Category Archives: Travel

Mall of America – The Ultimate Shopping Destination

by Trish Utter

Crave_WEB Christmas shopping can be stressful, chaotic and bewildering. In saying all this I tried a new approach by taking the kids to the one and only Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota. The mall is within a few minutes from Minneapolis-St Paul International Airport.

Roller-Coaster-Wide_WEBUsually on trips to the mall my son, Colt age 14 is begging me to stay at home but this trip he was actually looking forward to and so was his sister, Brooke age 12, as they had heard that there was an indoor roller coaster in the center of this mall. Turned out that it was a full size amusement park called Nickelodeon Universe with 25 rides and attractions all decorated in slime green and located right in the center of the mall under a massive, landscaped glass dome that is kept at a comfortable 70 degrees all year long.

Nick-Universe_WEBWe got onto every ride without any lines! Colt’s favorite rides were Avatar Air Bender as it gently throws riders 70 feet in the air and spins you around. Tak Attack was Colt’s second best as he loved the way it spun you upside down and pulls you through gravity to the sky and Brooke loved the Log Chute and…shopping, shopping, shopping!

While at Nickelodeon Universe are we came across Butterfly Bay that houses nearly 750 different varieties of butterflies and is an Eco Friendly exhibit. We also caught a glimpse of Lego Imagination Center; this is heaven for the Lego enthusiast as it is four stories high with over 90 models and tons to play with.

Living the GOOD LIFE at the Beach

By Trish Utter

Beach_WEBI walked out of my hotel room for a moonlight walk on the beach and found a wildlife area within a short distance. No lights, no buildings, no cars. I saw some turtle nests and birds. The beach was lit up by the moon with just the sound of the waves and the shimmering lights from downtown Sarasota were sparkling in the distance. I felt as if I was on a deserted island.

Located in Sarasota at Lido Key on miles of private white, soft, sand and brimming with Old Florida charm sits the Helmsley Sandcastle Hotel. A huge salt water fish tank located in the lobby immediately puts you in a tropical state of mind. Rooms are large and comfortable and have cable TV, safe, coffee maker, free Wi-Fi and refrigerator and the balconies overlook the beautiful waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

Lobby_WEBAs soon as you are on the beach you are greeted by a member of staff that whisks out beach chairs for you. I must say that the staff is extremely attentive, even the room service staff seemed to know what we needed before we did.

Guests are able to rent umbrellas, bicycles, Aqua Cycles, Hobie Cats , and Kayaks. The water on the Gulf is warm and usually calm making it a safe place for families with young children.

The hotel has good old fashioned family fun with Ping Pong, Shuffleboard, gym and Volleyball. The Pool bar offers cocktails and snacks. There is a gift shop and two heated pools, one of which is huge with tons of chairs, umbrellas and tables. The Candlelight Restaurant specializes in steak and seafood. Breakfast and lunch is served at Sandcastle Coffee Shop. I tested the restaurant out by ordering a fish sandwich…it was delicious. The food reasonably priced just like the rooms.

Trish-on-a-board_WEBSt. Armands Circle is just minutes away where you will find restaurants and ritzy boutiques that are open late …don’t forget an ice cream at Kilwins!

Something I always wanted to do but was a bit nervous about was Paddle Boarding…….yes if I did it you can too! ‘I Kayak Sarasota’ will teach you in seconds how to stand up and paddle. It is a great way to exercise and see the wild life. The boards are like oversized surf boards that you stand on and paddle, it was easy and a ton of fun.

Give yourself a break and enjoy, The Good Life!

Helmsley Sandcastle Hotel
www.HelmsleySandcastle.com
800-225-2181

I Kayak Sarasota
www.IKayakSarasota.com
941-302-2677

Williamsburg – Celebrate the Holidays Colonial Style

by Trish Utter

DSCF9681_WEBThe sound of horse’s hooves, the odd gunshot and speeches that shaped this country into being the United States of America are all part of the fabric of the 18th- century, colonial village of Williamsburg, Virginia.

C.W., as it is fondly named is located a few hours south of Washington D.C. in what’s called ‘Americas Historic Triangle’ which is comprised of Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown Settlement and the Yorktown Victory Center.

Williamsburg was brought back to its heyday in 1926 so that the way of Colonial life would be preserved for all generations to see. This is a fully working town where visitors get an interactive experience with the daily lives of the first generation of Americans.

The Capital

The Capital

Children often shudder at the thought of looking at a museum but in C.W. you will find it hard to drag them away. You will hear the laughter of children as you enter The Powell House as kids get to feed the chickens, make the beds, see a Holiday meal being made and take part in an 18th century dance in the front parlor.

Watch and listen to actors as they debate the virtues of being an independent nation at The Revolutionary City and visit The Capitol and hear about the issues that were discussed during the times around the American Revolution to get a real sense of what life was like over 225 years ago. It all centers along The Duke of Gloucester Street which is lined with 18th century style stores filled with handmade items. Shop for a pewter tea pot, old fashioned candy at Wythe Candy store, 18th century toys at the Toymaker of Williamsburg, fashions of the day and even a wig to top off your new look!

My Top Picks for Las Vegas

by Trish Utter

Vegas-Strip_WEBThis was the first time we had visited Las Vegas and we had a blast. The airport is right next to the city making the trip to the ‘Strip’ stress free and easy. As you come in for a landing you immediately see the oasis of landmark hotels surrounded by the natural beauty and wilderness of the land.

Pink Jeep Tours

Pink-Jeep-Tours_WEBWhen I arrive in a new place I like to get my bearings by going on a tour. Pink Jeep Tours pick guests up right from their hotel. These pink Jeeps are high up off the ground. Passengers sit in luxury as the tour guide comments on the sights. The first trip we did with them was their Las Vegas City Tour.

The Strip sparkled with lights as we passed all the amazing hotels. We stopped at the famous ‘Welcome to Las Vegas’ sign and visited the Gold and Silver Pawn Shop from the TV show ‘Pawn Stars’ and had a light dinner nearby. Then we got to spend time on Fremont Street that has thousands of lights strung across it making you feel as if you are in a glittering tunnel. Here we watched street performers and had our pictures taken with show girls and impersonators. I was surprised at how clean and orderly Vegas is. I could not believe we had seen so much in only our first day.
1-888-900-4480
www.PinkJeep.com

Visiting St. Augustine …Our top picks!

by Trish Utter

Beachers-Lodge_WEB#1 Beacher’s Lodge

Located just south of St. Augustine at Crescent Beach. Each unit consists of a bedroom, living room with kitchen, bathroom, and complete with balcony and ocean views. The heated pool overlooks the ocean and several restaurants are within walking distance. I love the fact that I can leave all our beach gear in the car and just park right on the beach in front of the hotel without having to haul everything by foot to the beach. We have all got to know the staff here over the years and it always feels like home…only on the beach! Pets are welcome too. This makes Beacher’s Lodge my #1 choice for hotels in the St. Augustine area.
(800) 527-8849
www.BeachersLodge.com

Simple-Gestures_WEB#2 Simple Gestures Art & Gifts

I always find something unique at this art gallery, and within my budget. Filled with local artists’ work, from Coca Cola can bracelets and bullet shell necklaces to large paintings. One of my favorite items from this store is my computer keyboard purse.
(904) 827-9997

Nalus-Taco-Stand_WEB#3 Nalu’s Taco Stand

Located in the parking lot of the Surf Station. Eat where local surfers dine! We had driven past it for years and then heard locals raving over it. They were right, everything is fresh and delicious.
(904) 501-9592
www.NalusTropicalTakeout.com

Alligator-Farm-Zip-Line_WEB#4 Zip Lining at The Alligator Farm

A fun and exhilarating experience that gives you a bird’s eye view of all the reptiles below. Glide through the air suspended from a wire! Over 50 obstacle courses and 7 zip lines that will keep you on your toes.
(904) 824-3337
www.AlligatorFarm.com

#5 St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum

Located across from the Spanish Fort. This huge collection of maritime items was recently moved from Key West. Many local craftspeople and artisans worked to bring this nautical museum to life including
Steve Marrazzo of Simple Gestures. Pirate enthusiast and entrepreneur Pat Croce owns this one of a kind collection. This Pirate-and-Treasure-Museum_WEBmuseum has authentic artifacts dating back to 1563. Light a canon while on deck of a Spanish Galleon! Disney-Imagineer designed the below deck sound experience which will have you squirming in your seat. See the world’s only 17th century treasure chest, an original Jolly Roger flag that is only one of two surviving in the world. There are many interactive activities for the family to enjoy, ask your school to book a field trip here …if you dare!
(877) 467-5863
www.PirateSoul.com

Get Your Sleigh and Head North for Beautiful Williamsburg, VA

by Trish Utter

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One of my favorite places to be over Christmas is Williamsburg, Virginia which is situated about two and a half hours south of Washington D.C. Here you will find a plethora of history and beautiful architecture all dressed up for holiday viewing. This colonial historic village has been completely restored and rebuilt to the way it was in the 17th century. Many presidents and even the Queen of England have realized its significance in American history and paid a visit.

williamsburg-2-for-webDuring the holidays this area is painstakingly decorated with simple yet elegant decorations made with fresh cut evergreens; apples and other natural items that give off a wonderful holiday aroma. The simple decorations tantalize you with ideas of how you can decorate with natural things you can find in your back yard.

We walked down Merchant Square with our black lab named Daphne. We were enchanted by little Charles Dickens looking storefronts one of which was J.Fenton Gallery. This store was packed full of unusual gifts. We loved all the Christmas hats. Some of the stores have dog water bowls so this is a pet friendly vacation spot. Christmas carolers wander the street as tourists huddled around them with mugs of hot chocolate and hot apple cider. Cannon fire and the sound of horse’s hoofs can be heard as you stroll around or better yet jump on a horse drawn carriage. Taverns and candy shops are filled with old time treats. Colonial stores of the time sell their wares, from a replica musket to full colonial costume. My daughter Brooke and I had such fun dressing up in these costumes while my son, Colt enjoyed all the military paraphernalia. These items make unique and memorable gifts, just perfect for Christmas.

Tropical Weekend Escape

by Trish Utter

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Sarasota offers world class fine art at the Ringling Museum, the excitement of a big city to the tranquility of quiet, natural beaches. There are three Keys: Longboat, Siesta and Lido which are all connected by St. Armands Circle where you will find up-scale shops and dining.

P1010645-for-webWe look forward to our annual trip to the Helmsley Sandcastle Resort, located on Lido Key. Old Florida charm abounds with large comfortable clean rooms with spectacular views of the Gulf of Mexico. The property has two large heated pools, a gym, laundry room, Tiki bar, shuffle board, and my kids really enjoyed playing table tennis.

We appreciated the way the chamber maid was so quiet. On our first day she asked me what we needed and made sure we had everything without me having to ask again.

As you walk around the grounds you will meet lots of families from all over the world. Many guests have been coming to the hotel for years and now bring their grandkids to visit.

Top Picks of Things to Do in Sarasota

by Trish Utter

Siesta-Key-Drum-CircleDrum Circle I always plan my trip so that we stay over a Sunday night just so we can go to the drum circle on Siesta Key. This weekly event starts about an hour and a half before sunset. You will find about 500 people of all ages dancing and drumming on this wide stretch of white beach. It is a sight to be seen and visitors are welcome to join in. We take our djembe drum and dance the night away. This is a very colorful place. Make sure you leave time to find a good parking spot. Take chairs and your camera.

Naples, Florida

P1000570-copy-for-webI have always wanted to visit Naples so the kids and I jumped into the car and set off. We had some terrible weather on our drive down, a hurricane and a tornado! Our 4 1/2 hour trip turned into an 8 1/2 hour trip. We arrived at the Bellasara Hotel in Naples wet and shaky. It was pouring outside and the retreat of our lavish 2 bedroom, 2 bath suite was a welcome one.

The first thing we did was order room service. We wanted a snack but not a huge meal. It was well after the lunch menu had closed but the hotel was happy to bend the rules so we could get what we wanted. The food arrived within a few minutes and was surprisingly good. Portions are large so we were able to save our leftovers in our fridge. As I unpacked I noticed the huge walk-in closet and large safe. The beds had high-end linens and the kids loved the flat screen TV’s.
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The Bellasara offers studio to 3 bedroom suites. I made myself a cup of hot tea as the rain was coming down in buckets. The kitchen was well equipped with lots of pots, utensils, dishes and everything you would expect in your own kitchen. (Located almost right across the street from the hotel is Wynns Supermarket, a great place to stock up the kitchen.) I took my tea and sat outside in the screened in porch while I read the local newspaper that was left at our door.

No Worries

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Enter this secret garden through a doorway that has a sign hanging over head saying, ‘No Worries’ which sets the tone for your vacation. Go down a winding pathway, past the waterfall, past the intimate outdoor lounging areas, past two inviting pools and arrive at your room or suite. This does not feel like a hotel at all but more like one of those places you might get a peek of on a luxury travel show for the rich and famous. Crane’s Beach House is very private and secluded, a gem hidden from public view. No sign of cars or the outside hustle and bustle of everyday life. Only 27 guest rooms and well trained staff that will make you feel as if you are their only guest.
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The property is named after its owners, Michael & Karen Crane. I asked them to tell me about their property, “We wanted to create a tropical oasis nestled between the Atlantic Ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway in historic downtown Delray Beach for our guests to enjoy. It was important to us to feature two warm saline pools with cascading waterfalls and cool misters, a tiered garden deck for daily breakfast and meeting area for guests, hand-tiled fountains, and two original tiki hut bars and a large gathering hut handmade by the Seminole Indians and an outdoor living room for private functions.