Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Old Florida Christmas

Pinellas County's Heritage Village

Sometimes it’s hard to get into the Christmas Spirit when you live in Florida and it’s 80 degrees outside. Instead of sitting around and dreaming of snow, I decided to spend an afternoon at Heritage Village in Largo to find out how Floridians celebrated Christmas in years past.

Heritage Village is a 21-acre living history museum with over two dozen of Pinellas County’s oldest structures, dating from the late 1800’s to the early 1900’s. The historic homes range from the 1852 McMullen-Coachman log cabin, to the tiny one-room Boyer Cottage, to the grand Victorian-style House of Seven Gables. There is also a train depot, a fire engine from 1919, a general store and even a couple of Depression-era outhouses! One of my favorite buildings was the little Safety Harbor Church, which survived two hurricanes and still has its original pulpit.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Key West Super Boat Races

Back in June, Jenny told us that if we wanted to go to Key West, we were welcome to stay at Chris’s house. Key West, yes! Other than for a few hours on our Carnival Victory cruise last January, we hadn’t been to Key West for three years. We were definitely overdue for another visit to the Conch Republic. We decided we’d go in November because our friends Ronnie and Jamie would be there for the Super Boat International Championships.

But then this fall, everything went crazy. Between all the changes at work and having our house torn up to replace the floors, we barely had time to think, much less get excited about the trip. I didn’t start feeling that vacation vibe until we hit Key Largo and saw the beautiful turquoise water. At mile marker 37, we stopped at Bahia Honda State Park for photo ops of the old Bahia Honda Bridge, originally part of Henry Flagler’s railway in the early 1900’s. Very cool!

We could easily have spent a few hours at the park, but it was already after noon so we headed on to Stock Island for some lunch at Hogfish Bar and Grill, where I had my first mojito of the trip. That is one thing I love about the Keys – they know how to make a mojito. Not syrupy, not sour and definitely not from a mix! :-)  Hogfish’s Key lime mojito had just enough Key lime flavor to make it unique. Ahh, vacation had begun.

Bahia Honda State Park
Bahia Honda State Park

Friday, October 23, 2015

The Best of Key West

Since my sister-mother trip to Virginia got "Joaquin'ed", I am especially looking forward to getting away to Key West next month. Ron and I have gone to Key West by car, ferry, plane and cruise ship, and each trip is a new and fun adventure. Here are a few of the things that I love about Key West.

Custom House
History and Art

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Daytona Beach Labor Day Weekend

We hadn’t planned to go out of town for Labor Day. The weekend cruises were either booked up or too expensive, and we didn’t want to spend a lot of money. But at the last minute, we decided we needed to go somewhere. Orlando? Apalachicola? Daytona Beach? Yes, Daytona! We hadn’t been there in AGES.

We left Saturday morning and got to Daytona at 10:30, just in time for the 11 o’clock All Access Tour at the Daytona International Speedway. Ron had been to the speedway several times for car shows but I’d never seen it and I thought it would be interesting to see what it was like behind the scenes.

The tour lasted about an hour and a half and we got to see many areas of the property, riding from place to place in trams towed by our tour guide in a truck. Our first stop was on an access road overlooking the incredible 31-degree angle of the track at Turn 4 (31 degrees because at 32 degrees, the dirt starts to slide down). Then we drove onto the track itself. As we entered the raceway, I could almost feel the adrenaline and excitement of the drivers. We stopped at the checkered Start/Finish line where we all attempted to walk up the 18-degree track. It was a lot steeper than it looked! Next we had souvenir pictures taken at Victory Lane and visited the Drivers Meeting Room, where the teams meet for safety briefings and instructions before each race. Our final stop was inside the stadium itself, which is undergoing a $400-million renovation called Daytona Rising. When the project is finished, the stadium will have 101,500 new, wider seats, 14 escalators, and most importantly, twice as many women’s bathrooms. :-)

Daytona International Speedway
Daytona International Speedway

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Maui - Part 4


Our last full day and suddenly Ron was thinking of all kinds of things he still wanted to do. Six days on Maui just isn’t enough!

We spent the day exploring Iao Valley National Park and Lahaina. First stop was Iao Valley, a lush valley in Central Maui and the second wettest place in the state, getting an average of 380 inches of rain a year. Ron and I both loved it! We got there early enough that there were few other people, and it was so peaceful, breezy and cool. We walked up the short lookout trail and then followed the mountain stream back down, climbing around on the rocks. I spotted some more yellow ginger so Ron had a “drink”. It took less than an hour to see the whole park but it was well worth the visit.

Iao Valley

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Maui - Part 3


We had booked the Short Waterfalls Walk with Hike Maui for the morning. At 9 o’clock Jenny, Gretchen, Reid, Charlie, Ron and I all piled into the van and drove to the Park and Ride spot in Kahului, where we were met by our tour guide Kate and the rest of the group, a family of five. We would be doing a 1-mile hike at Twin Falls, near the beginning of the Road to Hana. As Kate drove, she told us about the history of sugarcane in Maui and how it had impacted the island, from bringing in new cultures to changing the landscape. When we got near Twin Falls, the air started to have a wonderful scent. It was so fresh and sweet, I couldn’t stop sniffing. It must have been the smell of the rainforest.

Twin Falls is privately owned by four families, but Hike Maui has a contract to allow tours so we were able to go into areas of the property that aren’t normally open to the public. The hiking part of the tour was pretty tame because we stopped a lot as Kate pointed out various edible plants. We sampled the “ice cream pods”, ate the flowers off of the Indian Head Ginger (they tasted like green apples) and sipped nectar out of the yellow ginger. If you get lost in Maui, you don’t have to worry about starving because there is food everywhere! Kate cracked us up by telling us that she likes to eat off of the flower displays in hotel lobbies. She said everyone stares at the crazy lady eating the decorations. :-)


Maui - Part 2


I woke up at 2:30 and couldn’t go back to sleep. Argh! I hate jet lag. My body just does not like going west. For some reason, I find it much easier adjusting to the time change in Europe.

Our plan for the day was to explore West Maui since we hadn’t seen that part of the island before. Jenny suggested that Ron and I take the Mini Cooper so we could put the top down. The Mini Cooper was adorable, blue with the Union Jack painted on the side mirrors, very Austin Powers. We zipped along the coast, deciding to start at the farthest point, the Nakalele Blowhole. The Nakalele Blowhole is kind of like a geyser, a hole in the cliff where the waves shoot through. The hike down to the blowhole turned out to be a lot trickier than I was expecting. It was very steep with large boulders and some slippery, sandy spots. I had stupidly forgotten to put on my hiking sandals and was wearing flip flops, but I finally made it to the bottom with much help from Ron. Unfortunately, the blowhole was sputtering more than blowing that day, which was disappointing, although the rocky cliffs were scenic and we did find the heart-shaped hole in the rock. But then we had to climb back up! I am definitely not the most coordinated person so I was crawling my way carefully up the rocks, using my hands for balance, when some man marched right past me like he was walking through the mall. How embarrassing… :-)

view from the lanai
morning on the lanai

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Maui - Part 1

Our last trip to Maui was in 1999, and one reason it had taken so long to go back was because it was such a pain to get there. As we sat in the Dallas/Fort Worth airport for the fifth hour, I remembered why we waited 16 years. Our connecting flight in DFW had come in late and then during an inspection, they discovered a leak in the brake fluid lines. We didn’t know if they could fix it or if we’d be spending the night in Dallas. Finally, the announcement was made that the leak had been repaired and we would be boarding shortly. Nine hours later, we were banking towards Maui and heading into Kahului Airport with beautiful views of Molokini crater, south Maui and Haleakala’s upcountry.

Jenny greeted us with leis at the airport and drove us to the condo at Wailea Point. Since we’d gotten in so late, Jeremy picked up dinner at Da Kitchen – delicious kalua pork with rice and other Hawaiian fixings. We ate out on the lanai while we watched our first Maui sunset.  We made it!

Wailea Point sunset

Saturday, July 18, 2015

How to Survive a Long Flight

travel bag

When we were growing up, we flew back and forth from Korea every three or four years. According to my mom, we were well-behaved travelers. Some of the other passengers on our plane may remember differently. :-)  But we were pretty good at keeping ourselves occupied. We made up elaborate schedules of who got the window seats on which legs of the trip. We also each carried our own travel bag, a tote bag filled with crafts, books and toys.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Philippe Park

Philippe Park marker

July is National Parks and Recreation Month, and here in Florida we are lucky to have lots of beautiful parks. One of my favorites is Philippe Park in Safety Harbor. The park, located at the top of Tampa Bay, has a mile of shoreline, picnic shelters, a boat ramp and parking area for boat trailers, and a canopy of oak trees draped in Spanish moss (I love those trees). Another interesting feature of the park is the large Tocobaga Indian mound, listed in the National Register of Historic Landmarks.

Philippe Park was named after Count Odet Philippe, who is credited for introducing grapefruit and other citrus trees to the area. Count Philippe is buried on the grounds of the park, the site of his former plantation.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Palm Island Weekend

Palm Island

For the past few years, our friend Mike and a group of his friends have rented condos on Palm Island the week before Father’s Day. He invited us to join him a couple of times but for various reasons we weren’t able to go. With no plans this year, we finally accepted the invitation and drove down on Saturday.

Palm Island is a small barrier island not far from Sarasota with a collection of cottages and villas called the Palm Island Resort occupying most of the north end. There is no bridge to the island so you have to take a short ferry ride to get there. There are also very few roads, and once on the resort property, it is strictly golf carts and bikes. We left our car parked on the “mainland” and paid the pedestrian walk-on fee ($7 a person) for the ride across.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Zoominations at Lowry Park Zoo

This weekend, Ron and I went to see Zoominations, a Chinese lantern festival at Lowry Park Zoo. The art of lantern-making has been part of Chinese culture for thousands of years, dating back to the Han Dynasty (206 BC to 220 AD). Lowry Park’s exhibit, created by a team of 40 craftsmen from the Sichuan Province, was a fantastical mix of traditional Chinese symbols for peace, wealth and happiness and larger-than-life zoo animals. Most of the lanterns were made from colorful silk fabric over steel frames and lit with LED lights. But there was also a 60-foot high replica of the Manfeilong Pagoda constructed entirely out of porcelain plates and cups. My favorite display was the koi pond and garden of pearl flowers – just stunning.

Zoominations entrance
"The Gate to China"

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Celebrity Summit Day 7 - St Thomas

Friday was our wind-down day so we didn’t plan anything too strenuous. After breakfast we did a little packing (boo!) and then met Mama and Daddy to take the sky ride to Paradise Point, an observation deck and bar overlooking Charlotte Amalie harbor. The last time we were in St Thomas, Mama and I had planned to go to Paradise Point on our own while Ron and Daddy went scuba diving. But the dive boat broke down and the scuba trip was cancelled so we all ended up going up the mountain together. Even though the guys were really disappointed that they didn’t get to dive, it turned out to be one of our great cruise memories. Paradise Point was such a beautiful place. Plus, that was when Mama and I discovered their famous Bushwacker, a frozen drink with Baileys, Kahlua, Amaretto, Crème de Cacao, vodka, rum and Coco Lopez.

Paradise Point was just as gorgeous as we remembered. On the ride up, I even forgot that I really don’t like sky rides! :-)  We spent about two hours on the mountain, just talking and enjoying the views and the wonderful breezes. We shared some nachos and Mama and I each got a Bushwacker. I walked around a little to take some pictures and when I got back to our table, Mama had fallen completely asleep in her chair! It really was that relaxing.

on the skyride

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Celebrity Summit Day 6 - St Martin/St Maarten

license plates

Ron and I had been to St Martin once before but it was 19 years ago and we’d done a snorkeling tour that trip. This time I really wanted to see more of the island. After a little research, I found Bernard’s Tours, which had rave reviews on Cruise Critic and Trip Advisor. Mama and Daddy were interested in an island tour too so I signed us all up for the SXM Island Tour I. Here is the description from their website:
SXM Island Tour I
9:00 am - 1:30 pm
Sightseeing and Shopping - $40/pp | $5/pp Deposit
All tours depart from the Cruise Information Center
• Pickup at the cruise pier
• Iguana Farm (currently under construction until further notice)
• Stop at the French and Dutch border [2 mins]
• Brief stop at Oyster Pond overlooking the island of St Barths [5-10 mins]
• Photo opportunity at Orient hilltop
• Marigot - open market (French Capital) [60 mins]
• Maho Beach - see low flying planes [45 mins]
• Drive through Simpson Bay marina
• Harold Jack Hill (View of Simpson Marina, Airport & Anguilla)
• Return to Philipsburg depends on tour departure time; all guests will be returned in time to meet their ship's sail time.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Celebrity Summit Day 5 - Antigua

Summit in Antigua

Ron and I hadn’t made any specific plans for the day in Antigua. After two full-day excursions, we thought we’d just keep things simple and take the local bus to either a nearby beach or to Nelson’s Dockyard, an 18th century British Naval dockyard on the south end of the island. Since we were both a little sunburned by then, we decided Nelson’s Dockyard would be the better option.

We got off the ship around 9:30, armed with walking directions to the bus depot that I’d found on Cruise Critic’s Antigua forum. First we had to get through the gauntlet of tour and taxi ride salesmen. And I thought the vendors in Nassau were bad. It wasn’t so much that they were aggressive; it was just that there were so many of them. After about a 10-minute walk, we finally made it to the depot where the bus was waiting. We sat for a few more minutes until the bus filled up and then we were on our way. It was quite a ride! The bus had a huge crack across the windshield and Ron’s jump seat leaned back so far that he was almost in my lap. As the bus wound over the hills, I could hear the gears grinding and screeching. I’m pretty sure a few parts fell off along the way. When we stepped off at Nelson’s Dockyard 30 minutes later, the two guys at the ticket booth said, “Oh, you took the bus. You’re adventurous.” Yes, a little more than we’d planned to be. :-)

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Celebrity Summit Day 4 - St Lucia

St Lucia

Sunrise was at 5:45 so despite my best efforts to sleep in, I was wide awake at 6 o’clock. I sat out on the balcony where I could see the mountains of St Lucia slowly getting closer. We were in St Lucia with Mama, Daddy, Jenny and Jeremy in 2001 for our 10th anniversary. I think that was Ron’s all-time favorite vacation. We stayed at Sandals Regency La Toc, and Ron loved diving in the morning, golfing in the afternoon and sitting in the pool at the Sunset Bluffs. We both got hooked on Sandals. So of course our plan for the day was to visit another Sandals – Sandals Grande St Lucian.

After breakfast, Ron and I headed off the ship to the taxi stand where we were placed in a cab driven by a very nice man named Cristophe. It was morning rush hour and traffic was crawling so it took about 30 minutes to get to the resort, but the views along the way were nice. St Lucia was even more beautiful than I remembered – lush green mountains and hot pink bougainvillea spilling over walls, coves filled with sailboats. So pretty.

Celebrity Summit Day 3 - Barbados

Welcome to Barbados sign

I’ve wanted to visit Barbados ever since I found out that you could snorkel with sea turtles. We snorkeled with turtles in Akumal, Mexico last year and it was amazing, so I was especially looking forward to this port stop.

We’d booked the 5-Hour Lunch Cruise with Calypso Cruises, which included snorkeling, a sail along the coast and lunch. Here is a description of the tour from Calypso’s website:
5 Hour Lunch Cruise
Sailing Barbados aboard the Calypso Girl is an experience like no other. For this cruise we limit our numbers to just 14 guests for an intimate and personal ambiance. A splendid buffet-style lunch and unlimited drinks await you during our five hour cruise. Transportation and snorkel equipment are other included amenities when you sail with us.

Sail with us for an unforgettable day!
Sailing time is 10:00 am– 3:00 pm
Price: US$100.00 per Adult & US$60.00 per Child (16 & under).

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Celebrity Summit Day 2 - Sea Day

I didn’t sleep very well and woke up with a headache. I sat out on the balcony for a little while and then decided that something was missing. Oh yes, coffee! So I snuck out of the room and went down to Café Al Bacio to pick up some coffee and croissants to go. Much better.


Celebrity Summit Day 1 - San Juan

Although Ron and I have taken a lot of weekend cruises in the past few years, we usually prefer to stay at a land-based resort for our “big vacation”. But this year I really wanted to spend some time with Mama and Daddy and they like to cruise. So a cruise it was! We chose a 7-day Southern Caribbean cruise on the Celebrity Summit. I was excited about the itinerary – only one sea day and five different islands, including Barbados which we hadn’t visited before.

In all our cruises, this was actually the first time we’ve had to fly to the embarkation port. I was a little nervous about flying on the same day but we found an early, direct flight to San Juan on Jet Blue, and since the ship didn’t leave port until 8:30 that night, we had some wiggle room for emergencies. Fortunately, there weren’t any. Our flight even got in 20 minutes early. It was a short cab ride to the port, and we practically walked onto the ship. It was the fastest, smoothest check-in we’ve ever had.

embarkation photo

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Homosassa Springs

For the last two years, Ron has been restoring a 1971 13-foot Boston Whaler. Last week, he FINALLY got it finished and running properly. I have to admit, I had my doubts when Ron first brought the boat home but now it really looks beautiful. I’m proud of him.

Since Ron and I both had one vacation day left to use or lose, we decided to take the boat up to Homosassa Springs for the day. We love Homosassa Springs. Even though it is only an hour-and-a-half away, it still has that Old Florida feel and lots of wildlife – herons and ospreys, cormorants, pelicans, huge mullet, and manatees. OK, the real reason I wanted to go to Homosassa Springs was to swim with the manatees. Citrus County is the only place in the US where it is legal to swim with manatees, and it is truly an amazing and unique experience. Unfortunately, we were just a few weeks too late. With the warm stretch of weather we’ve been having, most of the manatees had already left their winter home at the springs. We did see a few but they were on their way from one place to another and not interested in hanging out with humans. :-)  So we just spent the day puttering around the river and enjoying the beautiful sunshine. As they say, a bad day spotting manatees is better than a good day at work. And a good day on a boat is the best kind of day.

Homosassa Springs

Monday, February 16, 2015

Vacation Inspiration

On Saturday, Ron and I ran in a 5K race. Why? Well, it wasn’t to win this ugly t-shirt, that’s for sure!  :-)  It was because our cruise to the Southern Caribbean is coming up and that means bathing suits, sleeveless tops and dress-up nights. Time to shape up!

5K race t-shirt

This year we decided to go on a cruise instead of staying at an all-inclusive resort so that we could spend some time with Mama and Daddy, who love cruising. We’ve never done a Southern Caribbean itinerary and I'm excited about exploring some new islands. I already went shopping and found my cocktail dress for Formal Night.  Now that's an outfit worth running for.

There’s nothing like vacation to inspire me to work out.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Cruising into the New Year


In December our company unexpectedly decided to close on New Year’s Eve for the rest of the week. We suddenly had five days off in a row and weren’t about to let them go to waste! We started looking into short cruises and found a 4-day sailing on the Carnival Paradise that left out of Tampa on New Year’s Day. It sounded like the perfect way to start the New Year.

We got to the port at noon and were on board within minutes. This was our second trip on Paradise so we were already familiar with the ship, but this time it was decorated for Christmas with swags of garland and bows all around the atrium railings and a large Christmas tree next to the lobby bar. The greens and reds looked pretty with the colored glass and giant turquoise “eggs”. Bar waiters were handing out complimentary glasses of champagne. It was very festive.

Paradise atrium Christmas decorations
Paradise Atrium