Black Friday is approaching and while that means scooping up the newest Lego set, TV or gaming system for some – I, as well as many other Wanderlusters, are anxiously waiting to find out if their will be any good travel deals.

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While traveling is amazing and I highly encourage it for EVERYONE – it can be pricey, so I am always on the look out for great flight specials. Last year I scored a stay via Expedia‘s Cyber Monday sale at the amazing Condado Vanderbilt Hotel in San Juan for 1/2 price and was able to use a $75 off Thanksgiving coupon on top of that by booking through their app.

This year it looks as Black Friday/Cyber Monday came early. Thanks to Secret Flying I was informed about a MAJOR flight sale between the US & Europe. I’m talking Round Trip flights for $400-$500 to multiple European destinations!

Check about Secret Flying’s article HERE and then go search the airlines website directly! (Delta, AA etc.)

Just an FYI: it seems as United as jumped on the bandwagon because I just scored a non stop RT flight from Newark to my beloved Paris for $418! This same flight was over $700 just a few days ago and normally that flight would be about $1,000.

If you take advantage of this sale, let me know where you booked and if you need any recommendations on where you should head to – shoot me an e-mail.

HAPPY TRAVELING!

Walt Disney World – The happiest place on earth!

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When Disney reached out to me to attend the Royal Welcoming of the First Latina Princess, Elena of Avalor, I screamed YES with no hesitation. I’ve been to Disney twice, once with my madrina and Tio Danny when I was about 7 years old and another time in High School when I had the opportunity to play in a Disney softball tournament. This was my first trip as an adult and I felt like I could really soak in this experience. I knew I was only going to be in town for about 30 hours so I was looking forward to making the best of it.

We stayed at Disney’s Beach Club Resort.

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The property is absolutely beautiful and filled with charm. The staff was so friendly and very accommodating.

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Upon checking in, I received my Disney MagicBand and went on to explore my room as well as the property until it was time to meet up with some of the ladies to have dinner + dessert at Epcot.

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After checking into Epcot, we dined at La Hacienda de San Angel which served an authentic Mexican cuisine and killer margaritas. The best part of dinner had to be getting to know all the girls, great conversation and a ton of laughs. When we were done we headed to the Italy Pavilion for a private dessert party where we had front row seats to IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth, which is an incredible show that features fireworks, pyrotechnics, laser lights, fountains, and fire to create a visual production on the park’s World Showcase Lagoon. It’s an absolute must see!

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The next day I was up bright and early because I was so excited to get together with the group again and head to the Magic Kingdom for the Royal Welcoming for Princess Elena.

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Cinderella and Prince Charming appear on the stage of the castle, dándole la bienvenida (giving a welcome) to everyone to this magical kingdom and introducing their special guest from Avalor. Princess Elena arrives accompanied by a troupe of regal banner carriers and musicians and when asked to share her historia, Elena
picks up a guitarra and joins her musicians in a performance of the song “My Time,” recounting her magical adventures and triumphant return to Avalor.

It was truly magically to witness this and as a Latina, made me super proud! After the Royal Welcoming we headed to a Disney luncheon where we got to meet and interview all the important people behind Elena of Avalor and even got to meet the princess herself.

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This trip, while short, was an incredible experience and I’m so glad that so many of you followed along with me on Instastories (@pearls_and_paris) and Snapchat (pearlsandparis). THANK YOU Disney for a magical time.

As many of you know, my son is turning ONE in just a few weeks and so we have planned a Family Disney trip for mid October!!!! Make sure you stay tuned as I will be sharing every step of the way with you guys while there.

Barcelona is where my love affair with Europe began.

I remember my excitement from the time I planned and booked everything to stepping foot off the plane. There’s something so liberating about your first international trip. You tend to want to learn more about everything you’re seeing and know the history of it all. Till this day, I carry that desire to learn and see it all during my travels.

I actually took a cruise while in Barcelona (more about that in a later post) so I stood at 2 separate hotels, one prior to my cruise and then one when I returned and we also mixed up price points by doing a budget and then a luxury hotel. Even though they were opposite, we had incredible experiences at both and I highly recommend them.

Check them out — Hotel Curious // Hotel 1898

There is no shortage of great restaurants in this vibrant city but if I had to chose one to recommend, I would say book (far in advance) a reservation at Tickets Bar. I can’t really put into words the experience you get from this place. The food is literally a work of art. I promise you that your dining experience here will be the best visual and delicious 2 hours ever! Click HERE to see my review on TripAdvisor.

While in Barcelona you will want to see it all. I highly recommend focusing on Guadi. The Sagrada Familia is an absolute MUST! Do not leave Barcelona without going inside of this masterpiece. Park Guell is another major Guadi work that is not to be missed. Explore Las Ramblas, La Boqueria, the Magic Fountain, eat tapas until you can’t walk, drink a ton of wine and just get lost (while keeping alert because those pickpocketers are no joke in Barcelona) – sometimes you discover the most amazing things by just walking around town and exploring.

Here’s a look at my trip through my photos:

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If you have any specific questions – feel free to send me an email // pearlsandparis@yahoo.com

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I have always been an over packer.

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The problem with over packers is it’s hard for us to admit it. If anyone made a comment about how many shoes or jeans I was bringing, I always had an excuse on why I absolutely needed every single item in my suitcase. There were numerous times my suitcase went over the 50b limit but I always just blamed it on certain items being heavy. It wasn’t until I was on my 2nd European vacation that I accepted this title and was pretty embarrassed by it. My husband and I were on a train going from Prague to Berlin. We ended up sitting with a business man from Germany and he took one look at the size of my suit case and goes… American? He then proceeded to talk to us about how he’s noticed a lot of American travelers over pack, and well, he’s right! That trip I didn’t use 50% of what I packed. Since then I have really tried to pack ‘Smart’ regardless of my final destination. Here are some of my top tips when packaging for vacation.

1. Use the proper luggage size – Don’t pack a 30″ suitcase if you’re going away for a short weekend or only for a few days. When you pull out a bag that is oversized, you will always find a way to fill it.

2. Roll, don’t fold – There’s always an exception to the rule but for the most part, rolling vs folding your clothes will give you more space when packing. I even go the extra mile and will use large ziplock bags to compress the clothing which makes everything even more organized.

3. Make a list & stick to it – Make a list of everything you need down to your toothbrush, check it twice. Sticking to the list will make sure you don’t bring additional items as well as making sure that you aren’t forgetting anything important.

4. Pack clothing that is versatile – This is a big one! You don’t need 5 pairs of jeans, 2 sneakers, 3 heels and an endless amount of leggings. Pack clothing that can go from day to night easily and can be reused more than once. Pack only the essentials when it comes to footwear. Try to stick to neutral colors and think about comfort.

5. Leave behind basic toiletries  – Unless you’re traveling to space, your final destination will more than likely have a place that you can purchase all your toiletries and all those other items that not only take up room but add extra weight. Also, your hotel may provide many of these things, including a blow dryer and iron! If you must pack it – think travel sized instead of full-sized.

6. Make use of those extra spaces – Filling your shoes can free up some extra space. It’s the perfect spot for your rolled underwear, socks and even chargers.

Do you have any additional tips that help you pack smart? Leave a comment letting me know what they are!

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Christmas is one of my favorite holidays because it’s when all of my family gets together & nothing is better than good food, good laughs & good company. But for this past Christmas we decided to switch our plans up a bit. Since it was our first holiday as husband & wife – we decided to skip the cold NJ winter and head south for some relaxation in the sun.

We decided on KEY WEST, FLORIDA.

My husband did a short stop there once on a cruise but I have never been and I heard such great things about it that I had to experience it for myself.

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Flying into Key West during the week of Christmas was super pricey so we booked a flight to Miami, rented a car (same day pick up/drop off both ways) and drove the 3 hours. I highly recommend this! The drive is not bad at all and the scenery is incredible. This also gives you the option to stop at some of the other keys along the way for lunch or just to explore.

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We stopped at Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen in Key Largo.

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We split the “Konk” Chowder to start. It was real conch in a rich spicy tomato base. We absolutely loved it. Ryan went for the Captains Caesar with Blackened Fish and I had the Crab Cakes. Both were good. We are huge seafood lovers so while the food was good, it wasn’t the best we’ve had but none the less, it was a very satisfying lunch. I also checked into Yelp while there so I got a free Key Lime Freeze. To say it was delicious is an understatement – this is a must when at Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen.

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Upon arriving in Key West, we checked into our hotel: Hyatt Key West Resort & Spa

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What drew me to this hotel was its location and how beautiful the grounds were. I felt like we could have the quiet & relaxing vacation we were looking for but all the fun of Duval Street within a 1 minute walk. It was truly the best of both worlds. Being from New Jersey when you think Christmas you think of the cold but the Hyatt Key West had their lobby decorated with a gorgeous tree and even incorporated a fun Elf on the Shelf themed game for their guests which kept us in the holiday spirit.

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Here are a few shots of our room.

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The room was spacious, super clean and we even had a partial ocean view. You could literally melt into their beds which made getting up in the morning a little difficult, but a comfy bed gets extra points from me. Walking into our room to this wine & cheese/fruit platter was very sweet as well.

Jala Spa is on location at the Hyatt. Unfortunately, we did not get a chance to visit it but I suggest booking all services in advance.

Here are some shots I got from around the resort.

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SHOR American Seafood Grill is the Hyatt’s on location restaurant. We dined here twice during our stay and the food was delicious.

Breakfast:

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Dinner:

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Over all we had an amazing stay at the Hyatt Key West Resort & Spa. Everything was perfect and they have the best staff.

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While in Key West, we had the pleasure of being invited by Casa Marina to experience their Toes in the Sand dinner. Casa Marina is a Waldorf Astoria Resort and upon walking in you see beautiful wood floors and exposed beams and every corner you turn someone is holding a door for you or asking if you need any assistance. Customer Service at this location is certainly not lacking. We were escorted to Sun Sun where we were greeted by the restaurant manager, Sarah, and introduced to our lovely waiter Tony. I knew we would be seated on the sand (hence: toes in the sand dinner) but I was taken back by how beautifully set up the dining area on the beach was.

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We looked over the menu and each had a drink while taking in the scenery before the first course was served. I went with my favorite drink, a Cosmopolitan, and my husband had the White Sangria.

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Our starter was a Seared Scallop with Corn Polenta in a Tomato Lime Vinaigrette. The flavors were executed perfectly! As a seafood lover I’m surprised I never really got into scallops, but this dish has changed my mind.

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For the appetizer, I chose the Mixed Green Salad and Ryan had the Island Conch Chowder. The chowder was very tasty. It was hearty and had some nice size pieces of conch. I really enjoyed the salad. It was light and had a slight tang which complimented the roasted red peppers.

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How incredible is this view from dinner?

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For the entrée, I went with the Beef Tenderloin and Key West Pink Shrimp and Ryan had the Lobster Brandy Smoked Garganelli Pasta. Both of these were cooked to perfection. The tenderloin was moist and the red wine sauce was delicious. The lobster pasta was by far one of the most delicious pasta dishes I have ever had. I have mentioned on more than one occasion to my husband that I need that pasta in my life again soon!

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By this time we were absolutely stuffed but dinner is never complete without dessert and a little champagne on the side. We got to try the Key Lime Pie & Pineapple Upside Down Cake. By this point in the meal I knew the desserts would be good but “good” doesn’t even begin to describe them. The Key Lime Pie was tart yet sweet and that graham crust was perfect! I never thought of myself to be a Pineapple Upside Down dessert lover but this right here is hands down the BEST dessert I have ever had.

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Everything about this experience was 5 stars.

From this view…

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to Tony, our waiter, who was super knowledgeable about the whole menu and extremely friendly to Alex, the Executive Chef. I loved that Alex made it a point to stop at our table to see how we were enjoying the food. You can tell that he, as well as his staff, cook with love and they really put 100% in the dishes they serve. The next time I am in Key West, I will be dining here again and I highly suggest you do the same when in the area.

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Even though we were not able to stay at Casa Marina we did explore the grounds a little and it’s a magnificent property. They have a private beach and 2 heated pools and the rooms are known to be spacious and comfortable. Casa Marina is also home to the al Mare spa which has recently gone through an expansion as well as an upgrade in services.

Here’s some photos of the grounds and rooms:

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When in Key West, Duval Street is a MUST. There are bars, restaurants, shopping and even more bars spread throughout the mile. I loved Fat Tuesdays and anytime I wanted a quick drink to go – this was my spot. Don’t limit yourself to just 1 spot though, bar hopping is a favorite in this area.

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My favorite coffee & breakfast place has to be the Cuban Coffee Queen. I promise you – you will not be disappointed! I had the most amazing breakfast sandwich on Cuban bread with a Vanilla Cafe con Leche on the side.

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Another super popular place for Breakfast or Brunch is Blue Heaven. We only made it for Lunch but it was absolutely delicious. The bar has strong, tasty drinks and I love that they have live music.

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Since we wanted this vacation to be all about relaxation, we only did a few activities. We went to the Butterfly Conservatory. Being surrounded  by the beautiful butterflies was an amazing experience. I did find it a little on the pricey side but it takes money to be able to up keep the environment for the butterflies so it wasn’t too bad.

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My favorite activity of the trip was fishing with Tortuga Charters! We had the absolute best time and caught so many fish. The staff is really helpful and at the end of the trip they prepare your fish so you can bring it to any local restaurant to have it cooked. It was a great feeling to be able to sit down for dinner and eat what you just caught a few hours before. Across from the Tortuga boat on Conch Harbor Marina is Dante’s. This is where we went and they prepared our fish 3 types of ways and included sides. It was so delicious and really affordable.

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I absolutely LOVED Key West. It’s truly the Caribbean of the US.

Have you been before? What are your must do activities or restaurants in the area?

Click HERE to see what Trip Advisor recommends.

If you have any questions or need more suggestions when planning your own Key West trip, do not hesitate to contact me! E: pearlsandparis@yahoo.com