Hard to believe it’s been a year since we closed on the mountain house in North Carolina. Here’s a link to some reflections and advice if you’re considering a vacation home…
Tag Archives: vacation
Travel the world with these bloggers and photojournalists…eye-candy for the armchair traveler
A break in the daily cruise travelogue to praise our fellow writers and photojournalists. Check it out on hypeorlando…8 Global Journalists who take you to foreign lands without leaving home.
Holy Sh*t moments in Juneau
After two nights and a full day of cruising, we arrived in Juneau. Surprised at how small this town is, especially since it’s the capitol of Alaska, we were told that most of the jobs were in state government or tourism. Of course, fishing is a major industry here, also. Our ship docked just after lunch and we had an excursion planned a couple of hours later.
We bravely, but with a fair amount of trepidation, chose a Wings Airways seaplane (or floatplane, as they’re called in Alaska) touring five of the glaciers of Juneau’s massive icefield. Strapping into the 10 passenger De Havilland Otter was scary, to say the least, especially on such a cloudy day but we just sucked it up, donned our headphones and held our breath.
Side note: You WILL be asked to divulge your weight and it WILL be written on your ticket in big red figures. If you choose to lie about your weight, you might feel a bit of panic as the plane takes off, worrying that everybody else might have lied, too. Not that I have any experience in this, just sayin…
To say this was a #HolyShitMoment is an understatement. From the moment our bush plane’s floats left the water until we drifted back to dock, the views were exhilarating and we were glad we chose this adventure. Observing the glaciers from above offers an amazing insight into how these huge structures are formed.
The 40-minute adventure covered five glaciers, most of which are receding. The Taku Glacier, however, is the largest in the ice field and the only one still advancing. Wearing headphones, we listened to educational narration throughout the flight with oodles of photo opps as every seat has its own window.
There were a few anxious moments when we were buffeted about a bit but the experienced pilot kept us level and before we knew it we were gliding into the bay for a smooth landing, wishing the flight wasn’t coming to an end.
Afterward, we strolled the streets of the town and ducked into the infamous Red Dog Saloon. During the mining era, the owner would meet tour boats, with a mule wearing a sign stating, “follow my ass to the Red Dog Saloon.” Now, modern tourists and cruisers fill the sawdust-floored bar looking for a brew and a raunchy song.
Tomorrow finds us in Skagway…
An unexpected treat…cruising through Alaska!
An incredible opportunity opened up for Charlie and I to join a press group, cruising Alaska’s waterways with Holland America Lines on the ms Nieuw Amsterdam. The offer was last minute, as in 2 ½ weeks, but the calendar was clear and, luckily, we brought our passports to NC, so we were in. The key to a happy retirement is flexibility and spontaneity. No moss growing on our rolling stone!
The plan was to fly from Asheville to Vancouver and back via Chicago. It takes an hour to get to the airport from the mountain house and the flight was on time when we left. Arriving at the airport, however, we discovered our flights, in both Asheville and Chicago were delayed. We started sweating bullets when our originating flight wound up 3 hours late but managed to find our terminal and gate in Chicago in time.
The rest of the trip was seamless as we were picked up in Vancouver, driven through the streets of the city and dropped off at the Pan Pacific Vancouver Hotel, atop Canada Place’s cruise ship terminals. Arriving around 6 pm we had time to walk a few blocks to dinner at Original Joe’s on Robson Street. Of course, our brains were telling us it was 3 hours later so we were disinclined to imbibe in the local beer offerings as we were afraid we wouldn’t make it back to the hotel.
The Pan Pacific is gorgeous and next morning our ship was in dock waiting for us to board. We met our fellow journalists for breakfast and were amazed at how far some of them traveled…Australia, Holland, London, Austria, Belgium and a few more from the states…all lovely people who were a joy to accompany on this trip of a lifetime.
The ms Nieuw Amsterdam is one of HAL’s larger ships, much bigger than the ms Maasdam, on which we cruised through New England and Nova Scotia last year. The comfort level and beauty were the same, however, this time with a touch of Manhattan and NYC art deco touches. Our Verandah was roomy, located at the back of the ship, which proved to be a perfect place to view all that Alaska had to offer.
We met our group again at the Crow’s Nest on the Observation Deck, for a welcome cocktail and then dinner in the Manhattan Dining Room. The food on these cruises is just phenomenal and the champagne was flowing that night, along with perfect wine pairings. We were reminded that we needed to take it easy and not eat our way through the trip…not an easy task!
Next morning, we met for a private Galley tour. What we saw was a well-organized effort to feed over 2,000 guests and more than 900 crew members. The kitchens were spotless and we saw smiling faces and beautiful culinary creations. Here are some stats…a typical 7-day cruise goes through 23,000 eggs, 1,675 pounds of butter and 137,500 pounds of fresh vegetables. It’s mind-boggling the amount of work that goes into storing, preparing and serving this much food. And they do it cheerfully and meticulously.
That night we met at The Pinnacle Grill, one of three fine dining choices, which will cost extra but are well worth the price. The menu highlights Pacific Northwest steak and seafood along with an ample choice of wines. Looking out the window we spotted the backs of a few whales cruising alongside the ship. I should mention that the other dining choices, which are included in the price of the cruise, are top of the line. You can choose the Lido buffet which changes offerings every day, along with the Manhattan Dining Room, which is a 2-level, formal dining experience.
Here are a couple of links to my blog posts on hypeorlando about this trip… Sushi virgins no longer and What the rest of the world thinks of Americans – Next up, Days 3 and 4, sailing through Tracy Arm, arriving in Juneau and Skagway.
When Plan A fails…make sure you have Plan B, C and D available
So the deal wasn’t done and the papers weren’t signed, lucky for us we had an honest inspector who immediately saw structural issues and did not continue the process. Inspections are pricey in the mountains and he saved us quite a few bucks by not going any further. He said a structural engineer needed to see the damage and go from there. It was enough for us to cancel the contract and move on. Very disappointing, especially since the owner is a structural engineer and should have disclosed the problems on the contract.
We’ve learned not to become emotionally attached to anything we attempt to purchase so we weren’t envisioning family holidays on the deck quite yet. There were others on our short list and some more popped up on the MLS, so we kept shopping. Our criteria and must-have list was short – 3,000 feet in elevation, a view, high ceilings (we want to feel like we’re in a mountain house, not sitting in a subdivision somewhere with low ceilings), and a location that doesn’t need a 4-wheel drive vehicle.
Elevation is a must as our main reason for purchasing a summer home is to get out of the heat and humidity of Orlando. Our research has shown that 3,000 feet pretty much insures not having to turn on the a/c all summer. A panoramic mountain view is fleeting. The house that failed inspection had a killer view off the deck but that deck might be sliding off the mountain in the future. Another house had a great view but was too small and, inside, felt like we were anywhere but in the mountains. Another one had a death-defying drive-way and a larger car would have to back out of it without being able to turn around.
In the end we’re losing the view with the chosen abode, but it’s just a short walk away, along with the Appalachian Trail, and the size and location make up for it. Check out my hypeorlando.com blog at Forever Young but Growing Old for details on our last visit. Hopefully, we’ll close in early December and have more to report with pictures. But those photos might include snow!
When Home Exchange goes terribly wrong
Check out my hypeorlando blog post, Forever Young but Growing Old, about Home Exchanges gone wrong…and they all could have been avoided!
911 Memorial Museum Anniversary
Recently the National September 11 Memorial Museum in New York City celebrated its first anniversary. On a recent trip to Manhattan we made sure to reserve a day to visit the 911 Museum. It is a pilgrimage that feels like one’s civic duty. We need to be reminded of the pain that was felt that awful day. Our pain has subsided but for those who lost family members, it never goes away.
Walking through the museum one never knows what might touch the heart or cause you to tear up. My husband was particularly affected by the Maasi Tribe, who felt so bad for our country’s loss that they offered up 14 of their prized cows to be sent as a gift. The shipment to America of cattle never happened because of financial and health concerns, but there is a special spot for the herd in Kenya where they are cared for and are free to roam. You can read the entire story here but go grab a tissue first. I don’t think anyone can get through the tale without a lump in the throat.
Happy New Year!
My first New Year’s resolution is to stop neglecting this blog! Coming soon…Big Sur, San Francisco and Christmastime in NYC
Meanwhile, I’m redirecting you to hypeorlando and my tribute to Dr. Taylor and his wife, Jane, who both passed away earlier this month…Quack, Quack and Cheerio!
Next stop, Portland, Oregon
Finally, getting to Chapter 2 of our summer trip out West…we left Washington DC before dawn, heading to Portland, Oregon, to meet up with an old grammar and high school classmate, Bob Burgan. Bob and Mary extended an invitation to stay with them a couple of nights at their beach house in Manzanita. I haven’t seen Bob since high school but have reconnected through FaceBook and have been intrigued by his photos of Manzanita, which is just south of Cannon Beach. It’s a 90 minute drive from Bob and Mary’s lovely house in downtown Portland, west to the coast. When you reach the westernmost point and head south to Manzanita, the view of the ocean is phenomenal…it most definitely qualifies as a “Holy shit!” moment.
The stroll from the Burgan/McArthur house to the beach is a short one and stepping out from the grassy path onto the shore is a shock to the senses. This is a much different view than our east coast shoreline. The Pacific is not as forgiving and the rocky cliffs in the distance make for treacherous waves. I just had to dip my toes to check out the temperature when a rogue wave caught me up to my knees. And, yes, it was cold!
Bob and Mary’s pup, Nola, loves the beach and was in constant motion. The next day Bob took us on a short hike from the Oregon Coast Highway to Oswald West State Park, another beach with magnificent views, this time with surfers taking to the waves. Unlike Florida beaches, the water is so cold the surfers have to be covered head to toe before making their way into the frigid water. Tsunami warnings and evacuation route signs dot the roadway. An issue we, on the east coast, don’t think twice about.
We spent the rest of the day being shown Bob’s old haunts…he’s been living in Oregon since the ‘70’s and knows EVERYBODY in Manzanita. This was proven over and over again on our journey. Bob is a story in itself and his most recent escapades can be found in the Habitat for Humanity Disaster Corps newsletter. Years ago, he fell off a mountain and lived to talk about it but was left with a crooked leg which can be seen in some of the photos. It doesn’t hold him back, however. I don’t think anything’s going to kill Bob Burgan. (Well, I take that back, maybe Mary will!)
Back in Portland, we were dropped off at a boutique hotel on the Willamette River, the River’s Edge Hotel & Spa, which is just a couple of blocks from a Portland Streetcar stop. (Got a really good deal through Priceline) The mass transportation opportunities are abundant and provide an inexpensive way to tour the city. Before we said goodbye to the Burgans, however, they took us for an early evening walk around the International Rose Test Gardens which, as the name implies, serves as a testing facility for new rose varieties. The park covers 4.5 acres with over 7,000 plants. It’s a sensory overload of color and fragrance…a truly amazing place.
Later, we dined at Meriwether’s, sharing a generous portion of Paella with local craft beers. Our time with Bob and Mary will never be forgotten. The bond that is forged in childhood never seems to break and our respective spouses added to the enjoyment of reconnecting at a stage of our lives where we appreciate the value of friendship.
The next day we were on our own to explore the city and we fell in love. Portland is a progressive town that felt, to us, like home. I have a feeling we will be spending a lot more time there in the future. Divided by the Willamette River, we took the streetcar over the bridge to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) where we toured the USS Blueback, a Naval submarine which was assigned to Pearl Harbor, among other places, and is currently a permanent fixture at the OMSI.
We then headed back over the bridge to the Pearl District, which houses the famous Powell’s City of Books, taking up a full block, chock full of tomes for the taking. Just walk in with a bag of books to trade and you can walk out with a new collection. It’s a busy place. The city is also home to Portland State University, which is bisected by the streetcars giving riders a mini tour of the campus. For the most part the weather in Portland, and Manzanita, was pleasant and cool for the middle of summer, except for our day in the city when the temps reached 97 degrees…an anomaly for the mercury to reach that level. It was manageable, however, as the humidity level was so low, and we all know “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity!”
After our night at the River’s Edge, we were driven (complimentary) to Union Station where we were to start the next leg of our journey on Amtrak’s Coast Starlight, overnight, to San Francisco. More on that in the next chapter.
Having grown up in Orlando before the city was just a glimmer in the eye of Walt Disney, my parents would take family and friends visiting from the North to Lake Eola, in the heart of downtown. The lake’s green-domed fountain was a favorite of visitors and locals alike. A nighttime drive-by provided a colorful sight, complete with oohs and ahs as the jets of water shot to heights, not quite as soaring as Lake Geneve’s Jet D’Eau, but high enough to amaze and delight. A leisurely walk around the lake was usually in order during the day where one could hop on a Swan Boat to explore the fountain close-up and take in the sights along the shore.
Over the years the fountain has taken hits from lightning; the latest almost caused its permanent demise when funding was scarce to repair the electrical system and get the waterworks back in working order. However, successful fundraising got the job done and our showpiece was returned to its former glory, and then some.
Recently with the help of the non-profit See Art Orlando, private funds were collected to bring a gaggle of artistic sculptures along the perimeter of the lake, turning the area into a virtual arts-appreciation learning experience. See Art Orlando’s mission is “to enhance the aesthetic experience and cultural image of Downtown Orlando.” I’d say they achieved that worthy mission in spades.
My personal favorite, “Monument in Right Foot Major”, by Todji Kurtzman, resides in the southeast area of the park. Caste in bronze, it creates the look of determination but also might give one a feeling of being stuck in the mud, on a day when it is difficult just putting one foot in front of the other. Whatever the interpretation, I just know that it makes me feel good when I see it.
A few steps away you will encounter “Cedar of Lebanon”, by Jacob Harmeling of Orlando, a three-story high sculpted tree which is particularly impressive at night with its subtle lighting from within.
“Discovery Muse”, by artist Meg White, is an enormous body at rest with hand extended, as if inviting a weary traveler to rest in her palm. My visit on this day was during a cold snap which caused her to be blanketed with a sheet to keep the greenery covering her from the harsh temps. (Yes, Orlando winters sometimes dip into the twenties!)
Douwe Blumberg’s “Take Flight” represents a sight we have seen many times, a flock of birds, perhaps startled, suddenly flying into the air in a group. The visual experience of this sculpture changes with the setting sun and is dramatically lit at night.
The artist Ralfonso created “Union”, on the northeast corner of Lake Eola. He describes the sculpture as “wind-driven kinetic stainless steel/aluminum sculpture” with multiple “wings” moving with the breeze. A fellow admirer of this piece told me that he imagines the spirits of deceased loved ones causing the parts to move.
These are just a sampling of the many works of art surrounding our jewel of a lake in the middle of downtown Orlando. If you’re making the trip to central Florida for the I-Drive experience, you might enjoy getting away from the tourists and taking an afternoon to meet the “other” Orlando. The Swan Boats are still operating so hop on and experience Orlando like a local.
A one-way ticket to Orlando
After seven years of “sort of” retiring to New Smyrna Beach, we have decided it is time to rejoin the living and move back to O-town. Not that beachside living is the place people go to die…it’s just that making a vacation town your full time residence is a bit isolating in terms of diversity. Depending on the time of year, the demographics of a beach town goes from snow birds to spring breakers to day-trippers to bikers…99.9% of which are white, Anglo and straight…not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Don’t get me wrong, the town of New Smyrna Beach is lovely and the full-timers made for wonderful neighbors and loyal friends. We were so grateful to have the ocean just a short walk away when we had our grandsons visiting, or living, with us. The beach is a giant playground where they can make as much noise as they want and expend enough energy to make them collapse into bed at night.
However, the culture of the area is different than that of Orlando. It was like a seven year vacation and we were ready to go home. Now, in the right place at the right time in our lives, we couldn’t be happier to be back in the middle of a diverse city among people who are in the business of living their lives and enjoying the downtown urbanity that the City Beautiful has to offer.
Below are a few photos of our new digs for anyone interested…
St. Augustine…not just for school field trips anymore
Living in Central Florida all our lives, we are very familiar with the St. Augustine School Field Trip. As a student, myself, I was bussed to the oldest city in the U.S. as part of my eighth grade trip, circa 1962, to see the Cross and Sword, which later was designated as the official Florida state play. Years later when my children were in school, they each trekked to the old city with mom in tow as a chaperone. Just this past summer, my husband and I took our oldest grandsons for a tour of the Castillo de San Marcos and a glimpse into history.
Recently, however, we were given the opportunity to visit St. Augustine without children along for the ride, rediscovering a city full of culinary and cultural surprises. Our newfound experience of this historical town created a feeling of European ambience with narrow brick lanes leading to our lodging of choice, the St. Francis Inn, on St. George Street. Here we were welcomed to an inviting suite complete with complimentary sherry, to be sipped on the wrap-around porch in rocking chairs, surrounded by lush, native Florida landscaping. Our hosts, Joe and Margaret Finnegan, provided an atmosphere of warmth and hospitality, while enlightening us on the Inn’s historical past. After each day of exploring the city, we enjoyed a relaxing time in the courtyard with a selection of evening wines and desserts along with ghostly tales from our hosts.
The St. Francis Inn’s Gardeness, Jill Ziebell, schooled us in her techniques for preserving the grounds with natural Florida flowers and shrubs. As a Master Gardener and Master Naturalist, Jill exudes passion for her craft and calls her own design style “Artistic European with Historic Flavor.” She is a true earth mother and the St. Francis benefits from her expertise.
Our culinary experience in St. Augustine left us amazed at the diverse menus available and the passion of the chefs who deliciously hone their craft. Our gastronomic journey started at the Bistro de Leon on Cathedral Place, where we met Chef Jean-Stephane Poinard of Lyon, France. He states, “When you cook, you have to love people. My cuisine is like a symphony; I cook to the rhythms of music…” Chef Poinard welcomed us with tasty samplings of his creations and left us feeling loved.
Earlier this year, a new attraction took over the two acres on St. George Street which previously housed the Colonial Spanish Quarter. A multi-million dollar renovation created the Colonial Quarter which includes a unique experience of sixteenth through eighteenth century life in the Nation’s Oldest City. The endeavor is partnered with the University of Florida and provides an educational, historical and adventurous experience for all ages. The attention to historical accuracy is obvious, the hands-on encounters with the past are priceless, and you won’t see mouse ears or death defying roller coasters anywhere on site. We had an enjoyable time among actors portraying British and Spanish characters with enthusiasm and charm.
After our adventure we were treated to lunch at La Taberna del Caballo, on the Colonial Quarter property, providing a sampling of menu items from Cuban fingers to cheese fondue to flatbreads of all variety. Pair that with sangria worthy of a two hour nap and you get a fantastic meal prepared by Chef Murphy Leathers, who graced us with his presence. We waddled back to the St. Francis Inn where the aforementioned nap was in order.
Later that evening, we were hosted by Photographer Hookey Hamilton and her goldsmith husband, Joel Bagnal, on the balcony of their 211 year old home overlooking the harbor. Stories of their home’s history, ghostly events and their serendipitous meeting, made the cocktail hour a special time to get to know this lovely couple. Their home reflects the love and passion they have poured into their craft.
More food on the horizon when we walked to Meehan’s Irish Pub and were greeted with wine, whiskey and superb food. John Meehan’s passion for fresh ingredients made for a delightful menu of Grilled Lamb on a Stick, Steak ‘n Stout Stew in Pastry and Bangers & Mash, among others. The daily house-made Irish Cream was the kiss of the Blarney Stone. John’s secret recipe was the perfect ending to our little trip to Ireland.
Breakfast, the next morning, at the Hot Shot Bakery started with a chocolate dipped datil pepper, which this cowardly diner just couldn’t bring herself to try. I stuck with Sherry Stoppelbein’s Pumpkin Pecan Waffles with homemade Caramel Sauce and bananas which were delectable. However, Sherry’s Wall of Flame exhibits hundreds of photos of more adventurous diners who dared to take a bite. A Minorcan staple, St. Augustine is the leading producer of datil peppers in the U.S.
The rest of our day included a visit to “57 Treasury” with Karin Sufalko who created wonders with discarded palm fronds, turning them into works of art. Karin is from the Bavarian region of Germany and exudes the warmth and friendliness we encountered on our trip there last year. Her stories, told while creating a masterpiece floral arrangement, were as whimsical as her shoes.
More food was in store as we joined Tour St. Augustine for a lunch excursion which included the Old City House Inn & Restaurant’s presentation of cod on a bed of lemon grass mushroom risotto with pea puree and mango dash (my personal favorite of the trip); Athena Cafe’s flaming cheese and Minorcan clam chowder; and dining al fresco at The Gourmet Hut for a crabmeat salad with mango nectar and a blackberry platz crumb cake.
St. Augustine Vintage Car Tours gave us a ride back to the Inn on their electric-powered shuttles, where we were treated to a cooking class with Janice Leary who showed us her Strawberry Fruit Soup, Eggs in a Basket and Swan Cream Puff techniques. Janice runs a tight ship and manages to feed many appreciative guests each morning with an array of menu choices culminating each year in a Holiday pairing of desserts with the “12 Days of Christmas,” thus the Swan Cream Puffs for the Seven Swans-a-Swimming.
Not knowing how we could possibly have room for another meal, we later walked to O. C. (Outta Control) White’s for dinner overlooking the historic Bridge of Lions on the Matanzas River. Between courses we were entertained with ghostly tales, by an animated server, about the building which goes back to 1790. (There seems to be a ghost living in every inch of the city.) Live music, shrimp and grits with cool evening breezes…it doesn’t get any better.
A farewell brunch at the St. Francis, the next morning, surprised us with a visit by Henry Flagler himself, a dapper gentleman, worth millions, who put St. Augustine on the map in terms of becoming a winter destination for wealthy northerners. His stories transported us back to an earlier time when customs were quite different and men of his stature were the definition of genteel. Try as we might, we couldn’t get him to fall out of character. He was quite surprised to hear that there was a college named after him! (Flagler was portrayed by the actor John Stavely, the Colonial Quarter’s Director of Historic Programming.)
Our whirlwind visit certainly gave us a new perspective on the Oldest City and will be our destination of choice when we crave the flavors of Europe and the historical experiences of our country at its inception. Once you have chaperoned the mandatory school field trips, return for the grown up version of St. Augustine and you won’t be disappointed.
Next stop St. Augustine’s oldest inn…the St. Francis
On our way today to the St. Francis Inn, an historic bed and breakfast in St. Augustine. We’re looking forward to three days of fun, food, history, food, ghost tales, and more food! Previous trips to this old city were with children or grandchildren in tow but this time we are on our own and not having to worry about picky eaters or “where’s the closest potty”. Gastronomical posts and photos to follow…
Grammy’s Summer Camp
What’s a grandma to do when charged with the care of 7 and 8 year old grandsons for a month in the summer? This kind of challenge might empty one’s wallet if the plans include visits to theme parks in the area, not to mention the pain of dealing with massive crowds and oppressive heat. We found an inexpensive solution locally in our nature preserves, environmental centers and National Parks which didn’t break the bank and proved educational for all of us…no, really, the kids did have fun without knowing they were actually learning something useful.
A perk of aging (read 62) is the $10 one time price of a lifetime pass to all national parks across the country. We took advantage of this and made numerous trips to the Canaveral National Seashore, saving the entry fee, a mere $5 per auto, but when added up comes to a chunk of change. Just driving into Yellowstone National Park can set a tourist back $25 but with the senior pass one can take as many days as they’d like to explore without a fee.
Canaveral National Seashore is a jewel of a park and provided many hours of educational fun for the boys. Their Junior Ranger program turns kite flying, boogie boarding and turtle nest watching into fun activities while teaching important lessons about the environment, laws of physics as well as beach safety. It was gratifying to see them put down the video games and find awesome adventures in this natural habitat.
Turtle hatching season is sacred here on the east coast, so we were excited to be able to witness the excavation of a hatched turtle nest. The Park Ranger dug deep to find approximately 80 eggs, most of which had hatched properly while a few had not fertilized and were intact. The little rangers got to hold the un-hatched eggs and feel the soft, leathery shells, unlike the brittle shells of chicken eggs. They learned that the baby turtles who survived and found their way into the ocean will return to this exact spot many times during their lives to lay their own eggs, regardless of how far they venture from this part of the coast.
The simple act of boogie boarding brought valuable information about beach safety as a lifeguard sketched a typical rip current diagram in the sand, along with teaching measures to take when caught up in one. A fun hour was spent with a Park Ranger who enjoyed the activity as much as they did, while educating them in the nature of waves. Catching wave after wave, and riding them into shore made for some happy, and exhausted, campers.
Kite flying was also turned into a learning experience, comparing its flight with the wings of pelicans. The boys learned to keep the kite above the dunes which can block necessary winds for a successful glide.
The Marine Science Center, in Ponce Inlet, also provided some excitement when they released rehabilitated loggerhead turtles back into the ocean. On one occasion we witnessed the liberation of three turtles, the largest of which seemed to wave at us as he was whisked away on the waves. Listening to the boys’ speculation as to where these sea turtles would wind up was proof that their imaginations can be triggered by something other than the Mario Brothers.
We also visited St. Augustine’s Castillo de San Marcos, another National Park allowing the use of the Senior Pass, where the boys reveled in the views from top of the fortress. The dank, dark storage rooms throughout brought up conjecture about what it would have been like to live in the 1700’s when the structure was necessary for the safety of the town. The explosive cannon blasts, the bridge across the moat…all provided a wide-eyed experience that will create memories for a lifetime. History becomes a lot more realistic and relative when you can touch it.
When it was time to pack up and take them home, we knew our time was well spent when the oldest stated, “This was the best summer ever, grandma!” And, best of all, we don’t have “It’s a small world after all” stuck in our heads.
Black Dolphin Inn earns BedandBreakfast.com Top Ten Award
BedandBreakfast.com recently named the Black Dolphin Inn, New Smyrna Beach, FL, among their 2013 Top Ten Beach B&B’s. Sharing the list are Inns throughout the United States, Canada, France and Mexico…quite a big deal for our little seaside town.
Having just opened in February of 2013, this award arrives on the heels of The Guardian’s recommendation as their Top Ten B&B’s and Guesthouses in Florida. This is high praise for such a new inn.
The awards are well-deserved as the Innkeepers have paid attention to every detail and consider their guests’ comfort first and foremost. The rooms are to die for, the breakfasts tastefully creative and the classy, beachy ambiance provides a relaxing atmosphere in which to unwind.
Congrats and thanks to the Smiths for providing a fabulous getaway to weary travelers and beachgoers who are looking for a home away from home while being pampered at the same time!
Shivering in Niagara
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…
Remember, it’s all about the kids…
Over the weekend we celebrated our eight year old grandson’s birthday with a road trip to Nickelodeon Resorts & Suites. The Friday afternoon traffic through Orlando on I-4 reminded us why we choose not to go out that way unless we really have to. Bumper to bumper for no apparent reason, it always amazes me how traffic crawls on four lanes with no wrecks at which to gawk and no rain to cause a backup.
Check-in was seamless with the announcement of Carter’s birthday over a bull horn, which was much appreciated by the shy birthday boy. We booked through Travelocity with a room rate of $134. Add to that a “resort fee” of $30 per night and you can do the math. I have always thought the extra cost to be like a car lot with the “dealer fee” added. Just give us the total amount to rent the room, with no surprise fees tacked on. Charging extra kind of insults one’s intelligence.
Another pet peeve, usually with more expensive hotels, is the lack of WiFi in the rooms. This place didn’t even offer it with an added fee, only available in the common areas. However, the rooms are supposed to be equipped with a hard-wire to connect a laptop to the internet. Not so in our room, though, and when I went downstairs to secure the missing wire I was told that our particular room was not able to get the internet via DSL and they insisted on moving us to another room. Several hours later we were in a new room with the aforementioned cord plugged into the wall. All of this hoopla was for naught, however, when we realized our laptop and net book weren’t configured for their method of accessing the internet anyway. Much ado about nothing just to stay connected to cyberspace. Actually, it was nice to take a break from email and FaceBook for the weekend.
The two-bedroom unit was very comfortable with a separate bedroom for gma and gpa, another room with twin beds for the older boys, and a foldout sofa in the living room for mom and Isaiah. The kitchenette included a tiny fridge, microwave and sink, which gave us the option to store our own drinks and snacks. Since the resort is for kids, we didn’t worry about the boys getting noisy, and we weren’t bothered by anyone else in the building. The beds were comfy and we slept well.
The food court “mall” offers a couple of buffet restaurants, a Subway, pizza place, a cafe that sells Starbucks coffee along with bagels, donuts, breakfast sandwiches, etc. Pricewise, this was the best choice for breakfast as the buffet is expensive and the character breakfast is extremely pricey. Get to the mall early to avoid lines of grumpy, bleary-eyed parents scrambling for their caffeine fix.
The heated pools are made for kids – a huge lagoon with slides, kiddie areas, and daily sliming was a big hit. A smaller pool, near our room, proved popular with our guys as it came with a calmer atmosphere and a separate area for the little ones. The security situation around the pools was stellar; always a presence of at least four, very vigilant, lifeguards. We witnessed one female lifeguard standing in the shallow area scanning the water very methodically, every quadrant of the section to which she was assigned. Shift changes occurred regularly, so they wouldn’t get passive in a situation with so many kids in and out of the pool. It seems impossible to stay on top of everyone, but they did a great job, even rescuing one little guy who went under, with no parent nearby. The lifeguards jumped right in and pulled him out while the mom nonchalantly took him, with no sense of urgency or thanks to the young people who saved him from drowning. We went away with the secure feeling that if one of our kids was out of our sight for a second, they were being watched by professionals.
Of course there is no accounting for parents behaving badly. We saw several dads, over the course of the weekend, imbibing heavily, and witnessed one being demanding of staff but not making any sense in his drunken state. The staff, in turn, was very polite and just kept smiling and trying to help. Kudos to the staff over the entire weekend…they were very professional and always with a smile.
One of the free perks was a shuttle bus to Disney, so Saturday night we rode to the Magic Kingdom where we caught the monorail to the Polynesian Hotel and enjoyed an inexpensive dinner at Capt. Cooks, then headed out to the lakefront where Peter Pan was being shown on a big screen. At 8 p.m. the fireworks started which were enjoyed by all, especially the big kids, while sipping a fruity glass of sangria. The boys had a great time; the weather was perfect, sitting on the beach with a full moon felt so relaxing after a frenetic day with three wild and crazy kids. We then took a boat to the Magic Kingdom where we caught the riverboat to the transportation center, and then the shuttle back to the hotel. Taking advantage of free stuff at Disney is always a favorite.
Nobody does it like Disney, however, so do not expect that kind of experience at Nickelodeon. However, if I were the eight year old child celebrating a birthday, I wouldn’t complain about a thing. The bottom line is that the kids were thrilled and that’s why we were there.
What to do on spring break…
Just got back from a long Holiday trip and already ready for a short getaway. Methinks we got bit by the travel bug and we’ve turned into junket junkies. Gma and Gpa duties will suspend during the second week of March, for Spring break, and we were thinking of a restful, warm cruise but just not completely sold on that idea. Then, lo and behold, I was perusing the Sanford-Orlando International Airport site, looking for Allegiant Airlines destinations, and Niagara Falls popped up with ridiculously cheap fares…as in $250 for a non-stop round trip for both of us. And, Toronto is only an hour and a half drive away. Of course, there might be a reason for the low fares…we’d basically be flying into Buffalo, NY, in March. Perhaps, the worst of the winter weather is over with Nemo having found his way to the northeast. Anyone have any experience with visiting the Falls in March? Sounds like another adventure to me!
Traveling as a “Boomer”
Today’s New York Times piece, In Travel, We’re All Boomers Now, we see yet another take on Baby Boomers…I’m getting a bit bored with the term, which groups those of us born between the years 1946 and 1964. A lot of us from that generation do not want to age (self included) and are fighting the stereotypes of aging (grandparents, retirees, The Villages, etc.) and are still experiencing that rebellious attitude of the 1960’s as we sprint through our 60’s. We are no longer rebelling against authority and the establishment…but rebelling against being type-cast as the plump, gray-haired, rocking chair bound, geriatric of our parent’s generation (well, I’ve got the “plump” down but still fighting that affliction).
When we travel, a lot of us do not want to join a tour group and be part of the herd on the bus…we’re a bit more independent and adventurous when choosing to explore foreign lands. “Whether it’s a yen for Wi-Fi in the Serengeti or a disdain for bus tours, boomers’ latest needs, whims and aspirations are determining 2013’s large and small vacation trends.” This passage brings to mind Bob B., from the class of ’66, who is about to depart on an African voyage, looking for ways to stay connected globally while on a safari.
As usual, the online comments to this article are just as interesting and informative as the article itself….