ended up having a blast and staying for over an hour. When we returned to the car, we apologized and tried to pay. He wouldn’t let us! He told us just to promise we would come back and park with him tomorrow. Of course we did!

We went and grabbed some drinks to watch the sunset and then headed to our rental. We stayed at Manuel Antonio Estates in a studio apartment (#9) for $50 per night. This was perfect for us because of the price and the location. It was right in between Quepos and Manuel Antonio National Park.

The next day, we went to explore Manuel Antonio National Park. The entrance fee is $18 and you can pay extra for a tour. The tour wasn’t in our budget so we just followed behind a group to see if they were pointing out any exciting wildlife. The most hilarious little critters are the monkeys. But be sure that any food in your bag is in a sealed container or ziploc – they have a great sense of smell and will happily unzip your bag to steal your snacks. Also, don’t smile at them! Showing your teeth is a sign of aggression.

We walked to Playa Espadilla Sur and hung our backpacks on a tree. This beach was amazing and it was just the two of us! We played in the sand and then took our snorkels and masks to see the beautiful variety of fish swimming near the rocks. When we left, we didn’t take a trail back. We walked up and through the trees. For the first time ever, I was skeptical about an adventure! I wasn’t sure we’d ever find our way out but this ended up being a ton of fun!

On our way back to the rental, we spotted a happy hour sign at Raphael’s Terrazas. So we got ready and then headed back that way for dinner and drinks. The views were incredible and the staff was beyond nice! We stayed late into the night and had so much fun talking with them.

The next day, we went to the Manuel Antonio Estates office to see what sort of excursions we could book for the day. As soon as I saw horse back riding, we were sold! The entire day was great. We drove to the farm and hopped on our horses to go for a ride through the rain forest. Each tour company has rights to their own waterfall so we were able to go up and have a private swim! There is a changing hut so you don’t have to worry about having a wet suit for the ride down. We encountered some heavy afternoon rain so be sure to pack a good rain jacket if you visit in the summer.

When we finished the ride, we went back to the farm and the family cooked lunch for us.

Later in the day, we went back to Raphael’s Terrazas for another fun evening with great people!

The next morning, we rented boogie boards and enjoyed the waves for a few hours before having to head back to San Jose and fly home.

This trip was all around amazing and we had the best time! We will definitely visit Costa Rica again and explore different areas of this great country. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask!

Pura Vida

South Africa

Safari and Cape Town

South Africa. There is so much to say, but I probably can’t express it all the way that it deserves to be. This was the most incredible trip and, if I had an unlimited cash flow, I would do it over and over again!

Let’s begin with planning – I knew I wanted to go on safari and I knew that I wanted to visit Cape Town. I worked with a travel agent and also did research on my own. When I found a tour company that had the most perfect itinerary – Siyabona Africa – my travel agent looked into them to make sure that this company was legitimate. Everything checked out! The most difficult part of booking was convincing my credit card company to let a charge in Africa go through. It took a few days, but we finally accomplished it. Next, after reviewing the itinerary, we had to plan our packing strategy. Several small planes were involved in our transfers so we decided to go with carry-on luggage only. I’ll post the links to our bags at the end (no, I won’t receive a commission – I just really like the bags and want to share with you!). After our packing strategy, we planned all of the fun things we wanted to do/see in Cape Town! In total, we needed 12 days to squeeze in traveling to and from South Africa, Safari, and Cape Town.

Day 1

Many, many hours on a plane. We left Tampa, connected in Atlanta, and went straight through to Johannesburg. I packed ZzzQuil and took 2 as soon as the attendants were finished serving dinner on the flight.

Day 2

When we arrived in Johannesburg, it was evening for us again. The hotel that we booked, Hotel OR Tambo, had a shuttle that went back and forth to the airport so we waited for them to arrive. At the hotel, we sat down for dinner and then went straight to bed.

Day 3

In the morning, we had breakfast and took the shuttle back to the airport. A small plane took us from Johannesburg to Skukuza Airport. When we arrived, a shuttle was waiting for us that drove us to our first stop – Inyati Game Lodge. It was close to lunch time when we arrived. A staff member greeted us, told us the rules – no walking outside by ourselves in the dark (hippos) and make sure that we lock our doors so that monkeys don’t steal our things! – and placed a lunch order for us. Lunch was not a traditional meal here. The meals and schedules at the lodge are tea in the morning, game drive, breakfast, rest, tea in the afternoon, game drive, and dinner. We unpacked our things, laughed at all of the monkeys peeking in our windows, and explored the property. Later, we had tea and snacks before heading out on our first drive. Almost immediately, we happened upon a leopard lounging the sun! It didn’t seem real.

A while later, we found packs of wild dogs and hyenas – it was spring time in South Africa so there were babies too! We followed them for a bit and watched the wild dogs go on a hunt. Our guide thought that we lost them, but then he spotted hyenas running to steal their kill. We pulled up right next to the hyenas pulling apart an impala – again, it didn’t seem real! I’ll spare you the graphic pictures in this post.

After our drive, we returned to the lodge for dinner. It’s a small place so all guests dine together and with the guides. All of the jetlag quickly disappeared throughout this amazing day!

Day 4

The next morning, we saw hippos, a leopard, elephants, wildebeest, wild dogs, lions, and rhinos!

Afterwards, we had breakfast and then lounged by the pool and read books until afternoon tea.

That evening, we were able to watch a leopard hunt an impala and take it up a tree. I wasn’t sure how I felt about it, but I’m happy that the leopard had a great meal! Again, we returned for dinner with all of the lodge guests.

Day 5

In the morning was our final game drive and breakfast with Inyati. After spotting a Southern yellow-billed hornbill, monkeys, zebras, and giraffes, we were ready for our next stop!

We were picked up and driven back to Skukuza Airport for a quick flight to Kruger Mpumalanga Airport (btw, South African Airways serves the best snacks). When we landed, a van was waiting for us and took us to Rhino Post Safari Lodge. The lodge was beautiful and felt like we were at a fancy adult summer camp! Except, at this point, it was a little cold! We were briefed on the rules again – don’t go outside at night without a guide and lock your doors properly or the monkeys will steal your things – and then left for our night drive. After the drive, we had a wonderful dinner with all of the other guests and enjoyed champagne by the fire pit.

Day 6

Our same schedule as before – early wake up call, snacks and tea, game drive, relax all day, snacks and tea, game drive, dinner! Giraffes, zebras, elephants, lions, rhinos, monkeys, impalas, buffalo, kudu, and more! Every drive was incredible, our guides were incredible, the food was incredible! Are you starting to see why I would do this over and over if I could?

Day 7

Cameron and I decided to skip the morning game drive so that we could pack and get ready for our next stop. It had been rainy and cold the previous day and I didn’t have enough dry pants to survive another cold morning! So we packed and relaxed while our friends went on their final one. After, we had breakfast and a driver arrived to take us to Elephant Whispers! Elephant Whispers is home to five orphaned elephants. We were able to learn about them, meet them, feed them, touch them, and take pictures! Tembo was so sweet and smart.

After our encounter, we had lunch and were taken to Oliver’s Lodge. This property was so beautiful and blew us away! Our rooms were huge, we were able to do laundry, there was a golf course, a beautiful pool, spa, and resident cats that loved to snuggle! Cameron and our friend Brett decided to book a couple’s massage together – only $25 per person! If we had more time, we would have definitely stayed here longer.

Day 8

In the morning, we met our driver and went back to Kruger Mpumalanga Airport to fly to Cape Town. When we landed, we picked up our rental car and drove to our Airbnb to check in. If you are from the United States, beware that you’ll drive on the opposite side of the road and the drivers seat is on the opposite side of the car!

Rather than driving down to Camps Bay for sunset, we took an Uber to avoid having to find parking. Definitely take a bottle of wine with you and climb up to a good spot on the rocks!

Day 9

Day 8, we had breakfast at Truth Coffee. I had a route mapped out for the day that included Boulder’s Beach, Cape of Good Hope, Haut Bay, and stops for shopping and eating along the way.

We ended our day at Cheetah Outreach.

Day 10

Truth Coffee for breakfast again – it was so good! We bought tickets for the City Sightseeing bus and started our day at Table Mountain – go early! There was a huge line by the time we were leaving!

We hopped off at a few stops – Bo Kaap and the Victorian Waterfront – and rode around listening to the history of the city.

Later, we found a liquor store near our Airbnb, each bought a bottle of champagne, and took an Uber to Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden. The property was amazing and we felt like we were in a Jurassic Park movie! After downing an entire bottle of champagne each, we were running around like silly little kids having the best day of their lives – and we were!

We got an Uber back to the Airbnb, walked to get dinner, and then spent the night playing Uno on our balcony.

Day 11

Can you guess where we had breakfast? After, we made our way out to wine country! We had a tour booked at Waterford Estate that included champagne, a facility tour, a hike through the vineyard, lunch and wine by a pond, and then chocolate and wine pairing back at the estate.

After enjoying a few hours here and buying a lot of chocolate to take home, we made our way to the airport to catch our flight home!

Day 12

Home and exhausted! We connected through Atlanta at breakfast time and thank goodness they had a Chick-fil-a open and ready for us! Then it was a short trip from there to Tampa before we spent the rest of the day sleeping.

Packing Tips

Seriously, pack light! You don’t want to walk up to one of the many small planes we took and have them tell you that your luggage is too big/heavy. Plus, you save money on baggage fees!

The men used these backpacks – https://www.amazon.com/Hynes-Eagle-Travel-Backpack-Approved/dp/B07G72NVHH/ref=sr_1_2_sspa?crid=1NU2Y6QV3VOMR&dchild=1&keywords=cabin+max+backpack&qid=1632494402&sprefix=cabinmax%2Caps%2C248&sr=8-2-spons&psc=1&spLa=ZW5jcnlwdGVkUXVhbGlmaWVyPUExT1VIM1hETkU0Tk4yJmVuY3J5cHRlZElkPUEwMDE4OTI3NFlLVUVVRU00NDRNJmVuY3J5cHRlZEFkSWQ9QTAyOTg5NTMyOExMNUJJNTEwOTVMJndpZGdldE5hbWU9c3BfYXRmJmFjdGlvbj1jbGlja1JlZGlyZWN0JmRvTm90TG9nQ2xpY2s9dHJ1ZQ==

The women used these – https://www.amazon.com/Cabin-Max-Backpack-Flight-Approved/dp/B009NR5H86/ref=sr_1_5?crid=1NU2Y6QV3VOMR&dchild=1&keywords=cabin%2Bmax%2Bbackpack&qid=1632494457&sprefix=cabinmax%2Caps%2C248&sr=8-5&th=1

Prior to packing, I shopped at Goodwill to find some khaki and neutrals that the lodges recommend you wear for drives. I purchased a pair of pants and a few tops from Goodwill and from Target. When we were at Oliver’s Lodge, I had everything cleaned through their laundry service and then left behind my thrift store purchases. Now my wardrobe was reset for our time in Cape Town and I had room to bring home souvenirs!

Weekend Getaway – Frederick, MD

Have you ever heard of Frederick, MD? I hadn’t. I stumbled upon this great spot when I was planning a weekend trip to see one of my best friends that had recently moved to Baltimore.

Visiting vineyards became a favorite activity during the pandemic – lots of outdoor space and wine! So for every city I visit, I type “vineyards near…” into Google just to check, even if I don’t think any will be nearby. When I began my search for this trip, The Frederick Wine Trail populated as a result for “vineyards near Baltimore”. An entire wine trail?! Sign me up.

Plans went from very basic – hanging out at my friend’s apartment and seeing a few sites in Baltimore – to way more fun (and as we joke, very romantic)! I had a lot of Marriott points from previous hotel stays and was able to find two nights for free in Frederick! So I booked our room and began planning our vineyard-hopping weekend.

I landed in Baltimore on a Friday – travel was easy since it was just me and I only packed a carry-on. I took the shuttle to the rental facility and picked up my car from Hertz (if you’re a Gold Club member, this airport has President’s Circle!). I checked-in to the hotel and then impatiently waited for Supriya to arrive! As soon as she was off work, she made her way straight to the hotel. Being the annoying friend that I am, I was sitting at the window waiting. I opened it and began yelling the moment I saw her!

Spring Hill Suites – Frederick

We were shocked and excited to find out that the hotel had a rooftop bar! We enjoyed drinks and dinner up there that night and then prepared for our jam-packed two days that I had planned!

Spring Hill Suites – Frederick

I loved all of the vineyards that we visited but the first might have been my favorite with their eco-friendly touches all around the property, beautiful views, great wine, and lots of yummy food to order! We arrived right as they opened and were the only ones there for quite some time. Once it started to fill up, we packed up and made our way to stop #2.

Black Ankle Vineyards
Black Ankle Vineyards

I said our first stop was my favorite, but I really did love every single place that we visited. Stop #2 was a small and adorable spot, where two resident dogs were ready to let us give them all the pets. There was also a tire swing! Again, we were the only ones there for quite some time and it was wonderful!

Elk Run Winery
Elk Run Winery

Stop #3 included an outfit change. Why, you ask? No reason other than two best friends being ridiculous and wanting to. We enjoyed live music, wine, snack mix, and chocolate at Loew Vineyards!

Loew Vineyards
Loew Vineyards

Stop #4 had the most beautiful property, live music, and a food truck. I wasn’t a fan of the wines I chose, but we had a great time enjoying the perfect weather and listening to music.

Hidden Hills Farm & Vineyard

After our final vineyard, we drove to Cunningham Falls and enjoyed a quick hike. Can you believe this was all in one day?? Don’t worry, we were very safe to drive – at each location, we ordered flights so that we would just have a small taste of each wine that we wanted to try. And the ones that we didn’t like, we dumped out. Also, we ate a ton and drank a plenty of water!

Cunningham Falls Trail

On our second morning, we didn’t skip a beat. We were up early getting ready, having breakfast, packing, and loading our cars since we wouldn’t be back before checkout. Our first stop of the morning was the Catoctin Mountain Orchard for some snacks. We may have gone a little overboard…

Catoctin Mountain Orchard

After loading up on snacks for the day, we made our way to the Catoctin Wildlife Preserve before the vineyards opened. We were so lucky that we were there when all of the male peacocks were doing their mating dances! I’ve only ever seen that on TV and it was really incredible to see in person. And also funny at how easily the females ignored their advances…

Catoctin Wildlife Preserve

At noon, we arrived at the Catoctin Breeze Vineyard & Winery, where I had made a pergola reservation for 12:00-2:30. This property continued with the theme of being absolutely gorgeous! A storm was rolling in that day so it was a little overcast and a little cold for these two Florida natives. But having a little wine and running around like little kids warmed us right up!

Catoctin Breeze Mountain Vineyard

After Catoctin, we had a little more time than I originally planned so we stopped at another spot on our route. Unfortunately, the storm was getting closer and it was extremely windy! The outdoor area was huge, but it was jam-packed with visitors listening to live music and enjoying the outdoors before the rain arrived. We played with a cute little puppy, tried to hide from the wind, and then left for our final stop.

Springfield Manor

This last stop was the most fun because I booked a local photographer while I was planning this trip! We’re so fortunate that the direction we were heading ended up putting some space between us and the storm. This was my first time booking a photographer for a best friend session and now I will do it again and again! Supriya and I had the best time and everyone at the vineyard was congratulating us on our marriage (HA! told you it was a romantic weekend). We cannot recommend Sarah Laughland Photography enough. She was so fantastic!

Linganore Winecellars
Linganore Winecellars
Linganore Winecellars

RIGHT after our session was over, the heavens opened and it POURED. Sarah made a run for her car, while Supriya and I took shelter to enjoy the storm. We stayed for a few hours and then left to get her car from the hotel, grab a pizza for dinner, and made our way back to Baltimore.

The next morning, we said our goodbyes and I drove to BWI and flew home to my sweet little family.

Supriya and I decided that this will be an annual tradition so we’re already working on our 2022 wine-weekend-getaway!

The Vineyards:

The Photographer: https://sarahlaughlandphotography.com/

Utah – The Mighty 5

This trip to Utah was 3 years in the making. It was originally planned for summer 2018. I bumped it back to 2020 after finding out I was pregnant with my little one (YAY!) and 2019 plans that were already in the works – the cruise to Alaska! Then the Covid pandemic hit and it was bumped again. I am happy to say that in 2021, I finally went to Utah! This itinerary was jam-packed with 5 national parks (The Mighty 5), 1 state park, kayaking, horseback riding, and canyoneering.

Day 1 was mostly travel. We landed in Salt Lake City, UT around 2:00 PM, got our rental car, stopped for a snack (which I highly recommend), and made the 4 hour drive to Moab. Once in Moab, we checked into our Airbnb, went to the grocery store for fruit, and picked up Thai for dinner.

Bruges Belgian Bistro

Day 2 we were up extremely early and left the Airbnb at 5:15 AM so that we could catch the sunrise in Canyonlands National Park. We chose a very short and easy trail (less than a mile) to do in the dark. Although we were early, we were not the first ones to arrive at Mesa Arch! If you want a front row spot to set up a camera and tripod, leave earlier than 5:15! I was able to weasle my way through the crowd and prop my GoPro up for a timelapse video. Then I walked around in other, less crowded areas. If you go in August/September like I did, the sun should be peaking through right around 7:00 AM.

Mesa Arch

After sunrise, we stayed in the park for a slightly longer hike around the Grand View Point – just about 2 miles out & back. We had the trail to ourselves and the views were absolutely beautiful!

When we were done with Grand View Point, we left Canyonlands and went to visit Dead Horse Point State Park. Although the views were pretty from the lookout point, the trails were unimpressive and I wish I would have picked another trail in Canyonlands. Plus, my America the Beautiful Pass didn’t cover the entry fee so I paid $20 for a very quick trip. BUT I have seen pictures of this spot at sunset and it is absolutely incredible.

Then it was back to Moab for a quesadilla and kayaking!

Day 3 was another sunrise hike! We left at 5:15 AM again and headed for Arches National Park. The plan was to do the Windows Loop trail but when we arrived, we found out they closed the access road for just THAT DAY. So we kept going and headed to the Delicate Arch trailhead, which I had planned on our group doing after Windows Loop. It was absolutely beautiful! After taking pictures at the arch, we found a little nook over to the left and watched the sunrise.

Delicate Arch

With extra time on our hands, we asked fellow hikers for any other recommendations and settled on Landscape Arch. You can’t go wrong with any of the trails in Arches!

Landscape Arch

After Arches, we made the 2 1/2 hour drive to Capitol Reef National Park. On our way through the park we stopped at the U-Pick orchards for peach and apple picking! It was so beautiful and the fruits were delicious! You pay $1 per pound and there is a scale and money box at the entrance (honor system). After picking, we went to our Airbnb to drop our bags and order dinner. My plan was Capitol Burger (5 star reviews!) but they are closed on Monday – I was so incredibly sad. We picked up burgers from another local place and ate dinner in the park – there is a section near the Gifford Homestead that has picnic tables – and also picked up pies and cinnamon rolls from Gifford. Then made our way to the Hickman Bridge trailhead. After, we went to Sunset Point to have our pies and watch the sun go down.

U-pick orchards
Sunset Point

Day 4, we packed up and left the Airbnb at 7:30 AM to head to Mystic Hot Springs for our private soak. We all forgot to pack towels but luckily there is a Walmart close to the springs! This is a man-made area that is fed by a natural hot spring. I laughed when we arrived – it was the weirdest/coolest little spot and a great break from all of the hikes we had been doing.

Mystic Hot Springs

After our time slot was up, we drove 1 1/2 hours to Bryce Canyon National Park and did the Queens Garden / Navajo Loop hike (about 3 miles). It’s no wonder that this is one of the most popular hikes in the park – it was beautiful! Later we checked into our Airbnb and had dinner at IDK Barbeque. Try to go early, before they run out of mac & cheese!

Day 5 was raining and cold – only 53° F. But we continued on with plans and went horseback riding through the canyon! Despite the weather, it was still so much fun and the park was absolutely gorgeous!

After our trail ride, we changed into dry clothes at the visitor center and made our way to Zion National Park. How were we already heading to our last stop?!

When we arrived in Zion, we drove to the visitor center to park (most trailheads in Zion are only accessible via their shuttles). It was a Wednesday, so parking was easy. If you go on a weekend or during high season, its unlikely that you’ll find parking in the afternoon. Once on the shuttle, we took it to the Emerald Pools stop, which is right in front of the Zion Lodge. We hiked the lower, middle, and upper. It was really pretty but definitely a little crowded, so be patient on the narrow parts. After our hike, we checked into our Airbnb and had dinner at Meme’s Cafe.

Upper pool

Day 6 plans were up in the air due to the rain up at Bryce – it had created possible flash flooding conditions in Zion so The Narrows ended up being closed for the day, but we didn’t know that until we arrived and spoke to a Ranger. We opted for the Angel’s Landing hike that morning instead. Of all the videos you watch about Angel’s Landing, they mostly show the parts that are very narrow and have a chain built in so that you have something to hold onto. But no one mentions the switchbacks to get to that point! Getting from the viewpoint to the actual landing was easy after the 1,400 elevation gain on the switchback part of the trail. Also, watch out for the chipmunks! They are super cute and sweet but I kept worrying that I was going to trip on one.

After the hike, we left the park and had a late breakfast / early lunch at Deep Creek Coffee Company and then waited for our canyoneering guide to pick us up!

Canyoneering was so much fun and I would definitely do it again. Our guide did all of the work, and we got to enjoy repelling down 40, 60, 80, and 100 foot rocks on a beautiful day. He recommended Bit & Spur for dinner and I am glad we followed that recommendation!

Day 7 – The Narrows opened back up! We left the Airbnb at 6:15 AM both mornings (the first shuttles start running at 6:00 AM). The Narrows is the last stop on the shuttle route. Once you arrive, there is a 1-mile walk to where you enter the water. After that, you can go as far as you’d like. The total length (Top Down) is 15.5 miles. We went about 2 miles in after the Riverwalk and turned around at that point, for a total of about 6 miles to and from the shuttle.

“And when you want to go explore, the number you should have is four” -Sandra Boynton

There is a shop in town where you can rent special shoes for The Narrows. This late in the season, we didn’t feel they were necessary and just wore regular hiking shoes and wool socks. The only downside is that we had to pack our wet shoes in our suitcase because we were heading to the airport right after.

After our hike, we stopped by Deep Creek Coffee Company again for late breakfast / early lunch. We still had some time so we started heading toward Las Vegas, drove along the strip, and stopped for ice cream at Ghirardelli before making our way to the airport.

We had the most amazing week in Utah and will definitely be back for more adventures.

Canyoneering https://rockodysseys.rocks/canyoneering/

Kayaking https://mild2wildrafting.com/kayaking/colorado-river.html

Mystic Hot Springs https://mystichotsprings.com/


Common theme amongst my recent posts – 2020 plans were cancelled. Which means that our annual Easter trip to Raleigh was cancelled.

For 2021, we didn’t want to miss it, but we’re also not ready to put the little one on a plane again just yet. So we decided to make a week of it, drive, and make some fun stops! One day in Savannah, three days in Raleigh, and one day in Charleston.

We left on Wednesday night after dinner and headed for Savannah. We arrived at our hotel around midnight, woke up the little one, and went straight to bed.

The next morning, we were up early and walked to The Collins Quarter for breakfast. When we arrived, there were lots of outside tables and no one was there – we’ve been very cautious during the pandemic and had not been to a restaurant in over a year. Because of the wide open space, we decided to sit down at a table and enjoy! The servers were so incredibly nice and the food was beyond good! If we were staying for several days, we would have eaten breakfast there every morning.

After breakfast, we walked River Street until it was time for our carriage ride around the city. This is a great way to see all of the squares if your time in the city is limited. Plus, we love horses so we probably would have booked it anyways. When our ride was over, we walked through the Savannah City Market. We discovered Byrd’s Cookies and left with a few too many bags. On our way back to the hotel, we picked up lunch from Little Duck Diner. We each tried a different grilled cheese – it was just okay. Maybe other parts of the menu are better.

When nap time was over, we walked to Forsyth Park. What a beautiful place! We spent a lot of time just walking around and playing. Once we started thinking about dinner, we left and headed to The Lady & Sons (a Paula Deen restaurant). They had a takeout special that included tons of food! We tried the meatloaf and chicken & dumplings. Loved the dumplings! Meatloaf was okay – underwhelming compared to all of the yummy flavors of our sides.

After dinner, we loaded up and headed for Raleigh. Again, arrived around midnight and went straight to bed. In the morning, we went to the North Carolina Museum of Art walking trail. It was a gorgeous day to get out and enjoy some sunshine! Later after naps, we went to Bowstring Pizza and Brewyard. They had a great selection of beer and cocktails.

The next morning we walked to Roanoke Park (my brother-in-law, sister-in-law, and niece live in Five Points) to play on the playground. We hung out at the house for most of the day and then got dressed up for family pictures at the WRAL Azalea Gardens. This is a free garden! The azaleas weren’t in full bloom yet so I imagine it’s absolutely gorgeous when they are.

On Sunday (Happy Easter!), we went to Pullen Park as soon as they opened so that we could walk around and enjoy the whole park to ourselves. Before we left, we rode the train! Our daughter was so excited and still talks about it months later. For the rest of the day, we dyed eggs and had Easter egg hunts. After our traditional Italian dinner, we packed up and headed for Charleston.

I mapped out a walking route for Charleston that allowed us to see a lot in a little bit of time. We started with Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit to fuel up and then began our 5 mile walk! After our walk (around noon), we packed up and checked out of the hotel. Before getting on the road, we stopped at Rodney Scott’s BBQ for lunch. Oh. My. Goodness. This might have been the best barbeque that I’ve ever had – and I’ve eating at Joe’s Kansas City BBQ!

We made it home around 9:00 PM on Monday. It was a great jam-packed 5 days!

A detailed itinerary, including maps, photographer information, and additional recommendations, is available for purchase for $25. Accepted payment is Venmo.

Big Sky, MT in winter

After having the opportunity to see Big Sky during the summer, we HAD to see it in the winter!

We chose February due to a lot of March and April plans for our group of 8. Traveling with others can oftentimes be difficult, so be sure to pick the right people! We will happily do this adventure again with this crew.

Day 1

6 of us flew together from Florida and 2 from Maryland. We were able to coordinate flight times and land in Bozeman within 30 minutes of each other, so it worked out great. We rented 2 Toyota 4Runners with AWD to be sure we’d make it up the mountain to our rental house in Moonlight Basin. The rental car counter was PACKED so always have your rental car reserved in advance!

One car headed straight for Big Sky to pick up rental gear and the other went to the Albertson’s in Bozeman to grocery shop for the week. The drive from Bozeman to Big Sky is about an hour. It snowed the entire time so we were a little slow (typical Floridians). We cooked at the house for dinner and had a great time catching up.

It also snowed all night, which made for lots of powder in the morning!

Day 2

The varying skill levels amongst our friends were perfect so that we could break up into groups on the mountain. 3 of us took lessons, 1 group went straight to the top, and another hung out on the greens. Half of us called it a day at lunch time and made our way back to the house so we could lounge in the hot tub. The other half stayed out all day.

That night was Super Bowl and we made allllll the food and relaxed at the house.

Day 3

The next day, half of us went dog sledding! This was my first time and I was in heaven. The powdery snow, the gorgeous pines covered in it, and THE DOGS! It seriously looked like we were in Narnia. The guide that I had was the best. He was so laid back and funny – it made the excursion even more fun. Half way through, they stopped and gave us cookies and hot chocolate – something we weren’t expecting!

After our excursion, we went straight back to the hot tub! For dinner, we picked up Riverhouse BBQ.

Day 4

After being separated for a day, the entire group went snowmobiling together. We followed a trail for about 6 miles that brought us to a wide open meadow. The guides let us go free and we got to race around as fast as we wanted. For most of us, it was our first time and we all had a blast! A few flipped their sleds but the guides were there to help.

The guys decided that it was their turn to cook dinner that night. They made pesto gnocchi with broccoli & red peppers (fancy schmancy).

Day 5

Mountain day! The less skilled group hung out at Madison Base and rode the greens. The skilled group went all the way to Loan Peak!

That night, we ordered from Ousel & Spur Pizza and celebrated two birthdays in our group with cakes from Blue Moon Bakery.

Day 6

Last mountain day! And the coldest I’ve ever been…. it was -1o – my hair, goggles, and eyelashes froze.

We made tacos for dinner and enjoyed our last night in Big Sky together. It was an incredible week spent with an incredible group of friends.

I’ve now been to Big Sky in the summer and in the winter. I’m in love with both seasons and recommend you try to experience both too!

Snowboarding lessons https://bigskyresort.com/mountain-sports/group-lessons-lp

Dog Sledding booked through Spirit of the North http://www.huskypower.com/

Snowmobiling booked through Canyon Adventures http://www.canyonadventuresmontana.com/

Rental gear through Grizzly Outfitters https://www.grizzlyoutfitters.com/

Riverhouse BBQ https://riverhousebbq.com/

Ousel & Spur Pizza Co. http://www.ouselandspurpizza.com/

Blue Moon Bakery http://www.bigskybluemoonbakery.com/

NC Mountains – Asheville area

We love getting out of Florida for Thanksgiving so we decided to book as last minute Airbnb in the Asheville area. Options were limited so we chose a house in Hendersonville. It wasn’t our ideal cabin-esque home, but the views could not have been any better!

As with our last trip to the mountains, we drove through the night so that the little one could sleep. Both home owners for Seven Devils and this rental in Hendersonville were so understanding and accommodating – letting us check in and out at odd times.

Day 1

When we arrived, we went to the Collier Cove Nature Preserve that was just a few minutes down the street. It had a great path and let us have a nice stretch after being in the car so long. After we explored for a while, we went grocery shopping and made our way to the house for a good nap.

After naps, we went to Burntshirt Vineyards. Like I’ve said before, vineyards became a favorite pandemic activity! Outside, tons of space, and wine!

Day 2

The next morning our plans were derailed when we found a tick in our little ones neck. Instead of a pretty waterfall, we went straight to urgent care! The tick broke and it’s hook was stuck in her neck. She was an absolute trooper. The difficult part was trying to find doxycycline in liquid form for a 2 year old to be able to take. We had to bounce around to several pharmacies before we found what we needed. Moral of this paragraph, don’t forget to check for ticks! I now keep a Tick Twister in my first aid kit.

Pardee Urgent Care

Later that evening, we went to the Biltmore to see the gorgeous Christmas lights! It was so beautiful! You have to have tickets in advance so be sure to purchase them online. The earlier you can book them, the less expensive they are. The prices creep up throughout the holiday season.

Day 3

On Day 3, we squeezed in a lot since Day 2 didn’t go as planned. We started early and went to two different waterfalls – Looking Glass Falls (pictured here) and Triple Falls. The little one was able to handle it all and loved it!

After the waterfalls and a nap, we went back to Antler Village to walk around in daylight. On the way there, while at a red light, a van rear-ended us going 40 MPH, causing us to hit the folks in front of us. Luckily, everyone was okay and all parties involved were SO NICE! The woman that hit us mailed an apology card a few weeks later with a big sticker book for our daughter. The truck was okay to drive (yay steel bumpers!) so we still continued on with our plans.

As the sun went down, we left Antler Village and went to the NC Arboretum for their drive-thru lights show. It would have been more fun to walk around, but they did a wonderful job, considering we were in a pandemic!

Day 4

Since we packed so much into Day 3, we took it easy on the morning of Day 4. In the afternoon, we went to Saint Paul Mountain Vineyards. It was a cute little property and we had a lot of fun walking around.

Day 5

Happy Thanksgiving! In the morning, my mom and I went to a falconry experience. Every year for Christmas, I try to find an activity instead of a gift so this was her early Christmas present!

Later, we took it easy and had our Honey Baked Ham Co. dinner and Baked Pie Co. dessert.

Day 6

Our last day! Cameron and I did a hike on our own, while little one stayed with my mom. I think she could have handled it, but we weren’t sure before going. The Rainbow Falls trail was easy and well marked. And we actually caught an early morning rainbow!

After naps, we went to Point Lookout Vineyards. Oh. My. Goodness. This place was gorgeous. If anyone would ever like to get married there, please invite me!

That night, we were Florida-bound as our last vacation of 2020 was complete.