Jennifer goes to Disney World

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Pandora at Animal Kingdom

After our cruise, we decided to extend our trip and went to Disney World for a couple of days. I primarily was interested in going to see Pandora at Animal Kingdom and I was not disappointed. Disney did a wonderful job recreating the world of Pandora from Avatar.

My first stop at Animal Kingdom was the new ride Flight of Passage, which is in 3D. I felt as though I was riding on the back of a banshee. It was incredible. I also went on the much more relaxing Na’vi River Journey. It is not as thrilling as Flight of Passage, but it’s worth a ride just to experience the bioluminescent rainforest.

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Another view of Pandora at Animal Kingdom

In addition to Pandora, Animal Kingdom added a nighttime show. Usually, we don’t spend a whole day at Animal Kingdom, but we did this time just to see the show and I’m glad we did. Rivers of Light has music and special effects that will keep you mesmerized.

Besides Animal Kingdom, we also went to Hollywood Studios because we had to ride The Great Movie Ride one last time. It is being replaced with a different ride. Stitch’s Great Escape at Magic Kingdom also is being replaced. I didn’t realize when I rode Stitch’s Great Escape that it was my last time. I recently heard that it is being turned into a meet and greet area.

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Me with Rafiki

With the expansion at Hollywood Studios, a lot of the park was blocked off, but the expansion sounds amazing. I saw part of the roller coaster in Toy Story Land. If that land is anything like Cars Land at Disney Land, it will be awesome.

Disney World is always fun and we had a great time.

 

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Jennifer goes to St. Maarten

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View of the French side of St. Maarten

Before the destruction caused by Hurricane Irma, I stopped at St. Maarten on my cruise. My family went on an island tour so we could see both the French and Dutch sides. It was beautiful.

St. Maarten is primarily known for its beautiful beaches. While we took advantage of the beach after our island tour, we also walked around Philipsburg, the capital of the Dutch side. Philipsburg has plenty of shops and restaurants on Front Street.

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View of the Boardwalk in Philipsburg

On the beach, jet skis are available for rent, as are beach chairs. Snorkeling excursions are available, but I saw a lot of people snorkeling right from the beach.

We rented a couple of chairs and an umbrella, and completely enjoyed a couple of hours on the beach. It was the most relaxing time we had on our whole trip.

I’ve heard that at least one cruise line plans to add St. Maarten to its itineraries again in November. This is great news for an island that heavily relies on tourism. If you are looking for a beautiful place to sit back and relax, I can’t think of a better place than St. Maarten.

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The beach in Philipsburg

 

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Jennifer goes to San Juan

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Me at Cueva Ventana

With Puerto Rico on the verge of a humanitarian crisis, I had debated whether I should still write about my time in San Juan. In the end, I decided that I wanted to show everyone how beautiful it was before it was devastated by Hurricane Maria.

This was my second time in San Juan. Previously, we went to Castillo de San Cristóbal and walked around Old San Juan. This time, my family wanted to do something different and a little more adventurous. Until I was handed a hard hat, I didn’t realize how adventurous we were being. We decided to go to Cueva Ventana (Window Cave).

I expected Cueva Ventana to be like Luray Caverns. It wasn’t. I put on my hard hat and climbed down into dark caves. It was slippery because it had rained the day before. There were no railings or stairs. In the first cave, only our guide had a flashlight. We had to be careful not to disturb the bats and we saw a boa constrictor hanging at the opening of the cave.

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View from Cueva Ventana

I was glad when I got through that cave and thought I was done until we hiked to the next one, which was a bit of a climb down. I was handed a flashlight for this cave, but I had to make sure to keep it pointed at the cave floor. Apparently, this cave is home to vicious bats and if they are disturbed, they will attack.

Once I got to the end of the cave, I understood why it was called Cueva Ventana. It opened up to a beautiful valley below with a river. Though the experience was not what I expected, the view was well worth it.

I’m glad I didn’t know what this excursion entailed before we went because I might not have done it. It is out of my comfort zone and I’m proud of myself for going through with it.

After Cueva Ventana, we had time to walk around Old San Juan before returning to the ship.  Old San Juan was beautiful before the hurricane with its bright colors and cobblestone streets. I hope it makes a fast recovery because it has so much to offer, including restaurants and museums that are all within walking distance.

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Park in Old San Juan

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Cobblestone street in Old San Juan

 

 

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Jennifer goes to La Romana

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Squirrel monkey at Monkeyland

Before the Dominican Republic fell victim to Hurricane Irma, and soon Hurricane Maria, I had the opportunity to stop at La Romana on my cruise. La Romana is primarily known for Casa de Campo, which is a large resort. Visitors can go to the beach, ride horses, play golf, and shop. There is also Altos de Chavón, which is a replica of a European medieval village.

My family decided to skip Casa de Campo and do something out of the ordinary. Our tour took us to someone’s home where we got a taste of the Dominican Republic. We ate fresh fruit, like pineapples and mangoes, and drank cocoa tea. All of it was delicious.

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Where they roast cocoa beans

We then drove a short distance to Monkeyland, which is in the mountains and is home to squirrel monkeys. Monkeyland is an interactive experience. I knew that I would be feeding the monkeys, but I didn’t expect them to be as friendly as they were. I had them crawling all over me and had one even on my head.

The monkeys are adorable and extremely gentle. I found that even when I didn’t have food, they still wanted to interact. 

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Me feeding a squirrel monkey

I’m hoping Monkeyland didn’t have much damage after Hurricane Irma and will make it through Hurricane Maria because it is definitely a once in a lifetime experience. It is something I and my family will never forget.

 

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Jennifer goes to Grand Turk

DSC05436My heart goes out to everyone who has suffered as a result of Hurricane Irma. It is hard for me to believe that I just visited Grand Turk and St. Maarten, and their welcoming people and those same islands have now been destroyed. It took years for Grand Turk to recover from Hurricane Ike, which struck in 2008, and it looks like that might be the case with Hurricane Irma.

Here are a few facts about Grand Turk:

  • It is said that Columbus discovered the Turks and Caicos Islands in 1492.
  • In the 17th century, Grand Turk became a major player in the salt industry.
  • John Glenn and Scott Carpenter trained at the U.S. Air Force base and John Glenn was brought to Grand Turk after he landed in the Atlantic Ocean after his space mission.

While in Grand Turk, I had a wonderful time. I went on a tour of the island. Grand Turk is only 7 miles long. It was beautiful.

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Donkeys are everywhere.

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St. Mary’s Anglican Church

On the tour, I visited the Turks and Caicos Museum, which houses exhibits on Grand Turk’s history and environment. There also are exhibits on the Molasses Reef shipwreck. Additionally, I visited St. Mary’s Anglican Church and the Grand Turk Lighthouse.

I hope Grand Turk is able to rebuild again and that I’ll be able to go back for another visit.

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Me at the Grand Turk Lighthouse

 

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Jennifer goes to York and Windsor

View of York from Clifford's Tower

View of York from Clifford’s Tower

The last two stops on my trip were York and Windsor.

Clifford's Tower

Clifford’s Tower

York is a historic medieval city. In fact, it was one of the most important cities of the Roman Empire. For many centuries, it was a major port and trading center because it is set on the Rivers Ouse and Foss.

York is a beautiful city and, if you go, I recommend walking it. It is the best way to see everything and gain a true appreciation of the city. I walked everywhere, including the entire city wall, which is about three miles.

There are tiny alleyways and historic buildings all over York. One of the alleyways, The Shambles, inspired Diagon Alley in Harry Potter. At the center of all of the historic buildings and medieval streets is the York Minster. The York Minster is a magnificent work of architecture. Construction on the Minster began in 1220 and it took more than 250 years to complete. It is definitely worth a visit.

York Minster

York Minster

York City Wall

York City Wall

The Yorkshire Museum has quite the collection of artifacts, but the gardens impressed me the most. They are gorgeous. The ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey stand in the gardens. St. Mary’s Abbey was destroyed by Henry VIII during the Reformation of the church. After a day of walking around, the gardens are a great place to relax and have a picnic.

Ruins of St. Mary's Abbey

Ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey

Gardens at Yorkshire Museum

Gardens at Yorkshire Museum

Windsor Castle

Windsor Castle

Windsor is a small town built around Windsor Castle. It’s a cute town, but, of course, the highlight is the castle, which was built by William the Conqueror. It is the oldest inhabited castle in the world. A tour of the castle takes you through the State Apartments, which are quite opulent.

Windsor Castle

Windsor Castle

Have you visited York or Windsor?

For more about my trip, read my other posts:

Jennifer goes to the British Isles

Jennifer goes to the British Isles – More of London

Jennifer goes to Warwick Castle, Stratford-upon-Avon, and Oxford University

Jennifer goes to Bath and Stonehenge

Jennifer goes to Warner Bros. Studios and Chester

Jennifer goes to Dublin and Cork

Jennifer goes to the Cliffs of Moher and the Burren

Jennifer goes to Edinburgh

Jennifer goes to Alnwick Castle, Stirling Castle, and Loch Lomond

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Jennifer goes to Alnwick Castle, Stirling Castle, and Loch Lomond

Alnwick Castle

Alnwick Castle

While in Edinburgh, I was lucky enough to fit in Alnwick Castle, Stirling Castle, and Loch Lomond. Alnwick Castle is not in Scotland. It’s in England, but is so close to the border that it’s easier to visit from Edinburgh than London.

Alnwick Castle parklands

Alnwick Castle parklands

Alnwick Castle parklands

Alnwick Castle parklands

Alnwick Castle is beautiful and has been home to the Percy family for 700 years. If you’ve seen the first two Harry Potter movies, then you’ve seen this castle. Alnwick Castle is where the students of Hogwarts learned to fly on their brooms and where the Ford Anglia crashed. If you’re a fan of Downton Abbey, then you saw the gorgeous State Rooms and parklands in the 2014 Christmas Special.

Treehouse at Alnwick Castle

Treehouse at Alnwick Castle

Stirling Castle

Stirling Castle

Stirling Castle is most popularly know as the home of James V and Mary de Guise, the parents of Mary, Queen of Scots. In fact, it was James V who had the palace built on the Stirling Castle property. But its history dates back to 1110 during Alexander I’s reign. It is where William Wallace beat Edward I at Stirling Bridge in 1297, Robert the Bruce fought Edward II at Bannockburn in 1314, and Mary, Queen of Scots, was crowned at this castle in 1543.

View from Stirling Castle

View from Stirling Castle

Both castles offer plenty to see and do, even if you have children. There are dress up areas and Alnwick Castle provides broom lessons and a Knight’s Quest. I enjoyed the Downton Abbey exhibition that Alnwick Castle is currently offering.

Loch Lomond

Loch Lomond

While I saw plenty of castles on this trip, I took time out to for hiking and went to Loch Lomond. It is the most beautiful lake I have ever seen. If you have the chance to visit Loch Lomond, I highly recommend it and make sure to stop in the cafe and get an ice cream. It was delicious.

Loch Lomond

Loch Lomond

Loch Lomond

Loch Lomond

Have you been to Scotland? What did you like about it?

Next week, I’m back in England for the last stop on my trip.

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Jennifer goes to Edinburgh

Edinburgh

Edinburgh

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been sharing photos from my time in the British Isles. We are now to my favorite stop on my trip — Edinburgh, Scotland. I absolutely loved Edinburgh. It is a great mix of new and old. It’s easy to get around the city. I was able to walk most of it, but relied on the city buses when I was tired. The people are extremely friendly and, like Dublin, my gluten-free diet didn’t get in the way of me having a good time. Unfortunately, when planning my trip, I didn’t realize how much there would be to see and do in Scotland so I didn’t spend much time there. I guess it gives me a reason to go back.

The first place I visited in Edinburgh was Edinburgh Castle, which sits on Castle Rock overlooking the city.

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle

The castle was a royal residence from the 11th century to the early 17th century when James VI became the King of Scotland and England. Mary, Queen of Scots, gave birth to James VI in a small room in the palace. In addition to the palace, there are a number of museums to see, including the National War Museum of Scotland. It also houses Scotland’s Crown Jewels.

View From Edinburgh Castle

View From Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh

Edinburgh

After visiting Edinburgh Castle, I went to the Scottish National Gallery, which has one of the best art collections in the world. I love art museums and this was one of the greatest I’ve ever seen.

Sir Walter Scott Monument

Sir Walter Scott Monument

St. Giles Cathedral

St. Giles Cathedral

Palace of Holyroodhouse

Palace of Holyroodhouse

I then went to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, which is the Queen’s residence when she visits Scotland. The most fascinating part of this palace was Mary, Queen of Scots’ private apartments. Mary, Queen of Scots, led a tragic life and it is at this palace that her life took a turn for the worst. In Mary, Queen of Scots’ Outer Chamber, there is a plaque that marks the spot where David Rizzio, her Italian secretary, was murdered by her second husband, Lord Darnley. After the murder, she fled the palace and gave birth to James VI in Edinburgh Castle a few months later. Lord Darnley later died mysteriously and Mary married James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, who many believed was involved in Lord Darnley’s death. Her marriage to Hepburn was widely condemned and Mary was forced to abdicate the throne to her son, James VI. She sought refuge from her cousin, Elizabeth I, in England, which proved to be a mistake. She spent the next 18 years of her life confined in various castles until she was convicted for plotting to assassinate Elizabeth I and executed at Fotheringay Castle.

If you get to Edinburgh, I highly recommend visiting both Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse. The history is fascinating.

Have you been to Edinburgh? If so, what was your favorite place to visit?

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Jennifer goes to the Cliffs of Moher and the Burren

The Cliffs of Moher

The Cliffs of Moher

While in Dublin, I decided to visit the Atlantic coast of Ireland. The Cliffs of Moher are majestic in their beauty and are the highlight of that side of Ireland. They are approximately 656 feet high and stretch for about 6.2 miles down the coast. O’Brien’s Tower is at the top of the path and offers the best view of the cliffs.

The day I visited, the ocean was extremely calm. I was told that the cliffs are even more beautiful when the ocean is a little rough because the waves splash up onto the cliffs. The cliffs are also home to many different seabirds, but I only saw gulls.

Top of the path at the Cliffs of Moher

Top of the path at the Cliffs of Moher

The Cliffs of Moher

The Cliffs of Moher

The Burren

The Burren

Not far from the Cliffs of Moher is the Burren. It is a limestone plateau that has been eroded by rain. While there is some green, the Burren is known for its odd gray landscape. Because of the fissures in the stone and loose rocks, I took my time while I explored so I wouldn’t twist an ankle or worse. If you go to the Cliffs of Moher, the Burren is well worth the stop.

The Burren

The Burren

Have you been to the Cliffs of Moher or the Burren?

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Jennifer goes to Dublin and Cork

Dublin is a large, but friendly city. I had a wonderful time in Dublin and loved walking around the city. If you have to eat gluten-free like I do, you’ll have an extremely easy time. Many restaurants offer gluten-free options, including pizza and fish and chips.

Dublin

Dublin

While in Dublin, I visited Trinity College, the Guinness Storehouse, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral. I also saw Riverdance. I asked some of the locals what I should do in Dublin and many of them said I should go to the zoo.  I thought it was odd, but made the time to go and it was definitely a highlight. The Dublin Zoo is very well done. It sits in the middle of Phoenix Park, which is the largest enclosed park in Europe. If you ever go to Dublin, I highly recommend a walk through Phoenix Park and a visit to the zoo.

Dublin

Dublin

St. Patrick's Cathedral

St. Patrick’s Cathedral

During my few days in Dublin, I also went to Cork. On the way to Cork, I saw the Rock of Cashel and Blarney Castle. The Rock of Cashel was once the seat of the Kings of Munster and was visited by St. Patrick in 450.

Rock of Cashel

Rock of Cashel

Blarney Castle was built approximately six hundred years ago. It has beautiful gardens, but is most famous as the home of the Blarney Stone. It is believed that if you kiss the stone, you get the gift of eloquence. I walked up the steep, narrow steps of the castle, but didn’t kiss the stone. As I stood on the top of the castle, my mind couldn’t get past the thousands of people that had kissed the stone that day; so I chose to skip it and make the trek back down.

Blarney Castle

Blarney Castle

Cork was a nice city to visit. Unfortunately, my time there was short. I had just enough time to walk through some of the shops on Patrick Street and eat an ice cream.

Cork

Cork

Have you been to Dublin? What did you like about Dublin?

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