Guinness Connoisseur Experience

IMG_9457If you are in Dublin, I’m sure one of your stops will be at the Guinness Factory. However, if you love Guinness, I’m going to recommend that you take things 1-step further and do the Connoisseur Experience. While the Guinness Factory is visited by millions of tourists, only about 0.5% of those visitors are able to take part in the Connoisseur Experience because it’s only offered to a limited number.

We booked the Connoisseur Experience for our baby-moon in January. My husband’s all-time favorite beer is Guinness and so he already knew about the tasting experience and I made sure that it was on our to-do list for the trip (even though I wasn’t going to be doing any tasting). Buying tickets for the tour is easy. You can book them straight through the Guinness website and pay in Euros, or you can go through this super-handy Viator link.

IMG_9470If you are doing the Connoisseur Experience, it’s recommended that you arrive about an hour and a half early in order to tour the factory first, take part in the tasting, and to drink your free drink at the Gravity Bar overlooking Dublin. We were only about 30 minutes early due to a mix-up with the Hop-On/Hop-Off Schedule (we had an outdated map!) and so we only had time to walk through the factory before our tour. If you purchased a Hop-On/Hop-Off Schedule, each bus has a stop right outside the factory. The tour is great although it’s very commercial. You won’t see the actual factory, or smell any actual beer being brewed, but it is a nice set-up. Our favorite part was the Advertising section where you could take pictures with the Guinness animals (isn’t this turtle cute?).

IMG_9474For the Connoisseur Experience  you are asked to arrive promptly to the Guinness Academy which is at the end of the self-guided tour. If you are rushed for time, don’t worry, you can go easily go back and do any parts of the tour that you missed. After you check-in at the desk, you are shown to a private lounge area where you can read copies of The Guinness Book of World Records while you wait (interestingly, the idea Guinness Book of World Records was IMG_9481conceived by employees of the factory, you can ready about it on Wikipedia!).

When it’s time for the tasting, you are shown to a super-secretive room with a private bar that has about 15 bar stools around it. The tasting lasts about an hour and half and the entire time, you are told stories about the history of Guinness and how they develop the different types of beer. All tasters in our session got to try four different varieties: original Guinness right out of the tap, the Foreign Extra Stout, the West Indies Porter, and the Rye Pale Ale. It was interesting to hear all the details that go into being a beer connoisseur. You have to think about everything from the type of glass, to the speed and angle of the pour to get the perfect taste! IMG_9476

At the end of the tasting, everyone gets a turn at the tap to pour their own perfect glass including finishing it off with the perfect foamy top! And you leave with a certificate as a souvenir!

Note: We are an affiliate of Viator which means we do receive compensation when you use our link to purchase your tickets. There is no additional cost to our readers.


Murphys – Handmade Irish Ice Cream

We went to Ireland in January (I know, who goes to Ireland in January?) and still managed to find an amazing ice cream place to share with our readers! Murphy’s Ice Cream hand makes their own ice cream in Dingle with salt straight from the Atlantic Ocean. They have locations in Dublin, Galway, Dingle, and a few other places so make sure you check out their website and see if there are any locations that work nicely with your Ireland itinerary .

IMG_9831We visited the store in Galway on a rainy Thursday afternoon. The bright blue store is located on High Street, a pedestrian only street through the middle of downtown Galway. I immediately noticed that they don’t have any tables or chairs, so I assume you’re supposed to take your ice cream to go and eat it as you stroll through the shops on a nice summer day. It was raining for us though, so we opted to sit on the raised up platform by the window while we finished our ice cream.

DSC01734One of the best things about Murphy’s is they seem to let you try any flavor that you want. I opted to try the Dingle Sea Salt which was good, but honestly too much like Vanilla for me to pick it as my official choice. My husband tried probably half a dozen flavors because that’s what he does anywhere that gives you free tastings.

Murphy’s sells their ice cream by the cup or the cone. They have about 12 flavors plus they always have an experimental flavor or two. They also have “specials” which are combinations of flavors and other toppings. Since it’s Ireland, quite a few of the flavors have alcohol in them, which might be a good thing, I’m just letting you know so that you’re prepared. 🙂

Ultimately, I settled on the Dreamy Creamy Caramel special which was a combination of Dingle Sea Salt ice cream with Caramel Honeycomb ice cream topped with a drizzle of caramel syrup and whipped cream. Brian had a special with the experimental Dark Forest flavor, a cherry ice cream, with chocolate mixed in. And, even better, they come with little paper cups and wooden spoons which are much more environmentally friendly than plastic!

We loved Murphy’s Ice Cream and highly recommend it for anyone visiting Ireland, even if it is a cold, rainy day!




15 Favorite Photos from Our First Cruise Together

Our first big trip together was a cruise on the Carnival Magic in January 2015 with about 20 of Brian’s friends from San Antonio.The cruise went to three ports, Jamaica, Grand Cayman, and Cozumel and sailed out of Galveston, TX.

Brian sprained his ankle playing volleyball the night before we were supposed to leave. So our trip started with memories of taking him to Prompt Care where we determined it wasn’t broken, just a bad sprain and then running to the pharmacy for pain medicine before catching our flight. I also remember pushing him in a wheelchair through the Houston airport while also hauling all of our luggage by myself. However, at the end of it all, we had a great time and I hoped we’d always be travel buddies.



15 of our Favorite Photos from Venice

We were lucky enough to spend two days in Venice while on our honeymoon in April 2017. Here are some of our favorite photos to inspire you to visit this beautiful city!

And you can book the same Gondola ride that we did, by following this link to our affiliate!

Must do when in Venice! Get the lowest price on Gondola Cruises




Chick & Ruth’s Delly – Annapolis, MD

20170730_142357Now that I’ve discovered Chick & Ruth’s Delly, it’s become my go-to place whenever we find ourselves in Annapolis. I found the place thanks to some great reviews on Trip Advisor. It’s honestly one of those restaurants that is just full of character, so its worth a visit if you’re up for adventure.

Chick & Ruth’s Delly is located right on Main 20170730_143837Street in downtown Annapolis. It’s 3 blocks from the Harbor and easy walking distance from the US Naval Academy. Parking is a bit tricky in Annapolis, but there is a parking garage about 1 block away called the Noah Hillman Garage.

The restaurant is not that impressive to look at from the inside or the outside, but it’s part 20170730_150902of the character that I was talking about. The building has a green awning beneath a vintage bright orange sign. The front window is covered with pages from the Menu and you’ll generally find customers lining the sidewalk. In my experience, the best thing to do is just march right inside and flag down the nearest waiter/waitress and ask to be added to the list for a table. The restaurant is small and usually crowded so the smaller the party, the better your chance of getting a table quick.

After a short wait, you will be escorted to a booth. The menu for the restaurant is the most haphazard menu you’ve ever seen (see above). It’s okay though, you probably have plenty of time to figure out what you want to order because the waitstaff always seem busy. But they”ve also always been incredibly nice. It’s a “delly” (I have no idea why they spell it that way), so I generally order a sandwich with pastrami or corned beef or the one above which is a combination of both. It doesn’t take too long for the food to arrive and while you wait, they provide a whole bin of homemade cucumber pickles that are delicious. The restaurant charges you a pretty big fee to split a sandwich, so just order yourself a whole one and take half home if it’s too much (it probably will be). The sandwiches do not come with french fries or any sides so those are ordered separately and can probably be skipped because they aren’t anything special. Instead, I recommend saving some room because the restaurant is also known for having something like 30 different flavors of fresh pie which they sell for $1.99 a slide.

If you find yourself in Annapolis, don’t be scared off by the shabby, crowded appearance. It’s really a fun experience if you can handle it!




10 Travel Tips for Getting the Most Out of Annual Leave

IMG_4225My husband and I only get a limited amount of vacation days a year. So we try to be creative and use our annual leave as efficiently as possible. Here’s how we do it (Please don’t let me proudly posing with my file folder scare you off! NO FILE FOLDERS ARE NEEDED).

1.) Travel at Night – You would be surprised at how much time you can save if you travel in the evenings. Grab a quick bite to eat at the airport and then go to bed a little early by sleeping on the plane.

  • If you’re flying from East to West, then travel at night and you arrive when it’s still evening. For example when we flew from Washington DC to Las Vegas, we left after a full work day and landed in Vegas at about 9pm Las Vegas time (Midnight DC time) and we immediately went out exploring to see the Las Vegas Strip at night! It was a great time to arrive.
  • If you’re flying from West to East, then travel at night by taking a red-eye plane and wake up in a whole new place. If you’re arriving somewhere really, really early then book an inexpensive hotel room for the night before you arrive (send the hotel a message letting them know you’re arriving early in the morning), check in early morning and catch a few hours of zzz’s before all the museums and sites open around 10am. We use this method to fly from Washington DC to Europe.
  • You should also try to leave Europe as late in the day as possible. You can still use that travel day for sightseeing. Then you arrive back in the United States at a reasonable hour and can head to bed and start work the next day without missing out on too much sleep.

20161008_1103202.) Travel early in the Morning – Okay, if you can’t travel at night, then it makes sense to book the earliest flight possible to wherever you are going. For one thing, those flights are always cheaper than flights in the middle of the day. Second, I generally don’t have any trouble falling back to sleep on the plane so I don’t feel sleep deprived when I wake up somewhere new (unless my husband steals my travel blanket which is critical to a good plane nap). Third, you can arrive with most of the day left to see things. This is how we travel to the Caribbean from Washington DC. We generally arrive right before lunch time and have a whole afternoon and evening to start exploring.

3.) Take a Cruise – Where else can you go to sleep and wake up every morning in a new country without doing any work? We would never be able to cover as much ground as we do without mixing a cruise or two into our vacation schedule each year. You only need a day to see many of the islands in the Caribbean and it’s so nice not to deal with any travel logistics after you board. We always try to cruise out of places that are closest to the islands we are visiting to reduce the number of “Days at Sea”. Cruising out of places like Miami and San Juan are great because they are so far South to start with. And if it’s a weekend you can usually get a fringe day or two in those places before you board the ship. (For example, this year’s Inauguration week in January, we flew into San Juan early Friday morning. We spent 2 days exploring San Juan. On Sunday evening, we left on a 7-day cruise and saw 5 Caribbean islands and flew home the next Sunday Night. This trip only used 3 days of annual leave for each of us. )

20160910_1448134.) Plan your Stops in a Logical Order – Probably the first thing I do before booking any trips is go on Google Maps and I use the Star (“Save”) feature to mark every stop we plan to make. It is awesome and they stay starred every time I log into Google. The stars help me visualize where everything is located in relation to other stops. Then we plan our route and book our hotels so that we’re doing things in an order that makes sense so that we don’t waste time by having to backtrack. (And then you could print them out all order confirmations, and package them together in chronological order, or maybe that’s just me. 🙂 )

IMG_42325.) Stay in Hotels Near the Activities you Plan to Do – Yea, it might be more expensive, but we always stay in hotels that are conveniently located. We don’t have time to commute locally from our budget hotel to where the attractions are. And sometimes you end up with a pretty sweet view like the one we had of the Acropolis from our hotel in Athens.

6.) Take Day-Trips/ Excursions – If we have a long list of things to see and don’t want to deal with logistics, we aren’t afraid to do an excursion. A great example is Cosol Tours in St. Lucia. They whisk you around to a ton of sites while your cruise ship is in port. It’s a great way to see a ton and they’re pros so they’ve got the agenda down to clockwork. You can just sit back and relax. We also did a great tour like this in Iceland through Extreme Iceland. The tour lasted for 3 days and we stayed at hotels out in the countryside of Iceland. This let us see more of the beautiful scenery because we weren’t going back and forth to Reykjavik every day.

7.) Don’t Waste Extra days – Some people have the mentality that they flew all the way somewhere and that they need to use all their leave in that same place. We don’t think that way. We’re really not afraid of taking short trips. It’s just not our thing to sit and relax, we have things to do and see. So that means once we’ve seen everything, it’s time to go home. Some places only need 3-4 days and we’re okay with that because we know we need those extra vacation days to see somewhere else. We went to the Atlantis in the Bahamas last year for a 3-day weekend and we saw everything we wanted to see. We also use normal 2 & 3-day weekends to visit our families so that we can use our annual leave for longer distance trips.

8.) Don’t be Afraid to Mix Airports – You don’t have to book round-trip flights into and out of the same airport. We use Orbitz all the time to book multi-city trips. Sometimes it doesn’t affect the price much at all. Depending on where you are going you can waste a lot of time trying to get back to the same airport where you started. For example when we go on a roadtrip of Ireland next year, we’re going to fly into Dublin, road trip the whole North & West Coasts and the fly out of Cork. Going back to Dublin would be more than 3 hours out of our way.

9.) Holidays are Your Best Friend – My husband and I both have jobs that follow the federal holiday calendar. So we put those dates on our calendar every year and those are the dates that we plan our trips around. We may pay a little extra to travel around holidays, but we value time more than money. We do not waste a single 3-day weekend. For example, next year over MLK day, we’re going to Ireland for 9 nights and are only using 4 days of leave. Extra bonus is if you can get your family to meet you in destinations and celebrate the holidays together.

10.) Adjustable Work Schedules – My husband and I are both blessed to sometimes be able to work compressed schedules. This means we fit all 40 hours of our work week into a schedule that’s shorter than a normal 5 day work week. If we are lucky, those extra days off fall around the weekends and holidays, and you’d be amazed at what we can do. Last February we went to Iceland for 6 nights/6 days and didn’t use any leave. We left on Thursday night, had a compressed schedule Friday off, and Monday was a federal holiday, and Tuesday was a compressed day off. When we know those compressed days are going to be on our calendar to extend our weekends, we jump on them.

Hope this is helpful! Just this year we’ve been able to use our leave to go on a 7-day cruise, Iceland, a 24-day honeymoon to Europe, Las Vegas for a long weekend, and we’re finishing up the year with trips to Colorado Springs and the Christmas Markets in Germany. All of this plus we’ve gotten to see our families several times too. Happy Traveling!

(Note, cover image came from Google Maps. I just love their “Star” feature!)


20 of Our Favorite Photos from our Roadtrip to Niagara Falls & Toronto

We took a road trip from Washington DC to Niagara Falls & Toronto this summer and had a lot of adventures as we celebrated both Canada’s 150th Birthday and the 4th of July. Here are some of our favorite memories. Hopefully they’ll inspire you to take your own trip!

For help planning your own trip, see our Guide to Niagara Falls!





San Antonio’s Little Red Barn – A Family Tradition

IMG957386My husband’s family has gone to the Little Red Barn for ages. When he first took me there, he told me that it was his Grandparents’ favorite restaurant for a night out. And now just about every time that we go back to visit family, we find ourselves going to Little Red Barn and that’s okay, because it really is a nice restaurant.

Located close to the intersection of Interstate 10 and 37, the first thing I noticed about the Little Red Barn is that it’s not that little. The sprawling building has a lot of dining space making reservations unnecessary unless you are bringing a big crowd. When you arrive you are promptly shown to a table by a waitress wearing cowboy boots. I’ve been there three times and each time have eaten in a separateIMG957390 dining area with its own western decor. The tables are picnic tables and the restaurant serves sweet tea in pitches making it feel very simple and homey. All of the dishes are served on heavy metal silver plates and bowls which make you feel like you are dining out on the trail.

Rather than paper menus the restaurant lists their entire menu on a wooden/poster sign board. One of the great tings about the restaurant is that they serve steaks in all sizes so you can really find one that is the right amount for you. One of the things that frustrates me about most steakhouses is that the steaks are such huge portions, I feel like part of it goes to waste. The 6 oz sirloin at the Little Red Barn is just my size.

IMG957391Each diner at the restaurant gets their own small salad. The salad is a simple mix of lettuce, tomato, cheese, and croutons and your choice of dressing on the side. The green goddess dressing is a very popular choice, but they also have basics like ranch and thousand island. The salad is really simple, but for some reason it’s really good in a way I can’t explain. I’m honestly hungry for a Little Red Barn salad as I write this review. IMG957392

For my main course, I always order the smallest sirloin steak and for a side you have a choice of french fries, baked potato, or green beans. Last time I ordered the french fries, but they have a loaded baked potato that looks delicious and will be my go-to from now on. My husband orders a larger rib-eye and adds a 6 piece shrimp to his order. Even though it’s a steak house, the Little Red Barn is quite famous for their shrimp.

Overall, we really love visiting the Little Red Barn in San Antonio. It’s a great, simple restaurant with very reasonable prices. Because of the atmosphere it works great if you’re celebrating an occasion or even if you just want a nice dinner out with family and friends. We highly recommend it and I’m sure will be back many times in the future.




Eat at Portillo’s for a Chicago Dog

20170818_225441When visiting Chicago there are two foods that tourists have to get, a deep dish pizza and a Chicago-style hot dog. My husband has been to Chicago a bunch of times, so I asked for his opinion about where to get a hot dog and he said we had to go to Portillo’s. Interestingly, Portillo’s just opened a new location in Champaign, IL so my family had already been to one. And my mom loves the place, so that’s where we went!

Portillo’s is located in Downtown Chicago at the corner of Ontario and Clark streets. It’s about 6 blocks west of Michigan Avenue and 7 blocks north of the River for anyone staying in the Downtown area.

My picture isn’t great, but Portillo’s has this great old-timey, diner 20170818_225110atmosphere that I loved. They have neon signs advertising the different menu items and you go up to different counters based on what you want to order. Since we were there for hot dogs, we went right up to the hot dog counter and ordered. But they also have a milk shake counter and an Italian food counter that also looked awesome and that I’m dying to try. The tables are covered with picnic style red and white checkered table cloths and there is so much space that you can easily find a place to sit.

We ordered hot dogs, french fries with cheese, and a chocolate milkshake to share.  If you are ordering a “Chicago-Style” hot dog it comes with a full pickle spear, sports peppers, onions, tomato, and mustard. Brian loves them that way. He also told me that if you ordered ketchup the Chicago-ans will judge you (I don’t know if that’s true or if he was messing with me, but I 20170818_225623ordered mine without just in case and got ketchup from the condiment station – LOL).

Once the food is ready, you pick it up in bags at the counter. It really just takes a few minutes of waiting. My reaction to the food was as follows: The milk shake is huge, I’m so glad I talked Brian into sharing; the hot dogs came with poppy seed buns, fancy!; and yum, liquid cheese.

Overall I loved our visit to Portillo’s and it’s on my list to go back to next time I’m in Chicago, or next time I visit my family in Champaign, IL!



3 Islands: Hydra, Egina, & Poros – The Best Day Trip from Athens

IMG_4563DSCN1630IMG_4566We didn’t have time on our trip to go all the way out to Santorini or the other Greek Islands so this cruise was the perfect way to get a taste of the Greek Islands and all it did was make us want to come back and see the others. All you need is one full day and you can cross 3 islands off your list.

We booked our cruise tickets through Viator. Our day started with an included hotel pick-up at around 7:30 am. Our pick-up was a bit late and we stopped at another hotel to pick up some more cruisers before being driven about 20 minutes to the Athens port. Once we arrived we were given our Lunch pass with an assigned lunch time, they took our photos and then we boarded the ship and were ready to set sail! My only complaint about this process is that we arrived a bit late and all of the best seats were taken. Luckily people moved around during the cruise and we were able to find a vacant table in the dining room about halfway through the morning. The ship is large with 3 floors which is plenty of room for people to spread out and seating can be found indoors in the dining room area and along all the outdoor railings. They also have a large VIP section for an additional cost. It looked very nice and had plenty of nice seats, but I’m still not sure the extra cost is justified.

The first leg of our IMG_4572sailing trip was the longest and I think I remember that it took about 2 hours. During that time we dozed on a sofa and then we ordered a breakfast croissant and a drink from the dining room. It was a bit pricey, but we are experienced cruisers so we kind of expected that. The cruise company also did a presentation and allowed cruisers the opportunity to purchase tours for the different ports. For Hydra, cruisers had the option to purchase a walking tour. For Egina there were a couple of different tour options. Poros did not have any additional tours. We only purchased an extra tour for Egina which I think cost about $40 per person. The company did take credit card, although I think if you paid cash the process would go considerably smoother. The cruise company also explained that half of the people on board would IMG_4571eat lunch between the 1st and 2nd stop and the other half would eat between the 2nd and 3rd stop. We didn’t get a choice (it seemed to be based on your arrival to the ship in the morning) and we had the 2nd dining time slot.

1st Stop: Hydra

The island of Hydra is really lovely with blue water, and picturesque white houses covering the hillside. The first thing that we learned is that Hydra does not have any cars. The residents rely on donkeys for their only transportation. And sure enough, we saw an entire line of donkeys for rent when we exited our boat and walked along the pier. DSCN1635We did not rent a donkey or join the tour, but instead we spent the morning wandering in and out of the shops in Hydra and found a few places to stop and take some pictures.

On our walk we passed a bunch of restaurants with tables and chairs right out on the pier. It all looked so good, we decided that we were a long ways away from lunch and we shared a small brunch at one of the restaurants along the street (on the pier if you DSCN1658have your back to the water it was the furthest restaurant to the right). Our chicken kabobs and Greek salad were delicious! And we were very entertained when a cat came up and stole one of our leftover kabobs! I have to say that our lunch on the pier in Hydra was one of my favorite meals of the week because the scenery was so lovely.

After lunch we walked back to the ship and  since half the tourists were at lunch, DSCN1707we found great seats on the 2nd deck for the short journey to Poros!

2nd Stop: Poros

Poros was the shortest stop on our journey. I believe we only had about 45 minutes in the port. So we climbed up the stairs to the clock tower (it’s pretty well marked) and then found a place to get ice cream while we wandered into a couple of souvenir shops. The clock tower is pretty lovely. And someday I’d like to go back for more time so that we can visit the Lemon Forest.

Lunch Time: 


After we re-boarded the ship we immediately went to the dining room for lunch. The lunch was a buffet with a couple types of salad, pasta, and a few other dishes. Overall it was fine and edible, but I just ate a little plate and was happy with that. Truthfully, I was really glad that we ate brunch at Hydra because it was so much better than the lunch that was served on board. It was also more scenic and an actual Greek meal, so yeah, if your budget allows, I say you should go ahead and brunch in Hydra. You probably won’t regret it.

3rd Stop: Egina

We paid extra for a tour to Egina because we IMG_4612wanted to see the Temple of Aphaia and complete the Sacred Triangle of Temples (Parthenon, Poseidon, and Aphaia). After exiting the ship we immediately boarded a bus which was conveniently labeled for English speaking guests. They also had other buses with tour guides speaking several other languages. Our bus immediately headed for the Temple of Aphaia and along the way our tour guide told us all about Egina which is one of the largest growers of pistachios in the world. In fact after visiting the Temple of Aphaia, we had a few extra minutes and my husband purchased a fresh pistachio ice cream made from goat’s milk for a snack. He also picked up a couple of bags of pistachios to bring home.

IMG_4614Our second stop in Egina was the Cathedral of Saint Nectarios a large church with a large monastery. It was a very impressive church and was pretty recently constructed unlike many of the other churches and temples that we saw in Europe. In fact, the sanctuary still had scaffolding inside where they were finishing up the last bit of construction. You also had another opportunity to buy fresh pistachios from a stand in the parking lot of the church.

After visiting the church we headed right back to the ship. We didn’t have time to do any sightseeing or wander around the port because it was time to set sail back to Athens. After this last stop the ship had a Greek dancing presentation which cruisers couldDSCN1737 watch. We opted to sit on the second deck and sip a coke while sat out in the nice weather and ocean breeze. When we got close to Athens the wind picked up and the waves got pretty big and we decided that we felt a lot safer indoors. It was a pretty rough ride back to Athens and we were delayed a bit getting back into port due to the rough seas. If you get seasick, you would have hated this last little bit of the ride. I recommend packing seasickness medication if you need it because they did not sell any onboard. I wouldn’t let this concern stop you from traveling unless you have a huge fear. The odds of this same situation happening to you have to be pretty small. We had a really calm and peaceful ride up until the last hour.

Overall, even with the rough boat ride back to port, we absolutely loved this day trip to the Greek Islands. It was a really great way to experience the Greek islands on a short time frame. It’s also a great way to get to visit the Temple of Aphaia and complete the Sacred Triangle of temples.

You can book this exact daytrip by clicking on the logo below:

Note: We are an affiliate of this vendor, but only recommend tours that we love! It does not cost you any extra to book your tour through our link.