Big Sky, MT in summer

Big Sky. Have you heard of it? Have you been? I have and I’m in love.

Like everyone else, our 2020 plans were thrown for a loop. After getting a little too stir crazy, we finally booked an Airbnb and drove to the Boone area in July 2020. Right before we left, a client of my husbands called and asked if we wanted to use his cabin in the Moonlight Basin area of Big Sky, after he and his family leave for the summer. Um, YES PLEASE! It was just 3 weeks after our return from the mountains, but we had a lot of vacation time and weren’t upset about 2 vacations in a row!

We were supposed to be in Big Sky to snowboard in March of 2020, but that was right as the world was coming to a halt, so it was cancelled. Having the opportunity to visit in the summer was something we didn’t want to pass up! We weren’t quite ready for the little one to fly that far during the pandemic so this was a mom and dad trip (which we desperately needed).

Our flight left on a Saturday, we landed in Bozeman, and picked up our rental car. Our car had 4WD, but we didn’t need it in the summer. The drive to Big Sky is about an hour from the airport. If you’re looking to save money on groceries for your trip, stop at the Albertson’s in Bozeman before heading south. There is a great market in the Meadow area of town, but it is definitely more pricey.

Day 1

Our morning began with a beautiful and easy hike to Ousel Falls. We’re early birds, so we were the only ones there for quite a while. I imagine the trail will be much busier as the day goes on. For these Floridians, it was a bit chilly.

Ousel Falls

Later in the afternoon, we went to Loan Peak! Elevation 11,166 feet – the views were amazing!

Loan Peak

Day 2

Day 2 started with archery, which I’ve never done. I wasn’t terrible, but I certainly wasn’t good. It was a lot of fun and a good arm workout! The weather was perfect – beautiful blue skies and moderate temperatures.

Later, we made our way back down to base and went ziplining. Due to precautionary measures in place, all tours were private so it was just us and the guides.

Day 3

We tried our hand at fly fishing…. and did not do well. The guide felt terrible but we still had a great time! Everywhere he took us was gorgeous and it was just so much fun being outside all day. Plus, we looked really good in those waders.

It was a long day so we spent the rest of the afternoon in the hot tub at the cabin.

Doesn’t this view look fake? It was incredible.

Day 4

My favorite – horseback riding! I’m not a good rider, but I love it! The tour was so great and so incredibly beautiful, just like everything in Big Sky.

Later that day, we went to Porcupine Trail. A local resident recommended this hike since it’s typically not crowded. We only passed a few other people and had the trail all to ourselves for most of the afternoon. There is not much shade on this trail so definitely wear a hat and sunscreen!

Day 5

Cameron and I were up before the sun so we decided to take on the Beehive Basin hike. It is 6.6 miles roundtrip. Some parts were easy and some were strenuous (AllTrails rates the hike Moderate). If you plan to go, start early, take your time, and pack/wear layers. It was beautiful and worth the time we spent on the trail! When we were approaching the end, we saw some families with small children attempting to start the hike. Not sure if they made it…I wouldn’t recommend this one for littles.

Our final activity of the week was whitewater kayaking! We’ve always wanted to go whitewater rafting but saw that kayaking was available and sounded like a great time. We LOVED it! I can’t say that enough. If you’ve never tried, please do. It was so thrilling and fun! Cameron tipped in one of the rapids and fell out, but I stayed upright the entire time! The tour company had a photographer on the bank of the river to capture some really fun moments for us.

On day 6, we flew home to our little one. We both agreed that we can’t wait to bring her to Big Sky when she’s a bit older!

Double rainbow after a quick rain shower

Loan Peak, Archery, and Ziplining were booked through Big Sky Resort https://bigskyresort.com/

Fly Fishing booked through Wild Trout Outfitters https://wildtroutoutfitters.com/

Horseback Riding booked through Canyon Adventures http://www.canyonadventuresmontana.com/

Whitewater Kayking booked through Geyser Whitewater Expeditions https://www.raftmontana.com/

Yellowstone & Grand Teton

How did we pick this trip? Cam and I had so much fun on our hiking trip in Arizona that we wanted to do something similar. Our original plan was The Mighty 5 in Utah, but when looking at flight prices and other accomodations, we opted to visit these two magnificent parks!

Day 1

We left on a Friday and flew from Tampa to Salt Lake City via Southwest Airlines. Our connecting flight out of Phoenix ended up being delayed so we didn’t arrive in SLC until around 5:00 PM. Our good friends, Brett and Carolyn, were with us and Carolyn used her Hertz points to rent our car for free! They gave us a Chevy Traverse which ended up being perfect for 4 people and 4 suitcases. Instead of staying the night and taking it easy after a long day of travel, we went straight to West Yellowstone (about a 5 hour drive). Thank goodness for Carolyn and her determination! She drove the whole way. We made it to Moose Creek Inn around 11:00 PM and all went straight to bed! http://www.moosecreekinn.com

The easiest way to visit West Yellowstone is to fly into the Bozeman, MT airport (BZN). Again, when looking at prices and flight options, we chose SLC. It was a much longer drive, but we all had Southwest points to use and they don’t fly into BZN.

Day 2

The next morning we were feeling refreshed and ready to see Yellowstone! We had breakfast and bought boxed lunches from Ernie’s http://erniesbakery.com, ran around like crazy Floridians when flurries started falling, filled up the gas tank, and were off to the park! *Brett packed a hot/cold bag to keep our lunches in throughout the day with a bag of ice from the hotel.*

The entrance fee for Yellowstone is $35 per car and is valid for an entire week. You could also use your America the Beautiful Pass! The ranger will let you know of any road closings so be flexible with which routes you want to take each day if visiting at the beginning of the season like we did. The route we were planning to take had a road closed due to snow so we went with plan B and saw all of the geysers on day 1.

It was cold and snowy/rainy but that made the steam on all of the geysers extra dramatic and really cool to see! We also had the opportunity to see some bison and elk up close.

After seeing Old Faithful, we called it a day around 2:30 PM and started making our way back to Moose Creek to catch up on a little sleep. We all napped for a bit and then went out to walk the shops and have dinner at Madison Crossing http://www.madisoncrossinglounge.com. We all ordered different meals and appetizers to try. My favorite were the bison nachos and bison meatloaf!

Day 3

The next day, we started at Ernie’s again for breakfast and our boxed lunches. Then we decided to make our way all the way to Lamar Valley. There were tons of beautiful stops along the way so it took us a few hours to get there.

Lamar Valley is known for animal viewing. But what we found out is that you need to be there EARLY and be willing to stay in the same spot all day long and hope for the best. We thought it would be easier than that because we were spoiled by our African Safari trip. You also need a good scope or camera lens because not every sighting will be close. Our 200 mm lenses were really sad compared to the gear we saw! We were lucky enough to see a sleeping black bear on the way, so it was still a great day for us!

We enjoyed the gorgeous views of the valley and then started to make our way back, with lots of pit stops in between.

We got back to Moose Creek around 4:00 PM and followed our same routine. Quick nap (for me at least) then out to dinner at Wild West Pizza so that we could watch a hockey game. https://wildwestpizza.com

Day 4

On our 3rd day in the park, we took the route that had been closed on Saturday but was now open. There was so much snow so we now understood why it had been closed! We didn’t have an itinerary or destination in mind. We just drove around and stopped for all of the pretty views.

At one point in the day, we saw a lot of cars pulled over and big scopes and cameras set up. We pulled over and asked a gentleman what they were looking at. He let us all look through his scope and we were able to see a mama grizzly and one of her cubs! *Tip: those with scopes are more approachable and talkative. The folks with large cameras are most likely working.*

We ended our day around 4:00 PM again and had dinner at Taqueria Las Palmitas https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g45399-d1861294-Reviews-Taqueria_Las_Palmitas-West_Yellowstone_Montana.html – It was a nice and sunny afternoon so perfect opportunity to sit outside and try this taco bus! It was delicious! After dinner we walked around to a few more shops and then ended our night at Arrowleaf Ice Cream. The ice cream is made fresh when you order and soooooo good! My recommendation is vanilla and huckleberry. My husband is usually all about chocolate but he wouldn’t stop stealing mine! https://m.facebook.com/pages/biz/Arrowleaf-Ice-Cream-Yogurt-Shop-197436476348/

Day 5

On our final day, we checked out of Moose Creek, had breakfast and ordered boxed lunches, then started making our way to Grand Teton through Yellowstone.

We stayed in Jackson at the Rustic Inn for our two nights at Grand Teton. It was only 20 minutes from the park entrance, really nice, just a few minutes from downtown Jackson, and included breakfast. https://rusticinnatjh.com

We didn’t check in until around 4:00 PM so we all unpacked, got settled, and then got a ride to the square for shopping and dinner at Hatch Taqueria. It was Taco Tuesday! Cam and I each ordered two different tacos and Mexican street corn. All were delicious! http://www.hatchjh.com

Day 6

The next morning, we had a float tour with Solitude Float Tours. It was a very relaxing trip with amazing views. And we were finally able to see a MOOSE! This was a huge deal to Carolyn and me because we have looked for moose in many states and never had any luck. https://www.grand-teton-scenic-floats.com

After the tour, we ate our sandwiches from Creekside Market and we drove to the Lupine trailhead for Hidden Falls. Just a little ways into the hike, we saw baby bears in the distance! It was so much fun to sit and watch them.

We all loved this hike and recommend! After we got back to the hotel and everyone was ready for dinner, we made our way to Snake River Brewing. We ordered apps and dessert to start (you HAVE to get the cream puffs). http://www.snakeriverbrewing.com

Then we walked around town for a bit and eventually ended up at Moe’s Original BBQ for good food and shuffleboard. One platter was PLENTY for Cam and I to share since we had already had apps and dessert earlier. http://moes-original-bbq-jackson.business.site

Day 7

On Thursday morning, we woke up early and did the Taggart Lake Trail and got to see a mama and baby moose! Our favorite part of the hike was seeing the mountain reflection on the lake so go early to catch it. After we were back and ready to go, we started our 5 hour trek back to Salt Lake City!

Snake River Roadhouse in Swan Valley was a good stopping point for lunch and a stretch break. http://www.srroadhouse.com

We stayed at an Airbnb for the night, ordered pizza, and watched hockey.

Day 8

On Friday morning, it was back to Tampa!

NC Mountains – Banner Elk area

Seven Devils / Banner Elk / Boone

2020 had so much promise! Before 2019 ended, we had a ski trip to Big Sky, MT booked. We had our annual Easter trip to Raleigh, NC booked. We had a trip to Philadelphia, PA for a friend’s wedding booked! And Utah was in the works.

One week before Big Sky is when the world came to a halt. We were incredibly disappointed we didn’t go a little sooner. But then quickly realized how lucky we were that we weren’t in Big Sky when the mountain shut down. We were naïve and thought everything would go back to normal quickly so began making plans for Hawaii (which we later cancelled because of their quarantine requirements)!

After several months of working from home and pretty much being there 24/7, we decided we needed to get out. I found a great house on Airbnb in Seven Devils, NC and booked it! Our typical travel companions, Brett & Carolyn, were more than happy to join in the fun.

We left on a Friday night after dinner and made the 12 hour trek through the night so that each of our little ones would sleep. It was a long night for all of the parents but as soon as we saw the sun coming up over the mountains, we were instantly rejuvenated! Right down the street from our rental was Otter Falls so we headed there for some fresh air and to keep everyone awake until nap time. We all loved it!

After great naps all around, we went down the mountain to Grandfather Vineyard & Winery and enjoyed the afternoon. Vineyards have been our favorite pandemic activity! Outside, tons of space, and wine!

The next day is when we began our dividing and conquering strategy. Cameron and I went to Grandfather Mountain to hike MacRae Peak while Brett and Carolyn watched the kiddos.

Later, they went ziplining while we watched the kiddos. All week, we stuck to a rotation schedule that allowed everyone to enjoy vacation! Hikes, ziplining, horseback riding, vineyards, golf, and alpaca farm! We loved staying in Seven Devils and will happily go back.

A detailed itinerary is available for purchase for $25.

Weekend Getaway – Dripping Springs, TX

Let’s jump back to May 2019. This was my first trip away from the little nugget (almost 8 months old at the time). Our friends were getting married and they chose a gorgeous property in Dripping Springs, TX. I wasn’t aware that I had ever heard of this place until I did a Google search and saw Hamilton Pool – this is on pretty much every travel list as a spot to see in the United States!

Now, to be clear, I had left little nugget many times before for things like work and days out with friends. But never overnight (let alone 3!) in another state. I had a little anxiety but just kept breathing – obviously she’d be perfectly fine with my mom. So I hopped on a plane and headed for Texas! My husband and two of our large male friends were with us to restrain me if I panicked… 🙂

I told the Southwest flight attendant that it was my first time away and he brought me a mini bottle of champagne! I really do love Southwest! I popped it open as we were flying over the Florida border and crossing into another state and had a nice relaxing flight. We landed, grabbed the rental car, and headed to Starbucks so that we could get sandwiches and I could pump. Turns out, I forgot to pack my pumping bra #momlife. Don’t worry, I end up losing it altogether on my next trip *face palm*.

Now to the fun stuff! Before heading to the house where we were staying, we stopped at Hamilton Pool. Reservations are required, so be sure to plan ahead. It was a really overcast day and they had TONS of rain that week, so the pictures aren’t great. But it was incredible! On a sunny day, the water will be a gorgeous blue/green and the water will drip lightly from the cliffs. Due to all of the rain, we had large waterfalls! We were able to walk all the way around under the hanging cliff – this isn’t always the case and the trail can be closed for safety reasons on any given day. It’s a very easy 1/4 mile walk to get to the pool from the parking lot.

After Hamilton Pool, we ventured off to meet up with our friends at the house. It was a gorgeous farm house with tons of space! About 20 of us stayed there. Throughout the weekend, we were able to explore and visited several vineyards, distilleries, and breweries. If you like to eat and drink, it’s a perfect weekend getaway! A few favorites were Twisted X Brewing Company, Deep Eddy Vodka, and Duchman Family Winery. And if you like crepes, Crepe Crazy! SO GOOD! The entire staff is deaf, so be sure to pay attention to instructions on how to order.

On Sunday (Mother’s Day), we were on our way back to the airport after a wonderful three days! I had been freezing my milk all weekend and hoped that I could get it back without thawing. I loaded it into a PackIt freezable lunch box and loaded it up with ice. When going through TSA, I explained to the agent that I was trying to get it home and she was so understanding! She searched incredibly quickly and zipped the cooler back up right away. Then at a restaurant, a nice server gave me a gallon ziploc bag of ice! And my bags of milk made it! It felt so great to not have to dump that precious supply.

I definitely recommend Dripping Springs for a long weekend and will eventually find myself back there.

Alaska Cruise

For years, my mother-in-law talked about going on her dream trip – an Alaska cruise. To make sure that she would actually go, we promised to join her when she retired! As soon as she announced her retirement date, we planned and booked it.

Day 1

We flew into Seattle (SEA) airport, landed at 10:40 AM, and took an Uber to the Renaissance Marriott at 515 Madison Street. Great central location to walk the city! We dropped our stuff and walked out the door!

First stop, the Sky View Observatory at Columbia Center – what a view! We ordered a bottle of champagne to toast my mother-in-laws retirement and had a great lunch. Once we had fuel in our system, we headed for the Seattle Waterfront Pier, Olympic Sculpture Park, Pike Place Market, and the GUM WALL – so gross but had to see it.

Day 2

In the morning, we visited the Starbuck’s Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room. I don’t drink coffee, but this place was impressive!

After our coffee excursion, we headed for the hotel so that we could check out and board the Norwegian Bliss. ***Tip – Google the date that you’re boarding the ship to see if any events are taking place. The Seattle Pride Parade was happening the day we were boarding and it was impossible to get an Uber. So we walked to the ship with all of our luggage and had to cut through the parade route.***

our wonderful travel agent had champagne waiting for us

We departed port at 3:30 PM and were on our way.

Day 3

The next day was a full day of sailing. We played mini golf, rode go-karts, played lazer tag, went to shows! The boat had more than enough to keep us busy. Some things, like go-karts and lazer tag, required reservations.

Day 4

First port was Juneau and my first time in a helicopter! My husband and I booked the ice climbing tour and I would 100% book it again. The pilot and guides were so nice. The glacier was incredible. I just can’t find the words to explain what a great day it was. Just book it!

Mendenhall Glacier

Day 5

The next port was Skagway. The excursions listed through the ship didn’t appeal to what we wanted to do so instead, we made our own. We reserved a car through Avis and headed to do the International Falls hike. It was beautiful! My only regret is not packing a change of clothes so that we could play in the water more. The water temperature was cold but it was such a gorgeous day and gorgeous hike! As you move uphill, it’s just waterfall after waterfall – my favorite kind of hike.

After the hike, we drove to town and walked around the shops before returning the car.

Day 6

Another day at sea going through Glacier Bay. SO INCREDIBLY BEAUTIFUL. This is your day to spot whales, seals, and dolphins. In addition to the gorgeous views, it’s just an all-around relaxing (boring for some) day. I took advantage and enjoyed a very long nap.

Day 7

Now, back to the fun. Or so we thought. Port number 3 was Ketchikan and we had a rafting tour booked at 8:00 AM. BUT, someone aboard the ship suffered a medical emergency and had to be airlifted off the boat by the Coast Guard. Extremely unfortunate for the individual, their family, and for all of us that arrived to port late. We missed our excursion, so found another hike to do. It was really pretty until we got lost for a long time. On the bright side, it was a beautiful day (I think we had the best Alaska weather ever) and we saw lots of Bald Eagles!

I took this photo from the hot tub as we were leaving port

Day 8

Our final stop was Victoria, B.C. We only had 3 1/2 hours in port, so we booked the tour to Butchart Gardens. I love botanical gardens and in the summer they put on a fireworks show every Saturday. My husband LOVES fireworks so, naturally, I didn’t tell him and let it be a surprise. When I say this was the best fireworks show I have ever seen, please know that I’ve seen a lot of really cool fireworks. But nothing will EVER compare to this show. It was AMAZING. I very much recommend trying to see it at some point in your life. It was like a grand finale to our trip.

Day 9

The next morning, they kicked us off the ship and we headed to the airport!

Disclaimer: we spent a lot of our trip in the hot tubs and pools! Our weather was gorgeous everyday with sunny blue skies. This is not typical, so pack for the worst and hope for the best!

Saint Thomas, USVI

In need of an island getaway? Try the Virgin Islands!

Cameron and I chose the beautiful island of St. Thomas for our honeymoon trip. I had Marriott points to burn, So I looked up tropical destinations where they have properties, then price checked flights.

Day 1

We flew out of Tampa on a Monday, connected in Miami, and made our way to Charlotte Amalie. There, we rented a car from Hertz and were officially on vacation! *Be sure to tell your hotel if you’re celebrating a special occasion. We were greeted with champagne and chocolates!* We stayed at the Marriott Frenchman’s Reef & Morning Star Marriott Beach Resort. It was gorgeous! Infinity pool, swim up bar, restaurants on the beach, pretty much everything I was looking for. http://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/sttfr-frenchmans-reef-and-morning-star-marriott-beach-resort/?scid=bb1a189a-fec3-4d19-a255-54ba596febe2

Day 1 was short since we traveled but we had plenty of time to change, explore the property, and find a great happy hour at SandBar at Havana Blue! The bar is right on the beach, has 2-for-1 drink specials, and great appetizers (we ended up coming back several times).

Day 2

We woke up early and drove to Coral World. I booked an excursion to swim with sealions and I can’t even tell you how much fun this was! Cameron and I were paired with one other couple and ‘the little guy’, a sea lion that weighed around 300 pounds. It was incredible that he could dive in the pool and barely make a splash. All of the sea lions were so full of personality and great to be around! This is definitely an excursion that I recommend. Go early or stay late so that you can see the rest of Coral World too! https://coralworldvi.com/activities/sea-lion-swim/

After our morning adventure, we decided to take the ferry over to St. John. It’s only $6 each way and runs every hour. We had heard that St. John was beautiful but WOW! We hopped on a bus to Trunk Bay and when we arrived, it didn’t even seem real. The water and beach are incredible and we ended up spending most of our day there. Cameron also rented a mask and snorkel on the beach because there is a fun Underwater Trail that you can follow. It tells you what you can possibly see and what you should be looking for. St. John is now on our bucket list as a place to come back and stay!

We didn’t have anything planned for Day 3 so when we got back to the resort, we asked the concierge if there was anything she recommended.  When she showed us the New Horizon and Breakaway Charter, we were sold! *You have to have your passport for this excursion* https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g147407-d2001002-Reviews-New_Horizons_Breakaway_Charters-East_End_St_Thomas_U_S_Virgin_Islands.html

Day 3

Day 3 started with a 7:00 AM departure on the New Horizons charter that we booked… when our alarm went off in the morning, we weren’t sure what we had been thinking the day before. But this BVI tour was incredibly worth it! Our first stop was St. John to pick up a few others. The guides had muffins and fresh fruit ready and waiting for us. Once we had everyone on board, we made our way to The Baths at Virgin Gorda. The walk through can be a little sketchy, but the opening at the end is your prize! The water is crystal clear and the rock formations are beautiful. We had so much fun jumping off of rocks and enjoying the perfect island weather.

After The Baths, it was onto Diamond Reef for snorkeling and lunch at Marina Cay. The guides also continued to make sure that we were well fed in between with a great selection of snacks! And after lunch, it was open bar on the boat! They had perfect sippy cups to avoid spilling.

Once we were all settled back on the boat, it was time to head to Jost Van Dyke! Another incredibly beautiful place with the most perfect looking water and beach. On the island, we made our way to the Soggy Dollar Bar for drinks and relaxing.

When we got back to the hotel, the sun was going down. We grabbed drinks by the pool, played with birds that were brought out by the staff, and fell asleep in lounge chairs for  a bit.

Day 4

The next day, we didn’t have to wake up quite as early. I was so excited to go snorkeling with sea turtles at Turtle Cove! We booked a tour through The VI Cat – https://thevicat.com/. It leaves from the Marriott dock so we just had to walk down a few flights of stairs and were ready to go. You can also see Turtle Cove from the resort so it’s not a far trip. Again, the water was incredible and you could easily see clearly down 15 feet. The turtles will hang out on the bottom and when they need a breath of air every few minutes, they’ll swim up. Hover over where they are to wait. No need to go after them, they are not afraid of people so they’ll swim right by you for great photo ops.

On the way back in, the catamaran drops the sail, turns on music, and provides an open bar! When we got back, we had drinks on the beach and then got ready for drinks at the Rum Bar and dinner at Havana Blue.

Day 5

We were finally ready to just have a nap-filled day by the pool. In the morning, we drove around the island and went to Magens Bay, which is known as the most beautiful beach on St. Thomas. Don’t get me wrong, it was definitely beautiful! But Trunk Bay kind of ruined it for us. If I could go back in time, I would have visited Magens Bay first and then Trunk Bay, so try to go in that order if you visit.

We stayed for a little while and then it was time for pool day! Unfortunately for us, it was Good Friday and we did not realize that no alcohol is sold or served on the island on Good Friday! Imagine the look on our faces when the bartender turned down our orders. Apparently there was a sign at the check-in desk but neither of us had noticed on Monday. We still had our share of naps, food, and tanning, so it was a great day.

Day 6

The next day, it was back to reality. We really loved our stay on St. Thomas and will happily go back!

All of the restaurants on property were great! Coco Joe’s was my favorite for breakfast since it’s right on the beach and the food was delicious! Aqua Terra was good for breakfast and dinner. Sunset Grill for lunches near the pool. Havana Blue for dinner. Sandbar for casual happy hour! And Rum Bar was our final night happy hour since we were dressed up.

Weekend Getaway – Raleigh, NC

A few years ago, Cameron and I started an annual tradition of visiting his brother and our sister-in-law in Raleigh for Easter. It gives us an excuse to get away for a long weekend and gives them the opportunity to have family around for a holiday without having to take time off of work.

A lot of our time is spent relaxing, eating, and drinking. But we also go on some adventures too! I’ll share all of our favorites here.

But first, planning. We try to wait for a Southwest sale that encompasses the dates around Easter (or whatever other weekend we decide to go). Southwest has early morning nonstop flights from Tampa to Raleigh, so it’s a really easy and convenient way to get there. You can also look at Delta. Allegiant tends to have inexpensive fares but the dates aren’t as flexible. If you can’t find a sale through Southwest, tickets are typically $250 per person round-trip.

Favorite Eats

Let’s start with the most important parts of this trip – food. If you like southern food and have not been to Beasley’s Chicken + Honey, add it to your list of places to try! I get the chicken & waffles every year but have also tried almost the entire menu! My top 3 picks are the chicken & waffles, chicken biscuit, and chicken pot pie. And I think it’s pretty necessary to get a side order of biscuits to-go. You’ll thank me in the morning.

Right across the street from Beasley’s is Bitter Sweet – a specialty coffee, dessert, and cocktail bar. This picture isn’t great, but I can assure you that this s’mores sundae was!

Smashed Waffle in Durham. These little treats are delicious! Grab a waffle-wich to share so that you have some protein and then one of each specialty waffle to share (6 total). This is definitely the way to go so you can try a little of everything!

A few other favorites:

Boylan Bridge Brewpub – great stop for views, apps, and drinks!

Torchy’s Tacos – YUM! These things are huge so you may not need to order as many as you think.

The Station at Person Street – BRUNCH! This is my favorite brunch spot. Be mindful that alcohol cannot be served on Sunday until 12:00 PM in Raleigh.

Boulted Bread – There will always be a line. Go early to grab your favorites!

Whiskey Kitchen – Fun atmosphere, good drinks, good food.

Trophy Brewing Co. – Our go-to pizza place in Raleigh.

The Third Place – Our go-to breakfast spot in Five Points. The smoothies are delicious!

Lonerider at Five Points – Fun brewery with tons of outdoor seating. Dog and kid friendly.

Bowstring Pizza and Brewyard – Fun brewery with outdoor seating and great cocktails included on the menu. Limited parking.

You’ll see The Pit as a highly rated destination but if you’re looking for good bbq, find a nice little hole in the wall place. It was good, but not memorable.

Activities

Our usual Friday plans when we land include a round of golf at The Preserve at Jordan Lake Golf Club.  Some years, winter may be longer than normal and Easter may land in March, so the course won’t be in ideal condition to play. If it’s not, we’ll relax and nap with the pups.

Centennial Campus Disc Golf Course – We’re all terrible at disc golf but it was a lot of fun to walk the course and try out our non-existent Frisbee skills. This course is only 9 holes so we played twice. It was a gorgeous day and a fun way to spend it outside.

On Easter Sunday, we go to the Sarah P. Duke Botanical Gardens. This is an annual tradition that I love! The gardens were closed for Easter 2020 and 2021 due to Covid, but they are open again!

Since the gardens were closed for 2021, we visited the WRAL Azalea Garden. It’s free to enter, just like the Duke Gardens!

Walking the trail at Lake Johnson. This is a great paved trail to enjoy.

Pullen Park.  We love this park and try to stop by every year. Pre-kids, it was fun. With kids, it’s fun. Overall, great spot to walk around and enjoy. Playgrounds, pond, gorgeous flowers, train, carousel, and more.

Laurel Hills Park. HUGE playground, walking trails, baseball fields, soccer fields, a pond. The playground is ADA accessible and really impressive.

North Carolina Museum of Art. Another great outdoor trail to enjoy!

Roanoke Park. This park is in Five Points. We grab breakfast at The Third Place and then head to the playground.

Marbles Children’s Museum. Awesome spot for kids and different areas are geared toward different age groups.

Museum of Life and Science. We visited in October and attended their pumpkin patch event (museum admission + pumpkin patch admission). The kids played games, picked a pumpkin to take home, and rode a train!

NC Chinese Lantern Festival (winter time). One of the coolest light displays I’ve ever seen.

Drive Shack. Great spot if you’re looking for something to do with adults or kids.

Message me with any questions that you might have! If you get the chance to visit, I hope you enjoy!

Weekend Getaway – Philadelphia, PA

Philadelphia is the city where the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution were signed. It is also the land of the cheesesteak! I was born just outside of Philadelphia and have visited on numerous occasions. I was perusing a Southwest sale in January and found $75 round trip tickets and decided it was time for Cameron to finally visit!

Braving the northeast in January may not always be the best idea, but we were fortunate and had mild 50° weather. We stayed Friday-Monday but most of that time was spent out in the suburbs with family. If you have two days to spend in the city, here are my recommendations:

From the airport it is very easy to jump on the train. As soon as you’re out of the security area at PHL, you’ll see a moving sidewalk on your left and you’ll quickly see staircases to the train on your right. You can buy a one-way ticket at the kiosk or wait until you’re on the train and buy an Independence pass, which is good for riding all public transportation for the day. This is the option we chose since we were taking the train out to West Chester at the end of the day.

When we got off the train in the city, we walked to Elfreth’s Alley, the nation’s oldest residential street. It’s a tiny and adorable street in the middle of the city with cobblestone road and very well-kept homes. As we walked there, I also took Cam by Paddy’s from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. We didn’t go in for a drink (it was still really early) but he was excited to see it in person!

After Elfreth’s, I took a street where we would pass the oldest Post Office. It’s not exactly exciting and there is no point in going in, but I wanted to show him as much history as possible in a short time.

From there we made our way to Independence Park to see the Liberty Bell. Since it was January, the crowd was small and we were able to walk right up. As a child, Cam had pictured the bell to be HUGE so he was slightly disappointed. To cheer him up, I took him to a pretzel cart outside for his first Philly pretzel!

Once we finished our pretzels, we toured Independence Hall and Congress Hall. Next on the agenda was Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens on South Street. On our walk there, we cut through Washington Square and stopped by the memorial.

When you are approaching Magic Garden’s, you’ll start to see Isaiah Zagar’s work on South Street. https://www.phillymagicgardens.org/ *Check the website for any closure dates.* When we arrived, we found out that it was closed for 3 days, including that day. So we added this to our Monday agenda and headed for Cam’s first Philly cheesesteak!

I chose Steve’s Prince of Steaks for his first and he was not disappointed! *Be sure that you know how to order when entering any good cheesesteak shop… they do not mess around and will quickly kick you our of line if you don’t know what you’re doing.* We ordered a ‘whiz with’, a ‘provolone without’, fries, and a cherry soda. He needed the full experience.

After we were full and rested, we walked to the Philadelphia Museum of Fine Art so Cam could see the ‘Rocky stairs’. Then ended our day taking an obligatory picture at Sister Cities Park. *The LOVE sculpture was under renovation so we had to skip that one*

On our way back to the airport on Monday, I brought Cam back to South Street for our tour of Magic Gardens and one more cheesesteak before we left – Jim’s Steaks. Jim’s and Steve’s are two of my favorites. Don’t fall for the tourist trap of Geno’s and Pat’s, unless you want to of course. There are a lot of great cheesesteak options so see what’s on your route!

If you have more time, definitely check out some more historical sites and museums. One of my favorite museums is The Franklin Institute – https://www.fi.edu/

And if you’re hopping off a plane and going straight to the city like we did, be sure to have a good, comfortable backpack that will fit all of your gear for the weekend. These are two that we’ve used for a two-week trip to South Africa and a few of our other weekend getaways:

Hynes Eagle Travel Backpack 40L Flight Approved Carry on Backpack, Grey with 3PCS Packing Cubes

Cabin Max Metz Backpack Flight Approved Carry on Bag 44 Litre Travel Hand Luggage – 55x40x20 (Black)

I hope you enjoy Philadelphia if you’re able to visit! Message me with any questions that you have!

Jamaica – Ocho Rios all-inclusive

Are you ready for summer? Do you have the urge to book a vacation that doesn’t require you to think once your flight is booked? Well, that is the beauty of all-inclusives!

Cameron had never been to one of these glorious properties, so for his birthday, we booked the Jewel Dunn’s River Beach Resort in Ocho Rios, Jamaica! It is an adults-only property with 2 pools, 2 swim up bars, several land bars, a beach, sand volleyball, ping pong, chip & putt course, shuffle board, gym, and so much food! https://www.jewelresorts.com/resorts/dunnsriver

When you book the resort, transportation to and from the airport is included. As soon as you land, grab your bag, get through Customs, grab a drink, and head for your large air-conditioned bus! *Only let men help you with your bags if you are willing to pay them.* It may be a short wait until the bus is full so have a book ready, turn on music, or enjoy a nap.

We flew in on a Monday in July from Tampa to Montego Bay on American Airlines. When we arrived at the resort, all of our rooms weren’t quite ready (there were 8 of us) but we were being served drinks so all was well! We changed into our bathing suits and made our way to the pool for lunch while we waited. After we ate, lounged, explored, and eventually checked-in, we got ready for our first dinner! We chose the hibachi restaurant to start. *certain restaurants on all-inclusive properties will require reservations.* It was delicious and the cook made our experience so much fun!

Tuesday is the one day that we chose to leave the property for a little adventure. We booked a tour through Peat Taylor Tours to visit Dunn’s River Falls, White River, and Blue Hole – http://www.ochoriosjamaicatours.com/ – A driver picked us up in the morning and was with us all day. This was great because we were able to leave belongings in the van. He first took us to Dunn’s River Falls since it gets crowded very early. After Dunn’s River, we went tubing down White River. After that, our driver took us to a jerk restaurant where we could sit and eat lunch (cost not included in the tour price). One of our friends really wanted a few tanks for his dad so our driver took us after lunch to a more local spot where prices wouldn’t be high like the tourist shops. Then he took us to a shop to sample rum! Once we were done eating and shopping, we made our way to Blue Hole. If nothing else, you MUST visit Blue Hole. It was AMAZING and we could have spent all day there. Don’t be afraid to jump off of all the cliffs and climb down the waterfalls. The local guides there will make sure you’re jumping into safe depths!

At each of the locations, it is customary to have cash to tip the local guides assigned to you. We tipped the most at Blue Hole because of how wonderful they were! Two guides were assigned to our group (our driver picked them when we arrived) and they made the experience so great! They immediately took my GoPro from me and made sure that we had tons of great pictures and video! They also had an amazing energy and were so much fun to be around.

That night, the resort hosted their weekly party. Pig roast, huge buffet, music, dancers, comedians, and games that involved embarrassing chosen guests (we volunteers the guys). I had ordered a cake earlier in the day to be brought out to Cam at dinner. In addition to bringing the cake, our server told the band and the entire resort sang Happy Birthday to him!

The next few days were all about relaxing! We had breakfast each morning and secured our bar seats in the pool by the time the swim-up bars opened. Mimosas allllllll morning! In the afternoon we would switch to Jamaican Smiles… a strawberry daiquiri and piña colada with Sangster’s Rum Cream. *Definitely buy some Sangster’s at the airport before you leave! If you want to bring extra for me, I won’t be upset.* Each day we would lay by the pool and play different games that were on the property… volleyball, shuffleboard, ping pong. There are also activities hosted by the resort throughout the day! Don’t be embarrassed to volunteer.. they’re so much fun! Jerk chicken lunches by the pool were the best. Ask for fries topped with jerk chicken, then add the nacho cheese sauce. I promise you won’t be disappointed!

Each night we rotated to a different restaurant so that we could try them all. They were all great! Definitely take advantage of the brick oven pizza stand and the all-day coffee bar nearby. There were also different activities that took place each night, in addition to the weekly party. One was movie night in the pool, so we all claimed spots in the hot tub, ate popcorn, and watched American Pie on a giant blow-up screen.

Lots of naps were also had. There was a gym on property but none of us are the type to be seen in a gym while on a relaxing vacation! We definitely ate and drank our money’s worth on this trip and Saturday came way too soon. It was pretty depressing flying home and planning to return to work on Monday. But there is always next time!

*When you are planning and packing for this trip, don’t be alarmed when you see 90% chance of rain all day everyday in the forecast. It’s a small island so the forecast always looks that way. We only had rain one night for about 30 minutes and we were already heading for bed. The rest of the week was perfect blue skies!

Message me if you have any questions!

Snowmass, CO

Tis the season for snowboarding and skiing! Outside of boating and golfing, snowboarding is Cameron’s favorite thing. But for once, I had never been! So when my aunt asked if we wanted to join her, my uncle, and cousin Amanda to visit my cousin Sean, we said yes! Sean had been living and working there for a while and it was time for a snowy visit.

Our small group turned into the entire family once we started booking! Cam, myself, mom, sister, brother-in-law, nephews, aunt, uncle, cousins. So we found a 3-story condo on Airbnb that could accommodate us all, rented two minivans, and bought our tickets!

We visited in March and flew directly from Tampa to Denver and picked up our rentals. My grandfather is a retired commercial airline pilot and he suggested not trying to fly into Aspen… apparently it’s one of the most difficult runways in the country to land. So if there is any inclement weather, chances are you’re going to be delayed or cancelled. Thank goodness we took his advice because we ended up driving through a very heavy snow! The drive takes about 4 hours from Denver to Aspen but the scenery is so beautiful that it doesn’t seem that bad.

When we arrived, we decided to divide and conquer since we still had some daylight. A few went to the grocery store to stock up on food and the rest went to rent gear for the week. There are tons of rental shops so just try and find one online that has the best price and go with that one. Then we went to the condo to play in the snow!

The next day was so perfect! It had snowed all night so the mountain was nice and powdery and the sky was a gorgeous blue. There was a bus stop right outside of our Airbnb so we ate breakfast, got dressed, and were off.

Cameron, Amanda, Sean and my uncle jumped on the lift and were gone as soon as we arrived. “No time for family on powder days” said Sean. The rest of us had no idea what we were doing so we opted for the bunny hill to start. *I refused to book a lesson because that’s just how I am. Please take my advice and book the damn lesson!* I did great on the lift and cruised down the bunny hill with ease. Obviously, I was a natural. So when Cam and the group came back down, I decided to go back up the mountain with them!

Biggggggg mistake (see advice above). I was a disaster and it was very obvious that I was a first-timer. Half way down, I took my board off and sat on it to use as a sled. We still had about a quarter of the way to go when a nice ranger on a snowmobile stopped and picked me up! At this point, my family thought they were never going to see me again so I took out my phone and texted them to look for a snowmobile. They thought I was kidding…

When we woke up in the morning, Cam asked how I was feeling. “Well, my hands don’t hurt…” I couldn’t move. He brought me some ibuprofen as I struggled to roll over. Once I got moving I felt better but I decided to stay off the mountain that day so my body wouldn’t decide to completely give up on me. My favorite spot to hang out during the day was the New Belgium Ranger Station. They had great apps, mimosas, and adult hot chocolate. So I hung out with my nephews and mom for a bit in the morning then made my way over there to wait for our group to be done snowboarding for the day. We were so lucky with weather and it was another gorgeous day to just enjoy being outside!

The next day was St. Patrick’s Day and I was feeling so much better! It was definitely the mimosas and hot chocolate. We all went out for a bit and then decided to call it an early day and go party. Another mistake of the week. We started a little too early and things got crazy. Long story short, my mom was brought to the bar by a cop, Amanda was later brought home by a cop, and we happened to find my uncle stumbling down the road with no jacket around 6 PM. Yay family vacation!

On Thursday, everyone was hurting from celebrations. We all took it relatively easy for the day and went out in Aspen that night. You won’t have to worry about finding good restaurants, bars, and breweries in Aspen or Snowmass. They are everywhere! Some of my favorites were New Belgium Ranger Station, HOPS Culture, Ajax Donuts, and Venga Venga.

Friday, we hit the mountain for a bit and later the whole family went to Ullr Nights at Elk Camp. It’s a family-friendly event that takes place every Friday night with tubing, slides, snow bikes, s’mores stations, and hot chocolate stations. We all had fun and my nephews especially had a blast!

Saturday was back to Denver to catch our flight to Tampa. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to message me!