Sunday, September 30, 2012

SUNday - Alligator Alley

September 23, 2012
Courtesy of Amy S.

It doesn’t always have to be a sunrise or sunset that captures the eye.  My best friend took this picture while driving from the west coast of Florida to the east coast.  It was a cloudy day (which was threatening our plans) and even though it did end up raining, the sun peeked out for a few hours.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Pub Crawl in Delray Beach

If you haven’t heard about Delray Beach yet (and you should have because I talked about it yesterday on the blog!), you are due for a visit.  It’s a charming beach town that the rest of the world hasn’t really discovered yet.  Although the sand is beautiful and the shops sell local art, I think the best way to see the town is… by bar.

And preferably with a bagpiper leading you,
which is what we did!
Courtesy of Amy S.

Well, you’re in luck!  Frank and I laid out a pub crawl route that we took post-wedding that saved our guests some dinero while drinking.

5:30pm – Crane’s BeachHouse

Chillin' next to the pool, on a little patch of sand, at the tiki bar.
Courtesy of Amy S.
Crane’s BeachHouse has the best bar in all of Delray Beach.  Not that many people know about it, which is kind of unfortunate for Crane’s.  Not only do they have two-for-one drinks from 2pm-6pm, the tiki bar also supplies different snacks throughout the evening.  And I’m not talking just some potato chips, I’ve seen pizza and chicken wings… for free!  Plus, a live band usually starts at 5pm, so you can munch while listening to the jams.

6:30pm – Boston’s on the Beach

Boston’s on the Beach is a bar dedicated to… Boston.  The Red Sox, the Celtics, and all things Beantown are on display in this bar.  Unfortunately, this bar used to be a little ratty and just my style, but it has been re-done in the last year to be a little more upscale.  Which means a little higher prices too. 

Not sure we are upscale clientele, but I like to think so!
Courtesy of Annette F.
People really enjoy the Sandbar, Boston’s outdoor bar.  I have not been there yet, but their website shows half price drinks on some days, including Mojito Monday… that’s pretty economical!

7:30pm – Deck 84

When the sun is setting, Deck 84 is the place to be.  It’s right on the Intracoastal, so you always have a cool breeze blowing.

That's the Intracoastal behind this fine group of gentlemen,
right next to Deck 84.
Courtesy of Marit Karen Glaser Schulz
Happy hour runs Monday through Friday from 3pm to 7pm, so if you get there late, you miss the specials, but catch a lot of ambience.  This place is always bustling with people, but not in a too crowded kind of way.  More like in a “hey, let’s be friends with strangers” kind of way.

8:30pm – Hurricane

Hurricane has the best live music.  In fact, we went here on a wedding night (stayin’ classy) and the band dedicated two songs to us: “Crazy B*tch” and “F*ck Her Gently.”  If that doesn’t scream romance, I don’t know what does.
Courtesy of Amy S.
The live music doesn’t really get going until 10pm, but in the meantime, you can chill on the outdoor patio or play darts.

Hurricane deserves at least a couple of hours, so stay awhile.

11:00pm – Blue Anchor

I’ve had some truly fantastic times at the Blue Anchor.  In fact, it’s where I watched the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton at 5am.  Unfortunately, those pictures were lost in a horrific hard drive crash.

Luckily, there are pictures from my wedding weekend.

Some of my best friends joined me for the debauchery!
Courtesy of Amy S.

Blue Anchor is the place to hear tunes like the Beatles and Rolling Stones.  And after you’ve been to four other bars, believe me, that’s exactly what you want!  It’s a good dancing crowd, just make sure you go late enough or the crowd is a little on the older side.  But which I mean, a lot on the older side.

Total Cost: If you buy only one drink per bar (some on happy hour, which would equal two drinks!), you’ll probably spend under $25

Best Deal: Buy one, get one at Crane’s BeachHouse, along with free food!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Delray Beach Hotel Review - Crane's BeachHouse

During the summer of 2009, the economy was at a pretty low point.  Frank and I took the opportunity to embark on a bunch of “staycations,” including the cutest hotel in Delray Beach, Crane’s BeachHouse.  Three years later, we stayed at the same hotel during our wedding weekend!

This is in 2009.  Three years later, we look a
little different, but Crane's is still the same!

Crane’s is right off Atlantic Avenue (the main drag in Delray Beach), on a tiny street called Gleason.

Courtesty of The Big Day Wedding Photography
When you walk in, you leave the busy city life for a tropical oasis.

Nope, Frank and I aren't on a deserted island,
this is just at Crane's BeachHouse!
Courtesty of The Big Day Wedding Photography
You’ll see several little colorful touches around the property that remind me of the Florida Keys.

Courtesy of The Big Day Wedding Photography - Those were my wedding
photographers in case you couldn't tell
There are not one, but two pools, one of which is represented by this horrible photo.
It was very humid out this day

One of the pools also has a little patch of sand with a pretty awesome tiki bar.  At night, there’s even a live band!

That's the tiki bar, now closed, behind us.
Courtesy of The Big Day Wedding Photography
Inside, the rooms are spacious, clean, and have that “island” feel.

This is considered an "efficiency" room.
The hotel has three types of rooms, efficiencies, one-bedroom suites, and two bedroom-suites.  I have seen all of them and stayed in the efficiency and one-bedroom suites.

The one bedroom suite is incredibly spacious, with a small
dining table, kitchen, living room, bathroom and bedroom.
While there’s really not enough space in the efficiencies for more than two people, the one-bedroom suites can easily four people.

Especially if those four people are having a drink.  No, but for
real, the rooms are big.
There is a breakfast in the morning, with bagels and other pastries, certainly enough to get your day started.  But the best part about Crane’s BeachHouse is that the price.  While in season (meaning November through April), you might pay $200-$300 for a room, during the summer those prices drop dramatically.  Every summer I get an email advertising rooms for just $99!

If you go to Crane’s home page, you’ll see several specials listed right now, including Florida rates.  You won’t be disappointed, and most of all, once here, you’ll have “no worries.”

Courtesy of The Big Day Wedding Photography

Total Cost: $99/night during summer nights

Best Deal: Happy hour at the Tiki Bar, where it’s two for one!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Fear at 30,000 Feet

I wasn’t always afraid of flying.  In fact, I flew to Paris on Air France with no qualms, one day after a flight to Paris on Air France went “missing.”  I also gave my mom the okay to buy a plane ticket the afternoon of 9/11.

But then, everything changed one day in March of 2011.  Frank drove me to Ft. Lauderdale International Airport so I could hop a flight to see the baptism of my goddaughter.

Isn't she cute?  I bought her this bonnet from Etsy.  I was
unaware she would look like a little pilgrim baby, but I still
love her!
It would be a long flight, from South Florida to Lubbock, Texas, and I would arrive just before the baptism.  There was no room for error, as I also had a connecting flight.

Since I consider myself to be a low-grade narcoleptic, I fell asleep immediately after boarding.  I felt the plane take off.  After a few minutes, I felt the plane start to land.  I woke up out of my half-slumber state and looked to the lady next to me who was calmly reading her Kindle.

This is actually my Kindle, but I was far too
freaked out at the moment to think about
taking pictures.
I had a bad feeling.  And then came the announcement on the intercom.

“Ladies and gentlemen, if it smells like something is burning, it’s because there is smoke in the cockpit.”

WHAT?!  The lady was still reading her Kindle as if nothing had happened.  I debated whether I should just turn my cell phone on and tell Frank that I loved him before I plummeted to my death.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we’re going to be making an emergency landing at Palm Beach International Airport.”

Well, since Ft. Lauderdale and West Palm Beach are only 45 minutes away by car, by plane they were only a few minutes apart.  Would the plane land safely before we all died?

“Ladies and gentlemen, the smoke has cleared in the cockpit, but we are going to land anyways.”

Wait, was there a chance that the smoke had cleared and we were going to keep flying to Knoxville?!?!  Why aren’t there parachutes on airplanes, I panicked to myself.

The lady next to me, by the way, had read about 20 pages on her Kindle in this time.  I, however, was crying.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we have landed in West Palm Beach.  Please see our ticketing agent to re-book your tickets.”

I told Delta they could keep my money for the ticket (which was $400, by the way) for all I cared, but I was not getting back on one of their planes.  Not to mention, I would miss the baptism anyways.  They refunded my trip, Frank picked me up, and I called my closest family and friends to tell them how much I loved them.  Dramatic?  Maybe.  Over-the-top?  Certainly.  Scariest moment of my life?  Definitely.

I didn’t get back on a Delta plane, or any other plane, for more than a year.  I also refused to fly without Frank.  When we were getting ready for our honeymoon to Italy, I told my doctor of my new flying fear.  He told me he would not prescribe me anything, but I should consider getting drunk.

Just following doctor's orders over here!  Not sure about
Frank's excuse.
So, that I did.  However, it only worked for about two hours of the nine hour flight.  I got my hands on some Xanax for the flight home (don’t judge me) and had some wine (I use "some" pretty loosely here) and was able to stay calm for about three hours.

I couldn't have done it without you, dear friend.
Now, we are planning to fly to Ireland in December, with my sister-and-law, who has a fear of flying just as bad, if not worse, than mine.  So, here’s where the economical part comes in, kids. 

We’re considering hypnosis, but do you have any other suggestions on how can we get rid of our fear of flying?

Sunday, September 23, 2012

SUNday – Cinque Terre

Riomaggiore, June 2012
It’s not just sunrises and sunsets that I love, but also the way the sun plays with objects to create interesting shadows.  In this picture, Frank and I were having a drink at a rooftop bar in Cinque Terre.  The setting sun creating the illusion of a wine glass on his shirt which is so very apropos.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The One Way to Save Money on Cruise Ship Tours

As I’ve said before, cruising can be one of the cheapest ways to travel.  You pay one price, and get room and board included.  What isn’t included are any excursions you want to take.  And those tours can really add up.  When I went on a cruise to Jamaica, it was $80 to climb around in some waterfalls (Dunn’s River Falls for those who are familiar) and go to the beach.  Crazy talk, we took a cheap taxi to the beach instead and made our own fun.

We actually learned a very entertaining reggae
song at this beach called "Booty Man." Google
it and your life will be forever changed.
However, you should take some tours, otherwise you’re just going to get fat because of those 24-hour buffets.  But, believe it or not, you don’t have to book your tours through the boat!

My friend Amy (who got an awesome price on her recent cruise of the Mediterranean) had a long list of things she wanted to see in Ephesus, Turkey.  For starters, no excursions on the ship really offered what she wanted, but in order to come close, she was going to have to pay $140 per person!

A beautiful port, but not worth shelling out that much dough!
So, being the economical explorer she is, she looked around online and found this website.  She emailed with a tour guide in Turkey (who claims to have helped organize a tour for Oprah when she came) and ended up customizing her own personal tour.  The price was a lot lower than the cruise ship - only $89 to do everything she wanted!

One of the things she was able to see - the house where the Virgin
 Mary supposedly died.  Not offered through any ship excursions!
The icing on the cake?  This was a private tour to boot!  She and her mom received personalized attention from the tour guide and explored what they found interesting.

Thank goodness her tour was private because there is certainly
no shortage of people in Ephesus!
Have you ever booked a private tour while on a cruise?

Total Cost: $89/person

Best Deal: Seeing sites not offered through the ship, including the Virgin Mary's house

Friday, September 21, 2012

How to Get an Upgrade on Your Cruise (Without Paying a Dime)

Taking a cruise can be a pretty economical way to travel.  You pay one flat fee and all of your lodging and most of your meals are included.  Luckily, not only am I economical, but so are my friends.  My friend, Amy, recently took a cruise through the Mediterranean, and instead of paying roughly $1,500 for 2 people for a room with a window for 7 nights, she paid about $1,350 for the same room plus got the added bonus of a $100 onboard credit, and a $25 refund… just by using an old-school technique.

Vacationing on this boat can be cheaper than you think!
Amy, how did this all start?

I was looking for a cruise leaving from Rome to Sicily, Greece, and Turkey.  I looked through all of the major travel websites: Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity and Cruises Only.  When I found a great route on Royal Caribbean, I checked their website too, and that’s when I found a room with a window for about $1,500 for 2 people – the best deal on a room with a window I'd seen.

Why didn’t you book right away?

I had found another great deal on Cruises Only for $1,350 and that included the $100 in onboard credit and a $25 refund. The only problem was it did not include a window. And I really didn't want to be stuck with no window but didn't want to spend the extra money when this deal was better with the onboard credit and refund.

What did you do next?

I decided to call Cruises Only and tell them I was interested in their deal, but Royal Caribbean had a room with a window for almost the same price and when I looked at their room with window offerings it was more. I asked them why it was different and told them I really like their offer best and wanted to book with them, but Royal Caribbean offered a window room cheaper than they did. The representative I talked to basically agreed it should be the same price on both sites and upgraded me to the room with the window, keeping it at the interior room price of $1,350, plus I still got the onboard credit of $100 and the $25 rebate.

So, what’s your advice?

Never settle just for what you see on the Internet.  Do your homework if you want the best price.  I bet this would work for hotels too, but probably not airline tickets because the airlines are pretty big sticklers.  Who knows, it’s worth a shot!

Do you think all these people knew how to
get an upgrade just by negotiating?!?!
Have you ever had good luck negotiating your way to travel deals?

Total Cost: $1,350 for a window room

Best Deal: Also getting an extra $100 on board, as well as a $25 refund


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

My *Personal* Secrets for the Best Price on Airfare

When I logged on to Yahoo! a few days ago, I saw an article that caught my eye… “How to Get the Cheapest Price on Airfare.”  It had some good advice, most of which I already knew, but one thing stood out to me: it’s cheapest to book your airfare 18-28 days before your departure.  That’s something I will keep in mind.

I took this picture right after the flight attendants told everyone
to shut off their electronic devices.
But my own personal best airfare buying tip ever is “BUY ON A TUESDAY.”

Several times in the last few months this wisdom benefitted me. 


First, I had been tracking airfares to Italy and couldn’t come across anything cheaper than $1,200, a price which was climbing slowly.  I made a decision to check on one more Tuesday, about two months before my journey, and all of a sudden, the price was down to $960!  I snatched that ticket up instantly.


I was planning a trip to Philadelphia.  Prices were about $350, so I waited for a Tuesday and checked the prices at about 4pm.  Sweet!  They had gone down to $289.  I had some things to attend to, but went back about 9pm to buy the tickets.  Drats, the price had gone up to $300.  Still better than on a non-Tuesday, but I could have saved even more!  Moral of this story - after you've done the research and found the *best* price, BUY!


Right now I’m looking for tickets from Miami to Dublin for December.  I checked on Sunday and the cheapest thing I could find was $817.

I checked again on a Tuesday evening, and the price is down to $693!

That’s a savings of more than $150, just by booking on the right day!

But don’t waste time… I checked again just a few hours later and the price was back in the $800 range.


You can pick whatever search engine you want to use, but I’ve had the most luck with Kayak.  If your dates are flexible, I like to use Cheap Tickets and choose the "Flexible Search" option.  It allows you to search for the least expensive price by weekends, within three days of your travel dates, as well as within a month period of time.  I am usually flexible enough that I can look at a few weeks of time.

This is what a screenshot looks like from the "Flexible Search" on Cheap Tickets.  I see what days are the cheapest, then
I use those dates to see what Kayak has to offer.
Sadly, if you want the best deal, you have to put in some work.  I like research, so I'm okay with doing that.  I also booked a trip to Ireland less than two weeks ahead of time and paid out the wazoo.  I ended up getting engaged on that trip, so I’d say everything works out in the end.

Total Cost: $960 for two one-way tickets, Miami to Rome and Milan to Miami

Best Deal: $693 for Miami to Dublin, I need to book that ASAP!


What are your secrets for cheap airline tickets?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

24 Hours in… Sanibel Island

This past weekend I spent time in Sanibel and remembered how awesome it is there.  It’s only about three hours from West Palm Beach, Tampa, Miami, and Orlando, making Sanibel Island (and its close neighbor, Captiva) the perfect spot to spend 24 hours without forking over too much cash.  Here's a rundown of your perfect day there.

8:00am – Breakfast at Over Easy Café

You’ll want to get a pretty early start on your day considering there’s so much to do in this area.  The best breakfast is at Over Easy Café.

We are delighted to have such delicious hangover food!

I like the Cheese Scrambler ($7.99), but the breakfast list is quite extensive, check it out here 

9:00am – Biking Around the Island

There are a plethora of places to rent bikes on Sanibel.

And if you're lucky, you might even look as cute
as my friend, Rachael, while on two wheels!
I’ve stayed a few different places on Sanibel that actually have bikes for you to ride FOR FREE, but if that’s not the case for you, here is a good list of places.  I’ve heard very good things about Billy’s Rentals and their website shows you can get a bike there for just $15 a day.

Once you have your hog, your choices are endless.

"In the summertime, when the weather is high..." We could
not get this song out of our heads!
One popular choice to pedal is to, and then through, the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge (there is a $1 charge per person to enter the refuge via bicycle.  We opted to bike along the main road, which is Periwinkle Way, until we got to one of the best beaches.

11:00am – Lighthouse Beach

This beach is on the easternmost point of the island, adorned by a beautiful, what else, lighthouse.

Sanibel is known for its abundance of shells and Lighthouse Beach is no exception.

Oddly enough, there are places with better shells in Sanibel, so stay tuned.

1:00pm – Lunch at Island Cow

This is one of my favorite restaurants in the entire world.  Not only is the food great, but the atmosphere is fun.

This photo courtesy of my good friend, Annette... she's the one
in the cow!
But most importantly, instead of the usual, run-of-the-mill bread that most eateries offer, this is what you get at Island Cow.

MUFFINS!  Be still my heart.
The entrees are reasonably priced, especially considering the size of the meals.

Amy is quite shocked at the size of her salad!
I like the po’ boys the best ($11.99), as there are several different kinds, but you really can’t go wrong with anything on the menu. 

2:00pm – Shelling at Blind Pass

This is by far the best shelling location in the Sanibel/Captiva area.  As my friend Amy put it, “I don’t know if I really want to tell you about this because the shelling is so good.”  It’s so good, you could die.

I could die here, right on some shells, a very happy girl!

It’s also called Turner Beach, and it’s about at the point where Sanibel Island becomes Captiva Island.

Though there is a parking lot just for this area, I usually like to go to other beaches nearby and walk to Blind Pass so I can cover a lot of ground on my search for shells.

4:00pm – Bowman’s Beach

Bowman’s Beach is not too far from Blind Pass and is my absolute favorite beach in the world.  It’s completely untouched by man, and is so nature-y, you need bug spray at night.

Anyone who knows me knows I have a love-hate relationship
with nature. I love nature, I hate bugs.
While I love to spend the day there playing in the sand, maybe even enjoying a snack on the picnic tables, it’s what happens when night falls that really makes the beauty of Bowman’s Beach unforgettable.

8:00pm – Dinner at the Bubble Room

The Bubble Room is another restaurant that has not only great food, but also a fun ambience to back it up.

Bubble Room is known for their bubble bread, creative dishes and their mouth-watering cakes.  You have to order an entrée in order to get the cake, unless you order a cake to go.  To find out more and see pictures of all of their awesome food, click here

10:00pm – After dinner drinks at the Jacaranda

Sanibel is not exactly known for its bar scene.  However, after much hard research, my friends and I discovered the most happening late-night spot on the island is The Jacaranda.

In fact, I think The Jacaranda is the only late-night spot, but we did meet someone awesome there who claimed she was “Kathleen the Real Estate Queen.”  She also asked my friends and I, who she just met, if we smoked weed.  Friendly folks there on Sanibel.

11:00pm – Crash at Tween Waters Inn

If you pick the right time of year, and the right deal, staying on Sanibel is quite economical.  My friend Amy (who was reluctant to tell me about Blind Pass) found a deal in December where residents could book three nights at Tween Waters Inn for just $300.  That’s $100 a night, for a hotel that’s normally a lot more!

In fact, I went to their website (which was not very easy to navigate, by the way) and I see if you stay three, five, or seven nights from now until the end of the year, you get special deals like dining credits and free bike rentals!

If you are staying a few days in Sanibel, check out this post about not getting a hotel.  I tried it once and it worked out great!

Total cost: About $250 for two people

Best Deal: Biking around the island lets you save on parking, which can get pretty pricey at the beaches ($2/hour!).  Also, here’s the not best deal: you have to pay $6 just to cross the bridge to get to Sanibel – but I promise, it’s well worth it!

What's your favorite spot in Sanibel?

Monday, September 17, 2012

Roadside Attractions – South Florida to Ohio Edition or “Book ‘em Danno”

Last summer, my parents and I took a road trip from where they currently live in Stuart, Florida, to where they used to live in Youngstown, Ohio.

A more than 1,100 mile journey that takes 18 and a half hours... one way.
We were planning to go there and back in five days.  My parents, for the record, are just as crazy as I am.  Which is why, when I proposed we stop at several cheesy roadside attractions along the way, they were down.  I love them.

Again, I got all of my ideas from Roadside America, which I first told you about when Frank and I drove to New Orleans.  I wanted to see at least one crazy attraction per state when drove through.

First stop, about four hours into the trip, a giant 7-UP can in Jacksonville, Florida.

You can see the can right from Interstate 95, just south of exit 345 (this was actually easier to see going southbound, I missed it northbound).

We drove into Georgia and decided to stop for lunch.  CONVENIENTLY, we stopped in South Newport, which is also home to the Smallest Church in America. 

It's a bit off Interstate 95.  You have to take exit 67 and head south on Highway 17.  It was a few miles down the road, on the left, well past the McDonalds and a lot of trees.
Not sure if you actually want to stop at the McDonalds.
It only has a "B" rating, which personally, I don't feel
is a high enough grade for my food.
Many places claim the diminutive title of smallest church, but I don’t know, this place was pretty small.

There were six chairs inside.  Hopefully no one
passes gas during the service because that could
get pretty ugly.
The sign was one of my favorite parts.

It says deeded to Jesus Christ.  I wonder if he has to pay taxes.

Onward to Ridgeway, South Carolina, where I’m not sure how much protection the law is providing at the Smallest Police Station.

Apparently, this police station was too small, so in 1990, the town built another one right next door.

Not sure why the town couldn't spring for, oh, you know, an
actual building?!

My parents and I, always up for a good time, decided to act out some scenes in front of the cop car.  Not sure if the actual cop was on lunch break or what.

In the photo on the left, my dad is pretending to break into a police car; on the right, I'm "arresting" my mom against the
back of the car. Amazing that we were so amused by this.

Ridgeway doesn’t tout the smallest library, but I’m pretty sure they hold that landmark too.

Just enough room for five or six books!
To get to this town of very small things, get off I-77 at Exit 34 and head east on S.R. 34.  Look for signs that say "downtown," at first we missed it.  And don't laugh at the "downtown," it too is quite small.

One more thing to laugh at... I think you're better off calling 911.

Once on the road again, we stopped in the darling town of Wytheville, Virginia for the night.  Mainly because I wanted to see a water tower that looked like a hot air balloon.

This sight is on I-81, just south of mile 71.  Amused by this, we then went the wrong way for 75 miles.  We didn't notice it until we saw the sign that says "Welcome to Tennessee."

Except, we weren't ever supposed to be in Tennessee.  Our 150-mile detour brought our quest for the craziest spectacles on our journey to an end.  But, at least we had some good stories to tell.

Total Cost: FREE!

Best Deal: Spending time bonding with my parents while channeling some “Book ‘em Danno” at the Smallest Police Station

How have you made your family road trips a little more fun?