Adventure

Anchors Away!

Our First (and Definitely not our Last) Experience Cruising with Royal Caribbean

We’re writing this from the Miami airport - an hour after getting off the Symphony of the Seas, and we’re ALREADY having withdrawals.

Now that’s when you know it’s been a good trip.

A few months back we got an e-mail from Royal Caribbean International (RCI), asking us to join them on the inaugural sailing of the brand new Symphony of the Seas. We’d recently read about it - how it’s the largest cruise ship in the world, with everything from zip-lining to a 10-story slide. (Say what??)

Obviously we accepted the invitation, and the Symphony of the Seas completely exceeded every expectation we had. Not only because of its size and grandeur, but also because of RCI’s staff and attention to detail. Here’s a little recap of our experience with RCI, and how they take cruising to the next level:

1. IT’S A FAMILY: We boarded the ship with a bunch of strangers, and we left feeling like family. We bonded with everyone from our hibachi server, to the ship’s captain (You’re the man, Captain Rob!!), to the people we met in the waterside line. It is truly mind blowing how on such a large ship, you can quickly feel known. The RCI crew does a stellar job not only making sure every need is met - but also fostering a warm and fun-loving community.

2. ENTERTAINMENT: We could dedicate a whole blog just to the quality of entertainment aboard the Symphony of the Seas. We saw a broadway production of Hairspray, Hiro (an “aquatheater” style acrobatic adventure show), 1977 (an ice skating show with incredible drone technology), and Flight (a Broadway style show on the history of flight) … How they do all of these shows at sea is crazy in and of itself, and then paired with the quality and talent of the performers it’s absolutely astounding.  

3. TOP-NOTCH FOOD: Anyone that gives “cruise food” a bad rap has obviously never sailed with RCI. There are 20 different restaurants on The Symphony of the Seas, allowing your taste buds to give into any and every kind of craving. We had the opportunity to take a behind-the-scenes tour of the galley and see just how seriously RCI takes food. Every fruit and vegetable is checked for quality and every dish is prepared and presented with care and precision. We were so inspired by the handful of chefs we got to meet, as every one of them is genuinely passionate about what they do. And it shows.

4. EFFICIENCY: Being such a large ship, one of our concerns was the crowds. We were bracing ourselves for long waits and long lines. How do thousands of people get on and off the boat efficiently, get their food served efficiently, or even find a seat at the bar? Well, we can gladly say that we NEVER had an issue with any of the above. From boarding the ship until disembarking, everything was done quick and orderly and pain-free. We’re not sure how the RCI crew handles all the logistics, but they do so flawlessly.

5. DESIGN: It goes without saying that The Symphony of the Seas is beautiful. From the moment we stepped onboard, into the glistening Royal Promenade, we were in awe. (I think our jaws may have hit the floor.) Every room, restaurant, bar, and activity area is perfectly decorated in a sleek, modern, and welcoming way. Every theme was executed tastefully - from the serenity of Central Park to the hustle and bustle of Boardwalk.

COME SEEK.

This is RCI’s tagline - and we absolutely love it. “Come Seek” embodies their very essence - adventure and discovery. Cruising with RCI isn’t simply a week at sea, it’s a week of discovery and exploration - both on and off the ship. No matter your age or your interests, there’s something for everyone. Take our (and RCI’s) advice and COME SEEK. We’re so glad we did.

The Symphony of the Seas is currently sailing out of Miami, with week-long Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries. Starting in May, you can experience “Coco Cay”, the exclusive Royal Caribbean Island in the Bahamas! Learn more and shop for your next cruise here.

Adventuring (and Eating) our Way Through the Black Hills

Nestled in the west of South Dakota are the Black Hills, a small mountain range rising from the Great Plains that’s quickly becoming one of our favorite places to explore. More than the stunning landscapes and friendly locals, the Black Hills boast an array of adventuring opportunities AND charming local spots to quench your thirst or satisfy your cravings. (Because let’s be real, we live for experiences, but we equally live for our next meal. #Foodielife) Here’s a little recap from our most recent trip to the Black Hills!


BIKING ALONG THE MICKELSON TRAIL

What once was a railroad, The Mickelson Trail is over 100 miles of breathtaking scenery and gentle slopes, passing right through the heart of the Black Hills. No matter where you enter the trail you’re bound to have a blast, but we recommend renting bikes at Rabbit Bicycle in Hill City and riding north. We went a few miles, got hungry for lunch (like we said - live to eat), and pulled a quick u-turn back. We passed through tunnels, rolling hills, tree-lined paths, and the cutest little log cabins. It’s the perfect way to start your morning! (Just don’t forget to pay the $4 entrance fee!)


LUNCH & WINE TASTING AT PRAIRIE BERRY

The famous Prairie Berry Winery is a must when you’re in the Black Hills. Family owned and operated, they’ve been making South Dakota wines since 1876. Many of their “untraditional” wines are made out of fruit, like “Red Ass Rhubarb”, but they do carry traditional varietals like Chenin Blanc and Meritage. Beyond their wines, the kitchen at Prairie Berry is EXCELLENT. Homemade soups, sandwiches, flatbreads, loaded salads… they have something for everyone. Everything is fresh and everything is delicious. (And don’t forget to join in on the free wine tasting after lunch!)

KAYAKING ON THE PACTOLA LAKE

Some of our favorite lakes are nestled in The Black Hills. The combination of crystal clear water with sprawling green hills makes them incredibly picturesque and peaceful. We went kayaking on Pactola lake on a day that was overcast, and it was still beautiful. Whether you rent kayaks for a couple hours or for a whole day, there’s so much to see and explore along Pactola lake. Next time we’ll pack a picnic and find a spot on the shore to stop and eat!

DINNER AT THE ALPINE INN

Located in downtown Hill City, the Alpine Inn is a historical landmark that possesses one of the best steak dinners in the area - for under $12! You read that right - it just might be the best deal in town! Word is definitely out about this iconic place, but don’t let the crowds scare you away, the wait goes quickly. Have a drink (or two!) in the adjoining bar until your name is called, and you’ll be diving into your bacon-wrapped filet in no time. Note to the picky eaters - there are only two things on the menu for dinner… steak and potatoes or German dumplings and veggies. Make sure to leave room for dessert, because there’s definitely more than 2 options (Probably 20+ dessert items!). If you need help, their peanut butter pie is life changing. (Also, the Alpine Inn is cash only, so plan accordingly!) 

HOT AIR BALLOONING WITH BLACK HILLS BALLOONS

Name a better way to see a place than by hot air ballooning - we’ll wait. The team at Black Hills Balloons makes the entire trip a breeze (literally), and the view from the balloon is jaw-droopingly beautiful. Once landed, you drink mimosas and snack on cheese and crackers with your new-found friends. It was definitely the highlight of our trip!

LUNCH AT BLACK HILLS BURGER AND BUN

We’re self proclaimed “burger-holics”. No matter where we’re traveling, we try to find the best burger in that area. It’s just what we do. Black Hills Burger and Bun in Custer came highly recommended by several of our followers, and… wow. It may be some of the best burgers we’ve ever had. Ever. It’s something about the homemade buns, juicy burger, fresh toppings and sauce that’s honest-to-goodness perfection on a plate. It’s worth a drive to Custer just to try these mouth-watering burgers. They’re that good.

HORSE BACK RIDING THROUGH BLACK HILLS NATIONAL FOREST

Whoa Nelly, this was fun! The team at Rockin’ R Trail Rides are total rockstars, making even the most city-type folk feel comfortable in a saddle. We embarked on a two-hour ride through the picturesque Black Hills National Forest. We learned about the surrounding foliage, rode past deer-filled meadows, and scaled rocky mountains with ease… it was perfect. We now want horses. Anyone have a stable we can use?

DINNER AT SKOGEN KITCHEN

Not only is this the cutest, most stylish restaurant in all of the Black Hills, it is also the best. Skogen Kitchen has only been open for a little over a year, but already they’ve won recognition as the best restaurant in all of South Dakota - and it’s easy to see why. Their food is fresh, thoughtful, and flavor-filled. It’s the kind of restaurant where we consciously eat as slow as possible, to make every bite last… It’s that good. Make reservations, as it fills up quick!

While we blitzed around seeing and eating as much as we could, what’s pulling us back is that there is still so much more! If you have any suggestions about spots we should explore on our next trip, leave a comment! We can’t wait to go back.

Why We Keep Coming Back to South Dakota

“You’re going where? South Dakota? AGAIN?” 

That’s the reaction we got from our parents when we recently told them we were heading back to South Dakota. Being self-proclaimed “wanderlusters”, it’s not often that we go to the same place twice. We’re always keeping things interesting and exploring new destinations… so needless to say, returning to South Dakota just a year after our first trip came as quite the surprise to our family!

Here’s the deal with South Dakota. There is SO MUCH TO SEE. It definitely takes more than one trip to experience everything that this grand state has to offer. Whether you’re an adrenaline junky looking for the next thrill, or a hiking enthusiast looking for the next scenic peak, or a history buff, fascinated by American history and folklore, South Dakota has something for everyone. Still hesitant about it? We’ll prove it to you.

THE TOWNS

South Dakota is filled with gems (literally and figuratively). Little iconic towns that slip under the radar, but shouldn’t be missed - like Deadwood! Deadwood, South Dakota is straight out of a country western novel. Legends like Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok roamed the historic streets of Deadwood, looking for gold and a good time. And it’s still a darn good time!! You can catch a free Wild West re-enactement, get your game on at the many casinos in town, and grab a drink at the notable Saloon #10

Custer is another one of our favorite towns, located in the heart of the Black Hills. Its Western roots also run deep, and is filled with gift shops, galleries, delicious restaurants, and an overwhelming amount of rock shops. (Bobby’s favorite!)

THE DRIVES

We love nothing more than blasting some country music and exploring new scenic roads. Pretty much EVERY road in South Dakota is scenic, and there wasn’t a time Alli didn’t exclaim “Wow! So pretty!” when we were driving. 

On our first trip to South Dakota, we were blown away by Needles Highway. It’s 14 miles of twists and turns through sprawling granite spires, and located just 30 minutes south of Rapid City. 

This time around, we ventured through Spearfish Canyon, a DREAM of a drive for anyone that loves wildlife, outdoor activities, and breathtaking waterfalls. Built on an old rail bed, the views from this drive are fantastic, and filled with photo opportunities along the way. 

THE MONUMENTS

No matter how many times we see it, Mount Rushmore continues to amaze us. There’s no doubt that George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln would be in awe of this epic mountainside memorial. The sheer magnitude and precision of Mount Rushmore is jaw-dropping, and it’s no wonder that it attracts over two million visitors annually! 

And then there’s Crazy Horse. Crazy Horse is the world’s largest mountain carving, and even though it isn’t yet completed, it’s a monument that can’t be missed! Crazy Horse was a Native American war leader that earned great respect from both his people, and his enemies. He’s one of the most iconic Native American warriors, and participated in several famous battles during his lifetime. The memorial is funded entirely by private donations, and to this day there is no set completion date. But you can go visit this incredible monument, and even watch a laser show there at night!

THE ADVENTURES

From horse back riding, to hot air ballooning, to kayaking and mountain biking, the opportunities for adventures in South Dakota are limitless. On the last day of our trip we went zip lining with Rushmore Tramway Adventures, and it was EPIC!! You fly over a mile of forest, reaching heights of up to 400 feet, and unobstructed views of Mount Rushmore! The guides are friendly, knowledgable, and full of wit and humor. Our two hour tour flew by! (Literally) It’s absolutely a South Dakota adventure you do not want to miss. Oh, and did we mention how comfortable our harnesses were? They use top-of-the-line equipment, making the entire process a breeze. We’ll be back!


THE STEAK DINNERS

You read that right. We’d be lying if we said the steak dinners in South Dakota weren’t one of the main factors for our return trip. If you love a good steak and you love a good deal, make note. Some of the best steaks we’ve had (at some of the best prices!), are in good ol’ South Dakota. 

One of our favorite places for steak and all the fixin’s is the appropriately named Legends Steakhouse in Deadwood. Located in the historic Franklin Hotel, Legends is one of the best places for steak in the state, and the long lines and rave reviews will prove it. Reservations aren’t required, but we recommend you make one. And be sure to get a side of the truffle mac n cheese… we’ve been craving it ever since!

If these five factors haven’t solidified your need for a trip to South Dakota, then we give up!

Just kidding. But quite frankly, we could keep going! The friendly locals, the abundance of wildlife, the campgrounds, the museums and amusement parks… South Dakota has it all. We can’t wait to return and adventure there again - who’s joining us next year?!

Olympia, Washington - So Much More Than Just A Capital City

One of the things we love about road trips is that it forces us to explore new cities. 

Driving from state to state, it’s inevitable that you’ll stumble upon towns and regions you never knew existed. Some spots we simply HAVE to stop and walk around, others we drive right through, and every once in a while we find one that’s really a fun surprise. Olympia surprised us in the best way possible… and while we’ve grown up learning about our state capitals, we’ve never known very much about Olympia (besides maybe the fact that it’s in Washington)! 

When the opportunity presented itself to stay a couple days in Washington’s capital city, we both got really excited. Experiencing unfamiliar cities is our jam - especially when we have no idea what to expect. And here’s the deal, Olympia is cool. It’s up-and-coming, it’s quaint, it’s loaded with amazing restaurants and bars, and it boasts some epic scenery! Yes to ALL the above!!!

Here are some of the highlights from our time in Olympia (most of which are dog friendly, too)!

 

BREAKFAST

  • Lacey Forza: (Dog-friendly patio) Quick, efficient, and totally delicious. Lacey Forza is the perfect place to stop when you’re on the go. But whatever you do, make sure you have enough time to stop and enjoy the bacon cinnamon roll. You’re welcome in advance.

  • Our Table: This cozy, retro diner serves up some of the best breakfasts in town - at affordable prices too! From the Micheal Jackson beats to the perfect breakfast potatoes and bacon that may have made Bobby’s whole trip - it’s definitely a must-do!! (But leave your pup at home, there’s no outdoor seating.)

LUNCH

  • Well80: (Dog-friendly patio) Delicious beer and an extensive menu featuring pizzas, burgers, brussels sprouts, and more… Are we in heaven? Well80 is a modern, spacious, and energetic restaurant that quickly became one of our favorite Olympia institutions. We loved the outdoor patio, and the servers are all really friendly. We can’t wait to be back!

  • Chelsea Farms Oyster Bar: (located in 222 Market, has a dog-friendly patio) Serving up so much more than just oysters, Chelsea Farms is another favorite of ours for lunch! They have great salads, fresh fish, and delicious wines. Sally loved sitting outside and playing with other dogs that were there - win/win for everyone!

DINNER

  • Three Magnets Brewing: (Dog-friendly patio) Our favorite kind of a place. Great drinks, awesome happy hour, delicious “comfort food” that’s prepared with love, and has a healthy twist. Alli had the veggie burger of her dreams, and we split avocado fries that were TDF (To Die For) - definitely recommend!

  • Ricardo’s Kitchen and Bar: (Dog-friendly patio) Whether you’re celebrating a special occasion, looking for a fun date night spot, or simply craving a steak, Ricardo’s is your ticket! It’s one of the best steakhouses in Olympia, and for good reason. Everything we had was flavorful, perfectly prepared, and beautifully presented. If the weather is good, sit outside!

COFFEE

  • Batdorf and Bronson: Have you ever been to a coffee shop where you’ve instantly felt at home? The baristas quickly become your BFF’s, the atmosphere is peaceful and inviting, and the coffee is what we like to call, “The Real Deal”? Batdorf and Bronson is just that. We were lucky enough to sit in on an employee “Coffee Cupping” (They do ones every Wednesday (?) that are open to the public!), and getting a behind-the-scenes look at their passion and excitement for coffee was thrilling for us. We love nothing more than getting a front-row look at talented people doing what they love… and the people at Batdorf and Bronson are the real deal. Go. Drink their coffee. Go to a coffee cupping class. And bring some bags home for all of your friends.

  • Olympia Coffee Roasting Company: Another great local coffee shop! There are multiple locations in town, with our favorite being the one on 4th Avenue (you can do Coffee Cupping there too!). OCR has yummy coffee and is a perfect spot to open up your laptop and work for a few hours. And they have epic branding! We'll definitely be back!

ACTIVITIES

  • Kayaking Long Lake with Northwest Paddle Surfers: Long Lake is STUNNING, and a perfect place to explore by Kayak… and you know what else? You can bring your dog aboard!!! While we’ve taken kayaks out numerous times together, this was our first time ever taking Sally - and it was an adventure we’ll never forget!! The team at Northwest Paddle Surfers are incredibly friendly and helpful, we couldn’t have asked for a better experience!

  • Tolmie State Park: You could easily spend all day in Tolmie. It has beautiful hikes, beaches, picnic spots, and is brimming with wildlife. We took Sally for a walk along the beach (dogs are allowed if they’re on leash) and the surroundings were breathtaking.

  • Explore Tumwater Falls Park: Waterfalls in the middle of the city?! What?? It’s true - we couldn’t believe it either! We loved walking around this quaint little park, and watching Sally’s reaction to a waterfall was priceless!

We could go on and on with more recommendations for Olympia - but then this blogpost would take days to read! So, we’ll leave it at that. Any favorite spots that we’ve missed? Leave a comment and let us know! We’ll definitely be back. ;)

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The Happiest Tour on Earth - Meet Adventures by Disney

Us talking to friends and family:

“Guys, guess what! We’re going to Ireland with Disney!”

 

Their responses:

“Wait what?”

“Do they have a Disneyland there?”

“Like on a cruise?”

“Does Mickey lead the tour?”

“But you don’t have kids!”

 

To be fair, we had never heard of Adventures By Disney either - and initially had a similar response. (Up until we got the itinerary, Bobby thought we were going on a cruise!) And while Disney does have a cruise line, (that we have yet to experience - but we’ve heard great things!) Adventures By Disney is something entirely different.

Imagine going on a trip to a country you’ve always wanted to visit (Ireland), and all of the logistics are taken care of for you.

  • You stay at the nicest hotels (even a castle!)

  • You visit the best museums, monuments, historical sights, etc, and you do it all away from, or before the crowds.

  • Everywhere you turn you’re learning about the history and culture you’re experiencing from your local guide who’s with you the whole trip (Stephen can you learn about the whole world and please come on every trip with us?)

  • Simultaneously, your personal concierge is handing you snacks, water bottles, sunscreen… you name it. He knows your needs before you do (Landon, you are a master of logistics, snacks, and stories - we need you).

  • Every time you venture to a new location, your luggage is handled for you. You arrive at the next hotel (or castle!), and your luggage is already in your room.

  • You never have to worry about renting a car, driving on the opposite side of the road, scheduling your itinerary, etc.. It’s all handled. Every little detail.

  • AND… you’re eating the best food in the country, at the coolest local spots (like a castle!! Sorry, we still can’t get over it). And you’re dining with all of the new friends you’ve made.

Honestly, we could go on and on… but you get the picture. Having traveled to Europe numerous times, and always on our own, going with Adventures By Disney (from now on we’ll refer to as ABD) was the ultimate treat.

 

Speaking honestly, we were worried that being on a tour might frustrate our wanderlusting, adventurous selves, or that traveling with a group of 30 people might get old. But friends, we loved every minute of it.

 

The ABD crew does a phenomenal job planning these trips itineraries - and here’s why. They send several scouts to each location to find not only the best local guides in the area, but the best places to see. Then they figure out the best times to see them, the best ways to avoid the crowds, the best local places to eat and explore, and the best way to pack it all in one trip. The result? A fast-paced (but also relaxing) adventure that leaves you smiling ear-to-ear, ten pounds fatter (SO many snacks!), feeling like a local expert, with a million memories and a couple dozen new best friends.

 

Can you tell we LOVED ABD?!?

 

While we’d love to go through our Ireland Itinerary day-by-day, this blog post would quickly become 20 pages long, so we’ll save that for another day. (You can check out the detailed itinerary here)

 

In closing, we’ll leave you with a highlight reel of our trip. ABD does trips for families, and adult-only. Another couple on our Ireland trip did an ABD adult-only tour for their honeymoon and had a ball. So whether you’re a family of four or planning your next adventure with your significant other, we highly recommend Adventures By Disney. Their trips range from a weekend in New York City to a 12-day adventure in China! Whatever your interests are, we guarantee there’s something for you. And we guarantee you’ll be hooked like we are. Now we just have to decide which ABD adventure to go on next!!

 

(Ireland day-by-day with Disney blog coming up next!)