So I finally broke down and took my first cruise. I have always been Mr. Adventure Traveler and resisted the total tourist experience of cruising. However, this was just too darn easy. The cruise line docks in Charleston about 15 minutes from our house. My wife Stephanie wanted to go. What the heck, I can have an adventure anywhere I told myself! Here is a breakdown of the experience.
Carnival Fantasy Boarding Shot
1. Since you are crammed into a relatively small space with 2000 other people, this is a people watching extravaganza. If you are into human psychology or behavioral analysis like Stephanie, then you will have fun sitting back and watching humanity in action. I wasn’t into the hairy chest contest, karaoke or bingo, but you have to admit that watching the rednecks and the crazies can be entertaining.
2. The pizza was superb and served quickly. The food at breakfast and lunch was plentiful and was pretty darn good.
Pizza on the Carnival Fantasy
3. There is plenty of outdoor seating around the pool and other areas to soak up the rays. You could always find room where you were not crammed in with your neighbors (or you could cram in there like sardines if you wanted to). If you like to sunbathe then you will like the setup. There were also water slides and water park type setups for kids and adults.
Catching Some Rays
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Stephanie and I live about 15 minutes from downtown Charleston, SC. This is one of the most fabulous cities in the world. The readers of Conde Nast magazine named Charleston the number 1 United States travel destination for the fourth year in a row in 2014. The readers also named Charleston the number 2 city in the world behind only Florence Italy (see Charleston City paper writeup).
Every month Charleston closes off one of their historical streets, King Street, for the Second Sunday of the Month. King St. is a mecca for shopping, dining and entertainment. Today Stephanie, my sister Susan, niece Kristen and her friend Alyssa hung out on King St.
Charleston – King Street
Charleston has attracted some of the top retailers in the world that you would routinely see in cities such as Paris London and New York. These are mixed in with an eclectic blend of boutique shops, art galleries, bars and restaurants.
Street bands are all over the place on 2nd Sunday. Most of these just find a spot and start playing.
Sometimes you can travel the world and see amazing places but then realize some of the most amazing places are near your door step. Stephanie and I are fortunate enough to live in Charleston County 15 minutes from downtown Charleston and 25 minutes to the beach. One of the most amazing places we have visited is the Ace Basin National Wildlife Refuge (Ace Basin).
Entrance to Ace Basin Park area
We took our two Boston Terriers out to the Refuge on a Sunday in October. There are 3 miles of a main hiking trail and more miles off the main trail (hiking trail description) It passes through wetlands, old rice fields within 350,000 acres of undeveloped estuaries and wetlands. At the beginning of the trail, is a fabulous old Plantation House which serves as a National Wildlife office. The Grand Oaks are world-class and by themselves worth the trip just to view and photograph.
Plantation House at Ace Basin
We spent some time photographing the house and the Grand Oaks.
Money Magazine recently had a good article on “booking sites” and brought to my attention, the site Vayama.com If you are planning an overseas trip, you should check it out. We are looking for an eastern Africa safari type trip (assuming Ebola does not move into that area) so I used the site and was quite pleased. I went on to try out different traveling scenarios in Europe and southeast Asia.
Vayama will give you multiple options of airlines and give the lowest price for each. You can filter it by number of stops and price it in the currency of your choice. You then pick the airline and deal of your choice and drill down further. In addition, Vayama gives direct links from other discount booking sites and allows you to transfer your proposed itinerary directly there.
For example, I searched for a flight from Barcelona, Spain to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and was given 18 airlines with their lowest price. The lowest was Emirates Airline at $833 roundtrip. I was then given the option to go directly to Priceline and three others. Priceline beat the $833 price by one dollar on the same airline. Funny how that happens.
Vayama is a fun site to play around with. It has a category called deals where you pick your city or region and a choice of trips are displayed. They go on to describe some of the highlights of the region.
If you want overseas adventure travel and off the beaten path, consider the Pacific Coast of Guatemala (see Location Map). Tourism is in its infancy and there are beautiful beaches and majestic rocky shores.
Main St Monterrico Guatemala
Believe it not, this street is the main street of Monterrico our coastal destination. As you can see, no tourists! The local people were so nice, helpful and curious about us.
We chose Monterrico as our destination because we love Antigua Guatemala in the highlands and wanted to drive to explore the Pacific Coast after we left Antigua. Monterrico was large enough to have some bars and restaurants and within 3 hours drive of Antigua.
Scenery on the Road to the Pacific Coast