Category: Travel Journal

5 Day Itinerary: Las Vegas, Utah & Grand Canyon

5 Day Itinerary: Las Vegas, Utah & Grand Canyon

We absolutely love everything about the west coast. The mountains, the desert, you name it. While my children have never been a huge fan of the outdoors, my husband and I crave it. The one thing that we all agreed on, in regards to an outdoor vacation, was that we wanted to take a trip to the Grand Canyon. The Southern Rim is the most popular, which means that rental properties close by are going to be expensive. With that being said, we opted to explore the North Rim, where it is less crowded and a bit cheaper in regards to lodging. We also wanted to do some hiking in St. George, Utah, so we decided on a combined 5-day trip that included Las Vegas, Utah and the Grand Canyon.

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Day 1

Las Vegas, Nevada (Evening Preview)

We flew in to Las Vegas around 3:00pm via plane and immediately picked up our rental car. From there we took our boys to dinner at Secret Pizza. If you’ve never been, you must give it a try. The restaurant is hidden (hence the secret), on the 3rd floor of The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. You will not see a sign for the restaurant and will have to look out for a hallway leading to it. There is limited seating in the actual restaurant, but there are plenty of places to sit in the hotel lobby.

After dinner we took a walk to see the 9:00pm show of The Fountains of Bellagio.

St. George, Utah is almost 2 hours away, so we left shortly after seeing the fountains. The drive was breathtaking with all of the mountains so close to the road. We are from the east coast and see lots of flat land, so mountains are always a sight to see.

This is the condo that we rented and it was perfect. It had everything we needed to cook with in the kitchen, and even had a community pool for relaxing in the evening. This condo has 2 bedrooms and a sleeper sofa.

Day 2

Sand Hollow State Park

There is lots to do at this park from ATV riding in the sand dunes to jet skiing in the man-made reservoir. It’s about a 30 minute drive from St. George, UT. We spent our morning on the jet skis and had a blast. It was a hot day in Utah (as it is in June), so this was refreshing. Just be sure to use sunscreen or you will burn. Here is the link to check out the prices on their rentals. https://thebeachatsandhollow.com/rental-pricing/

Cinder Cone Volcano

If you don’t spend all day at the reservoir and want to explore a bit more, I recommend a short hike on the cinder cone volcano in Snow Canyon State Park. It was about 20 minutes from our condo in St. George, UT. “Cinder cones are the simplest type of volcano. They are built from particles and blobs of congealed lava ejected from a single vent. As the gas-charged lava is blown violently into the air, it breaks into small fragments that solidify and fall as cinders around the vent to form a circular or oval cone. Most cinder cones have a bowl-shaped crater at the summit and rarely rise more than a thousand feet or so above their surroundings. Cinder cones are numerous in western North America as well as throughout other volcanic terrains of the world.” https://pubs.usgs.gov/gip/volc/types.html

On our walk to the cinder cone (before ascending up), we had a moment of uncertainty. You have to go through this chain latched gate to get there. It felt like we were about to enter Jurassic Park. There were no lists of these “dangerous animals”. We scouted the area before going through and didn’t see a thing. We think that the property owners are just protecting theirselves legally incase of injury due to snake bites, etc. If anyone knows what kind of animals we needed to look out for, I would still love to know.

Day 3

North Rim, Grand Canyon, AZ

Get up early and drive to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Without stops, this is about a 3-3 ½ hour drive from St. George, UT.  While the North Rim only has three sights (Cape Royal, Point Imperial, Angel Point), it is still absolutely breathtaking. There is a $30 fee to get in to the canyon park. Please visit the Grand Canyon website for their schedule as they close in the winter months because of snow. https://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/north-rim.htm

Day 4

Mt. Zion National Park

Mt. Zion National Park was about an hour to an hour and a half away from our condo in St. George. We found many trails for hikers of all skill levels. We did the easy trails as our son was with us, but there were some amazing trails for the advanced hiker. Be sure to get to the park early as it gets very hot in Springdale, UT. We went in June and the temperature was already up to 92 degrees by 11am. It got to 100 degrees by 2pm. Make sure to bring your water and take sips throughout the day to avoid getting sick. The cost to enter this park is $45.00 as of December 2019.

Day 5

Las Vegas, NV

We left St. George, UT around 11am and arrived back in Las Vegas around 12pm. We had a delicious lunch at Gordon Ramsay’s Burgr. After lunch we visited the Gold & Silver Pawn shop, the location of the Pawn Stars show. We were hoping (but not expecting) to see some of the people from the show, but unfortunately, they weren’t there. It was neat to see though. After that we did more exploring on the strip.

Have you ever been to any of these destinations? What were your favorite things to do there? Let me know in the comment section below.

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Where to Stay in the Outer Banks, NC

Where to Stay in the Outer Banks, NC

This is a must-read post if you are searching for a place to stay in the Outer Banks. When choosing a place to stay, I have a few requirements: cleanliness, décor, and closeness to attractions. The location that I am about to share with you covers just that and then some. I have used many of the descriptions from the rental homes web page, so that I can keep the description as accurate as possible. You can view this page at https://seasaltcottageobx.com/

The House

Sea Salt cottage is located at the 16.5 milepost on the beach road in Nags Head, North Carolina. The location is magically situated directly across from the beach and just a block or so from the Sound to the west. You can literally walk to the beach!

This home has 3 bedrooms and 2 baths (it sleeps up to 8 people). The large master bedroom and full bath is furnished with a plush, comfortable king bed and is tucked away on the first floor of the home. There is also a sitting area in the master bedroom for beach reading or watching TV.

Two other bedrooms invite guests to relax and get their summer on! The queen-bed bedroom is a boho-chic inspired mid-century modern beachy oasis. The third bedroom is a bright, fun bunkroom that provides maximum sleeping flexibility for up to 4 people with custom-built in beds – one a built-in full-sized and the other a built-in bunkbed. It’s designed for kids AND adults to enjoy. A second full bath and a laundry closet with full sized high-efficiency washer/dryer complete the second floor. All bedrooms are equipped with flat screen TVs, digital cable and DVD players. You’ll be fully connected throughout the home with high-speed WIFI.

The third floor of Sea Salt Cottage provides plenty of seating and a large flat screen TV. The deck off the living area is a great place to sit in the evenings and take in the stunning sunset over the sound. The kitchen is fully stocked and includes stainless steel appliances and a full size dishwasher. There’s a Keurig and traditional coffeemaker for the coffee lovers! The dining area offers table seating and bar stools for more casual meals.

One thing that this beach rental offers that many don’t is a spacious back yard with your own private pool! The owners truly make sure that you are covered with everything you need for the outdoors: beach chairs, beach cart, boogie boards, grill, cornhole boards, and a giant Jenga game! Did I mention that you can WALK to the beach?

Nearby Attractions/Restaurants

As mentioned above, I love a rental home that is within close proximity to restaurants and attractions. The following places are within walking distance: The beach, Jockey’s Ridge (7 minutes), Oregan Inlet Fishing Center (15 minutes), Manteo (5 minutes), Cahoon’s Supermarket, 7/11, Sam & Omie’s Restaurant, Owen’s Restaurant, Super Wings for souvenirs, Tangier Outlets, and much more!

Additional Information

The owners of Sea Salt Cottage have really thought of everything when it comes to providing a comfortable stay for their guests. Upon arrival you will receive a welcome bag with many complimentary goodies such as trashbags, detergent, dish scrubbies, a couple rolls of toilet paper and many other items you may have forgotten to bring to get you through your stay.

My Final Thought

Sea Salt Cottage is definitely where I would love to stay each and every time I visit Nags Head, NC. It is extremely clean, can provide a place for me and 7 other friends/family to vacation, the décor is like no other, you can walk to many locations, and the owners truly care about their guests.

I am not the only one who feels this way about Sea Salt Cottage and know that summer dates book extremely fast! If this is a place that you may want to stay during your Outer Banks vacation, I would highly recommend reserving your dates no later than November/December. Here is a link to explore this rental home’s availability: http://www.anrdoezrs.net/links/9156570/type/dlg/https://www.vrbo.com/752041?arrival=2020-06-11&departure=2020-06-14&childrenCount=2&adultsCount=2

The majority of pictures used in this post are from the Sea Salt Cottage website

Let me know in the comments below if you have ever been to Nags Head, NC. What do you love most about the Outer Banks? Is there a particular activity that your family likes to do or a favorite restaurant that you like to dine at?

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Our Alaskan Anniversary (Part 3)

Our Alaskan Anniversary (Part 3)

This is the final portion (part 3) of “Our Alaskan Anniversary.” Please click here to start from the beginning: https://www.getawaysimply.com/2019/08/29/our-alaskan-anniversary/

May 25 – Cruise Glacier Bay: This was our third stop. It wasn’t a port, we didn’t get off of the ship and there were no excursions. We got up early as our ship headed into glacier bay. I have never seen such beauty in nature. It was absolutely stunning. As we moved into the glaciers, the ship stopped so that we could witness the ice cracking and breaking off into the water. I believe that Alaska only allows 2-3 cruise ships per season to explore Glacier Bay. With that being said, you may have to plan your trip around this schedule if you have a particular favorite cruise line that you prefer to travel with.

Hearing the ice crack and watching it fall.

On previous cruises through Carnival I learned that they have an option where you can have professional portraits done at a port (instead of the usual backdrops inside). We haven’t had family pictures done since our boys were younger, and we knew that Glacier Bay would be an amazing background. This was not cheap by any means, but when will you ever have another chance to have glaciers in your family portraits? We were so pleased with the work of Dreams Studios, and highly recommend it if you have a special milestone event.

May 26 – Ketchikan, AK: An Alaskan cruise is by no means a cheap cruise. Excursions are usually pricey no matter where your destination is, but let me tell you, excursions in Alaska are extremely expensive. With that being said, we chose to explore the area of Ketchikan instead of a paid tour. We had a lovely time at this port by eating at a local restaurant. My husband loved the Alaskan Ale, which is not something that we can find back home in Virginia. After lunch we explored a park and were really in for a treat when we realized that a bald eagle was sitting right in a tree in front of us. We also saw a salmon ladder and totem poles throughout the city. It was such a beautiful little town.

May 27 – Victoria, BC, Canada: This was our final port and it was a short visit. We didn’t arrive until 7:30pm and we departed at 11:59pm. With it being a short port we decided to opt out of excursions and explore the town like we did in Ketchikan. I think that the four of us were starting to get tired with all of the time changes and we didn’t stay off the ship for long. I snapped a few pictures and after a 30 minute walk we decided to enjoy some quiet time back on the ship while the other passengers were out exploring. We also took that time to begin packing everything up since our cruise docked the next morning at 7:00am.

This concludes our, “Our Alaskan Anniversary.” I fully recommend taking this trip at least once. In part one I discussed my concern of taking a cold weather vacation. I’m here to say that I would do it again in a heart beat. I have had Alaska fever since we returned home, and look forward to planning a trip back in the near future.

If you have any questions or would like helping planning a vacation itinerary, please contact me at getawaysimply@gmail.com

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Our Alaskan Anniversary (Part 2)

Our Alaskan Anniversary (Part 2)

If you are just joining in on “Our Alaskan Anniversary”, please read part one first: https://www.getawaysimply.com/2019/08/29/our-alaskan-anniversary/

This post will cover our first two ports which are Icy Strait Point, AK and Skagway, AK.

May 23 – Icy Strait Point, AK: We chose the Whale Watching & Ziprider Combination excursion that was offered by Carnival. I have to say that this might have been my most favorite excursion out of all of the cruises we have taken. We began the excursion with the whale watching portion and boarded a small boat that was filled with maybe 20 people. The boat had large windows on each side that were closed to keep us warm; but the crew would open them up when we came upon a humpback whale (which happened a lot). There was also a small area on the back of the boat where you could sit. This was not enclosed. I sat out there for the majority of the ride, as I didn’t want to miss a thing. As soon as we began our journey the wind hit my face with a clean crispness that I have never experienced before. Up ahead were a flock of birds flying at full speed as if inviting us into a magical place.

Not long after we saw our first humpback whale, we came across several bald eagles fishing and stealing food from seagulls. We also spotted two bears in the distance, but not close enough to get a clear picture. After a few minutes of bear watching, the most incredible thing happened that literally took my breath away. Nearly 3 feet away from me at the back of the boat, a whale began a small breach. I literally caught eyes with him. It was the most amazing thing to be able to witness. As we came to the end of our boat ride, we got a chance to see some sleepy seals on a buoy.

All good things must come to an end, but we still had a bit more adventure left in our day. After we exited the boat, “We boarded a bus that took us on a scenic drive through Hoonah, the largest Tlingit village in the world while on our way up a 1330′ mountain to our Ziprider adventure”. – Via Carnival Cruise Lines. We really enjoyed learning about the Tlingit culture. As we were ascending into the mountain, thoughts began going through my mind. Was I really about to allow someone to strap me into a chair and eject me down a 1330′ mountain? The temperatures were really starting to drop and I was imagining how cold it was going to be while exceeding 65mph down a mountain.

It didn’t matter anymore because I was already at the top when that thought ran through my mind. No going back now. Well…I could actually chicken out and go back down the mountain in the van, but where is the fun in that? I love the thrill of rollercoasters and such, so that was never an option to begin with. As we were coming up to our turn, we got to stand on a platform to watch the people in front of us take off. It was a great way to get the adrenaline going. I was as ready as I was going to be at that point. As I was being buckled in my seat, the ride operator began giving instructions and soon after that it was take off time. IT WAS AMAZING!! It was the most free feeling to be up so high and flying so fast down the mountain. Yes it was pretty cold, but I would do it again in a heart beat. You couldn’t beat the views and it was a once in a lifetime adventure.

My husband is videoing. You will see me on the left shortly after we take off.

May 24 – Skagway, AK: Our excursion at this port was the Takshanuk Mountain Trail by 4×4. This excursion was a lot different than any other cruise excursion we have ever taken. We began by boarding a high speed catamaran ferry that took us through fjords to get to Haines, AK. Once we arrived in Haines, we were guided to a bus that would take us to the Takshanuk trailhead. Once we arrived to our excursion spot, our family of four chose which mule (heavy duty golf cart) we would drive. Our tour guides gave us instructions and we began our trail ride into the mountain. Halfway up we stopped at a log cabin and were given delicious chocolate chip cookies straight out of the oven. This was such a nice treat given that it was a little chilly.

After our little snack, we ascended higher into the mountain and stopped at a gorgeous crystal clear creek. It was so peaceful! We used our binoculars to look for wildlife, but didn’t see much at this particular stop. After a given amount of time, we were escorted back to our mules to head back to the log cabin for an amazing lunch that consisted of halibut and chicken. This halibut was the best that I have ever had. From then on I knew that halibut would never be the same back home. I really enjoyed this excursion as it wasn’t over crowded. It felt very intimate, as we were guests and not just a group of people taking a tour. The scenery was very breathtaking. I would definitely recommend this excursion to anyone looking for an easy going time that is truly enjoyable.

This concludes part 2 of “Our Alaskan Anniversary”. My next post will be the final portion. What do you think so far? Would you go on an Alaskan cruise?

If you have any questions or would like to talk about a personalized travel plan, please email me at getawaysimply@google.com

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Our Alaskan Anniversary (Part 1)

Our Alaskan Anniversary (Part 1)

I wanted to get started on this post while it was still fresh in my mind. This may be a bit of a long one, so I will do a 3-part story. For several years, my husband and I have talked about what big trip we would take for our 20th and 25th wedding anniversary. After many discussions, we ultimately decided that we would visit Alaska on our 20th, and Hawaii on our 25th. On May 29, 2018, we celebrated our 19th anniversary by booking our Alaskan cruise that was set to sail on May 21, 2019. We decided that we wanted our 2 boys to go with us on this vacation as they are part of our celebration. We paid for them to go with us, and they had their very own interior room to share, and we had a nice balcony room. The joke of the cruise was that it was the boys’ last paid vacation by us since they are adults now (19 & 23). We decided on Hawaii for the 25th Anniversary, as it will be just me and my husband on that trip.

Family Pictures that were taken on the Carnival Legend by Dreams Studios. We were in Glacier Bay.

This was the first cruise that we had ever booked a year in advance, and let me tell you the year dragged on FOREVER (I might be exaggerating a bit). I was partly alright with that though, as I knew time would fly once we actually began our trip. As we grew close to vacation day, we started to have many different questions. We have only ever been on warm weather cruises in the Caribbean, where they play a lot of reggae style music. We thought about what type of music they would play on a cold weather cruise? I usually dislike the cold (even though I was born on the east coast). I have never gotten used to it. While I knew it was going to be absolutely gorgeous, I began to wonder if I was going to enjoy being cold on vacation. We checked the weather every day before we left to be sure that we packed the necessary styles needed to be warm. Even though we did our research, we still worried a little about it. We packed the best that we could and knew that there was always an option to buy an overpriced sweatshirt on the cruise ship if it came to it. It never did though, and I was pleased with our clothing selections. You can see my cruise packing lists from another post here: https://tinyurl.com/yxvyjrcb

We got up really early on May 18 and began our journey by plane to Seattle, Washington (which is where we were cruising out of). We have family that lives an hour away, so it was a bonus for us to be able to spend some time with them. We stayed the night at their place, and then headed back to Seattle in the in the afternoon to our hotel.  

May 20 – Day in Seattle: Of course I did some planning on what we would do in Seattle that day. You know I love to get the most out of our time (but in a non-rushed kind of way).

May 21 – Board the Carnival Legend: The day has finally come and we are all so excited! I did our registration as soon as we were allowed (months before the cruise), so that we could board the ship as early as possible. It isn’t necessary to get there early, but we like to begin vacationing a.s.a.p. Plus you are able to have lunch on the ship, so it saved us some money from purchasing from a restaurant in the city.  The Carnival Legend set sail at 4:00pm. It was in the upper 60s that day and cloudy, but it was nice enough to hang out on the deck for a while.

May 22 – Our “Fun Day at Sea”: I have heard cruisers say that they think sea days are boring. On warm cruises you can use it as a pool day. Well technically, the pools were heated on the legend, but I never saw anyone using them. You can also take advantage of the planned activities inside the ship. They usually have bingo and trivia games going on. I don’t recall if the casino was open, as our family doesn’t usually go to it. We are board game hobbyists, so we usually pack a few games to play. We also brought books to read, as well as adult coloring books/sticker books.

This wraps up part 1 of “Our Alaskan Anniversary”. Please click here to read part 2: https://www.getawaysimply.com/2019/09/01/our-alaskan-anniversary-part-2/

If you have any questions or would like to discuss travel itineraries, please email me at getawaysimply@gmail.com

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A Zoo You Can Drive Through

A Zoo You Can Drive Through

I am a huge animal lover and came across some pictures on my phone today that I just knew I had to share. 8 years ago, when our boys were 15 and 11, we decided to do a spring break vacation in Natural Bridge, VA. We heard about a place called Virginia Safari Park, and I instantly knew I wanted to go (but knew everyone else would enjoy it as well). I could barely contain myself while looking at the website. While there is a petting zoo area, and a few enclosed animal exhibits, the main part of it is a drive thru zoo. YES, you heard me right. You can drive through three miles of open area where animals are free to roam. What is unique about this zoo is that the animals are encouraged to come up to your vehicle to be fed.

When you arrive at the zoo you pay a per person fee and then you can purchase buckets of animal pellets. They tell you to open up your windows and allow the animals to stick their head in to eat out of your bucket. Let me tell you…the animal feed gets all over the place in your vehicle and you will still find it months later regardless of how clean you get your vehicle. In fact, I’m sure the person who bought my Jeep Grand Cherokee is still finding pellets and wondering why I had animals feeding in my car. Regardless of the mess, I would love to go again.

It was amazing to be able to see such huge animals within arm’s reach while on the safari drive. Watusi cattle were among one of them, and the brochure stated that you should not call them to your car. They have large horns and could cause damage. I know I shouldn’t have done this, and I apologize but…I couldn’t resist. My husband was fussing at me in the process, but I was sure to place a barrier between his horn and the car. He was quite the gentle giant. Nevertheless, please follow the guidelines and don’t pursue in my breaking of the rules.

At the end of the drive we came across some camels. You have to be careful though as they will try to steal your buckets. I suppose that is why they were placed at the end of the tour.

When we were done with the driving portion of our visit, we explored the exhibits and still came across a lot of hands on opportunities. This area was a walk-through exhibit of baby kangaroos (Joeys). They were just the cutest little ones.

My favorite animal is the giraffe and I became ecstatic when I found out that there was an area to feed them. They weren’t hungry and didn’t come up to us while we were on the platform, but just being able to take in their beauty was enough for me.

There is something for everyone at this park and I wholeheartedly recommend it. They are open from March – November. Here is the link to their site for more information. http://www.virginiasafaripark.com/Home.aspx

Have you ever been to a drive thru zoo? If so, tell me about your experience in the comments below.

Get away simply offers stress free travel plans for you to get the most out of your vacation. Email getawaysimply@gmail.com for more information.

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How I Went to California (And Loved It)

How I Went to California (And Loved It)

Visiting California had been a dream of mine since I was a little girl. I grew up in Baltimore, Maryland and my father’s parent’s lived in Eureka, CA. My grandmother and I would talk on the phone once a month and I always lived vicariously through her. I remember always asking different things such as: is it warm there, is the ocean clear, can you see whales, and the list went on. I always thought of California as this glorious place and it didn’t matter which part I went to, I just really wanted to go.

In 2011, my dream became a reality. My husband was going on a business trip and I was fortunate enough to join him. His conference was in Torrey Pines in La Jolla, CA. I didn’t have a travel itinerary specifically written for this trip, as my husband was there for business. We were however able to take a day to ourselves at the end of the trip to explore. It did not disappoint and it was everything I thought it would be. I went on another business trip with my husband in 2013, and we stayed in downtown San Diego that time.

When our oldest son graduated from high school, we decided to celebrate by taking a family trip to San Diego. This time I went all out and made an itinerary so that we could get to see everything (well as much as we could in almost a week). This was the first time that we rented a home for a vacation instead of staying in a hotel. We wanted to truly be able to relax and be given the opportunity to cook our own meals to save some money. We now only stay in hotels on vacation when it is absolutely necessary.

We stayed in Hillcrest in a cute little one floor rental that was above a garage. It was gorgeous inside, and had everything that we needed to feel comfortable for our stay. My favorite parts were the spa-like bathroom and the compact refrigerator and dishwasher in the galley kitchen. The layout was perfectly planned to give the most adequate space.

We don’t mind doing touristy things on vacation, but we strive to do what the locals do to really see the beauty of our destination. Below you will find a few activities and food recommendations. If you have visited San Diego before, what were your favorite places to eat and visit?

Where We Stayed

What to Eat

Things To See/Do

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