Monday, December 9, 2013

Christmas in the Gardens

While most of the country is shivering, we’re warm and toasty here in Florida. It’s great for the tourists going to the beach, but it doesn’t exactly feel “Christmas-y”. To get into the Christmas spirit, last night Ron and I went to see the Holiday Lights display at the Florida Botanical Gardens in Largo.

The paths and trees of the park were beautifully decorated with over 750,000 lights. In keeping with the tropical gardens, many of the lights were in the shape of flowers and birds. In the wedding garden, there was a giant Christmas tree and a lighted gazebo. Who needs cold?

Florida Botanical Gardens Holiday Lights

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sarasota Chalk Festival - Legacy of Valor

With the forecast calling for off-and-on showers all weekend, I didn’t think we were going to make it to the Sarasota Chalk Festival this year. But I kept watching the radar, and the rain seemed to be staying north. When we woke up Sunday morning, there were just a few little spots on the radar. Yay! As we drove over the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, the sun broke through the clouds and "Sunny and 75" played on the radio. By the time we got to downtown Sarasota, it was sunny and 85, and I was wishing I’d worn shorts. :-)

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

RIU Palace Paradise Island

We planned this trip a few months ago at the same time we booked the trip to Maine – Maine for me, Bahamas for Ron. But then we ended up on a cruise instead of going to Maine so here we were a month later, back in the Bahamas!

This time we spent a long weekend at the RIU Palace Paradise Island, an all-inclusive resort on Cabbage Beach. It was a 3-star resort in a 5-star location. I’ll just say the hotel had “issues” – sometimes there was hot water, sometimes not, the power went out several times, finding a working ice machine was an adventure, and our room always felt damp. But at least the bed was comfortable (unlike the one at RIU Palace Las Americas). And the beach – WOW!! - a 3-mile stretch of white sand and beautiful, turquoise water.  As Ron kept saying, “It’s stupid pretty.”

Cabbage Beach

Monday, September 30, 2013

Sea and Sky

Even though Ron and I have been on a lot of cruises, there’s still something special about being at sea - the ship’s wake disappearing into the horizon, waves crashing against the hull, flying fish skipping over the water, the endless expanse of sky. Even waking up too early on vacation has its advantages because we’ve seen some beautiful sunrises. Last weekend we spent a lot of time on the walking deck, just looking out at the ocean. It never gets old.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Enchantment Day 3 - Coco Cay

The forecast for Sunday had been calling for heavy tropical rains, so I wasn’t sure we would get to Coco Cay. But Sunday morning dawned bright and sunny with light seas. Yay, we were going to make it! We had a quick breakfast (at the Park Café this time) and got on a tender around 9 o’clock. Not many people were on the island yet so there were plenty of open lounge chairs. We settled in under a shady pine tree near the water sports area, where we sat last time. It was a great location – away from the crowded spots but not too far from the lunch tables and snorkeling area.

observation tower

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Enchantment Day 2 - Nassau

We went to the Windjammer for breakfast at 7, hoping to beat the crazy crowds. We found a couple of “bar seats” by the windows, and I filled my plate with my favorite cranberry bread, grits and scrambled eggs. As we ate, we watched the Majesty of the Seas and Norwegian Sky heading towards their respective private islands. I love breakfast with a view!

The ship didn’t arrive in Nassau until noon so I thought it would be fun to spend the morning trying out the bungee trampoline. Surprisingly, there wasn’t any line. All the kids seemed to be playing in the Splash Zone. That was good – I wouldn’t have an audience. :-)  I signed the waiver and the attendant got me strapped into the bungee harness. Then I started bouncing and the attendant adjusted the bungee cords so I would go really high up. I was hollering “Not so high!!!” The attendant was laughing at me, but Ron got some good pictures. In my defense, the bungee trampoline is on a raised platform on the top deck. So when you’re jumping, you really are waaaay up there. Awesome view though! I could see the ocean for miles.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Enchantment of the Seas

After a miserable August, I don’t think we’ve ever been more ready to get out of town for a few days. No, it wasn’t the Maine lighthouse and lobster trip we had planned, but it was just what we needed. Three days of sun, fun and relaxation.

We got to Port Canaveral at 10:30 and were in the very first group on the ship. Time to explore! After three cruises on Monarch of the Seas, I was excited to see her replacement. I wasn’t disappointed. Built in 1997, Enchantment of the Seas was “stretched” in 2005. They literally cut the ship in half and added another section in the middle. As a result, the pool deck on Enchantment was huge. There were two outdoor pools and a kids’ Splash Zone, as well as the glass-enclosed Solarium pool. My favorite parts of the ship were the arching suspension bridges on either side of the pool deck. Also added in 2005 were the bungee trampolines on Deck 10. I definitely wanted to try those!

Enchantment of the Seas arches

Monday, August 19, 2013

Winter in August - a Visit to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium

Winter Zone sign

On Saturday I spent the morning at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, home of Winter the dolphin. The movie Dolphin Tale is based on Winter’s real life story – a baby dolphin entangled in crab trap rope loses her tail and inspires a team of experts to design the very first prosthetic dolphin tail. My last visit to the aquarium was in 2011 before the movie premiered, so I was interested in what had changed since then.

As it turned out, there were quite a lot of new things to see. Just a few months ago, the aquarium opened the R.O. Jacobson Center, which houses a new surgical suite, additional pools for injured sea turtles and even an area for the scuba divers who clean the tanks to store their gear. I got to see a lot of these updates first-hand during a Behind the Scenes tour. The new food preparation area is a huge improvement over the tiny room where Sawyer and Hazel made “fish milkshakes” in the film. I also got to see the new state-of-the-art water filtration system (which looked like our pool filtration system times 1000).

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Happy National Lighthouse Day!

Steadfast, serene, immovable, the same
Year after year, through all the silent night
Burns on forevermore that quenchless flame,
Shines on that inextinguishable light!
-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, "The Lighthouse"

Hillsboro Inlet Lighthouse
Hillsboro Inlet Lighthouse, Pompano Beach Florida

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Caladesi Island State Park

Caladesi Island State Park

Since July is National Parks and Recreation Month, it seemed like a good time to visit one of our favorite local parks. So on Sunday, Ron and I took the boat out to Caladesi Island.  There is something for almost everyone at Caladesi. In addition to the beach (voted America’s Best Beach by Dr. Beach in 2008), there are picnic shelters, a 3-mile nature trail, kayak rentals, and lots of wildlife. You can spot all kinds of sea birds – herons, egrets, skimmers, osprey - as well as gopher tortoises, dolphins and an occasional manatee. The beach is also an important habitat for nesting loggerhead turtles. Three nests have been built on the island this year.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Sarasota Fourth of July

We’re back from a quick trip to Sarasota. It was a fun time despite the less-than-cooperative weather. The reason for the trip was that our friends Ronnie and Jamie were going to the Super Boat Grand Prix and they invited us along. It sounded like a fun and different way to celebrate our anniversary and the 4th of July weekend so we said yes. Road trip!

We drove down Thursday morning and got to our hotel, the Hyatt Regency Sarasota, at around noon. Ronnie had picked the Hyatt because it was the official host hotel for the races and would be close to all the festivities. The hotel was great! It was very contemporary with lots of white, pink and green details – even pink lemonade served in the lobby every day. Our room had a king-sized bed and a small balcony overlooking Sarasota Bay. There was also a nice pool with waterfalls and an outdoor bar and grill.

Hyatt Regency Sarasota room

Friday, June 21, 2013

Embarking on an Adventure

You’ve been on pins and needles since you made that final payment, and now the day has finally arrived. You’ve made it to the port, handed your luggage to the porter, gone through check-in and security. You’re ready to start your vacation! But wait, you can’t get on the ship yet. There’s still one thing left to do - take the embarkation picture!

I thought it would be fun to share some of our embarkation pictures through the years.

Carnival Fantasy embarkation photo
1991 - our honeymoon and first cruise

Friday, June 7, 2013

What to Include in a Cruise Review

setting sail from the Port of Miami
Setting Sail - one of my favorite parts of a cruise

While I was researching for our recent cruise on the Carnival Paradise, I found an interesting question on the Cruise Critic message boards ( The poster was planning to write a detailed review of her cruise and wanted to know what information we looked for in a review. I was curious about this too so I compiled the responses. Here are the top 5 answers.

1. Pictures, pictures, pictures
Almost everyone agreed that a review can’t have too many pictures. In fact, only one person said she didn’t care about pictures. Karysa, the lone dissenter, said they reminded her of the slide shows she used to endure while visiting relatives as a kid. “I just skip over the pictures mostly and get right to the text.”

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Fun on the Fun Ship Paradise

feet on railing


This wasn’t our first choice for a getaway. OK, it wasn’t even our second or third choice. What I really, REALLY wanted to do this summer was to go to the Outer Banks, but Southwest discontinued their direct flights to Norfolk. Airfare made a long weekend trip to the Caribbean out of the question. Then we thought we would use airline miles to fly to Miami and take a cruise on the Carnival Victory. But American Airlines wouldn’t let us use our miles on the flights we wanted. Foiled by the airlines! We couldn’t fly and Ron didn’t want to drive, so we booked a trip on the Carnival Paradise out of Tampa.

We got to the port around 1 and were on the ship by 1:30. The first thing we did after dropping our bags in the cabin was head to the Elation Dining Room to change our dining assignment. Since we’d booked last minute, we were wait-listed for Your Time Dining. But our room card said we’d been assigned to Early Seating. That was not going to work! The maître d’ told us that Your Time Dining was full but at least he was able to switch us to Late Seating.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Sandals Grande Antigua Photobook

Shutterfly photo book

The bright orange package just came in the mail with my new Shutterfly photo book. Woohoo! I love having photo books of my travel pictures, and Shutterfly makes it so easy to put them together. You can choose from a large variety of layouts, backgrounds, fonts and embellishments. Shutterfly even recently added some neat new features, like two-page spreads and customizable layouts. I’m starting to have quite a collection of books!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Sandals Grande Antigua - Part 4


I woke up early and couldn’t go back to sleep, thinking about it being our last day and how much I still wanted to do. Why does vacation always seem to be one day too short??

We had the “Best of Antigua” tour scheduled for the morning. Our driver and tour guide, Fish, met us in the Caribbean lobby at 9 o’clock. He was an older gentleman who had been driving taxis since I was born, and he drove carefully and safely. He wasn’t very talkative but he did answer all of our questions and pointed things out along the way. Antigua is known as the land of 365 beaches (one for each day of the year) and Fish told us that we could have most of them all to ourselves. As we passed one beach, he commented that it was crowded that day. There were maybe five people on the beach. That was crowded? :-)

We drove past pineapple fields and Mount Obama, the highest point in Antigua at 1300 feet. As we started up into the mountains, it got cloudy and I was worried that we were going to have bad weather for our tour. Then I realized that we were in the rain forest. The road through the rain forest was called Fig Tree Drive because of all the bananas trees. The Antiguan word for banana is “fig”. Fish said that until he started traveling, he didn’t realize that bananas and figs were two different things.

pineapple fields
pineapple fields

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Sandals Grande Antigua - Part 3


By Tuesday we were ready to get off the resort and see some of the island, so we signed up for the Segway tour. We met in the Caribbean Grove lobby at 8:45. We were a small group – just 2 other couples from Ontario and Louisiana. It was a short ride to the Segway of Antigua office, where we all donned helmets and elbow pads, then watched an instructional video featuring a very clumsy stick figure that fell off his Segway a lot. Our tour guide, Yandeen, assured us that we wouldn’t be doing that much falling. :-)  Then it was time to practice with our Segways – getting on and off, turning and stopping. Ron and I were the only ones who had ridden a Segway before, but it didn’t take long before everyone was ready to go.

First we rode to Runaway Bay for a photo op of the beautiful deserted beach, passing some grazing horses and the ruins of an old sugar mill along the way. Then it was on to Fort James, built in 1706 to guard St John’s harbor from French invasion. The views from Fort James were spectacular, and I had a hard time tearing my eyes away long enough to snack on the fruit kabobs and sugar cane that the guides handed out. We had a little time to walk around or play on the Segways before it was time to head back. What an awesome tour! It was only 11:30 when we got back to Sandals but I was starving! All that fun makes you hungry. :-)  We picked up two pizzas to-go and ate them sitting on our balcony. Now that’s what I call vacation.

Runaway Bay
Runaway Bay

Saturday, May 4, 2013

More Sandals Grande Antigua Photos

Here are a few more pictures from around the resort

Cypress Building
Cypress Building

Sandals Grande Antigua - Part 2


I woke up early again and went out onto our balcony. A black and white kitty was sitting on the sidewalk below so I clucked at it. The next thing I knew, the cat was on the balcony! I was so surprised! It had jumped from our neighbor’s lounge chair to the top of the wall and then walked across the arbor. What a smart little cat. I petted it and it settled onto a chair for a bath and a nap. The resort seemed to have quite a few resident cats, many with a notch in one ear. Someone had mentioned in a Trip Advisor review that the notch meant the cat had been spayed. Good idea.

cat on balcony

Friday, May 3, 2013

Sandals Grande Antigua - Part 1

Sandals Grande Antigua first opened in 1991, but it was expanded 6 years ago. Now it has two distinct sections - the original “Caribbean Grove” side with cozy, gingerbread-trimmed buildings and lush gardens and the new “Mediterranean Village” side with a huge swimming pool and modern, luxurious rooms. It is like two resorts in one - the best of both worlds.

Saturday was a long day of traveling, starting when we left the house at 4:30. We had a 3-hour layover in Miami, and when we took off for Antigua, we could see the Port of Miami and the tiny cruise ships below. I thought of Mama and Daddy, who had just gotten off one of those ships that morning. The skies were clear over the Bahamas chain but by the time we landed at the VC Bird Airport, it was cloudy and drizzly. Booo! Finally, we made it to the resort and checked into our room. But surprise, it wasn’t the Caribbean Grove room we had booked. We had been upgraded to a second floor ocean view room in the Mediterranean section! The room was gorgeous. It had a king-sized 4-poster bed, a sitting area and a mini-bar stocked with water, soda, beer and several bottles of liquor. The bathroom had double sinks, a whirlpool tub and a separate shower with a “rain” shower head. From our small balcony we could just see the ocean beyond the main pool.
We unpacked and got showers, then wandered down to Bayside, on the Caribbean side of the resort, for dinner. The food was good (broccoli soup, seared scallops and mussels in white wine); the atmosphere was great. After dinner, we walked around the property, getting lost a couple of times in the Caribbean Grove. The tree frogs were out and singing loudly. I couldn’t wait to see the resort in daylight!

flying over the Bahamas

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Waiting for Spring

Here it is, the end of March, and I haven’t written a single blog. It has been so cold and dreary this month that we haven’t been able to get out and enjoy the outdoors. Usually by this time, the Gulf water is warming up and we’re out on the boat every weekend. I’m longing to put away these sweaters and feel some sunshine on my shoulders. The weatherman is saying it will warm up this weekend, finally.

Come on spring, I’m ready for you!

kayaks for rent on Dunedin Causeway
Kayaks waiting for customers on Dunedin Causeway

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Vacation Motivation

Yes, it’s that time again; time to start getting back into bathing suit shape. There’s nothing like an upcoming trip to get me moving!

One way I stay motivated is by wearing a pedometer and trying to put 10,000 steps on it a day. I just bought a new pedometer that resets itself at midnight so I can’t cheat. :-)  I also filled up my iPod with songs that remind me of vacation, songs by Bob Marley, Zac Brown Band, Kenny Chesney (and of course, Gwen Stefani’s "The Sweet Escape").

My favorite vacation song is "I Can See Clearly Now" because it reminds me of our trip to Couples Swept Away in Negril, Jamaica. Negril has one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen – soft white sand and calm, crystal clear turquoise water. The beach is public so it is busy with vendors peddling trinkets, conch shells and Jet Ski rides and musicians playing for tips. One morning two musicians stopped in front of our beach chairs and sang "I Can See Clearly Now". It was the perfect song for a perfect day.

7-Mile Beach, Negril
7-Mile Beach, Negril

Look all around, there’s nothing but blue skies
Look straight ahead, there’s nothing but blue skies
It’s gonna be a bright, bright sun-shiny day
("I Can See Clearly Now" by Johnny Nash)

Saturday, February 16, 2013


Today is one of my favorite days of the year - the day we book our vacation. Having that confirmation number makes it all real.

This time we'll be heading to Sandals Grande Antigua. And now that I know exactly when and where we'll be going, I can start researching in earnest. What is the resort like? What is the country like? What tours should we take? We were in Antigua in 2007 but only for one day while we were on a cruise. What I remember most are the colorful little houses dotting the mountainside. I can't wait to go back to see more of the island and check out another Sandals. So much to look forward to!

St John's, Antigua
St John's, Antigua

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Bok Tower Gardens

"Make you the world a bit better or more beautiful because you have lived in it."
Edward W. Bok, 1929

When you think about Florida, you probably don’t think about history. At least I didn’t until I started visiting the Florida lighthouses a few years ago. Then I discovered that there is so much more to Florida than beaches and Mickey Mouse. And not just lighthouses but forts and railroads, shipwrecks and grand Victorian hotels.

The weather on Saturday was sunny and clear but way too chilly for going out on the boat. So we decided to use the opportunity to visit one of Florida’s historic landmarks – the Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales. The Gardens were established in 1929 by Pulitzer Prize winning author and Dutch immigrant Edward W. Bok, as a gift of gratitude to the American people.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Celebrity Constellation – Two Days, Too Short

Nassau sand

More than any Christmas present under the tree, I love taking a weekend getaway with my hubby. So our gift to each other this year was a 2-day cruise on the Celebrity Constellation. It was cloudy and gloomy when we got to Miami around noon on Saturday. Traffic was at a standstill, and as we drove over the bridge to the cruise terminals we could see why – there were seven ships in port! Because the Constellation wasn't on its normal schedule, we were docked at a temporary terminal, which was basically a big, dark tent. Fortunately, it didn’t take long to go through security and check-in, and we were soon on the ship with the whole afternoon to explore.

The Constellation was built in 2002 but for an "older ship", I thought it was beautiful. Well, the outside did look a bit blocky. I heard someone describe it as looking like it was made out of Legos. But the inside was elegantly modern. The hub of the ship was the 3-story atrium with a backlit marble staircase, a specialty coffee shop and a very popular martini bar. One of my favorite parts of the ship was the gorgeous Chihuly glass sculpture that hung outside the Reflections Lounge. With only two days, we didn't even see the whole ship before the cruise was over!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Big Cat Rescue

Big Cat Rescue sign

Yesterday I visited Big Cat Rescue in Tampa. The 50-acre educational sanctuary is home to over 100 cats, including lions, tigers, leopards, cougars and bobcats. BCR takes in cats that have been injured by cars, have gotten too old for performing, or have been abandoned by people who mistakenly thought that a big cat would make a good pet.

Not far from busy Citrus Park Mall, BCR is tucked away at the end of a dirt road. It’s hard to believe such a quiet, natural spot still exists in this part of Florida. During the one-and-a-half hour tour, our guide Vanessa gave our group lots of information about the sanctuary’s residents and the difference between “big cats” and “lesser cats” (big cats roar and their babies are called cubs while lesser cats don’t roar but can purr and their babies are called kittens).

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

My Favorite Pictures of 2012

Before we begin another year of traveling, I thought I would share some of my favorite pictures from the past year.

Port of Tampa
1. Leaving the Port of Tampa on the Jewel of the Seas