Living Your Best Life In Miami Beach

Miami is a favorite warm-weather destination for my family. My husband went to college there (Go Canes!) and it’s the perfect escape from these horrendous Chicago winters.

Typically we take our boys with us everywhere – but this time, we went sans kids. First vacation without them in eight years. I know, we were way overdue!

As a foodie, I was most excited about hitting up some amazing restaurants and having a meal and conversation without being rushed or interrupted. Parents, share this post if you know what I mean!

I also wanted to spend plenty of time lounging by the pool with a book and possibly an adult beverage. Such activities require picking the right hotel. Having worked in luxury hotels for many years, I’ve stayed at so many amazing properties. I tend to stick with Starwood/Marriott properties because you always know you’re going to get great service and a great product – but this time we went with the Fontainebleau Miami Beach Resort. I went through VRBO and got a sweet deal on an owner’s unit in the Sorrento Tower. This is nice little travel hack – if you want a room with more space for less money!

The perks of staying at the Fontainebleau Resort include the amazing on-property restaurants, the great lobby bar, onsite shops, a gelato bar (ummmm…. this makes it worth it alone!), the resort location directly on the beach, and it’s on the north end of Miami Beach. If you don’t know, South Beach can get a little crazy – at least for this not-a-20-something-anymore gal.

Also, the pool area is huge with several different options. Some are adults only, which makes it nice when you travel alone. Some pools are kid-friendly, which is great if you wish to be with other families who won’t get annoyed when your kids start acting a fool. Win-win. There are also 100s upon 100s of chairs, which means you don’t have to run down at 8 am to save your spot. They also have options for loungers and cabanas which range in price. While there, we got a deal on one of the cabanas for the day because the TV and speaker system weren’t working. Who cares about the TV when you’ve got that beautiful view and pool vibe! Further, each cabana comes with water bottles and a fruit plate. Parents – they have a kids club there with half-day or full-day options. Rejoice!

I could have spent the whole four days at the pool or beach (they have similar lounge offers and a food delivery service via an app to beach goers) and been just fine. However, we decided to venture out to check out some of the local Miami sites.

First stop was the Vizcaya Museum. Talk about breathtaking! The Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, previously known as Villa Vizcaya, is the former villa and estate of businessman James Deering on Biscayne Bay in the present day Coconut Grove neighborhood of Miami, Florida. The early 20th century Vizcaya estate also includes extensive Italian Renaissance gardens; native woodland landscape; and a historic village outbuildings compound. You can tour the entire property, check out the beautiful views, landscape and even tour inside the mansion.

Next, we headed over to the Wynwood Art District to check out Wynwood Doors. Known for its many colorful murals, Wynwood is one of the city’s most happening districts. Wynwood Walls is an outdoor museum showcasing large-scale works by some of the world’s best-known street artists. The surrounding streets have converted warehouses housing craft breweries and funky art galleries. A hip young crowd frequents the neighborhood’s chic clothing boutiques, stylish bistros, and late-night bars. Such a cool place to walk around and check out all the art. Even the sidewalks had fun little messages and art on them.

Last, we headed over to Coconut Grove. My husband went to”The U” so we had to go buy some swag for our boys. We’ve spent a lot of time here in the past and headed over to one of our fav lunch spots, Lulu In The Grove.

Now back to Miami beach and what we were most excited about – the food!

Here are the places I highly recommend:

Baoli Miami – I think this was our most favorite out of all the places we went. It looks like a magical scene out of an enchanted garden. Inside, the service was perfect, and the food was insanely good.

Katsuya South Beach – Located inside the beautiful SLS South Beach hotel, Katsuya masters the art of Japanese cuisine. The food was stellar and the service was great. Bonus, their cozy and swanky hotel bar is right outside the restaurant so you can have a pre- or post-dinner cocktail.

Mr Chow – A staple. I’d been to their location in Los Angelas years ago, and was excited to dine here again. It is very high end as far as service goes. The space itself is beautiful to look at and the food will not disappoint. It also helps that it’s located inside one of Miami’s best hotels – The W South Beach.

Larios on South Beach – I know there are a lot of great Cuban restaurants in Miami and I wish we could have hit up a few more but we decided on revisiting an old favorite – Larios. They have Cuban classic dishes, a great ambiance and a patio that makes for great people watching. Oh, and some great cocktails!

Below are some recommendations from friends we were unable to get to:

Caja Caliente, Mandolin, Soho House, St Roch Market.

We’ve been home for a week now and already can’t wait to return! Miami was just what we needed.

What I Wish I’d Known Before Planning Our Disney Vacation

Recently my family and I went to Disney World and it was our first trip to the magic land. I’d been wanting to take this trip for years, but it was never a good time. Finances and babies held us back for awhile, but I decided this year was our year!

Let’s be honest here – when is it ever a good time, right? My youngest just turned five and met the height requirement for most of the rides so I figured it’s now or never. I’m so thankful we went as my oldest son is eight and I’m not sure how much longer he will believe. I mean, I’m 40 and I still believe in Disney magic, but that’s a different story.

Last summer we started looking for dates to go this holiday season. The reason we chose this time was because neither my husband or I can handle that southern heat. We both grew up in it but have been Chicagoans for  years now. One hundred degrees in Florida – feels more like 1000 degrees in our world. Plus, nothing is worse than being sandwiched between thousands of sweaty people for multiple days in a row. No thank you. We also read on multiple blogs that the weekend right before or after Thanksgiving is one of the best times to go. We booked the day after Thanksgiving and stayed through the following Wednesday. The advice rang true. It was perfect weather, 70s/80s, and it was way less crowded than I expected. The ride wait times weren’t that bad either.

We went through Costco Travel to book our trip and did a package that included hotel, Disney passes and flights. I didn’t even know Costco had a travel service until two years ago and I love it! We also received great advice from an expert and friend, Melissa McCallister. She is an authorized dream maker Disney Vacation Planner and frequent visitor of Disney parks. In hind sight I would have went to her first as she can plan everything for you down to your fast passes and dining reservations and the service is free!

Planning a trip to Disney, especially if it’s your first time, can be very overwhelming! There is so much to do and see and never enough time. You want to make the most of every minute so here are my tips to have a successful, fulfilled Disney experience:


Plan, plan, plan.

I can’t stress this enough. Don’t just show up to Disney World and have a go-with-the-flow mentality. You will miss out on so many things. Download the Disney App, read this blog and other Disney blogs to map out your must-do rides and activities. There’s also some great YouTube videos out there on planning a Disney vacation. If you have an itinerary, you’ll be way less stressed. We only had three day hopper passes (which I suggest getting the hopper pass), but we did every thing we wanted to do and more. Hopper allows you to jump between parks as many times as you want.

Where to stay.

Unfortunately when we started planning our trip – all the Disney properties we wanted to stay at were already sold out. If you get an onsite property they provide free transportation services to and from all parks, access to meal plans, free magic bands, and access to dining reservations and fast passes 60 days out from your arrival.

If you don’t get into a Disney property, don’t worry! There are so many hotels in the area who also provide shuttle services as well. We chose the Waldorf Astoria because we received a free suite upgrade through Costco. This is beautiful hotel and their sister property next door, the Hilton, allows access to their amenities too. Another favorite hotel of mine is the Swan Dolphin Hotel & Resort. I’m and ex-Starwood hotelier so I’m a little biased to that property.

Which park is best for me?

There is something for everyone at all parks, but I think if you have little ones or toddlers, Magic Kingdom has the most options for this age groupAll of the large roller coasters you have to be at least 44″ to ride, but there are many young kid-friendly rides, attractions and other things for them to do. Plus, you get to see Mickey’s castle! I’m not going to lie, I kind of teared up when I saw it. We didn’t tell my kids we were going to Disney until the morning of the flight – so it was a big secret I was holding onto for months and I was ecstatic the time was finally here!

Another tip – if you go during the holidays you have the option to purchase additional tickets to gain access to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. 

I highly recommend you splurge on this if it’s in your budget. Tickets start at around $99 per person, however you get access to the park until midnight. Anyone who doesn’t have this ticket has to leave at 7 pm. This event does sell out so I suggest getting the tickets as soon as you book your trip. During the event you get free treats at different shops around the park. The wait times for rides is significantly shorter if nothing at all. It’s less crowded and you get your own firework show and Christmas parade with all the characters down main street.

Animal Kingdom was great, just not as big. You could see and do mostly everything you want and have time to spare. My little guy was able to ride all the rides except Avatar, Flight of Passage. For this ride you have to be 48″. I’m glad we asked before we waited in that horrendous line. I hear the wait is worth it, though! This area of the park was my favorite. It felt like you were in the set of Avatar. At the end of the night there’s a beautiful light display and show on the Tree of Life, which is an iconic feature of Animal Kingdom.

Hollywood Studios was also a smaller park compared to Magic Kingdom so we were able to do everything we wanted. My five year old was not tall enough to go on the Rock and Roller Coaster or the Tower of Terror. I didn’t want to go on the Tower of Terror either, I was too scared, however my eight year old was up for it.

Epcot we skipped this time because everyone said there wasn’t much there for little kids. I’d love to go back, sans kids, for the food and wine festival!

Why should I get a magic band?

If you’re not staying at a Disney property, you can still get magic bands! You can purchase them from the Disney online store and other vendors as well. I highly suggest you get them. Not only do they make the kids feel special, but you can link your tickets, fast passes, photos, etc., to them. If you’re staying at a Disney resort you can also link your meal plan to the band and use it to pay. Pretty cool if you ask me!

What are fast passes for?

You need to book fast passes. I repeat, you need to book fast passes. Fast passes are special access passes to rides in all the parks. The wait time with a fast pass is no more than 10 minutes for any ride. You can link them to your magic band and you just scan it at the ride to get in the fast lane. If you’re staying at a Disney property you get access to reserve your fast passes 60 days from your vacation start date. If you’re at any other hotel, you get access 30 days out. You can book your passes right on the app. Research what rides are favorites among park goers and height requirements, etc., before booking. I made the mistake of booking my five year old on Space Mountain and realized you ride that coaster in a seat by yourself. There’s no way he would have done that, it was too scary for him so we had to sit out and wait. It was a waste of a fast pass. Once you use three fast passes, which is the amount you get per day, you can keep booking one at a time as you use them. Try to book your three passes first thing in the morning so you can add more for the afternoon and evening. If you have a fast pass for later, the other ride fast passes are usually filled up by then.  Fast passes are free and come as a part of your hopper pass. You also have an hour window when you book to go on that ride. For example if you book fast pass for Space Mountain at 9 am, you would have an hour to go on it before the pass expires.

What rides should we use our fast passes for? 

We did some research before going and watched YouTube videos of a lot of the rides so we could pick smart. Below are the ones we loved. Some rides I saw moms wearing their babies and such, so depending on your family – there were rides for everyone.

Magic Kingdom: Seven Dwarfs Mine Train was by far my favorite! It is a very popular one and usually had a 75+minute wait without a fast pass. Space Mountain is a classic favorite. Buzz Light Year’s Space Ranger Spin, Pirates of the Caribbean, Peter Pan’s Flight, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and Haunted Mansion were my kid’s favorites. In between our fast passes we would go to the next ride that had the shortest wait times. By doing this we were able to hit most of the rides. You can check up-to-date wait times on the app for each park and each ride. The park also has wifi so we never had a problem using our phones to check the app.

Animal Kingdom: It’s Tough To Be A Bug was a great 3D show. DinoLand was fun however scared my little one because it seams so real. Expedition Everest, but you do backwards on this coaster so if you don’t like that – skip this one. Na’vi River Journey was amazing as well as the Kilimanjaro Safari ride where you get to see real animals.

Hollywood Studios: Slinky Dog is a must in Toy Story Land! Rocking Roller Coaster featuring Aerosmith if you meet height requirement, and if you like to go in loops upside down. Star Wars The Adventure Continues was great. Right next to this ride you can sign your littles up for Jedi training, too! They do one every hour and the kids love it. Toy Story Mania is great and you are in an active arcade game gaining points – so the boys loved it.

There were a lot of other rides, however these were our favorite and most of these were great for the whole family.

What and where do we eat? 

We brought in our own snacks and items to hold us between meals. I suggest you get breakfast and fill up where ever you are staying as you have full days ahead of you. There are multiple restaurants inside all parks that you need to make reservations for and range in pricing. There are also quick stop places located through out all the parks. Their menus are listed on the app and you can order remotely, then go pick it up. Talk about genius. It saved a lot of waiting time. If it’s in your budget, I do suggest booking at least one character meal. They are expensive, however they are buffet and offer lots of choices. We reserved ours at 2 pm, which served as our lunch and dinner as there was so much food. For a family of four you’re looking at about $210 with tip. We chose the Husker House in Animal Kingdom and got to meet all the main Disney characters. The food was actually really good too. If you can’t get in at the place you want, be sure to keep checking the app for availability because cancellations happen all the time. If you choose to cancel a reservation, be sure to do it within 24 hours in advance or you get charged $10 per person as a cancellation fee. Another thing to mention is even at the quick grab and go food outlets there were always healthy options available, too! As someone with food allergies this was a win for me!

Now some extra random tips:

  • Bring your own snacks to save money.
  • Instacart is available in Orlando, so you can order groceries to your hotel and make quick bites to take with you to the parks or eat breakfast in your room to save money.
  • Bring lightweight bags to carry all your snacks and personal items. We purchased some for all four of us off of Amazon and they were perfect!
  • Be sure to get your littles some autograph books. All the characters will sign their books and it’s a great keepsake. You can buy them off Amazon, the Disney app, or Etsy. Some even come with cute custom pens.
  • Don’t forget the swag! We loved our matching Disney shirts and hats. Again, on Etsy.
  • Bring a water bottle for everyone and just refill it at the water fountains stationed all over the parks. Another great way to save money.
  • Rent (or bring) a stroller. Even if your kids are older and don’t use strollers any more they are worth it for Disney! My kids lasted all three days from 8 am to close because we rented a double stroller. It’s a lot of walking. We did almost 7 miles each day. Even my eight year old needed the rest. They are $27 for double $13 for single strollers and receipt transfers across parks.
  • Need transportation from the airport back and forth, but don’t want to rent a car? Mears Transportation was great and not too pricy. We took our blow up booster seat to use in Ubers and such and it worked out perfectly.
  • You can book private VIP tours for fast pass access, etc., that run $400+ per hour. One can dream, but if you can afford this option I say go for it!
  • Souvenirs are in every square inch of the park and your kids are going to want them all, so be sure to bring some extra fun money.
  • Advil. Bring Advil. Roller coasters are not as easy on my bones as they once were. By day two I was popping the Advil.

I hope this was helpful. If you have any Disney hacks please share them in the comments. If you’re planning a trip – I’m so excited for you! Disney is such a magical place and I can’t wait to return.

Cabo, Here I Come-o!

If you live in the north region of the U.S, you know all about our brutal winters! I usually love winter (true story!) up through New Years Day, then I’m completely over it. January-March I’m usually on looking for houses in Texas. Ha! 

Well, for my Chicago and surrounding area friends…. I have great news! Southwest Airlines recently announced the launch of their new service operations from Chicago Midway International Airport to Los Cabos. The new non-stop flight (MUST HAVE when traveling with kids!) will kick off on November 4, 2018 with operations on Saturday and Sunday mornings from Chicago, and returns on weekend afternoons from Los Cabos. 

The new service to the Southern Baja Peninsula will serve the high-demand for Latin American locations out of Chicago, and complements Southwest’s existing portfolio of international service from Midway to other regions of Mexico and the Caribbean. I’ve always been a lover of Southwest Airlines. They are so kid friendly and I like the open seating. 

Those looking to take advantage of the new pickup and escape this winter will get a thrill of the endless sun, sand and surf found down in Baja. With over 76 hotels and resorts, and 22 new properties set to open through the year 2021, Los Cabos offers a little extra for every type of traveler and is the go-to destination for Chicago residents this winter.  

Need any more reasons to book your flight ASAP?! Check out more highlights of what’s to come in the destination and top activities to experience in Los Cabos below: 

Upcoming Events:

  • Art Gallery District (Nov. 1, 2018 – June 1, 2019) – San Jose del Cabo Art Walk is a popular weekly event held every Thursday evening from 5-9pm between the months of November and June.

  • Los Cabos Jazz Experience (Nov. 1-4)  – Life Luxe Jazz offers the ultimate experience for the discerning jazz aficionado seeking the best the world has to offer.

  • Los Cabos Ironman  70.3 (Nov. 4)

  • Cabo Cocktail Festival (Nov. 5-7) is the premier cocktail festival in Los Cabos aimed at showcasing hospitality, mixology and raising industry leaders.

  • Los Cabos International Film Festival (Nov. 7-11) – Filmmakers, moviegoers, business insiders and Hollywood stars flock to Los Cabos every November for the Los Cabos International Film Festival. The event stands among the rankings with film festivals such as Sundance and Cannes, promoting film as an art form through the screening of independent films from Mexico, Canada and the United States.

  • Los Cabos VIP Summit (Nov. 12-15) – This annual event reunites the tourism industry’s top professionals including travel partners, hotelier and professional speakers.

  • Extreme Sailing Series (Nov. 29 – Dec. 2) – Established in 2007, the Extreme Sailing Series is the original ‘stadium-style’ racing circuit designed for spectators, delivering high-performance action close to shore, attracting some of the world’s best sailors racing hydro-foiling GC32 catamarans on short courses around the globe.

  • Baja Ha-Ha 2018 (Nov. 30) – The Baja Ha-Ha — this is the 25th! — is the cruiser rally from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas.


That’s not all…. I know –– I’m getting excited, too! Top Experiences in Los Cabos During Winter:

  • Swimming with whale sharks. There are few experiences in the world that match swimming alongside the largest fish in the ocean — especially when that fish is a shark! But don’t worry, these Whale Sharks are known as the “gentle giants of the sea!”

  • Art Walks. In Baja Mexico, behind San Jose del Cabo’s historic main square and church, lies the ever-growing Gallery District. In recent years it has become the cultural center of Los Cabos with many high-end fine art galleries displaying original paintings, sculpture, photography, prints and jewelry made by local, throughout Mexico and international contemporary artists.

  • Surfing. Surfing is what keeps local blood pumping in Los Cabos. Though the biggest waves arrive in the summer, the area is blessed with waves all year round, making it the ideal place for learning, long rides and the simple joy of standing on water, letting the sea carry you.

  • Fishing. Los Cabos, known as the Marlin Capital of the world, is the perfect embodiment of a fisherman’s Eden. What used to be a remote coastal village, an aquatic gem at the end of a long desert highway, is now an easily accessible fishing destination open to anyone wishing to get a taste of world-class angling.

  • Organic Farms. The destination is also home to a number of certified organic farms, some dating back to the 19th century. Farms such as Huerta Los Tamarindos offer private tours of their grounds to teach the public about organic farming and its benefits, as well as cooking lessons. On site restaurants at Huerta Los Tamarindos and at other farms such as Flora Farms, hand select all their ingredients from their own fields and serve up healthy meals enjoyed by the whole family. Locations like Acre, mix urban tastes with local Baja ingredients and serve up a blend of creative foods and cocktails proven to make your taste buds flourish.

  • Whale watching. Los Cabos is packed with activities, but nothing compares to the most anticipated time of the year: whale watching season. The majestic humpback whales migrate each year to the warm waters of the Sea of Cortes to conceive and nurse their newly born calves. Watching this phenomenon is one of the most popular activities in Baja for both adults and children alike, and an extraordinary spectacle not to be missed.

                                                    Solaz, A Luxury Collection Resort

Already got your dates picked out? Great, because there’s been a hotel and resort boom!

With more than $1 billion in hotel investments alone, Los Cabos is creating a new class of luxury, with investors firm and confident that Los Cabos is a high-growth luxury destination. Throughout 2018 the destination saw the opening of 20 new hotels and resorts adding 3,370 rooms and welcoming elite brands such as:  

  • Le Blanc Spa Resort (March 2018): Le Blanc Spa Resort, Los Cabos is a beachfront dream come true. This new adults-only, all-inclusive resort in Los Cabos wows guests with boundless pampering offerings, including a comfort menu, the state-of-the-art Blanc Spa, seven world-class restaurants and entertainment sure to impress even the most discerning luxury traveler.

  • The Viceroy (May 2018): Water surrounds the entire 104-room masterpiece designed by Mexican Architect Miguel Angel Aragones, wrapping around a collection of pure white buildings connected by elevated walkways.

  • Montage (June 2018): Located within the 1,400-acre, master-planned Twin Dolphin community on the sweeping shores of Santa Maria Bay Montage offers spectacular views and immediate, walk-in access to the finest swimming, diving and snorkeling in the region.

  • Solaz, a Luxury Collection Resort (Sep. 2018): Seamlessly blending the destination’s unique landscape where the desert meets the sea, the striking design of Solaz showcases endemic landscaping and rooftop gardens, a sustainable choice of endangered flora, and quiet tree-lined pathways that meander to the sea. Five tennis courts are currently under construction, as the facility is set to be the new home of the annual ATP Tennis Tournament.

  • Garza Blanca Resort & Spa Los Cabos (Nov. 2018): Located in the hotel corridor between Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo, Garza Blanca provides a range of world-class luxury amenities and services that ensure the ultimate getaway in paradise. The property will feature three restaurants, four bars, eight pools, a gym and tennis court, plus family fun zone and spa.

  • Four Seasons Resort Los Cabos at Costa Palmas (Dec. 2018): Located on the Sea of Cortez, the Costa Palmas community features a private marina that accommodates yachts up to 250 feet, a village area, Robert Trent Jones II golf course and a two-mile stretch of beach. The 145-room property will include multiple pools, indoor and outdoor event and wedding facilities, five dining outlets, and a spa. Hotels slated to open in 2019 and beyond include:

  • Nobu Hotel Los Cabos (early 2019)

  • Zadun, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve (March 2019)

  • Park Hyatt (2020)

  • Aman (2020)

  • St. Regis Los Cabos Hotel (2021)

As a former hotelier, I could not be more excited to see all these new resorts in hotel families that are respected around the world. The Baja sun will feel great on my face this winter! See you there?!

Denver Do’s and Don’ts

Just kidding, there really aren’t any don’ts when it comes to Denver. Colorado is one of our favorite family vacation destinations. We’ve been going for a handful of years every summer and now that our kids are getting a little older, we plan to squeeze in winter ski trips too!

First I’ll mention if you aren’t used to changes in altitude, I definitely recommend drinking plenty of water and taking aspirin before and during your trip. If you get really bad altitude sickness you can get a prescription drug from your doctor that works wonders, too.

Besides the majestic views, there are many other reasons to head to the mile high city. One our favorite areas to visit is Union Station. The historic landmark has been transformed in recent years and offers great restaurants, site seeing, shopping, outdoor markets, and the like. There’s even a fun fountain area where you’re sure to find kids running around playing.

Denver also has an amazing Children’s Museum with parks near by. Be sure to check their exhibit and event schedule to plan as there are some pretty awesome happenings that your children are sure to love.

Another favorite family activity is to head to the famous Red Rocks Amphitheater. Hike up to see the the best views of the city and see how they created a concert venue out of a mountain. We took our 5 and 3 year olds and they made it fine – just be sure to bring lots of water!

If you have some time, head up to Boulder. With a quaint downtown with amazing eateries, trails and picturesque views of the Rockies – it’s worth the drive. While you’re up there head a little further Northwest into the mountains and visit Estes Park.

There you can visit the Rocky Mountain National Park, and enjoy a day in a downtown where you’ll find one of a kind shops and eateries. Another great destination for kid-friendly (and dog!) trails and 360 mountain views. On your way up, make sure to stop by the Estes Park welcome sign to get a picture of the view! You won’t regret it!

If you head south of Denver, you’ll want to make your way to Colorado Springs to visit Garden of the Gods.

Again, bring lots of water as it can get pretty hot. Our kids love this park, not only for the beauty but for the trails and hiking even they can participate in. They do have guided tours available but you can navigate a lot of the park yourself as well. There’s a small museum across from the entrance of the park and the views from the balcony of Pike’s Peak are breathtaking!

If you head west of Denver into the mountains, stop by Georgetown and Golden to check out the Railroad Museum and ride the old mining train rides. The kids loved it and the history lesson was very interesting and fun.

A little further west and you’ll hit Keystone and Vail – our other favorite spots! Our friends have a place in Keystone and have graciously invited us several times to stay there and the trails, town center and activities would be enough to move there! Beautiful town and one we will continue to visit.

Vail is unique in architecture and just a beautiful quintessential mountain town. You can take the gondola up to Epic Discovery, Vail’s summer playground, and take in the sites and trails. Vail itself has lots of boutique shopping for moms and parks for the littles. We always make the trip up to Vail whenever we are in Colorado and I’m always sad to leave.

Even writing this post makes me miss the mountains. Time to start planning our next mountain getaway! What are your favorite Colorado activities?

DESTIN To Return

Finally winding down from summer travel and already getting excited to plan for next summer!

I always say we are a family who likes experiences. Rather than spending $$$$ on a 1.5 hour birthday party or buying all the “things”, I’d much rather explore and make memories with my littles. Experiences are also much more memorable when you can share them, too. So, with that said (or, written… you get my point!) – I’m going to share with you all the reasons why you should pack up your family and head down to Destin, Florida!

My family loves road trips, or mostly just me and they try to make me happy by obliging to my insane ideas. But, I somehow convinced my husband to drive from Chicago to Destin with our two boys in late July. When you have a toddler…. or a toddler like my toddler – you drive, not fly, to destinations. His meltdowns are much easier in the car verses on an airplane with hundreds of other people.

With this in mind, we agreed the road was the best way to go. We made a pit stop in Nashville over night and made it to Destin the following afternoon. It really wasn’t that bad of a drive, so if you’re coming from afar…you got this!

Luckily, we were vacationing with some good friends so we went in together and rented a house across from the beach. I definitely recommend going this route because having a kitchen and separate bedrooms for everyone was the key to our sanity. We stayed in Miramar Beach and went through Southern Vacation Rentals to find this little gem of a home.

This was a great area to stay in as you were right in between the other amazing beach areas like Seaside and Santa Rosa, and then Destin to the other side. Destin has so many great kid activities, shopping centers, the board walk and family fun centers with miniature golf, go carts – you name it, they have it.  Since it rained several of the days we were there, we headed over to Uncle Buck’s Fish Bowl and Grill to bowl and play some arcade games. Word to the wise: get there 30-45 minutes before they open if you want a shot at getting a bowling lane. They don’t take reservations and it fills up FAST. The kids loved it and thankfully we got there early and got the last lane available.

The Destin Harbor Boardwalk provided hours of entertainment as well for the kiddos. You can book dolphin cruises or just walk and check out all the sites.  There were options to zip line or even get into a giant blow up ball and roll around on water. Looking at that ride made me want to vomit, but the kids loved it!

When it’s nice outside, it’s time for the beach! A lot of the rentals have private beaches where you have access to chairs and such, but we brought our own with a beach canopy. I highly recommend a canopy because it allowed us to stay out for hours without getting too hurt or burned. This is the one I bought and it was extremely easy and fast to put up and down. The sun shade for the side was key! We packed a lunch and snacks, maybe a few adult drinks too, and spent several days out there. The water is beautiful, the beaches are clean, and overall just a great experience.

Because we went with another family, we traded off on babysitting nights. Brilliant! We did a girl’s night, a guy’s night, and each couple had a date night. This way the adults had some of our own fun too. My husband and I chose Vue on 30A for our date night and the food was amazing! If you call ahead you can ask for a window view, totally worth it. We got to see the sun set as we ate our dinner. There’s an outside patio too, but it was raining when we went.

Santa Rosa and Seaside are also beautiful! The beaches didn’t have easy access like Miramar, but if you’re going for the food and night time entertainment, head to this area. Plenty of fun bars with live entertainment and food outside of your greasy bar food.

I didn’t realize how much I would like Destin. It’s a great place for family fun and we definitely plan on going back in the near future.

PHIL-IN’ The Love in Philly

Philly. The first major city on the east coast I visited right out of high school. Growing up in the military, I spent most of my childhood living on bases and when we finally planted roots – it was in a small suburb outside of San Antonio, Texas. Texas was a great place to grow up, but I’ve always been a big city girl at heart.

Why? Who knows, but I remember looking at fashion magazines in my teens and seeing models hail cabs with sky scrappers as their backdrop – and I was hooked! I also have always loved history and culture. Something about walking the same steps as many, many, generations before me makes me feel like I’m a part of something bigger than me.

So, it was no surprise when I made Chicago my home and visit the east coast quite often.

Philly has always been a favorite because of the historical aspect – and the cheese steaks! I mean, they are pretty amazing!

I recently was in Philly for work (and some play!) and it brought back so many fun memories. This time around I’m older and have more of an appreciation of food and history. If Philly is in your upcoming travel plans, here are some must do and haves.

Historical / Cultural:

The Liberty Bell:

I mean it’s just a large iron bell, but it’s an iconic symbol of American Independence and a must see. You can cruise around the lines and check it out through a window, or if you have the time you can walk through the attached building and learn all about the history and symbolism. Fun fact: The Liberty Bell was last rung for a George Washington birthday celebration in 1846. Upon being rung, it cracked irreparably.

Love Park:

Philadelphia is – after all – the city of brotherly love, so what better place to have a park named Love Park”? The park is a plaza located in Center City, and is nicknamed “Love Park” for its reproduction of Robert Indiana’s Love sculpture which overlooks the plaza. Not only does it make you feel all warm and fuzzy, but the view in both directions is breathtaking. On one end you have Independence Hall and on the other end you can see all the way down to the Museum of Art.

Independence Hall

Another must see as it is the birthplace of our nation. They offer guided tours and you can see George Washington’s “rising sun” chair, which dominates the Assembly Room and is still arranged as it was during the original Constitutional Convention. In the adjacent West Wing, the actual inkstand used to sign the Declaration of Independence and an original draft of the Constitution are prominently displayed. History nerds rejoice! How cool is that?!

Museum of Art

Museums are always a must in any city. Be sure to give yourself enough time to roam the halls of this museum as you’ll need it, and before you go – take a jog up the front stairs with the Rocky soundtrack playing in your head. You won’t regret it. The famed statue of the beloved boxer is next to the museum for photo ops, too! Did I take one? You bet I did.

Now, let’s talk about food. We all know that I worked in luxury hotels for a very long time and was head of the catering operations – which turned me into a major foodie. I plan my days on vacation around the best places to eat!


The only time I actually want a cheesesteak is in Philly, so it’s to Sonny’s I go. It’s a small place with a small menu, but they have everything you need. If you’re one of the unlucky gluten allergy people like me – they have gluten free rolls for the cheesesteaks! Praise Jesus!


If you’re a sushi lover, this is your place. This is Masaharu Morimoto’s flagship restaurant, so consider yourself lucky to be there as he is a world renowned chef. From the signature cocktails to the mix of Japanese and Western flavors – this place will not disappoint.


Talula’s Garden

THIS place. If you can only go one place while in Philly – this needs to be it. It will be a staple on my agenda any time I’m there. It’s rustic, charming, and just a lovely place to be. The cocktails were insanely delicious and pretty! The service was outstanding. The food was perfect. So many great choices on the menu, and while you’re there take in all the beauty surrounding you.

I’m already looking forward to my return!

Why Charleston Is One Of The Best Cities For Millennials

My father grew up in Charleston and it’s always been one of my favorite cities. I spent many summers there as a kid, and just took my family there this past summer. The food, the southern charm, the people and the overall vibe makes it one of the best cities to be in or to live in!

Charleston, South Carolina has long been known as one of the most beautiful cities on the East Coast. From breathtaking beaches to stunning architecture, Charleston continues to charm both tourists and locals alike. The millennial set in particular seem to be especially drawn to Charleston, and for good reason. In recent years, Charleston has been recognized for having one of the most booming tech startup economies in the country, as well as a flourishing arts and music scene. Here are just a few reasons why Charleston is one of the best cities for millennials.

photo credit: Travel Channel

 Thriving Local Scene

One of the biggest reasons so many millennials love Charleston is because the city is rich in culture and activity. There is always something going on, and millennials living in Charleston rarely find themselves with nothing to do. The city boasts many great restaurants and bars, as well as countless quaint shops and cafes. While walking along King Street, you’ll probably notice many young people sitting at outdoor restaurants chatting or working on their laptops. King Street is home to many amazing restaurants and bars, and is a popular nightlife area for local millennials. Charleston is also known to be a culturally rich city, and boasts several art galleries that attract both locals and tourists. Charleston’s thriving local scene is one of the biggest draws for the millennial set.

Booming Tech Scene

California’s Silicon Valley was once considered the hub for all things technology, but Charleston’s Silicon Harbor has been rising up in the ranks as well.  Silicon Harbor is home to more than 250 tech companies, which employs about 11,000 people. This has made Charleston one of the top U.S. cities for IT job growth, and tech-savvy millennials are flocking to the city for this reason. Visiture, Advantage Media Group, and Blue Acorn are just a few of the tech companies based in Charleston, along with countless others. For millennials looking for employment in tech-related fields outside of Silicon Valley, Charleston’s Silicon Harbor continues to be a popular choice.

Quality of Life

The high quality of life is one of the main reasons more and more millennials are flocking to Charleston. Aside from beautiful Charleston real estate and a flourishing social scene, people in Charleston just seem happier. Perhaps it’s the near-perfect weather, the beautiful beaches, or the many fun and exciting things to do.  Whatever it is, it’s definitely helped Charleston continue to be known as one of the best places to live for people of all ages, especially millennials. In 2016, Charleston was recognized as the “Best City In The World”, and anyone who lives there will probably agree. Charleston is the ideal city for millennials who want to live in a beautiful and exciting city with amazing job opportunity and a high quality of life.  

If you’re looking to relocate – put Charleston on the list!

photo credit: wheretraveler

Planning A Camping Trip Just Became So Much Easier…

Perfect timing to hear about this awesome new booking site! My family and I have been talking about camping forever – but my how things have changed since I was a kid. We were researching and researching and it became exhausting! But, now there’s Rover Pass. If you’re a family who loves to camp or wants to do so in the future – you need to check this out!

RoverPass is a free online booking site with thousands of listings for RV parks and campgrounds. Campers who use RoverPass can quickly and easily find and reserve campsites across the country without having to place a call. Each campground listing is complete with reviews, campsite activities/amenities, pictures, and more.

They also offer free tools and services to campground owners that help them to reach more RVers. Campgrounds without an online presence can get a free website built for them, up and running within days. The most important feature, however, is the booking system owners will now have access too. It builds upon whatever the company’s current setup is to provide customer support, simple “click-to-book” reservations, and easy payment option. Most competitors charge hundreds of dollars for similar reservation systems.

Lastly, the company offers a Frequent Traveler Club. This membership allows you to book through RoverPass for free as much you’d like over the course of a period of a month, six months, or a full year. It’s perfect for those planning to travel across the states, from San Diego to Myrtle Beach, and stay at dozens of parks along the way!

Take The Road Trip….It’s Worth It

I use to love road trips growing up. As an adult, it became easier to just fly because road trips take a lot of time – and who has any time these days? After becoming a parent I wanted my kids to experience the open road and the thrill of seeing all of the in-between of our destinations. There’s something relaxing and methodical about watching acres of cornfields and lush green hills for hours. If only my husband thought the same way. Because he is a go-with-the-flow kind of guy he agreed to make the 14 hour trip to Colorado last summer to see family – and we had a blast! So much so, that we decided to do it again this summer!

One thing I’ve learned since becoming a parent is to take advantage of time. My kids will grow up in a blink of an eye and I want them to have stories to tell and make memories that will last a lifetime.

Even though the 14 hours seemed extremely daunting, I knew it would be easier than flying with a toddler. We also would save a ton of money on flights and renting a car. I’d much rather spend that money on experiences there.

We decided to break the trip up in two days and stop in Omaha, Nebraska – the half way point between Chicago and Denver. Because Omaha is a smaller city we had just enough points for a hotel stay at my alma mater company, Starwood. Win! Nothing better than free!

After the car was packed to the brim – we were off!

Travel mom tips:

  • To save time and prevent upset tummies – pack your own food. We took a cooler lined bag and I made the kids favorite sandwiches and packed healthy snacks for the whole family. This helped my family and I stay on our clean eating path also. Stopping to eat wastes a lot of time and the only places to eat along the way are usually fast food joints.
  • We filled their iPads with movies and fun games to pass the time and also stopped at rest areas to let them run around in the grass for 10 minutes.
  • We took their favorite blankets and a pillow which provided the perfect nap environment in the car while still secured in their seat belts.

We barely heard any whining or “are we there yet” comments the entire trip. I know, miracles do happen I tell ya!

The second leg of the trip is always better because you’re closer to your destination. We planned to head to the mountains for several days so I made sure to drink a lot of water and take aspirin to curb my altitude sickness.

If you haven’t visited Colorado, I highly recommend it! For us, being Chicagoans, the endless outdoor activities in Colorado are a nice change – and the kids love all the nature.

Some must do’s – perfect for kids or adults:

  • Visit Red Rocks Amphitheater – even if there isn’t a concert going on, it’s a beautiful site to see. Bring LOTS of water.

  • Casa Bonita – Yes, I said it. The food is no bueno – but the experience is worth it.
  • Estes Park – Such a beautiful site to see. Lots of cute shops and restaurants, but the views are what you go for. 
  • Downtown Denver – has a great splash pad near the train station, a zoo close by and a phenomenal aquarium. You can even go on a tour of Coors Field if you’re a baseball fan!
  • Colorado Springs – A short drive but features the majestic Pike’s Peak and the Garden of the Gods. Both are a must see.
  • If you head west into the mountains for some hiking:  Booth Falls Trail is a great family friendly trail that features a waterfall. The trail does have a parking lot but there’s only about 15 spots, so my advice is to get there early. The trail is right off of the highway before you get to Vail so very easy to find.
  • Georgetown – an old mining town featuring the Georgetown Loop Railroad. We took the boys on a train ride through the mountains and learned about the mining days. A total hit with the boys!
  • Keystone, Breckenridge and Vail: All equally fun and quaint. Vail reminds me of an old European town stuck in time. The scenic views are breathtaking. All have great restaurants lots of outdoor activities to offer. My boys preferred to stand by the Snake River and skip rocks for hours – I think I loved it, too.


By the time the trip was over – we felt accomplished and were ready to come home. That’s how you know it was a good trip and we made memories.


New Mom Traveling With A Baby? What You Need To Know…

You may love to travel, I know I do! However, if you are a new mommy, you might think your globetrotting days are over. Don’t worry, mommas! Traveling with a baby is not as daunting as you think. Between mom groups, the internet, and this website  – we’ve got you covered! Start packing and don’t be afraid to take the littles along.

Here are some helpful tips to help prepare you for traveling with babies.

 1. Call the airline

Before you even book a ticket, I recommend you call the airline’s customer support team to know the restrictions regarding gate-checking strollers or traveling with any baby gear. American Airlines, for example, changed its policy in 2011. The new system requires collapsible strollers to be not more than 20 pounds.

The last thing you’d want is to have to leave a stroller behind or be stuck without any options. Call before and save yourself any trouble.

2. Create a packing list

Baby brain exists, trust me! The most important thing you can do before you travel is make a packing list. This way you’ll avoid forgetting something vital for you and your baby. Be sure to include any breastfeeding items, formula, bottles, baby medicines, pacis, teething items like the Baltic amber wonder necklace, or your baby’s favorite toy. It’s better to over prepare than to be somewhere away from home and wish you would have thought to bring an item.

Make those lists! You don’t want him having tantrums while riding a plane or in a car for hours, do you?

 3. Bring snacks

Lots of them! You must not leave your house without bringing snacks for your baby. They’re a travel diversion as they can keep your kids’ hands and mouths busy while you’re on the go.

But ensure that you pack healthy goodies. You can have crackers and cereals or sliced fresh fruits. Protein bars may also be a good option as a travel snack if they are old enough.

 4. Schedule on mellow days

Don’t plan your trip on busy day if possible. If your schedule is flexible it’s best to plan trips more mellow times. There’s nothing worse than waiting in lines or being delayed when you have a tired grumpy little one.

 5. Take your time

Don’t rush through security or feel like you have to accommodate to everyone else. It creates anxiety for you and your baby. Babies cry, that’s reality and you’ll find most people understand and are willing to help.

 The TSA agents can also help you out. In fact, some of them will just advise you to leave your stuff and wait on the bench while they’ll do everything for you.

 6. Bring twice the necessities

If you’re traveling with a toddler, make sure that you bring twice as much formula if you bottle feed and diapers on your trip. You won’t know when an unexpected day will come. Also, most airports do not sell diapers.

By bringing twice the necessities, you don’t have to worry about being stuck in a bind with a hungry child in a dirty diaper. You’ll have everything to appease your baby.

 7. Savor the moment

Your kid won’t be a child forever. So, slow things down. You and your child should savor the moment. Enjoy the time spent bonding with your baby away from home. You’re making memories and those last a lifetime.

 8. Avoid getting ill

Easier said than done, but it’s not fun when you or kids are sick when traveling. Therefore, it’s vital to bring medicines and ointment for you and your family just in case. If you are traveling abroad, make sure that you and your child have gotten the proper immunizations and boosters recommended.

9. Arrive to the airport early.

Airlines recommend that their passengers arrive at least an hour hour before take-off. However, you may want to try to get there an additional hour earlier for peace of mind as you can never estimate security wait lines or lines to check in baggage.

 10. Change diaper before boarding

Right before you board put baby in a fresh diaper. Changing diapers on the plane can be a hassle and most times baby will fall asleep – so you don’t want to have to wake them to change a soiled diaper.

Lastly, don’t stress and enjoy!