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Here at TravelingMamas.com, we believe travel not only educates, but changes lives. Sometimes, it’s that one moment from travels during childhood or the teen years that sticks with us and inspires greatness.
One story that struck a chord with me is the journey of Gail Ambrosius. She visited France as a teen on a school trip and had one of those life-changing moments – she decided to become a chocolatier. Gail returned home and did what most of us do; she got married, took a “safe” job, and became a mother. Life has a way of pushing us to the place we’re supposed to be and sometime we make detours on our journey that prepare us for when that moment comes upon us. It makes us stronger. Gail never lost her love and desire for chocolate, and in 2004 she made a decision to pursue her dreams.
Today, the product of that delicious dream can be found on Atwood Avenue in Madison, Wisconsin at Gail Ambrosius Chocolatier. These truffles are free of preservatives and bring the adventure of worldwide destinations through smooth and creamy chocolate experiences. There are seasonal chocolates and collections such as Classic Collection, Adventure Collection, and Tea Inspired Collection.
Gail uses products from all over the world and the creamy, rich flavors reveal themselves on the tongue. The inspiration of worldwide destinations via a culinary caravan of chocolate is what makes TravelingMamas.com adore this indulging treat. Gail Ambrosius is definitely a Traveling Mama to admire.
TravelingMamas.com shared this travel-inspired product with guests of Wine in the City last week. Each dinner guest received a six piece box of Gail Ambrosius Chocolatier handmade truffles to enjoy while writing about their travel and culinary experiences. Thank you, Gail Ambrosius, for your courage and persistence to follow your dreams and bring to the world this delightful and elegant culinary experience.
Travel and cruise questions are some of the items that come into the TravelingMamas.com inbox. Recently, I answered this question on air with WAFB, a Baton Rouge area news station. One thing I realized during the interview is that the time was way too short to get all the juicy details mentioned. If you have travel questions you’d like answered on air, be sure to send me an email to Travel at WAFB dot com. If you’re planning your first cruise, these tips may help save you a few dollars.
Q: When travelers book a cruise, what exactly are they paying for?
Every cruise line is different, but most include the same basics – your cabin, meals (at certain restaurants and some cruise lines include room service), taxes, tea and water, some entertainment and limited child care. You can opt to book your shore excursions in advance and pay for gratuities ahead of time. This eliminates the bulk of your cruise costs so your can relax and not have to worry about major expenses.
Q: What are some common mistakes people make when cruising?
Sitting by the pool and ordering drinks can really add up. So can the professional photo ops located around the cruise ship.
Q: Some families bring their kids on a cruise. What about childcare and kid’s activities?
First, be aware that all cruise lines (except Disney) do not change diapers, so if you’re little one isn’t potty trained, you cannot use the childcare onboard. Also, be sure to check with the cruise line before booking, but most do not allow children under 6 months of age to cruise. Kids clubs vary by cruise line, but those most conducive to families are Carnival Cruise Line (Camp Carnival), Norwegian Cruise Line, and Royal Caribbean. On sea days, kids activities are included in your cruise rate, but during the evening hours and port days there will be extra charges for the under 12 age group. Read what my teen and tween had to say about kids cruising on the Carnival Fantasy.
Q: Do you have any advice to help travelers save money or any tips when cruising?
Again, watch the alcohol intake. Check individual cruise line rules, but you ARE allowed to bring aboard a certain amount of soft drinks, bottled water, and limited bottles of wine or Champagne per cabin. Set charging limits for your children (or even yourself if you’re worried about overdoing it). For couples wanting to AVOID kids, choose a cruise line such as Princess (the Love Boat cruise line) for a romantic cruise or cruise when school is in session. A secret term in the industry is Dead Week – the week after Thanksgiving and the week after New Year’s. These are some of the best times to cruise as there are free upgrades, onboard credit specials, and all around deals. Be sure to check out ThemeParkMom’s tips for saving money on a cruise.
Q: What are some other resources for cruise tips?
Besides TravelingMamas.com, my two favorite cruise sites are CruiseDiva.com and CruiseCritic.com. If you’re searching for a way to give back while on your cruise, be sure to check out TogetherforGood.org and Cruise4Haiti.
Be sure to send your travel questions to WAFB.
All my life, I have driven on I-75 to and from Florida once, twice or a dozen times a year. And for those of you who have done it, you know that means you see a lot — a lot — of Georgia interstate.
You also see a lot of fast-food joints and chain restaurants. But if you can wait to eat until you’re around Atlanta, there are a couple of gems just off the highway that are great for families. Here are my favorite spots for a meal along I-75 near Atlanta:
The Varsity (I-75 Exit 249D)
The Varsity has been serving up chili cheese dogs, onion rings and fried pies for 80+ years in Atlanta. The food is good, but this place is really about the experience. It’s packed at nearly any time of the day, and you’d better have your order ready when you get to the counter, because the cashier will bark “What’ll ya have? What’ll ya have?” until you spit it out.
Kids can pick up a free paper Varsity bell-hop hat. And be sure to get them a Frosted Orange – which tastes like a creamsicle in a cup. Just being in the hustle and bustle of the Varsity is exciting, and there’s plenty to read about the history of the place, too.
One note of caution, though: If you’re road tripping during college football season, you may want to check to see if Georgia Tech is playing at home that day before planning a stop at The Varsity. On a normal day, the restaurant serves two miles of hot dogs and 2,500 pounds of potatoes. On a Georgia Tech game day, those numbers double.
Marietta Diner (I-75 Exit 263)
The Marietta Diner‘s menu could be the biggest challenge you face all day. There are literally hundreds of items to choose from. Just about anything you can think of – from pastas to pies to pork chops – is on it. In fact, on a recent visit I asked about an item and stumped the waiter – he couldn’t find it when flipping through the multi-page menu for himself.
Most of the meals include a salad AND a soup. I recommend the Greek salad made with a ton of fresh ingredients and a huge chunk of feta, and the chicken matzo ball soup. In fact, I’m full after eating those two things and the free spanakopita that is served with the bread on the table.
But then the entrees come, and they are amazingly huge, too. We’re talking two 1 1/2-inch thick pork chops on a 16-inch platter of rice and teriyaki vegetables. For one person. It’s the kind of thing I could serve my whole family and still have leftovers. So plan for that by sharing, or if you’re going to have a microwave where you’re headed, take it with you. Trust me, no one is walking out of this place without a to-go box.
Not surprisingly, there’s plenty to choose from on the kids menu, and kids will get a kick out of eating in a classic chrome diner. They’ll also need some time to ogle at the dessert case, which is filled with cakes that stand more than a foot tall.
(You’ll be too full for dessert at the end of your meal, but do yourself a favor and take a piece of cake to go to share at the hotel later.)
This summer, my family took our first cruise together on the Carnival Fantasy. One of the highlights for my six-year-old daughter was Camp Carnival– the children’s activity program included with every Carnival cruise.
Things to know about Camp Carnival
Camp Carnival is separated into three age groups. Toddlers (2-5 year olds) and Juniors (6-8 year olds) have their own dedicated play rooms, while Intermediates (9-11 year olds) have activities all across the ship. Each group has its own schedule of age-appropriate activities. My daughter’s favorites included t-shirt coloring, making a memory book, building (and erupting) a volcano, dance time and the talent show.
You must register your child before you can send them to Camp Carnival. This is an easy process that can be done once onboard- I recommend registering as soon as you get on the boat. You will need to take your child (along with anyone in your party who will be dropping off/picking up) to Camp Carnival headquarters to fill out a release form. From there, you are given a schedule and can drop off/pick up whenever you please- as long as Camp Carnival is open.
Camp Carnival doesn’t run all day. On sea days, Camp Carnival is closed between 12:00pm-2:00pm & 3:45pm.-4:45pm. This ensures family time if you have a kid (like mine) who wants to stay all day. We used this time to eat lunch as a family, hang by the pool and play miniature golf. Camp closes every night at 10:00pm. There is after-hours care for $6/hr until 3:00am.
Camp Carnival gives kids a safe place to play, while giving parents some time to themselves. There is a very strict sign in/sign out process as well as a video monitor outside the play area to spy on your child (for ages 6-8). For parents with toddlers, there is pager system that alerts you if your child needs something.
The counselors are well trained and awesome! All Camp staff are either college educated in a related field or have professional child-care experience.
Being that this was a family vacation, I didn’t expect to use the service more than once or twice during our trip. That all changed after “T-shirt Coloring” on our first night at sea…my daughter was hooked! From that point, I realized she would rather make friends and play games then hang out with me on the Lido deck.
I don’t know why I was surprised. 😉
Special thanks to Carnival Cruise Lines for hosting my family
If your idea of dining at theme parks is a fast-food burger and fries from an outdoor stand, you might be surprised to find that a Walt Disney World vacation can include fine cuisine and many unique dining experiences. There are hundreds of dining options at the Walt Disney World resort. During my family’s multiple visits each year, there are some favorite restaurants that keep us coming back again and again.
Reservations are strongly recommended for all of these top Disney World restaurants. They can be made up to 180 days in advance on line or by calling (407) 939-3463. Six months in advance may seem like overkill, but during the busy season, seatings do fill up several months early, so it’s best to book your Disney dining as soon as you can.
Here are my picks for the best restaurants in Walt Disney World:
California Grill is the classic fine dining restaurant at Walt Disney World, offering California Fusion cuisine and spectacular views of the Magic Kingdom and the Seven Sea Lagoon.
Where: Disney’s Contemporary Resort
Menu highlights: Yellowfin Tuna Three Ways, Maine Lobster Risotto, Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Zinfandel Glaze and the cheese board, which changes frequently.
What I love most: Watching the fireworks explode over Cinderella Castle at the end of a wonderful meal
At Todd English’s bluezoo, you can dine on “coastal gourmet” dishes in a gorgeous restaurant designed to make you feel like you are underwater.
Where: Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort
Menu highlights: Berbere Spiced Swordfish, Tempura Haricot Vert and the Mai Tai Banana Cream Tart
What I love most: The creative cocktails, which change frequently — bacon whiskey, anyone? — and the free child care offered at Camp Dolphin while you dine.
Citricos serves a frequently changing menu of Tuscan, Provencal and Spanish cuisine in the regal surroundings of one of Disney World’s finest hotels.
Where: Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa
Menu highlights: Arancini (Crispy Risotto with Italian Sausage and White Truffle Aioli), Goat Cheese Truffle Salad and Braised Veal Shank with a Toasted Citrus Gremolata
What I love most: The extravagance of dining on a specially designed menu in Citrico’s private Chef’s Domain room.
The best breakfast at Walt Disney World is at Kona Cafe, which offers American fare with a few Asian and Polynesian twists.
Where: Disney’s Polynesian Resort
Menu highlights: Tonga Toast (banana-stuffed sourdough French toast coated in cinnamon sugar) and The Samoan (poached eggs and hollandaise over pulled pork hash)
What I love most: 100% Kona coffee served in a French-press
The Wave is all about healthy, sustainable eating at Walt Disney World. It’s a great place for a lighter dinner after all the vacation “treats” we tend to consume.
Where: Disney’s Contemporary Resort
Menu highlights: Five-Spice Chicken Lettuce Wraps and the sustainable fish of the day, served with a Cilantro Chutney
What I love most: The wine list, which features many unusual Southern Hemisphere wines to discover.
Dining in venues where Disney characters visit your table is a classic Walt Disney World experience, and The Garden Grill is my choice for the best character meal at Walt Disney World.
Where: The Land pavilion inside the EPCOT theme park
Menu highlights: Family-style meal including grilled flank steak, roast turkey and vegetables grown in The Land’s greenhouse.
What I love most: Watching little faces light up as Mickey Mouse appears to give warm hugs and pose for pictures.
The menu changes seasonally at Jiko – The Cooking Place, which successfully combines African and Indian flavors with Mediterranean cuisine in one of the most beautifully decorated restaurants at Walt Disney World.
Where: Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge
Menu highlights: Tibs Watt in Pannekoeke (beef-stuffed crepes with an olive tapenade), Braised Beet Salad with goat cheese and Spiced Crusted Tuna
What I love most: The specialty tea menu, which includes a flowery Earl Grey, Pear Tree Green Tea and a whole-fruit Tisane
At Kouzzina by Cat Cora, you can watch your food prepared in the giant open kitchen and dine on Greek and Mediterranean favorites.
Where: Disney’s Boardwalk
Menu highlights: Cinnamon Stewed Chicken, Char-grilled Lamb Burger and Sauteed Brussels Sprouts
What I love most: The wine flights offered here, which allow you to taste three great wines for around $15.
Wise-cracking servers dish out home cooking from mom’s kitchen at 50’s Prime Time Cafe, where the dining is all about the experience.
Where: Disney’s Hollywood Studios theme park
Menu highlights: Mom’s Old-Fashioned Pot Roast and Aunt Liz’s Golden Fried Chicken (both served with mashed potatoes, of course!) and the PB&J milkshake
What I love most: The banter between servers and guests, who are told to keep their elbows off the table and eat their vegetables
Teppan Edo offers dinner and a show, as a traditional Teppan chef cooks your meal tableside.
Where: Japan pavilion inside the EPCOT theme park
Menu highlights: Filet mignon, shrimp, chicken and other Teppan-yaki favorites, grilled with vegetables and Udon noodles
What I love most: The Japan pavilion is one of the prettiest places in the World Showcase, and the kids in our party always love this dining experience.