Summer has arrived! Like a lot of Americans, my summer agenda usually includes a trip to Florida. So I headed south to the beaches of Florida to visit family, eat good seafood and, of course, relax on the beach. While a bathing suit and shades are staples, my packing list has definitely expanded now that there’s a baby in tow for my trips! Here’s what’s in my bag.
Sunglasses: Classic aviators like Oliver Peoples’ “Benedict” sunglasses are always in style, and polarized versions keep my light eyes safe in the sun.
Weekender Tote: My Fold-Over Weekender bag from Thirty-One Gifts is large enough to hold all my stuff, is super durable, plus comes in a cute pattern to boot!
Beach Towel: I found a stylish striped version from Serena & Lily that includes fun tassel accents. Perfect for long afternoons lounging on the sand!
Babyganics Outdoor Essentials Duo: One of my favorite baby brands, Babyganics, sells a mineral based sunscreen that’s safer for little ones. It protects against the strong Florida sun and comes in convenient travel sizes.
During a trip to the South of France, I knew I had to visit Monaco. I had heard so much about the glitz, the yachts, the casino. After stays in Antibes and Cannes, we ended up in Nice for the tail end of our trip. With Monaco a mere 20 kilometers away, I had to check it out for myself.
My husband and I set aside a day to make the short trip east. We would head out in the morning, spend the afternoon and early evening in Monaco, and head back to Nice before dark. With only an afternoon to spare, we tried not too pile too much on the agenda. There were a few items on the must-see list – the Prince’s Palace and the Monte Carlo Casino (of course!).
After a little research, I found that the most recommended way to get to Monaco is by public transportation. At less than 2 euros, the cheapest options are buses that run frequently throughout the day. Other than a private helicopter, it’s also the easiest way to get there! We caught the bus from the Port of Nice, which is beautiful in its own right. The journey included winding cliffside roads that, while frightening at times, were some of the most picturesque views I’ve ever seen. We passed the seaside towns of Villefranche and Eze (also worth seeing) and 30 minutes later, we were in Monaco.
We departed at the 1st stop in Monaco, named Place d’Armes. This seemed to be the best starting location, since it’s right near Monaco-Ville. We started by climbing up Le Rocher, or “The Rock.” From here you not only get amazing views, but also can venture to the Palace and the Oceanographic Museum. We were able to catch the changing of the guard, and select rooms are even also open to the public. A few photo ops at Port Hercule at the base and we were off to explore on foot.
Along with cafes and shopping, I promised my husband we would fit in a few of his destinations. So from the Port we ventured to a museum housing the Prince’s private car collection. While I’m not a car fan, it was pretty cool to see the personal collection of Prince Rainier’s. There were notable vehicles dating back over the last 100 years or so, and at only $10 to enter, it was a economic way to spend an hour. Next on his list was the famous hairpin turn of the Monaco F1 Grand Prix. It’s nestled in front of the Fairmont Hotel, and the course even meanders underneath the property. After checking this out, we accidentally discovered a nice garden, with beautiful greenery and a few Botero statues.
The next stop was the famous casino. Monaco actually has quite a few casinos, if that’s your thing, but the Monte Carlo Casino is by far the most well known. It’s situated right in the heart of Monte Carlo and you’ll know you’re in the right place by the mobs of tourists taking photos and the Lamborghinis parked out front. There was surprisingly no dress code in the afternoon, and although not as large as I thought it would be, it was definitely grandiose. Splurge on a few glasses of €20 champagne and take in the old school glamour.
Dinner in Monte Carlo and lots of people watching later, we were ready to make the short trip back to Nice. I would have loved to have seen the Jardin Exotique and the cathedral atop Le Rocher, but there was just not enough time. Monaco warrants an overnight stay, and the Hotel Hermitage and Metropole are calling my name for a return visit!
How to get from Nice to Monaco: Catch bus #100 (labeled Monaco/Menton) from Place Messina, the Port or other stations in Nice. Regional TGV trains also will get you there, although you’ll miss the amazing scenery along the way!
As I write this I’m sitting in McCarran airport waiting to go home after a few days in Vegas. I have quite a few trips to Sin City under my belt, but this visit was unique. A friend was visiting the States from Australia, and proposed that we meet in Las Vegas for a few days of gambling, pool time and catching up. We jumped at the chance for a weekend getaway, however, our 6 month old baby would be in tow. I know, who takes a baby to Las Vegas? I was somewhat hesitant to hit the Strip with a child since I don’t remember it to be the most child-friendly town, but after reading other parents’ stories online, I decided to go for it.
Pre-baby, my girlfriends and I would stay somewhere trendy like the Cosmopolitan. Although I had a few ideal hotel preferences, availability and price won out and we ended up at Paris. Its central location made it a great home base to explore the Strip, plus the francophile in me loves the faux-French decor. There’s a nice pool, the service was wonderful and the hotel’s buffet included unlimited mimosas. Can’t complain here!
Yes, it is called ‘Sin City,’ but it wasn’t as crazy as I remember from my younger days. I saw a surprising amount of kids and strollers during the day. Families dined alongside 20-somethings. Most people were accommodating, and we often had doors held open for us. There were a few drawbacks. We learned the hard way that babies are not allowed in casinos, so my husband and I had to gamble in shifts. We also learned that there are few elevators along the Strip, so getting from point A to B took a lot longer than planned.
I’ll have to head back sans baby to see Britney, a Cirque show or hit the clubs, but overall bringing a baby to Sin City can be done. If you’re thinking about taking your little one to Vegas, these kid-friendly hotels top my list of places to stay.
Bellagio: We visited this hotel quite a few times during our stay. The hotel would be a great pick for families because of its location and free attractions like the Bellagio Fountains and botanical garden.
Four Seasons: It’s worth heading off the Strip for a Four Seasons. You’ll get all the amenities you would expect, from welcome gifts for children to baby toiletries to complimentary use of cribs and highchairs upon request. There’s also no casino, which makes this property more relaxing than being in the middle of all the action.
Venetian: I stayed at the Venetian a few years back for business and loved it. The best part is that its an all-suite property, along with The Palazzo next door. Each suite comes complete with a separate living area, which means lots of room for kiddos. The upscale Grand Canal Shops are also a great way to spend a few hours.
London holds a special place in this traveler’s heart, since it was the first international city I visited. I’ve since been back on a few more occasions, and have even gone with first time visitors. One of my initial thoughts about the city? It’s huge! Having lived in New York, I was used to the small, compact island of Manhattan. London is much more spread out! London is one of those cities, like New York, where you can live for years and still not see everything. So where’s a first time visitor to start? If you only have a week (or even just a few days) to explore, here are the top sights to check off the list.
Buckingham Palace: The Queen’s official residence is grand, opulent and the site of so much history. Try and catch the changing of the Guard, which happens daily at 11:30. You’ll have to navigate the crowds, but seeing the pomp and circumstance of it first hand is worth it. Finish with a leisurely stroll down the mall.
Tower of London: This former palace, prison and fortress has a colorful history as the site of executions and wild animals. You’ll be in awe of the Crown Jewels, and marvel at the fabulously dresses Beefeaters patrolling the grounds. Certain spots offer clear views of Tower Bridge that make wonderful photo ops.
Tate Galleries: London has some of the best museums in the world, and art lovers like me can take advantage of 2 FREE galleries right along the riverbank.Start at Tate Britain for British art and sculpture, then head to the Tate Modern to see works by contemporary artists like Monet, Warhol and Dali. Hop on the Tate Boat and enjoy a ride along the Thames while shuttling between the museums.
London Eye: Yes, it’s touristy and expensive, but it’s also one of the best ways to get an amazing 360 degree view of the city.
Kensington Palace: Any Royal watcher knows this is the home of Will and Kate, which instantly makes it intriguing.Buy a ticket and you’ll be able to tour the palace’sstate rooms, exhibits andgardens. If time allows, indulge in afternoon tea at The Orangery for a quintessential British experience.
I fell in love with Barcelona the moment I arrived. I always say it’s one of the cities I could see myself living in. If you haven’t been, you need to put it on your list of places to visit. Here’s why.
1) The Food: Paella, tapas, sangria, jamon. You’ll eat well in Barcelona and the food really needs no explanation.
2) The Architecture: The city’s most famous son, Gaudi, left his mark with gems like Casa Battlo, La Pedrera and Sagrada Familia. The well known attractions coupled with the city’s Catalan architecture make it one of the most unique in Europe.
3) The Culture: The lively city is brimming with music, art and museums. Trips to Barcelona are not complete without a visit to the Museu Picasso and a night spent watching the fountain of Montjuïc at night.
4) The Beach: There are few destinations that boast a major city and a beach. Barcelona has the best of both worlds. Barceloneta beach is a fun way to spend an afternoon people watching and eating great seafood.
5) The Shopping: You can find great stores along the Passeig De Gracia and Diagonal streets, known as the Barcelona shopping line. The city is also home to homegrown brands like Custo Barcelona, Desigual and Mango. Some of my favorite items to pick up are crafts like handpainted sangria pitchers and traditional ceramic tiles. And there’s always one of the best food market in Europe, La Boquiera.
Can you believe it’s almost March? 2016 is well underway and the new year brought new hotels to get excited about. From Florida to the Middle East, your spring plans should include these recently-opened gems.
Those looking for a spring break getaway can find a casual, vintage Miami vibe at The Hall. This boutique hotel opened late last year in a prime South Beach location, is pet friendly and houses an eatery from Spike Mendelsohn that Top Chef geeks like me will love.
The highly anticipated February opening of this boutique hotel brought a new place to stay near Boston Common. Set in a restored pre-war building, the Godfrey is a sophisticated home base when in Boston for business or pleasure.
The lux brand is bringing its signature posh accommodations to Qatar’s capital. This recently opened property features guest rooms that offer views of the Persian Gulf, marble bathrooms equipped with soaking tubs, and a beautiful curved pool to cool off from the high desert temps.
Not sure where you live, but here in the Midwest we’re still stuck with the tail end of winter weather. Spring cannot come soon enough! With another month or so before it hits, an escape down south sounds amazing right about now. Spring break, anyone?
An ocean breeze, sunshine and cocktails are the perfect cure for the winter blues. Florida is always an easy choice for a beach getaway, since it’s just a quick flight away. I always need to be sure to bring my necessities when packing for a beach vacation. Sunnies, a cute tote and reading material are always in my bag. Here’s what I’d take on my trip:
The bag’s all packed, but one of the most important parts is finding the right place to stay! City center for nightlife? Oceanfront condo for beach access? HomeAway helps travelers with their vaca with over 1 million listings to pick from. Miami to Tampa to Destin, they’ve got Florida rentals covered. The company also has prime properties in the Florida panhandle area for those looking to relive their college spring break days in places like Panama City. There’s plenty of rooms to choose from – everything from high rise condos to beachfront bungalows that can fit a whole family. How beautiful do these places look? Check out all their offerings at HomeAway.
‘Tis the season for holiday lights, carols and Christmas markets. Visiting Europe during the holidays has always been on my bucket list. Holiday markets and cities all lit up in lights are sure to get anyone in the holiday spirit. While I’d love to book a last minute trip to Europe, I don’t think it will happen this year. There’s always next year, right? Here are some of the places that do Christmas to the fullest.
One of my favorite cities seem to get even more amazing during December when Christmas lights glimmer and winter festivals pop up all over the city. There’s the hanging decorations above Oxford Street and ice skating under the London Eye, plus festive events at Southbank Centre and Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park.
Germany knows how to celebrate the holidays, as Christmas markets can be found all over the country. Cologne has some of the best, with numerous markets where guests can get in the holiday spirit while sipping mulled wine and enjoying traditional German holiday treats. Alter Markt is set in front of the city’s Cologne Cathedral, making for a magical sight.
The Alsace region oozes charm any time of the year, but comes even more alive during the holidays. Strasbourg was reportedly the home of the first Christmas market in 1570, and today the Christkindelsmarik market is the largest in Europe.
The famous Grand Place gets even more beautiful during the holidays when a huge tree lights up the plaza. Christmas markets and an ice skating rink in the center of town keep the festivities going. Stay at the elegant Dominican Hotel for an easy walk to all the action.
I don’t know about everyone else, but one of the many reasons I travel is for food. I just love food. I know there are others like me who love to try new things that you can’t find at home. I like to call it “foodie travel.” Plus we all know that one of the best ways to really experience a culture is through its cuisine.
So when I visited Belgium for the first time, I had to get my hands on all the culinary treats that the country is known for. Did I mention that I was pregnant during this trip? That meant I was hungry A LOT, and Brussels did not disappoint. Thankfully my friend Lindsay was with me to share in the fun and help me satisfy my cravings.
We arrived in Brussels in the late morning from Paris. After settling into our hotel, the Dominican, we were ready for lunch. First item on our wish list? Waffles! When in Belgium, right?
Did you know there are two types of Belgian waffles? Yep. Liege waffles and Brussels waffles. If you want to expand your knowledge of waffles, check out this post about the differences. We passed lots of stalls serving fresh waffles covered in everything from fruit to chocolate to whipped cream. I’d have to say the best waffle I ate in all of Belgium was a chocolate covered one I picked up at Maison Dandoy.
Chocolate shops are everywhere you turn in Brussels. You’ll even see employees in the windows mixing the chocolate by hand. Wanting to continue on our sugar high, we stopped in just about every chocolate shop we passed. Milk chocolate, dark chocolate, chocolate covered pralines, cherries, caramels…you can find it all. Pierre Marcolini and Mary were some of my favorites.
We continued on our tour of Brussels, taking the afternoon to explore and shop. When dinner time rolled around, we headed to the Grand Place. The central square is lined with restaurants, all overlooking the historic buildings. Just about all the restaurants I saw offered one of my favorite dishes – moules frites.
Another thing that’s a must for any Brussels visit? Belgian beer. Being pregnant and all, I stayed away from the alcoholic beverages and lived vicariously through Lindsay. Stores sell beer by the bottle that you can drink on the street, and there’s no shortage of breweries and bars to visit. We made a stop at the well known Delerium, which boasts over 2,000 types of beer.
While I had no shortage of fine foods during our short time in Brussels, I made sure to pick up some goodies to take home too. Check out my picks for the best foodie items to take home from Belgium here.
As someone who loves to travel, I appreciate any excuse to do so, even for work. My job recently took me to Pittsburgh, which included a stay at the Fairmont. I’m a longtime fan of the Fairmont brand, having stayed at their hotels in Monte Carlo and Chicago, so I was excited to add one more to the list.
The Property: I immediately liked the clean, open lobby. It was full of modern furniture, with a lounge that made for a convenient spot cocktails. One of the things I loved about the hotel is that there was artwork everywhere you turned. I was told the sculptures and paintings are all from local artists, and there were even a few Warhol prints on hand. The hotel also has a resident canine ambassador named Edie that you can take on walks around the city. How fun is that?
Accommodations: The room was what you would expect of a Fairmont – spacious and luxurious, with amenities like comfy robes, high-end bath products and a keurig machine. I was given a room on a higher floor, which offered great views of the downtown skyline and the river. Floor to ceiling windows and binoculars were a nice touch. I was pleasantly surprised with the bed. It was amazingly comfortable and made for a great night’s sleep.
Location: The downtown location meant lots of restaurants and bars were nearby. We discovered a great dim sum restaurant called Grit and Grace, and Market Square was a convenient 5 minute walk away for breakfast. We also took in a Pittsburgh Pirates game, which was a short jaunt just over the bridge.
The staff could not have been nicer, and I’d say the hotel is great for business travelers or those visiting for a day to take in a ballgame. I noticed a mix of business travelers, families and even ran into the Atlanta Braves baseball team arriving for a series with the Pirates. Overall a perfect stay, and I would definitely come back if I find myself in Pittsburgh again.
We Have you stayed at a Fairmont? Which location was your favorite?
June is here, school is out, and people are taking to the skies and highways for summer vacation. There are the common spots that fill up with families and tourists, but if you want to avoid the crowds (and maybe even score a cheaper hotel in the process), check out these cities for your summer break.
1) Las Vegas
If you’re willing to put up with intense temperatures that can exceed 100 degrees, you can get hotels in Las Vegas for pretty cheap during July and August. You’ll be lounging by the pool or hanging out in the air conditioned casinos anyway, right? Make a road trip out of it and head to other desert attractions like Lake Mead or Red Rock Canyon.
2) New York City
Yes, it’s muggy and the city heat isn’t for everyone. But on the plus side, hotel prices decrease a little as the city’s residents head east to Long Island beaches on the weekend. Enjoy summer in Central Park and catch a nighttime breeze at one of city’s best rooftop bars.
3) Siesta Key, Florida
Skip the craziness of Disney and South Florida and opt for the west coast of the state. Close to Tampa and Sarasota, Siesta Key brings warm gulf waters, beautiful beaches void of huge resorts and a more laid back vibe.
4) Charleston, South Carolina
Many folks head to the Carolina coastal cities during the summer months, but don’t forget Charleston. This historical city offers great Southern food, museums, colonial architecture and tons of charm.
5) Flagstaff, Arizona
Phoenix has great summer deals if you can stand the heat, but those looking for a break from the desert heat should try Flagstaff. A higher elevation means cooler temperatures, and visitors can take advantage of the town’s mountains, national parks and outdoor activities.
One of my favorite things to do when traveling is visit local shops, stalls and boutiques. I love picking up local finds for myself and friends. Brussels was no exception, and I was able to score some cute (and tasty) gifts. Here’s a rundown of my best bets when visiting Brussels.
Chocolate: Belgian chocolate is known throughout the world as being some of the milkiest, creamiest chocolate goodness there is, so this was an obvious choice. You can even see it being made first hand in some of the shops across the city.
Lace: You’ll see a lot of small boutiques across the city selling handmade lace items. You can find everything from dresses, bonnets, pillows and doilies. Everything is beautifully done, and there’s sure to be something within your price range.
Waffles: Did you know there are two types of waffles in Belgium? I definitely had my fill of the larger Brussels waffles, which are covered with everything from bananas to chocolate and whipped cream. There’s also the smaller Liege waffle, which is thicker and covered with an amazing layer of crystallized sugar. I picked up a few packages to take home from an adorable shop called Elisabeth near the Manneken Pis. (These traveled surprisingly well too, due to their crisp top later). You can even find chocolate covered varieties! Many come in cute ribbon-tied packages, making for some very yummy gifts.
Local Beer & Mugs: Brussels is definitely a beer drinking culture. You can visit one of the city’s many beer stores, get a great recommendation on a local brew, then take it to go and drink it as you explore. How cool is that? Specialty local beers and their glasses make great souvenirs for any beer lover.
Speculoos: These crunchy little cookies made from brown sugar and spices are seriously addictive! You can find all sorts of types in Brussels – classic, vanilla, even in a spread. Once home, I found that they go prefect my with my morning coffee. High end bakery Maison Dandoy sells them in beautiful packaging for easy gift giving.
I recently visited Brussels on the tail end of a trip that saw stops in London, Paris and Belgium. I had heard that Brussels was relatively small, and I was looking forward to having a low-key 24 hour visit before heading back home on an early morning flight. With limited time to explore the city, a centrally located hotel was a must. I came across the luxury Dominican through an online search, and its great reviews made it the obvious choice.
After taking a cab from the the train station, my friend and I were a little confused when our taxi driver dropped us off in an alley. (He explained that the street was closed to cars, and was thus unable to drop us off at the hotel’s entrance). After checking in and getting our bearings, we soon discovered that the property was actually very close to the first place we wanted to see, the Grand Place (or Grote Markt). A short walk south took us past small streets filled with restaurants and bars, which filled up with lots of people come evening time. The Grand Place was a ten minute walk at most. The streets surrounding the Grand Place is where we ended up spending most of our time in the city, and it was nice to have it within walking distance. Not having to take the metro to get around was a welcome break after exhausting days navigating Paris and London. The convenient location also made it easy to stop back at the hotel for a mid-day break to freshen up before dinner.
The hotel’s luxury could definitely be felt in the main lobby. Sleek furniture and elegant touches like mirrors, glass accents and flowers added to the overall glamour. The lobby and the rest of the first level are mostly open, which allows you to see the hotel’s lounges and seating areas. Being pressed for time, we were unfortunately unable to experience any of the dining options. We did notice lots of people having an evening cocktail in the lobby bar, and there was also a beautiful courtyard restaurant that looked like a wonderful place to have drinks or dinner.
We stayed in a Deluxe room, which was cozy but had enough space to fit two people comfortably. The hotel’s underlying religious theme was present in the room, notably from the old church music that came from the TV speakers and within the carpet designs. My favorite part was the bathroom, which was sleek and modern. It had a masculine vibe, with black finishes and contemporary elements like a chrome hair dryer, not to mention an amazing shower.
The Dominican really was the perfect hotel for a one day stay in the city. The greatest selling points of this property really are its location and lux features. The staff was also very friendly and accommodating. Rooms start at 140 euros a night, and more info can be found on their website.
Hello from Punta Cana! As I write this, I’m sitting on a lounge chair at the Melia Caribe Tropical Resort looking at the ocean. It’s my second day in the Dominican Republic. It’s also my first time here, and admittedly I not know what to expect. I’ve heard a lot of things about the Dominican Republic, good and bad, but here are my initial thoughts on Punta Cana.
It’s Very Popular: With more flights serving Punta Cana, including our recently-started route on Southwest, our plane was filled to the max with couples, groups of girlfriends and families ready to start their vacation. Maybe I was just unaware of how popular it has become in recent years. With the amount of tourists I saw at the airport, it was obvious that it’s definitely become a huge tourist spot.
Every Resort is All Inclusive: …and you’ll never need to leave yours. Riding through town, you’ll pass mega resort after mega resort. I usually like to leave my hotel to explore local restaurants and nightlife, but everything I wanted was inside my resort. And since all the resorts offer all inclusive packages, all your meals, drinks and entertainment are included. If all you’re looking for is sun, sand, relaxation and good food, you’ll find everything you could ever need within your resort’s walls.
The Food is Awesome: One of the best parts about staying at an all inclusive resort is the amazing food. It’s a great opportunity to taste the best that the island has to offer, from fresh fruits to classic Dominican dishes like mofongo and sancocho.
The Scenery and Weather Are Perfect: With blue water, perfect temperatures and tropical landscapes, I can see why people come here for vacation.
A friend and I planned a 2 day stay in London during a week long European vacation and were in need of a hotel . This was my second time in the city, but there was still a lot on the agenda. We planned to take in a few tourist attractions, but mostly wanted to get off the tourist track and explore London’s various neighborhoods. On a previous trip, I stayed near the Tower of London. While it was had a tube stop and was near the Thames, it offered few options for dining, shopping or entertainment. This time we chose Kensington for its location and neighborhood amenities. After a lot of online research, we decided to go with the Millennium Gloucester.
The area surrounding the hotel seemed mostly residential, but had ample restaurants, coffee shops and a few grocery stores. We were easily able to walk to a late dinner or pop into the Tesco across the street to pick up water or snacks. The Gloucester Road tube is less than a block away, and runs on the green and yellow line. This made for easy access to pretty much anywhere in central London. And if you’re like me and can’t resist the lure of a casino, there’s a small one around the corner.
We arrived early in the morning from oversees and were lucky enough to have a room ready for us. We were kindly upgraded to a Club Room, which is located on the hotel’s Club Level. The room was the perfect size for two people and luggage, and somewhat large by London standards.
One of the perks of our Club Level room was access to the hotel’s breakfast. It was located in a quaint room overlooking a charming South Kensington side street. The breakfast spread was pretty standard, with hot and cold items and fresh juices. An espresso machine made for a nice addition.
Complimentary wifi was also a plus (even though I think it should be standard these days!), and the front desk staff could not have been friendlier.
The Millennium Gloucester is located near the intersection of Gloucester and Courtfield Roads in Kensington. More information can be found on their website.