Archive | April, 2012

Passport DC

15 Apr

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If you are in DC in the month of May, make sure to check out Cultural Tourism DC’s website for a list of events.  May is “International Cultural Awareness Month” in DC and, to celebrate, Cultural Tourism DC puts on a month-long festival called Passport DC.  The Around the World Embassy Tour, which is part of Passport DC, is one of my most favorite DC events.  This year it is to take place on Saturday, May 5.  The event includes over 40 embassies opening to the public and having food, drinks and cultural events (many of which are free).  There is also a similar European-centric event taking place on Saturday, May 12.  I HIGHLY recommend these events.  Two years ago when I went I visited the Afghan (interesting food), British (beautiful grounds), Belgian (awesome beer tasting), Finnish (a lot of fish foods), Hungarian (cute dogs), Czech, Cape Verde, Austrian, Slovakian, and other embassies.  DO DO DO take advantage of the month-long celebration put on by Cultural Tourism DC.

Yelena’s Playa Del Carmen Review

13 Apr

In January 2010, after one of the colder Minnesota winters, Cale and I decided to take a warm trip on a budget. We were researching Mexico, and particularly the Yucatan peninsula, but wanted to go somewhere a little different than the usual Cancun trip travelers tend to choose. Looking a little more South, we discovered Playa del Carmen. Playa is a city with a similar beach feel, however is a bit more laid back and subdued. We noticed many European travelers and a generally calm environment.

(Beach across from our resort)

The hotel we chose was Riu Tequila, which is part of the Riu chain of hotels. We chose this based on our budget, and it turned out to be a pretty good choice for a basic all-inclusive. We were also able to use the dining and pool options at the nearby Riu Yacatan and Riu Playacar. If you are looking for a fancier option however, the chain also offers a ‘Palace’ style hotel, with upgraded restaurants and service. A money saving feature that factored into our budget was that this resort was across the road from the beach. If you don’t mind a 1/2 mile walk to get to the ocean, you can save at least $300-500/person depending on the time of year. This hotel is located on a strip of other chain all inclusive hotels that are all next to each other on a couple mile stretch of beach. During this trip we discovered that we prefer more of a regular hotel or rental atmosphere where we are free to get out for a meal. However, this was a very well-rated option, and we still had a great time relaxing on the beach, eating at the buffet and specialty restaurants, and seeing the evening shows they produce.

(hotel lobby)

(sushi buffet at the Asian restaurant)

(One of the themed shows – spooky carnival night)

Some highlights and tips of Playa del Carmen:

  • DO go into the downtown area and check out the local shops and restaurants. This was a 25 minute walk from our resort area, or a $5 cab ride. DO consider getting a massage at one of the advertised salons along the main street. We chose to book an hour long couples massage, and it cost $40/each. Plan to make a reservation for later on in the week, as they book up fast. DO refresh yourself with a smoothie from Smoogus, which is located in a tiny stand on 5th Ave and makes great drinks.

(downtown strip)

(chips and guac at a downtown restaurant)

  • DO make sure you take some sort of excursion to go snorkeling. Resorts offer all sorts of trips that tend to be overpriced, but we went indie with Google’s help, and booked a half day with Mexico Blue Dream. This was the highlight of our trip! We met at the dive shop downtown and the guide took us snorkeling to Yal-Ku Lagoon in Akumal. This is a MUST DO! We saw all kinds of fish, a couple of barracudas, a giant sting ray, and sea turtles. If we return to Playa, we plan to stay at a condo rental in Akumal, as you can rent your own snorkel gear and jump into the ocean as you please. TIP: If you take this trip, have the guide start on the ocean side. It was a long day, and by the time we got out of the lagoon and into the ocean, we were all too tired to stay long and see the really unique ocean life.
  • DO pay attention to the money exchange rate, and try to get the most for your dollar. We saw the peso exchange rate change on a daily, and sometimes hourly basis. DON’T be afraid to bargain here for goods and services. The shop owners expect it, and you can get great deals.
  • DO be careful of the water, and stick to bottled. Cale managed to get sick for a day despite only consuming resort food and water.

Some other attractions we heard a lot about:

  • DO take a day trip out to Tulum, and make sure it includes some time at Chichen Itza, one of the Seven New Wonders of the World.
  • If you would like a more organized trip, try an all day activity park such as Xel-Ha or Xplor.

There is lots to see and do in this part of Mexico. Hope you enjoy!!

Jamaica DOs by Claudette

9 Apr

Here are some DOs for Jamaica travelers:

  •  Take only a red plate cab.  They are licensed to drive on the road.
  • If you want to go shopping, change your US dollars for Jamaican money. Hotels will change the money for you, but you can get more for your US dollar at a place called a Cambio. You can ask to see if the hotel has a shuttle to take you to a Cambio where you would get more for your dollar (e.g., 1 US dollar in Jamaica is worth from 82.00 to 83.00 or 84.00  Jamaican dollars depending on where you go).  You can also change your cash at the airport in Jamaica when you arrive.
  • DO go to Margueritaville Sports Bar & Grill and enjoy a lovely glass of margarita
  • DO go to Half Moon Shopping Center or other duty free shops where you get can get some of the best coffee in the world, “Blue Mountain Coffee,” perfumes, souvenirs and boutique clothing.
  • DO try our jelly coconut water
  • DO try our jerk chicken or jerk pork (very tasty; finger licking good)
  • DO try our curry goat with white rice
  • DO go see Rose Hall Great House (It’s a museum that has existed since the 18th century)
  • If you rent a car, DO remember to drive on the left.
  • DO learn a little patois (a dialect that everyone speaks).
  • If you rent a car, make sure your insurance company will cover you driving in Jamaica.
  • People will come up to you to try to sell you crafts or other stuff.   If you are not interested, just say no thank you.

Jamaica is really a beautiful place.  And, as a final note, DO stay at an all inclusive resort.

SeaWorld and Aquatica MUST DOs

7 Apr


  • Pet stingrays at the Stingray Aquarium
  • Feed dolphins at Dolphin Cove
  • See One Ocean show featuring Shamu.  We were told that we need to get there 30 minutes in advance.  However, because there were so few people at the park we really could have arrived right on time and saved the thirty minutes of just sitting.
  • See Blue Horizon (the dolphin and bird show)
  • Ride Jewels of the Sea Aquarium (I believe the drop is 60 – 75 feet)
  • Feed sea lions at Pacific Point Preserve
  • Visit Shark Encounter
  • Visit the Dolphin Nursery
  • Visit Wild Artic (simulator helicopter ride is ok, but you can also just walk to the exhibit)
  • Participate in Bands, Brew & BBQ if it is still taking place when you visit.  We were able to see country singer Sara Evans, eat great BBQ and drink some beer after a long day of rides, shows, and exhibits.


Aquatica is SeaWorld’s water park.  It is across the street and there are shuttles between SeaWorld and Aquatica.  You need a ticket specifically for Aquatica to enter.  If you are buying tickets for both SeaWorld and Aquatica, check SeaWorld’s website for discounts

All the rides are a lot of fun.  The Dolphin Plunge is a MUST DO since you shoot through the dolphin aquarium.  DO the lazy river also known as Loggerhead Lane.  You can stop off at the Fish Grotto or Commerson’s Dolphin Exhibit.  Some of my favorite slides were Tassie’s Twister, where you shoot down to a giant bowl of water and then you shoot down again to the lazy river; and the Whanau Way slides (definite DO), all of which are different and super fun (there were points in the ride where I was flying in the air).

5 Apr

Check out this great post by talleypcb about the “13 Must See Stops for a 48 State Road Trip!” You can also see other posts by talleypcb at!

Rainy Days Aren't Always Bad

I’m not going to let go of the idea of a 48 state, continental road trip very easily. At the ripe young age of 22 I’m convinced I will find the time, money and vehicle to do it, not to mention the perfect friend to come along with me.

So here’s my list of stops that are MUSTS for me and should be for others:  

1.       Seattle

I’m a bit of a sucker for cloudy, overcast, and rainy days. As a born and raised Westerner I enjoy mountains and hiking. I’m also, unabashedly a tree hugging granola eating liberal. I’ve never been to Seattle, but I’m told I’d love it. There are ferry boats and hiking, the space needle and Pike Market Place and some pretty cool surrounding neighborhoods like Ballard and Fremont. Right now, if I had to pick just one place in the United States to go…

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Two Weeks in Thailand

3 Apr

In 2007 my mother and I traveled to Thailand for two weeks.  We booked a tour throughout the country with Gate 1 Travel.  I stopped by a Gate 1 booth at the Travel & Adventure Expo and was able to find part of our itinerary (it has been a bit tweeked since 2007).  The following is a sample Thailand itinerary:

Day 1:  Leave the USA

Day 2:  Arrive in Bangkok, Thailand.

Day 3:  (Bangkok)  City tour.  Visit temples including Wat Pho (with the giant reclining Buddha), Wat Arun, and the Grand Palace & Wat Prakeaw.

Day 4:  (Bangkok) Visit the floating market.

Day 5:  Travel to Chiang Mai.

Day 6: (Chiang Mai)  Spend day at Mae Sa Elephant Camp.  Visit markets.

Day 7: (Chiang Mai) Visit tribes including Mae Salong Hill tribe.

Day 8: (Chiang Rai)  Visit Sukhothai Historical Park.

Day 9: (Chiang Rai)  Visit Mae Sai Border Town & Golden Triangle.  You are able to see Cambodia and Burma.  Also, visit Wat Rong Khun (the White Temple).

Day 10: Travel to Phuket.

Day 11: (Phuket) Take a boat to Phang Nga Bay, Lawa Island, Koh Pannyi Sea Gypsy Island (a village built on stilts in the middle of the ocean – AMAZING), and Koh Ping Kan (“James Bond Island” – “The Man with the Golden Gun” was filmed there).

Day 12: (Phuket)  Take a speedboat to Phi Phi & Khai Islands (have you seen “The Beach” with Leonardo DiCaprio?  It was filmed there.  Absolutely AMAZING).

Day 13: (Phuket)  Spend day on beach. Rent some jet skis, shop, have fun and relax.

Day 14:  Return to Bangkok and then to USA.

Some other notes for Thailand travelers:

  • Shop!  The markets and malls are amazing!
  • Go to a nightclub.  The nightclubs in Bangkok were the best I have ever been to.
  • Eat lots and lots of Thai food.
  • Get Thai massages.  They are cheap and amazing.
  • Bring respectful clothing if you plan to visit temples.  In other words, bring pants or long skirts, shirts that cover your shoulders, scarfs, etc.
  • Ride in a Tuk Tuk (taxi).

Enjoy Thailand!  It is one of my favorite countries I have ever been to and I HIGHLY recommend it.

White House Garden Tours

1 Apr

Every spring and fall the White House’s gardens and grounds open to tourists.  Tickets are free and are offered on a first-come, first-serve basis.  The tickets are timed and are distributed by the National Park Service at the Ellipse Visitor Pavilion the day of the tour.  I have had the opportunity to visit the gardens (see photos below) and I believe that is a MUST DO if you are in Washington, DC, the weekend of the gardens and grounds tour.   I was unable to find the dates for the 2012 spring tours, but the tours tend to be in April so continue to check online for the 2012 schedule.