Monday, November 4, 2013

Cruisin' the Bahamas

My latest travel adventure took me aboard the Carnival Ecstasy. I chose a five day cruise to hit a few different islands while keeping in mind I did not know if I wanted to be on a ship for too long. This cruise ship departed for the Bahamas from Orlando, Florida, and stopped at Little Stirrup Cay, Nassau and Freeport, before making its way back to Port Canaveral on day 5.
Five days may have been too long for me. I think a brief three day adventure where island number one was touched on day number one and island number two by the second morning may be a better option, personally. I found the first day to be quite exciting and enjoyable, but by day number three, realized the attack of indigestion I was having may not go away until I found my land legs again. I was right.
Needless to say, there was food a-plenty. From the moment we boarded the ship, the buffets were ready and available on the Lido deck. We had three or four options for buffet style meals – a grill, a sandwich station and a pizza station. There were also a couple of turnstiles with breads, fruits and pastries. There was always some tid-bit available morning, noon or night. If eating is your vice of choice, a cruise is where you want to be. Now, if drinking is your game, there were many options to get your drink on. We chose a drink package which allowed us unlimited drinks (15) per day for the low price of $49.95 plus a pre-paid gratuity of 15%.
Now, cocktails were priced between $7 and $12, with bottle service available, so after about five drinks per day, you would have reached the price point of the package, so we figured, “why not?” A Bloody Mary or mimosa at breakfast, followed by a couple beers at the pool after lunch, then wine at dinner – then there were the nights we hit the nightclub. If we were not on the plan, we would have easily topped out at four drinks per day.
There were advertised morning specials every day – a breakfast Bloody Mary which ran about $8.95 per drink. There were “Specials of the day” which were presented around the pool every day which were theme based; Bahama Mama’s for $8.95, etc. So keeping this in mind, with the auto-gratuity that was added to all purchases $49.95 seemed like a bargain.
We were allowed to bring one bottle of wine onboard which could be opened at dinner for the wee corking fee of $10.
If entertainment is your draw to a cruise ship, there were a few options to choose from, but they repeated themselves throughout the cruise leaving those of us who decided we would hit all three venues on the first night, something to be desired. We saw two comedy shows, a Motown musical and hit THE nightclub, all on night number one. Luckily (some would say), on night number two we were convinced we could make the fifteen drink maximum and went straight to the nightclub after dinner and passed out promptly after signing for drinks number fourteen and fifteen. By night number three, we were bored. Night number four we went back to the nightclub, but departed early after realized the same twelve people that we had been dancing with for three days straight were as bored with us as we were of them. We packed and waited for morning, hardly able to sleep because the acid reflux was attacking both of us with the veracity of the waves against the side of the boat. It was relentless.
The Destinations:
Little Stirrup Cay is the private island owned by Carnival cruise lines. It is nestled in the Bahamas and although a treat to take a ferry from the ship to the island, that was about the extent of the day’s excitement. The only inhabitants of the island are the same passengers you are on the cruise with and the same cruise ship employees, who seem less than thrilled to spend their day off the boat serving you. Oh, and we quickly found out, our drink program did not work on the Carnival cruise ship island – even though, we had to use our room key to purchase the drinks, the drinks were the same, as were the employees. That fancy cocktail cost $14.95, a third of what would have been considered a bargain under my Cheers program.
The island itself is fashioned somewhat like an amusement park with different stations to participate in different activities.

We brought our own snorkel equipment, which we always do – you never know when you will find yourself in a snorkel-friendly bay with nothing but the sun at your back and fish to watch. There were palm trees and shops, and looked very similar to all the ports on every island we have ever visited.
Then at 11:30a lunch was served – buffet style, with the same items from the ship’s daily buffet.

Nassau features Atlantis and ship sponsored activities to participate in, so the ease of traveling from ship to island activities is taken up by the cruise line itself. Or, you can venture out on your own and be inundated with locals trying to make money for themselves. The typical island wares are available for purchase, as well as the common knockoff bags and accessories. The shopping plaza is very aggressive and almost too distracting to want to find a good deal. It is what it is – for those used to fighting crowds to haggle – this is your spot!!
Then there are the hi-end shops which line the main streets of downtown Nassau. No bargains, but the same types of shops one will find in Vegas at Caesars, or Miami on Oceanview Drive.
Atlantis is a wonderful place to take your children to see a fantastic aquarium – keep in mind it is on a resort and very costly.

Nassau itself has some interesting historical highlights – we did venture past Parliament, and some great historical statues. But even better, we found an amazing restaurant, CafĂ© Matisse which served Italian fare and was probably one of the best meals I have had in the past year. The food was amazing and fresh, and the service was impeccable - the highlight of our adventure to say the least.

Freeport was deserted, as we found out, from the devastation of the tropical storm which took place in 2011. Why this is still a port stop for a cruise ship is beyond me. We ventured out, were told by locals that the international marketplace no longer existed, but to go downtown instead. The downtown area was desolate and the restaurant we chose to eat at did not have the beer or food which we wanted to eat – feeling sympathetic, we chose other items, but wondered, “why? Why are we here”?

The bottom line is; I am not a cruiser.

I wanted to see more than one island, get a little taste of something from each spot, but the reality is, even if the islands had been fascinating to me, there was not enough time to really delve into each one for my personal taste. A cruise is like a drive by. Hang on to your hat, through money out the window, and remember the phrase your dad used to tell you as a kid, “You get what you get, and don’t pitch a fit”.

If you truly want to get the most of any destination as a traveler and not a tourist, research your destination, take your time, get off the beaten path and really enjoy each moment. If you do not know the difference between a traveler and a tourist – Take a cruise! It’s the most food you’ve ever eaten!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Wine Art Music: New Orleans

New Orleans is a fantastic place to start and end any story. The culture, the history, and the people provide enough categorization to engage a nation. Settling on a few topics truly limits the perception of what happens down by the river, but wine/food, art and music also showcase the beauty and uniqueness of a city that just won't lay down.

Wine and food are highlights of this city. The delightful creole sustenance, the endless seafood cooked a thousand ways, and the fresh flavor New Orleans can put on something as simple as rice or a bun and call it gourmet. Louisiana has quite a few noted wineries and with an upcoming annual wine festival which takes place in the Quarter, locals and tourists alike can sample all New Orleans has to offer in true Louisiana form.
I found access to many off the beaten path eateries while visiting New Orleans and bars like Erin Rose(in the Quarter) and the Apple Barrel (on Frenchman St), house behind the scenes (but well known by locals) food joints.
Killer Po Boys, which is in the back room of Erin Rose has been named "Best of..."  by numerous periodicals including, He Said She said, and Playboy magazine.
Adolfo, upstairs and conveniently hiding, has had a waitlist every time I have visited, and you wouldnt even know it was there, as the customers wait patiently in the bar area of the Apple Barrel while live music draws in the street crowds with its intoxicating vibes.

Bring your cash for both these venues because both these local secrets are cash only my friends.
My friends enjoying the Art Market and it's famous local artists

While on Frenchman Street, if you happen to pass by the Frenchman St Art Market, be sure to stop in and talk to the artists. Let them share their city with you, as well as their history. There is nothing better than the wine and food except for the art, architecture and history of New Orleans.

And no one better to tell it than the NewOrleans locals themselves.


Artist Welmon Sharlhorn

Make sure you look for local artists such as Welmon Sharlhorn is a well known local talent who can be found sharing his famous pieces while lounging and telling his story on any given night. Not only a great story, full of New Orleans history, but a gifted talent, happy to share his musings.

I love a man with a smile and a story.

We are all aware of the live music of Frenchman Street, with fantastic music venues such as DBA and the Spotted Cat, who showcase local as well as national talents, but if you get the chance, check out Jazz in the Park at Armstrong Park. It's free and happening every Thursday during the spring from 5-7. It is family friendly, so if you have the kids in tow in the Crescent City, there are still ways to get your music fix. Enjoy.

Travel Smart, Travel Savvy

Sunday, May 5, 2013

10 Tips for unoriginal (no offense) men looking for a romantic getaway idea

Today I was flipping through the travel section of the Washington post and noticed some "getaway fares" for last minute trip ideas. One struck me as interesting, not because the deal was so great but because of the destination itself. It was a getaway to Amelia Island off the Florida coast.
Amelia Island, sweet name - sounded like an ideal getaway. Kind of romantic, even.
Now, I remembered why Amelia Island sounded so familiar to me.
I was living with a man years ago, and our relationship was pretty serious. I remember asking him one day, if we could go anywhere for a little weekend reprieve, where would he choose. He never looked up from his computer, as he answered, "Amelia Island. I went there with my ex-wife once and it was one of the best trips I've ever had. Have you ever been?"
Just as casually as if I had said, "Could you touch me here, my first boyfriend used to do that, and I found it quite pleasurable."
Men, don't do this. Do not ever suggest that your current love interest travel with you to a destination that you have shared romantically with another woman. If you do not understand why, I cannot explain this to you. You really need to revert to, "How to Date 101", but let's say, you will likely be single soon again and not have to worry about it.
This is not only terrifyingly morose, but just plain tacky. It has occurred to me that some men (this one fell into this category) are not trying to be hurtful, but are simply unoriginal. It has never occurred to them to do anything other than what they have done before. It was not their idea then, nor do they have an original idea of their own, so they fall back on old stand-by's. What worked then...
I have seen this in dating scenarios. We all know guys that take women on the same first date over and over again, because it worked once. This is not the same. By the time you are traveling together, you have built a  relationship of some sort. This is not a meet-and-greet, this is a lifetime/relationship, memory building event. Make it original.
Now, the how-to.
For those men (or women) who have no idea how to plan something, or come up with a fresh romantic idea let me give you a few pointers.
1) Pick up the weekend newspaper, open it to the travel section and read. I know, it's crazy.
2) Turn the tele from ESPN to the Travel network and wait for something interesting (to you) to pop up.
3) Surf the web. There are many travel resources. Every travel channel and magazine has a web presence. Use them.
4) Spin a globe and put your finger on a location. I mean if we are reaching, why not give 100%. Be as random as random can be and possibly have the perception of looking "interesting" or "adventurous".
5) Call someone who's been somewhere. This one may be hard, but if you are that guy that has only been one place with one girl, there has to be someone in your network who is that same guy, but hopefully went to a different place, with a different girl.
6) Ask a parent, or an aunt, or a cousin. Someone in your family must have a special place they have been to, or at least heard about in the last decade.
7) Think about the foods you like to eat. Where do they come from? Is this someplace you could visit with a loved one and enjoy?
8) Start with your interests. Are you a skier? Do you need a little sand on your ideal vacation? Always wanted to learn how to dive? These are great places to start thinking about where you want to go.
9) Look at your pet in the eyes for a curiously long time, until something interesting comes to you. It works. Especially if you have fish.
10) Ask a travel professional. The right person will dig long enough and deep enough to get the answers needed to find a good location. And hiring a third party always gives you someone to blame when you hate it. Hopefully, that will not be the case.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Highlighting Kona (Big Island)

Your level of comfort at your price point.

The one thing I found out about the big island was that one you arrived there was a price point for every pocket book.
We chose a mid-range hotel ($150-250usd per night) on the west side. The HiltonWaikoloa offered a comfortable room with all the amenities of every hi-end hotel. It was a bargain in fact, with the level of service that Hilton is known for. Numerous restaurants and bars on site provided an environment which allowed couples and families alike to feel their every need was being met and if they chose to stay on the resort grounds their entire stay, they could do this without feeling like they were missing anything. Water activities, boat rides, lava rock trails, golf - anything you want to do is provided on site. Even swimming with dolphins and turtles, surrounded by waterfalls.

There are cheaper hotels ($99-$149usd per night); active, downtown hotels in the mainstream of all the city buzz. Hotels such as the Kona Seaside Hotel and Uncle Billy's Kona Bay Hotel provide inexpensive options. Great for students, cruise ship one-nighters, and couples on a budget. For more conservative backpackers and/or students on a tight budget there were a few hostels which we found in a ten mile range of downtown Kailua-kona in the price range of $22 usd.. 

There were also hi-end options (over $250usd per night) such as the Four Seasons and the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel and Golf Resort which offered luxury accommodations and the high price tag that one is accustomed to when staying in residences that provide such offerings.

The one thing all these retreats have in common is the location – on a beautiful island with all the sweet offerings that Hawaii gives to everyone, on any budget.
The restaurants – all fantastic, whether a street-stand, or a surf-side restaurant which offers seafood and sunsets for a small pittance.
All of this is available to everyone who crosses the Pacific and wants it.

Contact me directly at Travel Savvy International or email me for info on destination group travel experiences for any price range.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Premier Travel Entry! Ohana means Family!!

“Ohana” means family, and that is what you will find through and through on the Hawaiian Islands. I was fortunate enough to visit the big island this Hawaiian go-round, and I was reminded time and time again how tight knit families are here, and how intertwined we are as a people, and how connected to the earth we all are.

The ocean is vast. The people are kind spirited. Hawaii is the heart of love, and we are lucky as Americans to be tied to a little piece of it and call it home. Internationally, Hawaii is sought out by every nation as a vacation retreat. Hawaii represents calm and serenity – a safety zone to reconnect with the universe itself… an opportunity to find love within and without. Meditate – no matter what that means to you.
The big island is massive compared to all the islands of Hawaii. Kauai, Maui, Oahu, Lanai – each holds its own mystique. The big island has a little bit of each. Every season exists on some part of the island at any given part of the day; snow, sun, rain, tropics, mountains, lava crusted roads; each entity holds a piece of Hawaii and shines bright on the big island.

But family means the same thing on every island, even the mainland. Family means we are connected. Family means safety and hearth of home, good food, and celebration.
Family celebrates everything we stand for in our endeavors even while on vacation.
The big island offers families a family value, or to singles, the concept of connecting with something greater – the surf, the sun and perhaps another bikini-clad single, who just might also be yearning for the same base needs of earth, and perhaps someone to share them with.
Kona itself offers everything you could want to do while on vacation separating itself from the other islands by that fact alone. You can golf, hike, bike, surf, dive, visit volcanos, swim with dolphins and turtles, dine at the most fantastic restaurants, sail, fish, even ski. What do you want to do?

Kona has it, and it offers it in a casual and low key package.

Public beaches, churches, local markets, a thriving tourist downtown area, water sports companies offering every ocean fun time, snorkeling, local eateries…you name it. The big island is known for being active and not over congested like some of the more populated islands, and not over-serene like some of the more mellow islands. The big island is for big spirits – active and engaged with life! Fun-spirited, and alive.

OH! and the most beautiful sunsets ever!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Travel Smart, Travel Savvy!!

This month I jumped off the cliff!
I had been waiting to begin a new adventure (not like my life hasn't had enough change and twists), but the opportunity to combine my love of travel, my knowledge of the industry, and my innate desire to share my life's love with others who want to experience life to its fullest, has finally culminated in this venture.
I have started a Travel agency designed to plan the most exciting, fun concepts into group outings.
Travel Savvy International
The booking site is a convenient way anyone, and everyone, can plan their own mini-adventures, but I am offering a full service group touring agency for those who want a personalized experience.
Bachelor parties with a twist; hang gliding, rock climbing, whatever the challenge may be.
Girls weekends without the makeup, and all the fun and creativity of any common adventure. It's your story, I just help hash out the plot.
Family vacations that include experiences every child will be wild eyed about. Domestic safari's, or just a themed cruise. You decide.
How about a weekend in a tree house?  A ski trip to South America? Where are your dreams taking you?
This is your world.
Tell me what you want it to look like and I'll make it happen.
That IS what adventure is all about, isn't it?
Come with me on his journey. Let me help you plan yours.

Travel Smart, Travel Savvy!
All Love~

P.S. Follow me on twitter for deals, excursions and crazy ideas to get your creative travelbug moving.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

TSA strikes again, with a blind view of the aircraft interior

After reading numerous passionate articles about the lifting of the knife ban for aircraft security, allowing potential weapons on planes, the real issues have finally come to light.

Responses in USA Today, well represent both sides of the arguement, and now hold a flashlight on the primary issue.
People are saying that the flight deck is now safe, so why do we need safety in the cabin? People are acknowledging that terrorists are secured from having access to the cockpit, even if they did have a knife. Basically, airplanes can no longer be used as a weapon if terrorists cannot acces the flight deck.
The door is locked. The door is bulletproof. The threat is gone.

So why have TSA at all? If the activity in the cabin is no longer an issue or threat, why challenge passengers at all?

The crew members in the cabin are dealing with all sorts of activities - not just potential terrorist action. We deal with drunks, mental illness, potential terrorism, medical emergencies, etc etc etc.
Terrorism was the catalyst to the issue of having weapons, or potential weapons, on planes, but the reality is, the majority of problems that arise, and that would be accelerated by having knives, and other potential weapons, are the everyday issues that are not addressed or acknowledged by TSA or management of most airlines. A veteran American Airlines Flight Attendant documented nearly 1200 instances of customer misconduct on American Airlines alone last year (Laura Glading, USA Today Monday March 11, 2013).

These are the issues. These are the problems. Passenger misconduct is a real, everyday issue. Al Quaeda is hardly worried about getting a tiny knife on board the plane. Terrorism will always be in the forefront of all flight crews security processes, but our daily concerns are incidents that occur on a daily basis.
The security of flight crews needs to be addressed as seriously as the threat of the flight deck. Are our lives not as valuable? Are our concerns not as important? Is it OK to let belligerent passengers get onboard any aircraft with a potential weapon because they have not been identified as an international terrorist? I don't think so.

Flight Attendant
(in that order)