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Renee King

Newbie How-to's, Travel Advice

The Newbie’s Guide to Cruising, Part 2

February 20, 2015 • By

Alright.  You’ve decided that you want to give this cruising thing a go.  You’ve determined where you’d like to go and have already booked your cruise  with your preferred cruise line.  What should you expect the day of the cruise?

How do I check in?

Each Cruise Line is different but Celebrity allows you to check in well before your sail date.  If it’s possible,  I would recommend that you do that.  If you are familiar with flight check- ins at the airport, this works the same way.  You will go to the cruise line’s website, create an account and put in your information.  This in effect, pre-registers you for the cruise.  You will be able to print out your guest ticket which will give you pages of info on what to expect during your cruise, your cruise itinerary, etc.

We received luggage tags via regular mail with our stateroom number stamped on it and were advised to affix them to our luggage before leaving home.  One can only imagine the logistics involved in keeping up with the luggage of thousands of passengers, so we made sure that we followed their instructions to the letter.

I’ve heard that it’s best to arrive one day before your scheduled cruise departure.  Why?

Most cruises, particularly, Caribbean cruises depart in the late afternoon.  That might lead most people to think that it’s a safe bet to fly in on the day of the cruise.  My advice is to plan on flying in the day before, this will allow you breathing room to be prepared for embarkation the next day. Can you imagine booking a flight on cruise day and something happens to delay the flight?  Trust me, the cruise lines will not wait for you, so save yourself the stress and fly in the day before.

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What if I choose to drive directly to the port from my home?

This has become such a “thing” that you will find that hotels located close to ports will offer “Park, Sleep and Cruise” specials.  If you pay for one night’s stay, they will allow you to park your car on site for free and reclaim it at the end of the cruise.  They will usually provide a complimentary shuttle from the hotel to the cruise port.

This might be the most desirable option should you choose to drive in because port parking fees are high (approximately $20.00 per day).  I rented a car during my last cruise and after dropping it off at the rental agency, I was shuttled to the port by the agency for free.

What can I expect when I arrive at the port?

We flew into Fort Lauderdale (FLL) because the flights were cheaper but our port was in Miami.  We hired a shuttle service to drive us to our Miami hotel and the next day we took the hotel’s shuttle to the port.  It cost $10.00 pp but it was worth it to assure that we’d get to where we needed to be on time.  As soon as you reach your particular cruise line, the driver will remove your luggage and you will then turn it over to the porter who works for the cruise line.

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Newbie How-to's, Travel Advice

The Newbie’s Guide to Cruising, Part 1

January 26, 2015 • By

 

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When you consider how busy people are these days, it’s no surprise that Cruising is one of the most popular modes of traveling.  Think about it.   Literally, you will have 3+ days of pure bliss on a floating resort, practically any type of food you’d like, be treated like royalty by staff, participate in daily activities like Zumba, volleyball tournaments, trivia games, try your luck in the casino, enjoy nightly entertainment from singers, ventriloquists, dancers and musicians, be pampered in the on-site Spa, eat till your heart’s content or burn those same calories at the full service gym. What’s not to like?

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Add on the fact that cruise ships visit different ports and it’s easy to see why this would be a very cost effective way to get away from it all. I will admit that previously, I’d decided that my first cruise would be my last and only  recently realized that perhaps, I’d been too hasty.

If you prefer a relaxing, care-free vacation where you only need to show up and have the time of your life or just opt to relax, lounge around the pool and do nothing, cruising may be the ideal solution for you.

That sounds lovely, but everyone knows that there are a billion cruise lines.  How do I go about choosing the right one for me?  

If you asked three people that same question, you would get three different answers.  The answer is highly subjective and truly depends on the type of cruise you are looking for.   Take Carnival Cruises, for example.  They have a reputation for being a ‘party’ cruiser, however, when I was aboard the Carnival Liberty, there were 4,000 kids there.  The lovely thing is that I saw maybe two of them.  Carnival has a very good program for the youngsters that keeps them well occupied for the length of the cruise.  Therefore, families should not be wary of booking with them and singles should know that they will feel that they are almost on an adults only cruise.READ MORE


North America, Reviews

Checking out the Big Zombie Tour with Atlanta Movie Tours, Part 2

November 18, 2014 • By

Last week, I shared my experience with the first part of the Big Zombie Tour in Atlanta.  Today, I want to discuss the second part that covered location shots in the small towns of Senoia, Grantville, Newnan and Haralson, Georgia.  Senoia is roughly 50 miles away from the main tour offices in Atlanta, so you would have to either drive there on your own or use their shuttle service.

The cost of the shuttle is $30.00 RT pp and is well worth it if you are directionally-challenged as I am wont to be.  On the drive there, we decided to eat our packed lunch and were treated to episodes of The Walking Dead on the tv monitors that were installed throughout the cabin.

Once we reached the city of  Senoia, it was obvious that the main street was the setting for the fictionalized town of Woodbury:

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The driver instructed us to go to the Woodbury Shoppe (where the Walking Dead store is housed) on the corner so that we could check in for the second half of the tour.  This store was a Walking Dead fan’s dream.  There was nothing that they did not sell that would not make a true fan’s eyes glaze over.  But fan though I may be, I couldn’t bring myself to splurge on the $270.00 katana sword!

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Consumer Advice, North America, Reviews

Checking out the Big Zombie Tour with Atlanta Movie Tours, Part 1

November 6, 2014 • By

For as long as I can remember, I have always been a fan of the macabre.  Horror movies have always been my favorite genre.  I love the idea of being frightened out of my wits and I suspect I’m not alone in that feeling.  I’m not saying that I haven’t looked away or closed my eyes when the sacrificial lamb met their doom, I have some standards.

But, I still love the suspense, the obligatory run from the villain by the world’s clumsiest victim who can’t help falling down numerous times, then the final showdown where the evildoer meets their inevitable doom.  The formula is predictable but satisfies the essence of a good storyline.

That’s probably why I’m a big fan of The Walking Dead.  I haven’t missed an episode since it debuted in October 2010 on AMC.  It follows the lives of a group of people who’ve banded together to form a protective community in order to survive what is essentially the Zombie Apocalypse.  For me, the show is a perfect blend of unspeakable horror and one’s attempt to hold onto some semblance of humanity while trying to survive it.

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Photo courtesy: amctv.com

Fortunately for me, the show films in the state that I live in.  While I haven’t had the chance to meet any of its stars, I have found pretty much the next best thing:  Atlanta Movie Tours!  Located in the Castleberry Hill neighborhood of Atlanta, this company offers a 3 hour guided tour to scene locations depicted in various episodes of The Walking Dead.  The Big Zombie tour is actually divided into two separate tours.  The first tour covers all of the notable scenes that were featured in and around the Atlanta area.  The second focuses on the more rural areas of Georgia – the cities of Senoia (aka Woodbury), Haralson, Grantville and Newnan.

The tour guides are very likable actors who have all played walkers on the mega-hit which happened to score 17.3 million viewers during its 5th season premiere on October 12, 2014.  These ratings are unheard of for most network television shows, much less a ‘lowly’ cable series, so you can imagine that its popularity will continue to increase.  In fact, a companion series is scheduled to air by 2016 with one of the writers from the Sons of Anarchy acting as the show runner.

The first Big Zombie tour started with a short walk down the street.  There we stood in front of the Norfolk Southern Railway Building which was the scene where the gang had to leave a repugnant Merle Dixon handcuffed to a pipe on the rooftop in Season one.  Our guide, Patrick, mentioned that when nearby residents heard the staged ‘gunshots’, cops and a swat team were quickly dispatched.  Needless to say, no one was arrested.

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North America, Travel Advice, Trip Reports

A Salute to Fall from Prince Edward Island!

September 29, 2014 • By

 

I first fell in love with Prince Edward Island through the narrow view of a photo lens.  Its’ vast beauty shined through whether it was the picturesque countryside or pensive seaside.   I was enamored with its quaint architecture, beautiful seashore and knew that one day I would have to bear witness to it to make sure that it was all real.

I was fortunate to get that chance around this time last October.  Fall was upon us.  The leaves had begun to change, the air was crisp and the island was only occupied by the people left behind to brave the cold weather that was yet to come.  Tourist season was well over which is what made this trip all the more appealing.

While there was public transportation, it was imperative to rent a car so that you could spend time exploring all of the nooks and crannies of the island.  There was always something incredible waiting just ahead and our impatience wouldn’t have been able to bear the constant interruptions of the leisurely island trams.

We wanted to get away from the hustle and bustle of the big city and just relax and enjoy the wonders of nature.  We were not disappointed.  Now, a full year later, I want to share what makes PEI such a special place to visit.  Come along with me and explore the first installment of discovering the miraculous natural aesthetics of this wonderful island, won’t you?

 

 


Consumer Advice

Fire your satellite or cable company and never look back!

September 9, 2014 • By

There is no one more devoted to the idiot box than I, but that didn’t mean that I had to become one just to be able to watch the shows that I love.  If you ask me, the price of watching television has become ridiculously high without justification. The more I hear about how high the prices are for cable and satellite television, phone and internet service, the more grateful I am that I decided to make some changes a few years ago.  I was paying what could be considered a lease payment for an economy car for the pleasure of having internet, satellite TV and a land-line phone. When you consider the bazillion television channels (let’s not forget the useless music channels!) that they offer to justify charging a ransom for, you quickly realize how few channels that’s really worth watching there are.

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Do this.  List all of the cable channels that you presently think that you can’t live without.  You will notice that a couple of them are offered in the basic package aka “ridiculously priced but we’ll still allow you to buy this week’s groceries” package. Next, you will find a few listed in the next package level and so on and so forth.  Soon, you will realize that in order to get every channel that you ‘desire’ you will have to purchase their top level plan or else.

This is where you begin to realize that maybe there are too many home improvement shows being produced and you can certainly live without the glut of  ubiquitous “reality” shows. You shouldn’t have to pay through the nose to be entertained.  So, I decided, along with many others, to rebel.  There is no need for these services to cost so much, I have no problem with someone trying to make a profit, but human decency should be factored in at some point. For example, Comcast has actually scrambled all local channels.

From Brier Dudley’s blog: “Over the past four years Comcast has gradually required its customers to add some kind of cable box on all of their TV sets, giving the company more control over the content the customers view and potentially more revenue from box rentals. The move also pushes customers with entry-level cable service to upgrade to digital packages, increasing their monthly bill by 300 percent or more. Yet it was endorsed last year by the Federal Communications Commission, which accepted the cable industry’s arguments that further encryption was needed for security and environmental reasons.”

This is pure evil and it’s endorsed by the very agency that should be protecting the consumer’s interest.  So, our lesson is that we have to look out for our own interests.

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Travel Advice

I have decided to give cruising another chance

August 9, 2014 • By

Roughly six years ago, I took my first cruise and I can distinctly recall declaring that it would be my last.  As luck and life would have it, I am eating my words.   I think sometimes when we have time to look back on things and the resulting decisions, your vision becomes a little less myopic.

You began to realize that your position on certain things may need to be challenged. I’m a planner.  I like to make lists and stick to them.  This is not to say that I am rigid, but I like to have a set itinerary that matches the goals that I hope to accomplish while I am traveling.  I’ve been known to take copious notes about my destination and transplant them to an Outlook calendar that span the length of said trip.

Thankfully, the invention of Tripit! made my life a whole lot easier, so I was finally able to say goodbye to Outlook.  This is not to say that I can’t be spontaneous just because I’ve plotted out the perfect time to do just that on my calendar.  I can be.  I just need to make sure that I don’t miss out on important things to do while I am there.

Now, back to the cruise dilemma.  I had come to the realization that I am indeed a control freak.  I like to make my own plans when I travel and I felt the cruise director was overstepping his bounds.  Alas, I was a captive audience, so I had to participate in whatever he had planned for said cruise.  If I am honest, I have to admit that I did enjoy myself.

There was also an inexplicable relief in not having to arrange, plan and execute every aspect of my trip. I could just sit back, relax and (egad!) do nothing!  I wasn’t familiar with that reality and I didn’t quite know where to turn.  I think I was kind of mad that I did enjoy it and couldn’t really give myself credit for it.  The Carnival Liberty wasn’t half bad.  The food was ubiquitous and really good, the shows were top notch, the slot machines paid off (most of the time) and the crew was friendly and very helpful.

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City Views, Travel Advice

TRAVEL PHOTO THURSDAY

December 30, 2010 • By

One of the special delights of traveling is that you find yourself in extraordinary and unexpected circumstances.  We decided to spend a little time in Miami before boarding our cruise ship the next day.  As an avid gardener and a fan of architecture, I thought a visit to the National historic landmark, Vizcaya Museum and Gardens would be the perfect way to spend the afternoon.

As we ventured through the gardens, we were surprised to see a sudden flash of candy cotton pink fabric wafting through the courtyard.  For some reason, we were drawn to it since it seemed so perfectly out of place in the gardens.

We soon learned that a young lady was being professionally photographed in celebration of her Quinceañera as her proud mother looked on.  In Latin American communities, Quinceañera marks a girl’s transition from childhood to young womanhood on her fifteenth birthday.

It was easy to understand why the Vizcaya was selected as the perfect setting for this momentous event due to its unmatched old world charm and incredible European architecture that was the ultimate canvas for this beautiful portrait.


Travel Advice

What is this 1000-1000 Challenge that you speak of?

December 25, 2010 • By

Todd Wassel, a travel blogging friend of mine who runs the Todd’s Wanderings blog has issued a challenge to his fellow bloggers.  The 1000 – 1000 Challenge is a call to arms for bloggers to increase their readership to 1000 unique visits per day and their blogging income to  at least $1000.00 per month.  Initially, I will admit this was mostly a hobby since I adore traveling.  However, my focus has changed.  I see this blog as a viable service for people who are seeking new ways to stretch their travel dollars.

I am taking the challenge because I want to push myself a little further when it comes to creating excellent content, attracting readers and hopefully at some point, truly monetizing my blog.  It has been difficult due to the fact that I have a full-time job that I truly like which limits the amount of time that I have to create interesting content or network to the extent that I would like to.  Even though my blog will be mostly a part-time endeavor, it doesn’t lessen my commitment to it.

If you are a new reader and like what you see or if you are one of my faithful readers, please encourage your friends to visit this site, not just to get my numbers up temporarily, that’s not what I want.  I am looking for dedicated readers who will subscribe to my RSS feed, follow me on twitter and like my Facebook page.  Yes, Todd has lit a fire under a lot of us.  A View To A Thrill is determined more than ever to earn your loyalty by giving you useful and pertinent information that will assist you as a global traveler.  Please join us if you have your own blog and if you just want to support us in this challenge….we welcome YOU!


North America, Reviews, Travel Advice, Trip Reports

The Foodie’s version of Heaven: The Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts

December 19, 2010 • By

I first heard about the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts (1505 2nd Avenue West , Vancouver, BC V6H 3Y4) while watching Rachael Ray’s $40.00 a day show on The Food Network’s channel back in 2006.  Rachael was tasked to buy Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner for under $40.00.  This particular show had her searching the city of  Vancouver for those elusive restaurant deals and P.I.C.A. was one of her choices.  My daughter and I were planning a trip there because we had frequent flier miles to redeem and we were fortunate enough to get a crazy deal for a great hotel on Priceline.  So, we thought it might be a good idea to check it out.   Besides, P.I.C.A. is located right outside the entrance to Granville Island which was convenient since that was another stop on our itinerary.

Founded in 1996,  P.I.C.A.’s cooks are actually students who are training to become chefs of fancy restaurants that I will never be able to afford.  Seriously, Bistro 101 is a teaching restaurant that provides real world experience for up and coming culinary masters.  Students work in every position of the restaurant: from the cook to the host to the server to the bus boy…..they get to experience all aspects of running a restaurant.

Upon our arrival in Vancouver, we decided to visit the restaurant the next day since we had plans to go to Granville Island.  We didn’t stay as long as we had thought we would at Granville, so we ended up having a very early lunch at 11 am.  Luckily, they were open and we were ushered to our table.  It’s a very unassuming place.  There were no fancy accoutrement, just a clean and simple dining room that was set up buffet style.  On the table closest to the door, there were an array of delectable desserts like chocolate mousse, strawberry shortcake cupcakes, cheesecake, and truffles.

Immediately past our table was a lone buffet table with ‘starters’ that consisted of cured salmon, apple and cured herring salad, escargot bourgeon, asparagus, prawns, seared tuna, eggs Benedict, mussels, Israeli couscous, peach and papaya relish.  After we had a few minutes to handle the business end of this buffet, we were each presented with our main meal (that we were allowed to order as we nibbled on our buffet largess) which was a plate of Pork loin medallions w/peach chutney sauce, prawns, grilled salmon and our sides were yams, rice cakes w/ red peppers and asparagus.  We thought that we had died and gone to heaven.  The price for this ridiculous amount of truly delicious food?  $25.00 pp!  We were fortunate to have a BOGO coupon from the Vancouver City Passport coupon book.  I think the discount is only 25% off now, which is still pretty decent but 2011 books won’t be available until May 2011.  Also, tipping was not allowed.

Now, of course, this was over four years ago….things have to be a little different, right?  Sorta!  It appears that the buffet is served only on Friday during lunch ($20.00) and again for dinner ($30.00).  From Monday to Thursday, they serve a prix fixe menu which is nothing to sneeze at.  Check out a sample of their 3 course lunch menu for $18.00 pp (drinks are extra).  Their dinner menu sample is equally impressive at 24.00 pp.  Again, the drinks are extra and the menu changes daily.

Every Wednesday, they offer their wine list at a 50% discount.  Also, they highly recommend reservations these days….I’m going to guess it’s because everybody and their grandma have found out about this gem of a restaurant.  You can give them a call at +1-604-734-0101 or make an online reservation.

Gastronomic delights from the buffet

This was our main meal

Ok, looks like someone couldn't wait for dessert

Irrefutable proof that there is a god and s/he is good.

There is also something new that they have now that didn’t exist when we were there that I think is really cool.  They host  “A Plugged-In Walking Tour & Taste of Granville Island Market“.   Here, one of the chefs leads a one and a half hour guided tour of Granville Island, where the participants are introduced to local artisans, food vendors and farmers who bring their wares to market on a daily basis.  Upon completion of the tour, the guests return to P.I.C.A. for a three course luncheon and are gifted with a titular canvas tote, coffee and fresh pastry from their bakery.  Sounds like fun to me! Bon Apetit!