I’ve taught all around the world, but some of my best teaching memories and experiences come from teaching English as a second language.
I didn’t have to cram in unrealistic curriculum expectations and worry about test results determining funding. I could have conversations, play charades, and learn more deeply about different cultures.
I taught small group ESL to students in Dublin, taught English at an all boy’s high school in Bangkok, at a private language school in Bangkok, tutored students one on one and even tutored a Buddhist monk in Bangkok.
They were enriching experiences that enabled me to live in different countries and earn money and vastly improved my teaching abilities and my communication skills.
Times have changed since my ESL teaching days. There’s now this thing called internet and globalization making it easier for everybody to teach English as a second language without leaving their house.
Although I retired from teaching five years ago, it is a topic I still enjoy talking about. Hang on a minute, I’m not retired! I homeschool my children!!
This past week, I was approached with a sponsorship opportunity to share VIPKID, an online English education platform. After learning more about it, I knew it was a valuable opportunity worth sharing with you.
Teaching with VIPKID presents an opportunity for you to work from home and earn money, engage with the wider world, and have enriching and rewarding experiences.
Teaching is what enabled me to travel the world for 10 years. I believe it can open similar doors for you.
In this post I’ll share with you
The growing demand for English teaching in the Chinese market
Parents of Chinese children realize the benefit of raising global-minded children and how English can open up more job opportunities. As a result, learning English as a second language is in demand and booming.
This is good news for fluent English speaking people as more opportunities arise for you to help Chinese students learn English. This does not necessarily require you to hop on a plane to teach in a school in China. This, of course, would be an excellent experience and one we support, but it’s something that is not always feasible for everyone.
There’s no reason to miss out.
The demand for more Chinese to learn English has given birth to a multi-billion dollar online education market where English speakers from the U.S. and Canada bring local language curriculum and instructors to their home country via live streaming technology in their own virtual classrooms.
Last year, the market for online language lessons in China stood at 30 billion yuan ($4.5 billion), according to consultancy firm iResearch. Between now and 2019, it is projected to grow more than 20% a year to reach 52 billion yuan ($7.8 billion), when the country’s entire online education sector is valued at 270 billion yuan ($41 billion).
That’s a big piece of the pie you can eat all from the comfort of your living room. We do hope you save the money you earn though so you can travel more!
What is VIPKID?
VIPKID is an online English education platform allowing children (4-12) in China to take classes from North American teachers from the comfort of their homes. VIPKID, started in 2013 and, as of summer 2017, has over 200,000 students.
VIPKID designs a unique curriculum that combines EFL teaching best practices with the U.S. Common Core State Standards – fostering creativity, critical thinking, and curiosity for our hundreds of thousands of learners.
Teachers deliver these English classes online in a 1:1 environment to students between the ages of 5-14 years old from the comfort of their homes or wherever in the world they may be traveling!
“From my experience over 85% of the students want to be in class. This is much higher than teaching in a traditional classroom. Plus you get to know the students and learn about their lives. You become a significant part of the student’s life. This is why I teach. I get more satisfaction teaching students one on one than in groups.” VIPKid teacher
Check out more in this video:
Who is VIPKID best suited?
First and foremost, people who enjoy teaching and are looking for ways to earn money online providing a valuable service.
Stay-at-home moms looking for ways to earn money working from home around the hectic schedule of their parenting lifestyle.
Expats already living abroad teaching English. I used to have to catch the bus into Siam Square every Saturday in busy, polluted Bangkok to get to my private language school and earn supplemental income. How nice it would have been to have this opportunity to not leave my home and do the same thing.
Professionals wanting to earn extra money and save to travel.
Current teachers looking to supplement wages that never match your worth!! I KNOW!
Retired teachers wanting to stay connected to teaching and earn play money. I know so many retired teachers in the US trying to find odd jobs to not only make money but have rewarding experiences teaching without classroom pressures.
You can see what the experience teaching with VIPKID is like for this traveler:
Benefits of the work at home opportunity with VIPKID
You can work from anywhere.
You get valuable experience teaching English as a foreign language.
It’s flexible – you can create your own hours around your schedule.
You can choose how many hours you work – part time or full time.
All materials are provided by VIPKID. This is hugely important. As a previous teacher, I can tell you that sourcing your own materials, and lesson planning is very time-consuming. To have it ready for you will make your work (and the money you earn) so much easier and more rewarding. You can then focus on quality and enjoyable teaching.
No grading. This is awesome! I can’t even begin to tell you how painful grading is for a teacher.
No need to know Chinese. The best way to learn a language is through immersion, so it is better that you do not know Chinese.
Lessons are only 25 minutes long.
Cool bonuses and incentives to help you earn more and have a better ESL teaching experience.
A supportive Facebook group for the English language teachers to share ideas and help each other.
How do I get hired by VIPKID to teach English online to Chinese students?
The good news is, the application process to teach english online to Chinese students is not entirely easy. This is good news as it ensures quality and professionalism is a priority. From a teacher’s perspective, it is not good to have anyone show up to teach who just wants to earn some money on the side.
Offering a valuable service, and having solid teaching skills, is a priority.
With that in mind, you must meet the following requirements
bachelor’s degree in any field;
one school year of full-time teaching experience or equivalent hours in similar educational activities (g., homeschooling, tutoring, educational mentoring, etc.);
eligibility to work in US or Canada.
It’s also essential that you:
Have a computer, not a tablet
Be available on Beijing time
Have reliable internet
The VIPKid hiring process for online ESL teachers
Participate in a 10-minute virtual interview/ teaching sample. This mock teaching experience is an excellent way to see that you have the skills and qualities of a teacher and it is an experience you’ll enjoy. You’ll also get a rubric summary outlining your strengths and weaknesses, which is essential information for a teacher to have. These types of observation reports always helped me to become a better teacher. Don’t be nervous about this. You’ll get a chance to prepare for the mock interview. Just give it your best and have fun with it.
Intro to Teaching training (2-3 hr), which consists of YouTube videos that explains their teaching methods, the dos and don’ts and general information about booking, how to use their platform, etc.
Mock Class/ Practicum. This is to ensure that you are comfortable teaching and are implementing best practices.
Contract Signing. Contracts are signed for 6 months at a time.
Start teaching your Chinese students.
How can you earn money with VIPKID?
VIPKID gives good teachers the opportunity to build up a large student based so they can work from home on a full-time basis.
Your base pay can range between $7-$9 a class. Which each class running 25 minutes, you make $14 –18 USD as your base pay, plus bonuses, which include:
$1 per class for showing up on time and teaching the lesson according to schedule.
$1 incentive for finished classes.
which means you can earn up to an extra $4 per hour.
VIPKID also constantly offers incentives including cash, prizes, even trips to Beijing!
Is VIPKID a legit company?
From my research, VIPKid is indeed a legitimate company. It’s the fastest growing online education platform globally and offers a valuable and professional service. I’ve come across many happy teachers embracing this working from home opportunity, earning good money teaching english online and having fun doing it.
As one VIPKid teacher said,
VIPKID gives good teachers the opportunity to build up a large student based so they can work from home on a full-time basis. I make over $5000 a month teaching great kids. It doesn’t feel like work because my students are so much fun to teach.”
Here are some other titbits that show me it’s a company worth working with:
Forbes has ranked VIPKID as #5 on their list of top work-at-home jobs.
VIPKID is said to be valued at $1.5 billion, four years after it was founded in 2013.
VIPKID is backed by Kobe Bryant. (Other venture capital investors include Sequoia Capital, Learn Capital, Tencent, Matrix Partners, Sinovation Ventures,)
VIPKID is the official provider of the TOEFL Primary assessment in China, which is the official exam students take to get into international and American universities
VIPKID has a solid business model which works for everyone and caters to the growing Chinese middle class. Chinese families get quality English teachers for a fair price, and teachers can make supplemental money on their own time.
VIPKID has two important social projects. Their research institute at Stanford studying how children learn languages and they have rural schools in China Project where VIPKID teachers get connected to a lower income rural school and teach English to the class, virtually.
Final thoughts on teaching English online to Chinese students via VIPKID
I’ve looked over it with my teacher’s eye and here’s what I like:
Strict hiring process.
VIPKIDS trains and prepares you for the job. They want you to be the best teacher for the students.
The prepared curriculum makes your job so easy. You can just show up and have fun teaching. This is my favourite part to VIPKID.
Incentives mean you can earn more money.
I think the rate per hour is good considering you have no planning or grading to do, you can work from home and you don’t need to source your students.
It’s the fastest growing company in a rapidly expanding market.
My blog is how I earn money now, but if it wasn’t and I was still teaching, I’d jump all over this opportunity. It honestly looks effortless and fun.
I remember when I first moved back home after three years abroad, I had nine students I tutored for $20 an hour. I was traveling all over the place and preparing all the work. If only this online education program was available back then!
With VIPKID you are set up for success, have a lot of support, and you can work from the comfort of your own home and be more in control of your day. Plus, with the growing Chinese market, there seems to be a lot of security for work potential.
If you are a global nomad, this is a job that could earn you enough money to keep traveling. Four hours a day would give you $80, which is plenty to live off in many countries.
If you are dreaming of a life of travel, this is a brilliant way to earn money on the side for savings and to get an insight into what life aboard would feel like, which in turn will give you more motivation to make it happen.
My tips to help you gain more work teaching English online with VIPKID
Show up and be professional
Be prepared and have a few materials with you that you can use for modeling
Have fun. Happy students + happy parents = more work
I’m glad to leave you now with the application form. Click here to get started earning money teaching English online to Chinese students.
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What do you love about the VIPKID opportunity? Would you enjoy teaching english online to Chinese students?
South America, that vast territory of huge peaks, impenetrable jungles and old civilizations, is the perfect destination for any adventure traveler.
The Latin-flavored continent has virtually everything you could expect: vibrant cities, colonial towns, smoky volcanoes, impressive lakes, deep traditions and, above all, some of the friendliest people on earth.
If you travel to South America on your own, you’ll see that the hospitality and kindness of its inhabitants is not a myth, but a reality.
By the way, I’d like to remind you that you’ll be in great danger: you might want to stay there forever!
That’s what happened to me.
Today, after five years living around Colombia, Perú, Argentina and Brazil, I decided to create a list of the places in South America you can’t miss to inspire you to visit this wonderful land.
20 best places to visit in South America
1 – Angel Falls, Venezuela
Salto Angel, also known as Kerepakupai (the deepest fall) to the Pemón tribe, is one of the most breathtaking places I’ve seen in my life.
It’s located in Canaima National Park and, at 979 meters high, is the highest uninterrupted waterfall in the world.
If you want to get there, you’ll need to fly to Canaima because there are no accessible roads. I took the overflight to watch it from above and it was a mind-blowing experience!
2 – Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
Sticking with the “records” theme, Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat, at over 10,000 square kilometers.
I was impressed by the region’s endless white expanses and surreal scenery. It really looked like I had arrived on another planet in which smoky volcanoes, colored lagoons and great deserts create the scenery.
It’s also a great place for watching wild fauna like llamas and pink flamingos all over the lakes. Definitely one of the best places to visit in South America!
3 – Machu Picchu, Perú
The sacred city of Machu Picchu was built in the 15th century and later abandoned. Probably the most famous archaeological places in South America, this Incan citadel is famous worldwide for its huge stone walls and mysterious history.
I recommend visiting Machu Picchu early in the morning to watch the sun rising over the green peaks.
To get to Machu Picchu, you’ll first need to travel to Cusco, a colonial city in which Spanish architecture blends with indigenous traditions.
I loved Cusco so much that I stayed there for over three months, volunteering and visiting nearby villages.
[/ybox] Read More: Things to do in Peru – a 10 day itinerary [/ybox]
4 – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
One of the best places in South America is Rio de Janeiro – a place that really touched my heart.
Most people like it because it offers nice beaches and crazy parties. That’s true. However, Rio offers hidden secrets as well. You’ll have the chance to enjoy a fascinating mix of African-European culture and top-class hiking.
The city boasts the world’s largest urban forest, which contains magnificent mountains and peaks. Rio de Janeiro has dozens of trails, so I recommend going up to the mountains and enjoying the city from above.
5 – Eje Cafetero, Colombia
Colombia has some of the best coffee in the world, so I couldn’t resist the temptation of trying a delicious cup right in a coffee plantation! It was great to learn about the history of the coffee, the process and the varieties grown.
The most famous getaways are Salento, Filandia and Pijao – all lovely colonial towns in which it looks like no time has passed.
Moreover, the lush, green mountains offer a wide range of activities like hiking, horseback riding, kayaking, canopying and more. One of the highlights of the visit was taking a hike around Valle del Cocora.
Highly recommended for your South America trip!
6 – Isla del Sol, Bolivia
Located in the remarkable Lago Titicaca, the Island of the Sun is today home to the Quechua and Aymara people, who still preserve their languages and old traditions.
While taking the boat to this small island, I felt like I was in a sacred place.
The lake is huge; when you look at it, it feels like you are surrounded by an ocean. I recommend walking up to one of the hills to enjoy unforgettable sunrises and sunsets.
7 – Cotopaxi National Park, Ecuador
This conical-shaped stratovolcano has become one of the biggest attractions in Ecuador, and it’s no surprise why.
As a hiking lover, I decided to climb to the top (almost 6,000 meters high), and it was truly a unique experience.
Keep in mind that it’s a challenging ascension against the darkness, the height and the freezing wind. If you attempt the climb, you’ll need to hire a good guide and bring special gear such as crampons and ice axes.
If you don’t think the climb is such a great idea, you can take a jeep tour to the refuge, which offers amazing views of neighboring volcanoes.
8 – Iguazú Falls, Argentina and Brazil
The name Iguazú means “big water” in the indigenous Guarani language, and no doubt they are right!
One of the new seven wonders of nature and one of the most famous South America landmarks, these imposing waterfalls can be visited from either Brazil or Argentina.
As most people do, I visited the falls from the Argentinian side because it gives access to “Paseo del Diablo”, a trail that takes you right over the falls of Devi’s Throat, the highest fall in the park.
Be sure to put Iguazú Falls on your bucket blist of best places to visit in South America!
9 – Cartagena de Indias, Colombia
If you are looking for colonial architecture, Colombia offers some of the best preserved colonial cities on the continent.
Cartagena de Indias is a lovely city full of energy, Caribbean vibes and friendly people.
It was one of the biggest slave ports in the Spanish colony, and you can feel it when you look at its people and learn about their history.
It was great to spend a few days strolling its colorful streets, old churches and splendid castles, imagining that I was in one of Gabriel García Marquez’s stories.
10 – Mount Roraima, Venezuela
Mount Roraima is a majestic table-shaped mountain located in the south of Venezuela. It’s the highest tepui in the region, and also serves as the triple border point of Venezuela, Brazil and Guyana.
I took the five-day hike to the top and enjoyed the crazy scenery of strange rock formations, hundreds of waterfalls descending from huge cliffs, and vertigo views in all directions.
It’s considered one of the most beautiful hikes in the world, and I promise it’s one of those places in South America that’s well worth the effort.
11 – Torres del Paine, Chile
Torres del Paine is a very popular destination among travelers visiting the Chilean Patagonia. Puerto Natales is the getaway to this national park, in which you’ll find several day hikes and longer multi-day trails.
The park can get quite crowded during the high season. Fortunately, I visited Torres del Paine at the end of the season, when there were only a few other hikers.
I took the Torres W trek, which can be completed in five days, but you can also try the famous O circuit, which usually takes from seven to 10 days.
The region’s color-changing trees, huge glaciers and dramatic peaks make it one of the most attractive places to visit in South America.
12 – Tayrona Park, Colombia
This national park, home to the indigenous Tairona people until the 15th century, is one of the most authentic places in the country. One of the things that struck me most was the place’s wild nature.
The beaches are unlike any other Caribbean beaches you’ve seen. It’s all surrounded by lush green mountains and peaks, giving it an untamed character.
In addition, you can visit several archaeological sites hidden in the thick forest, or scuba dive in the clear waters around Cabo San Juan.
13 – El Chaltén, Argentina
The Argentinian Patagonia is a real paradise for hiking lovers and one of the best places to travel in South America.
El Chalten is probably the best starting point for exploring the region. Don’t miss the trail that takes you to Fitz Roy Mount and Cerro Torre.
One of the great advantages there is that you can take day tours to explore the mountains, lakes and glaciers, then go back to town later to enjoy a hot shower and comfy bed.
14 – Iquitos, Perú
No visit to South America would be complete without an expedition into the Amazonas.
I recommend that you use Iquitos as your base. This city, accessible only by boat or plane, deserves a few days spent wandering around its markets and learning about the history of rubber.
You’ll find tours to get you into the jungle and see the wild flora and fauna.
In my experience, a three-day tour was perfect for getting to know the jungle. We went to a traditional village, navigated rivers, visited a lovely lake and walked through the rainforest.
During that time, we were lucky enough to see a number of animals, including monkeys, tarantulas, caimans, piranhas, sloths and hundreds of birds.
15 – Buenos Aires, Argentina
The most European of cities in South America, Buenos Aires is a cosmopolitan hub with countless museums, art galleries, theaters and cultural centers.
I spent a few days wandering around Sant Telmo, Puerto Madero, La Boca, Palermo and the city center.
I loved La Boca because it is a colorful neighborhood full of history. It was one of the main settlements of the Italian migrants, and it has a unique character.
This is also a good place to see the famous tango dances, and even take some lessons if you feel like it.
16 – Chapada Diamantina, Brazil
During my first visit to Brazil, Chapada Diamantina was the first spot on my South America bucket list. The entire park is formed by giant valleys, deep canyons and, above all, hundreds of spectacular waterfalls.
The most famous one is Cachoeira da Fumaça, at 353 meters high. I saw it from another mount in the front, but there’s also a path that takes you right to the top, where the fall begins – that must be fantastic!
17 – Cayo Sombrero, Venezuela
Cayo Sombrero is by far the most appealing of beaches in South America I’ve seen in all my travels.
First, it’s small; there are no roads or hotels, and nobody lives there. Second, the sand is pure white, the water is turquoise and there are plenty of reefs with tropical fish. It’s perfect!
To get there, you’ll need to travel to Chichiriviche. From there, it will be easy to find a boat that will take you to any of the cays.
Take a full day to chill out and enjoy this pristine paradise.
18 – Perito Moreno, Argentina
It would be a sin to travel to South America and to the Argentinian Patagonia without including this glacier on your itinerary.
The Perito Moreno glacier seems to have been made to be admired; I can’t find another explanation for it.
This huge mass of ice is five kilometers long and about 70 meters above the water level. However, what really impressed me was catching a glimpse of the ice blocks falling away from the glacier and collapsing into the lake below. Unforgettable!
19 – Salvador de Bahia, Brazil
Salvador was the first capital and the main slave port of the Portuguese empire in Brazil. Therefore, most of its inhabitants are African descendants whose traditions and beliefs are quite connected with Africa.
Most visitors stay in Pelourinho, a charming (although touristy) neighborhood of colorful streets and steep slopes. I think it’s the most interesting Brazilian city in terms of culture, colonial architecture and history.
The African-influenced food is delicious, and I’m already missing those nice “acarajés”.
20 – Atacama Desert, Chile
Atacama, the world’s driest desert, is a “must-visit” destination in the north of Chile. Its main attractions are salt flats, geysers, spring waters and huge volcanoes.
I rented a bicycle and visited Valle de la Luna, which is only 13 kilometers from San Pedro de Atacama. The strange rock formations and desert expanses make you think you have flown to the moon. In addition, the sunset is spectacular.
Another place I loved was Piedra del Coyote, a big stone on which you can stand upon a rocky precipice. Don’t miss Atacama!
Which of these best places to visit in South America would you like to see first?
I hope this list of South America landmarks has made you want to pack your bags and travel to South America? I promise you won’t be disappointed!
We had a bucket list of things to do in Miami – lunch in Little Havana, cruise around South Beach, swim at the beach – in a short time span of 24 hours.
We’d just checked into the Mayfield Hotel & Spa, our boutique hotel in Coconut Grove where we were staying as guests of Carnival Cruise Lines before our Caribbean cruise, and pulled up the map.
It was already 10:30am and we had been up since 4:30am to catch our flight from Raleigh to Miami.
The girls were already acting a little crazy and poking at my nerves.
South Beach and Little Havana were both a 20 minute Uber ride away. Visions of the day unfolding in drama caused me discomfort. I did a quick search on things to do in Coconut Grove, Miami.
I liked what I saw and read. Most notably that Coconut Grove is Miami’s oldest neighborhood!
What to do?
Spend the day spent racing all around Miami in the heat with two tired girls just to get our I was here shot, or a spend it lingering over the local flavours of one of Miami’s best neighborhoods?
“I think we just spend the day exploring Coconut Grove. The rest of Miami can wait until we return with more time and a car.”
Best decision ever.
One thing I’ve learned through traveling with kids, and from running my own travel blogging business, is the importance of knowing your limitations.
It’s easy to pretend you are a super hero and can see and do everything, but the reality is when you try it ends in a child on the floor wailing like a banshee.
Or perhaps that’s you doing that.
When you foresee the potential disaster your limitation can bring, you can easily get help, or change direction.
We loved our day exploring Coconut Grove in Miami. We stayed in Coconut Grove as guests of Carnival Cruise Lines the evening before departing for our Western Caribbean Cruise with Carnival Vista.
If you’re looking to stay in Miami a night either side of your Caribbean cruise, consider staying in Coconut Grove. Believe it or not, cruises with young kids can be taxing. This is the perfect way to maintain or restore your energy, while still experiencing Miami Vibe.
Coconut Grove, Miami
Coconut Grove is a bohemian village where peacocks roam down tree-lines streets and past cottages, historic churches and gracious homes.
Sidewalk eateries, candlelit dining rooms and festivals at Peacock Park give it a homely, lively ambiance that attracts free spirits and creatives.
Its residents are responsible for banding together to create this vibe, and the Coconut Groves Arts Festival is the perfect example.
Created in 1963 by the community, it is now recognized as one of the leading arts events in the USA. In the 1960’s Coconut Grove was known as the southern cousin to San Francisco’s Haigh-Ashbury and New York’s Greenwich Village.
Somehow I’d randomly landed in the middle of my tribe.
As soon as we set foot on the street, I realised we’d been missing so much variety living in Raleigh.
Miami is such a vibrant, eclectic melting pot. In just a few hours we had interactions with Hispanics, Cubans, Indians, Ethiopians, Afro Caribbean and a mixture of who knows what Caucasian races.
It’s the place where racists and bigots need to come play to lose their ignorance and see how much more colorful and joyful a life of variety can be.
I love the celebration of life in this US city.
Enjoy the local flavors 24 hours
Start with Breakfast at Greenstreet Cafe
Tables wrapped around the corner on the sidewalk and a line snaked out from the hostess stand – we’d come to the local’s favourite breakfast spot.
Greenstreet Café is the place to start your day exploring Coconut Grove, Miami. The outdoor seating is perfect for people watching and getting a deeper feel for this pretty jungled Miami neighborhood.
Fill up on a healthy eggs and asparagus breakfast or a massive dose of pancakes.
Kalyra tells us the cinnamon roll pancakes were the bomb. Seriously, no one serves up a pancake size like the USA. Don’t leave the oranges on the plate as garnish, squeeze them over your pancakes for a citrus delight.
You may even want to return for cocktails in the evening and soak up the Greenstreet Philospohy of
“Where There is Love, there is Life”!
Stroll through The Barnacle Historic State Park
Cross the road and take a short walk through the shaded tropical hardwood hammock. You’ll welcome the slight relief from the heat.
This was the original Miami landscape in the 1920’s. Enjoy your walk in Barnacle Historic State Park as it’s one of the remnants of this vast Miami hammock.
The walk takes you down to the shores of Biscayne Bay and the home of Ralph Middleton Munroe, one of Coconut Grove’s most charming and influential pioneers. It’s one of the oldest homes in Miami.
Take your pick of a rocking chair on the porch or a bench under a tree for solitude and view gazing.
Do a little Boutique Shopping
Stroll the streets checking out the cool boutique stores, or wander the popular Coco Walk, which is a shopping and dining precinct. You might see some some quirky buildings and historic homes to snap a few photos of.
The twisting streets of Coconut Grove give you a taste of surf hipster, bohemian edge and high-style fashion.
We didn’t have much time for shopping (or much inclination. I prefer to use Stitch Fix for my clothes styling and shopping now), I could not help but indulge in my secret guilty pleasure of the crystal shop.
It’s been a while since the girl’s and I bought some crystals. On Main Highway just down from Greenstreet Cafe is Celestial Treasures.
While I could have stayed there all day soaking up the smell of incense, the Hari Krishna tunes and purchasing a lot of powerful crystals books, the girls and I settled on choosing one small stone each.
Visit Coconut Grove Farmers Market – our highlight
The Farmers Market was our favorite experience of the day.
Don’t be put off by the size. It looks small, so much that you think it couldn’t possibly offer much and you almost walk out, despite its pretty tropical setting with the large oak trees fanning over you.
We were pulled in by the friendly vendor from In your Face Delights holding two small round ice pops to snare the attention of the girls. Of course we couldn’t help but go over to chat with him.
Then we realized this was a market right up our alley. If you don’t like healthy living, then this might not be your thing, but if you do, you’re in market heaven.
The In Your Face sweets are (mostly all) gluten free, dairy free, refined sugar free made from real ingredients like fruit and vegetables, coconut cream, avocadoes and bananas.
His passion for his delicious and nutritious snacks lead us down a journey of sampling chocolate bark, traditional American pumpkin pie, and my favourite chocolate banana nirvana pie.
And he would not let us leave until we tried key lime pie.
“You can’t get more Florida than this. Except most key lime pies you get are just sugar. This one tastes just as good except into your body goes real limes, avocados and agave.”
The best version of Key Lime pie yet!
We bought some ice pops for the girls and some of that banana nirvana pie!
We then moved onto the local Kombucha crew, Brewing Life Kombucha, sampling the variety of flavors: dragon fruit coco, raspberry, cherry, watermelon and mint. Into our bag went a six pack.
We passed by stalls of delicious smelling and looking food: Indian curries and acai bowls and many more local vendors selling their vegan and raw foods, organic produce, sweet smelling soap and handmade jewellery.
The Coconut Grove Saturday Organic Market has maintained a loyal fan base for more than 30 years. It’s about people embracing simplicity and eating their way to optimal health.
On the way out we ran into Yudah from Hemplade. His own drink of eclectic herbs as he called it.
He sells his drinks at the markets or in restaurants in the south Florida area. He’s definitely found a winning recipe there.
Comprised of nien medicinal herbs such as hemp stalk, burdock root, lemongrass, ginger and cayenne pepper working in unison to put you on the path to optimal health. I loved it! Don’t forget your hemplade and electric herbs.
If you’ve been following us on Instagram stories you would have met some of these colorful locals as we visited the markets.
The Coconut Grove markets are open every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m and are located on 3300 Grand Ave.
If you visit Coconut Grove on a Saturday, we recommend you make this your lunch spot. If not, you might want to check Lokal, which came recommended as a place to grab a burger and craft beer.
Afternoon in Coconut Grove
Okay, depending on how relaxed you want your day to be you have two options
Relax poolside at the Mayfield Hotel & Spa
Head back to the Mayfield Hotel & Spa and relax around the rooftop pool. You’ll have views over the Biscayne Bay, you can cool off, catch up on a bit of reading or practice Dirty Dancing lifts with your kids in the pool.
You can even hire a private cabana beside the pool. Miami is stinking hot so a swim will do you wonders.
We were recognizing our limitations again, and noticing how the girls were losing it from heat and exhaustion we headed straight for the pool to regather our strength.
Explore the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens
Instead of your relaxing poolside afternoon you may wish to explore the Italian Renaissance-style villa of Vizcaya Museum and Gardens. It’s a popular Miami attraction.
Vizcaya is a European-inspired estate and National Historic landmark. It was built in 1916 as a winter retreat for agricultural industrialist James Deering.
Its 34 rooms are decorated in 15th- 19th century antiques and the mansions 10 acre gardens are sprinkled with sculptures and mazes. It sound quite magical
We didn’t do it obviously, but they look and sound magnificent.
Admission /$18 adults, $6 children 6-12
Evening stroll to Dinner Key Marina
There’s not too much to see, but you’ll catch a cool breeze, see plenty of boats and stretch the legs. The path will take you around to Monty’s for dinner.
Monty’s Raw Bar
You’ll walk in and know you’ve hit the local’s spot.
Thatched roofs and open air outdoor seating on the edge of the marina, live music playing tunes that belong in the heart of Miami, cocktails and food.
Monty’s had a great local atmosphere and it was a wonderful way to wrap up our day in Coconut Grove. Both girls fell asleep at the table. We anticipated this so went for an early dinner and caught an Uber right home to bed.
Make sure you order the seared tuna salad. With it’s ginger dressing, cubes of mango and red pepper it was a light and refreshing meal to end the day.
For something a little more upscale, you may want to dine at the Yacht club.
Stay at Mayfield Hotel & Spa
Mayfield Hotel & Spa is a historic landmark hotel in easy walking distance of most places in Coconut Grove. It has a tropical Zen vibe and as mentioned, the rooftop pool is a real highlight of your stay.
Coconut Grove has plenty of accommodation options from the reliable and comfortable Residence Inn to the ultra lux Ritz-Carlton.
Next morning before you leave Coconut Grove
Breakfast at Juicense
Go tropical with an acai bowl at Juicense. We’re big acai bowl fans and these ones get our tick of approval. I especially like how you can choose the different base and toppings you want.
I went for the green power acai bowl with avocado, kale and spirulina, topped with granola, bananas and a sprinkle of bee pollen.
Craig had the tropical base with acai pineapple and the same topping, while Kalyra chose the classic acai and banana base with a topping of coconut granola and cocoa nibs.
Yumbo! Savannah went for her usual bagel and cream cheese from Starbucks. That girls is just so plain eating.
Grab a proper coffee at Panther Coffee
So we have real coffee in Coconut Grove, made from people who know what they are doing.
Panther Coffee is a Miami-based specialty coffee roaster. The Panther Coffee also offers sodas, juices, beer and wine, and really cool tunes to listen to as you relax into smooth and sweet bitter bliss.
Stay Tuned for Posts About Our Cruise
We’ll writing posts about our cruise experience on Carnival Vista soon. Make sure you don’t miss them by joining our free nVIP email tribe. Pop your name and email in the form below. We share updates every Wednesday:
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Have you visited Coconut Grove before? What are your favourite things to do in Coconut Grove, Miami?
We only stayed at Great Wolf Lodge in Charlotte, North Carolina for one night, as Mum and Dad were on a work trip with Travel Media Showcase. We came here after the Dirty Dancing Festival in Lake Lure.
Even though it was only one night, it still was amazing! There are so many things to do, for all ages!
I loved our stay at the Great Wolf Lodge so much I wrote this post and offered for Mum to publish it (with a fee attached of course! LOL) Mum also wanted me to tell you that our stay was hosted. She mentioned something about disclaiming and being honest. Well duh, as if I’m not.
We had never heard of this family resort before, but have found out Great Wolf Lodges are all over America. Savannah and I are working to convince Mum and Dad to try them all out as we travel the USA.
Hospitality at the Great Wolf Lodge
The rooms were ok. When you walk in on the beds, there is towel art. Ours was some sort of animal with swimming goggles on it. You can keep them if you want – they would also be good for the water park.
There were a couple fire alarms in the night, but other than that, we had a pretty good sleep!
There are not a lot of restaurants at Great Wolf Lodge that we know of. There is mostly just dessert places – parents, watch out! We loved the Candy Store and caught a little wolf trying to steal a lollipop.
Can you see that wolf?
We found a pretty good restaurant. It was called The Lodge. I would recommend it. It has a few gluten free options too with people with that type of allergy, like my Mum and Dad.
There are also quite a lot of options for kids. I had a burger and Savannah her usual chicken tenders. Seriously, she doesn’t eat much else.
Parents Note: The food at The Lodge is delicious and not what you’d expect from a family resort. We spent a week in Lake Lure and Charlotte and this was the best meal I had. The chili calamari appetizer and wild mushroom risotto entree were to die for.
And then you definitely want to get the Wine Down – a bottle of wine and chocolates will be delivered to your room for you to enjoy once the kids pass out from a fun and exhausting day. It’s the first time I’ve heard of anything like that and I loved it. Brilliant idea and service – Caz
Activities at the Great Wolf Lodge, Charlotte
One of mine and Savannah’s favourite things to do at the Great Wolf Lodge was the MagiQuest.
You’re probably wondering what the MagiQuest is. It’s an adventurous quest where you are sent on missions around the lodge via a riddle to uncover secret treasures.
You’re given your Magi riddle book and within it are about 9 quests and three adventures. Each quest has about 4 riddles which help you to work out what hallway to go to and what to look for to find the clue – example the green treasure chest in the Whispering Wood.
When you find it you wave your wand at it.
The wand collects the clues once you’ve gathered them all the last riddle leads you to the rune, which increases your magi powers.
You get to keep your wand too so choose carefully. Or perhaps the wand will choose you. When you come back to Great Wolf Lodge another time (please Mum), you can use it again.
After your done all the quests, you can do them again or do an adventure. A cool thing is, you also get to defeat a dragon and become a master Magi.
When you get your wands, you can choose your own magi name. I chose Hermione, and Savannah chose Luna. I would definitely recommend Magi Quest if you stay at a Great Wolf Lodge. And it’s great for all ages too, even the adults have fun!
Oh yeah, Mum reckoned that the Magi Quest was brilliant because it took care of my homeschooling lessons for the day (eyeroll emoji).
The High Ropes Course
Another one of our fave things was the huge high ropes course. It’s fun for everyone, except babies lol.
You can go up to 50 feet into the air! So if you are afraid of heights, this isn’t for you.
It was Savannah’s first time doing this kinda thing, and she was awesome! She did a few obstacles that I was a bit scared to do.
Of course Mum and Dad were there to help us, and some workers that came up there with us.
Also, in the middle there is a small zipline. You don’t have to follow one exact track. You can go on whatever path you like. If you want to stay on the bottom rope course, you can stay there!
Mini golf and bowling
Right next to the rope course is a pool and mini golf. We got to try the mini golf, but we had to do it fast because we had a tight schedule! It’s only 12 holes, but it’s still fun. Dad won, of course. Dad wins at everything!
One of my favourite things to do is bowling (Check out this bowling hall in Knoxville!). And lucky for me, they had a small bowling arena. It was so fun, Dad won, again! Lol. But I think I came second.
Whenever we go bowling, Mum and I laugh how mum is bad at bowling and she needs the bumpers up and usually they only put the bumpers up for children!
I’m glad Dad won, because he got over a hundred points, the most. And for that he somehow won us a free night at Great Wolf Lodge! Thanks Dad!
The Great Wolf Lodge Waterpark, Concord Charlotte
Time for some fun! OMG, the indoor water park was AMAZING!!!
A child’s paradise, MY paradise!
You can even hire a private cabana so either the parents can relax there while the kid’s are having the time of their lives, or leave their stuff there and join them! Hah.
Savannah was allowed to do all the rides, except the Tornado, the scariest waterslide! If you are around Savannah’s age you would probably be the same. It all depends on height, really.
The Tornado was definitely my favourite. You are just relaxing in a round shaped tube, then suddenly, you fall down a really STEEP drop. And you are inside this massive bowl type of thing and you go up and down the walls! Of course, mum and dad always went backwards!! So if you like roller coasters, you will like this one!
Savannah’s favourite thing there was the wave pool – because she was too scared to do any water slides. In the wave pool, the waves can get really big! It’s so fun!
And for the little ones, there are life jackets you can use for free. And you can take them on the water slides too.
Another fun waterslide was the racing red and blue one. You lie down on mats and race people. If you are around Savannah’s age, or even a little bit younger-you could go on it by yourself. I never really beat Mum or Dad because it takes a while for me to start off some times, my legs aren’t as long as theirs! ha.
Another fun thing is the small obstacle course in the inside pool there. You hold ropes and jump across logs. Anyone can do it really. And in that pool too – there are balls and nets so you can play basketball in the water.
So, this waterpark is for all ages! Make sure you enjoy the giant tipping water bucket too.
The Eclipse Party
Yes, we were there during the Solar Eclipse – but unfortunately, it wasn’t a full Eclipse so it didn’t get too dark. ☹
The lodge set up a Eclipse party around the outside pool. Everyone got special glasses so you can look directly at the sun without hurting your eyes.
Most of the time, I swam in the pool with Savanna but when the eclipse actually started we got out and had a look at it. It was really cool! You could see just a little line of the sun with the moon blocking most of it.
At the party, they did hula hoop competitions and Savannah told me she did it……did she???? Ha. Mum shared all of that on our Instagram stories.
It was so fun staying at Great Wolf Lodge in Charlotte NC, even if it was only for one night! And thanks to the fire alarms through the night, the manager gave everyone staying at the Lodge a free night stay to make up for it! 😊 and Dad won us a free night stay too!
So two nights free! Lol.
So we will definitely be coming back soon, if not to Charlotte, then somewhere else in the USA! 😊
And that was our experience at the Great Wolf Lodge.
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Have you stayed at a Great Wolf Lodge before? What’s your favorite water slide? And what’s your Magi name (or what would it be)?
We heard the news of Irma brewing into a hurricane a few days before we were set to leave Miami on our 6 night cruise through the Western Caribbean.
What bad luck, I thought, although I wasn’t worried. I completely trusted that Carnival Cruises, or any cruise line, would not commit business suicide by steering us into a hurricane.
Could you imagine the fall out if the Captain did that?
There was still doubt about Irma’s path. It was early days anything could happen. We kept updated on the cruise and the clear, sunny days we were having let us know we were far from Irma’s fury.
And then it happened. The path pretty much determined, save some angelic intervention that this mammoth storm – the largest recorded hurricane over the Atlantic was headed straight for Miami and the entire state of Florida.
We’d gotten back from our day (Wednesday) on Grand Cayman, our second island destination on the cruise, to the Captain’s message – we would not be returning to Miami on Saturday.
We had a choice. We could alight at our next destination, Cozumel, Mexico and find our own way home, or stay on the ship waiting until the hurricane had passed and it was safer to return to Miami.
The decision was easily made for those passengers who did not travel on the cruise with their passports. On Caribbean cruises it’s okay for American’s to cruise without their passports. So many did – some don’t even own one. I’m so glad we had ours.
The answer was pretty simple for all the Floridian guests – stay on the ship, enjoy the facilities, food, drink and shelter and remain far from the worst hurricane ever.
For us out-of-staters, we had a decision that required more thought.
Should we stay or should we go?
Staying on the cruise
Cruising around for a few more days sounded attractive – especially to the girls – BUT, Craig had a conference and flights booked on the Monday for Santa Barbara. And I was booked to go to Austria on the 17th of September to speak at a conference.
Irma was due to hit Miami on the Sunday. The Port may not be reopened for days after and then we’d have to get out of Miami.
What if the Port, or the airport, was wiped out? Can you imagine the chaos in the aftermath trying to get out with all the after hurricane horror?
Our flights out of Miami were cancelled so we’d have to buy new ones anyway. And we knew they wouldn’t be cheap.
We already heard a story of a friend trying to get his mother out of Florida and they had jacked up the price to $1,000 one way. Arseholes. It’s a state emergency. I don’t care how high the demand is. Make it first come first serve and cap the prices.
And I don’t care about their excuses about it being algorithms. Technology is sophistacted. Program it. The airlines had plenty of warning this was happening to override the algorithms. The worst offenders I heard about were the customer service reps on the phone. Let humans take over the algorithms with decency!
Then there was the fact that Irma was moving up the Carolinas so we may not even get into Raleigh. I had spoken to a guy from another Carnival ship who said those stuck on the boat waiting for Harvey to pass so they could return to Galveston remained on the boat for nearly two weeks as the port was wiped out.
No way. That was a a risk I was not willing to take.
Plus we couldn’t afford any more time offline away from our business which was already amounting due to the bad internet and little time we had available for work on the cruise.
We knew that going in and factored that into the cruise by preparing before hand. But 6 days was the max time off and we have a lot of upcoming travel to prepare for and too many unfinished projects.
Leave the cruise early
We decided to jump ship in Cozumel, Mexico a day earlier and make our own way home.
First we wanted to check our insurance options before booking flights. Thank goodness for collect calls which helped me talk to someone to clarify coverage.
He couldn’t give me a definite yes or no as to whether we’d get reimbursed for flights, as it is up to the claims department, but he advised me to provide them with as much documentation as possible including cancelled flights and a letter from the cruise saying they couldn’t get back to port.
He brightened my day a little when he asked to clarify if we were leaving the ship by helicopter. Lucky our plight was not that bad or expensive!
But, it was going to be expensive to get out of Cozumel. Whether insurance would cover it or not, we knew it was a price we had no other option to pay. It was either going to be in Mexico or Miami. At least Mexico would get us home faster and help us avoid hell.
I didn’t bother phoning the airlines to see if we could transfer our cancelled flights from Miami to Cozumel. I knew that futile task would waste precious time. Based upon all the stories I heard I am glad we didn’t!
Here are a couple of the stories I heard:
On the phone to the airline for three hours, no real solution came about.
“To transfer my flights, my option was a $6000 one way flight from Cancun to Oklahoma. I was looking at the same flight online for $1,800 one way.” Both of those prices are scandalous. The $6,000 was offered by the customer service on the phone. Shame American Airlines.
$2,000 one way to transfer my flights from Cancun to Houston.
Apparently, once they figured out what the “Algorithms” were doing, they capped the prices. Too bad for the man that paid $8,500 for a flight that was now reduced back down to normal prices. I wonder how he feels. If the airlines have any decency they’ll reimburse everyone the “algorithms” overcharged.
As soon as we heard the news I checked online to get an idea of flight prices. From Cozumel to Raleigh it would cost us at least $2000 for all of us to get home, which wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t money we had lying around. It was Wednesday and the earliest flight was Friday.
We stupidly said we’d sleep on our decision and went to enjoy the night time entertainments.
I woke up at 4am the next morning tossing and turning over the situation and finally decided to get up at 6am to just book the damn flights.
No flights available. No flights available for Saturday. Or Sunday. Or Monday.
“Faarrrk you stupid idiot. Why did you not book them last night? Of course every passenger of the 5 boats in Cozumel are wanting to get out right now!!”
I started crying thinking of being trapped on that ship for god knows how much longer. I was so mad at myself and did not know what we could do.
And then I saw the little check box – search flights nearby. My Mexican geography is not good but I did recall we were close to Cancun and it’s a big tourist destination.
I was grateful for Skyscanner because I trust them and to save time, I turned to them and quickly found a flight leaving from Cancun which was just a two hour journey from Cozumel.
I was so glad that tossing and turning forced my out of bed early to do this as no one else was awake and I could get faster internet. Otherwise we’d be screwed.
The good news is the flights were actually cheaper by $500 total. A lot of people paid $1500 just for a one way ticket out so we were very lucky.
Next we had to inform the cruise and fill out a mountain of paperwork, print off plane tickets, given them a hotel name in Mexico and pay $31 each for an immigration fee.
One of the travel tips I share in my free email series on taking your travel dreams to reality is to have a couple of search engine booking sites you like and trust to save you time. Sometimes the savings you get in checking multiple sites for the best deal is not worth it for the time you spend finding it.
I had to very quickly find a hotel for our stay in Cancun so we could get our paperwork in on time. Booking.com is our trusted hotel site so I went straight to them and in five minutes found a good villa near the airport with excellent reviews for only $80.
To get to Cancun, we had to take a ferry to Playa Del Carmen on the mainland (Cozumel is an island off the Mexico coast) and then take either a local bus or private transfer.
Most people said with more than two people, a private transfer was better. Plus, it was local Mexican buses – they’d leave once the bus was full and all the roosters had found enough laps to sit on.
For $65 for the van, it was a fair deal and less stressful. We met two ladies from the boat who were going to Cancun and so jumped in our van which further reduced our costs.
Getting home to Raleigh
Immigration officials had to come onboard the evening before we left to give us all permission to travel through Mexico. It was chaotic as no one really knew what was happening. We had to pack all our bags to take with us for them to check, instead they didn’t check them.
Keep reading to find out why I would have appreciated a little more information and clarity as to what we needed once they went through our paperwork and took our money!
The next morning we waved goodbye and headed to Cancun for the evening and an early morning flight home.
We were grateful for our early morning flight as the infamous chaotic Cancun airport was much quieter, yet we still only just made bag check in – despite getting there two hours earlier. Immigration was a nightmare.
It turns out immigration on the boat – because it was such a chaotic nightmare – didn’t give us our receipts for the $31 immigration fee.!
So the immigration guy at the airport was not going to let us through. I can see why this is so, but he wouldn’t even offer me any words on what to do. He wouldn’t even look at me.
He basically gave me an “F you. I don’t care. This is our procedure. I’m not giving you a stamp.”
He just let me stand there asking, what can I do? He’d just shrug his shoulders and started serving other people around me.
I started to get teary as I thought after all this we were going to get stuck in Mexico. We had Hurricane Irma to the west, an earthquake in Mexico to the south East, and Hurricane Kaita to the north east. I felt like Mother Nature was squeezing me and I just wanted out.
Eventually after asking several times, he said that I could pay it again. “Go get the money from there,” he shrugged his shoulder towards the ATM, not even looking at me.
Meanwhile, there was another Aussie behind me in the same situation. He only had a $100 bill. The immigration guy wouldn’t take it as he had no change. The Aussie guy, obviously late and stressed, told him not to worry about the change then to just take the hundred and use the remainder to pay for three people behind him in the line.
He had only processed one of my fees at this stage so he told him to use the money to pay for our remaining three. He just ignored him, took my money, and wouldn’t give the guy back his passport. He made him just stand there waiting without telling him what to do next.
I understand his job must be stressful, but it’s his job. He could have made the situation so much better by just looking at people, being a little kind, and giving them instructions on what to do to help make his job easier!
I will remember him as the biggest jerk I have encountered in 20 years of global travel. I’m pretty tolerant and accepting, but I was so put off by this guy’s attitude. He truly was awful.
I was eventually processed and had to run to get the bags checked in and get through security. The Aussie guys was still there waiting,
“Good luck mate. I think he’ll be pocketing that money and not paying it forward like you asked.”
I was so happy to step onto that Delta flight and hit the runway.
When vacations go wrong
It rarely happens.
In my 20 years of travel, I’ve only had real stressful situations about three times, so never let the fear of things going wrong stop you from traveling.
We want to let you know when the bad stuff happens, so you can clearly see it passes and you’re clever enough to handle most situations that come your way. You will learn and grow a lot in strength because of them.
However it can involve a lot of stress, frustration and tears. It can be hard to manage your emotions, but it’s best that you do.
I was furious with that immigration guy, yet I remained calm and composed (yet teary) when interacting with him.
The Carnival Vista crew were doing their best to help people on the ship, yet many people were taking out their frustration and fears on some of the workers. I felt bad for the position they were in and did my best to maintain my composure.
Although, we didn’t need much help as we just got straight to solving the situation ourselves. That’s the value of having years of travel experience. If you don’t, and something happens, don’t be afraid to ask for help.
You’re not alone in these situations. Our fellow passengers were fantastic support for each other.
I can’t say whether Carnival Cruises responded in the best way as we didn’t really need much of their help, so for us, they were fine. They kept us away from Hurricane Irma and in the sunshine, so I was happy.
Some things I think they could have done better, based on my thoughts and complaints of other passengers.
Let us know from the beginning that it was unlikely they would go to another US port and why. One reason we held off a little on our decision was that we thought there was a high chance they’d just let us off in Texas or Louisiana. To everyone, it seemed common sense, so an assumption was there, even though Carnival didn’t mention it. Unbeknownst to us, just pulling up at another port is not as easy as that sounds. It’s hard to get into a port unless you’ve previously arranged it, due to the amount of cruise ships coming in and out. Had we been aware of this, we would have just booked our flights immediately. Many others felt the same way.
The lines to see guest services were huge. Different lines of priority would have worked best. That way those who urgently needed help with getting off the ship didn’t have to wait behind those who wanted to know how to extend their drink package.
I didn’t know until the last day, when other passengers told me, that the ship was offering free Wi-Fi and phone calls for guests to arrange forward travel. Some kind of announcement or mail sent to our room notifiying us of this would have been helpful.
We were kind of just waved goodbye once we got off the boat. I know many people mentioned how nice it would have been for Carnival to provide a shuttle to take us all to the ferry or airport.
I lot of people commented that they should have brought us back to Port earlier. I don’t agree and I’m glad they didn’t. Irma’s path was still up in the air. Once they knew for sure, Carnival made the right decision. If we went back earlier, we’d be bloody stranded in Miami right now feeling Irma’s wrath, as our flights out of Miam were cancelled anyway and the airport was closed. I am so glad we stayed safe on the ship.
And many people commented how one free glass of wine would have been perfect to ease the stress!! Ha ha. #TheSimpleThings
I have since found out that Carnival offered free laundry services for those still on the cruise and they have cancelled gratuities, which is great, although I feel bad for the workers on the ship.
I don’t want them to miss out on tips as it’s not their fault and they do give excellent service. Hopefully Carnival still gives it to them, just not via the passengers. And of course all guests staying on the ship do not have to pay any extra cruising fees! Now there’s a clever hack for getting free travel! ( I don’t recommend that btw!!)
We’ve also heard today that Carnival Cruise Lines announced a $2 million dollar donation to relief efforts and are working to deliver supplies to affected islands and pick up tourists stranded. Well played.
I honestly think Carnival did the best they could on our Vista cruise.
This was just an unfortunate play by Mother Nature. She’s the boss – always. We work with what she wants and love and respect her no matter how loud or violent she speaks.
My girls cursed Mother Nature having to depart from the fun a little early. It was a good chance for me to talk about how Mother Nature works and how important it is for us to walk more softly on the earth so she doesn’t speak so damn loudly. She’s furious with us at the moment and rightly so!
One thing this taught me was the importance of listening to your gut. It never fails.
My gut told me not to go on this cruise some time ago – for various reason. I went against that voice and look what happened! Although we had fun for the few days we were on it, it ended in stress and it didn’t bring me the value I would have gotten elsewhere.
My voice also kept nudging at me to get up and book those flights – and look what happened – we got on a flight for about a quarter of what many others ended up paying. Just before those naughty algorithms played up real bad.
I’ll be keeping an eye on my fellow Vista passengers and hope they can get back to Miami port soon and home to their loved ones. May they be relaxing and enjoying the cruise in the meantime! Those chocolatini cocktails will certainly help!
Here are a few tips to remember
Have travel insurance – it doesn’t’ matter where you travel, things can go wrong. We have insurance with Allianz and are ambassadors for them.
Always travel with your passport.
Weigh up your decisions carefully but act quickly
Use trusted websites
Consider the cost of time and energy
Have emergency money stashed away – forevery trip you take
Keep as much documentation as you can
Ask for help
Stay calm and collected. It’s easier to assess a situation, to find solutions, and gain the help of others (Truly years of meditation practice has helped me do this. A few years ago I would have flipped it at that immigration guy and possibly ended up in trouble. Excuse the analogy, but meditation does help you become the calm in the middle of the storm.)
I’m grateful we could leave and get home safely.
There are thousands more tourists stranded on cruises, and worse, on the islands that have been affected by Hurricane Irma. And we know those in Florida are facing horror right now.
May they be safe and as free from harm as possible. What we went through is no drama at all really.
yTravel has partnered with Hotel Indigo through ShopShare Network. All opinions are the writer’s own.
Downtown Los Angeles is one of those neighborhoods every local Angeleno is talking about right now. Since the Metro Expo line opened last year, I can easily get from my home in Santa Monica to this artsy neighborhood in just one hour.
Craving a local escape, I recently checked into Hotel Indigo LA Downtown, which is just a 10-minute walk from the 7th Street Station.
If you’re looking for an authentic local experience in the heart of Los Angeles, this downtown boutique hotel makes the perfect place to start your adventure.
A Downtown LA Hotel Original As Its Surroundings
With 350 guest rooms and suites, the 18-story hotel pulls inspiration from the City’s past to create a chic, upscale design that caught my eye the minute I walked through the door.
I’ve stayed in a couple different Hotel Indigo properties before, and I always love the original, artistic design. No two Indigos are alike, and this property in Downtown Los Angeles definitely had its own personality.
Entering the lobby, I was greeted by a floor to ceiling installation of bowler hats stationed above vibrant flower-patterned carpeting that references Fiesta de Las Flores, a Los Angeles cultural celebration that dates back to 1894.
Nods to LA history and culture carry throughout the hotel, continuing from the lobby and upstairs to 18 Social, a penthouse cocktail lounge that evokes the Golden Age of Hollywood.
One important note: this lounge is only open Wednesday through Sunday.
If you miss out by staying on a Tuesday night, as I did, the downstairs bar at Metropole Bar + Kitchen is just as classy. Plus, happy hour from 4:30 – 6:30 p.m. has a variety of small bites and $5 wines.
The restaurant also has a fantastic breakfast; the huevos rancheros was definitely on par with authentic Mexican fare from traditional restaurants around LA.
Beyond cocktail lounges, this boutique hotel has plenty of other common spaces to either relax or get some work done, especially on the third and fourth floors.
I spent the better part of the afternoon reclining on one of the poolside lounge chairs with an expansive view of the city. When I initially entered the hotel off the chaos of Figuroa and 9th Streets, I never would have expected to find such a tranquil oasis.
The hotel’s central location puts you right in the center of the action, so having quiet time is important. The pool turned out to be the perfect place to not only recharge but also bring out the laptop: the free Wi-Fi works throughout the hotel.
After I had enough sun, I descended a spiraling marble staircase to the light-filled common space on the third floor to wrap up work on its plush, modern couches.
Rooms Designed for Hollywood
After exploring the hotel, coming back to my stylish, inviting guestroom felt like walking through the door of the city apartment I’ve always dreamed of having.
The executive king room is modern, comfortable, and light-filled with high ceilings, floor-to-ceiling windows, and plush bedding.
It continued the hotel’s theme of artistic design elements with an oversized mural and a Klieg light: a feature of many old school Hollywood movie sets.
In the spa-inspired bathroom, the rainfall shower and Aveda amenities were invigorating and luxurious. Though there’s much to explore outside the hotel, I wasn’t quick to turn off the flat screen TV and leave my chaise lounge, but I knew I had a lot of sites to see.
A Downtown LA Location Like No Other
When I was younger, my family would come to town to shop for deals on clothes along Santee Alley, then leave. In the last few years, though, Downtown LA has become a destination itself, which locals like me have come to appreciate.
It seems every month I hear about a new experimental restaurant concept, or a new café like Don Francisco’s Coffee Casa Cubana inside the Spring Arcade Building.
The Arts District, a 15-minute drive from the hotel, also can’t be missed, but my favorite spot is the Grand Central Market. Inside the market vendors serve up international cuisine from Thai curry to pupusas, a traditional dish from El Salvador.
Within two blocks of the Indigo Hotel, Staples Center hosts popular concerts and sporting events, which draw crowds to the adjacent LA Live complex, making it a lively place to hang out any night of the week whether or not you see a show.
Within the entertainment complex, the Grammy Museum tells the history of the music industry, but it doesn’t outweigh the option to just pop into one of several restaurants in the complex.
The team members at Hotel Indigo are locals themselves, so they were very helpful guiding me through the best things to see and do in the Downtown Los Angeles neighborhood.
Just one night certainly wasn’t enough to unlock all of the best experiences downtown, so I look forward to returning to Hotel Indigo if only because that sky-high pool is the best place to close out summer.
“You’ll need a bigger paper than that.” I replied to Kalyra when she showed me her art work and told me she was drawing all her friends.
“You have so many friends,”
I know but I’m just drawing my best friends.
Only earlier in the day, she had asked me,
“What if I don’t make any friends at drama class?”
“Darling, when have you never not made friends?
“Oh yeah, you’re right.”
I had booked her and Savannah in for a week’s summer camp here in Raleigh – acting classes. They were both so excited to attend, but like all humans, nervous about showing up alone and not knowing a single soul.
They’ve spent most of their life doing that.
Of course, like any parent, you worry endlessly about your decisions and how you can mess up your child for life. I know many parents worry about this as it’s one of the biggest questions I get asked in relation to family travel.
Will travel ruin my kids socially?
The only thing that has bothered me in regards to our travel life has been the socialization aspect. Will the travel mess them up socially?
I’m not in denial to think that in some small way it might. But, I’m not in denial to also realise that a life of staying in the one small town and the kids being in school wouldn’t also. When you think about the school system, really think about it, we throw our children in a room full of 30 strangers with diverse personalities and expect them to just get along.
No wonder bullying is rampant. It’s a dog eat dog world in there. True Lord or the Rings survival of the fittest.
So I’m not too anxious about them not being in school and losing the opportunity to make friends.
What are friends?
I’ve spoken to Kalyra and Savannah about forever friends. And we spoke about it together with Indie when we left Burleigh. Indie was Kalyra’s best friend and they still keep in contact and she misses her so much.
A forever friend is someone you can go days, weeks, months and even years without seeing, but when you meet again it’s like you never left. They never leave your heart and they always come back. I see our lifestyle as one being where my children, and myself, collect forever friends.
I’ve lived like this for 20 years and I don’t feel I’ve missed out. I miss my oldest friends, but they’ve moved on to separate lives as well. I feel blessed that I have forever friends.
I also feel comforted in knowing that travel has taught me that I can walk into any room in the world alone, feeling nervous and afraid, and still form friendships by the end of the night.
My children are learning this too.
My focus as we travel is not for my children to make as many friends as they can. I understand the reality of our travel lifestyle is that they’ll be the majority of their social interactions will be fleeting. I have not focused this post on “How to help your kids make friendships while they travel” I think this is the wrong focus.
It’s about using travel as a powerful tool to teach socialization skills so that no matter where they go, and no matter what age they are, they have the skills to interact with others and form friendships.
The travel will help them develop strong identities for themselves so when they stop, they’ll easily be able to form friendships with people who connect with that identity and forever friends will be form.
I’ve focused on teaching my girls that they do not need to be the most popular person, they don’t need lots of friends, all they need is a deep love and acceptance of self and a few forever friends.
I think travel does a brilliant job of helping them understand this. I think it helps them understand that they will meet people in life for various reasons, they will come and go, and you can easily let that happen and love that friendship for what it brought them in that season.
Here’s a wonderful poem that explains this.
Reason, Season, or Lifetime
People come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime. When you figure out which one it is, you will know what to do for each person.
When someone is in your life for a REASON, it is usually to meet a need you have expressed. They have come to assist you through a difficulty; to provide you with guidance and support; to aid you physically, emotionally or spiritually. They may seem like a godsend, and they are. They are there for the reason you need them to be.
Then, without any wrongdoing on your part or at an inconvenient time, this person will say or do something to bring the relationship to an end. Sometimes they die. Sometimes they walk away. Sometimes they act up and force you to take a stand. What we must realize is that our need has been met, our desire fulfilled; their work is done. The prayer you sent up has been answered and now it is time to move on.
Some people come into your life for a SEASON, because your turn has come to share, grow or learn. They bring you an experience of peace or make you laugh. They may teach you something you have never done. They usually give you an unbelievable amount of joy. Believe it. It is real. But only for a season.
LIFETIME relationships teach you lifetime lessons; things you must build upon in order to have a solid emotional foundation. Your job is to accept the lesson, love the person, and put what you have learned to use in all other relationships and areas of your life. It is said that love is blind but friendship is clairvoyant.
I love the relationships my travel lifestyle for 20 years now has given me. I’m often away from my forever friends, but I have a lifestyle where I am always interacting with other people and keeping my socialisation skills up. I love being social and I’m happy hanging out with people, even if it’s just for one night. I love it for what it is and let it pass.
My forever friends are always in my heart and are just a phone call away. We’re always there for each other and when we do hang out in real life, we have the most amazing time. I miss them like crazy a lot of the time, but the distance doesn’t diminish how much I love and cherish them.
I’ve noticed how the travel lifestyle has helped the girls develop their confidence and courage and I can see leaders starting to form. I’m not sure this would have happened if they remained with the one circle of friends.
But I also know not having the one circle of friends all their life could make an impact.
Everything we do as parents will have an impact.
We can’t fret over every decision or feel guilty. We look at the bigger picture, where the greater strength and growth lies, decide based upon that and make the best out of that situation.
So how do we ensure our children are getting ample opportunities to interact with children their age and keep up their socialization skills?
We travel with other families
We traveled around Australia for a time with two families. One from Cairns to Broome on and off for a few weeks. Scarlett and Kalyra were the same age, and Jack and Savannah were the same age. They were great mates.
Then for six months we traveled on and off with another family. Their daughter, Maddie was Kalyra’s age, they were even enrolled in the same Distance Education school.
We just spent time with our friends Crazy Adventure Family in Nashville and went camping with our friends at Kerr Lake, North Carolina.
We connect with kids through our friendships
If you have friends in the destination you are visiting, you can perhaps stay with them, or at least spend time with them. A picnic in the park, a dinner, or even exploring the local area with them.
We make a big effort to connect with people we know who have kids, which gives the girls plenty of opportunity to improve their social skills. It’s easier because they already have that common ground via the parents.
Camping is a fantastic way to interact with other families. It’s such open living that it’s easy to chat with others camping next to you, using the facilities and amenities. Plus many campsites have communal games and activities you can enjoy.
I remember one campsite at Wharncliffe Mill Bush Retreat in Margaret River, where all the kids in the campsite spent the afternoons playing soccer and spotlight and having a ball.
We join local activities like summer camp
As mentioned, the girls recently attended acting summer camp. They made friends and had a fun time. They didn’t collect any forever friends while there, but it gave them the oppportunity to keep up their social skills and pursue a passion and talent.
We head to family friendly attractions or local festivals
Do your research before arriving at a destination, you’ll discover plenty of local festivals, markets or family attractions.
With all the fun things kids experience at events like this it’s easy for them to strike up conversations with other kids and play with them.
Joining family friendly tours is also a great way kids can interact with each other, especially small group tours.
Use kid’s clubs and resort amenities
There’s nothing like a swimming pool for kids to make new friends. If you stay in hotels, or resorts, make good use of the resort facilities. From Kid’s clubs, to movie nights, swimming pools, basketball courts and mini-golf, there are tons of ways kids can start talking and playing with other kids.
Cruises are great for kids engaging with others (we’ll be cruising the Caribbean next week. Follow along on Instagram) There are so many on-board kid related activities.
We keep in contact with the forever friends
Sometimes this can be hard to do as we all lead crazy busy lives, and when you bring in things like time differences, it’s even harder. However, remenber a forever friend – they’ll always be your friend no matter how much time has passed between chats.
Kalyra communicates with her friends via the wonderful tools and communities we have online. All of which is set to private and monitored by us. We’ve just recently banned Kalyra from some apps and restricted her usage due to inappropriate use!!
Want to help your children learn for and from life? My free ebook shares 32 ways yo empower your children to learn, grow, and prosper – in school and out.
Click here to grab the free ebook!
How to help your kids socialize with others
It’s all good to immerse your kids in spaces where other families and kids are, but how do you actually get them talking?
It’s no different whether you are traveling with kids or at home, social skills never change. So I’m sure you know what to do. Here’s a few things we do.
Be a good role model
We’ll start conversations with strangers, and people camping beside us. We ask questions and talk about our travels and where we come from. Hopefully the girls are learning by watching how to do the same.
My girls are naturally very shy. They have improved truck loads, but there are still moments when they won’t be the first to reach out and will hide behind my legs. So I’ll start by introducing myself to the children or asking them questions.
And then I’ll try to find something common so I can lead the children to talk. “Oh really, my daughter, Savannah loves American Girl dolls, don’t you Savannah?”
Help them connect through games and activities
It’s incredible how kids can meet each other for the first time and be awkward and shy, then you encourage them to play a game like hide and seek and they can’t stop chattering. They just need something initial to bond over and the rest will take care of itself.
Some games we find work well hide and seek, spotlight, ball games, mancala, Trouble and Clue.
Craft activities can work well, although I am not a crafty person.
And then outdoors ports and activities, especially if you are camping, are great like supping, kayaking, swimming, and tubing! Our kids made new friends recently when we went camping at Kerr Lake over smores and outdoor fun.
If all else fails, tablet games or movies
We like to use this as a last resort. It doesn’t always work out that way. But, we’re not too concerned about it. If it helps the shy and awkward kids connect at first and bond then so be it. Sometimes the kids will create funny videos etc. using their devices which I think is creative and cool.
They eventually put it away and become friends. Once they do, we typically restrict the device use and get them interacting in other ways.
Help them interact with adults
Don’t forget adult interaction. My girls have a lot of interaction with other adults. I think it’s hugely important for their social skills, especially if they are interacting with adults with such diverse backgrounds.
The girls can be really shy at times, sometimes I feel it comes off as standoffish. I chatted about this with them last week and explained how it’s okay to be shy, but that doesn’t mean we can’t smile, look someone in the eye, answer their questions and express your gratitude.
Once I told them this, they started doing this straight away. It was amazing to see the difference. Sometimes you just have to point things out and make sure you’re not allowing them to use shyness as an excuse to not engage, or be polite.
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How do you keep up your child’s social skills when you travel? Or even your own?
There is a reason Greece is known as one of the top travel destinations in the world. The picturesque scenery, the ancient civilizations, the impeccably blue Mediterranean waters…
For regular travellers, Greece is a dream vacation; for avid scuba divers it is pure bliss.
The Greek island of Zakynthos
The island of Zakynthos is located on the western coast of Greece 20 kilometers from the Greek mainland. Surrounded by the rich waters of the Ionian sea the island is only accessible by boat or plane.
Every year, tons of tourists flock to Zakynthos to enjoy the world class beaches and adrenaline pumping watersports. One of the most popular places to visit is the small town of Keri, located on the southwest tip of the island about 40 minutes from the main landing harbour.
Scuba diving on Zakynthos
After our arrival on the island, it took only one glimpse at the blue Ionian sea for us to get the scuba diving itch. In no time we had found a dive shop in Keri to get salty with over the next two weeks.
From the Keri harbour there are about 12 known dive sites that can be explored. The dive sites range from plunging wall dives carpeted in marine life to dark and dismal cave dives forcing you to navigate cracks and crevices with only a flashlight. Over our two week stay on Zakynthos, Joey and I had the chance to dip our toes into a little of everything.
Day after day Joey and I would prep our gear, head out to one of the dive sites, roll off the boat and hit the cool blue water. Like clockwork, every time the water enveloped me I knew it was going to be a good dive; I felt like a Mediterranean mermaid.
Colourful fish were darting this way and that way with no set path in mind. Enormous rocky walls coated in colourful sponges and plant life went by me as I was sweeping from the surface deep past my diving ability. For two scuba divers who have done most of their diving in Canada, it felt like heaven on earth.
My favorite dive site was Lakka, it had the best of both worlds; caves and great creatures for macro photography.
What is the cost of diving on Zakynthos Island, Greece?
The cost of diving on Zakynthos Island was 40 euros per dive. Check out the note below on diving equipment so your costs don’t increase.
4 Greek diving things to consider:
Keep these important questions in the back of your mind when planning your Greek scuba diving vacation to Zakynthos. They could make or break your experience.
The time of year:
The country of Greece may seem like a year round summer weather destination but don’t be fooled, it’s not. In the winter months it can get pretty chilly and tourist season doesn’t really start until June.
Bring your own equipment:
It’s no secret that scuba diving can be hard on the bank account. If you’re looking to save a little money on your Zakynthos dive adventure consider packing some of your dive equipment for the journey and just rent the tank and weights from a local dive shop.
The island of Zakynthos may not be big (only 405.55 km2) but it can still take awhile to get around, especially if you don’t have a car. Figure out which diving company you will use and make sure to book accommodations close to its location.
How to get to the island:
There are two different ways to get to Zakynthos; via boat or via plane. Make sure if you arrive by plane you give yourself the recommended 24 hour off-gassing window before taking flight. Safety first! (See our tips on finding cheap flights)
We may have arrived early in the season but that didn’t make our dives any less fintastic. From diving in giant shrimp filled caverns to swimming with a rare and endangered Mediterranean monk seal, the clear blue waters of Zakynthos took our breath away. Prospective divers should be prepared for the cold and unexpected because you never know what you will cross paths with in this neck of the sea.
If you’re interested in Zakynthos dive site specific details, take a look at an in depth article on our scuba diving blog.
Beyond scuba diving on Zakynthos:
While the island of Zakynthos many be surrounded by water, scuba diving is not the only neat thing to do on this island. Here are a few activities worth looking into during your Zakynthos vacation:
1. Navagio Beach
Azure blue water meeting white pebbled beach, need I say more? Spend your surface interval on Shipwreck Beach which gets its name from the gigantic rusted 1980 ship washed up on its shore. This beach is only accessible by water and has no shade or facilities so make sure to book a boat tour and bring lots of water!
2. The Blue Caves
The first thing you will notice when you arrive on Zakynthos is the rugged coast plunging into turquoise waters. All around the 123 kilometers of coastline there are small caves to be found carved into the limestone by the continuous tide and wave action.
The most famous of those caves are the Blue Caves around Cape Skinari which can only be accessed by boat. The best time of day to visit the caves is before noon when the lighting is just right to have the sun reflecting off the blue water giving the white walls of the cave a magical appearance.
3. Olive orchards
Everywhere you turn on Zakynthos island you will find rows upon rows of olive trees. If you plan your vacation during prime olive season (in the autumn) you can join the locals during the “liotrivi” and pick, press and enjoy the delightful bite of some authentic Greek olives.
4. Snorkeling with sea turtles
The waters off the Bay of Laganas are considered nesting grounds to the largest population of Loggerhead sea turtles in the Mediterranean. At the beginning of June try your luck at spotting some of these incredible endangered marine animals and take in their grace and poise as they glide seamlessly through the water. If you are a turtle lover like me, you can also check out our Costa Rican turtle nesting adventure!
Joey and I spent a glorious two weeks on Zakynthos and that was not nearly enough time to see it all. Being first and foremost scuba divers, we inevitably spent most of those 14 days underwater, and I wouldn’t have wanted to spend it any other way.
While most people think of coral reefs and tropical waters when it comes to a scuba vacation, our underwater adventure in Greece is living proof that great scuba diving can happen even when you’re far from the equator.
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Do you have any amazing cold water diving experiences to share?
Not sure about what to do in Tennessee? We’re here to help.
First of all, you don’t have to spend a month long vacation in Tennessee like us (though you should) and the below suggested itinerary totals 9 days.
But I would add on two extra days of travel and another day for some flexibility, so a good 12 days and you’re all set for your Tennessee road trip!
1. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The Great Smoky Mountains straddles the border of Tennessee and North Carolina and is the most visited National Park in the US and one of the top Tennessee vacation spots.
One reason is because of its raw beauty. The other is because it’s within an easy drive for over half of America’s population.
Looking for things to do in Tennessee that involve nature and wildlife? You can’t go past the Smokies.
This is what we got up to over two days.
Day 1 – Waterfalls and hikes in the Smokies
When you visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, why not start off by hiking up to Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the Smokies at 6,643 feet.
From the car park, it’s a relatively steep half-mile walk to the observation tower on the summit, but our kids handled it no problem and on a clear day you get spectacular 360° views of the Smokies and beyond – a great spot for sunrise and sunset.
But, as you can see from our experience, they don’t call it “Smoky” for nothing as our view was a white out, but hey, you’re 6,600 feet up.
To get here from Gatlinburg it’s a 21-mile drive.
There are endless options of places to eat in Gatlinburg, not a lot of healthy options mind you and for us as gluten free diners we struggled.
Our fall back option is usually Mexican, so we ate at No Way Jose’s Mexican Cantina which was pretty good!
We thoroughly enjoyed our hike to Grotto Falls, and excitingly on this hike we had our first bear sighting, at a safe distance off the trail and there was a ranger nearby.
The hike is a 1.3 mile round trip and our kids handled it easily. And the cool thing about this waterfall is you can walk right behind the falls.
To get to Grotto Falls take the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail 5 mile loop drive out of Gatlinburg.
Take a stroll around Gatlinburg, there’s plenty of quirkiness and amusement type activities going on if that’s your thing.
A popular place for dinner is the Smoky Mountain Brewery, but I thought the food was average.
Day 2 – Bike riding in the Smoky Mountains
Probably our favorite activity in the Smoky Mountains was cycling the Cades Cove Loop Road.
You can drive the 11-mile circuit, but we love our bike rides and so Caz and Kalyra cycled whilst daddy and Savannah followed in our vehicle.
Around the loop, you’ll see numerous historic buildings – cabins, churches, and workplaces of Cades Cove residents during the 19th and early 20th centuries – and several walking trails as well in case you want to stretch your legs.
And great wildlife spotting opportunities, we saw BEARS again, a momma bear and two cubs! Again they were at a safe distance and we had a range close by.
Hot Tip: do this bike ride on a Wednesday or Saturday morning between 7am -10am when the road is closed to traffic.
Cades Cove is an about an hour and a half drive from Gatlinburg. It’s a must do in the Smokies and one of the top places to visit in Tennessee!
Laurel Falls is another kid-friendly hike and one of the most popular places to go hiking in the Smoky Mountains.
And to be honest, I think we liked this waterfall better than Grotto Falls, there are several cascading levels, but both hikes are nice and easy enough for families.
Besides Clingmans Dome, a lovely spot to take in a Smoky Mountains sunset is from Mortons Overlook, about a 20-minute drive up from Gatlinburg.
You get a gorgeous view across the valley as the sun dips below the peaks in the distance.
Where to stay in the Smoky Mountains
We stayed at the Old Creek Lodge in Gatlinburg that had a great, quiet location just off the main road but within easy walking distance to all the restaurants, shops and activities in the town.
Knoxville is more than a College Football town, although they say game day here is like no other place in the nation and I plan to come back in the fall for a Vols game.
But what surprised us about Knoxville is the outdoor attractions, the food and drink, it’s family-friendly, the music scene, the friendly locals and the relaxed vibe.
Knox would top the most underrated list of places to visit in Tennessee. Here is how we would spend 2 days.
Day 1 – Knoxville markets and outdoor adventures
If you visit Knoxville between May – November, and can time your trip for a Wednesday or Saturday, start your visit at the Knoxville Farmers Market in historic Market Square.
We love a good local farmers market, and many of our readers suggested this as one of the best, and they weren’t wrong!
This market has an emphasis on local produce and community and everything is grown or made by the vendor in the East Tennessee region with an excellent range of products from delicious local food and coffee to artisan crafts.
We always do our best to shop local and if we lived in Knoxville we’d be regulars here!
(Wednesdays 11:00 am to 2:00 pm, Saturdays 9:00 am to 2:00 pm)
Whilst in Market Square, grab a burger at The Stock & Barrel. Again this place came highly recommended by our readers and my turkey burger and duck confit fries were delish!
We love getting outdoors, and in Knoxville there’s no better place than the Ijams Nature Center.
With 10-miles of trails, rock formations, lakes and stunning overlooks it is a much-loved sanctuary by the locals and only a 10-minute drive from downtown.
There’s a lovely relaxing short walk along the Tennessee River, then we upped the adventurous side and took on the Navitat Canopy Experience – a high ropes challenge consisting of 6 different courses and each course is designed with varying degree of difficulty from beginner to advanced.
And just down the road from Ijams is Mead’s Quarry, a beautiful place to go canoeing, kayaking, and stand-up paddleboarding.
Take a stroll along the riverfront of the Tennessee River followed by drinks and dinner at Calhoun’s which has a prime riverfront location.
We visited here twice to sit outside on the deck and enjoy the fresh air and watch life on the river go by (kids and gluten free menu available).
Day 2 – Knoxville Zoo and Market Square
Another suggestion by our readers was to check out the Zoo which proved popular with our kids, they loved feeding the giraffes, watching the gorillas play (they had a baby when we visited) and getting up close to a tiger and elephants.
The zoo is one of the most family-friendly attractions in Knoxville and you can easily spend a few hours here.
Adults $19.95 Children ages 4-12 $16.95 Seniors ages 65+ $16.95 Children under 4 FREE
Another cool thing about Knoxville is their Ale Trail with 10 breweries currently in operation and more on the way, so if craft beer is your thing you’re in luck!
One brewpub we stopped in for a beer and a bite to eat at was Balter Beerworks which has a nice outdoor seating area.
Back home in Australia, we would only ever go bowling when it rained and had nothing else to do! In the US, bowling alleys are so fancy and popular.
Maple Hall bowling alley is located underground in the historic J.C. Penney building and is this super cool boutique bowling with a full-service bar, cozy lounge areas and even a VIP room.
And almost next door on Gay Street is Cruze Farm Ice Cream, a cool family story and of course their ice cream was a hit with our kids.
They milk their own Jersey cows and bottle whole pasteurized Jersey milk, as well as real churned buttermilk, light milk, and chocolate milk.
You might have seen their farm girls around town delivering milk in their striking red and white dresses!
If you don’t get a chance to experience the morning farmers market, visiting Historic Market Square is still one of the must do things in Knoxville.
It’s the heart and hub of downtown Knoxville and whilst it’s a cool destination at any time of day, it really comes alive in the evening and is the place to be for cafes, restaurants and live music on select nights.
A great place for dinner in Market Square is Tomato Head, they have yummy pizzas and a nice range of sandwiches, salads, and sweets.
Places to Stay in Knoxville
We stayed at the new and stylish Tennessean Hotel which has a prime central location downtown across the street from the Sunsphere and an easy 5-10 minute walk to Market Square.
Nashville is unlike any US city we have visited so far and a place we can see ourselves returning to over and over again. It’s fun, it has a soul, it has music and cool museums and pro sports and a growing food scene!
And music city has overtaken Vegas as the number one destination for bachelorette parties – it’s a HOT place to be right now!
This is what you can do with three days.
Day 1 – Country music Museum and Grand Ole Opry
If you’re a fan of Country Music or want to learn about its history and famous artists, then a visit to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is a must do in Nashville.
This is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Tennessee and one of our favorite museums to spend a few hours. There are four levels within the building, each sharing a different era and stories of the past.
Nashville has some great rooftop venues and one of our faves is the ACME Feed & Seed. It’s one of the best places to eat in Nashville for stunning views over the river and Broadway down below.
A fun and informational thing to do in any city is a Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus Tour. We like them as they are great for getting your bearings and for the expert commentary you get from a local in the know.
On this tour of Nashville we were shown Taylor Swift’s penthouse, the hotel Keith Urban stayed in before he was Keith Urban, and received lots of local tips for places to eat in Nashville and where to listen to live music.
Allow about 90 minutes for a loop.
Finish your bus tour on Broadway and take a walk around downtown, and maybe go shopping for some cowboy boots!
Broadway is vibrant and the place to be for people watching. Wander past all the honky tonk bars with cool music blaring, maybe take a horse and cart ride, pop into a candy shop, or jump on a pedal tavern – they are the thing to do in Nashville.
One of our favorite evenings yet on our travels in the US has been seeing a show at the Grand Ole Opry. This is the show that made Country Music famous and a night out you won’t soon forget.
The Opry started as a radio broadcast in 1925 and evolved into a live show. Each Opry show is still broadcast live on radio.
You get to see a wide variety of musicians and famous artists – new and old in one evening. We saw six performers in total and we also recommend doing a backstage tour to see behind the scenes and for a deeper insight into the Opry experience.
Book your Opry ticket before you go, so you don’t miss the show!
Even if you’re not in town on a show night, you can still visit the Opry on a tour – definitely one of the best places to visit in Tennessee!
Press play to see more of our Grand Ole Opry experience:
Day 2 – The Gulch and live music in Nashville
Grab a great breakfast and coffee at Fido Cafe in Hillsboro Village. You might even spot a celebrity here, it’s one of Taylor Swift’s favorite hangs and when we were there so was Lennon Stella, AKA Maddie from the hit TV show Nashville.
Then explore The Gulch, a district with an industrial history that’s been revamped into one of the hippest places to visit in Nashville with boutique shopping, a cool food scene, and incredible wall murals.
The “What Lifts You” angel wings mural is one of the most photographed places in Nashville.
Stay in the Gulch, the incredibly popular Biscuit Love is here (be prepared to line up) or head to Hattie B’s Famous Hot Chicken.
If you need to be back downtown and fancy some ribs, a few blocks from Broadway is Martin’s BBQ Joint and we had the biggest rack of ribs we’ve ever eaten – cool venue too!
Back on the music scene and the Johnny Cash Museum is just off Broadway and is home to the largest collection of Johnny Cash items in the world that tells the story of his life. Well worth a visit, what a legend!
And upstairs is the Patsy Cline museum, another country music legend worth learning about.
Across the road is one of the best things to do in Nashville with kids (that does not involve music), and that is the Goo Goo Clusters store.
What is a Goo Goo cluster? A unique combination candy bar (chocolate, peanuts, caramel and marshmallow nougat), and Goo Goo Clusters remains a family owned Nashville institution!
From there, head to one of Nashville’s top rooftop bars for a drink and to prime yourself for an evening of Honky Tonk bars.
The George Jones Museum ranks as one of the best rooftop bars in Nashville with incredible river views plus live music, or Rockbottom Brewery on Broadway!
You’re in Nashville and you can’t visit music city without hitting up a few of the honky tonk bars!
Tootsies is world famous and is known for surprise guest appearances by some of country music’s hottest stars!
Robert’s Western World is home to traditional country music, Legend’s Corner has some of the best live music in Nashville, and Honky Tonk Central is a rockin joint all hours of the day!
Got kids? Go before dinner time or check out the Wildhorse Saloon Bar, a 66,000 square foot live music, dance and dinner venue that is more kid-friendly.
Day 3 – The Ryman, Studio B & The Blue Bird – Nashville icons
Go behind the scenes at the famous Ryman Auditorium, recognized as one of the best live performance venues in the USA, and one of the most historic places to visit in Tennessee for music!
Known as the Mother Church of country music, this is hallowed ground and the original venue of the Grand Ole Opry Show. It’s also where Johnny Cash met June Carter, and where countless careers were launched.
If there’s a live show on here whilst you’re in town, do it.
Across the river, East Nashville and Five Points are hip and happening spots for lunch or dinner. The Wild Cow serves up delicious vegan and vegetarian food, The Pharmacy tops many lists as the best burger joint in town, or there’s Burger Up!
As part of your visit to the Country Music Hall of Fame Museum, you can add on a Studio B Tour which takes you to Music Row, where all the artists record their music, and to Studio B, the most famous of them all.
It’s not much to look at from the outside, but behind the walls, Billions of dollars worth of hits have been recorded here, primarily when the studio was operated by RCA Records – Elvis recorded most of his number one hits here!
Book your combo pass here
If you’re a fan of the hit Nashville TV series like us, you’ll be excited to visit the famous Bluebird Café.
This tiny and intimate music venue in an old strip mall launched the careers of some of the old and modern greats, think Taylor Swift.
The Bluebird has scheduled shows throughout the week, see this calendar for info and tickets, but on Monday nights they host Open Mic – we had to line up super early to get tickets, this place only holds 80 people.
If you can’t get into the Bluebird, The Listening Room Cafe comes highly recommend.
Places to Stay in Nashville
Accommodation in Nashville can be hard to find and expensive. The city has lots of events happening all the time.
We stayed in three Airbnbs while in Nashville. First-time users click here for a discount on your first Airbnb stay.
We also stayed two evenings at the family-friendly Loews Vanderbilt Hotel located in Mid-town. Its location is near many restaurants including the famous Hattie B’s hot chicken, and also near Vanderbilt University.
We didn’t plan to visit Memphis on this road trip, but after experiencing the Grand Ole Opry Show and the Blue Bird Cafe in Nashville, we said to each other,
“let’s chase the music, let’s go to Memphis!”
Here is our two day itinerary.
Day 1 – Graceland, Sun Studio and Blues
One of the most popular places to visit in Tennessee would be Graceland. The home of Elvis Presley is the most famous house in the history of rock ‘n’ roll and the top attractions in Memphis.
It’s truly amazing that over 600,000 people still visit Graceland each year to tour the home of Elvis who died 40 years ago.
From the moment you enter his mansion, you go on a journey through the private life of Elvis and what it must have been like to be the king of rock!
We recommend the Elvis Entourage VIP Tour which includes an audio tour with headsets and an iPad, but the tour doesn’t stop at Graceland, across the road at the Visitor Entertainment Complex you can see his:
iconic fashion trends
and much more.
Before we arrived in the city, everyone kept raving about Memphis BBQ as one of the best in the country, and you have plenty of options.
Close to Graceland is Marlowes Ribs & Restaurant, and when you walk in it’s like you entered a museum about Memphis, Rock & Roll and the king himself.
I think we enjoyed the Sun Studio Guided Tour as much as Graceland, it’s definitely one of the best things to do in Memphis.
Originally called the Memphis Recording Studio, Sun Studio is now known as the most famous recording studio in the world and the birthplace of Rock and Roll.
Elvis recorded his very first song here, plus some of the great have recorded here like Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, and Jerry Lee Lewis, even U2 and Bob Dylan.
Beale Street is the heart of Memphis, the place to be for live music and one of the most fun places to visit in Tennessee!
This three block radius of clubs and restaurants is a melting pot of delta blues, jazz, rock’n’ roll, and R&B. And if you’ve got kids like us, go late afternoon / early evening for dinner and music.
It’s hard to beat the original BB King’s Blues Club for cool music. We took a late afternoon stroll along Beale Street, followed by dinner and a top night at BB King’s!
Day 2 – Civil Rights Museum and Bass Pro (you say what?)
Step back in time and get your fix of eggs, pancakes, and biscuits at Memphis’ oldest cafe, The Arcade Restaurant.
This classic American diner was founded in 1919 and has that nostalgic feeling to it, Elvis once ate here, and you might recognize it from movies such as Walk the Line, The Client and Great Balls of Fire.
And you’ll need a full stomach because over the next couple of hours you’ll be spending absorbed in the National Civil Rights Museum, one of the best museums I have ever visited!
Located at the Lorraine Motel, this is the actual location where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated and this museum walks you through his life, the tragedy of his assassination, and centuries of history.
Visiting this museum is one of the most moving things to do in Tennessee.
Before arriving in Memphis we asked our friend, a former Memphis resident, where do the locals go for Memphis BBQ? Central BBQ was at the top of his list.
From the outside, this place is nothing flash but the moment you walk in you can tell it is a locals fave, and he was right, the BBQ is tasty – take your choice of ribs, beef brisket plate, pork plate, chicken or turkey, BBQ nachos, hot wings and more!
Many of you suggested we visit the Bass Pro Shop. Why we kept asking ourselves, why? How could a fishing and hunting store be one of the top Tennessee tourist attractions??!
Turns out, it’s one of the most unusual places I have ever been inside of and one of the craziest places to see in Tennessee!
Located inside the giant Pyramid, this is not your ordinary fishing and hunting store, this place is home to an aquarium, bowling alley, and an award winning 5-star resort called Big Cypress Lodge!
Only in America lol.
Oh, and you can ride the world’s tallest freestanding elevator 28 stories to the top of the Memphis Pyramid, walk out onto the glass floor observation deck, and get the best views of Memphis and the Mississippi River from 300 feet above!
For another unusual experience, go see a parade of ducks walk down the red carpet in the hotel lobby of the Peabody Hotel.
The Peabody Ducks are one of the top attractions in Memphis. The Legend of the Peabody Memphis Ducks started back in the 1930s, and they still visit the lobby fountain at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. each day.
No joke, they hop out of the fountain, walk the red carpet, step into the elevator and ride to the rooftop.
Where to Stay in Memphis
If you want to stay near Graceland, you can literally walk there from the Guest House at Graceland. Designed with Elvis in mind, you’ll feel like you’re a guest of the King staying here!
But to be close to all the other attractions in Memphis I suggest staying downtown.
The Peabody Hotel ranks highly, and for a full list of places to stay in Memphis our partner Booking.com has over 90 properties to choose from.
Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by Allianz Global Assistance (AGA Service Company) and I have received financial compensation. But all opinions about travel in Tennessee are our own
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Do you have plans to visit Tennessee? Have you already been? What would you suggest as some of the best places to go in Tennessee? Share in the comments.