Monday, August 8, 2016

St. Thomas - I could live this way most of the time!

I had the opportunity to spend a whole week in beautiful St. Thomas and all I can say is WOW - I want to go back!  It was so relaxing and fun, the people are so nice, but bring a lot of cash - that was probably the downside.  Here's what I learned:

1.  Flying in to St. Thomas can be a bit intimidating.  From your window, you wonder how this really fast plane is going to land on that really short runway.  And, as the wheels are almost down, all you can see from your window on the plane is water, giving you the feeling you should have those floats on the bottom of your plane.  Finally, the airport in St. Thomas still offers you the traditional walk down the stairs onto the tarmac, followed by a walk into the airport to find your luggage one of the two (yes, 2) luggage carousels.  Enjoy the welcoming music by the band of local musicians (some kids) and the friendly porters.  Welcome to St. Thomas!

2.  The nicer hotels/resorts are not near the airport, nor downtown.  Be prepared for a bit of a drive through crowded, winding roads.  But the taxi drivers are friendly, polite and safe.  I recommend Kelly Taxi or VIP Taxi.  Speaking of taxis, it is really expensive to license your car and be a legit taxi driver.  There are many who will offer you a "taxi" ride, but if they don't have a sign, or a license in their car, they are not a true taxi driver, which means they are also non-insured, so don't be afraid to say no and walk away.  FYI - real taxi drivers will run the fakes off if they see them trying to steal their business.

3.  The Ritz-Carlton is an amazing resort.  Upon arrival at this resort, you will be greeted with a rum punch, a cold towel, a friendly face to greet you and check you in, and a nice cart ride to your hotel room.  The rooms are fantastic, with large balconies, beautiful bathrooms, comfy beds, and friendly staff.

4.  The views from the Ritz Carlton are amazing.  This beautiful picture is from the top floor of the Ritz, taken in the evening of the beautiful pool, and in the distance the lights of St. John. 


5.  The food is so yummy - great restaurants in St. Thomas.  Our first night we visited a restaurant on site called Caribbean Fish Market.  Some of us had lobster tail with the rest of the lobster stuffed with a shrimp mixture.  The Chicken Roulade was stuffed with spinach and cheese and was mouth watering.  We also had to try the Mango Crème Brulee - mmmm!  My mouth is now watering.

Another of my favorites was in downtown St. Thomas called Greenhouse.  They had the best BANG BANG shrimp, BANG BANG chicken, and more.  Wow!  It was so good - I want some NOW!!!

We also visited Red Hook (5 minutes from the resort) and enjoyed eating at Fish Tails - three times (that should tell you something).  Great food - lobster, Mahi Mahi, happy hour fish tacos, and the Fried Banana Cheesecake (OMG)!

Don't forget to visit the X Bar either - super friendly bartenders and fun atmosphere!


6.  Fun activities abound at this resort - feel free to kayak, snorkel, paddleboard, windsurf, lie around on the beach, soak up the sun in the infinity pool, eat at Sails beachside.  All of these options are free.  They also offer a few tours such as snorkeling with the turtles, evening sail around the bay, and others.  We spent time doing many of these, as well as just relaxing and people watching.  Oh, and when they bring the Catch of the Day in right in front of you, and you can see those live lobsters up close and personal, as well as those large fish, you are ready to hit the restaurant for dinner.

          


7.  The fishing in St. Thomas is so great.  We booked a full day fishing charter, and met Captain John on the pier at 8am.  We brought our own lunches, he stocked the cooler with beer, water and soda.  He had live bait as well as lures.  We headed out 25 miles offshore and started our 10 hours on the ocean.  The weather was so perfect, the water was smooth, the clouds kept the heat down and we had a great day.  As usual when you are out for a fishing day, things can start out really slow, and they did.  We went about 2-3 hours with not a bite, but then, we found a school of Mahi Mahi and our captain was amazing - he knew how to keep one on the line to bring in the school, and we just kept pulling them in one after the other.  The day continued much in the same way.  Our final count was 17 Mahi, 16 Tuna and 1 reef shark.  It could not have been any better.





8.  If you visit St. Thomas, you should plan to spend a day in St. John.  We took the ferry from Red Hook to St. John ($7 each way) - about a 20 minute sail.  Once you arrive, take a taxi to one of the beaches on the island - the two best from what we heard are Honeymoon Bay and Trunk Bay.  We thought it would be great to get there, have lunch, and then spend the day on the beach.  Well, the biggest lesson we learned was EAT BEFORE YOU GO TO THOSE BEACHES!  The birds (not so lovingly referred to by the locals as Sea Rats) will chase you down in order to steal the food from your hands.  So, that $8 hamburger will possibly cost you $16 because you will have to go back for another when they snatch it immediately from you.  We finally found a place to hide, eat quickly and then spent the rest of the time in the beautiful clear-blue water, snorkeling and watching others on the beach try to escape the heathens.  After our day at the beach, we hung out in the downtown area near the ferry, which had several cool shops, and some restaurants and bars.  By the way, the beaches right near the harbor aren't too bad, there are restaurants close by, and I didn't see too many birds attacking.  Next time, I might save taxi fare and just hang out by the boats there.  But it was a good day and worth a visit.


9.  Even a bad weather day can be a great day.  Our final day in St. Thomas was stormy and rainy, but we actually really enjoyed this day as it turned out to be so peaceful and relaxing.  We visited the pool, the hot tub, the beach, and then found some rocking chairs on the boardwalk where we watched the snorkelers, the windsurfers, and the paddleboarders trying to fight the waves.  We had a few drinks before ordering pizza (yes, we actually had pizza delivered to the resort) from Senor Pizza and at on our balcony.  We watched a movie in our room, and then hit the hay for our final night on the island. 

video

10.  The most important lesson I learned from my visit in St. Thomas - everyone needs time to just relax, enjoy time away from everyday life, and be grateful for the opportunities you have in life to visit amazing places such as this.

If you are planning a real getaway, please let me know if I can help.

Michelle - Travel Adventures by Michelle
210-858-6399
michelle@traveladventuresbymichelle.com










Friday, July 8, 2016

Our Family Summer Adventure

Our adventures don't always take us to faraway places, where we visit exotic locations and have luxurious experiences.  Sometimes, we choose to explore the world closer to home.  Our family vacation this summer began when we decided to attend my  nieces high school graduation in a tiny town in northern Idaho.  Rather than drive the many, MANY hours all at once, we broke it up into small pieces and made an adventure out of it.  Here's what we saw, heard, did and enjoyed:

Our first stop was in Farmington, Utah.  We spent two amazing fun days at Lagoon, the theme park I had grown up visiting as a child many times.  Of course, it is much more extreme now than way back then, full of crazy, scary but scream-filled, fun rides.  We rode every ride at least once, and some many more times.  We spent time at Lagoon-a-Beach, riding the lazy river as well as the waterslides, and just soaking up the sun.  We left there exhausted, a little sunburnt, but with smiles ear to ear.

                  

Heading off towards the next leg of our adventure, we jumped in the car and headed northeast.  We made sure to stop to record our entry into Idaho as well as Montana, with our final destination being West Yellowstone.  After checking into our hotel, Yellowstone Park Hotel, we spent two days exploring Yellowstone.  We were part of a "bison jam", when they crossed the road right in front of us.  We saw Elk, Bison, Deer, Moose, Coyote, Canadian Geese and some other animals.  We visited Old Faithful, as well as other geysers, including the stinky, bubbling mud pots.  We visited the pool and Jacuzzi every night to relax our tired feet and achy muscles.  It was a great experience, and the kids didn't even mention their electronics once - that was amazing!

                   
Continuing our journey, we settled in for the longest distance we had driven to this point, so we headed northwest and enjoyed a beautiful drive through Montana.  We saw so many deer and elk along the side of the road, including many baby animals.  We saw beautiful lakes, mountains and rivers.  We stopped for a lunch break in Missoula, Montana at Freddy's Custard, and even took a little detour when we saw a little museum for the Smoke Jumpers.  We made it to my little nieces softball game just in time to see her play, and then headed into town where we set up home at the Best Western Kootenah, in a very nice, HUGE room.  We spent the next few days visiting with family, meeting new friends, partying with the graduate, and of course seeing her give the Valedictorian Speech (proud aunt here if you can't tell). 

           

Our vacation would not be as big of an adventure if not for this little mishap - the basketball hoop tried to come home with us when a big gust of wind sent it jumping through the back window of the car.  So, after cleaning up all the glass, taping up the window, and making a quick call to the insurance company (who set up an appointment to get this repaired as soon as we made it home - no deductible YAY!), we headed towards home with another 2 day drive.  We spent the night in Dillon, Montana, arriving late at night and after just passing a slow-moving porcupine crossing the road in front of us.  We arrived home and enjoyed reminiscing about the fun times we had experienced over the last 2 weeks. 

        

MORAL OF THE STORY:  Your vacations do not always have to involve a lot of money and planning.  We planned where we wanted to go, but we woke up each day at leisure, and let the day plan itself.  The idea is to go somewhere and do something with your family and kids - they will talk about these adventures one day and laugh when they remember the good times.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

My Favorite Adventure so far this year


Usually, my posts are all about my adventures while traveling.  But, shortly after returning from my last trip, I had a long list of things happening at home, including 3 days of being sick, attending a funeral for a close family member, taking my adult daughter in for a tonsillectomy, followed by over a week of caring for her during her recovery. 

Just because I can't take off on another adventure, doesn't mean I can't report about one.  So, I'm using this post to tell about my favorite destination this year, Costa Rica.

I was able to get away for 5 days with my boyfriend on his company business trip.  Our plan was to lay by the pool or on the beach, relax and recharge.  Upon our arrival, we realized that was not going to happen.  Instead, we had a busy, fun-filled, action-packed adventure full of friends, food, fishing, and fun.

Arriving in San Jose, Costa Rica is an adventure all by itself.  The airport is very small and crowded.  Upon picking up our luggage and going through customs for another stamp in my almost full, almost expired passport, we headed outside to meet our group and driver.  Wow!  What an experience.  If you can imagine:  You walk through the exit doors, down an outdoor hallway where people watch you through a plexiglass window, and then you attempt to find a needle in a haystack holding a sign with your group name on it.  What a relief when you do find him!

Our drive to the resort was long and windy, due to the main road being closed for construction, so we took the "scenic route".  It was a beautiful drive and the driver did share some history and pointed out some of the places of interest along the way, but we were really happy when we arrived at our home for the next few days.

OUR RESORT:  LOS SUENOS MARRIOTT OCEAN & GOLF RESORT



We were greeted at the entrance by bellman who quickly took our luggage, tagged it for delivery to our room and pointed us towards the check in desk.  The desk agent happily found our reservation, gave us the keys to our room, and we were off to start our vacation.  We wandered around the resort to get our bearings and organize our plan of attack (so much for R&R). 

Our first night was our company Super Bowl Party, complete with big screen TVs, huge buffet and open bar.  We enjoyed nachos, quesadillas, wings, and more while watching the Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers play our favorite game - football.  Even though it wasn't our team, we still got into the game, cheering for the underdog on this outdoor balcony overlooking the pool and the ocean.

Sandias Terrace Los Suenos Marriott

After a great nights sleep in amazingly comfortable bedrooms, we woke up to the realization that today was going to be another wonderful adventure we had been looking forward to - fishing.  We joined two other friends and headed to the beach, where our chartered boat would be picking us up.  We spent the next 8 hours trolling for sailfish.  We hooked 17 sailfish that day, but landed 14 on the boat for catch and release.  What an amazing experience fighting to bring them in, holding them and touching them before letting them go back into the ocean.  We also brought in a small tuna, which the crew made into a ceviche, which we enjoyed with chips.  The crew also made us a great lunch, and the cooler was always stocked.  Upon our return to the resort, we hung out in the pool for the rest of the night until dinner.



Our next day in Costa Rica started out early.  We met the group in the lobby and headed to the marina for a fun day on the sea aboard a luxury catamaran.  We spent time floating in the ocean, snorkeling, sliding down the waterslide, hot tub (no one was in there - too hot), jumping off the top deck, and lying on the deck sunbathing.  The crew served us lunch and drinks and took great care of us.  We were given a view of Manuel Antonio National Park and the coastal area.



After returning from the catamaran trip, we headed for the adjoining golf resort, where he played 9 holes (I drove the cart), surrounded by beautiful gardens, monkeys, birds and even horses talking to us.  We finished off the day with more pool time, a great dinner at the marina, and a late night hanging out with friends.  Bedtime was well deserved and we were ready for it!

Our last full day in Costa Rica should have been one to just relax, but we were in full adventure mode by this time.  So, after sleeping in a bit, we headed back to the golf course for another 9 holes, lunch, and then met the rest of the group for an ATV tour.  We rode through the jungles, past local neighborhoods, through rivers, up and down hills, and visited a waterfall (which we jumped into fully clothed to cool off), and then back to the resort for some more pool time.

After cleaning up, we all headed to downtown Jaco, to a local restaurant with an all you can eat and drink menu.  El Hicaco, right on the beach, served rock lobster, shrimp, steak, chicken, sushi, salads, and desserts.  We ate and drank until there was no more room and then headed back to the resort. 

After another well-deserved and fabulous nights sleep and a delicious breakfast, we headed back to the airport for our trip home.  If you are looking for a great destination, with many activities available or just to lay by the pool, this is the place.  It's beautiful, comfortable, relaxing and luxurious.  I look forward to another visit one day soon.

Here are a few more pictures of this beautiful resort:

Hermosa Beach

Costa Rica Resort Water Features

Costa Rica Rainforest Hotel

Costa Rica golf course

Los Suenos Marina

When you are ready to go explore this part of the world, give me a call (210-858-6399) or send me an email at michelle@traveladventuresbymichelle.com.  I'm here to help plan your next adventure!

Friday, April 29, 2016

Exploring the Eastern Caribbean

My latest adventure was while escorting a quilting group cruise, with my side company, Quilt Retreat at Sea.  What a great time we had exploring the Eastern Caribbean.  I began my journey departing from Las Vegas airport to Ft. Lauderdale, landing in pouring rain and lightning, which resulted in the baggage handlers not being allowed to unload luggage from the plane.  We waited at least 20 minutes before luggage ever got started, and then of course, it was wet when it arrived.  Thank goodness for those hard cover suitcases I now have. 

We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn Airport hotel in Ft. Lauderdale.  The airport shuttle was quick and despite the crazy crowds of people waiting for rides, our driver was friendly and took good care of us.  Upon arrival at the hotel, the front office agent was welcoming and kind.  He checked us in immediately and we were in our room in less than 10 minutes.  Our big day of travel ended with a visit to Burger King for dinner - yes, I am just a regular girl.

After a great nights sleep and a quick run to the grocery store nearby for some of my traditional cruise treats (licorice, skittles, Pringles), we headed to Port Everglades.  After making sure all of my boxes and luggage were headed to the ship, I was ready to get to my home away from home for the next week.

The Ship:  I enjoyed 8 nights on the beautiful Royal Caribbean Navigator of the Seas.  I just love this class of ship.  She has so many fun things to see and do.  I enjoyed the Royal Promenade, with all the shops and restaurants there, not to mention the fun Circus Parade they treated us to, and the nightly musical performances.  This ship also has the Ice Rink with amazing Ice Skating shows, with daring jumps, throws and flips.  The Quest, as usual, did not disappoint, as it is amazing what people will do when dared by the Cruise Director - all for a plastic gold medal, but I for one appreciate that those people are out there for my entertainment.  The food was great, the service was top notch, and the casino and I had a nightly date - hopefully I came away fairly even by the end of the week.


The Itinerary:  Our first stop was Labadee, Haiti.  This privately leased Royal Caribbean property is fun, no matter the weather.  I've been there 3 times - 2 of which were rainy days.  But, that didn't stop anyone from enjoying the day ashore.  The Artisan's Village is interesting as you can appreciate the talents of the local Haitians and by purchasing their handicrafts, you are supporting their economy.  The beaches are clean and the beach chairs are free for everyone to use as they wish.  The water was warm and the waves were not too big to drown you.  Although it ended up being a shortened day due to the rain, it's always a good day to be on the beach.


 

San Juan, Puerto Rico was the next port of call.  Seeing the forts as you enter the harbor is really cool to me, just imagining the days when pirates ruled the seas.  Since I have been here many times, and have visited many of the coolest places on this island, I chose to go off the beaten path this time.  I searched for a restaurant someone had recommended me to - a little hole in the wall called Fatty's - and enjoyed a great lunch of Jerk Chicken, beans and plantains.  I then wandered around town for a bit, visiting a couple of my regular shops just to look, and finally stopping at the CVS for some supplies.  I know - exciting right?  But, when you travel as much as I do, sometimes it's just nice to make a quick visit and head back to the ship.



Next up we hit St. Kitts.  I've been to St. Kitts probably 5 times in the past 8 years.  My sister got me started there when she lived there while her husband attended Ross University Vet program.  I took my quilting group out to Romney Manor and Caribelle Batik, where they enjoyed a private behind the scenes tour of the factory, and tried their hand at stamping the fabrics with wax.  To say that this place is not OSHA approved would be a huge understatement, but we always somehow manage to make it through and come home with fun goodies, like my new Swim Cover made by locals.  Before boarding the ship, my honey and I enjoyed a great lunch in the port and I found some cute shirts for my kids.
 

 



Our final stop was at St. Maarten.  This was my beach day, especially since rain hampered that in Labadee.  So, my first stop was at Pandora for my traditional charm (I get one every trip), and then on to the water taxi.  I found my usual guy in St. Maarten, Miguel (he always wears an orange shirt and has the orange beach umbrellas), who quickly set us up with beach chairs, umbrella and a bucket of drinks for a great price.  I dipped in the ocean a few times, sunbathed, people watched, and of course took a little snooze, before heading to lunch at The Blue Bitch Bar - try their Pulled Pork Sandwich - yummy!


After 2 days at sea, we were back in Ft. Lauderdale.  I then had the long day of traveling to look forward to - flight back to Las Vegas, 2 hour drive home, and then sleep.  But, as always, my adventures take me to places I only imagined as a kid I would ever see, so I am already looking forward to the next one.