Tag Archives: Travel

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.

It’s not summer without . . . this.

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Growing up on the coast, there were certain things we just did every summer, without question. We went out in the boat. We went fishing and threw a castnet into the brackish rivers to catch shrimp. I visited my best friend (who lived in another town), and she visited me. I watched way too much TV. We always took a trip, of course. Some of the most memorable include a fishing lodge in the Bahamas, a fishing lodge in British Columbia, two weeks in England, and many trips with extended family to High Hampton Inn in Cashiers, NC.

But there’s one thing that I need now, as an adult, to make summer official. I just can’t do without time at the beach. Since my family had a beach house when I was growing up, I think it was just part of my DNA from the get-go. I need that time, even if it’s just a few days, to live on that lazy schedule and not be able to get all the sand out of my shoes.

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What were those beach weeks like when I was growing up? Well, let’s see. Wake up later than usual to a sunny morning where you can hear the cicadas getting cranked up for the day. Eat an abnormal breakfast that might consist of something like waffles and candy. Finally put on your bathing suit around 10 and walk down to the beach. Rubber flip flops from the drug store, inflatable rafts, and Coppertone are the basic survival gear. Come inside around lunchtime, and have a sandwich. The rest of the day is up for grabs and may or may not include running from a thunderstorm when you see it coming, naps, or talking into the box fan to sound like a robot. But some things that will be certain are a screened door slamming shut many times over, a nice breeze on the incoming tide, sweat dripping off your face during the change of tides, and everyone taking turns with their showers before dinner. Dinner may involve a local seafood restaurant where at least one person in your family knows at least one person who works in the restaurant.

I look back now at how much work that was for my mom, even if we went out to dinner every night (and we didn’t). Cooking, cleaning up, etc. Now that I’m a mom, I much prefer going to a resort or a villa rental when on vacation than having our own place. But I digress.

My parents bought a beach condo when I was about nine, and that became part of my summer beach routine, as well. The absence of the screened door and the addition of a pool and air conditioning were the big differences, but it was still the beach.

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So, for me, it’s not summer without sand, waves, and Carolina “island time.” What is it for you that makes it summer? Is it a trip to the mountains? Maybe it’s sitting by the pool with a good drink? Jimmy Buffett concert or outlet shopping with old friends? Lightning bugs? Comment on our Facebook page and tell us what you can’t do without, when it comes to summer.

Azalea Travel, proud member of ASTA

Disconnecting feels good.

Vacation seems to be no exception to the new rule that we are all accessible 24 hours per day. Communication seems to have taken over our lives. E-mail, texting, and social media are always in our back pockets (or purses). It’s no longer just a convenience.

Cruise lines, resorts, and phone companies have all gladly built systems to accommodate those workaholics, social mediaholics, and parents with separation anxiety trying to have a romantic getaway who just can’t seem to disconnect. One of the most common questions I get from cruise shoppers is how they can access WiFi on the ship. A few cruise lines will even include the WiFi for free. But what’s the real benefit? Hasn’t this stuff overrun our lives? What happened to the days of “Gone Fishin’?”

I submit that we should backtrack in time to the days before technology took over. When you board the cruise ship, put your phone in airplane mode and leave it there until you return home. There are only a small handful of things that truly need your attention when you’re on vacation. Your family and friends with whom you are traveling are at the top of that list. There are undoubtedly reasons why some folks want to maintain the ability to connect with home, but why not keep it to a minimum? Why not do what you went on vacation to do in the first place? Have a different experience, and get a change of scenery.

I was recently forced (by spotty WiFi) to put the phone down and be present in the moment. This is what I saw:

Oh, look! I’m out on the ocean.

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Oh, HEY, Cuba! (Look closely, and you can see it. But only if you’re paying attention and not looking at your phone.)

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Oooh, another ship.  I wish I had brought binoculars. Note to self for next cruise . . .

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Now Cuba is so close, I can almost touch it. (We were just sailing past it, though.)

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And this view was a great backdrop for my reflections on the way home:

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I spent considerable time on my balcony, just staring at the sea. I had to time to think, pray, and write in my journal. I did some yoga out there, drank some coffee, and contemplated life with the gentle splash from the bow as background music. When I left my stateroom, I ate some meals in peace, without scrolling through my newsfeed or reading Huffpost. Other meals were taken in the company of new friends, who I never would have met with my nose pointed at my phone or tablet. We all toted our phones around, but only to be used as cameras. By the end of the week, I felt reacquainted with myself. There was no noise in my head from the latest political articles on Facebook, because I hadn’t read them. And they didn’t matter to me.

When we returned to the dock in Miami, I hesitantly switched my phone out of airplane mode. When I did, the thing buzzed for a good 60 seconds with notifications, texts, etc. Stuff happened while I was gone, like getting summoned for jury duty, a friend announcing she was moving away, bills coming in, an emergency allergy shot for my son. But guess what? Everyone and everything was okay until I got home. The world did not fall apart because I went away for a week. After my electronics were back on, I found that I had learned not to reach for the blasted things every 10 seconds.

I came home refreshed, rested, and happy. And always ready to go back and do it again! Never again will I have to be forced to unplug. I can’t wait until the next time I get to do it.

So, take my advice, and totally unplug on your next trip.

Be present in the moment.

You won’t regret it.

Azalea Travel, Proud member of ASTA (American Society of Travel Agents)

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:

Pop Century

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

 

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Christmas Quiz: How many days of vacation do you deserve?

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(A picture of my favorite ornament…I got it on a trip to The King & Prince Golf and Beach Resort)

A Christmas Quiz:  How many days of vacation do you deserve when this holiday is over?

Let’s face it, not everyone considers this the most wonderful time of year.  Yes, there’s a lot of wonder, excitement, and festive activity going on.  And we get to celebrate the birth of Christ, which is the best part of it.  The carols are great, the decorations are fun to see, but the season does create a very large holiday to-do list on top of your regular to-dos.  So I have created this quiz to help you determine how many days of vacation you deserve after this season is over.  Get out your pen and paper, and let’s begin! Choose one answer for each question, and give yourself the corresponding number of points.

  1. How’s your Christmas spirit right now?
    1. Santa, stop here! Cookies and milk are waiting! (Give yourself 1 point.)
    2. Just tying up some last minute details today and listening to Christmas carols on the radio, and then I will be ready for egg nog tonight. (Give yourself 2 points.)
    3. My Fala lala la is all Jingle Belled out. Can I take down the tree yet? (Give yourself 3 points.)
  2. How many days off do you have for Christmas?
    1. None, really. I’m working or on call for Christmas Day and/or Christmas Eve. (Give yourself 3 points.)
    2. I have Christmas Eve and Christmas Day completely off. (Give yourself 2 points).
    3. I have more than just these two days off – I am one of the fortunate ones! (Give yourself 1 point.)
  3. How many houseguests do you have?
    1. My family is local or we are seeing them another time. (Give yourself 1 point.)
    2. I have up to 2 guests, or am visiting at someone else’s house for a few days. (Give yourself 2 points.)
    3. I have 3 guests or more descending upon my home for an overnight stay. (Give yourself 3 points.)
  4. Are you baking or cooking for others?
    1. Nope! They can find their own goodies. (Give yourself 1 point for this.)
    2. My spouse or significant other did that. (Give yourself 2 points.)
    3. Whew. 8 batches of fudge and now working on tomorrow’s side dishes. (Give yourself 3 points.)
  5. Last question…How’s the outside of your house looking?
    1. Scrooge lives here. I put up a wreath or nothing at all. (Give yourself 1 point.)
    2. Buddy the Elf came by and put a tasteful sprinkling of Christmas cheer on my house. (Give yourself 2 points.)
    3. Clark Griswold would be proud. (Give yourself 3 points.)

Now, tally up your points and see how you score:

5-7 points = Even if you love this time of year and make the best of it with store-bought baked goods and an easy schedule, you still deserve to decompress a little after it’s all over.  Get 2016 off to a great start with a quick 3-5 night getaway!  Take a cruise, spend a long weekend in NYC, or catch a flight to Cancun.

8-11 points = Perhaps you’ve suffered some aggravation at the hands of family, inlaws, outlaws, or otherlaws. Or maybe you just went out of your way here and there to make it a special Christmas. Either way, wouldn’t it be nice to escape and unwind? Take about 7 nights to recreate yourself and do something that you’ve always wanted to do. Is it Hawaii?  Maybe it’s Cuba? You decide!

12-15 points = There’s no doubt about it.  You’ve really put yourself out for others this season.  You’ve had to endure a holiday that maybe you don’t even enjoy that much for one reason or another. Nobody is more entitled to a break from the daily grind than you are.  10-14 nights, or more, are what this doctor of travel prescribes for you to recharge your batteries. This is a great length of time to do that European tour or river cruise you’ve always dreamed of. This is definitely a good time to do something more exotic or distant, like China, Galapagos Islands, the Amazon, or Australia.

Whatever your score, I hope you have a Merry Christmas!

Azalea Travel

Greenwood, South Carolina – Part 2

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The reason for my last trip to Greenwood was to celebrate the grand opening of the Carolina Executive Car at the Railroad Historical Center.

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This car was of particular interest to me, because it was the car my great-grandfather, Frank Harrison Cothran, used as his mobile office during the years that he was President of the Piedmont & Northern Railroad. My parents made the trip with me.

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That’s my father down the narrow hallway, right outside the bedroom that was his grandfather’s.

But even without the family connection, this train was well worth the trip to see inside. It makes for a fascinating trip back in time. The wood paneling, the service quarters, and kitchen all give rise to imagination to see the car in its heyday, when it was more than just a mode of transportation.

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You can almost feel the motion of the car sliding forward and see gentlemen in their suits sitting at the table in the conference room, mulling over contracts and making things happen with inkpens, handshakes, and friendly jokes.

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It is part of The Museum & Railroad Historical Center in Greenwood, which has two locations with two different functions. From April through October, the train cars are open Thursday through Saturday, 10am to 5pm. There are other cars being renovated, and a depot will be built, as well.

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In the meantime, the museum portion of The Museum and Railroad Historical Center, which is just down the road a few  blocks, is open year-round.  And it is a treat.

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It’s the best museum I have seen in a town of Greenwood’s size.  The only better ones I have seen are in larger cities. Their collection is quite impressive on the first floor.

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Upper floors reveal additional exciting historical items, plus educational exhibits for children of all ages.

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Are The Museum and Railroad Historical Center worth a trip to Greenwood?  If you have a train enthusiast big or small, then I say yes, without a doubt. Absolutely. Even if no one in your family is a train buff, it’s still interesting and is something folks of all ages will enjoy. Note: Those with mobility issues may not be able to board the train cars.

You can make it to Greenwood from Summerville in less than 3 hours. You could potentially make a day trip of it. If you want to be leisurely and enjoy other things Greenwood has to offer, like shopping and dining in its revitalized Uptown Greenwood area or a production at the theater next door, then Azalea Travel can book you a room at the Inn on the Square, which was the subject of my last post.  Make a night of it, and have a fun family getaway!

Heaven is a Cabana Room at The King and Prince

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Let me begin by saying that I will probably have to blog about The King and Prince Beach & Golf Resort more than once, because one blog post will simply not be enough to do it justice. This has become my favorite hotel, and I hope to return frequently. That being said, I’ll just focus for now on their exclusive and fabulous Cabana Room. Now, back to where it all began . . .

Once in my twenties, I visited a friend at her family’s beach house on St. Simon’s Island, Georgia. As we struck out to do some shopping one day, my friend drove me past The King and Prince Beach & Golf Resort. Elegance and luxury just seemed to spill out of its gates. I thought, “I want to go there.” There was something so glamorous about it, in an early 20th century way. At first glance, I could almost see the decades of elegant parties and merry vacations that had taken place there.

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(The Cabana Rooms are lined up on the first floor, with other ocean front rooms above.)

I finally made it there for my 42nd birthday, and my only regret is that I didn’t go sooner. Since it was a special occasion and I had waited nearly 20 years to make my first visit, we sprang for the Cabana Room. I thought the notion of being able to step out on to my own patio, then walk straight to the ocean sounded quite wonderful. And it turns out I was right. It couldn’t be more magical and serene.

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(A wonderful room in every way.)

The first thing you should know about the Cabana Room is that it is a room for two. All Cabana Rooms have a king bed, due to the size. Size is not where the grandeur of the room lies. The space is, however, impeccably appointed and optimally arranged. From the bedroom area, you step down, with the assistance of a short yet stylish wrought iron railing, into the sitting area. Here, you will find a comfortable sofa for viewing the second flat screen television (the first being in the bedroom area) and a large coffee table. The tile floor in the sitting area is quite practical for sandy shoes, as there is also a set of French doors with a screened door which leads to your own patio. And the ocean is just feet away. From your patio, you are free to step right down the brick stairs and walk out to the beach or to another part of the resort. You room key will give you access from either this door or the interior hallway. So when you’re returning from the beach, from the pool, from dinner, or anywhere else, you have the option of entering through your patio door.

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(Our patio.)

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(The walkway to the beach access in front of the historic building.)

I fell in love with this room at once. Sitting with the French doors open where I could hear the pounding surf and see ships go by, it occurred to me that I could live right here and be quite happy.

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(View of the swing and the ocean from our patio.)

Of course, everything at The King and Prince is top notch, and you can’t go wrong with any room category. And just like you would expect from any modern hotel room of this ilk, you will find the hairdryer, the in-room safe, and all that jazz. No comfort is missing. The service at the hotel is unmatched, and the room service staff and front desk staff were particularly fantastic when we were there.

I came home from that first trip raving about the Cabana Room so much that my parents visited a couple of months later. It wasn’t long before we all went back at the same time. Since my husband and I had our son with us this time, we took a partial ocean view room in the historic building. That room was much larger and had two queen beds, but it was more than sufficiently fabulous, as well. Our second floor balcony had a view of the ocean across a parking lot, but tall palmetto trees shielded us from the cars quite well.

Now, as I said before, there’s too much about this dreamy spot to tell in just one blog post. But history buffs will love this hotel in particular, as it played a role in protecting our coast during World War II.  It’s just a fascinating place. When you’re ready to book your stay in a Cabana Room or any other type of room, give me a call. I love to talk about The King and Prince Beach & Golf Resort!

Click above or use one of the Azalea Travel links.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL IS HERE

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In the south, our priorities go about like this: God, family, country, college football. And since the first few games of the season on Thursday night, that certain electricity has been in the air. It’s an excitement charged with optimism and hope. You can almost smell it and feel the crispness of fall, even if it’s 90 degrees outside.

Today is the first college football Saturday of the season, and everyone is buzzing. Who will rise to the top of the SEC this year? Who’s overrated? Will the Florida Gators finally get that “revenge” they’ve been seeking? Will the Crimson Tide be back on top? The anticipation! The beer and wings!

So, I’ll ask you a question. If you hold season tickets to watch your favorite team, wouldn’t you like to try and see them play a game on the road?

Or have you been watching a television screen for more seasons than you care to admit? Maybe it’s been a long time since you heard the roar of the crowd in person at all.

Well, you need to go. Your team needs you there. One more cheering voice might be the mojo that catapults them to #1. Let your child get a picture taken with the mascot. Tailgate with your old best friends before the game and relive some good times. Witness a piece of your team’s history.

It’s your duty. Be the fan you were meant to be.

Contact me for hotel reservations when you’ve got your tickets lined up!

Oceanfront Litchfield Inn

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The South Carolina coast is figuratively flooded with great places to stay. Litchfield is a beach located on Pawley’s Island, SC. There is no shortage of things to do including beach activities, golf, shopping at the famous Hammock Shops, and all that Myrtle Beach has to offer, just thirty minutes away. Pawley’s/Litchfield offers a quieter, more sophisticated environment than Myrtle Beach, and it happens to be a place I love. The Oceanfront Litchfield Inn is a fabulous retreat.

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This refurbished old beach motel stands out because of its vintage charm and modern updates. Aside from fresh paint, this hotel has modern conveniences that are so important, like cable television and WiFi. Add a couple of great restaurants and a very modern tower of newer rooms, and you’ve got everything you need.  There are two pools, one of which has access for handicapped guests. Sitting between the two pools is the Cabana Cafe, where burgers, salads, and fish can be eaten in an open air environment or outside on the patio under an umbrella.  Both positions overlook the ocean. The restaurant upstairs (a little fancier than the cabana, thank you) is called Oceans One, and the view from up there is just what you would expect.  In fact, I know of someone who had their wedding reception in that very space many years ago.

The rooms are privately owned, as this is one of those “condotel” arrangements. So each one may have slightly different decor. But the room categories are reliably consistent, even if decor is different. I have stayed in the deluxe oceanfront tower room, which provides the view you see in the picture.  It was sort of a studio or efficiency with an oceanfront balcony, small kitchenette, table and chairs, and choice of 2 queen beds or 1 king.

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Apologies for the dark picture. But look at that ocean!

For booking information, contact Azalea Travel.

Travel is Continuing Human Education

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I believe everyone should travel as much as possible. You see new things, meet new people, have new experiences, and gain a broader perspective. Find out just how beautiful this world is. See how small you are in it. Be inspired.

You don’t have to go to Nepal or climb a mountain, unless you want to. And it’s cool, if you do. I believe that education is all around us, including in amusement parks or in an old diner in a mountain town. There is always something to learn from the people and places around you.

This blog is an account of some of the places I’ve been (and some places I’d like to go), beginning with the southeastern United States, and moving beyond.

Travel and writing are two of my greatest passions. So here, I have the pleasure of joining them into one project. I’m the author of two books, A Quiet Cup of Tea and The Ballad of the Shirley T. I’m also the owner of Azalea Travel, where you can find your way to some of your favorite destinations.