Craft the Travel, Worldschooling

England: The City of London

For the start and finish of our UK journey, LONDON!

I always forget how much I enjoy a direct, international flight on American Airlines. Crazy!?! No! Board, stow your items, set-up your footrest and complimentary pillow/blanket. Next start scrolling through the many, new release movies they offer and don’t forget your standard-jack headphones or they will offer you a free pair. Next, await your first meal. If you want veg/vegan, you do need to pre-request it by calling. Over an 8-hr flight they serve at least two full meals, plus endless drinks and free beer/wine. Between two full movies, two meals and a good nap, my flight is over! I actually look forward to the flights as they set me up for a little ‘me-time’ before and after the trip. No groceries to buy, no meals to prepare for my family, no one asking for help with anything…just hours of movies and being served! Bliss! My experience was in the main cabin, so fair warning if you book only basic cabin class and some of these features are not offered.

Lightning in a cloud during our flight to Heathrow

After landing with about 3 hours of sleep under my belt (darn movies!), I had been pre-trip administering and for about the next 48 hours a ‘jet-lag’ homeopathy to my family. I think it really helped us bounce back faster. My husband and I managed the adjustment well while my son took an extra day. He also complained of a sore throat, so I grabbed items from my Family Wellness Homeopathy kit and started up with ‘Immune Support’ and ‘Upper Respiratory Support’. 36-hours later he was fine, no more complaints.

While in London we stayed at the Crowne Plaza London – The City which was lovely. Next time I would prefer to stay in Kensington because it’s near Harrod’s and Whole Foods! But the Crowne was a good central location and literally across the street from a Underground station.

Bit of advice when planning to sight-see in London is to purchase a London Pass WITH Travelcard. This is going to get you setup to see all the main tourist destinations, one-day on a hop-on-off bus, river cruise and oyster card to travel around town on the underground tube. They mail this to you ahead of time, so plan accordingly and order at least a month out to allow time for mail. We opted to get the ‘dining book/card’ too, but it was difficult finding places to eat in the book there were where we happen to be when ready to eat. One restaurant didn’t even know about the card and it took a manager’s intervention to honor the discount. So hindsight, more hassle that the discount was worth. The only big tourist item NOT on the pass was the London Eye. Personally, I didn’t feel like we missed anything after taking in the views from St. Paul’s but that’s your decision. More photography of my ‘Views of London‘ from atop St. Paul’s.

St. Paul’s Cathedral is free on the London Pass and was very close to our hotel, so one of our first stops. Stunning architecture! You can tour the crypt, the main floor and climb to the The Stone and Golden Galleries to take in London’s views. Be ready to climb all the way to the top is 528 steps, but so, so worth it!

Inside the main floor is everything you would image it to be in an Anglican cathedral. To view more of this beautiful church, visit my photography site and page dedicated to St. Paul’s LoveCameraEarth.com.

Sebastian and I visited The Museum of London and specifically the exhibit, The Beasts of London. It was about the role animals played in London during different periods in time. Very visually entertaining for children and adults! More photography from the Beasts of London.

We had great weather for our Big Bus Tour that took us all around the sights of London. I love to do these types of bus tours anytime I visit a new city. You really get the ‘lay of the land’ this way. Using the map or the app made it easy to switch tours to make sure you covered all your areas of interest. This was free for 24-hours on The London Pass. More photography of ‘the Streets of London‘.

In case you have been under a rock your entire life, visit Harrods!! It is an amazing shopping center with my favorite floor being the food hall! There are rooms of options, so go with a enormous appetite! There are floors of shopping. You have to walk the floors just to see all the interesting clothes, jewelry and people! There was even an area to purchase a luxury yacht by Sunseeker! Just a few more photos of Harrods.

Just one of your many eating options.

No visit to London would be complete without a stop at Buckingham Palace. The royal palace is only open to the public July-September/October, so plan accordingly and buy your timed-entrance tickets ahead of time. These are not included on the London Pass. Sadly, photos are not allowed inside. Enjoy more of my shots of the grounds.

Buckingham Palace in the distance.

With my husband being a history and Churchill fan, The War Rooms was a ‘must see’ for us. While we enjoyed it, it was such a lovely day outside being down in the museum and bunker was a bit dreary so we made it a fairly quick visit. This stop is on your London Pass and we did not pre-book an entrance time. We waited maybe 10-15 minutes at the door, so pre-book for no wait. More of my photography from Churchill’s War Rooms.

One of my favorite afternoons was having Afternoon Tea at the beautiful Milestone Hotel. We did make a reservation in advance and dressed for the afternoon. We enjoyed the MOST exquisite sandwiches, desserts and hot scones PLUS a variety of teas! More of the Milestone Hotel.

Tea in the sun lite lounge.

One of the most iconic sites in London, Tower Bridge which is next door to the Tower of London are both excellent stops in a great walk-around area. We toured both and they were on the London Pass. Excellent history, Crown Jewels, views, architecture and more! This stop must be on your list. More photography of the Tower Bridge and inside the Tower of London.

Conveniently located near the entrance to the Tower of London is the river terminal for boarding the Thames River Cruise included on your London pass. We enjoyed the tour operator very much. His accent, narration and comedy were on point! Don’t pass up this chance to sit and relax for a bit while they drive up and down the Thames. The boat trip takes you down to Greenwich and back. Where you can see the GMT clock! We see GMT (time) all the time, but it was so interesting to see the clock that started it all! Just a few more photos of our trip down the Thames.

For more of our UK road trip. Visit: Scotland: The Lochs, Moray Coast & Edinburgh and England: Castles to Manors to Ruins.

Craft the Travel, Worldschooling

Scotland: The Lochs, Moray Coast & Edinburgh

Our journey took us across the border into beautiful Scotland. We visited four areas (#9-12) during our UK road trip. The English part of our trip is here: England: The City of London and England: Castles to Manors to Ruins

Stop number nine was outside of Glasgow on Loch Lomond in the small town of Luss at Lodge on Loch Lomond.

This lovely lodge was on Loch Lomond. Our room had its own dry sauna in the room with a beautiful balcony, glass barrier for a seamless view of the loch. We caught a little rain and were fortunate to witness a double rainbow emerge afterwards.

Just a stroll down the beach takes you into the little town of Luss. We walked all over looking at their beautiful old church, cafes, adorable house-lined streets and made a stop in at The Village Rest for a refreshment. More photography of Loch Lomond and Luss

From Luss we traveled North into the Highlands to Loch Ness, where we stayed at Loch Ness Lodge. We didn’t have a Nessie sighting but rather heard some of the local’s stories and took in sights of the beautiful Loch. More photography of Loch Ness.

After Loch Ness, we made our way up to Inverness and the Moray Coast. We stopped at Nairn Beach for a tea and sweet.

Then we drove into Findhorn to the most quaint and charming town and made our home at The Tipsea Cottage. Our hosts also own the Inn and Pub across the ‘street’ (literally the width of one of our American alleys). It could not be easier to grab a bite or some local company. The Tipsea Cottage is a completely renovated home where we enjoyed our nights stoking the fire together as a family in the living room. By day we walked the beach and all around town stumbling up The Findhorn Foundation Retreat Center and Grounds. I hope to explore this interesting place more in the future. Rainbows are plentiful in Scotland!

Findhorn is so quiet and peaceful, I was sad to leave and start our decent back South. Our journey took us to our last Scottish destination and I had NO IDEA what a treat I was in store for! EDINBURGH!

Edinburgh is a wonderful mix of old world, Gothic architecture and castles with a splash of fresh, modern glass. The Radisson Blu is on the Royal Mile (THE street to stay on) just down from Edinburgh Castle. Our family room was surprisingly large with 2 king beds and a corner wall of banquet couches. We were able to walk in any direction from the hotel to see sights, for shopping and restaurant options. The steep and windy streets reminded me of San Francisco, but in a much darker, ancient way. I could just see the horse-drawn carriages travel the cobblestone roads, men with long coats and top hats and ladies with long, corseted dresses. This city is fascinating and I must return one day to give it the time it deserves. For more of my photos on Edinburgh, visit my photography site, Love Camera Earth.

Our last stop out of Edinburgh took us to one of the most haunted graveyards, Greyfriars Kirkyard. During our road trip we were listening to an audible of Scottish ghost stories and discovered that the moratorium of Bloody MacKenzie was just a few minutes from our hotel! Click the link to read about this villain and what his unrestful poltergeist has been up to!

Otherwise the grounds where beautiful and tranquil. Filled with lovely Scots and tourists alike.

A friend mentioned that she intends to do the NC500 next summer….which of course I had to google. It is a road map/trip of the top North Coast of Scotland. Looks amazing! I know I have only explored a fraction of what Scotland has to offer, but I am so grateful I got to see what I did!

Craft the Travel

Cruise to Cuba. The Final Day.

Our bunco group (dice game) starting planning our get-away in August of 2018 and finally set sail June 3rd of 2019. Little did we know due to US policy change with Cuba, we would literally be the last cruise ship in the Havana Port!

The Norwegian Sky in the port of Havana, Cuba on June 4th, 2019 for the last time.

Our trip started in South Beach, Miami, Florida at the Cadillac Hotel and Beach Club found at Collins and 39th. I have stayed at many hotels in South Beach and the Cadillac was one of my best stays in Miami. The service was excellent and they accommodated my many special requests. I enjoyed their room service, beach side service and pool side dining. Their room rates include two beach chairs and access is easy and convenient to use.

Balcony view from an ‘Ocean View’ room on floor 5.

I arrived on the 1st anticipating the rest of the group to begin arriving early on the 2nd. Sadly thanks to weather and/or American Airlines, all the Sunday flights were delayed and the rest of our group didn’t get in until 7p, 8p and 9p o’clock, Sunday night. When your travel agent recommends arriving (at least) a day early for your cruise, listen!

Me, patiently waiting for the other ladies in our group.

We were still able to slip in a late dinner at Nikki Beach and enjoy friends and food!

The next morning, Monday, we left the Cadillac for the port of Miami for a 12/12:30p check-in. We had a great Uber driver the evening before that we used again for the Hotel-to-Port run in a big Suburban. He was able to fit all our ladies and luggage! What a champ!

We turned our luggage over to the porter, made our way through security and Norwegian check-in to the ship. The process was simple and easy. We stepped on board and started exploring the ship. I made my way straight to guest services to book our dinner reservations for the three nights we would be dining on the ship. I highly recommend this for anyone wanting to eat in the specialty restaurants especially with a large party. We were aboard the Norwegian Sky, which was refurbished and completed in early 2019. Overall I think everyone felt that the ship was lovely with plenty of entertainment for the period of time we were aboard. I would recommend this ship for any short cruises with Norwegian.

On board the Norwegian Sky

We received access to our rooms later in the afternoon and luggage was delivered shortly after. We were all in row on level 9, balcony cabins 9016 to 9019 on the port side of the ship. It was a quiet, convenient, near bow location with good proximity to the stairs and elevators. The next level up was floor 10 which was also directly below most of the action, so I’m not sure I would book myself or clients on anything higher than floor 9. We settled into our rooms and dressed for dinner. Some of us that were ready early stopped in at bingo before dinner at Le Bistro.

Amy, Keely, Martha and I ready to B-I-N-G-O!

As part of our cruise package we had complimentary 3-course dinners at each of the 3 specialty restaurants on-board the Sky. Our first night was at Le Bistro, French Cuisine. I enjoyed mussels, the sea bass and a bite of several lovely desserts.

Our first dinner on the Sky at Le Bistro.

The next morning we pulled into Cuba and I was up bright and early at 6:30am to get our group ‘disembarkation’ tickets AND had the privilege to enjoy SUNRISE in CUBA! When you don’t have an excursion booked through the cruise line, you need these tickets to leave the ship.

Our reservations with the car tour company, Old Cars Havana, were for 10am, so we had breakfast and left the ship just before 9am. We were off the ship, through security and customs in no time. We also exchanged our money. We took Euros for a better exchange rate than Dollars and each had about 200-300 cucs. We had a little time to walk the streets before meeting our tour guides.

Special mention and thanks to Martha and Somer for booking this reservation from the referral of a friend. Our English-speaking guide, Katherine was quite knowledgeable and interested in making sure we were happy. Our drivers and cars were excellent too. Don’t be afraid to book outside of the cruise line. It was far less expensive, private and easy!

To say Cuba is the land of the ‘classic American car’ is an understatement. They were EVERYWHERE and FABULOUS to look at. Everyone was very friendly about letting us gawk, ooh-n-aww, and photograph their cars.

Tons and tons of mint condition classic American cars.

We drove all over to many historical sites like the historic Hotel Nacional de Cuba, the Marecon, The Jesus Christ, and Revolution Square. For all my sightseeing photos, checkout my photography website. We made a short stop for ‘the best pina coladas’, stopped in a rum & cigar shop and ultimately settled for lunch in a ‘backyard’.

Our tour guides said…’Would you like to have lunch in a family’s backyard?’ We thought….ooooh! How fabulous, yes! We will be their honored guests.’ After a long hot morning and early afternoon of touring we were starving and ready to feast. We walked to a house and sure enough, through the fence was a full blown restaurant called Buenaventura with MANY tables and honored guests! Ha! Excellent, authentic, Cuban food in a fun, music-filled atmosphere. After lunch, we made our way back to the cars, shopped for a few quick souvenirs and headed back to the port for a little rest and relaxation.

Hot, tired and sweaty….but FULL of FAB Cuban cuisine.

This is where things got interesting…we were chilling on the ship when the cruise director came on the PA to announce that we MAY not be allowed back off the ship into Cuba. He was waiting for more info from Corporate and would get back to us. About thirty minutes later he announced all was a go and we WOULD be allowed back off. We decided we better hurry up and get back off before they changed their minds again! We had terrace top, dinner reservations at The Cuban Coin,

Alex and Jordan picked us up in their convertibles after dinner and took us to The Tropicana where we had reservations for the show.

Amy, Keely and I in Alex’s Car.

I booked our tickets direct with the Tropicana versus through the cruise line and saved us half the price. We had premium-seat tickets which included rum & coke and peanuts and we were seated directly center stage. The show was amazing! It went on for about an hour and a half and was very entertaining. The opera singers were phenomenal! If you are on facebook and want to see my videos of the show, view here. To see all my photos from the Tropicana, view my photography site, LoveCameraEarth.com. After our evening in Havana, we re-boarded the ship and sought out the dance club. We enjoyed dancing and celebrating Amy’s pre-pre-birthday! 🤣

Cheri did an amazing job and surprised Amy with a ‘Happy Birthday’ door!

If we learned one thing about touring in Havana, Cuba is take TOILET PAPER with you as none is provided in most public restrooms and RUM is plentiful and handed out by the bottle when you order drinks!

Key Havana insights….Rum and Toilet Paper!

The next day, Wednesday, we marveled at our good fortune and how we were the LAST cruise ship in Havana!! How awesome! Everyone had a ‘chill’ day and did their own thing. I booked a hot-stone massage, attended a painting class, napped and dressed for the ‘Captain’s Cocktail Party’ Keely and I attended. We met the group for dinner at the Italian Eatery, La Cucina. This was also ‘white party’ night hence why we are all dressed in white!

Our last full day aboard the Sky was spent at Norwegian’s private island called, Great Stirrup Cay in the Bahamas. We took tender boats over to the island where we had booked a private cabana. Martha, Irina and Somer went to ‘Swim with the Pigs’ while the rest of the group relaxed at the beach. Our cabana was on a lovely out-of-the-way beach on the island. We enjoyed swimming in the ocean and eating at the restaurants on the island. Since the island is owned by Norwegian all the food and drinks are included in your cruise fare. The only downfall is that they close it up early and stop serving food by about 2pm. Amy and I first stopped at the taco bar, then found some nibbles on the main lunch buffet and Cheri helped me find the dessert bar to top it off! Ha! Last day – had to blow it out! ❤

We spent our last evening and Amy’s official birthday dinner at Cagney’s steakhouse. It was a late dinner so we meet up early at our favorite bar on the ship, ‘Sugarcane’, The Mojito Bar for Friends trivia. We played Yahtzee and ate bar snacks until time for dinner. Everyone enjoyed dinner and lots of desserts to celebrate Amy! The thoughtful and amazing, Cheri surprised us all with birthday hats and cups. She really is the best!

Final dinner at the Steakhouse, Cagney’s for Amy’s Birthday!

The next morning everyone had their own departure plans, so some left as soon as they opened the gate at 7:40am, while Martha, Somer and I were the last ones off the ship at just after 9am. We enjoyed breakfast in the main dining room and took our time getting off the ship and getting a car to take us to the airport. No customs issues with our Cuban purchases and no flight issues for anyone getting home. Amy once said ‘Life is about experiences’ and that is a sentiment very close to my heart too. I thank these ladies so much for taking time away from their families to spend with me and as a group. We all refueled our tanks with adventure, excitement and relaxation…something every mom needs!

Bon Voyage, from the Norwegian Sky!

A cruise made it very easy to enjoy each other’s company, but have space and freedom to relax and ‘do our own thing.’ Norwegian never made my experience feel restricted and I would hands down recommend the line for your cruising vacation!

Norwegian Sky in the Port of Havana
Craft the Travel

2018, A year’s reflection. Welcome, 2019!

January took us to Santa Fe, NM for skiing and to breath in the blissful aromas of pinon wood.

February and March were trip free, but we made a big decision to put our beloved lake house on Lake Texoma on the market.

218 Island View.

April, Sebastian and I took an educational trip to Washington DC …..

Washington DC, In front of the Portrait Gallery

…and later that month a friend and I got away to a women’s retreat in Hugo, OK.

Crescent Moon Lodge in Hugo, OK

May we went to Disney World in Orlando with my sister and nieces….

the Magic Kingdom shot

AND I joined a travel agency and started Craft the Travel.

June 23rd we closed on our lake house and shortly after left for Punta Cana, DR to celebrate our closing and the 4th of July.

the DR has some of the most pristine beaches I have found to date.

….and later that month I went with a friend to Riviera Maya, MX.

El Dorado Maroma by Karisma

At the tail end of July into August, we made a trip out to Vero Beach FL to see friends.

Nasa in Cape Canaveral

Later in August we did a few days of learning and exploring museums in Ft Worth, TX.

Exploring Downtown Ft Worth and Musesums

In September, over Cliff’s birthday we left for Abaco, Bahamas and lived on the catamaran known as Goya for a week. Then sailed down to Eluethera, BH and journeyed by car around the island for a few more days.

The Amazing Captain Keino on Piggeyville, Cay

In early October, I went to Charlotte, NC for the Dream Maker training with my travel agency.

Dream Maker Training

At the end of October into November, Sebastian and I went to Salem, MA for Halloween, and then made our way down to Plymouth, MA and the Cape.

Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, Mass

We finished up the year, over my birthday on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Finally and sadly, right after Christmas and our 14th wedding anniversary, we lost my mother of 68 years to Cancer.

Me, my Mom & Dad…back in the 70’s.

2018 was bittersweet. We made some major life decisions, saw more of the world in one year than ever before and lost people that were close to our hearts. I am excited for where 2019 will take us….destinations, decisions and always striving to live our best lives. #12tripyear #10byAir #2byCar #500DaysSober #GoodbyeMom #GoodbyeChris #GoodbyePat #CatamaranCharterLife #2019Skiing #2019Miami #2019Exuma #2019England #2019Cuba

Worldschooling

Salem, Boston & The Cape

Daily I receive emails about great prices on flights across the US. One day in early August I jumped on roundtrip tickets from Dallas to Boston and it clicked! October + Massachusetts = a visit to SALEM!

I quickly joined a few facebook groups on Salem, MA to learn about the must-sees & stays. Luckily I was still early enough to find availability at The Hotel Salem on Essex and what a great location that choice was. After arriving at Boston-Logan Airport, we used a pre-booked car service called BeDriven. They were waiting for us at baggage claim and dropped us in Salem about 40 minutes later. The Hotel Salem is located on Essex Street in the center of the ‘the pedestrian mall‘, so any car service has to drop you at one of the two ends of the mall, but the hotel is just a 2-minute walk from either end into the center of the mall.

The location is beyond perfect and in the absolute center of all the action! Within a 5 to 15-minute walk West you have The Witch house,

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Gallow Hills Theater, The McIntire Historic District, Life Alive, The Ugly Mug Diner, The Soup Factory,

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The Boston Hot Dog Company, The Melt Ice Cream,

and The Salem Haunted Magic Show. Then within a 5 to 15-minute walk to the East you have the Witch History Museum, Hocus Pocus Tours, The Witch City Mall,

Peabody Essex Museum, Red’s Sandwich Shop, Brew Box Coffee & Breakfast, The Burying Point Cemetery, The Salem Witch Trials Memorial,

Bambolina Pizza, Turtle Alley Chocolates, Scratch Kitchen and The House of Seven Gables. Sprinkled in all around are all kinds of local artisan shops.

Special to The Hotel Salem is a rooftop restaurant and bar and a basement bar. Some of the other local hotel choices would be the Hawthorn Hotel or the Salem Waterfront Hotel to the East of the pedestrian mall, while to the West would be the Salem Inn.  We arrived on the 30th of October, had the afternoon to explore to the West of our hotel and took our trolley tour with Gallow Hills that night.

The crowds were light to medium on the 30th (a Tuesday). On the 31st we explored East of the Hotel, avoided areas that were really crowded (saving those for the next day), attended a magic (mentalist) show in the early evening and watched the firework show from the rooftop in the later evening. The crowds were medium and grew to heavy on the 31st (a Wednesday). Overall I found the 31st in Salem family friendly as long as you keep in mind that the evening is Salem’s Mardi Gras. Lots of Police on the streets and clearly the city was organized and ready for the crowds. Our hotel allowed us on the roof for the 15-minute firework show, but that was an exception as the area is 21 and up. On the 1st we went back to the crowded areas (like the Burying Point Cemetary) and had the place to ourselves.

The lack of crowds on the 1st was GREAT for my photography of the area and buildings, but several restaurants and shops took the day off so may not be ideal if you missed them the day before.  The 3 days we booked for the area were the perfect choice for our needs, to celebrate Halloween in Salem, and to also see the local history and landscape. If you were an adult only group seeking the Halloween-Witch vibe you may prefer to arrive on the 29th and depart the 1st to have more time to see the town of Salem in its full Halloween action.

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On the 2nd, our trip took us down to Hyannis, MA. We had been studying the Mayflower, Pilgrims and historical settlement of America, so it was a natural progression to transition from Halloween and Salem to the time of Thanksgiving and Plymouth. Honestly, I didn’t know beforehand how hands-on, beautiful and well organized Plymouth would be. We learned about a place called Plimoth Plantations.

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I went online and purchased the package of tickets (3 places) for Plimoth Plantations, Plimoth Grist Mill and the ‘What would you do experience?’.  At Plimoth Plantations, you experience a living history Museum set in 17th century Plymouth. Actors play the rolls as if you are in that time. The environment was built as it would have existed in 1627.  These photos below in circles are from a postcard set I purchased in Plymouth. Click each circle for photo descriptions and details.

The setting is 7 years after landing on ‘Turtle Island’ which is what the Wampanoag called ‘America’. When you first arrive you watch a brief video explaining the experience and getting a little back history. You head out on the trail and first visit a Wampanoag site. A winter house, a summer house and the making of a canoe. Wampanoag natives are on site to talk to you about their lives. Fascinating insight about things like how the English thought they had ‘magic fires’ because their wood didn’t smoke and pop, but it was because the natives new to only burn seasoned wood or their homes would be filled with smoke. Their society was Matriarchal…but because the English were a Patriarchal society they felt more comfortable talking to sons or brothers of the female chief and recorded history to reflect that.

After spending time with the tribe, we moved on to the 17th-century colonialist’s village. Here you could enter any of the homes, talk to the inhabitants and learn about their lives. These people came mainly for two reasons. They were fleeing for religious freedom or for better work/financial opportunities in their lives. They committed to 7-year labor contracts in exchange for 20 acres of land.  The contract term and amount of land could vary but that was the general arrangement. Jobs were scarce and the opportunity at land ownership was small in England, so making this incredible journey to the new colonies gave them a shot at both. Half of the original settlers died the first winter, but numbers steadied after that and more colonialists joined the following years.

After the Plimoth Plantation, we left and headed about 10 minutes into downtown Plymouth. We parked at the Plimoth Grist Mill where we learned how a Grist Mill works to make cornmeal. Awesome place that not only manages the actual production of product for local eateries but shares the knowledge of the process for educational purposes.

From there you can take a 10-minute walk to town for lunch at a pub, tavern or cafe OR hike 10 minutes down a lovely path towards the waterfront experience and Plymouth Rock.

We opted for lunch first at Will & Co Cafe and then on to the ‘What Would You Do?’ waterfront experience.

There we played a character on the Mayflower and followed a storyline to learn about their life. We took in gorgeous views from the Plymouth pier and found Plymouth Rock and the Pilgrims Memorial all in the area too.

We took the pathway back towards the Mill and our car through Jenney Pond Park adorned with gorgeous fall foliage and a babbling brook.  Plymouth is a JEWEL and a must visit for any history loving family.

We lucked out in finding a Whale Watching tour that was running its last voyage for the season on Sunday the 4th.

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We rode a 128 ft speedboat traveling about 30 knots (35mph) out of Cape Cod Bay just past Provincetown, MA.

This journey was about an hour out to sea and brought us to a spot where a few whale families were feeding before they leave the area for warmer waters. Several whales passed the boat and gave us their signature out-of-water tail flips.

We love boats and water and the whale sightings made it a special journey. We were back in the harbor just after 1pm, so we took the afternoon to drive all the way around the Cape to Provincetown. We made several stops along the way at scenic and beach lookouts.

We found the most beautiful, gothic memorial out in Provincetown, The Pilgrim Memorial.

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We climbed to the top and took in the 360-degree views of the area just before sunset.

Then we made the hours drive back to Hyannis to our cozy hotel, Courtyard by Marriott. The Courtyard was just what we needed, good quiet night’s sleep, friendly helpful staff (Hi James!), on-site breakfast and a place for me to do a load of laundry while Sebastian swam in the warm pool. I really contemplated trying to find a day to head over to Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard, but it just didn’t happen this trip…so I guess I am forced to return. 😉

On Monday, the 5th, we took the morning easy, packed up and made the trip back to Boston. We checked into the Sheraton in Copley Square, turned in our rental car and walked around Boston Common & Chinatown.

We enjoyed eating Hot-Pot at Shabu Zen (Thanks, Sherry!). Sebastian cooked the meats in a Miso Soup and I cooked the vegetables in a Spicy Thai Soup. We loved the fish paste and avocado smoothie too!

Tuesday, the 6th, was our final full day. We took a Duck Tour with Scott Milk. It was funny, entertaining and full of history and tidbits about Boston.

After we launched into the Charles River, Sebastian had the opportunity to drive the vessel a portion of the way.

After the tour, we grabbed a bit to eat and explored around Copley Square. We were starting to hit a wall of walking/trip fatigue and I wished we could have walked the Freedom Trail, we just didn’t have 2 and a half more miles in us. We went up into the Skywalk Observatory, but low clouds had come into the area and really diminished the visibility, so we made our way back to the hotel and spent the evening swimming & dining. We really enjoyed the location of the Sheraton. It is connected internally with a shopping mall, so despite the rain and cold, we could walk from our room and straight down to the mall and restaurants.

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My favorite part of the trip was Plymouth. It was a wonderful, beautiful surprise and I loved the way our trip transitioned from Salem at Halloween to Plymouth in November (honoring Thanksgiving). I highly recommend this trip to anyone with a passion for history, education and fall foliage!

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If you have Instagram and want to see our stories from the trip, look here at Salem, Plymouth, The Cape, and Boston. All the professional pictures I shot on the trip are HERE on LoveCameraEarth.com. If you want assistance planning a get-away to Massachusetts, email me at bookit@CraftTheTravel.com.

Worldschooling

The Bahamas – SO much more than you think.

Did you know that there are 700 islands, of which 30 are inhabited, and about 2,400 cays (coral reefs) in the Bahamas? It is SO MUCH MORE than just Paradise Island, Nassau! There are several popular islands in what are called ‘the out islands’ of the Bahamas. On this trip, we visited Abaco and Eleuthera. We took Southwest Airlines into Ft. Lauderdale and then used Silver Airways to take us into Marsh Harbor, Abaco. We chartered a power catamaran called GOYA through Dream Yacht Charters. She is a 37′ cat by Fountaine Pajot with 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, living, kitchen, covered flybridge with helm and dinghy. We lived on her for 8 days, 7 nights and anchored or docked somewhere different every night of our journey. It was amazing!

Our Captain, Keino, is a 500-ton Captain, native to the Bahamas and one of the neatest people we have had the pleasure of meeting! He taught us all a ton about living on board a boat, driving, anchoring, docking, GPS navigation, but also so much about the different islands and cays we visited. The trip would not have been the same without him!

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We left Marsh Harbor, Abaco and headed North. We made our way to Great Guana Cay, had a meal at Nipper’s and on to Piggeyville on No Name Cay. There we found adorable mommy and baby pigs as well as roosters & hens.

We continued on North to Nunjack (Munjack) Cay where we cooked out beachside, swam with the stingrays and docked overnight. The next day we explored the other side of the island and found 1 lone house, ‘The Cooper Cottage’.

From Nunjack, we made our way back South and made our next stop at Treasure Cay and dinner at Coco Beach where these gorgeous, beach shots were taken at sunset.

During the trip, Keino taught Sebastian to launch, start and drive the Dinghy. He learned it quickly and was promoted to Dinghy Captain and drove us around any time we needed a ride up to an island, marina or cay. Needless to say, he loved it!

We made our way back to base at Marsh Harbor, where we re-provisioned and filled our fresh water tank. We also had access to a laundry mat at base and it was great to do wash and start fresh on the next leg of our trip. We experienced warm to hot temperatures and bouts of daily rain which made for fantastic views and colors in the sky.

We started our leg South and made a stop in Hope Town, Elbow Cay. Toured the last operating kerosene lighthouse and stopped for a swim in ‘Tahiti’ (aka Tahiti Beach).

Our last night in Abaco was at Little Harbour. It is also the farthest marina South, so a perfect launching point for our early morning departure the next day to Eleuthera. Our entire Abaco adventure is HERE on my Instagram. We left early that next day at 6am to cross the Atlantic down to Eleuthera. Our Instagram journey to Eleuthera starts HERE. We traveled at 8 knots and made it in 6 hours. That early morning time on the water was stunning and peaceful. It was a magical morning watch the sunrise over the ocean.

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We only crossed paths with a cruise ship making its way to Nassau. Upon our arrival to Eleuthera, we made our way through the devil’s backbone to visit Harbour Island. We rented a golf cart, drove all over the island, visited the pink sand beach and had lunch at Valentine’s.

Our time came to an end aboard GOYA, we were sad to leave the yachting life we quickly became enamored with. It was also hard to say goodbye to Keino as by this point he was now officially our adopted brother. NOT to worry! Another trip is just around the corner.

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After we left Keino and GOYA, we took a rent car from Jean’s bay dock on the North end of Eleuthera down towards Gregory town. We stopped on the ‘glass bottom bridge’ and at the Queen’s bath to take in the views.

We stopped for the night at Kathy’s Airbnb/VRBO and enjoyed her home very much. It had the most delightful, pristine beach access just down the street in her neighborhood. I highly recommend her property and her 2nd home next door for a larger group. The next morning we left and headed South.

The main road, Queens Hwy in Eleuthera is terribly pothole ridden and sadly the off shoot roads into neighborhoods and shopping are even worse. We drove the length of the entire island all the way down to Cape Eleuthera. The Cape Resort and Marina was lovely, new and clean. They had several beaches on the property and a swimming pool overlooking the ocean. We stayed in a cottage, but they offer larger Villas too. As fate would have it, we connected online with another worldschooling family in Eleuthera at the Island School. Our new friend, Kate, was kind enough to take us on a tour and share info about their journey living a worldschooling life.

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Finally, for our last night, we drove back into Governor’s Harbour and stayed at Villa Allamanda. Here we found John the proprietor of a lovely property offering a fantastic 360-degree view.  He is a native Bohemian, schooled in Architecture overseas and returned to invest in his homeland. The Villa Allamanda is clearly his labor of love. Along with the stunning views, we enjoyed a comfortable, charming villa liken to a small apartment. The next day we drove to Governor’s Harbor airport and took Silver Airways back to Ft. Lauderdale.

There was so much to love about this trip, but life on the GOYA was our favorite part. We LOVED the freedom and adventure-like feeling that being on the water offered while also having the comfort of living in one location. We look forward to exploring our options for future trips with yacht chartering. If you have an interest in chartering a yacht for your next get-away, contact me! I can assist you in booking a yacht charter in the Bahamas or out of 43 other bases around the world! Bareback is an option. Captains are always available. Sail, power, cook or don’t! Life aboard is amazing! ❤  and from my little piglet friend, THE END!

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Worldschooling

Vero Beach, Cape Canaveral & St. Augustine; Not a part of Florida you may know!

We took a trip to a beach unknown and discovered a wonderful part of Florida! Friends had us to their place in Vero Beach. We delighted in local restaurants like Mulligan’s and Cravings, took in the local culture at the Vero Beach Art Museum and Mel Fisher’s Treasures, and spent lots of time by the pool and at the beach. Did you know that Disney has a property beach-side in Vero Beach? Located about an hour and half from the Orlando Airport.

After departing from our friends, we headed north up A1A into Cocoa Beach, FL for a night. We wanted to stay close to our next destination, Kennedy Space Center! We loved our time here. Everyone was awestruck by the size & power of all NASA’s toys. We had ‘lunch with an astronaut‘, specifically Anna Fisher. If you are visiting Orlando and want to do a day trip out to the Kennedy Space Center, you should consider this package.

Our next stop was in St. Augustine, FL at the Casa Monica, an Autograph Collection hotel. I was taken back by the charm and beauty of this town that claims to be the ‘oldest continuously occupied settlement of European origin in the United States’. It began in 1565 by the Spanish admiral, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés. It screams old Spanish, European town. Gorgeous! The historic Casa Monica didn’t disappoint either. Beautiful intricate furniture and details that would delight any history fan. Sebastian felt like a KING in the ornate chairs that decorate the resort.

From St. Augustine, we made our way back to Orlando and stayed a night in the Orlando Marriott Lakeside near the airport. Anyone that knows my son, knows that all it takes is a pool to have a hotel make his ‘favorite’ list. Marriott Lakeside didn’t disappoint with their indoor/outdoor pool, redesigned rooms, and made our last night in Florida a happy one!

The city of Orlando and surrounding areas have so many opportunities for adventure, learning, culture, history and FUN! If you want a vacation in the states, consider what the Orlando area has to offer. Come visit Disney or Universal for a few days, but rent a car and expand to some of the surrounding towns. You will be delighted with the diverse options. I am happy to help get you in the right direction! #travelagentlife #craftthetravel

Orlando

Craft the Travel

This is not the Cancun I remember! It’s better. It’s the Riviera Maya.

The last time I was in Cancun, Mexico I was in my twenties. We did a typical ‘hotel zone’ stay off the strip, tanned on the beach and visited Mayan Ruins in Tulum. I remember getting off at a small airport and taking a small school-bus type van to our hotel. The guys on the van had a cooler full of iced down Corona and liberally distributed them during the ride. Long gone are those basic days for Mexico. It has clearly ‘grown-up’ in the world of tourism.

We flew on Sun Country.  I hadn’t used them since my 20’s but the tickets were a great price and I thought I would try them again. The flight going to Cancun was delayed twice, so they did rob us of having a real dinner at the resort our first night. We settled for room service after check-in. The airline did complimentary upgrade us to exit row seats and functioned on-time returning home. I want to note that with this airline if your flight is delayed – it does NOT mean you can check-in later than the 2-hr window from your original flight time. We did not know this and waited at home during the ‘delayed’ time. Come to find out we checked-in with 8 minutes to spare. Since charter, vacation airlines only fly a specific route/day/time they don’t keep a schedule like the majors (AA, United, Southwest) do. While this doesn’t mean all charters are late and all majors are on-time, I do think the fact that the majors have a schedule to keep helps them stay on time more often than not.  Just my two cents when choosing who to fly!

To my pleasant surprise, we stepped off our plane and into Cancun’s fully updated and modern airport. It was clean, air-conditioned, fast and efficient at handling the tourist. If you are ‘carry-on only’ you are through lickety-split. They have craftily created an area that you must pass through full of small lectern-type desks. It appears that these are here to help guide you or give information…..while they will happily give you info, it is not agenda-free. These are representatives of ‘Mexico Tourism’ and the Mexican-owned ‘time-share’ property Vidanta. They want you to buy/stay in Mexico-owned properties versus foreign-owned. They will entice you with all kinds of good freebies or discounts on tours/excursions for a mere 90 minutes of your time (try more like 5 hours). Just keep walking! If you have prearranged transfer or need a taxi, they will be waiting for you just outside the exit, so again KEEP MOVING.

We had pre-arranged, private transfer with Lomas Travel and they did a first class job at getting us to and from our resort. This was my first time to stay in an ‘Adult-Only’ property as I typically travel with my son. I was interested in staying here because of my desire to investigate the ‘Palafitas’ (which I will cover later), but the generous travel agent discounted rate on the suite helped seal the deal to take the trip. Oh, the demands of the travel business! 😉

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Continue reading “This is not the Cancun I remember! It’s better. It’s the Riviera Maya.”

Worldschooling

PUJ, La Romana, Saona Island ~ Dominican Republic

Like most destinations in the West Indies, the Dominican Republic delivers you crystal teal-blue water and fine white sand. We found areas of our resort’s beach, at the natural swimming pool and off of Saona Island to be seaweed free and pristine. The trade-off to reach this stunning destination is a 4hr 15m (direct) flight (from DFW to PUJ).

Once you are in the Dominican you can elect to stay in Punta Cana where the airport is on the East tip of the Island or make your way about 45m Southwest to the town of La Romana or even farther West into Santa Domingo. Wherever you land you are likely to find yourself in an all-inclusive resort. From what we observed in La Romana, there wasn’t much in the way of restaurants outside of our resort. While the food in our resort was certainly edible and plentiful, it was different and challenged all of us to expand our palettes.

I would venture to say 10-20% of the people staying at our resort were Americans and the rest were nationalities from all over the world.  I had forgotten how much the rest of the world still smokes cigarettes and are used to doing so at any time/place they wish.  😒 The people that worked at the resort, as well as locals we encountered off the property, were all very helpful, kind and friendly.

We enjoyed the family time we had on the ‘touristy’ tours we scheduled. We participated in a day trip to go zip-lining, a boating trip to Saona Island and an afternoon of parasailing. Sebastian has really grown up and enjoyed these ‘big boy’ activities.

Our resort did have a restaurant at the end of their pier, which from what we observed most of the other resorts down the beach did not. We had one lunch and our final dinner there which were our favorite meals.

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We practiced traveling only with backpacks for this trip and while we all agreed that a lesser amount of stuff was ideal; we prefer that weight be hauled around on wheels versus our backs. I will be on the hunt for the perfect tiny roller bags.

Recommended Resorts:  Dreams, La Romana; Dreams, Dominicus; Catalonia; Grand Palladium; Majestic Mirage; Excellence; Riu; Melia.

Things to be aware of in the DR:

-American Dollars & DR Pesos are both widely accepted, but be sure to take some small bills for tipping as when paying with a card or ‘on the room’ you are not offered a ‘tipping line.’

-‘Tours’ are very touristy and typically fully booked. Be sure to book private excursions if you don’t want to be a part of the crowd.

-Carefully consider whether you want to book ‘public’ transfers (vs private) as this will lengthen the time it takes to get you to your resort. You may be in luck and be the first stop or you may not…..and be the last!

-Wear insect repellent. Even though you may not feel like it is very ‘buggy’, other more unfamiliar creatures are around that may bite.

-Arrive to this airport (PUJ) 3 hours before your departure time. It is not a modern, ‘online’ airport. They make you stand in three (long) lines to leave the country. One to check into your departing flight, one to go through security and one (again) through customs to exit the country. The airport is an open-air building, so dress comfortably for the warm weather.

Lastly, after a long day getting home, I was SO INCREDIBLY THANKFUL to have Global Entry. We scanned our passports at kiosks, printed a paper for each of us, showed them to the attending agent and breezed right out to our Uber (we only had carry-on luggage). BRILLANT!

Guest Bloggers

A Tiny Taste of Tokyo

Tokyo is a highly populated, dense metropolis of approximately 845 square miles that I had the pleasure to briefly explore in May.  When traveling to Tokyo, it is best to do the following ahead of time:

  1. Download the Google Translate app to help you with menus, directions and outdoor vending machines, and learn some basic Japanese phrases such as “Please”, “Thank you”, “Excuse me” and “I don’t understand”. Very few people speak English, especially off the beaten path.
  2. Plan to spend a LOT of ¥en as many places (including taxis, train station kiosks, and local restaurants) do not take credit cards!
  3. Your best bet is to get Yen ahead of time through your bank or via Travelex super convenient as 45 minute wait times at the airport are likely. Travelex will even buy back your yen with a pre-paid return envelope upon returning home.  Keep in mind banks and Travelex do not buy back coins (only bills) so use up your coins – a ¥500 coin is equivalent to a $5 U.S. bill!  ¥en is so absolutely lovely you almost don’t want to spend it!  But… you will. 32946187_10216374642988310_1634453691438202880_n-1.jpg
  4. Wifi is spotty and not available in many locations. Here’s a brill concept… have a pocket wifi delivered to your hotel!  Once fully charged it will run up to 12 hours and you have wifi everywhere you go in the city – they will deliver to most hotels (mine was there upon check-in) and give you a prepaid return envelope to give to the hotel concierge upon checkout.  Stick the small device in your purse or pocket for continuous wifi.  Super duper convenient!
  5. Bring printed copies of the addresses of your hotel and places you plan to or think you might visit along with printed photos. These will be helpful when asking for directions!
  6. Work on your pantomiming skills.  Many Japanese will humor you by watching and attempting to figure out what you need/are trying to convey and others will flat out ignore your antics.  Either way, you’ll get a slight workout.
  7. Plan to use public transportation from the Narita airport (Skyliner train) and around the city as taxis are very expensive, drivers speak little or no English, and they don’t accept credit cards. Skyliner will run from Narita to Nippori where you can then buy a transfer (with yen only) to get you nearest to your hotel.  Friendly airport transportation information folks will help you find the best route to get to your hotel.
  8. Have a plan in place before you arrive as Tokyo is one very expansive and expensive city!

Continue reading “A Tiny Taste of Tokyo”