Lokrum Island

Just off the shore of Dubrovnik, is Lokrum Island. It is very easy to get out there, you can just buy a boat ticket at the harbor the day you want to go. The boat ride was quick, probably 15 minutes or so (from my memory). If you’ve spent a day walking around Dubrovnik and are ready to get out to see something else, this is a great option.

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Here’s the harbor where you will find the ferry.

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Be sure to sit on the outer edges of the ferry so you can take pictures of all the beautiful views!

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Room for babies in small strollers on the boat!

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This is the ferry we took, docked at Lokrum.

It is super important that you find out when the last ferry of the day is, and make sure you don’t miss it! There aren’t any hotels or places to stay on the island, so you’ll want to be sure you don’t get stuck. We almost missed the last ferry, it was vacation stress I could’ve done without. I wonder though, what would happen if you missed the last ferry? Is there a back up plan or are you just out of luck? I’d love to know, but wouldn’t want to be the one to figure it out the hard way!

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The island is very lush and quiet (except for the locals). It is perfect for wandering and having a little downtime. You could go and just walk around, or spend some time at one of the beaches. There is also a botanical garden and an old monastery you can walk through.

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Locals on Lokrum, colorful peacocks!

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Peacocks everywhere, even willing to hang out with you at the beach!

We chose a beach and the big kids started snorkeling. They all decided to buy snorkel gear on the previous afternoon at another nearby beach. It turned out to be a lot of fun for them, I think they would’ve snorkeled all day everyday if they could’ve.IMG_2278 (2)IMG_2294 (2)IMG_2305 (1)

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One important thing to note about Croatia is that the beaches are rocky. Water shoes are important and it may not be as easy to just lay out a big towel for little ones. We would find the biggest flat rock we could, and camp there. The rocky beaches make for some very clear, blue, gorgeous waters though! Don’t let the rocks deter you, just be prepared!

We spent the bulk of our day at this rocky cove area. We left to for a bit to eat lunch at a restaurant near the old monastery on the island. The food was great, and the scenery was tranquil. As I said earlier, we got so lost in the tranquility that all of a sudden we realized we were about to miss the last ferry. We were all happy to spend the day on Lokrum. Dubrovnik is beautiful, but Lokrum provides a different kind of beauty. It’s a nice escape from the hustle and bustle of tourists in the old city.

Snorkeling in Thailand

When planning our trip for Thailand, Hubby had one major piece of input.  He wanted to snorkel.  I think it’s safe to say he got his fill on it.  We were able to do a little snorkeling at the end of our Emerald Cave visit and we hired our same boat to take us to some prime snorkeling spots the next day too.  The snorkeling was fabulous!  Lots of fish, bright colors, and some interesting creatures.  We got to see a puffer fish, star fish, sea urchins, an eel, giant clams, and countless tropical fish.  One particular kind of fish was a bit aggressive and even bit M and drew blood!  They would guard the beginnings of the coral and you had to swim fast to get past them without getting attacked.

Everyone had a good time floating around and looking at the fish.  I was an apprehensive snorkeler up until just a couple years ago.  Once you get the hang of it, it’s really relaxing!  This is by far the best snorkeling I have done.  I’ve only done it a handful of places but Thailand was incredible.  Next on my list is to snorkel somewhere with sea turtles!

Bye Bye resort, we’re going snorkeling!
Life on the boat.
First snorkel spot.

These blue, pink, and yellow fish were so pretty!

No sunburns for this little guy!

“Snorkel god”

Emerald Cave

The second morning of our stay on Koh Mook, we arranged a boat to take us out to the Emerald Cave (as seen on Sean Lowe’s season of The Bachelor).  As soon as we got on the boat we strapped little lady into her life jacket, and put her on T’s lap.  Not 5 minutes after the boat started she was fast asleep.  Great that she got a little snooze in but then we had to wake her up once we got there which made her a little grumpy.  The boat ride was full of beautiful blue water and striking rock islands jutting up from the ocean.

Once you get to the cave everyone puts on their life jackets and starts to swim in.  The cave is dark at first, but you can still see what’s ahead of you.  Maybe halfway through, it goes pitch black, you can’t see anything but fleeting glimpses of your guide’s flashlight.  We were holding onto each other and bumping into one another to make our way through.  Eventually you see a literal light at the end of the tunnel and it’s a big relief!  So, how did we do this with a baby?  With a lot of help and having the guys take turns holding her up while they swam with one arm.  Not an easy feat, and a little unnerving in the dark.  I think I kept repeating, “are you OK, where are you, do you need help, is she OK?”  I probably wouldn’t have wanted her to do this normally but I knew my friend had brought her little guy through and that made me feel like we could do it too.

When you finally make it inside the cave, you are in this little hole surrounded by a jungle.  It’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before.  I’m not sure how The Bachelor pulled off getting it completely private.  Maybe they paid off the other boats so no one else would go in?  It was magical, but would’ve been even better if we were the only ones in there.

Getting close to the cave.
Getting ready to swim through!
Inside, the black area is the cave you swim in and out of.

Blurry picture, but happy baby.
The locals loved her.

At the end of our cave experience we had a little bit of an incident.  As we were all swimming back to the boat, K got stung by a jellyfish!  She was OK but in pain for a while.  None of us saw the jellyfish in the water until we were already on the boat.  Luckily neither of the little ones got stung, I’m pretty sure that would’ve made us mommas lose it.  It was a big brownish orangey one about the size of a volleyball.  So if you visit here, be on the lookout!  Thanks J and K for planning such a fun day for us! It was a very memorable experience!

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!

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!

A Family Guide to Fun on Oahu

Oahu is a great island to choose for your Hawaiian vacation. It is the easiest to fly to and there are so many hikes, beaches, coves, and other attractions to keep you as busy or relaxed as you want to be. Here’s some tips and ideas for your next trip to Oahu!

1. Line up early for Haleiwa Joe’s.

This popular restaurant has two locations, one in Haleiwa on the North Shore and one in Kaneohe on the windward side. We ate at the Kaneohe location. We arrived promptly at 4:25 and the restaurant opens at 4:30. There was already a long line, and we wondered if we would make the first round of seating. Luckily we only had to wait about five minutes to be seated, but that tells you just how popular and crowded the restaurant is! It’s known for it’s massive prime rib, which the hubby ordered. No pictures of it because you know, unruly kids. I had the baked catch of the day and it was topped with crab and amazing. The restaurant is perched above a hidden garden and pond, not visible from the parking lot. After dinner the kids enjoyed running down the big hill, out onto the dock, and looking at the fish. The grownups just tried to keep up and tried to keep them from falling in!

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2. Spend a day at Bellows Beach.

This gorgeous beach was not crowded, and the waves were fairly calm. Part of the beach access is restricted to military, and part is open to the public. Most of us enjoyed a calm day floating in the turquoise water. Our daughter however, was not a fan. She’s never really been a fan of the beach. We were hopeful that the warmer water and weather would crack her, but no such luck. She spent most of the day on the beach blanket. She much preferred swimming in the pool.IMG_7656IMG_7740

3. Have a drink and enjoy the view at Turtle Bay.

The pool bar at Turtle Bay serves up pricey, but delicious drinks and food with a beautiful view of the bay. There is room for kids to roam without going to far. Our daughter quickly made friends with some other kiddos and played in the grass near our table while we relaxed in our seats. IMG_7874

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4. Hike the Lanikai Pillboxes.

I will warn the folks with young children that this isn’t exactly an easy hike, but can be done baby wearing or carrying on shoulders as my husband did. The onset of the hike is a little steep, and the path is rocky, dusty, and can be a little slippery. So exercise caution! The trailhead lies in a neighborhood, we had a local friend with us to show us exactly where to go and where to park-very helpful. Be careful where you park, do NOT park in a bike lane unless you want to spend part of your vacation dealing with a tow company! The view from this hike is well worth it, don’t stop at the first pillbox, keep going to the second. You’ll be happy you did!IMG_7957IMG_7959IMG_8049

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Depending our your kids, be prepared to carry them. It was a little too much for our almost three year old. Our friend’s four year old can do it no problem though.

5. Eat breakfast with Mickey.

Disney has a resort in Ko Olina called Aulani. As you would expect, it is not cheap to stay there. Even if it’s not in the budget to stay, consider visiting for a breakfast with Mickey. These breakfasts are open to the public, but don’t forget to make a reservation! Adults were $35 each, and kids under 3 were free. Before breakfast you get a chance to meet Mickey and have your picture taken with him. Hand your camera to the photographers so you don’t have to buy the picture package. Once you have met Mickey, you will be taken to your table. The breakfast is served buffet style and includes Mickey waffles, fruit, yogurt, an omelet station, a few Hawaiian dishes, Asian dishes, cold cuts, pastries, and a variety of other things. The food was tasty, everyone in our party was fully satisfied. Minnie and Goofy will also make their rounds to your table for pictures. “Aunty” leads the breakfast, walking around playing the ukulele and singing. She invites the kids to interact with her several times, giving them chances to play instruments and dance together. Photo 0022IMG_8201

6. Sample shrimp on the North Shore.

Giovanni’s shrimp truck is the most talked about for shrimp so we did what many other tourists do and drove out to try a plate. We opted for the scampi, the most popular. It was indeed delicious, as everyone says it is. My husband wasn’t overly impressed, thought it was good, but didn’t necessarily agree with all the fuss about it. Bring wet wipes, the shrimp are served shell on, so you will have to get a little dirty! Also be prepared for literally buses full of tourists. When we arrived there was no line, but we saw a tour bus come in with a big group. There is also a shave ice truck at this location in Kahuku, but you may want to hold out for Matsumoto’s in Haleiwa or visit Giovanni’s in Haleiwa then go over to Matsumoto’s after. If you’re not in the mood for shave ice in Haleiwa, I highly recommend Island Vintage Coffee right across the plaza. I had a super delicious, frappucino-like drink, with coconut and macadamia nut there. Yum!!IMG_4948

7. See the show at the Polynesian Cultural Center.

The PCC (for short) is also on the North Shore. We went because we were told it was the best luau on the island. While I can’t quite say it was a luau, we did enjoy the show “Ha: Breath of Life.” I think of a traditional luau as being on the beach, the pig being cooked in the sand, a big buffet of Hawaiian food, and a show on a stage featuring hula and fire dancing.

At the PCC we showed up and entered a huge food hall for a buffet dinner. The type of ticket we bought was for the American style food, there was also a more expensive option for Hawaiian style food. The dinner was OK, but nothing particularly special. If we were to do it again, I would just eat dinner somewhere else and show up for the show. If you’ve been at the PCC all day, it probably is just more convenient to eat there or at one of the other restaurants located on the grounds. The dinner just lacked a little of the ambiance that you would have eating on the beach at sunset, surrounded by tiki torches.

After dinner we wandered the marketplace where you can buy any type of tropical souvenir imaginable. You could even get a tribal tattoo airbrushed on, I saw many people walking around with them on their faces! The show is in a large amphitheater with a volcano as the backdrop. The show is lengthy at two hours, with an intermission. We weren’t sure that our kids would make it through the whole thing, but they did! We were impressed with the effects, live music, and variety of dancing. The show was highly entertaining and had a moving storyline. It showcased dances from the different island nations represented in the PCC villages.  I imagine it would be easy to spend an entire day here. We felt it might be a little much for our young children, but I think older kids would definitely be entertained. My impression was the PCC seems like Disneyland of the Polynesian islands.

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She’s trying to do the “shaka” with the Shaka statue.

Mallorca

We jetted over to the Spanish island of Mallorca for a long weekend in 2012.  It’s off the eastern coast of Spain in the Mediterranean Sea.  We had heard that it was a favorite vacation spot of Germans and Brits, and I would say that was about right.  Our flight was full of people who seemed like they were in spring break mode, plus a group of excited men on a stag party.  They were so happy to be going to Mallorca, that they brought their own beer and boom box onto the plane so that the party could continue.  This wasn’t that amusing to me at the time as I had recently found out I was pregnant, and I had worked all week-I really just wanted to sleep on the plane.

 

We got into Mallorca relatively late and we weren’t staying in Palma (the biggest city, close to the airport) so we had arranged to take a bus out to our resort area Cala d’Or.  The bus seemed like a great idea at the time.  It was cheap and it would take us right to our hotel.  What we didn’t plan for was waiting on the bus in the parking lot for an hour for it to fill up with people, and then stopping at everybody’s hotel along the way.  This bus adventure took almost 3 hours from the time we got on to the time we walked into our hotel lobby.  Not so fun.

Nevertheless, after a full night’s sleep and a good breakfast in the morning, we were ready to hit the beach!  We decided to venture away from our hotel to this other little beach we had seen on the way in.  The local bus that takes you over to the other town was a cute, little, topless minibus!  A fun way to get from place to place (as long as the weather is good).
Cruising in the open air bus!

 We arrived at the other beach Cala Mondrago,  with just enough time to take a walk around the edge of the cove and settle in for about an hour of sun.

Right before the weather turned nasty.
Cala Mondrago

After this hour of decent beach weather, it started to rain and got very chilly.  I had prepared for this, so I put on my layers, put a towel over me and hunkered down under my beach umbrella with a book hoping the weather would turn around.  Well…it didn’t.  Eventually we abandoned our beach chairs for the nearby restaurant for some more cover from the rain.  Once we decided the weather was pretty much done for the day we hailed a taxi (the open air bus was not sounding as fun) and headed back to the hotel.  We spent the rest of the afternoon on our balcony with blankets watching the rain and reading.

View from our balcony, probably right before we ran down to the beach to catch some sun.

The next day was similar.  We stayed at our hotel’s beach, tried to soak up as much sun as we could, but when the weather went bad we retreated back up to our balcony.  The day we were leaving we had the best weather of the trip.  I stayed on the beach mostly, and Hubby went out for some snorkeling.

Lunch by the beach.

Beach by our hotel.
Our hotel.

Late in the afternoon, Hubby finally convinced me to give the snorkeling a try.  I had tried to snorkel before in Mexico and it didn’t go well.  I just remember struggling and swallowing a lot of salt water.  However, this time it was much better and I really enjoyed it!  It was fun to just float around looking at the fish.

One last look at our hotel and beach before heading home.

Before long it was time to head back to the airport.  We opted to hire our taxi driver from the other day, rather than dealing with a multi-hour bus ride and it was the best decision because it gave us so much more time to enjoy the day.  We loved Mallorca, as you can see the beaches are gorgeous, as is the water and we had a very relaxing weekend there.  We learned that “Cala” is the word for a beach in more of a cove and “playa” is a long stretch of sand, a big beach that you’re probably used to seeing.  We liked being at the Calas though because the rocks do give you a better snorkel opportunity and it’s a little less crowded than a regular beach.  We would love to go back, we liked our area but would probably try a new town just to see what else the island has to offer!  My only regret is that I wasn’t able to try the sangria!  Oh well, more reasons to go back…

*Mallorca is possible to visit by ferry from Barcelona.  If you have the time and want a relaxing getaway from the big city, it is a great place to visit!