Category: travel

Cruises and COVID-19: Update

 

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Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas

Cruises have been put on hold since mid-March due to COVID-19. Since then, I’ve had two cruises cancel – and two more are imminent to cancel due to new restrictions. Is there an end in sight? In this post, I’ll give you the latest news on government restrictions on cruise travel and cruise line plans for sailing once again, as well as my theories on what I expect going forward.

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Norwegian Bliss

Government Restrictions

On May 29, Canada extended their ban on cruise ship travel involving their country until November, 2020. The ban applies to ships with more than 100 people aboard and overnight accommodations. Meanwhile, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s no-sail recommendation is due to expire on July 24. Currently there is no update on whether that deadline may be extended or not. And any cruises scheduled to visit Europe, Asia, and other continents will need to comply with local regulations in those areas.

The good news is that many states in the U.S., from which a large percentage of cruise ships embark, are rapidly easing out of lockdown. Florida, with some of the most popular embarkation ports in the world for cruise ships, has already opened up the economy to restaurants, retail, salons, and even gyms with social distancing measures. Governor Ron DeSantis has consistently demonstrated an open-minded attitude about easing lockdowns and restoring the economy, and it is my belief and theory that Florida may be the first state to allow cruise travel. Texas has also progressed quickly towards easing lockdowns and may be one of the first to resume cruising as well. Other places like New York and Los Angeles have been slower to ease restrictions and it could be a lot longer before you can cruise again. New York City specifically has suspended cruises through the end of the year.

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Norwegian Jade Lido Deck

What about the stops?

On May 29th, the Bahamas announced a tentative July 1 reopening date for international tourism, and have indicated previously that they look forward to welcoming cruise ships back into port. Most of the Caribbean islands rely heavily on tourism, and in particular cruise tourism, to keep their economies going. I have no doubt many of these islands will open either before, or very shortly after, cruise ships begin sailing again.

The rest of the world is more questionable. I’ve already had the cruise line cancel the Asia cruise I had scheduled for Spring, 2021, and many countries’ economies are less reliant on cruise tourism and can afford to wait. These areas are likely to open later.

Unfortunately, it’s a big unknown right now who will open and when. With the COVID-19 case count and spread having been so unpredictable, jurisdictions around the world have been unwilling to confirm a concrete date for reopening their ports.

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Port St. Maarten: “Prepared for the Future in Cruises”

What about the cruise lines?

The cruise lines have been more willing to provide at least tentative dates. This is not an exhaustive list of every cruise line, but will give you an update for the major lines. Please keep in mind that cruise lines have been adjusting their policies, and scheduling and canceling, on an ongoing basis. So these dates may be extended and boarding requirements may change depending on the COVID-19 situation on land.

Please note – and this is important… It is possible to visit these cruise lines’ websites and book a cruise that is inconsistent with their policy on sailing dates. If you wish to reserve a cruise, it’s important to be vigilant and carefully assess whether the cruise you wish to book falls within the guidelines outlined below. Otherwise, you may be settling on future cruise credit after paying cash on a cruise available to book that the cruise line was already aware would not be sailing. My theory is that this is a “money grab” to help recoup losses that have been suffered as a result of COVID-19 restrictions, but I cannot declare that definitively.

AIDA has suspended cruises until July 31.

CARNIVAL has suspended cruises through July 31. Cruises will only embark from three ports: Galveston, Miami, and Port Canaveral, until September 1. Guests over 70 years of age will require doctor’s authorization to sail, and medical screening pre-boarding will be ramped-up.

CELEBRITY has suspended cruises until July 31. Guests who are at least 70 years of age will require doctor’s authorization to sail, and medical screening pre-boarding will be ramped-up.

DISNEY will resume cruises on July 31. Not all ships will resume sailing at the same time.

HOLLAND AMERICA has suspended cruises until Fall, 2020.

MSC will resume cruises on July 11. Guests 70 years of age or older will require a doctor’s authorization to sail, and medical screening pre-boarding will be ramped-up.

NORWEGIAN has suspended cruises until August 1. After that, ships will be put back into commission gradually over time, beginning with five.

PRINCESS has halted operations into the Fall season. The Alaska itinerary has been canceled for 2020.

ROYAL CARIBBEAN has suspended service until August 1. Guests age 70 or older will require a doctor’s authorization to sail. Guests with at least one serious medical condition, as outlined by the CDC, will be denied boarding all together.

To be honest, I anticipate lawsuits coming down the pipe. Age discrimination is a valid argument against the requirements of some of these cruise ship lines that will be singling out people 70 and over with additional restrictions, but it remains to be seen whether agencies like the AARP will get involved or class-action lawsuits will be filed. In my own personal opinion it is discrimination. I also believe it’s bad public relations for the cruise lines, because many of their most loyal customers fall within this age bracket.

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Carnival Sensation Lido Deck

Cruise Line Cancellation Policies

Most cruise lines have eased their cancellation restrictions through at least the fall. Below I’ve outlined some of the major lines’ new policies.

CARNIVAL says if your cruise is scheduled up to September, 2020, you’re allowed to cancel up to 30 days prior to the sail date in exchange for 100% future cruise credit that must be redeemed to book another cruise within a year of the original embarkation date.

CELEBRITY says customers may cancel up to 48 hours before the time their ship is scheduled to sail in exchange for 100% future cruise credit to be used by May 4, 2022. Only bookings made by August 1, 2020 qualify.

DISNEY says that if you’re booked on a cruise starting in Europe on or before July 25, 2020 you may cancel up to 24 hours ahead for 100% cruise credit to be redeemed within 15 months of original embarkation date.

HOLLAND AMERICA says if you have a cruise scheduled through October 15, 2020 you may cancel up to 30 days before sailing for 100% future cruise credit which must be used up until the end of 2021. Also, if you make a new reservation by August 31, 2020 on a cruise sailing by October 15, 2020, you may cancel up to 30 days before sailing for 100% future cruise credit and have all cancelation fees waived.

MSC says cruises booked to depart on or before September 30, 2020 may cancel as late as 48 hours before embarkation time and receive a full refund of the cruise fare only (no taxes, fees, or pre-paid orders.) The credit may be used up to December, 2021.

NORWEGIAN says all passengers who book a cruise scheduled through November 30, 2020 may cancel up to 48 hours in advance and receive 100% future cruise credit that must be redeemed by December 31, 2022.

PRINCESS is offering full refunds on amount paid plus 25% on cruises that are canceled by the cruise line in the form of future cruise credit. The credit must be used by May, 2022.

ROYAL CARIBBEAN says customers can cancel up to 48 hours in advance for 100% future cruise credit that must be redeemed by April, 2022. Additionally they will price match any price drop on the same sailing and reimburse the difference in the form of shipboard credit. Customers can also change their sailing to a similar sailing (as determined by RCL) in 2021 or 2022 up to a month prior to sailing. The cruise must be rescheduled by August 1, 2020.

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Crown Princess and Carnival Glory at Port

Conclusion

I know many of you are as eager as I am to set sail yet again, and I look forward to providing you with continuing news on the cruise shutdown. Please subscribe to my YouTube channel for further updates at: Ultimate Travel Adventures YouTube Channel!

I will also continue to provide cruise ship tours and reviews, and tours of ports-of-call both here on the blog and the YouTube channel, so I look forward to seeing you again here and there! Thanks for your support!

UPDATE: the accompanying video is UP! View it here!:

COVID-19 Cruise Update Video!

 

 

“Non-Essential” Spouses Separated by Borders During COVID-19

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Pointless Passports

Immediate Family is “Essential”

I’m compelled by personal tragedy to work to increase awareness about a significant story that is not getting the attention it deserves in the media, or from the governments, at this time of Coronavirus. As you may be aware, the Canada-U.S.-Mexico borders are closed to all but “essential travelers” at this time of COVID-19. You may agree or disagree with this decision. But whether or not the general public, including shoppers and tourists, should be allowed to cross the border is beyond the purview of this post. I want to talk specifically about a category that by all standards of common sense, ethics, and moral justice, should be considered “essential travelers.” The borders should open to them immediately. This category is immediate family, specifically the spouses and children of citizens of the U.S., Canada, or Mexico.

US/Canada Border, Peace Arch, Washington State, USA. Empty border lanes at crossing between US and Canada.

U.S.-Canada Border Crossing Closings

Spouses and Children: Separated by COVID-19

An untold but significant number of citizens of the U.S., Canada, and Mexico have foreign national spouses who are citizens of a neighboring country, and these people are currently being denied border crossing, despite the wording in the regulations that “essential travelers” are allowed passage during the Coronavirus outbreak. There are also an unspeakable number of children who are being denied access to their foreign national parent across the border, despite court orders enforcing visitation. This is outrageous, unconscionable, and indescribably inexcusable.

I’m an American Citizen and my newlywed husband is Canadian. We’re stranded, separated – myself in Florida and he in Ontario. Neither he nor I can cross the border to reunite right now. According to the governments, our travel is “non-essential,” our relationship disposable and irrelevant. The worst part isn’t even the separation itself – it’s the fact that we have no idea when the border will re-open or we will see each other again. It’s an agonizing waiting game, and one where I’m glued to the news desperately hoping for an update that would be encouraging in light of our desperate desire to be reunited. While the border closure was extended to June 21, it’s already been extended twice, so there’s no indication it won’t be extended again – or how many more times the border closure will be extended. Keeping immediate family separated for months on end, and with no end in sight, is extremely misguided, and, I would argue, immoral.

I don’t mean to suggest that spouses and children from countries outside of North America shouldn’t be included in the “essential travelers” category – they should. I’m only focusing on the North American numbers because the number of Canadian, American, and Mexican citizens suffering through the border closing, and separated from their immediate family members, is especially staggering due to the proximity of these three countries.

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“Non-Essential” Spouses

Safety Precautions Against Coronavirus are Possible

I get that governments are concerned about the Coronavirus and that they may not be ready to open to a flood of border crossings by “anyone and everyone.” But I contend that NOTHING is more important than immediate family, especially at a time like this. An exception should be made to the border closure for spouses and children of citizens, effective immediately!

I have some suggestions to include in my plea to make the plan safer. Require a 2 week quarantine for the spouses and children crossing the border. And, if necessary, download of an app to track the person could be required, to assure compliance with the quarantine. A negative test in the past 48 hours could also help if a COVID-19 test would be readily available to both parties. Although I consider these measures intrusive and an invasion of privacy that I would reject utterly under ordinary circumstances, I would gladly temper my ethical standards and comply with any of these requirements if it meant being reunited with my beloved husband.

A bad situation is being made much, much worse, and unnecessarily. There are mitigating safety measures that can be taken to allow truly essential travelers: spouses and children of citizens, to be added to the border crossing exemption, not just truckers and health workers.

There’s Other Factors, Too

Another thing to consider is that when spouses are from different countries, and share two different residences, they are more likely to have urgent business and property matters that need attention across the border. My car is stranded in Canada, and I’m stuck in the U.S. without transportation, since my husband and I came to the U.S. in his car and he was forced to return to Canada. I also have other personal property in Canada right now that I need, and don’t have, access to. This is a very complex problem with a very simple solution!!!

A Plea to Our Governments

Due to the close friendship between our countries, many, many people have developed relationships and created multi-national families, and being separated indefinitely is an extreme emotional hardship for them. A plea to our governments: you brought us together; let us stay together. Please make an exception for immediate family members to be considered “essential” travelers, and grant us permission to cross the border.

How You Can Help

First, I hope you will subscribe to my YouTube channel where I will be posting video on this issue shortly. You can find it at: Heather Anne Ultimate Travel Adventures.

Secondly, I hope you will consider signing these petitions. There is no cost, and I receive no benefit (unless it helps change the situation so I can see my husband!) There’s also an option to share the petition with others.

There’s an online petition to allow immediate family of citizens to cross the border here:

Canada: Allow Family Reunification During COVID 19

and there’s another one here:

Justin Trudeau: Love is Essential

What do you think? Do you think spouses and children of citizens should be allowed to cross the border? Please leave your comments below!

 

Michigan Vacation Cabin Tour!

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Michigan Cabin, April

My Michigan Vacation Cabin!

I can now cross “Michigan vacation cabin” off my bucket list! After a month of being astounded by the spectacular scenery of Michigan last fall I was hooked. I knew I needed a place up here. It was the same feeling I had about Florida before I got the condo there. And despite extensive traveling, and having an incredible time in so many places, I never quite felt this way about anyplace else. I was home. Twice.

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Beach by Florida Condo, November

Michigan-Florida Snowbird?

Since I got this cabin in Michigan people have constantly declared “Oh, so you’re a snowbird!” But it’s not that simple. Growing up in Boston, I realized winter can provide a powdery paradise… in moderation…! I suppose the origin of this assumption is that, perhaps, these people themselves would prefer year-round summer, so it makes sense to them? (Is this you? Please leave a comment!) After being in Florida for a year I actually missed the seasons, especially my favorite – autumn. Just so happens autumn is, at least in my opinion, the most spectacular time of year in Michigan. The trees are blazing with vibrant color, and the most succulent, delicious apples await your selection at the vast pick-your-own orchards across the state. A drive through the “tunnel of trees” and visit to the peak of Brockway Mountain in the Upper Peninsula provide the perfect immersion into this fall fiesta of firey shades.  Sometimes change is good…

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My Michigan Street

Still Enjoying some snow!

And then there’s the oft-shunned winter season. I get it – growing up in Boston the first snowfall was always welcome, but that welcome usually wore out fast. And by mid-January, true, I was so over it. But imagine my delight closing on this cabin in Michigan, in April, and experiencing the snowfall that had eluded me after spending most of the season in Florida. The dazzling sparkle of fresh, clean snow, the brilliant bounty of white trees, the powdery sift of snowflakes sprinkling through the sky, the pleasing crunching sound the snow makes when you step through it… This isn’t the warm, tropical, ocean-breeze paradise of Florida, but it’s paradise in its own way. Diversity of experience makes life more interesting. I find this applies to the seasons as well. I admit – I doubt I’ll be spending the whole winter in Michigan, but I definitely won’t be following a snowbird schedule, either!

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Living Room

Authentic Log Cabin in the Woods!

The cabin is in a peaceful location in the woods, but ten minutes or so from town, convenient if I need to shop for anything. There’s also a state park nearby at the lake, where I can go for a rejuvenating swim, take a sail on a pontoon boat in the shallow water, or jump on a jet ski. Back at the cabin, I can park a snowmobile or ATV. They are road legal here, so you can just jump on and go, no trailer needed!

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Kitchen

Rustic and Remodeled Vacation Cabin

When I acquired this cabin it wasn’t suitable for living. There was no heating system, no hot water, no bathroom door, and no shower. I hastily installed all of the above, as well as a washer and dryer. I also replaced the bathroom sink unit and range. The antique kitchen sink and countertop is entirely ceramic. It’s very unique – exactly the kind of thing the American Pickers would get very excited about! It’s a very charming, and now very comfortable, place to stay! I hope you enjoyed this tour of my Michigan vacation cabin!

View my tour of the cabin, before and after, here!:

Read more posts about sightseeing in Michigan!:

Outdoor Delights in the Upper Peninsula, Michigan!

Magnificent Mainland Michigan: a Convivial Road Trip!

I have video tours of Michigan, and many more destinations, here on my YouTube channel!:

Ultimate Travel Adventures YouTube Channel

 

Camel Riding Cabo San Lucas

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Epic desert journey

Camel riding… in Cabo San Lucas Mexico?

It’s true – you really can go camel riding in Cabo San Lucas on the Baja Peninsula of Mexico! I had a really unique adventure embarking on a camel ride out in the Mexican desert. Tours are available out of Cabo heading deep out into the desert, where you’ll feel transported to an Arabian desert-like wonderland. Bring a book for the bus – it takes a couple hours, but is well worth the trip! It’s truly a peaceful oasis, and I felt refreshed and rejuvenated after my visit!

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Camel introductions

Preparing to Ride the Camels

This is a three phase experience. First, you meet the camels and learn about them followed by a photo op (and, if you’re camel’s feeling frisky, a Casanova-like kiss!) If you’ve always wished you had long eyelashes, prepare to get jealous! The camels are very friendly and serene, and are decked out in colorful accessories! They make quite the fashion and beauty statement…

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Staging area for mounting the camels

Second, you mount the camels in groups of two (solo traveler? no problem, you’ll share with another solo). Third, you embark on an enlightening journey along the beach and through the desert. I had an easy time getting on the camel. I was able to step on a platform, and then I was helped by one of the friendly guides. Each camel passenger is given a headscarf to adorn for protection from the desert sun during the journey. I was feeling very Lawrence of Arabia.

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Camels on parade

Camels are Comfortable!

I found riding a camel surprisingly comfortable and relaxing. Before mounting, I was warned that since the camels are wider than horses some people consider them uncomfortable. That was not my experience. My camel felt a lot more sturdy and the ride smoother compared to the horseback rides I’d been on. My camel was better behaved than any of the horses I’d ridden, and refrained from any jerky motions. Given the choice, I would choose a camel over a horse any day. It was a wonderful way to travel!

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The Mexican Baja desert

Incredible Desert Views

The landscapes of the desert were beautiful. I was there in January, when temperatures were mild. This dazzling desert wonderland is flanked on one side by beach and the other side by mountains, a breathtaking pleasure to behold! And it was so peaceful, so far away from the bustle and commotion of the city of Cabo. Yep, this place has it all!

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Alfresco dining a-la Mexico

Delicious, Authentic Lunch Break

The last experience of the tour was an authentic, alfresco lunch buffet with a wonderfully rustic ambience. Fabulous food in an amazing atmosphere – what more can you ask for after an exhilarating ride? (And, yes, camel meat was available… and optional!) A variety of choices were served… each one of them more delectable than the last!

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Delicious authentic Mexican lunch!

Tequila Time!

Also on the menu: a tequila tasting, featuring abundant varieties of tequila! What a great way to quench your desert thirst…! Non-alcoholic Mexican beverages were also available. It was a fun treat to cap off what was an incredible day, one I will cherish for a lifetime!

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Too much tequila?!

More on Camel Riding in Cabo San Lucas

Camel riding in Cabo San Lucas was a total blast! You can see a video of my experience here (note – filming while riding was not allowed, but I was able to purchase drone video and film the rest of the time):!

Visit my YouTube channel for more videos of exciting destinations!:

Ultimate Travel Adventures YouTube Channel

Check out more of Mexico in my Chichen Itza blog post!:

Mayan Ruins of Chichen Itza, Yucatan, Mexico!

Chichen Itza, Mexico: Ancient Mayan City

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El Castillo (“The Castle”)

Chichen Itza, Mexico: Great Mayan City

Chichen Itza, Mexico is on the Yucatan Peninsula. This ancient city boasts some of the most spectacular Mayan ruins in the world. Chichen Itza has stood the test of time superbly, considering it dates from 600-900AD. The phrase “Chichen Itza” means “the well at the mouth of the Itza.” Although remote, Chichen Itza is frequently featured in bus tour excursions from Playa del Carmen (2 hours, 7 minutes), Cancun (2 hours, 15 minutes), and Cozumel (3 hours, 25 minutes). If that sounds like a long trek, don’t be discouraged. The treasures to be found once you’re at Chichen Itza make every second on the bus worth the journey!

The Castle

El Castillo is, perhaps, the most enthralling architectural marvel of all here. El Castillo, Temple of Kukulcan, or “the castle,” is a 98 foot high enormous ziggurat temple. (Art History tip: when there are steps it is a ziggurat, not a pyramid.) Sacrifices were performed on the platform at the top. This structure may be the most iconic symbol in the world of the ancient Mayan civilization.

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Templo de los Guerreros (“Temple of the Warriors”)

Mayan Warrior Tradition

The Temple of the Warriors is near the castle, where a forest of columns is adorned with depictions of the most honored fighting champions. The Mayans took pride in their fighting prowess, and they’ve immortalized this tradition here. Polities fought over limited natural resources such as obsidian, water, and land for farming. The capture of sacrifices, which is now considered a gruesome part of their spiritual traditions, also sparked violent conflict.

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“Great Ball Court”

Mayan Athletic Skill

Athletes were champions, too. And a favorite structure with visitors here is the Great Ball Court, the largest (551 by 230 feet) and most well-preserved Mayan ball court in the world. The court is surrounded by “stands,” or audience seating areas. Different classes were assigned to different seating areas, becoming increasingly more lavish and “with a better view of the action” as the audience member elevated in social class. It reminded me of the seating structure of the amphitheaters of Ancient Rome, although a whole ocean away. Notice the donut-shaped carving (top left on the photo above.) The ball had to get through this hole, and seeing this, you contemplate the tremendous skill of the Mayan athletes!

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Carvings on the wall of the Ball Court

Sport in Art

Carvings on the walls of the ball court are extremely detailed, and tell the story of the ball game and its athletes. The “winner” had the privilege of being selected for sacrifice through decapitation (also depicted here!) The artwork at Chichen Itza is extremely well preserved and maintained, so it’s a joy to ponder the Mayan culture here! For example, it’s fascinating to consider how much ancient Mayan culture differed from cultures of today!

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“Venus Platform”

More to Explore!

There are many other buildings here to explore, so take your time to notice the intricate detail on many of these structures. There is absolutely no better way to learn about a time and place in history than from the original people, who, here, eternally tell their first-hand story through their artwork. No modern tour guide can tell it so well. The crowds can be enormous here, but there’s lots of room to spread out, making the experience more comfortable than smaller ancient sites. But be sure to bring some sunscreen and cool clothing, because there’s little shade here and it tends to get stiflingly hot, even in shoulder season!

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Overhead view*

*Open source (credit: dronepicr, http://www.commons.wikimedia.org)

In conclusion, you can explore more of Chichen, Itza, Mexico in my full video tour here!:

For videos on more destinations, as well as hotel and cruise ship tours, check out my YouTube channel here!:

Ultimate Travel Adventures YouTube Channel

And for more Mexico, check out my camel riding in Cabo San Lucas blog here!:

Camel Riding Cabo San Lucas

Amazing Mazatlan, Mexico!

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Cliff Diver

Mazatlan, Mexico: Captivating Contradictions

Firstly, Mazatlan, Mexico is a bustling metropolis on the Mexican Riviera. It’s one of Mexico’s most interesting west coast cities. Moreover, you’re never far from the laid-back pleasures of miles of beaches. And oceanfront pedestrian pathways are abundant here. So put on your poncho; it’s time to explore!

Mazatlan’s Cliff Divers

While there are many pleasures to pursue, the most popular attraction may be Mazatlan’s famous “cliff divers.” If you’re up for some real excitement, catch these daredevils in action! These guys make the death-defying leap all day! You can reward their bravery with a voluntary donation. The show is well worth the “price of admission!”

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Big city, big beaches!

Beautiful Beaches

The beaches seemingly are endless here. Enjoy views of the city skyline, and tiny islands in the distance. Warm waves wash over you. The vibrant cobalt waters crash along craggy cliffs along the coast. Mazatlan boasts over 20 miles of beautiful sandy beaches. Some of Mazatlan’s high rated beaches are Playa Olas Altas, Playa Cerritos, and Play Brujas. So have fun finding your favorite!

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Miles of oceanfront walkways

Mazatlan’s Esplanade

Swimming’s not your thing? There are miles of pedestrian pathways sporting the same spectacular views! Statues and other art guide the way like cultural signposts. On the esplanade, you can have a leisurely stroll with the sights, smells, and sounds of the sea. There are many opportunities to stop, sit, and soak it all in. And for people-watching, the esplanade can’t be beat! So set your sights on this seaside paradise!

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Mazatlan Cathedral, exterior

Mazatlan Cathedral

Mazatlan’s most striking architectural highlight may be the  Mazatlan Cathedral, although its more formal name is the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. This baroque revival style building was finished in 1899. The interior is truly inspiring. The sunlight glow beaming through the stained glass windows bathe the sanctuary in brilliantly bold color. And towering pillars line the aisle like exclamation points paying tribute to the undeniable beauty of this place. The building is exquisitely decorated and brilliantly restored, and a Mazatlan must-see. It’s a welcome sanctuary of peace compared to the bustling city outside.

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Mazatlan Cathedral, interior

More of Amazing Mazatlan, Mexico!

In conclusion, Mazatlan is at once old and new, and peaceful and exciting. It is a city to experience contradictions. While it’s a major city, it’s not without its peaceful pleasures.

Check out my full video tour of Mazatlan here!:

And for more great destinations, as well as hotel and cruise ship tours, check out my YouTube channel here!:

Ultimate Travel Adventures YouTube Channel

Want more Mexico? If so, check out my Chichen Itza Mayan ruins blog post!:

Chichen Itza, Mexico: Ancient Mayan City

Travel Michigan! (Part 2: the Mainland)

Time to Travel Michigan!

This is the second installment in my two part Travel Michigan series. We visited the Upper Peninsula last time. Today we’ll explore the mainland, or, as locals call it, “the mitten.” Michigan was previously not on my radar. But it didn’t take long to reach the conclusion that Michigan is, in my opinion, the most underrated destination in the United States. The scenic beauty up there was well beyond what my wildest imagination could conceive! I plan to return to Michigan again and again… and that’s no exaggeration… I literally put my money where my mouth is on the topic and put an offer on a vacation cabin in Michigan. I will go over that in another post.

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Fort Michimilackinac

Fort Michimilackinac

Fort Michimilackinac is a National Historic Landmark in Mackinaw, Michigan. It was built in 1715, and served first as a fort, trading post, and supply depot for the French and later for the British. Today you can explore the myriad of brilliantly restored buildings contemplating a much different way of life in an era lifetimes away. A blacksmith shop (complete with re-enactor) is among the buildings, along with barracks, officers’ quarters, a medical clinic, a chapel, Native American teepees, gardens, and so much more. Old cannons, weaponry, and artifacts are also on display. Get lost in history at Fort Michimilackinac – you might not be able to pronounce it but chances are you will be able to appreciate it!

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Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse

Lots of Lighthouses!

Hardy builders constructed the Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse in 1889. The lighthouse remained in operation until 1957. Durable and resilient, it served many a hard-bitten sailor in the treacherous waters and fierce fog of the Straits of Mackinac. This lighthouse is located next to Fort Michimilackinac in Mackinaw, so it makes a convenient stop during your day at the Fort. You’re welcome to head inside and browse the museum. Signature lighthouse pepper the Michigan coastline far and wide. Visit them and experience Michigan’s rich nautical history!

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Petoskey Residential Architecture

Victorian Architecture in Petoskey

One of the reasons that road trips are such a great way to travel are the unexpected pleasures you stumble upon just exploring – or, better yet, getting lost on purpose! I have enjoyed some of my most rewarding travel experiences ever this way. Petoskey has an attractive historic gaslight district in town with many buildings from the 1700s and 1800s and quaint cobbled streets and gas lamps. It’s well worth the detour!

Gingerbread Houses

The most fascinating neighborhood in Petoskey is off the beaten path, however. When you get back up into the residential areas you stumble on stopped time – a Victorian village of summer cottages (more like mansions) with the most intricate and ornate detail on each and every colorfully endowed house. The entire neighborhood is completely closed off for the winter, but blossoms in all of its beautiful brilliance again every spring. Don’t be afraid to get lost in Petoskey, and have the chance to enjoy this hidden gem!

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Crane’s Orchards

Apple Orchards

One of my favorite things about Michigan are the apple orchards. Miles of rows of apple trees, cider mill barns, and wineries dot the landscape. Crane’s Apple Orchard in Fennville is one of my favorites. Here you can pick-your-own apples, and you have a choice from many different varieties. My favorite are the Honeycrisp! It was here that I picked the most delectable, delicious, sweet and juicy fresh apples I’ve ever tried in my life. You haven’t had an apple until you’ve picked one fresh in Michigan!

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Local Delicacies!

Delicious Local Delights

When you’re done filling up your apple sack, head over to the restaurant, where you can try a flight of pie (think flight of beer or whiskey – only with fresh-baked pie varieties instead…), fresh milled apple cider, piping hot apple cider donuts (a Michigan specialty!), and many other local delicacies. Many delicious products are grown and produced locally, including a cheese selection from local farms, local fruits and jams, and farmhouse breads. I always advocate experiencing a travel destination with all five senses – and this is the perfect place to do that. The sights, sounds, scents, touches, and tastes are all here to delight.

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Apple Orchard

Hard Cider and Wine Tastings

Uncle John’s Cider Mill in St. Johns, Michigan is another great stop on the apple hopping trail. Here you can indulge in a hard cider tasting (or, if you prefer, wine) for free! Servers hand you a menu, and you choose from a variety of hard ciders, wines, and more. And you get to imbibe on a gauntlet of your own selections after that! Uncle John’s produces all of the delicious ciders and wines on-site. I didn’t want the experience to end, so I got some to go! You can also visit Uncle John’s country store. Let your nose guide you to the freshly baked pies and cider donuts. And while you’re there, watch the cider-making process in action with a bird’s-eye view above the small factory. Travel Michigan and stimulate ALL of your senses!

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Traverse City

Traverse City

As enthralling as Michigan’s countryside is, you’ll want to venture out into some of the bigger cities, too. Traverse City is the largest city in the northern area of the state, and the largest cherry producer in the country. TripAdvisor has named Traverse City the number 2 “small town travel destination in the U.S.” While I wouldn’t call it a “small town,” more of a small “city,” I would agree it’s a travel destination worth venturing to. The older buildings and quirky shops and pubs are bursting with character, and a stroll along the lake is a great pleasure indeed.

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Higgins Lake

Higgins Lake

Higgins Lake is another media favorite. National Geographic rated Higgins Lake the 6th most beautiful lake in the world. The shallow waters are ideal for wading near the shoreline, and pontoon boats and jet skis provide playful pastimes here. Dogs particularly love it here, because they can splash and run to their heart’s content without running into a deep end. There is a state park on the shore with public access, where you can just breathe in the fresh air and enjoy the views from swing benches or delight in a peaceful picnic (hopefully with some local Michigan wine!) You will need to buy a $10 day pass at the gate if you’re not a Michigan resident with an annual pass for entry to all of the state parks.

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Chocolates by Grimaldi

Chocolate Factory

Chocolates by Grimaldi is a chocolate factory and shop in Grand Haven, Michigan. You can call ahead for a tour of the factory and see how the chocolate is made from scratch. The irresistible aromas will have your mouth watering long before the end of the tour… luckily it comes with a scrumptious goody bag to reward you for your patience at the end! For a fascinating, fun foodie experience be sure to check it out! What a great way to cap things off when you travel Michigan.

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My Recommended Road Trip (courtesy Google Maps)

Travel Michigan and Make your Adventure!

Michigan is one of the best places in the country for a road trip, because so many of its delights are off the beaten path. I love road trips, so I just can’t get enough of marvelous Michigan! Michigan is amazing; it’s one of the United States’ hidden gems! If you haven’t had a chance to check out my other blog posts on Michigan, you can do so here! (I will probably post more Michigan travel soon!)

Michigan Vacation Cabin Tour!

Outdoor Delights in the Upper Peninsula, Michigan!

A German Christmas in Frankenmuth, Michigan!

Also, view the video of my Mainland Michigan Road Trip tour here!:

Finally, check out my Michigan cabin video tour!:

For more great travel adventures, check out my YouTube channel here!:

Ultimate Travel Adventures YouTube Channel

Travel St. Maarten (and St. Martin!)

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St. Maarten Harbor

Travel St. Maarten and St. Martin: 2 Cultures, One Island

Travel St. Maarten for the best of both worlds! If you ever wanted to visit two European cultures without having to fly to the European continent – you’re in luck! Hop on a cruise ship or plane heading to St. Maarten/St. Martin and you can visit the only place in the world where the Netherlands borders France! St. Maarten/St. Martin is divided by two nationalities and cultures, approximately 60% French and 40% Dutch. Unlike many other Caribbean islands that were former colonies now turned independent, this Caribbean paradise is different. St. Maarten is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and St. Martin is an overseas collectivity of the French Republic. Therefore, tour St. Maarten for these two jurisdictions sharing the same island paradise.

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Warm welcomes!

A Caribbean Paradise

Travel St. Maarten for sunny skies, bright jewel-toned sailboats, lush green mini-mountains, and pristine beaches… Also, there are many remnants of colonial muscle-flexing, like old forts, standing down. This is an inviting place. Plentiful pirates (in costume!) will have you dreaming of the days of buried treasure and seafaring adventure… without the danger! St. Maarten has been hit hard over the years by hurricanes, but the resourceful and resilient people here have worked hard to recover and restore their beautiful island after the damage. It was rewarding to be able to visit this place that locals take great pride in, and do business with them to help play a role, albeit small, in helping boost their economy after the hardships they have endured in recent years. St. Maarten’s people are the real treasure here, not the buried treasures, or those looted by the pirates of old!

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Boat tour

Explore on a Boat Tour

The best way to travel St. Maarten is to see both sides, French and Dutch. And the best way to do that is to take a boat tour. You can catch one in Phillipsburg, on the Dutch side, that will take you all the way around to the French section. After my boat tour, I took a bus ride to Marigot, on the French side, for a closer look at faraway France’s quaint colonial charms!

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Eglise Saint Martin de Tours church, Marigot

Chatting with the Locals

While I’ve received some disagreeable reactions from locals in France making my best attempt to communicate in the local language, the people of Marigot were pleasantly surprised and impressed with my, admittedly broken, French! There is something infinitely satisfying about being able to converse with locals in their own tongue – it’s another element of immersion that fully envelops you in the travel experience. Regrettably, I didn’t know any Dutch yet (note to self: bucket list!)

Marigot’s French Heritage

The cultural immersion doesn’t stop at sights and sounds, however. If you long for the tantalizing tastes and sweet scents of the continent, you can find them right here too. Stroll into a cafe in Marigot for cafe au lait and croissant to savor while you watch the tide roll in by sunset… it’s the best of both worlds!

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National pride on the French side

Travel St. Maarten Today!

If you romanticize about Caribbean pirate culture, breathtaking beaches, and a laid-back life of nautical wonders, or the charms of Europe right in your back yard (if you live on the North American continent), then this may be just the place for you! So travel St. Maarten today!

You can view my full tour of St. Maarten/St. Martin, here!:

And for more exciting destinations weekly, subscribe to my YouTube Channel!:

Ultimate Travel Adventures YouTube Channel

Cruising to St. Maarten? Check out my review of the Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas Cruise ship here!:

Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas Cruise Ship Review!

Tour Nassau Bahamas!

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Old, abandoned lighthouse

Tour Nassau, Bahamas for Nautical Fun!

When you tour Nassau, Bahamas, one of the first things you notice are the tourist crowds. Because it’s one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Caribbean. But then you realize – this is for very good reason! Here crystal clear waters shimmer in the sunlight among a skyline of boat masts. And your toughest decision may be: sun bathing in satisfying soft sands, or wading in wonderfully warm waters? But besides the endless sunshine, bountiful beaches, and cool Caribbean vibe, the historical architecture and underwater adventures are well worth reveling in! The old and new captured by the rusty, whitewashed abandoned lighthouse facing the ultra-modern seashell pink towers of Atlantis Resort epitomize this island paradise. It’s sentimentally historic while forward-thinking.

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Historic old town

Nassau Old Town

A stroll through Nassau’s old town delights with vibrant pastel colors, colonial classical design, and a boisterously beachy vibe. Additionally, service is always delivered with a smile. It’s said that greater exposure to sunshine can lead to greatly improved mood and outlook. And judging by the optimism ever-present among the locals here I believe it! The heavy hordes of tourists, while a common sight year-round in this tropical paradise, do not diminish the charm of this lively city!

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Parliament building

Fort Fincastle

After a visit to the historic colonial buildings in town, the short trip to Fort Fincastle offers another perspective. This tenacious fort was built in 1793. Yet it’s still standing proud, reminding us that multiple colonial powers would have liked to have a piece of this paradise. Once you visit, you will wish you had one too! Cannons can’t keep you away as you invade these limestone walls. This place marks one of your own greatest victories in history – your amazing and unforgettable Nassau vacation!

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Tour Fort Fincastle

SeaWorld Explorer Submarine

Perhaps one of the greatest pleasures of all in Nassau, however, is not by land. It’s by sea! So board the SeaWorld Explorer submarine. Dive the depths. Be amazed by the dizzying variety of boldly colored fish and exotically shaped coral occupying the brilliant aqua depths below. While “wildlife” type tours can be extremely hit-or-miss (and, unfortunately, more often than not “miss”) there is no shortage of sea life to be seen from this submarine! Enter another world entirely as it is the people who inhabit the “fish tank” here, surrounded by a whirlwind of fascinating and fanciful fish!

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Views from the SeaWorld Explorer submarine

Atlantis Casino and Resort

Of course, the most popular tourist attraction of all in Nassau may be Atlantis. This may be a positive or negative for you depending on your perspective on travel. But there’s no denying it is a massive and impressive structure. Resembling a castle, it invites you in to be “king or queen” for a day getting the VIP treatment in the casino, or being lavished in hedonism among its spectacular pools, waterfalls, and other luxurious surroundings. Wherever you go in Nassau, your memories are sure to be priceless!

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The coral colored towers of Atlantis

Tour Nassau, Bahamas More!

You can view my video tour of Nassau, Bahamas here!:

Considering visiting Nassau on a cruise ship? Check out my blog tour and review of the Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas cruise ship here:

Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas Cruise Ship Review!

There’s so much to see and do in Nassau! I find the most efficient way to tackle your itinerary here is with a high-quality tour. Viator provides excellent tours around the world, and Nassau is no exception:

Find and book Nassau tours and activities on Viator.com. Book ahead to save time and money!

Thanks for reading!

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Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas Cruise Ship!

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Oasis of the Seas

Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas

The Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas cruise ship is among the most majestic on the Royal Caribbean fleet. It launched in 2008, and has an occupancy of 6,296 maximum. This colossal vessel holds 16 passenger decks. So the Oasis of the Seas is really a city on the sea! And a voyage upon her many decks is an exciting treat indeed!

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The Atrium

A Different Kind of Ship

The Oasis has a very different layout than many of the mega-ships I’ve traveled on before. A signature design for this class of Royal Caribbean ship is a cut-out middle, interior as well as exterior balcony cabins, and “neighborhoods.” The neighborhoods are a variety of unique “destination” locations around the ship. Oasis of the Seas’ “Atrium” does not resemble those of most of the ships I’ve experienced before, either. Because in this case, it’s a long hallway filled with shops, restaurants, and much more beyond passenger services desks, rather being one centralized room in the middle of the ship.

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Lido Deck

The Lido Deck

The Lido Deck is expansive, and there are multiple pools and jacuzzis as well as an adults-specific deck under glass. Unfortunately I got very hot in there, because it starts to feel like a greenhouse or sauna in there when it’s a hot day outside! I prefer the breeze of the open decks, which is no problem. Fortunately, the Oasis hosts a multitude of decks facing both the ocean on the outside of the ship and the neighborhood lobbies on the inside of the ship!

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Central Park

Central Park

Central Park is one of the neighborhoods on the ship, replete with trees, plants, cobblestones, and relaxing benches. Many of the interior balconies have views over this delightfully green section of the ship. A classical quartet played here regularly in the evenings while I was here. I don’t know what I liked better – the relaxing music or the pleasant garden-like atmosphere. This outdoor park element is particular to Royal Caribbean, and I haven’t encountered it on any other cruise lines. I was reminded first hand that this area is not only wide open to the fresh air, sunshine, and stars, but to the rain as well! It’s something to keep in mind: check the weather report each morning!

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The Boardwalk

The Boardwalk

The Boardwalk is reminiscent of the historic and iconic Boardwalk at Atlantic City, New Jersey. It’s complete with a Johnny Rockets diner, Zoltar fortune telling machine, arcade booths, boardwalk food, and an operational merry-go-round. There are also interior balconies facing the Boardwalk, as well as a massive water-based stage at the back of the ship, complete with beach loungers for the seating area!

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Ice Show

Spectacular Shows

Entertainment is abundant aboard the Oasis, and “go big or go home” never seemed a more fitting description than aboard this ship! Unique stages include the ice rink – a stage for ice shows by night and available for guests to ice skate on by day. Olympic skaters perform spectacular stunts, and I was thrilled and amazed for every minute of it! This is another feature that I’ve found to be unique to Royal Caribbean – I haven’t encountered an ice rink on any other lines.

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Water Stage

Unique Stages

The other unique “stage” on this ship is the water stage, on the Boardwalk. Here Olympic divers perform death defying feats, complimented by synchronized swimming and other aquatic performances. With a backdrop of cotton-candy clouds by day and sparkling stars at night, the atmosphere is intoxicating. Oasis’ water stage is outdoors under the sun (or moon!) and the seating consists of splendidly colorful beach chairs. Whether you’re attending an ice skating show or a water show, book reservations EARLY! It is possible to get in line to take the place of no shows, but you’ll have a LOT of company if you do this. To be sure you get a seat you’ll need to be towards the front of the line.

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Balcony Cabin

Beautiful Balcony Cabins

I had a balcony cabin and found it to be plenty roomy, comfortable, and pleasingly decorated. I opted for the Oceanview, because I can’t get enough of the beauty of the open sea. But how great it was to have three balcony cabin view options at booking! Because there are so many balconies on this ship, I found them to be a better value than on some of the other ships I’ve sailed on. Interior balcony bookings come with perks like complimentary dinner at a specialty restaurant. And it’s important to bear in mind these balconies will also come with less privacy!

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More of the Atrium

Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas Cruise Ship Review

I greatly enjoyed my experience aboard the Oasis of the Seas. The ship is spectacular, well-maintained, and beautifully designed. It offers a dizzying array of great entertainment, fun activities, and diverse areas to dine, party, and relax. On the downside, I did not find it to be a particularly solo-traveler friendly ship – every time I entered the main dining room and asked for a table for one I was made to feel like Steve Martin in “The Lonely Guy” when a huge spotlight appears over his head and everyone stares at him like he’s psycho or something… And with no good promotion for the drink package on this cruise line I ended up drinking more than my fair share of ice water with lime. But all-in-all I had a fantastic time choosing neighborhoods to suit my mood, reveling in effervescent entertainment, and soaking in the sun on this special ship!

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Larger than Life!

For More Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas

Tour Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas more! You can view a full video tour of the entire ship here!:

I visited St. Thomas on my Oasis of the Seas cruise. You can check out the article on St. Thomas here:

St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, Perfectly Paradisiacal!

And for more travel all around the world, check out the Ultimate Travel Adventures YouTube channel!:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC91pXs3Ydbrw5Uc3EFSkO5Q?view_as=subscriber