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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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561-841-2224
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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.

The World is More Accessible Than Ever – Explore, Enjoy, Travel

The World is Now More Accessible Than Ever – Explore and Enjoy It!

The world is now more accessible than ever before. Twenty percent (62 million) of the U.S. population has some form of disability, and the number of these individuals is increasing daily. These people need to, want to, and can travel. If you’re part of that twenty percent, a world of travel awaits you.

Travel professionals such as myself who are accessible travel advocates certified by Special Needs Group www.specialneedsgroup.com, the leading global provider of special needs equipment for the travel industry, have unique, specialized knowledge about how to help individuals with disabilities enjoy a wonderful, hassle-free and memorable trip.

Here are a few tips from Special Needs Group to ensure that when your next travel opportunity arises, you are ready to go.

Outline your travel needs

Take time to evaluate the logistics of your trip in relation to your ability to keep pace. What modes of transportation will you be using? Airplane, motor coach, train, ship, transit vans for ground transfers? Make a list, referring to relevant brochures, your trip organizer or travel agent to make sure you don’t miss anything.

Now, make a list of your specific requirements. Be honest: what types of special needs equipment do you depend on at home? What do you use or need (or wish you had!) when shopping, sightseeing locally, dining out or going to the movies, attending concerts, the theater, street fairs or sporting events at home?

Can you hear and see clearly without special auditory equipment or visual aides?  How far can you walk without a rest break? Are stairs difficult? Can you get in and out of the tub or shower at home without handgrips or other assistance?

Travel, whether solo or in a group, is no time for roughing it or trying to “tough it out.” If a wheelchair, scooter or portable oxygen will make your trip easier, place that item on your list. Many people who do not use wheelchairs or walkers at home feel more comfortable using these mobility aides for tour and excursions. In fact, most of Special Needs Group’s wheelchair and scooter rentals are to individuals who only use such aides when traveling.

A person in a wheelchair icon

A person in a wheelchair icon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Plan Ahead

If you already own a scooter or portable oxygen, it’s important to know the policy and procedures for bringing that equipment onboard all the transport vehicles included in your itinerary, from planes to taxis to ferry boats. Does that transport have a way to stow your scooter or wheelchair? Is oxygen allowed on board? Some airlines prohibit certain types of batteries, such as wet cell batteries, or oxygen cylinders. Airlines operate under strict rules, so there may be packing procedures to follow if they do allow the equipment. Keep in mind, most airlines need at least 48 hours’ notice to make special arrangements, and be prepared to fill out forms.

Overall, cruise ships are more lenient in allowing oxygen, but some disallow certain types of oxygen. All require that the oxygen be delivered to the ship, and that you have enough for the entire voyage. Oxygen may never be brought aboard in your luggage. Requirements vary, so check your cruise line for proper instructions.  Again, documentation and paperwork are required.

Whether you are headed for a cruise ship, hotel or all-inclusive resort, double check for wheelchair access at that venue, plus any venues you will be visiting on the trip.  Confirm that accessible hotel rooms, resort accommodations or ship staterooms are available for your travel dates. The earlier you book, the better your chances of securing fully accessible accommodations. And early booking increases your chances of securing a ground floor hotel room or cruise stateroom near the elevator, if these issues are important.

A gate for wheelchairs in Hiroshima

A gate for wheelchairs in Hiroshima (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Check on the access to public rooms, restaurants, bars, toilets, the swimming pool, hot tub, beach area and other amenities. Are there TDD phone devices? How will you get in and out of the shower or bathtub? Are there flashing lights to accommodate hearing? Braille room numbers? Knowing in advance the scope of your needs gives you time to arrange advance rentals of any necessary equipment, scheduled to arrive when you do. Everything from scooters, lifts, ramps, TDD kits and special mattresses, including special needs cribs, is available for rental.

Will road travel or car excursions be part of the trip? Many car rental companies have vehicles that are modified for drivers or passengers with mobility limitations. Check ahead to make sure a suitable vehicle will be available for your travel dates. If you will be hiring a car or van, make sure the company is aware of your special needs. When traveling with a limitation or disability, full travel insurance for medical coverage abroad and trip cancellation insurance are even more important and strongly advised.

Ask the Right Questions

When making the final bookings, be sure you ask the right questions, even if the accommodations or cruise stateroom are categorized as “accessible.”

For example, are doorways wide enough for the largest wheelchairs? Do the doors open outwards or into the room?

English: Wheelchair acces ramp in Protram 205W...

English: Wheelchair acces ramp in Protram 205WrAs tram Polski: Platforma inwalidy w tramwaju 205WrAs produkcji Protram (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Are all the public areas of the hotel, resort or ship accessible? Do you need to make special arrangements in the dining room to accommodate the wheelchair or scooter? Will the bathroom facilities truly fit your needs? Is the bathroom large enough for the wheelchair or scooter? Is there a roll-in shower? Grab-bars?

Are there facilities for companion/assistance animals?

Are there shopping and entertainment facilities close by if you are staying at a hotel or resort?On shore excursions or tours, does the van have a lift and method for transporting wheelchairs and scooters?

Simply stated, don’t take anything for granted. It’s easy to arrange for almost every situation, and the world is wonderfully accessible, once you know what’s needed, what’s available and how to find the necessary equipment.

This is the internationally recognized symbol ...

This is the internationally recognized symbol for accessibility (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I look forward to helping you with all of your accessible travel needs!

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 susan@susanmcdanieltravel.com 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!

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 susan@susanmcdanieltravel.com for  information and schedules.

Seven Tips to Avoid Seasickness: Smooth Cruise Sailing, Part 2

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.

A nice verandah will help you avoid being seasick on a cruise.

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!

A larger cabin will help you avoid feeling claustrophobic and keep you comfortable.

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.

Drink lots of water and eat light, if you can!

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.

Certain cruise lines have better stabilizers built into their ships.

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 susan@susanmcdanieltravel.com. 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: 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

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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