Koh Mook

After a few days in Bangkok it was time to hit the beach!  We took a one hour flight south to Trang and were driven out to the coast in a private van.  From there we hopped on a speed boat to take us out to the island where our hotel was.

On our way!
Pulling up to the resort.
Getting used to a life jacket.
We made it!
Upon arrival we were greeted with cool towels and sweet drinks.

 We stayed in little beach bungalows that had big wrap around porches with lounge chairs, windows looking out to the ocean, and came complete with mosquito nets!

The rest of the afternoon was spent on the beach and in the water.  It was great to relax and hang out in the beautiful clear blue ocean.  We ate almost all our meals at the restaurant in the resort.  It was semi-open air and everyone was barefoot.  You leave your shoes at the entrance, dip your feet in a tub of water to rinse off the sand and then step inside.  They had a pretty wide selection of food and drinks and it was much more inexpensive than most American or European hotels.  By the end of the trip, I think as a group we had ordered every item on the menu!

Bangkok

Two days before we were scheduled to fly out to Bangkok, I got a text notifying me that Lufthansa had cancelled our flight!  I had no idea why and spent the entire afternoon trying to call Lufthansa’s German and American numbers to get a new flight.  Turns out the Lufthansa pilots were going on strike, so there wouldn’t be any Lufthansa flights for a few days.  I couldn’t believe our luck that we finally were ready to go, and this little hiccup was threatening our trip!  Luckily we were able to book a whole new flight, and we actually were able to leave the next day.  This was great news because we gained a day in Bangkok, but did make for a bit of a last minute scramble because we were not packed or ready at all.

Our flight to Thailand would’ve been about 11 hours if we had been able to take our original nonstop flights.  We ended up having to take a connection through Amsterdam which added a few hours of travel time onto our journey.  We flew through the night and arrived in Bangkok in the morning.  I wasn’t able to sleep that well on the plane (imagine that, not sleeping well while holding a sleeping baby for 10+ hours…weird).  We were both pretty tired when we got there, so it was a mellow first day for us. K was waiting for us at the airport and helped us get a taxi back to her condo in Bangkok.

Our eyes were wide trying to take everything in.  Bangkok is a massive city, and is bustling night and day.  There are taxis, tuk tuks, and motorcycles zipping through the streets at all times.  We were so lucky to be with J and K who are locals now.  It was nice to just follow them and not have the stress of trying to navigate a new city.  They took us out for a nice lunch and a delicious Thai dinner later that night.  That was about all we could muster for our first day.

The rest of our group arrived the following day.  Our friends all flew in from Philadelphia.  It was so exciting to see everyone, we haven’t seen them for 2 years since they came to visit us in Germany.  Our first stop was lunch in one of the many malls around Bangkok.  It seemed like almost every other building was a mall.  I honestly couldn’t tell you which one we went to, but it was huge and really nice.  Most of the malls we went to there were very upscale.  Much nicer than any mall I’ve seen in Europe so far, but honestly I haven’t visited that many so maybe I’m just inexperienced.

Lunch at the mall next to the huge koi pond.

After our lunch the guys and girls split up.  We went back to the condo to freshen up and give the kiddos a little break.  The guys headed out for their muay thai fight.

Taking a little break for Thomas the Train.

After a little regrouping, we hit the sky train and made our way over to the river docks to catch our boat to Asiatique.  Asiatique is a large outdoor night market and restaurant area.  It’s very modern, established, and nice.  It reminded me of outdoor shopping centers in the U.S.  We had fun shopping around, bargaining for clothes, and having some drinks and dinner.

The guys spent a long time in traffic to get to and from the fight but they all said they had a good time!

In the morning it was early to rise as we set out to Chatachuk or J.J. Market.  This market had everything you could think of and we barely saw any of it.  You could easily spend all day there if you can take the heat!

After spending some time shopping for treasures, it was time for a cold drink and a break.  We sat down at an open air bar to people watch and relax.  We all really enjoyed the market, I wish we could’ve spent more time there because I would’ve loved to keep shopping!  Some of the things our group walked away with were purses, local made soaps, art, T-shirts, dresses, picture frames, book ends, and probably more that I’m not remembering.

The dancing chef in charge of the paella.

That night we went out for another fabulous Thai meal.  Thanks to J and K, we ate like kings and never had a bad dish.

We capped off our night at the rooftop bar at the Hotel Muse.  It was great to sit outside, sip on a cocktail, and take in the view.  Next stop for us was the beach! It was flights from Bangkok to Trang in the morning.

Tel Aviv and Jaffa

My husband had to work for several days on our trip, so while he was working I took the baby out and explored!  We took a walking tour of Old Jaffa which is just down the beach from Tel Aviv.  It was wonderful weather that day, so we spent all day outside walking around.

We almost missed the tour because we went to the wrong clock tower.  We thought it was the tower on top of the hill sticking up from the church, but it wasn’t.  We had to do a little hunting to find the right place.

The right clock tower.
View of Tel Aviv.
Wrong clock tower.

All the signs in Israel were written in Hebrew, Arabic, and English.

After all that walking, it was time for a snack break and some gelato!

The next day we walked all through the city and to Hayarkon Park.

Swinging for the first time was a success!
We had lunch on a bench looking at the little zoo.

Our last day in Tel Aviv was spent bathing suit shopping for our trip to Thailand.  So we were in and out of malls all day, with lots of walking.  Tel Aviv was a really fun city.  I couldn’t help but notice there were burger restaurants everywhere!  Coming from Europe, this was unusual.  We had a couple burgers while we were there and they were delicious!  Much better than any burger I’ve had in Europe so far.  We also enjoyed the people we met, they were very friendly and helpful.  Israel is such an interesting country.  It was kind of a last minute trip, so I wish I would’ve had a little more time to research but we had a wonderful time!

Enjoying one last hummus and falafel plate before heading home.
Camel ride in the airport.

The Dead Sea

Our next day in Israel we took another road trip out to the Dead Sea.  The Dead Sea lies between Israel and Jordan.  It is the saltiest body of water on Earth, so salty nothing can survive in it.  That saltiness is also what makes you float!

We only had two days to choose from to go out to the Dead Sea, we chose the day with the better weather.  It was sunny and warm but not as warm as I like it to be when I go swimming.  The breeze wasn’t helping anybody either.  We sat in chairs on the beach for a while, working up the courage to get into the chilly water.  It really wasn’t that bad, but I like water to feel like a hot bath so for me it was a bit too cold.

cold, cold, cold, cold
Once you’re floating it doesn’t feel so cold.

I was nervous to lean back, I knew I would float but it’s a strange feeling.  Like you’re doing a trust exercise with the water, “is it going to catch me?”  Side note that I didn’t know about before doing my trip research.  All the Dead Sea advice makes sure to tell you not to shave for a few days before going in.  Apparently it really burns if you’ve shaved too close to your Dead Sea swim.  Really glad I took that advice!

No floating for babies, but I don’t think she minded too much.
Salt crystalized on the rocks.

The other thing you “have to do” when you visit is get all lathered up with Dead Sea mud.  It’s supposed to be very healing and good for your skin.  It was chillier by the time we got around to doing the mud.  So instead of a relaxing outdoor spa experience it was more like, “hurry up and put it on!”  Maybe I’m a wuss, but I needed like 10 more degrees to be comfortable.

Again, cold, cold, cold, cold, cold.

Even if it was chilly, I’m so happy we went.  It was really fun and possibly a once in a lifetime experience!

Jerusalem

We had the opportunity to tag along with my husband on one of his work trips to Israel.  This was his 4th or 5th time going, but our 1st.  We flew out on the same day but on different airlines.  Baby Girl and I flew El Al, which is an Israeli airlines and he flew Lufthansa.  I have to say that I have never been questioned so much before getting on a flight.  I was questioned before I even got to the counter to drop my bags.  Not that it’s a bad thing, I certainly understand the extra security.  It was a weird feeling though to be so heavily scrutinized.

This was my first time flying alone with my daughter.  Once I got to my gate, I was getting everything organized and I decided I had better change her diaper before getting on the plane.  I opened my diaper bag to find…1 diaper.  Mom fail!  I had only one diaper to last me 4+ hours until I could get to my checked baggage where the rest of the diapers were.  Not going to lie, I was panicking a little.  Luckily I spotted another mom with a baby and asked her for some extras.  Thank goodness for her!

The flight wasn’t too bad, but it was definitely a challenge.  Little lady had passed the age of just sleeping calmly for the whole flight.  She was more active and had more difficulty falling asleep.  I was trying to keep her asleep while I had my meal.  One wrong kick and my food would’ve gone everywhere.

I was able to easily meet up with Hubby (who was upgraded to first class on his flight) once we arrived in Tel Aviv.  From there, he took care of the rental car and got us to our hotel.

All ready to go!

The next morning we set out early to Jerusalem, about an hour away from Tel Aviv.  As we neared the city and started getting out of the car, it was hard for me not to notice the very heavy police and military presence.  I remember asking a few times if this was normal, to which Hubby assured me it was.  It had a double feeling of safety and concern.  They are there being vigilant and making sure nothing does happen, but it is a little unnerving when you aren’t used to it.

Our first stop was the Western Wall, or Wailing Wall as it is also known.  This is considered the most holy site of the Jewish faith.  It is the remaining outer wall of the Second Temple which housed the Temple Mount.  Where the Temple used to be is now the Dome of the Rock, a Mosque.  This site is considered very sacred by more than one religion, and it is easy to start to see why there has been so much conflict here.

We took a tour of the Western Wall tunnels.  For me it was really helpful to get more background on the history of the building and amazing to see something constructed so long ago.

After our tour it was time for a little bit of lunch.  It was shawarma and hummus for everyone!  This little lady really enjoyed it!

After lunch we marched up to the top of this tower to get some views over the city.

Dome of the Rock from the tower

 We also shopped through the markets.  Here we are checking out hand carved olive wood.

Last stop of the day was the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.  For Christians, this church holds an extremely holy site.  Inside is thought to be where the crucifixion of Jesus Christ took place.  Of course the church was built after and did not exist at the actual time.

This is a picture of where the cross would have been placed in the ground.
Mosaic inside the church.

There is a small shrine built within the church that is supposed to be the site where Jesus was entombed for three days.  However we overheard a tour guide talking about how the actual site was this tiny hole in the wall off to the side.

Possibly Jesus’ tomb?

This is on the upper floor of the church and is where Jesus’ body would’ve been physically on the cross.

 It’s hard to express the feeling you get visiting a place like this.  For everyone it would be different and obviously it depends on what your beliefs are.  For me the weight and importance of this location was surreal.  It’s hard to believe I was really in the place of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial.  I am so thankful I had the chance to visit, and reflect.

Jerusalem is at the center of three major world religions.  Each faith has some extremely holy sites in the area.  Even if you are not a follower of any of them, it is interesting to see the convergence of these faiths in one place.  There is so much history as well, a day was not enough to do the city justice.  However, we made the most of our day and were able to see some amazing things.  Hubby was our guide for the day, and we were lucky he had visited before so he could show us around!  Thanks Honey, you were a great tour guide!

How to Plan a Trip to Disneyland

It’s the Happiest Place on Earth, but there is a lot that goes into making your Disneyland trip a magical one. If you’re new to Disney or haven’t been since you were a kid, you may be surprised at all the preparation that can and should be done in advance. There’s an overwhelming amount of information out there. I don’t claim to be a Disneyland expert, but here’s what helped me the most and made our trips so wonderful!

1.Select trip date and length

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Halloween decorations at Disneyland Paris.

Picking when you’re going to make the trip and for how long is the first step. Check out these posts that highlight different pros and cons to visiting at different times of year.

When To Go To Disneyland

Disneyland 2016 Planning Guide

Best Time to Visit Disneyland

Of course we’d all love to visit when the crowds are lowest, but sometimes that’s not possible. Also sometimes low crowd times can mean more ride closures for refurbishment, and shorter park hours. Halloween and Christmas can be extra magical times to visit because of the special decorations and parades, but it can also be some of the most crowded times to visit. The rule of thumb is the parks are most crowded when kids are out of school: summer, Christmas break, and spring break. Decide what works best for your schedule, and your budget, and just go with it!

2.Transportation & Lodging

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If you need to fly, start looking at flights early. Set price alerts. Check Southwest Airlines, sometimes the ticket price is higher but the free checked baggage allowance can even it out. I also love Southwest for their open seating and cancellation policy. The open seating is helpful for families who can board early, thereby avoiding the hassle of not being assigned seats together which has become an issue on other carriers. Also if you had to cancel your trip, the balance you paid for your tickets will be saved to go toward a future flight. This is a much better policy than many other carriers.

If you are driving, don’t forget to factor in that famous LA traffic…it can be brutal! Your lodging choice may also affect whether you need a rental car or not.

Disneyland has three properties the Grand Californian, Paradise Pier Hotel, and the Disneyland Hotel. There are also many “Good Neighbor” hotels that are in close proximity to the parks, many within walking distance. Disneyland’s website is a great place to start to see where these properties are on the map, but I suggest calling these hotels directly for their best rate. I love Booking.com for booking hotels as well, but I always call to see if the hotel can beat the rate I found online. Other options would be to rent a house/condo via Air BnB, or maybe you’re staying somewhere nearby (San Diego, or LA) but driving to the parks just for the day.

Don’t forget to ask about parking fees. Some hotels charge a per night, per car parking fee which is almost as much as the fee to park at the parks.

3. Research

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One of my absolute favorite resources during my planning was DLRprepschool. Casey is a dedicated Disneyland expert who is very helpful to her readers. Check out her website and her Facebook page. She’s in the parks regularly and updates with the latest information.

If you will be traveling with children, it is important to know their heights which will dictate what rides they will be able to ride. Nothing worse than a three year old all excited to ride Radiator Springs Racers, getting there and finding out he’s too short! Meltdown city, let’s avoid that!

Also talk and think about what your priorities are. Maybe one person really wants to meet characters, and someone else wants to ride Splash Mountain 10 times. There is so much to do between the two parks, you likely will not be able to do everything. So decide what are each person’s must dos and make a plan.

You NEED to know about:

Fastpasses

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The other two resources I loved were Magic Kingdom Mamas on Instagram, and the Disneyland App. I highly recommend both!

4. Food Options

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Character dining at Ariel’s Grotto.

You should expect to spend some money on food. Know what is important to your family. Maybe the budget is most important and you should research low cost counter service food. Or maybe you want to hit all the fine dining places in the parks. On the Disneyland app you can see where all the different restaurants and food carts are and see the menus for them!

Character Dining is a fun, memorable experience to add to your trip. See about the different options HERE.

It’s very important that if you are set on a certain restaurant or character dining experience, to make your reservation up to 60 days in advance. The earlier, the better to avoid disappointment. You can make reservations directly through the Disneyland website or through the app that will link you to the website.

If you have a food allergy or restriction in your party, you’re in luck because Disney is very accommodating! The sit down restaurants will often ask you right at the check in desk if you have any allergies, and I believe the waiters are well versed in substitutions or alternative food options.

However you plan to dine, you should know that you can bring snacks into the parks. Snacks are a must, you might need that snack to give to an upset child in line. Sometimes it’s amazing how a little snack can brighten a mood! You can get free ice water at any of the counter service restaurants, and I recommend bringing water bottles. It will save you from having to buy them multiple times a day.

5. Pre-buy

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Pre-purchased dress on sale for $30 vs. buying a dress in the park for $70.

I highly suggest buying Disney gear before you get to the parks. Buy princess dresses, costumes, and Disney t-shirts at a much lower cost at JC Penny, Target, Old Navy, Etsy, or Ross. Even Disney Store and the Disney Store outlet have things for less than they will be in the parks.

Most experienced visitors also recommend buying souvenirs in advance. Have a few things ready for when the “gimmes” start. Most of the stores listed above will also carry Disney toys. You can find Disney toys almost anywhere these days! Understandably you will probably want to buy at least one or two things in the parks, but you can save a lot of money by buying extras elsewhere.

Also look for light up toys on Amazon and in the Dollar Spot at Target. Undoubtedly your kids will want the $20+ light up toys cast members are selling at the start of any nighttime entertainment. But if you have something ready to give them, you should be able to distract them and keep everyone happy.

6. Show up early

It is in your best interest to arrive 30 minutes prior to park opening. The crowds will be lighter than in just a few hours later. Use that early morning time to ride several rides and get Fastpasses for later while the late stragglers are still in bed!

7. Have fun and be flexible!

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You did it, you’ve done the reading, you’ve made the reservations, and you’re ready to enjoy the magical world of Disneyland. Even with all the planning, it’s important to be flexible. Kids don’t always adhere to your well thought out plans. So if someone needs an ice-cream break, it’s probably better to skip the ride and slow down for a few.

I hope you found something helpful here for your next Disneyland vacation! Feel free to leave your Disneyland tips below!