When my best friend called to chat about where she should have her adult only birthday getaway, we were a bit stumped. As a group of friends traveling together, we had done Las Vegas, Miami, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Lake Tahoe. ” What about Scottsdale, AZ?” she asked. We had heard so many great travel stories from people who visit for Major League Baseball’s Spring Training that raved about the great weather, awesome golfing, and endless nightlife. It sounded like a perfect idea!
When I had heard about travels to Scottsdale, the W Scottsdale always came up in conversation. It is definitely known as THE place to stay in this area of Arizona. Once we had decided on our destination, we knew there was only one place we wanted to call home for this trip….the W Scottsdale. This hotel is the perfect mix of luxury and party! It is a modern hotel with epic weekend pool parties. And the biggest plus is that the location can’t be beat. Walk out of the hotel and across the street and you are in the heart of downtown Scottsdale and what is known as the Entertainment District for pulsating nightlife.
From the moment you walk through the doors at this beautiful hotel, you are treated like kings and queens. The service is stellar! The hotel lobby is gorgeous with uber chic furnishings and an illuminated stairway that takes you to the Wet Deck, which is where the pool is located and they hold all their outdoor events.
I chose the newly renovated Cool Corner Suite for my room on this trip. This suite is absolutely stunning! Floor to ceiling windows and a large balcony with a perfect view overlooking the pool. I had some major breakfast goals on this balcony while sipping some bubbly and living the true lap of luxury.
I have been to some pretty fun pool parties, but the Wet Deck at the W Scottsdale is by far one of my favorites. It was an absolute blast! The sexy VIP waitresses bring you bottle service on the shoulders of their sexy male helpers, while the DJ thumps some liquid lounge meets hip hop tunes. The music definitley had me shaking my bon bon all day long! They have an array of comfy day beds, lounging pods, and private cabanas…but the real party is in the pool!!
The W Scottsdale’s motto is “Lust For Life”, and after spending the weekend here, I can understand why! Myself, my husband, and our group of friends had the time of our lives at this hotel that is a haven for style. Scottsdale has most definitley joined my list of favorite party cities in the United States!
Greece has always been at the top of my bucket list. It was #2 on my list to be exact. I assure you that I can not accurately describe in words how over the moon excited I was to take this trip! I will say this right off the bat: this certainly was not the cheapest vacation I have ever taken. I started out with a budget and went way over. I had to take side job after side job to cover this dream of mine, but it was worth every penny.
Greece has so many islands, all which are very spread apart. Unless you are taking a cruise or traveling for a long period of time, you need to plan what islands you want to see. It isn’t one of those places that you can island hop day by day and see all there is to see, like my trip to the British Virgin Islands or Croatia (which is next up on my list to do a barbeboating trip). I had two weeks in Greece so I chose the Cyclades Islands . I decided on three stops: Mykonos, Santorini, and Athens. I was so happy with these choices! Each stop was so polar different from the other, and it really mixed things up. Mykonos was party time, Santorini was relaxing time, and Athens was a beautiful city.
San Francisco to Mykonos is quite the journey. Long travel days are not ideal, but if that’s what I have to do to get to places like this, then that’s what I have to do. I will never skip a place to see in the world because the flight is too long. After a long day and night of travel, I arrived at my Ornos Suites Airbnb in Ornos Beach, Mykonos at about 2:00am. I was about 90 feet from the sand, which is why I chose Ornos Beach. It was really difficult to find Airbnb properties that were oceanfront on Mykonos. I was excited to check out my surroundings, anxious for my first Greek cocktail, and feeling a little hungry. I assumed I would have zero options at that hour. Wrong!!! All the bars and restaurants stay open super late, and are straight up crack-a-lackin all night long. Ornos Beach was beautiful and actually ended up being my favorite after I had explored the entire island. Mykonos beaches are filled with beach clubs that thump music played by world renown DJs from the day to the night to the morning. It doesn’t stop. I wouldn’t call this island the most relaxing. It was party time….all the time. Ornos Beach was just the right amount of party mixed with the ability to unwind and relax. I would say it is one of the more quiet beaches on Mykonos. It is a beach cove lined with amazing restaurants in the sand. The bars play music here, but they don’t have that beach club vibe that most of the other beaches had in Mykonos.
Being that I enjoyed my first meal and cocktail at 3:00am it was safe to say that I was sleeping in the next morning. A bit of an understatement as I woke up at 4:00pm panicking that I would miss my sunset table reservation at Scorpios Sunset Party. Scorpios is said to be one of the best beach clubs in Europe, and I can see why. This is by far my favorite beach club I have ever been to in my life! And it is the ONLY place to be on a Sunday. They throw their weekly sunset party on Sundays, and honestly it is a “must see” when visiting Mykonos. The music and vibe at this club were so good! Dress to impress in your sexy beach wear and get ready to see a very beautiful crowd of people. I danced the night away, which turned into dancing the morning away back at one of the bars in Ornos Beach, and then lead to watching one of the most beautiful sunrises I have seen. I’m not much of a morning person so this was a huge perk of not being adjusted to the time difference just yet.
On day two I slept half the day away, and I rented an ATV to explore the island. I landed at Lohan Beach House. Lindsay Lohan went from Hollywood star to Beach Club Owner in Greece. Talk about reinventing yourself! This beach club has a sexy boho chic vibe with a great DJ on a beautiful beach. I want to copy her decorating style and make my home look exactly like her club. It was beautiful…you go girl!!
Mykonos Town is filled with all the classic white and blue traditional Greek homes. Wandering around here truly makes you fall in love with Greece. It also has tons of shopping, and lots of bars and restaurants. I visited Mykonos Town once in the day and once in the night. Just exploring the streets of Mykonos Town is worth the trip to Greece alone! While here, you can also check out the Windmills and Little Venice. The entire area is pretty small and walkable. At night you can choose from an array of amazing restaurants (OMG the food in Greece is so good) and do…what else…shake your booty all night long at any one of the fun bars that are everywhere. I chose to eat a seafood dinner at Nice and Easy Restaurant . It’s right on the water and the seafood was to die for!!
More beaches to see exploring on a quad.
We wanted to see every square inch of Mykonos, so we rented a quad to do more exploring. Honestly, this is a “must do” recommendation of mine. Riding a scooter or quad in Mykonos is extremely common, and it is how most tourists get around on their own. Of course you can rent a car, take the bus, or call an Uber but I really encourage you to explore on a quad at least for one day…if you are experienced enough to drive one of course. Most people don’t wear helmets, and although this was a bit scary to me, I went with it. Not only did I go with it, but I ended up getting comfortable enough to cruise around in a bikini. LOL. Driving through the mountains and seeing the most beautiful views of Greece would have been enough of an adventure, but we beach hopped the day away.
Elia Beach: This is the most beautiful beach on Mykonos (IMO). It was also the most relaxing on the island. Definitely the most family friendly as well. The water was crystal clear! It was absolute paradise. There is a restaurant and bar here, so you can post up for the whole day in total relaxation mode.
Psarou Beach: This beach is where the world famous beach club Nammos is located. We had planned on spending an entire day here, but the locals talked us out of it. Although it is the most famous club in Mykonos, it is also crazy expensive. We were told to expect to spend $1,000 in our afternoon there. Although an experience to dance on tables, spray champagne on each other, and stare at multi-million dollar yachts sounded amazing…we opted to save our duckets.
Paradise Beach and Super Paradise Beach: These beaches are right next to each other but are separated. Seriously, these places were wild. They had world famous DJ’s thumping the beach while everyone, and I mean everyone, danced their butts off. I’m sure it has become clear through this blog by now that coming to Mykonos means sleep when your dead!!
ON TO THE SECOND LEG TO THE ISLAND OF SANTORINI
We took the ferry from Mykonos to Santorini, which took close to three hours. The ferry was really nice and fast. That baby was cookin’, and it was so beautiful to see all the little Greek Islands along the way.
I can’t even put into words (again) how magnificent the views on this island are. This island is straight up and straight down, but truly the most beautiful views I have ever seen. Santorini was so different from Mykonos! It is so incredibly romantic, scenic, and relaxing. I was ready for this after all that hooting and hollering in Mykonos.
My Stay in Oia
I chose to stay in a traditional cave Airbnb property in Oia. It is called Armenaki. It was awesome! It was a true cave room that had the most postcard worthy view of any other place I have ever stayed in. A cave room is exactly what it sounds like…a room that’s a cave. It was sort of a studio tube in the mountain with a bedroom, full kitchen, bathroom, and breathtaking porch. It was perfect for a couple. I love staying in hotels, but this Airbnb property was a genuine Greek experience. Let me just say that this is one of those vacations that I am so thankful I took while I am able and in shape. The hike up/down from our cave room to town was no joke, and would never work for anyone with any sort of disability, elderly, young children, or someone who isn’t in decent shape. If you fall into any of these categories, I would suggest staying away from the mountainside properties in Oia, and recommend going to a hotel.
Hike Oia to Fira
The hike from Oia to Fira is a must! You need to be in good shape, but it is just breathtaking! The hike is around 8 miles (one way). It is much more challenging from Oia to Fira, as it’s all uphill. If you were going Fira to Oia, you can count on a pretty easy walk downhill. I can officially say I sweat out all of those Mykonos toxins on this day. Ha ha! But you don’t do this hike for the work out, you do it for the views. These words come to mind: grandiose, magnificent, stunning, unbelievable, and scary. Again, just the most amazing views I have ever seen in my life. Fira is much more laid back than Oia. Oia is filled with romantic restaurants, art galleries, and very high end hotels. Fira is the Capital of Santorini, and has bars, cheaper eats, great souvenir shopping, and cheaper stays. It is a really great place to stay if you don’t want to pay the Oia prices, but still want to be close by.
Exploring Santorini by road.
Next up was exploring the other side of the island. We rented an ATV and ventured out to explore. I wore a helmet everywhere in Santorini. The roads were nothing like the back road feel of Mykonos, and felt much more like highways. Although a lot of people went without helmets, I did not feel safe. You’re welcome mom! 😉
Astarte Suites: I was invited to stop at the Astarte Suites to have a drink and enjoy the beautiful hotel. Huge perk to writing a Travel Blog! I initially wanted to stay at this hotel for my Santorini leg, because it simply looked like the most beautiful hotel on the island from the internet. I decided to go Airbnb, but if I had chosen a hotel, this would have been my dream place to call home for my time on the island. It was everything I imagined!!! It starts off with a stairway to heaven. It’s true! These steps have become pretty Instagram famous, and I see the stairway entrance to this hotel everywhere on the internet. Astarte Suites had a very boutique feel, yet so luxurious and high end. It was relaxing, while still playing great music that was loud enough to create a vibe, but not too loud to disrupt the peacefulness of the property. The best part was the most beautiful infinity pool overlooking the ocean. This is the definition of pool goals! And of course, the cherry on top was the swan floatie. You can never go wrong with a swan floatie!
Red Beach: The road to Red Beach feels like you are headed to no where. If you feel like you are lost the entire time, you are on the right path to Red Beach. After questioning our directions for quite a while, we decided to ask Siri for help. Believe it or not, she got us there. This is an absolutely beautiful beach with red rock and sand. It has a restaurant and bar too, so you can post up.
Parissa Beach: This is a very laid back beach lined with restaurants. Most of the restaurants own umbrellas on the beach in front of their places. After a meal, they will set you up with an umbrella and chairs, and serve you drinks in the sand.
Exploring Santorini by sea
OOOOMMMMGGGG!! Exploring Santorini by sea was my favorite day of the entire Greece trip! It was the one thing I wanted to do that was somewhat of an “excursion”. The problem (which is always the problem) was that my husband hates group activities. So that leaves us always having to do days like this privately which is usually four times the cost. We knew we wanted to rent a boat without a captain. A boat in Santorini without a captain is so over the top expensive. So I found the absolute cheapest option possible. I kid you not, this boat looked like a big dingy with a motor. It was a total piece of crap. Piece of crap that cost $400 for the day! But it didn’t matter. It was all ours for the entire day to explore the beautiful ocean around Santorini. Old Betsy did the job, and we had the most amazing day! Having the freedom to explore at our own pace was the best. We swam in caves, bobbled in the water at the volcano eating cheese and drinking wine, went to lunch at a private beach club that you can only get to by boat, and watched the sunset before heading back to the marina. It was a full day at sea, and we swam in the ocean all day long.
THIRD LEG IN ATHENS
The ferry ride from Santorini to Athens is about 5 hours. We opted for first class, which is not much more, but it was very nice to have a bit more plush of a ride for that length of time. As we arrived at our Airbnb by cab we unloaded our bags to the sidewalk. We couldn’t locate the apartment right away, and apparently weren’t paying enough attention, because bam….we got robbed. Our backpack was plucked within minutes out of our pile of stuff sitting right next to us. This bag had our computer, Ipad, credit cards, batteries, money, and worst of all, our passports. What do you do when you loose your passports and you are out of the country?
Step 1 – Call your parents for advice. LOL.
Step 2 – File a police report so that you have proof of your loss and you can hopefully make a claim through your insurance back at home.
Step 3 – Head down to the US Embassy to have emergency passports issued.
We only had three days in Athens and one of them was now designated to spending it at the Embassy. I was really thankful this happened at the end of our trip! This was completely our fault and we know better! We consider ourselves to be very aware travelers but this goes to show you, anything can happen. Lesson learned…never again! On a more positive note, the US Embassy treated us like gold. I have to say, in a bad situation such as this, it felt pretty good to be an American.
Enjoying our final days in Greece
Athens is an absolutely beautiful city! Our Airbnb property was a penthouse apartment with a view of the Acropolis. This was the cheapest leg of the trip, and I got this penthouse for just over $100 per night. So cool to sit out on our patio enjoying some wine while staring at this beautiful site. Right below our apartment, the streets were lined with little alleyways of great bars, coffee shops, and shopping. We loved roaming around this area and getting lost in these alleys. Besides getting our bag stolen upon arrival, I never felt unsafe here. We roamed around into the wee hours of the night, and I never felt threatened.
With one day left to spare, we decided to head up to the Mont Parnes Casino on the recommendation of my aunt. I had planned to spend an entire day at the Acropolis, but we decided to sacrifice that day for the day spent at the Embassy, since we were able to stare at the Acropolis from our balcony. So we headed to the Casino to see if we could get a stroke of good luck. The gondola ride up to this casino was a bit scary, but wow what a view! Athens is huge, and we got a bird’s eye view of just how big the city really is. Once up there, we didn’t hit it big, but we ended up winning a couple hundred bucks to pay for our day of fun. It felt good! We finished our trip off with a huge shared plate of seafood spaghetti at the harbor in Athens. We cheersed a lot to how every moment of this trip was different. Opa! As always, I was feeling like I wanted a couple more days to spend here. This truly was the trip of a lifetime. Check off number two on the Bucket List for Jessica Lynn!!
I flew into Panama City on a red eye and was lucky to be picked up by business associates of my husband, who gave us a tour of the city. I learned a lot in those three hours along with having the best empanada of my life. Street food is safe to eat in Panama, and delicious! There are also fresh juice stands which are quite common and so refreshing. I had two large fresh juices, which didn’t quite sit well with my three hour car ride. Best to always have quaters on you in Panama City as the bathrooms are public, but cost 25 cents. I learned interesting facts along this tour, such as the tap water is safe to drink, everything is negotiable in Panama (even the high end retail stores), and I got a detailed explanation of the definition of a Push Button”. A “Push Button” in Panama is a very private motel (aka a love motel). Complete discretion and privacy is the main goal of these establishments. They are called “Push Button” because typically you can pull up to a window, push a button, slide some money through a slot, get a key, and head to a room all without actually seeing a person. Being that prositution is legal in Panama, I’m sure these motels come in quite handy for those in need of privacy. This was personally not the most useful information to me, however it made for a very comical conversation. Our final stop along the tour was at the Fish Market for some ridiculously delicous, fresh, and cheap ceviche. After a red eye flight and a three hour tour, I was ready to relax at my hotel.
I decided to stay in the Casco Viejo area of Panama City. Casco Viejo (Spanish for Old Quarter) is the historic district of Panama City. It was built following the near total destruction of the original Panama City, which was attackeed by pirates in 1671. I guess you can say it is the new old Panama City. After reading blog after blog about how this neighborhood is the hip and trendy area of the city, it sounded like a good fit. In the Casco Viejo neighborhood, you will find a huge difference from the chaotic metropolis of Panama City. This area is filled with old world charm of Spanish colonial buildings, boutique hotels, rooftop bars, and amazing restaurants. You won’t find any chain hotels or restaurants here. Everything is mom and pop.
I booked a room at the absolutely stunning American Trade Hotel. It is located in the heart of Casco Viejo, and everything you would want to see in this area is within walking distance. This hotel is the epitome of mixing old world charm with modern day luxury. This is one of the only hotels in the area with a pool. Let me tell you…it is necessary. Panama is hot and humid and I did not accomplish to have even one good hair day during my stay. Back to the hotel….Did I mention it was stunning? From the beautiful balcony room, food, ambiance, location, pool, grounds, service, adjacent jazz club, bar….I could go on and on. I spent a lot of time at the hotel on this trip, and it truly made my vacation unforgettable.
The food in Panama was phenomenal! I love to eat, and some of the dishes I had here completely blew my mind….dishes I had never heard of or tasted before. The cocktails are also superb. Rum is Panama’s alcohol of choice, however those that read my blogs know that I am a spicey margarita kind of gal. Panama did not dissapoint! Every cocktail I had was fresh squeezed and delicious. As you take the first sip of these drinks, you already want a second one.
I was only in Panama City for six days. I can officially say that I ate and drank my way through Casco Viejo. My favorite dining experience for traditional Panamanian food was Diablicos. They put on a show while you eat, and it was very lively and fun. It is located directly in front of the President’s Palace, so you get to check that out during your walk to/from. My favorite Rooftop Bar? Well, I have two! Casa Casco, which is directly across the street from the American Trade Hotel is a super chill spot with great drinks and postcard perfect views of Panama City. If you want a more lively rooftop scene, the best place to go (hands down) is the Tantalo. It is the closest you will get to a nightclub experience in this area. It is all outdoor on the rooftop with great music to dance to and a VIP area. BTW, the restaurant at this hotel is also amazing! I had my favorite meal of the trip at the Tantalo Kitchen. It was a clay pot of tamale mash on top of a bed of slow roasted pork. YUMMMY!
Ok, I think I have beaten in how great the food and cocktails were in this old world Spanish neighborhood. On to the Panama Canal! If you go to Panama City, you simply can’t miss out on visiting the Panama Canal. It is the number one visited site in Panama. The Panama Canal is a waterway that has created a shotcut between the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans. It takes ships on average 8-10 hours to travel the Panama Canal. This compares to 2 weeks if a ship tried to bypass the canal and travel around South America. The best place near Panama City to see the ships go through the lock system is Miraflores Visitor Center. The viewing center is directly in front of the locks, so you get a front row seat to watching these huge ships pass through. They also have a restaurant buffet where you can eat lunch and have wine while taking in all the action. You can visit the museum and watch a film in both Spanish and English about the history of the Panama Canal. The best time to visit the Panama Canal changes daily, depending on when ships are scheduled to go through.
With one day left to spare, and being so close to so many beautiful islands, I decided it was time for a change of scenery. I got up at 6:00am to catch a 1.5 hour ferry ride to Contadora Island. I felt like I had been trasported to another world! It was a small and jungly island with beauiful white sand beaches and crystal clear waters. I purchased a day pass from the Mar y Oro Hotel which included lunch, two welcome drinks, and umbrella/chairs on the beach. It was absolute paradise, and a really relaxing ending to my trip! If I had one more day (which I always wish I did on vacay), I would have most definitley visited the San Blas Islands. Here you can rent private cabannas to spend the night in paradise. The cabannas don’t have much to them. They have no electicity and sand bottom floors. But who cares, because you can almost have the entire island to yourself for the night. Although still in Panama, these islands belong to the Kuna Indians On this excursion you can snorkel with star fish, and see how these indiginous people live. It wasn’t so bad leaving something behind that I was desperate to do and see because now I am anxious to go back. Until next time Panama!!
My trip to Seoul, South Korea was a quick one. I had three nights and four full days to explore this beautiful city. Surprisingly, I left feeling like I knew it pretty well. Let me just say that nothing pleases me more than beginning a trip that is far away with a red eye direct flight. A lot of people can’t sleep on planes….I am not one of them. I flew Korean Air and it was totally awesome. The economy seats are so roomy and recline so much more than your average seat. So comfortable! I flew out of San Francisco at midnight, slept a solid nine hours, and arrived in South Korea very early in the morning. I felt so rested. I checked into the hotel, showered, and was immediately ready to begin exploring the Capital of South Korea!
What to pack?
I am from California, and women here tend to dress a bit on the sexy and casual side. I always research “proper attire” to wear before visiting a new country. What I found was Koreans cover up below their collar bone and their shoulders. It is ok to show your legs but your shoulders and chest should be covered. No cleavage. This is what is respectful to them. They dress to impress! I loved reading this and it was true. No flip flops and sweats. Everyone dresses to impress from sunrise to sunrise. Many of my photos on this trip seem to be breaking the rules. I packed additional outfits for photos or always had a sweater on me to cover up. I assure you guys, I followed the rules. Always good to be respectful when you are in another country.
What Neighborhood To Choose??
When you look at Seoul on a map, it is overwhelming to decide which area to stay in. It’s a huge city! I began to research “best neighborhoods to visit in Seoul”. What I found was a wide array of diverse neighborhoods offering everything from culture, history, shopping, food, and nightlife. I visited five different areas of the city in my four days spent here. I decided to book my hotel in the area of Itaewon. After visiting the different neighborhoods, I felt really happy that I chose this because it ended up being my favorite district. I decided on the Imperial Palace Boutique Hotel. I didn’t plan on staying at the hotel much, so I really wanted something inexpensive. The standards are so much higher in Seoul. If it says three stars, I can vouch that it is more like 4 compared to USA standards. I paid $88 per night for this room and the hotel was perfect! The ambiance and decor were very modern. The room was nice and the price was right. Yet what I found to be the best part was the location. It was located in the heart of Itaewon!
Right outside the hotel door were so many restaurants, bars, cafes, and nightclubs. Everything is walkable in this area, and having a car is just not necessary. It was the perfect area to be in after a day of sightseeing. It was lively and busy, yet somewhat smaller than the other areas I visited. It was difficult to get lost. Coming from someone who tends to loose direction in unknown places, this was a plus! This area felt very safe and I did not feel scared to walk around everywhere until the wee hours of the night. The Hamilton Hotel is also located in Itaewon, and the alley that is located behind it is filled with international cuisine. It has everything….Greek, Italian, Mexican, Thai, Japanese, Pizza, and so on. In my opinion, the Korean food was the best. My favorite dinner in Itaweon at the Maple Tree House Restaurant, which served traditional Korean BBQ. Yummy! I also loved Thai Licious for when I wanted a break from traditional Korean food. The soup was seriously to die for! To be honest, I never had a bad meal in Seoul. I ate from hole in the walls to fine dining, and everything was delicious. The area of Itaewon is also filled with nightlife. This is one of the main reasons I actually chose it. I always like to choose my hotel in an area where I will like to end up spending my time at night. It really felt as though Seoul didn’t sleep. These nightclubs were thumping all night long and the streets were filled with party-goers. I only made it until 4:00am (one night), and I was blown away at how alive the city is until then. Even older people are out all night long.
Other Areas To Visit:
This trip was a business trip that I tagged along on. The first day was spent in Jongno District. This area has been the center of the city for over 600 years, and it is referred to as the face and heart of Korea, due to its important roles in politics, economics, culture, and history. The South Korean’s president resides here. I spent the day tagging along doing banking and hanging out in government buildings. Let me just say, it was a bit of an adjustment navigating around a city that doesn’t speak any English. Google Translator is an absolute must when traveling to Seoul. I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere without it. It was cool to trek around this area but I was eager to explore more. The first evening was back at home in Itaewon for dinner and an early bed time. I was still a bit tired from traveling.
The “work” portion of the trip wasn’t done, and I really didn’t feel like spending another day in banks. I headed off to explore the city….all by myself. When I say this city is safe, I mean really safe. I felt completely comfortable exploring on my own. The most difficult thing was communication. So, I jumped in a cab with my camera, tripod, Google Translator App, and set off to explore a beautiful palace called Gyeongbokgung Palace. It was built in 1635, and is the largest of the five Grande Palaces. It was huge! Once upon a time it had more than 7,000 rooms. It was really cool to wander around this large property. So many visitors were dressed up to the nines in traditional Korean attire. I loved roaming around and people watching.
From there, I got back in a taxi to visit Bukchon Hanok Village. This was probably one of my favorite stops in seeing sights! It is a traditional Korean village, and sits on top of a hill. It has a beautiful view of modern Seoul, yet feels so peaceful and quiet even though you are right next to the hustle and bustle.
After two stops, I was getting hungry, so I headed over to the Myeongdong area for lunch. This area is a huge shopping district. Myeongdong was listed as the 9th most expensive shopping street in the world. The streets and alleys seemed endless, and ranged from mid to high priced retail stores. It is also filled with cosmetic shops. Korea is huge for beauty and skin care products. The one thing I loaded up on while shopping here was face masks. So many to choose from! I had lunch here and ate…what else??…Korean BBQ! I wish I knew the name of the place because it was so good! The truth is that it was a tiny hole in the wall down a random alley that lured me in with it’s loud Bob Marley tunes. Ha ha! I’m always a sucker for reggae music! The plus was my babe was done with work and we got to eat lunch together.
With a full belly, it was time to head back home to Itaewon. I had this brilliant idea to take the subway. I had read that the subway in South Korea was so easy and not intimidating at all. Well, what a sh*t show that ended up being for a first timer! I believe the subway is most likely not intimidating for those that can read and speak the Korean language. For those who don’t know the Korean alphabet, the language is incredibly intimidating. I tried the entire trip to master “please” and “thank you” with no success. Needless to say I got completely lost on the subway. Luckily we found the nicest man who spoke English and got us home. Always ask for directions. As long as you are kind to people, they are mostly likely kind in return. BTW, I feel like I would be way better at the subway on my second try. Just saying.
We headed home to rest up, as we wanted to enjoy the Itaewon nightlife this evening. It was so much fun! This area comes alive at night. There were soooooo many nightclubs and bars to choose from to do some hard core booty shaking all night long. What a blast! My favorite nightclub was Club Compton. Ha ha! You could hookah and listen to good hip hop that reminded me of home. Most places that I went to played all American music.
Today I got to spend the entire day sightseeing with my babe. He was stuck on exercising, and I was stuck on sightseeing. We decided to head up to the Namsan Seoul Tower. This a a place that is very special for couples, as you can lock a padlock of love onto the railing that overlooks the most beautiful view of Seoul It is actually the second highest view in Seoul! We got dropped off in a cab at the bottom of the hill. You have to walk literally straight up for about 20 mins to get to the tower. Exercise mixed with sightseeing. Winning! We had purchased a lock from a hardware store before heading up, but found there were stores selling them near the tower. Once at the top, you can eat, have cocktails, and soak in the most incredible views. After a little vino, we locked our love in at the Namsan Seoul Tower. It was super cute and romantic….an absolute must for couples or those who love photography. Definitely my favorite thing I did in Seoul!!!
For our last night out, we decided to go to the Hongdae District. This is the University area of Seoul. The nightlife here was crazy…in a good way! So many bars and nightclubs filled with college students partying the night away. It was like Itaewon, but felt 20 times as big. With all of this crazy nightlife, I never once saw anyone out of control. No one was acting stupid or overly drunk. Just such a good vibe everywhere you go. This was the night I stayed out until 4:00am, and you would have thought the night was just getting started when I headed back to the hotel for bed. People were still standing in line at 4:00am to get into clubs and the streets were absolutely packed! We ended our night (or began our morning I should say) with eating pizza with two Korean guys at 4:00am. We got lucky…they spoke English! They were so cool and it was an awesome ending to our trip to have a meal with locals….at 4:00am. LOL
Being I went to bed so late, I spent the final day sleeping and relaxing until it was time to go to the airport. I was fine with wasting the last day in bed, because partying in Seoul at night was just as much of an experience as seeing it in the day.
All in all, my write up of Seoul is that it is a clean, safe, beautiful, modern city that doesn’t sleep. Oh, and has amazing food, shopping, nightlife, and sweet people! I am always so focused on being next to a beach when I travel, that it really surprised me how much I enjoyed a “city” vacation. Two thumbs up!
It’s that time of year again. Time to celebrate my anniversary with my hubby! We get to travel out of the country and stay in hotels for most of our trips so I always try to plan something “different” to celebrate this with him. It was going to be difficult to compete with last year’s anniversary trip to Havasupai . This year I decided on Joshua Tree. Joshua Tree is located in Southern California and is where the Mojave and Colorado deserts meet. The desert setting is gorgeous! Joshua Tree is well known for camping, music festivals, and getting in touch with one’s “real” self. For this trip, I wanted to sit back and relax and enjoy the pretty scenery. I wanted to hole up…have a staycation! I always plan our trips with my husband’s opinion in mind. I know what he likes and doesn’t. For the most part though, my husband goes with the flow of whatever I choose. His mama didn’t raise no fool!
I turned to VRBO and Airbnb to look for the perfect place and stumbled upon Joshua Tree Oasis. It looked perfect by the photos. It was a bit higher than I wanted to spend, but we weren’t going to be going out and spending any money on wining and dining. We were going to hole up and cook at home. Taking that into consideration, it definitely penciled out and we were able to splurge a bit on the accommodations. This has turned out to be my favorite VRBO/Airbnb yet. I loved it so much, I wrote a blog on it!
Joshua Tree was about a 10 hour drive from our house. We stocked up on very gourmet goods to cook our meals, including all the ingredients to make some amazing cocktails. We also picked up a ton of wood for the outdoor fire pit on the property. It felt like we were going camping. We pulled up to our private gate and entered the property. It was so much more than I expected! The house was decorated to the nines, we had views from every room, the kitchen was well stocked, we had a bumping sound system that went through the entire property, and the best part was there was not another soul in site. We literally had this huge slice of earth all to ourselves (except for the coyotes who kept photobombing me). We had complete privacy for the next five days. It was perfect for an anniversary trip! This place was a two bed/two bath with an in law unit with another bed/bath. We loved it to enjoy as a couple, but you could fit a large family or three couples perfectly.
The first morning we woke up with bacon jalapeño bloody mary’s in hand and jumped right in the hot tub (bathing suits optional!). We spent the day doing all there was to do on the property. Hot tub, cowboy tub (which was very refreshing), horse shoes, more eating and drinking, bbqing, napping, repeat, and finished the night off with a gourmet meal and a campfire.
This property is also located about five minutes from the Joshua Tree National Park entrance. The second day we explored the park, saw all the sites there were to see, scouted our favorite campground for the next trip, and hiked the day away. Cholla Cactus Garden and Skull Rock were fun and perfect photo ops. The park is huge and there is so much to explore!
There isn’t much to the actual “town” of Joshua Tree. This property is just a short five minute drive down the hill to the town but there really isn’t much to see. We did stumble on a fun saloon called Joshua Tree Saloon (of all unique names). It was super fun! They had live music, karaoke, pool, darts, and a beer garden. Being the incredibly brilliant young lady that I am, I wore the highest heels I own to enjoy this beer garden. Always trying to look my cutest for my man! Well, I then returned home to my desert property only to walk through a cactus garden in those five inch heels. Low and behold, I ate it hard and took a fall straight into a cactus (hands first). No matter how much I enjoyed that beer garden, it couldn’t numb me enough for the pain of diving hands first into a cactus. That ish hurt! My husband had to sit me down and pull out the needles, one by one. I may have shed a tear or two…and maybe had a shot of tequila or two. Maybe. I actually had needles deep in my hand for over a month after this trip. Very wise advise to share with you guys…don’t wear your high heels to enjoy a beer garden and follow it up with a walk through a cactus garden. Cactus 1, Jessica 0. I still love the desert though!
Belize is located in Central America. It is a tiny country on the western edge of the Caribbean Sea. Belize is located below Mexico, east of Guatemala, and north of Honduras. Half of Belize is covered by dense jungle. Belize also has many coral reefs, cayes, and islands in the Caribbean Sea. Most of these form the Belize Barrier Reef, the longest in the Western Hemisphere.
When I first began planning my trip to Belize, I read that most first timers break up their trip between the jungle and the beach. I’m very glad I listened to these reviews! Fast forward through an 8 hour plane ride and a 2 hour drive into the jungle and I landed in the middle of the Belize rainforest in a city called Belmopan. I chose Sleeping Giant Rainforest Lodge to call home for this leg of the trip. It was a larger lodge in comparison to others in the area with 25 rooms and casitas, pool, bar, and a restaurant where you eat every meal.
I’m typically a beach baby and was nervous about spending time in the remote jungle. Would it be boring? It was a bit of an adjustment upon arrival….no TV, no internet, and no phone in the room. I’ve never been on a trip where I was forced to completely disconnect. I gulped down my rum welcome cocktail and went to unpack. Now what? That first night I explored the grounds, ate ridiculously amazing food, and closed down the lodge bar. The next four days were filled with adventure, mind blowing food and cocktails (all made fresh), and forced restful recharge.
My activities included a hike through the thick jungle, a bike ride to the orange orchards, paddle boarding on the river, relaxing by the pool, a massage on the river, and a full day of adventure exploring the famous ATM Cave of Belize. ATM stands for Actun Tunichil Muknal. The ATM Cave was the top rated tour to do for adventure and it did not disappoint. I hired a private guide for this tour which I highly recommend. If you can’t swing private, definitely ask how many people will be on the tour with you and go with a smaller group. I saw large tours with 10 people going through in a line. They just weren’t getting that much attention from their guide. If you are 10th in the line, how can you learn anything from your guide who is leading? Plus, I had very heightened nerves on this tour. Being the 10th person in line of a tour would have been terrifying (for me). Our guide led us through 6 miles of adventure. We crossed the river (neck deep) six times, hiked, and explored the ATM Cave which you have to swim into. Once in, you climb and swim your way through two miles of total darkness with only a headlamp for sight. I literally had a minor panic attack going on for about three hours. But just like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, the only way out was through. It was pretty amazing learning about the Mayan people and what this cave meant to them. We came across many artifacts and skeletons that were human sacrifices to the gods. Our guide was Gonzo from River Rat Expeditions. He was so knowledgeable and actually spends about three months per year living in these Belize caves doing research. He took his time educating and calming my nerves all the way through. Once out of the cave, I was on an adrenaline high. I was so proud I finished but I’m in no rush to do it again. Ha ha.
For beginning my adventure in the jungle with the question of “will I be bored here?”, I actually began to freak out by day three that I wouldn’t fit in all there was to see. I fell in love with the jungle! I’m usually pretty attached to my phone and staying in touch with my family. For this leg, I had to forget about all of that and it was all about exploring and recharging.
Once my stay at the jungle lodge had come to an end, I was ready to put my toes in the sand and have more than one dining option. Five days in the jungle was perfecto but now it was on to the beach for another nine days. I decided on Ambergris Caye. It is the largest Caye (island) of Belize. From the jungle, it was a 2 hour drive to the ferry station and a 1.5 hour boat ride to Ambergris Caye. I chose Captain Morgan’s Retreat as my hotel on Ambergris Caye for the sole reason that they had true beach huts in the sand for much cheaper than your average hotel room. However, we were still part of a huge resort with all the amenities including the only Casino on the island.
OOOOHHHEEEMMMGGGEEE!!! Opening my porch door and stepping into the sand was truly paradise. When I arrived I was warned how bad the bugs were from another guest. He told me to soak myself in bug spray every day. After four days of literally getting eaten alive, I accidentally forgot my bug spray and didn’t get any bites. I ditched the spray and never had a problem again. Thanks for that sweet advice bro!
The coolest thing about Ambergris Caye is that there are very few cars and the mode of transportation is by golf cart equipped with off road tires. Oh hells ya! Look out for me! I drove that golf cart up and down and back and forth. We mostly only ate breakfast at our resort and spent the rest of the days beach and bar hopping our way around. Ambergris Caye is so lively! Whether you are eating pizza or the abundant fresh sea food they have to offer, it was always a party. Live music was everywhere. My favorite drive was a 40 minute golf cart ride to Secret Beach. It was a bumpy adventure through the center of the island to a beautiful beach with food and music. A must see (or drive) while on Ambergris Caye.
Belize is famous for it’s ocean life. I’m sadly too big of a wimp to dive but the snorkeling was the best I have ever seen with my own eyes. Belize has the second largest coral reef system in the world, with Australia’s Great Barrier Reef being the largest. If you like diving and snorkeling this is truly a wonderland, or wonderwater I guess. Our captain took us to Hol Chan Marine Reserve . As soon as you get in the water there are a gazillion fish around you. I saw huge spotted eagle rays, eels, large puffer fish, endless schools, oh ya….and sharks! Our second stop that our captain took us to was Shark Ray Alley where he chummed for sharks to come right up to the boat. My crazy husband jumped into the water to swim with them. I volunteered to be his photographer from inside the boat. 😉 The day was perfect. I wish I had spent more time exploring the reef of Belize because (not to be lame) it was magical.
Well after exploring every nook and cranny of Ambergris Caye, pigging out at all the fresh seafood restaurants, bar hopping to every bar, and hearing every live band on the island, I jumped on the ferry to explore the sister island of Ambergris Caye….Caye Caulker. It’s a 30 minute hop to this tiny island that has a super laid back vibe. There were a lot of backpackers and simple people who love to party. If you bring more than a bathing suit, cover up, and flip flops to this island, you have over packed. You walk everywhere on Caye Caulker and I spent most of the day at a place called the Split. A hurricane split this island in half and they turned it into the largest place to party with a picture perfect setting. They have a bar there called the Lazy Lizard that has everything from hot bodies to grannies with fanny packs twerking and taking shots. I took the last ferry ride home to Ambergris Caye which was a very fun ride home at night. I wished I packed a backpack and stayed overnight. One more day would have been fun to run back into the friends I made there in such a short time.
One last day on Ambergris Caye to stuff my face with fresh seafood, drink too many fresh squeezed margaritas (the ice was safe and I didn’t get sick once), and listen to one last performance of live reggae music (my favorite). The people of Belize are so incredibly friendly and I always felt safe day and night. Belize was a great trip and mixing in the jungle with the beach was a twist I enjoyed more than I realized I would. I also brought home five dread locks! Lol.
The first time I thought about creating a travel blog was at the end of this vacation. So, I found it fitting for this to be my first blog on my page. This trip was so nontraditional, adventurous, stressful at times, and truly the biggest adventure I have ever taken (to date..I can always top myself). It changed me in a way once it was all over. In the end, it confirmed my dream of retiring on a yacht one day and cruising my days away.
What is Bareboating? Bareboat: (n) A boat, such as a yacht, that is chartered without a skipper or crew. That’s right, you rent the boat and head out to sea without any captain or crew….just yourself. I planned this trip with my husband in tow. We both have always loved boating, grew up owning a boat, and still own a boat today. It is a dream of ours to retire on a yacht so I thought I would give bareboating a try to test the waters on our retirement dream.
When I say that we have always owned a boat, I am talking about a ski/wakeboarding boat that we take out on lakes while camping. This trip I planned was going to be for one week on a 38ft 2 bedroom/2bath power cat in the Carribean. Sailing is really big in the BVI, but we opted for a power cat as we know nothing about sailing. We both had very little experience boating on the ocean. However, I banked tens upon tens of hours researching this and where would be the best place to bareboat for beginners. I came up with the Virgin Islands. The Virgin Islands are perfect because the islands are very close together so the seas are fairly calm. Plus, you can always see shore somewhere so that is very comforting as a newbie. Lastly, the route I chose had us driving the boat 1.5 hours (at the most) to get to our next stop. Bouncing around from island to island on calm water seemed like a perfect fit to get our feet wet.
We flew into St. Thomas and took a ferry to Tortola which is where we were picking up the boat. We spent a couple of nights unwinding from our travels and also preparing. We hit the grocery store, got our fishing license/gear, and had a very nice dinner filled with nerves of excitement to board our boat. Our route was Tortola, Norman Island, Jost Van Dyke (including Sandy Caye), Virgin Gorda (two sides of this island), Cooper Island, and back to Tortola. We were shooting for six different islands in seven days.
I decided to rent our boat from Marine Max Vacations. For the main reasons that they were very fairly priced and had power cats. Most bareboating rentals in the BVI are sail boats. I was very happy with them and they actually rent boats for bareboating all over the world. I am secretly planning my next bareboat adventure while writing this blog. Probably Greece!
After a 2 hour orientation of our new home we drove out of the marina into open waters with butterflies in our stomachs and feeling totally in over our heads. Our first stop was Norman Island, which was a very short hop from the marina we were in. There were literally hundreds of boats anchored here which definitely solidified the fact the BVI is extremely popular for bareboating. We were the little guys on the block for sure. The boats around us were filthy gorgeous. I found yachters to be much like campers. All our neighbors were so nice and willing to help. Like that one time we woke up to find that our dingy was no longer tied to our boat…the dingy we had signed a $10,000 replacement cost on. Ya, that was a stressful moment! Our neighbors came and picked us up and we found the dingy which had floated away. Yachters are good peeps! But back to Norman Island…We got our anchor secured (after about an hour of trial and error), bbqed some steaks and scallops, and took the dingy over to Willy T’s Floating Bar for some cocktails and dancing. This place was rowdy and fun! Everyone was getting straight up crazy!
I think we checked the anchor about 50 times that night but we didn’t float away and woke up to a beautiful morning feeling confident to move to the next island.
Our second stop was Jost Van Dyke. We spent 2 nights here including NYE…Oh, did I mention the weather is perfect in the BVI’s at this time of year? I am always chasing that summer weather! We got to Jost Van Dyke early and scored a moor ball…no need to worry about our anchoring skills…winning! This island was a party. One of my favorite spots here was the Soggy Dollar where I consumed too many of their famous Pain Killers.
My other favorite spot was Foxy’s where I spent NYE dancing the night away in the sand. There had to be a thousand boats parked here for NYE. People travel from all over the Caribbean to come to the NYE party at Foxy’s. Our boat rental company strongly suggested that we stay away due to all the traffic on NYE. I was very happy we rolled the dice and went anyways because it was an absolute blast!
Before leaving the island we popped over to Sandy Caye on the dingy early in the am. Not bad for New Years morning. We were literally the only two people on the island. It was gorgeous. We toasted a little champagne and enjoyed this little island to ourselves for a couple of hours. It was a great way to start the New Year!
On to the next stop! Virgin Gorda. This was our longest drive on the route at about an hour and a half. We trolled along the way but came up empty on catches. We went spent one night on one side of Virgin Gorda exploring and snorkeling the Baths. It is just a must if you ever visit BVI. The water was so pristine and the Baths lived up to their reputation. We got here pretty late and weren’t supposed to spend the night but oopsie…we had no choice because it got dark. No ticket in the morning. Yippee!
The other two nights were spent on the other side of the island at Bitters End. We were surrounded by multimillion dollar yachts and caught fish right off the back of the boat. Pretty amazing. Saba Rock is also located here. It is such a small island they call it a big rock. We took the dingy here at night for lobster, cocktails, and dancing.
The last stop on the route back was Cooper Island. There were turtles everywhere and we had the most beautiful sunset of the entire trip. After all of the anxiety I started the trip with, I couldn’t have felt more relaxed at this island….and sad to return the boat the next day for that matter. I like to push myself to just a bit outside of the comfort zone when traveling. I always want to challenge myself with adventure. This trip ended up being the biggest adventure of my life (to date) and I am proud of how much I learned. It also confirmed that I am 100% sure my dream is to retire on a boat one day.
After being on a boat for a week, I was ready for a hot bath, some makeup, and high heels. We spent another four nights at the Frenchman’s Reef and Morning Star Marriot Beach Resort on St. Thomas before heading home to California. It was beautiful and luxurious, but I have to say….I preferred the boat!
Recommend this trip for: People that know more than the basics about boating. I really think anyone with a pulse would love this trip but you do need to be able to handle the boat. If you can’t, hire a captain or invite a friend who is a boater. It’s great for families, couples, and friends.
Favorite restaurant in St. Thomas: Havanna Blue. Love me some Cuban food!
Favorite Bar in St. Thomas (Charlotte Amelie): Rum Island Pub, aka Husband Daycare.
Favorite Wine Bar in St. Thomas (Red Hook): XO Bistro
Favorite bar/restauraunt on Tortola: Pussers I had chowder every time I went. So good!
Best place to stop for lunch on your way to Vigrin Gorda: The Dogs! The Dogs are a small group of five uninhabited Islands that sit just to the West of Virgin Gorda. They are named for the barking sound from the seal population that used to inhabit these islands (long ago). The Dogs are made up of Great Dog, George Dog, West Dog and Seal Dogs (east & little).
Tip for the trip: If you are prone to sea sickness or have a fear of becoming sea sick, get the prescription patch from your doctor. It works wonders! Slap that baby behind your ear, and come away with me.