Top 10 U.S. Cities I’ve Visited

1. Asheville, NC
I’ve visited Asheville probably eight or ten times by now. Every time I go, I love it even more. The whole city has a very laid-back, artsy vibe. According to my husband, I am the least laid-back person he knows, so maybe that’s why I like Asheville so much…something different. We even visited Asheville on our honeymoon. One of my favorite parts of our honeymoon was the carriage ride behind the Biltmore Estate.

Biltmore Estate in Asheville
Biltmore Estate in Asheville

2. Cooperstown, NY
I’m no baseball fan. In fact, I would probably consider it one of my least favorite sports to watch (behind soccer of course), although I do like watching a good live baseball game every once in a while. That little tidbit aside, I absolutely love Cooperstown. Cesar and I took Sophia the last time we were in New York and we enjoyed it a lot. Even though it is filled with tourists, it has that small town feel and everyone you come across is super nice and friendly. Even if you’re a non-baseball lover (like me), the Hall of Fame makes for a pretty interesting afternoon. We only spent a day there, so next time we go up, we are definitely planning to make the drive back to Cooperstown to check out what else it has to offer.

Downtown Cooperstown
Downtown Cooperstown

3. Gainesville, FL
How could Gainesville not be on this list? Hello…it’s the home of the Florida Gators! During football season on a Saturday, it is crazy. They say that The Swamp is one of the most difficult stadiums in the entire country for opposing teams to play, and for good reason. The Gators have some of the most loud and proud fans around. They can get a little obnoxious sometimes too, but, well, that’s besides the point. Really, though, Gator fan moment aside, Gainesville is a cool city. There’s a ton of things to do, restaurants to try, stores to shop at. There’s also a super cute little town right outside Gainesville called Micanopy that is fun to walk around. Cesar and I keep saying we need to go up one weekend just to explore, but haven’t done it yet. Maybe this year’s the year!

The best part of Gainesville, The Swamp!
The best part of Gainesville, The Swamp!

4. Jekyll Island, GA
Oh, Jekyll Island. The cutest, sleepiest little beach town you ever did see…and the only vacation destination I’ve ever gone to that leaves my butt hurting for the next week. Ok, that might have been an overshare…but really. I’ve been there numerous times since I was a kid and every time we go, we bring our bikes. Jekyll Island is only a few square miles, but man…by the end of a long weekend, we usually end up riding almost 50 miles. I should probably think about investing in a better bike seat before our next trip up. Jekyll Island is still very uncommercialized. The last time we went (over the summer), we were shocked to find a brand spankin’ new gas station with a (what!?) Dairy Queen attached. Also, riding along the beach, it looked as if Holiday Inn has purchased a big chunk of land on the beach and is working on building there.  From the looks of it, it is only going to be a two story hotel, which is a plus. I sure hope they don’t get too many more commercial businesses on the island though, because that’s a surefire way to ruin their reputation.

Jekyll Island sunset
Jekyll Island sunset

5. Las Vegas, NV
I don’t think you can visit Las Vegas and not have fun. There is literally something to do for everyone in your group. It has some really great restaurants and shopping.  And where else can you get a luxurious suite looking over the city for $150/night?  If you’re really trying to go cheap, I hear about deals all day every day for hotel room that cost less per night than a meal out. Take note though…when Cesar and I went, we got our hotel rooms for next to nothing, but while we were in Vegas…we spent probably double what we had planned!

Las Vegas Strip
Las Vegas Strip

6. Nashville, TN
I love Nashville and not just because I’m a country music fan (although being a country music fan does make it even better). It has a fun downtown area with tons of shops, bars, and restaurants, and is home to the Tennessee Titans and Nashville Predators (if you’re into that kind of stuff). The Grand Ole Opry and Gaylord Opryland Hotel are also in Nashville. We visited Nashville on our honeymoon and stayed at a pretty awesome hotel, the Hutton Hotel.

Downtown Nashville
Downtown Nashville

7. New Orleans, LA
A lot of people I know hate visiting New Orleans. They say it’s a dirty, dirty city. And I’d have to agree, it is pretty filthy. Walking around in flip flops…nope. Buuuut, in my book, that’s one of the only things it has going against it. New Orleans is one of my favorite cities in the US (as long as I don’t forget my close-toed shoes).  It is loaded with history and culture. It is not too expensive (at least compared to some of the other cities on my list), but has lots of wonderful hotels. And the food in N’awlins is some of the best in the country- you can’t really go wrong at any restaurant in town. There’s so much to do in New Orleans, I’ve been 3 times and still haven’t done everything on my list.

Bourbon Street, New Orleans
Bourbon Street, New Orleans

8. New York City, NY
I know the Big Apple is not everyone’s cup of tea. It is a loud, fast-paced city with a whole lot of hustle and bustle going on. It’s very easy to be overwhelmed. But I just love it. The shopping in NYC beats just about any other city in the country, and that’s the kind of stuff that matters. They also have great restaurants and you can find any type of food you can imagine. I’ve been in the summer and winter, and hands down, winter is a better time to visit.

Central Park, New York City
Central Park, New York City

9.San Francisco, CA
It’s been a few years since I went to San Francisco and I’ve been itching to go back and bring Cesar (he’s never been). It’s a very diverse city and that’s what makes it so fun. There’s lots of tourist spots to stop at- Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Ghirardelli Square (definitely don’t skip this one!)- which are all fun. But if you look past all those touristy places, there are some even cooler places to see, stores to shop at, and restaurants to eat at. One of the best meals of our trip was from a little shack on the water near Fisherman’s Wharf, where we ate a bowl of clam chowder from a bread bowl, sitting outside on wooden picnic benches

10. Savannah, GA

Yet another place from our honeymoon list. For us, it’s only a couple hours to Savannah, so it makes for a nice trip over a long weekend. Every time I’m there, we just slow down a little, which is a refreshing change from our normal busy lives. Savannah’s a great walking city. You can walk almost everywhere, and if not, you can jump on a trolley. It’s such a cute, old city that, surprisingly, hasn’t become too commercialized yet.

Well, there they are, in no certain order (except alphabetical). Nine of the 10 places I’ve listed, I’ve been to more than once (all but San Francisco), but can’t wait to go back to any of them. I do love traveling to new places, but sometimes, I guess you just have to stick with what you know!
All pictures are my own.

Travel Recap: Bahamas Cruise

Cesar and I have been talking about going on a cruise for a while now, but just…hadn’t.  One Friday afternoon, Cesar called me from work and said he had just gotten an email about a great deal on a cruise…and, well, did I want to go?  When I heard the price, I agreed it was great and we decided we couldn’t turn it down.  The catch?  It was a last minute deal and the cruise left on Monday…three days later!

Well, after a little convincing on Cesar’s part, we jumped on the offer.  We decided to bring Sophia with us and leave Emma at home with Cesar’s parents.  We were sad to leave her for our 5 day/4 night cruise, but couldn’t imagine bringing her with us.  We’d have to pack a stroller, pack n play, bottles, diapers…etc.  Plus, that girl is wild.  The this age, she’d go stir crazy after five days cooped up on a ship!  Haha!

Anyway, we booked the cruise on Friday early evening and left our house for Port Canaveral early Monday morning. We had such a great vacation!

When We Went:
5 days/4 nights in early September

Where We Stayed:
We went on the Royal Caribbean Enchantment of the Seas.  It’s an older ship but was renovated and extended by 73 feet a few years ago.  We didn’t have a choice in rooms because we booked at the last minute.  We were in an interior cabin, which was more than okay by us.  Neither Cesar or I get seasick and we really spend very little time in our room on a cruise, so no window worked out just fine!

Our cabin actually had quite a bit of space…more space than a typical cruise cabin and more than any cruise I’d been on.

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Where We Ate:
We ate on the cruise.  Only.  The only exception was the BBQ lunch they had at Coco Cay one day, but that doesn’t really count because it was provided by the cruise line, too.  Oh, and Sophia had a doughnut from Dunkin’ Donuts on Nassau.  Other than that, we ate all meals on board the ship.

The food was good.  It was pretty much like every other cruise we’ve been on.  Most days, we ate breakfast and lunch in the buffet, Windjammer, then dinner at the My Time Dining restaurant, My Fair Lady.  The first night we just showed up at dinner and were randomly seated at a table.  Our servers, Bryan and Romeo, were hilarious and were especially great with Sophia, so we decided to go ahead and make reservations for the rest of the cruise for their table.

What We Did:
Ate

Ate

Ate…

But really, we…

Went to the beach in Coco Cay. We spent our several hours in the water on that day, getting out only to eat lunch and reapply sunscreen.

Browsed shops in Nassau, including the dreaded “straw market” (why is it even called a straw market anymore, anyway!?). Just thinking back to the straw market makes me nervous! Sophia finally picked out her souvenir (a straw purse with “Nassau” written on it), but not before being hounded and grabbed by almost every vendor in the whole dang place. Literally, they would get a hold of her shoulder and try to pull her into their little shop. Cesar eventually had to throw her on his shoulders to keep people from grabbing her. Least favorite part of Nassau for sure! 😛

Went to a Bahamian Dunkin’ Donuts. There’s an explanation for this one! The whole morning in Nassau, it was raining…hard. We had already gotten off the ship, so we were kind of stuck until the rain died down a little. We found this Dunkin’ Donuts and ducked in there to get out of the rain. They just so happened to have free wi-fi for customers, so we bought Sophia a doughnut (a pink sprinkle one of course), and connected to the internet to talk to our Emmy! She was just as excited to see us and we were her!

Swam in the pool on the ship and watched two NFL games from the pool.  Probably Cesar’s favorite part of the ship.

Played shuffleboard

Went to lots of shows- karaoke, the Love and Marriage Show, the World’s Sexiest Man Competition (ha!), a cake decorating contest, a towel folding demonstration, and a Broadway-type show, to name a few.

Watched “Maleficent” in the theater

Shopped on board

Sophia went to the kids’ club, Adventure Ocean Aquanauts, several times. When we told Sophia that she was going on the cruise with us, we were describing to her all the things she could do on the ship. She was amazed at all the things going on, but what she was most excited about was the kids’ club. When we actually got on the ship and to the kids’ club, though, it was a different story. She’s never gone to school or anything, and the only people that have ever watched her are family (we’re lucky…lots of family around!). So when we showed up there and told her that was it, she said, “I don’t think I want to go to the kids’ club anymore. Maybe next cruise.” Cesar and I couldn’t have cared less if she wanted to go or not, so we left the decision to her. She decided not to go that day, but when we walked by the following day, she changed her mind. She stayed for about 45 minutes, but was hooked. She couldn’t wait to go back! She went probably four times, usually for about 1-2 hours at a time. She also went to movie night one night, where the kids came in their pajamas and watched a movie and made crafts. It was nice because we could use any of the phones around the cruise to call and check in, and they also gave us a pager to page us if Sophia needed anything. We only left her a few times, but it worked out great because it gave us a chance to do some adults-only things, including watching an adults-only show and going to the casino for a little while.

Well, gee, I could go on for a while about all the fun things we did on the ship, but those were some of the best. We were sad when it was over, but super excited to see Emma after a few days away. We are definitely looking forward to being able to take a cruise again in the near future…maybe with both girls next time! We would definitely recommend Royal Caribbean and specifically the Enchantment of the Seas, and would definitely sail with again!

Travel Recap: San Juan, Puerto Rico

As I mentioned in my previous post, a few weeks ago, Cesar and I and the girls went to San Juan, Puerto Rico for a long weekend trip. Some friends of ours got married on a military base in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. We had been talking about going to Puerto Rico for quite a while, so when the opportunity arose, we jumped on it. After hours upon hours of research by the money conscious spouse in our marriage (that would be me), we decided our best bet would be to stay in San Juan and commute the 2 1/2 hours to Aguadilla the day of the wedding.

We were nervous that Puerto Rico would not be kid friendly, but were pleasantly surprised that it was. We walked around everywhere with our double stroller (which is approximately the size of a small SUV) and everywhere we went was very accommodating. There were lots of things for kids to do, too, so we were really glad we brought the them with us. Sophia had a lot of fun and so did Emma (sleeping, eating, and pooping 98% of the weekend away).

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When We Went:
For 4 days in the end of August-beginning of September

Where We Stayed:

We stayed in the heart of Old San Juan at the Sheraton Old San Juan. I would recommend this hotel to anyone and everyone. It is right by the cruise port, so we heard it can get pretty busy/loud when the cruise ships dock, we didn’t have any problem whatsoever.

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We stayed on the top floor (9th), which was perfect because the hotel’s pool is located on that floor. The room itself was huge. Nothing really special, but there was a lot of room to move around, which is helpful when traveling with two young kids and all the loot that accompanies them.

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When booking our hotel room, I booked it through an online travel site as a package with our flights and rental car. Something somewhere between the travel site and the hotel got mixed up and we had a bit of a problem checking in, but the check-in receptionist and on-duty manager figured it out and were very nice about it.

Where We Ate:
Genesis Restaurant (Old San Juan, PR)- This restaurant was right outside of our hotel. After we checked in on Thursday night, we wandered around and found this place. Their specialty was mofongo, a traditional Puerto Rican dish made with mashed plantains usually served with some kind of meat on top. We were excited to try it and it certainly did not disappoint!

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Cafe Manolin (Old San Juan, PR)- Breakfast on Friday morning. It was good but nothing to get too excited about.

SOS Burger (Cataño, PR)- We ate at SOS Burger on a whim. After Casa Bacardi (in Cataño) on Friday, we took the shuttle back to the ferry dock and planned to ride back across the river to OSJ and get something to eat there. Almost directly across from the ferry dock sits a little old shack looking building that ended up serving us the best (and by far the cheapest) meal of our trip! What drew us in was a.) it was 250 degrees outside and we needed drinks, and b.) there was some good music coming out of that little old place. Turns out, the reggae music coming out of there was being played live by Jorge, who we assumed was the owner of the restaurant (still don’t know whether he was or not, but he was the only one who worked there). Sophia, Cesar, and I all three ate pastelillos (basically pastries with savory meat or cheese filling), a juice, a Diet Coke, and a Heineken for about $15. Talk about a bargain!

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Fueguito (San Juan, PR)- This restaurant is a cool Argentinean restaurant inside the mall that we ate at on Friday night. They had tons of restaurants in Plaza Las Americas, which was very strange to me because at our mall, we pretty much have Sbarros and Panda Express. There was two parts of the restaurant, Tierra de Fuego (a sit down part) and Fueguito (order at the counter then they bring the food to your table. We opted for Fueguito because the mall was almost ready to close. We really liked this place, and it came with a ton of food for the money.

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Panadería y Repostería Flor de Asturias (Carolina, PR)- Before the Museo del Niño on Saturday morning, we ate at this place suggested by a local. If you have no Spanish skills, you might want to skip out on this place because this is not a touristy area, and it didn’t seem that a lot of people around here spoke a lot of English at all. Hopefully you do know at least a couple words though, because this palace was worth stopping at! We had sandwiches here, which were delicious! A little weird eating sandwiches for breakfast, but that’s what everyone else was eating. You know what they say…when in Rome…

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Cafe Mallorca (Old San Juan, PR)- This restaurant was suggested to us by the hotel concierge for a quick breakfast before heading to the airport on Saturday morning. It was within walking distance from the hotel (maybe 7 blocks or so). Their claim to fame are their mallorcas (a kind of sweet bread), but we ate just plain eggs and toast. It was pretty good though and we were in and out of there quick.

What We Did:
Walked around checking out the streets and sights in Old San Juan- This picture was taken early (uh, 9am) morning. It is pretty quiet in Old San Juan in the mornings. We really liked wandering the streets in OSJ, but because of our lack of time, didn’t get to do it as much as we would’ve liked.

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Casa Bacardi- Fun just to do it. It cost Cesar and I each 50 cents for the ferry (kids were free) and about $3 for the shuttle, but the Casa Bacardi tour itself was free. It was pretty cool to hear stories of how the company came about and hey, you get two free drinks apiece (and kids get two free juice or soda coupons).

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Castillo San Felipe del Morro- We showed up too late in the day for the tours, so we just wandered around by ourselves, but it was still neat to see. There were tons of restaurants and shops around, as well as lots of street vendors.

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Ate piraguas from a street vendor near the fort- Piraguas are Puerto Rico’s version of a snow cone. There are vendors near the fort who have little carts with a big ol’ block of ice and a whole bunch of syrups. They hand shave the ice, pour your flavor on top, and serve you your piragua either through your car window or not. I got piña (pineapple) and Cesar got parcha (passionfruit).

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Shopped at Plaza las Americas- It’s no secret…I love shopping, much to my husband’s dismay. This was the biggest mall I’ve ever been to, I’m pretty sure. There were tons of shops and restaurants, and we didn’t even make it around the whole mall in the couple hours we were there.

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Visited Museo del Niño in Carolina, PR- Sophia absolutely loved this place. I wish we had more time here than we did, but she had such a great time here. It was $10 each for Cesar and I and $6 for Sophia, and well, well worth the price. I was very surprised at how few people were there though.

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Well then. That post was a lot longer than expected, but I’ll finish up real quick…

Overall, I absolutely loved Puerto Rico. You feel like you are a world away from home, but from Jacksonville, we were just a 2 1/2 hour flight and didn’t even need passports. It was also a very cheap trip, all things considered, compared to other trips we have taken and/or want to take. Cesar and I would love to go back, but we are thinking about going for a weekend just the two of us so we can experience the Old San Juan nightlife that everyone talked about. We would definitely recommend Puerto Rico for a family vacation and look forward to hopefully going back someday!