Seven Things You Need to Know About Oahu Before You Go

Oahu is a US destination, and yet it feels like a completely far off place thanks to its Polynesian roots that remain alive and thriving today. This uniqueness, coupled with its impressive mountains and stunning beaches, puts the island (and the rest of Hawaii for that matter) at the top of everyone’s–as pedestrian as this might sound–bucket list.

During our weeklong visit to ring in 2016, we discovered some things about Oahu that many wouldn’t know unless they’ve been there. And we thought we’d share them with you.

Below are some things you need to know about Oahu before your visit:

Boneless Chicken with Brown Gravy and Macaroni Salad at the Rainbow Drive-In (Photo: Michelle Rae)
  1. The food is really good. Everyone who has been to Hawaii has complained about how underwhelming their local food is. As a result, we kept our expectations low. Much to our surprise, Hawaiian food is actually pretty good if you know where to go. In fact, we ate like kings during our visit. The trick is to skip the Hawaiian fast food chains and go where the locals go. Click here to see our Oahu restaurant recommendations.
Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset
Cinnamon Girl at Ward Warehouse in Honolulu (Photo: Michelle Rae)
Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset
Eden in Love Boutique (Photo: Michelle Rae)
  1. There’s plenty of shopping to be done. Hawaii may be on the expensive side, but there’s something about walking along beachfront Kalakaua Ave, Honolulu’s main shopping strip, that just gets you in the shopping mood. And it has a lot of our favorite brands – from cheap H&M and Forever21 to the more expensive Kate Spade, Tory Burch and Coach. At Ward Village, there are specialty boutiques like Cinnamon Girl and Eden in Love that sell the most adorable items! And then there are also the Walgreens stores that carry pretty much every single flavor of Mauna Loa and Hawaiian Host imaginable! Needless to say, our bags were twice as full on our trip home.
Surfers at Puaena Point (Photo: Michelle Rae)
  1. Surfing is THE way of life. Pick any beach in Oahu with good-sized but safe swells and you’re bound to find a surfer riding those waves. It’s to be expected, considering that the now internationally renowned sport originated in Polynesia and has been practiced in the Hawaiian Islands as far back as the 1700s. During your visit, why not do as the locals do? You’ll regret it if you don’t as surfing is one of the most exhilarating and liberating water sports there is. There are several local surf schools by the beach, if you haven’t done any surfing before. Not ready to stand on your board just yet? Body boarding is just as fun!
Sea turtle at Aweoweo Beach (Photo: Michelle Rae)
  1. Don’t get too close to the turtles. These majestic animals are irresistible, but they are endangered and we should all do our part to preserve their species. Sometimes, people do not realize the difference between a simple touch and going as far as sitting on a turtle’s shell. So it’s best to just avoid getting too close altogether.
Ruins hidden in the woods (Photo: Michelle Rae)
  1. Everything is less than 3 hours away, and yet one week is still not enough. You can pretty much drive around the island in a single day. It’s that small. But that doesn’t mean that a week is enough to explore and experience the whole island. There’s just too much to do from the busy streets of Honolulu to the quieter and more adventurous North Shore and everything in between. We stayed for a week and tried to pack in as much as we could, and we still missed a lot of stuff! Stay for two weeks or more!
  1. Everybody drives at 35 miles an hour! When you come from a big city like LA, the island’s slow pace might be a little hard to get used to. People certainly take their time doing stuff. This includes service at restaurants and driving. So if you’re used to doing things fast, you need to bring plenty of patience with you.


  1. Waikiki Beach is great, but you can do better. Waikiki Beach is probably the most touristy beach on the island, probably because it’s the most accessible. And while it’s nice and affords a beautiful sunset, it’s certainly not the best beach on the island. We actually visited a number of beaches during our trip and have a few favorites. Do your research before you go, and you might just find one that not a lot of people know about.


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.

Hotel Review: Cabana Bay Beach Resort

Why Go: Go back in time and find out what it was like living in the 60s at Universal Resort Orlando’s family-friendly Cabana Bay Beach Resort, where the retro cool style of Mad Men meets the fun, futuristic utopia of The Jetsons.

The latest onsite hotel addition to one of the most popular theme park resorts in the world is perfect for families with a penchant for bright colors and vintage design. And as Universal Orlando’s first value-to-moderate hotel, Cabana Bay Beach Resort treats guests, young and old, to pretty, candy-colored aesthetics, great kid-friendly pools, plush beddings and easy access to the theme parks at super affordable rates.

Cabana Bay Beach ResortCabana Bay Beach Resort (Courtesy Universal Orlando)

Getting There: Situated next to Interstate 4, Cabana Bay Beach Resort is easily accessible whether you’re driving from another city or taking the shuttle from the Orlando International Airport 20 minutes away. A complimentary shuttle is available to and from the theme parks.

Getting Oriented: The retro-themed hotel sits on the Southwestern corner of the Universal Orlando complex, with Universal’s Islands of Adventure directly to the North and Loews Royal Pacific Resort to the East.

Family suite at the Cabana Bay Beach ResortFamily suite at the Cabana Bay Beach Resort (Courtesy Universal Orlando)

Room Options: Families large and small will find the rooms at Cabana Bay pleasantly comfortable and roomy. A family of four will enjoy spacious accommodations in a standard room with two queen beds while a family of six will find a family suite with a kitchenette, an additional full-size sofa bed and extra large bathroom to their liking. Large and multi-generational families will love the connecting rooms and suites perfect for spreading out while still having easy access to one another.

For the Whole Family: Picnic tables, a lawn, a pool table, and a bean bag toss give families plenty of fun things to do together at the resort. However, water fun is never far away on days when you want a break from the theme parks and need to cool down and relax.

Pool at the Cabana CourtyardPool at the Cabana Courtyard (Courtesy Universal Orlando)

Separated into two courtyards – Cabana Courtyard and Lazy River Courtyard, Cabana Bay’s huge recreation area boasts two big, zero-entry pools (open from 8 am to 11 pm) with plenty of umbrellas and lounge chairs, a lazy river, a waterslide, a hot tub, a small sand beach, and several cabanas to rent for privacy. The Cabana Courtyard features one pool, the waterslide, the cabanas and Atomic Tonic for refreshments. The Lazy River Courtyard, on the other hand, is home to the lazy river, the second pool, the sand beach and The Hideaway Bar & Grill.

Indoors, the resort’s 10-lane bowling alley and restaurant, Galaxy Bowl, give families the option to hit the lanes while having casual dinner. There are also several shopping and dining opportunities, including a Starbucks and a Universal Gift Shop.

Just for Kids: Little ones will love the kids’ splash pad located next to the waterslide at the Cabana Courtyard. Big kids, tweens and teens will enjoy the arcade games at Game-O-Rama, which features old school classics like skeeball.

Galaxy BowlGalaxy Bowl (Courtesy Universal Orlando)

Where to Eat: The full-service hotel offers six gastronomic opportunities. Poolside eats and drinks available at The Hideaway Bar & Grill, which serves burgers, sandwiches, wraps, chicken wings, hot dogs, fries, salads and deserts. Bayliner Diner, open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, is great for quick, indoor dining with their burgers, pizza, pasta and grab-and-go items. Galaxy Bowl serves nachos, spring rolls and wings, salads, sandwiches, burgers and pizza for lunch and dinner.

Atomic Tonic is a great stop for refreshing drinks, while Swizzle Lounge has the perfect nightcap for parents after the kids have gone to bed.

Coffee-drinkers can start their day with a morning boost from the onsite Starbucks.

Insider Tips:

  • If you’re planning on shopping at the parks using your room keycard, make sure to stop at the front desk and have them increase your spending limit so you won’t have to call in every time you spend past the $150 default limit.
  • Don’t carry your shopping bags around the park. Arrange for them to be sent directly to the hotel.
  • The Tube Shack in the Lazy River Courtyard sells tubes at $20, but if you’re looking to save money, bring your own or go on the lazy river without them!
  • Keep an eye out for poolside contests and movies.
  • Remember that you have early park admission to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter one hour before the park opens to the public, a perk that comes very handy as Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade are two of the busiest and most popular areas of the parks.


(Originally published on

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.

5 Places to Go If You Love Mexico

Mexico holds a special place for anyone who’s made the trek south of the border. There’s the history, pre-Colombian and post, the beautiful beaches and the natural wonders. There’s the food, the all-inclusive resorts, and, always a factor for vacation, the affordability. Mexico does not, however, hold a monopoly on these features and, if you’re looking for something just a little different, here are 5 fantastic alternatives that will make you want to quit your job and stay.

The Ruins: Belize

Temple in Plaza A in Caracol, Belize (Photo: Dennis Jarvis)
Temple in Plaza A in Caracol, Belize (Photo: Dennis Jarvis)

Some of the amazing discoveries in Mexico are the Mayan ruins that pepper the Yucatan peninsula. Even though the Mexican pre-Colombian sites are very well taken care of, if you journey to Belize, you’ll see an extension of the Mayan landmarks. These southern sights are different in one particular aspect. At a few of the different sites, you can actually climb the ruins.

Check out Tikal to climb the tallest temple steps; or head over to Caracol, the largest Mayan ruins. Caracol is so large, it’s still being excavated and covers an area twice as large as current capital of Belize, Belize City.

The Beaches: US Virgin Islands

Trunk Bay, US Virgin Islands (Photo: Everett Carrico)
Trunk Bay, US Virgin Islands (Photo: Everett Carrico)

In Mexico, you’re bound to spend a lot of time at the beach. A country with two long coastlines boasts countless beach destinations such as Riviera Maya, Acapulco, Cabo, and so on; but there are other beaches only a few hours plane ride away that should be on every traveler’s bucket list.

Trunk Bay on St. John Island in the US Virgin Islands is paradise in beach form. The waters so pristine, you’ll want to bring a snorkel, and the beach (and the US Virgin Islands) remote enough to ensure you won’t be battling the hordes that go to places like Cancun and can relax and enjoy life in Island Time.

The Food: Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico's Mofongo (Photo: Jing)
Puerto Rico’s Mofongo (Photo: Jing)

Mexico has the taco. Puerto Rico has mofongo. This iconic dish is a staple of Puerto-Rican cuisine and should be on everyone’s itinerary when they visit Puerto Rico. Think of a dumpling where the dough is made from plantains and stuffed and cooked with savory meats.

Puerto Rican food doesn’t end there however. Pasteles are the tamales of Puerto Rico and, though hefty, are often served as side dishes. You can also find Lechon (roast suckling pig), Arroz con Gandules (their own take on rice and beans), and a whole litany of fried finger foods such as Cuchifritos and Frituras, among others.

The Resorts: the Dominican Republic

Club Med Punta Cana (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Club Med Punta Cana (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

Invariably, one of the reasons people head to Mexico is to stay at all-inclusive resorts. These resorts bring the luxury of a pampered experience with off-site activities that will remind you why you came to Mexico in the first place.

The Dominican Republic is a fantastic alternative when looking elsewhere for a new resort. Not only does the Dominican Republic house a Club Med with its own Cirque de Soleil playscape (Creactive), but also a plethora of other resorts to vacation such as the Excellence Punta Cana and the Now Larimar Punta Cana. Most resorts either offer or can help book area excursions.

Nature: Costa Rica

Sloth in Costa Rica (Courtesy Visit Costa Rica)
Sloth in Costa Rica (Courtesy Visit Costa Rica)

Biodiversity is not exclusively a feature of Mexico. Though there are great opportunities to see incredible wildlife (from nature reserves to more developed areas like the aqua park Xel-Ha) in Mexico, Costa Rica is in many ways the place to go to explore the wilderness.

Due to a more a nascent tourist industry and lower levels of development, places like Tortuguero National Park, where you can watch several species of turtles nest and return to sea, and Corcovado National Park, where you can find all 4 species of the indigenous monkeys, will capture your attention. In fact, Corcovado is not only great for finding monkeys but you can also find Tapirs, sloths, anteaters, and, if you’re lucky, the jaguar. While there, make sure to wander the Cloud Forests.

Along Baja California’s Culinary Route

Driving down Baja California, past the towering border wall and the ever-busy Tijuana, a surprisingly arresting view of the coast greets us. Miles of hazel, fog-blanketed hills gently roll down unto the foamy shores of the blue Pacific. It’s a scene reminiscent of dreamy Big Sur, perhaps just ever so slightly browner, drier and less of a reverie.

Even more surprising are the houses, Mediterranean- and adobe-style, that adorn this coast. Their reddish brown rooftops peek charmingly over Federal Highway 1D, the main road that takes travelers on a scenic drive from Tijuana, its starting terminus, to just a few miles north of Ensenada. Collectively, they add a captivating and busy detail to an otherwise serene panorama.

It’s not at all how we imagined this part of Mexico would look.

Baja California (Photo: Michelle Rae)

Most surprising of all is the food… the glorious food, the delicious and hearty dishes centered on the freshest catch of the day – tuna, abalone, shrimp, oysters and even lobsters. Living in Southern California, we have heard all about BC’s legendary tacos de pescado (fish tacos), a dish often replicated in many restaurants in Los Angeles, but we needed further proof.

So began our weekend-long culinary journey along Mexico’s beautiful Pacific coast.

Fried langosta and sides in Puerto Nuevo (Photo: Michelle Rae)

On a balcony overlooking the baby blue coast in a little town called Puerto Nuevo, we sample the fried rock lobsters (langosta), served Baja-style with refried beans, rice, tortillas and salsa on the side. Further south in downtown Ensenada, we squeeze past the crowd to try La Guerrerense’s famous (and incredible, we know this now) ceviche, served on hard taco with avocado on top, ignoring rumors of it being overrated. And we walk less than a mile away from the tourist zone to Tacos Mi Ranchito El Fenix, whose battered fish and battered shrimp Baja-style tacos are a revelation, utterly addictive and some say the best in town.

Puerto Nuevo (Photo: Michelle Rae)
La Guerrerense, Ensenada (Photo: Michelle Rae)
Tacos Fenix (Photo: Michelle Rae)

We partake in a languid Sunday breakfast affair at Hotel Coral and Marina’s BC Bistro and Cava, whose Sunday breakfast buffet include not just heaps of delicious, hearty chicken mole, cochinita pibil, Mexican Barbecue beef, beans, pozole and tamales, but also carnitas, ceviche and a large slab of lamb meat slowly roasting in an open flame, all for only about $15 per person. We sample local wine in Valle de Guadalupe, whose historic wine route is responsible for much of the tourist traffic in these parts. And, of course, we drink the local coffee, La Negrita, cheap yet surprisingly good and chocolatey.

Ensenada from our hotel room balcony at Hotel Coral & Marina (Photo: Michelle Rae)
Winery in Valle de Guadalupe (Photo: Michelle Rae)

By the end of it, we are happy, satiated and too full to consume anything else. Or so we think…

As we drive back up to LA, resisting to urge to go back to Fenix to get fish tacos for the road and already planning our next trip down, we get stuck in border traffic despite our fast pass. There in line, we purchase a bag of churros from a young girl selling them at a mobile stand right in the middle of that slow and busy highway – a striking contrast to the idyllic scene that welcomed us at the start of our trip; and we devour these Mexican treats within minutes. After all, full or not from our food adventure, there’s always, always room for dessert.

* * * * *


Hotel Coral & Marina. Carretera Tijuana-Ensenada Km.103 #3421, Zona Playitas, 22860 Ensenada | 52-646/175-0000


Villa Ortegas. Barracuda 77, Puerto Nuevo | 52-661/614-0706
La Guerrerense. Corner of Avda. Alvarado and First St., Ensenada | 52-646/174-2114
Tacos Mi Ranchito El Fenix. Corner of Espinosa and Avda. Juárez, Ensenada
BC Bistro and Cava. Carretera Tijuana-Ensenada Km.103 #3421, Zona Playitas, 22860 Ensenada | 52-646/175-0000


Hacienda la Lomita. Fraccionamiento 13 22785 Ensenada | 52-646/156-8466
Café La Negrita. Centro Comercial Bahía Loc. 35 | 52-646/178-6512


(Originally published on


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.

Hawaiian Food Sucks? Think Again!

Over a plate of Pork Belly Bao, Lobster Shumai and a gigantic bowl of Ramen, we looked at each other in amazement. This is what it’s like to eat in Hawaii? My wife and I had been warned over and over. “Enjoy getting away, love the beaches, take advantage of the slower pace but don’t expect much of the food.” While not your typical Hawaiian food, Lucky Belly serves Asian Fusion Cuisine that you’ll only find on Hotel Street in the heart of Honolulu’s Chinatown. The hour-long wait is worth it.

Lucky Belly (Photo: Michelle Rae)

One of the distinctive features of the food culture in Hawaii is its unique combination of Polynesian, American and Asian cuisines (with some Portuguese influence). There are restaurants for Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and Filipino cuisine but aspects of all those cuisines have been integrated into Hawaiian food such as the plate lunch, which takes the idea of the Japanese bento box, keeps the rice, but substitutes a scoop of Macaroni Salad and a protein for the rest.

In Waikiki, there is one restaurant that specializes in the plate lunches that is right up the street from the Honolulu Zoo and the Waikiki Beach. Rainbow Drive-In’s menu is dominated by the plate lunches where you can get BBQ Beef (highly recommended), Fried Chicken among other options with rice and Macaroni salad. After we were done clearing 75% of our food, we came down with what one local termed “Polynesian Paralysis”.

Rainbow Drive-In (Photo: Michelle Rae)
Rainbow Drive-In (Photo: Michelle Rae)

Another import that you’ll see in particular abundance on the North Shore of Oahu are shrimp trucks and stands. These places serve something special that is also found in the Philippines, Garlic & Butter Shrimp. On a lonely highway, halfway between Turtle Bay Resort and the Polynesian Culture Center sits Romy’s Kahuku Prawns and Shrimp. If you love your shellfish, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better place or a more authentic destination to indulge.

Romy’s in the North Shore (Photo: Michelle Rae)
Romy’s in the North Shore (Photo: Michelle Rae)

DSCF1815All the aforementioned restaurants are fantastic creations unique to Hawaii but to get something a little more traditional, one should start at Helena’s Hawaiian Food. From Pipikaula shortrib to Kalua Pig and Luau Chicken, picking a favorite is not easy. Other Hawaiian offerings include Poke, the closest approximation to which is Sashimi, and Poi, admittedly an acquired taste that will separate the tourists from the locals. Don’t forget to enjoy the complementary Haupia for desert. If you’re having Hawaiian food for the first time, skip the cheap fast food restaurants and start at this James Beard winning restaurant. Oh, and bring cash.

Helena’s (Photo: Michelle Rae)

Hawaii also offers some unique options for desert. The ubiquitous shaved ice can be found just about anywhere and comes with multiple flavors, such as most fruit flavors and the more exotic Li Hing Mui, and can be served with sweetened condensed milk or a scoop of ice cream. The other must have desert in Hawaii is the Malasada or Portuguese Donut. Leave room for Leonard’s Bakery at least once or five times during your trip. Unlike most donut shops, you will order off a menu, not a display, for the Malasadas that they’ll make fresh. When you bite into these little clouds of joy, you’ll notice that they’re a little less dense and softer than a regular donut. To top it all off or to start your day, skip Starbucks and head to Island Vintage Coffee for the coconut-flavored Island Latte. And while you’re there, grab some Kona Coffee to take home.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset
Leonard’s (Photo: Michelle Rae)
Leonard’s (Photo: Michelle Rae)
Leonard’s (Photo: Michelle Rae)


Helena’s Hawaiian Food. 1240 N School St., Honolulu, HI 96817 |
Lucky Belly. 50 N Hotel St., Honolulu, HI 96817 |
Romy’s Kahuku Prawns & Shrimp. 56-781 Kamehameha Hwy, Kahuku, HI 96731 |
Rainbow Drive-In. 3308 Kanaina Ave, Honolulu, HI 96815 |
Island Vintage Coffee. Multiple locations around Oahu |
Leonard’s Bakery. 933 Kapahulu Ave, Honolulu, HI 96816 |


Hotel Recommendations

Park Shore Waikiki Hotel. 2586 Kalakaua Ave, Honolulu, HI 96815 |
Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa. 92-1185 Ali’inui Dr, Kapolei, HI 96707 |
Embassy Suites Waikiki Beach Walk. 201 Beachwalk St, Honolulu, HI 96815 |

Soaking Up the Sun: My Favorite Beaches in Oahu

When it comes to gorgeous beaches, the Pacific archipelago and youngest state wins. In Hawaii, you’re pretty much at the mercy of the irresistible pull of the ocean. This I can attest to, having spent a week exploring Oahu to ring in the New Year.

Like every island in Hawaii, Oahu is like a patchwork of beaches – all gorgeous, all accessible to the public (no private beaches here), all completely enticing. Still, no two beaches are alike, and I’ve come to love some more than others.

Here are, in my humble opinion, seven of the best beaches in the island of Oahu.


Hanauma Bay

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset
Hanauma Bay (Photo: Michelle Rae)
Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset
Hanauma Bay (Photo: Michelle Rae)

The clear blue-green water of Hanauma Bay is home to a vast coral reef that shelters over 400 species of fish as well as some Green sea turtles. At $7.50 per person plus the cost of parking and snorkel sets (if you don’t own them), you can spend all day snorkeling in this volcano-formed conservation area, making it a cheap yet memorable snorkeling experience. What’s more, a large part of the bay is shallow, so it’s perfect for the not so strong swimmers.

The occasional Jellyfish or Portuguese man o’ war will sometimes stray into the bay, so keep an eye out and be careful. And don’t stand on the coral reefs – how would you feel if someone walked all over your apartment?


Ko Olina Lagoon

Ko Olina Lagoon (Photo: Michelle Rae)

It’s hard not to love everything Disney has created, so naturally I had to check out the Aulani Resort, nestled in the resort area of Ko’Olina about 30 minutes west of Honolulu. Unsurprisingly, the resort was wonderful – the rooms nice, the pools lovely and the spa incredible; but some of my best experiences were at the lagoon. Semi-protected, its tranquil water is great for families with kids, beginner paddle boarders (my son mastered paddle boarding within minutes) and young snorkelers. At the beach, beach chairs and umbrellas are readily available for convenience.


Aweoweo Beach

Sea turtle at Aweoweo Beach (Photo: Michelle Rae)
Sea turtle at Aweoweo Beach (Photo: Michelle Rae)
Aweoweo Beach (Photo: Michelle Rae)

Looking for turtles in Oahu’s legendary North Shore? While Laniakea and Haleiwa are more famous, I prefer the lesser-known Aweoweo Beach, especially for turtle sightings. This stretch of sand in Waialua is not just beautiful, it’s also less crowded, quiet and mostly tourist-free – this means you’re less likely to deal with people more interested in taking selfies with the turtles than actually living the moment.

Please stay at least 6 feet from the turtles. They’re not there for your amusement.


Pupukea Beach

Pupukea Beach (Photo: Michelle Rae)
Pupukea Beach (Photo: Michelle Rae)

Also in the North Shore across the street from a roadside gathering of food trucks (another must-stop while in Oahu) is Pupukea Beach. It’s home to Sharks Cove, which stays relatively uncrowded what with nearby Waimea Bay drawing most of the traffic, where you can snorkel in relatively calm waters. The marine life isn’t as diverse as in Hanauma Bay, but it’s free and the water is warm and shallow.

Grab some garlic shrimp, tender brisket and shaved ice to go from the food trucks across the street, and find a nice, quiet spot at the beach. Don’t forget your flippers if you’re snorkeling, Sharks Cove is pretty rocky.


Puaena Point Beach

Surfers at Puaena Point Beach (Photo: Michelle Rae)
Puaena Point Beach (Photo: Michelle Rae)

Show off your beach bod and rub elbows with surfers and model-types at Haleiwa Beach’s neighboring Puaena Point Beach. Thanks to its great yet small waves, this is where newbie surfers go to learn the craft and practice. But you don’t have to be a surfer to enjoy this spot; sometimes it’s enough to just stay on solid ground and watch all the action.

Puaena Point Beach has some pretty stunning photo opportunities too, so bring a camera and snap a few.


Waikiki Beach

Waikiki Beach (Photo: Michelle Rae)
Waikiki Beach (Photo: Michelle Rae)
Waikiki Beach (Photo: Michelle Rae)

Yes, it’s extremely touristy. But there’s a good reason why people flock to Waikiki. Actually, there are a few. It’s easily accessible, first of all, so if you’re staying in or near Honolulu’s main tourist strip – Kalakaua Ave – a day at the beach is just a few minutes’ walk away from your hotel. Second, it’s got some great waves for surfing as well as a semi-protected area (Kuhio Beach Park) for shallow waters. And third, it has some of the best sunsets in Honolulu. Pack a picnic, head out in the afternoon and stay to enjoy the setting sun.

Stay at Park Shore Waikiki across the street from Kuhio Beach Park. The family-friendly hotel not only provides complimentary use of beach towels and beach chairs, it also boasts guest rooms with a stunning, unobstructed view of Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head.


Lanikai Beach

Lanikai Beach (Photo: Michelle Rae)
Lanikai Beach (Photo: Michelle Rae)

It’s one of Oahu’s most popular beaches, which means that it can get pretty crowded, but Lanikai is still one of our favorite swimming spots in Oahu. We cannot get enough of its calm, shallow waters and soft, fine sand, both of which make up for the fact that finding a parking spot can be a pain. While this is far from being a surfing spot, it’s perfect for paddle boarding or simply floating around on a swim tube.


(Originally published on Huffington Post)

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.

Insider’s Guide: Universal Orlando Resort

Orlando, Florida, theme park capital of the world, has over 10 amusement parks catering to theme park lovers and Florida vacationers in its huge metropolitan limits. But none of these are more centered on the magic and adventure of the motion pictures than Universal Orlando Resort and its two theme parks.

Less than 10 miles from Downtown Orlando, the family-friendly theme park resort, currently celebrating its 25th anniversary, gives visitors unique opportunities to relive their favorite movies and TV shows, and has rightly earned a top spot as a vacation destination for families and movie lovers everywhere, attracting millions from all over the globe each year.

From Jurassic Park island and the Revenge of the Mummy adventure to the two Wizarding Worlds of Harry Potter and the Minion Mayhem ride, the resort certainly lives up to its catchphrase, “Ride the Movies.”



Whether you are on the budget, planning to splurge or traveling with a large group, Universal Orlando is more than ready to accommodate your family with its four onsite hotels, three of which are deluxe. These kid-friendly hotels provide fantastic, themed accommodations for its guests, not to mention convenient access to the parks and other exclusive perks like Unlimited Express Passes (deluxe hotels only), complimentary shuttle to/from the parks, and complimentary early access to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Universal’s Cabana Bay ResortUniversal’s Cabana Bay Resort (Courtesy Universal Orlando)

Universal’s Cabana Bay Resort. As the resort’s value/moderate hotel and most recent addition, Cabana Bay is a bright and vibrant hotel that will appeal to guests’ retro sensibilities with its gorgeous design that combines Mad Men’s coolness with The Jetsons’s groovy fun factor. The hotel features two kid-friendly pools, a lazy river, a waterslide, and a bowling alley for unlimited fun, as well as connecting rooms, family suites with kitchenettes, restaurants, and a Starbucks.

Loews Royal Pacific Resort. If tropical paradise is more your family’s taste, then the Royal Pacific Resort should be the base for your Universal Orlando vacation. This award-winning deluxe resort delivers an island getaway in the middle of Central Florida with its exotic, tropical island theme complete with three pools, a stunning lagoon with a seaplane, and fantastic island cuisine. The guest rooms and suites offer family-friendly amenities such as high definition cable TVs, refreshment pantry, WiFi, and evening turndown service upon request.

Hard Rock Hotel. While Royal Pacific takes guests to a tropical island getaway, family-friendly Hard Rock Hotel transports guests to sunny California for a fancy celebrity treatment, with its Spanish Mission architecture and rock star lifestyle. Its popular rock ‘n roll memorabilia and its free all-encompassing music amenity program, The Sound of Your Stay, attract music fans, while its four pools give kids plenty of space to splash around in. Music-inspired rooms and suites feature the same amenities as Royal Pacific, but with an A-lister twist.

Loews Portofino Bay Hotel. The most luxurious of Universal Orlando’s hotels, Portofino Bay features a charming Mediterranean theme and design reminiscent of the seaside Italian resort village it is named after, from its waterfront pastel facades down to its piazza. Its two pools, waterslide, character dining and Despicable Me suites are most appealing to the kids, while its Harbor Nights, spa, nightly serenades are appeal to the older guests. Along with its standard rooms and suites that come with luxurious cotton bathrobes are Club rooms that feature a personal concierge service, complimentary breakfast, and afternoon hors d’oeuvres and refreshments.

Loews Sapphire Falls. Coming in the summer of 2016 is the latest full-service Universal Orlando hotel, which will feature 1,000 rooms and suites, a tropical lagoon, a waterfall, and a pool with a waterslide, sand beach and fire pit.


Get Your Bearings

Located southwest of Orlando, around 16 miles north of Kissimmee and 13 miles west of the Orlando International Airport, Universal Orlando Resort is separated into 3 main areas – Universal CityWalk, Islands of Adventure, and Universal Studios Florida.



The resort has an extensive transportation network for its guests that include water taxis, shuttle buses, a Super Star Shuttle to/from the airport and partner hotels, and the Hogwarts Express ride that provides an easy and entertaining access between the two parks.


Theme Parks and Water Parks

Universal Studios Florida. Universal Studios Florida, like the original Universal Studios Hollywood in Los Angeles, revolves around the big and small screens, with its attractions based on some of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters and TV shows like The Mummy, Transformers, Twister, The Simpsons and Harry Potter. It is home to the resort’s most recent attraction addition, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley. Find out what it’s like when a tornado strikes on Twister, become a Minion on Minion Mayhem, and explore the vast underground of Gringotts on Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts.

Universal’s Islands of AdventureUniversal’s Islands of Adventure (Courtesy Universal Orlando)

Universal’s Islands of Adventure. The smaller of the two parks and home to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade, Islands of Adventure takes guests on an adventurous journey through thrilling superhero feats, a prehistoric land, a village in the magical world, and many more. Cool down on Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls and Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges, get a rush of adrenaline on the Incredible Hulk and Doctor Doom’s Freefall, and go on a magical ride on Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.

Wet ‘n Wild Orlando. Located off-site is the popular waterpark acquired by the resort in the early 2000s, featuring water-based attractions that include a lazy river, exciting tube slides, body slides, a surf lagoon, and a water play area for the younger crowd.

Universal’s Volcano Bay. Coming in 2017 is the resort’s first on-site waterpark set to feature a tropical island theme.



Universal Studios Orlando tickets vary, depending on the length of visit and park access. One-day, single park admissions are at $102 for adults and $97 for kids, while one-day park-to-park admissions are at $147 for adults and $142 for kids, offering a whopping $57 discount. Note that the Hogwarts Express is only accessible to guests with park-to-park tickets.

During peak season, lines are exceedingly long especially for the most popular attractions. If you only have a day or two to spend at the resort, the Universal Express Pass comes in very handy! It gives guests front-of-the-line access to many of the rides, cutting waiting times down to more than half, which will give guests more time to explore other areas of the parks. Express Passes start at $84.99 (in addition to your Universal Studios Orlando tickets), but come complimentary for guests staying at one of the onsite deluxe hotels.

Take a break from the parks and enjoy show night fun with the kids. The very cool, wildly hilarious and super interactive Blue Man Group, a stirring show that combines art, technology and music, inspires creativity in its captive audience. Blue Man Group tickets start at $60 per adult and $30 per child.


Beyond the Parks

Universal CityWalkUniversal CityWalk (Courtesy Universal Orlando)

A plethora of shopping, fun and entertainment opportunities are available at the Universal CityWalk, from the Universal Studios Store and a number of retail kiosks that sell park merchandise to its IMAX theater and mini golf.

Perhaps the best thing about Universal CityWalk, however, is the terrific dining experience it offers visitors. While this free area of the resort has the usual chains like Bubba Gump and Hard Rock Café, it’s also home to wonderful unique restaurants like the new Vivo Italian Kitchen and The Cowfish.


Peak and Off-Peak Seasons

As a popular vacation destination, Universal Orlando Florida is never not busy, but it’s especially crowded during spring break, from late May to Labor Day, and during the winter holidays.

Off-peak times include the week after Labor Day until just before Thanksgiving, before spring break, and the weeks following Thanksgiving until before the Christmas holidays.



Vivo Italian KitchenVivo Italian Kitchen (Courtesy Universal Orlando)

Vivo Italian Kitchen. Authentic Italian isn’t easy to find, especially at a theme park. That’s what makes Vivo – and its delectable dishes – an unexpected and delightful surprise. A new addition to CityWalk, the modern Italian restaurant prides itself on its flavorful creations, a diverse menu and the friendly, welcoming staff, making it the perfect dining choice for families with kids. Their addictive Risotto with mushrooms and tender short ribs are perfect for a hearty meal after a long, active day at the parks, while their perfectly cooked salmon is great for those looking for a lighter meal. Kids will love the pizza and pasta selections. Start your meal off with the Warm Caprese and its delicious balsamic-tomato jam, and cap it off with a nice cup of Lavazza coffee with hints of chocolate.

The Cowfish. A fusion of burgers and sushi might sound slightly weird, but this new CityWalk restaurant makes it work. The burger bar offers delicious specialty rolls with awesome names like Dion’s OMG! and Firecraker as well as burgers like the Black Truffle Cheese Burger and the Boursin Bacon Burger. Want the best of both worlds? Order a bento box. The kids will love their selection of milkshakes.

Three Broomsticks and Leaky Cauldron. Whether or not you and your family are big Harry Potter fans, dining at these two restaurants legendary in JK Rowling’s world is a must. Enjoy a traditional English breakfast at Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade before the rest of the park opens, and re-nourish at the Leaky Cauldron in Diagon Alley for lunch. Don’t forget to get everyone his or her own “pint” of frozen Butterbeer, a must to complete the Harry Potter experience.


Child Swap

Child Swap is a fantastic amenity that will give parents a chance to fully enjoy the Universal Orlando parks without sacrificing their kids’ safety and well-being.

When your kids aren’t tall enough or brave enough one of the more exhilarating rides, be sure to take full advantage of the Child Swap option at Universal Orlando so you and your spouse/partner can go on the rides without waiting in line twice for the same ride. When it’s your turn in line, your spouse/partner waits with your little one in an air-conditioned room furnished with seats and a television while you get on the ride. Once you’re finished, you just switch places with him or her at the Child Swap area so he or she can bypass the lines and simply take his or her turn on the ride.

This feature is available at several thrill rides, including (but not limited to) Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, Revenge of the Mummy, Jurassic Park River Adventure, and the Incredible Hulk.


Insider Tips

  • Get the kids their own interactive wands at Ollivanders and let your little witches and wizards perform underage magic at more than 20 spots around Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade.
  • Planning to get wet? Make sure to bring extra clothes for you and the kids. Or pay $5 to dry off inside one of the gigantic People Dryers near Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls.
  • A future archeologist in the family? Visit the Jurassic Park Discovery Center for an educational and interactive experience.
  • Universal offers different dining plans (including character breakfasts) that start at $12.99 for your family’s nutrition needs.


(Originally published on

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.

Museum Island: The Heart of Berlin’s Cultural Collections

Berlin may not be the first destination culture hounds think of when looking to travel in Europe but there are ample reasons to reconsider Berlin as a travel destination. The 800 year-old city is home to such landmarks as the Brandenburg Gate, portions of the Berlin Wall as well as a world-class zoo (the most visited in Europe), and boasts a top class collection of museums.

At the center of Berlin’s network of museums lies Museum Island, a complex of 5 museums that take up the Northern half of an island that splits the river Spree near the center of the city. Below are the 5 museums that make up this ‘Louvre on the Spree’ and what you can find in each collection:

Altes Museum (Flickr: Jean-Pierre Dalbéra)
Altes Museum (Flickr: Jean-Pierre Dalbéra)

Of the 5 buildings that comprise Museum Island, Altes Museum is the oldest, having opened in 1830. Its façade may be the most impressive with its 18 columns harkening back to the grandeur of ancient Roman architecture. The original showcase for Berlin’s collections, it now houses the collection of classical antiquities including an ancient Greek collection found on the ground floor.

Bust of Nefertiti
Bust of Nefertiti

Neues Museum, finished in 1859, was the second of the museums to be built and was renovated in the ‘80s to incorporate damage from WWII into the preservation. The museum houses Stone Age and ancient Egyptian artifacts. One of the most famous pieces at the Neues Museum is the bust of Egyptian Queen Nefertiti.

Alte Nationalgalerie (Flickr: Jean-Pierre Dalbéra)
Alte Nationalgalerie (Flickr: Jean-Pierre Dalbéra)

The Alte Nationalgalerie, completed 11 years later in 1870, was built in the style of a temple, even covered in motifs of antiquity. The museum houses fine arts collection including Neoclassical, Romantic, French Impressionist (including some Manet and Monet) and early Modernist works.

Bode Museum (Flickr: Jim Woodward)
Bode Museum (Flickr: Jim Woodward)

The Bode Museum, opened in 1904, covers the island’s Northern tip. It has an impressive Byzantine and coin collection as well as Renaissance, Baroque and Gothic art, separated and organized geographically and chronologically. One of the more controversial pieces in the art history, the Flora Bust, is housed here. Thought originally to be a Leonardo da Vinci piece, there has been claim and counter-claim to its authenticity.

The Ishtar Gate at The Pergamon Museum (Flickr: Francisco Antunes)
The Ishtar Gate at The Pergamon Museum (Flickr: Francisco Antunes)

The Pergamon, built in 1930, might be the most impressive inside. Not only does it house the antiquity collection (including a fragment of Epic of Gilgamesh, the first story ever written down) but it also includes many rooms that could be considered pieces of themselves. These include the 2nd century BC Pergamon Altar, disassembled from Pergamon, Greece and for which the museum was built, as well as the Roman Market Gate of Miletus, the lapis lazuli covered Ishtar Gate of Babylon, and Mshatta Façade from an 8th century desert castle in Jordan.

You can gain entrance to any of the museums for a fee between 10 to 12 euros or 18 euros to get into all of them for the day. A 3 day “Museum Pass Berlin” can be purchased for 24 euros.

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.

16 Under the Radar Spots for Families in Mexico for 2016

Fun and busy Cabo, adventurous Riviera Maya, and thrilling Cancun. These are everyone’s go-to destinations when vacationing in Mexico, the vacation spots mostly responsible for putting the enchanting country in the top ten list of the most visited countries in the world. Yet a large part of Mexico and many of its underrated places that are just as beautiful remain undiscovered by most families.

This 2016, steer clear of the heavy crowds and lead the kids off Mexico’s beaten path to discover unforgettable gems – from small, colonial towns that take you back in time and exquisite beaches sans the clusters of beach umbrellas to darling hotels with lovely amenities and remote eco-lodges that take you on exciting outdoor adventures. Here are our 16 top picks of under the radar spots that families must consider visiting in 2016.


Archaeological sites along Ruta Puuc. While it’s hard to resist the archaeological complex of Chichen Itza, one of the New7Wonders of the World, and the cerulean waters of Tulum, the string of well-preserved Mayan sites (Labna, Xlapak, Sayil, Kabah and Uxmal) set along the Puuc route a couple of hours south of historic Merida are also well-worth seeing. See Mayan chultunes, magnificent arches, intricate palaces, Chac masks and a large pyramid peeking over the trees, with noticeably fewer crowds.

Zihuatanejo. This vibrant city in Guerrero is only less than 20 minutes away from sister city Ixtapa and its high-rises, and cruise ships often come bearing tourists that pour into town in waves, hilly Zihua largely remains charmingly authentic, thanks to its low-rise, brightly-colored buildings, some gorgeously overlooking the bay, and the local fishermen that come in from the sea every morning with the day’s catch. Zihuatanejo Bay’s calm water is perfect for families with kids and relaxing water sports like stand-up paddleboarding, while the city’s modest streets are wonderful for finding hidden treasures.

Family-friendly stay: An airy, Adobe-style guestroom or suite at family-friendly Viceroy Zihuatanejo is perfect for that ultimate relaxation in a luxurious, idyllic setting.

Los Toriles. In a huge country teeming with archaeological sites, visitors are bound to miss a few, and Los Toriles, also known as the Ixtlán del Rio Archaeological Site, is one of them. The Aztatlán ruins, located about 4 hours from popular beach destination Puerto Vallarta, boast several palaces, four plazas, petroglyphs, and shaft tombs containing human bones, ceramic jars and other artifacts.

Swimming with whales in the Sea of CortezSwimming with whales in the Sea of Cortez (Courtesy Baja AirVentures)

Las Animas Eco-Lodge. Swimming with the gentle whale sharks is already a truly breathtaking encounter, but it isn’t the only memorable experience you’ll have at the Las Animas Eco-Lodge. Nestled in the Sea of Cortez an hour’s boat ride from Bahia de Los Angeles, the all-inclusive, self-sustaining island destination takes guests away from all the hustle and bustle to commune with Mother Nature and get up close and personal with the marine life (dolphins, sea lions and blue whales, to name a few). Back on land, private beachside yurts await guests for an untroubled good night’s rest.

Pueblos Mancomunados. Ideal for families with older kids, the remote villages of Amatlán, Benito Juárez, Cuajimoloyas, La Nevería, Lachatao, Latuvi, Llano Grande and Yavesía – collectively known as the Commonwealth of Villages – are as under the radar as it gets and the perfect way to explore the hidden cultural and natural treasures of Mexico. Immerse yourselves in the Zapotec way of life, experience beautiful canyons, waterfalls and caves, and sample the local cuisine. For a safer visit with the kids, enlist the services of a tour agency in Oaxaca.

Hotel Coral and Marina. It’s nice to skip the big name brands once in a while for a warmer and more authentic experience. A local, small brand hotel is, sometimes, surprisingly better than a big, well-known resort. And Hotel Coral and Marina, a waterfront property a few minutes north of Ensenada in Baja California, is one such hotel. Its charm, warm and friendly staff, and family-friendly water activities are surpassed only by its onsite restaurants that serve amazing food, suites with balconies that offer picturesque views of the coast, and seriously affordable rates. It’s the perfect base for your family vacation in BC’s culinary route. Don’t forget to try the famous fish tacos!

Tawexikta Lugar Del Sol. It’s one of Riviera Nayarit’s hidden gems, home to the area’s Huichol or Wixáritari tribe, which still practice their traditional way of life. The Place of the Sun is only accessible by small boats, but definitely worth a trip especially if you want to expose the kids to a new and vibrant culture. During your visit, watch their ritual dances, shop for their local, handmade products (beaded masks and necklaces are very popular) and maybe do a little fishing on the side.

San Blas. It’s got its share of tourist traffic, sure, but thanks to its close proximity to popular resort areas Puerto Vallarta and Nuevo Vallarta, San Blas and its historic streets remain mostly untouched by high-rise development, which means less crowded beaches and cheaper hotels. Spend a day on quiet Playa Hermosa, ride the waves at Playa de Matanchen, explore the mangrove forest of La Tovara, sample the local cuisine along Playa Las Islitas near the small village of Matanchén, and take a day trip out to Mexcaltitan, the birthplace of Aztec civilization.

Xilitla. Popular with the more adventurous travelers, the beautiful town of Xilitla in San Luis Potosí offers a simply enchanting escape for families looking to explore Mexico’s lush mountains and rainforest. Caves, caverns, natural springs, waterfalls and a surreal garden created by English artist Edward James in the middle of a subtropical rainforest await travelers. Visit nearby Parakeeet Cave for a chance to see wild green parrots, explore the incredible Las Pozas garden, walk around the town center, and remember to try the local coffee and sample the local specialty, zacahuitl.

Todos Santos. About an hour away from touristy Cabo, near the foothills of Sierra de la Laguna, the coastal town of Todos Santos remains largely unspoiled, its beaches busy with local fishermen bringing their day’s haul to shore rather than tourists, its streets lined with small, charming structures rather than massive resorts. It certainly lives up to its title as one of Mexico’s Pueblos Magico. Hiking, horseback riding, surfing, whale and bird watching, and getting your creative juices flowing are just a few of its many family-friendly offerings. While there, explore the new community of Tres Santos and immerse yourselves in its residents’ holistic way of life. Who knows, you might just decide to stay there a while longer

Where to Stay: The historic Todos Santos Inn, a former hacienda, is a picturesque family-friendly retreat located within walking distance from the town’s shops and restaurants. To stay on the beach, the Liz Lambert-designed Hotel San Cristobal in Tres Santos is set to open in 2016 and will offer amenities for families.

La Paz. While it has its share of resorts, Cabo’s little sister is still the place to go in Baja California Sur if you prefer smaller crowds. It’s set along the Sea of Cortez, Jacques Cousteau’s Aquarium of the World, which means plenty of opportunities for eco-tourism and water activities. The pristine Isla Espiritu Santo offers wildlife (sea lions, rays and jellyfish) sightings as well as SCUBA and snorkeling while Balandra Beach boasts beautiful, blue waters, a white sandy beach and paddle boarding. Many tour companies offer dolphin and whale watching opportunities as well. For a lovely lunch on the beach, head to Playa El Tecolote.

Family-friendly stay: At the CostaBaja Resort & Spa, all guestrooms come with private balconies and complimentary WiFi access. The waterfront resort is perfect for families with kids, thanks to its kids’ pool, kids’ club and other family-friendly amenities.

Merida. Yucatan’s capital and largest city – and one of the oldest continually occupied cities in the Americas – is a melting pot of cultures and cuisines as well as architectural styles (Italian, French and Yucatec Maya), making it the perfect destination for a cultural vacation with the kids. The White City boasts picturesque streets, vibrant buildings, and close proximity to some of Mexico’s most beautiful Mayan ruins and cenotes. Sample the Yucatecan cuisine and learn a bit of the Mayan language while there to complete your cultural immersion.

Where to Stay: Hacienda Petac, nestled 40 minutes outside of Merida, is the perfect hideaway for families – it’s close enough to town but far enough so that you’ll feel like you’re in a world entirely. Among its many kid-friendly offerings are cooking and piñata-making classes for kids, scavenger hunts and junior archaeology digs and a pool nestles in an idyllic setting.

Monte Alban in Oaxaca, MexicoMonte Alban in Oaxaca, Mexico (Flickr: Anissa Wood)

Monte Alban. A visit to a UNESCO World Heritage Site is a definitely must if you really want to explore Mexico, and the pre-Columbian archaeological site of Monte Alban in Oaxaca deserves a top spot on your list. It’s one of the country’s best-preserved Mayan ruins and boasts 1,500 years worth of glorious history, from the Olmecs to the Zapotecs to the Mixtecs. One of its notable features is that many of its structures, like its pyramids and dams, were carved out of the hills and created to withstand earthquakes, which is a common occurrence in the region. The nearby Oaxaca City serves as a great, family-friendly base during your visit.

Yelapa in Jalisco, MexicoYelapa in Jalisco, Mexico (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

Yelapa. Set in the stunning Banderas Bay, one of the world’s largest, this small, family-friendly beach town in Jalisco remains charmingly unaffected, abundant with modest, brightly painted houses, locals that still gaze in wonder at every small group of tourists that happen to come ashore and a very laid-back lifestyle. Yelapa is about an easy hour’s boat ride away from lively Puerto Vallarta; but as you explore its narrow, winding streets, you’ll feel like you’ve traveled to a place far away. Have a leisurely meal at one of the small cafes and restaurants in the village, hike up to the waterfalls and wade in its refreshing pool, snorkel, and relax on the beach as you watch the local daily bustle. If you’re feeling brave, parasailing is also a popular activity.

Where to stay: Velas Vallarta is an affordable, all-inclusive, beachfront resort with its very own lazy river and cascading waterfall, tropical garden and activities and entertainment that celebrate the Mexican culture. You can book your Yelapa boat excursion with Vallarta Adventures at the resort for convenience.

Sayulita. This small coastal village less than an hour north of Nuevo Vallarta in Nayarit is popular with surfers and other water sports enthusiasts. However, it does remain largely undiscovered by vacationers coming to explore Mexico’s Pacific coast, which only add to its low-key appeal. Visit the town for a quieter vibe or to enjoy some family-friendly water activities such as boogie boarding, surfing and paddleboarding; and then complete your vacation with some culinary tastings (fish tacos and ceviche are popular) and by shopping for local, handmade products.

Where to stay: The luxurious Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit in Nuevo Vallarta is not just family-friendly and all-inclusive. It also boasts suites with private balconies, fantastic kids and teens clubs, an infinity pool with sweeping views of the ocean, and a great spa that offers treatments for adults and kids.

Sumidero Canyon in ChiapasSumidero Canyon in Chiapas (Flickr: Laurent Espitallier)

Sumidero Canyon. North of Chiapa de Corzo in Chiapas, Sumidero Canyon is just as old and impressive as the more famous Grand Canyon in the US. The canyon is home to 308 species of wildlife and has drawn travelers interested in adventure, eco-tourism and the great outdoors. You can visit the park by car and see the canyon from the designated lookout points, or if you’re feeling adventurous, explore it by boat along the Grijalva River. Take the kids to see one or more of its waterfalls, the Amikúu Ecological Park, and the Ruins of Berlin.


(Originally published on

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.

Disney Dream

Cruises aren’t our favorite way to travel, but after our wonderful experience aboard the Disney Dream, we cannot wait to do it again! Here are some of the photos from our cruise.

Pre-Cruise Stay at Disney World

Onboard the Disney Dream






Star Wars: Millenium Falcon



Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique


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.

Ten Important Things to Know When Traveling to Mexico

The enchanting land south of the border is one of the best destinations you’ll ever explore in your life. But like any other destination, there are things you must keep in mind during your visit to Mexico to guarantee your health and safety as well as to avoid unfortunate incidents that might ruin your vacation.

We’ve been to and explored different parts of this beautiful country now, and we’ve learned quite a few things during those visits that we’d like to share with you. Here are some important things you should keep in mind when traveling to Mexico.

Puerto Vallarta | Photo: Michelle Rae

Plan out (and book, if possible) your transportation before you go. Unlike in first world countries, finding transportation in most parts of Mexico does not come easy. Public transportation, even in big cities like Cancun, while extensive, is not as modern and easy to figure out. And in some places, driving is not recommended for tourists. Do a lot of research before you go. Determine if it’s safe to drive a rental car around the area you’re visiting (the Riviera Maya and Puerto Vallarta are great examples) or figure out which public buses you can take to get you places and whether cabs are available for convenience. Better yet, have your hotel arrange drop offs and pick-ups for you.

Roaming plan goes a long way. Mobile service providers usually offer fairly inexpensive roaming plans that should cover you during your visit. Don’t make the same mistake we made and purchase one before your trip. It comes very handy if you’ll find yourself stuck somewhere because you missed the last bus or if there’s an emergency.

Don’t drink the water. Unless you’re staying at a resort that treats their water (Velas Vallarta, for example), don’t drink tap water in Mexico. Don’t drink it, don’t brush your teeth with it. Just don’t. It’s probably safe for the locals, but not for you. Buy bottled water from the grocery store and use that as if your life depended on it… because it probably does.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset
Las Tlayudas de Playa, Playa del Carmen | Photo: Michelle Rae
Tlayudas from Las Tlayudas de Playa | Photo: Michelle Rae
Carnitas with chicharron in Playa del Carmen | Photo: Michelle Rae

Eat at local, non-touristy restaurants. Mexico has some of the best dishes we’ve ever had in our life – carnitas with chicharron as well as roasted chicken in PlayaCar, battered fish and shrimp tacos AND ceviche in Ensenada, carne asada tacos in the Riviera Maya, simply because we braved eating at local restaurants and food stands that most tourists don’t usually go to. Just make sure to do research beforehand and eat at those spots that get more traffic, so you don’t risk food poisoning. Travel and eat smart!

Our short list of Mexico restaurant recommendations to come soon!

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset
Local fishermen in Yelapa, Jalisco | Photo: Michelle Rae
Staircase in Downtown Puerto Vallarta | Photo: Michelle Rae
Guadalupe Valley, Baja California | Photo: Michelle Rae

Go off the beaten path. Don’t miss out on wonderful finds simply because you’re too afraid to stray just a little. Yes, some parts of Mexico are dangerous, but what most people do not realize is that the country is massive and most of it is safe, with locals who are warm, friendly and welcoming. Again, stay smart and do your research; but don’t be afraid to venture off the beaten path. You’ll be rewarded with beautiful beaches, adorable small towns, and probably some of the best memories.

Chichen Itza | Photo: Michelle Rae

Learn some Spanish. It doesn’t matter whether you’re visiting a town under the radar or staying in a resort destination – it’s very likely that you’ll come across non-English speaking locals who you’re going to have to communicate with, even if it’s for something as simple as asking for plastic utensils at a restaurant. And learning a few basic words and phrases will help a great deal.

Carry cash. Small restaurants, some shops, taxis, buses and food stands especially do not accept credit or debit cards, so do make sure to carry enough cash around. Having cash around also makes it easier to tip your servers as well as the hotel staff. (And yes, they do tip in Mexico!)

Get a fast pass when crossing the border. Driving into Mexico from the US is so easy it’s kinda eerie, but driving back is a completely different story entirely. In fact, you might spend a few hours waiting in line in your car at the border crossing station with hundreds of other cars, and that’s not at all fun. See if your hotel offers fast passes for their guests; you’ll still have to wait in line but these fast passes can get you on the “fast lane” and cut a couple of hours off your wait time.

In Baja California near the | Photo: Michelle Rae

Skip the souvenir shops and buy the more authentic products instead. Trust us, most products you’ll find at a souvenir shop in Cancun, you’ll most likely find at a different souvenir shop in Cabo. When shopping for mementos to take home, look for stores that sell the more authentic products – Catrina sculptures, locally produced coffee and indigenous artworks are a few examples.

Cool metal sculptures on the Malecon in Puerto Vallarta | Photo: Michelle Rae

Don’t pay to take photos with the animals. During your explorations, you’ll meet a couple of locals who will invite you to hold and take photos with an adorable lion or panther cub they happen to be carrying for a few dollars. It’s hard to resist, we know, especially if you’re an animal lover like us. However, the sad truth is these cubs are drugged to keep them tame and safe for tourists to handle, probably mistreated, and then dumped when they’re too old. We actually called a couple of animal rescue centers in the Riviera Maya the first time we encountered such activity, and they told us that some of these people are employed by drug cartels. Please, please do not support and encourage this type of activity.


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.

20 Free Attractions in Vegas for the Whole Family

It’s no secret that a Las Vegas vacation might involve gambling and partying until the early morning hours as well as spending a boatload of money to have fun. But while this desert city in Nevada is indeed the gambling capital of the United States, it also prides itself on offering family-friendly attractions that are just as fun for kids as they are for adults. And, despite popular belief, you don’t have to spend much to have a good time.

Skip the city’s famous casinos and grand shows this year. If you’re on a budget, then rejoice. Here are 20 wonderful things to do in Vegas that won’t cost you a dime!


Flora and Fauna

Bellagio's Conservatory and Botanical GardensBellagio’s Conservatory and Botanical Gardens (Flickr: Lynn Gateley)

Bellagio’s famous attraction is its water show, but it’s not the only one. Open 24/7 is the hotel’s Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, which showcases beautiful and colorful flora according to season and hosts live performances from 5 to 6 pm. For your curious future botanists and gardeners, head there from 10:30 to 11:30 pm to meet Mr. and Mrs. Green Thumb.

The Caesars Palace is one of Vegas’ most iconic hotels. If a night’s stay in one of its rooms proves a little over your budget, don’t despair. You don’t have to book a pricey room here to enjoy it. Aside from its beautiful architecture and fountains, all designed to resemble ancient Rome, you can also visit its impressive 50,000-gallon saltwater aquarium. It’s brimming with tropical fish – from clown fish to rays and sharks – that the kids will absolutely adore.

As a tribute to its namesake, the Flamingo offers families vacationing in Vegas a respite from the hustle and bustle with their beautiful Wildlife Habitat, a 15-acre home to an assortment of birds, including Chilean flamingoes, pelicans, parrots, and even hummingbirds. It’s open daily from 8 am ‘til dusk and holds pelican feedings at 8:30 am and 2 pm.

Silverton Casino’s massive saltwater aquarium, all 117,000 gallons of it, is not only home to some 4,000 brightly colored tropical fish that the kids will marvel at, but also features wonderful mermaid shows every half hour at certain times from Thursday to Sunday. Plus, they hold interactive feeding shows every day at 1:30 pm and 4:30 pm.

With MGM Grand’s Lion Habitat and the Southern Nevada Zoological Park both closing permanently, it might be hard-pressed for animal-loving families to find a land animal-related attraction in the city. Thankfully, Anderson Dairy offers a free hour-long Barnyard Buddies Tour of their plant, where kids can interact with a talking cow, a rooster with attitude, and a hound dog.


Greatest Free Shows on Earth

The oohs and aahs aren’t over yet after you visit the Caesars Palace’s aquarium. Behind it is a spectacular fountain that features animatronic figures. Every hour daily, these figures put on a fantastic fountain show called the Fall of Atlantis, which tells the myth of the legendary city.

To see the world’s largest permanent circus, look no further than Circus Circus which takes place daily starting at 11 am in the Carnival Midway and features entertainment favorites clowns, flying trapezes, jugglers, and contortionists. And just when you think it doesn’t get better than this, you realize that the shows are completely free.

Famously starring in many movies, the Bellagio Fountain Water Show is even more impressive in person. The show, accompanied with music – from show tunes to holiday songs, features lights and dancing water that can shoot as high up as 460 feet. Best of all, it runs all day and all night until midnight so families can enjoy it as often as they want.

Mirage’s Volcano showMirage’s Volcano show (Flickr: Nan Palermo)

Every night on the hour from 8 pm until midnight, the Mirage impresses passers-by with its awesome volcano show, complete with fire, (fake) lava, smoke, and sound effects, right in its front yard. The show is free for everyone to see and will amaze the budding volcanologists and geologists in the family.

You don’t have to buy tickets to the Tournament of Kings Dinner Show at the Excalibur Casino to get some medieval age fun. At the Court Jester’s Stage in the casino’s Medieval Village, performers, jugglers, and magicians entertain spectators for free every 45 minutes daily starting at 11 am. Of course, you’re welcome to see the dinner show afterwards and take the experience to a new level.

A large part of casino traffic may have moved to the Strip years ago, but Fremont Street is still alive and well, what with the Freemont Street Experience making this original strip its home. Daily shows and live performances as well as the light and sound show of Viva Vision make this open-air mall a must-visit when you’re in town. The ample shopping opportunity doesn’t hurt either.

Shopping is made better at the Venetian’s Gran Canal Shoppes with the shows that take place there daily. Members of the street performing group Streetmosphere go around in Renaissance Italian costumes and liven up the atmosphere with their short performances that include the 15-minute opera Carnevale di Venezia and the twice-a-day Gondolier March.

On a secluded lake at the Wynn Resort is a nightly show of music, water, lights, puppetry, and other special effects. The Lake of Dreams has been voted as one of the top attraction in Vegas, and not only is it free, it’s also visible from many different vantage points around the lake, so you and your kids can enjoy it while savoring a nice family dinner at a nearby restaurant.

Sunset Stampede Laser Light and Water Show at Sam’s TownSunset Stampede Laser Light and Water Show at Sam’s Town (Sam’s Town)

The tranquil atmosphere in Mystic Falls Park at Sam’s Town Hotel is disrupted as the park suddenly comes alive with music, dancing water, and an awesome display of laser light. The show, dubbed Sunset Stampede Laser Light and Water Show, recounts the journey of the Western pioneers and plays five times daily, beginning at 2 pm.



Take a break from that high mid-afternoon desert sun and let the kids cool down while learning about the history and culture of the Southwestern American Indian tribes as well as ancient Mexico. Located not far from the Vegas Strip, the Marjorie Barrick Museum of Natural History opens its doors at 9 am on weekdays and at noon on Saturdays and is completely free (donations welcome).

Neon MuseumNeon Museum (Flickr: soccergirl296)

While it might be, in a lot of ways, a neon sign graveyard, the open-air Neon Museum is a colorful and unique treat for everyone in the family, especially those who love all things vintage and kitschy. A section of it, the Neon Museum Urban Gallery, that features refurbished neon signs, is free for everyone. You can download the map to this outdoor gallery on their website for free.


Sweet Tooth

The chocolate lovers in your family will appreciate the sweet surprise when you take them to tour the Ethel M Chocolate Factory, which includes delicious chocolatey samples. Afterwards, you can burn off all those extra calories by exploring their botanical cactus garden. Best of all, you won’t have to spend a penny… unless, of course, you want to take some goodies home.

This M&M’s World location is not just a candy retail store. It’s THE first M&M World location. Additionally, it has a replica of the M&M race car used in the NASCAR Sprint Cup, a 3D movie theater, and a gallery that shows the evolution of our beloved M&M characters over the years. And sometimes, they even give out free chocolate samples. Yum!



Paris is a place like no other, but the Paris Casino’s impressive replicas of the City of Lights’ best landmarks, including the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and the Arc de Triomphe, come pretty close. Take the kids here for a preview of what’s to come, if you’re planning a trip to Paris soon, or simply to enjoy the architectural wonders.

A must-stop during your visit in Vegas, Hoover Dam is a modern engineering marvel that astounds anyone who looks upon it. Look for the free parking area, walk around and see the dam, and visit the Visitor’s Center area where you will be welcomed with more fascinating tidbits. The dam is open from 9 am to 5 pm daily.


(Originally published on

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.

Things We Love (and Hate) About Nassau

Visiting Nassau for a few hours during our very first Disney cruise, we got a fairly good glimpse of the vibrant Bahamian capital as well as a sampling of the good and the bad. Here are the things we love and the things we hate about the port city.


What We Love:

Conch fritters, jerk chicken and curry chicken | Photo: Michelle Rae
  1. The Colors. The colonial houses and buildings that line Nassau’s streets all flaunt pastel pink, yellow, blue and green colors, making them simply adorable to look at!
  2. The Food. We loved the food so much that we had to bring home some Bahamian spices with us. Try the conch fritters, jerk chicken and curry chicken with the Bahamian rice and plantains for a hearty meal, and get an afternoon boost with a cup of Bahamian coffee. The small restaurants at The Fish Fry serves authentic Bahamian cuisine while The Pasion Boutique sells terrific coffee beans.
  3. The Pirates Museum. Sure, it’s a little cheesy and definitely touristy, but looking at the exhibits, learning about piracy and trying to guess the answers to the trivia questions was pretty fun and a good way to kill an hour.
  4. The Beaches. Fine sand plus warm, blue waters equals best beach day ever. Just be careful as the waves can get pretty strong.
  5. The Historic Buildings. Admittedly, the forts are small and not that impressive, but we love them just the same. They are, after all, a part of the city’s intriguing history. We adore the Queen’s Staircase too!
The Pirates Museum | Photo: Michelle Rae

What We Hate (Dislike, Really):

  1. The People. We can honestly say that out of a few places we’ve visited in the Caribbean, the locals in Nassau are the least friendly and the most aggressive, especially when it comes to making a sale.
  2. The Straw Market. There’s not much to it really. We did enjoy the little albeit overpriced toy turtles made from coconut husks.
  3. The Tourist Area. Much like the Straw Market, there’s nothing special and authentic about the main commercial strip, despite the hundreds of tourists everyday it draws everyday. However, if you’re careful, you might find hidden gems that sell local products.


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.