A Night in Newport

Every once and a while, my boyfriend and I like to get away for just a night or two. It’s much more affordable than a full on vacation but it’s a nice way to recharge when things have been a little crazy.

One of our favorite places to go is Newport, RI. It’s a cute little town with a lot of history, including the Bellevue Ave mansions. There are tons of cute hotels and B&B’s to choose from and lots of delicious restaurants.

We went down to Newport for a night last weekend to celebrate me finishing my first MBA class (yay!). We had such a fun trip!

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We stayed at an adorable bed & breakfast called The Victorian Ladies Inn. It was cozy with a friendly staff and a delicious breakfast included. We stayed in the Arthur room (I forgot to take a picture!) and it was really nice. Very clean and spacious and the bed was incredibly comfortable.

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When we booked our hotel, we were also able to book discounted tickets to tour the famous Bellevue Ave mansions. We’ve been to some of the mansions before, but they’re so beautiful and intricate that I love going again and again.

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On Saturday, we toured The Breakers (pictured above) and did the servant life tour at the Elms. On Sunday, we did the Rosecliff tour (pictures below). We were a bit tired by then, so we decided to save the last tour for another date. The great thing about the mansions tickets is they never expire!

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It was a great one night getaway, and one I would suggest for any fellow New Englander, or someone visiting the area. There’s a little something for everyone! There are lots of shops and restaurants, beaches and historical tours. I love Newport and can’t wait to go back soon 🙂

Have you ever been to Newport? Where is your favorite getaway spot?

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Girls Weekend in Napa – Part Two

This post is a continuation of an earlier one – check out Part One here.

So in Part One we covered the basics – transportation, housing and food. Now on to the good stuff – the wine! We went to a total of four wineries over two days, which I felt was a pretty good balance. Not too much wine (apparently that can happen) and definitely not too little wine!

Hall Winery: Wine Tasting 101
We had no idea what to expect going to Hall, which was our first stop on Saturday. We had actually intended to go to a different winery but they were all booked up (note to self: make winery reservations more than 3 days in advance…). But we totally lucked out at Hall!

IMG_2062.JPGA peek at the grounds of Hall Winery

It’s a newer winery, so the building is really modern with lots of cool art installations. During the class, our instructor Chris, who is a sommelier, taught us all about the different types of wine and gave us lots of information about wine and tastings that we used the rest of the trip.

IMG_2076.JPGOne of the many cool art installations

Grape Stomping at Grgich
Next up was some good old-fashioned grape stomping! I think my expectations were a little high for this excursion (thanks to Lucy & Ethel) so I didn’t love this stop. Grgich offers a wine tasting and grape stomping with a free t shirt for $30, which is a reasonably priced deal.

Having come right from Hall, I was disappointed in the tasting. The employees didn’t know much about the wines and were a bit standoffish. The grape stomping was just a kiddie pool sized “wooden” container full of mostly already smushed grapes. It was a fun thing to do once, but I don’t think I would go back.

IMG_2096.JPGGrape Stomping

Beringer Tour and Tasting
Our last stop for the day on Saturday was Beringer. Now all you recent college graduates might remember Beringer as a classic college wine, perhaps even the first you tried, since it’s so inexpensive. But you might not realize that Beringer was one of the original three California wineries and has been around for well over 100 years!

IMG_2122.JPGRhine House at Beringer

The tour was really fun! Like several other wineries, they had caves for storing the barrels, which makes for an interesting experience. We got to do a barrel tasting and then a traditional tasting. Our tour guide was fun and it was cool to hear about the winery’s history.

IMG_2158.JPGBeringer Tasting Spread

Castello di Amorosa
By Sunday, our group had shrunk from 7 to 3, due to flights. We decided to head a little further north to Calistoga to visit a winery with a replica 13th century Tuscan castle. It was beautiful! And only about 15 min from our house in St. Helena.

IMG_2168-0.JPGMy favorite picture of the whole trip

We lucked out with another great tour guide. She knew lots of interesting historical and wine-related facts. We did another barrel tasting and then got to choose 5 (five!!) wines to taste. We really enjoyed the tour, but I think it is one best enjoyed in a small group. We had only two other guests along with our group of three and it was a great size.

IMG_2225.JPGSo many barrels!

Sadly, after this we had to head back towards San Francisco 😦 We had a great weekend and would definitely go back!

Have you ever been to Napa? What wineries would you recommend (or not recommend) visiting?

Girls Weekend in Napa – Part One

As I mentioned last week, I went to Napa Valley with some of my sorority sisters for the weekend. We had an amazing time and I thought I’d share our itinerary for anyone else who is interested in going!

First off, to explain, Napa is HUGE. There are over 700 wineries spread out through Northern California. There are different areas you can visit, such as Sonoma, St. Helena and Calistoga. We spent most our trip in St. Helena and loved it.

Flights
Napa is about 2 hours from any airport. We chose to fly into SFO in San Francisco, since it was the largest and had the most flight options. Flying from Boston cost about $350. A little high for my tight budget but I used credit card rewards to pay for most of it, so I was pretty happy. (Thank you Capital One Venture card!)

If you’re flying from the east coast, I suggest a direct flight. It’s a long flight and then you still have to drive to Napa itself. No need to make a long day even longer and only save $50!

Lodgings
There are some hotels in the St. Helena area, but they can run pretty pricy. We also had 7 girls on the trip, and wanted to all be together which would be difficult and not as comfortable in a hotel. Instead we rented a house through Airbnb and lucked out with a beautiful and reasonably priced house!

IMG_2048.JPGThe bedroom I stayed in at our rented house.

Transportation
We rented a car to get us to and from San Francisco as well as dinner each night. But when it came to the wineries, we obviously didn’t want to drive. We ended up taking cabs, but those were very expensive given the short distances we were traveling. We paid $100 (plus tip) for four trips/probably about 6 miles total distance. Keep that in mind when budgeting for your trip!

Food!
The food in St. Helena is amazing! We went to 4 different restaurants and I would recommend each of them.
•Goose & Gander – a cool and funky dinner place
•Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen – delicious food and cute country chic decor
•St. Helena Bistro – almost like a hole in the wall but everything tasted delicious
•Model Bakery – a local favorite with great coffee and breakfast sandwiches.

And an FYI – most (if not all) restaurants allow you to bring in your own wine, though there might be a “corking fee” of $15-25. Call ahead and find out what the fee is. It’s definitely worth bringing your own wine so you don’t have to pay the restaurant markup.

IMG_2051.JPGCucumber Collins at Goose & Gander

Continued in Part Two– all the wineries we visited!

Travel Recommendation: Manchebo Beach Resort and Spa, Aruba

This June marked my fifth anniversary with my wonderful boyfriend. Now that I was finally done with school and we both had good full-time jobs with paid vacation days, we decide it was time we really celebrated our relationship. After much discussion and research, we decided on a 5-day, 4-night trip to Aruba, staying at Manchebo Beach Resort and Spa.

This was, quite honestly, the most amazing vacation I have ever been on. I’ve been lucky to travel to several really interesting and beautiful places over the past few years, including London, but this was by far more beautiful and relaxing than I could have imagined.
IMG_1456.JPGOur view from the plane – love at first sight!

When I was researching which hotel to stay at, I had trouble finding information other than just the reviews on Tripadvisor and similar sites. So I thought I would share our experience for other potential guests. I only wish I had taken more pictures of the hotel itself!

Manchebo in General

IMG_1516.JPGThe very first picture I took upon hitting the beach – no filter needed!

Manchebo Resort is located on Eagle Beach, which from what I’ve read (and seen) is the nicest of the beaches on the island. It’s a cheerful and luxurious resort. We were greeted at the front desk by a friendly staff and welcome mojitos – yum!

I loved the resort but I will admit – it’s not for everyone. It is located in the low-rise portion of the island. This area is generally quieter, without a lot of restaurants, shops, nightclubs or other activities in the area. This was great for us, as we were looking to mostly just unwind and just relax. The hotel was very peaceful, day or night, and with just 70 or so rooms, we never felt like the beach or restaurants were overcrowded.

If you’re looking for more activity, the high rise area might be a better option for you. We went to that area once and it was much to busy and crowded for my taste. The beaches are also much smaller and not as nice. And with 10 or more times the people, you don’t get the privacy of the low-rise beaches like at Manchebo!

The Room

We chose an ocean view room and were very happy of it. I completely forgot to take a picture, but the ones on the hotel website are accurate! We had a king bed, tv, safe, small fridge and a balcony. We had plenty of space for the two of us and felt very comfortable.

The bathroom wasn’t huge but was large enough. The rain head shower was a cool feature! I had read in some reviews that the shower caused the entire floor to get wet, but that was certainly not the case for us!

Our view (seen below) was quite nice. It got a little loud one afternoon since we overlooked the Pega Pega bar and it was during a big World Cup game, but other than that we heard hardly any noise. The only downside to the balcony was that the furniture was dark, so it was too hot to sit on until well after sunset.

The Food

IMG_1925.JPGJust a few of our meals. Everything was incredibly delicious!

We chose to do the all-inclusive plan and were very happy with it. I actually did out the math after the fact and it was indeed worth the price, so it worked out in the end. You’re given a bracelet and an all-inclusive number that you put on your check. All service fees (an automatic 15% of any bill) are also included, as well as room tax and any other fees. The only out-of-pocket expense we had was the tips we chose to leave. They aren’t required, as the 15% covers tip, but we had such great service we were more than happy to tip extra.

There are three restaurants total at the resort itself – Pega Pega, Ike’s Bistro and the French Steakhouse. Pega Pega is a beachside bar that is open at lunchtime. The food is nothing fancy but was always delicious. We had burgers, a lamb sandwich, quesadillas, spinach dip and other similar lunch options. The great thing about Pega Pega is you can get beachside service as well. Once it opens, the waiter drops a flag off at your palapa (adorable straw huts) and you just stick it in the sand when you want to order. Not the fastest service since the beach is quite large and there’s usually only one waiter, but it was nice when we just wanted to order a drink but didn’t want to leave the sun.

Ike’s Bistro is an open-air restaurant open for breakfast and dinner. Tables are also placed poolside, which is makes for a beautiful setting during a sunset dinner. Breakfast is from 7-11 with a buffet or an a la carte menu. As my boyfriend is a late sleeper, we often didn’t make it down to breakfast until after 10a. By that point, the buffet was a bit picked over so we generally went with the a la carte options. We had one dinner at Ike’s and really enjoyed it. I had a delicious shrimp risotto and he had the special of the day. The service was friendly and the setting incredibly peaceful.

The French Steakhouse is the nicer restaurant at the resort. They have an indoor dining room and a small outdoor patio. We chose the outdoor seating both times we went as there were large groups dining inside and it made it a little loud. The service here was a bit slow and hit or miss. The first time wasn’t bad but the second it was almost like they forgot about us. This was frustrating as we were trying to head to bed early before our flight the next morning and ended up spending well over 1.5 hours at dinner. The food, however, was always delicious. We left both meals at the Steakhouse completely stuffed and satisfied, at least with the food.

One other note about the all-inclusive plan – you’re entitled to an appetizer, meal and dessert EACH, which leads to a lot of food, but also additional value! When you combine that with unlimited drinks, I personally think it’s money very well spent.

The Weather

IMG_1530.JPGThe view from our room – Hello wind!

Weather in Aruba is generally in the 80’s, sunny, humid and windy. I had read about the wind beforehand but I don’t think I realized how strong and constant it would be. It’s not necessarily bad, as it keeps you cool and prevents the humidity from feeling oppressive, but sometimes I felt like I was getting whipped by the sand! We only had one drizzly day, the day we were leaving, but our cab driver said it was very rare for it to rain that time of the year (June/July).

Activities

IMG_1926.JPGTo say there is plenty to do in Aruba is an understatement!

The island is full of all kinds of activities. Right down the street from Manchebo is a cute shopping center, which is where I purchased my beloved Aruba Aloe products. There are lots of casinos all over the island which is a fun thing to do in the evening.

We chose to do horseback riding and a sunset cruise as our two big activities. We did a fun and beautiful 2 hour horseback tour through Rancho de la Ponderosa. The sights were amazing and it was a surprisingly good workout as well! We did a sunset cruise on our last night through Jolly Pirates. It was a little cloudy so it wasn’t the best sunset to see, but our crew was very entertaining and we had a nice relaxing night on the water.

Learn More
Manchebo Beach Resort and Spa was an incredible experience and I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a beautiful and relaxing vacation on the beach. To learn more about Manchebo, I’d suggest checking out their website and the reviews on TripAdvisor.

I think I’ve covered just about anything, but if you have any questions about the resort, feel free to leave a comment. I’m already counting down until our next visit – less than 10 months!!

Travel Essentials: Crossbody Bags

Packing is perhaps my least favorite part of traveling. I always fear that I’m going to forget some vital item and be lost without it. As a result, lists have become my best friends in preparing for an upcoming trip.

One of the top items every time I travel, whether it’s a weekend away with friends or several weeks in a foreign country, is a crossbody bag. I consider these essential for any trip.

Why, you might ask? Here are just a few reasons:
-Easier to carry than a shoulder bag or wristlet – you don’t have to worry about it slipping away.
-Leaves your hands free, so you can explore the sights without having to hang on to your purse.
-Much more difficult for pickpocketers, which are very common in just about any major city, to steal from you, since it’s so close to your body.

You can find cute and affordable crossbody bags at just about all of your favorite clothing stores. Here are a few I’ve found and loved:

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1. Add a pop of color to your travel outfit with this bag from Kohls. This classic style will allow you to keep all of your travel documents with you securely and stylishly.

2. You can never go wrong with basic black, like this crossbody from Macy’s. Perfect for day or night, this simple piece is a definite must-have on your packing list.

3. If you’re looking for something a little funkier, try this fringe bag sold by Target. It’ll take any basic outfit to the next level while adding the convenience of a crossbody purse.

4. I love the versatility of this Charming Charlie bag. You can use it as either a wristlet or a crossbody, making it another perfect day-to-night option. This neutral with a hint of sparkle will add a little interest to any sightseeing outfit.

All of these are affordable as well, at less than $40 each! It’s the perfect trio – stylish, convenient and budget-friendly 🙂

Do you use a crossbody bag when traveling? Where did you get your favorite crossbody?

Kayak Flight Alerts

One of the biggest adjustments I’ve had to make since graduating is not having my friends right next door every day. In college, we all lived together or, at most, within a five minute walk from one another.

This has led to something exciting though – lots of reasons to travel! Several friends have moved to completely different states. This has given me the opportunity to explore new places while catching up with old friends.

The downside? Travel costs add up quick! Sure, my flight to Chicago was only $200, but then you have to factor in the costs for food and sightseeing. My four day trip to visit a friend ended up costing over $500. And to a tight-budgeted new grad like myself, that’s a pretty hefty amount to spend on just one weekend.

There are all kinds of way to save money when traveling, but one of the simplest is on your flights. Kayak offers a great option: price alerts

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The concept is pretty simple: you know where you want to go and want to find the best price. If you’re not picky about exact dates or times, alerts are great. You set up an alert for the trip you want to take and the max price you want to pay.

For example, as you can see above in the email I received just this morning, I want to go to Ireland someday. After doing some research, it seemed that a flight under $700 from Boston would be a great deal, so I set up an alert through my Kayak account. Now I get an email whenever the price drops below $700 round trip, with a list of flight options if there’s more than one.

I now have alerts for all the cities I’d like to visit someday. There are occasionally amazing deals on flights, but as they happen randomly, I’d have no way of knowing otherwise! And once you have everything set up once, you don’t have to do anything but look out for the occasional emails. So simple!

Have you used Kayak’s price alerts? What’s the best flight deal you’ve found?