{Trip Report} Puerto Rico Honeymoon

Today I’m sharing some of the highlights from our honeymoon in San Juan, Puerto Rico! We ran into a small tropical storm while we were there, so it was a little rainy and our excursions were rescheduled a couple times, but we still had a fun trip!  Continue reading

Preparing for a Trip Abroad – Tips and Resources

After reflecting back on our trip to Italy and thinking about all the planning I did for it, I thought I’d share some tips, resources and things I learned while preparing for our trip. If you’re one of those people who like to just wing it this is not for you. I am definitely a person who likes to do lots of research and lots of planning. So once you’ve picked your destination, booked your flights and hotels, here are my top tips and resources for planning a big trip.

1. Create a Central Trip Folder – Whether you use a notebook or an online resource, create something where you put all your travel information in one spot. For my Italy trip, I used Google drive because I could easily edit everything and create one folder with everything I needed in it. Plus, if I lost any print outs during the trip, I could access it from my email on any computer.

2. Start with a Calendar – If you’re a visual person like me you might struggle with remembering what days you’ve planned what. For example, our Italy trip was 11 days (with 2 days of travel) and I couldn’t remember what days we were going to be where. So I created a calendar on a spreadsheet within Google drive. From there I could fill in what city we were in and plan out our daily itinerary. Here is what mine looked like. It’s not the prettiest, but it worked perfectly for me.

Italy Calendar Itinerary

3. Research and Plan Itinerary: Now that you have a calendar set up, you can start filling in with your itinerary. This is the fun part! You probably have a few must-see sights/activities that you know you want to do, but don’t forget to do some research and make sure you’re not missing out on some more authentic activities as well. And don’t forget to research restaurants too! When I started the planning process I made a list of things to do and see in each city and listed them in the ‘must do’ and ‘want to do’ columns and went from there. Also, at the end of this post I’ve shared a couple of great online resources to use in helping with this step – Tripomatic and Tripadvisor.

4. Document Important Info in One Place – Don’t forget to make sure you have important info like hotel names, phone numbers and addresses or flight information in one spot so you aren’t searching through emails or multiple papers. Again, I used Google docs and just added another tab for this one.

Travel Organizing Important Info

5. Have a plan for travel to/from hotel and between cities – Maybe this seems like a no-brainer, but I did a lot of research on transportation to and from the airport/train station to our hotels and also between cities ahead of time. I kept it all in one place and had all the details including what train station we needed, the times trains left and prices for everything. Here’s what my plan looked like.

Italy Transportation Planning

6. Pack Light and Smart – Everyone says this, but seriously, do it! I definitely overpacked for our Italy trip and regretted having to lug that suitcase around, especially on the trains! Definitely bring an umbrella, but rethink packing 5 travel books and multiple pairs of shoes.

Helpful Trip Planning Resources:

Tripomatic.com – I used this site for our trip to Italy and I LOVE it. It is map-based (great for visual learners like myself). You tell it where you are going and it will show you suggested, must-see places on the map and you can also add your own destinations. Then you plug in your hotel and put in places you want to visit while you are in the area and it suggests what order you do them in based on location and the time/distance between each. So, for instance, in Rome I wanted to see 10 places and I wasn’t sure what I could feasibly do in a day and where they were in relation to each other. Tripomatic did that for me. I highly recommend it, especially for planning trips to Europe and places where you have several stops/sights to see and lots of walking to do. I do not use it for simpler trips – like our trip to Orlando where we were just going to Disney for a whole day.

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Tripadvisor.com – I use this a lot on all of our vacations. It’s basically a big site of reviews – from restaurants to hotels and activities and attractions. It’s a great place to start getting ideas on what activities to do or where to eat based on the reviews. You can also search the reviews for specific topics – like taking the bus from a specific hotel in Italy – once you get more into the little details.

{Trip Report} Italy Part 4: Rome

Our last stop on our Italy trip was Rome and we spent four days here. If you missed the beginning of our trip you can catch up here: Venice, Florence, Tuscany.

Rome Day 1:

The morning was spent taking the high speed train from Florence to our last stop on our trip – Rome. In Rome we stayed at a really nice Intercontinental Hotel at the top of the Spanish Steps. After we got settled in, we set out for lunch and our own little walking tour of some of the major sights in Rome. We checked out the Spanish steps and found a lunch spot at the bottom. It was a yummy lunch and we met a really nice Italian couple who made some recommendations on what to eat and do in Rome.

After lunch we started on our walking tour, first stop: Piazza Navona. We got to Piazza Navona and I was in love. There’s so much activity in this place – street venders selling artwork, people eating outside, three beautiful fountains, street artists and lots of tourists. It’s a great place to spend an hour people watching. We also stopped at Grom for some gelato here.

Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona

Next we made our way to Campo de Fiori, but we were too late to peruse the market, so we headed to our next stop  – The Pantheon. The Pantheon was packed, as was the little piazza outside of it, but we found a seat inside to rest our feet and take in the interior of the building.

Our last stop on our walking tour was the Trevi Fountain. Pictures do not do it justice! It’s so huge and beautiful in person. It was one of my favorite things to see on this trip. Also, as you can see in the bottom picture below, it’s crazy crowded! We had trouble getting a spot to take a picture.

Trevi Fountain

Trevi Fountain

Lastly, we headed back to our hotel to relax before dinner. For dinner, we ventured out to a Spaghettoria where we tried three different kinds of spaghetti and we visited the Trevi Fountain at night all lit up.

Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain at Night

Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain at Night

Rome Day 2:

On our second day in Rome we headed to the Coliseum. The day before we purchased a Roma Pass which enabled us to bypass the regular (really long) line at the Coliseum and go through to the short Roma Pass line. There we purchased the 45 minuted guided tour of the Coliseum (we did not get a tour of ancient rome). Even though our guide spoke English, it was really hard to hear and understand him, so I did not get much out of the tour and would have rather had a headset recorded tour, but I still caught bits and pieces so it was better than nothing. After our tour we explored a bit and then headed into Ancient Rome.

The Coliseum and Ancient Rome

The Coliseum and Ancient Rome

Since we got a little lost on how to actually get to the main part of Ancient Rome it took us a while to get through everything. We spent all morning and part of the afternoon at the Coliseum and Ancient Rome and then went in search of a late lunch. We found Pizzeria de Monte Carlo not too far away and had a very delicious pizza. Afterwords we went back to the hotel to relax before a late dinner.

Rome Day 3:

We got up early to go to the Vatican Museum. I purchased tickets online before we left and they give you a certain time to go in. We passed an extrememly long line of people waiting to get in and My Man was really happy that I got tickets in advance. We spent an hour or so walking around the museum and looking at all the art they’ve crammed into every nook and cranny there. It’s amazing! Then we spent some time in the Sistine Chapel and headed out.

Vatican Museum

Vatican Museum

We planned on going into St. Peter’s Basilica afterwards, but the Pope was there and it was packed, so we did not go. Instead we got some gelato at a place called Old Bridge right outside of the Vatican and headed back to the hotel for lunch and a nap. After lunch we headed back to St. Peter’s, but the lines were still hours long.

Me in front of St.Peter's Basilica

Me in front of St.Peter’s Basilica

We walked around outside for a bit and then walked along the Tiber River towards Trastevere. We stopped in the main piazza – Santa Maria en Trastevere – and had a late afternoon snack and relaxed on the patio and people watched.

Castel Sant'Angelo on our walk along the Arno

Castel Sant’Angelo on our walk along the Arno

Rome Day 4:

Our last day in Rome we spent at the Villa Borghese – a park not far from our hotel. After eight days in Italy, we were tired, so today we relaxed a lot more. We slept in and grabbed some sandwiches and a bottle of champagne for a relaxing picnic lunch in the park. After lunch we rented a little motorized bike cart for two and explored the park. For our last dinner in Italy we went to this restaurant that was right off the Spanish Steps.

Rome.VillaBorhesePark

That’s it for our trip to Italy! Hope you enjoyed Italy week here on the blog! This weekend I’m off to Chicago for my bachelorette party. 🙂 See you next week!

{Trip Report} Italy Part 3: Tuscany

If you missed Parts 1 and 2 of our Italy trip you can catch up Venice here and Florence here.

For our last day in Florence, we decided to do a bus tour of Tuscany. We were wanting to do the Cinque Terre region since everyone we talked to recommended it, but they were dealing with landslides, so we did not go. Instead I booked a different day trip with the Walkabout company online before we left. The bus left from the main station in Florence and headed out into the Tuscan countryside.

Siena

Our first stop was the beautiful town of Sienna. We got here pretty early on a Sunday, so the streets were empty and it was really peaceful. We had our guide, Stefano, on the bus, but we also met up with another guide in Siena and she showed us around and taught us about the history of the city.

Piazza Salimbeni, Streets, Oldest Bank, Siena Cathedral

Piazza Salimbeni, Streets, Oldest Bank, Siena Cathedral

We did not get to go into the beautiful Siena Cathedral, but we did visit a museum across the street.

Piazza del Campo site of the Palio horse race

Piazza del Campo site of the Palio horse race

We walked around the Piazza del Campo and learned about the famous Palio horse race. We had a some free time to explore on our own, so we got some gelato (of course) and walked around the Piazza.

Winery

After a morning in Sienna we drove to a winery for lunch. They gave us a quick tour of their organic farm (nothing too exciting for a farm girl from Indiana) and then we went inside to eat. We also met a very nice British couple at lunch.

SanGWinery

The winery was right outside of San Gimignano and there was a great view of the ‘city’ backdrop from the porch.

View from the winery with San Gimignano in the background.

View from the winery with San Gimignano in the background.

San Gimignano

After lunch, we headed to the nearby town of San Gimignano. The little town is known for it’s city skyline because it has something like 14 towers. The town sits above the surrounding countryside, so there are some great views.  We were on our own here (no tour), so we just walked around the very windy and chilly town. I bought a leather handbag, we got some more gelato, took some pictures and then it was time to get back on the bus.

SanGimignano

Pisa

Our last stop of the day was Pisa. The drive from San Gimignano to Pisa was beautiful! Exactly what you think of when you think of Tuscany. This was one of my favorite parts – driving through the country, not only because I love the country, but you also get to see parts of Italy that aren’t just the typical touristy city areas. Unfortunately taking pictures through the bus windows did not do it justice.

When we arrived at Pisa, we took a little train into the main piazza where the cathedral and leaning tower is.

Pisa_Main

What I didn’t know about Pisa is that in the same piazza as the tower is a beautiful church.

Pisa_Church

Our tour guide showed us how to properly pose to hold up the leaning tower like you see in everyone’s picture. Then we were free to take pictures and explore on our own. We had tickets to climb the top of the tower. The steps wind up the interior of the tower and since it’s leaning you feel a little drunk going up them. The stairs aren’t bad, but my fear of heights surfaced again when we got to the top because there isn’t much enclosure here. It’s not as high up as the Duomo in Florence though, so it wasn’t terrible. There isn’t much of a view here though. I’m not sure I’d do it again if I’d known that, but I guess you can say you’ve been inside/to the top.

Pisa_Montage

After we came down and took some pictures of the square we got back on the bus for a tour around town. Then we were headed back to Florence.

This tour was one of my favorite things we did in Italy and I’d definitely recommend it. It was great to see a bunch of different places in one day and have tour guides to give you some history and more information.

Stay tuned for our next stop – Rome!

{Trip Report} Italy Part 2: Florence

If you missed Part 1 of our Italy trip (Venice) you can catch up here.

Our second stop on our tour of Italy was Florence. From Venice, we took a high speed train to Florence. It was a little stressful to make sure you got the right tickets, were getting on the right train and could lift your 50+ lb bag onto the train and into the teeny luggage area (Note to self: stop overpacking. It’s really embarrassing, especially in Europe). But once we were on, it was a breeze and a fun 2-3 hour ride with pretty views of the countryside.

In Florence, we stayed in another Holiday Inn that was a 10-15 minute bus ride into the city. But our bus stop was right outside the hotel, so it was even easier than Venice. Once we checked in and dropped our bags, we ventured into the city and found a good lunch spot – Ristorante del Fagioli, which I found from one of my travel apps. Fagioli means bean in Italian as Florentines are known as the bean eaters. Florence has amazing food, and lunch here did not disappoint. I had meatballs, Michael had penne pasta and we both had our first glass of Chianti – oh. my. yum. This was one of my favorite meals of the trip. Definitely check this place out if you’re ever in Florence.

Florence.Fagioli

After lunch we walked to the Uffizi Gallery (where the statue of David is). I got tickets for the Uffizi and Accademia online ahead of time, so we did not have to wait in line at either place. This museum is pretty small, but there are other sculptures and paintings here besides David. We walked around the whole thing and spent some time gazing upon David and were probably done in an hour or so.

We spent the rest of the day walking around the sights of Florence – the Duomo area, San Lorenzo Market, Piazza della Signoria and the Ponte Vecchio.

Michael in front of the Duomo, Me in the Piazza Sign, San Lorenzo Market

Michael in front of the Duomo, Me in the Piazza della Signoria, San Lorenzo Market

The Ponte Vecchio

The Ponte Vecchio

After a long day of walking around we crossed the Arno River for dinner. The place we were going wasn’t serving dinner yet, so we went to a bar down the street to rest our feet and share a bottle of wine. Then we made our way to dinner at Mamma Gina‘s. The food was spectacular as was the service. It’s a nicer restaurant with authentic food. We had a crostini appetizer that the waiter picked for us (I still have cravings for it). I had pesto gnocchi with tomato and basil and Michael had a big peace of meat, I mean the bisteca. Another one of the best meals of the trip. I highly recommend this restaurant if you’re ever in Florence.

Our dinner. Don't mind my clashing scarf/sweater combo. I only brought 1 scarf ppl and I was freezing!

Our dinner. Don’t mind my clashing scarf/sweater combo. I only brought 1 scarf ppl and I was freezing!

Day 2:

We got up and made our way to the Accademia Museum, which I absolutely loved. There were so many works of art that I studied in school. It’s so neat to actually see them in person. I just wished I remembered more about them from school.

After the museum, we headed over to the Duomo where we were told by friends that we had to climb the 400+ steps to the top to see the view. The first half of the climb was a breeze (as breezy as 200 steps can be anyways), but then they route you through the interior of the duomo in a very narrow passage way and then the steps become much steeper and narrower. This is when my fear of heights kicked in – little did I know before starting that I even had a fear of heights. Ensue Panic.

DuomoStairs

We eventually reached the crowded top of the duomo and the views were beautiful. Meanwhile I was a wee bit scared of falling or being blown off.

ViewfromDuomo
We spent maybe 10 – 15 minutes walking around the top before it started to rain.
ViewfromDuomo2

After we climbed back down to ground level, we took our shaking legs to find some lunch. We ate at Trattoria Due G. We split a caprese salad (my fav salad), I had spinach ravioli (so yummy that I was almost done devouring it before Michael could snap a picture) and Michael had croquets and fried vegetables. Very good, but not the best meal in Florence.

After lunch we walked across the river to the Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens. We did not venture into the palace, only the gardens.

Boboli Gardens

The gardens were beautiful – I loved it. But it was very spread out with some big hills. After walking up and down 400+ stair steps and walking around the gardens, we were pretty worn out. We checked out the Bardini Gardens (great views of Florence!) too and found a spot to sit and get a coffee. If you have less time, I’d do the Bardini Gardens over the Boboli. The Boboli is bigger, but the Bardini had more flowers and better views.

View of Florence from the Bardini Gardens

View of Florence from the Bardini Gardens

We eventually came back down to the city and stopped for some gelato before heading to the Basilica of Santa Croce. This is where several famous Florentines are entombed including, Michelangelo and Galileo. Surrounding the tombs are sculptures and artwork, which is interesting to see. The basilica also holds the leather school, where you can buy super expensive leather goods. In hindsight, I probably would have skipped this church since we were so tired and admission wasn’t cheap.

We finished our tiring day with dinner on Piazza della Signoria doing some people watching. No great restaurant to note, but people watching was fun. This was the last day dedicated to exploring Florence, since we did a tour of Tuscany on our last day in Florence.

ChiantiinthePiazza

{Trip Report} Italy Part 1: Venice

Hi friends! I’d like to take a week and recount our trip to Italy. It’s been over a year since our trip in April of 2012 and while friends and family have seen pictures and heard about our trip, I really wanted to document it here before I forget. This was our first trip to Europe together and after a year or two of talking about it (and saving for it), we finally decided to go. We narrowed down our stops in Italy to Venice, Florence and Rome…

Venice was our first stop on our trip. When we were planning and asking friends where we should go, we heard a lot of negative reviews of Venice. That it was dirty and smelly. That it didn’t live up to the hype. That there wasn’t much to do there. So we decided to start in Venice and spend only a short amount of time here, and we kept our expectations low.

Getting here: Indy → DC → Munich → Venice

We arrived in Venice a little ragged around the edges, so we went straight to our hotel to drop our bags off and take a shower. For this trip we used hotel points to cover all of our hotel stays for the nine nights we were in Italy. (I know, I’m lucky to have a future hubs that gets lots of hotel points for work!) In Venice, we stayed at the Holiday Inn in Maestre, which is not on the island of Venice itself, but a short bus ride away. After finding the right bus stop outside the hotel, we headed into Venice! The first thing we did was get on the vaporetto take it down the Grand Canal. Vaporetto are waterbuses, basically a boat system that works similarly to a subway line. It’s the cheap way to get around!

Our first view of the Grand Canal!

Our first view of the Grand Canal!

Oh. My. Gah! Venice is so beautiful! I looove all the architecture, the tiny streets, little bridges, the maze-like feeling you get when wandering around on foot. Sigh. What’s not to love?!

Sights along the Grand Canal: Rialto Bridge, Ca' Pesaro, and the Natural History Museum

Sights along the Grand Canal: Rialto Bridge, Ca’ Pesaro, and the Natural History Museum

Anywho…So we took the vaporetto to the Rialto area where we decided to get off in search of food and our first glass of wine. Now let me back up and say that I did a TON of research for this trip. It was my first trip to Europe and since I don’t know that we’ll ever get to go back, I wanted to make sure we did as much as we could and made sure we fit in the ‘musts’ – see, do, eat, drink, etc. So I tried to research restaurants in Venice, but I didn’t really come up with much. So we just picked a place for our first meal and it was not that great. They say food in Venice in general is not the best to begin with. The wine was good though. 🙂 We did try some gelato first and of course, you cannot go wrong with gelato! After our late lunch we wandered around the narrow streets and stumbled upon St. Mark’s Square by accident.

Side view of St.Mark's Basilica

Side view of St.Mark’s Basilica

Another breathtakingly beautiful spot. To read about and see pictures of places and then see them in person is so surreal. Like the picture below. I have an art poster of a photograph taken in this same exact spot!

View from St. Mark's looking out to San Giorgio Maggiore

View from St. Mark’s looking out to San Giorgio Maggiore

Ok back to reality. See the tower in the picture below? It’s called a Camponile in Italian.

View of St. Mark's Camponile and Doge's Palace, right oustide of the square

View of St. Mark’s Camponile and Doge’s Palace, right oustide of the square.

We took an elevator to the top of the Camponile for some amazing 360 views of the island! I think this costs about 8 euro each and it was definitely worth it.

View from top of St. Mark's Campanile

View from top of St. Mark’s Campanile

After that it was getting dark and a little rainy and cold (not to mention we were exhausted), so we headed back to the hotel for the evening. We found a little local restaurant a couple blocks from the hotel for dinner. Our first amazing meal in Italy. We had Spaghetti carbonara and a pizza.

Venice: Day 2

Our first and last full day in Venice. There are several museums in Venice and this museum nut had to narrow her choices down to just one! I had to be very strategic in my museum picks in Italy since there are so many everywhere, but I didn’t want My Man (or myself) to get burnt out on all museums! So in Venice I decided to do the Doge’s Palace, which is connected to St. Mark’s Basilica.

Inside the Doge's Palace - with a view of the basilica and campanile

Inside the Doge’s Palace – with a view of the basilica and campanile

What is a Doge you say? No, you don’t pronounce it “doggie” as My Man tried to do. 🙂 The Doge was the head of the government of Venice. I think we spent a couple hours here, but we definitely did not see everything and we did not have a guide. In hindsight, I think we would have enjoyed it a lot more if we’d had a guide or headset and knew what we were looking at and were learning more. We did get to cross the bridge of sighs and see the old prison cells.

The Bridge of Sighs

The Bridge of Sighs

After touring the Doge’s Palace we did some more exploring. We thought about going to the Murano or Burano islands, but since our time was so limited, we decided not to. So we took the vaporetto around and saw the other half of the Grand Canal.

The most beautiful church on the island (in my little opinion anyways)...Santa Maria della Salute

The most beautiful church on the island (in my little opinion anyways)…Santa Maria della Salute

We explored the Rialto area and had lunch along the canal.

M and I on the Rialto Bridge

M and I on the Rialto Bridge.

This is my favorite picture of M and I (above) from our whole trip. Of course, this is before we had a week’s worth of pasta, wine and crostini in us!

Gondola Ride

Gondola Ride

We also took a gondola ride in the afternoon. We went along some quiet, peaceful canals and it was very relaxing. Yes, it’s expensive, but you kind of have to do it at least once if you’re in Venice!

That wraps up Part 1 of our Italy trip – Venice. Stay tuned for Florence, Tuscany and Rome to come!

{Trip Report} Orlando: Part 3

Last trip report for Orlando!

Day 4: Pool Day, Minor League Baseball game

Wednesday we slept in and then headed to the pool and lounged around there from 10 – Noon ish. We went back into our room to eat lunch and then we fell asleep for the rest of the afternoon. I guess we were tired from 2 full, back-to-back days of Disney. Then we got up and got ready to head to Lakeland (an easy hour drive) to watch the Lakeland Flying Tigers minor league game. Michael tries to visit all the minor league stadiums, so we had to see one while we were in the area. I don’t mind going as long as it’s nice out and he gets me a hot dog. 🙂

Lakeland Flying Tigers Stadium

Lakeland Flying Tigers Stadium

They were having an all-you-can-eat night with Texas roadhouse, so we got an inexpensive dinner there. It was a nice stadium, but not very interesting – no fun games or entertainment between innings. And this girl needs her entertainment at baseball games. So after the fourth or fifth inning it was getting cold, so we decided to head back for the night.

Day 5: Sea World

We didn’t have any plans for the rest of the week, but after sleeping all day on Wednesday, I was antsy to get out of the hotel complex. So we decided to check out Sea World, which was just down the street.

seaworldUs

We went to all the shows – whale, dolphin, and seal.

Killer Whale Show

Killer Whale Show

The dolphin show was probably the best, although the seal show was pretty funny.

The Dolphin Show

The Dolphin Show

We got to see a two-day-old stingray, which was pretty cute. They also had a dolphin cove, where you can try to pet the dolphins if they swim close enough to the edge. I was an inch away! So close. We had a fun time at Sea World, but for about the same price as a day at Disney, it seemed a little overpriced.

Day 6: Aquatica Water Park

Water park day! I love water parks! Aquatica is SeaWorld’s ‘sister’ park, so we added it on to our Sea World ticket at a discounted price. It was a really nice waterpark and one of the bigger ones I’ve been too. They even had dolphins in one section and a slide going through their pool. Michael and I had never been to a water park together, but he quickly learned that he would have to go on lots of tube slides with me. 🙂 Love those things. He was more into the wave pools and lazy rivers. It was a fun and more relaxing day, which we needed by the end of the week.

For dinner we went to Downtown Disney again and went to the Italian restaurant there, Portabello’s. We ordered some crostini, caprese salad and I had the gnocchi – some of my fav dishes from Italy.

Italianfood

Sad to say, it was not the best food and would not recommend it. After dinner we went in the huge Disney store there to look around for souvenirs. I always try to find an ornament on each of our trips, but was struggling to find the perfect one. Michael found some bride and groom Mickey and Minnie salt and pepper shakers and he had the brilliant idea to make them into ornaments. I thought this was perfect since it’s also the year that we are getting married. We also browsed the Disney artwork store (don’t remember the exact name), where they have prints and canvases of all kinds of either Disney parks, characters, or movie scenes. They had some beautiful stuff there.

Our Bride and Groom "ornaments"

Our Bride and Groom “ornaments”

Day 7: Pack, Downtown Disney, home.

We packed in the morning and had to be out of the hotel by noon. Our flight wasn’t until 7:00pm, so we had some time to kill during the day. We ended up going back to Downtown Disney, yet again. We ate lunch at Wolfgang Puck’s and then watched a movie at the nice theater there. We watched Oblivion, which was good. Of course we had to make a stop at the Ghiardelli Shop before leaving. After digging into a brownie sundae, we headed to the airport and were happy to get back home to our beds by midnight. Thanks for reading about our trip to Orlando!

Our delish brownie sundae

Our delish brownie sundae