8 Days in Morroco: Final Days in Marrakech

So after wandering the desert for forty years, I mean, four days, our driver dropped us off at El Fenn in Marrakech. To say I was thrilled to walk through those doors is a gigantic understatement, as it was my 30th birthday and I had a good dose of Moroccan food poisoning the night before and still felt pretty wretched. I had high expectations for the hotel and was a bit nervous that I’d be setting myself up for disappointment, but our experience at El Fenn was absolutely wonderful and I would highly recommend it to anyone looking to stay in the medina for a few days.

30th Birthday Girl / Food Poisoning Survivor

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Spa pool

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Rooftop pool

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Grass on the rooftop

Sights and sounds of the nearby Koutoubia Mosque

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Our wonderful room

With three pools, full spa and hammam services, a fully-stocked bar, and absolutely gorgeous grounds, it felt as if we’d checked into heaven, the perfect place to spend the last two nights of our trip. Our own photos of El Fenn don’t do it justice, but you can check out the hotel’s Instagram feed to get a better idea of how beautiful it is. (You can also search the photos of the folks who’ve tagged El Fenn as their location to see how beautiful the guests are, too!)

There are many ultra-fancy hotels outside the medina in Marrakech, but we loved that El Fenn was in the middle of the action yet still completely calm and relaxing. The wonderful staff was so helpful and genuine, and everyone there always greeted us with a smile. The food at the hotel was also very delicious, although I didn’t have much of an appetite during our two-night stay. However, we did every much appreciate the daily tea-time pastries and complimentary drinks.

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8 Days in Morroco: Erg Chebbi and Ait Benhaddou Tour

When we originally booked this trip to Morocco, all we knew was that 1) we wanted to use Marrakech as our base city, and 2) we needed to do some sort of desert tour. We quickly learned that in order to see the desert properly from Marrakech, you need to either rent a car yourself or hire a driver to take you on a four day-minimum itinerary. Without really knowing what to expect, we asked our first hotel, Riad Meriem, to book a four day tour on our behalf.

All we knew was that we needed this photo

All we knew was that we needed to make this photo happen

I’m not sure if it’s company that Riad Meriem always recommends, but they signed us up with a private tour via Aztat Tours. To be quite frank, I was a bit nervous when I noticed that their company name didn’t match what’s on their website (e.g. Aztat and Atlas) and that they asked for the money up front in cash when we were picked up from our riad, but their reviews were good on Tripadvisor, so we went with it.

Let’s start with the good stuff. Our guide Mustafa, while not necessarily the friendliest of guys, was an excellent driver. His 4×4 seemed well-equipped to handle the windy, bumpy Moroccan roads, and he knew the country like the back of his hand. He had a cold and his English wasn’t so great, but we were just relieved that he delivered us safely to each of our destinations.

Also, the Moroccan landscapes that we saw throughout the four day tour were nothing short of breathtaking. Mustafa whisked us away from the Marrakech medina and before we knew it we were in the middle of the Atlas Mountains. A few hours later we were back on flat ground and walking around the ancient Ait Benhaddou kasbah, a UNESCO World Heritage Site where films like Gladiator and Lawrence of Arabia were shot.

The Atlas Mountains

The Atlas Mountains

Ait Benhaddou

Ait Benhaddou

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Moroccan Hollywood

The next day it seemed as though we visited several completely different planets because the terrain started out flat and rocky in Ouarzazate, then suddenly we were overlooking massive canyons, then we were in the green Draa Valley, and finally we arrived at the gorgeous golden sand dunes of Merzouga (a.k.a. Erg Chebbi).

Ouarzazate kasbah

Ouarzazate kasbah

Oh look, a massive canyon in the middle of Morocco

Oh look, a massive canyon in the middle of Morocco

In the middle of nowhere

In the middle of nowhere

Camel trekking in the Sahara

And before we knew it we were camel trekking in the Sahara

The camel trek and Berber tent overnight were definite highlights of the trip, and as you can see below it is shockingly difficult to take good photos while riding a camel.

Camel trekking!

Camel trekking!

Ilana and Aaron of Arabia

Ilana and Aaron of Arabia

Our luxurious desert tent

Our luxurious desert tent

Sunset in the Sahara

Sunset in the Sahara

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8 Days in Morroco: First Impressions of Marrakech

My husband and I just got back last week from a pretty awesome eight day trip in Morocco, but I must admit that I’m glad to be back in San Francisco. Don’t get me wrong, it was a great vacation, but it was one of those trips that also made me really appreciate the comforts of home.

We chose Morocco in the first place because neither of us had been to Africa before and we were looking for a destination that was warm, exotic, and relaxing, but with plenty of adventure. Our plan was to spend two nights at one hotel in Marrakech, go on a private four day/three night desert tour, and then spend our final two nights at another fancier hotel back in Marrakech. (We had originally toyed with the possibility of spending one night in Essaouira at the end of the trip, but boy are we relieved that we nixed that idea. We were completely exhausted by the end of the desert tour, and it felt so nice to just relax in Marrakech when it was over.)

marrakech airport

Bonjour, Marrakech!

Our first two nights in Marrakech were spent at the stylish Riad Meriem, a beautifully decorated boutique hotel in the heart of the medina. The manager Hassan made us feel right at home and was always happy to pour us some Moroccan mint tea or Casablanca beer. Knowing that we’d get hopelessly lost if we even attempted to navigate the confusingly windy roads on our own, he arranged for his colleague to walk us to Cafe Arabe for our first dinner and pick us up again afterward. It felt a bit funny to have a designated escort, but we were grateful! Below are some pics that don’t do Riad Meriem justice:

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During our first full day in Marrakech we sought out some of the major tourist attractions such as the Ali Ben Youssef Madrasa, Bahia Palace, Jemaa el Fna, and Dar Si Said, and in between we made sure to get ourselves lost within the never-ending maze of souks. In retrospect, I wish that we had hired a guide to show us around the souks with a bit more of a sense of purpose and context, but it was fun getting lost on our own nonetheless.

Courtyard of Ali Ben Youssef Madrasa

Courtyard of Ali Ben Youssef Madrasa

Beautiful tile work everywhere

Beautiful tile work everywhere

Bahia Palace courtyard

Bahia Palace courtyard

Dried fruit stall

Dried fruit stall

Marrakech shopping

Marrakech shopping

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Seattle Weekend Recap

Happy Monday! We just got back from a wonderful weekend in Seattle, and we’re already excited about finding another time to head back up there. As great as San Francisco is, the prices here keep going up and up and the city seems more crowded than ever. Seattle, on the other hand, seems a lot more affordable and has tons of fun stuff going on without the intense competition for getting an apartment/restaurant reservations/tickets/cabs etc. We also had three perfectly sunny days there, and we’re starting to suspect that Seattle’s whole “rainy reputation” is just a ploy to keep the Californians from moving there in droves.

Here are some of the highlights from our weekend:

  • Absolutely everyone we asked told us to stay in Capitol Hill. We went the B&B route and stayed at Mozart Guest House right next to Volunteer Park. B&B’s aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but the owner Tina was a fantastic host and her breakfasts were a delicious start to each day.
  • If you’re into live sports, Seattle is a great city for you. We went to a Seattle Sounders* game on Friday, a University of Washington game on Saturday, and an Oakland A’s – ahem, I mean Seattle Mariners – game on Sunday. All of the stadiums looked great, were clean, and easy to get to. We loved wandering around the beautiful U of W campus, too.
  • Coffee, coffee everywhere! We only wished that the weather was a bit cooler so we would’ve craved it more.
  • The Fremont neighborhood is definitely worth the visit. We started our tour at the Fremont Troll then headed west to check out the Sunday market and funky shops.
  • I wouldn’t exactly call us a “Farmers’ market couple,” but the Sunday Market in Ballard was adorable. So much gorgeous produce, lots of good brunch places (without massive lines!!!) all around, and cute dogs everywhere.
  • The typical touristy stuff was great, too. The jaw-dropping Chihuly Garden and Glass took our breaths away, and the view from the top of the Space Needle was also worth the wait. Exploring Pike Place Market (AKA SF’s Ferry Building on steroids) was also a lot of fun, but we unfortunately didn’t have the appetite at the time to try any of the delicious-looking food. Travel-fail!
  • When we actually did have appetites, we very much enjoyed our meals at Scratch, Honey Hole, Local 360, and Poquitos.
  • We took an Uber to Alki Beach in West Seattle, then took a water taxi back to Pier 50. Would’ve been even better if we took the water taxi both ways, then we could’ve rented bicycles by Seacrest Dock instead of walking.

Below are a few pics from the trip.

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photo 2 (58)      sounders

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University of Washington

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Chihuly glass

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Safeco Field - Go A's!

Safeco Field – Go A’s!

A big thanks to my sister Nicole and my friends Alice, Cicely, Matt, and Maritza for all of the great Seattle recommendations. Hopefully we’ll be able to plan another trip up there this winter, so we can find out if the bad weather is just a myth after all.

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* The Seattle Sounders soccer match was one of the biggest highlights of the whole weekend. Their fans are insane, the pregame excitement was palpable, and they even have their own choreographed marching band, the Seattle Soundwave. The March to the Match is one of the coolest sports traditions that I’ve ever seen.

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Believe it or not, we’re approaching mid-September already! I’m definitely not complaining though. Fall has always been my favorite season for many reasons. It evokes memories of back-to-school shopping, college football is in full swing (go blue!), and it’s the best time of year weather-wise in San Francisco (thank you, Indian Summer!). Fall is also a great time of year to plan vacations because prices general dip once the school year begins. Just make sure that any travel deals you find aren’t too good to be true (ahem, hurricane season).

Last year our fall was packed with trips to Big Sur, Portland, Phoenix, Ann Arbor, and Fort Worth, and it looks like our schedule is filling up quickly again. We have plans to visit Seattle, Chicago, Morocco, and Newport Beach in the near future, as well a big trip in December that I’m hesitant to even mention for fear of jinxing it. More on that later.

Clockwise from top left: Seattle, Marrakech, Chicago, Newport Harbor

Clockwise from top left: Seattle, Marrakech, Chicago, Newport Harbor

In the meantime, I’m starting to work on planning our Morocco trip in October and welcome any recommendations for Marrakech, the Atlas Mountains, and Essaouira. If you have any travel tips, please send them my way!

Real Honeymoon: Bali

We’re back this week with a very awesome honeymoon in Bali! Jeanne and Kevin were lucky enough to get invited to a destination wedding in Bali earlier this year, so they decided to piggyback their honeymoon onto that. Instead of staying at a resort, a friend recommended that they rent a villa instead which they loved. (I wish I had thought of that for my own honeymoon)! Read all about their amazing trip and helpful Bali recommendations below:

When and where did you honeymoon? 

Bali, May 2014.

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How long was your trip? 

Two weeks.

bali honeymoon

How did you decide on your honeymoon destination? 

One of my husband’s best friends was getting married in Bali and my husband was a groomsman, so we decided to go to the wedding and turn the rest of the time into our honeymoon!

Bali honeymoon

The best part about our honeymoon was…

The absolute natural beauty of Bali. It’s really incredible; very tropical with amazing wild life. Monkeys everywhere!  The beaches are so different depending on where you go. Some are filled with coral and some are just white sand and clear water.  But no matter what, it’s stunning!

bali

If I knew then what I know now, I’d change…

I don’t think I would change anything about our trip, but it is a very LONG trip to get to Bali. It was a total of 32 hours of travel to get there and a few more hours to get back. It’s exhausting, and I probably should have gotten a prescription sleep-aid to help with the time difference!

bali

How much planning did you do in advance? 

We did a LOT of planning but had the help of my husband’s friend who has vacationed a lot in Bali as they live in Singapore. Most of the research that we did was on where to stay, but the great part about Bali is that once you get there, it is pretty inexpensive. There are several large resorts on the main island, but we chose to stay in a private “villa,” which is just a fancy name for someone’s house that they rent out.

There are tons of options if you go the villa route; you can rent enormous ones for a big group to stay, or do what we did and rented a private 2 bedroom villa for ourselves. We stayed in the villa for eight nights on the main island.

The villa was great! It was mostly open-air except for the bedroom that had A/C. We had a private pool, cook, driver, and maid… all for a little over $100 USD/night!  So if you want to cut costs on a Bali vacation, where you stay really has a lot to do with it. If you stay at a resort, the cost per night is just like the average US hotel room, and it was just more private and romantic for us in the Villa.

We did a ton of stuff while on the main Island of Bali. Aside from the wedding, of course, we did a lot of sightseeing and was able to hit a few beach clubs at the recommendation of Kevin’s friend.

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Here is a list of a few places we went to including restaurants:

  • We stayed at Villa Lumba in Seminyak, owned by a really nice couple.
  • We visited Pura Luhur Uluwatu temple- known for the monkeys and the amazing sunset!
  • Finn’s Beach Club- this was an AMAZING beach club, by far one of my favorite parts about this vacation- cannot beat this!
  • PotatoHead Beach Club- another amazing beach club!
  • Wedding was at Villa Phalosa- absolutely incredible villa, blew me away and a PERFECT spot for a wedding…most amazing wedding I’ve ever been to
  • Naughty Nuri’s- very casual restaurant in Seminyak, known for meat! we went here the first night we were in Bali and visited with the bride/groom and the rest of their close friends- pretty good!
  • Villa Kaira- this was the villa that most of the family of the bride and groom stayed at, very very beautiful and perfect for a group to rent together.
  • Vue Beach Club at LV8 Resort- we hung out here the day after the wedding and had food and used the pool area, gorgeous! only 5.00 to use the pool and food was inexpensive! incredible view of the ocean.

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Real Honeymoon: Thailand

If you’re looking for the perfect combination of relaxation and adventure, Thailand is one of the best possible honeymoon destinations out there. (Its absolutely delicious food, incredibly friendly people, and low price points don’t hurt either!) Read all about Elana and Adam’s amazing honeymoon in Thailand below:

When and where did you honeymoon?

We went to Thailand in November of 2013: Bangkok for two days, Chiang Mai for four days, Phuket for five days, and Krabi for three days. We heard that was a good time of year to go because the rainy season was just ending. There was a little bit of rain on our trip but most of the time it was welcomed and it didn’t prevent us from doing anything we had planned.

thailand honeymoon

How long was your trip?

2 weeks, but we would have loved another week to travel to some other parts of Thailand and SE Asia.

thai honeymoon

How did you decide on your honeymoon destination(s)?

We chose Thailand based on recommendations from friends who have travelled there, and also the fact that we needed a good mix of relaxation and adventure. We’re not really “sit-on-the-beach-for-a-week-and-do-absolutely-nothing” kind of people.

thai honeymoon

The best part about our honeymoon was…

I would say it’s a tie between Chiang Mai and Railay Beach. Chiang Mai has so much to offer; the city limits are only a little over a square mile but the province is enormous with so many little villages and hill tribes and so much culture. We picked coffee beans right off the tree and ate them, rode elephants, hiked through the jungle, and saw a Thai boxing match all in the same day.

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Railay Beach is so picturesque you feel like you’re in a movie. You can rent a kayak for a about $8 per day and take yourselves through these incredible caves on the Andaman Sea. Its got a relaxed island feel, monkeys hang out on your hotel balcony, and you can eat the freshest fish for dinner that was caught that day.

If I knew then what I know now, I’d change…

The public bathroom situation is usually less than desirable, so I’d bring more of my own toilet paper. I’d also give myself an extra week to travel, and I would bypass Bangkok all together. People warned us that we wouldn’t really care for Bangkok, but we couldn’t go to Thailand and not stop there. Now that we’ve seen it, I don’t need to ever go back. It’s busy, dirty, touristy, etc. A few temples are cool, but how many temples do you need to visit on one trip?

bangkok honeymoon

How much planning did you do in advance?

Several months’ worth. It’s hard to figure out how to get where you need to go and make sure that you’re using your time efficiently. Thailand is big, and it could take a couple of days to get from one end to the other if you don’t plan it right.

thai honeymoon

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Real Honeymoon: Hong Kong & Thailand

Friends of last week’s couple who went on a honeymoon in Paris and the Maldives, Katie and Christopher also went on an incredible honeymoon recently. In search of delicious food and gorgeous beaches, they decided to split their time between Hong Kong and three different places in Thailand. Read all about their amazing multi-moon below:

When and where did you honeymoon?

We left bright and early Sunday, June 15th [2014], the morning after our wedding. We flew to Hong Kong where we spent a few days sightseeing, eating, and generally just enjoying the amazing city. From Hong Kong we flew to Chiang Rai, Thailand where we stayed at the Four Seasons Tented Camp. After a few days in Northern Thailand, we went to Bangkok for a couple of days and then to the lovely island of Koh Samui for five nights of relaxation. We ended the honeymoon with one more night in Hong Kong.

Katie and Christopher at Camp Peak

Katie and Christopher at Camp Peak

How long was your trip?

Two weeks.

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How did you decide on your honeymoon destinations?

My husband Christopher picked our destination and did a large part of the planning (with a little help from a travel agent). Thailand has always been one of the top destinations on our travel bucket list and it seemed to have the perfect mix of everything we wanted for a honeymoon: adventure, wildlife, and beautiful beaches. We paid for flights with miles so it worked out best to fly in and out of Hong Kong, which turned out to be one of our favorite cities.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong

The best part about our honeymoon was…

The Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle is heaven on earth and was by far our favorite part of the trip. We stayed in our own “tent” which was the most luxurious accommodation I’ve ever set foot in. It overlooked a beautiful river, low mountains, and all the wildlife you could take in.

Golden Triangle

Golden Triangle

The resort also partners with an elephant reserve where they rescue elephants and take care of them in their day-to-day life. We were able to feed the elephants every morning and even got to ride and help bathe them. They are such amazing and gentle creatures, and being so close to them was a once in a lifetime experience.

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Riding elephants

On top of the amazing scenery and wildlife, was the incredible food. Our first night there, we were served a traditional Thai meal and it was some of the best food I’ve ever eaten. I will forever dream of the food at this resort.

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Traditional Thai dinner

If I knew then what I know now, I’d change…

Perhaps where we stayed in Koh Samui. We stayed on the northern tip of the island which was beautiful and secluded but the airport was only a few miles away so the planes flying in and out would go directly over our resort. The resort was amazing and well worth this small hiccup but I would be interested in seeing some of the other resorts. Also, Koh Samui the island was a little more developed and crowded than we had expected, although apparently significantly less so than Phuket. For a truly “remote” experience, we probably would have chosen a different beach destination. All of that being said, it was still an incredible island with beautiful views.

View from the deck at Six Senses, Koh Samui

View from the deck at Six Senses, Koh Samui

How much planning did you do in advance?

I’m a planner so I did LOTS of research before our trip. Christopher did most of the general planning (picking locations, hotels, flights, etc.), but I did a lot of research on the specifics of each city (restaurants, activities, etc.). I made must do/see lists for each city and we just checked things off as we went. We never had a set itinerary so we could do as little or as much as we wanted each day which was perfect.

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Cooking class

Cooking class

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Real Honeymoon: Paris & The Maldives

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of multi-moons (i.e. combining two or more honeymoon destinations in one awesome trip), so it’s no surprise that I’m very excited about Cari and Chris’ honeymoon in Paris and the Maldives. Read all about their incredible honeymoon below:

When and where did you honeymoon?

Paris, France & the Maldives. Our wedding was on December 7, 2013 so we left for our honeymoon on December 9th and returned on the 22nd.

paris honeymoon

Chris and Cari in Paris

How long was your trip?

It was 13 days: 4 days in Paris, 7 days in Maldives, 2 days of travel.

Maldives 2     Eiffel Tower day

How did you decide on your honeymoon destinations? 

Maldives: Chris and I lived in Malaysia and always wanted to go to the Maldives while we lived on that side of the world. We never made it there before we moved back to the States, so it stayed on our travel bucket list. We have traveled a lot separately and together, and wanted to go somewhere new to both of us and unique. Also, it is far away and a place we wouldn’t be likely to travel to at a later date.

maldives honeymoon

Paris: Chris travelled to Paris when we first started dating, and we traded emails throughout his trip where he shared how wonderful of a place it was. We got to know each other better throughout these emails and it was always a fond memory in our relationship. When he returned he brought me a souvenir Eiffel Tower and promised to be bring me back there someday. There was even a time during our wedding planning that we talked about getting married in Paris.

Paris love lock bridge

For the honeymoon, our initial plan was to go to Maldives, but when we realized the routes to Maldives required a layover in Paris, we seized the opportunity to have a two continent honeymoon. It was a wonderful way to visit two places that we had always wanted to go together. And it was fun to be in a cold city first and then end in a tropical place!

The best part about our honeymoon was… 

Paris: Finally exploring and experiencing the City of Love together.

Maldives: Relaxing on our private beautiful beach and doing absolutely nothing!

Paris 4     Maldives - private beach

If I knew then what I know now, I’d change…

Spend the extra money and upgrade for first class tickets!

Maldives - sea plane airport

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Real Honeymoon: Maui

This week’s Real Honeymoon features one of the happiest couples I know, Desa and Jared. With tropical relaxation as their number one honeymoon priority, they decided to make the (relatively) easy trip from California to Maui where they avoided the typical touristy activities and just enjoyed the beautiful island for what it is. Desa and Jared also really know what’s up when it comes to great food, so you won’t want to miss their list of awesome Maui restaurant recommendations toward the end of this post. Read all about their wonderfully relaxing Hawaiian honeymoon below:

When and where did you honeymoon?

Maui, HI May 27 through June 5, 2014.

maui honeymoon     maui

How long was your trip?

9 nights.

maui sunset

How did you decide on your honeymoon destination?

Jared and I are pretty good at waiting. We waited over ten years to get married and another eight months before we took our official honeymoon. I am very happy we did not try to plan a big trip after our August 2013 wedding, but my level of anticipation grew as the months went on and I could not decide where I wanted to go. I suggested Belize, St. Maarten, Japan… Jared wanted to go to Hawaii. I pulled up itineraries for Ireland, New Zealand, and the Tahitian Islands. But Jared wanted to go to Hawaii. Everyone goes to Hawaii, Jared. How about something new?! Also, I couldn’t shake that memory of the one time I went to Hawaii (Oahu) and got chased down the street by the 300 lb pepper spray wielding Samoan transvestite named Passion – not the honeymooniest image.

Jared’s sales pitch: tropical, uncomplicated, good food and drink (something other than rum).

The months went on and I ended up working through a long, mentally exhausting trial. So, when it was time to book the trip, EASY was the name of the game. Hawaii! And it was perfect. Good work, Jared.

maui     maui

The best part about our honeymoon was…

The level of relaxation. We slept in every day, then wandered down to the cabana by the ocean with our bottle of sparkling wine, guava juice, and bowl of ahi poke, and floated back and forth between the ocean and the lounge chairs. Maui let us revel in sun-soaked lazy hours, until we felt free enough to ignore every tourist guidebook and “must-see” recommendation.

Yep, these guys look relaxed alright

Yep, these guys look relaxed alright

Instead of hopping aboard an overrun snorkel tour boat, we self-explored around our beach with gear found in our condo, learning later that Black Rock just south of our cabana is one of the top five snorkel spots on the West side of Maui. Instead of a luau, we treated ourselves to decadent dinners of elevated island fare.

turtle

Instead of the early morning trek up the Haleakala volcano, we cruised up north for an easy walk down to the Nakalele Blowhole with its picturesque heart-shaped rock.

heart rock maui

One day we took a short trip to the Upcountry (central Maui) for a day cheese-tasting at a goat farm, exploring the deserted Enchanting Floral Gardens, and dinner at the Hali’imaile General Store for one of the best dinners I have had in my life.

surfing goat maui

Knowing Jared and I could always come back to Maui if there was anything we wished we would have tried was very liberating. It allowed us to focus on each other instead of our itinerary.

If I knew then what I know now, I’d change…

I would book a hotel on the East side of the island for the last two nights of the trip. That way we could explore the Road to Hana without the daunting task of driving the long winding road twice in a day, which we opted to forego this trip.

Iphone May 2014 172

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