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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, 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. 

Here's how our day went, and what you should expect if you're going on the Bacardi Factory Tour in Puerto Rico.

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 Best Plantations in Louisiana: the River Road and Beyond

5 Best Plantations in Louisiana: the River Road and Beyond | CosmosMariners.com

Beignets, alligators, the French Quarter, and historic houses: these are typically what you'll find at the top of most visitors' Louisiana itineraries. Even if you only have a few days to explore New Orleans and beyond, the chances that you'll end up at a plantation are pretty high.

But with all of the options--and the history, both good and bad--which of the state's many sprawling properties should you visit?

I've done the hard work for you and have explored all over the Pelican State to find the 5 best plantations in Louisiana. Make the most of your time along the River Road and beyond as you learn about Southern history at these properties.

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?