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.

The picture just does not do it justice.   20171027_090942 (1)

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.