Category: North America

Day Trip to Winter Park, Florida

Florida North America United States of America

Day Trip to Winter Park, Florida

One of my traveling goals for this year is to do some more exploring in my home state, because traveling doesn’t necessarily mean leaving your country or even your state. I live in Florida, which gives me endless possibilities for exploration that I’ve taken for granted until recently. I spontaneously decided to take a day to explore Winter Park, a small city near Orlando, known for its arts, culture, and history. This city is only about half an hour from where I live, yet I had never been to it and I knew I had to see what Winter Park had in store for myself.

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winter park train station

My original plan was to take a train from Kissimmee to Winter Park, but instead of buying my ticket ahead of time I decided to ask to purchase it at the station, only to find out that there was only one more train running and it would be leaving at night, so I ended up going by car. Lesson learned: book everything ahead of time! The Winter Park train station is served by SunRail and Amtrak. This means that you can go to and from locations around central Florida, such as Kissimmee and Maitland (through SunRail) and you can go to and from locations throughout the United States (through Amtrak). Everything that I did in this post was a short walking distance from the train station and it was fairly easy to find my way back to the station at the end of the day.Winter park

rocket fizz soda pop & candy shop

Winter park

While walking down the streets of Winter Park, I stumbled upon a really cool looking candy shop and decided to check it out. Rocket Fizz Soda Pop & Candy Shop specializes in candy and unique soft drinks, along with vintage, nostalgic feeling gag gifts and trinkets, tin signs, and more. Just looking around the shop was entertaining in itself. The taffy selection is huge and has flavors ranging from horchata to beer. The candy also varies by culture, like Mexican and Japanese, and even eras of time, such as candy from the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, and so on. The selection of sodas was insane, there were celebrity sodas (Snooki, Elvis, and Marilyn Monroe have their own sodas, apparently) and weird sodas like pumpkin pie, fog, and even barf. Rocket Fizz is worth at least browsing through and is a great place for people who like to collect vintage things or candy (obviously).

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Winter park
Winter park

hannibal square
Winter park

Hannibal Square is a historic community in Winter Park. It was founded in 1881, only 14 years after Florida reentered the Union after being a part of the Confederate States. This neighborhood was actually created through by the labor of freed black families in order to serve wealthy white residents. Overtime, Winter Park expanded and its black residents gained more opportunities. These origins explain why today Winter Park is still known as a place for wealthy people. Now Hannibal Square is full of shops, restaurants, and parks. It also has a heritage center in tribute  to its past, present, and future African American community. Here you can learn about Hannibal Square’s history in depth, see African American art installations, go on a walking tour of the community, and more. I’ve lived in Florida almost my entire life and had no idea about the history of Winter Park, so it was definitely an interesting, unexpected discovery during my visit.

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pepe’s cantina

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Pepe’s Cantina is a reallyyy good Tex-Mex restaurant located in Winter Park. Not only is it a really cute place, but the food was amazing and actually affordable. I made it there in time for happy hour (which is from 11-7) and if you order a happy hour drink, you get free queso for your tortilla chips. I ordered a frozen house margarita and three taco; shrimp, steak, and chicken. The shrimp taco was especially good, I wish I ate like five of those along with what I already ordered. For dessert I ordered a tres leches, which was also delicious. The service at Pepe’s Cantina was great, the staff was very attentive and made sure that our experience was a great one. Anyone who likes Mexican food and happens to be in the Winter Park area has to go here, not only did I love it but everyone I know who has been loves it just as much. In case you couldn’t tell, I’m definitely planning to go back ASAP.

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brandywine books

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Tucked away behind a fountain in a very European inspired corner of Winter park is Brandywine Books. I have a confession to make; since this trip was very much unplanned, I didn’t realize that a lot of places in Winter Park close early, so I didn’t get to actually go inside of Brandywine Books. They actually don’t even have definite closing times, which is a first for any business that I’ve seen. This book store is family owned and specializes in used, rare, and difficult to find books of all different categories, like art, religion, language, fiction, and travel (I was excited about that one especially). This is a place that I have to go back to because I love any kind of bookstore and to find a unique one like this was especially exciting. Plus, it’s always great to support a small business!

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palm cemeteryWinter park

Fun fact: I love visiting cemeteries. Just something about how peaceful they are and the quiet reminder that everything is temporary is something that I’ve always liked about them. I visited Palm Cemetery on a whim. The person I was with and I were actually walking around Winter Park once it had already turned dark and I randomly wondered if there was a cemetery anywhere nearby and a quick look on Google maps lead me to one about 4 minutes walking distance. The interesting thing about Palm Cemetery is that it was completely open, no locks or anything to prevent you from going in at a certain time. The cemetery was pretty big and spacious, with paths and trees like a park. It was actually very relaxing to stroll around and take a few minutes to respectfully look at the gravestones, some extremely faded and probably forgotten about it, and think about the lives these people had led.

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Most of what I did in Winter Park was walk around and take in the scenery. According to one of the locals, it’s best to leave to Winter Park early in the day because everything besides restaurants close at 5. Since I don’t live too far, I plan to return soon enough in a more organized way, but I had a great time visiting! Not having any specific goals or knowing what to really expect when going to a place was refreshing and I hope this post not only inspires others to visit Winter Park, but to travel to areas that aren’t far from home because you never know what you’ll find.

 

 

 

What Happened in Vegas…

Nevada North America United States of America

What Happened in Vegas…

This past July, my best friend and I decided to take a spontaneous summer trip together. We had both recently turned 21 and I wanted to celebrate being young, single (at the time), and having extra paid time off. Well, what better place for two 21 year olds to live it up than fabulous Las Vegas?

I won’t lie, I had never really had a huge interest in Las Vegas in the past. Like many people, I just thought it was a gambler’s paradise and not much else. However, I would never knock a place until I tried it myself and Las Vegas is truly so much more than just gambling. Don’t get me wrong, I did do a little gambling, but I had so many other experiences that made me fall in love with Sin City.

where i stayed: stratosphere hotel

Something that was very important to me about where I stayed in Vegas was that the hotel was located on the strip. I wanted to be able to walk or take an inexpensive Uber ride wherever I wanted to go, so I wasn’t settling for something located outside of the strip. The Stratosphere Hotel is a  hotel, casino, and tower that’s located right on Las Vegas Boulevard. It cost about $65 a night to stay in and we stayed for 5 nights, 6 days. The Stratosphere is a large hotel that has several different bars, a pretty big casino area, two pools (one being a 21+ only rooftop pool, both complete with a bar), an observation deck, several places to eat including a 50’s themed diner, different retail shops, and even thrill rides at the top of the tower. It was so much fun to stay in, staying in the hotel was an experience in itself. There was so much to do that we didn’t even spend all day, every day venturing out. Out of everywhere I’ve stayed while traveling, the Stratosphere was my favorite!

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Vegas

Vegas

las vegas sign

What trip to Las Vegas would be complete without getting a picture in front of the iconic Las Vegas sign? We decided to get a picture in front of the sign at night because that’s when it shines the best, of course. It’s very hard to avoid having to wait in a line to get a picture, but the crowds weren’t too crazy. Night time is the best time to capture the sign at its best, since this is when it’ll be lit up. However, it’s hard to get a good picture of yourself and the sign without either the sign showing up too dark or too bright to see yourself. For the best pictures next to the sign, I would recommend going during the day (I only went at night and would have loved to have better pictures of myself there).

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criss angel: mindfreak show

It may sound weird, but seeing Criss Angel in real life was a childhood dream of mine because I loved his Mindfreak TV show. If you’re not familiar with who Criss Angel is (where were you in the early 2000s?), he’s an American magician and illusionist. He now has his own live magic show in Vegas at the Luxor Hotel and Casino. The tickets start from $62. The show gives a little history about Criss Angel and his magician career and he performs several tricks, including his famous levitation trick. It’s a compelling show and I personally thought it was really cool to actually see Criss Angel in person. As a sidenote, you’re not allowed to take any pictures during the show or you’ll be asked to leave, hence why I have no pictures of it.

drag brunch show @ senor frogs

This isn’t something that was unique to Vegas (cities like New York and Miami also have this), but I can’t think of a better city to go to a drag brunch show. The show is very interactive and entertaining, featuring a lot of singing and dancing done by talented and sometimes even famous drag queens. With general admission, you get unlimited food and bottomless mimosas. For a little extra, you can upgrade to VIP for premium seating and have access to the open bar (we did and it  was so worth it). General admission was about $50 and VIP was about $70.

gondola ride @ the venetian hotel

If you’re looking for a little taste of Venice while in Vegas, The Venetian is the place to be. The hotel itself is luxurious and Italian inspired. I don’t think there’s anywhere with more unique hotels than Las Vegas. The coolest part about the Venetian is the outdoor gondola ride (there is also an inside version, but we chose the outdoor one). The gondola ride is a temporary getaway from all of the craziness of the city, taking you around the outside of the hotel and underneath bridges. It was relaxing, beautiful, and the gondolier was very friendly. The gondoliers even sing to you in Italian, adding to the experience. However, the ride was a lot shorter than expected and overpriced for the amount of time that it was. The ride is $29 per person and $116 to have a guaranteed private two passenger ride.

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caesar’s palace

Another hotel! The reason that we chose to go to Caesar’s palace was because not only is it an iconic place, but there’s so much to do, like many of Vegas’ hotels. There’s a mini mall area, tons of restaurants, a nightclub, two pools, shows, and more. Caesar’s Palace was stunning all around, with its ancient Roman style architecture inside and outside. We decided to take a stroll around the mall and check out the pools. The main pool is a large, family friendly pool, open to anyone. The second pool is a 21+ European pool called Venus European Pool Lounge. Honestly, there were way more old people than I expected at a European (aka topless) pool. It was both me and my friend’s first time at this kind of pool, but we had a relaxing time tanning by the pool with our drinks and the music selection was pretty lively. Caesar’s Palace is a Vegas must-see.

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soul food cafe

Located outside of the strip, Soul Food Cafe is a small restaurant specializing in Southern style soul food. You do have to wait about 20 minutes for your food (this is stated on the menu) since it’s fresh and cooked when you order it. The food was delicious and had an authentic home-cooked feel. I ordered fried catfish with a side of mac and cheese and potato salad and one of Soul Food Cafe’s signature beverages, the Sugar Daddy, which is half lemonade and half Kool Aid. Being from the South and having been around my share of Southern states, I would happily recommend this as a place to grab lunch at in Vegas.

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arAwan Bistro and dessert

I never had Thai food before, so my friend and I decided to spontaneously check out a nearby Thai place, Arawan’s Bistro and Dessert. The contrast between Arawan’s outside and the inside of the restaurant is kind of shocking.The outside is pretty plain, making it look like a place where you just pick up your food and go. However, the inside is actually really pretty and has a romantic vibe to it, complete with a rose at every table. I ordered the duck palow (sooo good) with paradise tea, which is a type of green tea that is served to you with a flower inside it, blossoming right before your eyes. Dessert was the Sweet Sensation, which was a Thai pancake with sweetened condensed milk and sugar, Thai tea ice cream, Brulee banana, fresh strawberries, and oreo crumbs. The plating on the dessert was beautiful. Overall, this restaurant was on the pricey side, but the food was aesthetically pleasing and delicious.

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Vegas
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Vegas

cravings buffet @ the mirage

One of the many things that I came to know Vegas for are its cheap buffets. I love food, so this alone was super exciting for me. Located in the Mirage hotel, Cravings has 11 different dining stations, complete with pretty much any kind of food you can think of. They had sea food, ribs, burgers, pizza, pasta, Asian food, tacos, salads, desserts, and more. Plus, an “all you can drink” bar! This is pretty rare for a buffet, which makes this one unique.

grand canyon tour company

I’m not going to go too much into this one since it’s technically not in Vegas, but if you’re staying in Vegas you should definitely take advantage and plan a day to see the Grand Canyon in Arizona. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made while traveling and it’s actually so easy to go see the Grand Canyon from wherever you’re staying in Vegas. Look out for a post all about seeing the Grand Canyon through Grand Canyon Tour Company very soon! 😉

Things get slightly NSFW at this point (it was a trip to Sin City after all), so if you feel uncomfortable by any drug use mention or exotic dancers, feel free to not read on! I saved those things for last, so you won’t be missing anything else in this post.

deja vu showgirls

Is a trip to Vegas complete if you didn’t do at least one  thing that you wouldn’t want to tell your parents about? Well, one interesting experience I had was going to my very first strip club. I honestly wanted to go out of pure curiosity. Strip clubs are seen as such a taboo that I wanted to have the experience of going at least once. One of the cool things about Deja Vu Showgirls is that they can send a free limo to pick you up from your hotel, which made me feel super VIP. The club itself is small and cozy, nothing overwhelming which is great for a first time strip club. The drinks were decently priced and the dancers were actually very friendly. We had conversations with a few of them where they talked about what it was like to be a dancer in Vegas and how this particular club was a great choice for our first time. Lap dances (non private) were $20 and even though I was a little short on cash towards the end of the night, one of the dancers let me pay under the full price. I walked in feeling unsure about the whole thing, but honestly enjoyed the experience and would recommend it to anyone looking for a strip club that has a really chill, friendly vibe to it.

essence cannabis dispensary

Nevada is one of the few states where recreational marijuana is legal and being from a state where its not, I just had to take advantage of the opportunity. Finding a dispensary in Vegas is a lot easier than I imagined, in fact the hotel that I stayed in was just a short walk away from the Essence Cannabis Dispensary. Being my first time ever in a cannabis dispensary, I had no idea what the process of buying the marijuana would be like, but it was extremely easy. You just walk in, register at the desk as a recreational or medicinal user, and continue to the next room, which is where all of the cannabis products are sold. It’s just like waiting in line at a fast food place. There’s a huge menu displaying all of your options, from flowers to concentrates to pre-rolls to edibles of a good selection of strains. The wait wasn’t long at all and the staff are happy to answer any questions you have about the products, including what a specific strain would make you feel like. I purchased a pre-roll of Tahoe Cure for about $10 and the effects were just as relaxing as promised. The tricky part of this whole experience is actually getting to smoke what you purchased because it’s still illegal to use marijuana in public areas in Las Vegas, but if you’re able to use it in a private residence then you’ll be perfectly fine.

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Vegas

What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas (unless you’re a travel blogger).

 

 

A Quick Los Angeles, California Itinerary

California Destinations North America United States of America

A Quick Los Angeles, California Itinerary

Early this March I took a quick trip to Los Angeles in honor of my 21st birthday! California is a place that I had been wanting to go to for such a long time because although I’ve been out of the country multiple times, I had never been to the West Coast. Because of work and college classes I couldn’t stay for very long, but during my four days in Los Angeles I was able to do some of the things I had wanted to the most. I would definitely recommend them for anyone who only has a few days to see the iconic city that is LA for the first time!

hollywood walk of fame

 

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I’m one of those travelers that loves seeing famous landmarks, so I was super excited to see the Hollywood Walk of Fame in person! While I wasn’t looking for any celebrity’s star in particular, it was fun to see stars belonging to icons like Michael Jackson, Bob Marley, Will Smith, Madonna, etc. Initially, I was under the impression that the Walk of Fame was its own isolated street that was only used to walk along and look at the stars, so it surprised me to see that it was actually all over the streets of Sunset Boulevard. I can’t guarantee you’ll find any particular star that you’re searching for because they’re scattered so much that it was impossible to see every single one. As we looked at the stars, we passed tons of different stores, restaurants, bars/clubs, theaters, and just lots of various entertainment. If you have extra time to spare, then you’ll definitely find a lot to do in the Sunset Boulevard/Sunset Strip/Walk of Fame area. I highly suggest going while the sun is still out if you want good pictures, since the stars are harder to see at night. Definitely stay for the evening though, because the sunset was so stunning here (maybe why the area is called the Sunset Strip?). I think that visiting the Walk of Fame really captured the cinematic feeling that Hollywood is so well-known for.

Where I ate: I ate at Los Burritos, a Mexican restaurant on Sunset Boulevard. If I’m being honest, I’ve had better Mexican food before. This place wasn’t bad, but it was very mediocre. I ordered a few chicken tacos, but the tacos literally just had chicken and waaay too much cabbage. For authentic Mexican food, there wasn’t much flavor to them, but I did like the rice and beans. The people I traveled with agreed that the food wasn’t anything great. I’m sure there were better places to eat in the area though, but we ate there on a whim instead of doing any research and that doesn’t always work out.

 

Disneyland & California Adventure

 

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Disneyland and California Adventure aren’t technically in Los Angeles, they’re located in Anaheim which is located right outside of it. Still, these theme parks are definitely something to check out if you’re in the LA area, especially if you have children or just haven’t been to Disneyland before. Being from Florida, I’ve been to Disney World plenty of times, but I still wanted to see what Disneyland would be like and I’d actually like to check every Disney park in the world off of my list someday.

California Adventure was more of a fun experience to me personally because it felt like I was visiting somewhere new, while Disneyland was extremely similar to Disney World, just much smaller (I’ll be writing a detailed post explaining Disneyland vs Disney World soon!). However, if you’ve never been to any Disney park then you should definitely make it a point to visit both. Disneyland is actually the only Disney park in the world that was built directly under Walt Disney’s supervision, making it not only a theme park, but a huge piece of history.

Museum of death

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The Museum of Death isn’t for everyone, but if you have a bit of a morbid side then it’s one of those experiences you can’t really get anywhere else. In this museum you can read letters written by serial killers and look at art they created, watch autopsy videos (these are a little hard to watch) and photos including those of JFK and Marilyn Monroe, see exclusive crime scene photos from famous murders like the Black Dhalia and Manson murders, see a severed head, lots of taxidermy, a section all about Heaven’s Gate, and much more. It’s a self guided walking tour, so you have plenty of time to really soak in what you’re seeing because there’s a lot to look at and read about and you’ll definitely learn something new. The way I see it, you’ll either think “What kind of sick person would enjoy going to this?” or you’ll be extremely fascinated or maybe a combination of both. Unfortunately, pictures and videos of any kind are not allowed inside of the museum, so it’s something that you’d really have to go and see for yourself. I personally really enjoyed going here and if you’re into crime shows, horror movies, or anything of that kind of nature then I highly recommend this as something a little different to do is LA.

venice beach

 

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Venice Beach is another one of those iconic places that you just have to go to during your first visit in LA. Admittedly, the actual beach itself is nothing special. It’s definitely not ugly, but it’s not a beautiful, brightly colored tropical beach either. However, the Venice Beach boardwalk is a place that really captures the culture of Southern California and that’s what really won me over. From getting something to eat and shopping around to getting a tattoo to even seeing if you qualify for a marijuana card (I’m not sure how genuine these booths are by the way), there’s plenty to do just walking along the boardwalk. You’ll also see plenty of people on skateboards, street performers, fortune tellers, musicians, and just all around interesting Californians. This is a place I’d love to go back to.

santa monica pier

 

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The world famous Santa Monica Pier made me kind of wish that I had grown up in California. The Santa Monica Pier is similar to a year-round fair, with its rides, games, and food. Despite being a very touristy area, I found it to actually be a charming place and you can’t beat the beautiful seaside view during the day (at night it gets extremely foggy, though). The only ride I actually got on was the ferris wheel, which gave a perfect view of the whole pier and the beaches surrounding it. Besides food and entertainment, the Santa Monica Pier is also a great place to buy souvenirs. I found the souvenir shops in downtown LA to be a little cliche, but you can get all kinds of cool, vintage California things from stands on the pier. Overall, I’d suggest this place as something to do right after going to Venice beach. The whole area has a really fun, carefree vibe to it!

Where I Ate: I ate at Bubba Gump Shrimp, which is a seafood restaurant inspired by the Forrest Gump movie. This isn’t exclusive to California, but I don’t think there’s really a better way to enjoy a plate of shrimp and a cocktail than with an ocean view at the Santa Monica Pier.

griffith observatory

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Last but not least, a first time trip to LA is not complete without a visit to the Griffith Observatory! I personally chose to go to the Griffith Observatory to get a good view and pictures of the Hollywood Sign, since this seems to be the easiest way to do it if you’re not a fan of hiking (I’m definitely not). Along with an easy place to get a look at the Hollywood Sign, the Griffith Observatory is also the perfect spot to take in an amazing view of the city of Los Angeles. If you actually go inside of the building, you can look at different exhibits and look through telescopes. Depending when you go, you can even see a live show at the planetarium. Admission to the building and the grounds is completely free, so there’s really no reason not to add this educational and sight seeing experience to your Los Angeles itinerary!

 

summary

The perfect way to describe Southern California in my opinion is a perfect cross of Florida and New York City, so having lived in both of these states, it almost felt as if I had been there before. Despite this, I was left wanting more, the way I am with nearly every place I’ve visited. There’s still so much of California and even Los Angeles that I haven’t seen (which just means I’ll have to go back someday), but I think that if, like me, you only have a few days to spend in the city of angels, you’ll get a decent taste of it and great memories from visiting everywhere on my list!

Have you been to Los Angeles? How did you spend your time there? Let me know in the comments!

 

 

 

 

Exploring Gatlinburg, Tennessee: Day Two

North America Tennessee United States of America

Exploring Gatlinburg, Tennessee: Day Two

After a busy first day in Gatlinburg, I was very eager for my second day of exploring this beautiful little city before heading back home the next morning. Here’s what day two consisted of:

Hiking Great smoky mountains national park

The most popular attraction in Gatlinburg is, without a doubt, the Great Smoky Mountains that surround the city. It also happens to be a beautiful hiking spot, especially during the fall. The Smokies are something that I saw in some way or another my entire time over there, but I never got tired of looking at them.  My family and I decided to actually go into the national park and hike the Baskins Creek Trail, which led to us to a waterfall called Baskin Falls. I believe that this trail was 3 miles each way and there were a few rough, steep areas. I’m not much of a hiker personally, so for me the walk was kind of difficult (I actually fell). It was a good workout though, I have to admit. Be prepared to keep your balance if this is something you want to do!

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 sNOW TUBING at ober gatlinburg

Ober Gatlinburg is a small amusement park and ski area located in the mountains of the city. You have to take an aerial tramway (or cable car) to get here, which was an adventure on its own. An aerial tramway is pretty much a huge, enclosed skylift and also happens to be the safest method on transportation in the world. It’s hard to believe it when it starts rocking back and forth thousands of feet from the ground while it’s pitch black out, but it’s definitely true.

Even though it wasn’t actually snowing in Gatlinburg, I still got to experience the fun of going snow tubing (thanks to snow making machines)!  Snow tubing is basically getting to race down a hill of snow on something that resembles a pool floatie. You go down super fast along with the people next to you and it’s so much fun! For 25 dollars I was able to go down the hill as many times as I wanted for an hour. Even though I’m definitely not a little kid anymore, I had a great time doing this and think that people of all ages would have a blast snow tubing in Gatlinburg.

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baymont inn and suites

Okay, this isn’t really an “activity”, but I thought I would mention what hotel I stayed in. Baymont Inn and Suites is a pretty well-known hotel chain and the rooms themselves weren’t anything out of this world, pretty much what you’d expect from your standard hotel room. Decent amount of space, two king sized beds, bathroom, Wi-Fi, TV, etc. What I really enjoyed about staying here were the little Gatlinburg touches. The view from the hotel balcony was so charming, it was right over a little creek that ran next to the mountains and in front of the cabins. It was a perfect little mountainside country scene. I’m also the kind of person who really enjoys the little things, so the fact that the continental breakfast included bear shaped waffles really won me over. Bears are pretty much the mascot Gatlinburg and there were bear statues in various areas of the hotel. The location of the hotel was also pretty good, since it was easy to get everywhere we planned to go. When I do return to Gatlinburg, I wouldn’t mind staying here again at all (but the goal is to stay in an actual cabin next time).

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If you enjoyed these posts about Gatlinburg, Tennessee, you should watch my first ever travel vlog about my trip on YouTube! Be sure to like and subscribe! 🙂

 

Exploring Gatlinburg, Tennessee: Day One

North America Tennessee United States of America

Exploring Gatlinburg, Tennessee: Day One

Gatlinburg, Tennessee is a gorgeous town located in the heart of the Great Smoky mountains and such an underrated place to visit! I didn’t even know it existed until a few months ago, but I couldn’t be happier that I went. My family and I like to do random little trips every so often and this time we decided to spend a couple of days in Gatlinburg right before Thanksgiving break. This was really the perfect time to visit because the weather was nice and cool and the leaves were beautiful shades of red, orange, and gold, which made the mountains look even more beautiful. As someone who lives in Florida (where it feels like we only have two seasons: summer and slightly colder summer), seeing mountains and fall colored leaves is so exciting on its own. However, I was surprised to see that there’s actually a lot more to do in Gatlinburg than admire the scenery! With only two full days there we didn’t get to do a large amount of things, but we did enough to leave with amazing memories and a promise that we would return and see more one day.

Edit:  Unfortunately, just a few days after returning home from Gatlinburg, wildfires spread across parts of the city and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I actually had this post up and ready to go the day I found out the news, so I decided to unpublish it and add my support before publishing it again. Gatlinburg (and nearby Pigeon Forge) is really such a wonderful place that I’d love to see again and my heart goes out to those affected by the fires. I really hope that this beautiful little city makes a strong and speedy recovery. If you’d like to help the people of Gatlinburg, I found a link with different ways you can help here . 


Day One

Sugarlands Riding Stables

There’s nothing like riding a horse through the Smoky Mountains in the fall. This was actually my very first time horseback riding and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way! I’ll admit I was a little nervous about it because as much as I love animals, I had the irrational fear of the horse kicking me off. A few minutes into the ride I realized that the horses here really do know what they’re doing and I was able to relax and take in the views and believe me, they were incredible. At Sugarlands Riding Stables you have an hour to ride your horse up and back down part of the Smoky Mountains where you get to see the other mountains surrounding you, beautifully colored trees, and babbling creeks. This was probably my favorite activity in Gatlinburg and I guarantee that every nature lover would really enjoy this experience.

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Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine

It doesn’t get more Southern than drinking moonshine in Tennessee. At Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine you can actually sample shots of several flavors of moonshine like coffee, pumpkin pie, margarita, peppermint, and more and you can also buy bottles of the flavors you liked. Of course, they check your I.D. so I couldn’t try any myself (about 4 more months to go!), but my parents loved them and this is something I’d really like to experience first-hand when I come back.

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Arts and Crafts Fair

I just happened to stumble upon this fair while walking around the town and it was a really cool experience. This craft fair had a lot of different handmade items from bath bombs and body butters to Christmas decorations and wind chimes. The people at the stands were really friendly and there were a lot of really cute, unique things to buy, like candles that can be used as lotion when melted. Something I didn’t know until I left and researched Gatlinburg craft fairs is that Gatlinburg has a really strong arts and crafts community which I think is awesome because I really love seeing the things that other people create.

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Sky Lift

I think that the best possible way to take in the scenic town of Gatlinburg is by taking a ride on a sky lift. This is an open-air chair lift ride that goes up to 1,800 feet over the Smoky Mountains with a perfect view of Gatlinburg. It was breathtaking to say the least. I’m still in awe of the fact that such a beautiful place exists. In fact, during the sky lift ride I couldn’t help but get that overwhelming feeling that I get when seeing a new place that I love, that feeling that reminds me (as if I really need reminding) why I love traveling. Basically, the feeling of “wow, the world really has some beautiful places”. I’ve been saying “beautiful” a lot in this post, but that word especially sums up the sky lift. It’s a little difficult to get good pictures when going up the lift, but once you reach the top you’re able to get off and take pictures and also shop at a little gift shop before going back down and taking in the view again.

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Blaine’s Grill and Bar

One thing I really love about traveling is eating food. Okay, maybe eating food is one of my favorite things in general. When it comes to the United States, one kind of food I really enjoy is Southern. Blaine’s Grill and Bar is a great place in Gatlinburg to have authentic Southern and BBQ food. I ordered a fried chicken sandwich with bacon, lettuce, and tomato with a side of potato salad and a lemonade. I couldn’t even finish it because it made me super full, which is unfortunate because it was delicious. The service there is great, too. The food didn’t take too long to be served and despite me accidentally spilling my lemonade (oops), the waitress was all smiles. Even though the food is mostly Southern and BBQ type food, the restaurant looked a lot like an Irish pub which was interesting. Definitely would recommend.

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Arcade City

This isn’t exactly located in Gatlinburg, but in Pigeon Forge (just literally a few minutes away) is a street known as Arcade City. This street is filled with all kinds of bright neon light covered arcades. Arcade City was our last activity of day one and the perfect way to end the night. We chose to go to just Rockin Raceway Arcade (though I think “arcade hopping” around the street would be a cool idea). This arcade works kind of like Dave n’ Busters in the fact that you get all of your points for prizes on a card and you can come back and use this card as much as you want. There were all kinds of games here, from classics like Dance Dance Revolution and ball throwing games to a giant Connect 4 game and a zombie shooting game that you win or lose by how much you get scared (it measures your pulse to check). We decided to go with the 50 dollar card deal, which between 4 people still got us a lot of games. I don’t know exactly when we’ll be back in Gatlinburg, so we didn’t save our points and ended up getting a pink dolphin pool floatie, nerf gun, ball, and some candy with them.

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Make sure to check out part two of this post: Exploring Gatlinburg, Tennessee: Day Two!

Authentic Japanese Food in Orlando, Florida

Florida North America United States of America

Authentic Japanese Food in Orlando, Florida

If you’re looking for a great (and affordable!) local Japanese spot to eat in Orlando, check out Bikkuri Sushi Noodle and Grill! I think I started to fall in love with the restaurant before I even got inside. The glowing red neon lights and the flashing “open” sign were the first promising signs of an interesting atmosphere, and it only got better from there. As soon as you walk in, you’re in a lobby with a mirror on the wall (perfect for cool selfies bathed in red light) and a set of stairs.

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Once you’re up the stairs, you’re greeted by a sign that asks you to wait to be seated and get your first peek of the restaurant. The whole place is cozily small and dimly lit, with red Japanese lanterns, soft lighting above each booth and a few neon signs in the windows. It immediately gives a kitchy, New York City 80’s vibe with a Japanese twist, which I absolutely loved.

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There’s a full bar with a TV, making it an ideal place for a night of drinking (but I’m under the legal drinking age, so I didn’t experience that part).

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My friend and I were seated right away. The booth was by a window with a view of the street below and surrounding buildings. Each table was set with the usual silverware, napkins, and condiments along with chopsticks and a rose in a glass vase. From the inside out, Bikurri is an extremely aesthetically pleasing place. Another bonus, for an evening in downtown Orlando it wasn’t crowded at all! There were a few other groups of people, but it was pretty quiet and overall very chill with quick service.

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Now, onto the food!

There were a large variety of drinks, from your normal soft drinks to cocktails to Japanese teas and sakes. I had a cold Hojicha Green tea, which wasn’t sweetened at all but very refreshing and felt cleansing, like an instant detox. I skipped the appetizers because they were a little on the pricey side (like, over $10 an appetizer) and went straight to the entrée. For my entrée, I ordered donburi, which is a bowl of chicken, fried egg, onion, and scallion over steamed rice with broth. This was so delicious, I’m really glad I chose it. The combination of savory flavors and the warmth of the food made me want to curl up with the bowl on a cold, lazy and rainy day. I would describe donburi as the ultimate Japanese comfort food. While it wasn’t exactly comfort food weather (90 something degrees on a humid Florida day), this was still so appetizing and filling, too.  I still crave it from time to time (right now, for example).

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I also got the salmon tropical roll on the side, which consisted of 8 medium sized rolls of sushi with salmon and cream cheese inside, topped with mango, pineapple, krab, scallion, avocado, and mayo sauce. I wasn’t nearly as impressed with the sushi as I was with the donburi. There wasn’t anything wrong with it at all, I just felt like there wasn’t anything unique about it. I mean, I’ve bought sushi that tasted just as good from the supermarket. The tropical addition of mango and pineapple sounded interesting, but it wasn’t what I expected it to be. Basically, it just tasted like having mango and pineapple in your mouth and then having a mouthful of sushi. It didn’t complement the flavors inside of the actual sushi. When it comes to getting sushi from Bikurri, I would recommend it, just in a different (maybe more classic) flavor.

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For dessert, I had fried cheesecake with vanilla ice cream on the side. These don’t actually come together, but I thought that vanilla ice cream would be the perfect match, so I ordered them separately. This was really tasty and I would definitely recommend ordering it! You can’t go wrong with taking something sweet and frying it. The outside of the fried cheesecake was warm and crispy, while the inside was cold and creamy like a normal cheesecake. It was an amazing combination, especially with the vanilla ice cream added. If you love cheesecake, you’ll love this dessert, I promise.

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Overall, my meal was about $36, including the tip. The portions were all generous and the service was good, so I had no problem with the price. What really won me over was the awesome atmosphere of the restaurant, but I left happy (and stuffed) with the food I had, too. It’s not easy to find a place that can do both, so this was a win-win. Without a doubt, I would go eat at Bikurri Sushi Noodle and Grill again and actually hope to make another visit soon.