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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.

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?

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.

Climbing Out of a Dark Hole: How Blogging Helped Me Find Myself Again

Climbing out of a Dark Hole: How My Blog Helped Me Find Myself Again | CosmosMariners.com

In June 2013, I gave birth to my daughter during an emergency c-section. She wasn't breathing well, so she was rushed to the Level II nursery at the hospital, the first of many tumbling dominos that ended with a four day trip to a Level III NICU and many touch and go moments.

Five days after she was born, we brought our beautiful daughter home. She'd been cleared by the doctors, and we were assured that there was no long term effects from those scary days.

During the first few weeks of parenthood, I floated through diaper changes and 2 a.m. feedings thanks to a combination of very strong pain medications and very little sleep. My husband and I were tired, but that's to be expected with a small baby.

He went back to work, and I began to struggle. So many other moms I knew were back up and at it just a few weeks after giving birth. But I could barely get up and dressed even in those weeks after I stopped taking my pain medication. I tried to present a brave face to the world, but inside, something felt broken, forgotten, empty, irreparable.

I was terrified that I would do something wrong with my daughter. That I would harm her in some way. That she would be better off if I just left forever. That I would never feel like myself again. That I had lost something of myself in the process of becoming a parent.

Before having my daughter, I was a happy-go-lucky, glass-half-full kind of person. I lived my life with joy, determination, and excitement.

But afterwards, I was a different person. I stopped writing in my blog. From June to November of 2013, there are no posts here. I didn't have anything to say to anyone, and I didn't care that I'd lost my voice. I stopped reading, which was one of my favorite things in the world. I stopped caring about traveling, another of my favorite things. I was convinced that I was stupid, overweight, and failing at everything that I was doing. Mostly, I just wanted to hide in my closet and cry.

In November 2013, I found out that my grandfather had inoperable, terminal lung cancer. I was at his side when he passed away five days after the diagnosis. You can imagine what this did to my already fragile psyche.

My husband struggled with how to support me: he encouraged me. He reminded me how healthy our daughter was. He reminded me how hard I was trying at everything. He tried the tough love approach. He argued with me.

Nothing seemed to get through.

Until one day, when he suggested that I start blogging again. He knew how much I loved journaling and blogging, and he'd been sad to see me push that part of my life aside. He told me to set small goals: publishing one or two posts a week.

So, I did. I wrote about whatever was going on with me that day. Those posts, with their lack of focus and irratic desperation, make me cringe from a writing perspective. But, when I go back and read them, I can remember the desperation I had. Sometimes, those blog posts were all that were keeping me from laying on the floor and sobbing.

From November 2013 to May 2014, I felt as if I were taking two steps backwards to every one step I took forward. I loved my blog and would often go to sleep thinking about my next posts. I was pouring my heart and soul into my blog and writing 5 posts a day, but I didn't have many readers. That, in my mind, justified my lack of self-worth.

Then, in May 2014, I found out that I'd won a press trip to St. Petersburg, Florida. Landon and I went on that trip, the first vacation we'd had in almost two years, and it was as if the clouds were parting again. I came back home and wrote with a fury that I didn't know I had anymore. I loved travel blogging. I LOVED it.

And slowly, slowly, slowly, since then, I've come back to my old self again, one post, one trip, one day at a time.

I've been a better parent and a better spouse since then. Blogging may seem a silly way to overcome such a soul-crushing experience, but it combines so many of the things that I love into one package, and I feel lucky to have this space.

I still have moments of doubt in myself, but they're nothing like I used to have. Looking back, I now know that I had some form of postpartum anxiety or depression. But I didn't know enough to seek help: I'd never had issues like that before, so I assumed that they were just caused by my lack of ability as a first time parent.

No matter where you are in your blogging, parenting, or life journey, I hope you know that you are good enough. And if you're having doubts about your self-worth, let me tell you this: you are an amazing person, and the world is lucky to have you. And if you're feeling depressed or alone, reach out for help. Find that person or thing that gives you a reason to get up in the morning.

Hello, 2015! I Have Big Plans for You.

Happy New Year, everyone! I brought in 2015 by reading and watching college football before grumpily going to bed at 12:02 a.m.

I bet you're a little jealous that your NYE wasn't as cool as mine. Right?!

As I look forward to what 2015 has in store for me, I'm excited about the possibilities. 2013 was a rough year for so many reasons (tough pregnancy, my unexpected hospitalization, a trip to the NICU for my newborn, a house flood, the death of my grandfather), and 2014 felt like a transition year (we got a new house, I refocused my blog, I started traveling more regularly again).

All of this can only mean that 2015 is going to be PHENOMENAL.

So, without further ado, here are a few things I've got swirling around in my little ol' head for the big '15.