How to have good vacation in bad weather

Old Jan 21st, 2010, 06:50 PM
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How to have good vacation in bad weather


Going to Miami on American Airlines was uneventful, took BART to SFO, $20 for checking in our suitcase, on-time flight. No food at all on that 5.5-hour flight, no peanuts, one soft drink service, after that water only. Off the plane at MIA, the carousel was right there, got our luggage after a short wait, into a taxi to South Beach – flat rate $32.

A funny thing happened in the taxi. I speak with a heavy Russian accent, and the driver is a foreigner. I told him “Clinton hotel” but being not sure he got it, I added: 825 Washington. Sure I was surprised why are we going up Ocean St, maybe a detour? After he asked, is it here, I said, no, wrong street, should be WAshington. After me saying it twice he finally said: ah, WashingtOn? with an accent on O.

So we stayed at Clinton. The location could not be better for us! Ideal for sightseeing but maybe not for a beach – for that Ocean St would be better. The area looked safe, plenty of restaurants. On their own website they give a big discount if you prepay 60 days in advance, non-refundable, we did so and got the “run of the house” room. Too bad there is no law in Florida to keep the hotel halls lighted; our flashlight came in handy. The long hallway was dim, and even to get to the first floor one has to brave 8 steps. Not too convenient after a day out.

The room was the same size as a cruise ship cabin, but the worst thing was the bathroom. While it was spacious and convenient, it has a glass wall between the sink area and the room. Who is that brilliant designer that thought seeing your partner sitting on the john or flossing the teeth can be romantic? Even with the fabric curtain drawn every time one of us would wake up at night and turned the lights on, they room would light up waking up the other.

Do you watch TV in the room? How about the weather and the news while the spouse is in the shower? The TV is up under the ceiling like in a hospital, so one can watch it only lying in bed!

There is a coffeemaker, but no coffee. One front desk clerk made a surprised face when I said the maid didn’t leave coffee and gave me what she had – decaf only. The next day’s clerk said they no longer provide coffee. Can the maid at least leave one shampoo for 2 of us every day? Yes, this can be done. By the way, there is $7 a day “resort fee.” And don’t leave cash for the maid; she will leave an envelope for tips on the last day of your stay with a written order to take it to the checkout.

Even with all that I would stay at that hotel, being prepared, for location and low price: we paid $411 for 4 nights including room, resort fee, taxes. Just don’t forget to bring your own hairdryer. Bathrobes and slippers provided, local phone calls are free. There is a restaurant in the hotel – next to the tiny pool area – don’t buy coffee there. Doesn’t taste good.

A local bus, 25 cents a ride, goes around the island of South Beach, but if you want to make a circle, it will kick you off on one of the stops in the North; you’ll have to go just around the corner to get on that same bus so they can charge you again. They sell daily passes in different locations found on the Internet, not worth it for this local bus unless you don’t want to be bothered with quarters. We found South Beach buses to be frequent, dependable, safe and clean, and the locals use them too, including the circle bus.

We ate wherever, but one place stands out. We even went back once more for another meal. On the receipt it’s “La Parilla Liberty” at 609 Washington, but when we walked by it was an Argentinean steakhouse. The best tilapia I ever had, and the Russian salad does not have an overbearing vinegar taste. They sell only one type of wine by glass, the name of it was not familiar, and it turned out to be red wine. I am not a fan of reds, but that wine is exceptional.

By the way, the restaurants in Miami add gratuity, so don’t double-tip.

We didn’t do much, the weather was getting worse and worse, the last day was windy and rainy. Started with the Holocaust Memorial that looks as a hand with tattooed number reaching up to the sky, reflecting in the surrounding pool. There is a path around along the wall with the names, and a path past the Eternal Flame to the Memorial – like every such memorial, a difficult experience.

Jewish Museum of Florida – to get in is an adventure in itself! We are used to security at the Jewish institutions, but this one beats them all. First, you have to open bags and purses, and then go through a metal detector – all outside. After that, if you pass the test, the security guard will unlock the door with his key – only works one way; you may leave any time. I wonder if there were “incidents.”

The museum is very interesting showing the history of Florida. A docent first offers a short lecture on Judaism and local history, and then takes people on a tour of the museum. There are permanent and traveling exhibits and the usual gift shop.

Going places it’s better to call to confirm the hours. We tried to go to the Bass museum – on the website they opened at 10 am – two other couples were there at 11 with us – the note on the door said from 12 noon. We saw (and visited) two pedestrian only areas with shopping, but anticipating cruise stops did not buy anything.

We did the city tour with Safari tours. The bilingual guide was narrating in English, and then in Spanish without stopping, all the time alternating the languages, so it took a while to get used to. The tour was rather interesting, we saw different parts of the city, loved the architecture and different areas. Chicago architectural tours eat your heart out!

Some people on the bus didn’t pay much attention to the guide, talked and even used cell phones, but when he announced we’re close to the Holocaust Memorial everybody got quiet, cameras ready, for a few minutes it was like a moment of silence, so respectful of everybody!

We tried Cuban coffee at one of the stops – tasty, but too sweet. We drove through Vizscaya, and that part looked like a wild forest, saw Coconut Grove and Coral Gables areas, the piers, the place where Tarzan was filmed, Little Havana, then back to the South Beach. Once again, we were lucky to stay at this area.
Dayenu is offline  
Old Jan 21st, 2010, 06:51 PM
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We made a Yellow taxi reservation the night before, it came 10’ early, short ride from hotel to the terminal B was approximately $20 – metered ride. Check-in was short and pleasant, all were given tickets with a group number, and yes, they check the numbers going on the ship or on the tenders, and we were amazed how well it was organized. As usual, buffet first, rooms were ready at 2 pm. I must say, compare to Royal Caribbean and Princess our cabin was best designed.

The bed was the most comfortable; the shower area subdivided into three compartments, the dispensers had “lavender soap,” “sharp body wash” and “aromazing shampoo.” Not complaining, just want to say this shampoo is not for all hair types. Mine is “normal to oily” so I was glad I brought my own. Lots of shelves and draws in the cabin.

A Fodor’s poster sent me a magnet that I put on the cabin door – it was nice to come back to the cabin to be greeted. Bring your favorite magnet for a nice touch! We also bought a rose on the ship with a small capsule to hold water – and it held well for all 7 days, such a fresh flower! We changed water daily.

Ship activities are very much drink-oriented, very few at daytime even on sea days. This is why they have good library, we went in to check, there is a color-coded list posted, even large print books! Shows were good, stood out a pair of gymnasts, she’s from Belarus, he’s Italian, and a professional dance pair. Go early for Cirque Bijou if you want a seat, people line up one hour before the show, they open strictly 30’ prior. This was probably the best show of the cruise.

Once we came back on the ship early – a movie was scheduled – the bar area was dark, but no movie. We were 2-3 minutes late, so it was either cancelled, or nobody showed up. Scheduled were friends of Dorothy, friends of Bill W – we were left out as nobody’s friends! On the first sea day there was a Cruise Critic meeting where the ship leaders introduced themselves, but our meeting was not on the daily roaster.

On the meeting somebody said, he’d like sometimes to reply to a report posted on-line, so here is my e-mail: [email protected]

I didn’t know they don’t give out souvenirs like on other ships for participating in classes and competitions, other cruisers had cards that were signed during the cruise, and on the last day of the cruise redeemed for key chains, playing cards, pens. By the time I’ve noticed that, it was too late to get a card on day 5. Why didn’t they tell me at the check-in or even gave the card?

The buffet was on schedule, and between the hours the smaller one in the back was opened. Food was plenty, and most of good quality. The only thing I didn’t like was peanut butter – at home I don’t use the one that had salt and sugar added. A pleasant surprise was the cappuccino machine in the buffet. Ice cream was vanilla, chocolate, and swirl. 3 juices in the morning (a small dispenser next to water), iced tea for lunch, coffees and teas all day.

As I didn’t care to make reservations, we went to Azura only for early dinner when it would just open, only once in 7 days there was waiting. Blue Lagoon supposed to be always opened, once they turned us back shortly before 11 am telling they are moving or cooking something, don’t remember exactly, asked to come back at 11.15 what we did. If they always do that, why not to put it on the daily schedule, we’d know when to come.

We really liked the food choices, and it was easy for any diet or preference! Meat eaters had plenty, vegetarians had plenty, and I was happy with fish, chicken, lots of raw and cooked veggies and great breads! My husband was happy with everything.

Casino had slot machines from 1c and up, way up; we saw $5 – possibly more. There were other things like card room, computers, kiddies’ activities – children didn’t run around. As organized groups they came to the evening shows.

Music was by the pool part of the day (would you like cocktails?) and in the evenings in the bars. Champagne is served with chocolate-dipped strawberries, and martinis (dark or milk chocolate martinis!!) with snack mix – tiny pretzels, chips, nuts including almonds.

Roatan, Honduras – this was our shortest trip ashore! Steady rain is no fun, we didn’t care for diamonds or “duty free” perfume, the souvenir stand was so overpriced! and yes, there was only one on that rainy day, we didn’t feel like walking around, went back to the ship on time to see “Julie and Julia” on the larger screen then cabin TV. At the shopping presentation they ran out of maps, don’t worry, when you get off the tender, pick up a free map at the local information kiosk.

To get on the tender, you need a ticket. They call up numbers by the hundreds: up to 100, up to 200, etc. The elevators go down only to 6th floors on the tender days. Yes, they look at the ticket numbers; you cannot even take the stairs down if your number was not called. Morning tours go on the tenders first. People with moving difficulties ride the one designated elevator all day with a ship employee; it takes some waiting.

Belize City, Belize. If you get motion sickness, take a pill before the tender. The bumpy ride is 20 minutes, plus it takes a while for everybody to get on and off, this is when the rocking gets really bad.

The day before we tried to make a reservation for the Calypso train – the noon tour was sold out, 8.30 seemed too early for vacation… so we are lazy people, shoot us! On the website I saw 3 time slots, on the ship only two – so it was good we didn’t make advance reservation, or we could’ve been moved to the morning tour.

On the Internet I’ve learned about horse carriage rides for $15 per person for 1 hour of narrated fun! While it was nice to see the city, I can only imagine the life behind bars – all windows and doors had metal bars even on the second floors! In shops, there were bars between customers and sales clerks. People are living under a siege, so sad!

The next day most of the girls on the ship had their hair braded differently; they looked happy and proud. Some women did it too, I even saw a man with braded beard with a bead hanging off each strand. Yikes!

Costa Maya, Mexico. When we got off the ship, the free shuttle was standing there, waiting. Coming back we walked – it’s not far! There is a shopping village guarded by soldiers with machine guns. We tried to find the amphitheater with local shows, used the map, circled the village a couple of times… gave up and went back!

There is a pool in the village, some loungers, if you want to get one, get off the ship as early as possible!

Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas. This was the scariest tender ride! The boat was rocking and water spraying, and then you get from the boat on sand. Don’t know how or if disabled people can get on the island, but we saw special wheelchairs on huge wheels like balloons, probably designed for sand.

The nice sandy beach is on the left off the tender. Kids activities, volleyball and the restrooms are in the middle. On the right, the live band, buffet and the beach with rocky bottom, a bit further is the shopping area, why the Caribbean prices are so high?

The food was a choice of pizzas, meats, rolls, mixed veggies, coleslaw – very nice! To drink only iced water and regular coffee, everything else was for sale. Loungers, high and low chairs, park-type tables with benches everywhere. With the right weather, it’s a great stop!

On the last day we thought our cabin will be available till 9 am, went up for breakfast shortly before 8 to see the cabin door opened and 2 people changing the bedding. Each cabin had a dial of 4 colors – welcome, make the cabin, turn in, and do not disturb. Even though we did not mark ours as “make” they tucked in the final statement, which my husband took out. This was probably the signal to clean the cabin. We came back when they were done, washed our hands using the towels – makes me think, will the cabin be touched up after we leave?

The last day they put out colored tags for people to take what they want to put on suitcases if needed. First, easy walk off for people who made their own arrangements and carry their own luggage, then they call the colors or escort the groups. We had a transfer to FLL for $25 per person on a comfortable bus that made several stops for different airlines.

Flying back on Delta 2 hours to Atlanta, 5.5 hours to SFO. On the first leg – peanuts and drinks, second leg a choice of peanuts, pretzels or cookies and drinks. At FLL they accept suitcases only 2 hours prior to the flight. Took one look at the security line – dash to the curbside check-in to get rid of another $15.

Our little discovery: there is an art installation showing the Tarzan tree, and off that tree words are falling in several languages. The best part, there are chairs. In the main area, people were sitting on their suitcases, on the floor, anywhere they could. It looked crazy. And we didn’t see any place to eat. After security, it’s a normal airport.

Arrived SFO at midnight, the restrooms are closed. Downstairs to get the suitcase, opened restrooms, back up to the shuttles. By 2 am we were finally in beds just to wake up at 6 am being still on the Florida time zone.

Will we travel with Norwegian again? Definitely yes if the itinerary is right. The only thing we didn’t like is the absence of a set dinnertime. If only this company would offer a choice of a fixed sitting along with “whenever” we’d give them A++. All they asked in Azura is whether you want a table to yourself, or willing to share. It really gets old fast to have a lonely dinner or to explain each time where you are from and what you do for a living.

Overall, we enjoy cruises, and if I’d have to pick our category from “newlywed, well fed, nearly dead” I would pick the last one as we are not healthy, and the slower pace of cruises suits us well. The next one planned is from Copenhagen along the Norway coast to cross the Polar Circle.
Dayenu is offline  
Old Jan 21st, 2010, 06:53 PM
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Almost forgot the photos! Here:
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Old Jan 22nd, 2010, 09:35 AM
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Good trip report, Dayenu!

One of the memories I have of the Bahamas is SO clear. It is of an entire group of women chasing my then 12 year old son- all trying to bead his great Italian hair. LOL!

Then too- even some of the men had the beads in their beards.

"It really gets old fast to have a lonely dinner or to explain each time where you are from and what you do for a living." SO AGREE!

That's one of the reasons that oftentimes people who prefer to cruise go with friends/peers/groups.

The Polar Circle! Great.
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Old Jan 22nd, 2010, 10:08 AM
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great report.
i am going on my first cruise to so. america in feb.
hopefully, it will be as much fun as yours.
abranz is offline  
Old Jan 22nd, 2010, 01:20 PM
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glad you had so much fun!
MomDDTravel is offline  
Old Jan 22nd, 2010, 04:54 PM
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What a wonderful report, I enjoyed all the details!
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Old Jan 23rd, 2010, 11:03 AM
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Sounds like you two had a great time. Thanks for the report and the pic's.
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Old Jan 23rd, 2010, 12:35 PM
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Awesome report girl! Glad y'all didn't freeze to death either!

One note about South Beach bathrooms. Because space is such a premium and rooms and bathrooms are generally small, some genius somewhere decided to make bathrooms 'sexy'.

At The Hotel Victor, one of the poshest hotels in South Beach, the bathroom is part of the room and the shower and the WC have see through glass doors on them.


Sorry we missed you guys!
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Old Jan 23rd, 2010, 12:51 PM
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Faina, glad you had a great trip. Other than title, didn't hear about bad weather - was it cold? What did you do?
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Old Jan 23rd, 2010, 02:55 PM
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Sounds like a great trip. The next one seems so interesting!

I am still trying to decide if I want to try a cruise.
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Old Jan 23rd, 2010, 04:50 PM
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Thank you, all! Aliska, it felt like 40F with wind! What did we do? Played honeymooners (just kidding!) Bus travel, shopping, longer meals...

T-girl, you'll never know if you'd like cruising unless you try one - don't take 2-3 days, take 4-5 days as a trial.

Everybody is welcome to join us in August!
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Old Jan 26th, 2010, 09:31 PM
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Nice report Faina and pictures. My son and GF are early 30's and they love to cruise. Trying to talk us into going on a transatlantic cruise from NY to Azores, Spain, Venice in April but I'm too busy. He is "furloughed" (nice word for laid off) at the moment so he....looks for a job???...mows lawns?.....NO, he cruises. lol
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Old Jan 26th, 2010, 09:57 PM
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Love your report Faina!
Have you thought of putting together a travel book for people of your age? No offense on the age part and hope you know what I mean.
You seem to really get it and I think you have A LOT to offer..
Maybe Fodor's will offer you a deal..
I think with more Baby Boomers coming on board and you travel like the old school with more money to burn on other things..
Something to think about..
You are an inspiration to me and love reading your posts!
Keep it up and the banter between you and Kal is priceless!
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Old Jan 27th, 2010, 10:12 AM
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KSU, thank you, you are so kind, and I really mean it!

Ronda, for your first cruise pick one that has more port stops, and less sea days. My first was out of LA with San Diego, Catalina, Ensenada stops. Or go through the Panama canal - depends on how many days you have.
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