The Evolution of Travel in the COVID Age; A Trip Inside a Travel Agent’s Own Adventures.

I have been saying for a while that folks CAN travel during COVID, but two key words right now are Flexibility and Adaptability

I am living proof.  Here is a glimpse into the mind of someone who NEEDS to travel to survive.  I know that sounds dramatic, but I am a nomad in a first world country.  I need to move.  I need to explore.  I need to be challenged. COVID has presented a particular type of struggle for people like me.  But I persevere…..and here is what it looks like.

Plan A – An AMA Waterways river cruise on the mighty Rhine

Early this year, my hubby and I booked a FAM trip (this is travel agent speak for a FAMiliarlization trip – it is an opportunity to scope out a particular travel vendor, sometimes at a discount) with AMA Waterways – a luxury river cruising company that I have wanted to patronize for a while.  I love their itineraries and commitment to clients!  I was super excited about this opportunity. 

Our river cruise departed from Basel and ended in Amsterdam.  Since we are particularly adventurous, we booked flights to Paris three days ahead of our cruise departure, giving us a chance to hang out in Paris, go to Disneyland Paris, then drive to Basel, Switzerland to meet our cruise.

We held out hope….then on September 15th, we received confirmation that our river cruise was cancelled.  We waited another couple days then figured Europe probably would still be closed off, so we scrapped Plan A.

Plan B – Costa Rica

In September, Costa Rica opened it’s borders to select US states, and Maine was one of them, with restrictions (negative COVID test and the purchase of additional medical insurance in case of contracting COVID while in Costa Rica resulting in a prolonged stay).  We were cool with this opportunity – I mean, my brother in law and his lovely wife had agreed to come stay at our house during our absence to be with the kids and pets and hang out, so we really wanted to take this time as a couple.

I found FABULOUS airline tickets on JetBlue with direct service to Costa Rica and the plans were made.  We were going to stay in an all inclusive and I made sure I purchased the Travel Insurance PLUS option which allowed me to cancel for any reason for a full refund in the original form of payment.  I purchased our additional medical insurance and we were ready.

Just this week, I was dotting the I’s and crossing t’s (like every good travel professional should be doing) and saw on my JetBlue account that our flights had been cancelled – no communication – no nothing from JetBlue (and I am surprised about this as I really like JetBlue and expected more from them. I later found out that somehow the email linked to these particular tickets was different than the email attached to my TrueBlue account….so that explains it!).

So, to rebook on another airline would have been crazy town expensive, so I called our resort vendor and cancelled for a full refund.  I was also granted a refund for our additional medical insurance.  On to to Plan C.

Plan C – the Great American Road Trip

OK – I didn’t have to think about this Plan long…..I am in love with Charleston, South Carolina.  I have been since I taught middle school there right after I graduated college (winter of 1997).  I have only been back once in 2000 and I have been telling my hubby ever since how much I love this city and want to bring him there.  Enter Plan C!!!!!

Our plan is to road trip to Asheville, North Carolina via an overnight stop in Winchester, VA, and see American’s largest private residence, Biltmore.  We will stay there two days so I can get my “castle/mansion” fix, then we will spend four nights in Charleston at a fabulous B&B.  We have plans to visit friends and family a couple nights, do a ghost/pub crawl in Charleston, tour Magnolia Plantation and Middleton Place Rice Plantation and also drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway.  I cannot wait!!!!  Oh, we will also have fun listening to Harry Potter books on Audible as we drive (this was a wee bit of a concession on my part since our road trip is very history heavy – my love, not as much Kelly’s, although he has grown in his appreciation of all things old as of late).

So, there you have it.  Adaptability and flexibility.  If you want to get out there….go!  Sure, some things will be different but get out there and explore!  Use this time to do things you haven’t done before.  And follow our adventure right here!!!  Don’t miss out!

Sweating out the Crazy

Last weekend, one of my BFFs from High School and I decided to go on a backpacking adventure. We headed up to Mt Chocoura, NH for two nights of solace and time together. We got that and so much more!

My friend, Sherry, has never been backpacking. I have been a couple times but I am by no means an expert…but since I have an almost Eagle Scout, I had all the gear we needed for our trip.

We packed two very heavy frame packs to include a tent, 2.5 gallons of water (no water up there), food for 48 hours, Sterno in case the fire went south, fire starting material, warm clothes, poles, sleeping bags and mats, books, chargers (because we couldn’t totally unplug), phones and some nips. We had everything we needed but didn’t feel like we over packed.

Setting off from the car at 4pm.

My pack was about 60lbs and Sherry’s was around 50lbs.

We almost died.

Chocoura isn’t a big mountain but we aren’t in the BEST of shape, hauling 50+ pounds of gear and finishing our hike in the dark Thursday night to a full moon…..we made it but were a bit anxious by the time we found the shelter on the dark, not marked trail.

It rained most of the day Friday but we had gotten up early to collect downed firewood in the area for a collection for the afternoon, evening and our last morning….Friday night and Saturday were COLD and the fire was a blessing.

We talked, told stories, laughed A LOT, did Mad Libs, didn’t read as much as we wanted to but learned a lot about Mt Chocoura and it’s history. Our intent was to complete our hike to the summit on Friday but the rain gave us an excuse to not do it. We Googled it.

We didn’t find the outhouse until the second day…..it’s so cute, isn’t it?

This time away with my friend was priceless. I almost feel overwhelmed with the nothingness that is going on. Time to think. Time to push myself beyond a physical limit. Time to be scared. Time to project some hope.

Sherry and I will plan another escape this winter – but we are thinking a nice cabin in the woods with hot water and fire wood we don’t have to hunt for!

Disney 2020 – The Memory Maker

Every time we go to Disney, we purchase Disney’s Memory Maker (previously Photo Pass).  This Photo Package not only includes all the pictures taken around the parks (including rides) and resorts by Disney’s photographers, but also any that are taken during a character/meal encounter.  You can link all members of your traveling party (even other reservations and groups) for everyone to use and it encourages people to keep their phones put away.

For us, it has always been worth every penny!  I also encourage my clients to make this purchase – some do it, others do not and regret it.  We have made an art out of doing funny things for our Memory Maker photos.  It is part of the fun in making the memories to last a lifetime.  And on par with Disney – they even throw in a little magic!

Here are our favorite Memory Maker photos from this trip!

Char and the photographer had a bit of fun!

The concentration levels are EPIC.  I always lost!  hahaha

Some of the best pictures come off Space Mountain!  From nose picking, T-Rexing, praising Tiki (that’s the “baby” Yoda doll you see sometimes), choking out, rockin’ out and shooting out – we have it all covered!

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Seriously – T-Rex arms are classic!

And then there are the classic Group Shots! These are fabulous and make some of the best memories ever – I mean, that is the whole point of the Memory Maker!!!

And then throw in a little Disney Magic!

As you can see, we love our Memory Maker!!! We take full advantage of it every trip!!! Next time you go to Disney, you should totally think about adding the Memory Maker to your trip planning!!!

Disney 2020 – The Nitty Gritty

So many people were surprised when I told them we were going through with our planned trip to Disney last week.  I kept hoping Disney would remain open so we could go!!!

People were worried about the plane ride.

People were worried that Florida is a hot bed of COVID and that we were taking necessary risks.

People were worried that others wouldn’t follow the rules.

Some people just worry.

That’s not us!  And we knew that Disney would not only be the happiest place on earth; we knew it would also be the cleanest!

During our week at Disney we saw physical distancing markers at ALL the rides and we were encouragement to follow procedures from Cast Members when we forgot (it is easy to fall back on norms and crowd the people in front of you when you are excited).

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The queue at Soarin.

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Physical distancing on the monorails – quick and easy!

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A great example of the physical distanced queues in line for Rockin’ Roller Coaster.

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The queue at Expedition Everest

At every ride entrance and exit and ALL over the parks and resorts, there were not only hand sanitizer stations, but also hand WASH stations with soap.  Along with marked physical distancing queues for rides, food pick up and purchasing merch at stores, many of the loading areas and queue areas have physical barriers to promote distancing.

Every ride is sanitized in a rotation with specially formulated spray every two-ish hours.  We were able to witness this first hand on Flight of Peter Pan.

Character encounters were different, but we loved each one!!!

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Our dinner at the Garden Grill in The Land at EPCOT was one of the best meals EVER!

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And we had so much fun with our “friends”!!

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A carriage full of princesses at EPCOT!!!!!

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I met Alice at the Great Britain pavilion.

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Even the Cast Members got into the fun!

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A character “experience” with Captain Jack Sparrow!

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Anna and Elsa at EPCOT!

Friends, life is full of calculated risks; smoking, sunbathing/outside sports, riding a bike or motorcycle without a helmet, jay-walking, being in a car without a seat belt.  The list goes on.  We gambled on the quality of the experience we have come to count on with Disney and we were NOT disappointed!!!

Is this a time for everyone to travel?  No.  You should not travel if you feel uncomfortable traveling.  You should not travel if you are unwilling or unable to follow the rules set forth by the airlines or your destination.  For us, this trip was a no brainer and we were rewarded for our adventurous spirit!!

Sangria by the Lake

While camping this year at Long Lake, I decided to make a “sangria a day” for tasting.

You see, I really do not like wine – GOSH – I TRY so hard to like wine, but I just don’t.  So I thought I would try many different “mixers” with wine to see if it helped.  Not only that, but I have had some lovely sangrias in Spain and wanted to try my hand at it.

I have enjoyed a fall themed sangria in the past (think caramel apple), but looked to Facebook to find some tried and true summer time refreshers for this little experiment.

Here is my picture diary, the recipe link and my assessment for each sangria I made!

Red, White and Blueberry Sangria

Red, White and Blueberry Sangria Recipe

I served this our first night along with a Maine feast of lobster rolls, corn on the cob, clam chowder and salad. This sangria was one of my favorites – it was light and I might have a little less Prosecco in mine, but overall it was light, bubbly and refreshing.

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Red, White and Blueberry Sangria

 

Sparkling Rose Sangria

Sparkling Rosé Sangria

This sangria was again, very refreshing and had a little kick to it with the addition of vodka.  I served this for our anti pasta night (even though I made a putenesca) – meat, cheese, bread and yumminess!  This pared well with dinner and was fabulous after a long, hot day on the lake!

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Sparkling Rose Sangria

 

Blackberry Sweet Tea Sangria

Blackberry Sweet Tea Sangria

This twist on two fab drinks really rocked!!!  I served this with a traditional summer meal – hamburgers, hot dogs and pasta salad.  My kids were feeling totally left out of this whole sangria experiment so they did get to enjoy the sweet tea before infusing it with the wine!

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Blackberry Sweet Tea Sangria

 

Mystery Sangria – contributed by Jennifer Smith (a dear friend from HS who warned me not to drink this too fast – maybe it should be named Knock You On Your Can Sangria

Approximately 1/2 gallon of red wine

1 to 1 1/2 cup apricot brandy

1/2 cup to 1 cup triple sec

1 cup orange juice

1 cup apricot nectar

1/2 cup to 1 cup Sprite or equivalent

Half an apple, chopped

Half and orange, chopped

Cinnamon

Combine the liquid ingredients in a large pitcher, chop the fruit into bite size pieces and add to pitcher.  Sprinkle cinnamon over the top.  Chill

My sister cooked this night and we had a Greek chicken and salad meal.  This sanrgia would kick you in the pants if you drank too much of it!  It was a bit too alcoholy for me, but others enjoyed it and luckily, I only made one batch!

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Knock You On Can Sangria

 

Pink Sangria – contributed by my girl Cheriene who loves this recipe as her go to for summer sangrias!

1 Bottle dry white wine

1/2 cup pink moscato (sparkling)

1/2 cup peach liqueur

1 1/2 cup sliced strawberries

1 large peach wedge

1/2 an orange, sliced

1/2 a lemon, sliced

Combine all ingredients, allow time for the flavors to mix and serve chilled.

We had this sangria pared with skewered Italian Meatballs and pasta!  It really hit the spot!

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Pink Sangria – I know mine doesn’t look very pick, but it must have been the lighting!

 

Cider Beer Sangria

https://www.howsweeteats.com/2016/09/cider-beer-sangria/

One wouldn’t think that beer and sangria would go hand in hand, but this one was delightful!  We had pizza this night for dinner and a Cider Sangria fit the bill!  It was a little fall tasting, but we did’t let that stop us!

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Cider Beer Sangria

 

I do so love our time at the lake every year!  The sangrias added a fun touch and I have to admit, with a background like that, how could you go wrong?

Disney 2020 – Follow the Rules or Stay Home

I’ve always been a rule follower.  There have been a handful of times when I have not followed the rules and the the consequences were terrible – I will continue to follow the rules!

Right now, the world is full of extra rules.  For some people, that is comforting.  For others, it makes them stir crazy.  I would fall in between.

If you are unable or unwilling to follow the rules at Disney, please stay home.  Don’t ruin this once in a lifetime experience for the rest of us because you are too selfish do to what is asked of you.

When you agree to go to Disney during this time, you agree to the rules set forth by Disney to create a safer experience.  Here is an overview of some of the rules;

 1.  Masks must be worn at all times EXCEPT when you are ACTIVELY eating or drinking AND you must be STATIONARY (you cannot walk around and eat or drink with your mask off).

We had no troubles with this at all – only once when we were seated and not ACTIVELY eating or drinking did someone say (politely) we had to keep our masks on.  It was NOT – and if you have breathing problems or asthma, for example, going to Florida at the end of August would not be the best idea.  But EVERYONE we saw was compliant – even the 2 and 4 year old cousins we were traveling with – they did AMAZING!!!!!

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Everyone wore masks ALL day except when eating or drink while STATIONARY.

2.  You must maintain physical distancing. 

I love the signage and people say PHYSICAL distancing, NOT social distancing.  This was easy for everyone to understand and for the most part, people did a great job at keeping space!  We were a large part – sometimes up to 10 of us, but we stayed together and were only questioned a few times about the size of our party.  This is one great reason to wear the same shirts!!!  Everyone knew we were part of the same group!

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The queue at Expedition Everest

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3.  Your temperature will be checked every day before entering the park.  If y our temperature is at or above 100.4, you and your party will be asked to go to another tent close by for monitoring and additional steps may be taken.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t TOTALLY happy ever time we passed the temperature screening every day.  Let’s face it, you can have a temperature for a million other reasons than COVID, and all those reasons will keep you AND YOUR PARTY out of the park if someone has a sustained temperature.  I think this is great – because how many people force their sick family members into the park because they “paid a lot for this trip” and will endanger everyone else with their germs!  Is this method 100% fol proof – nope.  But it sure helps!!!

At Disney, there were plenty of rules we had to follow.  I thought they were acceptable rules to not only encourage a more hygienic environment, but also the get on with life during a pandemic.  We cannot reasonably remain quarantined forever.  Life must go on and Disney is making it happen.

Disney 2020 – Animal Kingdom

Friday, our last day at Disney World, was spent at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.  We stayed for over 9 hours and packed in eso much!

We arrived when the park opened and headed to Pandora Flight of Passage and walked right on.  We hit Na’avi River, then headed to Kilimanjaro Safaris.  Afterwards we did the Kalahari River Rapids 4 times, then Everest 3 times (my stomach was about to roll over).  We had lunch, did the jungle walk, then watched the “bird show”, rode Dinosaur, did the Gorilla walk, then headed back to Flight of Passage, where we walked on AGAIN!!

WHAT A DAY!!!!

Here are the pictures to prove it!

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It was as if we had the park to ourselves!!!!

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Smith Day at Animal Kingdom!!!

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This handsome fellow is “KJ” and he is the alpha male of the four bachelor group at Animal Kingdom.

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Char gets her sugar fix!!!

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A must-do picture every trip!

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Kelton gets his turn!!!

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The Tree of Life never looked so good!

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Along with hand sanitizer stations everywhere, you can find simple hand washing stations with soap all over the parks.

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Late afternoon – still a light crowd headed into “Africa”.

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Disney 2020 – Magic Kingdom, Day 2

Our second day at Magic Kingdom was even MORE epic than the first.  We had a blast going on repeat rides (3 times in a row for Splash Mountain and 4 times for Space Mountain), walked on to Peter Pan (that never happens!) and rode everything we wanted to except Big Thunder Mountain (it was closed all day).

The crowds were even fewer than our first day at Magic Kingdom and everything was open except Big Thunder and the People Mover.  Some shops are closed, but trust me, there are plenty of places to buy Disney goodies!!!!

Here are some pictures from our day!

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Headed into the park with “The Child” – whom I keep calling Baby Yoda – but Char has named him “Tiki”.

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I love the thin crowds!!.

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Dole Whip….So good!!!

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This is the “opening” crowd!

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I have never seen Cinderella Castle so empty!

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A character “experience” with Captain Jack Sparrow!

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Mid day – around 1pm….where are the people???

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A late afternoon storm starts to clear out the park even more.

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Not many people left on Main Street.

 

Disney 2020 – EPCOT

The older I get, the more I love EPCOT!  On Wednesday, we got to experience a day at EPCOT like no other I have ever seen or will probably ever see again!  To attend the International Food & Wine Festival with so few people was indescribable!  We had a wonderful time!  We even got to experience character encounters “COVID” style!

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We have been at EPCOT during a number of their festivals; The Art Festival, The Flower and Garden Festival and now The International Food & Wine Festival.  I have to say I have found them to all be rather similar, but special experiences none-the-less.  They are worth the extra effort to attend during these events.

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EPCOT is undergoing a massive overhaul.  I was surprised by how much was closed off, but other than the flow of traffic being interrupted, I didn’t find it terribly inconvenient at all.  I cannot wait to see all the magic the imagineers have in store for us at EPCOT gets a face-lift and new feel!!!  I mean – the crowds were so thin, the re-routing caused by the updates was barely noticed!

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In addition to a new entrance before Spaceship Earth (and a revamped Spaceship Earth experience) and the entire courtyard after Spaceship Earth getting completely redone, we are anticipating a new Remy ride (similar to the one in Disneyland Paris – which is EPIC) and new “neighborhoods” being created in the areas around The Land, The Living Seas and over near Mission Space.  The re-imagining is extensive and will give EPCOT the edge it has been lacking for a while.

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We had a wonderful time!!  We also wore some pretty spectacular shirts this day – ones we made – and they were so well received that even the ladies working at the Italy pavilion thought they were amazing and voted us having the “best shirts”.  There were cool!

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EPCOT has always been one of my faves and with all the new goings on there, it is sure to be one of yours!

 

 

Disney 2020 – Magic Kingdom

Well, what can I say?  Magic Kingdom has always been my favorite park – I mean, it IS the happiest place on earth.  Today, it was EPIC!

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I knew the minute the monorail arrived we were going to have the best.day.ever!

We hit all the major rides except Big Thunder Mountain (it was closed for cleaning when we were in that area) and the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train – but we are luckily going to Magic Kingdom on Thursday and those will be our top priority!

People keep asking, “What is not open?”.  Well, ALMOST everything IS open!  The only ride I have noticed that is not open so far is the People Mover in Tomorrowland.  There are not as many snack stations open and some of the smaller stores are closed, but we have not had to search for snacks, drinks or souvenirs at all!

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All of the rides close on a rotating schedule for cleaning, so occasionally a ride will be shut down when you want to go on it but it isn’t closed for long.

There are sanitation stations EVERYWHERE, everyone is masked, each and every ride queue is comfortably distanced, there are fabulous pop up parades and musical performances and not having to dodge people left and right or get run over by strollers or scooters was priceless!

The truth is, this is the most perfect, magical time to be at Disney.  Never again will there be so few visitors and this is such a gift!!!  We have done Disney’s special events in the past (Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party and also a Disney Vacation Club Members Only event) and there are FAR FEWER people here now then there were during those events!  We are loving every steamy minute of this experience!!!

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This is how I felt ALL day!!!!

Stick around because tomorrow is EPCOT!!  EPCOT is experiencing so many changes right now, but I know we can count on some great rides, short lines and the International Food and Wine Festival!!!  My dream come true!!!!