Tag: Heather Anne

Camel Riding Cabo San Lucas

camel riding cabo san Lucas

Epic desert journey

Camel riding… in Cabo San Lucas Mexico?

It’s true – you really can go camel riding in Cabo San Lucas on the Baja Peninsula of Mexico! I had a really unique adventure embarking on a camel ride out in the Mexican desert. Tours are available out of Cabo heading deep out into the desert, where you’ll feel transported to an Arabian desert-like wonderland. Bring a book for the bus – it takes a couple hours, but is well worth the trip! It’s truly a peaceful oasis, and I felt refreshed and rejuvenated after my visit!

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Camel introductions

Preparing to Ride the Camels

This is a three phase experience. First, you meet the camels and learn about them followed by a photo op (and, if you’re camel’s feeling frisky, a Casanova-like kiss!) If you’ve always wished you had long eyelashes, prepare to get jealous! The camels are very friendly and serene, and are decked out in colorful accessories! They make quite the fashion and beauty statement…

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Staging area for mounting the camels

Second, you mount the camels in groups of two (solo traveler? no problem, you’ll share with another solo). Third, you embark on an enlightening journey along the beach and through the desert. I had an easy time getting on the camel. I was able to step on a platform, and then I was helped by one of the friendly guides. Each camel passenger is given a headscarf to adorn for protection from the desert sun during the journey. I was feeling very Lawrence of Arabia.

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Camels on parade

Camels are Comfortable!

I found riding a camel surprisingly comfortable and relaxing. Before mounting, I was warned that since the camels are wider than horses some people consider them uncomfortable. That was not my experience. My camel felt a lot more sturdy and the ride smoother compared to the horseback rides I’d been on. My camel was better behaved than any of the horses I’d ridden, and refrained from any jerky motions. Given the choice, I would choose a camel over a horse any day. It was a wonderful way to travel!

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The Mexican Baja desert

Incredible Desert Views

The landscapes of the desert were beautiful. I was there in January, when temperatures were mild. This dazzling desert wonderland is flanked on one side by beach and the other side by mountains, a breathtaking pleasure to behold! And it was so peaceful, so far away from the bustle and commotion of the city of Cabo. Yep, this place has it all!

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Alfresco dining a-la Mexico

Delicious, Authentic Lunch Break

The last experience of the tour was an authentic, alfresco lunch buffet with a wonderfully rustic ambience. Fabulous food in an amazing atmosphere – what more can you ask for after an exhilarating ride? (And, yes, camel meat was available… and optional!) A variety of choices were served… each one of them more delectable than the last!

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Delicious authentic Mexican lunch!

Tequila Time!

Also on the menu: a tequila tasting, featuring abundant varieties of tequila! What a great way to quench your desert thirst…! Non-alcoholic Mexican beverages were also available. It was a fun treat to cap off what was an incredible day, one I will cherish for a lifetime!

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Too much tequila?!

More on Camel Riding in Cabo San Lucas

Camel riding in Cabo San Lucas was a total blast! You can see a video of my experience here (note – filming while riding was not allowed, but I was able to purchase drone video and film the rest of the time):!

Visit my YouTube channel for more videos of exciting destinations!:

Ultimate Travel Adventures YouTube Channel

Check out more of Mexico in my Chichen Itza blog post!:

Mayan Ruins of Chichen Itza, Yucatan, Mexico!

Chichen Itza, Mexico: Ancient Mayan City

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El Castillo (“The Castle”)

Chichen Itza, Mexico: Great Mayan City

Chichen Itza, Mexico is on the Yucatan Peninsula. This ancient city boasts some of the most spectacular Mayan ruins in the world. Chichen Itza has stood the test of time superbly, considering it dates from 600-900AD. The phrase “Chichen Itza” means “the well at the mouth of the Itza.” Although remote, Chichen Itza is frequently featured in bus tour excursions from Playa del Carmen (2 hours, 7 minutes), Cancun (2 hours, 15 minutes), and Cozumel (3 hours, 25 minutes). If that sounds like a long trek, don’t be discouraged. The treasures to be found once you’re at Chichen Itza make every second on the bus worth the journey!

The Castle

El Castillo is, perhaps, the most enthralling architectural marvel of all here. El Castillo, Temple of Kukulcan, or “the castle,” is a 98 foot high enormous ziggurat temple. (Art History tip: when there are steps it is a ziggurat, not a pyramid.) Sacrifices were performed on the platform at the top. This structure may be the most iconic symbol in the world of the ancient Mayan civilization.

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Templo de los Guerreros (“Temple of the Warriors”)

Mayan Warrior Tradition

The Temple of the Warriors is near the castle, where a forest of columns is adorned with depictions of the most honored fighting champions. The Mayans took pride in their fighting prowess, and they’ve immortalized this tradition here. Polities fought over limited natural resources such as obsidian, water, and land for farming. The capture of sacrifices, which is now considered a gruesome part of their spiritual traditions, also sparked violent conflict.

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“Great Ball Court”

Mayan Athletic Skill

Athletes were champions, too. And a favorite structure with visitors here is the Great Ball Court, the largest (551 by 230 feet) and most well-preserved Mayan ball court in the world. The court is surrounded by “stands,” or audience seating areas. Different classes were assigned to different seating areas, becoming increasingly more lavish and “with a better view of the action” as the audience member elevated in social class. It reminded me of the seating structure of the amphitheaters of Ancient Rome, although a whole ocean away. Notice the donut-shaped carving (top left on the photo above.) The ball had to get through this hole, and seeing this, you contemplate the tremendous skill of the Mayan athletes!

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Carvings on the wall of the Ball Court

Sport in Art

Carvings on the walls of the ball court are extremely detailed, and tell the story of the ball game and its athletes. The “winner” had the privilege of being selected for sacrifice through decapitation (also depicted here!) The artwork at Chichen Itza is extremely well preserved and maintained, so it’s a joy to ponder the Mayan culture here! For example, it’s fascinating to consider how much ancient Mayan culture differed from cultures of today!

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“Venus Platform”

More to Explore!

There are many other buildings here to explore, so take your time to notice the intricate detail on many of these structures. There is absolutely no better way to learn about a time and place in history than from the original people, who, here, eternally tell their first-hand story through their artwork. No modern tour guide can tell it so well. The crowds can be enormous here, but there’s lots of room to spread out, making the experience more comfortable than smaller ancient sites. But be sure to bring some sunscreen and cool clothing, because there’s little shade here and it tends to get stiflingly hot, even in shoulder season!

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Overhead view*

*Open source (credit: dronepicr, http://www.commons.wikimedia.org)

In conclusion, you can explore more of Chichen, Itza, Mexico in my full video tour here!:

For videos on more destinations, as well as hotel and cruise ship tours, check out my YouTube channel here!:

Ultimate Travel Adventures YouTube Channel

And for more Mexico, check out my camel riding in Cabo San Lucas blog here!:

Camel Riding Cabo San Lucas

Amazing Mazatlan, Mexico!

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Cliff Diver

Mazatlan, Mexico: Captivating Contradictions

Firstly, Mazatlan, Mexico is a bustling metropolis on the Mexican Riviera. It’s one of Mexico’s most interesting west coast cities. Moreover, you’re never far from the laid-back pleasures of miles of beaches. And oceanfront pedestrian pathways are abundant here. So put on your poncho; it’s time to explore!

Mazatlan’s Cliff Divers

While there are many pleasures to pursue, the most popular attraction may be Mazatlan’s famous “cliff divers.” If you’re up for some real excitement, catch these daredevils in action! These guys make the death-defying leap all day! You can reward their bravery with a voluntary donation. The show is well worth the “price of admission!”

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Big city, big beaches!

Beautiful Beaches

The beaches seemingly are endless here. Enjoy views of the city skyline, and tiny islands in the distance. Warm waves wash over you. The vibrant cobalt waters crash along craggy cliffs along the coast. Mazatlan boasts over 20 miles of beautiful sandy beaches. Some of Mazatlan’s high rated beaches are Playa Olas Altas, Playa Cerritos, and Play Brujas. So have fun finding your favorite!

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Miles of oceanfront walkways

Mazatlan’s Esplanade

Swimming’s not your thing? There are miles of pedestrian pathways sporting the same spectacular views! Statues and other art guide the way like cultural signposts. On the esplanade, you can have a leisurely stroll with the sights, smells, and sounds of the sea. There are many opportunities to stop, sit, and soak it all in. And for people-watching, the esplanade can’t be beat! So set your sights on this seaside paradise!

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Mazatlan Cathedral, exterior

Mazatlan Cathedral

Mazatlan’s most striking architectural highlight may be the  Mazatlan Cathedral, although its more formal name is the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. This baroque revival style building was finished in 1899. The interior is truly inspiring. The sunlight glow beaming through the stained glass windows bathe the sanctuary in brilliantly bold color. And towering pillars line the aisle like exclamation points paying tribute to the undeniable beauty of this place. The building is exquisitely decorated and brilliantly restored, and a Mazatlan must-see. It’s a welcome sanctuary of peace compared to the bustling city outside.

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Mazatlan Cathedral, interior

More of Amazing Mazatlan, Mexico!

In conclusion, Mazatlan is at once old and new, and peaceful and exciting. It is a city to experience contradictions. While it’s a major city, it’s not without its peaceful pleasures.

Check out my full video tour of Mazatlan here!:

And for more great destinations, as well as hotel and cruise ship tours, check out my YouTube channel here!:

Ultimate Travel Adventures YouTube Channel

Want more Mexico? If so, check out my Chichen Itza Mayan ruins blog post!:

Chichen Itza, Mexico: Ancient Mayan City

Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas Cruise Ship!

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Oasis of the Seas

Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas

The Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas cruise ship is among the most majestic on the Royal Caribbean fleet. It launched in 2008, and has an occupancy of 6,296 maximum. This colossal vessel holds 16 passenger decks. So the Oasis of the Seas is really a city on the sea! And a voyage upon her many decks is an exciting treat indeed!

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The Atrium

A Different Kind of Ship

The Oasis has a very different layout than many of the mega-ships I’ve traveled on before. A signature design for this class of Royal Caribbean ship is a cut-out middle, interior as well as exterior balcony cabins, and “neighborhoods.” The neighborhoods are a variety of unique “destination” locations around the ship. Oasis of the Seas’ “Atrium” does not resemble those of most of the ships I’ve experienced before, either. Because in this case, it’s a long hallway filled with shops, restaurants, and much more beyond passenger services desks, rather being one centralized room in the middle of the ship.

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Lido Deck

The Lido Deck

The Lido Deck is expansive, and there are multiple pools and jacuzzis as well as an adults-specific deck under glass. Unfortunately I got very hot in there, because it starts to feel like a greenhouse or sauna in there when it’s a hot day outside! I prefer the breeze of the open decks, which is no problem. Fortunately, the Oasis hosts a multitude of decks facing both the ocean on the outside of the ship and the neighborhood lobbies on the inside of the ship!

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Central Park

Central Park

Central Park is one of the neighborhoods on the ship, replete with trees, plants, cobblestones, and relaxing benches. Many of the interior balconies have views over this delightfully green section of the ship. A classical quartet played here regularly in the evenings while I was here. I don’t know what I liked better – the relaxing music or the pleasant garden-like atmosphere. This outdoor park element is particular to Royal Caribbean, and I haven’t encountered it on any other cruise lines. I was reminded first hand that this area is not only wide open to the fresh air, sunshine, and stars, but to the rain as well! It’s something to keep in mind: check the weather report each morning!

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The Boardwalk

The Boardwalk

The Boardwalk is reminiscent of the historic and iconic Boardwalk at Atlantic City, New Jersey. It’s complete with a Johnny Rockets diner, Zoltar fortune telling machine, arcade booths, boardwalk food, and an operational merry-go-round. There are also interior balconies facing the Boardwalk, as well as a massive water-based stage at the back of the ship, complete with beach loungers for the seating area!

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Ice Show

Spectacular Shows

Entertainment is abundant aboard the Oasis, and “go big or go home” never seemed a more fitting description than aboard this ship! Unique stages include the ice rink – a stage for ice shows by night and available for guests to ice skate on by day. Olympic skaters perform spectacular stunts, and I was thrilled and amazed for every minute of it! This is another feature that I’ve found to be unique to Royal Caribbean – I haven’t encountered an ice rink on any other lines.

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Water Stage

Unique Stages

The other unique “stage” on this ship is the water stage, on the Boardwalk. Here Olympic divers perform death defying feats, complimented by synchronized swimming and other aquatic performances. With a backdrop of cotton-candy clouds by day and sparkling stars at night, the atmosphere is intoxicating. Oasis’ water stage is outdoors under the sun (or moon!) and the seating consists of splendidly colorful beach chairs. Whether you’re attending an ice skating show or a water show, book reservations EARLY! It is possible to get in line to take the place of no shows, but you’ll have a LOT of company if you do this. To be sure you get a seat you’ll need to be towards the front of the line.

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Balcony Cabin

Beautiful Balcony Cabins

I had a balcony cabin and found it to be plenty roomy, comfortable, and pleasingly decorated. I opted for the Oceanview, because I can’t get enough of the beauty of the open sea. But how great it was to have three balcony cabin view options at booking! Because there are so many balconies on this ship, I found them to be a better value than on some of the other ships I’ve sailed on. Interior balcony bookings come with perks like complimentary dinner at a specialty restaurant. And it’s important to bear in mind these balconies will also come with less privacy!

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More of the Atrium

Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas Cruise Ship Review

I greatly enjoyed my experience aboard the Oasis of the Seas. The ship is spectacular, well-maintained, and beautifully designed. It offers a dizzying array of great entertainment, fun activities, and diverse areas to dine, party, and relax. On the downside, I did not find it to be a particularly solo-traveler friendly ship – every time I entered the main dining room and asked for a table for one I was made to feel like Steve Martin in “The Lonely Guy” when a huge spotlight appears over his head and everyone stares at him like he’s psycho or something… And with no good promotion for the drink package on this cruise line I ended up drinking more than my fair share of ice water with lime. But all-in-all I had a fantastic time choosing neighborhoods to suit my mood, reveling in effervescent entertainment, and soaking in the sun on this special ship!

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Larger than Life!

For More Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas

Tour Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas more! You can view a full video tour of the entire ship here!:

I visited St. Thomas on my Oasis of the Seas cruise. You can check out the article on St. Thomas here:

St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, Perfectly Paradisiacal!

And for more travel all around the world, check out the Ultimate Travel Adventures YouTube channel!:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC91pXs3Ydbrw5Uc3EFSkO5Q?view_as=subscriber

Greyhound Bus Travel Tips!

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Welcome aboard the bus!

Greyhound Bus Travel Tips

Time for more transportation tips: specifically Greyhound bus travel tips! A quick note to start off: this is not sponsored by Greyhound. More and more people are traveling domestically due to recent events impacting the economy, foreign government restrictions, and global health issues. I expect bus travel to become more popular in this environment. Greyhound is the most common and well-known bus operator, and there are ways of making sure you have a better experience traveling with them. Greyhound Bus can be a very cost-effective method of ground travel. (Note: this post is NOT sponsored by Greyhound.) As air travel security and health measures become more of a hassle, bus travel has become a more attractive option lately. If you’re not traveling too far it can be a more efficient and comfortable way to travel than air travel. And that’s not to mention much cheaper than air or train travel! So I’ll go over my top tips now. While I’m focusing on Greyhound, many of these tips will be applicable to other bus lines too.

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Toronto, Canada: Served by Greyhound

Greyhound Travel in USA, Canada, and Mexico!

Sure, it’s disappointing when you can’t travel the world for whatever reason, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t an abundance of interesting things to see in your back yard, wherever that back yard is. Greyhound now services the USA, Canada, and Mexico, so you have an endless number of options! At this time destinations are more limited in Canada and Mexico, but hopefully more will continue to be added. Be sure to check on current entry requirements to visit any foreign country, and be prepared so you’re not turned away at the border.

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Greyhound Bus Website

Buying Your Ticket Early and Seat Selection

Buy your ticket as EARLY as possible. For some stations you’ll receive a boarding number on your ticket, and boarding will be permitted in order based on your number. Lower numbers, or those sold further in advance, will receive boarding priority – and have a chance to score a better choice of seat. Not all stations do this, but it’s worth a shot in case you get one that does.

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Waiting at the bus station

Save Money on your Bus Ticket!

Prices are lower if you can book 3 weeks in advance, when you can save a quarter or even more off the full price of the ticket. If you can’t, then it may help to at least book 2 weeks in advance, which is still better than last-minute. Whatever you do, don’t wait until you get to the station. Book your trip mid-week if possible. Prices are lower if you can hop on on hump day! Note that discounts are available if you are a member of Student Advantage or Veteran Advantage; go to “Discount Options” when making your reservation to choose this discount. Finally, do a search for promo codes – there’s a good chance you can score an additional discount that way. You will have a chance to enter the code before submitting payment. REMEMBER: There is a surcharge to “gift” a ticket to someone else. If at all possible, the traveler should be the one to pay for the ticket on their own credit or debit card, rather than someone else buying it for them!

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I used this 25% off code – and it worked

When to Arrive at the Bus Station

Give yourself plenty of time to check in and find your bus; it will mean a less stressful trip for you if you’re not hustling. And those that arrive first, can line up and board first, if the station does not board by ticket number (as described above.) Your bus may already have seated passengers on it if your station is a stop along another route, making this even more important if you want a good choice of seats.

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Let’s go!

Luggage Tips

Note that you are allowed 2 pieces of luggage at no additional charge: one checked bag up to 50 pounds and one carry-on that will fit in the overhead compartment. (Avoid placing fragile items in the checked bag – disturbance of bags due to potholes and bumps is not unlikely!) Be careful about leaving carry-on luggage on the bus when you disembark on breaks, and keep your eye on your bags in the stations. Don’t create a temptation for thieves! Instructions for claiming luggage at different stations varies – listen to the driver for directions each time you disembark. Place an identifiable marker on your luggage, such as a brightly colored tag, to help distinguish it from other suitcases that may be identical or similar in brand and color.

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Travelers Boarding the Bus

Ticket Management Tips

You will be able to print out a ticket or pick it up at will-call at the station, or have a digital ticket sent to your mobile device. Keep your ticket through the entire trip – you may need it to change buses and collect your luggage en route and at your destination.

Bus Travel Comfort

If you need an outlet for your electronic devices, try to get a seat towards the front; not all seats have outlets. Free wi-fi is available on the bus. Keep in mind it may not work 100% of the time. Travel pillows and blankets can be a welcome comfort on overnight trips – both on the bus and during long station transfers. Make sure you set an alarm on your cellphone to wake yourself up before your next stop – just in case! Finally, try to limit your restroom breaks to the bus stations if possible. You will find them cleaner and more pleasant to use. And don’t forget to pack some snacks! Whatever you bring will probably be cheaper than anything you can find at the rest stops and bus stations.

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Greyhound Bus

Bus Travel Safety Tips

It’s safer to sleep on the bus than in the stations. People are less likely to give you any trouble with the bus driver and other passengers so nearby. You may be more isolated in the station, particularly at night. That said, having a seat closer to the front will keep you closer to the driver for added safety. Keep your purse, cellphone, and wallet in a safe place. You don’t want to have a phone loosely in your hand and inadvertently fall asleep on the bus, or be walking around the station with a wallet in your back pocket. Keep your guard up and protect your valuables. If you really want to be on the safe side, invest in a money belt to store these in. I recommend this belt for your money/wallet, phone, and identifying documents… It includes RFID protection, so people can’t scan your card numbers: RFID Money Belt on Amazon.

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Bus Break Yoga!

Stay Healthy on the Bus!

The most important of my Greyhound bus travel tips may be to be conscious of your health. Remember to wash your hands frequently and carry hand sanitizer. Avoid touching your face. Window seats are the best for minimizing contact from any potentially infected people, since you’ll be keeping your distance from people traversing the aisle and standing in the aisle managing their carry-ons. It’s also a good idea to carry along a small first-aid kit. You can pick up a good travel kit here: Travel First Aid Kit on Amazon. If you buy a pre-assembled kit, you’ll want to take an inventory before your trip to see if there’s any additional medicines or products you’d like to add. I always like to make sure I have some headache and antihistamine tablets. Also, make sure you get up and get some exercise during breaks!

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Greyhound Road Rewards

Join Road Rewards

Join Road Rewards on the greyhound.com website. It’s free to join, and you can earn rewards like: 15% off your ticket, companion pass for a friend, and 10% off food at greyhound stations.

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Greyhound App

Download the App

With the Greyhound app you can have easy access to your trip information, station location, and track your bus (and transfer bus) locations. And if your bus is running late and you may miss your transfer, you can find out when the next one is and make a bolt for the ticket window at the station to reserve a seat on that next bus before it fills up, potentially minimizing transfer time. Other customers may be clamoring to make the same alternate arrangements as you, in which case that next bus might fill up fast!

More Travel Tips

I hope these Greyhound bus travel tips have been helpful for those traveling by ground on a budget! When it comes to traveling on a budget by land, road trips and buses are by far your best options.

Need a money belt to protect your valuables? You can get one here:

RFID Money Belt

And for a travel first aid kit, you can head here:

Travel first aid kit

View more travel tips, tours of destinations, and hotel tours and reviews on my YouTube channel here!:

Ultimate Travel Adventures YouTube Channel

And check out my blog post on saving money on travel!:

How to travel MORE for LESS: Build Your Budget Travel Game Plan!

Tour St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands!

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Spectacular Panoramic Views

Tour St. Thomas for Pleasure, Peace, Paradise

Tour St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, for the epitome of paradise. This island wonderland in the Caribbean, and United States territory, is a playground of crystal clear waters dotted by lush, jade islands, all viewable from an endless supply of scenic mountain overlooks – each one more spectacular than the last! So you can basque in the beams of sunshine, be refreshed in the surf of the ocean, and inhale the essence of intoxicating Yellow Trumpetbush and Frangipani flowers as you explore the wonders of St. Thomas!

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Magen’s Bay Beach

Magen’s Bay Beach

Magen’s Bay Beach consistently ranks in the world’s top ten for beaches. With spectacular views, sand the consistency of baking powder, water so clear you can see your feet – and so warm it feels like bathwater… lounging out here will leave you feeling super spoiled while the sun soaks you in warmth amidst the sea-salt scented breezes. Clearly, it’s the perfect place to relax… and escape! The beach carries on for a mile, and there is also over six acres of arboretum, coconut groves, and mangrove preserves. In summary, It’s an amazing place to get lost in the natural beauty of the Caribbean.

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Pirate Castles!

Danish Colonial Architecture

The United States purchased St. Thomas from Denmark in 1917 for the unbeatable bargain of $25 million in gold, or, what would be the equivalent of $489 million today. This transaction allowed the island to remain free from adversarial hands and boost Denmark’s coffers during the hefty expenses of World War I fighting. Because of St. Thomas’ Danish heritage, much of the old Danish colonial architecture remains in the capital of Charlotte Amalie. Overall, it is indubitably charming. And equally endearing are the Blackbeard and Bluebeard castles near the harbor and believed to be from the eighteenth century! If you ever wanted to know how the pirate half lives – now’s your chance!

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Charming Colonial Danish Architecture

Panoramic Paradise

St. Thomas is a varied landscape of crystal clear waters, island formations big and small, and mountains and hilltops boasting amazing views of the expanse below.  As a result, It is truly one of the greatest jewels in the string of islands adorning the Caribbean! If you still have time for shopping in Charlotte Amalie, I highly recommend seeking out the paintings and photography by local artists in the AH Riise outdoor mall. The locals’ sources of inspiration are numerous, and talent enviable! Thus, St. Thomas local art is my favorite souvenir to leave this beautiful place with. There are many other boutique shops in the area to shop until you drop, all conveniently accepting the U.S. Dollar!

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More to Tour, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands

Undoubtedly, when you tour St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, you can NEVER get enough! So come and explore some more, with my video tour of St. Thomas here!:

Finally, there are many nearby Caribbean islands that are also well worth a visit! So I hope you’ll check out my post on Nassau here!:

Tour Nassau Bahamas!

And for more exciting travel around the world, visit the Ultimate Travel Adventures YouTube channel, so you can get your travel fix today!:

Ultimate Travel Adventures on YouTube

I hope you enjoyed the chance to tour St. Thomas today! Importantly, thank you for reading!

See Seattle, Washington!

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Seattle Skyline

Bohemian Playground

See Seattle when you’re ready for a free-spirited, bohemian paradise! Seattle is laid-back and fun, as I quickly discovered trekking up and down the boisterous bumps of its many hills, encountering its coffee culture, starving artists, and plumes of pot smoke along the way! (Yes, it’s legal here.) The grunge culture popularized in the 90s by local bands like Pearl Jam and Nirvana is alive and well here as well. Seattle is vibrant, vigorous, and vaporous!

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Views from the Space Needle

Space Needle Observatory

A trip to the top of the Space Needle is high on many visitors’ Seattle bucket list, and for good reason. The observatory provides outstanding views of the booming skyline and surrounding natural beauty of ocean and forest, and, if you’re lucky enough to be here on a clear day, the brilliant white snow-cap of Mt. Rainier. I daresay it’s worth the dreadfully long wait in line to have this experience. Yes, be prepared to stand and wait over an hour… and then have no regrets. When you reach the top, make sure you stand on the glass floor as it turns high above the safety of solid ground – even the least height-averse person can feel a tad uneasy looking straight down up here! The observatory is a great way to see Seattle, with a bird’s eye view!

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Pike Place Market

Pike Place Market

The iconic Pike Place Market is exhilarating in all of its commotion and excitement! Here humungous crowds of people gather and stroll amid shouting fisherman playing “catch” with their catch, people in tie-dye selling hemp-infused wares, artists displaying the colorful fruits of their creative efforts, and so much more. Endless varieties of foods quickly get you drooling as you bask in the gloriously gourmet culture. There are so many distractions here to peak your interest – sights, smells, and sounds. Here you can be surrounded and spoiled by the spirit that is Seattle.

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Port of Seattle

See Seattle Port!

With so many cruise ships sailing to Alaska out of Seattle, a dynamic port scene has built up around them. With a Ferris wheel, restaurants, bars, shops, this area can easily keep you busy for hours. Soak it all in before you set sail!

Seattle is a great destination for the visitor looking to get laid back and let their free-spirited beatnik loose!

You can view my Seattle video tour here!:

In my opinion, the way to see the most of a city possible in the limited time you have is to go for a tour that will whisk you from attraction to attraction – and, more importantly, whisk you through the long lines! I recommend Viator as I’ve had wonderful experiences with them, and they serve the city of Seattle!:

Save time and money with the Seattle CityPass

Want to tour another iconic American City? Check out my New York City article!:

New York City Tour!

And for more tour videos from the U.S. and around the world, check out my YouTube video!:

Ultimate Travel Adventures YouTube Channel

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Upper Peninsula Michigan!

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Magnificent Mackinac Bridge

Upper Peninsula Michigan Mackinac Bridge

No one can deny the natural beauty of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Your entry point into the Upper Peninsula, affectionately called the “U.P.” by Michiganders, is the magnificent Mackinac Bridge. This beautiful suspension bridge was opened in 1957. It has a tower height of 552 feet, a length of 26,372 feet, and a $4 toll for cars – well worth the “price of admission”! A wild, wonderful wilderness awaits on the other side! My anticipation escalated as I traversed this awe-inspiring bridge. And when I arrived on the U.P. side I was not disappointed!

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Pictured Rocks Falls

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

The Upper Peninsula boasts many natural wonders! Most notably, a visit is not complete without checking out the Pictured Rocks near Munising. You choose – you can take a kayak or get tickets for a cruise tour. Either way, it’s a win! If you partake in one of the cruises, I highly recommend lining up EARLY if you want to avoid getting a seat in the middle of the boat, for the best view. At least half an hour before sailing or even more is recommended in the summer. The rocky cliffs are described as “painted” or “pictured” because of the brilliant stripes and splashes of different colors composed on them. You will also notice many waterfalls and delightfully strange rock formations, and pine trees that seem to grow out of solid rock! The Pictured Rocks are full of great photo ops… so keep your camera handy!

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Tahquamenon Falls

Tahquamenon Falls

The Tahquamenon Falls are another must-see in the U.P. These incredible waterfalls are located in Tahquamenon Falls State Park. The color of the spectacular falls is derived from the high copper content. Copper is an abundant natural resource in the U.P. The park also features miles of great hiking trails through the woods, for the energetically inclined. And a wonderful restaurant and brewery is also available on-site, where I ordered delicious fresh whitefish ‘n chips, and a flight of craft beers brewed right on site. You can enjoy many different viewpoints of the falls by taking the provided walking paths. Almost as enthralling as the sight of the falls is the sound of the falls. The Tahquamenon falls leave an amazing impression of their power on your senses – the sight, sound, and smell.

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Views from Brockway Mountain

Brockway Mountain

The peak of Brockway Mountain, near Copper Harbor, is accessible to vehicles, and the views are awe-inspiring! If anyone had any doubt that the U.P. is covered in unspoiled wilderness, these views of endless gloriously green forest and brilliantly blue lakes will remove all doubt! Unfortunately, my only regret about visiting this site is that I didn’t do so during the peak of the fall leaf-turning season! Another great way to enjoy the U.P.’s beautiful forests: drive through the “Tunnel of Trees,” which hang over the road in a way that seemingly envelops you in a passage through a leafy pipeline!

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Point Iroquois Lighthouse

Iconic Lighthouses

The U.P. is chock full of lighthouses of all shapes, sizes, and styles! There are over 40 lighthouses in the U.P. mostly from the 1800s. The lighthouse at Point Iroquois is one of many that you can climb to the top of for nice views of the lake. You also can tour the preserved, historic living quarters of former lighthouse-keepers, and visit a small museum on-site. If you’re into lighthouses, you’ll be spoiled rotten in the U.P.! They are a major player in the area’s history and culture. You’ll have no trouble finding them either; the Michigan Tourism Bureau has done an outstanding job with attraction signage throughout the state, and the lighthouses are no exception. Or, you can pick up a lighthouse map at any Michigan tourist center and plan your  adventure!

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Shipwreck Museum, Whitefish Point

Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point

The Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point provides a fascinating look into the mysterious world of shipwrecks! As an Art History major, I have a lot of education on museums and their curation, and in my opinion the installations here are very well done. The displays are very interesting and informative, and include many fascinating historical artifacts. For example, there are underwater explorer suits, parts of shipwrecked vessels, historic articles found at shipwreck sites, and more. The Shipwreck Museum is well-worth the detour!

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Interesting tree in Calumet…

Off the Beaten Path

You’ll never know what you’re going to find when you wander the back streets of U.P. towns. For example, this house in the above photo! There’s something particularly rewarding about stumbling on something quirky and unusual like this taking the time to get off the beaten path – often some of the most rewarding travel experiences of all. I found this house taking the back roads in Calumet.

More Outdoor Delights in Upper Peninsula, Michigan!

The Upper Peninsula, Michigan is a wild wonderland of natural beauty. There is an abundance of things to see and do in the U.P., and I can’t wait to return!

You can view my video tour of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula here!:

Can’t get enough of Michigan’s natural beauty? I don’t blame you! Check out my post on mainland Michigan here!:

Travel Michigan! (Part 2: the Mainland)

And if you want to know about the authentic log cabin I bought in northern Michigan, you can read about it here!:

Michigan Vacation Cabin Tour!

Finally, for more travel videos of Michigan and all around the world, visit my YouTube channel here!:

Ultimate Travel Adventures YouTube Channel

Scintillating Skagway, Alaska: a Wilderness Wonderland!

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White Pass railway train

Skagway, Alaska is a remote wilderness wonderland, and frequent port on Alaskan cruise itineraries. Nicknamed “gateway to the Klondike,” Skagway has an illustrious history of people embarking on a risky but exciting adventure with the ambition of getting rich during the Gold Rush. Today it’s a sleepy town that resembles an Old West movie set combined with tourist commercialism in response to the large number of cruise ships that dock here throughout the summer. I visited while on the Alaska itinerary for the Norwegian Bliss. Luckily, the commercialism does not significantly detract from the historical interest of the architecture in town.

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“Downtown” Skagway today

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Skagway in 1898, during the Gold Rush (public domain image)

My highest recommendation for what to do in Skagway after a stroll through town to observe the Old West late 1800s architecture is a ride on the White Pass train. This train ride affords spectacular views of the White Pass Mountains, including remote wilderness, vast forests, waterfalls, wildlife, and glaciers (including during the summer.)

 

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White Pass train engine

Besides the scenic views, it is fascinating to contemplate, as you listen to the whistles and chugging of the train and feel the vibration of its powerful motor, the efforts involved in building this rail track through these steep, imposing mountains. You traverse over massive bridges, through long tunnels, and on the edge of the mountain. (Afraid of heights? Consider yourself warned!)

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Views from the train

There are a variety of train routes you may take in varying lengths, the longest making it’s way up into the Yukon Territory of Canada. You may purchase tickets for the train ride directly from the operator in town, or purchase an excursion or tour that includes the train ride as one of the included attractions, as I did.

 

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Gold panning lesson

Another attraction included on my tour ticket was a gold panning lesson. During this experience, a very animated woman in period costume explained and demonstrated the process of panning for gold. Following the demonstration, I was handed a pan and given a trough out of which to pan for my own gold. Staff make the rounds to help anyone in need of assistance, but I was still confused… when turning in my gold for an appraisal, it was appraised at about $5. (You do get to keep the gold as a souvenir.) Others did better than I did! The experience was very touristy, but I learned a thing or two about the Gold Rush culture and process of panning nonetheless.

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Iditarod racer lecture

The other portion of the tour I participated in included a sled dog lesson and demonstration. This began with a lecture given by an Iditarod racer, who showed and explained her equipment and discussed what the experience of participating in the Iditarod entails and what life is like for both racer and sled dog. Her presentation was, albeit somewhat touristy, engaging and informative. A short video presentation was also given.

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Sled dogs on a dry run in the summer

After the lecture, a sled dog “race” was simulated on dirt (given it was summer) on a dry run. The audience was introduced to the sled dogs on the team, and allowed to pet both the sled dogs and the puppies on site.

The train experience was definitely the highlight of any trip to Skagway, but if you can overlook the touristy veneer of some of the other offerings in the area much can be learned about history and culture in Alaska!

You may view my full video tour (including all of the above listed attractions!) here:

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Landing a Great Airline Seat for Takeoff! How to Get the Best Seats for your Flight

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Airplanes awaiting takeoff at Reagan National Airport

Your seat assignment can make or break your flight every time, and the longer your flight the even more important it becomes to score the best seat possible. You may be wondering how to secure the best seats for your flight. I wanted to share some tips on recognizing a better seat, and to give some information on how some of the different major airlines work with regards to seat assignment, to help you in this quest! Nobody wants to get their travel experience off to a bad start before it even begins due to a loathsome seat assignment!

Consider pitch and width.

Pitch and width are the formulas that will help you determine which seats provide you with more space. Pitch refers to how far away the seats in front of you and behind you are, indicating legroom. Width indicates how much room you will have in the chair. This can differ from class to class, airline to airline, and airplane model to airplane model. It is also important to remember that some seats recline while others don’t.

Not all aircraft are created equal.

Different aircraft have different seat configurations. Visit seatguru.com to view detailed information about the seats on any plane. Enter the airline, date, and flight number and you will be advised on the pitch and width of each type of seat and the layout with which they are installed on the aircraft on a complete map showing where the exit and bulkhead seats are, how many seats are in each section of the cabin, and how many seats across there are in each row.

Not all airlines are created equal.

Airlines differ in a couple of ways when it comes to what kind of seat you can expect to get. The first involves which actual seat models the airline uses on their aircraft. For example, you can expect seats with 28 inches of pitch that do not recline on Spirit Airlines. The aforementioned resource, seatguru.com, can advise you on the seat pitch and width for each type of seat, and whether or not they recline, before you book the plane you are considering.

The second way the airlines differ is in their policy on how seats are assigned. My preference, and I contend it is the best way to assure yourself the best seat, is to book with airlines that allow you to reserve a specific seat at the time of booking at no additional cost. This has consistently been my experience on Delta and United, even when buying economy tickets. JetBlue also allows advance seat reservations. American, on the other hand, assigns the seats in economy coach; you do have the option when checking in (up to 24 hours in advance) to reserve a specific open seat, however, expect in most cases to be charged to do so. Southwest has a completely different policy – basically a free-for-all when you board. No coach seats are assigned and are first-come, first-served when boarding the plane. Your best bet if you fly Southwest is to check in 24 hours in advance (the earliest you’re allowed to!) so that you are assigned an early group number… and then hustle when that group number is called! Group numbers determine who boards the plane first, and those first to check in are placed in the early groups. NOTE: early check-in, with any airline, is always a good idea since the airline may begin giving upgrades to certain members of their loyalty program – making fewer good seats available to everyone else… at this time. It’s another good reason to reserve a specific seat at booking if you can!

Of course if you are flying first class, business class, or as a high-level member of an airline’s loyalty program you will receive priority. These guidelines apply to coach travelers, and, in particular, economy coach travelers.

Book a premium seat.

Some airlines, like JetBlue and United, offer seats with greater leg or chair room for a greater cost (JetBlue’s “Even More Space” seats and, for United, “Economy Plus Seating”). Different airlines will refer to these seats by different names; keep an eye out for a reference to greater seating space, particularly if you notice certain seats that come at a higher price point. And for even greater comfort, you can consider business and first class seats, where there are always fewer seats per row, much more legroom, and far wider chairs. Of course, you can expect these to come at an even higher price point. If you need even more space, some airlines will also allow you to book more than one adjoining seat.

Arrive on time.

You don’t want to go to the trouble (and/or expense!) to reserve a specific seat just to see it given away to a standby passenger because you arrived late for boarding! Try to arrive a half hour before your flight is scheduled to leave, when the boarding process usually begins… or as close to that time as possible.

Consider placement of seats on the plane.

Of course window and aisle seats are more popular unless you are traveling with a companion you want to sit beside in a middle seat. But there are other considerations. Seats near the wings are notoriously less turbulent than those further away from the wings, if that is important to you. If you have a connecting flight, choosing one closer to the front of the plane, so you can disembark more quickly, could prove extremely helpful.

“Bulkhead” seats or seats in the first row of the section, with no seats directly in front of them, can offer greater legroom but no personal item storage (expect to place it in the overhead bin). This may be an advantage or disadvantage to you depending on your priorities. And exit row seats have more legroom, but children are not eligible to sit in these rows, and you will need to adhere to the responsibilities of the exit row passengers as outlined by your flight attendant during safety instruction. Also, the exit rows may have a greater shortage of room in the overhead bin due to the storage of safety equipment.

Confirm your seat assignment before check-in.

If you made a seat reservation ahead of time, double check to make sure your assignment hasn’t been changed. In some cases the airplane scheduled for your flight may be changed to a different aircraft, causing seat reservations to be re-assigned unexpectedly.

Other considerations.

Consider congestion factors on the aircraft, such as the seats near the lavatories potentially being high-traffic zones. Also consider that seats closer to the door may be cooler if the weather outside is cold. And if you want to be served earlier during food and beverage service, flight attendants often (but not always!) start in the front and work their way back, especially on smaller planes (on larger planes more attendants may be serving and start from both front and back.)

If you want easier access to the restrooms you may want to go for the aisle – and, conversely, if you want to avoid having to get up and move for others in your row getting up, then the window may be better.

If you need access to your carry-on in the overhead bin during the flight, the aisle will be most convenient. The wall of the window seat can serve as a makeshift headrest, but the aisle seat can give you more opportunities to stretch out when people aren’t using the aisle. Finally, you can expect the back row of seats won’t recline, but you won’t have to worry about unruly passengers kicking your seat!

What about the “dreaded” middle seat?

Often the least coveted seat, the middle, does have a couple of advantages too! These include better access to the personal light and environmental controls, and often easier access to an outlet. It also will be easier to snag a middle seat in the front of the plane or an exit row if that’s where you want to be for other reasons. And if you’re a social butterfly, you’ve got the potential to make two new friends (or, on the flip side, enemies!)

If all else fails, ask again at the gate.

If you couldn’t get the kind of seat you wanted, assuming seats are assigned on your airline, try asking again at the gate. Loyalty program members may have been upgraded and their original seat assignments abandoned. This can translate into new, great seats becoming available at the last minute. Note that some airlines may refuse to accommodate this request if you are flying with an economy fare ticket.

I hope these tips will help you get the best airplane seat possible for your next flight! There are a lot of different factors to consider!