Choose the Perfect Caribbean Island

Ah CaribbeanLiving in South Florida makes it so easy to get to most of the Caribbean Islands and I love everyone I have been to so far! Now the hardest choice I have to make is which one to visit next. If you also are wondering which island you would like to visit, here are a few facts that might help with your decision.

Stingray City

 

If you love to snorkel and scuba dive try the beautiful islands of Antigua, Cayman Islands (and don’t miss Stingray City), Aruba’s shipwrecks or Turks & Caicos.

 

st martin diningIf you are a foodie, join the crowd and head for St. Martin (their French cuisine is out of this world) as well as close-by neighbors St. Barts and Anguilla. There is also unforgettable Aruba and for some of the best local foods try Curacao, Turks & Caicos (for their conch) or Jamaica (think jerk chicken).

st lucia pitons

 

If you love natural beauty you just have to visit St Lucia, the only place in the world with a drive-in volcano, St. John, 2/3rds of which is a national park, or stare in awe at the rain forests of Trinidad & Tobago.

Most romantic – almost anywhere you go in the Caribbean is romantic but St. Lucia takes top spot with the British Virgin Islands and Tobago coming in a close seconds.

anguilla beach

 

If beaches are your thing almost anywhere in the Caribbean is awesome but I have to say the sheer number of beautiful beaches on St. Martin have to take first place. Close seconds have to be the beaches of St. Thomas, Anguilla and Turks & Caicos.

 

PainKillerLove colorful Caribbean cocktails? Well, who doesn’t! Take a trip to the British Virgin Islands for the Soggy Dollar Bar’s Pain Killer (and boy does it work!), try the Sky Juice or Bahama Mama in Nassau, Planter’s Punch in Jamaica or a similar drink called Bajan Punch in Barbados or a fantastic Pina Colada in Puerto Rico.

Nightlife can be found everywhere but for hot salsa head for Puerto Rico, lively reggae and beach bars dot the shores of Jamaica, Antigua has its steel drum bands, Barbados its calypso music and for some real junkanoo music head for the Bahamas. And a big plus in Bahama’s favor – it is the closest and easiest one to get to from the US mainland.

Caribbean golfLastly, for all you avid golfers, one of the most renowned courses in the Caribbean, Pete Dye’s Teeth of the Dog, can be found on beautfiul Dominican Republic along with the best all-inclusive resorts. Other courses voted in the top 10 include the Robert Trent Jones II course on Nevis, Green Monkey & Royal Westmoreland on Barbados, Cap Juluca on Anguilla and Rose Hall on Jamaica.

Hope that helps. I think my next trip just has to be St. Lucia! Well, maybe the Turks & Caicos or the British Virgin Islands …ummm I’ll just have to wait and see.

 

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Top 10 Outdoor Dining Restaurants in South Florida

Red Fish Grill

Red Fish Grill

If you are in the South Florida neighborhood, OpenTable just came out with this month’s Top 10 Outdoor Dining Restaurants and I can’t wait to try every single one of them. Note: Since their list came out one of the restaurants has closed so I added one of my favorite outdoor restaurants in the area.

Latitudes Beach CafeLatitudes Beach Cafe – Hollywood Beach, Fort Lauderdale

It isn’t often that a beachfront restaurant in Hollywood that is located inside a Marriott gets a Top 10 rating from OpenTable but that is the case with this restaurant. Located on Hollywood Boardwalk this Contemporary American restaurant offers up delicious cuisine in a casual atmosphere. Sit outdoors and enjoy the ocean breezes and people watch to your heart’s content. Serving brunch, lunch, dinner and, of course, cocktails.

Indigo Restaurant, Ft. Lauderdale

An American restaurant located in the Riverside Hotel on famous Las Olas Boulevard which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. It specializes in fresh seafood and steaks and offers a special Sunday brunch.

Flame Caffe & Grill, Miami Beach

Flame Caffe

 

Located in beautiful South Beach at the Historic Plaza De Espana, this seafood restaurant has an upbeat ambiance and serves delicious fresh seafood and homemade desserts. And don’t miss their  great happy hour every day before 8PM

 

Paladar Latin Kitchen & Rum Bar, Hallandale

Want authentic Latin American food? Look no further than this restaurant located in The Village at Gulfstream Park serving lunch and dinner and a Saturday and Sunday brunch. Start with their Cuban Braised Beef Ropa Vieja or maybe the Mojo Pork Tostones and finish with a taste of one of their many rums from the Rum Bar. Afterwards enjoy some further entertainment at nearby Gulfstream Park Racetrack and Casino.

Peacock Garden

Peacock Garden Café, Coconut Grove

Beautiful Coconut Grove houses this fantastic American restaurant situated in the middle of a verdant tropical garden. Stop by for lunch, dinner, Saturday or Sunday brunch or just for a drink or light snack and enjoy the lush surroundings.

Red Fish Grill, Miami

You will find this romantic restaurant right at the water’s edge in Matheson Hammock Park. Housed in an historic building, what was once a post-war beach pavilion, you will not only get a delicious dinner of the freshest seafood  but a breathtaking view as well. Dinner is served every night except Monday on their romantically lit patio.

Cafe Sambal – Mandarin Oriental, Miami

cafe-sambal

A contemporary Asian restaurant located inside the majestic Mandarin Oriental overlooking the waters of Biscayne Bay. Featuring innovative Asian cuisine for breakfast, lunch or dinner in a truly inspiring South Florida setting.

 

oceans 234

Oceans 234, Deerfield Beach

A great place to relax and get away from it all and enjoy some delicious seafood accompanied by many of the areas fresh local ingredients. Overlooking Deerfield Beach, your senses will be rewarded with views of the Atlantic, breezes off the waters and flavors of the sea. Serving lunch, dinner, bar bites and a Champagne Sunday brunch.

Patio Delray, Delray Beach

A relatively new restaurant serving fresh seafood and locally bought produce with a creative flair. Dine inside or outside on their lushly landscaped patio. Here you will be greeted with breezes from the intracoastal and live music on most nights. Serving lunch, dinner and a Sunday brunch with bottomless mimiosas.

And my selection to make it number 10…drum roll please!

Snappers, Key Largo

Snappers

Enjoy the Florida Keys without having to travel all the way down to Key West with a stop at this Key Largo restaurant on the Atlantic. Serving up Caribbean style seafood under a thatched tiki hut and offering spectacular views overlooking the water and the friendliest wait staff you will ever meet. You can also dine Snappers Brunch Entertainmentinside and still enjoy the same view. Open for lunch and dinner , with entertainment on select evenings,as well as an unforgettable Sunday brunch with a mimosa and Bloody Mary bar and some fantastic live jazz music from Frank Carmelitano.

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Red, White & Blue Celebrations in the Florida Keys

fireworksWant to celebrate July 4th in a tropical paradise? Head on down to the Keys where there is plenty of excitement planned. There will be barbecues, parades, family fun and, the star of the show, an evening of spectacular fireworks. Make your reservations now so you can relax and chill out under the palms.

Key West

Join the 29th Annual July 4th Picnic which takes place at the Casa Marina Resort. Starting at 5PM there is a picnic-fare buffet with hamburgers and hot dogs as well as live music, a silent auction and plenty of kids games. Fireworks will follow starting at 9PM.

For those that want to start the party early there is the 4th of July Harbor Walk Bar Stroll that starts at 2PM at the Ocean Key House Sunset Pier. Amble down Duval stopping in other well-known bars such as Island Dogs Bar, Schooner Wharf and BOs Fish Wagon and end with a splash at Dantes big pool party.

Marathon

Everything you always wanted – Fourth of July Fireworks, a parade and a Beach Party! The parade begins at 10:30AM and runs from Marathon High School (MM50) to Sombrero Beach. Once there, the party starts with food, drink, kids crafts, entertainment and a night ending fireworks display.  By the way, if you have a boat, there is a great view of the fireworks from the water.

Big Pine Key

Head on over to Sugarloaf Airport (MM17) around 9PM which hosts the Lower Keys Fourth of July Celebration. Featuring live music, headlined by Category 4 band, food, games and plenty of activities for the whole family.

Islamorada

Start your celebration at the Postcard Inn at 2PM with live music, food and revelry then move on to Founders Park (MM87) at 6PM for more family fun and entertainment.  All residents and guests at local resorts will receive free admission, while non-residents will be charged $10. The night will end with a spectacular fireworks show at 9PM.

Key Largo

Start with a parade full of decorative floats which will roll from MM82.2 to MM100 and end with the Fireworks Show on Blackwater Sound (MM103). The best seats for the fireworks can be found at Sundowners and Senor Frijoles, Caribbean Club and Marriott Key Largo Bay Resort (around MM104) or, of course, on your own boat. Make sure to secure reservations as they do tend to get very full.

Whichever place you decide to celebrate, I wish you a great 4th!

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Great Off-Peak Summer Destinations

St Lucia Infinity Pool

St. Lucia – view from infinity pool

Some destinations are known for their winter activities while others for their tropcial weather in the midst of our winter but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t a great place to travel to during other seasons. Here are a few where you can get fantastic savings on flights, hotel rooms and activities if you go in their low season.

St. Lucia – Beautiful beaches, fantastic snorkeling, mountain biking, forests to explore, golf courses to play and eco-adventures to experience when you visit this Caribbean island. The savings can be as much as 40% off from May through November. Book around the end of June into July and you will be just in time for the Lucian Carnival but you do have the chance that one of our Atlantic hurricanes might crop up around that time. Best advice is to go for it and take out trip insurance just in case.

Rio Celeste National Park Costa Rica

Costa Rica – The off-season runs from May-November, due mostly to the frequent afternoon shower activity. The weather is still warm on the beaches and a little cooler in the mountains, so if you don’t mind a little rain, you will find bargain prices during this time of year. There is plenty to do in this small Central American locale – for nature lovers there are wildlife reserves and lush forests, for beach lovers you’ll find plenty of white sand and warm azure waters, adventure lovers will enjoy the zip lining over canyons or exploring a volcano and the avid surfer will want to call this place home. Note: Avoid July 1-15 due to the mid-term school vacations when hotels book up and prices jump.

baja californiaBaja California, Mexico – Located on the Mexican peninsula just south of California, you will find dramatic land and seascapes ranging from deserts to dormant volcanos to white soft sand beaches and a vibrant mix of cultures. There are also plenty of fantastic restaurants, vineyards, golf courses, great deep-sea fishing and, of course, surfing.

salt lake cityA little closer to home is Salt Lake City. Usually this is a big winter destination for skiiers but during the summer there are many activities to enjoy from biking to hiking to enjoying the cool evening concert series. During the day you can tour the Cathedral, hike Big Cottonwood Canyon and visit Red Butte Gardens. The average high temperature in the summer is 81 degrees and the low 67 degrees.

African safariLastly, a little further afield, is South Africa. Our summer season is their winter season and it turns out it is a great time for safaris in Kruger National Park with slightly cooler weather and less humidity. You can also plan a visit to Boulder’s Beach in Cape Town to see the penguins or enjoy the flora in Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. If you want great vistas climb, bike or drive up Signal Hill or take Chapman’s Peak Drive. It’s a beautiful country no matter what time of year you venture there.

Share your favorite spots to visit during the off-season.

 

 

Source: SmarterTravel

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Snorkeling the Caribbean

snorkeling on coral reefIslands magazine had a great article on the top snorkeling spots in the Caribbean. Check out their selections and see if you agree. Know any secret spots that you can share with us?

Guana Island

There’s ample snorkeling surrounding this island in the British Virgin Islands, but the best is off White Bay Beach. Descend the steep hill and you’ll find yourself amid a sea of fish within just a few feet of the shore. Venture deeper into the sea where you will find low-profile spur-and-groove reefs to be explored.

Belize’s Glover’s Marine Reserve

belize snorkelingOff of a nine-acre cay in Belize’s Glover’s Marine Reserve there is a lagoon with widespread patch reefs  which provide shallow snorkeling. For those that like more excitement, visit one of the more than 50 miles of sheer drop-offs which lure a larger array of marine life. On the eastern and northern sides of the cay, underwater canyons begin at depths of 25 feet and plunge to the thousands, while spires line the southern side, and stacked layers of reef descend on the west.

Roatan, Honduras

Visit  the famed Cocoview Wall, where coral rises to within five feet of the surface. You’ll see plenty of octopus and other critters in the shallows and it makes for incredible night snorkeling as well.

Rodney Bay, St. Lucia

parrot fishThese island waters have some of the Caribbean’s most scenic underwater settings. Here you will find an abundance of tropical fish and marine life including Flounder, Blue Tang, Parrot Fish, Squirrel Fish, Spiny Lobster, Arrow Crabs and Octopus as well as a wide range of coral life.

St. Thomas

St. Thomas’ waters support elkhorn coral and yellow sea fans which provide a home for silvery baitfish and their predators – jacks, snappers and barracudas.

turks and caicos snorkeling

 

Coral Gardens off of Turks & Caicos

Snorkel through coral trails on Bight Reef and spy submerged placards in three to 16 feet of clear turquoise waters introducing snorkelers to the reef’s inhabitants — tropical fish, crustaceans and invertebrates.

 

Seven Mile Beach, Grand Cayman

snorkeling with the rays

All over Grand Cayman are opportunities to snorkel right from the beach. Try Cemetery Beach or Smith Cove and find tropical fish including giant parrot fish, resident turtles, eels and the famous rays. And don’t miss the swimming with the rays – absolutely fantastic!

Anse Chastanet, St. Lucia

Walk right into the teeming waters at the south end of Anse Chastanet Beach and watch for peacock flounders, needlefish and turtles in the shallow areas. Deeper off shore, the reef has more marine life surrounding dense coral formations.

Source: Islands magazine 

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Austin – Cool Springs & Fine Dining

view of Austin from Auditorium Shores

We didn’t have long to discover all there was to see in Austin but, the day we did explore, we loved what we found.

First order of business was finding a place for breakfast. I really wanted to try the original Kerbey Lane but upon arriving we found it closed for the day. Second choice was Magnolia Café South which happily turned out to be a great pick!

 

Magnolia Cafe South

 

The restaurant has a very eclectic, quirky decor including their sign out front which says “Sorry We’re Open”. It is a popular place but we got lucky and were seated immediately. However, soon after our arrival there was a line out the door. All we could think was it must be good!

Austin MigasNow, never having been to Austin, I had never tried migas, an Austin tradition, so I knew what I was going to order – the traditional migas made with scrambled eggs, onions, tomatoes, bell pepper, cheese, jalapeno slices and tortilla strips served with black beans.  This one, I was told, was slightly different as the tortillas were on the side instead of mixed into the eggs. It reminded me of a breakfast burrito but with an extra kick from the peppers. Other orders included the Love Migas, which are cooked in spicy butter, Eggs Benedict with avocado slices which looked fantastic and served with enough home fries for the entire table and an omelet called “The Magnolia” with avocado, tomato, black olives and cheddar/jack cheese covered with a lemon sour cream sauce. Oh, and we got one side order of the gingerbread pancake I wanted to try and boy was it good. The service was also excellent and if you like your coffee cup filled up continuously this is the place to go. All in all, it was a delicious and filling breakfast for a very reasonable price and we all came away happy campers.

Barton SpringsOnce done with breakfast, our first stop was Barton Springs, a natural spring watering hole. It was just what was needed in Austin’s mid-90’s heat. The spring itself was a cool 68 degrees and took a bit to get in but, once in, it was so refreshing. Of course, you could have used the diving board like my brother-in-law and get the shock over all at once but some of us prefer the slow immersion method. lol They have plenty of grassy areas for sunning as well as some shady areas to beat the heat  and there is even a short nature trail around the springs for exploring. I have to say that at the end of the trail there was a sign that said to watch out for poison ivy, nice of them to tell us that beforehand, so keep a lookout if you walk the trail. If you want to eat there you have to exit and eat at the tables near the snack bar, your food or theirs, and then re-enter when done.

After our quick dip, my niece brought us to Auditorium Shores to see the statue of Stevie Ray Vaughn. This park offers some great biking and jogging trails as well as a great view of the Austin skyline over the river.

Mandolas Italian MarketAfter a relaxing stop at my niece’s apartment she introduced us to a fantastic little Italian deli and restaurant for happy hour called Mandolas Italian Market. It smelled so good walking in the front door with pizza cooking in the brick ovens and mouth watering temptations surrounding us in the market. Walking up to the counter we ordered a very reasonably priced half-carafe of wine, which I swear was the same as a whole bottle, a meat and cheese board, bruschetta that was fresh and tasted heavenly and some hot tasty bread for dipping. You can eat inside or out on their covered patio and the service is friendly and efficient no matter where you sit. They bring you your food when it is ready and check to make sure all is to your satisfaction. Loved this place and wish we had more time to visit again.

Peche interiorEvening brought us downtown to the Warehouse District to a small place called Peche. The restaurant was long and narrow with a beautiful bar running the length of one side. Open ductwork, exposed beams and a wall of brick completed a picture of casual elegance and warmth. It is Austin’s first absinthe bar and has a great mixologist preparing all sorts of pre-Prohibition cocktails. Upon being seated, the owner stopped by to give us drink recommendations and, of course, my husband and I had to try the absinthe.

Verlasso Salmon A La Plancha

He suggested a “Death in the Afternoon” for me, a mixture of absinthe and champagne, which turned out to be a licoricey effervescent drink and, for my husband, an absinthe over ice. I preferred mine over his since his was a little bitter. All of our meals were absolutely fantastic from the Verlasso Salmon A La Plancha served with a wonderful Romano Bean Succotash (which I would like the recipe for), Grilled Hanger Steak with Roasted Marrow (could have done with more of the juicy steak and no marrow), Seared Scallops with morel mushroom, corn & fiddlehead fern hash to the Pepper-crusted NY Strip done absolutely perfectly and served with smashed yukons. The desserts all sounded fantastic but with little room left in our satisfied stomachs we opted for espressos and the pot de creme. Overall, a very enjoyable night to remember, and although a bit pricey, a great place for a special occasion.

Unfortunately we didn’t finish dinner on time to see the bats but, come to find out, they don’t always fly out in the evening. My sister and brother-in-law went to see them another night and waited until after 10PM and they still didn’t get to see them. I think staying at the restaurant made for a much better evening.

All in all a wonderful day and a nice ending to our trip. Hope to see Austin again soon.

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Austin – A Fun & Vibrant City

Austin skyline from Auditorium ShoresWe arrived in Austin on Friday to an airport that smelled heavenly of Texas barbecue. Got to get some of that while we are here. Once in the taxi it took about 1/2 hour to reach our hotel and we were still in Austin. Austin is one big sprawling city! The first thing I noticed here is that people are super friendly and very polite. The cab driver told us about events going on in the city and what the weather has been like lately – in one word HOT! The hotel staff was very efficient and always asking how our day was going as we passed by. Same could be said for other establishments as well as locals passing by. I’m beginning to like this city.

 

Hummingbird House and ring bearer

The wedding event we came for was being held at Hummingbird House and what a beautiful place it was. There was a beautiful old moss-covered building at the entrance and beyond that were the well-landscaped grounds full of flowers, shady trees, a gazebo and a pond with waterfall.  What a perfect setting for a wedding! Here’s a picture of the oh so cute ring bearer on one of the stone walkways.

 

Austin State CapitalYesterday we went into the city proper to take a walk around.  The city was quiet, since it was Sunday, so it was easy to get around. We visited the capital building and grounds, which are beautiful, saw some huge brightly painted guitars, the famous Driskill Hotel with its fantastic architecture and walked along 6th Street, one of the main entertainment areas of the city.  It reminded me a little of Duval Street in Key West with all of the bars and restaurants sporting live music of every variety from country to rock to blues. We came back later in the evening and heard some great music at the Dizzy Rooster.

 

Stuffed Shrimp at Iron Cactus

For dinner we stopped in the Iron Cactus, one of my son’s favorites, and ate on the 3rd floor open patio where there were misters and a nice breeze. This place had some of the best Mexican food I have had. Chips were light and fresh and served with both a regular salsa and some delicious roasted red pepper salsa. The meals which included steak and chicken fajitas, Camarones a la Parilla, jumbo shrimp stuffed with jalapeño pepper and Panela cheese then wrapped in bacon and Pollo Flameado, blackened chicken breast topped with Panela cheese and roasted red peppers with green chile mashed potatoes were flavorful and plentiful.  Now I am hungry all over again! The only downside were the smaller than average tequila drinks. I had a blood orange  margarita, which was really tasty, and my son had a black pepper and basil Tini, and all wished we had more.

 

Stay tuned for more on this fair city and its great vibe!
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Austin Here We Come

Austin SkylineOur family will soon be leaving for the beautiful and eclectic city of Austin, Texas for my son’s wedding. After reading about the city I am thoroughly intrigued and excited to be visiting the Texas state capital.

Austin, located in central Texas, became the capital of Texas in 1839, replacing Houston, and has grown to be the 11th most populous city in the United States, the 4th most populous in Texas and the 2nd largest state capital after Phoenix.

It has emerged as a center for technology and business, known as “Silicon Hills”, with a number of fortune 500 companies headquartered there including well known names such as Apple, eBay, Google, 3M and Whole Foods. It is also an established live music venue and is often referred to as The “Live Music Capital of the World”.

One more slogan they have adopted and live by is “Keep Austin Weird” as they espouse their independence of living a liberal lifestyle with emphasis on supporting small, unique local businesses over large corporations. Go Austin!

Since we will be busy with the wedding most of the time we are visiting, and only have about a day and a half to see the sites, here are a few that I don’t want to miss.

Barton Springs PoolMonday will be the perfect day for visiting Barton Springs Pool located within the 358-acre Zilker park. This natural limestone pool encompasses 3 entire acres and is fed by underground springs which hold the water’s temperature at a steady, but chilly, 68 degrees. A well-known fact is that Robert Redford learned to swim at this pool when he was 5 years old.

Stevie Ray Vaughan statueWithin this same park is a beautiful hike and bike trail as well the Statue of Stevie Ray Vaughan, the famous blues guitarist, who grew up in Austin proper. Everyone says we must stop by and see this statue with the amazing likeness to this special musician and we also be rewarded with a fantastic view of the Austin skyline.

Lady Bird Lake, a reservoir on the Colorado River, flows through the heart of Austin and offers canoe, kayak and rowboat rentals to see the city from a different perspective. After a morning at Zilker Park, Lady Bird Lake, which runs adjacent to the park, will make for a convenient stop.

Mount Bonnell sunsetMount Bonnell, also known as Covert Park, would be a great place to catch the sunset as it is located on a high point above Lake Austin and gives a fantastic view of the city and surrounding hills.

 

Congress Ave bridge batsA little later in the evening, around 9PM, we will be watching the bats fly out from under Congress Avenue Bridge. This bridge is home to the world’s largest bat colony comprised of Mexican free-tailed bats. There are approximately 750,000 to 1.5 million bats living there and every night they emerge and fly across Lady Bird Lake.

6th St nightlife

Lastly, we don’t want to miss the nightlife and live music that Austin is known for so we will head to 6th Street for the action. My niece will be guiding us to the best spots as she is currently attending University of Texas Austin for her phD.

I’ll report back during our visit and hopefully get some great photos to share with everyone.

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Plane Trip in Your Future? What to Carry-on!

I have traveled much in the past 10 years to places like Australia, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Germany and let me tell you that long flights are never much fun but it is especially true lately. Most airlines have cut back on just about anything that would make your trip more enjoyable, and those that do offer some amenities come with a price. In my experience, pack these 10 essential items in your carry-on to make your trip as comfortable as possible.

warm-blanket1. Blanket. My #1 item is either a jacket, sweater or a light blanket to keep you warm in the usually sub-zero temperature of the plane. OK, I exaggerate a little, but it is cold in those cabins!

 

fuzzy-socks2. Warm socks! The first thing I do when I take my seat in the plane is retrieve my fuzzy socks from my carry-on, take off my shoes, and stow both my carry-on and shoes in the overhead bin. Ahh!

 

healthy-snacks3. Snacks. If there is one pet peeve I have it is that the airlines either don’t give you anything to eat or those dry nasty pretzels. Now I bring my own snacks along that are much healthier and ones that I enjoy.

Suggestions include nuts (I like the chocolate covered ones), dried fruit, granola bars (look for those with less sugar), fresh fruit that can be placed in a baggie with a paper towel so when you are done you can wipe your hands on the paper towel, put the core in the bag, seal and toss, trail mix, small 100-calorie count snack packs, small container, less than 3-oz., applesauce or the soft cheeses that don’t need refrigeration along with some whole-wheat crackers.

water bottle4. An empty water bottle. This will save you mucho bucks and all you need to do is fill it up after you go through security. This will also help you prevent dehydration during long haul flights.

 

iPad reading5. Reading material whether it be a paperback book, newspaper or an electronic reader. The FAA is now looking into changing the rule that doesn’t allow electronic readers to be on during take off and landing. Hopefully they will pass that soon.

 

pen-016. Pen. I learned the hard way that you need a pen handy to fill out immigration forms so that you don’t have to mooch off one of your fellow passengers. It is also best to fill out at the beginning of your flight when they hand you the paperwork so that you are not left rushing to fill them out before your descent or while waiting in line. I also use it for working on the sudokus and crossword puzzles in the plane’s magazine.

sanitizing wipes7. Sanitizing Wipes. I know this might seem a little germaphobic to you but those planes are every bit as dirty as you think they are. The flight crew seldom has time to wipe down the seats, arm rests, video controls or tray tables between flights and what you touched in the airport itself has probably left you with germy hands as well. Now I didn’t even mention the bathrooms, ugh, where it is always advisable to wipe down the seat prior to using and wash your hands thoroughly.

earphones sm8. Ear Phones/Plugs. Are you always bothered by screaming babies or loud-talking adults? This is where ear plugs or noise-cancelling headsets can come in very handy. I always bring my earphones and have plenty of music on my phone or iPad to listen to however long my flight will be. If it is an extremely long flight I have music that will help soothe me and put me to sleep. Ah the quiet!

travel pillow9. Neck or Inflatable Pillow. This is really a personal preference as some people like them and some hate them. I prefer a small pillow that will fit easily in my Swiss Army travel bag since I can use it against a window or when sitting upright. Some people even use them on top of their tray table and lean forward to sleep. Other people have suggested the Plane Travel Pillow on Amazon, Snoozer or just a down pillow case folded into itself. I might have to try the latter as it would fit into any size carry-on.

sleep aids10. Sleep Aids. I never use to use anything to help me fall asleep but it has been getting harder to sleep the last few trips. I now use an over-the-counter sleep aid that I take after my dinner to try to get some shut eye while they are in the dim-light mode.

Bon Voyage!

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A Few Great Key West Restaurants

Famous Fish DipDuring my family’s recent week-long vacation in Key West we visited a number of fantastic and tasty restaurants. Here are just a few reviews of our favorites.

Camilles Key WestCamille’s Restaurant – one of the top restaurants for breakfast. The saying always goes “eat where the locals eat” for a great meal and this couldn’t be truer than for Camilles in Key West. The restaurant is located just a block off Duval Street and has an interior filled with odd knick knacks (look for the cute ceramic pigs and kooky Barbies) placed right alongside French posters and Marilyn Monroe pictures. Don’t let this quirky décor fool you because their breakfasts are out of this world with an ever changing menu that keeps things fresh.

Camilles Bacon MarysOn one particular Sunday morning we lucked out in beating the crowd and got seated immediately in their bright and sunny front room. (Note: Get there before 11AM) Our server immediately came over and asked if we wanted their special drink of the day – a Bacon Mary, or in layman’s terms, a Bloody Mary made with bacon vodka. Spicy and with a hint of bacon it was the hit of the morning – delicious! We ordered another special for breakfast, their French Toast with Bourbon Maple Syrup and my husband ordered their well-known and loved Crab Cake Benedict. Both dishes arrived, with portions big enough for two, and looked heavenly. The French Toast was covered in more pecans than a pecan pie and was made even more delicious by their special bourbon syrup. It was hard to share any with the hubby. LOL His Eggs Benedict had the most lovely Hollandaise sauce over a large crab cake filled with lump crab meat. (I hate those crab cakes that are mostly bread!) We bargained together and each shared half of our meal with the other and couldn’t have been happier. Definitely a place we will go back to again and again.

Note: We also love Blue Heaven for Sunday Brunch, Sarabeths and Pepe’s Cafe for breakfast.

Fogartys  Key WestFogarty’s – great place for lunch and a to-go bottle of their famous rum runners.

After a morning bike ride through town my sister and I met our spouses here for a late lunch. It was a hot day and the shade of the umbrellas and the mist sprayers were a welcome relief. Add in their delicious rum runners in a souvenir bottle, perfect for carrying around with us on our return trip, and it was the perfect choice.

Fogartys Chinese Chicken SaladLocated on downtown Duval Street it is also a great place for people watching especially in the evening. We ordered from a very friendly waitress and when the food arrived, in prompt fashion I may add, we were even more delighted. Two of us ordered the Chicken Lettuce Wraps which were awesome. The chicken was seasoned perfectly and served with carrots, cucumber salad and coconut curry noodles and the largest lettuce leaves I have ever seen. It was accompanied by two sauces, one a Thai ginger-soy sauce and the other a peanut sauce. We would both order the dish again. My sister had the Chinese Chicken Salad, of which she could only eat half it was so large, with crispy chicken covered in a sesame sauce, almonds, mandarin oranges and bean sprouts atop tossed greens and served with an Asian vinaigrette. Lastly, my husband tried one of their sandwiches, a Shrimp and Bacon Club, and it was simply packed full of shrimp accompanied by bacon, Swiss cheese and a tomato basil dressing. It also had fries which came nice and hot and he willingly shared with me. We are sold on this restaurant and would definitely return for their great food, reasonable prices and ambiance.

Note: Also love Hogfish Grill, Dantes, Half Shell Raw Bar and Southernmost Beach Cafe for lunch.

Colombian Grace Key WestColumbian Grace – good place for dinner. My husband had really been wanting to try this restaurant for quite a while. Last time we visited Key West during September it was closed for vacation but this time around we hit it right.

We made reservations for 7:30PM and, after searching for a parking space (free by the way), found one several blocks over and arrived right on time. The waiter was extremely friendly and talkative and seated us immediately.

Petronia Chicken

It is not a very large restaurant, and very casual, but it was not very crowded on this night so we had our choice of seating, either indoors or out on the porch. We decided on appetizers, both the meat empanadas and the arepas with chorizo on top. The waiter graciously offered to make the appetizers the right size for two people and we agreed. The empanadas were a little light on the meat and really did not have much flavor but the arepas with chorizo were very good. However, we should have stuck with the single portion as we filled up too fast to enjoy a large dinner. Again the waiter said that we could share one of the entrees and we settled on the Petronia Chicken. This dish features a chicken breast, sliced and glazed in orange juice, rosemary, brandy and sugar cane syrup and is served with rice and plantains. This dish was excellent and more than enough for two.

Overall it was a nice restaurant with reasonable prices, great service and delicious entrees!

Bagatelle Key WestBagatelle – fantastic for dinner! By far one of the better restaurants in Key West. Request a seat on the upstairs balcony overlooking Duval Street and Hogs Breath Saloon and you will get entertainment for your entire meal. The service is very upscale and efficient and they seated our family of 6 plus a toddler very quickly. They have a full bar and a nice selection of wine so a cocktail was definitely on the agenda. They also allowed us to order the toddler meal ahead of time while we relaxed with our drinks.

Bagatelles Lobster DinnerTheir menu largely contains local seafood with a few exceptions such as lobster and steak but when a member of our party, who does not eat fish, requested grilled chicken they happily obliged.
Among the outstanding dishes were the spiny lobster with saffron mango risotto (to die for), the grilled swordfish and asparagus over roasted tomato coulis, the pan-seared grouper over a crispy potato cake and sauteed spinach and the ahi tuna served with a seaweed salad, Udon noodles and spicy peanut sauce.

This restaurant has become one of our favorites on the island and, although pricey, it is definitely worth every penny.

Note: Also love Louie’s Backyard/Upper Deck, La Trattoria (downtown), Roof Top Cafe and Seven Fish Restaurant for dinner.

Bon Appétit!

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