Busch Gardens Williamsburg- “World’s Most Beautiful Theme Park”

I’ve been to Busch Gardens amusement park in Williamsburg, Virginia several times over the years and Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida once. Obviously I’m a big fan of Busch Gardens, but the claim of “World’s Most Beautiful Theme Park” is the park’s, not mine. By no means have I visited enough theme parks around the world to say it’s the most beautiful in the world, but I can say it is beautiful and I love visiting there. I even wrote a post last year 5 reasons Busch Gardens Williamsburg has something for everyone if you want to check that out.

Last year, we only had one full day to spend at Busch Gardens and quite frankly, it wasn’t enough. We felt rushed to cram everything we could into one day and it wasn’t nearly as enjoyable as it could have been. This year, we decided to spend four nights in Williamsburg and divide our time between Colonial Williamsburg and Busch Gardens and that amount of time for both places was perfect. We had the Spring Bounce ticket but there’s also a Summer Bounce ticket and other multi-park tickets.

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Griffon roller coaster- you dangle at the top of the hill for a few seconds before the big drop. Wait for it!

The park is divided into sections with different country names:  England, Scotland, Ireland, France, New France, Germany, Italy, in addition to Oktoberfest and Festa Italia. Each country section has flags overhead and decorations that you would expect to see in that particular country. The entire park  is beautifully landscaped and well-laid out so that it’s pretty easy to figure your way around. There are also numerous shaded areas to help cool you off on a hot day.

So what’s so special about Busch Gardens Williamsburg you ask? I think it goes beyond the landscaping and decorations. The people working here are super-friendly and helpful from the tram drivers to the restaurant workers to the people checking that you’re properly buckled in at the rides. Also, the performers at the shows are extremely talented and excellent entertainers. But I think it goes beyond all that. We are talking about an amusement park after all.

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This kids’ area is awesome with the climbing structures and it’s pretty cute too!

The rides are pretty spectacular in my opinion. If you’re a roller coaster fan, there are some great ones here ranging from the wooden roller coaster Invadr to Tempesto with inversions 154 feet in the air to Verbolten that lulls you into thinking it’s much calmer than it really is and has some surprises in store for you to the classic Loch Ness Monster that opened in 1978 and is full of loops, twists, and turns. In all, there are seven roller coasters. My daughter, who has a tougher stomach than I do and will ride any and all roller coasters (she’s 12 by the way), says her favorite roller coasters are Verbolten, Tempesto, Alpengeist with a climb of 195 feet and six inversions at speeds up to 67 miles per hour, and Griffon that has a 205-foot drop 90 degrees straight down at 75 miles per hour.

There are also three water rides, a carousel, a train with stops in Scotland, New France and Festa Italia, a river cruise, skyride that goes over the park, bumper cars, teacups, battering ram, Da Vinci’s Cradle, swings, a drop tower, and an extensive kids area. The newest attraction is Battle for Eire virtual reality ride. Surprisingly, my daughter, the roller coaster queen, rode all of the roller coasters multiple times and felt a little queasy at times but nothing a little walking around didn’t take care of, but after she rode Battle for Eire, she was much sicker than after any of the other rides, so this one may not be for the weak-stomached (I chose to skip this one because I know from experience VR rides make me sick).

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One of the beautiful wolves from Howl to Coexist

Finally, the shows at Busch Gardens Williamsburg have always exceeded my expectations. This time we watched Howl to Coexist, a presentation with the Busch Gardens’ wolves, barn owl, rats and a Harris’s hawk. The Howl to Coexist trainers were able to be educational in an entertaining way, and I really enjoyed the show. We also watched Celtic Fyre, a live Irish dance show. The singers, dancers, and musicians were all phenomenal and could have easily performed on Broadway. The theater for Celtic Fyre is air-conditioned, so it’s a great way to escape from the heat for a bit on a hot day.

I’ve also seen the shows Mix it Up!, Oktoberzest, and More…Pet Shenanigans over the years and have thoroughly enjoyed them all. There is also a British rock show in England, Britmania, but it wasn’t open when I was there. Finally, there are two shows geared towards young children that I have not seen or maybe I did when I was younger but I don’t remember them. One great thing about the shows is they give your stomach a bit of a break from all of the jarring from the rides and it’s a good way to give your feet a break from all of the walking as well.

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Entering Ireland. There are bridges with trees everywhere like this in the park.

Tips for Busch Gardens Williamsburg:

  1. Plan on spending more than one day at the park and buy a multi-day pass. Two full days at Busch Gardens would be sufficient, but three days is even better so you won’t feel so rushed.
  2. Look for deals on tickets. Beyond the website, check with local credit unions or your work place for discounts.
  3. The crowds will be smaller if you come before Memorial Day or after Labor Day or during the week if you can only come during the summer.
  4. Arrive at the park as soon as they open. Not only are crowds smaller, it’s also the coolest time of the day.
  5. Realize it will be hot at Busch Gardens during the summer months. In this part of Virginia it’s quite hot and humid during the summer. Bring sunscreen. Water bottles are allowed in the park but they’re supposed to only be filled with water.
  6. Backpacks are allowed in the park but not allowed on just about every single ride. Either have someone not riding that can watch your bag or rent a locker. You can rent by the hour or for the day.
  7. Wear comfortable shoes because you’ll be doing a lot of walking. Leave the flip-flops at home.
  8. You can rent strollers at the park and there’s even a kennel for your dog.
  9. If you want to save money, bring a cooler with lunch items. Although you can’t bring the cooler into the park, there are picnic tables in some of the parking lots. We also saw a big group of people tailgating with food from a catering company in one area of a parking lot.
  10. Check park hours before you buy your tickets and check the weather before you go.

The website for Busch Gardens Williamsburg can be found here.

Have any of you been to Busch Gardens Williamsburg? If so, what do you think of it?What are some of your favorite theme or amusement parks?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

 

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Some of My Favorite Dog-Friendly Restaurants in Williamsburg, Virginia

I don’t really think of myself as a foodie but I can appreciate a good meal. One of the reasons I love visiting Charleston, South Carolina so much is the staggering number of excellent restaurants in the area. I don’t know if I’ve ever truly had a bad meal there in all of my many years of visiting Charleston. Charleston is well-known as a foodie town. I’ve also visited Williamsburg, Virginia many times but for some reason I didn’t really think of the area as a foodie place, that is until I recently went there.

My family and I visited Williamsburg in May and spent four nights there. Over the span of that time, pretty much every meal was outstanding. We had brought our two dogs with us and wanted to get them out of the hotel room as much as possible, so we were limited to dog-friendly restaurants with outdoor seating areas. Still, for each and every meal, we walked away feeling like it was one of the best meals we’d had in a while.

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Libby and Chile with my daughter before we went to Virginia

Here are some of my recommendations for restaurants in Williamsburg, Virginia, all of which are dog-friendly:

  1. Aromas Specialty Coffee & Gourmet Bakery. Aromas actually has three locations in Virginia:  Williamsburg, Newport News, and Swem Library. This wasn’t our first time eating at Aromas; last year we went there and the food was just as good as this time. We’ve been for breakfast, brunch, and lunch and each time the food was excellent. This time I had a chicken salad sandwich on a freshly baked croissant, my husband had a huge and very filling Cobb salad, and our daughter had a peanut butter and banana sandwich on a bagel; we all throughly enjoyed our meals. They have tables outside in the front where you can sit with your dog, or just sit outside if the weather is nice. Many people sit outside to enjoy a cup of coffee or a baked good and people watch. Aromas serves breakfast, brunch, lunch, and dinner and has a kids’ menu and even fondue and nachos in the evening.
  2. The Hounds Tale. Only open for dinner. My daughter said they should have named it The Hounds Tail (get it?). My husband and I both got the Wagyu Beef burger and it was delicious, as were the fries, which were perfectly cooked and seasoned. Our daughter got the house-made cavatelli pasta, which was also very good. The server brought us out popcorn in a dog bowl before our meals came, which our pups also enjoyed with the inevitable pieces that fell to the ground. There are only a few pub-style tables in the front the restaurant, so if you’re going to eat outside, you may want to come early to beat the crowds, especially during the busier times of year.
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The Hounds Tale
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Burger from Hound’s Tale

3. Berret’s Seafood Restaurant and Taphouse Grill. Open for lunch and dinner. Actually two separate places, we ate at the outdoor Taphouse Grill, which is open April through October. The Taphouse Grill is more casual than the historic Berret’s Seafood Restaurant across Duke of Gloucester Street. The menu features seafood, chicken and beef, highlighting Virginia specialties such as oysters, crab, and fresh produce. I had the crab cakes and they were just as good as ones I’ve had in Charleston, which is saying something. Live music is featured Tuesday through Sunday (weather permitting). Every Thursday is Flight Night. A different brewery, winery, distillery or cidery is featured each Thursday with 4 unique selections. The service was top-notch and our server even brought out a water bowl full of fresh water for our dogs.

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Crab cakes, polenta, and asparagus from Taphouse Grill

4. The Cheese Shop.Way more than just cheese, The Cheese Shop has made-to-order sandwiches, packaged sides (my husband had pickled brussels sprouts but there was also potato salad, macaroni salad, and a few others), potato chips, sodas and beer, a plethora of cheeses as you would expect, and even a wine shop in the cellar. This is one cool place. I loved just walking around looking at all of the unique foods for sale in the store and if I would have had more time, I would have liked to check out the wine downstairs. There are many tables with umbrellas in a shady spot in front of The Cheese Shop, so once you go inside and get your food, you can enjoy your food outside if you have pups with you. If you’d rather eat inside, there are also tables inside. Everything we ordered tasted very fresh with high-quality ingredients.

5. The Virginia Beer Company.  I drove by here on my way to pick up something at the grocery store one evening to take back to the hotel room and decided to check it out for dinner the next evening. Although they don’t serve food at the Virginia Beer Company, food trucks are here for dinner during the week and lunch and dinner on weekends. Check the schedule on the web page ahead of time. When we went, Capt’n Crabby food truck was there and we got the Korean BBQ chicken sandwich, Ahi Tuna Bowl, and a fresh mozzarella cheese and tomato sandwich with fresh basil. My daughter didn’t care for her cheese and tomato sandwich, but my husband and I were really happy with our choices. Our beers were also very good and there is a good selection of year-round, seasonal, and experimental IPA’s on tap.  There are picnic tables to sit at, a fire pit, corn hole, and board games so it’s a good place to hang out with friends and/or family. There is also an indoor seating area for those not bringing dogs or just want to sit inside.

I love that we were able to find so many dog-friendly restaurants in Williamsburg with truly excellent food. This is definitely a dog-friendly town so if you’re ever in the area and are fortunate enough to bring your dog(s) with you, by all means, do so!

Do you all ever travel with your dog? What are some of the most dog-friendly cities you’ve been to?

Happy travels!

Donna

Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia with Spring Bounce Tickets

Last year my family and I went to Williamsburg, Virginia with the main purpose to go to Busch Gardens. We were going to have a few hours to kill the morning after we went to the amusement park, so I thought we could go to Colonial Williamsburg and see what we could see without purchasing an admission ticket. Long story short, there isn’t a whole lot you can see without a ticket other than walking around the roads and going into some of the shops selling things. You can read more about our experience at Colonial Williamsburg without a ticket here if you’d like.

This year, we decided to allot more time in Williamsburg so we would have plenty of time to take in the sights. I made reservations for 4 nights and bought Spring Bounce tickets, which allow you to go to both Colonial Williamsburg and Busch Gardens for a week. There are also Summer Bounce tickets, single day tickets, and many combination tickets where you can combine Water Country USA, Historic Jamestowne, Jamestown Settlement, American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, and Yorktown Battlefield. The website for tickets is here.

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Governor’s Palace Gardens

With general admission tickets, we were able to tour the Governor’s Palace and Gardens, and pretty much any of the other homes and most areas that were open while we were there.  For example, the Governor’s Palace was only open from 4-5 pm so we needed to be there during those hours. I remember touring the Governor’s Palace when I was a child with my brother and mother and the gardens still looked exactly as I remembered them. The people working at the Palace, as well as all of Colonial Williamsburg, are extremely knowledgeable and thoroughly answered any questions we had as well as telling us about the sites.

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Governor’s Palace from the gardens

Some things do cost extra even with general admission tickets, such as firing a flintlock musket, which is an additional $76. My daughter was dying to go to the Ax Range where she could throw axes, something she had wanted to do ever since seeing it on one of her favorite TV shows, “Property Brothers.” We bought tickets for her and my husband for $10 each and went to the Ax Range. After being given a safety demonstration and instructions on how to properly throw an ax, my daughter and husband’s fun began. They were allowed to throw for about 15 or 20 minutes, which was plenty of time really. Both my husband and daughter managed to land some of the axes in the target as well. My daughter said later that this was a highlight of her time at Colonial Williamsburg.

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Ax throwing!

My husband and I also toured the extensive Art Museums, which have a wide array of galleries including portraits, furniture, Folk Art, silver objects such as tea sets and much more. You can easily spend a couple of hours here if you enjoy art museums. Although admission was included in our general admission tickets, you can buy day passes to the art museums for $11.99. When we went, the art museums also had a hands-on activity for children, where you could make a toy like ones on display in the toy section of the museum. Adjacent to the Art Museums is what’s left of the Mental Hospital that used to be on the grounds before it was moved to another area outside Colonial Williamsburg. It’s pretty much just a hallway now but has some displays of objects historically used to treat mental illness and some of the appalling accommodations mental patients used to have to endure.

This year, since we had more time to spend in Colonial Williamsburg, we went in more of the shops and buildings than we did last year. Two of our favorites were the printing press and book bindery buildings. We chatted for quite a while with the people working in both of these rooms. In addition to being shown how the printing press works and how books were historically bound, we talked to an art apprentice who showed us some of his pencil and ink drawings. He showed us some of the tools he uses and discussed the differences in these tools. Clearly the people working at Colonial Williamsburg are passionate about their trades and love discussing all of the techniques involved.

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One of many shops- this one sells toys!

With the Spring Bounce tickets, we were able to go between Colonial Williamsburg and Busch Gardens any time we wanted, which was great. Originally, I had thought we would spend the first full day at Busch Gardens, then the next full day at Colonial Williamsburg, then back to Busch Gardens, and finally spend a few hours in the morning at Colonial Williamsburg before we drove back home. Instead, we ended up not spending the first full day at Busch Gardens so we went to Colonial Williamsburg and toured the Governor’s Palace and watched the Fife and Drum corps evening march. We continued to divide up our days between both Colonial Williamsburg and Busch Gardens, and that seemed like a better way to spend our days.

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Fife and Drum Corps

Planning tips for Colonial Williamsburg:

1. There are many, many other activities you can do for additional fees, as well. You can take a carriage ride, participate in a local court session, take several guided tours, take an ox wagon ride, watch a play, go to an organ recital, and go on ghost walks. Depending on what you choose to add on, a visit to Colonial Williamsburg can be quite expensive, however, so plan accordingly.

2. Williamsburg, Virginia gets hot and humid during the summer months so if you can manage a visit during the spring or fall, the weather should be more pleasant. While we were there in mid-May, the high for the day hit 95 degrees one day, so even in May it can get extremely hot here.

3. If you have a week to spend in the area, visit Yorktown and Jamestown also, which are a short drive from Williamsburg. Busch Gardens and Colonial Williamsburg are about 15-20 minutes from each other. In my opinion, three full days for Busch Gardens and Colonial Williamsburg (bouncing between the two places on all three days) is the perfect amount of time to spend if you’re only going to these two places. If you plan on going to Water Country USA in addition to Busch Gardens and Colonial Williamsburg, I would plan on spending four full days total in the area.

4. You will be doing a ton of walking no matter where you go in the area so wear comfortable shoes.

5. You can stay at one of the hotels within Colonial Williamsburg, or at a hotel in Williamsburg, but don’t feel like you have to stay within the colonial grounds. The hotel where we stayed was less than a five minute drive from the colonial area, and there were numerous hotels that were also this close.

6. A car is essential for getting around Williamsburg and the surrounding area so if you’re flying to the area, get a rental car. Busch Gardens is approximately 55 miles from Richmond and 150 miles from Washington D.C. Although you could fly into Washington, D.C. and drive from there, most people fly into Norfolk, Richmond or Newport-News-Williamsburg International Airport.

Have any of you been to Colonial Williamsburg? If so, tell me about your experience and if not, would you like to go? Any history buffs out there?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

 

Lessons Learned by an American in the Canary Islands

My family and I recently went to the Canary Islands for the first time. Even though I tried to do my research before we went, there were still some things that happened after we got there and I learned as we went along. I’d like to pass along some of these things that I learned in hopes of making things a bit easier for other first-timers to the Canary Islands.

Learn Spanish before you go to the Canary Islands. Don’t expect everyone to speak English. While some people know some English in the Canary Islands, in my experience, I came to assume that most people would in fact not speak English and I would need to speak Spanish. Never once was this an issue, however, and while my Spanish is ok, I’m by no means fluent. All that being said, there are a fair amount of ex-pats from the UK that live and work in the Canary Islands.

Carnival in the Canary Islands is a lot of fun and I highly recommend going during this time if you can. We watched a Carnival parade in Gran Canaria and it was everything I had hoped it would be. This was actually one of the items on my bucket list and I was glad to be able to experience it. Just learn from my mistake and either choose your accommodations very far in advance (several months to a year) so you can find a place within walking distance from the parade route or if you have a rental car like we did, park your car in a place where you won’t be blocked off by the parade route when you want to leave.

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One of many floats from one of many Carnival parades

Although the water is perfectly safe to drink in the Canary Islands, it does not taste that great so most people buy bottled water. One resort I stayed at even went so far as to say the water isn’t safe for brushing your teeth with, which is not true. You do get used to the taste over time, too, or at least I found it wasn’t quite as bad by the end of my two-week vacation.

Parking in Las Palmas on Gran Canaria can be difficult to find and free parking pretty much doesn’t exist but it’s not completely impossible. Although not free but pretty cheap, if you can find a turquoise-marked parking spot, take it. You will need to enter your car’s license plate number in the kiosk and put the receipt on your dashboard. There are also parking garages throughout Gran Canaria, especially the busier areas like Las Palmas. The same can be said for Tenerife, although we found parking to be a bit easier in general on this island than Gran Canaria.

Having a rental car is by far better than taking the bus to get around the islands. Driving in the Canary Islands is pretty easy for the most part. We found locals to be courteous drivers and not overly-aggressive. One of the worst parts about driving in the Canary Islands is how narrow some of the side roads are. I recommend getting a small rental car. Overall, the roads in Tenerife seem to be a bit wider than in Gran Canaria in general.

Playa del Ingles in Gran Canaria is an extremely touristy area. I personally don’t care for touristy areas, especially when it’s a natural setting like a beach, park, or other area like Niagara Falls but obviously some people like this kind of thing because touristy areas always seem to be over-run with people. I just don’t like all the mini-golf, kitschy shops, restaurants with mediocre at best food, and rows of hotels. If you can get past all that, this beach is a nice enough beach. However, it is clothing-optional so if that bothers you, it might be best to skip it. There are also touristy areas in the southern part of Tenerife as well but they didn’t seem so over-the-top as Playa del Ingles.

The sand dunes of Maspalomas that are behind Playa del Ingles are pretty cool, however, and are totally worth a trip to the area. We had so much fun playing on the dunes and even sliding down the hills of sand. Just be aware that you need to pay 50 cents to use the restrooms here and facilities are limited. In fact, we found several other beach areas on the islands where you had to pay 50 cents to use the restrooms.

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Maspalomas sand dunes. This place is enormous!

In addition to all of the beautiful and varied beaches in the Canary Islands, the options for hiking are also numerous and varied. We hiked through more canyons than I can remember and had so many experiences where we hiked to the top of a mountain and were rewarded with a gorgeous view. In addition to hiking up steep trails of mountainsides, we also had some wonderful strolls around small, quaint towns where we were also rewarded with seaside or mountain views. Plus, there are several botanical gardens around the islands that you can walk around, most of which are free.

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Hiking in Teide National Park

There is no central air conditioning and heat in the Canary Islands. In the cooler months people use small space heaters and blankets to keep warm at night. In the warmer months, people use fans and open windows. Because the islands are off the northwestern coast of Africa, the weather is pretty mild here year-round. It does help if you dress appropriately too and bring a jacket for the cooler months.

Gran Canaria and Tenerife are both extremely varied in topography and general vibe in different parts of the islands (i.e., North vs. South) so if you just stay at your resort in one little sliver of the island, you won’t get a real feel for the island as a whole. Likewise if you just go to one island you’ll miss out on what other islands have to offer. I feel like I missed out by only visiting two islands but that seemed reasonable for a two-week vacation. Next time I’d like to visit another island. I really liked Tenerife quite a bit better than Gran Canaria and would go back to Tenerife, but probably not Gran Canaria.

Choices for inter-island hopping include taking a ferry or flying. When I checked into prices and options for going from Gran Canaria to Tenerife, the prices weren’t hugely different to fly versus take a ferry. We enjoyed the ferry to the San Juan Islands in Washington in the US and from Gozo to Malta so much that we decided to take the ferry to Tenerife. This was a mistake. The water was so rough both my daughter and husband were sick the entire time so they didn’t even enjoy it. Honestly, there isn’t much to look at either other than the water. Next time I would fly for sure.

Having a mobile WiFi or MiFi is a valuable tool to have when traveling abroad, and the Canary Islands are no exception. I first used a MiFi when I went to Malta last year and had such a great experience with it, I decided to rent one for the Canary Islands. I did have a bit more trouble finding a company with coverage in the Canary Islands, but I eventually chose California-based Vision Global WiFi, and we never had any problems  getting a signal with the one exception of once in Teide National Park. My husband anticipated this and downloaded the area from Google maps onto his phone so we could still drive around without getting lost. In addition to using Google Maps for everywhere we drove, we also used the MiFi several times to translate Spanish words or phrases or look up other information while we were away from our room.

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The MiFi is about the size of an adult hand so it’s easy to take with you.

If you do nothing else in Tenerife, go to Teide National Park . It was my favorite thing to do in Tenerife and it’s free too. If the weather had been better, we would have spent more than one day here and also taken the cable car up, but it was just too windy and rainy during the days we could have gone there. We did finally get to go hiking in the park, on our last full day in Tenerife, and loved every minute of it. Another piece of advice regarding Teide National Park is to stay until dusk. We had dinner at Mariposa, a restaurant close to the park that I thought was going to be touristy with mediocre food but it was actually really good. When we were driving out of the park, we got some cool shots of the sky and moon. Also, all of the cyclists we saw earlier when driving around the park were all gone, along with the majority of cars as well so driving out of the park was a breeze.

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Teide National Park at dusk with the moon

The Canary Islands are beautiful and remind me in many ways of Hawaii but they are unique in many other ways (it’s much cheaper here than Hawaii for starters). I would happily go back and explore another Canary Island, Lanzarote, which I hear is a hotspot for athletes. Who knows, maybe I’ll run a half marathon here one day Lanzarote Marathon and Half Marathon.

Have any of you been to the Canary Islands? What was your experience like? If you haven’t been, is is on your list now?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

“Welcome to Miami”- Long Weekend in Miami, Florida

I have a dear friend that used to live where I do and she moved to Miami several years ago. The last time I went to see her was around 6 or so years ago so I was long over-due for a visit to see her. When I was planning my vacation to Malta, I was curious to see how much more it would cost to go through Miami on my way home. Surprisingly, it wasn’t a single penny more (in fact it was a bit cheaper to go through Miami) so after making sure she would be available in late November (she was) I booked our airfare.

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I’ll admit, I’m a huge planner and always have been. It’s nothing for me to have tentative plans for vacations or races a year or more in advance. It may all be in my head, with nothing purchased, but it’s still more or less planned. However, for my time in Miami, I didn’t plan a single thing. I didn’t go online to check out restaurants. I didn’t go to TripAdvisor to choose things to do. Since we would be staying with my friend and she would be driving us around, I didn’t even have to make hotel and/or rental car arrangements. This is truly unusual for me, to trust another person with all of the details for my vacation.

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I’ll also admit our time in Miami may not be how many of you would choose to spend time there. We didn’t go to a single club or bar. When we went to South Beach, the only things we did were go to lunch and spend the rest of the day on the sand and/or in the ocean. We also went to my friend’s neighborhood pool and my daughter had a grand time there. Most of all, we relaxed and thoroughly enjoy ourselves as my friend went out of her way to make us feel truly welcome.

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So what did we do other than go to the beach and pool? Well, we went on an airboat ride in the Everglades. We wanted to also go to Everglades National Park but because of a recent hurricane, they were closed. My friend has gone on multiple airboat rides in the Everglades over the years with visiting friends and relatives and she likes Everglades Safari Park the best. For $28 per adult or $15 per child you get a 30-40 minute airboat tour, a wildlife nature show, and you can walk along the “Jungle Trail,” observation platform, and exhibits on your own after the airboat tour. There’s also a discount if you buy your tickets in advance online.

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I’ve been on airboat rides before through the Everglades but I had forgotten how much fun they are! My daughter had never been on one and she loved it as well. During our tour, we saw multiple alligators, a few birds, and our guide pointed out some interesting plants in the area such as some so poisonous you would be dead within 20 minutes of touching it. After the airboat ride, we watched the wildlife nature show, where they had a boa constrictor and alligators. You could also get your picture take with a baby alligator after the show for $3 (we didn’t). We finished up our time at Everglades Safari Park with a walk around the “Jungle Trail,” which was nice but we didn’t really see much of anything of note.

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One of a few alligators seen on our airboat tour

Two things of note come to mind when visiting the Everglades: this is apparently an entirely different experience if you come during the warmer versus cooler months. My friend has been here during all seasons and said the mosquitoes will eat you alive during the warmer months (most of the year in Miami) and you may not even see a single alligator on the airboat ride. More reasons to go to Miami during the winter.

This vacation was a nice break after being so busy and active in Malta the previous couple of weeks. Normally you wouldn’t think of a long weekend in Miami as being quiet and relaxing, but like I’ve said many times, my family and I don’t vacation like typical Americans do.

How many of you have been on an airboat ride through the Everglades? What was your experience like?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

Beaches of Malta- We Saved the Best for Last (Maybe)

On our final day in Malta we decided to check out some of the beaches a bit further away than the one across the street from our hotel. Although we had walked along this beach in St. Paul’s Bay a couple of times, we hadn’t attempted to get into the water and it was a rocky beach so it’s not one where you would sit on the sand and relax. Still, it was nice to walk along the water in the evening and watch the beautiful sunsets.

I had read that Ghadira Bay Beach is Malta’s largest sandy beach and that even in November the water could be warm enough for some people to swim in. I also knew that Ghajn Tuffieha Bay and Gnejna Bay were also worth checking out. Popeye Village, the movie set for the movie Popeye that was left permanently after filming ended on Malta is also close to Ghadira Bay Beach, so I thought we could make a day of it going to all of these places.

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Popeye Village, movie set from the 1980 movie “Popeye”

First we went to Ghajn Tuffieha Bay and were blown away by how beautiful the view was. The water is this mixture of turquoise, greens, and darker blues that’s mesmerizing. It’s all surrounded by these huge limestone cliffs that just add to the beauty of the area. We hadn’t packed our bathing suits or towels because we hadn’t planned on doing anything other than taking in the views but our daughter begged my husband and me to drive back to the hotel and put on our swim suits and get beach towels. We agreed on the condition that we could first check out Ghadira Bay Beach and if we didn’t like it as much we’d go back to Ghajn Tuffieha Bay.

Ghadira Bay Beach is beautiful but we didn’t think it was nearly as beautiful as Ghajn Tuffieha Bay. Honestly, I don’t have nearly as good of photos of Ghadira Bay Beach as I do of Ghajn Tuffieha Bay, so I’m only going to show Ghajn Tuffieha Bay here. After having lunch at Ghadira Bay Beach, we drove the short drive to Popeye Village. We decided it wouldn’t be worth the 30 Euro it would have cost to go inside the village, especially since we didn’t want to spend more than 20 or 30 minutes there. After admiring the view and snapping some photos, we drove back to Ghajn Tuffieha Bay.

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Just look at this water!

My husband and daughter who are both more cold-tolerant than I am got in the water and swam around for quite a while before they both got out to warm up on the soft sand under the warm sun. I kept thinking to myself that this was a very nice way indeed to spend our holiday. I felt very fortunate to be here in this beautiful country with such rich history, awesome scenery, and friendly people.

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One unexpected thing that we discovered in the Ghajn Tuffieha Bay and Gneja Bay area were all of the trails there. We explored the many paths that wrapped around the bays and were rewarded with some fantastic views of both bays.

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Stopping on one of the trails to take a photo

After leaving Ghajn Tuffieha Bay we went back to our hotel to get cleaned up for dinner (which happened to be Thanksgiving Day for us Americans). So what did we decide to have for our Thanksgiving dinner in Malta you ask? We actually got take-away from a Chinese restaurant and celebrated back in our room. It was our last day in Malta, since we would be flying out the next morning to continue our vacation in Miami, Florida.

As we were driving to the airport bright and early the next morning to leave Malta, I started thinking about what was my favorite part. Usually I have an answer to questions like that pretty quickly, but here, I’m not sure. I loved Gozo and the salt pans there. I loved Dingli Cliffs and the views from there. I also loved Ghajn Tuffieha Bay and the beautiful water. I think in this case, I’ll have to go with my top three.

You can find other posts about Malta here:

Where in the World is Malta?

Rabat/Mdina/Mġarr Area of Malta- Touring a Roman House, Temples, and Catacombs

Valletta Area of Malta- the Capital City

Harbour Area of Malta- A Palace, a Fort, and Temples

How many of you have been to Malta and have been to these beautiful beaches and bays? What is your favorite part of Malta?

Happy travels!

Donna

The Blue Grotto, Dingli Cliffs, and My Favorite Temples in Malta

For our exploration of the southern area of Malta, we decided to go to the Blue Grotto, Dingli Cliffs, Hagar Qim Temples, and Mnajdra Temples. Since it was late in the year, I thought it would be too chilly to enjoy a boat ride, but there were a few other boats going out for tours while we were there. I would definitely do it during the warmer months- next time! Still, it was fun to just walk around and look at the beautiful water for a bit and snap some photos. There are a few small restaurants where you can get a quick snack but it’s a pretty small undeveloped area (which is a good thing).

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The Blue Grotto

To get to Dingli Cliffs, we started in Buskett Gardens, an area with woodlands dating back to the 16th century. There are historical sites nearby such as prehistoric cart ruts and Ghar il-Kbir (a complex of caves that were inhabited up to 150 years ago). Although there are numerous trails you can hike around Buskett Gardens, we just walked straight from Buskett Gardens to Dingli Cliffs although we could have just driven straight to the cliffs. If I would have had more time, I definitely would have spent more time hiking around Buskett Gardens since it seemed very pretty in the area.

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Dingli Cliffs
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Looking down Dingli Cliffs

Hagar Qin Temples were my favorite of all of the temples we went to (and we went to a lot). I thought the preservation of the temples were some of the best in the area and the location of the temples by the Dingli Cliffs just added to the experience. Mnajdra Temples were within walking distance from Hagar Qin, just a bit closer to the water but not quite as extensive. First excavated in 1839, the remains of Hagar Qin suggest a date between 3600 – 3200 BC, a period known as the Ġgantija phase in Maltese prehistory.

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It was nice that the last temples we went to were my favorite ones; we saved the best for last. After all of this history, we were ready to see some other things, so we decided to see some beaches in the area. Join me for that upcoming post!

Happy travels!

Donna