Grand Cayman

Trip date: July 2019

Flying into Grand Cayman, the first thing that struck us was how breathtaking the water was.

Once we landed, we were on the move to getting to the ocean. We dropped our bags off at the house, changed from sneakers to flip flops and headed straight to the beach with gusto.

Their beaches are truly beautiful and they are easily accessible and free and you can bring whatever food or drinks you want.  One group we saw had an entire BBQ grill and were making steaks.  Over the course of 5 days, we went to multiple different beaches – each with their own vibe and beautiful view.  We had yummy pina coladas and daiquiris and just kinda hung out and took life easy. It was all about going with the flow.

So … OK there’s beach – But what else is available there?

You can visit the Turtle Farm (it wasn’t for us, but kids seem to like it. An hour and half should be enough time) and you can send a postcard from Hell (just something to cross off your “been there done that” list). You can stroll through the Botanical Garden, and, if you want to, you can tour their Caves

While we didn’t take advantage of it, Cayman is also known for its tax free shopping. Ya know … if you are in the market for fine jewelry or something. Tax free does not equal cheap though. Their currency, known as CI Dollars, is more valuable than the US dollar and since they import the vast majority of what they need/use, things are quite pricey so your dollars may not stretch quite as far as you’d like.   

But – If you are up to it, you can save some money by catching your own food 🙂

Ultimately, we think, is the best thing about Cayman.  It’s so easy to feel unbothered.  It’s not a hustle and bustle type of place. There are not a ton of thrilling excursions to sign up for. What it lacks in excitement, it makes up for in relaxation on every level. Locals and tourists mix and mingle together at beach side bars/restaurants and unlike other Caribbean islands, no-one is trying to braid your hair or sell you a hat.  There are no road-side vendors hawking fruits and bracelets made of thread with your name sewn into them. It’s not loud and it is clean and safe.  (No disrespect to other islands – we love them too).  But we cannot imagine anyone coming back from a stay in Cayman not feeling refreshed.

Saving the best for last:

In our opinion, no trip to Cayman is complete without taking a boat ride out to Stingray City.  It’s basically a sand bar where you can hold, swim with or even kiss a stingray. It really is fun for all ages. We would encourage you to make a day of it. Pack some food and some drinks and plan to be on the boat all day, even though you may only be in the water with the stingray for a few minutes. It’s just a totally fabulous way to spend your time. Your boat captain will definitely have music and will do whatever they can to make your day enjoyable; including making stops at Rum Point or Star Fish Point. We were on the boat for so long that we caught a breathtaking sunset on our way back to the mainland.

(*Note: Family we were with got off the boat at Star Fish Point where they got some amazing pictures and where the kids jumped and played on a floating water park type thing, BUT, one child did get stung by a jelly fish so ask about that when you go if you are concerned. We didn’t have any such issues at any of the other beaches that we went to.)

We don’t have any experience with hotels there since we stayed at an Air BnB – so do your research.  Pick a spot that works for you and whoever you are traveling with.  We can tell you that there are no all-inclusive hotels on the island so if that’s your jam, this isn’t the place for you, but we’ve heard wonderful things about the hotels that they do have and our Air BnB was great; central air, stainless steel appliances, washer/dryer, pool etc. 

Full Disclosure:

We were in Cayman with a large group of family and friends – some of whom live there. Fortunately for us, our day on the boat and to Stingray City was a gift so we don’t know how much something like that actually costs. If you can swing it though, it’s well worth it. Also, we don’t have any information regarding traveling around the island. The island is fairly small and there are rental cars available of course but we were lucky enough to have locals who drove us around.

We didn’t upload any of the photos with our extended family because we haven’t asked for permission but we’d like to acknowledge them and thank them all for their hospitality and for showing us such a great time and for all the delicious food they provided.

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VA Beaching It

Your travel adventures don’t have to involve expensive plane tickets and lavish hotel stays. I bet that no matter where you live, there is a “tourist” destination within a couple hours drive and you likely haven’t ever been. 

For our first family trip of this years summer break, we organized with some of our best friends, loaded up our vehicle and drove a couple hours to Virginia Beach. There, we pitched tents and camped out for a few days.

It’s become a sort of family tradition and the kids really enjoy it – and bonus to their parents – they don’t spend much time on electronics.  Camping for us means we sleep on air mattresses and we select a camp site that offers proper bathroom facilities. (Toilets and showers.) We also, like to have access to some sort of water that the kids can enjoy. (Beach, pool or river) 

This year we selected http://www.campingvb.com/ .  They have multiple pools, a mini golf course, a game room, basketball courts and a free trolley service for the 10-minute ride to the beach.  For the 3 days we were there, our family spent a total of $120.  There are certainly other (still fun) camp sites that would offer fewer amenities, that are even more affordable.  And don’t forget that more than 1 family can share 1 site so the price would be split between you. We reserved 3 sites for 4 sets of families and honestly we would have fit comfortably on only 2.

TIPS for those of you who are nervous about camping.

  1. For your first time, see if you can tag along with a friend or family member who has been before and who already has equipment you can use. I mean, you don’t want to spend money buying a tent and a portable grill if they are not things you are going to be using again.
  2. Many camp sites, including this one that we stayed at, offer cabins as an alternative to tents.  It’s definitely worth looking into if you are trying camping for the first time.
  3. Don’t worry about what your friends say.  People love to make fun of camping.  We’ve heard all the jokes.   
  4. Don’t worry about overall safety – or bears.  Every time we invite someone new, they ask if they will be attacked by bears. Obviously, you have to be generally aware of your surroundings and take precautions, just as you would anywhere; but camp sites typically are very safe and have security who patrol the area all day and night. While you do have to put away your food overnight so that squirrels and raccoons don’t turn your “pantry/kitchen” into their personal all-you-can-eat buffet, you are not going to be attacked by bears or other wildlife at a commercial camp site.  Do bring bug spray and citronella candles though in case those critters decide to make an appearance.
  5. It may seem overwhelming, but camping is as chill or as intense as you make it. Besides the stuff like food and shelter, the only other thing you really need to have a great time is to be with people who you like.  No special skills or previous experiences are necessary.  It truly is something that every family or group of friends can enjoy. Oh and good weather helps a lot. 

TIPS for those of you who are camping with (special needs) children.

  1. Talk to your kids ahead of time so they have some idea of what to expect; but do it “big picture”.  Don’t overwhelm them with too many specifics or set too many things in stone in case they don’t pan out the way you said they would. We stressed multiple times to both of our boys that the weekend was going to be a “go with the flow weekend.”  They are not really go with the flow kids; but they did a great job in the end.
  2. Try to keep some of your regular routine. For example: Our autistic son has pizza for dinner every Friday. Pizza is not really a camping food, but taking that away would make for a miserable start to the weekend; So we planned around it and with his blessing, we bought a frozen pizza the night before and heated it up just before we left on Friday afternoon so he had pizza for lunch instead. He was happy to make that compromise. Also, if your child(ren) are used to a certain bedtime etc, there is no reason to throw that out the window just because they are sleeping in a tent instead of in their own beds. Stick to what they know and what works for your family. Everyone will be happier the next day.
  3. Plan out your menu ahead of time. Sure, everyone loves to make s’mores on the open fire, but if your children won’t eat them, pack a treat for after dinner that you know they do like so they don’t have to miss out on dessert. But still let them make the s’mores.  😊
  4. Be flexible. Camping is about taking time to relax and to connect with the outdoors and with each other.  Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to pack everything in.  Maybe you had your heart set on spending all day at the beach and then going back to your site to shower, eat and head back out to the hayride and then finish up your evening at the pool party. But maybe, after the beach, all your kids could handle was the shower and the food and then to lay in a hammock with a book.  That’s ok. 
  5. Don’t bring the nice clothes/shoes. They will get dirty – and that’s a good thing. Do bring 1 or 2 comforts from home. A special toy or their favorite snuggle pillow. Why not?
  6. Let the little ones do some of the “work”.  Kids can and do enjoy helping.  Whether that means checking the flashlights for working batteries or packing bags of ice for the cooler as you’re getting things ready – Or – Collecting firewood/water, washing dishes, making the “beds” and hanging wet clothes on the line once you’re there. It’s all part of the adventure. 

If anyone’s interested in camping and not sure what to bring or are looking for ideas about what to do when it gets dark or what makes for good eating let us know. We have a list of the supplies we always bring and some good group games.

If anyone’s interested in camping but is apprehensive because it’s a “white people thing” and you think your family will feel out of place, (Yes, we’ve heard that from people) – DON’T BE. Over the years we’ve seen all different types of groups camping and in general, people at camp sites tend to be quite friendly towards each other. 

If anyone’s interested in camping but you don’t know the first place to start and you need a little encouragement, hit us up. We were once nervous first timers.

Final Notes

  • If you are a pet family (we are NOT) – Chances are good that you can bring your pets with you. All the sites we’ve ever stayed at were pet friendly. Just check in with the rest of your group before you pack up Fido though. It’s probably best if everyone in your party is comfortable with your furry companion.
  • It’s worth checking your sites alcohol policy. Usually, privately owned sites allow alcohol, while state parks do not. In case you are dying to know, we like to stay at private sites. 😉
  • With regards to Virginia Beach specifically – Besides the actual beach, which sports a ferris wheel and other typical boardwalk activities, and the camp site activities we’ve already talked about, Virginia Beach also has a go kart track, an aquarium, an indoor skydiving place, kayaking and wild horses tours, zip lining and an aviation museum. So there really are a number of ways to enjoy the area. Go for it.

Viva!

*Quick note to people who may have heard us talk about Cuba before – This post is a little different and we share pictures this time 🙂 *

What a contradiction Cuba is.

There is SO much good. But to fully let go and enjoy it, you have to turn a blind eye to the iron fist with which the country is led, and evidence of it is everywhere. Cuba is full of character.

We arrived by boat and prior to disembarking we were given lots of instructions about what was and was NOT allowed. That was followed by “But, it’s great, have fun!” Sounds wonderful. Right? 🙂

As tourists, we could appreciate the fact that the architecture on many of the buildings is stunning.  And there are so many pretty doors/windows. Havana is alarmingly charming and whimsical.  It feels more like a movie set than the actual real world.  The streets are clean, there is very little crime, the people are friendly and the coffee is magnificent.  The little yellow taxi’s are so cute  and the plethora of 1950’s cars are super cool.  There is live music on many street corners and numerous places to unwind and just chill; whether that means sipping a mojito or just people watching.  It’s very laid back.  And of course, if smoking cigars is your thing, there’s no better place to be.  There is a vibrant art scene and artisan chocolates.  The narrow cobblestone streets lined with balcony’s full of flowers make for great photos.  Even the perfume shop is worth experiencing even if you don’t actually buy anything. There is also a lively night life.

BUT – All that goodness comes at a very steep price for the residents.  A price that the Cubans we spoke with don’t think is worth paying.  They are not free.

Every single thing they do is monitored and controlled by the government.

Food is rationed. Most modern technology is lacking. There’s limited (to zero) access to news from other countries. There’s virtually no internet and they cannot make simple decisions about their day to day lives – Including where they can travel to for vacation and even what they can grow in their own back yards. !!!  Most Cubans cannot afford to enjoy their own country; the way we tourists do; even something as simple as eating out at a restaurant. Driving through Havana, the poverty is inescapable.

Roaming around in Havana was a treat though. We met quite a few people and struck up several conversations. We found the Cuban people to be very forthcoming and eager to both ask and answer questions.

We would encourage others to interact with willing Cubans as much as possible but don’t be fooled though, while there may not be a lot of crime, there are those who will try to bamboozle tourists out of money by offering “reduced price cigars” that are not so reduced. Make your decisions wisely and don’t be afraid to shop around.

We loved the fancy doors and brightly colored walls.

Final Personal Notes

As it turns out, Cuba is not as opposed to the LGBT+ community as we had assumed. Shortly before we arrived in July 2018 same sex marriage was made legal and discrimination based on sexuality was deemed illegal. Whenever we travel, we are respectful of our hosts laws/traditions/culture. We do not go to other peoples countries trying to rock any boats or stir any pots but the guides we had were very open and made us feel very comfortable.

Deen: Cuba left me conflicted but it was absolutely worth going and I would have liked more time to explore/learn/EAT.  Ultimately, I will say that I loved it there.  But I do say that with a guilty pit in my stomach.  Much of what I loved about it, is only possible because the people are so oppressed and I feel sad about that. Shaunie asked me while we were there if it was a place I would bring the kids to. Yes, I would. I do think if the kids were with us, we’d make more of an effort to spend time at the beach, for example, in addition to the walking tours and site seeing.

Shaunie: I’m glad we went and I’m happy for the experience, but I had a hard time putting the obvious poverty/struggles of the locals aside to fully enjoy the good parts of what Cuba had to offer. One highlight for me was introducing a group of children who were walking with their grandma to Fruit Loops cereal. It warmed my heart being able to do that. But it made me feel sad in way because things we so easily take for granted are seen as a special treat and was a whole new experience in this case. I would recommend that other people venture to the island so they too could have that experience though. I think after having some time to reflect on the experience, I can say it was a good learning curve and a reminder to not take freedom for granted as well as snacks 🙂 . At first, my reaction was to say I have no interest in going back, but I wish I could have gone to the beach and seen more of the island besides Havana – so I guess that sounds like I need to take another trip – and bring more cereal 🙂 .

If there is anything that we didn’t talk about here that you’d specifically like to know more about, please feel free to ask. We may just have the info you’re looking for 🙂

Israel Anyone?

Today we want to tell you guys about a trip we took in January 2019.

ISRAEL

We really had no idea what to expect when we landed at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv.  Our first impressions were good. It was clean and very modern looking and we had no trouble navigating our way through. Thankfully most of the signs were in both Arabic and English. (Is that French I see on the sign also?)  We got our visas and exchanged the Euros we were carrying into Shekels. So far so good.

The first trouble we ran into was that the car we had arranged to pick us up and take us to our hotel never showed up.  We didn’t have a phone to make calls and there was no wifi available for us to access email.  Also, as we found out when we got there, since it was a Saturday – aka, their holy day – there was no public transportation running.  After spending about an hour trying to figure out what to do, we managed to get a ride from another privately chartered taxi driver whose client never showed up.  Whew (!) for us but I hope nothing bad happened to cause them to miss their flight whoever they were.

OK – So for real now – Off we go to Israel.

As we drove from the airport through Tel Aviv, the driver gave us some history and pointed out landmarks.  I was very much attuned. Shaunie found him a bit too chatty and tuned him out.

Driving through the city you can see quite clearly that there are a lot of old, damaged buildings but mixed in with them are a lot of new buildings also. As much as there was a lot of construction taking place, there was also a good amount of people just casually strolling around enjoying the day. It appeared to be quite a calm place. Not all hustle and bustle. You could tell right away that the city had a young and eclectic demographic. I don’t mean to sound ignorant but I was really taken aback that I hadn’t seen any yarmulke’s or tallits yet.

It turns out that the city has a very diverse population and the residents are not very religious per se. They embrace lots of different cultures and are very open minded to all types of people. There are restaurants with food from all over the world, they have a very strong grunge/yuppie/hipster scene and they even host a wildly popular and well attended gay pride parade every year. Along the waterfront there were guys rollerblading with their shirts off and young couples walking their fancy, well-groomed dogs. What you don’t see a lot of are children. We were told that child care/schooling is very expensive so only the very rich can afford to have children.

Patched up buildings like the one above stood side by side with new buildings such as the one below.


Check out this funky beach side building.

The below picture was the view outside of our hotel room if we looked to the right.  (Kinda grimey except for that skyskraper)

This next picture was our view if we looked to the left.  (Gorgeous and cheerful)


I had to dip my toes in because:

a) I’m a beach LOVER in general!

b) I had never been to the Mediterranean before so I had to touch the sea – even though it was cold.
(It was a “can’t miss” opportunity!)

Shaunie and I tend to like roaming around supermarkets when we travel. Never know what interesting things you’ll find.


Yes, we bought the bacon chips – in a Jewish country – On the Sabbath – Sadly, they weren’t that good.

Tel Aviv has a very lively night life. (Who knew?) There are bars and clubs galore playing any kind of music you could possibly want. We joined a bar crawl that took us to 4 different bar/clubs – each with their own vibe. From live rock bands to DJ’s spinning hip hop and Reggaeton. I will warn you though that a lot of people smoke and there are no laws prohibiting smoking inside so we cut our night short (at 3am) on account of that. I highly recommend finding something like the group pub crawl if you’re in the area. (We found it online). The people are so friendly (and interesting!) and welcoming. Be warned though, they do like their alcohol and will do their best to get you drunk. I say that with a smile. We’re not big drinkers in general but we did try a local drink called Tubi 60. It was, for us, … ahm … the kind of drink you only need to try once; just to say you did it. I’ll say too that it’s a very safe city to walk around in even at night. We didn’t take a lot of pictures at the clubs but here’s a taste of the fun(ky) styles of a couple of them.

The 2 pics above show the outside and then the inside of 1 place. Big difference! You’d definitely have to know where you’re going or be with someone who knows. I can’t see too many tourists seeing those neon lights and just deciding to venture in.

We hadn’t planned to but we ended up taking a day trip to Jerusalem. There are tours who will drive you there from Tel Aviv and spend the day showing you all the sites. They cost several hundred US Dollars. We did NOT do that. We very easily found our way to the bus depot and hopped on a local bus. It was about US $6 and the only one hour ride was very comfortable and pleasant. We hopped off the bus with no plan – which in hindsight may not have been the best idea but in the end it worked out. We just got a taxi and asked the driver to take us to the Western Wall.  We paid by the meter (about US $25 each way). It was really amazing being on location of so many famous stories – from the Bible and otherwise.

Even though it was only one hour away, the entire atmosphere/landscape in Jerusalem was so different from Tel Aviv that we could have been in a different country – on a different continent. In my ignorance, this was what I thought the entire country of Israel would have been like.

Unlike in Tel Aviv where anything goes, they do ask for modest clothing at the religious sites in Jerusalem. Nothing specific; just don’t go there in cut off shorts and a midriff. Be respectful.

I do wish if we had gotten some good photos of our drive through the city but I was too engrossed in taking it all in.

Here though are some photos we took while walking around.


Stunning!!!

I’ll end with food – cause Shaunie pretty much rates how good a trip is by how much she enjoyed the food 😉

We LOVED the food in Israel. I am fairly easy to please in the food department so don’t take my word for it. Take Shaunies. She says she has a “sophisticated palate”. I just say she’s picky. She ranks the burger she had at Susu’s one of the best she’s ever had but truly, everything we had was delish!

My breakfast one morning. It was fab! I’d never had salad for breakfast before.

We didn’t have any but if you’re so inclined they do have places like McDonalds.

Ultimately – Would we recommend Israel as a tourist destination and would we go again?

YES and YES!!!

We are not always in agreement about how a trip was – (looking at you Rome) – but in this case we very much were.

There was so much to do and to see no matter what you are into or how YOU like to vacation. It really felt like there was something for everyone. And we didn’t even make it to the Dead Sea which we would love to see and float on – when it’s warmer.

The Journey Begins

Thanks for joining us!

We are not quite “world travelers” yet, but we’re working on it. We have had some fun and interesting vacation experiences over the years already though and plan to keep ’em comin’.

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