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

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, 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

Costa Rica, Yoga and Boca Sombrero

Bienvenidos a Costa Rica! I found myself invited by my friend Brook to photograph her yoga retreat.

Bye Dallas, Hello Costa Rica!

Let me take a step back and mention this conversation happened a week before she was set to depart. Thanks to my travel agent connections, I was able to secure the same flights as my friend at below market rates, so I took this as a sure sign it was my destiny to attend. This was the first time I left Sebastian and Cliff for more than just a few days and I sure missed them! Our flights started early on a Saturday taking us from DFW to FLL, Ft Lauderdale to San Jose, Costa Rica and finally SJO to the tiny air strip of Puerto Jimenez (PJM).

Upon our arrival in Puerto Jimenez, we met our driver and he took us to Boca Sombrero. Boca Sombrero is a property owned by two German families and managed by Monika & Walter. There are three, multi-room, open-air houses and seven ‘glamping’ tents. The houses have kitchens, outdoor showers, toilets and sinks, one large bedroom with multiple beds, a sitting area and the house I stayed in, a pool.

The tents are a raised bed with tent and patio with seating. The have showers and sinks, but no toilet. There are common toilets in the area.

All living quarters are open-air, meaning, no air-conditioning, but the temperatures are moderate (80-90’s) and at night lower paired with frequent swimming and finding shade, acclimation is not difficult. The property is on the ocean, specifically the Pacific side in the bay of Osa.

After arriving to the property, it was late and the kitchen was closed so we made our way to a local restaurant/bar called Martina’s and had great local homemade cuisine. Since I arrived early with the retreat organizers, I slept my first night in my house by myself. All night I could hear the sounds of the Jungle and was greeted bright and early by the rising sun. Meals were prepared for us during the rest of the stay in the main house.

Beautiful assortments of salads, fruits, homemade dressings, breads (and gluten free options), tortillas, rice, beans, assortments of cooked vegetables, papas, fish, soups and always a freshly squeezed juice.

My first morning was spent at the pool getting to know a fellow guest that had arrived overnight. Later in the day, Brook had arranged a Thai massage for me. Thai massage involved lying flat on a padded floor mat while the practioner moves limbs, connects to pressure points and joins in with guided breathing. It can be an experience of intensity and pleasure.  After this two hour experience the majority of our group had arrived and I met my fellow housemates. Brook and Javanne, lead an opening circle of intention setting, meet-n-great and team building. Then we adjourned for dinner and a brief overview of what the week had in-store for us.

Monday morning started bright and early with a Brook-lead yoga session. I observed through my lens. Processed photos, chatted with my new housemates, enjoyed amazing healthy, meals by the staff at Boca Sombrero and shot the late day cool-down yoga class.

Tuesday morning after yoga, a guest lead a ‘Following your Passion’ talk and I enjoyed a great brainstorming session afterward with the group. After lunch, seven of us left the property by horseback with the staff of Rancho Tropical for an afternoon’s journey. Several in the group repelled a 125ft tropical fig and later a waterfall. I enjoyed photographing the group and exploring the terrain. We rode the horses back to Boca Sombrero and enjoyed sunset.

Wednesday morning we enjoyed a several mile hike with Monika and Nele who run Boca Sombrero. They took us through the jungle, in the river, through waterfalls and caves and taught us about native trees and animals. We stayed mostly under the canopy and wet, so the warm temperatures made for a lovely day.

Thursday took us out on the Golfo Dulce by boat on the La Sirena. Josh taught us about the golfo, told fun tidbits and stories and took us to many areas where the dolphins play and frolick.

Part of the group split off and toured a local animal sanctuary where we met, Sweetie the monkey and Rose with her baby. Sweetie loved to be scratched and would jump on the back of the men. She is partial like that. 😉 We also met a tayra, an ocelot, a kinkajou, a peccary, a few more monkies and sloths. We had up close and personal encounters with each which made the experience one to remember.

Each day offered yoga classes, pool time, surfing on some days and lots of eating and socializing.

Friday was a great day for everyone to relax, have massage, acupuncture or thai massage. That evening we had an early dinner and then went to Martina’s for the local craft market and drinks for those that wished to partake.

Over the course of the week I was able to catch Brook for a few impromtu photo shoot moments.

While I am not a morning person the sounds of the jungle start early and whether you want to or not you learn to live with nature. I found myself up one morning enjoying the sunrise and the macaws.

During the retreat, we were eached given a ‘secret santa’ person that we were to observe and grace with some sort of small gift. It could be in the way of words like a poem, small token or something found or handmade. I elected to gift a photo shoot to my friend, Katie.

Saturday found everyone making their way home back to California, New Mexico, Texas or Pennsylvania. The traveling day can be a long one, but Costa Rica is a beautiful country with unique adventuress, animals and lots of eco-conscience lodging. I will leave you with sounds from Playa Sombrero.

Sounds of Playa Sombrero

If you would like assistance booking a trip to Costa Rica, let’s chat! I’d love to use my inside knowledge to help you have the best experience possible! Contact me to get started. To view all the pictures from Costa Rica and the Retreat, click the provided links. Adios!

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


Hawaii, The BIG Island!

This destination wasn’t one that had initially been floating around in my head, but when tickets came across my desk that I couldn’t pass up, the planning was on! We used United and had one connection in Denver going and one in LAX returning home. I have to say since I have been so devoted to Southwest Airlines, I haven’t considered anyone else, but I really enjoyed United and would fly them again. No complaints.


We arrived in Kona Airport, which is on the West side of the Big Island. It was a lovely airport. Small & open air, but easy to navigate, gather luggage and find the car rental shuttles. I am a Hertz Gold member, so our car was waiting for us and all we had to do was walk out to it and get in. My boys were SO happy…exactly what they wanted a silver, 4×4 Jeep. I have a feeling our family may at some point acquiring a Jeep. (Again! Remember my Big Red one? ❤)

We made an easy drive up 19, North to the Westin Hapuna Beach Resort. We walked into a beautiful open air, lobby with a direct 180-degree view of the pools and beach. Lovely!


At check-in we were welcomed with passion fruit/orange juice and wet wash clothes for cleaning our hands. We were quickly assigned room 696 that had 2 queen beds, balcony, and ocean view. The room/space was very comfortable for our family of 3.  My son and I agree that our favorite and unexpected aspect to the room was the TOLIET! It was a bidet toilet seat (heated seat, various water temperature sprays, dryer, massage and of course night light). All I can say is see this link for every last AMAZING detail and that this little JEWEL will be delivered to my house in time for Christmas! Ok, I know that is a funny LOVE, but we also really enjoyed the balcony, comfortable, stylish seating areas, pools and beach access the resort offered us too! Ha!

They offered an adult-only infinity pool with hot tub and a second larger family pool with hot tub. The property included a gorgeous garden, fish/lily pond, and several restaurant options.

We were pleasantly surprised to receive a ‘welcome gift’ under our door for a $25 credit at one of the property restaurants as well as a discount card to area restaurants. The Westin does charge a $30/night resort fee, but it included our self-parking, bottled water, beach chair unlimited internet and shuttle service to the sister property next door, Mauna Kea Beach Hotel.

On day 2, we dressed in shorts and short sleeve shirts, but the drive in the open air jeep proved to be a chilly ride as we made our way from the Westin thru Waimea & Hamakua and on to Waipi’o Valley. I was happy to have left our vests and our travel blankets in the Jeep. Our first stop was in Waimea at the Parker Ranch. We enjoyed the history and learned about the deep and rich foundation the Ranch has on the Big Island and in their local community. Interestingly just being from Texas, gave me an affinity for the area’s roots in ranching and livestock. You would think you are on a ‘tropical island’ and while parts of it are…there are vast areas of grazing land for livestock. This is one of the trees on Parker Ranch and if you look closely you can see a tiny Sebastian at the base!


On this tree right next to where Sebastian was standing he found this beautiful little fellow!


Next, we stopped at a local health & organic foods store where we were able to stock up on some of our favorite foods. We continued on to Hamakua and made a short stop at Ahualoa Farms where we sampled various macadamia nut treats and took in the roadside flowers. Wild birds of paradise!

Our journey took us on to Waipi’o Valley. THIS is where it was REALLY valuable to have that 4×4 Jeep and BOY was it fun! “The road gains 800 vertical feet (243.84 m) in 0.6 miles (0.9 km) at a 25% average grade, with steeper grades in sections.” All traffic coming up the road has the right of way, so we had to be sure to watch the road ahead and pull over ahead of time or be forced to reverse! Thankfully, we weren’t in that situation as traffic was light. When we made it to the bottom, we found the most beautiful valley and black-sand beachfront. Further up the valley was Hi’ilawe Falls the tallest waterfall on the Big Island. SO GORGEOUS!

After we made the climb back up to the top of the valley, we started back to the Westin and made a brief stop at a roadside fruit stand. Coconut Mike cut us up fresh pineapple and coconut water/coconut meat. YUM! What a refreshing snack! We made the trip back in about an hour and enjoyed swimming and relaxing upon our return.

The next day started off easy. I knew it would be a late night, so we enjoyed the early morning in our room. Sebastian and I walked all over the property and grounds and did a mini photo shoot. After we worked up a sweat, we made our way to the pool to cool off and chill.

We set out just before 2pm for Mauna Kea. “Its peak is 13,802 ft above sea level, making it the highest point in the state of Hawaii. Most of the mountain is under water, and when measured from its oceanic base, Mauna Kea becomes the tallest mountain in the world[5] measuring over 10,000 m (33,000 ft). Mauna Kea is about a million years old, and has thus passed the most active shield stage of life hundreds of thousands of years ago.” We arrived at 3p and decided not to make the drive from the base at 9200 ft to the top. It requires 4-wheel drive, which we had, but the 40% reduction in oxygen at the top can cause nervous system damage in developing brains under 13yo. It is a 30-minute drive up to the summit and you will experience grades of 20-22%. At about 4pm we hiked up part of the mountain that overlooks sunset. I am very glad we went early because from about 4:45p to 5:20p we had beautiful, expansive views and then a large cloud came through and covered sunset. On my way up I had to stop 3 times and take several deep breaths and let my head acclimate. I am not fond of heights, so that plus the altitude was kicking in and making me feel dizzy. BUT it was well worth pushing through for these views!

Afterward, we warmed up in the car and waited for the sky to clear to take part in the star-gazing tour. I was doubtful that the sky and humidity would clear, but it did by 7p/7:30p. This was the second to last night that the star-gazing tour was held. After the 8th they are closing it down for 6 months to do some renovations. When it resumes I recommend adding it to your ‘to-do’ list while on the big island. You need to arrive early as parking is limited. You need to dress warmly or have blankets! We experienced temps down the 40’s. Take a red light or just let your eyes adjust…the white light flashlight and cell phone people were really annoying and constantly interrupting the experience. This will likely be the most stars you will ever see in one night. Absolutely gorgeous from horizon to horizon!

Day 4 started off my 43rd birthday! We started the morning off bright and early as it seems that my body’s wake-up time in Hawaii was 6a. I enjoyed chatting and messaging with many friends and family that reached out with well wishes for a happy day. Birds visited my lanai while I sipped my bday Kombucha and smelled the flowers my boys brought me.

Lanai, Kombucha and Flowers

We started to make our way over to Hilo by 10a and arrived just after 11a. We parked and walked around the most delightful farmers market. We bought tea and fresh spring rolls, listened to a local ukuleleist, found Hawaiian clothes for the whole family and chatted with vendors. I would spend every Saturday in this type of environment; it was absolutely food for the soul.

We made a brief stop at local park with stunning views and then made our way to Hilo International Airport to meet our helicopter tour company, Safari.

This was Sebastian and I’s first time up in a helicopter and while a little intimidating, it was FUNtastic! We saw sights all over the Volcano Park and a brief drive-by of waterfalls. Mike, our pilot, and the land crew were all so helpful and friendly.

Once back on the ground, we made a quick stop at Saucy Dogs and Loved by the Sun for a snack and then headed back to the Kona side.

After changing to our Hawaiian clothes, we left for dinner at Manta on the Westin’s sister property, Mauna Kea, an Autograph Collection Resort. The property and restaurant were gorgeous and we finished the night off observing the natural Manta Rays that swim up near the restaurant’s edge.

Cliff, my husband, thought he was so funny in his Hawaiian shirt that he had me put together this mashup comparison of him and Russell Brand from Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Ha!


Day 5 we started with an early morning walk on the beach. The 4 hour time change backward has really worked in my favor as it has allowed me to enjoy several sunrises and early mornings. Times of the day I don’t typically encounter.

Later that day we checked out of the Westin and started to make our way South towards Kona. After brief stops in Kauila-Kona for provisions and lunch at Island Naturals Market & Deli, Kailua-Kona we arrived an hour or so later at the Sheraton Kona. While the accommodations here are a little more dated than at the Westin, the assortment of built-in activities and large family-friendly pool made the property a fun destination.

We enjoyed activities like lei making, a cultural tour of the property, early AM yoga, giant checker games, direct access to the Kona bay from small volcanic rocks and Ukulele lessons. The Sheraton Kona opened in 1970 making it the 2nd or 3rd oldest resort on the Kona side of the big island and farthest Southern resort on the Kona coast. The property itself has several archeological significant sites that have been preserved and maintained.

The large pool has tubes, slides, hot tubs, waterfall and even a ‘beach’ with sand and all.

The Sheraton features a small wedding chapel overlooking the bay and has several open lawns with beautiful scenic views.

Among all the daytime swimming and activities we also attended an evening luau and cookout at the Royal Kona. I got to wear the Lei Sebastian had made that day. ❤


We were fortunate to witness the most beautiful pink sunset to backdrop the luau. Pork was cooked in a traditional Hawaiian sand oven and the buffet included other local Hawaiian specialties like Poi as well as other chicken & beef dishes with sides.

The dancers were talented and skilled. They performed 5 or 6 different Hulas and changed costumes with each performance. I recommend arriving early and upgrading to reserved seating. You get a closer view and first to the buffet line.

The next few days we enjoyed downtime at the pool and local excursions to various farms and factories. We visited Big Island Bee Farm and sampled Macadamia Nut Honey which is currently the blooms the bees are making the honey from. Another type is the raw Hawaiian honey made from the ohia lehua blossom. It known for being the first flowering plant to grow from new lava rocks. We also sampled the vanilla bean, cinnamon, and chili pepper infused honeys that they make.

There are several coffee farms in the area and just driving down the coast, windows down you can smell the beans being roasted…yum! At Royal Kona Coffee we sampled many flavors and various roasts of Kona coffee.

While at Royal Kona Coffee there was a jewelry vendor and she was selling oysters. You picked your oyster and she would open it for you to see if you were lucky enough to have pearls inside. Sebastian had two pink pearls in one oyster! Sounds like earrings for me! 😉


Our last stop was at Donkey Balls, Chocolate Factory where they make many, many types of chocolate balls. White, dark, milk with various center fillings like dried fruit, malt balls, and macadamia nuts.

We ran into a few friends from Texas, Ziggy and Ally. Cliff and Sebastian had fun seeing their family’s beautiful property and swimming off the coast.

We finished our last evening with dinner at Rays on the Bay and another stunning sunset.

Our last morning we stumbled upon The Coffee Shack and their amazing 180-degree, Cliff-side view where we toasted our 100% Kona Coffee to our return to Hawaii.

Overall we, really enjoyed the diversity of the things to do, landscape and weather of the Big Island. We didn’t visit during a high tourist season and it did NOT feel ‘touristy’. I think it helped that we had our own vehicle to explore and leave resort grounds on our own time. I know I priced tours from the resorts and most all activities started at $100/person, so having our car was the more economical, private and enjoyable way to go. Navigation around the island was very simple and we had no issue with our American based, T-Mobile phone & data services all over the island.

View of Rainbows from our room at the Sheraton Kona

In the future, I would stay a few nights in Hilo, visit Rainbow Falls, take a Helicopter tour of the Waterfalls, swim at green-sand & two-step beaches, have breakfast again at The Coffee Shack, hike down to Captain Cook’s monument, take surf lessons, and hike out some of Volcano Park.

What’s at the end of the rainbow? Hawai’i!

Finally, I wrap up with a tip about booking a group event wedding or party outside on the big island. The island North of Kona Airport is windier than the South (and we experienced it!), the East ‘Hilo’ side of the Island is the wetter, rainier side of the island, therefore if you want to have the highest chance of perfect weather, I recommend booking somewhere South of the Kona Airport for your special outdoor event.

Are you interested in traveling to the Big Island of Hawai’i? Contact me to help plan the perfect trip! For all our day-by-day adventures while in Hawai’i, check out our Instagram stories found HERE. If you would like to see all the photos from Hawaii, check out my photography website, If you want a travel-along, family photographer, contact me! We travel!


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,


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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 If you want assistance planning a get-away to Massachusetts, email me at


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!


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’.