Category Archives: Travel Tips

Loews Annapolis – Girls Night In

Sometimes even the promise of fun with your favorite fab females isn’t quite lure enough to get you through all the prep and primping involved in a girls night out. Maybe what you need is a girls night IN? Um.. what is that? That’s exactly what I recently asked the folks at Loews Annapolis hotel. The answer has become my new favorite thing. 

Travel, I love it, but boy can it get exhausting when you’re the one in charge of everyone. From the booking to the packing, to the occasional refereeing I earn that room service wine.

Girls night in at Loews Annapolis HotelTo be honest, I’ve daydreamed of escaping to a hotel all alone just to save my own sanity. Hole up with a good book and an even better bottle of wine, that’d do it. Until the folks at Loews Annapolis reached out and invited me to come down for a girls night in with some fellow bloggers, creatives, and journalists – now pals.

Before that invite I hadn’t ever really put much thought into enlisting my friends to abscond with me to a hotel, sans kids, just to enjoy ourselves. Cue the “I coulda had a V8,” forehead slap.

What a brilliant idea. I’m stealing it!  

How to have a Girls Night In…

1. Pick a Hotel with a GOOD Restaurant

BAROAK at Loews AnnapolisYou cook all the time, a Girls Night In is your chance to have someone cook for you. Don’t settle for blah! Find a hotel that has a good -if not great– restaurant on property. This will let you indulge without the need of designated driver. BONUS, your yoga pants are just steps away in the room.

Nestled inside the modern-nautical themed Loews Annapolis is port of culinary bliss – BAROAK. What it lacks in pretension it quadruples in flavor and creativity.  Here fresh and local meet over live music and an extensive craft beer menu.

Chef Marcus Donovan – right hand knife to Chef Teddy Folkman who’s moules fromage bleu are legend – served up a tasting menu that took Chesapeake Bay food traditions and tossed them a curve.  Fried oysters topped with pickled shallots have the familiar flavor of a mignonette topped raw oyster, but with crunchy, creamy and somehow more brine that the classic. Pair that with a Scoville Jalapeño IPA from local Jailbreak Brewery and it’s sweet, spicy, salty, crunchy, creamy, mildly hoppy HAPPY town!

Rumor has it that Chef Marcus might be turning Maryland’s iconic Smith Island Cake into deep fried nirvana – I’ll take one for the team and taste test that for ya. I’m selfless like that.  

2. Bathrobes 

That ratty robe you wear at home might be perfect for pop-tarts and lukewarm coffee, it is NOT fit for your Girls Night In! Loews Hotels know their way around a robe.  In fact, the only hotel robe I’ve ever purchased to bring home was from a Loews property {yeah, purchased… that’s it}   It simply is not possible to be anything but relaxed when donning a fancy hotel bathrobe. Go ahead, try to prove me wrong.  

3. Get Your Girlie On

Treat yourself in a little ‘beautification vacation.’ Loews Annapolis arranged for a lovely couple from a local nail salon to come in and give fabulous in-room mani-pedis. While not every hotel may be willing to go that extra mile, there is no reason you can’t make an appointment at a nearby nail studio, set up treatments at the hotel spa, or go old school and do each others nails like back in middle school. Just no freezing the bras, m’kay?    The great thing about Loews hotels in any city, is that they will go that extra mile to make your stay everything you want it to be. This is a brand that really does treat you like family when you stay. Heck, they’re even renowned for welcoming fury family members in style. {be warned if you click on this link you may die from the adorable therein}  

4. Remember Girls Just Wanna Have FUN

 Just because you’re not hitting the club, doesn’t mean there isn’t fun to be had. S’mores outdoors are fast becoming a hotel trend. Toss a robe over those PJs, grab that bottle of bubbly and head out to the fire pit. Hey, it’s your party you can s’more if you want to.  Not up for ooey gooey bliss? How about ordering that non-Disney flick on the hotel menu, having room service send up some pizza and wine? It’s your turn to have a good time.     It’s also okay to toss some adventure in there too. We had a soggy blast setting sail aboard the Schooner Woodwind, rain and all. Find that fun thing to do in the city where you stay, and do it. No kids, no hassles, just you and your gal pals. Most any hotel concierge will help you set up your outing.   

 

A photo posted by Lara D (@dipaolamomma) on

Now, go start plotting your escape. Not only is it totally okay for you to make time for YOU, you’ve earned this!

HELP! I’m ALONE in a Foreign Country and My Phone Won’t Work #truestory

How to get global cell service BEFORE you goIt was a warm and sunny January in Jamaica. Well of course it was.  I’d arrived at the airport in Kingston, but the people who were supposed to meet me were nowhere to be found.  Alone in a foreign country, in strange town, I did what anyone would do. I pulled out my phone. I was wholly unprepared for the obnoxious klaxon of  the “No Service” signal that greeted me. Cue the panic…

Help! I’m ALONE in a foreign country and my phone won’t work!!

Even though I travel quite a bit, somehow I hadn’t thought about global service in Jamaica. Maybe I’d been distracted by daydreams  of white sand beaches and rum punch. Who could blame a girl?

I spent nearly an hour waiting for my travel companions to show, then caught a cab to the hotel we were staying at. While I was winding through the streets of Kingston with a taxi driver who could moonlight as a historian – thoroughly enjoying myself – my family were back stateside growing increasingly worried about the lack of call from me. 

Once in the hotel there was a land-line and the bill to go with it.. gah! I got in touch with my family, all was well. It was on that trip that I decided that I’d rather pay for global service than ever end up stranded alone with no phone again. 

Things have changed a bit since my semi harrowing experience in Jamaica. Verizon (my carrier) no longer causes shell shock with that “no service” noise. In fact if you haven’t added international service before your trip you can still call within the country you’re in to reach their Call Center and get that your international all hooked up.

A few months ago I took my oldest daughter on her epic 16th birthday trip to Ireland. Before (like months before) we headed out I made sure to do my research and get both the best and most flexible global plan I could. No way I was going to pay over a hundred bucks for two weeks of service!

With the help of the friendly folks at Verizon I paid less than $40 up front and when I got back there was ZERO sticker shock. I had voice, text, and data with a bill that ended up being a whopping $3.78… YES that period is in the right place.

My poor Dad, who tagged along on this trip, wasn’t so lucky. The global portion of his bill was nearly $200.  I felt so bad for him! Nothing can tarnish great travel memories like getting hit with a huge bill one you get home.

I thought I’d reach out to my pals at the Verizon Buzz crew and see if I could get some useful 411 on going global with your gadgets – no one should ever be stuck in a foreign country without a cell phone… or worse, stuck with an enormous bill when you get back! Here is some of what I learned; 

4 Ways To Go Global with Verizon Plans

International Preferred Pricing

This is the plan I used in Ireland. There are two tiers to choose from, each has a per-line flat fee. What you pay for voice, text and data varies by plan.

per line              voice & text                                     data

International Travel Preferred Pricing with Verizon

note: there are also International Preferred Price Plan options that allow you pay $50 per line and get 250 MB of data, or $85 for 250 MB of data as well as 250 minutes of voice, 250 minutes of text and unlimited incoming texts.

Mexico & Canada

We’re heading to Canada in a few days, and it’s a good thing I’d reached out to Verizon for this info, we may have had another Jamaican Indecent on our hands.  I set up global service for three phones for $45. That gives the hubby, the teen and I each 100 minutes of talk and 100 texts. Any parent of a teen knows that is a huge deal when texts could otherwise be .99¢ each. I get the shakes just thinking about how much that could cost! 

per line                           voice & text                           data

Mexico and Canada international cell service with Verizon

Pay As You Go

Not sure where your travels will take you? Don’t think you’ll need that phone too much when you get there? Pay as you go pricing could be exactly what you’re looking for. Be aware though that this can be pricy. Voice starts at 99¢ a minute in Canada and Mexico and can go up as high at $2.99 a minute. Text and data pricing varies by country, but there are 140 countries with lower, “Preferred Pricing” options. 

Cruise Ship Rates

Here is where I leave you, or at least it’s an area I have zero experience with.  I’ve never been on a cruise ship that wasn’t docked right here in the good Ole US of A, thus never had need of a service like this. That said, I’ve a number of pals who dig the cruise thing and tell me that getting reliable data, and even voice service can be not only rough, but expensive. As it turns out, Verizon is the only carrier that offers a package that provides data, voice, and text for ONE price! So if you’re into cruising pop over to Verizon Wireless and see what’s up. Click on “View Cruise Ship Coverage” for a list of cruise lines available.   

Insider Tip: Verizon Wireless is offering a special promotion through their FREE Wi-Fi Connect app that allows you to connect to select wi-fi hotspots while traveling helping you get more bang for your buck.

Have you ever found yourself stranded somewhere without a means to reach someone at home? I’ll bet there are some funny stories out there. Do tell!

 

* (**) be sure to check with Verizon Wireless directly to verify plans and pricing, as well as any restrictions that may apply. 

Disclosure: As a member of a very cool team of influencers for Verizon Wireless I sometimes receive compensation, cool gadgets to test drive, or get attend special events. All opinions entirely my own, based on my experiences, because you deserve nothing less! 

 

 

Summer in a Ski Town – The Resort at Squaw Creek, Lake Tahoe

Gorgeous views from the lobby of TheResort at Squaw CreekIt may seem odd to think about visiting a destination best known for world-class skiing when the only snow you’re likely to find is in a cone.  As it turns out some ski towns have nearly as much to offer in the summer. The Resort at Squaw Creek, Lake Tahoe makes for a great base camp to test that theory. 

The Resort at Squaw Creek, Lake Tahoe

All about the lake – Nestled in the Sierra Nevada mountains, Lake Tahoe itself is the largest Alpine lake in North America. Boating, kayaking, and stand-up paddle boarding are just a few of the ways to enjoy this stunning natural wonder with water so clear in some spots that you can see to a depth of around 70 feet.  At times it reminded me of the waters off the east coast of Jamaica.

(photo credit: Squaw Valley Lodge / CC BY-SA 2.0)
(photo credit: Squaw Valley Lodge / CC BY-SA 2.0)

What is there to actually do at a ski resort in summer?

The simple answer? Lots!

Hike through stunning mountainsides dotted with waterfalls, hidden lakes, and a rainbow of beautiful wild flowers. 

Waterfall on the Shirley Canyon Hiking Trail - Lake TahoeTake an aerial tram ride up 2,000 vertical feet to High Camp where a pool, museum, outdoor activities, bar and cafe await with stunning views from an elevation of 8,200 feet. 

Go horseback riding on trails that cross streams and wind up into the mountains giving breath-taking views of protected forest ranges. Who knows, you might even run into a local or two. We met up with a Black Tail deer who could have cared less that we were there, she was so busy munching.

Horseback riding at Alpine Meadows - Lake TahoeOr, you could just hang out by the pool. The Resort at Squaw Creek has large recreation pool, plunge pool, 120-foot water slide, a children’s pool and 3 outdoor all-season whirlpools.

Worked up an appetite? The food scene at Lake Tahoe holds its own with the well-developed tastes of Foodies visiting from the San Francisco bay area. The Resort at Squaw Creek boasts three eateries open year-round, as well as two open seasonally.

Stop in for breakfast at Cascades and indulge in a buffet that features great artisanial eats like local honey, cheeses, and pastries. Don’t miss the build-your-own Bloody Mary Bar. 

Build-Your-Own Bloody Mary BarHave Sweet Potatoes Deli box you up a lunch for your outdoor adventures. Their quinoa and tomato salad is sublime.

Signature cocktails share center stage with gorgeous views, and innovated, gourmet dishes at Six Peaks Grille. Fine dining by the fire? I’m in.

Crispy Duck with Blueberry Confit - Six Peaks Grille at The Resort at Squaw Creek, Lake TahoeThe Spa, aaah! In my mind no hotel property should be allowed to call itself a resort if they don’t have a great spa. Squaw Creek earns their “resort” cred with a spa that Condé Nast Traveler named among the Top Five Resort Spas. 

It may not be the biggest, but it melds perfectly into the “nature vibe” of the area making the experience immersive, and unique. I thoroughly enjoyed their Coconut/Honey Sugar Scrub treatment, and highly recommend asking if Norma-Jean has any openings when you book any treatment at the spa.

How are the rooms? It just so happened that during my visit The Resort at Squaw Creek was celebrating it’s 25th anniversary by getting some work done. Rooms are in the process of being updated with modern amenities, like: marble tiled bathrooms with separate soaking tubs and separate showers, and chic resort decor. The rooms are actually more like micro-apartments with a kitchen stocked with utensils, appliances and tableware, making them great for families.

I will say that the refrigerator in my room was odd. The shelves were so narrow that you couldn’t fit a full-sized wine or soft drink bottle in without laying it flat.  

The Resort at Squaw Creek - Renovated RoomThe renovations are being done in two stages, the first complete already with the rest expected to be finished by the time ski season arrives. I’d suggest calling the property to book your room so you can request one that has been updated.

Tips

If you’re flying in from the East Coast, consider departing from New York if you can. JetBlue has recently opened up a non-stop route from JFK to Reno.

The Resort at Squaw Creek is about an hour drive from the Reno airport. Don’t bother renting a car, there is shuttle service from the resort to just about anywhere you want to go. Instead, make a reservation with Sierra-Tahoe Car Service.  Not only will you get a reliable ride in a full-sized SUV with room for your family and gear, you’ll also be able to take in the sites on the scenic drive up to the resort.

The holidays are a great time to stay at the resort. In fact, there are some great sales coming up just for that time of year.  They won’t be advertizing these prices so be sure you’re in the know by signing up for info

Sunset on Lake Tahoe

 

As you know, sometimes I get the opportunity to visit places as a hosted guest of the destination. I was hosted on this trip. That said, I received no compensation and was not required to write a review of any sort. Everything you just read is 100% my honest opinion, because you deserve nothing less!  

 

5 Unique Travel Apps & Sites for Creating Deeper Travel

Five Unique Travel Apps and Sites to help you plan your next tripLet’s face it, there are a ton of travel apps out there that do pretty much the same thing. After you’ve found the app that houses all your itinerary info, one for translations, safety and maps, why not look for travel apps that help you go deeper and create a truly unique trip. Here are a few of my favorites. 

5 Unique Travel Apps & Sites

Findery

Findery is a treasure map for travelers looking for hidden gems, off the beaten path destinations, and insider info.  Travelers leave little gems, in the form of notes about places they’ve been. Then geolocation wizardry takes over.

Who knew that convince store with the dusty windows was open, let alone that Nepalese family that owns it is cooking up amazing Momo (Nepali meat dumplings)  in the back? Somebody on Findery did – and they left a note which showed up in an alert on my phone when I walked by.

Findery is also great for those of us who love to share our travel tips, but don’t have enough time to get every detail into… say… a blog post. (cough. cough)  I created this Findery note while at an event – and noshing the best warm olives this side of Sicily.

Findery Note on Warm Olives from Fleet Street Kitchen - Baltimore, Maryland

Vayable

Ever found yourself wishing you had a Bestie in every city you visit? That perfect companion to show you around the place? Vayable may be the next best thing.

Locals put together tours that let you dig deeper into the destination. Hit Manhattan for a midnight street food experience. Explore the art scene in Berlin. Get insider info from a member of the White House Pres Corps. 

Spotted By Locals

Want that “Like A Local,” experience but not quite ready to hang out with strangers in a strange town? Spotted By Locals is the way to go.

This site is built of blogs penned by locals with great insights, tips and up-to-date info on the hot new spots in town. Spotted By Locals is a great place to start with your trip planning. Once you’ve built your itinerary and hit the road, the app will be there with helpful city guide maps on the go.

Cookening 

Food is the only universal language. Sharing a meal is sharing of cultures, our sustenance and selves. Cookening is your invitation to the table.

Here you’ll find locals hosting dinner parties for friends and travelers. The food doesn’t get much more authentic than this, but it’s the conversation that makes the meal. Where better to hear about the places you’ll see, the history and future of a city than gathered around the table for a meal.

Dining in the homes of locals has always made me fall deeper in love with a place.  How much different would our world look if we all just shared a meal? 

Creating your own unique trip with Vayable - Chicken Nuggets of Wisdom Spinlister

Getting out and enjoying the outdoors is another great way to connect with a destination. I personally love a bike ride. But it isn’t always easy (or inexpensive) to find a bike to ride. That’s where Spinlister comes in.

I liken Spinlister to the AirBnB of bikes. Owners list their rides on the site and you shop for the right one. They also feature skis, surf and paddle boards too. Beyond getting equipment that isn’t generic rental stuff, you also get to pick the brain of the owner. Where is the best trail for taking photos? What lifts should you avoid after 10:00am? Where is the best beach for avoiding Kooks? Spinlister is like two apps in one when you look at it this way.

Do you use apps when you travel? What’s your favorite site for travel planning? Do tell! I’m always on the lookout for something new – like any good traveler I know there is always so much more to see.

 

As a Verizon #VZWBuzz  Lifestyle Blogger I’m a member of a pretty cool team of Influencers who share information about mobile living. I was provided a device at no charge, from Verizon. No additional compensation was provided.  There has been no editing by a third party, nor any promise of positive feedback.   All opinions are my own – because you deserve nothing less.

 

B&Bs of Ireland: Hounslow House

Ireland's Most Charming B&Bs - Hounslow House, Fore, Castlepollard, County WestmeathRoom service, concierge, spa treatments, there is no denying the attraction of a good hotel. That said, the one thing that even the hotel with an in-room cappuccino machine will never have is the feeling of being welcomed home that you get from a great Bed and Breakfast (B&B). Our recent return to Ireland uncovered some of the best B&Bs we’ve ever stayed at.

Finding a good – let alone outstanding – B&B can be challenging. Do you trust the reviews on Yelp or Tripadvisor? Who exactly are you sleeping with (um..  rather who’s running the place you’re sleeping at?) Having the right tools at hand can make all the difference in finding the perfect B&B for you.

Wait, I have to share a bathroom with strangers?!

If you happen to be heading to Ireland, the best tool to have in your search is Bed and Breakfast Ireland. Their search feature goes so much deeper than location. You can search by activity, amenities, room types, and so much more. Including ensuite bathrooms you won’t have to share.

Homemade Scones & Jam at Hounslow House B&B Fore, Castlepollard, County Westmeath IrelandThe site has a “Short List” feature so you can save potential locations, saving time and sanity in the process. The Irish Tourist and Northern Irish Tourist Board also certify the B&Bs found on the site and most have profiles of the proprietors as well.

The Best of The Best…

Some places you stay leave such an impression that you’ll undoubtedly carry that memory with you. Hounslow House in Fore, Castle Pollard, County Westmeath is one such place.

Nestled in a valley surrounded by rolling hills of deep beryl green, Hounslow House is a gem. The resident welcome party – in the form of a very friendly Irish Setter – eagerly awaits disembarkation from your car. Equally as welcoming (though I might not suggest trying to pet them) are proprietors, the Healy’s.

The Fore Crosses stand sentury on 10km of roadway, beared witness to religious persecution during penal timesGrainne Healy is a veritable expert in local history, which serves her well as a teacher at the are primary school. She also whips up amazing scones – until her’s I’d always thought of a scone as sawdust in the shape of a biscuit. 

The front of the house features a huge picture window that overlooks the countryside as well as the ruins of Fore Abbey below. Resident equine ambassadors – Orlando and Zsa Zsa – were always game for a photo, while the chickens provide excellent fresh eggs for the outstanding full Irish breakfast you’ll enjoy included in the price of your stay – which can be as low at €70 (or around $80.)

Ruin of Fore Abbey sight of the 7 Wonders of Fore Castlepollard, County Westmeath, IrelandTake tea with Grainne and let her fill you in on the history of Fore Abbey, regale you with the tale of the 18 ancient stone crosses that dot the roadside near the B&B, and be sure to ask her where the best hiking and fishing can be found. She and her husband are quite the outdoors people and a priceless resource for getting the most out of your time in this breathtaking region rich in natural beauty and history that you’re not likely to find in typical travel guides.

Yes, it’s off the beaten path but that’s part of it’s indomitable charm.

Official Ambassador of Houndslow House