Category Archives: Travel

Must See Attractions For Families Visiting Hershey & Harrisburg

We took a short vacation to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania at the end of August. There is so much to do in Harrisburg, it was the perfect place for us to visit, especially since it is only about 4 hours away from our home in New York State. We have been visiting the Harrisburg/Hershey area with our kids for years. Our oldest kids loved going to Hershey Park and other nearby attractions like Lake Tobias Wildlife Park every summer.

We had not visited the area for a few years, and it was high time for a vacation to the sweetest place on Earth and beyond. Working together with the Visit Hershey & Harrisburg Tourism Bureau, they helped us select the attractions that best suited our family’s tastes, and then created a jam-packed itinerary for us. They also helped us find accommodations in the Harrisburg area that had ample parking and easy access to all the attractions.

We stayed at the Hotel Indigo in Harrisburg. Honestly, we were on the go from early morning until late at night and spent very little time in the hotel. We did appreciate that there was a large parking lot, so we did not have to deal with parking garages or pay for parking as we have done in the past with hotels located in downtown Harrisburg. The Hotel Indigo is new,  there were a few issues that I chalked up to growing pains. All in all, it was a good experience for what we needed, I will write more about the hotel in a future post.

National Civil War Museum

Our first stop was the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg. The museum is located up a long driveway that leads to a large parking area. The grounds are clean and picturesque. Inside there is a large gift shop where we picked up our tour tickets for a self guided tour.

National Civil War Museum

The museum has 2 levels and we were directed to start upstairs armed with our map. The museum does not allow video or flash photography. This museum is filled with so many exhibits, many hands-on and others that are made up of life size models that add an incredible level of realism.

One of our kids’ favorite exhibits was the medical scene where the army medics were in the middle of  performing a leg amputation on a wounded soldier.

The slavery exhibits were very moving, and there were videos, sounds effects and life size displays throughout.

National Civil War Museum

You could easily spend several hours to see everything.At the very least, you should block out about 2 hours. Check out my video slide show  of our visit below.

Whitaker Center’s Harsco Science Center

Our second stop was the Whitaker Center’s Harsco Science Center in downtown Harrisburg. The Science Center allows kids to explore and get up close and personal with all kinds of exhibits as well as letting them perform all kinds of experiments.  The hurricane simulator was a huge hit with my boys and my husband too! There was so much to do and see. You can easily spend a day there and not run out of things to do.

Unfortunately, we only had a couple of hours to devote to the center, but we made the most of it and packed a tremendous amount of hands-on fun and learning into those hours. The Whitaker Center is located in downtown Harrisburg and we did find metered parking outside. More to come in a later post. Check out more in our video below.

Hershey’s Chocolate World

After the Whitaker Center we set off to Hershey’s Chocolate World which was about 15 minutes away. Once there, we scheduled our Hershey Trolley Works Tour . There are a couple of different trolley tours you can choose from, but we picked the longer ride with more history of Milton Hershey and more candy!

The trolley is delightful and very vintage with wooden bench seats. It is actually a trolley bus, so it rides directly on the road and not a track. We had a very animated conductor and tour guide which made our experience very informative and fun. We had a great group of fellow passengers who made the tour even more fun.  We learned so much about the Milton Hershey family, the Hershey School and of course the Hershey’s Chocolate Factory and Hershey Park.

When our tour was over,  we went back inside Hershey’s Chocolate World  to embark on the Hershey’s Chocolate Tour, which I have loved since the first time I went on it, way back in 1988! It is a fun tour and our family rode together in a moving car that took us along a track, as we learned about how Hershey’s chocolate is made.  Before the ride we posed for 2 photos, and at the end we presented with a souvenir photo book that we purchased. The tour itself is free, at the end we were each given a snack size Hershey Bar. Guests can take the tour as many times as they like.

Hershey's Chocolate World

The Chocolate Tasting Experience

After that, we were off to the Chocolate Tasting Experience. There is a fee required to attend the tasting and they are held several times throughout the day and evening. We were ushered into what reminded me of a college lecture hall, only not as large.

There were rows of narrow tables with chairs, a center aisle and a stage area at the front with a video screen. The tables were set so all of the participants had a bottle of water, a small brown paper gift bag, an informative placemat, a small cup of real chocolate nibs and a Hershey’s Kiss.  There were table top tablet kiosks that we used to select the flavors we tasted as we sampled the chocolate.

The host explained a bit about different kinds of chocolate and the unsweetened chocolate nibs that were in front of us. He invited us to try the nibs and then the Hershey’s Kiss. After that, it was time to get serious. He explained the water was to rinse our pallet between chocolates. He then showed us a video that explained how to correctly taste chocolate with all of our senses.

After the video, we were instructed to empty our bag which contained 4 different chocolates. We were guided through tasting each chocolate one at a time. Upon tasting each chocolate we paid careful attention to the different flavors, and then entered them on the kiosk. Once everyone in the room had entered their flavors, they were shown on the video screen. At the end, we were given certificates declaring us official Hershey’s Chocolate Tasters along with a full size Hershey bar.

Create Your Own Candy Bar

Now that we had tasted the chocolate, it was time to make the chocolate.  We headed off to the Create Your Own Candy Bar Activity. This is another paid attraction that I highly recommend. Create Your Own Candy Bar takes place at certain times throughout the day and evening.  As we stood on the line we were given aprons and hair caps. Even infants have to wear the hair caps because of the strict regulations.On the plus side, they make for great photo ops.

Once our aprons and hair caps were in place, we were led into an area with several kiosks where we scanned our tickets and entered our name and email address. Then it was on to the next area of kiosks where we selected the kind of chocolate bar we wanted to make. The fist step was to choose milk chocolate or white chocolate for the actual bar. We then chose up to three toppings like pretzels, crisp rice, Heath toffee pieces, chocolate chips and more. All bars are encased in delicious Hershey’s milk chocolate. We were able to add colored sprinkles to the top for a festive touch if we wanted.

When we were finished customizing our chocolate bars, it was time to head off to the assembly line, where we were able to watch every step of the manufacturing process.  This part was really fun, especially for our kids, who were able to see their name and their chocolate bar as it moved along.  When finished, our bars were boxed and then placed in a Hershey’s embossed tin box. At a final kiosk we were able to design the special cardboard sleeve that goes over the tin box.

We ended up doing this attraction again a couple of days later, because we wanted to make custom chocolate bars for our older kids who were not able to join us. Everyone was so happy with their chocolate bars, and I have to say, the bars were absolutely decadent and delicious. The chocolate covering made them absolutely delectable!

create your own candy bar

We browsed the gift store where the kids each choose a Hershey truck and car set, and then we headed off to get a very late dinner. We were all very tired, as it had been a very full day including our drive to Harrisburg.

Hersheypark

The next day, we set off for Hersheypark. The Park has been greatly expanded since my last time here with my older kids. They have added an entire Boardwalk area with tons of water rides, splash areas and more. The addition of this area makes it very hard to do the entire park in 1 or 2 days. You can easily spend an entire day in the Boardwalk area alone.

It was very hot when we were there, and we were so lucky that they weather was nice and sunny because the summer was the rainiest one I remember. In fact, just a few weeks earlier, the area experienced such severe flooding, Hersheypark had to close for at least a day.

Since it was so hot, my kids wanted to spend almost the entire day at the Boardwalk until it closed at 6 pm. After changing, we headed off to check out the rest of the park which closes much later.

The lines for food were the only thing that was unnerving, especially since we had bought the all day dining deal. My husband literally spent 45 minutes online to get food every time. It was not only us, there were dozens of other guests who were very disappointed with the wait times coupled with many restaurants that were listed on the plan being closed.

I have to say, guest services was very receptive and really wanted to make things right. They talked with us at the end of the night and refunded our money because of the fiasco. I do recommend the Souvenir cups apologized to us and refunded our passes because of the issues. This is the only thing I would not recommend even though you might have better luck during the week or at less busy times.

I highly recommend the souvenir cup deal that you buy for one price and are able to have refilled for free with soft drinks or ICEE for 36 hours after purchase and 99 cents after that. Our cups worked for both days for free refills including ICEEs. Free ice water is available throughout the park.

The next day was devoted to Hershey Park as well. It was another hot, sunny day, and our kids wanted to go right to the Boardwalk area. We spent the next several hours there swimming in the wave pool called The Coast, floating on the lazy river called the Intercoastal Waterway, riding the exciting tube slides and water rollercoaster and playing in the immense splash area that is filled with slides, fun structures and of course, two huge buckets that dump water on everyone down below. The Boardwalk has attractions for kids and adults of all ages.

Hershey Park

Hersheypark

When you enter Hersheypark there is an area where you can measure your children, to see where they fall in height. Everyone’s height correlates to a candy. Every ride has a sign in front that shows which “candies”the ride is suitable for. This makes it easy to see if your child is big enough or too big to ride. There are many rides that  adults and kids can go on together, this makes it easy to accompany smaller children.

You can check out a slide show from our Hersheypark trip below. We also have and will be adding more videos and slide shows to our YouTube Channel, so be sure to check it all out to see more.

ZooAmerica

When we were done at The Boardwalk, we headed off to walk thru ZooAmerica,  the zoo at Hersheypark that you can access from the park, and is included with your Hersheypark admission. We walked around looking at the animals. They have nice walkways and exhibits. The animals are divided into groups based on where they live and the kind of animal they are. After ZooAmerica, we ate at a venue in the park that was cafeteria style and had a variety of foods. We were able to get everything from Pizza to Burrito Bowl to Cheesesteaks. It was nice, because everyone got what they wanted, and they also filled our souvenir cups for free.

On one of our previous trips to Hersheypark with my older kids, we incredibly won not one, but two of those enormous black bears at a game where you try to ring the neck of a glass bottle with a plastic ring. We were able to get a bucket of rings for $5. When my four-year old was upset because he was too small to ride the Great Bear roller coaster, I suggested we try our hand at the game while waiting for his dad and siblings to get off the ride.  I was shocked when my four-year old tossed a ring from the bucket right onto the neck of a bottle winning a huge bear.

Later that day, my 9-year-old wanted to try, so I bought one more bucket. That time, it was me that got the ring on the neck of the bottle winning another huge bear. We were certainly glad we had a 7 passenger van, because we had 2 extra passengers on the way home.

My younger boys love those bears and that story, so when we came upon the same game in the same spot, they had to try their hand at it. A bucket of rings was still only $5 and my husband, myself and our two boys started tossing the rings. Within the first few, our  11-year-old got a ring on a bottle (it happened to be one of the special color bottles).

The special bottle meant he won one of the rare jumbo unicorns. However, they were very pink and he really wanted a bear, so they let him get the bear. He was so proud of himself, and his little brother was too!  It must be a family tradition for us, because again we had an extra passenger riding home in the back seat of our minivan.

Hersheypark

Indian Echo Caverns

We stayed at the park until it closed at 11 pm and then returned to the hotel. The next morning, we set out to visit Indian Echo Caverns in Hummelstown, which is a few minutes outside of Hershey. First stop was the gift shop to sign up for our tour, and our kids was enthralled with all the crystals. They also each had to have a miners hard hat with a light that they wore on our cavern tour. Needless to say, we dropped about $100 in the gift shop.

It was not long before we were called for our tour. Our tour guide was enthusiastic and informative.  He took us through the caverns, and entertained us with stories and history. The caverns are amazing! Lots of great photo ops and stellar views. Be aware there are many stairs to climb to go down to the cavern entrance, there are steps to climb in the caverns and upon exiting you need to climb up the stairs again. You cannot bring strollers in the caverns either.

When we emerged from the caverns, we visited the animals on the grounds. They have goats and a turkey, some alpacas and birds of prey. There is a large playground area and picnic tables, if you want to bring a lunch. We had to move right on because we were off to Lake Tobias Wildlife Park. Check out the video below to see more.

Lake Tobias Wildlife Park

We grabbed some lunch on the road, and drove about 30 minutes to Halifax, Pennsylvania where Lake Tobias is located. We discovered Lake Tobias years ago when our oldest three children were young and it made quite and impression on us. I was absolutely astounded at how much the park has grown.

They have so many animals now!  Beyond that, they have the most natural and beautiful habitats for the Lions, Tigers, Bears and more. Everything is so clean including the reptiles and exotics building, where we saw marmosets, a sloth, all kinds of snakes, alligators, lizards, birds and more. Once more, I was impressed with just how pristine this area was and best of all, there were no funky smells.

Lake Tobias has a petting zoo as well as lots of other animals you can pet like zebras and donkeys throughout the park. A few weeks after our visit they added 2 young giraffes to their menagerie.

The safari ride is much like we remembered, they used sawed off school buses as their safari trucks and drive you out onto their  many acres where you get up close and personal with bison, emu, Asian water buffalo, antelope and more who roam freely. You can purchase some snacks like carrots and pellets to feed the animals on the safari. The animals come right up to the safari bus and it is quite amazing! Our kids were so excited and had a blast!

There is a picnic area as well if you want to bring a lunch. Of course, our visit was not complete without a visit to the gift shop where our boys found a couple of plush bear friends to join our huge bear in the back seat. They also selected some more crystals and a few other items. We did get a free Lake Tobias tote bag for spending over $50, so yeah!

Here is a video of our time at Lake Tobias:

We loaded into our van and headed back to Hershey’s Chocolate World, to the Create Your Own Candy Bar attraction, so we could make custom bars for our older kids. We ended up doing the Chocolate Tasting Experience again as well, but this time at the end, we received a snack size bar instead of the full size we got the first time.  I am not sure what is the standard size candy given out now. If you have been to the Chocolate Tasting Experience, let me know what you got at the end.

Everyone was starving when we finished, so we headed off to eat at Houlihans in downtown Hershey. We had a wonderful dinner with a friendly server, great food and comfortable atmosphere. Another day in the books,  and we were ready to load up and make the trek home. I will post more about each specific part of our trip, but wanted to document our entire trip in this comprehensive post.

If you have any questions, please ask in the comments. You can also check out our reviews on TripAdvisor. Have you been to the Hershey Harrisburg area? Let me know in the comments.

 

 

 

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Tips For Planning a Fun Beach Vacation in Phuket with Kids

No matter how experienced a traveler you are, and regardless of how many miles you have trekked as a solo traveler, traveling with kids is an entirely different ball game. It takes planning way beyond your standard travel planning, and you cannot pack as light as you otherwise would. In addition, you have to be very particular about choosing your travel destinations. Interestingly, no matter how well planned your trip is, you should never expect everything to work exactly how you imagine when you are traveling with kids.

If you are planning a vacation with your kids, a beach getaway may be the perfect choice. Beaches are not only meant for sun worshipers and honeymooners, they can be a fantastic destination for kids, since they love sand and water. Phuket would be a great place to head to, since it is renowned for its beaches and is family friendly.  You wallet will be happy too, since Phuket is affordable. Here are some tips that will help you pull off a memorable beach vacation in Phuket.

Plan in Advance

Planning is essential and it cannot be stressed enough that when traveling for kids, this is something you just cannot skip. Plan your itinerary, make a list of supplies that you want to pack and consider your children’s sleep and meal patterns when making your travel plans. Remember that once you arrive, everyone will need to adjust to the time zone change, and how that will affect your sleep schedules.

When traveling changes in times are not the only thing your kids will need to adjust to. Changes in their diet must be considered, especially if you have picky eaters. Finding out about what types of food is available and taking along some foods they like is important. If you have an infant who is still on baby formula, make sure to pack enough as it probably will not be available in Phuket. Scheduling a visit to your child’s pediatrician is imperative, as they can advise you of any important medical issues when traveling abroad.

Do Not Compromise on Accommodations

As a solo traveler, you might not be as finicky about your lodging. In the past you might have accepted almost any type of room or even a bunk at a hostel to crash for the night.  However, it is different with kids, and you should not mind paying slightly more to get a proper hotel room. This does not mean that you need to book some extravagant suit at The Hyatt, but it should be something clean, comfortable and with the necessary amenities at the very least. You can find many three star resorts that will easily fit your budget while providing you with comfortable accommodations so you and your family can rest easy.

Phuket Beach Vacation

Say No to Long Day Trips

Your focus on a beach vacation should be on relaxing and chilling out, rather than being in a rush with exhausting schedules. Day trips sound fun, but they can be a nightmare with kids, especially with the younger ones. Most Phuket excursions will require you to leave very early in the morning, travel long distances, explore the area and be back later in the evening. The whole schedule is very rigorous for younger children who need to rest, nap and eat on time. It is certainly not something to pursue unless you like dealing with cranky, tired children. If you are taking long excursions such as the Koh Phi Phi tour, consider making it an overnight stay rather than a day trip, so your kids can rest and relax.

Phi Phi Island Tour

This is a collaborative guest post. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Mommy Ramblings.

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The Best Tourist Destinations in Victoria, Australia

If you are visiting or living in the great city of Melbourne, you should take advantage of all that Victoria has to offer. With just a few hours of driving, you can reach Victoria and all that it has to offer like, scenic coastal drives, beautiful gardens, amazing Australian wildlife, delicious food, rejuvenating mineral springs and so much more.

All kinds of accommodations can be found in Victoria. Beyond the traditional hotels you can opt to stay at rustic cabins, quaint bed and breakfasts, beachside lodging, mountain retreats, farm stays and many other awesome places to hang your hat.

Below you can check out some of the most popular destinations in Victoria for nature lovers, romantic trips or getaways with family and friends.

Daylesford & Hepburn Springs

Want to experience ultimate relaxation? Check out Daylesford and Hepburn Springs – Victoria’s famed Spa Country. You can choose from more than one hundred natural spa treatments that are sure to leave you well-replenished, or just enjoy the rejuvenating powers of immersing yourself in naturally occurring mineral springs.

Mornington Peninsula

You’ll find this paradise just over an hour from Melbourne, but you’ll feel like you’ve traveled a world away. Strewn along the coast are quiet Victorian seaside towns, lovely sheltered beaches, fancy wineries as well as local markets. Here you can spend your days lounging by the beach in the pleasant Sorrento or Portsea. Enjoy tasting local wines and  gourmet cheese in Red Hill. In Mornington Peninsula everything you want is at your fingertips.

The Dandenongs

Located a mere hour from Melbourne, The Dandenongs is a paradise near the city. Lavish foliage, abundant gardens, forests of tall ash trees, and quaint towns are the charms of Melbourne’s concrete jungle. There’s more to do than just enjoying the nature here. It’s possible to visit here via ferns and gullies on the historic Puffing Billy. Be sure to visit the region’s most famous establishment, Miss Marple’s Tea Room for a delicious taste of scones and tea.

Yarra Valley

Yarra Valley is a real foodie haven in Victoria that’s renowned for its world-famous wineries, beautiful accommodations and fine restaurants. Yarra Valley is a renowned weekend destination both for Melbourne’s visitors and residents. Go out for a stroll, take photos of the rolling vineyards of the valley while on a hot air balloon ride. You can also get up close and personal with wildlife such as dingoes, wombats, platypuses and kangaroos at the Healesville Sanctuary. Don’t forget to savour exquisite meals matched with the some of the region’s best red and white wines to complete your gourmet experience.

High Country

Take in the majestic snowy peaks, pleasant heritage towns, rolling countryside, and superb wineries all while breathing in the fresh alpine air. There’s plenty of ways to enjoy the outdoors in Victoria’s High Country. Sample creative cuisines in Milawa and Beechworth or spend an afternoon sipping wines in Rutherglen. Relish in the amazing scenery by biking or horseback riding through mountain trails. In winter, you can ski or snowboard down the slopes of Mount Buller, Falls Creek and Mount Hotham.

Victorian river trips

Want to fully enjoy Victoria’s natural wonders? Here you can find some of the best river scenes in the world where you and your travel companions can enjoy a plethora of activities. Check out the list of river trips from DriveNow and have a fun weekend break at Victorian Rivers. Take some time to relax  riverside under the sun or swim through unspoiled waters nestled by nature and wildlife.

There you have it! Don’t forget to plan your itinerary in advance to maximise your stay. While you’re at it, it’s best to book your personal transport in advance so you can avoid lines, traffic, and even visit locations that aren’t normally reached by public transportation.

This is a collaborative guest post. The views and ideas expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Mommy Ramblings.

 

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Why Pattaya is the Ultimate Destination For International Travel With Kids

Traveling alone or with another adult is very different to traveling with kids. It is simple just to pack for yourself and hit the road. Beyond that, traveling by yourself is much less expensive than traveling with a family. Since Traveling solo is less expensive it will allow you to travel to more pricey destinations, such as exotic islands.

Traveling to new places is so rich in experiences that no one should have to be deprived of it. However, when kids come along, the thought of traveling is something many parents dread, thanks to the stress, expense and time management issues.

Many parents have to forget about traveling once they have kids, especially embarking on international trips. If they really need a break, they might take turns going on a solo adventure. While this may give mom or dad some relaxing time to unwind, it does not provide for the family to take a trip and build those precious memories.  Kids benefit from traveling as much as adults, it not only rejuvenates them mentally, but also offers them a great learning experience.

If you are a parent, who is reluctant to travel with toddlers or young kids, start by choosing kid-friendly destinations that are not overly expensive. Next, make sure your kids sleep well and eat on time,  so you are not dealing with cranky kids on your trip. Packing a small backpack for each child with snacks and small toys or games is a great idea. If you are not used to traveling internationally with toddlers and are on a tight budget, you should consider Pattaya, Thailand for your next family vacation. Find out below why Pattaya is an excellent choice for families looking to take an international vacation.

Easy to Access

It is no secret that Thailand is one of the cheapest holiday destinations for a country that offers pristine, exotic beaches along with an abundance of nature and entertainment options. However, most families with kids get turned off because the more famous islands require additional flights or overnight road travel.

Fortunately, Pattaya is a mere 3-hour drive from the capital, and families will easily be able to find buses and cabs from the airport. It is recommended that instead of using public transportation, you rent a car from the airport and drive on your own. This way you will be able to travel at your own pace, and your kids can easily rest in the back seat.

Budget Friendly

While it is already well-known that Thailand is one of the most pocket-friendly destinations, not everyone knows Pattaya is the cheapest destination within the country. Pattaya’s location near the capital eliminates the need for additional flights which saves you money right off the bat.

Accommodations are extremely economical. You can find a room at a 5-star beach resort such as the Hilton for about $250, and even less during certain times of the year.  There are also much cheaper three-star, four-star and Airbnb options available to suit every budget and family’s needs.

Attractions for Everyone

Pattaya has a lot to offer for everyone in the family, and your kids are not going to get bored. Let your kids  play in the sand and surf at the lively Pattaya beach while you chill out on one of the lounge chairs or enjoy the water sports.

If you want to experience a more scenic and exotic beach, take a trip to the famous Coral Islands. You can apply online for many more kid-friendly Pattaya tours such as the Cartoon Network water park, Safari World to experience the wild up, close and personal and a beautiful elephant sanctuary.

This is a collaborative guest post. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Mommy Ramblings.

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Traveling with Pre-Existing Medical Conditions

Most of us enjoy traveling, especially during the summer months. Even people who are not in the best health like to get away, and take a trip. Travel may even do them well, because taking time to relax on a vacation can have a restorative effect. Not to mention, a change in scenery can do wonders to lift the spirits and even promote healing.

Just a few decades ago, someone who was elderly, prone to ill-health or infirm would not have dreamt of traveling far. This was understandable, after all, most airports did not cater to their needs. Getting on a plane was an exhausting nightmare that most people could not cope with.

Beyond air travel, many people  worried about what would happen if they got sick while they were away. Up until fairly recently getting comprehensive travel insurance if you were not in good health was all but impossible.

Fortunately, things have changed. Several insurance firms now offer a good level of coverage for the sick, elderly and infirm. An example is the united healthcare pre-existing conditions policy. Provided your condition has been stable for 6 months, you can get a quote from them. In many parts of the world, for example in Europe, the law states that assistance must be provided at the airport and on the plane for disabled or infirm passengers.

As you can see, two of the major hurdles that faced travelers with pre-existing conditions have now been removed. As a consequence, people are  taking advantage of this fact, and traveling more. With a little extra preparation, you can do so too, even if you are not in the best of health. There are just a few extra things you need to take into account.

Travel insurance

When it comes to travel insurance, there are a wider range of policies available now. However, it is very important that you do your research before buying a policy. You need to understand exactly what is covered and what is not.

It is very important to fill in the application form accurately. Failure to do so, can easily invalidate your policy. You also need to understand what you have to do should your condition change between the date you book your vacation and when you actually travel. Normally, you will still be covered, but not following the notification rules, could leave you without proper coverage.

Save The Contact Numbers

Remember to add your travel insurance contact numbers to your phone. Calling  them is a good way to make sure they get put into your mobile correctly. Once you know you have got through to the right place, you can quickly and politely end the conversation. Double-check that you have included the area code and that the numbers are the ones that have been set up so they can be dialed from abroad. It is also worth making a photocopy of these numbers and keeping that in a wallet or purse.

Pack Your Medications

Make sure that you have enough medication to take you through your entire holiday. It is wise to take at least an extra week supply with you. That way if you get delayed, you will not have to worry for a few days.

Double-check that you can legally take your medications into all of the countries you are planning to visit on your trip. You usually can, but how much you can take may be limited. You may also need to carry your prescriptions or other documents with you.

It is also wise to find out what your medications are called in your destination country. Should you lose anything, replacing it should be a lot easier. If you take expensive medications double-check to see if your travel insurance covers replacing any that you lose.

This is a collaborative post. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Mommy Ramblings.

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Top 17 Hiking Essentials

Hiking is an excellent hobby that lets you experience nature, see amazing sights, see wildlife and get a great workout. If you are setting out for a hike, you probably know the importance of a comfortable backpack and good hiking shoes. However, there are some other important items that you should pack before you go on your next hike. Below you will find my list of 17 Top Hiking Essentials that can help you survive if you have an accident, or find yourself in adverse conditions.

Flashlight

A flashlight, lantern or headlamp is an absolute essential. It can get very dark at night and you will need something to light your way. Headlamps are a good choice because they keep your hands free. Most headlamps have different light modes including a strobe mode that can be used to signal for help in an emergency.

Map

You might have all the apps or GPS devices you can imagine, but you need to have a real map with you. Technology can fail and your devices can run out of power. Often, the signal strength is not good out in the mountains or remote areas, so you need to have something to rely on. Topographical maps are the best choice.

Compass

In addition to a good map,  you need to have a compass you can rely on as a backup if those sophisticated GPS devices and apps fail you  Compasses don’t need a power source or batteries, and some come equipped with a sighting mirror that can be used to flash sunlight to signal a helicopter or rescuer in an emergency. Technology is great, but don’t underestimate the importance of tried and true navigation devices.

Sunscreen

Out in the elements, you need to protect yourself from the damaging UV rays of the sun. Don’t forget to pack the sunscreen, and remember to apply it. A sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 is recommended. Check that the sunscreen you choose blocks UVA and UVB rays.

Sunglasses

A good pair of sunglasses are essential. Make sure you choose a quality pair because your eyes are worth it. A key component in a quality lens is the ability to block 100% of ultraviolet light (UVA and UVB). Did you know that UVB rays have been linked to the development of cataracts? Protecting your eyes is very important for your health. Be wary of cheap sunglasses that may put your eyes at risk.

First Aid Kit

Purchasing a ready-made kit is best, because they are designed to have supplies for a variety of issues, and save you the time of building your own. There are specialized first aid kits made for hiking and camping. A well stocked first aid kit will have all types of supplies including a snake bite kit.

Power Bank 

High capacity power banks are perfect to pack along to use if you need to charge your phone or other devices. You may think your phone has a great battery life, but you need to prepare for the unexpected. Power banks can be life-saving if you have an emergency or encounter conditions that cause delays.

Solar Charger

A solar charger can be used to power your smartphone and other electronics if you run out of battery power and deplete additional power banks. Using a solar charger can help you call or message for help if you have a signal.  Many solar chargers include a flashlight and even a compass.

Tools

A good knife and multi-tool are great to use for repairs, food prep, cutting branches or to use in emergency situations You can find all kinds of knives and multi-tools on the market. Choose one that is durable and lightweight.

Hydration

When you are hiking, you need plenty of water. Hydration packs and water bottles are a good way to make sure you have a supply of clean water to drink. There are personal water filters that can be used to turn stream or other water into safe drinking water. Carrying one of these filters can give you peace of mind that you will have life-sustaining water to drink if you are stranded or run out of water.

Emergency Shelter

Even if you are not going on an overnight hike, you should still pack an emergency shelter. You may feel confident that you will not get lost or injured, but it is best to be prepared for the unexpected. Something as simple as a space blanket or lightweight tarp can protect you from wind, rain, snow or sleet while you wait for help.

Safety Whistle

A loud safety whistle should be in your gear. If you need to signal for help, this will be heard a lot farther than your voice.

Insect Repellent

Carry a spray or lotion to protect yourself from biting insects, spiders, ticks and more. Many insects such as ticks can spread deadly disease so, be sure to protect yourself with an insect repellant that works well for the area you are hiking in.

Matches

Waterproof matches stored in a waterproof container can help you build a fire. Whether you need them to start a campfire on an overnight hike, or to light a fire to keep warm or signal for help, dry matches are essential. You pack a butane lighter to use as a backup.

Firestarter

A Firestarter like some dry tinder, candles or special wood soaked nuggets should be kept in a waterproof bag. These items will allow you to quickly get your fire to ignite. Even household dryer lint can be used.

Food

Don’t forget to pack extra food even on day hikes. Food items that are light but have good nutritional value are dried meats, nuts, protein bars and dried fruits.

Extra Clothing

Weather conditions can change rapidly, so pack an additional layer of clothing to protect yourself from the elements. Choose your clothing based on the season and the worst weather conditions you could face.

Hiking and camping are fun activities the whole family can enjoy. Preparing for emergencies and adverse conditions will give you peace of mind, and help keep you safe if you encounter trouble. How do you prepare for a hike? Do you have any important tips to share? I would love to read them in the comments.

 

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4 Things You Must See When Visiting Phuket, Thailand

Phuket, the largest island in Thailand is also one of the major tourist spots in Southeast Asia. It is listed among the best beaches in the world, and rightly so. Even some of the most exotic and expensive beach resorts in Africa and the Caribbean cannot match this tropical Southeast Asian beauty.

To top it off, it is by far one of the cheapest beach locations in the world. If you are flying into Phuket from the West, the airfare might put a bit of a dent on your wallet, but other than that everything else is pretty reasonable.

Phuket has an international airport but it does not host many international flights, so in case your airline does not offer a direct connection to Phuket, you might have to travel through Bangkok, which makes the journey a bit tedious. For this reason, we suggest dedicating at least a full week to Phuket so that you can relax and enjoy it to its fullest.

Phuket is not a place for day-tripping, and even a 2-day stay is not enough to see it all. If you are heading towards Phuket, here are four things that you must do.

Koh Phi Phi

Koh Phi Phi, popularly known as the Phi Phi Island is the biggest claim to fame is the famous Leonardo DiCaprio Hollywood flick The Beach (2000). Yes, the movie was shot right here on this island. However, even if you are not a movie buff, the island itself is way too serene and beautiful to be missed out.

If your stay in Phuket is for an extended period, we would highly recommend spending a night or two in Koh Phi Phi. However, if you do not have to do that, at least a day trip on this pristine white beach is a must.

Phang Nga Bay

Another divinely beautiful spot near Phuket is the Phang Nga Bay, which is famous for the beautiful limestone formations erected out of the emerald-green sea water. Phang Nga Bay is also home to James Bond Island, which got its name after two Bond movies were shot here. There is a lot to do in Phang Nga Bay, but some of the must-dos are limestone cliffs, the hongs, and Koh Panyee.

We recommend that you take a long tail boat from the eastern side of Phuket to shorten your travel time to Phang Nga Bay. Some luxury travelers also prefer taking a private speedboat or a Yacht which allows greater independence and shorter travel times. You might want to check out https://online-phuket.com for some great excursion deals to Phang Nga Bay to suit your preferences.

Phuket Fantasea

The scope of entertainment in Phuket goes way beyond beaching and island hopping, and Phuket Fantasea is a classic example. This happening cultural theme park that hosts over 4000 people every day is a landmark in Phuket’s nightlife. It offers a variety of shows and exciting performances along with tantalizing eating options.

Soi Bangla

Phuket is a town that seldom sleeps, and if you are looking for some late night fun, Bangla Street is your place to be. This beautiful street that stretches at over 400 meters come to life right after sunset and stays festive till the wee hours of the morning. The road is decorated with colorful neon lights and is home to many pubs, bars, cafes, eateries, nightclubs, and shopping places.

 

This is a sponsored guest post, the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Mommy Ramblings.

 

 

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5 Days on the French Riviera

5 Days on the French Riviera

Having a year-round holiday vibe, the French Riviera or Cote d’Azur epitomizes the joie de vivre. Enjoy and see it yourself, the good-life spirit in the Riviera’s coastal resort towns and up high in perched villages clinging to the foothills of the Alps. Play in the maze of old-city alleys, find out what’s new at the Provencal markets, go on road trips full of picture-perfect views and appreciate summer sound of cigales. In the five days in the Cote d’Azur sample itinerary, we’ll take you to the very best sites and sounds of the French Riviera.

Where to Stay in the French Riviera?

If you’re looking for a non-stop action and the city life, Nice is perfect for you. Later in this guide, you’ll learn that Nice has a good boardwalk, many dining and drinking options, and casinos. Since it is the fifth largest city in France, Nice has a lot of accommodation to choose from the suits all your tastes and budget – from French Riviera home rentals, apartments to five-star hotels.

French Riviera Travel Tips

  • Cote d’Azur is a year-round holiday destination, and best enjoyed during the shoulder seasons from April to June and September to October. During these months, the weather is great for all types of activities, tourists and visitors haven’t yet arrived or have left already, and the traffic isn’t bad.
  • You can tour around by foot in the Cote d’Azur major towns such as Antibes, Cannes, and Nice, and even use the train or bus to get from one destination to the other. Much better if you can rent a car, as it will open up the beautiful countryside for exploration.
  • Some of the museums are usually free on bank holidays and on the first Sunday of the month.
  • There are so many excellent products to bring back as souvenirs such as jams, olive oil, lavender, perfume, and many more, so consider paying for your extra luggage for the return back home.
  • If you’re into Scuba diving, there are few dive clubs in and around the Antibes.

Day 1: Arrive in Nice, Explore Nice

Most flights arrive into Nice in the late morning or early afternoon depending on where you are traveling from. Check into your hotel and then spend the rest of the day discovering the streets of Nice.

Tour along the Promenade des Anglais, a paved walkway along the coastline of Nice. Climb the Castle Hill to see the entire view of Nice. Go to Old Nice (Vieux Nice), a picturesque part of town with narrow streets, many cafés and restaurant, and colorful buildings.

Day 2: Villefranche-sur-Mer and Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat

On the second day, explore the many scenic towns in the Cote d’Azur.

Villefranche-sur-Mer is located on the coast just east of Nice. You can get in this town by hiring a taxi, which is the easiest way. Spend half your day exploring the calm and colorful streets of Villefranche-sur-Mer. There are few great restaurants you can find along the water’s edge, a good place for your lunch.

After lunch, grab another taxi and go to Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild on Cap Ferrat. This Villa is a mansion that was constructed in 1905 by a rich baroness. The house is just stunning and most tourists visit here to see its beautiful gardens.

A few minutes away from Villa Ephrussi is the Saint Jean Cap Ferrat where you can rest in the small beach and harbor. To appreciate the beauty of the town, walk along the Promenade Maurice Rouvier to Beaulieu-sur-Mer. From this place, you can grab a taxi going back to Nice.

End your day with dinner and drinks in Nice.

Day 3: Monaco

Spend your third day in the French Riviera by exploring Monaco. But, if you have enough time to relax on the beach in Nice, it’s better before going to Monaco.

After your sumptuous meal, take a 20-minute train ride from Nice to Monaco.

In Monaco, tour along the harbor, as this is the place to go yacht watching. Other amazing ways to enjoy Monaco are gambling at the Monte Carlo Casino, walk through the Japanese Gardens and see Prince Rainier III’s private collection of cars. After that, grab a drink at Café de Paris Monte Carlo.

After dinner in Monte Carlo, catch the train going back to Nice.

 

Day 4: Antibes and Cannes

Your journey continues along the coast of Cote d’Azur. Catch the train from Nice to Antibes, which will take you about 20 minutes.

In Antibes, you’ll see the largest yachting harbor in Europe – the Port Vauban. It is larger than the harbor in Monaco.

Walk along the coastline of Antibes and visit their interesting museums such as Picasso and Absinthe Museum. From Antibes, ride a train going to Cannes, it’s just 7 minutes away from Antibes. Cannes is known for its luxury hotels and its annual Cannes Film Festival. Spend your day on the beach, sip a drink in Ritz-Carlton Hotel, or experience the Italian cuisine at one of the several restaurants on docks perched over the ocean.

The annual Cannes Film Festival runs for ten days in mid-May.

Catch the train going back to Nice.

Day 5: Drive the French Riviera to Marseille

For your fifth and final day, rent a car and drive some of the most picture-perfect roads in France. Between Monaco and Nice, there are three cornices, winding roads along the mountainous coastline. They are easy to drive and will give a tourist a different view of the Cote d’Azur than from the shoreline.

 

This is a sponsored guest post. The views and words do not necessarily represent those of Mommy Ramblings.

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Cracker Barrel Old Country Store is Your Destination for Homestyle Southern Cooking

I cannot believe it is the beginning of April, and we have ice all over the trees. The weather has been so crazy here in the northeast. We recently took a trip up to Binghamton, and it was downright nasty out. Coming home we found ourselves dealing with freezing rain. Thankfully, we made it home safe! One of the best things about that night, was having dinner at Cracker Barrel Old Country Store

As soon as we crossed the threshold into the country store, we stepped back in time. It was as if we were teleported back in time to an old-fashioned general store.

Glancing around we saw classic toys, old-fashioned candies, apparel, home and garden accessories on our way toward the dining room, which is adorned with oak tables and chairs. We can count on Cracker Barrel to have a warm fire burning which warmed our bodies and souls. We were fortunate to be seated at a table in front of the large hearth and fireplace. There are mind teaser puzzles on the table, as well as, all kinds of nostalgic items hanging on the dining room walls.

Cracker Barrel has an extensive menu including all day breakfast, with so many great southern favorites, it is hard to choose. We had a friendly server who did not mind allowing us some extra time to look over the menu.

My husband ordered the Country Fried Shrimp which consists of a half pound of buttermilk-battered shrimp and Cracker Barrel’s signature hush puppies served with tangy cocktail sauce.  He was able to pick three country sides to go with his dinner. My husband chose a side salad (counts as 2 sides) and pinto beans.

One of our sons and I each ordered the 10 oz. Rib Eye Steak cooked medium with three sides, He picked fries, macaroni and cheese and apple slices and I choose a baked potato and green beans.

Our youngest son had the Chicken Tenderloins which can be ordered marinated and grilled or crispy friend with BBQ or Honey Mustard sauce. He wanted them crispy fried and with BBQ sauce. For his sides he had corn, fries and macaroni and cheese. A large plate of their made from scratch Buttermilk Biscuits and Corn Muffins was brought for all of us.

The kids had homestyle lemonade and raspberry lemonade, I had coffee which our waitress refilled promptly and my husband had sweet tea.

After dinner myself, my husband and one of our sons ordered  one of the Frozen Mug Sundaes with Roasted Almonds. Our other son had the Double Chocolate Fudge Coca-Cola Cake which is served warm with rich, creamy vanilla ice cream. I had a bite and it was delicious! My husband and I each had one of their new hand crafted mocha lattes which are served with chocolate syrup drizzled whipped cream.

Needless to say, we were warm and stuffed with good, old-fashioned southern cooking when we left. One nice thing about taking a road trip is that you can usually find a Cracker Barrel along the way. They are usually located in areas that make it easy to get off and on the highway. I love that they have so many locations, over 600 stores in over 40 states.  It is nice that even when traveling to new places, I can count on Cracker Barrel to make us feel right at home.

So, let me know if you love Cracker Barrel as much as I do. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

A big plate of their made from scratch Buttermilk Biscuits and Corn Muffins was brought for all of us.

This post was sponsored by Cracker Barrel who provided us with gift certificates for dinner. As always, my words and views are 100% my own.

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5 Scams You Should Look Out For When Visiting New York City

New York City is not only a magnet for people with a knack for success and penchant for audacious dreams, but also attracts tens of millions of tourists each year. For hundreds of years, entrepreneurs, capitalists and tourists have all played a part in making it arguably the most important city in the world.

Yet, the money-making reputation of NYC is simultaneously its greatest strength and its worst weakness. The Big Apple has no shortage of con artists who will zero in on visitors with shady, but seemingly irresistible offers.

Some tourists opt for hop on hop off bus tour specials as a way of keeping a safe distance between them and potential scammers. Whereas that is prudent, knowing the most common scams can go a long way in making sure you don’t lose your cash and possessions to persons with ill intent. The following are five of the most notorious scams in New York.

Tickets for the Staten Island Ferry

One of the best ways to see New York’s harbor and strike another borough off your bucket list is to board the Staten Island ferry. An iconic feature of daily New York life for years, many lifelong relationships have been established aboard the ferry. Sadly, there’s an elaborate and persistent scam operation that seeks to take advantage of tourists’ eagerness to ride the ferry.

Staten Island ferry has been free since 1997, but the majority of first-time visitors will not know that. Expect to meet street hawkers keen on selling you ferry tickets. They’ll claim that they had bought the tickets, but for some reason, no longer need to board. They’ll purport to sell you the tickets at an attractive discount. Do not pay any attention to them else you’ll end up with a worthless piece of paper.

‘Buy my Music’

This scam started elsewhere, but is now a source of anguish in many parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn. A ‘musician’ donning headphones approaches and persuades you to listen to his music. Since you want to be polite, you give in to his request. Shortly thereafter, the ‘musician’ will shove a CD in your hand and pressure you to buy it.

If you insists on not buying, the musician’s demeanor will quickly change and in certain cases, he’ll summon his colleagues to demand that you buy the CD. The end result is you walking away with a music CD you didn’t want and parting with your hard-earned cash in the process. Worse still, the CD might not have any music on it.

Costume Characters in Time Square

Costume characters are at Times Square for much of the day. They range from superheroes and cartoon characters to body-painted denudes. Costume characters can add to the fun of a New York visit and they’ll often ask tourists to pose for photos with them. They expect a tip afterwards, which is only fair.

The scam here is that some costume characters get loud and confrontational if they are dissatisfied with the tip. They know first-time visitors will cough up more cash just to avoid the embarrassment. Always remember that you are under no obligation to tip more unless you had agreed on the value of the tip beforehand.

Of course, not all costume characters are obnoxious extortionists. However, as a tourist, you do not know which ones are honest, so it’s best to stay away.

Subway Pickpockets

Whereas anyone riding the subway must always be on the lookout for pickpockets, this is especially important for visitors. Your dressing and disposition can give you away as a tourist and this will make you a prime target for thieves. It’s hard enough keeping an eye on subway pickpockets when you are sober. It’s much worse when you are inebriated.

If you are tipsy, not only will you be vulnerable to conventional pickpockets, but you’ll also be in the crosshairs of ‘lush workers’. Lush workers target sleepy or intoxicated passengers and use a razor blade to cut open pockets and bags. Avoid carrying valuables or significant amounts of cash when using the subway to minimize your losses just in case you fall victim.

Central Park Pedicabs

You’ve probably already seen New York pedicabs online or on television before you arrive. It’s a pretty enticing proposition to sit in a rear cab as a friendly driver pedals around Midtown Manhattan or Central Park explaining the different landmarks in the process. In theory, it’s an awesome way to soak in the sights and sounds of the city.

Unfortunately, this is a ride that can deplete your finances far faster than you had anticipated. It all comes down to the duration of the trip, unclear rates and the presence of extra fees. Pedicabs make exorbitant profits off of tourists.

The city has created certain rules to put a stop to this. This includes the requirement to have a clear sign on the pedicab showing the per minute charge (that’s right, per minute!). The pedicabs move very slowly, so your bill can accumulate rapidly. Stay away from pedicabs, but if you must use them, make sure it is licensed and the pricing is clearly indicated.

New York is not much different from many large cities around the world. Criminals and scam artists will always look for an opportunity to make a quick buck off an unsuspecting tourist. Those visitors who do not take necessary precautions may end up leaving the city without their money and/or personal items. Knowing the most common tricks scammers use will help make your NYC vacation one whose memories you’ll treasure for years to come.

This is a sponsored guest post. The views and ideals expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect those of Mommy Ramblings.

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