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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Do's And Don'ts For Planning Your First Cruise

You have booked your first cruise, marked the dates on your calendar, and made sure you have the workdays off. Now what?? What should you expect on board? What costs will you run into that you weren't planning on? Will you eat in your assigned dining room or in another dining area? Will you go broke on beverages? It may be time for some great cruise do's and don'ts to help prepare for your first cruise!

If these questions aren't running through your head, they will be soon enough. For anyone going on their first cruise, the excitement of getting away is always tempered by the unknown of a form of vacationing where you are totally reliant on a cruise line. For anyone who has been to an all-inclusive resort before, you will find it much the same with a few changes. But for those of you who are accustomed to travel by family vehicle, prepare for a different world.

5 "Do's" For Your First Cruise!

1. Do Read The Itinerary For Each Day

One of the best cruise do's and don'ts is to always know what is going on around you during your big boat tour. Each night, when you return to your room, along with the mints on your pillows and other amenities, you will find a detailed itinerary for the next day on board. This itinerary will tell you everything from what will be served in certain dining areas to what shows will be going on that night. Use this resource to help in planning your days out. You will definitely miss out on some great fun on board if you skip this read. Keep an eye out for drink specials, debarkation times at port, and information on fun and games around the ship.

2. Do Take Time To Wander Around The Ship

Do not make the mistake of going from one show to the next, and only visiting the pool and dining room in between. Give in to your curiousity! Wander around the ship! You will find opportunities and sites you would not have otherwise found. It may be an out-of-the-way desert bar, or an access to an observation deck. Have fun on a top deck putting golf course. It could be as simple as a bar with a fun bartender more likely to give you added "fun" in your beverage of choice! Make it a game, see who can find something new on the ship; believe me, there is plenty to explore!

3. Do Talk To The Staff

Most people you will see on board will speak to the cruise staff, but only to order a drink or a meal. These people travel on your ship for months. They know everything there is to know about the ship, what shows are worth seeing, what events you shouldn't miss, and when you need to get to the pool deck to get a good deck chair! They also have probably been to the ports of call you are visiting and know where to find fun and what to avoid. These people can be the cheapest travel resource you have on board! It also wouldn't hurt to get chatty with one bartender and make sure to visit him/her everytime you need a drink!

4. Do Try ALL The Food

If you are planning to diet while on your cruise, good luck! You will need it. There are many opportunities to eat excellent food. If the cruise you are on assigns you a dining room and a dining time, be sure you know where it is and what the dress code is. These dining rooms can put most vacation resorts to shame, so try a little bit of everything, but remember, order everything you want at the beginning of the meal, the kitchen staff and wait staff will be too busy and anything you add later may not come til its too late. Don't be afraid to try out the buffet dining and fast food bars as well, most of them will surprise you!

5. Do Have Fun!!

Knowing all of the cruise do's and don'ts will not change that the most important thing to do while on board is HAVE FUN! From the time you are on deck waving to whomever may be watching you leave port, remember that this is YOUR vacation. Get involved in on board games. Dance on the pool deck with the live band. Enjoy the many bars and clubs on the ship. When time comes to get off the ship and go back to work, you will be glad you did!

5 Don'ts For Your First Cruise

1. Don't Leave Your Cell Phone On

If you are planning to carry your cell phone on board for your cruise, you will want to turn it off shortly after leaving your port of departure. You will want to check with your service provider to find out your international calling rates which will probably be cheaper than calling on the ship phone. However, leaving your phone on, especially for those of you with data and Internet plans, can prove costly. In international waters, you will pay a large charge for each text message including data roaming. You will also be charged by kilobyte for Internet which will be extremely pricey

2. Don't Forget To Take Pictures

The worst mistake that happens to many people on their first cruise is forgetting to take the camera! So many people get on board, take pictures, then leave the camera in their room until their ports of call. For many it is because the camera is too big to carry around, not wanting to look like a "tourist", but remember you are visiting some of the best vacation spots in the world! Get a small camera, easy to put in a pocket or a purse, and take pictures until your finger is sore. You may also want to pick up an underwater disposable camera for that snorkeling excursion!

3. Don't Miss The Formal Dinner

Many people, when preparing to go on their first cruise, decide to leave behind their formal dresses and suits and skip the captain's dinner. One of the first cruise do's and don'ts I read before cruising was to not miss the captain's dinner, and I am glad I heeded that advice. First of all, a true "formal" dress and suit is not required. All you need is a nice dress or a coat and tie. There will be excellent dining and great atmosphere! Take the opportunity and go, enjoy the dinner and smile for the camera!

4. Don't Take The Towels

Some cruisers make the mistake of taking the towels from their rooms when going on shore excursions. Please do not make that mistake. So often people who use their room towels on their excursions leave them on the beach and are charged way more than the towels are worth. Its a simple tip, but obviously some people don't figure this one out on their own. Remember, even though you may be visiting one of the best vacation spots, that doesn't mean you won't make the same mistakes you make at home and leave something behind.

5. Don't Buy The Soft Drink Card??

This one is more or less a personal choice, but I would say don't. When on board, you will have the opportunity to buy a soft drink card and not pay for soft drinks every time you want one. The card is usually about $6.00/day, and given the cost of the soft drinks, it seems like a good deal. However, you are allowed to bring 12 sealed soft drinks or water on board in your checked luggage. If you cruise is 5 days or less, you may consider only buying the card for a couple of days or not at all.

Caribbean Cruises From The Port Of Miami

One of the greatest areas for cruising in the world is in the Caribbean, which is loaded with beautiful islands, great shopping, history, nightlife and more. People travel from all over the world to enjoy this tropical paradise. What greater place to begin your Caribbean cruise than in the mecca of tropical partying, Miami, Florida.

Below we will break down all of the options you have to choose from when sailing from the Port of Miami. Do you want a 4 day cruise, a longer 7 day excursion, or would you like to sail away even longer? Anything is possible! Caribbean Cruises from Miami include all of these along with many different cruise lines and many different combinations of different Caribbean islands.

I will also include the price ranges that the various cruise lines have for their Caribbean cruises out of the Port of Miami. These prices will be for entry level staterooms unless otherwise stated. As each cruise line has many different cruise ships in various stages of aging, you will want to look at the cruise lines fleet to help you in the decision making process. Although the phrase, "you get what you pay for" definitely applies, even the cheaper cruises are full of fun and hit some of the same spots, so a cheaper cruise may be perfect for you.

3-5 Day Eastern Caribbean Cruises From Miami

The Eastern Caribbean Cruise from Miami is one of the best all around trips available. This cruise visits the beautiful tropical paradise of the Caribbean islands, and offers large chunks of time on shore for plenty of exploration, eating, shopping and more.

The 3-5 day Eastern Caribbean Cruise out of Miami visits the islands of Grand Bahama, Nassau, Coco Cay, and Key West, among others. Although these trips are through slightly rougher seas than the Western Caribbean cruises from Miami, they offer much more time on shore to truly get the real Caribbean experience.

Western Caribbean 3-5 Day Cruises From Miami

One of the most common cruises, especially for new cruisers is a Western Caribbean cruise. The stops on these cruises generally have cheaper shopping and the cruises are smoother rides as they travel through the Gulf of Mexico, avoiding the rougher seas of the Eastern Caribbean. These cruises also tend to be a little cheaper on average.

The 3-5 day Western Caribbean cruises out of Miami generally focus on Cozumel, Mexico and Grand Cayman, but can include stops at Key West, Florida, Kingstown, Jamaica, or even Colon, Panama. As these are shorter cruises, there will generally be only one or two ports of call and the cruise will include one or two days at sea. Although you are not able to visit a new country on the days at sea, many people enjoy the fun on deck and there are even some avid cruisers who rarely leave the ship when it is docked.

3-5 day Western Caribbean cruises from Miami begin in the $200 range for small interior cabins, with deals available just under that. Cruises can be found on Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, and Disney.
7 Day Caribbean Cruises From Miami
Few cruise packages offer as much fun, scenery, history, and beauty as a 7-day Caribbean cruise from the Port of Miami. Whether it is in the Eastern or Western Caribbean, you will visit several different islands, have plenty of fun at sea, and return to port wondering when your next cruise will be.

The 6-9 day cruises from Miami visit a large number of destinations including: St. Maarten, St. Thomas, Nassau, Jamaica, Grand Cayman, Cozumel, Honduras, Belize, Puerto Rico, Turks and Caicos, Dominican Republic, Tortola, Antigua, Bassaterre, and more. Each cruise usually includes 3 or 4 ports of call including 8-10 hours of shore time at each. These cruises generally start around $400 but can be found just below that on specials.

The cruise lines offering these cruises include Norwegian, Carnival, and Celebrity and also include the Norwegian Epic, Norwegian's largest ship.

Other Caribbean Cruises From Miami

Cruises from the Port of Miami also include some longer iteneraries. 10-14 day trips from Miami include ports such as: Colombia, Aruba, Curacao, St. Maarten, St. Thomas, Dominica, Barbados, St. Lucia, the Panama Canal, Puerto Vallarta, Los Angeles, Barcelona, Denmark, and Cabo San Lucas. These trips may include starting at Miami and ending your trip at another port, perhaps in another country. They also include cruises that cross the Atlantic.

There are also longer cruises that range from 15-22 night cruises that include transatlantic cruises and Panama Canal cruises. These cruises visit ports such as Barcelona, Rome, Marseille, Naples, San Diego, and more.

These long distance cruises begin at around $600 and include Carnival, Celebrity, Costa, and Norwegian cruise lines.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Wakulla Springs: An Excellent Southern Vacation Stop

As you should be able to tell from some of my other posts, the Deep South has plenty of small stops to add to any Southern Vacation. Whether you are looking for nature, amusement parks, history, or anything else, the South has plenty to add to your travel.

Photo by Olga Caprotti

Some of the best places to experience the South in Florida are the natural springs. Most have surrounding state parks with camping, picnicking, nature trails and more to give you a great day of fun and relaxation.

A great spring with a state park is located in Wakulla County, Florida, just south of the state capitol of Tallahassee, Florida. It is also a short drive from some of the great beaches of the Florida Panhandle.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places and designated as a National Natural Landmark, the Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park has plenty to offer. There is swimming in the cool springs, the largest and deepest freshwater springs in the world. Be ready, though, it's pretty cool.

There is also plenty of wildlife to see at the park. With boat tours and glass-bottom boat tours, visitors can see all of the fish, turtles, and many alligators that are in the Wakulla River. On these guided tours you can also see deer, native birds, and other wildlife that live in the surrounding area.

Although there is no camping at this park, there are other opportunities such as picnicking and great nature trails for hiking and bicycling. There is also a lodge that is open year round for large meetings.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Lights, Animals, And Sports At Callaway Gardens

Just outside Pine Mountain, Georgia and just northeast of the Franklin D. Roosevelt State Park, Callaway Gardens is a destination for just under a million visitors annually. Founded in 1952 by Cason J. Callaway and his wife Virginia Hand Callaway, this park and nature preserve are home to a wide range of attractions which include activities for winter, spring, summer and autumn.

Begun as a haven to promote and protect native species of the Azalea, a southern staple for flowering shrubs and bushes, Callaway Gardens has always had a large emphasis on both plant life and wildlife alike. With many horticultural attractions, such as the Azalea Bowl, the John A. Sibley Horticultural Center, and the "Mr. Cason's Vegetable Garden", visitors can spend hours enjoying the beautiful scenery while learning at the same time.

With their large acreage and great facilities, Callaway Gardens is a great place for all kinds of events and seasonal attractions. The most visited of these are the Masters Water Ski & Wakeboard Tournament on Memorial Day weekend, the Steeplechase the first Saturday of November, the Sky High Hot Air Balloon Festival on Labor Day weekend, and the "Fantasy In Lights" in November and December.

The "Fantasy In Lights" is a very large draw for the park, as thousands from surrounding counties and states make an annual trip to see it. The lights can be seen from your car or you can get a ticket for a trolley to see the lights with a narrator. While you wait for the trolley, you can visit the big top tent which is filled with many vendors of Christmas and holiday crafts and merchandise or visit Santa Clause for special requests. Outside near the trolley station there are several different food vendors and many tables to eat or enjoy hot chocolate or hot apple cider prior to your Christmas lights tour.

The wildlife attractions at Callaway are also amazing. The two main attractions are the Cecil B. Day Butterfly Center and the birds of prey exhibition. The butterfly center has over 1,000 butterflies all in an 80 degree atrium (so be prepared to be warm). These butterflies are easily photographed and will sometimes even land on you, so this is excellent for young children. Inside the atrium there are also large Koi ponds and educational areas to tell about the butterflies and the building itself.

The birds of prey exibition is in the outdoor amphitheater overlooking the water. They have all kinds of birds of prey flying over your head from trainer to trainer, including hawks and even a buzzard. This show is great for young and old alike and lasts about 45 minutes. All of these exibits are free of charge after you have paid to enter the park.

Although the Christmas lights presentation at Callaway Gardens is one of the most widely known attractions, many people come to Callaway for golf, hiking, nature and wildlife education and more. Along with the many attractions surrounding Pine Mountain, GA and the Franklin D. Roosevelt State Park, there are many things to do in the area surrounding Callaway Gardens, making it one of the most desirable destinations in the Southeastern U.S.

Along with the large events like the Steeplechase and the Water Ski & Wakeboard Tournament, there are many athletic and fitness opportunities for the thousands of year round visitors to the park. Callaway Gardens is home to some of the greatest golf the South has to offer. From 1991 to 2002 the Gardens was home to the Buick Challenge on the PGA tour. The Gardens has 27 holes of golf that will challenge your golf skills and provide a relaxing outing at the same time.

The Gardens has several walking, hiking, and biking trails including a 10 mile Discover Bike Trail. These trails provide great nature and wildlife viewing along with access to the other attractions at the park. There is also the Mountain Creek Tennis Center which is located across Hwy 27 from the main park. Families and children can also enjoy the world's largest man-made beach at the Robin Lake Beach complex, and possibly see the Florida State University's Flying High Circus which has shows near the beach every summer.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Some Ways To Get A Great Southern Travel Deal!

When you are preparing to book vacations or mini vacations, how you book your flight, rental car, and accommodations can very much affect your bottom line. As you know, the less you have to pay on each of these, the more you can spend while you are enjoying the location. And if you book with bad information, you could end up with a shabby hotel next to a construction site or 15 miles from the attraction you are going to visit. Whether you are booking for Summer fun or looking for Christmas vacation packages, getting good information early is key.

There are many different websites that claim to have great vacation deals and great service, but if you have traveled often, you have found better deals, usually after you took the trip. Who hasn't been on a vacation and saw a resort or hotel they didn't see when booking? Below are 5 Great Vacation Websites You Missed! Try them out, they will not disappoint. They could help make your best family vacation ever!

Sidestep-Quick And Easy

This search engine is perfect for the on-the-go traveler looking for business trip accommodations or Christmas vacation packages. It works great on a computer, and it has a great mobile comparability for smartphones. is quick, easy, and painless for the frequent traveler.

This site compiles information from most of the major travel search engines to give you a larger volume of opinions and reviews. And, because it has the other sites' information, it can compare all of their prices for you. For a room near a business convention, mini vacations to regain your sanity, or the full-fledged cruise to the Caribbean, Sidestep can save you time and aggravation.

Discover Our Town: Go Local!

How often have you gone on a vacation and saw a great bed and breakfast or a local restaurant and didn't know anything about them? How better to truly experience an area you are relaxing in than to know and visit the local flavors? If you are visiting a Southern vacation spot and only hit the most popular spots, you have definitely missed out! takes you where you want to go, shows you the local accommodations and everything there is to experience. Looking to play golf? Find the top public golf course in Florida. Don't wish you knew a good local restaurant the next trip, find it!

VRBO, No...That Is Not A Typo

It doesn't matter if you have a family of 6 or go it solo, sometimes you want a great vacation without having to be in a hotel. Wandering around in your undies isn't exactly conducive to the hotel or condo lifestyle.

If a secluded vacation spot that makes you feel at home is what you want then look no further when booking your week stays or mini vacations. will help you find vacation houses to rent wherever you're going. Also, this site links you with the owner or local management company... Cutting out the middle-man means savings for you!

Apple Vacations... Mr Jobs Is Not The Guide

For those who are looking for the "whole package," is perfect. They have packages to US, European, Caribbean and other vacation spots.
Apple offers non-stop service beginning when you book a package, continuing when a representative meets you at the destination airport, and ending when you are back home getting ready for the next vacation. Apple has quality as well as savings, the best of both worlds. This company is definitely the best if you want everything taken care of for the perfect vacation, be it a North Carolina Skiing trip or a diving trip in the Cayman Islands.

Vacation Outlet... Who Doesn't Like Outlet Shopping?

This is definitely the place for the spontaneous traveler... or the procrastinator. You can find any last minute deal you can think of here. Be it cruise, flight or all-inclusive, has it all.
You will find many different packages including Oahu, Hawaii vacations, or you can plan your trip, like planning your first cruise, piece by piece. This company also has a 24 year track record of travel service, so you can sleep soundly as you dream of your coming vacation.