Tag Archives: Family Vacation

Fantastic Fun in Philly

As I usually do each summer, I recently went on a road trip to the United States, and while at the beginning of the summer I went to the western part of Pennsylvania, this time I headed east. We went to Philadelphia, but on the way I took my daughter to visit Hershey Park and Hershey’s Chocolate World (I can’t lie, I was more interested in visiting Hershey!).

In Hershey, there are three main attractions, one of which is Hershey Park. If you love roller-coasters, they have a dozen to choose from, and they also have a great water park to cool off in.

When you’re finished with the thrill rides,  there’s Hershey’s Chocolate World, where there are tours, chocolate tasting, photo studios, and a create-your-own-candy-bar factory….a fun time for both young and old.

If you’re into history, there’s also the Hershey museum, where you can walk through and learn about the family, the company, and the city.

Since my wife isn’t into roller-coasters, on the day that I went to the park, her and a friend decided to check out some other attractions in the city, of which there are several.  My wife started the day by being adventurous, by going spelunking and exploring the caves at Indian Echo Caverns.  After working up an appetite, she then visited Tröegs Brewery, where she took a tour to get a firsthand glimpse into the work that goes into the production process, tried several beers, and enjoyed some great food.

After we spent a couple days at Hershey’s we set off for Philadelphia, and I wasn’t sure of what to expect, but it’s a really interesting place with a lot of history.  Most people know the city as the home of the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, where both the United States Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution were signed, but there is so much more to Philly!

Down the street from the Liberty Bell are two cool buildings you must see: one one side of the street is the mint, where coins are made, and on the other side of the street is the federal reserve where they destroy money.  Both buildings offer free tours, and you can pick up some spiffy souvenirs…but no free samples.

Another historical site is the Betsy Ross House, where Betsy Ross lived when she sewed the first American flag.  Lastly, for those into history, a short drive from Philadelphia is Valley Forge, the encampment for George Washington’s Continental Army spent the winter.  An interesting fact that I learned on the trip is contrary to public belief, no fighting took place at Valley Forge…it was actually where they prepared for upcoming battles.

Of course, when you’re in Philadelphia no trip would be complete without a run up the Rocky Steps: 72 stone steps before the entrance of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  The museum is one of many in the area, all of which are interesting and have their own quirks.  As an example, you can walk through a human heart in The Franklin Institute.

There are many other sites to check out in the city, including the waterfront area where they have The Rail Park– it’s a green park stretching three miles across Philadelphia on an old rail line.

If you like sports there’s the major league baseball Philadelphia Phillies, the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team, the Philadelphia 76ers basketball team, and the Supberbowl champion, Philadelphia Eagles football team.

As everyone knows, one of my favourite pastimes is food, and one must-visit place is the Reading (pronounced redding) Terminal Market, where it’s a combination of a farmer’s market and food kiosks.  Drop by and pick up anything from a deli sandwich to chicken wings, to a philly cheese steak. I highly recommend visiting Beiler’s Bakery at the market, for specialty donuts such as the pumpkin pecan maple donut, the key lime pie donut, and the caramel latte donut.

If you’re up for trying something a bit different, there’s Pho 75, where you can get a combination of noodles, protein and veggies in soup for under $12.00 a person.  Lastly, there’s John’s Roast Pork, which has a great pork sandwich but is famous for it’s Philly cheese steak.  Be prepared to line up…. it’s that popular!

Finally, when it comes to food, take a trip down memory lane and visit The Franklin Fountain, an old-style soda shop that serves ice cream, malts, and sundaes. They’re known for they’re spectacular Root Beer floats which have been featured on a number of television shows.

Lastly, one thing that I often find very useful for city trips is to take the hop-on-hop-off tours.  We took ours with Big Bus Tours and the tour guides were extremely knowledgeable and the route featured almost 30 stops to well….hop on and off as you please.

I highly recommend visiting Philadelphia if you get the chance. It’s a beautiful city with lots to offer.

 

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The Hidden Gem of Orillia

While I’m usually visiting my friend in Orillia for some fun and relaxation, a couple of weeks ago I decided to beat the long weekend traffic by heading up a day early. My plan was to simply work on the Friday from up north; however, since my wife was also working, she ordered me out of the house so I didn’t distract her. As a result of my eviction, I decided to go work at the library, and when I got there it dawned on me what a great city Orillia is. Not just to visit, but to live and work in.

In terms of the library, I was completely surprised by how modern and new the amenities were. From updated computers, to quiet rooms that you could book, to free WiFi, and all sorts of amazing programs and activities.

But the library was really just the tip of the iceberg to the other benefits of living in the community. As mentioned in my last blog, Orillia has a large number of chain retail stores (Costco just opened up there), tons of shopping, and a variety of restaurants. In addition to a variety of amenities, the city also has a modern hospital that has recently expanded.

When it comes to transportation, the city is close to the highway, has public transit within the city, and if you need to get down to Toronto, there’s a number of options (if you can get to Barrie there is also GO trains and busses).

One other thing that I’ve come to notice in Orillia, is that there aren’t really many traffic jams. Even in the summer time, with people going to the beach or the cottage, traffic generally moves along smoothly. While there are still cars on the road, it’s never crazy busy like Toronto’s main streets or the 401, so it is also a less stressful commute. Another bonus for drivers is that for whatever reason, the gas is much less expensive than it is in the city, with the price being as much as 15 cents less a litre!

When it comes to real estate, the market also seems to be much more reasonably priced for both buying homes, renting apartments, and leasing office space.

Orillia is the OPP’s headquarters, so I have to think it’s a relatively safe community. I’m not sure what the employment opportunities are like, but it has just about any of the amenities that a larger city would have.

As I get a bit older, I realize that there’s certainly an allure to being able to work during the day and only be minutes from the beach or a boat for the evening and weekends.

A lot of people have migrated from Toronto to Barrie, but it might be worth looking another 20 minutes north to Orillia, for another potential hidden gem.

 

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Orillia: A Place to Visit

A few years back, a close friend of mine moved to Orillia for work.  While he often visits Toronto on the weekends, my family and I have also had the added benefit of visiting Orillia as well.  It is only an hour and 15 minutes north of Toronto, or 20 minutes north of Barrie!   While we often take advantage and spend a lot of time lounging around my friend’s pool in the summer, there are also tons of places to go in the area, with plenty of things to do…museums, parks, and farmer’s markets, to name a few.  Orillia is not a summer-only stop!  There is tons to do in all four seasons!

The pool aside, I love going to the local beaches.  The two main beaches are sandy,  have clean water, changeroom facilities and washrooms,  friendly lifeguards and are never unbearably crowded. The parks by the beach have some great playgrounds.  Of course, with lakes on both sides of the city, there are always people going on leisurely boat rides, fishing or just walking.

Looking for other summer activities?  There’s some great hiking trails, a go-kart track between Barrie and Orillia, and a drive-in movie theatre…perfect for a cozy date!

If you are visiting during the cooler months of the year, there are still lots of things to do:  a trip to the sugar bush for maple syrup and pancakes, great hiking trails, treetop trekking and fantastic tobogganing hills.

If eating out is your thing, there are a wide variety of restaurants to experiment with.  Choose from diners, chain restaurants, great independent spots and if that is not enough choice for you, you could always drive 20 minutes south to Barrie! I have to mention the classic:  when you are up in Orillia, you’re only minutes away from Weber’s, the burger joint on Highway 11 that signifies you’ve arrived in cottage country. Head in the opposite direction and you have Casino Rama – a great spot for dining, concerts, shows and gaming.

After your stomach is full, if you want to flex your retail muscle, at more than just your average chain stores, there’s a very robust main street. Of course, you can’t bypass the main street without going to the Mariposa Market for some delicious pastries and baked goods. In the evening, the area comes alive with some bars and restaurants playing live music to make it a lively and fun atmosphere. An opera house regularly has incredible shows and plays.

I often like watching a movie or two up in Orillia, as there’s only one theatre (a sixplex), but because it’s smaller than those in Toronto, it’s usually not as crowded.


Lastly, when you exhaust all that there is to do in Orillia, there are also little day trips you could take, such as driving up to Gravenhurst, Midland, or Port Carling.


Though it’s only a short distance away from Toronto, if you want to get away from the big city and take a break from it all, make Orillia your next stop!

https://www.orillia.ca

 

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A Taste of Pittsburgh

Since my wife is in charge of meal planning for all of our trips, I wasn’t sure what to expect food-wise but I was pleasantly surprised to find a lot of amazing restaurants in Pittsburgh. Highlights included:

Primanti Bros: Whenever I asked about Pittsburgh, people have told me that I have to visit Primanti Bros. The place has been around for about 80 years. It started out as a small sandwich shop in the Strip District and because most of the clientele were truckers, they started designing their sandwiches with french fries and coleslaw right on the sandwich itself….for ease of eating while driving. The four elements that make up most of the sandwiches….. the bread, meat, french fries, and coleslaw…were all delicious. The sandwiches were all big, solid, excellent sandwiches. Whether it’s for breakfast, lunch, or a late-night bite, I definitely agree that Primanti Bros. is worth a stop. Or maybe more than one….

Gaucho Parrilla Argentina: This unique hotspot is open for lunch and dinner, and they cook right on open wood! Whether you’re looking for chicken, lamb, steak, or sausages, this place has it all. The restaurant works a little differently than many other restaurants, as you line up, almost like a fast-food joint, if you will, and they only take your order once there’s a table available. After you place your order, you then sit down, and they deliver your food right to you, like regular table service. When it gets later in the dinner period and they won’t be able to seat anyone else, they give the last person a t-shirt that says “end of the line” and that person’s responsibility is to inform anyone else who shows up that they will have to come back another time. The service is amazing, and the staff are extremely friendly…in fact, once they learned we were from out of town, they accommodated us even though the person in front of us had the “end of the line” t-shirt. On top of that, they were kind enough to gift us with our own t-shirt after I was joking around with them. It’s a terrific place with great décor and service, topped with delicious food. If you’re ever in the area, it’s well worth standing in line for. Also, this local joint is BYOB!

Kaya Island Cuisine: This restaurant is in the Strip District and serves up some hot and tasty Caribbean food. Near the end of my trip, I was a little fooded out, and wanted something a little different. Although we hadn’t planned on going to this restaurant, we changed our plans given that the menu had so many unique dishes. We actually ended up sharing the food, as they had a lot of appetizers that all looked amazing, including conch fritters, baby back ribs, Jamaican jerk wings, a spectacular salad known as the Caribbean rainbow salad, crispy fish tacos, and pulled pork quesadillas. All of the food came out very hot and fresh, very nicely presented, and we were pleasantly surprised to learn that it was big portion sizes, big enough to share among three people. The service was very good, and the atmosphere was fun, lively, and vibrant. It was the perfect meal to end our trip. It seems that, despite the popularity of the Strip District, most of the area closes down earlier on Sunday nights and Kaya was one of the few restaurants that stayed open. It’s definitely worth a visit.

Peace, Love, & Little Donuts: This is a small donut shop found in the Strip District, and I guess appropriately, they serve small donuts…about half the size of a regular donut. They actually take a plain donut and jazz it up with different toppings, which you choose off of their extensive menu. We tried the apple pie, banana split, s’mores, and the strawberry french toast, but you can choose from almost one hundred more. We stopped by after brunch one day and it was the perfect ending to our meal, with the four of us sharing six donuts. Although there is a little bit of a wait while they prepare each donut, it’s well worth the extra time, and they ended up being an awesome sweet treat.

The Church Brew Works: This is a microbrewery located in a very large, old church. The food is good pub food, all designed to go with beer. The atmosphere was truly amazing and certainly worth visiting. They also conduct tours of the brewery two or three times a day.

Whether it’s sandwich shops, pizza joints, or even some chain restaurants, there is certainly no shortage of great food in the Pittsburgh area. Happy eating!

 

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What’s a Trip to Jamaica Without Some Good Jerk Chicken?

Photos of the outside of Scotchies Restaurant in Jamaica

While nothing is more Canadian than having a cold beer and watching hockey, there are probably not many more things that are more Jamaican than drinking a Red Stripe and eating jerk chicken. As mentioned in my last blog, when it was time for lunch everybody that I was with wanted to go for good jerk chicken. Thankfully, when it came to finding a good restaurant, we knew we were in good hands. We were spending the day with Patrice Bailey, a well-known tour guide in the area and she highly recommended Scotchies Jamaican Restaurant.

Scotchies is a small restaurant chain with three or four locations on the island. They specialize in making authentic jerk chicken by placing it on a wood fire, covered with bamboo. While the food is cooked low and slow, you really can’t beat it, whether you order chicken, ribs, or any of their side dishes. Everything comes out hot, fresh and right off the grill!

The price is ridiculously reasonable. At Scotchies you pay for your food, find a table to dine at and pick up your meal when it is ready. While the service may have been a bit slow (hey…good food takes time!), I was really impressed at how clean the employees kept the seating area. As soon as guests left, employees rushed to clean off the tables, so they would be available for other guests.

One thing that I always look for in a restaurant is whether locals are also eating at the establishment. Since more than half of the people eating at Scotchies were locals, if the food keeps them coming back, it clearly has a good reputation. In fact, we didn’t arrive at the restaurant until after 2 pm and the place was still packed with a lunch time crowd!

If you get down to the area, I suggest grabbing lunch or dinner at Scotchies. Sun… ✓, fun… ✓, and good food… ✓!

Scotchies Jamaican Restaurant
876-953-8041
Scotchies on Trip Advisor

 

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Ja’ Makin me Happy…Patrice Bailey!

Photo of Patrice Bailey on one of her Falmouth Tours

Last year, I got to know Patrice Bailey when I began planning a day trip for my family to explore the area near the Port of Falmouth in Jamaica. Our cruise ship was docking there for the day and I wanted to plan an excursion to make the most out of our stay, since my research showed that the port was located in the middle of nowhere with nothing really around it.

While I was surfing the web for ideas, a tour guide by the name of Patrice Bailey kept coming up…and with great reviews, I decided to send her a short email. Within a few hours, I was communicating with Patrice by phone and email, and we made an arrangement to hire one of her colleagues to drive us from Falmouth to a beach in Montego Bay, since she herself was fully booked. When we arrived at the port, Patrice introduced herself with hugs all around before sending us on our way, with our tour guide. We immediately felt like family.

Our tour guide was really friendly and he even managed to give us a short tour of the area before taking us back to the ship. He also took us to a great local place for Jamaican patties, which was the icing on the cake!

Flash forward to 2017 and I gave Patrice a call when we chose a cruise revisiting Falmouth. Since we had developed more of a personal friendship over the last year, during our numerous email exchanges, I invited Patrice to lunch as a thank you for planning a great trip the year before. Patrice accepted the invitation but when we arrived, she surprised us with an entire day of fun filled activities.

Patrice took us on a tour of the area, which included the neighbourhood that Usain Bolt grew up in, as well as a couple of gorgeous lookout points. We then went to a secluded beach, where there were only a few other people nearby and you could see blue water and white sand for miles. When we were ready for lunch, we asked her about good, local jerk chicken. Patrice said, for really good jerk chicken, she would only take us to one place and that began our 45 minute drive to Scotchies… more about that in my next blog.

After our great lunch, Patrice showed us a few beach clubs that we can visit on future trips and took us back to the port where we hugged and promised to keep in touch.

Being in the hospitality industry, I typically make friends wherever I go, but I have met my match in Patrice. If you are looking for someone to make your experience in Falmouth amazing, Patrice Bailey is definitely the way to go. She is really easy to deal with, professional, reasonably priced and a barrel of fun!

Patrice Bailey Tours
1-876-509-7542
patbailey52@yahoo.com
www.patricebailey.com

 

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Dive with Martin… I Did!

Cozumel Scuba Diving and Contest Alert

Many of the cruises I have taken over the past few years have docked at a port located in Cozumel, Mexico.  When I visit the area,  I normally go scuba diving.   Cozumel is known for having beautiful diving conditions…so why wouldn’t I take advantage of it?

When I was there last year with my wife and daughter, we decided to book a snorkeling excursion, since neither of them scuba dive.  While there were dozens of local businesses to choose from, we chose to go on an excursion with Dive with Martin, since it was located right at the pier and they provide both scuba diving and snorkeling packages at a great price.

This year when we were returning to Cozumel, I decided to call Dive with Martin to see what kind of deals they could offer us.  Once again, they provided us with a better price than the other dive shops and even included the cost of the rental equipment in the low price.

I have been very pleased with Dive with Martin as a company.  They provide good quality equipment and fabulous customer service.  All of their instructors are qualified, competent, friendly and professional and they always take us to great dive sites.

As an added bonus, they let my wife and daughter come along on the boat for a nominal fee, so they could snorkel along the surface while my friend and I went drift diving.  To make my wife and daughter feel more comfortable, the captain of the boat kept moving the boat closer to them as they drifted away from the boat.  This was a nice touch and and truly went above and beyond to see to it that they felt comfortable and safe while snorkeling.

If you decide to make a reservation at Dive with Martin, they have an associate working in the United States who can help you book your reservation.  If you call… tell Paddie that David Lipton from Toronto says, “Hello”!

Dive with Martin
503-949-5985 (USA)
503-949-5985 (Mexico)
www.divewithmartin.com

Contest Alert:
Our friends at Mexico Xpertz are having a contest where they are giving away a trip to Mexico to one lucky follower.  To enter the contest click here.

 

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