My goal for We3Travel is to inspire families to explore the world by providing tips, reviews, destination information and sample itineraries that make family vacation planning easier. Since 2013, our family of three has been showing parents how, with a little planning and preparation, they can take kids anywhere - and have fun!
A few weeks ago I was sitting in the Miami airport on my way back from my Royal Caribbean cruise, when I saw a woman walking by with four wide-brimmed sun hats stacked on her head. FOUR! Now that woman was in desperate need of a packable sun hat (or four.)
I understand wanting to look cute on vacation, but nothing will find me striding through the airport with four hats on my head. When I travel, I bring enough on the plane with my, between my carry on and my personal item stuff with my camera gear, that I don’t need to also try to find room for one to four hats hanging off my back.
At the same time, my trusty fedora that I bought for a trip to Italy five years ago has gotten permanently bent after being stuffed with clothes and shoved into my suitcase one too many times. I need something more flexible, bendable, crushable, and definitely packable.
This sent me out on a quest to find the best packable sun hats for women. After all, I need to look posh for my trip to France this summer. But I’m also at the point in my life where I need some sun protection for my face and neck to ward off those wrinkles and sun damage that are waiting around the corner.
Packable Sun Hats for Women
Note: This post contains affiliate links. If you click a link and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission.
I started asking friends for recommendations for packable sun hats and digging around for the best options depending on the style you prefer. One thing I discovered is that you can either look just for stylish sun hats, or you could try to find cute sun protection hats that also offer UPF protection from the sun.
Through my research I have learned a few things to consider when looking for packable sun hats:
Sun protection – if you are worried about harmful rays of sun coming through the material and causing skin damage or sun burn, look for hats that offer UPF protection (ideally 50+)
Brim size – the larger the brim, the more coverage it is going to provide
Adjustable size – hats are not one size fits all. You can either measure your head and take a look at the manufacturer’s sizing chart, or look for a hat that adjusts with an internal drawstring
Chin strap – if you are going to be boating or just want to make sure your hat stays put on a windy day, you will want to look for a hat with a chin strap
Color – there are some very colorful, and even rainbow style, packable sun hats out there. The question is, how will that look with your wardrobe? Personally I always drift toward neutrals so I am drawn to the straw or raffia hats, or those with shades of basic black or brown because they offer the most versatility. But hey, to each their own and a hat can be a great accent piece with a terrific color pop, just have an outfit in mind when you are purchasing so it doesn’t end up just sitting in the closet waiting for the perfect opportunity
These are the top picks and recommendations. And, of course, I now have two new hats in my closet and I’m considering a couple more.
Scala Packable Straw Hats
My friend Jody from Camping Tips for Everyone is always looking for great camping hats and loves Scala packable straw hats. They are crushable with a floppy brim that keeps the sun off your face. Jody’s favorite is the Camden crocheted packable raffia hat with a big brim and a drawstring.
It is easy to stuff this hat into a suitcase, but it will return to its original shape when you get to your destination. And, its raffia straw is very breathable to keep you cool.
Coolibar Sun Hats
Coolibar offers a line of women’s sun hats that are UPF 50+, which block out 98 percent of all UV rays from reaching your head, faces, eyes, ears, and neck (depending on the brim.) Many of these are easily crushable or packable, like the Compact in a Snap! Ginger Ribbon Hat. This hat snaps apart and rolls up for simple packing.
Nicolette, a budget travel blogger, likes the Coolibar sun catcher shapeable hat. She has sun sensitivity and her go-to travel clothing brand is Coolibar. It keeps her covered on both land and sea, with their clothing, accessories, and swimwear. Nicolette has found their pieces to be easy for travel, and their UPF 50+ sun protection coverage is exceptional. The sun catcher shapeable hat looks great, has a fabulous wide brim, and its chin strap will keep the hat in place no matter the weather.
Anthropologie: Ale by Alessandra Marin Raffia Fedora
I just bought the Ale by Alessdandra Marin raffia fedora from Anthropologie for a recent trip because it was cute and simple but the raffia construction allows for a lot of flexibility. I was able to fold it and put it in my suitcase flat, yet it still maintained it shape once I put it on. The only downfall was that it doesn’t have built in sun protection, but it is super cute for non-beach or full-sun trips.
Gap Straw Panama Hat
Gap also has a straw Panama hat that is cute and affordable! The bendable straw maintains its shape, so it is easy to pack for travel. If the Panama hat look isn’t your style, Gap also has some floppy, wide-brimmed options in the packable straw style.
Wallaroo Nola Packable Sun Hat
Another new hat that I just bought is the Nola sun hat from Wallaroo Hat Company. I honestly had a tough time deciding because this company offers so many cute options. Wallaroo hats are completely packable, allowing them to be rolled up or crushed entirely and still bounce back to their original shape without dents or wrinkles.
The Wallaroo hats are made to block 97 percent of UV rays, with UPF 50+ hats. They have been granted the Skin Cancer Foundation Seal of Recommendation. The Nola has a wide brim that is angled for a chic silhouette. It also has an internal drawstring to make it an adjustable size.
Sloggers Wide-brimmed Braided Sun Hat
Jenny, a fellow travel blogger, recommends the Sloggers wide-brimmed braided sun hat. She says it is the one item she doesn’t travel without because it is stylish and practical. It has a wide brim and UV protection to filter out the sun, but it also folds up to make it convenient to travel with. Plus it has a lanyard to protect it from blowing off your head when it is windy like floppy hats tend to do!
Kavu Long Sun Hat
If you are looking for a great adventure hat that shades your face, the Kavu sun hat might be the right choice. This long-brimmed sun hat has a drawcord chin strap, toggle lock and an internal sweatband to keep the sweat from dripping into your eyes.
The Kavu Long sun hat style comes in different patterns and is great for fishing. Kavu also has other styles, including bucket hats and caps.
Looking for more travel essentials? Here are some of my favorites:
Quirky, free-spirited, laid-back, eye-opening, oozing with charm…. Amsterdam welcomes you and your teens to fill your time with a vibrant music scene, top-rated museums, a rich history, stunning architecture, Instgram-worthy spots, and surprises at every turn. Lace up your sneakers and grab your teenager because there are so many fun things to do in Amsterdam with teens!
You can unwind at a cafe, jam at a concert, dive into the art scene, or just wander the supremely-walkable cosmopolitan capital of the Netherlands, which still looks much like it did in the Golden Age of the 1600s. When planning your trip to Amsterdam, also carve out at least one day to explore some of the magical cities less than an hour away from the city centre.
Amsterdam’s quaint canals and unique architecture delight at every turn.
10 Fun Things to Do in Amsterdam with Teens
This post contains affiliate links. If you click a link and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission.
1. Explore and get lost
Start your visit with a Free Walking Tour of Amsterdamto get an overview of the city center and its history. The knowledgeable and enthusiastic guides work hard for their tips! This guided tour covers many of the city highlights and orients you before setting out on your own.
Next learn why Amsterdam is known as the “Venice of the North” as you head to the Jordaan neighborhood and Nine Streets, which your kids will love. Every direction invites teens to take the most fabulous selfies overlooking picturesque tree-lined canals! It is quintessential Amsterdam and home to boutique shopping, cozy cafes, and the most emotional stop on our trip, the Anne Frank House. Make sure you book your tickets as far in advance as the website permits.
The charm of this city lies is in the details! Turn down the narrow side lanes…glance up to catch the gabled buildings… and look down to see the canals teeming with boating activity. Spend an afternoon relaxing on one of the many canal boat tours, seeing this city from a completely different angle.
Be prepared for interesting conversations with your teen as you pass the city’s “coffeeshops” (hint – this is NOT the place to get a dark roast coffee) and the Red Light District. While hitting the spots on the list below, be sure to save time to wander and just get lost.
2. Time to soar
Here are two ways to fly over the city! Spend one enjoyable hour visiting This Is Holland, which includes a nine minute 5D flight experience (similar to Soarin’ at EPCOT) and an entertaining comedic summary of the Netherlands’ history narrated by a bumbling, but lovable character. This Netherlands intro is child friendly, with an easy-to-understand version for kids (and adults) of all ages.
If your gang is into thrills, waaaaaay up high is the intimidating A’DAM Lookout with the “Over the Edge” attraction, which is Europe’s highest swing and skydeck (we were too wimpy to try this one).
3. Eat your way around the city
Food tours are always a hit with our teen, including ones in Vienna and Rome. Book the top-notch Hungry Birds Food Tour for a delectable introduction to the Amsterdam “melting pot” culinary scene. Our well-curated gastronomic adventure was a highlight of our trip! This tour incorporated culture, history and food in an engaging way. As we visited different eateries and wandered through the stalls of the famed Albert Cuyp Market, we had fun experimenting with new local and international foods and heard stories from the chefs. You can select from a variety of tours in different neighborhoods and varying lengths of time.
Just a few of the delicious treats on our Hungry Birds Food Tour. Mmmm!
Our enthusiastic and charismatic guide Zosia, who is also one of the co-owners, led us in our quest to sample a variety of international and distinctively Dutch treats including freshly-cooked stroopwafels, world-famous herring, flavorful Surinamese and Chinese specialties, mouth-watering pastries called poffertjes, the most delectable cheese platter, and so much more!
After the tour, we continued to explore this foodie town. Here are some of our favorite dining experiences.
We enjoyed a canalside meal featuring traditional fare while people-watching on the terrace at the historic Cafe ‘t Smalle, a former liquor distillery and tasting room dating to 1786.
When in the mood for mammoth mouth-watering sandwiches, we popped into the top-rated casual hole-in-the-wall Lombardo’s. We drooled over our Cheesy Freakburger and Grilled Free-Range Chicken Sandwich. This is a three napkin meal!
For a true authentic Italian experience, we delighted in our pasta dinner at the charming Italia Oggi neighborhood restaurant. Be sure to meet the friendly host, Massimo, and chat with the hospitable staff.
When energy runs low, buy your teen (and you) a piece of heaven, a warm chocolate gooey cookie from the secret tiny Van Stapele Koekmakerij.
4. Rock out at a concert
Rockin’ out at the iconic Paradiso, a former church turned concert venue
Teens love music! Iconic venues near the Leidseplein, a focal point of Amsterdam nightlife, include Melkweg (a former milk factory with many different-sized spaces) and Paradiso (a spectacular repurposed church with colorful stained glass windows, a sweeping balcony and high ceilings).
Both spots offer a wide-range of cost-friendly musical options. I won mother-of-the-year when I invited my daughter to pick any concert she wanted which landed us at a hip-hop concert at the Paradiso….her top nighttime memory of the trip. Check to see if there are age limits for the concert you plan to attend.
5. Tiptoe though the Tulips
Tulips at Keukenhof Gardens
If you are fortunate enough to be able to visit the Netherlands during the world famous Tulip Mania that grips this region, make a beeline for the one-of-a-kind out-of-this-world Keukenhof Gardens (March 21 – May 10, 2020). Spend a few hours or ALL DAY meandering the picture-perfect colorful rows and themed displays of seven million tulips and other flowers.
Instagram-fabulous for your teenagers who crave that perfect shot! Tour a windmill, pop into greenhouses, and float through the rainbow-like fields on a boat. Younger children will enjoy a treasure hunt, petting farm, maze and playground. Keukenhof takes about an hour to reach from the city by public transportation. Consider purchasing a combi-ticket which includes transportation and admission.
6. Experience Amsterdam’s Art & History
Head to the buzzing Museum Quarter to visit Amsterdam’s world-class art museums.
If art museums are your teen’s thing, head to the buzzing Museum Quarter where you can fill your day visiting the iconic Van Gogh Museum; the most famous museum in Amsterdam, the Rijksmuseum, full of Dutch Masters; the ultra cool modern art Stedelijk Museum; or the hip kid-friendly Moco Museum, featuring Banksy.
You can also explore the city’s historic Jewish Cultural Quarter, including the grand renovated Portuguese Synagogue dating from 1675, the moving Holocaust Memorial and Dutch Theater, and the informative Jewish Historical Museum.
7. Visit the Temple of Beer
For those not into art or history, join the masses lining up at the temple of beer, the Heineken Experience. Yes, it’s uber cheesy…but it’s also a hit with teens! This commercialized light-hearted tour takes you through the beer-making process, the history of Heineken, and a multimedia immersive experience. It reminds us a lot of the Guinness Storehouse experience in Ireland.
You can even sing karaoke, take beer-themed pictures in a photo booth, play some electronic sports games, and end up in a fraternity feeling (yet family-friendly) bar area where you can compete against others for the title of the perfect pour and taste some beer (or for those under-18, sample soft drinks).
8. Escape to the Countryside
With efficient trains and buses, it’s a breeze to zip through Holland to some of the more quaint towns such as Zaanse Schans (a Disneyesque town full of clogs, cheese, windmills and more), Zandvoort (a quiet beach town), the Hague (the political capital), or Gouda (home of the famous and entertaining cheese market).
We chose to ride a train fifteen minutes to Haarlem, a romantic version of Amsterdam in miniature. Stolling the medieval cobblestone streets transported us back almost 800 years. While Haarlem has plenty of windmills and museums, we opted for an afternoon of boutique shopping and lunch at Jopenkerk Haarlem Brewery (a former church with a gorgeous stained glass window and antique wood interior.) Join the locals checking out the flea markets, clothing on Mondays and general on Saturdays, and take a break at a cafe in Grote Markt (the square in the center of town.)
9. Go on a hunt
Challenge your teen to spot the oh so touristy – but Instagram-worthy I AMSTERDAM sign, with its larger than life bold red and white letters! One I AMSTERDAM sign is located outside the entrance to the airport. The second set is moved to different locations around the city. Teens love taking selfies next to the letters to post to Instagram, and younger kids like playing hide and go seek around them.
10. Take part in the love story of Hazel and Gus
Sit on The Fault in Our Stars bench where Hazel and Gus shared a kiss.
Cue the swooning! If (you or) your teen is a fan of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, you can find the bench on the Leidsegracht along the canal where they shared a kiss, meander the Rijksmuseum where Ansel and Gus held hands, and follow in their steps by touring the Anne Frank House.
Tips for Acing this Trip
The Doubletree Amsterdam Centraalwas the perfect Amsterdam hotel home base for our adventures. The helpful staff answered all our questions and contributed to our positive experience in this city. A huge perk of this hotel for teens is the top floor SkyLounge with its fabulous panoramic views. Visit during the day for lunch or when the sun sets and it becomes a nightclub pulsating with music with tasty cocktails (mocktails for teens).
The waterside Doubletree is just steps from the train station, tram stops, NEMO Science Museum, and even features an in-house bicycle rental company. Save your appetite for the signature dessert at the Eastwood Beer & Grill – the Eastwood Bucket which is literally a bucket of ice cream or sorbet surrounded by mini-glasses of various tempting toppings. Mmmm!
Purchase an I amsterdam City Card to save time and money. The freedom that comes with this card was fabulous. The card enables users to hop on public transportation, enjoy a canal cruise, sample some treats, get a discount at various stores and restaurants, and includes admission to more than 60 museums and attractions.
Pre-book online your tickets to all popular attractions including the Anne Frank House, the Van Gogh Museum, Keukenhof Gardens, and the Heineken Brewery Tour. Teens hate to wait in lines!
About the Author:
This guest post was written by Lisa Grabelle. Lisa, a family travel writer for Hilton Mom Voyage, has been traveling all her life…30 countries and loving it! Originally from the sunny skies of Miami, Lisa, a former lawyer, lives near Philadelphia with her husband and two daughters. Lisa willingly traded in billing hours for being a full-time mom and volunteer for her alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania. But travel is her passion. As soon as one vacation ends, Lisa busily plans her next adventure for her non-stop family of adventurers. Lisa’s motto is “don’t just visit the destination…live it!” You can follow Lisa on Twitter or Instagram.
Thank you Travelocity for sponsoring this post. While this was a sponsored opportunity from Travelocity, all content and opinions expressed here are my own. This post contains affiliate links. If you click a link and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission.
Time and budget are always big factors in determining where to go for a family vacation. Yet many of the parents that I talk to tend to stay close to home primarily because they are so overwhelmed with options and the logistics of planning that they just don’t know where to start. Realizing this, I put together a list of my recommendations for the best vacations for kids in the United States.
Of course I haven’t been everywhere, but I have visited 49 states (just missing Oklahoma) and these are a few of my favorite places that kids will love. In creating this list, I wanted to include a mix of experiences that will satisfy kids of all ages and interests. Don’t let analysis paralysis stall your vacation planning and settle for a day trip to an amusement park or the local beach! Pick one of these ideas and start planning today with my travel partner Travelocity.
Best Vacations for Kids in the U.S.
White Mountains, New Hampshire
Diana’s Baths in New Hampshire
The White Mountains in New Hampshire offer an outdoor playground that is ideal for families that like to explore. Here you will find hiking, rock climbing, zip lining, adventure courses, waterfalls, and scenic views. You can choose to drive up to the summit at the top of Mount Washington, or take the Cog Railway.
Many hotels in the region, such as RiverWalk Resort at Loon Mountain or Red Jacket Mountain Resort in North Conway, offer family suites or indoor water parks. It is easy to fill your days with outings to Flume Gorge or Loon Mountain, or spend the evening search for moose on a nighttime moose safari. Little thrill seekers will also love the Storyland theme park or the alpine slide at Attitash Mountain.
Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Skaket Beach on Cape Cod when the tide is out
If you are looking for a classic beach vacation, why not try the Cape Cod National Seashore? In addition to beautiful beaches, you will also find sand dunes and tidal flats to explore, as well as miles of bike trails to ride.
There are also kid-friendly activities like whale watching, a pirate museum in Provincetown, and Minor League baseball games. There are plenty of beach houses for rent throughout the Cape, but families that are looking for a hotel experience may prefer to stay at Sea Crest Beach Hotel in Falmouth, Cape Codder Resort in Hyannis, or the luxurious Wequassett Resort and Golf Club near Chatham.
Washington D.C. is one of the best vacation spots for kids because while hotel rooms can get pricey, so many of the attractions are free. Little kids will love the Spy Museum, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, National Air and Space Museum, and running around on the National Mall.
Older kids, especially those that have learned a bit of U.S. history will get a lot out of the Newseum, Ford’s Theater, and bike tours around the National Monuments. To save money, you can always stay just outside of the city and include a visit to the National Harbor.
Outside the courthouse in Colonial Williamsburg
School-aged kids will get a kick out of a visit to Colonial Williamsburg, Historic Jamestown, and the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown. The costumed-interpreters at these sites, along with hands-on interactive exhibits, make learning history fun.
The Kingsmill Resort and Williamsburg Inn both make a great home base for exploring the region. If you have a bit more time, add in a day at either Busch Gardens or Water Country USA, or the nearby towns of Hamptonor Newport News.
Little St. Simons Island, Georgia
Image courtesy of Little St. Simons Island
Nature lovers will love the all-inclusive, eco-resort on Little St. Simons Island, part of Georgia’s Golden Isles. Where else can you find gourmet food, on-site naturalists, and seven miles of beach for the exclusive use of 32 overnight guests and a limited number of day visitors.
This former hunting lodge is set amidst a nature preserve on an 11,000-acre private barrier island. The resort offers bird watching, hiking, biking, kayaking, swimming, and a full schedule of daily activities. While there isn’t a kids club, you can rest assured that your kids won’t get bored, and they probably won’t even miss the TV or WiFi they rely on at home.
Blue Ridge Mountains (NC, TN, and GA)
Gatlinburg skylift. Image courtesy of 365 Atlanta Traveler.
The South is warm and humid during the summer months, which is why Lesli from 365 Atlanta Traveler recommends sticking to the Blue Ridge Mountains, where the weather is cooler and brings a welcome breeze. Her favorite adventures in the area include exploring the waterfalls and trails of Great Smoky Mountain National Park near Gatlinburg, TN; adventuring Chimney Rock and the grounds of America’s castle, Biltmore Estate, near Ashville, NC; or riding the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway in Blue Ridge, GA, then taking a dip in a swimming hole in nearby Springer Mountain, where the famous Appalachian Trail begins.
In Gatlinburg, stay at DJ’s Station from Parkside Cabin Rentals. This rebuilt cabin rental home was dedicated to the firefighters who fought the fire dubbed the worst natural disaster in Tennessee. In North Carolina, stay at the Village Hotel on Biltmore Estate, located within Antler Hill Village. Finally, in Georgia, stay in the Blue Ridge Treehouse. Yes, it’s on a winery, but it is family-friendly, close to the hiking trails, and the perfect way to watch the sun set.
Sipping a Butterbeer at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Orlando
We can’t have a list of best vacations for kids without including Orlando. Of course a trip to Walt Disney Worldor Universal Orlando is on the bucket list for many families.
There is so much to do in Orlando, including so many off-the-beaten track attractions, that it is easy to come back again and again. We all know that staying on property at the theme parks can get pricey, but it is easy to find spacious vacation rentals or nearby value hotels such as B Resortor Margaritaville Orlando. Of course you can also splurge for the Four Seasons Orlando and spend a day chilling out in its lazy river.
Cloud Gate or “The Bean” in Chicago
If you are looking for a city break this vacation, there are so many great options to choose from. However, in the summer, I love Chicago for families. With easy access to the Lake, the Windy City stays cooler than Hotlanta or New York, but there is so much to do.
Using a CityPASS, you can easily squeeze in many top attractions for kids, including Shedd Aquarium, Adler Planetarium, The Field Museum, and the Museum of Science and Industry. Plus don’t miss checking out the view from the Skydeck Chicago, the Ferris wheel on Navy Pier, or lean out over the city at the 360 Chicago Observation Deck.
Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin
Noah’s Ark Slide, Wisconsin Dells. Image courtesy of Crazy Family Adventure
If your kids are waterslide fans, then Bryanna from Crazy Family Adventure recommends that you plan a trip to Wisconsin Dells. It is the water park capital of the world. There are a variety of huge waterparks to pick from, and once you are done enjoying all the wave pools and waterslides, the city has a great collection of other activities you can do.
Kids will love the Duck Boats, which are amphibian boats that can drive on land and then float down the river. There are also a variety of miniature golf courses and go-kart locations to pick from and a bustling main street with tons of kid-friendly restaurants and fudge shops.
Rocky Mountains, Colorado
Ziplining at Copper Mountain
The Rocky Mountains in the summer not just offer jaw-dropping scenery, they are chock full of mountain resorts, gorgeous state parks, and of course the stunning Rocky Mountain National Park. Whether you make a home base in Estes Park, or one of the ski mountain resorts like Copper Mountain, outdoor families will not be bored.
You can stay busy hiking, mountain biking, zip lining, horseback riding, and even doing some summer snow boarding. Many ski resorts offer disc golf, mountain coasters, and adventure courses. Just beware of altitude sickness and give your body time to adjust to the mountains before you go too hard!
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park
Many national parks offer beautiful scenery and the potential for wildlife sightings, but Yellowstone is truly unique with its many basins of bubbling hot pots, geysers, and hot springs. Plus there is so much to see and do within the park, that you need a week or more to see everything.
Just be sure to plan a year ahead if you want to stay within the park, and give yourself plenty of time when driving from section to section as you never know when you will run across a bison traffic jam.
Nine Quarter Circle Ranch, Montana
Playing checkers at the Nine Quarter Circle Ranch
If horseback riding is on your bucket list, then don’t hesitate to plan a family vacation to a dude ranch. A dude ranch vacation is an amazing experience for families that want to disconnect from technology and connect with each other and nature.
Our whole family fell in love with the family-run Nine Quarter Circle Ranch in Montana. Even though we aren’t equestrians, we enjoyed daily rides, trying our hand at fly fishing, catching tadpoles, and socializing with the other guests.
There are some places in America that you can see in movies, videos, and pictures, yet they still don’t do them justice. Visiting the Grand Canyon is sure to wow even jaded teens, just make them be careful when taking selfies!
If you want to avoid crowds, try a visit to the North Rim, where it is also a little cooler in the summer. Just keep in mind that you need to book accommodation well in advance if you are staying in the park. And even if your teens like hiking, remember that what goes down, must also go back up, so plan accordingly.
White Sands National Monument, New Mexico
Sledding in White Sands
White Sands National Monumentis better than the best beach. Not only is it absolutely gorgeous, a day spent playing on the dunes is something not easily forgotten. While we loved sand boarding on the dunes in Morocco, sledding in White Sands was equally fun.
There isn’t much around White Sands so plan on staying in Las Cruces or Truth or Consequences, and combine it with a trip to Albuquerque or El Paso.
When visiting Northern Ireland for the first time, I expected picturesque green fields dotted with sheep and bordered by hedges. I was not prepared for a stunning coastline of dramatic cliffs, sandy beaches, rocky shores, and crystal clear water. If you are visiting Northern Ireland, I highly encourage you to plan a road trip along the Causeway Coastal Route from Belfast to Derry, in order to see this beautiful coastline.
The biggest mistake you can make when driving from Belfast to Giants Causeway is to rush and not give yourself time to stop at every scenic overlook or stroll on any beach you desire.
I would recommend spending at least four nights in total. Start with two nights in Belfast. Belfast has its own airport, but not as many international flights as Dublin. You may find it easiest to fly into Dublin and drive the 90 minutes up to Belfast.
Also give yourself a night in Bushmills or Ballintoy along the Coastal Causeway, and finish with a night in Derry. You can then return to Dublin (about 3.5 hours) or continue on into the Republic of Ireland and later fly out of Shannon.
The Cliffs along the Carrick-a-Rede coastal walk
Where to Stop on a Northern Ireland Road Trip
Note: my trip was hosted by Northern Ireland Tourism, Tourism Ireland, and Steller. All opinions are my own. This post may contain affiliate links, if you click a link and make a purchase I may receive a small commission.
Years ago no one wanted to visit Belfast, the Northern Ireland capital city torn apart by violence during the decades of “The Troubles.” But since the Good Friday Peace Accords in 1999, the city has rebounded and today is a popular tourist destination. Sure, Game of Thrones and Titanic Studios may have played a hand in that during recent years, but Belfast has a youthful vibe and from my opinion, is a city on the rise.
I sincerely hope that whatever happens with Brexit doesn’t change that and rip a scab off a wound too recently healed. It does help to have an understanding of the Troubles before visiting, beyond just that there was a conflict between Catholics and Protestants or those that wanted to remain in the U.K. and those that wanted to join with the Republic of Ireland. I just finished a book called Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland, which helped really frame the conflict and give voice to some of the main figures of the time, which you will see referenced in Belfast.
Where to Stay in Belfast
We stayed at the high-rise Grand Central Hotel in Belfast and I loved the location in Central Belfast. It was easily walkable to restaurants and many of the more popular districts with pubs and entertainment. If you stay, definitely make sure to have a drink at the Observatory Lounge for beautiful views of the city.
You need at least two days to explore the various quarters of Belfast. A few Belfast highlights include:
Titanic Belfast – give yourself at least two hours to explore the Titanic Belfast, more if you want to visit some of the other boats in the quarter. The Titanic Museum tells the story of Titanic from the shipyard to its tragic sinking. There are interactive exhibits, but it is still a lot of information coming at you to take in. And, the aftermath, which shows footage from the bottom of the sea, is quite haunting. It may be a little much for younger children. If visiting with family, I would recommend following the Family Travel activity map available at guest services.
Black Cab Mural Tour – a Belfast taxi mural tour will take you into the Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods to see many of the murals in each, which depict tributes to fallen individuals on both sides of the conflict. You will also visit the Peace Wall and have a chance to leave your own mark on the mural painted there. Nothing drove the history home for me more than seeing the massive “Peace” wall that divides neighborhoods and the spikes still in place at the top.
Game of Thrones Touring Exhibition – if you are a Game of Thrones fan and are visiting before September 2019, you will want to go to the Game of Thrones Touring Exhibition, featuring costumes and props from the show. It is located at TMS Belfast, just across the street from Titanic Studios, where show production takes place, in the Titanic Quarter. (See my other suggestions for Game of Thrones attractions and filming locations in Northern Ireland.)
The Dark Hedges isn’t along the Causeway Coastal Route, but it is worth the detour. This picturesque avenue of Beech trees was planted by the Stuart family in the 18th century. It is a popular site for Instagrammers and photographers, especially since it was featured on Game of Thrones as the Kings Road.
If you can, try to get there early to beat the crowds, or visit just before sunset. Ballinlea Road is busy and parking along the road, and especially not on the road with the trees, is forbidden. Unfortunately in recent years a few trees have fallen after people parking underneath them damaged their roots. You can park nearby at The Hedges Hotel, but be prepared to pay a fee.
You may need to wait for groups of tourists to pass so that you can get a clear photo. Plan to spend at least an hour here because, if you are like me, you will want to walk the length of the road and take pictures from every angle. These trees seem magical.
The rope bridge at Carrick-a-Rede was first put up more than 350 years ago by fishermen. But don’t worry, this site is now part of the National Trust and a new, sturdy bridge was installed not that long ago. I have heard of this site for years, but always thought it was just a rope bridge. I had no idea that a gorgeous coastal walk was a big part of the attraction, or that the views would be even more exciting than the rope bridge.
There is a large car park and it is free to park and walk along the coastal route. However, to cross the bridge you will need to purchase a ticket. Tickets must be purchased at the reception hut BEFORE starting the walk along the coast. If you take the kilometer walk only to arrive without a ticket and be turned away, you will be very disappointed.
The walk along the coast takes about 15-20 minutes at a brisk pace, with a few hills that can slow you down on the return trip. Once you arrive at the bridge, you will need to wait your turn for one-way traffic to cross the bridge (and pose for their selfies), before getting to the island that the bridge connects to the mainland.
Give yourself time on the island to explore and take in the views. There is also a fisherman’s cottage, which is open to the public on select weekends. Coffee, tea and light refreshments, as well as public toilets, are available on site.
Caves below the Carrick-a-Rede Walkway
Just down the road from Carrick-a-Rede you will come across Ballintoy Harbour. This raised beach and fishing harbour can be accessed at the end of a small narrow steep road down Knocksaughey Hill.
The village has some shops and restaurants and makes a cute stop along the coastal route. The Harbour was also used as a Game of Thrones filming location, as the exterior of Pkye and the Iron Islands. It is also where Theon first encounters his sister Yara.
Giants Causeway is the crown jewel of the Causeway Coastal Route, welcoming over one million visitors per year. Like Carrick-a-Rede, there is plenty of room to explore and get away from the crowds, especially if you take a walk along the cliffs above the causeway.
Giants Causeway is made up of 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, caused by an ancient volcanic fissure eruption. Now a UNESCO Heritage site, these columns form stepping stones along the coast. There are also other rock formations that may catch your eye (although some take a little imagination), like the Giant’s Boot, the Camel, the Wishing Chair, and the Organ.
You can access the Giants Causeway for free, but to enter to the Visitor’s Center upon your return (and use the facilities), you will need to purchase a ticket. The walk downhill to the Grand Causeway is easy, but on the way back uphill, you may prefer to pay 1 GBP to ride the shuttle bus.
The lovely Bushmills Inn in Country Antrim makes a perfect pitstop on your way from Belfast to Derry. I would recommend an overnight stay, or at least visit their restaurant for a delicious meal.
While you are there, you can plan a visit to the nearby Bushmills Distillery for a tour and whiskey tasting.
Not far from Bushmills, you will come across the ruins of Dunluce Castle, which was built on the Antrim coast in the 16th century by the McDonnell family. In 1639, the earth under the kitchen crumbled into the sea, taking part of the building and staff with it.
Dunluce Castle still belongs to the McDonnell family, but it is managed by the Northern Irish Environment Agency. These days you can visit daily between 9:30 am and 4:30 pm. My recommendation would be to visit in the morning, when the sun isn’t directly overhead, as you will be able to get better pictures of the ruins.
Derry / Londonderry
Derry Girls mural
The final stop on your Northern Ireland coastal road trip will be Derry, also known as Londonderry. Derry also has a history of protests that have turned violent and strikes me as a city trying hard to move on, but isn’t quite there yet.
It makes sense to stop here and explore for a day, but expect the city to be a bit grittier and dirtier than what you will find in Belfast. Of course fans of the show Derry Girls will find it familiar (and want to seek out the Derry Girls mural.)
Where to Stay in Derry
I would recommend staying at Bishop’s Gate Hotel, just within the walled city. This boutique hotel offers a full service restaurant and interesting Edwardian architecture. My tip would be to request a room with a balcony, as they are larger and offer the better view.
Where to Eat in Derry
Beer flight at Walled City Brewery
Walled City Brewery — voted the best gastropub in Ireland, with many varieties of home-brewed beer.
Pyke n’ Pommes — impressive food truck with a variety of burgers, tacos, and seafood. Plus you can eat in a double-decker bus!
What to do in Derry
Cannon on the walls of Derry
Walk the walls of the old city — Derry is the only remaining completely walled city in Ireland. Built between 1613-1618, the walls are 1.5 km in circumference and form a walkway around the inner city. You will find 24 restored cannons perched on the walls.
Walk across the Peace Bridge
Go hiking, biking, rock climbing, paddle boarding or take a Boom Board skateboard tour with Far & Wild
Plan this trip!
If you are visiting Ireland, you may enjoy these related articles:
What trip to Ireland would be complete without a stay at an elegant castle or estate home? As I pulled up to the Mount Juliet Estate hotel near Kilkenny and stepped out of the car onto the red carpet rolled out in welcome, I knew I was stepping into five-star luxury.
As I sipped my glass of Prosecco, I learned the long and interesting history of this beautiful five star hotel and resort. Now owned by an Irish investment firm, the manor house was built in the mid 1700s by the Butler family. In the early 1900s, the estate was was bought by a new owner, who became one of the wealthiest men in Europe and it was passed down their that family until recession hit in 1987.
Mount Juliet Estate opened as a hotel and golf course in 1990. Since then, Mount Juliet hotel has earned numerous distinctions, from the five star rating earned in 2018, to being named one of the top 30 hotels in Ireland, and in the top five golf resorts in Ireland. Even The Lady Helen restaurant in the Manor House has earned a Michelin star and 3AA Rosette rating.
Mount Juliet Estate from above
Mount Juliet Estate Review
I stayed at Mount Juliet Estate in early May, as a guest of the hotel and Tourism Ireland (all opinions are my own.) The timing was perfect as the gardens were just coming into bloom and the wisteria that drapes over the front of the Manor house and frames the door so beautifully was just coming into season.
Accommodations at Mount Juliet Estate
Mount Juliet Manor House
There are two properties on the Mount Juliet Estate, the 18th century Manor House with 32 bedrooms, and the 93-room Hunter’s Yard Hotel, which offers smart luxury in an estate setting. If you are traveling with kids, both settings offer rooms that can accommodate families, from larger rooms in the Manor House with pull-out couches, to interconnecting rooms with two double beds at Hunter’s Yard. I would think that families with younger kids would be more comfortable at Hunter’s Yard, as it is a less formal setting.
The courtyard with table tennis at Hunter’s Yard Hotel
I stayed at the Manor House, in the “Black Earl” room with a peaceful river view. Draped in luxury and cuddled in comfort, the room was exactly what I would have hoped for after a few busy days exploring Dublin, County Wicklow, and Waterford.
The Black Earl River View Bedroom
Its sitting area by the windows, overlooking the river and pastures beyond, was the perfect spot for an afternoon cup of tea. The plush bed welcomed my tired body for a few much-needed hours of restful sleep in a surprisingly quiet house. And the bathroom offered the luxury products and modern conveniences I wasn’t sure I would find in a historic property.
Stairs in the main hall of the Manor House
I know we were staying as VIP guests of the hotel since we were on a press trip, but I was still so impressed with the service at the resort. There is such a friendly staff, eager to help or give you a lift to another part of the property, and not at all stuffy as you might fear at a traditional five star country estate.
The Manor House actually felt quite cosy, with plenty of places to curl up and enjoy a book, a drink, or a cup of tea. Public spaces include the library, parlor, outdoor seating, and little nooks like the sitting area at the top of the stairs.
Activities at Mount Juliet Estate
In addition to an award-winning, Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course, there is plenty to do at the Mount Juliet Estate. Other activities including horseback riding, fishing, biking, archery, and falconry.
Mount Juliet golf course
The Mount Juliet borders a large stud farm and horses have played a big role in the estate’s history. The Equestrian Centre is state of the art, with two all-weather arenas and show jumps and trails spread across the 500 acre estate. Lessons, clinics, and trail rides are available for a fee.
Mount Juliet Equestrian Centre
Archery is available for guests ages six and up and staff is there to provide tips and ensure safety. The estate also works with Hawkeye Falconry to provide private falconry experiences (fee applies). This one hour program (for ages seven and up) includes a walk through the estate, an introduction to falconry, and a chance to handle these regal creatures under the guidance of an experienced falconer.
Image courtesy of Mount Juliet Estate
Catch and release salmon and trout fishing is available on the 2.5 mile stretch of the River Nore that runs through the estate. Mount Juliet provides the fishing equipment if needed (and the necessary fishing license) so that guests can enjoy the twelve named pools on the river.
Mount Juliet also offers a health club and treatment rooms, with a full five-star spa in the works for the near future. For younger guests ages 5-12, the Mount Juliet Junior Club offers daily activities like archery, golf lessons, falconry, swimming, horse back riding, and outdoor games and evening activities including karaoke and movies.
Dining at Mount Juliet
There are two dining options on the Mount Juliet Estate. The Lady Helen Restaurant in the Manor House has received one Michelin Star and 3 AA Rosettes. This elegant dining room offers bucolic river views and international cuisine.
The dishes feature local ingredients, including fro the estate’s kitchen and herb garden. Seven and nine-course tasting menus with wine pairing are also available. Breakfast is also served in The Lady Helen Restaurant and includes either a buffet or an a la carte menu with signature items like the Boxty Benedict.
Afternoon tea, and children’s afternoon tea, are also available in the Major’s Bar or Tetrach Lounge. Tea includes finger sandwiches, scones, cakes, pastries, and signature beverages, but reservations are required.
Spring pea risotto at The Hound
The Hunter’s Yard also offers a full service restaurant. The Hound is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner serving an array of soups, salads, and main course options in an informal setting that is child-friendly. The restaurant offers beautiful golf course views and has been awarded 2 AA Rosettes and a Michelin Plate for its modern Irish cuisine.
I loved my stay a Mount Juliet and wish that I could have stayed longer. But that is ok, because my plan is to return with the family and to enjoy a few more days is this classic, luxurious setting.
Plan this trip!
If you are planning a trip to Ireland, you may also enjoy these articles:
Perfect Day at CocoCay, the Royal Caribbean private island in the Bahamas, has just reopened in May 2019 after a $250 million renovation and is making quite a splash. I was recently invited on a media cruise to be on one of the first sailings to experience the fully re-opened “Perfect Day at CocoCay.” (All opinions are my own.)
Now I’m neither a cruise virgin or a cruise veteran, but with five cruises under my belt, I have a few to compare it to, including our Alaskan cruise last summer. One of the things I have always enjoyed about cruising is being able to experience many different destinations without moving hotels and city/island hopping.
However, now that I have visited a cruise ship private island, I can’t imagine doing a Caribbean cruise without that component. Either that or Perfect Day at CocoCay has just spoiled me forever. The private island gives you an island resort experience, but you still get to see other destinations in the Caribbean. Sort of the best of both worlds.
I do have a tug of guilt that we aren’t contributing to a local island economy when visiting a private island, but the fact that Royal Caribbean does have 357 employees that live on the island full time makes me feel a little better, as I hope some of them are local Bahamians.
Why I Loved Royal Caribbean’s Private Island
I haven’t visited private islands owned by other cruise ships, so I don’t have those to compare to Perfect Day at CocoCay. However, I was very impressed with the attention to detail given to the design and overall experience.
I have certainly stayed at enough resorts to know the things that make me happy: plentiful seating; easy access to bathrooms, food, and drinks; attentive but not intrusive service; and places to get away from people and just chill.
After years of traveling with kids, I also know that families can’t be expected to just sit around a pool or beach all day. They want to be doing and playing, while maintaining a home base to connect and relax.
I found all of this at Perfect Day at CocoCay. The only challenge is trying to fit it all in! This is why I really wish we had two days in port, but at least our ship didn’t leave until 7:00 pm so we had a nice long day to enjoy.
The good news is that part of the renovation included the addition of a dedicated pier. So now that you don’t have to tender to get to the island, you reduce the risk of having to skip that port because of rough seas. (Unlike the island from Norwegian Cruise Lines next door.) After all, missing Perfect Day at CocoCay would really disappoint passengers!
And while the island looks huge when you look at a map, it really doesn’t take more than five to 10 minutes to walk from one section of the island to another (plus, there are handy trams that run every 15 minutes.) It currently has a capacity of 8,000, although it has been designed to feel like it is at low to medium capacity, where you aren’t wrestling each other for lounge chairs.
In December 2019, Royal Caribbean will be adding Coco Beach Club and South Beach, and the island will then accommodate up to two cruise ships with a total of 10,000 people on the island at a time. Coco Beach Club will include overwater cabanas, an infinity pool, and a restaurant and bar. South Beach will also include a sports court and sports pavilion, but most of these amenities will be additional (except the sports court.)
What Not to Miss on a Perfect Day at CocoCay
Whether you pick thrills or chills, these are the experiences not to miss so you will have a Perfect Day at CocoCay!
Slide and Splash at Thrill Waterpark
When you enter the island, you can turn left to get to Chill Island or head right into Thrill Waterpark. Entrance to Thrill Waterpark is an added fee ($59.99 at time of opening, but subject to change), but a must do for thrill seekers and water park junkies.
There are 13 waterslides, including the tallest waterslide in North America. Daredevil’s Tower rises 135 feet over the island and includes twin Dueling Demons drop slides, twin Manta Raycers open flume slides, the Green Mamba tube slide, and the Screeching Serpent fully vertical speed slide.
Splash Summit has another six slides, including four mat racer slides, one tandem raft ride, and the Sling Shot, a zero-gravity raft ride.
Thrill Waterpark also has the largest wave pool in the Caribbean and an Adventure Pool with obstacles like floating lily pads, a rock wall, and two rope swings.
If you want to spend the whole day in the waterpark, you can rent a cabana, which includes entry to Thrill Waterpark for up to six guests. There is also a Snack Shack serving complimentary burgers, hot dogs, salads, and more, so you don’t need to leave the water park to eat.
Relax on Chill Island Beach
Chill Island Beach
Of course if thrills aren’t your thing, head directly to Chill Island and make your way to the beach. There are two options, either the Harbor Beach, which surrounds Harbor Lagoon and is a little closer to the action, or take a dip in the Caribbean at Chill Beach.
Plenty of seating on Chill Island beach
Chill Beach is where you will find your shore excursions, snorkel rental, scuba program, and local straw markets (the only thing you need cash for.) There are plenty of lounge chairs spread along the beach, but you can also rent a beach bed, shade tent, umbrella, floating mat, or even a cabana if you want to spend the day on the beach.
When the tide is low, you can walk out pretty far or swim among the sandbars. When you get hungry, the complimentary Chill Grill buffet is not far away and there are two beach bars as well.
Zip Across the Island on the Zipline Take Off
Zipline Take Off is a total of three tower-to-tower ziplines across the waterpark. The last line is the fastest and, if you take the spot on the left, will also splash you through the fountain in the middle of Harbor Lagoon. Just be sure to close your eyes because it is saltwater!
The zipline is an additional fee ($89.99 at opening, prices are subject to change.) Just be sure to allow at least 45 minutes to include gearing up, the safety briefing, and waiting your turn to climb the towers and get clipped in.
Eat Wings and Listen to Live Music at Captain Jack’s
Captain Jack’s bar
Captain Jack’s is a full-service bar right in the center of everything overlooking the Harbor Lagoon. This is the only place that has food that isn’t included, but trust me, their jerk chicken wings are worth the small investment.
It is easy to spend some time chilling out at Captain Jack’s listening to the live music or playing a game of chess or checkers. The good news is, your drink package extends to the island, so you can indulge all you want in this relaxing setting.
Fly High on Up, Up and Away
Up, Up, and Away
If you are more of a medium-chill person, a flight on Up, Up, and Away might be the perfect fit for you. It is a bit pricey for a 10-minute ride ($49.99 at opening but prices are subject to change), but you really can’t beat the view.
This helium balloon can fly up to 450 feet, but it all depends on the breeze. The entire experience takes at least a half hour, but it all depends on the weather. If it is too windy, they can’t fly so your time slot can get backed up.
View from Up, Up and Away
The ride is very gentle, but you will feel a little swaying as you come down for landing. The balloon can take up to 12 people at a time, but again, that is weather dependent.
Stake out an In-pool Lounger at the Oasis Lagoon
Relaxing at the Oasis Lagoon
Oasis Lagoon is the largest freshwater pool in the Caribbean. If you arrive early, I would stake out one of the in-pool loungers, as they will fill up quickly. Even though the pool is large, its design means you don’t feel overwhelmed with people (unless you are hanging out at the swim-up bar in the afternoon.) There are also three swim-up islands with in-water seating.
Swim up bar at the Oasis Lagoon
Families may want to grab chairs near the zero-entry side. This is also where you will find the life jackets for little ones and some bubblers to splash in. This side is very close to Splashaway Bay, a complimentary aqua park for younger children with five waterslides, splash fountains, and two large drench buckets.
Oasis Lagoon zero entry
Oasis Lagoon features underwater music, plus party music at the swim-up bar. But the other side of the pool feels calmer and more chill. My favorite feature is the vinyl padded lining of the pool, which is much gentler on the feet and bathing suit bottom then rough concrete.
Grab at Cocktail at the Floating Bar
Floating cocktail bar
When you want to relax, rent a raft or take a stroll out to the floating tiki bar on Chill Island. Because nothing says vacation like boat drinks, palm trees, and the beautiful blue water of the Caribbean.
Play Beach Games on Chill Island
Cornhole and beach games on Chill Island
If you get tired of relaxing on the beach, beach games are only steps away on Chill Island. Here you will find beach volleyball courts, corn hole, Jenga, and other beach games.
Fill up on Tacos and Soft-Serve Ice Cream at Skipper’s Grill
Cuban sandwiches at Skipper’s Grill
I was pretty impressed with the quality of the buffet at Skipper’s Grill and Chill Grill. Both offer grill stations with hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken, corn, and more. There are also paninis and Cuban sandwiches, fruit, salads, and a full make-your-own taco bar.
In addition to unlimited soft serve, there are also flavored waters and iced tea to enjoy.
Snorkel a Shipwreck
Coco Cay water from above
I didn’t have time to snorkel, but thrill seekers can rent gear on the island and explore the underwater world just off the beach. When the tide is low, you may be able to swim out to the underwater airplane wreck just 150 feet from the shore, or rent a kayak or take a boat tour.
Nap in a Hammock
Hammocks on Chill Island
After the end of a long, busy day, there are a cluster of hammocks over on Chill Island just calling your name. Even though we were on a full sailing, we never had any trouble finding waterfront lounge chairs or hammocks in the late afternoon as many people start to head back to the boat.
The nice thing about Perfect Day at CocoCay is that there is so much to do that you can’t see and do it all in just one day, so it gives you another reason to book another cruise.
PIN THIS FOR LATER
As mentioned above, my cruise was hosted by Royal Caribbean. All opinions are my own.
Game of Thrones fans, the series may be over and no matter how you feel about the ending, the fandom lives on. After all, people are still visiting Hobbiton more than 15 years after the last Lord of the Rings movie came out. So I believe the Game of Thrones Northern Ireland filming locations and attractions will continue to be popular for years to come, especially with prequels on the way.
Northern Ireland has certainly benefited from Game of Thrones. It feels like you can’t go five minutes without meeting someone who was an extra on the show or was involved in the production in some way.
It is easy to plan a whole trip around Game of Thrones attractions and experiences. But of course there is so much that is beautiful and natural to enjoy in Northern Ireland too (don’t miss the Causeway Coast!) But if Game of Thrones is your jam, you will want to include these stops in your itinerary.
Game of Thrones Locations
Note: As is common in this industry, my visit to Northern Ireland was courtesy of Tourism Ireland, Discover Northern Ireland, and Steller. All opinions are my own.
Winterfell Tours at Castle Ward
One of the most popular Game of Thrones filming locations is Castle Ward, used as the backdrop for Winterfell for the first three seasons of the show. Castle Ward is an 18th-century National Trust property located near Strangford Lough in Northern Ireland. Because it is a public location, it got difficult to film there after the show got more popular and they had to move to an undisclosed location.
You can actually camp (or glamp) on the property at Castle Ward, but most people go for the Winterfell Tours Castle & Demesne. While the castle doesn’t look exactly like it does in the series, thanks for the wonders of CGI technology, you will recognize the castle gate and tower, as well as the courtyard where Bran got his archery lessons.
My arrival at Winterfell was highly anticipated, as we were visiting just two days after the airing of “The Long Night” episode with the battle for Winterfell versus the army of the dead. Here I was, arriving at Winterfell with no idea what the outcome of that battle was since I was in Ireland when the episode aired. Did “Winterfell” still even exist in the realm of the series? The excitement and anticipation was in the air.
We were greeted by Robb Stark. Ok, of course not really but our guide does a good impression. After learning a bit about Castle Ward and the experience, we geared up for our visit with a choice of full Stark gear or just a Sansa Stark or Night’s Watch cape.
Of course, being the GOT nerd that I am, I won the trivia contest to get to wield both Longclaw and Oathkeeper. My luck ran out once we moved over to archery.
Everyone had their turn at a few practice rounds before commencing a tournament to determine the winner and the ultimate loser (who was “beheaded” a la poor Ned Stark.)
I found axe throwing a bit easier, although getting the right amount of force to get that axe to stick in the bullseye was still a challenge. But I was glad the axes were nearby when the White Walkers made an appearance. Too bad they weren’t made of Dragonglass.
Meeting Odinn and Thor, the Winterfell Direwolves
Of course, the highlight was getting to meet Odinn and Thor, the dogs who played the dire wolves Summer and Grey Wind in the series. Because who wouldn’t want to hug a dire wolf?
Game of Thrones Touring Exhibition
The Titanic Quarter in Belfast is home to Titanic Studios, where much of the filming and production of Games of Thrones took place. Just across the street at TEC Belfast you will find the Game of Thrones Touring Exhibition. There only until September 2019, this is a must visit for ultimate fans (although I’m hearing rumors of a studio experience opening in the future??)
The Game of Thrones Touring Exhibition features props and costumes used in the show. You will see the gowns worn by Cersei, Sansa, Daenerys, Margaret, and others. It is all there, the swords, crowns, dragon eggs, Jamie’s golden hand, and of course the Iron Throne.
Different sections represent locations in the show…from the Stark crypts to the Dragon Pits to the north beyond the Wall.
The touring exhibition also has some interactive elements. You can take photos posing as Arya Stark with needle, or Jon Snow with Longclaw. Visitors can even “climb the wall” — or at least it looks like you are but really you lay on the floor painted like the wall and take pictures of the reflective mirror above you to make it look like you are dangling from ropes on the wall like Wildlings.
In the House of Black and White there is technology to add your picture to the wall of faces — as creepy as that is! And of course, at the end you can sit on the Iron Throne for selfies (or professional photos.)
If you take your time exploring the exhibit, you may even run into some people who have worked on the show and get the inside scoop on sets, costumes, and more (no spoilers of course!)
Game of Thrones Tapestry
At the Ulster Museum in Belfast, you can find an 80-meter long tapestry that depicts all the major scenes from Game of Thrones. The tapestry was designed by hand and weaved by machine and a team of 30 stitchers.
It covers Winterfell to the Iron Islands and across the Narrow Sea. The tapestry currently covers seasons one through seven, but panels from the story of season eight will be added in June 2019. It doesn’t take long to go through it, but you will have moments of recognition when you realize they depicted a scene you may have forgotten.
Known as The Kings Road to Game of Thrones fans, the Dark Hedges has become a tourist destination of its own in recent years thanks to Instagram and GOT. This avenue of beech trees in Country Antrim has such a mysterious quality that it is no wonder film location scouts were drawn to it.
Of course the popularity of the Dark Hedges has also had some drawbacks. It can be hard to get an open picture without hordes of tourists blocking your shot. The trick is to go early or late, or just wait them out and take your picture when the crowds are in the distance, to add perspective.
Unfortunately, despite signs to the contrary, people have parked along the edge of the road and damaged the tree roots to the point that a few of these gorgeous old trees have fallen down.
Luckily two of these trees were made into 10 “Doors of Thrones”, each carved to display a scene from the show. These doors were then distributed throughout Northern Ireland and donated to local landmarks near filming locations. Now you can get a Doors of Thrones passport and get it stamped when you find each of these doors.
If you really want more, booked a guided tour with the Dark Hedges Experience. You will learn the history and folklore of the trees, along with other feature films that made the trees famous.
Cutting Edge Helicopter Tour
If you are visiting Northern Ireland, you can’t miss some of the beautiful sites along the Coastal Causeway like the Carrick-a-rede rope bridge, Giants Causeway, Mussenden Temple, and Dunluce Castle. However, this stretch of coast was also used for many different Game of Thrones filming locations.
Instead of just exploring by land, you can see this gorgeous coastline by air with a Game of Thrones helicopter tour with Cutting Edge Helicopters. On a one hour tour you can see filming locations from seasons one, two, and five on Game of Thrones.
Locations include the Dothraki Grasslands (Binevenagh), Dragonstone beach (Downhill Beach), the coast of Dorne (Portstewart Strand), Lordsport Harbour (Ballintoy Harbour), and the Stormlands (Larrybane.)
Bonus: Boyne Boats
If you are also visiting the Republic of Ireland, be sure to stop at the Boyne Valley, just 45 minutes north of Dublin and 1.25 hours south of Belfast. This area has an important history, but it is also where you will find Boyne Boats.
Ross Kenny, founder of Boyne Boats, was not only an extra on Game of Thrones, he also supplied the curraches (a type of large row boat) to the show. Yup, these were the boats used by the Iron born, Second Sons, and others throughout the series. You will probably remember them most from when Yara rescues Theon or when Jorah and Tyrion were taken by slavers.
Photo credit: Ross Kenny, Boyne Boats
Today Ross is located on the Boyne River and gives a combination history / Game of Thrones boat tour. Along the way, you hear about the Battle of the Boyne between King James II and King William III.
On the tour, groups of eight will row upstream while learning about the history of the area and a little more about the boats and filming of Game of Thrones. The tour usually lasts approximately 90 minutes and is good for families or small groups. And don’t worry if you get tired of rowing, Ross can always break out the motor to lend a hand.
Northern Ireland is an amazing destination with great city nightlife in Belfast and a stunning coastline. Throw in these Game of Thrones destinations and it is just the icing on the cake. Don’t hesitate to book a trip!
Plan this trip!
If you are visiting Ireland, be sure to check out these other articles:
Where to stay in Marrakech depends greatly on how long you are visiting and if the Red City will be your only stop in Morocco. For example, if you are only visiting Marrakech and not traveling around Morocco, you should really get the best cultural experience and stay in a riad in the heart of the Medina.
If you stay at one of the many traditional riads in Marrakech, you get the experience of being within walking distance to shops, restaurants, and cultural attractions. You can also experience the unique architecture and hospitality of a riad, which is so different from a typical hotel experience.
However, if you are traveling around Morocco, it can be nice to take a break from the traditional Moroccan riads and lodges that you will find throughout the country and indulge in more of a luxury resort experience. This especially comes into play if Marrakech is one of your last stops on your trip.
For example, we recently spent two weeks in Morocco and we stayed at riads in Chefchaouen and Fes, plus a desert camp and then a lodge in Skoura. By the time we arrived in Marrakech, we were eager for the comfort and familiarity of a resort hotel. If you were staying in Marrakech first, it may feel different.
However, since we really wanted to experience the best of both worlds, we split our four nights in Marrakech into two different properties. First, we spent two luxurious nights at the Four Seasons Marrakech, followed by two wonderful nights at Riad Kaiss, a luxury riad in the Old City not far from Jemaa El Fna Square. (Note: we received a special media rate for our stay at the Four Seasons.)
Dar el Bacha in Marrakech
Where to Stay in Marrakech
Note: This post contains affiliate links. If you click a link and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission.
Four Seasons Marrakech
Four Seasons Marrakech front entrance
The Four Seasons Marrakech is located outside of the old city, and is about a five-to-ten minute drive to the Koutoubia Mosque and Jemma El Fna Square, where you will find the snake charmers and vendors in the evenings. The downside of being in the “ville nouvelle” (or new city) is that you will need to arrange a driver or take a taxi if you want to go out and explore.
On the positive side, you will have a very strong security presence (to the point of going through metal detectors when entering the hotel after going through the security gate) and extensive grounds to relax. The Four Seasons Marrakech is spread over 40 acres, including a 35-meter family pool and a quieter, adults-only pool.
Four Seasons Marrakech patio
The gorgeous Moorish gardens and fountains link the main building to the spa, where you can find fitness classes, outdoor yoga, and world-class spa services. Glenn and Hannah spent one afternoon lounging by the adults-only pool (I guess she was mature and quiet enough to not raise any eyebrows).
The excellent poolside service reminded me of our stay at the Four Seasons in Costa Rica many years ago. They may not have come around with fresh coconut as they did in Costa Rica, but they did offer popsicles and cold water in cute insulated picnic baskets.
Four Seasons Marrakech roses display
One of the things that I love about the Four Seasons is how well they cater to families. While our 14-year old is past the age of joining the kids club, the Four Seasons Marrakech offers younger kids their very own “kasbah” with a theater, mini-kitchen, and outdoor play areas.
Four Seasons Marrakech lobby
As much as we loved our riad stays in other cities, it was comforting to check in to our room at the Four Seasons. We stayed in a large garden view terrace room, with a king bed and a rollaway cot for our daughter. The room was spacious, tasteful, and relaxing — exactly what you would expect from a Four Seasons property.
I was especially impressed with the local touches. From the Moroccan slippers and sun hats, to the robes and nightgowns/cover ups supplied in the room, and the roses everywhere!
Hats and slippers at the Four Seasons
We really enjoyed the spaciousness of our terrace, giving us extra room to spread out. The massive bathroom with tub and walk in shower was also a treat. After making do with the smaller bathrooms in most riads, it was nice to enjoy more modern conveniences.
Four Seasons Marrakech garden view king
Four Seasons garden view king with a rollaway
Four Seasons Marrakech garden view king terrace alcove
In addition to being able to relax at the pool and appreciate a few days of luxury living, one of the things we appreciated most at the Four Seasons Marrakech is taking a break from Moroccan cuisine. It sounds awful to say but after 10 days of nothing but tagine and kefta, we were ready for a break.
Yes, Marrakech is a very international city and we could have easily gone into town for one of a dozen cuisines (we ate at a Lebanese restaurant on our last night). However, since Hannah and I had both come down with bad colds, we really didn’t want to leave the resort. Therefore we tried out just about every dining option on property.
Glenn and Hannah had a pizza and quinoa salad at the pool. We ate at the breakfast buffet each morning, since breakfast was included in our room rate and they even have bacon and other international dishes. We ordered room service one night when I was really sick, and we had lunch on the terrace of Inara, the Middle Eastern-themed restaurant off the lobby.
Four Seasons Marrakech Inara restaurant
However, my favorite restaurant in the hotel was certainly Quattro, the Italian restaurant on the lower level. Maybe it was my desperation for something other than a braised meat, but their Southern Italian cuisine was excellent for a hotel restaurant in Morocco. I ate more than my fill of burrata and pasta, while sipping a fine Italian wine.
I wholeheartedly recommend the Four Seasons Marrakech, particularly if you are looking for a break from staying at traditional riads and want a resort experience with amenities like pool-side service, which you may not find at a riad. We were so glad we made the decision to stay at a resort hotel for at least a couple of nights during our trip.
Riad Kaiss rooftop terrace
If you are looking for a luxury riad experience that is authentic, yet caters to English-speaking visitors, look no further than Riad Kaiss. Located in the heart of the old city, it is only about a five minute walk from local transportation and the Jewish quarter, and 10-minute walk to Jemaa El Fna Square.
When you enter Riad Kaiss, you are immediately made to feel at home with the traditional welcome drink of Moroccan mint tea in the beautiful courtyard. Even though Riad Kaiss is located on a side street, the courtyard is still surprisingly quiet and peaceful, and even has a resident pet turtle named Couscous.
Riad Kaiss welcome tea
This hushed atmosphere is perfect for afternoon tea or a pre-dinner cocktail. The riad also has a restaurant serving traditional Moroccan cuisine for breakfast and dinner. Although for breakfast, we also took advantage of having our meal brought up to our private rooftop terrace.
Riad Kaiss private rooftop terrace
The staff couldn’t be more helpful, both in guiding you wherever you need to go so you don’t get lost in the medina, and catering to your needs at the hotel. We had a very early departure for our flight from Casablanca and the staff even packed us up generous breakfast/lunch packages to go for our ride to the airport and left us with a thank you gift as well.
Riad Kaiss courtyard seating area
Riad Kaiss salon
Riad Kaiss is a 16th century building which was once the home of Sultan Moulay Yacoub, ruler of Marrakech. Today, this nine-room riad offers a mix of deluxe and superior rooms, as well as suites. We stayed in a two-room suite on the top floor with a private terrace.
The first room as you make your way up the stairs offers a single bed, table, chairs, and a fireplace. Open the French doors and you will step out onto the private roof terrace, complete with two lounge chairs, a sitting area with table, and a small fountain in the middle.
Riad Kaiss two-room suite, single room
Another set of French doors brings you into the master bedroom and bathroom. While the WiFi may be slow all the way at the top of the riad, it does offer other modern conveniences such as air conditioning, which would be essential for a summer visit.
Riad Kaiss two-room suite, master bedroom
Riad Kaiss suite bathroom
Riad Kaiss is a full-service riad, complete with a small rooftop pool and hammam. The staff can arrange for a massage, make dinner reservations, or help you set up local excursions. We really enjoyed our time here too.
Riad Kaiss rooftop pool
It is hard to choose which experience we liked better, since both were different. I’m glad we had the opportunity to get a taste of each on this trip. Just keep in mind, if you are only visiting Marrakech, go for the authentic riad experience. If you are visiting Marrakech at the end of your trip, considering relaxing at a luxury resort property. You can’t go wrong either way!
Plan this trip!
Visiting Morocco? These articles may also help you plan your trip:
Everyone has heard of Waterford Crystal, but not everyone knows that there are many other reasons to visit Waterford Ireland. Located in the southeast, in Ireland’s Ancient East region, Waterford has the benefit of being in the sunniest part of the country.
This small city has the honor of being the oldest city in Ireland, founded in 914 A.D. by the Vikings. It has an important history as a major trading port, and is still Ireland’s fifth most-populous city.
Waterford City is 2.25 to 3 hours south of Dublin, and two hours from Cork City, so you could fly into either airport. There is enough to do to spend at least two nights in Waterford as part of a larger Ireland trip, or you could stay longer if you wanted to make day trips. (Check out my Ireland travel tips for ideas on planning a trip!)
For so many Americans that I have spoken to, they know Waterford is home to the Crystal factory, but have no idea what else to do in the area. After spending a couple of days in and around Waterford, I have some ideas on other things to do in Waterford.
Reginald’s Tower in Waterford
Things to do in Waterford Ireland
Note: I was a guest of Tourism Ireland and Steller Stories. All opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links. If you click a link and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission.
King of the Vikings
Viking sword carved from a tree
There are three museums in Viking Triangle in the heart of Waterford, including the world’s only Viking virtual reality experience. The King of the Vikings experience takes place in a replica Viking house in the ruins of a 13th century Franciscan friary.
After a short introduction, you strap on the virtual reality goggles and headphones and immerse yourself in Viking history. They can only take 10 people at a time so it makes sense to pre-book a time slot or at least stop by early in the day to reserve your experience.
Giving an introduction at King the Vikings
Virtual reality can make me motion sick and there were definitely times when I had to close my eyes. Even though my body was still, the movement on screen could get a little much. However, everyone else was fine so I think I’m just ultra-sensitive. I would still recommend this experience as a very unique way to learn history and I think it would be a big hit with kids that aren’t too sensitive to the violent history.
Waterford Museum of Treasures
King Henry VIII’s Cap of Maintenance
Also located in the Viking Triangle next to Bishop’s Palace, the Waterford Museum of Treasures represents a 1,000 years of history. In addition to many valuable artifacts, there are also two medieval chambers incorporated into the museum, a 13th century Choristers’ Hall and 15th century Mayor’s Wine Vault, which is accessible by a winding set of spiral stone stairs.
Some of the major pieces in the Medieval Museum are Great Charter Roll, artifacts from King Henry VIII, and medieval vestaments. The Great Charter Roll is a scroll that was presented to King Edward III to present the case of why Waterford should retain control of the harbor and therefore the wine trade with Europe. The cloth of gold vestment was found buried under a church after being lost there for over a century.
Waterford Crystal Visitor Center
Glass blowing at Waterford Crystal
Waterford of course is known as the home of Waterford Crystal. Just across from the Bishop’s Palace in the Viking Triangle, the Waterford Crystal Visitor Center offers guests the option to explore the gift shop and cafe, or take a guided tour to see some of Waterford’s 50 master craftsmen at work. Factory tours are available seven days a week from March through October and it saves you money to book your tickets ahead of time.
Glass cutting at Waterford Crystal
Master craftsmen have to apprentice for a total of eight years to achieve that designation in just one of the disciplines: glass blowing, engraving, or cutting. The tour gets you up close to the action and gives you a deep appreciation for the skill and hard work that goes into each piece of Waterford Crystal.
Waterford Street Art
Within the walled city of Waterford, you will find a great deal of public art and wall murals. Some of these are part of the Waterford Walls street art event, which will celebrate its fifth year from August 22-25, 2019.
Every year, the town invites world-class national and international street artists to paint the city’s walls. In addition to the programming around the event, you can take a guided art trail walk or just explore town and see how many murals you can find on your own. While you are walking around town, be sure to seek out landmarks like Reginald’s Tower, the Christ Church Cathedral, and the old city walls.
High Tea at Waterford Castle
Waterford Castle Manor House
When you are visiting Ireland, you need to plan to have afternoon high tea at least once, and what better setting than a castle? Waterford Castle and Golf Resort is located on its own private island, accessible by car ferry, about 30 minutes from downtown Waterford.
Reservations are required for Afternoon Tea, and it can be taken in The Fitzgerald Room, The Leinster Room, Entrance Hall and The Conservatory. The Afternoon Tea menu changes seasonally to utilize the best of fresh, local ingredients, and can be customized based on dietary requirements.
High tea sandwiches and pastries
In addition to a selection of teas, you will feast from a tiered-tray of treats including finger sandwiches and pastries. Of course, the Waterford Castle would also be a lovely place to stay, both in the elegant manor house or one of the family-friendly lodges.
Biking on the Waterford Greenway
The Waterford Greenway bike path runs 46 km from Waterford to Dungarvan along an old railway line. Bike rentals are available from Greenway Waterford Bike Hire, located at the WIT Sports Arena just outside of downtown Waterford. You don’t need to cycle the whole thing. You can either bike out and back or arrange a shuttle pick up.
The river around the Greenway
The Greenway offers a lovely ride along the river and railway line, with beautiful views and quiet scenes. If you bike far enough, you can cross trestle bridges and go through an old railway tunnel. Of course, you can also bike just a short distance and stop and enjoy Mount Congreve Gardens.
Mount Congreve Gardens
Located just 15 minutes out of Waterford, and a few kilometers on the Greenway, Mount Congreve Gardens is an oasis of color in a sea of green. The house and gardens were first built in the 1740s. The Woodland gardens were founded by Mr. Lionel N. de Rothschild, who was known as the greatest landscaper of the 20th century and a very clever hybridist.
These gardens were expanded and developed by Ambrose Congreve, who, along with Mr. Herman Dool, built Mount Congreve up to be on the greatest gardens in the world. Today, the gardens cover 78 acres with 16 km of walking trails, which have routes of 45 minutes to up to two hours.
Mount Congreve Gardens temple
The Walled Gardens are divided into two sections, with fruit trees and vegetable gardens, flowers, and a water lily pond. The Woodland Gardens peak from February through May and offer wonderful bursts of color. There are also special paths like the Bluebell Walk and 1 km of hydrangeas.
Where to Stay in Waterford
Granville Hotel in Waterford
Of course my first choice would be to stay at the gorgeous Waterford Castle. However, if you are looking to stay in town, the Granville Hotel is a classic choice. The Granville is located on The Quay and overlooks the harbor.
Rear-facing hotel room at the Granville Hotel
The rooms can be a little tight and those facing the water can be a little noisy, so you may want to request a rear-facing room. Don’t miss the interesting bar scene (especially on Saturday nights) in the pub, and make time to enjoy breakfast in the dining room. The scones and jams are made by hand and they offer a touch of whiskey in the porridge for a morning kick.
Where to Eat in Waterford
There are a number of traditional Irish pubs in Waterford, but if you are looking for a something more sophisticated, Everett’s on High Street is the perfect choice. Set in the remains of the 15th century John Collyn House, Everett’s offers modern Irish cooking in a warm and cozy atmosphere.
Cod at Everett’s
For dinner, I would recommend the crab gazpacho, followed by the Kilmore Quay Cod with chorizo and parsley sauce. But definitely save room for the salted peanut, banana, and raspberry dessert.
Day Trips from Waterford
Dunbrody Famine Ship – New Ross
Just 30 minutes from Waterford is the town of New Ross, famous for its ties to John F. Kennedy’s family. New Ross is JFK’s ancestral home, and the John F. Kennedy Trust was founded in 1988 to commemorate his historic legacy. The trust developed the Irish Emigration Database and built the Dunbrody Famine Ship in 2001. The eternal flame that burns out front was brought from Arlington cemetery and was lit by JFK’s sister Caroline Kennedy.
Dunbrody Famine Ship
The Dunbrody Famine Ship was built as an authentic replica of an 1840’s emigrant vessel. These famine ships transported thousands of people over a period of 25 years. Originally built as a cargo vessel, after the famine started in 1845, it was outfitted to transport 200 to 300 people across the sea to New York and Quebec over a seven-week journey.
The Dunbrody Famine Ship experience starts with a video presentation to give you the history of the famine. Visitors then step onto the ship for a guided tour with costumed performers who provide insights into what it was like to be a passenger aboard one of these ships, both in third-class and in first-class.
The medieval city of Kilkenny is also only about 40 minutes from Waterford in south east Ireland. In Kilkenny you can visit the 12th century castle, as well as St. Canice’s Cathedral and the Black Abbey Dominican priory from the 13th century.
Kilkenny is a very walkable town, with craft shops lining winding lanes. Nearby, you can visit sites like the Jerpoint Abbey and Jerpoint Park.
I recently wrote about what to wear on on Alaskan cruise, but then I realized that putting together an Alaska cruise packing list isn’t just about what to wear, it is also what to bring along for the trip.
Even if you are a pro at packing for a Caribbean cruise, an Alaska cruise is a different experience and you may have trouble deciding what to pack. It starts with trading the shorts for rain pants and the sundresses for sweaters. But don’t worry, this packing list includes everything you should need for an Alaskan cruise based on our experience aboard the Norwegian Bliss last summer.
Of course, some of what you pack will depend on which Alaska cruise excursions you choose, and your ports of call. It always pays to check the weather for your ports ahead of time, but the secret is to be prepared and this packing list will help!
The other thing to keep in mind is that the weather in Alaska can vary greatly day-by-day. We cruised in late August, and it was pretty cool, windy, and rainy the entire time. I have a friend that cruised a few weeks earlier and they had some days where it was warm enough to need shorts and t-shirts.
Note: This post contains affiliate links. If you click a link and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission.
What to Pack for the Cabin
Cruise cabins are notoriously small compared to the average hotel room. You don’t want to overpack or you will be tripping over stuff whenever you try to move around the cabin. Luckily, most cruise lines provide adequate cabinets and cubbies to fit clothing for three adults or two adults and two children.
Even if you book a cabin with a balcony, you may not spend a lot of time out there on an Alaskan cruise. Although if you bundle up it can be a great place to watch the icebergs float by when you are sailing through the inner passage.
The trick is really to make the most of the space that you have. It helps to unpack as soon as your luggage arrives and store your suitcases under the bed. If you have extra items or things you won’t need frequently, feel free to leave those in the suitcase under the bed too.
One of the suggestions I took from my friend Kim over on Stuffed Suitcase, was to include an over-the-door shoe organizer. (Note that not every cruise line will allow you to use over-the-door hooks, which is the reason for the next suggestion.) We were able to hang ours near the door, across from the bathroom, on the two coat hooks built into the wall.
This was very helpful in keeping our shoes out of the way. We also used the extra pockets for hats, gloves, and other small items that were easy to misplace but were often needed when running out the door.
Another tip that I got from my friend Sue was to bring along a set of magnetic hooks. Typically either the cabin door or bathroom door is metal and you can use the hooks here. We found these very helpful for hanging up our coats and sweatshirts. Make sure to get strong hooks that can hold a coat and not just slide down the door. Just keep in mind that these can leave marks on the door if you pull on them. You may want to bring along a Magic Eraser to clean those off.
Other essential items to pack for your Alaska cruise cabin include:
Travel surge protector with USB outlets (I use the Belkin SurgePlus because of its swivel plug and built-in USB ports)
Refillable water bottles (keep in mind that you can’t fill these at the water stations but if you fill a glass, you can keep pouring that in to fill it) and/or insulated coffee mug (to bring coffee to your room or to enjoy on deck)
Each cruise line is different but all have limited counter space in the bathrooms. Ours at least had two shelves, but I still worried about items falling off into the toilet or getting wet from the shower. This is one reason why I love this lay-flat toiletry kit for travel.
Most cruise ships will provide hair dryers, just check with your cruise line before you sail. And remember, on an Alaska cruise things are a bit more casual. Usually no formal nights (at least not on Norwegian, this can vary by cruise line) and the dampness will probably mean your hair is going to frizz anyway so why waste time styling it?
Keep in mind that the gift shop is expensive and limited, so bring what you need on board including:
Check out my full post on what to wear on an Alaskan cruise (and why) but this will give you a quick overview. The important thing is to dress in layers to prepare for changes in the weather.
Hiking pants or fleece-lined leggings
Long sleeve shirt / hiking shirt
Flannel shirt to layer
Insulated jacket and/or vest
Waterproof shell and/or rain jacket
Waterproof hiking boots
What to Wear at Sea
Days at sea are fairly relaxed and you will want to be comfortable. Adults may want to use the spa or fitness center. Kids may enjoy the kid’s or teen club, lounge, game room, or, maybe it will be nice enough to use the pool or hot tubs.
Just keep in mind that it may take a few hours for your luggage to arrive so if you will want to change right away to enjoy the pool or other areas, be sure to pack what you need in a bag that you can carry on.
Jeans / leggings / athletic wear
2-3 short sleeve shirts
3-5 long sleeve shirts
1-2 sweaters or sweatshirts
Socks (bring extra!)
Warm cover up or loose clothing to cover up
Dinner & Evening Wear
In the evening, you will want to dress up a little and avoid jeans and sneakers. However, many Alaskan cruises don’t have official formal nights (check with your cruise line on their guidelines.) Also keep in mind that the dining rooms can get chilly and you will need a jacket or wrap to walk around on deck.
2-3 pairs of nice pants or skirts
5 nicer shirts or sweaters (collared shirts for men, blouses/sweaters for women)
1-2 sweaters / wraps / light jackets
Dress up outfit(s) (optional on many Alaskan cruises)
If you are traveling to Alaska, don’t forget that rain is very common. Nothing is worse than wet shoes. Ideally you will wear waterproof shoes or hiking boots on excursions but if not, you will definitely want to bring a pair of back up sneakers.
Sneakers (casual or athletic)
Waterproof hiking boots or back up sneakers
Flats / sandals or dress shoes for men
Slippers or cozy slipper socks (optional)
If you are having trouble deciding what to wear, I LOVE using the StitchFix personal stylist service. Before every trip I send my stylist a note with where I am going and what pieces I think I will need and she puts together a special box just for my trip.
Download the Printable Alaska Cruise Packing List
Ready to grab your downloadable Alaskan cruise packing list? Print out this printable PDF and let’s get ready to pack for your trip to Alaska.