Photo of the Week: Oscars Nod

DSCN1057With The Oscars happening last night, I thought it would be appropriate to share a picture of where the awards take place – The Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, California. I would love to see this tourist-filled attraction transformed for The Oscars, but sadly I haven’t been that lucky in my life. Maybe next time I go back I’ll catch a movie.

Countdown: Favorite Coastal Towns

It’s Beach Week on Travel Channel! With all the rankings of beaches that will be playing across the channel, I thought it would only be appropriate if I shared some of my favorite coastal cities. So here is the countdown, starting with number six.

6. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

I use to go here as a kid and have so many fond memories of this place. The best way to experience Myrtle Beach is by staying at a condo or hotel right on the beach. The perfect way to start and end your day is a walk on the beach. Not much of a walker? Sit on your balcony and listen to the crashing waves. There’s really nothing more soothing than that.

If you’re looking for a family vacation, I highly recommend visiting this coastal town. There’s plenty to see and do, like hitting the Boardwalk or going putt-putt with the crew. You’ll deal with the crowds, just like any other beach town in the summer season, but there are ways to travel smart. Sadly, I couldn’t find a picture to share with you all.

5. Kennebunkport, Maine

I’ve visited this city twice, once as a kid and again as an adult, and the place never loses it’s charm. The New England town is exactly how you would picture it. The beach houses exude old money, with modern amenities. Be forewarned, the water may be a tad chilly! It doesn’t get too warm in the New England waters.

The other aspect of this town that I love are the shops in the town. When you’re breaking from the beach, take a walk through town and pop in the quaint shops. Check out some more information in my other post!

4. Venice, Italy

You may not automatically think of Venice as a coastal town due to it’s lack of beaches, and you may be right. But, I consider Venice to be one of the more unique coastal towns around. You’re not going to see your typical sail boats cruising in the water, but the gondolas give this place so much charm.

Let yourself get lost in the winding alleyways. Leave the map back at your hotel room and just submerge yourself in this beautiful city. At night, swing by St. Marks Square and take in the entertainment. The quartets that play are romantic and extremely talented. I really don’t think you’ll come across a coastal town as interesting as Venice.

3. Amalfi Coast, Italy

The top three could all really be number one, but what’s a countdown with a three-way tie? So the Amalfi Coast comes in a close third. My most favorite thing about this place is how the village is built into the cliff side. Coming up to the coast on the ferry honestly blew my mind. Homes look like they’re stacked on top of each other and the colors are so vibrant.

The cities I visited were Amalfi, Positano and Ravello. If you want to get the best views of the coastline and sea, take the bus up to Ravello. I promise you you won’t be disappointed. If you want to hit up a beach, there are a few in Amalfi but more in Positano. You may have to pay a fee for these beaches, but they’re worth it.

2. Capri, Italy

This little island attracts the rich and famous, but it’s not only for that crowd. However, you’ll feel like you landed in paradise when you get off the boat at Capri. I highly recommend renting a boat and taking it around the entire island. You will get the best views of all the amazing cliff sides, natural wonders and turquoise sea.

One of the best things about visiting Capri is going to the Blue Grotto. This little opening opens to a massive cave that glows the most unbelievable blue you’ve ever seen. Jump off your boat, take a swing and ask your captain to sing to you. This coastal town is super popular, expensive and crowded. So it almost has it all, but ranks second due to the crowds and cost.

1. Lipari, Italy

If you want the beautiful scenery of Capri but without the crowds, visit Lipari. It’ll take you a while to get there via ferry, but I promise you it’s worth the sea sickness and voyage. This coast town gives you the small time feel everyone loves, but also has a sense of luxury due to the private beaches and fancy restaurants.

When visiting we went to a private beach. Our hotel called a local man, Bubu, to take us to the beach. His boat had a pirate flag and he spoke no English. This is the charm Lipari has to offer. Regardless of whether or not the people you meet speak your native language, they’re happy to help you and make you feel welcome. All this happens in one of the most beautiful places I’ve visited.

The Interesting Characters on Hollywood Boulevard

Photo May 04, 5 12 36 PM

It should come as no surprise that there are a number of street performers on Hollywood Boulevard in California. Some of them are terribly fascinating. These aspiring actors spend hours and hours every week trying to make a break for themselves. One thing to keep in mind about these folks is that you don’t have to pay them for their services, aka pictures. It’s illegal for them to ask you! But, they do take donations.

Here are some pictures from my trip to Hollywood Boulevard, including those interesting characters.

A Peek into Downtown Cleveland: East 4th

Believe it or not, there is a lot to do in Cleveland, Ohio. And there’s a big punch packed into one street in downtown, East 4th. Bars, restaurants and comedy all in one place. What’s that mean? You can make a whole night out of one single blocked off street. Here’s a peek at your options when visiting East 4th.

  1. Butcher and the Brewer is one of the newest staples on this street and it’s well worth the stop. You’ll run into crowds on Saturday nights, but you’ll run into them anywhere on this street. Their food is delicious, including something as simple as the mac and cheese. There’s an in-house butcher that you can see while hanging out at the bar. You can’t miss the brewery in the back of the place. And one of the most unique bathrooms I’ve come by in a while resides here, too. I won’t spoil it for you!
  2. Cleveland Clothing Co. is the go-to place for your Cleveland swag. Whether you’re looking for Browns, Tribe or Cavs gear, you can find it here.
  3. The Corner Alley is food and fun rolled up into one. When booking a reservation for dinner, be sure to reserve a bowling lane. Take your drinks with you from the table to the lanes and do your best to bowl a perfect game.
  4. Hilarities is your one stop shop for laughs. Great comedians, like Kevin Nealson, come through these doors and entertain the people of Cleveland. You can also make a reservation for Pickwick & Frolic for dinner, it’s under the same roof as the comedians!
  5. House of Blues attracts talented artists from around the country. Get your music fix here after a dinner, or just grab a drink with your friends and take in the tunes.
  6. Lola is a city favorite. Chef Michael Symon has taken the Cleveland food scene by storm, and we all love it. If you’re looking for a great dinner for a date or a night out with your friends, stop a Lola. You won’t regret it.
Image from: http://bats.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/10/04/cleveland-is-like-trendy/?_r=0

Photo of the Week: Spotted Family

020Giraffes are one of my favorite animals. They’re unique, tall and gangly. These features make them intriguing and fun to to visit. The Cleveland Metroparks Zoo has a great ares for some pretty fantastic giraffes. The newest addition to the giraffe family was born in June 2014 and was the 47th calf born at the zoo since 1955. When in town, swing by the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo to see these fun animals. You can even feed them!

Hotel Review: Marriott Village Orlando

I will not lie, I’m a Marriott fan. They offer so many different types of hotels, from budget-friendly to luxury. I’ve had the opportunity to stay in a handful of different types of their offerings. But today I want to focus on the Marriott Village at Lake Buena Vista in Orlando, Florida.

The location

If you’re visiting Disney, the location of these hotels are great. You’re about seven minutes from Downtown Disney without traffic. With traffic during prime hours like dinner, you should give yourself extra time. You won’t be staying on Disney grounds, but you’ll be very close. The Marriott Village also offered free transportation to select locations, mostly Disney-owned properties that I remember. I was there for a business trip, so did not use the hotel transportation.

If you’re going to Orlando to visit Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, it’ll take a bit longer to get there. Google Maps says it’ll take you about 15 minutes. With traffic, expect that to be at least double that. All in all, I would say this location is great if you’re visiting the parks,

The cost

This is definitely a budget-friendly hotel. Costs in the off season range from $87-$109 a night. Why the price range? Well, the Marriott Village has three Marriott hotels: Courtyard, Spring Hill Suites and Fairfield Inn. The Courtyard is the most renovated, so this one will cost you a bit more. Fairfield is the middle ground and Spring Hill is your least expensive.

I stayed at Fairfield when I visited and I couldn’t complain. The room was nice. The lobby was open and welcoming. Free breakfast was offered and there was a good variety of food. The only thing, if you can call it a complaint, is that if you need to go to the “market” to purchase something (aka a razor or medicine), you have to walk over to the Courtyard. Realistically, it’s a few steps away.

The food options

I loved the options for food here. They make it simple. Like I said, complementary breakfast was offered. Awesome way to save money when you’re park hopping! There was a little cafe that had a few cheap food options: Pizza Hut, a grill, a sandwich place and a snack bar. If you’re looking for a quiet night in, this is the best option. After long days at a conference, this was definitely my go-to option.

Another great food option is in walking distance,  but not on the grounds. Cross over the parking lot and you’ll be in a little strip mall that has a few food options. The one I visited was BJ’s Brewhouse. I’m a simple person when it comes to food. I went to dinner here solo one night and truly enjoyed my experience there. The food was delicious, even if it was your typical bar food. It was definitely well made. If I remember correctly, a Bahama Breeze was in the complex as well. A Longhorn Steakhouse isn’t too far away either.

The final say

If you’re looking for a family and budget friendly hotel that’s in a pretty central location to both Disney and Universal grounds, this could be your option. There are pools, onsite dining options, money saving opportunities with free breakfast and transportation, and more.

If you want something more upscale, I recommend going somewhere else. There are pools, but they didn’t look luxurious. If you like room service, I don’t remember this being an option. If you’re looking to up your hotel game, stay at a Disney hotel or a Universal hotel. They give you perks for your stay at the parks, but you’ll pay more for a place to lounge and sleep.

Have you stayed at this Marriott Village? What was your opinion? Share in the comments or on Twitter @tripintotravel!

Disney World Expansion Plans

Artist Rendering of AVATAR-Themed Land During the Day, Coming to Disney's Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World Resort

It seems that Disney World will continuously grow with its endless success. I may be late to the party, but I was looking into some expansion plans that are planned for the Disney dynasty. So what can we see over the next few years?

Disney Springs?

What do you think of when you hear this? Personally, I think of a new hotel. If it was a new hotel, I would totally be on board. But it’s going to be the new name for Downtown Disney. Say what?! Twice as many shops are being added to the tourist-crazy, all-you-can-take Disney shopping center, which is wonderful. The expansion will hopefully give shoppers more choices. It sounds like Disney Springs will make its debut sometime in 2015.

But let’s get to the real issue here. Where is this name coming from? Why is Disney changing it after all these years? I don’t think the name needs a makeover. As a lifelong Disney vacationer, this place will always be known as Downtown Disney to me. You young ones, I hope your parents call it Downtown Disney when they take you to this magical shopping plaza.

Back to how it use to be

Sometimes you just need to go back to the original to get things back up to par. What am I talking about? The Polynesian Resort, of course! Or should I call it Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort? This hotel opened up in 1971 and needs a little sprucing up to keep it up to Disney standards. These reservations include a new restaurant, Trader Sam’s.

Welcome to Pandora

This is the big one. Disney has broken ground on a new section in Animal Kingdom, Pandora. If you haven’t seen Avatar, you have no idea and may not care. For those who have seen the movie, I bet you’re pretty excited. The vibrant colors will fit into Animal Kingdom’s landscape. Quite frankly, I think it’ll add a lot more value to the park.

Animal Kingdom is great because of the real safari. You don’t have to pay to go to Africa to see giraffes running free. Just visit the Africa section in the Orlando-based theme park! The one ride I feel Animal Kingdom has going for it outside the safari is Expedition Everest. I feel that the addition of Pandora will really liven up the park and bring more guests through its gates. This is set to open to the public in 2017. 

Check out Disney’s sneak peek of Pandora here. What would you like to see come to Disney World next? 

Image from Disney's First Look: AVATAR to Come to Life at Disney's Animal Kingdom