Saturday, May 30, 2015

Punta Cana: Bavaro Adventure Park & Review

Bavaria Adventure park review
zorbing at Bavaro Adventure Park
Just over a month ago, Nick and I were enjoying the warm weather in Punta Cana, and taking a break from all of our crazy activities. Our trip was definitely a busy one, and one of the fun activities we were able to do was spend a day at Bavaro Adventure Park. Bavaro Adventure Park is conveniently located right by the hotel zone in Bavaro Beach (where a ton of the Punta Cana hotels are located). Today, I'm going to take a quick look at some of the awesome activities we were able to do, and the various highlights and lowlights of this adventure!

bavaro adventure park review
Flight Simulator at Bavaro Adventure Park

The first activity that Nick and I chose to take on was the flight simulator. This one is pretty much as it sounds- you get strapped into a contraption made to look like a giant flying bird, and then take off over the treetops and fly in a circle. If I'm honest, this was a bit underwhelming. However, it was a great way to start off our day, as this gave us a sky-high view of the rest of the park so we could plan out the rest of our attractions! For those who visit Bavaro Adventure Park and choose the unlimited activities package, this is definitely a great way to start out your day and be able to view the entire park.

bavaro adventure park review
the balls & the hill!
After the flight simulator, I knew I absolutely had to try zorbing- and since it was close by, it made perfect sense for our second stop! We swung by the zorbing hill, and prepared to roll our way down. The above picture is underwhelming- trust me, the hill was much bigger! In any case, we walked up the hill, got strapped in, and then had the next 30 seconds of our lives literally roll- and fly- by! Both Nick and I couldn't stop laughing, and I think zorbing was one of my favorite experiences at Bavaro Adventure Park. Definitely be prepared to sweat though- it gets quite warm in those balls!

review of bavaro adventure park
Our first Segway experience!
After flying through the air and rolling down a hill, we decided to take it nice and easy and go for a Segway ride. Neither Nick nor I had been on a Segway before, and we decided it might be a kind of cool experience to have. The Segway tour took you around the park, and you were able to really feel immersed in nature. It was the perfect way to relax and enjoy a new experience while on vacation.

punta cana to do
Posing before the climbing garden
After the Segway tour, we decided to experience the climbing garden. Essentially, the climbing garden is a maze of ropes, logs, and other materials to jump and climb through. Looking at it was definitely much easier than doing it! Neither of us thought it would be the workout it was, but at the end we were definitely sweating. After about a 45-minute workout, you are able to take a small zipline to the bottom. This is where our day got really interesting...upon landing at the bottom of the zipline, Nick discovered that his wallet had gone missing. On any normal occasion, this wouldn't be the best situation. But on vacation, when I hadn't brought my wallet or any of my credit cards, it was definitely important to have his. Cue us, and the eight staff members around us, walking around through the forest trying to find his black wallet. By some miracle, one of the amazing staff members found his wallet and returned it to us. What a lifesaver!

to do in punta cana
flipping on the trampoline!
 After our exhausting day full of adventures, Nick told me that it was about time to head back and relax for a little while. On our way out, I was able to persuade him to let me enjoy the bungee trampoline, which allowed you to do cartwheels and flips in the air at up to 32 feet high. I loved being able to jump up and do some flips, something I hadn't done since I was about 12 years old and had a trampoline at my parents house. This was definitely a fun experience, but again, just slightly underwhelming.

things to do in punta cana
Nick and I after my trampoline experience
Nick and I had a great time at Bavaro Adventure Park. Beyond the activities, Bavaro Adventure Park staff does a great job of leading you through a miniature nature garden, featuring the various plants, fruits, vegetables, and vegetation native to the Dominican Republic. It was a very interesting thing to experience a bit more of the culture than you would have simply staying on a resort 24/7, and both Nick and I were happy to be led through the nature garden and experience some of these various things...including, a (fortunately!) dead tarantula on the side of the path. In addition to the activities that we were able to do, Bavaro Adventure Park also has zip lining, paintball, and mountain biking available.

Beyond the activities at Bavaro Adventure Park, one of the highlights was definitely the staff. They treated Nick and I so well, and were such great people in general! The photographers also do an amazing job, and were able to capture so many terrific moments between Nick and I. When you head to Bavaro Adventure Park, make sure to check out the terrific work that the photographers do. They are really there every step of the way, and will capture each and every moment of these unique experiences for your family. For families staying in Punta Cana, I felt that Bavaro Adventure Park would be the perfect one-day, bang-for-your-buck experience- they really have a little bit of everything, from activities for children to activities parents will enjoy. You really can't go wrong with a trip to Bavaro Adventure Park!

The only lowlight (if you can call it that!) is that some of the activities are overwhelming. However, with so many great activities to choose from, it is easy to choose the ones that will be best for you and the people you visit with. A huge thanks goes out to the entire staff at Bavaro Adventure Park for providing Nick and I with such a terrific experience!

**Disclosure: I received a complimentary tour in order to facilitate this review. As always, this did not affect my review in any way and all opinions are my own.**

Sunday, May 24, 2015

13 Awesome Things to Do in Stockholm!

Stockholm, Sweden
It's no secret around here that I love Stockholm. This past year, I decided that without a doubt Stockholm is my favorite European city- read all about why here. Surprisingly, despite the numerous posts about Stockholm on my blog, I've never talked about some of the best things to do while visiting this city! Today, here are some of my favorite activities- both free, and not- to do while visiting Stockholm.

Vasa: Much more impressive in real life!
1. Soak in some culture at Vasa Museum.

Vasa Museum houses the Swedish warship Vasa, which was completed in 1628 after three years of construction. Vasa set off on her maiden voyage, promptly sinking in the Stockholm harbor archipelago a short 20 minutes after leaving. For the next 333 years, Vasa was preserved underwater; and the warship is currently 98% original. Vasa Museum can be fairly touristy, but no words will describe the beauty of this ship and the great detail that went into construction. Welcome to Sweden described Vasa Museum perfectly: "Because really, Swedes celebrate one of the worst naval disasters in history? Gosh!"

One of many stunning sunsets I have seen in Stockholm
2. Watch the sun set over the archipelago.

Because really, who doesn't love a good sunset?

one of the many shopping streets dotting the city
3. Go shopping.

As the capital of Sweden, Stockholm is a quite trendy city. There are terrific shops all over the city, with everything from staples such as Swedish H&M to luxury designers, and local boutiques scattered throughout the city.

4. Walk the bridge over to Sodermalm at night, and check out Stockholm all lit up.

Similar to soaking in the sunset, who doesn't love a good look at the city at night? With water surrounding the entire city, the reflection of the lights on the water is simply amazing.

the narrow, cobblestone streets of Stockholm
5. Get lost in the Gamla Stan.

Literally, get lost. Check out the main square, and then just wander the tiny streets.

6. Embrace Swedish culture, and hit up a local coffee shop for a fika.

Coffee is a huge part of Swedish culture, as Swedes drink more coffee per capita than any other nation. This is highly evident, especially when you consider the Swedish tradition of fika. There is not a direct translation for fika to English, but essentially fika is the art of having coffee, usually with a pastry or small bite to eat. Be prepared though- if you grab fika with a Swedish person, fika tends to take anywhere from 1-3 is not grabbing a quick cup of coffee and say hi, it is an art form!

Enjoying a glass of wine in the sunshine!
7. Eat. Drink. Repeat.

Do I even need to give an explanation for this? Check out the terrific restaurants, but also don't forget to grab a hot dog on the street from one of the many vendors.

search for painted windows, and eventually you will find them!
8. Search for painted windows.

Back when many of the buildings in Stockholm were constructed, glass was super expensive. As such, if you know what you are looking for you are able to spot painted windows. During construction, rather than paying for glass windows, 'windows' would be painted on buildings to give the appearance of a window.

9. Head to the ABBA Museum.

Because, ABBA. Swedish sensation. You know it.

kaffegillet, one of my favorite basement pubs in Stockholm
10. Find a basement pub, and soak in the historical atmosphere.

Stockholm is a very old city, and one of the few cities that wasn't bombed in either of the world wars. As such, the town is speckled with buildings that have been in existence since the 1200s and 1300s- and many of these buildings have now been converted into restaurants, complete with basement pubs. These pubs are one of the most unique attractions and things to do while visiting Stockholm.

at Cafe Opera with my love
11. Go dancing.

Stockholm's night life can be absolutely terrific. Head out to one of the many bars and clubs, and dance the night away.

12. Wander the bridges connecting this beautiful city.

Stockholm is a city built upon the water. Over 50 bridges connect 14 different islands, and as such you are never much farther than a stone's throw to the archipelago.

13. Vist a Rikstelefon booth, be a tourist, and grab a picture.

Of course, these are just a few of my favorite things to do in Stockholm. The city is huge, and has so much to offer to everyone. For those of you that have visited Stockholm, what are your favorite things to do?

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Currently. . . Almost Summer Edition

It's been awhile since I've posted around these parts- at least, compared to the last 6+ months. Truthfully, I have no excuses, and I'm not about to make them. At this point, I just don't have too much that I am able to write about. I'm working on figuring out different aspects of my life, and redefining life plans. Since that is where my focus has been, this blog has taken a little bit of a backseat! With that, lets take a quick look into life recently around these parts!

Adjusting: I'm adjusting to getting back into the swing of work. Last summer I picked up a pretty easy serving job about 2 blocks away from where I live. This year, I decided it was time for a change (sort of!) and am back at my old serving job in downtown Minneapolis. After three years of being away, it is definitely a bit of an adjustment to go back and meet the new people. Fortunately, lots of the staff whom I always loved working with is still there. For now, it is just a matter of getting used to the late nights again!

Managerial Accounting... my current arch nemesis
Banging: My head against the wall as I try to decipher managerial accounting. For those of you unfamiliar with managerial accounting, it is my personal belief that these types of courses were invented to ruin perfect GPAs. Accounting is just not something I can wrap my head around, so I've been spending way too much time trying to understand the chaos (not rules) that managerial accounting is guided by. Only 7.5 weeks left of the course!

Organizing: My closet. I've never really enjoyed the 'order' in which I organized my closet a few years ago. Since then, between only living in Minneapolis 3 months of the year, and constantly moving clothes in and out of the closet, I've never found a method to the madness that works for me. Along with the simple organization comes donating the mass amounts of clothes that I haven't worn recently or don't fit me. Several trips to the donation box have already been made!

Anticipating: Some big changes in life. I don't know what they are (yet) but I know that something is coming down the pipeline. This has been part of the reason for my absence blogging lately- most of the anticipated news and/or feelings I haven't been able to publicly put them out there until things are finalized. While I definitely can be a go-with-the-flow person, I also highly enjoy planning ahead and list-making. As such, I'm anxious for things to be finalized so I can get back to my usual routine of using blogging as a cathartic release!

On our last trip in Punta Cana
Wishing: That traveling in the U.S. was much more like Europe. Technically, the U.S. has discount air carriers, but when you can't find a flight anywhere besides Chicago for less than $100 does it really count? In my opinion, no. Clearly, I had forgotten about the state of the travel system in the U.S. or I definitely would have made a few more trips this past year in Sweden. Hello, flights to Poland and London for $20 roundtrip. And on the subject of travel...

Wondering: Just where to hang our scratch-off travel map here in Minneapolis. Yes, we loved Nick's anniversary present so much that we ordered another for our condo here. Now, to find a great frame and place to put it in order to inspire us on future travels... Although, if it was up to me and cost wasn't an issue, our next travels with be to Brazil, Russia, India, China (yes, the BRIC countries), Australia, and Canada. Why? Because they cover huge amounts of land mass and then I can scratch off a great portion of the map.

Ordering: Way too much stuff online. Usually, I don't purchase too many things online- but for the last few weeks, online shopping has suddenly become my best friend! Even as I was typing this out, I realized I needed to order a new apron for work, so popped right on over to Amazon to place that order. Lets hope this is the end of my online shopping days!

Wanting: An occasion to get all dolled up for a date night on the town. Of course, before that happens Nick and I's schedules need to align with a full night off. I tell ya, it'll happen sometime!

Concentrating: On taking a little time for myself each day, and cutting myself some breaks. I've blogged before about how I constantly feel the need to be doing something and to be productive. This results in me spending every single day working on homework and blogging, never giving myself a second to breathe. I am doing better about it this summer- I have finished my homework for this week (besides 20 minutes I'll do tomorrow), so I should have the weekend off from homework!

On that note, I'm off to enjoy a little bit of a nap this afternoon before heading into work. How has your week/summer been shaping up? Any big news going on in your life?

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Scuba in Paradise: Passion Paradise Adventures

Having been home from the Dominican for almost two weeks now, started my new class (accounting, yuck!) and my new job, the thrill of vacation has definitely worn off. Fortunately, one of the highlights of this trip is that Nick and I were able to do so many awesome things- check them all out at my highlight post - and get so many amazing pictures! Because it's been raining off and on for the last several days here, I figured it was time to get out of the rain and in the water. Or, at least for the case of this post, take a look back at our scuba trip with Passion Paradise Adventures!

Our morning started off at a good time, with an 8:15 A.M. pick-up. We were retrieved directly from our hotel, and then had about an hour ride to the marina. One of the benefits of booking a trip with Passion Paradise Adventures is that they are on the south side of the island (versus the eastern portion). This is a huge benefit, because it means that the water is much calmer, which is better all around for boating, swimming, snorkeling, and scuba. Based off that alone, Passion Paradise Adventures is one of the best snorkel/scuba tours available in Punta Cana and the Dominican Republic.

Passion Paradise Adventures review
With 2 of the amazing staff, Eileen and Chantel
Right upon arriving at the marina, Nick and I were greeted by the entire Passion Paradise Adventures Staff. Two of whom we spent the most time with were Eileen and Chantel. Passion Paradise Adventures is a family-run company, but let me tell you, each of the staff members appears to be treated like family. Eileen is the CEO, while Chantel is the Financial Director, and they are both excellent faces of the company as well. It was so terrific to hear their stories of traveling the world, and how they ultimately decided on the Dominican Republic as the place they would call home and begin this business.

One of the things that shone through the most to me during our experience was how aptly named the company is. Each of the staff members is truly, 110% passionate about not only scuba diving, but giving guests the best possible experience while in the Dominican and helping out in the community. For this, I am completely in awe of the staff and do not have enough terrific things to say! We had the opportunity to interact with each of the staff members, from Eileen and Chantel to the dive masters, managers, chefs, boat captains, and bartenders. Each of them are terrific!

So, so far there are a couple of great things going for Passion Paradise Adventures- the perfect location, and the amazing staff. I'll take a quick look at their beach bar and space on Isla Catalina before moving on to the good stuff- scuba pictures!

Passion Paradise Adventures Hooter Beach Bar on Isla Catalina
After the action of snorkeling and scuba diving, the group headed onto the white sand beaches of Isla Catalina. Passion Paradise Adventures has a great set up, with their aptly-named Hooter Beach Bar and festive building. After a long day, it was great to be greeted by the staff with complimentary beverages and a delicious lunch. The lunch had tons of options for everyone- vegetarian dishes were included, and the staff made every effort to accommodate vegetarians and food allergies. Several hours of relaxation in the sun (or shade) and mingling with the other guests was the perfect way to top of the day before heading back towards the main shore!

best scuba in punta cana
strolling the beach of Isla Catalina, in front of Passion Paradise Adventure's bar
And now, let's get on to the best part... the scuba! After some brief safety instructions, the scuba divers on the boat hopped into the water. Nick and I went off with one of the instructors on a private little dive as Nick hadn't scuba-d (yes, that is now a word) before. After taking some time to get adjusted to the feel of being underneath the water, we started our descent and quickly started to be able to take in the underwater sights and sensations.

Best Scuba in Dominican Republic
Nick and I scuba diving!
The entire experience was absolutely amazing. With Passion Paradise Adventures, Nick and I went on one 25-30 minute dive. During this time, the rest of the scuba divers went on a dive while snorkelers had some time as well. We spent around an hour in this location- called "The Wall". The Wall is a steep drop near Isla Catalina, starting at 5 meters and dropping to 40+ meters. After time at The Wall, the tour moves on to a location called The Aquarium. The Aquarium is great for both scuba diving and snorkeling, and while a more shallow spot offers tons of wildlife and coral reef to take in and view. We loved that with Passion Paradise Adventures you had the option to do this second dive/snorkel, or head in to Isla Catalina for some relaxing on the beach.

fish swarming us everywhere on The Wall!
Throughout our dive, there were definitely opportunities to mingle with the wildlife. Here are just a few of those pictures- I swear, it is us with the fishies, you just can't see us the best due to the swarm!

Nick with the fish
myself hanging out with the critters!
It was actually quite cool throughout the dive how great the photo opportunities were. Believe it or not, I'm only sharing the tiniest fraction of pictures that Eileen (the amazing photographer!) was able to capture for us. On several different occasions, Eileen would swim around to the various scuba divers for a few good photo opportunities. In her hand, she carried a water bottle full of bread crumbs, and would proceed to squirt the crumbs into your hand to release for the fish. They absolutely went crazy, and you can definitely tell in the above pictures! Now, here is just a quick look at all of the wildlife we were able to see and a few shots of the coral reef...

best scuba in Dominican Republic
the coral reef
I see you, Mr. Crab! 
Fish in their natural habitat- coral reef
Sting ray along the ocean floor
 One of the things that definitely amazed me is how well the wildlife really blended in and camouflaged themselves to their environment. You can definitely spot this guy above, but I was lucky that our guide was trained and helped Nick and I to spot the majority of the wildlife that we saw!

baby sting ray!
my favorite- the blowfish!
Of course, while some of the wildlife blended in, other creatures definitely stood out at times. You can see my favorite guy, the blowfish, above. Clearly, when he is out floating about he stands out- but put him against the coral reef and you might not spot him!

For anyone considering a trip to the Dominican Republic, I would definitely recommend checking out Passion Paradise Adventures for either snorkeling or scuba diving. They provide such a terrific experience for the guests, and as I mentioned before the staff's passion is very evident in everything they do. The entire day was such a blast, and I can't recommend Passion Paradise enough! For anyone looking into the best scuba diving or snorkeling in Punta Cana, you have just found it! A huge thank you goes out to the entire staff at Passion Paradise Adventures. Nick and I can't wait for our return!

**Disclosure: I received a complimentary tour in order to facilitate this review. As always, this did not affect my review in any way and all opinions are my own.**

Sunday, May 3, 2015

7 Blog Investments You Should Make

As I've mentioned in previous posts, the more I learn about blogging the more work it becomes. Going along with this theme, there was a time when I thought blogging didn't (and shouldn't) cost any money. My opinions on this have quickly changed. Now when I spend money for my blog, rather than thinking of it as an expense I view it as an investment. As such, today I'm going to talk about the seven investments all bloggers should make!

1. Your time and effort. In my opinion, this is the most important investment you can make in your blog. If you put no time into blogging, it will be incredibly obvious to those who come across your blog. Whether it is time in the form of writing new posts, editing old posts, social media promotion, design elements- whatever it is, the time you put towards blogging should be useful. Similarly, effort will show as well. Posts laden with spelling and grammatical mistakes will annoy the majority of readers, and make it difficult to understand what you are trying to communicate. Put forth the time and effort, and you will be rewarded! While you aren't necessarily 'purchasing' time and effort, what you put into blogging is taking away from other things you could be doing. As such, this is an investment you should be making into your blog, from the moment you begin!

2. Custom domain name. Purchasing a custom domain name is the second investment every blogger should make. It is a relatively simple and easy process that has so many rewards. Purchasing a custom domain name displays to the world a certain level of dedication towards blogging. When I started blogging, I began by purchasing , and switched to a year and a half later.

3. Custom website theme. After investing your time and effort, and purchasing a custom domain name, the next step is to purchase (or design) a custom website theme. For the non-creatives and HTML-challenged like myself, there are tons of great custom themes available from Etsy and other shops. They range in price, but you can get a great design starting at just $10-15. There are certainly more expensive themes available, but these are not always necessary!

4. An awesome camera. I just recently received a Nikon D3200 for my birthday, and have completely fallen in love with this camera already. The quality of my pictures has improved so much, and I can't wait to continue using this camera and learning more about it! The only thing I dislike about this recent purchase is that I didn't do it months- or years- ago. For any blogger, a great camera is definitely a necessity. There are tons of great DSLR cameras, and other cheaper options out there to fit any budget!

my business cards with contact information and social media links
5. Business cards. If you had asked me six months ago if I thought business cards were necessary for a blog, I likely would have said no. Today, I cannot stress the importance of them- it is such a great way to grow your blog! My best tip for business cards is to get them before you think you need them, even if it is just printing out a few on your home printer. You will be surprised how many opportunities there are to hand out cards and help grow your blog.

6. Educational classes and tutorials. I'm not the best photographer in the world- far from it. With a new camera in hand, I'm greatly looking forward to taking a few photography classes this summer. For any blogger, it can be greatly beneficial to identify what you can improve on, whether it is photography, SEO, HTML coding, anything. Once you've identified what you would like to improve on, find out what classes or tutorials are available to you to help improve!

7. Living a life worth blogging about. This can apply to any type of blog. For beauty and fashion bloggers, this may mean purchasing stylish and fashionable pieces as soon as they hit stores. For a travel and lifestyle blogger like myself, it means that I need to get out of the house and do things worth blogging about. Now, I'm not saying that you have to spend all of your money on things/experiences to blog about- but you definitely have to get out in public once in awhile!

And for today, that is what I have in terms of how you should be spending money on your blog! Of course, there are many other ways you can spend money to invest in your blog. A very popular one is to invest in self hosting. Personally, I haven't felt the absolute need to do this yet- although this could change at any point! What are the best ways you have found to invest in your blog, and how has it paid off for you?
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