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Half Moon Cay, Bahamas

Half Moon Cay, Bahamas

Clients are in Half Moon Cay, Bahamas this week aboard a Holland America cruise. I ran across this picture I took last spring while I was there and thought I’d share it as I think about them. This is a private island in the Bahamas that HAL cruisers get to enjoy. The crescent beach is beautiful, the sand is powdery, and the colors are obviously magnificent.

The Bahamas sport such wonders on all their islands. I’d love to help you plan a vacation there, whether by land or by sea. Call 561-841-2224 or e-mail at susan@susanmcdanielttravel.com.

Travel Tips from Susan McDaniel Travel Facebook Page, Part 1

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Travel Tips from Susan McDaniel Travel Facebook Page

Visit my Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/susanmcdanieltravel.com
Or check out my blog at
www.susanmcdanielcruisenews.wordpress.com

 

Every week on my Facebook page I offer up travel tips. Here’s a compilation of some recent tips.

Your travel tip of the week: Go to Wal Mart and buy a few disposable rain coats/ponchos for your trip. They are cheap, don’t take up much room, and might come in very handy!

Your travel tips of the week: On your next cruise take along one of those magnetic bag clips. They will stick to the walls and help keep all the papers and notices you receive organized in one place!

Travel tip of the week: Don’t let your toothbrush sit on the counter in the hotel bathroom. Take the paper cup provided for the coffee and punch a hole in the bottom. Turn it upside down and insert the toothbrush handle. Voila!

Your travel tip of the week comes from my friend JoAnn: If you wear sandals to the airport, stash a pair of socks in your carry on. Put them on when you take your shoes off for security. It is downright creepy to be walking barefoot where a million other feet have been.

Your travel tip of the week: Before you drive away in that rental car, use your camera or phone and take pictures of the car from every angle. Use a time/date stamp. May save you a world of headaches later!

Susan McDaniel Travel’s travel tip of the week: Do not get hit with crazy “talk, text, data” bills when you travel. Just because your phone, I-pad, etc. works overseas or on the cruise ship, that doesn’t mean you should use it without thinking. Get an international SIM card and avoid the after-vacation sticker shock!

Susan McDaniel Travel’s travel tip of the week: Save those perfume and cologne samples that come in magazines and direct mail. Use them when you travel. No liquids to lug or worry about spilling or getting through security, and you can still be nicely scented.

More tips to come at a later date….or visit me on Facebook at Susan McDaniel Travel and get this information and a lot more.

How to Choose the Correct Cruise Line

Generally, cruisers start with one cruise line and tend to stick with that brand. This loyalty is good to a point, but don’t let it restrict your cruise experiences. Cruises can all be quite different  depending on your choice of cruise lines. Like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates, cruising offers many choices. Here’s a quick, and absolutely non-inclusive, primer on cruise lines.

AMA waterways: River cruising at its best. Known for their wine cruises in the fall, after harvest time, for bargain prices. But luxury anytime.

Avalon: River cruising with the added benefit of cooperative tours in every port. Immersion in your destinations along the great waterways of Europe.

Azamara: The small-ship line of Royal Caribbean/Celebrity. Their forte is overnight stays, longer stops,and  night tours for the full experience of each port of call. Especially great for European sailings. Will not disappoint.

Carnival: The “fun” ships are geared towards just that. Inexpensive, lots of activity, sometimes criticized for being too loud, very popular with groups. Good for the partying crowd. Lots of bars, DJ’s, comedy clubs. “Fun for all. All for fun!” Here is a Carnival ship all decked out for fun.

The Port of New Orleans has a cruise line term...

Celebrity: Sophisticated, modern luxury ships, stand outs for their spa experiences and cuisine. More expensive, but good value for the price. Any age group looking for upscale experience. The premium line of the Royal Caribbean group.

Crystal: Luxury cruising all the way. No one doesn’t like Crystal. Pricey, but sometimes run nice specials.

Cunard: Old-world elegance, traditional cruising. Beautiful ships. Excellent for transatlantic crossings. A step above Holland America, but in the same family.

Disney: You’d think it was just for kids, but it’s not. Consistently top-ranked ships for food and service. Families love it, of course, but adults have their own areas. This Disney ship calls Port Canaveral, FL home.

English: Disney Cruise Lines' Disney Wonder in...

Holland America: Refined elegance and traditional cruising. Some complaints that the cruisers are too old, but a great line for peace, quiet, romance for the over 50 crowd. Larger cabins than most. Mid-priced, but considered a premium line of the Carnival parent company.

Caribbean cruising by Susan McDaniel Travel

The Holland America Noordam in St. Thomas

MSC: Family-owned line known for its cleanliness and top-notch entertainment.  Quiet ships. You may not have heard of  them, but you should know them.

Norwegian: Known for “Freestyle Cruising” because of its unconventional and innovative nature. Good for the individualist and individuals. The newest ship, the Epic, now has studio cabins for solo-travelers. Mid-price range. The Norwegian ship below sports beautiful murals.

Norwegian Cruise Lines Pearl and Star in Skagway

Oceania: Deluxe cruising on smaller ships with emphasis on cuisine. Price point higher than most.

Paul Gauguin: Tahiti, Fiji, Bora Bora. THE line for the South Pacific. Small-ship cruising to amazing ports. Usually offer free air from LA and sometimes 2 for 1 sailings. Gauguin will take you to Bora Bora in style (below).

English: Mount Otemanu in Bora Bora

Princess: Relaxed, comfortable elegance. Total pampering. Their motto is “escape completely” because they tend to every detail, unobtrusively. For the total getaway consumer. Mid-priced. Princess knows Alaska. It’s the only choice for this destination. Ask me about it. I am a certified Princess Alaska Expert.

Regent: Luxury cruising and a price to match.

Royal Caribbean:  Active travelers, but appeals to every age. You don’t have to participate in all the activity. You can just watch, too. Fitness buffs will love all the options. Well-priced, well-kept ships.  New emphasis on food: farm-to-table fresh menus. (The Allure sports 25 restaurants!) Everyone loves Royal!

Caribbean cruising by Susan McDaniel Travel

Royal Caribbean’s Jewel of the Seas at Labadee, Haiti

Seabourn: Luxury cruising. Pricey, but you’re worth it!

SeaDream Yacht  Club: “It’s Yachting, Not Cruising” on these small-ships. Luxury all the way! 5-star service. You can’t afford not to go on SeaDream. Below is a SeaDream Yacht.

SeaDream II

SilverSea: Small-ship (500 passenger) luxury romance. Goes to rarely-visited ports. Romantic restaurants on board. Spare no expense and go for it! All-suite, all-inclusive.

StarClippers: Real small-ship sailing vessels and a crew that knows how to sail. You can even help. Taking you to the lesser visited ports in the Caribbean, Costa Rica, Panama Canal, Europe.

Viking River Cruises: Luxury along the rivers of Europe. Viking are adding dozens of new “Longships” in 2013 and 2014. The Viking ship here is representative of smaller river cruise ships.

Viking Helvetia River cruise ship on Rhine Riv...

Windstar: Competes with StarClippers. Small-ship sailing vessels but these use the motors more than the sails. Unusually itineraries because the small ships can go where larger vessels can not reach.

Did you know there are so many cruises lines available to you? A cruise line exists for every occasion, destination, and fantasy.

NOT ALL CRUISES END THIS WAY

NOT ALL CRUISES END THIS WAY (Photo credit: roberthuffstutter)

And despite Robert’s caption above, cruises very often turn out that way! You should try one. Begin planning your own at www.susanmcdanieltravel.com or let me do it for you. Call 561-841-2224 or e-mail me at susan@susanmcdanieltravel.com. Cruising is a sweet confection you should enjoy!

Willemstad, Curacao: Do You Think it’s a Successful Mix of Old and New?

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.

Lovely pastel Curacao and a great place for people watching on the waterway

Pastel Dutch-colonial buildings house luxury jewelers and designer retail stores

Cruise ships stay in port late enough for dinner ashore or a casino visit

Cruise ships stay in port late enough for dinner ashore or a casino visit at the ultra- modern resort complex right next to ancient Fort Amsterdam

New resort infinity pool in front of colonial fort and historic buildings

The resort’s infinity pool in front of colonial Fort Amsterdam

Modern cruise ship docked by centuries old fort

Cruise ships dock right in Willemstad too. Notice the fort in the foreground.

Ancient Curacao fort in shadow of Caribbean style skyscraper

Fort Amsterdam in the shadow of one lone Caribbean version of the skyscraper

Crystalline waters against a backdrop of wastewater treatment plants and landfills

Curacao’s crystalline waters exist against a backdrop of wastewater treatment plants, landfills, and oil refineries

Curacao port area

Curacao’s modern port area, designed to look colonial

Great port area to shop and relax

The relaxing port area is adjacent to the neon-enhanced ultra-chic resort/casino complex

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 susan@susanmcdanieltravel.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 .

Five Steps to Smooth Cruise Sailing

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.

Blue water and no white caps

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.

The view you want to see!

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.

Cruising Mt. Pelee

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.

The correct ship is crucial to smooth sailing

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.

Another beautiful cruise day ends!

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 susan@susanmcdanieltravel.com 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.

Are You a Pirate at Heart? Find Out in St. Thomas

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. )

Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, USVI

Looking away from the dock area, Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas

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.

I get into trouble everywhere I go!

Climb to the top of Blackbeard’s lookout tower for a great view

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!

At the Statue of the Virgins you are one-third of the way down the 99-steps. You can see Blackbeard’s lookout tower in the background on the hilltop.

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.

The Amber Waterfall at the Amber Museum

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.

Your sailing ship awaits

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 susan@susanmcdanieltravel.com to finalize your trip details.  The United States Virgin Islands are a national treasure. Even Blackbeard recognized that fact.

Leaving St. Thomas and another perfect cruise day! See you again soon

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 susan@susanmcdanieltravel.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.

Bingo

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 susan@susanmcdanieltravel.com or 561-841-2224 to plan all of the details of your next cruise or land vacation.

The Lazy Traveler’s Guide to Waterfalls in Dominica

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 susan@susanmcdanieltravel.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.

Home Again!

Just home from a wonderful 9-day Southern Caribbean cruise aboard Holland America’s Noordam. It was our third time aboard the Noordam. She is a lovely ship. Our adventure began with an amazing Meet and Greet of Cruise Critic members. HAL pulled out all the stops for that get-together! Then we proceeded to St. Martin, St. Lucia, Dominica, St. Thomas, and Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas. I have several hundred photos and some incrdeible videos to share once I get all the material organized. I hope you will enjoy experiencing our adventure as I relive it, here on this blog and on Facebook.

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