The first place I look...

Friday, August 31, 2012

Carats in Cozumel

When we docked for our 3rd stop in Cozumel, (technically Puerta Maya), we seriously thought about staying on the ship and just relaxing for the day since we had been to this stop the year before.  But after lots of hype about Diamonds International from the onboard shopping specialist, Brook (he was a man with a girly name), we decided to put our feet on solid ground for the day and just shop around.  We attended all 5 of the raffles of the day given by Carnival at the various jewelry stores but didn't win a single one darnit!  I felt like a winner when we found the most gorgeous ring at the main Diamonds International...a 3 carat tanzanite surrounded by a carat of diamonds.  It is stunning.  I love how the tanzanite sparkles such a deep dark blue with tiny pink and purple points in the sunlight.  I love even more that it was a one of a kind design and that my hubby bought it for me!  definitely the BEST souvenir ever!  Next was his turn and we found him a silver coin from the sunken Spanish ship, the Atocha,  It was framed in 2 carat gold and he now wears it daily around his neck as a reminder of our trip.  It is a perfect fit for my Reggie, the history lover.  The kids each bought themselves a souvenir and I couldn't pass up a handmade hammock (which is now on the back patio and everyone's favorite spot to relax), a large bottle of Mexican vanilla and two large bottles of coconut rum--all tax and duty free!  The really cool thing is that Carnival has implemented a new program where as long as you shop in the stores that they "recommend", they will back your purchases...meaning the value of the ring, the coin, the hammock, etc are all refundable by Carnival if we are unhappy.  That definitely gives you peace of mind especially when purchasing 4 carat jewelry!  We of course had to stop by Fat Tuesday's before re-boarding the ship for some yummy frozen drinks (the kids had virgin ones of course) and to swing on their swings overlooking the water.  No fun filled by the book excursion, but a light day of strolling and shopping still made this a neat place to visit...again!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Jamaican Me Happy in Montego Bay

Our excursion here was thru Explorer Jamaica Transportation and another Tripadvisor tip led us to them....and oh-so glad they did!  Our driver, Tony picked us up from the cruise ship terminal where our family loaded up into a 12 passenger van--just perfect to see the sights on our own.  We decided that we wanted to SEE Jamaica our way and on our time schedule and Tony was happy to lend his services.  We first drove out to the Rose Hall Great House, while on our way Tony told us her story and about how she killed 3 husbands to acquire all of her beautiful estate.  The house itself it breathtaking and sits at the top of the mountain overlooking the beach and the ocean below.  We saw amazing landscaping (some being worked on by a local man with a "stinky cigarette" said the youngest) and an almond tree loaded with almonds the size of my PALM.  Crazy.  We marveled at the beauty of the estate and then headed into town for some souvenir shopping, a tour of the downtown part of the city, and then back up to the top of another hill to look out over the bay to see our ship docked and dwarfing everything around it.  The downtown area was much different than expected and simply put, there were people everywhere, not one of the standing still (I guess it was just too HOT).  Tony then drove us over to the Old Fort Craft Market where a handful of women sell their handmade crafts to tourists. I was a bit overwhelmed as all the women wanted you to pay attention to them and as I was trying to differentiate between this painting and that, I look over and my sweet husband is holding with a smiling baby girl.  Of course, my girls come running to me, now begging to take the baby home with us. GOSH..if only they knew!  I did wish I could help them all, buy something from everyone, but instead asked God to use my money to do good in the life of the women whose crafts I chose.  Tony then gathered us up and we headed over to Margaritaville for a Margarita of course, some live music, and water fun.  Brady was the only one brave enough to ride the slide from the top of the building and curving into the ocean where water trampolines and floating slides and climbing walls awaited for anyone ready to play.  Unfortunately the margarita wasn't that good and our bill was $40 for 7 drinks (no food), but Margaritaville IS priced for its atmosphere after all.  By this time we are hot and tired and ready for a right on cue Tony is there to take us back the the cruise terminal.  On our way the children noticied other children their age on the side of the road selling clumps of some kind of fruit.  When they asked Tony about it, he motioned to a boy to bring us some.
This is a guniep...we all gave it a try (AND NO ONE LIKED IT!)...the taste wasn't bad it was just trying to get past the slimy coating on the fruit inside the green hull.  But another adventure down, we headed back to the ship...knowing that we would watch the Olympic running events just a little closer having just been right in the heart of where the Jamaican people were.  Tony was such a wonderfully nice man--he made us feel safe, showed us the beauty of the city, and even gave us hugs before we left.  I recommend Explorer Jamaica Transportation and encourage you to plan your own day like we did to ensure that you soak up all the sides of this amazing place.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Reef, Rays, and Rum Point in Grand Cayman

Just catching my breath after our amazing cruise this summer...and the top of my list was our excursion during our day in Grand Cayman.  We booked our excursion thru Nativeway, who we found at the top of the list on Tripadvisor for about $60 for adults and $50 for kids.  They picked us up from the cruise ship dock and took us and several of our fellow passengers to a nearby marina.  They had two boats waiting for us and we were super lucky to be pointed in the direction of the "TrippinOut" ran by Captain Chris and Assistant Andrew.  We sat down and got comfy as we rode thru the canals and marveled at the beautiful homes, then we hit the open waters and raced towards Stingray City.  We were apprehensive to jump into the water-first because it seems so strange to have 3 foot deep water in the middle of the ocean, but second because the stingray were HUGE!  Crazy as it was when Chris got in the water, one of the biggest ones came up to him and "jumped" into his arms!  I truly believe this creature recognized him and he even said he affectionately named her big mama.  It takes a few minutes to convince yourself that these are truly gentle giants, but after they glide up against your legs a few times-it is evident that they are just curious about you and friendly.  We had the opportunity to feed them, to hold them, get our backs massaged by them and I even gave one lucky boy a kiss!  We spent almost an hour there and could have stayed forever just watching how graceful they are in the water.  We soon motored over to another local called Coral Gardens where we dropped anchor and snorkeled.  Chris and Andrew helped all the kids figure out their snorkel gear and in we went.  EVERY SINGLE ONE OF MY CHILDREN WERE SNORKELING WITHIN MINUTES!  They took to it quickly and couldn't get enough of the underwater adventure.  One of the girls said it was just like putting her head in the fish tank!  I couldn't have said it any better....millions of different fish, coral, and even a barracuda stopped by to see what we were doing!  They had to force us back into the boat after about 2 hours but then we headed to Rum Pointe.  On our way there-Andrew called in our lunch orders and the food was waiting for us when we stepped onto the dock.   We had Mahi-Mahi, red beans and rice, corn and fried hit the spot!  We ate on the beach full of palm trees and plenty of shade, clean bathrooms and showers, crystal clear water and white sand, hammocks and beach chairs, and a cash bar.  We swam and relaxed some more and thoroughly enjoyed our time here.  It was mentioned several times by all how we could easily live HERE!  After Chris and Andrew convinced us that we had to return to the cruise ship-we hoped back on TrippinOut for the ride back to the marina.  Somewhere in the middle of the ocean, Chris stopped the boat and Andrew just jumped in---we were all a little baffled when he suddenly came to the surface with the biggest starfish I have ever seen.  There are no words to describe what a beauty this creature was.  He carefully kept it hydrated while we checked it out and took pictures and then jumped back in to take it home.  We were sad to leave our boat and our new friends but truly feel that we had the adventure of a lifetime here.  The owner of the company, Sharon, picked us up and delivered us straight back to our cruise ship after a interesting conversation about how she got to Cayman and the business  and all.  I promised her I would tell all...and here I go...I will recommend Nativeway Watersports to anyone who wants to do any excursion in Grand Cayman!  They have the system down pat and enjoy what they do.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Bella Vista Ranch

Crazy I was so excited about this experience before we even left home, and I was even more impressed than my hopes held! We drove into the ranch, flanked by grapevines overflowing with beautiful purple and green looked just like a Napa Valley postcard! Notice I said postcard because I have not actually been to Califormia! Our tour started out with the owner giving us the history of olive oil in general, of his personal history in the business, all the way up to current events pertaining to olive oil production. He was a fantastic storyteller and fun to listen to! I was only momentarily distracted by his puppy "Big Daddy" who came out to socialize with all of us on the tour. It was apparent he had vast knowledge of the industry and a true passion for the business. He took us out and showed us his olive trees which did have olives and explained the differences in type and how they harvest them. He helped us understand how his ranch is flourishing despite extreme Texas weather conditions and showed us all the different vegetables he is currently growing there. We went on to see the olive press-I can't remember the official name- and he explained how it is used and how the process has changed over the years. Afterwards we participated in a wine and food tasting of the ranch's products. We drank-yes we DRANK-olive oil and learned the important properties of really fresh extra virgin oils. We sampled some of the flavors of olive oil bottled right there on the ranch, as well as jams and vinegrettes. Of course we walked away with some amazing dipping oils, jam, wine (the Texas Sunset is fabulous), and even a bar of soap made with olive oil! I couldn't stop taking pictures this place was so breathtaking! I learned so much too. Well worth the $15 tour price! And can I just say... The olive tree is gorgeous--feels stately but each is unique and we learned that they can live to about 4,000 years! Simply Amazing.

Blair House Inn in Wimberley Tx

A little bit of Heaven is the motto for this quaint little town and that's exactly what it is! Cute little boutiques and eateries all around the downtown hub look like a girl's fantasy shopping trip day (gotta come here next time during Wimberley Market Days with plenty of money and girls only)...and our gorgeous bed and breakfast was only a few miles down the road. Blair House Inn was so much nicer than I could have ever guessed! We were greeted by Mike who gave us the grand tour...the grounds were beautifully lush and green, little birds chirping everywhere, yet quiet and secluded. We stayed in the main house which had several guest rooms, a study/computer area, dining room, TV room, living area and gourmet kitchen complete with chef giving cooking lessons! Out the back door are several more sitting areas and a stone path leads you right up to the pool. Past the pool were more separate cottages, hiking trails, and breathtaking views over the valley. We spent the afternoon laying out at the pool and visiting with friends and were delighted with the tiny details that made our stay so comfortable and relaxing: refrigerator near the pool stocked with drinks for your enjoyment, big fluffy clean towels located at the pool as well as sunscreens of all types for you to use. We returned to our room to find chilled white wine and two plates of brownies almost too pretty to eat (almost...we determined that they actually tastes even better than they were pretty!). The bed was firm and comfortable with high quality sheets and the oh so important ceiling fan for background noise required for optimal sleeping! The next morning, Reggie and I enjoyed a cup of fabulous coffee on the front porch as the morning sun woke up the Hill romantic! Followed by breakfast in the dining room..the cherry on top of this amazing B&B...delicious fruit with real whipped cream, specialty juices, yummy Jewish apple cake (that almost rivals my mom's), and gourmet egg, tomato, onion and cheese quiche with a side of sausage for the main course. The service we received while here was excellent, no perfect. I hope to return here year after year as I can only see Blair House getting better and better,

Cypress Valley Canopy Tours

Whew!!! Just finished zipLining in the gorgeous Texas Hill Country! Who knew there are cypress trees here that are 300 and 400 years old! Bittersweet to see these beautiful monsters who must have had at one time massive canopies, but the wildfires in 2011 swept straight thru here and wiped most of the canopy out. Thanks to a few underground seeps and springs and a cute little sinkhole (yes, sinkholes can be CUTE) the trees are trying to recover and shed their burnt outsides and regenerate their massive beauty. Zipping from cypress tree to cypress tree, led by our guides Max and Robert, feels a lot like flying. Mid-air, I forgot about the harness, looked up into the sky and what came to mind? My sweet Abby-girl's recent infatuation with flying squirrels... And I thought how this is exactly what those little critters must feel like when flying from tree to tree! Robert was a hoot, he never shut up and even gave Reggie a new nickname-Turbo- because he was also first in line to start the next zip-LOL-that's my hubby! Congrats to my longtime friend Rachel and her husband, Eric, who joined us and zip lined for their first time! I loved seeing their smiles....well, smiles after the two rope bridges (Rachel was definitely not into that part)! I hope Canopy Valley continues to rebuild bigger and better! I know Reggie and I already talked with Robert about doing a customized rope course, repelling, and zip course for our kiddos. A full family day at this would be a great adventure for the boys and confidence booster for the girls, not to mention have all 8 of us work together to accomplish different tasks--something all families should do regularly in my opinion! Oh and shout out to Robert who does outdoor adventures all over the area and also works with handicapped children and our wounded warriors(near and dear to my own heart). Just know that talk is all he does! But he did point out a plant called maidenhair (spelling? Really?) that grows out of the seeps, looks like a fern, but he claims you can squash the roots and use it as a natural hair conditioner! If it weren't for that cute little sinkhole I would have been pulling me a plant to take home in a heartbeat!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Brewster's Pizza House in the Texas Hill Country

Tried a cool pizzeria not far from our B&B for our anniversary eve dinner and all I will tell you is that just us two couples cleaned out TWO medium pizzas! Now that is good pizza! And it was definitely in the crust...light, thin, crispy and fresh tasting. They even brew their own beer here and let you try all the different flavors! This family owned business makes you smile when you see the whole family, even younger kids, bringing out the pizza, cleaning up the tables and taking the orders. An added plus: my friend left her purse at the restaurant when we left and we had barely been back at the B&B ten minutes when two of the teenage members of the pizza family arrived to deliver her purse back to her! You definitely don't get service like that at your normal pizza joint! The kids were so friendly even answering some of my questions about how they got started in the business and how they feel as teens working in the business everyday! If I could only get my precious offspring to have such a superb work effort! Great family, pizza, and atmosphere while in Wimberley!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Stone Mountain Georgia=exercise & tired kids

Today we ventured out in Atlanta, Georgia, at Stone Mountain.  This is basically a huge, bald granite rock....carved into the side is Generals Davis, Lee, and Jackson on horseback riding into battle.  The carving is so large that a 6 foot man can fit into the opening of the horse's mouth!  They have a cable car which takes you to the top of the mountain scooting right by the carving-for some great photo ops-enabling you to really get a good look at such amazing art.  The cable car only costs $5.50 for a one way ride, but there is a $10 parking fee to enter the park.  Once at the top you can explore all the dips and craters...kinda makes you think that if the moon was made of granite-this might be what it looked like.  You can see for miles and miles...breathtaking.  Instead of riding back down in the cable car, we decided to get some exercise and take the trail down the mountain.  First starting down the mountain is a little steep, but there are handrails along the trail to help you keep your footing.  The kids had no problem at fact it was me that couldn't keep up with them!  We encountered tons of hikers coming both up and down, young and old, enjoying the beautiful spring day and the exercise of climbing the mountain.  Coolest of all was all the initials and dates we found carved into the rock face-some as recent as within the past week and others dating back into the 1800's-proof this place has been a well loved and well worn hiking spot for hundreds of years.  The kids only complained once we got to the bottom and we had to walk around about a 1/4 of the mountain to get back to our parking spot...well, they were tired until they saw the play equipment inside the park.  It was rewarding for all of us to look back up the mountain to see how far we come and what a big accomplishment it was for them-to say they climbed down a mountain.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Nashville...What was I thinking?

Nashville Tennessee had lots of promise but left us dissappointed.  Let me just say that had Reggie and I come here to vacation and see the sights, we would have had a great time just hanging out near Music Row...bars, restaurants, shops, museums, live entertainment on the corner would have made us happy, but for kids it did not work out.  The really neat looking places don't allow minors in.  Parking was $15 everywhere we looked, the area was dirty and littered with trash, and all the eating places looked very anti-kid friendly.  We decided to try Gaylord Opryland Resort...and it was a step up.  It had our jaw dropping as soon as we stepped foot in the door.  What an amazing sight to see a building-scratch that-a miniature city, all self contained under one roof.  But again...the kids were impressed for about ten minutes, then ready to go.  Our most fun was had at Cooter's Place-a shop and museum (free) dedicated to the old TV show "Dukes of Hazzard".  They had tons of vintage items that definitely brought back childhood memories for me-mostly that super awesome metal Dukes of Hazzard lunchbox I begged my mom for during my elementary school days.  They also had full size replicas of the General Lee, Cooter's tow truck, Daisy's jeep, and Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrain's police car.  It was a lot of fun for me trekking down memory lane.  And for you Willie fans, next door was a Willie Nelson museum and gift shop.  That's where I got my favorite picture of the trip so far....Can you guess which one?  After a quick dinner at SteakNShake we headed back to the Embassy Suites for some swimming and TV time.  Kinda sad that we would rather do that than anything else in Nashville....Maybe I'll come back and try again as an adult only trip, but I definitely wouldn't reccommend it for kids.

Hot Springs Arkansas...Alpine Inn and Garvan Gardens

Started out on our Southern States Tour yesterday...and started a little rough.  Didn't get the right rental car from Hertz-ugh and traffic backed up on I-35 which put us an hour behind before we even got out of Waco.  BUT, that was the end of the bad news!  Drove straight to Hot Springs, Arkansas and stayed with our favorite Scottish couple, Eric and Leslie, at Alpine Inn.  This was our 3rd time to stay here and we enjoy it more every single time!  We stayed in the safari suite since we had 4 kiddos with us....which proved an excellent choice!  Always clean, smelling great with super fresh linens and towels and at only around $100 for a Friday night suite with 3 double beds and a kitchen...I LOVE this place!!  Eric even stayed up til midnight to make sure we got in okay and left capri suns and snacks for the kids on the kitchen table.  After visiting with them this morning we headed out for breakfast and then to the University of Arkansas Garvan Gardens.  This place is an amazing hidden gem!  At $6 for adults and $4 for kids (a $1 off per person coupon can also be printed from their website) this place proved to be an all day adventure.  We climbed, we adventured, we posed for pictures, we smelled the beautiful flowers, we fed the Koi fish, we played hide and seek, we played in the mountain streams, we mined for quartz, we listened to the carillon, and we picnicked on a fallen log bridge.  The kids played like kids Ipods, no cell phones....just nature and exploring the streams, the rocks, and the plants.  It was a beautiful Arkansas day..dirty, happy, and all.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The kiddos are gonna blog!

8 days until our "Southern States tour"!  I will share all the ins and outs soon-I promise! 

BUT I have to share the excitement (me) and mixed reaction (kids) when I told them tonight that I wanted them to be active on this blog.  I have researched and planned the upcoming itinerary down to a tee, then thought how I really just wanted this trip to become a permanent part of our family legacy--not just from my perspective but from the kids' perspectives too.  With that in mind, I bought each one of them a journal today and talked with them tonight about how I want them to take some time everyday while we are on our SStour and just write what they think about the drive, the food, the hotel, the attraction, or whatever comes to mind....then i will share their thoughts and opinions with everyone here on Travel2bye2.  I hope that the experience opens up a love of writing, creating, and a positive way to channel their opinions (instead of arguing in the car)!

I believe that for kids, blogging represents a new way to not only write, but to create as well. With all the information and media available on the web today, a blog is the perfect way for young people, to research, vent, and create a living record that will be available for all generations to come.  One day when I'm gone, they can click on Travel2bye2 and read to their grandchild all about our trip in March 2012.  Wow!  I wanted a family legacy, and can't think of a more perfect way to get one.  Because blogs exist in a digital space mean that the kids can add to them indefinitely and learn more and more about what interests them, hopefully travel (in this blog's case).  I hope that they can use blogs as a way to help them find their life's passion.  Blogging also helps kids in many obvious ways: It improves their capacity for observation; increases their communication with family and friends who might be living in other cities; teaches them how to use the Internet appropriately, and even helps improve writing skills and spelling (a huge plus for my dyslexic child-who loves to write more than the others!).

Wish us luck!  Please stay tuned for all the details of the itinerary complete with reactions and opinions, written by the kiddos themselves!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Traveling thru Waco? Baylor's Mayborn Museum is a must see!

RIght off I-35 at Baylor University in Waco, Texas is one of our favorite in town "vacation" spots- The Mayborn Museum.  Our family recently visited the Mayborn Museum on a cold December day and had a blast! The price is right at $6 for adults and $4 for can easily spend a full day here.  And it isn't just for little kids!  Even our teenagers had fun trying out the hands on activities and yes, mom and dad even joined in.  Above you see Maggie enclosing herself in a human size bubble!  All the hands on activities encourage learning while still bringing smiles...we discovered an air cannon, different forces of water, pulleys and pendulums, and the science of sound.  Another wing of the building has role play rooms where you can have an ultra fancy tea party, visit other countries by dressing up and playing instruments, and spend hours at a "home on the range" milking a cow, riding in a wagon, pumping your own water and cooking on the hearth just like in the pioneer days.  They also feature traveling exhibits that never cease to amaze us all.  We have seen the Leonardo DaVinci exhibit and the Egyptian Pharoah exhibit, both of which we visited twice because we enjoyed it so much.  The pride of the museum is the Texas Natural History section which highlights the nearby actual Mammoth site with a casting of mammoth remains you can walk on top of and many of the wonderful exhibits which were once shown at the now closed Strecker Museum.  They are open daily and are well worth the time and money if you find yourself traveling thru Texas or even if you live nearby.  To see exact hours and current exhibit information follow the link:

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Why Travel 2bye2? by Gwen

Travel 2bye2.  I hope just the name makes people curious.  For me, so many things come to mind...  First, of course, comes the travel.  It is really a passion I have discovered  in the last few years.  As a child I didn't travel, except from Waco, Texas, to San Angelo, Texas, to see 2nd cousins once a year, but I did read.  I read every book that was ever put in front of me.  I begged to go to the library (I know you are thinking I'm a complete NERD now) because my dad once told me once that only a book could take you anywhere you wanted to go.  And I was happy with imagining all the beautiful places in the world until Reggie came along.  He definitely messed up my happy little way of thinking!  He introduced me to new places, the fun of plane travel, car travel, train travel, and the sheer awe that comes from seeing a new place for the first time.  Beginning with our first trip together--to New Orleans, Louisiana--I was hooked.  Then....we hooked the kids.  Yes, kids.  We blended our families when we married and we are now a happy, chaos filled family of 8.  Yes, eight.  We have Chase-18, Tylar-15, Brady-13, Abby-11, Paige-10, and Maggie-7.  We decided in the beginning of our marriage that our life's legacy would be  to worship God, love each other endlessly, and teach our children that the world has so much to teach them, but they must see it to learn it, absorb it, and make it better.  We started with a plane ride from Waco, Texas to Jacksonville, Florida in 2008.  We assigned the three older boys, each a younger sister.  As the oldest ones, it was their job to help their little sisters with their luggage and holding their hands in the airports.  I will never forget the moment at the DFW airport that I turned around and saw all 6 of our children following behind us, 2x2.  Even though the girls are a little older now, we still follow that same plan, although I will brag that every single child of ours can find their way thru an airport as well as any adult.  I am proud to share this love of travel with you, our hints on saving money, finding the best hotels, learning about each location, and building an itinerary.   I hope the tips along the way that we have found (and sometimes stumbled upon) and will share with you thru this blog, spark your urge to try a new adventure of your own, whether you are on a budget, have a gaggle of kids like us, or you simply want to travel with the love of your life, as I get to do.   -Gwen