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Treetop Fun: Ziplining in St. Maarten

Treetop Fun: Ziplining in St. Maarten | CosmosMariners.com

For our honeymoon, Landon and I went on a cruise. It was his first time out of the country, and we both just wanted to relax, so a week on a ship seemed to be a good way to enjoy our new marriage-ness.

And when I say I wanted to sit on a ship for seven days and do nothing, I wasn't kidding. I'd finished grad school just 13 days before I'd gotten married, and the stress of teaching, defending my thesis, planning a wedding, and passing my classes had gotten to me at that point.

After a little cajoling, Landon convinced me that we needed to spurge on just one shore excursion: ziplining. We're both pretty adventurous people (even if I complain while I'm adventuring), and I love scuba diving and parasailing. I figured that, by day four of our cruise, I'd be rested up enough to manage a zipline tour.

The morning of our ziplining tour dawned grey and rainy, which wasn't ideal. We were committed to our shore excursion and weren't going to miss it for anything.

Treetop Fun: Ziplining in St. Maarten | CosmosMariners.com

All of the shore excursions were lined up on the dock, and we found our group easily. After just a few minutes of waiting, the zipline group boarded a bus to head from one side of the island (where our cruise ship was docked) to the far end (where the zipline course was). We didn't pay for a tour of the island, but we ended up getting one thanks to our chatty bus driver!


The bus ride wasn't long--only about 20 minutes or so--and when we stopped, we were in the middle of a gorgeous tropical forest. The farm where the ziplining tour took place was incredibly pretty with these palm trees and bougainvillea everywhere.

Treetop Fun: Ziplining in St. Maarten | CosmosMariners.com

But we had more exciting things to do than check out the flora, so Landon and I headed into the ziplining area to get our gear and sign waivers. You know it's not a fun time until you sign your life away on a piece of paper!

Treetop Fun: Ziplining in St. Maarten | CosmosMariners.com

When we were finished with our harnesses and waivers, we entered the point of no return. It sounds seriously, but it was just that stone wall above. I couldn't take my camera with me into the actual ziplining course, so you'll have to trust me.

The start of the course involved us climbing four stories off the ground onto this rickety platform, hooking our harness to a cable, and jumping off.

There were no practice zips or mollycoddling. Just a "Have fun!" and a gentle push down this looooong zipline through the trees.

As one of the guides was helping me secure my harness onto the hook, I kept saying, "It's so high! Really, it's SO high!" He just smiled.

In the half second between the time I left the platform and the time I realized I was dangling over the tops of trees was incredible: I was terrified, elated, and amazed all at the same time!

Then, just like that it was over. I survived! (Spoiler alert: so did everyone else in our group.)

Treetop Fun: Ziplining in St. Maarten | CosmosMariners.com
Slightly out of focus, unflattering picture thanks to one of the guides (who then charged me $10 for it)!

After that, I felt far more at ease as we traversed rope bridges, climbed into treehouses, and zipped down a variety of other lines. By the end of the trip (nearly an hour and a half later), Landon and I were both tired, but extremely glad that we'd decided to splurge on this particular shore excursion.

If you're ever on either side of St. Maarten/ St. Martin, a trip to the zipline farm is worth your time. Loterie Farms is on Route Pic Paradise 103 on the St. Martin side of the island. We did the Fly Zone Extreme (which goes higher) because we're cool like that.

Have you ever been ziplining? What's your favorite type of adventure travel?

What Type of Traveler Are You?

What Type of Traveler Are You? | CosmosMariners.com

There are as many ways to travel as there are places to see in the world. And, despite what some people might tell you, there's no wrong way to travel. As long as you're enjoying yourself and doing something you love, then I applaud you. 

After nearly three decades of traveling and over a year of travel blogging, I've come across many approaches to travel. Some I've tried, some I'm sure are not my cup of tea, and others fit like a glove. So, what kind of traveler are you?

The Non-Traveler
If you can't think of a better way to spend your free time than curled up on your couch in your comfiest pajamas, then you're probably a non-traveler. You rarely cross the county line, and you might not have been outside the state you were born in--and you're completely okay with that. Home is where your heart is, and that's exactly where you plan to stay.

Must have travel gear: none.

The Wistful Traveler 
While you rarely (if ever) travel, you still love the idea of venturing out in the world. Thanks to finances, job restrictions, kids, or student loans, travel--even to nearby locales--just isn't in the cards for you right now. Until you can start checking off places on your wanderlust list, you'll happily bury yourself in the latest edition of "Travel + Leisure" while binge-watching Anthony Bourdain on television.

Must have travel gear: that dusty old suitcase that's been sitting in your closet for the past six years.

The Weekend Warrior
You work 40 (or more!) hours a week, you've got a family and a social life, but gosh-darn-it, you will find a way to travel as much as you can! Instead of hanging around your hometown on long weekends and work holidays, you're packing up your battered suitcase to jet off somewhere new--even if you'll spend more time in transit than you will at the actual destination. You don't care though, as those trips make the rest of your life so much more rewarding.

Must have travel gear: a carry on suitcase (because who has time to wait at the luggage carrel?) and every travel app currently known.

The Tropical Relaxer
Hand you a frosty fruity drink, direct you to a hammock, and don't bother you until your flight's about to board: you've got sand in your toes and the sound of the waves to lull you to sleep. Instead of packing endless activities and tours into your vacations, all you want is to find a place warm and sunny to relax, nap, and then relax some more (because we all know that vacation can be exhausting).

Must have travel gear: a floppy hat and a bag full of beach reads.

The Theme Park Addict
If a vacation doesn't include at least a few days in a park with thrill rides, princesses, or a daily parade, it isn't worth taking. You've been to Cedar Point more times than you can count, and you know all of the parks at Walt Disney World and Disneyland so well that you don't need a map anymore. Birthdays, holidays, summer vacations: all of these are perfect reasons to head back to your favorite rides.

Must have travel gear: season passes and a backpack.

The Cultural Aficionado
The first thing you do when planning a trip is scope out the local historical walking tours and the schedule of events at the nearest symphony. Any museum is fair game, and you scoff at the people who choose to lay out by the pool instead of learning something new on their vacations. Your pre-trip organization includes reading at least two guidebooks cover-to-cover, as well as a light history of the area.

Must have travel gear: copies of the local Fodor's, Rick Steves, and Lonely Planet guides, a notebook (to record everything you're learning), and a timetable of area walking tours.

The Camping Commander 
Trees? Check. Tent? Check. Outdoor fun for all? Double check! When you get a day or two off, the woods start to call, and you don't hesitate to respond. You've got your trusty camping gear stowed away just in case you get a free moment to head to your favorite spot, and you've been to more national parks than you can count. Instead of counting the number of countries or states that you've visited, you've got a running total of funny/ bizarre/ terrifying animal encounter stories. 

Must have travel gear: bug repellant and sleeping bags.

The Cruise Ship Fanatic
Long gone are the days of shuffleboard and endless games of bingo--today's cruise ships have nightclubs, golf courses, and ice skating. And you know how to run a day's activities better than the cruise director. When you aren't shaking it at a dance party on the Lido Deck, you're getting pampered at the onboard spa or trying out another delicious (and free!) meal in the Grand Dining Room.

Must have travel gear: an endless collection of bathing suits. 

The Adventurer
Skydiving, bungee jumping, cliff diving: if there's not a good change that you could get injured while attempting something, you're not interested. So, while other travelers are out there playing it safe on tours, you're pushing yourself to the limit climbing mountains, dangling off a bridge, or driving way too fast on a Jet-Ski. Life should be lived, right?

Must have travel gear: a Go Pro camera and a great insurance policy.

The Family Trip Tour Guide
You're taking your entire family on a trip, and they will love it. (Even if it's the last thing you all do.) While your kids listen attentively--or not--from the backseat, you share with them a running commentary of the historical things that they need to appreciate about your next stop. The entire thing might be a disaster--or it could be the greatest thing that's ever happened to your family.

Must have travel gear: a GPS, coloring books, and history books.

The Foodie
Wherever you're going, you will try the newest restaurant with that hip chef. You've got a running list of the strangest things you've eaten--nothing starts the conversation at a cocktail party like the story of when you ate a live octopus. While you're on your gastronomic jaunts, you're as equally likely to find a new dish to love at a street vendor as you are at the poshest restaurant.

Must have travel gear: a wine cork, a list of Michelin 5 star restaurants, and a biography of the latest celebrity chef. 

The Nomad
There's a big world out there, and you refuse to only see a small part of it. Instead of working at a traditional 9-to-5, you've found a way to earn a living on the road. Other people measure their lives in birthdays, school activities, and hours worked, while you measure yours by the number of countries you still have left to visit. 

Must have travel gear: the basic necessities. When you're carrying your life around with you, you don't have room for extras.


Which type of traveler are you? 

Sun, Fun, and Mint Mojitos: Bacardi Factory Tour, Puerto Rico

Sun, Fun, and Mint Mojitos: Bacardi Factory Tour, Cantaño, Puerto Rico | CosmosMariners.com

While on our Puerto Rican adventure, my parents, sister, and I decided to venture away from our hotel one day and over to the Bacardi Factory Tour in Cantaño. We all love learning about behind the scenes stuff on factory tours, so, even though we're not the biggest drinkers, we decided to devote half a day to learning about rum production. 

As the crow flies, the factory isn't far from downtown San Juan, but there's a big bay that you've got to either go across or around. For our trip there, we decided on the route across, and took the ferry over to Cantaño. The ride was uneventful, and it wasn't until we got to the taxi stand on the Cantaño side of the bay that we got our first taste of strange taxis. 

I should interject here that--up until this point--we'd taken many taxis to and from our hotel into Old San Juan without any issues. 

We waited and waited at the taxi rank for someone to come get us. On the other side of the bay in San Juan, there are always taxis lined up ten deep, but here, all we saw were (figurative) tumbleweeds. It was honestly kind of creepy, as the area we were in was all residential but it was completely deserted. No one was walking a dog or loitering. It was just us, four sunburnt Americans, hanging out on a curb. 

After 20 minutes, we were about to climb back onto the ferry and call it a day when a taxi came up. FINALLY. We piled in and told the driver we were going to the Bacardi Factory. He didn't seem too happy about taking us there, but he took our money and sped off. 

Only to dump us a good 300 feet from the Factory entrance. 

There was a nice roundabout that we could've been dropped off in--it was specifically for visitors arriving by taxi--but no way that was happening. The driver scowled at us as we got out and then screeched off the minute we were all out. 

When we arrived inside the factory property, we were greeted by a big white tent--and best of all on that hot, humid day--we were each given tickets for two mint mojitos when we showed our IDs. Sweet heavens to Betsy, those things were good! 


Sun, Fun, and Mint Mojitos: Bacardi Factory Tour, Cantaño, Puerto Rico | CosmosMariners.com

We were considering going back and paying for another (the first two were free with the factory tour) but it was time to head inside the main building. 

After slogging another ten miles (or so it felt) through the humidity, we made it into the wonderful air conditioning of the factory. You'd think that, after living in South Carolina my entire life, I'd be used to crazy humidity. Alas, it is something to be endured since it seems that I still have not acclimated after 3 decades here. 


Sun, Fun, and Mint Mojitos: Bacardi Factory Tour, Cantaño, Puerto Rico | CosmosMariners.com

The tour was really interesting: we learned about the history of rum farming and production on the island, and how rum was a crucial element of trade as early as the 1500s. We also learned a bit about popular drinks that are made with rum, such as the Cuba Libre (a fancy name for rum and Coke). Sadly, no additional samples were made available to the tour attendees. 

After the tour finished, we walked around the property, enjoying the late afternoon sun.


Sun, Fun, and Mint Mojitos: Bacardi Factory Tour, Cantaño, Puerto Rico | CosmosMariners.com
Me and my sister outside of the Bacardi Factory
But we couldn't loiter forever--and we had dinner plans!--so we headed back to the taxi stand outside the factory to find a ride back to the ferry. 

We'd just gotten there when a 10 passenger white van pulled up. Imagine the oiliest, sketchiest man that you can. Now, add more oil and more sketch, and you're starting to get the picture on who jumped out of the taxi. 

Six other people from our tour were also looking to get to the ferry, so we all agreed to go together. How bad could it be? It's not like Sketchy Oil Man could kidnap all of us, right?

Over the next 10 minutes, we were all treated to delightful (read: gag-inducing) tales of the taxi driver's bravado and supposedly ample attributes in the boudoir (to put it nicely). I'll spare you the details, and you can thank me later. 

When he stopped the van at the ferry port, all 10 of us scattered like flies. Clearly, I wasn't the only one who got major creeps from this guy. What was with the taxi drivers in Cantaño that day!?!

Other than Mr. Sour Driver and Mr. Pervert Driver, we really enjoyed our jaunt to the Bacardi Factory. I wouldn't mind heading back on another trip to Puerto Rico, but I think I might rent a car if I was going again!

Have you been to a factory tour of any kind? What's your best weirdo taxi driver story? Share with me! :)

Puerto Rican Paradise: Caribe Hilton in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Puerto Rican Paradise: Caribe Hilton Hotel in San Juan | CosmosMariners.com

When my parents, sister, and I headed to Puerto Rico a few years back, I was in a much different place than I am now.

I was getting ready to be engaged to my now-husband (only I didn't know that at the time). I didn't have my darling daughter. I was starting my last year of grad school. 

But one thing hasn't changed in that time: my unwavering love of anywhere that has palm trees, turquoise waters, and perfectly white sands. 

When my mom found a super deal on the Caribe Hilton in San Juan, we jumped on the chance to head down to Puerto Rico for a few days. Even though I had to leave early for my adjunct professor training (the job that kept me from eating ramen noodles every night of my grad school days), I knew I had to go with them. 

So, I packed up my beloved Vera Bradley Night Owl weekender bag (which is still with me, five years later), and headed off into what was I found was paradise. 

We took a taxi from the San Juan airport and headed straight to the hotel. When we got there, I was amazed to find that the entire lobby is open air. 

Puerto Rican Paradise: Caribe Hilton Hotel in San Juan | CosmosMariners.com
The lobby looking back towards the ocean and the pool.
As in there aren't any actual front doors. 

And there's a tropical bird in the lobby. 

And all day long, you can hear the sound of palm trees rattling in the warm breeze. Because there aren't any doors!

Needless to say, I was entranced before we'd even checked in. 

Our rooms weren't quite ready, so we took a quick look around the hotel. One of my favorite parts about the property was the San Geronimo Fort that's located just a few hundred feet from the lobby on the Condado Lagoon. Guests aren't allowed to tour it, but it's so cool to know that it's a part of the landscape.
Puerto Rican Paradise: Caribe Hilton Hotel in San Juan | CosmosMariners.com

When we headed up to our rooms, they were pretty standard for a Hilton or Hampton Inn: two double beds, lots of neutrals, a tv, a shower. I did like that we had a view of the fort and the Lagoon.


Over the four days we stayed here, we explored most of what the hotel had to offer including the gorgeous pool area, the onsite grill (standard burgers and fries), and the beach area. I call it the beach for lack of a better word for a a place that has lots of sand and palm trees--but, unlike most beaches, you can't get into the water here. Because of the currents, there's no entry into the water, so your sunning and playing options are limited to the hotel pool unless you want to head off property.

Puerto Rican Paradise: Caribe Hilton Hotel in San Juan | CosmosMariners.com

Clearly, I didn't mind the lack of a proper beach. Give me a good book, and I could stay here all day!

The hotel's been around for a long time--it opened in 1949--and it claims that the pina colada was created at its bar. Kudos to them for finding a way to fit the taste of the tropics into a blender!

One thing that I didn't love about the hotel was the fact that it was a few miles away from Old San Juan. That wouldn't be a problem if I'd gone to the hotel just to sunbathe and relax, but you know that I'm not much into relaxing if there are sites to see! We had to take a taxi back and forth every time we wanted to go into the historic section to eat or tour, which ended up racking up a pretty big bill for four people for four days. 

Because of where it was located (away from downtown), there weren't too many food options other than the grill and the bar in the hotel. There was this one Subway just across from the entrance, but I'm not too willing to go to a brand new place with awesome cuisine and eat cold cuts the entire time. 

So, minor complaints, but both worth considering when choosing your San Juan accommodations. 

Would I go back? Yes, if I was planning to hang around the hotel more than I did on this trip. The views were gorgeous and the property was nice. If I wanted to explore more of the old city, I'd probably head closer into town, though. 

Have you ever been to Puerto Rico? If so, tell me where you stayed and what you did! If not, is this a place on your bucket list?

5 Plantations You Must See in Louisiana

5 Plantations You Must See in Louisiana | CosmosMariners.com

It's been over 150 years since the heyday of the Southern plantations--but they're still some of the most popular sites to visit below the Mason-Dixon line. Why?

Maybe it's because they're the closest thing we've got to the castles of Europe.

Maybe it's because we want to remember the history of slavery so we never repeat it again.

Maybe it's because we're still amazed that people could have that much money to own such massive parcels of land.

What to Do at Walt Disney World When You Aren't at the Parks

What to Do at Walt Disney World When You Aren't at the Parks | CosmosMariners.com

On our December 2014 trip to Walt Disney World, we did something that we hadn't done in at least twenty years: we allotted free time away from the parks. And to my surprise: we weren't bored. There was plenty to do on our down-time days!

Usually, we're those crazy whirlwind people who show up at 10:00 p.m. on our travel days, go to four parks in four days, then head back out at the crack of dawn on the return travel day.

It's hectic and doesn't give you a moment to catch your breath, but we believe in packing in as much as we can.

Since this trip also marked the first trip for our toddler, we wanted some time to rest in between the park days. I knew that seeing the lights and characters and rides would be plenty overwhelming for Britton, so I planned a few low key days in there, too.

We ended up having so much fun on those days that I'm seriously considering adding more to our next trip (which probably won't be for several years, but I love planning far, far in advance).

What can you do at Disney when you're not in the parks? Here's a sampling:

Explore the resorts. 
I promise, this is not nearly as boring as it sounds. Each of the Disney resorts is themed, so you can head over to the Polynesian for a taste of Hawaii, return to the Victorian period at the Grand Floridian, see larger than life cultural icons at Pop Century, and mosey through the streets of New Orleans at Port Orleans French Quarter.

Take a surrey ride. 
What to Do at Walt Disney World When You Aren't at the Parks | CosmosMariners.com
So, when does this thing start moving?
In an attempt to do something that I've never done before at Disney, I convinced the rest of my family to rent a surrey (with the fringe on top! Oklahoma, anyone?) over at Port Orleans Riverside. It cost us $22 for a half hour rental that fit all six of us.
What to Do at Walt Disney World When You Aren't at the Parks | CosmosMariners.com
ACTION SHOT! My mom and sister peddle furiously in an attempt to keep our surrey going. 

Since it's basically a really fancy bicycle, we got our post-lunch workout cruising around the resort. We sang Disney songs at the top of our lungs and waved manically at passers-by. All of us laughed until we nearly cried, and it was the best $22 I've spent in a very long time.

Head over to Downtown Disney. 
This massive complex combines shopping, dining, a bowling alley, a movie theatre, Cirque de Soliel, and DisneyQuest. While my two favorite areas are the World of Disney store and Goofy's Candy Company, Britton loved the kiddie train ride and the carousel onsite. For $2 a ride (adults ride free when accompanying tiny ones), they were both easy and cheap ways to keep my toddler entertained while meandering around Downtown Disney. 

Clearly, Britton got WAY more than two dollars worth of fun from the train ride.

Hang out at the resort. 
Even the value resorts come with themed pools, an arcade, and afternoon dance parties! The deluxe accommodates have the best pools, and Stormalong Bay at the Beach Club resort is more than a pool--it's a small water park. All of the resorts also offer outdoor movies year round, which would be such a fun way to end a day in Disney.

Ride a pony. 
The Tri-Circle-D Ranch at Fort Wilderness Campgrounds has the most adorable ponies that your little ones can ride. For eight bucks, your little cowpoke can wrangle the roughest, toughest pony this side of the Mississippi. Or, just ride a cute pony in a circle. (Basically the same thing.)

Fish for bass. 
Bass fishing excursion are offered from nine different resorts, so if you're looking to find some fish in Walt Disney World's lake, there are plenty of opportunities to do so. For those who'd rather fish from the banks, you can rent equipment at Fort Wilderness Campgrounds or Port Orleans Riverside.

Catch a wave. 
You know you've always wanted to be one of those cool surfer types, so grab your board shorts and head over to Typhoon Lagoon for some surf lessons. You'll have to get up early for your class, as they only take place before the water park opens. But if it helps you get some of that surfer swagger, an early morning might be worth it.

Have tea. 
The Grand Floridian has a tea room where you can treat yourself to scones, a pot of your favorite tea, and some delicious desserts. Go for the English Breakfast tea and clotted cream, and request a seat by the window!

What's your favorite thing to do away from the Disney parks? Do you build in rest days on your vacations?

The Importance of Home: the Other Side of Travel Blogging

Confession time: although I'm a travel blogger, I really, really like coming home.

The Importance of Home: the Other Side of Travel Blogging | CosmosMariners.com
I complain a lot (and my husband can attest to this) about the fact that I can't travel all of the time, that I can't just get up and go whenever the mood strikes. Yes, I know: First World Problems and all that.

But when I sit back and think about my life and the amount I get to travel, I'm really okay with it. (Most of the time.)

The Importance of Home: the Other Side of Travel Blogging | CosmosMariners.com
Her Carhartt overalls were all Landon's idea. He's trying to turn her into a country gal despite my efforts to the contrary.


I love going out and exploring the world in all of its terrifying, overwhelming, dazzling awesomeness, but I also need downtime to deal with those explorations.

I need to be with my family. I need to sleep in my own bed on occasion.

And I really, really need the several hundred books in my library. Book nerd forever!

The Importance of Home: the Other Side of Travel Blogging | CosmosMariners.com

For those reasons, I don't know if I could take the bungee jump of selling my house, uprooting my daughter, and leaving here forever. I moved constantly as a kid, something that taught me that there are always new friends in every town, but that also left me without established roots in any one place. I want to give my daughter those roots while I simultaneously show her the rest of the world. It's not an easy tightrope on which to balance, but I'm trying.

I'm not a nomad, and I'm okay with that. I have serious respect for the travelers who decide to just up and go without a long term plan. I just know that I would have far more anxiety over doing something like that then I would get reward back from it.

The Importance of Home: the Other Side of Travel Blogging | CosmosMariners.com

So, instead, I'll remain happy with my invisible tether that takes me away from and back to this place in the woods of coastal South Carolina. Even though I'm not a nomad, I am perpetually restless, and my frequent travels help to alleviate some of that.

Landon, Britton, and I were walking around our property the other night with our dog, and it was just a perfect moment. I'm often so preoccupied with my next trip or writing assignment that I forget how good it feels to be in the moment with the people who love you the most. I need to appreciate that more.

The Importance of Home: the Other Side of Travel Blogging | CosmosMariners.com
My sweet daughter who won't ever let me put a barrette in her hair to keep it out of her eyes

Traveling opens my eyes to new cultures, books, sights, and foods, but home opens my heart.

What kind of traveler are you--a nomad with a wandering heart or someone who likes to come home at the end of the day? What makes home special to you?

5 Reasons to Visit Antarctica

5 Reasons to Visit Antarctica | CosmosMariners.com

My bucket list keeps growing. It seems like the more I read about other people's travels, the more that I realize how much MORE I have to see and do. Planet Earth, why did you have to be so awesome?!

One thing that's stayed at the top of my bucket list for a while now has been a trip to Antarctica. While I haven't realized my dream (yet!!), here are the five reasons why I'm looking forward to a trip way down south at some point in my life:

5. A visit to Antarctica is not your typical vacation. Because of the temperatures, ice floes, and often volatile water conditions, you can't just rent your own skiff and head down to the South Pole. Visiting requires planning and careful packing--but the wildlife and the views make it completely worth it.

5 Reasons to Visit Antarctica | CosmosMariners.com
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4. You can see icebergs up close and personal. I know that ice can be dangerous (has anyone ever heard of the Titanic?), but it's also an incredibly powerful element that can manipulate mountains. I hail from Charleston, South Carolina, a place that gets about 0.23 inches of snow a year (levels that can still incite major panic into this flip flop wearing, beach loving city of mine). I have never seen ice or snow in a major way, so experiencing the climate and scenery of Antarctica would be something completely out of the ordinary for me.

5 Reasons to Visit Antarctica | CosmosMariners.com
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3. You can explore some of the old research stations. History and ruins can always get my attention, so you'd better believe that I'd been in line to check out the museum at the old British base on Goudier Island. Here, visitors can see how life at a research base in the 1950s would have been. Plus, as an added bonus, there's a post office here where you can send out postcards. I know I'd love to get some mail from Antarctica!

5 Reasons to Visit Antarctica | CosmosMariners.com
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2. There's an incredible amount of wildlife. From leopard seals and killer whales to Adelie and Gentoo penguins, you'll get to see animals that are otherwise only found in zoos or wildlife parks. Seeing a penguin in its natural habitat would be an experience that I would remember for the rest of my life.

5 Reasons to Visit Antarctica | CosmosMariners.com
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1. It's the last untouched place on earth. Other than a handful of researchers, no one lives in Antarctica. So, when you visit, it's just you, the animals, and nature for thousands of miles. About how many other places on this planet can you say the same?

Are you ready to bundle up and go? The best way to make your Antarctica dreams come true is by going on a cruise: companies like Hurtigruten offer some really amazing experiences at the bottom of the world.

Is Antarctica on your bucket list? What would you like to see or do in a South Pole trip? If you're one of the lucky people who's already made this journey, tell me all about it!

This was a collaborative post with Hurtigruten. All opinions are my own.

A First-timer's Guide to Savannah, Georgia: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep

A First-timer's Guide to Savannah, Georgia: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com

Stately oaks dripping Spanish moss.

Gentile Southern mansions nestled around small parks.

Artsy students hurrying off to class, sketchbooks clutched in their hands.

Sounds idyllic, doesn't it?

You can find all of this (and lots, lots more) on the streets of Savannah, Georgia, one of my top three favorite Southern cities (Charleston being the numero uno in my book, of course, and New Orleans rounding out the trio).

Savannah's historic district isn't very big, but if you're visiting for the first time, you've probably got plenty of questions about what to see and do and where you should stay and eat. This isn't a definitive guide by any means, but hopefully, it will help you dive into the beauty and charm of Savannah.

Where to Stay

In the downtown area, there are plenty of great hotels within walking distance of everything that Savannah has to offer. Over the years, we've taken a bit of a hotel tour with all of the different places that we've stayed.

A First-timer's Guide to Savannah, Georgia: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
The view from our room at the Hilton Savannah DeSoto

The Hilton Savannah DeSoto doesn't have a very glamorous lobby (though it does have a Starbucks!) but the rooms have recently been renovated. It's about halfway between River Street and Forsyth Park which puts you within easy walking distance of the entire historic district.

A First-timer's Guide to Savannah, Georgia: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
Andaz Savannah on Ellis Square
We stayed at the Andaz Savannah (then known as Avia Savannah) one night of our honeymoon and loved the trendy vibe and super modern decor. It's located on Ellis Square just across from the City Market.

For my 29th birthday, we took a trip to Savannah with my parents and my sister and stayed in the Hampton Inn and Suites Historic District. As far as Hampton Inns go, this was a particularly nice one. A note to newcomers: at night, I wouldn't recommend wandering too far off Martin Luther King Boulevard away from the historic district if you stay at this hotel. I never felt unsafe walking to and from the Hampton Inn, but the area behind the hotel towards I-16 gets into not-so-great-for-tourists territory pretty quickly.

A First-timer's Guide to Savannah, Georgia: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
The Westin Savannah Harbor Resort from the water taxi

On our most recent trip, we ventured across the river and stayed at the Westin Savannah Harbor Resort. Initially, I was hesitant about taking the water taxi back and forth, but I ended up loving the fact that we could retire to a quiet hotel away from the hustle and bustle of downtown. Plus, the views were amazing!

There are of course, dozens of other places to stay in the historic district including the Mansion on Forsyth Park, the Hyatt Regency, and the River Street Inn

Booking.com


What to Eat

The answer to this is everything. (I kid. Sort of.) If you're interested in the super popular restaurants of the historic district, head over to The Lady and Sons or The Pirates House. I, for one, was pleasantly surprised by The Pirate House, and their BLT salad is one of my favorite meals in Savannah. I love that you get to dine in the historic buildings which date back to Savannah's colonial days. While Clary's Cafe is one of those incredibly popular spots, it comes by the fame for the right reasons. They serve a top notch breakfast here all day. I'm a huge fan of their strawberry cream cheese French toast!

A First-timer's Guide to Savannah, Georgia: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
Outside the Pirates House Restaurant
The River Street area has lots of places to eat. Huey's is right by the water, so you can watch the barges come down the Savannah river while you eat a muffaletta. Kevin Barry's Irish Pub is also a popular spot by the water.

Another concentration of restaurants is in and around Ellis Square. In the City Market, you can grab some tasty wings at Wild Wings Cafe or build your own pizza over at Vinnie Van GoGo's (the pesto pizza with mushrooms and onions is a personal favorite).

Sample some local brews over at Moon River Brewing Company or Southbound Brewing Company. Southbound is just outside of the historic district, so you'll have to hop in your car if you're staying downtown.

What to See

On your first trip to Savannah, you absolutely have to allot time just to wander: part of the city's charms can only be absorbed when you're away from a guide book or a tour bus. Park your car and walk from spot to spot on your itinerary--everything's close enough to easily walk if you're in decent shape.
A First-timer's Guide to Savannah, Georgia: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
One of the many beautiful historic houses in downtown Savannah

  • Take a historical tour. Savannah dates back to 1733, so you've got almost three centuries of happenings to discover. There are multiple ways to accomplish this, as Savannah offers walking tours, trolley tours, and carriage tours
  • Get spooked. If you're into the paranormal (or if you just like being scared a little!), Savannah's supposedly one of the most actively haunted cities in America. I guess the people who lived there liked it so much that they couldn't leave when they shuffled off this mortal coil. While there are ghost tours by foot and by trolley, my favorite is one that takes you around in an old hearse. I've taken a lot of ghost tours, and the Savannah Hearse Ghost Tours remains at the top of the list for both Landon and I. (And no, they didn't pay me to say that!)
  • Find the perfect souvenir. From your standard t-shirts and blankets in River Street shops to the first edition books over at the Book Lady Book Store, you'll be sure to find whatever tickles your fancy. Stroll down West Broughton Street for a bit of everything from Banana Republic to the Savannah Bee Company.  
  • Support the local arts. With one of the nation's top art schools (Savannah College of Art and Design, affectionally known as SCAD) located in downtown, you can be sure that there's no shortage of art galleries and exhibitions. There's an incredible rotating gallery on East Liberty Street where you can view and buy the work of SCAD students and faculty. 
A First-timer's Guide to Savannah, Georgia: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
Outside of E. Shaver Booksellers, one of my favorite independent bookstores in Savannah
Other great spots to include on your trip are the fountain at Forsyth Square, the Juliette Gordon-Low house, the Mercer Williams house (famous for being the home of the songwriter and the later living quarters of Jim Williams, who features heavily in John Berendt's book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil), and Bonaventure Cemetery (the gorgeous final resting place of Johnny Mercer and poet Conrad Aiken, who's tombstone inspired my blog's name!). 


What to Know

  • Check the calendar. If you're going around the time of the Savannah Marathon or St. Patrick's Day, prepare to pay higher prices and deal with bigger crowds. The St. Patrick's Day parade draws over a million visitors and is consistently ranked among the nation's biggest St. Patty parades. 
  • Expect to pay for parking. As with any historic or downtown district, parking is at a premium. Even if you're staying at a hotel in the downtown area, you'll still see a parking surcharge on your hotel bill. If you're driving in from a hotel elsewhere, there are plenty of parking garages and on-street parking meters. 
  • Make use of the free transportation. The Dot trams run in a circle around the historic district, and the River Street train takes people along the waterfront. There's also a water taxi that goes in a triangle between the Westin (across the Savannah River from the historic area), the Waving Girl statue, and the Hyatt Regency. 
  • The Hyatt Regency on River Street has free bathrooms on the second floor. Technically for the use of those attending a function in one of the ballrooms, these bathrooms are always clean and generally empty. There's also a nice seating area for nursing moms who want a little privacy. 
This post contains affiliate links to the hotels listed. If you choose to book through those links, I will receive a small kickback from the sale at no additional cost to you. 

Have you visited Savannah? If you have, what was your favorite part? If you haven't, is Savannah on your travel list?

A First-timer's Guide to Savannah, Georgia: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com


If you liked this post, you'll love my other first-timer's guides! Check out the guide for each city by clicking on the image below:

First-Timer Travel Guides 
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Should You Visit Walt Disney World with a Toddler? | The Pros and Cons of an Early Visit

Should You Visit Walt Disney World with a Toddler? | The Pros and Cons of an Early Visit

After nearly four weeks, I'm finally getting ready to blog about our Walt Disney World trip. I blame all of those December holidays that happened right after we got back. (Ha!)

In a way, I'm glad I've had a chance to step back and think about our trip. I had a lot of fun, but it was just so much different than every other Disney trip I've had.

Should You Visit Walt Disney World with a Toddler? | The Pros and Cons of an Early Visit

Not better. Not worse. Just different.

Should You Visit Walt Disney World with a Toddler? | The Pros and Cons of an Early Visit

The trip was the first one for our then 18-month-old daughter. I am a huge Disney parks fan, so I'd been planning Britton's first visit since the moment that I found out that I was pregnant. (Yes, I'm a total overachiever.) My husband also had some firsts on the trip, as he'd only ever been to Magic Kingdom.

Should You Visit Walt Disney World with a Toddler? | The Pros and Cons of an Early Visit
That face is worth all of the stress that goes into planning a big family trip!

If you're thinking about taking your toddler to Disney World, I'd recommend pondering the topics below before you commit.

PROS

  • There is something incredible about a small child's face when they have that first magical moment. Britton was stunned by the fact that Mickey was ACTUALLY there when we visited him in the Magic Kingdom's Town Hall. Then, the joy that she got from waving to the characters during the Magic Kingdom parade is something that I'll never forget. 
  • They're free. Kids under 3 don't need a separate ticket. With a one day single park pass for kids hover around $90, that's a significant savings if you choose to take your 2 year old instead of waiting until he's 3 or 4. 
  • They can use the Baby Centers. When Britton needed a nap during the day, we would take her to the baby center in whichever park we were visiting. Run by a Disney parks attendant, the baby centers have big, clean changing tables, nursing rooms, high chairs, and toys. The centers also have formula, clothes, toys, pacifiers, and more for sale. 
  • Cast members go out of their way to interact with the little ones. While cast members are nice to (mostly) everyone, it seemed like they would pay special attention to Britton and the other toddlers--giving them high fives, calling them "prince" or "princess," and asking them about their day. 
  • There are A LOT of rides toddlers can enjoy! The only things that you can't take your toddler on are Expedition Everest, Tower of Terror, Rock 'n' Rollercoaster, Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Splash Mountain, Kali River Rapids, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, and Indy Speedway. Other than that, you're good to go! Word of warning, though: just because you can take your toddler doesn't mean that you should. We had a freak out during It's Tough to Be a Bug when Britton got scared. You'll have to make judgment calls based on your own child's personality and fear levels. 
Should You Visit Walt Disney World with a Toddler? | The Pros and Cons of an Early Visit
And then, there are the meltdowns.

CONS

  • Forget about the nighttime entertainment. The parades and evening shows are some of my favorite things to do at Disney World. But when you've got a toddler who get very, very cranky when she stays up past 7:30 p.m., those later programs have to go on without you. Of all of the things we missed, this seemed to have the most impact. Missing Holiday Wishes, Fantasmic, and Illuminations left a big hole in this trip for me. 
  • You'll have to skip the big rides. I, for one, am a theme park thrill ride junkie, and going to Expedition Everest, Rock 'n' Rollercoaster, and Tower of Terror are non-negotiable to me. Thankfully, my mom (who hates thrill rides) was along for the trip, so she watched Britton while we went on the big kid rides. There's always Rider Swap if you're there with your significant other, but I don't care for waiting in line and riding by myself. 
  • You will come to hate your stroller. You open it up when you leave your room. You close it up when you get on the bus. You open it up when you get off of the bus. You have to find stroller parking. You have to go back and find your stroller in stroller parking. I know little ones can't walk all of the time, and I know that strollers are a necessity, but I was so glad to pack that thing up at the end of the trip!
  • Your child won't remember it. When I was talking about our trip, this was the one thing that kept coming up. "But she won't remember going!" people told us. If you're only going to Disney World once, and you want your child to have memories of the experience, I'd hold off until he or she's 7 or 8. My toddler had a blast, and we took lots of pictures, but I know she won't remember this specific trip as she gets older. 
Of course, it all comes down to your personal preference and your family's expectations of the trip. If you want to spend 15 hours a day in the park, catch all of the shows and the fireworks, and eat at Victoria and Albert's every night, I'd recommend waiting until the kids are older. But if you're willing to go at a much slower pace, visit lots and lots of characters, and ride Dumbo for 15 times in a row, then I'd say go full steam ahead with your trip! If you do decide to take your baby or toddler, check out my Disney for toddlers tips!

When do you think is the best age to take kids to Disney? How old were you on your first trip? Did you wait until a certain age for your kids?

P.S. If you want to read more about our visits to Walt Disney World, reviews of on-property hotels, and more, head over here!

Should You Visit Walt Disney World with a Toddler? | The Pros and Cons of an Early Visit

The Caledonian Sleeper: Getting from London to Edinburgh in (Cramped) Style

The Caledonian Sleeper: Getting from Edinburgh to London in (Cramped) Style | CosmosMariners.com

When traveling between London and Edinburgh (two of the UK's best cities in my opinion!), you have a couple of transportation options: driving and flying are popular choices, but you could always go the hitchhiking or running options. I would not recommend the latter two, as the chances that you would be found in a ditch are fairly high on both.

And then there's my favorite option: the train.

I know it's incredibly old fashioned to say this, but there's just something so romantic about traveling by train. I could be a countess in hiding or a very fashionable (but discreet!) spy. The possibilities are endless.

When Landon and I did our UK Extravaganza trip, we flew in and out of London, and then took trains to and from Edinburgh for the Scotland portion of our trip. On the way up, we drowsily took the standard express train, of which I remember very little since I was operating on about an hour of sleep.

On the way back, however, we decided to go in style and take the Caledonian Sleeper. It leaves every night but Saturdays from Waverley Station in Edinburgh and stops in London Euston. (There are also several other sleeper train routes including Aberdeen to London Euston and Glasgow to London Euston.)

We got to Waverley around 9:30 p.m. and proceeded to do the following at the train station: read, gossip about the other people around us, glare at people who looked as if they wanted to steal our luggage, and drink wine from a plastic cup that we bought from the convenience store. I know--we're so classy we can't stand it.

The beverage of choice in train stations
By the time 11 p.m. rolled around, Landon and I were standing on the platform outside of the sleeper train, ready to jump in our pjs and go to bed in our luxurious twin berth room.

The Caledonian Sleeper: Getting from Edinburgh to London in (Cramped) Style | CosmosMariners.com

We showed our tickets, hauled ourselves down the minuscule hallway and found our room.

I know that train rooms aren't going to be spacious, but ours was so teeny tiny as to be Hobbit-sized. Landon and I took turns sitting on the top bunk while the other used the sink for tooth brushing and face washing. There wasn't an in room bathroom--just the sink--so be prepared to put on your slippers and use the bathrooms at either end of your train car.

The Caledonian Sleeper: Getting from Edinburgh to London in (Cramped) Style | CosmosMariners.com

Overall, the beds weren't too bad for twin bunks on a train. They certainly weren't down comforters and Egyptian cotton sheets, but we were there for the experience and not the luxury accommodations. The thing that I couldn't get used to was the train moving: I'd fall asleep and then wake up with the foot of my bed about six inches higher than the head when we'd go around a corner. That was a strange feeling!

In the morning, a porter comes around and knocks on all of the doors. You put an order in the night before for coffee or tea, so there's a hot beverage and several packets of shortbread waiting on you upon waking. Sounds like a good morning to me.

What to know when you're booking:

  • There are three types of accommodations: single berth, twin berth, and seated sleeper. Single gets you your very own room, while twin is what Landon and I stayed in. I'd highly avoid the seated sleeper (even though it comes with the cheapest price) until you've got insomnia and really, really want to see what Scotland looks like at 3 in the morning. 
  • There's a first class single berth ticket if you're feeing fancy. It combines a train/sleeper ticket with an Underground pass. 
  • Book ahead. The further out you can book, the better deals you get (see below). 
  • Bargain berths will be your new best friend. I tend to plan so far out that I'm currently working on my 60th birthday party. While this is not always the healthiest (or most normal) option, sometimes I get lucky in my strange ways. Watch this ScotRail site like a hawk: there will often be double perth sleepers for 20 or 30 pounds. Compared to the normal rate of 125 pounds, those are some pretty sweet savings. By booking several months out, Landon and I got a hotel room/train ticket/ breakfast for about half the cost of a cheapo normal night's stay.
  • Make sure there's a bed icon by the price when you book. Otherwise, you just bought yourself a five hour journey sitting straight up.
We had a blast on the train ride, and taking a sleeper train was a highlight of our trip. It wasn't the perfect overnight accommodation, but it was a lot of fun!

Do you like traveling by train? Have you ever taken an overnight train journey?