Cruising sunset

Throwdown Thursday: Trivial Thoughts on Cruising

Heather’s mother recently treated us, along with Heather’s kids and brother, to a mid-summer cruising vacation. Originally, the main event was to be a two day stay in Havana, but a Presidential edict quashed that plan. Thus, our family Cuba excursion morphed into a day in Key West, a day at sea, and a day in Nassau, Bahamas.  This was Paul’s second cruising vacation, while Heather is a relative long-term cruise veteran with a whopping four cruises under her life jacket.

We are now back from our cruise and have some thoughts:

Heather:  Oh, thankfully that is over. I’m ready for a full human being detox. Jeezus, but those cruise lines can pack them in.

Paul:  Eh, we were waited on hand-and-foot and never had to wash a dish for 5 days. I’ll take a few crowded elevators and faux Las Vegas shows in order not to touch a sponge for a week.

Heather:  I think I’d rather wash dishes. But then, you tolerate people better than I do.

I also walked off that ship feeling like a goose that had been prepared for the slaughter. I think I gained five pounds in five days.

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Best Thing to Do in the Berkshires: Clark Art

Best Things To Do in the Berkshires

This weekend we made our annual pilgrimage to the Williamstown Theater Festival (WTF) in Western Massachusetts. Every summer we make sure to fit in a play at WTF and spend the weekend in the Berkshires, enjoying some of the great things that the mountains of Western Massachusetts have to offer. Last weekend we also snuck in a quick visit to The Rivers a mere hour and a half away for another poker survivor tournament. We thought this was a perfect time to share our thoughts on the best things to do in the Berkshires.

Best Things To Do in the Berkshires

Visit Museums

There is an amazing variety of museums in the Berkshires. You can find cutting edge modern art at MASS MoCA, a world class collection of impressionists at The Clark Art Institute, and a combination of art, science, and natural history at the Berkshire Museum. Whatever type of museum tickles your fancy, you can find it in the Berkshires.

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Vacation Budget Souvenirs

Top 6 Vacation Budget Breakers

We love to travel, but we hate to spend unnecessary money. So we are always looking for the best deals on hotels, rental cars, and dining. We like to travel well, but we also recognize the reality that our vacation budget is limited. Nothing is more budget shattering than encountering unplanned vacation costs after the trip has begun. So as you sketch out your vacation budget, keep the following budget busters in mind.

Vacation Budget Breakers

Resort Fees

The primary bane of our vacation budgeting has been the increasingly ubiquitous “resort fees”.  Often resort fees go unlisted in the initial pricing of a room. Sometimes they don’t even show up clearly in the online payment, only footnoted or found in the fine print. We’ve had some unwelcome surprises in the past when we arrived at our hotel to discover $30 to $50 a night slapped on top of our “pre-paid” reservation.

Solution: First, make sure you read the fine print before you book. Know if a hotel charges resort fees, and whether they’ve been included, or will be charged once you arrive. Second, examine your other options. In June, we opted for an Airbnb for our annual trip to Las Vegas instead of a Strip hotel. We ended up paying about 40% of what we have paid on our previous “great deals” for Strip hotels. While we missed some aspects of our hotel experience, these were offset by enjoying a whole apartment to ourselves with a bedroom, kitchen, living room, and washer/dryer.

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Five Great Reasons to Visit Key West

We visited Key West this winter as part of our extended poker vacation. We’ve already reported on our visit to Miami and shared some of the things nobody tells you about the Florida Keys.  Our ultimate destination as we traveled down the Keys was, of course, Key West. After a wonderful stop on the island, here are our top reasons to visit Key West.

Five Great Reasons to Visit Key West

The Sun

Let’s start with the key. The most important reason, for us at least, to visit Key West is that is 75 degrees in February. We timed this trip specifically to get out of the chilly New England weather. Even in January, the coldest month of the year, Key West averages 75 degrees during the day. Few spots in the continental US can beat that. Not Los Angeles (high of 68 degrees in January). Or New Orleans (63 degrees). Not even San Diego (66 degrees). If you’re looking for some reliable warm sun in the middle of the winter, Key West is your best bet.

Five Great Reasons to Visit Key West

 

Key West is also one of the few points in the US where you can watch the sun both rise and set over the water. We’ll admit that we didn’t get up early enough to enjoy the sunrise, but the sunset celebration at Mallory Square can’t be beat. The festival begins every evening two hours before sunset and includes jugglers, musicians, magicians, artists, and food vendors. At sunset everyone pauses to watch the glorious sun sink into the Gulf of Mexico.

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Vizcaya Museum Miami Weekend

An Intense Weekend in Miami

Miami is intense. The people are intense. The traffic is intense. The personal injury lawyers are (if the ever-present billboards are any indication) very intense. So it is not surprising that the segment of our recent trip spent in south Florida amounted to a very intense weekend in Miami. Intensity, of course has both its pluses and minuses. While the three days we spent in Miami were not, perhaps, very relaxing, they were filled with new experiences.

Home Base in South Beach

As we learned when planning this vacation (and frankly, kind of already knew), South Beach is not cheap. Especially in February. There are any number of small hotels and accommodations that will welcome you for a mere $400 a night. When researching our trip, we tried all of our tricks for finding a great hotel at a reasonable price. In the end we counted ourselves lucky to find a nice place for “only” a bit over $200 a night (plus $30 a day for parking). Only because this trip was in honor of my 50th birthday did we grit our teeth and pay such a high rate.

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