Why You Should Visit Los Haitises National Park in the Dominican Republic Now!

Why You Should Visit Los Haitises National Park in the Dominican Republic Now!

In my opinion, no where is better for sun and sand vacations than the Caribbean. My kids have been lobbying for Turks & Caicos for their October half-term vacation.  Turks & Caicos is downright beautiful with stunning white sand beaches and turquoise blue water. I am worried, however, that my husband will get bored with one week on the beach. When we visited Beaches in Jamaica, we took a handful of excursions to explore Jamaica’s colonial history to explore to keep him happy. I’m now trying to steer the family conversation towards a dual center holiday involving the upscale beach resort of Punta Cana and Parque Nacional Los Haitises (Los Haitises National Park) in the Dominican Republic. Los Haitises is a tropical rainforest which has become popular for eco-tourism.

Why visit Los Haitises National Park Dominican Republic | Los Haitises National Park Tours | Los Haitises National Park Hotels | Parque Nacional Los Haitises | #DominicanRepublic #Caribbean

The Dominican Republic is more than beautiful beaches. It’s got great opportunities for ecotourism as well.

Los Haitises National Park Dominican Republic

I first heard about Los Haitises in the Lonely Planet Top 10 regions to visit in the world in 2018. Other regions on this Top 10 regions list are Alaska, the Slovenian Alps, Languedoc-Roussillon in France, Bahia in Brazil, Northern Ireland, the Kii Peninsula in Japan, the Aeolian Islands of the coast of Sicily, Southern USA and Lahaul and Spiti in India.

The Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic is located on the Eastern half the Caribbean island of La Hispaniola. The Dominican Republic shares La Hispaniola with neighbouring Haiti.

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Samana Peninsula is in the northeast corner of the Dominican Republic.

The Dominican Republic has got more than 650 km (about 404 miles) of white sand beach coastline, some of which are considered to be the most beautiful in the world. Some of its historical and cultural attractions:

  • The Carnival of La Vega, celebrated every February since the 16th century, is famously the first Carnival celebrated in the new world.
  • Santo Domingo, the capitol of the Dominican Republic, is one of the oldest towns in the New World. The historic colonial centre of the city is a UNESCO world heritage site.
  • Leave the tourists behind  and take a Dominican Republic road trip to Cabarete where you will find the Caribbean’s first vineyard.
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Narrow colorful streets in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic

Where is Parque Nacional Los Haitises?

Parque Nacional Los Haitises in the northeastern part of the Dominican Republic.

In Los Haitises, there are hills, caves, rivers and rainforests, all very different from the usual Caribbean beach scene (not that there’s anything wrong with that!).

Los Haitises National Park Facts

  • The hills are limestone karsts that were formed by tectonic changes in the Earth’s plate a couple of million years ago.
  • Los Haitises became a Dominican national park in 1976. The national park covers 1600 sq. metres (about 617 square miles) located at the Southwestern End of the Bay of Semana.
  • Haitises means “mountains” in the Arawak language (spoken by the pre-Spanish Taino Native American population).
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Limestone karst hills are a result of tectonic activity millions of years ago.

What is Los Haitises National Park?

There are 18 Dominican Republic national parks, so why did Lonely Planet focus its attention on Los Haitises?

With its geographical diversity of hills, rainforests and coastal wetlands, Los Haitises is a haven for biodiversity. There are hundreds of different types of flora and fauna.

Fun Fact!  The Los Haitises rainforest was used as a film location for Jurassic Park.

Some of the caves have been adorned with artwork by the Taino (the local people who lived on the island before the Spanish arrived).

Los Haitises has become an eco-tourism hotspot and large hotel developments are planned along with a private highway and a local airport. So you should get there before the rest of the world does!

According to TripAdvisor Reviews, Los Haitises is already becoming alarmingly popular. Los Haitises National Park has received a 4.5 stars rating and many glowing reviews on TripAdvisor.

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Eco-tourism in the Los Haitises is on the upswing.

Things to Do in Los Haitises

Although many people visit Los Haitises as a day trip, there’s so much to do that you could easily spend a few days here.

Whales and Dolphin Spotting

There are often dolphins spotted in the Bay. Approximately 10,000 humpback whales visit the bay for mating season from January to March. In fact, Samana Bay is widely-regarded as one of the best whale-watching spots in the world and has been featured in a David Attenborough nature series.

Why visit Los Haitises National Park Dominican Republic | Los Haitises National Park Tours | Los Haitises National Park Hotels | Parque Nacional Los Haitises | #DominicanRepublic #Caribbean

A humpback whale tail in the Bay of Samana

Bird Watching

This is a birdwatcher’s paradise with even an island called Island of the Birds. Look out for coastal, oceanic and forest birds such as brown pelicans, herons, hawks and parrots. You can take a specific birdwatching trail hike recommended by the Caribbean Birding Association. There are usually brown pelicans spotted circling overhead in Semana Bay.

Sad Fact: The pelicans dive into the sea with their eyes open so eventually the salt water blinds them. When the pelicans go blind, they die of starvation.

Ancient Cave Art

You can visit two caves which have pictographs from the original Taino population who used the caves in religious rituals. The Cueva de la Linea is a short hike and covered in artwork. The Cueva de la Arena is close to the beach and has artwork that is over 1000 years old. Both caves are easily accessible with walkways. Keep an eye out for bats!

Hiking

Hiking Los Haitises will get you closer to the flora and fauna. You need to bring a licensed tour guide.

Water Fun

You can rent kayaks and explore the mangrove forests along the bay.

There are also waterfalls, natural springs and rivers to explore.  For example there is the Cano Hondo waterfall which is near Sabana de la Mar or the Eye of Heaven (a hike through a cavern that leads to a freshwater river) .  The mile-long hike that is the Trail of the Rain Forest conveniently has one end point at the Paraiso Cano Hondo with its natural waterfall pool (see below under  Los Haitises National Park Hotels).

Escape to an Island Paradise

Cayo Leventado is a beautiful private island also known as Bacardi Island (thanks to some famous commercials shot there). This beautiful island is home to the Bahia Principe Cayo Leventado a five star hotel which is adults only (sadly for us!!).

Underwater Exploration

Diving in the bay will take you to see beautiful coral and shipwrecks. Thanks to the caves, Los Haitises was popular with pirates who would wait for the gold-filled Spanish ships sailing from Santo Domingo back to fill Spain’s coffers.

Getting To Los Haitises National Park

There are two towns that act as gateways to Los Haitises National Park – Samana (15 km (about 11 miles) away) and Sabana de la Mar (9 km (about 6 miles away). There is a highway that connects Sabana de la Mar to Punta Cana on the East coast.

Why visit Los Haitises National Park Dominican Republic | Los Haitises National Park Tours | Los Haitises National Park Hotels | Parque Nacional Los Haitises | #DominicanRepublic #Caribbean

A rocky outcrop of an island in the Bay of Semana

You reach Los Haitises mostly by water because there are few roads. Luckily, entering Los Haitisis by boat gives you a spectacular view of Samana Bay.

NB:  You will need to plan in advance if you want to visit Los Haitises while you are in the Dominican Republic because entry to the park is in limited numbers.

Los Haitises National Park Tours

All of these tours involve a boat entry into Los Haitises across Semana Bay.

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Sunset on the beach in Cayo Levantado, Dominican Republic

Los Haitises National Park Hotels

You can stay in the popular resort of Punta Cana which is 2.5 hours away by road. If you want to explore the area more in depth, you may want to stay closer to Los Haitises.

Paraiso Cano Hondo is an eco-friendly resort located on the outskirts of Los Haitises. It has 28 guest rooms and 12 outdoor pools.

The Altos de Cano Lodge is another eco-friendly hotel with views of Semana Bay and a close to the beach. It is located near Sabana de la Mer.

Hotel Atlantis is located at Playa Bonita near Samana. It’s a small 18 room hotel with a private beach. This hotel has a French Creole restaurant owned by the former chef to former French President Mitterand.

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A palm fringed beach coastline in the Dominican Republic

Tips for Visiting Los Haitises National Park

Who better to ask for advice on visiting Los Haitisis National Park than a travel blogger who have been there?  Below are the recommendations and travel tips for  from a fellow travel blogger, Viktor Vincej.
***

The Dominican Republic is a paradise of its own with so many beautiful beaches and forests, but the most beautiful of them all must be the Los Haitises National Park. It is magnificent and will leave you awestruck for days.

Full of history and even the most famous scenes of Jurassic Park were filmed there. In a forest full mangroves, you can see and endemic birds nesting in the trees while pelicans and vultures fly over you. The caves are a delightful experience on its own with beautiful stalactites and stalagmites while you can see Pictographs on the walls that were left behind by the Taino Indians.

Haitises means “mountainous land” in Taino, and the park is one of the rare remaining tropical forests of the island. The uniqueness of the park is in its mogotes or ‘lomitas’, that reach up to 40 meters in height and are all around the park. When the clouds hit mogotes that results in rain which happens here almost every day of the year.

You can take an excursion to the Haitises from almost all the hotels in the Dominican Republic, and while you are there be sure to also visit the island of Cayo Levantado.

– by Viktor Vincej from Traveling Lifestyle and on social media on 

Los Haitises National Park in Haiti

Los Haitises National Park (Photo credit: Viktor Vincej)

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Swarovski Annual Snowflake Ornaments Bring the Sparkle of the Christmas Tree in Rockefeller Center To Your Home

Swarovski Annual Snowflake Ornaments Bring the Sparkle of the Christmas Tree in Rockefeller Center To Your Home

We aren’t collectibles type of people – there’s so much clutter in our lives that I don’t feel the need actively to add clutter to our belongings. We have , however, created a collection of Swarovski crystal snowflake ornaments for each of our children. The idea was suggested to us by a Polish friend before our children were born. Her family collects the Swarovski annual edition ornament every year for their children so that they will have a set of Swarovski crystal snowflakes for their own Christmas tree when they grow up. Since I grew up with an annual visit to the Christmas Tree in Rockefeller Center, the Swarovski annual snowflake ornament is also a way to bring a big of New York Christmas sparkle to our London home.

Christmas Tree Rockefeller Center

Austrian company Swarovski are a world-wide leader in the crystal industry and we have been to the Swarovski Crystal Worlds museum near Innsbruck. Swarovski produce crystals for many famous events such as the annual Victoria’s Secret fashion show as well as the star on top of the famous Rockefeller Center tree in New York City.

The Christmas tree Rockefeller center with the Swarovski crystal topper

The Christmas tree Rockefeller center with the Swarovski crystal topper

Not going to be in New York City to visit the Rockefeller Center tree? Swarovski crystal adorns other Christmas trees around the world including major cities such as Paris, Sydney, Buenos Aires and Toronto and international airports like Heathrow Airport.

In Manhattan, here’s been a Rockefeller Center tree since 1931 and Swarovski have provided the crystal star since 2004.

Rockefeller center ice skating in front of the Christmas tree Rockefeller Center

Featuring 25,000 Swarovski crystals, this Rockefeller Christmas tree topper is 9.5 feet in diameter and weighs 600 pounds.

Fun Fact! Despite all this bling, thanks to the use of LED lights the star uses less than the energy of a regular 100 watt bulb.

Sort of like being a millionaires have made for billionaires, there is a new Swarovski crystal tree topper being unveiled for the Christmas tree in Rockefeller center in 2018. Why have mere thousands when you can have millions??

The Christmas Tree in Rockefeller Center is getting a new star designed by Polish-American starchitect, Daniel Liebeskind.

The new and improved Rockefeller Christmas tree star will have 3 million Swarovski crystals. It will weigh 90 pounds and reminds me of a medieval torture instrument. There’s a round ball which will be the source of light and 70 spiky light bulbs with the millions of crystals on it.

As per usual, there will be a Swarovski crystal ornaments pop-up store selling the usual Swarovski crystal Christmas ornaments including the .Swarovski annual edition ornament.

Swarovski crystal ornaments come in all shapes and sizes like this crystal poinsettia

Swarovski crystal ornaments come in all shapes and sizes like this crystal poinsettia

Our Swarovski Crystal Christmas

We now have 12  of the Swarovski crystal Christmas ornaments – one Swarovski snowflake for every year of their life and an extra one for when they were in utero.

I have put them on a Scandinavian-inspired wooden Christmas tree so that they can show off their crystal sparkle to full effect.

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Our Scandinvian inspired wooden Christmas tree displaying our Swarovski crystal snowflakes

Limited Edition Swarovski Crystal Snowflakes

The Swarovski snowflake ornaments every year are limited edition and comes with the year etched on a silver tag. They sell out every year but you can find them on resale from previous years on sites like Amazon.

One year, I forgot to get the Swarovski annual snowflake ornament until late in December and had quite the hunt trying to find it. I have since learned my lesson and now get the Swarovski annual ornament early in December!

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The Swarovski snowflake ornament comes on a white ribbon with a silver tag indicating the year of issue.

If I were to be honest, my daughter adores her Swarovski snowflakes and looks forward to receiving one every year. My son is less enthusiastic about his Swarovski snowflake ornament. He generally mutters “pretty” and then returns to his Lego or whatever.

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Our Swarovski crystal snowflakes are always a highlight when we bring out the Christmas ornaments every year.

Maybe he (or his partner) will be more appreciative of them when he is older. The thing about twins though is that he simply would have had to have a similar collection – twins have a finely honed sense of injustice and it would not have done only to have one set of ornaments just for my daughter. The cost of therapy for my son would have been far more than just simply getting him his own set!

Swarovski Christmas Ornaments History

The Swarovski annual edition ornaments have been issued in their current form since 1991. Swarovski in the USA issued Christmas ornaments in the 1980’s, they weren’t available worldwide. Starting in 1991, Swarovski started issuing Christmas star ornaments for a few years. These are highly collectible and can fetch up to $1500 each.

The Swarovski crystal snowflakes came out in 1992. In 1999, the crystal snowflakes were modernised so that it was less clear whether it was a star or a snowflake. By 2011, the Swarovski annual edition ornaments were regularised across the world. Irrespective of where they are sold, they come in a blue triangular box with a certificate of authenticity and are held by a white ribbon.

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Is this a Christmas star or a snowflake to you? Swarovski deliberately muddied the waters on that question!

It’s cool to see what the Swarovski annual edition ornament is every year. We felt the Swarovski annual ornament 2017 was relatively plain compared to other years.

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The Swarovski annual ornament 2017

In other years, the Swarovski annual edition crystal snowflake ornament has been quite elaborate with crystal cut-outs or three-dimensional features. You can see the full collection since 1991 on the Swarovski website. Every year though our Swarovski crystal snowflakes never fail to please!

SPREAD THE WORD! PIN THIS TO YOUR TRAVEL PINTEREST BOARDS FOR FUTURE REFERENCE!

Swarovski snowflake ornament | Swarovski crystal snowflakes | Swarovski annual edition ornament | Swarovski annual snowflake ornament

The Swarovski annual edition ornament is a Christmas tradition in our home

The giant Rockefeller Christmas tree and Rockefeller Center ice skating are must-do Christmas cavities in NYC

The giant Rockefeller Christmas tree and Rockefeller Center ice skating are must-do Christmas cavities in NYC

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A Guide To Planning a Trip To Alaska For Any Time of the Year

A Guide To Planning a Trip To Alaska For Any Time of the Year

When I think of Alaska, I think of The Simpsons Movie. I can’t help it – it’s one of my kids favourite movies and we have seen it many times. In the movie, Homer and his family flee to Alaska after accidentally polluting their hometown of Springfield. Even before seeing the movie, going to Alaska has always been a bucket list item for us.
I would love to take an Alaska cruise with the kids which several of our friends have already done. When Lonely Planet put it on their must-visit regions to visit in 2018, I knew we would have to visit sooner rather than later. Planning a trip to Alaska though is a daunting task. Luckily, I have met with the Alaska tourism board at a trade fair recently and I’ve solicited the advice of some travel blogger colleagues to get ideas for an Alaska itinerary together.
A Guide To Planning a Trip To Alaska For Both Summer and Winter | best time to visit Alaska | going to Alaska | Alaska Railroad Tours

Alaska is beautiful in every season not just summer.

Planning a Trip to Alaska

 The biggest gating factor for a planning a trip to Alaska seems to be revolve around the best time of year to visit Alaska. The best time to go to Alaska seems to be when you can get there!!

Summer in Alaska

 I automatically assumed summer would be ideal. You get long days with about 20 hours of sunshine (the so-called Midnight Sun like in Iceland) and milder weather with high temperatures around 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
A Guide To Planning a Trip To Alaska For Both Summer and Winter | best time to visit Alaska | going to Alaska | Alaska Railroad Tours

Ship Creek Fishery supports Chinook Salmon and Silver Salmon runs in the heart of Anchorage

The downsides? We are talking peak season prices from about mid-June to mid-August. AND, rain. Coming from England I cannot cope with a rainy summer. After all, it’s why we escape England every summer in the first place. July and August are cloudy and rainy.
Did you know that there’s over a 50% chance of rain in Anchorage in August??
 And you get mosquitoes! I assumed it was too cold for mozzies. Nope. There are over 35 types of Alaskan mosquito all waiting in swarms to feast on some sweet human blood. So bring your DEET infused repellent. None of that namely-pamby organic insect repellent for these hardy mosquitoes.
So when is the best time to visit Alaska? There seems to be a sweet spot during the early weeks of June where the daylight is plentiful, the rains haven’t started and swarms of mosquitoes aren’t ravaging the land.  Similar to what we heard in Iceland though, the weather in Alaska is very variable.
A Guide To Planning a Trip To Alaska For Both Summer and Winter | best time to visit Alaska | going to Alaska | Alaska Railroad Tours

Native Alaskan culture

Winter in Alaska

Or, you can visit in Winter (pretty much the rest of the year that isn’t considered summer). Winter is traditionally not considered the best time to visit Alaska but there is still plenty to do! You can see the world-famous Iditarod sled dog race, hunt for the Northern Lights or enjoy winter sports like snow-shoeing ice-skating, skiing and snowmobiling.
A Guide To Planning a Trip To Alaska For Both Summer and Winter | best time to visit Alaska | going to Alaska | Alaska Railroad Tours

The Aurora at Eagle River

Popular Events

In Fairbanks, every March there is the World Ice Art Championship which reminds me of the preview of the Harbin Ice Art festival we saw in Washington D.C.. At the Fairbanks Championship though, you have tens of thousands of visitors who come to see the work of 75 teams of ice artists.
The Iditarod Sled Dog race starts from Anchorage in March of every year. It is one of Alaska’s biggest sporting events and a test of endurance for man and dog alike. There are two routes the race takes (a Northern route and a Southern route) which gets alternated annually. Each route covers about 1000 miles of frozen Alaskan landscape. The mushing teams can take up two weeks to finish the race.
A Guide To Planning a Trip To Alaska For Both Summer and Winter | best time to visit Alaska | going to Alaska | Alaska Railroad Tours

The Iditarod dog sled race starts in Anchorage

Also in Anchorage in February you get the annual Fur Rendezvous festival (the Fur Rondy). Over the course of 10 days, there are a  lot of activities, a carnival, a running with the reindeer (based on the famous Running with the Bulls in Pamplona), snowshoe softball and an Alaskan Native Blanket Toss and tribal dancing.

The Alaska Railroad

If you love a good rail tour, check out Alaska Railroad’s Aurora Winter Train. This train goes from Anchorage to Talkeetna, through the Denali National Park all the way to Fairbanks.
A Guide To Planning a Trip To Alaska For Both Summer and Winter | best time to visit Alaska | going to Alaska | Alaska Railroad Tours

The Alaska Railroad may be more expensive than driving but you will be able to enjoy the scenery!

If you time it right, you can do the Hurricane Turn Train which runs the first Thursday of the month. This train goes from Anchorage past Talkeetna into the back country which seems to be another 55 miles north to the town of Hurricane. You can either stay on the train or get off and go hunting and skiing. Perfect for mixed ability families like ours – my daughter and I would stay on the train and drink hot chocolate while my son and husband can go skiing in the near-Arctic.
A Guide To Planning a Trip To Alaska For Both Summer and Winter | best time to visit Alaska | going to Alaska | Alaska Railroad Tours

The Alaska Railroad runs regularly in both summer and winter.

 The Alaska Railroad Tours people can even arrange for you to have a guided day tour from Fairbanks of Denali National Park. These tours run on Saturdays. You will get to experience the 6 million acres of Denali with few people but lots of wildlife and snow. Note that unlike Yellowstone and other national parks, Denali National Park doesn’t allow private cars on its one and only road. You have to take the tour buses (with an option of tour lengths and narrated/non-narrated).

An Alaska Itinerary

By far the most popular way to see Alaska  is on a cruise ship. In fact, about a million visitors a year visit Alaska on a cruise. We would love to do an Alaska cruise with kids one-way but would definitely want to tack on an extra week (at least!) to explore the state.

Getting to Alaska

Getting to Alaska usually involves getting to Anchorage.
  1. There are plenty of flights in and out of Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.
  2. As discussed, you can take a cruise into Anchorage itself which is a fantastically picturesque way to enter into the city.
  3. If you feel like being adventurous, the Alaska Marine Highway has state-operated ferries that run along the coast. You can take your ferry (with your car) from Bellingham, Washington State up to Anchorage.
  4. For the ultimate road trip, take the Alaska Canada Highway which runs more than 200 miles from the British Columbia border to Anchorage. Built in 1947 as part of World War II defines efforts, it was said to be an engineering marvel to rival the Panama Canal.
A Guide To Planning a Trip To Alaska For Both Summer and Winter | best time to visit Alaska | going to Alaska | Alaska Railroad Tours

Anchorage has a beautiful setting surrounded by water and mountains.

5 Popular Things To Do in Alaska

  • Wildlife Viewing – You are spoiled for choice if you enjoy watching wildlife such as moose, beaver, bear and wolves. For guaranteed wildlife spotting, you have the Alaska Zoo located in a forest near Anchorage, the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, a conservation centre a bit further from Anchorage and the Alaska SeaLife Center, a marine research facility in Seward.
A Guide To Planning a Trip To Alaska For Both Summer and Winter | best time to visit Alaska | going to Alaska | Alaska Railroad Tours

Watch out for wildlife on the road in Alaska!

  • Explore the National Parks – From Anchorage you have access to five national parks – Kenai Fjords (see whales and otters), Katmai (get your fill of bears), Lake Clark (bear viewing and hiking, kayaking and rafting), Wrangell-St. Elias (see giant glaciers) and Denali (home to America’s tallest mountain).
  • Enjoy all that water provided by the lakes and glaciers with rafting tours,  jet boat safaris, kayaking and canoeing tours. If you are into fishing, Anchorage is considered one of America’s best fishing spots. Grab a wetsuit, even stand up paddle boarding (SUP) is becoming a popular activity.
  • Festivals and Events – The summer has lots of festivals happening like the Alaska State Fair. In winter, you get events like the Fur Rondy mentioned above.
  • Flightseeing – Alaska is a massive state but has only 10,000 miles of road. You can charter a small plane to take you into the wilderness and the flight itself is the real trip not the destination. It’s expensive but worth it!
My husband is one of those people that will not do anything without checking it out on TripAdvisor.  Here’s a link to TripAdvisor Alaska if you, too, need to know what conventional wisdom recommends for planning a trip to Alaska.
 For your amusement, here are the Simpsons going to Alaska:

Collective Wisdom: Planning A Trip To Alaska

I have asked four of my well-travelled colleagues for their recommendations on going to Alaska. I hope these travel bloggers ideas help you plan an unforgettable Alaska itinerary.

A Birthday Trip to Remember

My husband’s 50th birthday gift was a trip to wherever he wanted. Finally, after a couple of years, he made his decision: Alaska. Over the course of ten summer days that year, we were able to taste the monumental experience that the Last Frontier gives to first-time and repeat visitors alike.
There is no describing the primal grandeur, the vast sense of elemental wildness and space, and the hale and hearty practicality of Alaskans, who refer to everywhere else as “Outside.”
Follow our lead and base in Anchorage for a couple of days. Rent a car and drive up toward Fairbanks. On your way, stop in to pay your respects to “The Great One” – Denali. Head back south toward the Kenai Peninsula. Make time away from “combat fishing” in the streams to head out on big water from Seward or Homer. Tromp around a glacier, see puffins and silver salmon, look for the Big Five: grizzly, moose, wolf, caribou and mountain Dall sheep. Wander into a roadhouse for drinks, gullet-sticking grub and the particular form of verbal interplay that Alaskans call “bullchitna.”
You always leave Alaska wishing you’d had more time.
– by Betsy Wuebker who writes at Passing Thru; find her also on 
Kenai Alaska landscape

That glorious Alaskan landscape (Photo credit: Betsy Wuebker)

Alaska is the perfect destination for travelers who love nature and have a sense of adventure. Whether it is kayaking alongside whales, hiking through its many parks, or checking out Gold Rush history, there’s plenty to do and lots of gorgeous views to enjoy.
Luxe 5 Star Hotels in Las Vegas For Backpacker Hostel Prices

Luxe 5 Star Hotels in Las Vegas For Backpacker Hostel Prices

Update:  November 22, 2017 – This Hotwire Deal has now SOLD OUT.

How would you like to run away to Las Vegas for a few days and be pampered at one of its big 5 star hotels for $50/night? Yes, me too! What a deal! Travel website Hotwire have put the big Las Vegas 5 star hotels on sale at $50 a night! Now that’s so hot it’s practically sizzling!

Hotwire’s Million Dollar Deal

Hotwire is an online travel service provider that’s offering up 5 star hotels in Las Vegas for $50/night. It’ll do so until the consumer (ie., you the public) have saved a million dollars. Considering the average 5 star hotel room in Vegas goes for $400, that is a considerable savings.

It also means that a million dollars won’t last that long in a city like Vegas! If you want this deal, you have to book over the next few days. On the plus side, you can start you Thanksgiving break all relaxed knowing you’ve got a Vegas short weekend just on the other side of all that family madness.

The small print:

  • You have to travel between December 8 and the 28th.
  • You can only book 2 days maximum.

During this crazy December holiday period though, a 48 hour break can do wonders for your stress levels!

Luxe 5 Star Hotels in Las Vegas For Backpacker Hostel Prices

No, not Venice but The Venetian hotel in Las Vegas.

You can book on Hotwire itself. You’ll find out which hotel you have at check out. Almost all of the big names are participating. It’s like 5 star hotel roulette in Vegas! (very appropriate for the destination!). In my opinion, I have found all of the Vegas luxury hotels fabulous in their own way.

Luxe 5 Star Hotels in Las Vegas For Backpacker Hostel Prices

A view of the Las Vegas strip at night never gets old. All those lights, people are energy!

Still not convinced by Hotwire’s crazy amazing deal?

Top 5 Reasons For a Las Vegas Short Break

  1. It’s Vegas baby!
  2. Pamper yourself during the Christmas super busy holiday season.
  3. Toast away your cares lying on a sun lounger by the pool.
  4. Be the envy of everyone when you show up relaxed and tanned at Christmas events.
  5. A blissed out you will be able to cope with the minor stresses that accompany the holiday season.

I’ve been to Vegas before and have stayed at the MGM and Mandalay Bay, respectively. We enjoyed lots of the extra curricular activities that Vegas has to offer besides gambling – shopping, dining, hanging by the pool etc.

A short break in Las Vegas felt like an entire world away because it was just so different from my real world. I can’t wait to do it again!!

This post is in partnership with Hotwire. As always, my opinions remain my own.

 

5 Fun Things To Do in Sausalito California During a Quick Visit

5 Fun Things To Do in Sausalito California During a Quick Visit

Like many of our best discoveries, we stumbled upon the charming little town of Sausalito accidentally. Our children were complaining about walking all over the city of San Francisco, and how much their little tootsies hurt.  I’m sure they were angling for a return to the hotel and some downtime involving an iPad, but we outfoxed them with a double-decker tour bus ride. The San Francisco double decker tour bus crosses the Golden Gate Bridge and then turns around in Sausalito for the return trip. In spite of being huddled together in pain from ears that were ringing from the whistling wind of the San Francisco Bay, we saw enough of the town that we knew we had to return for a proper visit. A little research discovered that there were plenty of fun things to do and places to eat in Sausalito.

Fun Things To Do in Sausalito California During a Quick Visit | What to do in Sausalito | Sausalito Things to Do | Where to eat in Sausalito

Fun things to do in Sausalito with kids

What To Do in Sausalito

Visit the Sausalito houseboats

The 400+ Sausalito houseboats are located at the northern end of town in five marinas. If you have a car, it’s an easy exit of Highway 101. Enter via Gate 5, Gate 6 or Gate 6 1/2 road. I didn’t think it had the picture perfect charm of the Venice Beach canal-side houses but these houseboats are attractive in their own way.

Fun Things To Do in Sausalito California During a Quick Visit | What to do in Sausalito | Sausalito Things to Do | Where to eat in Sausalito

The Sausalito houseboats are both varied in architecture and very colorful.

Fun fact: Otis Redding wrote his classic hit “Sitting On the Dock By the Bay” in 1967 when he was living on a Sausalito houseboat.

If you are going to be in Sausalito in September, check out the Sausalito houseboat open homes tour that runs annually. The homes tour is popular and so you need to book it early.

Get on your  bikes!

We saw plenty of people cycling across the Bay Bridge but those winds are fierce! We decided not to follow their lead because it would have been too much for the children. OK, both the children and me, lets be honest – I’m a fair weather cyclist.

Fun Things To Do in Sausalito California During a Quick Visit | What to do in Sausalito | Sausalito Things to Do | Where to eat in Sausalito

Cycling is an easy and fun way to explore Sausalito

For an easier bike ride, the Sausalito Multi-Use Path is a wide paved bike path that has been converted over an old railroad track (similar to the Shining Sea bike path in Upper Cape Cod). We found just like the Shining Sea bike path, you share the space with pedestrians and runners.

Go wine tasting in Sausalito

After all that exercise, it’s only natural to want to collapse on a sofa for some refreshment. The town has wine tasting opportunities thanks to its location near Napa Valley. We had the wine and the kids had some snacks.

Fun Things To Do in Sausalito California During a Quick Visit | What to do in Sausalito | Sausalito Things to Do | Where to eat in Sausalito

Napa wine tasting is conveniently located near the Sausalito ferry.

Browse the art galleries of Sausalito

Or, better yet, multitask with an art gallery and wine tasting combo.

Fun Things To Do in Sausalito California During a Quick Visit | What to do in Sausalito | Sausalito Things to Do | Where to eat in Sausalito

I’m a firm believer that wine tasting paired with art gallery browsing makes you more appreciative of the art.

The art galleries seem to be on the Bridgeway and Caledonia Street. FYI, the locals wanted to keep Caledonia street away from the tourist hordes so there was a time in the 1980’s and 1990’s when it wasn’t listed on the tourist maps.

Where To Eat in Sausalito with Kids

Among the many Sausalito things to do, you have to include hanging out in a good restaurant as one of its best pleasures. For a little town, there are a lot of great dining options that are also kid-friendly.

The Spinnaker is near the Sausalito Ferry and has great views of the harbour from the restaurant’s floor to ceiling windows. Expect lots of great fish and seafood, as well as some pasta and meat dishes. There is a children’s menu with the crowd-pleasing option of burgers and fries. You get amazing sunsets (so long as the weather is cooperating) at dinnertime.

Fun Things To Do in Sausalito California During a Quick Visit | What to do in Sausalito | Sausalito Things to Do | Where to eat in Sausalito

This great position in the harbour gives Spinnaker its fabulous views.

The Napa Valley Burger Company has a large selection of burgers (including a junior-sized version) and an even larger selection of wine and beer to keep the parents happy.

If you have had your share of sourdough bread, then there are some great ethnic restaurants choices.

We love our Mexican food as you know. For lunch, we went to Copita located conveniently to the Bridgeway. Voted Best Mexican in the San Francisco area, we can attest the tacos are delicious. Copita is owned by celebrity chef, Joanne Weir, who has many books and television shows to her credit.

Avatars is another cool option that serves up Indian-Mexican fusion food. Seriously. I’ve never heard of this combination but its ingenious and delicious. For example, the Punjabi enchilada is a curry stuffed enchilada served with Basmati rice and peas. For the less adventurous child, there’s a children’s menu which offers up the simple pleasures of a grilled cheese sandwich.

Lappert’s Ice Cream is a family-run chain of ice cream (and gourmet coffee) stores. The flavours will whisk you off to far-off places like Manila Mango and Mexican chocolate cinnamon swirl.

Where To Stay in Sausalito California

The Casa Madrona is a small 4 star boutique hotel with great harbor views in Sausalito. It’s a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World. With children you can book a hillside cottage suite. Staff will help you with your luggage but it would be more sensible to leave most of your bags in the car.

Getting To Sausalito California

Getting to Sausalito is pretty easy to reach from San Francisco via ferry or by car. One of the ferries to Sausalito goes from Pier 39/Pier 41 at tourist-central Fisherman’s Wharf.  The ferry conveniently stops at Sausalito’s main thoroughfare, Bridgeway.

Fun Things To Do in Sausalito California During a Quick Visit | What to do in Sausalito | Sausalito Things to Do | Where to eat in Sausalito

The San Francisco – Sausalito ferry

Alternatively if you are driving, Sausalito is the first stop across the San Francisco Bay after the Golden Gate Bridge. We stopped off on our way out of San Francisco to Muir Woods and further on to Napa Valley.

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Go Mad for Judith Leiber Bags At MAD Museum in New York

Go Mad for Judith Leiber Bags At MAD Museum in New York

So many bad MAD jokes that I don’t even where to start. MAD Museum  (also known as the Museum of Arts and Design) in New York City is a small and quirky museum located on the west side of Manhattan. After a morning spent wandering around the area, my children and I stopped by MAD to check out the Judith Leiber exhibit featuring dozens of her bejewelled evening bags and minaudieres.

Judith Leiber Bags At MAD Museum in New York | Museum of Arts and Design | Judith Leiber Handbags | Judith Leiber minaudieres| Judith Leiber exhibition

An exhibit of Judith Leiber bags at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City

Judith Leiber is the name to know in celebrity evening bags. She has a colorful international history herself. Born to a wealthy Jewish Hungarian family, she studied at Kings College London, worked at a prestigious Hungarian handbag company, survived the Nazi occupation of Hungary during World War II and married an American soldier.

After the war, the couple moved to New York. Judith first worked with a New York handbag designer but then started her own company in 1963.  Of course, it was only natural that MAD would highlight this hometown immigrant hero of the decorative arts with a special exhibition.

The Museum of Arts and Design

If you are in Columbus Circle, you really can’t miss the 10 story gleaming Museum of Arts and Design. The building shimmers like a vertical lake thanks to a $90 million tile and glass facelift to the modernist building that was previously at the location.

Judith Leiber Bags At MAD Museum in New York | Museum of Arts and Design | Judith Leiber Handbags | Judith Leiber minaudieres| Judith Leiber exhibition

The Museum of Arts and Design at Columbus Circle

Whats On at MAD Museum

Although the museum was founded in 1958, the MAD Museum only got its swanky new digs in 2008. The museum had acquired thousands of pieces of art, craft and design from the 1950’s onwards.

Yet, only 10% of the museum’s permanent collection is on display at any given time. The other floors are devoted to assorted things like artists’ spaces, an auditorium, and an education centre.

Bookending the building, on the bottom floor there is a very cool gift store and on the top floor, Robert the restaurant has great views of Central Park. I couldn’t visit Robert the Restaurant without thinking of Robert The Doll.

Judith Leiber Bags At MAD Museum in New York | Museum of Arts and Design | Judith Leiber Handbags | Judith Leiber minaudieres| Judith Leiber exhibition

One of the many beautiful craft and design items available for purchase at the gift store.

Special Exhibits at MAD Museum

So whether you enjoy this museum really is dependent on what the special exhibitions on display happen to be at the time of your visit.

For example, the Judith Leiber exhibit showcasing her crystal-encrusted evening bags was beautiful and interesting to both my daughter and myself. My son’s eyes glassed over like he was contemplating throwing himself into Columbus Circle traffic as a more appealing alternative. Each of the floors though are small and so we were able to finish ogling over the gorgeous Leiber handbags before he got too desperate.

Judith Leiber Bags At MAD Museum in New York | Museum of Arts and Design | Judith Leiber Handbags | Judith Leiber minaudieres| Judith Leiber exhibition

The MAD Museum in New York City put on an exhibit of Judith Leiber handbags.

Previous temporary exhibits have been Crochet Coral Reef (a crochet project with yarn and garbage that highlights marine life issues); Richard Estes: Painting New York City (photorealism); and fashion After Fashion (an exhibit on the end of times for the fashion industry). So, as you can tell, it’s a mixed bag catering to many different interests.

The Judith Leiber Exhibition

We went to the Judith Leiber exhibition on her evening bags which was fantastic!!! Well, for my daughter and me. My son’s reaction was less enthusiastic. He does not appreciate the beauty of jewel-like evening bags.

Judith Leiber Bags

Judith Leiber is a firm celebrity favourite for evening bags. These little bags can run into thousands of dollars and have achieved collector-status similar to Faberge eggs. There’s a lady in New Orleans who has almost 300 Lieber bags.

Judith Leiber Bags At MAD Museum in New York | Museum of Arts and Design | Judith Leiber Handbags | Judith Leiber minaudieres| Judith Leiber exhibition

A Mondrian inspired Judith Leiber handbag

Leiber became a household name when she designed the handbag carried by First Lady Mamie Eisenhower at President Eisenhower’s inauguration ball. Leiber has since  made evening bags for several first ladies, including a minaudière of Socks the White House Cat for Hilary Clinton.

Judith Leiber Bags At MAD Museum in New York | Museum of Arts and Design | Judith Leiber Handbags | Judith Leiber minaudieres| Judith Leiber exhibition

Judith Leiber has designed thousands of bags for her celebrity clients.

If you want to read more about Judith Leiber,  Jeffrey Susan has written her biography, No Mere Bagatelles.

Although the Leiber exhibition at MAD has finished, the Leibers have set up their own small museum in the Hamptons called the Lieber Collection. Entry is free and the museum is open for limited hours during the summer.

The Story of Handbags

I loved that MAD gave an introduction that explained the rise of handbags as a fashion accessory to my accessory-and-sparkle-mad daughter.

Until the 18th century, women had pockets in their outfits that they could carry stuff. Imagine all the stuff that you could stick inside one of those Elizabethan skirts. With the rise of a more streamlined silhouette for women’s clothes, women started carrying a reticule (a pouch on a cord).

Judith Leiber handbags at Museum of Arts and Design Boston

A 19th century silk reticule at the MFA (copyright of MFA Boston)

Women, of course, had to carry a lot of stuff for themselves (lipstick, money etc) as well as stuff in their role as caretakers. As a mother, I often felt like a packhorse with my ginormous diaper bag with essentials for two babies.

Even now, I am the one who carries the water bottles, the band-aids, hand sanitiser and everything else the kids need. Their pockets are reserved for important junk they pick up along the way, like interesting sticks and stones.

Judith Leiber’s Creations As Decorative Art

Judith Leiber’s creations are truly a cross between art and accessory –  similar to many of the items we saw at the Swarovski museum in Austria. You can see why many Leiber  pieces have become collector’s items.

The designer is most famous for her minaudieres (metal evening bags encrusted with jewels and precious metals) which she started making in 1967.  The minaudière started off as a way for her to repair a damaged handbag but then came into a life of their own.

Judith Leiber Bags At MAD Museum in New York | Museum of Arts and Design | Judith Leiber Handbags | Judith Leiber minaudieres| Judith Leiber exhibition

Judith Leiber like to use animal motifs in her work.

Judith Leiber has designed more than 3500 bags, all of them handcrafted and unique over her 35+ years designing under her own name. Judith designed her last bag, The Peacock, in 2004.

Judith Leiber Bags At MAD Museum in New York | Museum of Arts and Design | Judith Leiber Handbags | Judith Leiber minaudieres| Judith Leiber exhibition

The Peacock was Judith Leiber’s last design.

Visiting MAD Museum

The Museum of Arts and Design is a small but cool museum. You’d be MAD to miss it. Sorry, couldn’t resist. It’s right near Columbus Circle, the shops at Coumbus Circle and the 57th west entrance to Central Park.

Definitely check out future exhibits at MAD before you visit to make sure that you want to see what’s on. The entrance price of $16 for adults is pretty steep if you don’t like the rotating exhibits. Luckily, children 18 years and under are free. MAD is also free for everyone on Thursday nights.

MAD is located at 2 Columbus Circle. Like many museums in New York City, MAD is closed on Mondays.

Where To Stay

We have stayed near the Mad Museum at The Hudson Hotel, a charming boutique hotel just behind Columbus Circle. The subway at Columbus Circle is a major hub so there are many transportation options available.

Nearby we have stayed at Row NYC which is closer to Times Square. It’s small but great location. The Westin New York is also closer to Times Square and has larger rooms. If you are looking for suite apartments, we can recommend the newly renovated The Benjamin which is a short walk across to the East Side.

Where To Eat

If you chose not to eat at Robert, we recommend eating at Landmarc, a French and Italian bistro by Chef Marc Murphy at the Time Warner Center next door. My kids were thrilled that there was cotton candy as a dessert option at Landmarc. Alternatively we have also gotten freshly-made deli sandwiches at eaten in Central Park nearby.

Jean-Georges Vongrichten’s flagship restaurant Jean-Georges is across the street at 1 Central Park West. They do have a reasonable lunch menu if you would like to try a 3 star Michelin restaurant in New York. For my kids, though the decision was a no-brainer when cotton candy was involved.

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