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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.


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.


Newbie How-to's, Travel Advice

The Newbie’s Guide to Cruising, Part 1

January 26, 2015 • By



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?


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, 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?



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.



Newbie How-to's, Travel Advice

The Newbie’s Guide to booking a place to stay

September 16, 2013 • By

Today marks the beginning of a three part series that breaks down the choices one has in selecting accommodations for vacations or holidays. We will begin with our most economical offerings and work our way to the more expensive options.



When it comes to finding accommodations while traveling, I’m somewhat of a pragmatist.  I don’t require 5* stays mostly because I see it as a colossal waste of money.  When I travel, I see my hotel room as somewhere to lay my head at night.  I didn’t travel so that I could stay in a room, I plan to spend as little time there as possible!  But this is just my budget conscious opinion and when it comes to securing accommodations, preferences are never one size fits all.

Still, half the fun of searching for somewhere to stay is in realizing how many strange and unusual places to choose from that will make your visit more enjoyable.  Hotels are the default accommodations of choice, but how interesting would it be to stay in a monastery, an igloo or even a log cabin?

How do you find not only standard hotel rooms but find unique places to stay while you are on vacation?

I’m on a strict budget.  What is the best type of accommodation for me? READ MORE

Travel Advice

Spotlight on: The Georgia D.O.T.’s HERO unit

August 12, 2013 • By
[box]Today, I wanted to write about one of our unsung heroes. Literally. like the old saying, you never miss your water until the well runs dry; you don’t realize the value of these folks until you need them.[/box]


It is inevitable that you will come across one of these bright yellow vehicles during the course of your rush hour commute if you live in Georgia. They are responsible for moving disabled vehicles from the highway onto the shoulder or clearing wrecks from the highways in order to facilitate a smoother traffic flow.


courtesy 11Alive news

courtesy: 11Alive news


The Georgia DOT Office of Traffic Operations Highway Emergency Response Operators (HERO) patrols Georgia’s highways 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The majority of their time is spent assisting stranded motorists who may:

  • have a flat tire
  • need a jump start
  • need transport
  • need fuel or water
  • need to use a phone

If they happen to see a car on the side of the road, they will pull up behind them to assist (providing that the driver hasn’t already left the vehicle to seek help at an off-ramp).  They are not a wrecker service, so they will not be able to tow you.  They can, however, contact a towing service for you.

There’s something comforting about knowing that should you experience a breakdown while traveling on Georgia’s highways, you can easily summon help by dialing 511, then press 1 to reach a HERO dispatcher. It’s nice to know that you will be taken care of whether you live here, visiting or are just passing through.  Caveat:  For obvious reasons, during major traffic incidents or severe weather, HEROs may not be available for routine motorist assistance.





Since they are Department of Transportation employees, they do not accept any payment or gratuities. The service is completely free. As with anything that attempts to do good in the world, there will always be someone to muck things up. There have been reports of fake HERO scammers who will demand money after performing their ‘service’. Authentic HEROs will have official state issued ID and you can always dial 511 to confirm their legitimacy.

If they are crooks they will probably run before you can dial 51… Additionally, they provide support to first responders and law enforcement agencies during emergencies. Currently, there are 113 HERO operators with the majority covering the Atlanta, Macon and Savannah areas due to high traffic flow in those areas.


highway incident response unit - hero



[box]Corporate sponsors like State Farm help to fund the operations of  The HERO fleet.  They paid the Department of Transportation $1.7 million dollars per year for three years.  In return, their logo is advertised on the exterior of each HERO unit.  All monies received are used specifically to support the HERO program.[/box]

Newbie How-to's, Travel Advice

The Newbie’s Guide to using the TripIt! Application

July 8, 2013 • By

Screen shot 2013-07-07 at 1.35.36 PM I’m a planner. I’m not the type A, OCD type of planner, but I like to keep things organized and in its place. Never is this more apparent than when I am planning the details of my vacation.

I like to have all of my flight, hotel and activity confirmations in one place where I can access them at any time.

I started out using the calendar feature of Microsoft Outlook. I could easily record all of my confirmations by keying them in on the appropriate dates; then the day before departure, I would print out each day’s activities and have them ready to go.

I really didn’t have an issue with preparing my itinerary this way. That is, until I found a quicker and easier way to do it. Enter the app, TripIt.   I found it while searching through apps on Linked-In, of all places.

It allows your linkedin connections to see where you are headed to next. This can be a bad and a good thing, I chose to disable this feature since I didn’t necessarily want everyone of my connections to know my complete schedule in real time.

However, you can input all of your information via their website by opening an account at TripIt . You can even give TripIt permission to auto import travel plans from your email inbox (this can be rescinded at any time). When you receive confirmations of your airline, hotel and tour bookings via email, TripIt will automatically scan your inbox and capture those bookings into your TripIt account. Each screen shot that you see below was automatically scanned into my account when TripIt discovered it in my gmail account.

The only time you will have to actually key in data is when you make a direct reservation over the phone and get a verbal confirmation. I use the free version of TripIt because it does pretty much everything that I require and I’m…um….budget minded.

Once you have created an account, you can begin to start inputting your itinerary (assuming that you will do it manually the first time around).  At the top right of the page, you will see a menu bar.

Click on “Add a trip”.  You can key in your destination city and your trip dates.  You may decide to assign a name to your trip or indicate if you want this trip to remain private or if you want to share it with your previously selected connections (like Linked-In, or even the people who will be traveling with you).

Lastly, you can select if it’s a business or leisure trip then you can click the “Create Trip” button.

Your new trip itinerary page will show a calendar of the dates of the trip.  You may click on a date and select a category for each activity whether it’s flight, hotel, restaurant or activity reservations.  Continue until you have captured all of the pertinent information for your trip from your confirmation emails.  You may copy/paste everything just to be sure, but I can’t recommend highly enough that you allow TripIt access to your email and let them plug in the info for you.

Screen shot 2013-06-30 at 1.28.59 PM

I decided to stay at an airport hotel since our flight was early in the morning. I know…you’re asking why would I spend $106.00 on a hotel when I didn’t have to. Here’s why: It was close to the airport, we didn’t have to fight through rush hour traffic, we got a free breakfast and free airport shuttle before heading out. The best part was that with that “Park, Sleep and Fly” reservation, we got up to two weeks free parking on site. When you compare that to what the park and fly lots charge for 10 days we made the right decision.

I like to detail the hotel’s checkout time too. It allows a smooth transition from the hotel to the airport so that I can get to my gate in a timely fashion.  We were able to enjoy a nice breakfast before taking the shuttle to our American Airlines gate.

Screen shot 2013-06-30 at 1.30.08 PM

TripIt left no stone unturned when copying my confirmation email to the itinerary. I used miles to get from ATL – MIA, hence the small fare which really was the airline fee.  We had a six hour layover in Miami, we chose to spend our downtime in the Delta Airlines Crown room (we got a free pass for opening an AMEX Delta Gold card) surfing the net, eating and having a cocktail or two.

We arrived at the first leg of our trip, Lima, Peru, early the next morning.  All of our itinerary info for Lima was ‘automagically’ inserted into TripIt for us.

Screen shot 2013-06-30 at 1.31.04 PM

TripIt will offer maps to get you from point A to point B. Since we were meeting our driver at ground transportation, there was no need to utilize it.

We would be arriving way before check in but I made sure to notify them via email that I would be coming in the wee hours of the morning.  They were ok with it since there is always someone at the front desk.  I booked the reservation via Expedia (after reading great reviews on and when the confirmation email was sent, TripIt was to the rescue again, plugging in all of the itinerary info into my account.

Screen shot 2013-06-30 at 1.31.37 PM

Once again, in our attempt to travel cheaply we settled on a hostel for Lima. It was nice, we got free breakfast and coffee too. The front desk clerks and housekeeping were exceptional….even when we were locked inside our room for two hours! That’s a long story that I will have to write about sometime.

I had booked two tours before leaving home and those tours were entered into TripIt.  I decided to leave one day free in between where we could just spend the day getting to know the city.

Screen shot 2013-06-30 at 1.32.35 PM

Next, we detailed the hostel departure date and time.  Also, the second leg of our trip from Lima to Santiago, Chile is detailed here along with info on the apartment that we decided to rent in the heart of Santiago.  Again, we had a driver so directions to the apartment were unnecessary.

Screen shot 2013-06-30 at 1.33.22 PM

We got there fairly late in the day, so we went next door to the grocery store and bought food for the week.  We had a tour early the next morning so we spent the day getting to know the city.  We took a daytrip to Valparaiso the following day.  I decided to copy/paste info about the city that I found on lonely planet into the itinerary.

Screen shot 2013-06-30 at 1.34.45 PM

Note that next to the date, the weather forecast is indicated for that particular day.

I had to determine when I needed to leave the apartment in order to catch the third leg of my trip to Easter Island.  The flight was rather early and  since only there was only two flights a week, we could not miss it.  This is where TripIt really comes in handy because it allows you see how your reservations impact one another at a single glance.

Screen shot 2013-06-30 at 2.20.43 PM

Finally, the departure from the hostel is posted along with the first leg of the return to our hometown of Atlanta.

Screen shot 2013-06-30 at 2.21.52 PM

You can download a free app version for android, iPhone, Blackberry, Windows 7 and iPad here:  TripIt on Mobile

If you think you might want more features and are willing to pay for them, there are several premium options available to you as a TripIt Pro ($49.00 per year) user that you might find useful like:

Screen shot 2013-06-30 at 7.35.32 PM

Travel Advice

Google Reader dies in t – minus six hours….

June 30, 2013 • By


Hi Dear Reader,

As you may know by now, Google has decided to stop providing a way for all of us to read our collection of blog feeds.  If you are a subscriber and read my blog posts via Google Reader, you won’t be able to after midnight tonight.

So, do me a favor.  Take a second to go here to select another type of reader to use so that you won’t miss any critical posts of mine in the future:

OR….USA Today has a review of five alternative readers that you can quickly switch to.  Personally, I settled on using Feedly, but you are free to choose whatever you desire.  Just don’t wait too long…….it will be gone before you can say, “July 1st”.

Hope to see you soon on the other side!


Europe, Reviews, Travel Advice

The 8 things that surprised me during my trip to Rome, Italy

June 25, 2013 • By


Rome, Italy was my second sojourn into Europe. Having visited Paris the year prior, I thought myself very fortunate to be going back so quickly. I had been intrigued with Rome for awhile, mostly through the lens of a movie camera.

There were so many great films like “Three Coins in the fountain” and “Roman Holiday” that set the tone for my romanticized (pun intended) and lofty expectations.

As wonderful as the city is, when I finally got the chance to visit this beautiful country, some things were were not as I expected.  Not everything one envisions matches the fantasy, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t have a fantastic time anyway.

Here are a few surprises that greeted me as walked around this beautiful city:

  • Limoncello is a very popular Italian liqueur that is made from lemons. It is produced in southern Italy in places like the isle of Capri which is where I got my first taste of this’delicacy’. I realize that there are many fans of this drink, but personally, I found it to be just awful and hated it. I think what turned me off what the extreme thick and gooey viscosity of the drink that made me feel as though I was drinking lemon-flavored motor oil. Perhaps, my palate isn’t refined enough to appreciate it and you, dear reader may end up enjoying it.


  • You can take an excavations (or Scavi) tour underneath the Vatican’s Basilica.  The almost two hour tour allows you access to the Vatican Necropolis where you can view the final resting place of St. Peter,who was martyred circa 64 and buried outside the walls of the city of Rome.


  • Like many people who have seen The Trevi Fountain in travel photos or online, subconsciously, you get the impression that the fountain is massive and larger than the mind can conceive.  However, standing in front of it in the flesh, leaves a lot of be desired.  You can literally step right up to it and practically kiss the statues. It felt like a bait and switch or maybe I have a faulty depth perception and I’m getting ornery in my old age.


  • You can literally walk anywhere because the city is very pedestrian friendly. The shops are in close proximity and very centrally located because I never had to use public transportation once.  I did pine for the opportunity to ride one of the ubiquitous Vespas that were jetting around the city. Our visit was at the height of the gas crisis, so this idea was appealing in more ways than one.



  • The Vatican has it’s own post office where you can mail postcards/letters and get a nifty Vatican postmark in the process.  I bought a postcard and wrote a short synopsis of the day’s activities at the Vatican and mailed it back home.  It’s a nice souvenir keepsake that’s meaningful yet costs very little.


  • The last two days of my trip to Rome I was really ill.  So much so, that I had to have help getting ready to catch our flight back home.  I got sick courtesy of a woman who joined us on a group tour to Capri, Sorrento and Naples.  I had the misfortune of sitting right behind her so I caught every germ that she had.  I knew that I needed something serious to combat what was to come.  Stat!  I decided to visit one of the pharmacies that is literally on every block (or so it seems) and decided to tell the pharmacist exactly what had happened and could he recommend an over the counter elixir for me.

It was difficult to discern what was what since most of the medication was written in Italian.   The pharmacist actually mixed me his own concoction…something that would never happen in the states given our strict drug regulations/laws.  He explained what it was and when and in what dosage that I should take it.   I was happy that the laws are a bit different in Italy, even though a day had passed before I could really attack my impending sickness, I do believe that his cold medicine made my suffering a little more bearable.


  • I’ve written about this before, but I think it bears repeating.  Be wary of Romans bearing gifts!  You will see these faux Roman soldiers milling around the Coliseum which is a great photo op, but it will cost you if you want to take a pic with them or even if they ‘catch’ you taking a pic of them (like this one!) one may approach you for money.  Not the most pleasant experience to have, so be aware.


  • While planning my trip to Rome, I learned about a wonderful concoction called “Gelato”. It seemed everywhere I turned, people were extolling the virtues of overdosing on gelato, the more flavors the better! The best way to describe this sensational dessert is to say it’s a cross between ice cream and sherbet. The texture is light; not as dense as ice cream and the flavors are more vibrant. It reminds you of a chunky sorbet because if you are eating a pineapple gelato, you will find chunks of pineapple in it.


City Views, North America, Travel Advice, Trip Reports

Enjoying a Rainy Day in Van Dusen Botanical Gardens in Vancouver

June 10, 2013 • By

vandusen cover

The rain brought with it silence and solitude as we walked along the massive pathways that guided us past a menagerie of trees, shrubs and perennials.


It was the cusp of late winter dawning in to early spring and the gardens took on an interesting profile.

The deciduous trees had long been bare and there was some evidence that flowers were awakening from their deep slumber. The sky was overcast and provided a grey backdrop to the illustrious palette that lay before us.