New Years Eve in Orlando 2019 – Part I

New Years Eve in Orlando 2019 – Part I

Two months ago, I was not planning to spend New Years Eve in Orlando. I hoped to go skiing in Canada. However, when I suggested this to my dad - my travel companion for the weekend - he requested that we set our sights on a warmer locale.

The flights to and hotels in Orlando were surprisingly cheap for New Years Eve weekend. Furthermore, I had not yet seen the new half of Harry Potter World at Universal. I also suspected that Disney would have an awesome midnight celebration. After reading this article from blogger Tessa Koten about New Years at Epcot I was hooked. My dad and I booked our flights a few days before Christmas and we were on our way to celebrate the new year in Orlando!

Spirit Air Flight

Spirit Air; new years eve orlando; budget airline

The flights were surprisingly cheap in part because my dad and I flew budget airline Spirit Air. We chose Spirit because the airline offered direct flights to and from Orlando at reasonable times of day.

This was my first flight on Spirit Air. I had flown other budget airlines in Europe and Asia before so I was not as concerned as first-time budget travelers. Still, I set my expectations low.


When you fly a budget airline you must pay a fee for everything on top of your ticket price. The "upgrades" my dad and I paid for were one checked bag and BIG Front Seats. One checked bag was cheaper than two carry-ons. Plus, we wouldn't have to carry bags through the airport and we could bring full-size liquids. This upgrade was worth it until we had to get our bag from baggage claim in Orlando.

Checked Baggage

Many people (falsely) believe that budget airlines are cheap because they are not as safe as mainstream airlines. This is not true. To operate flights in the US or Europe, all airlines must pass the same safety inspections. Budget airlines are cheap because they make you pay for "extras" and they pay the lowest airport fees. Low airport fees means last priority when there is an airport-wide delay and when the baggage handlers need to unload checked bags.

It took almost an hour to leave the airport from the time my dad and I disembarked the plane. I don't normally check bags so I thought maybe this was normal. The other passengers made it clear this was an excessive amount of time. Because of this time, and because the personal baggage allotment is pretty large (the size of a small carry-on), I recommend against checking a bag on Spirit Air.

BIG Front Seat

spirit air; big front seat; first class; new years eve orlando

Enjoying our BIG Front Seats on the way to Orlando!

I do recommend booking the BIG Front Seat option. One of my cousins recommended this upgrade to my dad and I over Christmas. I hesitated to spend any additional money on what was supposed to be a budget-friendly vacation, but my dad convinced me it was worth it. The BIG Front Seats look like they are former first class passenger seats from Boeing 737 aircraft that Spirit bought at a discount. They are large and comfortable, but do not recline and do not offer in-seat entertainment. They also look used. Despite all these drawbacks, I felt like a first class passenger sitting in the seat, even though I had to bring my own food and water on-board.

Hilton Orlando Resort

After my dad and I finally obtained our checked luggage, an Uber took us to our hotel, the Hilton Orlando resort. I was amazed by this hotel. The lobby was huge. It included three restaurants, a cafe, and hotel shop. The outdoor area was even bigger. There were two giant pools, three hot tubs, a great lazy river, three-story water slide, pool bar, and outdoor games like volleyball and cornhole. Although the property was somewhat out of the way of everything, I am glad we stayed there. I would absolutely stay again next time I am in Orlando.

Outdoor Pool Area

hilton orlando; new years eve orlando; resort

I have been to Orlando numerous times before, so I expected the hotel to have a pool as most Orlando hotels do. The pool area at the Hilton Orlando was more than just another hotel pool. The main pool was about 100 meters long. The three hot tubs were well-spaced and large enough for multiple people to use them comfortably. The pool bar was centrally located and provided delicious food and drinks. It also had about six big-screen televisions broadcasting the college football bowl games. The water slide was as good as any you would find at a small water park.

The best part of the pool area, and the place where I spent most of my time, was the lazy river. It was warmer than the main pool but still refreshing. It allowed you to be in the water while still doing something, either sitting in an inner tube holding a drink or swimming along with the current.

Indoor Cafe and Restaurants

The cafe on the first floor of the resort was key to my vacation. It provided coffee and espresso drinks each morning. There was cheap drip coffee available in the hotel room, but purchasing a large iced caramel latte to begin the day meant I could stay on-the-go exploring the theme parks for 12+ hours without needing a break to either rest or get more coffee.

The on-site restaurants were decent as well. I only had the chance to try David's Club Bar & Grill, but it suited mine and my dad's needs perfectly. David's had two giant TVs in its lounge area with over-sized chairs and low tables in front of them. At the end of a long day of travel or day at the parks it was great to be able to settle into a chair, order a nice glass of wine and appetizer, and watch a few quarters of football on the large screen.

hilton orlando; resort; football lounge

Watching sports at David's Club

Universal Studios Orlando on New Years Eve Weekend

Six years ago I visited Universal Orlando's Islands of Adventure park to see Harry Potter World. About four years ago, Universal built a second Harry Potter World in Universal Studios park and added a ride on the Hogwarts Express connecting the two. You can only access the Hogwarts Express if you have a multi-park ticket. I was determined to ride the Hogwarts Express, so I insisted on buying the one-day Park-2-Park ticket. I have no regrets.

Harry Potter World

My first visit to Universal Studios was in 2001. My middle school best friend was spending her February vacation in Orlando, so my parents agreed to go on vacation there as well. We spent a full day going on rides like Back to the Future, JAWS, and the Hollywood Studios Tour. None of these rides exist anymore. Instead, areas depicting real places like New York City, San Francisco, and London have been created.

The London area was very well done. Though Kings Cross Station is miles from the Leicester Square Station tube stop in real London, I was impressed that everything looked very authentic.

After admiring the authenticity as I walked along the typical London street, I quickly found myself moving away from London and into another city. I stopped to pause. Where was Diagon Alley? And the Escape from Gringotts ride? How had I missed them?

I asked a nearby vendor where the entrance was to Gringotts (the Harry Potter Wizarding Bank). She pointed to the Leicester Square Station entrance, a large red brick building. Standing in front of the station, I peered into a large opening in the front wall. A second wall was set back a few feet. It looked like the entrance to the bathroom at an airport or sports stadium. I expected to find a long line of people waiting to go on the Escape from Gringotts ride on the other side of the wall.

universal orlando; harry potter world; new years eve orlando; diagon alley; london

London street and entrance to Diagon Alley

Inside Diagon Alley

Instead, as my dad and I turned the corner around the stack of bricks, Universal Studios Orlando disappeared and Diagon Alley opened up before our eyes! I don't know what type of illusory magic Universal used to create this effect, but I definitely couldn't see the four blocks of three-story wizard buildings from the park, and aside from the occasional helicopter passing overhead, I thought I was in Diagon Alley, London, while standing in its square. Magical shops lined the streets, including Honeydukes sweets, Olivander's wand shop, the Weasley's Wizard Wheezes joke shop, Borgin & Burkes, and the Leaky Cauldron pub. In the center of it all was Gringotts with a dragon perched high on the roof.

gringotts; diagon alley; harry potter world; universal orlando

First View of Diagon Alley, with the dragon on top of Gringotts shooting fire every so often

honeydukes; diagon alley; harry potter world; universal orlando

Every kind of magical sweet you could imagine was available at Honeydukes! I bought the Fizzing Whizbees

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Weasley's Wizard Wheezes inviting shoppers in

harry potter world; vanishing cabinet; borgin and burkes; knockturn alley; diagon alley; universal orlando

Vanishing Cabinet in Borgin & Burkes

Most of the tourists were wearing various forms of Harry Potter paraphernalia, while children dressed in full wizard robes. Olivander's was selling interactive magic wands that would cause different effects around the Alley, such as making a stone frog fountain squirt water at passersby. Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Orlando exceeded my expectations. It felt as real as an imaginary place could be.

Escape from Gringotts

The Escape from Gringotts ride is a 4D adventure inside the wizard bank. It follows the story from Harry Potter book seven where Harry, Ron, and Hermione break into Gringotts bank to visit an evil wizard's vault. They have to spontaneously come up with an escape plane when the bank's security devices remove the enchantments the trio used to break in.

gringotts; escape from gringotts; universal orlando; harry potter world; diagon alley

Watch the goblins work as you wait to enter the bank's vault

Thirty minutes after the park opened the wait for the ride was already four hours long. There was no way I was spending almost half my day in line for one ride no matter how good it was. Luckily there was a "single riders" line option. Theme park rides that offer single rider lines are the best. Individuals in these lines fill empty space in carriages on rides to ensure ride efficiency. Unless you really want your souvenir photo screaming on a roller coaster with your friends there's no reason not to use the single riders line. My dad and I bypassed the four hour wait and were on the ride in 15 minutes!

Hogwarts Express

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My expectations for the Hogwarts Express were mild. Because this was my only opportunity to ride on the "Hogwarts Express," I wanted to experience it. I expected the ride to be a normal train that would slowly move between the two parks in a couple minutes. Instead, Universal made it into another ride experience.

To get on the ride at Kings Cross, guests go "through" the wall between platforms 9 and 10 to platform 9 3/4. Universal set up an illusion glass in the train station so approaching guests see those ahead of them disappearing into the wall. Such a neat effect!

Once on the train the compartment door closes and scenes of London streets are shown out the window. The streets turn to the English and Scottish countrysides. The scenery includes the Glenfinnan Viaduct and dementors flying by. On the other side of the compartment, shadows of Harry, Ron, and Hermione pass by. When the train reaches Universal Islands of Adventure in Hogsmeade, Hagrid greets you as you arrive. For someone who grew up always wanting to receive my "letter" and be whisked away to Hogwarts, this was an incredible experience. Universal did its best to make it as real as it possibly could be.

london; hogwarts express; diagon alley; hogsmeade; hogwarts; universal orlando; islands of adventure park

Watching London's streets pass by in the window

Hogsmeade Village and Hogwarts

I did not spend much time in the Hogsmeade area, having already visited in 2013. Almost nothing had changed. The one difference I noticed was the Dragon Challenge roller coaster ride was missing. It was demolished in 2017 to make room for a new Harry Potter roller coaster attraction, hopefully opening soon.

My dad and I wandered around the village, went on the Forbidden Journey ride in Hogwarts Castle (still the best Harry Potter ride I think), then grabbed some Butterbeer and left Harry Potter World to look for better food and explore the rest of the park.

Universal Islands of Adventure Park

Islands of Adventure has eight different "lands" within the park. For lunch, we went to the Lost Continent for some healthy Mediterranean food: a gyro, a Greek salad, and a hummus plate. After lunch we sought out a mild ride to go on while digesting.

Poseidon's Fury

poseidons fury; islands of adventure; universal orlando; new years eve orlando

I did not know what the Poseidon's Fury ride entailed when we got in line for it after lunch. The park guide at the entrance said we would be standing on our feet the entire time. We entered the first room of the "ride" after about 20 minutes in line and the show began. As soon as the actress started talking, I knew I had done this ride before. I thoroughly regretted going on it again.

Poseidon's Fury is not really a ride. It is a show with an actress pretending to be a junior archaeologist who "wakes up" Poseidon and his rival Greek god. She gets the group stuck underground in a dig site where the gods engage in battle. Guests go into a few different rooms, which involves walking through a somewhat-cool water tunnel. They see a final performance with a lot of water and fire effects that are sort of neat in the last room. I would skip this attraction if you are looking for anything more exciting during your visit.

Jurassic Park

jurassic park; universal orlando; islands of adventure; orlando new years eve

The next land my dad and I visited was Jurassic Park. We went on the river raft ride in 2013, but the giant log flume ride provided some action and entertainment, so we went on it again. This was another ride where the single riders line potentially saved us hours of waiting in line. Admittedly I'm not a huge fan of rides that include a large drop. I closed my eyes at the top of the crest when our boat went down the flume, but it was still fun! My dad, who is much more afraid of heights than I am, made fun of me afterwards because he kept his eyes open the whole time.

Skull Island

Our final stop for the day was the Kong ride on Skull Island. This ride always has a long wait. We decided to wait this time because we had never gone on it before and it seemed highly popular.

skull island; king kong; universal orlando; islands of adventure

One of the features to distract guests while waiting in line

WARNING: If you cannot get on the Kong ride within 15 minutes, do not wait in line. We must have been on our feet for two hours going through the twists and turns Universal uses to prevent guests from seeing the long line around the corner. In the end, the ride was three-minutes long. King Kong appears on some screens next to you and the large caravan you're in shakes a little.

Waiting so long to go on this unimpressive ride did us in for the day. We took the Hogwarts Express back to Universal Studios, walked through a few more areas of that park, and then went back to the hotel to get some dinner and relax.

Part II: New Years Eve Day at Epcot coming soon!

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Learn about the good and bad available
Learn about the good and bad at Universal Orlando's Harry Potter World and Islands of Adventure through stories about visiting on New Year's Eve weekend.
How to Celebrate the Christmas Season in London

How to Celebrate the Christmas Season in London

London is my favorite city in which to celebrate the Christmas season!

When I was in law school, I had the privilege of spending a Fall semester studying at University College London and living in Holland Park. During this time, I experienced my first Christmas season in London. I had no idea an entire city could be so festive and enveloped in the Christmas or holiday spirit!

In the United States, most people feel that we Americans must wait until after the Thanksgiving holiday to begin our Christmas celebrations. Because the British do not have this restriction, they begin decorating and celebrating around the second week of November. This provides ample time to enjoy the city's decorations and participate in all its Christmastime activities. While the Christmas season is ending soon, if you ever have the opportunity to visit London in November or December, definitely take advantage of it and enjoy celebrating Christmas in London!

Trying to plan a trip to London? Check out this post about the best ways to get there!

Hyde Park Winter Wonderland

If you only have time for one Christmas activity in London, you must go to Hyde Park's Winter Wonderland! Filled with Christmas markets, refreshments, music, and activities (including an outdoor skating rink), Hyde Park's Winter Wonderland has something for everyone. This market was the highlight of my time in London, and will be the first thing I do the next time I am in London for Christmas.

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Entrance to the Winter Wonderland Park

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Salmon filets being smoked on cedar planks over an open fire in the market

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Me posing with a wood-carved viking while holding delicious mulled wine

winter wonderland; hyde park; london; christmas

The entrance to one of the rides in the carnival part of the market: my friends and I never learned why the signs were in German.

winter wonderland; hyde park; london; christmas

One of the many outdoor bars in the market, this one with an apres-ski theme

winter wonderland; hyde park; london; christmas

Enjoying drinks on the moving carousel bar in the center of the market

Best Christmas Decorations in London

The entire city of London is decorated for Christmas. Some of the best places to enjoy the decorations are on the streets of the city center and at the department stores, where you can enjoy both the window displays and the interior decorations.

On the Streets

Canarby Street; london; christmas

Giant birds welcoming you to the Christmas in Canarby celebration on Canarby Street

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Giant light sets over Regent Street

Department Stores

liberty london; christmas

Liberty London department store adorned with its lit Christmas trees


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Harrod's Christmas window display featuring a glamorous train ride

harrods; london; christmas

Harrod's Christmas window display

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A window display at Selfridge's, featuring hot items among winter landscapes (here Beats by Dre)

selfridges; london; christmas

Play Dough spilling out over a Christmas landscape in another Selfridge's window display

selfridges; london; christmas

Christmas decorations are put up inside Selfridge's as well


London Christmas Markets

Germany may be the country best-known for its Christmas markets, but London offers over a dozen to pick from throughout the city. Each market is unique. Though I would recommend visiting as many as possible - even just to wander around with a cup of mulled wine - so long as you get to one you will have the unique London Christmas market experience.

southbank market; london; christmas

Wooden cabins are erected for each shop at the Southbank Centre Christmas Market along the South bank of the Thames River

southbank market; london; christmas

Christmas markets stretch for many blocks and each hut contains unique gifts for purchase, like Himalayan salt candles and alpaca capes.

notting hill; london; christmas

The Christmas celebrations extend out to other areas of London, like Portobello Market in Notting Hill. There, this Caribbean Santa and his drummer bring a tropical element to the market with carols played on a steel drum.

mulled wine; chirstmas market; london; chirstmas

Vats of mulled wine are a must at any British (and European) Christmas market.

Christmas Activities in London

Once you have had your fill of walking around London's Christmas markets and looking at the decorations, you can continue to enjoy the other activities available throughout the city. Finding an outdoor skating rink is one of the most popular activities. You may also happen upon a street party, as I did on the opening night of Carnaby Street's Christmas festivities. Westfield London helps children and families visit Santa's Grotto each year. There are always the typical London highlights to partake in as well, such as going for a ride on the London Eye or seeing a show in the West End, made extra special with a Christmastime flare at this time of the year.

ice skating; london; christmas

Ice skating at the outdoor rink next to the Natural History Museum is one of the most popular Christmastime events.

canarby street party; london; christmas

A scene from the Canarby Street Christmas opening party

santas grotto; westfield; london; christmas

Santa's Grotto, which you can find at Westfield's shopping centre in Shepherd's Bush

Christmas Dinner in London

Starting in September you will see British restaurants advertising for customers to make reservations for Christmas dinner. Many locals will celebrate Christmas in London with their friends in the weeks leading up to December 25th by going out for a proper dinner.

I was fortunate to attend two such gatherings when I lived there: a party at Little Bay Farringdon with my school program and a celebration at The Oak in Westbourne Park with my roommates. (N.B. the Farringdon location has since closed, but the restaurant still has locations in Battersea and South Croydon). Christmas dinner is something Londoners place great emphasis on. Be sure to make your reservations early and enjoy this popular tradition!

Discover more Top London Restaurants in this post!

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Pre-Christmas dinner drinks at The Oak

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My school group ready for the 4-course prix fixe Christmas dinner at Little Bay Farringdon

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The best things to see and do in London at Christmastime
The best things to see and do in London at Christmastime
What to Do in Denver in Every Season

What to Do in Denver in Every Season

Have you ever wondered what to do in Denver if you’re planning to visit at a particular time of the year? Denver is one of the best cities to visit at any time, whenever your schedule allows! The city offers four seasons of fun and has activities that will appeal to everyone. Denver residents are known for their healthy lifestyles, so most activities will also promote an active vacation!

Planning a trip out West? Check out Weekend Adventures in Portland, OR for more adventures for your U.S. trip!

What to Do in Denver in the Winter

When most people think of vacation in Denver, they immediate think of skiing and snowboarding. Given that there are dozens of mountains just an hour or two away from the city, this makes sense. Hop on Route 70 from the Denver airport, take a scenic ride through the Rocky Mountains, and pick your ski resort!

Loveland Ski Area – Day Trip

Skiing at Loveland Ski Area; what to do in denver in the winter; denver; winter; rocky mountains


If you want to experience Denver-area skiing and snowboarding for a day, head to the Loveland Ski Area. Just an hour from Denver, this ski area does not have an accompanying resort so it is meant for day trips. Loveland is a smaller mountain that has many great trails for beginners. Even so, there is still enough intermediate and advanced terrain for experienced skiers and snowboarders to have fun for a day too.

Loveland Pass; what to do in Denver in the winter; rocky mountains

If you have time after your day on the mountain, continue ten minutes up route 6 from the ski area to the Loveland Pass and take a photo on top of the Continental Divide.

Loveland Pass; what to do in Denver in the winter; rocky mountains

Keystone Resort – Weekend or Full Week

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About an hour and a half outside of Denver, Keystone Resort is a mid-sized ski resort perfect to visit for a few days. You can stay right on the mountain, or check out accommodations in the nearby town of Keystone, CO. The mountain itself is welcoming to skiers of all levels. Even beginners can enjoy spectacular views from the summit before making their way down the mountain. Expert skiers looking for a wilderness experience can take the Outback lift to an off-piste area that is part of the mountain. With 148 trails covering 3,148 acres, Keystone Resort provides enough skiing and snowboarding opportunities to last a few days. When your group is ready for a break, head to the Keystone ski village to enjoy a hot chocolate and gaufre liège.

Want more ski resort recommendations? Check out the Best New England Ski Resorts post!

What to Do in Denver in the Spring

Cherry Creek Bike Ride

what to do in denver in the spring; bike ride; biking; nature ride; cherry creek trail; cherry creek river

what to do in denver in the spring; bike ride; biking; nature ride; cherry creek trail; cherry creek river

The Cherry Creek Trail is a 42-mile pedestrian and bike path that runs along the Cherry Creek River. It begins in Downtown Denver and travels South to Castle Rock, CO. If you’re feeling really adventurous, you could bike the entire path. Otherwise, rent a bike in the city from any B-Cycle Station and spend a few miles cycling peacefully by the river as it runs through town. If you choose to leave the path, most Denver city roads are bike-friendly as well.

Colorado Rockies Baseball Game

Watching a live baseball game is the perfect way to spend a Spring afternoon or evening in America! The Colorado Rockies play at Denver’s Coors Field in downtown Denver.  Major League Baseball’s 2019 Opening Day is scheduled for March 28. This early start gives you plenty of opportunities to pick up day-of tickets if you decide to attend a game while you’re in town.

What to Do in Denver in the Summer

Elitch Gardens

elitch gardens; what to do in denver in the summer; theme park; water park

Summer is for theme parks and water parks! Forego the big-name commercial theme parks for a chance to step back in history at Denver’s Elitch Gardens. The gardens have been running continuously since they opened in 1890 as a garden and zoo. The first theme park ride, the carousel, premiered in 1928 and is still operating today. Many other rides in the park may look familiar to patrons from around the country: I recognized a number of rides as duplicates of those I spent many years on at Lake Compounce Theme Park in Bristol, Connecticut. Don’t forget to pack a bathing suit for the water park too, which is included in your admission ticket!

Rocky Mountain National Park

what to do in denver in the summer; rocky mountain national park; hiking; colorado; outdoors

what to do in denver in the summer; rocky mountain national park; hiking; colorado; outdoors

Hiking is considered a year-round activity in Colorado, but the best time to go is in the Summer. Temperatures in the higher altitudes will drop quickly, even when it is 90 degrees in the city. Go on your hike prepared with appropriate pants and a sweater. The best hiking in the area is in Rocky Mountain National Park. The park is about an hour and a half North of Denver. Hiking in the park is not strenuous itself, but if you are not used to the higher altitudes, you may become out of break quicker than usual. This is normal and you are not suddenly out of shape, it is just the new altitude! Be sure to carry water with you and go slowly if you experience this strange phenomenon.

What to Do in Denver in the Fall

Denver Broncos Football Game

As with baseball in the Spring, American football in the Fall is a quintessential American activity. Denver’s football team, the Broncos, play at the Mile High Stadium located in downtown Denver. If you want to catch a game, you could swing by after Sunday brunch, pick up a ticket, and head right into the stadium for kickoff. However, if you do that you may miss out on the best part of football: tailgating! To participate in tailgating, make your way to the parking lots outside the stadium a few hours before kickoff. Wander around the tailgate parties and engage with the fans. You may even be invited to partake in a game of cornhole (bean bag toss) or enjoy a beer with fellow Broncos fans at their tailgates.

Stanley Hotel in Estes Park

stanley hotel; the shining; stephen king; what to do in denver in the fall; what to do in denver in autumn; halloweek; horror; estes park

stanley hotel; the shining; stephen king; what to do in denver in the fall; what to do in denver in autumn; halloweek; horror; estes park

If you’re a fan of Halloween and horror stories, you don’t want to miss the Stanley Hotel in October. This is the hotel on which Stephen King’s “The Shining” book and subsequent movie is based. Eerie in its own right, the hotel leans into its haunted fame to host Twin Terror Weekends leading up to Halloween. Visit the hotel to take a tour, explore the grounds, attend a party, or stay overnight if you want the full experience.

What to Do in Denver at Any Time

Museum of Nature & Science

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Stuck inside on a rainy day? Too cold to explore the city? Looking for someplace to take the kids? Check out Denver’s Museum of Nature & Science. Even if you’ve been before, the rotating exhibits guarantee there will be something new to see next time. For example, I saw awesome exhibits on Whales and the Silk Road a few years ago that are long gone. Next time, I would love to go see the current Cuba! exhibit. Depending on the weather, after your museum visit you can meander through the bordering Denver City Park and make your way over to the nearby Denver Zoo (also located in the park).

REI Flagship Store

what to do in denver; rei; flagship store; rock wall; climbing wall

If you are interested in outdoor activities or shopping, be sure to stop at the REI Flagship store when you are in Denver. Sitting on the banks of the Cherry Creek and Colorado Rivers, this store offers much more than a chance to buy new hiking boots. There are free outdoor sports seminars, a cold room that lets you try cold gear, and the best attraction: a 3-story indoor climbing wall! Unlike your local REI, this is a destination, not just a store.

N.B. This post contains affiliate links. That means if you click on a link and make a purchase, I may receive some commission at no additional cost to you.

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Planning a trip to Denver? Check out this post for activities available year round in the city and surrounding area!

What to Do in Denver in Every Season: list of activities in this awesome city for any time you may be visiting!

Best Christmas Gifts for All Types of Travelers

Best Christmas Gifts for All Types of Travelers

Black Friday is here! The holiday season is upon us! If you’re looking for the best Christmas gifts for your traveler, you can’t go wrong with any of the following options.

Looking for more recommended travel products? Check out the post 15 Luxury Travel Essentials.

For the One who Loves a Weekend Getaway

Does your traveler seem to visit a new city every weekend? If your traveler is able to see the world without using all their vacation time, the following items are essential Christmas gifts this year.

Weekender Bag

longchamp; bag; weekender; travel

The perfect bag to take on weekend getaways will fit three or four outfits and a few essential products without being too cumbersome. Any carry-on sized bag will do, but this Longchamp travel bag fits the bill perfectly. Its soft sides are flexible so the bag will fit anywhere: stuffed into a trunk for a road trip, in a train’s overhead compartment, or under the plane seat in front of you. The nylon of which it is made cleans up easily, making this bag low maintenance as well.

Travel-sized Versions of their Favorite Toiletries

perfume; rollerball; travelMost weekend travelers getting on airplanes will only be bringing a carry-on bag with them. This means they will be subjected to the 3 oz or 100 mL liquid restriction. This year for Christmas, pick up some travel-sized versions of your traveler’s favorite toiletries and give them one less thing to worry about while packing. A roller-ball perfume of their favorite scent is perfect because it is long-lasting and spill-proof.

For the One Traveling the World for Weeks at a Time

Shopping for gifts for the experienced traveler who takes off around the world for weeks at a time may leave you lost and confused. What do you buy for the person who prefers experiences to things? Any of the items below, of course!

Extendable Bag

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Like the weekender above, a soft-sided nylon carry-on bag is the perfect Christmas gift for any traveler. Unlike the weekend traveler, though, the globetrotter will need a bag that will fit weeks worth of clothing and all their souvenirs while retaining its carry-on compliant size. This extendable bag can be packed in its smaller state before hitting the road, and then expanded while traveling to fit an extra 1/3 of items! Even in its expanded state, this bag is still carry-on size. Pick one up for your worldwide traveler today!

Passport-Sized Money Belt

moneybelt; worldwide travel; travel gifts

Most worldwide travelers are likely to visit at least one country or city where they need to keep an eye on their belongings at all times. While I am usually a big fan of cross-body bags for this purpose, a money belt that can be worn under clothes is even more secure. Get one that fits your traveler’s passport, phone, cards, and cash. It is stylish enough to be worn outside of clothes of you so choose, and flat enough to be worn under clothes without detection.

Worldwide Outlet Adapter

power adapter; worldwide travel; universal adapter

Did you know that the different plug types throughout the world are a result of international trade restrictions? For the traveler planning to visit many different regions with different outlets, help them pack as lightweight and compact as possible with this universal outlet adapter.

For the Study Abroad Student

Is your child, relative, or friend heading off to live and study in a different country after the holidays? Help them adjust to life abroad by picking up the following essential items as Christmas gifts this year (I would know, I’ve studied abroad twice!).

Eyewitness Top 10 City Guide

travel guide; top 10; eyewitness travel

I picked up an Eyewitness Top 10 travel guide eight years ago before a trip to Amsterdam. Since then, I have sworn by this series when visiting a new city. These books include the top 10 of everything in a city, including restaurants, nightlife, and off-the-beaten-path attractions. Your study abroad student will easily be able to find the famous monument, museum, or church in his or her new town: help them experience the ins and outs of their new city with this in-depth travel guide.

Home Country Flag

american flag; flag; dorm room; travel guide

From what I’ve seen, most expats and Erasmus students hang up a flag representing their home country in their bedroom within a month or two of arriving in a new country, even if they are not overly patriotic. It is a symbol of pride for many people and also provides a sense of comfort and familiarity to the owner.

Home Country Food

peanut butter; american food; travel guide

Perhaps even stranger than the idea of gifting a country flag is the idea of stuffing your study abroad student’s suitcase full of peanut butter or other local foods from home. The number one care package request for American study abroad students seems to be jars of peanut butter. Buying them as a Christmas gift will be considerably cheaper than shipping tubs of peanut butter internationally when you receive a call that the half-cup jar of peanut butter costs $10, or worse, peanut butter doesn’t exist in the country in which your student is living. Other popular American foods to request include pop tarts, Kraft mac & cheese, and chocolate chips. Alternatively, Australian students living abroad will need their Vegemite and French expats should bring French Nutella with them (the stuff sold in the USA and Canada is made with a different recipe and just doesn’t taste the same).

Hide This (Language) Phrase Book

phrase book; translation; foreign language dictionary

If your student will be living in a country where the common language is not English, they will probably need a foreign language dictionary. Instead of buying them a boring [language]-English dictionary with each word and its translation listed in alphabetical order, pick up a phrase book from the “Hide This Book” series. Not only will your study abroad traveler learn useful phrases in context, but the series also provides cultural notes to help your student assimilate quicker and avoid cultural faux pas. Despite what the cover and advertising says, most phrases presented in the book are benign and used in everyday conversation.

For the One who Needs the Luxuries of Life with Them on the Road

If your traveler is the one who packs a giant suitcase for four days away because they never know when they must use their personal hair dryer, they will appreciate the following Christmas gifts under the tree this year.

Travel-Sized Luxury Hand Cream

hand cream; lotion; travel sized

One of the worst-yet-inevitable parts of travel is the dryness experienced on airplanes. Instead of stranding your luxury traveler without lotion 38,000 feet in the air, buy them a high-end travel-sized hand cream this Christmas. Tocca sells sets under 100 mL with floral scents named after European sites. Their hand creams include ingredients like avocado oil and shea butter so your luxury traveler won’t miss their full-size bottle for a few days.

Travel Jewelry Organizer

travel jewelry organizer; travel guide

Arriving at your destination and having to spend a half hour untangling all your necklaces and bracelets and then having to find that missing earring that made its way to the bottom of your bag is not the best way to begin a vacation. If this scenario is familiar to your luxury traveler, buy her a travel jewelry organizer this year for Christmas so she never has to go through this again!

Looking to supplement this gift with a piece of jewelry? Check out the collection at Use the code FFT30OFF for 30% off anything on the site now through Cyber Monday, or the code FFT15OFF for 15% off any other time!

Bath Bombs

bath bomb; lush; travel guide; luxury travel

After many hours of traveling, there’s probably nothing your luxury traveler would enjoy more than to spend some time soaking in a relaxing bath. Help enhance that experience with the gift of a scented bath bomb, filled with skin-softening oils and soothing colors that will diffuse into the water. Bath bombs are small and non-liquid so they are easy to pack and take anywhere your luxury traveler may go.

For the One who Will Actually Lose Weight on Vacation

Fitness on vacation can be fun! If your traveler is the one who fits in fitness everywhere he or she goes, surprise him or her with one of the following Christmas gifts this year.


fitbit; fitness; fit travel; travel guide

Perhaps your fit traveler already has a pedometer. If not, pick one up for them this holiday season. Most people visiting a new city will walk over 20,000 steps per day! Anyone who is into health and fitness will want to track this metric, even if its only purpose is to enjoy the local dessert without guilt later that evening.

Drawstring Bag


This versatile drawstring bag will be essential in numerous fit-travel situations. Whether your traveler is going to spend the day hiking Machu Picchu or taking a bicycle tour of Havana, a drawstring bag will allow them to take all their necessary belongings along while keeping their hands free. Pick up a deluxe version with a front pocket and space for a water bottle for the ultimate fit-travel Christmas gift.

Class Pass Membership or Gift Card

classpass; travel fitness

ClassPass is the perfect gym membership for your fit traveler. Membership is not limited to a single studio or even a single city. ClassPass is connected to studios throughout the USA, Canada, the UK, and Australia. It is currently focusing on expansion around Asia and Europe within the next year. This means your fit traveler will be able to pop into a fitness class no matter where the are for the cost of a single gym membership! Membership is quickly and easily transferable between cities, so your traveler won’t feel restricted with this Christmas gift.

For Everyone!

No matter which category above your traveler fits into, everyone can benefit from the following items!

Memory Foam Travel Pillow Kit


I cannot emphasize this enough: a memory foam travel pillow, like this one from Cabeau, is life-changing for any traveler. You or your traveler will get the best sleep they’ve ever had on an airplane with a memory foam pillow. The newest version also includes straps to attach the pillow to the airplane seat, so your traveler won’t end up on the shoulder of the stranger next to them! If you’re looking for a great travel Christmas gift, purchase the entire travel pillow kit, including a sleep mask and ear plugs.

Compact Digital Camera


Digital cameras went out of style with the advent of the smartphone. Recently, they’ve become an important travel companion again for the serious traveler. Smartphones are great for capturing many photos throughout a trip that can be shared quickly, but for the really great travel photos a digital camera is a must. Unless your traveler is a travel photographer, don’t weigh them down with a large camera. Instead, pick up a compact digital camera that is easy to throw into a carry-on bag and pull out at any time to capture the best moments of your traveler’s trip.

Happy shopping!

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This year's best Christmas or holiday gifts for your traveler: the weekend, the world traveler, the study abroad student, the luxurious traveler, the fit traveler, or whoever may be on your list!


N.B. This post includes affiliate links. If you purchase an item through one of the links in this article, I receive compensation at no additional cost to you. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.


Spring Weekend Adventures in Portland, Oregon

Spring Weekend Adventures in Portland, Oregon

"Where are you from and where are you going?"

"I'm from Boston and am going to Portland."

"Why don't you just take the train?"

I had this conversation with a stranger at Boston's Logan airport as we were both waiting for our delayed flights one night in May. I thought it was obvious I was flying across the country to Portland, Oregon, and not traveling up the coast a few miles to Portland, Maine, but I guess it was not.

The stranger's confusion was not unfounded. When Portland, OR, was founded in 1845, its name was decided by a coin toss. The two founding settlers were from Boston, Massachusetts, and Portland, Maine. They both wanted to name the new city after their respective former cities. The disagreement was settled by flipping a penny, and the settler from Maine won. Thus Portland, OR, was named after Portland, ME. The penny involved is on display at the Oregon Historical Society Museum in Portland.

I did not have a chance to see the penny when I visited Portland in May for the first time. However, the things I was able to do and see on my visit caused me to fall in love with the city. Boston will always be my home, but if I were ever forced to relocate, I think I would pick Portland without hesitation.

Lake Oswego: A Portland Suburb

My trip began in the upscale Portland suburb of Lake Oswego. The purpose of my visit was to see one of my best friends graduate from Lewis and Clark Law School, which is located in Lake Oswego. I arrived a day before anyone else, so I had a full day to explore the area on my own.

Downtown Lake Oswego

My first stop was a local spin studio. I wanted to take advantage of the three hour time difference from Boston by waking up early and having a full day of activities. Using my global Class Pass account to schedule an early-morning spin class at StarCycle, I was able to get in some fitness before a day of tourist activities. The studio was very welcoming and accommodating considering I was just stopping by for the day!

starcycle; spin; portland; oregon; lake oswego; travel fitness

After class, I treated myself to a pedicure at Tiffany Nails and Spa. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that clients received a free drink with their service. I opted for a strawberry mimosa, light on the champagne. When I mentioned this to my friend later, I learned that it is commonplace at nail salons in Oregon to offer free drinks with the services. Boston, take note!

I ended my morning in Lake Oswego by grabbing a pain au chocolat from the St. Honoré Bakery and taking a quick walk down by the lake. It was still a little chilly in mid-May, but I could tell the area would be gorgeous in the summer.

lake oswego; portland; oregon

Lake Oswego from the edge of the downtown area

Accommodation and Restaurant Recommendations

My friends and I stayed at the Residence Inn by Marriott* in Lake Oswego, which had an upscale summer-camp feel. Each residence had its own door, and our two-bedroom suite had two floors. The grounds were large and offered many amenities, including a pool, tennis, volleyball, and a fire pit. The hotel was nice, but if I returned in the summer, I would stay at the Lakeshore Inn* on the water in the downtown center. Its location and many water-sport offerings - like swimming and kayaking - would make for a wonderful vacation.

lake oswego; residence inn; marriott

Balcony and front door of our hotel room.

During my trip, I enjoyed an incredible meal at the Oswego Grill. This restaurant offers delicious steak, chicken, Pacific-caught fish, and vegetarian meals. The chefs also easily accommodated many various food allergies at the table, including a corn intolerance. It is the perfect restaurant for a nice, relaxing meal on vacation.

lake oswego grill

Celebrating my friend's law school graduation at the Lake Oswego Grill

Willamette Valley Vineyards

Being a wine-lover, I could not visit Oregon without exploring at least one vineyard. Before my trip, I researched some of Oregon's well-known wine regions. Dundee Hills, which is part of the famous Willamette Valley region, was only 15 minutes from my hotel. After my morning in downtown Lake Oswego, I hopped in my rental car and headed to Dundee Hills for the afternoon.

Rex Hill

My first stop was Rex Hill Vineyard. An "essence table" greeted me in the lobby. You have probably heard wines described as having a certain "nose" and tasting like things other than wine, such as blackberries, cherries, or even leather. The essence table had 24 glasses filled with various fruits, spices, and minerals that one could use to describe wine. Guests were meant to smell the items on the table then associate those smells with their wines while they had tastings. I did not make many associations during my tasting, but I had fun smelling my way around the table!

essence table; rex hill; willimette valley

I choose to sit outside on the deck during my tasting. The sommelier first brought me some cheese biscuits to enjoy with my wine. He then brought out each of the six wines for my tasting one at a time. The pours began with the recent rosé vintage, then moved on to the typical Oregon Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs.

rex hill

Because the vineyard was not crowded, the sommelier had time to tell me the history of the vineyard and the wines. Most interestingly, I learned about the ancient Missoula floods that occurred when the Ice Age ice receded from the region. The floods started in Montana, ran all the way to the Pacific Ocean, and then slowly receded. This created rocky terrain, which causes the grape vine roots to dig deeper into the soil than in other regions. The effect is a deeper flavor in the wine, closer to that of a Syrah than your typical Pinot Noir. This lesson, along with my tasting, gave me a new appreciation for American wines.

Red Hills Market

The Red Hills Market was highly recommended for a quick, local bite to eat. It was also between the two vineyards I wanted to visit, so it made a perfect lunch spot. I had a simple yet delicious soup and salad combo with farm-fresh local ingredients. If you need a spot to grab a bite to eat in Dundee Hills, add the Red Hills Market to your itinerary.

red hills market

Sokol Blosser Winery

My second wine stop of the day was the Sokol Blosser Winery. Located further into the Dundee Hills region than Rex Hills, the Sokol Blosser Winery has three sitting rooms where you can taste your wine. While you are sipping, beautiful views of the region are offered through floor-to-ceiling windows in each room. I sampled the Spring Flight while I was there, which included a Pinot Gris, a Pinot Noir rosé, and three typical Pinot Noir samples.

Sokol Busser; vineyard; wine; portland; oregon

While the wine at Sokol Blosser was delicious, the experience was not as personal nor as relaxing as the one I had at Rex Hill. If you only have time for one vineyard on your trip, I would recommend Rex Hill over Sokol Blosser. However, Sokol Blosser's public areas are larger, and you are able to wander around the vineyards, whereas most of Rex Hill's vineyards are off-site. Considering this, Sokol Blosser may be more accommodating for a larger group of people while Rex Hill is better for a solo traveler.

Downtown Portland

After my day in Dundee Hills, I spent the late afternoon and evening in downtown Portland. I had a few key tourist locations I wanted to check out in my few remaining solo hours. Most of them were interesting, beautiful, and worth visiting again!

EaT: An Oyster Bar

Raw oysters are one of my favorite foods. Similar to wines, they develop particular flavors and textures based on the regions and waters in which they are raised. I have access to many East Coast oysters living in Massachusetts, but West Coast oysters are both more difficult to come by and more expensive. Given this, I wanted to make sure to sample some West Coast oysters while in Oregon.

EaT is an open-air bar and restaurant featuring $1 oyster happy hour specials. Its front wall is like a garage door, which was completely open when I was there to provide access to sidewalk seats. I stopped by and ordered three oysters from Washington state, three from Oregon, and an oyster shooter special. The oysters definitely had a more full-bodied and less-salty taste than East Coast oysters. This makes me wish we had better access to them in Boston, but I at least know where to return for great oysters next time I am in Portland.

oysters; portland; oregon

West Coast Oysters

International Rose Test Garden

In 1915, as World War I raged on in Europe, a local Portland rose enthusiast convinced city officials to set up the International Rose Test Garden as a safe haven for Europe's hybrid roses. Oregon was so far away from the fighting of WWI, and such an undesirable target, that it was thought the roses would certainly be safe there. Seedlings from England and other countries were sent over in 1918 to begin the garden.

100 years later, the garden provides 4.5 acres of beautiful roses overlooking the city. Access to the gardens is free. If you visit Portland in the Spring or Summer, take some time out of your trip to walk through the garden's grounds. The blooms were already so beautiful in May, and I'm sure they are even more brilliant later in the season.

rose garden; portland; oregon

Powell's Books

If you have heard anything about Portland, you have probably heard about Powells Books. This four-story bookstore takes up an entire city block in Portland's Pearl District. It covers 1.6 total acres. You can find all your typical bookstore books here, as well as rare finds and even out-of-print books. When I visited, I planned to just look around, but I was drawn to the foreign language section and ended up purchasing Dante's Inferno in both English and Italian and Dostoyevsky's Brothers Karamozov completely in Russian. I am just learning to read Russian, so I am on page 3, but I was proud that I could recognize the book for what it was with no English context! These books would have been difficult to find anywhere but Powells Books.

Japanese Gardens

The Japanese Gardens had also been on my list, but I did not have a chance to visit my first day in the city. Luckily, the group I was with all wanted to visit later in my trip. The Gardens span 12 acres and transport you to another world across the Pacific Ocean while you are there. They offer peaceful koi ponds and contemplative zen rock gardens, as well as elaborate displays of foreign flora. You could spend a few hours seeing to the displays you are most impressed with, or wander the grounds for an entire day. Either way, these gardens should be a stop on your tour of Portland.

japanese garden; portland; oregon

Koi Pond

japanese garden; portland; oregon

Zen Rock Garden

Portland Peculiarium

The Portland Peculiarium was not a place I consider worth visiting again. However, it was an interesting experience so I thought it worth mentioning. When researching things to do in Portland before my trip, a friend trying to "help" found the Portland Peculiarium listed as a suggested destination. He insisted that I visit, and even offered to pay my admission if I went. Seeing as I had some extra time and I would be passing close to the location in my travels, I took a few minutes to stop in.

portland; peculiarium; oregon

Front of the Peculiarium

The Peculiarium museum is in a warehouse-like building. There were a few odd, yet obviously fake, "peculiar" things on the sidewalk outside to entice visitors. The lobby inside included the ticket desk, gift shop, and temporary walls to hide the exhibits. The museum itself had three rooms, each about the size of a typical bedroom. The rooms were filled with objects made by the creators from random children's toys, such as a dead zombie baby in a carriage and random body parts in a blood-filled bathtub. The coolest part was the exhibit where you could stick your head through a hole and take a picture of yourself as someone subjected to an alien dissection. Overall, unless you are really into this type of thing or really bored, do not go out of your way to visit Portland's Peculiarium.

portland; oregon; peculiarium

Alien Dissection

I made sure to buy my friend a giant rubber cockroach from the gift store, and leave it unknowingly on his desk as a thank you gift for sending me to this place.

Hiking in Columbia River Gorge

On my last day in Oregon I went hiking with my friends in the Columbia River Gorge Valley. Their favorite hiking trails on the Oregon-side of the Columbia River were closed from fire damage caused by last year's fires. Therefore, we had to explore new trails on the Washington-side of the river that day. We got lucky with a beautiful, clear, sunny day with moderately cool temperatures perfect for hiking. While most of our journey paralleled the river, and therefore the road next to it, it was great to get out of the city and experience some of the nature in the area. When I return, I will be sure to save more time for hiking and hopefully check out some of the Oregon-side trails when they reopen!

hiking; columbia river gorge; portland; oregon; washington


*N.B. Some links included in this article are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.


Looking to spend a weekend in Portland, Oregon this Spring? Check out this post!
Looking to spend a weekend in Portland, Oregon this Spring? Check out this post!
Best New England Ski Resorts for Weekend Getaways

Best New England Ski Resorts for Weekend Getaways

New England ski resorts are open for 2018! For anyone looking to get away for a ski weekend in the Northeast from now until March or April, check out the resorts below. Each resort listed has great terrain, many accommodation options, villages offering you a break from your boots, and price points that won't break the bank, at least as far as ski weekends go.

Looking for more things to do in New England? Check out these posts about a Weekend in New Hampshire, Fall in Connecticut, and a Day Trip to Salem, MA!

Mount Snow

West Dover, Vermont * Opens for the season November 4, 2018

mount snow; ski; vermont

The Mountain

Mount Snow is the closest Green Mountain ski resort to both Boston (2.5 hours) and New York City (4 hours). It runs 20 lifts for its 600 acres of terrain, including the Bluebird Express that provides a front cover to cut the wind as you ride to the summit. The mountain provides mostly intermediate terrain, with a few steep diamond trails and a nice long, easy beginner trail down from the summit.

mount snow; ski; resort; new england; vermont; mountain


Two on-site accommodations are available at Mount Snow. The Grand Summit Resort Hotel provides ski-in ski-out privileges for the mountain. If you are looking for something more budget-friendly, stay at the Snow Lake Lodge across the street from the mountain, which is accessible by shuttle. Both locations offer hot tubs to enjoy during your après-ski time.

Village and Town

Mount Snow doesn't have a contained resort area, but it doesn't need one. The town of West Dover, Vermont, is a short drive away from the mountain and provides everything you would want in a ski town. If you want to be a part of mountain history, head for TC's Restaurant, home of Gold-Medal Olympian Snowboarder Kelly Clark. For something more upscale, sit in the dining room at West Dover Joe's. Looking for nightlife after dinner? The Snow Barn, a few feet from the mountain, provides drinks and live music most nights.

Overall Review: Given its location and size, Mount Snow is great for a short weekend ski trip or a long day of skiing if you're coming from New England or Eastern New York.


Killington, Vermont * Open NOW for the season! *

killington; ski resort; vermont; new england

The Mountain

Nicknamed "The Beast," Killington offers the biggest ski area in New England. Its size means there are enough trails to satisfy skiers of all levels. Thrilling black diamond trails challenge the best skiers, while beginners can stick to the numerous bunny trails or try a run from the summit entirely on beginner trails. Lift tickets are also some of the most expensive in the area at full price, but Killington often offers discount tickets if you spend time investigating.


The Killington Grand Resort Hotel at the base of the mountain is the perfect place to stay if you want all the comforts of a ski hotel. However, ski cabins are much more popular at Killington, as many of them have lift access, offering ski-on/ski-off capabilities. Killington's Managed Condos website or AirBNB can help you locate your ideal accommodation, whether it's a 12-person cabin with a private outdoor hot tub and indoor sauna, or a single-family two-bedroom bungalow.

Village and Town

Killington's Base Lodge offers numerous dining options for hungry skiers. Favorites include Preston's and Killington House of Pizza. If you want to venture into the cold for some nightlife, you must check out the Wobbly Barn, Killington's infamous music house and nightclub.

Overall Review: While Killington doesn't offer the on-site resort experience you may expect out West or in Europe, it has the best mountain in the area, so it's the best destination for serious skiers and their friends.

Jay Peak

Jay, Vermont * Opens for the season November 23, 2018 *

jay peak; snow; ski; resort; new england; vermont

The Mountain

Jay Peak offers 385 acres of terrain with 79 trails. However, it boasts the encouragement of off piste skiing as well, with 100+ acres of glade terrain. Advanced skiers looking to challenge themselves can take advantage of this additional acreage, while advanced-beginner skiers will find the intermediate trails accessible.


Jay Peak offers numerous accommodation options, all connected with their convenient shuttle service. For a hotel-like experience, stay at the Hotel Jay, Tram Haus Lodge, or Stateside Hotel. Many condos and cabins are available for larger groups who prefer their own private residence.


The New England ski resort with the most options available when you're ready to give the skis a break is Jay Peak. The Pump House indoor water park is a guest favorite with water slides, a lazy river, and indoor surfing. Access to the Pump House is included in your Ski and Stay ticket. The Ice Haus indoor ice skating rink lets you brush up on your other winter sport while you are on vacation. With 16 on-property restaurants, there is something to accommodate everyone's tastes at Jay Peak. At night, a few of the bars provide live music. If you want a quieter evening, see what's playing at the Movie Theater next to the Stateside Hotel.

jay peak; pump house; waterpark; indoor water park; vermont; ski resort

Inside the Pump House

Overall Review: A large mountain near the Canadian border, Jay Peak offers a full day of skiing and plenty of dining and entertainment options off the mountain to keep you occupied for a long vacation. 


Carrabassett Valley, Maine * Opens for the season November 19, 2018 *

sugarloaf; maine; mountain; new england; ski resort

The Mountain

Sugarloaf is one of the most popular mountains in Maine. Though somewhat difficult to reach, traveling on about 30 minutes of dark, local roads after you pass Portland, the journey is worth it. Sugarloaf Mountain offers 162 trails, which are evenly divided among beginner, intermediate, and expert options. The signature feature at Sugarloaf is its summit lift that is the only lift to bring skiers to trails above the treeline in the East.


Sugarloaf Mountain is in the middle of nowhere, so you're going to want to stay on the mountain. The Sugarloaf Mountain Hotel offers beautiful rooms at the base of the mountain. If you don't want to stay in a hotel, your other option are the ski-in/ski-out condos and cabins on the mountain.


Because of its remote location, Sugarloaf offers plenty to do on its property, and provides frequent shuttle buses to bring visitors to all its dining and entertainment options. The premium restaurant for a nice night out is 45 North. During the day, pick up a quick snack at Hunker Down or Alice & Lulu's between runs. If you're looking for a nice drink, The Widowmaker or Shipyard Brewhaus has got you covered. At night, take the shuttle to The Rack to grab a drink while listening to live music.

Overall Review: Sugarloaf's remote location mandates great customer service, a standard that the resort definitely lives up to. 

BONUS REVIEW: Mont Tremblant

Mont Tremblant, Quebec, Canada * Opens for the season November 22, 2018 *

mont tremblant; ski resort; canada; quebec

While this post is meant to focus on New England ski resorts, I would be remiss if I did not mention the absolutely best ski resort in the Northeast, just over the border in Canada. A 6-hour drive from Boston, or a quick flight from New York City, Mont Tremblant ski resort is absolutely worth the trip.

The Mountain

With 102 trails on four separate slopes, you could spend your entire trip covering new terrain with every run. The slopes are well-maintained with packed powder. Just remember to pack all your cold-weather ski gear: temperatures at the summit when I was there were below zero degrees Fahrenheit, without a wind chill!


There are cabins and condos available in the area of Mont Tremblant, but with such diverse options in the village, you should pick one of the official lodgings for your stay. The Fairmont and Le Westin provide the high-end, luxurious options. Homewood Suites and the Holiday Inn Express round out the hotel chain options with hotel suites including gas fireplaces and kitchens. For a more traditional experience, look into the Sommet des Neiges, Ermitage du Lac, and the Tour des Voyageurs.


When you arrive at Mont Tremblant's village, you will think you've been transported to a European ski village in the French or Swiss Alps, and not just because everyone speaks both English and French. The village was built in 1939, creating Canada's first ski resort area. As you walk through the lower and upper villages, you will pass many shops, restaurants, bistros, and bars. Make sure to stop into a shop for your traditional Canadian maple taffy, freshly made on Mont Tremblant's snow!

mont tremblant; canada; ski resort

Overall Review: If you want a proper European ski resort experience, take the time to visit Mont Tremblant. Also worth noting for American visitors, this luxury ski resort is a bargain due to our favorable exchange rate! It is also advised to take advantage of American bank holidays to visit this Canadian destination: many Montrealers venture to Mont Tremblant on the weekends, but it is virtually deserted during the week. I had an entire trail to myself on Martin Luther King Day a couple years ago!


Ready to plan your ski weekend? Find some of my favorite ski gear, like goggles, helmets, jackets, and base layers here!

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*Note: some of the links contained in this post are affiliate links. This means if you make a purchase through them I may receive some compensation, at no additional cost to you. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.Thank you for supporting this page!


Best New England Ski Resorts for Weekend Getaways
Best New England Ski Resorts for Weekend Getaways
15 Luxury Travel Essentials for your Next Vacation

15 Luxury Travel Essentials for your Next Vacation

Which luxury travel essentials are key to bring with you on a trip to ensure a luxurious experience from start to finish? As much fun as traveling can be, I always hear complaints about things like long uncomfortable plane rides, difficulty with carry-on bags, too many liquids to bring the luxuries of home along, and trouble packing enough items into a small bag for a long trip. I always bring the following 15 small, lightweight items with me when I travel. They solve all of the problems listed above and more! Don’t leave home without them.
Want to see how I fit all the following items in one carry-on bag? Check out this previous blog post!
*Note that this page contains affiliate links. This means if you purchase something after clicking on the link I will receive commission at no extra cost to you. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Thank you! 

Helping you pack

1. Soft-sided Bag

longchamp, carry-on bag, carry-on, travel bag, luxury travel essential, travel essential, travel tip

Expanded Longchamp Carry-On

I see so many travelers wheeling their hard-sided bags through the airport only to get stopped at the gate to see if it’s the proper size for a carry-on. Often the wheels cause the bag to be outside the carry-on parameters. Hard-sided bag that are allowed on the plane are the ones most passengers struggle to fit in overhead compartments. Save yourself the hassle and get large, soft-sided weekender that is easy to pack, carry, and will fit anywhere! My favorite: Longchamp Le Pliage XL Nylon Tote.

2. Travel Luggage Scale

travel scale; luggage scale; travel essentials

We in the United States are lucky that the weight of our carry-on luggage is not regulated. In the rest of the world it is. You will often be asked to put your bag on a scale before checking-in. Avoid surprises and extra fees at the airport as you move from city to city by bringing a luggage scale with you. Weighing only two ounces the Etekcity Digital Luggage Scale scale is a necessity for multi-city trips.


On the go

3. Memory Foam Travel Pillow

memory foam pillow; travel pillow; travel essential

Even if you already have a cheap, bean-filled or inflatable travel pillow, you need to get this memory foam one. I never had trouble sleeping on planes, but when I was in the airport getting ready for my first super-long haul flight from Boston to Beijing, I invested in a memory foam pillow. It was one of the smartest decisions of my life. I have never fallen asleep faster or slept better while traveling than when using this pillow. I have lent it to many friends for their travels, and they all agree! You can’t go wrong with the Cabeau Evolution Memory Foam Travel Pillow.

4. Noise-cancelling headphones

headphones, beats, beats by dre, travel essentials

Headphones are a must while on-the-go for listening to music, audio books, television shows, and movies. Noise-cancelling headphones will make your experience even more enjoyable by blocking out any extraneous engine or passenger noise. You can escape into your own world while you await your arrival at your destination. My go-to headphones are the BeatsX Wireless In-Ear Headphones.

5. Sleep Mask

sleep mask, eye mask, travel essentials

Along with a travel pillow and noise-cancelling headphones or ear plugs, a sleep mask is essential for good sleep while traveling. Most airlines hand out their own cheap version on long-haul flights – the Japan Air one is actually rather nice! – but in case your airline does not, or you want to get some sleep on a shorter flight, this is a worthwhile investment. No need to buy something high-tech when you just need it to block out the light; try the Copebri Natural Silk Sleep Mask.

6. Tablet

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You would think most airplanes would have back-of-seat entertainment systems at this point. Many new planes do. But what if you get stuck on a small McDonnell Douglas or an old Boeing for a 3+ hour flight? Bring your own entertainment on a tablet just in case. You can download a book to the Kindle app or a few movies to pass time on your way to your destination. There are many great options on the market, but I am especially a fan of the Amazon Fire Tablet.

7. Coloring book and pencils

coloring book, harry potter, fear of flying, travel essentials

An odd addition, I’m sure many of you are thinking. Believe it or not, despite the hundreds of flights I have taken, I still have a fear of flying. A remedy I recently discovered is putting on some music or a movie for background noise and pulling out an adult coloring book. It helps your mind focus on something other than the plane, and helps the time pass until you reach your destination. My first adult coloring book was the Harry Potter Coloring Book.

8. Sandals

havaianas, sandals, slim havaianas, brazil, flip flops

No matter what you are wearing on the plane, or what weather is concurring in the city you are leaving or your destination, pack a pair of sandals for the plane. Your feet will swell while in the air, making you want to remove your shoes. Plane etiquette dictates that you do not go barefoot. Oddly, no one seems to mind if their fellow passengers are wearing sandals. I try to wear sandals to the airport, but if you don’t have room in your bag for another pair of shoes, or are in a cold climate, change into sandals as soon as you board your flight and stuff your other shoes under the seat in front of you. For a cute, sturdy, light-weight pair, check out Havaianas.


In the Hotel

9. Solid Shampoo and Conditioner

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Not only are these products eco-friendly, as they don’t have disposable packaging, but they are perfect for travel. Solid shampoos and conditioners (or combo bars) effectively wash and condition hair while not adding to your tiny liquid or bag weight allotment. They last for hundreds of washes, so you don’t have to worry about running out like you would with travel-sized containers. Pick up a bar (or two) on Amazon or at Lush Cosmetics!

10. Dry Shampoo

dry shampoo, batiste, on the go, travel essentials

The current theory on hair care is that you shouldn’t wash your hair every day. I don’t know about you, but while I prescribe to this regime, I still need to do something for my hair on off-days. Enter dry shampoo. In either aerosol or powder form, dry shampoo will pick up your hair on in-between days. It is especially helpful on days when you have to get out the door quickly for a travel excursion and don’t have time for a full wash and dry! I love Batiste aerosols, which also come in travel sizes.

11. Laundry Bag

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When all your travel clothes go in the same bag, you need something to separate clean or reusable clothes from the dirty ones. Limited space requires an efficient solution. Pack a lightweight laundry bag in your travel bag to re-pack dirty clothes and keep them away from the rest of your wardrobe.


Out and about

12. Portable Phone Charger

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How many times have you tried to take a video or send a picture and realized that you’d be using the last of your phone battery to do so? What about all those times you’ve run low or out of power on a flight on a plane that doesn’t have outlets when you’re watching a movie or listening to music? If you pack your portable phone charger on your vacations you’ll never have to experience that again!

13. Warm, Lightweight Jacket

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If you’re traveling from one climate to another (like when this New Englander heads to the Caribbean in the winter) or visiting multiple destinations in one trip, it can be difficult to decide what type of outerwear to pack. Most jackets and sweaters take up a lot of room. Pick up a warm-yet-lightweight jacket like the Northface Thermoball to solve this issue. I am comfortable wearing this jacket unzipped in temperatures up to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. It is also warm enough to comfortably bundle up in visiting climates that drop below freezing.

14. Cross-Body Bag

cross body bag, crossbody, travel bag, travel essential

Small, spacious shoulder bags are great no matter where you travel, but a cross-body bag is essential when visiting developing nations. Mine has traveled across the world with me from Greece and Ireland to China, Vietnam, and Cambodia. If you invest in one of these bags, make sure you always wear it across your body to deter thieves from an easy snatch. Pick up a super cute bag from Kate Spade to complement your travel wardrobe!

15. Multi-purpose Black Leggings

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This is mainly a suggestion for the women, though these would make a great gift for any well-traveled women in the lives of the men reading this! A simple pair of black leggings is the most versatile piece of travel clothing options I can think of. Depending on how active my travel schedule is, I always pack a pair of either cotton or lyrca capri leggings. This one pair will get me through any sudden physical activities and then transition for a casual afternoon or nice night out by pairing them with a sweater and boots or flats. Any plain pair would do, but I always bring my black Lululemon Wunder Unders for this purpose.

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Acqua Alta Season in Venice

Acqua Alta Season in Venice

A few years ago, I went to Venice during its acqua alta season. Some tourists travel to Venice specifically for the acqua alta. Others avoid Venice at this time. I did not know about it until my travel companion and I arrived during our European vacation. It was quite a unique experience, and one that I am glad I had the chance to see firsthand!

Looking for more crazy travel stories? Check out this one about The Time I Tried to Go to Nicaragua!

What is the Acqua Alta?

The official Venice CityPass website describes the acqua alta as “nothing more than a spike in the high tide affecting the city in the Fall and Winter”. The Adriatic Sea, to which the Venice Lagoon is connected, experiences daily tidal waters caused by the moon. These tides occur year-round. When they are accompanied by scirocco, strong winds crossing the Mediterranean that push water into the Lagoon where the city of Venice sits, the acqua alta occurs. An odd experience for visitors, the acqua alta has occurred in Venice every year for hundreds of years, so it is part of daily life for inhabitants.

Experiencing the Acqua Alta

When I lived in London, I had a week break “for studying” in early November. Seeing as final exams were not until mid-December, I instead decided to use this week for traveling. A friend from Boston came across the pond to travel with me for the week. We agreed to spend the first half of the week in Barcelona and the second half in Venice. Our timing was purely based on my schedule.

gondola, venice, italy, acqua alta

How we expected to find Venice: Gondola rides in the canals!

During our pre-vacation research we read about gondola rides, Aperol spritzes, the Piazza San Marco, Dodge’s Palace, and this phenomenon called acqua alta. I had heard rumors about Venice “sinking”, but thought it was sinking in the same way the Maldives are sinking: because ocean levels are rising very slowly, one day low-lying lands will be fully covered with water. However, the Maldives aren’t facing this fate until at least 2030. It is not an annual occurrence like the acqua alta.

Arrival in Venice: Dry Land

I was hopeful my friend and I would experience the acqua alta during our trip after reading about it. To my disappointment, the sidewalks and piazzas were bone dry when we arrived on a Thursday afternoon. This did give us time to spend the afternoon and evening wandering around Venice’s streets, exploring the city and trying to get lost among its many twists and turns. We headed for the Ponte Rialto, crossed the Grand Canal, enjoyed a glass of Italian wine at an outdoor cafe, stopped in a few shops selling murano glass souvenirs, and ended the night eating squid-ink pasta and drinking our first Aperol Spritzes. There are so many great things to do in Venice at night; I recommend checking them out before the water rises in the morning!

ponte rialto, rialto bridge, grand canal, venice, italy

Ponte Rialto over the Grand Canal

gondola, grand canal, venice, italy, acqua alta

Strolling along the Grand Canal by the cafes and the gondola boats

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Squid Ink Pasta! I’ve since seen this available in the States, but Venice was my first experience with this interesting dish

aperol, aperol spritz, venice, italy, drinks

Aperol Spritz, the signature Venetian apertif

Note: if you dislike Aperol, drinking it as a spritz does not make it better. My travel companion and I had met only a few months prior and were still trying to impress each other, so we spent all weekend drinking this “signature” Venetian drink that we both disliked. We only admitted this to each other months later!

Waking Up to the Acqua Alta

The Albergo Cavalletto & Doge Orseolo hotel in which my friend and I stayed was just outside of the Piazza San Marco. You can book this perfectly-located boutique hotel here*. Our first morning in Venice, I woke up and opened our window shades to look out at the square. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. “Alex, you have to come look at this,” I said. There were fish swimming down the sidewalks on which we had walked just a few hours before! The acqua alta was upon us.

acqua alta, sidewalk, venice, italy, hotel

The steps leading from the sidewalk to our hotel’s front door: note the fish on the right side of the top two steps

This was not a slowly-occurring phenomenon, but one that appeared suddenly for a few hours almost every morning in the Fall and Winter! The first issue we dealt with was that our hotel was now surrounded by water a few inches deep. We needed to figure out how to still go out and enjoy the flooded city. Our shoes were not going to last for hours of wading. Luckily for us – and most tourists – the Venetians had found a solution to this. Every souvenir shop, including the one across the street from our hotel, sold “acqua alta boots,” or thin plastic knee-high covers that go over your shoes and pants and are secured by elastic bands. They are available for about 10 euro when you are in Venice, but you can also get yours ahead of time on Amazon here*.

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“Super Sexy Acqua Alta Boots”

Wading Around Venice

The Venetians were clearly used to the acqua alta. They all had their acqua alta boots ready to slip over their very nice Italian shoes. They were content to go about their days as though there was not water all around them. The outdoor cafes were still open, and people were sitting around enjoying their morning coffees as birds and fish swam by their ankles. Those in charge of the San Marco Basilica had set up temporary platforms for tourists to wait on above the water outside the cathedral and in the foyer. And of course, the gondola rides continued as usual.

acqua alta, venice, italy

Flooding in front of the Dodge Palace, looking over the Lagoon

acqua alta, venice, italy, grand canal

The same spot I had taken a picture by gondola boats the day before!

acqua alta, venice, italy, piazza san marco, saint mark's square

Birds enjoying their new pond in the Piazza San Marco

acqua alta, venice, italy, saint marks basilica, basilica san marco

Platforms set up inside Saint Mark’s Basilica, whose foyer was flooded as well

acqua alta, venice, italy

Venetians apparently ignoring the rising waters

By the time we ate lunch, the water had receded. My friend and I shed our boots and continued our exploration of the city. We were far more prepared the next morning when the sidewalks were flooded again!

Is Venice Sinking?

Most sources say yes, the city is slowly sinking. However, this is unrelated to its acqua alta floods. The land on which Venice is built is boggy, not solid, and therefore it is sinking under the weight of the buildings.

On the other hand, acqua alta flooding was first noted in 589 A.D. It has occurred every year since. If the flooding was evidence of sinking, surely the city would have sunk by now. Instead, the tidal floods are seasonal and cyclical, similar to those in the Bay of Fundy in Canada. An inconvenience to some, a unique experience to those with open minds looking for some fun, the acqua alta is not evidence of the sinking of Venice.

Next time you are planning a trip to Venice, go in November or December to experience the acqua alta phenomenon!


*Note, this page contains affiliate links. This means if you make a purchase after clicking on one of the links, I may receive commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you for contributing to the operating costs of this website!


The Time I Tried to Go to Nicaragua

The Time I Tried to Go to Nicaragua

The summer after college, my parents and I went on a week-long vacation to Costa Rica. Instead of flying into the capital San Jose, we went to the little-known Guanacaste region in the Northwest corner of the country.

At the Resort

The resort we stayed at, the Hotel Riu, was beautiful. Its grounds offered multiple restaurants, at least three pools, and a long private beach. The typical resort activities were available, such as water aerobics in the pool and water sports on the ocean. There was more than enough to keep my family occupied for our entire week’s stay, especially with our off-site day-trips.

riu, resort, costa rica, pool

Our resort pool with the hotel in the background

These were the circumstances under which I suggested to my parents that we drive to Nicaragua for an afternoon. It was our first full day of vacation: we had spent the morning lounging by the pool soaking up the sun. When the daily tropical rainstorm hit, we headed under cover for lunch. At that time, we discussed what we might do for the afternoon. I had seen on our map that we were only about an hour from the Nicaraguan border. At the rental car company, there had been advertisements for day-trips to a Nicaraguan town just over the border. Given my desire to visit every country in my world, this seemed like my chance to pick up Nicaragua. To my surprise, my parents said “ok” and after lunch we were on our way!

Driving in Costa Rica

For our vacation, my parents rented a car. The roads were what you would expect in a developing country: unpaved, no street lights, and not offering great directions. For example, our resort was on a road off of “Monkey Way”. The rules of the road were no different. Drivers traveled as they pleased and if someone was going too slow in front of you, you drove on the other side of the road to get around them (but not necessarily in designated areas as in the United States). We often found ourselves driving around cattle roaming the streets rather than cars. At one point our GPS sent us down a flooded road in the middle of the rain forest where there was no room to turn around and avoid the deep puddle.

cattle, costa rica, driving, road, wildlife

Cattle in the road in front of our car

costa rica, driving, jungle, puddle

Giant puddle in the road where our GPS had brought us- luckily we had a 4-wheel-drive that could get through it!

The Drive to Nicaragua

To get to Nicaragua from the Riu, we traveled back through the town of Liberia into which we had flown, then headed North on Route 1, the Inter-American “highway”. This two-lane road is the main through way on the West side of Central America. Therefore, it is filled with 18-wheeler trucks transporting goods between countries. The trucks themselves did not cause any issues while traveling along the road. However, from what we could tell, the customs inspection site at the border took time for trucks to get through and closed early in the evening. This meant that about ten miles from the Nicaraguan border trucks that would not make it through customs that day pulled over to spend the night on the side of the road. The drivers even had hammocks they hung under their trucks to sleep in!

When we approached the first few trucks that had pulled over, we were unsure why there was such traffic. Then we saw a car in front of us pull out of the lane and drive down the opposite lane! Assuming this was the proper thing to do – drive the wrong way towards potentially oncoming traffic – we pulled out and did the same thing. It seemed like a great plan until the car in front of us quickly swerved back towards the trucks parked on our side of the road, unveiling another giant 18-wheeler coming in our direction! We quickly moved back into our lane best we could to let the truck go by, narrowly avoiding being smashed. A few minutes later we made the same maneuver to the other side of the road halfway into a ditch. As I said earlier, there were no real rules of the road in that part of Costa Rica. No one else seemed surprised to find cars driving on the wrong side of the road up the highway.

costa rica, volcano, landscape, plains

Costa Rican volcanic landscape on the drive to the border

Experience at the Border

My parents and I finally arrived at the border unscathed. The border area between Costa Rica and Nicaragua is unlike that of Western nations. For example, between the U.S. and Canada there are toll booth-like stations on the road with immigration officers manning them. When you leave the U.S. and enter Canada, you stop at the booth, speak with the Canadian immigration officer, show him your passport, and proceed into Canada. The same occurs on the way back into the U.S.

Between Costa Rica and Nicaragua there are two large buildings about 100 meters apart. You stop first at the Costa Rican building. As soon as we parked our car outside the building, it was surrounded by five Nicaraguan teenagers in brightly-colored Abercrombie t-shirts. At the time, I “spoke” some Spanish, and my parents spoke none. I did not completely understand what the teenagers wanted other than to exchange money with us. I tried to make them go away so we could enter the immigration building. They were rather aggressive in their desire to take our Costa Rican colones and give us Nicaraguan pesos in return. This experience was unsettling to my parents, so my dad and I left my mom with the car as we entered the Costa Rican immigration building with our three family passports.

Inside the building there were a dozen of what looked like bank teller counters. One lone immigration officer sat behind one of the counters. We approached him with our passports, and I managed to convey that we were going to Nicaragua for the day. He did not understand why we were two people but had three passports with us. Finally the officer accepted that my mom was outside with our car and gave us the three “exit” stamps. As we left the building the Nicaraguan teenagers we waiting for us, again trying to exchange money. They also tried to say something in broken English about leaving our car behind, but we definitely weren’t about to do that.

my tan feet, nicaragua, costa rica, immigration

Photo from inside Costa Rican immigration from the “My Tan Feet” blog:

The Big Decision

About 30 meters past the Costa Rican immigration building, we decided that maybe this day trip wasn’t such a good idea after all. At this point, we were in the 100-meter stretch of land between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. We had exited Costa Rica, but had not yet reached the Nicaraguan immigration building to enter Nicaragua. We made our U-turn in this area and started to head back. Then I realized we had exit stamps in our passports. If we did not rectify the situation before returning to our resort, we would raise red flags at the airport later when we tried to leave the country without valid entry stamps. This meant we had to return to the Costa Rican immigration building.

The lone immigration officer sitting behind the counter was not happy to see us back so soon. He said something like “I just let you out, what do you mean you want to come back already?” We were clearly interrupting his alone-time, since his checkpoint was nowhere near busy. Instead of just giving us entry stamps again, the immigration officer made us make copies of our passports in another building before he voided our exit stamps.

passport, void, stamp, exit stamp, costa rica

The only voided passport stamp I’ve ever seen!

Happy to be Back

After about an hour at the Costa Rican border, we were on our way back to our resort. We were happy to get back and sit by the pool with a few drinks when we returned. Later, we learned that it is illegal to bring a rental car from Costa Rica across country borders. The car could have been impounded and my family and I thrown in jail or fined! It’s a good thing we never made it to Nicaragua: I will have to add it to my list another time.

costa rica, pacific ocean, coast, driving

View of the Costa Rican Pacific Coast on our ride back to the resort


Best Fall Activities in Central Connecticut

Best Fall Activities in Central Connecticut

For many people, Fall is one of the best times to visit and explore New England. Many people head north to Vermont or New Hampshire for leaf-peeping. If you are looking for something off-the-beaten-path this year, check out these great activities in Central Connecticut!

Looking for more Fall New England activities? Check out this post about a Fall Weekend in New Hampshire, and this one about what to do in Salem, Massachusetts!

Apple and Pumpkin Picking

Apple and pumpkin picking are two can’t-miss activities in central Connecticut. The season for apples begins around the end of August and continues through the beginning of October. Pumpkin season runs from the end of September through October. Check out either of the orchards below for your farm-fresh apple and pumpkin needs.

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Lyman Orchards

Many people visit Lyman Orchards every year for its apples and pumpkins, as well as it’s annual corn maze. Many other people visit just to purchase one of their well-known pies. If you have trouble deciding, go for the Hi-Top Apple Pie, which is perfect when served at Thanksgiving dinner.

32 Reeds Gap Road, Middlefield, CT 06455

Dondero Orchards

Growing up in central Connecticut, Dondero Orchards offered a no-frills fall experience for cheap apple and pumpkin picking. Over the years, its popularity has allowed it to grow into one of the most popular farms in the area. Pumpkins are no longer 10 cents per pound, but instead there are craft fairs, a farmers market, farm stand, and farm-to-table dinners offered by the orchard.

529 Woodland Street, South Glastonbury, CT 06073

Apple Festivals

What do Nutmeggers do after they’ve picked all their apples? We host apple festivals, of course! The two most popular festivals are held annually in Southington and Glastonbury.

Southington Apple Harvest Festival

Grab a fresh apple fritter and listen to the live music provided by the Southington Apple Harvest Festival! Complete with carnival rides, a craft fair, a pie baking contest, fireworks, and a parade this festival embodies central Connecticut in the Fall. You can always expect to see great musical acts: this year’s entertainment was opened by Bowling for Soup! Held the last weekend of September and the first weekend of October, you’ll have to mark this one on your calendar for next year.

75 Main Street, Southington, CT 06489 * 2019 Dates: 9/27-9/29, 10/4-10/6 *

Glastonbury Apple Festival

The Connecticut River Valley Chamber of Commerce hosts its annual apple festival in Glastonbury every year. As stated on its website, “For the 5th year consecutive year, the Apple Harvest Festival will feature three stages of live music with 30 emerging artists, a full midway of amusement rides, over 100 vendors, 25 food trucks/purveyors, the extremely popular Harvest Pub, the Angry Orchard 5K Road Race and all things fall in New England.” This festival will take place next weekend, so if you want to get the full Fall experience in Connecticut, hop in your car and drive down to Glastonbury for a day!

300 Welles Street, Glastonbury, CT 06033 * 2018 Dates: 10/12-10/14 *

Town Fairs

If you prefer fairs that have less of a focus on apples and more on animals, add the following agricultural fairs to your calendar. Although they have both ended for 2018, they are worthwhile to make note of for Fall 2019!

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Durham Fair

The Durham Fair is considered Connecticut’s largest agricultural fair. For just four days, you can visit the fair to see prize-winning animals, enjoy fresh or fried fair food, ride the rides at Midway, and see performing acts like Melissa Etheridge and Scott Mccreery, the two 2018 headliners. If the famous Topsfield Fair in Massachusetts is not an option for you, check out the Durham Fair instead for a comparable experience.

24 Town House Road, Durham, CT 06422 * 2019 dates: 9/26-9/29 *

Haddam Neck Fair

For a smaller agricultural fair in central Connecticut, spend your Labor Day Weekend at the Haddam Neck Fair. Started by the Haddam Neck Grange in 1910, the fair now spans three days and welcome tens of thousands of guests. It no longer just shows off animals and vegetables, but instead provides carnival rides, a variety of food, Country Western entertainment, a legendary tractor pull, and a recently-added 5K road race. If you want to experience a typical Connecticut agricultural fair without the crowds attracted to Durham, the Haddam Neck Fair is perfect for you.

207 Middle Haddam Road, Middle Haddam, CT 06456 * 2019 dates: 8/30-9/2 *

Vineyards and Breweries

Chateau Le Gari

Connecticut has over 35 vineyards and wineries to explore: impressive for a state where little is known about its wine. One of my favorites is Chateau Le Gari. This vineyard was founded last year by the former Vice President of the CT Farm Wine Development Council, Gary Crump. The property is beautiful and the wines are flavorful, with most of the grapes grown right on the property.

One of the best parts about this vineyard is the presence of Gary himself. When you arrive for a tasting you may be greeted by the former-Cajun behind the tasting bar pouring his own wine and telling you stories from his career and life. If you are lucky, you may even get to try some of his local cooking. Every Sunday afternoon, Gary makes and serves pasta with bolognese to his guests! Gary’s knowledge of wine is astounding, so if you can catch him while you’re here for a conversation, be sure to do so.

vineyard, winery, chateau le gari, connecticut, wine, central connecticut

303 South Main Street, Marlborough, CT 06447

Priam Vineyards

Priam Vineyards is located less than five minutes from Chateau Le Gari. In fact, Priam was also founded by Gary Crump! Stop in for a quick tasting, or bring a picnic lunch to enjoy on the back patio with a bottle of local wine.

vineyard, winery, priam, connecticut, wine, central connecticut

11 Shailor Hill Road, Colchester, CT 06415 *

Fat Orange Cat Brewery

A few years ago, Mike Klucznik started brewing his own beer for personal consumption, as many Americans do. After winning a number of home brewing competitions, he decided to open his own brewery. Sheila Mullen had ample space on her property in rural Connecticut, so the two built a barn to host the brewing operations and a small bar. The pair still travels with their team to national craft beer competitions, but if you like beer and are in the area, you should travel to the Fat Orange Cat Brewery to try the beer for yourself!

brewery, connecticut, beer, fat orange cat, craft beer, brew, central connecticut

47 Tartia Road, East Hampton, CT 06424 *

Pumpkintown, U.S.A.

If you only do one Fall activity in central Connecticut, you must visit Pumpkintown, U.S.A. In 1990, Sandra Peszynski of Paul’s & Sandy’s Too farm store painted faces on a few pumpkins, added some clothes, and invited the local townspeople to take photos. She had no idea that 28 years later, Pumpkintown would be the top non-scary Halloween attraction in Connecticut! The town now has a Saloon, Bank, Post Office (to mail your Pumpkintown postcards), Firehouse with a firepole to slide down, tires for jumping, a hay bale maze, tractor rides, and so much more! Don’t forget to take pictures!

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pumpkintown, pumpkin, fall, connecticut, central connecticut

93 East High Street, East Hampton, CT 06424 *

Old Airline Trail

Fall is the perfect season for hiking! While you won’t find many tall mountains in Connecticut, there are many beautiful trails to walk, run, or bike along. The Old Airline Trail stretches about 25 miles from East Hampton to Thompson. Built in 1873 to connect New York City and Boston, the tracks have long been covered by gravel to provide a recreational area to locals. Ample parking is available every few miles along the trail, and access is free.

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airline trail, old airline trail, rail trail, connecticut, hiking, walking, biking, outdoors, central connecticut

Trail head: 69 Smith Street, East Hampton, CT 06424

Lady Katherine Cruise

Central Connecticut is often referred to as the Connecticut River Valley due to the Connecticut River running through it. One of the best ways to experience the river is by taking a cruise. The Lady Katherine departs from Middletown and East Haddam, and offers Fall brunch and dinner cruises so you can enjoy the foliage on the water. If you are more of a Halloween person, check out the Halloween Murder Mystery Dinner Cruise!

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Multiple Locations

Where to Eat in Central Connecticut

When you’re ready to take a break from all of the activities and grab some food, check out the places below! Central Connecticut has many amazing restaurants, but the three described here are especially fun in the Fall.

Goats N Roses

Goats and Roses provides one of the most authentic farm-to-table experiences in New England. As you pull into the parking lot on the farm, you are greeted by a farmhouse, tavern, general store, and goat yard. Grab a table – outdoor seating only – and pick one of your favorite farm dishes to eat. I recommend the Teriyaki Chicken Salad or Figgy Piggy Sandwich. After your meal, you can explore the property where you are likely to encounter some of the resident animals, like the chickens, peacocks, and of course goats!

dining, restaurant, farm to table, outdoor seating, goats n roses, central connecticut

dining, restaurant, farm to table, outdoor seating, goats n roses, central connecticut

86 East Hampton Road, Marlborough, CT 06447 *

Rose’s Berry Farm

Rose’s Berry Farm is open for Sunday breakfast from June through October. Despite its short season, it may be the best Sunday breakfast experience you have. Everything served at Rose’s is farm fresh and farm-to-table, right from the farm it overlooks. Sitting high above the rows of berries and apples, you can enjoy waffles, pancakes, and french toast topped with seasonal fruit. Savory dishes are also available, but even if you are usually a fan of savory breakfasts as I am, this is one time to go the sweet route for the berries!

295 Matson Hill Road, South Glastonbury, CT 06073 *

Where to Stay in Central Connecticut

Most accommodation options in central Connecticut consist of your typical chain hotels: Marriotts, Holiday Inns, Homewood Suites, etc. These are great choices if are only using your hotel as a place to sleep while you explore the area. However, if you want to try something a little more traditional Connecticut, check out the options below.

The Inn at Middletown

This property was built as a private residence in 1810, and subsequently acquired by the State of Connecticut to be used as an armory. In November 2003, the Town of Middletown opened the Inn as “an upscale full service boutique hotel.” If you are looking for charm and location within walking distance to many businesses and restaurants on Middletown’s Main Street, this is the place for you.

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70 Main Street, Middletown, CT 06457 * (Click here to book!)

Griswold Inn

Founded in 1776 during the American Revolution as a tavern and accommodation for shipbuilders who moved to town, the Griswold Inn has been in operation for more than 242 years. Its rich history follows that of America. You can experience what it was like to join fellow revolutionaries in the early years of the country in the tavern, or have a more upscale experience in the full dining room. The Griswold Inn also offers 33 unique bedrooms for rent: some have fireplaces, some provide a view of Main Street, and others overlook the water. If you want to step back in history on your visit to Connecticut, check out the Griswold Inn.

inn, essex, connecticut, lodging, history, griswold inn, central connecticut

36 Main Street, Essex, CT 06426 * (Click here to book!)

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