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Category Archives: Miscellanious Blather

Real Adventures on St Marten

Phillipsburgh St Maarten was our 2nd stop of the cruise.  This was the only island where we actually booked a proper tour, mostly because it was so inexpensive and there didn’t seem to be a lot of things to do, or at least not stuff we could do on our own.  By taking the tour we ended up seeing a lot more than we would have on our own.  In the end it was the best visit we had due to a combination of the amount of things we were able to see and the ginormous family we shared the tour bus with.  There were 20 of them plus us, and they were so awesome that they helped make our day.

We went with Jo Junie tours.  The cost was $40 per person and that included all you can drink refreshments.  The tour was a little different from what was advertised but none of us were complaining.  We hopped on the bus, got our drinks, got to know the others a little.  I must say again, what a fabulous group!  I was a little worried about being surrounded by such a large group that we didn’t know but they made us feel right at home.  Our first stop was at an iguana farm which was totally Chelsea’s thing.  Growing up she had geckos and always wanted an iguana, so she took about 50 pictures.  It was neat to see them all running around in their natural environment.  The largest was over 15 pounds!

The next stop was Orient Bay where we were treated to the site of the most beautiful ocean view I’ve ever seen along with some coral and sea animals that had been brought up for us by a local.  I actually got up the nerve to hold one of the animals and wow, was it weird.  In the picture it looks sort of soft and fluffy, it wasn’t.  More prickly, and the thing was constantly *moving.*  You can see Chelsea’s reaction in the picture.  After that we headed in to Marigot for a short shopping trip.  Marigot was beautiful.  It is called the French Riviera of the Caribbean, and I can totally see that.  We were under a bit of time constraint at that point so we all quickly hopped out to grab a souvenir or two then hopped back on for our last stop.

Our last stop was Maho Bay/Sunset Beach.  Stunning, just absolutely stunning.  Not only was the beach downright gorgeous but it’s draw is that it’s so close to the airport that the planes get so close you can practically touch them when they come in for landing.  I’m told you can see the pilots, although I didn’t try.  By the time we were set to go I think we were all exhausted and ready to head back to the boat, that is the sign of a good day if you ask me.

St Martin seemed to be the least commercialized for tourists, and I really enjoyed it all the more for that.  I think I mentioned once before that seeing what a place wants to show me isn’t really what I’m looking for when I visit.  I want to see who and what they really are.  Hopefully experience the day to day lives of the locals even just a tiny bit is more exciting to me than going to a full blown luxury resort.  I felt like I got a tiny glimpse in St Martin, and if I had to choose one island to spend more time on it would be this one.

Some of my fav pics that we took on St Marten.

   
   
   
   
 

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Real Adventures in St Thomas

We’ve been home for 4 days already, and I’m still having a hard time getting my head where it needs to be.  Seems I’m still on Caribbean time, and I have a feeling I will be for a while.  We had such a good time that I’m already planning our next one!  Of course I have to win another trip before that can happen but I’m working on it.

I’m going to do a review of the cruise itself but since it was the largest part of our vacation I will save that for the last post.  For now, I’ll be sharing our adventures on each island.  They didn’t really turn out as we had planned but that’s ok, we had fun, which is the important thing.  I still find it kind of hard to believe we visited four different countries while we were away.

St Thomas was our first port.  While we were pulling in both Chelsea and I were in awe that first, it was no longer ocean for as far as the eye could see, second, how pretty the water was, and mostly just how beautiful it was over all.  I think we took fifty or so pictures just pulling into port.

If you remember from my previous posts we had planned to visit Coral World for this stop.  So when we finally got off the boat we hopped a bus to get downtown to browse before we made our way further in.  Downtown was pretty, although crammed with people which I suppose is to be expected.  On one side there were stores, on the other there was the ocean.  Can’t ask for better shopping scenery!  We skipped the main shopping places in lieu of the flea market type stalls.  We had a very tiny budget so had to be very careful what we purchased.  That day we each bought an inexpensive sundress, and something for the boys back home.

As we decided to explore a little more we found ourselves a street or two into the downtown area and were all of a sudden surrounded by jewellery stores.  We’d attended a seminar on the boat in regards to shopping on the islands, so we had some coupons for free stuff that we figured we would cash in at that point.  If you find yourself in the same situation, don’t bother.  While the items you get are sort of cute little tokens, they are similar to something you would get from a 25 cent candy machine, but that’s how they get people in the doors, and then they really do expect you to buy something.  There had to have been a couple hundred jewellery stores just along that street and while the prices were really amazing, they still weren’t in our range.

After exploring for a bit we had to start figuring out how to get to Coral World.  We approached a police officer for directions, as we figured it would be the safest way to find out.  We had asked several people before then and couldn’t figure out why no one understood that we wanted a regular ol’ bus.  Not a charter, tour, taxi, etc.  As it turns out they do have a city bus but it’s the same type of vehicle they use for tours.  Coral World was at the very opposite end of the island, but by taking the bus it only cost us $2/each to get there.

We had to walk a little bit but for the price neither of us were complaining.  When we got there, the admission price was a bit more than we expected.  It turned out well though because there was a beautiful beach right next door.  Having looked at photos before we left I knew it was there, just hadn’t expected to use it.  So we ended up spending a good portion of our day laid out on Coki beach.  It was packed, but still so relaxing to lay out on the white sand beaches and swim in the clear water.  By the time we were ready to leave we were both mush from the heat and relaxation, great way to spend an afternoon if you ask me.

We still had about 4 hours to spend on St Thomas so we decided to take the bus back as well.  The ride back was considerably longer but for a total of $4 we got to see the entire island.  We talked with locals who told us where we needed to get off, pointed out landmarks, and interesting little tidbits.  We basically had our own little tour, in the same type of open vehicle, saw more than most since the bus traversed the entire island, and paid a fraction of the amount.  It was a little nerve wracking since we had to watch our own time table, but that was ok because it was an experience I won’t soon forget.  I also hope that it showed Chelsea that if you’re willing to travel off the beaten path it just might be worth the extra trouble.  If you’re looking for more info on how to get around St Thomas, this link has good information.

Of the three islands we visited, St Thomas seemed to be the least commercialized.  Considering the amount of jewellery stores that might sound odd, but even those stores were mostly ma and pop type fronts.  We both loved the easy atmosphere, beautiful murals along the roads, and the beach was the prettiest we saw on our trip.  One day I’ll go back and be able to spend a little more time there.

Here are just a few of my favorite pics from St Thomas…

   
   
   
 

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Adventures in Fort Lauderdale

So not really a port, but with the way things worked out we will have the most time to spend in Fort Lauderdale and I figured I should probably look into what there is to do there!  As I mentioned before, by staying a few extra days we are saving a ton of money.  I don’t think I ever gave you guys the breakdown, but had we left on the day the boat returned our tickets home would have been as high as $1,300 each.  By holding off a little our tickets were only $250 each!  So even if you calculate in the loss of work, food, and hotel we’re *still* ahead of the game!  I’m still astounded that more vacation = less money.

I managed to book a hotel through hotwire.com for next to nothing, it is right by the airport, thus also right by the beach.  If nothing else, we’ll have a few extra days to relax.  As it turns out though there are a TON of things to do in Fort Lauderdale!

Everglades national park at sunset.

As I mentioned before, our family is right into nature, so one of the top things to see in Florida is the everglades.  I’m hoping we can visit the Everglades National Park.  I haven’t found a specific tour yet, but I think we’ll be doing the ‘seat of your pants’ thing there.  Exploring such an eco system has been on my to do list for a long time.  We’ll likely see a crocodile or two, hopefully from the safety of a boat, and maybe even a manatee, along with dozen’s of native birds and other creatures that we would never see up here in the great white north.

Along the same natury lines is Butterfly World.  With ten acres of butterfly friendly gardens, and a humming bird exhibit I think we’ll make a point to stop by.  They have dozens of species of butterfly’s for you to see, and I have never in my life seen a humming bird, so that will be a treat as well.  It’s kind of pricey at $25 a head, but also something we can’t see here.  I guess we’ll have to see if we have any money left after shopping on three Caribbean islands.  If this one is too rich for you, there is also the Secret Woods Nature Center which also boasts a butterfly exhibit combined with hiking trails.

 

For even more nature you can visit Tree Tops national park.  It is a 365 acre preserve, with 23 acres of marsh all accessible by hike, canoe, paddle boat, or my favourite, horseback.  Exploring on horseback is highly appealing, and costs only $27/hour!  That would be the cheapest trail ride I’ve ever taken so it will definitely be added to our Florida itinerary.

For a super cheap, $6, evening of fun you can visit the Buehler Observatory to check out Florida’s constellations, and see the information presentations they put on periodically.  I’ve never been to an observatory, so we might just have to check this out too.

If, by the time we get off the cruise, we haven’t spent enough time on a boat we could check out the Jungle Queen riverboat tour of Fort Lauderdale’s canal system.  I can think of no better way to explore the city than by boat, with an all you can eat BBQ buffet at your finger tips.  One thing that we miss most having moved to Calgary is the water.  It’s not like we were big boaters who spent all of their free time on the lake or anything like that, but just being near it is something you take for granted until you no longer have it.  For the first year that we were here all of us whinned and moaned that we missed it.  Now it’s not as bad, but the idea of cruising around on a boat for the evening gets me to smiling.

There are several museums, and art galleries that you can visit for an afternoon of culture, and while I would mind spending a few hours this way I’m not sure I could drag Chelsea along with me.  I think maybe some snorkelling, or more beach time will be more her thing.  We were both afraid that three days would be too much, and that we’d be stuck in the hotel room with nothing to do.  I think I can now safely say that that will be far from the case.  If nothing else, with a beach near by, who could be bored?

 

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Adventures on St Thomas

St Thomas at night.

 

The Virgin Islands are another one of those places that we’ve all heard of people visiting for ever, one of those places where you feel like you need to don a pure white sundress and walk down the beach with your sandals in your hand.  Although I don’t own a white sundress, a walk down the beach sounds good to me.  Out of all the ports we’ll be visiting St Thomas seems the most picturesque, and I can’t wait to see it!

Downtown St Thomas

One of the first activities I found to do in St Thomas is to visit Coral World.  They have an underwater ocean view that sounds very cool, but on top of that they have a ton of other exhibits to keep us entertained.  Sharks, stingrays, a coral touch pool, turtles, birds, and a feeding show, all sound right up my alley.  The sharks alone will be worth the price of admission.  Remember back in grades 3 through 8 when everyone had to do ‘projects’ on a certain animal?  While most of the girls in class where doing their projects on horses or other fuzzy creatures, mine were always on sharks.  They terrify, and fascinate me, always have.  So to see some live will be a treat.

Another really cool activity to do on St Thomas is an Eco Tour which includes a tour of the islands waters through kayaking, hiking and snorkelling.  There are various programs to suit your abilities and needs, and it sounds like a great way to explore a new ecosystem.  Visit the mangroves, or other close by islands that are ready and waiting to explore.  There are also tons of other regular tours to be booked through different companies that can be found on the official St Thomas page.  One way or another it sounds like it’s pretty easy to see a little of everything that St Thomas has to offer.

It seems like St Thomas itself is what there is to see and do.  Unlike the rest of the ports I’ve looked into, this one is the most natural destination without a ton of beefed up, money grabbing attractions.  Instead I think we’ll spend our time exploring the waters, and downtown after we visit Coral World.  Do some snorkelling, hang out on the beach, and just soak in the beauty that is St Thomas.

 
 

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Adventures on Nassau

That's Atlantis from the cruise ship port.

Out of all of the islands we’ll be visiting, Nassau, Bahamas seems to be the most recognizable.  It’s one of those destinations that feels like you’ve heard of other people going to all your life.  Well it’s finally our turn.  The only problem is, we only have 5 hours to enjoy it.  How on earth can anyone see or do anything in 5 hours?!  I’m guessing it all has more to do with getting the ship back to port according to the cruise lines timetable, I mean we have to get off the boat at 7am after all.  Ugh.  As I mentioned in a previous post, Nassau seems to have been taken over by the honking North American style resort of Atlantis.  You’ve heard of it I’m sure.  When you look at pictures of the island, that’s pretty much all you can see.  I am going to attempt to find other things that we can do there though, we’ll see how it goes.

If you’ve ever looked into the history of the Caribbean you will know that pirates played a huge role in it’s development.  Nassau’s location made it prime pirating territory, and has a museum to preserve that history.  Nassau was after all home to the pirate legend Blackbeard.  Here you can stroll through a replica pirate ship, or take a pirate themed tour through the island starting right at your cruise ship port.  While I love history, I’m not sure this type of tour is my cup of tea.  We might however drop in to the museum for a quick peek on our way to other activities since it’s located right downtown.

Now this however is much more mine and Chelsea’s style, horseback riding on the beaches of Nassau.  Chelsea and I are both avid equestrian fans.  We’ve taken tons of lessons throughout the years and while neither of us are proficient, if there’s a horse nearby we’ll be there!  While I was looking for things to do previously I hadn’t seen this activity.  Now we’ll have to chose between this or Blue Lagoon, what a choice!  The only downside to this activity is the cost.  For a 1.5 hour ride it will set you back $150, although it includes a 25 minute drive both ways to the facility I still don’t think it’s in our price range.  We’ll have to see if we can save our pennies.

I have very mixed feelings about this next activity.  There are two different dolphin encounter programs on Nassau, one at Atlantis, the other on Blue Lagoon island.  Swimming with the dolphins was at the top of my list of things to do in the Caribbean; however upon reading further I changed my idea of how cool that would be.  If you haven’t guessed yet, I’m an animal lover.  I think sometimes that I enjoy the company of my pets more than I do people.  Swimming with dolphins would be quite an experience, but, what about the dolphins?  To provide people with such an experience these extremely sentient beings are subjected to a life on confinement.  Now I’m not saying that the programs on Nassau itself are shady but there are many worldwide that are, with tiny enclosures and unhappy animals that occasionally decide they’ve had enough and attack.  As a statement against this type of entertainment, we will be forgoing any type of ‘swim with’ programs unless it is somehow done in the open ocean and the animals choose to be there.

Nassau has a wealth of history, as do most islands in the Caribbean.  To prove it Nassau boasts two other museums on top of the pirate one, and a Bahamian art gallery as well!  On top of all the museums, all you need to do to steep yourself in Nassau’s history is walk down the streets.  With old style colonial buildings everywhere you look you probably can’t help but feel the days of old right there with you.  Visit Christ Church Cathederal, built in 1670, and the very first church build in all of the Caribbean, see all of the pink government buildings from the 1800’s, and walk up the 65 hand carved stairs built in late 1700 to see Fort Fincastle.

Of course there is also a plethora of authentic cuisine, and shopping to do, but ultimately I think we’re still going to find ourselves spending our five hours at Blue Lagoon island, we just have to figure out how we’re going to get ourselves there.  It has been a dream of mine since as far back as I can remember to visit a place with clear blue water.  I think it’s for that reason the Blue Lagoon is so appealing to me.  Finally I’ll be able to see those turquoise waters!  Maybe while we’re there we can do a little snorkling.

So my previous statement that there really isn’t much to do on Nassau if you forgo Atlantis, wasn’t very accurate.  After a little more digging you can see that there’s TON’s to do in the Bahamas, it’s just a matter of choosing.

 

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Adventures on St Martin/St Maarten

I mentioned last week that I was going to post some articles regarding the ports we will be visiting and what there is to see there.  With only 4 days left before we leave I figured I better get a move on.  I’ve decided to start with St Martin as it’s the island that has me most undecided as to what to do there.

Orient Bay

It seems the most efficient activity would be a tour through the government endorsed Jo Junie tours.  With a safety first attitude for this trip, being government endorsed is a huge plus.  I found out yesterday while trying to book a hotel for Fort Lauderdale that pre booking stuff in a place you know nothing about really takes a lot of trust.  The itinerary for Jo Junie tours is:

 

 

A sightseeing visit to Oyster Pond, a marina located between the Dutch and French sides with spectacular views.
A 2 hour visit to Orient Bay which has a clothing optional side, not that me and my 17 year old daughter will be visiting that side! (***careful prime bits exposed on link.  Although it’s a govmt site)
Hilltop at Orient bay for more prime views
A shopping excursion to Marigot, the French open market.
A stop at Sunset beach/Maho Bay where you can see the plane’s underbelly 2 inches from your nose.

Marigot, the French Capitol

The price for the tour is minimal, includes all you can drink refreshments, and it gets you back to Philipsburg with plenty of time to look around there as well.  On the plus side, it sounds like you get to see a little bit of all the highlights St Martin/St Maartin has to offer.  I like the idea of being able to see both sides of the Island, which we might not be able to do on our own and get back in time.  On the down side is, will I want to leave when we need to, or are there other things along the way that I would prefer to see instead?  Apparently I hate making these kinds of decisions.

Maho Bay/Sunset Beach

While looking around for other things we might want to do though, it seems our decision is made for us, as there really aren’t any other highlights.  From what I can tell the tour really is the best of St Martin/St Maarten.  Unless you want to while your day away on one beach, which isn’t really my thing, plus we’ll have three days to do that in Florida.  There are too many cool things to see in the Caribbean to lay around all day.

 

Loterie Farms

One thing that is missing from the tour that I might suggest to the owner is Loterie Farms.  All of our family are avid naturists, we love to hike, and commune with the outdoors.  I also love history.  Loterie Farms was formerly Loterie Plantation, established some time in the 18th century.  They offer hikes through a beautiful tropical forest, as well as zip lines, and an obstacle course.  They also have several exotic outdoor cafes and restaurants that look like once in a life time treats.

For St Louis

 

Another highlight of St Martin is Fort St. Louis.  If you’ve ever looking into the history of the Caribbean you will know that it is rife with pirates and countries battling for control of what was considered the ‘best’ islands.  Various countries always had easy trade in the forefront of their minds during battle considerations, thus it was imperative for those who currently controled those islands to properly defend them.  Most islands you will visit will have some sort of historical monument to those defenses and Fort St Lous is St Marin’s.  Thankfully this Fort is located at Marigot so we will be able to have a quick look if we can forgo a little shopping to do it.

 

 

 
 

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Safe Travel for Women

With only two weeks until we leave, friends are sending me tons of links on how to stay safe while travelling. One in particular is an extensive guide for women travelling alone. It burns my butt that such a thing is necessary, but unfortunately it is.  Being prepared could save you a lot of grief.

Some of the highlites:

-Know where you’re going. Research any challenges you might face for that particular country so you can be prepared.
-Leave copies of important travel information with someone at home. Passport, itinerary, ID, and important numbers.
-Also leave copies of those important documents in your suitcase in case of theft or loss.
-Get Travel Insurance, some provinces plans do cover you abroad so check with your local government office.
-Consider taking a few self defence courses. We all should do this anyhow, but it is even more important while travelling on your own.
-Register your trip with Canadians Travel Abroad. This is a registry to keep you connected to Canada in case of any disasters or problems.
-Leave as many valuables at home as you can, and do not wear your bling whenever possible. This will attract the wrong crowd.
-Always carry with you an emergency contact index card with your personal information, as well as the contact information and address, with directions, for your country’s embacy.
-Keep your luggage with you at all times to avoid tampering, and turn your luggage tags backward so prying eyes can not see your information.
-Criminals will often target women travellers, be warry of overly friendly locals.
-Set a contact schedule with friends or family back home. Use it to check in regularly so they will know if something is wrong.
-Only use reputable marked taxis, and do not get into a car if the driver has approached you.
-Know the culture of the country you are travelling to, and try to blend in. Some actions that are perfectly reasonable at home may be offensive to another culture and draw attention to yourself.
-Travel with sanitary products, simple medications like ibuprofen, anti nausea, or anti diarrhea, and condoms, these may not be readily available in the country you are visiting.
-It is a good idea to get a check up before you leave and discuss your trip with your doctor. They will know of any current health risks, shots, or other medications you might need.
-If you are single, wear a fake wedding band to thwart unwanted advances.

While chances are that none of these things will be necessary, there is no harm in being prepared. I will be travelling with my teenaged daughter, and will darn well be sure to know everything I can to be sure I keep her, and myself safe. Since we will be on a boat for the most part, most of these risks are very minimal, but that does not mean I shouldn’t try to reduce as much of it as I can. A little knowledge goes a long way.

One other thing I learned from a travel agent that should be a no brainer, but really never occured to me.  When you are researching your destination country, try to use only government and official tourism sites.  These sites will be the least biased and offer you a more true vision of the place you will be visiting and what it has to offer.

As it turns out, before I read the guide, I hadn’t even thought about travel health insurance. It was one of those forehead smacking moments, but on doing a little more research it seems that Alberta does cover many services outside of Canada. I am going to look into supplemental insurance anyhow, but it was a relief to know that for the most part, we are already covered. Be sure to check with your province, or state, and know what you need before you call for a quote.  The cost for emergency medical insurance while we are away is a whopping $57 for both of us.  I was having visions of thousands of dollars, this amount is negligeable and totally worth it for the peace of mind.

Now that you’ve gotten all those little niggly things out of the way, you can truly relax and enjoy your vacation!!!

You can read the full guide here, Her Own Way

Some other helpful links.

Wear a Fake Wedding Band.
Canadians Abroad
Healthy Travel Abroad
Check your Provinces health coverage outside of Canada.

 

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