Category: Travel

Where to ACTUALLY eat in Orlando

Early this year I saw a blog post in a very popular Brazilian blog with suggestions of restaurants to eat in Orlando. The list was the following:

1.Ihop
2. The Cheesecake Factory
3. McDonalds

I’ll give you a moment to let this sink in. No wonder everyone thinks Americans eat so terribly if this is the list of “recommended restaurants” influential travelers are suggesting to their readers. It is true that I thought the same way before I moved here, and therefore have an advantage over this blogger, because I know that those restaurants are truly some of the worst possible choices you can make in food, being a tourist or a local. I took upon myself to ask other Orlando locals for their suggestions of best places to eat in Orlando, and even though I have not first-hand eaten in any of those, I trust the sources. And as a friend of mine (and food blogger) suggested, google some local food bloggers in the area you are visiting for suggestions.

DSC_0072

Restaurants in Orlando

Agave Azul, Mexican (near Universal  Orlando) – This one I actually went to on my  last visit to meet up with a friend who lives in Orlando. I love Mexican food, and thought the food was good and the prices fair.

Bongos, Cuban (Downtown Disney) – Even though it’s on Disney property, this Cuban restaurant was recommended by locals as best Cuban food in Orlando. You’d think they recommend a hole in the wall type of place, but hey, Downtown Disney is easier to find! Prices are all over the place, with sandwiches and appetizers around $10 and meat and fish dishes for $25-40.

Cape May Cafe, American (Disney Beach Club Resort) – It’s buffet style restaurant, a more casual ambiance, even with the Disney prices. The caveat is: you get to dine with Disney characters, so if that’s not your cup of tea, you can avoid it. A lot of Disney restaurants offer that character experience, and it is fun even for adults. And if you really want a pancake, I’d rather you eat it at one of Disney’s breakfasts than at ihop. Prices are on the expensive side, from $30-60 for breakfast and dinner.

Fulton’s Crab House, Seafood (Downtown Disney) – This place is cool for ambiance alone. You get to eat in a super-awesome-cool boat. Price range $30-60. But have I mentioned the boat yet? Not for seafood lovers, though, obviously.

Jiko, African Cuisine (Animal Kingdom Lodge) – I haven’t tried this restaurant, but the AK Lodge is one of Disney’s nicest hotels, and it was a suggestion for a friend that lived in Orlando and worked for Disney. Prices are on the more expensive side ($30-60).

Nagoya Sushi, Japanese – This also came highly recommended by friends and Zagat. I’m not a fan of sushi, but I thought I’d include this on this list because many people are. I am no expert on sushi prices, but the menu seems to range between $15-20.

Victoria & Albert’s, American (Gran Floridian Hotel) – It’s #2 of best Orlando restaurants according to Zagat. I visited this restaurant ten years ago, for breakfast with Alice in Wonderland, Pooh, and Mary Poppins. Character dining aside (pooh and his gang are worth meeting), breakfast food was just alright, so I’m surprised to see it doing so well on Zagat. Maybe dinner is better. Either way, the Mickey waffles are worth the investment, because you know that anything Mickey shaped tastes better. It’s an expensive treat, though, with prices over $60 per person.

Earl of SandwichYup, this is me pointing out how many times I ate at Earl of Sandwich. I really like it, OKAY?

If you INSIST on eating on a chain restaurant, the following are okay.

Earl of Sandwich, Sandwiches (Downtown Disney) – this is a personal favorite. They make their own bread, and the hot sandwiches are all very tasty and cheap. I love tasty, cheap, and good nutrients, the opposite of McDonalds that is cheap, but not tasty nor nutritional.

Keke’s, Breakfast – This one is for you pancake lovers. Skip ihop (and please skip Denny’s as well) and visit Keke’s as recommended by a friend of mine who lived in Orlando. Not as expensive as the Disney character breakfasts, but I feel like you’ll be okay about that. Most expensive item I found on the menu was $10.

Seasons 52, American – I have never heard of this chain, but the restaurant was also highly recommended by a couple of friends. The menu seems to be a simple one, with grilled meats and salads. Prices between $11-30.

Smokey Bones, Barbecue & Burgers –  Another place to go instead of McDonalds if you want a tasty burger. It’s still a chain, but you get to eat better quality food and on a real plate. Prices between $11-30.

Olive Garden, Italian – It’s over hyped (sorry OG fans), but even I will admit it has its merits. The food tastes good, but be warned that it’s not actually fresh, but frozen. And yes, the salad is delicious,  but the dressing has a ton of calories (therefore: delicious).

And avoid the Cheesecake Factory. It’s over-hyped, the food is not so great, and it’s a caloric bomb. Even the salads are over 1,000 calories. I know you’re burning a lot of calories walking all day in the theme parks, but trust me when I tell you you don’t need that kind of fat. If you want to eat calories, opt for the best calories you can find: quality over calories.

DSC_0854

Honorable Mention: Food & Wine Festival at Epcot – Once a year, Disney hosts a food and wine festival in Epcot. Epcot already boasts of great restaurants of around the world cuisine, but during this festival (usually in the Fall, with dates between September and November) they add another huge quantity of booths serving food from even more countries. It is hit and miss, some taste delicious and some a little plastic, but it was a fun experience. Prices are cheap, but the portions are very small. Expect to spend about $30 per person, and my suggestion is to share with someone so you get to try more things.

For more Disney (inside the theme park) dining options, I suggest you check out this Pinterest user. I’m no expert when it comes to dining inside the parks, as I usually just opt for snacks to save money. I prefer to eat in Downtown Disney when I’m looking for a more substantial meal. You might also enjoy my post on 9 ways to save on a Disney World vacation.

And my uncle also left me a list of restaurant suggestions in Miami! If you’re heading there as well, here it is:

Restaurant Vostok (826 W Hallandale Beach Blvd Hallandale Beach, FL)
Puerto Sagua (700 Collins Ave Miami Beach, FL )
Maroosh (223 Valencia Ave Coral Gables, FL)
Two Georges at the Cove (1755 SE 3rd Ct Deerfield Beach, FL)
Talay Thai (7100 Fairway Dr Palm Beach Gardens,)

Orlando locals and travelers: if you have restaurants to add to this list or better opinions about the ones listed, please use the comments to let me know! I hope this post is an ever evolving thing, and I’ll be happy to update it with YOUR suggestions. 

9 Ways to Save on your Disney World Vacation

9-Ways-to-Save-on-Your-Disney-World-Vacation

It’s no secret I am a big Disney fan. I’ve visited the Florida theme parks over 5 times, including a two-month internship in 2004. You also know I am big into savings, as I said on my January recap and as you may have noticed from my 2012 project Occupy the Wardrobe.  I’m often taken aback by the amount of money some people spend on Disney World vacations, so no wonder some other people think they can never make it happen for them. But I disagree, you CAN make Disney and affordable work together in the same sentence. Michael and I made an epic trip there in February 2012, we were in Orlando for 10 days, and we spent roughly $1700 for all that time. That’s $850 per person, and if you ask me, that’s pretty good price for a 10-day trip that could have easily cost way more. So I decided to write down everything I saved on, hoping that it will help you or someone you know plan a cheaper Walt Disney World trip, especially if you always wanted to go but never looked too much into it because you thought it would be so expensive. Let’s make it happen!

1- Use Up Those Miles

This is one of the biggest money saving tip for any trip. I saved about $800 by getting our tickets to fly to Orlando with miles. I signed up to the United Airlines credit card about 8 months before the trip. It was the cheapest credit card to sign up for, and I already had 16,000 miles from United from my trips to Brazil, where I’m originally from. I also put all of my major expenses on that card, and quickly got to the magic number to get us two tickets. Fair warning though: only take a credit card if it makes sense to you. It made sense to me and Michael to get a CC together at the time, and we use it for our house/travel expenses, and we pay it off every month. I’d like to help you save and make financial sound decisions, and not get in debt over Disney, EVER.

If miles are not an option for you, I use Bing travel to track price on flights and buy them at their cheapest (I’ve read that two months before a trip is the cheapest). Orlando in general is an expensive destination to fly to, and I never got them cheaper than $400 both ways (from SLC). Last year I saved $100 flying to Florida by landing in Miami and then meeting a friend who lives there and going together to Orlando.

9-Ways-to-Save-on-Your-Disney-World-Vacation-popcentury

2- Visit on the Off Season

Another thing that helped me save big was visiting in the end of January/early February. It’s the off season, so besides smaller crowds and cooler temperatures, you also get hotel rates at 25-30% off. We stayed on Disney property, on one of their cheapest hotels (All Star Resorts or the Pop Century Resort). It was an average of $70 (instead of $100) per night for the room  when we went in February 2012 (Monday-Thursday is cheaper than Friday-Saturday), so for 9 nights, we spent about $700. Prices go up a little each year, so you might not find US$ 70 rooms anymore, but still rest assured that the rates are 25-30% cheaper around this time of the year than they are April-December.

From what I’ve seen this year, the discounted rates on hotels are happening mid-January through mid-April, so that’s your window to plan for next year (and you have 8-12 months to save and plan!). The first week of November is also a good time to go, the Food and Wine festival is happening at Epcot (and the food is so good!) and the crowds are smaller because Halloween is over, and the Christmas crowds are not quite ready to flood. But my personal opinion is that February is still THE best time to go, though.

3- Skip the Car Rental

I did the math and figured that not renting a car and staying at a Disney hotel would be to our advantage. Parking on the theme parks is $15+. Add that daily parking fee to your car rental fees, and even if you find a cheaper hotel outside of Disney, you end up about the same, or spending more (car rentals ain’t cheap!). All Disney hotels have buses that take the guests to the parks and Downtown Disney. And if you need to go to a different hotel, say for a dinner reservation, you can take a bus to a park and then from the park a bus to the hotel you have dinner reservations for. With the added benefit that you don’t have to worry about parking a car. I hate parking. It’s a vacation and I don’t want to worry about a car, I want someone else driving me around!

And Disney offers a free bus from the Orlando airport to the hotel (and back) called Magical Express, so there’s another reason to skip that car rental! It’s not a flying carpet, but it does the trick.

And if you want to go to Universal (because the Harry Potter park is totally worth it), there’s a bus service you can call and reserve, and they’ll come pick you up at your Disney hotel, and drop you back at the end of the day. When I went, I booked a shuttle with Mears, and they were VERY late picking us up. Apparently late is normal for those shuttles, according to a Pop Century employee I talked to. So, take that into consideration when you book, especially if you care about what time you get to Universal. I don’t remember the price exactly, but it wasn’t very cheap. I think we spent about $20 per person. Googling this morning, I found this article that talks about an even better rate for the Mears shuttles of about $10 per person).

9-Ways-to-Save-on-Your-Disney-World-Vacation-everest

4- Sign Up For the Mouse Savers Newsletters (they e-mail it on the 15th of every month).

It doesn’t really have super interesting deals unless you are traveling as a family (and even so…), BUT it has a link to a site that sells discounted tickets, the Undercover Tourist, and that link from the newsletter is the cheapest way to get tickets! Another bonus of the newsletter is knowing which attractions will be closed for refurbishment when you visit. Also, the MouseSavers.com site is full of interesting information about savings at Disney, and I recommend the read.

5- Don’t Buy Park Hoppers

Disney offers two options: the Park Hopper (you can visit multiple parks per day) or the Magic Your Way (you can only visit one park per day). I think the Magic Your Way is the best way to save money. If you only have 2-3 days in Orlando, then two Park Hoppers for Disney and one park hopper for Universal should cover everything (but you’ll be dead tired on your plane ride back), because you can visit two parks per day and see it all. But on our case, since we were in Orlando for 10 days, I chose the Magic Your Way, and we took our time to enjoy the parks. I got a 7-day MYW for each of us, and 1 park-per-day at Universal (because we only wanted to go see the Harry Potter). The Universal Park Hopper is a pretty good option if you’ve never been to any of the parks, and you can easily do both parks in one day. So in tickets per person, we spent about $300 for Disney and another $100 on Universal. We bought them from the Undercover Tourist link from the Mouse Savers newsletter (above), and ordered them a month before the trip so they’d have time to mail the tickets to us. They ask you to order with at least 3 weeks in advance, and their service was very reliable.

Just for comparison, with $300 you barely get a 4 day park hopper (it’s $330). But if you only have 4 days for Disney, the MYW is still the best choice… It takes so long to go from one park to the other because Walt Disney is so huge… Michael and I would go when the park opened then come back to the hotel when we got tired and then go out for dinner later on the day in Downtown Disney (it was where I worked during my internship, so I of course wanted to visit it often). Or on days that we (read: I) wanted to watch fireworks, we’d leave the hotel after lunch. It was nice to take our time. A MYW for 4 days (5th day free) is just $10 cheaper than the 7 days, though, so it seems the longer you stay, the better the deal!

9-Ways-to-Save-on-Your-Disney-World-Vacation-epcot

6- Go Grocery Shopping

We saved a couple hundred dollars by going to a supermarket the day we arrived and buying food for breakfast and snacks… The hotel we stayed didn’t have a mini fridge,  so we bought stuff that wouldn’t go bad out of the fridge (like apples, pretzels, cookies, bagels). I have a friend that lives in Orlando and the day I arrived it was her day off, so she came to see us and took us to the grocery store. It was great, and we got all our breakfasts and snacks covered that way. I brought a bunch of zip lock bags from home too, and filled them with the snacks we bought to take to the park. I also brought a water bottle, so we could refill it throughout the day and not buy water bottles at the parks ($2 each).

We also got one of those refillable cups at the hotel, since we were staying for 9 nights. It was $15 and we refilled it 2 or 3 times a day. Once for breakfast with coffee/chocolate, and after we were back at night, we’d get a soda or something, while we enjoyed an evening stroll. It was an easy way to guarantee the daily coffee without breaking the bank, if you think a Starbucks might have set us off $3/day.

My guess is we saved at least $200 by doing this. We didn’t have breakfast at the hotel on any day, and they were about $5-$10 per person, and we also saved a lot by not getting tempted by Disney park snacks. Granted, I did have a Mickey Ice Cream bar and a Dole Whip because you gotta have some fun! But I’m sure having the healthy-ish snacks on hand helped our pockets and our consciences.

If you can’t go to a grocery store while in Orlando, consider bringing non-perishables (like a bag of pretzels or a box of granola bars) in your baggage. Just avoid the stuff TSA will get mad about (I wouldn’t bring fruits or breads or stuff in cans or any sort of liquid), and make sure everything is still unopened. Just something to think about!

7- Research all Restaurant Options Ahead of Time

This one is two-fold: you find out which are the cheapest places to eat, and you also find out which places have the food that sounds good to your tastes or food allergies. Michael and I were both vegetarians at the time of our trip, so I read all the quick-service restaurant menus ahead of time and made a list of where we could find good vegetarian food for less. We didn’t eat at a nice restaurant while there not even once, but it’s okay cause we don’t really care for that. When I went back this past November, I ate at the new Be Our Guest for lunch (if you want for dinner, reserve as soon as humanly possible. I think it’s the only restaurant taking reservations earlier than 60 days because it’s always packed) and really liked it. For lunchtime Be Our Guest is “quick service,” so prices are $12-$15 per entree. It was the fanciest I ever ate at Disney World, lol. The line is pretty scary, though. I went for an early lunch at 11, and still sweated in line for 20 minutes. But you can eat at the Beast’s ballroom, guys! That was totally worth it.

Anyway, the site I used to search menus ahead of time and compile a list of restaurants I was willing to eat at/afford is the All Ears website. I wrote on a small notebook that I carried with me all days (I also made notes of attractions I wanted to visit, photos I wanted to take, little things I wanted to buy… total list-maniac).

Speaking of restaurants, you might also be interested in this post I wrote about Orlando restaurants (to eat and to avoid).

9-Ways-to-Save-on-Your-Disney-World-Vacation-shopping

8- Pack Light

Mike and I traveled with only two carry ons for our 10 days (I hate checking bags, and hey, another $25 saved!), and we managed fairly well with such limited amount of clothing. And another saving bonus: less space to carry things back home! Since we went in late January, I had given Mike a $25 gift card for Christmas, so he wanted to buy some mugs. We fitted his 4 new mugs in one of the carry ons we brought, and a Mr. Potato Head for me (I know, I buy the silliest things!) on another, and a couple of small gifts, and that’s it. We probably didn’t spend over $100 on merchandise to bring back, and all we bought was tiny enough to fit on our luggage. With no space to carry stuff home, you can’t spend much. So what do I do with all the cute things I want but can’t bring home? I take pictures of/with them, as seen above.

9- Plan Ahead and Spread Out Your Charges

I never pay for an entire trip in one credit card installment and then spend the rest of the year paying for it (and its interest). Instead, I plan ahead of time, and spread out my expenses early on. I usually get the airline tickets first, 4-6 months before going. On the next credit card period I reserve and pay for the hotel. Then a month before traveling, I get the park tickets. Just this way, I spread out $1400 worth of expenses through 6 months to pay for them. So when it’s time to go to my trip, I don’t have to worry about big bills when I get back home. Plan early and you’ll see that your dream Disney World trip can be much more affordable and financial-drama free.

Do you have any more tips to add to this list? Please let us know how YOU save on your Disney trip! 

All photos are my own. You can see more Disney pictures I took at my Photography Blog.

**UPDATE April 8, 2014** If 9 ways is not enough for you, check out Great Walt Disney World Tips’ Pinterest board for EVEN MORE!

Trip Diary pt 5 – San Francisco

And alas, I now arrive at the end of my road trip log: our final and last stop was San Francisco, CA. This was our route:

roadtripCA

781 miles, not counting all our forays exploring the areas we were at. My friends rented a mini van in Las Vegas, where they landed, and we drove it all the way to San Francisco, where we returned it. Now… pictures! Here’s a selection of some of my favorite captures of our days in San Francisco.

SFO1 SFO2

Trip Diary pt 4 – CA State Route 1

roadtrip_main

By far, the part of the trip I was most looking forward to (well, except for the part where I once again went to Disney) was the drive between Los Angeles and San Francisco, especially through the Big Sur. I had seen so many breathtaking pictures of California State Route 1, I was counting the days to go, and was happy that my friends agreed to the idea instead of just flying LAX-SFO. Which, in hindsight, was probably a better idea considering how dramatic our drive was. Let’s just say that the curves of that road are not for the faint of heart (or for the prone to motion sickness). I survived it, but we did ahn, basically avoid eating for the duration of the trip.

We started the drive in Santa Monica, where we stopped for a long walk on the beach, lunch, and a bad sunburn for myself. From there, we drove to Venice Beach, where upon not finding a place to park, we decided to just drive by (so no good pictures of the channels!).

roadtrip_00 roadtrip_01

Next, we drove to Malibu, followed by Santa Barbara to catch the sunset, and ended up our first day in San Luis Obispo, where we had a hard time finding a hotel to stay!

roadtrip_02 roadtrip_03

And I also took a lot of pictures of the drive.. it was so beautiful! Here are some of my favorite views from the road:

roadtrip_04

roadtrip_05

Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party

mkh_0

Cheers everyone! The Holidays are here, and I’m skipping ahead on my timeline of posts (it’s been a busy year!) to share with you my photos and experiences at the Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, which I attended in early November while I was in Florida.

To say I was excited about this would be an understatement. I braved a really nasty sore throat that left me voiceless and coughing for a week, to attend this event at Disney. I have never attended one of the special events Disney puts up on different Holidays, so this was my first chance to go to one. The parks are always a little bit more special during different celebrations, but the Holidays are just something extra special. I was lucky enough to work for Disney during winter almost ten years ago, but I wasn’t able to enjoy much of the park decorations due to just working too much! But this time I was making the most of it.

mkh_2

But… in the end it fell short. $62 dollars buys you admittance to the Holiday Party, and the party includes a special firework show, a Christmas parade, hot chocolate and cookies, snow on Main Street, and probably some other activities that were so geared towards children I didn’t bother checking. Magic Kingdom’s trademark firework show, Wishes, is fairly superior to the Christmas firework show. I love the storytelling and music of Wishes, but the Christmas one was just fireworks and Christmas music, no story, no emotion. I left dry-eyed, which is a first for me. The parade was also a bit of a disappointment. A million people gathered super early to get a good spot, and there were fights, and there were bored kids, and all that is just a combination for a sore evening. Nevertheless, I persevered and waited for.. over a hour to watch the parade. The pictures I had seen online of it were magical, Donald and Daisy duck sitting in a horse-drawn carriage waving at the guests, snow falling, so idyllic and romantic. But the actual Christmas parade only had one horse-drawn carriage, and that was Cinderella’s. I know that sounds like a silly reason to be upset, but when the parade is promoted over and over with a certain picture, it creates an expectation for it, and to not have it delivered that way, it was kind of a bummer for me. Another lost points for me was the Princess car, which was the exact same they use at their regular parades, with some Christmas decorations added up. And the free cookies and hot chocolate? Yummy, but it was weird to line up in front of some of the classic Disney restaurants and just find it sort of empty and sad, and the cookies and hot chocolate were just alright, same flavors you’d get if you went to the supermarket for Swiss Miss Hot Chocolate and Pillsbury cookies. Which was probably exactly what they served.

mkh_1

The fake snow, though, was beautiful. And the castle nightly decorations for Christmas were the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. And yes, the little play put up by Mickey and his friends, Cinderella, and the Fairy Godmother were definitely the highlight of the Christmas celebrations to me. The good news is: you don’t need a MVMCP ticket to see it. Happens every night at sunset.

Trip Diary pt 3 – Disney California Adventure

DCA_00

Oh hey, what’s this? Anita, at Disney again… YES! This time, to keep costs down I suggested to Dani that we only got tickets to one park, the Disney California Adventure, because out of the two in California, the DCA was more likely to have new things for them to see (including the amazing night show, World of Color). So off we go, to have a terrific day in DCA, including getting soaked in the Grizzly Bear ride, wardrobe malfunctions, motion sick in the Swinging Cars in the fun wheel (never again), beat my all time record in the Toy Story Mania, watch their parade for the first time ever, and again get all emotional during the World of Color. Gosh, I love Disney. LOTS of pictures to follow:

DCA_01

DCA_02

DCA_03

DCA_04

DCA_05

(PS: And a mere month after this visit to Disney CA, I made my way to the other coast to re-visit Walt Disney World…)

Trip Diary pt 2 – Los Angeles, CA

hollywood_tripdiary1

We might not have been lucky in the Las Vegas casinos, but apparently, our few days in LA would be pretty exciting. We arrived in LA late-afternoon, and instead of staying at the hotel to rest, we immediately dropped our bags and headed out to Hollywood to check out the CHinese Theater. We arrive with no troubles (LA traffic, where were you?), parked, and as we walked towards Hollywood Blvd, we were surprised to find the street pretty packed. Backtracking a little: my friend Dani is pretty obsessed about Justin Timberlake, and she was so upset that she had missed his concert in Vegas the night we were there. So upon seeing the amount of people on Hollywood Blvd, I jokingly said “maybe it’s JT.” Well folks, it was. The street was closed for Justin Timberlake’s performance for Jimmy Kimmel Live.

After the JT craziness was over, we walked around Hollywood. Last time I visited, the front of the Chinese Theater was so packed, I didn’t even went closer to check it out. Turns out, that’s where all those concrete slabs of people’s hand and foot prints were at. We had fun getting pictures with some of the famous footprints, and then also finding some of our favorites on the walk of fame. Hollywood Blvd. is an interesting place.

hollywood_tripdiary2

Pictures (from top to bottom, left to right): Chinese Theater, Inside the Kodak Theater, Donald Duck’s footprints, in front of the Chinese Theater, a happy nerd with the handprints and footprints of the Harry Potter main characters, bruce willis and mickey mouse stars, Dani and I with George Lucas and Spielberg.

Our second day in LA started with a trip to Rodeo Dr. The funny thing about that day, was that we were parked about two blocks from the famous part of Rodeo Dr., with all the stores and Julia Roberts, but we didn’t know that, so I google-mapped it. Google took us right to the beginning of Rodeo Dr., a residential area. I was very confused, but after a few blocks I realized the mistake, and just thought to myself “Let’s hope no one notices I took them 8 blocks away from our destination, and then back those 8 blocks to it.”

hollywood_tripdiary3

We eventually found our way, and I enjoyed looking at all the window displays of famous and luxury brands. There was a point in my life where I did write a capstone project (and maybe a few other essays for classes) on luxury brands and Chanel. And it’s no secret I’m a fan of fashion and good design.

hollywood_tripdiary4

The next part of this day was pretty hectic. We bought a star map (solid investment, btw, hours of fun guaranteed) and toured Beverly Hills from the comfort of our rental car. Here’s a disclaimer: you can’t really see anyone’s houses. Everyone lives behind gates and walls and fences, so all the time you are going “Oh, this must be the house we were looking for.. I think.” Nonetheless, it was fun. The highlight of the star map search was our trip to try to see Leonardo DiCaprio’s house. As we pull in his dead-end street, with our minivan, we have to turn around to leave, and here’s the highlight of our star search: we pulled in his driveway to maneuver out of the street. Then we got followed out of the street by a mean-looking security guard, which we’re pretty sure meant Leo DiCaprio was home!

hollywood_tripdiary5

Next on the list? Getting a picture with the Hollywood sign, of course! I still have no idea how we got here, the instructions on the star map were sort of confusing, the hills were steep and the roads tiny, but somehow after a lot of turns and me going “ahnnnnnn” when asked where to go next, we arrived at the perfect spot to take our picture with the Hollywood sign. Life: made.

hollywood_tripdiary6

I have to thank the nice, probably-british, man who took our picture in front of the sign. He almost got towed for parking on the wrong side of the road, but he only made his way to his car after taking our picture. Thank you! And as good karma, he did not get towed. Now, let me share some more views from that area:

laviews01

And to top off an amazing day, we headed out to the Griffith Observatory—my favorite place in LA—to watch the sunset and enjoy a few more beautiful views of LA (lots of pictures!)

laviews02

And my absolute favorite photo from the Observatory:

laviews03

And we couldn’t leave LA without having dinner with Mindy (from Budget Fairytale) at an amazing Mexican restaurant in her old neighborhood of Studio City, Casa Vega.

dinnerla

Next up: Disneyland!

Trip Diary part1 – Las Vegas

LasVegas01

It’s been two weeks since I’ve landed back in SLC from a 12 day road trip that started in Las Vegas, NV, and ended in San Francisco, CA. I met up with my friends from Brazil and we had a pretty awesome time driving around. Since it was a fairly long trip, I’ll just split each stop into its own post (it will give me some time to edit everything too) with my favorite things from each stop, and some photos!

I’ve been to Vegas plenty of times. It’s only 6 hours away from SLC, easy to go for a weekend and relax by the pool. I’m not into gambling or partying, so if you feel like Vegas is an odd choice for me, I’d understand. But I actually do enjoy going to Vegas. The pools would of course be the reason number one for that. A book, friends, a fruity drink, and I’m a happy girl. I also love Cirque du Soleil. They have a gazillion Cirque shows in Sin City, and I’ve been to three so far. This last time, we watched Mystere, the longest running Cirque du Soleil show in Vegas. I still need to go back to watch Love (inspired by the Beatles) and Ka (I heard it’s the best one).

My other favorite places to take people when they visit Vegas are:

  • The Venetian
  • Photo by the Welcome to Las Vegas sign
  • The Bellagio

LasVegas02

I think I’ve been to Vegas 8 times at this point. But there’s still plenty I haven’t done. I still need to go back for the neon museum (they have some weird hours and rules), a few other Cirque shows, and some more pool time. I just won’t go back between May and August, because I can’t handle that much heat, no matter how many Margaritas I get.

Next up: Los Angeles

Wanderlust: Travel Goals

My goal in life, money-wise, was always to make enough of it to live comfortably and travel every year. And today, after extensively discussing travel and living abroad with several people, I decided it was time to get organized on my travel goals, at least for the next 10 years. I’m setting up a plan to save extra money every month for a travel fund, research the places I want to visit and deals/prices to make it happen. I’ve been already cutting my expenses to the bare minimum (I really don’t need cable tv), and i’ve been doing some extra photography on the side, to help up with my travel-fund goals.

This year, I have two trips planned: Southern Utah and a road trip in California. I’ll be talking about those soon, but in the meantime, here are my goals for the next 10 years:

International:

In the next 10 years, I’d like to visit at least 3-5 countries I’ve never been to, with the following being on my top 5:

travelgoals_01

Photos: Japan | NZ | Canada | Scotland | Thailand

(Also on the list, but maybe we’ll shoot to go to all those in my 40s: Germany, Australia, South Africa, Egypt, Morocco, Greece, Turkey, South Korea, Czech Republic, Iceland)

Japan is definitely happening in the near future. I already started saving for it, and I have an idea of hoe much money I need to make it happen. I’d like to make it a 2-week trip, with at least 2 or 3 days dedicated to Disneyland Tokyo. I’m also very curious to see all the temples and historical sites in the country, and not really high on my list of priorities is Tokyo, actually. Except, I’d love to go shopping for all sort of cool things, and to spend a couple of hours at a Cat Cafe. New Zealand is somewhere I’d like to go and spend some good time at, maybe doing a road trip through the islands, like my friend Adina from Gluten Free Travelette did. I’d love to go see all the places that Lord of the Rings were filmed at (#nerd), and to enjoy the sea, of course. And, Canada! I can’t believe I live so close to it, and yet, haven’t visited. This is definitely on the short list because it will be very easy to make it happen. I might even make it to Vancouver before Japan. But I’d also like to go to Quebec on the other coast. Scotland is another top spot on my list, especially Isle of Skye, who has some striking landscapes. Thailand is last, but not least. I have a friend who lives there, and I’d love to visit her and see all the beautiful sights of the country.

And I’d love to revisit some of my favorite stops in Europe, from when I went when I was 14:

travelgoals_02

Photos: London | Venice | France 1 & 2

I know they are the top 3 cliche places to visit in Europe, but what can I say? There’s a reason why they are so popular, and I’d love to make my way back to all three. I’d also love to explore much more of England than I did when I was only 14 and a little tied up to my group to be able to go anywhere I wanted. For example, we never made it to Stonehenge, one of the places I most wanted to visit at the time, because the driver didn’t feel like driving us there. I was so sad about it, I’ve longed to go back to go check out that place. And to revisit so many of my other favorite cities I’ve been to on that trip: Oxford, Brighton, and of course, London. At least when I was in England, I was there for 3 weeks with plenty of time to explore, but the rest of Europe was a blur. Two days in Paris, with a quick sightseeing tour where we didn’t even stop at the attractions, except for the Eiffel Tower. I, with a couple of other friends at the time, vowed to go back with our significant others some day, so Mike, let’s get on with this! lol. And Venice, ah.. I even wrote here some other day how I wish to go back there on a photo trip, to just enjoy the city for a couple of months and take pictures.

In the USA:

I’d also like to add some more US travel to my itineraries, I feel like there’s so much of this country for me to see yet:

travelgoals_03

Photos: Hawaii | DC | Alaska

I have been dreaming of a Hawaii vacation for years. I’ve been trying to find a friend who’d be willing to go, but due to costs and how much time off we’d need, it’s been kind of tricky. So  Hawaii has been postponed indefinitely, but if anyone feels like going in February next year, let’s make some plans. I’ve been to DC for a conference, so I only had a day to sightsee, and I’d love to go back and actually spend time in all the museums. Alaska ia also a place I’d love to visit, big expanses of striking landscape is kind of my thing.

I also made a quick Google Maps to place virtual pins on all places I have visited and or lived so far. I hope to expand on it in the near future.

View Been there, done that in a larger map

You can check out my travels on my photography blog.

Nachos Quest: El Chubasco, Park City

el_cubasco_nachos_1

I know, I’ve been slacking off on my Nachos Quest. And even though I have had some nachos since my last review, the last one I had got me sick for a week, so I really didn’t feel like revisiting them and sharing them with you (so you’ll see no review from Cafe Rio’s nachos on this blog). But let’s move on to more interesting topics: the El Chubasco Mexican Grill in Park City, UT. This restaurant is an old favorite, thanks to their fantastic salsa bar. Really, half the time we go there we joke we’ll just order chips and try out all their salsas. But no, we always do order something more substantial to eat, and we are never disappointed. So this time I decided to order their nachos, and I was not disappointed!

el_cubasco_nachos_2

I got the vegetarian nachos, which are always my favorite. For the cheesy part of the nachos, they had queso, which in general is not my favorite, but their queso was good. I did dump another 3 containers of pico de gallo, because the more tomatoes and onions, the better! I could have gone back for even more pico de gallo, but I contained myself, and just dumped another bunch of Chipotle sauce (another favorite). So overall, those nachos were really good, but so were the burritos and tamales I have ordered there before!

Price: $ (less than $10)

Presentation: 3 out of 5

Taste: 4 out of 5

Restaurant’s Ambiance: 4 out of 5

 

Anita Boeira, Web and Graphic Design | Copyright 2009

Anita Boeira is powered by WordPress