Many people dream of warm turquoise seas, white sandy beaches, and palm trees swaying in the breeze; however, many people don’t realize that this dream is possible by visiting America’s paradise: the United States Virgin Islands. The Virgin Islands are a dream destination for many. What makes this location great you ask? Cheap airfare and no passport needed!! Interested yet?
My love for the Caribbean came after I graduated college. I knew I was not ready to jump head first into a career. I was itching to see the things I had only read about in books. I sold everything I owned and booked a one-way flight to St. Thomas, that’s right a one way!
Since the purchase of the islands in 1917 the Virgin Islands have been an American paradise for thousand of visitors each year. St. Thomas has been a metropolitan area for the Caribbean since 1917. St. Croix has been a sugar cane and a major rum distributor since the 1760’s and St. John was the Rockefeller’s private paradise and many other private investors. The United States government purchased the land from these investors under the terms that the island would remain a National Park. In fact, St. John is only a 23 square foot island with 75% of it belonging to the National Park. Talk about pristine beaches and water.
The Afro- Caribbean culture is prevalent in the music and food. History is alive and well in this forgotten paradise. For the marine enthusiast; this area has one of the best marine biology schools and every water activity you can think of. The United States Virgin Islands calls to me daily, let it beckon you also.
I am sure many of you have heard the saying, “travel is the only thing you buy, that makes you richer”. Okay, yes maybe not richer financially, but the experiences you gain from travel are worth more than their weight in gold. I think that there is no better time for a person to get rich in experiences than while being a student.
So you might be asking yourself, what’s the big deal? Can’t a student read about all of these places and understand? Yes, they can become more knowledgeable this way, but they cannot see the skyscrapers of New York City, touch the history of the United States, smell the salt filled air at the ocean, or feel the joy of creating lifelong memories with their friends and family.
This past Spring, I was able to travel to New York City to be a tour manager for some awesome student groups with Green Light Group Tours. I’ll tell you, it is such a joy to watch their eyes light up with excitement as you enter the Big Apple! You can tell they are excited and nervous all at the same time from all of the new experiences. But, by day three, they are pros! All the scary unknowns are washed away and left with big dreams of moving to the city, lifelong memories with their friends, and a wealth of knowledge and new understanding.
So, I challenge you to think of travel as a personal bank account. Wouldn’t you want to be rich? I think we all know the answer to that! Now, let’s go get rich!
The next time you’re in Orlando, take a break from the lines and crowds of the theme parks and head out to the coast to check out the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex for the day (or two)!
I recently went to the Kennedy Space Center to catch a rocket launch. SpaceX was launching the Falcon-9 to deliver supplies to the astronauts on the International Space Station. I arrived to the viewing site with 9 minutes to spare! A live feed was announcing the countdown as me and 4,000 others at the site first saw the rocket launch, then heard it (there’s a bit of a delay in sound), then felt the vibrations from the powerful rocket. It was extraordinary!
Two minutes and 14 seconds into the launch, we were supposed to see a separation. Instead, we witnessed the rocket explode. It was quite a sight. Thankfully, it was unmanned and there are still supplies for a few months onboard the International Space Station.
This experience alone was well worth going to the space center, but even if it’s not launch day there are plenty of reasons to check out KSC, especially with a student group!
Top 10 (Other) Reasons to Visit the Kennedy Space Center:
1. Experience what it’s like to rocket into space on the launch simulator.
2. Discover early space exploration through the lens of the 1960s.
3. View off-limit areas through the up-close KSC bus tour to see launch pads and more.
4. Pay tribute to fallen astronauts at the Astronauts’ Memorial.
5. Explore the Astronaut Hall of Fame.
6. Meet, take photos with, and even have lunch with current and former astronauts.
7. Have your mind blown by the sheer size and magnitude of Space Shuttle Atlantis and the Saturn V.
8. Stroll through the rocket garden to see rockets of all shapes and sizes.
9. Watch two awesome IMAX movies that truly take you on a journey through space.
10. Eat at Orbit Café- the food’s great!
“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win."
- President JFK
If you’ve been to New York City before, chances are you have probably paid a visit to the Empire State Building or the Top of the Rock – maybe even both! These two observatories are perfect for a first-time visit or if you’re looking for an unforgettable aerial view of the city. ESB has even held a pretty big title for few years – New York City’s tallest building! Well folks - there’s a new tallest building in town!
Say hello to One World Observatory at One World Trade Center! Towering over the city at 1776 feet tall, it currently stands as the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere and the fourth tallest building in the world! That’s right, it’s huge! And here’s a fun fact – it only takes 60 seconds to get all the way to the top! There are five elevators with floor to ceiling LED technology that will take you straight to the 102nd floor. But first, you’ll need to go through an airport-style security checkpoint. This is where they’ll scan your bags and make sure you don’t have any weapons or oversized items. It’s easy peasy and should be expected for any iconic NYC attraction (including ESB and TOR).
There are three levels you will be exploring – the 100th, 101st and 102nd. The 101st level is primarily for your dining needs. ONE Café offers baked goods, sandwiches, soups and salads. You can find more of a small plate menu at ONE Mix, and ONE Dine is more fine dining and requires advance reservations. You can even find the photo area on this floor. Sandwiching the level of food, you will find an array of amenities. Be sure to check out “Voices” which tells the experience of the people who built One World Trade Center, and “Foundations” which provides and up-close look at the very bedrock that made building it possible. The Forever Theater displays a two-minute time-lapse video and the Sky Portal is a 14-foot wide round disc that shows footage of the streets below – super cool! And of course, what would a NYC attraction be without a gift shop? Take a minute and browse the Gallery at One World for awesome souvenirs and exclusive items.
So if you haven’t already… Make the trip and check out this awesome aerial view of the “City That Never Sleeps!”
I grew up in Virginia. I lived in a nice house with a huge yard, enhanced by a trampoline and a two-story tree house. On evenings in June, we would race through newly-dewed grass, startling the fireflies into their nightly ascent from the blades to the tree tops. My sister and I slept in the tree house and swam in the neighbor’s pool. I was surrounded and protected by the love of a happy family. In August each year, we took our family vacation to a place called Ocean City, Md., where we made memories to last a lifetime.
My parents took a quick and unexpected trip there last week….a kind of cute, romantic getaway. They began texting my sister and I pictures. No, they were not selfies, but snaps of places and things that screamed, “Remember this happiness together?”. The photos wouldn’t have meant a thing to another person. First came a pic of a large, open, red white and blue boat, that gave rides in the ocean. It was named “The Patriot”. But with young reading skills, I called it the Pat Riot – which became it's name for life and was never uttered without a few giggles. A beach scene came, showing the vast expanse of sand with the hundreds of multi-colored umbrellas, chairs and towels. I could feel the heat of the sand on my feet, the pounding of the waves and that sticky, salty scum that clings to skin and hair. Next was a shot of the Alaska Stand, a food booth on 9th street, our go-to beach location because the Alaska Stand was there. One look at the pic brought the smell of burgers sizzling on a flat top, the taste of a cheese dog with relish, and the sweet tart flavor of the lemonade. I returned a text commanding that they eat one for me and get the Thrashers fries from down the boardwalk to go with it. Another ding delivered a photo of the public restroom at 9th street, where for two of our many years, held a hired attendant who barked orders at children in an attempt to keep a clean restroom. We called her “the bathroom Nazi” and one look at that pic brought fear flooding back across my being. As night fell, my parents moved down the boardwalk to the amusement park – always a highlight of the stay for us.
My phone buzzed and there he was…. Ali Baba, the huge brightly painted statue over the fun house that moved continually, bringing his open hands from his lap to his face. I knew that pic would come. And when it did, I could hear the screams of the riders on the roller coaster, feel the goo of cotton candy, see the ride tickets in my hand and sense the adrenaline rush that came with all those sights and sounds.
It got late and the texts stopped, but my mind did not. It continued through the pages of the vacation playbook, with or without the photos. I felt the cool relief of the beach shower water on my sun and sand covered skin. I heard the seagulls squawk while hovering over tossed food. I saw the sunset-lit sky over the bay from our rented condo on the Sound. I smelled the dead fish that occasionally floated around the dock. I tasted the hard-shelled crabs we ate every year at PGN Crab House. Eventually, my memory lane ended, where I came to the full realization that travel, vacations, trips affect our whole beings. We take in new places through all of our senses. We remember them through all of our senses. We re-live them through all of our senses.
This past June, I traveled to Branson, Missouri as a tour guide with Green Light Group Tours. I watched as 76 young people from Brenham, Texas absorbed Branson, built memories of Branson, shared Branson - through all of their senses. I stood in a field there and saw fireflies rise from the grass. I live in Florida now and haven’t seen them in years. In fact, I forgot they were called lightning bugs (that Pat Riot tendency still kicking in). I was somewhat overwhelmed with emotion and sent my parents this text, “There are night light bugs here. I had a magical childhood. Love you two. You are amazing parents. Happy Fathers Day.”
Take a trip. Open your senses. Soak it all in. Text your parents.
Cruise ships are the preferred travel vessel for my family: it’s a floating hotel that arrives at a new location every day, plus your food and entertainment are also included! It gives the feeling of traveling the world without ever leaving your hotel –the perfect way for ‘homebodies’ to travel! After 10+ cruises on 4 cruise lines, I’ve gathered a good summary of how they work and why I like them so much:
Rooms – Everyone gets the same sized room, all you have to do is decide what type of window you would like (large suites are also available, but definitely expensive). There are 3 types of rooms: Inside cabin, Ocean view & Veranda. Inside cabins have absolutely no windows – perfect for students or anyone else who loves saving money and sleeping (like me!). Ocean view rooms have an airplane-like window, so you won’t be able to open it, but you will still have a great view! Last, and most expensive, is the Veranda room. It comes with an amazing balcony furnished with 2 chairs, a table and endless ocean views. I usually choose the inside cabin, it frees up more money to spend on excursions and experiences. My mom, on the other hand, never gets off the ship and loves sitting on the balcony with a good book, so she opts for the private veranda instead!
Food – Yes, the food is both free and unlimited, but because of those 2 attributes, the quality can suffer. But fear not my friends, by knowing where to eat you can avoid these lower-quality options, which are usually found at the buffets. The general rule of thumb is as long as you have a waiter, your food will be good quality. The formal dining room is always my recommended dining location: though hours are limited, the service and food are spot on!
Beverages - Drinks are not included and alcohol is a huge source of revenue for the ships, so be cautious. And because they profit so much, you are technically not supposed to bring outside liquor, though bottles of wine are sometimes allowed. Again, fear not! There are plenty of techniques for hiding liquor in your suitcase if you’re willing to break some rules in order to save money. Google is your best source for advice on this!
Entertainment – There are 1-2 shows per night featuring comedians, magicians, singers & dancers or even game shows starring fellow vacationers. The upscale family ships (Royal Caribbean, Disney, etc.) also offer condensed versions of big-production musicals with amazing sets, singers and dancers. There is also a daily schedule of countless activities: crafts, art auctions, dance lessons, fitness classes, pool-side contests, live bands, shopping seminars, wine tastings and more! All of this is included with your cruise, which is what makes it so fun – you have nothing to lose by trying something new!
Safety – The ship is under 24-hour video surveillance, the crew and security are constantly monitoring the public areas and you can’t get off the boat. Day or night, my parents felt comfortable with me roaming the ship on my own, which was not a freedom I was able to enjoy at a normal resort. They even have babysitters, “kid camps” and teen clubs to keep the younger ones entertained & safe while the parents enjoy some well-deserved tranquility.
Excursions – This is the only thing you have to plan for your whole vacation! Why? You generally only have 6-12 hours in each location, so you will need an excursion to make the best use of that time. In some destinations, you can step right off the boat into a resort town with amazing restaurants and shops. But in most places, you arrive in an industrial/grungy area so you will need a taxi or excursion to get to the picturesque parts. You can book excursions directly through your cruise line, or you can do the research on your own and save a lot of money, just make sure it’s a reputable company. As a professional vacation planner, I love saving money and doing the research myself but it doesn’t get any easier than booking through the ship directly.
Cruises provide my family with clean & updated accommodations, endless entertainment and gorgeous ocean views, but my favorite part is waking up in a new port every day. It’s like Christmas morning, running to the nearest window to see where in the world we woke up today! Plus all you have to plan is what you want to do off the boat. So relax, eat lobster tails, take a martini class, see a show and go dancing! All while the kids are having a blast in their kids camps and teen clubs! With so little to plan, these are the perfect last-minute vacations to book, so get out there and set sail!
Maintaining healthy eating habits is difficult even in the best circumstances, but when traveling it can seem impossible! Between rushing to catch a flight or just being on a tight schedule, we tend to grab whatever is most convenient however these choices more than likely will leave you feeling bloated, tired, and sick… not to mention the dreaded guilt. I know… half the fun of going away is eating junk, but here are some tips to avoid that fast food line and feel good:
• Food is allowed in all forms of transportation. Pack a few healthy snacks to keep in your carry on. For example, trail mix, Kind Bar, or Larabar. If you’re traveling through the airport food must be wrapped or contained, and no liquid over 3.5 ounces.
• If you know where you will be stopping try to take a look at the restaurant menus in advance. This will help you make the best menu selection.
• Choose meat and fish items that are steamed, broiled, baked, grilled, poached or roasted rather than fried or sautéed.
• Choose steamed vegetables.
• Ask for dressings and sauces on the side.
• Avoid bread items
• Avoid sodas or drinks that contain a lot of sugar, and drink loads of water.