My “Free” Cruise

 

We are back from our “free” cruise. All in all it was fun to get away but as in all things it was a mix of good news and bad news.

It was free and that is always a good thing. Well, almost free anyway. We did have the travel expense, but as we drove from Ocala to West Palm Coast that was a nominal shared expense. And we did have to pay the port tax for the Bahamas. Beyond that, we opted for an upgraded room for an extra $75 each. It allowed us to have this room rather than one that was on a lower level with bunk beds and no window. So it was worth it.

The weather was great. The water was that wonderful blue. The people were friendly so we had a good time making new acquaintances. We did encounter a little rough water about an hour out that lasted for a couple hours – just enough to make my best friend get a little sea sick. ( I hope she still is my best friend after getting her sea sick!! :) ) But after that one episode we had smooth sailing the rest of the way. The Bahamas Celebration is an older vessel and not as grand as say the NCL or the Royal Caribbean, but nonetheless, it offered all the services and activities. There were several dining places, the RIO and THE CRYSTAL ROOM with free seating, although we did need to select a time. Several other casual eateries were also available as was the gourmet, THE COVE, for an additional $25 per person. It suited us to dine at 6 pm rather than 8 and this freed us up to go to the nightly entertainment in the club. There was a nice variety of entertainment and the evenings there were a lot of fun. They also had a duty free gift shop, a spa and a casino.

Margaret and I usually ate our breakfasts topside at the breakfast buffet which was quite extensive. It lacked the ice carvings and elaborate presentations that I found when cruising on NCL or on the smaller ship, the DOLPHIN, but the food was plentiful and good. This was also the site of ongoing dancing, contests, bingo, steel drum bands, etc. going on day and night all through the trip.

The staff was courteous and helpful in every way. Whether we needed an extra blanket to ward off the chill from the AC, a little TLC for my seasick friend, or to bring us endless items to sample at the dining tables, they provided everything with a smile. It occurred to us how hard the staff works on a cruise line.

We had only one port of call on our 2 night, 3 day cruise to Freeport but I will save that for another post.

All in all, it was a nice little getaway. I probably would not pick that cruise line again and would opt for one of the larger lines with more ports of call, and would go for one that was longer than two nights. It felt like we were coming back before I really got into it. Yet, we got more than we paid for and it was worth the two hour time share presentation I suppose.

Tip of the Week – Cruise Tips

 

Having just come back from a little cruise, I thought I would leave you with a few tips this week so that you might benefit from my experiences.

The first deals with preparing in advance for the chance that you might experience a bout of sea sickness. If we could have spared my travel friend, Margaret, from her misery that first evening it would have made a profound difference in her enjoyment of the trip. Even if you think you would never yourself fall victim to it, it is better, as they say,to be safe than sorry. We got advice from several of the other ladies we met who had taken advance precautions. A trip to the drugstore for a patch or whatever the pharmacist had to offer would be one choice. The other was that one of the gals had bracelets special for this problem that put pressure on the inside of her wrists to avert getting sick. Next time, while I was fortunate not to be sick, I think I will be more proactive and prepare for the unexpected.

The other tip deals with watching your budget while on board. While it is true that food and SOFT beverages are included, alcohol is not. The wait staff was constantly in our face to offer Bahama Mama drinks or wine or something. And believe me, people were drinking freely at 6 or 7 or even 10 dollars a pop. I would hate to see their bills when they signed out. Fortunately, neither Margaret nor I succumbed to this so we saved a lot of money. I do enjoy a nice glass of wine or a fruity drink now and then, but we had just decided that for this trip, we would forgo the drinking, opting for iced tea, juice, milk and coffee. We are both trying to lose weight and tried to watch calories, even though I managed to gain 4 pounds!!!! Those desserts caught up with me I guess. And we really did try to monitor as best we could. But when you are out of your own kitchen, you are getting more sugar, salt, carbs, etc than you would when you prepare for yourself. But that is another topic for later perhaps.

So we are back, a little “fatter” and a little wiser. Hope you find these cruise tips helpful. If any of you have cruise experience and tips of your own, I would love for you to leave a comment and share yours too.

Travel Tip of the Week – “Free Trip”

 

I am always looking for a way to travel and keep to a budget. Have you ever received in the mail that you have won a free trip? We all know that that is usually never the case and there are strings attached. Right. Well, I got one for a free 3 day, 2 night cruise to the Bahamas for two, which in my case is with my ever ready travel buddy, Margaret.

Turns out, the “string attached” to this freebie is that you have to take a look at a time share in south Florida. Since I already live in Florida, there is no way I need that. But what the heck.

While this is not a way I would generally like to do it, we decided that we would do it anyway. We have to get there, but for us that is a drive in the car sharing gas, and we have to pay the port tax in the Bahamas. So if this is halfway decent, we had a few days on a cruise ship and a day of shopping at the Straw Market in Nassau. Whether this turns out to be a good idea or not we shall see. When I get back next week, I will let you know. Meanwhile, if you don’t mind the annoyance of looking, it is a free trip.

The Washington House Inn

 

                                                                     Photo from website

For some reason I have a little soft spot for staying in a bed and breakfast. Something so cozy and homey about them that I so enjoy. Probably this is a romanticized view on my part that just the words Bed and Breakfast can evoke that response :)

I remember the very first one I visited some years years ago that started it all. It was winter, during the holiday season and my daughter Jenn and I, as we traditionally did at that time of year, always found one special thing to do just for us that was fun and festive. That particular year we decided to spend the night in a bed and breakfast. It just screamed pampering and indulgence to us. Being a single mom, we always seemed to have to watch how we spent our money. So, to us, going to a B&B seemed to be really a big deal.

We were living in Maryland at the time and wanted to find a nice place close by that we could drive to. We found just what we were looking for in the sleepy little town of Charles Town, West Virginia. Even though this is a place of historic note with battlefields of the Civil War all around, there was nothing of particular of interest that drew us there. We went solely to experience a bed and breakfast.

The one we selected was called The Washington House Inn on  It was all decked out for Christmas which made it even more spectacular to us. A big sleigh on the porch filled with wrapped gifts hinted at the surprises within and made an eye popping first impression.

I remember our room at the time with it brass and trundle beds, rose and vine wallpaper, terry robes in the old fashioned bathroom, our own fireplace. It was very girlie. There was this little landing filled with antiques outside our room and the main floor salon had a Christmas tree where we sat and had cookies.

Photo from website

That evening we bundled up and took a walk. There was this town hall or some such that had a candlelight tour that we did and that was about it as I recall. But we had a great time IN the B&B which was just what we set out to do.

Photo from website

The breakfast was wonderfully presented. We were served a big home cooked breakfast in the dining room. I can’t recall what we ate any longer, but I still remember the presentation -the lace tablecloth, the holiday china. I even remember the little springs of pine on our plates. And the delightful hostess served in her long period dress, apron and cap. It was such fun. We felt very well taken care of by the owners there.

I have been to a few more since then. Different amenities and locals. But to me this is the one that still stands out in my memory.

Fire and Ice

 

FIRE AND ICE

 

Some say the world will end in fire,

Same say in ice.

From what I’ve tasted of desire

I hold with those who favor fire.

But if it had to perish twice,

I think I know enough of hate

To say that for destruction ice

is also great

And would suffice.

 

 by Robert Frost

 

It is the first day of March. From what I hear on the weather reports, half of the USA is still covered in snow, many without heat or electric. I have heard from so many of my friends, especially those stuck in their houses, that cabin fever is rampant.

Being in Florida, I took a lovely walk in my favorite local park, Shalom Park, this afternoon. The musky smells of wet soil mingled with the sweet smells of first blooms on the bushes, a cool, gentle breeze. What could have been more perfect to get my juices flowing with some ideas of how to beat those winter blues.

So why Robert Frost? Well, I get a lot of emails about some wonderful places to visit. And, I thought I would share two of them with you in case you are one who is lucky enough to plan a spur of the moment little get-a-way. One is fire, the other, ice.

How would you like to head to a tropical island, sand and sun, sunsets, romance? Try Sandals Royal Carribean.

by NAIMA Broome

Or

Sherry by a fire, a soak in a hot tub surrounded by snow, a sleigh ride and a home cooked gourmet breakfast in a quaint B&B? Then go to the Inn at Buck Hollow Farm in Vermont.

by bv305

These both struck me as incredibly inviting. Fire and Ice.

The good news is that both of these places are offering great deals and hefty discounts right now. You can get all of this and at special prices if you can hurry while the getting is good. Not a bad way to get through these last weeks of winter. What a great prelude to Spring!

Planning a Girls Getaway

 

Here we are in old photos when we were aound 12 years old – Mary, Alice, Arlene and Janice

This year is going to be one of those milestone birthday years for three of my life-long gal pals and me. We grew up together. Back in the day of neighborhood schools, we would make our trek to school, stopping by each house to pick up the gang until all four of us made the final walk up the school steps. We played together, took dancing classes together, went swimming and then to dances and football games together. You name it, we did it together.

 Then we grew up and each went our separate way. Surprisingly, we have remained close friends over the years despite our living miles apart and not really having much opportunity to actually visit despite our many promises to do so. A lot of life has happened since those good old days and a lot of people passed through our lives, yet we hold closest those childhood friendships.

 With New Year’s resolutions to be closer in touch as the years march by, we have decided to embark on a girls only getaway to celebrate our birthdays which all happen within a two week span of time- two of which are actually on the same day!  So 2010 will be the big year for us when we finally do it  and I plan on journalling the whole thing starting with the planning until the finish at our reunion birthday getaway. With one in California, one in Pennsylvania, one in Maryland, and me in Florida, this should be quite a major undertaking.  

If you saw the Movie Sex and the City where that group of friends turned an ill-fated honeymoon into a trip to a lavish villa in Mexico, you have an idea of what I have in mind. Heh heh.  But since there are going to be four votes, I am guessing that I should allow each of us to have a chance to tell about their all girl getaway fantasy trip. Who knows, if we have enough good ideas we may have to take turns until we each get our wish.

 Alice, out in California, and I have been doing some recent emailing and decided that this would be a fun thing to do and wanted to see if we could get the others on board. So I sent everyone a group email to see what the response would be. It was an enthusiastic thumbs up. With that decided it is time to get to work.

 Phase One – When

The first thing will be for us to find a common time and to get some ideas of what each thinks she can commit to time and budget wise. Trying to work around everyone’s personal schedules with families and lives of our own will be complicated, especially long distance. We will be doing this with group emails back and forth and see how it turns out. I will chart all of the information and armed with that we can start looking at our options.

But that is for the next post.

Travel Tip of the Week

 The holiday travel season is in full swing. The Thanksgiving rush is behind us and now we are gearing up for December travel. What better time to initiate Travel Tip of the Week! Seasoned travelers have a lot of knowledge of how to, what to or not to dos when on the road. Some of these weekly tips will serve as little reminders, and for others, I hope the little tips will help make your travel safer and more fun.

                                                                                                  12-12-10

That said, here is the first Travel Tip of the Week.

  Pack light!!! There are a lot of reasons why taking as little as possible is a good idea. When you think you have figured out what to pack, put half of it away. You never need as much as you think you do. Plus, it costs to check those bags, both in fees and fun. Carrying, toting, pulling, dragging a lot of bags up steps, around town, in and out of cars, trains, planes – FUN? No so much. The other thing worth noting is that a traveler dragging around too much baggage will be a real tip off for a con artist.

 

Do you have a good travel tip? Please feel free to let us know some of you favorite tips.

Holiday Travel

 general-003

Over the last number of months I have noticed that for those who can travel at the drop of a hat, there have been many almost too good to be true travel opportunities both here and abroad. I have been drooling over the many times I have seen enticing cruises or plane-hotel combinations that make me almost weep with longing to get on the road to strike while the iron is hot, to be cliché.

 

But now with the holidays around the bend, the holiday traveler is likely to see an increase in fares across the board. Many, like the 65% off packages at Sandals, which ads say expire at the end of October, or the wonderful trips and fares on Travelocity will tighten up as hordes of would be travelers realize that it is time to book for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

 

As is always the case for holiday travel, book early. If you have not already made your plans, do it now. Not only will the prices spike, but with cutbacks there are fewer flights and fewer seats available. It may still not be too late to cash in on some of the bargains out there with hotels. We all know that prices are higher on certain days like weekends or on the cusp of Thanksgiving or Christmas. One way to cut down on the cost and to assure a reservation is to travel a few days before and after the actual holiday if your vacation time permits. It will not only be less expensive, but will not be such a hassle as you stand in shorter lines at check in.

 

With airlines now limiting baggage and charging for it, the trend is to bring carry on bags. On the positive side, this will save you some money, avoid having to stand in line at the baggage claim, and eliminate the worry about lost baggage due to heavy travel volume. On the down side, everyone else is doing this too and the overhead storage is often bulging and overfull. Plus, if it is Christmas and you usually pack all of your gifts, this will make a difference on how and what you bring. Think about that when you are out shopping. Also, there is the no gift wrapping thing to consider. Nothing would say bah humbug more than having your gift wrap removed for inspection!! Maybe with the economy so bad right now, you might rethink your family’s gift strategy and plan some group activities in lieu of consumer items this year.

 

When you are ready to travel, make sure you have tagged all of your luggage. I like to put the address inside the bag too just in case. Double check before you leave to see if your flight is on schedule. Weather conditions or just the fact that more people are traveling could cause delays. And don’t forget your tickets and passports if you are going abroad.

 

Getting to the airport early is a must during the holiday, especially if you need to use satellite parking. If possible, get a ride to the airport with a friend or shuttle service so you can be dropped off right at the check in area. This will save you time and money that would have had to be spent on parking your car there. Bring your own snacks too. I hear that some airlines are even charging for beverages now. If you usually rely on grabbing a bite at the airport remember it will be crowded.

 

With all of this you may be asking yourself if it is really worth all this fuss. Of course it is. A little advance organizing will make all the difference when you are on your way to Grandma’s.

 

Happy Holidays everyone. :)

 

 

 

 

 
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