Category: U.S. Travel (Page 1 of 7)

orlando theme parks

Why You Need to Visit the Orlando Theme Parks in the New Year

It’s a common thread on this blog that I am an outdoor enthusiast, but what you might be a little less aware of is that I am a massive nerd (and I always have been). So, while I have been posting about exploring the wilder side of Florida lately, I have been dreaming about spending a week at the Orlando theme parks with my family for as long as I can remember.

I know that there are millions of posts on Orlando, Disney, and Universal, so I am going to post a short list of my 10 favorite things from the theme parks of Orlando, Florida. I hope to inspire all you theme park nerds out there to take the plunge and go see these parks for yourself in the new year!

#1: You Can Fly on a Dragon in Disney’s Animal Kingdom

orlando theme parks

(c) ABR 2017

I don’t know about you, but I’ve ALWAYS wanted to fly. Better yet, I’ve dreamed about flying on a dragon since I was old enough to start reading the Dragoniders of Pern series by Anne McCaffrey. I never really imagined that I would get the chance to experience what that would be like! But at one Orlando theme park, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, anyone else that has had this daydream can finally make it into a reality!

How exactly do you do this? Hop right on the Flight of Passage Ride and take a mountain Banshee from the Avatar universe for a spin. While it has been a bit hard to get on this ride, because of the insanely long lines that form up just a few minutes after the park opens, you can make it on. The most preferable way to do so is to plan ahead, find out the earliest that you can schedule a fast pass and then get one squared away for yourself. If that fails (for me it did), get to Animal Kingdom early in the morning and get in line for the ride at the first opportunity. You will avoid most of the line this way.

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Florida Travel Itinerary: Part Two of a 10 Day Roadtrip to the Sunshine State

Florida Travel Itinerary: Where to Find Part One

If you are looking for a high-energy Florida travel itinerary that incorporates nature, history, and modern entertainment, this is the Florida road trip planner you are looking for. However, this is Part Two! You can find the first three days in the Part One of the Florida Itinerary.

Day Four: Dry Tortugas National Park

(1) Expedition Dry Tortugas

Florida travel itinerary

(c) ABR

Dry Tortugas National Park consists of a large, hexagonal fortress built on a small key that is still home to a unique ecosystem of low-lying plants and a vibrant assemblage of birds. Visitors can either spend a day on the island, or pay for a camping permit. I went for the day trip option, as I had a packed schedule, but camping on Dry Tortugas will give you the chance to experience the isolated little island at night.

In either case, visiting Dry Tortugas has an massive fort, swimming in the tropical waters surrounding the island, and hiking. All of these will give you the chance to explore a place that is really unlike any other in the world so it is a must-have for any Florida travel itinerary.

Florida travel itinerary

(c) ABR

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Florida Roadtrip Itinerary Part One: Seeing the Sights with Limited Time

This Florida roadtrip itinerary is designed for high energy travelers who want to pack alot of sight-seeing into a relatively short period of time. I also like to prioritize checking out national park units and exploring novel environments as I move around. This itinerary can be easily adjusted if you have more time, but will generally excite roadtrippers who love getting a dose of nature and history when they travel.

Day One: Get a Taste of History in Jacksonville

(1) Arrival

Plan on arriving into Jacksonville as early on this day as you can manage. This will give you more time to explore if you are strapped for time. If you can afford to make your itinerary a day longer, you might also consider giving yourself two days here. One to arrive and one to explore the city a little. Jacksonville is surprisingly vibrant and large for those unfamiliar with the area.

(2) Visit Fort Caroline National Monument/Timucuan Preserve

florida roadtrip

(c) ABR

The Fort Caroline National Monument and Timucuan Preserve in combination will give you the opportunity to learn more about the history and ecology of the northern, coastal area of Florida. You should start at the visitor center, which can be found at 12713 Fort Caroline Road, Jacksonville, FL 32225. They are open seven days a week from 9:00A-5:00P and entrance to both parks is FREE.

The star of the Fort Caroline show is, of course, the fort itself. This is a particularly unique place in respect to the other forts of the Caribbean region (and there are many), because Fort Caroline is a simple, wooden fort. It harkens back to an earlier colonial time than most of its cousins. Fort Caroline will give you insight into some of the deeper past of the region than you can get elsewhere. This National Monument also has some information on the local indigenous people that inhabited this area at the time that European immigrants first started arriving. The long human use for the Jacksonville area was a poignant indicator for me of just how important this area has been for people over time. It’s rivers, shores, and forests have long served as sources of wealth, places of transportation and trade, and shelter from the oft-stormy waters of the Caribbean and Atlantic.

florida roadtrip

(c) ABR

With these things in mind, the Timucuan Preserve serves as a great partner to Fort Caroline on your Florida roadtrip as visiting here will give you the opportunity to explore and experience some of Florida’s beautiful natural landscapes. This is something that people often overlook in this state, north of the Everglades, but the forests are a strange and unique mix of tropical, coastal and dryland plants. They should not be missed by any hikers, birders, or nature-lovers among you. There is also a nice selection of trails in this area, allowing for a range of trips from short walks to easy day hikes.

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Disneylands galaxys edge

All You Need To Know About Exploring Disneyland’s Galaxy’s Edge

Why You Should Be Excited About Galaxy’s Edge

Disneyland’s Galaxy’s Edge open in 2019, and it seemed like the jury was out on the new addition to the park for the first few months. Was it worth the cost of admission? Was the food good? The blue milk weird? And were the new characters enough to bring the world to life? The answer to all of these things is YES, and you need to visit to see just how amazing this place is.

For Lucas Star Wars Fans

I’m what I refer to as a “Lucas” Star Wars fan, because I love the universe of Star Wars that was developed while George Lucas still owned his own franchise. I am honestly not a huge fan of what Disney has been creating for this science fiction staple. But nonetheless, I loved Galaxy’s Edge.

Even if you don’t like Disney’s new movies, Disneyland’s Galaxy’s Edge will make you feel like you’ve finally entered the world of Star Wars. It really was like a dream come true and I couldn’t get enough of it. In typical Disney fashion, they hit this place out of the park from the smallest detail to the largest. The buildings were amazing, and the food was fascinating. The lightsaber building experience was surprisingly emotional. I thought all of the cast members in Galaxy’s Edge were really great as well.

For Disney Star Wars Fans

I think it goes without saying, but I will say it. If you are a Disney Star Wars fan, Disneyland’s Galaxy’s Edge will have everything that you love! You’ve got the universe, you’ve got all the great characters from the movies, and more! You are really in for a treat if you love the newest movies.

Disneylands galaxys edge

(c) ABR 2019

For People Who Aren’t Star Wars Fans At All

You don’t need to be a Star Wars fan in order to enjoy Disneyland’s Galaxy’s Edge. If you love all of the environments that Disney creates, you will appreciate this corner of the park. Disney is in true form when it comes to this new addition. If you listen to the ambient sounds you will be hearing an alien world. If you are a plant connoisseur, you will notice that each piece of flora was selected for its beautiful and yet otherworldly forms. The buildings have a science fiction quality that is carried over into the gift shops and restaurants. It is truly a unique experience that any Disneyland fan will enjoy exploring over the years.

Getting into Disneyland’s Galaxy’s Edge

Disneyland's Galaxy's Edge

(c) ABR 2019

When Galaxy’s Edge first opened, there were a few hoops that you had to jump through in order to get in. Now, however, I can tell you that Disneyland’s version is fully open. So you don’t need to worry about reserving a time to enter or any time limits to how long you can stay in the area.

Just walk right in!

You will, however, need reservations to get a lightsaber or go to Oga’s Cantina. More details on that below.

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A Guide to History & Hiking in Napa Valley & Sonoma

hiking in napa valley

(c) ABR 2019

Napa Valley is a mecca for wine lovers the world over, but what about those of us who find themselves in or invited to a trip to the Valley who aren’t so interested in that wine-life experience? What is there to do in Napa besides wine tasting? Well, I’m here to tell you that there is plenty to do in Napa Valley for everyone. In particular, I would like to share three of my favorite places for hiking in Napa Valley, along with a weekend-length itinerary for anyone interested in having a unique outdoor and cultural experience in this area. Feel free to use this guide as an inspiration for your own weekend in Napa or just as a short list of places that we loved in the area.

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Explore the Washington DC Monuments and More

washington dc monuments

There are so many amazing Washington DC Monuments, parks, and attractions in the DC area that it can be hard to narrow down what you’d like to do. At the same time, the Mall is the primary section of the city that tourists flock to. This guide will help you both narrow down the locations that you’d like to see, as well as help you plan for an in-depth itinerary that will allow you to thoroughly explore the United States capital. In particular, national park service geeks will appreciate the focus of this guide. Anyone collecting stamps will amass a new section of their collection following our itinerary.

Day 1: Museums and the Washington DC Mall

Stretching from the Lincoln Memorial to the State Capitol building, the Mall is the most famous part of Washington DC. If you take the time to stroll from one end to the other you will pass by most of the Smithsonian museums, the White House, and many Washington DC monuments.

washington dc monuments

If you start at the State Capitol, and head east, you can begin your day with the Smithsonian museum that is most interesting to you. I always love to visit National Museum of Natural History. As an environmental scientist, I find all of the massive collections and endless opportunities to learn more about the nature of Earth fascinating. My inner space nerd also really enjoys the National Air and Space Museum. But you honestly can’t go wrong with any of these, as they are all free.

After spending the first part of the morning in the museums, snap a picture of the beautiful Smithsonian Castle, and then work your way out into the memorial section of the mall.

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What To Do In Illinois: Roadtrips, Hiking, and More

what to do in illinois

(c) ABR 2019

When I told people that I was going on an Illinois roadtrip, I either got looks of disbelief or a sympathetic laugh. “There’s nothing out here,” more than a few people told me, as I trekked through the waves of agricultural lands dotted with picturesque farms and homesteads. As an outsider, however, I am here to tell you that there is, in fact, more than enough in the state for a weekend or even a week-long roadtrip. If you, like many of the people I met on the road, are wondering what to do in Illinois, this is the guide for you. I will give you the low-down on some of my favorite spots so that you can build your own trip, and I will provide a short itinerary based on my travels as well.

Hiking in Illinois

what to do in illinois

(c) ABR 2019

Considering that Illinois is known for being a plains state, flat with [insert agricultural plant] it might be surprising to some that there is good hiking to be had there. But where there is a trail there is a way! And there are actually some really amazing parks to explore on your Illinois itinerary.

Shawnee National Forest

Shawnee National Forest is nestled down at the southern tip of Illinois, making it somewhat hard to get to (from Chicago anyway), but it is well worth the drive. Not only is the forest free to use but it is home to some absolutely otherworldly and beautiful landscapes that even a world traveler would enjoy. For a very comprehensive guide to the forest, please see the Unofficial Shawnee Forest website. I used this to pick out a few places that I visited during my own roadtrip, the Garden of the Gods and the Little Grand Canyon; it is a great resource.

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Design Your Perfect Chicago Itinerary

chicago itinerary

The “Bean” (c) ABR 2014

Chicago has to be one of the most exciting and culture-rich cities in the United States. It is also likely to be one of the most well-known Midwest cities. As such, Chicago is a great place for both domestic and international travelers. If I am being honest, the nature enthusiasts out there might find that there is something left to be desired (although I have it on good authority that there is some good hiking just outside of the city at Starved Rock State Park and Waterfall Glen). But almost any other traveler preferences can be found in the city. People watchers will likely find no where better in the US, besides NYC. Shoppers can find everything from big, brand names to small businesses with finds that you can get no where else. Selfie pros and adrenaline junkies will enjoy the views of the tall buildings that welcome visitors, and fishers and boaters will of course be entertained by one of the largest lakes in the world. In short, if you are considering Chicago, the city likely has something to offer you. This guide will help you design your perfect Chicago itinerary.

Museums

There are TONS of museums in Chicago, many of which are world class. No matter your interests, I would highly suggest visiting at least one of the city’s museums. If you want to my absolute favorites, you can check out the Shedd Aquarium, Field Museum, and Adler Planetarium all in one beautiful, lake-side complex.

chicago itinerary

The Field Museum (c) ABR 2014

The Field Museum is highly immersive, which is my favorite kind of museum. You can waltz yourself through past versions of the Earth, learn about the history of Chicago and the many cultures of the planet, while also visiting grand rooms showcasing models and skeletons of some of the world’s most fantastic, inspiring animals. Whatever you are learning about, however, you will often find yourself feeling transported and surrounding by the different themes of the halls.

chicago itinerary

The Shedd Aquarium (c) ABR 2014

The Shedd Aquarium caters to anyone interested in learning more about and enjoying the marine world. A basic ticket will get you in to see all kinds of beautiful fish from around the planet. The place is so big it’s easy to get lost in wonder as you wander its halls, and there are plenty of ticket additions if you want to see more. There are also special exhibits, movies, and even small cetacean shows.

These two amazing museums are also really close to eachother, making them the perfect day trip, particularly when coupled with the Adler Planetarium. After all that, if you still have energy, you can also explore Northerly Island for some perfect views of Lake Michigan.

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18 Reasons That You Should Go to Star Wars Celebration 2020

What is Star Wars Celebration

star wars celebration

(c) ABR 2019

If you’ve been to any comic convention, consider Star Wars Celebration to be THE convention for all things Star Wars. It’s that simple!

If you haven’t been to either, Star Wars Celebration is a gathering of people that love the franchise. This group includes celebrities, the people that helped make the movies and shows that we love, authors, artists, venders, cosplayers, and fans young and old. When you attend, you can shop the massive exhibit hall for shirts, art, collectibles, and all things Star Wars. You can go to panels to be part of discussions about the universe. You can listen to celebrities speak, or meet them for autographs and pictures. And there are often other activities throughout the con, like VR experiences, games, crafting and art spaces, and more.

For some, it’s a five day experience. For others, a single day of con is sufficient. And for the die-hard Star Wars fan, this is an event that might be planned for years.

Why You Should Consider Going

(1) Get close as close to the Star Wars universe as you can (without being at Disneyland or Disneyworld).
star wars celebration

(c) ABR 2019

The universe of Star Wars is full of alien worlds that many of us can only dream of ever visiting. However, many aspects of the franchise come to life at Celebration. The best cosplayers will make you feel like you are meeting the characters in real life. Some cosplaying groups also build sets and replica vehicles to explore and photograph. In 2019, Disney was also on the scene with an entire area devoted to its new, immersive Galaxy’s Edge land. Unless you are lucky enough to be able to visit one of the Disney parks, this is the best place to lose yourself in the world of Star Wars.

(2) Meet new Star Wars friends.

There are all kinds of Star Wars fans at Celebration, so no matter how hard-core you are, or what era of the films you love, you will be able to find your people at this convention. For the most outgoing among us, there are plenty of spaces to chat with new people in the halls and meet all kinds of cosplayers as they pose for pictures. There are also plenty of activities to bring people together; for shy people, these are great places to connect with new friends over a craft, game, or movie. Finally, there are even dating events, which can be a way to meet partners with similar interests. (Cosplay groups are also good for this. I met my husband at one.)

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A Budget-Friendly, Last Minute Disneyland Guide

Why Disneyland Doesn’t Need To Be Complicated

I’ve been traveling to Disneyland regularly since I was little. It’s one of my favorite places, and despite the growing crowds, I still love going. It’s odd, in light of my long track record of just going there, that there are so many detailed and lengthy guides for this huge California attraction. Looking at all this information, one would think that a trip to Disneyland requires months of planning and a budget just to buy all the gadgets that you will need before you even leave. So, can you do last minute Disneyland if you don’t live in the area?

last minute disneyland

(c) ABR 2018

Heck yes! Obviously, if you have kids, that makes things a little more complicated, but a trip to Disneyland can be simple and fun. Whether you’ve never been before or are an old pro trying to simplify, here are my Disneyland secret tips for a great time sans too much planning.

Tickets and Fast Passes

The main barrier to entry is of course, the ticket price. Seems like every year Disney increases the cost of a day at the park, so before you commit to going, always make sure that you update yourself on the current price for tickets. If you are on a budget, that will likely determine how long you can go for and that will influence every part of your last minute Disneyland plan. The most recent pricing scheme will make tickets more expensive during peak season, so factor the potential extra cost in. You can get up-to-date prices here: https://disneyland.disney.go.com/tickets/.

last minute disneyland

(c) ABR 2018

While purchasing tickets you might also want to consider whether or not you’d like to pick up the MaxPass. This is an extra $15 and allows you to pick up FastPasses via an app. In theory, you can maximize your time this way and pick up passes faster than people without, although you are still limited to one active FastPass at the time. I am on the fence about this service being worth the money, although primarily because I experienced a service outage that lasted an entire day- making the MaxPass worthless. Luckily, if you just don’t think it’s worth it, or don’t have the extra cash, FastPasses in Disneyland still work if you bring your ticket to the kiosk at the entrance of the rides.

Hotels

There are loads of hotels around Disneyland, and as you might expect, some are more expensive than others. For those budget travelers among you, more distance between the hotel and the park means bigger savings, but you’ll need to find something that makes up for the cost of parking (if you aren’t willing to hoof it). If you park at Disneyland, you will be paying upwards of $30 a day.

last minute disneyland

(c) ABR 2018

I’ve had some great luck with Hotwire for finding good deals in the area, but I will say, when it comes to finding a hotel that’s affordable but nice, you generally need time. This is one part of a last minute Disneyland trip that will be difficult for people on a tight budget.

Transportation

You have a few options for transportation and the most budget-friendly method will depend on where you are staying, but all can work for a last minute Disneyland trip. My favorite thing to do is stay close enough that I can walk to the park, and plenty of the hotels in the area have free shuttles.

last minute disneyland

(c) ABR 2018

If neither of those work for you, Lyft and Uber can be a great way to get to the park without having to worry about parking. However, method will only be cost effective if you can get there and back for less than $30- that’s the cost of parking at Disneyland.

Food

One of the most budget-friendly Disneyland secret tips is that you can bring your own food and water into the park. While I love to eat all of the increasingly delicious foods in Disneyland, meals and snacks add up really fast, especially when you have kids with you. If you are all about trying all the good foods, you can also save a little bit of cash by bringing a refillable water bottle in with you and filling up at fill stations and water fountains.

last minute disneyland

(c) ABR 2018

I have most recently become a Disneyland food fanatic, so I more than understand if you’d like to spend on some extra cash on food. I’d highly suggest checking out the Wonderful World of Food on Youtube. They put out seasonal guides to all of the great treats and meals that you can try in Disneyland and California Adventure.

Suggested Itinerary

My favorite Disneyland secret tips are to try to spend a couple days mid-week in the park. These tend to at least give you a little bit of a break from the crowd, particularly in the morning. Quieter times in the park are the best times to jump in as many lines as you can before they get too long. Usually, I visit the park for 2-3 days, coming up from outside of LA.

last minute disneyland

(c) ABR 2018

Of the two parks, Disneyland tends to be the more busy of the two (especially with the Star Wars section of the park opening in 2019), so I’d suggest going there first especially if that is the only weekday that you can swing on your last minute Disneyland trip. I can always spend more than a day in Disneyland, so if you feel likewise, you might consider returning for a second half-day or coming back for a third day. For you roller coaster riders, get fast-passes for Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Indiana Jones first.

last minute disneyland

(c) ABR 2018

On the second day of your trip, take a little breather from the crowds and go to California Adventure. Overall, if you haven’t been before, this park doesn’t have quite the history or atmosphere of Disneyland, but it is becoming increasingly well-themed. If you like big rides, the fast passes to go for first are the Radiator Springs Racers, the Incredicoaster, and the Guardians of the Galaxy.

For more California Travel Ideas…

…be sure to check out our Guide to California.

If you are looking to do a more thorough exploration of Southern California with Disneyland included on the itinerary, we also have the perfect travel plan for you.

last minute disneyland

last minute disneyland

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