Vignettes of Samana (Dominican Republic), Part One

I have a soft spot for the Dominican Republic. Not only was it the very first Caribbean island I ever visited, I also adore its people—they’re so welcoming and friendly—and love its shallow, sandy beaches full of beautiful sand dollars and shells.

Before my epic United Kingdom/Marrakesh trip in July, I was invited by Bahia Principe Hotels & Resorts to come out to Samana to check out their gorgeous all-inclusive properties there and experience some of the European-popular province’s attractions. It was a fantastic experience: one brimming with adventure, delicious dips in the water, amazing seafood and wonderful people.

Here’s the first set of photos from my trip.

Be sure to check out my stories from the trip on Huffington Post as well as on Travel Pulse

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Our first stop was the lovely, beach house style resort of Grand Bahia Principe El Portillo and the nearby town of Las Terrenas.

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We also spent some time visiting small villages and farms, meeting with the locals, and doing some snorkeling and swimming at the gorgeous Playa Rincon, which doesn’t see a lot of tourists because it’s a bit hard to get to and the dirt road that leads to it is kind of rough. The beach is definitely worth the trek though, and it’s probably my favorite on the island.

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Enjoyed these photos? Keep an eye out for the second set, to follow soon…

 

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Comfy Tees for Flying

It’s no secret that I absolutely hate flying. It’s the one part of traveling I admit I cannot quit enjoy or even just get used to. I hate being stuck a small space for hours, not being able to move freely and get comfortable. While the window views, in-flight movies and sleeping aids are good distractions and make flights easier for me, I still end up with getting restless and fidgeting and wishing the flight would end already. So I do everything that will help me feel as comfortable as possible.

One of the many things I try to do is to dress super comfortably. This means that my travel style is simple: soft, loose tees, loose-fitting pants, and flats or sneakers—plus a warm sweater or jacket to match. This combo always guarantees comfort and warmth for me without looking sloppy. The tees are especially important. I prefer graphic ones made of soft, airy material and fit well without being too constricting.

Here are some flight-perfect tees I found online:

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c!ao graphic tee from Madewell

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rocky horror picture show tee from UO

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naf shirt from The Deep End Club

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i’m pineapple graphic tee from Forever 21

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fun icons tee from Truly, Madly, Deeply

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good vibes tee from Sub Urban Riot

Marvelous Magnets in Alluring Marrakesh

Spend a couple of days in Marrakesh, taking in the sights, sounds and smells of the small yet vibrant city, and you’ll understand what attracts thousands of travelers to this tiny part of Morocco. Visit the former imperial city, and revel in its lively culture and these five unforgettable family-friendly attractions.

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Riad Si Said (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

Stay: Enjoy traditional Moroccan accommodations in one of the many riads in Old Medina, where many of the city’s attractions are located or within walking distance. Some, however, are better than others. Book a stay with the super affordable and highly rated Angsana Riads Collection Marrakesh. The brand owns a number of riads located within the old city, including Riad Si Said, which offers complimentary breakfast, a pool and spacious suites dressed in traditional Moroccan furnishings.

 

Central Souqs

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Marrakesh’s Central Souqs (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

What is Marrakesh without its bustling marketplace that offers families endless shopping opportunities? Right in the center of Old Medina are the city’s Central Souqs, whose maze-like streets and alleys are teeming with shops that sell everything from Argan oil, local spices and ingredients for that night’s dinner to beautiful clothing, Moroccan poufs, gorgeous rugs, colorful footwear, metalworks, ceramics, musical instruments and lanterns. You can spend hours simply getting lost and bargaining for goods to take home.

Koutoubia Mosque

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Koutoubia Mosque (Flickr: Adam Axon)

The mosque’s minaret, which has stood guard over the city since the 12th century, is the first thing you’ll see as you enter the city from the airport. Koutoubia Mosque remains a holy place of worship and may not welcome non-Muslims through its doors, but it’s still one of Marrakesh’s biggest attractions. Visit in the early morning when it’s a tad cooler, walk its beautiful grounds and take that opportunity to get some photos in. Later, grab some pastries at Patisserie des Princes.

Djemaa el-Fna

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Djemaa El Fna (Flickr: Tom Walk)

Marrakesh’s main square, Djemaa el-Fna, is one of the city’s best and most vibrant attractions. It’s worth of a visit in the daytime when local sellers of juices, potions and food are starting to set up shop, but it’s best to visit when the sun goes down and the whole place transforms into a venue for many street performances. Djemaa el-Fna boasts musicians, bellydancers, circus performers and even the last remaining storytellers. The food and juices look enticing, but make sure to do your research first and watch the vendors as they prepare that orange juice for you.

Koutoubia Gardens

Energetic may be Marrakesh’s core personality but that can be overwhelming to new visitors. Take refuge in the Koutoubia Gardens, nestled behind Koutoubia Mosque, where palm trees and orange trees offer a much-needed quiet break. Have a lovely stroll here, or grab coffee and quick bites from Café L’Arome and enjoy them at one of the park benches. The gardens also offer great views of the minaret so remember to bring your camera with you.

Mouassine

Also in the center of Old Medina, Mouassine is much like the Central Souqs in that it offers plenty of shopping opportunities for local goods and products. The difference is Mouassine has brought in new sorts of sellers, shops and cafes, fusing the old with the new, cool and chic. Visit souqs that sell beautiful leather goods and textiles and shops that sell stylish clothing. Later, take a stroll around Bab Doukkala and walk around the Bab Doukkala Mosque complex.

 

(Originally published on MiniTime.com)

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Exploring One of London’s Oldest Neighborhoods

Compared to New York, Tokyo or Los Angeles, London is a small metropolitan. But within its city limits are several neighborhoods—a just little over 40, in fact—and each of them possesses a plethora of sights and diversions that could easily fill up your day of exploration.

Within the City of London, one of the oldest neighborhoods, for example, historical attractions, bustling markets and awe-inspiring architecture abound. Here are some of the best ones you can visit and explore in one day.

 

Where to Stay: Experience the best of both worlds at the newly opened Batty Langley’s Hotel. The beautifully furnished hotel boasts rooms and suites with Victorian flourishes and antique furniture like gorgeous four-poster beds and exquisite old-fashioned ceramic bathtubs as well as modern conveniences such as Bluetooth and Apple TV connectivity and complimentary high speed WiFi. Best of all, they offer breakfast in bed so you can lounge in bed a little longer the next day!

Tip: If you’re planning on maximizing your time in London and visiting many of its popular attractions, the London Pass is a convenient and money-saving tool to have. It gives you access to over 60 of the city’s attractions at no further cost as well as skip-the-lines privilege to some of the most famous ones. Plus, you won’t have to keep standing in line for tickets, it’s so easy to use (show to scan and you’re in!) and you get an attractions guide book for free. Purchase the London Pass before you start your day of exploration in the City.

 

St. Paul’s Cathedral

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St. Paul’s Cathedral is a must visit sight in the City of London. (Photo: Michelle Uy)

Start your day early at St. Paul’s Cathedral, which opens to visitors at 8:30 am except on Sundays. While not included in the London Pass, tickets are affordable and can be purchased online.

One of London’s most famous attractions, the cathedral is a sight to behold both inside and out. It’s the site of several important events in British history, including the funeral of Winston Churchill and the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana, as well as the final resting place for several people of great significance like Alexander Fleming and its own architect Christopher Wren.

While its history is impressive, it is a far cry from the architecture and design of the cathedral, both of which are lavish and spectacular. While photos are not permitted inside perhaps to preserve its sanctity, the stunning mosaics and paintings, intricately designed arches, columns and ceilings, and incredible high altar will forever be etched in your memories. Borrow the complimentary audio guides, as they’ll offer interesting facts and insights you wouldn’t otherwise know, and conquer your fear of heights and climb the steep steps up to the Whispering, Stone and Golden Galleries for awe-inspiring views.

Tower of London

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Visit the Tower of London and learn about its role in history. (Photo: Michelle Uy)

After a couple of hours in St. Paul’s Cathedral, walk about 20 minutes southeast to the Tower of London. Or save time and take the Circle or the District Line from Mansion House Station to Tower Hill. When there, head straight to the entrance and bypass the line with your London Pass.

The Tower of London is one of London’s most historic and most important sites, with a grim history that only adds to its appeal. Today, it is home to the magnificent Crown Jewels as well as the imposing Royal Armouries in the White Tower, both of which you must visit early on as they draw the most crowds. Take your time in both areas as there’s so much to see and connect to history. Later, visit the Tower Green Scaffold Site, where Anne Boleyn was executed; the Bloody Tower, which harbors a harrowing secret and where Sir Walter Raleigh was imprisoned; and Chapel Royal of St. Peter ad Vincula, burial place of Anne Boleyn.

While they can draw such large crowds, the 60-minute Yeoman Warders tours that starts every 30 minutes from the Middle Tower, are certainly worth going on as they are very informative and also fairly entertaining.

Tower Bridge

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The Tower Bridge is one of London’s most beautiful bridges. (Photo: Michelle Uy)

Grab a quick bite at New Armouries within the tower grounds and then head straight to Tower Bridge mere steps away. Again, bypass the line with your London Pass and spend around 30 minutes or so exploring it. But before you do, make sure to take photos of the bridge, which is picture perfect especially when it’s bright and sunny in London.

The Tower Bridge Exhibition is worthy of a visit, even if you only have an hour or less to spare in your day. You’ll get a chance to see its interiors, learn about its construction as well as bridge engineering, see its Victorian engine rooms, walk over the Thames over transparent glass floors, and even witness fascinating bridge lifts (check the schedule here).

After your visit, visit the Girl with a Dolphin Fountain along St. Katharine’s Way for a great photo opportunity.

Leadenhall Market

Walk about 16 minutes to Leadenhall Market where lunch options are aplenty.

The covered market is one of the city’s most famous, thanks to its beautiful Victorian roof and the fact that the Diagon Alley scenes from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone were filmed here. However, it’s also known for its food stalls, shopping opportunities, restaurants and pubs. Take your hungry troop here for a much needed refueling and break.

Don’t be shy and take photos of the market. Everybody’s doing it!

London Bridge Experience

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Take the older kids to see the London Bridge Experience. (Photo: Michelle Uy)

While you can take the bus from Leadenhall Market to the London Bridge Experience, which is also included in your London Pass, walking over London Bridge is much more scenic and will only take 13 minutes of your time.

The London Bridge Experience welcomes kids of all ages (except perhaps infants) but may be disturbing for the little ones. The older kids will certainly get a kick out of it however, especially if they are into scary mazes. Comprised of two parts that altogether takes about an hour, the tour starts with a themed, story-telling narration of the bridge’s fascinating and at times dark past as well as a small exhibition that depicts its history, and then takes visitors to a dark and at times scary maze that they have to pass through.

The staff will give you a chance to skip the maze, so you will have the option to experience only the first part that offers quite an insight to the bridge’s history.

Museum of London

Take the Northern Line from the London Bridge Station to Moorgate and walk less than 10 minutes to the Museum of London since you’ll have plenty of time to spare.

Continue your day immersing in London history and visit the kid-friendly Museum of London. Here, you and the kids will be transported to the city’s different yet equally intriguing eras—from London before it became London through Roman and Medieval London as well as the time of the Plague to the modern city we’ve come to know and love—through several galleries and recreations. There are interactive displays as well, which are perfect for teaching the kids, and temporary exhibits that London Pass holders can visit for free.

 

(Originally published on MiniTime.com)

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Travel Tips for Visiting London for the First Time

London is an easy city to familiarize yourself with, so even if you come unprepared and decide to just wing it, you’ll find the city pretty effortless to become acquainted with and accustomed to. Still, it’s nice to be just a little prepared and look like you know what you’re doing. With these ten tried and tested travel tips, you might just even blend in with the locals.

 

Get an Oyster Card. Everybody in London either walks or uses the public transportation (or realistically, both). The city’s network of public transportation, which consists of buses, the Underground trains, National Railway trains, trams and even boats, is very efficient, very effective and the fastest way to get around (the trains especially). Before you start your London explorations, obtain an Oyster Card that you can “tap up”—meaning add credit to—at every National Rail and Underground station as you go. Oh, and do memorize these symbols below…

bustop – London bus stop symbol

179px-Underground – London Underground symbol

nationalrailicon – National Railway symbol

Get a Pay As You Go SIM Card. Unless you belong to an amazing cellular network, an international data plan might be just a tad too expensive for what you need. As soon as you get to London, visit a local store and get a Pay As You Go SIM Card, which allows you to choose and purchase a bundle that fits your needs best. These bundle are usually cheaper and provide more minute, text and data allowance. Best of all, you can purchase and activate a bundle through your phone.

Get a London Pass. If you’re planning on visiting many of London’s most popular attractions, London Pass will save you a ton of time, money and hassle. Starting at £59 for a 1-day pass, the passport will give you access to over 60 attractions at no extra charge, as well as discounts and extra perks at many others. Additionally, you’ll also get Fast Track access to a select few—the Kensington Palace, the Tower of London and the London Bridge Experience, for example—so you can beat the lines and save even more time.

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Tower of London grounds (Photo: Michelle Rae)

Learn the Currency. Much like the rest of the city, the British pound or pound sterling is pretty straightforward but it’s still a pretty good idea to familiarize yourself with them, especially the coins. Londoners are usually very patient, but you still wouldn’t want to be holding up a line while you try to figure out which one’s 20p and which one’s 10p. The banknotes are usually £5, £10, £20 and £50 bills while the coins you’ll come across are usually 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, 50p, £1 and £2. And when someone asks you for 5 “pee,” don’t freak out. They only mean 5 “pence”.

Skip the Cabs, Take the Tube Instead. London, like many metropolitan areas, is plagued with really bad traffic. This means that a £15 cab ride can easily turn into a £30 one during rush hour. With your Oster Card tapped up and ready to go, you can easily hop on a train to get to your destination in no time. It’s cheaper, faster and also very easy to figure out as timetables, directionality, connections and stops are displayed at every single station and every single platform. And if you’re still not feeling confident, simply use the Google Maps app on your phone. It’s pretty good at providing idiot-proof instructions on getting from one point to another using public transportation.

Visit by Neighborhood. While London is quite compact, every neighborhood in the city has a number of things to offer. If you have plenty of time in the city—3 weeks perhaps, I would suggest exploring it one neighborhood at a time. This will give you ample time to get to know each one—as they each have their own distinct personality as well as must see sights. Go for a literary walk in Bloomsbury, go shopping in Soho and Mayfair, visit the historical attractions in the City, enjoy arts and culture in Shoreditch, etc.

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Carnaby Street in Soho (Photo: Michelle Rae)

Look Right Then Left. If you come from a country where people drive on the right, which is basically most countries, it’s easy to get confused when navigating the streets on London. The whole United Kingdom drives on the left side of the road. While you might not be doing any driving during your visit there, this is still a very important tidbit to remember as you’ll need to remember which way to look when crossing streets. Always remind yourself to look right first and then look left. Look right then look left. Make this your mantra for the next few days until it’s practically second nature.

Stay on Your Left-Hand Side. Pedestrian traffic is much like vehicular traffic. Everybody walks on the left side, on the streets, up the stairs, at the stations… Or at least they should be. Most people do, but it can get a little confusing since most visitors and tourists don’t follow it. The best thing you can do is keep walking on the left side but pay close attention to oncoming traffic so you can dodge accordingly.

Take Some Day Trips. There’s a lot to see in the city itself and chances are you may not be able to see most of it during your visit. If you’re staying for two or three weeks however, it will be good and a nice change of pace to visit some of the smaller towns and cities outside London. Literally everything is a leisurely train or bus ride away. Take a couple of days or even weekends to visit Oxford, the Cotswolds, Bath, St. Ives, Weymouth, Brighton, Canterbury, or even Edinburgh and Glasgow.

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Bibury in the Cotswolds (Photo: Michelle Rae)
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Bath Abbey in Bath (Photo: Michelle Rae)

Get Some Clear Plastic Bags for Your Liquids. If you’re planning on visiting other cities in other countries while there—Marrakesh, Madrid or Lisbon, perhaps—it’ll be good to know some of England’s rules for air travel. One clear-cut rule that airport security is firm about is your liquids storage. They prefer that all flyers use a clear, resealable bag that’s about a little bigger than the Ziploc sandwich bags we have in the US to store their liquids. If you use the wrong container—a big Ziploc bag or a clear make-up bag, for example—chances are they’ll make you take them out and repack them in the preferred bag. Don’t worry, though. The airports usually have these bags on hand, whether for free or for purchase, so you can go to the airport and grab a couple before going through security. Also, bear in mind that every passenger has a limit of 2 bags max, so make sure to only bring the necessities.

 

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Flying Tips for Non Flyers

Visiting unbelievably beautiful places is a privilege that’s often hard to trade or resist; but to some of us, the ‘getting there’ part isn’t quite as enjoyable. If you’re a non-flyer like me—and by that I mean someone who isn’t comfortable with the act in general—flying to your vacation destination may just be the most irksome part of your holiday.

Flying is, however, an eventuality you can’t avoid if you want to see the world. There are, however, a few things you can do to make the experience as pleasant for you as possible.

 

Choose a Seat You’re Most Comfortable With

The window seat isn’t necessarily the best seat on an airplane. I find that while I do enjoy sitting next to the window for the view, the makeshift headrest and the control of the window shade, there are days when I prefer sitting in an aisle seat for several reasons including having access to the aisle if I need to stretch my legs or use the toilet and being able to easily get to my carry-on in the overhead bin. Decide whether it’s the aisle, middle or window seat that would fit your needs the most and reserve that seat, as sitting in one you’re most comfortable with will make that flight a lot less painful.

Wear Comfortable Clothes

Sure, it’s a good idea to dress up and look good for a flight, but in the end all that matters is your comfort. As long as you don’t look like you just crawled out of bed or haven’t showered in days, nobody will care how fashionable your in-flight outfit is. Besides, you can look good while still being comfortable. Loose-fitting pants, a pair of shoes that’s easy to slip off and on, and even underwear that won’t ride up are the way to go when you’re stuck in a tight space for a couple of hours or more. Plus, they’re good for your circulation.

Use an Eye Mask

One of several ways you can endure a flight is to actually sleep through it. But it’s not exactly easy, not when there’s always light coming from different sources—whether it’s your seatmate choosing to turn his reading light on when practically the whole cabin is dark or it’s that unshaded window across the aisle from you—keeping you awake. Try an eye mask instead. It doesn’t have to be Breakfast at Tiffany’s fancy, it just has to be effective. You can even purchase one at one of the stores at the airport.

Bring a Security Blanket or Pillow

To some of us, sleeping on a plane—unless of course you’re sitting in first class—can be challenging and frustrating. You can only put your seat back so far and the headrest isn’t exactly nice and fluffy. Some flights do offer complimentary blankets and pillows, but they’re not always available so bring your own just in case. Don’t lug a massive pillow or blanket around, however. A travel pillow or a small blanket will do, something good enough to help you sleep.

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Flying over California (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

Skip the Nonstop Flights

A two-hour flight isn’t so bad. But if you can’t stand being on a plane for hours at a time, a six-hour flight might be too long for you. I know it is for me, as I start to get antsy after four hours. Opt for a connecting flight instead, if you don’t mind extending your total travel time for a few more hours. Not only are they generally cheaper, they’ll also give you a chance to breathe, stretch your legs and maybe even grab a proper lunch at the airport.

Revel in Your Travel Quirk

We all have our little quirks that we cling on to like a security blanket. If you have a travel quirk—whether it’s tapping the side of the plane three times with your right hand before you board or falling asleep during turbulence because it rocks you to sleep (like me)—don’t hesitate to do it if it helps you feel at ease. Just make sure it doesn’t bother the other passengers.

Download Your Favorite Movies

Watch the free movie or movies the airline offers on your flight. Or if you have extra cash to spend, by all means purchase that in-flight movie you’ve been meaning to watch. Watching a movie is one of the best ways to distract yourself from the tediousness of a flight. Do remember though that some flights, especially the budget ones, do not offer in-flight entertainment so make sure you have your favorite flicks handy on your computer or mobile device. And bring a book or two with you to read as well.

Travel Light

I find that traveling light takes the pressure off a little. Not having bulky and heavy luggage to carry around with you allows you to relax a little and focus on yourself a little more. Plus you won’t have to worry about overhead bin space or having to wait forever for your checked in luggage at the airport.

Drink Plenty of Water

The super low humidity in an airplane cabin can be very dehydrating, and the longer your flight is, the more chance you have of getting dehydrated. If you’re already feeling uncomfortable or apprehensive about flying, being dehydrated can make you feel even worse. Make sure to drink plenty of water and leave the alcohol for when you’re back on land.

Chat with Your Seatmate

It may seem like an awkward situation at first being stuck in the same row as two or three other strangers for a few hours, but you’d be surprised how many people are more than happy to chat with their seatmates. Strike up a conversation with the person next to you. You’ll know immediately if they’re interested or not. If they aren’t, then you can go back to reading your book or watching a movie. If they are, then you’ll have another way of distracting yourself and you’ve also made a connection with someone.

 

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Hotel Review: The Royal Playa del Carmen, Dressed Down Yet Elegant

A tranquil courtyard, green and decorated here and there with unusual metal sculptures, led arriving guests from The Royal Playa del Carmen‘s enormous lobby to the pools and the beach beyond. Standing there, it’s quite easy to fully appreciate the resort’s allure. Six or so elegantly beautiful Mexican hacienda-style structures, painted white for a more modern flair, rise above you in their modest grandness, their doric columns and intricate iron railing balconies both intimate and inviting.

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The Royal Playa del Carmen

Back in the courtyard, two paths on the opposite sides lead to the pool area, where two big pools sit, busy with guests enjoying their fruity cocktails and flanked with at least two hot tubs, possibly a couple hundred lounge chairs and several curtained cabanas, all arranged in a very appealing way. From here, you can hear the sounds of the waves as they kiss the beach, the famous Playa del Carmen beach, that lay just a few steps beyond.

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Cabanas at The Royal Playa del Carmen
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View from my hotel suite at The Royal Playa del Carmen
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View from my hotel suite at The Royal Playa del Carmen

I was almost sad to leave the brilliant blue waters of Cancun behind, which was where I was until an hour earlier. But walking onto that serene, cream-colored beach and seeing that familiar turquoise waters of the Riviera Maya again after so many months, I am reminded of why I prefer it over Cancun’s partying ways.

It was here where, a little over a year ago, I fell in love with the Yucatan Peninsula and this unfailingly intriguing country. Having a smaller budget then, I made do with a cheap-ish studio apartment that turned out to be more expensive than its actually worth. Picture rough sheets, no air conditioning to take shelter from the tropical heat, a ceiling fan that sounded as if it was about to fly off its base any minute to shred me to bits in my sleep, and the occasional roach in the tiny bathroom that, judging from their gigantic size, could also possibly murder me during slumber. The only good thing that AirBnB find had going for it, in fact, was that it was just a short stroll from Playa’s main tourist strip.

This time around, I find myself, with incredible relief, surrounded in luxury. With over 500 upscale rooms, the all-inclusive Royal Playa del Carmen is an adults-only, beachfront property whose well-appointed suites boasts a massive bathroom, a Jacuzzi, and at times, a private plunge pool. It comes, undeniably, with palatial elegance, from its architecture down to the excellent service, but that elegance is also somehow charmingly subdued. It is, in other words, posh without being stuffy and superior, upscale but sincerely friendly. It’s one of the many things I love about it.

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Suites with private plunge pools at The Royal Playa del Carmen

I also love its abundance of delightful surprises that you’ll truly be hard-pressed to find in other properties, let alone in an all-inclusive one. Consider, for example, its quiet pool area–a gorgeous hidden gem that you wouldn’t know existed until either somebody told you or you just happened to discover it while getting lost in the resort’s expansive grounds. Consider nearby the onsite coffee shop–an unusual thing for an all-inclusive property–that serves proper lattes and is always ready with plates of cookies and muffins for afternoon indulging.

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The Royal Playa del Carmen
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Consider also the spa, whose bamboo-enclosed outdoor massage area may just be as glorious as those ones on the beach, the 24-hour snack bar where you can grab delicious snacks as well as good wine and cerveza any time of the day, the balcony hammocks that you wouldn’t have to fight anyone for, the pool concierge who is ready to lend a hand when you’ve run out of sunscreen, and even the friendly stray cats the staff has kindly allowed to stay on property for guests to dote on.

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Spa Azul at The Royal Playa del Carmen
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Spa Azul at The Royal Playa del Carmen

And I love the food, the delicious fares of Brazilian, Asian Fusion, Spanish, Mediterranean, Caribbean, and French Mexican type cuisines that you can indulge in, guilt-free because you are, after all, on vacation. And because it’s hard to stay at this resort and not indulge. The sheer loveliness of it, whether bathed in sunshine or swathed in dusky blue, will make anyone drop their guard and simply revel in anything and everything.

Though most of all, I love that it’s one of those places where you, without meaning to, just automatically drop your shoulders, straighten your spine and walk as if you’re wearing a thousand dollar dress. But really you know no one will look down their noses at you if you’re sweating through your cheap, Target-bought top after just getting back from exploring the ruins of Tulum under that sweltering, unforgiving midday sun.

Or when, on your last day, you just happen to take a slip on an oversized sandbag while you were walking on a neighboring beach (because why wouldn’t you?), and you’re walking back to your suite all gross, your legs sandy and your bottom algae-covered.

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6 Simple Ways to Stay Healthy When Traveling

A vacation is pretty much synonymous to relaxation as well as indulgence. For many of us, it’s that rare chance in the year when we can leave all our cares behind, avoid the more arduous activities and possibly indulge in things we can’t always have in our daily lives—like heaping piles of food, perhaps.

Just because you’re on vacation, however, it’s no excuse to overlook your health. After all, you wouldn’t want to return from your dream vacation needing another vacation, or worse, nursing a debilitating virus. Here are a few very simple, tried and tested things you can do to stay healthy yet still enjoy your vacation.

Drink plenty of water. It’s easy to neglect drinking water when all those yummy drinks are an order away. The problem with these drinks is they’re so delicious and refreshing that you’ll end up having more than your fair share without noticing the stacking calories. Drinking healthy amounts of water while on vacation is a great way to offset your calorie gain as well as maintain the balance of your body fluids and stay hydrated (few are as dehydrating as that alcohol in your cocktails!). Best of all, drinking water is one of the easiest ways to reenergize.

Stay active. Take some time whether at the start of your day or at the end of it to squeeze in a quick cardio. Many hotels and resorts have a gym onsite with facilities at the guests’ disposal. With all that good food you’ll be sampling—some of them not as healthy as we’d like them to be, it’s easy to gain a bit of weight during your vacation. It only makes sense to balance that out with a little bit of workout and burn those extra calories from that 14oz steak or that large piece of chocolate cake you ordered the night before. And like water, it’s also energizing and a fantastic way to start the day!

Keep a balanced diet. Sure, you don’t get to indulge in amazing steak or lobster every day. It’s more than ok to treat yourself to those hearty lunches and dinners as well as those fruity cocktails. But at the end of the day, it’s still important to eat your fruits and veggies, and control your portions. A good way to keep a balanced diet is to start your meal with the healthier stuff and then leave some room for that hunk of meat or pasta dish you’ve been dreaming about. This way, you can enjoy the “good” stuff without overindulging.

Get plenty of sleep. It’s easy to lose track of time especially when you’re having so much fun or when you’ve got a lot of catching up to do with relatives you’re traveling with. Just make sure you don’t do it every night. A vacation is the perfect opportunity to rest and catch up on much needed sleep. Go to bed early, sleep in or even squeeze in siestas—traveler’s choice. Just make sure you get more than enough shuteye so you can start your days and end your vacation well rested.

Do some yoga. Aches and pains are normal when your itinerary is imbued with activities or when you’re participating in more strenuous endeavors like hiking, kayaking/paddle boarding and snorkeling. A fantastic trick to shoo the soreness away is to do some post-activity stretching, or better yet, an energizing yoga sequence. Yoga workouts are a quick and effective way to get rid of most of the soreness. They’re also a lovely way to reboot your body, getting it ready for another day of fun. There are many videos on YouTube that will guide you through a 20 to 30 minute workout; and some hotels offer yoga classes as well.

Squeeze in a massage. A spa treatment may be the best pampering you can give yourself, so shell out a bit of cash and treat yourself to an amazing massage. You’ll come out a more relaxed and happier you. Many hotels and resorts have their own spa onsite, and a combination of a full-body massage and aromatherapy is probably the yummiest and most satisfying. Before or after your treatment, take advantage of the spa facilities. There’s nothing like a good soak in a hot water plunge pool, or a few minutes under a glorious rain shower. Lastly, try to find a spa where they offer treatments right on the beach; the sounds of the waves will make the experience even more soothing.

 

all rights reserved. no part of this blog post may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission from the author.

Vignettes of Yountville, Day Two

Day two in Yountville didn’t start out well for us. We came out to one of the vineyards up on the hills early Saturday morning with Napa Valley Aloft for a hot air balloon ride (and a champaign breakfast after), but the weather had other plans. We were hoping it would clear up, spending our time taking photos of the fog-covered vineyards and half blown-up balloons while waiting. But the fog just got thicker by the minute.

Our guides were very apologetic though (although it’s hard to blame them, the weather can be unpredictable), and they made up for it by having unbelievably delicious Bouchon chocolate cupcakes waiting for us when we got back. And we still enjoyed the view.

Hot Air Ballooning with Napa Valley Aloft (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Hot Air Ballooning with Napa Valley Aloft (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Hot Air Ballooning with Napa Valley Aloft (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Hot Air Ballooning with Napa Valley Aloft (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Hot Air Ballooning with Napa Valley Aloft (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Hot Air Ballooning with Napa Valley Aloft (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

Bicycle Ride Around Yountville

With our hot air ballon ride canceled and it being too late to go back to bed, we had to find another way to spend our Saturday morning. Luckily our hotel (North Block Hotel) lets guests use their cruiser bikes for free, so we decided to explore the town on them.

We rode our borrowed bicycles along Washington Street past the main strip and the town limit to where the vineyards are, and then on the bike path along St. Helena. The bike ride was a lovely experience, and certainly a good way to see the rest of Yountville.

Yountville (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Yountville (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Yountville (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Yountville (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Yountville (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Yountville (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Yountville (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Yountville (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
M(a)isonry (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
M(a)isonry (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bouchon Bistro (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bouchon Bistro (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
French Laundry (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
French Laundry (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

Richard Reddington’s Redd Wood

The bike ride was also a fantastic way to work up an appetite. Afterwards, we had a light but super tasty breakfast at Chef Richard Reddington’s Redd Wood, complimentary of North Block Hotel: eggs (sunny side up and an omelet), bacon, roasted rosemary potatoes and toast. And the arugula was amazing and fresh.

Redd Wood at North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Redd Wood at North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Redd Wood at North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Redd Wood at North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Redd Wood (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Redd Wood (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

We also had supper there that evening; and unsurprisingly, the restaurant serves amazing dishes for dinner (much like most of the restaurants in this town… I seriously think they have a ban on bad food and bad chefs in Yountville). For starters, we had the crispy Fritto Misto that I couldn’t get enough of. We followed it up with the super light Prosciutto Crudo Pizza and amazing Shrimp Linquine. And for desert we had their yummy Pot De Creme Coffee Espuma Whip and Biscotti.

Redd Wood (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Redd Wood (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Redd Wood (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Redd Wood (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Redd Wood (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Redd Wood (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

Bardessono

Before heading off to the Taste of Yountville festival, which we had tickets for, we simply had to stop by Bardessono, one of the greenest hotels in the country (that’s no exaggeration, mind you! This hotel goes out of their way to be eco-friendly, which gained them the hard-to-acheive LEEDS Platinum certification. I talk more about this in my recently published piece on eco-friendly trip ideas for Earth Day…).

Anyway, the hotel is not only very friendly to the environment, it is also beautifully designed. We had a quick tour of its grounds and buildings that blended modern simplicity with natural touches, which I absolutely loved. And they have a spa onsite too. It was smaller than the spas I’ve been too, but Yountville is all about relaxation so we simply had to squeeze in massages before we joined the festivities.

Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

After our lovely massages at the Spa at Bardessono, we walked over to Washington Street, which was bustling with people. We were in town on the same weekend as the town’s annual Taste of Yountville and Yountville Live!, and having obtained complimentary tickets to both festivals (thanks to the kind folks at Fuller & Sander and the Yountville Chamber of Commerce) we decided to spend lunchtime sampling wine and food from many of the local restaurants and wineries that were participating. There were out of town participants as well.

It was a fun experience, going from one tent to another. We spent a couple of hours walking up and down the main strip, tasting different wine and samples of delectable food (even the firefighters’ tent served amazing barbecue), and chatting with some the locals.

This is day two of our Yountville adventures. Vignettes from Yountville, Day Three is coming soon. Stay tuned!

 

all rights reserved. no part of this blog post may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission from the author.

10 Best Comic Book Stores in the US

Comic books aren’t just for shy and bookish kids anymore. Thanks in part to Hollywood and to the upsurge of counterculturalism, the world of fantasy, superheroes and villains that once only belonged to introverts is now a cool thing. Just look at the crowds that swarm ComicCon in San Diego every year.

One of the best things about comic books – aside, of course, from the fact that they promote heroism and assert that good guys always triumph in the end – is that they’re easily the most accessible and the most effective way to distract the kids, especially on long flights or drives.

So if you happen to be visiting one of these cities with the kids and they’re getting somewhat antsy, a pit stop at these awesome comic book stores might just be what your vacation needs:

 

Austin, TX – Austin Books & Comics

Austin Books & Comics in Austin, TXAustin Books & Comics in Austin, TX (Google Maps)

Opened in 1977, Austin Books & Comics is one of Texas’ biggest and longest running comic book stores. Taking your comic book fans and young collectors here is a must while in the Texan capital. Not only do they sell the latest issues and lines, they also carry many first editions and back issues as well as an entire department dedicated to collectibles, which means that you might have to discuss their shopping allowance before your visit. (5002 N Lamar Blvd, 512-454-4197)

Baltimore, MD – Atomic Books

Founded in 1992 in downtown Baltimore, this independent Hampden comic book store sells alternative and underground comic books as well as zines and books. If the young comic book fans in your family are ready to upgrade from the usual superhero stories to the more experimental or unconventional titles and comic lines, they’ll definitely enjoy a visit or two. This store is so radical, in fact, that director John Waters actually picks up his fan mail there regularly. (3620 Falls Rd, 410-662-4444)

Charlotte, NC – Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find

What’s in a name? Well, with an epic one like “Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find,” this North Carolina comic book store, owned by HeroesCon founder Shelton Drum, impressively lives up to expectations. It’s not only one of the largest comic book retailers in the US, it also has an impressive collection of back issues as well as prides itself in the diversity of its comics, carrying lines from virtually every genre. (1957 E 7th St, 704-375-7462)

Chicago, IL – Quimby’s Bookstore

Quimby’s Bookstore in ChicagoQuimby’s Bookstore in Chicago (Flickr: Pat Loika)

An independent bookstore in Chicago’s Wicker Park, Quimby’s is more for those with a taste for the avant garde. They specialize in underground comics, unusual publications and independent zines. If your teen is tired of the usual superhero in spandex tale and is looking for less mainstream reads, this bookstore is definitely a necessary stop while in the Windy City. (1854 W. North Ave, 773-342-0910)

Los Angeles, CA – Meltdown Comics

Located on the famous Sunset Boulevard, this 14,000-square-foot comic book store is frequented by comic book fans visiting Los Angeles. And its massive collection of not just the latest, but also the best comic books is but a tip of the iceberg. Meltdown Comics also has a lot of cool collectibles, merch and toys for your young collectors and an art gallery for the artists in your family. (7522 Sunset Blvd, 323-851-7223)

New Orleans, LA – Crescent City Comics

With their friendly and knowledgeable staff who are more than willing to offer recommendations and a treasure trove of comic book goodies – from comic books and graphic novels, some staff-curated, to action figures and other toys and memorabilia – this Big Easy comic book store is a sure hit with the locals, young and old. (4916 Freret St, 504- 891-3796)

New York City, NY – JHU Comic Books

JHU Comic Books in New York CityJHU Comic Books in New York City (Flickr: Joey)

NYC has a number of impressive comic book stores, including fan favorites Midtown Comics and Forbidden Planet, but JHU Comic Books is more of a purist’s paradise. While other comic book stores in the city fill their shelves with other products like cards and board games, JHU focuses more on the comics themselves, with shelves filled with great selections of the latest releases and back issues from wall to wall. Plus, the staff is very friendly. (32 East 32nd St, 212-268-7088)

Portland, OR – Floating World Comics

Floating World Comics in Portland, ORFloating World Comics in Portland, OR (Floating World Comics)

A true Portland establishment, Floating World Comics is more than just a comic book store. It’s a hip community, hosting art shows and a tiny vinyl department. Priding itself on cool aesthetics and style, this is a comic book mecca with a vinyl store feel where independent works, art books and zines fill shelves just as much as the more mainstream comics, graphic novels and mangas. Both the future artists and the comic book lovers in your family will more than appreciate a stopover during your Portland vacation. (400 NW Couch St, 503- 241-0227)

San Francisco, CA – Cartoon Art Museum Bookstore

What can you expect from a store that is attached to the only comics and cartoon museum in the West Coast? Where do we even begin? To start with, comic books and cartoons vie for shelf space with history, how-to and art books. Then there are the DVDs, toys, postcards, and other comics and cartoon-related merch. And just because this bookstore in San Francisco’s Financial District is packed to the brim with virtually anything you’re looking for in a comic book store, doesn’t mean they don’t have space for other things. They also support local young artists and regularly host hip community events. (Cartoon Art Museum has temporarily closed its doors to prepare for a move to a new location, and have temporarily moved to the Renaissance Entrepreneur Center (275 5th Street). Keep checking their site for updates on their new home.)

Washington D.C. – Big Planet Comics

If the cool aesthetics of their blue-and-yellow exterior doesn’t get the kids dragging you through the doors, then Big Planet Comics’ impressive collection inside will. This store, originally from Georgetown, prefers the more independent, small-press titles as well as stuff from Europe and Japan that your kids probably haven’t even heard of, but they also carry the more popular ones. True to its name, BPC has established its own comic book world, with podcasts, book signing and meet-and-greet events, and their very own, albeit tiny, comic book publishing house. (1520 U St NW, 202-342-1961)

 

(Originally published on MiniTime.com)

all rights reserved. no part of this blog post may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission from the author.

Vignettes of Yountville, Day One

I’ve been living in California for a long time now; and while I have seen many of the Golden State’s most beautiful places (Yosemite and Big Sur come to mind), I have to admit that I haven’t  fully explored it yet. To me, that’s a good thing because there’s still a lot in my state that pleasantly surprise me.

Take Napa Valley for example. I have avoided it for so long because of several reasons, including the fact that it just seemed to me very predictable, just another tourist destination that’s bland and trite. But during a recent weekend visit to Yountville, California—Napa Valley’s culinary center—I am not ashamed to admit that I was proven wrong…

There’s a reason—or rather a few remarkable reasons—why Yountville is considered Napa’s culinary capital. This idyllic haven is home to some of the most stunning sceneries you’ll ever see in California as well as many of the most amazing restaurants and wineries not just in California but also in the country.

M(a)isonry

M(a)isonry (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
M(a)isonry (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

Our first stop during our visit was M(a)isonry, a wine collective and art gallery that not only offers tastings of the best wines produced in the region but is also home to an eclectic collection, all for sale, of cool and eccentric art pieces. We very much enjoyed our tasting paired with Redd Wood’s cheese and charcuterie board, but we LOVED exploring its gorgeously decorated rooms and garden.

M(a)isonry (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
M(a)isonry (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
M(a)isonry (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
M(a)isonry (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
M(a)isonry (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
M(a)isonry (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
M(a)isonry (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
M(a)isonry (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
M(a)isonry (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
M(a)isonry (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
M(a)isonry (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
M(a)isonry (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
M(a)isonry (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
M(a)isonry (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

North Block Hotel

North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

I’ve stayed at a number of hotels and resorts over the years, some of them simply fantastic, luxurious and award winning. I have to say, however, that North Block Hotel has officially made it to my top 10 favorites.

Staying at this lovely boutique hotel during our Yountville weekend, we were able experience and take advantage of most of its complimentary offerings (we had to skip their spa because we were scheduled for treatments at Bardessono—more on that later). These include a glass of wine upon check in and cruiser bikes that you can pretty much use anywhere around town. The staff is also super friendly and always happy for a nice chat during non-busy times.

North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

Our gorgeous, newly-renovated room boasted an intimate furnished patio; a luxurious bed with oversized pillows and a pretty chandelier overhead; mood lighting everywhere; a massive bathroom that has a separate shower, a big tub and yummy toiletries; free WiFi; and complimentary filtered water and espresso.

North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

We also enjoyed the surprisingly spacious pool and whirlpool area, which has a big heated pool, several lounge chairs and free Cabana-style seating with Moroccan decor.

North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

Insider Tip: North Block Hotel also offers complimentary use of their all-new Volvo XC90 SUVs. See guest services or call ahead to schedule your preferred time.

North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

ad hoc

It doesn’t take long for Yountville to unravel its many charming qualities. Our first day there not only included cheese and charcuterie tasting at M(a)isonry, but also an unforgettable dinner at one of Chef Thomas Keller’s highly-rated restaurants. Bearing in mind the fact that I travel all the time and have had the pleasure of eating at some of the most wonderful restaurants, it’s definitely saying something when I say that our dinner at ad hoc is one of the best meals I’ve ever had in my life.

ad hoc (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
ad hoc (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

ad hoc has a four-course, family style, prix fixe menu that changes daily, and it just so happens that the restaurant was serving their legendary Buttermilk Fried Chicken the night we dined there. The chicken was addictive, and so were the other items on the menu—Endive Salad (yummy), Clam Bake (more spinach please and how is that corn so very juicy?), Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam (best preserve, cheese and biscuit combo ever!),  Butterscotch Pudding, and the cheesy grits and greens as slides. Even their cocktails were amazing.

ad hoc (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
ad hoc (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
ad hoc (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
ad hoc (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
ad hoc (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
ad hoc (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

It’s no surprise that every single item on the menu here is amazing, considering that the kitchen staff work like a well-oiled machine (General Manager Elias Mandilaras was kind enough to show us the behind-the-scenes action.) The kitchen was basically an obsessive-compulsive person’s (like me!) dream—clean, neat and super organized.

Insider’s Tip: ad hoc’s daily menu is available at around 9 am every day. Check their website to see what’s on the menu that day or let them surprise you. The restaurant also hosts Sunday brunch at addendum, its garden-slash-outdoor space.

ad hoc (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
ad hoc (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
ad hoc (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
ad hoc (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

This is only day one of our Yountville adventures. We have a ton more to share so stay tuned for Vignettes from Yountville, Day Two.

 

all rights reserved. no part of this blog post may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission from the author.

How to Make the Most of Your Disneyland Getaway

While it may not be as big as Orlando’s Disney World, the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim is just as packed with rides and attractions for both the young and the young-at-heart. Before you go, expect that you won’t be able to see the entire park, let alone go on every single ride there, in a day. However, you would want to get your money’s worth and experience as much of what the park has to offer.

Here are our ten tried and tested tips on how families with kids can make the most of their Disneyland getaway:

 

Come Early. Depending on the season, both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure usually open around 9 or 10 am Monday thru Thursday, and Disneyland opens around 8 am Friday thru Sunday. One great way to make the most of your visit is simply to come early – not only will you have more hours to spend there, you’d also beat the crowds to the ride lines!

Jungle Cruise is one of the many attractions at the park with a FASTPASS.Jungle Cruise is one of the many attractions at the park with a FASTPASS. (Courtesy Michelle Rae Uy)

Don’t Underestimate the Power of the FASTPASS. It’s completely FREE with your ticket purchase and super easy to obtain. A FASTPASS will help you bypass the long lines at some of the popular attractions, so you won’t have to spend 45 or so minutes of the time you could be spending on other attractions at the park. Simply go to a FASTPASS distribution station, insert your ticket and you will get a FASTPASS ticket with your Return Time to skip ahead. In the meantime, you can enjoy other attractions (ones with shorter wait times), grab a snack, visit the shops or just explore the park in general. Note that sometimes there’s a wait period before you can pull another FASTPASS, so use it wisely!

Start with the Attractions You Really Want. Don’t just go from one ride to the next, without a plan. Before you go, do your research and find out which attractions you want to see and rides you want to go on the most. Save the rest for later when you have some time to spare!

Family getting on the Little Mermaid Ride.Family getting on the Little Mermaid Ride. (Courtesy Michelle Rae Uy)

Don’t Ignore the Less Popular Ones. Especially when you have some time before your FASTPASS Return Time, don’t hesitate to go on the less popular rides. They might not be big hits, but you might just enjoy them. Consider attractions like Ariel’s Undersea Adventure, where your little mermaids get to ride on colorful clamshells and sing along Part of Your World with Ariel, and Pirate’s Lair on Tom Sawyer Island, where you and your little ones can explore caves and tunnels and cross a rope bridge.

Wear Comfortable Shoes. Think about it – if you’re not wearing comfortable shoes, your feet will hurt after a few hours of walking, and chances are, when your feet hurt you’d want to take a lot of breaks – which cuts into your fun time – and you won’t enjoy the rides as much since you’re in pain.

Just Avoid the Crowds. Skip the crowds and go on a weekday instead of a weekend, visit between holidays, or before and after school breaks.

California Adventure ParkCalifornia Adventure Park (Courtesy Michelle Rae Uy)

Buy a Park Hopper. While Disneyland is full to the brim with attractions, there will some rides you’d want skip if the thrill factor is too high or if the ride is too age-specific. If you have a park hopper, then you’d be able to hop on over to California Adventure next door, where there are more exciting, adrenaline-pumping rides that even the younger kids can appreciate. Kids 44 inches and up can take on California Screaming while kids 40 inches and up will enjoy the floating sensation going down The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. Later, the whole family can cool down in the rapids on Grizzly River Run.

See the Parade. It’s normal for the little ones to start getting tired and grumpy, especially after all that exploring, so pick a nice spot on Main Street, USA where you can sit down and rest. Make sure that you have a good clear view of the parade – the festivities will perk your grumpy ones right up!

Wait for the Fireworks. It’s the perfect and most magical way to end your magical day at Disneyland – to watch the spectacular fireworks over Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. In fact, it never seems like a complete Disneyland experience without it.

Grizzly River Run at California Adventure ParkGrizzly River Run at California Adventure Park (Courtesy Michelle Rae Uy)

Stay Another Day. A single day just isn’t enough to explore the park completely, and we bet your little princes and princesses haven’t had their fill yet. So why not book a family-friendly hotel nearby (and there’s a lot, on-site and off-site) and stay another day? You are on vacation so make the most of it. After all, if you’re going to spend your hard-earned money on something, it might as well be on experiences for you and the kids. And Disneyland is definitely an experience.

 

(Originally published on MiniTime.com)

all rights reserved. no part of this blog post may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission from the author.

First Look: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood

I was lucky enough to be one of the journalists invited to preview the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood before it officially opened the next day. Here are some of the photos I took during the special Media Preview.

Hogwarts at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Hogwarts at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Warwick Davis, Evanna Lynch, James Phelps, and Oliver Phelps during panel discussion with media. (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Warwick Davis, Evanna Lynch, James Phelps, and Oliver Phelps during panel discussion with media. (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Evanna Lynch, James Phelps, Oliver Phelps and Tom Felton during panel discussion with media. (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Evanna Lynch, James Phelps, Oliver Phelps and Tom Felton during panel discussion with media. (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Hogsmeade (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Hogsmeade (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Yay for Butterbeer (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Yay for Butterbeer (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Hogsmeade (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Hogsmeade (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Hogwarts students (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Hogwarts students (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Ollivanders (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Ollivanders (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Hogsmeade (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Hogsmeade (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Honeyduke's (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Honeyduke’s (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Wand Selection Ceremony (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Wand Selection Ceremony (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Wand selection ceremony (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Wand selection ceremony (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Inside Ollivander's (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Inside Ollivander’s (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Travel writer Ashley Burnett tries her hand at magic (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Travel writer Ashley Burnett tries her hand at magic (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Frog Choir Performance (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Frog Choir Performance (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Even the bathrooms were designed like the bathrooms at Hogwarts (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Even the bathrooms were designed like the bathrooms at Hogwarts (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
More of the stars from the movies (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
More of the stars from the movies (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
The Monster Book Of Monsters (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
The Monster Book Of Monsters (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Entrance to Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Entrance to Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Sirius' motorcycle (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Sirius’ motorcycle (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Shop at Hogsmeade (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Shop at Hogsmeade (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)