Beach, Off Season and Here's Why!

The beach...ah, the sun, the surf, ...the crowds!?!  No crowds with a late spring beach trip. This time in late April and early May is one of the best times for the beach. Just about everywhere in North America, this is beach shoulder season! Here's why you should be sampling beaches anywhere in the country and Caribbean, right now!!

South Beach Miami, was pretty quiet in early June compared to mid February! And did I mention my boutique hotle room was half the high season price?

South Beach Miami, was pretty quiet in early June compared to mid February! And did I mention my boutique hotle room was half the high season price?

Up north, beaches are still shrugging off their winter coats of snow.  Early season pricing specials can be found for places that will be unaffordable to mere mortals in July. You'll need a polar fleece, but you'll have the beach to yourself!  In the south, the snowbirds have returned north, and the summer family vacationers haven't arrived yet. In the Caribbean the spring breakers have returned for their final exams, and the Europeans don't have their month-long "holidays" till July or August, leaving rooms open at resorts where the weather really never changes much from season to season, but the prices and crowds do! So start searching for specials at that resort where you've always wanted to stay, or bundle up and pick a beach hotel room up north with it's own roaring fireplace.

For more click why to go to the beach off season here

What's Your Travel Style and What Kind of Trip to Take

Like this Dahl’s sheep in Denali National Park, my adventurous brother likes to hit the trail with his “kids”, and on and off the mountain, he will do all the leg work himself!

Over the last two years, I've talked with a lot people about planning travel, and almost every person tells me that planning travel can be a bit overwhelming because there is just SO MUCH information out there!!  I've noticed that people have distinct styles of how to research (and how much they want to research) and how they book a trip that works for them and their style.  These different styles are exhibited by some of my friends and family...my apologies for calling them out, but I have such admiration for all my friends and how they get out there to GoSeeIt!  So I've named the styles after them! See which style you are, and then see my suggestions for what kind of trip and the best way to book a trip based on that style!

Like this Dahl sheep in Denali National Park, my adventurous brothers likes to hit the trail wit his "kids", and on and off the mountain, he will do all the leg work himself!

Like this Dahl sheep in Denali National Park, my adventurous brothers likes to hit the trail wit his "kids", and on and off the mountain, he will do all the leg work himself!

Bill

Are You a Bill?: My brother Bill will climb Mt Washington- solo.  He will travel to Belize and stay in a shack on the beach to find the best dive spot. He travels on a tight budget and doesn't see the need to pay for guides, fancy hotel rooms, or escorting when you can do it yourself!

What and How To Book: Anywhere you want! Nothing is off limits when nothing is out of your comfort zone.  Some good resources for independent travelers are Lonely Planet or Rick Steeves guide books. I like Airtreks site for point to point air routing for "round the world" type trips, and Hipmunk for comparing airfares, comfort levels and routes. Check out Independent Traveler and Trip Advisor for researching destinations and rock bottom deals. 

 

Dennis

Local markets, like this one in Ecuador appeal to "foodies" who like to shop and cook locally!

Local markets, like this one in Ecuador appeal to "foodies" who like to shop and cook locally!

Are You A Dennis?: Our friend Dennis is a proud  "Foodie".  He likes to scour the markets and check out the local food scene.  He will spend a lot of time researching, and he enjoys spending part of his vacations in a home or apartment with a real kitchen so he can source local ingredients and relax while making meals for his family.  He's been known to bring along cooking equipment on his trips!  

What and How To Book: Look for destinations with a great food scene, and consider spending part of the time in a rental home or apartment.  Consider taking mass market mid size or luxury cruises that offer cooking classes and are well known for their food. Some to try: Celebrity Cruises, River Cruise lines offer beer, wine or food specialty departures, and Air BNB, Homeaway or VRBO for villa rentals in France or Italy where the food scene is renowned (or anywhere else in the world!)

 

 

Judy

Visiting major tourist attractions can be more fun when someone else does the leg work, but you can still tour independently!

Visiting major tourist attractions can be more fun when someone else does the leg work, but you can still tour independently!

Are you A Judy: Judy enjoys active adult adventures, she travels with her husband and likes to explore the culture of a place, but doesn't love bus tours or group tours. She enjoys traveling independently, but doesn't want the expense of a private guide.  

What and How To Book: For a recent trip she planned to Italy, I suggested she try one of the companies that offers booking services to arrange hotel, tickets and tours, and in country transportation, but the touring is all done independently, with a concierge or pre-arranged itinerary. I suggested Judy try Monograms a division of Globus brands. She promises to give me a full report on how that works out after her trip! A good travel agent can also do a similar itinerary, and make all the arrangements, but allow you to travel independently. Be sure to look for a specialist in the destination, who has been there, and works planning trips in that area frequently! 

 

 

Marrianne

Thrilling family adventures, with all the details arranged, are what Marianne's family is looking for! (photo Courtesy of Marianne)

Thrilling family adventures, with all the details arranged, are what Marianne's family is looking for! (photo Courtesy of Marianne)

Are You A Marianne?: Marianne likes to plan trips for her immediate family that are active, but like most families they are busy!!  She doesn't mind spending some time researching the right trip for her family, but she wants all the details handled for her, so she can relax and enjoy her family! Her family wants incredible experiences and destinations, where they can have active adventures together. They don't want to spend a lot of time planning what to pack and traveling to get places, so a comprehensive itinerary and packing list for their destination is a big help. 

What and How To Book: Look for full service luxury tours, where the itinerary is curated for your family.  Lots of pre trip information is provided and all the highlights are covered in the destination, along with special one of a kind access, and superior guiding throughout.  Busy families need short trips that fit their vacation periods and are willing to pay expenses like internal airfares to expedite travel in a short time. Some we've tried or friends have had great experiences with: Adventures By Disney (for younger families or multi generational) Tauck Tours, Natural Habitat (Natural history and wildlife focused) and Backroads (Active adventures)

 

 

Beverly

A comfy coach where someone else does the driving, a guide to handle all the logistics and interpret what you'll see...whether on a mass market cruise, river cruise or escorted land tour. Lots of retirees enjoy camaraderie, budget options and carefree travel with group tours.

A comfy coach where someone else does the driving, a guide to handle all the logistics and interpret what you'll see...whether on a mass market cruise, river cruise or escorted land tour. Lots of retirees enjoy camaraderie, budget options and carefree travel with group tours.

Are you a Beverly?: My Aunt Beverly likes the social aspects of group tours with other retired travelers. She enjoys having all the logistics taken care of on her trips, and she likes to stick to her budget. 

What and How To Book: Beverly enjoys mass market cruises, such as Holland America and fully escorted coach or river cruises with companies like Grand Circle, Viking or Cosmos. These tours cater to retired travelers with budgets that pack a lot of value into longer trips

Don

Travel companies that arrange for travelers to use local transportation options like this public ferry option to Drake Bay, Costa Rica (versus a private charter flight) make small group guided touring more affordable, and works well for retirees who have lots of time!

Travel companies that arrange for travelers to use local transportation options like this public ferry option to Drake Bay, Costa Rica (versus a private charter flight) make small group guided touring more affordable, and works well for retirees who have lots of time!

 

Are you a Don?: Our neighbor Don is retired and travels for weeks at a time.  He wants culturally authentic, small group travel with all the details managed, but lots of time for independent exploration.  He likes connecting with a small group and expert guides, but he wants to stick to a good budget by using local transportation and staying in comfy, but not fancy places. 

What and How To Book: Don and his wife have taken dozens of Overseas Adventures Trips (OAT), a division of Grand Circle.  These trips usually run 3 weeks or longer and are geared for active retirees. Fully guided with accommodations and some meals included, the total prices can be steep, but broken down by cost per day, they are a very reasonable way to travel if you have the time and want a very authentic experience with the safety of a guide and small group.

 

 

Lisa

Small group, expertly guided adventures like this trip to the Galapagos appeal to the solo traveler where they will be integrated and included in all the activities and meals.

Small group, expertly guided adventures like this trip to the Galapagos appeal to the solo traveler where they will be integrated and included in all the activities and meals.

Are You A Lisa?: Lisa is a solo traveler, but it never stops her from taking trips, and having made new friends on her many adventures, she sometimes travels with a small group. Lisa likes active adventures with excellent guiding and good cultural experiences.   

What and How To Book: Small group tours are excellent choices since you'll have a dedicated guide who will work to include you in activities and ensure you have dining companions. And like Lisa, eventually, you may meet new best friends to travel with! Lisa has had great luck with Backroads for land adventures. Midsize cruise lines can be good choices because they sometimes have singles meet ups and so many activities that it's easy to get involved as a solo, and offer more opportunities to meet people since there are fewer passengers. Unfortunately, cruises often count on double occupancy in cabins, and can charge singles as much as twice to book the cabin.  Norwegian Cruise Lines is well known for having many singles cabins on board (although it's a larger line, they make more effort to plan single events) River Cruising is another excellent choice for solo travelers. Most river cruise vessels have small single cabins available for a fraction of the cost of the double occupancy cabins, and with a small passenger load of less than 200 people, it's easy mingle and make friends. Solo cabins go quickly, so plan ahead!  

 

 

Randy

Randy (with his wife above)  is so good at planning fun stuff to do on cruises for his friends, like this private sailing charter in St Thomas, that he and his wife's biennial cruise trip over a dozen friends cruising with them each year!

Randy (with his wife above)  is so good at planning fun stuff to do on cruises for his friends, like this private sailing charter in St Thomas, that he and his wife's biennial cruise trip over a dozen friends cruising with them each year!

Are You A  Randy?: You have a big group to travel with, maybe a big family, or are the trip planner for your company or group, or maybe when you start planning a trip, and all your friends want to go because you are so good at it!  In any case, everyone is counting on YOU to deliver a great trip!!

What and How to Book:  Cruises and all inclusive resorts are popular choices since everyone knows where their meals are coming from, and there is no debating where to eat or trying to accommodate a large group at restaurants.  With a group, you have some leverage, find a specialist travel agent in the destination who will throw in perks and discounts for your group!  You can also contact the groups department of cruise lines or resorts. It's usually best to plan a trip that offers a variety of activities that will appeal to the many different interests of your group or family. Sometimes if your group is big enough, you can score deep discounts or free rooms for your own travel. After all all that hard work herding cats deserves a little pay off for the travel planner! 

Are You a You? 

Whatever your travel style, there is a trip to meet your style, try not to get overwhelmed by the info overload on the web! The trick is finding the right one...that's what we help with...keep reading our blog for inspiration and recommendations of trips and tour companies, and great travel agents that worked for our family and friends. And share with us if you have different travel style and great trips that worked for you!! 

By Kathy Klofft

Photos By: Jeff Klofft (except where noted)

Opinions are independent, no compensation was given for mentions of any products or services

Get Off My Ship!

What to do at the end of a cruise!

The end of a mass market cruise can be pretty rough! The day before you go, paperwork is arrayed on your bed explaining how you'll be processed off the ship, and the Cruise directors will make jokes about leaving your luggage outside your cabin by midnight. It's possible it may all feel a bit ungracious! The crew needs to get passengers off quickly to welcome new guests, usually by midday, so you'll feel the urgency to get you off the ship quickly. But that doesn't mean your vacation has to be over! Read our Disembarkation Tips to make a smooth transition from a cruising vacation to home.

To read more about Rhapsody of the Seas Cruise, click here

By Kathy Klofft 

Photos Jeff Klofft

Disembarkation Tips: 

Of course, it really depends on the port where your cruise ends, but here are some ideas for ending your cruise on a high note, possibly enjoying another day of vacation, or at least making the most of the hours before your flight home!

1- Check your itinerary before booking flights.

Check to make sure your flight is scheduled well after the time your ship arrives in port. Be sure you know how long that transfer will take and build in the time you need before your flight. Usually, the documents you receive from the cruise line will suggest the earliest time you can expect to fly based on needing to collect your luggage and pass through customs and immigration after leaving the ship. 

Be sure that the airport you choose to fly out of is really closest to your port. Sometimes, there is a smaller regional airport closer to your cruise port than the major airport. Or you might find you need to pre arrange transportation over some distance to get to the main airport because cabs are unwilling to take such a long trip. (This is true especially in Europe)  Most cruise lines offer transfers to the airport and that can be a good option. But be sure to research your options. Sometimes a taxi or ride hailing app can be cheaper than the ships transfer for 2 or more people!  

Where is the port in relation to the airport, can you get a cab, does the port allow ride hailing app services? What time do arrive in port?  Be sure to arrange your flight well after this time!

Where is the port in relation to the airport, can you get a cab, does the port allow ride hailing app services? What time do arrive in port?  Be sure to arrange your flight well after this time!

 

2- Take the pressure off rushing to the airport by staying overnight in the disembarkation  

You might find that the disembarkation port has plenty to do, we found that to be true in Tampa.  We were able to extend our vacation by booking a hotel room on Saturday and by booking an early flight on Sunday, we enjoyed Saturday night out on the town!  Some ports are destinations themselves and we plan to extend our vacation with a few days in ports like Old San Juan, PR or Rome, Italy.   With so many people arriving in town the same day, sometimes hotel rooms can be expensive, I like to check online to see if there are any specials offered for cruisers at local hotels. If hotels are too pricey, see our next tip...

We enjoyed a long walk along the Tampa Riverwalk the day we disembarked and stayed in town overnight for a Broadway style show and dinner. It's a short cab ride or ride hailing service ride from the port

We enjoyed a long walk along the Tampa Riverwalk the day we disembarked and stayed in town overnight for a Broadway style show and dinner. It's a short cab ride or ride hailing service ride from the port

 

3- Lots of connections to make?

When a cruise ship gets in too late make all the connections you need to get home, you don't have to stay in the expensive port city with all the people you just sailed with! You can start your flights, arrive in one of your less expensive connection cities and book an inexpensive airport hotel for the night there.  After one cruise, I needed to transfer from the port to the main city in Costa Rica, and then fly to Florida. Without a direct flight to the city I needed to get to, rather than stay overnight in a pricey Costa Rica hotel during the high season, I flew to Atlanta, stayed in an inexpensive airport hotel and made my way to my Florida city early the following morning!

When a small plane was the first of 3 flights to leave Drake Bay and end up in South Florida, it was cheaper to stay in Atlanta overnight than in Costa Rica during the high winter season. 

When a small plane was the first of 3 flights to leave Drake Bay and end up in South Florida, it was cheaper to stay in Atlanta overnight than in Costa Rica during the high winter season. 

 

4- Late flight?

Look for luggage storage services. Sometimes, the time the ship pulls into port is too late to plan the early flights, and the flights available leave you with a lot of time to kill in port.  While that can give you time to explore, it also means dragging your luggage around with you!  Here are some ideas for what to do with your luggage. These days, most airports will not allow you to "store" luggage, and the trip to and from the airport to check it can eat up a lot of your touring time before the flight, as well as be expensive with multiple transfers.

The good news is that in many ports, there are businesses that will stash your luggage in exchange for your dining or visiting there.  In Tampa, I saw advertisements that a ticket to the Florida Aquarium includes free luggage storage. With the aquarium withing walking distance of the port and the Channelside Bay Plaza, this is an excellent choice for leaving luggage if you want to explore Channelside near the port. A quick google search or reading forums on the ports you plan to visit will usually yield a few options for luggage storage, whether a restaurant or tour, that you can take advantage of during the day. 

While waiting for your flight, you can watch the next set of passengers embarking the ship from the Channelside Plaza in Tampa. 

While waiting for your flight, you can watch the next set of passengers embarking the ship from the Channelside Plaza in Tampa. 

 

5- Late Flight? Book a cruise line excursion that includes an airport transfer.

The cruise lines know that passengers have late flights and will offer excursions that allow you to store your luggage (often right under the bus) and enjoy a tour or activity in the port city and then transfer you to the airport.  The disadvantage is that these will still usually require you to be at the airport well in advance of your flight, since they need to get everyone back for a variety of flight times. 

I often recommend adding a ships excursion to the Everglades National Park and airport transfer for foreign visitors with late flights from southern FL. 

I often recommend adding a ships excursion to the Everglades National Park and airport transfer for foreign visitors with late flights from southern FL. 

Lastly, most people who enjoy cruising will tell you the best way to end a great cruise, is to book another one to look forward too! Happy sailing!

To read more about Rhapsody of the Seas Cruise, click here

What To Do in Cozumel

By Kathy Klofft

Photos by Kathy and Jeff Klofft

A crowd of ships in port in Cozumel.

It seems most cruise ships call on Cozumel, judging by the amount of them in port on the average winter day.   It can be intimidating to plan a shore excursion when there are as many as 10 ships in port, creating a crowd of 15-30 thousands visitors a day!  Here is some advice for planning a fun and even potentially relaxing day in Cozumel. 

For more about our recent Caribbean cruise to Cozumel click here to see our on going trip report Rhapsody of the Seas

Tip 1: Know where you are!

There are three major port terminals in Cozumel. They are very close to each other, but when arranging private tours or taxi rides back to port, make sure you know where your ship will be docked! Punta Langosta is downtown San Miguel, and used primarily by small ships, The International Pier and Puerta Maya, about 1.5 miles from the town of San Miguel are sued by the larger ships.

Tip 2: Know what you want to do!

The Cozumel excursions fall into to broad categories- excursions on Cozumel and excursions on the mainland of Mexico (via a high speed ferry to Playa Del Carmen)

Mainland excursions usually include:

  • Mayan Ruins
  • Cenote swims or beach breaks (these are sometimes added to a vist to Mayan Ruins)
  • Xplor, Xel Ha and Xcaret are big mainland adventure parks with a variety of beach/ ziplines/ rafting activities

(Also, before choosing to go to the Mainland, consider that the enclosed high speed ferry to the Playa Del Carmen can be rough, and some people have trouble with motion sickness.)

This Mayan ruin is on the island, much more dramatic ruins can be found on the mainland, but require a lot of travel. We were told this water front structure served two purposes; one was to create a "whistle" warning sound out of the top (like a teapot) for ancient islanders living on the interior of the islands, to alert them when high hurricane winds were beginning to blow on the coast.  The stone structure also served as a shelter for fishermen who could not make it back to their homes on higher ground during a storm. 

This Mayan ruin is on the island, much more dramatic ruins can be found on the mainland, but require a lot of travel. We were told this water front structure served two purposes; one was to create a "whistle" warning sound out of the top (like a teapot) for ancient islanders living on the interior of the islands, to alert them when high hurricane winds were beginning to blow on the coast.  The stone structure also served as a shelter for fishermen who could not make it back to their homes on higher ground during a storm. 

 

Cozumel island excursions include:

  • Beach breaks; there are several options from beach clubs that only charge a dollar or two (such as Paradise Beach) for a chair, hoping you'll buy food and alcohol at prices similar to US prices (which is well above MX prices) or all inclusive capacity controlled "quiet" beaches that charge $50 per person(such as Nachi CoCom).  Analyze how much you plan to eat or drink to decide which is a good deal for you. 
  • Mexican food or tequila tasting tours, which you can book independently ahead of time, join the ships tours, or explore the food in the town of San Miguel on your own. (it's generally advised not to drink the water in MX unless the place you are dining uses filtered water...most ships excursions and beach clubs use filtered water, but it can't hurt to ask!)
  • Snorkel and Diving and glass submarines; Part of the MesoAmerican reef, Cozumel has some amazing sights underwater.  Depending on the your training and comfort level, you can go diving, take an easy shore snorkel tour or even board a submersible with windows to enjoy the fish and coral. 
  • Jeeps/4x4s/or buggy adventures. The island offers several adventure parks and off road tours where you can take control of your own jeep or buggy and explore the island with a guide leading the way. 
  • Dolphin and Sea Lion Encounters. There are two major dolphin encounter sites on Cozumel. Dolphin Discovery and Chankanaab Park  It is one of the least expensive places to do this kind of activity if it appeals to you.  (about $100 per person vs nearly $500 per person for a US based marine park) It is worth making an advance reservation for dolphin encounters, they are popular and sell out quickly.  The parks give priority times to ships excursions, and there are so many that if you book independently, you may miss out because the only time slots left is too late. 

Tip 3: Know how much time you have (and what time it IS!!)

As a cruiser, you need to decide if you want to do a mainland excursion where the ferry takes an hour or more and often the bus to the excursion start can be another hour or more.  This means that during a 8 hour port stay, you could be traveling up to half of it just to get to your adventure.  Read the descriptions carefully to make sure you know how much actual time you'll have at the site you want to see!

Another thing to consider is if you plan a trip to the mainland, be sure you get back to the ship on time. Delays with the ferry or on the road can cause a delayed return and you could miss your ship. Taking a ship's excursion to get the mainland is a good idea because they often charter their own ferry and I have occasionally seen the ship waiting for that ferry to arrive a few minutes late before departing port. 

Another tricky time trick?  Cozumel is on Eastern Standard Time, but they don't observe Daylight Savings Time, so sometimes you'll need to reset your watches while in port during the winter.  Generally, the ship will make this clear and make lots of announcements ahead of time.  But be sure to change your watch and DON'T rely on your cell phone if you have it in airplane mode while traveling out of the country...it won't update automatically unless you have cell service!!

Make sure you get back top the ship on time!  You wouldn't want to miss a sunset like this on the ship leaving Cozumel! 

For more about our recent Caribbean cruise to Cozumel click here to see our on going trip report Rhapsody of the Seas