Tag Archives: Florida

Good Old Times in St. Augustine

History, beaches, beautiful architecture, shopping, and fun are some of things you will find in St. Augustine. I’ve been trying to think of a category of traveler who would not find something to do in this fascinating Florida gem of a city, and I can’t.

There are so many things to choose from (museums, historic homes, activities, and tours) that it might just make your head swim. One thing my family did there recently was buy the Old Town Trolley passes. I thought it was a great way to get an overview of the city, get our bearings, and figure out what we wanted to do. It also helps you find free parking in a place where that sort of thing comes at a premium. The trolley passes are good for three consecutive days, so you can use them for transportation in addition to getting background info on all the famous haunts in the oldest city.

One of the places we visited was Castillo de San Marcos. Now, being from Charleston, I always think that if there’s a fort somewhere, I have to see it. But honestly, now that I’m in my mid-40s, I have come to realize that if you’ve seen one fort, you’ve seen most of them. Notice that I said “most” and not “all.” Castillo de San Marcos is bigger and has a little more to take in than the majority of forts I have seen. (Although my favorite remains Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island, SC.) It offers a unique experience with live performers, areas that are set up to look as though life is carrying on in 1700-something, and stunning views. It’s worth the visit.

There’s a little free museum that you can walk through if you have the trolley passes. It makes for a nice, air-conditioned twenty minute stop. That’s nice when you are visiting in July. The attached gift shop is also a good place to get your alligator heads, all things key lime, and other touristy must-haves.

At the Mission of Nombre de Dios, you will find the Great Cross, which marks the founding of St. Augustine. Visiting this cross and the adjoining cemetery and chapel is actually a free activity, but donations to the Mission are appreciated. It’s so lovely and peaceful that I almost can’t quite describe it. It’s definitely a holy place, and just a special experience. Even if you visit on a hot summer day, it feels cooler and pleasant as you stroll through the cemetery, but that may be in part because of the river on which it borders. I personally feel that no trip to St. Augustine will be complete for me without a stop at this inspirational spot.

We skipped the ever-popular Fountain of Youth, but it was a stop on our trolley tour. We just didn’t have time for everything. I do wish we had made time for the Flagler Museum. Next time.

A walk through the old gates and through the Old City proved fruitful and fun. The Oldest Schoolhouse is on that stretch, along with many fine shops and restaurants. Columbia’s is where all the locals say you simply *must* eat.

Potter’s Wax Museum was one of our favorites. I really thought this was going to be a short stop with little value other than entertainment. But there was great historic value in this visit for the whole family. It was definitely fun, but it was educational, too.

The last thing we did before leaving town was the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Museum.  Be amazed, be fascinated, and be grossed out at Ripley’s. As you are probably aware, this is a chain, and there are many Ripley’s Museums, but this one was the original. Each location is going to have different things in it, and this one is in an old mansion. There’s a good ghost story that goes along with it, too.

This was a great little summer vacation for my family, but would be nice at any time of year. Due to the great variety of things to do in St. Augustine, I would recommend it to families, couples looking for a romantic getaway, a girls’ weekend for shopping and sightseeing, a guys’ golf weekend, or a nice place for retirees to toodle around.

Contact Azalea Travel for help planning your St. Augustine vacation!

Azalea Travel is a proud member of ASTA and CLIA.

Cabana Bay Beach Resort – an Orlando favorite

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Whether you are visiting Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, and the new Volcano Bay water park opening in 2017 or not, the Cabana Bay Beach Resort is a fantastic place to park yourself when in Orlando. As an official Universal hotel that is connected to the parks via shuttle bus service, it certainly has a lot to offer if those attractions are your destination. Aside from that, the 1950s and 1960s decor is so much fun, you might just find yourself wishing we were still living in that era. When you call guest services for things like extra towels, the person on the phone will tell you to “have a swell day” before you hang up. They are all in when it comes to the theme, and I love it!

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On the day my family and I checked in, everything was decked out for Christmas, which made it even more spectacular. The teals, oranges, blues, and crisp whites in the color scheme had me thinking I had just gotten out of one of those classic cars parked out front and left my gigantic hard suitcases in the back seat.

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This lobby is actually one where you might spot a few Universal characters. We saw Scooby Doo wandering through when we first arrived. A few minutes later, we had the most delightful visit with Lucille Ball, who gave my son an extra “free piece of cake” coupon since it was his birthday. The employees and characters go the extra mile and make the place truly special – even down to the folks at the cash register in the gift shop.

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There are several dining choices at the resort, but we tried Bayliner Diner, which is similar to a food court in that you have many choices, and Galaxy Bowl, because my son had become obsessed with the cosmic bowling on the first night, so we elected to just let him bowl while we ate there on the second night.  There is also a Starbucks, Swizzle Lounge for procuring your adult beverages, and the Hideaway Cafe near the lazy river.

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What a beautiful Florida night this was (see picture above).

We were upgraded to a suite in the Starlight building, which was quite pleasant and welcome, considering I had just booked a standard room with 2 queen beds. We had a small living room, a tall kitchen counter with stools where we could eat, and a small kitchenette with fridge, sink, microwave and Keurig (because let’s face it, some modern conveniences are “the most”). There was a sliding door separating all of that from the bedroom, where we had 2 queen beds and a closet area. The sink and mirror were in the same room, but the toilet had its own room to the left, and the shower plus another sink had their own room to the right. Fantastic set-up with 2 televisions. The rooms do mostly have outer entry, like an old-style motel, but some have interior entry if you prefer that.

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There was more to Cabana Bay Beach Resort that we didn’t even have time to explore, since we were there to enjoy the Universal Parks, too. Speaking of which, there are regular shuttles that run back and forth to the parks and City Walk every 10 to 15 minutes from 7am to 2am. You also get into the parks an hour earlier than the general population, since you are staying at one of Universal’s hotels. This also means you have some dining plan options at your hotel, if you are on the Universal meal plan.

This was such a fun place to stay. I think we would stay there again even if we were not going to the Universal parks, but just visiting Orlando for other reasons.

To book your stay at Cabana Bay, contact Azalea Travel, a proud member of ASTA and CLIA.

Club Med Sandpiper Bay

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All-inclusive resorts are not exactly on every corner in the United States. Club Med Sandpiper Bay is special for that reason and a number of others.

In May, I had the good fortune to attend a travel industry conference at this beautifully landscaped compound in Port St. Lucie, Florida. As you may know, Club Med is a French company, so the resorts have a very European feel to them, whether they are located in Europe or not. In fact, I noticed that a good many guests who were not part of our conference were young European families.

Families are exactly who would do well here, and would be the first category of travelers for whom I would recommend it.

Tucked away on the St. Lucie River, the resort is a quiet respite from busy beach scenes, although you can take a shuttle to the beach if you’re yearning for the oceanside. What Sandpiper Bay does have is a small sandy area on the riverbank where you can relax and watch the boats go by. I wonder if some guests come here, particularly maybe from Europe, with preconceived notions about Florida and are surprised to find that this resort is not on the beach. There’s still plenty to do, though.

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Active travelers can consider the included activities like tennis, trapeze (no, that’s not an auto-correct mistake), or golf lessons. The outstanding kids’ programs are also part of the package. Leave our child with them for the day, and when you go back to pick them up, they’ll be doing impressive circus acts. The pools and surroundings have a luxurious feel to them. Unfortunately, since I was there on business and spent a lot of time in conference rooms,  I didn’t get to enjoy these things as fully as I would have liked. Better planning for the next conference, and I’ll leave some more “me time.”

I did find the food to be quite good. I took most of my meals in the Marketplace, which is a buffet style restaurant that does not disappoint. There are tons of options at every meal, and I did not have anything that tasted less than great. There were always selections to keep both the parents and the kiddos happy. At lunch and dinner, there was a pizza bar, hamburgers and hot dogs, a variety of salads, charcuterie, cheeses and fruits, plus hot entrees and veggies. I know I’m forgetting something. Breakfast had just as many choices. There are other restaurants on the property to choose from, too, including one premium one (extra charge applies).

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The room was nice, particularly for just one person. It was quite large, containing a king bed and a sofa that doubles as a bed for a child. The tile floor was very simple and Florida-ish. My balcony had a nice view of the marina on the St. Lucie River. The buildings were older, but are all undergoing refurbishment or have already been refurbished. The closet was HUGE. Forget your typical hotel room where you step over your bags which are in every corner on the floor. My family could have moved in for a week and had ample space.

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Public areas were very attractive and clean.

Here are some great pros for a vacation at Sandpiper Bay:

  1. You can drive there from Charleston (7 hours away).
  2.  It’s all-inclusive.
  3.  Great golf and tennis.
  4.  Great children’s programs.
  5.  Good food.

Club Med periodically runs some really good specials (like 4th night free or discounts on certain dates). Call Azalea Travel to help you book your Club Med vacation when you’re ready.

Watch the video here: CLUB MED SANDPIPER BAY

 

 

Disney’s Pop Century Resort

I’ve been booking a lot of Disney trips for folks lately, and it definitely has me in a Disney state of mind!  If you’re looking to go to Disney World on a shoestring, a good place to start is staying at one of the Value Resorts.  The Pop Century is one of the newer Value resorts, and everything you might have ever wanted to know about it is right here:

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For questions or booking information, call the College of Disney Knowledge graduate at Azalea Travel!

 

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News for Disney Enthusiasts 9-30-2015

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SO, I have a few exciting pieces of news for all you Disney-loving folks out there! And I know there are plenty of you.  I’ll start with what’s happening at Walt Disney World in Florida, since most of my readers are on the east coast.

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  1. PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN! We know it and love it. I’ve been on that ride about five times since I was eight years old, and January was the most recent trip. It has seen some changes over that time, like the addition of Captain Jack Sparrow. The attraction has been closed over the last few months for refurbishment, but it’s open again now. You can expect to see some more realistic pirates and cannons, smell some new scents (I don’t know the details on that – someone who gets there before I do next will have to fill me in!), and see some new special effects in terms of lights for weather effects. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to experience it. This has always been one of my favorite rides at the Magic Kingdom, maybe even at all of WDW.
  2. Introducing Disney Springs! Downtown Disney has been undergoing some construction this year (which was even ongoing when I was there in January). The purpose of it all was to add some new stops and transform the whole place into Disney Springs.  As of today, the launch is official! Downtown Disney is now Disney Springs, and a new restaurant opens today, as well – Morimoto Asia.  Already open are new spots The Boathouse and Jock Lindsay’s Hangar Bar at The Landing. There are new retail shops, as well.  Coming soon are Tommy Bahama, Lilly Pulitzer, UNIQLO, Pandora, UGG, and more!!  Don’t worry; all of your old faves are still there, such as T. Rex, Cirque du Soleil, Rainforest Café, and the Lego Store. Click here for a glimpse.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qu5F50DWmXw#action=share
  3. And moving on to the west coast . . . Awesome Star Wars stuff at Disneyland! So for those of you who live closer to Disneyland in California or plan to go there, you are in for a wonderful treat starting November 16. Disneyland will be opening some new Star Wars attractions, some of which will be similar to what we can already experience at Disney World in Florida. One thing that’s different, though, is a new ride called Hyperspace Mountain. This is a ride comparable to our Space Mountain on the east coast, but you will be part of an X-wing Starfighter battle instead of plummeting through total darkness.  Sounds pretty cool to me…I might have to make a special trip to California for that. Other experiences include the Jedi Academy (which we already have at Hollywood Studios) beginning in December, but it will be based on the popular Disney XD television show, Star Wars Rebels. In the Launch Bay, you can enjoy character experiences, get a peek at some snippets of the upcoming movie, The Force Awakens, and also see some of the props used in the movie.disneyland star warshyperspace mountain

Click here to start planning your next trip!!!