Disney World Experiences with the Skyliner, some newer restaurants and COVID variant Protocols

When our family spent Christmas 2020 at Disney World, masks were required at all times unless seated for a meal, lines had markers for social distancing, Fast Pass lines were completely gone in order to use that space for extra distancing, and restaurant capacity was very limited with tables spread out. Ordering a meal at quick service restaurants was done almost exclusively by using the Disney World app.

So we were anxious to see how things had changed when David and I went by ourselves at the end of August 2021. During Christmas, we had stayed in a 3-bedroom villa off-site that could accommodate our whole family with a kitchen, living area and separate bathrooms. However, we stayed on site this time, since it was only the two of us.

I chose the Caribbean Beach resort, which is a moderate Disney resort. We had stayed there about 30 years ago, so I was anxious to see how Disney has kept up the resort. But more than that, the Caribbean Beach resort is the hub of the new Disney Skyliner and I wanted to see what it was like using that as transportation. We were very happy to be placed in the Jamaica section, which has the most direct access to the Skyliner.

While the rooms don’t stand out in any way, they’re quiet, clean and comfortable. It’s nice to have a refrigerator available in the room and the lay-out with the toilet and tub/shower separated from the double sinks, makes it easier to share the room with family members, if necessary. The large main pool was often busy with lots of energetic children playing, but each section of the resort has its own separate pool with lounge chairs. Those were much quieter and there were always plenty of lounge chairs and towels available.

Our room in the Jamaica section of the Caribbean Beach Resort
Table and chairs, refrigerator, ice bucket, coffee maker and drawers

We were never able to get a reservation at the main table service restaurant at the Caribbean Beach, called Sebastian’s Bistro, but we had no trouble with walk-up service at the outdoor café and bar called Banana Cabana. Restaurant reservations are the hardest thing to get when making last-minute plans at Disney World!

As expected, the best part of staying at the Caribbean Beach resort was easy access to the Skyliner! We’re not big fans of using the motorcoaches. The Skyliner gave direct access to both Hollywood Studios and Epcot with a very pleasant ride sailing above the roads and buildings. The breeze was wonderful and the views were fascinating. It gave us a whole new feel for the lay-out of the parks. We loved not only the ease of using the Skyliner, but also the separate entry into Epcot, which is near France, rather than at the front of the park. We enjoyed it so much that on most days, we used our park hopper access to go from one park to the next using the monorail and Skyliner combination. This required walking from the World Showcase in Epcot, through the front of the park, to access the monorail. It’s definitely more walking than going directly on a bus, but that didn’t bother us. The only park that had to be accessed by motorcoach transportation or by driving our own car was Animal Kingdom. We were happy to leave our car parked in the resort lot and use the bus, which does have the advantage of dropping you off and picking you up with a very short walk to the park entrance.

Accessing the Skyliner

We managed to snag a last-minute reservation in Topolino’s Terrace, on the top floor of the new Riviera Resort. The Riviera Resort is located right on the same lake as the Caribbean Beach resort, along the walking/jogging trail that circles the lake, joining the two resorts. It’s also possible to take the Skyliner from the Caribbean Beach station to the Riviera Resort station. Although it’s a pricey meal, we enjoyed Topolino’s for its relaxed, but refined service and tasty menu. I always struggle to find good food with my gluten and dairy allergies. I didn’t have a bunch of choices, but they worked with me nicely. We shared a warm olive appetizer that was amazing, especially alongside the fresh gluten free bread.  We would definitely splurge on another meal there in the future.

View from the outdoor terrace at Topolino’s

Another restaurant we tried for the first time was the Jungle Navigation Co LTD Skipper Canteen. It’s located in Magic Kingdom, pretty much across from the newly renovated and re-imagined Jungle Cruise. The restaurant carries on with some of the same goofy humor used in the Jungle Cruise ride, but our waitress focused more on good service than being funny. We very much appreciated that. We were surprised and excited to find a Stellenbosch wine available on the menu, which was one of the wines we had enjoyed during our recent trip to Cape Town, South Africa. It was as delicious as we remembered and greatly enhanced our enjoyment of the restaurant, which is otherwise just so-so, in our opinion. They were very careful about my allergies and I enjoyed a fried chicken dish that is seldom something available to me. So the good service, nice wine selection and decent options on the allergy menu, made up for what we considered a so-so atmosphere.

Jungle cruise

While we were there, masks were required indoors only. As long as the lines were outdoors, most people didn’t wear a mask. Then we’d all put them on as soon as we reached an indoor section of the line or the ride. The distancing markers in the lines that we saw in December were no longer there for the majority of the rides, and it looked like they were preparing to use the Fast Pass lanes again soon. We didn’t really need the fast passes in late August since crowds were low most days.  Between school starting up and the lack of foreigners arriving in the U.S., the wait times weren’t bad at all. Often, we found the wait times were lower than advertised.

As in December, we enjoyed the pop-up mini parades, or cavalcades. They’re quick and fun and help avoid the back-ups of crowds along the parade routes. Also, characters were often found in little staged areas all over the parks. There’s no personal contact, but they interact with the crowd and pose for pictures.

50 Years of Walt Disney World Magic!

There’s a lot of construction in Epcot right now, as Disney prepares for its 50th Anniversary celebration starting October 1st. Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure will open on the same date. Hopefully, fast passes and meal plans will be available again soon!

Fall in the Riviera Maya

What’s it like in Cancun and the Riviera Maya this fall?

In a word, beautiful. Even though resorts have been hurt by closures due to Coronavirus and then struck by Hurricane Zeta, they’re quickly cleaning up, refreshing damaged areas and welcoming guests with a (masked) smile and friendly service. During the short time my friend and I were there, we noted impressively fast progress with getting debris removed and damage repaired.

We visited the Iberostar collection of resorts for 5 days. Since the resorts are not opening at full capacity, crowds are automatically controlled. It’s a wonderful time to enjoy the beaches, pools and public areas with plenty of chairs and space available.

Safety was the first priority, from the moment we were greeted by our transfer service through the check-in procedures at the resort and the strategies in place on site. Luggage is sprayed, hands are constantly sanitized and temperatures are taken. Entering the resort for check-in requires hand and feet sanitizing as well as a temperature check.

Once inside, check-in is done at spaced tables in the lobby bar, so there are no lines. We relaxed with a refreshing drink of our choice while our paperwork was completed and we were given our wrist bands.

Lobby bar

We were delivered by golf cart to our room with our sanitized luggage, though our bellhop wouldn’t enter our room, so that it would remain sanitized. All rooms are not only sanitized, but have a mandatory waiting period of 24-hours between guests.

Luggage has been sprayed & we are brought to our room.

Iberostar still has daily maid service. We could have put a “no service” sign in our key holder on the door if we preferred not to have them enter. However, we were content to have the beds made and the towels refreshed!

We enjoyed delicious meals in a variety of restaurants, from casual to more formal. Buffets are still available, but with a server dishing out food, rather than guests using the serving spoons or forks. Masks are required while walking around any public spaces, but may be removed when seated in dining areas.  (Note that many guests do not wear them when walking outdoors, but all employees do.) Menus are available using a QR code on your phone and most have indications for foods that are vegan or that contain various common allergens, such as gluten, shellfish or nuts. We received excellent service in all levels of the restaurants, and even at the beach on the lounge chairs. The only time it was difficult to know which foods contain which allergens was when eating at the buffet. Those labels did not contain any allergen indications.

Sargassum (seaweed) has not been bad in this area lately. Certain areas along the coast are very clear while others are relatively clear, though not completely.

So what’s it like to venture away from the resort? We took a small group tour to Tulum and then to a smaller, somewhat remote cenote. All of the typical precautions were required, such as wearing masks, sanitizing hands, and even spraying shoes. Even outdoors at Tulum, masks were expected to be worn. However, it’s impossible to keep everyone in intense heat outdoors wearing masks, so they were often removed unless standing in a group. Further, one can’t wear a mask while swimming in a cenote (fresh water underground caves), so they were removed for that entire part of the trip, and sometimes we did have to get pretty close to one another. The only way to truly mitigate all risk of catching a virus, or anything else, from someone on an excursion is to take a privately guided one.

Because of the reduced numbers and COVID-19 regulations, it’s important to know that some services, entertainment and restaurants are not always available. Traveling during this time is not the same as traveling a year ago. Expectations do have to be altered. However, if you go knowing that there will be some limitations, it’s still possible to enjoy a vacation with sunshine, beaches, pools, good food and kind service!

Mini Vacay in Wilmington, NC

With all of the pent-up energy many of us are feeling to get away, vacations within driving distance can become very appealing. My husband and I just attended a beautiful wedding in Wilmington, NC, and decided to turn the event into a mini vacation.

As with many hotels these days, our receptionist informed us upon check-in that our room would not be serviced during our 3-night stay. Nothing was wrapped in cellophane, so it was hard to know how sanitized everything might be, though everything “looked” extremely clean. Any towels or other needs have to be requested in person at the front desk. The breakfast options are limited to things like cold cereals, muffins, whole fruit and bagels.

Snapshot from the Marriott.com website

Like so many people these days, our work is mobile, meaning it’s hard to truly turn off and take a real vacation. Since my husband was officiating the wedding, he went to a rehearsal first thing in the morning. While he did that, I grabbed a cup of coffee and worked from our hotel room. But it was a stunning October day with temperatures in the mid 70’s to low 80’s, so we were anxious to get out and do something.

Wilmington has some great golf courses, but many are very pricey. Based on the recommendation of someone in one of the pro shops, David decided to play the Wilmington Municipal Golf Course, a classic Donald Ross design at only $27 to walk ($38 to ride). He was put together with a two-some and enjoyed both the course and the company.

I decided to visit something in Wilmington I had not yet toured. In previous trips, I’ve walked through the town and along the Riverwalk, but have never visited any of the historical museums. The Bellamy mansion, recently fully restored, caught my attention. For $12, I was able to download the walking tour to my phone (it helps if you bring some headphones!) and meander through the guided tour of the carriage house, slave quarters, mansion and small garden, at my own pace. The tour pointed out fascinating aspects of the house, such as the brilliant pre-electric air-conditioning system, as well as the incredible skill, that was never compensated, of slave artisans.

After touring the mansion, I walked several blocks to the waterfront for some lunch. The George, ever popular, was open and taking full advantage of an abundance of outdoor seating. So I enjoyed a meal overlooking the river, watching tourist boats come and go along the Cape Fear river, and yachts arrive for a boat show the next day. I also stopped into the new Gelato shop, called GelaRto, along the river front that offered about 6 options for vegan ice-cream. All but one was also gluten-free, so I was super excited to have a rare opportunity to enjoy a mint chocolate chip ice-cream!

The George along the Riverwalk in Wilmington, NC

The evening rehearsal dinner/reception was at a fun, local brewery called Wrightsville Beach Brewery. This modern brewery and restaurant, run by a local couple, features local seafood, artisanal pizzas, their own selection of craft beers and other interesting dishes. They have a large outdoor area, sometimes featuring live entertainment, that is perfect for eating out during these Coronavirus days. They even happily accommodated my gluten and dairy allergies with a GF hamburger bun and goat cheese on my burger (which was delicious)! This is definitely a fun local place worth visiting when in the area.

The next morning, after working for a bit, we decided it was time to visit the water. However, there was a pretty strong wind and paying for over-priced parking just to walk along the beach didn’t appeal to us. Going on the recommendation of my mom, who used to live in the area, we headed 30 minutes south to Carolina Beach State Park (a Regional State Park of the Year in 2015). The park office is open and staffed with rangers. We stopped in, grabbed our trail maps, found where we should begin and headed out to the marina to the trail head. We hiked various combinations of trails, through sand, forest beds, prairies and along the river. Insects were out and biting if we stopped even for a few seconds, so we kept moving unless we were standing in a breezy area!

Our combination of trails lead us through 5 miles of all the different ecosystems in the park (with a grand total of 50 feet in elevation gain! Ha!).  My favorite part was when we suddenly saw the large lily pond open up in front of us, though scenes along the river were also very picturesque.

Lily Pond at Carolina Beach state park

We decided to have lunch overlooking the ocean, so we headed 3 miles south to the Ocean Grille and Tiki Bar right on Carolina Beach. We had intended to eat outside, but there was such a strong wind that we went upstairs and enjoyed the views of the dunes, pier and ocean from the large picture windows instead. The food is simple, but good and features seafood as well as typical American fare. However, I thought the shrimp on my salad was particularly tasty.

The wedding venue, Wrightsville Manor (in case anyone is seeking one), was absolutely beautiful. There were plenty of tented outdoor spaces, as well as a large indoor area. Everything was gorgeous and well executed. The band, the Parks Brothers, was imported from Charlotte. Wow- their incredible talent, energy and sheer joy in performing would make anyone feel the need to get out on the dance floor (yes, even my husband!). Of course, most importantly, Chelsea, the bride, was glowingly lovely and gracious.

There are a few activities we didn’t do this time, but have enjoyed in Wilmington in the past, include touring the USS North Carolina, shopping in some fun and unique downtown shops, taking a boat tour along the river, meandering through Airlie Gardens and just hanging out at the beach.

There’s a great mini vacation just waiting for you right here in North Carolina! Let me know how I can help you get away!

Flying to Mexico during COVID-19 Regulations

As most of us have canceled or radically changed vacations and altered everyday lifestyles during the past 6-7 months, questions arise about how safe it is to fly, what it’s like to visit foreign destinations allowing Americans, and what the actual flight process is like. Both because I was itching for a vacation and because I wanted to personally check out the situation for my clients’ sake, my daughter and I took a 5-day trip in early September to Puerto Vallarta. 

We flew out of Charlotte with connecting flights through Dallas both ways. We had an early morning flight and not only was Charlotte airport considerably less busy than usual, there were few shops or restaurants open. Normal opening times have been completely altered, which was doubly disappointing since we also wouldn’t receive any snack or beverage service on our flights. American Airlines’ current policy for shorter domestic and Mexican flights is to hand out a bag with a small water bottle, a bag of pretzels, and a sanitizing wipe in it as you board the plane. No other service is available.

Face masks are required in all of the airports. While the vast majority of travelers obey the rules of only removing their masks while seated and eating, there are still some who completely ignore them unless forced to do so. On one of our return flights, which was packed 100% full, we had 2 passengers sitting next to each other who only put on their masks when flight attendants reminded them of the rule, then took them off again as soon as the attendants walked away. They were by far the exception to the rule as most people went out of their way to be thoughtful and courteous of how others might feel. 

Social distancing is a real mixed bag when flying. At TSA, there are distancing markers, and people obeyed them. But then when we boarded the plane, we got bunched up waiting in line to get to our seats. Similarly, when disembarking the plane and going through our temperature checks and immigration, we got bunched up in lines again. Then on the flights themselves, 2 of our 4 flights were fully booked, so there was no space between seat neighbors. The planes did seem noticeably cleaner to me, with the exception of the restrooms on the full flights. 

Everywhere we went in Puerto Vallarta, staff and even most people just walking around outside, were wearing masks. We didn’t wear them when just walking outdoors, but many people did. When entering any shop, restaurant, or hotel, masks are required and there is hand sanitizer available at most places. Upon arrival at restaurants and hotels, and at some excursions, temperatures are taken before entering the establishment. It’s important to have a QR code reader while traveling since most places have removed menus, activity lists, and directions and instead give you a QR code to pull up the information online. However, that’s not universal. 

The Marriott where we stayed was very clean and followed all possible protocols. Our table at the outdoor restaurant where we ate several times was sanitized both when they cleared it after the last diner and then again when we were seated. Wait staff wear a plastic mask that is closed on the bottom, fitting around the chin, then scooping upward and open at the top. Plexiglass is used at counters and desks. However, wherever we went we found that we, and the person behind the counter, would lean into the cracks or around the sides more often than not, so we could hear each other. Talking through a mask with an extra layer of plexiglass and trying to understand each other’s accents can become difficult.

At our Marriott, rooms were cleaned every other day. However, everything appeared to be well sanitized. The phone and tv remote were even shrink-wrapped. Items such as coffee makers and refrigerators have been completely removed. Ice buckets are also no longer in the rooms, but guests may call to request a bucket of ice. Similarly, there are no binders with information about the resort, no pens and no paper anywhere in the room. The one newly added item was a bag of sanitizing wipes!

When outdoors at the pools or on the beach, face coverings are not expected. Whereas staff always wore face coverings walking around outdoors, most guests did not. Guests only wore face masks regularly in the lobby and indoor spaces. 

We had some wonderful excursions and went into town a few times. For transportation to and from these places, we used Uber. The drivers were always wearing face masks, as did we. Cars were clean and we never waited more than a couple of minutes to be picked up. Taxis were also readily available everywhere, and we never saw a driver without a mask.

On our excursions, things were a bit different. We took a fantastic 4-hour ATV tour. At the beginning, temperatures were taken and we were given bandanas to wear with goggles in case we preferred to use those. However, we were not required to wear anything other than the helmets while riding. We had several stops for photos, drinks, a tortilla demonstration and snacks, and everyone in the group was pretty careful about keeping some distance while doing these activities, which were all in open air, and under shelter. Guests did not wear face coverings during these times. In contrast, our guides kept on their face coverings the entire time when stopped.

We also took an all-day catamaran sailing trip. While our numbers were low enough on the catamaran to keep a bit of distance, none of us wore masks while sailing. Being outdoors in the wind, sun, and salt, I think we all felt pretty comfortable.

I was generally very impressed with how hard the Mexican people were working to stay safe and keep everything sanitized. Our vacation was extremely enjoyable and it’s a real treat to travel with no crowds at resorts (plenty of available lounge chairs) and no waiting in restaurants. With the fresh sea breezes, cleanliness, and regulations in place, we felt very safe. The only times we were a bit uncomfortable about possible exposure was when we were crowded into lines in the airports. 

So would I recommend traveling to those places allowing American visitors right now? It depends. If you’re someone who is at risk and doesn’t want to ever be in a space with a group of people, then there’s just no guarantee that won’t happen. And a few fellow travelers are going to try to get around wearing their face masks whenever possible. If that makes you uncomfortable, you probably shouldn’t fly yet. However, if you’re not in the higher risk category and are anxious to get out into the world again, I’d absolutely recommend it. In spite of some of the limitations of being able to control every single situation, airports, airlines, restaurants, resorts, and excursion companies are doing everything possible to keep everyone safe. And overall they’re doing a good job.

I was in need of a vacation and returned home refreshed… and ready to go again!

Heading Home

In the morning, I went for a final little walk along the waterfront, trying to soak in the views, scents and sounds one last time. Then I met up with most of the group at Bootleggers. We discovered this place later than I would have wished. It’s in the opposite direction of town and the main strip of restaurants and stores. We had seen it when driving, but didn’t know how good it was from looking at it from the outside. Their almond milk mocha was dreamy (I’m still dreaming of it) and the atmosphere has a beach town vibe. It’s constantly filled with cyclists, stopping off for a coffee break while cycling along the coastline. The main down side is that there’s no view of the ocean from there. But we enjoyed it thoroughly and were happy to make it our last stop before walking back to the house to pack up and head to the airport.

The return trip to the airport was a lot less harrowing than the arrival night had been! It couldn’t have been more different. By now, David was very accustomed to driving the 10-seat van on the left with the left-handed stick-shift. It was daylight, rather than dark, and we understood the traffic patterns and customs and were more familiar with the roads themselves. Plus, we had finally managed to get my GPS to work, so we weren’t blindly trying to figure out when to turn if we couldn’t find a street sign. We were all remarking on the difference and reminiscing on that insane experience our first night in Cape Town.

A Very Packed Van

We had allowed extra time in case of traffic and to fill the tank and drop off the car. As it turned out, there was a massive traffic back-up on the opposing side of traffic, but everything ran smoothly and efficiently heading in our direction. Dropping off the car was quick and simple, unlike our long wait to pick it up. So we ended up at the check-in too early to check our bags. Thankfully, there’s a nice selection of restaurants on the second floor overlooking the check-in area. So we enjoyed a nice lunch in Primi, one of the chain restaurants we had enjoyed by our house, then checked our bags and went quickly through customs and passport control. We had about a 4.5 hour long layover in Johannesburg, but were able to spend the time doing some shopping in some fun stores with African-made items (including some tasty gluten-free and dairy-free chocolates!), getting a massage to prepare for the 16+ hour flight back to Atlanta, and eating another meal. It’s a good thing our trip was so active because we indulged in many great meals and thoroughly enjoyed the local wines/beers/cider/cocktails (each of us having our own preferences for what we like to drink).

David asked everyone what their favorite part of the trip was. Some said golf, some said climbing, some said surfing, but I think we all agree that just driving through this southern region of South Africa, enjoying the beauty, seeing the animals, experiencing the food and drink and eclectic mixture of people has enriched us all and left us with too many wonderful memories to count.


Final Full Day

Our final day held few plans except for the golfers, who had an early morning tee time. It was a day to relax and do whatever we hadn’t had time for on previous days.  With 8 adults, there were many ideas of what to do. Normally, this isn’t a big deal, but there were only 2 sets of keys (and 2 sets of automatically locking gates to pass through to get to and from the house). Additionally, almost everyone in the group didn’t enable international cellular service because of the extra cost. So we could only text to communicate if we were somewhere with wi-fi, which was spotty and often weak. Plans had to be made carefully, and that was a challenge.

The day started with an unscheduled power outage. We were told this could happen sometimes, but with the golf clubs stored in the garage, which could only be accessed via the funicular or electric garage door, power was needed to access them. So after waiting as long as possible, David and David Luke had to cancel their tee time. Turns out, the individual house power ran out and the system just needed to be reset. Wish we had known that a lot sooner!

We all went out in intervals for some coffee and food, and Kendall and I walked to our pedicure appointment we had made a few days earlier. Even in the upscale area where we stayed, the pedicures were a good price for us as Americans. They did a phenomenal job with a long leg and foot massage too.

We eventually decided to drive the whole group into the V&A waterfront again, where we wanted to check about getting tickets for a sunset champagne catamaran cruise, then split off into separate groups. We were able to bargain a price that was 1/3 off the published asking price (Hannah had found better prices online, plus we were a large group, so that gave us some confidence in bargaining). David and I then went to the covered market that sells locally crafted goods where I found some pressed wildflower earrings I liked as a souvenir. They had a block of the compressed wildflowers to demonstrate how they make them. I appreciated the ingenuity as much as the design.

From there, Heather, David, and I drove out to Stellenbosch to visit the Kanonkop winery that a Swiss couple with whom David and David Luke had played golf recommended. The Swiss couple, who visits Cape Town regularly, assured us Kanonkop made excellent cabernet, which is our favorite grape. We did a tasting of 7 different wines, which is their standard tasting for only 70 rand. That fee is even waived if you purchase wine. We had been helped by a young man originally from California, who was friendly, upbeat, and very happy to give all kinds of information about their grapes, philosophy of wine-making, and sales and history. We made some purchases and Heather and I had a few more sips from our favorite wine until it was time to head back to the V&A Waterfront to grab a meal before our cruise.

Meanwhile, all the others had taken an Uber ride from the waterfront to the Iziko museum. They enjoyed a few hours there, ate some dinner across the street, and met us at the catamaran on the waterfront.


The catamaran cruise made our last evening special. We had been swimming or surfing in the ocean at the beach, on the mountains, hiking through meadows, in a jeep for our safari, in caves, and on golf courses, but not yet out on the ocean in a boat! The views back toward Cape Town, Table Mountain and along the coastline were stunning, especially as the sun set after such a perfectly clear day. Additionally, we were able to get up close to some harbor seals and watch many dolphins playing in the water all around us.

We returned to our rental home content, but sad, knowing we had to pack since this was our last night.


Climbs and Curtain Calls

I was so excited for Monday. We were headed out to the Silvermine area of Table Mountain National Park to do some sport climbing. The whole family went out for the hike, but not quite everyone decided to climb. This area is good for varying experiences and abilities since several levels of routes are close to one another. So everyone was able to watch and cheer each other on, even while climbing different levels of routes. The rocks there tend to be juggy with lots of vertical cracks. It was great fun for both lead climbing and top-roping!


There are also some wineries in that area, so we went for tapas and some wine tasting at Steenberg Estates. The atmosphere at Steenberg is upscale and beautiful, but welcoming and comfortable even in our climbing clothes.

Since four of us had purchased tickets to the Theater on the Bay for Monday night, we had to rush back to change clothes and walk to the 7:30 performance. They were performing The Producers, which was a bit raunchy at times, but the quality of the acting, singing and dancing kept the show entertaining. For a small theater, we were pleased with the quality and enjoyed a night out. It was almost 11 pm by the time the show let out and we hoped to find a bite to eat since we hadn’t had much of a dinner. However, all the kitchens were closed at every restaurant we tried in the area, so we decided to Uber back and eat some left-overs we had in our kitchen. But we couldn’t find an Uber ride either! So we kept close to one another and walked back, keeping vigilant of our surroundings. Thankfully, we didn’t have any incidents at all. It made us wonder if reports of danger were over-emphasized.

Sunday Funday

Sunday was less planned out than the other days. David and David Luke played golf again in the morning at Steenberg Estates. The rest of us had a more leisurely start. Josh and Adri decided to try out the climbing gym in Cape Town. It’s huge and they really enjoyed trying out some different styles of holds than what we’re used to at home. I was too afraid I’d wear out my fingers and forearms, so I declined that experience.  Heather took the cable car up to the top of Table Mountain to enjoy the gorgeous views.

All of us except the golfers met midday at the botanical garden. It’s over a century old and has focused on eradicating any foreign plants in order to make the entire garden replete with endemic species. It’s less cultivated than many botanical gardens, but has very mature trees and plants and is absolutely beautiful. There were also some statues of dinosaurs from fossils found in the Cape Town area. Some of my favorite areas to explore were the tree canopy bridge and the palms. Many of the century-old trees with thick branches twisting everywhere just begged to be climbed!

Surf’s Up!…and Penguins!

Next up was surfing! Hannah, Josh, and Adri decided to take surfing lessons from the famous Gary’s Surf School on Muizenberg beach. We all went along to cheer them on. What a fun beach town! We had breakfast at an open-air coffee shop called the Hang Ten Café, that is in the same building as the surf store. Great food, as we’ve had everywhere we’ve eaten in South Africa so far. Although service tends to be on the slow side everywhere, the taste, presentation, and selection of foods has been fantastic wherever we’ve eaten, from little cafés to higher-end restaurants. Most places accommodate food allergies well and we’ve found almond, oat, and coconut milk products available in most coffee shops and many restaurants.

Muizenberg is full of people learning to surf in the slightly warmer Indian Ocean waves. The beach is ideal for beginners with constant, small swells. There were so many people out there that it was a bit crowded, but not to the point of frustration. Besides, with so many learners, you’re just one of many, so the pressure to perform is lower! Hannah, Adri, and Josh all did great, popping up quickly and getting some nice rides. Their instructor kept them moving, so there was little rest time and they were pretty fatigued by the end of an hour-long lesson. For those who wished to continue practicing on their own, the company allowed an extra hour of surfing for a small fee.

After they changed and tried to rid themselves of the stale wetsuit smell, we headed out along the coast, passing through one quaint seaside town after another. The 3 things they all seemed to have in common were stores selling artwork, stores selling antiques/used furniture, and coffee shops.


We stopped off at Boulder Beach to see the penguin colony and cool off in the water. We parked and then hiked along the rocks, past some little beaches, then along a boardwalk to the park entrance. Although most everything in South Africa is a bargain for Americans right now, we found the foreigner price for the National parks to be way too high. We had already seen a bunch of penguins at the free beach, so we voted to skip the 160 rand entry fee ($(10.15 at the time) and go back to swim a bit in the cove.

Ready for lunch, we found another beautiful restaurant perched along the coastline with perfect views, called The Black Marlin at Miller’s Point. From there, we headed out to Cape Point, also part of Table Mountain National Park. We intended to visit the Cape Point lighthouse and see the ship graveyard along this treacherous point. However, when we got to the entrance, the per person fee of 320 rand ($20.35) was again more than most of our group wanted to spend. I’m not sure if we made the right call turning around and missing that one or not, but when traveling with a sizable family group, you often have to make compromises. So we headed back home, enjoying yet more gorgeous coastal views.

That night’s blackout started in the late afternoon and lasted until 8 pm, so eating in wasn’t much of an option. Thankfully, we had so many great restaurants within a 10-minute walk of our house, eating out was simple and enjoyable. That evening, there were so many people walking around since it was a Saturday night, that we decided to walk back rather then Uber. We had no problems at all as a large group, but 2 of our group stayed out a little later and had a few uncomfortable moments returning.




Climbing, Golfing, and Beaching

Pick-n-Pay and Woolworths were just down the street from our house, so we stopped there after visiting the waterfront for some quick groceries and some charcoal for the braai, and cooked a simple dinner to eat in the house while we enjoyed the sunset views over the ocean. Planning this dinner was actually a challenge because of the daily electrical blackouts throughout South Africa. We downloaded an app that tells us when each day’s blackouts will occur in our section, but sometimes they’re at very inconvenient times. This day, one of the blackouts was from 6-8:30 pm, so we had to have everything cooked no later than 6 pm. We managed…with seconds to spare.

After an early night to bed, the day Adri, Josh, and I had been anticipating the most arrived!  We were up at 6:30 am to grab an Uber to Table Mountain to meet our guide by 7:45. We hiked up a rocky path to a climbing point, where we were given very detailed instructions about how we were going to trad climb as a group of 4. Our guide, Kai, was extremely talented at managing the 3 ropes we had to negotiate as we made our way up the side of the mountain one-by-one in stages. Kai would go first, setting 2 sets of cams, followed by me, cleaning up the cams on my rope, followed by Adri and then Josh cleaned up the rest of the cams for his rope.  The route we took was pretty easy for us, which was both a relief and a slight disappointment. We decided that for our first trad climb up a mountain, it was probably good to feel so secure. Regardless, it was great fun and a whole lot of exercise.

Meanwhile, David Luke and David went golfing at Milnerton Golf Club. This is a links-style club located right along the coastline of the ocean, with great views of Table Rock in the background. They loved the course, but had to contend with the challenge of adjusting their game to extremely windy conditions.


In the afternoon, we strolled out to one of the little secluded cove beaches along our waterfront. The water was very chilly, but refreshing for a quick dip, followed by relaxing on the sand and soaking in the views we couldn’t stare at too often.