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Top 10 List of Things To Do in Havana, Cuba!

1. Visit the capital building, El Capitolio, in central Havana !

You can’t miss the capital building during a trip to Havana. Most likely, you will pass the building several times on various cab rides. It is quite easy to work into your plans and is in a very pedestrian friendly area with plenty of shops, hotels, and restaurants nearby. We were immediately struck with its similarity to the US Capitol, but it is not exactly the same and has more color and character. It is, however, very similar. As you can see above, the capital is under construction and has been since 2013. The building’s restoration is a slow process to be used for Cuba’s National Assembly.

You might find it hard to get tickets at the last minute during a peak travel season, so you can plan ahead and get tickets for the tour a day or so in advance. We were lucky and found a guided tour with two spots. Tickets were about $4 per person with the guided tour. We highly recommend using the guide, which was both in Spanish and English. We learned that women make up nearly half the National Assembly! There were lots of questions being asked and the guide was able to answer each one. We were very pleased with the quality of the experience and the break from the heat!

2. Almacenas San Jose Artisans’ Market is a essentially a flea market on the water, a great stop!

If you are looking for souvenirs, this is the perfect one-stop shop. We aren’t really into buying the typical tourist items when we travel, but this place was more than just a tourist trap. It was very pedestrian friendly, filled with local artists, had great food, and a perfect location for a stop. You can find anything from cheap souvenirs and beautiful, original art.

There is something for everyone at Almacenes San Jose Artisans’ Market. We were out of cash by the time that we made it over there, so we weren’t really looking to bring home a large piece. Instead, we opted for some photographs which we will frame back home as a memento of our trip! This way, we travel lighter, save money, but still supported the local art scene.

3. Be sure to see Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de La Habana, the national art museum!

Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de La Habana, Museum site photo

The museum is easily located and very near the Plaza de la Revolucion. You can easily see both in the same day. Consisting of two buildings, one dedicated to Cuban artists and one to universal art, you will see a huge diverse selection of pieces. The substantial scope of local art was incredible considering the size of Cuba. This museum was easily our favorite in Havana.

The interactive exhibit above was one of several experiences that really made the museum come to life. There were no instructions, and you simply encountered the experience on your own. The headphones shared various pieces of music which correlated to performing artists on video. Below are a few of our favorite pieces from the afternoon!

The entry fee is low, even the tourist rate is lower than we expected at around $5 per person. You can also get a guide in either Spanish or various other languages for an additional $2-$3 at certain times. We suggest at least two hours as it is a substantial museum with several interactive experiences.

4. Venture to Vinales!

We had an amazing experience with a day trip booked through Air BNB. A taxi picked us up at our casa particular early in the morning and we headed on the long but nice drive to Vinales. (Our taxi was a large vehicle, but at six feet tall Brian absolutely did not fit in the back seat. It would have been fine for a short trip to city center, but to drive a longer distance it was very uncomfortable and he eventually moved up front. If you are tall, be sure to get a larger taxi or sit in the front!) Vinales is a tiny village, but you can chose to spend the night out there as well. It is very quaint. We saw a tabacco plantation, took a horse ride in the mountains, saw a massive painting, and went a boat ride through a river cave. The food and drinks every where were very, very tasty and fresh. They crushed the sugar cane right in front of us to make the drinks.

Our entire trip included absolutely everything for about $85 per person. We felt this was a great bargain and enjoyed that we didn’t have to do any planning at all. We also paid before leaving the US, so we didn’t have to spend much cash at all on this day. It was a great way to pay for something ahead of time that didn’t require using our little supply of cash once we were there. Through Air BNB’s site, you can send questions back and forth with information for pick up, etc. However, because cell service is very, very minimal, this could have posed issues. Luckily, we found a cafe with free Internet where we were able to confirm our details the day before. We did hear about other groups who weren’t so lucky.

5. Cannon ceremony at Castillo de San Carlos de la Cabana was a brilliant surprise!

After we arrived in Havana, we made a relaxing plan for our first night. The owner of our house for the week highly suggested dinner in the city and then seeing the ceremonial firing of the cannons. You will need to take a cab to the other side of the bay, which is about $10 for the short ride. Our driver was willing to meet us again afterwards, so we didn’t have to look for another cab. We ended up splitting the ride back with some Europeans to save money, which worked out well! You can pay a small fee to tour the fort, which was, well, a fort and interesting but not too much to see. There were lots of vendors everywhere. Then, we headed to see the ceremony. Everyone was crowding around the cannons quite tightly, and ended up on the side of the fort quite close to the edge, and there was no wall. If we had gotten there earlier, we definitely would have found a different vantage point. However, we did get to see everything easily. A group of men in the military dress in period costume and sing about the tradition. They have various military exercises and march during the singing. Then, promptly at 9pm, they light a cannon and shoot it into the bay every night like clockwork.

The ceremony is historic and is a recreation of a tradition where a cannon was fired to let the city know the gates would be closing, and the city would be safe from pirates for the night. It is a colonial ceremony and one of the oldest traditions in Cuba. We were surrounded both by tourists and Cubanos eager to watch. The energy was exciting and made a great first night in Havana! You simply cannot miss El Canonazo de las Nueve!

6. Plaza de la Revolucion and El Museo de la Revolucion was a unique experience as an American!

We weren’t really sure what to expect, but it is hardly a trip to Cuba without visiting this museum. Housed in the palace of the former president, the museum wasted no time in proudly sharing the history of the Cuban revolution, interference of foreign powers, and reverence for its leaders from the past and present. There is a large indoor portion of the museum which is dedicated to the history of Cuba including pre-Columbian culture, through the fight against Batista, to society today. Then, another portion of the museum, pictured below, is an outdoor area with planes, tanks, boats, etc used in the revolution.

In the center is the small boat which brought 80 revolutionaries, including Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, from Mexico to Cuba. The planes and tanks were used in various important moments in military history of Cuba and each had explanations and information about the history of the piece.

The museum costs about $4, and we recommend at least one hour but we took two! There was so much to see and read, and it was quite an education to hear another narrative about your own country, which we, of course, expected. Brian has experienced living in communist countries, but this was a first for Candace. You simply can’t go to Cuba, without an experience like this one! The museum is part of the Plaza de la Revolucion. The square is commanded by the massive memorial tower to Jose Marti, standing over 350 feet tall, which is in front of the government buildings.

The square stretches out to the sea and the Malecon, making it a great part of your day on this side of Havana. You can easily walk to the sea and to the National Fine Art Museum, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes.

7. Callejon de Hamel offers the most colorful moment in Havana!

Everywhere you look around this little street is packed with vibrant art and the joyful people of Cuba! It is really just a narrow alley but simply packed with the beautiful taste of local culture. It is an Afro-Cuban style from artist Salvador Escalona.

The alley is a small and beautiful little moment in Havana that you don’t want to miss. Our guide also said that this is a hub for practicing Santeria, a widely practiced religion in Cuba. Plan for about thirty minutes to see the alley, and there is no cost associated with it. It is located between Calles Espada and Aramburu.

8. Explore the local neighborhoods on a walking or bike tour!

Whenever you find yourself in a new city, it can be very helpful to get an overview on a bus tour or with a local guide. Unlike many other major world cities, there was no clear system for easy public access to a typical tour of this type. We booked the tour through Air BNB before our departure from the US, which was also great because we could pay in advance and save the all important cash while in the country. We arrived in a neighborhood early and selected among quality bikes. Brian was a bit bored with the 4-5 hour tour and was happy to escape with the guide toward the end and race down hills with technical turns. Candace was more interested in a leisurely tour and stayed with the group. We were able to see the University of Havana, a small art district Callejon de Hamel (described previously), Plaza de la Revolucion, some local parks, and get a general idea of the layout of the city and some places where we wanted to return later. While it was a great exposure to the city on our first full day in Havana, we would have chosen a slightly shorter tour if we returned for this particular excursion.

9. Walk and dine down Calle Obispo or O’Reilly!

The colors, the people, the vitality of Havana is intense down Obispo or O’Reilly streets. There are several ways to get there, but it is anchored by El Floridita, the famous bar (which is overrun by tourists like no other place we saw), and the second location of the National Art Museum. So, you can take a taxi to these spots and just start walking. The tourists shops are tucked in among local stores and markets which makes the experience unique to other shopping districts in major cities as locals are completely around you everywhere you go. This a great place for people watching, a good meal, some live music, and Internet!

While we love to unplug during travel, it is helpful to check on the family after a few days and confirm your bookings for various excursions. We found a cafe with free Internet, a terrace, and a great lunch offering. It was the perfect reprieve from the heat, and we were glad for the opportunity to have a mojito and message the family back home. There were several of these cafes but they aren’t necessarily widely advertised, so just ask around and read the signage. Another key thing to look for is shade! Just on the other side of the street, people looked miserable on the balcony with the sun glaring down on them, but we were quite comfortable in the shade.

10. Meet the locals!

When in Havana, the people will absolutely be a highlight of your trip. Everywhere we went, the locals were incredibly kind and welcoming. Our tour guides were all studying or teaching at the university as biologists or engineers. In fact, just about everyone we met in the tourism industry was a doctor, lawyer, or chemist and had multiple advanced degrees. They told us that it was a quite hard to make money in Havana, and this was their way to get ahead. Most worked 7 days per week. One of our guides described his goal of getting hot water in his house. This made it very important to tip. Cash is a great way to give these hard-working people your gratitude for sharing their beautiful city. While you won’t meet very many people in the streets who speak English, any guide will have excellent skills. Candace’s Spanish speaking skills were very helpful in navigating the city, negotiating cab fare, and understanding prices and directions, but we had no issues communicating with everyone in the tourism industry. Some were eager to question American politics and better understand the American mentality toward Cuban, but most were just happy to share their country and their hearts with us. Everyone went above and beyond to make sure we felt comfortable, knew where to go, and left wanting to come back. We are so eager to return with our boys one day soon!

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10 tips for visiting Havana, Cuba, from toilets to taxis!

1. The city is a maze, and there are no standard addresses!

Throughout Havana, there are five majors neighborhoods Centra Habana, Habana del Este, La Habana Vieja, Miramar, and Vedado. Although the city is easy to walk around and not very big, you can easily get lost if you are expecting to see clear addresses. Here is a picture of the general area of our casa particular where we stayed (more on that later!).

There are essentially no house numbers, so every address is a combination of streets and side streets. You can see in the image above that the address is made up of two streets and no clear numbers. Also, cell service is not reliable at all, so your driver will likely roll down a window and ask people on the street for advice if he or she doesn’t know the area.

2. Toilets (well, maybe)

Occasionally, you will get a western toilet at a restaurant or museum in the city, but be prepared for anything! Sometimes, it is a more of a hole in the ground than a toilet, and you will often need to bring your own toilet paper.

There may also be someone standing outside the bathroom. This means you need to pay to use the toilet. Some change is usually enough, but this is considered a tip for the person and often it means they will give you some toilet paper. The very most important thing – do NOT flush the toilet paper EVER. This is common in many countries, and a vital rule in Cuba. At first, Candace was worried it would be a huge odor issue, but in the nicer areas and certainly in hotels, this is not the case. However, yes, it can be very smelly, and some parts of town have a poo smell in the air. Sorry, no other way to describe it.

3. Casa particular over a hotel any day!

We read a lot about what to expect and where to stay before we headed to Havana, and we opted for an Air BNB spot, La Llave del Golfo for less than $50 per night! Hotels are certainly much more expensive, and you get a very sanitized experience. Whereas, in a casa particular, you are staying among the people of Havana in a local house. It is basically a bed and breakfast. We wouldn’t have it any other way. We also LOVED having a private pool to cool off in the evening. It is very, very hot in Cuba in the spring, summer, and fall, with a small reprieve for winter. It was amazing to come back and dip in the pool. At this house, we were also able to order dinner and eat a homemade Cuban meal for a great price every night. The owner of the home took care of everything for us and gave us great advice all the time. We simply adored the home. It was historic, clean, massive, safe, and located just outside the city. While cab fare each day was a lot more expensive than we expected (easily $30 per day), we still would chose this spot again. When looking to save money, you should consider cab fare as part of your expenses if you want to stay outside the city. While the nightly rate will be less, you will spend the money every day getting into Havana anyway. We loved having a cheap beer and a mojito cold and waiting for us as soon as we walked in the door each night. The stay also included a fresh, hot breakfast every morning whenever we wanted it. One morning, we had to leave very early, so a neighbor came over to put on the coffee for us. They have a great system, and we felt very lucky to have found this casa particular La Llave del Golfo.

4. Taxis can be tricky.

Yes, you can pay for a taxi in one of these vintage cars that is in pristine condition. They will drive you anywhere you want to go, but you will pay a lot! However, basically every taxi is a vintage car, so you will ride in one that is in good condition for a much more reasonable fare. A 15-20 minute drive was around $10. You can also get a Coco Taxi, which looks like a coconut (pictured below).

These are a little cheaper and get around quite easily, but it is also just fun to have a ride in a coconut shaped taxi. Unfortunately, we did have one taxi driver try to take advantage of us and charge $50 for a trip where he intentionally took us to the wrong museum. We simply refused to pay. We paid him a fair rate, and then we walked into the museum. We weren’t sure if there would be any issues with this, but he simply drove away. That is absolutely the only situation we observed or experienced where we felt unsafe or cheated. You can ask your hotel or casa particular for advice about how much to pay. They will also book your taxi for you if that makes you more comfortable.

5. There is a tourist rate at most places.

In order to support the locals, there is a tourist rate at most museums and important buildings. It is drastically more than the local rate; however, we were happy to pay. Most locals have very, very little income on a monthly basis, so these important parts of their culture would not be available to them without this cheaper rate. In general, the rates were what you might expect for a quality art museum in any major city. We paid around $7-$10 entry for most of the places we saw. Stay tuned to hear more about each stop!

6. Americans can NOT get cash. Bring lots of cash!

Airport Currency Exchange, Havana

Once you land in Havana, you can go to the airport to exchange your currency. We typically take about $100 per day when we travel abroad, but then we can typically supplement with Visa for larger purchases or expensive meals. However, this will NOT be an option for Americans in Cuba. Seriously, it is not possible. We unwisely assumed that it might be difficult but not impossible. Nope, it is impossible to use American credit cards or debit cards literally anywhere. You must bring cash. We don’t buy tourist items, and we don’t eat at fancy restaurants more than once on a trip. We needed more like $150-$200 per day to cover entry into museum, cab fare, lunch or dinner, drinks, small items, and tips. Cab fare will eat up your cash fast, so you should definitely plan for that as well. If you are not American, then you will be able to use a bank kiosk in town to get cash from your bank. Also, some places will take your credit card. The exchange rate for the dollar is quite poor as they basically charge an extra 20% fee for American currency. It is much better to exchange your dollars for euros and then carry euros to the airport where you can get local currency. We know this is an extra step, but it will save you a huge amount of money in the long run, especially if your bank stateside will do the currency exchange for free.

7. Stray cats and dogs are everywhere.

The dogs and cats are certainly all over Havana, but they aren’t a nuisance. They are polite and seem to understand an unwritten rule that they can not beg for food or jump on you. They were happy to get a little bit of sandwich, and they locals also look out for them in the streets. We did donate a bit of cash to a local effort to care for the strays. Consider sharing your leftovers with the local creatures!

8. Food prices vary greatly.

Check out this local menu! You won’t find prices this cheap in the center of Havana, but this was just outside the city center. CUC is the column you will use as it is the tourist currency. One CUC is more or less $1, so the prices are much better than we expected for food. Of course, you can also go to a more upscale rooftop restaurant in downtown Havana (which we highly recommend) and pay a little more for a good dinner and drinks.

We really enjoyed the shade from the other buildings, and the great mix of locals and tourists from all over the world in this little restaurant recommended by the owner of our casa particular. We tried several local drinks, and the had the waiter bring whatever he recommended. It was about $50 for a few courses and drinks.

9. Don’t be afraid to try new foods!

We had tons of fresh seafood, which was always well prepared and often had citrus flavors and herbs. We had Cuba libre (Coke, rum, and lime), mojitos, (rum, sugar, lime, soda water, and mint), and local beers each day, and we never had a bad drink. Ask for recommendations and try daily specials. Most places have a small menu where they rotate the offering based on what is available and fresh in the market that day. You can find familiar foods like a sandwich, but we enjoyed just about everything we tried. Don’t expect food drenched in sauces or constantly fried, because you won’t find much of that in Cuba. The foods are freshly made, simple, and delicious.

10. Don’t miss out on a Cuban cigar!

Brian got a lesson on how to smoke a cigar like a Cuban! They were very impressed with his ability to turn the cigar and keep a long ash, which is apparently the sign of an experienced smoker. We also learned that some Cubans like to dip their cigars in a bit of local honey. We have brought this tradition back home with us! At the time of our travel, you could bring back 50 cigars per person. Check the rules to see what the rules are when you plan to head out to Cuba. We paid $4 per cigar at the plantation, but prices were much higher in the city. And, many sellers are tricking tourists with fake cigars. Be sure to study up a bit if you aren’t sure how to spot the fakes. They told us to feel the texture for a soft exterior and press down to ensure the cigar gives a bit and does not have a crunching sound, a key sign of a fake. Back at our casa particular, the owner said he could get us a cheaper rate directly from a friend, but we were short on cash by the end of our trip and weren’t able to buy the maximum.

Check us out on social media! Send us your questions about Cuba!

A Weekend in NOLA!

It is an easy drive from Houston, so this is a great destination for us. The food is a huge draw and the beauty of the French Quarter is such a unique experience. We like to joke with our Cajun friends that Louisiana is a foreign country because the culture, food, and architecture are all so different. We LOVE it!

A Walk through the French Quarter

The first thing we all think of in the French Quarter is the unique architecture, great food, and the people! Of course, as are slowly coming out of quarantine, you will never see the French Quarter so empty. It doesn’t have the same appeal as the crowded streets, but of course this was a welcome surprise as we are still being quite careful and avoiding crowds of any size. We were prepared to leave if there were too many people, but as you can see – it is empty! From the live music around every turn to the terraces with smells from every kitchen, the French Quarter is a must-see destination.

National World War 2 Museum

For years, we have wanted to see this world renowned museum. Our older son, Clay, absolutely loves history and in particular he studies World War 2 passionately. This was something we wanted on our itinerary. It is the number one tourist attraction in NOLA! We have been to museums absolutely all over the world from Tokyo to Berlin and Mexico to London and beyond. This was easily the best museum we have ever experienced. Honestly, you need a whole day! We felt like this was a whirlwind tour, and we spent over three hours there. The famous 4D submarine experience was closed, so we did miss out on that one.

As far as safety, the museum is taking precautions very seriously. We were greeted at the door and given very specific instructions on wearing our masks and avoiding touching as much as possible. Several areas had capacity limits and six feet is enforced around every turn. There were break areas for taking off your mask if you needed a moment.

The museum is intensely interactive and inclusive. The stories were intensely varied, and we really appreciated experiencing the stories of so many different voices throughout the exhibits. The European and Asian theaters were our favorites. The richness of the experience is indescribable. This is a 21st century museum in every way, and we can’t recommend it enough!

Dinner on the Terrace at Mambo Seafood

Dinner on a terrace is basically mandatory in the French Quarter! Mambo Seafood was our pick for the night. We wanted a terrace both for the view and the safety of outdoor seating. The restaurant took safety very seriously, and we felt very safe. Of course, it was basically empty. The waiters were management and working with a small staff. We were sure to tip double everywhere we went! Please consider doing this during these difficult times.

They have a happy hour on oysters! Brian definitely jumped on that and ordered Oysters Rockefeller and raw. He says they are the best he can remember ever having! Clay and Candace shared BBQ shrimp and grits while Travis opted for the crab cake topped Cajun pasta. Every dish was phenomenal.

Beignets at Cafe du Monde

Cafe du Monde is synonymous with a tourist trip to New Orleans! The cafe has a tiny menu, but that is all you need – coffee and beignets! The kids devoured our amazing breakfast. The people watching is wonderful, and you can easily hear live jazz at all hours. It is right across from Jackson Square, so this makes a great start (or end) to any day. Note that the cafe is on reduced hours. During our trip, it was only open 8am-5pm. Be sure to double check before heading out.

People Watching in Jackson Square

Everything is pretty pedestrian friendly in downtown New Orleans, so you can easily walk from Cafe du Donde to Jackson Square and Bourbon Street down to most of the large hotels. You really don’t need your vehicle at all. Most of the terraces cover the sidewalks, so even in a little rain you will be ok.

We LOVE to go people watching. Of course, with the virus, the park was completely empty, so we just let the boys run a bit and burn off steam after the long drive. The park is lovely and a great break from the bustling city. While there were no people this time, it would be a perfect place to have a coffee and just relax pretty much any other time!

Lunch on Bourbon Street

We like to check Trip Advisor quickly to see if a restaurant has good reviews, so we did just that to try to select our lunch spot. With a quick 2 minute search, we saw that this place Old Cookery had excellent reviews, so we went in! They were a little more lax on safety precautions than the other places, but it was still quite empty so we stayed for the meal. It was STELLAR! Gator bites, seafood étouffée, red beans and rice, collared greens, redfish with crawfish tails and mushroom sauce… it was all incredible.

We loved our little trip to NOLA! We highly recommend checking it out. We felt that safety protocols were very good, and we easily observed six feet of space at all times. We ate outdoors and followed all guidelines. We will be back!

Texas to Miami Itinerary – 10 Days

As we planned our trip from Houston to Miami, we knew it was going to be quite a drive. Because we have kids, we wanted to be sure that we kept it interesting. We don’t want them to look back on our travels as mostly long days in a truck. We think this trip was perfectly timed with great stops between each destination.

#1 New Orleans

Only slightly off the fastest route from Texas to Florida is the iconic New Orleans. It is well worth the few minutes extra to come and see this incredible city.

We stayed at a great RV resort in the French Quarter called French Quarter RV Resort. Since we were really just passing through, we highly recommend staying downtown in the French Quarter area. I 10 essentially passes through this area making it very easy to get in and out of the city quickly.

We firmly believe that New Orleans has some of the best food you’ll ever eat. It is completely full of flavor and richness in true Cajun style. We opted for the rooftop terrace at Mambo on Bourbon Street. We had the shrimp and grits, raw oysters, and oysters Rockefeller. Travis opted for a Cajun crabcake pasta. Phenomenal!

An empty Bourbon Street is nearly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We came through the city just as regulations were being lifted, and restaurants were re-opening. There were times when absolutely no one was on the street. Everywhere you look, safety precautions are being taken very seriously. We knew that the staff was eager to get back to work, and we were sure to tip at least double everywhere we went.

#2 Driving to Ocala

We knew there would be at least one long driving day. It can be very difficult to set up an RV and get the AC going to a tolerable temperature after a long day of driving and in the dark night. Whenever we know we’re going to be arriving past dark, we try to find an Airbnb with ample parking instead. This can make your options particularly challenging. Especially due to the virus, we did not want to stay in any hotels. An Airbnb seemed like the best option.

This place was heavenly! Right off the highway with beautiful views and plenty of room! They even have a kangaroo!

#3 Everglades

This was another day that we took a slightly longer route in order to see key sites. If you take the drive through Tampa instead of through Orlando, it adds about 40 minutes to your trip to Miami. However, your drive is through the Everglades and the Big Cypress National Preserve.

We saw this big guy within a few feet of turning into Everglades National Park! It is directly off the highway if you take this route. We did not plan on camping in the Everglades, so a day trip was always on the itinerary. We opted for the very highly rated Shark Valley tram tour for around $80 for the family of four. This was perfect, and really helped us learn a lot about the region and inspired us to return during the peak season for birding in the winter.

#4 Miami or Key Largo – Beach Day

Due to the quarantine, we did not have a lot of options for beaches as they remained closed at this time. We probably would’ve gone into Miami to see the city and hit up one of the beaches in the area. However, instead we headed out to Key Largo and Pennekamp State Park where a small stretch of beach was open, and there was ample space for snorkeling. The park was nearly completely empty, and we had an entire beach to ourselves for several hours.

#5 Biscayne National Park

This place is simply one of those unforgettable, magical places on earth. 95% of the park is water, so you’ll have to plan a boat trip to really experience the park and the islands.

We opted for a full day package with the Biscayne National Park Institute. We got to experience a bit of everything with some sailing, kayaking and paddle boarding, snorkeling, and time at the beach for a picnic.

#6 and 7 Orlando… became Micanopy

This is where our original plans being canceled completely changed our trip. Candace and the boys were supposed to head to Disney while Brian had to work in nearby Port St. Lucie. When Disney closed, the family shifted to three days on the beach near the site for his training. However, within 24 hours of leaving, we learned that the training was canceled. This meant a complete change in our plans. Instead of Disney World or time at the beach, we would have to essentially make our way home. Yet again, our plans were thwarted by tropical storm Cristobal. With 70 mile an hour winds hitting the Gulf Coast, we knew we couldn’t head back until the storm passed. We decided to drive as far north in Florida as we could and wait until it was safer to travel. We opted for a beautiful state park near Gainesville – Payne’s Prairie State Park. Torrential rain made this a perfect day for boardgames in the tiny town of Micanopy.

#8 New Orleans, Again!

There were three main reasons we decided to stop in New Orleans again on our way home. First, like we said before, it is directly off of I 10. Second, Clay was very eager to see the National World War II museum. Third, and perhaps most importantly, Cajun food!

Olde NOLA Cookery was phenomenal! Red fish with a crawfish mushroom cream sauce, gator bites two ways, and a seafood sampler with red beans and rice, jambalaya, and étouffée.

We have been in museums all over the world on multiple continents, and this was absolutely the best museum we have ever seen. You simply MUST go! Three hours was not enough! We were captivated! You need all day!

#10 Heading home!

The perfect ending to the perfect trip – Cafe du Monde for beignets and coffee as we hit the road…

6 Do’s and Don’ts in Biscayne National Park

The boys have a new favorite national park – Biscayne! We only had one day, but we absolutely made the most of the experience. Due to Covid-19, we had a hard time getting in contact with park personnel to be sure that we had a good overview of the park activities. Candace normally speaks to park employees before we leave in order to get a good overview of possible activities. You can always use the park websites, but sometimes different trails are closed or other activities are canceled. We have arrived with missing information too many times, so we rely on these calls before departure to get a better idea of what to do once there. However, this wasn’t an option as the phones weren’t being answered during the quarantine. So, we decided to just see how it went. Here are a few things we learned!

#1 Don’t forget bug spray! The mosquitos are vicious!

Once we arrived at the visitor center, we were immediately swarmed by biting flies and mosquitos. It was truly horrid. We thought Texas had bad mosquitos, wow. It was rough. Luckily, only 5% of the park is land and the water isn’t plagued with these insects. We were fine once we left land, but we would have worn bug spray if we had known!

#2 Do plan a boat trip as the beach water is only that clear blue/green from the islands!

We, perhaps foolishly, thought that the beach area off of the main land would also have the gorgeous green/blue waters famous for the Miami area. Well, no. The waters may be clear, but it is over heavy dark grasses giving a dark color to the look of the water and detracting from a “beach” experience. In the park (and through most of the keys), you have to take a boat to the islands and away from the bay in order to see the gorgeous water at its best. More on the boat options in a bit, but you get the idea! The picture above is from the island of Boca Chita. We highly recommend this trip. On a holiday weekend, you might easily have 100 boats full of people looking for space on the small island, but it was just us!

#3 Do consider the pros and cons of sailing vs power boat!

When we were originally planning, we had a power boat trip paired with kayaking. We just weren’t really sure how well the boys would do with snorkeling as sometimes it can be quite challenging to master swimming in currents and using the equipment. We really went back and forth about our plans. Eventually, we settled on the all-day sailing excursion. It was expensive at over $600, but it was worth every penny. This is the certainly the most we have ever spent on an excursion, and it was unforgettable. Brian had sailed once before, but it was new to everyone else.

A power boat will, of course, get your party to the island faster, and sailing is a much slower pace. Also, a power boat will carry more people. If you want a more private and personalized experience, we definitely recommend sailing. We had this sail boat all to ourselves. It only holds six, and we were the only booking. So, it was just us and the ocean. Also, the boys got to operate the sails and learn about the culture of sailing.

Our guide Hans was simply incredible. He had a natural ability to teach and interactive with children. They really learned the different approaches and had to work hard to hoist the sails. It was a windy day, so the conditions were great for the lessons. A power boat would have zipped us out to the island, the sailing was another amazing experience that we were glad to enjoy.

#4 Don’t panic but, yes, there are sharks!

Right as we set off from the beach in our kayaks, the guide pointed out a large nurse shark swimming right towards us. This was perfectly timed with Brian falling from his paddle board into the water. After a brief panic from the kids, Hans explained that the nurse shark doesn’t have the right teeth to eat us even if he wanted to. So, that was an exciting start!

#5 Don’t trust Google Maps!

Google maps wanted to take us waayyyy off course with this bizarre location. Luckily, Candace double checked the address. It was over an hour different. Convoy Point is the main visitor center and marina of the park. This should be your meeting point. Make sure you ask before heading out. We absolutely would have missed our tour and lost our money!

#6 Do ask the National Park Institute for Advice!

The Biscayne National Park Institute is a nonprofit operating inside the park with full support of the Biscayne National Park office. They are the only operator inside the park and offer a wide variety of trips to suit anyone’s needs. They offer a very large range of options including everything from a few hours of snorkeling to a full day of sailing and more. You can absolutely customize your options. Our favorite feature was the text option. You can have a texting conversation back-and-forth with one of these experienced guides to really get the best idea of what works for your group. We even made a last-minute change the night before, and it was not an issue. For example, we learned that they are not letting you borrow snorkel gear right now with the onset of the virus. So, we made a quick run to Walmart on the way. We were concerned that the poor quality at Walmart would not be suitable for our experience, but they assured us that it should not be a problem. You will also get a detailed history lesson throughout your trip. Our guide Hans was actually a marine biologist. We truly felt that this was the best possible experience at the park.

These seasoned guides have a wealth of knowledge to help you decide what is best for your group. We were concerned about the physicality of snorkeling, but we also know it was an amazing opportunity. We really went through all the options, and decided on a full day of activities. our trip was sailing, snorkeling, kayaking and paddle boarding and time at the beach! If you choose a powerful option you’ll probably have more people in your group; however, if you go with the sale in option, our bill would only holds six people. We were the only booking for the day, so it was just us! The forecast called for rain and overcast conditions, but we got very, very lucky and had good sailing winds on the way out to the island. It seems like the second we stepped off the boat, the clouds disappeared and the sun came out. We shared the entire island with only one other boat, our incredibly lucky day was magical.

5 Tips for Everglades National Park

When visiting south Florida you can easily get to two major national parks, and many people visit all three. Both Everglades and Biscayne National Parks are not to be missed. here are a few things we learned along the way. It was a little difficult to get information as we are still in a semiquarantine state. We had to read a lot online before coming as there was no employees available to answer questions.

#1 Yes, there are alligators everywhere! Stay on trails!

This guy literally greeted us a few feet past the main entrance gate to the Shark Valley Visitor Center. The main areas are all still closed, but a small store and tours are now available. Every precaution is been taken, and facemasks are required. As we pulled up, we did see a couple of cars, but they were gone shortly and we had the entire area to ourselves. We booked online a tram tour which has extremely good reviews on TripAdvisor. This cost around $85 for a family of four to take a two hour guided tour around some main areas of the park.

There are different types of trails. You can stay on the main wide concrete path great for bikes and the large tram as well as walking. However, there are also smaller more adventurous trails near the observation tower. These trails are among the mangroves, and they have a medium level of difficulty. You certainly need good shoes and active members of your group to participate in these trails. There will be lots of scrambling over trees and through puddles, but it is an exciting experience.There are different types of trails. You can stay on the main wide concrete path great for bikes and the large tram as well as walking. However, there are also smaller more adventurous trails near the observation tower. These trails are among the mangroves and it have a medium level of difficulty. You certainly need good shoes and active members of your group to participate in these trails. There will be lots of scrambling over trees in through puddles, but it is an exciting experience.

#2 Take the Shark Valley Tram Tour

We highly recommend this tram tour. Our guides were incredibly knowledgeable, and gave lots of history as well as interesting stories about the region. The diversity of the ecosystem is simply phenomenal. Every few moments we would see another species of bird or more alligators at various stages of development. You can also see lots of different fish and types of habitats on tree islands throughout the area. It was incredibly serene. We aren’t brave enough to camp here, but there were people doing just that!

You can also rent a bike and do the 15 mile trip cycling. However, the bikes are definitely adult sized, and it would not have been an ideal bike for the kids. The tram ride was better for us, and we really enjoy getting the detailed information and history from the guides especially with the closed visitor center. We do typically like to spend some time in the visitor center, and most state parks have excellent films to give you a good idea of an overview of the park and a brief history of its formation. We were not able to enjoy these amenities, but we were absolutely the only people in the area. We ended up with a private tram tour with our own driver and guide. Normally, the tram had four huge compartments taking easily 100 people. It was just us!

The service is run through a private company that has a partnership with the park. We found them to be knowledgeable, friendly, and professional. We would absolutely do this again and highly recommend it. Checking out the park on our own would’ve been a fun and interesting experience, but having a better understanding of the ecosystem really amplified our appreciation and understanding of the importance of the region.

#3 Keep That Camera Ready! Its the Most Diverse Bird Species in the World!

At first glance, it might seem like a pretty quiet space, but every few moments you would encounter something new you’ve never seen before. We saw numerous bird species including blue heron, large majestic egrets, turkey vultures, red shouldered hawk, purple gallinules, green heron, and many more. Even though we were visiting out of season (more on this later), we were quite lucky and still saw so much incredible wildlife. And while seeing hundreds of alligators was probably the most exciting and thrilling, there were so many other animals to see and truly encounter close up.

We also really loved seeing these massive softshell turtles. We saw several. They are big and fast. We also happened upon some colorful turtle egg shells. Near the observation tower, our guides pointed out some fruit bearing trees. In early June, the berries are ripe enough to eat. Taste a bit like a purple grape. All in all, we loved to return!

#4 Winter is actually the peak season. Who knew!

This trip was a bit of a spur of the moment decision. Brian had training for work in Florida, and so we built a trip around his work itinerary. Interestingly, the training ended up getting canceled within 24 hours of our departure, but we decided to keep our plans with a few modifications. We did not realize that both the Everglades and Biscayne peak season are actually the winter, but we were still overjoyed with our trip in June.

Most of the bird species that Everglades is so famous for our migratory birds. The peak time to see them is the winter season, but our guides highly recommended coming between Thanksgiving and Christmas. They said that the number of tourists is incredibly high around the holidays, and you’ll get a more personalized experience if you were able to travel there during the winter but not during the holidays. Of course, not everyone can do this, but we appreciated the advice.

With over 650 species of migratory birds, even a beginner could spend hours or even days in Everglades National Park just observing the spectacular moment in nature. While we are no birdwatching enthusiasts, it was easy to appreciate the grandeur of the park with our amazing experience even in the off-season. Coming back will definitely be a part of our future plans.

#5 Take the scenic highway!

If you are heading through South Florida to the Miami area on your trip to Everglades national Park, you should definitely consider adding the extra 40 minutes to your trip by going through Tampa and south on 75. This will take you through Big Cypress National Preserve and into Everglades National Park. You can easily stop and do the tours of Shark Valley on your way to Miami. This way, it’s almost like you’re getting an extra day in the park when it’s on your drive anyway. However, there are not many amenities once you enter this entire region of south Florida.

You will certainly want to stock up on any basics before leaving that last city and entering the national preserve. There are very few gas stations, stores, or restroom stops for at least an hour of that trip into the Everglades.

We LOVED the Everglades!

4 New Favorite Finds for May 2020 COUNTDOWN!

We are asked a lot about our favorite products to take on our many RV trips. Here is the first installation of our new monthly post about all of our favorite finds! These items have slowly made our RV experience so much easier! We love finding these amazing products and sharing them!

Countdown to our favorite items begins!

#4 Tongue Latch Lock

As soon as we take the truck off, this lock goes on! Crime is usually based on convenient opportunity. A simple lock like this is easy and a great deterrent. It is stored on the side storage compartment with our other setup gear. Brian is a security expert, so this is a cheap and easy way to make a big difference. Encourage a criminal to move on with an easy deterrent like this one!

Link here: https://amzn.to/2LiXiUu

#3 “Stinky Slinky” Bumper End Caps

Game changing!! As we prepare to leave a park, we simply put the sewer hose in the bumper and allow it to continue airing out as we drive. You use these end caps to allow airflow through the hose while you’re driving. Brian added an extra step by drilling a hole through the skirting and one through the top of the endcap in order to secure the item. This is a brilliant way to air out the hose and reduce contact with other items in your storage area. This switch is easy and perfect for our travels!

Link here: https://amzn.to/3ctyx3N

#2 LED Flares

These back up friendly flares will help anyone pull and conveniently to a spot at night (or during the day). Unfortunately, we have a bad habit of finding ourselves trying to squeeze into complicated spots late at night especially on our long-haul trips. These LED flares seriously helped reduce confusion and frustration in the process. So easy to use! There is a reason this product has only 5 star reviews. It is brilliant. We can’t stress enough how much easier your park set up will become.

Link here: https://amzn.to/2WpEzgb

#1 Liquid Tank Deodorizer

We have told you about this great product before, but we like these small single use bottles better than the packets. The packets worked great for a long time, but recently some waster must’ve gotten into the compartment, and it’s just a huge mess of semi open packets. The single use bottles make it much easier. You just open it up and put the liquid through the sink furthest away from your grey tank. Just let it sit until your next adventure, and it will clean and deodorize your tanks while you’re gone.

Link here: https://amzn.to/3cDess5

These are our May 2020 discoveries! What are your favorite RV products?

A Perfect Mother’s Day at Ray Roberts Lake State Park

We had a great long weekend at Ray Roberts State Park! The drive from the Houston area was pretty long, but we loved the chilly weather in May (love of 44!), and the water in every direction!

There are numerous sections in Ray Roberts Lake State Park, but the main two are Johnson Branch and Isle du Bois. Each has its pros and cons!

Isle du Bois Unit

The facilities as well as the main beach area of this portion of the state park are closed at this time of quarantine. All use was day use only although many people sort of claimed camping areas for their picnic. We liked seeing the camping spots with heavy shade as well as others allowing more sun. The idea of sleeping in a tent on a Texas summer night seems impossible without heavy shade.

These are both in the Hawthorne camping area. Every campsite is a short walk to the lake water. Water visibility was not too bad at about 2 feet or so. The water is more clear than many other Texas area state parks and does have a nicer light color.

This trail map is from the unit on the south side of the lake, but both main park areas have extensive mountain biking available. The courses are very long and have a range of ability levels from beginner to expert. They are DORBA rated trails!

Johnson Branch Unit

We preferred the Johnson Branch unit because it seemed more updated and well taken care of. Also, the beach and all the facilities are open! It is a little further north from the Dallas-Fort Worth area, so that may be the reason for fewer people being in the park. There is a massive playground right on the lake near the beach area.

Lone Oak RV Park

Since the state parks are still closed for overnight use, we opted for this small and older RV park at just $30 per night. It has full hook ups and many sites are pull through sites. Unless you have a very small rig, do not get number 26. It absolutely has the best view in the park, but it is simply impossible to get a larger rig into. This park is extremely close to the State Park boat ramp access as well as access to the large Johnson Branch unit of the state park.

We had a great Mother’s Day weekend!

5 Fresh Ideas – Meal Planning for your Weekend Away!

We all love those burgers and hot dogs, but it can get old if you are going to the same meals every time you head out for a trip. These are a few unexpected options that we LOVE on our RV trips. Yes, of course, we still love a good burger on the grill, but these are great options for something different. Candace calls it “semi-homemade.” Each of these can be prepared in just a few minutes with little effort.

1. Chicken Sliders with “Cane’s” Sauce

These are a huge hit! Just prepare the chicken sliders as directed and add them to the Hawaiian rolls with a pickle and some sauce. These are from HEB, but many different types will work just fine. We have always loved the sauce from a local restaurant called Cane’s Chicken Fingers, so Candace has been perfecting her own version for years. She uses mayo and ketchup (2 to 1), then you season with garlic powder, salt, pepper, and Worcestershire to taste. It is amazing! The pickle here is a key ingredient. We like Claussen the best.

2. Chicken Sausage with Pasta

Again, this meal will feel like you worked a long time in the kitchen, but it is easy, healthy, and tastes great. You can also substitute the pasta for zucchini or other veggies if you are watching those carbs. Just slices up the chicken sausage (this one is from Trader Joe’s), and then lightly brown it in a saucepan. Simmer with the tomato sauce and add the prepared pasta. Easy!

3. Gyoza Soup

This is easily our favorite meal. It is healthy, filling, and delicious! It may sound unusual, but this is very similar to a wonton soup at a typical Chinese restaurant. The dumplings are like a potsticker. We fell in love with gyoza during our trip to Japan, and we have brought the tradition home!

These ingredients are from Trader Joe’s, but you can find similar items anywhere. Just prepare the dumplings as directed, and then add the broth and bring to a simmer. It makes an amazing soup! You can easily substitute chicken broth as well, also phenomenal. This edamame is brilliant and easy. We can’t get enough. I was shocked at how low calorie this meal can be!

4. Orange Chicken with Jasmine Rice

Ok, sorry, y’all. No substitutions here. You MUST get this rice and orange chicken from Trader Joe’s. Candace finds all other frozen Asian meals very sub par. This stuff is award winning and quite famous for a reason. You will love it. Either bake or pan fry as directed. Then, you similar microwave the rice. We swear it will come up moist and sticky just like the best rice out there. It is a game changer.

5. Steam in a bag veggies!

Chips may be convenient, but they can get old fast. Steam in bag vegetables are awesome as a side to just about any dish. We eat everything from cauliflower and broccoli to sugar snap peas and butter nut squash. It couldn’t easier, and you feel so much better than when you eat processed foods.

What are your unexpected go-to meals in the RV?

Stay tuned for more ideas for breakfast!

The Perfect Little RV Park!

We have simply loved our weekend away in Bastrop, Texas! There are so many state parks nearby, and the local parks are amazing too. We can swim, hike, fish, and camp all while maintaining social distancing. We really wanted to stay somewhere near the city, so we found the perfect secluded spot – The Pines RV Park!

Here is their website: www.thepinesrv.com

The massive, towering pines give heavy shade to several spots in the small park. It is literally across the street from Bastrop State Park and its Lost Pines. The park is right off the highway, which means it is very accessible but you do get some road noise. We left the door open with just the screen last night and were able to sleep just fine. So, yes, there is some noise, but it isn’t bad.

There is a main building complete with all the basics you need: a large fridge, sitting area, shower, and commercial laundry. Everything was done virtually! We booked, communicated with the owner, paid, and got our access codes without ever interacting with anyone. This makes it completely possible to remain socially distant while experiencing nature and the outdoors!

Each spot had lots of space and the park was completely quiet during our stay. Because it is quite small, you really don’t hear much from the neighbors, which is exactly what we needed! It was very inexpensive at $40 for most sites and $45 for the larger pull through space. The park is very new and clearly well-cared for and maintained. There is a park host on site if you need anything, but we resolved everything through text with the owner. We will certainly be back!

A Hidden Gem! Bastrop, Texas

As we looked for an escape from the bustling city of Houston, Bastrop seemed like a perfect getaway – not too far from home and numerous state parks nearby. However, we had no idea what an amazing “small” town it would be be. With a population of just over 7,000, Bastrop has something for everyone. As you know, we love state parks, and there are two in the city and many within an easy drive.

So often, the quaint downtown area of small towns is half empty with a few good shops and several closed up for years, NOT in Bastrop! Every shop has been updated while maintaining the historic character of the city. There are restaurants, beer gardens, shops, salons, art galleries, and more. We loved driving down Main street and checking out everything.

Just off Main street, you will find Fisherman’s Park. We didn’t really know what to expect and really just ended up here because we headed out to the lake after the main park had closed. We accidentally found this magical spot! The boys could get their feet wet on the sandy beach and Candace could fish for hours. There was not a soul in sight. The park is large with options for picnic, BBQ, volleyball, fishing, kayaking, boating, and more. We watched the sunset and splashed around for hours. As the sun went down, we watched hundreds of fireflies light up the park. It was magical!

We enjoyed the best Mexican food at Casa Chapala. From table side prepared salsa to queso flameado, it was memorable and delicious meal. We were stuffed and took home a massive box of leftovers. Highly recommended. Perhaps even better than the food… the ambience!

We stayed at a small RV park directly across the street from Bastrop State Park since the state parks are all still closed for overnight use. The Pines RV Park was perfect. It is small but has everything you need. At $45 per night for the premium site, the price was right!

Bastrop and Buescher State Parks are both in Bastrop. These two parks are basically connected, but they are two separate parks. Also, McKinney Falls State Park (pictured below) is an easy driving distance. Numerous other state parks are a quick drive away for day use, which is PERFECT during the quarantine where all Texas state parks are open for day use only.

We came for the state parks, but we will be back for so many reasons! Everything is close by and accessible, the charm of the town is undeniable, and nature abounds! Until next weekend…

Looking for an escape that has the city amenities but the seclusion of the country? Look no further!

During this epidemic, we were looking for an opportunity to get outside while remaining socially distant. The state parks are only open for day use, and you definitely need reservations in advance. We decided to stay at a small RV park in Bastrop, Texas as so many state parks are in driving distance. We headed out to McKinney Falls State Park today to experience the water and serenity of nature!

The river and the massive trees of the park were a welcome escape from our daily lives stuck at home for the last six weeks in Houston. When we arrived around 6pm, there were about 20 people there, many with kids and dogs. However, by 7pm, we were ALONE on a Friday night in the Austin city limits. A couple came by to fish briefly and then by 8pm we saw maybe one more family. It was glorious. We really didn’t expect such a great and secluded experience.

The boys were able to coax Candace into water after a little awhile. The water had very good visibility, and you can see about two feet or a little more into the water. There were minnows everywhere, and we heard there is great bass fishing. No time for that this trip, however.

The large open pool turned into a smaller, more secluded river area where we could skip rocks and explore the banks. The dog was not happy that she wasn’t allowed in the water! She just cries from the banks because her family is too far away! We always have to leave one person behind to calm her down, which never works.

Jumping from the rocks into the falls was a welcome afternoon of fun! We came to scope out the place for a future longer stay where we can take the boys into Austin for some museums and capital building tours. For now, the day use will have to work.

Both boys loved leaping from the rocks. We were so surprised that the water from the falls was warm. It is small enough that most kids are happy to jump, but large enough that it is definitely a fun experience. The rocks were about 9-10 feet from the pool. While they are both good swimmers, they like wearing the life jackets. It is really a good idea anytime you are in a new water environment, especially one with slippery rocks and flowing waters.

We stayed at Upper Falls for our afternoon, but there is another section called Lower Falls. We decided to save this experience until next time. If you are looking for a great escape for the afternoon, we definitely recommend McKinney Falls State Park! If you are looking for the weekend, you need to book your day passes a couple of weeks in advance as it does book up. Enjoy!

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