What Not to Miss: Lawrence, Kansas

While Lawrence, Kansas is likely not at the top of many travel bucket lists, occasionally, the opportunity arises to head to the heart of the Midwest and visit a place I’ve called home for my entire life. Lawrence is the home of the University of Kansas and Haskell Indian Nations University, and we’re a little blue oasis in a sea of red (politically speaking). We bleed crimson and blue and “Rock Chalk” our way through college basketball season, always chasing the elusive March Madness. But, we’re not just about basketball and watching planes fly over.  Lawrence is so, so much more. If you’ve ever got the opportunity to pass through, and spend some time, there are a few things I recommend to all my friends before they leave town.

Where to Stay

The first thing you’ll need to do is decide where you want to stay.  Lawrence isn’t huge, but there’s a definite lack of hotel space within the city, especially if you’re here during a popular event (basically ALL of May, with graduations from both Universities and both high schools). If you’re planning to be here during a big event, your best option may be Airbnb, otherwise you can probably find a room at one of the Downtown Lawrence hotels.

The Eldridge

 

My favorite Downtown Lawrence hotel is the Eldridge. It’s a hotel with a colorful history and absolutely worth checking out, even if you just head inside to walk around the lobby or grab a drink at the newly remodeled restaurant on the main floor. According to the hotel’s website, it was originally opened as the “Free State Hotel” in 1855. Just one year later, in 1856, the hotel was burned to the ground by sheriff Sam Jones, who was part of a pro-slavery movement. The hotel was rebuilt by Colonel Shalor Eldridge and operated until 1863, when it was, again, burned to the ground. The 1863 raid was orchestrated and carried out by William Quantrill and his men.  Quantrill was a notorious pro-slavery evangelist and this same raid destroyed much of the city of Lawrence, killing over 150 people.

The hotel was rebuilt again and named Hotel Eldridge, operating in that capacity until 1925, when a group of businessmen took over the deteriorating hotel, demolishing it, and building the structure, still standing on the corner of 7th & Massachusetts Street, today. It is truly one of the most beautiful buildings in Lawrence, and I recommend staying there if you have the opportunity.  Who knows. . . you may even run into the rumored Eldridge Ghost while you’re there!

TownePlace Suites

If historic, possibly haunted, hotels aren’t your thing, another Downtown hotel I recommend is the new (2016) TownePlace Suites. This hotel is located just off Mass Street, but still close enough to the heart of Downtown Lawrence to feel like you’re a part of the action. The hotel has an underground parking garage, so you won’t have to worry about finding a place to park or feeding a meter during parking enforcement hours (9:30am – 6pm, Monday through Saturday).

The rooms are modern and have views of New Hampshire Street, on one side, and the hotel patio and adjoining neighborhood, on the other.

 

Airbnb

While Airbnb isn’t everyone’s first choice for accommodations when traveling, Josh and I prefer it to staying in hotels. We’ve found that staying in hotels is prescribed and impersonal and we avoid it, when we can, unless we’re staying in a place for one night (and can use credit card points to stay for free) or if staying in an Airbnb could be difficult (when short-term rentals are banned, or when traveling to a location like China, where all tourists have to check in with the local police department, unless they are staying at a licensed hotel – who does that for you).  

In Lawrence, Airbnbs tend to be available more during football and basketball season, for fans who may be traveling in from out of town, but you can find homes to rent year-round.

If you want to try Airbnb for the first time and you use MY REFERRAL LINK, you’ll get $40 off your first booking and I’ll get a $20 credit when you complete your trip.

 

What to Do

Lawrence definitely isn’t lacking in things to do. Whether you’re interested in art, music, history, or the great outdoors, there’s something here for you!

Spencer Museum

Spencer Art Museum
Photo Credit: Spencer


If art is your thing, the art museum at the University of Kansas is a spectacular collection of pieces from all over the world.  The museum has been known to house controversial exhibits, in addition to the 45,000 items in its permanent collection. The museum, itself, went through a major renovation in the last several years and the building is beautiful, with one of the very best views of the Campanile and the KU Football stadium. Check it out if you’re craving some creativity.

Warehouse Arts District

Warehouse Arts District

Lawrence’s art scene isn’t limited to art museums. Lawrence is home to some of the most creative folks in Kansas and local art abounds. One of the best areas to find local art in Lawrence is the Warehouse Arts District (WAD). The WAD is a fantastic pocket of the East Lawrence neighborhood that houses many galleries, artist studios, and public art installations.

Definitely make a point to stop at the Cider Gallery, Seed Co Studios, Lawrence Community Photo Studio, Art Emergency, Lawrence Creates Makerspace, and Rural Pearl while you’re in the neighborhood!

If you happen to be visiting on the last Friday of any month, throughout the year, you’re definitely going to want to make sure this area makes your “to-do” list. Final Fridays is a monthly celebration where art show openings and community events take over. Thousands of locals and visitors take to the streets of Downtown Lawrence and the Warehouse Arts District for the evening, eating amazing food, taking in eclectic art, and celebrating something Unmistakably Lawrence.

 

Downtown Lawrence

Downtown Lawrence

Just a few blocks from the Warehouse Arts District lies the crown jewel of the city. Downtown Lawrence is home to one of the most quintessential Downtown areas in the Midwest. I would certainly rank it as the best in Kansas, hands-down. Downtown Lawrence is a 5-block long by 3-block wide grid surrounding Massachusetts Street with local and national retailers and restaurants, art galleries, music venues, event spaces, and businesses that rivals similar areas across the country.

I like to claim that you can find just about any kind of cuisine on Mass Street, from some of the best Pad Thai I’ve ever had to a Jamaican Beef Patty that’s been written about in the New York Times. Whatever you’re hungry for, you can find it on Mass Street.

But, food isn’t the only reason to visit Downtown Lawrence.  The area is known for its music venues too. Because Lawrence is located in the middle of the US, right on a major interstate highway (I-70), smaller bands tend to make Lawrence a stop on their tours because we are located between two of their larger tour stops (typically St. Louis or Kansas City and Denver). With venues like The Granada, The Bottleneck, and Liberty Hall, it’s difficult to find a night during the year that some sort of music performance isn’t being held Downtown.

Downtown Lawrence is also known as a shopping district, with a large concentration of local retailers selling a wide variety of items you won’t find anywhere else in Lawrence.  From over 1,000 different kinds of soda at Mass Street Soda, to unique handmade gifts at MADE, Essential Goods, and the Phoenix Underground, and t-shirt designs that will make you laugh out loud at ACME, there’s no doubt you’ll be able to find something unique and interesting to take home with you.

If history is more your thing, you can capture some of that in Downtown Lawrence too! Make a visit to The Watkins Museum of History and learn more about Quantrill’s raid that brought down the Eldridge Hotel and other significant events that have shaped the history and story of Lawrence and Kansas.

 

University of Kansas Campus  

Booth Family Hall of Athletics
Booth Family Hall of Athletics

 

One of the most beautiful areas of Lawrence is the University of Kansas Campus, perched atop Mount Oread. The University’s campus features beautiful green spaces, a sanctuary of academia, and hallowed ground for basketball fans from across the world. If you’re one of the millions of basketball fans who exist, you’d be remiss if you left Lawrence without visiting Allen Fieldhouse, the home of Kansas Jayhawk Basketball, and the namesake of Forrest “Phog” Allen, the father of basketball coaching. In addition to being one of the most difficult places to play a game as a visitor in the country, Allen Fieldhouse is home to the Booth Family Hall of Athletics, and is adjacent to the DeBruce Center, which, thanks to a very generous KU Alum (David Booth – of the Booth Family Hall of Athletics), houses the original rules of basketball, written by Dr. James A. Naismith, when he invented the game in 1891. In addition to being the Father of Basketball, Dr. Naismith also happens to have been the very first Jayhawk Basketball coach, making Kansas the birthplace of basketball.

While you’re on campus, be sure to stop by the Campanile, a World War II Memorial Carillon standing 120 feet tall, and overlooking KU’s Memorial Stadium. The carillon’s 53 bells play regularly, so stick around a bit to listen to a lovely and unique experience. Legend says that any Jayhawk who passes through the Campanile before their graduation day will either not graduate on time, or not graduate from the University at all.

 

Outdoor Activities

If you’re a fan of the outdoors, Lawrence has you covered there too! From the fantastic views of Wells Overlook, just south of the city to the Kansas River and Clinton Lake trails, you can capture a piece of the beauty of Kansas and learn that all you’ve heard about Kansas being “flat as a pancake” is a myth. Kansas, particularly northeast Kansas, and Lawrence, in particular, is beautiful, and hilly, and lushly green (when you catch us after a reasonable amount of rain).

If you’re in Lawrence in the late winter or early spring, you may be lucky enough to catch the bald eagles nesting at the Kansas River.  The best spot for catching them is the promenade behind the SpringHill Suites Hotel, or the deck of Abe & Jake’s Landing. Typically, the eagles are just perched in the trees, right along the river and you can get an up-close and personal view of them. In past years, there have been as many as 20-30 eagles in the trees at one time and it’s certainly a spectacular sight to behold.

 

Where to Eat

After you’ve seen all there is to be seen in Lawrence, you’re going to be hungry. Now, I talked a little bit about the food in Lawrence earlier, but now I want to give you some specific recommendations about places and dishes you should definitely try while you’re in town.

 

Pizza at Limestone

Pizza at Limestone has the potential to ruin all other pizza for you. I’m not talking about the kind of pizza you think about when you think about Pizza Hut or Domino’s. Chef Rick Martin takes pizza to a whole other level with thin, flame-kissed crust from a 1,000 pound, wood-burning oven, lovingly named Maggie. With unique pizzas like The Spud (local thinly sliced potatoes, onions, crème fraiche, bacon and rosemary), Farmer (house-recipe bacon, gruyere, local egg and greens), and Summer (local cream corn, fresh corn, cherry tomatoes, bacon, cheddar & parsley), your tastebuds will be in for the ride of their lives.

 

Lawrence Beer Company  

The chef at Lawrence Beer Company, Ken Baker, formerly owned and operated another Lawrence restaurant institution, Pachamama’s. After Pachamama’s closed, Lawrence spent several years longing for Ken’s unmistakable touch. Luckily, Ken and several partners have opened Lawrence Beer Company (in 2017) and Lawrencians, myself included, have been singing his praises ever since.

Lawrence Beer Company is a fully operational brewery, in addition to being a full-service restaurant. It is nestled in the Warehouse Arts District, in a building that used to be a seed warehouse. The space is huge and open, and the building even has several apartments (and an Airbnb property) on it’s upper floors where you can order food from the restaurant any time they’re open.

Dishes to try here include the Rice Fried “Chick-arrones” appetizer and the Cubano sandwich. The Cubano isn’t offered all the time, but if you see it on the menu, don’t hesitate to order it.  It is, hands-down, the best Cuban sandwich I’ve ever had. The pork melts in your mouth and I guarantee that you won’t be disappointed.

 

Bon Bon

Bun at Bon Bon
Bun at Bon Bon

Also in the Warehouse Arts District, you’ll find an adorable spot called Bon Bon. Bon Bon is owned by Simon and Codi Bates, who also own The Burger Stand, which I’ll talk more about below.  Bon Bon means “Good, Good” and is a great spot for outdoor dining and for an intimate, indoor meal.  The building is pretty small – so small that there’s no kitchen inside. All of the food that is made at Bon Bon comes from a full kitchen packed into a food truck, permanently parked on the property.

The food is super unique and is all inspired by Simon’s international travels. Some of my personal favorite menu items include the Kimchi Fried Rice, Katsu Bun, and French Onion Tots. Their menu changes seasonally, and is always filled with things you won’t find elsewhere in Lawrence.  It’s all amazing, so you can’t go wrong!

In the mood for a drink?  I’ve long made the claim that Bon Bon has the best cocktail menu in town.  Order a painkiller and settle in for an evening playing bags on the patio, listening to trains roll down the neighboring track. It has all the makings of a very East Lawrence evening!  

 

Burger Stand

Also owned by the Bateses, is the Burger Stand, near the corner of 8th & Mass.  Whether you’re a die-hard meat eater or you prefer vegetarian options, the Burger Stand has something for you.  is your place. Located in the old Casbah building, the Burger Stand offers one of the most expansive burger menus in Lawrence.  You can get a more traditional burger, topped with white cheddar and seasonal greens (“The Classic”) or a more adventurous burger topped with avocado and a habanero-cactus jam (“Fire”).

Veggie burgers at the Burger Stand are made from ingredients like cauliflower, black beans, shiitake and crimini mushrooms, and garbanzo beans. They even sell the Impossible burger. If burgers aren’t your thing, they have hot dogs, corn dogs, salads, and the best fries in Lawrence.    

My go-to at the Burger Stand is the Smoke Burger, topped with applewood-smoked bacon, gouda cheese, and chipotle-cocoa ketchup, but if you see something on the specials menu that interests you, I recommend ordering that.  The specials at the Burger Stand never disappoint!

 

Culinaria

Culinaria Small Plates Meal
Culinaria Small Plates Meal

Back in the East Lawrence Neighborhood lies Culinaria.  The restaurant has come a long way from its catering-only operation and now serves some of the very best Mediterranean food in town.  The space is small (only seating around 30-40 guests) but the food and service are mighty!

When planning your trip, keep in mind that Culinaria is currently only open Thursday through Saturday from 3:30-9pm. I recommend going with a group of friends and ordering several small plates to share.  If you hit them at the right time of day (3:30-5:30pm), you can catch one of the best happy hour values around, with $5 cocktails, $2 off wine by the glass, and $1 – $5 small plates. You won’t find an undesirable dish on the menu, but be sure to try the Fried Cauliflower with Labneh, Burnt Eggplant Dip, Jerusalem Hummus, and Mushroom Ragout.

 

Sylas & Maddy’s

Sylas & Maddy's
Photo Credit: Sylas & Maddy’s

If you have a sweet tooth and you’re a fan of ice cream, try the very best ice cream in Lawarence, at Sylas & Maddy’s. All of the ice cream is made in-house and flavors range from simple sorbets to more elaborate flavors (with unique names) like “Da Bomb” and “Rock Chocolate Jayhawk”.

My favorite thing to do at Sylas & Maddy’s is to order the 5-Flavor Sampler.  You get 5 mini scoops of ice cream, so you can try a variety. Helpful Hint though – if you plan on continuing a walk down Mass Street while eating your ice cream, make sure it’s not July, or your 5-Flavor Sampler will become one soupy flavor that may or may not work out well.  

 

Luckyberry

Luckyberry

If you love sweets but you’re looking for something that may take fewer sets in the gym to work off, try Luckyberry.  Here, you can find homemade soft serve that’s made with local ingredients in really eclectic flavors that you may never have thought of as ice cream before.  You can serve yourself in the back of the store, so you can try a variety of flavors if you’d like. You’re charged by the weight of the ice cream you dispense, so be careful not to go nuts. The menu changes often, but if you see chocolate cherry on the menu, I can definitely recommend that flavor.  

Luckyberry also serves fresh-pressed juices, coffee, fresh-made sushi, and a local salad bar. Pop in for a refreshing juice, grab a sushi roll, salad, and soft serve and have a complete picnic to take to one of the parks surrounding Downtown Lawrence.

 

Closing

Are you a fellow Lawrencian? Did I miss one of your favorites? Leave a comment and let me know what I should add to this list!

Whatever brings you to Lawrence, I hope you enjoy your time exploring our unique little LFK and that you long to return again! Rock Chalk!

If you enjoyed this post, check out my other “What Not to Miss”  and Travel Recommendation posts:

What Not to Miss: Vancouver, BC

We’re often asked for recommendations about places we’ve traveled and I’ve never written specifically here about one of our favorite cities to visit, Vancouver, BC.  In the spirit of my “What Not to Miss: Austin” post, I present, “What Not to Miss: Vancouver, BC”.

Josh and I have been big fans of Vancouver since our first trip there, back in 2014.  We stayed in Vancouver for a couple of days prior to our Alaska cruise. We’ve been fortunate enough to visit Vancouver twice since that original trip, both times in the last year and we’re still in love with the city.  It (along with Barcelona) is a place we’d absolutely consider if we were to move “abroad”.

How to Get Around

If you arrive by air, you’ll likely land at Vancouver International Airport (YVR).  The airport is beautiful and really easy to navigate and it’s ridiculously easy to get from the airport directly to Downtown Vancouver, using public transportation.  Just make your way to the Vancouver (YVR) – Canada Line SkyTrain station, located above the covered parking garage at the airport, and ride the SkyTrain for around 30 minutes, to the City Centre station, for less than $10 per person.

If you’re renting a car at the airport and you’re planning to stay Downtown, make sure you account for parking with your lodging.  I’m a big advocate of having a car in Vancouver, and you’ll see why as my recommendations go on, but parking in Downtown Vancouver can be a bit of a nightmare.  Make sure you’re prepared with an Airbnb that includes parking or a hotel that has parking facilities.

If you’re not renting a car, you’ll still find it very easy to get around Vancouver, using public transportation.  I recommend downloading the Citymapper app (Android | Apple) to map your routes using busses and the SkyTrain.  It’s super easy to use and is available for a variety of cities around the world.  All you have to do is enter your final destination and Citymapper will tell you all of the options for how to get there, using public transportation, on foot, via car, and with a taxi/ride share service.  If you’re using public transportation, the app has a feature that will allow it to alert you when your stop is coming up. Surprisingly, this feature works on underground transportation, as well, and even worked flawlessly in the London Tube, which is known for being one of the deeper subway systems in the world.

If you’ve got an early flight to catch, you can also use the app to estimate how long any route will take at specific times of the day, so you can estimate what time you will need to leave to arrive somewhere at a specific time.  It’s a really useful app and we’ve used it in multiple cities around the globe.

Where to Stay

I definitely recommend finding a place to stay that’s in Downtown Vancouver.  Vancouver is an incredible walkable city (we’ve easily hit 25,000 steps in one day in Vancouver) and being right in the center of everything puts you that much closer to all the great parts of the city center.  

If you’re comfortable with using the sharing economy, I recommend Airbnb.  We’ve been fortunate enough to stay in the same building (two different apartments) for each of our three Vancouver trips and it’s in a perfect location.  Unfortunately, the first apartment we stayed in has been sold and is no longer listed on Airbnb, but our last two trips were spent in this fabulous 19th floor apartment, overlooking Downtown.  The views at night are incredible and the apartment has everything you need to enjoy a trip to Vancouver (2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, laundry in the apartment, a fully stocked kitchen, balcony, fast internet, and the best perk of all – underground parking).

If you’re thinking of using Airbnb for the first time, you can get a $40 travel credit by using my link (www.airbnb.com/c/adavis350).  Full disclosure – if you use my link to book, I’ll get a $20 Airbnb credit when you complete your trip.

We haven’t stayed in a hotel in Vancouver before, but there are a lot of options to choose from in the Downtown area.  If hotels are more your speed, you’re sure to find one that’s suitable.

What to Do in Vancouver

It seems like there’s a never-ending supply of things to do when you’re visiting Vancouver.  I’ve broken down my “to-do” recommendations into “inside Vancouver” and “around Vancouver”. We’ll start with things to do while you’re in the city.  

Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus Tour

The first time we were in Vancouver, we spent a whole day riding the Hop-On-Hop-Off bus.  We’ve found that this tour, in any city we’ve done one in, has been one of our best experiences.  These tour companies painstakingly curate their routes and include interesting facts and history about the city, while showing you some of the most popular sites around.  You can hop off the bus at any of the stops, and hop back on when you’re ready to explore somewhere new.

We typically do one full loop of the tour, then get off at places that sparked our interest. That way, even if we find a place we love and lose track of time, we would still have been able to see everything on the tour.  I usually recommend buying whatever version of the ticket will allow you to access all of the routes that are running on your selected day, and if you’re going to be in town for more than a day, I’d get a multi-day pass, if it’s offered.  Then you can just do a couple days of hop-on-hop-off, and see everything you want to see in the city you’re visiting.

Granville Island

Granville Island is a special place.  It combines art, food, and waterfront, right in the middle of the Downtown Vancouver skyscrapers and it’s magical.  Most people immediately think of the Granville Island Public Market when they think of Granville, but this area is so much more than just the Market.  Don’t get me wrong – the Market is phenomenal, but the area is filled with local artists, studios, a boat making shop, a theatre company, and tons of little shops and restaurants that are totally Vancouver.  The Island is a great place to spend an afternoon and when you’re done, grab a snack at the Market and sit outside watching the boats and birds on False Creek, in the shadow of Downtown Vancouver.

Stanley Park

You can’t go to Vancouver without visiting Stanley Park.  It’s one of the largest parks in North America and British Columbia doesn’t mess around when it comes to parks.  At 130 years old and nearly 1,000 acres, Stanley Park is the oldest and largest park in Vancouver. The park lies on a peninsula between Vancouver Harbour and English Bay and features a beautiful seawall that’s great for running, walking, biking, and rollerblading.  While visiting Stanley Park, you can ride the Stanley Park train, visit the largest aquarium in Canada, lay on the beach, visit historical landmarks, eat delectable food, and enjoy the beautiful British Columbia outdoors. It’s really a park like none other, and you’ll want to devote a chunk of time to checking out all it has to offer.  

Stanley Park Seawall

Vancouver Art Gallery

The Vancouver Art Gallery is really a fantastic stop if you’re an art lover.  Their exhibits change often and Josh and I have enjoyed the exhibits all three times we’ve visited.  The gallery is currently housed in a beautiful and historic building (former provincial courthouse), right in the middle of Downtown Vancouver.  Soon, it will be moving into a brand new space (groundbreaking is scheduled for sometime this year – 2018) that’s been in the planning process since 2004.  We can’t wait to get back to Vancouver when the new facility is finished to see how it turned out. It’s definitely worth checking out while it’s still in the current location, as the architecture is gorgeous.

Sunset Beach & English Bay Beach

Adjacent to Stanley Park, you can find Sunset Beach and English Bay Beach.  The two are connected and I’m not certain where one ends and the other begins, but both are fantastic places to spend an afternoon just people watching or enjoying the breathtaking views of English Bay.  Sunset Beach features access to the False Creek ferry system and the Stanley Park seawall. English Bay Beach features beach rentals, the Cactus Club Cafe (this place seemed WAY too cool for us, with a line to get in around 3pm), and a swimming raft with a slide.  If you’re looking for beach activities, either of these would be a great option.

What to Do around Vancouver

Now, we’ll explore things to do around the Vancouver area, but outside the city.  If you have the opportunity and the time to get outside the city limits of Vancouver, you won’t be disappointed.  British Columbia is one of the most spectacular places we’ve ever been and, if we lived there, I would spend most of my time outdoors.  It’s just breathtaking, every direction you go.

GyPSy Guide Tour App

Folks, this is my #1 recommendation when you’re traveling in British Columbia and have access to a car.  If you take no other piece of advice I’ve given here, take this one. GyPSy Guide is an app that you can download on your smartphone.  You download the app for a few dollars (trust me, it’s worth every penny you’ll spend and SO much more) at home, before you leave for your trip to Vancouver.  GyPSy uses GPS (get it? GPS?) signals (no cellular data) to track where you are located and gives you a turn by turn guided tour of the area over your phone speakers, or through the car’s bluetooth connection.  

We have taken both the Whistler (north) route and the Kamloops (east) route out of Vancouver and we would recommend both to anyone who wants to take a day-trip out of the city.  GyPSy also has a tour of Downtown Vancouver that does a great job of teaching you about the city and showing you all of the important landmarks.

GyPSy Guide tours have taken us to places other driving tours would have skipped and we’ve been awed by every turn.  In addition to the British Columbia tours, GyPSy offers tours in Hawaii, on Kauai, Oahu, Maui, and the Big Island.  We used the Oahu and Kauai tours when we were there last year and will use the others the next time we have the opportunity.  GyPSy Guide also has tours in other areas of the United States and Canada. Truthfully, we will download the GyPSy Guide tour for any area we’re visiting that has one.  The tours keep you interested and provide some really great information about the places you’re visiting. Again, I can’t recommend these enough. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to see things other tourists will miss!

Provincial Parks

If you download the GyPSy Guide Tour to either Whistler or Kamloops, you’ll be given the opportunity to pull off at many of the British Columbia Provincial Parks.  I absolutely recommend stopping to visit these breathtaking spots. British Columbia isn’t ever a place that came to mind when I pictured spectacular waterfalls, but it’s definitely on my list of best waterfalls now, after visiting so many of the Provincial parks.  It seems like every turn in British Columbia affords another fabulous view, and the Provincial parks spread throughout the province do not disappoint.

BC Ferry to Victoria

You’ll often hear from people who have visited Vancouver that you need to make sure you get yourself to Victoria.  This can be easier said than done, but, on our last trip to Vancouver, we made the trek to the ferry terminal in Tsawwassen and sailed to Swartz Bay, just outside of Victoria.  The voyage was beautiful and the experience of riding a passenger/vehicle ferry was really interesting.

Something many people don’t realize about traveling from Vancouver to Victoria on a ferry, is that the ferry terminals are both about 30 miles outside each city, so just hopping on the ferry as a passenger isn’t the most feasible option.  You’ll either need to have a car, or take one of the chartered busses that will take you from Downtown Vancouver to Downtown Victoria. We chose the private vehicle method, and would do it that way again, if given the opportunity. We’ve never done the bus trip, so I can’t comment on how smoothly that works, but we know the private vehicle option works well.  I do recommend, however, that you book your trip ahead of time, to reserve a spot. You’ll have to pay a deposit to make the reservation, but you don’t pay the full fee until you arrive at the ferry terminal for your voyage.

Butchart Gardens

While in Victoria, be sure to stop at Butchart Gardens.  I never thought a garden could be so fascinating, but it’s truly amazing.  The gardens are inside an abandoned quarry and are like no place I’ve ever been.  The care and love that goes into keeping this place so beautiful is very evident as you explore the grounds.  While you’re there, don’t forget to make reservations to experience high tea. It can be pricey, but it’s really worth it.  You won’t leave hungry!

Where to Eat

What would a trip be without some restaurant recommendations?  My recommendations in Vancouver are a little different than my typically recommendations.  Vancouver is an incredible international city. You can find cuisine from all over the world within about a 4 block radius of wherever you stay.  Everything is incredible, and you should try it all – from the dollar pizza, to the food trucks outside the Vancouver Art Gallery, you don’t be disappointed.  That being said, I do have a couple of recommendations if you need some places to get started.

Cartems Donuterie

This was a recommendation from one of Josh’s colleagues and he didn’t steer us wrong.  We stopped here as soon as we got off of our cruise ship, after 5 days at sea, from Maui.  Fresh, gourmet donuts and a great mocha were on my to-do list for the day and we had great success at Cartems.  The donuts you’ll find here aren’t of the “Dunkin’” variety. Come prepared to give your tastebuds a workout and you’ll have the opportunity to try flavors you won’t see anywhere else, like smoked maple walnut, honey Parmesan, and orange guava.  

Cartems Donuterie

 

The Flying Pig

Located in the heart of Gastown, one of the more gentrified, touristy areas of Vancouver, the Flying Pig may look like any other over-hyped restaurant.  What you’ll find, though, is a meticulously curated menu of seasonally-inspired and locally-sourced dishes that will blow you away. Who wouldn’t love some pulled pork poutine or lobster and prawn risotto?  Honestly, you can’t go wrong with any selection from their menu.

Mr. Shawarma Food Truck

If you know me, you know of my love for food trucks.  Mr. Shawarma is a truck I found the first time we visited Vancouver, and I’ve been back every time we’ve been there since.  It’s not fancy and it’s not expensive, but the food tastes amazing and the owners are some of the nicest people you’ll meet.  My favorite order is a falafel pita wrap, but they also sell poutine, platters, and spicy options.

Whatever your plans are when you visit Vancouver, I hope you love the city as much as we do!  Do you have favorites that I missed?

 

What Not to Miss: Austin

Austin is a city that gets talked about a lot.  Everybody knows somebody who knows something about Austin.  They’ve embraced the mantra “Keep Austin Weird”, and trust me, they do.  I find a lot of similarities between Austin and my own hometown of Lawrence, Kansas.  Both cities are a blue blip in a very red state, but both are so much more than their politically liberal leanings.  Both could easily play leading roles in a foodie’s dream and both are powerhouses of culture.

My husband and I spent about 5 days in Austin in early January.  It was his first time visiting, and my third.  Both of my previous trips were to attend SXSW, so my experience was a bit limited, but this was an awesome visit and we’re already making plans to go back.  Based on my experiences, I have a few recommendations of things that you shouldn’t miss if you visit Austin.

What to Do

Austin Eats Food Tour

This is my top recommendation for how to spend some of your time in Austin, and it includes eating at some of the city’s best food trucks. We love doing food tours in cities we visit and Austin Eats didn’t disappoint.  I wish we’d had more time in Austin so that we could have done more than one of their tours, but we participated in their Best of Austin Food Truck tour and it was pretty amazing!  The tour started with fresh Golden Eggs from Sandra Bullock’s Walton’s Fancy & Staple (seriously, look these up – they’re amazing), then visited the Cocoa Puro tent at the Saturday SFC Farmers’ Market.  All items sold by vendors at this farmers’ market have to be produced within 150 miles of Downtown Austin.

Other stops on the tour included Kerlin BBQ, where we sampled a fantastic BBQ brisket & cheddar kolache; la Barbeque, where we skipped the line that was forming before they opened, and had the best brisket and pulled pork of our trip, alone with homemade pickles and a really unique cole slaw; Tumble 22 for some Nashville Hot Chicken and Deep Eddy Sweet Tea vodka; Lucky’s Puccias, in the courtyard of Mort Subite Belgian Pub for puccias, a tasty authentic Italian sandwich made with bread baked in the wood fired oven inside the food truck; and Churro Co. for an incredible s’mores churro.  All of the food and beverages are included throughout the tour and you absolutely will not leave hungry.

Rainey Street

This is an adorable little area (just a couple blocks) where old homes have been turned into restaurants and bars.  It’s adjacent to Downtown, and where our Airbnb was. There are food trucks interspersed throughout the area, so if you’d rather have food from a truck, then grab drinks at one of the hip little bars along this street, you can absolutely do that.

Austin 360 Bridge

If you’ve got a rental car, I definitely recommend going out to check this out.  The bridge is stunning, but the view is even more spectacular.  It can be a little confusing to find, as there aren’t any signs and it seems to be a bit of an unofficial park area.  If you see people parked on the side of the road, just before you are about to cross the big bridge, you found it.  You’ll park where they are, then climb up.  You won’t regret the mini hike.  The view from the top is AMAZING!

Hope Outdoor Gallery

This spot started as the beginning of a building and the project was never completed.  Now, it’s an outdoor gallery where artists use spray paint to create amazing art on the concrete foundation of the building.  There’s also a great, unobstructed view of Downtown Austin.

Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library

One of the better presidential libraries I’ve been to.  LBJ was the one who created many of the social programs we work with today.  It was interesting to see how they all started.  There’s a neat feature in this library where they allow you to listen to phone conversations LBJ had with many people, including Jackie Kennedy, right after JFK was assassinated.  It’s really interesting.  It’s on the UT campus, but they have a designated parking lot, so you shouldn’t have any problems.

Blanton Art Museum

If you like art museums, this is a great one.  The entry way is beautiful and they just opened a brand new building (it opened right after we left Austin) that looks amazing.  This one is also on the UT campus, but there’s a public parking garage that makes things easy.

Where to Eat

Pizza – Via313

This is a Detroit-style pizza spot that started as a food truck.  I recommend checking out the original (behind Craft Pride at 61 Rainey Street).  They have an amazing patio in the back yard, where the food truck is, and Craft Pride serves all kinds of Texas craft beer.  The pizza is amazing, and it’s a spot I go back to every time I’m in Austin.

Trendy Doughnuts – VooDoo Doughnuts

This isn’t the original location (that’s in Portland), but it’s just enough of a taste of Austin’s 6th Street to be enough for me.  6th Street is Austin’s Bourbon Street and can be a little overwhelming.  I recommend going long enough to grab a doughnut and catch a little live music.

Amazing Doughnuts – Gourdough’s Big. Fat. Donuts.

This is a food truck that only sells donuts.  There are great combinations and they’re all really good.  This is a popular place, so don’t go unless you have 30-ish minutes to spare.

Tacos – Torchy’s Tacos

Torchy’s is always on the list of recommendations when you’re talking about Austin.  If you like tacos, you’ll like this place, and they even have a “secret” menu.  It’s an Austin chain,  but they’re spreading to other places across the country (Texas, Colorado, and Oklahoma right now).  but they know what they’re doing.  There are lots of locations all over the city and all have different features.  Check out their website to find the location that best fits your needs.

Unique Asian Fusion – Soursop

We stopped here on the way back to the airport.  It’s a small food truck attached to a brewery in a really industrial-looking area.  If you’re using GPS, you’re going to think you’re in the wrong place, but you’re not.  They have a really nice outdoor area and the food is unique and really good.

Breakfast – Biscuits N’ Groovy (Hyde Park)

If you like biscuits & gravy, definitely check out this food truck.  Lots of combinations and they’re all amazing.  It’s also around the corner from a great coffee shop, The Flightpath Coffeehouse.

BBQ – The Salt Lick

This is one you’ll have to drive to.  It’s about 30-45 minutes outside of Austin, but it’s worth it.  It’s one of the more famous BBQ spots in the country.  They have amazing food, but it’s super popular, so I recommend it for lunch rather than dinner.  We actually went as soon as we got off the plane and got our car in Austin, since we couldn’t check into the Airbnb until later in the afternoon.

No matter what you choose to do or where you choose to eat, Austin has something for everyone.  What are your favorites?

 

 

 

 

 

 

2017 Year in Review

As the year draws to a close, I always like to take a few moments to reflect on all my experiences over the past 12 months. As with most years, 2017 will be remembered as a year of curve balls and unexpected surprises, but what would life be without occasional surprises and detours? Here’s my 2017 Year in Review. . . 

Amanda & Josh overlooking Honolulu
Overlooking Honolulu

Work

I just passed the two-year mark at the University of Kansas at the Center for Public Partnerships and Research, managing the Institute for the Advancement of Family Support Professionals project. The Institute officially launched our free, online learning platform on November 1st and things are going well. As the project continues through 2018, a career map feature will be added to the platform that will help guide users to trainings that will help them become proficient in a national set of core competencies that were developed by the project. The project involves a team of stakeholders from many different organizations, spread across four different states and most of the work is done virtually via video conferencing. You can learn more about the Institute and even sign up to take some of the courses yourself at www.InstituteFSP.org.  

 

My husband, Josh, spends his time working in content marketing and communications strategy for a Victoria, British Columbia-based marketing and consulting firm. He is the account lead for several Fortune 1000 clients and has spent some time this year writing about something he’s really interested in – blockchain and cryptocurrency.  You can find some of his writing at www.CoinCatalyst.com. The Bitcoin learning curve has been steep for me, but I feel much more educated in the world of cryptocurrency thanks to Josh’s devout research skills.  We even spent the drive back and forth to Central Kansas for Thanksgiving and Christmas this year listening to Digital Gold: Bitcoin and the Inside Story of the Misfits and Millionaires Trying to Reinvent Money on Audible.

 

Travel

We’ve continued traveling fairly extensively throughout 2017.

 

Hawaii

In May, we celebrated our 7th anniversary by flying to Honolulu, spending four days on the island of Oahu, followed by 12 days on a cruise ship visiting three additional islands for seven of those days and crossing the Pacific for the additional five. While in Hawaii, we stayed in an Airbnb on the North Shore of Oahu, visited Pearl Harbor, did a driving tour of Oahu, had coffee in Kona, visited our first active volcano in Hilo, went mountain tubing at Kauai Backcountry Adventures through the irrigation canals of an old sugarcane plantation in Kauai, marveled at the beauty of Waimea Canyon, took a 6-person cruise along the Na Pali Coast with Na Pali Experience (seriously, if you ever get the opportunity to do this, DO IT!!!), did the entire loop on the Road to Hana, and visited art galleries in Lahaina.

Vancouver

After spending five days at sea, we disembarked the cruise ship in Vancouver and walked 25,000 steps the first day off the ship. Vancouver is one of our favorite cities in the world and we always appreciate the opportunity to explore our favorite places when we’re there. We even made the drive along the Sea to Sky Highway to Whistler.  They’re not kidding when they say the Sea to Sky Highway is one of the most beautiful drives in North America.  It’s truly spectacular, and was made even better because of an app I stumbled upon when we were planning our time on Oahu.  If you’re ever traveling in the Hawaiian Islands or in British Columbia (and a few other locations), and you’ll have a car, I HIGHLY recommend looking into the GyPSy Guide.  The company has several tours of varying lengths for each of the Islands, as well as many tour options in British Columbia, and several popular National Park destinations in the United States.  We probably downloaded 6 or 7 of their tours for our trip and they were worth every single penny.  You download the tour and pair your phone with the car’s Bluetooth, then play the audio of the tour through your car speakers while you drive.  The tour is triggered by GPS signal, and the guide gives fantastic directions.  We saw things during those driving tours that you would never find in a guidebook or by just using trial and error.  I wish every destination had something similar.

Brandywine Falls
Brandywine Falls Provincial Park

 

Family Health

When we returned from Vancouver, we found that my mom had become very ill while we were away. She’d lost a lot of weight and was very weak. Her liver specialist at the University of Kansas Hospital decided that it was time to talk about being placed on the liver transplant list and I spent three days working from the hospital while my mom went through the tests and evaluations that are required before being placed on the list. During this process, it was discovered that my mom was also in kidney failure and she was admitted to the hospital for about a week while the doctors worked on getting her healthy enough to be placed on the transplant list. The treatment she received while in the hospital helped her regain enough strength to officially receive approval to be placed on the liver transplant list on my 35th birthday. Her health continues to be stable and she will likely have to get much worse before she will be able to receive a transplant, but we’re fortunate that she’s on the list.

Amanda & Vickie outside of Palma de Mallorca
Amanda & Vickie outside of Palma de Mallorca

Through this process, I’ve learned more about the process of organ transplants than I ever knew existed and have started preaching the importance of registering to be an organ donor to anyone who will listen.  I even organized an organ donor drive for the Midwest Transplant Network at my office, in August.  If you’re not already registered to be an organ donor (not just with a sticker on your driver’s license, but through an actual registration process), please consider registering at www.OrganDonor.gov today.  Five minutes of your time could mean the difference between life and death for someone you know.

More Travel

Boston

In late September, Josh and I had the opportunity to visit Boston for 4 days for a marketing conference. Since both of us have a professional interest in marketing, it was a perfect opportunity to attend a conference together and get in a little sightseeing while there. Last year, we visited Boston on a cruise, but only had the chance to be in the city for a one day, so it was nice to get to spend more time there and actually get to explore a bit. We stayed in an Airbnb in Beacon Hill, right in the middle of everything. We even took Amtrak to New London, Connecticut, and Providence, Rhode Island, so we could check off a couple of additional states. It was a great, albeit short, trip.

Vancouver (again)

One day after returning from Boston, we flew back to Vancouver, BC for a few days ahead of another cruise. We woke up before dawn one morning and drove our rental car to the ferry terminal at Tsawwassen to go to Victoria and visit Josh’s childhood friend, and his family for the day. We got to enjoy high tea in Butchart Gardens before walking around Downtown Victoria, and spending a few hours at their home before taking the ferry back to Vancouver that night. We also had the opportunity to take another GyPSy Guide tour and drive east out of Vancouver to Kamloops, BC. Someday, we want to take a trip to the Canadian Rockies (Jasper, Banff, etc.) and Kamloops is halfway between Vancouver and the Rockies. It was a beautiful drive and we’re eager to get back to the area.

West Coast

From Vancouver, we boarded the Ruby Princess and headed south. We stopped in Astoria, OR, to see Mount St. Helens, spent a day in San Francisco, where we visited Sausalito, sailed under, drove over, and walked over the Golden Gate Bridge, saw the Full House Painted Lady houses, and walked around Haight Ashbury. We spent the last day of our cruise in Santa Barbara on a food & drink walking tour (Eat This, Shoot That) of the “Funk Zone” which reminded us a lot of our own East Lawrence. The cruise ended in Los Angeles and we flew home that afternoon.

Staying Busy in the Community

After founding the Girlfriend’s Gala in 2014, I’m working with our planning committee to wrap up plans for our 4th annual event, on February 2nd. The Gala is an American Cancer Society fundraiser resembling a “prom” for ladies 21 and over and features a photo booth, snack bar, raffle, and bachelor auction. It’s an event that’s becoming really popular in Lawrence and I spend a lot of time each year preparing for it and soliciting donations.  It’s always a blast and it raises a lot of money for a good cause.

 

I also spend time as a member of the Board of Directors for Just Food, the food bank, here in Douglas County, Kansas.  I serve as a member of the fund development sub-committee and help with a lot of the plans for fundraising events throughout the year.  

 

This year, in my capacity as a Board member for the Social Media Club of Lawrence, I’ve helped to revamp the format for our 2018 meetings.  Since the club was founded, it has been meeting weekly, on Wednesday mornings at 7:30.  With many of the members starting families and having to drop kids off at school at exactly that time every morning, it was becoming difficult to get many members to attend meetings.  We’re excited to start hosting monthly lunch networking meetings and monthly evening meetings with presentations, starting in January.  For more information about attending or becoming involved with SMC Lawrence, visit our Facebook page.

 

Grad School

I’m so close to being done with grad school, I can smell it.  I’m officially half-way through my final year of a two-year Master’s program at the University of Kansas in Digital Content Strategy. I’ll walk down the hill at graduation on May 13th and finish my final class over the summer.  

 

Work Travel

I didn’t travel as much for work this year as I did in 2016, but still got out of Lawrence with colleagues a few times:

  • March – South By Southwest Education – Austin, TX
  • March – South By Southwest Interactive – Austin, TX
  • March – Institute for the Advancement of Family Support Professionals Meeting – Harrisonburg, VA

 

2018 Plans

2018 will bring a trip to Texas and two trips to the Caribbean.

 

Texas

In January, we’re spending 4 days in Austin and San Antonio. Josh has never been to either city and I’m looking forward to getting back to Austin and visiting San Antonio for the first time. We’re staying in an Airbnb on Rainey Street, which is one of my favorite little pockets of Austin. We’re excited to get to see one of our friends and her family when we visit San Antonio.  We accidentally found out they would be there (visiting from southern Mississippi for a conference) the same weekend we would, so we’ll get to spend time with them both in January and in November.  

 

Eastern Caribbean

In May, we will be travelling back to the Eastern Caribbean on the same itinerary we sailed in 2016 (St. Thomas, Tortola, and Nassau, out of Miami).  We haven’t booked any tours yet, but if Josh has his way, we’ll be doing the same tours we did when we were in each location before.  Unfortunately, St. Thomas, St. John, Tortola, and Virgin Gorda all took pretty direct hits from two hurricanes this fall, and we’re not sure how many of the tour operators are back to functioning 100% at this point.  We really enjoyed touring St. John and visiting the Baths at Virgin Gorda when we were there in 2016 and would love to get back to both again.

 

Western Caribbean for Josh’s 40th Birthday

In November, we will be sailing to the Western Caribbean with at least 25 friends and family members for Josh’s 40th birthday. We sail from New Orleans, which will be a lot of fun! You can see our itinerary and learn more about the cruise HERE. If you’d like to go with us, we’d love to have more in our group, so please let me know. There’s plenty of room for more people in our group and you get quite a few perks by being a part of a group, so make sure you book through us. Deposits are always fully refundable through the final payment for cruises, so there’s not a lot of risk involved in booking early.  

 

Wrap Up

2017 has been quite a year.  We’ve been a few new places, made some new friends, been involved in our community, and learned a lot.  What were your favorite parts of 2017?

 

 

 

 

 

Banning Airbnb in Lawrence, Kansas???

Tomorrow evening, the City Commission of Lawrence, Kansas will discuss short term rentals in the city.  I have some very strong feelings about the subject and made sure I completed the survey the city sent out several months ago.  My perspective is not one of someone who owns a short term rental or who has any plans to have one in the future, but instead, is that of someone who has a great deal of experience using services such as Airbnb when traveling both throughout the United States, and internationally.


Our Short Term Rental Experiences

My husband and I have been customers of Airbnb since 2013 when our first experience with the service was renting an apartment with my parents in Barcelona, Spain.  The apartment was located one block from Sagrada Familia and, from the balcony of the apartment, we had a spectacular view of the cathedral from an angle few tourists would ever have the opportunity to experience.  None of us spoke Spanish, but we were able to communicate with our host (who spoke no English) easily through the Airbnb platform.  The apartment was across the street from a grocery store and in the same block as many local restaurants.  Because we were able to get such a great deal on the apartment through Airbnb, we spent significantly more just being “tourists” in a city we fell in love with.

Since our trip to Barcelona, back in 2013, we have been completely sold on the sharing economy idea of Airbnb.  We do not travel anywhere for pleasure without looking for an Airbnb property to stay in.  In fact, since 2013, the only time I have stayed in a hotel was when I was traveling for work, and we have even started to shift business travel lodging to Airbnb when possible, because it allows for collaboration between colleagues in an environment that isn’t full of the hustle and bustle of a hotel lobby.  We can sit around a dining room table and debrief all the things we learned at a conference, or we can work on presentations while sitting comfortably on a couch in the living room.  It’s really a fantastic way to travel with colleagues.

Vancouver, BC Airbnb Short Term RentalsVancouver, BC
London, England Airbnb Short Term RentalsLondon, UK
Washington, DC Airbnb Short Term RentalsWashington, DCBoston, MA Airbnb Short Term RentalsBoston, MAAustin, TX Airbnb Short Term RentalsAustin, TX

My husband and I have stayed in Airbnb properties all across the US (Seattle, Downtown Kansas City (twice), Austin (twice), Denver, Washington, DC, the North Shore of Oahu, and Boston) and internationally in London (twice), Vancouver (in the same apartment on three separate trips), and Barcelona.  We feel like utilizing available short term rentals allows us to experience cities like locals do.  We eat at more neighborhood restaurants, shop at more locally-owned stores, spend more money, and really get to know each city we visit.  Because we’re able to experience the true nature of each city, we find ourselves much more connected to each place and much more likely to return for another trip.  Additionally, booking through services such as Airbnb has allowed us to stay in areas that are much closer to city centers and in much more popular areas for far less than we would have had to pay to stay in a hotel.  I can say, without a doubt, that we have been able to travel more and visit more destinations because we are booking with Airbnb rather than with a hotel.  Hotels in many of the destinations we have visited would have made the trip cost-prohibitive.

Lawrence is made for short term rentals

Lawrence is a city that’s primed to make people fall in love with it.  I’ve lived here my whole life and my love for this city is contagious.  Whenever I have friends coming into town, or even old high school friends coming home to visit for a holiday, I feel compelled to tell them about all of my favorite places in Lawrence and about all the new places that I’ve recently had the opportunity to love.  In my experience, Airbnb hosts are some of the very best ambassadors of the cities in which they have property.  They want the experience of their guests to be as positive as possible.  Hosts want those guests to come back.  They want people to love place they call home as much as they do.

I understand the purpose of regulating short term rentals, but I’ve encouraged our City Commission to do it in a way that will not suffocate their existence in Lawrence.  By keeping them around, we’re encouraging people who love the sharing economy to add Lawrence to their list of desired destinations.  I’m certain people staying in these properties are spending more money in town than those who are staying at a hotel.  My husband and I are those people in other communities and we wouldn’t want it any other way.

 

 

 

 

How to Experience New Orleans Like a Local

One of the favorite parts of traveling for Josh and I is trying to experience every place we visit as if we were a local.  Because Josh lived about an hour outside the city prior to Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans was one of the first cities I was able to ease into this travel style.

My definition of traveling like a local means avoiding the typical tourist traps (with a few exceptions – who isn’t going to stop at Cafe DuMonde when in the French Quarter???), eating at restaurants that are off the beaten path, enjoying the amenities cities provide for their citizens (parks, museums, etc.), and taking time to just explore.

After our first trip to New Orleans together, Josh and I compiled a list of recommendations for a friend who was planning her own trip.  I’ve saved that list and every time another friend is planning a trip, I make sure to offer it up, as my contribution to their trip planning.  We have friends who have come home and raved about our recommendations and one who lets me know every time she goes back to one of the restaurants we originally recommended when she visits the city.  

Below is our list of recommendations.  I hope they are as beneficial to you as they have been to some of our other friends.

(Photo Credit: Bacchanal Wine)

Bacchanal

600 Poland Avenue

Bacchanal is in the ‘super cool’ Bywater neighborhood.  It’s a wine store, but out back, they have a pop-up restaurant where you can enjoy live music while relaxing on patio furniture sipping your favorite cocktail or a local Abita beer.  When the weather is nice, it’s an experience that can’t be beat!  Bacchanal has been featured on Top Chef several times, as well as on the HBO show Treme.

(Source: Follow Me Foodie)

Cochon Restaurant

930 Tchoupitoulas Street

Cochon is a restaurant and butcher.  The butcher shop is next door to the restaurant, and provides all of the meat for the restaurant.  It was one of the best meals we’ve ever had in New Orleans.  It’s run by famous New Orleans Chef, Donald Link, who was one of the first chefs back in the city after Hurricane Katrina.  He’s been on Top Chef multiple times and his food is exceptional!

(Source: Mid-City Lanes Rock N Bowl via Facebook)

Rock N’ Bowl

3000 South Carrollton Avenue

If you like bowling and live music (or just live music), Rock N’ Bowl is a spot you shouldn’t miss.  It’s a really cool live music venue that happens to be housed in a bowling alley.  Many fantastic musicians have played at Rock N’ Bowl and it’s a favorite spot for locals to catch their favorite New Orleans bands.  

 

(Source: Willie Mae’s Scotch House)

Willie Mae’s Scotch House

2401 Saint Anne St

Willie Mae’s Scotch House serves the very BEST fried chicken in the country.  But plan accordingly. . . They’re open for lunch and serve until they run out.  You’ll want to get there early because they do sell out.  On one of our trips, we actually ate at Willie Mae’s twice because we thought it was so good.  The restaurant was wiped out by Katrina and the community came together to rebuild it.  

(Source: Napolean House)

Napolean House

500 Chartres Street

Have a Pimm’s Cup here if you get a chance.  It was invented here and Josh loves it.  Their muffaletta is also pretty phenomenal.  🙂  It’s in the French Quarter.

Your Favorites?

What are your favorite New Orleans spots?  Comment with your recommendations and I’ll be sure to add them to my list to check out the next time we’re there!

 

 

 

 

 

Getting Started as a Guest with Airbnb

My First Airbnb Experience

For someone from the Midwest, my experience with Airbnb started out pretty spectacularly. My parents, husband, and an extended family member were traveling to Barcelona to board a Mediterranean cruise and we needed a place to stay for a couple of days. We wanted someplace that was pretty close to the Hop-On-Hop-Off bus route so that we could do that one of the days we were there and close to the top tourist attraction in all of Spain, the Sagrada Familia Basilica.

I’d never used Airbnb or VRBO before, but was really intrigued by the concept of renting an apartment that all 5 of us could share and split the expense of, rather than three separate hotel rooms where we would each have to spend about $200 per night. I decided to take a look at the options that were available on Airbnb and see what we might be able to get. I centered the map on the Sagrada Familia and started my search.

The first property I fell in love with was located about a block from Sagrada Familia and it looked like I may have hit the jackpot right out of the gate. I plugged in the dates we were looking for and discovered that the apartment was available when we were going to be there. Horray!

I put in my request for the dates and waited for the host to respond. I was a little bit intimidated by the language barrier (in hindsight, taking Latin in high school probably wasn’t the most logical choice), but Airbnb includes a super easy translation option, so when the host responded, her message had already been translated from Spanish to English. The apartment was available and we were approved to go ahead with the booking.

I was thrilled to be able to try out Airbnb for the first time with such an amazing location and apartment. This was the view from the balcony off the living room of the apartment:



We ended up spending $404 for three nights in a three-bedroom apartment a block from Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. If we’d booked a hotel, it would have been closer to $1,800.

Now, don’t get me wrong. . . if you want to drop some serious money on a spectacular place, you can definitely do that on Airbnb, but that’s not typically the direction we go. When I’m searching for places on Airbnb, I’m typically looking for something that’s relatively inexpensive, but in a convenient location, and the amenities we can’t live without (AC if it’s going to be warm, an elevator if it’s higher than the 3rd floor – luggage for 14-day trips can be heavy, and the appropriate number of bedrooms/beds if we’re traveling with more than just the two of us).

Beginning a Search

So, where do you begin a search? I highly recommend doing an internet search for the best neighborhoods for tourists in whichever city you might be traveling to. The search is likely to give you some good ideas, so you can start narrowing down your options. In larger cities, this can be a pretty daunting task. I, myself, got pretty overwhelmed trying to figure out where to begin looking for a place to stay in Los Angeles after an upcoming cruise and gave up, booking a return flight the same day we get off the ship.

Once you’ve found a general area you want to search in, you can center your map and get started. Make sure you pay attention to the prices listed, as those are a nightly rate, and additional fees may be included once you get to the booking page. Just be vigilant about paying attention to the total cost and you’ll be fine.

If you’re going to a city with a great public transportation system, I recommend trying to find a place that’s close to a bus stop or a subway station. Being close to transportation opens the entire city up to you, and with apps like Citymapper, you’re just a few clicks away from being a public transportation pro and not looking like a lost tourist.

Referral Program

Airbnb has a great referral program for members. If you refer a friend, they get a $35 Airbnb credit, and if they make a booking, you get $35 in Airbnb credit. If they decide to become an Airbnb Host, you get a $75 Airbnb credit when they book their first guests. If you don’t have an Airbnb account yet and would like to sign up, get a $35 credit yourself, and do some exploring, I’d be honored if you’d use my referral link: www.airbnb.com/c/adavis350. We try to use Airbnb exclusively when we travel, so the credit will certainly be put to good use on a future trip.

Business Travelers

In the last year or so, Airbnb has set up a program for business travelers.  If you are traveling for business, the site will now indicate whether or not the property you’re looking at has standard business amenities (WiFi, laptop-friendly workspace, smoke & CO detector, essentials, iron, hangers, hairdryer, and shampoo).

In March 2016, I used Airbnb for business travel for the first time.  Three of my colleagues and myself were traveling to Austin, Texas to attend SXSWedu (the education conference associated with South by Southwest’s larger festival, later in the month).  The experience allowed for significantly more face time with my colleagues, as we could gather around a dining room table each night to talk about the sessions we’d attended rather than around a tiny table in a loud hotel lobby. We were able to cook with each other, collaborate on work projects, talk about the sessions we were interested in attending the following day, and really get to know each other. It made for a fantastic travel experience and 3 brand new close friendships.

Extra Income

Airbnb isn’t just for travelers looking for a place to stay. It can also be a great way to make some additional income if you have extra space in your home, or if you travel a lot and your home is in a home in a high-demand location. I’m not super-familiar with the ins and outs of hosting on Airbnb, but it’s certainly an option for someone looking to make some additional money.

Entire Place or Private Room?

One thing I never thought I would want to do with Airbnb is to select the “Private Room” option when searching for a property.  I had always been pretty adamant that it would be weird to share a home with a stranger.  That was until I discovered the most fabulous place we’ve ever stayed and the first Airbnb property that we have plans to stay in for a second time. . .

In 2014, Josh and I took a Pacific Northwest vacation which included an Alaska cruise.  Prior to heading to Vancouver, BC to get on the cruise ship, we stayed in an Airbnb in Seattle, took a day trip to Orcas Island, in the San Juan Islands, to visit a friend of mine from childhood, and spent a few days staying with one of Josh’s childhood best friends, in Victoria, BC.  From Victoria, we flew into Vancouver to stay for a few days prior to the cruise.

Vancouver isn’t an inexpensive city, so many of the properties were out of our price range or weren’t close enough to the center of the city for our liking, so, on a whim, I selected the “Private Room” option rather than “Entire Place”.  I’m so glad I did, because we discovered a room in the 27th floor Penthouse apartment of a building in the center of Downtown Vancouver, within walking distance to everything we could ever want to see.  The views (below) from this apartment were like nothing I’d ever experienced before.  The amount of outdoor living space was almost as much as indoor, with an outdoor living room, dining room, and balconies off of each bedroom.  It was a truly incredible place and the hosts and their dog were fantastic. It was such a wonderful experience that, when we knew we would be sailing from Vancouver on our October Pacific Coast Wine Country cruise this year, I reached out to the hosts to see if their room would be available for us to stay in again.  I can’t wait to be back on those balconies and in the heart of Vancouver.  It quickly became one of our favorite cities in the world.




What’s Wrong With a Hotel?

Short Answer: Nothing. . . It’s what’s right about an Airbnb property that makes all the difference.  Josh and I truly enjoy experiencing the places we travel to.  We want to get to know the city and feel like a local.  A big part of making that happen comes with staying in a neighborhood, with people who actually live in the city.  While you might not get to meet the neighbors, you still have the opportunity to interact with your hosts both before and during your stay.  The connection with the host can be one of the best parts of the trip.  Hosts are familiar with the area, can give dining tips, can help you get a SIM card for your phone if you’re traveling in a country that’s not your own, and a multitude of other benefits.  Having someone in the city who you can connect with for questions can be invaluable.

Many hotels are situated in areas surrounded by other hotels and not really within a part of the city that would allow you to really feel what it would be like to live there.  Being able to go to a grocery store, bring home local food, and to cook for yourself, in a kitchen filled with local staples is something you could never do in a hotel.

There’s also a benefit to being able to have space to be separated from your travel companions.  For Josh and I, staying in an Airbnb property can be essential.  Josh has a bit of an odd sleeping schedule.  He typically goes to bed around 8pm and wakes up between 3 and 4am (he says he gets his best work done before anyone else wakes up).  I tend to go to sleep sometime around 11pm and I get up around 7am for work, or between 8 and 9am on weekends.  This schedule doesn’t work very well in a hotel room.  An Airbnb property, on the other hand, could have a living room and separate bedroom, which makes our trip much more enjoyable, as we can keep our sleep schedules without disrupting one another.

Now, I have nothing against hotels.  When we’re visiting a city for only one day, we tend to book a hotel because it may just be easier to stay close to the airport if we have an early flight.  But, when we’re staying for more than one night, we prefer the diversity and immersion that an Airbnb property allows, compared to a very cookie-cutter hotel option.

 

Past Trips

We’ve stayed in Airbnb properties in Barcelona, Seattle, Vancouver, Kansas City (twice), Austin, London (twice), Denver, and Washington, DC.  We’ve had fantastic experiences with each and every property and I know that our experience was significantly elevated because we were staying in an Airbnb property rather than in a traditional hotel.

 

Upcoming Reservations

In the next year, we have reservations booked at Airbnb properties on the North Shore of Oahu, back at the 27th floor penthouse apartment in Vancouver, and I’ll be heading back to Austin with colleagues for SXSWedu and SXSW for two weeks in March.  We’ve still got a couple of locations we haven’t booked yet, but we’ll be booking properties in Hong Kong, Tokyo, and back in Vancouver very soon.

 

Wrap-Up

Whether you’re a world traveler or not, Airbnb can be a good way to get out there and explore the world around you.  Immersing yourself in local culture and activities is one of the best ways to really experience a location and Airbnb is a fantastic way to make that happen.  Once you start using Airbnb, it’s unlikely that you’ll want to go back to a traditional hotel for your travels.  We certainly don’t plan to!
Some photos from some of our Airbnb stays:

 

So, you’re interested in booking your first cruise. . .

So, you're interested in booking your first cruise
I get asked quite frequently about my recommendations for first-time cruisers.  Having taken my first cruise in 2004 and having been an avid cruiser ever since, I like to think of myself as a good resource for people looking to plan their own cruising adventures.  I was able to convert my husband (who was staunchly opposed to cruising as a form of travel because he didn’t like the idea of being “stuck on a boat with nothing to do” for any length of time) into someone who sings the praises of cruising to everyone who asks.

Booking your first cruise can be incredibly overwhelming.  There are SO many options.  You have to choose a cruise line, a destination, a cabin, a dining time. . . the list keeps going.  There is so much to know and so many decisions to be made.  Below, I’ll try to help with some recommendations, from my 13 years of cruising experience.

Q: Which cruise line/ship should I choose?

This answer will depend on a few factors:

  • Do you want lots of activities to do on-board while the ship is at sea?

Most modern cruise lines have great activities on-board to keep guests entertained while they’re at sea, but some have more numerous options than others.  For example, some of Royal Caribbean’s largest ships have a carousel and aqua-theater on their ships.  Some of the larger Norwegian ships have Broadway musicals and Cirque du Soleil-style dinner theater entertainment on-board.  Disney’s ships are designed with Disney’s entertainment principles in mind.  You can see Disney elements in every aspect of the Disney cruise experience, from the design of the ship to the menus in the dining rooms.

  • Do you want lots of options for different dining venues?

Norwegian is known for their vast selection of options when it comes to dining on their ships.  Some of the larger ships have up to 23 or 24 dining venues on the ship.  These include the main dining rooms, but also venues like a Teppanyaki style restaurant, Brazilian steakhouse, sushi bar, tapas bar, Italian restaurant, and several others.  The Norwegian Escape even has a restaurant where you order everything from an iPad at your table.

Some more traditional ships have only a few options outside the main dining rooms, usually including an Italian restaurant and an American steakhouse.

Typically, specialty restaurants on a cruise ship charge a small fee, which will be added to your shipboard account, so keep that in mind when you’re budgeting for your cruise.

  • Are pools and water features important to you?

Some ships have better pools and water features than others.  The Norwegian Epic has a pretty fantastic water slide setup, with three slides, including the Epic Plunge.  Sister ships, Norwegian Getaway, Norwegian Breakaway, and Norwegian Escape have free-fall slides and the Escape touts an Aqua Racer slide so guests can race their friends and family members to the bottom.

If you’re looking for adults-only pool areas, many ships have restricted pool areas where all guests must be at least 16 or 18 to enter. These areas can be a respite, especially on cruises that happen over the summer or over school breaks.

  • Are you looking for a great spa experience?

All the major cruise lines have spa services.  If there’s something in particular that you want to make sure you have access to while you’re on vacation, be sure to research ahead of time to see which ships offer those services.

  • Are you traveling with children who will want to spend time with other kids?

All major cruise lines also have programs for kids and teens.  The availability and hours of the program will likely depend on the number of children on the ship.  Josh and I went on a Canada/New England cruise in October, out of Baltimore and found ourselves on a ship with 1,996 adult passengers and 4 children.  We’re not certain we ever saw three of the children, but the one we did see couldn’t have been over 1.

If you’ll be traveling with your children and want them to participate in a program with other kids, be sure to travel during a time when other kids are likely to be on-board (summer vacation, holiday breaks, spring break, etc.).

  • Are you traveling with small children, but you know you’re going to want an evening to yourself?

As with my recommendation about kids programming, if you’re expecting to have an evening child-free on your cruise, you’ll either want to be sure you travel during a school break or be ready to pay a few dollars for someone from the kids program staff to babysit your child for a few hours.  Most lines offer a childcare service after their normal children’s program hours, especially on formal nights.

Overall, our favorite line is Norwegian.  We appreciate all of the different options for dining and the laid back feel of their ships.  They also have the best guest loyalty program for us (double points when you book at least 9 months in advance).  We’ve also cruised on Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Princess, and Holland America.  We probably wouldn’t sail on Carnival again and prefer Princess and Holland America to Royal Caribbean.  That being said, we just came back from a Canada/New England cruise in October on Royal Caribbean and will be sailing Hawaii to Vancouver on Royal Caribbean in May.  We tend to book based on itinerary rather than ship or cruise line.

Q: Where should I cruise?

This question is also up for debate.

  • Do you have a destination in mind?

If you have one destination in mind, that’s a good place to start building your options.  Many cruise lines, and even travel tools like Expedia, have search tools on their websites that allow you to choose ports you want to visit and then they build your options backwards from that.

  • What time of year do you want to travel?

Obviously, you won’t be cruising to Alaska in December, so if your only vacation option is around the holidays, you can probably cross an Alaskan cruise off your list.  Many ships that are typically in the Caribbean over the winter make the trans-Atlantic trek to the Mediterranean for the summer months, so Caribbean itineraries can be more difficult to find.

Remember that Hurricane season in the Caribbean runs from June 1st through November 30th and you’ll find lots of inexpensive cruises during this time.  This can be a fantastic opportunity to get a great deal.

Also keep in mind that summer vacation, spring break, and any other school holidays mean that the ships are going to be filled with families with small children.  It can be a little chaotic during those times, especially on 5-day sailings to the Caribbean.  We only sail to the Caribbean in winter, if we can swing it.

  • Do you know which city you want to depart from?

Similarly to knowing a port you want to visit, if you know where you’d like to sail from, this can help you narrow down your options for itineraries.  Most of the cruise line websites should allow you to choose a departure port.

  • How long do you want to cruise?

If you’re looking at 5 days, your options are going to be fairly limited (mostly Caribbean, out of Florida, but Galveston has options too).  If you have to choose between Eastern & Western Caribbean, my favorite is Eastern or the Bahamas, but I don’t really like the ports on the East coast of Mexico.  They’re beautiful, but there’s a lot of pressure from locals to buy things and I haven’t had great experiences there or in Jamaica.  If you do end up in Cozumel, Playa Del Carmen, Costa Maya or any of the ports in Jamaica, I recommend booking a shore excursion through the cruise line and sticking with the group.  If you really like to shop, any of those ports would be good though.  I’m not a huge souvenir buyer or drinker, so the Mexican ports just aren’t my cup of tea.

With a 5-day cruise, you’re likely only going to be able to get to some of the closer islands in the Caribbean, like the Bahamas and the cruise lines private islands (mostly also in the Bahamas), but those are some pretty great islands.  Based on some of the currently available itineraries online, you may also have the opportunity to go to Grand Turk, Grand Cayman,

If you have 7 or more days to spend cruising, your options will open up significantly.   All of the Alaska cruises I’ve seen are at least 7 days and you can get much further into the Caribbean if you have 7-10 days to explore.  If you’re traveling from the US, keep in mind flight time if you’re looking at cruises that don’t leave from the US.  You can’t leave home for a cruise out of Barcelona or somewhere in Asia the same day the ship’s supposed to sail, so you’ll need to plan in buffer time there.

  • Are you interested in a lot of sea days or more port days?

Some itineraries are heavy on sea days (repositioning cruises) and some are heavy on port days.  I’ve been on a cruise that hit 7 different ports in 7 days.  It’s not common to have a cruise like that, because the US departure ports are a quite a ways away from most of the Caribbean ports, but that particular cruise sailed out of San Juan, Puerto Rico, so we started much closer to other Caribbean islands.

Cruise lines are always looking to fill cabins, so they will stop in a couple of obscure places, that may not get cruise ships stopping by very often, in order to fill up their repositioning cruises.  A repositioning cruise just means that a ship is moving from starting round-trip cruises in one location to another departure port for a different season. For example, a ship that typically sails the Caribbean all winter, may reposition to Barcelona to sail the Mediterranean for the summer season.  This repositioning cruise will likely stop in places like Bermuda and the Azores on the way across the Atlantic.

If you are just looking to relax on a floating city for a week, a trans-Atlantic repositioning cruise may be an economical and fulfilling trip!

All that being said, if you have the vacation time to spend, I HIGHLY recommend Alaska.  It’s the first cruise we ever came home from and were ready to immediately book the same sailing again.  I wish we’d had more time there because it’s like nothing you’ve ever experienced or will ever experience in the lower 48.  Being a Kansan, I’ve traveled to Colorado many times for vacation in the mountains.  Colorado is beautiful, but Alaska is spectacular.  Just imagine mountains that don’t start at 5,000 feet above sea level and rise to 14,000 feet, but actually AT sea level and rise to 14,000 feet.  It’s an incredible place to experience and a place I believe should be on everyone’s bucket list.  If you book an Alaska cruise, make sure you book one that sails through Glacier Bay.  The National Parks Service restricts the number of ships that can sail through Glacier Bay each day, so not every Alaska cruise gets the opportunity, but it’s 100% worth any additional cost you encounter.  It’s phenomenal!

We were lucky enough to cruise through Glacier Bay the morning after a pretty strong earthquake rattled the area.  This meant that we cruised through lots of pieces of icebergs that had calved from the glaciers during the earthquake.  The stories people tell about the sound a glacier makes when it calves is not to be underestimated.  It’s truly a sound like nothing else.

Q: Do I need a passport to cruise?

Even if your cruise line doesn’t require a passport (for cruises that originate and terminate from the same US port, the rules are murky), I feel like the safer option would be to go ahead and get a passport, just in case.  For any cruise, you’ll want to be sure your passport doesn’t expire for at least 6 months after you return from the cruise.

Obtaining a passport can take a while, depending on how backed up the US State Department is, so make sure you give yourself plenty of time to get yours back before you sail.

Q: How far in advance should I book my cruise?

We typically book cruises about 18 months in advance (it’s January of 2017 and we have an Asia cruise booked for March of 2018 already).  We feel like we get some of the best deals by doing this, and if prices drop later, you can usually get the lower price.

If you live near a port, you can get really great last-minute cruise deals when cruise lines don’t fill up their sailings.  If you can travel on one to two weeks notice and drive yourself to the port, you can sail for significantly less than those of us who live closer to the middle of the country and have to fly everywhere.  While the cruise fare may get smaller the closer you get to the sailing date, the flight prices definitely do not.

Q: Which cabin category should I book?

We usually book inside cabins and spend the extra money on shore excursions or experiences on the ship instead.  We’ve had balcony cabins on our honeymoon cruise (Southern Caribbean) and our Western Mediterranean cruise.  Both were fantastic, but we find that we don’t spend very much time in the cabin, so it was a bit of a waste of money.  My parents, on the other hand, only book balcony cabins, but they spend a great deal of time in their room, reading on the balcony, even on days when the ship is docked in a port of call.

For first-time cruisers, I recommend an inside, mid-ship cabin.  This is where you feel the least amount of movement for the best price.  Anything too far to the front of back of the ship is likely to move a little bit and, until you know if you’re prone to sea-sickness, I’d stick to the middle, if possible.

We also always choose our cabin rather than booking the less expensive “guarantee” rate.  The guarantee rate gets you a cabin in the category you pay for, but allows for the opportunity for an upgrade, if a better cabin is available closer to the cruise.  We choose our own cabin because we have been upgraded before to a part of the ship that we didn’t really want to be in (right under the disco or next to an elevator, where there’s lots of noise all night long).  When you choose your own cabin, you’re less likely to have an upgrade opportunity, but you also know that you’ll be in the part of the ship you want to be (and if you book far enough in advance, you pretty much have your pick of cabins).

Q: If we put down a deposit, do we lose the deposit if we cancel the trip?

While I always recommend confirming with your cruise line, typically, you can get a full refund of your deposit if you cancel a cruise before the final payment is due.  Final payment is usually due about 90 days before the ship sails.  You could put down a deposit for a sailing in March of 2018 and still be able to get all your money back as late as December of 2017. If you cancel after the final payment is made, you lose a percentage of the deposit, depending on how close to the sailing you are.

Q: Is alcohol included in the price of my cruise?

Most ships are not completely all-inclusive (alcohol isn’t usually included, but many lines have an additional beverage package you can purchase where either beer & wine or all drinks up to a certain price are included).  As of this writing, I believe the Norwegian Sky is the only ship that includes an unlimited beverage package as standard practice.

Things that are included with your cruise fare are food (unless you eat at certain specialty restaurants), juice (with breakfast), lemonade, tea, coffee (not specialty coffee, such as espresso, lattes, etc.), and most entertainment.

Q: Why are gratuities so important on a cruise ship?

Because most cruise ships are not US flagged, they do not have to abide by US labor laws.  This means that crew members are not paid the same rates that you would be accustomed to receiving while working in the US.  This also means that crew typically have to work longer hours than US workers would have to.  To balance this, many guest-facing crew members receive required gratuities from passengers.  Typically, these gratuities are either pre-paid, as part of your cruise fare (if you request it), or they are added to your shipboard account while you are on board.  They usually run less than $15 per day and include tips for your room stewards and your dining room waiters.  There is also typically an 18% gratuity added to all drinks ordered from the bar (including soda, whether you purchase it by the glass or in an unlimited soda package at the beginning of the cruise).  If you encounter exceptional service from a crew member, you’re always able to tip an additional amount at any time.

We always make sure to have a few extra $20 bills at the end of the cruise if our dining room waiters and room stewards were truly outstanding.  We find that this is the case more often than not, actually.  These folks work really hard every single week to make sure your vacation is outstanding and they absolutely deserve any additional gratuities you feel like leaving for them.

Q: Can I fly in the day the cruise leaves?

I don’t recommend it.  I always feel more comfortable flying into the departure city at least one day before the cruise departs.  This allows you the opportunity to have a missed or delayed flight and still make it on time.  If you’re not on the ship when it’s scheduled to sail, it’s not going to wait for you, so if you’re in town the day before you’re set to sail away, you’ll have nothing to worry about.

Q: Can I book a flight home for the morning the ship returns?

Again, not something I recommend.  This doesn’t mean that you have to stay an extra day after the cruise is over, though.  If you book a flight after 1pm (depending on how close the airport is to your port), you should be safe.  Sometimes customs will not clear the ship until later than expected and if that happens, you may not get off the ship until far later than the arrival time that’s noted on the ship’s itinerary.  There’s also a risk of being held up in the individual customs line at the port, after you get off the ship.  This has happened to my husband and I before and it was a really tense experience.  We were traveling with a group and had booked a flight after 1pm, but we were very close to missing our flight by the time we got to the airport.

That being said, 9 times out of 10, you can be to the airport by 9am, if you’re lucky.  I’d rather take my time getting off the ship for a later flight than be rushed and in a panic if things happen to not work out the way you’d planned this one time.

Q: Should I buy travel insurance?

I always pay for travel insurance (and the one the cruise line offers when you check out isn’t always the best deal).  My travel agent recommends Travel Insured and they have a couple different levels.  You can purchase this separately, once you’ve booked your cruise and it will cover your expenses if your trip is cancelled because of a hurricane (and other reasons – just be sure to check the differences in the levels of coverage, because this makes a difference).

Q: Aren’t cruises just for retired people?

Don’t believe what people say when they say this.  They either have never cruised, haven’t been on a cruise in years, or they haven’t been on the right cruise.  Cruising is, by far, one of the easiest ways to see the world.  US cruise lines sail to all corners of the globe and provide a multitude of shore excursion options for people who range in interest from bus tours to mountain climbing.  Many families choose this way to vacation because it’s incredibly simple to get on a ship, unpack once, and wake up in a new country every morning.

And, if you plan things right, you will have done enough research about each destination you’re visiting to know exactly what you want to see and what you want to do.  It’s truly one of the easiest ways to be a world traveler.

Q: Is there a good website resource for all sorts of cruise questions?

Absolutely!  I highly recommend CruiseCritic.com.  I’ve been a member of the online community at Cruise Critic since I started cruising and I’ve learned SO much from other cruisers there.  There’s probably someone in that community who can answer any question you could possibly come up with and there’s also a space for people who are cruising on the same sailings to get to know each other before the cruise.  We’ve met many people who are members of Cruise Critic and we’ve done fun events and meet-ups with them once we’re on the ship.  It’s a great resource and it’s FREE!  Go check it out!

Wrap-Up

Please keep in mind that I’m not a travel agent.  Since 2004, I’ve been to 64 different cities and 30 different countries on a cruise ship.  I’ve been to 26 different ports of call in the Caribbean, and on other cruises that took me to Alaska, the Panama Canal, the Western Mediterranean, New England and Eastern Canada, and the British Isles, and currently have cruises booked that will take me to Hawaii, the US Pacific coast, and to Hong Kong, China, South Korea, and Japan.  I love cruising and I’m happy to share my experiences with anyone who has questions.  I surely don’t have all the answers, but I can certainly try to answer any questions that come up.  Feel free to comment with any questions and I’ll do my best.

 

Liberty of the Seas Group Cruise – Day 1

Day 1 means that we get to have our first look at the Liberty of the Seas.  This will be the largest ship that we’ve ever sailed on and I’m very much looking forward to exploring it’s offerings when we’re able to board.

Before leaving the hotel, be sure to have a carry-on packed.  Typically, my carry-on consists of prescription medications, a swimming suit (if you’d like to swim when you get on the ship) and a change of clothes for that evening’s dinner (in case your luggage is a late-arrival).  Having these items will ensure that you have an enjoyable first day on the ship.  Sometimes, luggage doesn’t arrive until 7 or 8pm and occasionally, even later, so having a few important items will allow you to be able to do things on the ship that you wouldn’t be able to do otherwise.

We usually leave the hotel around 10am to head for the Port so that we can be on board as close to lunch time as possible.  Most cruise lines tell you that boarding doesn’t begin until 1:30 or 2pm, but that’s not true.  You can be on board as early as 11am on some occasions.  Early boarding is all dependent upon how early the ship got into port and how smoothly debarkation of the last set of passengers went.  If things were moving slowly, they may not open boarding until 1:30 or 2pm, but we’ve found that that’s not usually the case.  I don’t think we’ve ever boarded a ship later then 12:30pm.

When we arrive at the port, we will be greeted by luggage porters.  These are the men and women who handle all of the luggage for all of the passengers arriving to board the ship.  This means 3,634 passengers luggage is handled by these people each time the ship comes into port.  If you take into account that these porters are also assisting people getting off the ship, this could be 7,268 people in one day.
It’s customary to tip the porters when you hand off your luggage.  Some people believe that a bigger tip means that your luggage will get to your cabin faster, but I don’t think there’s any way that one can guarantee that with so much luggage changing hands.  You should definitely tip the porters though, just as you would tip your cab driver or a doorman at a hotel.

Once your luggage is left safely with the porters, you can proceed to the check-in area.  Sometimes, it will be open by 10am for check-in and sometimes, you will have to wait a bit until they are ready for you.  If you have to wait, generally, there is a seating area for you to wait in, but be prepared, because sometimes, especially with the larger ships, these areas can become crowded quickly.

Check-in is typically pretty painless.  Just make sure that you have your passport, cruise documentation and the credit card that you will be charging for all of your on board purchases (no, everything isn’t included – alcohol, Ben & Jerry’s, specialty coffee, etc. is all an additional charge).

Once we board, we have to wait until the cabins are ready, which usually doesn’t happen until around 2 or 3pm.  This will give you plenty of time to explore the ship and stop at the Windjammer for a buffet lunch but be prepared, because this day in the Windjammer is going to be complete chaos.  This is one of the only open locations on the ship during boarding and that means that it’s where everyone ends up.  It can get pretty hectic, so my recommendation is that you find a table first and then have someone stay where while the rest of the group goes to get their food.  If you don’t scope out seating first, you may end up wandering around for 20 minutes while your food gets cold in your hands.

This is also a good time to do some exploring and to get yourself acquainted with the ship.  If you’re not hungry immediately, you can even wander around the ship first and wait out the crowd in the Windjammer.

The rest of day one is filled with muster drills (thank goodness you don’t have to wear your life jackets anymore) and a sail away party.  I usually spend this day getting used to where things are on the ship.  I know this time won’t be any different since it’s a very large ship and we’ll have a lot to explore in 5 days.

Liberty of the Seas Group Cruise – Day 0

On the first travel day, all 23 of us will be travelling to Ft. Lauderdale from various locations across the country.  We’re hoping for good weather as we travel at the end of January since we’ll all be escaping the horrible mid-US winter.


Most of us have flights on Delta in the mid-morning leaving from Kansas City.  Others are flying in from Denver.  We’re looking for a good place to have dinner in Ft. Lauderdale that evening, so if you have any suggestions, please let me know.


We’ll be staying at the LaQuinta Inn & Suites, Ft. Lauderdale Airport.  We got a pretty good deal through our travel agent and we’ll get a ride from the airport and to the Port the following morning.