Category Archives: pre-cruise stay

A Walk on Florida’s Wild Side: The Nature Coast

Florida is divided into various “coasts.” There’s the Space Coast at the Kennedy Space Center/Port Canaveral area. There’s the Palm Coast by Palm Beach. There’s the Emerald Coast on the panhandle. And then there’s the Nature Coast that stretches from Clearwater to Ochlocknee Bay on the Gulf side.  Here is “old Florida” at its best. Spanish moss drapes from live oak trees,  endangered Gopher tortoises wander the streets, and life moves at a slower pace. And manatees live here, too.

Floirda travel with manatees

One of the many resident manatees at Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park

Florida travel by Susan McDaniel Travel

Wandering endangered gopher tortoises outnumber the traffic lights

For the tourist, this is the only place in the country where you can swim with manatees. In the dead of summer you can also scallop by snorkeling in shallow waters and catching the tasty crustaceans. And you can visit the Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park.

Florida travel by Susan McDaniel Travel

Welcome to the Wildlife Park

The park has an underwater observatory on a manatee viewing platform in the main spring. You can watch the several manatees that live here in the summer months.  In the winter, though, hundreds congregate here for the warm spring waters. Various tour operators throughout the area arrange snorkel trips to swim with them at any time of year. Check in Crystal River as well as Homosassa. Wandering the park, though, you will see manatees slip through the water at various locations.

Florida travel by Susan McDaniel Travel

The underwater observatory is in the center of the viewing platform

Other animals in the park are mostly native Florida residents. I’m not sure how a hippo joined the group, but Lu the hippo is a crowd-pleaser!

Florida travel by Susan McDaniel Travel

Hippos are obviously not native to Floirda but we love her anyway!

It wouldn’t be a Florida wildlife park without ‘gators. And there are lots of big specimens to oooh and ahhh over. All are securely located behind a fence, as far as we know. A reptile house showcases native snakes, too.

Florida travel by Susan McDaniel Travel

Enough said!

All of the birds on display here are in some way unable to survive in the wild. Flamingoes, pelicans (both white and brown), hawks, owls, and bald eagles all live here. Other wild birds flock to the area of their own accord. From swans to anhingas, to migrating and resident songbirds, you might be surprised at every turn.

Florida travel by Susan McDaniel Travel

Flamingoes aren’t native to Florida but they are an iconic Florida image

It’s just a fun family kind of place that you shouldn’t miss on a visit to Florida.

Florida travel by Susan McDaniel Travel

Channeling my manatee persona

Florida travel by Susan McDaniel Travel

Homosassa Springs is crystal clear

The springs in this area produce an amazing amount of water. It is where Zepherhills Spring water is bottled.  All kinds of sport fish gather at the springs, too. Those are snook in the picture, above. The park also contains a gift shop and small cafe. It takes a few hours to fully travel the entire park, and you can expect crowds in the winter. Why not come during the summer when you can scallop, too?

Florida travel and manatees

The manatees swim all over the springs

This side trip makes a perfect pre- or post- cruise adventure if you are departing out of Tampa, Florida, too.  When you want to play with the manatees, give me a call at 561-841-2224,  e-mail me at or do some research on your own at . I’ll be happy to tell you all the insider secrets you need to enjoy a wonderful experience on Florida’s Nature Coast. It’s one of my favorite places.

Hint: Don’t enter the park off of US 19!


Do’s and Don’t of New York City

More cruise lines than in the past are using New York City as a departure port. The opportunity to discover New York City before or after your cruise, or anytime, gives rise to some do’s and don’t associated with NYC adventure.

1.) Do give yourself more than one day to explore this vibrant city if you can manage to do so.

Don’t miss the chance to spend even one day here if that is all you have available to you.

New York City travel by Susan McDaniel Travel

A beautiful overview of the city from the Empire State Building

2.) Do fly into Newark, NJ if it is cheaper for you than flying into La Guardia. It is easy to get from Newark to Penn Station in NYC via NJ Transit.

Don’t even think about using Amtrak for this short jaunt!

3.) Do plan on seeing the Empire State Building first thing. It will give you perspective and a beautiful overview of the city.

Don’t buy the tickets there! Purchase them ahead of time and cut your wait time in half. I can get tickets for you.

New York City travel by Susan McDaniel Travel

Your destination looms

4.)  Do have lunch in one of the many Irish pubs.

Don’t rush. And don’t stick to your diet, either.

New York City travel by Susan McDaniel Travel

Have lunch at one of the many Irish pubs

5.)  Do dress comfortably and wear sneakers. You will be walking everywhere.

Don’t wear sandals or your blisters will have blisters. Trust me. I know these things.

New York City travel by Susan McDaniel Travel

I loved playing tourist in New York City

6.)  Do stop and have an afternoon cocktail.

Don’t let your cousin talk you into having it at the St. Regis unless you don’t want to be able to afford to eat for a week. Although the Bloody Mary’s are legendary, and delicious.

New York City travel by Susan McDaniel Travel

The bar at the St. Regis, NYC

New York City travel by Susan McDaniel Travel

The drinks are delicious but the bill will knock you over! That’s my cousin. His idea, our bill.LOL 

7.)   Do drop by the New York Public Library.

New York City travel bu Susan McDaniel Travel

5th Ave. and the New York City Public Library

Don’t expect Rockefeller Center to be very impressive unless it is the dead of winter,  the Christmas tree is up, and the ice rink is in use.

New York City travel by Susan McDaniel Travel

Rockefeller Center iin the middle of summer

Rockefeller Center, in New York City.

Rockefeller Center, in New York City. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

8.)   Do enjoy Midtown and save the other areas like the World Trade Center, Wall Street, Chinatown and more for another day.

Don’t think you can see it all.

New York City travel by Susan McDaniel Travel

Looking uptown from the Empire State Building

9.)   Do plan to come back at a later date.

And don’t forget to book your cruise, too. Cunard has the Queen Mary 2 sailing roundtrip  from NYC to St. Thomas, St. Lucia, Dominica, Barbados and St. Kitts departing December 22, 2012. Other itineraries by other cruise lines are also available. Call me at 561-841-2224 or e-mail at for  information and schedules.

Four Tips to Make the Most of Your Cruise Vacation

Here are four tips to make the most of every moment of your cruise vacation!

A Pre-Cruise Stay

Pre-cruise stays and tours in the departure city are a great way to arrive early for your cruise, get into the spirit of your escape, and start your cruise refreshed. You can also book a tour the day before your cruise, or even the morning of departure. Get to know the departure city. It might be Miami, Fort Lauderdale, New York, San Diego, or San Juan.  All are great tourist destinations, not just departure ports. Miami Beach can prime you for that Caribbean vacation with its beachy, playful, fun vibe.

Miami Beach is a great pre-cruise destination

Departure city tours and pre-cruise stays can be booked through either your cruise line or several wonderful tour companies.  Contact me at for a complete rundown on what’s available to you

There is no rush to arrive at the port on embarkation day. Boarding lines can be long and people can get testy;  that’s not the ideal way to start your vacation. It may be better to spend a few hours enjoying the sights of your departure city rather than waiting in line at the cruise terminal. Now that’s a good way to make the most of your cruise.  


Take Advantage of Things to do On Board

Once on board, be sure to read the “ships log” that arrives in your cabin each evening. This “log” lets you make the most of your time onboard by announcing the events for the following day. You’ll want to know when that first run movie in the theatre is scheduled to start; what band is playing in your favorite bar; the menu for the cooking demonstration; where the Scrabble contest, the Karaoke sing-offs, or the Toga party is being held; or what the Bingo Jackpot is worth. Even if you don’t think you might enjoy something, just stop by and see what you think. Memories of these events, and the people in them, are sometimes what linger longest after the cruise is over. And memories make the most of your cruise.


The bingo games onboard have huge jackpots

Doing It All in Port

Once your itinerary is established, but before you even leave home, check out the available tours and shore excursions.

The tours and excursions offered by the cruise line are usually great, but they are not your only alternatives for onshore experiences.  Ask your travel agent for recommendations (my blog is devoted mostly to reviewing shore excursions for you) and peruse travel guides and online sites to familiarize yourself with the attractions at each destination. Then you can customize your own travel experience in each port, should you decide to do so. Attending the port information lectures onboard can actually alert you to where NOT to go if you are looking for an authentic experience rather than one orchestrated by the cruise line.

St. Lucia aerial tram tour

You would miss the natural beauty of most islands without a shore excursion or tour

Whether you decide to use the scheduled tours or develop your own really doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you get off of the ship and enjoy each port you visit to make the most of your cruise. I am a great believer in shore excursions.


Post Cruise Stays

A post-cruise stay helps ease you back into reality.  It may help you make good flight connections for a leisurely trip home, too.  If you are flying a long way to meet the ship you should optimize the time and expense of the trip and add on a few days to enjoy the city of disembarkation. Why not see Disney World when you are in Florida? Or jaunt around Rome? After all, you never know when you might be passing that way again.

Cinderella's Castle at Disney World

You’re going to be in Florida anyway. Why not visit Disney World?


Cruising is an exciting, affordable, and relaxing way to vacation. But be a participant in your own getaway. Take advantage of the pre-cruise tours, the onboard fun, the port activities, a post-cruise stay, and other opportunities to make the most of your cruise.


An insider tip for those of you who have read this far: When driving to catch a cruise ship or flight, remember this tip.

Many hotels near cruise ports and airports allow you to leave your car in their parking lot for the duration of your vacation if you stay there before your cruise or flight. You can save hundreds of dollars in parking or taxi fees with this perk. Think of it as a free night to unwind before your trip!  Contact me at or 561-841-2224 to plan all of the details of your next cruise or land vacation.

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