Craft the Travel, Worldschooling

Salem, Boston & The Cape

Daily I receive emails about great prices on flights across the US. One day in early August I jumped on roundtrip tickets from Dallas to Boston and it clicked! October + Massachusetts = a visit to SALEM!

I quickly joined a few facebook groups on Salem, MA to learn about the must-sees & stays. Luckily I was still early enough to find availability at The Hotel Salem on Essex and what a great location that choice was. After arriving at Boston-Logan Airport, we used a pre-booked car service called BeDriven. They were waiting for us at baggage claim and dropped us in Salem about 40 minutes later. The Hotel Salem is located on Essex Street in the center of the ‘the pedestrian mall‘, so any car service has to drop you at one of the two ends of the mall, but the hotel is just a 2-minute walk from either end into the center of the mall.

The location is beyond perfect and in the absolute center of all the action! Within a 5 to 15-minute walk West you have The Witch house,

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Gallow Hills Theater, The McIntire Historic District, Life Alive, The Ugly Mug Diner, The Soup Factory,

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The Boston Hot Dog Company, The Melt Ice Cream,

and The Salem Haunted Magic Show. Then within a 5 to 15-minute walk to the East you have the Witch History Museum, Hocus Pocus Tours, The Witch City Mall,

Peabody Essex Museum, Red’s Sandwich Shop, Brew Box Coffee & Breakfast, The Burying Point Cemetery, The Salem Witch Trials Memorial,

Bambolina Pizza, Turtle Alley Chocolates, Scratch Kitchen and The House of Seven Gables. Sprinkled in all around are all kinds of local artisan shops.

Special to The Hotel Salem is a rooftop restaurant and bar and a basement bar. Some of the other local hotel choices would be the Hawthorn Hotel or the Salem Waterfront Hotel to the East of the pedestrian mall, while to the West would be the Salem Inn.  We arrived on the 30th of October, had the afternoon to explore to the West of our hotel and took our trolley tour with Gallow Hills that night.

The crowds were light to medium on the 30th (a Tuesday). On the 31st we explored East of the Hotel, avoided areas that were really crowded (saving those for the next day), attended a magic (mentalist) show in the early evening and watched the firework show from the rooftop in the later evening. The crowds were medium and grew to heavy on the 31st (a Wednesday). Overall I found the 31st in Salem family friendly as long as you keep in mind that the evening is Salem’s Mardi Gras. Lots of Police on the streets and clearly the city was organized and ready for the crowds. Our hotel allowed us on the roof for the 15-minute firework show, but that was an exception as the area is 21 and up. On the 1st we went back to the crowded areas (like the Burying Point Cemetary) and had the place to ourselves.

The lack of crowds on the 1st was GREAT for my photography of the area and buildings, but several restaurants and shops took the day off so may not be ideal if you missed them the day before.  The 3 days we booked for the area were the perfect choice for our needs, to celebrate Halloween in Salem, and to also see the local history and landscape. If you were an adult only group seeking the Halloween-Witch vibe you may prefer to arrive on the 29th and depart the 1st to have more time to see the town of Salem in its full Halloween action.

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On the 2nd, our trip took us down to Hyannis, MA. We had been studying the Mayflower, Pilgrims and historical settlement of America, so it was a natural progression to transition from Halloween and Salem to the time of Thanksgiving and Plymouth. Honestly, I didn’t know beforehand how hands-on, beautiful and well organized Plymouth would be. We learned about a place called Plimoth Plantations.

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I went online and purchased the package of tickets (3 places) for Plimoth Plantations, Plimoth Grist Mill and the ‘What would you do experience?’.  At Plimoth Plantations, you experience a living history Museum set in 17th century Plymouth. Actors play the rolls as if you are in that time. The environment was built as it would have existed in 1627.  These photos below in circles are from a postcard set I purchased in Plymouth. Click each circle for photo descriptions and details.

The setting is 7 years after landing on ‘Turtle Island’ which is what the Wampanoag called ‘America’. When you first arrive you watch a brief video explaining the experience and getting a little back history. You head out on the trail and first visit a Wampanoag site. A winter house, a summer house and the making of a canoe. Wampanoag natives are on site to talk to you about their lives. Fascinating insight about things like how the English thought they had ‘magic fires’ because their wood didn’t smoke and pop, but it was because the natives new to only burn seasoned wood or their homes would be filled with smoke. Their society was Matriarchal…but because the English were a Patriarchal society they felt more comfortable talking to sons or brothers of the female chief and recorded history to reflect that.

After spending time with the tribe, we moved on to the 17th-century colonialist’s village. Here you could enter any of the homes, talk to the inhabitants and learn about their lives. These people came mainly for two reasons. They were fleeing for religious freedom or for better work/financial opportunities in their lives. They committed to 7-year labor contracts in exchange for 20 acres of land.  The contract term and amount of land could vary but that was the general arrangement. Jobs were scarce and the opportunity at land ownership was small in England, so making this incredible journey to the new colonies gave them a shot at both. Half of the original settlers died the first winter, but numbers steadied after that and more colonialists joined the following years.

After the Plimoth Plantation, we left and headed about 10 minutes into downtown Plymouth. We parked at the Plimoth Grist Mill where we learned how a Grist Mill works to make cornmeal. Awesome place that not only manages the actual production of product for local eateries but shares the knowledge of the process for educational purposes.

From there you can take a 10-minute walk to town for lunch at a pub, tavern or cafe OR hike 10 minutes down a lovely path towards the waterfront experience and Plymouth Rock.

We opted for lunch first at Will & Co Cafe and then on to the ‘What Would You Do?’ waterfront experience.

There we played a character on the Mayflower and followed a storyline to learn about their life. We took in gorgeous views from the Plymouth pier and found Plymouth Rock and the Pilgrims Memorial all in the area too.

We took the pathway back towards the Mill and our car through Jenney Pond Park adorned with gorgeous fall foliage and a babbling brook.  Plymouth is a JEWEL and a must visit for any history loving family.

We lucked out in finding a Whale Watching tour that was running its last voyage for the season on Sunday the 4th.

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We rode a 128 ft speedboat traveling about 30 knots (35mph) out of Cape Cod Bay just past Provincetown, MA.

This journey was about an hour out to sea and brought us to a spot where a few whale families were feeding before they leave the area for warmer waters. Several whales passed the boat and gave us their signature out-of-water tail flips.

We love boats and water and the whale sightings made it a special journey. We were back in the harbor just after 1pm, so we took the afternoon to drive all the way around the Cape to Provincetown. We made several stops along the way at scenic and beach lookouts.

We found the most beautiful, gothic memorial out in Provincetown, The Pilgrim Memorial.

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We climbed to the top and took in the 360-degree views of the area just before sunset.

Then we made the hours drive back to Hyannis to our cozy hotel, Courtyard by Marriott. The Courtyard was just what we needed, good quiet night’s sleep, friendly helpful staff (Hi James!), on-site breakfast and a place for me to do a load of laundry while Sebastian swam in the warm pool. I really contemplated trying to find a day to head over to Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard, but it just didn’t happen this trip…so I guess I am forced to return. 😉

On Monday, the 5th, we took the morning easy, packed up and made the trip back to Boston. We checked into the Sheraton in Copley Square, turned in our rental car and walked around Boston Common & Chinatown.

We enjoyed eating Hot-Pot at Shabu Zen (Thanks, Sherry!). Sebastian cooked the meats in a Miso Soup and I cooked the vegetables in a Spicy Thai Soup. We loved the fish paste and avocado smoothie too!

Tuesday, the 6th, was our final full day. We took a Duck Tour with Scott Milk. It was funny, entertaining and full of history and tidbits about Boston.

After we launched into the Charles River, Sebastian had the opportunity to drive the vessel a portion of the way.

After the tour, we grabbed a bit to eat and explored around Copley Square. We were starting to hit a wall of walking/trip fatigue and I wished we could have walked the Freedom Trail, we just didn’t have 2 and a half more miles in us. We went up into the Skywalk Observatory, but low clouds had come into the area and really diminished the visibility, so we made our way back to the hotel and spent the evening swimming & dining. We really enjoyed the location of the Sheraton. It is connected internally with a shopping mall, so despite the rain and cold, we could walk from our room and straight down to the mall and restaurants.

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My favorite part of the trip was Plymouth. It was a wonderful, beautiful surprise and I loved the way our trip transitioned from Salem at Halloween to Plymouth in November (honoring Thanksgiving). I highly recommend this trip to anyone with a passion for history, education and fall foliage!

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If you have Instagram and want to see our stories from the trip, look here at Salem, Plymouth, The Cape, and Boston. All the professional pictures I shot on the trip are HERE on LoveCameraEarth.com. If you want assistance planning a get-away to Massachusetts, email me at bookit@CraftTheTravel.com.

Craft the Travel

The Bahamas – SO much more than you think.

Did you know that there are 700 islands, of which 30 are inhabited, and about 2,400 cays (coral reefs) in the Bahamas? It is SO MUCH MORE than just Paradise Island, Nassau! There are several popular islands in what are called ‘the out islands’ of the Bahamas. On this trip, we visited Abaco and Eleuthera. We took Southwest Airlines into Ft. Lauderdale and then used Silver Airways to take us into Marsh Harbor, Abaco. We chartered a power catamaran called GOYA through Dream Yacht Charters. She is a 37′ cat by Fountaine Pajot with 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, living, kitchen, covered flybridge with helm and dinghy. We lived on her for 8 days, 7 nights and anchored or docked somewhere different every night of our journey. It was amazing!

Our Captain, Keino, is a 500-ton Captain, native to the Bahamas and one of the neatest people we have had the pleasure of meeting! He taught us all a ton about living on board a boat, driving, anchoring, docking, GPS navigation, but also so much about the different islands and cays we visited. The trip would not have been the same without him!

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We left Marsh Harbor, Abaco and headed North. We made our way to Great Guana Cay, had a meal at Nipper’s and on to Piggeyville on No Name Cay. There we found adorable mommy and baby pigs as well as roosters & hens.

We continued on North to Nunjack (Munjack) Cay where we cooked out beachside, swam with the stingrays and docked overnight. The next day we explored the other side of the island and found 1 lone house, ‘The Cooper Cottage’.

From Nunjack, we made our way back South and made our next stop at Treasure Cay and dinner at Coco Beach where these gorgeous, beach shots were taken at sunset.

During the trip, Keino taught Sebastian to launch, start and drive the Dinghy. He learned it quickly and was promoted to Dinghy Captain and drove us around any time we needed a ride up to an island, marina or cay. Needless to say, he loved it!

We made our way back to base at Marsh Harbor, where we re-provisioned and filled our fresh water tank. We also had access to a laundry mat at base and it was great to do wash and start fresh on the next leg of our trip. We experienced warm to hot temperatures and bouts of daily rain which made for fantastic views and colors in the sky.

We started our leg South and made a stop in Hope Town, Elbow Cay. Toured the last operating kerosene lighthouse and stopped for a swim in ‘Tahiti’ (aka Tahiti Beach).

Our last night in Abaco was at Little Harbour. It is also the farthest marina South, so a perfect launching point for our early morning departure the next day to Eleuthera. Our entire Abaco adventure is HERE on my Instagram. We left early that next day at 6am to cross the Atlantic down to Eleuthera. Our Instagram journey to Eleuthera starts HERE. We traveled at 8 knots and made it in 6 hours. That early morning time on the water was stunning and peaceful. It was a magical morning watch the sunrise over the ocean.

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We only crossed paths with a cruise ship making its way to Nassau. Upon our arrival to Eleuthera, we made our way through the devil’s backbone to visit Harbour Island. We rented a golf cart, drove all over the island, visited the pink sand beach and had lunch at Valentine’s.

Our time came to an end aboard GOYA, we were sad to leave the yachting life we quickly became enamored with. It was also hard to say goodbye to Keino as by this point he was now officially our adopted brother. NOT to worry! Another trip is just around the corner.

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After we left Keino and GOYA, we took a rent car from Jean’s bay dock on the North end of Eleuthera down towards Gregory town. We stopped on the ‘glass bottom bridge’ and at the Queen’s bath to take in the views.

We stopped for the night at Kathy’s Airbnb/VRBO and enjoyed her home very much. It had the most delightful, pristine beach access just down the street in her neighborhood. I highly recommend her property and her 2nd home next door for a larger group. The next morning we left and headed South.

The main road, Queens Hwy in Eleuthera is terribly pothole ridden and sadly the off shoot roads into neighborhoods and shopping are even worse. We drove the length of the entire island all the way down to Cape Eleuthera. The Cape Resort and Marina was lovely, new and clean. They had several beaches on the property and a swimming pool overlooking the ocean. We stayed in a cottage, but they offer larger Villas too. As fate would have it, we connected online with another worldschooling family in Eleuthera at the Island School. Our new friend, Kate, was kind enough to take us on a tour and share info about their journey living a worldschooling life.

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Finally, for our last night, we drove back into Governor’s Harbour and stayed at Villa Allamanda. Here we found John the proprietor of a lovely property offering a fantastic 360-degree view.  He is a native Bohemian, schooled in Architecture overseas and returned to invest in his homeland. The Villa Allamanda is clearly his labor of love. Along with the stunning views, we enjoyed a comfortable, charming villa liken to a small apartment. The next day we drove to Governor’s Harbor airport and took Silver Airways back to Ft. Lauderdale.

There was so much to love about this trip, but life on the GOYA was our favorite part. We LOVED the freedom and adventure-like feeling that being on the water offered while also having the comfort of living in one location. We look forward to exploring our options for future trips with yacht chartering. If you have an interest in chartering a yacht for your next get-away, contact me! I can assist you in booking a yacht charter in the Bahamas or out of 43 other bases around the world! Bareback is an option. Captains are always available. Sail, power, cook or don’t! Life aboard is amazing! <3  and from my little piglet friend, THE END!

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Craft the Travel

Vero Beach, Cape Canaveral & St. Augustine; Not a part of Florida you may know!

We took a trip to a beach unknown and discovered a wonderful part of Florida! Friends had us to their place in Vero Beach. We delighted in local restaurants like Mulligan’s and Cravings, took in the local culture at the Vero Beach Art Museum and Mel Fisher’s Treasures, and spent lots of time by the pool and at the beach. Did you know that Disney has a property beach-side in Vero Beach? Located about an hour and half from the Orlando Airport.

After departing from our friends, we headed north up A1A into Cocoa Beach, FL for a night. We wanted to stay close to our next destination, Kennedy Space Center! We loved our time here. Everyone was awestruck by the size & power of all NASA’s toys. We had ‘lunch with an astronaut‘, specifically Anna Fisher. If you are visiting Orlando and want to do a day trip out to the Kennedy Space Center, you should consider this package.

Our next stop was in St. Augustine, FL at the Casa Monica, an Autograph Collection hotel. I was taken back by the charm and beauty of this town that claims to be the ‘oldest continuously occupied settlement of European origin in the United States’. It began in 1565 by the Spanish admiral, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés. It screams old Spanish, European town. Gorgeous! The historic Casa Monica didn’t disappoint either. Beautiful intricate furniture and details that would delight any history fan. Sebastian felt like a KING in the ornate chairs that decorate the resort.

From St. Augustine, we made our way back to Orlando and stayed a night in the Orlando Marriott Lakeside near the airport. Anyone that knows my son, knows that all it takes is a pool to have a hotel make his ‘favorite’ list. Marriott Lakeside didn’t disappoint with their indoor/outdoor pool, redesigned rooms, and made our last night in Florida a happy one!

The city of Orlando and surrounding areas have so many opportunities for adventure, learning, culture, history and FUN! If you want a vacation in the states, consider what the Orlando area has to offer. Come visit Disney or Universal for a few days, but rent a car and expand to some of the surrounding towns. You will be delighted with the diverse options. I am happy to help get you in the right direction! #travelagentlife #craftthetravel

Orlando

Craft the Travel

This is not the Cancun I remember! It’s better. It’s the Riviera Maya.

The last time I was in Cancun, Mexico I was in my twenties. We did a typical ‘hotel zone’ stay off the strip, tanned on the beach and visited Mayan Ruins in Tulum. I remember getting off at a small airport and taking a small school-bus type van to our hotel. The guys on the van had a cooler full of iced down Corona and liberally distributed them during the ride. Long gone are those basic days for Mexico. It has clearly ‘grown-up’ in the world of tourism.

We flew on Sun Country.  I hadn’t used them since my 20’s but the tickets were a great price and I thought I would try them again. The flight going to Cancun was delayed twice, so they did rob us of having a real dinner at the resort our first night. We settled for room service after check-in. The airline did complimentary upgrade us to exit row seats and functioned on-time returning home. I want to note that with this airline if your flight is delayed – it does NOT mean you can check-in later than the 2-hr window from your original flight time. We did not know this and waited at home during the ‘delayed’ time. Come to find out we checked-in with 8 minutes to spare. Since charter, vacation airlines only fly a specific route/day/time they don’t keep a schedule like the majors (AA, United, Southwest) do. While this doesn’t mean all charters are late and all majors are on-time, I do think the fact that the majors have a schedule to keep helps them stay on time more often than not.  Just my two cents when choosing who to fly!

To my pleasant surprise, we stepped off our plane and into Cancun’s fully updated and modern airport. It was clean, air-conditioned, fast and efficient at handling the tourist. If you are ‘carry-on only’ you are through lickety-split. They have craftily created an area that you must pass through full of small lectern-type desks. It appears that these are here to help guide you or give information…..while they will happily give you info, it is not agenda-free. These are representatives of ‘Mexico Tourism’ and the Mexican-owned ‘time-share’ property Vidanta. They want you to buy/stay in Mexico-owned properties versus foreign-owned. They will entice you with all kinds of good freebies or discounts on tours/excursions for a mere 90 minutes of your time (try more like 5 hours). Just keep walking! If you have prearranged transfer or need a taxi, they will be waiting for you just outside the exit, so again KEEP MOVING.

We had pre-arranged, private transfer with Lomas Travel and they did a first class job at getting us to and from our resort. This was my first time to stay in an ‘Adult-Only’ property as I typically travel with my son. I was interested in staying here because of my desire to investigate the ‘Palafitas’ (which I will cover later), but the generous travel agent discounted rate on the suite helped seal the deal to take the trip. Oh, the demands of the travel business! 😉

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Continue reading “This is not the Cancun I remember! It’s better. It’s the Riviera Maya.”

Craft the Travel

PUJ, La Romana, Saona Island ~ Dominican Republic

Like most destinations in the West Indies, the Dominican Republic delivers you crystal teal-blue water and fine white sand. We found areas of our resort’s beach, at the natural swimming pool and off of Saona Island to be seaweed free and pristine. The trade-off to reach this stunning destination is a 4hr 15m (direct) flight (from DFW to PUJ).

Once you are in the Dominican you can elect to stay in Punta Cana where the airport is on the East tip of the Island or make your way about 45m Southwest to the town of La Romana or even farther West into Santa Domingo. Wherever you land you are likely to find yourself in an all-inclusive resort. From what we observed in La Romana, there wasn’t much in the way of restaurants outside of our resort. While the food in our resort was certainly edible and plentiful, it was different and challenged all of us to expand our palettes.

I would venture to say 10-20% of the people staying at our resort were Americans and the rest were nationalities from all over the world.  I had forgotten how much the rest of the world still smokes cigarettes and are used to doing so at any time/place they wish.  😒 The people that worked at the resort, as well as locals we encountered off the property, were all very helpful, kind and friendly.

We enjoyed the family time we had on the ‘touristy’ tours we scheduled. We participated in a day trip to go zip-lining, a boating trip to Saona Island and an afternoon of parasailing. Sebastian has really grown up and enjoyed these ‘big boy’ activities.

Our resort did have a restaurant at the end of their pier, which from what we observed most of the other resorts down the beach did not. We had one lunch and our final dinner there which were our favorite meals.

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We practiced traveling only with backpacks for this trip and while we all agreed that a lesser amount of stuff was ideal; we prefer that weight be hauled around on wheels versus our backs. I will be on the hunt for the perfect tiny roller bags.

Recommended Resorts:  Dreams, La Romana; Dreams, Dominicus; Catalonia; Grand Palladium; Nickelodeon Resort.

Things to be aware of in the DR:

-American Dollars & DR Pesos are both widely accepted, but be sure to take some small bills for tipping as when paying with a card or ‘on the room’ you are not offered a ‘tipping line.’

-‘Tours’ are very touristy and typically fully booked. Be sure to book private excursions if you don’t want to be a part of the crowd.

-Carefully consider whether you want to book ‘public’ transfers (vs private) as this will lengthen the time it takes to get you to your resort. You may be in luck and be the first stop or you may not…..and be the last!

-Wear insect repellent. Even though you may not feel like it is very ‘buggy’, other more unfamiliar creatures are around that may bite.

-Arrive to this airport (PUJ) 3 hours before your departure time. It is not a modern, ‘online’ airport. They make you stand in three (long) lines to leave the country. One to check into your departing flight, one to go through security and one (again) through customs to exit the country. The airport is an open-air building, so dress comfortably for the warm weather.

Lastly, after a long day getting home, I was SO INCREDIBLY THANKFUL to have Global Entry. We scanned our passports at kiosks, printed a paper for each of us, showed them to the attending agent and breezed right out to our Uber (we only had carry-on luggage). BRILLANT!

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