A Guide to Savannah’s Two Sides, Soulful & Spooky

The essence of Savannah curves through the city.

Oak trees covered with dangling Spanish moss.
Historic homes with beautiful iron details.
Unwavering southern hospitality.
A burgeoning food and drink scene.
And, of course, historical markers on what seems like every street.

It’s said to be one of the most haunted cities in America, and at night, walking through the quiet city squares, you can’t help but feel the whispers of eras past.

Savannah’s layout, composed of 22 squares, divide the city into wards, which makes it easy to navigate on foot. If you’re not up for walking, you can easily take a taxi or Uber around the city, or hop on a trolley tour.

My first time in Savannah, I visited the city on a long weekend as a sophomore in college. As part of the honors program I was enrolled in, we took an annual trip somewhere in the US. While on the trip, there were suggested educational activities (think historic city tours), but everything was optional.

On that trip, I recall going on a trolley tour to see Savannah’s best bits, an evening ghost tour, wandering through a few cemeteries, strolling along the riverside, and being in awe of the beautiful, stately historic homes.

Twelve years later, my next time in Savannah was on a day trip from Brunswick. Visiting my sister for a few weeks, we ventured to Savannah for a day of exploring the city. Even though I’d been before, I didn’t remember too much, aside from what I captured in photos. Acknowledging risks from COVID, we decided we’d walk everywhere, keep our masks on the entire day (even when outside), and only sit down to eat if we found a place with distanced, outdoor seating. There were a few things we weren’t able to do, like visiting cool cocktail bars, but we felt safe the entire day, and ultimately, that’s the most important thing.

I’d head back to Savannah in a heartbeat. Like other southern cities I’ve enjoyed, New Orleans and Charleston, I love wandering the historic districts, savouring southern eats, and revealing in hundreds of years of history.

What to Do & See

Take a stroll through the city’s hauntingly beautiful cemeteries: Savannah’s biggest and most famous cemetery, Bonaventure is a 10-15 minute drive from city centre. Here, you’ll find the graves of prominent residents, fighters in the Spanish-American war, and, perhaps most famously, Little Gracie.

Little Gracie’s parents owned one of Savannah’s most prominent hotels in the 1800s. Unfortunately, at only the age of 6, Gracie died from phenomena. What makes her grave especially spooky is the life-size replica of her- if you stand on the left side of the grave, and look into her eyes, don’t be surprised to feel chills run down your spine.

City centre, stop in the Colonial Park cemetery. Here, among final resting spots, you’ll find a Yellow Fever mass grave burial site. And, along the east wall of the cemetery, tombstones vandalised by Union soldiers are on display. You’ll have to look closely to see what the soldiers changed, but the marks left by their bayonets remain visible- one man lived to the ripe old age of 421, another man’s son was born 1,000 years before his father.

Explore any of Savannah’s 22 squares: Originally, Savannah’s squares were created to facilitate military exercise, but today, they’re a beautiful place to rest and relax. Often, you’ll find a statue or fountain, along with benches and plenty of shady space. A few of my favourite squares, and ones you’re sure to come across exploring: Layfayette Square, Pulaski Square, Chippewa Square, and Johnson Square.

Relax in Forsyth Park: A lush park with an ornate, sprawling 150 year old fountain? Yes, please. Chances are you’ll wander through Forsyth at some point during your stay- it’s that much of a focal point in the city. If you happen to be visiting Savannah on the weekend, don’t miss the Saturday local merchants market.

Travel back in time through a stroll down Jones Street: A world famous historic district never disappoints, especially not when it’s heralded as one of the prettiest streets in America. More than 20 cobblestoned blocks with stunning mansions, towering oaks, lush squares and historic churches compose Savannah’s historic district. A wander up and down Jones Street, reveals some of the most impressive homes, mansions that survived General Sherman’s march to the sea during the Civil War.

Enjoy the buzz of the River Walk: Albeit not my favourite part of Savannah, given the abundance of boozy, party spots and chains, no visit to Savannah is complete without a stroll along the River Walk. If you’re lucky, you may even get to see some cool boat traffic- on our most recent visit, we watched a tug assist a much larger boat in transferring crew and supplies.

Feel the city’s spirits on a Ghost Tour: With a reputation as one of America’s most haunted cities, a ghost tour is practically a must-do. If you’re really up for the spooky stuff, the Dead of Night tour should be on your itinerary- it’s adults only with tales of demons, possessions and murders. 

Take a trolley tour: My first time in Savannah, we took advantage of a trolley tour to understand the city’s layout, and orientation of key sights we wanted to see (this was long before the days of Google maps). Now, even though you can easily look things up on the fly, I’d still recommend taking a trolley tour to learn more about Savannah’s history. Some offer hop on/hop off options, which make it even easier to get around a wonderfully walkable city.

Pop in a few of the city’s many eclectic, locally owned/operated shops: A few of my favourites- One Fish Two Fish (homewares), Chocolat (artisanal chocolates), The Paris Market (for croissants and tea, or browsing goods), and The Spice and Tea Exchange.

Venture back in time, to the days of Prohibition: Whether you’re a social drinker or find yourself drinking far less frequently these days (*raises hand*), it’s wild to think there was a time when alcohol was illegal in the States. I haven’t visited Savannah’s Prohibition Museum, but it’s high on my list of things to do on a return visit. I’ve heard the museum does a wonderful job educating on how prohibition came to be (in an interesting way), and the entire experience ends with a cocktail at a speakeasy, in a nod to the times. One tidbit I learned from a friend who visited- Georgia went dry prior to national mandated Prohibition, which didn’t sit well with Savannah residents, who tried to secede and form their own state.

While you’re wandering, be on the lookout for: 

  • Tabby sidewalks, a mixture of oyster shells and cement, they’re famous in historic parts of the city
  • The birthplace of the founder of the Girl Scouts, Juliette Gordon Lowe
  • Chippewa Square (where Forrest Gump was filmed sitting on a bench)
  • The Mercer House, one of Savannah’s most historic homes
  • The Olde Pink House, a beautifully hued facade

Where to Eat

There’s truly no shortage of great eats to be found in Savannah- from southern staples to world flavours.

Most of the below offer plentiful vegetarian options. I’ve eaten at Collins Quarter, Huey’s, Sandfly BBQ, Zunzi’s, Husk, Byrd, and Leopold’s, and have heard fantastic things about the other options listed.

Collins Quarter: If I could recommend only one place to eat in Savannah, this would be it. Brunch at this funky, Aussie inspired, southern flair cafe is a must. Everything we had was incredible from the lavender spiced mochas (which everyone who gave me recommendations for Savannah told me was a must try), to the Bananas Foster French Toast (best french toast, ever), to the Short Rib Hash and BLAT sandwich. I wouldn’t hesitate to visit again to try their cool cocktail menu, and other delicious looking dishes.

Huey’s on the River: It’s unusual for me to recommend a restaurant in the heart of what’s known as the ‘tourist district’, but the fried green tomato muffaletta is worth singing praises of. Slices of tart green tomato slathered in tangy olive spread and sandwiched between fluffy bread with creamy, provolone cheese- it’s, as one TripAdvisor reviewer says, brilliant.

Byrd Cookies: A Savannah staple, Byrd’s cookies are delectable in every sense. Don’t miss the key lime coolers and Georgia peach cookies- both were so good, we brought tiny, takeaway bags to share with friends and family.

Leopold’s: Another Savannah dessert tradition, Leopold’s serves up made from scratch, award-winning ice cream. For over a century, they’ve been serving up “Good Things to Eat, Good Things to Drink” in beautiful, historic Savannah. Two scoops on a cone are the ultimate treat after a hot day of wandering- big fan of the coffee chocolate chip, lemon custard and peppermint.

Zunzi’s: Locals line up for the South African inspired sandwiches here. In Capetown style, their sandwiches are overstuffed with deliciousness. Be sure to add a bag of Zapp’s Voodoo chips to your meal- I first discovered the sweet and tangy flavour in New Orleans, and since then, they’re my favourite chip to have with any sandwich.

Sandyfly BBQ at The Streamliner: Famous for their pulled pork, their sides are also seriously mouthwatering. I’d have no objection to making a meal out of their mac and cheese, potato salad, fried okra and sweet tea.

Husk: Using only ingredients from the south, HUSK nails hearty home cooking. I haven’t been to the branch in Savannah, but loved lunch at the one in Charleston and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend for an upscale lunch or dinner.

Foxy Loxy Cafe: Opened by a Texas transplant, Foxy’s does a bit of everything that makes tex-mex great- from kolache buns to horchata lattes, and the unexpected, locally sourced wine and cheese boards.

Fox & Fig Cafe: Recognized as one of Savannah’s best vegan cafes, you’ll find lots of local favourites at Fox & Fig, from PERC coffee to Leopold’s coconut cream milkshakes. Just about everything on their menu gets a thumbs up from me.

Kayak Cafe Broughton: Recommend to me for their great vegetarian options, Kayak is wholesome food made fresh daily. A scan of their menu and I’m unable to choose what I’d order- so many things look great. Highlights: the olympic Greek salad, tiger tofu tacos, balsamico panini, black-eyed pea burger, avocado toast and the southwestern burrito- easily the kind of place I could come back for multiple meals.

Bull Street Taco: Hailed as fantastic Mexican, any place with handmade tortillas gets two thumbs up in my book. On my next visit to Savannah, I’d love to try their red chile tempura cauliflower taco and agave dijon slaw, topped off with a hibiscus iced tea.

Back in the Day Bakery: You’ll need to drive to this bakery (or take a taxi/Uber), as it’s not centrally located, but the vintage decor, staff decked out in Rosie the Riveter outfits, plus earl grey cookies and lavender cookies make the trek worth it.

Where to Have Coffee

During my December trip to Savannah, we checked out several cafes over the course of the day- Sentient Bean, The Coffee Fox, and Gallery Espresso. I’ve recommended all three below, plus a few other places others have encouraged me to check out when I return.

  • Sentient Bean: Our first stop of the morning for good reason- it’s hailed as one of Savannah’s best cafes. The vegetarian options are plentiful, and the drink menu is a mix of classic coffee drinks, and speciality ones. We had vegetarian breakfast tacos (great) and a peppermint mocha, made with actual peppermint- which I loooooved, so refreshing
  • Gallery Espresso: Without question, the coziest coffee shop we visited- Gallery feels like you’ve stepped into someones living room. With a fireplace, tons of plush couches and chairs, and colourful wall art, it’s stay and linger vibes. Here, I picked up a sweet tea and blueberry muffin, both were fantastic
  • The Coffee Fox: Nearing evening, I didn’t need more coffee, but when we strolled past The Coffee Fox, I knew I had to go inside. Eclectic and artsy, it seems like it’d be a rad place to hang post-COVID. I picked up a bag of beans from South America to try, and enjoyed the steaming cup of their holiday brew blend
  • PERC Coffee Roasters: With coffee roasts sourced seasonally, you know it’s always going to be fresh. I’ve heard wonderful things about their nitro cold brew
  • Savannah Coffee Roasters: Described to me as Starbucks, but local, it seems like a good place for a caffeine pick me up or a snack
  • Blends: Known for their handcrafted blends made from beans around the world, I’ve heard Blends is a good place to slow down and enjoy a refreshment before continuing on with exploring

Where to Drink

Once entrenched in Prohibition, Savannah is now known for its great nightlife. Riverside, you’ll find plenty of boozy, rowdy bars, but if you’re in for a quieter night with a bit more local flair, the five bars below are at the top of my list to check out on a return visit.

On this trip to Savannah, we didn’t stop in any places for a drink. In part, because we were limited with time, and also because, we’re not comfortable eating or drinking indoors for the COVID foreseeable.

  • Perry Lane Hotel rooftop: Savannah has a few rooftops, and I’ve heard this one atop a swank hotel is a lovely spot to make the day to evening transition with a bird’s eye view of the city
  • Artillery Bar: The bar I’m looking forward to someday visiting most, Artillery boasts stunning interior (and exterior) design with a creative cocktail list. Take note, the dress code is ‘smart’, and no phones are allowed
  • Jen’s & Friends: Jen’s may look like a nondescript dive bar, but they have 300 martinis on the menu. I’ve heard the watermelon lemon drop is among the can’t miss martini hits
  • The Wyld Dock Bar: Fifteen minutes outside the city, it’s worth visiting this dockside bar to get into a slow, sweet southern mode. With plenty to keep visitors occupied (bocce, games, porch swings) and a fire pit, The Wyld sounds like thee place for sunset drinks after a day of exploring
  • The Grey: Nab a seat at the bar for modern, expert made cocktails

And, for those of you who love visiting distilleries or tasting different types in alcohol, two of my favourite spots in Savannah are Ghost Coast Distillery and Savannah Bee Company.

Ghost Coast Distillery produces whisky, vodka and rum. In non-COVID times, they offer free 40-minute tours at the top of each hour, which end with a sample flight of spirits. One of my favorite things about Ghost Coast is their cocktail tasting option- a fun, less potent way to try some of their top spirits mixed with flavours.

Savannah Bee Company may be known for their honey, which is incredible and wholly lives up to the hype, but their mead tastings are what earns them a mention here. Savannah Bee has multiple locations in the city, and inside each, you’ll find honey, and also mead, an alcoholic beverage made from honey. Honey tastings are unlimited (and free), and for $10, you can try several meads at the tasting bar, from still to sparkling, and semi-sweet to sweet. It’s a sweet stop in seeing Savannah, to say the least.

Have you ever been to Savannah? Is it somewhere you’d like to visit one day? 

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Beautiful Brunswick, Visiting Coastal Georgia

If you read the title of this post, and thought, ‘Brunswick? Where is that in Georgia?‘, we are one in the same.

When my sister announced she was moving to Brunswick for a job opportunity in September 2020, the first thing I did was look up where Brunswick was. Having been to Georgia on several jaunts to Atlanta and a dreamy weekend in Savannah, I wouldn’t have able to distinguish Brunswick’s location from north, south, east, west, central or along the coast.

In early December, in need of a place to isolate for a few weeks before heading north to visit my parents in Pittsburgh, I took my sister up on her offer to stay in the second bedroom of her new apartment. Mostly, during the week, we both worked- me from the comfort of her cozy apartment, and her at a healthcare clinic. In the evenings, I cooked dinner, using some of my favourite Trader Joe’s staples, and we watched holiday films.

During the two weekends we had together in Georgia, she showed me around her new town. With COVID on the mind, all of our activities were outdoors and we opted for takeaway from any restaurant we visited. I may not have gotten the full Brunswick experience, but I saw and did enough to appreciate the kind of place it is.

I wouldn’t call Brunswick a ‘destination’ per se, but rather, if you’re driving along Georgia’s coast (perhaps from Savannah to Florida), and want the break up your trip, there are some beautiful reasons to do so in Brunswick.

3 Things I Loved About Brunswick Georgia

A mainland port city, Brunswick is laid out in a formal grid, similar to Savannah, with city streets still bearing their colonial names. Known today for shrimp trawling, visitors can watch the shrimpers unload at the docks along Bay Street. On New Years, there’s even a ‘shrimp drop’ (think giant shrimp instead of a giant disco ball), and in May, city festivities include a shrimp boat parade.

I enjoyed wandering historic downtown Brunswick, also known as Old Town Brunswick, and would recommend checking out the Old City Hall (built in 1888), along with the historic Ritz Theatre (built in 1898), and the modern brewery, Silver Bluff Brewing Co. While a stroll downtown should be on the agenda, my favorite things in Brunswick were in the surrounding area, not the historic downtown.

The Local Cafe Culture

Y’all know I love a good, local owned and run cafe- great brews, well designed space, community vibes. Discovering cafes is one of my favorite parts of visiting a new place. Even if I’m not in the mood for coffee, there are usually other drinks on the menu, not to mention great snacks, and often, cozy seating. One too many times (pre-COVID), I’ve been guilty of losing track of time whilst in a lovely cafe.

Looking up coffee shops to visit in Brunswick, I was surprised to discover more than the American chains I know all too well (Dunkin’ and Starbucks).

St. Simons Island is jam packed with tiny, cozy cafes, and while I would have loved to properly visit each one, I’m not comfortable dining indoors as long as COVID is around. Instead, we visited a few for takeaway drinks, which let us check out the scene without lingering.

My top 3 cafes in Brunswick:

  • Wake Up Coffee Company: With locations on St Simons, as well as on the mainland, we made multiple visits to Wake Up during my time in Brunswick. I loved their roasts and speciality coffee drinks so much (drooling, reminiscing of the island mocha- a classic mocha with coconut flavour), I bought one of their iced coffee glasses to take home.
  • Cafe Frederic: Huge cinnamon rolls and delicious omelets, need more be said?
  • Savannah Bee Company: Okay, yes, this is a honey store. But at the back of their St. Simons location, there’s a bar where you can taste mead (10/10 recommend), and they have a few coffee drinks on offer, including honey cold brew, made from their own roast. The honey cold brew was fantastic- a bit sweet without being saccharine. And, in non-COVID times, I’d imagine their back bar is a cool place to linger, and you know, sample honey, of course.

A few other spots I enjoyed and would be up for returning to post-COVID for coffee or breakfast:

  • Palm Coast Coffee
  • Mallory Street Cafe
  • Sandcastle Cafe
  • Palmer’s Village Cafe

And if you’re curious what other places I enjoyed for good eats in Brunswick, I’d recommend: Surcheros (similar to Chipotle); Skinny Pete’s (yummy apps and wings); and Island Jerk (fantastic Jamaican inspired eats).

The Beautiful Islands

The Golden Isles, known to refer to St. Simons Island, Sea Island and Jekyll Island, may not be the tropical paradise you typically envision when you think of islands, but as barrier islands and protected reserves, there’s plenty of beautiful things to see and do.

The largest barrier island, St. Simons is salty marshland, coupled with moss-draped oaks and quaint island streets. Shops scattered around the island are eclectic and worth a wander, and there’s certainly no shortage of great places to eat.

In addition to the cafes we scoped out, we also enjoyed chewy, thick bagels at Sandy Bottom Bagels, refreshing ice pops at Moo Cow, plus creamy mac & cheese and jalapeño-infused hushpuppies at Southern Soul BBQ. With my sister working on St. Simons, we were able to visit the island a few times, including a trip to check out their holiday market for small businesses, stacked with stalls selling flavourful pecans, seashell art, and so many other wonderful coastal treasures.

What would an island be without its beaches though? Thankfully, St. Simons doesn’t disappoint in this regard. The main beach, adjacent to the pier, is perfect for a long walk during low tide. We walked along the beach for about a mile, and then took a public entrance point off the beach to walk back inland toward the lighthouse, along shady avenues with adorable cottages.

We drove around the island, but it’s home to more than 30 bike paths, and if you’re up for a climb, the view at the top of the island lighthouse (129 stairs to the top) is nice on a clear day.

If you have time, drive to the northern part of the island to see Old Christ Church, the second oldest Episcopal Church in Georgia and the third oldest in the nation. Nearby, there’s a serene garden path that’s the kind of hauntingly beautiful I’ve always associated with the deep south.

The southernmost of the Golden Isles, Jekyll is one of the most popular islands along coastal Georgia. With over 10 miles of shoreline, unique attractions (enter: one of the coolest beaches I’ve ever seen) and historic homes, there’s plenty to explore. I’d love to return to the island and see more of its trails, either on foot or by bike.

If you happen to be visiting Jekyll during the month of December, don’t miss the island’s holiday light show. It’s spectacular, absolutely breathtaking.

Grand, Spanish moss trees are draped in thousands of twinkling lights, and seasonally themed light exhibits are tucked into corners around the island.

Parts of the holiday light show are drive through, and others are walkable. It’s a gorgeous December evening activity, and worth the $8 USD island admission fee if you don’t have an annual pass.

The Most Unique Beach I’ve Ever Seen

Located on the north end of Jekyll Island, Driftwood Beach will leave you wide-eyed in wonder.

While not a beach in the sense you may be thinking, Driftwood is worthy of acclaim for what makes it unique- beautiful driftwood and trees scattered along the beach resemble a scene from another world.

Gnarled and weathered, the trees you see are left behind from years of erosion. Visit at low tide for the chance to stroll along the beach- I’ve heard sunrise is especially awe-inspiring.

When we visited, thick fog had rolled into the area- we later found out it was the worst fog locals had seen in years. At first, we were bummed, and worried we wouldn’t be able to see much on the beach. Once we got down to the shoreline, we were stunned- the way the fog swirled in and out of the trees was unbelievable.

There weren’t many people on the beach when we explored Driftwood, but whenever we did see someone, they seemed to emerge from the fog, as if entering from another dimension. With limited visibility and the sound of waves crashing in the distance, it was an otherworldly afternoon.

While I’d love to see Jekyll Beach on a sunny day, I’m glad we were able to experience the magic of it in unusual weather- an experience in every sense.

In a year that shook and took so much from the world, I’ll be forever grateful for the time I was able to spend with my sister in coastal Georgia. Have you ever heard of Brunswick, or spent time traveling around Georgia? 

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Honest Recap: What It Was Like to Visit Disney World in 2020

A pre-post note: I don’t need to reference the latest COVID-19 statistics to convey how severe the situation is globally. Many would consider theme parks in Orlando operating to be a controversial issue, and back in July, I was one of them. After a few days at Disney in early December, I can say I believe they’re doing everything possible to protect Cast Members and keep visitors safe. To put things in perspective, I felt safer at Disney, with all of their restrictions, than I have in grocery stores, shops and even takeaway restaurants across Ireland, as well as in Georgia and Pennsylvania. All this to say, the below post is a recap of my experience, and only that. In no way am I encouraging unnecessary travel at present- especially with holiday surges in COVID cases and the emergence of a more transmissible virus strain.

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When Disney re-opened its parks in Florida, I recall exclaiming, What are they thinking? Cases are rising in Florida and the rest of the States, how can they operate safely with crowds?!

With the divineness of the past year felt across everything from racial injustices, to elections in the US, to how to handle a deadly global pandemic, I’ve been working hard to understand the opinions of others before reacting. And, so, even though Disney’s decision to re-open in July cued anxious thoughts, I sat back, watched and listened to those with first hand experience.

Back in July, I was comforted to hear the same level of skepticism in potential to operate safely from the Disney pod hosts I listen to monthly. They too, said they weren’t in a rush to get back to the parks given COVID concerns, but were curious to better understand how Disney had planned re-opening with safety at the forefront.

At this point, I should confess I’m not a huge Disney fan, but my mom and sister are. In service to my mom’s passion for all things Disney, we’ve been on more family vacations to the parks than I can remember off-top. While I usually enjoy visiting Disney- especially as an adult when the agenda is more laid back- my sister is the one who inherited my mom’s love for Disney magic. Even when the parks re-opened, I wasn’t considering visiting Disney in 2020. Back in the summer, I assumed my next visit to House of Mouse would be when RunDisney races resume.

As the weeks went on, no reports of ‘super-spreader’ events were traced back to Disney. Everything I heard from online personalities who visited, as well as from friends in Florida who ventured to the parks was overwhelmingly positive- everyone felt Disney was taking safety seriously.

Still, I was skeptical. I questioned if the parks being open encouraged travel during a time when people should be restricting movement, and how entering a space with thousands of people could be done safely, especially in the US where adherence to pandemic guidelines varies widely.

Over the course of 2020, I, like most of the world, began to figure out how to adapt to the ‘new normal’. With a job that fortunately could be done remotely and the ability to have groceries delivered, I still sought to figure out how to travel safely around Ireland (when permitted), and went on regular walks to support local cafes and small businesses. Staying home indefinitely may be the ‘safest option’, but it simply isn’t possible for a majority of Americans (and others around the world).

My guiding rule?
As long as I could wear a mask, keep my distance from others and sanitise, I felt okay. Throughout the entire pandemic, I’ve erred on the side of caution- spending most of my time at home, avoiding indoor dining and travel outside of Ireland to other parts of Europe even when permitted, and routinely consult news from varying sources to pin together advice from multiple experts.

In September, I started discussing returning to the States for the month of December with my family. With annual leave banked, plus the ability to work from another country for a couple weeks, we worked out a plan that would allow me to ‘isolate’ with my sister and her boyfriend (both healthcare workers with regular, potential exposure to COVID) for a few weeks before driving north (Georgia to Pennsylvania) to spend time with my parents.

Around the time of figuring out logistics for an end of year visit, my sister and her boyfriend (who live three hours from Orlando) drove down to Disney for a weekend. Their reports echoed everything I’d heard and read- they acknowledged visiting wasn’t a necessity for them, but treated it as a calculated risk. Visiting on a Saturday in October they did everything in their power to remain safe- masks, distancing, no indoor dining, sanitising, and limiting exposure to others where possible pre/post trip. Both reported they felt safer visiting Disney than they do in the healthcare systems they navigate daily, because of Disney’s strict adherence to safety precautions and forced visitor compliance.

Planning to fly into Orlando from Dublin, we decided to pencil in an early December visit to Disney. The plan, so to speak, would be for me to arrive a week in advance and stay at a hotel where I could order coffee and food via UberEats, and be close enough to walk to a Walgreens. We bought tickets and reserved park days, but discussed the possibility of cancelling if any of us became ill.

Fortunately, all went to plan and we came back from Disney COVID free. I’ll share a bit more below about what to expect and my thoughts on visiting the parks, but I do think it’s important to express even though we had a positive experience, I wouldn’t advise planning a vacation just to visit Disney, flying there, and counting on being well enough to visit the parks.

Part of the reason we formed our plan was the flexibility associated with it. The reason I flew back to the States wasn’t to visit Disney- two days in the parks just happened to be something I did as part of coming back for a few weeks. We knew there was financial risk with cancelling our park days if needed and were okay with that trade-off.

Opinions will differ, but I don’t think I’d be willing to take the same health or financial risks if I were planning a holiday to Disney from somewhere in the States- e.g. a quick trip, where the sole purpose was visiting Disney World. There’s so much to consider- what if you don’t feel well upon landing? what if you need medical care while in Orlando, will your provider cover hospitals in that network? what if you’re unable to visit the parks as planned and you’ve paid for a week’s worth of activity?, and so on.

For me, it’s just not worth it for a quick trip just to ‘go on vacation’. We knew the risks we were taking- I obsessively checked the New York Times incidence rate tracker in the weeks leading up to our trip- and planned ways to take care of ourselves, and ensure we were doing our part to keep others safe.

The final thing I’ll note before I get into other tidbits- I felt safer during the time I spent on Disney property than I have in any other situation in the States or Ireland. Disney isn’t messing around when it comes to observing safety precautions- so much so, that I genuinely believe if other businesses took operating cues from Disney, transmission rates would look a lot more hopeful.

What You Need to Know About Visiting Disney During COVID

I’ll reiterate here- I’m not advising making a trip to Disney before a vaccine has been readily rolled out. I’m simply sharing my experience for those interested or seeking to understand a bit more about how Disney is operating during this time.

  • First things first, attendance caps are in place. At the time of writing, attendance is capped at 35% of each park’s capacity. Even visiting during the beginning of the holiday season, the parks were no where near as crowded as prior visits in early December.
  • Temperature checks are required to enter the parks and Disney Springs- anyone with a temperature above 100.4 F will require additional screening and may be denied entry.
  • Disney is strict in face mask compliance and specific in what kind of mask must be worn– masks must be made of at least two layers of breathable material, fit snugly against the side of your face and under your chin, and be secured with ties or ear loops that fully cover your nose and mouth. Masks must be worn at all times, unless eating/drinking and stationary. They’re even required for photos. During my two days in the parks, Cast Members had no issue reminding visitors the necessity to comply with this rule. Was absolutely everyone in compliance? No, but I’d estimate 99% were, and for the handful of visitors who weren’t, I kept my distance and let a Cast Member handle.
  • Attraction queues are primarily distanced and outside, which makes some seem a bit longer than they are, since they tend to wrap around places. In queue areas that are partially enclosed or inside, plexiglass has been installed to limit exposure to surrounding parties.
  • Social distance floor markings, signs and barriers are present throughout the parks.
  • Hand sanitiser is available throughout the parks, as well as before and after all ride entrances/exits.
  • Reservations are required to enter the parks, and must be made in advance.
  • Many restaurants, especially QuickService ones, are operating on a mobile ordering system through the My Disney Experience app, which helps with crowd flow and dining queues.
  • Cleaning frequency for rides and public spaces has been increased throughout the day.

Nearly everyone I encountered during my two days in the parks complied with Disney’s safety restrictions. Of course, there will always be people who try to push the limits, which is why Disney makes it well known anyone refusing to comply will be removed from the parks.

A few times I had to remind people to keep their distance in queues, but that was more so because judging which marker you’re heading to can be challenging if the line moves a lot. In fact, whenever I asked people to step back and respect a minimum of six feet, most quickly apologised.

There were only two incidents that I’d class as ‘less than ideal’ during my two days in the parks, and neither left me feeling like my safety was at risk.

First incident: In a queue for a ride in Animal Kingdom, we hung back as the line moved because we could see the floor markings alternated rows to ensure six feet of distance on all sides. If you’re not paying attention though, that kind of detail can be easy to miss, and honestly, I’d rather Disney just install plexiglass than try to do this kind of ride distancing, because it is somewhat confusing. When we didn’t move up in this one instance, a group of people behind us started complaining that we were being ridiculous, that the distancing didn’t matter and we should just move up. We simply told them we were following the ride distancing markers to keep ourselves and others safe.

Second incident: The other questionable incident was at the Magic Kingdom, where I watched a Cast Member ask a mom to pull up face masks on her children (looked to be ages 4 and 6). The Cast Member was respectful in her request, which the mom completely ignored. After the Cast Member tried asking several times, she went directly to the children (they were about 30 feet away from the mom, posing for a photo), and at this point, the mom went ballistic, screaming at the Cast Member the mask mandate was ridiculous thing to ask of children. Thankfully, the grandmother was nearby and intervened to fix the children’s masks, before encouraging the mom to move on. This entire exchange took place in the proximity of dozens of other families and their young children- all of whom were in compliance. I know asking children to comply is tough, but it’s not impossible, and it’s certainly not required to visit Disney during this time.

Aside from those instances, nothing really raised an eyebrow. There were a few instances of people with masks below their noses at times, but Cast Members were always nearby to ask them to comply. A few times in Animal Kingdom, we even witnessed Cast Members patrolling with megaphones, reminding people of the rules and calling out anyone not in adherence.

What to Keep in Mind During a Disney Visit During COVID

Beyond Disney’s restrictions, there are a few other things to keep in mind if you’re going to be visiting Disney before COVID is fully behind us.

There’s risk in visiting: This much should be obvious, but with COVID spreading uncontrollably in the States, that’s reason enough to rethink a visit to Disney (or anywhere) right now. I felt safer on Disney property than I have during weekly grocery store runs, but there’s risk nonetheless.

Some experiences may be missing: Loads of people have written about missing the Magic Kingdom’s fireworks, as well as character meet and greets, but for us, neither was a significant trade-off to visiting.

Dining options will be limited if you’re avoiding indoor dining: For me, indoor dining is a non-starter- transmission rates have shown to be much higher, and it’s not a risk I’m willing to take. And, if outdoor dining isn’t appropriately distanced, I’m not comfortable with that either. We tried to eat before/after peak times so that outdoor spaces would be less crowded.

Wearing a face mask all day can be uncomfortable: The Florida heat is nothing to shrug off. We were lucky with milder temps during our days in Orlando, but wearing a mask all day in 90 F heat sounds pretty damn unpleasant to me. Whether it’s hot or not, bring extra masks so you can swap in fresh ones, or have back-ups if your mask breaks.

Bring your own sanitising spray and wipes: Yes, there’s hand san everywhere, but sometimes it’ll be empty while Disney works to refill it. And, I’d rather have guaranteed / instant access to my own than rely on finding a station nearby.

There are no FastPasses: Queues for some attractions are unbelievably short, and others feel nearly as long as if you were visiting pre-pandemic. We were in the parks to enjoy the holiday decor and atmosphere, so the wait times didn’t bother us, but if you’re visiting Disney for the first time or trying to ride a lot of attractions, now likely isn’t the best time for efficiency.

Visiting Magic Kingdom, I arrived around ~10:30 am and left around ~7 pm to avoid crowd swell at park opening/closing. At MK, I rode seven rides and caught a few character cavalcades, plus visited a few shops. Wait times for the rides I went on, based on starting a timer at the beginning of the queue until getting on the ride itself:

  • Space Mountain: 20 minutes
  • Big Thunder Mountain Railroad: 20 minutes
  • Haunted Mansion: 10 minutes
  • Jungle Cruise: 50 minutes
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: 45 minutes
  • Mickey’s PhilharMagic: 25 minutes
  • Carousel of Progress: No wait

And, during our day in Animal Kingdom, we arrived at 11 am and left around 7 pm. As we recall, wait times were:

  • Na’vi River Journey: 50 minutes
  • Avatar Flight of Passage: 60 minutes
  • Kilimanjero Safaris: 15 minutes
  • It’s a Bug’s Life: 25 minutes
  • Dinosaur: 15 minutes
  • Expedition Everest broke mid-afternoon so we were unable to ride

By and large, wait times were less than what was posted outside the attraction- sometimes by 20+ minutes, and sometimes only by 5-10 minutes. If a queue was too long, I simply tried again another time later in the day- another bonus of visiting Disney as an adult and having the flexibility to just wander the parks.

In terms of park crowds, it should be no surprise Animal Kingdom felt far less populated than Magic Kingdom. I visited Magic Kingdom on a Friday, and although I didn’t feel unsafe, I also had moments of having to mindfully avoid crowds and re-position myself. Our day in Animal Kingdom was much chiller- there were far fewer people in the park, so observing distance was a lot easier. We were even able to relax while enjoying frozen peppermint mochas and holiday treats in a tucked away, back corner of Africa.

In terms of transit to/from the parks, we felt fine using the buses- there are dividers between seat groups, open windows, and parties are seated with distance in mind. Twice, we called Ubers to help save time in getting to/from the parks since we had to route through Disney Springs and walk to our hotel.

What About Disney Springs?

We stayed in the The Wyndham at Lake Buena Vista, which is a quick five minute walk to Disney Springs.

Why the Wyndham? Nightly rates were affordable, and it’s conveniently located adjacent to the Springs. It was our first time staying there, and we loved it. It’s on Disney property, so their COVID restrictions are fully enforced. There’s a Joffrey’s in the lobby, plus great snack and drink options at a small shop. And, it’s super easy to have UberEats from any of the nearby restaurants (Chipotle, Panera, Starbucks, etc.) delivered to the lobby.

With our hotel so near the Springs, I visited three times during my week on property. Once to visit on my own mid-week, roaming around stores, and leaving with treats from Amorette’s Patisserie to enjoy in my hotel room.

Another time with my sister so she could pop in a few shops and get takeaway from Chicken Guy.

And, one more time early Sunday morning for an outdoor brunch at Wine Bar George. We brunched early (10:30 am) because we wanted to eat before a lot of people showed up, and because we had to travel back to Georgia early afternoon.

As we expected, the Springs were more crowded on the weekend- so much so that, if that was the only time I’d visited, I don’t think it’d be worth it. My mid-week visit was my favourite because there were far fewer people, so everything felt calmer, safer and more enjoyable.

If you’ve made it this far, I usually hope my posts inspire a bit of trip planning for future travel. With this one, I’m less aiming for inspiring trips to Disney in the near-term, and more sharing my experience, because COVID isn’t going away anytime soon, and I believe 2021 is going to bring more instances of businesses and countries adapting to the ‘new normal’ while we wait to move beyond in entirety.

Whether you’ll visit Disney later this year or it takes you longer to venture to the ‘happiest place on earth’, I hope your next trip is full of magic- we all need some these days.

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A Perfect Day in New Orleans

In Nola, it’s all about the details. Strings of beads are draped on cast-iron balconies year-round, an assortment of cultures, and live music bring Bourbon Street to life. There’s savory beignets for breakfast and steamed crawfish for dinner. It’s the perfect place to get away.

New Orleans may be famous for Mardi Gras, but I promise there’s so much more to do, see and experience in this unique city.

Morning

Wake up early to stroll the Garden District. The Garden District is just a short streetcar ride from the French Quarter, but it feels like a world apart.

The French lived in the French Quarter, but the Americans lived in the Garden District, which is why the architecture is so different. With ginormous houses and beautiful trees on every block, it’s a lovely way to spend a morning. Keep an eye out for some of the neighborhood’s famous houses, including the homes of Sandra Bullock, Ann Rice and Nicolas Cage.

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As you’re strolling, head toward the Lafayette Cemetery No. 1. There are free walking tours you can take through Free Tours by Foot, but wandering the cemetery on your own is also a great way to spend a bit of time.

Back in the day, when someone asked where your family was, they meant where they were buried. Based on your answer, they knew what part of the city you lived in and where you were from. I’m glad we spent time wandering these resting grounds, the graves are beautiful in a haunting way. 

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If you’re feeling hungry, head to either District Donuts or the Commander’s Palace. District is perfect for a quick breakfast- killer donuts and great coffee. And, Commander’s Palace is a classic restaurant, known for its soul food and 25 cent martini lunches.

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Afternoon

Head to the French Quarter for lunch and some daytime wandering.

The French Quarter is one of those places you just have to visit at least once in life. As the heart and soul of Nola, history of a past era is evident on every block. Balconies with baroque ironwork and hanging plants, charming parks with beautiful gardens. And, there’s no shortage of great restaurants, bars with live music, courtyard cafes & quirky museums.

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If you’re still hungry, head to Cafe du Monde for a fluffy beignet snack.

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While you’re in the area, stop by Jackson Square, a cute park and good spot for people watching, and the French Market, the oldest documented farmers market in America.

One of my top picks for a quick lunch in the French Quarter is Central Grocery Co., home of the original muffuletta- the olive spread is what makes their muffulettas so great. Grab a bag of Zapp’s Voodoo chips to have with your sandwich- I don’t usually eat chips, but these are ah-may-zing.

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Need to take a break? Stop by the Carousel Bar & Lounge, it’s less crowded in the afternoon. Loved the whimsical nature of this sloooooowly spinning bar. Great place to sip a Sazerac and escape the madness of Bourbon Street.

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Late afternoon, my favorite thing to do in New Orleans is hop in an Uber to the Bywater neighborhood.

Bywater was once a crumbling neighborhood, but it’s rapidly gentrifying. With lots of eclectic bars and coffee shops, it’s an interesting combination of history with hipster. I spent an afternoon wandering the Bywater and really enjoyed the colorful houses and low-key vibe restaurants offered- a nice reprieve from Bourbon Street.

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Beyond spotting a few colorful homes, the reason I love coming to the Bywater is Bacchanal Wine. Buy a bottle of wine in the front shop and take it out back to linger over a few glasses. This is how I envision Saturdays in the south: backyard vibes, twinkling lights, chilled rose, live jazz music, fresh bread & cheese.

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Evening

Time to head back to the French Quarter for dinner and drinks, and some more wandering- there’s no shortage of stunning homes.

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There’s no shortage of phenomenal places to eat in the French Quarter. One of my go-to’s for a great dinner is Tujague’s- authentic creole cuisine, phenom Sazeracs and bacon-wrapped oysters. Need I say more? PS. The grasshopper cocktail is a good choice for an after-dinner drink.

Post-dinner, enjoy a few drinks in the French Quarter. Numerous cocktails were invented in New Orleans- the Grasshopper, Sazerac, Hurricane, the list goes on and on. There are few things I love more than a good drink and good place to enjoy it, which Nola absoluetly nails.

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Napoleon House is known for their Pimm’s Cup, Pat O’ Brien’s does the classic hurricane, and Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop is rumored to be the oldest bar in the US- get the purple drank.

End the night by either staying in the French Quarter, or head to Frenchman Street for a bit of Jazz and blues. Nola is a mecca for Jazz and blues, no trip would be complete without soaking up live music. 

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More to See & Do

Of course, there’s so much more to see and do in New Orleans- one day only scratches the surface. If you have more time-

What is ‘A Perfect Day’? Often, I’m asked for my top recos for cities near and abroad by friends who only have a few days to explore a destination. ‘A Perfect Day’ are my top recos for exploring a city if it’s you’re a first time visitor & short on time. 

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The Most Magical Time to Wear Ears: Christmas at Disney

Isn’t the saying, ‘Dis the season? 😉

In all seriousness, spending a magical time of the year, the holiday season, at the most magical place on earth is incredible. House of Mouse spares no detail when it comes to decor- it’s stunning- and with so many special events and delicious treats at the parks, Christmas at Disney is the best kind of indulgence.

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Every year, there are new treats, shows and events, and plenty of bloggers who cover every detail- Google ‘Disney World at Christmas’ to see what I mean. This post isn’t a step-by-step guide for enjoying Disney at the holidays. Instead, I’m sharing my favourite bits from our two week trip in 2017/2018.

I’d been to Disney in the lead-up and post-holiday season a few times over the years for runDisney races in November and mid-January. But, I hadn’t been to the parks in the midst of peak holiday season since my sophomore year of uni.

I couldn’t have been more excited to spend almost two weeks with my family at Disney last year. Instead of flying to Pittsburgh, my mom planned the trip of a lifetime for all of us at Walt Disney World.

We spent most days at the parks, which meant we had at least 2 days in each park. Since we weren’t in a rush to see everything in one day each time we visited a park, our visit felt fairly relaxed. Of the two days we didn’t go into the parks, we spent one at Disney Springs / relaxing at the hotel, and on the other one, my parents visited resorts while my sister and I went to Target. Ah Target, something I never thought I’d be so excited to go to until I moved abroad.

We wanted to soak up as much park time as possible, so we opted to stay on property, but at a ‘value’ resort- All Star Sports. I’ve stayed at the All Star resorts many times for races and always have a great experience.

Generally, the rooms are spacious, and I appreciate the trails that connect all of the resorts- perfect for morning runs and walks. They’re designated value because they’re ‘no frills’ in comparison to some of Disney’s more luxe properties, like Animal Kingdom Lodge, the Yacht Club or the Polynesian. More families also tend to stay at them because of the convertible room options- our room had two bathrooms, a master bed, kitchen, and huge living room which included a sofa bed and sleeper chair. Value resorts are a great option if you want to be on property, but not dole out an insane amount of money (Disney’s expensive enough as it is ;)).

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By the way, if you’re a Disney novice, the biggest benefit to staying on property is your ability to use the park’s shuttle system- by far, the easiest way to get from hotel to park or even park to park.

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One more thing before we get to the parks: If you decide to stay on property during the holidays, bring a few things from home with you to make the experience more enjoyable.

Think: Favourite holiday treats for the room, wine/beer/drinks you enjoy, holiday lights to decorate with, and Christmas crackers to pop outside. Even the simplest touches in the room ensure every part of your stay is magical. If you fly to Orlando and can’t bring food/drink with you, Disney has a grocery order service partnership that delivers to its hotels.

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At the Parks + Hotels

Epcot

Perhaps my favourite park during the holidays, the World Showcase puts on quite a show.

Each country is decked out for the holidays with storytellers, decor and special touches. It’s fun to learn about traditions around the world while roaming the park. As part of the International Festival of the Holidays, each country also has its own festive tipples and bites, a few of our favourites:

-Mexico: Not quite the picture of Christmas, but margaritas are no less delicious!
-Germany: Don’t miss the cider flight or gluhwein (mulled wine). The fondue is also cheesy deliciousness
-America: Giant turkey legs and firenog (fireball and eggnog)
-France: Mickey Macarons and a sweet cranberry Grand Marnier cocktail
-Morocco: Hot moroccan mint tea in the Tangerine Cafe for warming up
-United Kingdom: Hot applejack cider (mulled cider with whisky and spices)

Throughout the park, there’s fun garden art, and a dazzling tree at the beginning of the World Showcase.

One thing that can’t be missed: the Candlelight Processional, a retelling of the Christmas story by a celebrity narrator along with a choir and live orchestra- exceptional.

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We chose to spend New Year’s Eve in Epcot, and after an excellent dinner at Canada’s Le Cellier Steakhouse, watched the fireworks over the lake. Before we settled in to wait for the show, we walked around the showcase, take note: Italy does a rockin’ party 😉

While we waited for the fireworks to start, we sipped on pints from the UK and cocktails from France. The fireworks show in Epcot is amazing, we found our view in front of the UK/Canada to be a great vantage point for the entire performance.

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Magic Kingdom

While I appreciate the seasonal offerings of Epcot, it’s hard to argue anywhere is more decked out and ready for the holidays than the Magic Kingdom.

Don’t miss a walk down Main Street USA, watching the Christmas parade (we stopped to see it a few times- never gets old!), or the nightly firework show, Wishes.

Pop in the bakeries to ogle the festive treats, enjoy a cinnamon roll shaped like Mickey’s ears, and if you’re looking for an extra special treat Christmas morning- head to Starbucks (the line moves quickly, promise) for a fun frappuccino.

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The New Year’s Show at the Magic Kingdom is said to be one of the best, but also most crowded, fireworks displays in the world.

Pro tip: On the 30th, they run the same show to practise. We watched the first show on the 30th, and could not believe how incredible it was. If we weren’t also keen on seeing Epcot’s show, I would have definitely returned to see it a second time on New Year’s Eve. If you’re skeptical of how good it is, I’ll say this: 360 fireworks- seriously, they’re happening all around your head. Actual magic.

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Animal Kingdom

With seasonal decor throughout the park, including a Goofy Santa in Dinoland, AK is a joy to wander through at the holidays. It’s not as traditional Christmas as the other parks, but if you keep an eye out, you’ll notice wreaths in Africa and festive touches in Asia. Because Animal Kingdom is open late night, it’s less decorated and with fewer holiday shows than the other parks.

Not specific to the holidays, but beautiful nonetheless, the River of Light show in the evening is gorgeous.

And, if you’re looking for a fun tipple while in the park, try the dole whip with dark rum or cocktails from the Nomad Lounge.

PS. The Flight of Passage avatar show in Pandora is unmissable. Make sure you book this ahead of time on a FastPass so you definitely get to experience it.

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Hollywood Studios

Whilst the Osborne Spectacle of Dancing Lights are no more, there are plenty of other holiday touches in the park to warrant a visit.

Indulge in the hot chocolate flight (or mini martini flight if that’s more your style), grab festive photos with characters, and take in Sunset Season’s Greetings show- a projection of vignettes from some of Disney’s top films, along with lasers, tunes and a flurry of snow. Anywhere on Sunset Boulevard will be the perfect spot to take in the action.

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Disney Springs

Just like the parks, you’ll find tons of festive fun at Disney Springs. Better yet, Disney Springs is free to enter. There’s no shortage of shopping and dining to be done, but don’t miss the tree trail – each tree is decorated to fit a fun theme.

And, treat wise, Sprinkles has delicious seasonal cupcakes, and Goofy’s Candy Kitchen is seriously well stocked for every craving you could have. Sunset drinks at The Boathouse are always special, but feel even more so when the Old Fashioned has a holiday touch.

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Hotels

If you find yourself in need of a break from the parks, consider resort hopping. All of the resorts are decked out in gorgeous holiday decor this time of the year-.

Short on time? Take the monorail from Magic Kingdom to see three resorts in one go.

Starting at the Contemporary, grab a churro cupcake at the Contempo Cafe. Then, head onwards to the Grand Floridian to see a giant gingerbread house that’s also serving up frozen hot chocolate. Interested in a different kind of drink? Head upstairs to the lounge to enjoy an espresso martini whilst listening to jazz. When we visited, they were playing Christmas songs, the epitome of lovely.

And, finish out your monorail crawl with a stop at the Polynesian. Holiday decor here has a tropical spin to it. In need of a drink? Head to what I believe to be Walt Disney World’s best bar, Trader Sam’s for a tiki inspired tipple.

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One more thing to note…

Disney during the holiday season means intense crowds. All of December is significantly more crowded than any other time of year, but especially during the week between Christmas and New Year’s.

We found the crowds a bit tough to navigate at times, but had no real complaints. After wall, despite all the crowds, we were spending the holidays in the happiest place on earth.

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Have you ever been to Disney World during the holiday season? What was your favourite part of your visit? 

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10 NYC Eats I Miss, Living in Europe

It’s been almost 11 months since I moved to London, and I don’t, for a single second, regret my decision to leave New York City. After so many years in the big apple, I needed a change.

London, being a world city, draws a lot of parallels to New York from a food perspective- great cocktails, good brunch spots, and a range of cuisines for every budget.

However, there are some things I miss about New York- friends (obviously), but also, unsurprisingly, some of the great eats I took for granted while living in the city.

Peruse Pinterest, and you’ll see plenty of outrageous ‘treat your self’ eats hailed as ‘must haves’ while visiting New York (think: freakshakes, rainbow bagels, cupcakes, ramen burgers, and so on).

The foods I miss though are less ultimate, and more regular eats. Whether you live in New York or are visiting, they’re foods I’d recommend seeking out. And, if you do, let me know what you think- I likely won’t make it back to New York until spring 2018 so I’ll be dreaming of these eats until then.

Bagels

Sure, you can find “bagels” in London, and elsewhere in Europe. But, nothing compares to a real NYC bagel- big, thick, chewy and jam packed with cream cheese, or loaded with egg, cheese and bacon. Most Saturday mornings, but especially after a night out, I’m missing three of my usual spots- Brooklyn Bagel, Thompkins Square and Black Seed pretty hard.

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Pizza

London pizza is very different from New York style pizza. And while I’m trying to appreciate it for what it is, nothing beats a late night NYC slice. Bonus points if it’s $1. Joe’s used to be my go-to for evening slices before heading home, and Artichoke was one of my favorite indulgences in the city. If I wanted sit-down ‘za, Roberta’s, Milkflower (omg, their burrata) and Marta were my favs.

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Tacos

Why is it so hard to find tacos in London, and by extension the rest of Europe? So far, I’ve found two pretty good places- one in London and one in Edinburgh, but I’m close to giving up hope for more. After living in Texas, I’ve become pretty picky about my tacos. And, forget about finding a ‘breakfast taco’ in Europe. Even in New York, locating quality tacos wasn’t easy, but after finding Guero’s in Brooklyn years ago, I was at ease, knowing I had a solid place for breakfast tacos, fish tacos, vegetable tacos, queso and seriously good margaritas. And, gotta give an honorable mention to Tacombi for their stellar tacos. Now, there’s a hole in my taco-loving heart.

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Donuts

Yes, there are donuts in Europe, but the ones I’ve had in London are no where near as good as the variety in New York. Specifically, I miss the cake donuts from Underwest– such great, pronounced flavors. Every now and then, I crave a pillowy doughnut from Dough or Doughnut Plant as well. Big into donuts? Drop me a line, I’ve got oodles of places in New York for you to check out 🙂

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Cold Brew

Iced coffee and iced tea do not translate in jolly old England. Brighton is the only city I’ve been to so far that had a few cafes where cold brew made a menu appearance. Thankfully, Starbucks in London has cold brew for the summer, but I’m already dreading the transition back to a caffeine-less fall/winter (I only drink iced caffeine- it’s that or nothing). In New York, finding cold brew was never a problem- always at the top of my list: La Columbe, BirchToby’s and Blue Bottle, although, there was something to be said for the quick and easy CB from Dunkin’ as well.

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Ice Cream

Soft serve and gelato abound in London (and Europe, by extension), but ‘artisanal’ scoop ice cream is much harder to find. Never though I’d miss OddFellows, Ample Hills and Morgenstern’s so much. If it was possible to ship a pint of salted crack caramel, there’s no question I’d pay for it.

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Oyster Happy Hour & Absinthe Cocktails

If you’ve ever lived in New York, you know Oyster happy hours are the place to be. There are so many great ones all over the city, Mermaid’s is one of the best, but I’m seriously missing the oyster happy hour at Maison Premiere. And with absinthe on tap, I used to love ordering an absinthe colada to go with my oyster dozen.

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The World’s Best Cookies

Oprah doesn’t praise cookies as the ‘best in the world’ without due cause. Levain’s cookies are crazy good. Although I didn’t eat them often, I miss knowing I can grab one whenever the mood strikes. Huge, crisp on the outside and gooey on the inside, the double chocolate ones were one of my fav ultimate indulgences. Honorable mention to Insomnia for nailing the late night warm cookie delivery game.

Build-Your-Own Salads

Salads weren’t something I was prepared to miss so much. Yes, I can make my own- but, there’s something to be said for popping in sweetgreen and knowing you can leave with a fresh veggie-packed salad. Here, salad means something very different (pre-mixed, think beans plus mint and feat, or couscous, parsley and carrots, and typically- the Brits mix several of these ‘salads’ together to form a meal). I didn’t truly realise how much I missed proper US salads until going to Amsterdam for a few days and finding myself frequenting sla daily.

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Banana Pudding

People know Magnolia for their cupcakes, but the banana pudding is the real rockstar. It’s creamy, yet feels light at the same time, with chunks of banana and cake. Recently, they started serving a chocolate version of the banana pudding with Oreos in it- to die for.

Living in New York for so long, I accumulated quite a few favorite places for food and drinks, the majority of which I’ve organized into Foursquare lists.

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Where to Eat & Drink in Charleston

North is a direction, south is a lifestyle.

Charleston is the epitome of Southern charm. Quaint streets lined with sprawling, pastel homes and palm trees. Some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. And, seriously good eats.

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Last spring, I flew to Charleston for a long weekend with friends where our main objectives were to wander as much as possible, and indulge in some great Southern cooking.

We were, without a doubt, successful. The weekend was packed with great eats, delicious cocktails and fun experiences learning more about this southern city. I’ve had a lot of people reach out recently for top food/drink recos as a result of heading to Charleston for a bachelor/bachelorette party or fun weekend getaway.

These are the places I’d unquestionably go back the next time I’m in Charleston.

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Top Picks for Coffee:

  • Black Tap Coffee: Loved this place so much, we came back twice. Cold brew is great, but the coffee cocktails were my favorite thing on the menu. Recommend trying the Black Julep- espresso, cold brew, mint and honey
  • Kudu Coffee: Liked the vibe of this place a lot, plenty of indoor and outdoor garden seating
  • Tricera Coffee: Coffee & dinosaurs? Two of my favorite things! Tricera’s close-location to King Street makes it a good place to stop if you need a mid-afternoon pick-me-up from shopping/wandering

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Top Picks for Drinks:

  • The Gin Joint: One of my favorite cocktail bars in Charleston, this place revamps their menu seasonally. We came a week after they introduced the spring menu and weren’t disappointed. If you’re there when the Studmuffin (Charleston Madeira, Hoodoo Chicory Liqueur, St. George Coffee Liqueur, Amaro Sibilla, Sumac Bay Leaf Ice Cubes) is on the menu, I highly recommend ordering it
  • Proof: Another one of my favorite bars in Charleston. They have a great happy hour, but also a solid cocktail menu. Grab a seat at the bar and work your way through their drink list- my favorite one: the Martinez, served with a cheese slice garnish
  • The Belmont: Cozy bar with old black and white movies playing on the side wall
  •  The Griffin: A dive located near HUSK, it’s been a local staple for 20+ years

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Top Picks for Eats:

  • HUSK: Unable to get a dinner reservation here, we came for lunch on our first day in Charleston. Everything we tried was delicious. Using only ingredients from the south, HUSK nails hearty home cooking
      • Waiting for a table? Grab a drink at The bar at HUSK. They carry an outstanding selection of bourbon and whiskey. I’m a big Madeira fan and appreciated the ones they have on the menu here
  • Hominy Grill: Located in a historic Charleston single house, Hominy Grill feels as though it has been open for generations. It’s southern food perfection, you have to try the shrimp and cheese grits
  • Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit: Is there anything better than bacon, egg and pimento cheese on a fresh baked biscuit for breakfast?

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5 Must Do’s on a Trip to Seattle

Every time I visit Seattle, I’m reminded of how eclectic of a city it is.

Having visited the Pacific Northwest a few times, I’ve had the chance to explore many of Seattle’s neighborhoods, and because I know a lot of people automatically think “Space Needle” whenever they hear “Seattle,” I’m sharing my top 5 things to do on a visit to Seattle.

If you’ll be in Seattle for a few days, check out my city guide to Seattle for my favorite places to explore, eat and drink.

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5 Must’Do’s When Visiting Seattle

Pike Place Market

It may be touristy, but for good reason. In 1907, the market was started as a way for the city to work around the middle-men that had gotten between the locals and the producers. Since then, it’s become one of the city’s most popular attractions.

Even though I’ve been to Pike Place a few times, I still haven’t explored all the stores and restaurants in the marketplace- it’s truly massive.

On one of my first visits to the market, I took a food tour by Savor Seattle. On the tour, you not only see the market and meet the merchants, you also learn the history of the market, and try a bunch of food bites (16+, enough for a meal!). All of Savor Seattle’s tours highlight the vibrant stories of the people and places that make Seattle a great culinary center. What’s more, at the end of your tour, the guide gives you a discount card for over 50 places around the market.

Whether you take a guided tour or decide to stroll through the market on your own, a few of my favorite places to check out: MarketSpice (cinnamon orange tea), Pike Place Chowder, Etta’s Seafood (mini crab cakes), Daily Dozen Doughnut Co., the “original” Starbucks, Piroshky Piroshky, Rachel’s Ginger Beer, Beecher’s (mac ‘n cheese was rated the best by Oprah), The Crumpet Shop, Ellenos Greek Yogurt, the gum wall in Post Alley & don’t miss the flying fish!

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Caffeinate & Eat

Even though I live in one of the best foodie cities in the world (New Yorkkk), I love visiting Seattle for vacation because the city’s food & drink scene is ever-evolving. With so many unique and delicious restaurants, bars and cafes, planning a few meals can be just as exciting as visiting any other attraction.

The places below are by no means a comprehensive list, but some of my favorite spots that I find myself going back to time after time. In my Seattle City Guide, I’ve grouped my favorite spots by neighborhood in case you’re in, Capital Hill, for example, and looking for somewhere to grab brunch.

  • Elm Coffee Roasters: Filter coffee is excellent, reminds me of cafes in Portland
  • The London Plane: This place rules them all. Part cafe (best brunch!), part specialty foods grocery, part floral workshop, this place specializes in all things beautiful
  • Starbucks Roastery: Much better blends than the regular drip, and there’s a Serious Pie outpost here (win!)
  • Oddfellows: Morning, noon and night. Love having breakfast here and setting up shop to work for the day, such a lovely ambiance
  • Sitka & Spruce: Tucked into Melrose Market’s collection of foodie stores and cafes, this place excels at clean, vegetarian food. The savory seasonal yoghurt is always a must-order for me
  • Skillet Diner: Come for the giant cinnamon roll, try any of the brunch entrees- they’re all solid
  • Serious Pie: Tom Douglas, I love you and your delicious pizzas. Roasted mushroom and truffled cheese pizza is unbelievable
  • The Walrus & the Carpenter: No trip to Seattle is complete for me without stopping at this tiny, yet charming place for oyster happy hour (the rest of the menu is also stellar). There’s a line out the door for a reason. I usually go when they open, but if you end up waiting for a table, pass the time with a glass of wine at Barnacle next door
    • And, you can call me a Renee Erickson fangirl, but new-ish Bar Melusine (sister restaurant to the Walrus), and General Porpoise Coffee & Doughnuts (next to Bar Melusine, the best custard doughnuts ever) are on my list of favorite places to go in Seattle after only one visit
  • Westward: A seaside favorite- seasonal Mediterranean cuisine, fresh oysters, rose, and al fresco dining on the water with a fire pit & adirondack chairs. What more could you ask for?
  • Hot Cakes Molten Chocolate Cakery: Molten chocolate (flourless) cakes. So rich, so dense, so delicious
  • Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream: Freshly baked waffle cones and unique flavors of ice cream. Salted caramel, Scout mint, strawberry balsamic, Earl Grey…really, you can’t go wrong here
  • Top Pot Doughnuts: A local chain serving up flavored cake doughnuts, ’nuff said
  • Canon: Just bring me all of the whiskey. This place is not to be missed, outstanding cocktails and more than 2,600 labels
  • Tavern Law: This place takes cocktails seriously. Upstairs, through the bank-vault door is another hidden cocktail gem, The Needle & Thread
  • Sun Liquor Lounge: Old-timey gin drinks, personally enjoyed the Mai Tai
  • Herb & Bitter Public House: The drink lists are inside of classic children’s books, but the cocktails are all grown up
  • Damn the Weather: Without a doubt, one of the best drink places in Seattle. Tipplers are on point

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Garden and Glass

I’m a big Chihuly fan, so this collection of his works was right up my alley. Stunning glass art, to say the least, the pieces in each room are absolutely remarkable.

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Kerry Park

I’m a sucker for a sunset and a good view. Said to be the best place to take a picture of the Seattle skyline, Kerry Park is located on the south slope of Queen Anne Hill. Come ~20 minutes before sunset to allow time to find a space to set-up, Kerry Park can become crowded.

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Get Outside

The Pacific Northwest is stunning. Maybe it’s because I live in New York, but I can’t imagine a visit to Seattle without an afternoon spent in one of the city’s many parks, or a morning spent hiking one of the peaceful, stunning trails just outside city limits.

Again, my list of places is by no means exhaustive, but represents some of my go-to’s whenever I’m in the city. If you’re a big hiking fan, would definitely do some of your own research or consider a trip to Mt. Rainer or a weekend spent on Bainbridge Island.

  • Gas Works Park: Built on the site of an old coal gasification plant, many of the plant remnants are part of the park. Great place to have a picnic on a nice day and take in the Seattle skyline
  • Golden Gardens Park: Sunny summer days are best spent here
  • Discovery Park: Love the paths and trails here for morning runs or afternoon walks
  • Japanese Gardens: The gardens aren’t massive per se, but they’re big enough to find a quiet spot and just enjoy the beautiful scenery around you- the ponds, waterfalls and flowers make these gardens the definition of a hidden gem
  • Two hiking trails I’ve enjoyed ~an hour outside the city: Twin Falls & Rattlesnake Ledge 
  • TreeHouse Point: Don’t expect to go hiking here, but it is a good place to spend a few hours immersed in nature. TreeHouse Point place is a childhood dream come true. I came out one afternoon for a property tour, so cool seeing all of the tree houses. If you can swing it, this would be an awesome place to stay for a night outside the city

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Bonus!

Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour: Walking tour through Pioneer Square and the forgotten streets below. A bit unusual, a bit quirky, perfectly representative of Seattle

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Extra Know Before you Go Info

  • When to Go: I’ve been to Seattle during every season, but late spring, summer and early fall are my favorite times to visit. Your odds for sunny days are higher during this time of the year, and summer temperatures are pretty mild in comparison to other parts of the country (70’s/80’s with low humidity). Whenever you visit, bring a waterproof coat and footwear option. It doesn’t rain constantly in Seattle, but if it does, you’ll be glad you’re prepared
  • Where to Stay: I usually stay with friends, but would recommend either looking for an Airbnb (there are plenty!) or hotel in Capital Hill, Queen Anne, Pioneer Square (closest to downtown), or Ballard if you want to stay slightly outside the city in a part of town that’s a bit more residential, but has just as many great restaurants, bars and shops
  • How to Get Around: Seattle has a bus and light-rail system, but the most convenient way to get around is to drive or take an Uber. Fortunately, the city has ever-expanding Uber options, including Pool and a new, flat-rate carpool option called UberHop (cheaper than Pool, but the pick-up and drop-off destinations are fixed- super convenient if you’re just trying to get from one part of the city to another)
    • If you’re flying into Seattle-Tacoma, you can take Link light rail to downtown for $3 (takes around ~40-50 minutes)

Have you ever been to Seattle? What did you enjoy most about your trip?

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