Dec 182018
 

One thing I love about Seattle is all the great outdoor spaces and outdoor activities but in the winter time those options are not realistic. It’s cold, gray and rainy; sometimes windy. So, I was looking for more indoor options and found Seattle Spheres on Facebook and decided to check it out.

What Are The Seattle Spheres?

Street View 
2111 7th Ave

The Spheres are a work space for Amazon employees in the heart of Seattle. It is 3 connected spheres that houses over 400 plants from countries all over the world. It is a mini 4 story rainforest in Seattle! Which is cool!

So much to see!

When is it open?

This new iconic structure is open to the public on the 1st and 3rd Saturdays of each month from 10:00a.m. to 6:00p.m.  The Spheres are easy to get to.  I walked from Westfield Mall and it took about 10 minutes.

How much does it cost and how do I make a reservation?

Admission is free and if you visit this link https://www.seattlespheres.com/the-spheres-weekend-public-visits

On the “Visit the Spheres” tab “Book a Visit” will be highlighted in blue on the right under the picture.

Here are a few things to know about reservations. 

  • You must bring government issued photo id for everyone over 18. 
  • If you have to change a name-especially if you are changing the name of the original person who booked it you MUST email the spheres with all name changes. 
  • You can bring in drinks. I would definitely bring water. The Spheres is a fairly tropical climate; kinda hot and a little muggy. They do serve water on the 2nd floor but it is lukewarm and they only have tiny cups.

What will I see?

Plants are marked  with small round tree wood markers.


I can not describe all various plants there are, so I won’t try, but what I will say is that each area, while distinct flowed seamlessly into another that continuously draws the eye to interesting displays.

Seattle Spheres are more than a collection of plants and flowers that are from exotic places like Africa and Asia, it is a well laid out space; filled with tall trees, inventive seating areas, and let’s face it, the building is so freaking cool!

Other things to know:

  • You are not allowed to touch the plants; pictures are allowed-no flash photography.
  • It is self guided. I like this option. I want to explore at my own leisure.
  • There is a 4 story living plant wall that is 50ft. high.
Take pictures of the wall at each level to capture more of the foliage.


Other things that I loved.

The Seattle Spheres is a great plant to visit a small rainforest in a really greatly designed building but that was not all that is cool about the Spheres. 

The seating spaces throughout were really fun!

 

You can even take a nap!

Check out the Crows Nest!


Things to keep in mind:

  • It is warm inside. I know I said this in the beginning but if it’s 30 degrees outside and 78 degrees inside it feels super hot! So dress in layers and bring that water bottle.
  • There are 4 flights of stairs. The Seattle Spheres is easy to navigate and laid out extremely well! The stairs are not steep and there are plenty of places to relax if you have bad knees or whatever, but you will be climbing up and up.
  • One of the thing I liked best is that all the levels looked over the other levels so you could see everything under you. Keep this in mind if you are afraid of heights.
There are views from everywhere!

The Seattle Spheres is a quick, fun and free way to add value to your time in Seattle. I would definitely recommend a visit.

Amazon HQ is right next to is and you can book a visit to this famous place of business. http://www.amazonhqtours.com/

Sep 032018
 

Cruise destination vacations are one of the most popular ways people choose to spend their off time and for good reasons.

Variety:

There is no end of entertainment, activities and food options. In one place you can watch a broadway show, try Pina Colada soup, go gambling, get a massage, watch a movie under the stars, learn about a culture,shoot down a waterslide, play mini golf and enjoy wine tasting all in one day! Or lay around and do nothing. Everybody loves choices. This is especially true for families or multi generational travelers. My boys like the dance clubs, waterslides, laser tag, etc. I like the water slides but I want to see art, sip champagne and lay in a lounge chair and have a pool boy bring me food. On a cruise you really can have it all.

Ease Of Travel:

Unpack once and done. Also, if you are going to go on excursions someone picks you up and drops you off (mostly) and one of my favorite things about cruising is that I can see multiple countries without having to deal with the logistics of getting there. If I find a place I love I can plan a vacation to go back there for a longer visit.

Escapism:

Being on vacation is largely about getting away from it all and it’s hard to feel more away from everyday life than being on a cruise! Limited WiFi (although that is changing) the open sea, no cars or interstates, no fast food chains. A cruise becomes a community seperate from the rest of the world; whether you are on river or ocean cruise,  whether the ship is big or small.

Being Out To Sea For Days On End! 

Well, duh! Enough said.

On the other hand, most new cruise ships are HUGE! Giant floating resorts that hold 5,000 people, 20 decks, tiny cabins, looonnng waits for the elevators and almost too much going on at any one time. It can be intimidating. I have been lucky enough to sail on many types of vessels; sightseeing sail boats, ferries, old fashioned  pirate ships, whale watching ships, catamarans, canoes; you get the idea but I still love ocean cruising the most and have learned some things through trial and error (mostly error) that I have jotted down and I hope they help you get the most from your next cruise. If you prefer a more intimate sea faring experience there are still plenty of options for you to get the vacation you want and I believe these tips still hold value.

  1. Be Organized. This will help you from the planning stages all the way through to disembarkation. Being organized will help you be efficient as well. Start with must haves. Documentation is the single most thing you need. Passports, Visas, your boarding pass, id etc. Have a safe and easy to reach place for these things. Call the bank to let them know you are traveling, making sure you have enough medications for the entire trip, have a hard copy of all your shore excursion and/or reservations.  I make a checklist and put reminders on my phone for things I know need to do. Like the online check in. Doing the online check in helps you get through the line faster. You will have your boarding pass, you will know your boarding time, you can alert the ship to any food allergies, special occasions. You can reserve shore excursions, specialty dining and spa packages. The site will let you know any luggage restrictions as well as information about drink packages. For Carnival if you pre-buy your drink packages and wifi you get a discount. You can also find deck plans and a list of what amenities the ship has.
  2. How to pack smarter. This is a hard one for me, and a lot people probably. I have learned how to roll my clothes tight, to put my necklaces through a straw, put my socks and belts in my shoes and the value of ziploc bags and most important, not to overpack. When you travel you know you are going to buy things anyway; so don’t pack half of what you own. It’s another of those checklist things. Am I going hiking? So I need good shoes and bug spray and sunscreen; do I need a cute new hat and a special “hiking shirt”? No, I do not. Shop early for travel size toiletries too. Those can be pre packed. Anti bacterial wipes and air freshener for that tiny bathroom are must haves. Don’t forget that your bags get taken to your room and you don’t go to your room for a while sometimes for better than an hour. We always have a small backpack with our bathing suits and sunscreen because the pools are open. The only things that aren’t open right away is the Casino and the shopping. So keep a easy to carry bag with you while you wait to go to your room, esp. if you have medications you have to take. I also keep a water thermos with me so I can refill up water whenever I want. Bottled water on a cruise ship is not free on most major lines. The last night of your cruise you are required to leave your luggage outside the door so it can be prepped for disembarkation.  Keep things you need with you in the morning in a small bag, just like when you first board the ship.
  3. Shop around for Shore Excursions. I love saving money! Who doesn’t right? For this reason I start shopping around for shore excursions  early. First, go on the cruise lines website and see what they sell and how much it costs then do your own research and see if you can get the same thing for less. There are a few things to keep in mind and the most important one is to make sure the vendor you are booking with is reputable! Get customer reviews, call them if your can, find real pictures not the ones on the website. Make sure the excursion includes all costs and if they will pick you up and take you back to port and how long it is. For the most part we book our own, there are times booking with the ship is a good idea.  If the excursion is far from port, lasts a long time or is in a truly exotic port. Also, if the cruise line specializes in that particular city or if the excursion comes with risks, i.e. helicopter tours, parasailing or float planes. Cruise lines will put your safety above all else and they vet the vendor so you don’t have too. While we were in Cabo we had to tender to port and I booked the excursion with the cruise line because I got to be on one of the 1st tender boats off the ship, it saved me a ton of time. Other than that I book my own especially if I am staying close to port or just hitting the beach or shopping.

    Port Cities offer Traditional Performances.

  4. Know yourself. Being on vacation can be liberating! A chance to unwind and try new things and you absolutely should! But, you are still you at the end of the day. If you can’t walk 3 miles at home don’t plan a 8 mile hike; you won’t have any fun. If you don’t like musicals don’t go to the theater for a 45 minute musical show. Prone to seasickness? Maybe don’t book a cabin on the very front on a high deck, and don’t book a guaranteed cabin if you are picky about where you sleep! You will most likely be disappointed. Not a gambler? No problem, go to the spa. I didn’t book a Mayan Ruins tour because it was going to be 98 degrees that day and I am not into a group tour listening to a guide, I went to the beach came back early and hit the pool. The ship was not crowded and it was great. I do try new foods and new activities but I know my limits. Well, sort of. I did try to hit the party deck on NCL’s Getaway every night, which I am not really cut out for and the last day slept until 11am. Oh well, it was probably worth it.
  5. Watch the upsell. There are things on a cruise line that are not free, such as drinks, spa treatments, specialty dining. There is always someone trying to get you to buy more things.  So you have to know what is free and what isn’t before you go. The ship planner will let you know what food is included and what isn’t. A lot of cruise lines will offer discounts on specialty dining if you book the 1st night or will offer a lunch menu for a reduced rate versus the regular night time fare. Drink specials abound as well; again check the planner for drink coupons, happy hours, go to the art auction for free champagne, listen for what shop offers free mimosas, look for the bartender shows and events you can score free or reduced drinks. Same thing for Captains Dinner. For the spa book treatments on port days because the cost for the same thing is reduced on days the ship is docked.  If you are big drinker or want to book a week at the spa pre buy at your online check in or the 1st day on the ship. Again, check out the package specials on the website first and make sure you read up on what is included in your package and what is not. Departing out of TX? Your drink package does not apply til the next day. You can still buy alcohol but it is limited and must be in compliance with TX state law, New York has similar laws. If you are booked in a suite or are lucky enough to have booked a special fare that includes drinks, or even better, are able to afford a luxury cruise line or a river cruise this would not apply to you. Good job and drink on!
  6. The Ship Planner is your best friend:  It is always in your cabin and you get a new one each day. In it you will find all the activities, when they start, what they are, what deck they are on and a brief description. It will give you schedules for shows, guest lectures, and any drink specials. Basically, anything you need to know not only about the ship but the ports of call. Times you will be in port, some points of interest and what time you need to be back on board. The planner makes a great souvenir.
  7. Maximize your time. Be early, but know that you will board by sections. If you have a suite you will board earlier or if have a certain loyalty status; or for Carnival you can pay for a “Faster to the Fun” pass. Book those early, spaces are limited and they sell out fast. When you first board you can go to the pool, eat and drink and check out the specialty dining and get a good feel for the ship.; but you can’t shop or gamble. If you can book a later flight off the ship I would highly recommend it! The cruise line will assign you a disembarkation time but if you are asking to leave later I have never been turned down for changing time to later. I sleep in and have leisurely breakfast, and walk the promenade one last time. It’s pretty nice, and it makes disembarkation a little less hectic because the people in a hurry have already left.

    Water taxis will take you around Cabo for some great photo opportunities

  8. Ships have personalities. Not all ships nor cruise line are created equal. If you are looking for longer times in port or more authentic experiences? Azamara, Windstar and Regent are among some of the top ones and usually are very inclusive-and extremely expensive! Princess and Oceania are a good mid price option. The reason is simple. The more time they are in port the less money off the guest, but with the higher end cruise lines the client expects more. If you are looking for jam packed itinerary and endless entertainment and food options, try Royal Caribbean and Norwegian and the newer MSC ships. These ships are floating cities. Are you a culinary explorer? Celebrity cruises sweeps accolades from cruise critic. Viking gets top marks in the small ship category. Check out this link from an earlier post I wrote about cruise ship personalities. https://roamingredfeather.com/2018/04/17/how-to-find-the-right-cruise-vacation-fit/
  9. Don’t be afraid to ask for more. At the dining room you will get a menu offering a 3 to 4 course meal. Don’t be afraid to be ask for 2nds, or 2 appetizers or desserts. When we were on Carnival the ship was sold out and my boys (teenagers at the time) got 3 servings of lobster and we each got 2 desserts. On NCL my husband couldn’t decide between 2 appetizers so she brought both.  We have even had a waiter go to a different bar to get a drink I really wanted. Remember, this is a courtesy and not normally allowed. The staff will generally do whatever they can do to make you happy, but please, ask, don’t demand and understand if they can’t. For most ships room service is free but some cruise lines charge a  delivery fee. The daily planner will include any charges. The staff work very hard with almost no days off for way less than we would ever be paid; so don’t hesitate to ask for what you want but be always be nice and tip generously or give good reviews or both.

Fun Facts:

  • Your cabin is magnetic. Carry on some magnets and you can stick your cruise planner, coupons, notes, etc to the wall.
  • Some cruise lines offer extended stays that include hotels, sometimes meals, day trips and transfers to the ship. For example, Princess offers many opportunities to extend your Alaska vacation.
  • Set dining times are a thing of the past. While most cruise lines still have the set dining times almost all offer a flexible dining time where you can go to dinner wherever and whenever you want. This is one of my favorite things. If I wanted a schedule set for me I would have stayed at work.
  • You can get married on board. Cruises are romantic and cruise lines offer a fair variety of options and budgets. Some of the most popular ones are Princess and P&O Cruises.
  • Cruise ships have a jail. Okay, so maybe this one isn’t fun, but it is important to know. Security and safety on a cruise ship is very important. So behave or get sent to the brig until you get to the next port or to the home port where you will be handed over to the port authority.
  • Your ship may leave without.  Yes, I know, not fun either. I am really off track now, sorry; but still important. If you are late coming back after the ship schedule says you need to be back be prepared to be stranded. Especially if you didn’t book with the ship. If you booked a tour with the ship and something happens-i.e. the tour bus breaks down the ship will wait for you, but that is about the only reason.
  • Look under the bed. Ship cabins are not very spacious but you can usually find extra storage under the bed.
  • The water is filtered. I love ice cold water but I don’t want to pay for bottle water; I don’t see the point. I pack a stainless steel water bottle and there are water stations all over the ship. The water is filtered under the regulations of America and Europe.

Disney is premium product that is worth the cost. Book early and don’t expect a casino or alcohol packages. Do expect outstanding service and attention to detail.

Cruise Critic is one of my favorite sites for reviews of ships, destinations, ports, excursions and whole array of useful tips. Plus, you can find a page called Roll Call it lets you talk to other passengers on your specific cruise. You just have join and enroll it’s easy and free and very useful. You will have friends before you even start. https://www.cruisecritic.com/

You can also click on my travel agent Expedia Website to see some cruise options out there. You can search by date, destination, cruise line etc. https://www.cruiseshipcenters.com/en-US/RhondaWeaver

Happy Sailing and as always another insights or tips or stories you have learned the hard way are always welcome.

Jul 232018
 

The world is an amazing and wonderful place and exploring the globes four corners is a grand adventure! There is so much to see and do and discover. However, there are also many things that we do as Americans that aren’t grand or wonderful in other parts of the world.  So the next time you make that list of necessities add “learn the culture!” to that list. If you can let the locals know how much you appreciate their customs and traditions the more you will get out of your travels.

What Not to do: 

  • Sportswear, exercise wear and baseball caps are no no’s in Japan and most of Europe. It’s too bad, I love my yoga pants. And, please, for the love of all that is Holy don’t EVER wear any type of pj’s out for ANY reason! Just no. In South Korean men even wear t-shirts to the beach; as a visitor you are not expected to keep covered up at the beach, but I would. When in Rome is how the saying goes.
  • Tipping. In America the standard for tipping is at least 15% in Japan and South Korea tipping is in an insult. It insinuates that they are not earning a fair wage. Australia is another country that doesn’t expect a tip but it is becoming more common at high end resorts.  Most Europeans, if they tip, it’s just a few coins. That being said, dining abroad is a much more leisurely endeavor. Don’t rush your server and don’t expect them to come check you often.
  • Forget the condiments. I love to try the local fare! It’s one of the best parts of travel. Many countries take great pride in their food. When sampling the yummy goodness of Spain, Italy, Japan and France(you knew that one was coming) do not expect condiments and please don’t ask for them; is it very rude. This includes adding soy sauce or hot sauce. Which is a staple for most Americans but is bad manners in many countries.  Also, in Portugal asking for salt and pepper is offensive to your host. So please be polite and refrain.

  • No PDA. Not many surprises here.  In China, Thailand, Korea and the Middle East communicate your love and affection for your partner with your eyes, no touching; not even holding hands. In India people of the opposite sex are not allowed to touch each other in public, even if they are married. These rules seem like a bummer but they should absolutely be followed and respected.  Speaking of India and touching; if you touch a product, guess what, you just bought it! They won’t take it back. Same goes for New Delhi.
  • Don’t be late. This is kind of a given. There are some countries where it is a bigger slap in the face than others, Germany is a prime example. Other places to make sure you are prompt in are Japan and South Korea. Asian countries are very big on respect! Showing up late is a way of saying that your time is more valuable than theirs. There are some places that are more laid back about time. Which I appreciate when I am vacation! Greece, Argentina-most of Latin America really, Mexico, Morocco and Malaysia are places where you won’t get dirty looks for not being punctual.
  • Watch those feet! In Asian and Caribbean cultures it is expected to take your shoes off when entering someone’s home. Keep those tootsies clean since you will be showing them off! It’s a good excuse to have a whole heap of fun colored socks. For Middle Eastern countries it is UNACCEPTABLE  to show the soles of your feet.  Feet are the lowest part of your body and are generally considered dirty.

Things that Make You go Hmmm!?!?

  • Watch those gestures. Thumbs up, the okay hand signal, one hand in your pocket; all of these are so incredibly offensive! In Latin America, Western Africa, Middle East, Greece, Russia and Italy the thumbs up signal translates to “up yours” and that just isn’t nice! Visiting Turkey or  South Korea? Don’t put one hand in your pocket. it’s sign of arrogance. The “ok” sign is not okay at all in Latin America, the Middle East, Western Africa, Russia and Greece. While visiting Malaysia, Indonesia or Africa don’t point at things, and never at people. Be classy and cool Roamers!
  • Welcome to Australia: Here, have some insecticide disinfectant. It’s true. You and your belongings can expect to be meet with a thorough coating of insecticide.  Nothing makes a person feel more welcome than a healthy dose of disinfectant. Don’t take it personally, it’s not you, it’s them. If you need to know about it check out this link.https://abcnews.go.com/Travel/story?id=118829&page=1
  • Ice cold water? Ice in your drink? Don’t count on it! Europe is an amazing place, the architecture especially; at least in my opinion. It can get really hot and I don’t like the heat and when I walk a lot I get so incredibly thirsty! I love icy cold drinks but in most restaurants you can expect drinks to be room temperature and don’t be surprised if, when you ask for ice to get the death stare. France, especially.  My Mom and Dad lived in the Bahamas for six months after retirement and they both found it odd that milk is not refrigerated. Yeah, ditto here. I find it odd, but again, embrace the new. I found out I like pina colada soup which is also an odd thing.
  • Coffee Italian style:  Italy has very particular ideas about coffee. Milk based coffee in only part of the morning routine and never after a meal. Awww; that one makes me sad! I love coffee after dinner! If you feel you must at least apologize to the bartender. Don’t call it Espresso and understand that most Italians have shots of coffee not a triple vente. My sister said everyone ordered shots, downed it and left. Very different from here.  Depending on the region you are in keep the order simple. Naples and Milan are more agreeable to us complicated coffee connoisseurs.
  • Call shotgun. Cabs are a great resource when getting around in a foreign country, but unlike in the U.S. there are places where if you  are travelling solo or are a male and hop in the back you are just a schmuck. Australia, New Zealand, Scotland, parts of Ireland and the Netherlands are all countries that it expected for you to ride shotgun. I like that idea. It’s better to talk to someone if you are sitting side by side.
  • No one stop shopping. I have a LONG list of vitamin and mineral supplements that I take daily as well as a few medications. Fortunately, I can pick all those up when I buy dinner, buy dog food, etc. That is an American thing however. In England, for example, the pharmacy is a pharmacy, period. Most things we are use to such as large portioned meals, 24 hours restaurants, free refills, being super fans of cheerleaders are considered bizarre by many countries.
  • Let’s hang out at the cemetery. In Denmark it is pretty common to see people throw down a blanket and read a book or just hang with friends in the cemetery. Sure, why not.

Bring on the Color!

Now that Sounds Fun! 

Who doesn’t love  a good festival? It’s a giant party where everyone is invited. Everyone is your friend, yet you don’t have to really know anyone. Some are well known. Flag throwing in Tuscany, Carnival in Rio De Janeiro, the Lantern Festival of  Thailand and the Day of the Dead in Mexico. But there are some that I had never heard of that sound amazing!

    • Holi: India, Pakistan and Nepal. Actually, I have heard of this one, but I had  to bring it up because it is on my bucket list in a BIG way! It marks the beginning of the Hindu spring and it a street party where people throw colored powder on each other! Holi is a nationwide celebration that is observed in all 28 states and symbolizes the triumph of good over evil. It starts at night with a bonfire. This year it began on March 1st. Hint: put on plenty of moisture, it helps to keep the color from staining the skin and is easier to remove. Bright colors are better for the colors to be seen. Also, be a good person and bring your dyed powder.
    • Smigus Dyngus Day: A Polish Easter holiday steeped in history and tradition that ends up as a giant free for all street water fight. And I am definitely on board with that! If you can’t make it to Poland there are States here in the U.S. that partake in this watery festival. Cleveland, Ohio; Buffalo, NY and South Bend, Indiana are the biggest party destinations for day filled of water blaster fights. If those places aren’t on you preferred travel list then jet over to Thailand for the Songkran Festival that is the Thai New Year. Bring a towel and water proof  shoes and embrace the fun!
  •  
    • Harbin Snow and Ice Festival: Harbin, China. I have to be really honest and say China is not one of top 10 places to visit. I don’t like crowds, or the heat or the food-not a whole lot, anyway, but this festival seems like a mind blower! I would go there JUST to see this! It officially opens on Jan.  5th but there are some activities that begin on December 17th. http://www.harbinice.com/fact-v43-the-35th-harbin-ice-and-snow-festival-2019.html
    • White Nights and Scarlet Sails: St. Petersburg, Russia. This is the largest public event in the country and celebrates the season of the Midnight Sun. It is an international arts festival with emphasis on ballet, opera and musical performances that culminates in the Scarlet Sails celebration and an impressive fireworks display. It’s a crush with about 1 million attendees so be prepared to lose your sense of personal space.
    • Lopburi Monkey Buffet: Lopburi, Thailand. Every year on Nov 25th-my birthday- the city sets out a HUGE outdoor buffet for monkeys and they just help themselves. It was created to bring in tourists and it works really well! It was even covered by National Geographic. So kudos. If any of you have ever been please share your thoughts and experience.

Did You Know? 

  • In the UK the Skittles purple candy in black currant not grape.
  • The beautiful handmade ceramics you buy in Mexico should not be used for food and beverage storage because the paint can have a high lead content.

I love the hand painted ceramics in Mexico, just not for food storage

  • In France you should always greet your server or cashier before asking for anything or paying.  It is expected to say goodbye as you leave as well.
  • America is about the only country that cards people who are obviously over 21 before serving them alcohol.
  • Receiving gifts is great but in Asia please remember not to open them in front of the giver.

There is no way to cover everything about this topic in one post. For anyone that has other tips or experiences please share. Maybe it could be a bi weekly post, just for fun.

Now this is my idea of a great party!
May 142018
 

Alaska in one of the best cruise destination for a good reason. Amazing  scenery; more specifically, extraordinary glaciers!  Alaska has many stunning glaciers and most of them can only be seen from a ship. Other reasons go to Alaska are wildlife and vast mountain peaks. Good news, you can see all of that in one area! But, there are some differences between the glaciers themselves, so it’s important to know what to expect before you drop the huge expense of an Alaskan vacation.

 

Alaska cruises are available seasonally:Some start as early as April and end as late as September, but high season is late June through August.  Alaska is considered exotic because of the unique glaciers, fjords, mountains and a great mix of wildlife, but it is part of the U.S. and that gives people a sense of safety. Which is in important when you travel.  And, yes, the glaciers are melting, or retreating as it is also called.  Scientist estimate that collectively the states glaciers lose 75 billion tons of ice annually.

Many years ago I lived in Alaska, but it wasn’t until I took my family on an Alaskan cruise that I truly appreciated what all Alaska has to offer. The big thing was indeed glacier viewing. Memories of sailing into a tight fjord coming close to giant ice bergs, dozens of waterfalls, majestic mountains, harbor seals lounging around and bluer than blue ice silt will never leave me.

There are some things that you need to keep in mind when picking which glacier you want to visit. Most people will only go to Alaska once; I plan on going again! For a lot of travellers Alaska is a bucket list item. So, this post will break down the main glaciers a cruiser can expect to see. Most cruise lines will only go to one of these places, especially the main line ones.  So below is a quick guide of the main features of the most visited glaciers.

Glacier Bay: Not only is this spot the most popular glacier destination it is also a national park and a biosphere reserve it is also a World Heritage Site. What makes Glacier Bay great is that you spend the day transiting the national park through inlets that have been carved by the glaciers themselves.  The ship draws impressively close to these giant walls of sheer ice. These are tidewater glaciers that calve often, which is one of the biggest draws. Glacier Bay is also a great place to see wildlife. Humpback whales spend their summers here. Brown bears, harbor seals, mountain goats and sometimes even puffins are spotted here. Keep in mind, you will need binoculars to really see most of the wildlife-especially on land as the area is so big.  Glacier Bay tends to be colder and rainier than other areas. Ships are required to have a Ranger on board; which is good if you have questions or just want to know all you can about the history and the area. What  you won’t see are  the tight fjords here like you will in other areas of Alaska. For those of you who aren’t sure what fjords are:A long, narrow inlet with steep sides or cliffs created by a glacier.

Hubbard Glacier: This is the largest tidewater glacier in North America, 76 miles wide and 1,200 feet deep. The face is up to 400 ft. tall. A truly impressive thing to behold! It is another great spot to see some spectacular calving and great for wildlife, even bald eagles and orcas! Hubbard is in Disenchantment Bay and offers great vistas and views of Mt. Elias (18,008 ft! Wow!) However, it is one glacier, no travelling up a fjord and ice debris and fog can keep your ship from getting close at all; which is the whole point.

Tracy Arm Fjord: Cruising up the 27mile narrow inlet to the twin Sawyer Glaciers  in almost magical in its sheer beauty.  Cliffs rise up to 3,000 ft on both sides, chunks of ice float upon the water that are so blue they look like glass, and I couldn’t count all the waterfalls that were everywhere. Sawyer Glacier is an active tidewater glacier that is also prone to calving. While we were there the calving was active underwater so we didn’t see any breaking but you can hear it; like thunder reverberating all around. There some wildlife here; arctic birds as well as mountain goats. If your ship sails into Stephens Pass or Holkham Bay you can spot whales, bears and eagles.  Tracy Arm lacks the multiple glaciers that you see on videos and doesn’t have the same sheer massive face of Hubbard but it’s surreal; and cold, bring a jacket!  One of the best thing about Tracy Arm is that smaller skiffs and boats can take you closer to the face of the glacier.  You can not do that in Glacier Bay or Hubbard Glacier.

College Fjord: This other worldly spot is home to 5 tidewater glaciers and 5 valley glaciers. The waters are calm, the fjords are majestic, snow capped mountains and lush green forests battle for attention, but what is really breathtaking besides the overwhelming presence of the glaciers themselves is the large swaths of ice/glacier  waterfalls that cut between the mountains. Expects to see several chunks of broken ice floating all around. but don’t expect to see as much wildlife as you find in Glacier Bay or Tracy Arm Fjord, although several people write about being able to spot whales off in the distance. The other drawback is that not as many ships will traverse here. If you can find a small ship to take you there it’s a great choice because you can get really close! Similar to Glacier Bay, it allows for viewing multiple glaciers at once, similar to Tracy Arm it has tight fjords and many mountains. The cruises that sail here are one way Gulf of Alaska trips between Alaska and Seattle or Vancouver; meaning the port you start in will not be the same one you return to.  These tend to go further up the coast such as to Prince William Sound which is where this magnificence of  nature can be enjoyed. 

Mendenhall Glacier: This 13 mile glacier is not a scenic viewing from the ship it is in the capital city of Juneau and ends at Mendenhall lake. The Forest Service Center affords spectacular views of the glacier and icebergs in the lake.  There are walkable trails, don’t miss Nugget Falls near the glacier. Wildlife here is abundant and in spawning season you can salmon-which brings out the bears. Speaking of bears, take this rule VERY seriously:no food or drink other than water from May to September due to the bear activity. Even though you can see the glacier and it seems close you can not access the glacier directly through the visitor center. You have to book an excursion. From what I know you have to book a helicopter tour, which are fiercely expensive! If you do grab a spot for exploring the glacier be aware of loose debris. It’s easy to turn an ankle. Have the right boots on and have a guide.

 

Glacier viewing is an amazing journey that cannot be compared to other vacations, but not all glaciers, as you now know, will give you the same experience. No matter what you choose, it will be great! Don’t forget a really good camera. Bring jacket, NOT a parka! So many people pack for -40 degrees! Not going to happen! Unless you actually do book an activity on a glacier you will not need snow goggles, arctic parkas and heavy gloves. When we went it was 80 degrees-not so in the glacial areas, just throw on a coat or heavy sweatshirt you’re good to go.

Seeing orcas or huge chunks of ice falling into the ocean are not guaranteed; it’s nature, not an amusement park  but the sites and sheer overwhelming expanse will delight you.

If you want to know some cruise options here is a link to my booking website:https://www.cruiseshipcenters.com/en-US/RhondaWeaver/

 

 

 

Another Alaska must see sled dog puppies. Absolutely adorable.

Apr 172018
 

Every vacationer(s) have their own wants, interests and needs (WINs) but not every cruise line is the same so you can’t just pick a random one and ta-da, cruise vacation mastered! It doesn’t work like that.

Cruise lines, like people, have personalities. One person described it like trying to be matched up for a date, and they were correct. You need to find the right fit.

Port cities sometimes have great amenities

Start with the needs. When is your vacation? How long? How many people? What is your budget? Do you need handicap accessible?  Once you have that, you have parameters.

Interests: What does everybody like? Beaches? History, culture, food, relaxing, adventure. You get the idea. If you are travelling in a large group this can be trickier. This is exactly why I love cruising. Cruises give a person multiple options on any given day; in port or at sea. One day I can zipline in Juneau then I can lay in hammock for the next 4 hours on the ship, it’s great, because you don’t have to choose one path. Plus, with multiple people everyone will find something. I like to go see the shows, my boys like the dance clubs and nature tours, my husband is a gambler. In port, I can pick up souvenirs and other people in my party and go to a museum and others can go on a rum factory tour and we all end up back at the same place with no fuss.

So, let’s discuss wants: It’s like the interests. Not everyone’s will be the same. I want a balcony cabin, my husband wants as cheap as possible. Some people want cabins that come with perks like a butler, free specialty dining, or complimentary wine. Some want a truly authentic experience or more time at port. I have had clients who just want to go on a specific ship or 1 specific location that special meaning. So what I am going to do is give a brief and basic outline of some of the more popular cruise lines. If you want more detailed information leave your email in the comment section and I can assist with your needs.

Carnival has a huge fleet with plans to add a roller coaster to a future build.

Main line cruise lines: For families or those looking to pack as many things on one ship I recommend Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, MSC and Carnival. The newer ships are  bigger, feature cutting edge technology-including GPS trackers for your family and feel more like resorts than ships. Huge water parks, outside movie screens, Aqua theaters, zip lines, race car tracks, surf simulators, the list goes on and on. Kids clubs for 3 and older are free, they have different character partnerships. RCI  partners with DreamWorks, although not on every ship. Carnival-Dr. Suess, NCL is ending its partnership with Nickelodeon, MSC features Lego brand.

Kids clubs for ages 3+ are free as are the activities, not shore excursions though. Most cruise lines have 4 categories and cater to that specific age group. Sometimes you can purchase a late night babysitter but book in advance as it sells out and space is limited. Don’t be surprised if you barely see you kid.

Ships go to places you can’t drive or fly to.

Keep in mind, not all ships in these lines will have the same features. Visit the site to get specifics or Cruise Critic before you book. If you need a handicap accessible you may need to call directly or get your travel agent to call for you. These cruise lines have connecting cabins but they are limited so book early. For people prone to sea sickness avoid cabins in the front of the ship. If you have a group of 8 cabins or more you may qualify for a group rate or perk. Speaking of rates and perks, these also vary widely. Booking suites can get you free drink packages and specialty dining, look for dates when kids or 3rd and 4th guest sail free, or free tips or excursion credits. RCI and NCL will have these more often. MSC usually has free kids offers in the summer and have different perks based on cabin you choose year round. Carnival is usually the lowest price so you won’t all those extra perks, plus they most restrictive as far as refunds or changing dates.  Royal Caribbean does have the highest amount of  loyal guests, but all ships offer perks for loyalty. For Princess I am Elite and I get free pre dinner appetizers, laundry service(1 time) priority everything-which comes in handy when tendering and an invite to the Captains Cocktail party. Keep it mind that these lines are not all inclusive. You pay for specialty dining, drinks, spa and sometimes room service; so don’t assume about what is included. If you booke suites and sometimes balconies you do get more inclusions. Each cruise line is different so research the specific cruise line. Norwegian’s Sky has a free open bar and MSC ships offer drink packages and spa options, wellness options and upgrades based on your cabin type.

What about Disney? They are an entity unto themselves. Disney is a premium product. Service and food and attention to detail is superb. It doesn’t feel like a Disney Resort at sea and you aren’t over run with Disney characters. Soda is included-not included on other main line cruises. No alcohol packages-only wine and the adults only areas feel very sophisticated, you must check out the spa! There are not many Disney ships, they are expensive, space is limited. You must plan a year out and do not expect price drops or any add-ons. More things are included, wi-fi for instance.  They still mail items- a thing of the past. Personalized luggage tags and a cool dvd. All of these cruise lines will offer military discounts-not on all sailings or sometimes senior or resident discounts. Disney consistently wins awards for service, shows and food.

For a more adult experience I will talk about Princess, Holland America and Celebrity. For smaller and intimate ships Princess and Azamara offer a good balance and value. FYI, Amazara and Celebrity are on the higher end of the price spectrum but offer an amazing vacation experience.

Ships have beautiful features.

Holland America caters strongly to an older crowd. No late night parties here. What they do have is great food, beautiful ships, a very fair rate, a focus on live music and they offer around the world sailings. Holland also goes to some less traveled ports and focus on destination enrichment. Princess cruise line is very similar.  You can experience local traditions and entertainment when you visit port. Princess has top of the line entertainment and food. No waterparks but the Movies Under the Stars runs newer movies and their newer ships have a skywalk-a glass floor bridge that extends over the side and a cool water/light show at night. Both Princess and Holland have great add on tours for before or after your cruise. MSC fits this list because of the refined an beautiful decor of its ships and elegant restaurants. MSC hangs on to some traditions like the formal Officer and Gentleman dance party. The shows are Broadway style and the White Party and the Brazilian Carnival Party are not to be missed. Meravilglia features Cirque du Soleil.  Celebrity Cruises are more swanky-you can really see the class divide in it’s service perks and restaurants. But, it serves some unique culinary experiences and the ships are beyond beautiful. Celebrity sails everywhere, including yachts that travel to the Galapagos! The cruise line is noted for being LGBTQ friendly. This cruise line is another big winner for Cruise Critic awards year after year, including Best Overall, Best Dining, Best Public Rooms, Service and overall value.

If you can drop some serious coin and want a more inclusive experience then look into such luxury brands as Crystal, Regent of the Seven Seas, Cunard, Seabourn, Azamara and Windstar among others. These cruise lines( for the most part) include drinks, shore excursions, tips, all dining, transfers to the ship and back to the airport. The name of the game of these cruise lines is pampering and an authentic experience. Bigger cabins, smaller ships, stunning decor, personalised service and strict adherence to maritime tradition all make luxury cruise liners are vacation apart.  You will find longer cruises to more exotic ports and more overnights and excursions tailored to your needs. A much more intimate experience and not the myraid of entertainment and no hairy let contest by the pool.

The bottom line is that there is a cruise ship out there that is right for you, no matter what your needs might be; but it does take research and thought. The cruise industry has a overall satisfaction rate of 94% and all cruise lines are adding on ships, many are  adding several ships and now Viking River Cruise line has ventured into ocean cruises and Virgin is launching a line of adult only cruise ships. So, the choices will grow even more, so if it seems like a lot find yourself a good travel agent and roam fearlessly to that horizon!

Book tours to see the best of each port.

For some ideas of cruise deals going on now please visit my Expedia Travel Agent site for update information or leave your email and inquiry below and I will try to get in touch you. https://www.cruiseshipcenters.com/en-US/RhondaWeaver

Apr 042018
 

We all work hard-hence, we want to play hard. My vacation dreams take me to the rocky coast of Ireland, the white sand beaches of the Polynesian Islands or the mighty peaks of an Alaskan mountain range. Then reality slaps me right up side the head. The same thing has probably happened to you.

The Fountain at Seattle Armory

The first problem is money, or lack of to frolic your week away in Barbados. Sometimes the problem is time. Not enough time off from work or school, or like with my family, our vacation times never lined up. My kids have spent holidays and vacations with my parents or my sister because I couldn’t get one lousy day off while they were on break. For our anniversary one year, my husband and I weren’t even in the same state-he traveled a lot then. A real bummer.  But, one snowy February weekend when my kids had and 4 day weekend I took 2 extra days off and booked us a nice hotel in Seattle. It had an indoor pool, cool touch games built into the coffee tables. The boys had room service and we were 1 block away from a giant arcade.  They got extra desserts and in room movies. It was only two days and it was about 30 degrees and snowed, but they had a great time.

So, how can you make the best of your “staycation”? Planning and optimism. And some key elements.

Have your house in order: First of all, you can’t relax if your house is a mess, so have everything clean. Next, pick a theme and decorate. Don’t spend a lot. Go to the dollar store, pick up colorful vases, fun flowers, gold serving plates. String a lei, get some tiki torches and beach chairs for the backyard. If you want to spend a little more you could even buy framed pictures of mountains or beaches or wineries, whatever you are in the mood for. A cheaper alternative it to take an old calendar and put them is some frames. It’s a good way to temporarily decorate a space to match your mood. To avoid to many dishes, have paper and plastic for the duration. I like the beach, so I make a centerpiece out of seashells in a glass bowl  and find recipes on line for tropical drinks.  Which leads me to my next tip.

Set up a “Decorate your cupcake” activity

Have a menu: The best thing about vacation is NOT cooking! So, get some quick and easy recipes for your theme. I can make frozen coconut pie in 5 minutes, freeze it and done! Anything you can make ahead and will keep, do that.  Fresh made breads and fresh squeezed juices are great, but try new things. I had Baked Alaska on my first cruise and I loved it! Not the easiest to make so I always practice the recipe first; They don’t always turn out.  Splurge on your favorite treats from your local bakery-you know they’re good and no hassle for you.

 

Here are few of my favorite links for tropical drinks and quick desserts.

https://www.islands.com/drink-recipes

https://www.islands.com/drink-recipes

https://www.tablespoon.com/meals/dessert/tropical-desserts-that-taste-like-summer

Make it fun: Let your kids make your whole living room a fort and let them sleep there-or set up tents in the back yard. I love this one! Roast marshmallows, name the constellations; no t.v., no phones or i-pads. Makes for great family time. Or throw a big party! A backyard BBQ is always a hit-make it fit with your theme. Have everyone learn a hula, or bring wines from Tuscany or chocolates from Denmark. Have a trivia contest about your region-door prizes for winners.

Go on excursions: Search your local area for free festivals or events or museums. If you can swing it spring for a professional sporting event or a theme park. Great Wolf Lodge is a perfect example. There is one past Olympia, so close; very expensive-bring your own food or drive a short distance into town to eat out. I can not stress this enough! The indoor park it totally worth the price of the room; it is so much for families and I felt like a kid again. The Pacific Science Center is also great. So is the International Fountain-that is free and there is a free playground right by the Mo Pop Museum. What is it you like to do? Start with that then figure out what you want to spend money on and what you can do for free. Check local papers and online sites for free festivals and things in your area.

Dogs love to have adventures too.

Do treat yourself: Get dressed up and go out for a fancy meal. Order dessert and an appetizer! Go to movie and buy popcorn and a drink, go to a wine tasting event or a play! Maybe get a massage. Check on Groupon for these things. We got a great deal on a wine and chocolate pairing event. Stay in your pajamas at least one of the days! No phone, no computer, just chill out with your companion or family all day! No responsibilities.

Travel agents should have a myriad of vacation literature for you.

Plan your next vacation: This year is my 25th wedding anniversary, we will be able to go Red Robin this year. I know, it’s tragic. But, there is always next year! I have a load of travel magazines and have list of my top 3 spots to visit. So, I have a destination board so I can visualize it. So break out your calendar and keep some things in mind.  1) The time of year. Europe is great, but not in the summer. Hawaii is awesome and outrageously expensive in the winter months. So keep the climate and expense in mind. If you can book in off season, do it. 2) What do you love most about these places? Prioritize what you want to see most when you visit somewhere. Is it the food, the culture, the sights? 3)Know your budget. Have a plan for how much it will cost and set goals for how you will save that money. Less coffee? Less shoe shopping? Maybe less dry cleaning? Keep a ledger of how much you save each month.  4)Keep your eye out for price drops and last minute deals. This can be time consuming but worth it. Some places will let you sign up for price alerts.

Sleep!  You know you need more of it. Stay in pj’s , watch movies, clean up your email. Nap, often. It is good for you and you know you want to.

A staycation can be a good thing. No packing, no costly airline tickets, no worrying about trip insurance or lost documents. It can be relaxing and exciting! It’s a great time to pamper your pets! One time we drove our dog around to different parks for 6 hours.  So, time away can be whatever you make it, you just have to make it what you want.

Mar 092018
 

For many years, Cuba was a no go zone for Americans. Happily, now it is not! Cuba is steeped in history, culture, charm and pristine beaches. The absolute best way to get the most bang for you buck in Cuba is to cruise. 

First of all, Cuba is having a hard time keeping up with the demand of people flocking to their country. Hotels are not abundant and tend to be expensive. Even the best ones (some, not all) have electrical and plumbing issues.  After a long day at the port it’s nice to have a hot shower, comfortable bed and a sprawling buffet or restaurant 24/7. Of course, you should try the local fare; there is much debate on whether Cuban food is good, but you should still try it. However, the cruise ship has an array of different restaurants and is usually 24/7. Also, you won’t find any fast food staples-not a bad thing, but it makes it hard to grab a quick bite.  You can bring packaged snack food and drinks off the ship.  Here is some really great news. Now, you can bring back Cuban cigars and rum! These items are subject to custom regulations, of course, and there is a value cap for both. So, know before you buy.


Cuba is a clean place, but because they don’t emissions regulations like in the U.S. and most European countries smog from car exhaust is a common complaint. It’s great to get back on your ship with the nice clear sea air!

Visas are required as well as affidavits stating that you are meeting 1 of the 12 categories to travel to Cuba. The cruise line will take care of your Visa paperwork-the cost is $75.00 and they can help you fill out the self proclamation paperwork, as well any excursions booked by the cruise line already meet the requirements set by the government. The cruise offers decent tour options instead of just one or two that are by land tour operators. They also helps with the conversion rate, less headache for you. The exchange rate in Cuba to U.S. dollars is brutal. Change USD for Euros or pounds or even Canadian dollars before changing it to the local CUC.

You only have to unpack once. Cuba has 3 main ports: Havana, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba.  With a longer cruise you could hit 2 or all 3 ports, many lines offer overnights in Havana. The more exclusive ones offer longer stays, more overnights and more port options, but are more expensive. Plus, it is easier (and more enjoyable) to cover more ground. The infrastructure in Cuba is not idyllic. For example, a drive from Havana to Santiago de Cuba can take up to 22 hours. A cruise ship view of Cuba is relaxing and beautiful.

Morro Castle in Havana is an old fort.

It’s cheaper. Cuba cruises are more expensive that other Caribbean cruises, but overall, less expensive than a land vacation comparing apples to apples: Hotel, transportation, food, entertainment, etc. Currently, availability for a cruise is actually better than a hotel; that’s partially because of the lack of hotels and places for guests to stay.

Some of the best things about Cuba are it’s people, food, culture and history. Cuba has very low crime and not a lot of litter and pollution. It is truly a great place to fee like you are away and can unplug.  Lack of commerce means lack of Starbucks, fast food chains, shopping malls, and tons of vendor booths. Lack of WiFi and cell phone reception add the feeling of being off the grid, which is not a bad thing. Unlike most of the Caribbean, Cuba lacks pushy vendors and touristy traps, but they are there. They are very polite and usually take a polite “No, thank you” for an answer. You will street artists and performers who will want money. If you tip-and you should, again do not use U.S. dollars, the locals can not get any real value due to the fees. Local currency is best. The beaches tend not to be as crowded as other countries in the Caribbean and are quite pristine.

Keep in mind, our ties with Cuba may change at any time. The threat of travel being restricted or cut off entirely is there. President Trump has declared U.S. Citizens are not allowed to dine at State sponsored restaurants; don’t know how you would know if a restaurant is or isn’t.  As of now, the cruise industry to Cuba is growing. Keep in mind, Cuba is more expensive than Caribbean cruises and does not have as many travel dates either.

A few last tips. Bring tissue, water, snacks, hand sanitizer and, surprisingly, toilet paper. This is still a communist country and such things even in restaurants are not always in supply. Some people said that met locals who, they thought were asking for money, instead wanted soap and common toiletries. Brush up on your Spanish, at least the basics. Since being a fun seeking tourist is not among the list of 12 approved reasons to visit Cuba, you are advised to keep you travel papers for 5 years.

That being said, Cuba is unique and wonderful, and you should go, especially now, while you still can and while it is still a relaxed, a call to past, not an over run Caribbean destination. Roam forth and have fun!

Mar 042018
 

There is no end of fun venues in Seattle for St. Patrick’s Day to be enjoyed by everyone! Music, parades, beer, free stuff-that’s the best. Whether you need family fun, 21+fun, music, free fun; are looking to connect with your Irish roots, want to be active, want to eat too much, whatever. Seattle is a great place to get your Irish on! And not just on March 17th but there are celebrations before and after the big day. So, settle in with a Guinnes and start looking forward to a marvelous St. Patrick’s Day!

  1. St. Patrick’s Day Parade: March 17th at 12:20p.m. Raising of the Irish flag with the Irish and U.S. anthems at the King Co. admin. building. The Parade begins at 12:30p.m. at 4th&James, ending at Seattle Center at 2:30. This is a free event full of fun and frivolity! Good for all ages, so don’t miss it.
  2. Irish Festival: March 17th 10:00a.m.-6:00p.m. and March 18th from noon to 6:00p.m. at the Seattle Center (Seattle Armory).  Free admission on both days. Chock full of entertainment, food and drink, singing and dancing, Celtic and Irish product to buy, art, cultural displays, etc.  Also great for kids with games and contests. You can attend the Irish Reels Film Festival, a genealogy workshop on the 18th or win a free vacation to Ireland-drawing is on the 18th.  http://ishclub.org/irish-festival-seattle/
  3. The Landing of St. Patrick: March 16th at South Lake Union. St. Patrick was brought to Ireland by pirates, this year St. Patrick will be brought to Seattle by the Pirates of the Emerald Isle. You will even be able to climb on board at Pioneer Square. A free, kid friendly event that will probably be packed, because, Pirates! I want to go this for sure! Ahoy, all ye Irish and Irish and at heart. https://www.axs.com/free-family-friendly-events-in-seattle-for-st-patrick-s-day-2018-128141
  4. St. Patrick’s in Bell Street Park: March 17th 4:00-7:00p.m. Grab your freebies such as chocolate coins, bead necklaces and coupons for discounts at local restaurants. Get your picture taken with Lucky the Leprechaun. https://www.mybelltown.com/st-pattys-day-park-feelingluckyinbelltown/


Fun for those of us over 21: Drinking, dining and singing are just about everywhere! I found that Trip Savvy has a great list. https://www.tripsavvy.com/st-patricks-day-in-seattle-2965010

For the active: St. Patrick’s Day Dash:March 17th. Event starts at 8:00a.m at 2nd&Mercer and has timed and untimed waves. Packet pick up time is 6:00a.m at the Fisher Pavilion. There is a lap option for kids and participants are encouraged to dress up(costume contest!) At the end of the race they have a beer garden. There are buses too, if you don’t want to park http://stpatsdash.com/index.php 

For the devout: Mass for Peace luncheon at St. Patrick’s Church on March 16th and in Tacoma’s Little Theatre you can catch “Jesus Christ Superstar”.

Fun on the water: Waterways St. Patrick’s Day Trivia Lunch Cruise from 11:30-1:30. They offer military and senior discounts as well as children rates. On March 17th they offer a 21+ party cruise from 8:30pm-11:30p.m. The cruise sails Lake Union and Lake Washington.

Go Big! Plan a trip to Ireland. There is a tour company that offers a 10 day trip to Ireland that include r/t airfare from SeaTac. You could book a cruise that includes stops in Ireland; some will offer overnights in Dublin. Sorry, there are none departing from Seattle though.

So, with so many options it’s time to plan on having a outstanding time! I am not Irish but for a few days I could be; and so could you!

Nov 252017
 

I am blessed with a wonderful Mother, who one year for her birthday, took my sister and I on a trip to Cancun Mexico! It was incredibly fun and beautiful!

Now, I know there is a lot of fear out there about Mexico. Even in the resort areas, bad things have happened.  So, of course, one must always exercise caution.  Stay in a group, in a public area, watch how much you drink-hard to do in Mexico, but I strongly recommend it. If you do drink stay with your friends and stay in your hotel or a popular chain bar like Senor Frogs.

Cancun is very beautiful and has so much to offer! Stunning beaches, amazing food, spectacular scenery, wonderful people and stellar all inclusive resorts, of which I am a HUGE fan! I felt like I got tremendous value and felt very pampered.

We stayed at an all-inclusive resort which I highly recommend.  When food, drinks, entertainment and activities are included it really adds to the value. Value is everything! The Hotel Zone in Cancun offers many all inclusive and is relatively safe. Many have more than one property so you can eat and play at the other properties, which are usually very close.

We stayed at Riu Palace Las Americas; a very Grecian, stunning property! The people were so nice, the service and food were great. The shows were okay, but not much variety. The water sports are supposedly included, but you have to have previous experience and the resources are limited. Even laundry service was included, but the dryers don’t always work so we had to hang dry them. Which was tricky, since it was January and rainy and cool most of the time. Not a lot of beach days, but at least there were hardly ever any crowds.  https://www.riu.com/en/hotel/mexico/cancun/hotel-riu-palace-las-americas/index.jsp

Here’s a hint about room service. If you order 1 thing on the menu, they bring it for everybody! So expect triple portions of everything you order.  Make reservations early for the on-site restaurants, they are small venues and fill up quickly. They have a concierge desk to help you plan all your excursions. Use them; they are a valuable resource. I can not stress that enough. It saved me so much time! The hotel vets the vendors for each tour so it gave me piece of mind. And everybody needs that.  My favorite spot was the infinity pool. So amazing! I never wanted to leave it. This property had 2 sister properties so we could visit any and the food and entertainment was included. Most of these hotels will be off major roads that are close to shopping and nightlife.

If I could pick 3 things that are a must do I would choose: 1)The night time Pirate Adventure! Old fashioned Pirate ships, all-inclusive food and drink. Terrific actors that put on a really great show. The “Captain” shares tall tales and then another Pirate ship comes along boards your ship and there is a lot sword fighting and climbing the ropes and they really go for it. After your Pirates win the battle there is dancing and fun games. Be aware that they will constantly ask for tips. It’s not a big deal but they will push it.

2)Xcaret Park in Playa del Carmen. http://bit.ly/2znD6Jg The cab ride is expensive, at least $80.00 each way. You can go as part of a tour group, but it limits your time there and the park is open late. So, give yourself the whole day and go on your own with some friends.

I tried Snuba for the first time. We got to touch the Stingrays. Snuba is easy and fun, no swimming required.  The water wasn’t super clear but the experience was great. We loved the super big hammocks! They kind of wrap you up like a cocoon.  There was a place to grab an inner tube and float down the river. These things were not super easy to maneuver at first but you can get the hang of it. The park is big and beautiful and filled with things to do. There was no way to do everything in one day.

3) Isla Mujeres and the Tortu Granja Turtle Sanctuary.http://bit.ly/2hSUi2u There is a ferry dock (The Gran Puerto Cancun-Ultra Mar) that is close to downtown Cancun. It is a quick ride, 15 minutes and has a great upper open-air deck.  It was cloudy that day so it wasn’t crowded. The island itself is not big, and they discourage cars. Rent a golf cart or moped to get around. The island has a great beach and tons of local vendors you can bargain with for great prices. Check out Tortu Granja Turtle farm. This is a great place where they house and protect 6 different species of turtles. Between May and October you can take part of the release “ceremony”.  It was educational and fun. I would definitely love to go back there again, it was one of the highlights of the trip.

I would encourage you to study up on how to stay safe while in Mexico. Some things are common sense. Watch what you drink, beware of “drivers” offering to take you somewhere-even out of the airport. The hotel should have its own driver to pick you up. If you have the salad or fresh washed veggies only eat them at 4 or 5-star restaurant. Even beware of the place you stay. I am talking about balconies. The safety regulations are not the same as in the U.S. Balconies tend to be low and there have been reports of people falling off when leaning over.  Some good sites for safe travel for Cancun are Trip Savvy and Vacayholics. Cancun is a beautiful place where you meet wonderful people, enjoy fantastic food and amazing beaches; all at a great value!

Oct 222017
 

Keep clothes tightly rolled and only pack what fits easily.

Over packing is trap that most of us have fallen into more than once. I believe it is a mentality that is some part of our psyche. Like when your are taking your young children anywhere they have a basic need to take half their things just to feel secure. Blankets, 4 toys, 2 changes of clothes, 5 snacks, drink cups; it goes on and on.  As travelers, we have that urge to attach our identity and comfort with objects.  So, how can you overcome it? Be organized and focused!

  • Focus on Logistics: Fight the urge to pack outfits and jewelry; that should be done later. Start your vacation planning off with things you can and should do early. Do you have the right travel documents? Do you have all your reservation confirmations? Are you stocked up on medications, bug sprays, ear plugs? Have you squared away your excursions? Have a digital and physical copy of all these things. Make a list of things that HAVE to be done and a time line to have them done by.
  • Do your research: Research where you are going. What kinds of things do you want to do? Are there festivals or events? Book tours, find online reviews by people who have been there. What is the exchange rate/where is the best place to get local currency? Read up on local customs and history, local hot spots and must try foods.
  • Keep a budget. You probably already have a travel budget, add a clothing/jewelry/shoe budget to the mix. There is nothing I like better than new outfits when I travel. It’s amazing! So, to keep my addiction in check I write down a budget and item limit on paper and treat in like a Commandment!

 

  • Learn packing hacks. Pinterest has many great ideas for making the most of you packing space. Find the best spill proof bottles to bring smaller portion of your beauty products. Some of the best sites are Trip Savvy and Choosy Traveler and Armchair Empire.com. If you can use the freebies from your hotel or cruise ship, do so.  I have freakishly sensitive skin and Merida type hair but the complimentary shampoo, hand lotion, toothpaste and toothbrushes are good enough. So figure what items you can use that are freebies so that you don’t have to pack and buy them.
  • Clothes: So now here we are; the moment of truth. Gather all the clothes, shoes and jewelry you plan on packing.  Now get rid of half of it. No cheating! Do it! There are some ways to make it less painful. 1) Pick a color palette. I usually end up with green, blue and brown. It’s easier to pack less if most of your items go together. 2) Use accessories wisely. A scarf and  cardigan can change a look without having to have h whole new one.  3)Think about the usefulness of your choices. If you have a 5 day cruise with 1 formal night do you need 3 formal dresses? If you are spending 2 days hiking and 1 night in a nice hotel do you need 3 pairs of  glittery spiked heels?

This advice may seem harsh but having less really is more and you can focus on having fun not figuring which of your 7 purple sundresses to wear to a show.

So, fellow Roamers, find your inner packing guru and go have fun!

 

 

 

 

Oct 132017
 

Things go wrong when you are on vacation. It’s inevitable. No matter how well you plan or research, the unexpected will happen.

When we took our first cruise, it was to Alaska. It was a graduation present for my oldest son when he graduated from High School. It was expensive and a big deal. My husband and I met in Alaska; I really wanted our family to have the best time. I called Carnival directly, told the agent that it was our first cruise and I wanted to know everything. I trusted her to be the expert. Turned out thanks to her misinformation, we were there only an hour before the cruise ship left port-so almost missed it. We were the 2nd to the last family to get there. Of course, we missed the Bon Voyage party, didn’t know we should have had a beach bag with a change of clothes. We had checked all of our bags in, so for 2 and a half hours, we got to watch hundreds of people run around the pools and go down the water slides while we hung out in the buffet in our jeans and heavy shirts.

At that point, I felt like a terrible Mom, and I really wanted to stab that Carnival rep in the eye with my fork ( A slight exaggeration, very slight), but I really did stress about how could I save this vacation?

The cruise was a great family vacation in the end. My two teenage boys got seconds and thirds at every meal, we saw the most amazing glaciers, we met some great people. The entertainment was top notch. We saw over 10 baby eagles, took a speedboat ride, went hiking on an amazing mountain and my boys still talk about the cruise to this day.

When my sister and her husband went to Europe with their 6-year-old daughter they planned everything for over a year. My sister is a meticulous planner-her and her husband spent about 3 months deciding on their first couch. She loves research more than I do. Their first night in Paris, their apartment was across the street from an Irish pub, Irelands soccer team had won the Euro Cup. So there was a drunken party outside the apartment til 3 am. Rowdy singing, minor damage to property, a couple fires, people peeing in the street. The good news was my young niece learned some Irish party songs and wasn’t upset; at least not until 10 pm when she couldn’t sleep.  While they were in Italy, she got a concussion and they had to take her to the hospital. That’s not what they remember most about the trip though.  It was the beauty and architecture and and culture of Europe.

On our last cruise to Cabo, we took a tour on a glass bottom boat.  We were on the dock, waiting for the other passengers to get off when an older gentleman started lost his footing and started to fall. Our guide and my husband grabbed for the guy. They saved him from falling into the bay, but I saw a wallet fall into the water. Assuming it was Davids-my husband-I jumped down to grab it. Landed on my knees, leaned forward, missed the wallet and my glasses fell off and dropped into the Sea of Cortez. Turned out the wallet was the other guys. Luckily, there was a young kid there who jumped in a found my glasses. Cost me $20.00, and my both my knees were scraped bloody. We were only taking the tour because our snorkeling tour was canceled due to bad weather. I did get to see Los Arcos up close and some beautiful tropical fish; well sort of, there was a salty film on my glasses till I got back to the ship.

I have worked the last two years as part of a travel agency and know that people stress when things go wrong. Some reasons are just silly. A guy wanted to cancel his cruise because he couldn’t get the 6pm dining on his online check-in, someone said their cruise the worst he had ever taken because during the muster station drill they didn’t get to try on the life vest. Some, I understand, a guy booked a cabin for his honeymoon online and it turned out he booked a bunk bed cabin. Major Oops. Here is a hint, on Carnival cruise lines a 1A  is a bunk bed, only on Carnival though.

Some years ago, my mom took my sister and me on a vacation to Cancun for her birthday. I did weeks of research for the best hotel, made so many charts and lists. I am glad I did, we got a beautiful hotel and had an amazing time. But, it wasn’t perfect. It rained for 2 days, we paid for laundry service, but they neglected to tell us the dryers were broken so we got back a bag full of wet clothes.  We decided to go shopping early-too early; we were there a full hour before anything opened. Oops. 

I am a big believer in research and planning, but the reality is, vacations are a lot like life-things just happen. Other times, like with the Carnival cruise agent, the people who should be the experts don’t give the right information. So here is my best advice.

  1. Use more than 1 resource. Check,  check and recheck. I like to use Trip Advisor for best rated and Cruise Critic for cruises. Also, friends and family who have been to these places and taken these trips are your best bet. You know them,you trust them.
  2. Know what you HAVE to have. Document, reservation numbers, passports, photo id’s, directions; those sorts of things. Keep hard copies of any confirmation numbers, phones die or reception spotty, esp. in foreign countries.
  3. Have basic knowledge of the area and customs. If you are going cave tubing in Belize, make sure you have good walking shoes and be prepared to take the trek. In Japan, don’t leave tips. In Chile, don’t eat with your hands. Don’t call someone by their first name in Kenya and don’t get drunk in Turkey.
  4. Be smart about packing. Make a list of must haves. Such as medications, lip balm, waterproof totes, bug spray,etc.
  5. Keep perspective. All the vacations I have taken have always been good in the long run, even if it’s not something out of travel promo. Focus on the good. Take lots of pictures and bring back mementos for friends and family as gifts; it helps keep your focus on the fun!
  6. Buy travel insurance. Life happens, usually at the worst times. Nothing will ruin a trip more than if you get hurt on vacation or your luggage gets lost or your flight get cancelled. This is a very important one and I advise you to look into trip protection. Check the under writer for you credit card. Some credit cards have some built in protections.

The most important thing is to relax and go with the flow. Vacations bring surprises and that can be a good thing. You could end up being part of a comedy improv show, become part of a 70’s deck party or discover you love pina colada soup or even see Darth Vader play the violin!