This summer I went on a 4 night Jamaica getaway to Secrets Wild Orchid with my friend Libby.
Secrets Wild Orchid shares their property with Secrets St. James. Each resort has their own set of rooms and their own main pool areas but they share the restaurants and the entertainment. You have access to both properties!
There is also a Preferred Club room section at each resort which offers an additional exclusive pool area and some extra amenities. With Preferred Club room status you also have access to the Breathless resort nearby.
I really enjoyed the nightly entertainment at Secrets and the fun activities at the pool. There was always something going on for us to take part in, especially in the evenings. We met a great group of people who we quickly became friends with!! Couldn't complain about the delicious drinks either!
Contact Stacey at (314) 439-5700 Ext. 128 or send her an email to
begin planning an amazing Jamaican vacation with Secrets!
This trip of a lifetime began when my aunt and uncle came to me for help planning their cruise to Alaska. As we got further into the planning process, my cousin and I decided to book our own room and tag along!
We started our trip by flying into Vancouver two days before our cruise was scheduled to depart. We stayed at the Vancouver Marriott Pinnacle Downtown Hotel which was in a great location for exploring the city. To see some of the beautiful scenery in the surrounding area, we booked a small group tour with a local guide. He took us North to Squamish, where we were able to see Shannon Falls, the Sea to Sky Gondola, and the famous suspension bridges.
Our first full day on the ship was a day at sea. We decided to hangout on the top deck and enjoy the sunny weather while keeping an eye out for whales and dolphins. That evening we cruised through the inside passage, and the crew opened up the bow of the ship so we could all get a great view as we sailed forward! We then went to dinner in the main dining room and got a table next to a window to continue enjoying the passing scenery.
The first port we visited was Ketchikan, where we booked an excursion to go sea kayaking. Ketchikan is known for being the rainiest city in Alaska, and even though there was a light rain falling when we started our tour, the guides were prepared with rain gear that kept us completely dry as we paddled through the peaceful coves! After our kayaking adventure, we walked through the famous Creek Street. The sun came out and we had perfect weather as we did some shopping and sampled local beers. We then returned to the ship and spotted lots of eagles as we sailed on to our next port!
Our next stop was Juneau, Alaska’s capitol city. We started or day by visiting the famous Mendenhall Glacier. We took a leisurely hike down to the lake for a closer view of the glacier and Nugget Falls.
Our next adventure in Juneau was an excursion that I had been looking forward to for months. We had decided to splurge and book a helicopter tour to a dogsled camp on top of a glacier, and it was definitely worth it! The helicopter ride took about 15 minutes each way, and the views from the sky were stunning. When we landed at the dogsled camp, the workers there gave us an insight to their way of life and let us meet some of their sled dogs. (As an animal lover, I was in heaven!) They hooked up a sled and we took off on a ride around the snow-covered glacier. I was happy to see how much the dogs loved running through the snow, and we could see that they were well taken care of by their handlers. This tour was very well done and was a highlight of the trip!
Our next port was Skagway, which is known for the White Pass and Yukon Railroad. We had planned to take the famous train excursion, but there was a landslide the night before and the railroad was closed for repairs. Instead, we took a bus tour up the Klondike Highway (which runs parallel to the train route) and had a great time! Our local driver made multiple stops for us to get out and take pictures of the beautiful scenery, and we spotted a family of bears hanging out right next to the highway.
We spent the rest of the day hiking a local trail, sampling the local breweries, and walking around the historic town before heading back to the ship.
When we arrived in Seward, we were sad to leave the ship, but excited to head up to Denali! We boarded a motor coach and began the drive North. We were able to stop at Potter Marsh for some free time and wildlife watching, and then we continued our drive. As we approached the park, our driver stopped at a scenic viewing point and we got our first look at the massive Denali Mountain! We then arrived at the impressive McKinley Chalet, which would be our home for the next 3 nights.
Because we booked a Triple Denali tour, we had another day in the park to do whatever we wanted! We decided to go whitewater rafting, and even though the water was freezing, our wetsuits kept us warm and dry. Our experienced guide told us fun stories about his life in Alaska and kept us safe as we paddled through the rapids. After our exciting rafting tour, we took a relaxing hike that followed a river and led us to a scenic mountainside with a whole family of caribou.
After our adventure in Denali, we boarded the McKinley Explorer for our scenic train ride back to Anchorage. The dome windows gave us great visibility as we traveled through the mountains. There were lots of food and drink options available onboard and we had a guide that gave us information about the areas we were passing through. This was a fun and comfortable way to make the 8-hour journey!
We had one night in Anchorage, and then our flight home was late the next day. We had lots of fun walking around town, shopping, and trying out more local breweries! I was glad that we had free time to explore this unique town before heading back to reality.
Overall, this was an amazing vacation! Holland America did a fantastic job of helping us experience Alaska by land and sea. The transition from the ship to Denali was seamless and very well organized. Each employee we met was so kind and helpful, and I would highly recommend Holland America for anyone who wants to visit Alaska. Many people consider this a once-in-a-lifetime trip, but we enjoyed it so much that I know I’ll be back again someday!
Contact Maggie at 314-439-5700 ext. 120 or send her an email to begin planning your Alaska adventure.
Just because you're pregnant this doesn't mean you have to sit at home for the next 9 months waiting for your child to be born. Now is a great time for you to get out there and travel because once that baby comes, traveling will be put on hold for a while (still trying to figure out how I'm going to cope with this reality!). With that being said, there are some challenges and joys while traveling that I experienced first-hand and here are some tips that I put together to help you as you make your travel arrangements.
#1 - Get Maternity Leggings ASAP
Whether you choose to fly, drive, walk, run, or lay down you will want to be comfortable at all times, or as much as your growing baby will allow you. The best possible thing to wear is maternity leggings, and I bought about five pairs from Motherhood Maternity before starting my travels. Depending on the color and design they cost anywhere from $15 - $20 a piece (gotta love the cost of maternity clothes!). They have definitely been a lifesaver and I take them everywhere!
#2 - Combat Swollen Feet
If your feet don't swell while you travel then consider yourself VERY lucky. This is probably the most difficult thing I've had to deal with while traveling. If you're in a car or plane for long hours without moving those little piggies just get bigger and bigger and it can become extremely uncomfortable. Try elevating your feet as much as possible and be sure to get a pair of compression socks (aka the most attractive things you will ever wear). I purchased mine at Walgreens for about $7. If your spouse or a very considerate friend is traveling with you and they are willing to rub your feet, definitely take advantage of that as well!
#3 - Ask for Non-Alcoholic Equivalent Drinks
One of my favorite things about traveling is tasting that area's local craft beers and cocktails. In the pregnancy world, you're often left to try that region's finest Coca-Cola or aqua products instead. However, any time I found myself at a brewery or restaurant I always asked if they had any NA (non-alchoholic) beers/root beers or if they could make a virgin Piña Coloda or Strawberry Daiquiri. Just because you're pregnant that doesn't mean you can't still have something similar to the alcohol you're used to drinking. It also helps to make you not feel so left out when you're with a group of people who get to enjoy the real thing.
#4 - Take Your Maternity Pillow
First off, if you don't have a maternity pillow go out and get one now! Unfortunately they are not cheap though, I got mine for $100 at Destination Maternity but it was $100 well spent. Sleep is so important during pregnancy so why sacrifice your quality of sleep while traveling just because it's a bulky item? Obviously if you're flying this probably isn't the most user-friendly carry-on item, but on a road trip, cram that sucker in the trunk and get a good night's sleep when you check in to your hotel. You, and your growing belly, will thank you for it.
#5 - Go on a Babymoon
Babymoon? What's that? Essentially it's your last vacation before the baby is born. This is your time to be with your spouse or partner while traveling before you have to lug around Pack n Play's, strollers and diaper bags. Take the time to reflect on this exciting time in your life as a couple and enjoy the wonders of traveling before you have a new travel partner with you. My husband and I went to Gulf Shores to relax on the beach for a few days and I would highly recommend it. Pregnancy is exhausting at all hours of the day, so getting to just sit on the beach and float in the water to relieve belly weight and back pain was the perfect thing.
#6 - Talk With Your Doctor
One final piece of advice, always talk with your doctor before making your travel arrangements. Depending on how your pregnancy has been going, they may give you a cut off at how many weeks you're allowed to travel, how far you can travel, or they may give you specific restrictions. For example, my doctor has advised me not to swim at Lake of the Ozarks. Although I've swam in this lake my entire life, it is filled with bacteria that can be dangerous to the baby, so until I give birth I just have to hang out on the dock and stare at the water. I have been told other lakes, pools and the ocean are safe to swim in, however had I not said anything to my doctor I never would've realized I could've put my baby at risk.
Your consultant at Brentwood Travel will be up to date on all of the latest regulations and amenities the airlines, tour operators, hotels and cruise lines may have for pregnant women, plus the areas that could be infected with Zika. No need to go in on your own without being fully informed!
To book your Babymoon, contact the Brentwood Travel team today at
314-439-5700 or send us an email!
This past July, my family and I traveled to one of my favorite places…Negril, Jamaica! This is the 3rd visit for me (check out my review of Couples Swept Away) and the 15th time for my boyfriend Scott. The biggest change for this trip was that we brought our three kiddos along for an adventure to this magical island. During these seven days, our blended family had a chance to come together to form stronger bonds and create amazing memories.
When beginning to plan, we really wanted to find a resort that would cater to a wide range of ages and interests between the five of us. My 7-year old daughter Grace lives to swim. Scott’s 16-year son Simon was interested in doing some water sports. Scott’s other son Oliver was going to celebrate turning 10 and wanted a unique experience to mark the occasion. And Scott and I wanted a place where we could have some time together but knew that the kiddos would be safe. Luckily we had stayed at the all-inclusive Hotel Riu Palace Tropical Bay in the past and it was the perfect choice for our diverse needs.
We booked our trip through Apple Vacations which included a charter flight from St. Louis to Montego Bay. Early on Saturday, July 7th we boarded our plan for a direct flight and landed around 12:30pm. We also made the very smart choice of selecting Club Mobay. This is a fast track service and is something we highly recommend whether traveling with your family or just as a couple. We were greeted by a representative with a warm smile and began out next steps through immigration and customs. At one point a very important customs form was torn and luckily for us, our representative caught it in advance. She completed a new one for us before we even got in line. If not for her, our form would not have been accepted and it could have caused a great delay.
Our next step was to board a bus and begin our journey to Negril which is located about 1.5 hours away from the airport. Along the way, I enjoyed watching Grace get her first taste of the scenery as it passed by our window. I could tell each time she saw the beautiful blue Caribbean Sea, her eyes would light up. She was ready to experience all that Jamaica had to offer!
At our resort, we were upgraded to a Junior Suite Oceanfront Connection room. This gave us the option of two rooms that shared a hall way which was a perfect option for us. It gave Scott and I a place to ourselves while our kiddos had their own room with a seperate bathroom (a MUST for a beach vacation). Once we unpacked and got settled in, the ocean was calling our name for an evening of playing in the waves.
The next few days we were able to check off a lot of To Do items from our list. For Grace, that included getting her daily fruit punch from the swim up bar which made her feel very VIP! She also enjoyed all the extra attention she received from the staff, especially an afternoon of making beaded bracelets under the shade of a palm tree.
Simon enjoyed a morning of snorkling along the reef. This optional excursion included a ride on a beautiful catamaran and the opporutnity of diving in two different areas. One spot even had a anchor and cannon from a pirate ship to explore! And for more adventure on the water Scott, Simon, and Grace took out kayaks which were complimentary at the resort for some sightseeing along the bay.
Oliver got his wish of something truly unique with a glass bottom boat ride. We were instructed in advance to bring along bread and bananas to feed the fish which quickly became a food frenzy! He also enjoyed living the life with loungers located directly in the pool. These were the perfect spot to watch the daily pool activities which included everything from games, to dance competitions, and even an amazing synchronize swimming performance!
For Scott and I, it was all about being with the kiddos and having time to relax and really enjoy the moments. Food options were plentiful and easy with the buffets that were available for breakfast, lunch and dinner. After the kiddos had a full meal and safely in their room, Scott and I took time to enjoy the specialty restaurants located at the resort. The Italian themed restaurant was cute and served delicious lasagna while the Steak House had a beautiful view and my filet was cooked perfectly! After dinner, we would usually find ourselves in the martini bar to try some new cocktails or take in one of the evening shows such as the beach party complete with fire dancers.
The Hotel Riu Palace Tropical Bay is truly a beautiful property. The decor is bright and colorful and I love the view out the open air lobby straight towards the ocean. Beach access is easy and we always found plenty of lounge chairs and tables for our gear. The resort is centrally located along Bloody Bay (named after a particularly fierce pirate battle) and offers amazing vantage points to soak in the views, especially the picturesque sunsets!
Ready to take a great beach vacation with your family?
Contact one of our experienced Travel Consultants to get started!
One of the biggest destination's on my grandmother's bucket list has always been to see Mount Rushmore in person, so this year we decided to let her check this off her list (and mine!) and finally make a trip up to South Dakota. I also wanted to see this destination however I was not prepared for how gorgeous the surrounding area would be. I expected it to be similar to the Midwest - flat farmlands with just one random mountain for the monument. As we started the 14-hour drive my perception quickly changed because it was absolutely breathtaking! On our itinerary we visited Badlands National Park, Devils Tower in Wyoming, Spearfish Canyon, Black Hills National Forest and Mount Rushmore.
Once we finished our drive through the National Park we headed up to Wyoming to see the first ever National monument Devils Tower (as seen in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind"). It was such a unique thing to see in person. The surrounding landscapes were large rolling hills with a few small mountains and then all of a sudden there's this tall figure! We took the drive up to the top and then walked around the base of the Tower. Experienced rock climbers are able to climb up to the top but that was a hard pass for me!
On our second day we drove through several areas before making our way to Mount Rushmore. We took the scenic route to Keystone (where Mount Rushmore is located) and we started north and made our way south thru Spearfish Canyon and Black Hills National Forest. Even though it adds about an hour and a half on to your commute it's absolutely worth it! While driving through this area I felt like I was in Colorado with the winding roads, tall pine trees and rapid rivers off to the side of the road. One of the most breathtaking parts was seeing Bridal Veil Falls just right off the side of the road. We pulled over for a quick photo op and to take in its beauty.
When we finally reached the small tourist town of Keystone we decided to go for a unique lunch opportunity instead of just dining in a regular restaurant. Instead we went to Rushmore Tramway Adventures and took a chairlift to Mountaintop Grill for a scenic view of Mount Rushmore! I was terrified to be on the chairlift on the way up and down, but it was totally worth it to have a view of Mount Rushmore for a simple lunch of burgers, fries and sodas.
With a full belly and being very thankful to be on flat land we finally made our way to our final destination - Mount Rushmore! It seemed so surreal to stand at the base and look up and this incredible piece of artwork. I couldn't help but just stare at it and think "wow!". It also was a great feeling to know my grandmother was finally able to check this off her list and to share the moment with my family.
My husband Alan and I are fortunate to have been to Italy a couple of times and I could go back over and over again. We had seen Rome, Florence, Venice, Pisa, Lake Como, Milan, Siena and San Gimignano. I asked Stephanie Turner, President of Brentwood Travel, if she could go back to Italy and had to pick one town to stay in for a week, where would she choose to go? Without missing a beat, she replied “Sorrento”! Little did I know that within the next couple of days I would be booking our trip to this dazzling place.
Sunday, May 13, 2018
We arrived in Naples, Italy around noon after layovers in Minneapolis and Paris. Our luggage arrived with us which always makes me happy. I arranged to have a driver waiting in the arrivals hall. To me there are few things more stressful than showing up in a foreign country after a long overnight journey and not knowing which taxi to trust. He called the hotel to let them know we were on our way and after a fairly short ride we arrived at Hotel Correra 241.
The hotel is located is in the heart of the city so it doesn’t take us long to find a big city square, a couple of churches, and an outdoor café where we sit to enjoy our lunch. We spent a couple of hours wandering around the National Archeological Museum. The main focus here is some of the best pieces from the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum. The two cities were buried in ash or debris when Mt. Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D. Many of the pieces here were discovered when Pompeii was excavated in the late 1700’s.
We met up with our tour guide, Elisa, and the rest of the group for a meeting on the hotel patio. We took a short walk around the city, past the Archaeological Museum, before stopping at a nice little place for dinner.
Monday, May 14
Today we headed for Pompeii. After a quick lunch we met up with our official guide for Pompeii. Lino. He is very knowledgeable and told some great stories that helped bring the city to life for us. Pompeii is located about 6 km from Mt Vesuvius. They said that the wind carried ash to Pompeii for days. Not everyone escaped. They estimate the population at the time to have been 6,000-20,000 people. About 2,000 people died. When they were excavating, they discovered food still on tables left behind as people tried to run.
We then made our way to Sorrento which is only about one hour away. We arrived at the Agriturismo di Vigliano – our home for the next 5 days. We were met by the son of our host family, Luigi and his sister Valentina. This place is beautiful! Lemon trees in every direction. The original house was built in the 16th century and has been passed down from generation to generation and remains within the family. All of the rooms are different. There are a few little cottages (Alan and I stayed in one of them) and there are rooms in the house. We took a few minutes to get settled and then met in the dining room for dinner. The family will make our breakfasts and dinners each day.
Our tour guide, Elisa is great. She has meals with us, has fun stories to tell about the places we are seeing, and keeps us organized. She brought a deck of cards with questions for everyone to answer to get everyone talking after dinner (If you could be a Disney character, which one would you be? If you could only choose one, health or love, which one would you choose?) Of course the night isn’t over until we have one last glass of wine and a limoncello (made by the family).
Tuesday, May 15
After breakfast, we were taken on a tour of the farm. They have one cow (which Luigi milks twice each day), 3 pigs, chickens (for the eggs), rabbits, several cats and a dog named Lucky. Valentina showed us how to make cheese from the cow’s milk (of course she makes it look so easy). Luigi showed us how to make limoncello. They made a “light” lunch consisting of homemade cheeses, salami, pasta with light tomato sauce. Valentina serenaded us on the violin while we ate. Perfecto!
The group went into Sorrento for a tour of the town. It has been raining off and on so we grabbed our umbrellas. Elisa took us to David’s Gelateria for a gelato making class. He makes all kinds of crazy flavors (chefs from local restaurants will ask him to make flavors like truffle or salmon or basil to go along with a dish they are serving). I had the ricotta and it was amazing! Again, we were told we can make this at home but somehow I don’t think it will taste the same. We stopped at one of Elisa’s favorite food shops for a little lesson on balsamic vinegar and I bought a bottle of an amazing 12 year old balsamic vinegar…let the shopping begin :)
Back at the farm, Luigi fired up the outdoor pizza oven and they tried to teach us how to work the dough and we made our own pizzas for dinner. Natasha (Luigi’s wife) and Ida (his mom) helped us put them together, Luigi did the cooking. Delish!
Wednesday, May 16
Sunny today. Feels warmer already. Taking a boat ride to Amalfi then visiting Positano. Thankfully the rain has stopped. Luigi and his mom drove us to the marina in Massa Lubrense where we found our boat and captains for the day. Liberto is our driver and Giovanni seems to be the first mate. It was a little chilly and the water was a little choppy but it was still a beautiful ride. They stopped along the way to show us different caves and grottos on the islands and along the coast. The Mediterranean Sea is the most beautiful shade of blue you can imagine.
Our first stop was Amalfi. I have heard many people tell me how beautiful it is and the view is breathtaking! Our second stop was Positano. The climb is steep but was a fun stroll. There are several restaurants along the sea where you can relax with a drink or a bite to eat.
The best part of the day was being on the boat. On the ride back, Giovanni served us some bruschetta and a bread (more like a quiche) that had ham and cheese both he made himself along with some Prosecco and limoncello. He was a lot of fun!
Another wonderful dinner by the family and wine and limoncello and more questions made for a fun evening :)
Thursday, May 17
Today was a free day. Elisa helped everyone come up with a plan and sent us on our way. Alan and I took the bus into Sorrento (thank you to the nice people at the bus stop for telling us we were on the wrong side of the street to catch the bus to Sorrento!). Then we bought tickets for the train to Erculano which was about an hour by train. We were happy to find a private tour guide, Francesca, inside Erculano. She spent about an hour and fifteen minutes walking us around and describing the families who lived here and the homes that have been uncovered. Erculano was a resort town for the wealthy, buried under 16 meters of pyroclastic rock from the eruption of Mt Vesuvius in 79 AD. Only about 1/5 of the town has been excavated so far.
Friday, May 18
The weather has been perfect so we spent today out on Giovanni’s boat again. On our way to Capri we stopped at several grottos for a close up view. He prepared a picnic lunch of Caprese Sandwiches for everyone. We passed through Lovers Arch and he played Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” and made all of the married couples kiss as we rode through. We were all cracking up. A little awkward for the singles in the group…LOL.
Elisa arranged for a van to take all of us up to Anacapri. We walked around for about an hour. A few brave souls in the group took the chair lift to the very top just as a cloud moved in. It was not like the chair lifts we have in the U.S. We decided to keep our feet on the ground.
Afterwards we drove down about halfway and stopped in the town of Capri. This was a lot of fun. Lots of high end shopping and beautiful people watching. The Rolex Cup sailing competition is in town and the sailboats are beautiful!
After a full day, Giovanni (and Elisa) drove us back to Massa Lubrense at a nice slow pace. The water was calm and beautiful. We didn’t’ want it to end so I asked if he would take us on down to Sorrento so we could see it from the water. He was happy to oblige and I’m so glad I asked…it was gorgeous! We ended the afternoon with some more of his homemade appetizers and limoncello. Our last dinner at the farm was lovely. The group really enjoyed one another and I think there were a few tears shed at the thought of saying goodbye
Contact Julie at 314-580-4554 or send her an email to begin planning an immersive travel experience.
Then check out Julie's blog for her best tips on keeping a travel journal for your next adventure!
Hawaii has been at the top of my bucket list for years! When I decided to make this trip happen in 2018 I invited a few friends along and made it the ultimate girls trip; Jenn, Rachel, and Abby joined me on this adventure. Hawaii had everything we wanted in a vacation- perfect weather, beaches, hiking, water activities, and city life. The choice of which two islands to visit was a hard one, but for this trip we landed on Oahu and Kauai.
Oahu was the perfect start to our vacation! Our first few nights were along the famous Waikiki Beach. Here we were able to walk all around our hotel to restaurants, shops, and different sections of the beach. We really enjoyed the beach and the hustle of the Waikiki strip.
Oahu has so much more to offer than just Waikiki. It’s a must to get out of that area whether you rent a car or take a guided tour of the island. Some of our highlights from around the island are below.
Any visit to Oahu isn’t complete without a stop here. It was a very humbling experience to learn about the attacks in such detail and see how much it affected the people of Hawaii personally.
We love to hike, so a trip up Diamond Head was an easy choice for an activity. Even if you are a light to moderate hiker this trip is worth it for the view. The path is paved, but it is mostly uphill so be sure to take your time and bring water.
This private nature reserve is home to the filming location of many favorite movies and TV shows. I enjoyed fangirling over the sites from “Jurassic Park” and “Lost”. Here you can zipline, take ATV tours, horseback rides, or a film bus tour. We decided to go for the 2-hour ATV tour and I’m so glad that we chose that. It was a highlight for our time on Oahu.
These botanical gardens blew away our expectations! The variety of flowers and historical sites leading up to the waterfall was so impressive. Rachel majored in Conservation Biology, so this stop was especially exciting for her.
Polynesian Culture Center
We decided to stay two nights on the North Shore so that we could really enjoy the quieter pace of Oahu and enjoy a full day experience at the Polynesian Culture Center. Our tickets were for the Ambassador Luau Package, which included visiting the villages from noon to 6pm, a dinner buffet show, and the “Ha: Breath of Life” performance. Each village had exhibits on their island and gave special little shows throughout the day. Have the guide was so beneficial because she was able to take us on the best route to maximize our time. My favorite was the Samoa act! I truly recommend spending the full day here from noon until the “Breath of Life” performance!
Kauai was our second island choice because of the amount of natural beauty on the garden island! About 80% of Kauai can’t been seen by car. It can only be accessed by water, air, or hiking—so we decided to do all three!
We really chose to live it up in Kauai and stay at the Grand Hyatt Kauai. This hotel was gorgeous! Having Club access, we also enjoyed the spa access and use of the club lounge for breakfast.
Na Pali Coast Catamaran Cruise
I love to be out on the water, so the catamaran cruise was the activity I was most excited about and it did not disappoint! We woke up bright and early and made it to the ship in time to sail away just after sunrise. Breakfast was served as we enjoyed the salt water breeze! We had an amazing sighting of dolphins swimming and even a whale tale! First, we stopped in a cove to snorkel. We had a blast seeing the variety of fish and a sea turtle swimming. After snorkeling we set out to get our first glimpse of the Na Pali Coast. I can’t even put into words how stunning the landscape is in person. Captain Jeff and his crew shared stories and facts about Kauai along the way. Our deli lunch and beverages really hit the spot for our scenic ride back to Port Allen.
Since so much of Kauai can only been seen from above we decided to spring for a helicopter tour. We saw some amazing waterfalls and the Na Pali Coast again! Our pilot gave some great commentary and played some touring music. If there is any place to take a helicopter tour, Kauai must be at the top of the list.
Another item at the top of our list was hiking. We decided to visit the lookouts of Waimea Canyon and choose a trail there. We ended up on the Canyon Rim trail. This gave us some fantastic, unspoiled views and a few bonus waterfalls. The trails are not very well marked so be sure to read the signs on how long the hike is and bring plenty of water.
This was such a truly spectacular trip and I was so lucky to share it with three friends. Hawaii is perfect for friends, romance, and family! It’s all about the islands and places you choose. I’m happy to share more details about my accommodation, activities, or trip planning!
Start planning your next trip by giving Stacey
a call at 314-439-5700 ext. 128 or send her an email.
Most of the time when people mention they're traveling to Iowa people question "why?". No, it's not the most popular state, but hidden in each state of our county is a gem and Iowa's is the small Dutch town of Pella.
Pella is located right outside of Des Moines, IA that Hollanders claimed as their new home in 1847. They named it Pella, otherwise meaning "city of refuge". This Dutch community has grown since it was first founded and it still holds on to its founding roots of traditions, food, customs and more. One of the most popular traditions that they celebrate like their European ancestors is the famed Tulip Time Festival. When I heard about the Festival (and it only being 4 hours away from St. Louis) I knew I had to go and I'm so glad I did!
As we walked around this city we couldn't believe how much it actually felt like we could be in Europe. All of the buildings in the city had similar architecture to that of the Netherlands with bricks, towers, colorful shutters and of course, windmills! Pella actually has an authentic windmill that was built in Hoogmade, the Netherlands, and was de-assembled and then re-assembled in Pella in 2002. Visitors are able to take a tour and go up the windmill however we were unable to during our visit (we'll save it for next time!).
The streets were alive with dancing in wooden shoes, Dutch food trucks, beautiful Dutch clothing, presentations and parades. I honestly didn't anticipate for there to be as many people at this small festival, but it turns out Pella usually has around 150,000 visitors for the Tulip Time Festival each year. It made it fun and exciting to be around so many people who were interested in learning about and celebrating a different culture.
Pella is a destination I fully plan to visit again with my family. It offers something fun and unique to a large audience and it's great for a quick weekend getaway. This town also has local wineries and a lake for even more activities outside of the Festival. If you're interested in visiting the next Tulip Time Festival in Pella then mark your calendar for the first weekend of May in 2019 - we'll see you there!
To book your Tulip Time Festival vacation contact the staff at Brentwood Travel today! Call us at 314-439-5700!
Even if you are not a writer, keeping a travel journal is a great way to bring insight and understanding of the world as you journey through it. During any trip, you have so many incredible experiences that they may blur together. By keeping a journal, it will be much easier to recall all those unique individual memories later. Travel Consultants Julie Skrainka and Carrie Fry frequently keep travel journals and we asked them for their best tips.
When and why did you start keeping a journal?
Julie: I started writing in a travel journal on my first international trip in 1990. My husband, Alan, and I went to Ireland (with a group) and England (on our own) for almost two weeks and I knew I would never be able to remember everything we did and all of the fun people we traveled with without writing it down!
Carrie: I started doing journals after my first ‘real’ international trip. My previous domestic travels and a Caribbean cruise were more like, “yeah, vacation!” but my first international trip was to Ireland and Rome. That’s when I had my the world is huge, and complicated, and fantastic moment. And I purchased a blank journal at Dublin’s airport before my flight home.
What are the benefits of keeping a travel journal?
Julie: Writing everything down helps me reflect on the amazing experiences we have had. Each day that we are on a trip usually goes by so fast that stopping every other day or so to write in my journal helps me remember the adventures much more clearly. Now, having nearly 30 years of journals to look back on is invaluable to me!
Carrie: One reason I really like keeping a journal is for the little moments that happen on a trip that seem to get overshadowed by the trip itself. In Kyoto, we were walking past a group of school kids (maybe 8-10 years old), and they were staring at us. My husband was completely oblivious, but I made eye-contact with one of the kids and she got a huge smile on her face and said “hello”, I smiled back, waived, and told her “hi”. Then the group of kids covered their mouths, giggled, and ran away. I’d like to think these kids probably wanted to practice their English and it was a cute fleeting instant where I felt like I got to connect a little with the locals.
Do you write during your trip or afterwards? Do you keep notes in a book, computer, or an app?
Julie: 99% of the time, I write during our trip. For some of the shorter, 3 or 4 day trips, I will sometimes wait until the flight home to “catch up”. Every time I see a pretty journal, I start writing in it. Then I would pick grab an old journal for the next trip and write in there.
Carrie: I really try to write something any time I get home from a trip. I do really think it’s important, because even after my husband read what I wrote about Japan, he told me that he had already forgot about some of the trip-and we’re not that old to have our memories slip like that.
Do you use any techniques to organize your notes ?
Julie: My journals are far from organized! I am trying to make time to transfer all of my journals to the computer to make something sensible out of them. For the last couple of trips, I have actually been writing on my iPad.
Carrie: Typically, I just get on the computer and do it when I get home, but hand writing notes along the way helps a lot. Before I start, I will also compile both the pictures from each of our phones and get the itinerary out. That way I know where we were at and when and have the pictures handy to jog my memory.
What is your best tip for keep a travel journal?
Julie: For shorter, weekend trips, I have stopped keeping track of those. But for longer, more adventurous trips, I always write about those. Hopefully, my future grandchildren will enjoy hearing about all of the amazing places we have been! You now have me thinking…we just spent a fun two weeks in California seeing our kids, visiting extended family, playing a little golf, doing a little sightseeing that I didn’t even think to write about. I think I’ll get out that journal now!
Carrie: My best tip is to write during the trip. This doesn’t mean sitting down at your hotel with your laptop. The best way I journal is to buy a postcard or two before dinner, and as your having your aperitif, jot down your thoughts on that day. Postcards are super easy to find and really inexpensive. At the end of your trip, you now have a easily packable stack of postcards that you can use to compose your journal, or just keep it as is. Personally, these postcards aren’t so much about what you saw, but how it made you feel.
Do you have a travel journal from a recent trip that you took through Brentwood Travel? We want to hear from you! We love to share the insights, stories, and images of our travelers and will add this to our Blog page. It's a great way to inspire others to get out and write about their adventures. Contact Allison or Missi from our Marketing Team to learn more!
Japan has been on “the list” for years. We wanted to experience a society that feels mysterious, and the juxtaposing of modern and ancient drew us in. When we decided to do a big trip, Japan was it. We would finally get to see this amazing country first hand.
Now what to do with 8 days in a country that offers a tourist so much to experience? From Sapporo in the north down to Yonaguni in the south, each city, each island, each prefecture, has its own personality and attractions. Eight days didn’t feel like enough, but we wanted to see as much as we could while setting our own schedule. Narrowing down what to do was difficult, but for our first (because there will be a next time!) trip to Japan, we focused on Tokyo, Hakone, and Kyoto.
We landed in Tokyo in the early evening, our driver-in full suit and white gloves (we would soon find this was standard for taxi and transfers) was waiting for us with our name on a sign board. The journey to the hotel was about an hour and a half, we flew into Narita Airport, which is further from the city than Haneda, but our flight
options were better into Narita. When we arrived at the Hilton Tokyo, in Shinjuku we decided to take a nap then go to dinner. We didn’t wake up until the next day.
We woke up obnoxiously early the next day and went to visit the Tsukiji Fish Market (it opens at 5AM and you should go before 9AM to see the bustling of the market). It was overwhelming how perfectly the chaos was organized. There were people on carts taking the morning catches to the vendors, locals doing their shopping, and wares and fish I didn’t recognize. We wandered and watched and then had sushi for breakfast, although we passed on having a beer with our breakfast like many of locals were doing.
From the Fish Market, we hopped on the subway and ambled down Takeshita Street. This street is full of Japan’s latest fashions. Young adults and tourists were popping in and out of the many clothing shops and themed cafes. The street is famous for their crepes-we had to stop and have one.
Just a few blocks from Takeshita is the Meji Shrine. As the path to the shrine rambled on, we stopped in our tracks upon seeing the first tori gate welcoming us, and it hit us-we were in Japan. Hours ago, we meandered through a district that is a pop-culture bellwether and crossed the street to a shrine that was built in 1920. At the Shrine, we sauntered through the grounds and the gardens. The gardens were so tranquil, we had no inkling we were in the middle of a metropolis larger than New York City.
From the Shrine, we ventured to one of Tokyo’s most photographed areas- Shibuya Crossing. Even though we were there before evening rush hour, it was packed. We observed this perfectly orchestrated bedlam before doing a few crossings ourselves. There is a Starbucks that overlooks the crossing for an elevated view.
Our last day in Tokyo, we started our sightseeing at Hamarikyo Garden. This is well planned garden, where the flower species are staggered so there are blooms all year long. The garden is full of lakes and teahouses and even a duck-hunting blinds built in the late 1700s. After admiring the gardens and having a bit of serenity before getting back into the city, we boarding a boat to take us north to Asakusa. The hour-long boat ride was a great way to see Tokyo from a different perspective. You could see how the neighborhoods changed from sky-rise buildings to smaller homes. We even got to see where the ships dock at the fish market.
A few blocks from the dock is the Sensoji Temple. The complex is huge, with building and shopping everywhere you turn. Walking into the main hall feels otherworldly and the five storied pagoda looms over you. After taking in all we could at the Temple, we took a short subway ride to Skytree. Although very touristy, I’m glad we fit this into our itinerary. Skytree is hard to miss, it’s 2,080 feet high and you can go to the top observation deck, overlooking Tokyo at 1,480 feet. On a clear day, you can see Mt Fuji. This could be an all-day experience, there is tons of shopping from chopsticks to Pokémon and the views are absolutely stunning. It’s hard to imagine how massive Tokyo really is until you’re at the top seeing nothing but urban landscape.
Hakone is a onsen (hot spring) town about an hour and a half from Tokyo for locals and tourists alike. It feels very rural compared to Tokyo and while it would take three days to see everything, but we only had one. On our way to Hakone, we stopped at Odawara Castle. This was one of my favorite stops in Japan. It’s beautiful and the town feels sleepy. The museum at the Castle was full of ancient armor and relics. After touring the castle, we walked back to the train station and after a short ride, we were in Hakone.
Trains and gondolas are the way to get around in Hakone. At each stop, there’s a little village with shopping, restaurants, and hotels. We only had time to explore one and we chose the Owakudani Station. What’s interesting about this stop, is that you go over a volcanic area with sulfur vents. The smell is overwhelming and the landscape is eerie. There is hiking you can do in the area and even eat a hard-boiled egg that cooked in the steam of the vents that turn the egg shells black. After exploring, we got back on the gondola and took it to our ryokan.
A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn dating back to the 8th century. There are all kinds you can book, but this was our splurge. Upon arrival, we left our shoes at the door as the floors were covered in tatami mats. We were seated in the bar and given a welcome drink as were checked in. When we arrived to our room, our hostess showed us how to dress in the provided yukata (bathing clothes). Then we were left to relax in our private onsen on the balcony of our room overlooking the mountains until dinner. This was a welcomed treat as were averaging 12 miles a day on foot. We would soak until we were too hot, cool down with a beer, then get back into the onsen until dinner time. If you would like to experience a public onsen there are a lot of etiquette rules that I’d be ecstatic to share.
Dinner was served in our room, and each of the 9 courses were better than the last-even if we didn’t recognize what we were eating. After dinner and another soak, we slept on traditional futons. The next morning, we were served a traditional Japanese breakfast in our room, then said goodbye to Hakone and the wonderful ryokan. Our stay marked one of the best cultural experiences we’ve had to date. We were off to Kyoto by bullet train. We spent the evening in Kyoto and had the best tonkotsu I’ve ever tried.
It was an early morning as met our driver at our hotel to take us to Miyajima Island Hiroshima. We arrived via bullet train to Hiroshima, then ferried to Miyajima Island where the Tori Gate in the water welcomed us. This is another place I wish we had all day to explore, as the water receded, you could walk right up to the gate. The town had so many specialties restaurants-we had oysters-and there was so much more to explore and so many deer to pet.
After our time on the Island, we went to the A-Bomb Dome and began our tour of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. The A-Bomb Dome is sobering. As our guide let us take in the magnitude of which were seeing, she led us to the Children's Peace Monument, then the Museum. This day was certainly thought provoking and was wholeheartedly different then the wide-eyed days had already spent in Japan, I am fortunate we were able to absorb part of the history.
The next day, back in Kyoto, we took the train to Fushimi Inari. Stone foxes dominated the shrine, and everywhere you looked, there were orange tori gates-one after another- leading you to another part of the shrine. As we climbed up the mountain, there were offshoots of smaller shrines. The tori gates and shrines went all the way up the mountain. That evening, we were picked up from the hotel and taken to a restaurant across the city in the mountain foothills. The opened-air restaurant was situated next to the river, and after we were served another multi course meal, met two Maikos and watched them preform.
On our last full day, we ventured to Ryōan-ji Temple, dating back to 1450. We were there early-before the other tourists and school children, and it was so serine. You can wander the temple grounds, which takes you to a perfectly manicured rock garden. There are 15 rocks in this garden, and only 14 are viewable at any angle.
From Ryōan-ji Temple, we taxied to Arashiyama, which is just west of Kyoto. Arashiyama is an outdoor district where bicycling is popular. We began this part of our journey walking the paths of the bamboo forest and popping into the local shops that line the entrance and exists. From there, we found an amazing, small sushi restaurant for lunch. When my husband ordered the fatty tuna, the chef held the fish us for us to admire before slicing it. This was the best sushi we have ever tried and it took us months to have sushi after we came home-we were ruined.
It’s a good thing we had a solid lunch, because we then ventured to Monkey Park. You literally have to climb a mountain to get there. But when we made it to the summit, over 100 Japanese macaques were there to greet us. You can feed them from a building in the middle of the park but keep your distance when wondering the grounds! This is their home and they take no issue with running in front of you. Between being fascinated by the monkeys and the stunning views of Kyoto from the top of the mountain, the hike was worth it. We relaxed by the Togetsu-kyō Bridge taking in the gorgeous scenery until we made our way back to the hotel.
That evening, we wanted Kobe beef for dinner, and wanted to do it right. The hotel made us reservations (and delivered a package to our room with our reservation time, the address of the restaurant, and the best way to get there) at one of the best Kobe restaurants in Kyoto. The restaurant itself was very small-only seating about 15 guests. As the chef prepared our meal at the teppanyaki grill in front of us, he joked that he doesn’t catch eggs in his hat like the chefs in America.
The next morning was our last, and since our transfer wasn’t until the afternoon, we had time to explore Nijō Castle. We saw the shogun’s receiving rooms and gardens, then climbed the defense towers to get one last look at Kyoto before our flight home.
Our visit to Japan was one of our best trips yet. The culture, the people, the food, has left us wanting more. This didn’t feel like a vacation, it felt like we were transported to another world. We were able to come into contact with the ancient and modern of this country-happening all within the same day. Japan-we will see you again!
Carrie has many more stories to share of her journey to Japan! Contact her to learn more and begin planning your next bucket-list trip:
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