Basking in Bermuda Part 2: Hamilton, St. George’s, Pink Sand Beaches, Glass-Bottom Boat

I wasn’t sure the next day in Bermuda, focused on Bermuda’s cities, could top my experiences of the previous day. Yet, in it’s own way, this alternative look at Bermuda was equally enthralling!

Pink Sand 2

Horseshoe Bay Beach: One of Bermuda’s Famous “Pink Sand” Beaches

The day began with a stop at one of Bermuda’s famous “pink sand” beaches, Horseshoe Bay beach. I was even more struck by how quiet and peaceful the beach was than by the color of the sand, which I would describe as more pink-ish than outright pink. In Bermuda, there are small red organisms that live among the coral. When they pass away they drop to the ocean floor and combine with coral and crushed shell, and when this substance washes up on the beach it gives the sand Bermuda’s signature pink hue. Contrasting with the brilliant aqua ocean, the beach is a magnificent sight, and I would have loved to have spent the day. Especially since this would have been a great change of pace from the crowded beaches back home! But the cities were waiting to be discovered!

Hamilton5

Hamilton

Hamilton, at about the middle of the main island, was founded in 1790. Hamilton is a vibrant pastel-colored cityscape with lively bars, restaurants, shopping, and businesses. Bermuda’s economic hub is highly developed, modern, and exciting! Palm trees dot the bustling harbor front with a backdrop of banks and government buildings. Hamilton means business! I wandered the streets, allowing the city vibe to sink in. Hamilton is easily reached from the port by ferry or van, and is well worth the excursion. It’s a great place to people-watch from an outdoor cafe, see Bermuda’s version of the “skyscraper,” (New Yorkers, please resist the temptation to scoff!) or spend way too much money in the expensive retail outlets! (The Bermuda dollar’s value is maintained at equal to the U.S. dollar, and U.S. dollars are eagerly welcomed in shops and restaurants!)

Hamilton4

Busy Hamilton Intersection

After the brisker pace of Hamilton, I was ready to slow down in the more quaint city of St. George’s. St. George’s was founded in 1612, at the northernmost tip of the main island. Here, historic recreations are played out in front of City Hall by elaborately costumed actors, a jumble of sailboat masts reach for baby-blue skies, and empty, narrow streets wind through charming colonial pastel architecture.

St George

Road Less Traveled, St’ George’s

While Hamilton plays the boisterous younger sibling, St. George’s plays the more settled down, graceful older one. Strolling among soft breezes, watching sailboats bob in the harbor, getting a glimpse of old-fashioned British phone booths, and being enveloped by a rainbow of pastel on it’s narrow streets, St. George’s is a delightful step back in time.

Greenphone

Green Phone Booth, St. George’s

From the Royal Naval Dockyard, to Hamilton, to St. George’s, Bermuda’s hubs have their own unique personalities – and I enjoyed getting to know them all. The British may have seen Bermuda as an opportunity to keep an eye on America. But with all of these lovely distractions right here in Bermuda I’m not sure how!

After a few minutes of freshening up, it was time for a night out on the open sea – aboard a glass-bottom boat for a shipwreck tour. I was skeptical – the excursion had some negative reviews, and any tour which includes viewing wildlife – land or sea – can be hit or miss depending on who decides to show up for the party. But it turned out to be an outstanding tour, with very entertaining guides, a visible shipwreck both in, and sticking out of, the ocean, and loads of fish, coral, and other interesting sights below. You can see for yourself on the video below!

I filmed a second video of Bermuda covering the sights mentioned in this blog, which you may view here:

 

Advertisements

Basking in Bermuda Part 1: Royal Naval Dockyard, Crystal Caves, & Aquarium

Glad you’re back for the next installment in my Carnival Pride back-to-back cruise series! The first week of the cruise meant a visit to one destination for four days: Bermuda. This first post will cover my exploration of the Royal Naval Dockyeard, the Crystal Caves, and the Aquarium, Zoo, & Museum.

The Royal Naval Dockyard is flush with British history and icons. The fortress and slumbering cannons provide the backdrop for cheeky, bright red phone booths. Tropical palm trees stand out like exclamation points to remind us of the Empire’s colonial reach.

Iconic Images at Royal Naval Dockyard

A stroll through the Royal Naval Dockyard is also a patriotic reminder for American visitors of why this large Naval base was built up: because we kicked the British out! Through their presence in Bermuda, Britain could make an effort at keeping a watchful eye on us.

I ordered a monster sized glass of amber-colored beer from the local brewery, the Frog and Onion Pub. They call it the “Big Ben.” It was just the perfect serving to spend a long time lingering here, soaking in the history and sunshine.

When the sun set, the water glistened in the moonlight and bold silhouettes of the twin clock towers shined with the glow of their lights in front of a backdrop of clear, star-littered black sky. It was time to rest up for a busy day of sightseeing tomorrow.

Night

I took a tour featuring an excursion around the island, including stops at the Crystal Caves and the Aquarium, Zoo, & Museum. The caves are a natural wonder formed during the Pleistocene Ice Age, later discovered by two teenage boys playing cricket in 1907. The cave ceilings are dripping with stalactites, and floors are coated with stalagmites. These limestone caves are truly a sight to behold, eerie and other-worldly while at the same time beautiful. The “crystal” in the name refers to the crystal clear water at the base of the cave. Here, it is easy to see how these waters have become a black hole for cellphones, sunglasses and other modern conveniences that were dropped and never retrieved. I can’t say I’m surprised – the views are so awe-inspiring in here I can see how someone could easily get distracted and drop what they were holding.

Crystal Cave 2

Crystal Caves

I, however, emerged from the caves my personal belongings intact, and I boarded the bus to head on to the Aquarium, Zoo, & Museum, where I would witness an abundance of varieties of tropical fish and other sea creatures as well as an interesting assortment of animals.

The flamingos and fish were bursting with color, and the chorus of squawking by the flamingos was endlessly entertaining! The seals were very friendly, gliding through the waters and poking their heads out as they came around to greet me! The museum housed interesting displays describing the natural habitats of the island.

Next it was a return to the Royal Naval Dockyard and the ship for some rest in preparation for another exciting day in Bermuda tomorrow. Next week: Bermuda’s cities – Hamilton and St. George’s, as well as the famous pink sand beach!

My YouTube video is available for this time in Bermuda here!:


As always, thanks for coming along on my travels!

Carnival Pride Tour and Review!

Welcome to installment 2 in my Carnival Pride back-to-back cruise series! The Carnival Pride sails out of Baltimore, Maryland. My itinerary included Bermuda the first week, and Bahamas and Turks & Caicos the second week. I previously posted on the back-to-back cruise experience, which you may read here: Back to Back Cruise Experience.

The Pride is a comparatively small cruise ship, and some cosmetic wear and tear is apparent in the form of rust spots and nicks and bumps on the trim and decor. This will bother different people to different extents. Personally this is something that I am bothered by, but it’s superficial, and I still managed to have a great time on the cruise. Customer service and meals were very good, and the entertainment was hit-or-miss. The shows didn’t have a huge production value and elaborate special effects that I have seen on some other ships, but the performers were talented. The Bermuda leg of the trip was cold and rainy – especially when the ship was in the vicinity of Baltimore. April is still quite chilly in Baltimore, so spring is not an ideal time for a sailing out of this port.

The cabin was larger than any other interior cabin I have ever been housed in on a cruise ship, and unlike with the other Carnival cruises I have taken, I actually had a refrigerator in my cabin this time. I was very satisfied with the roominess! I would say the cabins are probably the best asset of the Pride. If a roomy cabin is a high priority for you, this may be a good ship to look into.

The Lido deck was unusual in that there are really 2 neighboring Lido decks: one with a sunroof, that is closed off from the elements, and a second one that is wide open. I have never sailed on a ship with this arrangement before. People generally crowded onto the covered deck when it was chilly or rainy, and the other deck when things warmed up closer to the port destinations.

The Atrium was also unusual. It wasn’t vast and expansive the way I have experienced on other ships. It was a very tall shaft. Decor seemed to be inspired by the renaissance in most areas, and a kind of mermaid theme on the deck and buffet areas. As I have become accustomed to on Carnival, the decor was somewhat tacky in some areas, but there were other areas of the ship that appeared to be more recently remodeled to retreat to.

Meals were usually good. I enjoyed most of the meals I was served in the main dining room.  Guy’s Burger Joint and Blue Iguana were always great. The pizza was also fairly good. I can’t rave about the buffet, however. The drinks at the bars were very well prepared. I particularly enjoyed the atmosphere and drinks at Alchemy Bar and Red Frog Pub.

The Serenity deck was large, and included many clamshell loungers and even hammocks. Unfortunately, whenever it wasn’t raining it was absolutely packed! I couldn’t get near the hammocks or clamshell loungers even once over the course of the 2 weeks. (I wanted to go out there in between the 2 cruises when there were only a few other customers on the ship, but it was pouring rain!) This was a big disappointment.

There was definitely room for improvement on the Pride, but a Pride cruise is a fun experience nonetheless. If you’re sailing out of Baltimore, be sure to pack some long sleeves unless it’s summer! Shawls and sweatshirts were the hottest sellers in the shops when I sailed because most of us (myself included!) were not prepared for the weather!

Come back next Monday for the next installment in the series – the first stop: Bermuda! In the meantime, here is my video tour of the Pride on YouTube!:

Holiday Inn Express Baltimore Cruise Package: Tour and Review!

My Post (11)

Holiday Inn Express, Baltimore Hotel Room

Welcome to the first installment of my series on April’s back-to-back cruise on the Carnival Pride out of Baltimore, Maryland!

Parking is always an important consideration when you are road-tripping to your cruise port. The ports charge a premium for parking that can really add up depending on the length of your cruise. In many cities, there are lower-cost parking alternatives with free shuttle service to the port. These options are very limited in Baltimore, making the cruise package with Holiday Inn Express on Russell Street a good option. I was driving from Virginia and didn’t need an overnight stay, but it turned out the hotel night plus parking only cost a negligible amount more than if I had parked only at the port for the back-to-back cruise. So I planned on staying the night before to relax and have a stress free transfer to the ship on cruise day!

Pros:

  • Convenient round-trip shuttle transfer to the cruise port included
  • Free parking for up to 8 days, and discounted extra days if needed
  • Comfortable hotel room in a great location next to Horseshoe Baltimore Casino
  • Breakfast included (although it was underwhelming, and available to everyone)

Cons:

  • Fairly expensive when I reserved (although your results may vary, and it was a better value than just parking)

I appreciated the ability to get my drive out of the way the day before, even though I could have fairly easily made the trip the morning of the cruise. There was no rushing to get ready and get on the road in the morning. Instead, I woke and had breakfast at my leisure before boarding the shuttle. And the night before was enjoyable and relaxing. I had a great dinner steps away at Guy Fieri’s Bar-b-que Joint at Horseshoe, followed by trying my luck on the casino floor. Horseshoe Baltimore is a Total Rewards casino with a large assortment of table and machine games, a lively poker room, and several restaurants. After the fun and exciting nightlife, I was ready for a good night’s sleep on the comfortable bed in my room to prepare for the full day of cruising ahead!

I recommend the cruise package at Holiday Inn Express Baltimore. Considering the cost of parking alone, I found it to be a very worthwhile value, and enjoyed my stay.

My YouTube video on the Holiday Inn Express Baltimore cruise package is now live!:

Next week: a review of the Carnival Pride cruise ship!

How to travel MORE for LESS: Build Your Budget Travel Game Plan!

Modern Passenger airplane flight in sunset panorama

How do you do it?

I am frequently asked how I have managed to make travel such a consistent part of my day-to-day life. So I wanted to provide some tips for ways I have been able to accomplish this. Some sacrifices and compromises are necessary, and may not be for everyone. But I for one think they are well worth it! This is a long post – and that’s good news! It means there’s a lot of ways to save money on travel!

It really comes down to two obstacles: time and money. Often, people have plenty of one and not the other. Maybe you are retired or between jobs and have plenty of time, but money’s tight. Or maybe you have a very demanding job which pays you well but doesn’t allow you the time to enjoy it. Unfortunately, if you want to live a more nomadic lifestyle, it will probably require some compromises.

This may mean waiting until children are older, swapping jobs for one that allows more flexible scheduling, or passing on the big house, new car, and other luxury expenses to put money away for travel. But there are some easier solutions that may not turn you into a nomad overnight but could help you moving in that direction.

Los Angeles skyline with palm trees in the foreground

Los Angeles, California

Time can be your friend, or your enemy…

First, I’ll address the time issue. Life is short, and it’s up to us to make the most of that valuable, and all-too-limited commodity.  While that bigger paycheck is tempting, and could certainly help with travel, what good is it if it takes workaholic gymnastics to earn it and you don’t have time to enjoy it? There aren’t enough flex-time jobs out there – but they are out there. Jobs that allow telecommuting and/or setting your own schedule (like working monster hours the week before and after the trip so you can miss a week, or job sharing so you can take “turns”) are ideal for the aspiring nomad. If you are satisfied with your career and this is not an option for you, there are other ways to incorporate travel into your life in a bigger way. Take a look at what days you do have off. How many of those weekends or long weekends could be spent elsewhere? Think outside the box. Travel comes in many forms: long and short, close and far. And the world is more connected than ever. But what about all of those chores and errands you do over the weekend? Here’s where the compromise comes in. It may mean harder work the rest of the week – the job and all of these other things, to free up your weekend, or week if you work flex-time. (I can tell you first hand it’s worth it!)

Money matters.

As for the money issue – there are a number of ways to do more and save money doing it.

Here are some of my favorite ways to travel that save money:

  1. Road trips. Road trips force you to stay overnight on the way to your final destination (depending on distance), allowing you to see MORE, and that’s the idea. Not only is it cheaper than other ground transportation, it allows you more freedom. And compared with air travel it might cost you more depending on how many hotels you book along the way… BUT when you compare apples to apples – if you flew to all of those places you will be stopping at which one would have cost you more? And, obviously, the more people you are traveling with the greater the savings, since there are no individual tickets to buy! You may find some amazing surprises and hidden gems in places you never expected traveling this way.
  2. Cruises. Like long road trips, cruises allow you to visit multiple destinations. The difference? You have a floating “hotel” room throughout the trip. (No schlepping luggage once on board!) Many things are included, like meals and entertainment. And as for anything else, you can pre-pay practically everything now, which helps with eliminating the financial anxiety of unexpected expenses during travel. I don’t know about you, but that has been a concern of mine. I have found cruises to be an excellent value offering great peace of mind. Just don’t go “overboard” (pun intended!) on your spending on non-included shopping and other optional luxuries on the ship!
  3. Road trip to cruise port, then cruise! For the same reasons noted above! If your cruise port isn’t close by, consider road-tripping it!
  4. Seek out parking discounts. If you need to park and fly or park and cruise, research your options. The airports and cruise ports charge a premium for parking. A Google search for your airport or cruise port and “cheap parking” will yield you wallet-friendlier options with free shuttle service. Some hotels also offer cruise packages that provide parking. Google “hotel cruise package” and your port city for those.
  5. Don’t underestimate the value of more “local” travel. If you can’t afford a major trip, or your time is severely limited, see what your home city or state/province has to offer, or a neighboring one. You might be surprised what was in your backyard that you never knew about!
Fredericksburg Battlefield jpeg

Imagining history at a Civil War Battlefield, Fredericksburg, Virginia

Financial planning to facilitate travel.

Here are some of my favorite ways to facilitate saving for travel:

  1. Eliminate debt. Debt imprisons you. It forces you to work more hours to cover the bills (including interest), leaving you less time to travel, devours more of your paycheck (and, in some cases, most of your paycheck!), and cripples your ability to save for more travel. Sure, it’s nice to have a bigger house, newer car, and all of that cool stuff you can buy with credit cards. But the price is too high if travel is a priority for you. If you can (it may take time) pay those cards down to zero and save them for travel emergencies, or get travel reward cards to use for groceries, utilities, and gas that you have to pay for anyway and pay them off every single month. Big mortgages and car payments not only hinder your ability to travel, but put you at risk. So make more modest choices if you can. If a financial emergency comes up, and your home or transportation to work are at risk, travel will be the least of your concerns.
  2. This may seem obvious, but people don’t often implement it. Be more minimalist at home and save that money for travel. This is related to eliminating debt too. Smaller home, older car, going out less often at home… I have found that a smaller home has the added benefit of being more low-maintenance, which is more consistent with a nomadic lifestyle. Of course, with children you may need to wait to downsize these things. Look at your monthly bills and see if there is anything you wouldn’t miss. For example, I prefer video games at home to regular movie nights out. I can get unlimited (fun!) use out of that video game for the cost of a handful of one-time movie theater tickets. And I would rather go out to restaurants when I’m traveling than when I’m at home.
  3. Location over size in housing. I would rather have a smaller place closer to many destinations I’d like to visit than a bigger or more elaborate place that is more isolated. If you are in the market for a new place, are your “local” travel options abundant or scarce? This is even more important if your time is limited. I’ll be saving by getting a small condo… and increasing my travel options by purchasing in Florida (more to come on that in future blog posts!)

DISCOUNTED travel! Don’t pay full price, ever!

Here are my favorite ways to get DISCOUNTED travel!:

  1. Founders Card. This has been the number one most significant way I have been able to save on travel for the past several years. It is a selective program that requires application, but if you can get approved the value is endless. (Entrepreneurs and executives have the highest rate of acceptance). With this membership, I have annually been promoted to Total Rewards Diamond tier level, Hilton Honors Gold, and more. This year I was able to redeem for Marriott Rewards Gold. You can also get instant tier level upgrades on car rentals and airlines as well as discounts on many other travel and lifestyle products and services. There are also hotels that you can book directly from the Founders Card website for deep discounts. To give you an idea on how much I save with this card: I’ll give Total Rewards Diamond, at Caesar’s Entertainment casinos, as the first example. It takes 15,000 tier points to earn Diamond the “hard” way. How much casino play is that? One point for every $5 on slots and every $10 on video poker. Tables are variable, but it’s not any easier. I think the math is pretty clear here. The Total Rewards benefit alone pays for Founders Card several times over. Added bonus: Total Rewards is partnered with Wyndham, so your Diamond card automatically entitles you to Diamond tier level with Wyndham hotels, too. You also get a 4 night free stay at Atlantis in the Bahamas, a $100 celebration dinner every year, free valet, no resort fees, 20% discount on Norwegian cruises, and skipping all of the lines on Total Rewards Properties (skipping lines=priceless!) Another example: Hilton Honors Gold. This one requires 20 stays or 40 nights in one year at Hilton properties. But with no stays, I was already receiving the welcome gifts, free upgrades, and free $15 breakfasts at Hilton Garden Inn properties, for example. If I had to name the one thing that allowed me to save the most on travel, it would be Founder’s Card. To apply to join Founders Card, or get more information, visit Founders Card.founderscard
  2. AAA Membership. AAA has a membership fee, but is well worth the cost. My favorite thing about AAA is that I can get AAA discounts while still booking directly through my favorite hotel brand websites. It means I will earn rewards for my stay, while still getting the discount. Hotel websites like Hilton and Marriott have a “special rate” option with AAA listed. If I were to book through a travel website for a discount, like Expedia, I would not get credited through the hotel brand’s rewards program. The bonus with AAA is that I can also save on emergency road service (great peace of mind for long road trips), car repairs, and get free maps and other goodies. I have found AAA well worth it, and been a member for over two decades!aaa
  3. Costco Travel. Like AAA, use of this site requires membership. I consider the travel discounts, along with other benefits of the card (discounts on gas, groceries, and more), worth it. Car rental rates and theme park packages are especially advantageous on this site. Perks are often offered with cruise bookings, like on-board credits.costco
  4. Cruise line websites directly. A google search will get you to your desired cruise line’s website quickly. Many of the major cruise lines run promotions frequently. For example, the “Free at Sea” promotion through Norwegian is (at least as of this writing), very commonly found on their site, and it’s an outstanding offer that lets you choose from several coveted freebies. Best of all – even if you have a cruise voucher from a casino and aren’t paying for the cruise you are still eligible for the promotions on NCL (your results may vary here depending on cruise line.) I like to compare offers on the different cruise lines when I’m ready to book. You may still want to check one of the other resources listed here too for comparison.ncl
  5. Hotel Reward Programs. Google your hotel brand for the link to the rewards site where you can sign up for free. The perks you receive are based on your tier level, which increases depending on the number of stays you have purchased (or not, if you have Founders Card!) The “basic” level, at zero stays, usually has limited perks but will usually give you something, like free internet. As you increase in tier level you will start to see perks like free gifts at check in, free upgrades, premium internet, and free premium breakfasts.marriott
  6. Expedia and online travel sites for air travel and activities. As I previously mentioned, I don’t like these sites for hotel reservations because I cannot earn rewards through my loyalty programs. However, I have booked flights this way and still earned loyalty rewards from the airline. (Your results may vary depending on airline.) I have found that flight costs vary a lot more from airline to airline than hotel rooms of the same amenities category, and different airlines fly different routes, so I don’t necessarily want to stay “brand loyal” when it comes to flights. The ease of use on these sites is a plus too, especially if you need to book complicated open-jaw or multiple destination trips. Bear in mind you may need to make your seat reservation through the airline’s website or customer service number. Tourist attraction tickets can also be a good value on these sites.expedia
  7. BE CAREFUL with travel insurance. Some travel insurance offers are deceptively limited (ahem… Expedia… for example…). Many of them won’t pay except in EXTREME cases, particularly in the case of flights (read: documented death in immediate family or severe personal illness and nothing else!) Don’t expect them to necessarily pay because your transfer form of transportation didn’t arrive in time, work won’t let you go after all, or you made a mistake. There may be insurances that do cover this – although I’ve never encountered one, but make sure!
  8. Day Passes. These passes are available through online travel sites like Expedia, and direct through the pass vendors’ websites. Google “day pass” and your city for the vendor sites. They are available for many different cities, both in the U.S. and abroad. For one set price, you have access to many attractions to choose from. Sometimes the number of places you can visit for the duration of the pass is specified (you choose the places), or they are unlimited within the specified time frame. This can save you a great deal over purchasing tickets individually on-site, and they often include skipping the lines. The passes also frequently include transportation options to get you from place to place, like double-decker bus tours and water taxis!pass
  9. Groupon. This site offers a number of travel options, but where it really shines is with attraction tickets. You can often find cheap attraction tickets to theme parks and other tourist sites. Inventory changes frequently, so if you don’t find what you were looking for you may want to check back at a later time.groupon
  10. Casino Players Clubs. Aaaahhhh… my favorite way to cruise: with a FREE cruise voucher from a land-based casino where I had a free room and meal to go up and pick up the cruise voucher! My husband and I were offered 6 of these vouchers in one year. Do you have to play? Yes. Do you have to be a high roller? NO! You just have to play smart. (Disclaimer: if you choose to gamble, please play within your means and in moderation! If you play anyway, get rewarded for it!) So while you don’t need to be a high roller, you do need to be aware of something called your “ADT” or “average daily theoretical.” You aren’t rewarded on how much you play as much as how much you play on an average day you are there. This means: better to go less often and play more than go often and play less. DO NOT use your players card for comps at shops and restaurants, “small” play (like $20 on your way out), or even to check your balance on the kiosk on a day you are not playing. It triggers a new “trip” for the new day and hurts your ADT, leading to a reduction in your rewards. Spreading yourself too thin – playing at multiple casinos, hurts too so it’s good to settle on one, or at most two, brands. If you play the way that maximizes your ADT, the better rewards you can get, including cruise vouchers. (These are mailers I get which I respond to by calling to reserve the voucher and then traveling to the casino on the day of the offer to pick it up. You only pay port taxes and fees.) I also never pay for rooms and almost never pay for meals at the casino either. I’m partial to Total Rewards because of the Diamond upgrade I get from Founders Card and the huge number of locations to choose from. Caesar’s, Harrah’s, Bally’s, and Horseshoe are all brands within the Total Rewards family. If you are partial to a particular cruise line, Total Rewards gives Norwegian vouchers, Tropicana gives Carnival vouchers, and Resorts gives Princess vouchers. I can’t vouch for this first hand but others have told me MGM gives Royal Caribbean vouchers.TR
  11. Delta Skymiles Vacations and Cruises. I want to thank Mr Traveler on YouTube for this suggestion which I was not previously aware of. Delta is offering sweet perks for booking with them on travel arrangements besides air travel, and, as an added bonus, they will reward you miles in their Skymiles program for booking all kinds of travel with them.skymiles
  12. Demographic-specific discounts. Other groups that are often eligible for discounts include AARP members, members of the military (active and retired), students, and senior citizens. Always bring your ID cards (college ID, military ID, etc.) when you travel! These discounts are often available at attractions and are sometimes available on hotel rooms and transportation. For example, I typically save huge at museums with my student ID, such as a full year membership at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts for $10!

If you have children…

If you have children, things are more challenging. I waited until my children were older to ramp up my travel ambitions. But here are some tips:

  1. Road Trips! With no individual tickets to buy, this is the cheapest way to travel with a larger group. Just remember – children are less patient with car rides. Plan frequent stops.
  2. Camping Trips. Camping is cheap, doesn’t charge by the person, and offers a lot of high-energy activities that are great for kids like hiking and swimming, as long as the adults can tolerate “roughing” it!
  3. Amusement Parks. Kids love amusement parks, and often you can find great deals on sites like Groupon. Sometimes you can find “rain check” tickets on Ebay too.
  4. Group Lodging. Some hotels charge a surcharge for extra people in the room. And most hotels have limits on how many people can sleep in the room, so it may not even be an option with a larger family. Rental cabins are a good solution.

Final thoughts…

Keep in mind, not all of these websites that offer discounts on multiple providers will offer every provider, so shop around. (For example, no Southwest Airlines on Expedia.) Finally, I have one more suggestion. A trip is only a good value if you have a positive experience! That’s why I often refer to Tripadvisor for reviews of hotels, restaurants, destinations, and more! Planning and researching ahead is critical to budget, and high value, travel!

I hope this post helps you save some money – and time – in your future travel ambitions! Next week: my series on my back-to-back cruise on the Carnival Pride will begin. I hope you will come along!

 

Spring at the Sand and Sea in Atlantic City, New Jersey!

Atlantic City tourism is usually associated with summertime. But my favorite times to visit are spring and autumn. Ideal temperatures and smaller crowds make a stroll along the historic Boardwalk and views of the miles of public beaches idyllic! Casinos are more eager to please, because there are fewer visitors (specifically on weekdays) and perks are more abundant. And it is easier to find an empty seat on the Boardwalk tram – allowing you to see and do as much as possible – an irresistible prospect!

Caesar’s… a resort fit for an Emperor. Both the public areas and private rooms are dripping with luxury. The main lobby is a spectacular rendition of ancient Rome, down to the depiction of the Augustus of Prima Porta statue. He stands tall next to a fake but convincing palm tree that is home to a family of live birds that, from time to time, will fly along the backdrop of the cloud-painted ceiling, welcoming visitors. Or perch themselves on Augustus’ shoulder, chirping and drawing attention to the great Augustus, poised in contrapposto pose (art history speak for addressing an audience). This lobby is truly breathtaking and easily one of my favorite hotel lobbies I have ever visited. In my room, I enjoyed spectacular views of the beach while I contemplated how I would spend my day in this, one of my all-time favorite cities.

The Quarter at Tropicana’s decor is inspired by Havana, and provides a pleasant and inspiring place to dine in delicious restaurants, explore chic boutique shops, and, if you are so inclined, try your luck at the games. The Quarter is bursting with energy and eye-candy!

SteelPier2 (1 of 1)

Steel Pier and beach

The Boardwalk trams were back after their winter hiatus, and for $3 ($6 for an all-day pass), you can cover the length of the Boardwalk. I took a ride down to the Steel Pier, enjoying the sites and scents of salt water taffy shops, massage and psychic parlors, arcades, and other bastions of fun along the Boardwalk on the way, many of them just waking up from their winter hibernation. The amusement park at the Steel Pier was not yet open – the one aspect of coming during this season I consider a disappointment. But it’s okay – because I can’t get enough of this place and surely will return in the summer. The Steel Pier is not only fun and exciting, but historic, still standing from the 1890s.

If you haven’t had enough shopping at the Quarter, The Tanger Outlets and the Playground provide additional opportunities for an endulgent shopping binge!  Between the casinos and the shopping, working overtime before your trip to Atlantic City never hurts!

If you have been following my posts and YouTube channel, you may be aware that my husband recently passed away. The most pressing reason of all I wanted to return to Atlantic City at this time was that this was his favorite place to visit. We traveled extensively, and internationally, and whenever a trip was over he would ask, “When are we going to Atlantic City again?” I have so many cherished memories of our time spent together here, and longed to be surrounded by that at this tremendously difficult time. It was a great comfort, and one that I hope, in some way, he was able to share in.

My YouTube video from this trip is posted, which you may view here!:

 

Spring in Charleston, South Carolina – and the Horse Drawn Carriage Controversy?

charleston 3 (1 of 1)

Charleston, South Carolina is quaint, calm, colorful, clean, and a snapshot into the past, so a horse-drawn carriage seemed the perfect way to experience it. I was informed by my tour guide that a local resident has stirred up a “controversy” involving the horse-drawn carriages in the city, which are operated by several different companies. She asserted that the objections she was making about the life of the horses was a guise for her disapproval of having to share the road with the (slower) carriages. But we “pulled over” frequently to let cars pass, and the tour guide was eager to describe the ways in which her company was making a better life for the horses.

The tour guide explained that their horses are purchased from Amish auctions, where they are rescued from the potential of being bought by others which, in some cases, could result in their cruel treatment and even death. Not all countries regulate the humane treatment of animals, and the auctions generate attention from international buyers. Her happiness in describing the regular “vacations” the horses take, and far, far lighter workload than they had become accustomed to on the farms was very apparent. Horses are rotated on the tours and given plenty of rest, water, and food in between tours, and given regular days off out at pasture.

My tour guide’s explanations were compelling. I looked further into the complaints through a local newspaper, The Post and Courier. An article written by Gregory Yee indicates that the protesters are apparently complaining about five main issues. (Yee, Gregory. “Charleston’s carriage tour companies, animal advocates hold opposing events amid controversy over horse conditions,” The Post and Courier, Charleston, S.C., 2017: (https://www.postandcourier.com/news/charleston-s-carriage-tour-companies-animal-advocates-hold-opposing-events/article_e0421270-7a0b-11e7-852f-cb7ebfa7e48f.html).

The first issue is the way the carriages can stall traffic. But given that tourism is the top industry in the city, and the carriages have become a major part of it, I find it amazing a local would want to jeopardize a big part of the economic prosperity of their city to avoid a little traffic congestion. The second issue has to do with a horse “throwing” a tour guide off a carriage. But my response is that this is to be expected. Tour guides understand and accept this risk. Horses are intelligent animals, and can be stubborn and exercise a “mind of their own” from time to time. Anyone who has spent any time at all riding horses is probably aware of this. The third issue has to do with someone in a T-Rex costume spooking one of the horses. Again – my take is that this is normal and expected for a horse to get spooked from time to time – and has nothing to do with the carriage companies being “inhumane” to the horses in any way. The next complaint had to do with a horse tripping and falling – an accident that I would argue could easily happen to any horse at any time, anywhere. It’s an accident that can happen to even the most pampered horse – just as well as it can happen to even the most pampered human. The last complaint mentioned was that the horses are out in the heat. Yee quotes Broderick Christoff, Owner of Charleston Carriage Works as saying: “We never had a heat-related incident,” and that the horses’ temperatures are taken regularly, including after every tour. (Yee, Gregory. “Charleston’s carriage tour companies, animal advocates hold opposing events amid controversy over horse conditions,” The Post and Courier, Charleston, S.C., 2017: (https://www.postandcourier.com/news/charleston-s-carriage-tour-companies-animal-advocates-hold-opposing-events/article_e0421270-7a0b-11e7-852f-cb7ebfa7e48f.html).

After the tour guide discussed the way her company cares for the horses, it was time for some history. As someone who has visited Savannah, Georgia several times I found it interesting the way she described why Savannah has more Colonial architecture, while Charleston more Victorian architecture: due to fire damage Charleston suffered during the Civil War. The architecture is breathtaking, most notably on “Rainbow Row” where a plethora of pastel delights the eyes – both on the buildings and meticulously maintained gardens they hold. Quaint streets are dotted with the Palmetto palm trees the state is famous for, their leaves rustling in the gentle breeze. Inviting cobblestone alleys lure you to linger and get lost among the fine old buildings and luxurious gardens bursting with life and color.

Of course, no trip to Charleston (or anywhere!) is complete without a place to rest and a good meal after a long day of sightseeing. Hyman’s Seafood is a Charleston institution, established in 1890. The walls are covered with signed celebrity photos – customers of Hyman’s through the years, and tables sport placards with the names of who (famous) dined at your seat. It’s very impressive to see how many celebrities have been drawn to this place. I opted for the fried clams and collard greens, and local beer. The dinner provided a very satisfying and delectable finish to a very satisfying day! I wandered through their country store after my meal and could not resist picking up their “To think like a fish you need to drink like a fish” t-shirt, a fine souvenir of my visit here!

I stayed at the Spring Hill Suites – Riverview. They have a shuttle which will run you into the historic district in the evenings and on weekends. I enjoyed a balcony, mini-kitchen, work space, ample room, and a very comfortable bed. The options at the free breakfast had been reduced since my previous visit and I wished the shuttle ran all day on weekdays, but other than that I had no complaints.

Charleston, along with Savannah, is a great stopover for people heading from the mid-Atlantic and northeast down to Florida, as I have often done on my way to the cruise ports. I will certainly want to return again and again! My YouTube video on Charleston is now live:

 

 

Source: Yee, Gregory. “Charleston’s carriage tour companies, animal advocates hold opposing events amid controversy over horse conditions,” The Post and Courier, Charleston, S.C., 2017: https://www.postandcourier.com/news/charleston-s-carriage-tour-companies-animal-advocates-hold-opposing-events/article_e0421270-7a0b-11e7-852f-cb7ebfa7e48f.html.

The Back-to-Back Cruise Experience

backtoback1 (1 of 1)

As a back-to-back cruiser on the Carnival Pride this month, I wanted to share the process, what it felt like, and tips related to the back-to-back cruising experience. It was tremendous fun, and definitely something I would highly recommend!

We booked two seven-day cruises back to back on the Carnival Pride out of Baltimore, Maryland on April 8. The first week, the ship was sailing to Bermuda for a three-night overnight stay. The second week the itinerary included day stops in Grand Turk in Turks and Caicos and Princess Cays and Freeport in the Bahamas.

Nothing differed from the single cruise experience until four days into the first cruise, when a letter was delivered to the cabin inviting us to proceed to the Atrium on disembarkation day to join other back-to-back cruisers in being personally escorted off the ship, through immigration, and back on the ship again. The letter informed us that if we had the same cabin reserved (we did) that packing was not necessary. (If you were assigned a different cabin, the letter advised that the steward would be happy to help relocate your belongings.) On the last night, we did not pack, and simply relaxed and slept in followed by a leisurely breakfast. We proceeded to the Atrium at the appointed time (after the other cruisers had left the ship) where an employee took all five of us to an immigration officer who checked our passports and released us back to the ship. It took all of ten minutes. (I have to admit, it was a guilty pleasure watching other guests exit the ship and navigate long lines while we relaxed looking forward to the upcoming week!) Once back on the ship, a special “back-to-back” photo was taken of the group and we were treated to free mimosas at the bar. Perhaps the best part of the day, however, was the ability to have the ship to ourselves for about 45 minutes. It was quite a while before large groups started boarding, since VIPs were allowed aboard first in small groups. Rather than waiting until 2:00pm to visit our stateroom, we were of course free to return to our stateroom at any time. We later found out that the back-to-back photo was to be provided to us free of charge.

B2B2 edit

The second week proceeded as usual. We were very pleased that many of the staff members we had encountered the first week remembered us and acknowledged us as back-to-back guests. We received our luggage tags and packed with everyone else on the last night, and disembarked as usual. But we were thrilled to have had a full extra week! We had a lot of time to really get to know the ship as well as to explore several different ports. The staff really made us feel special, like pampered, VIP guests!

Of course, we could have simply taken a fourteen day cruise, but it would have been a different experience. That spoiled feeling from getting special treatment, unique from other guests, would have been absent. On the other hand, instead of returning to the home port halfway through we could have traveled further. There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches. But I recommend the back-to-back experience at least once.

If you decide to book a back-to-back, I recommend these tips:

  • Try to arrange for a back-to-back with two different itineraries, so you are not visiting the same ports twice.
  • Request the same cabin for both cruises so that you don’t need to pack up and have your belongings moved to a new cabin mid-trip.
  • Fully unpack on the first day! I often don’t fully unpack on shorter cruises because I’m not sure if I’m going to need everything and re-packing is such a hassle. But I was glad I fully unpacked this time – I had easy access to everything without worrying about packing again within a week.
  • Enjoy greater flexibility in your activity schedule, but don’t assume the exact same shipboard activities will be available the following week. On our trip, two different comedians boarded the ship for the second week. Some shows were repeated and others were not. The evening movies were the same. If there’s something you really want to do, don’t assume it will be repeated on the second cruise – but if you do miss it the first time around watch for it again because there is a good chance it will be.

I hope you will have the opportunity to experience a back-to-back cruise (or that you already have!) Blog posts related to these cruises will be available in the upcoming weeks.

Harvest Caye, Belize: Port, and Excursion (More Wildlife “Bore” than Wildlife “Tour”!)

Belize 5 (1 of 1)

The Grand Finale port of the Norwegian Dawn’s Western Caribbean cruise was Harvest Caye, Belize. I was amazed by the size of the port and number of amenities available. There are multiple huge beaches with an ample source of brightly hued blue and yellow lounge chairs and umbrellas, a gigantic pool with swim-up bar, the usual (only more of it!) shopping and restaurants, and a number of adventure sporting activities including parasailing and zip-lining.

Belize 1 (1 of 1)

We enjoyed a local percussion band while we awaited our excursion. Sold by the description indicating there would be manatees to see on this wildlife tour, I was eagerly awaiting our departure. We boarded a small boat that sailed into an area called the “mangroves,” a kind of coastal swamp with trees forming bundles of dense, tangled roots. Apparently this setting is favored by much of the native wildlife, including manatees.

 

We saw several different varieties of birds, and some creepy jellyfish, but I did not see a manatee. A few poked their noses out of the water – and otherwise stayed submerged. I know – a wildlife tour is no “guarantee” that you’re going to see wildlife… but it’s still disappointing, especially when the brochure shows the full body of a manatee as an enticement… It did not seem as though they liked coming up out of the water. All in all, it ended up being the least enjoyable cruise excursion I’ve ever been on. I think I will probably avoid these wildlife tours in the future, because of the potential for this problem. When you’ve only got a limited amount of time in a place, like at a cruise port, you want to make the most of it and not risk a bust. This was supposed to be a wildlife “tour,” but it turned out to be more of a wildlife “bore.” The only manatee I saw was the carved wooden one outside of the entrance to the tour.

 

That said, I still ended up having an amazing time, because the port had a lot to offer and I had time when we returned to enjoy it (though, regrettably, we did not spend a full day in Belize.) I immediately headed for the beach to soak in the incredible view of palm trees blowing in the wind, a beautiful lighthouse in the distance, people playing volleyball on the beach, and zip-liners and parasailers zooming, and floating, by above. It was a gorgeous day basking in the sun, and listening to the crystal clear water splashing up onto the beach.

 

Like many cruise ports, the shops here were touristy and pricey… but still fun to explore (especially the free tastings at the chocolate and rum shops…) The chocolate was out of this world – especially the chili and coffee flavored varieties. Enough so that I was determined to take my chances and try to make it back to the ship with some, through the 80s degree heat, hoping it wouldn’t melt before I could get back!

Harvest Caye was definitely worth future visits – but next time with a different kind of excursion. In the meantime, I hope they introduce a jaguar preserve excursion, which I was hoping to find this time but no such luck! (I’m sure the other cat lovers out there will completely get behind this request!)

Here’s the YouTube video from my channel covering this port!:

Roatan, Honduras: Dolphin Encounter & Port Tour 2018!

Roatan, Honduras was the third port stop on our Norwegian Dawn Western Caribbean cruise. There are multiple ports on Roatan, and this one appeared to be Norwegian-specific. It was a very small port with expensive shopping, restaurants… and excursions. And I would definitely go out on a limb and say definitely plan an excursion of some kind if you are docking here. The port can be seen entirely, at a leisurely pace, in about a half hour. Of course, there’s always the option of just sitting, soaking in the sun, listening to the musicians, or people-watching over a coconut latte coffee (delicious!), ice cold Corona, or giant plate of chicken nachos… (somehow they’re just not the same on the ship!)

roatan 4 (1 of 1)

Fortunately, I had an excursion reserved: the Dolphin Encounter. Now I know that objections have come up to this activity. But not all companies that run this activity are created equal. This excursion was run by the Roatan Institute for Marine Sciences. The dolphins are not tracked by gps or otherwise, are allowed to swim free, have lots of wide-open space in a rural environment, and return by choice after venturing out. They also are not forced to do anything, and only interact with people when they feel like it. I shared the ethical dilemma some others feel about this activity, and because of that I made sure to visit one which treated the dolphins humanely. If you feel the way I do, you may want to visit this particular one, or one like it, to experience a dolphin encounter.

The other major advantage of taking this excursion here is the fact that you are allowed to use your own camera. You do not have it the whole time – your “one-on-one” with the dolphin is photographed by their professional photographer. But both photography and filming are allowed for the majority of the encounter. Several other companies do NOT allow you to film or photograph. I was very pleased with the photos they took and chose to order them to keep along with the footage I captured myself.

We were divided into smaller groups, each with our own dolphin and trainer to interact with. My group’s dolphin was named “Polli.” It was a thrilling experience to interact with her! She was very talkative and playful throughout the visit. She showed us some fast swimming, jumps, and “moon-walking” on the water’s surface. The trainer told us about the dolphins and how they are cared for. It was both fascinating and exciting! But that was nothing compared to the ultimate experience of the day: petting, hugging, and getting kissed by the dolphin! It was honestly one of the most memorable, cherished experiences I have ever had.

There was also a swimming with the dolphins option, which requires full submersion in the water and the donning of required gear (which is provided). Here you even get to interact with the dolphins underwater. I passed on this due to a shortage of swimming skill and due to the significantly higher cost, but it is something you may want to consider.

You can see video footage of this adventure on my YouTube channel!: