Boston: Revisiting the Past in the Present


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Marcel Proust wrote that the “real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” When you return to your hometown after an extended time, you return with a new perspective – one that is shaped both by nostalgia and expectations based on your current frame of reference. Memories are like the Peanuts character Linus’ security blanket – it is comforting to return to find things the way you left them, like time stopped and preserved home the way it remained steadfast in your memory while you were away. Of course, it is more likely that things have changed… Some changes will be welcomed, others may shock and dismay. It can leave you feeling emotional and even conflicted the way a visit to another destination can’t. But all in all, it can be an incredibly rewarding experience revisiting your past in the present. I am able to have that experience when I return to my hometown of Boston.

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Like my memory of Boston, Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market (shown above) are an example of Boston institutions and historic landmarks that seem to have evaded the passage of time. Surrounded by towering skyscrapers, time has stopped here as sure as the time on the clock tower of the Customs House nearby ticks on. In Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market, vendors and stores bustle with activity – selling souvenirs, gourmet delicacies, and all kinds of wares while waves of crowds juggle shopping bags of delights. Street musicians and performers display their skills outside while the bars prepare for a rowdy night of feasting, feting, and fanfare in this nightlife-loving college town. It is a place teeming with energy and anticipation for a fun night ahead, just the way I remember it.

One of my favorite aspects of Boston’s landscape is the way that architecture from many different periods of time coexist in dazzling harmony. Above are the Old State House and the new State House, both surrounded by much newer structures, and emphasizing the timeless quality of Boston – grounded in history but modernistic and avant-garde at the same time. Boston is a rich patchwork of the old and the new.

At first glance, Copley Square looked a lot like I remember, surrounded by the old and new John Hancock buildings, Trinity Church, Copley Plaza, the Boston Public Library, and Old South Church. But appearances can be deceiving. I attempted to enter Trinity Church, which had always welcomed visitors through their doors: parishioner and public alike, just as I had done for so many years many years ago. But upon entering I discovered that a partition had been installed to direct visitors through the gift shop to a ticket station where purchase of a $7 ticket was required for admission ($5 student and senior discount). It reminded me of a theme park ride that corrals people through the gift shop on their way in or out – so commercial, and so out-of-place in the setting of a building which had been an inviting sanctuary to so many for so many years. As a matter of principle, and having had the opportunity to gaze at the richly decorated interior in the past, I refused to pay as a matter of principle and left. It wasn’t the place I remembered, and perhaps never would be again. But at least I was still able to behold the magnificence of its exterior design, which had not been tampered with in such a distressing way (yet, anyway!)

The tour trolleys which allow you to hop on and hop off where you wish are a convenient way to explore the city. They take you to divergent neighborhoods such as Charlestown, which houses the oldest commissioned ship in the U.S. Navy and heroic vessel in the Revolutionary War, the U.S.S. Constitution, and Cambridge, home to M.I.T. and Harvard, as well as stopping at the sites that are more centrally located in town. The buses come by the stops every 15 minutes to whisk you off to the next point of interest, allowing you to see as much as possible over the course of the day. Given how much there is to see and do in Boston, this kind of efficiency is welcome!


It was Moon Festival time in Chinatown, and I captured some amazing footage a short walk from my Theater District hotel which is posted in my latest YouTube video.

Dragon-costumed performers and groups of musicians were proceeding business to business spreading good fortune amidst waves of colorful flags decorated with Chinese calligraphy. It is always a boon to arrive in a neighborhood at just the right time to catch a special event that you just wouldn’t get to see every day. It was pouring rain, but getting drenched was a small price to pay for being able to join in on the celebration.

After an exhausting day of sightseeing I stayed at the Courtyard Marriott Downtown in the Theater District, which I was thrilled to be able to experience as a historic building that has been beautifully restored and renewed. Not every historic hotel in town has been so lucky… and I was pleased to have been able to support the preservation approach by giving them my business. I am sure to return here again and again. The decor respected the integrity of the historic building, while still providing modern touches that, brilliantly selected, did not seem out of place. The lobby maintains beautiful old woodwork, providing a grand entrance to this historic building – and historic city. The whole Theater District neighborhood has been revitalized in a major way since my last visit as well – one of those changes I am also happy to witness during this hometown return. So while I wasn’t pleased with all of the changes, and it was bittersweet to see a building here or there gone that I remembered from my childhood, Boston was definitely a place I could fall in love with all over again.

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Sailing in the harbor provides the perfect conclusion to witness this impressive skyline all at once. I look forward to what Boston has in store for me the next time I return!


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Crown Princess Turks & Caicos and Dominican Republic, Anniversary Nostalgia

March marks our one year anniversary, and I am currently swept with nostalgia for the unforgettable experience we had exchanging vows on the Crown Princess, and celebrating in Turks & Caicos and the Dominican Republic. Before we sail again on the Norwegian Dawn to celebrate our anniversary, I am reflecting on all of the fun we have had traveling over the past year, beginning with this cruise on Crown Princess in March, 2017.

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It was a great pleasure to board a vessel as beautiful and well-cared for as the Crown Princess for such an important occasion. What better place than the “Love Boat” to exchange vows?! I couldn’t think of any then, and I still can’t think of any now. Our first sea day was a thrilling experience, one you don’t experience on a cruise every day, as I experienced being walked down the aisle by the Cruise Director, and as we were exchanging vows before the Captain. I felt an intimate connection with the ship and crew as we shared this cherished event together.

After the ceremony it was time to be whisked around the whole ship posing for photographs with one of the ship’s photographers, cursing my high-heeled shoes every step of the way! Of course, documenting the memories of this important day made it all worth while. After a romantic dinner at Crown Grill, bliss-inducing couples’ massage at the spa, and being spoiled by the soothing sight and sound of the water on deck under the moonlight, it was time to become well-rested for two days of exciting excursions!


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Amber Cove, Dominican Republic was the first stop. A chance to brush up on my Spanish, become immersed in the brilliantly colored pastel colonial architecture in Puerto Plata, and be surrounded by the friendly atmosphere provided by the equally colorful locals, was a welcome adventure. I was dazzled by the whimsical rainbow of bright color on the buildings of the main square. These buildings were very well-preserved and a joy to behold. It was clear that the people of Puerto Plata took great pride in their cultural heritage and history, and rightfully so.

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After marveling at the historic architecture, we visited a cigar-crafting business which created endless varieties of flavored cigars (something the Dominicans are famous for) and a rum factory that produced rum of several different, interesting varieties as well (tip: the mango flavored rum was some of the best rum I have ever sampled!)

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I was enthralled by the views of the beach and town from the cigar factory, and the views of the lush, tropical vegetation from the rum factory. It was difficult to pull myself away long enough to observe the presentations!

To conclude our excursion, we were treated to a rum tasting and live music and dancing by the locals, a stimulation of multiple senses that provided a fitting end to a fun day docked at Amber Cove.


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The next stop was Grand Turk, of Turks & Caicos. Never have I seen such crystal clear waters and powdery sand beaches as I witnessed at Grand Turk. This is an ideal port whether you prefer to take excursions or just explore the port, with beautiful public beaches easily walk-able from the ship, live music, and plenty of delightful shopping. With not one but two excursions planned, we had a full day ahead. We got an early start, spending 45 minutes on this stunning beach, and then headed for our first excursion: an exhilarating horseback ride and swim!

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It would be an understatement to call this a thrilling experience. We first took a regular horseback ride along the beach, riding extremely tame and friendly horses, enjoying idyllic views of the ocean and sand so magnificent I could not even have imagined them. But the moment we were all waiting for was the horseback swim – and it did not disappoint! It was a thrill ride, yet one that felt controlled and safe at the same time. I enjoyed this excursion so much that I am repeating it in a couple of months when I return to Grand Turk.

After returning late from the first excursion and rushing back to the ship to change, it was off to tour the cultural highlights of the island by bus, and yet another rum tasting!

We explored the architecture around town, signature lighthouse, and island museum to learn more about the history. As we meandered from place to place,  waves crashed along the beach that provided an extraordinary back yard to most of these attractions, and wild horses and donkeys displayed their carefree spirit playfully wandering the island. I reflected on our own carefree and adventurous spirits that have us exploring, and I am treasuring the opportunity to spend another year of sharing the joys of travel with my husband and best friend, as well as the new friends I will continue to meet along the way!

Once back on the ship, we enjoyed a tour of the Bridge and more delights in the spa on the second sea day before a (regrettable) disembarkation, and, (not regrettable!) plan to cruise again as often as possible in the coming year!


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New York By Air, Land, and Sea

New York lives up to its name time and time again, because every time I go it is new. It is one of those places that keeps reinventing itself, and that has such an abundance of things to do and see that you could spend a lifetime trying to take it all in. The Brooklyn Bridge invites you into the excitement and energy of Manhattan, and what a grand entrance it provides! Just one of many nostalgic landmarks with a backdrop of ultra-modern – New York City has it all!

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As the buildings tower over you, you feel small, but a part of something so much bigger. As the energy of this massive city flows through you, you feel recharged and renewed. I wandered through the dizzying urban jungle, mesmerized by the wealth of sights and sounds I was surrounded by, wondering what would strike my fancy around the next corner.

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Nowhere is that intense energy and excitement more apparent than in Times Square! Here, all of my senses were overwhelmed by an over-saturation of stimulation, between the forest of brilliantly colored neon lights, to the blaring horns of taxis, to the aromas of the outdoor food stalls… Times Square consumes you.

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The Statue of Liberty is not only the most recognizable icon of New York, but probably of the United States. Gazing at the majesty of her from the New York Water Taxi was a delight, just one of many incredible views that can be had from the ship. It is perhaps one of the best values in town for the person who wants to “see it all.” (“Wants” being the operative word here – I don’t know if it’s even possible to actually see it all… I have heard New Yorkers themselves proclaim such an ambition is a lost cause!) The skyline views from the boat are spectacular too!

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To view the inner parts of the island up close and personal, I opted for a double-decker bus tour. Sure, it’s touristy, but if you want to be whisked around town gawking at amazing scenery and getting off wherever you want for a closer look, it fits the bill. On this adventure, you are exposed to the diverse array of neighborhoods in New York, stretching all the way from Harlem to Downtown.

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But perhaps the most stunning views of all are to be had by air – from the top of the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center observatories.

Fortunately, there is still so much of New York to see, and a return in the near future is in order. “I love New York” is more than a touristy catchphrase, it’s a deeply held sentiment that keeps me coming back for more! Whether exploring by land, sea, or air, New York City does not disappoint!


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Carnival Sensation Cruise with Jamaica: Was Sensation Sensational?

January was the perfect time for a Caribbean Cruise. Trading our snow-blanketed home and puffy parkas for sun, sand, and sea, we were embarking on the Carnival Sensation cruise ship, with scheduled stops in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, and Grand Cayman in the Cayman Islands. Was the Sensation sensational?

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Once aboard the Sensation, after a frustrating 2+ hour wait at the Port of Miami (even with “Faster to the Fun”), I was immediately struck by how dated the decor appeared. I began to wonder if I’d stepped onto a time machine rather than a cruise ship. (Think: 1970s-1980s… chic?)


If you fancy the idea of journeying back in time… or just want a stem to stern tour of the Sensation, watch my full video tour here:

Some aspects of our experience were less than ideal… The 18+ Serenity Deck was anything but serene. People who appeared to be under 18 were partaking in the Jacuzzi, the deck was packed and people were chatting loudly, and one of the Jacuzzis and a third of the deck was roped off, exacerbating the overcrowding problem. In the Dining Room, service was slow, lines were long to get in, and the food arrived lukewarm. Blue Iguana and Guy’s Burgers were my best bets for great meals on the ship, but, regrettably, both closed before or at dinnertime (?!) I managed to get injured by a defective piece of furniture when a glass table top that was not attached to the legs slid off and shattered. I was distraught to experience a bleeding incident on the seas but thankful that sharks had nothing to do with it. The response from Guest Services was egregiously unsympathetic, but the doctor in the medical bay was extremely courteous and friendly and tended to my wounds at no charge. Entertainment on the ship was okay, but compared to other ships I’d sailed on underwhelming. All in all I had a good time on this ship with the exception of the one night I was injured – usually negatives were balanced out by positives – but it wouldn’t be my first (or second, or third…) choice of ship to sail on for future bookings. I can’t give this particular ship a glowing recommendation, but I certainly have no regrets about taking this cruise! I think the worst day on any cruise is better than the best day at home!

Of course, there was more to this cruise than the ship! Venturing on to the ports of call! In the words of Bob Marley, it was “One Love” on this itinerary, because Grand Cayman was cancelled due to weather conditions, and we only stopped in Jamaica. And indeed, I did love it. I booked an excursion from Mystic Mountain: Bobsled Jamaica, which included a rainforest chair lift ride, bobsled jaunt down the mountain, and visit to Dunn’s River Falls. The first activity was the chairlift ride, where I ascended higher and higher into the sky surrounded buy lush green tropical foliage and the enthusiastic chirping of tropical birds. Once high enough, spectacular views were revealed of the ocean, cruise ship, and surrounding rain forest. The ride was both relaxing and exhilarating.


Once at the top, I was treated to the blissful sounds of live reggae music, the colorful swirling dresses of dancers, and shops and street vendors selling a variety of local wares. Here, I was able to catch my bobsled for a thrilling ride to the bottom of the mountain. The bobsleds were controlled by the driver with acceleration and brake pedals, so this is a great experience for everyone from the most timid to the most adventurous. And who doesn’t want to live an Olympic dream? (Sort of!) It was definitely a “cool running!”


After the bobsled adventure it was more entertainment from the live band, this time accompanied by an acrobat, and the trip back down the mountain on the chairlift. From there I waited for the shuttle to Dunn’s River Falls.

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Dunn’s River Falls, perhaps the most famous of attractions in Jamaica, was very different than I anticipated. The description for the excursion indicated that it was “challenging,” however, I didn’t think much of that considering I have completed numerous “challenging” excursions in the past with no trouble at all. But this turned out to be far, far, more strenuous than any excursion I had ever done before. You have two options when you arrive at the falls: hike up the falls in the water or hike alongside the falls by land. I opted for the water – unaware of what I was “diving” into.

The falls are very, very steep and the water pressure is pretty extreme. The guides insist that you hold hands with others in your group on the way up to help deter the power of the water pushing you down or off the cliffs. I found out very, very quickly that, rather than getting “splashed” by the water, you are actually immersed in the water – at some points all the way up to your shoulders. The immersion in the water felt like a metaphor for the immersion in anxiety I felt the further we progressed. Not anticipating the depth of my soaking, I wore long pants and a top – no swimsuit (bad idea!). I had a great deal of trouble keeping steady and holding my own against the force of the water – to the point that it was actually frightening. Luckily, there were “exits” all the way up the falls, but it’s a while before you actually reach the first one.

I admittedly wimped out and exited early, thanks to a medical condition, and after breathing a sigh of relief hiked on land the rest of the way. Unfortunately, the views are underwhelming because at no point can you see the whole falls unless you go up in a helicopter. They change direction and there is a lot of foliage to block the view. I probably would have enjoyed this activity were I free of medical ailments or young – many others appeared to be having a good time.

Back at the meet-up points, vendors hounded us relentlessly. Soaking wet, exhausted, and aching, I was not in the mood for that! Honestly, I’m glad I can say I’ve done this once – it’s something definitely worth doing once, but should I book this excursion again (and I would because the rest was so enjoyable), I would skip the falls portion.

It was back to the ship and two sea days – since we didn’t end up stopping in Grand Cayman. I was able to capture these experiences far better on video, and will be posting a YouTube vlog on Jamaica Friday of this week. There you will be able to see video footage from the chairlift and bobsled and an up-close-and-personal look at the falls. Please subscribe to my channel to stay updated!:


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Orlando, FL – a Tale of Two Hotels, an Eye in the Sky, and a Trip Around the World!

Orlando is a city of whimsy, fantasy, and wonder. Here are theme parks that indulge your craving for thrills, excitement, and childlike wonder by day, and nightlife and accommodations to cater to your grown-up need for peaceful relaxation and blissful self-pampering by night. At The Castle Autograph Collection Marriott in Orlando, fairy tale fanciful meets trendy chic. This completely unique boutique hotel floods the senses with fairy tale inspired fantasy, including gargoyles, crenelations, and towers on the exterior, and brilliant colors, furniture and decor inspired by nature and luxurious hedonism on the inside.

After an exhausting day of hiking across the globe at Epcot, the outdoor bar, jacuzzi, and heated pool were just what Mickey ordered. Basking in the warm January sun, I had found the ultimate escape. Orlando poses two perplexing decisions: which theme park to visit first, and, with an abundance of competition vying for your business, which hotel to choose. The Castle is definitely one I will be choosing frequently on future visits.

Right next door to the Castle is the breathtaking and imposing Orlando Eye, standing out like an exclamation point over the city as you traverse the highways on your way into town. Towering over a small neighborhood of touristy restaurants, shops, and bars, it is an iconic Orlando landmark. You can ride it for spectacular views of the skyline, theme parks, and more.

After gaining a birds-eye view of the city, I left the pricey tourist area for a strip mall right next door where I found “China Buffet,” a delicious value a short walk back to the hotel. After having some fun practicing my Mandarin Chinese with the staff, I walked back through the garage towards the hotel, which, to my delight, held an extraordinary surprise!

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Orlando is full of delightful surprises like this. It is also a vast metropolis. On another side of town rises another phenomenal hotel option: the Orlando World Center Marriott.

This is a colossal property with a multitude of restaurants, shops, pools, and meeting rooms. A laser show floods the sky with color over the main pool at night. Here, “bigger is better,” and the size of the lobby, pools, water slides, rooms, televisions, and balconies attest to that. This is a dizzying place to explore, and I enjoyed every minute of it!

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But I couldn’t visit Orlando without a stop at the most notorious Orlando icon of all: Disney World. Intrigued by the idea of traveling the earth in a day, I opted for a visit to Epcot.

True to reputation, lines were long – even in January, although admittedly it was a Sunday. There were rides, shows, and exhibitions involving space, the natural world, and miniature villages representing several countries from around the globe. I have a theory that places like this are for adults, not kids… I witnessed numerous children crying and whining while most of the adults seemed to be having a great time! Epcot seems to be a particularly good choice for the adult visitor, because “exploring the world” is something that can appeal to everyone. The scenes and structures are convincingly rendered, at least from a distance, and while it is not a replacement for the “real thing” it’s a fun way to sample a variety of foreign cultures and architectural styles. “Reflections of China” comes with my highest recommendation for adults. This thrilling film surrounds you with 365 degrees of amazing footage of some of the most spectacular sites in China, with no interruption from cartoon characters (like some of the other attractions here.) Other countries represented at Epcot include Canada, Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Norway, and Mexico. Regrettably, my camera battery failed fairly quickly (perhaps not regrettably: now I must return!)

Orlando has a tremendous bounty of places to stay and great things to do. It is the perfect city to return to again and again, or for an extended stay. Subscribe to my brand new YouTube channel for upcoming video tours of these hotels, attractions, and more (hopefully getting better and better as I get used to the platform!):


I am extremely grateful for your generous donation to help keep the site running! This site and individual posts are not sponsored! A dollar may not be a lot, but every dollar counts!


Savannah, Georgia: Gloriously Green and the Jewel of Georgia


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!


I am extremely grateful for your generous donation to help keep the site running! This site and individual posts are not sponsored! A dollar may not be a lot, but every dollar counts!



Travel Flashback: Carnival Triumph to Mexico in September


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.


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.


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!



I am extremely grateful for your generous donation to help keep the site running! This site and individual posts are not sponsored! A dollar may not be a lot, but every dollar counts!


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.

St Thomas 3

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.

Barbados 2

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.

Barbados 3

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!”

Martinique 3

Martinique 4

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.

Martinique 2

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.

San Juan 1

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!

San Juan 6

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.

San Juan 5

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!


I am extremely grateful for your generous donation to help keep the site running! This site and individual posts are not sponsored! A dollar may not be a lot, but every dollar counts!