See Chicago through a Mercury Urban Adventure Cruise

See Chicago through a Mercury Urban Adventure Cruise

As you all know by now, Chicago has been home for some years and I consider it home. The traffic can drive me crazy and I’ve gained about 10 pounds eating way too much pizza, but it has such a special place in my heart and I love trying out unique experiences here!img_0011

One special way to see the city of Chicago through a new lens is on a Mercury Skyline Cruise right down the Chicago River to Lake Michigan. I went on this scenic boat tour and enjoyed it SO MUCH I wanted to share with you!img_0133img_0144

The detail I loved most about the Mercury Skyline Cruise was the amazing guide that shared his knowledge about the city, the skyline’s history, and really cool tidbits of information about the architecture, famous Chicago characters, and significant events from the city’s past that made it what it is today. You truly appreciate Chicago so much more after hearing about the amazing trials and tribulations that the people have gone through the past 200 years, all while enjoying breathtaking views of the skyline.img_0099

There’s a cash bar aboard, and if you take the 6:15 pm cruise like I did, you’ll get a great show of the magnificent sunset, especially throughout the summer season! I seriously forgot I was in Chicago for a minute. img_0158

Hurry and reserve your tickets today, these cruises only go through October 10th, and what a neat way to wave goodbye to summer this weekend with friends & loved ones!img_0185

Mercury Cruises
$34/person
Departing Daily
April 29 – October 10, 2016
10:15 am, 12:15 pm, 2:15 pm, 4:15 pm, 6:15 pm

Unique outdoor experience with Kayak Chicago

Unique outdoor experience with Kayak Chicago

I’m always up for trying new things, especially in my city of Chicago, and especially when it’s warm outside! Kayak Chicago let me try out their architectural kayaking tour down the Chicago River, and it was such a cool and unique experience for tourists and local Chicagoans alike. Kayak Chicago

We had a group of 8 and we met off North Avenue for easy access to the Chicago River. Our South African guide, Bruno, was fantastic! He had really interesting bits of information to share about Chicago history and architecture, and took some time to show us the best method for kayaking (and, more importantly, how to quickly get out of the way of boats). You could tell he was very passionate about the city of Chicago, which made us all excited to learn more about where we call home.

Kayak Chicago
Kayak Chicago

I’ve tried kayaking before, but only in short spurts. I gotta say, the 3-hour kayak roundtrip was pretty intense! Get a good night’s rest and eat a solid breakfast for this outdoorsy trip and you’ll be good to go. I recommend wearing loose athletic gear and bring plenty of water. A bathing suit isn’t necessary but make sure to bring a Ziploc bag to store your phone in case water splashes in from the paddle. I wore sandals and took them off for the trip and that worked perfectly.

Chicago Merchandise Mart - it used to have its own zip code it's so large!
Chicago Merchandise Mart – it used to have its own zip code it’s so large!Kayak ChicagoThe most fun part of my afternoon with Kayak Chicago was the ability to view the city from a completely new perspective. I mean, look at these incredible pictures!!Kayak Chicago

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I have a newfound appreciation for the Chicago River, as well as the incredible history that went into creating The Second City, aptly named after a famous rebuild following the great Chicago fire.Kayak ChicagoKayak Chicago

Overall, Kayak Chicago, which offers day tours as well as sunset firework tours, was a fantastic experience and I would recommend it to anyone looking to do something unique and athletic in the city. The cost is around $70, but always check the website for specials. Hurry, you only have about a little more time to take advantage of this beautiful weather!

My fantastic guide, Bruno!
My fantastic guide, Bruno!

Kayak Chicago
(312) 8-kayak-8 / (312) 852-9258
1220 W. LeMoyne ave Chicago, IL
https://kayakchicago.com

The Most Beautiful Place in Illinois: Baha’i House of Worship (and less than an hour away from Chicago!)

The Most Beautiful Place in Illinois: Baha’i House of Worship (and less than an hour away from Chicago!)

I’m always up for a fantastic day trip, especially during the summer season when I’m off work. Scrolling through Facebook, I found an article that listed the most beautiful sights in each of the 50 states. Illinois’ most beautiful place was named the Baha’i House of Worship in Wilmette; about an hour outside the city down Lakeshore, and a mere 15 minutes from Evanston. So, I hopped in my car and went on an adventure!Bahai Temple of WorshipI am so glad I took the time to visit this architectural dream. The Baha’i faith, as I learned from the very informative Welcome Center, was founded in 19th century Persia, and believes in unifying the human race and society.Bahai Temple of WorshipThis is the only temple of its kind in North America, and the beauty of the building and the grounds is absolutely breathtaking. It is a quiet, serene place to gather your thoughts, attend a service, or simply marvel at the detail needed to create the house of worship. You can go inside, but they ask not to take pictures.Bahai Garden

At night, the temple is lit up beautifully, but during the day, the gardens were gorgeous and the windows let in the summer light. This temple is definitely worth the short drive from Chicago or the suburbs! I haven’t seen all of Illinois, but I can’t argue that this sight was one of the most beautiful I’ve seen while living here.Bahai Temple of WorshipBaha’i House of Worship
100 Linden Ave., At Sheridan Rd., Wilmette, IL

I Love You, Cleveland

I Love You, Cleveland

Cleveland

It’s the #SUMMEROFCLEVELAND, my little Pepperminters! The Cleveland Cavaliers have won a championship, the Indians are consistently proving they’ve got the right stuff this season, Stipe won the UFC Heavyweight Title, the Lake Erie Monsters brought home the Calder Cup, my family’s ice cream store Honey Hut is doing better than ever, AND the city was even featured as one of the main plot lines in the summer hit Finding Dory! I was in town for Game 7 and for the championship parade, and I gotta say, I’ve never felt that kind of positive energy and pure joy from so many people at once. The enthusiasm was contagious! Although I’ve moved away, my Cleveland roots mean so much to me and here’s why.

The city always welcomes me back

I was born and raised in Cleveland, yet decided to journey away from my hometown to explore other options, similar to many others my age. I attended school at Loyola University Chicago, then moved to Houston, Texas and Wilmington, Delaware to teach high-risk populations. Now I’m back in Chicago, which almost feels like a mini Cleveland at times because there are so many native Ohioans in this part of the Midwest. I fondly remember the $39-one way tickets from Chicago to Cleveland that I used to book on a whim in college when I missed my family and hometown. For under $100, I would be home in an hour, and feel a hero’s welcome from family and friends. Whenever I visit for holidays, my friends text or call and try to (many times, unsuccessfully) calculate a time in our busy schedules for us to meet up and have a drink and a few laughs. My parents joke I’m the “protocol daughter” who returns to Cleveland after a few months of big city life, and the welcome home joy I feel each time I make the trip will never be outdone.

ClevelandThe fandom

Cleveland fans are revered as the best fans in the world, and I’m here to tell you there’s more truth in that than you’ll ever know! When I go to watch a game at a Browns Backers bar, the fans completely take over and it’s easy to forget I’m in a different city. Believeland, a 30 for 30 documentary released by ESPN this summer, helps explain why the fandom in Cleveland is so intense and pure, and until you’re in another city and see how non-natives talk smack on Cleveland, you probably don’t know how fiercely you’d defend it and how big of a fan you’d become.

542168320_1466700503126_3347170_ver1.0The eats

As much as I love Chicago dining, the Cleveland dining scene have taken a GIANT leap forward in the past few years and I couldn’t be more excited. Every time I visit home, there’s a new restaurant to try out. My recent favorite that my sister took me to was Urban Farmer, which has fantastic brunch and dinner options. Little Italy is a magnificent little treasure of restaurants and eateries, and of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the great beer options throughout the city.

Ten Best Restaurants in Cleveland

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Mellow Mushroom Pizza MMMMM

Check out my friend Kelly’s blog CLE Unleashed for updates on new and exciting places to eat & drink!

ClevelandHope for the Future

One of the things I’m most proud of is Cleveland’s ability to tune out the negativity and keep looking forward towards a better future. No one believed we could win a championship, no one believed Cleveland would be anything more than the “mistake on the lake”, but here we are, proving ourself as a capable city and just as much potential as our big brother cities. However, Cleveland has been in the news a lot for other things that do not fill me with pride. Our city needs to come together now more than ever to work our city’s problems and prove the “we are one” chant we all yelled on the night of the Cavs victory is real! Kinda like a favorite child, I want Cleveland to get better since I know there’s so much good it has to offer.

I’m not sure if I’ll ever move back to Cleveland, but I do know that as much as we complain about the weather, and the potholes, and our beloved Browns, we are all in this together and our story of a NEW Cleveland has only just begun.

How to Have a Successful Weekend in Universal Studios Orlando

How to Have a Successful Weekend in Universal Studios Orlando

I am a Disney girl through and through, but when it came to a 30th birthday trip with my sister, we decided that we should try something different. Thanks to Harry Potter, Universal Studios Orlando is now a heavyweight competitor with Disney, and as self-proclaimed Pottheads, Universal has been calling our name for years. So, we booked a quick weekend getaway, and started planning! I learned so much being a first-timer in Universal, and now it’s time to pass my knowledge onto you! Here’s how to have a successful weekend in Universal Orlando:Universal StudiosStay at a resort on property

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Loews Portofino Bay Hotel in Orlando

Similar to Disney, Universal Studios has major perks for guests that stay at their on-property resorts. There are a few options, but we ended up choosing Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, which is the highest tier of the resort choices (and the most expensive, unfortunately). It has a very upscale feel and is meant to mirror the Italian town of Portofino, nestled right on the water. The price held it’s value; the room was spacious, the pool was absolutely glorious, and we were able to enter the park an hour before regular ticket holders.

Make an Itinerary… even if you don’t stick to it

I spent hours creating a beautiful, perfect itinerary for our brief 72-hours in Orlando, and although we deviated from the plan about 8 minutes into our first day, I’m still really glad I made it. A structured itinerary encouraged me to research rides, restaurants, and wait times, and I felt confident going to the parks after I had a plan in mind. I linked my personal itinerary below, take a look, it worked really well!

Link for 2-day Universal Studios Orlando Itinerary

Hogwarts Express

Buy the Park-to-Park ticket (and buy it online ahead of time)

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Hogwarts Castle!

The best value for tickets is the park-to-park ticket online (you save $20 versus buying it at the gate), and trust me, you’ll want the park hopper option. With the park hopper, you have access to ride the Hogwarts Express between both parks, and the experience is definitely worth the money. Be sure to print out the tickets ahead of time so as soon as you get the gate, you’re ready to go.

The food, overall, isn’t that great, so plan ahead

Yes, I consider this a tip because I wish I would have been prepared. The food is just… ok, in my opinion, especially compared to Disney. One perk is that the value is definitely there. A hot dog is the price a hot dog should be, a bottled water is $2.99 (a little expensive but still not sporting event expensive), and snacks will only run you a few dollars. However, there just aren’t a ton of options available for dining, so I recommend doing some research ahead of time and looking at specific menu items to see what you may be interested in for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Considering I purchased 6 Butter Beer drinks/ice cream cones, I personally recommend those signature snacks!

SISTER TIP: Our favorite dining spot was actually at the Simpsons Fast Food Blvd. It offered a variety of food options, cold Duff beer, and the most amazing face-sized donut I’ve ever tasted for only $5.99! That’s $1.20 each for dessert for a family of five. Great deal. Check out the video below (side note – how amazing is her ring?!)

Play along with the characters

In Harry Potter world, many cast members are just as big of fans as we are, and they’ll love to play along with you. We heard many statements (“I’m late for potions, move out of my way!”) and taking a few minutes out of your time to talk with them will make your day. Stan from The Knight Bus offers a great photo op, and the dinosaur handler in Jurassic Park took her role very seriously. [See video below].Triwizard

Head to Harry Potter World first thing in the morning

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Diagon Alley… complete with dragon

My last tip is to head to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter ASAP, like literally, first thing in the morning. There are two different ‘worlds’ – Diagon Alley (Universal Studios) and Hogsmeade (Islands of Adventure). Both were amazing, but you’ll find you probably prefer one over the other. We absolutely loved the attention to detail in Diagon Alley; it was as if we stepped into the books themselves, so we started our morning there both days. I recommend grabbing a spot in line of your favorite ride first thing, as well, as the lines get longer as the day progresses. Remember, if you stay on site, you get to enter the park an hour before other ticket holders!Universal

Keep your eyes out for a Harry Potter World tips post in the next week! Until then, comment some tips you have below! 🙂

7 Reasons to Visit Sayulita, Nayurit: El Pueblo Mágico

7 Reasons to Visit Sayulita, Nayurit: El Pueblo Mágico

Spring break was a whirl and too short, as always. I’m here to share my Mexican adventure with you, and try to persuade you that you MUST visit the charming fishermen town of Sayulita.  Sayulita is Mexico’s best kept secret, but word is getting out, and I’m so glad I had the opportunity to travel there. Here are seven reasons why you must make this your next exotic vacation destination!

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1) Location, location, location

The town is about an hour drive north of Puerto Vallarta, and fairly easy to get to by taxi or bus from Puerto Vallarta airport. There’s a bunch of direct flights available from the midwest, and if you’re not visiting around a holiday, the prices are very reasonable. The town itself has a perfectly quaint central plaza with restaurants and bars, and the beach surrounding it is clean, beautiful, and convenient.

You can also take day trips like I did to other parts of the city. San Pancho was a quaint little fishing village about 15 minutes away, the Marietas Islands offer unbelievable hidden caves you can swim in, and Punta Mita is another beautiful beach that’s driving distance for a great day trip.

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2) Wake up with a view

The views are what drew me to Sayulita in the first place. Picturesque is an understatement. You will legit feel like you woke up in Jurassic Park (but the good kind of Jurassic Park where there’s no dinosaurs, just lush forest and sunshine and mimosas). There are vacation rentals available, adorable hotels, and B&Bs.  Check out Casa Los Arcos (below) – I highly recommend it!

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3) Incredible local food

The food was absolutely incredible throughout the week’s visit. Obviously, traditional Mexican dishes are everywhere – tamales, tacos, burritos, chilaquiles etc. But the most interesting part to me was that traditional Italian restaurants were also available (one was actually owned by a brother and sister who straight moved from Italy to Sayulita to open a restaurant!) and the prices were extremely reasonable, especially when you use Pesos. There are tons of eateries in the town, here’s a list of my favorites:

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4) You don’t need a car to get around

Everything is walking distance in Sayulita, which is super convenient for visitors. From the rental, I could walk to the beach, restaurants, bars and stores. Something that’s really cool about this town is that there’s also tons of golf carts for rental, and yes, people just drive ’em around town like a car!IMG_0112IMG_0408

5) The view again… this time from the top of a mountain

If you like to explore on your vacations, Sayulita has plenty of those opportunities for you. There’s jungle tours, surf board lessons, zip lining, and even the hike up an 11,600-foot Monkey Mountain. Our group left early in the morning and climbed the excruciatingly steep hike all the way to the top, the views were miraculous.

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If you’re interested in hikes or other Sayulita tours, I highly recommend you use Mexitreks! Our guide was amazing and incredibly knowledgeable about the area. Worth every penny!

6) WHALES

Sayulita is right in the middle of humpback whale migratory patterns during the winter and early spring months. Many of the humpback mama and babies are hangin out in the warm, calm, shark-free waters of Sayulita, Nayurit bays, so it’s the ideal time and place to view whales in their natural environment. La Orca Whale Watching is led by a scientist named Nico that is so unbelievably passionate about whales and dolphins in the area, and will not only take you out on the boat to see whales, but will also educate you wholeheartedly about the nature of these amazing animals!

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7) Colors and culture

Living in Chicago, you can imagine that I don’t see as many colors on a daily basis as I would like. Sayulita is like a different, far more colorful and imaginative world and it was an amazing sight to witness. There’s street art all through the town, colorfully painted walls, and pastel flags that are hung between palm trees in the plaza. The people that live there are generous, helpful, and eager to share their culture and heritage with visitors. Sayulita, Nayurit is a MUST visit if you’re kinda over the tourist-traps of Cancun and Riviera Maya.

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A Weekend in Charming Québec: What to do on your visit

A Weekend in Quebec

The tagline for the city of Québec, Canada is “So Europe. So Close.” And it’s TOTALLY true! If you’ve been feigning for a trip to Paris or another quaint city in Europe, but you don’t want to pay the pricey airfare and spend half your day traveling, I’ve got the perfect solution for a unique weekend getaway: Bonjour, Québec!

SISTER TIP 1: Get a direct flight

Since this was a last minute trip, I wasn’t able to get a direct flight into Québec, but when I go back, I will definitely be sure this is the case. The Toronto airport was a rough one (lots of construction) and having to stop and potentially re-check your bag is a real pain. Spend the extra money!

Quebec Hat

SISTER TIP 2: Where to stay

We stayed at Manoir Victoria and it was really nice. It’s located in a great area, updated rooms, and free wi-fi (they pronounce it “wee-fee” there)!

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If you’re looking for a more boutique-style motel, check out Auberge Saint-Antoine, and if you’d like a super fantasical Disney castle to stay in, definitely go with Fairmont Le Château Frontenac (pictured below).

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Fairmont Le Château Frontenac

SISTERP TIP 3: Where to eat

  • Restaurant 1640: A Bistro-style restaurant that has great food and decent pricing
  • Paillard: Think of this as a more quaint, better-tasting Panera
  • Le Saint-Amour: A fancier option for dinner – make sure you make a reservation!

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SISTER TIP 4: What to do

#1 on my list of fun things to do at night in Québec for a tourist is the Ghost Tour throughout the city! It was so fun – the host was an awesome actor who didn’t break character once, and you learn about the gruesome history of Québec for only 20 bucks a pop!

Quebec Light Fixture

The other times you’re here during the day, shopping, eating, and walking around admiring architecture is the play. The Plains of Abraham offer a spectacular view of the city, so make sure you make the hike up there to catch some beautiful shots (pictured below).

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Have you ever visited Québec?? What would you recommend?

4 Must-Dos for a First Trip to San Francisco

San Francisco is an incredible city, and my first time there was unforgettable! If you haven’t been to this unique town, I definitely recommend a long weekend ASAP. My recommendations are mostly touristy/first-timer type stuff, but I think those things are necessary and super fun!

San Francisco First TimeFood Tour in the Mission District

Walking food tours are an awesome way to get to know a little history of the city, meet owners of unique restaurants, try tasty dishes, and not have to wait in line! I booked an Avital Food Tour of the Mission District – a perfect choice due to the incredibly intricate street art in that area. It’s around $80/person, but worth every penny.

An awesome organic, vegan sweet potato quesadilla from "Gracias Madre".
An awesome organic, vegan sweet potato quesadilla from “Gracias Madre”.

Bike Ride Across Golden Gate Bridge

This bike trip was unbelievably cool. There’s tons of bicycle rentals all around the city, but I recommend San Francisco Bike Rentals – their customer service was great and the price is a totally doable $25 for a whole day rental. The bike path is easy to follow and takes you right across the Golden Gate Bridge (not for the faint of heart!). The trip to Sausalito took about an hour and a half, and then you can take the ferry back to the wharf for about 10 bucks.

Sausalito

This adorable fisherman’s town is like an American version of the Amalfi Coast. It is so beautiful, with hills, little shops, restaurants, and of course, seafood. You can spend a few hours here after your bike trip, and I highly recommend eating at Fish – the most amazing and fresh oysters, crab roll, and fish and chips I’ve ever had!

Fresh west coast oysters from "Fish" in Sausalito.
Fresh west coast oysters from “Fish” in Sausalito.

Alcatraz

Unfortunately, I can’t write about this experience because they sold out of Alcatraz tour tickets two weeks before I called to book. 🙁 This group offers a notoriously amazing tour of Alcatraz and Angel Island, but since it was a holiday weekend, they only offered a few tours and the tickets were snatched up quickly. My advice is to call and secure your Alcatraz tour as soon as you know you’re going to San Fran. From everything I hear, it’s an unforgettable experience!

What have you done on your trip to San Francisco??