Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Home Port Fun

Six different cruise ships, five of them from the Carnival line, have called JaxPort home since service began October 2003. JaxPort welcomed its one millionth passenger in 2011, its 2 millionth in 2016. Have you ever been one?

I had, once, but it has been a long time since 2004. Deciding it was past time to do it again, I and a friend arrived at JaxPort Feb. 15 for a four-day cruise to Freeport and Nassau aboard Carnival Elation.

Sea fog had delayed the ship's arrival and debarkation, which played havoc with check-in schedules, delaying our embarkation by over an hour.  Waiting in Disney-like lines is no fun, but there would be a much longer ride at the end.No way to tell, but our arrival would be delayed by sea fog, too.

Alexander, our smiling steward, welcomed us to the mid-ship outside cabin with window; balconies are limited on ships that can squeeze under the Dames Point bridge. The average size, inner or outer, is 185 square feet. Storage was ample, bedding was comfy and reading lights were good. Bathroom was small with no amenities beside soap, body gel and shampoo. There was a stool under the desk and a third bed in the wall.

Departure was interesting,

passing by the shipyards,

easing under the Dames Point bridge,

seeing Nassau sound and finally, the jetties and out to sea, where small waves provided smooth sailing throughout our cruise.

When our bags arrived, we unpacked, dressed for dinner and began exploring the ship. There is no dress code, but after lounging and touring in the sun, it always felt good to shower and dress up a bit.

Carnival has muted its once over-the-top garish decor but it still exudes a glittery aura.

We were assigned dinners at Imagination - its twin, Inspiration, is at the other end of the ship.

Menus are the same. Wine by the glass is $8-12, by the bottle $30 and up. Menus offer six or so starters, entrees (including a vegetarian choice) and desserts, plus several offerings always available from the grill. Our service team of four were personable and efficient.

Food was good but not always as warm as one would like. We preferred it here to the buffet at Tifany's, although the salad and omelet bars, good hot coffee and self-serve soft ice cream kept us revisiting.

Freeport shops.
It is remarkable how relaxing a cruise can be when you've already seen the ports. An hour cruising the shops at Freeport,

Busy morning in Nassau's harbor.
a morning walking the streets and shops of Nassau with a purchase each was enough ashore.

In between, we breakfast with omelet and fruit; grab cards, books and towels and select a table on the Lido deck near the Red Frog Rum Bar. After finishing a game of canasta and people watching, it was Bloody Mary time; Latoya makes a great one. Another game or a few chapters of our books and it was lunchtime. Salads from Tifany's, burgers from Guy's Burger Joint or burritos from Blue Iguana and it was more of the same or back to the cabin for more reading and naps (we are both so busy with work and volunteering at home, sleep deprivation is the norm).

Carnival allows passengers to bring a fifth of sealed liquor and a six pack of soft drinks in their carry-ons, so budget conscious us had martinis in our cabin as we talked over the day and dressed for dinner.

At night we enjoyed the two comics - NOT for children or profanity phobes - cruised the photo arrays and shops,

Towel animal demonstration.
chatted with other passengers, listened to the groups playing in the Atrium and other spots, hit the casino for a few rounds - or as long as our personal limit lasted - and even played Bingo one night. Warning to blackjack fans: Dealers use a continuous shuffle box so there's no way to gauge the likelihood of high or low cards.
Mikado showroom.

With ocean view cabins going for $264-$309 per person, it's a great deal. Even better deals can be had if your travel agent books a lot of Carnival cruises.

Would I do it again? You bet. I plan to when Ecstasy home ports in Jacksonville this fall.

Choice Hotels Paradise Island Resort
Last Chance to Capture the Caribbean
Go to TODAY, Feb. 28, the last chance to enter Choice Hotels International's Capture the Caribbean Sweepstakes.

Grand Prize is a four-night stay at either Comfort Suites Seven Mile Beach in Grand Cayman or Comfort Suites Paradise Island in the Bahamas plus round-trip air for two, ground transportation and spending money.

Win a Round with Stewart Cink
Plus a dream golf package at Reynolds Lake Oconee in Greensboro, GA.

Winner of the "Reynolds 360 with Stewart Cink" receives a total golf immersion for two including
• 5 days, 4 nights (April 7-11) at The Ritz Carlton Reynolds Lake Oconee.
• Domestic round-trip coach airfare.
• Ground transportation to and from Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson Airport and Reynolds Lake Oconee.
• Meet and greet with Stewart Cink on the Oconee course.
• Full club fitting at the Reynolds Kingdom of Golf presented by TaylorMade with a new set of golf clubs and select accessories.
• Peter Millar wardrobe for winner including shirts, shorts, pants and shoes.
• A cross section of dining experiences each night of stay.
• "Sporting Clays Adventure" at Sandy Creek Sporting Grounds.
• Two spa treatments at The Spa at the Ritz Carlton.

The contest is open to all current and new subscribers (by March 8) of Reynolds Insider e-newsletter o enter, all current subscribers of the personalized Reynolds Insider e-newsletter, The winner will be randomly selected on or about March 8.


Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Travel Trends for 2018: Where to go

Tired of Where to Go lists yet? There are almost as many of these as there are places to put in them, so I made it simple. After surveying more lists than I wanted, here are the duplicates.

Abu Dhabi and Dubai, United Arab Emirates – cover both in one trip.

Finnish Archipelago National Park
An Archipelago - try the Finnish one or the Faroes, between Iceland and Norway.

Iguazu Falls
Argentina and Brazil – hit both with a trip to Iguazu Falls

Bali, Indonesia -Hard to argue with culture, beaches and beauty.

Big Sur, California - It's not just for hippies, you know, but worth the trip to get there.

Patagonian fjords. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Chile -Long, lean and oh, what scenery,desert to wine valleys to Patagonia.

Egypt - Timeless and always worth a top spot on the bucket list.

Taveuni waterfall. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Fiji - Lots of islands; I liked Taveuni.

Heading out for a closeup of icebergs in Greenland. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Greenland - You'll need a cruise to see the parade of icebergs.
Marrakesh. Photo courtesy Lonely Planet.

Marrakesh, Morocco - right at the top of my go-to list.

Los  Cabos, Mexico.
Mexico City, Los Cabos, Mexico - Another logical twosome with most flights going to Mexico City anyway

Photo by Carol Timblin.
New Orleans, Louisiana

The Alamo, San Antonio, Texas. Photo by Judy Wells.
San Antonio, Texas - Easily doable, from the Alamo and missions to the Riverwalk.

Mauritius - It's a long way to go for an island, but according to Mark Twain, Mauritius was made first, then heaven.

Portugal, including Porto - Wine lovers will be happy here.

Santorini, Greece.
Santorini and Athens, Greece – hard to get to one without going through the other.

Seattle and Walla Walla Valley – Start in Seattle then go to Walla Walla for the wines. Easier, stay in Seattle and do tastings of Washington wines.

Loved to death? 

Too many tourists can be a bad thing, antagonizing residents, straining resources and jeopardizing the future of environments that draw visitors in the first place. Among those on the please avoid list: Amsterdam, The Great Wall of China, Venice, Isle of Skye, Barcelona, Dubrovnik, Santorini, Bhutan, Taj Mahal, Mount Everest, Machu Pichu, Galapagos Islands, Antarctica,

Credit to Ski

Book a minimum three-night stay at Lodges at Deer Valley, Silver Baron Lodge, Goldener Hirsch Inn, Signature Collection or Trail's End Lodge between now and April 8, 2018, and receive a $300 Delta Air Lines electronic gift card.

Packages range from Ski, Stay and Dine to  Family Value and Spring Ski.
Deer Valley Resort.

Fine Print: Offer is subject to availability. Not valid February 14-24. New qualifying reservations only.

Kensington Palace

Elegant Engagement

Take a tip from Prince Harry and do it up royally from five-star hotel to photographs taken in front of London's Kensington Palace, home to royals from Queen Victoria to the current princes.

The boutique Milestone Hotel, a member of The Leading Hotels of the World and The Red Carnation Collection, overlooks Kensington and offers a two-night package that includes
• Royal afternoon tea for two
• A romantic turndown with pink Champagne one night
• A chauffeured Bentley to a Hatton Gardens jewelry store
• Horse-drawn carriage around London to celebrate the new engagement
• Private tour of Kensington
• Photo session with hotel photographer in front of Kensington Palace

The two-night package is approximately $3,682 based on a Junior suite, but can be upgraded to a Master or Grand Master suite. It is valid through Dec. 31, 2018, excluding Christmas.

Want to beat Harry and Meghan down the aisle? The hotel's Oratory Chapel is one of London's smallest but most elegant wedding venues.

For details,

Can't Wait Rate

Although Key West is tourist ready, some areas north of there are still rebuilding. The popular Hawks Key Resort in Marathon was hit hard but has come back to the point that some fans want to return. Now.

Renovations should be completed this summer when a grand re-opening will be held, but if you can't wait and are content with select villas, Coral Cay kids activity center, pool, boat ramp and Anglers & Ale for all meals, Managing Director Sheldon Suga will make you happier with a 30 percent discount. Starting March 16 through the grand reopening, two-bedroom villas start at $339 per night at the Can't Wait Rate. Learn more or book at

Whoop it up!

Whiskey Wine & Wildlife brings unforgettable flavors to  Jekyll Island from the Feb. 9 four-course wine dinner at the Westin Jekyll Island's The Reserve to the  Whiskey-inspired taste-in Feb. 11, also at and around The Westin and the Beach Village. Oh, and if you are still up for more, the grand finale Brunch Sunday, Feb. 12.

Details and discount tickets are available through Jan. 31, 2018 at

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Travel Trends for 2018: Cruises

Get your body moving. From tours to cruise ships, activity is in.
Millenniums have taken to cruising and the lines are accommodating this active group. 

Barge and river ships usually carry bikes, but now Ama Waterways offers shore tours on which to ride them. 

Kayaks, snorkel and dive equipment are standard on Expedition ships although expect an up-charge in Arctic climes where special equipment and guidance are required. 

Ocean cruises have always offered active tour options of the once-in-a-lifetime types from aerial flyovers to zip-lining. Expect more of these along with never-on-board-before experiences from ice skating rinks to bumper cars.

Cruisers may want to get away from it all but they want to be connected, too. Lines are offering if not free, then more reasonably priced internet packages. Open cabin doors, pay for drinks, excursions and other purchases and also keep track of on-board companions with interactive cards, bracelets and necklaces. Holland America ships are installing systems that enable passengers to personalize their cruise experience through their own interactive networks.

New ships in 2018 will feature the latest.

Royal Caribbean: Symphony of the Sea. With a capacity for 5,535 guests and 18 decks she steals the largest at sea crown from sister ship Harmony of the Seas.

Ponant: 184-passenger Le Laperouse in June and Champlain in September, double the fleet. Both feature an underwater lounge for a view and sound of sea life and menus from Alain Ducasse Conseil.

Crystal River Cruises: In spring Crystal Debussy and Crystal Ravel join sister ships, Bach and Mahler. All-suite, above waterline accommodations begin the list of amenities. 

 Hurtigruten: In July MS Roald Amundsen begins polar expeditions in July. Break-through electric propulsion cuts back on noise and reduces fuel usage and CO2 emissions by 20 percent. .

Norwegian Cruise Line: Norwegian Bliss sets sail in June for 4,000 passengers.. Amenities include a two-level electric race car track, country music and Texas-style smokehouse.

Scenic:  In August Scenic Eclipse opens up expedition ocean-going for fans of this river cruise line. Two helicopters, a six-passenger submarine  begin the luxe treatment for them.

Star Clippers: Flying Clipper, a 300-passenger, five-masted ship will be the largest of its kind. First cruises will be in the Caribbean at a yet-to-be-decided date.

Celebrity Cruises: Coming in December, Celebrity Edge will be home-ported in Fort Lauderdale. Its 2,908 passengers will have larger staterooms and a rooftop garden among other luxuries.

Why the spate of new ships? In a word, profit. The record-breaking kind. According to Travel Weekly, Carnival's profit for 2017 is $2.06 billion for a profit margin of 15.5 percent. Other publicly traded cruise companies like Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd.  and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings are expected to pull in similar numbers.

You know how a cruise never seems long enough? European Waterways feels your frustration and is offering back-to-back barge cruises. Reserve a spot on Panache hotel barge in Champagne and L’Impressionnist in neighboring Burgundy for two weeks of exploration, education and wine tastings.That's plus a night in Paris, too. 

Princess perks.

Princess Cruise Lines' "Exclusively Caribbean Sale" offers free gratuities on 7-, 8-. 10- and 14-day Caribbean sailings February through April 2018.

Based on double occupancy, fares are as low as $99 a day per person.

Book by Dec. 28, 2018 at

Fine print: Gratuities on bar, dining room and spa charges are not included.


Gather with Manatees

Winter is the time to swim with the manatees, everyone's favorite water-going sausage-shaped mammals.

Stay at Plantation and gather with the Crystal River gang for an irresistible price. For $274, two guests can stay in a garden-view room, take a manatee snorkeling tour in an enclosed boat from the Plantation Adventure & Dive Center (mask, snorkel and wet suite included) and  breakfast at West 82 degrees Bar & Grill. A two-night package includes the room, tour, another breakfast for two, dinner for two and a choice of guided tours of river and spring for $549.

 The rate is good through 2018, but the prime time for snorkel-ins is Oct. 1 to March 31.