Friday September 2nd 2016 – Seattle

Well, my morning started at about 4.30am this morning when my first alarm went off. I hit snooze and rolled back over. by 4.45am, I knew I just had to get up. I had to shower, have atleast one coffee, finish packing my bag and walk to the bus stop at the front of the hotel, all by 6am.

Today was the day that I got to see my parents for the first time in a year! I have the next 9 days off work to spend with them. They have been travelling around the north west of the United Stated and an Alaskan cruise and now they will be travelling around Canada with me.

First stop, Seattle!

That is why I had to be at the bus stop at 6am, to catch the bus to Calgary airport and fly out at 1pm to Seattle where I was meeting them.

With the one hour time difference, I arrived at about 2.3pm and still had an hour or so before they were meeting me at the airport. So worked on some old blogs for a little while until they arrived.

Finally when they did, it was an emotional reunion and Mum and Dad had to say goodbye to friends that they had dropped off at the airport.

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During the afternoon in Seattle, we stopped in at The Fairmont Olympic Hotel Seattle (unfortunately, they were fully booked out and we didn’t stay there)

 

It was turning into a wet and chilly afternoon with the weather turning. Apparently Seattle is famour for it though. It didn’t dampen our spirits and we made our way to the Space Needle 🙂

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You are pretty cool Seattle!

Contiki 2014 – Grand Northern USA

For a while, I’ve wanted to write about my contiki in 2014.

I hadn’t started my blog yet when I traveled then but I definitely want to do a review on the tour. So I what I think I’ll do, is an over all overview of the contiki, then another blog of each of the place we stopped in at!

The tour started on a rainy morning in downtown New York at the Doubltree By Hilton, Chelsea. The night before, most of us met in the lobby for a quick meet and greet and exchange paperwork of insurance and passports with our contiki manager Craig, a typical American with a very strong southern accent, which threw me at first. Christ, what am I doing? Why on earth did I book this trip, everyone is terrifying me!

My anxiety of new people went into overdrive and I was stuck in the middle of a tiny cramped lobby with 30 or so other people introducing themselves to everyone while I managed to back my way out of the group after I had given my copies of the paper work and nudged towards the elevator and back to my room to try to get a good nights sleep after an extensive day of trying to get over my jet lag and the fact that I thought I had made the biggest mistake of my life by coming overseas.

I missed home, my family and my friends already and I had only been out of the country for no more than 48 hours and I still had 30 something days to go!

Mel, pull yourself together, you are going to enjoy this trip no matter what!

The next day we all jumped in the bus and spent the next few hours playing ‘get to know you’ games before reaching our first destination, Boston. We did the touristy stuff in Boston for a couple of days then headed up on the bus to Canada!

We explored in Quebec City, Montreal and of course Toronto where we hit up way too many bars and drank way too much vodka to have our last trip in Canada at the beautiful Niagara Falls.

Before we crossed the border back into the States, we stopped in at the duty free store to stock up for the rest of the trip with more alcoholic goodies.

Next stop, Cleveland Ohio! We only spent one afternoon/night here. We ventured through the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame then spent the night ten pin bowling.

Over the coming days we stopped in at Chicago Illinois, Madison Wisconsin, Sioux Falls South Dakota, the incredible Badlands’ National Park, the tiny historic town of Walldrug and Mt. Rushmore. I got to go to my first baseball game and check in at the Spam Factory (needless to say, like most days we were hung over and the spam tastings were an interesting experience to say the least).

One place I remember fondly is Keystone, a town next to Mt. Rushmore that   I loved the little old town and I was caught it wanderlust of it all. A few of us spent an evening in the most amazing bar I have ever seen.

It was a cross between an old wooden small town bar, and a thrift shop. Yeah I’m serious, and I’ll go into more detail about it in my other blog and review about each town.

The next day would have been my favorite part of the bus trip by far!

We drove from Keystone through to the Wyoming Mountain Ranges, where for the first time ever, I saw snow. The forty or so of us proceeded to have a snow ball fight then return to the bus with blue frozen fingers and toes. It was totally worth it though 🙂


That afternoon we arrived to the small rodeo town of Cody, Wyoming. We all brought out our cowboy boots and hats and headed off the to rodeo for the evening!

The following days were spent in numerous national parks and time for some fresh air! We visited Yellowstone National Park, went on a horse ride through a local ranch, hiked through Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park and finally, the one and only Grand Canyon!


We finished off our trip by spending three amazing days in Las Vegas where, like usual, we drank too much, spent too much and partied too much. It was the final hoorah for the contiki trip so we made the most of Las Vegas before everyone parting ways in Los Angeles, not without several tears and hugs and exchanges of phone numbers.

Contiki’s are infamous for that, creating bonds and friendships like no other. Not only are you travelling to incredible places for the first, and potentially one and only time, but you are sharing that experience and wanderlust with 49 other travellers.

People who are inspired by the world and want to achieve so much. Some already have achieved so much which inspires everyone else even more.

Thank you contiki for creating life long lasting memories and friendships for me with like minded travelers and world seekers.

 

 

 

Wednesday May 11th 2016 – The Canadian Fairmont Bucket List

Since having started working for this company, I have decided to make a-

‘Canadian Fairmont Bucket List’ 

A list of Fairmont Hotel’s that I want to spend at least one night in at some point for here in Canada as well as the United States (since its just down the road)!

  • Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise ✔️

Monday April 18th 2016 – The stayover

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  • Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel ✔️

The reason I want to stay here, and honestly I already have twice, I just haven’t written about it yet, is because it is only 45 minutes away from Lake Louise. Having a passion for spa, the iconic Willow Stream Spa is one thing I certainly will be checking out! I will potentially stay here with my parents, will see 😉

  • Fairmont Palliser, Calgary ✔️

Tuesday, March 15th 2016 – 48 Hours in Calgary

  • Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge

I will be staying here in September with my parents when they visit! So I shall keep you informed 🙂

  • Fairmont Hotel Macdonald, Edmonton
  • The Fairmont Waterfront, Vancouver

Again, in September, my parents will be lucky enough to check this place out with me!

  • The Fairmont Pacific Rim, Vancouver

I would love more than anything to be able to stay here!!! They have by what I have heard, the best high tea next to The Savoy in London! They also have a Willow Stream Spa 😍 The only reason I couldn’t book here is because the staff rate wasn’t available for when my parents are visiting 😦  Doesn’t mean we can’t pop over to check it out!

  • The Fairmont Waterfront Vancouver

Here I will be staying with my parents!! Woohoo

  • Fairmont Empress, Victoria

Victoria is a stone throw away from Vancouver and the hotel sits right on the waterfront. It is also home to another Willow Stream Spa

  • Fairmont Chateau Whistler

It’s Whistler, need I say anymore? And yes I will be staying here in September! 😁☺️😆

Americas-

  • Fairmont Southampton, Bermuda

Palm Trees, Beach and Willow Stream Spa. Ah, sounds like heaven! This place is very high up on the bucket list for a holiday getaway!

  • Fairmont Mayakoba, Mexico

I nearly made it here in January when I went on my Mexican trip with G Adventures! Friday January 15th 2016 – Cancun. There were no staff rates, so I didn’t book. But next time!!!

  • Fairmont Copley Plaza, Boston

I honestly love Boston! I was here in 2014 when I went on my first contiki trip, the Grand Northern. (I am yet to blog about it by the way. This trip was before I started blogging!) The historic city of Boston honestly fascinates me and I would go back there in a heartbeat to visit again. The Fairmont Copley Plaza is also recognized as one of the Historic Hotels of America, since its grand opening in 1912.

  • Fairmont Dallas

Dear god, I will never be able to explain in words how much I loved visiting Texas! Take me back!

Day 22 Monday 31st August- “Things do not happen, things are made to happen” JFK

Day 23 Tuesday 1st September – “Brace your backbone and forget your wishbone”

  • Fairmont Orchid, Hawaii

The Fairmont Orchid is home to The Spa Without Walls. Imagine laying there getting a facial with the sound of the water trickling from the waterfall and stream only meters away. And stepping out of the door from your room straight onto the beach. Sounds like heaven to me. And I’ve never been yet to Hawaii.

  • The Plaza, New York

Day 4 Thursday 13th August- Sex and the city

New York is without a doubt my favorite city in the whole world! Not only was it the starting place of both of my contiki trips, which literally changed my life both times, but the city itself is so incredibly diverse and cultured. You walk in one direction to one neighborhood to see Wall Street and skyscrapers, and in another direction you are in the middle of suburbia eating local cupcakes in the park that looks like something out of the “Forrest Gump” movie.

And The Plaza, well is speaks for itself. Do you remember watching ‘Home Alone 2 Lost In New York’ as a kid? Yes, this is the same place! Central Park is right next door (and no its not as scary as the movie makes it out to be) And for those Australians, Crocodile Dundee when he arrives in New York ( you know the scene) his hotel suite is bigger than my whole apartment!

I won’t go on any further, we all know The Plaza.

  • Fairmont Grand Del Mar, San Diego

Even though I had 2 trips to the United States, San Diego is one destination I am yet to get to.

  • Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, Arizona

This place is also very high on the bucket list. If I am to one day able to work in the States and get a working Visa for there, here is the place to be! Home to the Well & Being Spa, a holistic overall wellness spa with a fitness center and the works. Right in the middle of Arizona where it is nice and warm, just how I like it!

  • Fairmont Olympic Hotel, Seattle

I will be meeting my parents in Seattle in September when I see them for the first time in a whole 12 months! I tried to book here with the staff rate, but with no luck. We may just have to pop in for a visit though during out day in Seattle.

Eventually I will make my way to all of these incredible destinations. I know it won’t be any time soon, but one day in years to come, I will look back on this list and know just how achievable it really is!

Thank you Fairmont for being such an incredible place to work 💜

 

Day 23 Tuesday 1st September – “Brace your backbone and forget your wishbone”

Hi everyone!!

Wow, what a blast contiki has been so far.

It’s sad because I know before long now, it will all come to an end!

And it’s my birthday soon which really will be the end of contiki when we are finishing up in Las Vegas.

For those who have previously traveled on a contiki or a group tour that travels so closely together for an extended period of time will understand just how easily and quickly you can create a connection with some of the most amazing people you will ever meet.

People who you know are like you, who think like you, who look at life the same way that you do.

I know just how much I am going to miss this wonderfully group of people.

So a notification to anyone who is going on a contiki or group tour, prepare yourself to fall even more in love with life and with people.

Let yourself be inspired and motivated. Let people push you outside of your boundaries. Let people bring out the best in you and encourage others that they can do more and be more.

Anyway, enough of the soppy stories for now. Because there is still much more to be updated from today and still another whole week to go on contiki!

This morning we left for Amarillo, Texas at the Big Texan Inn. It wasnt an overly long bus day but out tour manager had us play contiki olympics on the bus with games to keep us busy and occupied 🙂


  

Around mid afternoon, we arrived! It was a hot steamy day so a lot of us went for a swim in the Texas shaped swimming pool!


We had plenty of time to relax in the pool before getting ready for dinner at the Big Texan Steak Ranch. Four people from the contiki  group were participating in the infamous steak challenge.


This place is incredible! So much fun.

So the steak challenge involves eating 4.5 pounds of steak, baked potato, shrimp cocktail, salad and a bread roll. The contenders have an hour to complete the challenge by themselves and if the meal is completed within the hour, the $72 meal is free.

For more information, check it out here-

http://www.bigtexan.com

That night we also had our contiki cowboy/ cowgirl party at the Big Texan I mentioned in a previous post.

We dressed up in our cowboy and cowgirl gear, did our hair and out on our hats and bandanas!


Once the steak challenge was complete, which unfortunately no one was able to finish, we headed into the bar and put on numerous requests into the dukebox and played the shooting games in the bar.

They had special Texas cocktails at the bar and we danced late into the night boot scooting, nutbushing and even the Cupid shuffle 🙂


  

It was a really great fun and carefree night and we could stay as late as we wanted because our hotel was right next door at the Big Texan Inn!

Slowly one by one we headed home to our funky hotel rooms and get ready for another day on the bus tomorrow.

xx

Day 21 Sunday 30th August- “The task that remains is the entrance our independence, to see ourselves reflected in every other human being, and to respect and honor differences”- Melba Patillo Beals 

This morning we left Memphis for our next destination, Dallas, Texas!

Yee haw!!

After only a short trip on the bus, we stopped into a little town called Little Rock.

Back in the 1950’s and 1960’s, integration was slowly making its way through the south, regardless of the rebellion against integration.

In Little Rock, 9 students decided to integrate to Central High School, regardless of the controversial southern views at the time.

The 9 children endured bullying, beating, criticism, shouting t and much more, just for the opportunity and right to attend an ‘integrated’ high school.

This was a chain reaction which continued in the south, as integration began to become more accepted.

It was certainly an emational but extremely educational visit, one I am glad we made. I would highly recommend to anyone who is travelling in the area to stop on.

I even bought a book; ‘Warriors don’t cry’ by Melba Patillo Beals.

A short while later, we had a lunch and stock up stop at our all favorite el cheapo- Walmart!

We stocked up on goodies and supplies as well as an outfit for the upcoming cowgirl/ cowboy party!

We had another stop along the way to Dallas, this time at Texarkana; the border between Texas and Arkansas. I can now say I’ve been in two places at once 😉


Finally, after another short trip on the coach, around mid afternoon, we arrived into Dallas, yay!!

For dinner tonight we had an included dinner at Ellen’s Southern Kitchen which was just a quick walk around the corner from the hotel.


  
From there we took a limo ride organized by our awesome contiki tour manager to a bar; Kun Fu Saloon.


The night at Kung Fu Saloon was so much fun.

The bar had arcade racing games, photos booths and giant jengas!

We had a late and extremely enjoyable night being big kids at Kung Fu Saloon before finally heading back home in the hummer limo which had been waiting for us 🙂

Day 20 Saturday 29th August- “You ain’t nothin but a hound dog” Elvis Presley 

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Today was probably one of my most favorite days so far on tour.

Visiting the home of not just Elvis Presley as we know him in this day and age, but a man who revolutionized music in his time, a musician who broke boundaries between black and white, a charitable man who always wanted to help others and a lost soul who got in too deep when the fame become too much.

Before going to Graceland, the bus stopped at the Lorraine Motel in Memohis, the site of where Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated back in 1968.

    

We went to pay our respects and visit the motel which is now next to the Civil Rights Museum.

MLK Jr RIP ➕

From there we were given a whole half a day at Graceland to explore the home of the King. See his kitchen, office, ‘Jungle Room’ and his stables and riding fields.

In the grounds of Graceland, in the Meditation Garden lays Elvis Presley as well as some of his family that lay to rest with him.

After going through his house, billiard room and office and listening to the huge guided tour through an iPad and headset, the whole story was told step by step, so when it came to the Meditation Garden, it was no wonder that myself and many others around me become emotional.

I’m very glad that I’ve had the opportunity to visit the home of someone like no other, Elvis Presley.

I grew up listening to the music my mother would always have on.

She loves and adores Elvis Presley.

It wasn’t until today that I was able to gain a whole new respect for his music and what my mother would talk about all these years.

This visit is for you Mum! You’ll visit one day too, I know it!

After exploring every possible inch of Graceland, going through the Elvis Presley Car Musuem and having a peanut butter and banana toasted sandwich (one of Elvis’ favorite meal) at Rockabilly’s Burger Shop, the coach took us to Sun Studios on Union St.

Sun Studios is the birth place for the music of Elvis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and many other recent artists have recorded there including U2 and Def Leppard.

The tour of Sun Studios was one of my favorite local tours on contiki, the place was amazing and full of such incredible history. I would highly recommend the tour to anyone who is in Memphis!

From there, a couple of us chose the contiki optional to go to the Rock and Soul Museum.

The museum focused on where the black soul music originated, out in the fields on the outskirts of Memphis.

It told stories of how music evolved not only in Memphis, but around the world during the 1950’s and 1960’s.

After exploring the museum, it was back to the hotel to get ready for another night on Beale St!

Myself and a couple of other girls gathered together in one of the rooms drinking, doing hit and makeup, eating celery and peanut butter and shared stories of home.

It was a great little night of bonding. These girls are all my family 💜

We had dinner at a restaurant called Rendezvous Ribs. It’s specially is dry rub ribs which we shared with cider to continue or fun evening 🙂

Once we had a full meal, we made our way back to Beale St for karaoke at a little bar which I can’t remember the name of.

Day 19 Friday 28th August- “Put on my blue suede shoes and I boarded the plane, touched down in the land of the Delta Blues” Mark Cohn

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While it is very sad to have to say goodbye to New Orleans today, we are trekking it all the way to Memphis, Tennessee. The home of rock and roll music 💜

While some of us were a little bit wounded on the bus after 2 big nights in New Orleans and slept on the bus, others joined in on a very competitive game of uno.

Good fun to make the tie go by I guess, nothin like a bit of friendly rivalry.

We arrived into Memohis kid afternoon and once we off loaded our luggage and freshened up, a large part of the group headed to the famous Peabody Hotel for the marching of the ducks in the lobby.

Myself and a few of the other girls walked out of the hotel together, and all though it was no more than a 10 minute walk to The Peabody, we were talked into taking a gorgeous horse and carriage with a beautiful mix breed in the back named Jack. I think it was all more about the dog than anything else in that moment. We all have dogs at home that we are missing, so nothing like some puppy cuddles along the way 🙂

Not much could be clearly seen at The Peabody; the lobby was absolutely jam packed with people. We did manage to get a half decent view when one of the nice bellboys moved the rope for us at the back so we could see closer 🙂


There was about 5 or 6 ducks that followed the masters orders by following them into the lift down the red carpet after The Duck Master told the history of the ducks being in the building and living in the fountain of the lobby.

Once the ceremony was complete, we headed back to the hotel for the ritual of pre drinking and getting ready to head out for an enjoyable night on the town!

Our first stop for dinner was a place called the Kooky Canuck, which means crazy Canadian.

The place was full of animals hanging above us, lodge like walls and a very Canadian menu.

The menu also included the Kookamonga Challenge which is a 4 pound burger and fries, which was featured on Man vs Food.

A few people took part in the challenge but unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on which way you look at it, no one completed the challenge.

I settled for a steak and a very large cocktail, The Maid of the Mist!


  

After dinner we were treated with smores before heading up Beale st the the Jerry Lee Lewis cafe and honky tonk.



The view was absolutely amazing from the balcony, where all of Beale st could be seen.

It was similar to Bourbon st in New Orleans, but cleaner and safer. People were somewhat happier and it was all about the music, but a different kind of music. New Orleans it was jazz, but here, here was pure rock and roll.

After a pricey drink at Jerry Lee Lewis cafe and honky tonk, we decided to head downstairs and across the road to our new go to place, Wet Willies for a slushie 😀



These slushie a are purely lethal, but don’t taste it. In fact they taste amazing. And so cheap! I think that’s why they have become the go to place, especially when we can get a drink from there, walk around the street with it, and even take it into the next bar with us no problems!

The evening was is to the Coyote Ugly bar here in Memphis.

Due to a few pre drinks, a couple more cocktails along the way and my slushie in hand, myself and a few other girls made our way onto the bar with the encouragement of the rest of our group and bar staff who were already on the bar.

It was only short lived as I knew my balance wasn’t at its best and quit while I was ahead!

After a couple more dances on the dance floor, a group of us headed back to the hotel to call it a night.


xx

Day 18 Thursday 27th August- “Seeya later Alligator, in a while crocodile”

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New Orleans

Not only was today the day for the swamp alligator tour in New Orleans, but it was also the last day for a few people in the group who were only going half way of the tour.

It was sad to have to say goodbye to people who had began to become part of your family. Being on contiki, everyone becomes very close very quickly, but none the less, the goodbyes must eventually be done.

But its never goodbye, its just seeya later 🙂

The start of the day began with the swamp tour. Hint- perfect hangover tour by the way, being out on the water and in the sun checking out some pretty cool alligators 🙂

I would recommend these guys any time! The tour guide for the air boat I was on was very entertaining. He knew what he was doing and we always felt safe around the alligators and in the air boat.



That afternoon after we got back into town from the Swamp Tour, I had a chilled one where I went through my bags and sent some stuff to Canada at the post office, have a couple of quiet pres with the group and headed out for out last night with 12 from the group who were leaving us here in New Orleans, and welcome the people who are to join us for the rest of the tour 🙂

We went to a local restaurant which is part of the optional “Taste of New Orleans”

We were treated with a 3 course meal and cheap drinks and the food was amazing!

After dinner, it was a quiet one up Bourbon St for some including myself.

I had one drink at a slushie bar and then headed back to the hotel with a few of the girls for an early night!

Day 16 Tuesday 25th August – “Wear cute pajamas, you never know who you’ll meet in your dreams”


Panama City Beach

Today was the official pajama day on the coach!

After a massive day yesterday at universal studios in Orlando being big kids, we were all pretty keen to get nice and comfy and cozy on the bus.

I began getting cramps in my leg so I ended up putting my towel on the floor, sleeping on top of it withy bus blanky on top and slept for a good 2 hours til our lunch stop for food and Walmart stocking up 🙂

Mid afternoon after another couple hours on the bus, we hit Panama City Beach!


We stayed at the Days Inn which was right on the beach and our view was immaculate!

Myself and a couple others went across the road to get some Redds ciders for pre drinks and I went and checked out the beach.

Oh my gosh, the beach was incredible. The whitest sand and clearest water I have ever seen.

It’s no wonder it is Spring Break central.

We continued pres around the hotel pool for a couple hours before going to dinner at a German restaurant called Hofbrall Beer Garden.

The food was incredible and the entertainment was interesting with a woman playing an achordigan on the stage.

The rest of the evening was followed by more drinks around the pool back at the hotel for a chilled night of contiki bonding 🙂

xx

Day 15 Monday 24th August- “Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light” Albus Dumbledore


Universal Studios Orlando, Florida

Today was one of the days I was looking most forward to on tour, other than Savannah, Georgia and Las Vegas of course for my birthday.

We were up bright and early for a big day ahead.

The bus left our hotel first thing and managed to get a group photo out for front of the Universal meatball at Universal Studios.


Myself and a few others headed straight to KrustyLand for our first ride of the day.

After there, we made our way through the right hand side of the park, and eventually up to Diagon Alley 🙂


We spent some time wandering around Diagon Alley checking out the shops and grabbing some cheeky photos along the way!


Next was the Gringotts Bank ride which was so much fun!


A little secret I’ll let you know, the Dragon out the front really breathes fire!

It’s pretty cool to watch.

From there, we caught the Hogwarts Express over the Hogsmead which connects to the Islands of Adventure, the second park of Universal Studios.

There were more adventure and thrill rides at the Islands of Adventure which of course we explored as many as we could.

I loved the adrenaline rides like the roller coasters and went on as many as I could before becoming very exhausted late in the afternoon after we had managed to see and do everything we thought we possibly could by 6pm.

When we got back to the hotel, a few of us headed over to Sizzlers for dinner then it was an early night after a huge day!

xx