Well, it’s been a whole year since I started the ole travel blog and I decided to reflect on the last year of travel. I am going to talk about the best place(s) we ate (sometimes it is too hard to choose one), the best place(s) we visited, the best place(s) we hoteled, and the best thing(s) we did. Of course, I will give you an overall snapshot of our travels at the end of the post, so you can get some travel inspiration. Sit back, relax, and make 2017 the year you get out there and travel in those vacation pants!!! Hope you start planning that next vacay, stat!
Top Vacation Pants Destination(s) 2016
And the winner is…
HOT SPRINGS, Arkansas
We visited some amazing places this year, (please see our little travelogue overview at the end of this post) but Hot Springs was like no other place we have ever visited before. I wrote a travel guide to this little gem. Check it out here. The combination of affordable travel, hotel, and activities, plus the overall wonderment of this turn of the century town and national park made this place stand out. My daughter has already planned a trip to go back when she turns ten, so she can try the bath house. If you want to see the Southern United States and get a taste of what life must have been like in the early 1900s, I would definitely check out this town.
Honorable Mentions – Destinations
COKI POINT, Saint Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands
One of our stops on the Disney Cruise we took this year was the gorgeous island of Saint Thomas. We took a taxi across the island to Coki Point and taught our 5 year old and 7 year old how to snorkel. The water was crystal clear and warm. It was pretty much a tropical paradise. We tipped a nice guy five bucks to watch our stuff on the beach while we snorkeled the day away. It was a great experience for all.
SABINE WILDLIFE REFUGE, Louisiana
What ended up being a bathroom stop ended up being a wonder to behold. The picture above is just a glimpse of the beauty of the swampland of the south. On our short little hike we saw alligators, turtles, snakes, and more. Don’t miss this precious little gem if you are ever driving through southern Louisiana.
Top Hotel(s) of 2016
and the winner is…
HICKSVILLE PINES AND CHALETS in Idyllwild, California
Technically this is a cabin in the woods, but this newly opened retreat is just too cool to not stay at. There are 9 themed rooms that are unique in their own right, but then add in the free rec room/arcade, jacuzzi hot tub under the trees, and selection of fun things to do in your room and we never wanted to leave. We are already planning our next vacation there. We highly recommend the Nerd Room. It has a bunk bed and a Dungeons and Dragons Room, plus a vintage table top arcade cabinet on free play, so you can play to your heart’s content. Enjoy!
Honorable Mentions – Hotels
HOTEL CERVANTES, Old San Juan, Puerto Rico
I have never been to Spain, but my hubby has, and he told me that San Juan has that old Spanish feel. Hotel Cervantes had that elegant old world charm that exceeded my expectations. The pic is of my son on the balcony that was attached to our room. Our in-laws stayed in the suite and had the classiest room I’d ever seen. (I’m talking elevator-opens-into-your-hotel-room kind of cool.) It was conveniently located within walking distance of the beautiful Castillos and amazing places to eat. It truly was a delightful stay.
SQUAW PEAK HILTON RESORT, Phoenix, Arizona
Well, if you are looking for one of those “don’t have to leave the resort to have fun” getaways, then this is the place for you. First off, all the rooms are suites, so that’s a major plus for traveling families. It also has a water park that is included in your stay and it is open (and heated) year round. Hello???!!! Lazy river, water slide, and more. We also putt putted and hiked around the area. At the end of the stay, we didn’t want to leave.
COUNTRY LAKES INN RESORT, Hot Springs, Arkansas
One more place that really knocked our socks off was a little locally owned resort in Hot Springs. All the rooms had a beautiful view of the lake and a little kitchen to do all your cooking. Let’s be real, we really only used the microwave to zap some meals, so we could play. Then there was the swim dock. That’s my son diving into the warm waters of Lake Hamilton. You can’t beat the price either.
Top Dining of 2016
So I’m not really a super adventurous eater, and am definitely not rating food on a fine dining scale. I rate my dining experiences on service, atmosphere, and most importantly, the taste of the food. So I guess you can call me a fast food foodie, if that is even a thing. When I travel we always go to local places that we can’t eat at home, so I guess that’s a little adventurous.
And the winner is…
CHEF RON’S GUMBO STOP, Metaire, Louisiana
Just outside of New Orleans is a restaurant you have to stop at. The wait was out the door, but it was totally worth it. My husband often dreams about the BBQ Shrimp Po Boy he got there. The Gumbo is out of this world. I’m not really a seafood fan, so I got the Roast Beef Po Boy. It was so good. Cooked to perfection. You will come across a lot of amazing food in and around New Orleans, but don’t forget to make the stop at Chef Ron’s.
Honorable Mentions – Dining
PURPLE COW, Hot Springs, Arkansas
My kids still talk about the purple vanilla ice cream they got to have at The Purple Cow, an adorable little diner in Arkansas. We thought it would be a fun atmosphere to hang out with the kiddos in, but it was so much more. Everyone that worked there had that amazing southern charm, and the food was exceptionally good. I highly recommend the burgers and the buffalo chicken sandwich, and of course a purple dessert of some kind. Yum!
The Dining Options on the Disney Wonder, Cruise Ship
I can’t go without giving a shout out to the food of the Disney Wonder. I mean, it is the best of the best. I don’t think any of us had a single complaint about the food selections. Mickey pretzels, Disney Park style chicken tenders, and made to order burgers by day, and steak, lobster, and other fine dining delicacies by night. It was quite the adventure for a very unadventurous eater like myself. I even ate some escargot and it was pretty good.
Best Activities of 2016
And the winner is.
BIG RIVER BEACH, Mendocino, California
Big River Beach is a FREE public beach, but if you walk down the beach a bit it becomes your own private paradise complete with waterfall lagoons, sea caves, and ocean views that you never thought possible. There is also a nice combination of waves verses calm waters. This is because the fresh water from a river meets the ocean here. I cannot believe a beach like this exists in my home state of California.
Honorable Mentions – Things To Do
THE CASTILLOS OF OLD SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico
I have never before stood in a structure so old and full of history. My family had so much fun walking through all the nooks and crannies of the Castillos of San Juan. Castillo San Felipe del Morro and Castillo San Cristobal are situated on top of cliffs in Old San Juan. You pay a nominal fee to enter one and save your receipt and you can get into the other one. There is so much to see and do and both places take you back in time. Plus, you get some of the best ocean views you’ll ever see. There is even a lookout in the restroom. Make sure you check it out when you visit. There is also a free tram that goes around the city, so you can catch that and get dropped off at different locations throughout Old San Juan.
ESCATAWPA NATURE TRAIL, Moss Point, Mississippi
What started as a bathroom stop at the Mississippi Welcome Center turned into a family hiking adventure we will never forget. My husband found this trail off to the side of the Welcome Center, so we decided to check it out. The area had just gotten a lot of rain at the time we traveled, and the trail was covered in puddles of water at parts. We were going to turn back, but the kids insisted we continue the adventure, and I am so glad we did. After hiking through some rather large puddles of water we got to some beautiful views of Mississippi that we would have never seen otherwise. Sometimes it pays to just follow your nose when traveling.
JUNGLE GARDENS, Avery Island, Louisiana
After taking the awesome Tabasco factory tour, we headed over to the Jungle Gardens. This place was incredible. So much wildlife, so much beautiful vegetation. Yeah, you can just drive though the whole thing, but you will miss some great things if you do. Get out at the stopping points and take it all in.
RECIPROCAL GARDEN PASS – All Over the Place
I bought a year pass to gardens all over the place. The main pass was for The LA Arboretum in Arcadia, but we only went there a few times. We used the pass to go to so many cool gardens. I love that so many cities have gardens dedicated to the beauty and preservation of nature. It was fun traveling around to them for a year.
So now it is time to check out a snapshot of our year in travel. Let me know what you want to know more about and I may dedicate a post to it in 2017.
Thank you for following our adventures this year. Be sure to follow us on social media and share anything you find helpful or interesting.
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