Most people spend so much time planning out their Spring and Summer vacations that they tend to forget the best season to travel – Winter! What’s better than heading off for some fun in the sun while it’s snowing back at home or indulging in cold but fun winter activities? Here’s 5 destinations that you should check out this winter season.

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Puerto Rico

With an average temperature in January of 85 degrees, Puerto Rico is a fantastic destination to head to this winter if you’re looking to escape the cold. This little island is rich in culture and offers a variety of activities for everyone to enjoy. Puerto Rico is also a foodie’s paradise! (Tip: Make sure to order the mofongo at least once during your visit and don’t leave the island without having a piraqua) Walking tours, rum tastings, ziplining, snorkeling or just relaxing on a beach chair with a pina colada in hand… the possibilities are endless.

 

Quebec City 

Quebec City is one of my favorite winter destinations. Is it cold? Yes – very. But nothing layers and a warm drink can’t help. If visiting between the end of November and December they have a small Christmas Market set up as well as Santa Claus outside meeting with the children which is super cute if traveling with little ones. Some other great things to do is stay overnight at the Ice Hotel, go down the Toboggan slide, celebrate the Quebec Winter Carnival and make a visit to the Siberia Spa.

 

Bahamas

The Bahamas are made up of 700 islands. With the devastation that has occurred due to Hurricane  Dorian to Abaco and the Grand Bahama Island – they need our tourism dollars more now than ever. The Bahamas are still OPEN and the best thing you can do to help is to visit. The winter months happen to be some of the best to visit the Bahamas. You will be exchanging the cold and white snow for white sand and sunshine. Adult only or some family fun – there is something for everyone to enjoy. You can take advantage of eco tours, fine dining, fishing or simply sinking your toes in the sand. Some other fun events that place during the winter are Junkanoo and Marathon Bahamas.

 

Iceland

Iceland is the perfect destination year round, but during winter – it is pure magic. Get ready for a winter adventure as you can chase the Northern Lights, snorkel between tectonic plates, check out numerous waterfalls, visit a black sand beach, relax in the Blue Lagoon and so much more.

 

Key West

It’s often said that the Florida Keys are America’s Caribbean Islands. Key West is busy during the winter months and for good reason. This is the perfect destination if you want to stay within the US but feel like you’re on a remote island. Duval Street has endless options to keep you busy! Join a bar crawl, go on a ghost tour, catch a drag queen show or watch the stunning sunset at Mallory Square – there is something for everyone. Some other activities you can do is visit the Dry Tortugas and catch a charter boat and spend the day fishing. (Tip: Visit Cuban Coffee Queen for a Cafe con Leche, Blue Heaven for Brunch and Better than Sex for dessert)

My first visit to Iceland was back in February of 2017 and tourism was booming then and even more so now, so I’m not surprised by the amount of people taking advantage of a 24 hour layover before continuing to their final destination. I loved my time in Iceland so much that I did just that a few months later on the way to Paris. This was my first time experiencing a 24 layover anywhere and since my time was limited, I made sure to put in that work to research exactly what I wanted to do. Headed to Iceland on a layover soon and not sure what to do? No worries – here are some of my suggestions to make the most of your time in the Land of Fire & Ice.

First, I want to note that I would encourage you to rent a car/truck – depending on the season. With only 24 hours, tours will limit what you can see but if you’re headed there in the winter and nervous about the ever-changing weather, booking an all day tour will work too. While you can make Reykjavik your home base (this will be your ideal location if you decide to book a tour), I personally would suggest staying local to Keflavik Airport. I like the Grindavik area but there are a lot of other surrounding towns that will work as well.

  1. Snorkeling Silfra – This has to be one of the best experiences I’ve ever had during my travels. Silfra is one of the top dive sites in the world and situated in the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Thingvellir. Silfra is a freshwater fissure about 200 feet deep, where you can almost see end to end as the water is so clear. It’s also one of the few places where you can dive or float between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, which are gradually drifting farther apart. The experience is cold, beautiful and one of a kind. I went with snorkeling in a drysuit but you can also dive. You can read more about my experience HERE and check out a short video I captured on my GoPro HERE
  2. Visiting the Blue Lagoon – I love, love, love the Blue Lagoon. Is it touristy? YES but who cares. It’s beautiful and so relaxing… oh, and they have a swim up bar! There’s also a ton of add-on services such as spa amenities, in water massages and 2 separate spots to grab some food. I would say to either do this at the very beginning of the day or at the end of your busy day to wind down. 
  3. Northern Lights Tour – If your layover happens to be between September and April, this would be a great way to end your evening before catching your flight the next morning. There is never a guarantee that you will see them, but chasing them is thrilling and the reward if you do end up being able to see them is priceless. 
  4. Drive the Golden Circle – This is the perfect driving route when you do not have much time to explore. You will be able to visit Þingvellir National Park, Geysir, Gullfose Waterfall and Kerid Crater. 
  5. Explore Southern Iceland – If you chose this route, it will take all day but it will be worth it. The southern part of Iceland has to be my favorite. You will be able to visit Seljalandsfoss Waterfall, Skógafoss Waterfall, Sólheimajökull Glacier, Black Sand Beach and the village of Vik. 

If you decide that taking a tour is better for you, click HERE to checkout my favorite tours. I’m partial to the tour company mentioned in that post because I booked multiple tours with them during my first visit there but you can also check out TripAdvisor and Viator to see others that people recommend. You may have also noticed I left out exploring Reykavik. With only 24 hours, I personally would say skip it as you can always do that on a later trip. While the downtown is nice, the restaurants and bars are very expensive and in my opinion, you can spend your limited time there doing something more thrilling.

A 24 hour layover isn’t for the faint of heart but it’s a great way to get out there and experience a little bit of a place that you always wanted to visit – so to me, it’s totally worth it.

If you didn’t know by now, Paris is one of my favorite cities in the world. When my mom retired, my sister and I figured it was the perfect time to have a girls trip to celebrate this milestone and we decided on Paris. This would be my moms 2nd trip there, my 3rd and my sisters very first time in this incredible city.

My first thought was how excited I was to be going on this adventure with them but my 2nd honestly was stressing out  a little about doing the same exact thing I had done in previous trips, over again.

Thankfully I came across this really unique tour of the city and knew I had to book it.

Cedric’s Paris offers many different tours around Paris while cruising in one of their old school CV2 cars OR a larger VW Kombi. While we would have fit very comfortably in a CV2 – I had my eye on the Volkswagen Kombi and decided to splurge and book that instead… after all, we were there to celebrate!

Cedric’s Paris offers many different types of tours but we went with the 2 hour Paris by Night Tour. There is something about Paris at night that is unforgettable and truly mesmerizing and by the end of the tour, I was so happy we decided on this one.

Chris was our driver and he picked us up promptly at 9:30pm. When you book a 2 hour tour, Cedric’s Paris will give you a complimentary additional 1/2 hour or a bottle of champagne. We decided to go with the extra time and brought along 2 bottles of our own champagne. He mapped out a personalized itinerary based on what we told him we wanted to see and it was perfect in every way. When you go to Paris you visually see these iconic monuments and grand buildings and while you are in awe – do you know the background history of what you are seeing? More than likely – No. Chris was full of knowledge and besides the incredible views, we learned so much about the city.


What I loved most about this tour was that it was perfect for someone who have never been to Paris AND the person who has been multiple times. All of the guides are born and raised Parisians and so they are very passionate at showing and teaching you all about their city. They know this city like the back of their hand and when you get dropped off at the end of the night – you will not be disappointed. This was the absolute BEST tour I have ever done in Paris and cannot recommend it enough.

Click HERE to check out all of the tours they offer and HERE to check out their cars.

If you book with them, let them know Shareen from Pearls & Paris sent you!

*Just a sidetone: This post isn’t sponsored nor do I or you get a discount if you book and say I sent you lol I just like companies to know when I post about my experience with them.

Mid August I had the pleasure of visiting Walt Disney World and staying at an incredible 2 bedroom cabin at the Cooper Creek Villas & Cabins at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge all thanks to Disney Vacation Club. Disney Vacation Club is a flexible vacation-ownership program that helps families enjoy the magic of Disney. Disney Vacation Club Members are able to choose from among a variety of exciting vacation destinations, including a stay at any 14 Disney Vacation Club Resorts or one of thousands of other vacation options in destinations around the world.

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I don’t think any amount of words or pictures can do justice for just how incredible these cabins are… but I’ll try. Copper Creek Villas & Cabins at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, a Disney Vacation Club Resort, has 26 unique 2-Bedroom/2-bathroom waterfront Cascade Cabins. These private, luxurious quarters can sleep up to 8 guests. In addition to a washer and dryer and a fully equipped, open-style kitchen, each Cabin features a double-sided stone-hearth fireplace and screened-in wraparound porch with a built-in hot tub. Guys – I want to relocate and move into one permanently! They are so beautiful and literally have everything your family will need during your Disney vacation. One of my favorite amenities had to be the screened in wraparound porch. We were able to catch the fireworks display from Magic Kingdom while sitting out there with the accompanying music. The cabins are truly pure Disney Magic. Here’s a few pictures of the Cooper Creek Cabins:

Click HERE to check out my full Cabin Tour video!

Over the next few days we got to experience Disney as a Disney Vacation Club Member and it truly was such an incredible experience. I never realized all of the perks, offerings and events just for DVC members.

Day 1: We had a smooth & easy check in. I have never been to the Wilderness Lodge before and the main building is absolutely beautiful. We were able to settle in our room and relax before meeting for a group dinner at Whispering Canyon Cafe with the DVC team. The food was absolutely fantastic … we enjoyed it so much that my family decided to have dinner here again the last night! After dinner we headed back to our room for a good nights rest before the fun started for Day 2!

Day 2: We started our day with room service for breakfast and then the boys headed to Animal Kingdom. As for me – I made my way to Salon by the Springs where Maria, a fellow puertorriqueña, gave me the most incredible pedicure. This was not just any regular pedicure, it was truly an experience. I’m talking essential oils, a foot mask, heating powder, warm towel wrap and a wonderful massage. Guys – make an appointment your next time visiting Disney World and thank me later! Later in the afternoon we headed to the Reunion Station, which is a new space at Copper Creek Villas & Cabins at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge that was created especially for Disney Vacation Club Members and their special guests. You can head here to unwind, dine and participate in an array of activities. One of the activities offered, that we got to take part of, was New World Wine 101.  This class was fantastic and would add a little pixie dust to any DVC member vacation. We then got to tour the Treehouse Villas at Disney’s Saratoga Springs. The 3 bedroom Treehouse stand on stilts 10 feet off the ground and are surrounded by a wooded area – perfect for a large group vacation. That evening the group joined our families at my favorite park: EPCOT! for dinner in Japan. This wasn’t just any night in Epcot though. This was Moonlight Magic – an exciting after hours celebration complimentary for Disney Vacation Club members & their guests. Basically you get to stay at the park after it closes and there will be minimal wait times at attractions along with complimentary food and drinks and unique character meet-and-greet opportunities. Located in Epcot is also the Disney Vacation Club Member Lounge which is a complimentary space for members to enjoy while visiting.

Day 3: Victor woke up with a fever this day so while him & Ryan relaxed and rested in the cabin, I met up with the group to do Painting with a View and then tour some other really amazing DVC properties. I think the Painting with a View activity is a fantastic perk for members. Not only was it fun but the view at Top of the World Lounge, where the class is held, was unmatched! The Grand Villa at Bay Lake Tower has to be one of favorite properties we got to see. I love spaces where a big group can stay yet not feel crowded. It was very homey and had spectacular views. The bungalows at Disney’s Polynesian are what dreams are made of. I have a new bucket list of places to stay at during my next Disney World vacations. The one MUST on our list was to experience Toy Story Land. Victor had been talking about it since the commercials started and unfortunately it was a bust! I met my husband there but Victor’s fever came back and he was just out of it – mix that with the heat and there was just no way we could stay an explore. We ended up spending the rest of the afternoon and evening at the cabin. I did sneak out for a little around 8pm to meet the group for the Dessert Party at Tomorrowland Terrace at Magic Kingdom. Since I was solo, I took advantage and somehow worked my way through the crowd to be dead center for the Happily Ever After Show. I wasn’t able to catch this show when I was at Magic Kingdom a few months prior so this was a must for me and guys….. it was EVERYTHING!!!! I am a little embarrassed to admit this but I got emotional more than once while watching it – I mean full on tears! LOL It was just so magical and if you haven’t experienced it in person, make it a priority during your next visit.

We were so sad to leave the cabin and make our way to the airport. I cannot recommend Copper Creek Villas & Cabins enough. The cabin was the most amazing accommodation I’ve had while vacationing and am looking forward to booking a reservation at some of the other fantastic properties we had the chance to tour.

A huge thank you to DVC & Cooper Creek Villas & Cabins for such a wonderful opportunity.

This post is in collaboration with Disney Vacation Club. As always, all opinions are my own.

Ireland – The Emerald Isle

Prior to visiting Ireland, all I knew about it was that it is very, very green and there are a lot of sheep. While doing research about what we would do while there, I discovered that Ireland has so much to offer and it got me pumped for my very first visit with my family.

Ireland, Dublin specifically, is a 6 hour plane ride from the NJ/NYC area and that is where we decided to make our home base for the next few days. We spent 3 nights/4 days exploring the city of Dublin as well as venturing out to the countryside and Northern Ireland. To be completely honest, Ireland was never on my list of places I wanted to visit, but my husband had his eye on it for a while and I am SO happy we finally made the trip there.

Just a side note: Our itinerary might sound a little aggressive for some people, especially if traveling with younger kids, with such a short amount of time but for our family I knew it would work.

Where to stay?

When you don’t have too much time in a city, location is KEY! My one big issue with Dublin was how expensive accommodations are. Most decent, non hostels, in the heart of the city will easily cost you $300+ per night when approaching peak season. I personally prefer rentals when traveling because they provide more room for my toddler and always end up being more cost effective. We found the most PERFECT rental and I couldn’t have been more happy with our choice. Dublin City Condo is a 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom apartment with full kitchen, washer/dryer and balcony. It was in a great location too – 1 minute to the nearest grocery store, 2 minutes to a Starbucks and in walking distance to pubs, restaurants, shopping and most major tourist attractions. Best of all – it was a lot more affordable and had way more space than any other hotel we could have booked.

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Click HERE to view our rental.

 Day 1:

We landed in Dublin at about 6am but by the time we went through customs, grabbed our luggage and made it to our rental – it was almost 9am. We were exhausted, so we took a quick nap and then headed out to explore. Prior to heading to Dublin, I scored a great deal on Groupon for a 1 day Adult Dublin Pass – normally priced at 59€ (abt $69) for only 40€ (abt $47) so picked up 3 of them as I was traveling with my husband & mother – Victor is still free at most attractions! If you are not familiar with the Dublin Pass, it’s basically a sightseeing card that includes a ton of the top places to visit. Even though we had a late start to the day, we were determined to make the most of our pass. These are all the things we were able to do/check out on our first day:

-Hop on Hop Off Bus

-Dublin Castle

-St. Patricks Cathedral

-Teelings Distillery

-Guinness Storefront

I would say my highlights were St. Patricks Cathedral and Teelings. I’m not religious but I love visiting churches while in a new city, mainly because many have a lot of history behind them and architectural wise are simply stunning. Teelings was also a big surprise to me because I feel like people don’t talk about it as much as Guinness or Jameson. It was my favorite of the 3 – it is much more intimate in the sense that the people who work there seemed to genuinely LOVE their job and telling you the history behind the distillery and overall just more personal. The tasting room was great & parents, it’s kid friendly so absolutely don’t miss doing a tour when you are in town.

 Day 2: 

I knew I couldn’t visit Ireland and not make my way to the Cliffs of Moher. Usually, I have no problem just renting a car and driving while on vacation, but we decided that ultimately the best thing to do for this trip was to book tours. Doing this allowed us to see more in such a short amount of time. While that may not be ideal for everyone – it ended up being the perfect decision for us. I booked the Cliffs of Moher tour with Irish Day Tours that included a visit to Doolin, The Burren and Galway City. The tour was about 12 hours long but we never felt rushed, except for the short stop in Galway. The drive was super serene and scenic with lush greenery going on for what seemed like forever. I can’t really properly put into words what it feels like when you get to the top of the cliff and are finally able to just take that view in. It’s one of those things that in pictures it’s amazing BUT in person… you are left speechless. I think at that moment, I officially fell in love with Ireland. Each stop left a big impression on me and I am looking forward to the day I get to return to Ireland to Glamp in Doolin and spend a few days exploring Galway.


Day 3: 

On this day, we got to visit Belfast, the Giants Causeway and Carrick A Rede Bridge with Wild Rover Tours, which also was about a 12 hour tour. Sidenote: I’m pretty sure Wild Rover is the only operator in Dublin that offers something that includes all 3 of these in one day. While in Belfast, we took a 1 hour Black Taxi Tour and I now totally understand why they are so highly rated. I am very fascinated about history in general but visiting Belfast makes you open your eyes to current day issues and I honestly was so shocked to learn about how separated by religion/national communities they still are. The art work on Shankill and Falls Rd show two complete different ideologies. My top highlight from that day would have to be seeing my son cross the Carrick A Rede Bridge. At only 2 years old, he is so brave, because after crossing once – my knees were shaking but it was worth EVERY STEP. That evening me & Ryan stepped out solo for some adult fun. The bar area around Temple Bar was a little more rowdy than I could deal with after a super long day, so thankfully we found this really awesome spot called Mulligan & Haines. I highly recommend this spot for drinks and good music.

Day 4:

Today was our last day in Dublin.  Since we would be catching a flight to our next destination later in the evening, we decided to sleep in a bit and then head to the Jameson Distillery for a drink and then catch lunch at The Brazen Head, which is Ireland’s oldest pub, dating back to 1198. The Brazen Head was super busy but was worth the wait for a table. We got a table at the back bar area and stepping in that room you are instantly transformed to a past era. There is something really cool about having a pint of Guinness in the oldest pub in Ireland, so I would say this is one of those stops you have to make when in Dublin. The food was also really good!

One of the questions I got most from people after our trip was regarding safety while at some of our stops – in particular, the Cliffs and walking across the bridge. Victor is your typical toddler boy. He is full of energy and is very curious. We discussed before leaving for our trip how we would make certain stops work. When we got to the part of the cliffs that were fully open, my husband held him. As you can see from the photos above, the only shot I got of him there was behind a secure wall and in front of a castle. To me personally, his safety is worth more than a cool shot. If not careful, it can be very dangerous as it is fully open. I would not recommend letting a small child walk/run around this area by themselves. As far as the bridge – it’s actually very secure and I did a lot of research about small children walking across it before deciding we would let him. We knew that when we made it to the bridge, if he expressed that he did not want to go (my son is very vocal about not doing certain things) one of us would stay back with him but he was so brave and crossed it, holding my husbands hand, with no issue. This bridge is also much shorter than it appears in photos. Getting to the bridge was actually way more work than we anticipated but was totally worth it.

Ireland exceeded my expectations. It’s such a gorgeous country and for the parents that follow me – it’s super doable with kids. You know your children better than anyone else, so just plan accordingly  and go at their pace. As always – if you have any questions on my recap or maybe something I didn’t cover, leave a comment below or shoot me an email.