Travel Agent’s Tips on Visiting Disney Restaurants With Food Allergies

For travel agent Lizzie Reynolds, Disney is magical. And not just because of Cinderella’s castle or adrenaline-inducing Space Mountain. Rather, for the chefs and their eagerness to create dishes for all visitors, including those with food allergies.

An image of Lizzie Reynolds at Disney.

Lizzie Reynolds at Disney.

Pixie Lizzie: Magical Food Allergy Travel Agent

Over a decade ago, Lizzie Reynolds made her first trip to Disney World on a family vacation with her husband and her 4-year-old daughter.

Reynold’s daughter has severe food allergies to dairy and nuts, and as a result, Reynolds told Insider she found it difficult to plan vacations in the past due to struggles finding restaurants that had dairy-free and nut-free menus. 

Reynolds said a friend urged her family to go to Disney World. Initially, Reynolds “didn’t want to buy into the whole Disney thing,” and essentially didn’t understand the hype around the theme parks.

Then, she took her friend’s advice, planned a trip, and experienced Disney’s magic firsthand.

Reynolds said chefs at Disney’s restaurants were not only willing but excited to create her daughter personalized, allergy-free meals. Meanwhile, every quick-service stand had information on the food it served, and her daughter was able to eat snacks and meals carefree for the first time.

As a mom, Reynolds didn’t have to plan, cook, or pack meals for the trip. “I cried when we were coming home because it was my first real vacation from the kitchen,” she said. 

Reynolds realized that other travelers with food allergies should know how enjoyable it is to vacation at Disney, so, she launched her own travel agency, Pixie Lizzie, eight years ago. Her team caters to all travelers both with and without food allergies, but Reynolds and a couple of select agents work specifically with clients who have food allergies. Reynolds also added that although her team books a majority of Disney trips, Pixie Lizzie is not directly affiliated with Disney. 

Today, Reynolds has visited Disney World and Disneyland dozens of times and helps plan trips for hundreds of travelers with allergies. 

No matter the allergy — whether it’s soy, gluten, nuts, dairy, or something else — Reynolds said Disney is the best place to vacation.

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5 Tips for Reducing Travel Costs When Visiting Australia

Summer is getting close, it is time for those who love to go on vacation to enjoy the sun, feel the breeze, and take amazing pictures to travel to somewhere amazing. One such place to travel to is Australia. There are a lot of places to visit in Australia because it is a very beautiful place; it has a lot of beaches, desserts, wide-open spaces, and so many other things.

Traveling to a place like Australia can be great, but it would not be fun when the cost of traveling is on the high side.

How to Reduce Travel Cost

Traveling, especially to a place like Australia, can be expensive. Below are five tips to reduce travel costs when visiting Australia.

Rent Apartments for a Long Period

When you travel, you need a place like an apartment to rest your head. It is important that when you go to reduce costs as you travel, you rent apartments for a long period. When renting an apartment, you have various periods. You could rent an apartment for a week and you could also rent an apartment for a month or even for a year. You need to choose to rent an apartment for a month or a year. When you rent an apartment for such a long period, the price of the accommodation will reduce. And also, you can travel whenever you want to travel. In summary, renting an apartment for a long period reduces the amount of money spent on accommodation when traveling.

Book Your Flight Ahead of Time

This is a very obvious way how you can reduce the cost of your travel. Airlines benefit a great deal when you book a flight a few days before you travel. To reduce travel costs, you need to book your flight months before you travel. When you do this, your travel costs are reduced drastically, and you can travel without spending too much.

Utilize Your Social Media

There are some websites you can find on social media that reduce the cost of traveling and going on vacation. You must make good use of such websites through your social media. When you use such sites, traveling becomes easier for you. But be careful not to fall for the wrong sites that could be scams.

Use Hostels Instead of Hotels

Hostels are quite different from hotels; the major difference is that there is not much privacy in a hostel. But to drastically reduce your costs when you travel, you must make use of hostels. Hostels are quite cheap, and although they do not offer all the comfort you get when in a hotel, they are still manageable to a reasonable extent.

Wear Your Luggage

When traveling, you can be charged for your luggage. The reason you are charged for luggage when traveling is that the airline needs to put your luggage in a safe place. When saving money, you could try wearing your luggage. There are so many luggage jackets available for people who aren’t traveling with too many things.


Traveling to a place like Australia will offer you an exotic experience, but what makes it better is when the cost is reduced. By following simple tips, you can reduce the cost and still enjoy your experience.

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Spain: What you ‘need’ to know when visiting – tipping, pickpockets, food, shopping | Travel News | Travel

However, paella is the name now given to 200 or so “distinctive rice dishes” from the Valencia region.

The video was popular on TikTok, amassing almost 20,000 likes, and several flocked to the comments to share their own experiences of Spain.

@wicklessinwonderland stated: “Traveled to Barcelona – they were shocked when we tipped! Loved it there. Beautiful!

@silent2hands said: “Thank you! I’m going to Barcelona. I bought pickpocket proof pants!”

In another video, titled ‘Top five things you have to know before travelling to Spain’, Ana said: “Topless bathing at the beach is VERY normal.

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Visiting Italy: Cities and Places to Visit, Tips and Recommendations | Bakir Djulich

Cities and places to visit in ItalyMy own collage / Bakir Djulich

If you’re looking for a country with it all – art, culture, food, wine, fashion, architecture, history, and stunning scenery – then Italy is the place for you. Travelers to Italy are spoiled for choice when it comes to destinations: from the canals of Venice and the beaches of the Amalfi Coast to the rolling hills of Tuscany and the medieval city of Florence. Italy is truly a feast for the senses. It is not surprising that 70% of the top 100 travel influencers listed Italy as a must-visit country in Europe.

According to, the best months to visit Italy are April, May, June, September, and October. The shoulder months offer the best weather—not too hot and not too cold—along with smaller crowds and cheaper hotel rates. Spring (April-June) and fall (September-October) are the best times to visit Italy. To help you plan your trip, I’ve compiled a list of my top 10 cities and places in Italy for travelers. So whether you’re looking for urban adventures or rural escapes, here are my picks for Italy’s best places to visit.

1. Rome

As the capital city of Italy, Rome is unsurprisingly one of the most popular destinations for travelers to the country. Rome has something to offer everyone, from the Colosseum and the Vatican City to world-class museums and art galleries. And let’s not forget about the food – from crunchy pizzas and fresh pasta dishes to gelato (Italian ice cream), there are plenty of delicious things to eat in Rome. Also, in Rome, you can find some of the best shopping in Italy, with designer boutiques and high-end stores lining the streets.

2. Florence

Florence is one of Italy’s most historic cities, renowned for its art and architecture. Visitors to Florence can explore famous sights like the Duomo (the city’s cathedral), the Ponte Vecchio (one of the world’s oldest bridges), and the Uffizi Gallery (home to masterpieces by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Botticelli). Or take a stroll through Florence’s picturesque streets and enjoy the city’s relaxed atmosphere.

3. Venice

Venice is unlike any other city globally, with its canals and bridges crisscrossing the city center. A visit to Venice wouldn’t be complete without a ride on a gondola, and there are plenty of other things to do, too, from exploring the Venetian Palaces to taking a tour of the canals. For something truly unique, take a trip to Venice during the Carnivale festival, when colorful costumes and masked revelers transform the city.

4. Siena

Siena is a small city located in central Italy and is famous for its shell-shaped main square – the Piazza del Campo. This is where the annual Palio horse race takes place, an event that dates back to the Middle Ages. Siena is also known for its Gothic architecture, with the Cathedral of Siena being one of the most iconic buildings in the city. If you’re visiting in summer, take a dip in one of Siena’s many public pools – a great way to cool off after exploring this historic city.

5. Naples

Naples is located on Italy’s south coast and is well-known for its vibrant atmosphere and delicious food. As the birthplace of pizza, Naples is unsurprisingly one of the best places in Italy to eat this popular dish (make sure to try it with a glass of local wine). Actually, according to hashtag statistics, the #naplespizza hashtag on Instagram has over 11K posts created around it. Other must-try dishes in Naples include spaghetti alla puttanesca (spaghetti with tomatoes, olives, and anchovies) and fried zucchini flowers. And don’t forget to visit the nearby city of Pompeii, an ancient Roman town destroyed by a volcanic eruption in 79 AD.

6. Cinque Terre

The Cinque Terre is a stunning stretch of coastline located on Italy’s northwest coast. The region comprises five picturesque villages – Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore – which are connected by a network of hiking trails. These trails offer breathtaking views of the Mediterranean Sea and are the perfect way to explore the Cinque Terre’s dramatic coastline.

7. Lake Como

Lake Como is one of Italy’s most beautiful lakes and is a popular destination for locals and visitors. The lake is surrounded by mountains and is dotted with pretty towns and villages, making it the perfect place to enjoy some quiet time in nature. According to the official site of Lake Como, visitors to the lake can take advantage of the many activities, from hiking and biking to sailing and windsurfing. Or relax on the shore of the lake and take in the stunning scenery.

8. Sicily

Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea and is located just off the coast of southern Italy. The island has a long history, dating back to ancient times, and several well-preserved archaeological sites are home. Sicily is also famous for its baroque architecture, with the city of Palermo being a perfect place to see this style of architecture. And of course, no visit to Sicily would be complete without trying some of the island’s delicious food, including fresh seafood and the famous cannoli pastry.

9. Verona

Verona is a city located in northern Italy and is best known as the setting for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Visitors to Verona can explore the city’s Roman ruins, visit the house where Juliet supposedly lived, or take a stroll through one of Verona’s many parks. The city is also home to several excellent restaurants, making it the perfect place to enjoy some traditional Italian cuisine.

10. Milan

Milan is Italy’s second-largest city and is considered the fashion capital of the world. The city is home to several high-end designer stores and more affordable fashion outlets. Visitors to Milan can also enjoy its many museums and art galleries or stroll through one of the city’s beautiful parks. And of course, no visit to Milan would be complete without sampling some of the city’s delicious food, including dishes such as risotto alla Milanese and Osso Buco Alla Milanese.

Italy is a country that has something to offer everyone, from its stunning scenery and delicious food to its rich history and culture. So why not add it to your travel list and start planning your trip today? Have you already been to Italy? What are your experiences in this beautiful country?

References: ; ;

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10 Tips For Visiting Legoland In Florida

Inspired by the giant toymaker Lego, Legoland is a theme park located in the Winter Haven region of Florida. Since its opening in 2011, Legoland has lived up to its billing by being the go-to family entertainment spot on the East Coast.

Once a Lego fun, always a Lego fun. From the young to the old, this destination knows no age. It is the perfect spot for a family fun day. Here are 10 tips for visiting Legoland in Florida.

10 Begin With The Legoland App

One of the most important tips for visiting Legoland Florida is, to begin with an app download. Legoland has taken advantage of the fast-expanding tech space to create software that acts as a guide for adventurers. The app is configured with a well-articulated map for easy navigation in the park. In addition, the app helps adventurers make early plans about their stops and the delicacies they can order in the park.

9 Take A Camera And Sunscreen

Just as it applies in all other adventures, a camera is a must-have during your visit to Legoland. The unique activities that happen there need to be captured with the best precision possible.

Florida’s scorching sun can also be brutal to anyone’s skin. Therefore, sunscreen will be a worthy inclusion in your packing list.

8 Beware Of Florida’s Changing Weather Patterns

Understanding the weather pattern is crucial for those planning to visit Legoland in Florida. While the area largely experiences a tropical climate characterized by reduced rainfall, the weather can change anytime. Adventurers are advised to carry umbrellas and warm clothing, just in case the weather becomes uncooperative.

7 Legoland Day Is Trading Day

The highlight of a Legoland adventure is the trading of mini-figures. Kids have such a great time exchanging their figures with park employees. However, figures need to be complete to qualify for the exchange category. Any missing parts mean a particular figure won’t be accepted. Children, too, need to be informed that the exchange is not permanent. The figures should be returned to the park employees by the end of the day. Bring multiple units to the park for kids to enjoy more.

Related: Florida’s Islands Are Cheaper Than The Bahamas (& Easier)

6 Don’t Ignore The Water Park

Talk of a park within a park. Legoland has a water park on one end, which takes the fun beyond the tradable figures. The water park presents the best opportunity for families to bond. Remember to carry swimming costumes. The pool inside the park is a great way to cool off the body from Florida’s scorching sun.

5 Keep The Parking Receipts Intact

Americans have made it a habit to discard receipts immediately after the payment is made. Doing the same in Legoland will leave an adventurer with a slap on their face. If anything, the receipts are the only proof that the parking fees have been paid. The receipts need to be produced on demand. Moving in and out of the park is easy, provided there are receipts to prove payment. Failure to produce these receipts means the parking fee has to be paid afresh.

4 Create A Budget

The biggest mistake most adventurers make while touring a new place is failing to have a budget. Adventures are never accidental. Instead, they are a result of a vigorous planning process that entails the identification of a preferred destination, time, and financial obligations. Failing to plan early enough means excess money will be spent making late purchases that could have been cheaply bought.

Related: 9 Fun Summer Things To Do In Naples (Florida)

3 Legoland Day Is Kids’ Day

Paying a direct flight from New York to Florida doesn’t give any adult the right to rule over the young ones, specifically on this day. While parents are tasked with making rules for their kids, that principle doesn’t apply here. Understanding that it is a kid’s day is among the key tips for visiting Legoland Florida. For once, the juniors need to be given a chance to run their own show. The best parents can do here is to facilitate. Anything beyond that is an infringement on the rights of the kids, at least when it comes to Legoland.

2 Get Kids The Right Merchandise

The best present a parent can give their kid while touring Legoland Park is properly branded merchandise. Shops along the park are packed with such merch. Getting the right merchandise sets the mood for the day’s activities. No kid should be left to stand the embarrassment of being the odd one out.

1 One Day Is Never Enough

With the current recess being witnessed in the global economy, people are rushing to cut their travel budgets. The biggest mistake one can make is denying their children a chance to vacay and direct the money elsewhere. Take the children down the Legoland and let them have fun while at it. Moreover, a single day is never enough for them to explore the whole of Legoland. Booking a vacation resort somewhere on the East Coast will only make the adventure a better experience.

10 Best Places To Visit In Florida

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What to Know Before Visiting Santorini, Greece — Weather, COVID-19, Tipping

I’ve been based in Greece for several years and visit Santorini regularly, often spending months at a time on this idyllic island. 

Like with any vacation, there are always local advisories to consider when planning a trip, but this is especially true for islands like Santorini that have a strong seasonal element.

Below, I’ve compiled helpful tips and answers to popular questions, from the best time of year to visit and how to handle gratuities to the latest developments surrounding COVID-19.

Whare are Santorini’s current COVID-19 restrictions?

Greece has been praised for its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Santorini was reported to be a safe haven for travelers during the summers of 2020 and 2021. You can find my regularly updated “Greece rules” for “The Telegraph,” here

After several months of restrictions following an increase in cases, the rules are gradually being eased. It is no longer mandatory to wear masks outdoors, although they are still required indoors in public spaces and on public transport

As of May 1, 2022, travelers entering Greece are no longer required to show a certificate of vaccination or recovery from COVID-19 or a negative test result.

A cliff in Santorini dotted with white-washed buildings amid sea views.

Santorini is beautiful year-round but sees the most visitors in summer.

Maria Mavropoulou for Insider

When is the best time to visit Santorini?

Gathered around the slopes of an ancient volcano, Santorini’s dark sands and black rock-studded landscapes tend to magnify the heat, and in summer, you can expect temperatures of 30 degrees Celsius (and up) in the middle of the day. So make sure to plan any strenuous activities for early morning or early evening, and then spend the rest of the day on the beach or lounging by your resort’s pool.

Usually quite refreshing (but sometimes loud), the Meltemi wind blows between June and September. If you prefer cooler weather (and less wind), visit Santorini in early spring and late autumn when temperatures hover around 25 to 27 degrees Celsius and there are fewer crowds. 

Because the island is so popular, hotels and restaurants tend to open earlier in the season than elsewhere in the Greek islands and stay open later, so you’ll still find plenty of places to stay and eat that are probably cheaper in these shoulder seasons, too.

Should I tip in Santorini?

Although Greece doesn’t really have a tipping culture, locals, especially those working in low-paid seasonal jobs, suffered during a long


followed by a global pandemic that reduced tourism. I have met many people working in the tourism industry on Santorini who are struggling, so if you can, please tip. I know that the workers will greatly appreciate it.

View Insider’s comprehensive guide to visiting Santorini, Greece.

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What to know when visiting the best beaches this summer

Looking for beaches? Nearly 6,000 miles of coastline fringe Mexico on its east, west and south, stretching from the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortéz.

With white sand beaches sweeping ancient Mayan ruins and sunken mangrove forests along these sun-splashed shores, Mexico has some of the most sought-after beaches in the world. And did I mention the translucent waters of the Caribbean are a mecca for divers and snorkelers?

If you’re looking to visit, Mexico’s major international airports are in Cancún, Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas. And there are some nearby beaches where you can bury your toes in the sand.

Story continues below.

Cancún and the Yucatán offer ‘turquoise-hued waters,’ convenient hotel zone

Most Americans considering a beach holiday will place Cancún near the top of their list. The beauty of this Caribbean resort city and its state of Yucatán is that there is a spot of white or golden sand for every travel style. 

Cancún has a massive hotel zone with a ribbon of beach resorts. Travelers who prefer a quieter holiday venture south two hours (80 miles) to picturesque Tulúm.

Playa Paraiso, where lofty Mayan ruins graze the sea, is the most striking beach in the region. Nearer to Tulúm’s low-rise hotel zone, Playa Ruinas faces the ancient architecture and is Instagram-worthy. If Playa Las Palmas is jam-packed in the high-season winter months, seek out Playa Akumal, a less-crowded getaway popular for seeing sea turtles. 

For a vibrant island getaway, the lively island paradise of Isla Mujeres is only 30 minutes from Cancún via the Ultramar ferry.

Serene Playa Norte feels more like Thailand than the Yucatán. Snorkelers and scuba divers can swim right up to gentle whale sharks, always resident in these tranquil waters.

WANT TO LEAVE THE US?: These women found a home, community in Mexico

Three hours north of Cancún, where the Caribbean meets the Gulf of Mexico, is the island of Holbox, as yet largely undiscovered by tourists.

“The perfect mix of relaxation, great weather and bohemian beauty, it’s the paradise island you’ve dreamed of visiting,” writes British blogger Wanderlust Chloe. There are no high-rise hotels, no chain restaurants, to distract from the beauty of Holbox’s mesmerizing, turquoise-hued waters.

As the state of Yucatán borders Quintana Roo, many travelers use Cancún as a gateway to Mayan treasures such as Progresso and Sisal. Over 200 miles of coastline feature comfortable lodging and some of Mexico’s tastiest regional cuisine, within a three-hour drive from Cancún Airport.

Puerto Vallarta offers rustic beaches, lush greenery

Another beach destination close to an international airport is Puerto Vallarta.

You have to see: The Riviera Nayarit – a swath of sun-kissed waterfront that wraps around the broad Bay of Banderas extends nearly 100 miles north, up the coast of Nayarit state from Puerto Vallarta, in Jalisco.

While families and novice surfers are drawn to Sayulita, couples might venture 5 miles north to charming and sophisticated San Pancho. You’ll find an excellent array of boutique hotels and better dining options, with a laid-back vibe and a broader sense of a sustainable community. Locals and tourists alike enjoy fresh seafood at Barracuda Cocina del Mar.

Off the coast of Punta Mita are the Islas Marietas, comprising one of the most beautiful conservation parks in the world. These uninhabited rocky islets are like something from a James Bond adventure, and their crown jewel is Playa del Amore (Beach of Love), spectacularly sheltered by a natural, semi-dome roof. It’s a one-hour boat ride from Puerto Vallarta, less than a half-hour from Punta Mita.

Most travelers who arrive by air at Puerto Vallarta miss the road less traveled: rustic beaches surrounded by lush green jungle and flanked by rolling mountains. The pristine Chacala Beach, a 90-minute drive north of Puerto Vallarta and about 50 minutes from Sayulita-San Pancho, offers a long stretch of golden sand and a bohemian vibe as one might have seen in Bali three decades ago. Mar de Jade is a yoga and wellness retreat worlds apart from others of Thailand.

I live part of the year in San Blas, a historical town three hours from Puerto Vallarta yet far off the tourist radar. On the drive north through the town of Las Varas, you’ll pass Playa Platanitos, where beachfront palapa restaurants beckon diners to try the slow-smoked mesquite-grilled fish called “pescado sarandeado.”

In San Blas, join Mexican tourists at the locally run La Familia restaurant, which also offers a few rooms above an adorable courtyard. Take the La Tovara boat ride through backwater canals loaded with crocodiles, turtles, iguanas and over 200 migratory bird species: I call it Mexico’s Everglades.

Heading south from Puerto Vallarta’s Old Town, you can catch Playa Las Gemelas, which is just a half-hour drive. Yet its twin, soft-sand beaches – offering close views of Los Arcos rocks, a favored snorkeling spot – seem a world away.

Further south, panga boats and water taxis transport day-trippers from the quaint fishing village of Boca de Tomatlan to the rarely visited, golden-hued beaches of Las Animas, Quixmixto and Colomitos. Yelapa, where the thick forest meets the sea, is accessible only by boat. Sip a cold beer, lounge in a hammock and enjoy the freshest of fish tacos.

Zachary Rabinor, president of Journey Mexico, recommends hiking to any of these beaches and returning by water taxi. Though not as peaceful as two generations ago, when they were frequented by Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, “they still embody the remote tropical paradise that has kept locals and visitors loyal and enchanted.” 

“You can pack in food, but why bother, with the vast array of excellent local seafood restaurants?” Rabinor said.

And there are new beach clubs at Xinalani (Quimixto) and Majahuitas. 

Baja Sur offers a party town, desert landscapes

The first time I visited Mexico’s Baja California Sur, my mind was on the iconic El Arco rock formation at Cabo San Lucas. The water-taxi ride to its centerpiece beach, Playa del Amor, is so choppy that locals call it Playa del Divorcio (Divorce Beach). But visitors are also astounded by the desert landscape, including giant cacti and hovering dunes stretching right to the azure sea. 

Los Cabos, at the tip of the peninsula, is a party town.

Expat travel writer and photojournalist Kristen Gill suggests “it’s worth driving a few hours north, where you can experience a true taste of the Baja life.”

Oceanographer Jacques Cousteau called the Sea of Cortéz and Gulf of California the “Aquarium of the World” for its diversity of marine life. From the state’s capital city of La Paz, take a boat trip to Isla Espíritu Santo, a UNESCO World Heritage site where you can snorkel with sea lions and possibly spot a few blue-footed boobies along the way. 

“Just an hour north of Cabo is Playa Cerritos, a swimming and surfing beach nestled between the laid-back towns of Pescadero and Todos Santos,” Gill also recommends. “Here you can take up surf lessons, boogie board or just enjoy the view, where it’s not uncommon to see whales breaching in the distance.”

Another must-see, she says, is Playa Balandra, a naturally protected series of shallow, white-sand bays. From there, it’s a five-minute drive to Playa Tecolote, “where you can mingle with local families, barbeque, build sandcastles, swim in gentle waves, and enjoy freshly-caught fish tacos served at simple beachside restaurants.”

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Travel tips & adventure activities when visiting London



For the moms out there who love to travel and would like to plan a trip with your teen. Today we’re talking travel tips when visiting London. Travel expert Catie Keogh joins us now to share a few of her top tips and adventure activities.

Facebook @LetsGowithCatieKeogh

Instagram @LetsGowithCatieKeogh

Twitter @CatieKeogh

Daytime Chicago airs weekdays on WGN from 10 a.m. – 11 a.m.

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Celebrate Arbor Day by visiting these Ventura botanical gardens

This week, as the nation celebrates the 150th Arbor Day (April 29), the National Arbor Day Foundation reminds us that the annual event is not just about planting trees. It’s also about planting within us appreciation and care for our natural resources.

Since its beginning in 1872, Arbor Day at its core has been about taking personal responsibility for the care of nature, including a duty to “respect it, replenish it, and protect it,” according to a foundation fundraising letter mailed to me.

This means, for example, valuing trees for providing clean air to breathe, clean water to drink and beauty to cherish. Trees protect our watersheds and remove air pollutants, including climate-warming carbon dioxide.

To value trees and plants in these ways, you must first learn about nature, and several public gardens in Ventura County offer opportunities to do that. They include Ventura Botanical Gardens, Conejo Valley Botanic Garden, Taft Gardens & Nature Preserve near Ojai and Gardens of the World in Thousand Oaks. 

Visiting these gardens is a great way to celebrate National Arbor Day and gain knowledge and appreciation of nature.

Ventura Botanical Gardens, stretching downhill from Grant Park to Ventura City Hall, began in 2005 and lost many of its mature plantings in the 2017 Thomas Fire, so its specimens are young.

However, what the site lacks in stately established plantings and shade, it more than makes up for with its impressive views. Nearly the entire site offers a panorama of crashing waves across a wide coastline and the Anacapa and Santa Cruz islands.

A slide presentation on its website lists “key values of a botanical garden” that include a commitment to “integrate opportunities for education,” “provide habitat for a wide diversity of plants and animals,” and “promote environmentally sustainable development.”

Derrick Wilson, president of the garden’s board of directors, pointed out the educational value of the organization’s new Native Volcanic Substrate Collection. It replicates the terrain of western Ventura County, including endangered plants found only in our county. Garden staff will collect plant specimens and seeds, record plants’ reactions to changing climate and soil conditions and providing insights on using plants to conserve water in extreme drought.

The volcanic collection adds to the garden’s current display of native flora from the five Mediterranean climates of the world. The array of drought-tolerant species show visitors how they can conserve water in their own gardens.

Taft Gardens, in the hills above Lake Casitas, also features plants grown in Mediterranean climates like ours, including an African section, a cactus garden and a native plants area.

Run by the Conservation Endowment Fund, Taft Gardens’ mission includes educating the public about “environmental heritage,” preserving endangered resources and “exploring the relationship of humans to their environment.”

Taft Gardens is seeking volunteers to make interpretive signs for visitors on self-guided tours, according to Alexandra Nicklin, the gardens’ general manager,

Conejo Valley Botanic Garden, at 400 W. Gainsborough Rd. in Thousand Oaks, has an interpretive nature trail and docents giving school tours. Visitors see compost in various stages of production in a nursery that propagates native and Mediterranean climate plants, which have been sold along with food plants and herbs during events at its Kids’ Adventure Garden.

Gardens of the World, across Thousand Oaks Boulevard from the Civic Arts Plaza, provides a different type of education. Its creators, Ed and Lynn Hogan, owned a travel agency and devoted the garden to cultural, rather than botanical, education.

The gardens feature mission style architecture, outdoor murals with historical renderings of California’s mission system and plants of the California missions to provide instruction for a regular procession of elementary school field trips. Plants of the missions include rosemary, aloe, guava, oranges, lemons and olives.

Home gardens also offer opportunities to appreciate trees and other plantings. The 24th annual Camarillo Garden Tour, benefiting the Livingston Memorial Visiting Nurse Association and Hospice, is set for May 1 from noon to 4 pm. For a $25 donation, visitors can tour four residential gardens.

You can also recognize National Arbor Day without stepping outside. The National Arbor Day Foundation together with Kimberly-Clark, the maker of Huggies and Kleenex, promise to plant two trees for each Instagram, Twitter or Facebook post with the hashtag #ArborDay. The organizations say they will plant up to 150,000 trees.

David Goldstein, an environmental resource analyst with the Ventura County Public Works Agency, can be reached at (805) 658-4312 or [email protected].

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Things you should definitely know before visiting Universal Orlando Resort

ORLANDO, Fla. – Is anyone planning a trip to Universal or considering a vacation to this hotspot?

For some, Universal Studios Orlando Resort is a must-visit destination — so we asked one of our writers to share some insight.

Here’s what he had to say:

This was quite a change, as I am used to visiting the Mouse at Disney World, but I was looking for a change of pace, and perhaps to experience a new thrill.

After my visit, I left knowing so many new things and decided to come up with a quick list of tips that may help someone else.

Let’s dive in.

1. Skipping the line will cost you, but it’s worth it.

If you’ve ever visited Disney, then you may know a thing or two about Genie+, a service that lets you use a Lightning Lane entrance to bypass the standby line on select attractions (formerly called FastPass).

Universal has its version of this called Universal Express. It is an extra charge, but is it worth it?

Yes. Without a doubt, yes.

The ticket I was given had unlimited Express privileges, which meant I could bypass the line as many times as I wanted for almost any ride in the two parks. I hate to say it, but I was definitely spoiled. I decided to wait in a standby line for some rides, so I could look at the complete queue. This is when I knew Express was definitely worth it.


Unlike Disney, Universal Express will let you bypass most, if not all the line (rather than skipping portions of the line and then merging into the standby line).

Insider tip: There is a cost-effective way to skip the lines. Staying at a select Universal Resort hotel will get you free Universal Express Unlimited for participating rides. You heard us right — infinite times to skip the regular lines.

The hotels that offer this package are:

  • Loews Portofino Bay Hotel

  • Hard Rock Hotel

  • Loews Royal Pacific Resort

Photo: Universal Orlando Resort

2. Get the right ticket.

Universal Studios has two separate theme parks, Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. These parks are located on either side of CityWalk, Universal’s downtown district. In order to visit both parks, you will need a two-park ticket. This seems kind of obvious, but if you’re a fan of the “Harry Potter” films and want to climb aboard the Hogwarts Express, you won’t be able to make it to platform 9 3/4 if your ticket is not for both parks.


3. These are not your average simulators.

I already knew that Universal Studios used a lot of simulators; however, I didn’t really know what that meant.

The only things that came to mind were those large space-like capsules you saw at your local mall, where kids could climb in and experience a roller coaster while their parents did some shopping. I didn’t think I would be a fan. I was very wrong.

Universal’s simulators incorporate the concepts of a dark ride, add in larger-than-life 3D projection with a dash of 4D elements and top it off with other high-tech trickery. I was blown away, and found myself wanting to ride again and again. These are great for people who don’t like roller coasters.

You’ll still feel a thrill without ever leaving the ground. However, these rides may not be good if you or someone with you has motion sickness.

4. Use the virtual line if it’s offered.

While you won’t find this addition at every ride, if you enjoy “Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon” and “Fast & Furious: Supercharged,” but don’t want to wait in line, you can take advantage of the virtual line offered at the attraction.


You can use Universal’s app or the kiosks at the ride entrance to make reservations. At your appointed time, you’ll show your phone or printed pass and make your way into the building.

Keep in mind, once inside, there will still be a minimal wait to board the actual ride.

5. Go out later to avoid paying for parking.

If you’re looking to do some shopping or eat at one of CityWalk’s numerous restaurants, you’ll have to pay to park in the parking garage. You can, however, get free regular parking for matinee movie showings from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. with the purchase of two or more Universal Cinemark matinee tickets.

There is also free self-parking after 6 p.m. for all guests. Watch the calendar, though. Free parking for all guests will not be valid during Halloween Horror Nights.

Did you find any of this helpful? Do you have any other tips for a first time park-goer? Leave them in the comments below. This story was first published in 2019. It has since been updated.

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