Tag Archives: family

Residence Inn Daytona Beach Shores

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I searched long and hard for a place to stay for a few days before our Disney cruise. We were planning on spending 2 full days, 3 nights in Florida before the cruise and decided against Disney or Universal. Our kids had not been to the ocean since they were little when we went to Cape Cod so we decided on a few days at the ocean. In the end, I settled on the Residence Inn Daytona Beach Shores. This could not have been a better choice.

We had a little trouble arriving due to storms and came in a day later than planned losing a full day, but it wasn’t a great weather day so we didn’t miss too much. When we finally arrived, a full 24 later everything was ready for us and we even managed a meal and a little walk on the beach in the dark. The hotel had a restaurant and a bar and the bar opened to the pool outside for drinks during the day. The pool and hot tub overlooked the ocean.

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Sunday was now our only full day to spend there and we rented chairs and an umbrella right from a truck set up on the beach nearby and enjoyed a day at the ocean. The weather was great. We also had a little friendly competition at Pirates Cove Mini Golf. Always fun, even with teenagers.

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The hotel suited us nicely. Free breakfast buffet and a few restaurants right across the street. We had a 2 bedroom suite with a full kitchen which we didn’t really need, I wasn’t planning on cooking, but we did get takeout for dinner and the table came in handy. The nicest part was before being crammed into a tiny stateroom on a cruise for 4 days, we had space to spread out and the kids had their own room with 2 queen beds and we had a room with a king bed. Each with their own bathroom. From the balcony, we could see both the ocean and the bay and were looking towards Daytona Beach.

It took a little less than an hour to drive from Daytona Beach Shores to Port Canaveral Monday morning. It was a very easy drive, no traffic at all.

We arrived exactly at our port arrival time and followed the procedure, Disney is very efficient when it comes to organizing crowds. We were walking onto the ship within 45 minutes of arriving, including parking, security, checking in, etc…as soon as we checked in they called our boarding group.

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10 Not to Miss Disneyland Experience for this Summer

The Disneyland Resort is filled with plenty of fun this summer. If you are headed to Disney California Adventure Park, here are 10 not-to-miss experiences!

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1. Soarin’ Over California – Due to guest popularity, the epic, aerial adventure Soarin’ Over California has been extended through August 31! This virtual, immersive experience celebrates the beauty and wonder of the Golden State – from San Francisco’s iconic Golden Gate Bridge to the crashing waves in Malibu.

2. “Tale of The Lion King” – The beloved characters and music of Disney’s “The Lion King” comes to life with an imaginative new adaptation. This outdoor musical production features a cast of 18 performers who weave this timeless tale through language, song and dance. The festive celebration of “Tale of The Lion King” will be presented for a limited time.

3. Fancy Nancy – Nancy Clancy, the high-spirited young girl from Disney Junior’s hit animated series “Fancy Nancy,” made “une grande entrée” this spring. Meet Fancy Nancy just outside the “Disney Junior Dance Party!” in Hollywood Land.

4. Pixar Pier – Celebrating its one-year anniversary at the end of June, Pixar Pier is a whimsical land where Pixar stories and characters are brought to life in incredible, playful ways. A few newly added experiences include:

  • Jessie’s Critter Carousel, the giant toy carousel starring Jessie, the yodeling cowgirl and a friendly bunch of desert critters inspired by the “Toy Story” films. Hop on and yell “giddyup!” from the saddle of a whimsical snake, armadillo, turtle, bunny or other critters from the world of Woody’s Roundup.
  • Bo Peep, from Disney and Pixar’s “Toy Story 4,” can be found making special appearances along Pixar Pier. Also, Forky, the adorable disposable spork from the new film, can be spotted near the entrance of the pier.
  • Opening later this month, Inside Out Emotional Whirlwind is a newly reimagined attraction inspired by the film “Inside Out.” Step into the workplace of Riley’s Emotions – Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust and Anger – and board one of eight Memory Movers for a sense-ational spin.

5. Cars Land – For some free-wheeling fun with Disney and Pixar’s “Cars” crew, head to Radiator Springs, also known as “the cutest little town in Carburetor County.” Be sure to make a pit stop at Radiator Springs Racers, the high-octane adventure that revs through the beautiful mountains of Ornament Valley.

6. “Mickey’s PhilharMagic” – The spectacular magic of Disney animation comes to life in this 3D movie musical. Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and other favorite Disney characters now take the stage in this 3D fantasy adventure in the Sunset Showcase Theater in Hollywood Land.

7. Animation Academy – A guest favorite, Animation Academy hosts drawing classes every 30 minutes. Receive step-by-step instruction on how to illustrate some favorite Disney characters under the guidance of a Disney artist. All ages and experience levels are welcome!

8. Super Heroes – In Hollywood Land, encounter some of the most admired Super Heroes in the universe, including Captain Marvel, Spider-Man, Captain America and Black Panther. Suit up and head to Hollywood Land. Afterwards, hop aboard Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT!and help rescue Rocket’s fellow Guardians all while jamming out to Star-Lord’s classic mixtapes.

9. “Frozen – Live at the Hyperion” – Stay cool indoors and enjoy a theatrical adaptation based on Disney’s animated blockbuster film, “Frozen.” Performed daily at the Hyperion Theater, the impressive stage show immerses Guests in the beloved world of Anna and Elsa, with all of the excitement of live theater. The elaborate costumes and sets, stunning special effects, and show-stopping production numbers are not to be missed.

10. “World of Color” – This breathtaking nighttime extravaganza tells Disney and Pixar stories vividly projected on a screen created by more than 1,200 fountains spraying 19,000 square feet of water. Watch in wonder as water, fire, light and music weave together to celebrate the magic of Disney storytelling.

What are you waiting for, let’s plan a quick trip this summer, message me today!

Palo Dinner Disney Dream

As is typical on most cruise lines today, Disney offers choices beyond their Main Dining rooms. Already not typical with rotational dining and 3 main dining rooms, Disney offers Palo and Remy. Palo is Northern Italian cuisine on all 4 Disney ships. Remy is French cuisine on the Dream and Fantasy only. Both are adult-exclusive.

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Upcharges and dress codes apply to both restaurants, but Palo is a little less restrictive than Remy. For Palo dinner, the charge was $40 per person.

Dress to Impress

To preserve the elegant ambiance of this restaurant, you are asked to adhere to a dress code when dining at Palo. We recommend dress pants or slacks and a collared shirt for men, and a dress, skirt or pants and a blouse for women. Jeans may also be worn if in good condition (no holes). Please no tank tops, swimsuits, swimsuit cover-ups, shorts, hats, cut-offs, torn clothing, t-shirts with offensive language and/or graphics, flip-flops or tennis shoes.

On our recent cruise, we had dinner at Palo on pirate night, which was the 3rd night of our 4 night cruise and our Castaway Cay day. We weren’t terribly interested in pirate festivities, our children are teenagers and we would be done in plenty of time to see the fireworks. On the Dream Palo and Remy are next to each other on the top deck in the front of the ship with the Meridian Bar in between. When you arrive you are escorted into the bar to wait for your escort into the restaurant.  We had a drink here and then were escorted to our table. All tables have a wonderful view of the ocean.

The service is nothing short of outstanding! We ordered wine, and then Mircea our server brought the bread service and then the antipasto cart and we watched as our server prepared a plate of “a little bit of everything” to try.

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We ordered several Primi to try and share, Calamari Fritti, Gnocchi and the Wild Mushroom Risotto. So so good. Even the gnocchi, which are usually not great in restaurants when you are used to my father’s homemade version, was wonderful.

Next, was a palette cleanser…

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Then the main course, Rack of Lamb for me and Osso Buco for my husband. Cooked to perfection.

The dessert course was next. When you order your main course they will ask you if you will be ordering the chocolate souffle, their signature dessert because it does take some time to make. I knew about this in advance and was definitely getting it. There are no words, it was heavenly.

And there was other stuff, including a Happy Anniversary plate.

The dinner was well paced and lasted about 2 hours, but didn’t feel long at all. The restaurant was quiet, there were several tables around us, but it wasn’t full by any means.

Palo is well worth the upcharge and can be prebooked in your cruise account when your activities window opens.

Have you eaten there? I would go back in a heartbeat and next time will try the brunch too, I hear it’s phenomenal.

Whispering Canyon Café launches a new menu

Today, Whispering Canyon Café at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge launched a new menu, offering skillets galore! The fun-filled restaurant is known for its sassy cast members, Old Western games, and fine frontier fare, which now includes a whole new array of all-you-care-to-enjoy signature skillets for lunch and dinner (starting today), as well as breakfast skillets (starting March 26). And while you chow down on these signature skillets, the rowdy canyon townsfolk are there to serve them, and their boisterous goings-on aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Do the hokey pokey, ring the dinner bell, and even ask for ketchup (at your own risk, of course).

Starting with a hearty lunch option, the Signature Lunch Skillet comes with maple-chipotle BBQ slow-smoked pork ribs, barbecued pulled pork, and citrus-herb chicken.

On the dinner menu, you can try the Traditional Dinner Skillet with oak-smoked mustard BBQ beef brisket, maple-chipotle BBQ pork ribs, slow-smoked pulled pork, and citrus-herb chicken. Or pig out on The “Pig” Dinner Skillet with heaping helpings of braised pork belly, maple-chipotle BBQ pork ribs, slow-smoked pulled pork, and mustard BBQ “piggy wings.” Both of these particular skillets come with western-style sausage as well.

Sea-farers can order the Land and Sea Dinner Skillet, which comes with house-smoked salmon, citrus herb chicken, vegan sausage, and charred portabellas.

You can also feast on the Vegan Dinner Skillet – filled with maple-chipotle BBQ jackfruit, spicy vegan sausage, mustard-glazed beefless tips, and herb-brushed trick’n chick’n.

In addition, each one of these hearty all-you-care-to-enjoy skillets comes with a different assortment of sides that may include coleslaw, sautéed green beans, buttered corn, oven-roasted carrots, charred peppers, BBQ cauliflower, Yukon mashed potatoes, or roasted potatoes. Plus, chow down on freshly-baked cornbread served with delicious honey butter with every dinner skillet.

For dessert, order the Apple Pie. This mouth-watering slice of pie comes dusted with powdered sugar and is served with a big ol’ scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Thirsty cowpokes will also enjoy a selection of newly-themed cocktails such as the Bourbon Cowboy, which comes garnished with apple slices and pairs great with any lunch and dinner skillet. Selections of wines and draft beers are also available.

In addition, starting on March 26, you will also be able to feast on an array of breakfast skillets. Rise and shine to a delicious chuck wagon breakfast with the Heritage Skillet or the Carnivore Skillet. The Heritage Skillet comes with country potatoes, hickory-smoked bacon, and pork sausage links. For the meat-lovers, the Carnivore Skillet comes loaded with house-smoked ham, hickory-smoked bacon, pork sausage links, and oak-smoked beef brisket. Both of these skillets come with house-made buttermilk-cheddar biscuits, scrambled eggs, and Mickey Waffles.

For those looking for a lighter start to their morning, the Lighter Side Breakfast Skillet is a great option. It comes with Bircher Muesli (Swiss oatmeal), egg white spinach frittata, turkey bacon and turkey sausage, country potatoes, fresh fruit, yogurt, and of course, more Mickey waffles!

Review: Hotel Kraft

I scoured long and hard to find the perfect hotel in Florence for our family trip. There are tons of choices, but triple or quad rooms can be difficult. We had a little gem of a place on our last trip 15 years ago, but it has since closed.

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Hotel Kraft turned out to be another absolute gem! The icing on the cake was a rooftop pool, there are only a handful of hotels in Florence with a pool, let alone a rooftop one with a view of the Duomo!

Hotel Kraft was a short easy walk from Santa Maria Novella train station and we walked it with our luggage no problem. I had booked 2 triple rooms here, my parents with 1 kid and us with the other. They were right across the hall from one another so that was convenient. The rooms were nice and large with high ceilings and a good size modern bathroom.

 

The best part of this hotel though apart from great service, was the rooftop terrace/restaurant/lounge/pool. Just incredible! You can see for miles around and all the key points of Florence, the famous hills beyond the city, the Duomo and the bell tower of the Palazzo Medici. We spent evenings sipping Bellini’s and Perroni’s and enjoyed breakfast each morning al fresco. The last night we had a front row seat for the view of the sun setting on Florence. We only used the pool one day, but it was very enjoyable to have some downtime on a busy sightseeing trip like Italy is. It’s well worth it to take an afternoon to re-charge. And for our competitive swimmer son to get some laps in. We snuck out for a walk into town and shopping (had to go back and get Christmas presents for the boys they had seen earlier), but my parents and kids enjoyed the pool all afternoon. It was never too crowded

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The hotel was just off the main center of Florence, but only a 10-15 minute walk to the Ponte Vecchio or Duomo. and just 2 blocks up from the Arno River. We strolled it many times. Walking being a bit difficult for my father, they easily jumped in a cab for a short few minutes ride back and forth when they needed to. We always walked. We visited the Accademia Museum and saw the real David. Then the replicas up at Piazzale Michelangelo and out in front of Palazzo Medici. We shopped on the Ponte Vecchio.

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Around the corner from the hotel was our favorite gelateria, B.Ice. This became an afternoon treat and after dinner dessert daily. Within a block there were numerous restaurants, trattorias, etc… you simply cannot go wrong. Starving our first night we tucked into the first one we saw and it turned out to be phenomenal. The hotel recommended another place we went to the next night, also wonderful. The hotel’s restaurant itself was very good as well.

Florence is an incredible city, my favorite city in Italy! Not to be missed on a first time trip to Italy and a great base for day trips to the surrounding splendors of Tuscany.

Italia Series Part 5 Last Days

We returned from Venice on Thursday and only had that afternoon and Friday left.

We visited some relatives and had a fun and delicious dinner at my aunt’s country house. Her 4 kids, my cousins, were all there with their families. My boys got to meet my cousins kids, a few who spoke a bit of English. They went from ignoring each other to not wanting to leave a few hours later.

Before that, we visited my uncle who is a master cheese maker. He travels the world helping cheese makers perfect their cheese recipes. A Belgian company just put his face on their latest cheese calling it, Nonno’s Cheese. We sampled some delicious mozzarella at his house.

While we were in Venice, the kids had a good time with their Nonni. They visited some family, got to swim in a cousin’s pool and jump on their trampoline. They also hiked up Nonno’s beloved mountain. Nonno couldn’t handle the 30 minute hike so waited at the church where you can drive the car to, and my uncle Carlo took the boys up to the top where there is a pretty interesting looking  Jesus on a cross.

Friday we did a little local sightseeing. We went to the birthplace of grappa, Bassano del Grappa and stopped in Marostica as well.

Marostica is known for having a human chess game they play a few times a year. The chess board is in the middle of the main piazza. It has a cool castle up on the hill which makes up part of the wall around the small city. They were setting up for the event.

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Bassano is famous not only for grappa, but for the covered bridge that leads into the historical center of the town. The covered bridge, which needs some tender loving care at the moment, was designed by Palladio.

Friday night we went out to dinner with as many of my cousins as were available, and not away on their summer holidays.

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And that’s all she wrote. Saturday morning we packed up and waited for our taxi transfer to the airport. The Venice airport was a little crazy. By the time we made it to our gate it was just about time to board the plane. This airport traffic  is growing too quickly and the building is having trouble keeping up.

Italia Series Part 4 Splendor of Venice

Tuesday morning my father drove us to the train station in Vicenza and we took the high speed train to Venice with my mother. Walking all day in Venice was too much for my father.

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Venice is unique and beautiful. It’s also very confusing. Figuring out the water bus system is a task. We bought 3 day tickets for us and 1 day for the kids and Nonna. We took a boat to our hotel after some confusion on what stop and what water bus to take. Venetians are very quick to wave you in a direction without much information. Turns out 2 days later we discovered a “moved due to construction” water bus stop near our hotel which was the reason for much confusion. Found the hotel and dropped off our bag, my husband and I were staying for 2 nights, the kids were going back “home” with Nonna. From there we walked leisurely to Piazza San Marco where I had a tour of St. Mark’s and the Palazzo Ducale scheduled. Again, easy meeting point and it was a well organized nice tour. We were able to skip the line into both places like on our tours in Rome and Florence.

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After our tour, we wandered a bit and stopped for lunch and then took a gondola ride, another things the kids really wanted to do.

We continued to wander and make our way back to our hotel slowly with a gelato stop of course along the way. Our room was ready when we arrived back so we checked that out.

I had searched long and hard for a perfect hotel in Venice and found a great little gem in Dosoduro by the Accademia Bridge. Hotel Ca Pisani was a on a quiet little street between the Accademia water bus stop on the Grand Canal and Zattere on the other side. The hotel was small and decorated in an Art Deco style, very beautiful. We had a duplex room, 2 floors, with the bedroom up a glass staircase and a spa like bathroom downstairs. Breakfast was included in the restaurant and they had some tables set up outside as well to people watch.

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Front of Ca Pisani Art Deco Hotel

We then made our way back to the train station because Nonna wasn’t sure she could find it on her own. 🙂 We left Nonna and the boys at the train station and found our way back, this time managing to take the water bus we wanted that traveled along the Grand Canal.

We wandered to a piazza across the bridge and had a lovely dinner. It rained for the first time on our trip this evening, but we had gotten un umbrella from the hotel before we left.

The next morning, I had scheduled a tour to the islands of Murano and Burano which I had never been to. We made our way and easily found the meeting point near Piazza San Marco and boarded a private boat to Murano where we visited a glass factory and toured the island a little. Then back on the boat and on to the gorgeous island of Burano where the art of lace making is dying away. Had a lovely lunch here and did some shopping. It’s tiny, but beautiful.

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We ended our time in Venice with dinner on a terrace by the water and gondolas, absolute bucket list item!

The next morning we had breakfast and wandered around our hotel area which was so lovely. We had discovered it yesterday afternoon. Then made our way back to the train station for our noon train to Vicenza where my father would be picking us up.

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Italia Series Part 3 Shiny Metal Objects

Onwards from Florence to Northern Italy and “home” for my family. My parents are from small towns in the Veneto region, between the cities of Verona and Vicenza, not too far from Venice.

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We took the Italo high speed train again from Florence to Verona on Sunday August 12 and had a taxi pick us up and bring us to my parent’s apartment in the town of Schio. They bought this place when my father retired years ago and spend a few months each year there. Their apartment is located at the base of Monte Summano which is the mountain my father hiked as a child, he loves that mountain and now has a spectacular view of it outside his apartment.

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View from the balcony

We settled in and found the rental van (let’s call it a truck much to large for the tiny streets of Italy!) and went to one of my Aunt’s for lunch. My mother’s sister.

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The boys with Nonno and his mountain

Another Aunt, the baby sister of my mother’s, arrived with a HUGE surprise for the boys. She had gotten wind that Matthew was a little bit obsessed with fancy cars, his favorites being Ferrari and Lamborghini. Visiting these museums/factories was on the required list for the trip, but Lamborghini is closed the entire month of August. Well, Zia Laura’s boyfriend owns a Ferrari and while they live in Verona, picking 6 of us up at the train station in a 2 seater Ferrari wasn’t practical, they made the 1 hour trek to surprise the boys.

As they drove into the parking lot, my father proclaimed “what is that sound, sounds like a Ferrari!” He didn’t actually know what was happening, he genuinely just thought that and said it. Matthew ran to the balcony, we were on the 2nd floor, and was in total shock at the sight before him.

Okay, so it wasn’t shiny, it was actually matte black, but still…

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The boys both got short rides and were in heaven.

We also received our instructions for the next day, which was our adventure to Maranello, the birthplace of Enzo Ferrari and location of the factory and museum. Lamborghini was closed, but Ferrari only closes a few days a year, major holidays, so we made the trek to visit the museum. The boys really enjoyed this. Plenty of shiny metal objects at this place.

We made some mistakes on the way and it took longer than it should have and of course, road closures on the way back caused some confusion. The giant truck didn’t help. Toll booths that only take credit card even though they say they take cash, etc…driving in Italy is an adventure of it’s own.

That night, we had dinner at the old beer garden in my father’s home town of Piovene, we walked from my Aunt’s.

Tomorrow… Venice!

Italia Series Part 2 Street of Gold

Our Italian journey continues onto Florence. See how the trip started in Rome here.

This trip was a long time in the planning. My parents were born and raised in Italy and have been wanted to take their grandkids there for years. We wanted to wait until they were old enough to appreciate what they would be seeing. We were all set to travel last summer and 2 weeks before the trip we had to cancel everything because my father was ill and needed surgery. He came through nicely and the trip was rescheduled to this summer.

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On Thursday August 9th we taxied to the train station and took the high speed train to Florence. Unlike Rome, the hotel we had previously stayed in here was no longer open, so I spent a great deal of time searching for the perfect place for our family. I consider it a success. Hotel Kraft was wonderful. We were able to walk everywhere and it was close to the train station. One block from the Arno River and about 10 minutes leisurely walk to the historical center of Florence.

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Nonni walked off the elevator just as I was taking the photo!

Hotel Kraft is located on a quiet street a few minutes walk from the main train station, Santa Maria Novella and a smaller train station. With 78 rooms it is larger than our Rome hotel, but still not too large. We had booked 2 triple rooms here and they were spacious, had high ceilings and with good sized bathrooms.  This hotel had a restaurant with breakfast included on the top floor. They also served lunch and dinner and drinks in the restaurant and on the large rooftop terrace. Another gem, a rooftop pool with views of all of Florence past the River Arno and the Duomo.  There are very few hotels with pools, let alone rooftop pools in Florence so this was perfect for my competitive swimmer son. It was tiny, but he made due with some practice laps. It was perfect for cooling off as well, still brutally hot during a heat wave continuing through all of Europe.

In Florence I had scheduled a tour of the Accademia Museum to see Michelangelo’s David. We wandered the city, saw the Duomo and Baptistry doors (partially covered for restoration), shopped on the Ponte Vecchio which is the street of gold, Palazzo Vecchio, traveled up to Piazzale Michelangelo, saw all the fake Davids after seeing the real thing and countless statues that decorate the city.

Quick Tip: Limit museums and churches with children. Use Skip the Line entry or short tours to see highlights more easily. Lines in the hot sun are not where you want to be spending your time.

We knew our kids would have little interest in hours or museum strolling looking at masterpiece paintings so I scheduled a short, 1 hour Accademia tour which really just focused on the statue of David and the other statues he left unfinished. It also got us in without a wait in line. We could have stayed and toured the museum on our own after our short tour if we wished of course.  Katy was our tour guide and it was a nice short tour.

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The hotel recommended a restaurant which turned out to be another little gem of a place. We had a lovely meal at Il Parione on the street with the same name and upon leaving people were lined up outside waiting to get in. Another gem we found by accident, we were hungry and it was close by, Trattoria Armando was also excellent.

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Hubby and I wandered on our own several times to shop and explore and we had the best cheese (I think it was cheese) with prosecco when we stopped in to this little place on our way back to the hotel one day. It was so good, they brought it with the wine since they cannot serve drinks without food of course. Another spot we stopped in for lunch Trattoria Nella turned out to be very good too and tiny, only like 8 tables maybe. There was a moment of confusion when the owner started eating Eric’s side order of potatoes because he had ordered some too and didn’t realize they weren’t his. We laughed afterwards once Eric had his potatoes because he is no fun when he is hungry.

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Around the corner from our hotel was our favorite Gelateria! We hit B.Ice twice a day during our stay, afternoon treat and nightly dessert. The counter girl welcomed us in and laughed every time we walked in. She knew our order by the last day.

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A fun thing we loved about Italy, many of the Gelaterias are also bars. And sandwich shops. And snack bar. And pasta restaurant. And have souvenirs too.

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Dinner at the hotel rooftop restaurant on our final night in Firenze

A note about service in Italy: A cover charge and service charge is normally included so if you leave a tip, it can be just a few euros extra since the majority of the tip is included. They often will tell you it’s not included. It is. Also, service in general is slow and not like America where they keep checking on you. Once they bring your food, you never see them again unless you flag them down for something. Nobody is ever in a rush in any restaurant in Italy. Regardless of how many people are waiting outside. Just enjoy and go with the flow.

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While in Florence, we took a half day trip to Pisa since the Leaning Tower was one of the things the kids really wanted to see. This was the one sore spot of the tours I arranged through Viator. The ground operator in this case did not do a good job. We would have been much better off taking a train ourselves rather than doing a tour. The operator was My Tour and while the meeting location was close to our hotel and easy to find the tour itself was not run very well. The escort, Sarenna was a lovely young girl, but really said very little in explaining timelines and what was happening. She also walked very quickly since the bus stops about 1 mile from  Miracle Square. She never looked back to see if the group was still with her and never slowed down for the slower members of the group. There was a local guide which took us on a tour, but we only walked around outside of the monuments. He was good, but clearly worried about what would happen next. The biggest issue we had was they lied about the time we had for our tour of the Cathedral. The cathedral has free entry, but requires a timed ticket like everything in Pisa. We later learned that they send someone that morning to get the tickets and the time they were able to get for our group was 1pm. We had to be back on the bus at 12:45pm. They told us the tour was for 12:30 and we would try and get in a few minute early so as not to rush it too much, and then pretty much sprint back to the bus. They usually will let them in a bit early. But as we tried to get in at 12:15pm they refused and said they would let us in at 12:45pm. Several tried to make them wait and be late for the bus, but the escort and guide refused. For some, including my mother, the cathedral was the only thing they really wanted to see since it is often closed and they had never been inside before. Had they told us up front, we would have gotten ourselves a ticket when we first arrived hours ago and gotten in, but we didn’t because we thought we were getting in with the tour guide. We also would have had time to get a ticket to climb the tower had we known the tour was going to be a bust. So instead we did nothing but wander around and have lunch. Because they didn’t admit the actual time and give us the option.

Stay tuned for the next stop on our trip…

Italia Series Part 1 The Eternal City

This is the first of a series of posts about our recent family trip to Italy.

This trip was a long time in the planning. My parents were born and raised in Italy and have been wanting to take their grandkids there for years. We wanted to wait until they were old enough to appreciate what they would be seeing. We were all set to travel last summer and 2 weeks before the trip we had to cancel everything because my father was ill and needed surgery. He came through nicely and the trip was rescheduled to this summer.

We flew out Sunday August 5th from Montreal on a direct flight with Air Canada. Landing in Rome we were met by a driver for our transfer to our hotel.

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We stayed in the same boutique hotel we stayed in 16 years ago and it was still as lovely as ever. Hotel Modigliani is just off Piazza Barberini next to Via Veneto and not far from Trinita Dei Monti, the top of the Spanish Steps. It’s a great, quiet location, walkable to everywhere really, but beware there is a bit of a hill since it’s halfway up the hill to the Spanish Steps climb up to the Borghese Gardens.

Hotel Modigliani is small, just 23 rooms. We had a small room with a small balcony and even smaller bathroom. My parents and the boys had a great setup off the garden in what the hotel calls The Apartment. A double bedded room and a separate room with a double bed and a twin bed for the boys. There is a breakfast room downstairs, which is included if you choose that option. The lobby lounge offers English newspapers and the staff all spoke English very well. The hotel arranged the airport pickup and would call taxis for us if needed. Since we were six, getting 2 taxis was easier when we all traveled together.

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We spent three nights in Rome. I had scheduled us to take a tour of the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica on Tuesday morning and then the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill on Wednesday morning. These tours were great. The guides were fabulous, Agnese at the Colosseum and Angela at the Vatican. Both were art historians so had a lot of details about everything we were seeing. With both tours, finding the meeting point was simple and everything was organized. The ground operator for the tours was City Wonders. It was brutally hot both days, but especially walking around the ruins of the Roman Forum and climbing Palatine Hill.

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Set up for Wednesday morning’s Papal Audience

In between those scheduled tours, we wandered the city and saw the Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona, Trajan’s Column, the Spanish Steps, Trinita Dei Monti, the Borghese Gardens, the Pantheon, enjoyed our new favorite restaurant/bar La Bottte on Via Sistina, first gelato and real Italian pizzas for the boys, and countless walks along the streets of Rome.

Around the corner from our hotel on Via Sistina which leads straight up to the top of the Spanish Steps was a little gem of a place my husband and I stumbled into looking for a drink and a break from walking in the heat. We returned for dinner with everyone and really enjoyed the atmosphere and friendly and amusing staff at this small establishment.

Fun Fact: In Italy it is the law that food must be served when alcoholic drinks are ordered. So tasty snacks always accompany any drinks in a bar. 
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View from the Palatine Hill down to the Colosseum and Arch of Constantine

The journey continues onto Florence…