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2023: A Year in Review

Pena Palace

2023 has probably been the best year of travel for us so far. We had several amazing, life-changing trips and visited many new-to-us destinations. We started the year in an airport: as the clock struck midnight we were walking through the Atlanta airport for a few hours shut-eye before catching our early morning flight home from Puerto Rico.

We discovered a love of train travel this year and took several weekend trips to Chicago on Amtrak. The train takes about the same amount of time as driving and it allows you to relax and do other things as you travel. We have found our favorite neighborhood in Chicago (River North) and are planning to return in 2024.

Disneyland Train Station

In March we crossed off another state in my goal to visit all 50 states before I turn 40. This time, we headed to California and took a wonderful cruise that allowed us to see a lot of the coastal cities. I understand why so many people love California. Each place was more beautiful than the last. The cruise also took us to Mexico and we have been trying to figure out when we can squeeze in a return trip. It was our first Celebrity cruise and it will not be our last. And of course, I realized my lifelong dream of visiting Disneyland.

In May, Chris went to a conference in Austin and I got to tag along for the weekend which was a fun way to break up the time between big trips. I have come to realize that some of the best meals of my life have been in the Austin area so I never turn down an opportunity to visit.

Sunset at Sea

Sunset at Sea

Less than 3 months after our spring cruise, we hit the sea again for our longest and most crazy cruise yet, a transatlantic from Florida to Portugal. It was a return to our favorite cruise line (Norwegian) after 3 cruises and it felt like coming home. The ports were amazing and afterward, we spent a week and a half exploring the Iberian Peninsula (Portugal and Spain) with a stopover in Iceland on the way home. This trip was life-changing and we’ve just been figuring out how to return to Europe since we got home.

Enjoying a Glass of Wine at Bonobo

We stayed closer to home in the second half of the year. We took a few camping trips around Michigan, and in August, we spent a week in one of our favorite places, Traverse City, and we took our furry friends. While traveling with the cats added some challenges, not having to worry about them while we were away was worth it for us.

In the fall, we discovered how one-night getaways can be a fun way to break up the routine without having to shell out the money for multiple nights of lodging. We spent a night in Milwaukee that was surprisingly enjoyable and I would love to go back and see more of the city.

Icelandic Sheep

Overall, this was a year of seeing new places for short amounts of time. I have added many new places to my “to return to” list which I put into writing this year. I am struggling to figure out where to go in 2024 between the places I have never been and the places I want to return to. This will probably be a lifelong struggle. Stay tuned to find out where I end up next year!

Thanks for stopping by! To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. To read campground reviews check out my Michigan Campground Reviews page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! For my list of gadgets to make your travels easier, click here. To see inside my camera bag, check out my Gear Page.

Wordless Wednesday: It’s a Small World

It's A Small World

Wordless Wednesday: Sleeping Beauty Castle

Sleeping Beauty Castle

A Disney World Fan’s First Visit to Disneyland

Disneyland Train Station

When we booked our California Coastal cruise, I knew I couldn’t step foot in Southern California and not go to Disneyland so we looked at our schedule and figured out how we could make it work. With logistics like our ship’s return to LA and our flight home, we only really had one day to spend in the Happiest Place on Earth. According to Disney die-hards, that is not enough time, but with a few tricks, we were able to see everything that we wanted to see and then some.

The day of our visit was a Tier 6 day, meaning the park is projected to be the busiest it gets and the price for a one-day ticket is the highest it gets. I knew this was not going to be a budget day in the park, so I decided to spring for the $25 extra per person for Genie + to make sure we would get to see the headlining attractions. Since I had experienced both Rise of the Resistance and Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway on our visit to Hollywood Studios in 2021, I did not feel it was worth it to pay for the Individual Lightning Lane to experience shorter lines for these attractions. My goal for this day was to experience the attractions that are only available on the west coast or are significantly different than their Disney World versions.

It's a Small World

It’s a Small World

One of the best ways to deal with shorter lines at any Disney Park is to get to the park before it opens for what is known as Rope Drop. The first hour the park is open is when the headlining attractions have the shortest waits. We were able to ride Space Mountain, the Matterhorn, Big Thunder Mountain, Haunted Mansion, Splash Mountain, and Buzz Lightyear AstroBlasters in the first two hours before the crowds arrived. Throughout the rest of the day, we watched the wait times on the app and chose which attractions had the shortest wait. In the late afternoon after we had ridden pretty much everything we wanted to, Rise of the Resistance went down to a 45-minute wait, so we headed to Galaxy’s Edge to what is in my opinion, one of the most immersive Disney attractions of all time.

Splash Mountain

Disneyland and its castle are much smaller than their Floridian counterparts and things are laid out slightly differently. For Disney World veterans, it feels much like coming home but someone has rearranged all your things and in a few cases, made them much better. I have been going to Disney World since I was two and I never cared for Pirates of the Caribbean or the Haunted Mansion. They scared me as a kid so I don’t have the nostalgic attachment to them that a lot of Disney fans have. I rode both of them multiple times in Disneyland because they were SO good! Big Thunder Mountain and Buzz Lightyear AstroBlasters were better than their versions in Florida. The Jungle Cruise was so much more lush than the version in the Magic Kingdom. Even It’s a Small World (which is the original from the 1964-65 World’s Fair) is so much more impressive than the Magic Kingdom version. Chris wasn’t sure why I was making him ride it but he admitted afterward that it was actually really impressive. Now, Splash Mountain (RIP) has always been my favorite Magic Kingdom attraction and I did not enjoy the Disneyland version as much. I got absolutely drenched on that ride and it was only 60 degrees outside. Why do you get wetter in temperate California than in hot and humid Florida?

Disneyland also has more classic dark rides than the Magic Kingdom. I enjoyed Alice in Wonderland, Pinocchio’s Daring Journey, and Snow White’s Adventure. I was excited to take Chris on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride because I remembered it as a kid. I will say, I understand why they got rid of it in Walt Disney World. That was a strange experience. I don’t think there is another Disney attraction that ends with you going to Hell.

Blue Bayou Restaurant

Us at Blue Bayou

Another thing that California has that Florida does not is the Blue Bayou Restaurant. Blue Bayou is located inside Pirates of the Caribbean. It is probably the most popular table service restaurant in Disneyland and it can be hard to get a reservation, but I managed to score one for lunch (their iconic Monte Christo sandwich is only available at lunch) exactly 60 days out. When we checked in on the day of, I checked a box that it was our first time in Disneyland and they seated us right on the water! It was fun watching the boats go by as we enjoyed our lunch. It was also a great way to rest a little after all the walking we did in the morning.

Walt Disney's Bench

As a Disney Nerd, one of the things I was most excited about was Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln and the Disneyland Story. Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln was another attraction Walt Disney developed for the 1964/65 World’s Fair and nowadays, the preshow for it is a small museum dedicated to the history of Disneyland and Disney artifacts. It was very interesting to look at the scale model of Disneyland on opening day in 1955. Probably my favorite thing was the bench from Griffith Park (left) where Walt Disney first came up with the idea for Disneyland.

If you are a Disney Fan, you need to get to Disneyland! Your favorite attractions are better and there is nothing like walking where Walt himself walked. I really was not expecting to like it as much as I did and I definitely wasn’t expecting it to be so much different from the Magic Kingdom. I was disappointed that we only had one day. Oh well, I guess I will have to go back, stay in one of the resorts, and check out California Adventure too!

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip, check out the Cruising the Pacific Coast Trip Report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! For my list of gadgets to make your travels easier, click here. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

Wordless Wednesday: Grand Central Market

Grand Central Market


24 Hours in Los Angeles

Hollywood Sign

The Hollywood Sign as seen from Griffith Observatory

Most of the time on this blog, I share about our travels and how we manage to see and do everything we want to in a short amount of time in a location. This was not the case in Los Angeles. Everywhere we tried to go we got stuck in terrible traffic and horrific crowds.

Griffith Observatory

Griffith Observatory

We didn’t get off the ship until 10:00 am and by the time we got to the tent where our luggage was, it was probably another hour until we got our rideshare and were heading to LA. The traffic was so bad that what should’ve been a half an hour’s drive to our downtown hotel took at least an hour. We dropped our luggage at the hotel and headed to Griffith Park where traffic was so bad it took 30 minutes just to enter the parking lot. We did manage to get a spot and have time to walk around the observatory but honestly, my nerves were shot and I wasn’t in a mood to appreciate where I was.

We left the Griffith Observatory and headed to one of the most unique food experiences of my life. Carnitas el Momo is featured heavily in the LA episode of the Netflix Special, Street Food USA and I knew that if I wanted to experience LA street food, this is where we had to go. The show focused a lot on their food truck so I was very surprised when the address was a house in a residential neighborhood where people were cooking carnitas under a tent on their front porch. We tried the mulita which is like a quesadilla but with more cheese and let me tell you, it was one of the most amazing things I have ever eaten. My only complaint is being a residential neighborhood, parking was a challenge. We had to park 5 or 6 blocks away and walk and then eat in our car. But, if you are looking for the best carnitas you have ever had in LA, you have to go to Carnitas el Momo, just make sure you’re wearing your walking shoes.

Santa Monica

After lunch, we headed to the place that was probably number one on my must-see list for LA: Santa Monica. Once again, traffic was a bear and it about an hour to get there. We walked to Santa Monica pier where it was wall-to-wall people. We had just eaten so we weren’t hungry and it was too cold for swimming and we drove an hour to get here, so now what? We ended up finding a coffee shop to hang out at for a while before heading back downtown to our hotel.

We ended our day with dinner at Genwa, a Korean Barbecue restaurant. Korean Barbecue is something I have wanted to try for a long time now, but it’s not readily available in our small midwestern town so I figured Los Angeles would be the place to try it and I was not disappointed. They gave us a ton of food, some of it was familiar and some of it was new to me. It was a lot of fun and I am glad we decided to try something new in a city that is known for its food scene like LA.


We had an early afternoon flight the next day, so we decided to avoid all the traffic and stay close to the hotel. We walked to the Grand Central Market (above) for lunch and did our own little food tour. Whatever type of food you are looking for, they have it at Grand Central Market and it is delicious.

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We stayed at Hotel Per La in downtown LA (above) which I have to say is probably the nicest hotel I’ve ever stayed at. I had first heard about it in the September issue of Travel and Leisure and I knew I had to say there! The rooms were elegant and comfortable. The common spaces were plentiful and gorgeous and the rooftop pool was amazing! I didn’t want to leave! If you are looking for a place to stay in downtown LA, I cannot recommend Hotel Per La enough.

Angels Flight

Overall, I wish we had a better plan for LA because we wasted so much of our time driving around. An organized tour may have helped with this. I had really hoped to see LACMA, the LA Art Museum but we just ran out of time. If I had it to do over again, I would’ve done that instead of driving out to Santa Monica. The traffic and the crowds left me with a negative feeling about LA and I would probably return to any of the other cities we got to see on this trip before I would come back to Los Angeles.

Thanks for stopping by! Be sure to stop by next week when I share about our day in the Happiest Place on Earth (and a place crowds don’t seem to get to me), Disneyland! To read more about this trip, check out the Cruising the Pacific Coast Trip Report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! For my list of gadgets to make your travels easier, click here. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

Wordless Wednesday: Angels Flight

Angels Flight

One Day in Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara Harbor from the Maritime Museum

When planning this trip, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do for our day in Santa Barbara. There were not many excursions offered by the cruise line and the ones they did have were very expensive for what they were (walking tour for $125, no thank you). Not too long before the cruise, someone in the Cruise Critic group mentioned the free tours offered by Walking Tours Santa Barbara. If you have a cruise booked, I highly recommend joining the roll call over on Cruise Critic so you get tips like this one!

Walking Tours Santa Barbara offers three totally free tours on specific days and times: waterfront (the one I booked), Old Town, and the Funk Zone. They just ask if you enjoy your tour that you tip your guide. The waterfront tour took us from the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum to the Amtrak Station. The company advertises this tour as the perfect tour for first-time visitors to Santa Barbara. Personally, I felt that the tour went on a little long. This would’ve been a perfect 90-minute tour, but I really can’t complain since it was free.

Santa Barbara Courthouse

The iconic Santa Barbara courthouse

Santa Barbara is a tourist destination all year round because of their beautiful weather. It is really hard to complain about a place with average high temperatures from 66 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit all year. The mission-style adobe buildings that the city leaders adopted after the 1925 earthquake destroyed most of the town add to the city’s natural beauty.

After the tour, we did a little wine tasting in the area of town known as the Funk Zone. We started at the Santa Barbara Winery since we were able to get tasting coupons from our tour guides for $12 (much less than we paid to taste in Sonoma). From there we walked to The Valley Project which advertises its wine as spanning the 5 AVAs (American Viticulture Areas) of Santa Barbara. While these wines don’t get the attention of a Napa or Sonoma, everything we had was very good and we brought even more bottles back onto the ship.

One thing that was awkward about our time in Santa Barbara is that it was very obvious that a lot of the locals do not want the cruise ship traffic. We heard a lot of muttering about “ship people” when we were walking around and our tour guides were very curious about our change of itinerary with Monterey banning cruise ships. It is very different than in Alaska where the people were begging for the return of cruise ships during COVID. Once again, it just made me think about what it means to be a conscious cruiser. If we cruisers want cruise ships to be helpful to the local economies they visit, it is important that we to get off the ship and visit the shops and restaurants and spend some money. If we just lay on the beach and eat and drink on the ship, more and more interesting places are going to stop allowing ships to visit.

Overall, I really enjoyed our day in Santa Barbara and wished I had more time in this beautiful area. I guess Santa Barbara will have to be added to that increasingly long list of places I need to return to!

Thanks for stopping by! Be sure to stop by next week for my review of the Celebrity Solstice! To read more about this trip, check out the Cruising the Pacific Coast Trip Report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! For my list of gadgets to make your travels easier, click here. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.


Wordless Wednesday: Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge

Wordless Wednesday: Muir Beach

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