CUBA TIPS & TRAVEL GUIDE

I received a call from Super Charge Agency about a month ago. They told me about an amazing opportunity to travel to Cuba in the beginning of June along with their team and a group of bloggers. My instant reaction was an unfortunate decline, as it would be Ramadan and I’d be fasting. The organizers completely understood. A few weeks later, they kindly followed up to ask if I changed my mind at all and had reconsidered coming out while fasting. At that point, I felt like I could use a little bit of adventure in my life and so I said what could possibly go wrong with fasting in Cuba? I took the amazing offer and flew out to Havana with the team, and really, without having read much beforehand. 

I absolutely love to learn about new cities, cultures & customs, and I always come back from a destination reading more about the country I had visited (and realizing I should've done my research beforehand so that I could've appreciated it even more in the moment!). I had read about Cuba before flying out, there was still so much more that I had learned from being there. 

So today I'm going to share a few experiences on things to expect when traveling to Cuba so that you come fully prepared, find a lot of enjoyments, and don't have many disappointments! 

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HOW TO GO: The number one thing I've been asked is how to travel there. For US citizens, all you must do is go up to the counter of the airline you are traveling with and purchase a visa in the airport before your flight to Havana. In addition when filling out your information at the kiosk to receive your boarding passes you'll just be asked a few more questions about your trip such as where you will be staying and any sicknesses you may have had in the past. Because tourism is still not allowed to Cuba by US citizens formally, be sure to choose the “educational purposes” option and under that category the “people to people” option. If you were to be ask any questions in the way back, you can say something along the lines of learning Spanish while in Cuba, or completing a research project. Immigration on the way back was super easy for me thankfully. 

FOOD SITUATION: The number one thing that surprised me and Cuba was the lack of food. I don't mean just grocery options— I'm talking about the minimal street food, snacks, and the variety of cuisine in general. A lot of the restaurants there are run by the state and so they all serve a similar menu consisting of ham and cheese sandwiches, lightly seasoned seafood, few protein options of beans, rice and meat, and fruit mixed with salad. This is really due to government policies in the past, ranging from the US embargo, to the lack of ability to expand agriculture in the city and so on. A majority of their food is imported from Venezuela. Recently, there have been even more food shortages because of the influx of tourists coming on cruise ships and so this really leaves local restaurants and markets unable to provide many options for both their people and tourist. 

On the other hand, because the island is so rich in growing fruit, their juices are to die for—  especially mango! You often see way more drink options over food options in menus. The situation was really easy, thankfully, because I was fasting— so most of my day was spent not seeing much food! My recommendation would be to bring a lot of snacks with you and anything you might be craving throughout the day, because you will not be able to easily find it. Knowing me, I brought loads of granola bars, a big bag of Chex mix & hot Cheetos, and a little bag of dates for breaking my fast.  

BUYING STUFF: Another surprise was the lack of ability to use US currency. There aren't many things to purchase, but for the few souvenirs I wanted to bring back home, I had to switch money with one of the group members since I had not exchanged my US money to euros in United States. From there I could come to Cuba and switch my euros to CUCs. There is not much Cuban money in the United States and there is not much US money in Cuba. 

PACKING: Pack everything you may possibly need on the trip. Whether it be bug spray, shampoo & conditioner, sunscreen, or even feminine hygiene products, it will be difficult to find it immediately in Havana. Be sure to bring extra clothing because you'll find yourself getting very sweaty and hot throughout the day and changing clothes in order to keep cool. I found myself taking about 2 showers a day just cool down from the heat. 

SAFETY: One thing to note is that Havana is super safe to walk in at night. The team and I found ourselves walking through the streets at one in the morning and very be huge crowds everywhere chatting and drinking. Now this doesn't mean to not take any precautions as you should be careful everywhere you go but I definitely felt safer in Havana at night then I would ever in downtown East St. Louis at midnight!

WIFI: I was told that the Wi-Fi signal would be bad but I didn't expect it to be as hard as it was once we arrived. There is no public Wi-Fi in Cuba— instead you must bring your passport with you to a communications shop that sells Wi-Fi cards for purchase by the hour. After purchasing, you take the Wi-Fi card with you to a hotspot, which could be at a hotel or a park. From there you try to connect to the signal by signing in with a username and password. It's often hard to get a signal because there are a lot of people in the same area. You'll spend time refreshing your Wi-Fi up to 100 times almost in one setting in order to get a connection. If you are scrolling on your screen for about 30 seconds and don't refresh the Wi-Fi signal you'll lose it and so you always have to be sure to do something that requires loading. Also, Snapchat is one of the apps that does not work in the country. I learned to do without the social media, the emails, the updates for five days— and it was amazing! 

 One thing I did find to really appreciate about the country is because there is such a lack of Wi-Fi signal, a lot of people are always communicating. I sat and had a conversation with one of the souvenir shop owners and ended up spending an hour talking about random things in life with her using my broken Spanish. We had so much in common. It really felt like I went through a time warp similar to my childhood visits to Syria every summer. Even though I had just met the group at the trip we all instantly became friends and I felt like I had known everybody for years. 

The most amazing site was to see the old mixed with new. We would be walking through the city and see a brand-new BMW driving side-by-side with a horse and buggy picking up the garbage from businesses and homes. You’ll often find homes that look brand-new along side homes that are crumbling and partially renovated. There’s payphone, multiple libraries on one street, book and magazine sellers, and pretty much anything tangible since Google is not always an option for wanting to know things. Everything is just so stunning. 

There were so many more sites and destinations within Havana I wished we could have visited, but it's totally great because it leaves room to return with my fiancé and parents! The #1 thing I could recommend for this trip is to bring people who really love to spend time with since you will be with them 24 hours a day and not communicating with anyone else. 

If you find yourself having any more questions (since I know I did not answer a lot but just shared a few experiences), then please feel free to comment below or send me a message through Instagram. I’d absolutely love to help guide your next trip! 

Much love,

LOS ANGELES MINI LOOK BOOK

I'm back from gorgeous, sunny L.A and I managed to film a mini look book while there! If you didn't catch the video on Instagram, here's the link

Look #1: 

Jacket: Bedouin Studios / Pants: Banana Republic / Sneakers: EXPRESS / Sunnies: Miu Miu via Rue La La / Scarf: Forever 21 / Bag: Prada via Rue La La

Look #2: 

Blazer: H&M / Top: NAMSHI / Pants: Missguided / shoes: Dior / Sunnies: Miu Miu / Scarf: Austere Attire / Bag: Prada

Look #3: 

Coat: Rue 21/ pants: Uniqlo / Tee: Mango / Sunnies: Mango / Shoes: Gucci / Bag: Furla / Scarf: Austere Attire

Shop below!

P.S. Insider tip for buying designer items***

 Almost all of my designer items are from Rue La La! I've been browsing this site for ages. It's basically a site where designers host pop-up shops for 48 hours, placing all their items on major discounts. All you have to do is make a free account-- and you're in! 

Much love,

DESERT DIARIES IN DUBAI

Today I'm sharing all about my first ever desert safari experience in Dubai! I was recommended to try Platinum Heritage by a friend, so we decided to book with them. Here's what I learned about on the trip! 

First of all, t's a guided tour experience. This means that instead of crazy riding in the sand dunes, you're taking a smooth car ride in 1960s Land Rovers throughout the conservation lands and learning about Bedouin rituals, environment and history. I honestly came back learning so much more than I had expected, such as how the falcons inhabit the UAE for only a few months a year and are trained as hunters by Bedouins. 

We all received scarves to wear throughout the trip as a souvenir, whether to cover your eyes from the sand, or tie on your head from the heat. I already wear a head scarf so I tied it on top to keep my scarf from flying in the car ride! 

After the guided car tour, we spent some times in the dunes, then made our way to the carpeted area for a falcon presentation. We were greeted with sparkling date juice, bottled iced water and dates. It was such a beautiful sunset experience, and fascinating to watch the falcon dive for its meal! 

Lastly, we headed out in our Land Rovers in the late dark night to our Bedouin inspired camp, where we would take part in UNLIMITED camel rides, drink a variety of local drinks like arabic coffee, karak and even camel milk, take part in an amazing arabian feast with all your favorite appetizers, rice and meat (and desert!). They ended the night with performances from a male group of Emiratis, then the female "hair dance". Afterwards, all the lights were shut off to gaze at the natural starlight. 

I found this outfit last minute in Dubai before our trip! I had not packed lightly for the extreme heat (105 degrees F) and luckily, this outfit really came in handy for preventing excessive over heating. It's a two piece tank and pant look, paired with a long lightweight cardigan, black sandals, and a red scarf to top it off! I found myself matching quite well with the camels on site-- totally unintentional. Overall, I'd definitely recommend booking with Platinum Heritage next time you're planning a desert experience for you and your family! 

annndddd....

You can shop this exact look below! 

Much love,

TOP 5 THINGS TO DO AT THE RITZ CARLTON KEY BISCAYNE

*Photography by Luccia Photos

I was in Florida two weeks ago, and I'm still dreaming about the serene beach and beautiful landscapes in Key Biscayne! For those of you who have never been, Key Biscayne is located just a short 15 minute drive from Downtown Miami. I had the opportunity to stay in the hustle & bustle of the city for the first few days, then take time off to relax on the quieter, beachy-er side of Miami at the gorgeous Ritz Carlton Key Biscayne Resort

For any of you planning a trip down south this year, you'll want to be sure to consider Key Biscayne as your next destination. Here are my top five things to do in Key Biscayne at The Ritz Carlton

1. RELAX! The best part about the resort is that you don't have to leave throughout the day to enjoy activities around town. When traveling to busy cities, I'm usually waking up early to go and explore everyday.  This time it was so much different-- I could stay at the resort all day and have the whole day to plan as I like with all the things to do on site. 

2. Bike Tour. Take a break from driving and head out in one of the available bikes on site for a self tour around the property. Key Biscayne is like a cute little beach side village, and the best way to take it all in is via biking with your partner!

3. Dine beach side. From tacos to burgers to modern coastal fare, there are a number of beach front restaurants to choose from at the Ritz Carlton Key Biscayne (and most don't know that they're actually open to the public!). I tried Lightkeepers and would highly recommend it to anyone wanting a relaxing weekend night! 

4. Wellness. Whether it be enjoying a tennis lesson, playing a game of frisbee in the fields, exercising at the gym, or visiting the tropical oasis luxury Spa on site, you'll be sure to leave feeling healthy and high spirited. 

5. WATER. You must visit the beach if you're staying here. With easy access right outside your hotel room, its so necessary to spend a day in the sand then wash right up with the convenience of your room nearby. There's paddle boarding, sailing and kayaking all available at the Biscayne Bay front of the resort. If you're not into sports, then lay back in the available lawn chairs on site and enjoy a good book. 

If you ever find yourself heading to the Miami area, you'll want to be sure to consider The Ritz Carlton Key Biscayne for you and your family. It'll be an unforgettable relaxing experience (and #RCMemory)! Feel free to reach out if you'd like more tips about the area! :) 

Lastly, feel free to browse links to both looks below!

Much love,

MY ABU DHABI EXPERIENCE WITH TRYANO

Its weeks later and I'm back and recovered from my GCC trip (and a few more after!). So, I'm happy to be sharing about my full day spent in Abu Dhabi last month with Tryano Store in shooting some of their new accessory and beauty products together!  As you may have seen on social media, Tryano Store is the premier luxury department store in Abu Dhabi, located at Yas Mall on Yas Island. It's concept differs from most department stores, in its unique and colorful displays of all things accessories and beauty. Compared to most U.S department stores, this location was so beautifully aesthetic- it really makes the shopper feel relaxed. 

I began my tour of Abu Dhabi with visiting Tryano Store and touring the mall. Afterwards, we were on our way to the riverside, where the weather was just beautiful at this time of year. I'm wearing a red bag designed by Sandraj Handbags. In the latter photos, I'm carrying Tory Burch's new fresh splash fragrance being sold at Tryano Store. 

Next, we visited the Abu Dhabi Heritage Center, which was super cool to see. While in the UAE, you don't feel that Dubai is very culturally vibrant, so it was exciting to see the market goods and historical displays at the Abu Dhabi Cultural Center. I'm wearing a turquoise handbag by Hana Al Matrooshi, an amazing Emirati based designer! 

Afterwards, we visited the Abu Dhabi Grand Mosque, which was simply stunning. Although to be honest, the building did not feel much like a holy place, I truly did appreciate the beauty it displayed for its tourists coming from all over the world. From the white marble interiors, to the gold intricate engravings, its a site not to be missed when visiting town.

A lot of the pieces I'm wearing in the shoot are made by UAE designers. What I especially love is that the regional designers are inspired by the beauty around them, whether it be the inspiration for gold detailing or palm tree engravings. 

Overall, thank you Tryano Store for the wonderful tour of Abu Dhabi! I can't wait to be back soon!

Much love,

 

 

A NEW YORK MOMENT: THE LOTTE NEW YORK PALACE

I arrived to NYC directly from the Caribbean on a cold, snowy day (weather shock!). However, I was super excited to be staying at the Lotte New York Palace for NYFW.

Located in Midtown of Manhattan on Madison Avenue, the Lotte New York Palace is truly a gem to in this legendary part of town. The interior decors are very luxurious, while also very modern and chic.  During my visit, I stayed in the junior suite, located in the Towers of the New York Palace (on the 40th floor). Compared to many NYC hotels, this room was extremely comfortable in size. From an open entry way, to a roomy bathroom, the suite was definitely big enough for one person, let alone four!

My favorite thing about the room was the ready made built in closet. I immediately went ahead and organized my outfits and unpacked. It made life so much easier for switching outfits for shoots and events the next morning. Of course, all that wardrobe came from two more suitcases (along with my Caribbean wardrobe stored away!). 

My next favorite thing about the room was the black & white bathroom. The decor was just so chic and and trendy, especially with the chandeliers! It made getting ready in the morning so relaxing and exciting. I loved how the hotel includes beauty products from Molton Brown. I didn't have to unpack a majority of my beauty and cleansing products, since it was all ready available to my taste. Additionally, the hotel is very open minded in regards to international guests and their cleansing routines, so the bathrooms included a duvet! 

My ultimate favorite thing was the NYC skyline views from the room. From busy pedestrians to yellow cabs to tall building views, the city views never ended. Day or night, I loved sitting by the window and holding a little part of the Big Apple in me.  

Lastly, the PR of the hotel was so thoughtful to send chocolates and treats from their patisserie downstairs. I loved grabbing espressos from their every morning (lots of caffeine to keep me going!). I had to bring a majority of the chocolates back home, otherwise I might have gotten a cavity from the amount of sweets. It was truly bliss. 

Here, I'm featured wearing an ELLA Dubai fur sleeved top, paired with a frill top underneath to give it structure and length. I paired both layers over a midi skirt from H&M, and topped it off with an Inayah gray coat (because it was COLD). In addition, I'm wearing a bunch of black accessories, ranging from tights to glossy boots, to leather gloves, to Miu Miu black sunnies and a bag from Gucci. I kept most of the accessories simple, that way the gold tones of the accessories and fur were most prominent. I definitely felt very "5th Avenue" like in this look!

Overall, thank you to the Lotte New York Palace for hosting me during NYFW! Until next time NYC. <3

Much love,

IN THE HEART OF THE PALMS: ATLANTIS

Image credits: LEILA MEDIA

For the second part of my trip in Dubai, I decided to get away from the bustle of the downtown to really explore the beach side of the Arabian sea. From the glass blown Chihuly sculpture in the center of the lobby, to the magnificent views of the Dubai skyline, its safe to say that the Atlantis Hotel Palm Dubai has an unparalleled level of leisure and luxury while also being a family resort. And the best part is, you can visit and enjoy much of the attractions and restaurants without being a guest! 

Upon arriving to Atlantis the Palm Hotel, you're welcomed by the grandeur architecture of the hotel in and out. We were staying in the Executive Club Suite, which was EXTREMELY roomy compared to most metropolitan city hotels (ex. NYC). I had several photoshoots during my stay at the hotel, so the room was amazingly convenient for outfit changes, and having visitors in and out. The closet space was enormous, as was the bathroom, which is honestly more essential than the room itself for most girls (do you hear me!?). 

Here are some of my top things to do at Atlantis Palm Hotel Dubai! 

"Ayamna" Restaurant | Images via Trip Advisor

Breakfast: "Kaleidoscope": This is the most amazing buffet with unlimited options from all around the world. My favorite item is the zaatar and cheese manaeesh (flatbreads). 

Lunch: "Ayamna": Authentic Lebanese Cuisine in a dreamy arabesque seating area.  My favorite was the kibbeh. 

Dining: "Ossiano Seafood Restaurant": Such a stunning luxury experience while by the aquariums. Read about the award winning restaurant here.

Shu Qi Spa: The most relaxing thing I did throughout my stay in Dubai. Their ladies lounge is perfect after a treatment (it includes a jacuzzi inside).

Aquaventure Waterpark: The weather was a bit chilly on the days we were there, otherwise the waterparks looked SO exciting! Next time for sure!

 

The weather in Dubai this time around was a-m-a-z-i-n-g, which is why I'm in an orange knit sweater & pleated skirt. This took place at the Atlantis's beach side restaurant area. You can shop a similar look below: 

Honestly, the Atlantis Palm Hotel Dubai is one of the most extravagant family resorts I've been to. My mother and I absolutely loved spending time at the resort, and even after a few days, we were not able to finish nearly half of the things to do. If you are considering visiting Dubai sometime soon whether with friends, as a couple, or with your family, this is definitely a treasure of the city that is not to be missed. 

I remember the first time I came to Dubai in 2014, I felt so claustrophobic in the middle of the cities enormous skyscrapers and highway systems. After this visit (which was much longer than the previous 48 hour trip I took), I'm really glad to have seen a completely different side of what the city has to offer, and I definitely appreciate all the facets of Dubai in its metropolitan, desert and coastal features. 

 

Much love,

IN THE HEART OF DUBAI: SHANGRI LA

It's a new year and I'm back in DUBAI. The last time I visited the city was in 2014-- for a whole 48 hours... so this time, I had to have a longer stay.

We arrived to the city late at night, after multiple delayed flights, and our driver took us in a matter of minutes to our hotel, the Shangri La Dubai. It's located near Sheikh Zayed Road, which is the hustling & bustling center of the city. For the first two days of my trips, I spent them between meetings upon meetings, so the location of the hotel was PERFECT to make time to come back and forth between the city. It's also conveniently located next to the Dubai Metro, as well as a number of dining options around and on-site. 

Upon waking up, the hotel offers an amazing buffet with a range of international cuisines, ranging from a DIY juice buffet, to foul moudamas bowls and various spices and vegetable toppings. For anyone who knows me, I'm THE expert on making different breakfast foods, so its safe to say that my breakfast food cravings were content at the Shangri La Dubai.

After breakfast, we decided to tour the hotel, and stumbled upon the hotel's rooftop at 40th floor views of the Burj Khalifa. Night or day, the skyline was just dazzling, and it was honestly so amusing to watch the view of the miniature sized cars on the highways and people walk around, from our distant perspective. If you've ever played frogger as a child, you can imagine the view from above of crossing the street amongst all the vehicles in Dubai's 8 lane roads.   

If you're ever in Dubai for business or leisure, the Shangri La Dubai Hotel will not disappoint! 

Much love,

GUIDED CENTRAL WEST END LIVING TOUR: 4101 LACLEDE

When I'm not traveling, I love being able to explore the city I call home. Last weekend, I had the opportunity to join 4101 Laclede on a guided tour of the Central West End Area. Central West End is a bustling, vibrant and historic neighborhood in Saint Louis, featuring a number of unique dining, shopping and residential areas. It was named a top ten neighborhood in the USA by the American Planning Association! 

I'm happy to announce that 4101 Laclede will begin construction THIS December! It will be a 54 residential unit, luxury condominium complex, ranging from one bedrooms to penthouses. I especially love how each residential unit will have access to outdoor space, whether it be a balcony or full terrace. Living in STL with 4 different seasons, it is an amazing opportunity to indulge in the outdoor living space while also having a beautiful, modern home. From walk-in closets to custom-bathrooms, 4101 Laclede is going to be one of the most innovative projects happening in my city! 

Ashley Kuenstler Photography

Ashley Kuenstler Photography

We began our tour with a group brunch at Retreat Gastropub. The breakfast was AMAZING. All this time, I've lived in this city and have not had a chance to experience this brunch spot. Living in 4101 Laclede next door, you would definitely be able to dine here often. 

Next, we continued on our tour in super cute golf carts around the CWE neighboorhood area! The weather was quite perfect that morning for an outdoor ride. We stopped at the World Chess Hall of Fame, a famous museum in the city of STL, home to numerous antiques (I'm a huge history lover!). 

Afterwards, we stopped by Kit & Ace to browse their newest cashmere collection (and to play some Mario Cart during their happy hour shopping times!).

Later, we visited Centro, a super chic furniture destination, featuring unique and modern collectable pieces. We played a mini-scavenger hunt. It's such an inspiring place to be in.

Overall, I'm very excited to see the 4101 Laclede project in development, as I believe it'll be a great asset to the city of Saint Louis. While it's amazing to travel, I love being able to come back to the city I call home and be a tourist in my own hometown. 

 Are you planning on traveling to St. Louis anytime soon? Let me know in the comments and I'd love to provide more tips for touring the city and Central West End Area! 

Much love,

 

 

MY FIRST STAY-CATION: THE RITZ-CARLTON, SAINT LOUIS

The moment I walked into the room, I saw my Marc Jacob's bag on the desk. I thought to myself "did they unpack my bags!? How is my purse here?". As I got closer, it turned out to be a life-size strawberry cream cake of my favorite Marc Jacobs bag! I was in awe of how accurate the chef was with the details of the bag (I guess I wear it quite often on Instagram!). Such a wonderful welcome! 

Situated in Downtown Clayton, I had the opportunity to stay at The Ritz Carlton - Saint Louis with my fiancé last month. I had never had a stay-cation in Saint Louis before this, so getting to know the city around me as a guest was such a memorable experience! I really enjoyed being able to checkout of everyday life and take some time to catch up on emails and blog work (with some amazing coffee).

My favorite thing about the hotel was in the small details. The lobby always had fresh roses in various colors. There were complimentarily colorful bikes outside to take to Forest Park (side note, the largest park in the USA!). Each room and floor level had Parisian-like balconies that overlooked different parts of Saint Louis. From the attentive staff to the white marble bathrooms to the spectacular view of Saint Louis outside my suite, The Ritz Carlton- Saint Louis was such a unique experience in the city I call home.  

In addition, The Ritz-Carlton-Saint Louis is home to a spectacular spa (that I highly recommend to anyone wanting to have a luxury Spa experience in STL!). Feel free to browse their menu here! As for dining options, I was told that The Restaurant was the #1 breakfast spot in Saint Louis (which I in fact confirmed after a delicious breakfast buffet). Best part, The Restaurant is open to the public (I will definitely be back with my family)!  

Since we were conveniently located by Forest Park, my fiancé and I took the colorful bikes down to Art Hill for a picnic. We were handed a delicious picnic basket, custom packed with cold shrimp, cheese & cracker assortments, watermelon, Mediterranean salads and more all by The Ritz Carlton's kitchen chef herself! I highly encourage asking the front desk about the Forest Park Picnic service next time you are in the area! 

Often times, people seek to travel out of their hometowns for summer vacation, but in reality, it's quite nice to explore your own city as a guest. So Saint Louis folk, next time you are seeking to checkout of everyday life, try experiencing a stay-cation and you might just make some wonderful memories in your own hometown. Thank you Ritz-Carlton Saint Louis for the amazing #RCMemories! 

Much love,

24 HOURS IN NYC WITH L'OREAL PARIS

              Arriving to the hotel to a gorgeous delivery from Give Landeau.

              Arriving to the hotel to a gorgeous delivery from Give Landeau.

                                                  Shooting in the studio!

                                                  Shooting in the studio!

                                                         ALL DONE. 

                                                         ALL DONE. 

                                       Seriously, SOHO is my fave <3. 

                                       Seriously, SOHO is my fave <3. 

                  TY-LR Australia blazer, H&M skinnies & block heels. 

                  TY-LR Australia blazer, H&M skinnies & block heels. 

I am so happy to have spent 24 hours in beautiful NYC with L'Oreal Paris shooting a fun brand campaign! I met such amazing people on set and can't wait to share the final results this Fall. Meanwhile, I had about 50 minutes after finishing a day in the studio to walk around. The first time I went to NYFW, I remember feeling alone and overwhelmed by the big city. This being the third visit to NYC that year, I feel so much more connected and overjoyed by the bustling atmosphere of the big apple. Til next time NYC!

Much love,