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.

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.

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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”.

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Rainbow Drive-In (Photo: Michelle Rae)
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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.

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

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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.

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Leonard’s (Photo: Michelle Rae)
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Leonard’s (Photo: Michelle Rae)
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Leonard’s (Photo: Michelle Rae)

 

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

 

Hotel Recommendations

Park Shore Waikiki Hotel. 2586 Kalakaua Ave, Honolulu, HI 96815 | www.parkshorewaikiki.com/
Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa. 92-1185 Ali’inui Dr, Kapolei, HI 96707 | resorts.disney.go.com/aulani-hawaii-resort/
Embassy Suites Waikiki Beach Walk. 201 Beachwalk St, Honolulu, HI 96815 | http://www.embassysuiteswaikiki.com/

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.

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Step out of Your Comfort Zone at Club Med CREACTIVE

From afar, it looks like your usual kids’ playground, what with its vibrant, fun design and printed words on the walls and on pathways aimed to inspire and motivate. However, a closer look reveals towering pole buidings, some with tarp roofs, all with unusual contraptions and long, massive ropes and cords hanging from their frames – it looks more like an outdoor practice arena for circus routines and performances. And in essence, it is.

Courtesy Club Med Punta Cana
Courtesy Club Med Punta Cana

Typically, I’m terrified of heights. I’m not one to go skydiving or bungee jumping or even crossing glass skywalks that show great depths under my feet, no matter how much you assure me that it’s completely safe. I’ll go on a rollercoaster, but I’ll still get that feeling of impending doom right before I get on. A few days ago, however, I was able to step out of the confines of my comfort zone and quell my fear of heights.

Granted, it probably wasn’t a typical week at Club Med Punta Cana. The kids were still splashing around in the pools and the adults were trying their luck with windsurfing and sailing as usual, but there was something distinctively different. It was a more inspired kind of different, with the resort having recently launched this exciting open play space they aptly call Club Med CREACTIVE by Cirque du Soleil, located not far from the nice stretch of sand on property.

It’s Club Med’s inaugural collaboration with Cirque du Soleil and simply phenomenal, offering an interactive and fully immersive circus experience for resort guests in a fun, gets-the-creative-juices-flowing-and-the-adrenaline-pumping kind of way.

Courtesy Club Med Punta Cana
Courtesy Club Med Punta Cana

CREACTIVE features over 30 activities from wild acrobatic endeavors like the flying trapeze, acrobatic bungee, wall scaling and trampoline to artistic pursuits like dancing and mask and face painting, and acting. Of course, an amazing crew of talented, well-trained, experienced AND multi-lingual Gentils Circassiens is there to show you the ropes, make things easy, and put minds of the less dauntless (including me) at ease. And in case there’s still a lot of hesitation to try on the acrobatic activities, the crew also puts on showcases to make the activities look even more appealing.

Courtesy Club Med Punta Cana
Courtesy Club Med Punta Cana

This new addition to the resort presents a perfect opportunity for kids (seriously, I’ve seen 5-year-olds do the trapeze) and adults (there were older adults doing triple flips!) to push limits and reach glorious heights. It’s here that many, from little daredevils to grandparents looking for new experiences, are now flocking to learn and do cool new tricks they wouldn’t have access to in most other resorts in the Caribbean.

Taking on the acrobatic bungee at Club Med CREACTIVE by Cirque du Soleil. (Photo: Michelle Rae)
Taking on the acrobatic bungee at Club Med CREACTIVE by Cirque du Soleil. (Photo: Michelle Rae)

And it was here that I conquered the trapeze, albeit not without screams of trepidation, and did acrobatic bungee flips a good 10 feet off the ground. Yes, me who gets paralyzed when I have to look over a balcony despite the presence of stable railing. The experience was scary at first, but then it was fun and then it was exhilarating.

And then it was something I wanted to do over and over again.

(Originally published on Huffington Post.)

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Turn Family Vacation Snaps Into Beautiful Photographs with instaLens

Vacationing families who fancy themselves amateur or hobby photographers can now go from merely taking hurried and clumsy snapshots of their vacation to producing beautiful travel photographs without having to lug a DSLR around. With instaLens, a phone’s simple camera can turn into a powerful and compact photography device perfect for family vacations.

As humans, we have this innate need to preserve our experiences and memories in permanent mediums, whether it be through paintings and drawings, the written word, or photographs, easily accessible to share with others or whenever we get the urge to walk down memory lane. This is evident enough in the number of vacationers taking pictures and selfies virtually everywhere we go.

As parents, however, we are all too familiar with how complicated things can get when we’re on vacation with the kids and we have mastered the art of finding and using ways and solutions to make our job easier – whether it’s in utilizing ingenious packing hacks to having the right toys and activity books handy to distract the little ones from that impending tantrum to planning a vacation that will satisfy everyone in the family.

Many parents these days have learned to rely on compact gadgets to capture their family vacation memories, whether it’s with a GoPro or with their trusty camera phones, because juggling a stroller, a diaper bag, an excitable toddler, and a heavy DSLR just won’t do. And while camera phones may not have the flexibility and power of DSLR, those limitations are easily remedied using instaLens’ brilliant collection of optical lenses.

Courtesy instaLens
Courtesy instaLens

The Cape Town-designed line of camera phone lenses are lightweight, compact, and easy-to-use, making them the perfect accessories to traveling shutterbugs young and old. In fact, they are super easy to use – just snap one on to the magnetic ring (included with every purchase along with magnetic lanyard, and an instruction sheet) that you attach around your phone’s built-in camera – that even your little ones can take snaps of their own with little assistance!

These lenses are super affordable, with the wide/macro, fisheye, and polarizing lenses retailing at $30.89 a pop, and the super retailing at $38.61. Additionally, they each come with a little pouch that doubles as a lens cleaner and a protective lens cap, so you can rest easy when the kids handling them.

Courtesy instaLens
Courtesy instaLens

Zoom in for a shot of an exotic insect in Costa Rica or the sun setting reflected in your child’s eye, go wide to capture a picturesque scene in California, or go panoramic when taking a photo of migrating animals in the Serengeti. instaLens’ collection features a variety of lenses – wide/macro,fisheye, polarizer, super, and telephoto – that you can purchase individually or as sets, giving users the flexibility to achieve different results.

Best of all, these lenses are incredibly effective, increasing your phone’s camera functionality and helping you add depth, character and more detail to your photos so that they’re more than just your average family vacation snaps. instaLens’ lenses are the perfect camera accessories for jet-setting families who prefer to travel light. And who doesn’t?

Purchase one or all of these lenses now in their online shop.

Michelle Rae Uy contributed this to MiniTime. She is a travel writer based in Los Angeles and MiniTime’s Head of Content, who spends her free time on adventures and film photography.

(Originally published on MiniTime.com.)

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Taste the Flavors of the World with Try the World

Food is the flavor of travel, and one of the best things about visiting far-off lands whose culture differ from our own. But if truth be told, while grown-ups are more than happy – or at least more inclined – to sample a foreign cuisine that differ from our own, kids are the pickiest eaters and convincing them to try something new may not be easy. This means that traveling with kids to a foreign country can get tough.

A simple solution to get our little travelers to have a wider taste palette and to expose them to the different tastes of the world is to start at home.

That’s where Try the World comes in very handy. An ingenious way of enjoying different tastes of the world, the US-based company delivers gourmet food from all over the world right on your doorstep every 2 months with their chef-curated subscription boxes filled with goodies from wonderful destinations.

Whether you are looking to try some French cuisine, sample the more exotic tastes of Marrakech or savor the Mediterranean flavors of Italy, each Try the World curated box features a different destination and features authentic, carefully selected, USFDA approved snacks and cooking items from that destination. Additionally, each box comes with a card that talks about every item and how they’re traditionally prepared and eaten, as well as a beautiful culture guide that covers interesting things about the destination, including a recipe, a playlist and some movie recommendations.

Courtesy Try the World
Courtesy Try the World

Try the World’s subscription boxes are a terrific way to expose the kids to new cuisines and cultures, and for the whole family to enjoy a genuine food experience without putting in the miles. Well, at least not just yet.

It’s also great for an awesome culture night party with friends, a romantic date night without the kids, or just a special Friday night dinner with the whole family. And when you run out of your favorite items, Try the World has got you covered with their well-stocked online shop.

Every Try the World box is truly designed so you and your kids can have a complete cultural and gastronomical experience. Not only will it prepare the kids for unique culinary experiences, it will also give every member of your family something to look forward to on your next family adventure.

Current box, Buenos Aires, explores the meaty dishes and delicious creamy deserts of Argentina, featuring such treats as dulce de membrillo, chimichurri and Argentine teas. Visit their website now and get ready to taste the flavors of the world with Try the World.

(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.

Play Without Discrimination with Woozy Moo

As travelers, we know how tedious long flights or car rides can be for our kids. Toys are an integral part of our family vacations – to our kids, they are distractions from idle moments and for when the adults need some R&R. So why not choose toys that also function as effective learning tools, instruments that can help mold our kids’ young and impressionable minds and become free thinkers in the future?

Finding such toys is easier said than done, however, with big toy companies often dictating what our kids should and shouldn’t play with. And with so many prejudices in the world – whether it’s manufacturers marginalizing what our kids can play with or it’s magazines promoting unattainable so-called role models and TV shows and movies dictating our kids’ identities, we do what we can as parents to not just protect our children from them, but also to raise individuals who are not driven by such biases.

It’s a good thing there are companies out there who are helping parents to create a better future where our kids are free to be their individual selves without judgment. One such company is web-based toy store Woozy Moo, born out of founder Hai Tiet’s frustration with the big players in the toy industry “controlling the fun.” Woozy Moo prides itself in promoting “fun without discrimination,” working on the idea that kids should be able to play with toys that promote independent thinking and do not suppress their identities.

Woozy Moo handpicks every toy it carries on the site, making sure that every single one is eco-friendly, thought provoking, well-built, and, of course, non-discriminatory. On WoozyMoo.com, girls can be superheroes, adventurers and builders, science and learning is cool and very much encouraged, and special needs kids need not be limited during playtime!

Courtesy Woozy Moo
Courtesy Woozy Moo

MiniTime chatted with Woozy Moo to find out more about what makes them better than their big league competitors.

MiniTime: What’s the idea behind Woozy Moo? How did it come about?

Woozy Moo: The idea of Woozy Moo really came about from our founder Hai Tiet (pronounced “Hi T-eat”) when he was working at the United Nations. Hai was working in the education sector of the UN, so he worked with a lot of kids, teachers, parents, and policymakers. He saw that children at a very young age are put into “boxes,” where they are supposed to think and act a certain way. In addition, he saw that for kids that don’t fit into these “boxes,” there were also very limited opportunities for them. He found out that the toy industry (which you would think should be an innocent industry) is quite marginalizing and reinforces these “boxes.” They make and sell only toys that they think will sell, and they are quite adamant about this. This include pink princess dolls for girls and blue armored trucks for boys. It is very rare that you find good-quality special needs toys out there let alone a toy store that carries eco-friendly toys or toys that empower girls to be leaders. Frustrated, Hai decided that although the UN does excellent work in the policy world, change had to occur during playtime, so Woozy Moo was born.

MiniTime: What makes Woozy Moo toys different from most toys out there and how can they help our kids in their development?

Woozy Moo: Since our mission is to provide kids playtime without bias or any limitation, we provide only toys that promote a bias-free playtime. You won’t find “girl” or “boy” toys at Woozy Moo. We believe there should be no designation. All Woozy Moo toys either teach kids amazing things, empower them to be fearless and leaders, and/or made of sustainable materials. In addition, we also categorize all toys on our website by themes to help parents pick out the best toys for their little ones. For example, in the “Smart Toys” theme, parents can rest assure that these toys help kids challenge themselves in unconventional ways where normal toys fall short. For example, our Q-Ba marble run toys and Keva brainteaser toys challenge kids to think outside the box to engineer contraptions and structures all while having fun.

MiniTime: How do you decide which toys to carry on your site? Do you have a careful selection process?

Woozy Moo: Here at Woozy Moo, most of us come from a humanitarian background. We all are either educators or social workers, so we all have a background in child development. In turn, we have a careful selection process when curating toys and use a four-step guideline in toy selection, which is listed below:

  1. Does the toy present any cultural or gender bias that would limit a child’s development?
  2. Does the toy challenge us to think or learn new things?
  3. What is the philosophy of the manufacturer? Safe and eco-friendly? Believe in gender equality and equal opportunity for all?
  4. Is it fun?

MiniTime: What’s next for Woozy Moo?

Woozy Moo: We really believe that kids should be able to grow up in a safe environment that is free from any bias, and our first mission is to tackle down the toy industry and break the boxes that they put kids into. We know we are not alone in this fight as many parents have been really supportive of Woozy Moo and thanking us for taking on this mission. We want to continue the fight in making the world a better place for kids. First toys, but perhaps maybe bias-free books and clothes next!

So go on. Inspire your little girls to take the on adventures in your family travels with fun and fearless toys like Goldie Blox’s fun Zipline Action Figure, encourage them to accept and love their unique personalities with body-positive dolls like Arklu’s Lottie, the Robot Girl, and stimulate their creativity and intellect with easy and fun to assemble science kits like Green Science’s Tin Can Robot. Woozy Moo offers a world of possibilities for your kids and moves them to be greater than society’s expectations of them. There’s no better place to find the perfect toys, whether to take on your family vacations or to play with in the comfort of your own home.

(Originally published on MiniTime.com.)

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Going Beyond the Magic: Disneyland Exceeds All Expectations with 24-Hour Diamond Celebration

One of the really cool things about my job is getting invites to fantastic events and awesome trips that I probably wouldn’t have access to if  I weren’t working in the travel publishing world. It’s one of the many perks of the job that I’m truly grateful for as it definitely opens doors to new experiences for me.

This week, I’m headed to Disneyland – along with many bloggers and members of the press – to help the original Disney park usher in their 60th anniversary with their Diamond Celebration extravaganza and 24-hour event, which I am super excited about. They’ve got a lot of awesome things planned for the celebration and it’s going to be epic.

I’ll be sharing the latest updates before and during the Diamond Celebration event through the MiniTime website and social media as well as on my Twitter and Instagram accounts, but for now read on after the jump to find out more about what Disney has in store for the festivities.

'DISNEYLAND FOREVER' TAKES GUESTS UNDER THE SEA (Courtesy Disney)
‘DISNEYLAND FOREVER’ TAKES GUESTS UNDER THE SEA (Courtesy Disney)

Something simply amazing is happening at Disneyland this May.

With July 17, 2015 marking the 60th anniversary of the “Happiest Place on Earth,” Disneyland in Anaheim, CA, is beckoning Disney lovers everywhere to take part in theDisneyland Diamond Celebration festivities that starts on May 22, 2015. And as is Disney tradition, the resort is going all out!

Going beyond bedazzling Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park and their iconic landmarks and locations – including the Sleeping Beauty Castle, Main Street, U.S.A, and Carthay Circle Theater – to usher in the new era, Disney has prepared a multitude of incredible events, attractions and surprises that kicks off with a 24-hour event, starting at 6am on May 22nd.

MACK AND THE CARS CREW PREVIEW "PAINT THE NIGHT" (Courtesy Disney)
MACK AND THE CARS CREW PREVIEW “PAINT THE NIGHT” (Courtesy Disney)

With this all day/all night party comes an array of entertainment, new attractions, and commemorative merchandise, including the debut of three nighttime spectaculars:

  • “Disneyland Forever” Fireworks – Disneyland ups the ante of their traditional pyrotechnic display by using Main Street, U.S.A, the Matterhorn, Rivers of America, and “it’s a small world” and featuring some of Disney’s most beloved fairy tales like Lion King, Finding Nemo, and of course, Frozen, to take their guests in a spectacular, full-on magical experience from the street to the sky.
  • “Paint the Night” Parade – Dazzling lights and music will excite and astound guests, especially the little ones, with this new after dark parade at the Disneyland Park. “Paint the Night” will showcase favorite Disney characters like Tinker Bell, Lightning McQueen, Ariel, Buzz Lightyear, Belle, and Anna & Elsa like you’ve never seen them before – magically illuminated as the revelry shimmies and shimmers down Main Street, U.S.A.
  • “World of Color – Celebrate! The Wonderful World of Walt Disney” – An even more impressive version of World of Color, this outdoor nighttime display, hosted by Neil Patrick Harris and Mickey, will showcase the best Disney moments – from Walt’s earliest creations to the newest feature, presented in an breathtaking package topped with a water, fire and laser show that will leave spectators in awe.

It’s going to be an unforgettable Disney visit for you and your kids and a wonderful way to welcome the warm days of summer. So buy your park hopper tickets, book that hotel room, and get ready to celebrate!

See you all there!

(Originally published on MiniTime.com.)

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Inspire Mini Adventurers with Little Passports

As ardent travelers, we realize the importance of exposing our little ones to the wonders the world has to offer as early as possible. But that doesn’t mean they’ll feel the same way. After all, the shortest flights can get very uncomfortable; driving on long, empty stretches of road tend to be dull; and our definitions of fun and awesome may not always be the same.

Lucky for us there are a number of ways to get them as excited about family vacations as we are – from reading them children’s books about travel to getting them involved in the research to letting plan at least part of the itinerary. And with subscription boxes gaining popularity, parents have another arsenal in their hands.

While their monthly subscription boxes, reminiscent of those days when snail mail pen pals from far off places were a thing, come in neat and adorable packages that even adults will love, Bay Area-based company Little Passports certainly has a knack for thinking outside the box.

USA Edition Kit by Little Passports (Photo: Michelle Rae)
USA Edition Kit by Little Passports (Photo: Michelle Rae)

Each Little Passport subscription – there are three: Early Explorers for ages 3-5, World Edition for kids ages 6-10, and USA Edition for ages 7-12 – is designed to inspire kids to take a passionate interest in seeing, exploring and experiencing the world and the many cultures in it. (Don’t let that age guide deter you if you have teens; my 13-year-old loves them too!)

USA Edition Kit - California (Photo: Michelle Rae)
USA Edition Kit – California (Photo: Michelle Rae)

Inside each monthly kit contains a letter from pen pals Sam & Sofia, an activity booklet (with puzzles, word searches, DIY tutorials, scavenger hunts, must-stop attractions and landmarks, and even simple recipes), cool knickknacks, stickers, postcards and more, all based around a chosen theme.

The Discovery Kit comes with a camera! (Photo: Michelle Rae)
The Discovery Kit comes with a camera! (Photo: Michelle Rae)

Intended to open young minds to different cultures, instill land and wildlife conservation, encourage the love of adventure and the great outdoors, and get them excited about visit different destinations, Little Passports is just the perfect spark to ignite the wanderlust in our future adventurers!

Best of all, the subscriptions initially come with wall-sized maps that the kids can use to mark the places they’ve been, and in fun, colorful suitcases – keeping with the jet setting theme – so the kids can carry their kits around during your travels!

Sometimes, it takes a bit of convincing (and bribing) to get the kids on the traveling bandwagon. With these travel kits, it just might take a little less effort on your part.

Visit their website to learn more about Little Passports.

(Originally published on MiniTime.com.)

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Why Touristy Riviera Maya is a Must-See Paradise

First, head to the beach, the glistening beach, with its fine sand and its lapping, deliciously warm, blue-green waves and the occasional half-buried boulder that hides a massive iguana blissfully unconcerned with all the foot traffic around him. The beaches here, every bit as “Caribbean” as their Caribbean neighbors, almost single-handedly makes the trip worth every penny and every hour sitting in an enclosed space thousands of feet above ground.

Later, spread out and explore – the beach will be there when you get back. Upon closer look, you’ll realize there’s more to this popular vacation destination than its beaches and the overwhelming number of resorts.

Photo by Michelle Rae
Photo by Michelle Rae

Mysterious cenotes – some too deep to reach the bottom, inlets, and lagoons offer unique swimming opportunities. Well-preserved Mayan ruins, built around 1200 A.D. atop a cliff in Tulum, transport visitors back to a once glorious time. Exotic wildlife, both on land and underwater, present a chance to interact with nature. Aquatic and cultural theme parks like Xel-Ha and Xcaret provide fun recreation for both kids and adults.

And then there are the vibrant and ever friendly locals who greet you like an old friend coming home after a long absence.

Even beyond that, there’s more to experience. Venture away from the tourist spots and walk the local streets of Playa del Carmen. Have your fill of the best tacos you’ll ever have in your life. Try off-the-beaten-path eateries that serve cheap delicacies like authentic tlayudas and delicious kastacan. And, of course, brush up on your tongue-rolling Spanish.

Photo by Michelle Rae
Photo by Michelle Rae

There’s a good reason – or rather, many wonderful reasons – why families, couples, and singles, the young and the old, from many parts of the world, are drawn to this strip on the eastern shore of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. From its beautiful shores to its incredible Mayan ruins to its local haunts, the Riviera Maya is every bit a paradise.

Touristy, yes, but a paradise nonetheless.

This article originally appeared on Huffington Post.

 

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Participate

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Being back in LA has not been easy, mostly because I have come to a realization that getting out of the city for a week or so every few months is just not enough for me. I have come to a realization that I was born a wanderer and will die as one, belonging on and to the road, ever pressing, never stopping. I’ve been reading this blog by someone who has been traveling through Europe and Asia on his bike, with nothing but the clothes on his back, the roof of his single tent above his head, and his camera around his neck; he’s made me realize that somewhere between my childhood and the now, I have lost myself, that I have lost my wide-eyed wonder and replaced it with cynicism. I am have become bitter and withdrawn, my light slowly dimming into nothing. But tonight my head is so full of images, images of the places I need to breathe in, of faces I need to meet, of things I need to feel. It’s time that I participate in life again, this much is true. But where do I begin?