February School Break on Cape Cod: Frozen-themed family fun at Ocean Edge Resort

Raising two young daughters, I can personally say I know every word to Disney's Frozen movie, which is why I love the special Frozen package offered by Ocean Edge Resort & Golf Club during February school break in Brewster, Cape Cod. This quick family friendly getaway to the Northeast is perfect during the beautiful wintertime on the Cape with a Disney-inspired Winter Wonderland.

Over February School Vacation, February 13-23, the resort has a wonderful selection of activities for families with an action-packed travel deal. If your daughters love Elsa as much as mine, they will love the Frozen-themed scavenger hunts, kid’s costumes, ice cream sundaes, and art & crafts sessions! With two indoor pools, family karaoke, movie nights, and hip hop classes - the little ones will have endless options for entertainment.

While the kids are having their fun, its nice that Ocean Edge has something going on for parents too. There is a Healthy cooking demonstration by their Executive Chef Phil Flath with wine and chocolate tastings that would be perfect for Valentine’s Day! Since we all eat a little more sweets than we should during Valentine's Day, we can work it off in their fitness room that hosts daily classes including yoga, water aerobics, spinning, and designated adults-only swim.

Deluxe room.jpg

I have fond memories of visiting the Northeast in the Wintertime when I was a kid because of all there is to do during the chilly winter season. It's great how Ocean Edge offers a little bit of everything for families traveling to the Cape over February school break! 

  • For more information on the Frozen package, contact Kendra at kthornton@royal-travel.com.

Caribbean Cruise onboard the Celebrity Constellation

For a post-Christmas trip this year, I opted to try something new and take my family on an Ocean cruise from Ft. Lauderdale to the Bahamas on board the Celebrity Constellation. This was a 4-night cruise that would take us from Ft. Lauderdale to Key West to Nassau, Bahamas. This was our first cruise as a family and I was curious how it would go with kids that are 4, 7, and 8 years old.


When we boarded the ship in Ft. Lauderdale, we were warmly welcomed aboard by friendly crew members handing out champagne and mimosas. The kids were eager to explore the ship! 

Our first stop was on the shore of Key West. Being able to wake up to the sunrise above the ocean horizon every morning was breathtaking! We took the opportunity to enjoy some of the many family-friendly excursions offered through the cruise such as the Conch Train Tour around the city and a journey through Ernest Hemingway’s house.


At night we enjoyed amazing dinners as a family and then the kids visited the Fun Factory (aka "kids club") every night where they engaged in fun activities with other kids aboard their own age. (One day they dressed up as pirates and went on a treasure hunt for chocolate coins, another night they decorated their own pillow case for a mock slumber party.) They couldn't stop raving about all the children they were meeting from all over the country. (There were over 400 kids aboard the ship during our stay.) The Fun Factory offers supervised play so it gave my husband and I additional free time that we weren’t expecting.

Those evenings while the kids were playing, we would head to the casino for some gambling or grab a drink with other adults at the onboard Martini Bar and listen to live music.

During our day at sea, my family and I enjoyed lying out on the deck to soak in the beautiful ocean scenery. The kids really loved watching the volleyball tournament that the crew put on. I know they were having a blast getting to be around all the kids their own age on the deck. After winding down from a day of swimming, we spent family time watching the nightly entertainment the ship offered including the Cirque du Soleil show, a ventriloquist, and a Disney themed show.

Once we reached the Bahamas, our family opted to spend the day at Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island. To read more about our stay at Atlantis and all the incredible activities we did, visit my blog post here. We boarded the ship after our stay in The Bahamas and started our overnight journey back to port in Ft. Lauderdale.


We had our choice of dinner every night from one of the many venues aboard. We really enjoyed the elevated dining experience at Tuscan Grille, an Italian steakhouse with a nouveau twist. My daughter celebrated her birthday while we were aboard the Celebrity Constellation and she loved the birthday cake the staff provided as they sang to her.


Our cruise to Nassau, Bahamas on the Celebrity Constellation was an unforgettable experience for the entire family. I was pleasantly surprised about how much fun my young children had and how delicious the food was! We will absolutely take another cruise in the future and highly recommend this for a fun-filled family vacation. 

  • To book a cruise or for more information, contact Kendra at kthornton@royal-travel.com.

2015 Inspirational Travel

1.    Crystal River, Florida

A hidden gem tucked along Florida’s Nature Coast, the Plantation on Crystal River, a member of Choice Hotels’ growing Ascend Collection of distinguished properties, is surrounded by the natural springs of Kings Bay and more than 25,000 surface acres of pristine lakes, rivers, wildlife refuges and state parks. This is the only place in the world where people can learn about and swim with the West Indian Manatee. The Plantation Dive Shop offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to swim alongside the endangered species. Choice Hotels Ascend Collection

Enjoy the Rainbow River & Swim with Manatees Package, which includes:

  • One night accommodations
  • Welcome Bag with fun Manatee information inside
  • One manatee tour for two people at our Adventure Center/Dive Shop
  • Breakfast for two people in our restaurant
  • Additional night may be added

Rates starting at just $188.42 for two nights. Airfare as low at $107/person through Spirit Airlines. Visit www.plantationoncrystalriver.com for more information.

2.    Monument Valley, Utah

The View Hotel offers located in Utah provides an overwhelming sight of the Monument Valley Tribal Park. The Wildcat Trail is the only hiking trail inside the Tribal Park that visitors can hike unescorted by authorized Navajo guides – it departs from The View Hotel. This 4-mile hike, starting from the hotel, is one of the most beautiful trails that you will ever follow. Sunrise at Monument Valley greets you with a myriad of different colors. It’s as if the skies were made of molten lava. The panoramic view is different than from your hotel room. As you descend nearly 900 feet to the bottom of the valley floor, you will be in awe! Rates starting at $99/night. Roundtrip airfare starting at $138/person through Frontier Airlines. For more information go to www.mountainvalleyview.com.

3.    Santa Fe, New Mexico

Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort & Spa has many adventures to add to anyone’s bucket list. The resort offers a southwest sensory experience; the views of the desert, the smell of cedar, the sounds of the desert wind, and taste of the exotic flavors or New Mexican cuisine. With a day filled with hiking, on-site hot air ballooning, and wild west cowboy horseback riding-the spectacular red-orange sunset is a perfect backdrop to a night of relaxation.

Rates start at $209/night. Book with Royal Travel and receive $100 resort credit, complimentary breakfast for 2, daily, early check-in/late check-out, and a room upgrade. Roundtrip airfare as low as $350/person through United Airlines. For more information visit www.royal-travel.com.

4.    Costa Rica

Stay at the Allegro Papagayo and enjoy a drive around Arenal Lake in the deluxe, air-conditioned vehicle, then walk through the rainforest that surrounds a volcano. Visit the magical hot springs of healing waters that sit within well-manicured tropical gardens. This is the ideal tour for travelers that want to relax and replenish in one of the most stunning places in the country. Enjoy dinner in the evening with panoramic views of the volcano. Package includes round-trip airfare from O’hare International Airport, hotel transfers, all meals and drinks, taxes & fees. Stay for 7 nights for $1,799/person and depart on a Friday on 2/6 or 2/20. Go to www.royal-travel.com for more information.

 Watch Kendra Thornton discuss these packages on WGN-TV here.

Travel Trends Getaways

Choice Hotels, one of the largest global hotel companies with more than 6,300 hotels worldwide, conducted a survey to get a better understanding of the key travel trends happening in America in 2015.

One out of four (24%) Americans say they would like to visit Western National Parks in 2015.

1.    Yellowstone National Park

Stay at Hotel Terra Jackson Hole located on the slope-side of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and at the gateway to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. Enjoy the exploration and adventures that Yellowstone offers during the day then relax to a fireplace, stunning view, plush hotel amenities and top of the line service. 

Rates starting at just $269.10/night. Book with Royal Travel and receive full breakfast for two daily, $75 credit to spa, and welcome amenity. Airfare starting at $438/person roundtrip through United Airlines from Chicago. Visit www.hotelterrajacksonhole.com for more information.

 Despite being budget conscious, American Travelers are willing to splurge for unique travel experiences.

2.    Cancun

Swim with the Whale Sharks in Cancun during your stay at the Grand Oasis Cancun. Your encounter begins with an orientation and instruction on swimming with the sharks. Then the expert guides swim with you alongside the surprisingly gentle creatures. They are docile giants who migrate to the waters off Cancun between May and September. After your encounter with the Whale Sharks, you’ll stop at Isla Mujeres’ beautiful northern shore to enjoy a freshly prepared ceviche lunch with some well-deserved refreshments before going back to port. Package includes round-trip airfare, hotel transfers, all means and drinks, and taxes and fees. Package is $1,312/person for 4 nights and good for Tuesday departure dates of 6/2-6/23. Book with Royal Travel and you’ll receive a free bottle of wine, private lounge area with internet access, and Oasis Plus Concierge service. For more information visit www.royal-travel.com.

Culinary Tourism (food-inspired travel), 30 percent increases over 2014 respectively.

3.     Houston, Texas

Hotel Granduca is located in the heart of the Uptown/Galleria district. Enjoy world class shopping, dining, and entertainment just steps away at Uptown Park. A short drive from the hotel is the original Ninfa’s on Navigation-a 40-year-old restaurant that prides itself on its infamous fajitas and creamy avocado sauce. Locals have said it’s one of the last places where you can eat fajitas that taste the same as they did in the old days. Current chef Alex Padilla has updated the menu with modern dishes, but the famous fajitas, homemade tortillas, and green sauce remain the exact same.

Rates starting at just $238/night. Book with Royal Travel and receive continental breakfast for two daily, $100 food and beverage credit in hotel restaurant, and welcome in room amenity. Airfare as low as at $135/person roundtrip through American Airlines out of Chicago. For more information visit www.royal-travel.com.

When asked which event they’d most like to attend in 2015, Mardi Gras in New Orleans (25%) ranked just ahead of the Cherry Blossom Festival (24%).

4.    New Orleans

Bluegreen Vacations Club La Pension is a collection of six historic buildings located on the edge of the French Quarter. Guests can feel relaxed and at home in stylish rooms featuring boutique-style decorations and upscale amenities that reflect the heart and soul of the city. The hotel is conveniently located near New Orleans’ top attractions including: Bourbon Street, Jackson Square, Royal Street, Preservation Hall and St. Louis Cathedral. Enjoy the best of the Big Easy.

Rates starting at $119/night. Airfare starting at $275/person round-trip through United during Mardi Gras or prices as low as $107/person roundtrip for other dates through United Airlines. Go to www.ascendcollection.com for more information.

Watch Kendra Thornton discuss these packages on WGN-TV here.

Atlantis Resort in Bahamas

I was so fortunate to spend a day at Atlantis Resort in Paradise Island, Bahamas with my family.  My children are 4, 7, and 8 years and the perfect age to enjoy the kid-friendly activities although this massive resort has something for everyone from age 0-100. I've often said that if you've already visited Disney a couple times then Atlantis is the perfect next destination for family fun. 

Atlantis is known as the place “Where excitement abounds, and wonders never cease” and it couldn't be truer! My kids loved gazing at the marine wildlife as we walked through one of the on-property museums, The Dig. The Seahorse Exhibit is a must-see, but my family’s favorite exhibit was the Ruins Lagoon View. We were able to point out the remarkable giant manta rays, zebra sharks, and yellowtail snappers. The kids had so much fun discovering the mythical artifacts and hieroglyphics as we walked through the ancient passageways while looking out into the depths of the ocean. 

One of our favorite aspects of the trip with the kids was the array of age-appropriate waterslides and pools that are offered for the enjoyment of the whole family. The Current is a mile-long river journey that transports you through river rapids, mysterious caves, and thrilling sights as you sit in an inner tube.

The Mayan Temple has twin Challenger Slides where you can race each other down the near-vertical plunge into the pool. My husband and I enjoyed racing each other down while the kids cheered us on from below.

Not only does Atlantis have so many options within the Island, but you can also spend a day on the beach of the property. We were able to rent wave runners and explore the ocean area where people were parasailing and tubing around us,

You can opt to buy day passes to the resort as we did (book online in advance). There are also many options for overnighting at the resort that can fit a range of budgets. The Royal Tower houses an array of Guest Rooms and Suites available including the Regal, Grand, Royal, and Presidential that include complimentary access to The Dig & Ruins Lagoon, Aquaventure Water Park, 11 pools, and the Atlantis Casino. The Beach Tower holds Atlantis' most affordable accommodations that offer comfort and convenience to white-sand beaches. Other Bahamian relaxed room options include stays in: The Coral towers, The Reef Atlantis, The Cove Atlantis, Harborside Resort, and Atlantis Marina. 

Everyone in our family agreed that we need to return to Atlantis again soon and stay for a longer time. We all can’t wait to go back and visit again!  

Top 5 Disney World Tips

Kendra Thornton

1. Breakfast with a favorite Disney character will delight your children. Arrange to have Cinderella or one of her princess friends greet your child while dining at the Royal Table restaurant in Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom. To ensure this surprise, book advance reservations here or at one of many restaurants in the resort that offer character dining.

 2. Take a ride on the monorail. Bus trips are long and boring, but the swift monorail transports Disney guests straight into the park. If the kids get tired and cranky after a fun-filled morning in the park, the monorail can help you get them back to the hotel and down for a nap quickly. Since the monorail operates all day long, you can easily hop back on and return to the park after the kids have rested for a couple hours.

 3. Enjoy a ferry ride between the Magic Kingdom and Epcot Center. The trip is more relaxing and interesting than a bus ride, and the ferry will transport you straight into either park so that you can avoid lines and congestion upon entry.

4. Don’t forget the stroller. If you can’t bring your own, Disney has them available for rent, along with toddler-friendly amenities to make your visit as pleasant as possible. Air conditioned baby care centers in each of the Disney parks offer rocking chairs for calming upset little ones, a place to get out of the heat if your child needs it and basic necessities such as diapers for unforeseen emergencies.

5. Plan ahead. Before you arrive at the Walt Disney World Resort, amongst some of the top hotels in Orlando, do a little pre-planning and schedule each day for maximum enjoyment and minimum exhaustion. Convenient apps that give approximate wait times for each attraction are available to download on your smart phone.

Keep in Mind! A FASTPASS can be purchased to allow you and your family to bypass long lines. Do your research beginning several weeks prior to your trip, and let the kids participate in order to build anticipation as they prepare for the most exciting time of their lives.

Tips on Getting the Most out of Chicago

Most people know that there are plenty of things to do in Chicago. I can vouch for that as I have lived here for some time. I personally love to travel, so it pleases me that my hometown welcomes visitors from all over the world. If you’ve never visited the Windy City, it’s definitely something that needs to make it on your bucket list. Here are a few ideas about what to do when you arrive:

1. Go Shopping

You’re probably planning to hit a few shops on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile. No trip to Chicago would be complete without a trip to this retail paradise. While there, hop around the corner to the Oak Street shopping district located only one block north. Here, several historic brownstones and other old homes have been converted into shopping boutiques. Even the pickiest fashionistas will find something special to take home from here.

2. Catch a Broadway Show

No, you’re not imagining this one. You can see some of the hottest Broadway shows featuring world-class performers here in my hometown. In 2000, Broadway in Chicago was founded. Since then, millions have been entertained at the organizations five theaters here in the Windy City. If you’ve wanted to experience the best in live entertainment, a trip to Chicago will give you that opportunity.

3. Stay in Comfort

Image via: Hotel Allegro

Image via: Hotel Allegro

Chicago, being a hospitable city, features several excellent hotels. To find something that suits your needs, try a search on Gogobot. You’ll find several historic hotels that have plenty of stories to fire the imagination. New hotels in skyscrapers will afford a beautiful view of the city. Location near attractions you wish to enjoy will be the best amenity here, and there are a lot of great places from which to choose.

4. Eat in Style

Between shopping and enjoying the world-class entertainment of the Windy City, you’ll need a hearty meal. One of my favorite places to eat on Michigan Avenue is RL, the Ralph Lauren restaurant. Located conveniently close to the world’s largest Polo store, this restaurant features a full selection of gourmet, all-American cuisine. In chilly weather, the grilled cheese and tomato soup always put a smile on my face. It’s a great place to warm up on a windy Chicago day.

I hope this article has inspired you to book a trip to my hometown. If you’ve never been here, I’m sure you’ll want to return over and over again. If you’ve been here before, don’t delay in coming back. The Windy City always has new things to offer and plenty of hospitality to go around.

New Year's Eve Packages

1. Hard Rock Hotel Chicago

Image via: Hard Rock Hotel Chicago

Image via: Hard Rock Hotel Chicago

The Hard Rock Hotel and Playboy are partnering for a New Year’s Eve formal gala. Tickets include:

  • Playboy Masquerade Lounge hosted by 2013 Playmate of the Year, Raquel Pomplum, and DJ Crystal Ellis.
  • A treasure hunt with one guest winning a stay in the Penthouse and a Playboy swag bag
  • A 4-hour top shelf cocktail reception, buffet, Horst D’oeuvres, and delicacies
  • Complimentary party favors, multiple ballrooms of entertainment, and over 30 staffed bartenders and servers.

Tickets start at $125/person and hotel rooms are just $189/night when event tickets are purchased (Rate is $259/night without tickets) Visit www.HardRockHotelChicago.com for more information. To book this NYE package email Kendra.

2. JW Marriott Chicago

Image via: JW Marriott Chicago

Image via: JW Marriott Chicago

With a $396 million restoration, the historic JW Hotel is perfect for a luxurious celebration for New Year’s Eve. Located downtown near Willis Tower, you’ll experience the refined style of the city. Book this New Years Eve Soiree package for $397/night and you’ll get:

  • Two General Admission tickets (per room) to the New Year's Eve hotel party featuring two DJ's and live music
  • Top shelf drinks, lavish appetizer spread, pasta buffet and champagne
  • Complimentary Pre and Post party
  • Luxurious overnight accommodations

For more information go to www.marriott.com/hotels. Want to book this NYE package? Click here to contact Kendra.

3. Hotel Allegro

Image via: Hotel Allegro

Image via: Hotel Allegro

Celebrate the New Year in the heart of the Chicago loop in a hotel that combines old world glamour with modern amenities. Hotel Allegro is adjacent to the opulent Cadillac Palace Theater, which has shows running on NYE - A Rock n Roll Christmas Tale (book online at TicketMaster and use code “Thanks” to get $49 tickets) and Rogers and Hammerstein’s Broadway musical of Cinderella.

  • All Hotel guests staying at the hotel will be offered an exclusive Bloody Mary and Cold Pizza recovery Station from 9:00am-12noon on New Year’s Day in the lobby. 

Rates start at just $169/night on NYE. Go to www.allegrochicago.com for more information. Email Kendra to book this NYE package.

4. The Peninsula Chicago

Image via: The Peninsula Chicago

Image via: The Peninsula Chicago

Celebrate the New Year with the whole family on the magnificent mile at the only hotel that has a skating rink in Chicago, The Peninsula Sky Rink. Package good on NYE and through March, includes:

  • A 50% reduction off the cost of an adjoining room for children under 12.
  • Kids eat for free and enjoy a range of amenities and programs tailored just for junior guests, including The Peninsula Kids’ Academy’s collection of fun activities.
  • Ice Skating on top of the hotel for only a $15/adult and $10/children donation to charity, where you can enjoy an outdoor menu including hot chocolate, spiced wine and warm pretzels.
  • New Year’s Eve Gala from 7:30pm-1:00am, a black tie event beginning with a Champagne reception followed by a six-course dinner with live band performance, dancing, and a balloon drop at midnight. Tickets are $325/guest.

Rates start at $495/night for the Superior King Guestroom. For more information go to: www.chicago.peninsula.com. To book this NYE package email Kendra.

5. The American Club in Kohler, Wisconsin

Image via: the American Club

Image via: the American Club

The Red Carpet Retreat package is perfect for a relaxing New Year’s getaway. On New Year’s Eve, enjoy the following:

  • Special 4-course dinner menu at the restaurant
  • Food and beverage credit of $50 per night
  • An In-room movie each evening and dining delivery of movie amenities including candy and popcorn
  • Discounted Kohler Waters Spa services at 20% off

Starting rate is $142/per person, per night.  To learn more visit www.americanclubresort.com. To book this NYE package email Kendra.

6. Occidental Grand Xcaret in Riviera Maya

Image via: Occidental Grand Xcaret Riviera Maya

Image via: Occidental Grand Xcaret Riviera Maya

Bring in the New Year with an all-inclusive getaway to the Riviera Maya Mexico and stay at the beachfront Occidental Grand.  Package through Apple Vacations includes:

  • Round-trip airport/hotel transfers, all meals and unlimited drinks with access to 11 restaurants and 10 bars.
  • Non-motorized water sports, daily activities and nightly entertainment.
  • Supervised kids club and access to 5 pools including kids and adults only pools. Hotel is adjacent to the family friendly Xcaret Park.

Package is $1,529/per adult for 7 nights including non-stop airfare from O’Hare on Frontier Airlines departing on Jan. 1 and returning January 8.  To book contact Royal Travel & Tours or go to www.applevacations.com or  email Kendra.

For your next trip, contact Royal Travel at www.royal-travel.com or call 1-800-747-7695.

You can watch Kendra's segment on WGN-TV Chicago by clicking here.

The Plantation on Crystal River

With its warm weather and vast array of fun activities, Florida is the perfect destination for a family getaway. This was my first time staying at the Plantation on Crystal River, a hidden gem located along Florida’s Nature Coast (NW corner of the state).


When staying at a waterfront location, there are so many aquatic activities to do during the day that the whole family will enjoy. Choice Hotels is rapidly expanding its Ascend Collection of independent hotels that cater to travelers looking for unique travel experiences. A great example is at the Plantation on Crystal River, which is surrounded by more than 25,000 surface acres of lakes, rivers, wildlife refuges and state parks. 


What makes this place so special is that the Plantation on Crystal River is the only place in the world where you can learn about and legally swim with endangered West Indian Manatees. I visited during the winter months, which is when the largest concentration of manatees in the world migrates to the area to enjoy the bay’s warmer waters. With over 600 manatees gathering here (approximately 10% of the total population) it is a once in-a-lifetime opportunity to swim alongside these majestic creatures.


Kings Bay is made of over 40 springs where manatees gather including The Three Sisters-which has been featured in both the National Geographic Magazine and the Discovery Channel’s North American Series. 


Crystal River is one of the most popular destinations in Florida for recreational scalloping. As I was taking my tour around the bay, I noticed a family preparing for their guided scalloping adventure. The kids were having so much fun exploring the waters for scallop shells. After a long day of hunting for scallops, your guide takes you back to the marina where the Chef at the hotel restaurant cooks them for you!


I stopped in the hotel restaurant -West 82º Bar and Grill-for a quick lunch before heading out to the Adventure Center, where you can rent fishing boats, kayaks, snorkeling gear, canoes for further exploration of the bay. 


he resort is also home to the The Original Golf School™ and a state-of-the-art Spa, and a lagoon-style pool. There is truly something for everyone at the Plantation on Crystal River.

Budapest – the Most Underrated City in Europe

This was my first visit to Budapest, a city I have long wanted to see.  In looking back, I’m not sure what my expectations were, but knowing this country was under Russian communist rule for so many decades, I was likely anticipating something similar to what Berlin or Prague looked like in the mid-90’s.  I could not have been more wrong.  I was completely blown away by the city’s architecture, people, nightlife, monuments, cosmopolitan lifestyle and so much more.  I now understand why this beautiful city has been dubbed “The Pearl of the Danube” and “The Little Paris of Central Europe.”

I had the incredible fortune to arrive into Budapest at night. I had been pre-warned that this would be a magical sight so I was certainly eager for the experience.  To stand on the River Danube and be surrounded by such an awesome assortment of bridges, statues, monuments and buildings in baroque, neoclassical and art nouveau architecture all twinkling and illuminated in the midnight darkness on both sides of the River.  It was impossible to snap enough photos to capture the moment. 

Kendra Thornton
Kendra Thornton

To appreciate Budapest (pronounced Buda-Pesht), you have to know a little about it’s unique history.  It is the capital of Hungary and home to nearly 2 million people so it’s a very large city. What we see today is actually the merging of two cities that span both sides of the Danube – historic (and hilly) Buda to the east and the more cosmopolitan (and flat) Pest to the west.  

Budapest is a glorious city that is easy and fun to walk around.  We begin our day at the UNESCO World Heritage Site Castle Hill Area in historic Buda where most of the city’s old streets and medieval buildings can be found.  We start at the far end of Castle Hill where there are two museums in the Royal Palace that are worth touring if you have the time – the Hungarian National Gallery and the Budapest History Museum. 

Kendra Thornton

Next we stop into the stunning neo-Gothic Matthias Church with its impressive colorful tiled roof unlike any I’ve ever seen before.  Then we step over to Fisherman’s Bastion, a walkway built on hundreds year old fortification walls, which provides the most impressive views of the Danube and the grand Parliament Building on the Pest side.

Kendra Thornton
Kendra Thornton

The extremely clean cobblestone streets of the Castle Hill area are fun to stroll along and interspersed you will find high-end cafes, restaurants and boutiques selling handmade Hungarian goods of embroidery and porcelain. 

Kendra Thornton

We opt to grab lunch in the restaurant at the one-year old Balthazar Hotel, a contemporary designed boutique hotel set inside a refurbished historic building.  Each of its 11 rooms are uniquely decorated and we vow to stay at this hotel when we are lucky enough to return to Budapest again.  The owners of the hotel also run a few other restaurants in the area (and across the River) and both Pest-Buda and Pierrot look to be fantastic options for either lunch or dinner.

Kendra Thornton
Kendra Thornton

After lunch, we are ready to head over to the Pest side of the city so we walk to the historic funicular train located near the Royal Palace that was built in 1870 and still operates today.  It takes us down the hill so we can walk across the bridge to the Pest side. 

Kendra Thornton
Kendra Thornton

The entire city has a very convenient underground subway system and taxis are a welcome inexpensive option as well.  In Pest, we tour the impressive Heroes’ Square, which stands in memory of the great leaders in Hungary’s history.  The Square is flanked by two museums - the Museum of Fine Arts and the Hall of Art (contemporary Hungarian and international art).

Kendra Thornton

Connecting the inner city with Heroes’ Square is Andrássy Ut, an elegant and iconic avenue that dates back to 1872. It immediately reminds me of walking Rue Saint-Honoré toward Place Vendôme in Paris due to its high-end shopping and impressive architecture. 

Budapest, from its inception, has been a place of thermal spas, which is why many call it the city of “healing waters”.  If you have a chance to experience the thermal waters while visiting, it’s an experience unlike anywhere else.  The city has over a dozen spas, but the most famous ones are the Széchenyi and Gellért Baths.  You can opt to enjoy the thermal waters indoors or out plus there’s a range of aromatherapy and massage treatments also available.  We enjoy our spa time at the Hotel Corinthia.

Feeling renewed after our spa experience, we walk down Váci Utca, one of Budapest’s main pedestrian shopping streets with its variety of designer shops, bookshops, gifts and Herend Porcelain (made in Hungary since 1839).

Kendra Thornton

Ready for dinner, we head to the trendy seventh district (or “Jewish Quarter” as the locals call it) where there is a flourishing nightlife scene of bars and restaurants.  We stop for a drink at the popular Szimpla, a must-see bohemian warehouse style bar full of crazy art, young tourists and local students.

Kendra Thornton

For dinner we eat at Spíler – a fantastic restaurant that is casual yet chic – I feel like I'm in the meatpacking district of Manhattan.  There is a great local crowd (it’s a Friday night) and the menu is an excellent mix of casual Hungarian food like Goulash and other yummy staples like BBQ pork ribs and wood fired pizzas.  Everything I eat is excellent including the cocktail they recommend – the “porn star” martini, which is a delicious drink that reminds me of spiked sherbert ice cream.  After dinner we cross the walkway to Spíler Shanghai (same owners) where a DJ is spinning in the downstairs lounge and the crowd again is cosmopolitan and a fascinating mix of locals and Euros.

Kendra Thornton

We head back at the end of a very long and fulfilling day wishing we had more time to explore this vibrant and eclectic place.  One needs a minimum of 3 - 4 days to fully explore and appreciate this gem of Central Europe.  It is not often I discover a city that I would place at the top of my personal list of European favorites (Paris, Vienna, Madrid, Florence), but Budapest has won my heart and I will be back soon.

My Day in Vienna – the City of Fine Arts

Vienna to most is synonymous with the fine arts – whether you prefer architecture, dance, opera, classical music, paintings and so on, you will find something that moves you in this beautiful Austrian capital.

Considering that great artists like composers Mozart and Strauss and the painter Klimt all fine-tuned their crafts here, you can see and hear their work and others at various museums and palaces around the city.  And even though Vienna has enough museums to keep a visitor busy for weeks, just being among the modern Viennese people one can sense the city’s affinity for indulgence, beauty and culture.

I’ve always been fascinated with Empress Maria Theresa who ruled the Austrian-Hungarian empire for 40 years and was the mother of the famous French Queen, Marie Antoinette. In fact, the Royal Habsburgs ruled one-third of Europe, and were at one point the center of the Holy Roman Empire, from the first emperor (Rudolf 1 in 1273) to the last (Karl 1 in 1918).

Vienna is a glorious mix of great architecture left over from this ruling dynasty and modern structures.  To get a sense of the downtown area, I start my day with a tour around the Ringstrasse – the grand boulevard that encircles the medieval city center.  This boulevard used to be a great wall that protected the city and was removed in the late 19th century when at that time a splendid collection of buildings was added.  During the drive I’m able to spot the Riesenrad, the world’s oldest and most iconic Ferris wheel built for the city of Vienna in 1897 and a close replica to the original build by George Washington Gale Ferris in 1893 for the World’s Fair in Chicago. The Ferris wheel is still operational today for those who want to enjoy views of the city by day or night.  We also drive past the beautiful Vienna Opera house and I vow to see an Opera in that beautiful building upon my next visit to the city.

After my ride around the Ringstrasse, I get out and walk the pedestrian only boulevard toward St. Stephen’s Cathedral, located in the heart of the city center.   I’m enthralled by the beautiful architecture and the cleanliness of the city.  The walkway is filled with upscale shops and beautiful boutiques and I stop into the famous Austrian made Swarovski Crystal flagship store to purchase a memento.

As I stroll, I can see St. Stephen’s beautiful spire at the end of the street grow larger as I approach. This Gothic masterpiece is one of the most famous structures in Vienna and dates back to 1147.   Inside the Cathedral it’s amazing to imagine something so majestic being built more than 850 years ago.

I leave the Cathedral and it’s a quick walk over to Hofburg Palace, which was the Imperial family’s winter residence during their reign.  Hofburg Palace is a magnificent structure that sits impressive among the beautiful and diverse architecture of the city.  If weather permits, a stroll through the palace’s gardens are a must do as well.

All this sightseeing has left me with an appetite so I head over to one of the city’s oldest and most beautiful hotels, the Hotel Sacher.  This hotel is famous for inventing the original recipe of the Sacher torte – a rich chocolate cake that is decadent and divine with a cup of coffee during the day or a glass of champagne in the evening.  The hotel is family owned (they also have a property in Salzburg) and they keep the recipe for this world-renowned torte in a vault for safekeeping.  The torte does not disappoint and I’m revived and ready for more touring.

I head about 45 minutes out of town to Schönbrunn, the imperial family’s summer palace that was built by the grandfather of Empress Maria Theresa to resemble the glory of Versailles.  The royal family used this palace up until the end of the dynasty in 1918 and it is one of the most important cultural monuments in Austria (and was designated a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site in 1996). Today, it is part museum and part private apartments. The opulent palace rooms, the beautiful formal gardens and the astonishing collection of period furniture provide a wonderful look into the life of the ruling families that inhabited its halls for many centuries.

Since it’s early December, outside Schönbrunn is a beautiful Christmas market.  While there are many Christmas markets scattered around Vienna, everyone that's familiar with the city promises that this one at the palace will provide more upscale and higher quality goods than others.  I enjoy sipping my amaretto spiced punch while strolling the booths of homemade soaps, ornaments, wooden toys and other specialty items made in Austria.  It is evening now and the Christmas lights and decorations around the palace are spectacular.

I’m off now to a performance of Mozart and Strauss – one cannot be in Vienna without experiencing some kind of performance.  After the mesmerizing music, I enjoy a nightcap at the Hotel Bristol in its wood paneled bar.

I must leave Vienna wishing I had more time to see Klimt’s The Kiss and visit the Spanish Riding School and spend more time strolling the beautiful café’s and stores.  That’s the thing about Vienna…it is a sophisticated and intoxicating city that all who visit will leave wanting more. 

Healthy Habits: Traveling with Family

My family usually sticks to healthy habits. All my kids are active and enjoy sports. At home, I pack healthy snacks for them to enjoy at school, and we regularly share healthy meals together. When we go on vacation, it isn’t as easy to stick to a healthy routine, but I’ve found some tricks that help us stay healthy no matter where our journeys take us.

1. Drink Plenty of Water

Never limit the amount of water your family drinks when on vacation. A few extra bathroom breaks aren’t nearly as inconvenient as the discomfort and dangers of dehydration. This is especially true when traveling on hot days or spending time outdoors in the sunlight. My family always takes along personal water bottles. On especially warm days, I often freeze the full bottles before we head out.

2. If you’re traveling with a small child or a baby, try to keep their surroundings familiar. Any favorites should come along for the trip. Make sure you have any comforting items packed such as a blanket that is often used or toys that are always in the crib. Keep everything as close to normal to promote smooth sailing while traveling. If necessary, pack everything but the kitchen sink! Even try keeping their sleep routines very close to what they do on their home schedule. (Many hotels in Walt Disney World, a top traveling destination for families, offer quiet hours to ensure a proper night’s rest!)

3. Play for Fun and Exercise

Play together as a family. This is important all the time, and on vacation it can help your family get necessary exercise. Have races and competitions to help everyone stay active. My family likes to play together at the hotel pool. We’ll compete to see who can swim underwater the longest or who can swim across the pool the fastest. We even have splashing contests with one another.

4. Stay Safe

When traveling it will help keep you and your family germ free to pack a hygiene travel kit/first-aid kit. Make sure you have things like hand sanitizer, sanitizing wipes for furniture, and baby wipes for when you’re not close to soap and water. Also pack band aids, antibiotic cream, and a pain-free cut and scrape wash in case of accidents.

5. Eat Right When Eating Out

Eating a healthy breakfast before going to theme parks will give you more control over the food your family consumes that day. A nutritional breakfast will give you a good start to the day as well as give you lasting energy instead of the quick burst received from sugar-filled foods. Many hotels have a healthy continental breakfast with foods to choose from such as fresh fruits, milk and juices that’s included in the room rates.

Eating out is a necessity on vacation. I like to use the same guidelines when on vacation that I use when eating out near home. I research to find restaurants that serve locally produced ingredients. I also try to find places that offer healthy menu options. Places that serve Mediterranean cuisine or offer vegetarian options are great places to eat.

6. Use Hotel Amenities

Many hotels offer fitness amenities. I like to learn about these amenities before booking my stay. As a family, we try to always stay at hotels with nice fitness facilities.

You have to be intentional about keeping your family fit and healthy. When you make a point of keeping to a healthy routine on vacation, everyone will have a better time. I hope you find my special tricks helpful the next time you take a family trip.

Salzburg – the “Salt City” and birthplace of Mozart

I have now been to Salzburg in every season and no matter the time of year or the weather, it is a city that I always love.  This was my first time in Salzburg during the winter months and the Salzburg Christmas Market is the ideal setting to get one in the mood for Christmas.

The Christmas markets are set in the center of the historic part of town.  The market stalls are full of beautiful products featuring traditional Austrian craftsmanship and I’m able to stock up on the most beautiful handmade ornaments for my Christmas tree and some beautiful linens that will help get my home in the festive spirit.  Not only are there beautiful things to buy but the smell of mulled wine circles the air as does the scent of Christmas trees and open wood burning fires.  There are many delicious food booths where I snack on a fantastic pretzel the size of my face and purchase some delicious Austrian mustard to take home after sampling a large assortment of options.

Once we have filled our bags with more Christmas decorations than we can carry we set off to wind through the beautiful cobble stone streets of Salzburg.  The long street called Getreidegaffe is the main shopping street in the historic part of town and you can find nearly every high-end designer there from Hermes to Louis Vuitton and intermixed within are restaurants, bakeries and novelty shops.  I love to wander down this street enjoying the shops and there we make a stop at the home where Salzburg’s most famous resident was born – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. 

The Mozart family lived in this apartment in Wolfgang’s younger years before moving to a larger home across town in 1773.  There are many amazing historic relics in the apartment about the composer’s life and it is an easy museum to tour in as little as 30 minutes (cost is 10 Euros). 

For any Americans missing their Starbucks, you will find one right near Mozart’s birthplace that also has free and clean restrooms in the basement.

I’m hungry from all this sightseeing and my absolute favorite hotel to stay at (or eat in) is the Blaue Gans (Blue Goose) located at the end of Getreidegaffe.  I stop at the restaurant for the most amazing pumpkin soup of my life. 

For the luxury traveler, another must-see and experience hotel is the Hotel Sacher, which is famous for its delicious Sacher Torte (they also have a sister hotel in Vienna).  During my day in Salzburg, Karl Lagerfeld and Chanel are doing a special fashion show at the Hotel and I can see trucks unloading trunks of goodies and I'm insanely envious that I’m not going to that show.  But speaking of fashion, I do enjoy popping into the traditional Austrian clothing stores to admire the lady drindle outfits.



Another must-see in Salzburg is the Hohensalzburg Fortress – the largest fully preserved fortress in central Europe that was built in 1077.  It is omnipresent on the hill overlooking downtown Salzburg and you can take a quick railway up to the entrance for a tour.


People always assume I love Salzburg because the movie Sound of Music was filmed there, but I’ve only taken the Sound of Music tour once. I suppose it’s worth doing if you are a fan of the movie, but to me the majesty of Salzburg is wandering the cobbled streets and soaking up the charm of this clean and beautiful historic city.

Passau, Germany – The City on Three Rivers

“Rivers, it is often said, can simultaneously divide and connect people.  The Danube, more than any other European river, embodies this paradox,” so says the guidebook on the Viking River Cruise ship Alsvin.  And so begins our journey along The Danube…. in Passau, Germany.

Passau is a charming German town of 50,000 inhabitants that oozes medieval charm with its historic old town center and many winding, cobbled lanes.  Located near the Austrian and Czech borders, Passau has a centuries long history as a commerce hub given its unique location at the confluence of the three rivers Danube, Inn and Ilz.

The highlight of this affluent town is the Veste Oberhaus, a 13th-century fortress built by its prince-bishops in 1219, which towers over the city and provides amazing views of the downtown village and three rivers below. 

The other must-see in Passau is the 17th century St. Stephan’s Cathedral.  There has been a church on this site since the year 730, but the current structure was built after a Great Fire wiped out the town in 1662.  The Cathedral is home to the largest church organ in the world – it is majestic to see and hear and boasts 17,974 pipes.

Here at the end of November, the town is already decked out for the holidays and the Christmas sights (twinkling lights and fir trees) and smells (spiced rum and gingerbread) are everywhere.  Right next to St. Stephan’s Cathedral is the city center Christmas Market. I love browsing the many artists’ displays of handmade crafts – wood carved ornaments and puppets, wool hats and mittens, needlepointed linens, assorted homemade candles and so much more.

On the weekends the Christmas Market is bustling with locals and tourists.  For lunch, we enjoy a traditional German sausage or “wienerwurst” with spicy brown mustard.

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To escape the outside chill, we stop in to a pub for a local Pils beer – it is a golden beer equivalent, but the flavor is strong and delicious.  For those with thicker skin, seats are available outside with sheepskins and blankets to help keep you warm.

Passau is a charming town that would interest anyone who favors the following:

  • History (it was settled in the 5th century)
  • Architecture (the entire town was rebuilt in the Italian baroque style after the fire in 1662)
  • Catholic churches (there are nearly 60 Roman Catholic Churches in this one town)
  • German Christmas markets


Travel Tips

Here are some of Kendra's favorite travel tips:

Saving Money on Airfare:

  • Tuesday night is typically the cheapest day of the week to buy flights. Don't book on weekends.
  • Wednesday is the cheapest day of the week to travel, followed by Saturday.

If You See a Good Airfare, Book It:

  • ...because it can be cancelled for a free refund!
  • Since January of 2012, the U.S. Department of Transportation mandates that airlines refund your money if you book at least one week prior to departure and cancel within 24 hours of booking.

Packing Tips:

  • Protect your nice clothing! Put a shower cap around your shoes to make sure the dirty soles don't end up getting surrounding clothes dirty, too.
  • Place a dryer sheet at the bottom of your suitcase and it will keep your clothes smelling fresh and clean during travel.
  • Ship your luggage with a service like LuggageFree.com.

Technology while Vacationing:

  • Airlines are now adding USB ports to the seats on your plane so you can charge your devices in-flight.
  • Forget your charger completely? Always check with the hotel front desk-some previous guests accidentally leave their chargers and the front desk usually has a box of them.