Deering Estate during Miami Winter

Deering Estate during Miami Winter

The family has grown to love visiting Deering Estate.  Located in Southwest Miami-Dade at 17350 Old Cutler Road, it's basically a renovated older home right on Biscayne bay.  Home to Charles Deering in the early 1900s, it's a place used for concerts, private events, eco-tours, field trips, concerts under the stars, and much more. 

The most incredible thing about Deering Estate is it's natural surroundings perfect for family picnics and celebration.  You can even go kayaking.  We've gone to Deering to take family pictures, Valentine's Day evening concerts, and for a friend's wedding. 

Contemporary Hotel in Disney World

I've always wanted to stay at the Contemporary resort in Disney World.  We see it every time we visit the Magic Kingdom.  We've even eaten at Chef Mickey's in the hotel.  

We never stayed there because it is very expensive.
My parents love to surprise us and keep us in suspense until the last minute many times lying to us, to make the surprise even more special when we get it.   They told me we were staying at a different hotel.  As we were arriving in the area my dad pretended he made a wrong turn and went in through the Magic Kingdom entrance.   I needed to use the bathroom so my parents said we would just stop in at this hotel since it was the closest thing and I could use the bathroom in the lobby. 
While I used the bathroom my dad checked in.  They kept the lie going and said since we were there we should look around the hotel so we could see what it was like.  They pretended to just press a random floor in the elevator, but they knew exactly what they were doing.  We arrived on the 8th floor and when the doors opened we saw a big desk with the concierge sitting there.  He told us we could have food and drinks that were set up for the guests.  While we ate our snacks my dad asked him to pretend to show us our room. We made our way to our room and the concierge opened the was amazing.  We were there for my mom and sister's birthdays so they had left cards for each of them from the Disney characters, but the best part was the view. 

 We had a view of Cinderella's Castle.  I was so happy.  My sister and I just started jumping up and down.

We went to all the Disney parks except for Hollywood Studios on this trip.  My favorite park is Magic Kingdom and my favorite ride is Space Mountain.  My sister's favorite ride is splash Mountain which is also in Magic Kingdom.  We went to Magic Kingdom the day of my sister's birthday.  On my mom's birthday we went to Epcot.  I think my parent's favorite park is Epcot, because they love to travel and at Epcot you get to visit different countries.
I usually like to spend  all the time at the parks but not on this trip.  This time I wanted to stay a lot of time at the hotel.  It was so cool.  After all the parks we went in the pool which had a water slide.  At night , from our balcony, we had a perfect view of the fireworks  at the Magic Kingdom.

 In the daytime you could see all the rides and from far away Mt. Everest which is a ride in Animal Kingdom.  The last day before we left we had breakfast at Chef Mickey's in the hotel.

The breakfast there is a buffet and it's really good.  Every time we go to Disney, I hope we stay at the Contemporary.  Even if we don't it is still fun to go.
Disney's Contemporary Resort is a modern Disney Deluxe Resort.  The tower or main building resembles a pyramid or the letter A and has adjoining wings with additional rooms.   It is lake side and is the only hotel in Walt Disney World Resort to have the monorail going right through it.  It is very convenient.  


 Aquatica is a SeaWorld water park.  It just opened this year.  We spent the day there and had a wonderful time.  There is something for everyone.  We went with a group with children ranging from four years old to thirteen year olds.
There were many rides and activities that were fun for everyone.  We really enjoyed orur time there.  We also purchased the meal plan for the children which provided a great value.  The adults paid for each meal.
We also recommend going later in the day.  Around 4:00pm and after the crowds get significantly lighter and the park more enjoyable because you don't have to wait in line any more.  If you can find something else to do in the morning, I would suggest going to the park after 2:00pm (getting a discounted ticket) and enjoying the rides without lines.


Gaylord Palms

August 15, 2011

We arrived at Gaylord Palms and I got off with the children to check in while Al stayed in the car waiting.  Jake's reaction was so funny... he though it was the best hotel he'd ever been in.  He may have been right...
this place is impressive.  He wanted to thank the person who'd found the hotel, because it was great.

Our friend found a great deal for the hotel on a travel portal (I can't remember the name).  We checked in and they were nice enough to give us an upgrade overlooking the atrium. 

We took our bags to the room and explored the hotel for a little while as we waited for other families in our group to arrive.  They took a very long time, so we took advantage of our early arrival and went to Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom.

We had a wonderful time riding and enjoying the park.

Melbourne, Florida

We had to stop in Melbourne Florida on the way back to Miami, because the keys to our car stayed in our friend's car and they left with them. 
We were supposed to leave yesterday, however it was late and we were tired.  Rather than drive while sleepy we thought it would be better to rest and sleep and leave early the next morning.

Unfortunately, we'd left the keys in our friends' car.  The most inexpensive solution was to have them overnight the key to us.  Our friend from Melbourne picked us up and invited us to sleep at their home.  We were able to see the family and spend the night which was very nice.

We had dinner at Mimi's Cafe in Melbourne.  It is a southern style restaurant.  The meal was delicious and we were able to relax and take some time with friends.

Typhoon Lagoon

Disney's Typhoon Lagoon Water Park, one of 2 Water Parks in Walt Disney World Resort, features attractions for the whole family—from fast waterslides to a children's area with pint-sized raft rides. Catch 6-foot waves in the Surf Pool and snorkel Shark Reef—with real sharks!

Escape to a tropical paradise where you'll discover a storm of fun in the sun. Disney's Typhoon Lagoon water park is the place to go for aquatic thrill-seekers of all ages. In addition to great waterslides, you'll love the lazy river, wave pool and children's play area!
Disney's Typhoon Lagoon features attractions for the entire family—including thrill rides, chill rides, family-style raft rides, areas for little squirts and plenty of tropical lounging for grownups.

Experience 9 exhilarating waterslides, relax as you drift down Castaway Creek, share a trip together down Gang Plank Falls, splash the day away at a children's play area, go for a swim in a giant Surf Pool with 6-foot waves, or brave Shark Reef—where you can snorkel with real sharks and schools of colorful fish. Be sure to check out the parks newest attraction, the Crush 'n' Gusher water coaster!

According to Disney legend, Disney's Typhoon Lagoon was created by an epic storm. Surfboards were hurled into palm trees and boats were tossed around like toys.
The typhoon made the storm-soaked Mount Mayday an ideal source for exhilarating waterslides. Surrounding the mountain, a 56-acre topsy-turvy tropical paradise was formed—full of waterways, rivers, rapids and slides.
Miss Tilly
The park's famous icon is an ill-fated shrimp boat named Miss Tilly. She found herself swept up by the twisting tides of the fierce typhoon and came to rest on the peak of Mount Mayday.
Every half hour, the boat's whistle blows and the volcano attempts to dislodge the ship, resulting in an enormous geyser of water.

This is a park for carefree fun in the sun.  No cameras allowed because they can't get wet.  This was the first time I was ever on vacation without a camera.  It felt liberating!!!
I also enjoyed the ability to not worry about carrying anything or pushing strollers, etc.

**Images and information from Typhoon Lagoon website

Blizzard Beach

We had a fabulous time at Blizzard Beach!  Our friends are pros at the water parks so they helped make the experience very enjoyable.

**It's important to wear aqua shoes so you don't have to be barefoot all over the park.  They do not permit shoes on the rides, however, aqua shoes are permitted.  You should also feel very comfortable in your bathing suit because you will be wearing that and only that all day, while walking all over the park.

We arrived around 10:00am.  We took a cooler with drinks and fruit.  The parks offer covered and uncovered lounging areas where you can leave coolers with snacks, etc. (unlike the Disney non-water parks)  We left our cooler at a covered easily-accessible lounging area.  We were able to go back and hang out there several times throughout the day. 

Lockers are available for valuables.  It's hard to take photos unless someone from the group stays off the rides and takes them.  We ended up purchasing the ones they take of you throughout the park. 

The park was full earlier in the day and the lines were long.  However, after 3:00pm, the lines got shorter and faster.  About two hours before closing time we were able to just ride over and over and over, without even standing in line.  We rode everything several times and even my four year old daughter was able to ride and had a lot of fun. 

The end of the day was the best time and we had a fabulous time!

We enjoyed all the rides but my personal favorite was just hanging out and drifting together n the lazy river...

**All photos are from website

Disney Waterparks and Orlando, FL

Disney Water parks

All these years and we'd never been to the Disney Water parks...Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach.
Jake was anxious to visit the parks so we decided it would be a good opportunity to write about another aspect of the Disney empire.

We arrived late in the afternoon and checked into our hotel room at Lake Buena Vista Palace.  We are traveling with another family and they reserved in this hotel.  The hotel is big and clean, however, the parking lot is very far from the room.  If we were traveling alone I wouldn't feel comfortable staying here and probably would stay at a different hotel.

After settling in, we went to dinner at Bongo's in Downtown Disney and then bought tickets for Disney Quest and the water parks.  The combo ticket was a great deal.  Essentially for the same price we would have paid for the entrance fees to the water parks, we received a yearly pass that allows us access to both parks and Disney Quest for the year.

We had never been to Disney Quest and really liked it.  Its a huge video arcade, but they have several virtual reality games that are almost like amusement park rides.

The children enjoyed the experience tremendously.

The Hawaii of the Caribbean: St. Lucia - Thursday, March 27, 2008

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Having just been to Hawaii in September of 2007 to celebrate Ana's 40th, St. Lucia was the most unique island out of all the ones visited on this cruise and the one that reminded me of Hawaii.  Who needs to fly half way across the world when St. Lucia is right around the corner?  From the moment we stepped on the port in Castries and on the bus to take an island tour (no beaches this time), it never failed to impress.

For a more textbook description of the island, you can read below, but to me the highlight of the tour was eating lunch at Ladera overlooking the famous Pitons.  Lets first talk about Ladera.  "Ladera was once part of Rabot Estate, one of Soufrière's oldest and most famous cocoa plantations. In 1982 it was transformed into the unique resort it is today. Taking full advantage of its natural surroundings, Ladera offers a unique design in guest accommodations. The 9 villas and 23 suites all have an "open wall" - the west side of each unit is left open to expose the breathtaking view, and the orientation of the buildings maintains complete privacy. The villas and suites are constructed of tropical hardwoods, stone and tile, furnished with 19th century French furniture or replicas, wicker and accessories crafted by local artisans. All units are decorated with local artwork and feature magnificent views of the Pitons and Caribbean Sea."

After the lunch where we sat overlooking the valley and the Pitons, Ana and I went exploring.  We found an open villa and the maid let us go in to see for ourselves.  The description above says it all and in my own words there were no walls along the back and you slept outside, but not really.  Each villa had it's own pool and although you were outside, you had privacy and you had the view.  Absolutely a place to come back sans kids to celebrate a special occasion.  Check out for more information.  Prices range from $600 to $9,000 USD per night.

On the way back from Ladera, the bus (actually there was a bus and a small van), we stopped at a swimming hole with a nice waterfall. It was a nice way to finish off the day in the last port of call for the cruise. We had two full days at sea ahead of us and I was starting to get end-of-vacation blues, but the next two days would prove to be fun and relaxing.

According to Freestyle Daily, "St. Lucia is the sort of island that travelers to the Caribbean dream about - a small, lush tropical gem that is still relatively unknown. One of the Windward Islands of the Lesser Antilles, it is located midway down the Eastern Caribbean chain between Martinique and St. Vincent, but north of Barbados.  St. Lucia is only 27 miles long and 14 miles wide, with a shape that is said to resemble a mango or an avocado (depending on your taste).  The Atlantic Ocean kisses its eastern shore, while the beaches of the west coast owe their beauty to the calm Caribbean Sea.

In natural beauty, St. Lucia seems like an island plucked from the South Pacific and set down in the Caribbean (I told you so...see first paragraph above). Its dramatic twin coastal peaks, the Pitons, soar 2,000 feet up from the sea, sheltering magnificant rain forests where wild orchids, giant ferns, and birds of paraside flourish."

Caving in Bridgetown, Barbados - Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Wednesday, March 26, 2008
According to, "Barbados is a coral island, pushed out of sea by volcanic activity in a far away time. On the West Coast of Barbados, coral shore beaches of fine white sand stretch along a blue-green sea. Coral reefs fringe the Barbados shoreline to provide excellent snorkeling and Scuba Diving. Along the East Coast a lively surf is blown briskly by the strong and constant trade winds and the waves pound against a rocky shore. The constant breeze of the trade winds give Barbados a mild and pleasant tropical climate

When you visit Barbados, you will see it is mostly a flat coral island with excellent beaches, but there are rolling hills and many deep ridges and gullies, with an interesting distribution of flora and fauna. Within the Barbados coral core there is a vast array of caves and underground lakes which provide an excellent supply of drinking water that is amongst the purest in the world. Geologically Barbados is unique, being actually two land masses that merged together over the years."

After we woke up a little bit late and frazzled, we met up with the group to take a bus tour through the island to visit one of the top tourist attractions on the island:  Harrison's Cave. It is basically a crystallized limestone cavern that is said to be one of the wonders of the world. It contains flowing streams that helped to create beautiful stalactites and stalagmites in this living cave. You tour the cave on an electric tram (sort of like a limo-sized golf cart) holding about 20 people.  It is perfect for kids as there's just enough walking and the caves are not too hot.  You drive a little, stop, explore, and then get back on the cart.  The tour lasts anywhere between 45 minutes to 2 hours depending on what you want to see.  I never felt scared as it is very easy to do and experience.  It was perfect for the whole family.

Since we went in 2008, it appears that they have enhanced the tour to start at the top of the cliff overlooking the valley floor.  You take a brisk walk/hike down in the outdoors leading up to the tram ride. 

Ziplining in St. John's, Antigua - Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Hand's down this was one of the funest ports on the itinerary.  Sister island to Barbuda (but part of the same country), according to, the skyline of St. John's, the capital and largest city of Antigua and Barbuda, is dominated by the magnificently evocative white baroque towers of St. John's Cathedral. Built in 1845, the church is now in its third incarnation, as earthquakes in 1683 and in 1745 destroyed the previous structures. The towers are the first sight of Antigua for about half of the island's visitors each year, many of whom arrive by boat. With its recently completed cruise ship dock and several hotels, St. John's is a lively hub for shopping and dining.

As soon as we reviewed the options, the group elected to take a trip to the lush part of island north of English Harbour in the middle of the rainforest for some ZIPLINING!  We booked a trip with the Antigua Rainforest Canopy Tour and were ready for some fun.  We took a bus ride and upon arrival we were whisked away to an orientation on safety where you are forced to sign a waiver relinquishing any fault in your death.  Basically, you dangle about 250-350 feet in the air through various stations (I counted 9) while going about 5-10 miles an hour depending on how much you weigh.  Small kids do not weigh enough to get the right speed to get from one platform to the next so they end up just half way across in mid-air forcing someone to rescue them.  This eliminated some of the kids from going on the trip, but we had a big group eager and ready to go.

The feeling you get atop the rainforest and in most cases through the rainforest is cool.  It's not a natural thing you do on a daily basis so you have to get used to it.  After the first several stations where you get the hang of clipping yourself to the line (and not forgetting the safety clip as well), you get the hang of it.  At no time do you feel unsafe.  There are at least two employees per platform that do the unclipping and clipping for you.  They double and triple check everything each time. 

I highly recommend this especially in St. John's where there is not alot to see/do during the short stay there.  After the ziplining tour, we met up with the others near the port for a quick lunch at a roadside cafe and for some shopping.

Swimming with the Dolphins in Tortola, British Virgin Islands - Monday, March 24, 2008

Monday, March 24, 2008

After a long day at the beach the day before, we arrived in Tortola, British Virgin Islands at about 10a.  According to the Freestyle Daily, "approximately 60 miles east of Puerto Rico, this archipelago of some 40 islands is a majestic cluster of distinct beauty. It's serene harbors, rugged mountains, groves of bananas and fringed palm trees are delightful treasures that remain untouched by industrial development."

For our excursion, a group of us decided to take a brief tour around the city, but our main excursion was swimming with the dolphins at the Dolphin Discovery Center.  None of us have done it before and the kids were excited to get in there and ride/play with the dolphins.  Each of us took a turn to be hoisted in the air by two dolphins (one nose under each foot) to be glided almost above the water, flying.  Some of us were able to do it easier than others, but they took their time to ensure everyone had at least one good run.  We spent about an hour in the water with the dolphins while they did different tricks and spending some quality time with each. My daughter got a little scared, but she held tight and was able to stay in the water the whole time.  She was four at the time and it may have been a little too soon for her. I think she would enjoy it now much better and I recommend to wait until about 7-years-old.

As for the facilities, they were clean, well organized, and on time.  One complaint is that someone in our party bought the video, but the video was not able to be played on American DVD players or the DVD was faulty.  She was never able to get a good copy.  Other than that, the experience was unforgettable. 

Onboard Egg Hunt and Easter in the D.R. - Sunday, March 23, 2008

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Happy Easter!  All the kids were excited as they waited outside of a ship lounge to run amok hunting for eggs.  Set up by all the Mom's, this was a perfect setting to keep the tradition alive, but this time at sea.  After the egg hunt and tons of pictures, it was time to hit the beach in Samana, Dominican Republic.  Unlike the more popular D.R. destinations like Santo Domingo, Puerto Plata, or Casa Campo, Samana is more remote and less developed. 

Taken right from the Freestyle Daily, "Samana is a destination for nature lovers and adventurers.  Green mountains, long beaches, solitude, lively little towns in between turquoise waters.  Samana is also a romantic destination and several of its small hotels are perfect for honeymooners.  It is possible to just spend the day vegging out at the beach in front of the main hotel, but Samana is truly for explorers.  It also has a distinct European flavor."

We all opted to spend a relaxed-vegged-out day at Cayo Levantado where we laid out, went in the water, and did some exploring along the coast.  You had to take the tender from the ship to reach the shore, but it was a beautiful, sunny day.  We enjoyed it thoroughly and headed back to the ship around 5p.

Norweigan Pearl for Spring Break 2008 - Friday, March 21, 2008

Friday, March 21, 2008

As we prepared to set off for our Spring Break 2008 trip, we settled on a cruise with a large group of friends. About 30 in total, this was a group of people from our kid's school and we were going on a 9-day cruise through the Southern Caribbean right from Miami on NCL's Pearl.  No airplane ride and just a 30-minute ride to the Port of Miami. The itinerary was a little off the beaten path with some places I have never heard of before:

Day 1 (Fri, 21-Mar @ 5p) - Ship Departs Miami, Florida
Day 2 (Sat, 22-Mar) - At Sea
Day 3 (Sun, 23-Mar 10a-6p) - Samana, Dominican Republic (Easter Sunday)
Day 4 (Mon, 24-Mar 10a-630p) - Tortola, British Virgin Islands
Day 5 (Tues, 25-Mar 8a-5p) - St. John's, Antigua
Day 6 (Wed, 26-Mar 9a-6p) - Bridgetown, Barbados
Day 7 (Thurs, 27-Mar 8a-6p) - St. Lucia, Saint Lucia
Day 8 (Fri, 28-Mar) - At Sea
Day 9 (Sat, 29-Mar) - At Sea
Day 10 (Sun, 30-Mar @ 7a) - Shop Arrives in Miami, Florida

With that itinerary ahead of us, we are in for alot of cool excursions, shows on board, and meals galore.  It's going to be a fun ride.

Nightsledding to dinner in a pitched tent - Tuesday, January 2, 2008

Tuesday, January 2, 2008

Always seeking a new cool thing to do, Ana searched for the perfect thing to cap off our trip and to celebrate a friend's birthday.  She found this company called TwoBelowZero offering Winter Dinner Sleigh Rides.  We instructed everyone to meet at the parking lot near Beaver Run (where we stayed last year) at about 6:30 p.m.  She had no idea what was in store, but as soon as you got there, the smell of horse was in the air!  That's OK because we were about to take a sleigh ride up the mountain in the dark and in the freezing cold.  Huddled under blankets we made our way up in two sleds.  Each one identical and with it's bandit of heckler's making fun of each other and enjoying the beautiful ride under the moonlight.

Our destination was a pitched, heated tent.  We actually would see this tent on the way down the mountain each day as we skiied right by it, but at night they converted into a dinner place with live music.  As we entered the tent, we were greeted with a long table and some great acoustic live music.  From the oldies to the new songs, we had many requests as we sang and ate a great buffet dinner.  From the meats to the chicken to the pasta, there was enough variety to please everyone. 

There was only one other party in the tent at the same time and they were celebrating a birthday too.  As we all sang Happy Birthday, we reveled in the night and this unique experience. We hope the kids remember this as much as we do.  As soon as you get to Breck, check out the TwoBelowZero web site for the latest promotions and times so you can call and book early.

Downstairs at Eric's...because everywhere else just sucks - Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Tuesday, January 1, 2008
What a great tagline:  BECAUSE EVERYWHERE ELSE JUST SUCKS!  You already get a feel for what type of place this is and it's a cross between Dave & Busters LITE, Bennigan's bar, and a pizza place.  Downstairs at Eric's is always packed, this popular Breck spot boasts over 120 beers, it's very own Bar Cam, an arcade for the kids, awesome burgers, and sports on television sets all over the place.  Located at 111 South Main Street, it's easy to walk to from the main resorts and worth the wait.

During this peak season, being able to fit about 24 of us in one sitting is almost impossible.  We have squeezed into the bar area (yes with kids) and carved out a home base while the kids played in the arcade (with at least 1-2 adults taking turns watching them) and the rest of us ordering the food and drinks. With such a large group, you are forced to eat standing up and in spurts, but it's fun.   I want to make it clear that we drink responsibly and this bar is not a dark, gloomy, seedy kind of place showing kids some "bad" things. Kids are more than welcome here and we like that.   Just check out the web site to catch a glimpse of the Bar Cam and the kid-friendly menu.

RANDOM THOUGHT:  I am not sure of the connection and always forget to ask, but the name of this place is same as Yaz or Yazoo's first album.  If you recall this was a duo in the early 80s starring Alison Moyet and forgot the guy's name.  The album yielded hits like "Don't Go" and "Situation."  It reminds me of my older brother and his friends and my friend's older sister.  The first time I listened to it was at my friend's house as she blared it out of her bedroom.  Check it out on iTunes if you haven't heard it before.