Category Archives: Travel

St. Barts Shopping

 

                             St. Barts Shopping Mall

It’s wonderful if you’re movie-star rich

 

After a morning of hiking the beautiful hills above Gustavia, we intend for me to shop part of the afternoon. Mistake!  Many shops in town are open only from 10 am to 1 pm, then reopen from 4 to7:30 pm.

With the last tender back to the Maasdam departing at 4:30, that didn’t leave much time to check out the upscale, exclusive shops in much detail.

A few stores were open, including Goldfinger, a jewelry store recommended by the ship.  When I walked in to take a look around and no one said a word. Not “bonjour,” “hello,” “go jump in the water.” They completely ignored my presence. With my fanny pack and Nikon, I am obviously from the cruise ship or another tourist group.  That is fine with me, since no prices are visible on any of the diamonds or the Rolex or Tag Heuer watches.  All tags intentionally are turned over. If you have to ask the price of an item, Goldfinger is not for you.

Next, I make my way to the Cour Vendome which I believe means the place of shops or maybe the place of spending. This is where the most impressive shops were but the renovated mini-mall is an unimpressive location for shops such as Hermes, Cartier, Louis Vuitton, Bvlgari and Ralph Lauren.

As I approach the Robert Cavelli store, I hear a man inside say, “I don’t mind spending the money but this is ridiculous!” The entry door is suddenly discreetly closed by the sales clerk. I am intrigued and interested is what is happening.

As I enter the store and begin looking around, I overhear a “May/December” couple and the sales clerk having a three-way exchange.  The man is furious that his wife wants a dress costing 700 Euros. The clerk tries to convince him what fine material the dress is made of. At this point the man lolls his head back and rolls his eyes, saying, “Oh brother!”

The young trophy wife stomps her foot and complains, “But I really like it! And I can wear it Palm Beach, too!”.  The husband counters, “You could buy the same dress for $100 in Palm Beach. This is crazy”!

Trying not to laugh, I continue to look through the clothes. For 400 Euros, I can purchase an off-white cotton eyelet halter sundress. With the exchange rate (US$1 = 1.40 Euros), that’s almost $600.  For the rest, you can figure out the exchange rate easily by simply increasing the price 40-percent.

In Robert Cavelli, a cute white cotton ruffled white shirt that would look great with jeans goes for 700 Euros; a silk floral tank top is 840 Euros;  a sweater with tags of material like fringe 1,180 Euros;  with a matching tank top for 700 Euros.

Stuart Weitzman Shoes is closed but Lolita Taca is open.  There, I can buy the same cotton eyelet dress for 350 Euros (50 less than at Robert Cavelli) but a beach cover up robe goes for 450 Euros!  Lolita Taca does have a stunning sequined halter cocktail dress I like, but not at 690 Euros.

At You and Me, a shoes and purse store store, I find a black straw bag for 130 Euros. It looks like something any of us would find for $30 at Target in the States.

A man’s bathing suit catches my eye at Vilbrequim. It appears to be a child’s size because it is so small.  Instead, it turns out to be a man’s large. That brings up unpleasant images of how squeezably tight it must be on the average guy. Still, because it’s a white bathing suit with little blue turtles, it really looks better suited for a boy. It’s 300 Euros, big boy’s prices, while kid’s suits start at 280.

In a state of shock, I stumble into Edgar, a store for young men.  Just their T- shirts range from 145 to 180 Euros, jeans 285 to 510 , base price for baskets (Converse style tennis shoes) 295.  Men’s sports coats average 1000, ties 240, pants 290 upward and shirts start around 240.  Please realize these not extraordinary pieces of clothing.  Just basic black pants, white pants and gray shirts.  All very Gap-like in quality.

At Louis Vuitton, I locate a nice carry-on tote for 1,390 Euros and a pair of Jackie O sunglasses from 285 Euros.

Finally, I end up down the block at Tom’s Shop, The Funny Store where I’m greeted by Zoltar (the mechanical fortune teller in the Tom Hanks movie Big).  They have a large variety of things, from beach mats for 14.57 Euros, towels, shot glasses and mugs to pirate flags, magic cards and ice cream.  We actually buy something here: a pirate Christmas ornament for our tree.

St. Barts is a good day of fun, shooting pictures, exploring and laughing.  Now, on to Martinique.

by Linda O’Keefe

The Maasdam Sets Sail

And we leave too much behind

It was smart to rent a car to drive from our home port of near Orlando to Fort Lauderdale, where the Maasdam was docked.  At under $100, better than flying and no port parking fees to pay.  And since we had a 24-hour rental, I picked up the vehicle the day before sailing so we could do some preliminary luggage loading.

     Luckily, when I picked up the car, I mentioned to the Budget Rent-A-Car rep at the Embassy Suites hotel in Orlando why I’d chosen to drive to the Fort Lauderdale Airport:  because several people in one of the on-line cruise forums said you could take a free shuttle to the your ship.
     He told me, “Then you don’t want to drop your vehicle off at the airport. There’s no shuttle there.” And so he changed my drop-off to a Budget location where a shuttle runs continually from 11-1:30 to Port Everglades.

     I filled the gas tank before dropping off the car (otherwise it would be US$7.50 a gallon if the rental car company did it). The shuttle had us aboard the Maasdam by 1:30, in plenty of time for lunch and a relaxing afternoon to unpack.
     As we began opening camera bags and suitcases, everything quickly went sour. Where was my Blackberry (enabled for global roaming) that I swear had been in the rental car’s console on the way down? Budget checked but turned up only a spare pair of sunglasses we’d left behind.  Told them we’d pick them up Dec. 17.

    I called my cell phone number. It rang but no one answered. I kept getting cut off before I could leave a message.  Not good!  Now need to notify Verizon to suspend my service immediately. Probably going to be getting a new Droid sooner than I thought.
   The next morning we discovered our supply of toothpaste and my tooth brush (only!) along with my favorite wide-brimmed hat, essential for me in the Caribbean, had disappeared to join my Blackberry. It turned out more or less important odds and ends also positioned right beside the suitcases somehow never were packed.   

    Fortunately, the tranquil and scenic departure from Port Everglades was not troubled by next morning’s blame game of he-said/she-said.  From the top deck of the Maasdam, the slowly passing coastline view was better than from a low-flying helicopter. No rotor noise, only the sound of the steel band playing to celebrate our departure
    Once we entered the Atlantic, reggae quickly was replaced by rock ‘n roll as we encountered apparent wind speeds of a brisk 48 knots.  No problem. We always choose a mid-to-low deck cabin toward the stern, where the more muted side-to-side motion is a wonderful way to fall asleep.

My 35-Day Caribbean Itinerary

Here’s how you can spend 35 days in the Caribbean

     This is where we go, and when.
    I guess I should point out that I’ve paid for this cruise and am  not a guest of Holland America or the ms Maasdam.  This is cruise is an incredible value, although after three stops I suspect I’ll get tired of Half Moon Cay.

                               THE GRAND ITINERARY

DAY DATE PORT ARRIVE   DEPART
Fri Nov 12 Fort Lauderdale, FL   5:00pm
Sat Nov 13 Half Moon Cay, Bahamas 8:00am 4:00pm
Sun Nov 14 At Sea    
Mon Nov 15 Tortola, British Virgin Islands 11:00am 8:00pm
Tue Nov 16 St. Barts 8:00am 5:00pm
Wed Nov 17 Fort-de-France, Martinique 8:00am 5:00pm
Thu Nov 18 Barbados 8:00am 5:00pm
Fri Nov 19 Grenada 8:00am 5:00pm
Sat Nov 20 At Sea    
Sun Nov 21 Bonaire 8:00am 5:00pm
Mon Nov 22 Curacao 7:00am 11:00pm
Tue Nov 23 Aruba 8:00am 5:00pm
Wed Nov 24 At Sea    
Thu Nov 25 At Sea    
Fri Nov 26 Fort Lauderdale, FL 7:00am 5:00pm
Sat Nov 27 Nassau, Bahamas 7:00am 2:00pm
Sun Nov 28 At Sea    
Mon Nov 29 San Juan, Puerto Rico 10:00am 8:00pm
Tue Nov 30 St. Barts 9:00am 5:00pm
Wed Dec 1 Roseau, Dominica 8:00am 5:00pm
Thu Dec 2 Antigua 8:00am 5:00pm
Fri Dec 3 St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands 8:00am 5:00pm
Sat Dec 4 At Sea    
Sun Dec 5 Half Moon Cay, Bahamas 8:00am 4:00pm
Mon Dec 6 Fort Lauderdale, FL 7:00am 5:00pm
Tue Dec 7 Half Moon Cay, Bahamas 8:00am 4:00pm
Wed Dec 8 At Sea    
Thu Dec 9 St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands 10:00am 7:00pm
Fri Dec 10 St. Kitts 8:00am 5:00pm
Sat Dec 11 St. Vincent 10:00am 7:00pm
Sun Dec 12 Barbados 8:00am 5:00pm
Mon Dec 13 St. Lucia 8:00am 4:00pm
Tue Dec 14 St. Maarten 9:00am 8:00pm
Wed Dec 15 At Sea    
Thu Dec 16 At Sea    
Fri Dec 17 Fort Lauderdale, FL 7:00am  

 

Caribbean Cruise – What To Pack

Consider These The Bare Essentials
 
 Which clothes to pack for a Caribbean cruise is simpler than you think. Your two most important considerations are comfort and practicality.
     Before deciding what to pack, do your homework first to narrow your focus and eliminate the urge to throw things in the suitcase at the last minute for “just in case.”
     Make a list of every day’s port of call and the activities you plan to participate in at each.
      How many days do you spend at sea? That requires almost no wardrobe. You can spend the entire day in a bathing suit if you wish.  
     Now that you know your itinerary, get down to serious business.  Remember, most people don’t dress or look like the models in cruise advertisements. There’s no need to break the bank on clothing for a cruise.  Save your money for fun things to do at the different ports you’ll be visiting.  
     Most things you need are in your closet.
     The usual basics are best for both men and women.  
     For men: Slacks and a polo-style shirt are appropriate attire for a man at dinner and the shirt can be worn the next day with shorts.  The only night men need a coat and tie is the formal evening.
     For women: Don’t limit yourself to dresses and heels–you may regret it. Dinner wear is actually fairly simple. For daytime, bring a pair of light slacks and a pair of black slacks with blouses or tanks.   Formal night is whatever you want it to be but slacks with a dressy blouse are fine
      Footwear: A must have item are black walking/tennis shoes.  Both for men and women. Yes, even on formal nights.  Ladies, trust me, in rough seas walking can be tough and you don’t want to be in heels. Who’s going to look at your feet anyway?  
      Why such casual footwear? Your cruise ship’s main dining rooms may not be located on the same floor as your stateroom. So, you may have to climb stairs and walk from one end of the ship to the other—in rough seas. Be comfortable. You’re on vacation.
     Sweater: Even though it’s warm and humid in the Caribbean, air conditioning can make dining chilly.  A good investment for a woman is a nice light-weight black sweater.  It can be stuffed into a carry-on bag and pulled out at a moment’s notice to dress you up while wearing casual slacks.
     Two bathing suits are all you need to carry on board.  One to wear while the other one dries.
     Cover ups are important to remember but towels are furnished poolside and for beach trips in port.
     Snorkel equipment is usually included with shore excursions. But if you have your own gear, bring it. Then you’ll know your mask won’t leak and the fins won’t blister your feet.
     Lightweight rain jacket just in case liquid sunshine decides to dump on you. Some rain jackets fold into themselves to make packing easier.
  Small rain umbrella when combined with lightweight rain jacket is as much good luck as you can possibly pack to stave off rain. Cruising during the Caribbean’s usual January-April dry season is the most powerful rain deterrent

Formal Attire for A 35-Day Cruise

You can observe as many or as few formal nights as you wish

I have worn a tux to dinner on cruise ships and I would do it again but . . . I’ve added 20 pounds that won’t into my tux.  
     Every cruise line has its own dress code. On Holland America (HAL) and the Maasdam, women have more choices for formal nights. They can wear a suit, cocktail dress or gown. Men are confined to a jacket and tie, either with a dark suit or tuxedo. HAL typically has two formal nights a week, so 10 nights for my five week cruise is par for the course.
     If you don’t want to pack formal wear or–like mine–yours seems to have shrunk, you can order it by calling Cruiseline Formalwear at 800-551-5091 or reserve it online. A tux with two shirts ranges from $85-$160, depending on how elaborate you want to be. Your formal wear should be hanging in your stateroom closet when you board.  
     On the other 25 days, the dress code is “smart casual,” Women can pretty much get away anything decent looking while men need only to wear slacks (no blue jeans and certainly not shorts!) and a collared shirt. 
     Here’s a secret about formal nights both men and women might appreciate. Forget about elaborate footwear—no one looks at your feet. I always wear classy looking black sneakers for every formal occasion whether on a ship or anywhere else.
     How to avoid formal nights but not miss out on any special delicacies served for dinner. The menu for every evening is posted in advance outside the main dining room, where the formal affairs take place. Check it, then compare with the dinner menu posted outside the buffet restaurant, assuming one is there. Haven’t cruised on HAL in several years so not sure about their current practice. 
     The sure-fire way to have one of the best dinners possible.  Most cruise lines offer room service but sometimes the menu is so limited it’s useless. However, on Holland America, you can order from the dinner menu and have your selections delivered fresh to your stateroom. 
     Don’t place your order before or during the first seating. Call and place your order between the first and second seating. Everything will be prepared fresh and not something taken off the line.
     Tip your room service server $2-$3. The next time you call, you have no idea how much attention will be paid to your order.
     As a writer and photographer (who needs to write a post and download/identify images after every cruise port) I order in probably more than most. Especially on formal nights.
     Being able to order from the full menu for room service anytime of day is one reason I really like cruising Holland America.  Still, this bonus feature would be irrelevant and meaningless if the food wasn’t so good. 
     I’ve had several of my best lifetime meals ever via Holland America room service. Pretty impressive considering I’ve visited and dined on every continent, including Antarctica.  A chilled bottle of champagne was the best Antarctica had to offer.

Orlando *Essential* Guide from iTunes

Orlando *Essential* Guide iTunes app

Orlando *Essential* Guide from iTunes
Screen shots from Orlando Essential Guide iTunes app

Find what you need to know before you go!

If you or someone you know is coming to Orlando, downloading the best-selling iTunes Orlando *Essential* Guide is one of the smartest to prepare for your trip. 
     With 200 entries and almost 1,700 photographs, this iPhone/iTouch/iPad compatible app will eliminate most of the uncertainty whether you are a first-time or tenth-time visitor.
     With almost 100 attractions near Orlando, how do you know which ones to see and which major theme parks really deliver? Where the locals go to eat, drink and play?  Find out with this essential guide to Orlando’s very best. 
     Open any entry and you will find the following items: text description, live web links, slide show and a map with live GPS that will plot the route to take you to the attraction’s parking lot.  How convenient is that?
     Cost of the app is only $2.99 and it comes with free lifetime updates–even if the price of the app increases.            
     Download Orlando *Essential* Guide now from iTunes

So, How Do You Say ‘Caribbean?’

 Sailboat on South Shore of St. John, USVI                         Sailboat on the South Shore of St. John, USVI

 After writing scores of articles and authoring several books on the Caribbean, I have decided someone should mount a futile effort to have the word Caribbean pronounced correctly. After all, when you visit someone’s home, shouldn’t you be able to say their name the correct way?

Most islanders say “ker-i-BEE-uhn,” and this is also the preferred pronunciation in most dictionaries.  Like all dictionaries, the Merriam-Webster  phonetically divides Caribbean into “ker-ə-bē-ən” and notes that the first recorded use was in 1772.

A second option is ” kəˈrɪb·i·ən” which many attribute to the British (who turned Kenya into “keen-ya”) but the Brits I’ve talked to deny they’re at fault.  This alternate pronunciation was added to Webster’s somewhere around 1934.  Some speakers now add a second “r” to the pronunciation so Caribbean sounds like
” ka(r)-RIB-e-uhn.”

Since most Caribbean islanders  say “ker-i-BEE-uhn”—unless they have been corrupted by outsiders—common sense would dictate there is only one correct pronunciation.

 

The Caribbean region received its name from the Carib (“ker-ib”) Indians, where a sizable population of them still survives in Dominica. Their name, like the Caribbean’s regional beer, is “ker-ib.” Both would be pronounced “ker-RIB-eh” if “ker-RIB-ee-an” was the correct pronunciation for the islands.

Now, for the ultimate authority.  In Walt Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean movies, the word Caribbean always is pronounced “ker-i-BEE-uhn.” If you can’t trust Walt Disney . . .?

All together:  ker-i-BEE-uhn!

(Update: Received a note from a Trinidadian whose home island   brews and bottles Carib Larger: “We say Karib-ean. But the stress is on the ‘Kar’ not the ‘rib’ of the first part of the word, KARib-ean. And we speak only one of the ‘b’s.”  

 

 

A 35-Day Cruise – Forget Driving & Parking

 

Although the following nuts and bolts relate to my extended 35-day cruise, the situation applies to everyone wanting to slash both their travel costs and port parking charges.   

My 35-day Caribbean cruise aboard the ms Maasdam departing Nov. 12 from Fort Lauderdale comes with a few problems. Most important is determining the most efficient (cheapest) way to travel from the Orlando area. Driving my own vehicle is out of the question with Port Everglades charging $20 a day for parking. That will come to $700 or about 25percent of the actual cruise cost. Forget that.

Going by air is not feasible. Although the distance between Orlando and Fort Lauderdale is only about 215 miles, flying is an unreasonable and expensive proposition. Except for Spirit Airlines, whose direct flight with a very good schedule is only $120 per person roundtrip. Unfortunately, based on flying Spirit, I will never ever fly Spirit again. The airline doesn’t know what a schedule means. Further, luggage and a glass of water or anything (besides toilet paper?) on Spirit will be an extra charge.

Southwest Airlines with two free bags per person is a more attractive alternative but the roundtrip fare still is about $200 per person.  AirTran, a favorite that does not fly directly to Fort Lauderdale, is $373. The best Priceline comes up with is $688 with multiple stops on Continental. Ridiculous since I can fly Continental from Orlando to San Diego for about $300.

My best option is a rental car. Using my discount as a member of BJ’s Wholesale Club, Budget Rent-A-Car rents me an intermediate vehicle from Orlando to the Fort Lauderdale International Airport with drop off there for about $100. The cost for the return is the same. I like that.

The Fort Lauderdale airport happens to be so close to the Port Everglades cruise terminal that rental car companies provide a free shuttle to the ships.  Now, that’s a deal!

Perhaps most importantly, the amount of luggage is irrelevant. It does take a lot of luggage for a 35-day cruise. More importantly, there is the matter of souvenirs. Cruise lines don’t care how much you buy as long as it all fits it in your stateroom and can  leave the ship with the rest of the baggage.

So I also will be bringing some extra suitcases, empty when I depart but packed solid when I return. And have no concern about their weight. The varieties of Caribbean hot sauces will weigh at least 20 pounds, if not more. And if I see another 35-pound carved wooden mask to add to my collection, so what?  Or a painting that I can hand-carry off the ship and not worry about being crushed in airline luggage.

Point of all this: Consider your best option for traveling to the port regardless of cruise length.

But with 35 days at sea, there still is more to consider. As you will see in tomorrow’s blog

A 35-Day Caribbean Cruise? For Real?

The typical 7-day Caribbean cruise may be fine for most people but I find them disappointing. Just as you’re becoming accustomed to ship-board life, it’s time to return to port. And 7 days, even from Florida, doesn’t offer the chance to travel very far.

Still, when I spotted a 35-day Caribbean cruise aboard the ms Maasdam on VacationsToGo.com, I thought it had to be a misprint. Thirty-five days is a third of the length of most around the world voyages.

Yet it was true, a 35-day tour of 19 different islands with only two repeats—St. Barts and Barbados, two of my favorites. Plus three stops at Half Moon Cay, Holland America’s water sports playground, and two returns to the home port of Fort Lauderdale.

cruise-ships-maasdam
The Maasdam, My Future Home For 35 Days

The 35-day cruise is actually a piggyback of three different itineraries of the Eastern and Southern Caribbean, including such rarely visited islands as St. Vincent and Martinique and quite a few ports off the regular milk runs: St. Barts, St. Croix, Grenada, Aruba Bonaire and Curacao.

The Maasdam, carrying only 1,250 passengers, is able to visit these islands that mega-ships ferrying between 4,000 and 5,500 cruisers cannot dock at and whose ports cannot handle such hoards of cruisers. Long live the smaller ships!      

Perhaps the most amazing thing of all is the price of this itinerary. Including government taxes and port charges, it averages $73.35 a day for an inside cabin.  (Hey, I’m a blogger!) My wife and I signed up for the cruise, which departs from Fort Lauderdale in just 10 days.   

But planning for a cruise of this length presents some unusual problems. Living in Orlando, it’s not worth flying to Fort Lauderdale but Port Everglades charges $20 a day for parking ($20 x 35=$700). Has to be a way around that!

Join me and Linda on this blog for the next few days as we check off and solve the problems before sailing and anticipate a few issues we expect to encounter on board.

Then follow us as we explore the islands and life on board the ms Maasdam for more than a month.

Ashford Castle Named Top Hotel In Europe

Ashford Castle, 800 years old and counting
Ashford Castle Exterior

Ireland’s Ashford Castle not only is the “Top Resort in Ireland” but “Top Resort in Europe” according to readers of Condé Nast Traveler in the magazine’s annual Readers’ Choice Awards.

Runners-up were the Villa d’Este on Italy’s Lake Como and the Hotel du Cap-Eden Roc in Antibes on the French Riviera.

Ashford Castle, which sits on 350 acres of County Mayo on the shores of both Lough Corrib and the River Cong, has a long history, dating back to 1228. A hotel since 1939 with 83 guestrooms and suites, the castle enjoys an exceptional backdrop of forest, lake, river and mountains. It offers a remarkable collection of “country sports” featuring horseback riding, fly fishing, golf on its exclusive nine-hole course and Ireland’s first school of falconry.

The Condé Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice recognition comes on top of Ashford Castle’s 2010 Gold Medal from the Green Hospitality Awards and Trip Advisor’s 2010 top ten picks for European castle hotels.

I stayed at this grand old castle many years back and it was an unforgettable experience. Ashford definitely is staying with the times, even offering “Hogwarts Family Midterm Break” packages.

For more information on Ashford Castle, visit www.ashford.ie