Author Archives: Andrea

About Andrea

I work in the Museums, Archives, and Rare Books Department at Kennesaw State University with my master's degree in Heritage Preservation. I taught fourth grade through middle school for several years prior to museum work. I live in Atlanta with my husband, dog and cat, and I am pursuing my doctoral degree in History Education. . I am a lover of travel, wine, and good food so hopefully my blog will provide you with some of my travel tips (on a reasonable budget!) that I learn along the way.

Besties in Wien! (Vienna, Austria)

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Vienna (Wien) is such a delightful place. I posted about Salzburg a couple of years ago, and while Vienna is not considered Bavaria (you won’t have the mountains in Wien like you do in Salzburg), it is still very beautiful in its own way. After leaving Paris, Lynnsey and I flew KLM to Vienna to visit a friend, Beth, who lives there. We flew round trip from our hometown (Atlanta) to Paris, so we purchased an intra-European flight from Paris to Vienna. One difficulty we had was luggage. Since we flew internationally we did not have to pay to check baggage from Atlanta to Paris, but on the KLM intra-European flight, they charged to check a bag which increased the price of our tickets. If you are traveling this way, be sure to check baggage fees (which normally DO apply within Europe) and plan accordingly.

As soon as we arrived in Vienna, our first stop was for Wiener-Schnitzel. For it to be TRUE Wiener-Schinetzel, it must be from Vienna. The traditional Wiener-Schinetzel is tender calf’s meat served with potato salad (which is different than American potato salad – no mayo). The restaurant & brewery Beth took us to was called Salm Brau. The food and beer were delicious and the servings were huge…I could only manage to eat half of my meal.

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After full bellies and a good night’s sleep, we decided to spend the day in Bratislava, Slovakia – about an hour and fifteen minutes from Vienna by bus. Round trip bus tickets cost about $30, and the bus had A/C and WiFi. I love going to a place that I don’t know much about, so I have no expectations and am never disappointed! Bratislava is a hidden European gem! The weekend we were there, the city was celebrating the coronation of Maria Theresa of Hapsburg, so there were food, drink and crafts tents in the main part of town. A half-liter of beer was only 1 Euro – what a deal compared to the expensive city of Paris just a few days before! We even had a good laugh about the “roast beast” cooking on the spit.

We spent the day wandering around the city, and we made the uphill climb to the castle. We didn’t go inside, but the views of the city and the Danube from atop the hill were worth the walk.  Bratislava was definitely a highlight of our entire trip to Europe. I have heard that it is a pretty sleepy town if a festival isn’t taking place, but the hustle and bustle of the center of town made for a really fun day!

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Atop the hill with the Danube River behind

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View of Bratislava

We talked about going to Budapest (a 3-hour bus ride) another day of the trip, and although we were very tempted, with only two days left in Vienna, we wanted to explore the city we were staying in, BUT know that Vienna is very centrally located. If someone were in the city for a week or ten days, it would be a great location for “home base” and from Vienna travel to Salzburg, Budapest, and/or Bratislava for day/overnight trips.

To get around in Vienna, we bought tram tickets. Tram-ticketing is basically done on the honor system – we paid, but no one ever asked for our tickets (this was the same in Prague). I wouldn’t advise jumping on a tram without paying not only because its dishonest, but you can also receive a ticket if you’re caught. For our tour of Vienna, Beth took us to Schonbrunn, a palace that was the former imperial summer residence. After taking an hour-long audio tour of the palace, we paid a small fee for a sample and baking demonstration of (crisp) apple strudel, walked up to the Gloriette for Viennese coffee, and took photographs of the lovely gardens. I really enjoyed this outing and is a must-see for Vienna. Be sure to wear good walking shoes!

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Strudel-Making Demonstration!

 

We spent our final day in Vienna looking at the city’s gorgeous architecture. That is probably my favorite part of Vienna…you don’t have to spend a lot of money to enjoy European beauty. Just walking the streets/grounds is a treat because the city is so beautiful and clean! So, we walked the grounds of the Belvedere and Austrian Parliament and took photos not only of the buildings but the statues and flowers. We couldn’t have asked for better weather in late June. WOW. Every picture I took looked like it came from a postcard.

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The Belvedere

We found a great spot for lunch in the Naschmarkt. The restaurant we ate at (Neni) was actually Israeli food, but the Naschmarkt area has many different options, and it was fun to walk around there! With a yummy lunch that we needed to walk off, we enjoyed going into St. Stephen’s Cathedral and a replica of the Parthenon.

I adored Vienna. It exceeded my expectations, and I can’t wait to go back for their famous Christmas markets someday! Until next time Wien, Auf Wiedersehen!

 

 

 

Fabulous France! Oh la la!

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*Disclaimer: My husband ran out of vacation days this year, and I had the summer off, so I was thrilled to take  girls’ trip to Europe with one of my best pals, Lynnsey! Here is the story of our girls’ adventure.*

To begin I will say this: Paris on a budget is EXTREMELY difficult. After traveling to Istanbul, Beijing, and Prague this year, the overall price-tag on, well…everything, was a bit of a shock. Food/shopping/tourism are generally very expensive, but there are some things travelers can do to cut costs. That being said, I would not recommend Paris if you are on a tight budget – it will be stressful.

My uncle and his family live in a hamlet (Ecques) in the Nord pas de Calais region. I wanted to see the family even though our trip to France was short, so my uncle picked Lynnsey and I up from Charles de Gaulle airport and brought us to his home about two hours away. Looking back, I wish we would have spent more time in the countryside, but this will have to be a trip for Kevin and I sometime in the future. We enjoyed some sightseeing in St. Omer (town nearby) and a home-cooked meal. The weather was chilly for June – I had to wear a jacket, so make sure to check the weather as France’s temp can be unpredictable.

The next day, my uncle brought us into Paris to help us get settled and do some sightseeing. He suggested getting a week-long metro pass (basically unlimited metro travel for seven days). The cost was about 22 Euro (plus the cost of a passport-sized photo), but I am SO glad we did this. The Paris Metro was extremely navigable, and we never worried about how much it would cost to get from place to place. Do not waste money on taxis – take the metro, especially during the day. It is easy to buy tickets – most folks speak English. *Tip: Don’t assume everyone speaks English, but just say, “Parlez-Vous Anglais?” which means, Do you speak English? – most Parisians appreciate the effort.*

After getting our train passes, we spent the day walking (probably about 12 miles throughout the day) to see some places like the Arc de Triomph, grounds of the Louvre, and Notre Dame Cathedral.

Another way we cut costs for this trip was with lodging. I did my research to find a good Air B&B. A studio apartment ended up being $140 a night (so splitting with a friend was about $70 each). We weren’t in city center, but the apartment was located in a residential neighborhood in Paris (Louis Michel) right across the street from a metro stop. It was quiet, and I felt safe walking around. We found out VERY quickly that restaurant food is pricey, so we tried to save some money by buying some food items from the grocery store around the corner from our apartment.

Once Lynnsey and I were on our own the next day, we went to Euro Disney! We got there on the train using our week-long passes. Ticket prices were a STEAL since we got them in advance before we left the states AND we went before European summer holidays (which take place in July/August). We paid $60 each for a joint ticket to Disneyland Park & Walt Disney Studios. Lines were pretty short, and we made some new friends, like Aladdin! Highlights of the day included the Ratatouille ride (it’s France, duh!), Crush’s Coaster, meeting Minnie Mouse, and Pirates of the Caribbean.

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Our third morning in Paris was spent on the Seine. Paying for a boat cruise (about $35) was money well spent! We got some amazing pictures of the Eiffel Tower and other structures along the Seine. We were unable to go into the heart of the city on the river because of security concerns during the Euro Cup, but it was still a great morning.

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In the afternoon, we went on a quest for macaroons! We did some research, and the place with the best reviews was Laduree. Macaroons (or macarons) are not cheap (about $4 each), so we considered this a splurge. They were beautiful, delicious and worth every penny.

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I can’t wait to spend more time in France when I have more time (and money!). I would like to spend some time at Versailles & the Louvre in Paris and visit the countryside (including wine country!). Until next time…

Prost, Prague!

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Prost, Prague!

Prague in the Czech Republic is such a delightful place. Why, you ask?

Maybe it’s because the locals drink more beer (per capita) than any other country in the world. Or maybe it’s because of its amusing street vendors and quaint shops. Either way, Prague is a great city; one I’d recommend to folks that are new to visiting Europe. Here’s why:

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Looks just like a postcard!

*Compared to other big cities we’ve been like San Francisco or Hong Kong, Prague was relatively inexpensive – we could get a nice meal and beer (for two) for about $30.

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Goulash Stew in Rye Bread-Bowl from our favorite restaurant in Prague: Mlejnice

*English is all around – from the store owners, to the signage, to the tourists, but you still get a eastern European vibe.

*Public transportation (the tram) is relatively easy once you figure out where to buy tickets (go to the newspaper stand!). Walking is also a great option.

Kevin and I arrived in Prague after spending several days in the Middle East. We stayed at the Hotel Century Old Town – our room was clean and simple, and it was in a good location although it wasn’t the best hotel we’ve ever stayed at (which is Hotel Amira in Istanbul, in case you were wondering).

Our first full day we did a lot of walking. so I am glad I was wearing my Birkenstock sandals which happen to be my absolute favorite summer travel shoe! We started by taking the tram to Prague Castle – the largest castle in the world! One neat fact about the castle is that the President of the Czech Republic still lives there. Kevin and I paid the $15 for the audio tour, and I’m glad we had it because there was A LOT to see and hear. Sometimes it is nice to learn some new things while going at your own pace. A highlight within the castle walls was the St. Vitus Cathedral – the Gothic architecture was gorgeous, and it was interesting to see some of the preservation work they were doing there. One thing to prepare yourself for: visitors are charged a small fee if you want to take photographs inside the castle.

Kev and I also enjoyed walking around the gardens of the castle – it was a really nice day and wasn’t too hot for being early June.

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After spending the whole morning at the castle we walked around Old Town and walked across the Charles Bridge. It was extremely crowded, but it was good people watching and we eventually came across a great happy hour deal – only a couple Euro for a half liter of Pilsner Urquell!

Our next full day was spent in the Jewish Quarter, also known as Josefov. If you are a history/culture nerd like me, this part of Prague cannot be missed.  Entrance to the Jewish Museum, Cemetery and Synagogues was about $20 a person, and it was walking distance from Old Town. Kev and I learned so much about Jewish life and history, and we really admired the ornate decor of the Spanish Synagogue.

Many of Czechoslovakia’s Jews were killed during the Holocaust, and the Jewish Museum in Prague does a beautiful job of honoring the victims. We did not go, but I really wish we had carved out some time to take a day trip to the Terezin Concentration Camp.

We spent our afternoon taking a boat tour on the Vltava. The trip wasn’t far or long, but enjoying a beer and a mini-architectural tour of the city was an awesome way to spend a couple of hours! We also got some GREAT photographs.

All in all, Prague was a pleasure to visit. Three days was just enough time for us, but there is enough to do for people that wish to stay longer! Prost (Cheers), Prague!

 

Istanbul Not Constantinople!

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Istanbul Not Constantinople!

Quick history lesson: What IS the deal with Istanbul vs. Constantinople? To put it simply, Constantinople was the Christian name for the city, but the name changed to Istanbul when Islam became the predominant religion.

Istanbul, Turkey is the friendliest and most interesting place we have EVER been. I still can’t get over how amazing it was. While we did avoid group tours and large crowds, we felt safe walking around during the day and at night. The recent terror attacks are harming the economy of an INCREDIBLE city that depends on tourism, and our hearts go out to the Turkish people and all those in the world who are suffering at the hands of terrorism. Right now, we know Turkey is not the safest place to be, but if you EVER have the opportunity visit this city, go and you will have such an adventure.

Kevin and I stayed at the Hotel Amira in Sultanahamet (the old town). This hotel made our good Istanbul experience a GREAT one. Getting to the hotel from the airport was about 40 minutes and costed about $50. We arranged for transportation through the hotel. For $160 a night, we got free breakfast and afternoon tea, a rooftop terrace, and the best service we have ever had. The concierge (named AJ) who had perfect English sat with us on the terrace (after giving us a glass of wine) for 40 minutes to go over the city map and tips for our trip. Who does that?! So great. Our hotel room was spacious and they upgraded us to a balcony room. The hotel was also in walking distance to pretty much everything – 5 minutes from the Blue Mosque/city tram and 10 minutes to Hagia Sophia.

 

Like in the China post, I am going to post some must-sees/dos and some photographs underneath.

Hagia Sophia – Formerly a church turned mosque and now a museum. Get the museum pass if this is your first stop. If you go to at least 2 of the museums, it pretty much pays for itself.

Cisterns – This was a really unexpected, cool excursion. The cisterns are Roman-built and used to house the usable water underneath the city. This does not count as part of the museum pass, but is worth the money. This is right across the street from the Hagia Sophia.

Blue Mosque – This building is just beautiful, inside and out. If you are not wearing a long dress (females) or pants (males) the mosque will loan you clothing. Be prepared to take off your shoes inside. Wear socks.

Topaki Palace – This is included in your museum pass. It was so neat to see how the sultans lived. The tile-work is gorgeous. And the views from the palace are to-die for!

Grand Bazaar – You probably won’t get the best prices here unless you’re a master haggler, but it is definitely a fun experience and a must-see! It’s so cool to think that vendors have been selling there for centuries!

Bosphorus Cruise – This is the only “group” tour that we did. The cruise was amazing and probably our favorite part of the trip. We really liked seeing Asia on one side of the straight and Europe on the other! Our particular cruise also included a visit to the Yeni Cami Mosque and the Spice Market beforehand.

Restaurant Recommendations:

  • Babylonia in Sultanahamet
  • Fine Dine Istanbul – the view is the most incredible we’ve ever seen
  • Hamdi for kebabs

Some tips:

  • Turkey is still not part of the EU, so they do NOT use the Euro. Make sure you use Turkish Lira.
  • DO NOT take a taxi. Walk or use public transportation.
  • Be prepared to hear the Call to Prayer 5-6 times per day coming from the minarets of the mosques. Bring earplugs if you’re a light sleeper. It is such an eerie, beautiful sound.
  • Females, bring a scarf. Your head must be covered to enter mosques.
  • Dress conservatively. No tank tops. I wore short-sleeves and linen capris most of the time. Although Turkey is technically a secular country, it is predominantly Muslim in terms of population.

 

We hope to meet again, Istanbul.

Beijing, China

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In the last six months, I traveled to Beijing twice to prepare for and lead a school field trip, so I decided to wait until after the second trip to post. Beijing was amazing. A lot of Americans do not visit China because they are nervous about the major cultural shock, but if my 7th and 8th graders could do it, you can, too! I would recommend using a tour company for your first trip to Beijing because the company will make the process less daunting by booking your excursions and leading you around by bus.

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Forbidden City

The first thing I was surprised about was the amount of English. MANY people speak it, and almost all street signs feature it. The second thing that surprised me was the amount of air pollution. In November, it was BAD. In May, we had several clear days which was nice, but in the wintertime, coal is burned for heat which contributes to the pollution problem. I did not really have a problem walking or breathing, but it was just gross. The third thing that surprised me was that it was cleaner than I thought it would be. I imagined the smells in the city would be atrocious, but they really weren’t. Yeah, the bathrooms can be sorta gross (bring your own toilet paper and be prepared to squat), but what public bathrooms aren’t gross?

Below is a list of the tourist attractions I visited that are definitely worth seeing. The pictures for each description will be located below the description…

Bejing has SO MUCH history to visit without ever stepping foot in a museum.

Tienanmen Square and the Forbidden City – Do this in one morning. It is a lot of walking, but totally worth it. Make sure you have an English guide for the Forbidden City to teach you about all of the history within its walls.

Summer Palace – So beautiful on a clear day. I recommend spending the money to go on a Dragon Boat ride! This is a half-day excursion. It was a eerie kind of beautiful in November when it was very “foggy.”

Great Wall of China – NOT underrated. Without a doubt, 100% the most breathtaking thing I have ever seen. DO NOT go to Badaling, go the extra hour to Mutianyu. I went to both and Mutianyu was SO much better. You take a cable car into the mountains for this dramatic, beautiful view and then I paid like $15 to toboggan down the Great Wall of China. Who does that?! Me, apparently, and it was the coolest thing I have ever done. It was cool to see the Great Wall in two seasons, winter and late spring. It doesn’t matter when you go – it’s beautiful either way!

 

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When in China…tobogganing down the Great Wall is a MUST

Beijing Olympic Park – It was really cool to spend a couple hours walking around and seeing the Bird’s Nest. It is free to walk around, but costs money to go inside the arenas. I never paid to go inside. Beijing is also hosting the 2022 Winter Olympics.

Hutong Rickshaw/Neighborhood Tour – Aside from the Great Wall, this was my favorite part of China. I really felt like this was an authentic experience. You get to see how people have lived for generations. In the Hutongs, families live in compound-like buildings and share a bathroom/showers with their neighbors. Life is simple, but they seem so happy. Be sure to tip your rickshaw driver a few Yuan!

 

Some tips:

  •  Do not buy items from street vendors. Either the items will break in 2 hours or they will rip you off. Often they will give you change in another currency so you wouldn’t know you got ripped off until someone won’t accept your Taiwanese money or something.
  • Like I mentioned before, bring travel Kleenex to serve as toilet paper. Also bring hand sanitizer. Just because.
  • Check out the Wanlin Mall’s food court. Amazing. My favorite meal both times in China!
  • Be prepared to haggle. Not in restaurants but in markets/shops. Don’t feel bad – these people are professionals that WILL rip you off if they can. No one will ever sell anything at a loss.

 

Cabo San Lucas! Viva Mexico!

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Back in 2010, my parents, sister and I went to Rivera Maya (Cancun) for my mom’s birthday. While the resort we stayed at was really nice, I was not a fan of the city of Cancun. The weather was also really humid, and I got bit by about 100 mosquitoes. Yikes! So when Kevin mentioned that his company’s annual conference was going to be in Mexico, I wasn’t completely thrilled but was excited for an opportunity to take a few days off and relax. Like Orlando, I was only responsible for paying for my flight (about $400), and my taxi to/from the airport, but the hotel was covered by Kevin’s company.

If I had known how nice Cabo San Lucas was, I would have gone sooner! What a huge difference from Cancun! Cabo San Lucas is located on the tip of the Baja which is as far west in Mexico as you can go. It was not humid, and I did not experience any mosquitoes! One thing I noticed was a lot of construction going on in the area. Cabo was hit by a hurricane almost two years ago, and they are completely rebuilding. Many hotels are offering deals to get tourists to come back now that the hotels are rebuilt/fixed. Therefore, most everything is brand new! We stayed at the Hilton Los Cabos. The hotel was about a 30 minute drive from the airport. I was welcomed on the property with a (free!) margarita. What a beautiful resort with excellent service. Every single room has an ocean view and outdoor space. There were several bars/restaurants on the property along with the pool bar in the hotel’s infinity pool! Drinks and food at the hotel were expensive (it is not all-inclusive), but since we didn’t have to pay for our room, it wasn’t a huge deal. In late March, when we went, a room could run you between $300-$400 a night for a standard room. This is WAY more than Kevin and I would normally spend on a room, but after experiencing it…I’d spend the money staying there again. Sometimes you get what you pay for. Luckily, during the off-season (like July), the hotel is much more affordable and you could get a room for closer to $200 a night.

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View from our room!

When I join my husband on a work trip, my days are free and my evenings are spent with Kevin and his customers/co-workers. I was spoiled rotten and got a private cabana next to the pool for one of the days. I wouldn’t normally splurge on something like this, but what a treat! The strawberry margaritas were delicious! I was able to get some sun and read my book…just what a vacation should be, in my opinion!

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View from my cabana

One of the nights we were there, a group of us went to dinner in downtown San Jose. What a cute area!! When Kevin and I go back to Cabo someday, this is an area I would like to explore some more. There were many shops, restaurants, and bars, and I felt safe. San Jose was celebrating, as they do yearly, their patron saint, so the downtown area had a lot of people and music and dancing!

The next afternoon Mitsubishi Electric coordinated an excursion to whale watch on the Sea of Cortez! To get to the boat, we had to go downtown Cabo San Lucas. What a party town! Senor Frogs, Cabo Wabo, Mango Deck, etc., were located by the marina. We didn’t have time to explore downtown since we had to get to our excursion, but it certainly looked fun!  I had never seen a whale in the wild before, so I was totally stoked. We were welcomed on a very large yacht with a yummy glass of sangria. IMPORTANT: If you ever go whale-watching on the Pacific, BRING MOTION SICKNESS MEDICINE. I did not and I regret it immensely. I have been on cruises before and never needed Dramamine, so I figured I would be okay for this excursion. Wrong. The Pacific Ocean is pretty rough. About 30 minutes into the ride, I was woozy. The humpback whales were amazing to see – they are so graceful – but I was not really able to enjoy the experience because I was trying to focus on keeping my lunch down! Lesson learned.

Cabo San Lucas was an amazing trip (minus the boat incident). Kevin and I cannot wait to go back – but we wish it were closer to Atlanta! (about 4.5 hour flight, but SO worth it if you go for a week – it was a little far just for the weekend)

Viva Mexico!

Cruise to the Bahamas

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Ahoy! Since many of our vacations are not exactly RELAXING (we tend to do a lot of exploring, early mornings, etc., on our trips), Kevin and I decided to go on a cruise to the Bahamas. We didn’t plan any official excursions or anything because that really drives up the price – the plan was not to have a plan. For us, that’s a big deal. We got a great rate out of Ft. Lauderdale on Princess Cruises for a 4-day cruise to the Bahamas. When I say good rate, I mean a little under $1000 total for our cruise. This price did NOT include airfare. Our ship was the Emerald Princess. We have cruised Carnival Imagination before and wanted to see the difference between cruise lines. Carnival definitely had a bigger “party” vibe and attracted more families, but Princess was a little bit of an older crowd, which was just fine for us! It was quieter that way. Because the rate was so affordable, we booked a balcony room which was absolutely worth the extra money. We enjoyed many hours reading and relaxing out there!

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Our first day was at sea, so we spent some time drinking fruity drinks while laying out at the pool. The first stop was Nassau. We were not huge fans of this city. Perhaps some of the resorts are nice, but to us it smelled like garbage and food and drinks are VERY pricey. The area near the cruise port had a lot of souvenir shops and bars. Before decided on a cruise we toyed around the idea of staying at a hotel in Nassau, and we are VERY glad that we didn’t. We even went back to the ship early to lay out at the pool!

We really enjoyed Princess Cay, Princess Cruise’s private island. We spent our entire day at the beach soaking up the sun! Since it was Princess’ island, they even had lunch available included in the cost of our trip. Drinks and beach furniture were available plus there was some live Bahamian music! A lot of people rented tubes and floats and things for the water, but Kev and I were content just to lay on the beach.

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Arriving at Princess Cay!

Cruising is such an easy way to travel. You know exactly what you are going to be paying beforehand and the staff is always very energetic and helpful. There will always be food you’ll like (even if it’s 3000 calories), drinks are yummy, and there is a lot of free, fun entertainment on board! It was nice that we weren’t very interested in the ports because it put less pressure on our days, but it was also a bummer finally getting off the ship to ports that were kind of disappointing. It’s a double-edged sword. We probably won’t cruise again for a while – not to the Caribbean at least. We did achieve our goal of relaxing but as always, we wish we had one more day.