travel tips for weekend getaways

Saturday’s weather in Jersey finally felt like spring, and there is just something about a sunny, warm day that makes the travel bug in me start to grow.

Traveling is one of my favorite things in life. I firmly believe that everyone should take the time to travel — whether it is to a new city or state, a quick weekend getaway near or far can help you clear your mind and give you some new perspective on life.

While the weather in NJ is still fluctuating between the 17th installment of winter and the beginning stages of spring, I am already working on my travel plans for the coming months. Read on for some of my best travel tips for a weekend getaway!

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  • Do your research, but don’t over-plan: As someone with a type-A personality who cannot live without a planner or iPhone calendars, this was hard for me to learn — but once I did, I realized how much more I could see and do when visiting a new place. Look up a couple of restaurants and some activities that are unique to the area, and then leave the rest up to chance. Speak with people who live or work in the area, and ask them for their recommendations. From visiting Welcome Centers to speaking with hotel staff and Uber drivers, I have found some of the best places to visit. There is nothing like great recommendations from locals!
  • Get up and go!: While vacations are notoriously known for being a time to relax, you do not want to sleep your entire trip away, especially if you are only away for a weekend. Set your alarm, head out early and take advantage of having a full day to explore.
  • Give yourself a day to do nothing: Exploring a new place is the best part of traveling. When Connor and I visited Charleston, we set aside one day to spend downtown, walking through parks, popping into boutiques and checking out rooftop bars. Having no schedule gave us an opportunity to see all that the city has to offer without having to rush from one place to another.
  • Plan one nice night out: Whether you are away for two days or four, planning a night out where you can get dressed up, wined and dined is always enjoyable. Whether I am with Connor or my best girlfriends, our travel plans always include one night like this! It is a great way to unwind, reflect on your trip so far and enjoy a great night out, celebrating your relationship or your friendships with one another!
  • Put the phone away: There is nothing worse than missing out on what is right in front of you because you are spending time on the phone, staying up-to-date on everything happening back home. Turn your phone on airplane mode while you are out, and use it only for photos. Being a little disconnected from the world for just a little while is incredibly refreshing, and it gives you time to appreciate everything around you.

Try out these travel tips for your next weekend getaway. Happy traveling!

oh ship! cruising to the caribbean

Ahoy! I just returned from my first cruise vacation with my best friends, where we were soaking in the rays and swimming in some of the bluest waters the Caribbean has to offer. From stunning sunsets in the middle of the ocean to snorkeling in a coral reef in Turks & Caicos, this cruise exceeded my expectations, and I am ready to start planning my next one!

I have to admit, this cruise vacation was my idea, but I was skeptical. Up until the cruise, I had an irrational fear of sailing on large boats, and I am prone to motion-sickness — I mean, I take Dramamine and wear Sea Bands in Disney and Universal just to tolerate even the most basic rides. Despite all of that, a cruise vacation is something Connor and I have talked about for a long time, and I finally agreed to try it out.

Planning the Cruise

One of the most important aspects in terms of travel to Connor and I is that we see as much of the world as possible, whenever possible. We always try to plan trips to new destinations whenever we have the opportunity, and planning this cruise was no different. After some research, we found a 5-day cruise through Carnival Cruise Line that lined up perfectly with the travel dates we wanted. The cruise was to the Eastern Caribbean, stopping in Nassau, Bahamas; Half Moon Cay, Carnival’s private island in the Bahamas; and Grand Turk, the capital of Turks & Caicos. The cruise would be leaving from Miami the day after my birthday, and we would return just days before Connor’s — happy birthday to us!

5F4370DA-DB30-47B3-A93D-D3292B47FA49We reached out to some of our friends from college, who immediately agreed to come on the cruise with us. We decided to fly to Florida the day before the cruise, but the flights to Miami were ridiculously expensive (hello spring breakers). We opted to fly to Fort Lauderdale and take a car to Miami instead.

We booked a room at Hotel Riu Plaza Miami Beach, located right on Collins Ave. The hotel is a quick walk or ride away from restaurants and bars all along the strip, and beach access is a very short walk from the hotel property.

The last step in planning our vacation was choosing an excursion for the trip. Carnival’s website was informative, and the reviews from past cruise-goers were extremely helpful when it came to picking the best one! We decided to book a snorkeling and private beach excursion in Turks & Caicos — with hundreds of glowing reviews, we knew this was our top choice!

Note: We debated purchasing the Cheers! beverage program on the ship, which would have included all spirits and cocktails priced below $20, as well as sodas, coffee and other bottled beverages, for $51.95/day + an 18 percent gratuity added. We chose not to purchase this program, and we ended up saving money!

Tip: To avoid charges for water (water is only included when you are dining), bring a refillable water bottle on the trip!

Day 1 — Miami

After stopping at the hotel to drop off our bags, we headed to Dolce Italian for my birthday dinner! The food was absolutely amazing, and we certainly did not feel rushed as we dined through several courses of meals. I highly recommend trying the Caprese and the Sunday Gravy Pizza as appetizers, and the Lobster Ravioli for dinner.

Day 2 — Departing Miami

We woke up the morning of the cruise, packed our bags and headed to Market at EDITION for a delicious brunch. Try the Eggs Benedict, the Guava Cream Cheese Donut or the Cinnamon Bun — it was all so, so good.

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After brunch, we headed to the Port of Miami where we checked our bags, checked into the cruise and boarded the ship. Check-in was relatively quick and easy, and before long, we found ourselves soaking in the sun on one of the top decks of the ship with drinks in our hands. One muster drill, a Dramamine pill and a couple of hours later, Carnival Sensation finally left port, setting sail for the Bahamas!

We were able to get into our rooms (which were all in a row!) not long after we boarded the ship. Our friends surprised us by having the room decorated for our birthdays and getting us a cake! They truly are the best! Our steward even made us a birthday cake out of towels and left us cards to help us kick off our celebration!

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9F1A0655-483E-41BF-8C2D-6E464AB6FB67Day 3 — Nassau, Bahamas

Our first day off the ship was in Nassau, and we disembarked in the middle of a bunch of shops and stands, with Atlantis nearby. We headed to a public beach where we were able to sit right by the water, grab a few drinks and enjoy the Bahamas weather. We also stopped at Señor Frogs for some food and drinks on our way back to the ship!

Day 4 — Half Moon Cay, Bahamas

Our boat anchored down near the coast of Half Moon Cay, and a smaller boat picked us up and brought us to land. Half Moon Cay is Carnival’s private island. The beach was amazing, the water was a beautiful shade of blue and there was plenty of space to soak up the sun! Lunch was provided on the island, and drinks were plentiful whether you were on the beach or sitting at Captain Morgan On the Rocks Island Bar. After sipping on some Miami Vice’s and swimming in the ocean, we headed back to the boat to take off for our third destination of the trip!

4C36F11B-E1ED-4737-91A8-3C30684BF6AADay 5 — Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos

Connor and I agreed that our day in Grand Turk was definitely our favorite part of the trip. Our entire day was spent on the excursion we booked, and it was such a great experience. After popping into a store or two, we boarded a 100-person catamaran and set sail for a coral reef in Turks & Caicos. After grabbing the GoPro, we descended into the water and swam with a school of fish. Getting the chance to get up close and personal with the sea life was amazing.

Once snorkeling was done, the rum punch was brought out, and a dance party ensued on the way to a private beach. The catamaran docked on the beach, and we were able to get out and swim in the crystal clear waters for a while. Eventually, we sailed back to the dock and boarded the ship for the last time on our trip!

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Day 6 — Day at Sea

To be honest, we thought we would have to wake up extremely early to snag a spot on deck for our day at sea, but after having some breakfast, we wandered up to the pool deck and found five seats together right away. We spent the day in the jacuzzi, reading, drinking, snacking and going down the water slides.

By far, my favorite part of our Day at Sea was the Alpha Male Competition! After some convincing, Connor agreed to enter the contest. He competed against other men on the cruise in three rounds, and he won!

Aside from being crowned as the Alpha Male, he also received a bottle of champagne (that we popped on the top deck at sunset) and a trophy of Carnival Sensation — the trophy is already on display in our living room!

7C2B6CDF-CAA7-444A-A638-4143ABEEA05DDay 7 — Miami / Fort Lauderdale

On our final morning of the cruise, we grabbed some breakfast at the buffet before we disembarked. We went to the airport to check our bags early, and then headed toward the beach for some lunch. We went to Rock Bar in Fort Lauderdale for a few 45 oz margaritas (we shared!) and some fish tacos, and we enjoyed our last few hours of warm weather before heading back home to 20 degree weather!

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Dining Options on Carnival Sensation

Breakfast

For most of the trip, we chose to eat breakfast at the buffet because of the wide range of options available, and because it was usually the quicker dining option for us. From scrambled eggs and omelets to breakfast burritos, bagels, hash browns and waffles, there was something for everyone here! On the days that we had a little more time, we ate in the Fantasy Dining Room for a sit-down breakfast. Here there were options such as Eggs Benedict, French Toast and Frittatas.

Lunch

We were always off the boat at lunch time, so we picked up lunch or snacks on land; however, our two favorite stops on the ship were Guy’s Burger Joint and the Soft Serve machine at the buffet — thankfully, both were included in our cruise package! It doesn’t get much better than unlimited fries and chocolate swirl in a cone!

Dinner

When we booked the cruise, there were several dining options available for dinner: Early, Late or Your Time Dining. We chose the “Your Time” option, which meant that we had a window from 5:45 p.m. until 9:30 p.m. to go to the dining room for dinner each night. Our group was seated in the Fantasy Dining Room, and with a versatile and sometimes adventurous menu, the food was great! From Shrimp Cocktail and Ox Tongue (yes, I tried it and actually liked it!) to Fried Portobello Mushrooms, Spanakopita and Seafood Pasta, each meal was delicious. I can’t forget the Chocolate Melting Cake for dessert each night! It was definitely our group’s favorite dessert!

The staff in the Dining Room also celebrated my birthday and Connor’s birthday whenever they had a chance! Each time they celebrated our birthdays, we were given a small cake, and the restaurant would sing happy birthday. It was such a sweet gesture!

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Entertainment on Carnival Sensation

E4F0BAC0-BC0C-4992-9AD1-FAF0F47E950EThere was always something to do while we were on the ship every evening. From the Welcome Party and a Murder Mystery event based on Clue, to a game night, comedy club, dance club and casino, we had plenty of activities to partake in throughout the cruise! There was even an adult-themed scavenger hunt, which provided us with a lot of laughter and a very interesting night!

Our group’s favorite part of being on the boat was the professional photographers’ stands — and it showed. We must have taken well over 100 photos between the five of us, and you know we had a great time doing it!

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I am happy to report that after five days at sea, I am over my irrational fear of sailing on large boats, and my motion sickness did not get the best of me. Our cruise was absolutely amazing, and I am already brainstorming ideas for our next cruise vacation!

winter getaways

It is way too cold out.

I love the idea of winter. Waking up to the sun shining through the blinds on a cold winter morning, sipping a hot cup of coffee in bed or snuggling up under piles of blankets and watching a movie are some of my favorite parts about this time of year. It is nice and cozy inside, but ask me to go outside in this weather, and I immediately want to hop on a plane and go somewhere warm.

I have to wait another seven weeks until I am in paradise again, but in the meantime, I want to share some of my favorite all-inclusive vacation spots for a winter getaway! If I can’t be on a beach soaking up the sun’s rays in this extraordinarily chilly weather, at least writing about it makes me feel like I am!

Secrets The Vine Cancun

This trip was the epitome of relaxation. From lounging by the ocean and swimming in the infinity pools to exploring an island and getting the best massage ever, we had an amazing time!

The Resort:

Our trip to Secrets The Vine Cancun was by far my favorite trip we have taken together. This adults-only resort is beautiful, the rooms are incredibly spacious and there is so much to do on the property. With five gourmet restaurants, a buffet, a grill and a cafe, there are plenty of different options for dining for all guests. There is also entertainment offered every night, so after finishing a nice dinner, that was definitely a great way to unwind before the next day’s adventures!

The view from our room!

If you are traveling for a special occasion, be sure to tell the concierge! Connor and I booked this trip for our anniversary, and after our first day on the beach, we came back to our room decorated for the occasion! Our door had a Happy Anniversary banner on it, we received champagne and we had a complimentary breakfast delivered to our balcony any morning we wanted! It was definitely a nice surprise!

What to Do

We loved the resort so much that we spent almost our entire trip there! Our typical morning included waking up early, grabbing breakfast from the buffet and heading down to the beach. There was never a concern about grabbing chairs first thing in the morning because the beach was staffed with attendants who bring you to chairs and set up an umbrella for you if needed! There were also waiters available to take any food or drink orders if you did not feel like moving from your oceanfront seats!

If you were ever looking to step away from the sand and surf for a bit, the buffet was open throughout the day, as well as an oceanfront restaurant and bars. There are also several heated pools at this resort, including two infinity pools that look out to the beach.

We dedicated one day to an excursion while on this trip. We decided to go snorkeling and take a boat ride to Isla Mujeres. Unfortunately, the weather conditions were not ideal for snorkeling that day, but the captain made the best of it for us. Before we reached Isla Mujeres, he stopped the boat to let us all swim in the ocean for a bit! Once we got back on the boat, we sailed the rest of the way to the Island, where a tour guide took us around for the day. It was such a beautiful trip, regardless of being unable to snorkel! You can’t beat this view!

The view from Isla Mujeres

We also booked a massage at the spa while on vacation, which was one of the best decisions we made! We chose a wine therapy couples massage, and it was an incredibly relaxing and refreshing experience! Before the scheduled massage, we were also able to use the spa facilities at our leisure. The spa was beautiful, clean and well worth the price.

All in all, this was an amazing trip. This truly is the perfect place to stay if you are looking to satisfy all of your vacation needs in one location! From amazing food (our favorite was Italian!) to beautiful views of the ocean, we could not ask for much more! We cannot wait to go back again some day!

Majestic Elegance – Punta Cana

Our first all-inclusive vacation we ever booked was to Majestic Elegance in Punta Cana. This adults-only resort was filled with fun activities, great excursion packages and wonderful rooms and dining options!

The Resort:

Majestic Elegance is a beautiful resort located in the Dominican Republic. Adjacent to Majestic Colonial, a family-friendly resort, the Majestic property is massive. We only visited Majestic Colonial to try and win some extra cash at the casino, but unfortunately, we did not have much luck there!

The rooms at Majestic Elegance were great — we had a jacuzzi inside and a balcony with a view of the large pool area. The hotel also has six restaurants and 11 bars — plenty of options for even the pickiest eater! We tried to sample as many restaurants as possible, but our all-time favorite was El Asadito Steak House, an Argentinian steak house!

The view from our room!

What to Do:

img_7690.jpgOur hotel room was about a five minute walk away from the beach, and once on the beach, there were chairs available to bring over to the ocean, or there were tiki huts to sit under to escape the sun for a bit! After spending our days by the ocean, we would wrap up the day at the swim-up pool bar before heading in for dinner and nightly entertainment.

The entertainment at Majestic Elegance was great. Our favorite night was the circus night! We sat back and watched people perform tricks and trapeze artists swing high above the ground. We even got to hang out with this man on stilts before the show!

In addition to spending time at the resort, we also booked two excursions on this trip. The first excursion we went on was such an amazing experience! We hopped on a boat and set sail to swim with sharks! We even got to hold a sting ray! That is definitely not something you get to do every day!

Our second excursion involved driving through the Dominican Republic to zip line through the trees! The views were amazing from the treetops, and we had a chance to see more of the Dominican Republic than we would have if we just stayed on the resort property. Our tour guide for this excursion gave us so much history and information about the culture and lifestyle of the people who live here. He also brought us pure cacao beans to try, and we had an opportunity to explore and do some shopping before going back to the resort!

We had a great time at Majestic Elegance, and we met some really great friends that we are still in touch with today! We were very happy with this trip, especially since it was our first all-inclusive vacation! We definitely got the travel bug after this trip!

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Our next winter getaway is a little different than these trips — we will be setting sail on our first cruise together, with some friends, to the Eastern Caribbean! I cannot wait to go on this trip and document it all to share once we are back! I am counting down the days until my next winter getaway — when and where will yours be?

 

travel guide: austin, tx

This April, my friends and I hopped on a plane to Austin, TX for a girls’ weekend. Our trip to Austin included a lot of BBQ, beer and bats — read on to find out more about our favorite Austin spots!

Where to Stay

Hyatt Place Downtown: We had a great experience with this hotel. It is located in downtown Austin, so everything we needed was always a quick car ride away. The rooms were clean and spacious; there was more than enough room for the five of us! The hotel staff was also incredibly friendly and helpful. We planned this trip for our friends’ birthday weekend, and the staff helped us kick off the celebrations by bringing champagne and some cake up to the room as a surprise!

Where to Eat

Kerby Lane Cafe: This was our first stop once we landed in Austin, and we knew we were in the right place when our waiter suggested we order queso at 9:30 in the morning. I would do anything to get that queso in Jersey! The food was so good, that we had brunch here twice!

Gordough’s Public House: Gordough’s has a food truck and a restaurant, but I recommend heading to the restaurant. Pitchers of Mimosas and Bloody Mary’s were plentiful, as was the food here! Hands down, this was one of the best meals I have ever tried: crispy fried chicken, a potato pancake, warm cream corn, candied jalapeños — all on top of a hot donut. What more could you ask for?!

Banger’s Sausage House and Beer Garden: Banger’s is an awesome spot for dinner and drinks. With outdoor seating and a menu of 30 homemade sausages and more than 100 craft beers, it is a great place to hang out with friends, have a few laughs and share a tasty meal!

Torchy’s Tacos: This is the best taco spot we found while we were in Austin! The menu has a huge variety that will cater to anyone’s taco cravings, and while there might be a bit of a wait, it is definitely worth it!

Truluck’s Steakhouse and Seafood: One thing we have learned while traveling on long weekend trips is that we should set aside one night to wine and dine ourselves. Truluck’s was the perfect choice for that. The wine list was extensive, and the food was absolutely delicious.

What to Do:
Bat Watching
: Admittedly, I was skeptical about watching bats, but when a handful of people recommended this activity to us, we had to check it out. There are 1.5 million bats that reside under the Congress Ave. Bridge in Austin, and around dusk, they fly out in swarms. Most people were lined up along the entire bridge, while some even sat in boats nearby to watch this phenomenon. If you are looking for an experience unique to Austin, this is it!

Graffiti ParkThis was our last stop before we left Austin, and it was one of the coolest things we saw while we were on this trip. The original location of Graffiti Park is on Baylor Street, but there are plans to move it to a new location. We were able to visit the original location while we were in Austin, and it is safe to say we left our mark in Graffiti Park! It was so much fun to look at all of the art that was created here, while making some of our own! I cannot wait to see what the new location will look like once it is launched!

UnBARlievableThis was our favorite bar in Austin, and it was 100 percent because of the “Fun Slide!” Besides an actual slide in the middle of the bar, UnBARlievable has a great atmosphere, live music and good drinks!

Lucille: This bar is set in a renovated house and has an outdoor space with hammocks and lawn games. We stopped here on our first night out in Austin, and we had a great time!

Recess Arcade Bar: This is a fun bar to visit on 6th Street during the day if you want to channel your inner child. From giant Jenga to Skee Ball, there are a ton of games to play while having a drink with friends.

We had a great time in Austin, and we cannot wait to go back and visit again some day!