Getting Away for Christmas

Lobby in Grand Floridian WDW

Christmas 2017 at Epcot, WDW

There have been a number of times in our life where going back home for the holidays was not in the cards. Sometimes it was because other family members couldn’t fit the gathering into their time schedule or maybe because money was tight. There were other times where we didn’t have enough time off from work. There was a stretch of Thanksgivings where we, as a family, were just too far away. For almost six or seven years in a row we turned Thanksgiving into a special trip for us and our children. That was twenty plus years ago and for three years in a row we had Thanksgiving dinner in a park at Walt Disney World. In those days we had the parks virtually to ourselves. Unfortunately those days are long past. Thanksgiving day and Christmas in a Disney park are now high attendance events.

Gingerbread Village on Celebrity Silhouette

When we were first married we had friends that would always go to The Homestead in Virginia for Christmas and rave about the experience. One year we spent Thanksgiving there. The hotel was beautifully decorated for Christmas, they would feature special dishes like wild boar or pheasant at dinner, offer tea in the afternoon and hot coco in front of the lobby fireplace in the evening.

 

 

Regardless of the reason, if you and your immediate family discover that you’re on your own for Thanksgiving or Christmas consider making it a really special holiday. As mentioned we have spent a number of Christmases at Walt Disney World but have also tried cruising during the holidays.

Lobby, Animal Kingdom Lodge WDW
Christmas at sea

Even though Disney World has become a difficult reservation for Christmas it is still a very special time at “The World”. You would be surprised at the number of families that decorate Christmas trees in their rooms and string lights around the windows. You will also find that cruises for Christmas week are a premium fare but in most cases worth the expense. It is really amazing to go to your cabin at night and wake up to discover that the entire ship has been transformed into a Christmas wonderland. On a recent cruise the central lobby had been decorated by the chefs with an entire village of gingerbread houses.

Christmas parade Magic Kingdom, WDW

 

To paraphrase a CSN&Y song – If you can’t be with all the ones you love, love the ones you’re with.

 

 

 

 

Christmas on Celebrity Silhouette

                    Have a Very Merry Christmas and                                       

                          an Adventurous New Year

 

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Tony’s in Cedar Key, Florida

If you travel west on Florida State Road 24 from Gainesville to where the road literally ends, you find yourself in a bit of old Florida. Out in the middle of nowhere on Florida’s northwest coast is the little village of Cedar Key with its’ population of around 700. At the corner of D and 2nd is Tony’s Seafood Restaurant  which is home to what many claim is the world’s best clam chowder.

The Great Chowder Cook-Off is an annual event that has been held at the Newport Yachting Center in Newport, Rhode Island, for thirty-three years. It ranks right up there with the Terlingua International Championship Chili Cookoff or the Texas Championship BBQ Cookoff. All these American classic foods have passionate followers by the millions, hero’s by the score with reputations to protect and profit from.

On Saturday June 6, 2009 Tony’s Cedar Key Clam Chowder won the 28th Annual Great Chowder Cook-off and claimed the title, Clam Chowder World Champion.

Back for another title hunt in New England, Tony’s took to the field again on June 5, 2010 and for the second consecutive year won the 29th Annual Great Chowder Cook-off claiming another Clam Chowder World Championship.

At stake on June 4, 2011 was a third title and a chance for the recipe to be retired into the Cook-Off Hall of Fame. Not even a Grand Champion Chowder from New Jersey could deny Tony’s a third world championship. For the third year in a row Tony’s Cedar Key Clam Chowder captured the title and did so with impressive style in another landslide victory.

With Tony’s third title in three years and the recipe retired into the Great Chowder Cook-off Hall of Fame, the future is still bright for what many fans call the “King of Chowder”.

On our visit to Cedar Key that was where we went for our first meal and we were not disappointed. Some people come to this tiny town for the fishing and some come for the art galleries and crafts shops but we came for the chowder and all I can offer is it was worth the drive. If you are looking for white tablecloths and atmosphere you’re probably going to be disappointed but you won’t be in the food and specifically their world champion chowder.

If out of the way Cedar Key is too far to go for a bowl of chowder you can mail order some, as they have a very successful canning and shipping operation as well.

One Hot Mama’s, Hilton Head

Orchid of One Hot Mammas

On our first night on Hilton Head Island we were looking for a lighter meal and decided on barbecue. Truth be told, we will almost always pick barbecue given a chance.  Our resort recommended One Hot Mama’s and gave us a coupon worth a 10% discount. The restaurant is located on the southern end of the island in a cluster of other eateries. It is set-up with a large outdoor area, a bar and dining room. (Happy hour prices require that you sit at the bar.). It is also part of the “Official South Carolina BBQ Trail.”

The menu was extensive but we finally decided on pulled-pork and a “little” rack of ribs which was supposed to be smaller than a half rack but to us seemed about the same size as a traditional half-rack. The ribs were basted with their “perfect 10” sauce that flavored the pulled pork and, in both cases, it complimented the meat perfectly. The atmosphere at One Hot Mama’s was inviting and the wait staff was friendly and efficient. All in all a great meal at a great price. We highly recommend…

Back to Barbados

This island is probably our favorite Caribbean destination. It is one of the oldest English outposts and has been an independent nation since 1966. It also has one of the Caribbean’s highest literacy rates and standards ofliving. . Its’ location puts it deep into the southern Caribbean and east out into the Atlantic so that its western shores are washed by the Caribbean and the east coast is famous for good Atlantic surf. Because Bathsheba, on the east coast, has nothing between it and Africa to block waves coming all the way across the Atlantic it has become the site of some major surfing competitions.

Beaches & Nitelife

Bajan Sunset

Geography places a majority of the activity and hotels on the west side of this island stretching from the northwest coast to the western south shore. Starting out on the northwest coast is Speightstown which features a couple of good places to eat and beach clubs and not far away is one of our favorite restaurants, The Fish Pot. From Speightstown south along the sea, you come to the high rent part of Barbados. This area is dotted with palatial estates and upscale beach properties. The center of this neighborhood is the Royal Westmoreland Golf Course and Sandy Lane Beach. The Sandy Lane Resort is a destination for celebrities and jet setters with upscale shopping at Limegrove Center nearby. Limegrove and the local area also feature a movie theatre, cafes and upscale restaurants. Traveling farther south you pass a

Bridgetown Docks

number of good beaches and then the seaport as you approach Bridgetown,. the capital. It is the island’s government center and features a number of restaurants and shopping including the major department store Cave Sheppard. Leaving Bridgetown and again heading due south you find another beach with good resort hotels along with the Garrison and Drill Hall areas. In the center of this is Harbour Lights, one of the island’s destinations for nightlife for tourists and locals alike.

Heading further south you will find resort properties with names like Hilton, Marriott and Radisson dotted along more great beaches along with many smaller local hotels. There is also a nice boardwalk that starts near Bridgetown and winds its way south for a number of miles. It’s a great walk with a number of cafes and restaurants. Near the end of the boardwalk is Rockley Beach. This is one of our favorite areas to stay. There are a number of places to eat from fast food (Chefette is Barbados’ own fast food chain featuring chicken) to upscale eateries, gift and beach shops and grocery and wine stores. The center of this is the Accra Beach Hotel which, while older, is a nice beachfront property. We have also stayed at Coral Sands which is very nice, as well along with several other smaller properties in Rockley. For dining check out Bubba’s Sports Bar, Mojo’s and the Tiki Bar. One of our favorite places in this area is Champers which is a good upscale restaurant overlooking the water.

A little way south down the coast again is the St. Lawrence Gap area, usually referred to as just “the Gap”, another neighborhood for restaurants, bars and nightlife on the island. There are a number of hotels in the Gap area but be warned that the party scene can be pretty loud late into the night. Following the coast out of the Gap you will find another stretch of great beaches with good resort hotels. We have had good experiences staying at Bougainvillea Beach and Coral Sands in this area as well.

Friday Oistin’s Fish Fry

Bathsheba, Barbados

Next comes the town of Oistin where everyone regularly goes on a Friday night for a waterfront fish fry. Oistin is a traditional Bajan fishing village and the Friday Oistin’s Fish Fry is an event that has been going on forever: fresh fish cooked amidst a carnival atmosphere. It is something not to be missed.

Next comes the airport area and after that is the Crane Beach and Crane Beach Resort. The area features cliffs with pocket beaches below and gets its’ name from a crane that was used to lift cargo up the cliffs in early days. The hotel is an excellent resort but somewhat isolated. If your intention is to relax and spend quality time with the family, sand and surf it is a good choice.

Getting Around

Getting around Barbados can be a challenge. There is public bus service and a number of tour operators but to really see the island it is best to rent a car. You need to be warned though, because the traffic is English drive or driving on the left. The roads can be narrow and unmarked and the island makes use of lots of traffic circles (remember that the traffic in the circle always has the right-of-way) that they call round-abouts. Also, the roads in some areas can be a maze where even Bajan friends of ours have admitted to getting lost.

Things To Do 

Do:

  • Visit the Barbados Historical Museum and the George Washington House
  • Take a sunset cruise
  • Go snorkeling or diving
  • Eat flying fish with Bajan hot sauce
  • Visit Harrison’ Cave and Hunte’s Gardens
  • Take a ride out to Bathsheba and the northeast island
  • Take the tour at the Mount Gay Rum Distillery

Don’t:

  • Cross a street without looking both ways (your instincts can kill you)
  • Wear clothes with camouflage pattern (it’s against the law)
  • Smoke in public places (it’s against the law)

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Airline Baggage Policies

If you are flying internationally you will probably get one bag checked for free regardless of what airline you are using (there are a few exceptions). Some allow a second free bag but most will charge for additional bags. If you are flying domestically you will probably have to pay, but how much depends on the airline. The major U.S. carriers include Hawaiian Airlines, Frontier Airlines, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Airlines, United Airlines, JetBlue Airlines, Southwest Airlines, US Airways and Spirit Airlines. Only JetBlue and Southwest normally allow a free checked bag. Also Spirit Airlines, Frontier Airlines and Allegiant Air, offer no-frills fares where carry-on bags will also cost you extra.

Recently two major domestic air carriers (American and United) have added a new class of service designated “basic” or “economy basic” which is an attempt to compete with discount/no-frills airlines.. This service no longer allows you to bring carry-on bags on board and also puts you at the end of the boarding process. In addition they are charging the “economy basic” passengers for showing up at the gate with carry-on bags (right now the “fine” is $25 plus the checked bag fee). If you are traveling on Basic Economy, your personal item (must fit under seat) will be the only item you can bring on board.

Like most of us, airfare is a major part of our travel expense and we are always looking for opportunities to save money. Domestic travel for us is a minor event and we will put up with a few hours of inconvenience to save a few dollars. Twelve and seventeen hour flights are be a different story. Unfortunately calculating comparison airfare costs has become a bit more complicated with the ever increasing costs for checking bags.

More and more people are trying to carry as much on board as possible to avoid bag fees and that makes getting your carry-on into a bin a more difficult problem. I’m surprised that there aren’t more arguments than there are and trying to get near the front of the boarding line has also become a serious priority. I find myself paying for checked bags more and more often just to avoid this crush.

When shopping for the best airfare it is increasingly important to know the airlines baggage policy. Most domestic airlines allow you to bring on one personal item such as a purse or briefcase, as well as one larger item such as a carry-on suitcase or backpack. On average the maximum size of a carry-on item is 22 by 14 by 9 inches including handles and wheels. Additionally there is also a rule for personal items. The maximum dimensions for your personal item that fits under the seat in front of you, such as a shoulder bag, purse, laptop bag or other small item, are 9 inches x 10 inches x 17 inches.

Most of the major airline carriers, other than JetBlue and Southwest, charge a fee for checked baggage on domestic flights while some are now charging for carry-on bags. However, on most international flights, only Alaska Airlines, Sun Country Airlines and for some destinations, American Airlines, charge a fee for the first checked bag (American treats many Caribbean destinations, Mexico and Canada by domestic rules).

One option to avoid bag charges is to get a credit card affiliated with an airline. For example using an Amex Delta card will get you free checked bags on Delta flights. The following is a list of cards that offer free bag check with some airlines:

  • United MileagePlus Credit Card.
  • Delta SkyMiles Credit Cards.
  • American Airlines.
  • JetBlue Plus.
  • Platinum Card from American Express.
  • Premier Rewards Gold from American Express.
  • Citi Prestige.
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve.
United Airlines Fees:

Checked Bags

1 – $25 to $30, 2 – $35, 3+ – $150

Overweight Bags 1 – $100 to $200

Oversized Bags 1 – $200

Carry On 1 allowed – Free

United Basic Economy Service- Full-sized carry-on bags are not permitted – You’re not allowed a full-sized carry-on bag unless you’re a MileagePlus Premier member or companion traveling on the same reservation, the primary cardmember of a qualifying MileagePlus credit card or a Star Alliance™ Gold member. Everyone else who brings a full-sized carry-on bag to the gate will be required to check their bag and pay the applicable checked bag fee plus a $25 gate handling charge.

American Airlines Fees

Domestic Bag 1 $25, Bag 2 $35, Bag 3 $150, Bag 4+ $200

Mexico Bag 1 $25, Bag 2 $40, Bag 3 $150, Bag 4+ $200

Caribbean Bag 1 $25, Bag 2 $40 to $55, Bag 3 $150, Bag 4+ $200

Central America Bag 1 $0, Bag 2 $35, Bag 3 $150, Bag 4+ $200

Brazil            Bag 1 $0, Bag 2 $0, Bag 3 $150, Bag 4+ $200

South America Bag 1 $0, Bag 2 $0, Bag 3 $150, Bag 4+ $200

Transatlantic            Bag 1 $0, Bag 2 $100, Bag 3+ $200

Transpacific            Bag 1 $0, Bag 2 $0, Bag 3+ $200

US Airways Fees

(US) allows 1 carry-on bag and 1 personal item (purse, briefcase, laptop bag) per passenger fee free. Carry-on should not exceed the following size and weight restrictions: 45 linear inches (22 x 14 x 9 in) or 115 centimeters (56 x 36 x 23 cm) including handles and wheels.

US domestic (including Canada, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and U S Virgin Islands):

  • First bag: $25.00 USD
  • Second bag: $35.00 USD
  • U S domestic (including Canada, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and U S Virgin Islands):
  • Third bag: $150.00 USD
  • Fourth bag +: $200.00 USD per bag

Caribbean, Central America, and Mexico:

  • First bag: $25.00 USD
  • Second bag: $40.00 USD
  • Brazil:
  • First bag: Free
  • Second bag: Free
  • South America:
  • First bag: Free
  • Second bag: Free
  • Transatlantic:
  • First bag: Free
  • Second bag: $100.00 USD
  • Transpacific:
  • First bag: Free
  • Second bag: Free

 

JetBlue Fees

Checked baggage

We offer fare options that include different numbers of checked bags. Should your plans change after booking a particular fare, bags may be checked online or at the airport for additional fees. Checked bags that exceed 62″ (157.48 cm) in overall dimensions (length + width + height) or exceed 50 pounds (22.68 kg) will also incur a fee.

Baggage fees for bags under 50 pounds

Fare option

Blue                         1st bag $25, 2nd bag $35, 3rd bag + $100 each

Blue Plus            1st bag Included, 2nd bag $35, 3rd bag $100 each

Blue Flex            1st bag Included, 2nd bag Included, 3rd bag+ $100 each fees

Size requirements: Bags that do not meet the dimensions and/or weight restrictions are considered oversized and/or overweight and will be charged as follows:

51 lbs (23.13 kg) – 99 lbs (44.91 kg) – $100 per bag.

63″ in (160 cm) – 80 in (203.3 cm)(including wheels and handles)– $100 per bag.

Delta Air Lines Fees

In economy, within Canada and the US, 1st bag $25, 2nd bag $35. To other destinations, prices vary by itinerary.

One of the best charts we’ve found that lists most airlines and their fees for checked baggage is HERE.

There is also a company, Lugless that is offering an option for you to ship your bags ahead and save money. While I have doubts I would love to hear from someone that has used this service?

Also see “Earning Frequent Flyer Miles