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Posts Tagged ‘Travel’

It’s January and snowing. Good news if you’re skiing, not so much if you’re dreaming of warmer climes. Right now, I could definitely be soaking up the heat shimmering off Miami’s South Beach (current temperature 71 degrees). Ok, so that might be a little chilly for sunbathing, but luckily there’s more to do in South Beach than hang out with beautiful people by the water.

Just one block from the beach is Ocean Drive, one of the most happening streets you’ll find anywhere. Lined with chic bars, small eateries, beachwear vendors and souvenir hawkers, it’s a hangout for both casual tourists and the “be seen” crowd — not to mention bikini-sporting sirens, sexy surfers, laid-back Harley dudes, business people, roller bladers, joggers and bicyclists. The eclectic crowd reminds one of Amsterdam or Vegas, but with a small town vibe that makes everyone feel at home.

If you’re into people watching, find a patio perch at one of the bars or cafes that line Ocean Drive. If you’re lucky, you might be visited by the roaming cigar girl who will tempt you with a selection of fine cigars (another reason to love this town!). For dinner, seek a small Cuban diner for authentic local cuisine (your hotel concierge should be able to recommend one).

Speaking of hotels, although Ocean Drive boasts many fine accommodations, if you’re on budget, stay one block over on Collins Avenue (aka, the A1A). Last spring we stayed at the Carlton Hotel, which at $150 plus tax and resort fee, seemed to be a good deal given the location. The rooms were a decent size, the beds were super comfy, and the pool area provided a secluded alternative to the beach. Although the property showed its age, the modern décor made it fun.

To be fair, most of the hotels in South Beach are housed in older buildings, many done in Art Deco style. It’s part of the area’s charm, especially at night when Ocean Drive lights up like a tropical Christmas tree.

In addition to being a destination in itself, South Beach is a short cab ride to the Port of Miami for travelers departing or returning from a cruise. Try to book more than one night’s stay, though, or you may find yourself pining for a longer retreat on a snowy day back home!

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Got Gas?

The cost of oil is finally starting to come down, yet the pain at the pump hasn’t subsided; I’m still passing the $60 mark every time I fill my car’s tank. Most major airlines have increased their fuel surcharges as of late, and just announced that they don’t plan to lessen the surcharges to reflect the lower price of oil.

If the high prices have threatened to put the kaibosh on your vacation plans this fall, check out TripAdvisor’s “Affordable Getaways” feature. Simply enter your hometown and choose how far you want to go (a full tank, half tank or quarter). Bing-bam-boom, you’re presented with five destinations within the desired range, along with the distance from your town and the estimated cost of gas to get there.

You can get this far on the site without logging in. If you click on the “Get Your Guide” button for a particular destination you’ll be asked to login or setup a TripAdvisor account. They only require email, so it’s a quick and easy setup. (My experience is that they don’t send an excessive amount of email unless you sign up for a bunch of alerts.) Once you’ve accessed the online guide for your chosen locale, you can see the top 10 hotels, restaurants, and things to do as rated by TripAdvisor’s users.

Although the coverage isn’t exhaustive, it’s a well-designed service that will undoubtably give you some ideas for getaways closer to home.

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We’ve got a few relatives and friends visiting us in Colorado this summer, and we want to make sure they have a great time. So I compiled a list of activities and sightseeing within an hour or less from our hometown. I couldn’t believe all the stuff there is to do right out our front door! Granted, we do live North of Denver, a large city with some great attractions, and near Boulder and Fort Collins, both of which have their own charms.

But even in a less populated area, I imagine you could find something to see or do for a week or two like:

  • Go to the local pool or rec center.
  • Hike, bike or fish in a nearby recreation area.
  • Go to the park with your kids or dogs.
  • Go window shopping (maybe even buy something).
  • Go out for lunch (and have a beer or glass of wine!).
  • Go to dinner and a movie.
  • Take pictures of your city or nearby towns, just for the fun of it.
  • Sit in your backyard and watch the sunset.

From what I’m reading, with the price of gas and the poor economy, more people are taking advantage of what their home towns have to offer. They’ve even coined a term for it: staycation. Think about it – no airfare, no hotel bill, no car rental, no restaurant bills (unless you choose to dine out); just the cost of entertaining yourself with what will probably be moderately inexpensive or even free outings.

I love to travel as much as anyone, but I also love to save money, so I’m seriously considering a staycation later this year. Of course, the hard part for me would be to NOT do chores while I’m hanging around the house. But wasting a vacation on housework and gotta do’s is a lot different than wasting the weekend on that stuff, so I bet I could pull it off.

How about you? Are you considering a staycation this year? Have you ever taken one? I’d love to hear all about it!

Oh, and for those of you in the Denver area, here’s some fun stuff you can do near home – I’m sure it’s missing a lot of great activities, so feel free to add to the list!

Rockies Game (Denver)

http://colorado.rockies.mlb.com

          Tickets $4 – $52

 

Denver Aquarium & Lunch in Aquarium restaurant

http://www.aquariumrestaurants.com/downtownaquariumdenver/flash_content/index.html

          Open 10 am (restaurant opens at 11 am)

          Adults $13.75, Kids (3-11) $8.25

 

Denver Zoo

http://www.denverzoo.org/

          Open 9 am

          Adults $12, Kids (3-11) $7

 

Wild Animal Sanctuary (Keenesburg)

http://www.wildanimalsanctuary.org/index.htm

          Sanctuary (not a zoo) for rescued wild animals (tigers, lions, leopards, bears, wolves)

          Open 9 am

          Adults $10, Kids $5

 

Elitch Gardens Theme Park & water park (Denver)

http://www.elitchgardens.com/

          Open 10 am

          Everyone $30 (online), $35 at the park

 

Water World (Thornton)

http://www.waterworldcolorado.com/

          Open 10 am

          Adults $30 online / $34 at the park, Kids (under 47”) $25 online, $29 at park

 

Boondocks Fun Park (Northglenn)

http://www.boondocksfuncenter.com/public/northglenn/

          Go-Karts, Rookie Go-Karts, Bumper Boats, Miniature Golf, Batting Cages, Laser Tag, Kiddie Cove, Max Flight Simulator, Huge Arcade

          Open 10 am

          Adults $25, Kids (under 60”) $17

 

Gateway Park (Boulder)

http://www.gatewayfunpark.com/GPboulder/index.htm

          Mini golf, go karts, human maze, batting cages, golf practice range, arcade

          Open 10 am

          Per activity (golf $6, go karts $6.25-7.25, maze $4)

 

Denver Art Museum

http://www.denverartmuseum.org/home

          Open 10 am (noon on Sunday)

          Adults $13, Kids $3, College Students $8

 

Denver Museum of Nature & Science with IMAX and planetarium

http://www.dmns.org/main/en/

          Open 9 am

          Museum = Adults $11, Kids & Students $6

          IMAX = Adults $8, Kids & Students $6

 

Hiking at Red Rocks Park & Ampitheater (Lakewood)

http://www.redrocksonline.com/

          Open 5 am

          Free admission

          Pets allowed on leash

 

Central City & Black Hawk (Mountains)

http://www.centralcitycolorado.us/

http://www.cityofblackhawk.org/

          Small stakes gambling in historic mountain towns

 

Rocky Mtn Natl Park & Trail Ridge Road

http://www.nps.gov/romo/    http://www.nps.gov/romo/planyourvisit/trail_ridge_road.htm

          Scenic drive on one of the highest roads in Colorado

 

New Belgium Brewery Tour (Ft. Collins)

http://www.newbelgium.com/visitus.php

          Home of Fat Tire beer

          Tu-Sat, 10 am

 

Anheuser-Busch Brewery Tour & Clydesdale hamlet (Ft. Collins)

http://www.budweisertours.com/

          Open 9:30 am

          Free tours

 

Outlet Stores at Loveland & Movie Theater

http://www.outletsatloveland.com/

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Before I began this blog, I was warned that it can be difficult to keep up regular blog posts. I think “they” were right! It’s not the writing so much that’s hard, it’s finding the time to do it. That’s something I’ll have to continue to work on. In the meantime, though, it did give me an idea for a post: time saving tips for traveling! Below are a few time-savers that have worked for me. I’d love to hear your tips and tricks, so leave a comment or email me with ideas!

  • Start putting clothes aside that you want to pack a few days or even a week in advance. I’ve started doing this after each load of laundry when I have an upcoming trip. Now, instead of spending an hour or more the night before the trip trying to figure out what I want to pack, it takes me about 20 minutes to make sure I have everything, add last minute items, and throw it all in a suitcase.
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  • Make a list of all the toiletries that you typically take with you (contact lense case, prescription drugs, hair brush, etc.). Refer to the list as you’re packing and it will go a lot faster (and you won’t forget anything!). Better yet, keep duplicates of the items in a travel case that you never unpack. I do this for some inexpensive items like toothpaste and shampoo; my husband keeps all our electronics (chargers, batteries, connectors, etc.) organized in baggies inside a carry-on that we always take with us.
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  • If you have house or pet sitters that don’t have their own key, use a coded key safe like realtors use. The sitter can let themselves in (don’t forget to give them the code, of course!), and you don’t have to worry about getting the key to the sitter before the trip.
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  • If you’re like me, the admirable desire to leave a clean house behind was engrained in you as a child (just like the admonition to always wear clean underwear). Well, I say “Fuhgeddaboudit!” I used to spend hours the week before a trip making the house perfect. Now I just clean the rooms that the pet sitter will use, and leave the rest as is if I don’t have time. (I still make sure I have clean underwear, but that’s a lot less time-consuming!)
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  • Get your boarding pass on the airline’s website the day before you leave. Not only does this save time at the airport (although you’ll still have to check your luggage at the counter), it may result in a better seat. Southwest Airlines, for example, issues boarding passes that indicate your place in the boarding line. Since you can pick your own seat on Southwest, the closer you are to the front of the line, the better chance you have of getting a desirable bulkhead, exit row or aisle seat.
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  • Speaking of flying, you can save time by booking a non-stop flight. It sounds obvious, but since non-stop flights typically cost more, it’s an option you may overlook. Consider that I just did a search for flights from LAX to New York and the non-stop option was only $29 more and arrived an hour and a half sooner than the next closest fare with one stop. The question is, how much is your time worth?
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  • Save time on your trip by pre-booking as much as possible before the trip – car rentals, tours, hotels (if you’ll be staying in more than one place), etc. Although this can still take quite of a bit of time up front, it keeps you from spending your vacation time  standing in lines or on the phone trying to make arrangements. When we traveled to Europe in 2002, I booked all but one hotel online. Back then, it was probably harder to make email reservations than it is today. Although this required us to decide in advance how long we would spend in each location, we left some flexibility in at the beginning of the trip, which allowed us to make wonderful diversions to Brugge and Amsterdam.

What time-saving travel tips do you have?

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If you’re 9-5’ers like us, you live for the weekends. Even so, it’s hard to get out of town in only two days. That’s why there’s nothing better than a long, relaxing three-day respite from reality (especially when it doesn’t decrement your PTO balance!). We took advantage of Memorial Day weekend to visit an old haunt – Glenwood Springs, Colorado.

Just a scenic 2.5 hours from Denver, Glenwood features the world’s largest natural hot springs pool, in addition to a bevy of accessible hiking trails, a 16-mile long bike path that runs along the Colorado river, a family-oriented ski resort, and a cozy downtown area that you could just snuggle up with!

Although we used to visit Glenwood a couple times a year, it had been awhile since we’d made the trip. We usually stay at the Best Western Antlers, but this time we decided to take our two boxers, so the first task was to find a place where they would be welcome. Although there are quite a few motels, hotels, cabins and campgrounds that accept pets in Glenwood, we chose the Red Mountain Inn, in part because of their affordable rates (accommodations are a bit more pricey during the summer season in Glenwood). As it turned out, our room was clean and spacious enough for two large dogs and two good-sized people. It even had a mini-fridge and a microwave – bonus!

During our stay, we discovered that Glenwood had grown a bit since our last visit. A brand new shopping area, Glenwood Meadows, now graces the foothills of the stunning red mountain that overlooks town. In addition to stores the locals must be loving (Lowe’s, Target, PetCo, Pier One, and more),  the two-block “market shops” area features a pedestrian-like mall with smaller local and chain establishments.

We also discovered several new restaurants on this trip. Typically, we make sure to visit Pepponino’s for home-cooked Italian meals, Juicy Lucy’s for mouth-watering steaks, The Bayou for “food so good you’ll slap yo mama,” and the Daily Bread cafe for breakfast that’s worth the wait. This time, we were eager to try a few new places.

As luck would have it, our motel was right next door to the Charcoalburger Drive-in. Imagine our surprise (and delight) when we discovered buffalo burgers on the menu (our favorite!), in addition to single and double hamburgers and even elk burgers. We actually ate there twice it was so good. A word of warning, though – if you order the chili cheese fries, bring a friend, or three, to help you with the huge portion!

We also had a fantastic dinner at Fin’s Grille. The food and service were comparable to experiences we’ve had in Denver and Boulder. The bread came with a whole roasted garlic – heaven! The assorted cheeses with jalapeno jelly appetizer was an experience in itself, and big enough to share. The trout was wonderful, but we accidentally ordered the angel hair pasta with “fritti misto” (fried seafood), which was a bit bland and heavy on the palate. When we shared our lack of enthusiam with our attentive server, she happily replaced it with a lighter dish at no charge. It’s too bad we didn’t save room for dessert, but we’ll definitely pace ourselves better next time!

One other honorable mention is the Sacred Grounds Coffeehouse that allows dogs both inside and on their sidewalk patio. They even offer complimentary dog biscuits! For two-legged clients, they have a wide selection of bagel sandwiches, pastries, smoothies, and, of course, great coffee.

Just so you know, we did do more than eat (although I’m pretty sure I gained a couple of pounds!). We also had some great adventures with our pups, but I’ll save that for another post.

If you’ve been to Glenwood, leave a comment and let us know your favorite spots to stay or eat. If you’ve never been, check out the new Glenwood Chamber website and see if it’s for you!

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Let’s talk cruising! Actually, I’m not an expert on cruises — we just took our second one last month. We were on the Carnival Triumph that left out of Miami and docked at St. Thomas, San Juan and Grand Turk. The trip was fantastic! Although, it’s hard to compare with our first cruise, which took us to ports in Italy, Greece and Turkey on the Freedom, Carnival’s flagship. Even after just two cruises, we’ve definitely formed some opinions.

 

One, we love to cruise! It’s a terrific way to see someplace new that you might not have gone otherwise (like Miami’s South Beach and San Juan, Puerto Rico, two of our favorites from this cruise!). It’s also nice to unpack just once (compared to some of our previous jaunts where we stayed only 2-3 nights in one place).

 

Two, part of the fun of cruising is feeling like you’re being pampered. For us, this includes dressing up on formal nights, and making sure that we have a cabin with a balcony where you can watch the blue waters course by in the privacy of your pajamas if you want. It also means taking advantage of little extras, like having breakfast delivered to the room, or attending an art auction for the free champagne. Believe it or not, we actually purchased a couple affordable works of art on the last cruise (both less than $200) — talk about feeling like a rich person!

 

Three, you don’t have to enjoy sunbathing to go on a cruise. In fact, for pale-skinned Irish descendants like ourselves, it’s probably best that you limit your time on deck, or at least make sure to bring a lot of sunscreen. In our case, we took advantage of the outdoor jogging track to get a little fresh air. If you can handle going in circles for 9-11 laps per mile, it’s a great way to get a little sun, work off your breakfast, and feel like part of the deck lounging crowd.

 

I could go on, but maybe I’ll save some opionions for a later blog. I am curious, though, to talk to other people who have cruised to find out what they enjoy, so leave a comment!

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“You’re traveling through another dimension — a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That’s a signpost up ahead: your next stop: the Twilight Zone blogsphere…!” – Rod Serling

Greetings fellow bloggers! If you haven’t guessed by now, this is my first ever  blog entry! I do feel a bit like it’s the Twilight Zone – an unfamiliar place filling me with as much excitement and trepidation as I’ve ever felt traveling. I expect to have just as many adventures, and make even more friends, in this new dimension!

First, an intro…my name is Deb Jennings, and my husband, Sean Roth, and I love to travel. In the past 10 years, we’ve visited more than 40 cities in the US, Europe and Mexico. Only a lack of time has kept us from visiting other coveted spots (New Zealand, Australia, UK, Ireland, South America and Egypt to name a few…). Whenever we travel, we enjoy getting the flavor of the local culture; we’re always seeking off-path adventures (like wandering around Venice for 90 minutes looking for a laundromat, or losing our tour group in Pompeii, or getting eaten alive by mosquitos in Isla Mujeres).

We also enjoy taking photos on our travels, and jotting down stories we can share with people back home. Thus, the creation of our Cafe Press site – eXPress Travel Photos – and this blog. I look forward to sharing tales of our travels in this blog – something we’ve done both online and in person for years (check out the journal of our first trip to Europe in 2002).

I’d also love to hear your comments and stories about places you’ve been and loved (or not!). For now, I’ll bid you adieu. Coming soon…stories about our latest trip, a Caribbean cruise to San Juan, St. Thomas and Grand Turk!

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