Relaxing Spa Getaway

How many of you have you gone on “vacation” because you need to relax, and that “vacation” makes you return home even more exhausted than you were before you left?  Me.  Like… Every. Single. Time.  I usually try to get the most out of everywhere I go.  I never  take time to just get pampered, eat good food, and sit in front of a fire.

At least, I never did until just recently.  My husband and I are proud new parents of a beautiful, smiley, healthy baby boy.  As much as I love every tiny little inch of that chubby little baby, he’s exhausting.  I don’t even know when the last time I got a full night’s sleep was.  I wouldn’t trade it for the world, but a girl needs a break every now and then!

My amazing in-laws treated us to our first 2 nights away from our little man over Valentine’s Day.  They suggested we make the 5.5 hour drive North to “Elkhorn Resort and Spa” in Riding Mountain National Park in Manitoba, Canada, and I’m SO glad they did!

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Before I go into details about the resort, I want to give a shout-out to their fantastic staff, especially Meghan from the reception desk at Solstice Spa.  Immediately after checking in with the hotel front desk, I realized that my luggage was left on the bed… At our house… 5.5 hours away…  Seriously?!  I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry.  Well, now we can laugh about it, but that wasn’t how I felt at the time.  Long story short, my husband ran into Meghan while he was trying to round up some toiletries for me at the hotel.  She told him to quickly go to the nearby town before things started to close and pick up things I thought I needed like some clothes.  The spa was open until 8, so we had plenty of time to come back and find a swimsuit for me to wear for the Mineral Pools at the spa the next day.  When we got to the Spa later that night to shop, she says, “Be right back!” and comes back with a handful of samples for me.  Moisturizer, lotion, cleanser, etc.  I could have kissed her!  To top it all off, she even gave me her cell # and told me to text her with anything I needed and she would bring it from home.  Can you say sweetest person ever?!

 

Lodging

We stayed right in the hotel in one of their Deluxe King Rooms with a Fireplace (pictured below), but there are quite a range of accommodations.

You can stay in a few different types of rooms in the hotel, or if you don’t mind a short little walk, or want to be with friends or family, you can stay on property in an adorable Chalet that are at all sorts of price points.  I think next time, we might grab some friends or family and rent out a Chalet (pictured below) with a few bedrooms!

 

Food

Now that we’ve covered the lodging, let’s talk about my favorite part of every vacation — the FOOD!  There are 2 restaurants on site, and it is delicious.   The first night, we sat in the bar side of the restaurant, Buffalo Bar.  Since we were there over Valentine’s Day, they had a special 6 course meal on the evening of the 14th, which was on the restaurant side, 10 Steakhouse.

img_6277.jpgNight #1 we kept pretty casual (especially since my wardrobe was limited) and sat at the bar side where we could watch the Winter Olympics on one of the many large televisions.  We ordered a bunch of random things off of the menus, including wings, mussels, soup, and the wanton nachos that my new friend, Meghan recommended.  If you know me, you know I can’t turn down a good bowl of French Onion Soup.  It was perfectly cheesy and delicious.

The second night, we wined and dined at the 10 Steakhouse.  Oh. My. Word. YUM! We were started off with a Veggie Dumpling with a zesty peanut sauce, then a Strawberry Mesclun Salad, which had pickled red onions?? Strange, but delicious.

We both chose the Pan-Seared Scallops for our appetizers, however the Baked Brie sounded amazing as well!  The menu had all sorts of fancy descriptions like this…”Pan Seared Scallops topped with Quebec foie gras glazed with balsamic vinegar and served with an apricot & fig jam with fine herbs.”  I don’t know about you, but I had no idea what “foi gras” was.  I knew I liked scallops, and it sounded good… so I went for it.  We ate every bite of food on our plates, including this odd little thing that kind of had the texture of a mushroom.  Well… we asked the waiter what it was, and he had to go ask the chef who informed him that it was duck liver!!  Good thing I asked after-the-fact!

I’ve never had an “ice course” before, but I wish this was more common!  Our Strawberry and Lime Sorbet came out in a bowl literally made of ice.  It was the cutest thing!

I’m a little weird and don’t like ordering the same thing as someone else.  I like to try something different.  I ordered the Beef Tenderloin, and hubs got the Elk Striploin (pictured below) so we could share.  Both were great choices, but it was nice to try each other’s dish.

For dessert, I went with the Red Velvet Cake, which came with some chocolate truffles and had this cool homemade hard candy on the top.  Hubs went for the Triffle.

Ok, but enough about the food.  Let’s talk about the main attraction… The Spa!

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Mmmm. As I write this blog post, I’m coming off two full days of volleyball tournaments.  Every muscle in my body is screaming and the spa sounds nothing short of wonderful right now.  They had a Relaxation Package that we took advantage of.  It included 2 nights lodging, $75 in meal vouchers and some Spa Credit.  So our 2nd day there, we did a full out spa day.  There is a no camera and cell-phone policy, so I apologize for not having pictures for you!

They ask you to come early enough to check-in and fill out their new customer forms.  Both the men’s and women’s locker rooms have relaxing steam showers, and a couple of showers with multiple shower heads.  Once we were in our swimsuits (required for the mineral pool pictured below) and our fluffy spa towels, we were ready to be pampered.

We started off with a couple’s massage, which was good- but not life altering.  We had arranged for our lunch to be ready for us when we were done with those.  So after we finished our light, but delightful lunch, we were ready to soak in the mineral pool and jacuzzi.  Ok- so we did not realize how hard it would be to get a lounger.  If you want one, go there right away in the morning.  We waited around for 2 to open up all afternoon, and of course they only opened up right before our second spa treatments were ready to start. These were our favorite treatments.  I had a body scrub, and hubs went for the reflexology (which he loved).

This body scrub??  Wow.  That’s all I have to say about it.  My esthetician, Trina, was AMAZING.  It basically involved her scrubbing off my dead skin first, and then rubbing a product in that nourished and tightened my skin.  Everything she used was made with fresh fruits and veggies and smelled SO good.  Mango, coconut, pear… delicious.  Then she wrapped my body up like a cocoon made of warm towels, and gave me the most amazing facial.  The product she had applied all over my body was really sticky, so once the facial is done and you have your robe back on, she walks you to the locker room, where you sit in the steam shower for 10 minutes or so and then can shower it off.  It was the most perfect way to end the day, and I went home with my skin literally glowing.

SnapseedOverall, I would definitely go back again.  Going in the summer would be fun because of the hiking opportunities, but it’s like the perfect winter getaway.  I mean, who doesn’t want to snuggle up next to the fire (that is in your hotel room!!) with a loved one after a good ol’ day at the spa?!  So pack a bag, and don’t forget to put it in the car!  Then head North to the Elkhorn Resort and Solstice Spa!

I would be more than happy to help you arrange this fun little getaway!  Get in touch with me today, and we can start working on the perfect package for you!

cheyenne@alltravelmatters.com

 

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Discovering Hawaii

Hawaii.  The land of gnarly waves, breathtaking cliffs, beautiful waterfalls, vibrant ocean waters and more fresh fruit and fish than you can imagine.  Of course we had to see for ourselves, so hubs and I hit the road to the airport.  Nearly 24 hours later, we found ourselves in Princeville, Kauai.

It was late when we checked into our condo, but we were greeted with a fragrant flower lei for me, and a simple seashell necklace for hubs.

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We were so exhausted that we barely made it into the room before we passed out.  We stayed at The Wyndham Bali Hai Villages and couldn’t be happier about our decision.  It was in a great location between the hikes we wanted to do and the busy town with delicious food trucks.

 

Hanakapiai Beach Hike

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img_3466Kauai is the wettest place on earth.  They had substantial amounts of rain while we were there, making this hike a bit interesting from time to time.  The paths consisted mostly of a muddy slip-n-slide, but the views did not disappoint, and it was definitely worth it.  Hint– don’t bring your brand new shoes with for this hike.  You might need to throw them away when you’re done!  If I would have known in advance, I would have wore my Chacos, which would have made crossing this river a little easier as well.dsc00938

The water didn’t get much deeper than what you see pictured above, so it wasn’t hard to cross.  But if you don’t like to get wet or dirty, this hike is not for you.

Opaeka’a Falls

We checked out of our hotel on the North Coast of Kauai and started making our way down to our next hotel.  On the way, we made a pit-stop for the waterfall loving individual in the group (that would be me).

We were wanting to check out Wailua Falls instead, but the road was closed due to excessive rain.  So we settled for this little detour instead.

IMG_3489I’m married to a man that will do just about anything for some street food.  So when we found out that there was a farmers market with some stands making street tacos, he made sure that was the next stop.  We made quite a few food truck and side road stand stops.  I have to say it’s some of the best (and cheapest) food you can find in Hawaii.  We still talk about the breakfast burritos we had one morning.

Driving in Kauai is super easy, and SO beautiful.  If you don’t like driving in big cities and get nervous renting cars on vacation, this is one place I would say you could do easily.  Kauai is very quiet compared to Oahu.  The vegetation makes the driving so pretty as well.  Here’s a picture of our favorite little road that we drove numerous times getting from place to place.

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After our morning and afternoon adventures, we found ourselves at our hotel, The Sheraton Kauai.  We had enough time to enjoy a couple hours of sunshine on the beach before we went to find some delicious (and expensive) food!

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My husband and I can agree on one thing when we are on vacation- it’s always acceptable to splurge on good food.  So we did just that.  There was this fun little downtown area that had a lot of little shops and great restaurants.  Ask your concierge at your hotel what they would suggest.  Based on what you like, they will be able to give you some great suggestions and let you see a menu before they make a reservation for you!  We love seafood, so we are always looking for fresh fish when on tropical vacations.  We went with Merriman’s Fish House the first night.

Sunrises at the Sheraton Kauai, Poipu Beach

There’s nothing like a sunrise– when the morning is calm, and all the other vacationers are sleeping in.  Since we had a hard time getting used to the time change, it was easy for us to go to bed early and get up before the sun.  We had the beach to ourselves for quite a while, and then only had to share it with one or two other people, which made for such a peaceful, beautiful morning.  We grabbed our coffees and headed down.  That Hawaiian sky doesn’t disappoint.

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Kauai Coffee Plantation

If you love coffee and want to sample over 25 different flavors and roasts, you need to visit the Kauai Coffee Plantation. It is the largest coffee farm in the United States and has over 4 MILLION coffee trees!  You can get a free and informative tour of the grounds, or you can do a self-paced tour and eaves drop from time to time like we did.  The grounds are beautiful.  And I won’t ever get over how vibrant and beautiful the plants and flowers are!

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My mom loves chocolate covered coffee beans and they had them here.  I didn’t purchase them because I was sure I would find them cheaper somewhere else.  I was wrong.  We stopped at so many grocery stores, and nobody had ever heard of them.  We ended up having to buy them at the airport for much more.  So this is a great place to take home some souvenirs for your coffee loving loved ones! Once we sampled some of the coffee for ourselves, we hit the road again.  We had booked a sunset dinner cruise of the Napali Coast, so we did a little off-roading on our way to the starting point.

 

There was a beach called “glass beach” that I was really interested in seeing.  It was on the way to where our dinner cruise started so we decided to check it out.  It wasn’t nearly as cool as I thought it would be, so we went off the beaten path so hubs could play on the rocks.  DSC01134

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Isn’t it crazy how these cute little things can grow in the middle of rocks?!  I can’t even keep plants alive in dirt.

Na Pali Coast

The Na Pali Coast is only accessible by foot.  We are lovers of hiking and camping, which is the only way to really see this coast in it’s entirety from the land.  If we would have had more time to spend on vacation, we would have loved to do this.  But instead, we decided to see it from the water.  You can also do this from the air on a helicopter tour, but we LOVED our dinner cruise.

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What to bring: Sunglasses (if they are expensive, hold onto them tightly!), swim-suit, waterproof jacket, waterproof camera or a GoPro.  For a lot of the trip, we are cruising right along and you WILL get wet if you are on the deck.  Trust me, you want to be on the deck.  We saw a group of humpback whales, and also a pod of spinner dolphins (babies included) — so cute!!  You don’t want to miss things like that!

We made sure there were bathrooms on board, and remember how I said we love our food?  We also made sure that the chef prepared the food onboard and didn’t prepare it earlier and just warm it up on board.  The food was DELICIOUS!  They also have inclusive drinks.  I would love to tell you more about this tour operator.  This was our favorite part of our entire trip!  Please ask me about them!

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Waimea Canyon

The next morning we took a drive to Waimea Canyon to see Waipoo Falls.  I’m glad we got there when we did.  It was pretty rainy that day and by the time we were done taking some pictures, the clouds had moved in, which made the falls almost impossible to see.  Here is a slideshow of a few of the pictures from the Canyon.

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This was our last night in Kauai, so we decided to splurge on some great food again.  This time, we chose Beach House.  The concierge told us that the restaurant we chose had stadium seating and you wanted to be sure to get there right away so you could get the best view of the sunset.  He was SO right.  We had the best meal of our entire trip at this restaurant, and the view didn’t hurt!

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From Kauai, we caught a regional flight to Honolulu, where we would spend a few more nights before heading home.

 

Pearl Harbor

My husband is a history buff, so this was definitely a “must-see” on the list.  We rented a car again, which made it easy to come and go as we pleased.  Honolulu traffic is NOT like Kauai traffic though.  So if you don’t like busy traffic, then you might want to look into other options.  You can definitely spend several hours here if you like reading and viewing all of the information.  I would suggest grabbing a bite to eat before you go though, as there isn’t much more than soda and chips once you’re in.  Also- leave your bag in the car.  They do not allow backpacks, purses, etc inside.

 

The North Shore

My husband LOVES snorkeling, and I’ve always wanted to swim with a sea turtle.  The water in Kauai was really choppy from the wind we had over there, so we weren’t able to see very well the few times we went snorkeling.  If you visit Oahu, do yourself a favor and take a drive to the North Shore.  In my opinion, it’s way better than the big city.  There are a ton of delicious food trucks and even a shrimp farm if you like that sort of thing.  The beaches are beautiful, and you might even find a few fun places to snorkel.  We really enjoyed Shark’s Cove.

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Our last stop on our drive was Lanikai Beach.  We weren’t blessed with calm days while we were in Hawaii, so we didn’t really get to enjoy a true “beach day.”  But I am stubborn, so I was determined to get at least one.  We hung out at this beach for a while, but it was so windy that we could only manage an hour or so.  The color of the water is insane.  So even if you can’t enjoy a beach day like us, it is definitely worth the drive to get some pictures and enjoy the beauty.

 

Once we had enough of the wind, we went back to our rental and got ready to find some food.  We did some research and found supposedly the best lobster.  Holy crap, was it delicious, and HUGE!! Yes, the bibs were completely necessary.

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Hanauma Bay

If you love snorkeling, or are new to it and don’t want to go into waters too deep, you need to check out Hanauma Bay.  There is something for everyone, and if you don’t want to go out too deep, there is plenty of shallow water with activity.

It is a State Park, so there is a small fee to enter and they make you take a short class before you’re allowed to enter, but it’s in a vibrant little cove with a lot of sealife!  It also isn’t open every day, so make sure you do your research before just heading that way.

Of course, it was once again windy, so we weren’t able to get out deep enough to see my sea turtles!!  But we did see group after group of fish.

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This was our last day in Oahu.  We quick drove back to our rental to shower before our long flight back home.

Hawaii is such a fun place to vacation.  Writing this blog has allowed me to re-visit it again almost a year later.  Thanks to all of my reminiscing,  I’m now craving some delicious island food!  We will be back, Hawaii!


 

If you are thinking about a trip to Hawaii, I would love to help you!  Send me an email at cheyenne@alltravelmatters.com, or message me on my business Facebook Page here.  I would love to hear from you!  Be sure to “like” me on Facebook and follow my blog to stay updated with what is going on.  Thanks for reading!

Cruising Majestic Alaska

In July of 2017, I was able to go on a dream trip to Alaska with my mom.  Warning- Sappy story ahead-

Over Christmas of 2016, one of our favorite bands, For King & Country, were doing a giveaway for a cruise they would be on.  The instructions were like most giveaways – tag who you would take and tell us why.  That was a no-brainer for me.  I love my spouse dearly and would have loved for him to join us, but it was my mom and dad’s dream to go on an Alaskan Cruise to celebrate an anniversary.  Plus, she loved this band maybe even more than me!  So of course, the first person to pop into my head was my mom.  It will be 10 years this Christmas Day that dad will be gone.  And the precious thing is that they would be celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary this year.  Well, fast forward a month to this surprising message I received on Facebook. 18581595_1441140869276895_2221623778755740735_n

“CONGRATS! You and your mom Cathy were chosen as the winners of the Alaskan Cruise! … We will be announcing you guys as the winners soon! We are very excited for you! Congrats again!”

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From left to right: Josh Smallbone, Rebecca St. James, Me, Mom, Joel Smallbone

I’m not going to bore you with all of the details, but I’m just so thankful for the opportunity to take such a special trip with such a special woman.

 


Departing Seattle, WA

Let me welcome you to room #8002 on Holland America’s Oosterdam ship.  It is one of their older ships, but still very comfortable and clean.  The staff is still very friendly, the food is still good, and the boat still floats.  Do we really need anything else??

 

For those of you on the fence about an Alaskan cruise, allow me to push you over that fence.  I’m not sure what the view out your front door is each morning, but how do you feel about waking up to… THIS… every day on vacation??

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So if you ask me if it is worth spending the extra money for a balcony and you aren’t prone to extreme sea sickness, I say… YES!!  One of my favorite parts about cruises is FREE room service.  Yes, I realize you already paid an arm and a leg for this cruise, so in reality it is not free.  But how often do you go on vacation where room service is included at all hours of the day?

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Mom and I took full advantage of this one morning so we could enjoy the sky changing color behind the mountains like pictured above.  We showered, slipped on our robes and enjoyed the view.  We were lucky enough to see a bunch of whales!  Mom got some great pictures with her zoom lens, but you’ll have to look very close to see two whales pictured below.  The one to the left is using their blowhole, and the one to the right has its tail fins sticking out before a dive down for some more fishing!

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But enough about the view from the room.  Let me break down the ports of call we had and what my highlights were at each stop.

Juneau, Alaska

Our first stop was Juneau.  We booked a combo tour that allowed us to see both the Mendenhall Glacier, and do some whale watching.  We only got an hour at the glacier, so we made the most of our time!  We started with a few pictures before we began our quick journey to Nugget Falls (about 45 minutes round trip).  It is definitely worth the hike.  The power of that waterfall was unreal!

 

After the glacier, the bus picked us back up and we were off to see some whales.  It didn’t take long before our captain had us viewing “Flame” and “Bubbles.”  They can tell which whales they are by some of the markings they have on them.

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These cuddly little guys and gals were just the icing on the cake.  I guess I shouldn’t call them “little.” Male Sea Lions can reach up to 1,200 pounds!

Hubbard Glacier

Our next day was at sea.  But it was far from a boring view.  We were able to view the Hubbard Glacier for a few hours and even got to see some “calving,” which is when pieces of the glacier break off of the edges and crash into the water.  It is SO loud and sounds like thunder.  Mom and I were super thankful for our balcony because we were able to view it without fighting crowds, and it was a lot warmer than standing on the observation deck!

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Gala Nights

There were 2 Gala nights while we were on the ship.  You saw a little bit of everything as far as attire goes.  Some wore ballgowns, while some wore dresses you would see at a wedding or the club.  I thought I would include a couple fun pictures from the ship and the Gala nights!

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Sitka, Alaska

In Sika, we decided on a little more adventurous excursion.  It was called “Sitka’s Great Adventure” and started with a small boat ride to our guide’s float house.

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While there, we were given the option to trade our shoes for some mud boots (seriously, do it) and were able to borrow backpacks and waterproof gear if we needed them.  We were also able to grab a small snack and bottled water before we got back into the boat.

Before we started our hike, we were escorted over to a wet, green area where we were able to see two black bears grazing.

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From there we took the boat to a canoe just off the shore across from his float house.  He canoed our small group of 6, plus his son, to shore in small groups.  From here, we started our back country hike to a secluded lake.

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After about an hour of hiking through a lot of wet, squishy and steep terrain, we made it to the lake at the top!  Once there, we roasted hot dogs and made s’mores before we took kayaks out on the water.

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From here, we hiked back down and were returned back to town.  We had a fun “off the beaten path” adventure.  After a quick walk around town, we made our way back to the ship to unwind.

Ketchikan, Alaska

Today was our favorite day! (Well, at least it was mine).  We started with a float plane to the Misty Fjords.  Our pilot took us to see some beautiful sights on the way, like this gorgeous waterfall.  I had never been able to see a waterfall from the top, so I thought it was pretty cool to see both sides.

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Just when you don’t think Alaska can get any more beautiful, you see it from the sky and instantly realize you were wrong.

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IMG_5154Once we got to the Misty Fjords, we took some time to walk around, take some pictures, get some fresh air, and then the pilot asked if I wanted to sit in front.  Of course, I said yes.  Having days this clear in Ketchikan isn’t very common.  So he wanted to take full advantage of this and flew us up pretty high to get a look at the mountain goats.  Can you find them?

Once we were safely brought back to town, we took some time to visit some of the little shops.  We grabbed a couple coffees from a local coffee shop where I was able to put our mark on the map (believe it or not, there weren’t too many people from North Dakota).

IMG_7056From there, we started walking the streets of this charming town.  We stumbled upon a street that had a bunch of shops that sold work from local artists. I love shops like this because it allows you to take a piece of Alaska home with you! They sold everything from books, to Christmas ornaments, paintings, and food products.

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Do you see why this is my favorite town?  Adorable, right?!

Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

Our final port of call was in Victoria.  We were planning on playing this one by ear and just seeing the city on our own.  But when we found an excursion through the cruise line called “Orca Whale Watching,” we decided we were going to go for it!  Most of our tours were booked through a 3rd party (message me for details on this, I would love to share our favorite tour operator with you).   We both really wanted to see an Orca and hadn’t had the chance to yet.  Well folks, do not be fooled.  We booked this “Orca Tour” that was nothing but a Humpback Tour (which would be great if you hadn’t already paid money for a different humpback tour).  When we asked if we would see an Orca, their response was, “Orcas are very uncommon to see.”  After this experience, we will most definitely be using that 3rd party tour operator in the future.

We did still see some whales, sea lions, and seals.  But we were pretty bummed that you don’t see the one thing they call themselves… “Orca Whale Watching.”

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Mom LOVES lighthouses.  Like she will drive miles and miles out of the way to see a lighthouse.  So she was pretty happy she got to see this!

Victoria concluded our ports of call.  From there, we got back onto the ship and woke up in Seattle to return home.  If you have the option to do transfers with the cruise line, DO IT!  You will not regret it.  It makes the whole process so easy and stress-free!  Plus, you don’t have to haul your luggage around!  It literally just shows up in your room, and at your final destination!

If you’re interested in taking an Alaskan Cruise, I would love the opportunity to help you make that happen.  Please check out my Facebook page All Travel Matters and give it a “like”, send me a message, or shoot m an email!


Photo credit: Most of these pictures are ones that I took, however I did snag a few from my mom so you could see some close-ups of the wildlife!

 

 

2 days in Banff

Banff has been on my bucket list for years, but you would be surprised at the amount of people that asked me things like, “Where is that?” or “What is that?”

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Banff National Park is in Alberta, Canada.  It is approximately 1 hour west of Calgary.  If you don’t live within driving distance, or you don’t want to make the 14 hour journey by car like my husband and I did, then I would recommend flying into Calgary.

When should I visit? The best weather will be in July and August, but the amount of tourists will be higher as well.  We went in early June (which was still busy), but we were able to have a little more peace.

What should I pack? Whatever you think should be warm enough… Pack something warmer!  It gets VERY cold at night (in the 30’s while we were there).  Don’t forget your rain jacket, hiking shoes and a nice camera!  If you will be staying in the city of Banff, pack some nice clothes to eat out in.  There are many great restaurants to choose from that you won’t want to look like a slob in.

What should I wear? If you will be hiking, dress in layers.  I had a stocking cap and sweatshirt on in the morning, but wanted shorts and a tank top by the afternoon on clear days.

Is it easy to get your dog across the Canadian border?  Yes!  Just make sure you have all of his/her rabies vaccination paperwork!  That is the only thing they ask for.  No, your dog does not need a doggy passport. 😉

Everyone has a little bit of a different traveling style, but we love to camp.  We packed our tent, sleeping bags, cooler and dog into the back of the Jeep and hit the road.

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If camping is your style too, your first step will be to figure out which campground you would like to stay at, and if you want to do back country camping, or have flushing toilets and running water.  The visitor center in Banff was very helpful. We thought with the dog, running water would be good.  We chose a campsite near Lake Louise, since that are had a lot of the things we wanted to see.

Since we were driving, we arrived at our campsite in Banff at about 3 PM with enough time to make camp, get a bite to eat and turn in early for a full day of hiking.

Day 1 – Lake Louise, Kootenay N.P, Moraine Lake

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…Would you just look at it??

If there is one thing that I cannot stress enough, it is GET UP EARLY!  We went at the very beginning of “peak” travel season, and it was PACKED!  If you want to get some great pictures by the lake without having to fight the crowds, and without having to walk a half mile from the overflow parking lot, Get. Up. Early!!

Not a camper?  No problem!  The Fairmont was literally right behind me as I was taking this picture.  So if budget isn’t an issue, why not wake up to this view out your bedroom window?!

Not a hiker?  Rent a canoe and take a nice ride across the lake!

After a few pictures of the gorgeous lake, our morning began with a hike to Lake Agnes.  The fun thing about Lake Agnes is that there is a little tea house there.  I don’t know about you, but hiking is always a little more fun to me when there is a “reward” at the top of the mountain.  Whether that be a plunging waterfall, a deep, lush valley, or a cute tea house where I can enjoy some biscuits and tea!  The hike is about 4.4 miles round-trip and is very steep.  I saw hikers of all ages out there, so if you take your time, I believe just about anybody can do it.

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About 1/2 way up the mountain, there is this beautiful little lake to take a breather at.  Or if you’re a dog, maybe a drink of water. 🙂

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Made it to the Tea House.  Lincoln was more interested in the chipmunks than the tea.

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Lake Agnes

Lake Agnes was still mostly frozen, which I think made it a little more beautiful.  The tea house is adorable.  For more information on it, click here.

Hiking back down was much quicker than the hike up.  When we got to the bottom, we snapped a few more pictures of Lake Louise before we filled our bellies for our next adventure.

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I bought my husband this cool scratch-off map a couple of years ago for Christmas.  We both grew up traveling to different parts of the country or world, but we decided that this map would only be used for places that we’ve seen together.


Since it was our first time in Alberta together, we decided to scratch another province off the map while we were there and do a little hiking in British Columbia too.  Our next hike took us to Kootenay National Park, B.C.DSC01732Our dog, Lincoln LOVES the mountains.  He is strictly a hunting dog that lives on the ranch, but in another life, I think he would choose to be a mountain dog.  Check out our camping adventure we took with him last year near Red Lodge, MT here.  We drove part of the way up to Jasper National Park and were able to see our first major wildlife sighting on the side of the road… a black bear!

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Some people are crazy.  As we pulled up to this black bear sighting, there was an older lady that got out of her car and decided to cross the road to get a better picture.  The park ranger near by asked her to please get back into her vehicle, but she didn’t really care that he was trying to keep her safe. People. Bears are not pets.  I know they’re cute, but they are not fuzzy friends.

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After just a short car ride, we made it to Stanley Glacier in Kootenay.  Remember the picture from the beginning of the day in my stocking cap and sweatshirt?  Well at this time I wished I had on shorts and a tank top.  This hike didn’t have any shade and man, was it hot!  This hike was just over 5 miles round trip and gave you a great view of the Stanley Glacier.

On our way back, we were able to see a gigantic Grizzly Bear (don’t worry, he was behind a fence).DSC01797


Our final destination for the day was Moraine Lake.  Moraine Lake is similar to Lake Louise.  And by similar, I mean breathtaking. DSC01801 We didn’t spend a ton of time here, but we wanted to see it and get a few pictures.  Moraine Lake was supposed to have some fantastic hiking, but unfortunately they were still closed due to the amount of snow they still had.  Maybe one day we will get to go back and experience some of the hikes that Moraine Lake has to offer!

Day 2 – Banff Area

I managed to pick up a pretty nasty cold on the way up to Banff, so 2 nights in the tent with nights to cold that I would wake up to my dog shivering was enough for me.  We decided to pack up camp this morning and see if there were any dog friendly rooms available for the night.  It was a good thing we did, because it was pouring cats and dogs for most of the afternoon and evening!

My tip for you here is to not be like us- Make sure you plan ahead.  We did find a room, but it wasn’t very nice and it was very loud at night.  I know… You’re probably thinking, “You’re a travel agent and you didn’t plan your vacation out?”  I know, it does sound crazy.  But my wonderful husband doesn’t like taking vacations that are completely planned out.  So we compromise and I get to do some planning, but don’t get to make a bunch of reservations.

We started our morning at this adorably delicious cafe, Coyotes Soutwestern Grill.  I highly recommend the Frittatas!  Since today was rather cold and cloudy, we didn’t do a ton of hiking.  We started off with a short drive outside of town to see Bow Falls and let the dog get some exercise.  DSC01809Our next stop was Lake Minnewanka, where we were able to enjoy our 3rd major wildlife sighting, a mountain goat!DSC01816DSC01824

We planned on doing a little hiking here, but when you’re just about to start a hike and a park ranger stops you at the entrance of the trail to warn you about potential bear encounters and your dog decides to do his business RIGHT next to the park ranger’s foot, you suddenly get a change of heart and just want to clean it up and go.  So we did.


We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around Banff.  We picked up a few things to bring home and discovered some new beverages.  After checking into our hotel, we got ready for our 5 year anniversary dinner celebration.  My husband and I are both big foodies.  We might know how to budget travel, but we definitely will splurge on a good meal from time to time.  It started down pouring while we were in the hotel, which made for a pretty adventurous run across town to our restaurant of choice, The Balkan.  But we made it.. And Oh. My. Word. Do they know how to make a mean pot of mussels!


I would have loved a few more days in Banff, and if we wouldn’t have had such a long drive, we would have had some extra time on our first and last day to enjoy more.  Another beautiful area that we drove by and I wish we could have spent time at was Vermillion Lakes.  Banff is a magical place.  If you love mountains, good food, beautiful lakes or hiking, Banff is the destination for you!

Thanks for reading, and Happy Trails!

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5 Myths About the Train

Have you ever thought about taking the train, but decided not to because you weren’t sure what to expect?

I recently took the Amtrak from Minot, ND to Whitefish, MT and I want to reassure you that some of the things you’ve thought aren’t true.

1. They take forever IMG_4151

Yes, it might be faster to drive straight through on your own, but you’re exhausted when you get there, and you’re crammed in the back of the vehicle like sardines in a can. On the train, you can walk around, take a nap whenever you want, sit in the observation car to look at the view, or play a game of cards.  If you drive, you have to stop to fill gas, use the restroom and eat anyway, so why not just trade those for a few stops to pick up some fellow travelers?

 

2. I won’t be able to sleep

Have you ever peeked into first class on an airplane and thought, “must be nice.” Well it is. And I can tell you that, not because I’ve ever flown First Class, but because I was able to experience something similar in coach while traveling with Amtrak. With a generous recline and footrests, I felt like I was sleeping on my reclining couch at home.

Sure, you might not get a full night’s rest this way, but you will definitely be restored from your early morning departure. Plus, if you plan on being on the overnight and really do want a full nights rest, you can upgrade to the sleeper car. These come with full beds and free meals. Speaking of meals…

3. I don’t want gross food

Its not! It’s not fine dining, but there are a few options from burgers, a salad, or the daily special for lunch, to the catch of the day, roasted chicken, or pasta for dinner.  But here’s a hint — Pack your own!  You can bring anything you want on the train.  I packed homemade banana bread, jerky, fruit, meat, cheese and crackers.  You can even bring a case of your favorite beverage if you really want to.

4. The bathrooms are tiny like on airplanes

Ok, so you definitely won’t get a bathroom like the one at your house, but what bathroom while you’re traveling is?? They aren’t super spacious or clean, but they are definitely bigger than the ones on airplanes.  I do have a hint for the ladies though.  Look for the “Lady’s Lounge.”  Unfortunately, I didn’t discover this little gem until we were almost home on our return ride.  There is a small sitting area, and then a large bathroom that I’m pretty sure nobody used the whole trip because nobody knew what it was.  The best part?  It says “Women Only” on the door.  Not to hate on the guys.. I’m sure it’s hard to stand and pee in a moving train… but you’re disgusting sometimes and it’s nice to have a clean place to squat.

5. I don’t want to pay for luggage

Well, you don’t have to.  Unless you’re planning on using the train to move all of your possessions to your new pad, they allow you more than enough FREE bags to get everything you need and more to your destination.  You are allowed 2 free carry-on items and 2 free checked bags, and the regulations are much better than when you fly.  Your checked bags still have to be less than 50 pounds, but the dimensions are much more forgiving.  I was able to check my snowboard bag and a duffel bag.  I brought a large carry on with food and a blanket and my backpack with all of my other things I wanted to use on the train.  My husband even brought a cooler on board.


Now that I’ve convinced you to take the train, let me comment on Whitefish.  It’s beautiful.  If you’ve never been to Glacier National Park, you need to.  But if you decide to take Amtrak, you can just sit back and enjoy the view!  Yes, these were both taken from INSIDE the train!  I love looking at the mountains, so I was in heaven.

As far as the snow, we can’t complain.  We had great snow.  The first day we could barely see because it was snowing so heavily, But Whitefish got 3 feet of fresh snow less than a week after we left.  It’s hard not to be a little bummed about missing out on that!  We stayed right on the mountain – like we were able to see the lift from our balcony.  It’s a great way to stay because there is a free snow bus that travels up and down the mountain, so you don’t need a car.  We took that into town for dinner one night, and had pizza right down the road the next.  All-in-all, our trip was a huge success.  We are so happy that we were able to take the train out with some great friends, meet up with a friend we hadn’t seen in a long time, and make some amazing memories.  Until next time…FullSizeRender (6)


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4 Reasons to Use A Travel Agent

“People still use travel agents?”  “Can you find me better prices than I can find myself?” These are two questions I hear a lot.

1. Price             dollar-sign-shutterstock_65916643

There are hundreds of websites available online for anyone to click “book” on.  Sometimes their prices can beat mine, and sometimes they can’t.  Keep in mind that these sites show you exactly what they want you to see — cheap prices and beautiful pictures.  What they don’t let you see is the picture of your view overlooking the dumpster, instead of the beach.  And they don’t tell you that your room might be under the night club instead of an area of the ship where you will actually get some sleep.  It might also include hidden resort fees that you won’t know about until you check in.  Just remember that what appears cheaper right away, could result in added on fees later, or a less than desirable experience.

2. Time                   clock-12-15_33609_md

Booking with a travel agent will save you hours of research.  You might not know where to start, but I do. You might not know where to go, when to go, or where to stay, but by answering a few questions, I can help find the right fit for you.

 

3. Stress-Free Vacation               IMG_0288 Palm Beach, The Beach House, Barbuda - Zach Stovall.JPG

When you’re on vacation, ENJOY IT!  If something goes wrong, you call me.  I get to resolve the issue while you enjoy your trip.  When you book online, you’re on your own when things go wrong.  You might feel like a small fish, in a big ocean.  When you book with an agent, we are able to use our connections and relationships with suppliers to get things resolved quickly and efficiently.

 

4. Expertise               bebdd26602250f414cde56b3b5148b89

You are working with a travel professional.  Just like you are trained to do your job, I am trained to do mine.  I am constantly taking webinars, reading articles, and building connections to make me better at what I do.  As a travel counselor, I am able to guide you not just towards a deal, but the RIGHT deal.

 

 

Travel Doesn’t Have to Break the Bank

When most people think of the word “travel” they think of fancy hotels, all-inclusive resorts, international flights, using a week of precious vacation time and $$$.  Let’s take a look at the meaning of travel.  Travel is defined by dictionary.com as “to go from one place to another.” Money is not mentioned at all.  Travel wasn’t meant to be a luxury, it was meant to be an experience.  Pick a place that’s an easy 1/2 day drive from you and GO!
An idea for the adventure-seeking, ground-sleeping, weekend-get-away-going, nature-loving people… go camping!  Not only does it allow you to see a destination in a raw and beautiful way, it gets you active, gives your brain a break, disconnects you from social media, and find a different part of yourself that you didn’t know existed.  Whatever your reason may be, I promise you will find satisfaction in giving yourself a weekend break.
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My new favorite beverage
This trip was very spur-of-the-moment, which makes it even more fun.  It’s also my favorite type of vacation to pack for.  Ladies, think about how easy packing would be.  You don’t have to worry about if your shoes match your outfit or not, you pack little to no make-up, that 5 pound bag of jewelry you usually tote around on vacation?  Yea, you can leave that at home… There are no toiletries (besides your toothbrush of course) because there aren’t any showers, and baseball caps turn a hair day gone bad around in a flash.
This weekend, hubs and I loaded up the dog, our tent, some food and camping essentials into the jeep and hit the road.  7.5 hours later, we found ourselves in Custer Gallatin National Forest, Montana.

We stayed next to a beautiful lake (pictured above) that was a refreshing treat on the 90 degree day for us and the dog.  The next morning, we were able to take a 6 mile hike into the mountains that led to a lake with beautifully colored water.

Needless to say, we aren’t in as good of shape as we’d like to admit.  So we called it quits with hiking and hit the road.  We found ourselves in Red Lodge, MT a couple hours later.  Hubs hadn’t been there since he was a kid and he REALLY wanted to re-visit the old fashioned candy store he dearly loved.  Besides, Lincoln (our dog) had been such a trooper on that hike that he deserved a refreshing vanilla ice cream cone.

Both of us had driven the Beartooth Pass as kiddos, but were never able to appreciate it’s breath-taking beauty.  So we went for a drive… Lincoln loved the cooler temperatures (a drastic change from 84 degrees to 49) and rode with his head out the window nearly the entire time.  Just under 11,000 ft. above sea level, we crossed into Wyoming.  We made sure we snapped some pics, and then started the descent back down.

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Our final night in the mountains we discovered a quaint little camping spot right next to the river.  We were able to set up camp, make a cup of chili over the fire, do some reading, and fall asleep to the sound of a rushing river.  It was the perfect end to our weekend retreat.  We were able to spend some quality one-on-one time together for the first time in too long.
If your life is anything like mine, you need a break.  Do yourself a favor.  Grab your tent, a good book, maybe a friend or spouse and hit the trail.  Your mind, body and soul will thank you.