The Omni Homestead Restort, VA

We were hosted at the Omni Homestead Resort in mid-December 2017 and had an absolutely wonderful time! If you are looking for a quick mountain weekend getaway this is an absolutely perfect place to do so! You can check it out here!

The Homestead is located in Hot Springs, Virginia, up in the beautiful Blue Ridge IMG_8282 Mountains. Built in 1766, this elegant old-timey resort is brimming with history at every turn and has even hosted 23 different US Presidents! The owners have gone to great lengths to preserve as much of the history as possible, even down to the wallpaper and carpets that really take you back in time. With over 2,000 acres, it offers just about any activity you could possibly want! We only stayed for 2 nights, so we chose to experience skiing, golfing, and the spa, but a variety of other activities are offered throughout the year including 2 different 18-hole golf courses, archery, carriage and hay rides, falconry, fly fishing, hiking, horseback riding, ice skating, kayaking and canoeing, mini golf, mini snowmobiling, paintball, Segway tours, shooting club, shopping, tennis, tubing at the ski mountain, and zip lining!

Additional free amenities and features include a 2-acre water park (water slides, pool, sand beach, and lazy river), an indoor pool, hot tub, fitness center, game/arcade room, historic tours, lawn games, movie theater, an outdoor fire pit, and tea time. The resort also includes 5 different dining options (formal dining, casual grills, pub), a market, and a bar on site.

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This huge resort boasts 483 guest rooms and 26 meeting rooms, along with a vast array of other rooms for you to wander about and explore – each one magnificently decorated (we went the weekend before Christmas and HIGHLY recommend going around Christmas season to see all of the decorations, they’re fantastic and will really get you in the Christmas spirit!). We spent one entire night just exploring the inside rooms and getting lost in the history of this incredible hotel.

 

The rooms themselves are very charming and cozy. We stayed in a deluxe room with a IMG_8228 king bed and a view, which typically runs about $280-$310 per night, but you should be able to find cheaper deals through TripAdvisor, Groupon, Expedia etc. The room was nice and cozy, and included a bedroom with a flat screen TV IMG_8233 and Keurig machine, a bathroom (complete with robes), and nice big closet. Extra features included an iron and ironing board, hair dryer, ice bucket, and safe. There was not a kitchenette or mini fridge in the room we had, which we were completely fine with, but if that is something that you care about you may want to look up other room options or plan to not bring food back to the room 🙂 You will honestly probably be pretty busy and not spend a whole lot of your time in your room since the activities at the Homestead are so amazing!

We went skiing on opening day at The Homestead, which was a ton of fun! There were  only a handful of people on the mountain, so we had a blast riding on the almost-empty  IMG_8309 trails! Lift passes look like they typically run $35-$59 depending on the day and when you buy them, lift passes along with rental equipment (ski or snowboard) run from $62-$94. This mountain was perfect for families and beginners. Since we went on opening day it looked like there were some trails that weren’t open yet that may be better suited for advanced riders, so I can’t speak to those, but we did both runs that were open and had a blast. Trained ski IMG_8326 instructors are on site to give private or group lessons, and the kids all looked like they were having a great time….if we had kids I would TOTALLY drop my kids off with them to learn! There is a cozy lodge up on the mountain where you can grab a bite (or in our case a beer and an Irish coffee) in between runs that has both an indoor and outdoor fire pit to warm you up. The ice skating rink is also located up here as well. We didn’t get a chance to skate, but it looked like prices were about $15-$20 per adult. If you have kids or are new to skiing I’d highly recommend checking out this mountain to grow your skills and have fun as you gain confidence in your skiing ability, as this mountain is fantastic for new skiers or snowboarders! (Note: if you purchase tickets on-site on a weekend it looks like it is $49 lift tickets for non-guests, and $45 for guests of the resort, with rental prices being $35).

 

We also visited the Spa for an 80 minute aromatherapy couples massage, which was seriously HEAVENLY! Neither of us had ever had a professional massage before, so this IMG_8390 experience was literally life-changing. I left telling my husband that he created a monster in that I may have picked up a new hobby 🙂 The Spa at the Homestead is actually ranked #9 in Robb Report’s top 12 spa destinations around the world! As a massage newbie I can understand if you don’t want to take my word for how amazing it was 😉 Check out the article here if you’re interested! The 80 minute couples aromatherapy massage lists for $510 but includes all-day access to the spa and its amenities as well. The spa itself is just as unbelievable as FullSizeRender (5)the actual massage was, and you could absolutely spend a full day there. The Aqua Thermal Suite offers a variety of different therapeutic options for anything you may be craving! Experiential showers (different “storm” experiences: Arctic mist, Atlantic storm, or Caribbean storm options) offer multi-sensory cooling after exposure to heat. The Herbal Cocoon is a series of heated niches below a starlit ceiling that enhances the purification and detoxification process by warming your body and relaxing the muscles. Thermal heated lounges look similar to nap pods and are heated lounge chairs that sit you in front of a relaxing scenic moving photo (mine was a waterfall). The aromatic steam room opens pores and infuses lungs with essential oils  FullSizeRender (3) that are carried in the steam and is insanely relaxing. After all of the heated experiences be sure to cool off in The Chill, which is a cold cabin experience that cools your body with a crisp misty vapor and flaked ice. Of course, the locker rooms are amazing too and offer normal showers, bathrooms, lockers, and refreshing areas with everything you need. They also offer a co-ed lounge room where you can wait for your massage, or hang out after your massage before you go to your separate locker rooms. The room is super comfortable and offers a magnificent view from the top of the spa that overlooks the spa’s Serenity Garden and the mainIMG_7950 Homestead building. The Serenity Garden is the spa’s exclusive adult oasis that includes an infinity pool, hot tub, geothermal pool fed by hot springs, shower, and river reflexology walk that massages your feet.  Any 50-minute (or longer) massage, facial or body treatment includes a day pass to the Serenity Garden. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to visit this part of the spa…..a.) Because we went the weekend before Christmas and we weren’t wanting to be in pools outside (even though they are heated), and b.) We had a tee time to play golf that afternoon and didn’t have time to spend all day here 🙂 However, I’d highly recommend treating yourself to a beautiful spa day – you could literally spend all day here! The spa would be perfect for couple’s trip, girl’s getaway, babymoon, anniversary celebration, or bachelorette party!

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We wrapped up our weekend stay with a quick 9 holes on The Old Course, one of two IMG_8436 golf courses that The Homestead offers. The Cascades is the other course located here, and is apparently amazing. Unfortunately it was closed for the winter so we didn’t get a chance to check it out, but we’ve heard great things! In 2017 alone it was rankedIMG_8421 GolfWeek’s #1 course in VA, GolfWeek’s #19 best resort course in the US, and Golf Digest’s #27 greatest public course in America….so if you get a chance you should definitely try it out and let us know how it is! It costs about $50-$70 to play the Old Course in December, and while the course had a few holes with snow, it was still a blast and absolutely gorgeous! I just rode in the golf cart while Andrew played a quick 9 (it was pretty cold), but we had a ton of fun! He fully intends to come back for a guy’s weekend to play The Cascades at some point so let us know what you think 🙂

 

Dining-wise, we tried out a few of the options on-site and tried to experience as much as we could, naturally 🙂

  • We did dinner at the Casino restaurant where we split a pizza and a flatbread appetizer for about $20. This was a casual dining option that is great for those on a budget or those wanting a more informal dinner.
  • Breakfast was hands down our favorite meal, we did the buffet in the main dining room, which runs about $29/person. While $29 is definitely a little pricey, it comes with so much food and is all high quality…if you’re a breakfast person I would definitely recommend splurging a bit and trying it out! It’s a whole room of buffet items (eggs, sausage, bacon, eggs benedict, pastries, breads, cheeses, meats, bagels, potatoes, biscuits and gravy, grits, all kinds of fruits and granola, yogurt, a wide variety of jellies and jams, etc.), complete with an omelet station and waffle station where chefs are there to make you fresh items however you like it! They even have gluten free options! By far our favorite meal here, be sure to check it out!
  • We also did one dinner at the main dining room, which is a formal affair where men wear suits and ties, women wear dresses, and reservations are required. Our 3-course meal cost about $68/each, which is about what you would expect from such a fancy restaurant. The environment is outstanding, complete with a live band and a dance floor and we had a great evening here! If you’re game for a night of dress-up, dancing, and formal dining this would be the place!
  • Also be sure to check out the lobby bar for an afternoon/evening drink! I tried a  IMG_8375 specialty drink of theirs called the Champagne Cobbler, which is the hotel’s interpretation of a classic cocktail from the 19th century. This one in particular was AMAZING…..raspberry vodka, lemon and strawberry purée, and rosé. Andrew was a big fan of their Kentucky Mules too 🙂 I highly recommend grabbing a drink at the lobby bar and cozying up next to one of the fireplaces in the grand lobby area!
  • The Jefferson is another great place to grab drinks and relax by the fire or by a window, or watch a game! We didn’t get a chance to try the food here, but it looked great for lunch and dinner!
  • We did check out the ski lodge at the mountain too, where we got drinks as well. Food is also available, but we didn’t get a chance to try the food there either….there were just too many options and not enough time! If you get a chance to try it though be sure to let us know how it is for the next time we visit!
  • Also, be sure to experience The Homestead’s “Social Hour”, or tea time. Every day IMG_8358from 3:00-4:00 they serve tea in the lobby area and it’s so cute! Options include hot tea, cold tea, and a pastry (ours was some kind of pumpkin bread that was fantastic). Everyone in the hotel comes down and grabs some tea and hangs out in the lobby by the fires, or meanders around to find an empty room to sit and enjoy their tea. It’s a very fun time and is a time honored tradition (and free!), be sure to try it at least one of the days you’re there!

All in all, we loved our stay here and would definitely recommend it. The highlights are definitely the activities that the resort offers, so be sure to plan for a few of those! The history of the hotel is also super neat and makes for some great exploring! You definitely feel like you’ve been transported back to another time when you step foot inside the hotel, which makes your stay a very unique experience. We stayed as a couple and had a blast, but the resort itself is extremely family-friendly and we would absolutely bring our family in the future….which we are certainly looking forward to 🙂

 

**This post was a collaboration with The Homestead Resort, but all opinions and photos are my own.

What to do in Switzerland

We absolutely LOVED Switzerland….it is probably as close to a real-life fairy tale as you img_7915.jpg can get. There is just something about snow-covered mountains, wide open fields, and charming villages that just speak to your soul. The stillness, quietness, power, wildness and beauty all come together to form this picture perfect scene that will leave you craving more. While Switzerland looks small on a map, there are so many different things to do and see that it can be pretty overwhelming in knowing where to start, so here is a list of all of our favorites!

1.) Lauterbrunnen

Lauterbrunnen is a hands-down “must-see” and is a Lord of the Rings wonderland. To be IMG_6692honest, I’m not a huge LOTR fan…yeah, the movies were entertaining but I don’t need to see them more than a few times, and I’ve never read the books, so this opinion is NOT from a LOTR fangirl 🙂 HOWEVER, that being said, DON’T miss this place! It has been said that J.R Tolkien got his inspiration for the elvish town of Rivendell from Lauterbrunnen, which is known as “The Land of 72 Waterfalls”. “Lauterbrunnen” LITERALLY translates to IMG_7887“many fountains”. Because Lauterbrunnen sits in a valley at the base of the Alps, they have TONS of fresh alpine-water waterfalls that are created by snow and ice that melt. It’s absolutely BREATHTAKING and is any waterfall chaser’s IMG_7807dream. The largest and most famous of these falls is Staubback Falls, which is one of the highest free-falling waterfalls in all of Europe, plunging from almost 984 feet (300 meters). The town itself is super cute and fun to walk through…. stop and grab a  cappuccino in the café near the falls, or plan to go down for the day and hike up behind Staubback Falls for an unforgettable view and top it off with a pot of Swiss fondue!

Good to know: Lauterbrunnen has a public parking garage that you can use for about 8 CHF per day (we left our car there for 3 days and 2 nights and paid 25 CHF). Our final destination was Mürren, which is a town that sits above Lauterbrunnen and is car-free. So we left our car in Lauterbrunnen, paid 11 CHF per person to hitch a ride up via the air gondola and then train. It was a 30 minute trip to take the gondola to Grutschalp, and then the train from Grutschalp to Mürren (note that the 11 CHF fare is for one person one way, tickets can be purchased at the train station or the gondola station right near the covered parking garage, and the gondola leaves every 30 minutes). Lauterbrunnen is about a 2.25 hour drive to Geneva and about 2 hours from Zurich.

2.) Mürren

Mürren is the most ADORABLE little town that I have ever visited. It is a car-free village, IMG_6815complete with fresh alpine air and water, which runs freely in adorable water fountains all through the town. It is the highest village on the mountain and is only accessible by a gondola and train. We stayed in Mürren at Hotel Eiger (read more about that stay here) and had an absolute blast. We love the beach, but there is just something about the stillness and majesty of the mountains that just can’t be beat, and Mürren offers you the perfect mountain escape. Honestly, I think we both had the best sleep of our life here…it’s amazing what mountain air and the quietness of ZERO vehicles will do for you! Mürren is brimming with hiking trails, open fields, and cows in their pastures, IMG_7533making for a wildly enchanting display of ringing bells all throughout the fields. That might sound a bit obnoxious (I was certainly expecting it to be), but it was actually quite soothing and I find myself missing it already! Even if you aren’t a hiker, there are lots of smaller trails to take, and even walking through town, or down to Gimmelwald is super fun! If you ARE a hiker then you’ll be in a hiker’s paradise, as there are hiking trails that run all up and down the mountain that begin (or at least pass through) Mürren. We did the North Face Trail, which took us about 2 hours to complete, although we did go up the harder way. There is an option to take a train/trolley up the hardest portion, which will drop you off at the path, but we didn’t take that so I don’t know the price. The North Face Trail is a complete circle, so you begin and end in Mürren, and the difficulty is ranked as “medium” (it’s known to be good for kids, and probably even more-so if you are taking the trolley). Pro Tip: pick up fresh bread, cheese, and chocolate at the store on your way up and have a picnic in the Alps when you reach the open field! You get a perfect view of the mountains, including Eiger. (Pro PRO Tip: make sure that the water that you pick up to bring on your hike isn’t sparkling…we MAY have made this mistake….sparkling water is much less refreshing on a hike 😀 ). You also get to see lots of cows and sheep and hear their mesmerizing bells chiming throughout your whole hike. The path is mostly dirt and gravel until the last ¼ mile that brings you back into town where it turns to pavement. Total mileage is about 4 miles and the trail is situated right above Mürren. More adventurous hikers can hike for several days to get to the top of Schilthorn, but there are many hikes with difficulty levels for everyone in between! Be sure to ask your hotel receptionist for a map that lists hiking trails…everyone that we met spoke very good English and was super friendly, helpful, and hospitable!

3.) Schilthorn-Piz Gloria

Schilthorn is one of the peaks in the Bernese Alps, right above Mürren, and offers a perfect panoramic view of the 3 tallest points: Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau. It is also home to the revolving restaurant Piz Gloria, which was featured in the 1969 James Bond movie On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Piz Gloria is a functioning restaurant that includes IMG_7605 a gift shop and a James Bond museum. To be honest, we didn’t spend much time inside, as we were there more for the spectacular view, not so much for the James Bond references 🙂 The only way to get to the top of Schilthorn (other than hiking) is by gondola. We started in Mürren and rode the 2 gondolas (Mürren to Birg, and then Birg to Schilthorn) for 82 CHF each, which also includes the return trip. I think you can get a discount if you have a Swiss Travel Pass, or other types of rail passes, but we didn’t have those so I’m not sure as to what the discount is exactly. The entire trip from Mürren up to Schilthorn took IMG_7648 about 20 minutes, but it would be a longer trip if you were starting lower than Mürren. I would advise you to look online at their live camera first before you go…sometimes it’s so cloudy/foggy up there that you can’t see anything, which makes the 82 CHF not worth it. The camera is live 24 hours a day and can be visited here. Make sure you dress warm, even if it’s not that cold when you start your trip…. it definitely gets colder the higher you go! Be sure to get out and explore when you stop at Birg on your way down from Schilthorn. You can go through a series of Thrill Walks….walking over the edge of the mountain on a glass walkway bridge, crawl through a caged fence tunnel hanging over the mountain edge, and tightrope walking over the edge! It’s a pretty neat (and free) experience that definitely gets your adrenaline pumping! We were debating between doing Schilthorn or doing The Jungfraujoch, also known as the “Top of Europe”, which is the highest railway station in Europe, but significantly more expensive…one second-class ticket was $238 if you didn’t have a rail pass with a discount. We read reviews of travelers who said not to waste money on Jungfraujoch and that the view was just as good, if not better, at Schilthorn. We decided to take their advice since we wanted a great view for less money and for a trip that wouldn’t take an entire day, so Schilthorn worked out perfect for us! I would definitely recommend this option!

4.) Gimmelwald

Only a short 25 minute walk away from Mürren is the town of Gimmelwald, which is situated right below Mürren. Gimmelwald is a super cute little farming village that is less travelers and more locals. In fact, a lot of Gimmelwald’s products are brought up to be used in the restaurants in Mürren, especially the cheese 🙂 Be sure to check out the Honesty Shop and the bar next door, both adorable spots! You can take the gondola back up to Mürren (we hopped on for free), or you can walk back…we read that the average time to walk back up is about 1.5 hours, even though it only took 25 minutes coming down. The 2 mile path is paved and offers gorgeous views from a different perspective since Gimmelwald doesn’t have as high of a vantage point as Mürren does.

5.) EAT

Switzerland is home to many culinary experiences that you absolutely MUST try…some of our favorites are listed below

  • Chocolate – this is obvious, but the Swiss are the chocolate connoisseurs of the IMG_7022 world, and as such, have some of the best chocolate in the world. My suggestion: try it all! You can get a variety of different bars at a grocery store for around $2 each…they make for great mid-hike snacks, paired with coffee while you sip and stare at the view, or even as a late night snack in the hotel! Be sure to stock up and bring some home for friends and family…. they’re great inexpensive options that everyone loves 🙂
  • Cheese – with having so many cows and local cheese, this one is another obvious one. Pair it with fresh bread from a grocery store and you have yourself a super cheap but tasty and filling breakfast or hiking lunch!
  • Cheese Fondue – again, another Swiss delicacy. Most restaurants offer some type of fondue pot, made with a blend of different cheeses that is always a secret recipe img_7908.jpgthat varies from restaurant to restaurant. The fondue usually comes with a variety of vegetables, bread pieces, and potatoes to dip…we split a pot of it for lunch in Lauterbrunnen and it was fabulous!
  • Local beer and wine – I always recommend trying the local beer and wine wherever you are…..a.) It’s cheaper than water, and the local varieties are usually less expensive than the other options, and b.) It allows you the opportunity to taste and experience more of the country that you’re in. We loved everything that we tried!
  • Latte Macchiato – try this at Hotel Eiger’s restaurant in  Mürren, where the views IMG_7422are spectacular! You can sit on the terrace outside that gives a perfect view of  Mount Eiger…perfect for an afternoon pick-me-up or a post-hike treat!
  • Venison – we didn’t try this, but I can only imagine that it’s just as magnificent as everything else the Swiss create. We visited Switzerland in the fall, so venison and other game were on every menu we looked at.

Tips and Tricks:

  • Switzerland is known for being pretty expensive, HOWEVER, if you do it right it doesn’t have to be! Go in the off season, utilize the grocery store, drink local beer/wine instead of the $6 soda, split meals when possible, stay in a hotel where breakfast is included, and IMG_7375take advantage of the free hiking and you can make it affordable!
  • All tap water in Mürren is drinkable.
  • Mürren also has free flowing water fountains all over town where  you can fill your water bottle up for free with fresh alpine water…can’t beat that!
  • The Swiss currency is Swiss Francs, also known as CHF.
  • Make sure you have an international adapter for your hotel room so you can charge your electronics if your chargers aren’t already in European format.
  • The Swiss are super friendly and speak great English… don’t hesitate to ask locals for suggestions on what to do or where to go!
  • Switzerland is big on paragliding adventures. We didn’t try it because there were other things that we wanted to do, but if you’ve ever wanted to try it I certainly can’t think of a better place to do so!
  • Other popular Swiss activities include snow sports (skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing), hiking, and biking (lots of bike trails). We also saw lots of lakes as we drove through Switzerland, so I’m sure they have water sport options in the summer too!
  • Make sure that you leave plenty of time to catch your flight if you’re leaving out of the Zurich airport…it took us 2 hours to get from the door to the gate. There was a long line at check-in, a line at the passport check, and took 30 minutes to get to the gate (including the walk and the shuttle).
  • We did our trip a bit unconventionally and did not buy a rail pass. Since we were coming from France, we rented a car in Marseille, France and drove 5 hours to Geneva (we wanted to drive through France and see the countryside – we highly recommend it!). It was super expensive to drop the car off in another country, and France and Switzerland share the Geneva airport, so in order to save $200, we dropped off our French car on the French side of the airport, and then walked over to the Swiss side of the airport to pick up a Swiss rental car, which we would eventually drop off in Zurich. It was definitely a hassle, but worth it to save the money!
  • If you ARE driving through Switzerland, there is a 40€ toll that you have to pay to cross the border into Switzerland (even if you’re just trying to get to the French side of the Geneva airport). The sticker looks like it’s good for all year, and we didn’t see any other tolls throughout Switzerland, so we assumed it’s a one-time toll that’s good all year…..but not helpful if you’re only visiting for a few days. Our French rental car did not have this sticker, so we had to pay the toll when we crossed the border, but our Swiss rental car already had a sticker on it, so it wouldn’t surprise me if that is a standard for Swiss rental cars.
  • If you’re looking for a cheap hotel in Zurich that is near the airport check out Ibis Budget Hotel here. It isn’t anything special, but it is only 10 minutes to the airport and around $90/night. It’s small but clean and will do the job for one night if needed!

Top 5 Things to Do in Grand Cayman

We spent time in Grand Cayman in July 2017 and absolutely LOVED it! It is probably our new favorite Caribbean island! Grand Cayman is the largest of the 3 islands that make up the Cayman Islands. By “largest” I mean really only 22 miles long, but still larger than the other two – Little Cayman and Cayman Brac. The Cayman Islands are British islands whose main source of income is banking, so everyone speaks English and accepts US dollars, which makes it a super easy vacation destination! One thing I would definitely recommend is to rent a car. Car rentals are pretty cheap (we paid $24/day, plus a one-time fee of $15 for a Cayman driving permit) and it gave us so much freedom, especially since the attractions of the island are pretty spread out!  Keep reading to find out more about our favorite spots on the island!

1.) 7 Mile Beach

This one is obvious, and you’ve probably already heard about this one if you’re even IMG_3874remotely interested in Grand Cayman…and for good reason! Easily our favorite Caribbean beach, 7 Mile is absolutely breathtaking! The sand is white and the water is clear and beautiful…..clear enough to see 50 feet in all directions and a wonderful ombre color of blue and turquoise! We visited in early July 2017 and the water was warm enough to not be chilly, but cool enough to be refreshing – a perfect blend! It’s also great for snorkeling….we saw a variety of fish at 7 Mile Beach, and even a few wild sea IMG_3543turtles! There are plenty of restaurants and bars on the beach (our favorites were Luca and Royal Palms) within walking distance. We stayed in Caribbean Club (read more here) right at 7 Mile Beach, which is located further away from other resorts which allowed us to have a pretty quiet stretch of beach that was amazing! By far our favorite beach and an absolute must-see! Not to mention the sunsets…..be sure to check out 7 Mile sunsets too! Options like jet skiing, scuba diving, paddleboarding, and other attractions are also available for those interested! We would highly recommend 7 Mile! For more reviews check it out here.

  • Luca: Luca is the on-site restaurant at Caribbean Club, but is open to the public as well and is an island favorite. We went once for a quick snack after we first arrived and had a spectacular lobster bisque-type soup that had a wonderful lobster flavor. We went to Luca again a few days later for dinner and had some of the best Red Snapper and Mahi Mahi of our life! The fish is caught local, cooked to perfection, and paired wonderfully with sides of asparagus, lemon risotto, and fingerling potatoes. The atmosphere is perfect and if you sit outside you get a wonderful view of the perfectly manicured courtyard and beautiful infinity pool that leads right to 7 Mile Beach. If you plan your dinner right, you can even catch the sunset at the beach which makes for a perfect night! Lunch is pretty casual and we came in right off the beach, but dinner is a classier affair for which everyone dressed up a bit. We didn’t get alcohol and our total bill was still around $70 I believe….but so worth it! We would highly recommend this restaurant for it’s outstanding food, service, and views, and would absolutely return! Check it out here 

  • Royal Palms: We took a 10 minute stroll down the beach to have dinner at Royal Palms and we were not disappointed! The location is absolutely perfect, you literally walk in right off the beach onto a deck that is built over the sand, so we got to have dinner on the beach as the sun went down! My husband had a wonderful seafood linguine and I had some fabulous fish tacos. We were pleasantly surprised to find that the linguine was loaded up with healthy portions of fresh seafood, and every bite had seafood in it. The tacos also had healthy portions of fish, which was complimented with a wonderful mango salsa. The service was great and we even received a complimentary dessert of some type of delicious raspberry chocolate truffle! We enjoyed our experience here so much so that we came back the next day for a take-out lunch of mahi burgers which were absolutely delicious! We loved the casual laid-back vibe of this restaurant/bar that offered delicious food and spectacular views! Read more here

2.) Rum Point 

Known for their famous mudslides, this super cute little spot is a popular tourist stop. IMG_3413Complete with a pier, lounge chairs, shops, and dining, you could spend all day here! We went on a Sunday morning (during the rainy season) and had the whole place practically to ourselves, which is how we were able to get photos without other people in it, although I’ve heard that it can get pretty crowded. However, the downfall of a Sunday morning trip was that we couldn’t get mudslides unless we were willing to wait until the bar opened at noon, and we weren’t since we had other things to do that day. But we would definitely recommend a stop-in! We walked along the IMG_3346IMG_3481boardwalk area, along the beach, and up and down the pier before finding some chairs to lounge in and eventually snorkel a bit. Since we didn’t end up getting mudslides, this ended up being a free activity for us, so for those on a budget this is a great option! This was about a 45 minute drive from our hotel in 7 Mile Beach, so we were glad to have a car. Rum Point is also situated right next to Starfish Point…so if you make the trip over here I highly recommend making a stop at both locations! Check it out here.

3.) Starfish Point 

We almost didn’t do this trip because we didn’t have a ton of time and we aren’t really big starfish people….but we were so glad we did! We didn’t stay that long, but it was definitely worth going! It’s a free little state park-type “beach” where the woods back all the way up to the water.

Dotting the water are all kinds of starfish that you can pick up and touch. Now, you aren’t supposed to pick them up out of the water, but you can hold them in your hand under the water. There isn’t anyone monitoring, but it’s important that visitors are respectful of wild life in their natural habitat. We waded around and collected different sizes and types of starfish and had a great time! Fair warning, this is not a beach that you’d lay out at, and there are no chairs or anything around, you literally only go to wade around and play with starfish, but what more do you need?! Again, this was a Sunday morning trip for us, so there was no one else around when we visited, but I would imagine that it can get busy during peak hours of high season. This spot is a short 3 minute drive from Rum Point, so if you’re headed that way make sure you stop and check out both spots! Read more here.

4.) Smith Cove (Barcadere)

Having done research ahead of time, we knew we definitely wanted to be sure to fit in a IMG_3787trip to Smith Cove. One of our favorite things to do is explore un-commercialized coves and areas of natural beauty, so we knew this would be a highlight. From what I’ve read, this spot can be IMG_3815crowded when cruise ships are in town, but there were only 3 people there when we got there….then again, we went around 8:00am in order to avoid any crowds 😉 We were a bit disappointed to find that the rocks were not as high as we had thought they would be, we had read about cliff jumping, but these were definitely not cliffs. Still super fun though, we were still glad we went! This is definitely not a commercialized spot as there is nothing around it, and no bars or restaurants to rent beach chairs from. There is a little beach area, but you’ll have to bring your own chair or just use a towel. The cove is perfect for snorkeling IMG_3832though, and we had a great time jumping of the rocks and exploring all the nooks and crannies under water and meeting all kinds of fish! This would also be a great area to kayak or paddle board to. This is definitely a great place on the island to visit, especially if you’re on a budget since it’s free! Just be sure you have some kind of shoes on… those rocks are super sharp 🙂 Also, it’s kind of hard to find, so downloading Grand Cayman on Google Maps ahead of time and searching for “Smith Barcadere” helps! Find it here.

5.) Camana Bay 

We almost missed this spot but we made it there on our last night on Grand Cayman and we were so glad we did! We went on a Sunday night for some amazing gelato at Gelato & Co. Cremeria Italiana (check it out here). My husband had hazelnut and chocolate gelato, and I had a Nutella and Ferrero Rocher gelato…needless to say, I won (obviously) 😀 We got our gelato and walked around the cute little bay, which had an amazing fountain, docks, and a bridge that went to a tiny little island that had rocking chairs where we rocked and ate. It was a perfect low-key ending to our night! There is lots of shopping and dining in Camana Bay as it really is more of an outdoor mall, however everything was closed when we went on Sunday night except for the bars and restaurants. But if you’re a shopper then you’d probably love this location for the shopping as well! To see more about Camana Bay you can read additional info here.

 

Other areas that we didn’t get to explore but would have liked to try are listed below…if you try them out you’ll have to shoot us a message and let us know how they are! We’d love to hear from you!

  • Mastic Trail
  • Cemetery Beach
  • Bioluminescent Bay (Bio Bay)
  • Georgetown (duty free shopping)
** Disclaimer: all photos and opinions are my own, for which I received no compensation or discount

Aruba: What to Do

Aruba is a tiny 70 square mile island (20 miles long, 6 miles wide) that is located in the IMG_1369 (2)Caribbean, just 18 miles from Venezuela. Also known as “The Happy Island”, it is a Dutch island owned by the Netherlands, which makes it part of the “Dutch Caribbean”. It’s capital is the colorful city of Oranjestad, which boasts Dutch-inspired architecture and colors, and the weather maintains a pretty consistently amazing 82 degrees year round. About 75% of Aruba’s gross national product comes from tourism, so you will find plenty of resorts, casinos, restaurants, shopping, and taxis. The locals are all extremely friendly and willing to help, and pretty much every establishment will accept US dollars and speak English. My husband and I visited Aruba for 3 days and 2 nights in February 2017 and had a blast! Fair warning though, I wouldn’t classify Aruba as one of our cheaper destinations. Being that they rely on tourism, they are used to tourists spending money, so prices aren’t overly friendly. I think of all of our travels over the past year and a half, we spent the most per meal on food in Aruba than anywhere else. Still wasn’t bad, just not as budget friendly as other places we’ve visited and we weren’t necessarily aware of that when we booked it. There are, of course, ways to MAKE it more budget friendly, but just a head’s up, it may require a little more research and creativity! Below is a list of some our favorite parts of Aruba!

1.) Eagle Beach – chances are, you’ve seen photos of this beach whether you realized it or IMG_1977 (2)not. This is one of the most popular beaches on the island, characterized by its white sand and beautiful turquoise water. However, the unique feature of this beach are the trees that appear sporadically throughout the beach. These famous divi-divi trees are common throughout the Caribbean, but the uniqueness of the Arubian divi-divi tree is the fact that all the branches of these trees in Aruba point southwest due to the constant trade winds that blow across the island. The trees are a popular photo subject and are also a common place to post up for the day for whoever gets there first, so you may have to try a few times before you’re able to get a photo without anyone else in it! However, other than the trees, this is a gorgeous IMG_1381 (2)beach that surely won’t disappoint. Most hotels/resorts have a block of lounge chairs and umbrella huts that you can use, however, they fill up quick, so you’ll need to get down there early to claim your spot (early like 6am!). There are also several beach bars spaced throughout the beach where you can get drinks….be sure to ask about Happy Hour to get that BOGO pina colada! Just a head’s up, if you’re looking for seclusion and privacy, this is probably NOT your beach. It isn’t the most crowded beach we’ve ever been to, and you can still find plenty of room to walk and swim, but it is a popular beach. If you are looking for more seclusion I’d recommend walking down the beach away from the resorts, however, there won’t be chairs for you there, so you’ll have to prioritize what’s more important to you. We stayed right next to Eagle Beach, read more here.

  • Passions on the beach: This was a fancy little pop-up beach restaurant where you literally sit at tables in the sand. The combination of the sand, sunset, ocean and glow of candles and tiki torches definitely make this the most romantic place we’ve ever eaten! It is a bit of a nicer place, and you usually do need reservations otherwise you won’t get in until it’s dark out. We had reservations for 7:00, which was perfect since that was right at sunset. I would recommend going for a 6:00 or 7:00 dinner, but no later, as it does get dark pretty quickly. It’s still very fun at night with the fires, but if you’re paying for the view then make sure it isn’t too dark to see the ocean! Also, make sure you have reservations, because those prime ocean-viewing hours are busy! We shared a $40 plate of the mixed seafood sampler and everything was AMAZING! Some of the best mahi-mahi I’ve ever had! Check it out here.

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  • Red Fish Restaurant: Amazing fresh seafood, friendly staff, and great atmosphere! IMG_1449 (2)More of a local place, so it’s not overly “touristy”. My husband and I shared the seafood paella plate which was wonderful!! Would definitely recommend! The owner actually goes fishing every morning so the seafood is super fresh! If you’re looking to eat with a view this is not the place, as it is right off the road and the view is a road/parking lot, but they have dressed it up as nice as you probably could! It is covered seating but you’re technically outside, but it is flourishing with greenery everywhere which makes it a really cool spot! Would absolutely go back! For more info visit here.

2.) Palm Beach – arguably the most popular beach on the island, Palm IMG_1479 (2)beach is definitely more crowded than Eagle Beach, partly due to the fact that there is a pier jutting out  from it and a boardwalk directly behind it. We only stayed long enough to eat our pitaya bowl lunch since crowds aren’t really our thing, but it was still worth going if not only for the pitaya bowl and for seeing more of Aruba. The boardwalk behind the beach is great for little bars and dives, and the town behind the boardwalk is great for shopping if you’re wanting to shop! There’s also a Starbucks in the town area if you’re one of those people who just HAVE to get a Starbucks country mug for every country you go to 🙂

  • Eduardo’s Beach Shack: Literally the BEST thing I ate the entire trip. If you don’t try anything else from this post at LEAST do yourself a favor and try this one! This is a tiny little beach shack right on the Palm Beach boardwalk area that is some type of IMG_1576 (2)vegan-ish establishment. I’m not vegan or vegetarian or anything, so I don’t know which one this place is, but it’s one of those super healthy places. I got a pitaya (dragon fruit) bowl and my husband got an acaia bowl. Pitaya bowls have been my new favorite thing since Feb. 2017. I came back to the states and found out the closest place to me that makes these asap! It’s basically a smoothie blend (mine was dragon fruit, his was acaia), topped with granola, honey, all kinds of fresh fruit, and raw coconut. SO AMAZING! And such a refreshing treat/lunch right at the beach! Fairly cheap too compared to other island food…”fully loaded” bowls (the ones with granola, honey, and coconut) were $10 each, but cheaper options are available if you’re looking for something smaller. The bowls are big enough to share though depending on how hungry you are! Do yourself a HUGE favor and check it out!

3.) Oranjestad – as the capital of Aruba, you will probably drive through this main city as IMG_1922 (3)you go to and from the airport, but if you can fit it in, you should absolutely make plans to walk around and visit this incredibly fun little city! With it’s Dutch architecture (maybe it’s just me, but I’m a sucker for cool and unique architecture, so this may not actually be a selling point for everyone else) and vibrant colors it’s definitely something you’re not going to want to miss! We aren’t city people by any means, but we were so glad we spent an afternoon here. It was honestly like what I would imagine visiting a little beach town in the Netherlands would be like. Not that I would know, but one day I’ll find out for sure 🙂 If you’re a shopper then this is probably your best one-stop shop, with lots of convenience stores, boutiques, touristy stores, and designer stores as well. We just took a few hours and walked around the city, eating dutch pancakes, admiring the awesome buildings and visiting the blue horses.

  • Notice the different 8 blue horse statues displayed throughout Oranjestad as a tribute to the past and the important role that horses played on this tiny island. A vast majority of Aruba’s rich history is centered around horses and the thriving horse trade that was the main economic source of the island. Horse Bay was where shiploads of horses were flung out to sea to swim to shore. The deep blue color is symbolic of the water on their skin as if they had just emerged from the bay and trotted into town. Be sure to find all 8 horses in the city…if you’re interested in the story, there are reading plaques next to each of them which tell different stories (we didn’t read them all, but it’s an option for those who will!). Each horse is in a different stance, has it’s own name, and represents something unique!
  • The Dutch PancakeHouse: Dutch pancakes are a real Dutch specialty, so we couldn’t IMG_1930 (2)NOT try one, especially if it has nutella and strawberries on it! There are several well-known pancake houses that the web will point you towards, but this was just the one we happened to walk by and stumble upon first, so that’s how we chose this one. I’m sure they are all pretty much the same though! Not fluffy and thick like our pancakes in the US, but more like a cross between US pancakes and crepes, and absolutely DELICIOUS! Honestly, this was more of a dessert than a brunch, but they have so many options that can be more breakfast OR lunch based, including savory and cheesy options! We just split the one because we really just wanted a taste and didn’t want to spend money, but it was HUGE! So I’d recommend splitting one for sure. But a DEFINITE must-try! The mimosas and Arubian ice coffee sure weren’t too bad either 🙂 Read more here.

Side Note: If you’re looking for Aruba’s famous flamingo’s keep reading! Aruba’s pink flamingos live on Renaissance Island, which is owned by the Marriott. If you stay at the Marriott you get free access to the island, where you can spend the day on their private beach and mingle with flamingos. However, if you are not a guest of the hotel, you can buy tickets to go out there for the day for about $90 per person. We thought about staying at the Marriott, but ended up finding a way better deal elsewhere (read more here), and in the end we decided that $90 per person was just way too much to pay to lay on a beach. Come to find out, there’s really only like 6 flamingos on the island, and there’s a chance they won’t even be out that day. We asked our cab driver about the island and he advised us not to bother, saying it wasn’t worth it. In the end, a beach is a beach, so we certainly weren’t disappointed. If you’re on a budget, I’d recommend forgoing this excursion and sticking to the free beaches. We plan to save the flamingo-visiting for other islands like Bonaire where they are more abundant!

* Disclaimer: all photos and opinions are my own, for which I received no compensation or discount