What's Wrong With Their Home?

That's the question people might ask if they took a look at our travel schedule in 2017! Luckily, we love our home...but we also like to explore the world.  We especially love to explore it with people we love and meet new friends all over the globe. Travel is all about connecting with people all over the world, and we feel very fortunate to have met and traveled with so many incredible people. We are grateful to all the people who followed our adventures and those who shared their corner of the world with us! We especially want to thank the folks who shared THEIR trips with us in our GoSeeIt People interviews. (You can find the interviews here)  We love hearing about your travels too! THANK YOU! We hope you have many safe travels in 2018 and wish the very best in the coming year!

Over the last year here are some of the places we've been able to explore.  Click on any link to see more photos in our posts and learn more about each destination! (Next week, we will share where we are headed next!)

What A Year! 

Shanghai, China

A trip to visit our daughter in NYC took us to some of the less visited places in NYC...Flatbush, Harlem, DUMBO. See our trip report here! And about the more popular places in  NYC here  and  here .

A trip to visit our daughter in NYC took us to some of the less visited places in NYC...Flatbush, Harlem, DUMBO. See our trip report here! And about the more popular places in NYC here and here.

Exploring Venice from the water

Exploring Venice from the water

This small country offers environment from coastal to alpine, as is seen here at Lake Bled, as well as one of the prettiest little European capitals, Ljubljana. 

This small country offers environment from coastal to alpine, as is seen here at Lake Bled, as well as one of the prettiest little European capitals, Ljubljana. 

Gentlemen outside a cafe in Cavtat

Gentlemen outside a cafe in Cavtat

The gorges leading to the port of Kotor in Montenegro. 

The gorges leading to the port of Kotor in Montenegro. 

Candles outside of the St Spyridon's Orthodox Church in Corfu, Greece

Candles outside of the St Spyridon's Orthodox Church in Corfu, Greece

A Maltese balcony on Republic Street flies the EU and Matlese flags. 

A Maltese balcony on Republic Street flies the EU and Matlese flags. 

An incredible day hike up Mt Etna with 3 mountaineers, wine and homemamde parmigiana!

A local character in Nocello greets visitors who hike The Path of the Gods on the Amalfi Coast

A local character in Nocello greets visitors who hike The Path of the Gods on the Amalfi Coast

Rome

Bernini Old Boat Fountain at the Spanish Steps in Rome

Montreal

Montreal put on a warm welcome before the Christmas holidays. 

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

Wildlife Among the "Wild Life"

By Kathy Klofft

Photos: Kathy Klofft

I spend a few weeks each winter in Southwest Florida, on the Gulf Coast. This time of year, things can get a bit "wild" according to my relatives who live here...traffic backs up for miles to cross bridges that bring them to Estero or Sanibel Islands, people circle parking lots waiting for spots, restaurants have waiting lines out the door for dinner and that's at 4:30 PM! Yes, when snowbirds and spring breakers all arrive at the same time, it can be "wild"!  

Kayaking in the mangroves along the Calusa Blueway in Ft Myers.

Kayaking in the mangroves along the Calusa Blueway in Ft Myers.

But what about the REAL snowbirds? The feathered fauna who arrive from all over the East Coast to feed and stay out of the cold northern climes. They are the real "wildlife" of Florida, and you don't have to go very far to find it. Two years ago, I shared this post about how to find real Florida, http://www.goseeittravel.com/travel-blog/2015/1/26/real-florida and while this little corner of Florida where I visit has only gotten busier, I still can find a quiet spot to dip my paddle or peddle a bike or walk where the wildlife lives and is usually pretty patient with me watching, so long as I am quiet and not a threat! 

During my 2 hour paddle through mangroves, lagoons and out to the beach on the bay; I saw a kingfisher, herons, egrets, tree crabs, skimmers, gulls and a flapping sea turtle on the surface of the bay, who spied me with his little eye, and took a deep dive down under the sea.  What I didn't see till I got to the beach and the good fishing areas, was another human being! (I've included some photos, which I hope you will excuse for being a little "foggy", I used my iPhone inside an Overboard water proof case, but it's tricky to prevent the inside of the bag from fogging up a little) 

Hope the next time you travel somewhere known for beaches, nightlife, or all you can eat buffets, you'll also get a chance to take a few minutes to meet the real life "wild residents" too!  

 

A heron sits in the mangroves, keeping an eye on me as I glide in its direction on my kayak.  

A heron sits in the mangroves, keeping an eye on me as I glide in its direction on my kayak.  

Kayaking in the mangroves  

Kayaking in the mangroves  

A Colorful Tour of South Beach, Miami

Our family visited South Beach Miami as a pre stay before our charter flight to Cuba. We spent a couple of days taking in all the color of South Beach, based at the Blue Moon (a Marriott boutique hotel) located on Collins Ave, we were able to explore South Beach, South Point Park, Espanola Way and the Lincoln Road Pedestrian Mall. 

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Our first stop on the evening we arrived was Joe's Stone Crab. I remember going there and gorging on crab legs during a business trip more than 20 years ago. Not much has changed since...the restaurant still offers excellent seafood in an elegant environment. Those platters of stone crabs aren't cheap, (I'm kind of sorry I couldn't put them on an expense account!) but they are delicious and the service is top notch! 

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The raw bar at Joe's Stone Crab

The raw bar at Joe's Stone Crab

As evening rolled around, not only was the sunset colorful, but South Beach in the evening got even more colorful! We started our walk at South Point Park on Biscayne Bay, and made our way up South Beach. 

The sky puts on its own colorful display at sunset on South Beach

The sky puts on its own colorful display at sunset on South Beach

Sunday night beach volleyball at courts by South Beach amped up with lights and music and a bar! 

Sunday night beach volleyball at courts by South Beach amped up with lights and music and a bar! 

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Ocean Drive is the "main" drag in South Beach, a colorful place day or night! 

Ocean Ave is a scene for people with fancy cars to show off their "rides" by looping around Collins and Ocean Ave all night. 

Ocean Ave is a scene for people with fancy cars to show off their "rides" by looping around Collins and Ocean Ave all night. 

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Plenty of colorful neon decorates the Art Deco buildings in South Beach.

Plenty of colorful neon decorates the Art Deco buildings in South Beach.

The next day, we had a swim on the beach before seeking advice from our concierge at Blur Moon about a good place to get pizza for lunch. He recommended Pizza Rustica, a little take out and delivery place on Washington Ave. 

Pizza Rustica is a just a store front with a broiling hot pizza oven and a counter top inside  or some umbrella tables outside, but the pizza is deliciouso!

Pizza Rustica is a just a store front with a broiling hot pizza oven and a counter top inside  or some umbrella tables outside, but the pizza is deliciouso!

It was hot in South Beach in mid June, but no place could be hotter than right here! 

It was hot in South Beach in mid June, but no place could be hotter than right here! 

These are called "huge squares" and cost $3.50- $5.75 for one depending on the toppings. In addition to being one of the best lunch values in town, this is truth in advertising! 

These are called "huge squares" and cost $3.50- $5.75 for one depending on the toppings. In addition to being one of the best lunch values in town, this is truth in advertising! 

Another fun colorful stop for art fans or design geeks is the Wolfsonian (link).  There are also some really interesting and colorful historical propaganda posters collected from all over the world that appealed to the history buffs in our family! 

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Our design geek loved the displays of Art Deco items. 

Our design geek loved the displays of Art Deco items. 

Here is an interesting and colorful metal Art Deco style vanity, which I happened to colorfully matched that day! 

Here is an interesting and colorful metal Art Deco style vanity, which I happened to colorfully matched that day! 

Another area to visit is Espanola Way on Washington. This area has some pricey sidewalk cafes and more reasonably priced boutiques.  It's a nice quiet and shady area in the heart of the city.

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Espanola Way has examples of Mediterranean architecture. 

Espanola Way has examples of Mediterranean architecture. 

Well...this shop isn't very colorful! 

Well...this shop isn't very colorful! 

Here's a shop that is very colorful, and the clerk was super friendly. 

Here's a shop that is very colorful, and the clerk was super friendly. 

A little further up from Espanola Way is the Lincoln Road Pedestrian Mall. In addition to all the usual chain mall stores, there are independent stores and lots of sidewalk cafe restaurants lining both sides of Lincoln Rd. 

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Dylan's Candy Bar is a very colorful shop for kids and kids at heart! 

Dylan's Candy Bar is a very colorful shop for kids and kids at heart! 

The man made shops and cafes are not the only colorful thing on Lincoln Road, this little gecko was showing off his colors trying to attract a mate on a tree right next to our table at Locanda Sabilla.

The man made shops and cafes are not the only colorful thing on Lincoln Road, this little gecko was showing off his colors trying to attract a mate on a tree right next to our table at Locanda Sabilla.

South Beach is very easy to navigate, with a grid of numbered streets intersecting all the main tourist thoroughfares; Ocean, Collins and Washington. It's easy to walk the whole area of you don't mind putting in a few miles. Traffic is almost always thick, and parking tight, so we found it easier to walk and could calculate how long our walk would be based on street the street address to our next stop. If it's just too hot to walk, (or your heels are too high) once there, there is a tourist bus that runs for a nominal fee and stops at all the major areas. After a day walking around hot and colorful South Beach, there is nothing better than slipping into a colorful, cool pool! 

The pool at Blue Moon on Collins Ave. 

The pool at Blue Moon on Collins Ave. 

For an interesting Colorless Tour of South Beach Miami, see our post here: 

http://www.goseeittravel.com/travel-blog/2015/7/29/art-deco-tour-south-beach-miami

 

Disney Bans Selfie Sticks!? Yes, and Thank You!

See, even our family takes selfies! This time at Los Nardos restaurant in Havana...but selfie sticks?  No way! 

See, even our family takes selfies! This time at Los Nardos restaurant in Havana...but selfie sticks?  No way! 

I'm not above taking a fun travel selfie, but I'm happy to see this fad being rejected across the travel landscape. Why? Not because I'm some Luddite who believes in the "good old days", when travel meant a guide book and a Brownie camera, because I fully embrace many new technologies to make travel easier, more fun and to connect with others. Without my cell phone I would not have connected with a great local guide in Budapest, found my way on foot around Burlington VT, or known to get a great deal on my last cruise. It's become an invaluable tool. And yes, it's even a camera...but I draw the line at the selfie stick because if fufills all 3 of Ms Bissonette- Clark's 3 Ds, which is not a good thing! (Footnote: Ms. B-C, was my children's grade school principal and she always taught the children not to commit the 3 Ds)

 

Dangerous 

Selfie sticks are long and usually made of metal. In some countries they are the only weapon the policemen carry! Even if you never encounter a selfie stick wielding mad man who is better armed than the local police during your travels, you are very likely to get bonked in the head with one at Leaning Tower of Pisa. 

 Destructive

This is generally the stated reason by most institutions for banning the selfie stick. Having visitors wave a large pole around a world class museum filled with priceless treasures is a recipe for disaster. It's only going to take a couple of insurance claims on the part of the museums before the risk loss management specialist says, "Nu uh, you can't afford insurance if patrons use those things". (Of course they won't say it THAT way, they will say it in a tersely worded memo instead, and charge by the hour) 

 Disrespectful

Selfies at a funeral or with the WWII Veterans Memorial? We've all seen the pictures, we've all feigned the outrage (because I know I've been so good at feigning outrage and then being guilty of being outrageous myself) This is a slippery slope, and I know culture changes, and the next generation does things their way. But it's disrespectful to any culture to not do your homework. Understand what happened at a place, or what a monument exists to commemorate and what it means to the people there. Lots of people head off to Vlad the Impalers castle in Romania like they are taking a ride through the Haunted Mansion. But he was a real guy, a real bad guy, who killed real people, in a real bad way, even if it was a real long time ago. It's still important to respect that fact and the people who live in that place and may still find it difficult to live with that history.

Lastly, even if you are certain you would never commit the 3 Ds, (Mrs B-C would be proud) I'd still suggest this reason for not using a selfie stick. Maybe this story will give you the motivation and courage needed to hand your camera to a stranger when you are standing in front of a monument instead. My husband was taking pictures in Turkey on the Asian side when a young woman in a head scarf traveling all alone pantomimed askimg him if he would take her picture. She probably recongnized that since his camera was more expensive than hers, he would be unlikely to run off with it! He obliged and used her camera to take a photo. Jeff, who always appreciates an opportunity to get a street portrait, pantomimed back asking if he could take her photo with HIS camera, she agreed and posed, then she pantomimed that she would like to take a photo of him with HER camera. Not a word was exchanged, but later my husband told me this was one of the most interesting and special encounters he's ever had taking street portraits, and felt like he'd made a friend. So leave the selfie stick at home, save the art work and your fellow travelers from concussions and every time you hand your camera over to a stranger to "take our picture?" you have an encounter, a real connection with a real person, and you have the opportunity to make a friend. And isn't that why we travel? 

Jeff was shooting Istanbul at sunset when a stranger asked him to take her photo..

Jeff was shooting Istanbul at sunset when a stranger asked him to take her photo..

...and became a friend! 

...and became a friend! 

"Real" Florida

I recently visited the very popular Fort Myers/Sanibel tourist area on the west coast of Florida. My parents spend their winters there and over the years they and other relatives have lived there, I've seen that part of Florida change drastically.  My first visit more than 20 years ago took me past miles of gladioli farms, now as I ride down San Carlos Blvd each year, I pass miles of condos, Walgreen's and Walmart's.  I've also spent a fair amount of time on the east coast and central Florida. I've enjoyed Walt Disney World, visiting nearly every few years for most of my life.  I appreciate the incredible imagination that created a magical world where there was once "nothing".  But I always wonder what was there when there was "nothing"?  What happened to the "real" Florida, the natural place that existed before developers and Imagineers found it?  

Mickey is always on hand in Florida to welcome guests, but what did Florida look like hundreds or thousands of years ago?

Mickey is always on hand in Florida to welcome guests, but what did Florida look like hundreds or thousands of years ago?

Florida is not only a top travel destination in the US, it's one of the top destinations in the world! According to the Jacksonville Business Journal 94.7 million people visited Florida in 2013. Whenever I give advice to international visitors in online forums,  I always encourage them to spend at least part of their holiday seeing "real" Florida.  Of course Sea World and Walgreens are "real" and are in Florida, but what I mean by this is experiencing what Florida was (and in some places still IS) when "nothing" was there.  I feel that it's important to experience natural Florida.  It's the inverse of my belief that when I am visiting an area known for it's natural beauty (like an African safari or Galapagos islands) I like to sample the culture of the local people.  I've found ways to enjoy natural Florida (even as part of a trip doing some "unreal" things like resort beach vacations and Disney trips) and I've really enjoyed experiencing what Florida must have been like before all the development. 

How To Find a Natural Area in Florida

I've since learned that The Florida State University has made an interactive map of Florida Natural Areas Inventory you can use to find natural areas anywhere in Florida.  I like it because it lists everything in any given area, National Parks, County Parks, Local parks, parks owned and operated by non governmental agencies or even for profit.  Once you know where you will be in Florida, I'd encourage every visitor to locate at least one of these areas and visit the next time you visit Florida.  

link to Florida Natural Areas Inventory

I usually try to find a time where I can fit in some natural outdoor activities, but sometimes, my trips to natural areas happen by accident like my visit to the Anne Kolb Nature Center in Hollywood FL. After a cruise from Fort Lauderdale, we had a lot of time to kill before a late flight and we took a cruise line provided bus to Hollywood Beach. The weather was a bit overcast for hanging on the beach, so we rented bikes on the Broadwalk (that's not a typo- that's what they call it, I don't know why, but my theory is someone sent the wrong spelling to the printer and no one had the budget to change it!!) On the local map we were handed, we noticed the Anne Kolb Nature Center, and decided to ride over there.  Amazingly, this natural gem was tucked away about a mile from the beach and shops of Hollywood Beach. 

 Anne Kolb Nature Center 

link to Anne Kolb Nature Center

The AKNC is located along the inter coastal waterways; although we rented bikes to get there, we had to either walk them or lock them up to enjoy the boardwalks and trails in the park.

The AKNC is located along the inter coastal waterways; although we rented bikes to get there, we had to either walk them or lock them up to enjoy the boardwalks and trails in the park.

Winters in Florida are a wonderful time to see birds.  This flock of Ibis was foraging right along the roadway to AKNC.

Winters in Florida are a wonderful time to see birds.  This flock of Ibis was foraging right along the roadway to AKNC.

Even the tiniest fauna can be interesting to watch at the AKNC.

Even the tiniest fauna can be interesting to watch at the AKNC.

 

 

Everglades National Park

link to Everglades National Park

I am often asked by foreign visitors on user content forums about what to do in addition to a cruise out of South Florida or a trip to the imaginative attractions in Orlando.  I always recommend a trip to the Florida Everglades.  This National Park is very accessible to the major cities and attractions of both the east and west coasts. One of the major attractions is a huge population of alligators.  They are easily and safely viewed at the Everglades National Park and although they don't move often or much, they are fascinating to see! For foreign visitors it may be their first visit to our National Park System and might excite them to return to visit  more of our amazing National Parks.

Wildlife is everywhere you look at Everglades National Park; here we saw a heron, roseate spoonbill and several big gators!

Wildlife is everywhere you look at Everglades National Park; here we saw a heron, roseate spoonbill and several big gators!

Big alligators are popular attractions at Everglades National Park (ENP)

Big alligators are popular attractions at Everglades National Park (ENP)

Another big alligator at ENP

Another big alligator at ENP

An alligator ready for his close up (Jeff used a long lens, I don't recommend getting this close!) at ENP

An alligator ready for his close up (Jeff used a long lens, I don't recommend getting this close!) at ENP

A rare wood stork at the Everglades National Park; conservation efforts have increased their population and I seem to see one on almost every visit to South Florida now.

A rare wood stork at the Everglades National Park; conservation efforts have increased their population and I seem to see one on almost every visit to South Florida now.

Most of our west coast natural area visits have come about because my parents live there and have taken us to their favorite places.  Some are county parks, others Audubon parks and even some privately owned parks. In every part of Florida, right around the corner from the pizza joints and beach stores on the beach or the condo developments built on pro designed golf courses, there are quiet, natural places to enjoy what Florida might have been like thousands of years ago!

Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

link to: Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

Audubon maintains a 2.25 mile curving boardwalk (the corkscrew!) through acres of cypress trees.  The "knees" of these trees provide habitat for many animals and they are easily and safely viewed from the boardwalk.  Also, many of the natural areas we've visited are staffed with volunteers or guides who are helpful in pointing out wildlife, answering questions and setting up spotting scopes to help guests see more distant animals. 

My own young children found a winter walk at the Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary (CSS) rewarding because the foliage is light making animal viewing easy and the boardwalk is more "fun" than a regular hiking trail.

My own young children found a winter walk at the Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary (CSS) rewarding because the foliage is light making animal viewing easy and the boardwalk is more "fun" than a regular hiking trail.

Small lizards and crabs also use the boardwalk at CSS.

Small lizards and crabs also use the boardwalk at CSS.

I've noticed that the raccoon are more active during the day in the natural areas in Florida than in other parts of the country.

I've noticed that the raccoon are more active during the day in the natural areas in Florida than in other parts of the country.

We enjoyed playing "eye spy" with some of the smaller critters, we were assured this one was not dangerous, but it was fascinating!

We enjoyed playing "eye spy" with some of the smaller critters, we were assured this one was not dangerous, but it was fascinating!

Great Calusa Blueway

link to Great Calusa Blueway

Not every nature trail is on land in Florida...in a state with so much water and so close to sea level, many "trails" are actually boardwalks over swamps or mangroves making them easier to manage for people with limited mobility.  Some trails are actually on the water!  The Great Calusa Blueway I paddled on the west coast, is just one of many water trails designed for small craft. It's also an accessible way to see "real Florida". During my paddle I met a US vet who lost a leg in combat, who hopped into his kayak and headed out on the water trail!  Most natural areas feature vendors who rent kayaks, bikes, and paddle boards for use in the parks. I rented a kayak for $35 for a 1/2 day and explored the mangroves of the Carlos Bay Bunche Beach Preserve and a short paddle along the Great Calusa Blueway.

Markers designate the Great Calusa Blueway and provide a nice perch!

Markers designate the Great Calusa Blueway and provide a nice perch!

Kayaking on San Carlos Bay, near a huge flock of skimmers! (Apologies for the quality of the kayaking photos- this is an example of a "bad" Kathy photos. Taken with an iphone through a OverBoard waterproof case, all the other photos are Jeff's)

Kayaking on San Carlos Bay, near a huge flock of skimmers! (Apologies for the quality of the kayaking photos- this is an example of a "bad" Kathy photos. Taken with an iphone through a OverBoard waterproof case, all the other photos are Jeff's)

San Carlos Bay Preserve

link to San Carlos Bay Perserve

Paddling through the mangrove had me thinking about how this was probably how the native people of Florida might have traveled around Florida thousands of years ago!

Paddling through the mangrove had me thinking about how this was probably how the native people of Florida might have traveled around Florida thousands of years ago!

I've added a video below of a small crab I encountered during my paddle. These little crabs live in the mud and climb the mangrove trees.  The outfitter who provided the kayak warned me that I'd see them in the "mangrove tunnel". They could be unsettling if you weren't aware of them because they scuttle out of the way when you get near them, but they aren't dangerous.  They are very shy, as you can see I had to encourage this one to scoot in front of the camera by waving my paddle behind the branch (no crabs were injured in the making of this video!) It's not a great quality video; I was trying to paddle a kayak in a mangrove channel only inches wider than the boat, while operating an iphone video one handed, through the OverBoard waterproof case (which was a bit fogged) and without my glasses to see anything on the screen!

Skimmers at Bunche Beach at San Carlos Preserve, a very popular beach with birders, most mornings you'll see a small group of spotters with binoculars and huge lenses to capture migratory birds that gather here. (Jeff's photo...and much better!)

Skimmers at Bunche Beach at San Carlos Preserve, a very popular beach with birders, most mornings you'll see a small group of spotters with binoculars and huge lenses to capture migratory birds that gather here. (Jeff's photo...and much better!)

Hey, is that bird drunk? My favorite bird on the Bunche Beach, a Reddish Egret, a type of heron that uses a stumbling gait to confuse small schools of fish in order eat them!  Viewed from land he appears to be stumbling around drunk! 

Hey, is that bird drunk? My favorite bird on the Bunche Beach, a Reddish Egret, a type of heron that uses a stumbling gait to confuse small schools of fish in order eat them!  Viewed from land he appears to be stumbling around drunk! 

None of these photos were taken in a zoo!

Certainly, we've seen a lot of beautiful natural areas over years of visits to Florida. And yet, I have only visited a tiny fraction of the natural areas on the FNAI map  As I look over these photos, none were taken in a zoo, nor were we stationed at a park for hours at dawn like National Geographic wildlife photographers; all of these places and animals are easily viewed during a simple hour long walk, bike ride or paddle! They were all found within an hour or so (sometimes just a 5 minute walk around the corner) from the most developed parts of Florida.  "Real" Florida is everywhere and easy (and rewarding) to find! I hope you'll find your real, natural Florida on your next trip, and please share your favorite places with us!

Disney Last Minute with Late Mornings...How's That Possible!?

Tips for young adults and other people who just don't enjoy getting things done early!

No matter when you arrive, you can have a fun day if you know a few Disney secrets!

No matter when you arrive, you can have a fun day if you know a few Disney secrets!

I recently sent my 20 year old daughter and her 21 year old cousin to Walt Disney World (WDW) for the weekend during their winter break. We had planned to be in Florida recently to visit my parents on the West Coast of Florida. Since our cousin lives in that area year round and has an annual pass for Disney, and my daughter had an extra non expired day on a ticket from 2 years ago, the girls thought it would be fun to cruise over to Orlando and spend the weekend. Our cousin booked 2 nights at the POP Century about a month before the trip and got a Florida resident rate.  Other than that, the girls made no advance plans, and neither is well known for being an early bird! I wondered just exactly how this trip would go. 

For me it would have been an unmitigated disaster...I plan Disney trips like a military campaign complete with spread sheets, multiple planning apps and checking crowd calendars, but I have different priorities and goals than 2 young adults. They enjoyed some later mornings and last minute reservations (and let's face it, they encountered more than a few snafus) but being young and adaptable, and having visited many times before, they happily went with the flow. I wouldn't suggest this kind of trip for people taking a first trip to WDW, or for a trip with little kids who are less adaptable, but if you ever find yourself with an impromptu day or two at WDW (conventions are often held in Orlando and you might find yourself with an extra 1/2 day in WDW sometime! ) or are the type of person who felt you would never like WDW because it's not in your nature to plan so far ahead,  here are some of the tips my daughter and I suggest to make even a last minute trip to WDW fun!

You don't have to stay at a high end hotel in WDW to benefit from the concierge services. (the lobby at the Contemporary Resort)

You don't have to stay at a high end hotel in WDW to benefit from the concierge services. (the lobby at the Contemporary Resort)

Tips for a Last Minute and Late Start Visit in WDW

1) If you can stay in a WDW resort, you can take advantage of the concierge services to plan much of your last minute trip.  These services are available even in the lobbies of Disney hotels that cost as little as $120 per night.  And the Value Hotels at WDW also offer food court style dining which can be much faster for breakfast than getting up late and then sitting down for breakfast at a restaurant. If you've truly not planned anything at all for your WDW visit, go to the concierge to buy your tickets and get a  recommendation about which park is best to visit that day. They will have the best idea about which park is likely to be least crowded and which might have special events that will create bigger crowds.

Special events like Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party can affect crowds, the concierge will know where to send you for the best experience!

Special events like Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party can affect crowds, the concierge will know where to send you for the best experience!

 

2) Also use the concierge to ask them which restaurant is a good choice. They can make those reservations for you. It may not be the hottest ticket in town (places like the Princess character breakfast in the castle book up literally within minutes of "opening" reservations 365 days in advance) but the concierge will be in the "know" about which places are likely to have some openings and save you the time and energy of wandering to restaurants that already have a full slate of reservations and a huge standby waiting line.  If you are already getting to the parks late, you can plan to eat at off times, (think lunch at 3 PM, dinner at 9) which will allow you to avoid normal meal crowds and enjoy a relatively quieter park when everyone else is eating. You'll enjoy more park time knowing you have a late lunch reservation and wont have to wait standby to eat when you are hungry!

Popular dining spots like "Be Our Guest" in Beast's Castle at Magic Kingdom, are a hot ticket, booked well in advance.  There may be no way to score a table without months of planning, but the hotel concierge can check for same day cancellations for you!

Popular dining spots like "Be Our Guest" in Beast's Castle at Magic Kingdom, are a hot ticket, booked well in advance.  There may be no way to score a table without months of planning, but the hotel concierge can check for same day cancellations for you!

 

 

3) As soon as you know you are going to WDW, (or while waiting in the concierge line!) download the Disney World Wait Time App (it's free with ads, or you can upgrade to an ad free version) This app will list the wait times for each attraction at every park and you an use it to plan where you want to go on the fly. You won't need to walk across the park to learn that Space Mountain is a 130 minute wait and then waste more time wandering to the next place!  There are apps for a fee that will actually create the "best itinerary" for you based on what you'd like to see, but these require a little more time to learn and aren't the best option for the last minute, late start trip.  Keeping it simple, you can check the app and choose rides based on the shorter wait times.

Here is an example of wait times in Tomorrowland at the Magic Kingdom on the Disney World Wait Time App

Here is an example of wait times in Tomorrowland at the Magic Kingdom on the Disney World Wait Time App

 

4) Once you've arranged your park choice, advanced dining reservation and ticket options with the concierge, be sure to get the map and entertainment schedule for the park. Do try to make it into the parks before noon time and make your very first stops the headliner rides in that park (Space Mountain, Rock and Roller Coaster) that have Fast Pass (This is a advance reservation system that allows you to use your ticket to get a Fast Pass to return to the ride during a specified later time window and join the much shorter Fast Pass line to ride at that time) The FP attractions are noted right on the park map. These FP's will be generated until there are no more time windows open during the time the park is open.  During busy times, this can happen before noon for top attractions.  

Rides like the Rock'n Roller Coaster in Disney Studios offer fast pass, or you can choose the single rider line.

Rides like the Rock'n Roller Coaster in Disney Studios offer fast pass, or you can choose the single rider line.

 

Once the Fast Passes are out, the only option is to wait in the regular line, or you can make this time shorter by choosing to have everyone in your party go to the "Single Rider" line.  This line moves more quickly since they will use singles to fill in ride vehicles occupied by parties of odd numbers. You might not get to ride with your party, but the line will be shorter!

Another way to beat the long lines is to ride the headliner attractions during major parades or fireworks displays.  Most guests are enjoying those events and lines are often shorter.

Fireworks can still be seen from some exterior lines in WDW, (Big Thunder Mountain, or Seven Dwarfs Mine Train) so you can enjoy a shorter line and still have a view of the fireworks!

Fireworks can still be seen from some exterior lines in WDW, (Big Thunder Mountain, or Seven Dwarfs Mine Train) so you can enjoy a shorter line and still have a view of the fireworks!

Going to headliner attractions during a parade can thin the crowds waiting in line. Just make sure you get yourself to the part of the park where your attraction is located, sometimes parades cut off cross traffic making it hard to cross the park after they've started.

Going to headliner attractions during a parade can thin the crowds waiting in line. Just make sure you get yourself to the part of the park where your attraction is located, sometimes parades cut off cross traffic making it hard to cross the park after they've started.

 

5) If you do get stuck in a long line use that time to check your app for the shortest line for your next attraction.  You can also pose for selfies,  have a snack, or apply your sunscreen (you forgot that while rushing out in morning, didn't you?) 

 We've received no promotional consideration from WDW, or any app related to WDW.  All photos credited to Jeffrey Klofft.  Let us know if you have any other good tips for Last Minute, Late Start Disney trips!