Visiting Warner Brothers Studios UK: The Making of Harry Potter

Most of those who love Harry Potter and all things associated with the books and movies know there are theme park rides dedicated to the Boy Wizard, but did you know there is a warehouse just outside London that houses many of the original sets, costumes, and props used in the making of the films? Not only can Potter fans visit the original movie sets, but they can also see first hand how the movie sets were developed, hear about what is was like for these young actors and actresses to grow up on a movie set, learn about the movie making process, how the animals were trained and cared for during the making of the movies, and discover some of the secrets behind the incredible computer assisted cinematic genius in all 8 of the films. Visitors can also try their hand at wand dueling, learn the art of broomstick riding, practice their spells, and taste real butterbeer. While it isn’t an inexpensive attraction, a family of four can visit for about the cost of a 1-day theme park ticket.

Warner Brothers Studios UK was home to the entire cast and crew of the Harry Potter Movie Series for 10 years. The studio decided to recreate the sets and display props, costumes and behind the scenes memorabilia to share with the public, and created this magical experience adjacent to the working studios. Open since 2012, visitors can now immerse themselves in the world of Harry Potter and his companions and not only walk in their footsteps but learn about the magic of movie making as well.

Because traveling with children can be a little complicated, especially when there is a 10 year age gap between the oldest and youngest child, we try to allow each child an opportunity to provide us with a wish list of activities and attractions he or she is excited to experience for each trip.

Our 12 year old son has spent the last few years, engrossed in the World of Harry Potter. Once he found out this tour was possible, it was his first priority for our trip to London. To allow for everyone to be engaged in this more than 3 hour tour, we watched all 8 films as a family.

Buying your tickets

Tickets for this tour sell out fairly quickly, and must be purchased in advance. I bought our tickets 3 months in advance, and the availability was very limited. So book as early as possible for the best dates and times. If the day you are hoping to book appears sold out, keep checking the website, before giving up or booking a bus package. The studio allows for patrons to exchange their tickets for a small fee, so days may open up. I was able to add a ticket to our tour just 2 weeks before we went.

Getting to the studio

The Studios are located in Watford, England: approximately 20 miles away from London. There are dedicated tours that offer a hotel pickup and drop off and your entry ticket. There are also transportation services that provide transport to and from the studio, but do not provide your entry ticket. If you are someone who worries about navigating public transportation or are not a fan of Uber/Lyft, one of these two options are probably for you.

I am a terrible navigator, so if I can get to the studio from London, anyone can. The train to Watford station was easy for us to find and it was a 20 minute ride. As soon as you reach the platform, there are signs very visibly posted, pointing the way to the Harry Potter bus. The bus was waiting at the station to bring us on a 20 minute journey to the Studio. Per adult, with an oyster card, the train and the bus was about £10.00. Children are about half the cost.

For those who love coupons and bargains: Groupon UK has been offering vouchers for a special ticket that includes a self guided tour from 5 pm to midnight, a butterbeer, a beverage of choice, and a meal from the Backlot Restaurant on site for £50.00. The dates are limited, but might be worth a look.

What to Expect on the Tour

Arrival to the studio

Just outside the studio, there are multiple ticket windows to pick up tickets if you bought through the studio website. There may be another queue as all bags are searched and all adults are wanded with metal detectors, prior to entering.

Beginning the self guided tour

Upon arrival, there is a short wait to watch a video on the self guided tour. There is a photo area at the beginning for family or individual pictures while you wait. There is also a small snack shop and a gift shop. After the movie, the doors open, and you are free to wander this enormous space at your leisure.

Essentially, this is a gigantic warehouse that has been broken up into several sets, each with a theme and the props and accompaniments associated with the theme. We found it difficult to move quickly from one set to the next, because each area was so intricate and detailed. We just wanted to keep exploring.

Interactive exhibits

There are several interactive exhibits that may have a line. Our favorite was levitating broomsticks, followed by a lesson in wand dueling, taught by a local staff member and the real onset instructor to the movie stars, via recorded video.

There are two photo/video opportunities. Your party can dress in their favorite house colors and pose for a group pic, and individually, take a ride on a mechanical broomstick and with the help of green screen animation. Participants fly over Hogwarts and various screen locations from the movies. Your ride is captured on video, and you can choose to purchase or not.

Dining Options

There is only one, fairly small fast casual restaurant. The Backlot Restaurant offers an opportunity to try your very own butterbeer and a souvenir mug can be purchased as well. There are sandwiches and various cooked to order options such as burgers and vegetarian hot dogs, but be aware, this was the longest wait of the evening for us. If possible, pack your own meal, and just wait for the butterbeer. Time goes fast at this attraction.

Once through the restaurant, the exhibits continue outdoors, and then back indoors.

The Newest Exhibit

Opened in April 2019, is the new addition of Gringott’s Bank. Costumes, behind the scenes displays of how masks and other special prosthetics were developed, and even the bank vault are now on display.

A Warning for Young Visitors

While most of the exhibits are family friendly, my youngest was frightened by the Forbidden Forest and the giant, crawling spiders, and a very realistic CGI dragon that destroys Gringott’s. Just be aware, bypassing these may make for a better night’s sleep.

Returning to London

Be sure to check the train schedule for your return times to London. Make sure you are aware what time the next express train will be departing: it’s the difference between a 12 minute ride and a 50 minute ride back to the city.

A Do It Your Yourself Edinburgh Pub Crawl

During our holiday trip to Scotland, Sarah and I were disappointed to learn our Edinburgh Pub Crawl was cancelled. It was one of the top things we were looking forward to, so we each took to the Internet to create our own list of traditional as well as interesting pubs in Edinburgh. What resulted was an eclectic mix of old and new and a super fun night out in Scotland!

Panda & Sons

The Art of Travel Company Edinburgh
The “Barbershop”

We started off the night at Panda & Sons. By day, this actually looks like a Barber Shop on the outside (we actually walked by during our food tour), but in reality is a secret craft cocktail bar modeled after the prohibition era speakeasy that requires prearrangement to get in. You even enter through a bookcase door! The cocktail list is extensive and they do offer light appetizers. It’s definitely a local place and worth a stop. Try the Birdcage Cocktail. It’s really quite the presentation.

Do It Yourself Edinburgh Pub Crawl
Entering the speakeasy through the secret bookcase
Edinburgh Pub Crawl
The Birdcage Cocktail Presentation

52 Canoes

Do It Yourself Edinburgh Pub Crawl
The bar selection
Do It Yourself Edinburgh Pub Crawl
Cheers to the Tiki!

Everyone who knows me, understands I am a big fan of the Tiki Bar and when I found out there was one in Edinburgh, I knew we just had to go. It’s quite the contrast in this medieval city and the minute you walk in, no matter how cold it is outside, the décor instantly warms you. Full of colorful lighting and totem poles, it transforms you to a tropical location. The drink menu does not disappoint and it was a great place to get one of our fave’s—the mojito. They have the best rum selection in the city and a full menu. You can tell by the smiles on our faces, it was a favorite amongst us all.

The Blue Blazer

Do It Yourself Pub Crawl Edinburgh
Cozying up to the fire

This is a very traditional Scottish Pub built in 1867. It’s a quiet, quaint, local place. The one thing it has going for it, (and the reason we stopped here) is because it is the one of the only pubs in Edinburgh that has a fireplace. We didn’t hang here long, but we managed to score a seat right in front of the fire. The drink prices were really reasonable as well.

The Tolbooth Tavern

Do It Yourself Edinburgh Pub Crawl

This was absolutely the perfect way to cap off the night! Rich in history, the Tolbooth is actually rumored to be one of the most haunted buildings in Edinburgh. It dates back to 1591 when the building was used to collect tolls from travelers entering the burgh.

We happened into the tavern during karaoke night and had a chance to hear some of the local singers. I even managed to get Sarah to drink some whiskey (which she said she’d never do). We danced, we drank whiskey and we laughed. It was a great night of making awesome memories with those you love.

Do It Yourself Edinburgh Pub Crawl
Proof that Sarah drank whiskey!
Do It Yourself Pub Crawl Edinburgh
Here’s to a pub crawl well done!

Two Family Friendly Destinations for 2019

2019 Family Friendly Locations
Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay at night

Singapore is a very young country with a booming economy and so much development happening, if you have visited recently, it may be unrecognizable the next time you are there. A relatively small Island off the coast of Malaysia, Singapore has had many rulers, and only became an Independent country 50 years ago. The Singapore of 50 years ago was teetering on the brink of destruction, but in just one generation, they have become one of the richest countries in the world. Impressive sky scrapers and new modern design are weaved into the older, culturally diverse neighborhoods with their own cuisines and decor, including a Colonial District, in remembrance of English colonial rule. While most of the population is of Chinese, Indian, and Malaysian descent, English is the primary language. The temperature hovers right around 80 degrees year round, and the sun rises and sets everyday at 7. There are modern amenities , one of the world’s largest casinos, gorgeous resorts with beautiful beaches, world class zoos and jungle safaris, as well as a Universal Studios amusement park. Just a few of their top attractions are:

  1. Gardens by the Bay
  2. Sentosa Island
  3. MacRitchie Reservoir
  4. Orchard Road

Why We Want to go:

So many experiences in one destination: The Glitz of Tokyo, a visit to the Serengeti, US quality amusement parks, all encompassing southeast Asian and Indian cuisine in one location, world class shopping, year round inviting weather.

Why is it a hot Destination for 2019:

If you haven’t seen the hottest film of 2018 or read the book, you need to. For Americans, Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan, put Singapore on our radars.

The Azores, Portugal

Azores

These 9 Islands, located approximately 900 miles off the coast of Portugal, are an outdoor enthusiast’s dream destination. Known for its magnificent volcanic landscape, visitors can hike to breathtaking panoramic peaks, swim in crater lakes, explore lava tubes, bathe in hot springs, and discover a variety of oceanic activities, such as boating, snorkeling and surfing. I became interested in visiting the Azores after I discovered there are non stop flights from Boston with a flight time of approximately 4.5 hours and an equally short trip can be easily found from New York City. The descriptions are similar to the Hawaiian Island activity offerings, but Oahu is more of a 17 hour flight time for us. The top attractions in the Azores include:

  1. Sete Cidades Crater Lake
  2. Terra Nostra Gardens
  3. Algar do Carveo and Gruta das Torres
  4. Marina of Horta

Why We Want to Go:

We love tropical weather and plenty of outdoor activities to keep us busy. One of the most difficult things about family travel is the getting there. These islands are exactly the right balance of close proximity to us, lots of activities, a beautiful location, and affordability.

Why is it a Hot Destination for 2019

Delta recently announced a new direct flight from the northeast, beginning in May 2019. Boston already has a direct flight in place through the Azores own airline, ANA. For those looking for an island getaway with a wide array of outdoor activities and world class cuisine and accommodations, but don’t want the big commitment flying to Hawaii can take, these islands just became irresistible. New York to San Pedro averages just about 5 hours. Hotels average a $120.00 a night and dinner is less than $25.00 per person in the Azores. Compared to Hawaii, this is an incredible steal.

A Thanksgiving Getaway

Thanksgiving Getaway ideas Zach Stovall Photography

Still thinking about getting away for Thanksgiving? Take advantage of the long weekend (fly on Thanksgiving for reduced fares) and head to the BVI Food Fete Lobster Festival on Anegada in the British Virgin Islands on November 24 and 25th. This annual culinary festival features local spiny lobster prepared by the islands best local chefs from Anegada’s participating restaurants. It’s a fun-filled culinary adventure featuring live music, art from well-known regional artisans and a sunset party, all in the gorgeous setting of the British Virgin Islands in the Caribbean! With over 60 islands and cays spanning 600 nautical miles, it’s the perfect place for island hopping and there’s plenty to do and see (including the famous Anegada flamingos)—all just a plane ride away!

Getting there:

USVI Ferries depart from St Thomas and St John and BVI inter island ferries depart from Road Town on Tortola, Virgin Gorda, and Beef Island

Via Air Travel:

From the USA, fly to St Thomas (STT) or San Juan Puerto Rico (SJU) on major carriers American Airlines, Delta, Jet Blue and Spirit, connect to BVI via Seaborne or Cape Air

Where to Stay:

Anegada Beach Club—For an outof the ordinary experience, stay at the Anegada Beach Club. This resort is glamping at it’s finest with luxury, beachfront palapa style retreats—all freshly built.

For more information on the BVI Food Fete, visit http://bvifoodfete.com/anegada-lobster-festival/

Things to Do:

Chill on the beach first of all!  Seriously though, we are huge fans of the British Virgin Islands.  It’s home to many iconic beach bars–including the legendary floating Willy T (Yes, you read that right.  We did say “floating”) and the Soggy Dollar, birthplace of the famous drink the painkiller.  If you’ve never heard of these places, they are just a sampling of the many hidden gems in the BVI’s that are bucket list worthy.

Soggy Dollar Beach Bar BVI
It doesn’t get any better than drinking a painkiller in a hammock outside the Soggy Dollar

Exploring Montage Palmetto Bluff–A South Carolina Oasis

Montage Palmetto Bluff
Your swing awaits on the walking trails of Montage Palmetto Bluff Resort

Stunning, I must have used these words a thousand times on my recent trip to Montage Palmetto Bluff in Bluffton, South Carolina. Just 30 minutes from the great city of Savannah, Georgia (a personal bucket list city for me), it was a nice easy drive from central Florida and absolutely, without a doubt worth going to from anywhere in the country. The resort is set on over 20,000 acres and the scenery is just absolutely gorgeous. There is no detail forgotten and just when you think, “It can’t get any better than this,” it does.

The grounds are gorgeous with stunning views and walking trails, enticing you bounce out of bed early to get your morning run or walk in (They even have a running concierge). I selected a trail taking me along the river to a mossy oak covered path of trees. Throughout the property, there are many bridges and quaint spots—like the town center with the picturesque church—perfect for a destination wedding. There is something for the entire family and because of the various types of accommodations and activities, this property is perfect for multi-generational travel as well.

Bluffton, South Carolina

Montage Palmetto Bluff Conservancy

Montage Palmetto Bluff
The quaint village–perfect for a destination wedding!

Montage Palmetto Bluff has three types of accommodations—inn guest rooms and suites, cottages/residences and village homes. Guests of the resort can enjoy the entire property and the resort fee includes the use of kayaks and canoes, fishing poles, tennis, croquet use of the pool and spa facility (spa treatments are extra), fitness center and  fitness classes and a plethora of activities the resort has to offer. It even includes the gratuities for the bellman, housekeeping and the concierge.  The property boasts a Jack Nicholas 18-hole signature, private golf course, so if you aren’t a guest of the resort, you aren’t getting in. (Highly recommended on the golf club menu is the hotdog. It’s all beef, wrapped in bacon and well, shall we say some things are just worth having and this was.) Both golf and bike rentals are available at additional fees.

Montage Palmetto Bluff May River Golf Course
Views from the May River Golf Course

One of the things that excited me the most was seeing kids riding bikes everywhere. These days’ kids spend a lot of time indoors, so it was really nice to see them out enjoying the day with their families. And, who wouldn’t when you have an awesome bicycle with a bell and a basket? There is also a state of the art bowling alley and a game room on property. Did I mention the awesome tree houses? Just seeing a tree house brings me back to my childhood, I mean, “Who didn’t want a tree house growing up?” There are two of them on property—one more than four stories high with incredible views of the waterways.

img_33271

Montage Palmetto Bluff
Two awesome tree houses on the property
Montage Palmetto Bluff Bowling Alley
The state of the art bowling alley at Montage

We were treated to a tour of the lowlands of South Carolina. (I always recommend to clients to get out on the water if you have the chance. It changes your perspective of your vacation destination.) Our guide, who is also the fishing guide, entertained us with tales from a neighboring island where a landowner had placed buffalo so he could hunt. The problem was, he didn’t realize buffalo could swim and they escaped. Unfortunately for the buffalo, they escaped to a hunting lodge and as a result, one of the buffalo heads can be found inside the restaurant on the property, appropriately named, “Buffalo’s.”

Montage Palmetto Bluff
Sampling a local dish at Culinary Heirlooms

img_3330Other highlights include, the island for awesome family days, the homemade hot sauce at Cole’s, the food (delicious), Culinary Heirlooms (local cuisine featured every night at 5 pm for guests to sample), the luxurious and beautifully appointed spa (best facial I’ve ever had), and the s’mores cart. The inn offers fires and s’mores every night with a cart full of homemade marshmallows in different flavors (we were told to try the lemon marshmallow with the dark chocolate) and two different kinds of chocolate. It’s like you died and went to s’mores heaven! “Porching” occurs every day from 3:30 to 5:30pm at the River House where cookies, sweet tea, and lemonade are served and guests can hang out and enjoy the view of the river from their porch rocker. We didn’t have the good fortune to attend this event, but if it is anything like the shortbread cookies we experienced in our room every night, we’re absolutely certain we will not miss it next time.

Montage Palmetto Bluff
The s’more’s cart–chocolate and homemade marshmallows!

img_3270Montage Palmetto Bluff is a haven for families and couples looking to escape from it all and experience the outdoors. It’s just good old fashioned fun. There is no “I” left undotted, no “T” left uncrossed here. They go out of their way and the attention to detail is unfounded. A little boy I met put it perfectly when I asked him what his favorite thing was he had done there on vacation, “I get to shoot a bow and arrow.” He hadn’t even done it yet, but it was his favorite thing. Montage Palmetto Bluff is just that—it’s your favorite thing to do, even though you haven’t done it yet.

Getting there: Fly into Savannah, Georgia (airport code SAV). Transportation to the resort can be arranged or you can rent a car and drive. It’s about 30 minutes.

Guests of the resort who are the Art of Travel clients receive a room upgrade (subject to availability), a $60 dollar daily breakfast credit per room, and a $100 spa credit per stay.

Visiting Iceland’s Blue Lagoon

I am a little uptight. I can admit that.  So when planning our family trip to Iceland recently, the thought of visiting a European/Scandinavian Spa and the famous Blue Lagoon was not high on my list of “must sees”.

We always try to find an authentic local experience when we travel, and utilizing their favorite swimming destination seemed like a great idea to get to know the locals a little. Then I saw the images online and read several descriptions about the beauty, the serenity and the unique experience the Blue Lagoon provides.  I read about the swim up bar and medicinal qualities of the water and I was little more intrigued.  The silica and other minerals are known to have healing properties for a variety of ailments, and I began to consider trying to get over some of my many hangups.   I realized that it is also one of the top visited destinations in Iceland, so I decided to try to let go of my Puritanical mindset, and when in Iceland, do as Icelanders ( and a whole lot of tourists) do.

Iceland is known for their love of all things aquatic. Heated outdoor pools are open year round for fun, relaxation and recreation. There are several naturally heated lagoons also popular and available year round. Their most famous pool, The Blue Lagoon, is not a recreational facility, but a man made, naturally heated geothermal pool, open all year for rest, rejuvenation and relaxation. It is one of the most popular attractions in Southern Iceland, and very convenient to Keflavík Airport.

If you ask my children, the Blue Lagoon was their favorite experience in Iceland.  My four year old asks weekly when we will be returning, so she can visit “the moon pool”. It was so much more than what I had envisioned: it was fun, relaxing, tranquil, beautiful, soothing, and one of the most unique experiences we have had as a family. If you are anything like me, and the thought of stranger’s sneaking a peak of you in your birthday suit doesn’t appeal, here is a list of things you should know before booking your entry to this tranquil Spa.

The Blue Lagoon Iceland1. Your entry must be booked in advance.  

Tickets are sold for entry on the hour, but you can stay as long as you like.  There are no walk in entry tickets. There are several types of pre-booked tickets to choose from, and add ons for spa treatments, meals, beverages, and even a private dressing room.  I would recommend at least booking the algae mask, mud mask and one drink with entry.

The Blue Lagoon Iceland

2.  Children are free and under 2 are not allowed in the water.  Children 8 and under must wear arm flotation devices, provided for you. The water temperature is just about 95 degrees Fahrenheit; so children must be monitored and kept hydrated.

The Blue Lagoon Iceland

3. Bathing suits are NOT optional. No need to worry about uneven tan lines in Iceland.

4. A secure locker is provided with your entry ticket. Upon entry, you will receive a bracelet (think Disney World) that locks and unlocks your locker, and is scanned each time you make a purchase. Your bill is tallied, upon exiting.

5. You must shower naked prior to entry in the Lagoon.  There are no chemicals in the water of the lagoon, and all patrons must cleanse thoroughly prior to entry.  There are attendants monitoring the shower room. The water in the lagoon is constantly moving and renews itself every 48 hours.

6. There are doors on most of the showers and private changing rooms in the main locker room, providing privacy for those who are not into flashing a little skin.  I read several times in various descriptions patrons are subjected to a gang shower and open changing areas.  I found that to be completely untrue, much to my relief (and my teenage daughter’s relief).  Of course, most patrons have no problem just showering with the door open and walking around in the nude, so be prepared for an eyeful. If you are not into the camaraderie of a locker room, a ticket that provides access to a private dressing room is available.

7. This is a world renowned spa: Don’t hesitate to make this the experience of your dreams. Celebrities such as Beyoncé have been known to visit the spa…peruse the treatment menu, sample their exclusive skincare products, consider an in-water massage.

The Blue Lagoon Iceland

8. Don’t rush it: be sure and visit the restaurant, the observation decks, and the steam rooms. We took the opportunity to make this our first destination. Most International flights arrive and depart at the same time, and most patrons will make this a stop just prior to return flights in the afternoon/early evening, as the Lagoon is near the airport, and at least 30 minutes from Reykjavik. We arrived just as they were opening, and we witnessed a gorgeous sunrise and small crowds. We were able to relax, use the lounge chairs and booked a table in the restaurant.

The Blue Lagoon Iceland

9. Don’t be a tourist and pay 4.00 for a bottle of water. Iceland is known to have the cleanest water in the world, running through its plumbing. There is a faucet just to the right of the first floor snack bar, with cups provided. There are also spigots under the bridges in the lagoon for drinking and rinsing.

The Blue Lagoon Iceland

10. Towels (and bathrobes, if you buy the splurge entry) are provided, and if you forget your suit, a bathing suit can even be rented. All towels are identical; however we brought our children their own, so they were easily identified. If you have the suitcase room and don’t like the thought of sharing, consider bringing your own.

Getting There:  Fly direct into Keflavik Airport from over 80 destinations in Europe in North America.

 

Curacao—The Urban Chic Gem of the Caribbean

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I really didn’t know what to expect when we docked in Curacao. During my days at Islands and Caribbean Travel and Life Magazines, it wasn’t an island we covered frequently. The only thing I had heard was it was “colorful” and “not like any of the other islands in the Caribbean.” (We docked there on our recent ten day cruise on the Norwegian Jade.)

@theartoftravelcompany
Docking in Curacao on the Norwegian Jade

The dock itself is charming. I loved the inviting little white tents with “Welcome to Curacao”. And, in the background was something I’d never seen in the Caribbean—a modern bridge towering over the skyline of the island. The Queen Juliana Bridge is a focal point of the skyline. It’s one of the tallest bridges in the world, weighing 3,400 tons and is 185 feet above sea level over Santa Ana Bay. Traveling over the bridge is a little harrowing when the wind is blowing, but the views are spectacular.

@theartoftravelcompany
View of the Queen Juliana Bridge with the Swinging Bridge below

The only way to describe Curacao is Caribbean, urban chic. It has the vibe of the Caribbean with all the vibrant, gorgeous colors; yet Willemstad with the view of the Queen’s Bridge overhead, gives it an urban chic kind of feel. With outdoor cafes, shops, and restaurants, it has the bustle of a city with the laid back vibe of the Caribbean.

@theartoftravelcompany
Colorful Curacao

Oddly enough, Curacao is home to another unique bridge in the Caribbean—the Queen Emma Bridge. Also known as, “The Swinging Old Lady,” this floating, swinging bridge connects two parts of historic Willemstad—the Punda and the Ortobanda districts. Sixteen floating pontoon boats support the bridge and two motors allow it to swing open to let ships enter the port. It truly is one of the most unique bridges in the world and certainly the Caribbean.

@theartoftravelcompany
The Swinging Bridge in Curacao

Things to Do In Curacao

  • Visit the Curacao Distillery Home to the world famous Blue Curacao liqueur and housed in the historic 19th century mansion Landhuis Chobolobo .
  • Take a local driving tour—Ben Tours offers a luxury motor coach tour and includes ice-cold beer, water and wifi. The tour takes you to the distillery and two scenic overlook spots before dropping you back at the dock or you have an option to get off in town and explore. It’s a great overview of the island.
  • Explore the Punda area of Willemstad for shopping, outdoor cafes and local eats. Afterwards make your way to the Netto Bar, the oldest in Curacao (and one of the oldest in the Caribbean) for their famous Rom Berde (green rum).

Where to Stay in Curacao

@theartoftravelcompany
Luxury awaits at the gorgeous Baoase Resort in Curacao

The gorgeous Baoase Luxury Resort is the perfect place for a romantic escape.  Located on the south side of Curacao, the resort offers 23 rooms, suites and villas to restore your well-being.  The resort also has a spa for wellness seekers and offers yoga and detox programs. With beaches, golf, hiking and exceptional diving, Curacao is the perfect place to wander, relax and unwind.

The 8 Most Amazing Natural Sights in Southern Iceland

Iceland has quickly become one of the HOTTEST travel destinations, and it comes as no surprise to those who’ve been. This country is a natural wonderland, full of history, folklore, Vikings and trolls; yes, trolls.  With so much to see and do, one thing you simply MUST NOT do, is stay within the Reykjavik city center.  Whether this is a stopover for 24 hours, or Iceland is your only destination, rent a car, book a bus tour, or hire a private guide and get out and enjoy the incredible natural beauty you will find no where else in the world.

8. MÝRDALSJÖKULL GLACIER

This is Iceland’s fourth largest ice glacier, with its highest peak around 4500 feet. What is most fascinating and frightening, is it sits atop an active volcano that is past due to erupt. Katla, has erupted in routine intervals, totaling 20 times since 900 A.D. and has been quietly brewing since 1918. Occasionally, closures to the glacier occur if movement underground is detected. But for now, visitors enjoy snowmobiling, hiking, or exploring the caves underneath, as well as aerial touring.

 

myrdalsjokull Ice Glacier iceland
Myrdalsjokull Ice Glacier

7. RAUFARHOLSHELLIR LAVA TUNNEL

Head underground and experience a 5200 year old tunnel created by an eruption in the Leitahraun Lava Fields, located in the mountains of the Reykjanes Peninsula.  Guided tours take visitors deep into this fascinating  cave, adorned with colorful rocks, stalagmites, stalactites, and ice sculptures. Be prepared when the guide cuts the lights to give visitors a glimpse into what pure darkness is–trust me, it’s not for the faint of heart.

Entrance to the Lava Tunnel, Iceland
Entrance to the Lava Tunnel
The Lava Tunnel, Iceland
The Ceiling caved in, allowing natural light to the entrance of the cave.
Inside the Lava Tunnel Iceland
Stalactite and stalagmite formations
Inside the Lava Tunnel Iceland
Deeper into the cave.

6. GUNNUHVER HOT SPRINGS

Gunnuvher is the largest of Iceland’s natural geothermal mud pools, created by hot gas underground, that comes out of fissures in the earth’s tectonic plates. The legend of this incredibly powerful (and dangerously hot) geothermal geyser, involves a witchy woman, a priest, and a ball of string. I do believe there may be a joke in there, but there’s nothing funny about standing on the viewing platform and watching the smoke billow from underground as the earth boils around you.  Stay on the path in this area as you take in the beautiful colors surrounding the platform, created by mineral deposits in the earth.

Gunnuhver Hot Spring Iceland
Notice the Original Footbridge next to the Geyser…did I mention the temperature can reach upwards of 550 degrees F?

5.  REYKJANESTA ,VALAHNJUKUR,AND REYKJANESVITI

Reykjanesta is Reykjanes Peninsula’s southwestern most point.  It is characterized by Reykjanesviti (lighthouse), the Valahnjukur cliffs, sea stacks, and a statue of The Great Auk.  The largest of the sea stacks is thought to be a night-troll named Karl, who turned to rock after being caught by daylight.  Listen as the waves crash violently against the rocks, watch the sea foam and resident flocks of Arctic Tern, fly simultaneously, and try not to get blown away by the hurricane force winds.  If you aren’t afraid of heights and wind, there is a path to get a closer view of the coastline and Eldey Island on a clear day.

Reykjanesbær Iceland
Karl, the Troll at Reykjanesbaer

 

The Great Auk
The Great Auk with Reykjanesviti in the background

4. REYNISFJARA BEACH

Located in the small town of Vik, this black sand beach is considered to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Reynisdrangar is the name of the basalt stack formations in the waters.  According to local folklore, they are thought to be night-trolls, turned to rock in the daylight, while trying to pull ships from the sea.  Explore the caves, enjoy the waves crashing on shore or look for Puffins.  If you are visiting during Spring or Summer months, do not underestimate the power of the ocean.  It is not uncommon for unsuspecting tourists to be swept out to sea and is recommended never to turn your back on the waves here.

IcelandBlack sand Beaches of Vik

3. SELTUN GEOTHERMAL AREA

Seltun is part of a large Geothermal field, known as Krysuvik. There are several wooden bridges and paths that take you through the bubbling, steaming mud pools.  You are surrounded by yellow, red and green hues, created by the reaction of the high mineral content in the soil and the sulfur underground. Several craters have occurred due to the explosion of overheated underground water.  Graenavatn is an incredibly beautiful bluish-green lake, created from one such explosion.  While beautiful to look at, driving around it is an adventure;  there are no guardrails to prevent you from being blown into the lake should a strong Icelandic gust of wind happen along.

Sultan Geothermal Area Iceland
The water was approximately 100 degrees F.
Graenavatn Lake
I took this photo from the car window and did not Zoom in…the road really is that close.

2. SELJALENSFOSS WATERFALL

Too dangerous for winter hiking, but those who dare can hike behind the falls for a spectacular view in summer. Local legend tells the story of a famous Viking hiding a chest of treasure behind the falls. No one has ever unearthed the chest, but supposedly someone did manage to reach it and rip a handle off. It was donated to a local church and is now on display in the Skokar Museum.  This spectacular 200 foot waterfall is supplied by the Eyjafjallajökull Glacier, which sits atop a very active volcano that last erupted in 2010.  There are several other smaller falls, all within walking distance of Seljalensfoss, which should also be explored, if time allows.  Come hungry and be sure to fill up on hearty meat (sheep) stew from the little commissary on sight.  For 15.00 USD, it’s a bargain at standard Icelandic prices!

Iceland

Sheep Stew Iceland
Sheep stew–yummy

1. SKÓGAFOSS WATERFALL

These majestic falls have a vertical drop of 200 feet and an opening 82 feet wide. This is 35 feet higher than Niagara Falls.  Whether you remain on the ground and view from the base, or you venture the 370 steps to view from the top, it’s impossible not to be awed by its power and beauty.  As millions of gallons of water spray over the falls daily, it is also very common to experience a rainbow or double rainbow as you view it; as if it wasn’t beautiful enough on its own.

Skógafoss Iceland
Rainbow and Skógafoss
Skogafoss Iceland
370 steps to the top and 370 steps back.

Cong, Ireland–Falconry, Castles and the Hungry Monk

Ireland is a magical place full of stunning scenery, historic ruins and amazing people. Dublin is a great city, but if you’re the adventurous type, I encourage you to get out into the scenic countryside and explore some of the quaint villages. I promise you, it’s worth it.

Ashford Castle, Cong Ireland
A view of Ashford Castle from Lough Corrib

My husband and I traveled to the Village of Cong, County of Mayo, located in Northwest Ireland. It’s peak season in July, and while prices are at their highest, this time of year has its advantages, as the sun rises around 5:00 am and doesn’t set until 10:00 pm, allowing you to really maximize the day. We stayed at the historic Ashford Castle, former home and estate of the Guiness family—a definite splurge but worth paying for. The 350 acre estate is also home to  Ireland’s School of Falconry, an experience so unique, we left wanting to get our own back home.

Ashford Castle Hawk Walk, Ireland's School of Falconry, Things to do in Cong Ireland
The best experience ever!

We started our “Hawk Walk” in the morning and were the first people of the day. Edward, our instructor, gave us a tour of the grounds along with an introduction to falconry.  He explained how unlike other birds of prey, the Harris’s Hawk is not loyal to one person; therefore, it is the best to use for multiple handlers.

The experience was unlike anything we’ve ever done—a true bucket list type moment. The walk lasted an hour with us starting out in a park like setting before heading out into the thick of the woods, making it more challenging for the hawks. From the looks of them, you’d think it would be hard to hold up your arm and carry them around, but in reality, they truly are, “light as a feather.” Watching them maneuver through the trees without so much as grazing a branch or a leaf, is mind blowing.  When you call them in, and they come flying towards you at top speed, you can’t help but brace yourself at first, thinking they’ll latch onto the glove, but they simply land gracefully and quietly. Once the hawks were full, we headed back to return our hawks and head into the village for the day. (The walk is is how they feed them. A hawks life expectancy in the wild is about four years, but in captivity it’s approximately twelve.)

The Village of Cong, is very quaint with amazing historic ruins to walk through. There is no cost to tour the ruins; you simply wander at your leisure. It’s also the film location for an Oscar-winning, old movie classic, “A Quiet Man” starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara. There is actually a statue of them in town and you can also tour the Quiet Man’s Museum which has an exact replica of the White O’Morn Cottage featured in the film.

The best place to eat hands down is the Hungry Monk. My lunch was simple–smoked salmon with salad and a piece of Irish brown bread. And, if you are into dessert, this is definitely the place to calorie splurge; it’s worth every single bite!

Restaurants in Cong Ireland, the Hungry Monk
My simple and delicious meal at the Hungry Monk!

Getting there: Cong is located approximately an hour and thirty minutes north of the Shannon Airport via the M-18.

New York City Three Ways: Two Great Family Museums and Ice Skating

Trip Three: 24 Hours in NYC Family Itinerary
American Museum of Natural History, Ice Skating in Rockefeller Plaza, Tenement Museum

In the third and final installment of our series, “24 Hours in New York City Three Ways”, we’ll cover an itinerary for families visiting two popular museums and ice skating in the iconic Rockefeller Plaza–a bucket list item for many (read, Couple’s Getaway and Food Tour, Top of the Rock and Broadway).  Sarah traveled with her husband and three children–ages 13, 11 and 3–during one of the busiest times of the year.  This is why, at the Art Travel Company, we drink wine.   

11:00 am. Arrival Millennium Hilton New York. We decided to drive in, given the difficulty of traveling with overnight bags and maneuvering through the train station with children in tow.   Walking even a few blocks in January in frigid temps may ruin the entire trip, so we parked in our hotel for convenience sake. If you have ski racks on your SUV, take them off!

11:30 am Walked to Grand Central to pick up the Metro.

*Credit machines were down and it was cash only! Children under 42 inches are free on the metro; just pick them up and walk them through the turnstile with you.

*If at all possible, do not bring a stroller on public transportation. It is so difficult to maneuver. If you must, then you must. We have found it is much easier to carry or wear toddlers. We have always had positive experiences on the metro with children and fellow patrons. Someone always offers a seat, we get smiles, and a general warm welcome in NYC. When we have had a need to bring a stroller, others have gone out of their way to direct us to the appropriate entrances, helped carry it up the stairs, or pointed us in the direction of the elevator.

12:00 pm.  Arrival to The American Museum of Natural History., Central Park West and 79th St.

Though it is not the largest museum in the world, AMNH offers visitors about 2 million square feet to explore. Originated in 1767, the museum is now a complex of multiple buildings and exhibit space that allows patrons to study fossils, anthropology, dinosaurs, space, and the human body, plus more; all in one day.  Check for free entry if you have a membership to a participating Science Museum.

*Download the Explorer AMNH app and use the map to follow the Night At the Museum scavenger hunt. My kids couldn’t wait to rewatch the Ben Stiller movie after using the app.

3:30 pm  Walk to Amsterdam Avenue to find numerous restaurants (and shops) of all kinds.  My kids love asian food, and we chose Spice. Turned out to be a great choice, with homemade dumplings and spring rolls included in the cost of a lunch entree. It was also Happy Hour, lucky for us.

4:30 pm.  A stop at Jacques Torres Chocolate Shop, 285 Amsterdam Ave, for rich, house made hot chocolates with real home made whipped cream–stir it to perfection with their signature chocolate spoon. There are several Jacques Torres Chocolate stores throughout the city, including Grand Central and Rockefeller Center. There is also a tour of their chocolate factory that offers samples of his famous confection at 350 Hudson St.

5:00 pm. Back to the metro to check in with the hotel. Double bonus! We were upgraded to the top floor, two bed, to bath suite with spectacular views of the skyline. It is so hard to travel any other way after that. (A perk of the American Express Hilton Honors card, guarantees you Gold Status and upgrades if available. It’s also very generous on points purchased at Hilton hotels and offers points on many other categories as well.  If you’re a Hilton fan and a frequent traveler, the card is worth it, as you can use your points at all Hilton properties throughout the world for free nights. ) 

6:15 pmRockefeller Center Ice Skating under the lights of the holiday decorations and the lights and music of Saks Fifth Avenue.

*There are two ways to purchase tickets to the rink: VIP and General Admission.  VIP entrance is through the doors of 30 Rockefeller Center.  General Admission is down the stairs, in between the Lego store and the skating rink.  GA is first come, first serve.  VIP gives you a timed ticket, a heated area to warm up with hot chocolate and snacks. Each session is one hour and thirty minutes with a 30 minute intermission to clean up the ice. Be sure to check the online schedule.

* Children under 4 are free to skate and there is no age restrictions to entering the rink; all skate rentals must be paid, regardless of age, however.

8:00 pm. Uber back to Hotel.

11:00 am Walk to Grand Central to catch the Metro downtown.

12:00 pm arrival on Spring Street Lower East Side.

12:15 pm.  Walked to Russ and Daughters original shop on East Houston St, for Bagels, house made cream cheese and pastrami smoked salmon.

12:45 pm. Walked to Tenement Museum on Orchard Street

This museum is an actual tenement building built in 1866 and left untouched and condemned until the 1980’s when it was purchased and someone had a vision to turn it into a museum.   Dedicated to the many immigrants who populated the lower East side at the turn of the century, all tours are guided and they also offer walking tours of the neighborhood.  *What really is special about this particular museum, is the tours are hosted by actors, playing the role of a person who really lived in this building.  It is something quite special and really brings history to life, especially for children.

2:00 pm. Dumplings and hand pulled noodles at Tasty Hand Pulled Noodles in Chinatown. A tiny restaurant with a bright yellow sign.  There are only 8 or so tables upstairs, and another 4 in their basement.  * Cash only.

3:00 pm Back on the Metro to Grand Central.

3:30 pm Stop in to Starbucks outside the Grand Central Terminal and Maison Kayser for hot drinks and raspberry tarts. According to Dan, my tour guide on my Food Tour, there are over 400 Starbucks in NYC. If you miss this one, you are sure to stumble on another around the next corner.

4:00 pm.  Collected our luggage and car from hotel for the drive home.