Monday, November 19, 2012

2012 HAL 11 night Noordam Southern Caribbean Cruise: Barbados; Dominica; Martinique; St. Lucia; St. Maarten; St. Thomas; Half Moon Cay

11 night Southern Caribbean Cruise

After our last 2 November Caribbean cruises in less then ideal weather conditions, you would think we'ld learn not to cruise the Caribbean in hurricane season!  But we persisted and gave it another try.  This time we did our longest cruise yet---11 nights on the Noordam and had almost perfect weather the whole time!   We actually booked this cruise while we were on the Eurodam last year.

I chose this cruise , (Holland America's Noordam) mainly because it went to St. Lucia.  I've always wanted to see St. Lucia.  The cruise also included stops in St. Maarten, Barbados, Dominica, Martinique, St. Thomas, and Half Moon Cay.  It was very port intensive, which I loved---6 port days in a row, another port later.  Ken's more of a sea day fan, but he held up pretty well.

2012 Noordam ship

2012-11-5,6, and 7  Up to and including our first 3 nights:  Sea days

2012-11-8  St. Maarten 

2012-11-9  St. Lucia

2012-11-10  Barbados

2012-11-11 Martinique

2012-11-12  Dominica

2012-11-13 St. Thomas

After 6 port days in a row, the next day was a welcomed sea day!  Even though I'm not a big fan of sea days, the day of rest was nice.  Althought my plans for sleeping in didn't go so well.  Somewhere in the Caribbean waters I encountered what I assume was sea lice---invisible to the eye, larvae or jellyfish or other stinging ocean critters that attacked me---and I ended up with an extremely itchy rash.  I had this happen before on a couple of our trips to Hawaii (out of about 20 trips to Hawaii), so I wasn't surprised.  Apparently they don't bother everyone---like Ken---but they sure like me.  Took about 5 days for the extreme itching to subside.  At least it happened near the end of our cruise.

2012-11-15 Halfmoon Cay

his was Ken's 4th cruise, my 10th.   Other than my first cruise (when my Dad almost drowned), I haven't had a bad one yet (not counting weather).  I really enjoyed seeing the new places and revisiting the ones we've been to.  We enjoyed it so much we even did the onboard booking for the ship board credit for the next one.  The $200 ship board credit for booking onboard last year and the $100 OBC for having CCL stock came in really handy this year.  After gratuities of $12/day@ , the Canelleto dinner, and a couple other items we bought onboard, we only owed $56 when we debarked. 

Now to start dreaming about where to go next!

Friday, August 31, 2012

2011 and 2012 In and around Georgia

I never consider heading to Georgia for a vacation!  That is until my daughter and son-in-law moved there in 2010.  That's when I discovered Georgia is a great place to vacation.  And it's even drivable from St. Louis (9 hours) or a quick cheap flight away.  Unfortunately (or fortunately---we'll see!), in the summer of 2012 they moved again---this time to Ft. Lauderdale.  So this blog is about the few trips I took to Georgia while they lived there.

On Dec. 15th of 2010, I rode with Angie from St. Louis to Atlanta to help with the move.  First impressions weren't that impressive. 
 We spent the first night in a hotel.  The next morning we met the movers at their new home.  It was a nice townhome, but why would anyone want a place with 3 stories!?  They actually lived about 20 miles north of Atlanta in the city of Alpharetta. 
After spending much of the next few days unpacking, it was almost time for me to fly home.  We left for the airport early and were able to spend a couple hours at the spectacular aquarium in downtown Atlanta.  I love aquariums and found this to be one of the best.  Angie was a great guide!  When she lived in St. Louis, she actually worked on the Atlanta Aquarium as the architect from PGAV Architects in St. Louis in charge of their new penguin enclosure, as well as the outside walkway from the parking garage.  I'm happy to say the penguins seem to enjoy their space!

 Another of the displays
 A huge whale shark in the huge tank! 
 Some south American fishies.
 They were even decorated for the Christmas season.

Monday, July 9, 2012

St. Louis, Missouri!

St. Louis

OK---not a vacation for me. This is my "home". But it really is a pretty neat vacation city. Lots of history and lots of free activities!

Just a little info to start with:
The city of St. Louis was founded in 1764 by Pierre Lacl├Ęde and Auguste Chouteau, and after the Louisiana Purchase, it became a major port on the Mississippi River.  Much of the area is a fertile and gently rolling prairie that features low hills and broad, shallow valleys. Both the Mississippi River and the Missouri River have cut large valleys with wide flood plains.  With a Metropolitan Statistical Area  population of 2,812,896 it is the 18th-largest MSA in the country and has a total area of 66.2 square miles. 

Summers are hot and humid with the humidity often making the heat index feel well above 100°F. Fall is mild with lower humidity and intermittent bouts of heavy rainfall. The first snow flurries usually coming in late November. Winters are cold with periodic snow and sleet and temperatures often below freezing, however thaws are usually frequent. Spring brings frequent thunderstorms and mild temperatures.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

2012 Kauai trip condensed for Shutterfly book

This was our 11th trip to Kauai, first for our good friends Coni and John Schneiderjans.  It was fun showing newbies around our island again!  For the first week, the weather was pretty good, then the rains began.  Hanelei even got 50" of rain in the week that we left.  It was in the low 80's most days and it was pretty windy.  Unlike the last couple of years, there was not a lot of vog this year. 
I was able to work a little Wyndham VIP magic with our timeshares this year.  Managed to get both weeks in 2 bedroom oceanview Kauai Beach Villas units for 1/2 the amount of points normally required.  We did have to switch rooms after the first week and didn't get as good of views as we have in the past, but they still weren't bad.  The first week we were in a ground level H building unit.

 2nd week view, from our 2nd floor F building unit.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

2012--Maui May sisters' trip

May 28-June 4, 2012:

When my sister suggested we take another sister's trip, I immediately thought of where we should go----Maui!  I had Hawaiian airlines miles which were about to expire and  I had lots of Wyndham points left over after getting our Kauai weeks this past Feb. for half off.   So I called Wyndham and had them place a Wyndham week into Trading Places for me in exchange for a 2 bedroom condo in Maui from May 28 - June 4th.   All I had to do was pay for my flights to/from STL-PDX. 
The day finally came and I was on my way to PDX.  My sister, Carolyn, picked me up and we headed back to Dallas, Oregon, for a couple days.  Then we spent the night before our Maui flight in a hotel by the airport.  On the 28th (Memorial Day), we were on our way bright and early (to me!) to catch our 10:30 flight to OGG.  Since Ken and I usually travel to Hawaii from STL all in one day with a couple stops and long layovers, this travel day seemed to go fairly quickly.  Only long part was the 2 1/2 hour layover in Honolulu.  Originally we were suppose to fly non-stop to Maui---one of the big reasons why we picked Maui over Kauai, but Hawaiian decided to eliminate that flight and keep an extra 8000 of my miles that I used to book the non-stop instead of a connector flight---I was not too happy about that, but Hawaiian was!  The only good things about it were the views of Honolulu and Maui county as we flew over them.

2012-5-28 PDX-HNL-OGG and Maui Hill Resort:

2012-5-29--to Iao Valley and riding around S. Maui

 2012-5-30  Kapalua:

2012-5-31  to the up country:

2012-6-1  Ulua beach and Lahaina:

2012-6-2  Molokini and sunset at Kameoli:

2012-6-3 Maluaka beach and sunset cruise:

2012-6-4 time to go home:

 It was a great trip.  Possibly the best "sisters'" trip we've done yet!  Wonder where our next sisters' trip will be?!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Edisto Beach---cute little South Carolina coastal town!

Until 2011, I hadn't even heard of Edisto Beach, South Carolina.  Until 2011, I hadn't really even thought about heading to a beach in the mid Atlantic area of the USA.  But until 2010, Angie wasn't living in Atlanta, Georgia.  So during a couple of my visits out to see her, we decided a trip to the beach was in order.  So I checked Wyndham Resorts to see what was closest, and Edisto Beach was the place.  It was about a 4.5 hour ride from Atlanta, but with great company and interesting scenery, the ride went fast. 

Edisto Beach was originally settled by the Edisto Indians, but was rediscovered by the Spanish in the late 16th century.  Rice and indigo were the most common crops during the early settlement years. Later, significant cotton plantations were built and flourished. This industry, fueled by rich land owners and slaves, prospered until the Civil War.  Today, visitors enjoy the slow pace and casual lifestyle of Edisto Beach.

The first time we went there, in 2011, I reserved a 2 bedroom unit in Wyndham Ocean Ridge.   I can't say we were terribly impressed with our unit.  It was in an older section of the resort.  Positives about it are that it was very roomy and nicely laid out.  We also enjoyed the pool and wandering around the lagoon.  But inside the unit we kept encountering very large Palmetto bugs (or large cockroaches).  If we were there for more then 2 nights, I definitely would have been calling the main office for an exterminator.  But since we weren't in the room much, we did our best to kill the ones we saw and pretend they weren't there.  The 2nd bathroom was also in very poor shape with mold on the walls and the couch fabric in the living room was torn.  But it had the potential to be really nice!

Spiral stairs led up to a 3rd lofted bedroom.

This was the lagoon behind our condo.
 This is the back of our condo from near the lagoon.
 This was the front.  It was a nice feature having a private car port. 
Despite the bug issue, we loved the quiet laid back little beach town.  We made a point of driving to the beach for morning walks along the beach and sunsets both days.  There are lots of small parking areas with boardwalks to the beach. 
The beach is long and lined with beautiful beach houses, many of them rentals.
We brought our lawn chairs and sat at the water's edge for quite awhile.

Sunsets were gorgeous!

While we waited for the sun to set, we were entertained by resident dolphins.

On our 1 full day there, we drove over to Botany Bay Plantation Heritage Preserve  in the northeast corner of Edisto Island.  It is 4,630 coastal acres with moss-draped live oaks, sunflower-filled farm fields, a lake, the ruins of an 1800's cotton plantation house and slave quarters, a couple of intact 1840s outbuildings and two miles of beach.  As you enter the grounds, there is a kiosk where you can pick up a driving tour guide of the property. The 6.5-mile course starts along an avenue of oaks interspersed with loblolly pine and cabbage palmetto, the state tree.
When we were there the sunflower fields were dead, but eerily pretty.

We stayed on the beach access road until we got to a parking area just past the four-way stop. It’s a short walk from here to two small buildings, both built in the 1800s. The white wooden Gothic Revival structure once served as the Bleak Hall ice house. Back in the day, ice shipped from the north was packed in sawdust and stored in the tabby-walled foundation.
 Being a nature preserve, too, we also saw many bugs and birds, such as this pretty butterfly.
 Not sure what this colorful critter is, but I assume it's some sort of ant. 

Another colorful bug on the plantation.
 This is the "bee hive well" built by slaves in the 1700s for access to water.  
We passed the chimney of a slave house and a couple  ponds created in the 1970s to provide habitat for wood ducks, wading birds and many aquatic species. As you cross a dike, you’ll enter the former Sea Cloud Plantation.
One of the green mossy covered lakes on the grounds.  We think this is an alligator in the lake, but aren't 100% sure.

The last owners of the property were John Meyer and Margaret (Meyer) Pepper.  When John E. Meyer died Jan. 1, 1977, at age 58, his will bequeathed Botany Bay to the state as a wildlife preserve. Meyer built his fortune in the hotel industry, and his real estate holdings included not only Botany Bay, but also White Hall Plantation and an 800-acre farm in Connecticut.  Meyer donated Botany Bay to the state in part to settle a permit violation he faced after building a dike on the property.  A supplement in Meyer's will gave his wife access to and control of the homes and the cultivated fields at Botany Bay for the remainder of her life.  After she remarried, she cleared undergrowth and ponds to make it more inviting for deer, quail and waterfowl. 

After doing the free car tour of the Plantation grounds, we parked at the beach access parking lot where the trailhead for the half-mile Pockoy Island Trail is. A causeway, built by slaves, takes you over the marsh through a densely wooded hammock and a small barrier island to the preserve’s 2.8 miles of shore. 
(In 2016, Hurricane Matthew hit Edisto hard and destroyed the boardwalk and we've heard the beach and trees that were in the water are gone.  I'm sure glad we went there before then.  It was quite a sight to see!)
It's a pretty walk to the beach.
Got a kick out of all the scurrying crabs along the way.

Erosion on Botany Bay Beach has left a “boneyard” of dead trees along the sand, creating a unique coastline

Because shell collection is prohibited, the beach is full of different kinds of shells.

We easily spent 3 or 4 hours on our excursion to Botany Bay Plantation Heritage Preserve.   What made it even better is that the area is free to enter and there is a lot there to enjoy!
Being close to Charleston, we drove through there on our way back to Atlanta and were amazed by the architecture down town.  Here are just a few examples.

We enjoyed Edisto Beach so much, that in 2012, Angie and I took another trip to Edisto Beach.  This time we went through Savannah on our way there.  We were amazed by this beautiful city, too.  Too bad there are no Wyndham's there!  I had just read the book and watched the movie, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil about a visiting city reporter's assignment that revolves around the murder trial of a local Savannah millionaire.  Sort of made the cute little squares and mansions come to life.  Not part of Edisto Beach, but since it was part of our trip getting there, I'm including a few pictures of Savannah. 
We even had lunch here at this neat little English Pub. 
 One of the many statues in one of the many squares.
 I bet a horse drawn tour would have been fun!
 One of the beautiful churches.
 A typical stately tree lined street.
 Example of the gorgeous architecture of the residences here.
 After a couple hours in Savannah, we continued north about 60 more miles to Edisto Beach.  We were willing to give Wyndham another try.  This time I reserved a unit in their elite section of the resort, Wyndham Edisto King Cotton Resort, in the same grounds as the Ocean Ridge complex.  This time we were very impressed!  Did see a couple Palmetto bugs, but they were small and already dying.  I got a deal on a 3 bedroom presidential unit for 2 nights.  It even had an elevator to the 3 levels within the unit.  We weren't on the lagoon, but we overlooked the golf course and enjoyed watching golfers while we ate breakfast on one of the 3 lanais of our unit.
The front of our unit with private car port.
The dining room.
 The dining room towards the large kitchen.
 The comfortable living room.
 Our breakfast lanai overlooking the golf course.
 The elevator (to the right) opening up between the living room and dining room.
2 of the bedrooms on level 3.

 A small part of one of the bathrooms. 
Angie was even excited to find this resident gator in the lagoon near the resort entrance.
It poured the first night we were there, so no beach sunset that night.  We did head to the beach the next morning and were shocked to find it covered with horse shoe crabs!  Turned out to be mating season for them (early/mid May) and this is a beach they like, too! 
 Just a few of the hundreds of Horse Shoe Crabs along the beach.

We were also so intrigued with Botany Bay last trip that we went back there.  Wore our swimsuits this time and took beach chairs.  Drove around the plantation again, then walked the path to the beach.
 It was a beautiful day with beautiful views.
Finally reached the beach.

We spent a couple hours here chilling out, wading in the water, and admiring the unique scenery.

Even the walk back was enjoyable.

Back in Edisto Beach, we got fish and chips for lunch/dinner at a nice little restaurant overlooking the ocean.  While we were sitting at our table waited for our lunch, we got a kick out of watching a crafty black bird pulling potato chips out of a bag on the beach while the unsuspecting picnickers were nowhere to be seen.

The water looked so inviting, and we still had our swimsuits on, so we headed down to the beach after eating.  Threw caution to the wind and got in even though we had read about Edisto Beach being a place where sharks like to hang out.

That night we headed to the marina right across from our resort and asked if they had sunset boat rides.  They did, so we took one.  I believe it was about $30@.  It was a beautiful night for a cruise!  Even had the resident dolphins join us for awhile.

There were lots of interesting bird along the way. There was a lady on our cruise who was an avid bird watcher and named off a bunch of different birds that we passed.    Here's an osprey.
 Don't remember what she called these guys.
As the sun set, the sky turned beautiful colors.

Back at the dock, the calm waters made for interesting reflection photos.

We found out there was a beach at the far west side of the Wyndham property  at the opening of the bay, so we headed there for awhile after our cruise and enjoyed a beer on the beach.  A great way to end another great, but short, Edisto Beach vacation!

While we were actually on that trip, Josh accepted a promotion near Miami, Florida, and he and Angie moved there a couple months later.  I have bittersweet feelings about that!  I actually fell in love with Georgia and the great little escapes we could take from there, but looked forward to exploring southern Florida, too.  I don't know if I'll ever get back to Edisto Beach now, but I'll fondly remember the 2 trips I did enjoy there with Angie.

2015-another couple stops in Edisto!
I did make it back to Edisto!  Sort of funny how things work out, but now we're living in S. Florida, too, and my husband and I drove back to St. Louis for a "vacation".  We broke up the drive by staying in Edisto for a night on our way there and for 2 nights on our way back.  Again I got us into the King Cotton 3 bedroom presidential unit.  I noticed a few changes in our villa.  The couches and chairs in the livingroom were different.   Seemed to be new.
 Loved the little boxes of chocolates on the rolled up bathrobes that we got on our stop to St. Louis.  Was looking forward to them on our way back, but they fooled us and didn't leave us any!
 But we did have quite an assortment of goodies in the bathrooms.  I liked that they even included a little sewing kit.  That went right into my carry on suitcase.  The cleansing towelette came in handy after walking around Botany Bay again.
 The kitchen and diningroom from the steps to the 3rd floor.
 View from our unit ??14
 another view from ??14.  I like how they even have bottles of water along the trail or golf path.
 another view of a pond near the entrance.

This is where Angie and I had fish and chips before.  It's changed hands but service and food was still good.  Now it's called something like Finns.
 Sunsets were still beautiful----but I forgot to mention before---Take and use LOTS of mosquito repellent.  They usually don't bother me too much, but they even like me there.
 over by the point.
 Lots of interesting wild flowers growing along the beach walks.

 The dolphins were energetic this evening.  Here one is doing tail slaps.
 Managed to catch one of the many breeches.
 still breeching
 sky changing colors
 another beautiful sunset with dolphins in the foreground.
 Love all the old oak lined streets.
 We even sat and watched the birds at the bird feeders at the entrance to Botany Bay, too.
 Love Cardinals
 another old oak with character.
 along our walk to the beach.  We were there at low tide this time and kept hearing loud pops.  I've read those pops were made by a type of shrimp that has one large claw and it snaps that underwater which makes a bubble and when the bubble pops it makes the loud pop.  It's suppose to stun critters around them so they can catch them and scare bigger prey away.
 Didn't see any shrimp, but did see lots of these huge spiders!
another view along the trail

 close up of one of the hundreds of little Fiddler Crabs.
Botany Bay was as enchanting as ever!
 one of the little water fouls.
 Ken perched on a stump waiting for me to get done taking my million pictures.
 looking inland.
 a shell decorated tree
 a few of the washed up shells.
 heading back to the car.
 little lizard along the way
 Ken leaving me in his dust.
 a stork coming in for a landing on the marsh.
 more interesting wild flora along the way.
 a hatchery for mosquitoes!
 an alligator.
 I assume this is a type of moth?
 a butterfly
 my Cardinal again.
 back at the entrance to the park we watched the bird feeders a little while longer.  Wonder what these cute little big eyed birds are?
 the tree art across highway 174 from Botany Bay Road.
 We did the water sunset tour again, too, but I was disappointed this time.  The guide would stop, then drive like a bat out of Hell.  I was soaked and covering my dslr to keep it from getting soaked, too.   But other than that, we had a great time.  Too short of a break, but a nice break from hours and hours on the road!