Sunday, December 2, 2012

Christmas at the Disney World Resorts

I’m a huge fan of Christmas decorations – especially Christmas trees. So this weekend, Ron and I drove to Orlando for a tour of the Christmas decorations at the Disney World resorts. Our first stop was the Grand Floridian, Disney’s flagship hotel modeled after Florida’s grand 19th century resorts. In keeping with the hotel’s Victorian d├ęcor, the 3-story high tree was decorated with flowers, bird cages and swans. Stunning! There was even a life-sized gingerbread house with an actual candy shop inside.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

RIU Palace Las Americas

Elizabeth: So that's it, then? That's the secret, grand adventure of the infamous Jack Sparrow. You spent three days lying on a beach drinking rum.
Jack Sparrow: Welcome to the Caribbean.
(Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl)

Those are my favorite movie lines ever and pretty much summed up our plans for the weekend at RIU Palace Las Americas. No tours, no schedules, just relaxing, exploring a new hotel and enjoying the sun and beautiful water.

This was our second trip to Cancun and our first at RIU Palace Las Americas. The hotel was gorgeous. It was located along the bend at the top of the Hotel Zone’s 7, and although it was built in 2003, it felt more like a historic old hotel. The exterior was gleaming white with wide porches and balustrades. The huge lobby had faux marble pillars, a stained-glass ceiling and a bar with dark wood walls. The lobby opened out to an infinity pool circled by Greek-style statues and arbor-shaded sunbeds. I kept thinking that Mama would really love the hotel because of all the quiet, shady spots and couches for reading or sipping a cup of coffee. There was also an activities pool, where all the games took place during the day.

RIU Palace Las Americas

Monday, November 5, 2012

Sarasota Chalk Festival

You don’t always have to go far away to have a “getaway”. Now that the weather has finally cooled off here in Florida, there is some kind of local event almost every weekend. Yesterday Ron and I drove to Sarasota for the Sarasota Chalk Festival, an outdoor festival celebrating street painting. For 10 days, several blocks of Pineapple Avenue are closed to traffic while artists from around the world cover the street with colorful masterpieces. We discovered the chalk festival last year and I was amazed by the bright designs and the talent of the artists.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

How To Read Trip Advisor Traveler Reviews (Without Freaking Out)

One of the best parts of vacation is the planning. I love deciding where to go next and then reading everything I can about the place. But when Ron and I first discovered websites like Trip Advisor, we would worry about every negative review. Then we decided to read the reviews on places we had loved, and guess what. Even our favorites had some bad reviews.  No resort can be everything to everyone. Here are a few tips on using reviews to find a resort that’s right for you.

1. Look for trends:
Don’t get hung up on a single review. If one person says a hotel is noisy, maybe that person was just there on a bad week. But if 100 people say it’s noisy, then you’d better bring ear plugs. Look for common themes that show up over and over and you’ll get a pretty good idea about a hotel’s strengths and weaknesses.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Music to My Ears

My philosophy is that the best way to cure post-trip blues is to book another trip, so we’ve decided to plan a weekend getaway to the RIU Palace Las Americas in Cancun. I was looking at videos about the RIU on YouTube, and in one of the videos I could hear the sounds of cling-cling birds in the background. Instantly, I was back in the Caribbean, eating breakfast at an outdoor table and watching the cling-clings trying to steal packets of sugar. Funny how certain sounds say “vacation”. You’d think it would be the sound of waves on the beach, but for me it’s the squeaks of the cling-cling birds and the tweets of the tree frogs at night.

bird at Sandals Montego Bay
Cling-cling bird at Sandals Montego Bay

Monday, October 15, 2012

How Cruising Has Changed

My parents just got back from their 50th Anniversary New England/Canada cruise. My dad took his laptop and I really enjoyed getting daily email updates about their adventures. It got me thinking about how cruising has changed since our first cruise in 1991, especially in the area of dining.

Back then there was only one option for dinner – the Main Dining Room (MDR). Everyone was assigned either to early seating (6:30) or late seating (8:30). For the length of the cruise, you sat at the same table every night and had the same wait staff. The waiters quickly got to know your preferences and would soon start bringing you things without you even having to ask. I remember one cruise, Daddy asked for lemon for his tea and after the first night, the waiter brought him “lemon cocktails” - sliced lemons placed around the edge of a glass like shrimp in a shrimp cocktail. Dining was elegant and service was amazing.

Jewel of the Seas main dining room
Main Dining Room on Royal Caribbean's Jewel of the Seas

Saturday, October 6, 2012

One Hundred Days and Counting

I was reading the Cruise Critic boards before this trip, and someone mentioned that they were celebrating their 100th day at sea. That made me think, “Hmmm, I bet we’re getting close to 100 days too.” So I counted up our cruises and it turned out that we had our 100th day on Jewel of the Seas this past January. Since that first honeymoon cruise 21 years ago, we have now spent 104 days at sea. Who knew back then all the places we would go.

Here’s to the next 100 days!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Monarch Day 3 - Coco Cay

The next morning I woke up early and couldn’t go back to sleep. I pulled on some clothes and slipped out of the cabin with my camera. We were headed west so I walked to the stern where the sun was just starting to rise over the ship’s wake. There were only a few other people around, quietly sharing the moment. It was so peaceful.

sunrise on Monarch of the Seas

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Monarch Day 2 - Nassau

We didn’t arrive in Nassau until noon, so we spent the morning hanging out around the pool, watching the usual activities like ice carving, cocktail-making classes and the Sexiest Man competition. As the ship pulled into Nassau Harbor, Ron got a big smile on his face and said, “Honey, we’re home!” There were two ships already in port - Carnival Imagination and our honeymoon ship, Carnival Fantasy. Hard to believe it has been 21 years of marriage and cruising.

Monarch of the Seas pool deck
Morning on the ship

Farewell to Monarch (Sept. 28 - Oct. 1, 2012)

aboard Monarch of the Seas

This was our third cruise on Monarch of the Seas and it will be our last because she is leaving the Royal Caribbean fleet in a few months. Built in 1991, Monarch was one of the biggest cruise ships at the time but now she’s looking pretty small and tired. And after three cruises on the same ship, I’m definitely looking forward to checking out Monarch’s replacement, Enchantment of the Seas, next year. On the other hand, Ron and I never get tired of weekend trips to the Bahamas. So when Ron heard that there was a company offering an all-inclusive (open bar) package this weekend, he signed us up.

We’d decided to leave our car with Park N Cruise instead of parking at Port Canaveral since it would only cost $25 instead of $60. The Park N Cruise lot was easy to find but once we got there, it seemed to take forever for them to fill up the shuttle. We watched in amazement as the shuttle driver loaded huge suitcase after huge suitcase into the van. I whispered to Ron, “How many cruises are these guys taking?” Seriously people, it’s only a 3-day cruise!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Anclote Key Lighthouse Open House

Anclote Key lighthouse

Last Saturday Ron and I had a chance to climb the Anclote Key Lighthouse. The lighthouse was built in 1887 and deactivated in 1985. After years of neglect and vandalism, a group of citizens raised $1 million to restore the lighthouse and it was relit in 2003.

I remember trying to get to the lighthouse years ago, before the restoration. We anchored our boat off the Gulf side of the island and started walking through the marshes. About half way there, we were swarmed by the most ferocious mosquitoes I’ve ever experienced. We were covered! We must have been a funny sight, screaming and running back to the boat. :-)  Things are a lot different now. A park ranger lives on the island full-time, boardwalks have been added and the mosquitoes are (mostly) under control.


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