Disney December – Finding a shiny dime.  

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Once upon a time, there were three friends, Vagablond, Jo Jo and Deb who met at bible study.  We were raising a combination of 8 children, changing diapers, managing careers and families.  We all moved through our lives putting family first, surviving divorces, deaths and illness, celebrating births, remarriages and being a survivor.

 Our reconnection began when Jo Jo suddenly lost her husband.   We made it a point after that to find mornings to meet for breakfast.  It was a comfort and we realized that we were still able to make each other laugh.   Women having supportive and good friends really does matter, it is about that connection that ranges from “we are so adorable” to “Ok – check my behavior on this- Am I being too _______????”   Losing a girlfriend connection from the past and then rediscovering the love, camraderie, support and honesty you had is one of the great gifts of the Universe.  

The idea to visit Disney together came from a conversation during one of our breakfasts.  We were talking about vacations and how visiting Disney is always a thrill.  Deb had a story about Disney at Christmas and how beautiful, fun and even spritual it was.  I was shocked – in all of the marketing and commercialism around what Disney does I wondered how they would align to the politcal correctness that surrounds us and still bring the message of hope from Jesus’ birth.  

How does Vagablond answer any question?  Why Travel of course – and the trip planning began!#DisneyDecember

Las Vegas the Vagablond Way!

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A trip to Vegas – you never have to ask me twice!   Hubby found a great deal- it does involve viewing a timeshare- but we love Hiltons- so it should be fun.   I’m in sales and marketing and I actually get a kick out of watching people sell, experiencing a pitch from the other side of the desk and learning from the sales people that probably have one of the hardest sells on earth.   

Our plans include Hilton Grand Vacation on the strip, Penn and Teller, Jeff Dunham and any other entertaining thing we can find to do.  We like to gamble, but not lose money- so we will see how much time we spend at the tables.  We are taking the 18 year old daughter for just one night- then Wednesday night she is off to Phoenix for her own adventure- but it will be very cool to see her eyes light up when she sees the strip tonight when we land.  

Stay tuned…….can’t wait to reconnect with one of my favorite cities!

Island Vacation Day 8 – St John style relaxation

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One of the best parts about an island vacation is the conscious decision to relax – sometimes it is on a beach, other times it is with a cocktail.  If you are staying in a beautiful location, a villa, a hotel or even a campground on St. John there are ample opportunities to be active, but also times when just “chilling” is the best way to truly enjoy the surroundings and your vacation.

We started this day with a wonderful breakfast of steak and eggs.  We have had some very good meals while on island – usually using our own kitchen in Eminence on High, the villa we rented from  https://seatopeakvillas.com/EminenceOnHigh/.  After breakfast we talked about the plan of the day and several options came up – but something about the cool pool, sunlit patio and some chilled island cocktails was calling, ” Vagablond….stay home!”  and so that is exactly what hubby and I did.

Floating in the pool

Floating in the pool

View of Coral Bay from patio

We lounged by the pool, we called hubby’s mom and dad in Florida to congratulate them on 68 years of marriage    and said a little prayer that we would be given that same time to be together. We celebrated our life, our family and the happiness we feel when we are able to just “be” together.
Later that afternoon we took a short drive through the roads near the villa. We found the trailhead for the Bordeaux Mountain Trail and decided that trail which starts 1150ft above sea level – and leads down to Little Lamshur may be a trek for another day.
That evening it was dinner with family at the villa – we had slow roasted a pork loin with pineapple mango salsa. It was at this meal we hooked little brother on sweet potatoes cut up and roasted on the barbeque grill. He found out that a food he thought he hated is actually pretty good. Only a couple days left and we are already sad to be leaving.

Island Vacation 2015 Day 4

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St John is full of trails and beaches. There is a number of places to rent snorkel gear for the week so we headed to Coral Bay to check out Crabbys.
Crabbys Coral Bay
It’s a small shack of a shop that sells and rents various kinds of water sport gear. A woman fitted all of us, and we paid $40 each for the rentals and we were on our way in 20 minutes.
We headed out to find a beach and a spot to snorkel where we may see some turtles.

We took off via Rt 10 headed toward Annaberg, this road goes up and over the center of the island and while Coral Bay is on the south side the north side beaches are easily reached in about 20 min. We landed at Maho, the first beach you reach when coming from Coral Bay. There is a parking lot, but if that is full, there are cleared areas between the trees where it is easy to pull off and park. The beach is just a quick hop across the road, so bringing chairs, coolers and other items is quick, easy and requires very little effort. We found a shady spot under the low hanging sea grape trees and set up our chairs and cooler and set out to enjoy this beautiful beach.

The beach was populated but not crowded, there were several boats attached to the buoys and the bay had a number of snorkelers already floating with their tushes peeking out of the water. It was easy to tell where the underwater life to see was by watching where the snorkelers would dart off to next. Some of our group stayed on the beach to take in the view, a couple others donned snorkel gear to explore.

The underwater world was full of sights! We saw several Sea Turtles, a large Sting Ray and a variety of tropical fish. The best part of snorkeling is the feeling of being in an actual aquarium with the fish that I’d watch for hours as a kid.

Then it was time for some football! The first playoff game started at 4pm local time so we all headed down to Skinny Legs Bar and Grillfor a burger, beer and big screen. This place really demonstrates the St. John vibe. Relaxed, friendly, and you immediately feel at home. The benches were a bit hard and had no backs, so we decided to finish watching the games back at the villa. Another good day on the island.

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Island vacation 2015 -Day 3 Why rent a home or “villa” for an island vacation?

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Day 3 was dedicated to decompressing from travel, sunning on the deck, taking in the gorgeous views, using the grill to make burgers, and enjoying island cocktails with abandon.
We have rented homes for 9 vacations. We love the convenience of more space than a hotel room, a kitchen where we can make breakfast or a snack, and the feeling of living in the places we visit versus just being tourists. There are many websites advertising and offering homes for rent for vacationers. It is a must to do your homework and follow some simple guidelines when renting on sites such as Vacation rental by owner (VRBO or Home away) or local real estate or property rental companies. First rule to follow is to have a list of questions and ask those to a person, avoid emailing or voicemail tag. You want to make sure that the rental is a legitimate rental, we did have one “owner” respond via email, with no phone number, just email. The price was extremely low and that is usually the first clue that something is fishy. Most owners will work with you if you have a budget, but if you get an offer that is much lower than the asking rate you should not get a “I won the lottery” reaction- you need to be wary and extra careful as there are scammers who will ask you to wire money as a deposit. Ours asked us to send it to England, which we did not do.
As we were looked for this house on St John we scouted several sites and looked up forum posts on TripAdvisor to get insights and info from other travelers who had experience with the island. We saw several discussions on the forum boards with this same type of experience. So as the saying goes- “buyer beware”. In the end! those insights and on line discussions provided a fairly easy path to figure out where we wanted to stay.
For this trip our choice was a house up on Bordeaux Mountain because it was remote, quiet and on past visits we have stayed closer to the water and wanted the experience of being up high, but still close to some restaurants, trails and beaches. We had rented from this owner for one of our trips to St Thomas and found them to be responsive, helpful and priced within our budget. www.seatopeakvillas.com. The houses have both been clean, well stocked and the villa on St John exceeded our expectations.
Day 3 was a relaxing and fun day and as we hit the pillow that night we had a beautiful steady rain shower to lull us to sleep.

Day 1 and 2 Traveling to St John-getting everyone to the villa

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Our flights were from Chicago and Rapid City SD. We chose to fly to San Juan and spend the night on Thursday then fly to St Thomas Friday morning. We landed in San Juan at 3pm, checked into the Embassy Suites San Juan, 5 min by taxi from the airport. We waited for brother and sis in law to come in at 7:30. A visit to the pool to pass the time and a few beers at the hotel cocktail hour and then they walked in tired, but happy to be there. We had asked the bartender at the pool for a recommendation for dinner and the hotel desk gave us directions to La Playita, a restaurant on the water near the airport. The restaurant was was all they raved about and more. We were seated on the deck, with the waves lapping just below us. Coco loco drinks came in a real coconut and the beer was cold and refreshing. For dinner we ordered 2 Mofongo’s one with shrimp and one with steak, an avocado and shrimp salad (bartender recommended) and the skirt steak with chimichurrie sauce. It was a fantastic meal in a restaurant with true Caribbean ambiance. The hotel attached to the restaurant was La Playa hotel a small, 16 room boutique hotel tucked away on a quiet street,oceanside, quiet, with friendly staff that told us rooms cost $160 with a continental breakfast included. We taxied back to the hotel ready to fly over to St Thomas on Friday morning.
We arrived at the airport early, settled in to Terminal A to wait for our flight. We saw the aircraft loaded and realized that we were on what I call a “toy” airplane, a Cessna 402 prop aircraft that scared the crap out of me- but how would I get to STJ if I did not bite the bullet and get onboard. So Vagablond swallowed the fear and boarded the cute little plane. It was not a bad flight and once the borrowed Xanax pill kicked in. :0)
St Thomas airport was not busy, making us decide the coming in on a Friday morning was a very good time to arrive. We had rented two 4 door jeeps from Amalie Car rental on St Thomas, we have used them for 3 years and their cars are clean, well maintained and the service is top notch. One jeep was so new it did not have tags yet so they asked us if we could wait for about 2 hours until the car would be ready. We told them that was fine and we are on #island time so we set off on our way to one of the nearby beaches to grab a beer and hang out. We landed on Brewers Beach. There were 2 local food trucks and we bought beers and parked ourselves under a shady spot to take in the view. There was a quiet beach with a few swimmers and snorkelers, and several boats moored on buoys. After a couple of cold beers, a local tour guide walked past us, his name was Garfield and he had just brought a small group of 6 people from the cruise ship to the beach for a swim. He was headed to the food truck to have lunch and we asked him for a recommendation- he said to have a Pate- it is a pastry filled with the meat of your choice of beef, chicken, shrimp, or veggies and it is a local favorite. We spent time chatting with him for about 20 minutes. He shared local history, some observations about cruise ship passenger behaviors and told us some stories about his own family. It was a joy to learn, socialize and share with this great new friend.
We grabbed another beer and a pate and then headed over to get our jeep.
Trying not to forget that USVI drives on the left, we followed each other to the Plaza Extra grocery store for groceries including, produce, liquor and other food for our villa. We headed to Red Hook to board the car ferry for the final leg of our transport to St John. Ferry ride was about 30 minutes and our villa escort was waiting at the ferry dock. We stopped for ice and was on our way up to our villa up on Bordeaux Mountain.
The villa was gorgeous, well equipped with an awesome kitchen, outdoor grill and lots of technology for music through the house and pool areas. We unpacked, poured ourselves cocktails and sat back to watch the sunset before we had to pick up our youngest brother,the last person arriving via people ferry. We had a brief delay due to his luggage not making the flight from his connection in Miami, but they promised to bring it to the Cruz Bay people ferry dock first thing in the morning, so he jumped into a taxi to Red Hook and took the passenger ferry to Cruz Bay on St John where we met him and made out way to a little Mexican restaurant where we had margaritas and appetizers. We left Cruz Bay and headed to the villa, it was dark but we found our way with no problem. Our first day ended with all of us together, sharing good times and hitting the pillows early.

Travel with your Senior – the one in High School

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There are strong and valid reasons to travel with your teens.  With all the fear of violence in this world, many Moms have turned into helicopter parents hovering over every decision or dream their adolescent has as they move toward independence.  I vowed that this would not be my path and took specific measures to fulfill my goal of raising self assured, confident and street wise children.  My goal is to instill a sense of wonder and wanderlust that creates a constant itch for new experiences, cultures and learning across the globe.

I learned a tremendous amount about my children and the skill sets they possess by traveling with them.  When my 3 older kids were taking French in school I told them if they continued through high school I would bring them to Paris to practice the language in senior year.  They did it and I booked a 9 day trip.  The details around the trip were all handled by Mom and that was just fine with all of them.  On the trip from the airport to Paris we took public transportation.  We had 4 large bags and carry-on bags and we found ourselves trying to figure out  which train went to our hotel, dragging everything up and down multiple staircases to find the right train.  After our long flight and the time change I had 3 very cranky teens that were voicing their displeasure with my planning.

Then I had an epiphany!

Put the teens in charge!

Once we arrived in Paris we sat down and discussed how this would work.  The oldest was responsible for Transportation –  The next was to manage the finances – the third  was in charge of itinerary coordination and selection of only local and NON-chain restaurants.  They were forced to think through a few things.   What metro train should we take? Can we afford a nice dinner, or should we go to the grocery store for lunch items? Where would we go each day? Since I can’t have McDonalds, What will I eat!!!

They got very excited to be “in charge” and worked together to decide what we would do with our time.  I was delighted that they all wanted to go to Jim Morrison’s grave – a bit of a surprise to me, but I felt validated as a parent because I taught them about good rock music!

We saw the major sites including the Musee du Louvre,  Eiffel Tower, Arc de triomphe, Notre Dame and took trips to Claude Monet’s garden at Giverny and the Palace of Versailles.  We never got lost and no one pouted that they did not get their way.  We also took a train to Geneva Switzerland and rented a car to Montreaux for two nights.  We went to Zermatt to see the Matterhorn and shared many laughs while making great memories.  They had agreed to save enough of our money to get a car service back to the airport as they had no desire to relive the trip to Paris from CDG again.

The best part for me as the Mom was seeing that I had capable young adults.  They walked the streets of Paris with confidence, my 15 year old son had his first kiss sitting on the steps of the Grande Arche De la Defense, my daughter learned about safe travels when she watched a pickpocket lift a tourists wallet out of a backpack, As we drove away from our hotel headed for the airport my oldest said, “As I travel, the more I see  the more I want to see!”  These young adults felt empowered and could not wait to figure out where they wanted to go next.