Four Days in Paris: What to Do and Where to Go

GUEST BLOG: Guest blogger Kam Smith of highlights a four-day adventure with her family in Paris. "We are an average family living in a crazy busy world, trying to juggle work, school and family responsibilities. As a multi-generational family, we are always growing and changing," Smith says. 

Guest blogger Kam Smith and her family travel together and share their wanderlust adventures on their blog.

Guest blogger Kam Smith and her family travel together and share their wanderlust adventures on their blog.

"We have found that traveling together with our family of eight—from grandparents down to the little grandbaby—provides a 'time-out' where we can reconnect with the ones we love the most without daily interruptions or distractions. We have been to six continents and more than 40 countries together! Our family adventures are tremendously educational and most of all, fun! It is our goal to encourage other families to take a 'time out' together and explore our amazing world!" To follow their adventures, visit their Instagram. PHOTOGRAPHY: All credit and copyrights by


Oh, Paris! It is hard to beat this beautiful city of lights. For many of our readers, Paris tops their bucket list but many are not sure where to begin when planning a trip to the city of lights. In order to provide some direction, we have put together our Paris Highlight Tour for those on a tight budget and have only four days to spend in this magical city!

While we suggest you spend at least a week in Paris (we think there are so much to do to really enjoy the city), we understand that most people visit Paris while on their European tour and can only set aside three to four days for their visit and want to see the highlights.

Before we get to our four-day highlight tour, a couple of notes:

Taxi or Metro

When we travel to Paris, we like to take taxi cabs. We feel like the taxi cabs are moderately priced and can often get you from point A to point B faster than the Metro. And sometimes, time is money. That being said, the Metro is far cheaper and if you are traveling in a larger group it can be easier than having to flag down a taxi van (these are few and far between in Paris). For a great resource on navigating the Paris Metro, click here.


Where To Stay

Just like any big city, there are very good parts as well as places you might want to avoid. Our favorite location is anywhere close to or along Rue de Rivoli. It is central, safe, has a fantastic metro stop, and is within walking distance of almost every major landmark. We have stayed at both the Westin Paris Vendome and The Renaissance Paris Vendome and really enjoyed both. We also really like the Saint Germain des Prés area. It is central, quaint and feels "oh so Parisian." There are several boutique hotels that are DARLING and don’t break the budget, you can find some good options here! Keep in mind, as a general rule, hotel rooms in Paris are much smaller than their U.S. counterparts. Just embrace it as part of the Paris experience.

Paris Pass or Paris Museum Pass

If you are planning on using the Metro, and you plan on going nonstop—spring for the Paris Pass. If you plan on getting around mostly by walking or taxi because you want to savor the city, get the Museum Pass. We have used both and have found that they aid in avoiding lines. However, for us and how we travel, we prefer the Museum Pass as it costs less money in the long run. That being said, a couple of things on our list are not included on the Museum Pass which are on the Paris Pass. For these attractions, we just purchase the ticket on our own. Overall, we prefer the Museum Pass and think it is a better value. Take a look at the prices, the attractions each of the passes offer, and pick what suits your needs best.

Our Itinerary Style and Speed

We have learned over the years and through our countless trips that it is far more enjoyable to plan a doable itinerary. We like to take in the sites, experience the locations and really savor and enjoy each of the things that we plan. If our itineraries are too rushed, we become cranky, tired, and things can turn into a drag. Be realistic about what you are capable of and keep in mind the time change and jet-lag factor.

We love to leave “free time” each day to take a rest, explore on our own or if we are feeling up to it, visit something on our optional list. For this itinerary, we were a little zealous on the Google maps and gave our must-do for each of the days and then a couple of optional items. Don’t feel like you have to do everything listed on the maps—pick and choose what suits you!


What to Do in Paris: Day 1

Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Champs Elysees, Laduree, and a Seine River Cruise

What to do in Paris: Tips

Book Eiffel Tower tickets AHEAD of time! You can usually book about six to eight weeks in advance. We have eaten at the restaurants on the Eiffel Tower and do not suggest them. We find them overpriced, rushed, crowded, and with subpar food. Rather than spend time at the restaurant, it is more enjoyable to take the elevator to the top for 17 euros and have a leisurely walk down. The views are remarkable and it is fantastic to see Gustave’s engineering during the descent.

You can book your tickets here. It is important to note that the Eiffel Tower is one of the few things that is not offered as an attraction on the Museum Pass or Paris Pass. You must book tickets separately if you want to visit.

When visiting the Arc de Triomphe, you have to enter underground on the opposite end of the CRAZY Triomphe roundabout. Make sure to climb to the top and take in the stunning panoramic views of the tower, Champs Elysees, and surrounding areas. We have also found that it is advantageous to get the panoramic views in at the beginning of the trip because it can help you gain your bearings. We LOVE to be on the top of the Arc during dusk and at the first Eiffel tower sparkle of the night (this is possible depending on the time of year). There is something so magical about watching the sun go down and all of the sudden see the tower start to sparkle. (Yes, the lights really do sparkle every hour on the hour after dark—it is magnificent!)

Stop in at the quintessential Laduree for some seriously scrumptious macarons. My favorite flavor is vanilla—totally divine!

A night river cruise on the Seine is such a blast. (Did you get that? Just in case you didn’t—it is so much fun!) And again, it is a great way to get an overview of the city and to get your bearings. Also, there are not many things that can beat the views of the Parisian lights from the Seine!

What to do in Paris Optional List: Visit Grand Palais, Petite Palais and the Champs Elysees Gardens


What to do in Paris: Day 2

Il De La Citie, Cluny Museum, Notre Dame, Sainte-Chappelle, Latin Quarter, Pantheon, Hotel de Ville, Les Marais, and Place des Vosges

What to do in Paris: Tips

If you can visit Notre Dame right when it opens. However, that requires more walking as you need to backtrack down to the Latin Quarter and back up. Notre Dame can get super busy and it is far more enjoyable when there are not a million people pushing and throwing elbows. As of right now, it currently opens at 8:00 am. The crypts are worth visiting and we love walking around the grounds. Visiting the back of Notre Dame is a must. There is a cute little park that the littles love to play at. Don’t forget to check out the flying buttresses!

Make note that on Sundays at 4:30 pm, there are free Organ Concerts at Notre Dame. We haven’t been able to make it but I look forward to going this next trip this fall. I hear only great things about it!

Sainte-Chapelle is a beautiful little jewel box and is absolutely NOT to be missed. It is glorious. Make note that it is kind of tucked behind the main square, be sure to ask someone if you need help finding it. It can be a little tricky to find.

Don’t forget to stop at the darling carousel at the Hotel de Ville! Especially if you have little kids–or if you don’t haha. (I think the carousel is the CUTEST and I am nearly 28).

What to do in Paris Optional List: Explore the Conciergerie, Picasso Museum, The Memorial de la Shoah and Victor Hugo’s House.


What to do in Paris: Day 3

The Louvre, Opéra Garnier, Place de la Concorde, Des Invalides, Napoleon’s Tomb, and Orsay Gallery

What to do in Paris Tips

For this day, we suggest taking a break in the afternoon and then going to the Orsay Gallery in the evening. There is a charming restaurant at the Orsay Gallery that offers moderately priced food. The location and setting can not be beat! The Orsay Gallery is one of our favorite museums in the entire world. It is lovely, open, and offers exceptional 18th and 19th century art.

The Louvre! Okay, so the Louvre is amazing, but it is also VERY overwhelming. We suggest getting a guide to help you navigate, or plan out your trip beforehand and try to visit first thing in the morning. Like Notre Dame, it can get crowded VERY quickly. It is not out of the realm of reality to get lost and feel overwhelmed by all of the people, the expansive buildings and the enormous collection of absolutely stunning artwork. Just beware, it can be information overload.

Know your threshold. I am currently working toward my masters degree in art history and spending more than 3 ½ hours is just too much for me in one visit. Don’t expect to see EVERYTHING. Pick what you want to see the most, and seek it out. If you are not sure what you want to see but know you want to pay a visit to the Louvre, check out this fantastic highlights trail plan found on the museum website.

Subscribe to our blog see our upcoming post on planning a trip to a major museum. (I am also thinking about putting together a Louvre Highlights Guide??? Let me know if you think that would be worthwhile!)

What to do in Paris Optional List: Visit the Rodin Museum and Orangerie


What to do in Paris: Day 4

Plan A: Versailles

Plan B: Montmartre Area and Free Time to Explore the City

Okay, so this might go against the grain of almost everything you will read and hear–are you ready? If you are dying to see Versailles and you think this might be the only chance you will get to visit France–then totally go. However, like mentioned above, there is so much to do in the city and if we were only visiting for four days–we would stay in the city and enjoy our last day by going to Montmartre in the morning and taking it easy in the city center for the rest of the day. But again, do what works for you!

Plan A – Versailles

Don’t get us wrong. We love Versailles! LOVE Versailles. It is opulent, grand, and exceptional. But, it is out of the way and it isn’t something you want to rush through. If you decide to visit, make sure you set aside a whole day. Visit the beautiful gardens, and our favorite things to visit at Versailles are Marie Antoinette’s Trianon and Hamlet. You will feel like you’ve stepped foot into The Beauty and the Beast. It is adorable and you can’t help but feel sad for the queen’s fateful end.

Plan B – Sacre Coeur,  Montmartre District, The Love Wall, Picasso’s Atelier, and The Place du Tertre Open Art Market

Montmartre is like a city within a city. It is hilly, bohemian, and has been part of the avant-garde scene for over a century. The narrow streets are a stark difference to the large Haussmann boulevards in the city center. It has a more laid back feel and is very artsy. Oh, the “feels.” In our opinion, Montmartre is best viewed from the streets by leisurely walking around. We love the art market (where the artists are real artists, and not just selling some mass-produced postcards.)  The artists who cut out facial silhouettes are our favorites!

What to do in Paris Optional List: Visit Moulin Rouge, Pigalle* and the Montmartre Funicular.

*A special caution:  Be careful taking children through Moulin Rouge and Pigalle, especially after dark. The area can be a little “spicy.”  

Paris in Four Days Conclusion

Paris pretty much rocks, and honestly we think we could spend a month there and still have SO much to do. That being said, if you only have four days we hope this gives you a good overview of the highlights of the city and what to do in Paris!

Amusement Park Adventure: A Fun Weekend Idea for the Family


We all have been through them—weekends with no real agenda. But for a working mom, it's not very often I am able to spend a weekend without a set of to-do list. 

For most working parents, weekends actually mean extra work days—without pay! Ah, this thankless job called parenting! A Saturday often mean a day to catch up on piled-up laundry, deep-clean the carpet, work with the little one with her school assignments or head out to the fresh market to replenish a dwindling grocery supply.

A Lovely weekend calls for a family trip down to the amusement park at clearwater, florida.

A Lovely weekend calls for a family trip down to the amusement park at clearwater, florida.

For this particular weekend, high up in the to-do list is to de-clutter the little one's room of old clothes and toys and later hit consignment shops so she could earn a dollar or two for her piggy bank. Reselling once-loved toys and clothes is a great incentive to motivate the little one to give up a few of her prized possessions. Any parent with a pre-schooler knows how difficult this process is for any five-year-old with a deep attachment to one-armed Barbie or stained Lalaloopsy dolls. 

photo booth at the park means daddy having more fun than the little one!

photo booth at the park means daddy having more fun than the little one!

While heading out to the closest kids' consignment shop, we passed by an indoor/outdoor amusement park that has a go-kart track. Then, a light bulb switched on: Let's bring Ariana to the park for her first-ever go-kart adventure!   

Celebration Station is a playground for kids and kids-at-heart who love outdoor rides, bumper boats and go-karts.

Celebration Station is a playground for kids and kids-at-heart who love outdoor rides, bumper boats and go-karts.

Where To Go

Celebration Station, located at Clearwater, Florida, is a popular weekend spot for kids and families. In case you are no where near Clearwater, the park is also in a few other states, including Louisiana, North Carolina, Texas and Oklahoma. Indoor, the park offers an area to hold kiddie parties and an arcade full of interactive games. Outdoor, it has a Jurassic Park-inspired mini golf course, bumper boats, playland rides and a go-kart track. 

An all-day go-kart pass would cost $24.99, but since this is the little one's first time and we weren't sure if she would even enjoy the experience, we opted to do a single ride which costs $7.50.  

how high can you jump? eurobungy is a favorite among amusement park lovers.

how high can you jump? eurobungy is a favorite among amusement park lovers.

The Initial Fear

At first, this mama bear was a little worried the little cub may find the experience too scary or the engine noise too loud to actually enjoy the experience. 

What would she make out of other aggressive drivers who would intentionally bump into her and daddy's go-kart in an attempt to overtake them and get ahead? Will she feel petrified half-way through it by its speed? 

the view from the road offers a sneak peek of the thrill and fun awaiting amusement park guests.

the view from the road offers a sneak peek of the thrill and fun awaiting amusement park guests.

The Drive

I was only slightly comforted by the idea that her daddy will be taking control of the wheels and driving in a safe distance and speed in order to ensure this little girl doesn't get traumatized by her first experience. But I should have known better. As soon as other daddy drivers bumped into them, Brian's competitive spirit kicked in and he started racing with other drivers! Goodness!

Sometimes, you just have to feed a hungry dinosaur!

Sometimes, you just have to feed a hungry dinosaur!

As it turned out, I was worried for no reason. At the end of the ride, the little one jumped out of the kart like a pro and exclaimed she enjoyed her first go-kart experience! Silly mommy for even worrying.

Here's the face of a girl thrilled to see dinosaurs in the park.

Here's the face of a girl thrilled to see dinosaurs in the park.

Outdoor Fun

Aside from go-karts, there are several other outdoor activities to enjoy. There's the bumper boats, eurobungy and playland rides. We further explored around and toured its dinosaur-themed mini golf course, which would be a lovely way to introduce the little one to the sport of golf as going through its themed course feels like kiddie play. 

Who's ready to take a shot? hitting the 18th hole in the mini Golf course is dinosaur play.

Who's ready to take a shot? hitting the 18th hole in the mini Golf course is dinosaur play.

Arcade Games

After exploring all the outdoor activities, the little one couldn't resist playing indoor in its arcade. Oh boy, that brought so much fun memories since—before internet, video games and the malls—arcade was the place to be to spend a fun weekend with kids and family! So what's coming up next? Keep an eye out on a future blog post about why you need to let your child explore old-school family entertainment and where to go for a weekend at the arcade when in the sunny city of Tampa.

The indoor arcade is an explosion of bright lights and colors.

The indoor arcade is an explosion of bright lights and colors.

A Trip to the Zoo: The Magic of Meeting the Wildlife

Next to Disney World, nothing gets a kid more excited than the idea of going to the zoo for the first time. Recently, Ariana had her first field trip to the zoo and couldn't contain her excitement. Her entire kindergarten class visited Lowry Park Zoo, a 24-acre facility that houses more than 1,200 wildlife. 


There were many reasons why the little one was beyond thrilled about this field trip. For one, visiting the zoo is better when you have an exploration buddy, in this case, Gabie, who shared every "ohhs" and "ahhs" at the magical sight of giant elephants, playful tigers and splendid manta rays, just to name a few. 


Secondly, this little girl was so excited about the trip because she was eager to go on a school bus for the first time. Yes, this trip was a lot of firsts for this five-year-old! She was more than eager to report that her first bus trip was "magical." Only one other thing could possible top that: Being in the zoo itself and seeing all the rare and endangered animals.   


There are multiple exhibits at Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo, but her favorite is the Safari Africa exhibit. To experience the full exhibit, we hopped on a Safari trolley where a guide drove us around the entire area and pointed out unfamiliar wildlife in each enclosure. We saw okapis, zebras, cheetahs (the little one's favorite!) as well as magnificent African elephants. Lowry Park Zoo is home to three elephants from Swaziland, one from Namibia and two calves born at the zoo. Our guide also noted that the male elephant is always separated from the rest of the herd as he prefers to be solitary.


When planning a zoo trip with your little one, wait to visit until they are old enough to truly appreciate the full experience. As rookie parents, we made the mistake of taking Ariana too early to the Newport Aquarium in Cincinnati in the pastshe was either uninterested or terrified to see the giant mammals. Learning from our mistake, we made the decision to wait until she's older before bringing her to the zoo. This time around, she enjoyed every bit of the experience, including seeing the gigantic rhinocerous up close. 


Don't skip the bird sanctuary when in the zoo. The girls were delighted to see different species of birds, including eagles, hornbills and lovely flamingos in bright tangerine color. They were truly a one-of-a-kind sight to see!


Over at the Florida exhibit, the girls saw the Sunshine State's diverse wildlife, including manatees, crocodiles and the Florida panther. In fact, the girls (above) were simply in awe at these pre-historic-looking creatures.


Next to the sting ray exhibit is the aquarium for otters. The otter was clearly loving the attention as it kept showing off its amazing swimming and diving skills close to the glass where the kids were huddled to get a closer look at the tiny animal. As clearly shown on the little one's face, she was impressed by the little creature's aquatic performance!


Aside from its wildlife exhibits, Lowry Park Zoo also has a mini aquarium which displays sea horses, rare schools of fish, turtles and other amphibians.


Perhaps the highlight of the day was seeing the tiger and her baby cub play and chase each other. It was so adorable to see these wild creatures play hide-and-seek and playfully pounce on each other. It was almost easy to forget these are natural predators that are, in the wild, born to haunt and prey. 

Overall, it was such a wonderful experience for the kids. On the way home, this little girl summed up her day: "Best day ever!"

Beyond Bourbon and Horses: Exploring Lexington One Bite at a Time (Part II)

When visiting Lexington, come hungry. In a short couple of years, the culinary scene in this charming Southern city has gone from grits to gastropubthanks in part to young food-lovers with a sophisticated palate for unique food experiences. Proof to Lexington's continuing growth as a "food, craft beer and bourbon" haven is the number of dining options available, including more than 30 food trucks and well over 100 independently owned restaurants.

In historic Downtown Lexington, several new restaurants have popped up in the past few years, including The Village Idiot, which prides itself of being "Lexington's first gastropub." Housed in what was once a historic post office, the interior has an organic appeal and its food selectionfrom its vast array of craft beers to farm-to-table menuare a delight to the senses. Brian's favorite, of course, is The Idiot burger, a blend of burger meat and pulled pork on a toasted pretzel bun topped with Tillamook Cheddar and an oversized onion ring


Another one of our favorite burger spots is Bru Burger. Although it is a chain brand by the Cunningham Restaurant Group, it still has a bit of a Southern charm as the chain operates only in the tri-state of Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana. The menu offers a lot of surprises, making it ideal for foodies who love to experiment with their burger. My favorite is the Ahi Tuna burger, but Brian loves to explore new flavors, especially those that have a bit of a kick to the palate, like the Melt Your Face burger sprinkled with habanero sauce.


Craving for kimchi and bibimbop? We find it generally hard to find great Korean restaurants, but we've enjoyed Seki K Restaurant at Clays Mill Road during the many times we've been there. In fact, after introducing Seki to a few friends, we've converted them to Korean food for life. The interiors are cozy and quite intimate, with just the right amount of Asian touches. The appetizer platter, consisting of 10 side dishes, is a gastronomic experience on its own. If you're worried about anything too spicy or unusual, stick to the all-time favorites like bibimbop, dolsot and kalbi. What makes the place even better is that it's tucked behind Dong Yang Market, an Asian grocery store where you may buy sauces, noodles and homemade kimchi after a lovely lunch or dinner.


On days when you are in the mood for quick and affordable Chinese food, try Chengs Chinese Restaurant. Located near Seki, Chengs is by far the best hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant we've found. Hands down, we have yet to find another place that can rival its crispy General Tso's chicken. It is a delightful mix of sweet and spicy flavors with every bite. Try the homemade dimsum, hot and sour soup and beef with cashew nuts if you want other flavors. Lunch is very affordable, but if you are feeling adventurous, request for the Chef's Special menu. We've heard several friends rave about its eggplant dish, but we have never tried it yet as Brianwho can eat Gator meat and sea urchinrefuses to eat eggplant. Go figure that part out!


The cold Lexington winter months often call for hot soups, so it's a surprise that there are not that many Ramen-exclusive places around. But during our last visit, we've discovered Ramen Ya! located at S. Broadway. Ramen Ya! offers six different Ramen choices on the menu, all priced at $11. The noodles come in a good-sized bowl, but not large enough for sharing even for us who often split our meals (or we must really just be hungry that night!). I opted for a hot bowl of Shoyu Ramen, a bone soup-based dish with egg, scallion, mushroom, nori, corn and Chasu pork. Brian, of course, opted for the Spicy Ramen, which is just what Captain Cold ordered on a chilly December night in Lexington.


What better way to wrap up a week at Lexington than going back to one of our favorite Japanese restaurants, Miyako Sushi & Steakhouse. Located at Richmond Road, this Japanese restaurant is often packed, especially during weekend dinners, so reservations are recommended. Although we occasionally order gyoza or Katsudon, we go there primarily for the sushi. Our favorite is the spicy tuna, which has a delightful crunch at the end of every bite. This time around, we also tried their sashimi appetizer, which is a nine-piece sashimi platter of fresh, high-grade tuna, salmon and white fish. It was such a delight to the palate that even Ariana, who is very particular about her food, tried the tuna sashimi for the first time and gave it two thumbs up! It was so unexpectedwe almost teared up as any proud parents would seeing their kid bravely try new things!

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Beyond Bourbon and Horses: Exploring Lexington One Bite at a Time (Part I)

The little one has been missing Lexington, Kentuckyour former home before we moved to the Sunshine Statefor quite sometime now and had been wondering when we'll be home for the holidays. So when a serendipitous moment at work drew Mommy back to Lexington close to the holidays, we decided it's time to pack our bags, hop on a plane and take a family trip. 


This little girl was, of course, beyond thrilled at the thought of fun sleepovers with her cousins, the possibility of playing in the snow again as well as seeing magnificent horses (whether real or a piece of art) at every turn. Lexington wasn't one to disappointa magnanimous horse painting immediately welcomed the little one while at the airport.  


Although it is best known for bourbon and horses, there is more to Lexington than distillery and derby. In fact, the best way to experience this charming city is to take one bite at a time. As a food destination, Lexington is underrated, but the food scene here is growing and the younger foodie and bourbon-loving generation is helping to redefine its taste buds with its penchant for food trucks and restaurants that blend organic, craft drinks and vintage. What's our top recommendation if you are visiting the city for the first time? Put the Distillery Districta cluster of local distilleries, hip restaurants and cool barsin your must-experience list so you get a taste of modern-day Lexington's food and social scene.   


Although Southern cooking is a staple, Lexington never ceases to surprise when it comes to food with cultural influences. One tip that has served us well when searching for best places to eat: Follow the locals. Often, they know where to find the unpretentious, just-plain-good food unknown to many tourists. One local favorite is Sahara Mediterranean Cuisine along Fieldstone Way. One sign it has good food? Lunch often means long queues that stretch outside its door. But who's complaining? For many locals, it's a small price to pay for the promise of a delicious serving of lamb and beef kebab with hummus, Greek salad, pine-roasted rice and pita bread.


When it comes to upper-scale Cuban food, you can always count on Brasabana to deliver. Located at Lane Allen Road, Brasabana offers Latin favorites with a bit of an island flair. For instance, instead of the expected tortilla chips and salsa, Brasabana serves complimentary plantain chips, something I enjoy in flavor far better than traditional corn chips since the plantain's hint of sweetness offers a nice contrast to the salsa's citrusy flavor.


I suggest starting your Cuban meal experience with Empanadas (Brian raves about them) or Papas Rellenes (Cuban-style potato and meatballs). We've tried the Peruvian Chicken and Havana Nueva (both good), but as creatures of habit, Brian and I often have a hard time deviating from our all-time favorite: Carnitas. The slow-roasted chunks of pork have a crispy exterior and remind me of flavors from back home in the Philippines, while the pickled onions and peppers elevate the taste a notch higher.

There's more food adventures ahead in Part II of this travel feature, including a new food spot that exclusively serves Ramen (perfect on days with bone-chilling temperatures), a Southern resto-chain that serves unique burgers (Ahi tuna burger, anyone?) and a Japanese restaurant where every sushi on a plate is a work of art.


Sponge Docks: A Little Taste of Greece (Part II)

For the uninitiated, the little quaint community at the Sponge Docks has long been known as the Greek Village because of its storied history. When early entrepreneurs discovered the profitability of harvesting and selling sponges, experienced Greek divers flocked to the Bayou to help create Tarpon Spring's sponge industry. Today, it's easy to have your full senses delighted by what you see, touch, smell, hear and taste at Florida's "Little Greece."


TOUCH: At the Greek Village at the Sponge Docks, there are more than 100 unique shops to visit. It's an "Adult Disneyland" for the souvenir-shopper as there's always a little treasure worth bringing homewhether that's a rainbow collection of starfishes, handmade bomb soaps, a miniature sponge diver sculpture or a hand-carved wooden pelican that would make a lovely decor by the porch. 

Madhatters: Ariana and daddy tested out  the silly hats sold at one of the novelty shops.

Madhatters: Ariana and daddy tested out  the silly hats sold at one of the novelty shops.

SEE: When shopping along its rows of boutiques and novelty shops, take in every color and view. You'll be amazed by the contrasts of organic, neutral palette that evokes a farmhouse-feel in some of its shops to the explosion of colors of many of its trinkets, like the nut-made bracelets above.


SMELL: It's impossible not to be drawn in by the shops' lovely aroma of handmade soaps, many of them made with olive and essential oils. One of our favorite shops around the block is Getaguru, which has the most fragrant lavender and peppermint soap we've ever found. Over at The Sponge Factory, be sure to grab a jar of the locally made body scrub in delicious scents. Ariana couldn't resist the Cotton Candy scrub, and mommy is not complaining as it left my hand ultra-soft.


HEAR: Hear trivia about Tarpon Springs and how sponges are harvested while you enjoy the brief documentary movie inside its sponge factories. Who knew the place was first called Bayou before Mary Ormond, the daughter of the Bayou's early settler, named it Tarpon Springs after the magnificent fish that inhabited its waters?


TASTE: You can never claim you've been at the Sponge Docks unless you've delighted in authentic Greek food. There are more than 10 restaurants and bakeries to choose from, some features live entertainment, belly dancing and authentic Greek music. There's Costas, which offers breakfast on the docks during weekends, Rusty Bellies Waterfront Seafood for either a serving of gyro or fresh-catch-of-the-day, and The Original Mama Maria's where the calamari is to-die-for. What better way to cap a Greek weekend adventure? With desserts, of course. Stop over at Hellas Bakery. We guarantee, you won't be able to resist the delightful desserts!


EXPERIENCE: To get the full experience, don't just have the customary photo shoot at the diver's booth at The Sponge Factory, but take the cruise experience to see sponge divers in action, go dolphin-watching or spend the entire day sport-fishing on a rented boat.

At the Sponge Docks, there is no shortage of things to do. The only thing short in this little paradise is, you guessed it, time. 

Sponge Docks: A Little Taste of Greece (Part I)

When I think of Greece, I think of its storied history, temple ruins, mythical gods and undeniable beauty, much like Helen of Troy, "the face that launched a thousand ships" in Greek mythology. The beautiful island of Greece is definitely on the family's bucket list of places to see, so when we heard of a little Greek community at the Sponge Docks at Tarpon Springs along Tampa Bay, Florida, we took the opportunity to experience a little taste of Greece.  


A trip to the Sponge Docks from where we live is a short 30-minute drive, making it ideal for a quick Saturday family adventure. Despite what mythical stories may tell you, there is no Greek tragedy here. The Sponge Docks came into being after John Cheney discovered the business potential of selling sponges harvested from Florida's rich ocean floor. Cheney was an associate of a wealthy entrepreneur named Hamilton Disston who, in 1880, saved the state of Florida from bankruptcy by purchasing four million acres of land (Tarpon Springs included) from the government.


By 1890, the sponge industry was firmly established at Tarpon Springs. With news of a growing sponge industry, Tarpon Spring's population grew as experienced sponge divers from Greece were soon after hired to help meet a growing market demand. Along with this, tourism exploded as more tourists were eventually drawn to the Sponge Docks to purchase sponges, see the divers in action and indulge in authentic Greek food. 


As more and more Greek divers came to Tarpon Springs for work, they later created a community that continued to celebrate the Greek way of life. Today, a life-sized statue of a sponger stands tall to honor the early divers who helped put Tarpon Springs on the world map as the "Sponge Capital of the World."


Sponges are aquatic animals that cling to a rock or coral. When harvesting, divers gently squeeze out the gurry, a gelatinous substance found in sponges. They then pound and clean the sponges on the ship's deck. Be warned: You'll likely get a whiff of rotten smell while walking by a ship with drying sponges. While the sponges' skin is drying, heat releases a gas that causes a salty, dead-fish smell.


Today, the Sponge Docks offers a lot of quirky finds, including decorated bicycles randomly displayed throughout the street, which are actually art installations by a local artist named Warren Gregory who was inspired to create art bikes from his time in Amsterdam. Visitors and diners may also enjoy acoustic music al fresco-style, with a view of the calm sea, docks and ships. Who could possibly resist a nice glass of wine, gyro or baklava with a stunning view?

Clockwise:  Ariana with her Papaw Arvil at The sponge factory; playing with puppets sold at one of the gift shops and with the rest of the family for a customary photo shoot in front of the divers' memorial.

Clockwise: Ariana with her Papaw Arvil at The sponge factory; playing with puppets sold at one of the gift shops and with the rest of the family for a customary photo shoot in front of the divers' memorial.

At the Sponge Docks, there are surprises at every turn. There are many more to this adventure so keep an eye out of Part II of this travel diary.

4 Reasons Why You Need to Put Mexico on Your Wellness Travel List

Just-turned-three Ariana catching the waves at Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

Just-turned-three Ariana catching the waves at Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

Next to the Philippines, Mexico is the second country Ariana had been on an international trip. She just turned three when we went to Playa del Carmen, one of Mexico's famed beach areas and more family-friendly than its neighbor, Cancun, a spring break favorite.

For many years, Mexico has a way of luring in the urban traveler with its natural landscape, Mayan ruins and Spanish-inspired culture. In fact, data from the Mexican Tourism Board estimates that from January to October last year, roughly 28.5 million tourists have traveled to explore Mexico.

But there's more to this tourist-favorite than the usual "been there, done that" experiences. For one, Mexico is slowly becoming a top destination of choice among wellness travelers seeking a quiet escape to reconnect with their inner selves.

Why should you add Mexico to your wellness travel bucket list? Here are four good reasons:

1. Affordable yoga retreat options

For many travelers, Mexico's appeal is its wide range of all-inclusive packages with price points that meet even those traveling on a limited budget. A quick research online shows yoga retreat centers like The Sanctuary located in Oaxaca, Mexico offers a personal retreat at $50 a day, inclusive of shared accommodation, food and yoga classes. Avoid the peak seasons, especially those that fall on major holidays like Christmas, New Year and Holy Week if you don't want to pay an extra $10 a day for a yoga retreat.

2. Beach meets mindfulness

One of the many reasons why Mexico is popular among tourists is its selection of splendid beaches. If you've never been to Mexico but are looking to combine vacation with moments of mindfulness by the beach, skip the often crowded Cancun and hit Playa del Carmen instead. It is a beachfront town along the Yucatan peninsula that is slowly earning a Euro chic-inspired reputation for its coastal beauty. Here, you don't only "see and be seen," but you also get to roll out your yoga mat and do your daily salutations by the beach, while basking in Mexico's glorious sunsets.

Another town known for its beaches is Tulum, where the popular Mayan ruins can be found. It is a coveted destination for luxury travelers because the place is secluded, giving you a semblance of a private escape while taking in the views of the Caribbean sea.

3. Spiritual awakening in cultural immersion

Mexico's blend of Mesoamerican and Spanish cultures help ensure that every traveler who visits the place gets to experience a unique cultural immersion. For wellness travelers wanting to recharge their chi, this unique culture serves as a wonderful backdrop for a spiritual awakening. After all, mindfulness can also be found in meeting the locals and appreciating Mexico's arts and crafts.

In between yoga sessions, head out to Mexico's mercados (market centers) to find colorful and hand-painted masks by the Hulchol Indians, an ethnic group who live in the Sierra Madre Mountains and known for their unique art pieces and embroidered manta garments. While souvenir shopping, look for intricately made clay pottery, weaved baskets and woodwork as Mexico is also known for these unique crafts.

4. Organic food with a Spanish flair

Mexico is also popular among travelers with a palate for organic and fresh foods. Mercado el 100, located in the trendy Roma neighborhood, is the first certified organic market in Mexico City. Produce sold at the street market are grown within 100 miles from the city; thus, the "100" in its name. Nearby is Mercado Roma, where you may choose foods from several different vendors selling and cooking their specialties next to each other in a packed warehouse space. Communal tables allow you to share meals with locals and traveling strangers brought to the place for similar reason: fresh and authentic Mexican food with a Spanish flair.

Ultimately, however way you want to experience Mexico, there's really only one way to do it right: Let go and get lost so you'll find your inner self in every adventure!

Have you ever been to Mexico? Tell us about your adventure in the comment box below.