Friday, April 29, 2011

Between Ocean Drive and Surf Road

That’s been our address for this carefree week of sun and sand – can you think of any better location?
We’ll be moving into the next phase of our adventure this weekend but before doing so, I had to bounce the beach ball down memory lane one last time:

The concierge at our hotel had very tactfully told us that Fort Lauderdale Beach is still a haven for itsy-bitsy, teeny tiny teens in their bikinis. Hollywood Beach, where we are, is more of a ‘baby boomer beach,’ she said. (You get the picture).

But I still wasn’t going to be deterred from getting to the  beach from my “Where the Boys Are” movie.  And I did as evidenced by the photo below.

Please note, that while I may look like a boomer; below that wind-blown hairdo and tee-shirt was a bikini-clad college girl humming the movie’s theme song. . .
hollywoodcruise 2011 017
You can imagine my joy when the taxi boat guide announced that Connie Frances had been on this very same beach less than a year ago “singing her heart out.”
And then she added, “. . . she was celebrating the 50th anniversary of the movie’s  release.”  

I knew then, that it was time to head back to the ‘boomer beach.’

Note:  To hear the song sung by Connie, visit the post, “Where the Boys Are”

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Florida’s Wacky, Winding Waterway

No matter where we go, we try to use  public transit as much as possible. And kudos to Hollywood/Ft. Lauderdale for offering some great  public transit and tourism  options, including a great water taxi.

We headed north to Ft. Lauderdale one afternoon traveling  the Intracoastal Waterway on the Water Taxi  catamaran.  Tickets are $20 ($16 for seniors, 65+) for a full-day pass.  Although their posted schedules were loosely adhered to, we filled an afternoon exploring but a small section of this 3,000 mile waterway that links Norfolk, Virginia to Brownsville, Texas. We learned it has once stretched from Maine to Texas and was built during World War II as a safe means of getting our war ships repositioned.

hollywoodcruise 2011 011 Our crew pointed out nature and history, along the way but the most unexpected sight occurred just as the taxi was pulling in to pick us up: two docks south a man literally jetted out over the water. A Kodak moment for all.

We went through Port Everglades where Holland America’s Neiu Amsterdam was the only ship in port and later watched it head out to sea. 

hollywoodcruise 2011 012 We transferred to a Ft. Lauderdale taxi just past the port and in typical tourist fashion, photographed  mansions and yachts belonging to “‘the other half’” en route to Ft. Lauderdale Beach. . .you know, the beach in the movie I’ve been telling you about.  More on that next time.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Hooray for Hollywood!

Hooray, indeed! It is everything Connie and her friends promised in that long ago movie (see the last post if that doesn’t make sense). . .the white sand, beach umbrellas, beautiful bikini-clad bodies, (some bodies that really shouldn’t be in bikinis or shorts, for that matter) and sun. Glorious, but intense, sun.

hollywoodcruise 2011 006 85-degrees today and the same for tomorrow. And the Hollywood Broadwalk is everything the tourist association promised.  We understand now why Travel+ Leisure Magazine voted it one of the best boardwalks around.

In fact the Broadwalk provided a type of Easter parade yesterday as hundreds strolled, biked, skated, jogged or ran along in front of the hotel.  This morning it was nearly empty as we set out to explore
hollywoodcruise 2011 003 Our north-facing room couldn’t be better for seeing both the Intra-coastal Waterway to our right and the Atlantic Ocean to our left. Sunrise right; sunset left.

We also had a late afternoon Easter Parade of cruise ships setting sail from Port Everglades which is less than 10 miles from us.
The first ship out was ‘our’ Solstice! It will do a final spin through the Caribbean before we board it for Europe next weekend. 
hollywoodcruise 2011 005 Among the ship’s departing yesterday was the Celebrity Infinity and on board it were our cruising buddies Bill and Madelin (they are the friends we made on a repositioning cruise a few years ago.) They called us just as their ship entered the Atlantic and chatted as the ship set sail for Seattle!

Friday, April 22, 2011

“Where the Boys Are. . .”

If you were a youngster in the early 60’s then the title alone should spark a memory of  that dark-haired beauty, Connie Francis, singing and searching for romance on Florida's beaches during a spring break romp in a movie named, what else? “Where the Boys Are”.

Movies --for a kid like me growing up in Yakima, Washington – were an introduction to the world; a time travel to places I hoped to visit when I grew up.  I’ve already told you how Hayley Mills in Disney’s “Moonspinners” kicked off what was to be my adult-life love affair with Greece.

In much the same way,  Where the Boys Are, created a magical image of  Fort Lauderdale; actually, anything, Florida.
HAL 2009 cruise photos 010
Now  decades later, I’ve been to to Fort Lauderdale a few times; usually a late-night arrival to catch a cruise ship the next morning.

We’ll soon be heading there to catch our Celebrity cruise.  This time, though, we are spending a few days on the Florida coast.

Unlike those dreamy, starry-eyed teen years, I am  no longer hoping to find my true love there as Connie so skillfully planted the seeds of hope so long ago - he’s coming with me. 

But at some point under that Floridian sun, I’ll be humming that song, thinking of Connie and back to a time that my friends and I watched. . .and watched . . .and watched that film over and over again.

Connie and others like her in those movies planted the seeds for our futures: romance and travel, success and happiness. Isn't it funny how just hearing a song from one of them now can take me time traveling back through the decades to the time my friends and I were lost in the land of movie magic?

Note:  If you don’t recall the movie or need a refresher course, click on the link above, as it will take you to a great video posted by glamourous888 on YouTube. Happy Memories!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Holiday Homework, Road Reads, and other Novel stuff

Nothing like a good book to get you in the mood for travel.

We turned to our local (just up the road 30 miles or so) travel guru Rick Steves’ for the homework part of our trip to Spain  Over the years we've come to appreciate his practical tips for getting around and saving money, not to mention hand-drawn, easy-to-understand maps. We've been reading his large book on Spain, but will only be taking one of his Snapshot Series books --  Madrid and Toledo -- with us. This series provides a compact, light-weight book specific to certain cities.

(I know you are thinking, why don't they use Kindle, or Nook or some phone with apps? Well, we pack light and between our cell phone, camera and Netbook, we have all the wires, chargers and batteries we want to carry - so give us a good ol' paperback in which we can jot notes and flag pages with the flick of a wrist and we are quite happy.)

Pre-trip reading:
I’ve learned much about the Spanish Civil War and the military coup of Francisco Franco in 1936, by re-reading the novel, The Return by English author Victoria Hislop. Caught up in the story she tells of Concha and Pablo Ramirez and their children, I’ve also learned much about flamenco dancing and its importance in the Spanish culture. Even if you don't travel to Spain, this would be a great summer read for beach or armchair.

A real life story by Frances Mayes, A Year In  the World, The Journey of a Passionate Traveler has almost had me tasting the tapas she ate and certainly smelling the orange blossoms as she has explored towns and cities in Spain and Portugal.  In her usual style she has also sparked my interest in not only the poetry of Spanish son, Federico Garcia Lorca, but in his life as well.  She’s also prompted me to research the Spanish concept of duende, in both flamenco dance and life itself. But, more on that later.

On the road reads. . .okay, so on the seas, reads:
HAL 2009 cruise photos 028I'll be seeing views similar to this photo -- taken on our repositioning cruise two years ago -- when I open Mark Twain’s Innocence Abroad the perfect re-read for the cruise. Then I want to find a copy of Bill Bryson’s Icons of England. . .you can never have too much to read.

We’ve got a lot of sea days reading time though and I am looking for your suggestions.  Any recommendations? Books set in Spain, England or France? Cruise stories? (I read Christopher Columbus's diaries on our last cruise and it was fascinating)

Note: Although I’ve added these books to the Amazon carousel on the lower right hand corner of the blog. I've also added a link in this post for those who get this by email and may want to look more closely at a book: simply click that link - it will take you to that book's page on Amazon. 

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Celebrity Crossing

We’ve taken many cruises since the time -- nearly a decade ago -- when we announced, “We are NOT cruise people.”
Ah yes, those famous last words that come back to remind you of the importance of keeping an open mind when it comes to travel and the adventures you might miss without it.

Take repositioning cruises.We also used to say ‘we’d likely go nuts” on a ship with as many as six days at sea . . .then we took one. Not only is it one of the best cruise buys available, but we love those sea days! 

Soon we’ll be crossing the Atlantic aboard Celebrity’s Solstice (pictured above). We will travel for six days from Port Everglades, Florida to Ponte Delgada, in the Azores. We’ll then hopscotch our way around the Portuguese and Spanish coastline finally arriving in Barcelona on day 14.

Our floating home, the Solstice,  is so large, that it is like a  floating hotel, well, maybe a floating a hotel in an amusement park.

Let’s start with statistics: Length: 1,033 feet (think three football fields put end to end and then some) and 15-floors high. (We are at the very back and on the 9th floor - we'll stay fit!) We will be among some 2,850 guests if the ship is full; I suspect it will be. And we'll have 999 crew members to take care of us all.

To keep us entertained, there’s a spa, a library, internet, a movie theatre, basketball court, 14 bars and lounges, 10 hot tubs, 3 pools, and a basketball court.

But this ship will also have some features we’ve never had on previous cruises: The Lawn Club, a field of real live grass; a Hot Glass Show (co-sponsored by the Corning Museum of Glass) and Smithsonian Journeys, a lecture series sponsored by the Smithsonian’s Travel Program. More on those from somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic. . .

Friday, April 15, 2011

Vegas Taxis: And the Rest of the Story

As the lengendary U.S. radio broadcaster Paul Harvey used to say, "And now. . .for the rest of the story. . ."

Our recent southwest road trip got off to a bad start when we were 'taken for a ride' by a Vegas cabbie  who used the freeway to get to The Strip instead of the more direct - cheaper - route to our hotel.  Luckily for us, we'd knew of this scam and, coincidentally,  had just read an article by Chris Erskine about a similar 'ride' in Vegas that appeared in the L.A. Times only days before our trip.

Between Erskine's article and our experience, I decided it was time to speak up. So, as Joel grudgingly paid the ransom I jotted down cab number, company's phone number and details of the driver.  All of which, I provided the company's manager when I called immediately upon getting to our room.

He assured me an investigation would be undertaken and took our address to send a refund check, in the event my complaint checked out.  Apparently it did because I received a full refund (including a tip and airport fee).

A letter of apology was enclosed that read in part: 
"I am sorry that this incident occurred (per the phone conversation) and you should know that the refund that I am sending you has been paid by the driver and all appropriate disciplinary actions have already been taken."

At the end of the road trip, we returned Ol' Orange, our trusty rental car back to Strip parking garage, and caught a taxi back to the airport. Price? $11.30 as compared to the $25 we had been charged the night we arrived. We told the driver about the first night's ride and my complaint to the company.   

His response:  "Thank You! I wish more of you would do that because those people are giving us all a bad name."

I didn't name the company in this post because the problem isn't limited to one business or city.  The lesson we learned is that if you think you've been taken for a ride, you may well be right, so let the company know.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

“The Bluest Skies You’ve Ever Seen Are In . . .

. . .Seattle!  And the hills the greenest, green are in Seattle. . .”

If you watched television back in the late 1960’s you're probably humming 'the tune' already and if not, click the link and watch a YouTube clip of the show, “Here Come the Brides” that aired from 1968 –1970, putting Seattle on the map and the song on the charts.

Seattle, these days, is a far cry from the remote, forested outpost portrayed in that show. It's a regular high-rise, high-density city.

Although it's only a 20-minute Metro bus ride away from my driveway, I admit that I am guilty of ignoring our state’s Emerald City.  I go there to show out-of-town guests our touristy spots like The Space Needle, and Monorail from the 1962 Worlds Fair, Pike Place Market, the Washington State Ferries . . .
Have you ever found yourself guilty of living so close to a ‘destination’ that you don’t often visit it?   I haven’t spent time really exploring this city-next-door since I did the walk through history article for the Seattle Times

But this week I’ll be joining the 10 million tourists who visit  each year~I am attending a conference there. (Can you believe that just under a million of those visitors are cruise ship passengers these days? )

Sadly the weatherman has dashed my hopes of seeing the ‘bluest skies’ – heavy rain is predicted.  But in this post-Bobby-Sherman era, what else could I expect. . . well, okay, maybe a cup of  Starbucks?

Monday, April 11, 2011

Hello to Hollywood

Map picture
We’ll soon be saying Hello to Hollywood. . .Florida that is. This Hollywood is snuggled between Fort Lauderdale and Miami way down there on the state's southern tip.  

We’ll be snuggled between the Atlantic Ocean and Florida’s Intracoastal Waterway at the Hollywood Beach Marriott thanks to  Joel, who found another of  ‘those deals’ for which he’s famous for sniffing out.  And of all places; he found a hotel deal on the timeshare website I’ve mentioned before, Interval International

We checked calendars, noted the gray skies that darken and dampen our Pacific Northwest spring and it took no more than a matter of minutes to book a few extra days in Florida sunshine: the departure point for our Great Spring Adventure.

Our ‘boutique-style’ hotel, as its web site tells us, is on the city’s famous Broadwalk (yes, it is a ‘Broadwalk’) that has been named one of the best beach ‘boardwalks’ by Travel + Leisure Magazine.  We plan to keep the D2G alive with daily walks along the 2.5 mile brick walkway .

It is also close to Port Everglades from where our Celebrity ship will set sail for Barcelona.HAL 2009 cruise photos 004  Celebrity is one of 13 cruise lines – and some 50 ships -- that use this port.  We will be joining the estimated 3.8 million passengers who’ll pass through this place in 2010-2011.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Confessions of a White-Knuckler

What? You're afraid of flying?

How can that be, you fly all the time?

True. We do fly a lot.
And true, I'm still a white-knuckler.

So I'm always amused by people who tell me they don't travel because they don't like flying.  On the flip side, I am amazed when people tell me that they book overnight flights so that they can sleep through the flight.

(I may doze, but am always 'on alert' in case disaster happens in mid-flight because I've convinced myself that somehow the cockpit crew or flight attendants may need my assistance in event of crisis at 37,000 feet. Okay, maybe it's just the old journalist in me that doesn't want to miss the big story. . .)

And it seems airplane horror stories always start making media headlines in the weeks leading up to a trip we've planned.  Just like now, how many times must they show that hole in the top of that Southwest Airlines plane? And that's been followed by watching them haul chunks up from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean of that Air France plane that took the mysterious plunge a couple years ago.

So I am not sure why I opened the story on Bing this morning about unusual airports. . .maybe to torture myself. Actually the photos are so good, I had to share it with you: unusual airports.

It will give my fellow white knucklers nightmares but may spark new destination ideas for the rest of you travel gonzos out there.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Are we travel Gonzos or Geezers?

Gonzos or Geezers
The question has been nagging since a recent e-chat with a self-described '20-something' vagabond/blogger who shares our passion for travel and also writes a (very popular) blog, Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.  His blogging goals are much like mine: inspire others to travel, to stretch their comfort zones, and of course, offer tips for doing it as cheaply as possible. I call him the "Rick Steves of the 21st Century".

The circumstances of Matt and I e-chatting are irrelevant. But the questions he asked have left me pondering a bigger question: are we Gonzo (gutsy, no-fear,  long-term explorers) or Geezer (somewhat cautious old folks on the move) travelers. . .and I've decided we are poster children for a new genre:  Gonzo Geezers!

Matt had asked me:
"How often do you travel? All the time?"
"How long are your trips?"
"Would you consider yourself 'backpackers?"
"Where do you travel to?"
"Are you retired?"

I suspect my answers left the decades-younger-than-me traveler rolling his eyes and pronouncing us geezers.

But I am comforted the memory of a chat last fall with a fellow traveler (of my age) who asked of our after-cruise-plans. I replied, "We've got two weeks and plan to explore Greece but we don't know where we will go.  We've might just catch the first ferry to leave after we get off the ship and go where it takes us."

"Oh my!," she exclaimed, "You are so brave!  We've gotten too old to do that. . . but I am not sure we would have done that even when we could have."

A five-week trip began with city bus
to SeaTac - we took carry-ons
j.smith photo, (c) 2010 
And as for that backpack: We come across many our age who are traveling just as much - if not more than us - and frankly, we don't see many of them lugging those body-sized packs. . .well, maybe small carry-on size, if for no other reason than to carry those meds. Nuts, the pills alone required for even  healthy middle age, could fill a small backpack. Ever tried to pack one of those fish oil tablet bottles? It's the size of a Coho salmon. And sadly. . .wearing a suit or cocktail dress on cruise ship formal nights that you've just pulled out of the REI all-weather pack, does cause heads to turn.
25-euros a night -
Southern Coast of Crete
j.smith photo (c) 2010

We hike and log many, many miles  on our trips. What we don't want to hike is a hallway in the middle of the night to get to a bathroom. We seek cheap accommodations, but our standards are high. The room must be clean, the bed free of bedbugs and  EN SUITE bathroom is a must.  (Someday those Gonzo 20-somethings will understand that magic word, en suite.)

Re-tired? No, we've re-treaded into a new life style.

So how about you?
Have you re-tired or re-treaded into new adventures?
Are you a Gonzo Geezer?
If you're an armchair traveler, where would you go if you could?
They are questions worth pondering.

(And Matt, tuck a copy of this post away. Read it again when you are sucking air to blow out the candles on your 50th birthday.  My answers will make more sense to you then.)

Monday, April 4, 2011

Snowbirds on The Timeshare Trail

Snowbirds about to land
j.smith photo, c, 2011
Snowbirds are those folks -- okay, older folks, like us -- who live in the north and, like birds, wing our way towards sun and warmth during the northern winter's nasty weather.

This winter this pair of snowbirds followed The Timeshare Trail.  

'No, not timeshare!' you are probably thinking, eyes rolling, as your finger aims for the delete button.
Wait! Give me a minute. . .
and don't worry, I haven't gone into marketing and this isn't one of those famous 90-minute sales presentations for which timeshares are famous.

I do understand your reaction as we used to be the same way: 'Timeshare? Not us!'
Just like we said we 'weren't into cruising'.
Famous last words. 
You know by now that we love cruising and guess what?
We've decided the timeshare life is pretty darn nice as well.

Of course timeshares aren't those stark, cramped, worse-than-college-housing places that originated a half century ago. Can you believe they've been around for a half century? The first timeshare can be traced back to a 1960's French Alps ski resort.

One of three pools at the
Scottsdale Four Seasons Club
j.smith, (c) 2011
These days with the likes of Four Seasons, Marriott and Hilton  all  in the timeshare business, this travel niche has re-branded into upscale Residence Clubs and Vacation Clubs with equally upscale accommodations and furnishings.

On the Timeshare Trail

Our timeshare stays provided us ' second homes' on a Hawaiian beach, on the Las Vegas Strip and on a Scottsdale golf course.  Our goal was to make each stay as much like having a real second home as possible so we skipped tourist attractions and made outings to grocery stores and farmer's markets.
Although for those who were wanted an action-packed vacation, each place offered plenty of organized activities from classes to card games and exercise to excursions.

In Hawaii, we set up housekeeping at the Marriott Ko Olina Vacation Club.  Our days were much like those back home, except that when our daily chores were done (loading the dish washer, cooking, and maybe a grocery store run) we'd head to the beach for an afternoon of lazing in the sun. (No cleaning toilets, washing windows, shoveling snow. . . you get the picture.) 

Full disclosure (for those that didn't read last year's entries): We fell for this responsibility-free timeshare life several years ago. As owners, we can use our time at any number of locations around the world from winter-ski resorts to beaches - the selection is quite mind-boggling. Our ownership comes with membership in Interval International, a company that manages the trades and reservations. It was from them we found the deal on the week at the  Jockey Club, overlooking  the Las Vegas Strip that I wrote about a few weeks back.  Again, we set up housekeeping, rode their free shuttle to a super market and ate 'at home' several times during the stay.

We traded palm trees for Palo Verde trees and Saguaro cactus in Scottsdale, Arizona when we traded part of our Hawaiian time for the desert. We ended up at the Scottsdale Links Resort in a place so large that we could easily lived there year round:  two-bedrooms, two-baths, large patio, living room and dining room. (The spaciousness of these places would be a real plus for those traveling with children.)

Saving Money and Stress

We saved both money and calories by eating 'at home': a bottle of wine for $11 vs. a restaurant's $11 per glass; two steak dinners for the price of a restaurant's single fillet, refrigerator bins filled with fresh fruits and vegetables for the cost of a restaurant 'side'. Eating in wasn't a big deal. When the only 'chore' you have each day is getting a meal together, even it becomes a stress-free experience unlike the hurried, oft-uninspired preparations back home.

Renting a timeshare

Four Seasons Scottsdale
j.smith, (c), 2010
You don't need to buy a timeshare to vacation in one.  The Web is full of timeshare rental sites, which include: Diamond Resorts, Vacation Timeshare Rentals and Sell My Timeshare Now (don't be put off by the  name, it also offers rentals).  You can also rent directly from the resorts by going to their web site.  In some cases, you might see a real deal from the resort for 'introductory package' -- but be forewarned, those deals will likely require attendance at one of those 90-minute sales presentations and may come with other strings attached.  If you choose that route over a regular rental, read the small print.


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