SeaWorld Orlando

 

Here is where I am going to say that I understand that Sea World is a bit of a controversial subject and I get it.  I really do.  However I love  Sea World and if you don’t then please check out one of my other posts.

It seems like no trip to Orlando is complete for me until we hit Sea World.  It is a great one day park.   I do recommend getting there early because it is a full day, but yes you can see it all in one day.

So why do I love Sea World?  First I just love the ocean and the animals in the ocean.  Not sure why since I didn’t grow up around the ocean, but I always have.  I love the conservation that Sea World supports.  They rescue, rehab and release a lot of animals.  They also donate a lot of money to researching animals in the wild. Last time we were there we took short tour that focused on the rehabilitation of animals and we got to go behind the scenes to see some of the animals and where they keep them.  They had also just opened up part of that area for the public.  You could go back and see where they keep manatees they have rescued and hope to release.  I have included a picture of a baby manatee that they had rescued.  It was very excited about feeding time!

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Here is more information about their rescue programs if you are interested.  Sea World Rescue and Rehabilitation

Sea World has rides for everyone in your group.  They have some great roller coasters for thrill seekers and they have a kiddie area with rides that are a lot less intense.   There are some amazing shows that feature animals and are educational and fun.  You can get up close to a lot of animals and sometimes even touch or feed them.

Last time we also did Dining with Shamu.  I highly recommend this if you can fit it into your day.  You have a buffet style meal while the trainers are working with some of the orcas.  You are really up close and personal as you can see by the pictures! They have Killer Whale Close Up Tour now also that I can’t wait to take.

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Aquatica-   Sea World also has a water park with a lot of fun rides for everyone in the family.

Discovery Cove-  Is an all day, all inclusive park experience.  The number of people in the park is pretty limited so make sure to reserve in advance.   You can have a dolphin encounter, ride on the lazy river, snorkel a coral reef, check out the aviary or just lay on the beach.   If you go to Discovery Cove then your admission to Sea World and  Aquatica is included.

 

If you have any questions about Sea World or the other parks please let me know.  As always I would love to hear about your favorite things about Sea World in the comments, please keep them positive.  Again I really understand if you don’t agree but we will have to politely disagree on this one.

 

traveltara1@gmail.com          941-223-2438

 

Universal Studios FL

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This is one of the last pictures I have of my mom.  We went just a few weeks before she died.  We made a lot of precious memories on that trip!  

 

 

Ok,  before I should get started here I have to admit that Universal and SeaWorld are my families favorite parks so this may be a bit biased. The last time we went the girls were 5 and 13.  We just went to Disney last year when they were 9 and 16 and they agreed they liked Universal better.  Here are a few of the reasons why.

  • Smaller parks-  We stayed on site and were able to get back to our room quickly for a rest in the middle of the day.   Don’t get me wrong it is still a lot of walking  and you are definitely getting your steps in, but it is over all an easier day.
  • Great for all ages- Let’s face it, I loved Disney and I had a lot of fun, but Universal has more thrill rides if you have older kids or adults that like rides.  Natalie and I rode the big rides. Maia was too small and Ian was not interested.  There was plenty for them to do while we went our separate ways.  My mother loved it too so it is fun for all ages.

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  • Seuess Landing-  Yes it gets it’s own point.  I am a teacher and I love Dr. Seuess.  It was magical!   If you can fit in the show “Oh the Stories You will Hear” DO IT!   Many of the favorite characters come out and you can get pictures after the show.  I love the Truffla trees and the One Fish Two Fish ride and the carousel and well EVERYTHING!

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  • Marvel Superheros–  It’s not just for Princesses!  I went for the first time with my mother.  I got so geeked out when the X Men came out I could barely stand it.  My mother was confused but a good sport and decided she wanted her picture with them also. The Transformers were pretty amazing too.

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  • Beautiful Hotels- I have stayed at Lowes Royal Pacific Resort and the Hard Rock.  My mother loved the orchids and South Pacific feel of the Royal Pacific and the kids loved Hard Rock.  Now they have several new hotels so it is even easier to find the right hotel for your family. They are smaller than a Disney Resort so much easier to get around.
  • Harry Potter-  I am a fan, kind of a big fan, of the books and movies. I read the last book in one night barely moving from the couch.  It is amazing!  I have not been since Diagon Alley opened but I can’t wait!  Ian and the girls are not big fans but they were even impressed and want to go back to see all the new additions.  Try the Butter Beer. If the line is not huge for Ollivander’s do it, it is magic!  Even if you don’t ride The Forbidden Journey, go in and tour the castle.  You can skip the ride at the end.
  • Amazing Rides-  The Hulk, Transformers 3D, Hollywood Rip Ride Rocket, Revenge of the Mummy, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Flight of the Hippogrif and E.T. were some of our favorites.
  • City Walk-  Great to walk around and eat when you are taking a break from the park.  There are good resturants, shops and clubs if you like to party the night away.  And don’t forget the Blue Man Group!   It is a really fun show for every age group.
  • Express Passes-  You can buy the Express passes but they are part of the package if you stay at some of the hotels.  They are worth it!  You don’t have to schedule a time you just go to the front of the line.  We really felt that we were able to enjoy more of our vacation instead of waiting in lines. When Natalie and I rode The Hulk the line was over 2 hours.  We were on and off in 30 minutes.   This is really worth if it you go during busy times like summer or Christmas.

 

The last time we went they only had the 2 parks, Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure.  Now they have added a water park, Volcano Bay.   It looks amazing!  This is a great water park for the whole family.  There are more intense rides for thrill seekers and calmer things for those that just want to relax.  There is no waiting in line or need for cash thanks to the bands called Tapu- Tapu.  The Tapu- Tapu are also used to avoid lines.  You just swipe your Tapu- Tapu for the ride you want to go on and it tells you when to come back, then reminds you when it is time.  I have included a video about the Volcano Bay.  I don’t normally love water parks but this one has me excited!

If you have any questions about the parks I am happy to help.  Feel free to contact me for more info or to help plan your days there!

Feel free to share your favorite things about Universal in the comments.

traveltara1@gmail.com              941-223-2438

 

What to pack for a cruise!

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One of the things I get asked about a lot is how to pack for a cruise.

Now a little history for those who don’t know me.  I used to be a horrible packer.  I went to France for about 6 days when I was in high school and had to pack full size bottles of shampoo and conditioner because I was afraid I would run out.  There were 4 girls sharing a room and we each did this plus we all had to bring our own hair dryers and curling irons.  Probably full size hair dryers because a travel size couldn’t possibly work!  I had clothes options for about a 20 day trip.  My suitcase was so huge and heavy that I could barely move it.  Now remember this is about 1984 and if I remember correctly wheels on suitcases had not been discovered.  Or if they had they were horrible.  I just remember packing that thing around,,, and don’t forget the purse and carry on!!!!  Since we changed hotels every night this was a problem.  I remember watching our very attractive tour guide and noticing that he was wearing the same things in different combinations and always looked fabulous.  I was young and wondered how he could possibly wear the same thing twice but I was very jealous of his very small bag after about 3 days.

As it currently stands I am sometimes a great packer and sometimes I come home with a lot of stuff I never even considered wearing.  I did manage to go to Cambodia and Thailand for about 10 days with just a backpack.  You read that right.  No checked luggage.  I had a backpack and a purse on the plane.  And if you are thinking I threw it all in my husband’s checked bag you would be wrong.  He only took a backpack too!   I never once felt like I didn’t have enough options or felt that I was missing anything.  And I was very glad we did it when we had to change plans in several different countries.  No worries about lost luggage or waiting on bags.

Anyway the one thing that I think I have down well is packing for a cruise.  Cruises are pretty easy and unpacking once is definitely a benefit!  So what exactly should you take on a cruise?  Well of course this depends on how many days you will be cruising, what cruise line and ship and where.  Most of this blog will be written assuming you will be going somewhere tropical.

  1.  Recycle your clothes.   By this I really mean re-wear some of your clothes.  No it isn’t gross!  If you haven’t cruised before then you may not know that you almost never wear the same outfit for the whole day.  In the mornings I just throw on yoga pants and a t-shirt then run up to breakfast. Then you are going to change into something else for part of the day.  Then you are going to change for dinner. If you only wear a shirt for 2 hours then yeah,, you can wear it again.  NO ONE WILL NOTICE!   The only time this is different is if you are in port all day on an excursion. So really look at what you are planning to do each day and see if you really need 2 or 3 separate outfits a day.  You probably won’t. Your cruise may or may not have a formal night.  You can ask your travel agent to find out.  Even if they do have a formal night then it is usually optional.  You can either not go to the dining room that night and just eat at the buffet or on lines like Norwegian they will just seat you near people that are dressed very similarly to you.   Check with your agent or the cruise like to make sure of their dress policy before you go!
  2. Pack mostly things that will mix and match well- I usually go for neutral bottoms in solid colors and then spice it up a little with your tops and jewelry.
  3. Put most of those shoes back- Really,, you can do it!  You really do not need a different pair of shoes for each outfit.  I said neutral bottoms and neutral shoes work too.  Make sure you have a good pair of walking shoes if you are going to be doing anything active or taking active excursions.  Other than that pick one of two pairs of shoes that will go with everything, a pair of flip flops for the pool and a some heels or slightly nicer shoes for dinners.  When packing your shoes just channel Duchess Kate and her nude pumps!
  4. Sundresses- If you like them this is the time to pull them out.  You can wear them as cover ups, to lunch and even dress them up for dinner.
  5. Facebook-  You can probably find a Facebook group for your ship or even your ship and specific destination.  This is a very helpful place to ask about how people normally dress on the ship. Some are a lot more casual than others.
  6. Neutrals- I have already said neutral bottoms and shoes,  extend that to  your make up palette.  There are a lot of great neutral palettes out there  so that you won’t have to take every bit of makeup that you own!   There isn’t a lot of space in those bathrooms so you will thank me if you reduce the amount of stuff you take!
  7. Accessorize-  switch up your outfits by changing up the jewelry or other accessories.  That stuff doesn’t take up much room!
  8. Burrrr! – It can be cool in the dining rooms and all over the inside of the ship so you make need to take a shawl, sweater or light jacket.  This is a good way to change up one of those outfits you are going to wear more than once!
  9. Take 2- Bathing suits that is!  You may be in your suit everyday so this way you will always have one that is dry.  Nothing worse than putting on a cold wet suit first thing in the morning to go out to the pool!

 

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If you are cruising to Alaska, New England or another cool weather cruise most of this applies to you also, except the sun dresses!  Your best friend for these will be the extended forecast.  Make sure you keep up with that because temperatures can vary a lot.  When I went to Alaska it was unusually warm so I really could have done with fewer hoodies and less fleece.  For Alaska you will most likely need a good rain jacket.  You will need long pants or capris and a good jacket or two.  I went in June and only got cold if we were outside when the ship was sailing and on our whale watching excursion.  Make sure you consider the excursions you are taking when you are packing.  If you are going out to a glacier make sure you take warmer clothes!

**Travel pro tip:  When you get on the ship you will not have your luggage for awhile. It may get to you quickly or it could take a little longer than you would like.  I suggest making sure you have a small carry on with anything you will think you need the first day.  If you have been traveling in the morning you may want to freshen up or you may want your bathing suit so that you can hit the pool or hot tub.  I usually make sure I have at least one change of clothes and a little make up in there.  It is not a bad idea to pack a pair of yoga pants or shorts and a t shirt also in case you want to get comfy and rest in your cabin or go walk around the promenade deck.

I have recorded a short video with this that has some of my other packing tips.   If you have any questions please feel free to ask in the comments or contact me!

941-223-2438

traveltara1@gmail.com

 

 

 

Getting in the Christmas Spirit

Last weekend was a busy weekend with kids around here!  Friday night our youngest had a choir concert at Light up Middletown. The Community Center is in a beautiful old church and it is always beautiful!  First they light the light the tree outside and then Santa leads a parade to the Community Center and they have several choirs and soloists.  Maia’s choir did a wonderful job and were so cute.  I think I may miss these concerts when she goes to middle school next year!

Every year we make a trip to Madison, IN, my hometown, to do some Christmas shopping and wander around.  It’s a great little town if you haven’t visited before.   This year we went on the Nights Before Christmas Candlelight Tour.  In addition to homes like the Lanier home that are always open to the public, they have private historic homes open to visit.  They are all decorated for Christmas and the whole town is so festive it just gets you in the spirit.  We shopped at some of our favorite stores All about Soap, The Attic which has the world’s best coffee, The Cocoa Safari and milkshakes at Hinkle’s.  There may have been burgers at Hinkle’s too.  Because of the tour and limited time we had to skip some other favorites like The Little Golden Fox, but we will get there next time.

It was just a great little trip and the kids had fun too. As a matter of fact we had such a good time that I didn’t take pics!   I know!   Bad blogger!  Anyway,  I have posted some pics from Facebook and the Tour of Homes website as well as links to some of my favorite things about Madison and a video blog that shows some of the homes.

If you are ever interested Madison has a lot of nice little hotels, bed and breakfasts and restaurants.  If you have any questions about places to stay or things to do let me know!

http://nightsbeforechristmas.com/

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http://www.atticmadison.com/

http://visitmadison.org/listing/little-golden-fox/

http://cocoasafarichocolates.com/

http://www.hinkleburger.com/

My favorite breakfast

I have discovered over the years that one of the very best things about traveling is trying new foods. Sometimes you even find things to attempt to copy at home.  This happened when we stayed at Biltmore.  Breakfast at The Village Social was included in our stay.  I was expecting a buffet or a cheap basic breakfast, but NO!   They had a wonderful breakfast menu to choose from.    Ian got a typical breakfast but I chose the Crab and Pesto Scrambled Eggs.  Now I admit this could easily have gone wrong very quickly but I had to try it.  All I can say is WOW!  It was amazing.  Somewhere in the middle of this wonderful concoction was a bunch of new potatoes.  They were wonderful but I decided part of the way through this monster of a breakfast that they were just filler and needed to go.

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After breakfast Ian asked if I thought I could make it because he wanted it for all special holidays.  Or sometimes just because it was Sunday.  Since it was a pretty simple dish I said that it wouldn’t be a problem to attempt at home.   While we were shopping for all our Thanksgiving goodies Ian reminded me that I had said I could make it for holidays and sent me over to look for crab while we were shopping at Costco.  I found the crab, cringed a little at the price and told him this was now the most expensive breakfast that he had ever had and since it was Costco we might be having it more than one day.  It was a LOT of crab!

Thanksgiving morning rolls around and Ian bounds down the stairs full of excitement.  I tried to talk him into another day over the break but he was very insistent that it be ON Thanksgiving so off to the kitchen I go.

It is a pretty easy and impressive breakfast to make.  First you just scramble eggs however you prefer to scramble them. When they were close to being done I warmed up the crab in another pan.  I put the scrambled eggs on our plates and added pesto and mixed it up then put the crab on top. Then I grated fresh Parmesan cheese on top and it was done.  Ian was a happy, happy man.

Here is my version.

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About your stateroom

As you are planning your vacation be aware that there are a wide variety of cabin types and a wide range of prices for cabins.  You can book anything from a simple and small inside cabin or a luxurious suite. Basically you will have 4 main choices: inside, ocean view, balcony or suite.  Sometimes there are a wide variety of options within each category.   After choosing your category then you also have to choose the location of your room.  You will need to look at things like do you need to be near an elevator, do you want to be near the pool, do you want a room that is quieter, do you get seasick, do you plan on spending a lot of time in your room or is it just a place to get dressed and sleep?  These are all very important questions and can help you, or your travel agent, determine the right room for you.

You should be aware that most rooms are on the small side.  Storage is at a minimum and hopefully your  suitcases will fit under your bed. The bathrooms are usually very small.  As a matter of fact bending over to shave your legs can become a challenge.  *Travel tip: instead of trying to shave in the shower get out your conditioner and a wash rag.  Put your foot on the toilet lid and wet your leg then add some conditioner. You may need to add more water until you get a thin coat of conditioner on your leg.  Start shaving and rinse the razor in the sink.  Conditioner makes a great shave lotion and saves you from packing anything extra.  I did mention that rooms are small right?

Rooms on the Disney ships are a little larger and more designed for families.  Balcony cabins on most ships are a little larger than the other cabins also.  If space is something you need you may look into what ship and stateroom type is best for you.

I will be doing a video blog later this week on what to pack when you are cruising.  Remember though I said rooms are small?   The theme is going to be packing light! *Travel tip: Make sure you have what you need for the first day in your carry on.  Your luggage will be sent to your room sometime that day but there is no guarantee on what time.  You may want to put in your bathing suit and/or a change of clothes for dinner.  They usually get them to your room pretty quickly but it is better to be safe and plan ahead.

Some cruise lines like Norwegian are offering single rooms for anyone traveling solo.  I have heard that some married couples prefer them also in case one partner has trouble sleeping or snores.  Norwegian has a lounge area that is just for the solo travelers so that you can meet other singles easily if you want to be social.

Several cruise lines are also offering high end rooms that have special perks.  They may offer round the clock butler service, concierge service, free access to some parts of the spa, a private pool and sun deck as well as private lounges and/or dining areas.  With these options you usually get personally escorted onto and off the ship for priority embarkation and disembarkation.

Choosing a stateroom can be overwhelming when you see how many options there are.  If you have any questions feel free to contact me!

What will you eat while you are cruising?

The basic answer is, almost anything you want!  In case you haven’t cruised before here is a little idea of what to expect.

Dining rooms

Many cruise lines now give you the option of the more traditional seating or anytime seating.  With traditional seating you will have a seating time and be seated with the same group the entire trip in the same dining room and you will also have the same wait staff every night. For the more flexible dining you are able to eat in any dining room at any time.  Both options have a lot of advantages it just depends on what works best for you and your group.  In the formal dining rooms you will have a different menu every night of the cruise with several options for each course.  I have found this is a great way to try new things, I am an adventurous eater, without being afraid that I was paying a lot for a meal I wouldn’t like.  If you don’t like it they will normally bring you something else.  Sometimes I have been debating between 2 options and the waiter just brought me both!

There is usually a dress code in the dining rooms but usually business attire is appropriate.  You can find the dress code on your cruise lines website or you can ask your travel agent.  On some longer cruises there is a formal night but on most ships you do not have to be in formal wear to be seated.  A cocktail dress or suit is usually appropriate.  On cruise lines like Norwegian where all the dining is freestyle you will just be seated in an area of the dining room where guests are more casually dressed.

Breakfast and lunch are also usually served in the dining rooms but do not have a set seating time.

Buffet

Almost all cruise lines have a buffet option in case you do not want to dine in the dining room.  Dress is casual but they usually prefer no bathing suits.  On the buffet you will find more options than you can possibly try!  There is normally a wide variety of international foods on the buffet since the ships have travelers from all over the world.

Anytime dining

It is true that you can get food almost any time of the day.  The buffet is not always open but there are usually snack shops or a smaller buffet that will have things like burgers, fries and pizza.  Room services with a limited menu is also available almost 24 hours a day. There may be a service charge on some cruise ships for middle of the night orders or some hot meals.

Other Dining Options

Most food on the ship is included in your cruise fare.  Some ships now have other specialty dining options where they charge a fee.  These might include Japanese restaurants, Italian dining, celebrity chef’s restaurants or high end steak restaurants.  Many newer ships have several other casual dining options now some are included and some may charge.  Again you can find out what options are available by looking up your ship on the cruise line website or asking your travel agent.

Beverage packages

Some beverages are included in your cruise fare.  Usually coffee, tea, water and some juices.  Soft drinks and alcoholic beverages are not usually included.  If you plan on drinking a lot of soft drinks, beer or cocktails you may want to add a beverage package.  On some cruise line you can sometimes pick one “added value” free and sometimes the beverage packages are included in this.   A few cruise lines now have open bars on a few cruises.  I know Norwegian has this available on one ship that sails to the Bahamas.

 

Dietary Restrictions

If you have dietary restrictions most cruise lines can accommodate your needs.  It is best to call the cruise line or have your travel agent inquire about your specific needs before booking.

Afraid you will be bored on a cruise? Think again!

As I mentioned in a previous blog I have cruised to several destinations and I am always shocked when people say they don’t think there will be enough to do on the ship.  They think they will be bored.  THINK AGAIN!   On “at sea” days the cruise director staff has so many activities that you cannot possibly attend all of them.  They are a mix of fun, active, corny, educational and hilarious.  Often they have educational talks about whatever country or region you are going to from experts on the ship.  When I cruised in Alaska they had park rangers from Glacier Bay come out to the ship by a little boat and give talks about the park and glaciers.

For the more active person there are also a lot of options.  Some ships have go carts, watersides, surf simulators, indoor skydiving, rock walls,

ice rinks, zip lines, rope courses and a wide variety of fitness classes plus a great gym.  Activities like this vary a lot from ship to ship and a few of them might cost a little extra.

There are a lot of great shows and live music on the ship for most of the day and night.  The shows are amazingly good and you can find a wide variety of live performers in different areas of the ship.  If you would like to dance the night away there are usually ballroom dancing classes offered by the dancers from the shows.   There are also clubs with great music for dancing not of the ballroom variety.

For kids the pool area is always fun and they have kids camps available to  help keep them entertained.  I talked to a lot of parents on the ships that were unsure about the kids camps, and their kids weren’t really wanting to go, but after the first day they didn’t want to leave.  One parent went to pick up her child early and the child had a tantrum.  After that she showed up right as they were closing and was thrilled that she was having such a great time.  Some of the cruise lines only hire staff that have education degrees so they have fun and educational activities.

Cruise director activities could include bingo, hair leg contests by the pool, pool games like volleyball, cooking classes, liquor tastings, crafts, trivia games and many others.  It is ok to go ahead and be silly and enjoy some of these games or activities.  You are on vacation and it is time to let go and have fun!

On days in port there are fewer activities but they still have some, plus you can go out and explore the port or take a shore excursions.  And trust me, the only problem with shore excursions is narrowing down which one you want to take!  Some of the shore excursions I did were snorkeling in Alaska, whale watching, a train tour up the White Mountain pass, horseback riding, a ghost tour, garden tour, dolphin encounters and Sting Ray city in the Cayman Islands.  There are very active shore excursions or bus tours of the city/region where you are going.  If you want to spend a beach day there is usually a bus that will transport you to a nearby beach.

Ships also have amazing spas with a wide variety of services.  These are usually a little pricey so if that is something you are really interested in you may want to budget in a little more spending money.  These services book up quickly for at sea days so if you know you want to do this when you are at sea then book quickly once you get on the ship.

There is also gambling, great bars, shopping and don’t forget just sunbathing or enjoying the pool.  Many ships have adult only areas or pools so if this is important to you make sure your ship has this available.

Most ships offer a tour of available activities and areas of the ship like the spa or fitness area on the first day of the cruise.  You will get a list of all available activities delivered to your room the night before so you can plan the next day.

Why Cruise?

I have always had a lot of people ask me why I like to cruise. I have been on several cruises with my mother. We went to the Caribbean, Alaska and Hawaii. Each cruise line, destination and ship are unique but here are a few reasons I like it.
1. All Inclusive, kind of– Once you get the final price for your cruise you don’t have to pay anything except gratuities. You can pre-pay those or pay at the end of your cruise. Most cruise lines do let you change amounts and who gets tipped while you are on your cruise. Other things you may choose to include are drink packages, shore excursions and wi-fi. Depending on cruise line, destination and room category, you may be able to get at least one of these things for free.
2. EASY! – Once you get onto the ship everything is very easy. No more worries and let the vacation begin!
3. Something for everyone– You can honestly do as much or as little as you like on a ship. There are a lot of activities you can join in or you can do nothing. They all have a fitness center and group classes, spa, pool and handy dandy fun things planned by the cruise director and their staff. A lot of ships have fun things like water slides, ice rinks, surfing simulators and more. There are also a lot of entertainment options. There are also great kid’s camps on most ships with fun activities for kids of all ages.
4. You can be as social as you want- My mother always met all kinds of people on the ships. Some she stayed in touch with for years after.
5. Several destinations and only unpack once- yeah, that kind of rocks.
6. FOOD!!!– Yes the food on the ships is good, usually really really good. And plentiful. You should never have any problems finding something that everyone likes. Want to try something new but scared? No problem, if you don’t like it then you can get something else,,, and there is no charge!
7. Value My mother and I once went on a cruise for Christmas. The following year we decided to drive to Key West, she lived in FL so that was easy, and spend a couple of days. We spent 1 night in Key Largo and 3 nights in Key West. The 7 day cruise was cheaper.
8. Easy International Travel Many cruises stop in several countries. This means no or fewer international flights. Having recently done multiple international flights, trust me, so much easier!
Have any questions about cruising, feel free to ask!

Tara Travels My 6 Favorite Things About Biltmore

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Last week was my Fall Break from school, my day job is teaching in case you didn’t know. At kind of the last minute my husband decided to take a few days off so we could go somewhere. I decided to surprise him and not tell him where we were going. It has been so hot here that we both wanted a bit of a break so I decided not to go to FL and hit a beach or SeaWorld, both of which I really wanted to do! I had been to Biltmore before but he hadn’t and I thought that would make a great little romantic getaway. It’s only about a 5.5 hour drive from Louisville so perfect distance for getting away for a couple of days.
Here are the top things that we enjoyed about the Biltmore Estate. We stayed at The Village Hotel and I choose the Discover Biltmore Package which included breakfast at the Village Social, admission to the house and grounds for both days of our stay, an audio tour of the house and an additional tour. It also included shuttle service all around the grounds.
1.The VillageThe Antler Hill Village includes a restored barn and a lot of the equipment that was used in the farming of the land when George Vanderbilt and his children farmed the land. It is still a working farm but you don’t really see this as you tour the area. There was a working blacksmith there the day we visited and it was interesting to talk to him and watch him work. The Village also includes an ice cream shop, a snack bar, Cedric’s Tavern, The Outdoor Shop and some gift shops. There is an area where they sometimes have live music outside. It beautifully lit for enjoying at night.
Image may contain: sky, plant, tree, flower, outdoor and nature  The Village at Night
2.The groundsThere is 8,000 acres left of the original 125,000 acres. It was always designed to be a working farm. There are hiking trails, stables for trail rides and bikes to rent so that you can explore as much as you want. When George Vanderbilt bought the property most of the forest was gone because of logging. He had a vision of reforesting the land and preserving it. He hired Frederick Law Olmstead to help him with his vision. Fredrick Law Olmstead also created Central Park in New York and other parks that still exist around the country. There are 250 acres of a wooded park around the Biltmore estate.

Boat House at the Bass Pond
3. The Gardens and ConservatoryTo one side of the home are beautiful and elaborate gardens. There is an Italian Garden, Shrub Garden, Walled Garden, Rose Garden, Spring Garden and Azelea Garden, Deer Park and the Bass Pond and Lagoon. The walk down to the Bass Pond takes you through many of the gardens and it is a little bit of a hike. On the way back you can take a walk through one of the many wooded trails around the estate. The Conservatory is a beautiful greenhouse that provides many of the house plants and cut flowers for the house, just as it did in the days of the Vanderbilts.
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The Conservatory 

4. The Home The pictures just do not do it justice. The scale of the place is amazing and the history is so interesting. The home covers 4 acres and has 250 rooms, 33 family and guest bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, 65 fireplaces, 3 kitchens, an indoor bowling alley and indoor swimming pool. It was completed in 1895 and has 2 elevators and walk in refrigerators. As part of our package we got the self guided audio tour and an additional tour. We picked the Upstairs, Downstairs Tour. The guide was very knowledgeable about the home and the family history. It was a very interesting tour that takes you into the servants areas of the home to show you more of what day to day life would have been like for the servants and family at the time.
5. The FoodI am not going to say too much about the food here because it is getting it’s own blog tomorrow, but it was AMAZING!
6. Antler Hill Winery The winery offers free wine tastings of many of their wines. They also offer a tour of the winery and some specialty wine tastings for an additional fee. There is a nice gift shop and a Wine Bar where you can get a glass or bottle of wine and a cheese and/or charcuterie plate. There are tables inside and out at the Wine Bar as well as at some of the restaurants.
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Antler Hill Winery

Overall I think Biltmore is an amazing piece of history that is being maintained by the descendants of George Vanderbilt. It offers something for everyone. It would make a great girlfriend getaway, trip for foodies and wine lovers, those that love the outdoors and of course with all the gardens and beautiful views it was a great romantic trip.
To make the most of your trip here are a few tips:
  • Buy your tickets at least 7 days in advance online. They are cheaper.
  • You can get more than a day on the property even if you aren’t stay onsite. If your tickets are scanned in after 4:05 pm then you can spend the rest of the day on the property and the full day the next day. If you do this I recommend touring The Village and Winery the first day and driving around the property as well as enjoying Cedric’s Pub or one of the restaurants. The next day you can tour the gardens and house. You can also add an additional day for around $15 per person.
  • The tour of the house takes about 90 minutes and is a lot of walking up and downstairs. They do have an elevator for at least the main floor and upstairs but I don’t think you can tour part of the upstairs or the downstairs areas.
  • The house is very busy early in the day. Start the tour after lunch or even later.
  • If you want to visit the Bass Pond you can drive down there or you can walk down and pick up the shuttle, if you are staying on the grounds, by waiting till the shuttle drives by and holding out your shuttle passes and waving them down.
  • Fall prices are about double in the Asheville area as well as on the Biltmore property.
  • Don’t forget to visit Asheville while you are here!
Check out Tara Travels, @travelTara on Facebook for more photos of Biltmore and Asheville.