Traveling Mamas

Inspiring you to explore our world

  • What is a romantic escape? Does it really have to be about time with your significant other? Does is have to be a honeymoon trip or anniversary journey? Is it who you are with or is it about where you go?

    My affair with Ireland began before I visited this magical place. I read about it as a child, with stories of fairies and legends like The Blarney Stone. I read about the mists in history books and her heroes in my romance novels. When the offer was made to travel across the ocean and actually step foot on this island, I jumped at the chance to meet one of my crushes.

    My entire being began to change when I stepped off the plane. My hair curled up, and I longed to start my exploration of the land that inspired so many writers. I visited faery rings, wondering if any of these places were portals into other worlds, like C.S. Lewis’ Narnia. I enjoyed dinner at a private residence overlooking the inspiration of Lake Isle of Innisfree by W.B. Yeats while my host read the poem aloud in between courses.

    I visited a seaside spa in Sligo and floated in a seaweed bath, imagining myself as a mermaid. I walked the streets of Dublin late one night, in search of Bram Stoker’s residence where he penned Dracula. I enjoyed a pint of Guinness at Davy Byrnes on Grafton Street, the place where James Joyce used to frequent.

    I learned about my name, Shannon, and the river my mother named me after. I also learned that the Irish don’t name their children Shannon, as it would be like an American naming their child Mississippi or Rio Grande, but the legend of Sinaan and how the river was named is a fascinating story in itself.

    I danced with friends and I danced with strangers all over the island, from Sligo, to Donegal, to Dublin. I enjoyed the food and the drink and the people. I fell in love with Ireland and I discovered a new depth in my soul and even fell in love with myself. I knew that when I returned home to my family I would be able to hold the memories of Ireland dear to my heart whenever I thought my life was dull with dishes, laundry, and carpools.

    Every once in a while, when life gets still, one might be able to find me listening to a bit of Celtic music, drinking a hot cup of Irish Breakfast tea, and flipping through photos or reading the poetry of Keats. My romantic affair with Ireland will always be in my heart, never to be forgotten.

    Ireland is a welcoming destination for families, romantic escapes (with or without spouse), girlfriend getaways, and definitely soul-oh trips. When you find the real Ireland, you find yourself. For more information visit DiscoverIreland.com or find your own romantic escape closer to home.

    This article was originally published here on October 26, 2008

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  • Picture yourself at Walt Disney World, pushing a stroller around, possibly on a multi-generational family trip, and you find nap time is quickly approaching – for everyone. You just want a little Me Time. There’s nothing wrong with that. Parents need to stay sane and take advantage of down time, or even treat themselves to a visit to the parks WITHOUT the kids. Family travel can get crazy, so why not
    ask a family member to watch the kids, giving you and your spouse a few moments of adult time.

    Did you know there are nearly 400 places to dine across Walt Disney World Resort? And that’s not counting the portable food carts. In all, more than 6,000 different food items are available. And chances are, if the restaurants aren’t in the Magic Kingdom, they just might have an adult beverages on the menu for you to enjoy. If wine is your poison of choice, then you’ll want to know that more than 600 sommeliers have been awarded the Court of Master Sommelier Introductory Certificate at Walt Disney World Resort, with more than 300 sommeliers currently in restaurants.

    With so many restaurants and dining choices, where should you go for that “special” drink? Here are just of few of our top choices for a cocktail, beer, or wine while at Walt Disney World.

    Epcot’s World Showcase 

    United Kingdom – The Rose and Crown Pub and Dining room brings visitors into Victorian England with its etched glass panels, dark mahogany bar and authentic dart board. If you are looking for hearty ale, this place offers specially designed ale warmer can heat your Guinness to 55 degrees, should that be your preference.

    Mexico – The pavilion features a festive and colorful celebration of the beauty and culture of Mexico that is fun for guests of all ages. “Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros” is an excursion by tour boat through the vibrant, eye-filling sights and lively music of Mexico. If you’re interested in margaritas, you should check out ThemeParkMom’s review of inventive margaritas at La Hacienda de San Angel, a new restaurant in EPCOT.

    Japan – In the Matsu-no-ma Lounge, visitors see a majestic view of Future World across the lagoon while sampling sushi, Japanese pickled vegetables, tempura and exotic specialty drinks.

    Germany – Biergarten, an indoor German “courtyard” featuring a German Oktoberfest buffet. At lunch and dinner time, yodelers, dancers and other lederhosen-clad musicians perform an Oktoberfest dinner show. Guests are invited onstage to join in the musical fun. The wine shop nearby offers samples of Ice Wine for a few bucks. Definitely worth a try.

    French Champagne and Wine cart at EPCOT World ShowcaseFrance – Want a glass of vino but don’t want to wait in the long line inside the wine shop? Across from the front of France there is a wine cart serving Champagne, wines, and frozen blends.

    Want more? Check out our extensive list of wine, beer, and cocktails at Epcot’s World Showcase.

    Other Venues at Disney with Alcohol

    Victoria Falls at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge – Down a flight of stairs from the lobby, this mezzanine lounge serves wine and spirits imported from Africa, including Windhoek beer from Namibia and Imoya Brandy from South Africa. The specialty drink is a Victoria Falls Mist, with tangerine, melon and banana liqueurs. Animal Kingdom Lodge has the largest offering of South African wines anywhere in the US. Be sure to check out Jiko, The Cooking Place, too!

    The Wave at Disney’s Contemporary Resort – Trendy cocktails are served for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Start the day with a Pomegranate Splash (vodka, pomegranate liqueur, cranberry juice and soda water) or the Ultimate Bloody Mary (organic vodka, Bloody Mary mix and a dash of red chili sauce). The Pure-tini mixes organic vodka with organic mango and passion fruit liqueur. The Antioxidant Cocktail features wild berry vodka, black raspberry liqueur, açai juice with agave, lychee, aloe juice and freshly squeezed lemon juice.

    Tune-In Lounge at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, next door to 50’s Prime Time Cafe, looks like a family den from the ’50s, with black-and-white TVs and campy retro furniture. You can choose kitschy drinks from “Dad’s Liquor Cabinet” such as Uncle Tim’s Melon Margarita, Scooter’s Long Island Iced Tea or an Electric Lemonade. Beer and wine is offered, too. My personal favorite is a Magical Star. Check out this video of inside Tune-In Lounge at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, as part of our Cocktail Series.

    Dawa Bar adjacent to Tusker House Restaurant at Disney’s Animal Kingdom – Sit in the shade and sip a hard-to-find Tusker Beer from Africa or Safari Amber, brewed just for Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. South African wines are on the drink menu, too, along with cocktails like Lost on Safari with rum and fruit juices.

    Dawa Bar at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge

    Mizner’s at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa – A live orchestra plays nostalgic Big Band sounds just outside the doors of this lounge tucked away on the second floor of the hotel. The lounge’s namesake is architect Addison Mizner, whose designs launched a “Florida Renaissance” in the 1920s, so the sophisticated drinks are apropos: champagnes, caipirinhas, mint juleps and cosmopolitans, along with nine vodkas, seven different single malt scotch whiskeys and after-dinner cognacs and ports.

    There are more than 50 lounges in Walt Disney World hotels and three theme parks (no alcohol in Magic Kingdom. Again I stress. No alcohol in Magic Kingdom), making this list just a sampling of the many great place for big kids like parents to have their own magic time at Walt Disney World. If there’s a place you’d like us to know about, be sure to leave a comment, helping our readers discover new places to sample adult beverages.

    If you find yourself wandering around looking for a place to buy alcohol at Disney, all you have to do is ask one of the friendly cast members, who can point you in the right direction.  Be sure to drink plenty of water while you’re in the parks also, as alcohol is dehydrating. Designate a driver or take advantage of Disney’s resort transportation. Cheers!

    All Disney venues selling alcohol have a limit of two beverages per sale per person to limit overindulgence on property. Remember, cocktails can be fun, but this is a family friendly destination and not a place to act inappropriate.

     

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  • The Final Season of Oprah is closing with the ultimate adventure – Ms. Winfrey surprised an entire audience with a trip to accompany Ms. Winfrey on her first trip to Australia. The group landed in Oz and broke off to experience different adventures across the country. I’m so excited to see others get a chance to have an amazing and unbelievable adventure trip like this and hope they all have a wonderful, lasting travel experience.

    Oprah landed in the country to meet up with the tour group. She and her best friend Gayle King (and entourage) spent some time at Hamilton Island Wildlife Park and The Great Barrier Reef. The friends enjoyed a barbecue on Whitehaven Beach prepared by Australian chef Curtis Stone. Now this is beginning to sound like one of the best getaways ever!

    Uluru glowing

    Stops for the various audience members (broken into smaller groups) include some of the following:

    A helitour of Uluru and Kata Tjuta

    Lodging at Longitude 131 – I’ve had this luxury camping resort on my list of places to experience. You have to go glamping at least once! It’s near Ayers Rock (Uluru) and looks absolutely fabulous.

    Surfing Lessons at Byron Bay

    A Hot Air Balloon Ride in the Hunter Valley

    Melbourne

    Be sure to watch the entire coverage of Oprah’s Ultimate Australia Adventure which will air on two episodes. I can’t wait to watch and start planning my own ultimate Australia adventure and to follow along Oprah Winfrey as she takes her next path on her life journey with the upcoming launch of OWN the Oprah Winfrey Network which premiers January 1, 2011. Tonight I’ll be settling in to watch the Barbara Walter’s special about Oprah on ABC.

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  • When you think about a weekend getaway or escape, what city immediately comes to mind? For many people I know, that city is Las Vegas. That’s why I was so excited to make my first trip to Vegas last month for a girlfriend getaway with CajunMama and MommyMusings.

    And I was absolutely thrilled when I found out we would be staying at Aria, one of Vegas’s newest hotels.

    Aria is in Las Vegas’s City Center adjacent to Crystals, a brand-new upscale shopping destination where the storefronts boast names like Balenciaga, Stella McCartney and even Harry Winston.

    The Public Spaces

    While hotel-casinos with names like New York New York, Paris and Luxor are known for their over-the-top theming, Aria’s design doesn’t “scream” anything. It is modern and elegant, and quite understated by Vegas standards.

    The building consists of two curved 61-story towers built of glass and steel, set next to each other for a wave effect. Inside, the design is clean, with lots of stone and wood elements. It’s modern beauty everywhere you look.

    One thing that I immediately noticed about Aria was that there is a separation between the casino and the rest of the public spaces that doesn’t exist in many Las Vegas hotels. Just a few steps outside of the casino in the hotel lobby, you almost forget the casino is there.

    Don’t get me wrong – I know casinos are one of the main draws. But their environments, with all the lights and noise, can be overstimulating. I found it refreshing to be able to step away and refresh in the lobby bar or other public spaces in a more relaxing setting.

    The Casino

    Aria’s Casino is beautiful as well, with lots of rich wood and plenty of space to move around – 150,000 square feet of it, as a matter of fact. There are 145 gaming tables and nearly 2,000 slot machines.

    The whole place feels ultra-modern. And clean. One of the biggest complaints you hear about in Las Vegas are the smoky casinos, because smoking is allowed indoors here. But Aria must be employing some state-of-the-art air filtering systems here, because I never, ever smelled or saw smoke in the Aria Casino.

    The Guest Rooms

    The guest rooms continued the modern rich wood and stone surfaces seen in Aria’s public spaces. They are roomy, and we found the space great for housing multiple adults on a trip like ours – a girlfriend getaway.

    There were two large closet armoires and several deep drawers just inside the entry, with plenty of room for four adults to unpack a long weekend’s worth of clothes.

    The bathroom was very spacious – with a long counter and double sink that allowed two or three of us to be doing our hair and makeup simultaneously. The toilet was behind a separate door, and the room featured both a garden tub and a walk-in shower.

    All three of us found Aria’s beds comfortable, although I have to admit that in Las Vegas, we didn’t spend nearly enough time sleeping in them.

    One more note about Aria’s guest rooms: Even though this was a girlfriend getaway, I did have to do some work during our long weekend. I found the Internet at Aria to be excellent compared to most hotels. It was quite possibly the fastest in-room Internet I’ve experienced in the dozens of hotels I’ve stayed in the past few years. I carry a Verizon Mi-Fi to guard against situations where the Internet wireless signal is poor or speed is slow, which is the case more often than not. I never even removed the Mi-Fi from my suitcase at Aria.

    The Guest Room touchpads

    On the cab ride from the airport, my taxi driver told me that Aria guest rooms have a touchpad that controls everything. I thought, “Well, that’s cool, there’s a touchpad to control the lights or something.” But that cab driver wasn’t exaggerating – Aria guest rooms are equipped with a touchpad that does everything but pull the covers up to your chin.

    I will admit that I arrived at Aria several hours before the other Traveling Mamas, and I probably spent the bulk of that time playing with the touchpad controls in the guest room. It was easy to figure out how to operate these controls. Right from your bed, you can adjust the thermostat, turn any light in the room on or off, control the TV and/or music playing in the room, and – my favorite – open or close the sheers and/or drapes on the room’s floor-t0-ceiling windows.

    With one touch of the “goodnight” button, you can shut off all the lights and electronics in the room. And you can set a wake-up sequence that will open the curtains and turn on lights and the TV at your chosen time. It was like something out of the Jetsons – a fun addition to your escape.

    The digital controls in each guestroom also have a number of themes programmed for different situations. For example, when I entered the room for the first time, the controls were set to a theme just for that occasion that opened the curtains on the dramatic windows in front of me and turned on lights around the room. In the evenings, the rooms are set for a theme that lowers the lights and plays soothing music.

    Aria’s service

    I had nothing but pleasant experiences with Aria employees. My check-in experience went extremely smoothly. Ever-present casino security guards were not at all obtrusive, and everyone I encountered on bell service and at the taxi stand was friendly and helpful.

    The housekeeping service at Aria is excellent. Our room was made up twice daily and because Las Vegas is a 24-hour town, it was made up when we needed it to be. Once when we accidentally left the Privacy light on in the room until mid-afternoon, our room was still made up for the day – show me that happening in another city. (And yes, I *may* have turned that light on when playing with the touchpad, again.)

    The restaurants

    Aria is a premiere dining and entertainment destination in Las Vegas as well as being a great hotel. Big-time chefs with names like Masayoshi Takayama and Julian Serrano rule the kitchens here.

    There are 17 different eateries to choose from at Aria alone, with dozens more at the adjacent hotels and shopping areas in City Center.

    One of our most memorable meals in Las Vegas was at Sage, Chef Shawn McClain’s restaurant at Aria.

    Final thoughts

    Overall, our Aria experience was excellent from start to finish. I honestly can’t find anything negative to say about it.

    I highly recommend a stay at Aria when you visit Las Vegas. As I said earlier, because of the room (and especially bathroom) layout, I found the guest rooms especially excellent for accommodating multiple adults (like on a girlfriend or guy’s getaway) or for families.

    Thanks to Aria for hosting our hotel stay.

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  • Rainbow Tower at Hilton Hawaiian Village Resort and Spa (c) Hilton Hotels and ResortsHawaii always seems to be in the top choice of destinations on almost any travel list. It definitely was one of those places I could only dream about from my house in Louisiana. A few years ago, Hilton Hotels in Hawai’i invited me to experience one of their most iconic properties in the world. I was excited at the opportunity and felt like I was dreaming when I stepped off the plane in Honolulu and entered the world of Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort and Spa – a perfect place for a family vacation in Hawaii, a gathering of gal pals, or a Hawaiian honeymoon.

    I spent every second of my visit exploring this 22 acre property and getting LOST on the island of Oahu, which recently had a cameo appearance in the new Hawaii 5-0. Here are some of the top things I loved about the Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort and Spa:

    The Beach – Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort and Spa boasts the largest hotel beach area in Waikiki and I have to admit that there’s plenty of room to catch some sun. Onsite is also the Duke Kahanamoku Lagoon, a 5-acre saltwater lagoon with activities and tons of chairs to relax and catch some sun. Each day at 11am is Surfing 101, a fun, 30 minute complimentary session by surfing experts to entertain and inform about the history of surfing.

    Blue Hawaii invented by retired Hilton Hawaiian Village bartender (c) Hilton Hotels and ResortsThe History – If knowing that Elvis stayed here and threw albums off the balcony isn’t enough to pique your interest, how about those Blue Hawaiians and Mai Tais? The Hilton Hawaiian Beach Resort and Spa sits on the site of the 1928 Niumalu Hotel. A retired Hilton Hawaiian Village bartender invented the famous cocktail, Blue Hawaii.

    The Penguins – Who knew that penguins liked Hawaii? On the hotel property, catch a glimpse of these waddling cutie pies. The penguins and turtles are fed each morning at 8am. Be sure to meet at the Penguin Pool next to the Ali’i Tower to watch.

    Ocean Crystal Wedding Chapel at Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort and Spa (c) Hilton Hotels and ResortsThe Wedding Chapel – If I were getting married again, I would have to put the Ocean Crystal Wedding Chapel on my shortlist. The chapel is set in a lush tropical garden and seats up to 70 guests offering panoramic floor to ceiling views.

    The Activities – There are daily cultural activities for all ages scheduled throughout the day and week. Learn about the history of the Hula, how to make a Lei or Haku Lei wristlet (extra charges apply), and even take Ukelele lessons (minimum age 12 years old). Camp Penguin is a chance for kids ages 5-12 to learn about Hawai’i and her culture through supervised fun and educational activities. There is a charge for Camp Penguin and sometimes there are off-site excursions planned giving parents a chance to enjoy some downtime while the kids are entertained.

    Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort and Spa Paradise Pool (c) Hilton Hotels and ResortsThe Pools – The Paradise Pool is the newly re-opened aquatic fun area at Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort and Spa. The pool is for registered guests wearing a wristband and offers four waterslides (one a whopping 72-foot lava tube), lava rock formations, three waterfalls, and two heated spas. This is only one of the many pools available at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort and Spa.

    The Fireworks – Each Friday at 7:45 pm fireworks light up the beach and sky at the finale of the Rockin’ Hawaiian Rainbow Revue. Poolside seating can be reserved for $20 per ticket (includes one Mait Tai punch or non-alcoholic drink). My suggestion is to grab a blanket and sit on the beach to watch a spectacular ending to a beautiful day in a gorgeous destination.

    The Cuisine – There are so many dining venues to choose from, that visitors to Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort and Spa many not even want to leave the property. I was fortunate enough to dine each evening of my stay at a different venue and explore the other dining options onsite. There’s even a Starbucks for those of you who can’t live without this brand, but I opted to enjoy a fresh steaming cup of Kona Coffee with my breakfast each morning.

    The Rooms – I stayed in The Rainbow Tower in a corner king room with a view of the lagoon area and ocean. The room was spacious, clean, and offered amazing views. I was greeted in my room with a gorgeous ginger lei and the ingredients for a Mai Tai. There are five towers to choose from for accommodations with the Ali’i Tower being the most exclusive and private. Each tower has it’s own personality and decor, with keeping in the standard Hilton line of luxury furnishings and bedding.

    The SpaMandara Spa is a destination in itself, as one of the largest spas in Waikiki. I enjoyed a Balinese Body Polish with Massage and was totally relaxed during my stay. The mosaic tiled private outdoor pool is a perfect spot for a personal retreat away from the every day world.

    A Mama Moment – Sure, there are so many activities and things to do at Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort and Spa, but nothing beats just being in Hawaii, sitting on the beach, listening to the waves lap the shore as children giggle and play nearby. A Blue Hawaii in hand completed my mama moment as I dreamed about pineapples, volcanos, and exotic flora.

    Special thanks to Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort and Spa for providing this experience.

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