The Best Excursions on a Cruise to Alaska

A cruise to Alaska is at the top of a lot of people's bucket lists. And for good reason! It's not called the Last Frontier for nothing! Alaska beckons adventurers with its breathtaking landscapes, pristine wilderness, and abundant wildlife. One of the best ways to explore this rugged beauty is by embarking on a cruise to Alaska. There's something magical about sailing through icy fjords, witnessing towering glaciers, and encountering majestic marine life all from the comfort of your cruise ship and without ever leaving the United States! If Alaska is on your list, I'm here to help you dive into the must-visit ports of call: Juneau, Ketchikan, Icy Strait Point, and Sitka. 



10 of the Hardest Things About Becoming an Empty Nester

When you have a house full of young kids constantly vying for your attention, it feels like you'll never have a moment to yourself ever again. You are never alone in your own home. You're always keeping track of multiple schedules and don't get me started on the never-ending grocery runs and last-minute errands you are making because someone just has to have something {poster board at 10 pm anyone?}. But then it all sneaks up on you. The house is empty. The kids are gone, and you are sitting in that empty nest you never thought would clear out. We had kids young, so many of our peers still have kids at home and look at our empty nest with longing. I'm not sure I could tell you how many times I've been asked what it's like or how we are doing as empty nesters. I often can't put it into words if I'm honest. Usually, I just say it's quiet. Sometimes I say that the house stays clean a lot longer. But really, if I had a captive audience that really wanted to know, these are the 10 hardest things I've found about becoming an empty nester.

10 of the hardest things about becoming an empty nester


Planning a Hot Air Balloon Safari in the Serengeti: Everything You Need to Know

Going on safari was always a dream of mine! I had the chance to go on one for the first time in the Masai Mara after a vision trip with an NGO. It was quick! Just three short days and two nights. We took full advantage of our time on safari, and when we woke up for an early morning sunrise game drive, I noticed a sky full of hot air balloons departing. It was magical! I knew because of our limited schedule that we wouldn't have time for a hot air balloon safari then, so I dreamed of one day returning and knew that when I did, I'd make sure it was a priority. It took me ten years to get back on Safari, but when we did, I made sure that we made the time to plan a hot air balloon safari in the Serengeti. Here is everything you need to know if this experience is on your bucket list too!


Planning a Hot Air Balloon Safari in the Serengeti


hot air balloon safari in the Serengeti

The Serengeti has vast plains that are teeming with wildlife. It's a mesmerizing destination that will captivate the heart of any adventure seeker and nature enthusiast! Traditional safaris are a popular choice for exploring this iconic region, but a hot-air balloon safari provides a totally new perspective! Waking up before sunrise and watching the sky light up while silently drifting over the beautiful Serengeti landscape is something you'll never forget. 


Having a birds-eye view, quite literally, while watching the wildlife below, is something you are going to want to add to the bucket list! I promise you, it will not disappoint! Here's everything you need to know to plan and prepare for a hot air balloon safari in the Serengeti!


Choosing the Right Time for a Hot Air Balloon Safari


The Serengeti has distinct seasons. There is a dry season from June to October. The dry season actually draws animals out and makes it easier to view wildlife because there is less hiding. Most people consider this the best time to go on safari and view animals. Some people want to view the Great Migration. If this is on your bucket list, it's best to try to plan for January to March when the wildebeest and zebras calve in the southern Serengeti. 



We actually went in November, which is considered the short rainy season. What we found about going in the rainy season is that there was a cloud cover that took away the bright sunrises and sunsets you often see that are quintessential Africa. We rarely had rain, but when we did it was short. Everything in the area was very green. All this green does mean that the animals have everything that they need and can often scatter further away from the main paths requiring a little more effort to actually see animals. But that doesn't mean that there was a shortage of animal sightings!


We also found that going in the rainy season means that it is the low season. Fewer people are visiting {yeah!}, but that also means that there are fewer hot air balloon opportunities. In fact, the company that we selected goes from having a dozen hot air balloons launching daily to only having two or three. That also means that they only have one launch location as opposed to the two that they normally have. Because of this, it required a morning wake-up call at 2:30 am, a departure at 3, and a bumpy two-hour drive before we made it to launch. Our tour operator didn't notice this {or thought maybe we wouldn't care?}. It's one thing I wish we had done differently staying closer to the main areas so we didn't have as long of a drive to get to the launch site. But all things considered, it ended up working out just fine, just meant an early morning and more driving.


hot air balloon safari in africa

Hot Air Balloon Cancelations


Safety is everyone's number one concern. As the mom of a pilot, I fully understand how much havoc weather can wreak on your plans. We spoke with some fellow passengers, who were scheduled for a hot air balloon safari the day prior and it was canceled due to strong winds. They still had to wake up early, they still had to arrive at the launch site and they still had to wait to see if they could launch. They were placed on the next day's schedule, but if you have a jam-packed agenda, weather and cancellations may make rescheduling difficult. If your flight is canceled because of the weather, make sure that you will be fully refunded or are offered priority rescheduling.


Selecting a Hot Air Balloon Operator


We left this in the hands of our tour operator. Planning a trip to Africa was the first time we felt like we really couldn't adequately plan our own trip. There were far too many moving parts. To make a successful trip, you are going to want to find a tour operator that you trust. They will know the reputable operators to use. We actually booked through Miracle Experience and I'd highly recommend them. 


Book Your Hot Air Balloon Experience in Advance


Hot air balloon safaris have hit an all-time peak. They are a very popular attraction, especially in the Serengeti and availability can be limited, especially during peak season. To secure your spot and avoid any disappointment, you should book your safari as far in advance as possible. 


Preparing for a Hot Air Balloon Safari


Once your safari is booked, there likely won't be much to think about until the day before your trip. You're guide will likely discuss a meeting point and plan a pickup time. Our hot air balloon guide actually stayed at our resort the night before. We met him the evening prior, signed all of our release forms and he answered any and all of our questions. 


Most operators provide transportation from lodges and camps to the launch site. They will arrange pick-up times with your driver guide once you are finished with your balloon safari. 


Hot air balloon safaris typically only take place early in the morning when the winds are calm and the wildlife is most active. Be prepared for an early morning wake-up call! I was surprised that once we were in the air, I wasn't cold at all, but I did dress warmly because it can get chilly in the early morning hours as you wait for launch. You will want to wear comfortable clothing and it's required to wear closed-toe shoes. If you have long hair, you will be asked to tie it back. If you are bald {like my husband}, you might be more comfortable with a hat, otherwise, the heat from the burner might make your head hot! You will also want to pack a good zoom lens for your camera and bring binoculars if you have them.



Experiencing a Hot Air Balloon Safari


Once you arrive at the launch site, your driver will point you in the direction of the bathrooms. These are the nicest outdoor toilets I've ever used in my life! They also have a bar with warm drinks. Since our drive was so long, we arrived right as they were gathering all the guests to head to their respective hot air balloons for launch instruction. 


You'll be matched with a pilot and that pilot will gather the people in his balloon for a safety briefing. They take this safety briefing very seriously and require all eyes on them and phones down and away. 


The Serengeti Start


The one thing that is unique to a hot air balloon ride in the Serengeti is what they call a Serengeti start. They actually start the balloon on its side and the passengers climb in on their backs in a seated position with your arms grabbing a safety bar. As the balloon inflates, a truck pulls the basket upright and then the balloon launches. Once the balloon is in the air, you can stand up in the basket. There are four basket compartments and four people can fit in each compartment for a total of 16 on your flight plus the pilot. 


Once You're in the Air


I think the one thing that surprised us about our ride in the hot air balloon was that it was so smooth. I occasionally get motion sickness and it wasn't an issue. It was the smoothest ride I've ever been on!


Your pilot will point out animals as you fly, but the route is always changing since you fly with the winds. The balloon often soared fairly low {often just above the tree tops} and if you were able to spot an animal group with enough foresight, the pilot attempted to steer closer and lower to get a better view. But if you know anything about steering a hot air balloon, you'll know that it can be a challenge since you are at the mercy of the winds!


The perspective is so different from the air and provides a completely unique experience! We flew over a tree with some eagles nesting at the top. We could watch the eagles watch us as we flew by! We saw a family of elephants and while the baby was curious, the mama wasn't quite so keen on us getting in her air space! The giraffes also ran quickly at the sound of the burner. On safari, the animals are so used to the trucks they hardly notice you, but in the hot air balloon, they just aren't as comfortable.


Most balloon experiences last about an hour, sometimes a little bit more if your pilot is looking for an adequate landing spot. Your balloon is followed by a chase crew that also has a radio. They will meet you on the ground. The pilot will explain their landing procedure and you may bump and jump just a bit on landing but you are seated in the same position that you launched from, so it was really quite smooth. 


Celebrating with Champagne


There's a long history of champagne and hot air balloons. The pilot went into a whole thing about how the inventor of the hot air balloon used to carry champagne as a way to make peace with the farmer's fields he would land in. Champagne continues to be a hot air ballooning tradition and on most hot air balloon safaris a traditional champagne breakfast or toast will await you upon landing. 


After we landed our balloon company actually transported us to a different location for a full breakfast experience. There was a lavish spread in the bush with an amazing breakfast. It was an incredible way to start the day! 

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is a hot air balloon safari worth the price

A sunrise hot air balloon safari over the Serengeti was just as magical as I expected it to be. I'm sure I'll never do anything like it again! It's definitely one to add to your travel bucket list.


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Everything You Need to Know to Prepare for a Gorilla Trekking Bucket List Trip in Africa

Gorilla trekking is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that allows you to observe and interact with endangered mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. As an animal lover, who likes nothing more than seeing animals in the wild, this was an item on the bucket list I couldn't wait to experience. I had traveled to Africa twice before and in preparation for my third trip, I knew I wanted to add gorilla trekking to my experience. I was not disappointed! Travelers can take part in the unique adventure in three different African countries: Uganda, Rwanda, and Congo. Each destination offers its own set of attractions and challenges, and I'll do my best to help educate you so that you can choose the one that works best with your preferences and travel goals. I'll also share a few things I wish I had known and some things that really worked well for us on our gorilla trekking experience. If you've got gorilla trekking on your bucket list too, or if you've never even considered it, keep reading!


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