Laura Plantation – New Orleans, LA

On a recent trip to New Orleans, we decided to take a break from the excitement of the French Quarter and visit plantation country.  Just 35 miles west of New Orleans in Vacherie, Louisiana is the Laura Plantation, a Creole plantation.  The guided tour, included in the ticket price,  is based on the Laura Locoul’s memoir of her life on the sugar plantation, Memories of the Old Plantation Home, which is sold in the gift shop (in English and French) along with many other interesting books and souvenirs of plantation country.

While waiting for your tour to start, explore the gift shop or wait on the wide porch. Maybe you’ll meet the plantation cat lounging on the porch on a hot summer afternoon.

Stephen, our young tour guide, led us through the restored home, gardens, and slave quarters.  His tour was informative and historic as he told us about the home, the architecture, and the people who lived and worked the plantation. His soft Louisiana accent gave an added bit of atmosphere and authenticity.

The table was set for Sunday supper in the dining room and it looked as though the baby had just gotten up from a nap.


An engagement fan adorned the gallery wall.

The back of the house opens into the gardens. The 1840’s era slave quarters where Stephen, the tour guide, relayed the story of how the old west-African tales of Campair Lapin or Br’er Rabbit were first told.


Banana trees  and the dinner bell in the garden

If you have the time, continue your plantation country tour to other local plantations.  There’s plenty to see in New Orleans beyond Bourbon Street.

Trip Details:

Where we stayed: We stayed at the Wyndham La Belle Maison on Magazine Street. It is a beautifully restored historic building that was originally a printing press.


Where we ate: The Ruby Slipper is conveniently located across the street from the hotel.  Their breakfasts are wonderful.  The weekend special was a Crab Cake Benedict which was fresh and delicious and the pancakes are fluffy.  The Bloody Marys and Mimosas were a great start to a rainy Saturday.  It was also the morning of the Red Dress Run and a number of scarlet clad participants were getting an early start and a hearty breakfast.

What else we did:  We went to the World War II Museum, a fascinating place that makes you proud to be an American.  If you are hungry or thirsty after your tour through the museum, stop by The American Sector. They have a nice selection of draft beers and signature cocktails.  The fries were tasty and the sliders at the next table looked great.

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Gatlinburg Ghosts

Gatlinburg Cemetary - The last stop on the tourNestled in the Smoky Mountains above the blinking neon lights of the main street of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, I carefully walk up the narrow, dark, paved path to the White Oak Flats cemetery.  The distant sounds of traffic and the din of a sultry, summer Sunday night waft up from the street below. I take a deep breath, wipe the beads of sweat from my brow and  follow the guide single file up a narrow path between weather worn aged gravestones.

But wait. . . . . This is the last stop on the tour — let’s start at the beginning.

There’s lots of ghosts in these mountains.

Being a fan of ghost tours, I was delighted to see the flyer for “Ghost and Haunt Tours” at the Sevierville, Tennessee Welcome Center.  I called for reservations for Sunday night and gave my credit card number to hold our spots.  We arrived at the Smokey Mountain Resort in Gatlinburg and joined a group of about 25 people.  John was the tour guide that night.  He started off giving an overview of the tour and explaining how orbs may show up in digital pictures.  He instructed us to take a picture of the blank wall of the hotel.  Many of us saw orbs immediately but, as John pointed out, some are not visible until uploaded into the computer.

Tour group takes pictures of the Smokey Mountain Resort hoping for the appearance of orbs.

When enlarged, you can see orbs on the building and in the sky to the right

John also instructed us to take multiple pictures because sometimes the orbs will appear in one picture but then not in another.  I experienced this in the following pictures of the church where one picture showed a couple of orbs but then the second picture showed no orbs at all.

There are no orbs in this picture of the church but in the next picture there are 2 orbs

Enlarging the picture further shows the shape of the orbs

As we moved on, he told stories about the settling of Gatlinburg, the people who lived in the valley, the lumber industry and the ghosts that haunt these beautiful mountains.  One of the reasons that I enjoy ghost tours is that it is a great way to learn about the history of the location and not just what you read in the history books.

Orbs around the space needle.

Orbs in the trees near the hillside putt-putt course .

As we traveled through the back streets and dark alleys of Gatlinburg, John told us that sometimes the scariest thing about the tour is when they come across a bear scrounging for food behind the restaurants.  Thankfully, there were no bears on our tour though John did point out a bear-proof trash can that looked like it had been tampered with prior to our arrival.

The tour ends in the old White Oak Flats cemetery on the hill above the bustling tourist-filled streets of Gatlinburg.  Carefully make your way down the path where you can stop for an ice cream or a snack and a beer before walking the half mile back to your car.

On your next trip through the Smokey Mountains be sure to reserve an evening for the Ghost Tour, it’s well worth it and a great way for the family to spend an evening together.

Helpful Hints:

  • Wear comfortable walking shoes.  The tour is about 1 mile over uneven surfaces, dark alleys, and narrow streets.
  • Be sure to bring water especially if it is hot. You need to be well hydrated for the  walk. There’s a gift shop at the hotel for last-minute purchases.
  • Take advantage of the facilities at the hotel before starting on the tour.
  • Bring your camera. They guarantee paranormal activity with orbs in your photos.  On my tour, I was not disappointed.
  • If you are staying in Sevierville or Pigeon Forge, allow an hour for travel time to the Smokey Mountain Resort in Gatlinburg – the tour’s starting point.
  • Watch out for bears.
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Kissimmee Ghost Tour

Kissimmee Welcome Mural

Welcome to Kissimmee.

On a recent girls trip to Orlando, we decided to do something different.  As fans of ghost tours (Seattle’s Park Place Market, St. Augustine Dark of the Moon Tour, and Key West Ghost Tours),  my friends Sue and Lory and I decided to check out the Kissimmee Ghost tour.  This is also the first ghost tour where I had my first ghostly encounter.

We met our guide at the Welcome Station at the corner of Broadway & Dakin in Historic Downtown Kissimmee.  This little building used to be a Standard Oil Station and is the perfect place to start the tour.  There are flashlights, disposable cameras, and ghost hunting tools for sale. Be sure to make use of the facilities before you head out for your 90 minute walking ghost and history tour through the dark, haunted streets of Kissimmee.

Our guide for the evening was Ashley, a Florida native, who led our group of 3 Florida residents (Sue, Lory and I) and 5 Aussies (love their accents).  Our first stop was the train station, built in 1883 and it is still an operational Amtrak Station.  We sat on the benches while Ashley told stories and showed pictures of orbs taken by previous ghost tour guests.  According to, orbs are ghosts in the form of balls of light. They are thought to be the life force of those who have passed on.

As fate would have it, a train came by.  Ashley instructed us to take pictures as the train was moving by, which we did. Unfortunately, our only orbs were the golden glow of the street lamps.  As we continued on our journey, we crossed the tracks again near the power plant. This is where Sue had an uncontrollable urge to push Lory off the tracks.  Hmmmmmm.

Another interesting stop was the Monument of States which was begun soon after the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor.  It’s quite an interesting tale and worth a visit in the daylight to be able to check out the whole monument.

Another place worth a daytime visit is Susan’s Courtyard Cafe.  There are ghosts plus I hear the food is great.  Hopefully the next time we make the trip to Orlando, we’ll stop by for lunch and check out the inside of the Cafe.

As we continued down the street, we arrived at the Osceola County Historic Courthouse which is the oldest operating courthouse in the state of Florida.  Ashley told us stories of the hanging tree and a man who proclaimed his innocence until the day he was hanged.  He’s apparently still wandering around the grounds along with a woman in white that hangs out on the balcony along with a ghost of a judge.

One of the last stops on the tour is where I had my encounter.  We stopped at a funeral home playground (yes a playground on the funeral home property – Really – what a great idea).  I sat on one of the swings as Ashley was telling a story about a young polio victim named Isabelle who loved the playground.  In the middle of the story, I felt a cold chill that started at the base of my spine and went straight up to my hairline. It felt like icy fingers sliding up my back.  I didn’t realize I could move so fast as I jumped out of the swing.  The chill lingered and the swing kept moving long after I was out of it.  Okay, Isabelle, sorry I sat in your swing.

We enjoyed our ghost tour experience.  Ashley was friendly and knowledgeable about Florida history.  It’s definitely worth a trip off the regular Orlando beat of amusement parks and outlet malls.  Maybe you will meet Isabelle, the hanged man, the woman in white, or someone who didn’t quite make the train.

Helpful Hints:

  • Bring your camera and take lots of pictures.  You might catch some orbs in your photos
  • Wear comfortable walking shoes
  • Use the facilities at the Welcome Station
  • Bring a bottle of water — especially if the evening is warm
  • Use bug spray before heading out — there are mosquitoes.

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2011 Highlight – Las Vegas Fremont Street

A few blocks north of the dancing fountains, erupting volcanoes, and singing gondoliers of the Las Vegas strip is the Fremont Street Experience. Located in old downtown, the four westernmost blocks of Fremont Street is a covered pedestrian mall where every night the 90 foot vaulted canopy illuminates the sky with a free LED light show.

Reminiscent of a stroll along a carnival midway, street performers of all shapes, sizes, and talents stake out their bit of space to entertain the crowd and hope for a few bills in the tip jar.  On the corner, a lime-green spandex suited contortionist is closing himself inside a box while two show girls in red feathers and fishnet pose for pictures.  Captain Jack Sparrow swaggers while a svelte pirate wench, bustier overflowing, beckons to come closer.  The Blues Brothers, Rick James, various species of super heroes, villains, aliens, and, of course, Elvis work the crowd and pose for pictures.

At the top of the hour, the bands stop, the street musicians take a break, and the outside casino lights of “Glitter Gulch” are extinguished.  While the canopy above erupts with psychedelic images of the sixties, 220 speakers emit the opening notes of the Doors’ “Riders on the Storm.”  The crowd collectively raises its face to watch Jim Morrison emerge from a tie-dyed stream of color as his whiskey smooth voice slides into “People are Strange.” As the six minute show ends, the block party continues only to pause when another show begins as the next hour rolls by.  After the midnight show, the clang of slot machines from the open casino door beckons for one last bet as the lonely song of a saxophone signals the Fremont Street Experience is over – at least until tomorrow at dusk.


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2011 Highlight – Butchart Gardens Victoria BC Canada


One of my favorite trips of 2011 was to Victoria BC Canada and Butchart Gardens.

Leaving the rental car in Port Angeles, we took a 90 minute ferry to Victoria. We caught the mid-morning ferry to make it to Victoria in time for lunch and to catch the last tour to Butchart Gardens

We stayed at the Royal Scot Hotel within walking distance of the dock. I loved the polar bear in a kilt at the entrance greeting all who entered. The pleasant hotel staff contacted the tour company to arrange our pick up.  HINT:  Make sure you are outside of the lobby otherwise you won’t see or hear the bus arrive.

One cost covers the narrated tour and the entrance fee  to the gardens.  Once you arrive, enjoy the 55 acres of gardens on the 130 acre estate. In 2011, they celebrated the 100thanniversary of Jennie Butchart’s lifelong project to transform a barren limestone quarry into a botanical showcase.  It is designated as a National Historic Site of Canada.  Be sure to have an ice cream cone and visit the gift shop.



Good-bye Victoria.  I’m looking forward to another visit that will last longer than 24 hours.

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Disney Christmas – A Weekend of Firsts

When you live in Florida, it’s easy to fall into the Disney Doldrums.  The Disney Doldrums is when you go to Disney World Resorts and do the same things and go to the same places each time.  This year, we decided to be different and have a weekend of Firsts!   My husband is not a theme park fan, so I’m glad my daughter, Becky, loves the magic of Disney more than I do.  We had never been to Disney as Christmastime so this year, we decided it would be our first Disney Christmas.

Here is our list of Disney Christmas Firsts

Hollywood Studios Sci-Fi Drive In — The Sci-Fi Drive in brings back memories of watching B Movies such as “The Attack of the Fifty-Foot Woman.”   Sit in booths designed as vintage cars under a night-time sky, have a milk shake, burger and fries.  It was great and the burgers were really good.

A funny aside – my daughter and I are not tall people – bordering on vertically challenged.  We were sitting in the back of the restaurant in the very back seat of the very last car.  The hostess seated the tallest couple I’ve ever seen in front of us.  They must have played basketball or volleyball.  I wish I had a picture of Becky and me leaning out either side of the car so that we could see the movies.  REMINDER:  get a reservation or go for an early lunch about 11:00 to 11:15.

Hollywood Studies Backlot Tour – The Backlot Tour is a behind the scenes tour of movie special effects including pyrotechnics and water works. The tram ride was comfortable and it was really cool to see familiar movie props as well as how they do the special effects.

Grand Floridian Lobby – We took the boat launch from the Magic Kingdom to the Grand Floridian, Disney’s Victorian hotel and resort.  The hotel’s five-story lobby was decorated with a giant tree that went almost to the ceiling.

Just inside is a completely decorated life-size Gingerbread house.  A woman was giving an informative demonstration on how to create and decorate your own gingerbread house.  The dining room was in the process of being set up for high tea  – maybe attending high tea will be a first for another trip.  Be sure to check out the shops open on the upper levels.

Catch the monorail on the second level to go back to the Magic Kingdom or the Transportation Center to catch the monorail to Epcot.  As you leave the Grand Floridian look back, enjoy the view and imagine the luxury of a Victorian lifestyle in old Florida.

Epcot Candlelight Processional: The highlight of the weekend was the Epcot Christmas Candlelight Processional.  We purchased the dinner package that included  dinner, VIP seating for the processional and the fireworks.  We ate at the Coral Reef at the Living Seas exhibit.  We enjoyed the irony of eating seafood as the sharks, fish, and sea turtles swam by us enjoying the well prepared fare.

The package includes appetizer, entrée, dessert and non-alcoholic drink. The mussels appetizer was good as were the crab cakes.  We both had the lobster ravioli which had generous clumps of lobster and shrimp in a delicate cream sauce.  For dessert we split the vanilla crème brulee which was excellent and the Jack Daniels and Bailey’s mousse which was very good but heavier than I expected.  The service was good and the staff was friendly.  HINT:  Check the bill carefully – with a lot of specials, packages, and dining plans, it is easy for a busy server to get confused.  It’s not their fault – just be aware of what is in your particular package.

The night we attended, Geena Davis was the narrator.  The orchestra and choirs were well-arranged and directed.  All green, gold, red, and there was Geena in a figure forming white dress.  The sign language interpreter moved with the grace of an expressive dancer.  The beauty of the music and the classic Christmas story brought a tear or two.  It was extremely special to see Geena Davis narrate the Christmas story as I have a connection with her.  I was the team manager for the U.S. Archery Team for the 2000 Olympic Games.  Geena qualified to try out for the Olympic Games that year.  I met her during the 1999 Test Tournament in Sydney. She is a wonderful person and I was so happy to be there to see her narration of the Christmas Story.

The fireworks were a perfect ending to the perfect Disney Christmas at Epcot. The Epcot fireworks are my favorite presentation at DisneyWorld.  The VIP seating is definitely the way to go.

So much for our weekend of firsts at Disney.  We missed the Osbornes Christmas lights at Hollywood Studios.  We just didn’t have enough evening hours to hit everything.  That will be a first for another year.  On Sunday we took a rest from the parks and scheduled the holiday spa special at the hotel before heading home. What a great way to end the weekend of Disney Firsts!


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Sequim, WA – Lavender Fields

Take the Seattle-Bainbridge Island Ferry and head towards Port Angeles.  Take the first Sequim Exit and stop at the Chamber of Commerce for information.  Grab a map of the local lavender farms and start your tour.   For farm tours, concerts, arts and crafts, visit during July for the Lavender Farm Faire.

On this visit we went to the Purple Haze Lavender Farm, one of Sequims oldest and largest certified organic lavender farms.  They have U-pick lavender and a store full of soaps, lotions, and teas.  Stop at the refreshment stand for lavender lemonade or lavender ice cream (both were very good) or be really brave and try a lavendar margarita.  I also had a delicious lavender mocha at an espresso shop on the way into town.


Head west on 101, stop at the Olympic Winery for a taste of Lavender Wine and lavender cheese.  The winery is in a renovated cedar barn and is run by a group of ladies known as “The Olympic Women in Wine.”  Sample a tasting of their Working Girl Wines including Rose the Riverter.  A thoroughly enjoyable afternoon.


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