Ten Ways to Make Your Vacations Extraordinary
How can you make your vacations extraordinary? Do you feel like your vacations are monotonous? Do you tell your friends where you are going or what you did and they say “me too”? Well, it’s time to customize your vacations. Yes, customization can add extra costs to your vacation. However, with strategic planning, you can add-on one benefit and cutback on another budgeted item. With or without VIP spending power, you can plus your travel routine! Your next vacation can absolutely stand out. With creative planning, you can even add special moments to your trip at no additional expense. By trying a new destination or just adding in a new activity, you’ll have a vacation that is personalized. Let’s check out ten ways to make your vacations extraordinary. Don’t be afraid to do something different.
1. Change Your Mode of Transportation
Do you always fly to your destination? Or maybe you like the adventure of a road trip? Think about how exciting it would be to change your mode of transportation.
Tour a foreign city using the underground metro system.
If the kids are used to piling into your vehicle for a road trip, try flying to this year’s vacation destination. This might mean cutting back on other costs — and that’s okay! So, instead of renting a large beach house, fly to Washington D.C. and tour the free museums.
Fly to your next destination.
You can also change your transportation at your location. Do you always rent a sensible car for a couples only trip? Try renting a convertible or a jeep and see how much fun you add to your vacations.
Rent a convertible for memorable fun.
Do you usually take Disney’s Magical Express from the Orlando International Airport (MCO) to your resort? Surprise the family with a car service; extra points if it’s a limo! If you use a car service on an airport trip, you’ll get that extra dose of “special” as soon as you land.
Reserve a limo!
From your port of call in Italy, is your first inclination to walk around the town or take a guided bus tour? Instead take the train to a place you’ve always dreamed about and travel with the locals.
Take a train to see a bucket list place — like Pompeii!
When you’re traveling to multiple locations, think how you can make the journey a little bit different. From Los Angeles to San Francisco, take the train. London to Paris? EuroStar!
2. Try a New Recreational Activity
Sure, you could go skydiving to really standout. But, you don’t have to go to that extreme. At the beach, take a surf lesson, go fishing, or go back-to-basics and fly a kite.
Wright Brothers Visit National Memorial at Kitty Hawk in North Carolina, then…
Go fly a kite!
Flying Kite on Sand Dunes at Jockey’s Ridge State Park, North Carolina.
On your next cruise trip, dance, rock climb, zipline, or ice skate. Learn a new dance routine to really shake things up!
Dance the night away! Dazzles, Royal Caribbean.
Many of us gear our Walt Disney World trips around the theme parks. On your next trip, spend a day outside the parks to enjoy playing miniature golf, boating, fishing, horseback riding, or learning archery.
Rent a Sea Raycer. Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort.
3. A New Destination or Time of Year
This one may seem obvious but many of us tend to go to the same destinations at the same time year. Of course, familiar vacations are memorable. Traditions are also important to families. Still, you can change your routine just a little bit to make your next journey extra special. If you usually travel over Spring Break, book this year’s trip for Thanksgiving. Try visiting your favorite location during the festive holiday season and see the locale in a whole new light.
Merry Christmas Slipper Dessert at Grand Floridian Cafe on Christmas Eve.
A new destination can sometimes be daunting. Will you enjoy it? Usually, the answer is yes. Ditch the beach and go to the mountains. Stuck on land-based vacations? Take a cruise.
Take a cruise!
Or just change beaches: Hilton Head Island instead of Myrtle Beach; Destin, Florida instead of Gulf Shores, Alabama; Rehoboth Beach, Delaware instead of Ocean City, Maryland; a West Coast beach instead of East Coast getaway, and so forth. Even if you return to your once familiar vacation for the following year, you’ll find yourselves reminiscing…
Huntington Beach over Thanksgiving!
Or think farther away and go to Europe. Sail the Mediterranean instead of the Caribbean. Head to Hawaii instead of Mexico. The possibilities are endless.
Sailing into the Grand Harbor, Malta.
Touring Colosseum in Rome, Italy.
Try a new-to-you vacation spot!
If you’re a Disney World fan that always attends the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival, try visiting during the spring instead and tour the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival. Or plan to attend the Halloween festivities in the Magic Kingdom.
4. Splurge on Amenities
Amenities are the little things that make us feel special. From chocolate-covered strawberries delivered to your cruise stateroom to balloons delivered to your Walt Disney World resort, added amenities are always memorable. And instagram-worthy!! 😉
Order special treats to enjoy during your vacation!
5. Tweak Your Traveling Party
If you always travel with kids in tow, take a couples only trip. Invite the grandparents and/or aunts and uncles. Take a parent-child only trip for special bonding time — this works for parents of grown children too. Try a guys trip to the Caribbean to scuba dive or a ladies trip to New York City to see a show. Imagine the possibilities!
Travel with family!
6. Make Your Trip a Celebration
From a destination wedding to a birthday getaway, your trip is the perfect time to celebrate. Don’t let those annual milestones go unnoticed. This year, take a weekend trip for your anniversary, go on a cruise for your birthday, or take your child to Disneyland Paris for graduation.
Our son’s January birthday celebration aboard the Disney Wonder.
For our 10th anniversary, we renewed our vows in Walt Disney World!
A splurge for our 10th anniversary vow renewal — riding in Cinderella’s Coach!
Whenever someone asks me what I want to do for my birthday? The answer involves travel. I’ve spent my birthday on a cruise ship, in Barcelona, in Paris, on a road trip heading home from Yellowstone, at beaches, and so on. Of course, I’ve been in Walt Disney World a number of times! Skip the gifts and make some priceless memories instead.
7. Take a Tour
You could take a guided tour for your entire vacation or add on tours during your trip. Some of my favorite tours: Stonehenge from London; Normandy from Paris; a cruise ship tour of the captain’s bridge; a plantation in St. Croix; a Magic Kingdom tour; Roswell, New Mexico; and Carthage and Sidi Bou Said in Tunisia.
A tour to Stonehenge.
Tours can often be pricey, however they add convenience and/or in-depth education that is usually not regretted.
8. Cross Off a Bucket List Item
On every single trip, you have the opportunity to cross off a bucket list item. Bucket list achievements come in all sizes.
Devils Tower Wyoming
Try one of these personal goals:
- Teach your child to ride a bike.
- See the Milky Way.
- Picnic in a beautiful setting.
- Watch a turtle crawl to the sea.
- See the Chincoteague ponies.
- Dine somewhere special; extra points if it’s for New Year’s Eve or another celebration.
- Get a tattoo.
- Learn to…. paddleboard, ski, golf, mix a delicious cocktail, make authentic pizza, etc.
- Swim with a dolphin.
Bike riding on vacation!
Proud bike rider!
Go exploring via bicycle!
See the Chincoteague Ponies in Virginia.
Horseback Riding at Bill Cody Ranch in Wyoming.
9. Take More Pictures
Hiring a photographer to take pictures of the whole family is an extra special way to commemorate your trip. Whether it’s a once in a lifetime adventure or an annual vacation, photographs will always keep the memories alive.
Take lots of photos!
And here are two important tips: * Give each child an age-appropriate camera. Some of the most touching or extremely hilarious photos that we have viewed were from our young child’s eyes. * Include the family’s photographer in photos. I’m usually the photographer in the family and well, there just aren’t a ton of photos of me. Do better than we did — you won’t regret it. Every now and then, have a photo watching night at home. Which vacations were your favorites? Take a vote on where to travel next.
Finally, there’s nothing like an upgrade to make your vacation stand out. Upgrade your accommodations (get a balcony stateroom or a Magic Kingdom view), meals, souvenir purchases, excursions, and other vacation components.
Concierge Room at the BoardWalk Inn.
Do you usually sail in an interior cabin? Next cruise, drive to the port instead of flying and upgrade to an oceanview cabin. Or try a cruise line (like Disney or Royal Caribbean) that is new to you. Not sure which one is right for you — read my Disney vs. Royal Caribbean Splashdown.
Magic in the Med!
Headed to Walt Disney World for a week of quick-service meals? Maybe try a few table-service meals instead of purchasing more Mickey Ears and other souvenirs.
Pizza at Epcot’s Via Napoli!
Of course, there’s something to be said for the familiarity and tradition of visiting the same location each year. Just change it up a bit. Make your vacation extraordinary!
How have you made your vacations extra special? Share in the comments below or join the discussion on our Facebook Page.
Surreal Places Series: Travel Locations You Must See
As you start narrowing down your next adventure, consider these surreal places and spaces. These are the first suggestions in our new series focusing on travel locations you must see!
Conjuring up visions of locations that you can barely imagine? Well, the ancient site of Pompeii, would fit that dream. As you take in the ruins, it’s difficult to juxtapose the tragic disaster that occurred in A.D. 79 with the peaceful, majestic Mount Vesuvius of today. While trying to grasp the magnitude of the volcanic eruption, you’ll also be exploring an archaeological site (with homes and streets!) that is so much larger than pictures portray.
Pompeii is a hauntingly surreal place.
This is one place that really messed with my mind. And I feel compelled to visit again — to try to take in the magnitude of this hauntingly, beautiful excavation.
I love traveling by train in Europe; it’s a convenient transportation option especially while traveling through a foreign country. The train stop nearest the excavation is Pompei Scavi-Villa Misteri. It’s a very short walk to the entrance, however you’ll want to wear comfortable shoes as you’ll be walking for the better part of your day, plus the surface is uneven so watch your footing.
United States Virgin Islands
A popular land and cruise based vacation spot, St. Thomas in the United States Virgin Islands boasts a stunning harbor near Charlotte Amalie. My favorite way to enjoy this view is on from the balcony of a cruise ship.
Blue turquoise water soothes the soul at St. Thomas, USVI.
On St. Croix, an excursion to Little La Grange will entice your senses. A 19th century plantation turned cattle ranch, the house is now the Lawaetz Family Museum showcasing family antiques. Spend time touring the impeccable grounds with tropical flowers and trees.
The gorgeous Little La Grange Plantation House and grounds on St. Croix.
The grounds at Little La Grange.
Headed to the U.S. Virgin Islands? Do not miss St. John for tranquility. In fact, swimming at Trunk Bay Beach is one of my all-time favorite memories. Add it to your vacation itinerary for playing in warm waters amidst an unspoiled setting. We took a boat from St. Thomas to St. John, however, I’m dreaming about an actual stay on St. John! How about you?!
Zion National Park, Utah
Experience the beauty of the steep, red cliffs of Zion National Park. Nestled in this surreal place are forest trails cut alongside the babbling Virgin River.
Zion National Park is a contrast of red steep cliffs and green forested trails.
Of all the parks that we have visited, this is my teen son’s favorite. From horseback riding to hiking, Zion offers a multitude of family activities.
Even teens appreciate the surreal beauty of Zion!
Plan to hike and/or horseback ride in the morning or evening. Avoid the hottest afternoon hours; the heat was brutal during our vacation in late May – early June.
Recommended Lodging: Desert Pearl Inn in Springdale, Utah.
Desert Pearl Inn, Springdale, Utah.
Stay tuned for our second part in the Surreal Places Series, plus watch for in-depth reviews of our recommended surreal places to inspire your vacation plans.
Have you been to any of these surreal places?
Where should we (and our readers) go next?
UFOs and Starry Skies: A Themed Vacation Itinerary in Texas and New Mexico
UFOs and Starry Skies is a fascinating itinerary that was part of our 5,000 mile southwest trip. Yet, it’s easily adaptable to add on to a long vacation or for a shorter road trip. Traveling through Texas and New Mexico, you’ll get to see the mysterious Marfa Lights, attend a Star Party at McDonald Observatory, explore the UFO phenomenon in Roswell, climb White Sands, and continue to feel very small next to the Very Large Array.
To accompany this itinerary, stay tuned to The Castle Concierge for more in-depth reviews.
Read on for an itinerary with optional stops to add to your aliens and starry skies exploration.
Pre-Trip To-Do List
Your pre-trip to-do list for your UFOs and Starry Skies vacation gives you an idea of some of the logistics that will need to be addressed before setting out on the open road.
- Book a hotel in Alpine, Texas, Roswell, New Mexico, and Las Cruces, New Mexico.
- Reserve the Star Party at McDonald Observatory, 3640 Dark Sky Drive, Fort Davis, TX 79734.
- Look up sunset time for Fort Davis, TX.
- Reserve a Roswell UFO Tour with Dennis Balthaser.
- Reserve hotels, if needed, before and after this itinerary.
Begin the Road Trip
Drive to Alpine, Texas.
We made the 5 hour journey from San Antonio, departing around Noon and arrive about 5PM. Plan your trip according to your starting point!
On Road to Alpine from San Antonio, Texas.
Note that this town has limited lodging and dining options (Pizza Hut, Subway, McDonald’s, Dairy Queen), so consider making reservations early.
It’s going to be a late night so we recommend resting at your hotel (we stayed at the Hampton) until it’s time to travel to the McDonald Observatory, which is 50 minutes away from Alpine.
Arriving before sunset at Frank N. Bash Visitors Center at McDonald Observatory.
Depending on the time of year that you are visiting, you may be able to see the Marfa Lights at dusk, followed by the Star Party. Since we were visiting in May, we went to the Star Party first (9:30-11:30PM), then stopped at the Marfa Lights in the late evening.
For reference: Marfa to McDonald Observatory is 45 minutes. Alpine, Texas to Marfa is 22 minutes.
The scenery along the way to the McDonald Observatory was beautiful. We left before sunset and were there with plenty of time to explore the Visitor’s Center, have a snack, and watch the sunset (8:49PM, during our visit).
Due to the elevation of 6,700 feet above sea level atop Mount Locke and the dark skies, McDonald Observatory is a great location for viewing the starry skies.
See the stars at McDonald Observatory.
Unfortunately on our night, the skies were cloudy. The Observatory added extra lectures and were able to point out some stars. We were also able to view several planets through the telescopes. Best of all, I saw a shooting star!
Marfa, Texas is known for the mysterious lights that appear on clear nights.
The dark drive down the mountain, plus the added anticipation of seeing the mystery lights definitely gave us a spine-chilling ride. We located the Marfa Lights viewing center and parked our car in the pitch darkness. As late as it was, we were not the only ones making the stop. There were some people already there (locals and tourists) as well as people coming and going while we were there.
As instructed we gazed into the blackness toward the Chinati Mountains and some locals told us where to focus our attention. At first, we didn’t see much of anything but we heard cows grazing nearby. And then it happened, a light flickering. Another one bouncing. Two or more lights would appear seeming to hover and then dance.
What are the lights? I don’t know. Are they headlights? I can’t say. I do know that the feeling of being out there in the dark between Marfa and Paisano Pass was other-worldly. And, I’m glad we made the stop.
We certainly had a lot to chat about on the ride back to the hotel! In fact, we still talk about that entire evening. Amazing!
We had pre-booked the Holiday Inn in Roswell, New Mexico. While there are more accommodations here, you’ll still find that your options are limited compared to other touristy stops.
Since we were out late star-gazing and looking at mysterious lights, we slept in. Departing by 10AM, we were in Roswell by 2PM. The four hour drive is quite desolate so plan accordingly.
Prepare for your road trip before heading out on the desolate roads.
After checking into our hotel, we decided to rest and then go out to dinner. We had underestimated how tired we would be from the previous late night. If you arrive with energy, I would recommend touring the UFO Museum (allow one hour).
Meeting us in our hotel lobby, Dennis Balthaser picked us up for our pre-arranged private Roswell UFO Tour. We spent from 9-11AM riding around Roswell in his vehicle. There wasn’t a single boring minute. He kept us completely captivated with accounts of the alleged UFO crash. It was extremely interesting to how this event affected the town of Roswell and its people.
Hangar 84 in Roswell, New Mexico. Were alien bodies and debris kept here before being flown elsewhere?
After the tour, we had lunch, then spent an hour at the UFO Museum.
White Sands National Monument
Begin your two-hour drive to White Sands National Monument. The other-worldy landscapes glistening with white gypsum sand are stunning.
Glistening white sand!
Continue to Las Cruces where you’ll spend the night before continuing your itinerary. An optional morning stop at White Sands Missile Range Museum makes for a fascinating tour surrounded by gorgeous scenery. Be sure to have photo ID to enter the gates.
White Sands Missile Range Park has an impressive display.
Very Large Array
Plan to drive to the Karl G Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) located on the San Agustin Plains. This drive to 7,000 feet above sea level is also rather isolated so be sure to gas up, get food, and stop for breaks when you are near civilization. Fifty miles west of Socorro, New Mexico, this astronomical radio observatory is made up of 27 radio antennas (each 82 feet in diameter).
Very Large Array from Road. Wow!
A video presentation (Jodie Foster from Contact narrates) and self-guided tour will take about 1.5 hours from the small VLA Visitor Center.
Standing next to one of the antenna at the VLA.
For sci-fi fans, the VLA is iconic. Stop here and try to take in some of the mind-boggling science!
Very Large Array Antenna focuses on the science of black holes and more!
Drive to Meteor Crater near Winslow, Arizona and/or Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. Due to a travel delay, we had to skip Meteor Crater and drove right to Flagstaff.
One of our favorite itineraries, the UFOs and Starry Skies theme was a highlight of our summer trip.
Are you ready to set out on a UFO and Starry Skies adventure?