Archives for May 2016

Memorial Day Weekend: A Guide To Shopping In South Florida

memorial-day-stars-red-stripes

Aaahh, Memorial Day.  Beach, sun, fun, BBQs, and the most epic sales known to the retail world, second only to Black Friday (my personal favorite retail holiday)! When you live in a destination location, like South Florida, three-day weekends means that a whole lot of people flood your city from all over the country, especially on Memorial Day weekend, which, for the past 15-years, has also been known as Urban Beach Weekend.

Urban Beach Weekend is a hip-hop festival held in South Beach that attracts over 250,000 visitors!  Visitors come for the beach, the nightlife/music, the restaurants, but also for the shopping.  Walk into any mall during this weekend, and you will understand what I am talking about.  And, quite frankly, I can’t blame them. I would argue that South Florida has some of the best shopping in our great nation.  First, we have pretty much every major department store, designer boutique, and retail store that you can think of.  Second, they tend to be nicely collected in one beautiful (most of the time air-conditioned) location so that you don’t have to traverse the city to shop.  Third, we here in South Florida are not afraid of color, so you won’t just find all-black like you tend to in some other cities (I’m talking about you, New York).  Finally, we have one of the lowest sales tax rates in the country: 7% in Miami-Dade County (Miami) and 6% in Broward County (Fort Lauderdale).  In case you were wondering, the sales tax in Palm Beach County is also 6%.

So, with that in mind, I though it would be helpful to put together a quick guide to shopping in South Florida.  By the way, if you ask Chad, he would tell you that I am an expert on this subject, and I would probably have to agree with him.  This is by no means an exclusive guide, as you cannot shop the whole of South Florida in just one weekend.  Rather, these are the highlights.  The must hits for every visitor, whether you are looking for high-end, mid-range, or a bargain.

Let’s begin with fancy, shall we?

Bal Harbour, interior luxury retail, tropical fish pond

If you would like to shop a collection of luxury, high-end designers, then look no further than Miami’s iconic Bal Harbour Shops.  This is Miami’s answer to Rodeo Drive.  In 2012, the International Council of Shopping Centers described Bal Harbour as the single most productive shopping center in the world! In the WORLD, people!

More than likely, you will not find great deals here, although the outdoor, luxury mall is capped by two high-end department stores, Neiman-Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue, which do run Memorial Day Sales.  My personal advice is to always buy at a department store rather than the designer’s namesake shop for many reasons that I will discuss below, but chief among them is the return policy and the fact that the department stores are way more likely to mark merchandise down.

If you are coming here, you are coming to splurge!  Apart from the department stores, the mostly affordable boutique here is probably Tory Burch.  After that, you are in the heaven that is Chanel, Gucci, Prada, and, coming soon Aquazzura! You can find a store directory here. At Bal Harbour, you pay for everything, including the parking at $3.00, but if you buy something or eat at one of the restaurants, the store or restaurant will validate your parking.  That doesn’t mean it’s free; that just means it’s reduced to I think (and don’t quote me on this) $1.50.  Or since you read this blog post, you now know that you can go to Saks and validate your parking your self at the door on the first floor or ask one of the lovely sales people at the cosmetics counter to do it for you without having to make a purchase! You are welcome.

As you may imagine, shopping here is, well, let’s just call it an experience.  The people watching is literally beyond.  As in, it is epic.  First of all, people get decked out to shop here.  It’s like Miami Fashion Week at the mall!  Second, you can see the handiwork of the world’s plastic surgeons all in one place.  Seriously, the International Board of Cosmetic Surgery should hold their conference here.  Third, you will see an inordinate amount of the following: 1) sugar daddies, 2) dogs in strollers, and 3) nannies in like an actual uniform.  Finally, the parking lot is like an exotic luxury car show.

Miami Design

But, it’s not all kitten and rainbows at Bal Harbour.  In 2013, a few of the luxury brands (like Louis Vuitton, Hermes, and Cartier) closed up shop in Bal Harbour and headed south to the Miami Design District, which quickly became the new IT place to be and shop luxury.  You can read all about it here or here. In addition to having one of the finest collection of home and design stores, the Miami Design District is also home to some of the world’s premium luxury brands, like Christian Louboutin (a personal favorite), Celine (another personal favorite), Hermes, Louis Vuitton, and Dior.  Many of the stores here also have boutiques in Bal Harbour, like Prada and Tiffany & Co. and many of the boutiques in Bal Harbour do not have stores in the Miami Design District, at least not yet.

In my opinion, the vibe in the Miami Design District is just cooler and not as pretentious.  First, it is not a traditional mall.  Rather it is a collection of independent stores that span a few city blocks.  It has more of an urban feel.  There is both garage and metered street parking which you can pay for with an app on your phone.  The area is covered in local street art and wall murals, which are amazing and ever-changing.  There are also a lot of new art installations all around town, like the picture above, so that you are surrounded by art while you shop.  And, the restaurant choices are fantastic, like Michael’s Genuine Food and Drink and Mandolin Aegean Bistro. The people here are a mixed crowd of well-heeled locals and tourists, hipsters, and the artsy folks. The Miami Design District is also a stone’s throw away from Wynwood, Miami’s art and craft beer district, and Midtown Miami, a retail and residential mixed use district.

If  were a tourist in Miami, I would spend an entire day and night between the Miami Design District and Wynwood because there is literally something for everyone here, and I will do a future post on just this district, but, remember, it’s Memorial Day Weekend, and we are here to shop, so onward we go to a place that I am very fond of because I grew up in this mall and I got my very first job in this mall, the Aventura Mall.

aventura 2

If you only had time to shop just one of South Florida’s many outlets for retail therapy, I would choose the Aventura Mall. I am basically a (self-proclaimed) expert at malls.  I have been to a lot of malls all over the country and the world, and I can say that none really compare.  The Aventura Mall is not just a mall, it’s a destination in and of itself.  It has six restaurants with another on the way, 9 bistros and cafes to choose from, 4 coffee and tea options, 5 dessert options, and this does not include its food court, which is currently undergoing a major overhaul. It has a full service (members only) gym, 2 full service beauty salons (plus a retail shop where men can get a hot shave), Miami’s best full service car wash on property, foreign currency exchange services, rental car services, a 24-theater movie theater, an indoor playground for kids, multiple valet services (this is in addition to its multiple parking option on both surface lots and in multi-level garages), and a concierge service.  And we haven’t even touched on the retail options yet.  Oh, and as if this wasn’t enough, by late 2017 this mall is about to get even more epic because it is currently undergoing a major expansion that will include a new three-level, 315,000 square-foot retail wing which will include several destination restaurants, more than three dozen retail stores, a new food hall with indoor/outdoor seating, a rooftop terrace, a VIP concierge area perfect for private dinners and events, and another multi-level parking garage. Are you beginning to understand my love affair with this mall?  An entire city exists (the City of Aventura) basically because of this mall.

There are currently 6 department stores, 3 of which are worth mentioning: a Macy’s (one just for women and one for men and home furnishings), a Bloomingdale’s (my personal favorite), and a Nordstrom (a strong second favorite). But that is not all.  It has pretty much every retail store you could want in a mall from Louis Vuitton and Fendi on the high end, to JCrew and Anthropologie in the mid range, to H&M and Forever XXI on the more affordable side as well as everything in between. You can find a full store directory here.

I would be remiss if I did not, at this point, impart on you some of my general personal shopping advice (secrets, even) and some tips which are specific to this mall. First, if you are not a Florida resident, all you have to do is show your passport (for our foreign visitors) or your non-Florida driver’s license and stores like Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s give you a Visitor’s Savings Pass, good for 10% off everything you buy.  And now, we come to the part where I will explain to you why department store shopping is always better than shopping at retail stores, including outlet stores. Department stores are ALWAYS the cheaper option.  Why? Because they buy in bulk and they move merchandise so there is ALWAYS a sale. ALWAYS. Even when it doesn’t look like a sale is going on, there’s a sale.  Here’s is what you need to do.

Tip No.1: Never (unless it’s an emergency, in which case see below on how to fix this later) pay full price at a department store.  Befriend a sales associate in your favorite department.  He or she will call you for events and pre-sales.  I used to have a gem at Bloomies.  I would come in and pick out all the full price merchandise that I loved and even try it on to make sure.  She would stow away my size, and then the minute a sale hit, I would get a call. Sometimes, I didn’t even have to go to the store.  She would just ring it up over the phone and send it my way with free shipping.

Tip No. 2: If you shop at a particular department store a lot, consider opening up their credit card. You get points for every dollar spent on regular everyday purchases and power points in the store, plus perks like free gift wrapping.  Once you accumulate a certain number of points, they send you gift cards good for in-store purchases. Some department stores, like Nordstrom, allow you to join their loyalty program without opening their store card.  This means you can accumulate points on any card you want (like the card that gives you travel rewards) and still get in-store perks and rewards that lead to gift card redeemable in the store.  Also, a little note on the gift cards– they have an expiration date by which you need to use them, but if yours expires and you haven’t used it, just go to customer service and most likely, they will reactivate it for you. I know that this is the case in Bloomingdale’s.

Tip No. 3: COUPONS, people.  Use them!  When you have the store’s card, they send you coupons.  Sometimes you get them without having the card. For example, at Macy’s, they always have a 20% coupon offer.  You are supposed to present the coupon when you purchase something, but more often than not, there is one available at the register, so if you forgot yours, just ask the associate to apply theirs.  You can use the coupon regardless of what card you are using to pay.  Also, if you have the coupon, you can use it all day on all purchases in the store.  Even if something is already on sale, you can still use the coupon for an additional 20% off.  I will not get into splitting up a transaction to maximize your coupon savings because, quite frankly, that is master class shit, and I am throwing a lot of knowledge your way right now.

Tip No. 4: Always ask about a pre-sale because chances are that one is going on.  That means that the store will apply a future sale to your purchase with the caveat that you cannot pick up the item until the sale actually starts.  Even if something is already on sale, you can usually still apply a pre-sale offer.

Tip No. 5:  If you see something you bought even cheaper the next time you are there have it adjusted.  Most of  the time, all you need is the receipt.  If it is within 30 days (and sometimes after 30 days, please refer to Tip No. 1), they will adjust it. If its Nordstrom, you are in luck.  Nordstrom has the best return policy ever. They will take back anything you buy from there at any time, even if its worn and even if its from two years ago.  They literally have the best return policy hands down.

Tip No. 6:  Don’t see your size?  That is okay, ask a sales associate to order it for you and get it shipped to your home for free.

I can go on and on, but these are just some of the reasons why you should basically only shop at department stores.  That being said, everyone loves a good outlet mall (despite recent debate about whether these malls actually offer a better deal), and, up next, I have got the best one for you.

sawgrass

Sawgrass Mills is the largest outlet shopping destination in the United States.  It has more than 350 stores in an enclosed, air conditioned and climate controlled mall.  It is located just 30 minutes from Miami International Airport and 15 minutes from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.  It also has The Colonnade Outlets, which is fairly newly expanded, outdoor, and high-end with over 40 exclusive outlets not found anywhere else in South Florida including Burberry, Diane von Furstenberg, GUCCI, Jimmy Choo, Prada, Salvatore Ferragamo Company Store, Tory Burch and Versace.  A complete store directory can be found here. Notable department stores include Bloomingdale’s, Neiman Marcus Last Call, Saks Fifth Avenue Off Fifth, Nordstrom Rack, and, coming soon, Century 21.  I’m not going to lie, during our season (approximately October to April) and during the holidays, this mall is a literal madhouse.  Parking is a nightmare (seriously, just take Uber), and there are people EVERYWHERE with suitcases that they fill up and truck out.  There are entire tour buses that bring tourists here to shop, so pack you patience when visiting.  But, if you can get past all of that, you can usually find some pretty good deals, especially on Black Friday.

So that’s it folks.  That is the best of the best of South Florida shopping.  I hope you found this guide helpful, and may the retail gods bestow upon you a fab parking spot and even better deals! In the interest of full disclosure, all of the photos used in this post are stock photos from the internet, so no need to compliment my awesome photo taking skills, at least not on this post!

 

A Bachelorette Weekend In San Francisco: The City By The Bay

 

GGB2

Once a upon a time, on a weekend in May, three blondes and three brunettes boarded a plane and made their way to the City By The Bay.

plane

You see, one of the brunettes was going to get married (we tried to convince her to do it in this bargain dress we found in a window in China Town, but she refused), and the other ladies wanted her to have one last fling before the ring, so after much discussion, the ladies settled on San Francisco.

wedding

The following is the tale of their adventures and a guide on how to plan an epic bachelorette weekend in San Francisco.

Let me just start by saying that I am so glad we settled on San Francisco for my sister’s bachelorette weekend for a few reasons: first, I had never been to San Fran, and I always wanted to go, 2) the weather is always gorgeous, and 3) if you are foodie (like me), then San Fran is the place to be because it is a gastronomical playground!  The only con was that we did not have enough time to do (and eat) everything we wanted.  That being said, if you are looking for a great girl’s weekend, a romantic long weekend, or an awesome bachelorette weekend spot, look no further.

DAY ONE:

Upon arrival on a Thursday morning, we checked into our Union Square boutique hotel and set out to fill our bellies. But first, a little bit about the hotel and the area in which it is located.  Union Square is San Francisco’s shopping district.  Within mere blocks of our hotel were store-lined streets– everything from high-end shops (like Jimmy Choo, Goyard, and Dior), mid-range shops (like BCBG, Zara, and Lululemon), and department stores (like Saks and Nordstrom).  If you live in a big city like Miami or New York, the shops are the same as the ones you have back home, but it’s still fun to shop in other cities!  If you live in a smaller town, like Baton Rouge, where one of the girls on our trip was from, this is a nice excuse to get some shopping done in a place that maybe has more options than your hometown.  In any case, there are some things you should know about shopping in San Fran: first, the sales tax is 8.75% which is higher than our sales tax down here in South Florida, and second, the stores in San Fran charge you 10 cents per shopping bag!  That’s right ladies, 10 cents per shopping bag!  I was wondering why the sales clerks kept asking us if we wanted a bag.  Like, duh, what are we supposed to do with our goodies?!? Carry them around town in our hands?  So, I finally asked.  A nice sales clerk advised us that the city of San Fran passed a law requiring stores to charge for bags in order to reduce the impact to the environment caused by disposable bags.  Being a lawyer, this intrigued me, so I looked it up, and wouldn’t you know, there is such a law, and it is called the Checkout Bag Ordinance.  So, my advice to you is that if you think you are going to do some damage, bring your own canvas tote or buy one large shopping bag and stuff that sucker like a stocking on Christmas! Of course, this would not deter us, and we would be back to help boost the local economy in an environmentally friendly way, but first, let’s eat!

Our first stop, was a place called Marlowe, which was recommended to us.  I sometimes worry about taking recommendations from other people unless I know that they are just as discerning as me when it comes to food.  You know they are going to ask you afterwards what you thought, and if you are like me (brutally honest) and you didn’t think it was that great, it could get a little awkward.  Also, I eat a pretty strict diet during the week– no carbs, no sugar, no dairy, and basically no fun.   When the weekend rolls around or I am on vacation, I want to splurge on my calories wisely. I don’t want to waste them on mediocre food.  Finally, I am a food snob. There, I said it!  The dining experiences that just knock my socks off are few and far between.

Back to Marlowe.  Upon first glance, the lunch menu seemed limited and had a heavy Southern flair to it, which is funny because we couldn’t geographically be further from the South and because we were bringing an actual Southerner (and a Southerner by marriage) to the joint, but the reviews were great so we decided to give her a shot.  The restaurant is small, but very cute.

Marlowe

I have a thing with tile, and I loved the tiled walls and floors, and, in particular, the mosaic at the front door, but we didn’t come to admire the decor. We were hangry at this point, so we just started ordering.  We started with the crispy brussel sprout chips and the chicken fried okra.  Both were small dishes, but both were very good, so they did not last long.  Now, my understanding is that they are known for their burger, and we ordered the burger and it was good, but, in my opinion, the warm open faced deviled egg sandwich is not properly appreciated.  This dish was a party in your mouth! It had eggs, bacon, cheese, and pickled jalapenos on top of a warm toasted crusty bread.  It was delicious.  I wanted to order another. I want one right now.

deviled egg

Isn’t she a beauty? You can get it with salad or fries, and I opted for salad because I knew I was in for a diet-busting weekend.  Plus, we were about to enter a sweet sugar haven: Sugarfina, a luxury candy boutique!

sugarfina

This is not your run-of-the-mill candy store.  It really is a boutique with candies displayed in the most beautiful way.  It reminds me of the confectioneries you would find in the Marais District in Paris. It’s like a fairy-tale candy dreamland!

store

sugar fina displays

inside sugar fina

They are best known for their champagne gummy bears, which are imported from Germany and made with Dom Pérignon Vintage Champagne.  I almost felt guilty about visiting this sugar paradise without Chad.  He would’ve been weak in the knees and overwhelmed by the sheer selection of treats.  But, since I am the #BestWifeEver, I put together a little tasting box for him and filled it with the Champagne Bears, the Pale Ale Pints (beer flavored gummies that are also imported from Germany), the S’mores (marshmallows covered with chocolate and graham crackers), and the Athena Black Cherries (black cherries dipped in superfine dark chocolate and coated with a thin candy shell, which are imported from the island of Ios in Greece). Once we were able to pry ourselves away from this heaven, we split up because half of us had to distract the bride (i.e., go shopping), while the other half had to get to work (i.e., prepare the bachelorette suite)!

Before dinner, we decided to have a little bachelorette fun at our hotel.  This required hours of advance planning, numerous consultations with Etsy and Pinterest, the bible of ideas for such occasions, and an entire checked luggage.  Mindy, our resident expert on all things Southern, advised that all brides had to have a proper lingerie shower so that the bride would be ready for the honeymoon, and, just like that, our theme was born!  But we did a combo lingerie shower/panty party.  Some of our significant others back home were disappointed to learn that this did not mean that we dressed up in lingerie and had a pillow fight, but there was plenty of glitter!

room

table

table 3

table 2

I bet you are wondering what is inside those cute little Kate Spade totes.  Well, wonder no more.  Here is what’s inside:

goody bag

Since we were going to Napa the next day, I loaded that bag with snacks, our itinerary in a frame which could later be used to house our favorite memory from the trip, travel sized toiletries, an “Oh-Shit Kit” (which is basically a hangover survival kit.  You know, Advil, Alka-Seltzer, etc.), ponytails, and a little bottle of champagne covered in glitter to get the party started!

Here is what the panty line looked like.  These panties track the stages of life and are supposed to last you a lifetime.  This helpful poem will give you an idea of how it works!

panty line 2

Now, all we needed was our bride-to-be!

bride with panties

bride
lingerie

champs

Cheers to a successful lingerie shower/panty party, but its dinner time! By the way, if you want to sip some of the best and sweetest rose ever, do yourself a favor and pick up this bottle of angel nectar:

rose

Those who know me, know that I am not a drinker.  As in, I don’t drink.  I don’t have a religious or health reason for it.  I just don’t like the taste of alcohol, so I don’t drink it.  I’ll give you a minute to recuperate.  To me, all of it tastes bitter and unpleasant.  Don’t get me wrong, there are very few alcoholic beverages that I will tolerate, but they are usually super sweet, like ports, ice wines, or plum wine. But, sometimes I don’t even like those, and after a few sips, I am tired of drinking them.  But this pink dream right here might have changed my mind. In fact, all of the girls (some who are winos or stiff alcohol drinkers and beer drinkers) agreed that this was one of the best rose wines that they had ever had. Whenever six women agree on anything it’s a miracle!

I did some research on it to find out why it was so fantastic and this is what I learned: Bugey Cerdon is made around the town of Cerdon within the Bugey region in France; it is the only sparkling rose which is made in the “methode ancestrale”  which means spontaneous fermentation in the bottle; the style of rose they make is unique to that area; it is made mostly from the Gamay grape; and it has a low alcohol content, which is probably why I loved it so much.  The taste is sweet, fruity, and floral.  Trust me, it’s yet another party in your mouth.  It is not expensive, but it is hard to find. We stumbled upon it in a local craft spirits market in San Francisco, but I have since had to search the internet far and wide to order a few bottles.

Okay, back to dinner.  Literally everyone that I consulted with about our San Francisco trip told me that we HAD to eat at The Slanted Door, a modern Vietnamese style restaurant.  And so we did.  By the way, you HAVE to make reservations if you want to eat here.  The restaurant is located in the Ferry Building, so it makes for a nice view, especially at night (see below), and it was packed!

light bridge

ladies

It’s a small(ish) share plate concept restaurant where you order for the table and the food comes out as it is ready.  We ordered from the raw bar, a few appetizers, some rolls,  a couple of meat, poultry, and seafood dishes, a vegetable dish, and some rice, so basically the whole menu.  The food was delicious!

slanted door

At the end, they bring a big blob of cotton candy out for the whole table, and who doesn’t love cotton candy?

cotton candy

By the time we were done with dinner, we were beat! It had been a long day of travel and running around with a three-hour time difference for us East Coast girls.  Plus, we had to rise and shine pretty early the next day because we were on our way to Wine Country!

clock

DAY TWO:

napa girls

On our second day, we took a day-trip out to Napa Valley and to Sonoma.  While this is definitely do-able in a day (it’s a little over an hour away from San Fran), it is a quick trip.  If you have the time, I would spend a couple nights here because it is so pretty and there is a lot to see (and so many places to eat!), even if you don’t drink, like me! In my opinion, the best way to do this is to hire a car service or private tour company to plan the itinerary for you.  It is a little more expensive, but totally worth it.  They have a lot more knowledge about the region and relationships with the wineries.  As a result, they can make your reservations for you and plan out the trip in an order that makes sense.  Many of the wineries do not accept walk-ins.  Also, they can tailor your experience to your preferences.  For example, we asked to visit smaller, more local boutique wineries.  If you want to do some of the higher-end wineries, private guides are definitely the way to go.  The good guides will also make your lunch reservations for you! Apparently, Napa is pretty strict with DUIs, which is another reason to leave the driving to someone else.  So, with all that in mind and because none of us wanted to tackle the logistics and the driving, we hired Myles from Timeless Napa Wine Tours, and we were glad we did! He was very responsive and helpful in our pre-trip planning, he took care of all of the details for us (including picking up a few wine shipment boxes to bring with us!), and on the day of, he showed up right on time with a smile, a good sense of humor, and a stocked Mercedes sprinter van (drinks, music, phone charges, the works!) to get these bachelorettes to wine country!  If you are thinking about hiring him too, you tell him I sent you, and I am sure he will take great care of you!

Myles

tour

Myles was ready with rose mimosas, and we were off on a very scenic drive through wine country!  By the way, by the end of the day, I had a new appreciation for the phrase “Rose All Day!”  I am pretty sure it originated here.

party time

But, before we got on our way, Myles made a little pit-stop so we could take a gander at that Golden Gate Bridge!

pit stop

Okay, wine time! Napa sort of reminded me of the Tuscan region in Italy.  Don’t get me wrong, Tuscany has Napa beat in terms of scenery, but Napa ain’t too shabby.

Napa

property 2

scenic

Our first stop was to a small boutique winery called Porter Family Vineyards. We were greeted with a little rose.

welcome filtered

cheers 2

And then we were given a tour of the beautiful grounds and their cellar.

porter 2

porter flowers 2

porter

barrels 2

And then it was tasting time!  The nice thing about this place is that they do their tastings in private rooms inside the cellars so you are only with your own group.

tasting

tasting table

tasting ladies

While the other girls tasted, I ate all their cheese, crackers, and chocolates! It’s only fair.  I poured all my wine into their glasses! When we were done, all the ordering was done right in the tasting room.  The best thing about this place is that they sell a fully padded, collapsible, and reusable wine luggage that had a strap and wheels and holds 12 bottles of wine for only $60.  Seriously, this thing is genius.  I’d like to meet the crafty lush who invented this! I wish I had one when we went to the Stellenbosch and Constantia wine regions in South Africa, the Tuscan region of Italy, in Paris, and when we visited wineries in Santorini and Crete!  See where I am going with this–  you buy it once, pack it in your suitcase, and then save boatloads on shipping wines back or buying extra luggage or overweight luggage fees, and you don’t have to worry about the bottles breaking in your stuff!  This was the only winery we visited that sold such a contraption, and even the gate agent at Jet Blue was impressed by it.  Had we known we were going to buy so many wines (enough to fill three of these bad boys!), we would’ve bought two more.  The only con is that they don’t seem to sell it online, but you can get something similar here.

luggage

top

inside box

Once we had petted all the property dogs, Myles loaded us up and whisked us off to our next winery, giving us a tour of downtown Napa and Yountville along the way.  Up next was an artisanal family winery called Bell Wine Cellars.

bella

We were again greeted with more rose and the sommelier who would be showing us around the property.

bell welcome

bell welcome 2

This winery had a bit more of a commercial feel.  The entrance and wine shop were very nicely appointed.  They took you to see their large vats, their storage room, and the vineyards, but there were several other large groups there touring at the same time, so it did not feel as intimate as the first place. But, the property was beautiful, and our tasting was held outside on the patio next to the vineyards.

property

vineayrd 2

girls

bell tasting

bell entrance

bell tasting room

bell shop

While at the first winery the girls tasted reds, here, they tasted whites, and I, well, I ate all the cheese and crackers!  By this time, we were all starving– even me! So, we piled back into the van, and headed to lunch at Bouchon in downtown Yountville.

bouchon 2

Now, I will admit, this was not my first choice.  The French Laundry was.

FL

Hello, lover…but, my sister said that sometimes, when you are with a group, you have to make compromises, even if it at the expense of your blog!  In hindsight, I think she was drunk, and I decided to be a team player, BUT, had I known it was mere steps away from Bouchon, I may have not of been so nice, especially since being a team player cost me dessert (you know, like basically the reason I came here to begin with).  Anyway, I have never eaten at The French Laundry (cue single tear roll down cheek), and both are by the same chef (both are also French inspired menus), and the food at Bouchon was good (not phenomenal, just good), but if I were you, I would book The French Laundry.  Reservations must be made three months prior to your desired dining date, it’s a tasting menu, and it is pricey ($310.00 per person without alcohol), but it’s iconic and you only live once, so go for it. Do it for me!  Okay, back to things that actually happened on this trip.  Here is what lunch looked like at Bouchon:

bouchon lunch

Okay, so after lunch, we were ready to hit our last winery.  At Rutherford Ranch Winery, we were scheduled for the chocolate and wine pairing tasting.  I can’t tell you much about this place because we were not offered a tour or any information on their operation. It seems like a big winery with lots of vineyards, but again I don’t know.  This was my least favorite experience. First, my impression was that the employees seemed overwhelmed by the number of people there, which was a lot.  Before we got there, a bus load of people had piled in.  Also, there were children in the tasting rooms.  I have nothing against kids, but I don’t think Napa is a family vacation spot. Just saying. Once they regrouped and set us up for a tasting on their pretty patio outside (which, quite frankly, was preferable to the chaos that was going on inside), it seemed that we were assigned a B team member, as in he did not seem to know that much about the wines.  But, hell, I didn’t care.  I was there for the chocolate, and I ate almost everyone’s chocolate, and it was good!

chocolate

By now, it was pretty late in the day, but not too late to visit a tasting salon, so that is just what we did.  Next stop, JCB Tasting Salon! Now, this is one of the most over the top salons ever. If gold, crystal, and leopard had a three-some, the product would be this tasting room, excuse me, SALON.  It’s as if someone said let’s just open a store and sell a bunch of fancy shit that doesn’t match all in one place and let’s get Bobby Trendy’s ass in there to design it (I know you remember Bobby Trendy from the Anna Nicole Smith Show, so do not pretend like you have no idea what I am talking about). Anyway, its like a store and a tasting room all in one with an upscale grocery store thrown in for good measure.  You can buy jewelry, crystal, candles, home accessories, perfumes, books (but fancy ones), wine, and french epicurean delights all in one place!  But, the reason to come here is for the people watching.  Apparently, wearing leopard or leather is a requirement.  Also, they have a huge Baccarat chandelier in the middle of the place that spins!

champs taste

Doesn’t look like much from the outside, right?  Just wait…

opulent

jcb

cahmps 2

WTF

chandelier

This sucker spins.

cartoon glass

Oh, look, more rose!  That’s four glasses so far in case you were counting. I mean, even their glasses are over the top.  They are like cartoonish big…

big glass

Anyway, this place was too much, so we finished our drinks and headed back to San Fran because it appears we hadn’t eaten enough, and we had dinner reservations to get to.

On the next trip, in addition to staying overnight, I think I would visit some of the higher-end wineries, like Silver Oak, Duckhorn, and Cakebread, not because fancy wine is going to change my mind about the taste of wine, but because I think Chad would really like it, especially Silver Oak, which is one of his favorites.  I would also add a champagne, excuse me, sparkling white wine, tasting as well, just to round out the experience.

To end the night, we got all dolled up and went to dinner at Perbacco because my sister loves Italian food and this weekend was about her, and, apparently, about compromise.

perbacco

The food was good (the scallops were actually really good), but the service could’ve been a little friendlier.  Our waiter had the nerve to remind us that his tip was not included in the bill.  Thanks, guy, but this was not out first time in a restaurant and we can read.  We know how this goes.

perbacco food

If I were making the dinner decisions, I would’ve chosen State Bird Provisions or Liholiho Yacht Club, but that’s me.  Okay, so Day Two was in the books, and now it is time for our last full day of fun in San Fran!

DAY THREE:

On Day Three, we finally got around to doing some of the San Fran sites!  Because our wish list of things to see was so jam-packed, we again hired a private driver/tour guide, and tasked him with showing us the entire city in half a day. First stop was Lombard Street.  Our driver was not permitted to drive up to or through the winding roads of Lombard Street on account of a limo that once got stock, so these bachelorette ladies had to hoof it up a  VERY steep street.

We did it

steep street

As in that one right behind us, which doesn’t look that steep in these pictures, but you walk it my friend and then tell me what you think.  Once we got up, we had to elbow our way through hundreds of Asian tourists to get these shots, so I hope you enjoy them!

Lombard Street

group

group 2

I’d be SO pissed if I lived here and had all this commotion outside my house everyday, but I don’t, so off to Haight-Ashbury! If you love hippies or you are a hippie, then you have found your home.  If you are a music lover, there is something here for you too.  If you want to buy medical marijuana, you may want stop by.

Haight

HA collage

Did you know that both Jimmy Hendrix and the Grateful Dead lived here? On the bottom left is Jimmy’s house, and on the bottom right is where the Dead lived (you like what I did there?).  According to our guide, these are private residences now, but that does not stop the Dead-Heads from dropping by to pay homage. Jerry Garcia

Next we went to the Castro District, one of the first gay neighborhoods in the United States.

Castro

It is pretty evident that you are in a gay neighborhood when you get here.

castro center filtered

But just in case you missed this cue, they give you a few more reminders, like this fabulous cross walk:

 

 

 

filtered cross walk

 

filtered girls in street

Or this helpful building sign:

flag

The nice part about being here is that there is a sense of acceptance and, in the spirit of Harvey Milk, activism is still alive and well.  On the day we visited, people were campaigning for a gay judge and there was a puppy adoption and paleo and gluten free bake sale!

HM

Harvey Milk

Our guide explained that public nudity is tolerated, and that it was not uncommon to see completely naked people in the streets.  Unfortunately, on the day we visited, everyone was clothed.  Trust me, I was on a mission to find a nude person, but it was an epic fail.  What was not, was the plethora of adorable street signs for businesses, like this one for a hot dog stand:

Best signs

Up next, we were promised an off the beaten path view of the Golden Gate Bridge, but to get there, we had to do some hiking.

getting there

Doesn’t look so bad, right.  It is.  It is steep, it is narrow, it is slippery, it is windy, and there is a drop straight into the water. But if you survive, you reach a platform that you have all to your self with a great view!

secret park

selfie

Okay, time to drive by the Painted Ladies, you know, the establishing shot for the T.V. show, Full House.

 

PL3

By now, we were starving, and we still had a tour of Alcatraz ahead of us, so we needed to eat and it needed to be fast — In-N-Out burger to the rescue! We visited the one at Fisherman’s Wharf and killed two birds with one stone.

INNOUT

Up next, a tour to Alcatraz Island!cruise

Before boarding our Alcatraz Island-bound boat, you take a photo that you can purchase when you return.  Here was ours:

momento

Now this crew must’ve seen this gaggle of bachelorettes coming because the next thing we knew, this skipper asked us if we wanted to visit the captain and drive the boat!  Yes, yes we do…

skipper

Hola Capitan! He literally let us drive the boat, wear the hat, and play on the radio.  He did not let us blow the horn.

alcatraz cruise

Because of this, we got the best view on the approach.

approach filtered

Then it was time to go to prison.

prison

alcatraz collage

This is the receiving room where the showers were located and where you got your prison outfit, a very nice denim number I might add.

showers

clothes

You also pick up the audio tour here, which is narrated by former inmates and guards.  It was very interesting, and I would recommend it.  It’s also free!

cell block

cell

Solitary

This was a solitary confinement cell. While that did not seem pleasant, I have to say, the view from the prison was spectacular.

better view

Did you know, that in 1969 an Indian tribe that called themselves Indians of All Tribes occupied Alcatraz Island for 18 months until the U.S. Government forcibly ended there occupation?  Me either.  You can learn more about it here. The rangers do a nice job of offering free specialty tours, like the secrets of Alcatraz Island.  Also, on the day we visited, a former inmate was there giving a talk and signing his book. I thought this was very interesting, and I am glad we did it. But, it was time to get back to San Fran because we had dinner plans, and this next place you do not want to miss!

So, remember how I told you that I am a restaurant snob, and that very few restaurants knock my sock off?  Well, this one did. It’s called Rich Table, and its story is SO San Fran.  It got its start on Kickstarter!  We did the tasting menu and you should too.  The whole table has to do it, and, subject to allergies and dietary restrictions, the chef chooses your dinner!

Rich Table

RT2

It was $89.00 per person without alcohol, and it was worth every penny.  It was the perfect ending to the perfect weekend getaway!

So, all in all, I loved San Fran and will definitely be back.  When we didn’t have private drivers, we used Uber to get around or walked.  There are plenty of things that I wanted to do but didn’t get a chance to fit in, like Muir Woods.  I would also like to explore the Mission and Marine Districts a little more, have a longer stay in wine country, and there are countless restaurants that we didn’t get to.  I think it would also be cool to visit for two weeks and drive the PCH from San Diego, to LA, to Malibu, to Santa Barbara, to Big Sur, to Monterey, to San Fran (with wine country overnight), and visit all the little stops in between, but that’s another trip.  In case you were wondering, the total cost of this trip per person for flights, hotels (in shared rooms), and all tours/activities (including gratuities for the guides/drivers, but excluding meals, shopping, and Uber rides) was approximately $1,000.00.

I hope you enjoyed reading this post, and maybe it gave you some ideas for your next getaway!  If so, I’d love to hear from you! Send me an email or leave a comment below. Until then, Cheers to your next adventure!

India: Spiritual, Majestic, and Colorful

India2

If you ask Chad, he will tell you that one of my hobbies includes convincing him (well, he might say harassing him) to journey with me to what may be number one destination on my bucket list: INDIA!  I’m not sure what it is, but something about India just captivates me.  Maybe it’s the culture, the spiritualism, or all the vibrant colors.  Or maybe it is that more so than any other location (at least in my experience), people seem to have two distinct opinions when it comes to traveling to India:  1) those that are just as enchanted by the place as I am or 2) those that don’t understand why anyone in their right mind would want to go there.  The first group seems to be the minority and, in my experience, is made up mostly of people who have actually been to India.  We will call them Camp One People.  The second group is basically everyone else. We will call them Camp Two People.

When I tell people that India is at the top of my list, I usually am asked the following questions: “Why would you want to go there? It’s so dirty there.” “Aren’t you scared to get sick?” “Don’t you have to get shots to go there?”  “Is it safe to go there?”  These questions come from Camp Two People. It is as if I have to defend my desire to experience India.  Safety, health, and cleanliness are factors that one must consider when traveling anywhere outside the U.S. (and sometimes even within the U.S.).  It comes with the territory of exploring the world and immersing yourself in another country and culture.  And, I am not at all downplaying these considerations.  They are very important, personal considerations you have to make as a traveler.  What I am saying is that these “What Ifs” shouldn’t be the reason you avoid an entire country!  Just talk to the Camp One People.  They usually tell you what an amazing experience they had in India.  And, as Dave Matthews says “Through your window; Well that’s one way to see the world; Step outside and look back into; Look and listen…”.  So, with that in mind, the following is my bucket list itinerary to the majestic land of India in no particular order:

2 days in Old and New Delhi: I like to start or end with the capital city to get a feel for modern day life.  Some of the sites I’d like to visit include the India Gate, Qutb Minar Victory Tower, Humayun’s Tomb, Gandhi Smriti, the Lotus Temple, Jama Masjid, the Red Fort, and Raj Ghat.

2 days in Varansai: This is considered the spiritual capital of India.  Here, some of the site I’d like to visit include the ruins and temples of Sarnath, the Golden Temple, and the sacred River Ganges to watch the pilgrims who gather to pray on the river.

2 days in Agra:  Obviously, the reason to come here is the Taj Mahal. I would also like to visit the Agra Fort.

2 days in Jaipur: I’d like to visit the Amber Fort and the other palaces sites of this pink city!  I would also like to have a painted elephant experience, but I am very sensitive to supporting attractions that exploit animals, and I have not yet thoroughly researched this activity.  If I am not 100% comfortable that the organization is actually engaged in conservation and does not abuse or exploit the animals, I will not engage in this activity (I will dedicate a future blog post to this very topic).

2 days in Udaipur: This is considered India’s most romantic city.  I would like to visit the temples and palaces here.

2-3 days on a tiger safari: I would really like to go on a tiger safari (subject to confirmation that this is a conservation and not an exploitation activity) either in Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan or Bandhavgarh National Park or Kanha Tiger Reserve in Pradesh.

2-3 days in Kerala, Goa or the Andaman Islands: This would be our R&R spot during our Indian journey.  In the past, you could swim with Rajan, the elephant, in the Andaman Islands, but it appears that he has retired from swimming.

2 days in Mumbai (Bombay): In addition to the landmark sites, I’d like to visit the Gateway of India and cruise to Elephanta Island.

And, because they are so close and since I would already be there, I’d always thought that I would add a three-day extension to Bhutan and three days in Kathmandu, Nepal.

Yes, this is a very long trip– 24 total days to do it all. But, if you carefully plan this trip and maximize holidays (i.e, times that your office would be closed anyway), I think you can take this trip and only miss 14-15 working/business days, which is the (American) standard two-week vacation.  I will dedicate a future blog post on the topic of strategically planning your travels and maximizing holidays.  Because of the length of the itinerary, I would take this trip at the end of December and beginning of January for a few reasons. First, it is the best time to maximize holiday time as the Christmas and New Year holidays are so close to each other and typically work slows down during this time (extra bonus if these holidays fall on weekends as they do this year, meaning that your employer would likely close the office on the Friday before or the Monday after the weekend holiday).  Second, it is cool weather time in India.  I live in a sweat box, and I do not want to visit an even bigger sweat box in the dead of summer! Third, chances are that not as many people are traveling at this time to places like India, Nepal, and Bhutan because of the holidays.

So, that’s it!  That is my dream trip to India!  If you have been to any of these places and have recommendations on what to see in these cities (and what to miss), where to eat, tips for truly local/cultural/spiritual experiences, and maybe places that I have excluded but should visit, I’d love to hear from you!  Drop me an email or comment below, and let me know what you think!

 

An Introduction To My Blog

white IMG_0314

You’re back! Thank God! Or, maybe this is your first time visiting my blog, in which case thanks for stopping by!  I thought this would be a good time to give you a quick introduction to my blog.

Obviously, the subject matter of the blog (travel), is a true passion of mine, but I always found that when I visited most other travel blogs, the format was very basic, compared to say fashion and lifestyle blogs whose content, layout, and color are always so engaging.  I began to wonder why travel blogs did not adopt this approach to feature the amazing destinations that our world has to offer.  I mean photos of beautiful places around the globe are so much more interesting than pictures of the same pair of shoes or the same handbag next to a vase of fresh cut flowers (the fashionista and shoe-aholic in me literally cannot believe that I just said that!), and they deserve to be featured in an engaging manner.

I also felt that most other travel blogs were kind of lacking in content.  Not that their photos weren’t amazing; they were.  I just felt like I was left the post with a lot of questions and not a lot of inspiration.  Like, how did they get there?  How did they organize this trip?  How did they choose the locations they visited?  How did they plan the itinerary? How many days was sufficient at each location? And most importantly, how much did it cost?   I’m a lawyer, people, we ask A LOT of questions.  I am literally a trained deposition/interrogation machine.  I can’t help it.  It spills over into every aspect of my life.  Just ask Chad.  I am sure he will be happy to tell you all about it!

Anyway, I decided to create a blog that celebrated wanderlust!  If you read fashion or lifestyle blogs, you can see that the inspiration for the look and layout of this blog, came from those blogs.  As for the content, I hope that I answer the questions that I have for you.  If I don’t, please let me know or if there is something I forgot, I would be happy to answer it if I can.  My menu bar contains seven categories, three of which (Home, About Me, and Contact) are self explanatory.  So, let’s talk about the other four then shall we?

In Globetrotter, I will feature trips I have already taken.  The will be categorized by continent, country, and, where applicable, by city.  For example, my post on the Exumas can be found under North America, then Bahamas.  It is in these posts that I plan to give you a soup to nuts run down of the trip: why we chose the destination, how long it took to plan, our itinerary, including hotels and activities, a rough estimate of the cost, plus some tips and tricks that we learned along the way so that you can feel like you have enough information and resources to duplicate the trip.

In Wanderlust, I will feature destinations that are on my Bucket List.  These could be trips that I am in the process of planning or trips that I am dreaming of taking, and this distinction will largely drive the content of each post.  I will post my proposed or dream itinerary and then ask you for your advice, opinions, and recommendations if you’ve been to one of the places I am lusting after.  I encourage you to leave comments and feedback.  Chad cautions you to prepare yourself for a barrage of questions (just kidding, kind of…).

Tourist will be dedicated to post about my state!  I will feature stay-cations and/or day-trip that I have taken.  I will also review restaurants that I visit and write about events that are going on.  Think of it as your personal guide to Florida, particularly South Florida!

In Layover, I will post my travel related thoughts, tips, and advice.  If it has to do with travel (other than places I have been, am going to, or want to be) and it is on my mind, you will find it here. For example, I plan to dedicate an entire post to why hiring a travel agent is sometimes the best investment, how to save for travel, how and why you should add a charitable component to your travels, and the difference (in my mind)  between traveling and vacationing, to name just a few.

So, that’s it folks.  That is how I became inspired to create this blog and how I envisioned this blog working.  If there is something you would like to see on the blog, just let me know.

And now, if blogs had Oscar acceptance speeches, this would be mine:  First and foremost, I would like to thank my loving husband, whom I drag all over creation (and nearly kill on almost every trip), who has the patience to listen to my never-ending list of trips that I am planning for us, and who supports me in life, in our travels, and in this passion project (he is my content editor!).  There is no one I’d rather wander with than him.  I would also like to thank some of my friends who are also bloggers who were kind enough to give me advice (and answer a million questions) as I was conceptually working out this blog and encouraged me to stay the course:  Jennifer from The Champagne Supernova,  Alissa from Fuck Infertility, and Nikol from Fresh Beauty Studio/Not Just A Beauty Blogger.  I would like to thank Jana from Little Web Writing Hood who worked (works) tirelessly to make sure that this blog is perfection!  Finally, I would like to thank from the bottom of my heart each and every person who visits this blog and supports me in this endeavor.  Okay, I am done!

By the way, the blog will be traveling this week to San Francisco and Napa for my sister’s bachelorette weekend.  Follow along on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat.  When I return, I will post a full feature on this trip.  Until then, happy trails to you!

Exumas, Bahamas: Where Pigs Swim!

pigs swim

OMG, my first blog post!! Judging by the number of likes on my Instagram feed, a lot of you are interested in the Exumas, and since summer is right around the corner and we all have the beach on our minds, I decided to make my first post about our recent anniversary trip to the Exumas, one of the out islands of the Bahamas.

Living in South Florida, the gateway to the Carribbean, you are constantly bombarded with advertisements for the Caribbean Islands.  Chad and I always see this one particular billboard driving south on I-95 that invites you to come swim with the pigs, and we always say as we pass by it “We have got to do that one of these days.”  Well, “these days” came in early April 2016.  Now, I will preface this by saying (and I know I am going to get a lot of comments about this) that I am not a beach vacation kind of girl (by the way, I am going to dedicate a future post to the difference, in my head, between traveling and vacationing.  In case you were wondering, I consider our trip to the Exumas vacationing).  Chad, however, is beach vacation kind of guy.  Let me explain, I was born and raised in South Florida.  I have always lived close to the beach, so for me, it’s not that big of a deal.  That being said, I am happy to (and usually do) add an island/beach component to our travels, but I don’t (with some exceptions) like the island/beach to be the destination.  I want city, sights, restaurants, activities.  On the other hand, Chad was born in Alabama and raised in Alabama and Georgia- (mostly) land locked states.  Beach to Southerners (I quickly learned) is a big deal, like a really big deal.  Put Chad on a beach with a cold (preferably craft) brew, and he’s like a pig in…well you know.  He is happy to lay on a beach and have that be the trip.  So, since this year is Chad’s year to pick our travel spots (more on how we pick our “Where To Next” (see what I did there!) destinations in a future post), I found myself planning a trip to the Exumas.

A few things that I was surprised to learn about the Exumas while I was planning this trip: First, the Exuma Cays are one of the longest (if not, the longest) island chains in the Bahamas.  So, when planning your trip there, you have to make sure to pick a strategic location so that you are close to the major attractions (i.e., swimming pigs, iguanas, nurse sharks, etc.), all of which require a boat to get to.  I recommend either Staniel Cay, home of the Staniel Cay Yacht Club, a literal fixture in the Exumas, or Great Exuma, which is the largest of the cays.  Second, the Exumas are not as easy to get to as some of the other islands of the Bahamas, like Nassau for example.  There are only a few commercial carriers that fly there, usually on sporadic schedules and typically not direct.  The other option is a charter flight, which, as you will see below, may end up being the cheaper option.  Finally, the few resorts (relatively speaking) that are there, book up quickly, so if you want to go to the Exumas, plan in advance.  For example, I started researching and planning this trip around September 2015.  I started making calls to properties around November 2015.  The soonest we could get three consecutive nights in one room (that is, without having to switch rooms in the middle of our stay due to availability) was April 2016, and it wasn’t even high season yet!  My point is plan early!

We decided to stay at Staniel Cay Yacht Club (“SCYC”) in Staniel Cay.  There are many reasons for this choice.  First, in my opinion, the location is ideal as it is literally across from Big Majors Cay, a.k.a. Pig Beach, which was the whole purpose of the trip to begin with.  It is also a very short boat ride from the iguanas at Bitter Guana Cay, and it is also a 20-30 minute boat ride to Compass Cay, where you can swim with and pet nurse sharks. Second, SCYC makes it so easy to plan your getaway.  They own their own private charter plane, Watermakers Air, that brings you right to Staniel Cay from Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport (more on this below).  Third, once you are there, your room comes with a 13 foot skiff (that’s a boat, people, and I will tell you more about this below), and you can purchase a meal plan (which I highly recommend), so all your meals and drinks (except alcohol) are also included.  About this last part, I am NOT an all inclusive kind of girl.  I do not want to be limited in where or what I eat because I am a foodie.  But, I made an exception here because 1) there is literally only one restaurant on Staniel Cay other than the one at SCYC, 2) the food plan includes the entire menu, and 3) it turned out to be the more economical option.  So, now that we’ve planned our trip, let’s take it, shall we?!

watermakers

watermakers lounge

Chad in watermakers

Chad and I are not morning people, EXCEPT when it comes time to travel.  We woke up before the crack of dawn on a Thursday morning to make our way to paradise (by the way, I recommend you Uber to Watermakers hangar because the parking, while free, is limited) via a 7:00 a.m. flight.  Watermakers offers private charters wherein you charter the whole plane and fly when you want on scheduled flights twice a day to Staniel Cay – once in the morning and once in the afternoon.  With the later option, you buy a seat on a scheduled charter flight, and the cost is around $600 per person.  If you don’t see a scheduled flight that meets your needs, just call them.  With some advance planning, they may open a flight for you. Did I mention that they have a delightful hangar and lounge space?  See the photos above.  As soon as you walk in you feel relaxed.  There are lovely photos of the place you are about to visit, nice, clean restrooms, and snacks! Someone will greet you at the door and take care of your bags for you.  When it’s time to go, the pilot will come in an invite you to follow him on board.

Bahams v. real world

Okay, back to the business of getting there. Here are some things you should know:  First, there is no airport security at all so there are no lines and no getting there several hours ahead of time.  Relax, you are about to be on island time.  There are some baggage limits though.  Each person can bring a bag that weighs up to 35 lbs. (you can also send cargo or pay for additional bags, and you can bring your dog for $2 per pound), but the 3 fl. oz. rule does not apply.  This is important because since your alcohol is not included in the meal plan you bought, and alcohol in the Bahamas is expensive, each person can bring a full bottle of something with them (according to customs), and I suggest you do this.  For what it’s worth, you will clear customs somewhere in the Bahamas prior to landing in Staniel Cay.  For us, on the way there it was Eleuthera (which is also gorgeous, worthy of a trip in its own right, and will also be the subject of a future blog post), and on the way back it was Chubb Cay (this was not so much for customs reasons, but because there is some rule about commercial charter flights not being able to fly direct). When you arrive at the place at which you will clear customs, you get off the plane (but your bags do not) and someone asks whether your have fruits, nuts, or more than on bottle of alcohol.  You get your stamp and you are on your way again.

Okay, so here is a picture of the plane you will be flying on.  It’s a prop plane, so it doesn’t go as fast as a jet.  So, while in a jet, you’d be there in 30 minutes, in this bad boy, it takes a little over an hour, so bring something to do or sleep.

watermakers plane

Only one person is allowed on the staircase at a time, and you cannot stand fully upright when you get in (I’m not trying to freak you out if you are a nervous flyer.  I just want you to know.  It’s okay, you will be okay.  It is totally worth it, trust me).  The plane fits about 12 passengers and 2 pilots.  We got front row!  We had one pilot and a total 7 passengers.  We picked up 2 more in Eleuthera when we made our customs stop.

inside plane

As you fly over the Bahamas, and you get closer to the Exumas, you have some amazing vistas from the window.  In my opinion, the better viewing is on the right side of the plane.

view from plane

view of ocean from plane

view from plane 2

After about an hour and a half, we arrived!

welcome to staniel cay

This is the airport:

staniel cay airport

That’s right, no building, no officials, nothing.  Just an airstrip (next to the ocean, I might add), and a park pavilion where people wait for their flights.  By the way, there is another charter company that flies to Staniel Cay.  It is called Flamingo Air (see below).  It is also prop, and on this plane, the pilot climbs in through the window.  I am not kidding.  The pilot I saw doing this was a big boy.  I was not sure he was going to make it.  Anyway, on that airline you will be greeted by a woman who will open the trunk of her old car and produce an old school scale, like the one that has the tray on top and a needle on the bottom that tells the weight.  You know, like they used to have in grocery stores to weigh fruits, veggies, and meats.  For out going flights, she will weigh your bags (and sometimes you) so she can figure out how to distribute weight on the plane! We did not have this experience on Watermakers, and it was fun to watch, but I digress.

flamingo air

Upon arrival, you will collect your bags from the runway, and someone with a golf cart from SCYC will pick you up and transport you to the property. Chances are that your room will not  be ready when you get there, but that is okay because you wore your bathing suit on the plane and you are ready to hit the high seas!  Once Renee checks you in, she will store your bags, gas up your skiff, give you the handy walkie-talkie, and make sure you get a quick tutorial on how to use your boat, and you will be off!  But, before you do this, make sure you stop by the restaurant to do the following things: 1) select your dinner seating from the two available seatings, 6:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. and place your dinner order (which must be placed by noon – you have to do this everyday you are there, so do it at breakfast and don’t forget!), 2) order your boxed lunch that you will take with you on your adventure (you can also eat on property and choose from their lunch menu, but chances are you will be out all day on your boat and you are not going to want to come back for lunch.  Also, it’s much more fun to stop at a sandbar that suddenly appears in the middle of the ocean and have the whole thing to yourself for your picnic!  Just so you know, at breakfast every morning, they will ask you if you want to order your boxed lunch and it will be packed and ready for you in a cooler by the time you are done.  It is a selection of sandwiches and it comes with an apple, chips, and a drink.  Feel free to pack the cooler with the snacks you brought with you), 3) collect your scraps to feed the pigs and the iguanas (they will usually ask you at breakfast if you need scraps for the day or you can ask and they will deliver a bag of scraps for your adventures!), and 4) collect your snorkel gear and life jackets (safety first!) from the shed.

Here are some views of the overall property:

SCYC dock view

property

There are two kinds of accommodations: the bungalows and the cottages.  Each have their own set of pros and cons.  They are all basically the same price, but availability is sporadic.  The bungalows are newer: one bed/one bath rooms that look like a hotel.  You access them via the raised docks that are shown in the first picture above.  The pros of these rooms are that they are newer, more updated rooms that are all waterfront, and they come with the “better” boats (see below).  In other words, these skiffs have covers and are slightly bigger.  If you are a couple, this is a great option if it is available.  The cons are that the rooms are smaller, and while waterfront, they are on active docks, meaning it is likely that there will be a huge mega yacht parked in front of your room blocking the water view.  After all, this is a yacht club and some pretty big, impressive boats dock here, which by the way, is another accommodation option if you are the owner of one such beauty or are planning to charter one.  The other land-based option is the cottages.  The pros are that these accommodations are much larger and can sleep a minimum of 4, with some sleeping even more.  Most of the cottages have balconies on the water and most have bedrooms and bathrooms on both floors (for the two story units).  Also, it is gated off from the rest of the property, so it is a little quieter, and the pool is right outside your doorstep.  Also, while there are some docks behind some of the cottages, they are used for that cottage’s skiff, so there is no massive yacht blocking your view.  The cons, however, are that some of these cottages need a little updating and these cottages come with the smaller, uncovered boats.  But, if you are a family or a group, this is the best option.  Due to availability, we booked the Key Lime cottage.

keylime

Key Lime cottage balcony:

key lime blacony

Views from the Key Lime cottage, including the sunset view:

key lime view

key lime sunset

These docks service the cottages and these are the boats that come with the cottages (not that covered one, but the uncovered one on the lift):

skiff no cover

These skiffs are the ones that are assigned to the bungalows  (See the land mass back there?  The pigs are just on the other side of it!):

SCYC skiffs

It’s okay if you don’t know how to drive a boat when you get there.  We certainly aren’t proficient boaters.  Chad used to operate a little lake dingy back in his BAMA days, but that was about it.  They give you a quick run down and provide you with two different maps, a nautical one and a pictorial one. They also give you a two-way radio, but some of the guests that needed to use it said that it didn’t work once you got out past a certain point.  I suggest you download an offline GPS app like HERE Maps or Maps.Me.  We used this, and it was very helpful.   Also, there is a lot of nautical traffic out there, so if you get stuck, someone will tow you in or get you some help.  If you are a land lover, I am sorry to say that there is not much to do on this island.  They have bikes that you can use to ride around the island and find a beach.  They also have kayaks and stand up paddle boards, but the real fun is exploring the neighboring cays!

By the way and in case you were wondering, this is what the restaurant looks like:

restaurant 2

restaurant

table for 2

Okay, let’s go explore.  After a quick bite to eat, it was time to do what we came here to do – get to those pigs! We boarded our uncovered little skiff with a bag full of scraps and a cooler full of lunch, and we headed across the water to Pig Beach!  Chad was our captain.

skipper

I was the skipper!

ahoy

Now, these pigs are no strangers to boats or to people.  When they hear you coming, they magically appear from the brush back there, jump right into that water, and swim out to greet your boat.

swimming pigs

They know you have those SCYC scraps, and they want them!

visitors

 

piggies

pigs on the boat

As I learned the hard way, these piggies are not shy.  You serve a singular purpose for them – food – so you better get to feeding them or they will jump all over you to get those scraps.

pig collage

Once you are out of scraps, you got to let them know.  It’s like a hostage negotiation.  They stare up at you squealing and you have to hold up your hands and show them (and tell them) that you got no more.

pig negotiation

no more

And don’t you try to trick them because they know.  If you are holding out on them or you are hiding food from them, you are getting bit right in the butt!  That’s right, a nice little love bite that will leave snout marks on you for a few days!

biteHere’s the little jerk that got me…

hungry

Those teeth though!  Once you board your boat and you are out of food, the pigs are done with you and they are off to the next sucker!

next pig

But that’s okay, you’ve got work to do.  You have to get to Thunderball Grotto (where the James Bond movie was filmed).

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There are 2 ways to get in.  You can swim in, which is what most people do, or you can climb up the rock from the other side of this top picture, until you get to the top like this bottom picture, and jump in (about a 35-foot drop).  Chad did both.  However, not many people jump in because, well it’s high and you have to clear the waters below of swimmers.  Also, while that hole looks big, it’s actually jagged coral rock that you can careen into on your way down; so don’t be like Chad.  But if you are going to be like Chad, don’t do this at low tide.  Just so you know, high tide is typically in the morning until about noon, and low tide is in the afternoon.  Chad jumped at about 3:00 p.m.  Again, don’t be like Chad.

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Once you get inside, this is what you see.  See what I mean about that hole?!

Grotto

 

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You can snorkel around in there and see little fishies.  By that time, we were beat, so we went back for nap, and got up and ready for dinner just in time to see the sunset.

sunset

Prior to arriving, I had hired a private guide to take us around the cays on his boat for a half day.  I am an advance planner, so you don’t need to book in advance because if you choose to do this, SCYC can arrange it for you, and there are plenty of locals hanging around who are happy to take you.  This will cost you around $300 to $350.  It’s totally unnecessary, but since it was our first time there and we aren’t proficient boaters, we found it helpful to sort of get the lay of the land for the cays that were further away.  Also, if you want to go to the famous two mile long sandbar past Musha Cay this is the only way to get there as it is further away, your SCYC boat wont make it there, and it’s not even on your map. That being said, there are plenty of sandbars all over that you can get to.  Also, your guide can clue you into some great private beaches and snorkel spots such as Rocky Dundas, which is at the southern end of the Exuma Land and Sea National Park,. They will find you star fish, sea horses, and turtles and keep you away from the day-tour boats with loads of tourists on that descend onto the Exumas daily.  They also offer fishing tours.

Our first stop was to Bitter Guana Cay to see the iguanas and feed them Pringles which apparently they love.  By the way, this is also very close to SCYC and totally doable on your own with your SCYC skiff.  In fact, on a return trip we learned that you aren’t supposed to feed these iguanas because they are part of a protected habitat and study on this endangered species of native iguana.  Ooopppps! (I will dedicate a future blog post to socially responsible travel, and had we known this in the beginning, we would have never fed them!)

iguanas best

The iguanas are not as aggressive as the pigs.  They take a minute to warm up to you. Once they check you out, they start coming out from all over.  We got here so early that we had the whole place to ourselves!  It’s also a pretty nice beach that has these great rock formations.

rock 2

rock

After that, we were off to Compass Cay to get in the water with the nurse sharks.  By the way, this is the only time you will need to have cash on you as each person must pay a $10 docking fee each time you come.

compass cay sign

compass cay 2

These little guys just hang out on the dock. They are very docile and gentle.

sharks

You can pet them!
sharks 2

Or just jump on in and take a swim with them!

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Now, this next part is where having a private guide comes in handy because without him, we would have never of known about this completely deserted beach.  As you face the structure on the dock, you will see that there is a path to your left.  If you follow that path and make a left at the end of it, you will see signs that lead you to the beach.

First you pass this mangrove area on the right.

compas cay back

Then you follow this path into the brush.

beach trail

After about 5 minutes of walking through trees, you come to this sandy little path.

private beach trail

And, when you come onto the beach, there will be NOBODY there.  You have the whole beach all to yourself.  There’s even a little tiki hut with a picnic table to drop your belongings, and get on into that water.

private beach 2

You can literally walk that beach stretch for miles in either direction and not come upon another soul.  This would be a nice spot for your picnic lunch, but if you can wait, the sandbar is even better.

beach alone

Up next, our guide, Clifton, took us somewhere where Chad could get some snorkeling in.  This is literally his favorite pastime.  He got to see coral, fish, and turtles, which are his favorite!

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He even brought up a starfish for me! Before you even ask, no ocean/marine life was harmed or killed for the sake of our travels, entertainment, or this blog.  Everything was returned to its home in the sea!

chad finds starfish

star fish red ocean life

turtle

After he was done, it was on to my favorite part: the sandbar!  We got there just as the sandbar was starting to form.

conch

It’s kind of neat to stand in the middle of the ocean!

walking in ocean

Also, the sand makes a cool pattern as the water recedes.

sand bar froming sandbar collage

Eventually, the sandbar looks like this:

large sand bar

chairs sandbar picnic

By now, we had made friends with another (Greek!) couple who lived in Germany and who happened to be staying in the bungalows and had a bigger, covered boat.  So we spent the rest of our days exploring with them (on their boat)!  It’s good to have (international) friends!

push

boats

friends on sand bar

friends

jenga

But alas, all good things must come to an end, and unfortunately travel is no exception. So, after 4 days and 3 nights in paradise, we bid adieu to our new European friends and made our way back home.  Chad and I (well, really I) have a no duplication rule on travel.  That means that we typically don’t go to the same places twice (except for Greece!), and if we do, we do not do the same itinerary twice.  That being said, we would definitely come back to the Exumas (but maybe just stay on a different cay) because it is so close for us, and it was relatively affordable. At the end of the day with flights, accommodations, food, and a private tour, this trip cost us about $3,000.00.  This trip is easy to do and good for families, couples, girls/guys weekends, and bachelorette parties. So, until the next adventure, happy trails to you! I hope you come back and visit my blog to find out …

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