Have you been on a cruise lately? If so, you have experienced some of the great new innovations that have been introduced by the cruise lines. Of course cruising is not a new experience; it has been used for centuries to transport people and products. But the invention of the steam engine made the process much faster and the passenger ship industry began to flourish.
If you watched television in the 1970s you’ll remember a weekly series called “The Love Boat” that was set aboard a Princess Cruise ship. Each of the episodes included several story lines that revolved around the cast and crew. It provided an inside look at what vacationing onboard a cruise ship was like. It was also a great marketing tool for cruise lines.
Fast-forward to 2017 and you’ll find that cruising is no longer just a way to travel from point A to point B. The cruise game has changed completely. In the last 20 years cruise lines have continued to build bigger, more innovative ships – they have become floating cities! Onboard activities include IMAX theaters, zip lines, ice skating rinks, rock climbing walls, world-class spas, designer shops, waterslides and much more. Here are some examples:
In 2009 Royal Caribbean introduced the world’s largest cruise ships; the Oasis Class. They can carry more than 5000 passengers and 7 different neighborhoods, a 5-deck high Central Park with lush tropical gardens, a boardwalk with a full-size working carousel. Entertainment options are many and besides the usual casino and main showroom, guests can enjoy the comedy club, aqua theater, ice shows, and several nightclubs. Active cruisers can zip line, rock climb, ice skate or hit the waves on one of the FlowRider surf simulators. There is also plenty onboard for the little ones since Royal Caribbean has partnered with DreamWorks so you never know when you’ll run into someone like Shrek or Fiona.
Carnival has expanded their fleet to include activities like an IMAX theater, an onboard waterpark and even flying bicycles.
On the newest ship, the Vistaguests can enjoy SkyRide at SportSquare. It is a twin-track suspended bike course — strap in and race around for the win or just cruise for great views.
Celebrity offers modern luxury cruising and its newest ship, the Edge, is advertised as “a ship to leave the future behind”. It does exactly that with transformative spaces. As the sun sets, the groundbreaking spaces on Celebrity Edge transform to deliver completely new experiences. By day, outward-facing ocean views, ever-changing abstract artwork, and unexpected entertainment create a luxurious resort-style atmosphere. At night, ambient lighting, unique al fresco dining, and live music set the scene for energy, intimacy, and elegance.
Custom-built for the spectacular, the Norwegian Bliss will cruise Alaska and the Caribbean seasonally beginning Summer 2018.In addition to the aqua park you can also burn rubber on the largest racetrack at sea and then challenge your friends or family to some friendly competition on the Aqua Racer. Dare to whoosh over the side of the ship on Ocean Loops before dodging lasers during an exhilarating game of laser tag.
Bellissima is the newest flagship of the MSC cruise line.The two-deck inside promenade features a spectacular 260-foot-long LED dome, and is lined with places to shop, eat and drink. There are 20 bars and 10 restaurants to choose from, including specialty restaurants. For entertainment, you can enjoy 2 brand new Cirque du Soleil® shows designed especially for MSC Bellissima, and relax in the desert themed Water Park - an oasis for kids and families.
Princess, the original cruse line of the Love Boat continues to expand its fleet with its new Medallion class ships. Its latest ship, the Regal Princess will debut in November 2017. Enjoy sweeping views from one of more than 1,400 balconies on Regal Princess or stroll on the SeaWalk®, a glass-floor walkway extending 28 feet beyond the edge of the ship! From the tranquil Sanctuary, a retreat reserved for adults, to the dazzling Princess WaterColor Fantasy light and water show and more, there are diversions for every mood.
If you’re looking for an all-inclusive luxury cruise experience, look no farther than Crystal and choose from 3 different cruise types - ocean, yacht or river cruise. The award-winning Crystal Serenity has a contemporary style with a bright, modern décor. Guests can shop at chic boutiques or dine under the stars at Trident Grill, a light and airy courtyard beneath a retractable glass roof. Most striking is the lush greenery - variegated "living walls" and live olive trees under-planted with lavender.
If ocean cruising is not your thing, consider taking a river cruise. It’s a great way to experience the beauty and scenery along the world’s greatest rivers like the Danube, Rhine, Yangtze or Nile. Traveling by river, beyond the reach of roadways, you’ll discover the true nature of these fascinating lands and the people who call them home. You’ll travel with ease, unpacking just once and enjoying the ever-changing scenery along the banks as you are gently carried aboard an elegant, intimate ship to your next destination.
Disney fans that want a “magic included” cruise experience can find it on one of Disney’s world-class ships. There is something onboard for everyone with activities for children and adults-only areas as well. They even offer convenient Wave Phones that let you call and text your fellow passengers while you're onboard or at Castaway Cay (their private island) so you can always keep in touch.
If time and money are no problem, consider taking a world cruise. Sail from Los Angeles to London (120 days), Sydney to Vancouver (Australia, Asia & Alaska, 79 days), or Athens to Hong Kong (50 days). If you haven’t made vacation plans for 2018, it’s not too late to book the Princess Cruises 2018 world cruise, sailing round-trip from Fort Lauderdale where you can spend 111 days visiting 5 continents and 28 countries. However, the ship only holds 672 passengers, so it’s very likely that it is already sold out.
As you can see, there are LOTS of different cruise experiences to choose from. Cruise ships have become floating resorts. There is so much to do onboard the larger ships, that it can be difficult to experience everything. We have taken transatlantic cruises on Royal Caribbean’s mega ships, the Oasis and the Allure of the Seas and even with 12 days on the ship, we didn’t manage to do or see everything.
It goes without saying that cruising is not everyone’s cup of tea – there is no “one-size-fits-all” vacation. But cruising comes pretty darn close. Here are some of the benefits:
There is something onboard for everyone. Whether you’re a party animal who wants to be in constant motion, or a loner who prefers “me time”, there are spaces and activities for you. Even the ships that carry 5000 passengers are so well designed that there are always private nooks and crannies.
Cruises are a great way for families to travel together. There are age-specific areas and activities for all ages, so it’s a great way to vacation with the kids and still enjoy some “grown folks” time too.
Cruising offers the best value for your vacation dollar. Although many are not all-inclusive (you have to pay for alcoholic drinks, sodas), it’s still a good value. The cruise fare includes unlimited dining (in dining room, buffet and snack areas), 24 hour room service, nightly shows (we’ve seen Grease, Hair Spray and Cats with actual Broadway casts), nightclubs (no cover charge), and of course transportation between ports. The total for those activities for a 7 day vacation would be much higher than a cruise fare.
Cruising also offers an element of safety. A solo traveler who might be hesitant to stroll around a big city after dark would be perfectly safe going to dinner, a show or nightclub on a ship.
Are all cruises wonderful? Absolutely not! It is important to choose the cruise line and itinerary that fits your travel style and budget. As you can see from the list of ships and activities they are all very different. The experience depends on the ship and the itinerary that you choose. I’m not a fan of old or small ships, so I don’t book cruises on them. It’s also important to book the right cabin. I’ve heard people say that the cabin doesn’t really matter since you don’t spend much time there. Maybe it doesn’t…..to them. For me the cabin is a very important part of my cruise experience. So I want to be as comfortable as possible. I’ve heard people say that they don’t want to be “cooped up” on a cruise ship. That can happen if you’re in an inside cabin with no windows or outside light. But a cabin with a balcony provides an entirely different experience. It’s the perfect place to enjoy the beauty of the ocean in complete privacy, and enjoy beautiful scenes like this
If your idea of a vacation is a nonstop pool party, I wouldn’t recommend taking a river cruise – they tend to draw a quieter, more elderly crowd (#no turn up). Or if you are a senior who prefers to vacation with people in your age group, a spring break Caribbean cruise would not be the best choice for you.
What’s the best way to decide? Talk to an experienced travel advisor who has cruised and is familiar with all of the cruise lines. They can help you make the best choice.
The cruise industry continues to innovate and re-invent the cruise experience. It’s a great way to vacation and a great way to see the world.
Caesars Palace - a Hotel Review
As frequent visitors to Las Vegas for the past 25 years, we have stayed at more than 15 properties – on and off of the Strip – ranging from the Flamingo to the Mandarin Oriental. So in January we stayed at Caesars for the first time. We had frequented the property for many years when it hosted major boxing matches. Our first was “The War” in 1989, between Sugar Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns. We have also been regular visitors to their Qua Roman Baths and Spa and regular shoppers at the Forum Shops.
We’ve watched Caesars grow through the years, becoming one of the largest resorts on the Strip. So we wanted to find out what the experience would be like as hotel guests. We took a shuttle from the airport and upon arrival found that the hotel drop-off area was uncovered and a distance from the front entrance. There was no one in that area to assist with luggage. That is definitely an inconvenience in inclement weather. So if it had been raining or triple-digit temperatures (as is often the case during summer months) we would have been very uncomfortable after being dropped off, and waiting to be picked up. There is no covered shelter to protect from the elements. That area is also the designated drop off/pickup point for Uber and Lyft drivers. There is no clear walkway from that area to the entrance so we had to maneuver our way through traffic, over uneven surfaces to enter the resort.
When we made it to the check-in desk, and presented our reservation confirmation we were greeted warmly and processed fairly quickly. It was 1:30pm and check-in time is 3:00pm. This is normal procedure at hotels, but often there are rooms available and guests are allowed to check in early. We were told that there were no rooms available yet, and advised to leave our luggage at the bell desk. Then we were presented with and option – if we paid $30.00 a room would be available. We chose to utilize that option. However, we viewed that as an upsell. We have stayed at fine hotels all over the world, and have never had to pay for early check in. If a room is available, we’re normally allowed to check in. It was apparent that rooms were available, but not until we paid the $30.00. This is an unnecessary upsell and a deterrent.
Locating the room was an adventure in itself. Caesars is a 50 year-old property that started as a single hotel, but has grown into a maze of separate towers, connected in very disjointed ways. Signage is confusing, at best. Getting around the property is similar to maneuvering a maze. We stayed in the Palace Tower in a standard king room on the 26th floor, overlooking the pool. The room was spacious, clean, well-furnished and even offered a Jacuzzi tub. However, there was a letter in the room, informing us of construction due to remodeling. We should have been informed of that at the front desk. We did find the noise disruptive and registered a complaint. They did offer a change of room.
The Palace Tower is one of the oldest, and getting to the elevators requires walking through an area lined with shops and salons on both sides. Guests passing through this area are constantly solicited by aggressive shopkeepers. We were accosted each time we entered and exited the tower – VERY annoying. That sort of behavior is expected out on the Strip, but certainly not inside of your hotel tower.
DINING: The dining options are plentiful – from fine dining, to the food court - and service is excellent. The Bacchanal Buffet is one of the best in Las Vegas. We also enjoyed Gordon Ramsay’s Pub and Grill that served great pub food and the service is exceptional. Prices at most of the eating establishments (with the exeption of the food court) would be considered $$$, so it is not the place to “eat on the cheap”.
Since it was January, we did not utilize the swimming pool. But walked around the area and examined the cabanas. The area is well maintained with marble statues and pretty landscaping. No doubt it is a happening place during the warmer months.
GAMING: Table games and slots are plentiful, covering much of the casino floor. There is a large Sports Book, with very large high-quality screens. However, it is poorly lit and with the layout, it is difficult to see the betting boards. Also, free seating is limited, there are only a few free seats in the very front row; which only allows a distorted view of the screens and the betting boards. The remaining seats must be reserved – at a price. In many of the other resort casinos on the Strip (Venetian, Palazzo, Wynn, Aria) free seats are plentiful.
SHOPPING: The Forum Shops still offers a great shopping experience, with shops and boutiques by many of the world’s top designers. It is well laid out and beautifully designed. It features the Roman theme and even has a small replica of the Trevi Fountain. The “Fall of Atlantis” show is not to be missed. With the dramatic music and moving statues, it is one of the best free shows on the Strip.
ENTERTAINMENT: There are a good number of nightlife options, including the Omnia Nightclub and the Colosseum where many of the world’s top entertainers like Celine Dion and Elton John perform.
Caesars is priced like many of the other luxury resorts on the Strip, but the overall experience does not compare. There are some elements of luxury but I would consider it a 3 star property with a few 4 star amenties.
'Dining Out in Paris' - a Book Review
Paris has many nicknames, but its most famous is "La Ville-Lumière" (usually translated as "The City of Lights" or as "The City of Light"), a name it owes both to its fame as a center of education and ideas and its early adoption of street lighting.
Paris is also known for its culinary choices and is a magnet for foodies from all over the globe. With such a plethora of choices, where does a first-time visitor begin? I recently discovered a great little book to help answer that question. It is called "Dining Out in Paris" by Tom Reeves.
If you are a Francophile you've probably compiled a list of your favorite Paris restaurants. But if you are an infrequent visitor - or have never been to Paris - this is an excellent beginner's guide. It tells what you shold know before you go to the City of Light. The book is comprised of easy-to-read descriptions and beautiful color photographs.
I especially enjoyed the author's detailed descriptions of types of dining establishments; restaurants, cafes, bistros, brasseries, salons de the, bars a vin and even neighborhood shops; and what to expect in each one.
The book is very easy to read and small enough to carry in a purse or backpack. It gives very practical tips and vaulable advice such as:
FOREIGN RESTAURANTS: Paris has many foreign (non-French) restaurants, so one can enjoy cuisine from all over the globe.
SERVICE: The concept of service is very different from what Americans have come to expect. The pace is leisurely, not rushed. The server allows the customer to set the pace. The goal is not to have multiple customers per table each night, but perhaps only 1-2 seatings per table.
TIPPING: A service charge of 15% is always included in the bill, so leaving a tip is unnecessary. However, if one wishes to recognize exceptional service, it is customary to leave an additional tip; normally 5%. However this must be in cash because it cannot be added to a credit card charge.
The book also includes detailed reviews of several top restaurants and fine-food stores in or near the Latin Quarter. So it is a wonderful beginner's guide to dining in Paris that covers everything from picknicking to fine dining.
I recommend it highly and I wish that I'd had the opportunity read the book before my first trip to Paris. But I will definitely have it with me the next time I go.
10 Ways to Play Around the Bay
There is no city quite like San Francisco. As one of the world’s top tourist destinations, it welcomes an average of 24.6 million visitors each year from all around the globe. With all of the activities, beauty, culture, shopping and dining that the city has to offer, it’s easy to see why Tony Bennett left his heart in San Francisco. However, those who venture out side of the city will find that there’s even more to see and enjoy in the surrounding areas. Here are just a few options:
1. VISIT WINE COUNTRY - The word “Napa” evokes visions of vineyards and scenic wineries. However, there are many more wine regions to enjoy without venturing very far from San Francisco. One of my favorites is the Livermore Valley Wine Region. Located just a 49 minute drive away, this picturesque valley is the perfect place for wine enthusiasts to taste, tour and spend the day.
2. EAT DRINK AND BE MERRY - To say that the Bay Area is a foodie’s paradise would be an understatement. There are literally thousands of restaurants, serving every type of cuisine imaginable. The freshness of the California produce and the cultural diversity combine to make eating around the Bay Area a true culinary adventure. Whether you favor fine dining, or just want to grab a bite from a food truck you won’t be disappointed.
3. GO TO A GAME - No matter what the season, sports fans can always find a game to go to since the Bay Area is home to teams like San Francisco Giants and Oakland A’s (baseball), Golden State Warriors (basketball), Raiders and 49ers (football), Sharks (hockey) San Jose Earthquakes (soccer). Just pick a season, grab a ticket, and go.
4. CATCH A WAVE - The northern California coastline is called the “Frontier of Surfing” and surf spots are scattered northward along the coast. Some of the most popular are Ocean Beach (San Francisco/Marin), Salmon Creek (Sonoma) and Point Arena (Mendocino). It’s not recommended for beginners since Northern California’s water is cold, rugged, and sharky, so be prepared to battle against big waves and strong winds. It is also the home of Mavericks, a winter destination for some of the world's best big wave surfers. An invitation-only contest is held there most winters, when the waves come.
5. SHOP TILL YOU DROP - Shopaholics can definitely satisfy their shopping cravings at designer boutiques, humungous shopping malls and outlet malls. For high end shopping try Stanford Shopping Center (Palo Alto), Santana Row and Valley Fair (San Jose). Premium outlets can be found in Livermore, Vacaville and Gilroy. If you’re in the mood for haggling, try the Berryessa Flea Market (San Jose) with more than 2000 vendors selling arts & crafts, clothing, produce, furniture, tires, bicycles and much more. It is a bargain hunter’s paradise.
6. CATCH A CONCERT - The Bay Area is an entertainment mecca where every musical genre and the world’s top performers can be enjoyed indoors and outdoors. Larger venues include the Oracle Arena, Levi Stadium and the Shoreline Amphitheater. There’s nothing quite like taking in a concert under the stars at the Mountain Winery or the Montalvo Arts Center. For more intimate performances try a venue like Yoshi’s (Oakland).
7. MONTEREY/CARMEL - No trip to the Bay Area would be complete without spending time in Monterey. Only 2 hours (possibly 3 depending on the traffic), the beautiful coastal scenery of this region is not to be missed. There are jaw-dropping coastal vistas on the way and especially along the 17 Mile Drive, location of Pebble Beach. Pebble Beach is a resort destination and home to the famous golf courses of Cypress Point Club, Monterey Peninsula Country Club and of course the Pebble Beach Golf Links. Spend a few hours strolling around Carmel a charming city - more like a picturesque village – and enjoy world-class restaurants, quaint boutiques and art galleries.
8. GO SEE THE REDWOODS - Some of the tallest trees in the world are located in northern California. With a million visitors per year, Muir Woods is the world's most-visited redwood park. Since it's just a 30-minute drive from San Francisco, visitors to the city can drive here, experience a little of California's unique natural beauty, and be back in time for lunch.Then there’s the Avenue of the Giants, a scenic 31-mile drive with 51,222 acres of redwood groves. Imagine the picture-taking opportunities.
9. GO BACK TO SCHOOL - Pay a visit to one of the beautiful college campuses like Stanford, Santa Clara or Berkeley. Stanfordis a thriving residential campus and community sitting on 8,000 acres of gorgeous foothills and flatlands. You can even take a free student-led walking tour of the central campus. Berkeley and Santa Clara also offer campus tours.
10. GO FOR THE GOLD - California is called the golden state for a reason. Even though the original California Gold Rush is over, you can still try your luck at gold panning and prospecting. Places like Murphy's, Angel's Camp, Sonora, Calaveras, and Sutter's Mill all have places where you can pan for gold. Many of the small towns' hardware stores sell basic gold panning supplies if you want to hike into the hills and give it a try in a stream.Who knows, there still might be some gold in “them thar hills”.
So the next time you visit San Francisco, take time to get out and enjoy what the rest of the Bay Area has to offer.
Vegas Your Way
Las Vegas….Sin City….Entertainment Capital of the World…..whenever it’s mentioned it evokes strong emotions. People either really love it or really hate it. I’ve heard people make statements like, “I don’t like Las Vegas because it’s so smoky”, or “I don’t like Las Vegas because I don’t gamble”. Apparently they believe that smoking and gambling are all that Vegas has to offer. They couldn’t be more wrong.
I happen to be one of those who really love that city – especially the Strip. I’ve been going there for the last 26 years and often go several times each year. I’ve watched the Strip reinvent and redefine itself continuously. Believe me, there’s much more to do than smoke and gamble.
There’s a world of activities, attractions and entertainment to enjoy. Here are just a few:
If there ever was a foodie’s paradise, Vegas is it. Gone are the days of the cheap buffets and $2.99 breakfasts. Many of the world’s top celebrity chefs have opened restaurants in the major hotels and they offer world-class dining experiences. That list includes Joel Roubuchon, Gordon Ramsay, Wolfgang Puck, Giada De Laurentis, Emeril Lagasse, Mario Batali and Bobby Flay. Many of them have more than one, and they offer a variety of dining experiences. For an unforgettable French dining experience I recommend Joel Robuchon, a 3 Michelin star restaurant located inside of the MGM Grand hotel/casino. On the other hand, if all you really want is a hamburger, you can’t go wrong with Bobby Flay’s Burger Palace.
Located right on the Strip in front of the City Center, I discovered this gem during a recent stay at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. The burgers were so good that I had to eat there twice. Even the service was exceptional; I’ve never been served so well in a casual dining establishment.
If you have a sweet tooth I highly recommend Buddy V’s at the Palazzo and Jean Philippe at Aria.
The Las Vegas buffet scene is still alive and well and I’ve had some unbelievably delicious buffet experiences at Bacchanal (Caesar’s Palace), The Wynn Buffet and The Wicked Spoon (Cosmopolitan).
Many of the world’s top designers have opened shops in the major resorts and shopping centers like Crystals in the City Center and the Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian. Chanel, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Fendi, Jimmy Choo, Christian Louboutin, and Prada are just a few of the shops that I visit when I need to get some “retail therapy”. The Fashion Show Mall has more than 250 stores and offers a nice shopping experience. For discounts and deals I always visit the Las Vegas Premium Outlets or take a drive out to the Primm Outlets.
At just slightly over 4 miles long, the Strip has more entertainment venues than anywhere else that I can think of. It has always been home to world-famous entertainers, showrooms and lounges. But today’s choices are absolutely mind boggling. In addition to the world-famous headliners, there are several Cirque du Soleil shows, magic shows, comedians, burlesque shows and so much more. During my recent trip I went to see Legends in Concert, one of the longest running hit shows where the super-talented cast members play well-known entertainers like Prince, Lady Gaga and Whitney Houston. It was great! The nightclub scene is phenomenal and some of the resorts even have day clubs. Marquee Day Club at the Cosmopolitan had a very long line….at noon. It spans 22,000 square-feet and boasts two pools, several bars and a gaming area. Programming throughout the season is highlighted by Marquee Nightclub & Dayclub resident DJs encompassing the world’s premier electronic music talent.
You can always find discount (often half price) show tickets at one of the many Tix4Tonight locations.
For those seeking action or adventure, there are lots of choices. Las Vegas Valley has golf courses and packages for every skill level. You can take a flying leap at Vegas Indoor Skydiving. You can satisfy your need for speed by taking a spin around a racetrack in an exotic car like a Ferrari 488 GTTS or a McLaren 570S. You can soar above the Strip in a helicopter, or fly to the Grand Canyon.
Amusement park lovers have a variety of attractions to choose from. The High Roller at the Linq, a 550-foot tall observation wheel (similar to the London Eye) allows riders to enjoy the view of Las Vegas in comfortable glass-enclosed cabins. You can even have open bar.
The Roller Coaster on top of the New York-New York Hotel & Casino features towering drops, multiple loops and stunning views of the Strip. When it was first built I agreed to ride it with my son. From the ground it didn’t look too rough…boy was I wrong. That’s one hair-raising ride!
If you’re really feeling daring, go to the Stratosphere to try the world’s highest thrill rides.All rides are at the top of the Stratosphere Tower, over 900 feet high. The four extreme thrill rides are The Sky Jump, the Big Shot, the X Scream, and Insanity.
Spas in Las Vegas offer a variety of specialty treatments and wellness services that aren't offered in your neighborhood back home. Some of my favorite places to be pampered are Spa Mandalay (Mandalay Bay Hotel), the Mandarin Oriental Spa, and Qua Roman Baths and Spa at Caesars Palace.
FREMONT STREET EXPERIENCE
Downtown Las Vegas is home to the Fremont Street experience a pedestrian mall covered by a barrel vault canopy where light and sound shows are presented nightly beginning at dusk on the Viva Vision video screen. For a real rush, try the Slotzilla Zip line experience.
If you happen to blow your budget before you leave, not to worry. There are plenty of free attractions to enjoy. The Bellagio Conservatory is a beautiful place to enjoy elegant arrangements of plants and flowers. Circus, Circus has free shows featuring jugglers, unicyclists, trapeze artists and acrobats perform death-defying stunts and exciting acts every half-hour at the World's Largest Permanent Circus. One of my favorites is the free Fall of Atlantis fountain show that entertains audiences with special effects and animatronic figures who recount the myth of Atlantis. I especially enjoy watching the Fountains at Bellagio, a combination of music, water and light; it is a spectacular audiovisual performance with its majestic fountains.
Hotel/resort choices are many and there are options for every budget. During my 26 year love affair with Las Vegas I have stayed at most of the major resorts on the Strip and each one delivers a unique, experience. I have several preferred properties, and my newest is the Mandarin Oriental. It offers a 5-star luxury experience in a non-smoking, non-gaming environment. It is an oasis of tranquility in the middle of the non-stop energy of the Strip.
Whatever your preference, Las Vegas is what you make it – and you can do it your way.
A Day in the City by the Bay
Travel has always been my passion. So I live in a constant state of packing and unpacking, relishing my last trip while planning the next trip. When I mention that I have been to more than 22 countries and many of the world’s most-visited cities, people always ask what my favorite city is. I have never been able to answer that question, because there is so much to love in each city that I’ve visited. Munching warm croissants in Paris, people watching in Plaza Catalunya in Barcelona, watching the sun melt into the caldera in Santorini, watching the Changing of the Guard in London, sailing into Oslo at sunrise….the list is endless. However, one city that is always on my short list of favorites is San Francisco. Since I grew up in the Bay Area and have lived here most of my life, I have the opportunity to visit the City by the Bay very often. Although I’ve been there hundreds of times, I am still discovering new experiences and hidden jewels. At only 46.9 square miles, it is not one of the world’s largest cities. But it is certainly one of the most exciting and diverse. There is always something new and exciting to see and do. 8 hours isn’t nearly enough time to experience this vibrant city, but here are a few of the activities it has to offer:
Golden Gate Bridge is one of the world’s most iconic structures. Well-known by its orange color and majestic structure, it spans the strait of the Golden Gate from San Francisco to the Marin Headlands. It is beautiful to drive across and is accessible to pedestrians and bicycles during daylight hours. There are viewing areas on both sides of the bridge that serve as great places to take photos or just enjoy that gorgeous bay.
Fisherman’s Wharf is always a fun place to spend an afternoon. It lines the bay and offers world-class hotels, restaurants and family-friendly attractions. It is best known for its seafood. The air is permeated with the aroma of just-caught crab boiling in the pots along the sidewalk. Whether you enjoy fine dining or just a snack from a sidewalk stand, it is the place to enjoy some of the best seafood in the world. The fish & chips is the best I’ve ever tasted. There are always lots of street performers who provide great free entertainment.
Union Square is a good place to begin a day in the City. Since it is centrally located, it provides easy access to public transportation by bus; streetcar and no visit would be complete without hopping onto a Cable Car. Union Square is a plaza where it’s easy to sit and do some people watching. Since tourists visit the city from all over the world, I’ve often heard 5 or 6 different languages in just a few minutes. It is also the city’s top spot for shopping since the square is surrounded by large department stores like Barneys New York, Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus. There is also an extensive selection of top designer shops like Tiffany & Co, Carolina Herrera, Chanel and Christian Louboutin.
Hangin’ in the Haight is always a good way to spend a few hours. Known for it’s history as the home of the 60s hippie movement, it is still one of the coolest areas of the city. I love wandering in and out of the trendy boutiques and vintage clothing stores. It also has some really great restaurants like Indian Oven and Memphis Minnie’s. I always make a stop at Three Twins shop for some of their delicious organic ice cream.
Dining is one of my favorite things to do in San Francisco. With its hundreds of restaurants and every cuisine imaginable, it is truly a foodie’s paradise. Whether you’re looking for a celebrity-chef owned restaurant or just a food truck, you’ll find what you’re looking for. Here are a few of my favorites. I recommend Alioto’s for exceptional seafood and a fine dining experience. I like chef Hubert Keller’s Burger Bar when I’m in the mood for a good burger and great beer. For some down-home cooking I like Brenda’s French Soul Food. Her crispy fried chicken and fluffy biscuits are simply the best. My husband and I discovered Café Mason by chance and were very pleased with its homey atmosphere, large portions and delicious food – especially the chicken picatta. When we’re in the mood for Italian food we head to North Beach, where there are dozens of choices. We’ve tried several and have never been disappointed. The area is a little “touristy”, so when we want something a little quieter we head to the Nob Hill Café for its intimate atmosphere and delicious Italian food.
Golden Gate Park is a large urban park that offers beautiful green space and a variety of activities. It is often the site of music concerts during the spring and summer months. It is also home to the De Young Museum that features American Art, Modern Art, and special alternating exhibitions. Beauty abounds in the park and you can visit the Japanese Tea Garden, The Conservatory of Flowers, and a botanical garden. There are also several beautiful lakes throughout the park. It is like getting out of the city without actually leaving the city limits.
San Francisco is a surprisingly “walkable” city. Since it is so compact it is easy to stroll from one area to another. But remember, it’s also a very hilly city, so sometimes a stroll can turn into a steep climb. But it is a great city to explore on foot. One evening my husband and I decided to stroll to a new restaurant in the North Beach area. We started at the top of Nob Hill with its luxury and opulence went through the vibrant Union Square, then through the Chinatown Gate where we were met with the kaleidoscope of activity and exotic atmosphere of Chinatown. From there it wasn’t long before we were in North Beach strolling down Columbus Avenue past all of those wonderful Italian restaurants. It felt as if we’d been on a short international trip.
San Francisco is an international city with a patchwork of cultures and a vibrant energy all its own.
Sailing Takes me Away.......
“Sailing takes me away
To where I've always heard it could be
Just a dream and the wind to carry me
And soon I will be free”
These lyrics are from the song “Sailing” by Christopher Cross. When he wrote it back in 1980, I don’t know if he was referring to cruising as we know it, but it serves as a nice cruise reference. Cruising happens to be one of our favorite ways to travel. We started in 1988 and since then have taken 18 cruises in locations all over the world. The cruise industry has evolved quite a bit since then, but it still remains one of the best values for the vacation dollar.
Here are some of the benefits.
Cruising is a great way to enjoy several destinations in one trip. For example, on Mediterranean cruises we’ve visited Venice, Dubrovnik, Naples, Florence, Athens, Santorini, Monte Carlo and Barcelona. We were in each city 1-2 days, so it was a good way to get introduced to those cities and decide if we’d like to go back and spend more time there. If we had booked flights to each of those cities the trip would have been REALLY expensive.
Cruising is great for family/multi-generational travel. There are activities onboard for every age group – from infants to toddlers, to children, teens, adults and senior citizens – everyone can find something that interests them.
Cruising is great for group travel. There are even themed cruises that are targeted to specific affinity groups: jazz cruises, blues cruises, crafting cruises, singles cruises, adventure cruises, Disney cruises…. the list goes on and on. So chances are there’s a cruise that caters to your interests….whatever they may be.
“It's not far back to sanity
At least it's not for me
And if the wind is right you can sail away
And find serenity”
This verse from Christopher Cross’ song speaks directly to one of the best benefits that cruising has to offer….relaxation. The sea rocks you gently to sleep each night. And there is nothing quite as peaceful as sitting on your balcony watching the waves gently roll by. A cruise is a great place to refresh and renew.
Cruise ships offer a variety of dining options. The main dining room offers a fine dining experience every day. But there are also buffets for those who prefer a more casual atmosphere. And there are many other options like burger spots, pizza parlors and so much more. Of course there’s always 24-hour room service available, so you can just pick up the phone and order whatever you like. The price of unlimited food is always included in the cruise fare. Many ships offer specialty-dining venues where, for a small cover charge you can enjoy an exceptionally fine dining experience with impeccable service. I’ll admit, I was doubtful that the specialty restaurants could be better than the main dining room….until our last transatlantic cruise when we decided to try it. It was FABULOUS!
Cruises offer so much for one price. Unlimited food, excellent stage shows and Broadway caliber, entertainment, nightclubs, state-of-the-art gym facilities, designer shopping, duty-free shopping, beautiful swimming pools and Jacuzzis, housekeeping services from your stateroom attendant who will clean your cabin 2-3 times each day and turn down your bed every night.
Is cruising right for everyone? Of course not. There is no one travel style that fits everybody – but cruising covers quite a few of the bases that make a vacation enjoyable. However, it’s important to remember that all cruises are not created equal. It is important to choose a cruise that fits you and will deliver what you want from your vacation. So here are a few tips:
- Consult a travel professional who is familiar with cruising and can help you plan your cruise vacation.
- Choose the right cruise style. There are huge ships that can carry in excess of 5000 passengers, and very small ships that only carry a few hundred people. There are ocean-going ships that sail on the open seas and there are river cruises that only sail up and down rivers. There are smaller vessels that do adventure cruises down the Amazon or to the Galapagos Islands. There are cruise lines that cater to young people and others who cater to an older crowd. There are Disney cruises So it is very important to choose the ship that fits you best. Choosing the right ship can make or break your cruise experience.
- Cruise at the right time of year. Be sure to research weather patterns in the region that you plan to cruise. For example, hurricane season can hit the Caribbean anytime between July and September. The Alaska cruise season goes from May through September.
- Choose the right cruise length. There are cruises as short as 3-4 days. FYI, the cruise lines tend to use their older ships for the short cruises, so they can be more worn and not have all of the modern amenities of the newer ships. But they are a great choice for a long weekend or an introduction to cruising. On the other end of the spectrum there are also world cruises that last from 89-132 days and visit some of the world’s most iconic destinations.
I have logged quite a few travel miles during the last 30 years, and I’ve traveled by land, by sea, by air and by car. But cruising is still my favorite way to go……sailing takes me away.
Our first trip of 2016 was a getaway to one of the most exciting cities in the world, Las Vegas. It is one of our favorite cities and we manage to go there several times every year. It is constantly evolving, so no matter how often we go, there is always something new to see. It has been referred to (and rightfully so) as an adult’s Disneyland.
We fell in love with Las Vegas was in the late 1980’s when Caesar’s Palace was the biggest resort/casino on the Strip. We went to see Sugar Ray Leonard fight Thomas Hearns for the welterweight title and the fight was billed as “The War”. At that time, Caesar’s had the main arena for world class boxing events. That was our introduction to a star-studded event with world famous entertainers and athletes in attendance. Since then we have attended other major boxing matches including Holyfield/Tyson, George Foreman/Michael Moore, James Toney/Roy Jones Jr and Holyfield/Bowe, Oscar de la Hoya/Chavez, Mayweather/Guerrero and many more.
Through the years we’ve seen the Strip completely change with the addition of resorts like New York/New York, MGM, Monte Carlo, Bellagio, Aria, Vdara, Mandarin Oriental, The Cromwell, Wynn/Encore and our personal favorite the Venetian/Palazzo. But even with the new additions, some of the older resorts like Circus Circus and the Riviera are still going strong.
Although Las Vegas has been known primarily for gambling, it has so much more to offer. In recent years it has developed into a foodie’s paradise. There is a long list of celebrity chefs who have restaurants on the Strip; Emeril Lagasse, Wolfgang Puck, Mario Batali, Hubert Keller and Giada de Larentiis, just to name a few. Of course there are numerous buffets and fast foods to choose from. So whether you decide to enjoy Joel Robuchon’s 16-course degustation menu, or a White Castle burger, you can find what you want on the Strip.
Our first meal was at Yardbird Southern Table and Bar where the fried chicken and biscuits were off the hook! They also offered flights of really good craft beers.
Las Vegas offers such a variety of entertainment choices, it is difficult to decide what to do, but this trip was all about sports. The primary reason for this trip was the NCAA Championship football game between Alabama and Clemson. We decided to watch the game at Lagasse’s Stadium in the Palazzo. Not only is the atmosphere wonderful for watching a sporting event, the service is excellent and the food is delicious. And it gets better…there is even a sports book inside. So Robert and Marcus were able to place their bets and collect their winnings while we were there.
On day 2 we ventured downtown to Fremont Street to get a taste of old Vegas. It had been a few years since we’d been there and we found that it has changed also with the addition of a zip line and several new street vendors. There were also some interesting street characters roaming about…like the man who strutted around wearing only a cowboy hat and a G-string…or the man singing old Motown hits with his karaoke machine and one background dancer; kind of like watching Gladys Knight and “a Pip”. Binion’s Horseshoe is still a great place for beginning gamblers who want to get away from the high-pressure stakes that can be found at casinos on the Strip.
On day 3 we hung out at the LINQ, one of the newest hotels on the Strip, next to the Flamingo Hotel. Next to the hotel there is a promenade that has lots of great eateries and shops. The promenade is anchored by the High Roller, the world’s tallest observation wheel – even taller than the London Eye.
After that it was time for lunch so we headed over to Caesar’s Palace to the Bacchanal Buffet. We’ve sampled several other buffets in town, but this is by far the best. There were so many delicious choices that it took me 10 minutes to see all that was being served – then another 10 minutes to plan my eating strategy. I managed to eat everything that I wanted and still had room for crème brulee AND a Nutella crepe…. The 3 of us made quite a dent in the food and still managed to walk out without waddling…too much.
Las Vegas is always a fun getaway and every time we go we discover something new.
- adventure travel
- blue mosque
- book review
- ciragan palace
- family travel
- gothic quarter
- group travel
- hagia sophia
- la boqueria
- la sagrada familia
- las ramblas
- Las Vegas
- montego bay
- super bowl
- travel agents
- Travel Tips
- trip review
- United Arab Emirates
- wine lover
- zipline canopy tour