I’m completely exhausted from the holidays (in the best way possible!), but still wanted to put together a quick 2019 travel in review post. When a year comes to an end, I can get really sentimental — even more so at the end of a decade! It’s been an interesting journey, so it’s with a smile that I look back on the best places we visited this year.
Our travels for 2019 began with a four-day trip to Vancouver, British Columbia. It was hard to keep the tears from falling when we touched down in Canada. It’s always so beautiful to be home. Josh really loves it there, so it’s a mystery as to why we haven’t relocated, but that’s a discussion for another day.
We had such a spectacular stay at the Fairmont Pacific Rim. We even borrowed e-bikes to zip around Stanley Park, Gastown, and Chinatown. The food we ate while there was amazing, and we left with zero regrets!
The highlight of the trip, of course, was taking a helicopter up into the Tantalus Range and climbing an actual mountain, in the snow! We’d never experienced anything like that before and it was amazing. A truly once-in-a-lifetime moment for us!
For decades, Osaka has felt like my home away from home. In some ways, it even feels like where I truly belong. My younger daughter, Hayley, has been obsessed with Japan for a long time, so it was amazing to take her there for her 16th birthday.
We ate our way through Osaka, also known as the “Kitchen of Japan.” From convenience stores to McDonald’s to steamed buns at Universal Studios, we had a blast. Riding the ferris wheel in Dotonbori eluded us this time, but we’ll (hopefully) get another chance in 2020.
Once the capital of Japan, Kyoto is an easy day trip from Osaka. If you pick the right trains, you could get there in half an hour. We made the Fushimi-Inari shrine our first stop and I’m so glad we did. Arriving there early, we often found ourselves walking through the groves alone for long, peaceful stretches.
Somehow, we accidentally crashed a wedding, got lost, and sought refuge inside a glorious Coco Ichibanya where we greedily ate curry till the rain subsided. Our favorite moment, though, was stepping inside the Sanjusangendo Hall. Built in 1164, the Buddhist temple was so magnificent that it left us in awe. Can’t wait to go back!
Neither of us was sure of what to expect from Hiroshima. We’d been itching to ride the Hello Kitty Shinkansen bullet train, which goes to the popular tourist spot. After nearly three hours, we arrived and were immediately stunned by the beautiful, bustling city. This was where the first atomic bomb had been dropped?!
You’ll find remnants and memorials that serve as reminders of the past, but it’s very clear that the people of Hiroshima are focused on the future. A better, more peaceful future for all of us. I’ve rarely been so moved, and we really had to fight to maintain our composure a few times. That being said, Hayley and I agreed that we could see ourselves living there someday.
Universal Studios Japan
Here, at The Anxious Travelers, we are theme park fanatics and we do have our favorites. Going to Osaka, we knew we had to visit Universal Studios Japan. Boy did our first theme park outside of North America surpass our expectations! WOW! We love all of the Universal Studios locations, but this one is outstanding.
Ride operations were smooth, the food was fantastic, and the proximity to the hotels was ridiculous. We walked from our room at the Universal Port Hotel through the park’s front gate in six minutes!!!
A word of caution — if you’re plus size and looking forward to getting on the Hollywood Dream roller coaster, prepare for the fact that you might not get on. I wear a women’s size L and barely made the seat requirement!
We rode the Shinkansen from Osaka to Tokyo (watching the finale of Game of Thrones along the way!). We were immediately stunned by how much bigger everything was. After all these years, I’d never made it to Tokyo, so it was fun to experience it with my baby girl on her actual birthday. Unfortunately, we got separated for the scariest 47 minutes of my life — but let’s not talk about that today…
We made it across The Scramble, the world’s busiest intersection in Shibuya. Then, we had incredible Indian food with naan bread as big as our heads. We checked out Harajuku and the famous Takeshita street before resting our heads at The Knot in Shinjuku. Honestly, we could have slept for days!
There was no time to slumber in Tokyo, though, because we had to get up early to visit Fuji-Q Highland! Located at the base of Mt. Fuji, the amusement park is the home of Do-dodonpa, the fast-accelerating launch coaster, and Takabisha, featuring the steepest drop in the world (121 degrees).
Having conquered Cannibal at Lagoon, the tallest, steepest roller coaster, we worked hard to mentally prepare for Fuji-Q Highland. Considering how terrified we were of staying in hotels or getting on rides just 18 months ago, it was a huge accomplishment. Overcoming our fears and working through our OCD symptoms made this moment a major milestone for both of us. Here’s to slaying dragons!
The Mohicans Treehouses and Cabins
For a complete change of pace, Josh and I traveled to Ohio where we stayed in a treehouse! The Mohicans is located in Loudonville, about 90 minutes northeast of Columbus. Neither of us had ever stayed anywhere like it, and it was an amazing experience.
Our treehouse was two stories and even had a two-person swing hanging beneath it. There was no cell service or WiFi, so we really enjoyed unplugging and spending time together. By the time we drove away, we felt rested and ready for more adventure!
For more than 30 years, I’d been trying to get to Cedar Point. For a few years, my grandmother lived in Detroit and I’d spend my whole summer there. We’d see the ads for Cedar Point and made plans with friends to get there, but something always stopped us.
Having lost my grandmother last year, I’ve been trying to live my life more fully. When I finally walked through the turnstile at Cedar Point, it felt incredible! Then I remembered I had to get on some scary rides like Top Thrill Dragster (haha!). We stayed at the nearby Cedar Point Express, which was so close and convenient. The day was absolutely perfect and we conquered more fears!
We only stayed the night in Niagara Falls, but were both very surprised by what we found. It’s almost like a much smaller Las Vegas! Staying on the Canadian side meant we could enjoy all the Tim Hortons, but were surprised by the American chain restaurants that you won’t find in Montreal or Vancouver.
We’ve agreed that we’ll have to make our way back there sometime, especially to ride the ferris wheel (what is it with me and ferris wheels this year?). Of course, the falls themselves are breathtaking!
It had been years since I’d been to Toronto. Growing up in Canada, it was always my least favorite city. Now, after eight years in the States, I went back as an adult and loved it! We stayed at The Ritz-Carlton Toronto which was right in the heart of downtown.
As luck would have it, we happened to be there on the night that the Toronto Raptors became the first Canadian team to win an NBA Championship. We ran down from our hotel room and joined the crowds of celebrating fans. What an experience!
Once we heard that Canada’s Wonderland was opening the world’s largest, fastest, tallest dive coaster (these feature a 90-degree drop), we knew we had to see it for ourselves. From the ground, it was easy to see that the Yukon Striker was an absolute beast.
There are only four dive coasters in North America and we’d already ridden Griffon at Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Valravn at Cedar Point. We both had to agree that the mighty Yukon Striker was the best of them all. What a ride!
Universal Orlando Resort
As HUGE fans of Universal Orlando Resort, it was very exciting to take Caleb on his first adventure to the parks. It was definitely on of our favorite 2019 travel highlights! We stayed at the new Surfside Inn & Suites, a fantastic property for families. Of course, we spent our first night eating everything at Universal CityWalk!
Caleb really enjoyed the rides, he loved the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and he rocked Volcano Bay. All in all, it was everything you’d hope a family vacation could be. We got pretty lucky!
Halloween Horror Nights
While we were at Universal Orlando Resort, we did an R.I.P. Tour at Halloween Horror Nights. Yes, we had Caleb with us and we would never have tried that with any other kid. Of our six children, only he (and Hayley) would be fascinated by haunted houses and zombies.
Initially, we got a few stares with him in a stroller, but after some scareactors tried to spook him, it was clear that he is no ordinary four year old. He’d laugh in their faces or try to scare them back. Mostly, he wanted treats and a Jurassic Park jeep from the gift shop, so it worked out well. We all had an amazing time!
Walt Disney World Resort
We were in Orlando, so of course we had to take Caleb to Disney World for the first time. We even brought some of Granny’s ashes with us so she could be with him on Pirates of the Caribbean just like she was with me when I was little.
Overall, he enjoyed Disney, but he kept wanting to go back to Universal. We think the combination of the heat (we struggled to find shaded areas) and the long lines (we had Express Passes at Universal – Disney doesn’t offer them) frustrated him. The ride on Test Track at Epcot made it worth it, though!
Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge
As a household of Star Wars fans, we felt pretty lucky to get to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge for the Grand Opening. We were completely amazed by how much effort Disney put into creating a realistic and captivating world for fans.
The Smuggler’s Run attraction inside the Millennium Falcon was incredible. We all had a really good time. The food, though, is what blew our minds. I could eat a Ronto Wrap every single day for the rest of my life!
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
I’d never planned on visiting Jackson Hole. Despite hearing great things, it just wasn’t on my radar. When the opportunity presented itself, I agreed reluctantly. My grandmother had lived in Wyoming, so it was a chance for me to scatter some of her ashes, if nothing else.
I’ve seen some beautiful places in my life, but the Grand Tetons took my breath away. The natural landscapes, the laid back atmosphere, the surprisingly diverse restaurants… let’s just say we’re planning to go back as a family in 2020!
Silvies Valley Ranch
In eastern Oregon, you’ll find the sprawling Silvies Valley Ranch. We’ll have to write a post about our experiences soon, but what we can say is that it’s absolutely gorgeous. We stayed in a lovely cabin on the waterfront, complete with a private outdoor jacuzzi tub! The accommodations are luxurious, the on-site spa is fabulous, and there’s no shortage of things to do.
We even played a round of golf with a goat caddy! We’ll be honest and say that we didn’t love the food, and several other groups we met felt the same way. The service, however, is incredible and the drinks are fantastic. If you stay in a cabin (which includes a full kitchen), just bring some groceries and snacks in case you need them.
The annual SATW convention was held in El Paso this year. Aside from some short layovers, I’d never been to Texas. It was exciting, but I also didn’t know what to expect! Registration for the event opened up soon after the tragic mass shooting at an El Paso Walmart, which made many in the travel industry even more eager to visit.
One of the safest cities in the United States, it’s horrible that an outsider drove hours to target the border town. It created a reputation that the locals did not deserve. It was amazing to spend time with these resilient people, and it reminded me very much of Hiroshima in that way. Fear and violence can happen at any moment, but we get to choose whether it defines us.
Along with the beautiful surroundings, the food in El Paso was out of this world. I had four Frito Pies from Anson 11 in five days. On my last day, I stopped at a place called Delight and was moaning so loudly over the hummus, potato soup, and fries that the server had to make sure I was okay. I’ll definitely be going back!
There are a lot of unfortunate things going on down in Mexico right now. Some of the SATW members chose to skip the excursion into Chihuahua, citing the recent homicides and gang crimes. After mulling it over, I decided to go and see for myself. We had police escorts, and for the most part, I felt pretty safe.
We went to the Samalayuca Sand Dunes, but due to delays at the border, we didn’t arrive until just before sunset. I’m sure it would have been incredible to see it during the day, too. Our excursion included a banquet-style dinner in a tent in the Mexican desert, and despite my germaphobia, it was a great time!
New York City
Our last trip of the year was to New York City. It was very short, but we managed to pack in some major sightseeing (or sightdoing, as one of my friends says!). We stayed at the Hyatt House in Chelsea (review coming soon!), which was close to the Empire State Building. Neither of us had any idea how scared of heights we were until we were out on the observation deck. Nope!
We ate so much good food, ran around Times Square, checked out the new Vessel, and paid our respects at the 9-11 Memorial. We really need to get a post up about our trip to NYC, but the holiday season ended up being really crazy. We’ll get there.
Looking back on our 2019 travel experiences, this was a busy but amazing year for us. We’re really looking forward to what’s to come in 2020. Happy New Year!