A solid piece of advice….

Don’t be afraid to do thing on your own, especially travel. If you wait on others, you may not ever get to go where you want to.

Recently I flew out to Las Vegas solo, I did meet up with a couple of ladies while out there but mostly by myself, and it was the most relaxing and fun vacations I’ve ever had. At times it did feel a little weird and boring to be walking around by myself in the middle of meeting up with my friend from college who lives there as well as a fellow member of an online travel community I am apart of, also a local of Vegas. I also made some ‘friends’ before the shows I attended.

Had I not gone I would have missed out on:

Seeing Britney Spears before she finishes out her residency this year

The Beatles LOVE

Bodies the Exhibit

a gondola ride at the Venetian

the dolphin exhibit at the Mirage

I’m so happy to be a part of an online community where I can meet ladies like myself who know you can have fun traveling alone. I hope to meet more ladies from this group on my future travels. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. I can’t count how many people back home would say, “You are going out by YOURSELF?!?” If a woman does anything on her own, it’s still looked down on and thought about as weird. Especially since I’m from Iowa where majority of the population is from here originally and seldom leaves the state or even country. Well that’s my family anyway. Like I said, I got to see a friend from college before she leaves the mainland for Hawaii where her husband will be reassigned.
I am married myself and even though I am a part of a unit with my husband, I am still my own individual person. It is essential both him and I operate as individual ‘ones’ because that is what we are. We are two people in a one unit, not half of one person in one unit. If I waited for him to come back to Vegas we me, I’d be waiting a long time because it doesn’t excite him as much.

 

On an unrelated note: I don’t want to stop blogging but lately I feel like there’s no point to me doing it. Like who I am to be an expert at anything? I hope to find more ways to improve so this can be something I enjoy doing again. Working on your Masters where you have to write in large amounts can make anyone forget that writing can be enjoyable or fun. I hope to find my purpose in life again when right now it feels like I’m just floating around.

My Favorite Travel Tools

As I sit here and write this, I am pool side at The Linq Hotel in Las Vegas with margarita in hand. All I can do to pretend that I get paid to do this. This Vegas trip was for: to celebrate myself becoming debt free by paying off my student loans (a post to come on that later. Yeah i know, I’m all sorts of out of order.) and also to visit my good friend from college while she is still on the mainland. She lives on the air force base in Vegas with her husband but later this year they will be transferred to Hawaii. Sad for family and friends like me but good for them because who wouldn’t love living in Hawaii?!?!?

My go to travel tools I used to plan this trip: Expedia as well as sticking to the one airline I’ve been accumulating miles, Delta. I have found over the years Expedia has been pretty accurate when finding me the best prices for where I want to go. When I took a job where I travel once or twice a year, I decided to enroll in their Rewards program. I got up to Silver status and almost to Gold! Booking a certain number of nights and/ or dollar amounts will get you points that accumulate to money to use toward a future hotel booking. I plan on doing a trip with a friend later this year and I have money, with more to come from this Vegas trip, to use when we are trying to plan where to stay. With $200.00 worth of points you can stay in a nice hotel for free or almost next to nothing. Also, when they say you save money by bundling, booking hotel and air together, they really mean it. Depending on what day you book and what day you choose to fly, you can save more money. If I book a trip, I have been known to hover over the site a every day of the week to check out the average prices.

Prior to taking on a job where I would be traveling once or twice a year, I didn’t think I’d ever need to start thinking about trying to stick with one airline. However when I started traveling more with my husband and to the other location of my work, I figured getting a Delta Skymiles account wouldn’t be such a bad idea. I love using the app with my Skymiles account as it has made it easier for us to upgrade. We upgraded to First Class when we flew down to Cancun earlier this year. An upgrade to Delta Comfort is pretty great if you have to money for it but don’t want to spend as much as first class. With Delta Comfort you get a little more leg room, you get to board the plane first and all alcoholic drinks are included. Pretty worth the money if you ask me. Also when I have upgraded, I accumulate more miles that way besides just the base miles I earn with each trip. Since Delta merged with AirBnb, I can use their website with my Skymiles account and earn more miles that way.

So there you have my quick little mention of the things I love to use when planning my trips. This was free advertisement for Expedia and Delta even though some compensation would be great! 😉 wink! I just like using them that much.

 

Gulf Shores, Alabama

One of the perks of my job is getting to travel once or twice a year down to our sister school in Alabama. Being a business trip, the majority of my time is spent working on sight in Orange Beach during the day but the evenings are available to enjoy the sights, food, culture and one must not forget the beaches of Gulf Shores. This was my third trip down and entirely different from my previous two visits. Before I had come down in January and April where you’d only come across locals and a few snowbirds but this time was peak tourist season and MUCH busier than I have gotten used to. Being a resident of Iowa my entire life, Alabama, or the south in general, feels like an entirely different country other than it taking us an entire work day to get down there.

Our journey to Alabama from Iowa consists of being on three different planes and in four different airports starting with the Air Choice One charter flight from Mason City to Chicago. You may remember me sharing my previous experience during our honeymoon from a year ago and that it wasn’t the greatest, but this time that wasn’t the case; it was fantastic! The main reason: we didn’t check any bags! Yes unlike last time (besides the rough air getting into Chicago, that still terrifies me!) we only had to go through security once in Mason City and that made everything so much less stressful. I didn’t realize we had this option even with just carry ons! Also last time I was totally unaware we could walk from terminal to terminal. Air Choice One only operates in Concourse L in Terminal 3, but before I thought Concourse L was all there was in Terminal 3. Nope. It is much bigger and it’s quite a walk from Terminal 3 to 2 but still very much easier accessible without the hassle of reentering through security. Air Choice One is amazing if you don’t have to check luggage, if you must check something then maybe that would be the time to venture up to Minneapolis or down to Des Moines. This trip has inspired a future post: If Tyler and I visit his aunt in Germany, we would fly Air Choice One to Chicago then to Germany BUT only each having 1 carry on and each also having 1 backpack as our personal items.. Stay TUNED!! lol

(Early morning flight pictures)
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In order to make it to Chicago at a decent time to catch our first connecting flight, it usually involves us having to book their earliest flight: this time it was 6:00 AM with check in at 5 AM. I was nervous with the low clouds that we would be stuck in them causing a bumpy flight but we flew higher and it was smooth sailing until we arrived around 8 AM. With low clouds and fog over Chicago it was hard for me to get a shot of the skyline which is the coolest part of the flight…
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After landing and strolling right along to our next gate in Chicago, the next stop was in Atlanta. There are no direct flights from O’Hare to Pensacola so we usually do a connecting in Atlanta or Charlotte. Usually we just stick to Atlanta because it’s only a short 45 minute flight from there to Pensacola. With only having 12 gates, the airport in Pensacola is one of my favorites because of its accessibility and the security line ALWAYS being pretty close to non existent. We are lucky flying down here or back home by starting in small airports and not getting held up in lines waiting for TSA.

Landing in Pensacola around 3:30 PM, we picked up our rental car and we were on the way to Alabama. Usually a 45 minute drive from the airport to where we stay, it look a little over an hour this time; it’s the middle of July and a busy time. The route takes us through a very spread out Pensacola and eventually turns into a scenic drive along the coast:
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Finally after our hour long drive from the airport we reached the condo we were thankful to be put up in. Being our work party was made up of three gals and a guy, us three girls would room together and Tony would be next door in a clone of the one we had. We took the elevator up to the 14th floor and walked down to our door. The view outside our door wasn’t bad:
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It wasn’t until we walked inside and immediately the view before we stepped out to the balcony was amazing! But when we walked out…
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I could hang out here throughout our entire stay even when you wanted to die from the humidity by stepping outside! The condo itself had two bedrooms each with their own full bath, a half bath in the hallway, laundry closet, a full kitchen and living room. We appreciated being able to stay here very much!

With all our things unloaded in the condo it was time to find some grub. We had two first timers on this trip so we had to take them to Island Wing Co. It was away from the beach so less busy then the spots down by the water. Everything made here, including their wings, is baked and not fried to keep things fresh and a little more healthy. I love their blackened mahi mahi sandwich!! Sorry there are no pictures from this portion, my phone was low and had to conserve my battery life.
After dinner we cruised through some local places starting with the Hangout (tourist trap!) for one of my coworkers. They had a band playing outside with lots of little shops and bars. The main building was the giant restaurant serving food you can get anywhere that is overpriced. Next door to the Hangout is one of my personal favorites: The Pink Pony! They have karaoke nightly and a great atmosphere that is just fun. This establishment has been in business for 60 years as of 2016.

The next morning we started out the day with food from one of my favorites things from down south that us up here in the north don’t have:

PUBLIX!!!
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Yes I get excited about this grocery store. We got our breakfast for the week at the condo here and as I cruised through I couldn’t help but notice their produce just looked more green and fresh. Of course given the location their seafood section was the same size as our meat sections up here in our grocery stores. It had a good size section just for SUSHI! If I lived down here I would stop by after work every day for an after work snack!
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The wonderful staff that we work with down in Orange Beach made a southern comfort food style lunch: fried chicken, corn bread, green beans, deviled eggs, biscuits, sweet tea and so much more delicious sides. I look forward to more working lunches like this in the future, such a good idea and a refreshing lunch to have in the middle of our first day of the work week.

After our first day of work it was time to find food for the night. I will skip how we stumbled across where we landed for the night but I’m glad we ended up where we did. I have found my favorite watering hole on my trips. When I’m home in Iowa, I have my VIP Lounge but when I’m down in Alabama I have: The Flying Harpoon!
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This place is tucked behind the huge Oyster House restaurant so unless you know it’s there you don’t get a lot of foot traffic from the tourists. We got a table that fit the four of us and that’s where we stayed for the remainder of the night. The walls are decorated with artwork on paper placements done with crayon by guests from all over.
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I even did my own little artwork:
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They have a small menu of appetizers, salads, seafood, sandwiches but their specialties are PO BOYS!! My coworker opted for the Crab and Crawfish Po boy. I had a salad but added six garlic jumbo shrimp put on top. I also recommend the crab and crawfish cakes as an appetizer! YUM!!!
The wrap around porch and view outside are pretty swell too:
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We had two awesome bartenders take care of us all night: Tom and BR (real name Bryant but he goes by BR and is actually a native of Iowa!) I can’t wait to come back to this place when I am in the area again: $3.50 for well drinks!

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Wednesday: After another jammed packed work day our next choice of eating establishment was The Beach House. A favorite of locals and after my second time eating here I know why. This place is also tucked back with the entrance not facing the road or beach so many tourists don’t know it’s here. Very close to our condo as well so that was nice!
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Outside eating, it wasn’t too bad even though it was very humid. We caught a little breeze. (Hair in my face! grr!)
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Being down in the south I wanted to take advantage of all the fresh seafood I could. Pictured above are my grilled grouper tacos. I have dreams about these bad boys when I’m back home! I have given up trying to eat fish tacos up here in Iowa as they don’t compare to the freshness or flavor down there. Sally ordered the crawfish mac n cheese which looked delicious! Maybe next time when it’s not like an oven outside.

Since this would be our last night staying at the condo, we decided to head back after dinner and walk across the road to the beach! The sun was setting and the waves were rolling in, perfect for some photo ops.
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After we did our frolicking in the water and sand, we decided to head back to the condo for the rest of the night. Us three girls sat out on our balcony relaxing and watching the sun set. I thought that as night set in it would cool down, but the complete opposite happened: we got a breeze for a while but as soon as 10:00 rolled around it got very hot and sticky all of a sudden. Alabama, you are weird.
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It was now Thursday and our last full work day down here. I decided to make use of a lunch hour and eat at one stop introduced to me by my southern ‘counterpart’: Another Broken Egg Café, located in Orange Beach on Canal Road across the toll bridge from the main campus.
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I failed to get a picture of the front but it doesn’t look like much being in a strip mall. This place is open for breakfast and lunch with fresh food that is a health freaks delight. It also has a full bar. Being so hot temperature wise on this visit I tried to eat lighter or healthier so I wouldn’t feel miserable with food that sat at the bottom of my stomach. They have an amazing Kale and Salmon salad:
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Kale, salmon, chopped almonds and homemade honey jalapeno vinaigrette dressing. The mix of textures and flavors.. YUM! I hope to eat breakfast here on another visit.

Back to the office and wrapping up our afternoon with work tying up the necessary ends before we would leave town for the night. The awesome IDT staff in Orange Beach invited us out to dinner at Bill’s By the Beach (not actually located on the beach but across the road with a view of the beach! 🙂 )
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They started us with some appetizers of crab cheese cake spread, grilled pineapple, blackened shrimp, etc..
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Now it was time for the main course and since I seemed to think I didn’t get enough shrimp in the first round of the meal, I wanted more shrimp. They have a shrimp platter where you can order it grilled or fried with fries and coleslaw or a shrimp and grits plate. I decided when in Rome and ordered the shrimp and grits which apparently won an award of some kind:
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Blackened shrimp on top of grits with ‘gravy’ and onions, peppers and tomatoes. When I heard gravy I expected gravy like we have up here but this was of the oil kind and I didn’t care for it but the grits and shrimp were super tasty!! I can now say that I have tried grits!

After good conversations and wonderful meal it was time to say goodbye and be on our way back to Pensacola for the night before our Friday morning flight. But first: hugs for our AL team and group photos!
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We quickly made it back to the condo to get our bags and clean up before departing on the hour drive back to Pensacola. Look a rainbow as we left the Sanibel parking lot!
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It took us longer to get back and seemed like we’d never get there. The joys of peak tourist season pushed our arrival time back a little after 9:00 PM. We usually stay at the Hyatt Place located within walking distance of the terminal. Very nice rooms and a good breakfast buffet in the lobby. The front desk also has a connecting bar that you can also order munchies with your drinks at, which is perfect for kicking back during your last night and going up to your room when you’re ready to sleep.
However with it being the middle of July, rates for the Hyatt were sky high at over 200 a night. Nope, not this time. I had found a cute little hotel a little less than 10 minutes from the airport: At Home Inn and Suites. Their lobby in the main building where their newly added deluxe rooms are housed was gorgeous. We stayed in one of the back two story buildings where all doors are on the outside of the building. Rooms were very reasonable and mostly redone with new beds etc. A perfect alternative for our last night when the Hyatt isn’t an option. Rooms in the back buildings are 70-80 a night but I think we could ‘upgrade’ to the deluxe rooms in the main building for 80-90 a night.

The next morning it was time to return the car and begin the journey back home opposite the way we got down here: Pensacola to Atlanta to Chicago and finally Mason City. Like I mentioned before, we were through security in less than five minutes. I do love this airport!
After a small breakfast of fruit at the hotel, I thought maybe I’d grab one more thing in the airport for breakfast. I tried to stay on the healthy side for this trip but this last breakfast would be another ‘when in Rome’ meal: breakfast sandwich from Chick-fill-A. It really is satisfying having a chicken patty with an egg and cheese on a biscuit. Mmmm Our first flight left at 11:45 AM and after another connecting it was time to leave Chicago back to Mason City on the 8:30 PM flight. Here we are enjoying the last two hour home stretch as well as Chicago as the sun sets.
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As a native Iowan and never residing anywhere else, Alabama is like a whole other country to me. While I love my life, the culture and people here up north, I do enjoy the visits I’m able to take down south when I can. There is such a thing as southern hospitality and despite two different cultures, I felt that from everyone I encountered in Gulf Shores. The beaches are gorgeous, the seafood is fresh and amazing, winters are never there but I can’t leave you my, Iowa even when I don’t want anything to do with you January through half of March. Sorry Alabama no hard feelings, I really do enjoy you when I’m in town for a visit but my home is up here in the North. Until I see you (y’all) again, keep that warm weather waiting for us!

 

 

Vegas…it truly never gets old!

I really mean it when I say, ‘I could go to Vegas every year’. Honest. Just coming back from my third trip out and already can’t wait to go again. I think I have convinced one of my fellow travelers that this needs to be a yearly thing. There are so many things to do: shows to see, pools to lounge and drink by, gambling, shopping, did i mention drinking?!?! Even though drinking is more on the expensive side, I don’t know anywhere else you can walk around in public with a drink in your hand. Everyone experiences or enjoys Sin City in a different way, here’s how I enjoy it…

Booking/ getting there:
For my first and recent trip we got a non stop flight both ways and I can’t say how much I love that! Flying to Vegas, I just want to get there and when I’m ready to leave I just want to get home. My second trip out I had a connecting flight in Denver from Des Moines but the flight out of Des Moines was delayed so I had to rebook on another flight out of Denver putting me in Vegas three hours after then I originally planned. If I fly domestically I try to avoid doing a connecting flight at all possible costs; it’s nice just have one time and one destination to worry about. Also it makes for a LOOOONG journey home when you are tired of people, drained from having too much alcohol, I mean FUN, and being in airports. Save doing connecting flights for international travel when it saves you money and don’t have a nonstop option. When we land I always get a cheap shuttle to the strip hotels and on the day we leave, I find it much easier and faster (and cheaper if you get three people in) to take a taxi back to the airport.

Hotels/where to stay:
Before we booked this trip I’ve decided each time it could be fun to try a different hotel every time.
My first time out in March of 2011 for my cousin’s wedding, everyone who came out except me and Tyler stayed at Tropicana. Since one of the nights we needed to stay there was sold out because of an event, Tyler and I stayed across the strip at Excalibur. Tropicana is one place I definitely can’t wait to stay when I get around to it: VERY nice and claims to have been voted Best Pool In Vegas. Excalibur is a great stay too mostly because it’s more affordable but our stay was comfortable. If price is something you need to make work in order to get out to Vegas, Excalibur is always a nice stay for the cost; always affordable. Their pool is nice too! Sure it is on the south end of the strip and may seem far away from everything but there’s action everywhere: north, south or middle. Plus I have found I get more drinks when I gamble there than I do at any other casino.
My second time out in Vegas, I only need a room for the last night; I stayed with a friend and her husband on the air force base two nights and another night I had driven out to LA and stayed with another friend from college. Even though I wanted to try a different hotel I stayed at Excalibur again because I had tickets to see “Thunder From Down Under”, which was where it was showing so I didn’t have to leave the hotel. Also in Excalibur is the awesome bar/restaurant: Dick’s Last Resort. This is one of the few chain restaurants I love because of the fun atmosphere of the staff purposely being assholes to you. Your wait staff will make offensive hats for you to wear:
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For this last trip out with two friends we stayed in the middle of the strip at Flamingo. This was a fun hotel, affordable too with access to everywhere since it was in the middle. We just got a basic room since we were only in it to shower, change and sleep. This hotel made me realize when in Vegas stay somewhere with an awesome pool because when you are in the hot climate you don’t really need to do anything else during the day. A good pool= more relaxation. Flamingo had two, technically three pools. A smaller children’s pool, the Beach Club Pool for all ages and the Go Pool for ages 21 and over. There is a live DJ everyday at the Go Pool so the crowd there averages in the early 20s which can be annoying when you can’t stand the guido type crowd. Rachael and I found that we started our day at the Beach Club pool then later in the afternoon transition over to the Go Pool when it starts clearing out and you can actually find a place to sit.
Next time I hope to get a room at Monte Carlo since I heard it will be remodeled and made into a bigger resort. I see nothing wrong with it currently as it has an awesome looking pool and rooms. I guess better try to book a room there while you still can….

Gambling
I really don’t have much to say in this area, I only play penny slots to get free drinks. I know I’m kind of lame in that aspect. I will put a five or ten in and milk it as long as I can get free drinks (which by the way just keep tipping your wait staff and they will keep coming back!). While passing through the Mirage, I saw and Game of Thrones penny slot machine and just had to play it! I put in a 10 and cashed out at 30, winning my money back plus 20 bucks. I did feel lame going to the cashier and here’s a lady ahead of me walking away with a couple hundred dollar bills and there I am walking away with 30 bucks. (I look like an excited little kid playing it! :D)
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Get tickets for a show!
This trip the one thing I didn’t do was see a show because I figured we’d all just want to relax and decide what to do on the fly. Always book a show because going to Vegas just isn’t the same without one; you HAVE to see one when you are there. The only ‘show’ I have seen is Thunder From Down Under which I don’t think I need to say anymore about that! 😀 I still haven’t seen LOVE at Mirage or any Cirque show for that matter, Tournament of Kings would be awesome too. I also wouldn’t mind seeing Britney! Something I never thought I’d say, I’ve never liked her early stuff when I was a kid and still don’t but I appreciate her more being an adult making adult music and still dancing like she does! Sure she probably lip syncs her entire show but she looks amazing after having two kids!
The Luxor has two exhibits that you must see: Titanic: The Artifact Exhibit and Bodies. My last trip I saw Titanic and was VERY impressed by that exhibit as it has a lot of artifacts. I enjoyed it WAY more than the tour in Belfast. Bodies I have not seen but it’s another on my list; real bodies on display. I’m pretty sure it’s neat even though it sounds super creepy and gross. The High Roller Ferris wheel is another new attraction which you must do at night to see all the lights!
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It’s located right behind the new Linq hotel which was built after the shit hole hotel Imperial Palace was torn down. Little shops and restaurants were build between the Flamingo and the Linq so that’s a nice new area and the bars there are technically off strip places and prices are a little lower than the major hotels on the strip.

Where I have to eat when I’m in Vegas:
Since eating here after my cousin’s wedding on my first trip out, both times following I HAVE HAD to eat at Battista’s Hole in the Wall. Excellent Italian food, served with unlimited table wine, salad or soup, breadstick and a dessert cappuccino. Did I mention UNLIMITED table wine? The menus are located on the wall and each entree’s price has all that I listed above included. Seriously some of the best food I’ve ever had and they have their own accordion player on staff that comes to each table and plays. He’s a tiny little old man and so VERY adorable! Even when it’s super hot outside and Italian food is the last thing anyone wants I still have to eat here! Seriously check out this website! Here It’s located right behind the Flamingo so we didn’t have far to walk this time!

Fremont Street:
I always stay in hotels on the strip but one of your days must be designated to visiting and drinking on Fremont Street. Original old school Vegas two miles north of the strip where it’s cheaper to eat and drink. It’s less busy during daylight so you can get on the zip line faster but it’s more fun at night and you can see the light show they have going on above. Every hour on the hour they highlight and artist or music: I saw them do a Doors show and another one for DJ Tiesto. They have nice restaurants to eat at during evening meals but we found that during the day you may only find buffets to eat at. We found one for 10 bucks a person and as Chad said: “Paradise Buffet: you get what you pay for!” SO true for this one but we had fun cracking jokes like “if any of you are backed up there’s prunes up at the salad bar!” Speaking of buffets, our brunch buffet at the Flamingo was pretty good! Brunch goes until 2 PM daily. During the week it’s 19 bucks M-F, Saturdays and Sundays are 22 and they include bottomless mimosas and Bloody Marys! Any food that cures your hangover I swear will be on this buffet!
Getting to Fremont/around:
Take the Deuce bus which runs 24 hours to Fremont and back down to the south end of the strip. I find it funny that going Northbound on the Deuce up to Fremont sucks and takes forever but going back down Southbound to the strip takes less time and is more tolerable. I don’t know why but at least when I’m ready to head back to my hotel on the strip it’s a better ride. Only 8 bucks for a 24 hour pass or 20 bucks for a three day pass; pretty awesome and comes in handy when you get tired of walking within the 6 mile stretch of the strip. However the Deuce is the ONE place in Vegas you can’t drink. It’s a no fun bus.

When to go and how long for?
In my opinion I love going in May or June or July during the warmer months. Sure the last two times I’ve had the luck of going right in the middle of a heat advisory and temps being in the 110s. Honestly though you are in the middle of the desert right in the middle of summer so that is expected. However the pools are open longer during these times and that’s pretty much where I spent most of the daytime hours. One of these years I go maybe I’ll get a time when it stays in the 80s or 90s. It’s always cheaper to book in winter months but if you do it ahead of time May or June can be just as cheap. The only downside I have found to being in Vegas during the summer is if you are in the middle of a Heat Advisory it is almost impossible to even get a buzz because what alcohol you do consume, you just sweat it out being it’s hot and because of all the walking.
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I have found 3 nights is the perfect duration to stay out there. I would only do four nights if you had to in order so see one/another show. Also: three years ago I did drive out to LA, which is four hours from Vegas so I would recommend that as a another reason to stay an extra day. The drive alone is pretty epic and something everyone should experience. After your third day or night staying on the strip, you are tired of paying 8 bucks for a small pool beer or 17 bucks for a margarita. It’s always cheap to get out there and stay but it’s the having fun while you are there that can add up if you want to live it up. I think I’ve figured out a good handle on how to spend money out there. Thank you penny slots….

IRELAND!- One year later…

How do I even start this blog without sounding snooty? My husband and I were blessed to spend our honeymoon in Ireland. This truly was a dream. There are so many pictures and memories to share, how do I choose or condense it down to one post? I promise to not ramble and keep the reading enjoyable and easy to follow without seeming endless.
Before I begin I just have to say that my in-laws are amazing. They have a time share through Marriott Vacation Club and it turned into a point system to use on hotels or airfare so they gave us points to use for our flight; their wedding present to us. Tyler and I are lucky!
Also I have to recommend the website: wanderable.com which we used for one of our wedding registries. We didn’t really need a lot of things for the home from Kohls so we registered on this Honeymoon website and guests were able to gift us with: A night stay in a castle, tickets to tours, etc. (If you are interested to see what it looks like http://www.wanderable.com/Jones_Doden )

Sunday May 17th, 2015
The big travel day with 10 hours spent in the air inside a steel tube! We started flying out of Mason City, IA to Chicago, IL on a very small charter plane with Air Choice One. For those who live around me who are curious about flying on one of these cessnas: they are small and fly lower than a commercial jet so they are more easily affected by weather. I only recommend flying if you have to book at last minute and know the weather is going to be clear which will give you a smooth flight. It rained the day we left and even though our flight was on time, a person who worries easily like me was panicking on what would happen if it had. If the flight to Chicago from Mason was cancelled, that’s a 7 hour drive to make to try and get to O Hare to make our flight. Yes our flight made it on time but it was a VERY bumpy flight and I was terrified the whole two hours as Tyler slept. If anyone can handle the possibility of lots of turbulence, it’s only $50.-$60. each way, so yeah it’s cheap.
After making it to safety on the runway of Chicago O Hare, we transferred from the small Terminal 3 to the bigger International Terminal 5. The other downside of flying Air Choice One to make a connecting flight in Chicago is that even though you checked your bags in Mason, since you are in the small terminal with the smaller air lines, you have to re check your bags and go through security again. We had a good dinner and boarded the plane leaving at 8 PM: we were off for a ‘wonderful’ 7-8 hour fight that we didn’t sleep through.

Monday May 18, 2015
We arrived in Dublin around 9:30 AM Ireland time or 3:30 AM Iowa time. We were both very tired and the line at Customs seemed to not move. We finally got through, got our luggage and made our way to pick up the rental car. It was weird for Tyler to drive stick on the other side of the car on the other side of the road. Since it was too early to check into our hotel we drove into the city centre to kill some time and recharge. We stopped at the Old Jameson Distillery on Bow Street:
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This was the original site of Jameson but it’s not the distillery anymore due to it outgrowing the sight and a fire so it’s just mostly a tourist trap now.
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We ordered some Irish coffees and it was the pick me up we needed!
After we finished we were fortunate to catch a short tour of the ‘distillery’ with a history lesson and how whiskey is made. We got to do some sampling and at the end, a free drink in the ‘bar’. Like I said, VERY touristy but it’s nice if you are looking for something to do.
It was now finally nearing the time to check into our hotel. We stayed in the ‘suburb’ Tallaght at The Plaza Hotel which was close to the Motorway, perfect for when we would leave the next day. This was supposed to be a two night stay but days earlier we found filming locations for Game of Thrones and did some last minutes changes to plans to try and fit more of these in so our first four days consisted of staying in four different hotels; try NOT to do this. It’s very exhausting to check in and check out staying one night at at time. We checked in and crashed for a nap but made ourselves get back up to eat dinner and get on Ireland time. Dinner at the hotel bar restaurant and of course this was the start of having Guinness with every meal. A pint with every meal is like two meals at the same time!

Tuesday May 19, 2015
This was a jammed packed day! Traveling from Tallaght to our next night stay at Holiday Inn Express in Antrim, Northern Ireland. So much green everywhere! SO BEAUTIFUL!
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It rained all day but only in spurts as it does often. We left early to cross into Northern Ireland to see as many filming locations as we could.
Castleward, a national park made up of an old castle and estate was filming sight of Winterfell:
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Just on the other side of Castleward was Audley’s Castle the sight of Rob Stark’s camp:
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On our way up the hill to this sight we pretty much walked through a field of sheep. They were hanging out in the distance looking at us like no big deal.
Tyler doesn’t like to admit that he had so much fun driving a Toyota Yaris around the country side with their twisty, winding roads and hills. He also loved how all fence lines were made from stone and “everyone has their own little driveway”.
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Next stop: Inch Abbey or the remains of it. Still an amazing sight hundreds of years old and we were the only ones there! This is not a busy tourist spot so it’s a nice little scenic stop to frolic in the grass and trail to the sight. There was a cute little dog that made friends with us while on a walk with his owner:
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Moving along into Belfast to stop in the Titanic Quarter for lunch and a tour. This is where the famous ship was built and it’s now the home to Titanic Studios where Game of Thrones is one of the shows filmed there. Since we were now in Northern Ireland, we had to switch to using Pounds instead of Euros. Everything is more expensive. The tour of the Titanic Experience was OK but was too touristy and lame for our taste. Honestly the Titanic Exhibition in Vegas is FAR more impressive as there are more artifacts. I just wasn’t impressed by it at all. If you are in this part of Belfast, tour the Titanic Dock and Pump House, which was the original pump house from when it was built and launched. This is more historical and more interesting. Plus you are next to the dock so you can see how big it actually was. We sadly didn’t have time to see this. So yeah skip the Titanic tour and just see the Dock and Pump House.
We finally made it to our hotel in Antrim to check in and drop our bags off. You think we would be resting now but nope. Yes we were tired but wanted to get in two more sights in before the end of the day:
The Dark Hedges (The Kingsroad in GoT) A road of 18 century beach trees; the most photographed road in the world!
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Our last sight of the day was Downhill Beach along the northern coast. This is one of the most amazing places I have ever been!!! The sun was setting when we arrived and it was foggy so it looked eerie but beautiful as you stared out into the abyss. This was the farthest north either of us had been in the world. It was just so beautiful; and the cliff with the temple on the hill just seemed so surreal. Very windy and chilly but just being there made us forget that.
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Back to the Holiday Inn Express in Antrim: complete with a bar in the lobby and a kitchen in the back so you could order pizza, sandwiches and other things. They do a good breakfast in the morning as well. Booking and staying in Northern Ireland we the feel of Dollars converted to Pounds. Booking the room with Expedia look reasonable only $69.00 for the night. At this time last year dollars to pounds wasn’t even and the room went for 105 pounds that night, which I’m sure there were taxes in the cost as well. Last year the exchange rate was 1 British pound was equal to over a dollar and a half, this year in 2016 1 pound equals to $1.40 American. Something to remember when you want to visit Great Britain, bring more money than you think you will need.

Wednesday May 20th, 2015
We left Northern Ireland and made a 5 hour drive to our next stay in Clifden along the west coast. The drive really wasn’t bad saw a lot of gorgeous country side and since the roads curved and every which way up and down hills it was never short of interesting. How I wish we had roads like that here or roundabouts because they keep things going. We really did roads the wrong way over here in the States… Their signs seem confusing but really not at the same time…
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The other nice thing about driving days is you can stop anywhere you want, we stopped by this bridge and walked down to the little river below it:
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The things you don’t know you will drive pass after you stop at a small pub in a town smaller than yours, look Kylemore Abbey:
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Driving to Clifden you pass the west coast, a gorgeous drive on Sky Road. We stayed at the Abbeyglen Castle Hotel. Although not an actually castle, it was still originally built to look like a castle but was a home for girls.
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This little town had so many little restaurants and pubs to choose from. Anywhere you go in Ireland no matter how small the eating or drinking establishment EVERYONE had a brand new nitro tap for pouring Guinness. No way you could not not find it. We had fish for dinner then returned back to the hotel bar inside the castle. We had live music to listen to as well and we met some other Americans from Wisconsin and Texas. Very fun night, well too much fun.

Thursday May 21, 2015
Up and ready to get back on the road again. I made it up for breakfast in the castle dining room while Tyler slept in. Another cloudy rainy day but that was alright as this would be a day to recover from the night before.
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(West coast as we left in the morning)
We drove from Clifden to Galway and arrived around lunch time. We didn’t really have anything planned or tried to see anything so we made it into the City Centre to park and find lunch and relax. I was happy to find a restaurant that served Doner Kebaps! A favorite for anytime I travel abroad and I finally got to introduce this fine piece of drunk/hungover food to my husband. This brought me back to both of my times spent in Germany. Like I said a very rainy day so walking around or sight seeing was out of the question. While leaving the city we got a distant view of the coast which was pretty.
We made it to our next overnight in Limerick. I had booked us at a Travelodge in town but the GPS took us to the wrong one; there were two. When we found the one we were staying at (Travelodge Limerick Castletroy), I noticed it was a newer one just built but on the outer edge of Limerick where there was nothing around it within walking distance. The reviews said it was clean and cheap, only cheap because it was pretty bare in the room. This was more of a business hotel where the traveling business person on the go only needed a shower, bed, and maybe a tv and desk. I originally thought when planning this trip we would do some sightseeing around town and would only be in the hotel when we would return to it that night to sleep and shower the next morning but since the previous night was rough this small, simple hotel worked to take a nap and recharge.
Later on that night we tried to see if there was anyway we could get food around our hotel. There was a gas station down the road that was attached to Ireland’s knockoff version of McDonalds: SuperMacs!!! It wasn’t terrible food but it was a terribly corny place. There is only a couple of pictures from this whole entire day, like I said the previous night was rough and today we had to pay for it. I wish we could say more about Galway and Limerick but we only made it to the Doner place, a very basic cheap Travelodge hotel and a SuperMacs. When finding a place to stay always make sure there are places around you can walk to.

Friday May 22, 2015
Our honeymoon adventure was officially back on track! We left Limerick and on our way to our two night stay in Cork. Yes, we FINALLY had a two night stay and next time there will be more of these. Our first stop of the day was to see the Blarney Castle! We got there right away in the morning and I recommend getting there early or at least before lunch before the crowds show up and there are lines all the way up the castle. The path on the way in….
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I don’t want to bore you with details, you will just have to travel there to really experience it.
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Of course when you go up, to get back down you have to kiss the Blarney Stone and no they don’t clean if off after everyone has touched it. Gross. Tyler was able to hold on and fake kissed it. When it was my turn, I leaned back and saw the stone but I’m afraid of heights and even thought people were holding me I didn’t feel like leaning back all the way to ‘kiss’ it.
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After you tour the castle itself, you must tour the grounds, the estate house and the Poison Garden. Yes a Poison Garden where when you bend down to read the sign of what it was there was a disclaimer saying “this scent might be considered toxic’… 😀
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After we explored all the nooks and crannies of the grounds, towers, dungeons, woods, graveyard for horses it was time to move on. Even though I’ve heard recommendations from travel websites to try and avoiding eating around tourists destinations due to inflated costs, the little town of Blarney had a lot of little pubs and restaurants that catered to people like us who were coming and going.
After a quick lunch we were back on track to drive into Cork and check into our hotel, The Kingsley. This hotel was a GEM to find, VERY NICE and affordable. Located right outside of the city centre of Cork but next to the transit stop which allowed us access to anywhere. There was a full wellness center, a pool and a full service spa located inside. I had booked us a Couples’ massage at the spa, this was much needed and enjoyed after four days of non stop moving. Very relaxing and the staff was very nice. After our massage we got to hang out in robes in the recovery area on couch like chairs and enjoy rejuvenating fruit drinks. We had the option to explore the other areas of the spa. Do yourself a favor and check out this website! http://www.thekingsley.ie/ We would go back and stay in a heartbeat!
After resting in our hotel room catching up on Game of Thrones, oh one more thing about the rooms, VERY spacious bathrooms: You could ballroom dance in there! :D, we needed to find food.
We walked down the street to try and find anything that was close by. The restaurant we found was an example of don’t just a book by it’s cover! We had made it to the bus stop and saw a Subway restaurant and a small Chinese place next to it. This is a place I wish I would have took a picture of: the Chinese place looked like nothing special almost sketchy but we both thought Chinese sounded good so we took a chance. Oh my inside was gorgeous and very romantic with dim lights and candles on the tables. This place was open late so it was perfect for people like us who’s eating and sleeping schedules were not quite on with where we are. Delicious food too! I hope to find more off the beaten path places like this when we travel in the future.
Back to finish our night at the hotel bar located across from the conference and meeting center. There was a family function with live traditional music playing!! 🙂 We were two of only a couple others sitting at the bar so that was nice and it gave us a change to visit with the bartenders before going back to the room to bed.

Saturday May 23rd, 2015
With the advice of the hotel bartender from the night before, our adventures today would be made solely by public transportation. Our big plan for the day was heading over to Midleton to tour the Jameson Distillery. This is where the whiskey is actually distilled and then distributed all over the world. Like I mentioned before the bus stop was just down the street less than a block away. We hopped on and got off in the city centre by the big farmers market down by the Lee River (River Lee). We crossed over and hoofed it a quarter of a mile to the train station. Trains run from Cork to Midleton frequently throughout the day and are only 23 minutes each way.
Another benefit of taking the train is you are automatically in the city centre when you arrive. Since we were hungry we began the lookout for a place to have lunch. We found a little diner close by the train station. I ordered Roast Beef with potatoes and Tyler ordered the Shepard’s Pie, something he was looking forward to trying when we arrived in Ireland. We noticed when they offered us coffee or tea after the meal, they never skimp you on the cream served with it. I really wish they did tea/coffee in the afternoon in the States like they do in Ireland or Britain. The two ladies running it were very nice and didn’t didn’t skimp on the friendly goodbyes when we left, “Thank you! Goodbye! Bye now!, Thank you. Good luck to you! :)” They were adorable!
A ten minute walk down the street and we made it JUST in time for the afternoon tour of Jameson. The tour of this location lasted longer and was in more detail, more so because it’s the actual location now. Even though it wasn’t the Jameson distillery until the 1900s, most of the buildings date back to 1759! A lot of history here of how whiskey was made back then. The tour lead through the older buildings that aren’t being used for production. That was a disappointment that we couldn’t see inside the buildings of the modern plant. When you looked at the new buildings it felt like Willy Wonka: no body ever goes in, nobody ever comes out! We concluded our tour like at the other location with a free drink at the bar.
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After the tour it was time to head back to the train station to take us back to Cork. After a 15 minutes walk, 20 minute wait and 23 minute train ride we made it back to Cork station. We then made the reverse route to take us back to the city centre to catch a bus back to The Kingsley. By then it was after 6:00 and we started getting hungry. Tyler asked if we could have Chinese again at the same place as the night before, so we did. The staff found this amusing. Back to the hotel for the night…

Sunday May 24th, 2015
It was time to leave the comforts of The Kingsley and move on to our next stop; our next overnight would be in Kilkenny with some stops before got there. After leaving Cork, we needed to stop to find an ATM and breakfast. We pulled off the Motorway into small town that I can’t remember the name. Even their small towns have very active main streets.
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We found an ATM and a diner that served breakfast. Tyler and I finally got to order and experience a true Full Irish Breakfast: two eggs, two sausage links, two slices of bacon (though i might add their bacon is not like ours more meat and more like ham, not gristly like in the States), toast, white pudding, black pudding, baked beans and a fried tomato. I really wish I had took a picture of this.
Back on the road to the next stop: The Rock of Cashel. We made it up the hill to the site and entered and waited 10 minutes before there was a tour around the grounds. IMG_0734
The site originated around 400 AD when the Kings of Munster lived there before turning it over to the church years later. The site was going through some reconstruction work due to the limestone but was still very accessible to visitors who were touring.
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Down the hill was Hore Abbey, the remains of a monastery connected to the site. We hiked down the hill and took a peak at that sight as well:
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After our hike back up the hill and down again, it was back in the Yaris and on the road again. Our stay tonight was at Aspect Hotel Kilkenny, a new hotel located just outside of town. Yes it was outside of town but it was easy walk to get into town and very accessible. There was a small bar in the lobby so after we checked into our room we went back and relaxed with a couple of drinks.
The hunt for a place to have dinner was upon us and we started our walk into town. The street across from our hotel took us up a newer residential route before going up to a main road that seemed to branch off into two or three other main streets. There was so much to choose from and neither of us could decide where to eat. We again experienced a fine restaurant by not judging a book by it’s cover. I suggested maybe something of the Italian flavor and Tyler looked over and saw a place called Italian Connection. The front was very basic and plain, but inside VERY intimate. Even though we had a table for two, one side of the table was a bench so you could feel apart of the same seating with another couple sitting next to you. Another great meal by lucky coincidence.
After the meal, we headed back south toward the hotel but decided to make a couple of stops along the way. We turned down another street and into a pub that had a downstairs outside patio/deck. It was a Sunday night but there was live music. The Irish put our Sunday Fundays in Iowa to shame, they really party it up before 11 PM when the pubs close down. We stayed for a couple at our first stop. The next stop further back down on our reverse route back another bar with live music, we noticed this one like the first even though you head their own Irish songs, they play a lot of American music. We hit one more stop before all the bars closed down at 11, then it was back to our hotel for the night. Writing this day’s entry gets me to thinking I may need to write down the names of drinking establishments we stop at to make them more significant in my posts.

Monday May 25, 2015
The Aspect Hotel Kilkenny had a very good breakfast. We took the advice of the front desk lady the night before to eat after 9:00 AM after a big tour group would have gone through about 7:30. We ate a Full Irish Breakfast buffet style. We checked out and drove back into Kilkenny to tour a couple more stops before we spent the rest of the day driving to Dublin. We should have left our car at the hotel instead of trying to find a parking spot in the center but it was close by when we were ready to leave.
Kilkenny Castle was our first stop, and we didn’t know whether to tour the grounds or the castle itself first. Since all the furniture and decorations inside dated back to the 1500-1700s we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside. This tour is really worth seeing my favorite was the enormous Portrait Room. The grounds outside we actually got to take some photos…
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Our next tour was of the Smithwick’s Brewery. If you have not heard or have drank a Smithwicks (pronounced Smi-thicks, the w is silent) you are missing on a very delicious red ale, also served on nitro tap. Being brewed in Kilkenny this is a tour I believe people overlook. Tyler and I toured with another couple older than us. A red haired Irish kid asked where each of us were from, after I replied with ‘Iowa’ our tour guide said, “Oh Iowa? I love me my Slipknot!” I busted out laughing, something I did not expect from this happy cheery Irish ginger, oh that made my day. After walking through the tour that taught us the history of Smithwick’s dating back to the time of the monks narrated by a hologram and talking pictures. Really wish I could remember our guide’s name he was so friendly and hilarious.
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After we enjoyed the Smithwick’s experience it was time to hit the road once again but this would be our last long drive of the trip. We didn’t have luck finding a place to eat lunch since it was later in the afternoon and everywhere had just closed after tea time. We found a place that served Doners and other fried things. Food wasn’t bad but the restaurant itself wasn’t the cleanest.
After an hour and a half drive we were in the middle of Dublin trying to find our hotel which was in the Christchurch district of the city centre. Our last place where we would stay two nights was an immediate regret mostly because there was only self parking which I was mislead by online sites thinking there was a parking garage next to it. We found a lot down the street but it looked questionable. Our last check in was at Staycity Serviced Apartments Christchurch. The rooms were updated and clean, the bathrooms though also clean were VERY outdated. Besides a bedroom and bathroom, it had a living room, kitchenette and dining area; all nice and comfortable. I would only recommend staying here if you don’t have a rental car and plan to get around on public transit. The place does have the benefit of being in the middle and close to everything. There was a convenience store and a grocery store down the street so we walked down there to get munchie type of food since we were tired and not very hungry after a big day and afternoon just trying to find this hotel and a place to park.

Tuesday May 26th, 2015
Our last full day in Ireland! How did a week and two days pass by so quickly? Our day started with walking 10 minutes from our hotel to the Guinness Storehouse. Even though a lot of tourists pass through here, this is still a GREAT place to visit, totally worth going to. The first level starts in the center, you look down and see the lease that Arthur Guinness himself signed for 9000 years! Before we started the official tour we grabbed coffee and a grab n go breakfast up on the food floor. The tour is very spacious and spread out among big room and floors so it flows very well and don’t feel you are in an endless line with other tourists. You don’t get to go in the actual brewhouse but you got to see a good view of it from a window and there were videos that showed what they do on the inside. They don’t leave you out like Jameson.
The highlight of tour besides your free pint is doing so at the top of Storehouse that overlooks Dublin. A spectacular view with descriptions on the windows explain what you can see.
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After a couple hours on the tour and a pint at the sky bar it was lunch time. The Storehouse has four different restaurants, we ate at Gilroy’s which featured some Guinness recipes. I had the Shepard’s Pie and we both had what else but Guinness with our meal, I downsized to a half pint.
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Tyler took more beer/drink pictures than me and might I add every single one was complete with my boobs in the background. I had all the scenic shots of everything; Tyler had beer and my boobs. Of course we had to hit up the gift shop before we left to get some souvenirs for family who had purchased these tour tickets for us a wedding present. I don’t think we would be bored of this tour if we went on it again.
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We ran back the hotel quick to drop off our purchases from Guinness before we spent the rest of the day walking around Dublin. We laughed because when we checked in the night before our oven didn’t have a door but now it had a working door attached to it. Another close spot across the road from our hotel was The Brazen Head, Ireland’s oldest pub as it says on their sign:
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This was a nice little spot that had inside and outside seating all under one roof. I loved the ambiance of this place. After we got a flavor of the place we decided to keep on moving. Crossing the River Liffey to get some pictures and selfies..
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Not sure of where to go next we kept walking and made it to the Temple Bar district. We may have stopped at a number of pubs but this time of day everything was running together. We found a hole in the wall Tai restaurant which neither of us had ever had it before. It was a hit for Tyler’s spicy loving palate. Being in the area we decided to go inside the Temple Bar to see what it was all about. Nice live music but VERY busy tourist spot. After a drink we asked our bartender where he recommend we try and he lead us down the road to an area where locals hang out. Again I really wish I had the name of the first bar we landed at, we had good conversations with some locals. There were two more we wanted to try out; the first one had live traditional music. The one across the street, Wheeler’s I thought sounded familiar. It wasn’t until I got inside that I noticed this was the bar that was in the film “PS I Love You” where Holly heard the Galway Girl song! It was getting late and we were a ways away from our hotel. We made the trek back to try and find somewhere closer to finish out the night. I was pooped and just wanted to go to bed before we had to be up early to drive to the airport.

Wednesday May 27th, 2015
The honeymoon was officially over and it was time to go back home to the states. Our flight left at 11:30 AM so we checked out of the hotel at 8:00 AM to drive our rental car back to the airport. Remember me saying we had to park our car in a lot? Well those two nights of parking cost us about 40 Euro. Yikes, never doing that again. Another reason not to stay in the city centre if you have a rental is that it takes forever trying to get across and out of it and on to the motorways. Always stay in hotels close to main roads and motorways for easier exit and these places most likely will have great access to public transit if you need it.
After the car was filled back up and returned, we were shuttled over to the main terminal. The Dublin Airport is newer and US Border and Customs is part of your security screen before you board the plane. This is nice because that’s one less line we had to wait through in Chicago. Our flight over and now back again was on Aer Lingus. Another 8 hour flight across the ocean and we made it back around 1:30 PM Chicago time. Even though we had already done security and customs in Dublin, we still had to go through security AGAIN when we switched terminals to fly with Air Choice One. We wouldn’t have made their 3 PM flight so we had to wait for the 8 PM flight back to Mason City. TOO long of a wait when you are severely jet lagged and tired. Though when you do land in Mason, it’s nice because parking there is free and home is only 40 minutes away as opposed to 2 hours from Minneapolis or Des Moines. After a layover that seemed to last for days, we boarded at 8 PM and made it back to Mason City around 10:30 PM. I drove like a beast back to Forest City so jet lagged to the point where I was still able to stay wide awake to drive.
I think next time we fly international we will start in Des Moines before the connecting flight in Chicago or somewhere else. Yes it is two hours away but parking in the furthest lot from the terminal (which you can take a shuttle to) is only 5 bucks a day. Cheap! Plus we have more control of what flight we take so our layovers won’t be as long. Did I mention we would only have to check in through security once each way?!?! WORTH IT!!!

There you have it: A 10 day Ireland honeymoon in ONE EPIC BLOG POST!! One year later and these memories are still very vivid. I hope we get to go back someday, we talk about it all the time. I could go on and on with stories and tidbits but I will wait and save them for a future post about a returning journey to the Emerald Isle.

Mexico

Every Iowa winter I’ve had to suffer through, there’s always been multiple assholes posting pictures via social media from a tropical climate. While they’ve enjoyed sunny 80 degree weather, I’ve been stuck in sub zero temps so cold I can cut glass. Finally in summer 2015 I convinced Tyler: “Let’s be one of those assholes”, and we did just that.

On January 24th, 2016 we flew down to Cancun, Mexico for a five night stay at the all inclusive resort, Excellence Playa Mujeres. I booked a flight and hotel package through Expedia.com and also prepaid our round trip shuttle through the Cancun airport. This prevented us from having to bring money or withdraw pesos from an ATM! Going everywhere and not having to pay was more enjoyable then we though. It was nice not having to worry about money because EVERYTHING was paid for. All inclusive really is the ONLY way to go when you are in Mexico or anywhere it’s available.

As soon as Tyler and I stepped out of our car, we were treated like royalty. Before we could get a hand on our luggage, the bellhop handed us a wet towel and were confused by what we were supposed to do with them, obviously it was to cool our faces. Moving along to check in at the front desk, we were brought champagne. So far this WAY surpassed our expectations. The bellhop (Fun fact: They had on khaki colored pants and shirts with hats that made them look like they were going on safari!) then took us to our room but on the way there gave us a mini tour of the resort.
The Lobby we entered in:

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Walking to our room, everything about this place screamed paradise! Just gorgeous! The pools were designed like little lazy rivers with bridges over them and hammocks over the water. Sun chairs and actual beds were everywhere!
The view from our room:
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Our Junior suite didn’t feel so junior to us: king size bed, jacuzzi, full stocked bar and mini fridge (all included with the room at no extra charge!) Balcony patio with bed!
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The inside of our room had the feel of just being open: the suns behind the bed (the back of the vanity mirrors) were not behind glass, you could talk to someone in side of the bathroom from the living area. The shower had a door but also a window to the room so for the whole week we gave each other a show. In case you were wondering, the toilet in the bathroom had it’s own little closet with a door; no one wants to see that.
The balcony patio was our favorite feature:
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After we settled into our room we had a late lunch at The Grill, one of three restaurants opened for lunch. This place is attached to The Lobster House which shares a lunch menu with the Grill, both are also open for dinner and have their own menus for that time.
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Eating a late lunch next to the pool with the ocean in the background was very surreal, nothing we had ever experienced. I think it was then Tyler was sold on the idea of making this a yearly trip. YES! Besides the Grill and Lobster House with a shared lunch menu, other lunch spots include: Las Olas (A snack bar on the beach that does different food everyday. One day we had a Mongolian Grill); The Sun Bar which make personal gourmet pizzas in a stone oven; and Toscana, an Italian Restaurant at night but massive buffet by day (serious they had everything and it was all good! I filled up on sushi!!) Toscana and Lobster House also served breakfast in the morning but we never made it up that early. We usually just grabbed a coffee with a muffin at Aroma, the coffee bar which literally was one of the bars. We could grab an Irish coffee at 9 AM if we so desired! Seriously for lunch though: go to the pool, lay back and enjoy a pizza with endless Coronas being delivered to you! Many times I would just swim up to the bar for mine. What could be better than all of that?

There were 4 or 5 restaurants only open for dinner and we didn’t get to hit them all, sadly. Here’s a mini run through of where we went and didn’t eat at:

Where we ate (loved them all!!)
Sunday night: Toscana (Italian)
Monday night: Spice (Asian)
Tuesday night: Chez Isabelle (French)
Wednesday night: Barcelona (Mediterranean)
Thursday night: Basmati (Indian)

Where we didn’t get to eat:
Agave (Mexican, we heard it wasn’t very good)
Flavor Market (Tapas/ Bistro/ international food)
The Lobster House
The Grill (we did these two for lunch but at night you could get shell fish or a nice big steak instead of their light lunch options of sandwich and salad type of foods)
There is a dress code at dinner to make sure no one wears clothes from the beach into the restaurants. Listed on the website: excellenceresorts.com

When we weren’t eating at five star dining options, our days were spent at pool or by the beach. There are four pools two of which are heated in the winter. The main pool was were everyone spent most of their day because that’s where you found the swim up bar! In the afternoon there was always a band playing above it:
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Even if you didn’t go into the water, wait staff were always going around taking and delivering orders. That was our daily agenda: get up, go to the pool or beach, drink, swim some more, etc. The beach was perfect! The ocean water seemed cold at first but once you got used to it you didn’t want to get out!
We didn’t participate but a wide variety of water activities were available: kayaking, snorkeling, scuba diving…
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Every evening there was always some type of show or activities going on: mexican themed, Circus Show (acrobats doing death defying stunts and routines), live Cuban band with dancers, Casino night, traditional dancing, etc.
We would usually end up at CafeKafe, the bar outside in the common area next to the theater where the evening events would take place, or at the Martini Bar in the main building. The whole place is still so beautiful at night even when you are just walking around. On our first night my inebriated self took my husband on a romantic stroll on the beach. I probably enjoyed it more than he did.

We met so many wonderful people: two couples from Canada, three couples from England and a younger couple also from England that we spent quite some time before we had to leave but are now Facebook friends with! 🙂
We just can’t say enough good things about this place!!! Excellence Playa Mujeres is worth every single dollar we spent and more!! Just go here when you spend a vacation in Cancun!!!

If you would like more options on where to stay in Cancun: Here are my all inclusive recommendations based on ratings from Expedia.com:

All inclusive Adults Only:
Excellence Rivera Cancun (in Riviera Maya are south of airport)
Live Aqua
Secrets The Vine
Secrets Playa Mujeres Golf and Spa Resort
Hyatt Zilara
Sun Palace (Couples Only)
Many more in the Riviera Maya area too!
Isla Mujeres (Couples Only located on Isla Mujeres)

All inclusive that allows children:
The Beloved Hotel, Playa Mujeres
Finest Playa Mujeres
Riu Palace Peninsula
Riu Palace Las American
Beach Palace
The Royal Cancun
Hyatt Ziva
(There is more to this list, I would just look at places that have a 90% or higher recommend rate from customers)