Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Get out there and EXPLORE!

By TravelGirl:

Last night I was thinking to myself, "What good is a travel blog if you're not traveling?" Then, my brain reminded me that half the fun in actually experiencing travel is in the planning of the adventure. A fair amount of planning goes into our travels, but that's not to say that we don't leave opportunities for impulsive decisions.

For example, we're planning a full transit of the Panama Canal in March with some good friends. We'll call them Jessie and Devin to protect their innocence (I just wanted to say that, as it reminds me of Dragnet). We plan to fly to Acapulco, and then embark on a 10-day sail that will take us south to Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama before spending time at sea in the canal itself and crossing over into the Caribbean to Jamaica, and finally up to the Atlantic waters of Ft. Lauderdale. This little journey has been on our calendars for just about a year and while we plan to leave some time to just explore and spontaneously run about (or is that 'run amuk'?), we are making plans to see some of the natural wonders of Central America.

For example, in Guatemala, how cool would it be to explore Antigua and visit the old churches and museums? Or, what about experiencing Lake Nicaragua and the centuries-old Spanish churches, convents and homes? Nothing really floats my boat more than the thought of seeing monkeys swinging through trees or just hanging out in Costa Rica, and buying some good ol' Costa Rican coffee. Can you say, "Yum. If I drink 2 cups in the morning and 2 cups at night, I hope to have some left over to bring home and share?" Share really isn't a word that most only children know about, but I have learned over the years that giving is WAY more fulfilling than receiving. So, I think I'll plan to bring some of that good java back and let others experience what we did through the essence of some good Central American joe. And if that's not enough, perhaps we can pick up a little mini bobsled ornament when we visit the new Mystic Mountain Jamaica bobsled park. Can you just visualize yourself zoom, zoom, zooming down a Jamaican mountain with no snow? Imagine it. It could be you. I sure hope it will be me.

While we live and breathe travel every day of our lives, it's in the planning and the research we do for travel clients, and in the anticipation of our own upcoming travels. Remember this -- "The world is a book, and those who do not travel, read only a page." ~Saint Augustine

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Aruba remembered

By TravelGirl:

Having returned from Aruba almost three weeks ago, we thought it was about time we updated the blog with some final thoughts on our travels to this beautiful and serene island. After all, we spent nearly two weeks traveling to, enjoying, and traveling home from the southern Caribbean.

Our visit not only included the fantastic eats at The Dutch Pancakehouse (and by the way, we have since learned to cook poffertjes at home!), the colorful snorkeling in and around the off-shore reefs, the CRAZY Kuku Kanuku paranda bus, the BEST all-around fare at Que Pasa, the Indian cave drawings at Arikok National Park, a visit to the aloe fields, genuine hospitality from the locals, and the crystal clear waters surrounding the island, but the island also presented us with magical gifts that we won't soon forget.

As most of our days were spent with a mixture of sunning, exploration to all parts of the island, inquisitive conversations with locals, sampling a variety of specialty foods and beverages, and truly living life like it was meant to be lived, every evening bestowed the most humbling sunsets ever imagined. Specifically, Arashi Beach -- Its lack of facilities generally keeps most tourists away from exploring this wonderland, yet the unspoiled nature of the area delivered a calmness and appreciation not found on other areas of the island. Its picturesque beauty is truly a vision plastered in my memory as an imprint of a place that I will forever remember. It's amazing how a sunset on a quiet beach can be so powerful, isn't it?

When we travel, we create memories and experiences that each of us holds in a different way. TravelGuy and I have found a way to live our dreams through travel. After all, life is short and each year seems to pass by quicker than the last. We can't get that time back, but we can look forward to what's next.

What's keeping you from living your dreams?

Monday, October 12, 2009

The good, the bad, and the fantabulous of Aruba

By TravelGirl:

After six days in Aruba, we've experienced some likes, dislikes, and some loves -- a few of which we want to share at this point in the journey.

First, one of our loves -- The Dutch Pancakehouse (yes, they spell it as one long word). TravelGuy and I stopped by this place in the Renassiance Marketplace a couple of days ago searching for a quick bite and not knowing what was in store. These little silver-dollar sized pancakes taste like they were fried in a ton of butter (and probably were) and practically melt in your mouth like cotton candy. With so many choices of pancake toppings/dippings, we agreed on chocolate, egg nog, and ice cream to satisfy our palettes. Ok, can you say, "Gimme some more!"? If it weren't for the fact that we had spent the day on the beach drinking cruise juice/vacation tang, sampling local brews, and indulging in amaretto/coffee drinks we may have splurged and put ourselves in sugar comas by ordering more. Instead, we opted to save ourselves for future visits, and I'm happy to say we returned today with Ryan (our traveling companion, partner in crime, and sun-loving "beachie"). This time around we chowed on more of the baby pancakes along with sweet crepes, and will likely make another return visit in the next day to round out our craving with some savory Dutch eats. We are challenging ourselves to find a breakfast/lunch/dinner/dessert place that can compete with The Dutch Pancakehouse in Aruba, so if you know of one please holler!

Ok, now our primary dislike -- Mamba Jamba. Admittedly, we were drawn here because of a coupon for a free Mamba Rita. This cantina-style Mexican joint is located in the Royal Plaza Mall in downtown Oranjestad, up on the second level overlooking the passersby (great for people watching) and the cruise port. Sounds nice, eh? Fast forward to the moment we placed our order. We ordered our free Mambo Rita and were told that there does not exist a Mambo Rita, but we could have a pina colada instead. Never one to pass up a drink with a plastic monkey (I'm referring to the bejeweled plastic placed in my glass, and not referring to Alex), it sounded like a fair trade. Interesting thing is that the pina colada ended up being one of those flavorless frozen drinks that come out of a machine (yeah, just like the $1 frozen drinks you get in downtown Las Vegas on Fremont). We then decided to split the shrimp wrap but were told they were out of shrimp. Really? Hmm...ok. Well, we needed something to go along with the fake pina colada so decided to split some nachos. See image. Yep, those are round tortilla chips purchased at the Super Foods store down the street, a can of cheese sauce, and picante sauce. Disgusting. Gross. Waste of money. 30 minutes and $16 later (yep, $16 for chips, picante sauce, cheese sauce, and one cocktail), we left, and vowed to blog about it and later provide a thorough review on TripAdvisor along with the likes/loves of Aruba. Thinking of Mamba Jamba? Skip the free cocktail and head back to The Dutch Pancakehouse.

Finally, one of our likes after just 6 days -- Pelican Adventures' snorkeling tour. Ever heard of the Antilla? It's a German ship that wrecked off the coast of Aruba in the 1940s during WWII. To make a long story short, the ship's captain created an explosion (rather than surrender to the Dutch Marines) in order to destroy the ship. He was successful, it exploded, split in half, and sank in eight minutes (though the crew was safe as long as they swam to shore before the sharks got them!). Today we got to see that 410 foot ship up close and personal as part of a two-site snorkel trip -- to Boca Catalina where we saw a plethora of fish and eel, and to the Antilla shipwreck where your imagination could place you inside the hull over 60 years ago. If you get a chance to snorkel in Aruba, a visit to the Antilla is a must!

With six days left on our Aruban journey, we plan to create memories at Arashi Beach, Malmok Beach, Surfside Beach, San Nicolas, and various other natural sites around the island via bus, jeep, and car. We might even find time for a few more visits to The Dutch Pancakehouse. Stay tuned.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Journey to the paradise called Aruba

By TravelGirl:

It's been a month since we've posted a blog update but I think we'll be making up for it as we blog daily (or close to it) while on our trip to, in, and from Aruba.

The journey to paradise was a long one, albeit worth the hassles of 4 flight segments, waiting for resolution on a maintenance issue on one plane, jetway personnel who were "off" when we needed them to be "on", and enduring some of the most smelly, unhygenic, H1N1-spreading, and interesting people the world has to offer. Ah, travel. Don'tcha love it?

We arrived very late into Aruba last night due to a delay, but the bottom line is that we made it to this breezy, warm paradise. By the time we arrived to the Hyatt Regency on Palm Beach -- one of three lodgings we'll be enjoying -- it was 11 p.m. We learned that Aruba restaurants close very, very early, with no kitchens open beyond that time along Palm Beach, and our bellies were only full of cheese sticks, granola bars, and pretzels/carbs distributed by various flight attendants during our 24 hours of crazy travel. We opted for cocktails at the open-air bar in the middle of our resort. I enjoyed an Arashi, a tropical refreshment to soothe my aching and dry tummy, while Alex opted for his signature drink -- a Coke with no ice. The stroll through the Hyatt grounds presented us with black swans, tropical fish, gardens, small bridges, various pools, hot tubs, lounge chairs, and finally the palapas on the beach. Imagine Bo Derek running in slow motion along the Mexican beach in the movie, "10". That was Alex and I last night, though less endowed, and neither of us sporting corn rolls.

As I type this, Alex is playing with an iguana that has climbed his way up to our balcony. Iguanas are such beautiful creatures, with various shades of green along their long bodies. It's got to be good Feng Shui to have THAT much green on your skin, eh? Luckily, I saved some leftover salad from our in-room dining service last night, enabling Alex to feed our guy (we've named him Iggy) some greens. We've video-taped this little escapade, but how cool is it to practically hand-feed an iguana that knocked on your door?

I'll make this a short update, as we're anxious to get out to enjoy some local eats, frolic in the sand, and capture some Aruban culture. More later...

Monday, September 7, 2009

Land and Cruise Travel Packing Tips

By TravelGirl:

It really amazes me how much luggage people bring on a weekend getaway or on a 2-week adventure. Why, people, why? Do you REALLY enjoy lugging around bags while you're traveling? Why is it that so many women must emulate their daily cosmetic routine while traveling for leisure? I just don't understand it. Leave the make-up at home! Travel light and enjoy your time OUTSIDE of your hostel, hotel, resort, yurt, villa, vacation rental, or cruise cabin. Get out and see the world.

Alex and I typically don't check our luggage when we travel. Prior to an 18-day trip to Europe in 2005, I took a "packing class" in Edmonds, WA offered by one of Rick Steves' packing gurus, and WOW did I learn a lot. Since then, it has been my goal to never again check a bag on a plane flight. I admit though that some of my overseas purchases have included many bottles of rum, and therefore, I've been required to check a bag on the way home.

If you've traveled with Alex and I, you have seen our brows raise when we see the plethora of bags you've decided to schlep along with you. Not only does this delay the start of your travels when you've landed at your destination, but it also delays the start of the adventure for your travel companions who are waiting with you at the baggage carousel. Out of courtesy for your travel buddies, and to get you moving along to begin your journey, we've decided to arm you with a couple of packing resources. After all, you really don't want to spend your time packing, and waiting for, multiple bags of luggage…do you?

My favorite packing tips for land travel is from Rick Steves.

My favorite packing tips for cruise travel is from Cruise Diva, Linda Coffman.

I hope you'll learn as much as I did. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Agency Cruise Deals -- What are you waiting for?

By TravelGuy --

Many of you have asked me to look for special cruise deals, so I thought I’d make it really easy on everyone by posting the cruises where my agency is offering extra benefits. If you call me to book one of the cruises below, you will receive the benefits associated. Not enough sun where you live? Take a cruise! Too much sun where you live? Take a cruise! What are you waiting for?

9/26/09 -- 7-night Mexican Riviera cruise aboard Sapphire Princess starting at $444/pp, departs L.A. (Receive $75 onboard credit per cabin)

9/28/09 – 12-night Pacific Coastal “wine” cruise aboard Celebrity Millennium starting at $580/pp, departs Vancouver, BC (Receive $100 onboard credit per cabin)

10/12/09 – 10-night Mediterranean cruise aboard Oceania Insignia starting at $1500/pp, departs Barcelona, Spain (Receive prepaid gratuities of $132/pp, free airfare, and $100 onboard credit per cabin)

10/24/09 – 7-night Mexican Riviera cruise aboard Sapphire Princess starting at $464/pp, departs L.A. (Receive $75 onboard credit per cabin)

10/25/09 – 14-night Hawaii cruise aboard Golden Princess starting at $1145/pp, departs LA (Receive $100 onboard credit per cabin)

11/09/09 – 5-night Key West/Bahamas cruise aboard Carnival Fascination starting at $170/pp, departs Jacksonville, FL (Receive $100 onboard credit per cabin)

11/16/09 – 4-night Baja Mexico cruise aboard Carnival Elation starting at $70/pp, departs San Diego (Receive $75 onboard credit per cabin)

11/16/09 – 5-night Eastern Caribbean cruise aboard Carnival Destiny starting at $240/pp, departs Miami, FL (Receive $100 onboard credit per cabin)

11/22/09 – 7-night Eastern Caribbean cruise aboard Freedom of the Seas starting at $560/person, departs Port Canaveral, FL (Receive $50 onboard credit per cabin)

12/5/09 – 8-night Exotic Mexican Riviera cruise aboard Carnival Spirit starting at $350/pp, departs San Diego (Receive $100 onboard credit + bottle of red wine)

Be looking for some updated ship tour videos soon! or 206.335.4676

Monday, August 10, 2009

Phoenix vs. Seattle after 3 ½ weeks

By TravelGuy --

We arrived in Phoenix on Thursday July 16th. Here are some similarities and some differences between the two cities:

• Seattle has 7 letters
• Phoenix has 7 letters

• Phoenix’s light rail system opened in December, 2008
• Seattle’s light rail system opened in an abbreviated version on July 18th, 2009

• Phoenicians still love Randy Johnson
• Seattleites still love Randy Johnson… mostly

• The Phoenix Cardinals play in the NFC west and lost in the Super Bowl to the Steelers
• The Seattle Seahawks play in the NFC west and lost in the Super Bowl to the Steelers

• Phoenix had only one of two Costco Home stores in the country and it just shut down
• Seattle (Kirkland) had only one of two Costco Home stores in the country and it just shut down

• Phoenix has cowboys
• Seattle has Cowgirls Inc.

• In Phoenix you can go through neighborhoods where 100% of the store signs are in Spanish
• In Seattle you can go through neighborhoods where 100% of the store signs are Chinese, Japanese, Thai and Vietnamese

• Phoenicians look forward to October when it cools to the 80s
• Seattleites look forward to July when it warms to the 80s

• Phoenix has excessive heat warnings when the temperature goes above 110 degrees
• Seattle has excessive heat warnings when the temperature goes above 85 degrees

• Phoenix just suffered through its hottest July on record
• Seattle just suffered through its hottest day on record during July (103 degrees)

• Phoenix does not observe daylight savings time during winter
• Seattleites rarely get any daylight time during winter

• It is a 5 hour drive (approximately) from Phoenix to Las Vegas, San Diego or Los Angeles
• It is a 5 hour drive (approximately) from Seattle to Spokane or Eugene

• The median home price in Seattle is $369,000
• The median home price in Phoenix is $192,790

• The average price for gas in Washington is $2.80
• The average price for gas in Arizona is $2.51

• Phoenix drivers will park at the other end of the parking lot to score some shade
• Seattle drivers will go around and around the parking lot to get 3 spots closer to the entrance if it’s raining

• Phoenix drivers will tailgate you while on their cell phones. They are relentless.
• Seattle drivers will hang out in the left/fast lane while doing 60 mph. They are relentless.

• About 50% of Phoenix drivers start to coast forward in anticipation of a green light
• About 50% of Seattle drivers have no clue when they’re supposed to go at a 4-way stop

• Phoenix has suicide lanes that become normal lanes during rush hour
• Seattle has the highest rate of suicide in the country

• Phoenix has cactus everywhere
• Seattle has Cactus in Madison Valley (and it’s delicious!)

• Phoenix dog parks have quite a bit of poop laying around
• Seattleites will dial 911 if they see someone not pick up after their dog

• In Seattle, the garbage/recycle man hops out of his truck, picks up the trash can and physically dumps it in the truck or they wheel the bin over to the truck which then lifts and dumps the contents
• In Phoenix, the garbage/recycle man never gets out of his truck. He pulls along side the bin, then a giant metal claw extends, clamps around the bin, lifts it up and over the top of the truck and dumps the contents. I love this!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Road Trippin’ to Phoenix

By TravelGirl --

It’s no secret that TravelGuy and I are relocating to Phoenix, Arizona in mid-July. To prepare for our big move from Seattle, we drove to Phoenix over the course of three days last week, stopping to enjoy the beautiful and not-so-beautiful scenery along the way.

Our journey began on a Wednesday morning, with blue skies and decent weather for Seattlelow to mid 70s. Heading east through the state, we set our sights on driving with no plans. In other words, we really had no idea how many hours our bodies could sit still in a car (even though we had endured a 17-hour drive up I-95 a couple of years ago as we escaped a hurricane on the east coast). So, we opted to just find a little motel each night that could offer a place to sleep and shower.

We ended up driving about 8-9 hours to Twin Falls, Idaho where we landed upon a Motel 6. All the basics were there, plus friendly staff, but no frills. You get what you pay for and $66 dollars later we had a room. ‘Nuff said. Morning greeted us with more sunshine, and we were simply happy driving in 75 degree weather with mostly blue skies. Our route took us into northern Utah where freeway speeds increased to 80 mph. Really? I mean, that’s great and all, but unless the freeway is paved with the ability to withstand those speeds, cars simply bump along. It was a very rough ride on a road not paved well, but paved with good intentions.

We drove through Utah -- first Ogden, then Salt Lake City, then Provo, passing through places like Payson, Meadow, and Panguitch, through beautiful mountains, forests, and canyons. The temps seemed to stay a comfortable 75 and at times crept up toward 80, just enough for us to use the AC. The comfort of the heat brought immediate delight to a couple of people who relish that big fat orange thing in the sky. Evening would be arriving soon, and we knew we must find a place for our heads before we got too far into the canyons where there would be no services. We passed through gorgeous Bryce Canyon, Hatch, Glendale, and Orderville, and happened upon Kanab which appeared to be our last viable stop before driving into Arizona.

Ah, Kanab. If you have never been to Kanab, go there. If you have no idea where Kanab is or why you should go, keep reading. Kanab is known as the “Little Hollywood” of Utah. This is the place where the old westerns were filmed. Remember TV shows like Maverick, Bonanza, The Lone Ranger, and Gunsmoke? How about movies such as Wagon Train, Buffalo Bill, The Outlaw Josey Wales, or Planet of the Apes (both 1968 and 2001 versions)? Well, all of those shows (plus many more) were filmed in and around Kanab, Utah. What’s even more interesting is that we happened to stay at The Parry Lodge. Of all accommodations in Kanab, we stumbled upon the one where many of the western stars stayed during their shoots. In fact, we stayed in Joey Bishop’s room. Yes, Joey Bishop from the Rat Pack. He stayed there while filming Sergeants 3 in 1962 with pals Frank, Dean, Sammy, and Peter. While I won’t make this a review about The Parry Lodge, I will say that if you are ever in beautiful southern Utah, a stay here is a must. You’ll even be treated to a free western in the barn!

Friday morning brought more sun and increasing temperatures. Heading east on 89, we drove along Lake Powell, took pictures from the bridge, and TravelGuy pretended to be Phil Keoghan (host of Amazing Race) explaining a Road Block. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, never mind. If you do, then this is where you chuckle and just picture TravelGuy as the host of Amazing Race. Lake Powell is set amid deep canyons carving out majestic red rock waterways. If you have never been there, add it to your list of places to see.

Heading into Arizona the temperatures continued to climb well into the 80s. Our AC was happy to keep us cool, performing a function it was rarely able to serve while in Seattle. We had some extra time, and since we’d both only seen the Grand Canyon several times from a plane, we really wanted to see this natural wonder close up. Entering from the south rim, we stopped at the Desert View viewpoint and looked out at the canyon below. Simply breathtaking. We moved along to additional viewpoints on our way to Grand Canyon Village, and noticed something quite different. Many of the viewing areas were not blocked off by a railing. A loss of balance could have meant falling a mile to one’s death. Needless to say, we never got within 10 feet of the ledge but were able to clearly see the inner depths of the canyon, the Colorado River, and view both east and west from the viewpoint at Yavapai Point where there is an observation deck. At some point we plan to go back to camp and do some hiking.

The day wore on and the heat started to warm our blood to the point of discomfort. As we meandered our way out of the national park and over to Flagstaff, the temperature began nearing 90. We were in Arizona, so we didn’t care. We were in an air conditioned car, so we cared even less. One more hour to go and we’d be in Phoenix…but then…the worst happened. The temperature had hit about 95 degrees, and our air conditioning stopped! Yes, the poor car had no idea what to do. Coming from Seattle, the AC was a rarely used feature, but on this road trip it was a constant. We spent our last hour headed to Phoenix with a systematic rolling up and down of our windows, pulling over to check fuses, hydrating as much as possible, and trying to keep the sweat and discomfort to a minimum. In the end, after the replacement of a $1200 air compressor, we were officially initiated into the southwest and openly accepted our sweaty state of being. After all, we made it to Phoenix, we found a great house we’ll be renting, I went to an interview, and all is good in the world. We flew back to Seattle a few days later, left my chilled car with our dear friends, and plan to be back to make a new life there in less than three weeks.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Have pool will travel.

By TravelGirl --

What a summer it’s been in Seattle. We actually hit 80 degrees in late May, and here we are approaching mid-June and we’ve had consistent 70-80 degree weather for two straight weeks now! If you’re not from the Pacific Northwest, you’re probably thinking, “Hmm…sounds a little chilly to me.” The truth is, it is usually drizzly, rainy, and cloudy, at least on and off in June. Not this year. Perhaps we’re making up for the 6 snow storms we had this past winter? Or, the snow/hail we experienced in April? Who knows for sure, but I think it’s all Mother Nature’s ploy to try to get TravelGuy and I to stay in Seattle.

That’s right folks – we are moving to sunny Phoenix! We’ve had enough of the grey skies 10 months out of the year (well, ok, not counting this month), and the continual investment in moss remover, duck shoes, sweaters, carpet cleaning (yeah, when ya have dogs in the Northwest, count on a dirty carpet or get wood floors or laminates). It feels like we spend most of our time complaining about the crappy weather, then raving about the 75 degrees when we get it. I seriously feel like the topic of weather is the number one thing we talk about here, and now I’m blogging about it.

Phoenix, here we come! Ok, so we’re not set on where we’re going to live yet, but we have a great list of rental houses we plan to visit soon. Our good friends (Jimmi and Kevin) have been fantabulous in providing feedback, though I DO know that as a native girl from the PNW, if I am packing up and moving to Arizona you BETTER BELIEVE that any house I live in will have a pool. A private pool is almost more important than a bathroom. Well, if you know me, I guess that statement really isn’t true. Anyway, while we get ready to spring from Seattle in favor of Phoenix, we will always remember the great memories we have created here (and in Portland of course!) with our friends, family, neighbors, co-workers – all good times. Let the good times continue in the Northwest, and may we create new memories in the desert.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

My pets are not packages.

By TravelGirl --

Pets on Airlines. Love it. A Pets-Only Airline. Even better.

Southwest Airlines announced this week that they will start allowing pets on their aircraft. Well, woop – tee – doo! It’s about time! This isn’t new in the travel world. It’s just new for Southwest. I really don’t understand some of the rage from current Southwest customers about this. Other airlines, except Frontier, allow this and they’ve reported very few negative incidents. In fact, just like a screaming child, a pet can be moved to another seat (or UNDER another seat, rather) where they won’t bother someone who may be allergic. Yes, I wrote that correctly. Some people are allergic to children simply because of their distaste for the small humans. And, some people are obviously allergic to pet dander. My point is that you can’t please everyone but there are measures in place to make sure passengers will be kept safe.

The fact that Southwest is finally acknowledging that pets are family members is one step closer to improving how we treat animals. How would you feel if you were placed in cargo hold? I mean, really! Why is it ok to do that to a dog or cat? Is it because they are an inferior species to humans? Is that what we think as a society? Sad. In fact, the Humane Society of the United States recommends we do not transport our furry friends in cargo hold…ever! Many deaths have resulted from extremely high or low temperatures, and “pet parents” have found their animals dead on arrival to their destination. If they survive the flight in cargo, they are subjected to conditions where their kennels are unstable and can jiggle and move about during the flight. How would you like your beloved dog to fly in the dark, without you, in extreme temperatures, being tossed about? I can’t even imagine.

Then there is the new airline – Pet Airways – where you can send your fluffy babies in a first class environment – a pre-boarding pet lounge, a potty break, flight attendant service during the flight, and a post-flight pet lounge where you get to pick up your furry kids upon their arrival. No, pet parents -- you can’t come along. The only downside that I see for this service is that it’s only offered in a limited number of cities – New York, Washington D.C., L.A., Denver, and Chicago – and airfare starts at $149 each way.

Perhaps if we can evolve the way we think about and treat animals, we will see that our companions deserve better. We’ll get more in return as a result. Who doesn’t need more unconditional love?

I am dedicating this blog post to my dear sweet Charlie. Charlie was my kitty for the last 16 years, and we made the tough decision to let him go this past Saturday due to a severe illness that he couldn’t beat. He was a beloved housecat, and will be missed by all of us.

Charlie Jacobs – 1992 - 2009

Monday, May 25, 2009

Final cruise?

By TravelGirl --

Imagine this – You’ve just graduated from high school after what seems like an eternity. All of those hours spent in math class, at school dances, at football games, studying for mid-terms and finals have finally come to an end and you get to celebrate with 35 of your classmates! Your parents got together and sent you on a week-long cruise out of New Orleans to Key West and the Bahamas as your big bang into adulthood. How cool would that be?

Then, imagine your second night at sea. You and your friends are scarfing down at the buffet, dancing and partying, and just having a grand ol’ time when you find out your classmate is missing and has reportedly fallen overboard. What a horrifying feeling for you, your friend, and for his family!

Well, that happened last night – again. It seems like we hear about a handful of people falling overboard from cruise ships every year. What’s really perplexing is that it is actually difficult to fall over the railings. If you are standing on the railing, yes you could fall over. If you are sitting on the side of the railing, yes you could fall over. If you leap over the side and dangle, yes you could fall over. Those are all deliberate actions one must take or be forced into taking. It just makes me wonder if foul play is involved in many of the overboard stories we hear about since no one would intentionally do those things. Would they?

It’s so sad to hear about news like this, and especially when it’s a young person whose best years are yet to come. Positive thoughts and wishes go to the family and friends of 18-year-old Bruce O'Krepki in hopes he will be found safe and unharmed.

Monday, May 18, 2009

In a rut? Travel.

By TravelGirl --

It’s been a week since we’ve blogged from Playa del Carmen. You’d think our fingers were broken from typing, but the truth is that life has just been very busy. I flew to Phoenix for a couple of days while TravelGuy stayed in Seattle and caught up on some client travel planning and booking.

Life is good, despite the return to rain in Seattle. We actually hit the mid-70s for several of the past days, which is typical of late June weather here, but we welcome that in mid-May. Why is it that some people (me included) respond so heavily to the changing weather patterns? I feel it in my knees and my mood. While generally a positive person, something about the gray skies seem to make my surroundings dirty and create a feeling of uneasiness. Maybe it’s because I know my doggies will end up with muddy feet after spending 10 minutes in the yard? Perhaps it’s because my arthritis is screaming at me? Whatever it is, I’m a statistic of a PNWerner who lacks Vitamin D about 10 months out of the year. With a bit of luck and perseverance, that will change. Enjoy May, and what it has to offer, and most of all…get yourself out into the huge world. There is so much to do and see. Get out of any rut you might be in. Travel.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

One last night of shrimp tacos, for now anyway.

By TravelGirl --

Here we are, spending our last few hours in Playa looking out at the beautiful Caribbean, enjoying the swaying of the palm trees, updating a blog with a laptop. Somehow this seems out of place, though a Muzak version of “Dust in the Wind” by Kansas is more out of place than I.

We spent last night in the main drag of Playa, yearning for more shrimp tacos. Our pre-planning had pointed us to El Fogon, which was to have some of the most authentic food in town though about a 6-8 walk block away from the action. The bounces in our steps enabled us to make it through a shack-filled neighborhood to 30th and 6th Calle last night, where we were welcomed by Miguel. It was still about 85 degrees last night at 7 p.m. and something about the heat takes away an appetite. After looking at the menu, we opted for simple drinks, chips and guacamole. Alex drank a Dirty Banana while I sipped an Apple Daiquiri Рgood stuff to wash down the complementary saut̩ed cactus, radishes and cucumbers. Ah, Mexico!

Strong drinks El Fogon does make! We slumbered our way back to the main drag in Playa where the nightlife was barely starting to get underway. Still yearning for shrimp tacos, we headed to El Oasis, another little joint known for its seafood and service, where I indulged on my sought-after shrimp taco (only 20 pesos!) while Alex enjoyed chicken fajitas. The people-watching from this locale was great as it was right off of 5th Avenue, on a side street where many people enter the main downtown area of Playa. We were lucky to have two cute Europeans seated next to us. I wanted to hug them both, but instead…I snuck a pic of them while pretending to photograph Alex. Yeah, I can be sneaky that way.

Finally, we decided to hit the beach and the old favorite – The Blue Parrot. Seated in the sand on the beach at The Blue Parrot, we sipped on a Banana Daiquiri and a Blue Parrot (mixture of blue curacao, vodka, and some other tropical flavor). With a full moon (no, I’m not talking about Alex getting all wild and crazy), sounds of ‘80s music thumped in the night sky as we watched late-night fishermen pulling in their nets against the backdrop of the strobe-like light that was flashing to the beat of “Hungry Like the Wolf”. Seconds later, a child of maybe 9 or 10 asked us for money. The odd part of his request was that he wasn’t selling anything. He simply wanted money. All we had on us was cab fare, and we couldn’t give that to him or we’d be walking 5 miles in the heat. After all, this was a budget vacation so we needed every last peso we had just to get back to our room!

As the clock nearly struck 10 p.m. we decided these two bodies needed to hit the sack, so we headed back for a nightcap of leftover Mexican eggnog, watched the ending of Finding Nemo, and drifted to sleep to the sounds of the seas.

Alaska Airlines canceled our direct flight to Seattle (back in Jan/Feb when all airlines were eliminating itineraries) so we’re flying to LAX this afternoon where we’ll spend the night before flying to Seattle tomorrow morning. Alaska is paying for our hotel since they canceled our original itinerary, and I can only hope it’s within walking distance to shrimp tacos.

While this week in Playa del Carmen is coming to an end, we have reinforced how much we prefer the Riviera Maya and Playa del Carmen to the craziness of Cancun or the Pacific side of Mexico. While ANY side of Mexico is a TREAT, as long as a beach can be appreciated, we know we’ll be back here within the next two years to do it all over again. Now if we could only maintain our tans that long. Ahhhhh…

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Xcaret – Crowds + Corona = The Best Time

By TravelGirl --

Ah, 89 degrees at Xcaret today. It felt like we had the park to ourselves. As each day goes by, we are more and more thankful that we decided to continue with this trip rather than reschedule due to the U.S. Travel Advisory. The park fully re-opened yesterday as Mexico’s government allowed government offices and establishments (holding 80 people or more) to re-open to the public. Still, it was evident tourists are not flocking back to Mexico quite yet…which makes more availability everywhere for us!

If you’ve never been to an eco-park in the Yucatan, imagine part beach, part jungle, part zoo. If you’ve been to Xel-Ha, just imagine a larger version of the park with animals in their habitats EVERYWHERE.

After entering the park, we strolled along several of the walkways to view howler monkeys, spider monkeys, a pig-like swine thingy, iguanas, parrots, manta rays, pumas, bats, flamingos, manatees, a shark, dolphins, turtles, ducks, and a kitty cat…yes, a sweet and loving kitty who obviously had made a home at the park. The cool thing is that the animals were not kept in cages. Instead, they lived in habitats that were separated by lagoons. The lagoons were a simple way to keep the animals from drifting over to the people population, though dumb tourists could easily have hopped into the lagoons to get into the animal areas. Oh how refreshing it is to be in an eco-park void of railings and walls to keep people from falling into water tanks or in with the animals. It just makes for a more natural environment.

Xcaret is built around a series of underwater rivers, and we took advantage of our extra buoyancy this week (yes, we have really enjoyed the cocktails and tacos the last few days) by floating down the 1/3 mile river, partially in the sun, partially underground in the caves. While we have been accustomed to 80 degree Caribbean water, the cave water temperature was a refreshing 75…still nothing to snivel about. It was a refreshing and relaxing boost to the day. Following the river float, we found some beachfront palapas and, you guessed it, we plopped ourselves down for the next 4 hours – Alex in the shade, me in the sun – with an occasional dip in the water to simultaneously view the dolphin show about 100 feet away. Upon our exit from the park, I spotted a pyramid of Coronas. Having consumed mostly Dos Equis the past few days meant I was yearning for the pure taste of that freshly cut lime wedged into the top of a Corona. Quench my thirst it did.

The day’s activities ended with a stroll along the beach, each of us sipping some Mexican egg nog. Wow, that stuff is good! Not sure why it’s considered “Mexican” but the basic ingredients are eggs, milk, macadamia nuts, cane sugar, alcohol, and something else we can’t translate. Ha! The flavor is sort of a sweet caramel, milk nog of some sort, but all I can say is that it’s the perfect nightcap for a sunset stroll and an end to another blissful day in the Riviera Maya.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Mamita’s Beach Club

Wednesday arrived and we decided to get out of our room at the bright and early time of 9:50am. The resort’s complimentary shuttle dropped us off right in the middle of Playa del Carmen. This time we hung out at Mamita’s Beach Club. Great location, great service, and a great beach. For 90 pesos we were able to secure two chaise lounge chairs and a palapa, because the TravelGuy needs his shade. The menu was the most “American” we’ve seen during our trip, featuring: Hamburgers, hotdogs, chicken sandwiches, and spaghetti. They also had fajitas and quesadillas, but no tacos! All in all, Mamita’s is a great beach club with a regular pool and a kiddie pool in the back, a DJ (but not loud and obnoxious), and a section of actual beds on the beach for 200 pesos each. We would definitely spend a day there again.

Supposedly the temperature today hit 95 degrees, though the beaches have been quite breezy so we haven’t really felt it. That being said, we are looking a tad redder than we’d like, so we’ll need to stock up on more sunscreen before venturing out tomorrow to Xcaret to relax even more.

Until tomorrow…