Oh, wow, so psyched to be have an article on the AAA TravelViews blog. They have me listed as a “Contributor”. It’s a cool travel blog and I’m so stoked to be part of it!!
Travel bloggers might take for granted their home base and not think to write about the place in which they are most familiar. It occurred to me this morning, while walking the beach, that writing about European travels is exciting but I would be remiss to ignore the jewel that is New Smyrna Beach, my current hometown.
In my case, the beach is just a block away and there are times when we get wrapped up in the minutiae of life and forget it is there. A brief walk, with toes in the sand, can take away stress and make one realize how small our concerns might be compared to the expanse of the Atlantic Ocean and our place on the planet. An Orlando friend once told me that whenever she drives over the bridge onto the island, she is overcome with a sense of calmness and relief, leaving all the city craziness back on the mainland.
Our little town is still relatively unknown, except for its unnerving distinction of being the “Sharkbite Capital of the World”. We’ll just forget about that for the moment while other, more palatable aspects of our town are described. We have two bridges from which to enter the barrier island. If you are in a hurry to get to your destination, the South Bridge, as we call it, will whisk you from State Road 44 to Atlantic Avenue, heading south towards the Cape Canaveral National Seashore. Along the way you will see neighborhoods and condominiums, a lot of which are owned by our neighbors to the west in Orlando.
My preferred route is to the north, a bascule bridge spanning the Indian River. It is a favorite walk-over for guaranteed sightings of dolphins and the occasional manatee along with kayaks, sailboats and mini-yachts, the latter causing the bridge to rise three times each hour. If you are caught in your car at the time a tall boat is cruising through, it is a good time to lower the windows, turn off the engine and just relax and enjoy the salt air.
Once over the north bridge, you are on Flagler Avenue, a funky main street dotted with restaurants, boutiques, art galleries and lodging. And, if you are visiting at the right time, you can enjoy the monthly wine and art walk. You might also notice a banner spanning the street announcing whichever monthly event will close the street to auto traffic and allow revelers to meander the avenue for celebrations of Cinco de Mayo, Flamingo Follies or numerous food events, coupled with live music and dancing in the streets. The residents of New Smyrna do not need a reason to party!
Currently a movie is being filmed in town causing some roadblocks, but how can one be upset when the ambience of the city lends itself to being laid back and carefree. The film, “Waves of Grace” is centered on a surfing community and sightings of the crew shooting scenes in various areas of town is common. They are based at our favorite bed and breakfast, the Black Dolphin Inn, located on the west side of the Indian River. This new B&B just got named in the Top Ten Bed & Breakfast Inns by The Guardian, a British national daily newspaper and is a wonderfully stylish asset to our town.
The beaches are great for body, board and kite surfing, and provide family fun all year round, offering thirteen miles of flat, sandy shore. A couple of miles to the north you will find the jetties across from the Ponce Inlet lighthouse which shines its welcome each night. You are also at the spot where New Smyrna Beach gets its infamous reputation as the aforementioned Sharkbite Capital of the World. Surfers love this area which provides the biggest waves against the rocks jutting out into the ocean. Small sharks also love this spot as a perfect feeding place full of bait fish and the occasional ankle. Intrepid surfers sometimes bump into a feeding shark and might require stitches when their dangling foot is mistaken as that day’s dinner.
With Orlando to the west and Daytona Beach to the north, there is no shortage of entertainment in central Florida. However, it is always nice to retreat to the tiny town of New Smyrna Beach to refresh, renew and relax.
The next leg of our Canadian journey would take us to Toronto via bus and train. The transportation center was just a half mile walk from the Niagara Falls Doubletree, which we gingerly took through snow which had accumulated that morning. The cost of our two-hour trip was only eight dollars and change as we were once again reminded that we are “seniors” and qualified for a hefty discount. From Niagara Falls we disembarked at Burlington and boarded a train headed for Union Station in Toronto.
The train ride took us through some seedy areas, which was a surprise as we were accustomed to the rails of Europe traveling through gorgeous countryside and beautiful neighborhoods. Arriving in Union Station we opted to walk fifteen minutes to the Hyatt Regency while struggling with a suitcase whose wheels have seen better days. Time to shop for new luggage! Check-in at the Hyatt was quick. I read somewhere to ask for a room facing the CN Tower and we were instantly upgraded (even though we had booked through Priceline) to a room with a view on the 17th floor. The only complaint here, once again, was the lack of WiFi. I’ll never understand why an upscale, 4-star hotel will charge $15 a day to go online. Of course, we could opt to use our laptop and Kindle in the lobby for free access, but what a pain in the rear that is! Not to mention it didn’t work half the time and we were forced to go to the adjacent Starbucks for coverage. Other than that inconvenience, our stay was just fine and the location was perfect with many restaurant choices within two blocks.
Our first night’s entertainment was a show at The Second City, which was right across the street…The Meme-ing of Life, by an ensemble of talented comedians/singers/actors. Look out for Stacey McGunnigle, the whole cast was super but she really stood out and had us wishing she was in every sketch. We would recommend a night at Second City if you are in town looking for a laugh. Instead of purchasing tickets from the box office, we checked the T.O.TIX booth at Dundas Square for discounts. This is Toronto’s version of TKTS in NYC. Second City tickets were almost half price for that night’s performance so we grabbed them. The venue was full that night so not sure why we got such a deal. The only gripe was the watered down drinks…do not order a Zombie, you’ll just get a glass of fruit juice (and don’t ask me why we ordered Zombie’s, they just sounded good).
The next day we opted to travel up the CN Tower, over 1,800 feet tall and the 5th tallest in the world. For decades it was number one but has been surpassed by Dubai, among others. Our ears popped as we rose to the observation area and the view was phenomenal; the clear, sunny day insured optimal views of Lake Ontario and the city of Toronto. Charlie agreed to join me but wouldn’t stand on the glass floor. Of course, the little girl who was jumping up and down on it didn’t help. Our 20-floor hotel was dwarfed by this giant structure…a must see when visiting Toronto.
We lucked into “same day” tickets to the theatrical production of Wizard of Oz at the Ed Mirvish Theatre, and, even though our seats were not together, they were only seven and twelve rows from the stage. For only $35 a ticket, we were entertained by Andrew Lloyd Webber’s huge staging of the familiar story of Dorothy and her cohorts with seating that would normally sell for over $250. It always helps to be flexible and spontaneous when trying to score drastically discounted theater tickets.
The next day the temperature had dropped even further, with a dusting of snow so we took advantage of Toronto’s PATH underground walking system which is made up of eighteen miles of underground shopping and restaurants, connecting various transportation centers and more than 50 buildings and office towers. It’s a bit confusing to navigate to your destination but such a relief from the cold temps above ground. We also took advantage of a Groupon deal to ride the Jump On-Jump Off city tourist buses. They took us to Casa Loma, the only castle in town, and the Distillery area which houses the Old Town section of the city. The enthusiastic tour guides added many interesting and little-known facts about the sophisticated, yet friendly Canadian metropolis.
We became great fans of the Tim Horton’s franchises, which started as donut and coffee shops and have since expanded to bagels, healthy soups and sandwiches, and, of course, coffee. Their fast food prices drew us in many times when we needed a respite from the cold. We learned of the feud between Horton’s and Starbucks over who has the best coffee. Walking the streets it seemed that we ran into one or the other on every block in town, so there is no shortage of java to get you through your day.
Heading back to the Niagara Falls International Airport on our final day, we retraced our steps and rode the train to Birmingham, transferring to the bus which led us back to Niagara Falls. The walk back to the Rainbow Bridge was a bit brutal as the wind chill factor made the air feel frigid. We stopped at yet another Tim Horton’s to warm up and spend our last few Canadian dollars before the trek back to the U.S. border. We thought we had plenty of time before our scheduled flight so there was no sense of urgency to keep moving.
Once we got through customs I searched for the bus schedule and realized I had misplaced it so we were on our own, looking for the bus stop at which we arrived the previous week. Of course, it was a Saturday and the schedules were different. Again, never make assumptions that the bus would just reverse its previous route and show up eventually. After a frantic call to our daughter to check the schedule online, we found the bus would arrive on the next block but the times were sketchy. After standing in below-thirty degrees for almost an hour, we panicked and realized we needed to grab a taxi if we were going to get to our flight on time. We were standing in front of a large casino so it was not difficult to find a cab. When we told our turbaned driver that our flight was leaving in 35 minutes, he flew onto the expressway and got us there with fifteen minutes to spare. Since IAG is such a tiny airport, ours was the only plane visible and the Allegiant desk was just inside the front door. We checked our bag, under the justified disapproving looks of the gate personnel, dashed through security and were in our seats within 5 minutes. Do not try this at home if you have a heart problem!
I don’t think we actually thawed out until we stepped out of the Sanford airport into the warm, humid air. We have had our fill of cold temperatures and might not curse our summer heat this year, but I’m not making any promises. Actually, we heard from some Canadians that their summers can be extremely hot, too, with Lake Ontario providing uncomfortable humidity levels, but I’ll never believe they are as miserable as we are in August and September.
Our overall impression of Niagara and Toronto is positive. The Falls are a must see for anyone who appreciates the wonders of nature and the city was welcoming, cosmopolitan and gave us yet another window into a culture other than our own. As the recently departed Roger Ebert would state…two thumbs up!
Sorry, my comments on Toronto haven’t made it to the blog yet…making a quick trip to Panama City to visit our son for a few days. Seeing as how it is spring break here, we decided not to stay in our favorite place on the beach, to avoid all the craziness. So, we chose a Holiday Inn Select which seems to be in a 60′s-70′s time warp. No complaints about the important stuff…clean, quiet, comfy bed…but the bathroom decor will wake you up in the morning…bright red shower/bath unit along with a red, push button, phone on the wall.
Charlie said he knows how Don Draper must have felt back in the day, sitting in the john with a red phone at his disposal!
Every time we head north on a winter holiday and tell people we are from Florida, they look at us and ask “Why?!?” Finally, we are asking ourselves the same question after a week spent in Niagara Falls and Toronto, Ontario, in sub-freezing temperatures. The sights were worth the trip but we have sworn off the frozen tundra for awhile.
Since we decided not to rent a car, using mass transit instead, we found ourselves standing on snowy, windy corners, waiting for a bus or train to take us to yet another spot where the wind chill made the freezing temps drop even lower. I am surprised my photos of the Falls came out clear with my shivering hands trying to focus the camera. Our plans fell into place, however, with just one glitch at the end. Allegiant Air was on time and zipped away from Sanford, landing in the tiny Niagara Falls International Airport Monday night. (The size of the airport would prove beneficial later.) As soon as we grabbed our luggage, the bus was waiting for us just outside the door and led us to the Rainbow Bridge, which was a short hike across a huge gorge within sight of the Falls.
We found our way to the hotel, on foot, enjoying tolerable temps…they didn’t drop until the next day. The Doubletree Resort was a good choice and a good deal through Priceline. The maddeningly slow WiFi was the only drawback, resulting in no blog posts while we were away. The next day we walked to Niagara Falls and took in the magnificent view, with a trip down an elevator to the tunnels behind the roaring water. Two of the portals were frozen over, however, but we weren’t disappointed as the ice was a sight in itself.
The rest of the town is like a mini International Drive, in Orlando, with haunted houses, carnival rides and overpriced restaurants. We did become fans of Tim Horton’s, however, with their delectable donuts, as well as bagels, sandwiches, soups and, of course, their famous coffee. They would do well in New Smyrna Beach since it looks like all of Ontario is in our little beach town during the winter.
We heard about the negative ions from the Falls which produce positive effects on the brain. I think we were suffering from brainfreeze, due to the low temps, so maybe those ions couldn’t penetrate. However, we were in a good mood to start with so maybe we just didn’t notice. It is a glorious sight, though, and well worth the trip to see one of the natural wonders of North America.
If you are planning a trip to Niagara and are not interested in the tourist stuff, just plan on one full day there. Unless we missed something, the main attraction is the Falls and they can be seen in a day. We really enjoyed our time in Toronto and could have just taken a day trip from there, had we known what we do now.
Stay tuned for our Toronto adventures and our mad scramble to catch our flight back home…
As long as Charlie doesn’t catch the God-awful stomach virus I had this week, we’ll be heading up to Niagara Falls and Toronto on Monday. Let’s hope that sleeping in another bedroom did the trick and the bug didn’t find its way into his tummy. For the first time ever we are flying out of Orlando-Sanford International Airport, which is much closer than MCO. We are reading all the fine print on the Allegiant Airlines website so we’re not stuck wtih a piece of luggage that is an inch or two over their limits, as happened with Ryanair last summer. Allegiant charges $30 for each carryon going into the overhead bins and $50 for a checked piece of luggage, so we decided to go ahead and bite the bullet. No way could we fit everything we need to go to such a cold climate in a bag that would fit under the seat (those are still free to carry on). The cost of the ticket was so inexpensive ($250 total for two roundtrip tickets to Niagara Falls) that we can justify the extra charge for checking on a bag.
Our plan is to travel as cheaply as possible and we’re taking every shortcut we can, so we’ll see how it all pans out. Our daughter can drop us off at the airport but not able to pick us up so we’ve opted to rent a car when we get back and take it back to Sanford the next day…much cheaper than paying the $12 a day in parking fees at the airport for 6 days. We’re flying into the Buffalo/Niagara Falls area at a smaller airport, similar to Sanford, which makes the transportation choices fewer when trying to get to the Canadian side of the Falls. The plan is to catch a bus to the Rainbow Bridge and walk across, then catch another bus which will let us off close to our hotel. Arriving at 6:30 pm means we’ll be in the dark but we hear the area is well lit and very accessible to the walker. Of course, if it’s raining or snowing, or both, we’ll be miserable and may have to opt for a taxi (at a cost of $80 plus) to get us into Canada.
Priceline gave us the best prices on hotels in both Niagara Falls and Toronto at around $75 a night for a four star stay. Once in Toronto we can depend on mass transit either by bus or subway. And we picked up a Groupon for a hop-on, hop-off bus tour that lasts three days which we can use at our leisure.
We certainly cannot complain about our winter in Florida, after hearing about our friends up north suffering through one storm after another, but I’m getting tired of cold weather and ready to put away the winter gear. This will be the last snowy trip for awhile. Of course, by June we’ll be cursing the humidity down here and planning the next trip to the tundra.
Hopefully, the next post will be from two healthy travelers in a toasty room in Niagara Falls!