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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
It’s just a fun family kind of place that you shouldn’t miss on a visit to Florida.
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?
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or do some research on your own at www.susanmcdanieltravel.com . 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!
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.
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.
4.) Do have lunch in one of the many Irish pubs.
Don’t rush. And don’t stick to your diet, either.
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.
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.
7.) Do drop by the New York 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.
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.
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 email@example.com for information and schedules.
After the last blog post about avoiding seasickness on a cruise, readers wanted more specific suggestions. In “Five Steps to Smooth Cruise Sailing” I suggested that you entrust your travel consultant with many of the arrangements to make you and your party comfortable. I still recommend that you do this, but here are seven more specific tips.
1.) Get an outside cabin with a balcony. You want to be able to see the horizon as a stable point of reference if you start feeling wobbly. The fresh air will also help.
2.) Get the biggest cabin you can afford so you don’t feel closed in and confined. You will feel like you are in a luxurious hotel rather than on a ship!
3.) Let your travel consultant chose the cabin’s location. You want to be in the middle of the ship, on a lower level, to prevent as much motion as possible.
4.) Stay hydrated! Drink lots of water and eat lightly (if you can resist all the goodies!) for the first day or two.
5.) Don’t have your heart set on a specific itinerary. Be flexible. Due to routes and ocean currents at certain times of the year, you will be more comfortable leaving from Miami or Fort Lauderdale, Florida in the winter months rather than leaving from a more northerly port. Then, in the Caribbean for example, you will feel better if you head east initially through the protected waters of the Bahamas, and turn south rather than heading straight south to Aruba and then heading north. There are many variables and these are only suggestions. Let your travel consultant scrutinize your chosen itinerary and make suggestions.
6.) Caribbean waters are generally calmer when you travel in the fall after hurricane season ends November 30 (or even mid-November), and spring (March-May). Other areas have their own “seasons.”
7.) Stick with the ships that have state-of-the-art stabilizers. Your travel consultant can guide you to the right choice.
You can never be sure that there won’t be some rocky days, but you can certainly increase your odds of smooth sailing by doing these simple things. If you have any questions at all, don’t hesitate to contact me at 561-841-2224 or firstname.lastname@example.org. An unfounded fear of rough seas prevents too many people from enjoying the wonderful experience of cruising. Don’t you be one of them. Once you cruise you will definitely do it again. I’d love to be the one to introduce you to this type of vacation.
Willemstad, Curacao: Is it old? Is it new? Is it a successful mixture of the two?
Royal Dutch/Shell Company built one of the world’s biggest refineries on the island of Curacao to refine Venezuelan oil. After all, Venezuela is only 35 miles away. The influx of refinery workers from around the globe created a diverse and lively population, a mix of many cultures and races. Then tourism grew and the resultant growth created a mix of colonial treasures and modern attractions. Cutting-edge shopping, entertainment, and dining live side-by-side with historical reminders of the island’s legacy of changing colonial rule. Integrating all of these changes has been a challenge. Look at these pictures and see if you think the integration has been successful.
Do you think the integration of old and new was a success in Willemstad? As a cruise ship visitor you will love the easy access to many great points of interest, all an easy stroll from the ship. Still, the contrasts of Curacao are not subtle. But the sometimes jarring juxtapositions do not detract from the fairy- tale feel of the historic area, or the energy that exudes from the island. You’ll have a great time here whether by cruise ship or a land vacation.
Contact me at 561-841-2224 or e-mail at email@example.com to arrange your next vacation to the Caribbean. This area is my specialty and I will see that your trip is custom designed for you. Start your planning at www.susanmcdanieltravel.com .
Cruise rookies worry way too much about getting seasick. This issue shouldn’t be a problem for most cruisers, but there are five steps you can take to assure yourself of smooth sailing.
Step one: Find a travel agent with boating experience. Cruise experience does not count. You want someone familiar with boating basics like currents, prevailing winds, and other environmental factors that affect your journey. It’s best to work with Mother Nature rather than work against her.
Step two: Let your concerns be known. It is completely normal to be concerned about getting seasick on your cruise vacation, but most people are embarrassed to even mention it. Don’t be embarrassed! Speak up so we can make sure you have a wonderful trip.
Step three: Be flexible on your dates of travel, your itinerary, and the cruise line. Different times of year are less apt to be rough, as are different routes. If you want to go the Caribbean, for example, think about going later in the spring or in the fall. If you want a winter Caribbean getaway, be open to starting your cruise out of San Juan or points south.
Step four: Trust that your travel advisor has your best interests at heart. The location of a cabin or the choice of a ship has a big impact on the motion of the ocean. You may be asked to pay a bit more for a cabin less prone to motion. Your comfort is well worth the extra $30 or so. Also, listen to your travel advisor’s tips about what ships are equipped with state-of-the-art stabilization systems, and which ones aren’t.
Step five: Visit your doctor and get a prescription for an anti-emetic drug. You will see many people wearing little round “patches” behind their ears. These dispense medication throughout your cruise to keep you comfortable. Be advised, however, that this medication doesn’t work for everyone. It doesn’t work for me. Bring along some Dramamine or Bonine, some crystallized ginger, and ask your travel agent about other remedies before you set sail, just in case.
Getting seasick shouldn’t be much of a concern if you follow these guidelines. Cruising is a fabulous way to have a relaxing, fun-filled vacation. You will never look back once you try it. But that initial trip needs to be the best it can be. You can be a major component in making it so if you follow these steps. Then you’ll wonder why you stayed land-locked for so long! Cruise once and you’ll be hooked. I guarantee it.
Contact me at 561-841-2224 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions about smooth sailing or any cruise related matter. I’d be happy to answer any question you might have. You can also visit my website at www.susanmcdanieltravel.com and start planning your cruise vacation right now.
Start at the top in St. Thomas, USVI. There are lots of ways to do this, but if you think you might be a pirate at heart, start at Blackbeard’s Castle, high above the harbor. Whether you take a tour or take a taxi, chances are you will stop at the overlook on the way to Blackbeard’s. In one direction you will see the cruise ships at dock in Charlotte Amalie; in the other, you will gaze out to the azure sea. (If a man holding a donkey is charging you five dollars “donation” for a picture, then you are in the right place. He says the “donation” is for the ASPCA, but the ASPCA should really rescue the donkey. )
Carry onwards and upwards to Blackbeard’s hangout. This locale has two pools, spacious changing rooms, chaise lounges, and a bar and restaurant, too. The expansive view is just more booty. They make delicious flavored rums here now, so take the tour and taste all of the varieties. Afterwards, you will be in fine spirits to climb the lookout tower and do all of the fun, touristy, pirate-themed photo ops available.
Now begins the descent down the 99- steps from the hilltop to the shopping district below. In between you will pass beautiful historic homes (many with docents giving talks on early island life), bountiful gardens, and statues commemorating various events in St. Thomas’s past. It’s a gradual descent. The 99 steps are not all together in one long staircase!
When you laugh your way to nearly street level (a function of the rum, no doubt), you’ll be ready for the cool oasis of the Amber Museum. The Amber Waterfall welcomes you, and inside you’ll learn about amber from all over the world. Did you know real amber floats in saltwater? It also smells like pine if you hit it with a hot needle. There is apparently a lot of fake amber on the market. I never knew it came in so many colors! The blue-green is especially beautiful, and you can purchase a piece to take home here.
Then it’s off to shop in St. Thomas’s world-class duty-free shopping district. You will land right in the middle of it at the end of your 99- step tour. I suggest seeking out the Belgian Chocolate store in the little mall. You are also very close to the ferry that can whisk you back to your cruise ship if it is docked at Crown Bay instead of right downtown. Take your sword, your eye patch, your pirate hat, and your bottle of authentic island rum and mosey on back to your own sailing ship, just as Blackbeard did hundreds of years ago.
As you leave St. Thomas to a picture perfect sunset, make plans to return. This island never fails to provide a fun time. I’ll tell you about other adventures in future blog posts. You can start planning your own St. Thomas getaway by land or sea at www.susanmcdanieltravel.com . Then contact me at 561-841-2224 or email@example.com to finalize your trip details. The United States Virgin Islands are a national treasure. Even Blackbeard recognized that fact.
“Don’t touch the fruit of the Cannon Ball Tree! It smells like ‘Satan’s feces.’ ” This statement is the most vivid memory I have of our visit to Dominica’s Botanical Gardens. The warning was delivered in the lilting sing-song voice of our tour guide, and it was met with a resounding round of laughter from our group. But we all steered clear of the Cannon Ball Tree fruit. I did wonder what Satan’s feces smelled like, and how anyone would know, but I wasn’t quite curious enough to find out.
The Botanical Gardens lie just outside Roseau, at the base of Morne Bruce, which is the mountain overlooking the town. On our cruise ship tour we had only a fleeting glimpse of the gardens. On another trip, we would spend many hours there exploring. The plantings are extensive, and a captive breeding program provides close up views of the endangered Sisserou and Jacko Parrots. It makes for a perfect picnic spot, as well as a convenient and relaxing stop for birdwatchers visiting Dominica. The plantings encourage a diverse array of birds to visit, so bring your binoculars and listen closely to their songs.
The Spiny Bamboo House was an interesting topiary. We were told it was sometimes used for weddings, anniversaries, and other celebrations. We wondered if “other celebrations” included island “religious” ceremonies. Various forms of voodoo (for lack of a better word) are reportedly still practiced in certain areas of this portion of the Caribbean. The bamboo house’s spooky quality was not lost on us.
The national tree/flower of Dominica is called the Bwa Kwaib. It sports prolific crimson blooms in the spring, but only after shedding all of its leaves. It was chosen to represent this country because it thrives under the harshest conditions, just like Dominica.
According to Frommer’s, the Gardens were established initially to provide Dominica’s farmers with crop diversification. London’s Kew Gardens provided exotic plant seedlings from every tropical outpost to determine what would grow well in Dominica’s climate and soil. The result: everything grew well here.
On your next cruise stop at Dominica, consider a walk to the Botanical Gardens, or take a quick taxi ride there. Pick up a few beers and sandwiches in town and enjoy a nice picnic lunch. The lack of beaches on this island is quite overcome by its incredible natural beauty. I would first encourage a trip to the many waterfalls, rivers, lakes, or the rainforest. If, however, you decide to stay close to Roseau, these Gardens can transport you to a beautiful, tranquil, relaxing Garden of Eden. Just don’t be tempted by the fruit of the Cannon Ball Tree.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 561-841-2224 to plan your trip to Dominica. Or visit my website at
www.susanmcdanieltravel.com and use the tools there to explore any destination you choose. Travel begins with a dream, and I make dreams reality.
Here’s a lovely blog entry from a fellow blogger about St. Maarten. You’ll enjoy the photos!
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.
Departure city tours and pre-cruise stays can be booked through either your cruise line or several wonderful tour companies. Contact me at email@example.com 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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or 561-841-2224 to plan all of the details of your next cruise or land vacation.
Dominica is known as The Nature Isle with good reason. Boasting a multitude of rivers and waterfalls, rainforests, and virtually untouched terrain, Dominica oozes flora and fauna. Adventurous and energetic travelers hike mountains, canyoneer, river raft, and do all manner of active tours. But what’s a lazy person to do? Or someone with physical limitations? We aimed to find out by taking a tour off of the Holland America Noordam called Accessible Dominica.
A comfortable van took twelve of us from the port to three stops: Morne Bruce for a hilltop view of the port of Roseau; the Dominica Botanical Gardens; and finally, way up the winding road to the rainforest and our ultimate destination of Jacko Falls.
Our tour guide dropped us off at a rustic outcropping of Rastafarians in the midst of the rain forest. And I mean rustic. And remote. A hand painted sign announced the location of Jacko Falls. “Refrshing” and “One Humn Famly” it proclaimed. A very happy dreadlocked man greeted us and offered us rum shots, fruit juice, or fresh pieces of papaya and coconut “for a small donation.”
Modern bathrooms were easily accessible and made changing into and out of swimsuits easy work. Locals sold beautiful handmade jewelry, bird feeders, and other items from bamboo huts located adjacent to a cement sidewalk and metal guard rail. Thunderous sounds of water drowned out conversations as we peered over the railing into the rainforest jungle, trying to sneak a peek of Jacko Falls.
A sturdy set of rather steep cement steps descended some seventy feet to the base of the falls. Steps were slippery in spots due to the moisture, but they made the falls accessible to the lazy traveler, as well as those with physical limitations.
Once at the base of the steps, a beautiful stream materialized out of the greenery. It caught the water overflow from the falls and meandered on down the mountain through the rainforest. It’s quite a picturesque scene, but does not prepare you for the beauty of the falls itself. Suddenly the air became mistier, heavy with moisture. It smelled clean and fresh. The sound of the waterfall was deafening.
As you turned towards the sound, the Garden of Eden emerged. It was exquisite and surreal in its beauty. Crystal clear torrents of water crashed into a shallow pool lined with smooth river rocks. To the side is a cave where, no doubt, the Rastafarians hold “religious ceremonies” once the tourists leave. Remnants of a fire were visible. Imagine what this scene would look like at night, by firelight!
A short walk over a gravel path and then some smooth stones led to the pool below the falls. The water was warmer than you might think, and a light blue hue. The entire scene is surrounded by encroaching greenery of all types. The rainforest fauna thrives here and threatens to swallow up the falls and the river it created.
It is all reminiscent of an old Tarzan movie. Huge vines dangled down, seemingly in midair. You wonder if there is another cave behind the waterfall filled with treasure, just like in the old movies. Maybe you want to let out a Tarzan scream as you splash around in the waterfall pool. Do plan to take the plunge at Jacko Falls in Dominica. It is easy to walk in and out of the pool, and it may be a once in a lifetime opportunity. Luckily, the opportunity is available to even the less energetic, less phyically- able adventurers among us.
Allow me to arrange your cruise or land vacation to the Nature Island of Dominica. Call me at 561-841-2224 or e-mail at email@example.com.
Dominica has many other waterfalls you might also enjoy. Among them are Emerald Pool. This one requires more physical effort to reach than Jacko Falls but it is not a strenuous hike. Experienced tour guides are available through your cruise ship or I can make arrangements for you. You will find the beauty in Dominica stays with you long after your vacation is over.