• All Toll Roads Lead To Miami

    Welcome to Little Havana! Miami street art!

    Welcome to Little Havana! Miami street art!

    When I planned my Florida escapade it was for the sole purpose of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter! But after I realized how much time I had, I decided to explore what else the Sunshine Stae had to offer. Without a full minute’s thought, the first answer was Miami!!! So what if it was 3.5 hours away from where I was staying… so what if I could only be in the city for about 6 hours? It would be worth it right? RIGHT? Yes… and no.

    NO

    1. The 3.5 hour drive turned in to a 5 hour drive because of the terrible rain. And YES! It was my idea to power through the rain, but who knew it would be so scary?

    A quick glance of that crazy Floriday rain!

    A quick glance of that crazy Floriday rain!

    2. TOLL ROADS! TOLL ROADS! TOLL ROADS!!! Goodness gracious. Be prepared to pay at least $15 EACH WAY when driving from Orlando to Miami. Be prepared to pay toll roads in general when in south Florida. It was stupid how many there were and some even need exact change!! AHHHH! Be warned!
    3. If you’re not going for the party scene… arriving in the evening can be kinda underwhelming.. womp womp…actually arriving late in the evening was a bummer regardless because I didn’ even get t see the beach. *SIGH*

    YES

    1. I can say I’ve been to Miami and experienced Little Havana. (And see some of Calle Ocho street art.)
    2. Some of the food at Versaille’s Restaurant was underwhelming, but their Cuban Coffee (colada) and flan delivered!

    Cuban Flan and Cuban Coffee aka Colada from Versailles Restaurant.

    Cuban Flan and Cuban Coffee aka Colada from Versailles Restaurant.

    3. I love looking at pretty houses and Miami and South Beach have a bunch of those!
    4. Even though I wasn’t there to party, it was a Friday night and you can totally get a feel for the vibe of the city! It’s definitely enough to make you want to give it another chance.
    5. I got to use my (limited) Spanish skills in Little Havana and felt totally local and boss.

    So overall… I have no opinion on Miami and that’s rare for me to say. I didn’t experience it long it enough to love it, hate it, or judge it. I think given more time and maybe better conditions (both weather and mental preparation of toll roads), I would have a clearer idea of what Miami is and what it has to offer.

    So tell me! Am I missing out on the Miami madness? Or did I dodge a bullet?

  • There and Back With Harry Potter Snacks

    Frozen Butterbeer and Hogwart's Castle

    Frozen Butterbeer and Hogwart’s Castle

    If anyone has ever seen a Harry Potter movie, you will know how beautiful they make the food look. I’ve had the opportunity to visit the UK and let me tell you, the food is not as magnificent as it looks in the Harry Potter movies.  BUT! At The WIZARDING WORLD OF HARRY POTTER, it’s a different story! The food looks.. well.. magical. Everything from the pot pies, Honeydukes candy , ice cream and butterbeer look delicious and look like something out of the movie itself.

    It can be overwhelming in a theme park, with so many (overpriced) food items, you want to make the right decision. Your tummy and wallet count on it! There are of course food items at the other areas of Universal and Islands of Adventure, but for this particular post, I will focus solely on The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. Alright…hop on your virtual Hogwarts Express and let’s go!

    Diagon Alley:

    This is on the Universal Side, technically the newer part of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, but also the smaller area.

    Florean Forescue’s Ice Cream Parlor

    Although this ice cream parlor has some rad flavor combos like chocolate chili , earl grey and lavender, strawberry and peanut-butter. All for the price of  $4.99in a cup or if you prefer a cone, $5.99. The true star for me (as you’ll see from this list) is the butterbeer soft serve. It’s not only my favorite way to enjoy butterbeer, but the creamy texture is devine on a warm, Florida day. You can also enjoy this treat for $4.99 in a cup or again, $5.99 in a cone.

    Soft serve butterbeer ice cream in Diagon Alley!

    Soft serve butterbeer ice cream in Diagon Alley!

    Leaky Cauldron

    I didn’t personally eat here, but I  hung around the restaurant and lurked enough people’s food plates and stared at the menu enough to have a solid idea about this place. If you’re looking for “real” food in Diagon Alley, this is your jam. You can have popular British items such as: Toad in the hole, Scotch Eggs and Guinness Stew. These items are going to be a little more expensive, at about $13 – $18 a plate, but you’ll find yourself full for much longer.

    That’s it for Diagon Alley, short and sweet, just like the place!

    Hogsmeade:

    Located within Islands of Adventure, and what is considered the “main park” of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Hogsmeade will have more dining options overall.

    Butterbeer

    To be fair, butterbeer can be found in both Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade, but since I had all my butterbeer in Hogsmeade, that’s where it’s being categorized. You can have it hot (inside of the Three Broomsticks), soda style, or frozen. All versions have a marshmallow whip on top that really seal the deal on the flavor profile. You HAVE to try all three. My favorite liquid form was the frozen butterbeer. But any of them make a magical beverage. You can purchase the butterbeer for $7 regularly, or you can spend the extra money (which I did) and get the souvenir mug for $12. The mug is only for the frozen or soda since it’s not meant for hot beverages.

    All the butterbeer and real beers in Hogsmeade.

    All the butterbeer and real beers in Hogsmeade.

    Three Broomsticks

    Similar to how The Leaky Cauldron is the main food hub in Diagon Alley, The Three Broomsticks is the main dining option inside of Hogsmeade. The Three Broomsticks offers popular British and Harry Potter food staples such as: Cornish Pasties $9.99, Fish and Chips $13.99 and Shepherd’s Pie $12.49. This is a great place for a mid day break and to fuel up for the evening.

    Honeydukes

    I feel like if you’ve seen the movies, read the books, then you too have been dying to go to Honeydukes in Hogsmeade. The beauty of this store is… it truly looks like the movie! The walls are lined with candy. There are cockroach clusters (yum!), lemon drops, pumpkin pasties and the ever popular, Chocolate Frogs $12 and Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans $11. No trip to Hogsmeade is complete until you buy or try those two. The price is a little steep for candy, but it’s really the experience you’re buying with that.

    One of the candy walls inside of Honeydukes.

    One of the candy walls inside of Honeydukes.

    Those are indeed the ABSOLUTELY, WITHOUT A DOUBT, YOU BETTER DO IT, items from the Wizarding World of Harry Potter that I believe are worth the time standing in line and the money it takes from your wallet. (See my other post, HARRY POTTER AND THE THEME PARK THAT TOOK ALL OF MY MONEY.)

    But there are some notable mentions to add to this list as well.

    If you have to’s:

    Pumpkin juice

    Similar to Butterbeer, the Pumpkin juice comes in different forms. The fancy bottle for $7 or Pumpkin Fizz (carbonated pumpkin juice) in a plastic cup for $5. The latter can be found in the Leaky Cauldron or the Three Broomsticks. Now, it’s not a must have for me because I Loooove love pumpkin, and the drink did not taste like it. It was a little bitter but still super sweet. It’s worth a try if you have the time and money, but you’re experience at the park won’t be lost if you don’t try it. Just take pictures of the cool bottle.

    Pumpkin Juice and their cool bottles.

    Pumpkin Juice and their cool bottles.

    Hog’s Head

    Personally, I’m sure this ends up on some people’s MUST DO list, but I’m not a big drinker so I’ll categorize this here. The Hog’s Head is connected to the Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade. It’s not a full bar area, just a bar. They have some custom beers on tap such as Wizard’s Brew $8 a pint and Dragon’s Scale for $8 a pint. Of course it’s fun to try a custom beer, but for the $16 it costs to try both, I would recommend trying a sip from a friend’s and using the money on souvenirs.

    Gillywater

    Last but not least on my if you have to’s… this is a seriously if you have to aka don’t bother. The bottle looks similar to a water bottle.. .yet it’s labeled Gillywater and is a shocking $8!! I wonder what it is? SPOILER ALERT: It’s an $8 bottle of water. Seriously save your money. They have water fountains.

    Needless to say, I was full and happy from my time in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I hope you have a productive feasting. Let me know what snacks you enjoyed and what snacks you passed on.

     

     

  • Harry Potter and The Theme Park That Took All Of My Money

    Hogwart's Castle within the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

    Hogwart’s Castle within the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

    So. It finally happened for me. I finally… went… to.. THE WIZARDING WORLD OF HARRY POTTER!!!!! Words can’t truly sum up the emotion this created for me. In life, the top two things I love are, 2. London and 1. Harry Potter. Needless to say, The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter had me bursting at the seams with joy. In a nutshell, I ran the whole way from the entrance of Universal Studios until the entrance of Harry Potter World (except for 10 minutes I had to wait before the park actually opened). Once I was actually in front of the Islands of Adventure entrance… I broke down. From huge smile to crying face in 2 seconds flat. I was. just. so. damn. happy.

    Part of Hogsmeade

    Part of Hogsmeade

    So now, about the park. If you love Harry Potter, it’s a Godsend, If you don’t like Harry Potter, you will.High five to Universal because both areas, Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley, look damn near identical to the movies. The buildings have that magical charm and Hogwarts Castle, takes my breath away.

    Just like most theme parks, the rides inside of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter can get LONG. But that’s ok! As long as you hit up The Forbidden Journey first thing in the morning, you only need to wait maybe 20 minutes. (I did, at least.) The Forbidden Journey is located inside of the Hogwarts Castle and they do a fine job of bringing to life some of my favorite aspects of Hogwarts. That would be.. the talking painting, the Fat Lady, the entrance to Dumbledore’s office, the defense against the dark arts classroom, and the entrance to The Room of Requirements, to name a few.

    The entrance to Dumbledore's office.

    The entrance to Dumbledore’s office.

    So the ride is a 4D ride.. you’re in a little ‘carriage” that follows a giant screen. Think Disney Haunted Mansion, except faster and with a screen in front of you. I personally loved it, but be warned, some get motion sickness. I just so happen to love roller coasters, so it worked out for me. If you love it, be sure to ride it again! I went 4 times.

    The Flight of the Hippogriff and Dragon Challenge are both within the Hogsmeade park, and they’re great! Especially Dragon Challenge. But the other ultra popular Harry Potter Ride is Escape From Gringotts on the Universal side. Similar to The Forbidden Journey in both experience and wait time, this was my second favorite line to wait in. You can see the goblins working and snap some pictures of the inside of Gringotts, aka one of the safest places in the Wizarding World. The true highlight of this ride though, is the dragon on the OUTSIDE of the building that breathes fire every few minutes. Talk about realistic right?

    The dragon of Gringotts

    The dragon of Gringotts

    Now, I talked about the items that come with your admission ticket, but that’s not the only thing you die hard Harry Potter fans will send your money on. The souvenirs are top notch. Each shop has something different to offer. There’s candy at Honeydukes, quidditch must haves from the Quidditch Supply Store, things that make you giggle from Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, a wand from Ollivander’s,  and dark magic items from Borgin and Burke. I bought something from every store! (Not to mention food… which I will have to talk about in a completely different post.)

    Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes in Diagon Alley

    Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes in Diagon Alley

    So needless to say, bring all the money $$$ because this park does a damn good job of making you spend it, and it will take it happily. In fairness though, it’s worth every penny for the Potterheads out there who want to bring home as much magic as possible. 🙂

    The best way to really understand what I’m talking about is to see an experience everything first hand and I HIGHLY suggest you do so. Don’t wait 5 years like I did! But when you finally make it to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, let me give you some pro tips.

    1. As mentioned, get to The Forbidden Journey ASAP. Do this also for Escape From Gringotts (Preferably go at least two days so you can prioritize appropriately.)
    2. Travel light throughout the park, save souvenirs for the last day because you will HAVE to put your personal items inside of lockers before you get on a ride. Kinda annoying, but rules are rules.
    3. The line for the Hogwart’s Express, which connects Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley can get crazy long. You will be tempted to just walk to each park, but DON’T! It’s not just a train to and from, it’s an experience. So just like the popular rides above, do this early or really late, so you can ride it both ways.

      Just got off the Hogwarts Express.

      Just got off the Hogwarts Express.

    4. I know I just said don’t walk… BUT if you do, be sure to stop next to the entrance of the Hogwart’s Express on the Universal side. Even if you don’t walk, just come out of Diagon Alley and do this…. Go visit 12 Grimmauld Place. You may see Sirius Black! Or at least you’ll see the Knight Bus.

      12 Grimmauld Place.

      12 Grimmauld Place.

    5. Knockturn Alley isn’t meant to be easy to find and most tourists actually can’t find it. For Orlando, it’s at a dead end in the park with the smallest sign that will point you in the right direction. Take the time to find it. When you get there, it’s like another new world. When I went, there were only 5 other tourists in the dark area. It was also storming with lighting which added to the creepy effect of Knockturn Alley, You may also see something Draco fixed….

      The Vanishing Cabinet in Borgin and Burkes.

    6. As mentioned with the storm, don’t let the rain scare you! Most people leave because of the rain and this is the best time to tough it out at the park. Buy a poncho, and keep at it. The crowds will thin, but you’re fun will only increase! Besides, nothing feels more like London, than a rainy night. 🙂

    I know this post was a tad long… but like mentioned in the start, I love Harry Potter… and now you all know a snippet of what I mean by that. Stay tuned for more information about The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and the amazing food it has to offer. Tell me, have you been to this park? What did you think?

  • Cathedral Gorge

    Isolated Photo Op in Cathedral Gorge

    Isolated Photo Op in Cathedral Gorge

    The sun is starting to shine again in Las Vegas, while I know most of the United States has some snow falling to the ground. However, just because Las Vegas is on the verge of a heat wave doesn’t mean all of Nevada is warming up. Just under 2 hours north is Cathedral Gorge State Park. Now, Cathedral Gorge is usually very dry and is colored red and pink from the ground to the top of the rocky peaks. It also usually features some slot canyons that are ideal for exploring and hiding from the sun. HOWEVER…. I didn’t know that in the winter there it snows… a lot. This wouldn’t sound like such a crazy idea… (snow.. in the winter?? Who would have thought?!) except for the fact that it only snows in southern Nevada maybe… once every two years if we are lucky. So I was shocked to think that a place like Cathedral Gorge, that didn’t feel much higher in elevation had their ground completely covered in the white stuff.

    The drive out of Las Vegas to Cathedral Gorge is easy enough. You drive north. Simple. I noticed on the drive there that there weren’t many people heading the same way. That was totally cool with me since I love an open road and less people in my photographs. Also fun perk, I can take all my middle of the road photos that I love so much! See below to know what I mean. 😉

    Photo of me taking a photo of snow. Middle of the Road, outside of Cathedral Gorge.

    Photo of me taking a photo of snow. Middle of the Road, outside of Cathedral Gorge.

    The drive takes you through so many small towns and I loved it!! And when I mean small towns.. I mean if you blinked or sneezed, you would miss it. However, the snow made it look lost in time and I love moments like that. My favorite part was the park… .no soul around to show you someone was there except for tiny foot prints.

    Somewhere in Northern Nevada.

    Somewhere in Northern Nevada.

    After you soak in the small town liife, you will finally find a small sign that directs you to Cathedral Gorge State Park.

    So… I mentioned snow earlier… well at the park there was so much snow we couldn’t get much further than a mile within the entrance because we lacked snow chains and wanted to err on the side of caution since it’s been over an hour since we located another human.

    Cathedral Gorge 3

    It was of course a bummer we could not explore further in to the park… it was another bummer that the snow was so deep I couldn’t get to the slot canyons!! 🙁 🙁 🙁 I was highly disappointed that I came all that way and couldn’t even snap a good instagram pic. BUT that was all left at the wayside when I stopped to apprciate the beauty of the snow and the quiet of my surroundings. The white snow looked exceptionally white against the pink rocks and the snow was undisturbed with the exception of bunny snowprints. <3 … oh and my phone marks in the snow as I tried to set up my camera phone for a photo… and then I failed. But I think it still turned ok…

    Accidental Photo when trying to have my phone stand up in the snow!

    Accidental Photo when trying to have my phone stand up in the snow!

    After some time of trying to walk through the snow and taking tons of fun photos, it was time to move on. I didn’t want to get caught in the snow in the dark… the drive home was just as lovely and allowed the opportunity to stop next to some lakes for a snack.

    The Road Leading out of Cathedral Gorge.

    The Road Leading out of Cathedral Gorge.

    Overall, even though I did not have a chance to hike the area as much as I would like to, I think seeing it in such a way that can only be described as rare made the day completely worth it. Sometimes magical things happen when nothing goes as planned.

  • Neon Museum

    IMG_20160129_102909

    Las Vegas gets a bad rap for being a cultural black hole. I’m aware the city is known for tearing down buildings before they collect too much history, but that doesn’t mean Las Vegas is void of all cultural interests. Take the Neon Museum for example. Also known as the Neon Boneyard or Neon Graveyard. You know all those flashy neon signs Las Vegas is known for? Well this is where they go to retire. In case you didn’t know… I LOVE NEON. So this place is now near and dear to my heart.

    _20160130_104704

    Moulin Rouge letters have been moved around to spell “In Love”

    The Neon Museum opened in 2012 and is located in Downtown Las Vegas and is dedicated to preserving the iconic art form of the neon sign. Tours are available daily and I HIGHLY recommend taking the time to visit. I will admit… I’ve lived in Las Vegas for many years and have only recently visited… but I don’t want you to make the same mistake! So when in Las Vegas.. JUST GO. It’s a quick hour tour where you learn the history of most of the 150 neon sign but also of the old buildings it used to light up.

    Neon Graveyard

    Neon Graveyard

    Sahara Hotel!

    Sahara Hotel!

    Most of the iconic Las Vegas Neon signs can be found in the Boneyard. Such as: The Golden Nugget, Moulin Rouge, Binion’s Horseshoe, Sassy Sally, Algiers, Sahara and my favorite, The Stardust! (Just to name a few, of course.) There are so many more that in a way an hour is definitely not enough. If you’re lucky enough to have the chance, I encourage you to visit more than once.

    Sassy Sally... It really means $a$$y $ally

    Sassy Sally… It really means $a$$y $ally

    I would love to give you the history breakdown of all the different signs but that would take the fun out of going yourself! I’ll give you one fun fact… The Stardust used to host “Nuclear Parties” aka…. come to the hotel and let’s watch the atomic testing in the desert. Stardust was also the hotel run by Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal!! Don’t know who that is? Robert Di Niro plays a character based on him in one of my favorite movies… CASINO! Have you heard of it? I hope so. If not…. go watch it now! See why the Stardust is one of my faves? 🙂

    The Stardust

    The Stardust

    So let me know… what do you think of Las Vegas culture? Until next time!

    ;)

    😉

  • Best 9 Instagram Photos of 2015

    Best 9 Instagram Photos of 2015

    Best 9 Instagram Photos of 2015

    Why Best 9 you may ask? Because 9 photos can fit easily into a perfect grid that I can share on… you guessed it… INSTAGRAM! Thereandbackwithsnacks is the account and 2015 has been it’s year! I broke my goal of having at least 1,000 followers and I hope it only continues to grow! Instagram has such a huge impact on my life . It has pushed me to look more “Instagram ready” when I travel and has made me more creative in the photos I take! Also, I love #hashtags and adding locations so my Instamap can grow! So without further ado. Let’s count down my Best 9 Instagram Photos of 2015 (decided by photos with most likes & comments) and see where they were in the world.. Lastly, remember.. if you don’t already follow me, do so! Leave your Instagram account in the comments below and I’ll be sure to follow you on your travels as well.

    9. Forrest Gump Sign – U.S 163, Mexican Hat, UT

    Forrest Gump Sign - U.S 163, Mexican Hat, UT

    Forrest Gump Sign – U.S 163, Mexican Hat, UT

    It was such an adventure driving through Monument Valley to The Forrest Gump Sign from Las Vegas! My friend and I almost gave up but when we pulled to the side of the road.. THERE IT WAS! Proof that you should never give up on your travel adventures. The American Southwest is so beautiful, if you ever want to feel like you’re in a Western, drive through Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona and South Utah!

    8. Great Basin National Park – Baker, NV

    Great Basin National Park, Baker, NV

    Great Basin National Park, Baker, NV

    This photo looks a tad silly, but what made it fun was that it was hailing in JUNE! Great Basin is in Northern Nevada and the climate is vastly different from Southern Nevada aka Las Vegas. The state is so large I’ve lived here for almost 15 years and have yet to see and experience it all! Great Basin is also home to kick ass caves that you can only find in certain places of the world, Lehman Caves!!!

    7. Palace of Fine Arts – San Francisco, CA

    Palace of Fine Arts - San Francisco, CA

    Palace of Fine Arts – San Francisco, CA

    I love San Francisco. The city is alive with variety. If someone didn’t know better this looks like it could be somewhere in Europe. Alas, it’s just an hour plane ride away from me, but I love it none the less! No matter how many times I visit the Bay Area, I never run out of things to do! It’s because I have become a Toucal.

    6. Millennium Park – Chicago, IL

    Millennium Park - Chicago, IL

    Millennium Park – Chicago, IL

    Can you feel my joy from this photo? I hope so, since that is what Chicago brings me. Skipping through the park drenched wet in the rain is what traveling there and back is all about! Also, the fall colors don’t hurt the photo seeing as the trees seem more photogenic than I do!

    5. Maverick Airport – Grand Canyon National Park, AZ

    Maverick Airport - Grand Canyon National Park, AZ

    Maverick Airport – Grand Canyon National Park, AZ

    This photo is special to me because this experience was a byproduct of my amazing job in Las Vegas. I love the Grand Canyon and that happy face you see will never fade no matter how many times I drive or fly to it! There are some rad photos that can be taken when you take a helicopter over the canyon as well. Talk about Canyon Dreaming!

    4. Mosaic Stairs – San Francisco, CA

    Mosaic Stairs - San Francisco, CA

    Mosaic Stairs – San Francisco, CA

    This was the first photo I had to break over 200 likes and you can see why. COLORS. COLORS. COLORS. These stairs are practically screaming “Isntagram me!!!” I love the beauty in this urban shot. Don’t you?

    3. Above Nevada – Boulder City, NV

    Above Nevada - Boulder City, NV

    Above Nevada – Boulder City, NV

    Now, if you know anything about my life, this was not done this year.. even though it was instagramed in 2015. However, I’m keeping it in the running because seeing it on this page is giving me HUGE motivation to jump out of another plane. Maybe a 2016 goal?

    2. The Bean – Chicago, IL

    The Bean - Chicago, IL

    The Bean – Chicago, IL

    Oh The Bean… So kitchy and touristy but I love it! It almost always has tons of people so be sure to go really early to avoid the crowds you see in this photo. I love it even more since it was a Free acitivty in Chicago! Have you read my post about Free Chicago? Check it out to see all the free things you can go.

    1. Sky Deck – Chicago, IL

    Sky Deck - Chicago, IL

    Sky Deck – Chicago, IL

    It doesn’t shock me that this was the most popular post. This is hands down one of the coolest things I did in 2015. Getting High in Chicago has been an absolute highlight, as evidence of all the love these photos have received.

    Obviously, these photos were all in the continental USA and that’s fine. The United States has much to offer in the “AWESOME” category. However, I think 2016 will be the year to go international. What do you think? Where are some really instagramable countries I ned to visit? Leave it in the comments below.

  • Chicago Must Eat

    In case you haven’t figured this out about me, I like to eat. I love eating when I am traveling and sometimes I even choose my next destinations based on what snack items I am dying to eat. The most recent food destination was Chicago. I’m going to cut straight to the point and tell you what you absolutely MUST EAT when in Chicago.

    Pizza – Chicago Style – Deep Dish

    Chicago Deep Dish

    Chicago Deep Dish

    I’m pretty sure I summed up everything important in that header. Eat pizza. Eat Chicago style pizza. Eat deep dish. When in Chicago just do it. You will not be disappointed. In case you don’t know what it is, it is the dough, then cheese and toppings, finished off with sauce. It is basically a pizza backwards and also  a staple of the city. Truly one piece can carry you throughout the day. There are many places that sell “the best deep dish in Chicago” and I definitely ate at a few of them, but my favorite was Giordano’s. They have a couple locations throughout the city so you can’t miss it.

    Hotdog – Chicago Style Dog

    Portillo's Chicago Hotdog and Chocolate Cake Shake

    Portillo’s Chicago Hotdog and Chocolate Cake Shake

    Again. Another obvious, but I shall reiterate. You must eat a Chicago style hotdog. It’s like a regular hotdog except it is topped with yellow mustard, chopped white onions, relish, pickles, tomatos, pepper and celery salt. In short, it has everything on it except ketchup and it’s glorious! Commonly found at many fast food locations in Chicago, I found the best one to be from Portillo’s. An added bonus of Portillo’s is their chocolate cake shake. The perfect complement to a Chicago dog.

    Italian Beef

    Al's Italian Beef

    Al’s Italian Beef

    Chicago has another sandwich on a bun that’s a force to be reckoned with and that is the Italian Beef. The messy sandwich of thin slices of beef on an Italian roll, onions and either sweet or hot peppers that is all dripping with delicious meat juices. It’s a sloppy mess but you will literally eat it all up. This is probably my favorite savory item I discovered while in the Windy City. I am on the hunt for the perfect Italian Beef on the west coast.

    Donought Vault

    Doughnut Vault - Salted Bourbon Pecan

    Doughnut Vault – Salted Bourbon Pecan

    Located at the end of an empty street, Doughnut Vault is a tiny and I mean TINY doughnut shop that sells their sweet treats daily until their stock runs out. In other words, get there early! They have their staples like a vanilla glaze doughnut and doughnut holes, but they also have their seasonal flavors. When I visited the flavor of the day was a salted bourbon pecan doughnut and it tasted like a drunken Christmas in my mouth and I loved it.

    These four places in no way encompass all the snacks and meals that Chicago has to offer, but I am confident in saying that no vacation to Chicago would be complete unless you eat THESE foods. Let me know, have you been t Chicago and tried these places? Am I missing another must have?

     

  • Free Chicago

    Chicago Theater

    Chicago Theater

    At face value I thought Chicago would be an expensive city. I figured with fancy sounding names like “The Magnificent Mile”, “John Hancock Building”, “Chicago Art Institute” and “Buckingham Fountain”. But as it turns out, not only is it a city you can be cost effective in, you can also do some pretty rad things for FREE. That is right FREE CHICAGO. What are these fantastically frugal activities? Where should I even begin?

    Chicago Cultural Center
    Chicago Cultural Center

    Chicago Cultural Center

    The Chicago Cultural Center is a beautiful building that opened in 1897. It’s not just gorgeous on the outside, but the inside staircase and stained glass dome are the true gem to behold. It’s a great starting off point during your first visit to Chicago.

    Chicago Cultural Center dome

    Chicago Cultural Center dome

    Navy Pier
    View of Chicago skyline from Navy Pier

    View of Chicago skyline from Navy Pier

    Chicago is right next to Lake Michigan which makes it a prime location for beach side fun, like piers. Chicago’s Navy Pier is an excellent choice if you want to get near the water without actually having to touch it. Navy Pier was built in 1916 and is also a prime location to view the Chicago skyline.

    Lincoln Park Zoo

    Lincoln Park Zoo is located north of the main downtown Chicago area, but worth the quick cab ride if you’re done exploring the city and need a bit of a break. The zoo is relatively mellow compared to some place like the San Diego Zoo and you really can’t beat free admission to see some animals.

    Millennium Park
    View of Chicago from Millennium Park

    View of Chicago from Millennium Park

    Now, Millennium Park is actually a park within Grant Park. It’s well kept and beautiful. It is centrally located and just an overall great place to relax for an afternoon. There is a playground for children as well as adults that includes a rock wall and an area to rollerskate. There are also works of art scattered throughout the area. The most notable of these art project to be The Bean or as it is properly know as, Cloud Gate.

    Cloud Gate
    Cloud Gate .. Aka The Bean

    Cloud Gate .. Aka The Bean

    Oh Cloud Gate. This is new iconic Chicago. Everyone knows the giant silver bean. It’s really interesting up close and personal. The sky’s reflection distorted by it’s bean shape. Cloud Gate is also insanely popular. It is almost impossible to take a photo alone with The Bean. You can go there in the evening and there are people.. early in the morning… there are people. Good luck trying to be alone!! Unless of course you’re me and insanely luck out that all the tourists ran away as soon as it started raining and it was the perfect moment to be alone. And for the record, it is even more gorgeous when no one else is around.

    Just the two of us at Cloud Gate

    Just the two of us at Cloud Gate

    Photo Ops

    Chicago Tree Colors

    This is a little all encompasing, but photo opportunities around the city are free. You can snag some killer shots of the buildings, both new architecture and old. You can capture images of the river, lake and bright colored trees from many places in Chicago as well. Just make sure you stop by the Chicago Theater, because let’s face it. Your trip won’t be complete unless you won’t!

  • Get High in Chicago

    Sitting high in the Skydeck of Willis Tower.

    Sitting high in the Skydeck of Willis Tower.

    Let’s talk about getting high in Chicago… 😉 By that I mean, Chicago is known as the birthplace of the skyscraper. Sure, that first skyscraper was only 10 stories high, but Chicago has come a long way in the last 100 plus years. Now, the skyline is filled with buildings so high you need to bend over backwards to see the whole thing. The names of these gigantic buildings may ring a bell… such as Water Tower Place, 900 North Michigan, John Hancock Center, Trump International Hotel and the Willis Tower (formerly known as the Sears Tower). Those are just to name a few and some of the tallest. There are many others that are huge compared to normal standards. So, as you can see… you can easily reach the skies in Chicago. However, there are two buildings that make you feel like you can sit still on a cloud. Those would be the 360 Chicago at the John Hancock building and the Skydeck at the Willis Tower.

    Cotton candy skies above the John Hancock building.

    Cotton candy skies above the John Hancock building.

    John Hancock Center – 360 Chicago

    360 Chicago sits on the 94th floor of the John Hancock Center. You can get excellent views of Lake Michigan as well as the Magnificent Mile and bustling city below. The viewing deck offers plenty of space to appreciate the 360 view it has to offer. I admit, as soon as I ran to a window and looked around, I was in awe. Seems like a weird statement considering I’m not from a small town, but the view is spectacular. Seeing buildings for miles and miles was beautiful. Add that to the fact that I went during sunset and the city lights were twinkling to the colorful sky made for a magical moment for my first skyscraper in Chicago. It was hard to break away from the magic in front of my eyes, but the elevator line to get down was growing quickly, but even a line for 20 minutes was worth it… and trust me, I hate lines, so that is saying something.

    The view from 360 Chicago at the John Hancock building.

    The view from 360 Chicago at the John Hancock building.

    Willis Tower – Skydeck

    Now, the Willis Tower is the second tallest building in the United States and the tallest building on the western side of the United States. Standing at 1,451 feet tall the Willis Tower or formerly the Sears Tower was once THE tallest building in the world. Much respect to this monolithic landmark. The Willis Tower is home to my favorite experience Chicago has to offer. That is the Skydeck, which is the highest observation deck in the United States at 1,353 feet above the ground.

    Looking down and seeing both the ground and clouds from inside of a glass box.

    Looking down and seeing both the ground and clouds from inside of a glass box.

    As if being that high wasn’t impressive enough, the Skydeck has the Ledge. It is a glass box that extendes about 4 feet out from the edge of the building. You can enter the box and feel like you are standing on air. On a clear day you have enough visibility to see four states! (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconson.)

    Views from the Willis Tower

    Views from the Willis Tower

    It may take some nerves of steele to step out on to the Ledge but oh my goodness gracious is it 100000% worth it. I have done some pretty thrilling things and just because I’ve been skydiving does not mean I still didn’t love this experience. If you are in Chicago you must do this. No Ifs ands or buts about it!! However, do yourself a favor and get there early. Ideally about 30 minutes prior to it opening. There is a line instantly and arriving early ensures you can be one of the first groups to enter the building. It also means there will be less people up there when you arrives which always makes for better picture! 🙂

    Lake Michigan from the Willis Tower

    Lake Michigan from the Willis Tower

    Now tell me, even though I only described two (albeit AMAZING buildings) do you want to get high in Chicago? I know you do!

    Greetings from the ledge!

    Greetings from the ledge!

  • Canyon Dreaming at the Grand Canyon

    Aerial view of the Grand Canyon

    Aerial view of the Grand Canyon

    I’ve had the opportunity to visit the Grand Canyon many times but I have decided that Maverick Airline’s Canyon Dream is the BEST way to see one of the natural wonders of the world. What is it? Why is it awesome? Three words. Airplanes and helicopters!

    Getting ready for the Canyon Dream Tour!

    Getting ready for the Canyon Dream Tour!

    Leaving from Las Vegas, you board a Beechcraft 1900D. It’s a small 18 seat plane that will get you to the Grand Canyon National Park in a mere 50 minutes. That means it just saved you 3 hours of your life. If that doesn’t sound like arriving in style to you… then I don’t want to be your travel buddy! All that extra time you save can be put to excellent use by exploring the park upon arrival. Now, the Canyon Dream isn’t ideal for hiking since you are scheduled to ride in a helicopter over the Grand Canyon!!!

    South Rim of the Grand Canyon

    South Rim of the Grand Canyon

    The airplane is nice and pretty fun but the helicopter is the peak of the tour. You fly for about 30 minutes over both the South and North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Honestly, you of course see the canyon at the edge of the viewing stations and you can experience the depth by hiking in to it through trails… but you get to see parts of the canyon that are only visible by air. Nothing beats the views of the canyon from a helicopter.

    Canyon Dream 7

    The Colorado River looking muddy after heavy rain fall.

    The ride gives you a true appreciation for how large the canyon is and how much character it has. You see the winding rivers, changing colors in the rock (you even see the second oldest piece of exposed earth!!!) and the difference between the South Rim and the North Rim of the canyon.

    North Rim of the Grand Canyon

    North Rim of the Grand Canyon

    The North Rim in itself is a big deal to see. It’s much more difficult to drive too and is only open during part of the year. The higher elevation of the North Rim creates more vegetation and a truly beautiful view to see from above. Not only is the scenery during the ride breathtaking but it’s just fun. If you like roller coasters and thrills or a general fan of trying something new, the helicopter ride is so for you!

    North Rim of the Grand Canyon

    North Rim of the Grand Canyon

    After all the excitement of the bird’s eye view of Grand Canyon, you hop back into the trusty Beechcraft and jet back home. Be sure to look out the window so you can see the West Rim of the Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam and Las Vegas as you fly in. That is, if you are not exhausted. Otherwise, the seats are at least comfortable enough to sneak in a good nap.

    Canyon Dream 5

    Views of Lake Mead from the Beechraft Plane

    Have I convinced you to jump on the next open seat for Canyon Dream yet? I hope so! Because it truly is an awesome experience. If you are NOT in the Las Vegas area but I have sparked your interest, at the Grand Canyon you can book a helicopter ride separately with Maverick Helicopters right next to the National Park. It can’t get more simple!

    So tell me, have you ever been on a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon or any other remarkable views? How did you like it? Leave me a comment and maybe you will inspire my next flight!