Top 5 Tropical Getaways on a Budget

Has winter weather left you yearning for white sand beaches, lulling surf and the caress of trade winds? Has the economy left your wallet thinner than you’d like? Fear not! You can have a tropical vacation for less than you might think. Here are 5 options for a tropical vacation on a budget.

1) Cruise the Caribbean. The beauty of a cruise is the all-inclusive package. You’ll get lodging, transportation, meals, non-alcoholic beverages and onboard entertainment from $80/night, per person. Save even more by driving to your departure port a day before you sail. Carnival has Caribbean departures from Mobile, Miami, New Orleans, Galveston, Charleston, and New York City, just to name a few. Even better, hotels that cater to cruise passengers often let you park your car for free while you’re onboard.

2) Cruise the Mexican Riviera. Departing out of Los Angeles or San Diego, a Mexican Riviera cruise will take you to Puerto Vallarta, Cabo San Lucas and Mazatlan, picturesque ports that aren’t impacted by drug violence in other parts of Mexico. Rates start at $399 per person for 7 nights, with additional discounts possible for children or 3rd/4th guests in the same cabin. Looking to beat the ship’s price for shore excursions? Do an internet search for “Mazatlan Frank” who can help you with Puerto Vallarta, too.

3) Playa del Carmen on Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula truly has it all for sun-seekers. You’ll find miles of pristine beaches, crystal blue water, great food, world-class snorkeling, dolphin encounters, boutique shopping and great rates on accommodations. Check out www.cheapcaribbean.com for 5 nights for $525 per person, air included. If you visit the Mayan ruins at Tulum, take along some single dollar bills or local pocket change. Bathrooms are free, but you’ll need to tip if you want toilet paper.

4) St. Petersburg – Clearwater, Florida. Located just outside of Tampa, the St. Petersburg – Clearwater area offers beaches, crab shacks, nightlife and budget hotels starting at $70/night. The theme-park addicted can visit Busch Gardens in Tampa while nature lovers hunt for shells and sand dollars at Caladesi Island State Park. To avoid Spring Break crowds, skip April and go in May.

5) Camp the Florida Keys. Are you game for sleeping on the beach? If so, pack up your camping gear and head for the Florida Keys. You’ll have access to boating, fishing, beaches and restaurants without the cost of a hotel. Rates average $40/night, hookups included. You’ll need reservations, and you may need to make them a year in advance.

Review: Canoe Rental from Battenkill Riversports and Campground

This review is based on my own personal experience and opinions.
I called Battenkill Riversports and Campground on Wednesday to get a canoe rental for that Saturday and the woman I spoke with said I didn’t need one as no one had made reservations for Father’s Day weekend.

Battenkill Riversports and Campground rents canoes, kayaks and inner tubes for use on the Battenkill River. Battenkill Riversports and Campground staff drive you up and drop you off upriver and you float down to an exit point at the campground. You can then return your rentals or camp in a tent, cabin or RV site by the river.

The holiday weekend forecast was going to be sunny, hot and muggy; the perfect day for hanging out at the river and I thought it was strange that no one had made reservations for a canoe at Battenkill Riversports and Campground.

The large brown Battenkill Riversports and Campground sign, with a real red and yellow kayak hanging from it like a hammock, beckoned us to turn several miles down Route 313, just outside of Cambridge, NY.

Then I saw why we didn’t need a reservation for a boat rental at Battenkill Riversports and Campground. Down a short driveway is a small shed encased on all sides by camping and recreation equipment. Mounds of yellow and green inner tubes are piled up outside, almost as high as the roof. Next to those, there is a ménage of ancient passenger vans, each one towing a boat rack with no less than a dozen canoes and kayaks each. An adjacent smaller shed houses an array of paddles and life jackets. Out front, at least 50 mesh bags of firewood stood guard.

The shed at Battenkill Riversports and Campground houses the office for both the campground and the river sports rentals, but the receptionist behind the desk wasn’t very forthcoming about information for either. When we checked in, she barely seemed interested.

There was good customer service from several men at Battenkill Riversports and Campground, however. They were friendly, with tans and sun bleached hair, filled with an exhilaration that only the fresh air when it is coupled with recreation can create.

Battenkill Riversports and Campground advertise drop offs for boat and tube rentals leaving every hour, but we were all checked in by 10:20 am. Instead of having to wait 40 minutes to leave however, one man offered to take us and another group up as soon as we were ready, and even gave my baby boy a tiny, child-sized paddle all his own. (Which wasn’t a great idea in retrospect as he just wanted to throw it in the water, but still, it was a nice gesture.)

We did have to bring our own life jacket for our 17 month old baby as they didn’t have any in such a small size, which I luckily had the foresight to do despite the woman on the phone when I called earlier reassuring me that I didn’t need to.

The Battenkill Riversports and Campground van ride to our drop-off point was short but the worn shocks made it into the first time we would encounter the feeling of being on waves that day. We seemed to swerve in and out of the lines on the road, and the tension in my husband’s face as he held our baby on his lap was increasing with every passing minute.

At our drop off point, he helped unload the Battenkill Riversports and Campground van and he and another passenger carried the boats down the short slope to the water. From there we floated along the gentle waters, paddling occasionally out of the way of the rocks for over an hour before we banked the canoe and rested to stretch our legs.

Bringing a toddler on a canoe is a daring attempt, as you never know how they are going to behave. My 17 month old was uncomfortable wearing a stuffy lifejacket and irritated by the relentless sun. The canoe we rented from Battenkill Riversports and Campground was large and clean however, and for the majority of the trip he was patient and seemed to be enjoying himself.

The level of the river water is important as in some spots the water is so shallow you can’t help but run aground in a canoe. These are the times when flipping the canoe is most likely, and must be maneuvered with caution. The flat bottom Battenkill Riversports and Campground canoe that we rented handled the shallow water well and only got hung up twice and only briefly.

We had selected the shortest trip offered by Battenkill Riversports and Campground: 1 ½ hours. With a variety of trip lengths offered, the longer you go, the better per hour rate it seems to be. However, with the little one’s patience a priority, we chose the shortest one and a good thing too because it ended up being twice as long as we had expected. We didn’t pull into the well-marked river exit at Battenkill Riversports and Campground until approximately 1:30pm (making it about a 3 hour ride).

It’s a good ¼ mile walk from the river exit back up to the Battenkill Riversports and Campground office to return the life jackets and paddles, so be prepared for that.

Overall, it was a great trip. We will definitely be visiting Battenkill Riversports and Campground again and again.

Battenkill Riversports and Campground

Neighborhood: Cambridge
Cambridge, NY 12816
United States of America

Hotel Review: Sheraton Bradley Airport in Windsor Locks, CT

Let’s face it; sometimes it just makes sense to stay at the airport the night before your flight. Bradley Airport is located about 45 minutes from our home. Especially in the winter when the weather is iffy it can be the difference between making a flight and missing it. If you get a park and fly package, it makes even more sense. That is what we did this the last weekend of January. The Sheraton is the only hotel actually on the airport property. With 71 inches of snow in the last month, parking a car in an outdoor parking lot doesn’t seem like a great idea when we will be gone for 17 days. By the time we return at this rate we would be lucky to find our car.

With the help of the Sheraton website I was able to find a triple A rate of $127.00 which included 7 days of free parking. Since our friend was also traveling I called the hotel and asked if we both got the park and fly rate could we use the 14 days on our one car, I was assured that I could. Of course when I got to the check-in desk, I was told that it was not true. Luckily since I was assured of this feature we were allowed to do it that way. I then had to pay the additional $17 per day for parking which means with tax our stay cost slightly over $190.00. For the covered parking here at the airport I am sure I would have paid more than that for the 17 days.

Our room was a deluxe business room which means you need to use your key to get off on this floor which is number 7. Our room has a luxurious king bed with all white bedding. There were plenty of pillows and crispy clean sheets. I was very pleased. There is a chair and a foot stool as well as a small round table in the corner along with a pole lamp. I sat here to use my lap top and take advantage of the free wireless internet.

There is a desk in the room and high speed access if you happen to not have wireless. Both sides of the bed have a night stand and a lamp which is nice if you want to read in bed. There is a large flat screen TV in the room with a fair selection of channels. There are two trays in the dresser that pull out. One has a small coffee pot with Starbucks Coffee and the other has an ice bucket and a free bottle of water. All and all, this is a very comfortable room.

There is a bathrobe in the closet and amenities in the bathroom including a hairdryer. There is a combination shower and tub and a granite top vanity. One complaint, was this vanity made for munchkins? I am not tall and I found it low, I can’t image how a 6 foot tall man could find it the correct height.

Near the front desk there is a small store with of all things, Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream. There was also an area with computers. The hotel has an indoor pool if you have the time, we didn’t. There is also a fitness center, a lounge and a restaurant. Room service is also available.

All and all I am very pleased with the hotel and with the rate that we received. I am not surprised that two different employees gave us two different answers about the rate that we chose. It is common enough. I am also very pleased with the way that the young woman at the desk handled the issue. I highly recommend a stay here and I am sure I will do this again.

Hotels You May Want To Avoid

One of my favorite travel features is Trip Advisor’s Dirtiest Hotel picks. This year’s selections for Dirtiest Hotel contain some frightening entries. There’s the usual smattering of dirty and run-down and then there are the truly bizarre entries like these on the dirty hotel list:

The hotel listed as #10 dirtiest hotel in Asia probably would have made my personal #1 filth offender list if I visited and encounted the conditions described. Mahkota Hotel Melaka in Melaka, Malaysia was given a thumbs down by only 69% of reviewers. But the description of the tap water as yellowish brown along with a photo of urine-colored liquid pouring from a faucet is enough to convince me this hotel is overrated. Eight percent of reviewers called this hotel “excellent” while 46 percent called it “terrible.” This hotel is supposedly a 4 star hotel, but it’s hard to imagine how it laid claim to those stars when its guests say it provides yellow water that gives users rashes, has cigarette butts in the swimming pool, and is in decrepit condition (holes in the ceiling, toilets that don’t flush and ripped carpets.)

Club Aqua Gumbet in Gumbet, Turkey was named worst in Europe after 121 of 165 reviewers rated it “terrible.” The most disgusting complaint about the place is the sewer emptying into the pool when it rains, but in case you’re thinking it might be okay outside of rainy season, consider the reports of dry blood on the bedroom floor, a lack of hot water, dirty bedding, loose wires, and even a poisonous spider biting a guest inside the room.

As for a hotel to avoid in the USA, there’s Atlantic Beach Hotel in Miami. When a thief posing as concierge set up outside the hotel to steal wallets, the staff declined to ask him to leave on the grounds that he was polite, according to one reviewer. Another reviewer woke up to a stabbing in progress and pepper spray being sprayed by police. While one could ordinarily pass this off as the rare occurrence, it’s a little hard to do so when another reviewer said she awoke to the stinging of pepper spray as the police chased down prostitutes at the hotel. Almost makes the moldy smell and broken-down fixtures others reported seem trivial.

Raj Residency in Chennai, India was only the #2 worst hotel in India, according to Trip Advisor reviewers. But at #2, it harbored some frightening conditions. One visitor pulled back a curtain in his sixth floor room to find a filthy floor to ceiling window; the visitor tried to wash the window with a paper towel, only to have it swing open without warning. Another guest complained that his room was locked with a padlock from the outside and unlockable from the inside. Other guests report infestations of bedbugs, mosquitoes, and cockroaches. But the most appalling report of all is that of the family that got stuck in the elevator for almost 2 hours, ultimately having to climb out between floors, only to have the hotel management respond to their complaint by saying they could have been left to rot inside the stuck elevator.

Vegetarian’s Guide to Restaurant Food

If you’ve been a vegetarian for any length of time, then you know all too well how frustrating it can be to eat at restaurants. Some restaurants view a salad bar as an acceptable menu choice for vegetarians. If you’re lucky enough to find a restaurant with an actual meat-free entrée, chances are that this will be your one and only option on the menu and the dish will be one that you’ve had thousands of times before. So what’s a veg to do? Follow this guide for a happy dining experience, vegetarian-style.

Most waiters don’t really think about what goes into the food that they serve. Some waiters are simply ignorant about what makes a dish vegetarian. There has been many a waiter that mistakenly believes a “vegetarian” dish is one with no visible chunks of meat. They think nothing of chicken stock, anchovy paste, gelatin, or any number of “invisible” animal products that can go into a dish. Therefore, being told that a dish is vegetarian does not necessarily make it so.

Three Red Flags That Your Vegetarian Dish Actually Contains Dead Animals:

1. You ask if the dish is vegetarian and the waiter hesitates before giving you an answer. If the waiter must think about it, then they don’t actually know. They are simply picturing the dish in their mind, imagining the ingredients that go into it, and using their best judgment to provide you with an answer. If they contemplate the issue and declare a meal to be meat-free, they are probably wrong.

2. If the waiter looks at the food to determine the presence of animal products, you cannot trust their answer. They are simply looking for visible signs of meat. This is most likely to occur in a buffet-style restaurant.

3. The waiter says, “No, there isn’t any meat in the dish.” Again, they are just telling you that no chunks of meat are present. They aren’t even thinking about less-visible animal products.

Conversely, there are certain signs that indicate when a waiter can be trusted.

Your Meal Is Likely Meat-Free When:

1. The waiter’s response is without hesitation and he/she tells you why the dish is meat-free. For example, instead of stating, “Yes, this dish is vegetarian,” they also tell you, “this dish contains no meat, poultry, seafood, or egg products – but it does contain dairy.” This added information is an indicator that they are at least aware of what makes food vegetarian.

2. You request a vegetarian entrée and the waiter asks if dairy and eggs are ok. Again, this waiter is knowledgeable about the food they are serving and sensitive to vegetarian’s needs.

3. The menu specifically states that the dish is vegetarian or vegan.

Some Restaurants Are More Veg-Friendly Than Others

When it comes to finding a restaurant that will please vegetarians and omnivores alike, look for restaurants that meet one or more of the following criteria:

1. High-end: Expensive restaurants tend to have more knowledgeable wait staff, more vegetarian options, and a wider variety of options. You probably won’t find the over-used spaghetti with marinara sauce at a fancy restaurant. Even if the menu doesn’t list any vegetarian options, the highly-skilled chefs are more likely to make a special dish just for you.

2. Choose a steak house over a seafood restaurant. Steak houses almost always have at least one vegetarian dish, whether it’s pasta or a portobello mushroom “steak.” Seafood restaurants rarelyserve vegetarian meals. Their pasta dishes, though they may appear vegetarian, almost always contain clam sauce or some other sea creature flavoring.

3. Italian food and pizza are the easiest to make vegetarian. If you want choices, restaurants that serve these foods are your best bet. Pasta and pizza can be made in an infinite number of ways and are highly customizable. Whether you choose your own toppings or you order a gourmet vegetarian pizza, good food is easy to find.

Finally,

Never assume that a dish is vegetarian unless you cooked it yourself.

Anything from pizza, to pasta, to rice, soup, and Chinese vegetables can be cooked with chicken stock. When in doubt, always ask. Then follow the guidelines above.

By taking some simple precautions and trusting your gut (ha ha, get it?), you can ensure that your vegetarian dining experience is a pleasant one.

Fun Activities and Attractions in South Florida

Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park

Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park in Key Biscayne, Florida, known for its famous lighthouse built in the 1800’s, offers a variety of activities including swimming, camping, boating, concession stands, nature trails, picnic tables, fishing, guided tours and access to daily showers. Admission to the park is $8 per vehicle with two to eight members, $4 for a single individual in a vehicle or motorcycle and $2 for pedestrians, bicyclists or extra passengers. The park is open every day of the year at 8 p.m. and closes at sundown. For directions and additional information, contact the Information Center at 305-361-5811.

Dolphins Plus

Dolphins Plus, an educational research facility for dolphins and marine mammals, offers visitors a plethora of activities to enjoy in Key Largo, Florida. With the “Make Your Own Package” feature, guests can enjoy one to several different activities of their choosing. Activities consist of snorkeling, swimming with dolphins, scuba diving, kayaking and sea lion encounters for the younger visitors. Pricing varies depending upon the package and activity. Contact the Dolphins Plus booking staff for more information at 1-866-860-7946.

Nightlife

The nightlife in South Florida offers adults an exciting array of choices for entertainment, dining and dancing. A well known area is in Miami Beach’s southern tip, appropriately named South Beach and is famous for glitzy clubs and restaurants. With over 10 renowned night clubs, five-star restaurants and open-roof lounges, South Beach is a socially active part of the South Florida scene. For more information on South Beach clubs, lounges and restaurants, contact the Miami Beach Visitor’s Hotline at 305-673-7400.

Beaches

South Florida’s beaches are among the region’s most popular assets. Though some beaches are off-limits because they are on privately owned properties, locals and visitors can still enjoy such beaches as Bal Harbour Beach, Crandon Park Beach and Haulover Park Beach. Surfing, sunbathing, swimming are offered at all of South Florida’s beaches, however, Haulover Park Beach is one of the only beaches in South Florida that offers a legally nude beach. Crandon Park Beach is geared towards family outings with carousels, playgrounds and eating areas, while Bel Harbour beach accomodates fitness lovers with shaded jogging paths. For more information on South Florida beaches, contact the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau at 305-539-3063.

Zoo Miami

Zoo Miami, previously known as MetroZoo, is a popular attraction for both children and adults in the South Florida area. It is the home for more than 2000 animals and birds from all around the world, including Bengal tigers, koalas, cassowaries, and lions. Though damaged by Hurricane Andrew in 1992, the zoo recently celebrated its 30th anniversary. Attractions include gardens, carousel rides, snack bars and several exhibits such as the Cloud Forest, Amazonia and The Village Plaza. For more information contact Zoo Miami at 305-251-0400.

The Betsy Hotel on South Beach, Florida

The Betsy Hotel on South Beach in Miami, Florida is a true example of old time elegance with a bit of southern flair, elegance and the luxury of a modern day boutique hotel. Located at 1440 Ocean Drive just steps from the beautiful blue water of Miami Beach, the Betsy Hotel offers guests an inside view of the Miami lifestyle and the ideal base camp for a few days in the popular city.

The Betsy Hotel features a Florida Georgian architectural flare on the outside with an interior that reflects the fresh colors of the lifestyle of Miami. Set on the quieter end of the strip the art deco styled building features stylish guest’s rooms, dark wooden floors, white lacquered furniture, plantation shutters and beds donned with luxury linens. The guests rooms also come equipped with state-of-the-art electronics including plasma TV’s and iPod docking stations.

Though you are right on the beach and in the right district the Betsy Hotel offers its own brand of entertainment including a nightclub, bar, a fabulous on site restaurant and an incredible lounge area, a roof top bar, basement club with DJ and an expansive front terrace for dining and watching the beautiful beach bound people of Miami. One of the most famous and most popular spots at the Betsy Hotel on South Beach is the roof deck. There is also a swimming pool and an on site gym for guests who choose to workout. The Betsy Hotel is accessible to many of the top hot spots in Miami including the club scene, bars, and restaurants.

For guests who are planning to visit the Betsy Hotel as a spa destination the Spa and Wellness Garden offers a complete menu of spa treatments including massages, facials, body treatments, manicures and pedicures. Guests also have the options of receiving treatments at the medical spa where one can get Botox, Pearlane or Juviderm treatments.

Guests planning a getaway to the Betsy Hotel on South Beach can fly directly into the Miami International Airport and take a taxi for hire directly to the hotel which is about 15 minutes away. The approximate cost is $37 per shared car each direction.