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Family Travel Group Travel

G Adventures Launches New National Geographic Family Journeys Trips

Looking for the ultimate family-bonding trip? Check out G Adventures’ brand new Family Journeys, designed for multi-generational travelers.

G Adventures has partnered with National Geographic to offer 12 new trips (bookable now) with departures starting in 2020. The trips are open to families with children as young as seven years old, with cheaper pricing for children 12 and under.

All adventures will be limited to 20 people or less and will be led by two local G Adventures ‘Chief Experience Offers’ who will help plan kid-friendly activities such as sumo wrestling lessons, zip-lining, pasta making, and more.

The Family Journeys destinations include: Alaska, Costa Rica, France, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Morocco, Peru, Vietnam, Cambodia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, and Yellowstone/Grand Teton.

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Adventure Travel Arts & Culture Booking Strategy Cities Family Travel Women's Travel

5 Tips for Mother-Daughter Travel That Guarantee a Drama-Free Trip

[st_content_ad]Every mother-daughter relationship is different and special in its own way, and taking a trip together, no matter the age, creates memories and bonds. But once you add in the stressful elements of travel—think flight delays and jet lag—emotions can escalate quickly when you’re traveling with someone that you have a close (and sometimes complicated) relationship with.

My mom and I travel together, but we have different travel styles. The first time my mom ever traveled on a plane was to move across the country with my dad when she was 26, and she didn’t leave the country until she was in her 40s. As someone who was on a plane as a six-month-old and lived in two different countries before I was 23, I am much more comfortable with travel.

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Here’s what I’ve learned traveling with my mom to destinations including Arizona and Australia.

Timing Is Everything

Even when you’re not living together, it’s easy to fall into the typical mother-daughter patterns when you travel. I’ve taken a trip at almost every stage of my life so far with my mom, and there have been good and bad ones. Timing your trip to suit you both will make or break a trip. Here are the two ways you’ll want to consider timing when you plan your mother-daughter trip:

  • Leave extra time for activities: Don’t overschedule your mother-daughter trip. There are reasons this is a good idea at every life stage. You might be traveling with a younger daughter and need extra time for diaper changes or dealing with teenage angst. If you’re traveling with an older mother, you may need to account for walking at a slower pace or taking longer breaks between activities.
  • Go at the right time: If you’re looking to take an annual mother-daughter trip, remember that each life stage will present unique rewards and challenges. If you’re looking for a once-in-a-lifetime trip, pick a time when you’re at an ideal age gap for your destination, a time when both parties can make the most of the destination. This might mean waiting until your daughter is of drinking age to go to Napa or going to Machu Picchu while your mom is still active enough to trek.

Choose Your Destination and Activities Wisely

My advice for planning a mother-daughter trip when you’re both adults is to pick a destination that’s completely new to you both. This way, one person doesn’t take total control because they’ve been there before (a dynamic that can easily lead to arguments or disappointments).

Destinations that can be perfect for mother-daughter trips include:

  • For active travelers: Sedona, Arizona
  • For a relaxing retreat: The Cotswolds, England
  • For the non-planners: River cruising in Europe (France or Portugal especially)
  • For the trendy mom: Todos Los Santos, Baja California, Mexico
  • For beachgoers: Barbados
  • For shopping: London, England
  • For wildlife seekers: Vancouver Island, Canada or The Galapagos, Ecuador
  • For outdoor enthusiasts: Maine

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For more mother-daughter trips, see these six trip recommendations from SmarterTravel.

Don’t Underestimate Each Other

I’m constantly surprised about what I learn from my mom on trips we take together. Most recently at a dinner in Charleston, she told me she made an Instagram account (which she swore she’d never do) and we ended up deep in discussion about how she could use it to find restaurants in new cities and keep up on the lives of her kids.

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Another time she quite literally surprised me was when I was living in Australia. My mom is not one to jump on a plane at a moment’s notice. So, when she arrived in Sydney, alone, I was completely shocked. While we had an unforgettable time in Australia, it was the gesture itself that I’ll never forget.

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And after a mother-daughter trip to Arizona last fall, my dad called me and asked, “What did you do to mom? She wants to move to Scottsdale for the winter … ” For someone who likes the comfort of her longtime home on the East Coast, even bringing up the possibility of moving was a big deal.

On the flip side, my mom, who acts like a typical parent and organizes everything, is always surprised at how easy it is to travel with me and how seamless the flying experience is when I organize the logistics. So, I can surprise her as well.

Be Realistic in Your Expectations

When you’re traveling as mother and daughter, it’s important to acknowledge food allergies, medical conditions, and a realistic activity level for you both before booking reservations. And to recognize that you can always come back to a destination a second time with your partner, friends, or at different ages.

My mom developed a dairy allergy a few years ago, and this changes how we go out to dinner. As someone who enjoys exploring a new destination through food and will eat anything and everything, this was the biggest compromise we’ve had to make in our travels to date. 

Don’t Expect the Perfect Instagram

Instead, expect better memories. On our trip to Arizona, I found that I was on my phone significantly less as we were more engaged in conversation and I cared way less about posting on social media. When I did want her to take a photo on a hike, I didn’t get the exact photo I wanted, but it didn’t matter. I hope one day my kid will be saying the same thing about me with whatever the latest social media platform is.

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Ashley Rossi is always ready for her next trip. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram for travel tips, destination ideas, and off the beaten path spots.

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Entertainment Family Travel

10 Best Disney Hotels Around the World

To travelers of all ages, a Disney vacation is a dream vacation. You can immerse yourself into some of the world’s most famous animated films at any of the 12 Disney theme parks, from Anaheim to Shanghai. But once Disney fans have found the perfect park for them, what about the perfect hotel?

For a Disney experience that doesn’t stop when you leave the park, consider staying at a Disney hotel. With themed rooms, character experiences, incredible views, and proximity to the attractions you came to see, these are the best Disney hotels you can stay in around the world.

[st_related] Disney Unveils Toy Story Land at Hollywood Studios [/st_related]

Au’lani, A Disney Resort and Spa

On the island of Oahu, this Disney hotel stands out from the rest because it’s not actually located anywhere near a Disney theme park. Instead, the Au’lani Disney Resort and Spa, is the Disney attraction in itself. With characters like Moana and Stitch leading the way (as well as a Mickey Mouse crew in Hawaiian shirts), there’s plenty of Disney fun to be had.

With a spa with an outdoor hydrotherapy garden, a golf course right next door, and a pool that’s basically its own waterpark complete with a splash zone and a waterslide, this beachside Disney resort has something for everybody. Kids especially will love Aunty’s Beach House, a Moana-inspired kids club where ages three to 12 can explore Hawaiian culture through games and activities.

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Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa


With some of the best dining options of all the Orlando-based Disney hotels and a full-service spa, the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa is a stand-out. Maintaining its Victorian elegance, the hotel also offers a full-size pool with a large waterslide. While you’re there, don’t miss the chance to dine at the award-winning Victoria & Albert’s restaurant. You can reserve a table for a classic table-service or get a peek into the kitchen with a ten-course meal at the Chef’s Table. And if that’s not enough glamour for you, make sure to spend some time in the lobby to listen to the live orchestra play a mix of jazz, ragtime, and classic Disney songs. 

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Disneyland Hotel


In Anaheim, California, you can have the classic Disney experience at the Disneyland Hotel. With up-to-date accommodations that pay tribute to the classic history of the park and a number of themed suites from pirates to princesses, this hotel is a good choice for anyone looking to make an extra special trip to Disneyland. At this Disney hotel, the biggest benefit is proximity. This hotel is located right next to the park and guests with valid tickets can enjoy early admission as a perk of staying at the hotel and enter the park an hour before general opening. After your day in the park, you can relax poolside at one of the rental cabanas or go for a stroll the promenade in Downtown Disney.

Editors’ Note: According to Disney’s website the Disneyland Hotel pool area will be undergoing refurbishments from January 7 to May 2019.

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Tokyo DisneySea Hotel MiraCosta

Located inside Tokyo DisneySea Park, the Hotel Miracosta is not just a Disney hotel favorite for its direct access to the park, but also scores major wanderlust points for its stunning Italian-inspired architecture. Like a little piece of Italy in Japan, the hotel has three separate sections inspired by different regions of Italy: Tuscany, Venice, and Porto Paradiso. With 502 newly-refurbished guest rooms and an indoor pool that look like the personal bath of a Roman emperor, the MiraCosta is a grand hotel in the middle of a Disney park. Offering rooms with views of the Palazzo Canals and the Venezia pool—some with their own terraces where you’ll have great views of the outdoor shows.—there’s no doubt this is one of the most luxurious Disney hotels in the world.

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Disneyland Hotel Paris

Located a short walk away from Disneyland Paris in the city of Chessy, which is an hour drive outside of Paris, this five-star hotel is the perfect place to set up camp when visiting the European park. The opulent design and special amenities like a steam room and sauna, indoor pool, and kid-friendly bonuses makes the Disneyland Hotel Paris a classic European luxury hotel. And with Disney characters at breakfast, this is a great choice for an extra special trip to Disneyland Paris.

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Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge

 In Orlando, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge is the closest you can get to a luxurious African vacation while staying on a Disney property. You can sleep surrounded by over 30 species of African wildlife like zebras, giraffes, gazelles, and flamingoes, which reside on the 43-acre property. With kid-focused amenities like a playground, a large pool, and an outdoor movie screen, there’s plenty of fun packed into this resort experience. But the biggest joy for all animal-loving family members will be watching the animals from their room windows. For large families, consider one of the epic villas at Kidani Village or Jambo House.

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[st_related]Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge Review: A Great Family Resort[/st_related]

Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel

Inspired by a Victorian Palace and complete with a hedge maze in the shape of Mickey Mouse, the Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel is a luxurious place to stay at Disneyland Hong Kong. If you can’t splurge for a themed suite but want to make the trip extra special for your little one, this Disney hotel offers theme room decoration packages, which switch out your room’s touches for something a little more festive.
In addition to being close to the park, there are plenty of fun Disney activities too like Tai Chi class with Master Goofy. For a special occasion, enjoy a meal at the hotel’s best restaurant Crystal Lotus, where you can try dim sum in the shape of all your favorite characters, and representing China’s four major culinary regions.

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Disney’s Art of Animation Resort

For any kid interested in art, there’s no better place to spur natural creativity than Disney’s Art of Animation Resort. From the lobby that’s decorated in sketches to the larger-than-life sculptures around the facility, there are plenty of photo-worthy moments. Not to mention, it has the largest resort pool of any Disney property, which is decorated with Finding Nemo-inspired fixtures and features underwater speakers.* With plenty of logistic-friendly amenities like complimentary transportation and luggage delivery from the Orlando airport, plus free bus transportation to the parks, this Disney resort one of the four pet-friendly Disney properties in the world. Bonus amenities include a mile-long jogging trail, a playground, and regular outdoor movie screenings, there’s lots to do back in the room when you stay at this Disney hotel.

*Editors’ Note: According to a notification on the Disney website, the Big Blue Pool will be closed for refurbishment beginning in fall 2020.

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Shanghai Toy Story Hotel

If your favorite Disney movie is Toy Story, don’t pass up an opportunity to stay in Shanghai’s Toy Story Hotel. Not only is this hotel fully decorated with iconic toy decor, like Etch-a-sketch touchscreens and Rubix Cube nightstands, it also has a well-stocked play room for kids ages two through 12, with slides and toys straight from the Toy Story movies. Guests at this Disney hotel will also have a priority entrance to Shanghai Disneyland, and will be within walking distance to shopping and dining options in Disneytown.

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Four Seasons Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort

If you think you’ll need a break from Disney-branded everything, the Four Seasons Resort Orlando offers the perfect respite without being too far away from the park. Although it’s not an official Disney resort, this hotel offers Disney-themed, in-room celebrations, character breakfasts, and access to the Extra Magic Hours benefit, which means you can still get into the parks an hour before opening or stay an hour after closing. With an elegantly designed splash zone, a lazy river, and movies by the pool, there’s still plenty of fun for the kids and plenty of relaxation for adults from the spa to the adults-only pool and nearby Tranquilo Golf Course.

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Jamie Ditaranto is a writer and photographer who is always looking for her next adventure. Follow her on Instagram @jamieditaranto.

Categories
Family Travel

Kid-to-Kid Travel Advice: Fun Things to Do in Berkeley with Kids

Berkeley may be best known for its world-class university and liberal politics, but it’s also a wonderland for kids. A visit to Berkeley with kids can mean constructing your own playground, feeding cows, or riding a (sculpture of a) whale.

Kids Give Advice: Activities in Berkeley with Kids

Kids know how to have fun. Here’s advice from 22 local kindergartners on the best places to go in Berkeley with kids.

Adventure Playground

Entrance to adventure playground
Berkeley’s Adventure Playground

[st_content_ad]Adventure Playground is a playground unlike any other. Here, kids can help imagine and build the actual playground. Existing wooden structures get new additions—checked out by the staff—daily. Kids can climb giant nets, swing from tires, scramble around on boats, explore structures, or help build and paint. There are also tables for kids who want to create take-home wooden projects.

What Kids Say: “Have you ever wanted to build your own playground? Go to Adventure Playground! You can ride a zip-line or, if you collect 10 nails, you can paint or build part of the playground yourself. It’s open on Saturday and Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.” – Dylan and Dylan

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Bay Area Children’s Theater

Bay area children's theatre cast- beautiful oops
Bay Area Children’s Theatre Cast- Beautiful Oops

Shows at the Bay Area Children’s Theatre get kids excited about theater. Plays and musicals geared to kids include adaptations of popular books like The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Elephant and Piggy, and Pete the Cat. The BACT Berkeley Center is close to other Berkeley performance venues including Berkeley Rep and Freight and Salvage.

What Kids Say: “Did you know there are talking caterpillars in Berkeley? At the Bay Area Children’s Theatre, you can see Eric Carle’s Mr. Seahorse and other characters come to life. To plan your visit, visit bactheatre.org.” – Justin and Damari

The Berkeley Marina

Kite festival at the berkeley marina
Kite festival

With its 100+ acres of park space, seven miles of trails, and kid-favorite Adventure Playground, the Berkeley Marina is an ideal spot for families. The Marina is also home to a hotel, restaurants, the Shorebird Park Nature Center, and watersports classes.

What Kids Say: “Where can you see a pier and go fishing? At the Berkeley Marina. It’s also a great place to fly kites because it is so windy. The marina is a good place to go when it is sunny.” – Janiah and Baxter

Little Farm at Tilden Regional Park

Pig and children at little farm in tilden park
Little Farm in Tilden Park

Tilden Regional Park is full of family-friendly gems, including a miniature steam train, a merry-go-round, and a botanic garden. But it’s Little Farm that draws the most animal-loving kids. Pack celery and lettuce (the only approved items to feed these constantly snacking farm animals) and let kids visit with and feed cows, goats, and other animals. After you’ve done the Little Farm circuit, stop by the Environmental Education Center or go for a short hike to Jewel Lake.

What Kids Say: “Where can you feed cows, sheep, and goats? The Little Farm! There are baby chicks running around and hungry cows to feed. You can also feed goats and sheep, so bring lots of lettuce and celery. It’s open every day until 4:30 p.m.” – Keira and Jacob

Berkeley Farmers Market

Berkeley farmers market
Berkeley Farmers Market

Three farmers’ markets a week—with locations all over Berkeley—offer up the abundance of local farms year-round. Visitors to Berkeley with kids can explore, sample, snack, and play. Stock up on picnic supplies or find local items to take home as souvenirs. Ready-to-eat prepared foods and live music keep kids coming back.

What Kids Say: “From fresh fruits to warm croissants, the farmers’ market has yummy smells and tastes. On Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, you can eat lots of fruits and vegetables, hear live music, and buy treats. On Saturdays, it is open from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. On Tuesdays, the hours are 2:00 to 6:30 p.m. And on Thursdays, the farmers’ market is open from 3:00 to 7:00 p.m.” – Adeline and Eliza

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University of California, Berkeley

UC berkeley campus
UC Berkeley Campus

The UC Berkeley campus is the thriving heart of Berkeley. Kids love to race along the tree-lined paths, explore creeks and bridges, and lounge alongside students on the expansive grassy areas. Prefer something a little more structured? Sign up for a free public walking tour, available every day of the week at 10:00 a.m.

What Kids Say: “Where can you find a bunch of students or a Cal party? At UC Berkeley. You can have lots of fun on campus. You can go to Cal Day, or see dinosaur bones, or go to the top of the Campanile. It is open every day but not at night.” – Anna and Maya

The Berkeley Art Museum

doing art at the berkeley museum
Berkeley Art Museum

The Berkeley Art Museum has settled into its new digs downtown, close to all the action (and easily accessible by BART). Classes and the art lab let kids get hands-on with art. Best of all for families, the museum is free for kids 18 and under—and each child 13 and under can bring a grownup into the museum for free.

What Kids Say: “Where could you find amazing artwork in Berkeley? At the Berkeley Art Museum. The museum is closed on Monday and Tuesday.” – Laila and Wilson

Lawrence Hall of Science

nventors lab at the lawrence hall of science
Inventors Lab at the Lawrence Hall of Science

This popular science museum perched on the hill above the UC Berkeley campus yields kid-centric science exhibits and great Bay Area views. The Lawrence Hall of Science features exhibits that encourage kids to touch, climb, design, build, and test. Natural science comes alive for kids at this beloved center.

What Kids Say: “Where can you go to climb on a whale and see a view of the Bay Area? The Lawrence Hall of Science. Watch movies about sea monsters or make paper airplanes here. But the best part is climbing on the huge blue whale outside. The Lawrence Hall of Science is open every day except Monday.” – Raydan and Payson

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Cheeseboard Bakery and Pizza

Cheeseboard collective exterior
Berkeley’s Cheeseboard Collective

This Berkeley institution serves up baked goods in the morning, a global selection of cheese throughout the day, and, next door, pizza in the afternoon and evening. Next door to the Cheeseboard Bakery and Cafe, Cheeseboard Pizza serves up one kind of vegetarian pizza each day. The usually long line feels festive with the addition of live jazz.

What Kids Say: “What makes people crowd around the block? Pizza! There’s only one Cheeseboard in the whole world. In the morning, you can find fresh baked goods like cheese rolls, chocolate things, and pecan rolls. Yum! It is open every day except Sunday and Monday and is on Shattuck Avenue.” – Stella and Augie

Berkeley Public Library – Central Branch

Berkeley public library central branch
Berkeley Public Library Central Branch

An entire floor is dedicated to kids and children’s books at the Central branch of the Berkeley Public Library. The 1930s Moderne-style building and its contemporary addition offer enough room to read, play, and learn. The children’s library features a story room, kid-friendly decorative touches, and librarians who give great advice about reading.

What Kids Say: “Where can you go to be surrounded by thousands of imaginary worlds? The Berkeley Library! You can read all kinds of books, from storybooks to chapter books. The Berkeley Library has it all and it’s open every day of the week.” – Juno and Julian

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Live Oak Park

Sign at live oak park in berkeley
Berkeley’s Live Oak Park

Live Oak Park is part community gathering place, part playground, and part urban nature adventure. At this great place to go in Berkeley with kids, you’ll find two playgrounds plus basketball courts and a community center with a theater and art gallery. Bisecting the park is a creek with paths, bridges, and picnic areas in the shade of tall trees. A large grassy area provides room to run, play, and lounge.

What Kids Say: “Where can you play in water and climb under bridges? At Live Oak Park. There’s something for everyone: a twisty slide, bridges that cross over a creek, and swings. It’s open every day and the best time to come is on a sunny day.” – Wynn and Simon

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Active Travel Family Travel Road Trip

An Epic California Spring Break Combining Beach Time and Snow

Spring break sits at the crossroads of winter and summer, a time to trade chilly school days for the promise of sun. But a California spring break offers an intriguing option: Embrace the best of winter and enjoy spring-break-worthy beach time.

California Spring Break Magic: Beach and Snow

Here’s a taste of what you can do with kids when you plan a California spring break road trip that includes beach-bliss in Santa Cruz and all the winter fun of Lake Tahoe.

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Santa Cruz

Its laid-back vibe means that kids are welcome almost everywhere in Santa Cruz. This stretch of coast is dotted with a tantalizing variety of sandy beaches and tide-pool-festooned rocky seashores. On weekends in winter and spring, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk—named the World’s Best Seaside Park by the amusement industry—is a family crowd pleaser packed with rides, all set against the brilliant backdrop of the Pacific.

Look beyond the beach for the sort of fun that makes Santa Cruz a top family-friendly destination. At the Seymour Marine Discovery Center, the Pacific comes to life with exhibits and touch pools that give families a front-row seat to the thriving underwater world just beyond the center’s windows. And the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Exploration Center offers exhibits and displays that allow families to explore the local marine environment from dry land.

With a few days, you can venture beyond Santa Cruz to nearby towns for more spring break family fun. Roaring Camp Railroads in Felton offers vintage train rides through redwoods and along a river, and just next door Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park has a short family-friendly trail loop through a towering old-growth redwood forest. Head south to Watsonville to let kids belly up to the bar at Martinelli’s Company Store, where they can taste a full range of sparkling and still juices while learning all about how the company turns U.S.-grown apples into this favorite family-celebration drink.

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The Drive

About four hours separate Santa Cruz from your next stop on this California spring break. Power through the drive to maximize your time in each place, or take it slow and stop for some outlet shopping in Vacaville, lunch and a museum in Sacramento, or a peek at one of the many historical sites along the way.

You can bypass much of the Bay Area’s commuter traffic (traffic apps like Waze will give you the best real-time advice), but you’ll want to be strategic about timing your route through Sacramento, as that part of the drive gets significantly slower in late afternoon and early evening.

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Tahoe and Truckee

The towns and ski resorts that make up the Tahoe region offer family-friendly fun set against the beautiful backdrop of soaring peaks, dense forest, and, of course, the sparkling centerpiece of Lake Tahoe itself.

Hit the slopes with the kids without draining your family’s entire travel budget by choosing a ski resort that offers deals for parents. Full-day ski schools for kids cost less than the average at resorts including Boreal, Homewood, and Tahoe Donner. Boreal, Diamond Peak, Homewood, Sierra-at-Tahoe, and Mount Rose are among the resorts that offer single lift tickets that two parents can trade off using—a true gem if your kids are non-skiers or still need middle-of-the-day naps.

Kids who don’t ski or snowboard can still find plenty of snow-based action. Squaw’s SnoVentures zone has groomed snow tubing hills complete with snow tube rentals, a magic carpet so you don’t have to walk up the whole hill, and attendants making sure everyone stays safe and has fun. SnoVentures also has mini-snowmobiles for kids 6 to 12.

Some of Tahoe’s most kid-friendly winter activities take place indoors. Woodward Tahoe’s Bunker is a massive warehouse packed with trampolines, foam pits, half pipes, and more. In addition to daylong and weeklong camps, Woodward also offers drop-in classes including a ninja class, Super Hero Saturday, and parkour. At the KidZone Museum in Truckee, pirate ships, castles, and more creative spaces encourage imaginary play. There’s also a baby zone for pre-walkers and an art studio where kids can create projects to take home. Truckee’s newly redone Community Swimming Pool is the perfect place to end the day: Kids can go down a waterslide, play on the splash pad, or swim in the large heated pool.

There’s even the option to camp indoors with the debut of the Great Indoors Family Room at Basecamp Hotel in Tahoe City. This two-room suite includes a tented king-sized bed, picnic table, and faux-wood fire in one room and a bunk bed in a room-sized canvas tent in an adjoining space. Indoor plumbing completes the not-roughing-it package.

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If You Go

For a California spring break that includes Santa Cruz and Tahoe, you can mix and match your airports. To arrive or depart closer to Santa Cruz, check prices in and out of San Francisco International, Oakland International, and San Jose International. San Jose gets you closest to Santa Cruz, and since it’s a smaller airport, it’s easier to navigate.

To arrive or depart closest to Tahoe, fly into Reno-Tahoe, which is about 40 minutes from Truckee. Or consider Sacramento, which is about an hour and a half through the mountains from Tahoe.

More California Beach-to-Snow Vacations

You can pull off this magic act of a beach-and-snow California spring break throughout the Golden State. In Central California, pair Pismo Beach with Mammoth Mountain. In Southern California, head to Huntington Beach in Orange County for fun in the sun and then east to Big Bear for skiing and snow play.

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Christine Sarkis visited Santa Cruz and Tahoe as a guest of Visit California. Follow her on Twitter @ChristineSarkis and Instagram @postcartography for more advice about making every vacation the best vacation.

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Booking Strategy Family Travel Money Theme Park

Wallet Watch: Price Hikes at Disney Parks

Don’t look now, but you’ve been bushwhacked by Mickey and Goofy.

[st_content_ad]Over the weekend, with no advance notice to customers, Disney raised prices at its theme parks in Florida and California.

Disney uses a three-tiered pricing scheme, with prices varying according to demand.

At the Magic Kingdom in Orlando, the price of a low-demand-day ticket rose $2, to $109 for adults and $103 for kids. On regular-demand days, prices were up $4, to $119 and $113 for adults and kids, respectively. And on peak-demand days, the increase was $5, to $129 for adults and $123 for children.

At Animal Kingdom, Epcot, and Hollywood Studios, prices increased by $3 for low- and peak-demand days, and by $7 for regular-demand days.

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At the Disneyland and California Adventure parks, there’s no change to the price of a one-day adult ticket on low-demand days; it remains at $97. For regular-demand days, however, the price increased from $110 to $117. And for peak-demand days, the price rose $11, from $124 to $135, almost 9 percent.

Annual Disney price hikes have become predictably routine. And it’s a given that businesses have to increase prices to cover their increased costs. What’s noteworthy about Disney’s increases, however, is that they routinely exceed the inflation rate, which should be a good proxy for the increased costs of doing business. In other words, there’s a whiff of the gouge in Disney’s pricing, which is especially jarring coming from a company that makes so much of its family-friendliness.

Reader Reality Check

Smart business, or profiteering?

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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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Booking Strategy Health & Wellness

Where Do the Happiest Flyers Come from? The Top-10 Cities

In case you were wondering, the happiest American travelers hail from Honolulu. That’s according to a new happiness study conducted by TripIt, which analyzed flight ratings from 575,000 travelers. Here are the 10 cities where the happiest flyers reside:

  1. Honolulu, HI
  2. Phoenix, AZ
  3. Nashville, TN
  4. St. Louis, MO
  5. Tampa, FL
  6. Milwaukee, WI
  7. Kansas City, MO
  8. Baltimore, MD
  9. Orlando, FL
  10. Albuquerque, NM

Why those cities? TripIt suggests, somewhat jokingly, that flyer happiness is a function of “regular access to vitamin D,” an allusion to the fact that many of the top-rated cities are in sunny climes. Perhaps. There certainly appears to be a positive correlation between good weather and travel satisfaction. But correlation shouldn’t be confused with causation.

Happiest Flyers by Airport

Not surprisingly, the airport travelers departed from or arrived at had a significant impact on flyers’ satisfaction. Here are the top-10 departure airports:

  1. MDW – Chicago
  2. DAL – Dallas
  3. BUR – Burbank
  4. HOU – Houston
  5. OAK – Oakland
  6. SAT – San Antonio
  7. SNA – Santa Ana
  8. STL – Louis
  9. BNA – Nashville
  10. SJC – San Jose

Yes, there’s a theme there. The three highest-rated airports are smaller, secondary airports in large metro areas. Chicago’s Midway plays second fiddle to Chicago O’Hare, as does Dallas Love Field to Dallas-Ft. Worth, and Burbank to Los Angeles International.

The takeaway: Where possible, choose the smaller of the available airports.

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Happiest Flyers by Generation

If I had to guess, I would venture that older generations were less satisfied than younger generations. The logic: With a longer exposure to commercial flying, older travelers have experienced first hand the decline in air service over decades, and would be most likely to be dissatisfied with the current state of affairs.

TripIt’s findings were slightly different:

  • Most satisfied – Millennials (1983-1999)
  • Somewhat satisfied – Baby Boomers (1946-1964)
  • Somewhat dissatisfied – Xennials (1977-1983)
  • Most dissatisfied – Generation X (1965-1976)

So, rather than the Baby Boomers’ being the least satisfied, as I would have predicted, it’s the generation that followed them that’s most critical of the current state of flying. Perhaps the Boomers are so far removed in time from flying’s better days that they’ve forgotten how much better the air-travel experience used to be.

Reader Reality Check

Are you a happy flyer (and what generation are you)?

More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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Categories
Active Travel Adventure Travel Family Travel In-Flight Experience Travel Etiquette

Fighting Siblings: 5 Ways to Make Your Kids Get Along on Vacation

Ahhh, the joy of a sibling. Your best friend, lifelong confidante, built-in buddy. At least that’s what every parent hopes. The truth can be a lot tougher to swallow. No one knows how to grate on your nerves and push your buttons better than your brothers and sisters.

[st_content_ad]Parents who think that simply packing fighting siblings into a car, putting them on a plane, or sequestering them in a hotel room will change all that, are right.

It makes it worse.

But there’s hope. Sure, siblings may still squabble, but if you employ these five tactics, you stand a chance of getting at least one family photo that doesn’t look like a scene from The Simpsons couch.

Fighting Sibling Vacation Tactic 1: Become the Enemy

Take the iPad that they refuse to share. Choose the radio station after no one can agree. Proclaim from the highest mountain, for all to hear, that “Now, no one will get any ice cream!” Become the focus of their anger and I guarantee you they will come together. There is no greater uniting force than a common enemy. Be that enemy.

[st_related]13 Tips That Take (Some of) the Stress Out of Flying with Kids[/st_related]

Fighting Sibling Vacation Tactic 2: Give Them Skin in the Game

What’s that they say about idle hands? If you were just picked up and dragged along for a week with no idea of where you were going or what to expect, you’d probably be a bit of a disturber too. Get the kids involved in the trip early. Tease them with tidbits of how much fun you’re going to have. Exaggerate your concerns over how you’ll ever get to all the fun stuff if they waste time arguing with their sibling. Drop heavy hints that the fun will have to end if the kids can’t get along. Trust me, they’ll take the bait. Older kids can get even more involved. Give them a day activity to plan or a restaurant to choose. Take all their suggestions seriously and if, for some reason, you need to nix their idea and they don’t like it (“No, little Billy you’re not diving with sharks on this trip.”), simply return to rule #1.

[st_related]Children Flying Alone: What Every Parent Needs to Know About Unaccompanied Minors[/st_related]

Fighting Sibling Vacation Tactic 3: Don’t Overdo It

One of the key components of a miserable child (i.e. one more prone to pinching his sister) is fatigue. It doesn’t matter how “child-friendly” or “hands-on” a museum is, don’t try to squeeze more than one major activity into a single day. You will deserve the meltdown you get if you’re trying to cram too much into your schedule. Instead, stick to one must-do and one additional possibility each day. And for the love of everything that is holy, keep them all well-fed while you do it.

Fighting Sibling Vacation Tactic 4: Reduce Projectile Options

Every time they play chess at home does it end up in tears? Don’t bring the chess board. Is choosing which movie to watch the usual path to an argument? Don’t give them any options. Kids don’t change. They aren’t going to simply start getting along and agreeing on things because you took them away from home. Leave the “I’m going to find the most embarrassing place to scream my lungs out because it went missing” items at home. I’m looking at you favorite Shopkins and limited-edition Star Wars action figure.

[st_related]10 Fun Family Vacations for Multigenerational Travelers[/st_related]

Fighting Sibling Vacation Tactic 5: Divide and Conquer

Sometimes fighting siblings just need a break from each other. All that family togetherness that you’re craving as parents can be the straw that broke the usually-only-mildly-irritating kid’s back. Consider sometimes splitting up your brood between adults and activities. It will give them a break from each other and give you some quality bonding time with each. Plus, spending time apart means you’ll all have something to talk about when you get back together … and the kids can argue over who had the most fun. Ahhh, siblings.

More from SmarterTravel:

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Heather Greenwood Davis is a lifestyle journalist and a National Geographic Travel columnist. Follow her on Twitter @greenwooddavis or keep up with her family’s adventures on GlobeTrottingMama.com

Categories
Family Travel

Tamarijn Aruba All Inclusive December 22, 2007 – January 3, 2008

Author: Arubalisa
Email: arubalisa@gmail.com
Date of Trip: December 2007

Tamarijn All Inclusive December 22, 2007 – January 3, 2008

Overview
We are a family of 10 comprised of my grandmother age 94, who treated the family to this trip as a Christmas present. My parents are in their late 60’s, my brother, husband and, myself – mid- 40’s and children- aged 11, 13, 15 and 18. My parents have been to Aruba three times previously having stayed at the Holiday Inn and most recently the Radisson. My husband and I, have been to Aruba quite a few times having staying at a variety of resorts along Palm Beach, some numerous times: Divi Phoenix timeshare, Playa Linda timeshare, Wyndham (now Westin), Allegro (now Occidental), Radisson and Hyatt.

Traveling with 4 children who love to eat and eat well, we knew to start, dining out was not an inexpensive option and cooking by one of us, say in a timeshare, was just not going to happen. We could stay home and cook for the holidays if that were the case. So in our case, all inclusive was the choice for our family. We have used MCM Tours for over eight years now when booking our Aruba travel. Having always had the best pricing and excellent service, this trip was no different. In explaining what our family needed in a resort accommodation and having booked our travel through them for so many years, they knew our likes and dislikes and recommended the Tamarijn. We went along with this knowing full well before booking that it is NOT a 5 star resort.

This was the first land vacation in Aruba for my brother and his children. After seeing the crowds along Palm Beach during Christmas week, he said given the choice of staying at the Riu all inclusive on Palm Beach or staying at the Tamarijn, he would choose the Tamarijn hands down for simple fact that the beaches all along Palm Beach were just too crowded. Add to the crowds, the huge amount of watersports activities and their accompanying noise, it was a real big turnoff to him.

I cannot say in words how happy our family was with the Tamarijn. In reading a great many reviews of this resort over the many months before our trip, we knew what to expect. This was not going to be a 4 star resort like the Marriott, Radisson or Hyatt or even the Westin. I would however say we were just as happy if not happier with our experience at the Tamarijn than our 3 stays at the Westin when it was still the Wyndham, and it is a different type of experience than our four stays at the Radisson.

The atmosphere at the Tamarijn is much more relaxed than anything you would find on Palm Beach, never mind the Radisson or Hyatt. Cannot comment on the Marriott because we have never stayed there, but would imagine it would be the same. Dh and I, still believe there are “trade offs” for staying along Palm Beach at some of the more “upscale” hotels and staying at a resort such as the Tamarijn. The Tamarijn and Druif beach does not have all the many activities within walking distance, the rooms at the Tamarijn are much more basic and unlike Palm Beach where there are many casinos in the hotels adjacent one another, there is only one casino, the Alhambra, across the street from the Divi Resort. For us, however, the tangible bonus of the Tamarijn was the ability to walk directly out of our room right out on to the beach. As much as we love the Radisson we cannot do that there.

For some it seems so much easier for people to find faults with the Tamarijn than to have done the proper research before booking their stay. Just because all the rooms are oceanfront, this does not mean that this is a 5 star resort. There are no 5 star resorts on the island. We had booked our trip through MCM Tours, and they had requested, though could not guarantee that our 4 rooms be near one another. Our room in the 1300 building was more than adequate in size for three people, but then again, the only time we spent in our room was to shower and sleep. The beach outside our room was our living room for the 12 nights of our holiday vacation. Our TV was never turned on. The ocean outside our door was our entertainment. The baths may be outdated, but were clean and again, for our needs, not an important factor for this vacation. The resort suited our family in every way for what we required, in a family vacation for our holiday.

The rooms at the Tamarijn from what I understand were renovating not too long ago and appeared to us clean and fresh. After having read so many reviews I was also expecting a room the size of a shoe box. Well, maybe too many cruises for us, but with three people, we had plenty of room and storage for the all too many clothes we packed. Many reviews have also stated that the guestroom bathrooms were outdated. Well, yes they are; however, our family knew what to expect, and we found clean bathrooms which in no way adversely affected our vacation. Other complaints I have read over and were that other than their ala carte restaurants, they serve their beverages in hard plastic cups. Indeed this is true, we knew what to expect. The swimming pool was not fancy; yes the swimming pool is a simple rectangle. In our opinion, on the island of Aruba, the Tamarijn cannot be beat for the value for the money in an all inclusive resort. All oceanfront accommodations make this resort the perfect paradise.

If anything, the worst thing I can say is that it would be very easy to never leave the resort except for an occasional run over to her sister resort the Divi. For first time visitors to Aruba, if you never left the resort, you would never get a real feel for the island and all it has to offer. You would still however have the wonderful experience of one-on-one contact with one of Aruba’s and the Tamarijn’s exceptional assets: it’s warm, welcoming and friendly people. As soon as we stepped out of our taxi driver friend Bully’s van and were greeted by the bellman and subsequently the front desk clerk, we knew we had found an amazing spot.

My husband and I, love to frequent some of those $150 – $200 per couple “fine dining” restaurants in Aruba such as the Sunset Grille and found all the food outlets at the Divi and Tamarijn, whether ala carte for dinner or breakfast and lunch buffets, to be delicious. All members of our family are “foodies” and no one felt there was anything wrong with the food here. From made to order omelet’s at breakfast and even seafood selections at lunch such as scallops in wine sauce and paella, we could find nothing to complain about. In other words, we could always find something to eat. Snacks and sandwiches at the Pizza bar were also excellent. Made to order pizzas were our favorite, with a choice of thick or thin crust!

Service at the food and beverage outlets was typical “Aruban or island time.” No worse than any other place where we have eaten. If we were looking to sit down, eat and run, then the buffet will be our choice. Since I enjoy being able to sit and enjoy the atmosphere and the company of whom I am with, I was more than pleased with the service and staff at both the Divi and Tamarijn.

Getting There
Our family members flew from Newark on Continental, American from Miami and dh, dd, and I, from Atlanta on Delta. Considering we were flying the Saturday before, and only 3 days before Christmas, things did not go too badly.

Living in Atlanta, most of our flights no matter we travel are via Delta. We have flown Delta 3 times, twice domestically, in the past 6 months and our experiences have been good and bad. Probably all in all it breaks down to 40% poor, 40% mediocre and 20% excellent. Even booking flights eight months in advance for this trip, the discounted fares were already sold out. The discounted first class airfare on the way to Aruba was less expensive than a round trip coach fare so we took that, and used frequent flier miles to upgrade to first class on the return.

A last minute equipment change gave us a larger plane but screwed up coach class seat assignments. All the passengers then had stand in line at the gate to grab whatever seats they could get as well as new boarding passes. The result was long lines accompanied by short tempers, coupled with a low ceiling, our flight for Aruba departed over an hour late.

Attitudes all around with Delta were much better when the airline was in the midst of their bankruptcy. Things have since returned to their cold, uncaring attitude towards their customers. My tray was broken, so dh and I ate lunch in two shifts switching seats. The flight attendant was not even willing to look at it and totally indifferent to the situation, basically like “deal with it.” I do have to admit that the airport personnel for Delta in both Atlanta’s Hartsfield and at Queen Beatrix in Aruba were excellent. On surely one of the busiest travel days of the year, could not do enough to assist us. Come on airlines, come on FAA, Delta needs more competition in Atlanta!

Having made up some time, our flight to Aruba arrived only 40 minutes late. Again we faced similar scenes from the morning, crowds and people who had simply “had enough.” Add to this everyone was tired and now hot. The terminal was more crowded than I had ever seen it and there were a number of unhappy passengers who had arrived on American Airlines with their luggage not arriving along with them. Admittedly, it did take a good 20 minutes for our flight’s luggage to begin coming out. I overheard someone state that the delay was caused by the passing rain shower during which our flight had landed and the fact that they do not like to unload luggage in the rain so it does not get wet. We were fortunate that as soon as the luggage did begin coming out, for the first time in 16 visits, we were one of the first people on our flight to receive our luggage off of the carousel. For us, coupled with a short line at immigration and breezing through Aruba Customs, we made it out in for us, near record time!

Exiting Aruba Customs, already on the other side of the glass, I could see our friend Bully, the taxi driver, excitedly waving and motioning hello. Passing through the doors there were hugs and kisses all around, we had finally arrived at our “home away from home.” Off for a very short ride to the Tamarijn. Well, what normally would have been anyway?

What is Christmas like in Aruba? To start off with, the Saturday before Christmas and LG Smith Boulevard through downtown Oranjestad was closed. This is a traditional day for Arubans to do their shopping. To ease access to stores, especially for families, the street is opened only to pedestrian traffic. Bully did his best but it seemed that every corner we turned resulted in just more gridlock. Either way, we made it to Tamarijn and who should be standing at the far end of the lobby but my Mom. She had been at Pizza per Tutti and just had “that feeling” that we had arrived.

The Tamarijn: The Rooms
After a quick hello to my Mom, we went to the front desk and received our bracelets which would allow us to eat and drink throughout our stay, towels cards, and room keys and, we rented a key to the safe for the duration of our stay. Again, we booked four rooms through MCM Tours and had asked them to request for obvious reasons, that at least my grandmother’s room, be located on the ground floor with the three remaining rooms as close together as possible. In checking in we discovered that all our rooms were adjacent on the first floor of the 1300 building- 1313, 1311, 1309 and 1307. We were off to a wonderful start.

Some people worry about security with these ground floor rooms but I would not worry too much if you take the proper precautions. We felt just as safe at the Tamarijn in a ground floor room as we did anywhere else we have stayed in our 15 previous visits to the island. The room’s sliding glass doors have a bar which locks across the middle of the door in addition to a standard lock. Our lock was always locked when we were not in the room. I have heard from others who either forgot to put up the bar or chose to sleep with their door open, that security had stopped by and asked them to shut the door and put up the bar. In building 1300, because of the direction of Aruba’s tradewinds, front to back on our room, we had to ensure we truly pulled hard when shutting the front door to our room to guarantee that the lock had caught. Not doing so, there would be a chance the door could blow open. This is not an issue as long as you are aware of it. There was visible security around the resort day and night. Twice during the day when I walked to the end of the resort to the 2500 building there was a security guard posted there as well.

Rooms came equipped with hair dryers, iron and ironing board (not for me on vacation thank you), and a mini-refrigerator and clock radio alarm. You can put whatever food you wish in the mini-fridge. It is totally empty and located on the bottom right of the armoire. Delicious Aruban water is from their desalinization plant and can flow from the tap quite warm. Bring your own empty pitcher if you want to chill some to keep in the fridge. Satellite TV stations were very well covered: ESPN, ESPN2, HBO, TNT, Disney, USA, WGN, TBS, CNN, Venevision, Tele Aruba, Cinemax, Fox, CNN Headline News, BBC World, BBC America, CNBC, ABC Family, ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox Sports, Golf Channel, MTV, In-house TV and a couple of others, presumably South American, I never heard of.

The maids have a tough job keeping the tile floors clean of sand. I know in all four of our rooms, no matter how hard we tried, we still tracked in some sand each day. We took the towel tub mat and placed it right inside our sliding glass door from our patio to wipe our feet on when we came in the room, and that helped some. I think the rooms in the higher numbered buildings which have grass between their room and the beach, accumulate less sand.

Again, I have read complaints about the noise from these in the wall units but it was never was a problem for our family and, it soon became just background noise. The air conditioning had a digital thermostat to set as you wished and to boot, the room had a ceiling fan! Lighting in the room could have been better for reading at night. Luckily dd, had brought her book light and dh used that to read before falling asleep at night. If you have a lot of hanging clothes, bringing a dozen extra clothes hangers from home is also a pretty good idea. Between dd and myself we need at least 8 hangers just for beach cover-ups.

Many people state, for them the biggest turnoff is the bathroom, but honestly I thought it was clean. There was always hot water, soap and plenty of fresh, fluffy towels. I have one photo where it looks like mildew on the tiles in the shower, but after close examination dh and I did not think so. I have horrible allergies to mold and mildew and have had allergic reaction in rooms in other resorts throughout the Caribbean because of this. This was not the case at the Tamarijn. The shower had shampoo-body soap “all in one” type wall dispenser and a bar of soap were provided as well. There is a liquid soap dispenser for the sink as well. If you like your “own” brand bring it from home and if you have longer hair definitely bring conditioner for your hair.

With my grandmother being now 94 years old, she has difficulty walking long distances. Past Christmas vacations when we have taken cruises, she has spent most of her days on the balcony of her cabin sharing only meals with us. I just knew that if we could convince her that Aruba was a destination which would appeal to the entire family, that the Tamarijn would be the perfect accommodation. The entire family loves the beach so our days are spent mainly there and, of course, in the ocean swimming. What would be more fitting for her than an oceanfront room with a patio where she could sit working her crossword puzzle or where only steps away, she could lounge under a shade palapa all within sight and contact of the entire family.

In building 1300, everything was centrally located for her, whether we needed to get her out to the lobby to the rental car for our “do it yourself” island tour or the golf cart shuttle to take us over to the Divi for dinner at the ala carte Red Parrot Restaurant or an even shorter walk to Pizza per Tutti for lunch or a snack or the Cunucu Terrace for breakfast or lunch. Also close by between the lobby and the Cunucu Terrace were the ala carte restaurants, Ginger and Paparazzi. The Palm Court Grill is also located adjacent to the Cunucu Terrace. Again, this was ideal for someone who could not do much walking.

After settling into our spectacular oceanfront room, we met up with my grandmother and headed over to Pizza per Tutti where we had some delicious pizza and my first Balashi of the trip, all while overlooking the ocean just a stones throw away! The snack proved to be more than enough food to hold us over until our first night’s dinner at the Red Parrot. Following our snack, dh headed back to the room to unpack, and I headed to the lobby to await my brother, my nephew and two nieces. It had been a year since I had seen the kids, and I missed them dearly. Following a long day of travel, the next best thing to being in Aruba, was sitting in the Tamarijn lobby gently cooled by the tradewinds, just after dark, relaxing in the warm glow of the Christmas lights and beautiful Christmas decorations and trees.

The Tamarijn: Food, Beverage & Service
Food was excellent throughout the resort and there was always something for everyone, including the children. For food the buffet opened at 7 a.m. and Pizza per Tutti stayed open until 1 a.m. For a quick snack there was always popcorn. They made it throughout the day at per Tutti and dish it out fresh in small paper bags. My niece complained the pizza at the pizza bar had a “plain” sauce and was “not like the NY pizza she was used to.” She was supplied with oregano and red pepper- problem solved. We were totally taken by surprise by some of the more upscale offerings on the lunch buffet such as scallops in wine sauce and paella complete with shrimp, mussels and crabmeat (though I think that may have been imitation). Steaks at the Red Parrot were better than the ones we have been served on Princess and Celebrity Cruise Lines and in my opinion, the Churasco was better than El Gaucho’s. The portions were also more than plentiful. If I had to say any part of the food was lacking it was the cakes for dessert, though there were a couple of chocolate cakes that were not half bad. Is anyone going to allow his vacation to be judged upon desserts?

My parents arrived at the Tamarijn a few hours prior to us so Mom was in charge of making dinner reservations. She was able to make reservations for the first three nights of our stay. Reservations the first day work out essentially, you get whichever seating’s are left for the night you arrive and, except for those who have checked in already before you that day, you have first dibs on the next two nights. Then the following morning beginning at 8 a.m. you can make reservations for your fourth night’s dinner and so on for the successive days. My husband is an early riser so was there at 8 a.m. each morning. The resort was full capacity for some of the nights we were there. On New Year’s Eve, because of all the new check-ins of those who could book the 3 nights in advance, instead of 8:30 p.m. or 7:30 p.m. our reservation for that night was 8:45 p.m. We do not mind eating late, especially on New Year’s Eve, a 15 minute difference was no big deal. Most every other evening we were able to reserve a table at 7:30 p.m. It was very sad arriving at the restaurants, which were supposed to be booked solid, and they sat half empty. From talking to the staff, they explained that from drinking all day, people get tired, take a nap and then sleep right through their dinner reservation.

You cannot discuss dining without mentioning the service. Again, a matter of opinion, we did not have high expectations for the service at the resort after reading negative things throughout the internet. We again, were very pleasantly surprised at how good the service was. Those Arubans who were outstanding included: Concierge Iris; at the Cunucu Terrace: Iso and Elvira; Tamarijn bartenders: John and Carmen and Calvin at the Red Parrot. These are just a few of the folks at the Tamarijn and Divi who made our vacation so enjoyable. I also cannot leave out the activities staff, which no matter how few participants they had, just carried on in their jobs trying their best to get the crowd involved. The biggest draw of the day was always poolside bingo. I knew the ladies from the kid’s club were winners when they surprised the kids during pool games by jumping in to the surprise of everyone, with all their clothes on! The kids thought it was cool, and so did I.

My husband was not keen on tipping at an all inclusive where the tipping was “included,” but at my prodding, he quickly learned that a $5 tip here and there was worth a ton of good will. He visited the concierge first thing 8 a.m. each morning to make our dinner reservations. Twice he came forth with a $5 tip and both reactions were the same, utter shock. Evidently no one at the resort ever tips the concierge? Must have been a truly memorable moment for sure if dh received a hug and kiss from Iris the concierge as we were departing. $5 first thing in the a.m. helped us get prompt service the rest of the day at Pizza per Tutti, meaning if we walked up the same time as someone else, we were handed the drink first, rather than having to wait and the drink being slid across the bar. This also helped our dd who is a little on the short side stand out among the crowd when she was waiting to be served. Dd was having a difficult time in the beginning getting served her afternoon ice cream. When they found out she was with us that took care of that problem too. LOL…Was it a problem? Where was she rushing off to anyway?

There was no beach or pool service, but the bars served just about every kind of tropical drink imaginable. Alcohol served was name brands. They only served one brand of wine, Colon, from Argentina. Dh liked the merlot, Mom liked the Chardonnay, and I liked the Pinot Grigio. Beer is only available on tap. All bars served the local Balashi beer. Balashi is a light lager similar to Amstel Bright and Corona. Some of the bars carried Amstel and Heineken. For beverages, or food, for that matter, neither beach nor pool service was offered. If you ordered something at Pizza per Tutti and wanted to sit at the table and chairs they have under the canopy overlooking the boardwalk and ocean, the bartenders would gladly bring your food over to you after it was cooked.

Breakfast buffet at the Cunucu Terrace at the Tamarijn was more than satisfying. There is a problem if you could not find something to your liking. Offerings included: yogurts, small platter of meats and cheese, chunks of fresh fruit: pineapple, orange, mango, melons, eggs cooked to order, hard boiled eggs, French toast, pancakes, pastries and breads, corned beef hash, scrambled eggs, sausage links, sausage patties, bacon, Dutch potatoes (baked cubed potatoes with onion) and juices: fruit punch, orange, grapefruit, tomato and cranberry among others. Dh did not particularly care for the coffee, but then again we have never traveled where he liked the coffee as much as he does his own at home. It is interesting to note that on New Year’s morning, dh and I decided to head to the Divi’s breakfast buffet and in addition to the above, they offered lox as well as egg’s Benedict and poached eggs. Overall the breakfast was a little more upscale, but if you do not like the walk or the even longer wait for the golf cart shuttle there from the Tamarijn, it is not a huge deal if you skip it. As a nicely added touch, on both Christmas and New Year’s morning, the resorts offered a choice of Mimosa or champagne at the breakfast buffet.

Monday Lunch Buffet Cold Buffet: chef salad, nicoise salad, beet salad, fresh cut fruits, fresh cut fruits, salad bar; Soup of the Day: cream of asparagus; Hot Buffet: wild rice with mushrooms, macaroni and cheese, deep fried plantain and potatoes, BBQ ribs, turkey and mushroom; Action Station: chicken nuggets with honey mustard sauce, pork sate with peanut sauce, stir fried vegetables, Cajun mahi-mahi, grilled beef steak with chimichurri; Sandwiches: hamburger, hot dog, tuna salad, smoked turkey-tomato, pastrami-mozzarella; Dessert: variety of mousse and cakes. Tuesday Lunch Buffet Cold Buffet: crabmeat salad, baby corn salad, coleslaw, fresh cut fruits, salad bar; Soup of the Day: beef bullion with noodles; Hot Buffet: rice pilaf with curry, penne with basil pesto, mashed potatoes, cauliflower in cream sauce, Cajun beef stew; Action Station: fried calamari, beef skewer with spicy dip, pork loin stir fry, chicken stir fry with vegetables; Sandwiches: hamburger, hot dog, egg salad, gouda-lettuce-tomato, turkey-cheese-bacon; Dessert: variety of mousse and cakes. Wednesday Lunch Buffet Cold Buffet: Titi shrimp salad, turkey salad, potato salad, green bean salad, salad bar; Soup of the Day: Boston clam chowder; Hot Buffet: Cajun rice, tri-color rottini with pesto, potato bonne femms, sautéed zucchini, spicy chicken wings, pork in tomato basil sauce; Action Station: French fries, onion rings, fish skewer, stir fry beef, pork in mushroom sauce; Sandwiches: hamburger, hot dog, salami, roast beef-mozzarella; Dessert: variety of mousse and cakes. Thursday Lunch Buffet Cold Buffet: Italian salad, bean salad, egg salad, salad bar; Soup of the Day: Potato garlic; Hot Buffet: white rice with raisins and butter, penne carbonara, boiled potato in tomato sauce, mixed vegetables; steamed mussels in wine sauce, sweet and sour vegetables; Action Station: mini croquettes, chicken sate with peanut sauce, beef stir fry, pork in sun dried tomato pesto; Sandwiches: hamburger, hot dog, shrimp salad, pastrami-mustard, mozzarella-salami-onion; Dessert: variety of mousse and cakes. Friday Lunch Buffet Cold Buffet: mixed seafood pasta salad, beef potato salad, kidney bean salad, salad bar; Soup of the Day: Goulash; Hot Buffet: fried rice, bow tie pasta with four cheese sauce, fried potatoes and peppers, Asian mixed vegetables, BBQ chicken drumsticks, jerk beef ribs; Action Station: fish fritters with Thai sauce, meatball onion skewer, pork in pepper sauce, chicken with fajita spices, French fries; Sandwiches: hamburger, hot dog, prosciutto-provolone-pepperoni-onions; Dessert: variety of mousse and cakes. Saturday Lunch Buffet Cold Buffet: chef salad, tri-color pasta with pesto, rice-fruit-raisin and nut salad, salad bar; Soup of the Day: chicken consommé with vegetables; Hot Buffet: rice with herbs, fettuccine with tomato basil sauce, curried boiled potatoes, corn on the cob, fish fillet in Creole sauce, beef stew; Action Station: breaded pork in zingara sauce, beef kabob, grilled chicken in BBQ sauce, mini pastechi; Sandwiches: hamburger, hot dog, bacon-lettuce-tomato, cheese-mushroom-pizza sauce, salmon salda; Dessert: variety of mousse and cakes. Sunday Lunch Buffet Cold Buffet: chicken vegetable salad, four bean salad, beef macaroni salad, salad bar; Soup of the Day: mushroom; Hot Buffet: paella, farfalle with mushrooms, potato quiche, yellow squash with onions, pork Roast with mustard sauce, sesame chicken in five spice sauce; Action Station: fried fish with tarter sauce, chicken with sweet and sour sauce, pork in pepper corn sauce, soy beef and vegetables; Sandwiches: hamburger, hot dog, crabmeat salad, roast beef-lettuce-peppers, ham-cheese-pineapple; Dessert: variety of mousse and cakes.

When we did not eat at the buffet for lunch, we ate at Pizza Per Tutti. We also walked over to per Tutti for most of our beverages since it was so close to our room. For water or soda, we walked to the other side of the swimming pool to Coconuts where there was a self-service station. My personal favorites at per Tutti were the made to order, thin crust pizza with mushrooms, tomato, peppers, onions and olives, the Mexican fries which are topped with salsa, sour cream, cheese sauce and guacamole as well as the onion rings. My Mom loved their garlic bread, grandmother enjoyed the garlic bread and, of course all the kids loved the chicken nuggets, ice cream, frozen virgin drinks and grape soda. In June I will try the Tuna on French bread as well as the meatball sandwich on French bread. If you were still hungry, everyday, many times a day they were making pop corn. Popcorn was dispensed plain so low calorie which makes it even better. On the subject of calories, dh and I thought we would gain some weight on this trip with all the terrific food, and it turned out we did not. He and I came to the conclusion that with all the walking back and forth between the bar and the buffet or per Tutti, we were burning the calories as we consumed them.

Some days my grandmother did not feel up to walking to the Cunucu Terrace so my brother or I, would fix her a plate “to go”. Usually, one of her favorites, a hot dog with sauerkraut or a nice salad from the salad bar, and she would eat it at the table on her patio overlooking the ocean.

In that we prefer a sit down dinner, by choice, our family did not dine at any of the dinner buffets. Each night there was a different theme. Menus were posted following lunch at the Cunucu Terrace, so you had the ability of deciding whether you wished to eat the buffet for dinner or ala carte, if you could still get a reservation.

For our ala carte meals, we ate many terrific meals at all the restaurants: Ginger, Red Parrot, Paparazzi and the Palm Court Grill. Being at the resort for 12 nights, and so the restaurant food did not become boring, we did rotate restaurants each night and overall were extremely happy with not only the quality, but the portion sizes. Some of the men ordered, appetizer, soup AND salad each night and were never told no or limited in any way. They just ordered whatever they wished. On Christmas and New Years the Divi and Tamarijn’s restaurants offered a special holiday menu with only three entrees. My Mom is a finicky eater and did not care for any items offered. One night she was able to order a Caesar Salad which was not on the menu and which she loves anyway. New Years night at the Red Parrott, she asked for broiled shrimp which they not only said was not a problem, but they even offered to prepare with garlic for her. Every night the server received a $10 tip. Too much or too little or not necessary I suppose is based on personal opinion. Tips were always gratefully accepted.

We ate only once at Ginger since my parent’s are real fond lovers of that type of cuisine. We only ate twice at the Palm Court Grill since there were 10 of us and preferred eating together. My personal favorites were the Caesar Salad at Paparazzi and the Red Parrot, the Dutch Onion Soup at the Red Parrot and the Churasco a Moda at the Red Parrot. This steak was served with a delicious, hint of garlic, creamy “almost” mashed potato as well as tomato vegetable relish and orange soy barbeque sauce. These were spicy, which I have a hard time with, so just asked for them on the side the next time. Special requests like that were never problems.

At Ginger, the Asian restaurant, some of the items we sampled included: Appetizers: Spring Rolls, Sushi, Green Curry Mussels, Tempura Mix (included fish besides the Vegetables), Miso Soup, Won Ton Soup and Entrees: Tokyo Beef Noodles, Spicy Chicken, Spicy Green Curry Chicken and Mango Chicken.

The Palm Court Grill Restaurant was a different concept. The table is your cook top here and you cook your own food. You grill your own two choices of Shrimp, Pork, Chicken or Beef. Some in our family just doubled up and ordered two beef or two shrimp and it was never a problem. Before bringing out your entree for cooking, there was a choice of two salads and two soups were offered as well. Along with your selections for the entree, each table was also served a fresh vegetable mix for grilling, French fries or fried rice, and three yummy sauces: Chimichurri, teriyaki and garlic mayonnaise. Besides the ice cream, the best dessert was found here, what they referred to as cream puffs! In actuality, even better, Profiteroles!

What would an all inclusive resort be without an Italian restaurant? At the Tamarijn it was called Paparazzi Restaurant. I would label the food here more Aruban Italian, than true Italian but we made out just fine. With that said, I was never daring enough to try the Lasagna al Forno with cottage cheese. Perhaps next time I will be daring enough to try it? In the 12 years we have been traveling to Aruba, never have we found a true Italian meal. No matter where we have been it has always had that blend of Aruba mixed in. Imo, it would only be the real Italians looking for some of Mom’s “homemade gravy” who would have a tough time at Paparazzi since again, like all the restaurants, there was something for everyone.

At Paparazzi we sampled just about everything. Appetizers: Bruschetta, Prosciutto E Sopressata, Carpaccio Di Pesce, Caesar Salad, Beef consommé with ravioli and Entrees: Ravioli Al Formaggio (Cheese ravioli in a creamy mushroom sauce served with basil and parmesan), Pasta Di Penne (Mediterranean ratatouille with penne pasta and tomato), Frutti Di Mare (Spaghetti with shrimp, mussels and squid in a creamy crustacean sauce), one of our favorites: Rinforzare E Salsa Delia Senape- Grilled beef tenderloin with cheese ravioli and grain mustard butter sauce and Dessert here: try the Torta Di Formaggio Di Amaretto- Amaretto cheesecake with marinated raisins and rum raisin ice cream. No need to go out drinking when you get a taste of their rum raisin ice cream. With the amount of rum in that ice cream the spoon stands up all by itself.

The other most popular ala carte restaurant is the Red Parrot Restaurant located at the Divi Resort. Items we sample here included: Appetizers: Nicoise Salad, Caesar Salad, BBQ Chicken Wrap, Island Seafood Gazpacho, Bonito Carpaccio (tuna loin), French Delight (Baked Brie cheese on toast served over poached apples finished with honey and red wine drizzle), Chorizo Delight (dh’s least favorite item in all the restaurants), Dutch Onion Soup and Entrees: Creole Snapper, Coconut Shrimp, Lomito Famoso (grilled medallions of beef tenderloin accompanied by a garnish of potatoes, onions, bacon and carrots served with a creamy pepper sauce) and Churasco a Moda (Marinated and grilled sirloin steak served with creamy garlic potatoes, tomato vegetable relish and orange soy barbeque sauce).

If there were one thing I could fault on the service, it would be the golf cart shuttles between the resorts. Sure it is an easy walk, for most adults, but for my elderly grandmother as well as mother who had a hip replaced less than a year ago, it was not possible. The shuttles were just not dependable. Whether it was the mornings to get a ride over to the Divi for breakfast or even worse, to come back from dinner at the Divi’s Red Parrot, either way expect a wait. One night we waited a half hour for the shuttle from the Divi back to the Tamarijn. There were plenty of shuttles around but they were taking folks back and forth between wherever and the Alhambra Casino.

Beach
Another huge topic among those who discuss the Tamarijn on the internet is “the rocks”. There are a substantial number of rocks the length of the resort. Yes, it was a slight inconvenience, but again there are many positives of the Tamarijn which outweigh this aspect. In comparison to the high rises, the Tamarijn’s beach may not have as sandy of a bottom, but unless you own a lanai at the Playa Linda or an oceanfront unit timeshare at the Riu, there are no resorts where you are able to walk from your room directly out onto the beach. If all you know are high rise beaches, all you know is a beach full of people. We had been reading and hearing how wonderful the beaches were at the low rise resorts for many years. It took a stay there and seeing it with our own eyes to be convinced that yes there are beaches in Aruba which are not crowded.

Which rooms have rocks in front of them? It seems that there is no single answer to this question since Mother Nature is always in flux. The one steady factor seems to be that there is always a beautiful stretch of white sand beach between the Tamarijn and Divi resorts.

http://www.arubabound.com/accommo/tamarijn_map.jpg The resort runs from the north at building 1100 ending to the south at building 2500 closest to Oranjestad. The end closest to 2500 is extremely quiet. The northern end at 1100 is not as quiet in that it is next to the fitness center, sports center (spot to pick up non-motorized watersports equipment) and a long stretch of beach beyond where many of the resorts guests choose palapas as well as owners of the Divi timeshares across the street.

During our stay, the north end of 1100 had the least amount of rocks, our recent stay was in the 1300 building, and walked to 1100 in order to easily enter the water. There were some coral shards (worn down, not sharp) even there but no rocks to climb over and I had advised my parents to bring water shoes. They were glad they did.

Essentially rocks extended from 1200 all the way down the beach parallel with the swimming pool to 1400 which had a very nice stretch of beach. All the public areas, two of three bars, restaurants, and lobby and publics areas are located between 1300 and 1400. Unfortunately, 1500 – 1800 was entirely rocky. The Bunker Bar is located between 1800 and 1900. 1900 to 2500 the further south you headed, the wider and better the beach was.

A terrific idea had read on the internet was to bring along clothespins or hair clip to secure our beach towels to the chaise lounges. With the type of chaises that the Tamarijn uses, there is no way to wrap the edges of the towels up and around and through the corners of the chair to prevent the towel from blowing off the chair. This tip worked like a charm!

We were very fortunate that outside of our four first floor rooms, there were a total of two palapas. As I said, my husband is an early riser. One morning he awoke at 7 a.m. and there was a woman already sitting under the palapa right outside our room. LOL, there was a palapa right outside her room, but her next door neighbors had risen even earlier and claimed that palapa. Domino effect and did not matter to us because we were touring the island that day. It worked out in days to come; she shared the palapa outside her room with her neighbors in the room next door. When we came back to the resort at 2 p.m. she evidently had already had enough of the beach for the day anyway and the palapa was empty. That too was a day during which the resort was booked solid. I think many folks down at our end of the resort headed north to use the palapas on the beach between the Divi and the Tamarijn. There were always a ton of people walking back and forth in that direction. If you did not mind the walk the beach there was nicer.

There are some buildings which have only two palapas. Down towards the south end of the resort from 1900 – 2500, there were a number of palapas being used by owners staying at the Divi Dutch Village. I understand they are fully entitled to do so, and you will also find owners from the Divi Village and Divi Links timeshares using the beach and palapas between the Divi and Tamarijn Resorts. The resort’s policy is that you cannot “hold” a palapa; you must be there with your towels and possessions.

Tamarijn Activities
Upon check-in you will receive a packet of information which includes a list of resort activities. There was a wide variety of things to do at the Tamarijn. The activities center-towel hut was open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Our family’s main use was to pick up towels and floats. Most days we exchanged our towels for fresh ones late in the day when our time at the beach was over. This way when dh went out early in the a.m. to sit under the palapa waiting for the rest of the family to awaken he always had fresh towels. The most popular activities seemed to be bingo poolside as well as t-shirt tie-dying. My 18 year old niece was one of only three to participate in the beer drinking contest and though she lost, she still received a t-shirt. My brother and the kids took the bicycles out for a spin one morning and one afternoon he took a ride down to Palm Beach and back. There were always a ton of sign up sheets: pizza making, t-shirt cutting (presumably the ones you had tie-dyed earlier), Aruba Aloe Factory Tour, bicycle tour to snorkel and more. There was a minimal fee for some of them and you need to sign up in advance for all of them. Activities like the beer drinking contest and pool volleyball etc were more spontaneous, though scheduled and did not require sign up.

The Divi Sports Center at the end of building 1100 was the spot where you could sign up to take out Sunfish sailboats, kayaks and windsurfers. Clinics were offered here as well. In addition this was the pick up spot for snorkeling gear: fins, masks and snorkels. Gear was in good shape, and they were nice enough to allow us to keep the gear overnight in order to head out first thing in the morning to snorkel rather than having to wait until they opened at 9 a.m. There were many people, including us, who attempted snorkeling the waters off of the Tamarijn to discover there is nothing to see, except some schools of small fish, mostly, fish I believe, are called silversides. My brother and nephew some saw critters down past the Bunker Bar near the pipes in the water. The next day my brother went back with dh and myself in tow and we saw nothing. I swear if I had not read on the internet that other people had seen things here I would have never believed him. The rock climbing tower at the center was open 4 hours a day and the adjacent fitness center was open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Besides live music nightly, night time activities at both the Divi and Tamarijn offered a nightly theme which rotated. These theme shows included: Salsa, Waterballet, Salsarengue, Karaoke, Limbo and contest, Latin Dance, Carnival Dance show which was the best show I have ever seen on the island. On the beach there was an 8:30 p.m. movie one night for adults and another night at 7:30 p.m. a movie for children. Chaise lounges are lined up and positioned facing a large white screen affixed to the front of the Divi Sports Center. Another night there was a kids disco complete with clowns! http://www.arubabound.com/accommo/tamarijn_activities.jpg http://www.arubabound.com/accommo/divi_activities.jpg

The Rest of Our Vacation
Most of our days were spent lounging on the beach with plenty of food and swimming mixed in. Jerry and I were usually the first ones in the family to head over to the breakfast buffet. Nice and quiet that time of day with no line for omelets and usually easy to secure a table close to the beach. For myself there is always that stupor for the first few days, just relaxing in a chaise lounge looking out over the gorgeous turquoise waters trying to keep my eye lids from closing until the time I ultimately lose the battle. No book needed these first few days. My grandmother was very content watching the kids enjoy themselves as she watched from her chaise lounge under our palapa. The rest of the time she kept herself busy reading or doing a crossword puzzle. Walking just those few short steps from the patio to the chaise lounge was perfect for her. Dh does what he does best, reading under the palapa until he eventually dozes off. His idea, and mine too, of a perfect vacation.

On Christmas morning we awoke to waves. Well, waves in the sense of two to three footers on the western coast of Aruba which are far from the norm. These lasted for a few days and broke up the monotony. That is I suppose if you care about that sort of thing like the kids did. All in all the weather was a little wetter than average, but hot as usual. Wetter in that we had some rain showers overnight, but not every night and some early morning showers most mornings as well as a couple of afternoon sprinkles. The first half of the trip was a little cloudier than the second half but I guess that means the kids were a little less sunburned than they would have been otherwise. I can force my own kid to slather on sunscreen, but my teenage nephew and nieces were a little more difficult. The best I could do was standby with the higher SPF for the next day, which they had “forgotten” to bring and the Benadryl for the itchy rash.

We did get out of the resort a couple of times. One day at lunch my grandmother announced that she needed to go shopping. Living in an assisted living facility she has many people who help to look after her and there were a few of her favorites for whom she wished to bring back souvenirs. I knew these could be had at the Tamarijn’s Mini-Market. We picked up a couple of nondescript items and I figured she was finished. She had it in her mind that she wanted to buy a guayabera for the kind gentleman who drives her to the beauty shop, bank and doctors. Nothing in the store could satisfy her. To her, they were not authentic enough. Where else to head in Aruba then but La Linda. La Linda is an Aruban department store in downtown Oranjestad. As a matter of fact a good place to go if, heaven forbid, the airline ever loses your luggage! I telephoned Bully and asked him if he was available to come pick us up. As considerate a person as he is, Bully felt his nephew Harold’s taxi was easier for my grandmother to get in and out of than his van so Bully telephoned Harold to pick us up at the Tamarijn. In the meantime Bully was close by and the next thing I know, he pulled up at the Tamarijn in his taxi with his seven year old son riding “shot gun”. They just wanted to say “hi” and help us to pass some time while we waited for Bully’s nephew.

Harold was terrific. He was able to drop us off right in front of the store so that my grandmother did not have far to walk. He then came into the store and waited while she made her selection. After we had paid for the purchase, Harold offered to bring the taxi around front, but being parked right outside the back door my grandmother said she could make the walk. All in all the ride cost almost as much as the shirt, but I am happy to see my grandmother do her part to help the local economy. People are not happy about the BBO, the car rental situation at the airport, the rising price of gas (they are well aware it has fallen in the US in recent weeks) and it goes on and on and on…not to mention Riu.

Another night before dinner we had made plans to meet up at the Amsterdam Manor Beach Resort with Andrea (moderator from aruba.com forum), Cheryl from various bulletin boards and Eagle Beach Boy. A nice time was had by all and as always, it was nice putting faces with names. Andrea, nice person that she is, had actually come down with her husband to the Tamarijn earlier in our stay to say, “hi” and meet us. Imagine walking up and down the boardwalk at the Tamarijn looking for the kid in my computer avatar? What a lady!

Dh and I had worked it out so that about the middle of the vacation, when we thought there might be a chance that the kids would begin to get bored with the Tamarijn, we would have two SUV’s for the 10 of us to tour the island for three days. We made the reservation with Royal Car Rental in April for late December for two Suzuki XL-7’s. The day before they were to drop off the rentals, Royal called us to say that they would not have the vehicles the following morning, but could drop them off late afternoon. Jerry called them and said why not just make it the morning after that since we did not plan on using the vehicles at night anyway. The kids could have cared less about not leaving the resort. They were happy to continue doing what they were doing. A day after originally scheduled Royal appeared with two vehicles, one Suzuki and a Jeep Wrangler. The second Suzuki we had reserved had not yet been turned in. The Jeep Wrangler ended up being not in the best of shape, bottom of the barrel really. I can only imagine the amount of wear and tear those things go through. Jerry telephoned Royal at the end of the day and asked them to just come pick it up and we would just keep the one vehicle. After one day of touring, the kids and my parents had seen enough, so basically after that we just wanted the rentals to drive around to some snorkel spots one day and do something to be determined later on the third day. Royal was nice enough to come the very first thing next morning and switch out the Wrangler with a Lexus RX300 SUV at the same price as the Wrangler. After this we had no further vehicle problems.

So the big day comes and we finally have our “wheels” and we are off to tour the island with our “newbie’s.” With myself as tour guide in the Suzuki and dh as tour guide in the Wrangler, off we went heading south towards San Nicholas. We missed the turn as we do, nine times out of ten for Baby Beach. Next thing we know we are at the Seaman’ s Memorial and then continued on into Arikok National Park from there. Everyone was excited to see the herds of wild goats and the few wild donkeys. Lucky for us the donkeys were nice enough to pose.

The next stop was Quadirikiri Cave. Dh and I had been to the cave at Fontein before and with the Indian’s drawings, thought it interesting. Why would Quadirikiri be any different? It was much different and definitely not for the faint of heart. This is a much larger cave. The ranger from the park service warns you before you enter, that if you have respiratory difficulties or fear of bats, that this is not the cave for you. He was correct on both accounts. It was a tour of 20 – 30 minutes and probably the hottest I have ever been in my life. This place is virtually a sauna. The further back into the caves we went, the tighter the spaces, the hotter it got, the more bats, and those were the ones pointed out to us. Indian drawings, fossils, stalagmites and stalactites were all very nice. The kids loved it and now we have done it so now can say we do not have to do it again.

From there just continued on the path towards Boca Prins stopping a few places along the way for photo opportunities. The kids soon began complaining that we were showing them nothing but rocks and the rough ocean so once at Boca Prins we headed straight out of the park rather than making the right hand turn past the sand dunes to get over to Dos Playa. It was their loss for sure. We headed back to the resort and grabbed some lunch. When it came time to venture out again, everyone was enjoying themselves on the beach so dh and I headed back out on our own.

This time we retraced our steps to Boca Prins to pick up where we had left off. A few years back, Arikok National Park had set up a visitor’s center a short ways before heading north and reaching Boca Prins. In the back of the visitor’s center was Fontein. This is the only fresh water spring on the island. Literally an oasis in the middle of the desert and a lovely little spot with fresh water fish and turtles inhabited the water pond and it was a nice tranquil spot. In 2006 when we drove by the place was closed off and shuttered tight. Curious what had happened to such a wonderful spot I asked the ranger at Quadirikiri Cave what had happened and there was evidently a dispute of some type over the property so it is now closed to the public. I was a nervous wreck and got a lot of briars on my socks and sneakers, but we were able to figure out how to sneak in for a few pictures. The spot is virtually unchanged, though overgrown and we did not spot any turtles.

Once we arrived for the second time that day at Boca Prins we stopped at the bar and gift shop, for some bottled water and a bottle of, my favorite, Amstel Bright. Dh figured it was the least he could do to try to sooth over the rough morning. We continued onto Fontein Cave right around the corner, but by this late in the afternoon it was locked up tight. Yes, the caves are locked at night to protect the drawings from graffiti artists. Undaunted we continued out stopping along the way for some pictures of the white sand dunes at the base of the beach at Boca Prins. It is a long drive around the sand dunes, to get back over to the coast line to head to Dos Playa, but I am all for it if it protects the dunes, flora and fauna. We finally arrived at Dos Playa and took a couple of quick pictures. A squall was racing in off the ocean so fast you could literally see it pushing the waves ahead of it. We got back in the Jeep and headed back inland towards Santa Cruz.

Our next target was the collapsed Natural Bridge via the Ayo Rock Formations, but we missed the turn and ended up all the way north in Bushirbana. Heading back towards the eastern coastline we passed by the Bushirbana Gold Mill Ruins. The dirt paths here were horrible. Sharp pointed rocks were everywhere we looked and dh was worried about getting a flat tire so with darkness soon upon us anyway we decided to take one last quick detour up to Alto Vista Chapel. From there we just went back to the Tamarijn through the island route through Noord. This time I did not get us lost and much to dh’s relief we did make it back to the hotel before dark.

The following showery morning, dh, my brother, myself and the four kids set out after breakfast to snorkel. We started off at Catalina Cove. Imo, this is the best spot, but also the hardest. There is a lot to see once you get out into the four or more foot deep waters, but before that there are many rocks. It is difficult at best trying to walk over them with fins on and extremely painful in bare feet. The kids were getting tired and it was getting cloudy. Yes, yet another shower was heading our way. By the time we got out of the water and toweled off, it began raining. The kids decided that they had seen enough and were not interested in being in the water in the rain. Dh and I on the other hand, are used to diving in the rain so snorkeling is not much different except for the funny sensation on your back. My brother took the kids back to the Tamarijn in the Suzuki and dh and I hopped into the Lexus and headed down to Boca Catalina. Very strange snorkeling here. There is a very sandy bottom. The difference entering the water here was like night and day. For the best of both worlds, enter the water here and snorkel northward, it is not that far before you eventually reach Catalina Cove. Consider it one large snorkel area with just so-so coral up towards Catalina Cove, a lot of fish, and a good place for beginner snorkelers.

Anyone who knows us, realize that we are never without our dd. With my brother’s offer to look after dd back at the resort, we decided to dry off and head off for some more fun. What could be better than a long relaxing lunch? Next decision was where to go. I was thinking Bugaloe on De Palm Pier, but couldn’t be bothered with trying to figure out a place to park. Instead we settled on Salt and Pepper. We hadn’t been there in a number of years and it ended up being a really great choice for a relaxing leisurely lunch for two. The sun had finally made an appearance so we decided to eat outside. There was a table that would soon be available so we decided to wait at the bar. Dh was dying for a good espresso and I ordered an Amstel Bright.

About five minutes later, our table was ready. I suppose we were starving from all the exercise that morning because we ate like little piggy’s. You have to love tapas, being able to order all those small portions of everything that appealed to us. We started out with an appetizer of nachos, good but more like the Aruban version, followed by delicious: Greek salad, marinated olives, salt & pepper dip (kalalu-spinach and cream cheese with nacho chips), seafood wrap and garlic calamari. The service was on Aruban time, but dh and I were in no rush since we never ever get out alone together. Too full for dessert we just stalled our departure over a cappuccino and espresso before heading back to “the family”. Ending our peaceful interlude, dh and I headed back to the Tam and picked up my Mom and Grandmother to drive them back up the north coast to see the California Lighthouse which they were gypped from seeing the day before.

That night at 10 p.m. was the Ling & Son’s firework display. The front desk told us that there was an office building’s parking lot across the street from the Tamarijn which would be perfect for viewing the fireworks. This fireworks display was one of the things which we told my grandmother would make this trip to Aruba worthwhile. She admitted later we were right. She had not seen fireworks like that in her entire life. Dh drove my grandmother over to the parking lot in the Lexus and she had a seat and a stupendous display. Our family thought they were just as good, if not better, than 4th of July at the Magic Kingdom in Disney World. They had a 15-20 minute delay due to technical difficulties, but worth the wait.

The Divi Sports Center at the end of building 1100 was the spot where you could sign up to take out Sunfish sailboats, kayaks and windsurfers. Clinics were offered here as well. In addition this was the pick up spot for snorkeling gear: fins, masks and snorkels. Gear was in good shape, and they were nice enough to allow us to keep the gear overnight in order to head out first thing in the morning to snorkel rather than having to wait until they opened at 9 a.m. There were many people, including us, who attempted snorkeling the waters off of the Tamarijn to discover there is nothing to see, except some schools of small fish, mostly, fish I believe, are called silversides. My brother and nephew some saw critters down past the Bunker Bar near the pipes in the water. The next day my brother went back with dh and myself in tow and we saw nothing. I swear if I had not read on the internet that other people had seen things here I would have never believed him. The rock climbing tower at the center was open 4 hours a day and the adjacent fitness center was open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Besides live music nightly, night time activities at both the Divi and Tamarijn offered a nightly theme which rotated. These theme shows included: Salsa, Waterballet, Salsarengue, Karaoke, Limbo and contest, Latin Dance, Carnival Dance show which was the best show I have ever seen on the island. On the beach there was an 8:30 p.m. movie one night for adults and another night at 7:30 p.m. a movie for children. Chaise lounges are lined up and positioned facing a large white screen affixed to the front of the Divi Sports Center. Another night there was a kids disco complete with clowns! http://www.arubabound.com/accommo/tamarijn_activities.jpg http://www.arubabound.com/accommo/divi_activities.jpg

The Rest of Our Vacation
Most of our days were spent lounging on the beach with plenty of food and swimming mixed in. Jerry and I were usually the first ones in the family to head over to the breakfast buffet. Nice and quiet that time of day with no line for omelets and usually easy to secure a table close to the beach. For myself there is always that stupor for the first few days, just relaxing in a chaise lounge looking out over the gorgeous turquoise waters trying to keep my eye lids from closing until the time I ultimately lose the battle. No book needed these first few days. My grandmother was very content watching the kids enjoy themselves as she watched from her chaise lounge under our palapa. The rest of the time she kept herself busy reading or doing a crossword puzzle. Walking just those few short steps from the patio to the chaise lounge was perfect for her. Dh does what he does best, reading under the palapa until he eventually dozes off. His idea, and mine too, of a perfect vacation.

On Christmas morning we awoke to waves. Well, waves in the sense of two to three footers on the western coast of Aruba which are far from the norm. These lasted for a few days and broke up the monotony. That is I suppose if you care about that sort of thing like the kids did. All in all the weather was a little wetter than average, but hot as usual. Wetter in that we had some rain showers overnight, but not every night and some early morning showers most mornings as well as a couple of afternoon sprinkles. The first half of the trip was a little cloudier than the second half but I guess that means the kids were a little less sunburned than they would have been otherwise. I can force my own kid to slather on sunscreen, but my teenage nephew and nieces were a little more difficult. The best I could do was standby with the higher SPF for the next day, which they had “forgotten” to bring and the Benadryl for the itchy rash.

We did get out of the resort a couple of times. One day at lunch my grandmother announced that she needed to go shopping. Living in an assisted living facility she has many people who help to look after her and there were a few of her favorites for whom she wished to bring back souvenirs. I knew these could be had at the Tamarijn’s Mini-Market. We picked up a couple of nondescript items and I figured she was finished. She had it in her mind that she wanted to buy a guayabera for the kind gentleman who drives her to the beauty shop, bank and doctors. Nothing in the store could satisfy her. To her, they were not authentic enough. Where else to head in Aruba then but La Linda. La Linda is an Aruban department store in downtown Oranjestad. As a matter of fact a good place to go if, heaven forbid, the airline ever loses your luggage! I telephoned Bully and asked him if he was available to come pick us up. As considerate a person as he is, Bully felt his nephew Harold’s taxi was easier for my grandmother to get in and out of than his van so Bully telephoned Harold to pick us up at the Tamarijn. In the meantime Bully was close by and the next thing I know, he pulled up at the Tamarijn in his taxi with his seven year old son riding “shot gun”. They just wanted to say “hi” and help us to pass some time while we waited for Bully’s nephew.

Harold was terrific. He was able to drop us off right in front of the store so that my grandmother did not have far to walk. He then came into the store and waited while she made her selection. After we had paid for the purchase, Harold offered to bring the taxi around front, but being parked right outside the back door my grandmother said she could make the walk. All in all the ride cost almost as much as the shirt, but I am happy to see my grandmother do her part to help the local economy. People are not happy about the BBO, the car rental situation at the airport, the rising price of gas (they are well aware it has fallen in the US in recent weeks) and it goes on and on and on…not to mention Riu.

Another night before dinner we had made plans to meet up at the Amsterdam Manor Beach Resort with Andrea (moderator from aruba.com forum), Cheryl from various bulletin boards and Eagle Beach Boy. A nice time was had by all and as always, it was nice putting faces with names. Andrea, nice person that she is, had actually come down with her husband to the Tamarijn earlier in our stay to say, “hi” and meet us. Imagine walking up and down the boardwalk at the Tamarijn looking for the kid in my computer avatar? What a lady!

Dh and I had worked it out so that about the middle of the vacation, when we thought there might be a chance that the kids would begin to get bored with the Tamarijn, we would have two SUV’s for the 10 of us to tour the island for three days. We made the reservation with Royal Car Rental in April for late December for two Suzuki XL-7’s. The day before they were to drop off the rentals, Royal called us to say that they would not have the vehicles the following morning, but could drop them off late afternoon. Jerry called them and said why not just make it the morning after that since we did not plan on using the vehicles at night anyway. The kids could have cared less about not leaving the resort. They were happy to continue doing what they were doing. A day after originally scheduled Royal appeared with two vehicles, one Suzuki and a Jeep Wrangler. The second Suzuki we had reserved had not yet been turned in. The Jeep Wrangler ended up being not in the best of shape, bottom of the barrel really. I can only imagine the amount of wear and tear those things go through. Jerry telephoned Royal at the end of the day and asked them to just come pick it up and we would just keep the one vehicle. After one day of touring, the kids and my parents had seen enough, so basically after that we just wanted the rentals to drive around to some snorkel spots one day and do something to be determined later on the third day. Royal was nice enough to come the very first thing next morning and switch out the Wrangler with a Lexus RX300 SUV at the same price as the Wrangler. After this we had no further vehicle problems.

So the big day comes and we finally have our “wheels” and we are off to tour the island with our “newbie’s.” With myself as tour guide in the Suzuki and dh as tour guide in the Wrangler, off we went heading south towards San Nicholas. We missed the turn as we do, nine times out of ten for Baby Beach. Next thing we know we are at the Seaman’ s Memorial and then continued on into Arikok National Park from there. Everyone was excited to see the herds of wild goats and the few wild donkeys. Lucky for us the donkeys were nice enough to pose.

The next stop was Quadirikiri Cave. Dh and I had been to the cave at Fontein before and with the Indian’s drawings, thought it interesting. Why would Quadirikiri be any different? It was much different and definitely not for the faint of heart. This is a much larger cave. The ranger from the park service warns you before you enter, that if you have respiratory difficulties or fear of bats, that this is not the cave for you. He was correct on both accounts. It was a tour of 20 – 30 minutes and probably the hottest I have ever been in my life. This place is virtually a sauna. The further back into the caves we went, the tighter the spaces, the hotter it got, the more bats, and those were the ones pointed out to us. Indian drawings, fossils, stalagmites and stalactites were all very nice. The kids loved it and now we have done it so now can say we do not have to do it again.

From there just continued on the path towards Boca Prins stopping a few places along the way for photo opportunities. The kids soon began complaining that we were showing them nothing but rocks and the rough ocean so once at Boca Prins we headed straight out of the park rather than making the right hand turn past the sand dunes to get over to Dos Playa. It was their loss for sure. We headed back to the resort and grabbed some lunch. When it came time to venture out again, everyone was enjoying themselves on the beach so dh and I headed back out on our own.

This time we retraced our steps to Boca Prins to pick up where we had left off. A few years back, Arikok National Park had set up a visitor’s center a short ways before heading north and reaching Boca Prins. In the back of the visitor’s center was Fontein. This is the only fresh water spring on the island. Literally an oasis in the middle of the desert and a lovely little spot with fresh water fish and turtles inhabited the water pond and it was a nice tranquil spot. In 2006 when we drove by the place was closed off and shuttered tight. Curious what had happened to such a wonderful spot I asked the ranger at Quadirikiri Cave what had happened and there was evidently a dispute of some type over the property so it is now closed to the public. I was a nervous wreck and got a lot of briars on my socks and sneakers, but we were able to figure out how to sneak in for a few pictures. The spot is virtually unchanged, though overgrown and we did not spot any turtles.

Once we arrived for the second time that day at Boca Prins we stopped at the bar and gift shop, for some bottled water and a bottle of, my favorite, Amstel Bright. Dh figured it was the least he could do to try to sooth over the rough morning. We continued onto Fontein Cave right around the corner, but by this late in the afternoon it was locked up tight. Yes, the caves are locked at night to protect the drawings from graffiti artists. Undaunted we continued out stopping along the way for some pictures of the white sand dunes at the base of the beach at Boca Prins. It is a long drive around the sand dunes, to get back over to the coast line to head to Dos Playa, but I am all for it if it protects the dunes, flora and fauna. We finally arrived at Dos Playa and took a couple of quick pictures. A squall was racing in off the ocean so fast you could literally see it pushing the waves ahead of it. We got back in the Jeep and headed back inland towards Santa Cruz.

Our next target was the collapsed Natural Bridge via the Ayo Rock Formations, but we missed the turn and ended up all the way north in Bushirbana. Heading back towards the eastern coastline we passed by the Bushirbana Gold Mill Ruins. The dirt paths here were horrible. Sharp pointed rocks were everywhere we looked and dh was worried about getting a flat tire so with darkness soon upon us anyway we decided to take one last quick detour up to Alto Vista Chapel. From there we just went back to the Tamarijn through the island route through Noord. This time I did not get us lost and much to dh’s relief we did make it back to the hotel before dark.

The following showery morning, dh, my brother, myself and the four kids set out after breakfast to snorkel. We started off at Catalina Cove. Imo, this is the best spot, but also the hardest. There is a lot to see once you get out into the four or more foot deep waters, but before that there are many rocks. It is difficult at best trying to walk over them with fins on and extremely painful in bare feet. The kids were getting tired and it was getting cloudy. Yes, yet another shower was heading our way. By the time we got out of the water and toweled off, it began raining. The kids decided that they had seen enough and were not interested in being in the water in the rain. Dh and I on the other hand, are used to diving in the rain so snorkeling is not much different except for the funny sensation on your back. My brother took the kids back to the Tamarijn in the Suzuki and dh and I hopped into the Lexus and headed down to Boca Catalina. Very strange snorkeling here. There is a very sandy bottom. The difference entering the water here was like night and day. For the best of both worlds, enter the water here and snorkel northward, it is not that far before you eventually reach Catalina Cove. Consider it one large snorkel area with just so-so coral up towards Catalina Cove, a lot of fish, and a good place for beginner snorkelers.

Anyone who knows us, realize that we are never without our dd. With my brother’s offer to look after dd back at the resort, we decided to dry off and head off for some more fun. What could be better than a long relaxing lunch? Next decision was where to go. I was thinking Bugaloe on De Palm Pier, but couldn’t be bothered with trying to figure out a place to park. Instead we settled on Salt and Pepper. We hadn’t been there in a number of years and it ended up being a really great choice for a relaxing leisurely lunch for two. The sun had finally made an appearance so we decided to eat outside. There was a table that would soon be available so we decided to wait at the bar. Dh was dying for a good espresso and I ordered an Amstel Bright.

About five minutes later, our table was ready. I suppose we were starving from all the exercise that morning because we ate like little piggy’s. You have to love tapas, being able to order all those small portions of everything that appealed to us. We started out with an appetizer of nachos, good but more like the Aruban version, followed by delicious: Greek salad, marinated olives, salt & pepper dip (kalalu-spinach and cream cheese with nacho chips), seafood wrap and garlic calamari. The service was on Aruban time, but dh and I were in no rush since we never ever get out alone together. Too full for dessert we just stalled our departure over a cappuccino and espresso before heading back to “the family”. Ending our peaceful interlude, dh and I headed back to the Tam and picked up my Mom and Grandmother to drive them back up the north coast to see the California Lighthouse which they were gypped from seeing the day before.

That night at 10 p.m. was the Ling & Son’s firework display. The front desk told us that there was an office building’s parking lot across the street from the Tamarijn which would be perfect for viewing the fireworks. This fireworks display was one of the things which we told my grandmother would make this trip to Aruba worthwhile. She admitted later we were right. She had not seen fireworks like that in her entire life. Dh drove my grandmother over to the parking lot in the Lexus and she had a seat and a stupendous display. Our family thought they were just as good, if not better, than 4th of July at the Magic Kingdom in Disney World. They had a 15-20 minute delay due to technical difficulties, but worth the wait.

We held a roll call for the family for our last day with the rental cars. Anyone who wished to snorkel again was more than welcome to join. Another showery morning and dh, dd, my brother and I headed out to snorkel at Mangel Halto. It is right past the Spanish Lagoon and usually a very picturesque spot. This time though with the clouds, the colors of the water were just not as bright. We snorkeled for a short time and quickly became cold so headed back to the Tamarijn. By the time we reached Oranjestad, as every other day, the sun came out and the rest of the day was beautiful.

Topping off our day was New Year’s Eve! After another wonderful dinner we went back to our room and awaited midnight. The day before a barge loaded with fireworks had been moored just off shore between the Divi and Tamarijn Resorts. We lined up a bunch of chaises to face the fireworks where the palm trees would not block the view. Steps away from the fireworks, again, they were everything we had hoped for. No disappointments for us.

Vacation wound down after that and before we knew it was time to head home. We ended the vacation the same as it began, shared a final beachside lunch with my parents and grandmother at per Tutti. Bully made two trips transporting my brother and his family and then dh, dd and myself to the airport. Bully’s nephew Harold picked up my parents and grandmother to take them to the airport, again because of the ease of my grandmother being able to get into the car. Our flight was later than everyone else. We asked the Tamarijn for a 1 p.m. check out rather 12 Noon and they nicely obliged. We always spend every last moment on the beach, leaving on enough time to shower and dress before leaving.

We did not know what to expect as far as long lines at the airport and I would say they were about normal. The line for US Immigration was non-existent. First time we have ever seen this. People complain, rightfully so, that there is no where to eat once you pass through US Customs and Immigration. At the gate area, unless you like Sbarro, essentially you are out of luck. If you fly first class you receive a meal, but otherwise flying Delta you receive a snack pack and then a snack. Next time, we will bring tuna or turkey sandwiches with us to eat on the airplane for our dinner. Our flight boarded on time; however we departed about an hour late. Some excuse was made about flight control. From what I have been able to piece together, air traffic control which is actually located in Curacao, had computer problems, so we were unable to depart. My parent’s flight on American was supposed to depart over an hour prior to ours and they were still at the gate as we were taking off. They eventually took off about 15 or 20 minutes later.

The only other downer which we already knew was that when we arrived in Aruba. We had just purchased new hard sided luggage and one piece arrived in Aruba with one corner so dented it was no longer there. Knowing that the personnel in Aruba were contractors, dh figured it was easier to get the problem straightened out when we arrived back in Atlanta. He was right. Upon retrieving the luggage from the carousel back in Atlanta we headed over to the baggage claims office to report it. They filled out the paperwork and gave us a pre-paid shipping bag in order to send the suitcase, after I had emptied it, on to Delta’s baggage repair center. They telephoned us a few days ago to say that the bag is not repairable but they could ship another new one as a replacement. Only problem is that the color is black, ours was orange and part of a set. We purposely purchased the color orange because it is so easy to separate from the others on the carousel. Even in preparing to go through US Customs in Aruba there was a wall of luggage lined up and ours just popped right up our of the mass. Delta left it that they will have their claims department contact us so they could arrange reimbursement . That is fine, as long as they make good on it. Dh is persistent, they will make good on it, and they will not have a choice.

Now we are home and in the midst of an extremely cold winter counting the days until the end of the school year for dh and dd and our return to the Tamarijn.

Categories
Holiday Travel

Christmas in New York

Author: TinFins
Date of Trip: December 2006

The limo left our place in New Jersey at 8am and we were parked in front of Radio City Music Hall by 9:30am. We grabbed some croissants and coffee on 51st (don’t remember the name of the bakery because I was still, well, pretty much sleeping) and we all warmed up a bit. Took a walk out to 5th Ave. and over to see the Saks Fifth Avenue holiday window displays. HERDS of people, but the views were worth it. This year’s whimsical display had a cartoonish snowflake theme replete with ballerinas, the empire state building, music and movement.

We made our way back on 50th through the ridiculous mob to see the tree at Rockefeller Center. The 88-foot Norway Spruce proved to be quite a sight for the young and old — would love to see it’s arrival and set up. We fought our way through the crowds and then over to get in line for entry at the world famous Radio City Music Hall.

We entered the historical theater and made our few obligatory purchases (a vodka tonic for me and the official program for my little girl), and were swiftly ushered to our seats.

The Christmas Spectacular was quite spectacular. As touristy as this may sound, the show was highly entertaining and anyone with an appreciation of dance as an art form will applaud the extremely talented Rockettes. The production value,music, choreography, costumes — it was all equally terrific. It’s a larger than life production and just pure family-fun holiday entertainment in one of the world’s most marvelous theaters. My grandparents enjoyed it (Pop especially during the “Twelve Days of Christmas” routine, cough cough, skimpy outfits, cough cough) as did my little girl and wife.

After the show, our ride took us over to Ellen’s Stardust Diner, the retro 50’s themed diner with singing waitstaff (Broadway at 51st). To say this place was JAMMED would be an understatement — fortunately, the patrons and staff were patient and seemingly festive! We were told the wait would be 20 to 30 minutes (not as bad as I had expected), but our host ended up seating us after about 45 seconds.

We were taken downstairs — to the Iridium Jazz Club — “overflow” seating for Ellen’s. The basement level makes for a great jazz club, but offers a sorta dull eating environment. The walls had sparsely spaced jazz photos and a bad paint job. Our table ordered a veggie burger and fries (mine), cheddar omelet (wife), kids chicken fingers (duh, the kid), a soup and salad (grandma) and ham omelet (pop). Drink orders included vodka tonics, a spiked apple cider and a vanilla thick milkshake. My apple cider was just perfect (but, really, how can they mess that up) and the shake was one of the best I’ve ever tasted. Overall, our meals were so/so and the portions/serving styles were weird too — big plates with 5 fries? Why bother?

Our waiter was attentive, friendly and for sure, the best vocalist in the house. Wife wanted to get his signature and said he was gonna be famous someday. Might be… if he can make it in New York, as they say…

As for the entertainment, it was overwhelming! It really never stopped. We thought they would do sets here and there, but it was really one big karaoke jam. One waiter was fairly grating — seemed to be straight out of an old Saturday Night Live skit — so the humor factor was one redeeming quality, I guess. (Note, I said OLD SNL, not that new stuff). One fellow looked like a complete pointdexter and belted out Aerosmith’s Dream On — shook the house, earned him a big tip and a standing ovation from one whole section of the restaurant. Very funny. Looking back, we would have preferred the first floor for the mix of attractions (the train, decor, etc.) and set-singing to just bare walls and pure non-stop karaoke.

After that, we all needed a drink (!) and some peace and quiet. We walked our way down Broadway to the Marriott Marquis. There was no wait so we caught the express elevator up to the The View and perched ourselves in the revolving lounge for the next two hours. One sunset, a slight bit of vertigo and $168 later (geez, that kid’s Shirley Temple cost us a fortune) we booked outta that joint. Oh, and the wait to get into the loungewas now close to two hours. I would NEVER wait that long to get into that place. As nice as the views may be, the ambience is really nil.

I love New York City no matter the season or reason for going in, and the holidays are just the best. Sure, the streets are gridlocked, the sidewalks are crowded and you have to wait a little longer for a seat at the bar. In NYC, you’ll find it all — magical performances and events, that perfect gift for the one you love, and most importantly, that holiday spirit you forgot you had.

Categories
Family Travel

A Month in Rome and Tuscany

Author: esfeld
Email: esfeld@cyberdude.com
Date of Trip: August 2001

Not all plans go according to plan!!! The original plan was for my wife and I to rent a house in Tuscany for the month of August and to have our eldest son, his wife and our grandson (along with a friend’s daughter as baby sitter) join us for the second ten days … our daughter and her husband join us for the first ten days and our youngest son join us for the last ten days, each with a few days of overlap. Due to my grandsons getting sick just before we left we knew that that crew would not be joining us — bummer!

Rome
We arrived in Rome on what had to be the hottest day of the century (August is not the best month for Italy, but the timing was dictated by the kids’ work schedules). The Hotel Condotti (found through charming hotels of Europe) picked us up and sped us into Rome with no hassles or delays. The Hotel was convenient (right behind P. de Spagna) and was very charming albeit small.

We cleaned up and went out to explore the neighborhood. We had a pre-arranged private tour through Odyssey Tours at 3:00 and so we meandered our way to their offices seeing all the sights along the way. I had met the owner of this new agency online while trying to arrange for a crib for the baby (who now isn’t coming) and it was a blessing in disguise. Marianne De Reuitter knows Rome and knows her history and we had a most marvelous tour of ancient Rome. She had tickets in hand, knew her way around all the crowds and lines, and was most considerate in keeping us out of the sun and heat and ended with her own performance of “Friends Romans and Countrymen” … just a great time. She and her staff get my highest praise!

We cabbed back to the hotel, showered and went around the corner to Ristorante Re degli Amici for what turned out to be a great dinner, and the owner is a lot of fun and kept the entire room in stitches with his antics. The next day we did our own tour (using Jeanne Oelerich’s Pocket Walking Guide) and had a lovely dinner at La Terrazza del Eden (top of the Hotel Eden) with a view of Rome at our feet.

The highlight of the day was a visit to the Galleria Borghese (get reservations online before you leave) and do not miss the “Apollo & Daphne” by Berninni. We live in New York and have access to great museums … my wife sculpts … this is a treat to see!!!

Tuscany
Planning to leave the next day. I was up early for a run. The breakfast at the hotel was great. We wandered a bit and off I went to find the Hertz office in the Borghese Gardens. We were on the road by 2PM … found the A1 and arrived in Buonconvento at 4PM (we were due at the house by 6PM) so we grabbed a Paninni in town and went on up to Siena to scout out the train station. We walked through the city and made it back to the house at 6 on the button.

The homeowners (just wonderful, wonderful people) gave us an indoctrination tour, had a drink with us and left for England. Because the agency (HomebaseAbroad) had misquoted the availability of a cook and housekeeper (only one of many errors on their part), the owner had pre-prepared two delicious meals for us. We ate and slept. The house (3 bdrm 2.5 bath) is actually in Bibbiano (10 minutes from Buonconvento) and is large, airy and very comfortable with a pool that overlooks a valley of sunflowers.

I had planned our days around day trips to each of the main cities in southern Tuscany, along with routes from my maps. Today was a trip to Montalcino … on a white road … at first they will scare you but after your second or third experience you’ll start looking for more. Follow everyone’s advice and keep a supply of 500L coins in your car for parking!! Here’s a trick to remember. The Coop (local supermercatos) in each town has a change machine at the entrance (you need a 500L coin to get a shopping cart, which is returned when you replace it) so a quick stop at the Coop gets you your parking stash of coins!!

Montalcino is a great little town. We came back and had dinner at Da Mario in Buonconvento (I will say no more than Da Mario is a gem of a local ristorante with great ambiance — mangiare a fuori — and dynamite food and is considered a secret find by the local inhabitants of this working village, one of the few non “waltdisneyized” in southern Tuscany). Our neighbors in the house are local architects (they are redoing a local castle and its town for a wealthy American) and gave us the scoop on all the local hot spots … this is one of them!

Just a quick note here: I will leave out activities in each town, unless there is something spectacular since most of the information is available either on Slowtrav or in various guide books … but Montalcino is a gem. Today, after breakfast under the pergola (the aroma of Welch’s comes to mind, and we ate grapes right off the vine) we drove up to the Abbazia de Monte Oliveto Maggiore and happened to catch a local wedding in the chapel. Had a wonderful lunch on the terrace at the Ristorante La Torre on the grounds and went on into Asciano, then on into Siena on SS 451 to 326 to 73 (meaningless until you get there … then you will know these roads like the back of your hand). Even though these are paved roads, this is an adventurous drive.

Here’s how a predictable day in Italy goes. We left the house in time to meet my daughter and son-in-law in Siena at 1PM. On the way out of Buonconvento my telephonino rang … they missed their connection and so instead of a left we made a right and headed to Chiusi (otherwise they would have had to wait till 6PM for the next train to Siena). Dinner that night was great … went into Merlo, the smallest walled city? village? I’ve seen — consists of an Etruscan museum, a pizzeria, a restaurant and a lot of apartments. Ate at Pizzeria Dell’Arco on the terrace … food was great!!

BTW so far we have had the vino rosso de la casa with every meal and have not been disappointed yet! Having a lot of fun shopping at the Coop daily to keep the house stocked. Just stand off to the side and watch the action … in no time you’ll know the routine and start to pick up enough Italian to get you by.

Went into Montepulciano today. Advice: I know everyone seems to say take the first parking lot you see, but we had no trouble driving right up into every village (as far as we could go … follow the signs to centro storico) and either parking on the street or in a remote lot. Just read the signs carefully … just like New York!!!

In town (at the main piazza) there is a tourist info center. They sell you access to the top floor of the town hall for a spectacular view of the valley. Don’t do it … keep walking down the street, turn left into the music school (you’ll hear them practicing), walk to the back and you’ll get a better view from the terrace!!!

OK, so we were in the centro storico on streets so narrow we had to fold the mirrors in and couldn’t find our way out because the car was too wide to turn where is said “tutto di direzione” (this is what you follow to find main arteries). Found a nice kid on a vespa who led us out of town on streets that were even narrower!!! OK, maybe you should park outside of town, but if you speak Italian and you’re adventuresome you’ll have a ball doing it my way … we laughed all the way to Chianciano Termi.

If you get hungry, carry food. This was one of many occasions when we ran into the afternoon closings, and we were starved. In Chianciano we managed to find the Bar Pasticceria Centro Storico open and had a great lunch on the terrace (three tables on a fire escape) with nothing below us for 300 feet but the town. Our daughter only wanted to find the thermal springs so we went off to Bagno San Fillipo. After a hike in the woods we found the waterfalls and springs (look it up somewhere … another good adventure!!) From there we hit Bagno Vignoni, more civilized and docile but thermal nonetheless. The four of us cooked in and had cocktails (the excellent wine we got in a winery outside of Montepulciano) at the pool and planned our trip to Florence the next day.

The drive to Florence was a typical autostrada adventure: keep to the right, signal, pull out and pass and get back to the right. It’s a pleasure … it is so routine and predictable that you can make better time on a two lane Autostrada than any four lane highway in the states!! Of course doing 140 to 180 K helps immensely!!!

Got to Florence and checked into the Hotel Basilica (from charming hotels of Italy), very nice, very charming and very clean. Walked the day away seeing all the sights (my daughter spent a year of college here and was in heaven to be back and showed us all her old haunts.) August is very HOT!!! Did a lot of shopping in the San Lorenzo Market — great buys and great fun. If you are looking for gifts to bring home for friends and family, this is the place to shop … everything from trinkets and souvenirs to great leather etc etc.

Dinner was a standout. Had a reservation (from the States) at La Posta Ristorante via Lamberti. This is a fine restaurant and while not inexpensive (it’s no Da Mario) is worth every penny. Four of us: water,antipasto, firsts, seconds, two contorni, two bottles of Badia e Coltebuno classico 95, grappa all around, cafe and dolce 320.000L (about $150.00) — can’t do that in NY!

Woke early to get to the Synagogue by nine, too bad it opened at ten!! It was a long walk, but really nothing in Florence is a very long walk. Unless it’s August!! It was hot! Toured the Synagogue and ran to pick up our Uffizzi tickets (again reservations from the States are recommended) and did all but two rooms. Then off to Piti Palace and Boboli Gardens. A long hike up to the top in this heat but the view is worth it.

Dinner (after scoping out two restaurants recommended by the Hotel) was at Za-Za Piazza del Mercato Centrale. This 40 year old institution is great fun and always busy — great spot to watch the action and night life of Florence. Dined on Salami misti, ribolita and pasta. Tried to fix up our waitress with our son who arrives in a few days. Great fun, then off to Perche no for gelato the best in Florence, bar none.

I’ll ignore the next day’s adventure, except to caution that one moment’s inattention to your surroundings is all it takes for even a cautious person to be taken. After lunch in Lucca we drove to Pisa, saw the tower and went to the train station to drop the kids off for their side trip to Cinque Terre. While my daughter and I were off in the station someone helped themselves to my daypack from the car window while my wife and son-in-law were distracted. Thankfully it contained no identification (passport etc), tickets or money, and while I lost a digital camera it did not cause a cessation of the trip. Be careful at stations and major attractions!

Two days later my wife and I go into Pienza & I was enthralled by the aroma of Pecorino. Had lunch at Osteria Sette Di Vino in Piazza di Spagna & to make a long story short if you don’t go there and have the grilled pecorino con lardo you will have missed one of the great gastronomic experiences of Tuscany. All the food is great and we went back for two more lunches and even drove there for dinner one night but this dish (and the faggiola con cippola) is outstanding. It only has three tables inside and five outside … even if there is a wait, it is worth it!! Be sure to tell Luciano that Stephano from New York sent you We’re now fast friends.

Picked the kids up at the Buonconvento station … on time!!! And went to the TNT Pub in Bibbiano for wine pizza and rock & roll!! It’s the local hangout for young and old alike. The Italians keep their kids up late and take them everywhere. Figuring that Siena would be a madhouse (Palio is on Thurs) we took the train into Siena (a bus goes right up the hill into town) and watched them prepare the grandstands and lay down the sand track for the race. we had decided to stay home and watch the actual race on TV (the house had Italian TV and English Satelite TV as well) Went to La Compagnia in Torrenieri for dinner. Zak from Tuscan house has this on his favorite list and our hosts recommended it highly. Best pizza in Tuscany … had a great dinner. I started with pizza and then Picci alla porcini (a regional thick pasta) and maille a frutta that was outstanding! Four of us wined dined and grappa’ed for 125.000L (abt $60.00).

This was supposed to be our time with the baby and his parents so we had a few days in the house alone. The kids went to Rome. Our youngest son flew into Florence. Trained to Rome and spent two days with his sister and brother-in-law and then drove up to meet us at the house. We went back to Siena & now the day after Palio and the Campo was back in business. We ate lunch and shopped away the day & just as we were headed back to the car I stop short because I hear drums. We follow the sound. After Palio, the winning Contrada marches around Siena behind the winning horse twice a day in their medieval outfits & it is quite a sight.

From this point on the trip took on a new flavor. Our son became a white road freak, and at every turn (no pun intended) he would take the white road turn. we discovered some wonderful castili vintners and towns, some with a population that made Murlo look like Chicago. We took him back to San Antimo Abby to hear the monks chant a service. Back to Pienza to meet Luciano & back to La Compagnia in Torrenieri for dinner (where we met the cashier from our Coop in Buonconvento and her friends) at which point our son said “this must be the hot spot if this is were the locals come to eat.” I for one, believe him. We became regular habitues of the TNT pub in Bibbiano and stopped in every night after dinner for cafe and lemoncello & they got to know us by name!

On the road to Murlo is a sign for La Befa a town with a population of 22 but surprisingly the most beautiful B&B I have ever seen. It is called Il Palazzotto and is run by an Italian artist & it is in the middle of nowhere but might just be worth a trip. We hit San Gimignano (very crowded and touristy), kind of like Coney Island in Tuscany. We hit Cole val d’Elsa and then sat at Bar Il Palio in Siena to finish off the afternoon and wait for the rain to stop(our first day of rain).

Dinner was at La Logge in Siena. Another outstanding dining experience. My son is in the restaurant business and a friend (note to Pauline: he owns your favorite in NY Da Vittorio) recommended this among others. The meal would take a report of its own! Suffice it to say with two bottles of an Argiano-Brunello 95 it was a meal to remember. We had a two day adventure into Chianti country with two outstanding highlights. One was at a winery on SS 408 just south of Gaiole & Rocca Di Montegrossi the proprietor and the facility are fantastic and worth a trip (email me for directions etc) & yes, we bought a bunch to take home & the Osteria del Castello (recommended by the vintner) at the Castello Brolio was closed so we drove like crazy to find food again! We found Lo Sfizio di Bianchi in Gaiole by chance. It is run by the nicest lady in Italy and we had a great lunch before heading back south.

To put an end to this novel … our last few days were spent back in Florence. A lovely suite at the Hotel Grand more than made up for the bad dining experience at Osteria Cingiale Bianco. Long story short, we arrived for our reservation and were seated in an alcove. It was warm … we ordered … it got hot. We started eating … it became unbearable. We complained, they ignored us & we walked out (yes we paid for what we ate). The concierge at the Grand was very surprised and also upset. He had made the reservation.

We left our son in Florence after showing him around and shopping some more at the San Lorenzo market. BTW, at the end of the market is the Food Market a wonderful two story affair not to be missed. My wife and I had a farewell dinner at Da Mario the night before we left and said our goodbyes to all the wonderful people who recognized us daily in this super little town.

On our last day in Tuscany we were on the road at 7AM for a 1PM flight out of Rome. Got to the airport in plenty of time, returned the car to Hertz and checked in only to find out (at 1PM) that the flight would be delayed nine hours. Lunch was on Alitalia, and then they sent us to the Hilton & we showered and rested awaiting a call. I got nervous so we went back to the airport (6PM) to find out that the flight would leave at 7PM (no call from Alitalia). We left at 8PM. It was a long day when we finally got back to NY. After 32 wonderful days in Tuscany I am certain that I have left out a lot, but this gives you a small taste of what we experienced and loved. We will be going back soon. Any questions?

Categories
Cities

Memorable Memphis Vacation

Author: Wanda B.
Date of Trip: May 2007

“The Birthplace of Rock and Roll,” “The Home of the Blues.” These are indeed popular descriptions of Memphis. But after a springtime vacation there, I found Memphis to be so much more.

Memphis was the spot chosen for the annual family vacation. Usually my husband and I travel alone, but this time we decided to take my mother (who is a huge Elvis fan) and my teenaged son (who incidentally graduated from high school this spring).

We drove to our destination, which meant 10 hours on the road. We left very early in the morning (2 a.m.) and got there around 1:00 p.m. We decided to check in early at the Residence Inn by Marriott where we had reservations. They did not have our reserved room ready (two bedroom, two bath suite with kitchen and sitting area), so they offered us two adjacent one bedroom suites for a hugely discounted price, which we took. The hotel has a free buffet every morning plus on weekdays they offer a light meal at 5:00 p.m. The staff were wonderful, and the hotel, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is a well-kept, beautiful building.

After we checked in and unpacked, we decided to start hitting the tourist sites. First we started out at the Rock and Soul Museum. A self-guided tour lets you wander through the museum at your own pace and choose which exhibits you want to know more about. After touring the museum, we wandered over to Beale Street and wound up at a restaurant named Blues City Cafe. This was a restaurant that my son had picked out based on tourist brochures. I would rate this place with an A+ for atmosphere, B- for the food.

The next day we got up early and headed out for Graceland. I had heard was it tacky from a student of mine, so I had mixed feelings prior to touring the large house. However, I must say I was PLEASANTLY surprised. Seeing the house and the surrounding buildings (with all the memorabilia from Elvis’ life, career, and family), grounds, and planes, I discovered a newfound respect for The King and his music.

No pilgrimage to Memphis is complete without driving two hours to Tupelo, Mississippi to see Elvis’ birthplace. There is an Elvis museum, the original house where Elvis was born, and beautiful gardens to see. Make sure to have your picture taken with the bronze statute of Elvis as a boy.

With the mighty Mississippi River so close, we felt it would be remiss to pass up an opportunity to take up a riverboat ride on that great American landmark. On the way back from Tupelo we detoured down to Tunica and took a riverboat ride from there. Tunica, by the way, is a popular casino town and it is worth the ride just to see all the casinos that line the road.

A trip to Memphis is not complete without a visit to the Hard Rock Cafe at Memphis which boasts the largest collection of Elvis memorabilia outside of Graceland. Overpriced of course, but the burgers were great.

Another Memphis must-see is Sun Studios, where greats such as Elvis, Johnny Cash, and Jerry Lee Lewis recorded. A guided tour is offered, and you can take pictures. In one of our pictures numerous “orbs” could be seen. Orbs are spots of light that sometimes occur in pictures and video without explanation. Paranormal investigators say these are the first manifestations of spirits of the dead. An afterlife concert of the great alumni of that magnificent establishment perhaps? The gift shop there is excellent as well.

Other sites covered in our trip were Jim Neely’s Interstate Barbeque Restaurant (which has to die for potato salad), the Bigfoot Lodge, and the Peabody Hotel where we saw the famous ducks march through the lobby. We rode the Ducks (not the Peabody ducks), which are actually tourist vehicles modeled after World War II amphibious troop transports. The Duck offers a comprehensive tour of Memphis sprinkled with history and trivia from knowledgeable tour guides, who are licensed captains (to traffic on the river). We were a little apprehensive about safety issues prior to our trip because of Internet reports and word of mouth from friends, but we had absolutely no problems, except with a rude trolley driver. Overall, our family trip to Memphis was one of our most memorable vacations.

Categories
Group Travel

Along Germany’s Romantische Strasse (Romantic Road)

Author: soliteyah
Date of Trip: June 2003

Following a year studying abroad in Scotland, I was joined “across the pond” by my boyfriend, who flew with me from Scotland to Frankfurt for a trip through Germany and Italy. This trip report details the first four days of our trip — from Frankfurt to Munich along the Romantische Strasse (Romantic Road). Because we didn’t have a lot of time, we booked a bus tour for the German leg of our trip.

The tour, “Rothenburg and Royal Castles,” was offered by Deutsche Touring GmbH and was probably a little nicer than we needed — the hotels were far more upscale than anything we would’ve booked for ourselves, most of the other folks on the tour were quite a bit older than we were, and honestly I’m not one for organized tours usually; I don’t really like feeling herded around. But we felt like we could see a lot more this way since we had such limited time, and this particular tour wasn’t too tightly choreographed — there was a good deal of freedom in the two main places we stopped, Rothenburg and Schwangau. Overall we were pretty pleased with it.

Frankfurt
We flew Ryanair from Glasgow to Frankfurt, where we had an afternoon to wander around town and see what we could. Frankfurt is a largely modern city — I believe it’s the nation’s financial center — but there’s a magical little historic area called Romer or Romerberg (we were a little confused by our map!) that feels just like a little Bavarian town, with traditional architecture, sidewalk cafes and cobblestones.

Just a few steps away is the River Main. We crossed over to the other side and got a nice view of the city’s modern skyline reflected in the river. Not feeling too ambitious, we sat on the grass and felt deliciously lazy as athletic German folks whizzed by us on rollerblades, bikes, etc. along the waterfront path.

We spent that night at the Hotel Kaiserhof, within walking distance of the main train station. I don’t remember much about it, frankly, but it was fine — fairly inexpensive, with no air-conditioning (but at least we could open the windows, and they gave us a fan). No complaints!

Rothenburg

We met our tour bright and early the next morning and boarded a pretty nice coach bus (potty, air-conditioning, English-language commentary — everything a spoiled American tourist needs!). We headed south along the Romantische Strasse, heading through one picture-perfect German village after another. We stopped briefly in several — Weikershein, Dinkelsbuhl and Creglingen — all very pretty, but the crown jewel was Rothenburg, a perfectly preserved medieval town where we took a guided walking tour and then wandered around some of the most gorgeous streets I’ve ever seen. It’s surrounded by a stone wall with several towers, there are traditional frame houses everywhere, and flowers spilled out of every window.

We spent the night in Rothenburg at the Romantik Hotel Markusturm, right in the center of town. We loved it, although you should keep in mind that I spent the year staying in hostels, so just about any actual hotel would have looked good to me! However, this one was very nice, with colorful bedding, a lovely view down a historic street and a flowerbox in our window.

One thing we found odd — we had a double bed (or queen or whatever size it was), but it had two separate mattresses, two duvets and no sheets. It was fine, just a little different than what we were expecting.

The next morning we had a little time before the bus left, so we left the walled city and walked downhill to see an old stone bridge over the Tauber River. I’m not sure if Germany was having a drought or something, but the Tauber River was barely a creek at the point we saw it. There wasn’t too much down where we were, though we did meet a friendly cat who must’ve been living in one of the houses nearby.

Then we climbed back up to town and went up into the Roder Tower, one of several towers that were part of the walls surrounding the city. From that vantage point we had a nice view over the town’s red roofs.

Schwangau
The next day we took our bus to Schwangau and had a little excitement, crashing into a BMW on the road. Oops! Those of us in the enormous bus were fine, obviously, but we sent the other car spinning off into a ditch. Everyone appeared to be okay, thank goodness, and we soon got a replacement bus. (My boyfriend and I got into an argument when he wanted to take a picture of the other car — I thought that was taking the project of documenting our trip a little far.)

We spent a good deal of that day on the road, but we finally arrived in Schwangau around dinnertime. There we checked into the Hotel Muller, which was amazing — it was right in the shadow of Castle Hohenschwangau, and we had a balcony from which we could see the castle! Too bad it was pouring rain and we couldn’t really sit out there. Ah well. The room was nice too, though I don’t remember too many details — I’m pretty sure it had the two mattresses and two duvets again though.

The next day we visited both Hohenschwangau (a yellow, fortress-like castle) and its more famous cousin, Neuschwanstein — a traditional white fairy-tale castle that almost doesn’t look real, high on a hill overlooking a green valley and the distant Alps. I wish we’d had time to walk out onto this little footbridge spanning a craggy ravine near Neuschwanstein, which apparently offers a fabulous view of the castle, but alas. Instead we ended up down in the town trying to find a place where we wouldn’t have to sit down (and pay through the nose) for lunch. We found a biergarten (beer garden) offering cafeteria-style food — pretty uninspiring — and when we asked for water, they brought us carbonated/tonic water (eeew — not my thing) and charged us about $3 for each. Ugh. But that’s what you get for not speaking the language…

We had a lovely time anyway; after lunch we had a little time to walk out to Alpsee, which was a lake surrounded by green hills, with the Alps visible in the distance. Folks were out picnicking and walking through the woods nearby…a lovely way to spend an hour or so before getting back on the bus, which took us to…

Munich
I wish we’d had more time here! Unfortunately we were determined to see Venice, Rome and the Amalfi coast (more on that part of our trip in another journal), so we only had a few hours to kill before our overnight train to Venice. The weather wasn’t fabulous — chilly and a bit rainy and rapidly getting dark by the time we arrived.

We raced around trying to see as much as we could before night fell completely — we peeked our heads into the famous Hofbrauhaus (Bill bought his dad a beer stein), raced through Marienplatz (where the city’s famous Glockenspiel is) and visited some garden whose name I can’t remember. Once it was dark we visited an absolutely enormous easyInternetCafe to check our email, and then set off for the main train station en route to Venice. But that’s a trip report for another day…

Categories
Luxury Travel

Panama Birthday Special

Author: nadge
Date of Trip: January 2008

Cruise 8203 Crystal Symphony, “Golden Passage”, Caldera – Miami, 31/1/08 – 11/2/08. (First ever cruise.)

Background

Nearly 2 years ago at a family wedding in Israel my Mum suddenly said that she’d been thinking of a way to celebrate her 75th birthday which would be coming up soonish, and what did we think about it, “we” being myself and my two sisters and our respective spouses. Well, we obviously said “yeh, great, wow, brilliant” etc etc, and then my Mum said what did we think of New York? (She’d been on the QE2 a number of times with my late father and had very fond memories of transatlantics.) Well, we obviously said “yeh, great, wow, brilliant” etc etc.

That was the easy bit, agreeing to go!! As all you experienced cruisers well know, deciding exactly how, where, when, how much, where from, what size, which line, which ship, traditional, casual, formal, anytime dining, rock climbing wall, 15 alternative restaurants etc etc is the hardest part – especially with a group of 7.

My Mum decided she’d always wanted to traverse the Panama Canal, so itinerary was settled upon, which “only” left the rest of the questions outlined above. Now, as I and Mrs nadge only eat kosher food I started to look into cruise lines that could provide this. Nearly all lines can provide airline-type sealed kosher meals which can be reheated, but who wants to eat airline meals on a cruise?? I came across an article about Crystal’s kosher-style dining, and it took off from there. I made some enquiries with the On-board Guest Services at Crystal, and that was that!

(I’ll touch on the food later on, but I won’t go into huge detail about what is and isn’t kosher. For those wishing to know more about kosher food, and exactly what Crystal can do, I’d be only too happy to either open another thread, or e-mail. Just ask.)

Travel to New York

Since New York was on the wish list from the start, and it’s sort of “on the way” to Costa Rica from Israel, we decided to take advantage of the fact by doing a 3 night pre pre-cruise in Manhattan. Now, so that Mum wouldn’t have to travel all the way to NY by herself (she lives in Manchester, England whilst the 6 of us live in Israel) we decided that we’d fly to NY via London, and pick her up in Heathrow in the departure lounge. So, after a very pleasant 5 hour flight on BA to London we have to transfer to the next flight. In Heathrow this entails a further (rather pointless) security check – x-ray all hand luggage, and coats, and shoes, and belts, and phones, and wallets, then through the metal detector. Bear in mind that we have walked straight off a plane, our checked in luggage will only be collected in NY if we’re lucky enough to win the BA lottery and not have to report missing bags, and gone nowhere other than walk straight to the security point. Anyway, then the fun starts.

After passing our bags and belongings through the x-ray machine we were delayed in walking through the metal detector whilst the female security officer searched/checked an old lady’s wheelchair which had set off an alarm when she went through in front of us. So what, I hear you ask. Well, in the absence of another female security officer we all had to wait. Eventually, we went through ourselves and collected our belongings. Well, I did, but Mrs nadge’s small black leather handbag with ALL of her travel documents in it (passport, tickets etc) and money and cards, had gone. In its place was a similar bag, but not hers. We hoped that someone had made a genuine mistake. Considering the severity of the situation with our next flight due to take off in a couple of hours I was surprised at how calm Mrs nadge was. With a fair bit of persuasion we finally managed to convince the security people to look in the other black bag for some information as to its owner, and although there were no official documents in it there were some prescription tablets in a box with a lady’s name on written in Hebrew! Someone had obviously just come off the same plane as us. Luckily, we can read Hebrew. The name was fed in to the system by the friendly BA staff and it turned out to be that very same lady in the wheelchair. What had obviously happened was that the attendant had been told to take a black leather bag, which he/she did, but didn’t ask the lady if it was actually hers.

This wheelchair lady was nowhere to be seen and an APB was put out for her. After receiving conflicting information that her connecting flight didn’t leave for another 4 hours, correct info was passed on that not only was she scheduled for a plane in the next hour she was already on it. Mrs nadge started to get a tad worried. By this time the police had appeared, very interested in the possible theft of a British passport, not to mention that there was an Israeli passport as well. The police literally ran off to the other plane, boarded the aircraft and retrieved the bag which had already been put in the overhead locker and when the old lady saw it she said “but that’s not my bag”.

Crisis over, we managed to fit in 20 minutes of retail therapy before our next flight. Joking apart, if you ever have a wheelchair or know someone who does, ALWAYS check that the bags the attendant retrieves for you are really yours.

We arrived in JFK on time, all our bags had amazingly arrived as well and in one piece, and immigration couldn’t have been easier. I had been a bit concerned about this because I’ve heard many stories about extremely unfriendly (even antagonistic) US immigration officials. I’d arranged for my Mum to have a wheelchair to save her all the walking and hand-luggage schlepping, so we all just trooped behind her straight to the front of the immigration queue. Once through we went to a desk in the arrivals hall where the assistant phoned through to Supershuttle for us through whom I’d booked transfers.

Thanks again to those who answered my thread about transfer advice in New York. As there were 7 of us with tons of luggage (14 very large bags, 7 large hand-luggage wheelie thingies and another 7 small bags) normal taxis would have been very expensive, and Supershuttle was recommended. It cost $133 including the tip. The woman at the desk said that the van would arrive in 20 mins. A minute and a half later as we were settling down to wait a guy came in and called our name to say our van was here. Excellent service. He loaded everything in to the van with no fuss, and was very courteous.

New York Hotel

We were finally off to Manhattan. Neither I nor Mrs nadge had been to America before so we were very excited about the whole thing. There wasn’t very much traffic so it only took about 25 mins to get to our hotel, Radio City Apartments on W 42nd St. I’d done quite a bit of research on Tripadvisor about NY hotels and I’d been very surprised at the price of a room. I mean, I know NY is expensive, but so is London, but I never realized how expensive hotels are in NY. Anyway this hotel is in a great location a block and a half from Times Square, right next to the theatre district. I’d booked well in advance and got a very good rate for one 1 bedroom apartment (1 bedroom with 2 double beds, and a sitting room with sofa bed, plus kitchenette with stove, fridge microwave – all spotless) and one 2 bedroom apartment (1 bedroom with 2 double beds, 1 bedroom with twin beds, and a larger sitting room with sofa bed, plus larger kitchenette.) As before, if anyone wants any more information then please ask.

New York was definitely an experience. Up till then my New York had been the movies plus anything else I might have heard. There is definitely a hustle and bustle about the city; everyone seems to be walking around with great purpose. The buildings are really really tall, and the taxis really are yellow. I also saw a real life yellow old-fashioned looking school bus, just like in the movies. We only had two full days and my Mum can’t walk either fast or far, but we managed a number of really touristy things. We went on a hop-on hop-off guided tour bus and we visited Ground Zero.

We caught the ferry to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, but unfortunately it was quite late so we had to choose only one island to get off at. We chose Ellis Island but because of the late hour didn’t really spend enough time there. We’d definitely go again. We walked around Times Square and 5th Avenue, and wandered around Macy’s. Due to lack of time we had to pick between the Empire State Building and the Top of the Rock. The Rock won and we weren’t disappointed. The whole Rockefeller Centre is amazing, and the Rock exhibition is very good. The views from the top go without saying although it was a bit misty. We saw the famous skating rink that’s always used as the closing scene in the movies. The Empire State will have to wait till next time. We discovered a breakfast place where the locals go, in the back of this jewelry shop in the diamond district. We also found time for a bit of shopping – my new camera came in very useful on the cruise. Oh yes, we managed to figure out the subway system and what a metrocard is, and apart from traffic police directing the traffic at an intersection I don’t think I saw a single cop anywhere.

Overall, it was quite strange being on a mini holiday in the middle of a big holiday. I’d love to go again. Contrary to popular belief, everyone we spoke to was really friendly and made our stay very pleasant. My main impression of New York is standing in the street wondering whether there are more tall buildings in Manhattan or more Starbucks. I mean, about every 100 yards there’s a Starbucks. What is it with Americans and coffee? Can’t anyone go for more than 2 minutes without access to a cup of coffee?

A great place.

Travel to Costa Rica

We’d originally planned to go on this same cruise in November 2007 disembarking in Costa Rica. That would have meant an even longer journey home as it’s another 5 ½ hour flight. Taking the advice of many CC members I’d arranged to arrive in Costa Rica the night before embarkation, just in case. We again Supershuttled from Manhattan to the airport, Newark this time, definitely even more of a bargain this time as the price was the same $133 including tip. No problems with the journey on Continental, arriving about 9:40pm. Costa Rica airport is very quiet and organized, immigration very quick with about 8 lines open at once to process everyone. Once outside however it’s pandemonium. Lots of people scurrying around and shouting. I hadn’t been worried about being met because I’d ordered two taxis through the hotel ($20 each) we were staying at (making sure that there’d be enough room) but with all the commotion outside I was glad when we saw a little fellow jumping up and down and waving a sheet of paper with my name on.

In the end one van sufficed, with lots of luggage on the roof rack. We drove off into the night and after about 5 minutes turned off the main highway onto dark, twisting, narrow, bumpy roads. We hadn’t a clue where we were but the driver seemed to know what he was doing, and after about 25 minutes we arrived at the Hotel Casa Alegre in Santa Ana which is a small suburb about 10 minutes from San Jose. It’s a hacienda type hotel with about 7 rooms ranged around a central swimming pool, and a very cosy lounge with a super-comfy couch. It’s very reasonable at about $300 for 4 very nice double rooms including breakfast.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t expect ex-pat Brits living in Israel to know anybody in Costa Rica! Well, at about 12 midnight there’s non-stop ringing at the gate of the hotel, and it’s our cousin come to visit us. He’d just moved to Costa Rica for work about a month and a half previously from England, and his wife and kids had just come out 2 weeks ago. If we’d have known when we made the arrangements we’d have arranged for a longer stay in Costa Rica. It was surreal meeting him there like that. We chatted till about 2 in the morning. They all joined us for breakfast the next day before we left for the ship so that was a really nice way to start off embarkation day. For them it was quite sad because they don’t know when they’ll see anyone from the family next.

Like a child who has been waiting all year round for his birthday to come round again, I’ve been involved in this trip – planning, organizing, logistics, but mostly waiting impatiently for over a year and a half. Cruise Critic has kept me going during that time, with everyone’s advice and experience, and cruising vicariously with you all. My turn had finally arrived. Has anyone ever been Crystallized before sailing on Crystal? I expect I’m the first!

Our taxi came back for us bang on the dot at 9:30 and by 10:00 we were all packed up and ready to go, our van bursting at the seams with the never-ending mound of luggage that we apparently need for 2 and a half weeks of travel.

The trip is very scenic and uses the Pan American Highway which officially stretches all the way from Monterrey all the way down to Buenos Aires. The road is very busy, full of cars and buses and an even larger quantity of huge trucks that haul Costa Rica’s goods all over a country with no railroad. This means that we never make it over 80 kph the whole way with an average of about 60kph. (This is torture for someone who fancies himself as the new Nigel Mansell.) After what seems like an age we eventually see a sign pointing the way to Caldera. We’re nearly there!

Check In

Suddenly we get our first glimpse of the ocean, and then the Symphony comes into view sitting proudly in port. Seeing the ship for the first time as we rounded a bend in the road was amazing. My camera is now working overtime of course. It was like when we were kids driving to Blackpool and the first to see the Tower would get sixpence (you Brits out there will understand). So much excitement after so much anticipation.

10 minutes later we’re out of the van being handed yet more immigration forms to fill in by grumpy Costa Rican officials, who are flanked by helpful, smiling Crystal employees. Check in consisted of presenting your passport to another grumpy immigration man for stamping, on one side of a low hangar type building, whilst set up on the other side were stands with computers all emblazoned with the Crystal logo, staffed by smiling crew in sparkling white uniforms. Formalities took just 5 minutes, credit card details were passed over, passports were given in (quite a strange feeling but I had read that this is what happens), pictures taken for the room key, signatures signed and room key-card received, and the seven of us are having our picture taken for posterity in front of the Crystal Symphony posters.

From reading these boards for so long I was expecting the warm and genuine welcome we received, help with our bags, would we like to check in hand luggage whilst luncheon is served? But to be truthful, I was also wary of expecting too much. Perhaps everyone was exaggerating as to the completeness of the Crystal experience? Thankfully no. More than once over the cruise one of our little group would suddenly murmur “how did he remember that?” when a crew member would suddenly appear with a favorite treat.

We headed off to the dining room for lunch, with champagne of course. Just after we’d been seated a young lady comes up and asks which one of us is Nigel, so yours truly duly owns up. It turns out to be EitherOar who very graciously introduced herself and welcomed us on board. We got together later on in the cruise but I really appreciated that welcome. Thank you. Everyone else in our party was looking on in curious admiration – only 5 minutes on board and already being greeted!!

Anyway, this conveniently brings me on to a subject very dear to my heart – food.

Kosher Food and Crystal

N.B. I won’t go into the ins and outs and definitions of kosher food here, but if anyone is interested feel free to reply or e-mail me and I’ll go into it with pleasure.

A long while back, when researching this whole trip, I sent off a whole load of questions about cruises with kosher food. This is how I found out about Crystal’s kosher-style dining. After a series of clarification e-mails with On Board Guest Services I was satisfied that this met with our requirements. I assumed that this definition of kosher-style was standard. When we arrived however, the ship had not been informed of the things we were expecting, but I am happy to report that after outlining our requirements they did their utmost to fulfill them. I would suggest to anyone wanting this option to be in touch with your TA to make sure that your requirements have been transmitted to the ship.

We had been expecting some sort of kosher menu – obviously much more limited than the normal one, but we just basically chose something suitable off the regular menu and had it done kosher. To make things easier we were shown the next day’s menus during dinner and we made our choices then. That way the chef knew what was expected and what needed to be taken out of the freezer. Once things had been clarified our head waiter Miguel and senior waiter Alan took great care of us. We could only have kosher food in the main dining room, which is a shame because the other venues looked wonderful too, especially the breakfast buffet up on the Lido deck. My sisters said that Jade Garden was very good, but Prego was probably about the best meal they’d ever had.

The food itself was amazing. The presentation was wonderful with special care taken over even the most insignificant dish like a simple salad or some fruit. You don’t just get some smoked salmon on a plate, you get a work of art that you don’t like to spoil by eating it. I didn’t realize that breakfast could also be a command performance. The choice was huge and the eggs benedict with smoked salmon wonderful. My mum spoiled herself with hot porridge and brown sugar and cream whilst Mrs nadge made large inroads into the fresh croissants every day. Lunch and dinner weren’t too bad either. The meat was to die for and done to perfection – huge rib-eye steaks, beefburgers, lamb chops, enormous racks of lamb and a wonderfully thick juicy tender veal chop. I’m starting to salivate again!! They even made us chopped liver on Friday night. We were a bit limited in deserts because we cannot eat dairy dishes after meat, but the non-dairy sherbets were delicious and the hot cherries and bananas that our head waiter made for us were superb.

The Ship

The ship is absolutely spotless. There is always someone cleaning or painting or polishing or varnishing. One can tell that the ship isn’t new. There are many signs of age, but it doesn’t detract an iota from how beautiful the ship looks. I was most impressed with the public toilets. I was also very impressed with all the arrangements – a welcome envelope, TA credits in a gift envelope and an appointment with the bar manager to discuss a cocktail party I wanted to organize. Very professional.

Stewardess – We did have some problems with our stewardess. She was brand new. Embarkation day was our first day on a Crystal ship, and our stewardess had been on board exactly 3 days longer. She did not have much of a clue. She was very willing and pleasant, but it is not a good idea to put a new stewardess with new cruisers. We don’t know what to ask for and she doesn’t know what to suggest or the right questions to ask us. It’s all so new that she kept forgetting things even though we would leave notes for her. Crystal definitely needs to make sure that new staff in this department receives proper training and proper real-time instruction.

We were in cabin 7046 and I can recommend it. There is a slightly limited view from the beam of a lifeboat crane but it is negligible. Plenty of room to put everything, and even our hugest suitcase managed to fit under the bed as well. The bathroom is big enough with instant hot water and good water pressure, and the twin bowls look very nice and didn’t really splash. Never having experienced the loveseat we didn’t miss it, and we just left the chair by the dressing table as it was. Mrs nadge just sat on the bed to watch telly. The linen laid out on the floor at turn-down service is a nice touch.

Activities

Plenty to do on board. In fact, there’s so much to do it sometimes seems like you’re going to need another holiday when you get home just to get some rest. Up for breakfast in the dining room, a leisurely stroll to collect my book, get to Spanish class for 10:15, go to a lecture, make sure to get to the dining room for 12:00 for lunch so as to finish in time for the trivia quiz at 1.00pm. Need to relax after the quiz with a book and a coffee. Afternoon tea at 3.30pm for an hour, then a stroll along the deck to the ice cream bar to sample the delights. The coffee ice-cream is out of this world (and the butter pecan isn’t bad either) especially with the assorted nuts. 2nd helping of coffee ice-cream and assorted nuts. Work off the 3rd helping of coffee ice-cream with assorted nuts and butterscotch sauce with a game of paddle tennis. Mrs nadge is by the pool most days relaxing and reading, or taking time to do some needlepoint. Early evening is time for some ice-cream, and then a well-earned rest before getting ready for one of the cocktail parties that we were invited to, or cocktails in our cabin, or cheese and wine in the art room. Down to late seating dinner – the food is wonderful, the service top notch. On to the show, or one of the headline entertainers, finishing up either at karaoke or in the Avenue Saloon listening to Jeff Deutsch.

Entertainment

During the cruise we played the “what job would I like to have on this ship?” game. Something not too demanding that enables you to cruise for a salary!! Well, if I could sing I’d like to be part of the acapella group The Castaways. They were brilliant, but over an 11 night cruise they performed for a maximum of 2 hours (1 hour for each sitting) – hardly a strenuous position. Admittedly, they did take charge of the trivia quiz, and they ran the karaoke (3 times). It’s just a shame that we couldn’t enjoy them more.

The shows were very very good, but repetitive. It’s basically more of the same. Very professional, amazing costumes, excellent singing and dancing, but we all found ourselves nodding off at various stages of the performances. (Maybe the effect of too much booze, I hear you asking!!) My favorite was The Envelope Please which I thought was very well done, whilst the Cole Porter effort was boring – probably because I didn’t know the numbers. Cole! however was my mum’s favorite.

The headline entertainers were good. There was a Russian lady pianist who now lives in America, and a violinist who were both okay but they’re not my cup of tea. The singer Brenda Cochrane was excellent but she was only on for about 30 minutes, and I was very pleasantly surprised by the comedian Jimmy Travis. He’s apparently very famous in America though I’d never heard of him. I thought he might be too American for me but I enjoyed his humor very much. The last night illusionist wasn’t too bad, but the lady who was “volunteered” to help him in his first trick stole the show with her total apathy.

Service

Apart from our stewardess, about whom Crystal should take the blame, exemplary.

Ports and Shore Excursions

Apart from traversing the Panama Canal we had four port days consisting of Aruba, Antigua, St. Maarten and St. Thomas, none of which we had visited before. We didn’t particularly fancy any of the excursions which were bus sightseeing tours, if only for the reason that I hate travelling in buses and tend to get travel sick. I also feel that some of the tours are very expensive and can very often be found privately much cheaper.

This again brings up the eternal question of ship tours verses private tours. For example, we’d thought about getting the Crystal transfer on embarkation day which included sightseeing, from San Jose to Caldera, which cost $88 a person. Our private taxi (transfer only) for seven of us with ALL of our luggage (bearing in mind that we’d had 2 ½ shopping days in New York before the cruise!) cost $110. Even adding on maybe another $100 if we’d done some sightseeing there’s still no comparison. On the other hand, you know that the ship’s tours are reputable and they do what it says on the packet, and perhaps most importantly the ship will wait for you should anything untoward occur.

So we looked at the tours, dismissed any plain sightseeing ones, and chose to take part in two activities that we wouldn’t normally do. In Aruba we went kayaking and snorkeling (quite expensive at $75 each), and in St. Maarten we chose the beginners scuba diving lesson/dive (fairly reasonable at $66 each). The kayaking was actually very good, with a personable guide/instructor which can make all the difference to any tour. We kayaked along the coast for about half an hour to a little beach where we had a little rest and a drink, then donned some snorkel equipment and life-jackets and swam out to see the coral. The last time I snorkeled was over 25 years ago in Sharm el-Sheikh and Nuweiba and I was looking forward to trying it again. The sea was a bit choppy which made progress difficult and made me feel a bit seasick. I’d been expecting it on the ship and happily I’d been fine, but I wasn’t expecting to feel sick whilst snorkeling. I managed to survive, and what was even more surprising was that we didn’t capsize our double kayak, especially on the way back when the sea got rough again. We were very proud of ourselves.

Scuba diving in St. Maarten was very nerve-racking. As first timers it’s hard to get your head around the fact that you can breathe underwater. You have to make yourself relax. The instructors were excellent and I can heartily recommend this tour for the way it was run and led. After passing our “3 Skills Test” we actually dived to down to around 30 feet which was about three times deeper than I had originally envisaged. I don’t think I’ll particularly go diving again but it certainly is a great way to get an introduction to it.

After our kayaking in Aruba we became quick-change artists back on board, skipped lunch, and out again exploring within 15 minutes. Our kayak guide (originally from Brazil) had told us that the Portuguese parts of the local Papiamento language was brought to Aruba from Brazil when the Jewish community there was expelled (1694) after Portugal had re-conquered Brazil from Holland. He said that the Jewish community in Aruba is now assimilated but that there is still a Jewish cemetery on the island, so we of course were determined to find it. The town was pretty empty as it was the day after carnival week so everyone was “sleeping it off”, but we finally managed to make ourselves understood and we were given directions. The cemeteries are all one after the other, a great big Catholic one, a small Protestant one, and a little Jewish one. It was very interesting to see that the cemetery is still being utilized and kept in very good condition.

Disembarking in Antigua we could hardly fail to notice the 3 other huge cruise ships in port with us. Only about 10,000 people unloading on to the island that morning. We hadn’t booked a ship tour that day, so just took an official taxi tour from the end of the pier. My mum was with us that day whilst my sisters + spouses did their own thing. She can’t walk very far so a taxi seemed like a good idea at the time. In fact it was a brilliant idea and for only $25 each we went on a 3 ½ hour tour of the island in a nice new air-conditioned van, stopping off at the local spots, with time at various look-out points and also the famous Nelson Dockyard. Well worth it. This is in comparison with the official tour which did exactly the same thing (we saw the Crystal bus at points along the way) which cost $53 a person (see earlier discussion). We left the taxi in downtown St. Johns on main street, about 15-20 minutes walk from the ship. We ambled back doing bits of shopping on the way, so in the end we spent about two hours walking around. In case you’re wondering, when it comes to shopping my mum has great stamina!

In St. Maarten we had our scuba diving in the afternoon so we went exploring in the morning by ourselves. We walked into town about 15 minutes away to Philipsburg, then caught a local bus to the French side to see what Marigot had to offer. Driving along the bumpy road all the signs were in English, but as soon we reached the French side the road was a lot better kept and the signs were in French. Shops don’t really open till 10:00 am so we walked around, went to the sea front and then made our way to the open air market. Lots of stalls. Yes, of course we bought some bits and pieces. We’re first time tourists in the Caribbean.

Finally St. Thomas. To tell you the truth, this was the third port day in a row and it’s exhausting. We would have preferred to have these days staggered. I don’t know how people manage the port-intensive itineraries with hardly any sea days. As you all know St. Thomas is part of the United States so we had to go through the US immigration process. This was made very easy for us by Crystal as the immigration officials came on board to process us there, with separate rooms for US and non-US citizens. Two huge advantages were that firstly the whole process took about 45 seconds instead of the “hours” at a port or an airport, and it secondly it meant that we didn’t have to do it in Miami which was the next stop for disembarkation.

Again we explored on foot, walking about 15-20 minutes into town and seeing what was on offer. We had no specific plan other than to wander around and go and find the synagogue which is the second oldest continuously functioning synagogue in the western hemisphere, dating back to 1796. We duly found the synagogue which lives on Synagogue Hill, and spent some time in the little museum reading through the history of the place. We found Britannia House where the old British Consuls lived, with a very friendly curator who gave us background information. Afterwards we went shop crawling in what cruise director Scott Peterson called Shopper’s Disneyland, but we were disappointed. They were all basically the same, over-priced jewelry and over-priced souvenirs. Back at the port there are seven “shop buildings”. Each “building” is really a street of shops but the same outlets are in each street so really there’s hardly any choice at all. Even the single malt whisky that I looked at wasn’t particularly cheap and there was a very poor selection. A much better drinks (liquor) shop is to be found on the pier in Antigua. All in all a pretty place but not one that I’d rush back to.

Disembarkation

This was handled with Crystal’s usual efficiency. Everyone received their color-coded luggage labels and exact departure time from the ship. Unfortunately there was a problem with US customs so everything was held up by about an hour and a quarter. Once the go-ahead was given everything proceeded according to plan. The only problem was that for some unexplained reason (though we did ask) the Bistro did not open at 9:00 like it was meant to. That meant that there was nowhere to get a decent cup of coffee and a piece of cake whilst we were waiting. Maybe they were afraid of being swamped by passengers because everyone was in the Starlight Club waiting to disembark. As soon as disembarkation started the Bistro opened. Mrs nadge likes her coffee and croissant in the morning and we’d elected not to get room service in favor of the Bistro, so we were a tad disgruntled. Our flight out of Miami was only at 17:30 so we knew we had hours to kill beforehand. Taking Judith’s advice we asked the concierge about transfers, who organized us on the Crystal transfer ($33 per person) which included transfer to the Hilton airport hotel for a light lunch, keeping all the luggage under lock and key whilst we waited and relaxed by the hotel pool, then transfer to the airport and escort during check-in. It was well worth it as we would have only had to wait out those hours at the airport with all our luggage.

Reasonable flight from Miami to Heathrow (about 8 hours) then another 5 hours to Tel Aviv. It was a bit foggy in London that morning so we were stuck on the plane for an extra hour and a half till we could take off. Arrived home safely about 36 hours after leaving the ship, and were met at the airport by four of our kids which was really nice.

Summary As many other people have said the two main impressions that one takes away from the cruise is the quality of the service and the friendliness of both the passengers and the crew. The crew’s friendliness is truly genuine and we appreciated it.

Highlights

My Mum’s birthday – the whole reason for the holiday – was really nice. We woke up early and gathered in her cabin for present giving. Her various grandchildren had also made her cards and presents, and there were balloons and decorations in the cabin courtesy of our stewardess. We gathered again for cocktails and more present giving before dinner, during which she was serenaded by all the personnel and we had a birthday cake of course. She was also serenaded by the Castaways at karaoke that evening. All in all a great day.

Mrs nadge looking beautiful all dressed up with plenty of places to go.

Mozart tea and the Amadeus hot chocolate. I was going for Patty’s record (Paws10) as I managed three in 35 minutes. I started feeling a bit sick so I stopped after that! I’ll have to pace myself better next time.

The service. Mum had a maintenance issue with the bath. It took 3 visits to sort it out. The next day she received a box of chocolates as an apology from Crystal because the service hadn’t been up to scratch. She’d never even said a word to anyone about it. That’s service. One day I came in to lunch late just to pick up the others before trivia, as I’d been playing in the paddle tennis competition and I didn’t feel like eating. The head waiter was genuinely disappointed that I wasn’t staying to eat.

The best recommendation I can give is that I’ve been smiling as I’ve been writing this, remembering all the good times on board.

Categories
Cities

A Family Sharing Good Times in Nashville

Author: sightseeingsue
Date of Trip: April 2006

Nashville, Tennessee was the destination for 13 of our family members to celebrate my mother-in-law’s 70th birthday.

Nashville is one of my favorite cities to escape to, and I usually do when I get the opportunity. Living near Grand Rapids, Michigan, it’s only a 9-hour car trip to get there or a short 1-hour flight. Being appointed the families social/trip director, I didn’t have a difficult time convincing the family to make this our destination. Thirteen family members from three different states coming to town for a weekend celebrating our Matriarch’s 70th birthday.

I’m a Michigander, so going south (warmer temperatures) seemed appealing, 6 hours from northeast Georgia was an easy drive, and it offered a large airport for our flyers. Nashville was the ticket.

Being here many times before, I made a list of things to do that might appease everyone. For the music lovers, they need go no farther than downtown to Honky Tonky Highway to catch a live performance at the Stage, Second Fiddle, or the famous Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge. Scoring tickets for the Grand Ole’ Opry Show, attending one of the many dinner theaters, or a visit to the Wildhorse Salon for line-dancing lessons would make this a night to remember.

If some preferred more historical attractions, I included Belle Mead Plantation, The Hermitage, Belmont Mansion, or Travelers Rest Plantation to go explore. Museum lovers could tour the Ryman Auditorium, Parthenon, Country Music Hall of Fame, or one of the many Art Gallery’s in town. We would be staying near the Opryland Hotel so just planning a visit to his massive resort for a few hours would satisfy most. They could take a ride on a flatboat, scroll through the gorgeous atriums, view sparkling waterfalls, catch the laser-light show, shop, or dine at one of the many great restaurants they offer. Opry Mills Outlet Mall was within a mile, so this would make the list for the shoppers.

Eating would be a priority and with so many different places to choose from I wouldn’t have a problem here except finding a place everyone would agree on. We had to try the Aquarium, couldn’t pass up Findley’s Irish Pub, and agreed on Santa Fe Cattle Company for the group meal. Had more time been an option, B.B. Kings restaurant for their ribs, Loveless Café for some down-home cooking, or Stock-Yard would have been enjoyed. Next Time. Regardless of when, preference in music, or adventure level, don’t miss a visit to Nashville. A definite must!

Regardless of what month you travel to Nashville, you will find festivals, concerts, award shows, sporting events or tours that will be available during your stay. I suggest ordering Nashville’s free travel magazine for a detailed list of what’s going on and when. This free publication will provide dates and times, fees, locations and some additional information on what is going on. An example might be some of the numerous holiday shows offered in Nov. and Dec. or details about the Tennessee Renaissance Festival held every weekend in May. One of the biggest crowd pleasers found in June is the CMA’s Music Festival. I don’t go anywhere without first reading reviews, checking out websites (like this one) and doing a little research before I head out on a vacation. However, if you don’t have time, don’t worry as you will still stumble upon hours and hours of cool stuff to keep you interested in Nashville.

If music is your passion then just walking downtown is all you will need to do to enjoy jazz, bluegrass, country, or rock. There are countless bars, with live performances going on all day long. Seeing a performance at the Grand Ole Opry, visiting the Opryaland Hotel, getting line-dance lessons at the Wildhorse Saloon, or taking a tour of the Ryman Auditorium would be my top picks while in town. In the spring or summer months when the weather is warmer spend the day at one of the Plantations and take in some of the history of this town or take a ride on the General Jackson Riverboat for a relaxing adventure. But my best tip or suggestion would be to spend as much time as you can exploring all Nashville has to offer, if you can’t see it all in one visit (and you won’t for sure) then return again, and again and again. This truly is a fun, friendly place to visit.

Having a car is the best way to get around this city. It has a fairly easy expressway system to navigate, but due to its explosive growth in recent years you won’t have an easy time getting around town without avoiding major construction areas. But don’t let this stop you from visiting here — just plan on a little more time getting to where you are going. Nashville is no different than most large cities and experiences major rush hours during parts of the day, so be aware. Expressways are bumper to bumper for the early morning rush hour or for the evening’s drive home. If staying at one of the resorts (such as Opryland Hotel) for all means use their shuttle service. They have rides to many of the downtown attractions such as the Wildhorse Saloon, Country Music Hall of Fame, or Ryman Auditorium and are very practical, reasonable priced (some free) which is especially helpful for the unfamiliar drivers to this area. I do recommend taxi service for people coming to town without their vehicles, or rental cars. Now after having said that, I do want to report that I did have one of the worst rides ever by a taxi driver in this town once before. I sure hope he’s not driving in this town any longer. Aside from that one bad experience I would probably use a taxi service again if need be as I am sure most taxi drivers are safe curiosity drivers…(I said most, not all). And one more word of advice: If having to choose from your Mapquest directions or a local living in the areas advise (ex: hotel desk-clerk) take the locals advise. I thought my directions looked easier, while the hotel’s desk-clerk suggested avoiding the heavy construction by going another route. Man, I sure wished I’d listened, I did however take his advice on the way back.

Aquarium — for me, the food at a restaurant is only half of the dinning experience; the other half is its atmosphere. Being fascinated by aquatic life, I found watching 100 different species of colorful tropical fish swim freely in a 200,000 gallon aquarium very soothing. So that being said, I would recommend dining at the Aquarium for the ambiance rather than its food.

Aquarium is located in the Opry Mills Outlet Mall near the cinema. As you enter the restaurant, you will be greeted with a fairly good-size aquarium filled with multicolored coral and reef and brightly colored fish swimming amongst the tank, then directed to walk underneath a tunnel, which is yet another aquarium filled with vibrant colored fish, to wait till you can be seated.

Both times we came here (2pm), we found no line at the door. Our first time, we just wanted to take a peak inside, but once our eyes fixed on the floor-to-ceiling centerpiece aquarium, we were hooked. Table, please.

Once seated, our overly friendly waitress did her spiel to try and educate us on some of the species found in the tank, went over some features of the menu, and talked about how they know all this, which is due to the lengthy training required to work here. She took our drink orders and said she would return soon.

The menu’s full of seafood dishes, but also offers steaks, salads, chicken, pasta, and a menu for little pirates. We weren’t starving but wanted a light snack, and so decided on shrimp and crab dip ($10.99) and possibly one of their scrumptious dessert. We placed our order, sipped our drinks (apple martini $7.99), and got lost watching the sharks, rays, eels, and other various coral life for a moment. The food took forever to get, almost 40 minutes. How long could it take to make seafood dip?

The generously portion dip and bread finally were served. It came out warm, creamy and decent tasting. The drink-tini was expensive ($9) but hit the spot.

Our second visit was for lunch the next day, and we invited a few more people to join us after telling them about our previous days visit. The table for seven ended up being a table for 13 once the rest of our other family showed up in town. Our friendly waiter was more knowledgeable about the fish than the menu but handled the arriving guests efficiently. Drinks were kept flowing.

Several appetizers were ordered to start. Fried calamari ($8.99), chicken lettuce wraps $(14.99), and shrimp dip. All were large portions that were good. Some of our meals consisted of pasta-stuffed chicken, fried stuffed shrimp, fish-and-chips, Jamaican jerk chicken, and a burger. The entree price ranges were $17 to $28.

Everyone agreed that the food alone wasn’t worth coming in for, but with the aquarium’s spectacular backdrop, it was well worth the trip and every penny. If you aren’t hungry, sit at Dive’s bar for a beer or exotic cocktail and an awesome view.

Courtyard Marriott Opryland — Trying to please a group of people ranging in ages and finding that perfect spot to fill everyone’s needs wasn’t going to be an easy task. One wanted an indoor pool, another didn’t want to stay downtown, all wanted reasonable rates and located near attractions, it had to have internet access, offered reward points, and at least a three-star rating. But with a little research, and some luck with our stay at the Courtyard Marriott (Opryland), it was accomplished.

We stayed the first weekend in February 2006 and reserved a total of 6 rooms. Reservations were made on the 800-number the month previously and were made easily, by a friendly and helpful staff member. We ordered five rooms with two queen beds, and one room a king. Price for our stay was $93 per night given at the senior rate for all. Even though only half were seniors they allowed two rooms to be reserved by each senior. Regular rates for that weekend were quoted at $129. We requested adjoining rooms with refrigerators, all non-smoking.

We were all located up on the third floor in the same section. Not all directly next to each other but not far away. What was amazing to me was that all six rooms were all slightly different. I was pleasantly pleased by the size of our room. It being the largest amongst the group’s, offered a pull-out couch, coffee table and desk with chair. My brother-in-law’s room (with his elite status!) was slightly smaller, but had a balcony but not a couch. The king room also had a couch but the others just a reclining chair. The refrigerators that were requested were only available for two of our rooms. This wasn’t really that big of a deal as some rooms would have been rather crowded with them in it.

Overall, the rooms were well cleaned, had a large picture window, decent size bathrooms,comfortable beds, coffee pots and standard amenities. Rooms décor was typical, but with nicer furniture then most places. The bathrooms came with a blow-dryer, showers were hot, had good water pressure, and an adequate number of towels were provided.

The hotel provided a good size indoor pool and whirlpool that appeared to be kept clean which allowed the guests to relax. My family used this and had no complaints.

The staff was very helpful, friendly and made our stay perfect. They allowed us to have use of a conference room for the weekend, free. They even piped in some good music for us to enjoy. We spent hours here, playing cards, snacking, and telling stories with each other.

The only negative thing about this place was the breakfast buffet, served daily. They charge $8 whether you ate a piece of fruit or a full meal. The buffet had bacon, eggs, waffles, fresh fruit, and muffins, but didn’t look appetizing. Off to one of the chains near by.

Location’s great, very reasonably priced, nice friendly staff and no complaints by me.

Findley’s Irish Pub — I knew totally well I would end up in this place and even knew exactly what I planned to order that evening. Now, to direct my family to the Magnolia section of the Opryland Hotel to find this fine Irish establishment called Findley’s. This was not my first visit to Findley’s and definitely not my last. Last year I ate the best corned beef and cabbage ever here!

Findley’s has that authentic Victorian Irish Pub feel to it which gives you the true sense of walking into a Irish neighborhood pub. Its walls display plaques of Irish sayings and signs, the bar was deep brown in color and almost looked handcrafted out of some fine hardwood. With its friendly atmosphere it’s truly inviting as well as a perfect place to enjoy drinks, a delicious meal and some blarney at.

Findley’s features a reasonably priced menu, offered delicious Irish staples, a fine selection of drafts which includes Harp, Guinness, and Bass Pale Ale, and if that’s not enough a wonderful selections of specialty drinks to wet your whistle.

It’s always been busy when I’ve come, but never had to wait for a table. This time was no exception. We grabbed a small table in the patio area in front of the restaurant and quickly ordered drinks . Once the Guinness, Bass Pale Ale, and my Wild Irish Rose drink arrived we raised our glasses and said a Irish toast “Thirst is a shameless disease so here’s to a shameful cure.” The evening had begun.

The menu offers appetizers, soups, salads, and sandwiches along with the usually Irish cuisine. Appetizers of Potato Pockets, beer battered mushrooms, or salt and vinegar crisps are all priced around $5, with the sampler combo the highest priced at $11. We ordered the chips and the combo to munch on. Combo included potato skins, chicken tenders, more chips with specialty sauces.

The soups they suggest are hot potato, or ham and pea which cost $5. A house salad (salmon and potatoes) would set you back around $9. My sister-in-law offered the Shamrock salad ($9) which presented a little different twist (corned beef rather than ham or turkey) from a chef salad which she said was fresh and tasty.

Main menu consisted of fish-n-chips, Shepherds Pie, burgers, assorted sandwiches and my all time favorite corned beef and cabbage all priced around $9, and to complete the menu they even offer a few desserts to choose from.

My corned beef and cabbage wasn’t as good as my first visit, but was definitely excellent. They could have been more generous with the carrots and red-skinned potatoes though with only two on my plate. Meat and cabbage were tender and no problem finishing every bite. My husband’s fish-n-chips were also tasty, but a little on the ordinary side. We truly enjoyed the Irish folk singers which perform nightly, and everyone in our group had no complaints with their food or drinks. I would highly recommend this place when in Nashville.

Gaylord Opryland Hotel — My husband’s brother, his wife, and I agreed to arrive one day earlier then the rest and treat their mother to a night at the Opryland Hotel for a little surprise. This was my suggestion as I have stayed here several times before and always had pleasant experiences.

Arriving promptly at 3pm (CST) my husband dropped me off at the Cascade Entrance. I check-in, he parks the car. Parking rates are ridiculous. Self $10 per day, Valet $18.

Woo Hoo, no line at the check-in desk. Boo Hoo, the rooms aren’t ready yet and none of the remodeled rooms I had requested were available. This has happened to me here before. So the reservation host got my 2 cents worth. I politely expressed my dissatisfaction, enlightened him with my situation (ailing mother-in-law due to arrive momentarily, she had been traveling a long distance, and was in no physical shape to wait for her room) and low and behold after letting his finger do some magic, discovered two adjoining rooms, though in a different section, that were ready. The rooms would be upgraded from what we requested at no additional charge. A $199 rate to a $264 rate complete with a garden patio — we’ll take it. Things went smoothly from here on.

Our remodeled, two queen-size bedrooms, were located in the Garden Conservatory section on the first floor, and only a short walk from the atrium. Although the rooms were small, they were decorated very chic, and offered very large comfy beds. A beautiful armoire housed the television, as well as drawers for clothing. The bathrooms are small but the counter-top and bathroom fixtures were not your ordinary hotel models. My shower was hot, had great pressure, and plenty of room to bathe.

The resort itself is massive, has luxurious accommodations, and first-class entertainment. Under majestic, climate-controlled glass atrium, we enjoyed being surrounded by acres of lush indoor gardens, winding rivers and pathways, sparkling waterfalls, and a place to relax, dine, shop, and be entertained all without leaving. Some highlights for me were the 44 foot waterfall, laser-light show, and tour on the delta flatboat. There is an indoor pool, first class spa and exercise facility as well.

There are several restaurants to choose from satisfying everyone’s taste buds, and entertainment nightly in some of the lounges, but some don’t open until early evening. Cocktails were especially enjoyed at a few lounges with our favorite being the Cascade Terrace, as you sit the terrace rotates giving you a constantly changing view of the beautiful scenery.

I would recommend this place if you aren’t on a budget and appreciate beautiful scenery.

Santa Fe Cattle Company — I needed to find a place located near our hotel (Courtyard Marriott-Opryland), a family-friendly place that could accommodate 13 of us, one with a menu that offered a wide variety of items to satisfied everyone’s taste buds, served alcohol, and was reasonably priced.

I asked for a recommendation at the front desk of our hotel and Santa Fe Cattle Company was mentioned. The clerk said steak, ribs, and fajitas were its specialty items, but they also offered chicken, pastas, and burgers as well. He needed to go no further, as he had my husband at steaks! So, after a quick call, our reservations were made for the next evening at 6pm.

It was located less than a mile from our hotel, and when we arrived, it mirrored a lot of other Southwestern-style steakhouses we had been to before. My only hope was that it was going to please our entire group. Immediately upon walking through the doors, you are hit with an awesome-smelling whiff of the hickory scent coming from their grills, and then you spot a large wooden barrel loaded with peanuts and people waiting in line or at their tables just throwing the shells on the floor. Now, what’s more family-friendly than that? This is when I realized this place might actually fix the bill.

We were quickly seated in a back section of the restaurant and given large menus to explore. The menu offers steaks, ribs, seafood, fajitas, burgers, and chicken dishes. Prices were generally in the $10 and $25 dollar range, with a few entrees under $10. They offer a wide variety of beverages and alcoholic drinks as well. After a careful review of the menu, our orders were placed. Drinks came quickly, but the meals took awhile to come out, but hot buttered rolls, our salads, large dishes of peanuts, and family to visit with made the time fly by quickly.

Most of us ordered steaks ,with a few choosing to dine on fajitas or chicken. My rib-eye cut was superb. Done exactly how I requested, with just a hint of a hickory favor, made this a truly delightful meal. My husband’s porterhouse was huge, almost fork tender, and was finished in a matter of minutes. The side dish of smashed garlic potatoes were very yummy as well. Looking around this place, you see all the families and friends gathered together, sharing laughs and good food, and all with smiles on their faces. That’s always a good sign in my eyes.

I was impressed with the friendly, efficient staff that was on hand that evening to handle our large group. She made our meal very pleasant and enjoyable. Drinks were served quickly and steadily so we didn’t go thirsty. Everyone I spoke with from our clan left satisfied and extremely full.

By all means, if a casual atmosphere, great value meal, friendly staff, and fun place to eat at is what you are looking for, then I don’t think you will be disappointed.