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As much as I love traveling abroad there is nothing like discovering local gems and that is why I love the concept of staycations. I personally am not one to take time off from work to stay home and so the idea of being able to take a short car ride for one or two nights away is perfect. I’ve been wanting to start a staycation series for some time now and hope my tristate readers [NJ, NY, PA + CT]  find it useful.

I want to begin this series with an overnight trip my family and I took last month.

Pocono Manor Resort & Spa

Pocono Manor is located in Pocono Manor, Pennsylvania – about 1.5 hours from North Jersey and less than 2 hours from NYC. I’m not sure why it took us so long to venture up to the Poconos. This may have been out first visit but it won’t be our last.

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Pocono Manor is a historic hotel which opened in the 1900’s. There are a total of 240 guest rooms and a ton of amenities onsite – three restaurants, indoor and outdoor pool, golf course, spa and various recreational activities. They offer live music on the weekends and a ton of seasonal activities such as horseback riding, hiking, tennis and snowmobiling.

We were in town for the Lantern Festival so didn’t have much time to take advantage of all their amenities but were really happy with the accommodations. The room was very spacious with a pretty view, the game room was a great addition to the property and every staff member we spoke with were not only friendly but super helpful. At the end of the night we were able to grab a drink by the bar to bring up to our room and then enjoy a family breakfast (which was delicious!) before heading back home. It was the perfect little night away! A big thank you to Pocono Manor for hosting us and we look forward to another stay in the near future.

Here are some photos from our stay as well as some pictures of the property and their amenities/activities courtesy of the Pocono Manor website.

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Traveling has been my number one passion for quite a number of years now and if you know me, you know I like to do it on a budget. I am totally one of those people that after I book I will check the flights over and over again to make sure I got the best deal. [FYI: Don’t follow my lead on that, it’ll drive you nuts] Budget airlines have been around since the 70’s and to be honest I never paid much attention to them… until now. Iceland has been on my radar for awhile but it just never happened. One random day in October of 2016 I was browsing flights for Iceland and came across a super low rate from an airlines called WOW air. When I told my husband the rate he insisted we book immediately and that is how our trip to Iceland for February 2017 came about.

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WOW air is an Icelandic low-cost carrier that is headquartered in Reykjavík and based at Keflavík International Airport. The airline was founded in November 2011 and serves 38 destinations across Europe, North America, and Asia.

Ok – so lets talk details.

Firstly, they offer direct flights to Iceland and that is also where you will connect to continue onto wherever your final destination is. You have to remember they are a budget airline so don’t expect the works but I promise you will get from point A to point B comfortably and at an incredible rate.

One personal item measuring 17x13x10″ is always included with your paid ticket as well as checking in either a stroller OR carseat for your little one but that is where the extras that are included end. There are additional fees and they will vary each flight based on time of travel and final destination. Here is a breakdown of the additional fees based on a random flight from Newark to Reykavik.

Departing Flight:

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Return Flight:

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For a Basic, no added extras, flight you would pay $250!

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Guys – $250 RT nonstop for 4 nights in Iceland??? That is a steal! Can not upgrading your luggage be tricky… of course, but get creative when it comes to packing. Attire for Iceland is all about layering so pick items that you can reuse to make different outfits each day and wear your coat and winter boots onto the plane.

Since I was traveling with my husband and a 17 month old when I went, upgrading the luggage was a MUST for us. Here are the additional luggage prices for this itinerary:

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If you decide to upgrade to a standard size carry on luggage you would then pay $330 per person for this flight.

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This rate is over $100 cheaper than another budget airline that flies this same route on these dates. Other airlines were over $600 for this same flight.

You also don’t get to pick your seat unless you pre purchase and here is a look at those costs.

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I’ve flown with WOW for 2 separate trips and I was pleasantly surprised at how comfortable and roomy the standard legroom seats were so don’t feel like you have to go for that XXL seat…. unless you want to of course. My first flight with them we did not pre book seats and upon check in the agents were super accommodating in making sure our party sat together.

Another option for this flight is to book WOW Plus and that includes an assigned standard seat, a carry on bag AND checked bag for $400! That is a steal.

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If you are traveling with someone and you were able to share luggage they could purchase the Basic rate and it would come out to a total of $650 for 2 adults for a 4 night trip to Iceland.

All food and beverages on flight are also an added expense. I’ve had a few items from their menu and it was all tasty but if you want to save money, just make sure to pick up a bottle of water and something to eat prior to boarding.

Overall I have nothing but great things to say about WOW Airlines. My family and I have had great flights with them and always experience really good customer service. As a mom, one of my FAVORITE features they have is the lap baby seat belt. I have never been offered this on any other airline.

We look forward to our next flight with them!

Have you flown WOW Air before?

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Chi-Town, The Windy City, Second City….

Call it what you want but this city [Chicago] is a GEM!

I have spent so much time exploring Europe over the last 5 years that my husband & I decided that we want to spend more time visiting and discovering the amazing places the U.S.A has to offer and CHICAGO was our first stop.

Where to stay?

In my opinion, Downtown is where it’s at. We decided to stay at the Raddison Blu Aqua and it was the perfect choice in a perfect location. We literally could walk to most of what we wanted to see and everything else was just a short 10-15 minute cab or uber ride away. The hotel in general was excellent and they had great amenities which include an onsite restaurant, outdoor and indoor pool, kids pool, hot tub, game room and fitness center.

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What to do?

Like with all big cities trying to fit seeing everything in just a short weekend is not only tough but stressful. I always tell people to pick a few places or spots and if you end up seeing more – great! This is a list of the must-see favorites:

1. Millennium Park (Cloud Gate A.K.A The Bean)
2. Navy Pier
3. Art Institute of Chicago
4. Shedd Aquarium
5. The Field Museum
6. Museum of Science & Industry
7. Adler Planetarium
8. Skyjack Chicago
9. 360 Chicago (Formerly John Hancock Observatory)
10. Lincoln Park Zoo

I highly recommend purchasing a Chicago CityPASS.

Your CityPASS Includes:
1. Shedd Aquarium – PRIORITY ENTRY
2. Skydeck Chicago – FAST PASS
3. The Field Museum – VIP ENTRY
4. Museum of Science and Industry OR 360 CHICAGO – EXPRESS ENTRY
5. Adler Planetarium – VIP ENTRY OR Art Institute of Chicago – FAST PASS

What I loved about this pass was everything offered in it were places we knew we would visit during our time in Chicago. We went to all of the above with the exception of the Museum of Science and Adler Planetarium. The Chicago CityPASS is $100 for adults (savings of $113) and $85 for children between 3-11 (savings of $95) – Children 2 & under are free at all of the venues listed above. Another perk of purchasing the pass is the fast pass, priority and express entries you receive. Just to give you an idea of how much time the pass saved, when we went the the Skydeck there was a 2.5 hour wait but it took us a total of 20 minutes to get up to the top since we had the Chicago CityPASS. Not only did we save money with this pass but we also saved time.

Some other things we did while in town were eating pizza at Giordano’s, visiting The Bean both at night and during the day, visiting the Chicago Theatre, spending time in both Millennium and Maggie Daley Park, grabbing treats at Stans Donuts, hopped on the water taxi to explore Navy Pier and went to the Jurassic Park exhibit.

I think the media plays a HUGE part in the bad rep Chicago gets. Every city has areas that are less than desirable but overall this is a city that is so worth visiting. It’s vibrant and rich in culture and history. There’s always events taking place and the food scene is top notch.

Feel free to send me over a DM or e-mail if you have any questions. Also make sure to check out their Tourism page (HERE) as they are a wealth of knowledge and have a ton of information to help you plan your trip.

Here are some of my favorite shots from our time in CHICAGO!

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Back in March while attending the #WeAllGrow Summit, I had the opportunity to spend a full day with the the Long Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau. Prior to visiting Long Beach for this conference, I wasn’t very familiar with the area and truthfully it never was a location that I thought to visit. Being in town for the conference plus spending the day with their tourism board has totally changed that. Long Beach is absolutely beautiful and has so much to offer.

We stayed where the conference was being held, Hotel Maya. There aren’t enough words to describe how much we LOVED this property. The property is large and has some awesome amenities. The pool and hot tub area have cabanas, a bar and is waterfront. We dined at their on site restaurant, Fuego, multiple times as well as spent some time at their hookah lounge. The view from our balcony was was breathtaking!

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Our day with the Long Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau started with a sail along the Long Beach coastline aboard one of Harbor Breeze’s modern and comfortable catamarans. It was an awesome way to see and enjoy Long Beach’s downtown waterfront.

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We then hopped on a bus to head to The Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA) where we got to check out a comprehensive retrospective exhibition by legendary Los Angeles artist Frank Romero, encompassing over 50 years of the artist’s career. His work has powerful and meaningful messages behind them.
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From there we headed to the The Aquarium of the Pacific which is the fourth most-attended aquarium in the nation! We started off with a delicious lunch and then had a super fun Behind-the-Scenes Tour. This aquarium displays over 11,000 animals in more than 50 exhibits that represent the diversity of the Pacific Ocean. We were able to feed the fish from the back room and just see how everything operated which was really cool.

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The day ended with a helicopter tour!!!!  Anthelion helicopters took us on an amazing adventure over the storied Queen Mary, the historic USS Iowa Battleship and the spectacular Catalina Island. This was my first time in a helicopter and it was one of the best experiences.

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While we did do a lot in just one day, when visiting I would absolutely break these activities up between two days so that you are able to walk through the museum as well as the aquarium at your own pace and take everything in. I also highly recommend a tour of  Queen Mary which is considered one of the most haunted places in America! Click HERE for some additional recommendations on what to do while in Long Beach courtesy of TripAdvisor.

I spent a majority of my Honeymoon in Santorini eating fresh seafood, drinking A LOT of Ouzo and catching the most spectacular sunset you will ever see. In between all of that though, we actually got to experience some really great activities. Here is a look at some of my favorite things to do while visiting Santorini PLUS one popular tourist activity that you should cross off your list.

  1. Book a sailing cruise with Sunset Oia – You can’t come to Santorini and not take a sailing cruise! We chose to book the premium semi private Lagoon 500 day cruise which held a max of 16 people but they also had some itineraries that held up to 55 people and started at 95E. On the Lagoon 500 we made stops at the hot springs, white beach and red beach. What I loved most is that you don’t actually go to the beach… they were at a far distance and you basically just jump in and swim and snorkel in the middle of the Aegean Sea. Included in the price is unlimited beverages and a delicious fresh lunch. At the end of the sail a bus can bring you back to your hotel or you can decide to stay and head to Perissa Black Sand Beach like we did. 4
  2. Watch the sunset from Oia – Santorini has hands down the most amazing sunset I have ever seen. If you are not staying in Oia, I highly recommend heading there to catch it at least one of the nights you are in town. You will get a full view of the caldera with the whitewashed homes with a rosey pink sky that changes hues until it is completely set. Just be warned… you and what seems like 91736847465984 people will have the same idea so find a spot early. We stood in Oia and lucked out because our cave had a private terrace and a clear view of the sunset – with no tourist lingering in our eyes view. 1
  3. Wine Tasting at Santo Winery – There are numerous wineries on the island but one of the most popular has to be Santo Winery. A place that you can literally visit for the view alone. Take a tour, order the 18 wine flight and enjoy the company of whoever you are visiting with. The sunset is amazing from here too so order another glass and enjoy the scenery. santo
  4. Have dinner in Amoudi Bay – Amoudi Bay is a tiny port located at the bottom of those 300 steps below Oia. The walk down, besides dodging donkey poo, is actually not that bad – the walk up…. yikes lol but totally worth it. There are a handful of restaurants and cafes that you can visit for lunch or an early dinner and just enjoy the gorgeous view and serene atmosphere. I had this incredible squid ink lobster pasta at one of the restaurants that I haven’t been able to get out of my mind since. Santorini-Ammoudi-Bay-fionaTree-1024x682
  5. Rent a quad and go on your own to explore – A lot of people tend to only visit Oia + Fira when in Santorini but their are so many charming villages all over the island. Rent a quad, I believe they go for about 45E per day, and venture out. This allows you to visit beaches and other spots you otherwise would have missed out on. quad
  6. Have dinner in Fira overlooking the caldera – We only ventured into Fira once and ended up dancing late into the night there but the highlight for me would have to be dinner at Volcano Blue. Seeing the sunset over the caldera was beautiful, the wait staff was so friendly and the food was DELICIOUS! 3
  7. Visit the Santorini Brewing Company – My husband loves trying out the local beer whenever we are away and Yellow Donkey happens to be one of his favorites. This brewery is small but it’s definitely worth a visit if you are a beer lover. You will get a tour, a tasting of all the beers available and then can purchase some to go if you’d like. 910084c4eb3461ee8947cd42bdd4b146_XL

The ONE activity that I think everyone visiting Santorini should avoid is riding the donkeys. I’m in no way an animal activist but these animals spend day in and out with tourist on their back because “it looks fun.” If you participate in this you are contributing to the abuse they are receiving on a daily basis. They are typically overworked, mistreated by handlers, are often not given enough water & food per day and are forced to work in grueling heat by carrying people who often weigh more than they do. Santorini-donkeys