Posts Tagged ‘vacation’

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!


Read Full Post »

It seems like fall is the time to go to Las Vegas. Everyone I know has a trip planned there soon. Heck, I considered it myself before I finally admitted that I shouldn’t vacation someplace with blackjack tables when I’m trying to be…uh, frugal.

Still, the cool desert breeze calls to me. Temperatures average 50-80 degrees in October–nice enough for shorts during the day, but cool enough to sleep at night…or at least put your stuff so nobody steals it.

If you plan on visiting Vegas soon, allow me to share a few hotel recommendations (and warnings) based on personal experience.

  • Monte Carlo – My husband and I stayed here on our honeymoon. It was brand new back then, very nice for the price. We loved the Italian restaurant (enough to visit it on subsequent trips) and the hotel has a brewpub. We also enjoyed Lance Burton’s show. The only drawback was the long walk to get from the strip to the elevators–typically a hike in most Vegas hotels but for some reason it seemed really long here.
  • Circus Circus – I stayed here with the hubby while he was on business. We were in one of the annex buildings, not the main hotel. In the middle of the night, we were awoken by the fire alarm and had to evacuate the building. It seems the wiring had caught fire in someone’s room. After 45 minutes of standing around in the parking lot, they let us go back in. We didn’t actually catch fire, so I guess that’s a selling point.
  • Imperial Palace – We stayed here with our bowling league several years ago. I remember being less than impressed (but it was really cheap). And they had a fabulous Asian restaurant in the basement with great food and amazing service.
  • TI (aka, Treasure Island) – Back when TI was about pirates, and not babes in boots and bottle service in the bars, it was a great place to stay. And the original free show in front of the hotel was worth standing around elbow to elbow for 30 minutes or more. Alas, TI has traded pirates for pretentiousness (not an upgrade, IMHO). However, if you come across a good deal, the rooms are large and comfy. Plus, if you can get one that overlooks the show, you can enjoy watching stuff blow up without having to listen to the crappy soundtrack.
  • Bally’s – The rooms at Bally’s are large and clean, a great deal for the price. Plus, it’s connected to the Paris Hotel so you don’t even have to go outside to enjoy a stroll or a bite to eat in “France.” Ask for a room on the Paris side and enjoy the Eiffel tower lit up at night.
  • Flamingo – My husband stayed here once on a business trip. He recalls a strange smell in the room and the furniture was a bit worn. That was some time ago, so perhaps they’ve redecorated since then. Still, for the going rate of $80 a night, I think you can do better. If you’re really hankering for a slice of old Vegas, try the Four Queens downtown. The rates are extremely reasonable considering the good reviews it gets online from people who have stayed there.
  • Rio Suites – Flying standby out of Vegas (not a good idea, btw), we got stuck in town when we couldn’t get on a flight. We chose the Rio because the rates were decent and the rooms are all suites. The accommodations weren’t huge, but they were nicely appointed. The hotel restaurant was tasty, too. But the best part was the rooftop bar with an amazing view of Vegas. I would stay here again, but even if I didn’t I would go back for that view!

Where’s your favorite (or least favorite) place to stay in Vegas? Add a comment and let me know!

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

If you’re following my Carnival guest blog, the third and final part has been posted. Check it out!

As always, thanks for reading and feel free to share your comments and questions…!

Read Full Post »

Part two of the Carnival guest blog is up – ports of call on our Mediterranean cruise. Check it out!

Read Full Post »

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)


          Tickets $4 – $52


Denver Aquarium & Lunch in Aquarium restaurant


          Open 10 am (restaurant opens at 11 am)

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


Denver Zoo


          Open 9 am

          Adults $12, Kids (3-11) $7


Wild Animal Sanctuary (Keenesburg)


          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)


          Open 10 am

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


Water World (Thornton)


          Open 10 am

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


Boondocks Fun Park (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)


          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


          Open 10 am (noon on Sunday)

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


Denver Museum of Nature & Science with IMAX and planetarium


          Open 9 am

          Museum = Adults $11, Kids & Students $6

          IMAX = Adults $8, Kids & Students $6


Hiking at Red Rocks Park & Ampitheater (Lakewood)


          Open 5 am

          Free admission

          Pets allowed on leash


Central City & Black Hawk (Mountains)



          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)


          Home of Fat Tire beer

          Tu-Sat, 10 am


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


          Open 9:30 am

          Free tours


Outlet Stores at Loveland & Movie Theater


Read Full Post »

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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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!)

  • 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.

  • 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?

  • 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?

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »