Month: January 2018

Savannah, Georgia: Gloriously Green and the Jewel of Georgia

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Savannah: the perfect stop for the southbound traveler to Florida from East Coast locations. Its relaxing pace and abundance of parks provide a welcome respite from the traffic, dull scenery, and exhaust fumes of I-95. This is a favorite stop of mine on the way to the cruise ports of Southern Florida, and a great excuse not to fly.

Savannah is a city of parks adorning square after square and virtually every block in the historic district. Savannah is particularly famous for it’s somewhat spooky Spanish moss draped and magnificent magnolia trees, and the mighty monuments of silent Southern heroes which guard them. Even in the thick of Winter this city is beautiful. Basking in the sunny 70s January weather, it is an oasis of foliage if not blooms (yet). Savannah is delightfully quaint and peaceful.

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The golden dome of City Hall glistens in the sunny skyline, in this, the jewel of Georgia. And its queen might just be Paula Deen, the Southern cook of Food Network fame. I visited her restaurant “Lady and Sons” and partook in the buffet, which abounded with Southern favorite comfort foods like fried chicken, seasoned mashed potatoes, spoon bread, collard greens, black eyed peas, candied yams, barbecue ribs, meatloaf, and more. And as if that weren’t enough, we were offered her signature hoe cakes and cheddar biscuits, and rich, gooey desserts like butter cake, peach cobbler, and banana pudding. We washed it down with delectable, perfectly brewed sweet iced tea garnished with mint. Good thing we were in a city where walking is such a pleasure – dinner was admittedly an explosion of calories! Nightlife in Savannah is robust during peak season, but more modest in the off-season… the perfect time to settle for a relaxing stroll.

There are many good hotel options in Savannah a stone’s through from all of the attractions in the historic district, and off-season rates are excellent. Be prepared, however, to pay a premium for parking (forced valet) or park on the street at meters ($1 an hour and free overnight.) I always approach Savannah with a roll of quarters (although the new meters will accept credit cards as well). We have had great stays at both the Hilton Garden Inn/Historic District and the Courtyard Marriott/Historic District. The Hilton is located closer to the action (practically right outside the front door), while the Marriott is conveniently located right next to a city parking garage (and about a 10 minute walk from it all). We enjoyed the Southern hospitality and comfortable accommodations of both.

I hope you will have a chance to stop by Savannah. The historic district is small and compact, and may be comfortably explored on foot in the course of one day – perfect as a stopover destination.

My very first YouTube post is now live: Savannah, Georgia Vlog 2018! This is a small sample of Savannah which will (hopefully) whet your appetite for more videos, which will be forthcoming! I plan on becoming more ambitious with my videos in the coming weeks. Please give it a thumbs-up and subscribe! You may view it at:

Savannah, Georgia Vlog 2018!

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Thanks for all of your support!

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Travel Flashback: Carnival Triumph to Mexico in September

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By the time this blog publishes, I’ll be sipping Pina Coladas in the Caribbean Sea, (yes – the Caribbean again… hey I like my winter 75 and sunny!) so it was time to pre-schedule a saved blog post from September as a “flashback” this week! Given the trip was unforgettable, didn’t seem to matter that it took place last fall – it feels like yesterday!

We sailed on the Carnival Triumph to Cozumel and Yucatan. The New Orleans departure port offered us a great excuse to take a long road trip, and we stopped in Biloxi at Harrah’s for a couple of nights of unbridled fun gaming and amazing gulf coast seafood! I had never experienced such great table games with low minimums and friendly dealers at any other casino I’d ever been to. Then it was off to New Orleans and the ship. For the first port excursion, I visited the ancient Mayan city of Tulum, and being an Art History major in college I was completely overcome with awe! From the 13th-15th century, the structures of Tulum have held up impressively well considering their age. There are many different buildings; particularly interesting are the temple and palace. I love museums, but there is nothing quite like being surrounded by ancient architecture in a wide open outdoor space to help visualize and imagine how it was back in the day and bring it to life. Of course, these are ruins and heavily damaged, but they really give you a sense of the expanse of the city and some of the day-to-day rituals that were important elements of people’s lives in the time. And then there is the modern population now calling this place home – iguanas! They were crawling all over the ruins, and one of the locals advised me they are the “guardians!”

After the visit to Tulum we visited a community of modern-day Mayans. They provided us a delectable meal including the most mouth-watering, piping hot and fresh off the griddle homemade tortillas. After a stop at a cenote for a refreshing swim it was back to the ship.

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I wanted to choose an excursion suitable for my disabled husband at the next port, so we signed up for the Mi Casa Es Su Casa VIP beach house. We were looking forward to a relaxing day on the beach, in the pool, on the hammocks, and having our appetite satisfied and thirst quenched by attentive waiters while we settled in on loungers drenched in warm, golden sunlight. The highlight of the day was the on-site masseuse who only charged $30 for a half-hour massage that prepared us well for our day of blissful relaxation. After an indulgent massage it was time for spicy margaritas and an array of delicious Mexican specialties on the buffet before a dip in the pool – and ocean. It was a luxurious day of pampering and peace.

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After our Mexican adventure it was back to the ship and the port of New Orleans. Feeling lucky after such a terrific trip, we stopped in at Harrah’s New Orleans for some gaming fun before the long drive home. Sure enough, I left a winner, and had a deposit for the next adventure!

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Southern Caribbean on the Norwegian Dawn, Part 2: St. Kitts, Antigua, St. Thomas

Welcome back for the second installment of Southern Caribbean on Norwegian Dawn! St. Kitts was the third stop on the cruise, and I opted for the St. Kitts Scenic Railway excursion, which turned out to be a great choice. The train circled the island, with the views becoming increasingly spectacular as the tour progressed. Rum drinks were served, but what was really intoxicating were the scenes of the magnificent volcano capped in puffy clouds, mountains rising out of the flattest plains of lush green fields, grasses blowing in the breeze, and cute, pastel house dotted villages. Locals waved to us every step of the way, warm welcomes complementing the warmth of the noon-day December sun and temperature in the 70s. This was paradise.

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There was time to spend at port after the train ride, and in contrast to the peaceful glide through the countryside, the port was bustling with a fun, party-like atmosphere. It was fun to stop in at the local shop, purchase the local beer (Carib – a personal favorite so difficult to find in the U.S. – such a treat!) and wander the streets beer in hand (something that would be impossible at home!) taking in the laid-back island atmosphere and people watching.

Antigua was the next stop – an alternate stop to St. Maarten which was substituted on the itinerary due to hurricane damage. I did not book an excursion for this port as none were posted until the last minute, so instead I opted for a self-guided tour. There was a tremendous contrast between the touristy shopping area close to the port dominated by tourists and the streets further out where primarily locals were to be found. Sadly the area appeared poor and in need of some repair and restoration.

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The church above is an example of this. The two towers stood out like exclamation points from anywhere in town (and even from our cabin’s balcony!) enticing me to approach. I didn’t realize until I could view it up close the urgent need for restoration. I was very glad to have been able to, hopefully, do my part to help the local economy doing some shopping at the port and paying my port taxes. Once back on the ship, I settled in on the balcony to enjoy what turned out to be the most spectacular sunset views of the entire cruise, with layers of deep blue, purple, orange, and yellow bleeding into each other in a stew of brilliant color as a backdrop to the dark outlines of islands. My imagination drifted to the days of pirates commandeering these incredible views – the ultimate Caribbean treasure. It was a beautiful ending to a beautiful day.

The final stop on the trip was St. Thomas. I was expecting to be underwhelmed, because I tend to enjoy destinations the more exotic they are and St. Thomas is a U.S. territory, but I could not have been more wrong. St. Thomas ended up being a highlight of the tour!

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Upon arrival, we were enthusiastically greeted by locals in vibrantly-colored local costumes energetically dancing in the street, including one on stilts! I had booked an excursion to Megan’s Bay beach – ranked one of the 10 most beautiful beaches in the world by National Geographic, and shopping and Charlotte Amalie. Our tour bus stopped at a thrilling scenic overlook high above Megan’s Bay, and then continued down the mountain to the shores of this magnificent beach. The tour guide claimed that the beach was damaged during the hurricanes – but other than palm trees being propped up by wooden braces I couldn’t tell. The beach stretched on so long it was easy to escape the crowds by strolling further down the vast shoreline. The water was warm and crystal clear, and the sound of the waves rushing in accompanied by peaceful silence was a delight to my ears. I wanted to pitch a tent and stay there forever!

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We proceeded into Charlotte Amalie afterwards, where high-end shops, especially jewelry shops, were over-represented, but I did manage to find a couple of real local gems, in particular a shop featuring the work of artists capturing the beauty and spirit of St. Thomas. As an Art History major in college I found their wares irresistible, and picked up a painting, photographic work, and drawing for my home office. The scenery here was so unforgettable that I wouldn’t need these reminders, but I would cherish them nonetheless. After shopping I did a self-guided tour to view the unique Danish architecture and brilliant, bright pastel colored structures abundant in both St. Thomas and the Caribbean.

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I left St. Thomas determined to pack up and move! (At least eventually!) I have traveled extensively throughout the U.S., and never encountered a more delicious expanse of eye-candy anywhere else on U.S. soil.

Back to the ship and it was time to return to San Juan, overflowing with amazing memories and a long checklist of places to which I “absolutely must!” return to. This includes the Dawn cruise ship itself, which will have its own post, (video tour included!) after our next Dawn cruise coming up this March!

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Southern Caribbean on Norwegian Dawn Part 1: Barbados & Martinique

After spending the night in San Juan, it was off to the port to embark on a Pirate’s island-hopping journey (sans pillage and other objectionable activity!) through the Southern Caribbean for 7 days aboard the Norwegian Dawn. She’s a fine ship – meticulously well maintained and brimming with a wealth of great entertainment and bounty of good food – but that is for another post, for the highlights of this trip are the magnificent islands – a strand of fine gems dotting the Atlantic and Caribbean Sea. I wore it well.

The first stop was Barbados, the southernmost point of our itinerary. Despite the fact that it was December and snowing when I left home, in Barbados it was in the mid 70s with a gentle breeze of sun-drenched, fresh-scented air. I would be meeting some new friends this day – the “green monkeys” of Barbados, on the Green Monkey Encounter and 4×4 Adventure excursion.

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To my surprise, I was greeted by far more than adorable monkeys, but tortoises and deer as well. These animals were fearless – approaching people with reckless abandon, allowing for very close contact (sans touching – the sign warned they bite!) and amazing photo ops. The monkeys also interacted with each other – grooming each other, screeching at each other, and chasing one another swinging limb to limb through the trees. They sat on the tortoises, who showed no indication of minding. Surrounded by monkeys, out in the open – not in a zoo, this was a truly unique experience (despite the joke-cracking about the monkeys down here from the Caribbeans who claim they have been overrun a la “Planet of the Apes!”) After our visit with the monkeys, we proceeded to scenic areas for more amazing photos as long as we could evade the distraction of eager local vendors.

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The final leg of the journey involved a 4×4 romp through the jungle, our rum punches sloshing out of plastic cups as we bounced around in our seats. It was great fun! Barbados was a beautiful island, with crystal clear water beaches, an upscale economy, and architecture unimpaired by hurricane damage (our tour guide advised us this is because of the location of Barbados and wind stream in the area.)

Martinique was the next day’s port – and the highlight of the trip. Happy to brush up on my college French, I wasn’t just in Martinique, I was in France. Martinique remains a region of France, rather than having become independent as many of her sister islands had done. Transported to another culture, and with magnificent scenery of mountains plunging into ocean, black sand beaches, and the most vibrant flowers I’d ever witnessed, it was “très magnifique!”

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We stopped at the church (shown above) of Sacre Coeur, said to be a miniaturized version of the landmark church in Paris. The residents I encountered on Martinique patriotically displayed their admiration for their compatriots in continental France. The tour bus traversed steep mountainside roads, bright colors splashed along the roadside in the form of beautiful flowers. Enormous peaks shadowed deeply plunged valleys – those with a fear of heights be forewarned. We continued on to a rum factory, DePaz, which showed the process of creating this intoxicating (literally) drink. The rum was prepared in gigantic vats, and aged in perfectly crafted barrels. The best part, of course, was the tasting at the end of the tour – especially since it was the finest rum I’d ever tasted – sweet but not overbearingly so. The final stop on the tour was the local museum, which had displays on local famous (and infamous) citizens, and some historic artifacts. Outside cannons lined the elevated overlook, wary of battles against the British in bygone days.

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A local woman was selling beautiful handcrafted objects that were a delight to view along with tourist trinkets. Hot in the December sun (!) I picked up a handcrafted fan with a brightly colored plaid pattern traditional to the island. Looking back, I regret not further expanding my collection of souvenirs with her enviable wares. She had some beautiful dolls in traditional textiles that stand out in my memory. Good news, I have an excuse to return (not that I didn’t have one already!)

It was back to the ship again after another amazing adventure, and time to gaze from my shipboard balcony at the bold orange sunset blanketed in blue and violet ribbons you expect to see in paintings more than in real life.  A perfect end to a perfect day.

Stay subscribed next time for Part 2: St. Kitts, Antigua, and St. Thomas. A review of the Dawn will be covered in a future post.

December in San Juan!

75ish degrees in December? Check. Quaint, narrow streets and pastel-splashed colonial buildings? Check. Awe-inspiring glimpses into colonial Caribbean history? Check. Mountainside neighborhoods plunging into spectacular oceanfront promenades and beaches? Check. The sounds of an exotic language and scents and tastes of an exotic cuisine, right here at home? Check. A magnificent harbor dotted with the grandest of cruise ships to the smallest of sailboats, basking in the luxurious warmth of the December sun and floating on glistening pastel blue waters? Check. San Juan, Puerto Rico is a beautiful winter escape from the continental U.S. No passport required… and no parka required. Enjoy a piping hot chicken empanada as you stroll down a cobbled street gazing at the pastel hues of architecture from another era and you may as well be a million miles away.

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We stopped here before catching the Norwegian Dawn cruise ship’s Southern Caribbean itinerary, sailing out of San Juan. This city is well worth exploring before or after a cruise out of the port. San Juan is busy rebuilding after hurricane season, and tourist dollars are a big help – so do not let the damage reports deter you. Outside of the tourist areas there are neighborhoods where power has not yet been restored, and some buildings show damage. But for the most part the city is vibrant and restored, and glorious to behold. Taking a cruise out of San Juan? Do not overlook this port during your travel adventures. Sick of snow, bulky layers, and scraping ice off your windshield? Ditto. As a U.S. territory, Puerto Rico is an easy visit for U.S. citizens – so you can focus on all of the things you’d like to see and do here instead of the red tape you need to overcome to get here!

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The above photo shows the view from the top of the fort in Old San Juan, meticulously maintained by the National Park Service. This is an absolute must-see stop for any visitor to San Juan. You’ll feel like a kid again, curiously advancing through dark tunnels and running up stairs to the top of this imposing structure eager to see how high it goes, and imagining bearing down against pirates and imperial powers alike in a real-life, super-cool fort! A short film will introduce you to the history of the fort and the U.S. presence in Puerto Rico, and then wander the grounds where you will find the barracks, a dungeon complete with colonial-era graffiti (!), pop-marked outer walls given their character from repeated attacks in colonial days, and utterly magnificent views over the entire city.

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The National Park Service has clearly gone to tremendous care to restore and maintain this breathtaking landmark. Surrounded by history, and unencumbered by droves of tourists during the off-season, you are transported back in time. The fort is also surprisingly accessible for older visitors and those who may have mobility issues. An elevator transports you up to the level of the main square, and benches are available throughout to take a breather and reflect. For the disabled, admission is also free. (It’s $7 for everyone else – money well spent to help with preservation.)

I hope that you too have had or will have the chance to visit this delightful city – preferably in the winter when, if you are like me, you’d really rather not be getting buried in snow – and heavy layers of clothing – at home! Should you visit, you are sure to say “Hasta luego!” (until later) rather than goodbye when you regrettably have to leave. (Don’t forget you pack your shorts and t-shirts!) More on our cruise through the Southern Caribbean coming soon!

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I am extremely grateful for your generous donation to help keep the site running! This site and individual posts are not sponsored, and I receive no wage or salary!

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