I am in the midst of planning a family vacation toWalt Disney World®. Since there are quite a few of us, we would require a few rooms if staying at an on-site resort. No matter how I looked at it, I was able to save quite a bit of money by staying at a local rental home. There is a home located just 2 miles from Disney property that I have stayed at before and immediately booked that home (Characters Corner Vacation Home) and I’ll be writing quite a bit about it when I return. The home is spacious, well kept, clean and just a few short minutes drive to the parks and since we will be driving in from South Carolina a car is no issue.
SURPRISE MONEY SAVER:
In planning this trip I wanted to do something special with my family and immediately thought of the Ferrytale Wishes, a Fireworks Dessert Cruise. When I looked at booking this option, there was no way to save money – or so I thought. There are 6 family members I would be paying for. Total cost for this special event would be $564.00. Yes, we would get some nice desserts. But, $564.00 ($99 each adult and $69 for a child)! OUCH! I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend that amount of money so started to look for other options that would be a nice treat for my family without such a hefty price tag.
After searching around reviews and speaking to friends I decided to call for information on a Fireworks Specialty Cruiseout of one of the deluxe resorts and guess what? $318.44! That’s right! For our own private pontoon boat with snacks and soft drinks.
The specialty cruise takes place on one of Disney’s deluxe pontoon boats, and board at Magic Kingdom Resort Marinas to sail around Bay Lake and Seven Seas Lagoon (or for Illuminations out of Epcot, depart from Bayside Marina at Disney’s Yacht Club Resort. We will be leaving from Disney’s Contemporary Resort after spending the day at the Magic Kingdom. 21-foot pontoons hold up to 8 guests and 25-foot pontoons hold up to 10 guests. A Captain accompanies each Specialty Cruise, and assorted snacks and soft drinks are served. You can arrange something special from Disney Private Dining by calling the Disney Resort you launch from.
So, the way I looked at it I could spend $564 for the ferry (which I’m sure is a wonderful experience), but we would be having the experience with several hundred other people. I’m not sure what the maximum number allowed on the ferry is but I’m sure it’s in the hundreds. Yes, some fancy desserts too, but considering we will have just finished dinner, I’m not sure how important those desserts are. OR, I could spend $318.44 for just my family, just us, on a private boat with snacks and soft drinks and WITH THE MUSIC/AUDIO PIPED IN ~ for $245.56 less.
This was a no-brainer for me. I think it will be a wonderful experience for my family and I can’t wait to tell you all about it.
I can’t wait to see my granddaughter’s face!
Solo Travel ~ Pros & Cons and Staying Safe
I have been fortunate in life that I have been able to experience solo travel, couple travel, and travel with friends. Most of my travel is solo. Not everyone is cut out for solo travel or feels comfortable taking any sort of trip all alone. My husband is a home-body, doesn’t really like to travel. My children are adults with jobs, their own family responsibilities and often can’t take the time to travel with me. Traveling on your own can be fun, challenging and memorable. Traveling alone forces you to be independent.
Some items can fit both the pro and con list depending on how you feel about things! For me, the pros far exceed the cons since I would have missed out on lots of my travel experiences if I stayed home rather then go solo. There are many pros and cons to solo travel and here is my short list:
PROS ~ When you travel alone, you are independent and in control. When you travel solo, you can be selfish, you can change your mind ~ everyone deserves to be selfish now and then.
Only responsible for yourself ~ nothing is better than arriving at the airport, getting through TSA and boarding a flight all alone!
Travel at your own pace – never a need to compromise
Get up when you want ~ go to bed when you want
Eat when and where you want
See exactly what you want to see
Splurge on the things you want to splurge on and only when you want to. It’s much easier to stay within your budget when you travel alone.
When you travel alone, you don’t have to stick to or fit in anyone else’s schedule. You aren’t asked to do things you don’t want to do. Independence! It lets you make your own plans and stick to them ~ or not!
It’s much easier to meet new people and make some new friends when you travel alone. When you travel with others you tend to stick with those others and not branch out of your comfort zone of people.
Traveling alone makes you more likely to experience new things since there is no family member or friend around to question your choice or remind you that the experience may be out of your normal comfort zone.
When you first start to travel alone, it can be hard to get used to. There are times you’ll wish you had someone to share a certain experience with so make your camera your best friend! When I get home from a trip I often spend hours showing my husband pictures and telling him about certain experiences.
If you face a challenge while traveling, it’s a lot easier when you have a travel companion.
It gets lonely sometimes ~ usually when it’s time to eat, but once you get used to dining alone, you just might find you prefer it!
Can be more expensive since you aren’t sharing the cost of a room with a companion
No one to help you figure things out – you are on your own.
Safety – Solo travel is not necessarily unsafe, but it’s definitely less safe than traveling with others. We tend to be a bit more vulnerable when we are alone.
Solo Travel Safety
When you travel alone always travel with a plan. Use common sense when planning a trip and choosing a destination. A solo traveler can be seen as an easy target so avoid going to areas that are known for problems, and be sure to have a plan for keeping your valuables safe. Research, research, research – know what part of the city your accommodation will be in and know where to go if you have a problem.
Always make sure your family at home has a detailed copy of your itinerary, flight and ticket information and leave valuables at home.
Make sure you have adequate health insurance and that your health insurance will cover medical emergencies away from home. If not, purchase travel insurance that will.
Choose a hotel where security is good and public transportation or taxis are readily available. Once in your room, check to make sure all of the doors and windows have working locks. Always use your peephole before opening your door. I always request that my room not be at the far back of a hotel, and if possible not have outside access and depending on the size of the hotel, as close to the main building or lobby as possible.
Before leaving your hotel, ask the concierge for directions to where you plan to visit that day, for any areas you should avoid and for the easiest means to get there. This will help you avoid unsafe areas. If you do get lost, always ask for directions from a family or a woman with children.
Take photos of the condition of your rental car inside and out when you first pick it up. Report pre-existing damages before leaving the lot and a time-stamped photo will provide proof of anything that was there before you took possession of car.
Take a clear photo of the car rental agreement
Take photos of any prescription medications you may have with you in case they get lost.
Take photos of your important travel documents
Take a photo of the main credit card you will be using – both front and back. If the card is lost or stolen you will have immediate access to the toll free number and account number to report the loss.
If checking luggage, always have one contingency set of clothing in your carry-on – just in case.
Have a pre-arranged time that you check-in with someone at home so they know to be expecting your call. When traveling within the U.S., I usually call my husband each morning around 7.
Ten Private Island Hotels to Lift Your Winter Blues
With winter storms hitting many areas of the country recently, our friends at Trivago sent us this list of the ten best private island getaways to share with our readers. It’s never to late (or early) to start planning (or dreaming)! Take a good look ~ which one would you like to visit? I think I’d like to visit them all!
In order to lift your spirits and help you get through the long and dreary winter, hotel search trivago.com has selected ten of the world’s best private island hotels. Offering amenities such as private pools and direct beach access, with services such as private seaplane transfers and secluded beachfront dining, these hotels are the epitome of luxury and seclusion. From the Philippines to the coast of Florida, live out your private island fantasy in one of these exclusive hotels.
Pangalusian Island, or the “island of the sun”, is located off the coast of Palawan Island in the South China Sea. Guests arrive via daily flights from Manila to El Nido, coupled with a 25- minute boat ride. Once there, there is a choice of 42 individual villas in contemporary Filipino design: some with direct access to the 750-metre white powder beach, some elevated 17 meters above the forest floor, and some with a private pool. Palawan is a diver’s paradise and guests should snorkel or scuba dive in the marine sanctuary, located right on the hotel’s doorstep. Other activities include a private boat for sunset cruises, traditional Filipino Hilot massages in the spa and dining on fresh local produce – either al fresco in the restaurant or in the privacy of your secluded villa.
The Sainte Anne Island branch of the Beachcomber hotels is located in the Seychelles, ten minutes by boat from Mahé, but in a private island paradise of its own. The resort boasts 87 private villas, 29 with private pools and all with the option of an all-inclusive package. The island is surrounded by one of the largest marine parks in the Indian Ocean, which the resort makes full use of with 3 secluded beaches totaling 1.5 kilometers and a sports and leisure center offering snorkeling and other water-based activities. On land, the hotel offers nature treks, a Spa by Clarins and no less than four restaurants – three located on the beach, all offering seafood, local cuisine and home-grown products.
The Naka Island boasts 5 stars and an exclusive location off the coast of Phuket on Naka Yai Island. Villas range in size from 350 square meters to 1600 square meters, all furnished in a tropical style, some on the beach front, others with sea views, and all with a private pool. Guests are welcomed with an array of complimentary activities and services, from a speedboat transfer to morning yoga sessions, Thai boxing classes and even daily complimentary ice cream – made from local ingredients such as coconut, banana and mango. Two beachside restaurants offer ocean views of Phang Nga Bay and the dramatic limestone cliffs, with the ‘My Grill’ restaurant featuring sunken seating among candlelit pools. If guests don’t fancy that, private diving is offered both beachside and in-villa.
The Lizard Island National Park is situated directly on the Great Barrier Reef, incorporating four islands over 1,013 hectares of protected area. Lizard Island Resort is on the largest island, boasting no less than 24 powder-white beaches and 40 luxurious suites. Guests must arrive via private charter from Cairns Airport, after which they are welcomed with a variety of rooms, suites and villas. Resort activities include snorkeling, glass bottom boat tours and paddle skiing, with night diving, game fishing and sunset champagne cruises available at an additional cost. Five star cuisine is available in the Salt Water restaurant, or private picnics and sunset dinners can be arranged more a more al fresco experience.
Spread across two pristine islands known collectively as Song Saa (‘The Sweethearts’), this resort is Cambodia’s first all-inclusive private island hotel. It is both a seductive and luxurious retreat, with a large infinity edge swimming pool, yoga and meditation center on the shoreline and an exclusive island boutique. All private villas are suspended on stilts above the water, boasting huge beds, oversized bathtubs and outdoor showers, yet created from recycled materials – such as furniture made from driftwood collected from local beaches. Song Saa should be commended for its dedication to the environment, even building a marine reserve in order to safeguard the reef and allow guests to observe turtles, seahorses and tropical fish in their natural environment.
The Brando’s namesake, Marlon Brando, fell in love with the atoll of Tetiaroa, eventually purchasing the island group with visions of creating a sustainable and culturally sensitive luxury hotel. The Brando is the legacy of this vision, created with the help of Brando’s children and designed to reflect Polynesian lifestyle and culture. The resort is accessible by private plane from the island of Tahiti and offers just 35 villas, making it a secluded slice of paradise. Villas are at least 96 square meters in size, with indoor and outdoor sitting areas, a media room, king-size beds, outdoor bathtubs and private plunge pools. A sparkling lagoon surrounds the island, frequented by sea turtles, manta rays and exotic birds.
Perhaps the most accessible of our private islands, Little Palm Island is part of the Florida Keys, accessible by sea plane or boat from the Florida coastline. The resort boasts plenty of facilities, including a swimming pool, marina, shopping boutique, library and of course, numerous beaches. Accommodation is in the form of “island style” suites, all with comfortable sitting areas, private decks, ocean views and outdoor showers. The awardwinning restaurant The Dining Room, which has been praised for its décor as much as its food, serves French-Pan-Latin fare such as yellowtail snapper ceviche. Private dining is also offered at a number of beachfront locations, complete with tiki torches and starry night skies.
Baros offers a quintessential Maldives experience, with a choice between 45 beachside villas and 30 water villas, suspended on stilts above the Indian Ocean. In each villa guests will find a private sun deck, dining table for two, espresso machine and bar stocked to guest requirements. The Marine Centre offers the first EcoDive Center in the Maldives, where guests can learn to scuba dive in harmony with the natural environment. Excursions to local islands can be arranged, either via a luxury motor yacht or a traditional handcrafted Maldivian sailing dhoni. Baros prides itself for its unique culinary experiences and offers a range of private dining opportunities, from a picnic on an isolated sandbank to a sunset cruise aboard the traditional dhoni.
Royal Davui is an exclusive adults-only resort located in Fiji’s beautiful Beqa Lagoon. With just 16 villas available, Royal Davui can only accommodate a handful of people, meaning guests can expect a private and secluded experience. Each villa (or “vale” in Fijan) is constructed in traditional Fijan style using wood and thatched roofs, yet offers the most luxurious of amenities, including a heated private plunge pool, spa bath, sub deck and wet bar. Guests are invited to live out their own personal paradise here, whether that is a champagne breakfast on a deserted sandbar, a Pure Fiji spa treatment, or premium diving or deep sea fishing. Meal times can be spent under the branches of the resort’s banyan tree or on one of the private dining decks scattered throughout the island.
Created in a ‘Robinson Crusoe’ castaway style with added African-chic, Azura Quilalea is an uninhabited private island paradise surrounded by the Quirimbas Archipelago marine sanctuary. The sanctuary welcomes a variety of marine life depending on the time of year, from humpback whales to nesting turtles and pods of dolphins. Villas are furnished in wood and cotton, with natural materials such as rope, pebbles and rattan to blend with the island surroundings. A unique energy control system allows guests to control their own ecofootprint – but air conditioning and a minibar are there, if desired. Azura Quilalea believes you should never dine in the same place twice and offers a variety of locations, from an island picnic to a candle lit dinner beneath the stars.
Travelers find the ideal hotel for the best price on www.trivago.com. trivago is the world’s largest online hotel search site, comparing rates from over 900,000 hotels on over 250 booking sites worldwide. trivago integrates over 190 million hotel ratings and 14 million photos in order to make finding the perfect hotel easier for users. Over 120 million visitors per month find their ideal hotel by using trivago’s various filters and in turn save up to 48% per booking. trivago was founded in 2005 in Düsseldorf, Germany and currently operates 55 international country platforms in 33 languages.
5 Not Too Far Away Day Trips from Myrtle Beach, SC
Myrtle Beach isn’t for everyone. You either love it or hate it. For many people who visit the Myrtle Beach area, relaxing on the beach is enough, but for some, there is only so much time they can spend sitting around doing nothing. Even with all the attractions in the Myrtle Beach area, if you don’t venture way from the beach area, you can miss out on a so much the coastal area has to offer. The Coastal Carolina area has a rich history filled with some truly interesting southern tradition along with beautiful and amazing scenery. So much can be experienced just a short car ride away.
Just a short 15 minute drive from the heart of Myrtle Beach, Brookgreen Gardens is a combination of art, history, and zoo. Boat rides turn into history lessons and a visit to the butterfly house becomes a lesson in conservation. A fascinating way to spend a day or more and each admission purchased is good for 7 days.
Brookgreen Gardens is a sculpture garden and wildlife preserve. The 9,100-acre property includes several themed gardens with American figurative sculptures placed in them, the Lowcountry Zoo, and trails through several ecosystems in nature reserves on the property. It was founded by Archer Milton Huntington, stepson of railroad magnate Collis Potter Huntington, and his wife Anna Hyatt Huntington to feature sculptures by Anna and her sister Harriet Hyatt along with other American sculptors. Brookgreen Gardens was opened in 1932, and is built on four former rice plantations, taking its name from the former Brookgreen Plantation.
Atalaya Castle, also known as Atalaya, was the winter home of industrialist and philanthropist Archer M. Huntington and his wife, the sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington. The castle is located along the ocean inHuntington Beach State Parkin Murrells Inlet, SC, just a short drive from the center of Myrtle Beach and almost directly across the highway from Brookgreen Gardens.
The 200 by 200 foot masonry structure was built from 1931 to 1933 apparently without drawn plans, Archer Huntington had already designed the residence for them with his detailed imagination ‘in his head. Atalaya (AH-tuh-lie-yuh) means “watchtower” in Spanish, as in the realAtalaya Castlein Spain. The house is dominated by a square tower, which housed a 3,000 gallon water tank. Rising nearly 40 feet from a covered walkway, it bisects Atalaya’s inner court. The inner walls of the main courtyard were covered with creeping fig vines, Sabal palmettos, the South Carolina state tree, and other palms. The living quarters consist of 30 rooms around three sides of the perimeter, while the studio, with its 25-foot skylight, opens onto a small, enclosed courtyard where Anna Hyatt Huntington worked on her sculptures. Pens for animal models, including horses, dogs and bears, are situated adjacent to the open studio. The building also features hand-wrought iron grills designed by Mrs. Huntington, which cover the exteriors of windows. These and shutters were installed for protection against hurricane winds.
During World War II the Huntingtons vacated Atalaya and provided it to the Army Air Corps for use from 1942 to 1946. The Huntingtons last used Atalaya as their winter home in 1947. Most of the furnishings were sent to New York City after Mr. Huntington’s death in 1955. The studio equipment was moved to a new studio at Brookgreen Gardens.
After roaming through this castle, you can then spend an hour or two relaxing on one of the least crowded beaches along the Grand Strand located right there within Huntington Beach State Park. Be sure to make a stop before or after the small causeway to photograph alligators and other beautiful creatures in their natural habitat!
Between a 1.5 to 2 hour drive from Myrtle Beach (depending on what part of the beach you are staying) Charleston is the oldest city in South Carolina. Founded in 1670 as Charles Town in honor of King Charles II of England, Charleston adopted its present name in 1783.
Known for its rich history, well-preserved architecture, distinguished restaurants, and mannerly people, Charleston has received a large number of accolades, including “America’s Most Friendly [City]” by Travel + Leisurein 2011 and in 2013 and 2014 by Condé Nast Traveler, and also “the most polite and hospitable city in America” by Southern Living magazine.
Charleston is known for its unique culture, which blends traditional Southern U.S., English, French, and West African elements. The downtown area has gained a reputation for its art, music, local cuisine, and fashion.Spoleto Festival USA, held annually in late spring, has become one of the world’s major performing arts festivals. Charleston is known for its local seafood, which plays a key role in the city’s renowned cuisine, comprising staple dishes such as gumbo, she-crab soup, fried oysters, Lowcountry boil, deviled crab cakes, red rice, and shrimp and grits. Rice is the staple in many dishes, reflecting the rice culture of the Low Country.
There is an abundance of activities and attractions in the Charleston area from theHistoric Charleston City Marketto boat tours and civil war fort tours (Fort Sumter) that it is wise to research all that is available and visit with list in hand to see as much as possible in one day. Patriot’s Pointe, along Charleston Harbor is home of the USS Yorktown and the Naval and Maritime Museum and can be a day’s adventure in itself. You can spend hours watching the nativeGullahladies hand weave the most beautiful sweet grass baskets~ but be prepared, these hand woven beauties do not come cheap!
If you arrived in the Myrtle Beach area without a car, there are tour companies that will take you on a day trip to Charleston. Most will have you enjoy an all inclusive day of sightseeing around one of the South’s most beautiful and historic cities. The trip will include a city tour by bus or carriage, delicious lunch and fabulous shopping in the historic market district, and a choice of three afternoon attractions (Boone Hall, Fort Sumter, or Patriots Pointe). Free pick up and drop off is offered at most hotels.
Just a 30 minute drive south from Myrtle Beach, Georgetown, SC is the third oldest city in South Carolina and full of interesting history to explore. You can spend the afternoon cruising down Front Street exploring all the shops and restaurants, strolling along the Georgetown Harborwalk to enjoy gorgeous waterfront views or walking through downtown exploring historical sites. Every inch of Georgetown will show you more and more southern charm in every corner of this quaint port city. It is also the perfect destination for waterfront shopping, dining, boating, fishing, historic tours, and ghost tours. There are so many fun things to do. Throughout the year, Georgetown is host to many events, festivals, parades, and concerts. Be sure to bring your camera to capture some of the best photographic opportunities in the South. You will be pleasantly surprised!
Murrells Inlet is legendary! It’s the seafood capital of South Carolina, the place where hushpuppies were invented, where Blackbeard and other pirates of the high seas stashed their ill-gotten booty, and the place where locals and visitors alike have reported a chance meeting with one of the Inlet’s ghosts.
The South Carolina coastal waters were especially productive for pirates and the coves and inlets along Murrells Inlet provided great hiding places for those marauders. Pirates who became local legends include Edward Teach, also known as Blackbeard because of his coal-black beard, and Drunken Jack, who was left behind on a nearby island with a huge stash of stolen rum. You can visit the Murrells Inlet MarshWalk and take a ride on a pirate ship! You and your children can experience the magic of sailing away in search of sunken treasure!
The Gray Man is South Carolina’s most famous ghost with several different versions of his story. No matter which version you read (or hear) they all have a common ending – the Gray Man warns residents to flee the island from an impending hurricane. People still claim they see the Gray Man. In 1954 a grandmother on vacation with her family saw a man dressed completely in gray fade to a blur before fading away. The next day tornadoes ripped through the area. One person tried to chase the Gray Man only to have him disappear in front of their eyes. So if you visit the area in late September or October, keep an eye turned to the beach. And if you do see the Gray Man, heed his warning. and take shelter.
The Murrells Inlet MarshWalk offers fishing charters, shopping and water sports, along with waterfront dining at some of the area’s finest restaurants ~ all connected by a boardwalk. Each restaurant has an outdoor area with live music. From the boardwalk watch the goats play on Goat Island and watch the local fishing boats come into dock where the chefs from the local restaurants are waiting to make their selections for that nights “special.” You can’t get fresher seafood anywhere!
What Do Kids Want on a Family Vacation?
What are some of your favorite vacation memories? Was it the time you and your family went to the beach and spent the whole day building sandcastles or burying each other under mounds of sand? Or maybe it was that camping trip that you made s’mores and put on a shadow puppet show? Or ~ just a camp out in the back yard telling ghost stories. I have hundreds of memories with my children on vacation ~ ski trips, theme parks and hours upon hours on the beach! My memories are real because my kids were kids long before everyone carried a cell phone, a tablet, a computer. Long before we stayed connected 24/7. When we were on vacation, my kids had my full attention.
My most favorite in the whole wide world recent memory would have to be watching my granddaughter in Walt Disney World® as she saw Tinker Bell fly from the castle for the very first time! I don’t know what was more priceless ~ seeing her face or seeing my son’s face as he watched her!
In these busy and hectic times, it gets harder and harder to spend quality time with the kids even on a family vacation. Everyone stays connected through devices even when we are supposed to be away from work. So what is it that our kids really want on a family vacation? US. That’s right US. They want us to disconnect and be present. It doesn’t matter where the family vacation is as long as we ARE there! See what this absolutely positively wonderful “Kid President” has to say about family vacations!