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…

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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

 

 

Out-Of-The-Way Find at Disney World

Mexican Food at Picabu Taqueria

We have a secret when eating at Walt Disney World. Hidden in the lower level of the Dolphin Hotel in the Boardwalk resort area is the Picabu Taqueria. Looking like a snack bar – fast food venue the Taqueria custom builds some of the best tacos you’ll find anywhere. Featuring grilled skirt steak, fresh fish, pork carnitas and Adobo chicken with a large selection of add-ins in either hard or soft taco shells. Three large tacos for around $10.00 and well worth every penny. They also offer Burritos and Bowls. Do yourself a favor and check it out.

Open for both lunch and dinner you do have to seek this place out. The Dolphin is easily reached from the Boardwalk area and is only a short walk from the second entrance at Epcot or a walk down a canal from Disney Studios. Come in the main doors at the lower level of the hotel and take the hall to the left.

If you are a guest at a Disney resort you will have to bring cash or a credit card as the Swan and Dolphin are not part of the Magic Band system.

 

 

Our Travel Books

Want to keep those travel photos where they will be safe and easy to access years from now? Have concerns about recollecting details of that great vacation? Want to remember names and addresses of favorite restaurants that you can recommend? We have an answer that fits our concerns perfectly.

After each trip we take time to compose a book about the trip. We’ve discovered these are good alternatives to boring our friends and relatives with a slide show. If guests seem interested, it is easy to pass around our trip books. We also look forward to sharing them with our grandchildren and refreshing our memories as time goes by.

There are a number of services that allow you to create a custom designed book from your own photographs and have it professionally printed and mailed back to you. People use these services to create wedding albums, family photo albums, special occasion records and unique gift items. While we have created books for a number of reasons, our favorite is to keep a record of our travels.

The process is simple and easy. You create an online account, upload photographs to the online project site and use the website to pick your format, design each page and add copy. These services also offer numerous styles to pick from and decorative accents you can add to the pages. When you finish, simply order, pay and expect a finished book to come in the mail in a few days.

Probably the largest of these services is Shutterfly but you should also look into Blurb and Snapfish along with services within popular photo software like Apple’s Photo.

 

 

 

Savannah, Georgia’s Grand Lady

Jack Leigh’s 1993 image titled “Midnight.”

 

If Charleston is a Southern Belle than Savannah is the South’s Grande Dame. The city is built close upon the deltas of the Wilmington and Savannah Rivers at the confluence of the Savannah River and Little Back River. Traditionally, the culture of Savannah is rooted in the coastal “low country” just like its’ sister city of Charleston a hundred miles to the north.

Savannah Map from 1818

The city of Savannah, Georgia was laid out by James Oglethorpe in 1733 around four open squares. Each square was surrounded by four residential (“tything”) blocks and four civic (“trust”) blocks. Once the four wards were developed in the mid-1730s, two additional wards were laid out and the city grew out from this plan. Almost three hundred years later it is those squares (http://www.savannah.com/savannahs-historic-squares/) that make Savannah so unique and attractive.

East River Street

James Oglethorpe was a British soldier, Member of Parliament, and philanthropist, as well as the founder of the colony of Georgia. As a social reformer, he hoped to resettle Britain’s poor in the New World. Savannah was the beginning of his Georgia colony. The charter allocated each family a city plot to build a house on along with a larger garden plot outside the settlement proper and an additional large farm plot farther out into the countryside. The inner city design was originally intended to allow for defense from the Spanish to the south and the native tribes around the area.

The SCAD Theatre

Today it doesn’t matter if the plan was a result of genius or luck or centuries of dedication, Savannah is one of the world’s most beautiful, walkable and livable cities. It is home to SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) which is a dominant force in the culture of the city. Be sure to make time to visit their gallery and museum and ShopSCAD .

Savannah is also one of America’s most historic cities having played major roles in the colonization of America, the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. It is also known for food, ghosts (there are dozens of haunting legends as well as tours) and a vibrant lifestyle. When people think of this city they usually think of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, the birdgirl statue, cemeteries and grand steepled churches.

The Fountain in Forsythe Park

The last time we visited Savannah was a year ago in August, during the heat of summer. We came back in November and the weather and temperatures were glorious. We spent most of our time touring on foot, taking time for frequent stops to shop and snack. While walking along the river late one afternoon we decided, for old times sake, to stop into The Charte House for happy hour. In addition to good happy hour drink prices and snacks we were pleasantly surprised with an order of fried green tomatoes, some of the best we have ever had.

Crystal Beer Parlor

While strolling around the outskirts of the historic district we stopped for lunch at Crystal Beer Parlor, a local treasure on West Jones Street. Located in a former grocery store the “Crystal” is Savannah’s oldest restaurant, dating back to 1933. Its’ menu features solid American fare and an extensive beer list including a nice selection of local brews.

Market Square

On a previous visit to Savannah we took a walking “Famous & Secret East Side Food Tour” which was the most fun we’d had for lunch in a long time. We started at Smith Brothers Butcher Shop  and visited a half dozen spots for everything from tea and sweets to gyros. One of the stops was at Angel’s Barbeque, which had garnered a reputation for some of the best barbecue and homemade sauces in Savannah. We enjoyed delicious pulled pork sandwiches. I’m glad we stopped at that time as the owners, Andrew and Alieen Trice, have now sold the building and retired. To some this amounts to a tragedy.

If you are spending a day doing a walking tour of the city, a popular lunch idea is to stop by Smith Brothers Butcher Shop and order a sandwich to-go or pick up some items for a picnic in one of Savannah’s many squares.

For an introduction to the flavors of the city one should consider a number of dishes that the city is known for like low country boil, Shrimp and grits, Crab Savannah, oyster roast, crab cakes, beans n rice or red beans, fried green tomatoes and for dessert look for Georgia Peach Pie or cobbler, pecan pie and pralines or gophers.

Some must have treats in this historic city are legendary Leopold’s Ice Cream , Savannah’s Candy Kitchen for pralines or gophers, Southbound Brewing Company  for a tour and samples and one of Savannah’s popular and eclectic coffee shops.

 

 

Cedar Key, A Piece of Old Florida

If you travel west on Florida State Road 24 from Gainesville to where the road 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.

A post office named “Cedar Key” was established here in 1845 and by 1860 Cedar Key became the western terminal for the Florida Railroad, connecting it to the east coast of Florida. The town grew as a result of the railroad but in the late nineteenth century when shipping terminals and a railroad line where built in Tampa, the town got passed by.

At the start of the twentieth century, fishing, sponging and oystering had become the major industries but, when the oyster beds played out, the town became primarily a draw for sport fishing. It probably looks much now the way it did sixty years ago but, behind the façade, there have been some changes. The town now has a thriving art community and attracts tourists to the galleries and shops and fishermen to the Gulf.

We made our first ever visit to Cedar Key in July of this year and, while the town has its’ appeal, summer is not the time to go as a good deal of the town is actually closed. When we went looking for a cup of coffee in the morning we simply could not find anything open. The town has a few coffee shops and a donut shop and they were all closed for vacation when we were there. There are only a few hotel/motels in town and none of them received much in the way of inviting reviews. The one we chose, The Beach Front Motel, was basic and nowhere near a swimming beach.

You arrive in the town as Florida 27 turns into D Street. It crosses 2nd Street which is the main thoroughfare and offers a number of nice shops. If you turn left on 2nd Street and in a block make a right on C Street you will find yourself heading toward the Gulf and Dock Street.

Back in town at the corner of D and 2nd is Tony’s Seafood Restaurant which is famous for award winning clam chowder. That was where we went for our first meal and we were not disappointed as the chowder was remarkable. You can also take some cans home with you or mail order later. If you are looking for white tablecloths and atmosphere in Cedar Key you’re probably going to be disappointed.

Along the waterfront on Dock Street there are a number of gift shops and five or six restaurants worth considering. We tried Steamers Clam Bar and Grill which offered a fairly extensive menu including lots of fresh seafood in both small plates and entrees. They also featured a nice selection of local craft beers and a full bar.

Cedar Key is not the sort of town you just discover since it is so far off the beaten track. There is very little in the way of a beach to draw people and nothing like a resort area vibe. Unless you are into fishing, it’s hard to think of a reason why you would spend more than a day here. There is one recommendation we would make, however. If you are spending time in north central Florida say near Gainesville, Cedar Key is an excellent choice for a day trip. It is less than an hour and a half drive. It has a character that reminded us of the Florida Keys thirty years ago – a laid back place with good seafood, fishing and salt air.  The town has a vibrant art colony and the galleries and craft/gift shops are worth perusing. Also, in winter when more things are open, we were assured that we would find more to make a trip off the beaten path worth the time.

Thailand – 2 Days in Bangkok

Grand Palace

We spent two days in Bangkok earlier this year as part of a month cruising around the South China Sea and those two days were the highlight of the trip. Visiting Bangkok is an exciting experience. The culture is rich and peaceful, the food is plentiful and diverse and there are many things to see and do. If you arrive on a cruise ship, you dock at Laem Chabang which is a minimum hour-and-a-half drive from the city. If your ship is only there for the day, it is difficult to get into the city and back and still manage to see a lot. If you are lucky, your ship docks one morning and departs the next evening providing you time for an adventure.

Even the trip into Bangkok is interesting as you realize how modern the area is. There are many factories and businesses along the way and rest stops which stretch great distances provide a large number of restaurants and coffee shops with many American offerings.

Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn)

Once into the city, there are numerous temples and markets to visit along with museums and other historical properties. Thailand’s main religion is Buddhism so getting to a temple or two is a must. Keep in mind that there are specific dress codes (i.e. no bare shoulders or short pants) and you probably will be required to remove your shoes. Some temples do not allow photos. The word for temple in Thai is Wat.

Altar and Buddha in the Western Viharn

The Emerald Buddha (actually made of jade) is probably the most famous and it is on the grounds of the Grand Palace (established in 1782) so you can visit both at the same time. The grounds are huge and include a number of temples and palaces, magnificent statuary, works of art and jeweled walls. There are small admittance fees but you can claim a beautiful brochure once you have paid. The Grand Palace closes from time to time for events/ceremonies so this could affect your visit.

Within a short walk of the Grand Palace is Wat Pho which is home to the Reclining Buddha (covered in gold and 46 meters in length), several other Buddhas and a variety of stone figures. Another famous temple in the area (not walking distance) is Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn) on the Chao Phraya River. It can be enjoyed on its’ own or as part of a river/canal tour.

Maeklong Railway market

While in Bangkok we were urged to try a number of “street” foods, which are everywhere. Mostly what we sampled were fresh fruits with one highlight being a cup of strawberries dusted with salt, sugar and chili powder. Freshly opened coconuts for coconut water were available everywhere. Other foods included grilled chicken, fried bananas and pineapple. After checking into our hotel we went into the shopping district and stopped in a sports bar for a beer. We ordered chicken wings and were served the tiniest wings we’d ever seen, about an inch long.

We spent the night at the Centre Point Hotel Chidlom in the Central District. The hotel was recommended by some Australian friends and was very nice and not too expensive. It was just a few blocks from Bangkok’s major department store, Central Chidlom and a number of nice restaurants. We set out early the next morning for the Maeklong Railway Market.

Water Market

The Maeklong Railway Market is 50 miles outside Bangkok and is the most unique market in Asia. The trains run down a stretch of track right through the market with shops only a couple of feet from the tracks. It features vendors (mostly food) on both sides of the tracks. They display their products along the tracks and, when the train is coming, they drop awnings and quickly pull everything back until the train passes. Afterwards, all goods go back by the tracks. This process happens seven times a day but it is best to visit early in the morning when the temperatures and smells are both lower. Food is the main item sold here.

There are many floating markets in Thailand but one of the more interesting ones is Damnoen Saduak, about 60 miles from the city. Products are displayed in boats and around the canals and you can purchase food items that have been cooked on the boats. You can hire a long boat and the operator will row you around the canals to shop and observe. Bartering is a must and payment in local currency (baht) is expected.

Backyard Shrines

Some excursions can be arranged with your ship and hotels in Bangkok also offer access to tour companies. A better alternative, if you are there overnight, is to hire a private travel company like Travel Hub as they have good itineraries and will pick you up at the ship, provide touring, drop you at a hotel and pick you up the following morning for more touring and the journey back to the ship. There are fixed itineraries with a little flexibility and each group includes a guide and driver; the smaller the group, the more personal the tour. Pricing depends on the number of people in the group.

Rest Stop on Hiway 7 South of Bangkok

A couple of important notes about visiting Thailand: The people love and respect their king and do not tolerate disrespect. Most Thai homes include photographs or art depicting the king and his family. One story recounts an incident where someone dropped Thai currency and stepped on it to keep it from blowing away. The act was considered an insult to the king because his picture is on all currency. Another note regards the Buddha. Thailand is a Buddhist country and disrespect towards the Buddha is not permitted under Thai law. There are billboards and posters all over the country pointing this out.

If you are planning a trip to Southeast Asia you need to put Thailand at the top of your list.

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