Feeling the tropics in Miami, Florida

To celebrate our anniversary, we decided to explore the world-renowned Miami in Florida. At first, I had doubts with the place being child friendly since Miami is often synonymous to partying, and millennials getting wasted. Lol. But then as I was reading travel websites, Miami can also be fun for families with kids in tow! We wanted to see how Miami Beach compare to our beaches in the Philippines.

We got a beach front hotel as we want to have a full day and walking access to the beach. We chose the Mid Beach- from reading reviews, it’s not too crowded and it’s great if you just want to relax with kids in tow. South Beach is where the party and night life happens so we skipped it. Miami Beach is divided into three namely- North Beach, Mid Beach and the South Beach, all three share the same shore but walking from Mid to South Beach is about an hour away. As you can imagine, Miami Beach is a very long stretch of white sandy shore and it is an island separate from downtown Miami. What connects it the mainland Miami are well built bridges.

So from New York, we took the plane from La Guardia Airport to Miami International Airport. The flight was 3 hours and was comfortable.

We saw this from the plane which looked like they were building new roads out of the ocean.

Then we booked an Uber to our hotel in Miami Beach.

We booked the Holiday Inn- Oceanfront thru booking.com. It was the cheapest among the other beachfront hotels in Mid Beach. A bit above our budget but the beach access was worth it. It was a 20 minute drive from the airport to Miami.

Holiday Inn Oceanfront.

The hotel’s swimming pool

Beach Access. We really loved how the beach is accessible to the hotel. The hotels placed beach chairs and umbrellas for use for their guests. There is a concierge by the beach for each hotel. One can also order drinks from the hotel’s bar and have it sent it you on the beach. Such fun under the sun!

Collins Avenue- This vibrant beach walk connects the beach to the hotels. You can see a lot of people walking, biking and it is lined with palm trees. The scenery gives you that tropic vibe we don’t see often in North America.

The second day, we decided to have breakfast in South Beach, do some strolling, head to Little Havana and availed the sightseeing cruise on the nearby islands in Miami.

We got an uber to take us to Front Porch Cafe in South Beach- it was a 10 minute ride.

Breakfast in Front Porch Cafe in South Beach.

We strolled along Art Deco in South Beach and had a little peak of the beach.

South Beach is what’s synonymous to Miami. Mostly photos of Miami is from the South Beach. I could only imagine how it is during the night time. If Mid Beach has Collins Ave, South Beach has Ocean Drive.

Right after our quick stroll in South Beach, we took Uber to downtown Miami in Little Havana.

Coming here was like coming home, we see the houses were built just like our houses in the Philippines. one, two- storey houses with low gates and palm trees.

Little Havana has very rich history. It is home to many Cubans in Miami that emerged during the 1960’s. Little Havana specifically in Calle Ocho is lined with walk up Cuban restaurants and stores selling Cuban tobacco and garments. The vibe is very lively with salsa music played live by a Cuban band.

They have a walk of fame which features famous Latin artists like Thalia.

The Domino Park is where Cubans meet and discuss politics while playing dominoes. If you have seen the movie, Father of the Bride, this is where Robert De Niro sits down with her daughter and played domino.

Real police in Little Havana. On a horse!

Sightseeing Cruise

We spent 2 hours in Little Havana and headed to the Bayside Marketplace where we shall be starting our sight seeing cruise along Biscayne Bay. Bayside Marketplace is an open, festive shopping mall located along the harbor of Biscayne Bay. It has various restaurants and shops. It’s very lively and festive. And the fact that it’s near the harbor makes it very refreshing.

While waiting for the boat.

We booked the 90 minute sightseeing cruise thru Trip Advisor for 25 usd per person. We sailed past the Miami skyline , islands near miami and the mansions of the rich and famous. There is a tour guide who would ask you to guess whose mansion is she referring to with some clues. We got to see J Lo’s, Jacky Chan’s, Lebron James’, I cannot recall all the names and mansions the guide mentioned.

Miami Skyline

The port of Miami is known as one of the busiest and the largest in the world.

We passed by the cruise ships docked in the port.

The next day, we decided to just relax and bask in the sun. We spent it swimming in the beach and the pool

We wished we had more time here, I would have wanted to explore more of Miami. I wanted to visit the Everglades, Key West, check out the night scene in South Beach. Also, Miami is a bit more expensive that we thought it would be. Restaurants impose service charge ranging from 18- 22%. Let me picture out for you how costly it is. A coconut fruit with its juice costs 18 usd in Bayside Marketplace and cocktails range 18- 30 dollars. But as long as we had fun right?


Craving for Crabs in Baltimore, Maryland

After 4 years of living in New York, we finally decided to buy our first car. You don’t really need a car in the city as New York has 24 hour subway trains and buses but then we thought it’s time for us to be able to feel how its like being able to go to places on a whim. So for our first out of state long drive, we decided to got to Baltimore in Maryland- a 3 hour ride from New York. Well, someone’s very excited to go to Baltimore. lol

Well, someone’s excited to go to Maryland. lol

The ride was smooth , thanks to Apple’s detailed GPS we were able to reach the city safely.

Baltimore is known for its steamed crabs drenched in a special kind of seasoning which I later learned is called the Old Bay seasoning made by the famous McCormick & Company- I remember as a child growing up in the Philippines, I see this name on the labels of salt and other spices and seasonings. As it turned out, McCormick originated in Baltimore too. This got me more excited to eat the crabs of Baltimore. :)))

Our first stop was the L.P. Steamers.

We ordered 12 pieces of the medium sized crabs (they ran out of the large ones). Note that they don’t serve steamed rice here so for Filipinos like us, it’s a bit disappointing as we love rice with our crabs. lol. But don’t worry we got rice from a Chinese takeout and ate it discretely with our crabs :)))

Sorry for the mess but we were just famished.lol

Aside from their crabs, LP Steamers also have a variety of seafood options that are very palatable. Their fries in Old Bay seasoning did not disappoint too.

I love how the city is a mixture of the old and the new. I learned that Baltimore is a harbor with very rich history. Did you know that the lyrics of the US National Anthem- Star Spangled Banner was inspired by the Battle in Baltimore against the British colony? And its harbor served as a major war production center during World War II?

After checking in at our hotel which is just in the premises of the Inner Harbor, we then went to the National Aquarium just a few steps away from the hotel. The Inner Harbor is lined with shops, restaurants and hotels so it’s very conducive for tourists like us who just wants to chill. lol

At the National Aquarium.

Still can’t figure out if this bird is a Flamingo since its right above us, on the tree branches (didn’t know they could fly lol)

As the caption says, this ship is the last Pearl Harbor survivor. They have converted this into a museum inside.

Most of our time in Baltimore was spent strolling around the harbor.

At night, we went to Nando’s Peri- Peri which I learned does not have a branch in New York. Again, it didn’t disappoint.

The streets are night are very quite, not much people strolling and only a few cars. Makes me compare it to the busy streets of NY.

The day after, we decided to have breakfast in the Blue Moon Cafe which was also a walking distance from the hotel. The place is very quaint and homey and reminds me of Sans Rival restaurant in Dumaguete, Philippines. Its a favorite breakfast spot by locals too.

We decided to bring home some crabs but then when we called they LP steamers, they ran out of crabs, We called another resto and they also ran out. Glad we found Bay Island which only offers take out crabs.

Overall, the trip (more like a food trip lol) was short but it was worth coming back :)))

It’s Our First Time in Canada

Before the year ended, we got the chance to visit for the first time, Canada. We have been planning this since day 1 here in the US as we got a friend and her family who immigrated to Montreal the same year as we moved to New York from the Philippines. We spent the 4 days in their home and spent one night in Quebec City which was a very surreal experience.

The flight to Montreal (YUL) from New York (LGA) was just less than 2 hours. We booked a round trip ticket with American Airlines for $680 (2 adults 1 child). Note that we booked this fight 2 weeks ahead which made me think it would have been cheaper if we booked it a few months before. The flight was hassle free and no delays. How ironic is it that flying to Montreal was much faster than flying to Las Vegas or Florida. lol

At the Montreal- Trudeau International Airport. As tourists, we need to have that obligatory selfie :)))

Coming out of the plane, we were there greeted by signs like “sortie” “bonjour”- there were French signages scattered all over the airport. 80% of Quebec’s population is predominantly French speaking and 90% of them speak the language on a day to day basis. That’s why when you are in Quebec, either Montreal or Quebec City, when a local approaches you and says “bonjour”, if you are a tourist like us who cannot converse in French, better respond “hello” or “hi” than saying “bonjour” to the person since he/she might think you are a local who can converse fluently using the language and will put you in awkward situations. Trust me, been there. lol

The YUL airport was quiet and serene, so much different from the loud airports of LGA and JFK in New York.

Day1: Montreal, Quebec

Montreal is a buzzling city in Canada and the second most populous. The streets are lined with shops, tall commercial buildings and apartment buildings. At the residential area, you can see houses mostly made of stones. Their public transport is the Montreal Metro-an intricate system of underground trains (subway) which we noticed is more quiet than our beloved New York’s subway cars. Passengers of the Metro also come and go and I’ve read that they have the 2nd most ridership per capita behind New York City.

Their trains got tires 🙂

Oh and just a heads up, when they do announcements in the train, they say it in French which can be a challenge if you are a tourist trying to decipher why your train is not moving :)))

Our first stop is lunch at a restaurant near our friend’s house (still waiting for her response as to what it is called).

Then we went to St. Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal– Canada’s largest church. And yes it is very large. It’s our first time seeing a church with escalators and elevators!

We then went to Old Montreal- a historic neighborhood in Montreal which housed stone buildings built as early as the 17th century. It’s housed with a plethora of shops and restaurants. We love just walking around its cobblestone streets and admiring the well preserved stone buildings.

One of the must try in Montreal is the Beavertails- fried dough pastries topped with a variety of flavors and condiments. And it;s actually good!

Day 2: Old Quebec in Quebec City

This is one place I would be definitely going back. Two hours away from Montreal, Old Quebec (Vieux Quebec) is a walled city and has been a popular tourist attraction due to its very rich history and well preserved colonial architecture for over 400 years. We reached there at night and greeted by the town’s old Christmas vibe. It was also freezing hence we are so bundled up.

Despite the freezing weather, there are many people like us strolling along the streets of Old Quebec, the town has a very unique charm, it’s a place you want to go back again. Old Quebec is like a movie scene in Christmas 🙂

We had dinner in Quebec City’s oldest restaurant- Cafe Buade

We stayed overnight at the Delta Hotel by Marriott since its just a walking distance from the old town. There are hotels inside the walled city but it gets sold out fast and the ones left are a bit pricey. Maybe next time we come here, will be staying right at the heart of Old Quebec during Summer or Spring where the cold won’t bother us. lol

The morning after, we came back to the old town to grab some breakfast at McDonald’s and do sight seeing inside the car.

We also made a stop at the Montmorency Falls.

And at the Ste. Anne de Beaupre- a Roman Catholic basilica that attracts pilgrims every year in a nearby town.

If America runs on Dunkin, Canada run on Tim Horton’s :)))

3rd Day: Ottawa, Canada.

2 hours away from Montreal is Ottawa, the capital city of Canada. It is where the Parliament of Canada, its government offices including the Office of the Prime Minister.

Our flight was the next day and we were not able to catch our plane due to the long line in TSA and immigration, we got lucky since American Airlines was able to book us to the next flight without charge. One lesson learned, it is an international flight so one has to be in the airport 2- 3 hrs before the flight. But we will be coming back, this time on a summer.

Thank you Aika and Jeff for welcoming us into you home. Sunod na pud (til next time) :)))

Overnight Stay at Aquatopia Waterpark, Pennsylvania

Who needs a private car in New York City where one can use every mode of public transport there is available- which is always. We embarked on another “carless” adventure to Pennsylvania using the old time bus. Apparently, there are buses that could take you to the series of water parks in Pennsylvania with no hassle. With the help pf the ever friendly google, I found out that Martz Bus can take you right at the entrance 3 Waterparks in PA namely- Kalahari, Great Wolf Lodge and Aquatopia. with return trips. Bus departs at the Port Authority Bus Terminal at 8:30 AM and takes about 2-3 hrs to reach the waterpark. Bus fare is 64 USD + plus one way.

Inside the Martz Bus on our way to Aquatopia Waterpark.

The trip was smooth. A stop made and we had to transfer to another bus that would take us to the entrances of the 3 waterparks.

Aquatopia was the last stop.

The good thing about it is we get to stay overnight on the waterpark as they also offer rooms. Entrance to the park is already included in the room price. Check out their website to learn more. We got the King Bunk Suite as there was a handful of us.

King Bunk Suite

After checking in, we decided to have a quick lunch at the Graffiti Pizza which is just inside the waterpark.

I didn’t get the chance to take lots of photos as we we had so much fun with the rides. Our top 5 rides includes the Lazy River, Venus Slydetrap, Storm Chaser, Wave pool and the Flowrider.

Happy faces ❤

Oh and the reason why we came here is because it was my unica hija’s 8th birthday.

Dinner at the Trail End’s Pub and Grille which is just inside the waterpark too!

The day after, we got breakfast at the Hemispheres and enjoyed their buffet- style breakfast. We found out that the chef is also a Filipino like us!

We had so much fun at the waterpark and we wanted to go back again. 🙂

Grand Canyon: Grandest of All

A trip to Las Vegas wouldn’t be complete without making a short detour to the Grand Canyon in Arizona. The south rim of the canyon is a mere 4 hour ride from Las Vegas. There are a lot of tour buses that can take you on a day trip to the Grand Canyon should one prefer not to drive. We searched online and found several tour buses, of which we chose Canyon Tours for 85 usd each including lunch and a tour to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

“In the Grand Canyon, Arizona has a natural wonder which is in kind absolutely unparalleled throughout the rest of the world. I want to ask you to keep this great wonder of nature as it now is. I hope you will not have a building of any kind, not a summer cottage, a hotel or anything else, to mar the wonderful grandeur, the sublimity, the great loneliness and beauty of the canyon. Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it.”Franklin D Roosevelt

The pick up spot for the Canyon Tours is at the rotunda of the Excalibur Hotel. Pick up time is 7 am.

Inside the bus

The bus ride was comfortable and entertaining, its always nice to see new places on the way. What you will be seeing are flat deserts and desert mountains. Green mountain are very rare and the greens that you will be seeing are cacti and desert bushes.

We got off for lunch at this joint. From here, its gonna be a quick drive to the canyon.

The line of cars going to the Grand Canyon

And this

Seeing it with my own eyes is something I would reminisce every day of my life. Seeing this reminds me that there is a greater being much more powerful than we are. It’s very humbling but also overwhelming.
Mather Point. This was our first stop and they said that this point has the nicest view of the sunrise.
Bright Angel Trailhead was the second and last stop.

Going back, we realized how lucky we are for having the chance to see this wonder.- after all, the Grand Canyon is one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World. 6 more to go for us!