DESPICABLE ME AWAY LUGGAGE

I started my blog as what I thought was going to be a fun hobby and an escape from motherhood. It was going to be an extension of the person I was trying not to lose in the process of becoming a mother. It was going to be my creative outlet to keep one foot in the game of life as an individual and not just “Brooklyn and Charleigh’s Mom.” Well that was close to a year and a half ago and as you can tell by the past tenses thats what my blog was for a short while.

I’m not a blog reader. Never have been. Still not one. So when I started this I wasn’t really sure what I was doing or getting myself into. So I created a name and off we went. I was originally going to write about my career(s), yep two of them. Both different, yet connected by the Interweb. I run them both from my computer on my couch. Hence Modern Day Moguls. Well then to be more personable and relatable, not to mention in the moment, I shared tidbits of my life that made working from home amongst chaos both rewarding and challenging. Those tidbits were my house and love of decorating, my kids, our life in Nashville, my rare glimpses of fashion outside of my t-shirt and yoga pants that have never yogied. Well this is what people liked and responded well too so Modern Day Moguls began to morph into this Lifestyle Genre and teetering on Mommy Blog but trying so hard to not end up there. What exactly is a Lifestyle Blog? It is basically ‘Everything But the Kitchen Sink’. It can be everything and at the same time it can be nothing due to lack of direction.

Every course or class I have taken along the way has preached, niche down. It’s the only way to build an engaged audience and yet I just can’t seem to make it happen. So here we are. I get a lot of people that reach out wanting to know how to start blogging. My response is always just do it. I was amazed when I read in a group one day that someone had their 19th post published and they were almost ready to launch. Whhhhhat? Now my pre-mom type A, OCD self would have probably preferred that method. But this scatter brained, impulsive, unorganized self would have never began if that’s how one begins blogging. I’m actually envious of those with a clear message and hope to one day figure that out. But for now I’m just finding my way.

I typically let circumstances guide my direction. I feel like things are put in the way or in your life for a reason and you should listen. (It took me this long to get to the point). My hubs took on a different roll within his company and is on the road a bit more than before. I’ve been in sales my whole life, so I know sales has some pretty amazing perks. While we are sitting down to macaroni and hot dogs, he is typically wining and dining on steaks and craft beers. He stays in nice hotels. Drives nice cars on the road. Gets to go to cool events. Customers sure are needy, right? haha. He does not hate his job, clearly. Well typically those perks don’t trickle down too far, until recently. He has flown so much this year he qualified for a Southwest Companion Pass. What does that mean for me? Well that means, every time he flies somewhere my Despicable Me Minion AWAY luggage and I get to fly with him and all I have to do is pay taxes and fees. Say whaaaaat? Amazing! Most people don’t qualify until the end of the year so they give you the rest of the year in which you qualified as well as the whole following year.

As I mentioned earlier, I can work from anywhere. So what does that mean for MDM? Well looks like it’s going to morph again into a traveling lifestyle/mommy blog. Where will we go, I have no idea? But I plan on taking you all along with me. Time to take advantage of all hubs hard work and see the country. In celebration of this amazing feat, I set up a photog session with the amazing Bluegenes Photography because I know there is no other way hubs would have liked to celebrate. haha. We met out in East Nashville at the Cornelia Fort Airpark for an all things air photo shoot. And I am so happy with how they turned out. Now I just need Becka to come with me on all my travels.

Best Instagram Husband Ever

I literally feel like my whole life has been a lie. Being raised and living in the south for the majority of my life, people vacation in Florida. Every spring break and summer break for as far back as I can remember we have traveled south to the white sandy beaches of the Gulf and posted up in 95 degree weather with 150% humidity. It’s just what you did. Don’t get me wrong. It’s pretty. But it’s awesome miserably hot there during the summer. Well this year we thought we would mix things up and try something new. So we headed west and will forever always head west in the summer.

Tucked away in the hustle and bustle of LA is a hidden gem in Marina Del Rey.  It’s an amazing little corner of the world called Mother’s Beach. It has a roped off swimming and wading area, the waters are calm, there are lifeguards watching over the beach and waves can’t sneak in here. It’s basically a Mother’s dream, hence the name.  We picked this spot for a quick weekend getaway and could have been more perfect for our little family. Have I mentioned yet the weather? To die for.

Hubs had work in Venice and it’s a short drive in LA from LAX. Did you even know that was such a thing? But seriously we landed, got our car and got there without a single tear or “are we there yet?” Upon arriving at Jamaica Bay Inn we were greeted by valet who grabbed our bags as we checked in. The lobby was fabulously decorated, which is always my first inclination that we will love it.

Before heading upstairs we were asked if we wanted to make dinner reservations. Now after a half day of traveling with kids under 5 staying in to eat dinner sounded like a dream. It was water front and had a great menu that would make mom and dad happy as well as the littles, not to mention they had an unbelievable Happy Hour. So we ran upstairs and dropped off out bag, freshened up and headed on down to get this party started. But as we were leaving the most welcomed gift of all came. A bottle of wine and two glasses. So naturally we made girls lay down for a rest and hubs and I headed to our balcony to enjoy this treat. Check out that view!

This hotel was located directly on the sand and water but minutes to Abbott Kinney in Venice so we had the best of both worlds within reach.

Beachside Restaurant and Bar

During out stay, the inside portion of the restaurant was closed down. But honestly if you were staying here you wouldn’t want to eat inside. Not when the outside was so fabulous. And at night it got a little chilly for some, so they had blankets and heaters set up to use as well as tables with fire. It was gorgeous and they literally thought of everything (they even have organic and gluten free options). 

The Grounds

After dinner we decided to take a stroll around the resort. And of course we stopped to smell every flower! They have done such an amazing job with perfectly groomed vegetation and picturesque views from every corner of the resort.

 

Rooms

Early to bed early to rise doesnt apply on vacay but we opted to head back to the room to relax on the balcony and get ready for the next day. Traveling with kids can be a bit hectic. We have been traveling with them since they were little so I feel like practice makes perfect but of course at this age nothing actually prepares you. We always opt in for either a room with a separate living area or a balcony with a view. It took several trips of sitting in a bathroom with wine before we realized we needed a plan. My kids still fight going to bed and need darkness and quiet to make it happen. Now at home they both have their own rooms but always sleep together so 2 queen beds is all we need when we travel. We got the kids ready for bed, let them have some screen time and hubs and I headed to the balcony. (notice it’s still light out, but their little bodies were still in CST)

The rooms were plenty large for the 4 of us. Had a desk, chair, as well as a fridge, Keurig, and bottled water. Bathroom was spacious with a huge shower.  There was also ample closet space for all our luggage to go into and dressers for our clothes. When I go to a hotel, there is nothing worse than stuff all over the place. We felt right at home.

 

Room Service

Hubs had to head to work this morning so he got up bright and early and left us snoozing away. We woke up leisurely and one of my kids most favorite things to do on vacation is order room service. They know how to vacation! So we scoured the menu and got our order placed (could have left it on the door the night before but it came so quickly we didn’t even have to worry about hangry kids in the am).  Check out this room service menu.

Pool

Staying on the beach you would think having a pool wasn’t important. But regardless of what body of water is close by the pool is always our first choice. So after breakfast we headed down to go get in the pool. My favorite part was that you are sitting at the pool and their is a glass wall to see the beach. Not only do they have a pool but they also have a hot tub ( and both are handicapped/wheelchair accessible). They also leave pool towels in your room so you are set.

 

Beach

Though we are typically pool gals, I didn’t fly across the country to not put my feet in the sand. So once hubs got back from work we headed out to explore the beach and was so pleasantly surprised to see right next door sharing the parking lots was Pro Sup Shop.  We have rented paddle boards before in the ocean and its kinda tough with small kids. This bay was amazingly perfect to be able to take them out on the water. Fun fact outside of the “swimming area” there are tons of sting rays. They were so cool to see and gave me motivation to not fall in the water with one of the girls on the front. Ha.

 

 

In conclusion, two nights here wasn’t enough. The girls upon departure literally cried when we got into the car and have asked nearly every day since then when are we going back. The people were amazing and friendly (and I’m from the south, so we set the standard in friendlyness) the room was emaculate, the grounds were gorgeous, food was amazing, drinks were plentiful, and plenty to do you dont even have to leave.

 

Although this post is sponsored, all opinions are of course my own.

 
With two small kids at home, sometimes getting away for a much needed vacation with just my hubs can be a logistical nightmare so we tend to  try to find unique and fun places that we can go to for 2-3 nights.  Well Cuba just so happened to have fit that bill when we realized Southwest, hello frequent flier miles, flew there and it was a short flight.  My sister went down there and came back ranting and raving about how amazing it was so we booked that day.

Flight

We booked Southwest out of Nashville and then had a layover in Ft Lauderdale before landing in Havana. We were prompted through Southwest to purchase Visa online for $50, but we could have also just bought our Visa at the airport in Ft Lauderdale at the gate for same price. And obviously you also need your Passport. Now heads up, according to US Embassy in Cuba there are 12 reasons you as an American can travel to Cuba, and tourism isn’t one of them. My husband and I chose journalistic activity since we run this blog.   Also included in your plane ticket is your medical insurance while traveling in Cuba, but I would try your hardest not to utilize this service. Take advantage of the wifi on the plane because its the last chance of wifi until you are back on that plane headed home.

Arriving In Cuba

Once you arrive in Cuba your entrance Visa is taken along with a picture. Don’t smile, they don’t like that.  There are nurses stationed at baggage claim to make sure that you have filled out the simple medical form and have health insurance. Depending on where you stay and who your hosts are you should be able to arrange transportation from airport to the hotel. We had arranged transportation through our host but there was mix up so they never arrived. She had previously told us it would be $20-$25 CUC.  We were approached by a yellow cab and he charged us $40. But non the less we made it. Downtown Havana is around 35 minutes away from the airport.

Leaving Havana

When leaving, we had to have our exit visa and have our picture compared to the picture they took when we entered the country. Make sure you don’t lose your exit visa! They’ll take this from you when you leave. Southwest takes off from terminal 2 so make sure you get to the right terminal because they are not walking distance.

Money

The current exchange rate is around 1 USD = .93 CUC (6/12/17). We exchanged  USD to EUR in the states and then once we got to airport, cabby showed up where to exchange at the airport, we exchanged EUR to CUC. We also had USD and they exchanged that as well. You can have your host help you exchange with locals for a better rate as well.  Also, to avoid the exchange rate all together, you could withdraw Euros from your bank before your trip then change to CUC in Cuba. Euro is 1 to 1 with the CUC. (and right now 1 Euro = $1.12 so I would def recommend this 6/12/17)

You need to have all of your cash before you arrive because they do not take US credit/debit cards anywhere in Cuba. This was actually one of the biggest problems I had, well besides Wifi. I was constantly checking with hubs to make sure we had enough money. A credit-less society is terrifying to me.  Personally we brought $700 for 3 nights and left with not a CUC to our name. But we also spent the remaining in the duty free shop at the airport. I’ve also heard  $100 USD per person per day should be more than enough, especially if you’ve booked your accommodations ahead of time online on your card.
When you change money back in the Havana airport when leaving, I would just look for a US person in the exchange line and ask if they want to exchange with you on a 1:1. This is a good deal for both of you because they get the 1:1 rate and you avoid the 10% penalty they change when changing back. Or just buy all the rum and cigars you can carry.
Just an FYI and to keep your eyes open there are 2 currencies in Cuba. Locals use Cuban Pesos and vistors use CUC. This is really a lot less confusing than it seems. Just make sure someone doesn’t give you your change in pesos.
Tipping is not common, but most visitors tip a little. At some restaurants they indicate that 10% servicio is included.

Language

Almost everyone I met in Havana spoke a little English, so it’s very easy to get around without Spanish.

Getting Around Cuba

Before leaving make sure you download a map.  We chose the Galileo Pro app with Cuba Map because it came recommended by several people.  This enables you to see your location on the map while in airplane mode (which is how you will stay your whole trip). I would also recommend you go through and input any places you want to see as well as your hotel or Airbnb so you can always get home.  Its based off other peoples input so there are a lot of places listed already.
We ended up waking up early to walk around one morning and met up with a man and his son who drove an old American car. It was beautiful. They are parked outside the big hotels and offer tours. Instead we had him take us to beach, dinner, a tour, and then the airport. We liked them so we just asked them to take us everywhere we ended up wanting to go. It
We also took a Bici Taxi. Which is a bicyclist drawn carriage. We took one of these to dinner and then grabbed one on the way home and they charged two completely different rates. So ask before getting on how much it will cost.
 

WiFi

It doesn’t exist. Just kidding kinda. We waited in line for close to an hour for a wifi card. We paid 3 CUC for an hour and then walked down to one of the Internet cafes, El Floridita.  Unfortunately we were never able to log in on either of our phones. So no wifi for us.  Phone calls worked well and we didn’t have a problem calling out. It was expensive at around $3 a minute but totally worth it to hear my girls voices.

Accommodations

We booked our accommodations with Airbnb about a month before leaving. Depending on what you are looking for, I would recommend booking in Old Havana so you’re walking distance from most things. We were in the city center and could have walked everywhere on our list of places to see. Location was a big factor for me as well as I needed pretty and this Airbnb screamed French Provenical to me, these were the pictures that sold us online. Not to mention it was $55 a night.
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Yes those are two twin beds. But when its that hot and air conditioner isn’t like what we have here, we didn’t mind it.
The showers and toilets are really low pressure, and the  shower water was a little chilly. Another thing I wasn’t aware of when traveling there was that you can not flush toilet paper. Yes stop and think about that for a minute. Do not use the water for brushing teeth or drinking either.
Seeing we were only going to be gone a couple nights, no need to bring a lot of toiletries. But if you forget something its not easy to find.  Stock up on hand sanitizer and toilet paper bc soap and paper isn’t readily available when out and about.
This Airbnb was on the third floor which provided amazing scenery and we had a gorgeous patio that wrapped around the corner building having views in every direction. But the hike to get to the top floor was up a skinny stairwell that went in circles. So not good for small children or people that can climb stairs well.  There were 3 key locks to get into our room which was nice in terms of security. Our room also contained a small kitchenette which we never used but nice to have.

What we did while there

SANTA MARÍA DEL MAR BEACH

This was the closest beach to Old Havana at around 25 minutes. We didn’t want to waste a ton of time in the car driving since our trip was short. So we met our cabby friends one morning around 8am (the city is asleep still at this point) and they took us out there for 50cuc and waited on us until we were ready to come back. Now this beach is known for its beach parties. And when we got out there at 9am, it was a disaster. Trash as far as you can see. We found a clean spot, laid down our blanket and made the best of it. Soon there after a tractor came through picking up trash. Then by 10am they had laid down the beach chairs and umbrellas and you would have had no idea they mess that was there hours earlier.  So we grabbed a chair and umbrella for 2cuc each. Yes that isn’t a typo. And had a waiter bring us drinks and food for the rest of the day.  Now I forgot sunscreen assuming it would be easy to find. It wasn’t. Thankfully we had the umbrella. The water was gorgeous. Not a lot of waves and very clear. By noon it was packed and lively.

This came highly recommended from our cabby. Now come to find out these restaurants incentivize these drivers to bring tourist so was it the best place probably not but very fun.  Little pricey at 60cuc a person but that included 3 drinks, several course meal, and dinner show by the world renowned, Buena Vista Social Club. I am ashamed to admit I had never heard of them, but all the other guests came from all over the world to see them. So pretty big deal. We were sat for dinner around 8pm, needless to say we had a Cuban coffee after dinner to make it until the end.
O’Reily’s on Amagura – Great little hipster coffee shop in the middle of old Havana.
El Floridita – Hemmingway’s daiquiri bar – super touristy!  This is where the Daiquiri was INVENTED. This was the most expensive drink we had at 7CUC.
El Del Frente- 303 OReilly. Was my favorite and if we had found this place one day one we would have been there every night. Look for street address, go upstairs and then keep going to roof top for more cool vibes. Best mojito ever was served here.
A 2 hour Tour of the City
We hopped in our cabbies purple convertible and they drove us to all the different locations you would want to see in Cuba. We were allowed to get out and take pictures if we wanted to .

This was another restaurant that was suggested from our cabby.  He ranted and raved about how amazing it was and how when Beyonce ate there and they shut it down for her. It’s near the harbor and in a pretty community. The restaurant itself was very pretty and gardens were nice. The food was one of the priciest in Cuba we had at around $20 cuc. For the money I didn’t think food was all that great. But had a great atmosphere.

People

This was my most favorite part of the whole trip.  Getting to talk to them and see what their lives were like. We spent a lot of time walking up and down the streets and watching people.  What I noticed most was the family unit. Lots of moms, dads, and children together walking around. Also lots of school kids in their matching outfits.  So funny even they stare at their phones endlessly. Its a global epidemic. Here are some pictures of the people doing their thing.

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So would I go back? Probably not. Traveling is one of those life experiences that teaches you so much about yourself.  And from this trip I have learned Im not big into traveling to 3rd world countries for vacation.  It was hot too. Man was it hot. And there was no way to cool off except at the beach. Probably should have done that more than one day.  I am so very excited I was able to see it but we could have probably done everything we wanted to do in 2 nights. in fact we tried to leave early but due to our failed wifi it didn’t happen. But on our last night we found my favorite restaurant.

Things to Remember

Bring toilet paper. But know you can’t flush it. Its hot and AC is not popular there. Don’t drink the water. Wear comfortable shoes. If you don’t like seeing stray dogs everywhere, stay home. Food wasn’t excellent but it sure was cheap.  The city is asleep until 10am at the earliest. Coffees are tiny. Mojitos are plentiful. Half your money will go to people needing it more than you. They want your clothes too when you are leaving.  Buy the Lonely Planet and download a Map.  Time literally stops here. Longest days ever. Enjoy yourself, many people haven’t been able to be in your position in a long time.

9-10-11 is a date we will never forget (just in case we do, hubs got it tattooed on his ribs). We got married and unlike most, we were planning on taking a Honeymoon after the holidays when life slowed down. Well life is funny and by that time we were pregnant. No one wants to take a Honeymoon pregnant so we pushed it back, 5 years to be exact.

Now that the chances of getting pregnant are in single digits we started looking for our Honeymoon/5 Year Anniversary trip. A friend posted about Excellence El Carmen and I was instantly sold. I called up her travel agent Carlie Finch with 2 Travel Anywhere and booked our trip. We booked several months before this resort even opened and based our decision off photos we hoped would resemble once built. But I loved the modern feel of it. I love the fact that it would be brand spanking new.

The resort opened on Sept 1st and we checked in on Sept 6th. Upon arrival we were given two glasses of Champs. Sold. You hand me champagne and you just made a friend for life. Check in was totally painless. They took our bags while we check in and had someone point us in the right direction of our room, show us the bars and restaurants on the way and bags were brought shortly after we arrived.

(Just a heads up, we didn’t upgrade to Excellence Club Level. This is our first trip with them and it was never asked if we wanted it so we had no idea it existed until someone mentioned Manga Club and the Excellence Club) So keep that in mind.

Lobby Pictures

 

Upon arrival to our room we were pleasantly surprised to see they were also celebrating our Anniversary. Champagne over ice, rose petals on bed, and balloons I never took a picture of. Such a thoughtful touch!Not to mention the changed out those for my birthday and cake I never told them I had.

Happy Anni from Excellence El Carmen

Rooms

Now walking into this room I was blown away. We booked a Junior Swim Up Suite. I’ve lived in lofts smaller than this. Not to mention our closet here at Excellence was larger than the closet in our first home we built. Amazing! Here are the features from their website but I can vouch for each one. It’s there! We were in room 6006. So it was close to the main buildings and on B side. We received Sun in AM and shade in afternoon. Noise levels were minimum. We were able to fall asleep to reggae band one night, but that was our own fault for going to bed too early. Foot traffic was also very low even with being in the middle of everything, which doesn’t surprise those that know me, but thats where I like to be. So a perfect room.

Room Features

  • Spacious 950 sq ft suites (Interior space + Terrace)
  • L-Shaped sofa
  • Private terrace with comfortable lounge furniture and 2 sun beds.
  • Swan-Neck Spa Jet
  • Oversize Jacuzzi for two (or more it was huge)
  • Full bathrooms including a rain shower for two, double vanities equipped with hair dryer, scale, make-up desk, VIP toiletries and wireless phone
  • Bathrobe & slippers for use during your stay
  • Interactive media 46” flat-screen TV
  • Air conditioning with in-room climate control
  • Direct-dial telephone
  • Free wireless Internet (it was spotty for me on Verizon)
  • Radio / alarm clock
  • Electronic in-room safe (laptop size)
  • Espresso machine
  • Stocked mini bar with beer, juices, soft drinks, water and snacks
  • In-room premium liquor & wine bottle selection
  • 24-hour room service
  • Service box for room service
  • Iron and ironing board
  • Pillow menu
  • Turn-down service and hotel stationery
  • Concierge service from 7am through 11pm.
  • Free calls to USA & CAN

Junior Swim Up Suite

Eats

Now lets talk food. My expectations coming to an all inclusive is that I stay fed and stay hydrated. And my pants that are unable to button will tell you this was def the case here. Meals were smaller as to be expected. USA is all about the supersize and most places aren’t. So we planned ahead and ordered Appetizers, entrees (sometimes 2/each) and desserts. And we never went hungry. Keep in mind we were there in their first week of opening and there is a language barrier. Sometimes our food wasn’t right. Not a big deal. Send it back and get another. They are working out the kinks and we were there to help them.  The nice thing about this resort is that they don’t do reservations at the restaurants. The thought of going on vacation and having to keep a schedule would keep me at home! That aside, one restaurant requires reservations and thats Spice. It’s a hibachi style grill. If I were to offer one piece of advice it would be that you make reservations for this place night one. You get seated at a table with 10-12 people and you might end up making some pretty cool friends to hang with.

My other favorite restaurant is Chez Isabelle . French food isn’t necessarily my favorite but the overall ambiance of this restaurant had me swooning. I fell in love with it over the internet (btw, its a little different in real life but still gorgeous). Plus it has an amazing wine selection and floor to ceiling wine cellar that was beautiful. The Filet was amazing too! Last but not least go to The Grill. Everyone raved about the Rodizio. For lunch most days we did Las Olas. The views were amazing, they had great bands, and it was still within reach of the swim up bar and we didn’t get away from there often. Also the room service was on point. We ordered everyday around 5pm to hold us over until a late dinner. We are used to eating dinner early and going to bed early so we really had to rally to stay up later! It came within the 30 mins they quoted us every time and was always correct.

Entertainment

So I didn’t read through the itinerary when booking and was pleasantly surprised at the activities they had planned through out the day and into the evening. At turndown they leave a little magazine on your pillow with the list of activities for the next day. It was awesome. We played bingo, took swim aerobics and yoga on paddle boards. Saw shows at night (don’t miss Michael Jackson. It’s life changing). There were bands playing throughout the day and into the evening. And we actually could have done so much more but we came for the sun and swim up bar. Mission accomplished. We also rallied hard one night to make it to the disco. It didn’t open until 11p. But we made it. And we boogied for a few songs, before calling it quits and going to bed.

So Final Thoughts

Would you go back? Hell yes and I would go back next week. Meaning the newness and the small hiccups weren’t a big enough deal to keep me from coming back even to a brand new resort. If you stopped to listen to people there was a lot of people complaining and typically about mundane things. I don’t go to a brand new restaurant expecting them to have it together completely. It takes time for stuff like this to work smoothly. The service level was high. They wanted you to have an amazing time and they were going to make sure it happened, even if food came out wrong. As long as they were made aware they would fix it.

Would I recommend you go? Well that depends. Are you the type of person that finds faults or negatives easily and then dwells on them and lets them ruin your day? You can answer in your head, but be truthful with yourself. If you are like this, give it a year. Hell in 3-6 months it will be so different. But I would recommend you not go yet.  Now are you the type of person that has grace and the ability to look past minor things. Champs makes this easier too by the way. Cheers.  Then by all means yes! book it now. While you are at it use 2 Travel Anywhere they were great and made sure we had all of our ducks in a row, plus scheduled our transportation to and from and checked in with us while we were away.

 

Beaches

I’m a gulf type of gal, sand is white and pristine not to mention soft. Well this is softer. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. These are unedited. Raw pics!

Random Pics from Resort

I’ve never seen so many people cleaning and caring for a resort in my life. It was spotless from the floors to the ceilings. And then done again the next morning. Now when we were there I believe the resort was a little less than half occupied (we heard no construction noises either) so there appeared to be more employees than guests. Not a bad thing when just opening.

 

If you have been, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Or if you have ever been to one of their other properties, tell me about them.

PS: Just because its all inclusive doesn’t mean you don’t need to bring tips. These people work so incredibly hard and throwing some extra cash in their direction will make your trip even more amazing.