My Yearly Travels as seen through my Ornaments

I used to find it really hard to choose a special keepsake from each of our trips.  I loved so many cool “things”, but it just isn’t reasonable to get them all!  So a while back, I decided to get an ornament from each of our trips.

Every year, when we put up our tree, it is a wonderful opportunity to remember our travels and stories as a family.  It is something I treasure and our tree is really full of US.

Here are the ornaments I got this year.

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Paris. January 2019

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Disneyland Paris. January 2019

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Symphony of the Seas. February 2019

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February 2019

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Disney World. February 2019

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Tuscon Arizona. April 2019

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Tombstone, Arizona. April 2019

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Bearizona. April 2019

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Las Vegas, Nevada. April 2019

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O’hau, Hawai’i. October 2019.

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Strasbourg, France. November 2019

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Switzerland 2019

Taking it slow

Last month, I wrote a bit about Impact Travel and my own experience with the emerging trend.  Another emerging trend in travel in Slow Travel.  This type of adventure engages the traveler in an experience that revolves around not only immersing one’s self in the cultural aspects of a destination, but that idea is reinforced and made possible by the ACT of traveling slowly.  Examples of slow travel include rail vacations, river cruising (all over the world) and the American favorite – the road trip!  Traditional ocean/sea cruising can also take the form of slow travel, but the idea would be staying overnight or multiple nights in one port before moving on.

I think this concept was brought about by the fact that we desire to slow the revolution of the earth.  Time is fleeting and the older we get, the faster it seems to go!  We are so busy; we have so little vacation time; we realize our kids grow so fast and our parents are aging before our eyes.  Our family trips to Disney are wonderful and anything BUT a vacation and hopping from spot to spot on a cruise ship is not only filled with constant entertainment, but endless stimulation options that busy the mind and exercise the spirit.  People are realizing the beauty in slowing down, stopping to smell the roses, and the knowledge gained by personal interactions in culture and with people who are different than we are.

Every vacation can contain some aspects of slow travel – whether you are traveling abroad or to another part of your own country.  For example, instead of aiming to visit four destinations in a week-long trip, choose two and dive in – eat where the locals eat.  Shop where locals shop.  Ask a local about the hidden treasures of their city – they want to brag about THEIR place on this big blue ball and they are the EXPERTS!  Try a new mode of transportation!  When my daughter and I were in Paris earlier this year, we not only did a bike tour but also “rented” Lime scooters (the kind you stand on like a big kid) and scooted around everywhere!  Find a quiet place and reflect.  This single act allows me to inhale a place.  Become a people watcher and learn through observation.  Basically, slow it down.

Don’t get me wrong – there is a time and a place for the hurried vacation – I am planning a group cruise to Hawaii in 2021 for my son’s graduation (wanna go?) and know that we may never go to Hawaii again – especially as a family – so we are seeing as much as possible!!!  In the meantime, I plan on enjoying a few slow travel experiences in my near future – a river cruise in November and our weekly long camping trip coming up later in July – it doesn’t get much slower than camping!!!  The world is big and time is flying by….take it slow!

Here are some ways we have experienced aspects of slow travel on our adventures.

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Amtrak Downeaster on a gorgeous summer’s day in New Hampshire! Old school slow travel.

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Anyone need a hat?

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Harbour Island – ACTUAL pink sand!!!

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Cadiz, Spain. Churros and chocolate and a little bit of people watching.

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Try a new form of transportation….Char and Sable on a Segway tour of the city – in Europe, kids can do many things they aren’t “allowed” to do in the US.

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Try to blend in. Zurich, Switzerland – these are our “Polish faces” – my sister in law is Polish, and she said Americans smile too big in pictures – so this is how we imagine the Poles smile!

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June 2018. Shortly after sunrise over Vatican City. I ache for another opportunity like this one….we were high tailing it to our private Vatican Tour so we could barely stop to smell the roses, but man, I wish I could’ve frozen time in this very spot. It was so peaceful and serene.

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Well, I am not generally a wine drinker but I was in PARIS!!! A glass of wine was a requirement. Eat and drink like the locals.

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The Eiffel Tower was closed due to the weather, but we scooted all the way there to take in the rare sight!

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Eating like the locals in Quebec….this place was off the beaten path and we were rewarded with an amazing dinner. Everyone got a platter of thinly sliced beef, then there was shrimp and chicken to fondue as well!

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Our appetizer..bread dipped in cheese!

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Taking it easy at the Siberian Spa outside of Quebec. A family trip to remember.

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It isn’t hard to eat like a local in Italy. Lemon risotto – the most amazing risotto ever!

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Scooter pick up! Try a new form of transportation….the best way to see the Amalfi Coast!

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Limoncello to end the evening! Drink like the locals! This is the restaurant near the Vatican – halfway through our meal about 20 priests walked into the restaurant….a good beginning to a joke!

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Eat where the locals eat. Giuseppe and his biggest fans!

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So much Caprese!

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Our greatest find! Just hop off the highway to find your treasure!

TBT…BEFORE the cruise…

Before our fabulous cruise in May of 2015, we hung out in London for 5 days and toured the area!  We arrived in April and we were met by my brother in law and his wife and daughter.  They live in Poland and we took advantage of being close to them and arranged a short holiday!  This was our second visit to London and we enjoyed it very much!  We stayed in a suburb all together and did some AMAZING touring!  Here is a photo journal of that visit!

 

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We walked EVERYWHERE and this photo was taken on way to Harrods!

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Windsor Castle – one of our favorite stops! We were rushed in our visit and I cannot wait to go back. This castle is really a fine example of Royal castles and it was a highlight of my stay in London!

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Windsor, Char and Sable – you all haven’t met Sable yet, but this kitty gets around. She even has her own book series in the works!

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Windsor!!!!

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My first favorite thing about this London visit (aside from seeing family, or course) was scoring coveted tickets to tour Highclere Castle – AKA Downtown Abbey. Here, Sable checks out the grounds as “Downtown Tabby”.

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My handsome hubby and I at Highclere Castle.

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Family photo taken by dad. Yes it was cold, rainy and windy – it was April in England!!!

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Kelly and I ate out one night while the kids went back to the flat with the family. We ate at a restaurant in the basement of Harrod’s that specialized in TRUFFLES!!!!! It was SO good!!!!

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Kelly and Freddie Mercury at Madame Tussauds.

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Sable MIGHT have been getting a bit too familiar with the queen. Madame Tussauds.

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Kelton’s hair resembled Albert Einstein’s a bit too much!! Madame Tussauds.

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Oh Char….well this is a statue representing the overindulgence of King Henry the VIII’s court at Hampton Court – another FAVORITE stop of mine – a must see!

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Char strikes again….sleeping next to the famous wine fountain that was created for a treaty meeting in northern France between Henry the VIII of England “and France” and King Frances I of France. This fountain flowed with wine in front of a “castle” built out of golden cloth to represent King Henry’s magnificence. So famous is this amazing tent that the event in history is referred to the Field of the Cloth of Gold. My history buff side shines through!

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Gardens at Hampton Court

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My beautiful rose petal and Hampton Court gardens.

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Iconic Tower Bridge!

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Mind the gap. We got an Oyster Card and used all manner of public transportation throughout London! I love this shot of Char and Sable!

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A view of Parliament from the London Eye.

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Westminster Abbey

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Big Ben!

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These adorable sheep were all over the city and the kids posed with them whenever possible! The sheep were dressed in outfits that represented the area where they stood.

Notre Dame

In April, while I was traveling to the American south west, I learned about the tragic fire that destroyed the wooden spire and 700+ year old roof of Notre Dame in Paris.  I certainly won’t get into the social implications of the fire; the costs to rebuild and the controversy that surrounds all the donations coming forth, but I wanted to share my own experiences with this amazing place and some of my favorite personal pictures.

I first visited Notre Dame in 2013 with my family as a part of a month-long European Adventure.  We went in March during the off season and enjoy fewer lines and more exploring!  My kids were 6 (almost 7) and 10.  They did great!  We spent 4 nights in Paris and saw all the must-see sights!  As soon as we arrived (even after traveling overnight), we unloaded our luggage and headed to Notre Dame!  It was right around the corner from where we were staying in the Latin Quarter and we loved it!

I can really appreciate this site on many levels – as a Christian, I appreciate the devotion of the followers who, for years, poured their lives into building this masterpiece as an outward expression of their faith.  I appreciate the significance of this holy place to Catholics all around the world and marvel in its beauty and divine mission.

As a historian, I appreciate the place this building holds in history – the advancements in architecture and science it took to build; the priceless artifacts that are preserved in this building; the craftsmanship that went in to the carvings, the stained glass and masonry and how this place has witnessed so very much over time.  If those walls could talk!

As a humanitarian, I appreciate the grief and joy this place has housed; the turning point for so many on their journey of faith and life and the hard times that have brought people to its huge doors.  I image how many people brought their sorrows to the alter – how many marriages and deaths were observed over the past 700+ years and the unfathomable amounts of history that took place within these walls built by men.

This past January, my daughter and I had the joy of seeing this beautiful site once more.  We saw the outside of the cathedral three or four times and went inside once.  We visited in the snow and made a small snowman in the park in front of the cathedral.  We visited on our final day and fed the pigeons there.  We have made many memories of this place and I feel eternally blessed and thankful that I have had an opportunity to visit a place that embodies history and humanity.  My hope is that, however it is arranged, this place is restored and reopened expeditiously for countless people that journey to Paris just to see this holy place.  I hope you get to see it, too!

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Snowfall at Notre Dame, January 2019

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What do you do with fresh snow in Paris? Build a French snowman at Notre Dame!

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We pop out of the metro and the phone comes out!!!

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The arrival!!!!

TBT…The Best Cruise Ever, Part II – my husband’s pictures!!

Last week I shared with you a photo journal of our dream cruise of the Mediterranean in May 2015.  Here are some other pictures of that fabulous journey and the stories behind them!

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On a 15 night cruise, one collects A LOT of towel creatures!

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Cadiz, Spain. Churros and chocolate!!!! AMAZING!

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Like a garden of Eden – Malaga, Spain

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I *think* this was in Marseilles, France…but I could be wrong!

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Scooting in Cinque Terre, Italy.

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The Roman Colosseum

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Villa-France-sur-Mer, France – this is where we moored and was the port for Nice and Monaco. The town of Villa-France itself is stunning and quintessential Mediterranean. I am itching to go back!

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On board the Anthem of the Seas, moored off the coast of Nice, France.

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Barcelona, Spain – On one of the main promenades. I love how Kelton is fussing with his sister’s hair!

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We always find critters – Barcelona, Spain

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The construction continues at Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain

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La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain

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Anthem after dark

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Gibraltar – long lost cousins? Oh and behind Kelton in the distance? AFRICA!!!!!

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In the mountains of Gibraltar

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ME! Flying in the iFLY – aboard the Anthem of the Seas

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Suspended in the North Star – a fabulous way to see the Anthem!

 

 

Throw Back Thursday…the best cruise EVER!

When I turned 40, I said to my husband that I would love to go on a Mediterranean cruise.  At that point in my life, I had been to northern and central France, England and Scotland and really had the Europe bug (I still do!)!  I wanted to see more and the best way to do that, is on a cruise!!!  Think about it – you only have to unpack once, your hotel goes with you, your meals are already set and you can see multiple countries in a short period of time.  It was SPECTACULAR!!!!

We chose Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas – this was in 2015 and she was brand new!!!  This was her first REAL voyage (not the quick, work-out-the-kinks 3 or 4 night turn around) and we were beside yourselves with joy.  This was my kids’ first cruise and it was a 16 night out of Southampton, England.  We departed in early May and hit Gibraltar, Barcelona, Malaga, Cadiz, Villa-France-sur-Mer (Nice/Monaco), Marseilles, La Spezia (Cinque Terre), Civitavecchia (Rome) and Lisbon.

Words cannot describe how awesome this cruise was, so I picked SOME of my favorite pictures to share so you get the idea.  The Mediterranean in spring is something wonderful to behold and I hope you get a chance to see it someday, too!!!  Wanna go next spring?

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Barcelona cathedral rooftop. Spain

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Sagrada Familia – needs no introduction!

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Kelton posing in Barcelona.

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We rented scooters in La Spezia, Italy and toured Cinque Terre. It was absolutely incredible!!!

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Cinque Terre

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Cinque Terre

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Malaga, Spain is one of the most gorgeous cities we have ever seen!

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Malaga – breathtaking!

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Malaga

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View of the Med from Alcazaba fortress, Malaga

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Gardens in Malaga

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Char and Sable on a Segway tour of the city – in Europe, kids can do many things they aren’t “allowed” to do in the US.

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View of the Anthem of the Seas from Alcazaba

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Moor doorway at Alcazaba – the architecture was stunning!

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Marseilles Cathedral! Marseilles, France

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Plaza in Marseilles

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Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde, Marseilles

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Jeronimos Monastery, Lisbon, Portugal

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Atop the battlements of Castelo de Sao Jorge (St. George Castle)

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Outside of Jeronimos Monastery

 

We made so many memories on this trip and talk about it today!  These times with my kids were and are priceless!  I wouldn’t trade them for the world!

 

Desert in Bloom

The desert has always had a special pull for me.  It is probably because it is such an unusual landscape – living the majority of my life in the Northeast.  The idea of few trees and mostly small ones at that, rugged geography of sand or hard-packed red earth and little visible life seems so foreign to me that it is intriguing!  The seeming solitude of this place misrepresents itself – as easily as we do.   It can appear bleak and desolate – with little good going on – but below the surface lies an abundance of treasure if only we know how to look it!

I was amazed by how many minerals and gems were discovered in them thar hills!  Below the stark and lonely desert, where it seems nothing of use or value can be found, some of the greatest strikes in mining history were made!  In fact, the southwest cut its teeth on gold mines, copper mines, gem strikes and silver.  Who thought, “Hey.  Let’s start digging here in the middle of the desert!”?

Another gold mine is spring in the desert.  We visited the Desert Museum in Tuscon and were greeted with a beautiful display of cactus blooms and desert flowers.  April is a fabulous time to see the desert come to life – and there was so much of it!

Life finds a way where it persists; where it finds ways to adapt and embrace its environment.  We would do well to learn from the desert!

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A flowering barrel cactus, Sierra Vista, AZ

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The largest rose bush (tree) in the world – planted in Tombstone, AZ in the late 1800s – started from a rose twig sent from Scotland to a homesick new bride.

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The blooming of the largest rose bush in the world, Tombstone, AZ

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Driving through the desert – we were enamored by the saguaro cacti all around! Tuscon, AZ

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Saguaro cactus, Tuscon, AZ

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These little yellow flowers were popped up everywhere we looked. They blanketed hillsides and sprung out of rocks. This is a bunch in Tuscon, AZ

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There are a lot of thorns in the desert. This thorny fellow ended with lovely red flowers! Desert Museum, Tuscon, AZ

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Desert Museum, Tuscon, AZ

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Prickly Pear blossom – so many foods are made from prickly pear – candies, licorice, jams and jellys, beer…you name it! But look at those thorns!!! Tuscon, AZ

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I don’t know which kind of cactus this was, but is was one of my favorites.

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Desert Museum, Tuscon, AZ

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Desert Museum, Tuscon, AZ

EPCOT International Festival of the Arts

Disney has really branched out over the years, and I don’t mean into movies, marketing or memorabilia.  Those things are great, but not too long ago, Disney began to realize that if they diversified their game plan, they would engage whole new groups of people and bring them into the Parks.  A great example of this is all the festivals and yearly planned activities that have had growing attendance over the years – the Food and Wine Festival; Festival of the Arts; Flower and Garden Festival and the 5Ks, half and full marathons that are ever so popular.  The folks that work at Disney are geniuses….you can’t deny it!!!!

Twice now we have been lucky enough to be at Disney during the International Festival of the Arts and once during the EPCOT International Flower and Garden Festival.  These festivals are diverse – meaning they highlight many aspects of their theme.  For the Arts Festival, the “arts” is a broad term and is applied through the culinary, visual, textile and classical arts…and more!!  Disney weaves into these themes experiential opportunities to engage adults and children alike.  One of my favorite ways they do this is through the large color-by-number mural they do every day.  People are “assigned” a color and a number and are sent out to find their square on a large vertical canvas.  In the beginning, it is hard to see what the picture will be, but as the day goes on, the art materializes before your eyes and the idea that everyone plays an integral part coloring our world is as important as the next.  It is powerful on so many levels!

Here are some photos of this year’s EPCOT International Festival of the Arts.  I hope it encourages you to attend next year.  You won’t be sorry you did!

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A beautiful sight upon arrival! Remember Figment?

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Charlotte – pretty as a picture?

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The food during the Festival of the Arts is just as amazing as the sights! This delight is a palette of white chocolate accompanied by “colors” of painting chocolate and sprinkles. What fun!!!

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Scream? She fits right in!! hahahaha

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Brother had to get into the action!

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My favorite stop is right around Canada…the Bloody Mary’s are to die for and the poutine chips with lobster meat….magnifique!

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Yes, these were BOTH for me!

Post Vacation Reboot! Getting my brain to reengage.

So, it’s hard to get back into the swing of things after vacation.  My brain still wants to be on vacation!  And yet, I know I need to start writing again because it keeps my mind flowing!  So if my brain is still on vacation, I guess I should write about vacation!  Here’s an overview – details to follow in other posts!

This February, we departed the great North East during my kids’ February vacation with thousands of others and headed to a much warmer climate!!  We spent 4 days in Florida at the Happiest Place on Earth and then went on a 7 night Eastern Caribbean cruise aboard the amazing Symphony of the Seas – Royal Caribbean’s newest marvel!  We had the best time!!  Let me highlight each day with my favorite photo from that day!

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We are members of Disney Vacation Club and this was our first stay at Bay Lake Towers. We love staying on the monorail line and being able to walk to the Magic Kingdom is wonderful!!!

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I cannot help but get a little teary eyed when the opening music plays at Magic Kingdom. It brings back memories that I cherish and makes me feel like a kid!

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To me, this photo says, “Follow your dreams.” What greater lessons can we learn from a man and a mouse?

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EPCOT is cool for so many reasons! My hubby was definitely rocking this Wreck It Ralph pose!!!

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I have a picture of my kids doing this SAME thing in London in 2013. It is fun to recreate special moments in different locations!

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Our boarding day on Symphony of the Seas – she blew me away! I marveled every day at her size, how smoothly she sailed, all of her wonderful amenities and how I felt at home on the giantess of the seas!! I cannot wait to go back!

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A day at sea means we get to play at sea! Ten stories above the Boardwalk, I zip-lined across a cruise ship!!!! How cool is that?

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Symphony After Dark! Stunning!

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My girl makes friends wherever she goes and this beautiful fellow wanted to stick around!

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T-Rex, know affectionately as “Rexy” in our family, made an appearance our last day at sea. We may or may not have a few videos of this!

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Sunset in the Caribbean. Do I need to say more?

 

Sea Lions, Sea Urchins and Rays, Oh My!!!

While visiting the beautiful island of St. Thomas, my daughter and I went to a local marine reserve and enjoyed a fabulous Sea Lion encounter.  We not only got up close and personal with some adorable sea lions, we also learned a lot about how these animals ended up in St. Thomas, how they were affected by the hurricane 18 months ago and how that has changed their approach to care. Here are some fabulous photos of the Coral World facilities graciously provided by Coral World.

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We planned our sea lion adventure about two months out – I love to do research about our ports of call and find unusual and unique experiences that really make a memory.  Our sea lion adventure was about 30 minutes away from our cruise ship port.  We simply disembarked and sought a taxi!  We headed to Coral World and along with our sea lion encounter, we got to enjoy other aquatic life including urchins and star fish in a touch pool, a ray pool, an underwater viewing area, a huge indoor coral reef and an aviary where we could feed birds from the US Virgin Islands.  We also became intimately acquainted with some natives….iguanas!!!  They wanted our lunch, but don’t worry – we didn’t feed them!

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Now on to the encounter.  I won’t say this was an inexpensive experience – it cost just under $200 per person, but I have to say it was worth it!  There was a small group of 10 of us – some people off cruises ships and some who were vacationing on the island.  We were first introduced to a lovie of a sea lion named Omar.  We learned about his diet, how he is taught “tricks” and how he is cared for and loved.  We gave this gorgeous fellow a nice rub down, got our picture with him and saw him smile, wave and clap!

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After meeting Omar, we headed up to the pool area where we met another handsome fellow name Romy (Romulo).  He was considered the handsomest of the 3 males at the marine reserve – although I thought they were all pretty adorable!   Half of us jumped into Romy’s pool to enjoy a few swim-bys while the other half got a sweet picture taken with Romy to treasure!  This experience was so wonderful – to be up close and personal with such a loving and fantastic creature is a memory that my daughter and I will not soon forget!  I encourage you to engage in such experiences and share them with your families!  Char and I have this memory forever and I am so thankful for it!

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Keep an eye out for more posts about my most recent family vacation aboard the Symphony of the Seas and Disney World!  My brain is still on vacation but I’m getting around to it:)