Miami, Orlando, Jacksonville, The Everglades, Sarasota, and beyond — I’ve been all over The Sunshine State. But despite logging tons of time with family in Tampa, I’d rarely crossed the bay to one of the most popular tourism destination on the American Gulf Coast — The Sunshine City.
St. Petersburg, Florida logs an average of 361 days of sunshine per year, landing the Guinness World Record for most consecutive days with sun after one particularly bright 768 day stretch. My own trip featured an incredibly unusual forecast — four days of rain. As a certified Vitamin D addict, that kind of bad luck can usually leave both a physical and metaphorical cloud over a new destination for me.
But St. Pete, I quickly learned, is special — and a destination of contrasts. A hip downtown and a retro beach strip, big city attractions with a small town vibe, a sunshine city with crazy amounts to do in the rain. A friend had described St. Pete to me as Florida’s answer to Austin or Portland, and while I’ve yet to visit either of those cities, I knew exactly the vibe they invoked. Bohemian. Creative. Local. Hip.
“What took me so long to get over here?” was a pretty constant chorus running through my head throughout my trip. I’m not sure what did — but I do know it won’t be long before I’m back. Here’s why.
The Museum Scene is Amazing
The Dali Museum, called “one of the most beautiful museums in the world” by Condé Nast Traveler in 2016, is the undisputed queen of the St. Pete museum scene. I visited a few years ago — one of my few forays across the bay to St. Pete — and couldn’t wait to return. While the building, gardens and café feel larger than life, the galleries themselves, home to works by one of the world’s most creative minds, are relatively small and won’t take all day to tackle. (Not too small, though — it is world’s largest collection of the artist’s work outside of Spain.)
The Dali is more than just a museum. Fun, community-minded events like Yoga at the Dali, Coffee With a Curator lectures, and ArtFlix, an art documentary film series, make this space a living, breathing part of St. Pete. Movie buffs shouldn’t miss Cult Classics @ The Dali, a free movie following extended museum hours — bring a lawn chair and enjoy food and craft beer from local food trucks and breweries while watching a beloved flick on an outdoor screen.
St. Pete is also renown for its glass art scene. The Chihuly Collection is a must-see, as is the included Hot Glass Shop demonstration across the street. The $20 admission was the one purchase in St. Pete that gave me pause — it’s a pretty small museum, frankly — but I just couldn’t stand to miss it. If you’re doing tons of attractions across the bay, Tampa’s CityPass is a good value. Perhaps one of the included guided tours — which we didn’t take – would have made it feel like a higher value.
Still want more? Browse works by the masters at the city’s Museum of Fine Arts, or browse affordable works by local artists at the brilliant Florida CraftArt, which also offers local mural tours (more on those this week!)
Watching your wallet? The Duncan McClellan Gallery is a stunning collection of one local glass artists work, the Morean Arts Center shows contemporary work from around the world, and the Morean Center for Clay shows pottery in a renovated historic train station — all for free.
Want to be the artist? Zen Glass Studio offers workshops in blowing wine glasses, glass pendants, glass ornaments, and beyond. The Morean Arts Center offers courses in glass, clay, and more, and you can learn beading, felting and other craft skills at Strands of Sunshine’s workshops.
And it’s not all about the arts. History buffs should head to The St. Petersburg Museum of History (an exhibit on Alligators and Oddities explores Florida’s classic taste for kitsch — it’s on my list for next time!) and The Florida Holocaust Museum. Sports fans will get a kick out of the Ted Williams Museum and Hitters Hall of Fame at Tropicana Field, and families will enjoy running around with the kids at the Great Explorations Children’s Museum.
I wasn’t kidding — St. Pete takes its gallery and museum-ing seriously.
One of the things I love most about traveling in Florida is the price tags. Aside from the fairly pricey museum admissions, St. Pete will constantly surprise you with its affordability. From my fantastic $99 beach hotel to 99¢ ice cream, you can have an amazing vacation here that doesn’t break the bank — nor feel like you’re on a tight budget.
The Market Scene is Insane
I was incredibly lucky that my visit coincided with the monthly St. Pete Indie Market, a haven for local designers, indie artists, and bohemian crafters. In the winter, the market is held outside at Green Bench Brewery; in the summer, they beat the heat at the historic State Theater.
As we walked through the doors, I felt as if I’d been transported back to Brooklyn — though endless wares embroidered with Florida’s unmissable outline reminded me where I was. Artisan snacks, massage tents, a bustling bar, great music, and tons of pups contributed to the street party atmosphere, which graces downtown St. Pete the first Saturday of every month from 11-3pm. I bought letterpress cards, my aunt grabbed a vintage jacket, and we oohed and aahed over succulent gardens, screen printed totes, handmade jewelry, and enough gifts to knock off a full Christmas list in one swoop.
And there’s more. Brocante Market is a monthly vintage market housed in a 15,000 square foot former piano factory, Crafty Fest is another local indie market held once a month in the spacious alley of a local gallery, and Corey Sunday Market and the Saturday Morning Market are weekly events with a more farmer’s market feel.
Can’t stand shopping in the Florida heat? Head to one of the summer night markets like the St. Pete Side Lot’s Night Market, the Fringe Flea Market, or the Summer Nights Exchange, a brewery-based event featuring 50+ vendors, music, interactive installations, and a tattoo art show. Find a full list of local markets here.
The Food Is Crazy Good
The bar and restaurant scene in St. Pete is so robust, I’m dedicating a whole upcoming post to it. And again, the drum beats to all things local — fresh ingredients sourced from nearby farms and taps filled with the newest offerings from breweries all along The Gulp Coast.
I assumed the area’s notorious microbrewery scene wouldn’t have anything to offer a non-beer drinker like me, but found myself pleasantly surprised by the selection of locally produced wines and ciders. More coming soon!
It’s All Kinds of Green
St. Pete made headlines last year when they vowed to be the first city in Florida to use 100% renewable energy. It wasn’t the first time they were recognized — St. Pete was the first in Florida to be designated a ‘Green City’ by the Florida Green Building Coalition, and also lays claim to Florida’s first LEED GOLD certified home.
St. Pete has made a clear commitment to sustainability and conservation — and that leaves an eco traveler like me looking like the heart-eyed emoji.
The City Feels Young
Florida isn’t known as “God’s Waiting Room” for nothin’. But St. Pete has a lively, youthful feel that breaks the stereotype. And it’s not just subjective. A well-weighted ranking of Florida cities put St. Pete at the top of the best cities for millennials, with its millennial population increasing 6% since 2010.
But don’t worry, that old nickname hasn’t been retired — God’s Waiting Room now refers to a trendy speakeasy serving craft cocktails in the heart of downtown St. Pete.
Shopping Local is Easy — and Amazing
Forget the big box stores. St. Pete locals and visitors alike are committed to shopping local. Regular blog readers know I’m not much of a shopper (local markets are an exception!) but even I couldn’t resist the lure of Central Avenue’s fun and affordable boutiques.
My favorite store of all was Haslam’s, Florida’s largest bookstore — and an independent gem in the Amazon age. A fabulous section on all things Florida highlighted world-famous authors that love St. Pete. Chief among them? Jack Kerouac, who lived in St. Pete from 1966 to his death in 1969, and was a frequent customer of Haslam’s himself.
A local organization Friends of the Jack Kerouac House organize occasional bike tours and book clubs to raise funds to turn the author’s final dwelling into a local museum.
Nature is Not Hard to Find
I had big plans to spend my days in St Pete stand up paddling along its lovely shores, kayaking to Caladesi Island, biking the Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail, taking the Shell Key Shuttle to an abandoned beach, and searching for dolphins in Vinoy Park. The weather had other plans, but I now have a list to tackle when I return!
With the Gulf of Mexico on one side and Tampa Bay on the other, St. Pete is literally surrounded by beautiful waters and dotted with lovely parks, bike paths, and other reminders of the beautiful land upon which this city sprung.
The Beaches are a Beautiful Nostalgia Bomb
Due to the weather I spent most of my time in St. Pete exploring the downtown area — however, I loved staying at vintage vacation spot The Postcard Inn on The Beach. With less than a twenty minute drive between them in my cute red rental from Avis, I really felt like I got the best of both worlds. (However, if you are super keen to stay downtown, you can do that too — check out The Avalon, recently renovated and looking fresh!)
For every degree hip that downtown is, the beach strip matches it in retro cuteness. Even in the rain I loved driving from the very southern tip of Pass-A-Grille all the way up to St. John’s Pass in Madeira, getting a feel for the different vibes of the various beaches along the way. Business names like The Undertow Beach Bar, The Freaky Tiki Surf Shack, and Polynesian Putter — open since 1967 and one of the oldest mini-golf courses in Florida! — left me swooning with an undeserved nostalgia for the Old Florida I was too young to really known.
But I love that on St. Pete beach, I could get a taste of it.
The Fitness Scene is Fabulous
When I planned this trip I thought I’d be running on the beach and taking SUP yoga classes — instead, I found myself seeking indoor fitness options. Which turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because these were some of my favorite finds of the trip.
I kicked things off with Yoga at the Dali. This weekly Sunday offering is a mere $10 for members and students, and just $15 for non-members. To visit the galleries on the same day is just $10 more. Since regular admission is $24, you’re basically getting a $1 yoga class! And it was a great one — I loved how the teacher incorporated her thoughts on art and creativity into the class, and I can’t think of a better view than the museum’s iconic organically-shaped glass walls.
Yoga in unusual places is having a moment in St. Pete — throughout my stay I also saw signs for Yoga On Tap at a local brewery, and Awaken Yoga classes at the roadside retro attraction The Sunken Gardens. Local gem The Body Electric offers wild workshops and classes all over town, from clothing optional classes to poolside sessions to SUP workshops to yoga in a local fixed gear bike shop.
Another morning, I turned to ClassPass to look for a workout with an easy commute from The Postcard Inn. I stumbled on Barre Central, and fell in love from the moment I walked through the door. This sweet locally-owned and operated studio has a multi-generational legion of fans. I left with a huge smile on my face — not just because of the amazing butt-kicking workout I just had, but also because of the sense of community I felt from just one class.
Group fitness addicts, don’t miss this one. After class, stock up on organic and healthy treats next door at Earth Origins Market.
It’s a Treat for Travelers To Get To
With frequent and affordable flights arriving to both St. Pete Airport and Tampa Airport, it’s a pleasure to fly to. And it’s quick. With direct flights clocking in at less than two and a half hours from New York, it’s quicker than a drive to the Hamptons.
Plus, you’ll be following in the steps of some serious aviation history — In 1914 the world’s first commercial flight took off from St. Pete and landed 23 minutes later in Tampa with one passenger who paid $400 for the ticket. That would be just under $10,000 today — thank goodness fares have dropped!
If you’re tacking St. Pete onto a trip to one of Florida’s other famous destinations, you might be pleasantly surprised by the drive — it’s a quick two hour zip across the state from Orlando. Coming by boat? Nearby Tampa has Florida’s largest and most diversified seaport — and regular cruise ship departures.
Clearly, I’m pretty smitten with St. Pete. What’s not to love? It’s got the art and food scene of a big city with the charms and natural beauty of the beach town. The focus on local business and sustainability? It just pushes everything over the edge.
While I’ve always thought of myself as a pretty serious Miami girl, this trip had me seriously reconsidering my ranking of favorite Florida cities.
What’s your favorite city in The Sunshine State?
One thing I’ve been hearing from you guys is that you want to hear more about my current travels right after they happen. Well, ask and ye shall receive! I’m jumping in to start sharing some posts from Florida and Tennessee, a trip so fresh I just unpacked from it.
This post is brought to your by VISIT FLORIDA. I maintain full editorial control and as always all thoughts, opinions, and declarations of love are my own.
One thing I’ve been hearing from you guys is that you want to hear more about my current travels right after they happen. Well, ask and ye shall receive! I’m jumping in to start sharing some posts from Florida and Tennessee, a trip so fresh I just unpacked from it. This post is brought to you by VISIT FLORIDA.
So, usually you pick a destination then start looking for accommodation, right? In this case, planned a trip kind of backward — I started with a vintage vacation spot I couldn’t resist, and built a solo trip to St. Petersburg, Florida from there.
And on this trip I learned a secret – The Sunshine State is home to a treasure trove of hidden gem boutique hotels.
When VISIT FLORIDA invited me to explore one of the state’s beautiful boutique hotels, I knew I wanted to be on the ocean. I also knew I didn’t have huge budget tastes, but I craved great design. And I knew that anything that could further my obsession with classic retro Florida vibes was a win. That’s when I found The Postcard Inn on the Beach.
St. Pete has a laid-back beach vibe that’s reflected in the affordable, hip and casual Postcard Inn, originally built as The Colonial Gateway Inn in 1957. Before restaurateur Stephen Hanson gave the property new life as the surfer chic Postcard Inn, it was a Travelodge, and plans to demolish and rebuild were strongly opposed by the community, eventually encouraging Hanson to renovate and preserve the historical motel instead.
Postcard Inn avoids the downsides that can often befall famed boutique hotels – high rates and snobby attitudes. “Howard Johnson meets JetBlue,” is how the team behind the easy-going Postcard Inn creation described their end game.
The results are, in my humble opinion, the happy place where budget and bohemian make a baby, with room rates starting at $99 out of season (July through December) and $189 in season (January to June). Pets are welcome for a reasonable $75 fee per stay — as if there wasn’t already enough to like.
The chic lobby is lined with a bright rainbow of books on built-in shelves in one direction and a chalkboard displaying the times of sunset, sunrise, the tides and the temperature on another. There’s a cute breakfast nook, and in the mornings free coffee and tea are served, and a microwave is available to guests.
Although I was traveling solo, I opted for a classic double queen for my stay, drawn to the collection of surf photos by local St. Pete artists pasted into a visual headboard. I swooned over the full size surfboards in each room, the brightly colored Tommy Bahama toiletries, and the vintage table lamps on the desk.
Larger cabana-style rooms boast wooden carved headboards with detailed maps of the local area, chilled-out private patios with hammocks, and a small kitchenette. Other rooms feature floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall photo murals of longboard surfers catching a wave, or a series of bold quotes by legendary surfers — as well as Thoreau, the Beach Boys, Warhol, or Jay-Z.
The two-story, U-shaped motel is made up of just under 200 rooms, with an Olympic-sized pool and a lush garden patio in the center. Rooms facing into the courtyard and pool are slightly higher priced, while those offering the best value face outward toward the parking lots for each wing.
Bonus! Parking is included in the $25 per night resort fee, along with Wi-Fi, bicycle rentals, and use of the other hotel amenities.
The weather was unseasonably rainy and cloudy during my stay, which gave me plenty of time to explore downtown St. Pete, though less to explore the beach and pool. Still, when the rain paused one morning I walked down for a breakfast picnic on the sand and could see why beach bums flock here.
For those who prefer to stay busy, a serious of lawn games and two beachside gyms provide alternative entertainment. In the lobby, a vintage photo booth, a library of art books, and a caricature artist who set up shop in the corner offered even further distraction. “Dive in” movie nights, where films are projected over the pool, are a popular weekend event.
I found that the majority of St. Pete’s most alluring dining options were a 20-minute drive or so away in the downtown core. The onsite restaurant, The Boathouse Kitchen and Bar, is an exception – I had a lovely lunch here with my aunt one day before venturing out for the day to explore, and ordered room service another night.
Between the pool and the beach is the freestanding PCI Beach Bar, and an adjacent Snack Shack, which is open in high periods (during my visit, mid-week in June, it wasn’t open.)
One night, I held a reader meet-up for fellow travel addicts in the Tampa and St. Pete area. Fourteen of us kicked off at the PCI Beach Bar, where live music and a stunning sunset made a Sunday feel like a Friday. Reclaimed wood, a recycled tin roof and license plates from around the world made me feel like we’d washed ashore and come up in the Florida Keys. Locals promised me the PCI beach Bar was the perfect spot for my reader meet-up, and they were right.
Interior designer Tara Oxley said in an interview that photographer Stephen Shore’s 1970’s American road trip images and a passage from Jack Kerouac provided some of her primary inspiration. That free-spirit, travel-loving vibe was there from check-in to checkout.
There’s so much that I adored about my stay at The Postcard Inn on the Beach, my only complaint is that I didn’t have more time to spare. But I’ll be back. Between the love of a community that spared this Gulf Coast gem from being dozed and developed, a design team that believed style is for every budget, and the picture-perfect location, this place has a lot to love.
The hotel truly reflects St. Pete, which I quickly learned is itself a funky and affordable, no-fuss kind of city, from the retro beach to the hip downtown. Even at its most upscale, St. Pete is unpretentious, the kind of city where flip-flops feel more at home than high heels. Barefoot? Even better.
Other Boutique Hotels in Florida
Looking for somewhere affordable and stylish elsewhere in the Sunshine State? Check out these other boutique hotels I’ve bookmarked for future trips.
• One Ocean Resort in Jacksonville: A slick resort with a spa and ocean views. Rates starting at $219.
• Postcard Inn in Islamorada: The sister hotel to St. Pete’s Postcard Inn, the Florida Keys location brings all the charm of the original down South. Rates starting at $209.
• Hotel Cabana in Clearwater: Another recently renovated motel with stylish rooms, affordable rates, and an Instagram-able pool. Rates starting at $120.
• Sense Beach House in Miami: This sleek and stylish 18-room boutique hotel in South Beach boasts a rooftop pool and a happening restaurant. Rates starting at $170.
What’s your favorite Florida boutique hotel? Does the Postcard Inn look like it’s your style?
This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of VISIT FLORIDA. The opinions and text are all mine.
One thing I’ve been hearing from you guys is that you want to hear more about my current travels right after they happen. Well, ask and ye shall receive! I’m jumping in to start sharing some posts from Florida and Tennessee, a trip so fresh I just unpacked from it. This post is brought to you by Universal Orlando Resort.
If there is one wedding trend you will never hear me grumble about, it’s destination bachelorette parties. A chance to get away with a group of my best gal pals? Sign me up! Let’s face it — the opportunities for girlfriend getaways are fewer and far between as time goes on, families get started and responsibilities pile up. So I’m all for making the most of indulgent time away while we can.
Plus, you know I can’t pass up an opportunity to raid the closest arts supply store! If my girl Angie’s Bachelorette Bonanza in Bonaire was any indication, it’s not a Wanderland-stamped bachelorette bash unless it’s replete with crafted and curated goody bags and coordinating outfits. Crafting is my love language, guys.
When I first told our dear family friend Ashlee that I was working with Universal Orlando for the year, she nearly fainted with excitement at the mere thought of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Not long after, she got engaged. My travel-idea wheels started turning, and soon a Harry Potter Bachelorette Party for Ashlee, my sister Olivia and I was born.
Both girls arrived on a Friday afternoon, and we spent a low-key evening enjoying dinner and girly giggles at the Royal Pacific Resort. I’d had a big week at Volcano Bay, and so I was thrilled we were having an early night in to prepare for the big day out ahead!
While we had a few delays in the morning and weren’t the first ones banging down the gates at opening time, we did take advantage of the extra hour of park admission for onsite hotel guests. We were visiting on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, so crowds should have been crushing. But by planning out our route and taking advantage of onsite guest perks, we really did make the most of our visit to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter!
My advice? Check to see which parks have early admission — on this particular day, only Islands of Adventure did. (Remember, Hogsmeade is in Islands of Adventure, while Diagon Alley is in Universal Studios, and they are connected by the Hogwarts Express ride. Thus, a park hopper pass is required to visit both in one day.) So we started our day in Hogsmeade, and rode all three rides there as soon as we arrived, waiting only for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey — which in retrospect, we totally should have sprinted to first out of the three rides, since it’s the only one that doesn’t accept the Express Passes that we received included in our stay at Royal Pacific.
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is definitely the standout of Hogsmeade, and it truly left me speechless! Dragon Challenge is a traditional crazy coaster that you could ride twice and have two totally different experiences, and the Flight of the Hippogriff is a more family-friendly roller coaster.
Once we had all the rides under out belt, we wandered in and out of the beautifully themed shops, took a million photos, and giggled while Ashlee did spells. While neither Olivia nor I are huge Harry fans — though believe me, it’s growing on me! — we seriously were having a blast and loving how much fun Ashlee was having.
“Is this what it’s like to be parents?,” Olivia mused, as we watched Ash waving her wand around with huge smiles. While I’m normally not much of a souvenir-buyer, wands are an absolute must for the true Potter-head. They allow you to perform spells at mapped locations all over the Wizarding World!
While this was my third trip to Universal Orlando, I had never truly experienced Hogsmeade before, so it really was a blast for me. After a Butterbeer toast to seal the morning, we were off on the Hogwarts Express — which again, thanks to our Express Passes, magically had no line!
And after a whirl on the world’s only inter-theme park ride, we arrived in Diagon Alley! I was so excited to see the girl’s reactions to this truly magical place, one of the greatest themed lands I’ve ever seen in any theme park anywhere in the world.
Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts was down temporarily, so we wandered the alleys doing more spells, splitting an ice cream, and checking out all the fab little shops and details.
Throughout the day, we were overwhelmed with super sweet and sincere compliments from Universal employees on our outfits, and Harry Potter glasses specifically. Considering they’ve seen it all, we were pretty dang proud of ourselves. The best part was, since I’d had to order an eight pack, we had extras to hand out to strangers who asked us about them — so fun!
Next up, it was time for a lunch — and air-conditioning! — break at The Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar in CityWalk. I’d heard raves about this spot and while we were all boring and ordered (super delicious) salads and soda waters, I am totally coming back some night for their craft cocktails and signature Burgushi®.
After lunch, we headed back into Islands of Adventure to hit my favorite area of Universal Orlando… Seuss Landing! The girls humored me with spins on both The Cat in The Hat (which I’d been on before) and theThe High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride (which I hadn’t.) Neither had more than a two minute line.
Turns out the train ride has some of the best photography vantage points in the entire park — it’s so cool to see it all from above! So whether you’re a Seuss fan or not, if you’re coming with a camera you might just want to hop aboard for a spin.
After, we headed for my favorite ride in the park — Jurassic Park River Adventure. At this point, the late afternoon holiday weekend crowds were at their peak, so we decided to head back to the hotel for a dip in the pool and a nap before the rest of the day.
My big regret of the trip? Not taking the girls on my beloved Hulk coaster and not trying out the two water rides, Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls and Popeye and Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges, when it was blazing hot! Sure, we could have fit it all in if we’d stayed in the park from open to close, but with a long weekend of fun ahead, we chose to pace ourselves — which is the exact reason I’d recommend travelers invest in at least a three day park-hopper pass so they don’t burn out while trying to enjoy all Universal Orlando Resort has to offer (which is, if you haven’t picked up on it already, a lot.)
Thankfully, by the time the sun set we were well rested for a night on the town — the town, in this case, being Universal’s CityWalk! One of my favorite things about a Universal vacation is you don’t have to get in a car once if you don’t want to.
You can eat, stay, play all in one compact, well-connected resort without fussing with rental cars, cabs, or Ubers. It actually makes it the perfect bachelorette bash port of call — between the security checks into CityWalk, the free water taxis back to the onsite hotels, and the peace of mind of keeping everyone in one place in a big group, you really couldn’t ask for a more worry-free destination for a girl’s night out.
CityWalk is bursting with dining options, which made it hard to narrow down our dinner reservations, though we finally settled on Antojitos for a festive Mexican meal. It did not disappoint! The modern and colorful interiors left us swooning — table for three in a birdcage? yes please! — and the menu left us drooling.
Don’t miss the ginger mojitos or the fresh guacamole made to your specifications right at the table!
After dinner, we rushed back into the park for Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, which we literally sprinted to when I read on the Universal App had reopened! With late summer hours, you really can make the most of your day — and night. Diagon Alley looks totally different at the dark, which made the ride being closed earlier in the day actually feel like a blessing in disguise. We got on what must have been one of the very last runs of the evening, and exited right as the nightly fireworks were going off. Talk about timing.
After, we strolled back into CityWalk ready to dance — and sing. We kicked things off at my personal favorite venue, Rising Star Karaoke, where you can croon with a live backup band and backup dancers. Unfortunately we arrived right as the band went on a lengthy break so the girls didn’t really get to experience Rising Star in all it’s glory, but our friendly waiter conceded that on a busy weekend you really need to arrive at opening to have a good chance of singing, anyway.
After a few drinks and sing-alongs, we were off to check out CityWalk’s two nightclubs, The Groove and Red Coconut Club. As very dedicated researchers, we did a thorough comparison of both — and while the dancefloors were packed and we had a blast at each, Red Coconut won out as our favorite for the retro kitsch decor (The Groove was more general-Myrtle-Beach-nightclub in comparison.) Both were totally unpretentious, with an all-age crowd all just looking to have a good time. And if you’re staying onsite, you’ll get free entry to every CityWalk venue by showing your room key — so why not check out both?
Not so much for the club scene? There are also some great bars in CityWalk — Bob Marley–A Tribute to Freedom has great live music (and Jamaican specialities on the dinner menu), Pat O’Brien’s boasts dueling pianos (and cajun food), and Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville has, well, a margarita-filled erupting volcano (and cheeseburgers in paradise, duh).
CityWalk’s last call is 2am, but make sure you close out your tab a bit earlier to grab late night slices at the Red Over Pizza Bakery. We took them to-go and hopped on the last water taxi of the night back to Royal Pacific, which turned out to be one of my favorite moments of my entire eight days in Orlando. Why?
When we boarded the boat, I noted that the professional young captain was a girl around our age. The only other group on the boat was another crew of ladies coming back from a big night out. As we pulled away from the dock, the captain wordlessly turned on a speaker and started blasting Madonna’s classic hit Lucky Star. When she started busting some serious dance moves at the wheel, we excitedly began belting backup from out seats. We might not have made it onstage at Rising Star, but the boat become our grandstand, the seven of us aboard rocking out for a one-song headline.
When we docked, we laughed and thanked our lovely captain for an unimaginably perfect ride home. “Well, I figured it was just us girls,” she said with a wink.
Just us girls indeed! It was the perfect day at the parks, and a bachelorette for the books.
What’s the best destination you’ve discovered for a bachelorette weekend?
This post is brought to your by Universal Orlando Resort. I am a member of the Universal Blog Squad, and have been compensated for this partnership. I maintain full editorial control and as always all thoughts, opinions, and over-ambitious craft projects are my own.
One thing I’ve been hearing from you guys is that you want to hear more about my current travels right after they happen. Well, ask and ye shall receive! I’m jumping in to start sharing some posts from Florida and Tennessee, a trip so fresh I haven’t unpacked from it yet.
I won’t lie — before my childhood friend Steve announced his wedding was taking place in Sarasota, Florida, I don’t think I could have pointed to the place on a map. But I was thrilled to make my way there regardless, one stop on a long road trip through Florida that worked out to be more perfectly timed than any of us could have imagined.
Why? Because while my other childhood friend Kristin and I — who was also making the trek south with her boyfriend Mark — were weighing up the various wedding hotels, we realized that her recently retired parents Marc and Laura would be renting a house in nearby Siesta Key at the same time while they explored future relocation spots. It just so happened to be a three bedroom house. And they just so happen to be the people I consider my second parents. And so we decided to all have a massive weekend-long sleepover party. What could be more perfect?
After a night in Tampa with my aunts, I drove down to Sarasota just in time to spend a few hours oooh and aaaahing over Marc and Laura’s cute rental before getting ready for the rehearsal dinner at Michael’s Wine Cellar.
It was a beautiful night! We got to connect with several other wedding guests, meet the beautiful bride Ali’s family, and beam through sweet speeches from family and friends.
Kristin and I even made an appearance in a giggle-worthy photo from a high school homecoming dance in the slideshow — what’s a childhood BFF’s wedding without a reminder of how badly you used to do your eyebrows?
The next day, Marc and Laura treated us to a beach day at their favorite stretch of sand on Siesta Key. I could see why they loved the place. The beach was almost Caribbean feeling! I couldn’t be happier to be kicking it in a beach chair with some of my favorite people — and a guidebook.
We didn’t linger too long of course — we had a wedding to get ready for! The nuptials were taking place at the Ritz Carlton Sarasota, so I knew we were in for a treat.
Sadly, after months and months of drought, Florida was hit hard with storms that week, and the ceremony had to be moved inside. My heart broke for the bride who’d planned such a beautiful outdoor ceremony, but I don’t think anything could kill the vibes once the live music cued up for the bridal party’s stroll down the aisle. Our friend Chris was one of the groomsmen and it was hard not to cheer when he started off the procession!
I love the Jewish wedding tradition of having both parents walk the bride down the aisle.
It was very surreal watching someone I’ve known since we were both in braces make such a beautiful commitment. I’ve grown to love Ali over the years of crashing with the two of them on some of my trips through New York City, and I truly can’t imagine a better fit for Steve — he really did crush this whole “choosing a life partner” thing.
And then the party got started! Since I know how much work brides and grooms put into their weddings, I texted them the next morning with a detailed list of everything I loved: the food was phenomenal; the band was so much fun; the room was grand and stunning.
I absolutely loved dancing the night away with some of my hometown besties!
The next morning, we went with Kristin’s parents for a hangover brunch and wedding recap at Sun Garden Cafe, which was my personal favorite meal of the trip. The outdoor seating area was adorable, and my fresh veggie omelette was just what I needed. After, we cruised around to Lido Key — which I didn’t find anywhere near as impressive as Siesta Key — and finally up to St. Armands Circle.
There, we found ourselves at the roof deck of the Tommy Bahama restaurant, where the tropical drinks cemented the magical feeling I had that I was truly on vacation. (It might have been the company, too, who I have years of traveling to Myrtle Beach with under my belt.) How I resisted the dessert tray, I’ll never know.
That night, Marc and Laura treated us to a very special goodbye treat — a sunset cruise to the sandbar off Siesta Key.
It was a very cool trip that included beer, or you could bring your own booze — however, the second I realized there was no bathroom onboard I abstained from all liquids. Better safe than sorry, y’all.
The tour kicked off with our guide pointing out all the notable real estate in the area, either homes built by celebrities or with wild stories of wealthy owners. We ate it up like the good little tourists we were.
We also passed a bird sanctuary, some interesting mangroves, and most excitingly — dolphins! I smiled at the memory of seeing them underwater on a dive in Honduras years ago, and found myself feeling lucky to get to be in their presence out in the wild again.
Yet the highlight was still to come — pulling up to an expansive sandbar in the sea. We were set loose to hunt sea shells, stick our toes in the sand, and wade around into the sunset.
That weekend, Marc and Laura had told us that Marc’s other daughter would be visiting the next weekend — and her boyfriend was planning to propose! We were so enamored with the sandbar that we all hatched the plan that her boyfriend should pop the question in this exact spot… complete with Kristin and I doing a full pre-enactment so Marc and Laura could work out their photography angles, ha ha.
Post-cruise, we grabbed a pizza from hip and happening Siesta Pi Pizza before turning in for the night. I couldn’t think of a more perfect note to end the weekend on.
It was such a lovely weekend full of amazing friends, and friends who feel like family. I was so grateful to Steve and Ali for bringing us all together to celebrate, to Marc and Laura for opening their home-away-from home, to Chris for being my dance-floor buddy and to Kristin and Mark for letting me be their third wheel.
I couldn’t ask for a more relaxing way to kick off Florida!
Next up, Orlando, Tampa, and St. Pete!
So, while I’m still catching up on my ridiculously delayed 2016 travel recaps, I just can’t wait to start sharing my big trip (thus far) of 2017. So I’ll be jumping back and forth a bit again. Apologies for any confusion, my friends!
I’m not saying I did Bali wrong in the past. But I definitely didn’t do it this right.
In March, I spent nearly three weeks in Bali, a trip that left me walking around like a heart-eyed emoji and dreaming about dropping everything and moving my life to another little island in Southeast Asia. While it was technically my third trip to Bali, I absolutely felt like I was truly seeing and experiencing this magical island for the first time.
It all started at The Chillhouse. I had five days between flying out of Penang and the start of my ten day coding bootcamp with Institute of Code, and I knew I wanted to find somewhere where I could chill out, recharge, focus on my pre-course work, and get into the Bali groove. I literally could not have picked a more perfect place.
Do you ever stay at a hotel that is so perfect for you it almost creeps you out? Like somehow someone tapped into your brain, figured out everything you’re obsessed with, and made it into the world’s most Instagram-able accommodation? Because that is how I felt at Chillhouse.
Chillhouse is kind of a one stop shop for everything that makes Canggu the magnetic town that it is — great surfing, fabulous healthy food, lush yoga, and above all, incredibly design.
Every room at The Chillhouse is different, and I was thrilled to be bunking down in one of the beautiful double bungalows.
My room featured an outdoor bathroom where I showered under the stars, a spacious porch and garden where I watched Institute of Code prep videos on HTML and CSS, and a chic bedroom where I caught up on sleep after running around Malaysia for a few days. It was just what I needed, and it really felt like home even after a few very short days.
I was pretty obsessed with the food at Chillhouse. Dinner is served communally, which I love. Some of my favorite places to stay around the world — including La Iguana Perdida in Lake Atitlán, Guatemala do this, and it’s such a lovely way to get to know the other travelers you’re sharing your space with.
I learned from these dinners that Chillhouse is an addiction. One expat couple living in Singapore told me this was their sixth trip! Several others I spoke to were return visitors as well — like I too hope to be someday.
During the day, there’s an a la carte fully organic menu that includes salads, wraps, and of course, Bali’s famous smoothie bowls. My only criticism of the meals at Chillhouse was that the breakfast specials weren’t available until 9am — since a lot of the yoga and surfing activities kick off earlier, it would nice to have those as an option as soon as the restaurant opens at 6:15am.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Bali retreat without yoga. Chillhouse’s onsite open yoga shala is one of my favorites anywhere — and not just because of the bold “kiss my asana” yoga pun on the wall. (I bought two totes from the onsite boutique with the same phrase.) They offer one or two classes per day in vinyasa, hatha, yin, guided meditation, and kundalini. Classes are IDR 120,000 per class or ten classes for IDR 1,000,000.
I made it to one vinyasa class and one yin class and really adored them both. Other health and wellness options include an hour of personal training at IDR 700,000 per person, a mind and body coach for IDR 1,400,000 per session, and The Dose, a popular health and electrolyte IV drip for dengue, hangovers, food poisoning, and beyond. (I didn’t actually use The Dose while I was in Bali but I was beyond obsessed with the idea and actually couldn’t stop talking about it anyone and everyone in my path, ha ha.)
Chillhouse also turns its attention to surfing and biking. There are daily downhill tours to Bali Bike Park, which is like a ski resort for biking with various downhill rides and uphill shuttles, and multiple daily surf sessions for various skill levels. I made the mistake of signing up for an afternoon class that was a little above my skill level — and lacking in waves — but still had fun, as always, being out on the ocean.
Some guests told me that they preferred taking cheaper surf lessons from the beach, but one benefit of booking right through Chillhouse was that transportation is included and there’s always a ratio of one surf coach for two guests. Prices are IDR 750,000 for one lesson, three lessons for IDR 2,240,000 or five for 3400,000.
After all that surfing, biking and yoga-ing, you’re probably going to start aching for a massage. Lucky you — you can have one steps away from your room! I had a truly unbelievable treatment at Chillhouse, and the best part is the rates are incredibly competitive with local spas. Body massages are IDR 1700,000 per hour, while foot massages are a mere 150,000 per hour. Four hand massages are also available, though I learned from my last trip to Bali that it’s just not my thing. Those are almost too much of a good thing… I don’t know where to focus! (And I do wonder how all three people would fit in the tiny treatment rooms!)
If you’re feeling even further pampering is necessary, a manicure pedicure can be had for IDR 450,000.
And for all my fellow digital nomads, or anyone wanting to take an online course, or travelers who just need to catch up on some computer time, (personally, I was all three!) Chillhouse has a beautiful coworking space.
My previous two trips to Bali were quick breeze-throughs for a few days before flying out of the Denpasar Airport when I was doing my diving courses on neighboring island Gili Trawangan. I basically just stayed in Ubud, Kuta and Legian and soaked up all the fresh water showers and air-con I could get (I was living in a basic room with a fan and brackish water on Gili T, so those felt like unbelievable luxuries!)
This time, I really found “my” Bali in Canggu — I’ll have a post coming up soon of my favorite spots, which were easy to explore with Chillhouse’s free bikes.
Checking out of Chillhouse, I was sad to go! But like the many repeat visitors I met over communal dinners, I hope that I too will be back soon. And I didn’t have much time to be wistful, since I was quickly off to my next adventure…
Stay tuned for stories from my time at Institute of Code!
So, while I�™m still catching up on my ridiculously delayed 2016 travel recaps, I just can�™t wait to start sharing my big trip (thus far) of 2017. So I�™ll be jumping back and forth a bit again. Apologies for any confusion, my friends!
It�™s one of the biggest questions on any ravers mind when they start flirting with the idea of a new feather-clad festival adventure. How much is this going to cost me?
One of the biggest excitements for me in attending Wonderfruit was getting to experience a festival produced at international standards but priced in Thai baht. While compared to the cost of living and traveling in Thailand Wonderfruit is surely still an enormous splurge, if held up to the bottom-line bills of festivals like Tomorrowland, Bonnaroo, and Burning Man, it�™s a bargain. Here�™s my baht for baht breakdown that includes four nights onsite at Wonderfruit, one night pre-festival in Pattaya, and two nights post-festival in Bangkok �“ and would reflect the week-long vacation that international travelers might expect to center their trip around.
Ticket: 4,950B or $138US
Full four day tickets to Wonderfruit are 5,500B, though we were able to take advantage of party pass pricing for bulk orders of six tickets, which worked out to 4,917B per person. There is a ฿26.75B service charge for each ticket, which works out to less than $1USD.
Tickets are slightly cheaper during the very early pre-sale phase and slightly more expensive at the door. Children under 12 are free, and there are reduced price tickets for kids age 12-19. Dog passes are available for 800B (possibly my absolute favorite aspect of Wonderfruit?) All tickets are sold in baht. There are no VIP options available �“ how refreshing!
(Note: I received a press pass to this event, but I am putting in the party pass price that I would have paid otherwise.)
Boutique Camping: 5,000B or $140US
There are multiple different options for where to stay at Wonderfruit.
Regular camping in which you bring your own tent is included in the ticket price. If you go this route and don�™t want to fly internationally with camping supplies, look for cheap tents available on Lazada, Thailand�™s sort-of answer to Amazon. The regular camping area looked sparsely attended compared to the boutique area, but residents reported clean showers and toilets, secure lockers, and charging stations.
There is also boutique camping available at three levels. Prices are for four nights, and all tents sleep four people. The boutique camping area is totally separate and across the festival from the regular camping area, so if you�™re coming as a large group, you�™ll all want to choose one or the other together. You can get a great sense of the size of the boutique camping area from an aerial shot in this post.
• Safari tents with air con: 40,000B
These fully-furnished, stand-up tents almost went a little too far for me. I still like to at least pretend I�™m roughing it. But for those craving the ultimate comfort, you�™ll have two real beds, lighting, power strips, a lock box, air conditioning, and a tent big enough to stand up and walk around in. One thing I did really like about these were the two lawn chairs set up outside.
• Bell tents with air con: 30,000B
These beautiful and spacious bell tents came equipped with air mattresses, lighting, power strips with four outlets, a lock box, a large mirror, small trash baskets, and air conditioning. The lock boxes were enormous and easily fit four sets of valuables with room to spare. These two pricier options were the first to sell out, so hop to it if those are the ones you�™re eying!
• Bell tents with fans: 20,000B
Identical to the option above but with fans instead of air-conditioning. This is the option we went with, both for budget and sustainability purposes.
The prices are very reasonable when split by four people. If you�™re coming as only a pair, the prices are a little tougher to swallow, so bring friends! The fact that you can get a very VIP experience for only 5,000B a person is seriously wow-able if you�™re coming from the European or US festival scene. That�™s $35 US per person per day!
We were thrilled with our choice. Overall, I give the boutique camping team huge props, with some exceptions and issues. The bathrooms were fantastic, with cement and bamboo showers, real flushing toilets, and towels provided in every tent. There was shampoo, conditioner and soap provided in the bathrooms but the shampoo ran out by the last day of the festival, so you may wish to bring a small backup or be prepared to ask your neighbor.
The air mattresses deflated slightly over the weekend but the staff were more than happy to come give them a boost. I found them very comfortable! As with any festival, earplugs and eyemasks are an absolute must. The festival grounds are fairly compact and so the late night stages will absolutely project into your tent �“ if you�™re noise sensitive, pick a tent as far from the festival entrance as possible. They gave us a choice of tents when we checked in, which I greatly appreciated.
As I mentioned, the lock boxes in the tents, with locks provided, were enormous, which was much appreciated for our many cameras and other electronics. There are additional lockers available, but they are located on the opposite side of the boutique camping area from the festival entrance so only use them for things you won�™t need access to throughout the weekend �“ and you�™ll need to bring your own locks for those. Really, with the lock boxes being so large, it�™s doubtful you�™ll need them.
Remember, you�™re still camping �“ it�™s very cold at night, and extremely hot during the day. We weren�™t expecting the cold in the evenings but slept in several layers! During the day the fan only went so far to keep cool, and it was often better to nap in one of the shady chill tents inside the festival during the day, where there was a bit of a breeze.
Our one major complaint about boutique camping was that power was shut off from 4-8pm. With the sun setting at 6:30pm every night, I literally can�™t think of a more inconvenient time to close it off. We always wanted to be back in our tents getting ready and changing out of our sweaty day clothes either immediately before or after sunset �“ before, it was boiling without the fan and after, we were stuck in the dark.
The boutique camping area had a dedicated check-in, a private bar and lounge �“ which was always fairly low key �“ and a coffee truck. Unlike other festivals I�™ve been to, people didn�™t really just hang out in the campgrounds, but they were an incredibly comfortable place to recharge and get ready for the festival every day.
Overall, while I hope they might consider the electricity-off hours for future editions, we were thrilled with the boutique camping experience.
Wonderfruit also has an option for RV camping! Four day RV passes are available for 15-16,000B depending on when you purchase for sites with electric and water hookup, and 8-9,000B depending on when you purchase for sites without hookup.
The RV area is separate from the other camping areas. There are RV rental companies in Bangkok �“ I would totally do this if I was coming back another year.
There are also offsite hotel packages available, but with each located a 30-60 minute drive away and the camping being such a fun and integral part of the Wonderfruit experience, I can�™t imagine taking advantage of them.
Wonderfruit takes place at Siam Country Club, about 45 minutes outside Pattaya. You can technically fly into Pattaya airport but it�™s not much closer than Bangkok�™s Suvarnabhumi Airport. Flights to Bangkok�™s Don Muang airport will likely be the most affordable option from within Thailand and from some neighboring airports �“ check flights to both.
Since we are based in Thailand, and domestic travel within the country is so cheap, our transportation prices were insanely affordable. If you�™re coming from much further, read this post for tips on how to score a bargain international flight.
Transport to Bangkok: 1068B or $45US
After nixing the once-per-day, $138 ferry and flight from Koh Samui to Pattaya –the fastest and most direct route, but also by far the most expensive — we settled on an overnight ferry from Koh Tao to Surat Thani (600B), a private transfer from the pier to the airport (165B), and a flight from Surat Thani to Bangkok (843B). Nok Air includes free checked bags, which was perfect for my extra festival stuff.
Note that I�™m only including one-way of travel here, as I flew onward from Bangkok to Penang post-festival. Most of my group returned to Koh Tao by overnight bus and ferry combo ticket, which is 1,100B, or $31.
Villa: 668B or $16US
We spent one night pre-festival in Pattaya. Our villa in Pattaya cost 668B per night each, and was a great way to kick off our group adventure with some serious camaraderie and recharge from our overnight transit from Koh Tao.
Private Driver: 953B or $27US
We hired a private van and driver to pick us up at Bangkok�™s Don Muang Airport and drop us at our villa, stopping for groceries en route. The next day he brought us to Buddha Mountain and a winery before dropping us at Wonderfruit. On the final day of the festival, he picked us back up at boutique camping and dropped us at our hotel in Bangkok, stopping as we wished along the way. It was the same driver we used for our wine tour last year.
The driver worked out to 833B plus a 120B tip per person. That included three days of his services and included the van, gas, tolls, etc. It�™s a really good deal, even for Thailand, and I was quoted up to double when researching other transportation companies in Bangkok and Pattaya �“ so really sniff around before settling on the first quote you get.
If you�™re in a group, hiring a private driver is the way to go. Otherwise, you�™ll need to take a taxi to the Bangkok bus station, catch a bus to Pattaya (about 150B), take a taxi to the Wonderfruit shuttle meeting point, and then take one of the official Wonderfruit shuttles (150B) to the festival site �“ and then do it all again in the other direction.
Bangkok Hotel: 1183B or $33US
We also spent two nights post-festival in Bangkok. So many Wonderfruit attendees live in Bangkok, the festival site is easily reached, and Wonderfruit doesn�™t really require the extensive preparations and breakdowns some festivals do, so for many this won�™t be necessary. However, in our case, Ian and I were flying to Penang two days later so it was the perfect buffer, while everyone else stuck around mostly to take advantage of being off the island and in a big city to run errands.
I booked Hotel Icon because it was in everyone’s budget and expected to feel very meh about it but — but found myself pleasantly surprised!
Meals and Entertainment En Route: 2,930B or $82US
Basically, all food consumed between leaving Koh Tao and departing Bangkok — that weren�™t at Wonderfruit. I spent 735B on snacks (let�™s be honest �“ mostly airport fast food), 475B on my share of groceries for our two big meals in the villa (we bought too much and left a bunch behind), and 300B on lunch at the winery.
We also went on a winery tour in Pattaya and went to a movie in Bangkok.
Campsite Food and Alcohol: 1896B or $53US
This is the one category that really makes me cringe �“ we went way overboard. The Tesco Lotus in Pattaya was surprisingly pricey, and I ended up spending 2,071B on my personal festival snacks (fruit, granola bars, etc.) and booze for our night in the villa (some of the leftovers of which may have made their way to the campgrounds…) Everyone in our group agreed they were totally shocked when they got to the checkout counter.
Costumes: 2,390B or $67
As usual, I had fun buying some fun personal and group costumes for this event �“ though I did have a shocking number of fruit related outfits prior to even being aware of Wonderfruit�™s existence.
Platinum Mall in Bangkok has a wealth of ridiculousness on its accessory floor, and I stocked up on beaded headbands (650B), fruit headpieces (400B), flash tattoos (300B), and fruit earrings (40B) a month before the festival. Wonderfruit definitely won�™t be their last appearance either!
My friend Will and I also surprised our group with custom Banyan Fruit t-shirts (Banyan is the bar that everyone in our crew is either an employee, owner, or obscenely loyal customer of). I bought the shirts for 1000B, and Will generously provided the designs and printing.
One funny note… the controversy over Native American headdresses has NOT hit Thailand. They were literally everywhere and in every direction.
On Site Purchases
Food and alcohol: 10,570B or $297
So this is where I went totally crazy. Oh well! With Wonderfruit�™s relatively strict policy on bringing in outside food and alcohol, this is the most I�™ve ever spent onsite at a festival �“ including pricey festivals like Tomorrowland!
But I�™ve always had expensive taste when it comes to food and booze, preferring fancy cocktails over beer and hipster cafes over street food. I also have Millionaire Syndrome when I�™m drinking and do things like dropping 700B on a golden bucket for the group in the Moon Shack bar. Oops.
Prices, as at any festival, were inflated from what they�™d be in the �œreal world,” but they weren�™t particularly offensive. It was a lot of fun to eat at Wonderfruit. There were beautiful stall, well-curated food trucks and tents that almost became venues in themselves (I�™m looking at you, day-time dance parties in RocketFruit!)
A lot of our favorite trendy Bangkok restaurants had little outposts at Wonderfruit, and we found a few new obsessions, too. I was particularly in love with my morning acai bowls, the late night cheeseburger I couldn�™t stop talking about for days, and the entire menu at Straight Outta Thonglor — and I�™m still haunted that we didn�™t get a charcuterie board at the cheese tent.
You could find a meal for as low as 100B a plate and as high as 800B, though they generally fell in the 200-400B. Drinks ranged from 80-300B. I was a bad blogger and didn�™t record any particular food prices (too many golden buckets, ya know?) but here are a few examples I was able to glean from menu board photos:
Cold pressed juice from Fabb Coffee and Juice Bar: 135B
Whapow Coldbrew from Fabb Coffee and Juice Bar: 120B
Kai Jiew Egg dish from Egg Picnic: 100B
Thai sticky rice wine from Sato Bar: 100B original, 150B strong
Grilled camarelized bananas from The Thailand Young Farmers: 80 baht
Thailand�™s version of ginataan from The Thailand Young Farmers: 50B
Isaan pad thai from The Thailand Young Farmers: 185B
Ice cream from the reggae bus: 180B
One thing to note is that Wonderfruit is completely paperless �“ you�™ll have a band that you load baht onto and then pay for everything with a tap of the wrist. I was annoyed to learn there was a significant surcharge for credit card top-ups, which forced me to use cash (I hate using cash, as it�™s much harder to track.) If you have any credit left over when you’re ready to leave, you can get a cash refund from the top-up stations between 12noon on Sunday and 12noon on Monday.
One major Wonderfruit highlight? Free water refill stations throughout the festival and campgrounds. Considering the festival�™s commitment to sustainability, it was essential �“ and as a bonus, it saved us from having to buy multiple bottles a day.
Splurges: 2,725B or $76
I splurged on a glitter application in the Wonder Salon for 500B, a rhinestone-encrusted antler headpiece for 1,300B, and a beautiful pair of handmade earrings for 350B. I only wish I was patient enough to get my hair and makeup done more nights �“ it was so much fun! I also spent 575B on pool floats, which considering how little time we spent in the lake was a bit excessive �“ but yet I can never regret a pool float purchase.
Massages: 1,600B or $45US
I had one 45 minute foot massage for 700B and one 60 minute foot, head and shoulder massage for 900B in the cutely designed massage tent. Higher than typical Thai massage prices? Of course. But well worth it for restoring and refreshing �“ and escaping the sun!
Here�™s the full spa menu:
45 min foot reflexology: 700B
60 min foot, head and shoulder: 900B
45 min back and shoulder: 700B
60 min Thai massage: 900B
60 min oil massage: 1,200B
90 min foot reflexology + Thai massage: 1,350B
90 min foot reflexology + back and shoulder massage: 1,450B
90 min foot reflexology + oil massage: 1,600B
Wonder Feasts: 1,500B or $42
Wonder Feasts are beautiful ticketed meals prepared by some of Bangkok�™s top chefs. There were four Wonder Feast options: two dinners with free-flow wine for 3,000B, and two brunches for 1,500B. I wasn�™t blown away with my experience.
Total cost for the four day festival:
31584B or $885USD per person
Total cost for the full seven day trip:
37,433B or $1,061USD per person
I would say that I experienced Wonderfruit at the top end of the spending range �“ I did VIP camping, bought whatever food and drinks I wanted, and freely splurged on things like massages and a Wonder Feast. For all that, Wonderfruit clocked in at $220 a day. Comparatively, I did Burning Man about as cheap as it is possible to do and spent between $120-150 a day, and did Tomorrowland somewhere in the upper middle and spent $375-500 per day. So while Wonderfruit is an extremely expensive four days as far as travels in Thailand go, it is very competitively priced when you hold it up against other festivals from around the world.
I also included the total for the full week of our trip, including four nights at the festival, one night before, and two nights after.
Overall? Normally a very frugal person, festivals are my big travel splurges and I don�™t regret this one for a second. I�™d say they were baht well blown.
What do you think? Would you go to Wonderfruit?
Also in this series: Wandering Through Wonderfruit: A Festival Review Part I • Feasting on Wonderfruit: A Festival Review Part II
I received a press pass to Wonderfruit, however all other expenses were my own, and I will outline them in an upcoming budget breakdown.
This post was written by me and brought to you by Skillshare.
“Beating the post-travel blues.” It’s a popular topic for travel blogs, though I’ve never covered it here in Wanderland. Why not? Well, for one thing, I haven’t stopped traveling. While I may retreat to different bases throughout the year, I’m still very much on the move. However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t have a taste of what it’s like to yearn for certain destinations, or know that sinking feeling when the thrill of a huge adventure is in the rearview. So what to do when you’re back at home nursing memories and a fun hangover?
Enter Skillshare. Skillshare is a subscription service for online course. Think of it like Netflix for learning, or Rent the Runway for a new skill — but you get to keep what you learned! While many of the 16,000+ classes are free, the best of the best are part of a premium membership (which I’m gifting all of y’all two free months of!) With over two million students, it’s safe to say that there are several different reasons for being on Skillshare.
Some are there for professional development – personally, I’ve bookmarked courses on increasing Instagram engagement, learning to write with humor, creating ebooks, food photography, creating Pinterest pins, and how to increase email productivity. Some are there to hone in on passion skills – I saved a class on perfecting yoga arm balances and another on how to learn a language in one hundred days. Some are there for self improvement – I can’t wait to take some of the courses on fitness and nutrition, and healthy cooking. And of course some are there for a bit of fun – to try something totally out of their comfort zone, pick up a new tool for the first time ever, or just switch on another part of their brain for a few hours.
I recently enrolled in three different Skillshare courses with the theme of kicking the post-travel blues – classes that can lift your spirits when you’re pining for a certain place. Here’s a little review of each!
How to Make French Macarons
by food writer and food stylist Marie Asselin
When I think of my travels in Europe, one memory always floats to the forefront: my chocolate and sweets tour of Brussels, where I truly fell in love with macarons for the first time. I’d always heard these heavenly desserts were insanely difficult to make, and so when I saw a Skillshare course on the topic pop up, I knew I had to tackle the challenge.
Once upon a time I was a passionate baker, loving to whip up something special for my family and friends at every occasion. I was somewhat intimidated by such a difficult project, but well, every macaron baker has to start somewhere, right?
I was lucky to have most of the ingredients and tools needed on hand at my mom’s house, running to the store only to buy white baking chips and almond flour. I watched the entire thirty-two minutes of Marie’s Skillshare videos before even entering the kitchen, and then printed out the recipes and shell templates included in the course. Finally I dove in, rewatching the videos as necessary for important steps. Marie’s videos are filmed beautifully and were a joy to watch, and her instructions were detailed and clear.
Things were going pretty fabulously – until it was time to take the shells out of the oven. Marie warned that knowing your oven was key, and since I was using our family friend Noreen’s oven for the first time, that was kind of a wild card for me. My first batch quickly cracked and deflated when I took them out of the oven – oops. Checking the community section, where students upload photos of their macarons and Marie gives feedback, I saw I’d fallen prey to a common issue of undercooked shells.
The next batch came out better… but just slightly. I decided to forge forward and pipe them with icing regardless. The good news? They tasted delicious! The bad news? They looked like deflated little macaron contenders for a Skillshare Fail tumblr. But more good news? I’m definitely motivated to try again, learning from little mistakes I made along the way and experimenting with the oven temperature and bake length. I took plenty of photos which I plan to upload for Marie’s feedback before a second attempt.
Most importantly, I had so much fun getting back in the kitchen again to bake for someone – in this case, a thank you gift to my neighbor for taking me to the airport the next day! – and have a newfound appreciation for those gorgeous macarons I first fell in love with in Brussels, all those years ago.
Urban Sketching for Beginners: Watercolour Sketch in 3 Steps
by illustrator, letterer, and urban sketcher and Julia Henze
It will come as no surprise to regular readers that one of my favorite places on the planet is our family cottage on Martha’s Vineyard. The last few years I’ve been making it a huge priority to try to spend at least two weeks a year there – more if possible! And believe me when I say I look forward to those two weeks all year.
So when I saw this urban sketching course pop up while browsing through illustration classes, I knew exactly what structure I wanted to sketch.
Now, this is where I remind you guys that I actually have a bachelor of fine arts from one of the top design schools in the US, which I’m kind of embarrassed to admit in this context because I think it might raise expectations a little too high. Really, I’m not sure what admissions was thinking.
The good news was that I had the vast majority of the supplies I needed for those course right in my mom’s basement with all my high school and university art projects. The only things I needed to go out and buy were some fresh watercolor paper and a brush pen, though my hometown craft store was out of the latter so I did without.
Digging through my mountains of old canvasses and paintbrushes made my heart ache, guys — do I ever miss those days of staying up all night pulling screens in the printmaking studio or throwing paint on a canvas somewhere. I have been saying for years how much I miss making physical art with my hands, and so this was a long overdue start.
Like the first course, I watched Julia’s 28 minutes of instruction in entirety before starting in on my own piece and rewatching as I went. I particularly enjoyed the timelapses Julia included so that you could watch her complete an entire illustration as an example.
I felt pretty rusty going in, but quickly remembered the joy of having a paintbrush in my hands and the phenomenon of looking at something totally differently when you’re trying to recreate it. As I was in Florida and not Massachusetts when I took the course, I worked from a photograph that had me bursting with excitement at my upcoming trip to the island.
While I certainly made little mistakes and wish I’d had a mechanical pencil and a greater variety of pens, I was pretty pleased with the results! Like a little kid bringing home a finger painting, I can’t wait to give it to my mom. I seriously had so much fun making a physical piece of art again – and I’ll never look at that cottage the same way again.
Map Making: Learn to Communicate Places Beautifully
by design + communication guru Anne Ditmeyer
What traveler isn’t totally obsessed with maps? On the road, I often find myself scrutinizing them, and in the office, I spend much of my day thinking about how to visually communicate places and ideas to my readers. Which is what made this map making course in particular a must-take for me.
While this particular course was filmed over four years ago and thus might not match the image quality of some of the newer offerings, it has over 3,000 students who have produced over 460 projects – that success speaks for itself! In fact, being inspired by the maps of my fellow students in the projects section was one of the most rewarding parts of taking this course. One such project? A student’s subway journey home, mapped on a bright yellow banana.
Working on the computer is definitely my comfort zone, and so I was pretty pleased that much of this course involved just that – though there was also plenty of experimenting with hand-drawn maps, creating imaginary places, admiring the works of other map artists, and plenty of activities that get you away from a screen. I loved the enthusiasm and passion of the instructor Anne, who reminded me of so many of my design professors from college. She really pushed the idea of mapping not just places but memories and experiences, something I think most wistful travelers still aching for a trip would love to dig into.
I chose to focus on a project I’ve flirted with several times over the years – mapping my beloved winter retreat, the island of Koh Tao, Thailand. While I’ve made various versions in the past, this course really pushed me to think outside the box and produce something I could be proud of, commemorate my time on the island with, and even use professionally on my blog and in products I’m working on producing. (Final product to be revealed soon!)
Inspired to try your own Skillshare course? (Or heck, even teach one?) You can use this link to try out two months of Skillshare premium – for free! And if you decide to stay on after that, you’ll find that Skillshare is about the same price as a Hulu membership. You can take as many classes as you want for every month you’re enrolled.
Skillshare is a unique opportunity to learn from some of the world’s top experts in their field (an SEO course by Rand Fishkin, for example) for less than the cost of a few fancy coffees. Most of the courses were shorter than I expected, yet still packed a massive punch — and can even be watched at 1.5x speed, if you’re in a big rush. If you’re a perpetual student, a budding entrepreneur, a lapsed creative or any combination of the above, don’t surprised if you’re quickly hooked!
Are you an online course addict like me? What Skillshare class would you take?
I was provided with a free access code in order to review Skillshare and compensated for my time in doing so. Find more travel product and app reviews here!
So, while I�™m still catching up on my ridiculously delayed 2016 travel recaps, I just can�™t wait to start sharing my big trip (thus far) of 2017. So I�™ll be jumping back and forth a bit again. Apologies for any confusion, my friends!
As we near the halfway mark of 2017, I look back and already can pull out one of the clear highlights: finally attending Wonderfruit Festival in Thailand. Combing my passion for festivals with my favorite home-away-from-home destination? Pure bliss!
Like Burning Man, I really can�™t define Wonderfruit as a simple music festival. I didn�™t know a single act on the lineup before arrival �“ and it didn�™t matter. What did matter was gathering eleven of my nearest and dearest fellow Southeast Asia expats for four days of amazing art installations, creative food, funky music, sustainability-focused workshops, and fruit-filled good times.
This was Wonderfruit’s third edition, with the fourth is coming up already this December — the passing of Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej postponed the festival from December of 2016 into February of 2017 due the legally mandated country-wide mourning period. It also affected some acts who couldn’t reschedule, and was rumored to affect attendance numbers, though we had nothing to compare it to personally having never been before.
While there were some stumbling blocks along the way that I hope Wonderfruit will be striving to improve for future editions, we had an overall fantastic experience.
After kicking around Pattaya for twenty-four hours, we arrived at the Wonderfruit gates not long after the camping area opened at 4pm on Thursday. After a brief foray though security and sign in, we made our way to our chosen tents. We’d all decided to splurge on boutique camping, which I was thrilled with — no hauling tents or sleeping bags, and all kinds of fun glamping perks!
I’ll have more details about the boutique camping in my upcoming budget breakdown, but suffice it to say I would book it again in a heartbeat.
As the sun set, we couldn’t wait to get out and explore the festival grounds. However, we found that much of the festival was still being set up and the crowds were so small it was hard to get that festive feeling. There were no scheduled activities and very few musical acts on the stages.
Later, we’d reflect that Friday was the perfect warm-up size crowd, while Saturday was wild and Sunday was hot on its heels. In retrospect, I’d strongly encourage Wonderfruit to take a page from Tomorrowland’s book and host a small gathering for on-site campers the first night, either in the campgrounds themselves or in a small sectioned-off area of the festival grounds.
That said, we didn’t regret arriving Thursday in the slightest — because it meant we got to wake up in our tents Friday morning! We got up early, threw on spandex and headed over to Guavafruit, a tent sponsored by the Classpass-esque GuavaPass.
Unfortunately, we arrived to find… a bunch of other people in spandex, and a photographer who insisted on taking photos of our disappointment as it slowly dawned on us that this Bootcamp class was not happening. One of the girls in the group told us she’d also come an hour earlier for an alleged Tabata class that also didn’t happen. We were bummed because we would have happily gone to yoga with some of the rest of our crew had we known that the morning classes were cancelled.
After that failed attempt at activity, we gave up and went to the lake!
After watching Wonderfruit promo videos and talking to past attendees, I was super excited for the lazy day parties at the lake. However, they never quite happened — the water levels were really low, which I think maybe kept people away? I’m not sure exactly the reason, but we had fun cooling off there for a few hours, even if we had it totally to ourselves.
Later, we continued our day of chill with a quick trip to the Wonderfruit spa — more on that later! — and donned spandex again for our second attempt at fitness. This time, we were headed to Liv Lo Yoga.
While the class was pushed back half an hour and the location was changed, we were just thrilled to finally be moving as we flowed through a sweaty and funky vinyasa class led by our energetic Singaporean instructor inside the Rocketfruit tent, one of my favorite spaces from the festival. It was great!
After, we rushed over to the Solar Stage, where our larger group had made plans to congregate. This would become our afternoon meeting point for the next four days, with shady spots all over the playground-like structure and some of our favorite acts performing beneath us. The music of the moment was the Filipino reggae artist Red-I, who would become one of my top discoveries of the festival.
That night, we started to take our dress-up duties seriously. After all, we had packed fruit flair for days!
Wonderfruit had so many amazing spaces to explore at night, and they really started to come alive on Friday. The Moon Shack was a speakeasy-esque, hidden-away little gem sponsored by Sangsom, where we listened to a live jazz band and split a hammered-metal bucket of Thailand’s favorite whiskey.
Next, we hopped around the stages that looked totally transformed in the evening’s colorful lights before making our way over to Forbidden Fruit, Wonderfruit’s first LGBT party hosted by one of Thailand’s top drag queens. Yes! Wonderfruit is fierce.
Eventually, we hopped on over to The Quarry, which is a brilliant idea — a hidden jungle late-night-only stage that is short shuffle away from the rest of the festival grounds, keeping the most intense beats from from the camping areas, and lending a cool “afterparty within a festival” vibe to the whole affair.
Though I have to say that personally, I hated it. Deep house is so not my vibe, and I fled quickly after both my short forays down the quarry. That’s just a me thing, though — tons of Wonderfruiters were obsessed with The Quarry! I was much happier back at Forbidden Fruit, joining a catwalk contest cattily-narrated by a drag queen — though nope, I didn’t win, ha ha.
The third day of a festival is always when recovery starts to be really essential. Luckily, Wonderfruit had us so covered with its onsite massage tent. Heather, Amy and I went straight for the full hour of indulgence and sat back to relax, recharge, and — duh — gossip about the festival so far.
After, we felt ready for a few hours of exploring. We were pretty much melting while doing so — the normal festival month of December is a bit cooler than February, and we were definitely feeling each of those extra degrees of heat.
One really fun moment of the day was wandering by the Living Stage and hearing the night’s headliners — Rudimental! — doing a sound check. How often do you get to have such a behind-the-scenes experience at a major US or European music festival?
Eventually, we sought refuge in the Rainforest Pavilion; by night, an intimate dance party, by day, ground zero for sustainability workshops and talks. I chilled in the shady space while enjoying three brief presentations: Plastic Detox by Bangkok-based Madeleine Recknagel, Shark Tales by Andy Cornish, and The Fourth R with Indonesian entrepreneur Kevin Kumala, who invented a plant-based but plastic-like substance that gained notoriety when a video of him dissolving a “plastic” looking bag in water and drinking it went viral. After the festival I went on to Bali where I saw his #iamnotplastic straws being used everywhere — which made it even cooler to have heard him speak!
One of my favorite thing about Wonderfruit was the amazing amount of workshops, talks and classes. While I think their greatest area of improvement would be to facilitate them running more on time (or alerting festival-goers to cancellations and schedule changes via the otherwise-excellent Wonderfruit app), they really did represent amazing value as all are included in your festival ticket.
I’m so bummed I didn’t make it to workshops on silkscreening, raku ceramics, wood carving (which I tried to go to, but it was pushed back an hour and I had made plans to meet friends), mandala making, beadworking, hand lettering on plants, and more. If I returned for another year, I’d love to focus on making it a creative, hands-on festival for myself!
Many of the art-based workshops took place in The Sharing Neighborhood, which along with Rainforest Pavilion were two of the areas that were most consistently running on-time and as-scheduled.
Soon I was back at my favorite afternoon spot, The Solar Stage, this time for Thai-filipino artists Jess Connelly + Lustbass. This was one of my favorite sets of the entire weekend — there was so much great music to discover, and I loved how many of the artists were Thai or, more largely, Southeast Asian.
We also learned from chatting to fellow Solar Stage fans that the structure was built by regular Burning Man artist Gregg Fleishman, and had actually been transported all the way from The Playa to Pattaya just for Wonderfruit! The stage was made entirely out of sustainable wood panels slotted together sans screws.
And then we were off to prepare for a big Saturday night… and a surprisingly eventful Sunday. Stay tuned!
Does Wonderfruit sound like your kind of festival?
I received a press pass to Wonderfruit, however all other expenses were my own, and I will outline them in an upcoming budget breakdown.