Savvy Travel Adventures from My Lens

DESTINATIONS

Destination Spotlight: Paradise Found…..Anguilla

It’s been a very long time since I took the time to write a post.  It’s 2014.  New Year.   Suitcases packed and I’ve been on the road again to the Caribbean.  Anguilla, a small magical island in the Eastern Caribbean, has stolen my heart.  The island is tranquility wrapped in blue, and every time I travel to Anguilla, the place feeds my soul.  What makes it so special to me?

So many things, I cannot put into words.   All I can say is Anguilla is a magical place where you can just relax and “be” rather than a place where you have to “do” something to have an amazing vacation.   If you go, you will meet meet new friends and you will not return home the same.  Here’s the recap:

Where is Anguilla:        Caribbean, Latitude 28 degrees, Longitude 63 degrees

What Anguilla Is:           Chic, Hot, Very Private, Ultra Exclusive, Paradise

What Anguilla is Not:  No duty-free shopping, no chain hotels, no casinos, no cruise ships, no fast food chains

Size:                                       16 miles long, 3 miles wide (tiny)

Beaches:                              33  totally fabulous beaches

How to Get There:

Option 1:  Fly to St. Maarten (SXM).  Nonstops from Atlanta, New York, Newark and Miami (American Airlines, Continental, Delta, Jetblue, and United).   Take a 12 minute public ferry from Marigot or private charter boats from Princess Juliana Airport.

Option 2:  Fly directly to Anguilla (AXA)  Clayton J. Lloyd International Airport via Cape Air, Liat, or private jet.  Limited flights via San Juan and St. Thomas.

High Season:                  December 15 thru Mid-April.

Hotels:                               Viceroy Anguilla, Cuisinart, and Cap Juluca are top luxury resorts.  Lots of private villa options.

Golf Course:                    Cuisinart Golf Resort and Spa

Nightlife:   Elvis Beach Bar, Pumphouse, The Dune Preserve, Johnno’s, and Dad’s are all top spots  for dancing and reggae bands on Friday and Saturday nights.

What I enjoyed most about Anguilla:  

Beaches (Rendevous Bay is my personal favorite)

Sunsets (Mead’s Bay is spectacular)

Food (Fantastic roadside BBQ, Delicious grilled Seafood, and french bakeries)

Fruity drinks (The BBC – Bailey’s Banana Colada and Rum Punch are my favorites)

Spas (Viceroy Anguilla is my favorite)

Music – Sunday afternoons at Gwen’s Reggae Grill with the Scratch Band on Shoal Bay East

Eateries:  The Sunshine Shack (Rendevous Bay), Blanchard’s on the Beach (Mead’s Bay), Elvis Beach Bar (Sandy Ground), and Geraud’s

Helpful Tips:

  1. Rental car is a must (taxis are outrageously expensive)
  2. Driving is on the left
  3. Roaming with US cellphones is expensive, texting and internet are more affordable options to stay in touch.
  4. Most bars and restaurants now offer free Wifi, service can be spotty (:
  5. Anguilla has a 20% government tax on hotel and restaurant charges
  6. Anguilla has an additional 15% service charge added to restaurant bills, service charge = gratuity
  7. Carry sufficient cash to cover ferry rides ($15 per person each way) , departure taxes ($22 per person), and gratuities
  8. Be prepared with all over the counter medications, sunscreen, and toiletries you may need, these items tend to be very pricey
  9. Water is a very precious commodity on Anguilla, you are encouraged to limit showers and water usage

The secret to Anguilla:       Hidden paradise….ultimate place to relax and rejuvenate.

I highly recommend Anguilla for an unforgettable vacation.   Just GO!


Miami: Second Time Around

Happy New Year to all…..It’s been too long, but I’m back.  I started this year with a desire to escape the Artic Blast.  Atlanta is traditionally in the 30’s and 40’s during winter months, this year is colder than most.  Single digits.  So I ended up in Miami for a short escape.  I visited over 10 years ago.  While Miami is fun, it has never been one of my favorite destinations.  I decided to give it another try in 2014.

IMG_0291

 

Travel time:  1 hour, 27 minutes (nonstop from Atlanta)

Arrival airport:  Miami International Airport

Hotel:  The Clinton (South Beach)

Reason for travel:  Beach escape

Temperatures:  High 60 degrees

What I liked:  People watching, nightlife, variety of things to do, The Clinton (great location and price), cultural diversity

What I didn’t:

  • Hotels are pricey
  • Boutique South Beach hotels are more affordable option, but often are aged
  • Taxis to/from MIA airport are expensive (~$40 and up one-way)
  • South Beach restaurants offer pretty much the same menus
  • Seafood options limited (this was a big surprise!)
  • Miami Airport facilities are old and restaurants are really unclean

Would I recommend Miami?  Yes.  For a girl’s or guys trip.  Spring break.  Quick weekend getaways.  For those who enjoy drinking and partying.

Will I go back?  Sure, but not during winter season:)


Destination Spotlight: Discovering the DR…Punta Cana

PUNTA CANA

Where is it?  18 degrees  34’4″ N, 68 degrees 21’48” W (approx 800 miles south of Florida, between Cuba and Puerto Rico)

How to Get There:  Nonstop flights offered from  Atlanta, New York, Miami, Minneapolis, and Newark.  Carriers include:  Airtran, American, Continental, Delta, JetBlue.  Average flight time 3-4 hours.

What it is: Subtropical, Hot, All-Inclusives, Mega Resorts, Mass Tourists (Europeans, Canadians tend to outnumber Americans),  Mediocre dining (mostly buffet style), Limited nightlife options (outside of resorts), Topless Beaches, Beautiful women, Spanish Speaking, Championship Golf courses, Fishing charters

What it is not:  Luxury resorts (Top notch resorts are not same standard of service as Europe or the U.S.), Exclusive beaches (packed with tourists and straw huts), Luxury shopping,  No duty-free shopping, Top notch dining, American hotel chains (Hard Rock Hotel is only)

Ideal for:  Families, Spring Breakers, Destination Weddings, and Honeymooners

Best Time to Go:  Yearround (June thru Nov is wet season)

Top Resorts:  Paradisus, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, Excellence (Adults Only), Riu, Secrets, Sivory, Zoetry, Melia, Gran Bahia Principe (where I stayed), Iberostar, Club Med, Dreams

Things I Like Most:

Value Vacation – All-inclusive resorts offer value vacation (all meals, drinks, gratuities included)

Sunsets

Spa services (very affordable)

Availability/Abundance of food and beverages 24/7

Service (resort staff went above and beyond)

Things I did not like:

Mass vacation concept (beaches crowded, dining and entertainment complexes crowded, Spring break atmosphere)

Lack of activities outside of the resort

Resorts are mega-sized, in most cases long distances to get from resort to beach area

Difficulty in getting beach chairs and towels at certain times of the day

Difficulty in communicating with resort staff, very few spoke English

Must secure dining reservations at top tier restaurants well in advance

Airport is small, crowded, and has no air conditioning

Helpful Travel Advice:

1. Prearrange transportation to/from the airport (cabs can be expensive).

2. Carry cash for $10USD Tourist Card fee (per person for both adults & children) paid upon arrival.

3. Brush up on basic Spanish phrases (you will need them).

4.  Drink only bottled water! (Do not brush teeth with tap water)

5. Eat carefully (I tended to only eat cooked foods, no salads or uncooked veggies).

6.Carry plenty of sunscreen (sun is intense and most resorts have limited palm trees and shade).

7. Secure dining reservations at top tier restaurants upon check in.

8.  Allow 3 hours for airport check-in when leaving the island.

The secret of the DR:  Vacation on any budget.  The place to relax.


Destination Spotlight: Decoding the Secret of Anguilla

Where is Anguilla:        Caribbean, Latitude 28 degrees, Longitude 63 degrees

What Anguilla Is:           Chic, Hot, Very Private, Ultra Exclusive, Paradise

What Anguilla is Not:  No duty-free shopping, no chain hotels, no casinos, no cruise ships, no fast food chains

Size:                                       16 miles long, 3 miles wide (tiny)

Beaches:                              33  totally fabulous beaches

How to Get There:

Option 1:  Fly to St. Maarten (SXM).  Nonstops from Atlanta, New York, Newark and Miami (American Airlines, Continental, Delta, Jetblue, and United).   Take a 12 minute public ferry from Marigot or private charter boats from Princess Juliana Airport.

Option 2:  Fly directly to Anguilla (AXA)  Clayton J. Lloyd International Airport via Cape Air, Liat, or private jet.  Limited flights via San Juan and St. Thomas.

High Season:                  December 15 thru Mid-April.

Hotels:                               Viceroy Anguilla, Cuisinart, and Cap Juluca are top luxury resorts.  Lots of private villa options.

Golf Course:                    Cuisinart Golf Resort and Spa

Nightlife:   Elvis Beach Bar, Pumphouse, Johnno’s are all top spots  for dancing and reggae bands on Friday and Saturday nights.

What I enjoyed most about Anguilla:  

Beaches (Rendevous Bay is my personal favorite)

Sunsets (Mead’s Bay is spectacular)

Food (Fantastic roadside BBQ, Delicious Seafood, and french bakeries)

Spas (Viceroy Anguilla is my favorite)

Music – Sunday afternoons at Gwen’s Reggae Grill with the Scratch Band on Shoal Bay East

Helpful Tips:

  1. Rental car is a must (taxis are outrageously expensive)
  2. Driving is on the left
  3. Roaming with US cellphones is expensive, texting and internet are more affordable options to stay in touch.
  4. Anguilla has a 20% government tax on hotel and restaurant charges
  5. Anguilla has an additional 15% service charge added to restaurant bills, service charge = gratuity
  6. Carry sufficient cash to cover ferry rides ($15 per person each way) , departure taxes ($20 per person), and gratuities
  7. Be prepared with all over the counter medications, sunscreen, and toiletries you may need, these items tend to be very pricey
  8. Water is a very precious commodity on Anguilla, you are encouraged to limit showers and water usage

The secret to Anguilla:       Hidden paradise….ultimate place to relax and rejuvenate.

 



Destination Spotlight: A Taste of New Orleans

 

Destination:  New Orleans

 

Was it your first time:  No

 

How long were you there:   2 days (December 2011).

 

Why did you go?   Weekend getaway.

 

How did you get there?  Nonstop flight from Atlanta.

 

What travel tips would you offer?    Don’t eat prior to your trip:)  Get plenty of sleep prior to arrival, you will not sleep much in New Orleans.  Bring very comfortable walking shoes.  Cabs rides between the airport and Bourbon St/French Quarter tend to be pricey, bring cash with you.

 

Hotel:  Drury Inn and Suites New Orleans.

 

What did you do?   Eat.  Drink.  Eat.  Drink.    Lots of sightseeing on Bourbon Street and the French Quarter.

 

This was especially great:   To die for seafood at Deenie’s (restaurant) off Bourbon Street.  The BBQ shrimp in a spicy butter sauce served with fresh french bread was so darn good.    Gumbo from the Red Fish Grill.  Mouth-watering beignets at Cafe du Monde (bistro, French Quarter).  Sweet potato pie from Lorraine’s.  Oysters from Felix’s. Drury Inn and Suites was in a great location, very affordable, clean, and courteous staff.

This wasn’t:  Traveled during December, prior to Christmas.   Bourbon Street was quiet.

 

Favorites:   Seafood.  Oysters. Gumbo. Beignets.  Pralines.  Bread pudding.

 

Would you go back? If so, what would you do differently? Of course!  Longer stay.

 

Any surprises? Due to the time of year, Bourbon Street was unexpectedly quiet.

 

What was your Kodak moment?  So many of these on Bourbon Street….too many to name.


Plane-watching in St. Maarten…the coolest.

Calling all aviation geeks…..I will start by sharing one of my favorite things to do.  Plane-watching.  It does not matter where or when, plane watching is so much fun.  As I mentioned, I worked for an airline for over 17 years, and there is nothing I enjoy more than watching a takeoff or landing.  It’s even more thrilling watching up close and personal.  I’ve actually had the opportunity to fly a 757 in a flight simulator, sat in a real cockpit (while aircraft parked), walked the ramp, and watched a crew paint a 777 from start to finish.   But one of the best places to catch runway action is in St. Maarten, at the world famous Princess Juliana Airport.

The place to be or be seen is the world famous Sunset Bar and Grill at Maho Beach in St. Maarten.   It’s an aviation geek’s dream, no other airport rivals this spot.  Crowds gather daily from all over the world, with cameras and cellphones in tow, ready for that great shot.  My personal favorite is the arrival of KLM’s 747 from Amsterdam.  You can catch a range of very large (747s) to very small (turboprops and private planes) planes on a daily basis. The real thrill seekers get very close to the runway, hold on to the fence during takeoff, and catch the jet blast, which can be very dangerous.  The sand blast is powerful, the engines are noisy, but it’s about as cool as you can get.    All I can say, is JUST DO IT!