Panama, Panama-a-a-a-a-a

Incredibly stoked to write this blog post as this was one of my favorite trips I have been on! Central America is underrated and I can’t wait to explore more. And to set the record straight, no, Van Halen is not ‘God’ down there. Only Americans were singing the song…

Traveling over New Years actually worked out great – a steady, dry 85* every day. We hit the jackpot. Said jackpot also comes with extreme sun exposure – lather up, over and over and over again. This is coming from a bronze babe, trust me on this, dat sun is pretty close to your skin and wants to destroy it!

The ease of traveling in this country was shocking. I speak a bit of Spanish, but you really don’t need it to get around. They have uber, but we just hired drivers for a similar price. The currency is US dollars, but most places take credit cards anyway. I would suggest having cash on you for gratuity, though.

This trip was a mix of culture/indigenous and relaxation – the perfect combo. I truly enjoyed every moment of our adventure. Itinerary below, steal at leisure:

Panama City | The Bristol Hotel 
Meh. One or two days is plenty, but the adventure is out there! We even had trouble finding food open at 8p on a Wednesday night. The hotel was VERY nice, I would stay here again.

  • Panama Canal Miraflores Locks (be sure to time this out right so you can see a boat go through, and watch the video that comes with your ticket!)
  • Panamá Viejo (this was phenomenal history and ruins of the old city)
  • Casco Viejo (they were preparing for the Pope’s visit when we were there so there was a lot off limits and under rehab, but it is a very quaint place with narrow streets, sunny squares and tourist shops)
  • Cinta Costera for your ‘PANAMA’ sign insta pic

Gamboa | Gamboa Rainforest Resort
Not going to sugarcoat this, the resort needs a little renovation. Aside from that, it is a really cool experience. Decent sized pool, swim-up ish bar, stained hammocks on each balcony – in theory this place was probably amazing 10 years ago with no chipped paint or dead frogs in the one. single. elevator. in. all. the. resort. The food was just meh, and a bit overpriced for not having many eatery options. Alas, we still had our humid-filled, mosquito-biting fun! (This place is perfect for kiddos, btw)

All the stuff we did below you can book right through the resort.

  • Nighttime safari ride
  • Aerial tram – best view of the jungle, panama canal and individual guides (not for the those afraid of  dee heights)
  • Frog, butterfly farm, orchid nursery and sloth sanctuary – tours were a bit too crowded to hear, but you can sort of roam around yourself as there is signage
  • Gatun Lake expedition IN the Panama Canal, right next to the cargo ships! – don’t stand up to feed the monkeys. or the crocs.

Embera Quera
This indigenous community is so welcoming and fun! It is a peaceful 30 minute canoe ride down a river to the middle of nowhere. I may or may not have taken a little snooze. I would not recommend this trip to those who lack mobility. There is a bit of climbing and uncomfortable positions. We hired an English-speaking guide to manage everything for us, and he was excellent, so I bought him a snack on our way home at the gas station! (You can book this through the Gamboa Rainforest Resort)

The residents explained their culture, food, music, their way of life and showed us around. They cooked us a tasty fish and fruit meal, showed us a traditional dance, and painted tattoos on us. (do not suggest, learn from my mistakes) You have the opportunity to buy overpriced gifts that some of the women made before you head home. It was extremely interesting to see the children in flaps of cloth only, having never of left the land before – there is a school in the community. I saw my first toucan IRL!!! (do not pet)

Panama| Dreams Playa Bonita All-inclusive Resort
Overall this was a pleasant experience for an all-inclusive over the holidays. The resort had a VERY nice buffet on New Years and outdoor DJ, fireworks and champagne party. Winner: grape tree as party favors. There are not many all-inclusive choices in Panama, and this was legitimately overlooking the beautiful ocean and the Panama Canal. Just sitting right there. The boats, all lined up to go through the locks as you sip a beverage in the infinity pool. Crazy cool! I would go back here, but make the following changes:

  • Eat at senior citizen time or there will be a wait – they do not take reservations.
  • Wake up before the sun and grab beach chairs so you don’t have to lay on the grass in the middle of the life-sized chess game.
  • Do not order the chicken from Portofino restaurant.
  • Put on more sunblock.
  • Invite new daily pool friends to karaoke so we don’t sing alone.
  • Eat more gelato.
  • Walk along the beach in the daylight.
  • Request thicker pillows for snoring roommates.
  • Notify smoking friends they will be smashed into a tiny pavilion ‘smoking area’.
  • Bring waterproof money case to pool to tip the bartenders at the swim-up.
  • Schedule a massage the moment I walk in to the resort.

We hopped off resort one day and it was a nice break from all the entitled Americans with bad attitudes. The catamaran day trip was clutch – book through Red Cat Catamaran Panama Sailing. This was so much fun – all inclusive drinks, lunch/snacks, good music and friendly staff. Aside from the European sibling sexy photoshoot happening on the boat to the right, it was an enjoyable ride, perfect weather, tasty food and phenomenal view. We did the Taboga Island trip. A few things to note –

  1. You have to pay to use the bathroom on the island.
  2. You have to fill the bowl up with water to use said toilet.
  3. You have to pay for shade on the island.
  4. You can’t go back to the catamaran early if you can’t find said shade and are frying like bacon.
  5. Catamaran ride is child-friendly so watch your alcohol intake.
  6. Bring tips for the boat peeps, they really do a nice job and are hospitable.
  7. You must show your passport before getting on the catamaran.

Update: since staying at the Dreams Panama, we have since stayed at another resort by this same hotel chain: Breathless. And now my all-inclusive standards are through the roof. Brace for impact.

Overall, Panama is truly an amazing place full of so much rich culture and history. I loved learning about it all, and the impact that the U.S. had on shaping it (for better or worse) into what it is today.

Friendly reminder that the middle seat gets both armrests. [I was able to exercise this right on this very trip, FYI]

Sleepless in Seattle

Seattle is a lovely place with lovely people, lovely art, lovely scenery, lovely food and not so lovely weather. The google says it rains 150 days out of the year there – my curly hair did not approve.

Eats and Drinks –
JuneBaby
Biscuit Bitch (just trust me)
Pike Place Chowda (#1 clam chowda, long line but worth the wait)
Beecher’s for cheeseeeeeeeeeee
Sushi and some good happy hour deals at Umi Sake House
Manny’s local brew from basically anywhere that has a tap
Belltown and Elysian breweries were decent
Starbucks Reserve Roastery and Tap Room for all you coffee lovas
Best. Donuts. To. Ever. Hit. Your. Lips. at Daily Dozen Doughnut Company (cashola only)
Pike Place Market 
Purple Café
Rider (the crab butter and pull apart rolls will change your life)
The Pink Door (make a reso on acrobat night)
Heartwood Provisions (come for the happy hour, stay for the atmosphere)

Sights –
Space Needle
The Gum Wall (gross, but insta worthy)
Seattle Great Wheel
Day hikes near Seattle
The Nest rooftop bar
Harbor Cruises
Chihuly Garden and Glass
Seahawks and Mariners games
Museums
Parks, parks and more parks

Stay –
At the time of writing this, I have only stayed at two hotels in Seattle, but hundreds worldwide, and the Loews Hotel 1000 is one of the cutest, chic, attention-to-detail places I have ever slept. They will draw you a dang bath before you come back from a day of hard work for Pete’s sake. Highly recommend.

I have never really had a problem with the Seattle/Tacoma airport (they have a Qdoba!), but the rideshare pick-up area could certainly use a revamp.

Seattle ’tis a walkable yet hilly town, full of homeless folk but a beautiful city of friendly peeps, award-winning food and some great sight-seeing.

Friendly reminder that the middle seat gets both armrests.

What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas

Except for whatever I put in this blog post, of course. Sin City is one of my favorite places to people-watch. And I mean, spend every day and night belly up to the streets of Las Vegas Blvd with an adult beverage in hand just watching the people walk by. You get everyone (and thing) in Vegas, it is fascinating.

I have been there too many times to recall and have stayed at all the places on the strip. Some super fancy ones because work was footing the bill and some super dumps, well, because I was 20 something and on a budget. But the best middle-of-the-road place I continue to repeat stay at is the princess castle. I know most people hate the Excalibur because of the sexy Thunder from Down Under residency, or the fact that is smells like your Grandma’s house throughout the entire casino, or the unattractive carpet leading you to the hidden arcade on the lower level (you didn’t know that was there?!). I LOVE IT! Because…

1. It is for average, middle-class folk like myself who want to stay on the strip, but not spend $350 a night just to sleep and shower.

2. There is little-to-no pressure to look smoking hot when you leave your room, which is what I feel when I stay at Bellagio and MGM.

3. The pool is recently renovated, open year-round, heated and service right outside. Not to mention that you can get a chair to lay on no matter who you are – no need to rent a cabana for $1,000+ with bottle service like the Cosmopolitan or Caesar’s Palace.

4. The hotel might be a little dingy, but it gets the job done. It connects to the tram, walk-ways right into New York New York and MGM and while it is on the strip, it is far enough down that cars can still come/go to the airport without traffic no problem.

5. There is a casino, restaurants, snack shacks, shopping, fitness center, spa etc. Just like all the other options.

I am done selling the Excalibur, they aren’t paying me.

Las Vegas can be handled one of two ways, and one of the ways I actually never have partaken in. My kind of Vegas is food, drink, dance repeat. I will play the occasional slots or roulette but nothing to write home about. Sure you can gamble away your life savings, accidently hook up a with a stripper and owe them all the cash in your wallet (do they take venmo these days?), get so drunk that you believe them when they say it is tylenol and then not wake up for three days…OR you can do Vegas Middle Seat Etiquette-style.

See.
Fav: A tie between Celine Dion at The Colosseum at Caesar’s and Backstreet Boys at Zappos Theater at Planet Hollywood.
Least fav: Britney Spears and that one circus show I fell asleep in…Ka at MGM.
Comedy and magic are always safe bets.

Watch.
Fremont Street. I truly enjoy my every experience here. ‘Old’ Las Vegas is the best. You get everything from a woman in a wheel chair accepting money to take a picture with her XX sagging boobs that measure over a foot long, to a ‘bad santa’ who is smoking, his you-know-what exposed and a cigarette in mouth. You can gamble in the famous Golden Nugget or not finish your burger at Heart Attack Grill and get paddled in the butt live on the internet. They have live music at multiple stages, a zip line overhang and some photo-esque street performers.

Eat.
All-you-can-eat buffet and unlimited mimosas/bloody brunch – The Wicked Spoon at the Cosmopolitan
Cheap eats – Pin-up Pizza at Planet Hollywood, Shaq’s Big Chicken (if you have car), garlic knots from the New York Pizzeria in New York New York
Nicer, yet affordable – sushi at Koi or a mango chutney burger at Burger Bar (both in Planet Hollywood), Five50 or Sage at Aria, FIX or Jasmine at the Bellagio

Drink.
Cocktails are flowing in Las Vegas. I mean, flowing.
Spanish Steps outside at Caesar’s
Rose. Rabbit. Lie. in the Cosmo
The Dorsey at the Venetian
And if you are up for trusting a robot to make your drink: The Tipsy Robot

Dance to a DJ.
Hakkasan at MGM
1 OAK at the Mirage
XS at Encore (outdoors, so think twice before going in winter brrr)
Marquee at Cosmo
Omnia at Caesar’s Palace

I did NOT like the service, attitude or non-existent fire escapes at TAO or Drais, but I am just one gals opinion.

Eat again.
All the chains are there too, for those of you not from the States or feeling really unadventurous – In-N-Out, Shake Shack, Chili’s, Sugar Factory, Lawry’s, Grand Lux Café and N9NE or the Linq off the strip, but kind of on the strip, has a slew of eating options. Visit the hidden pizza place at the Cosmo, but you didn’t hear it from me.

Don’t forget to do all the things if you can get passed the grandparents flicking the hooker business cards in your face –
High Roller ferris wheel (buy a drink before)
New York New York roller coaster (take some ibuprofen before)
Tilting thing at the Stratosphere
Hug the yellow M&M guy
The water fountain show in front of the Bellagio
Alive, real flamingos at the Flamingo
Sadly the weird pirate show is no more at Treasure Island
I hear you can take a helicopter day ride to the Grand Canyon, too

Go more than once, there is just too much to soak up in one trip. Don’t go to Vegas for more than 3 nights, just trust me on that one.

Friendly reminder that the middle seat gets both armrests.

That Phoenix sun though

I had a quick work trip to Phoenix, but jumped in a bunch of tourist traps while I was there, obviously. I will write an addendum to this post once I get to spring training/Scottsdale – some day…

Phoenix is hot.

Friendly reminder that the middle seat gets both armrests.

Just kidding, there is more to Phoenix than the heat.

Friendly reminder that the middle seat gets both armrests.

Denver; these Rockies don’t look very rocky

Colorado in general is a great place to visit and explore, but I am going to break the state down into vicinity posts. It is the 8th largest state, after all.

Denver area. Ahhh. I have been to Denver quite a few times and truly enjoy everything it has to offer from outdoor activities to food and drink and spectator sports too!

A few must-dos that I personally loved:

Red Rocks – doesn’t even matter what you see, it is the. best. music. venue.

White-water Rafting

Mountain Hiking

Rockies Baseball Game

Denver Botanical Gardens

1Up Arcade and Bar

Steuben’s – get the grasshopper boozy shake

Beverage Tours

Bike Rental

My love for Colorado continues strong through Fort Collins and Colorado Springs…stay tuned.

Friendly reminder that the middle seat gets both armrests.

Sweet Savannah Georgia

So we heard this random tidbit that Savannah, Georgia (of all places) was one of the most attended and exciting locations to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in the United States. Alas, challenge accepted.

We stayed right downtown in the Historic District at the Double Tree – it was walking distance to everything! They have a really nice pool, too. And free cookies, obviously.

Vic’s on the River was super yummy with a great view for a nice dinner out if you are down to try something fancy – and I mean white tablecloth and pianist fancy.

Because it was St. Patrick’s Day, there was tons going on along the riverfront on River Street at all the bars and restaurants. The Fiddler’s Irish pub had a really nice vibe jiving. Also, Wet Willy’s if you want to get drunk off boozie slushies that don’t taste like booze. (consider this my warning)

If you can (and it is warm enough) I would do a river boat tour. It is just a fun way to get an outdoor activity in.

Paula Deen’s The Lady & Son’s restaurant is. a. must. eat. at. Make a reso though, otherwise it will be a longggg wait. We did the brunch.

The night time haunted ghost tour was legit! And they drive you around in a hearse.

There are a ton of walking tours for historical stuff on the civil war and things you can find on tripadvisor.

We caught a rugby match at a nearby stretch of fields, seems like there is constant rugby or gaelic football tournaments happening there to check out.

The only meh thing is getting there. Not all airlines fly to Savannah, so you do pay a pretty penny. From Chicago half of us flew into Atlanta, the other Jacksonville.

Savannah is southern hospitality, hot weather and plenty of not-too-expensive watering holes. For St. Patrick’s Day, they did not disappoint, even the schools close down when it is mid-week. I would say the town is a good 4-day trip.

Friendly reminder that the middle seat gets both armrests.

Los Angeles AKA La La Land

I’ve been to the City of Angels quite a few times, but only once have I done it tourist-style. Pay close attention or you will end up disappointed and broke. For starters, fly into LAX but STAY in the Santa Monica area.

The Santa Monica area has the seagull pooped-in ocean waves, the booshie crossfit people and the overrated brunch spots – but it also has the Santa Monica Pier, view-worthy hiking trails and some really yummy Ma and Pa cafes (Literati Cafe – get the salmon avocado toast). And the end (in my case) or the beginning of Route 66! Downtown Santa Monica is chok-full of some great places like Barney’s Beanery and Westside Comedy. The entire third street promenade is where it is at. Not to mention the nearby Venice Beach, formerly the home to the Freak Show (RIP ’17). Venice Beach has murals by talented artists, Muscle Beach competitions, skate parks and some fun spots to stop and grab a cocktail.

Hollywood is different than downtown Los Angeles, but most tourists don’t realize this. It is true what they say (and coming from Chicago this means a lot) yes, traffic is a biatch. Hollywood has been super crowded the multiple times I have been there with no exceptions – there is usually some kind of movie release or filming taking place so Hollywood Blvd. is shut down – and therefor so are your plans for the day.

The Hollywood sign and Griffith Observatory hikes are fun and worth it. It is not difficult and any fitness level can likely accomplish it – pace yourself, finish times will vary. View is great once your turn in line allows for a Hollywood sign selfie.

We did the celebrity homes tour through Ultimate Hollywood Tours. The staff was extremely nice and accommodating – our first date got rained out and they were quick to contact us for a reschedule. The tour guide was fun and it was cool to be a stalker for two hours. We saw the Biebs and Jennifer Aniston’s houses!

Speaking of stalking, basically no one films on Friday’s at any of the studios in the LA area, but you know who does? WHEEL. OF. FORTUNE! So that was exciting. Tickets are here. Stalk this site until they release your date. We filmed two episodes in one seating. It was fun. It was amazing. She is even prettier in person. He tells Dad jokes in real life.

In and Out burger, fries and a 55 minute wait. Worth it.

Madame Tussauds wax museum was one of the creepiest places ever. Try to go intoxicated if you can, it might help with the terrified feeling that they are going to come to life while taking your selfie.

Outside the famous Grauman’s Chinese Theater are all the hand prints and stars – geek out. Just don’t stop in the middle of walking traffic and bend over for a pic, you might tabletop someone. So I hear.

PSA: Do NOT eat at the famous Sur or Pump. The food was not anything to write home about. The ambiance is coo (l left off on purpose), so just go grab a $50 drink instead.

Cheaper and more fun drinks that don’t judge what you are wearing can be found at The Roger Room around the corner.

We attempted an organized bar crawl in Hollywood and ended up at a club that had naked women in glass eggs hanging from the ceiling throwing out dolla bills. I wish I was making this up.

Next time I go I will do all the fun artsy and classy food places in downtown Los Angeles. Stay tuned for part two of this post.

Friendly reminder that the middle seat gets both armrests.