Allure Cruise – St. Martin

Welcome to St. Martin.  Saint Martin is part of the Leeward Islands in the Caribbean Sea. It comprises two separate countries, divided between its northern French side, called Saint-Martin, and its southern Dutch side, Sint Maarten. The island is home to busy resort beaches and secluded coves.

We hired a guide from tours by locals and he took us on a great tour of the island.  Our first stop was at an overlook that had awesome views.

Our driver then took us to Fort Louis which is one of the top island attractions and historical landmarks.  It also offers panoramic views across the island and beyond.

Our driver then took us past St Martin’s Princess Juliana International Airport, famous for its proximity to the beach, which sees aircraft swoop within spitting distance of sunseekers and planespotters.  Vacationers like to stand on the beach and watch the airplanes land.  It can be very dangerous and you can see the signs posted all over.

A co-worker had recommended that we lunch at a place called Mr. Busby’s so we had our driver take us there.   Mr. Busby’s is located at Dawn Beach and offers you everything you’d want in a Caribbean beach bar; great food, friendly people, a primo location and relaxing environment.  It was simply a great place to eat and relax so I’d highly recommend going there.

After an hour or so relaxing at Mr. Busby’s, our driver picked us back up and took us to Orient Beach.  Orient Beach is the most famous beach on the island due to its beauty and liberal policy on clothing; which is optional.  No pictures are supposed to be taken here so I just took a pic of the sign.

There are a number of places to cross the border between the French and Dutch sides of the island of Saint Martin.  Here is a picture of where we crossed over.

We had a great time touring this island and really enjoyed our guide, but after a full day it was time to go back on the ship but I will leave you with a couple of pictures of the views that we saw.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanksgiving Time Out

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you!  I’m taking a time out this week to get some stuff done for the holiday so won’t be posting about St. Martin this week so check back next week.  Hope all of you have a wonderful and safe Thanksgiving and safe travels to wherever you go.

Cruise – Allure of the Seas

Welcome aboard the Allure of the Seas.  It was one of Royal Caribbean’s largest ship until the Harmony of the Seas was built.  In February of 2016, we decided to go on a cruise aboard the Allure leaving Ft. Lauderdale for the Bahamas, St. Thomas and St. Martin.  We had never been on a ship the size of the Allure and wanted to see how we would like it. We stayed two nights in Ft. Lauderdale before boarding the Allure and had a great time.  There are many sights to see in Lauderdale and since the guys are home brewers they had to stop by Lauder Ale Brewery for a tasting.

We toasted to our cruise on our last night in Ft. Lauderdale.  It also happened to be the wedding anniversary of one of the couples that went with us so we toasted to them as well.  Our group loves to toast to everything!

We boarded the Allure of the Seas as soon as we could as we were all wanting to check out this huge ship.  This ship is a small city on the ocean.  it has everything you could possible want on a ship; a rock climbing wall, mini golf, flow rider, zip line, ice skating, lots of entertainment and dining experiences from all over the world.  We just loved the Samba Grill.  The Schooner Bar was another favorite of ours for drinks.

One of the attractions on the ship was the Rising Tide Bar and as soon as we heard about this, we just knew we had to go there for drinks one night.  It’s a bar that actually rises off the lower floor to the upper deck of the ship.  It’s a fun and unique bar.

Next week I will write more about the ship as well as our first stop in the Bahamas.

Maine – Bar Harbor continued

This picture is typical of what you will see in the harbor area in Bar Harbor.  It is a quaint little town.  If you’re considering a vacation in Maine, Bar Harbor should top your list of destinations, as it is truly one of the best places to visit in Maine.  Not exactly a well-guarded secret, but not overrun with tourism either, Bar Harbor is a Maine vacation spot that is awesome.  Of course one of its many attractions is its close proximity to Acadia National Park—over 50 square miles of mountains, lakes, hiking, biking, views and dramatic coastline.

We all really love Acadia National Park.  The pictures below are some that we took on our drive around the Park.  There is a scenic 27-mile loop that begins at Hulls Cove Visitor Center and offers access to Sand Beach, Thunder Hole, Otter Cliffs, Jordan Pond, and Cadillac Mountain.  If you get the opportunity, go to Cadillac Mountain at Sunrise as it is supposed to be spectacular.  Most of Park Loop Road closes for the winter (December – April 15).  We really enjoyed Jordan Pond and if you can make sure to eat a meal there and get the popovers as they are yummy.

The first picture below is Thunder Hole.  The next picture is one that we took while hiking the carriage roads.  The bubbles at Jordan Pond is next and the last is just a scenic picture we took of the water.

Besides hiking, our group went kayaking and biking.

Acadia National Park was our main source of entertainment here in the Bar Harbor area but there were plenty of other sites that we got to see.  The picture below is one of the most photographed bridges in the area.  While not officially located within the National Park boundaries, this is still a must-photograph for any visit to the area. Situated right next to the Selectmen’s Building (built in 1780), the Somesville Bridge is something that you can’t help but see and stop at when driving by. This idyllic white bridge spanning the small waterway is a fantastic location for photographs.

And speaking of photographs, we found a photographer that owned Acadia photo safari and he took us out on a boat to take some awesome photos.

Of course, what stop in Maine wouldn’t be complete without eating lobster.

From Bar Harbor, we traveled to Booth Bay Harbor.  Please joint me next week as we continue our journey through Maine.

 

 

Hilton Head Island

I just returned from a trip to Hilton Head.  Hilton Head in February is a much different visit than if you go during the summer time.  In summer, Hilton Head is packed, but in February it is much less crowded.

Hilton Head has the most beautiful sunrises and you need to make sure you wake up early enough to see one as they are worthwhile getting up early to see.

I went with my sisters so we did a lot of shopping and sight seeing in the area.  Harbor Town in Sea Pines is one place that you need to stop by and check out.  There is a lighthouse there that you can walk to the top of and check out the view.  In October, 2016, Hurricane Matthew hit Hilton Head and they are currently in the process of building this area back up again.

View from the top of the lighthouse.

Harbor Town Lighthouse

We did a lot of walking, but we all enjoyed the walking in the Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge area.  We even saw a couple of alligators.

Can you see the alligator sitting on the shore?

We took a couple of trips off the island.  One of those trips was a visit to Bluffton.  Every Thursday they have a farmers market that is something to see.  If you like to see churches, they have a church there that is very beautiful and the area around it is so scenic to see.

While you are in Bluffton, you need to eat at the Cottage.  We ate lunch there and they were able to accommodate my gluten free eating.  It was crowded but it would be worth the wait to eat there.

We also went to Savannah.  Savannah is less than an hour car ride from Hilton Head.  There is a lot of history in Savannah and you can take a trolley tour or simply walk around, which is what we did.

The Cathedral in Savannah

I did not have too many issues eating gluten free on this trip.  One of the places we ate at on Hilton Head was called Rockfish Seafood & Steaks @ Bonboras.  It is a restaurant/bar in Coligne Plaza and is owned by a couple who used to live in my home town of Cincinnati, Ohio.  If you go there, they have quite a few Cincinnati dishes; Montgomery Inn Ribs, Big Boy Burger, and other Ohio favorites.  They also have The Art Cafe above that would be good to take kids to on a rainy day or just a day away from the beach.  They were very accommodating with me and made a gluten free scallop dish that was delicious.

Doesn’t this scallop dish look  yummy?

There is one place that you need to go to and that is Marche de Macarons.  We found this place in Savannah, but found out that they also have a shop on Hilton Head as well.  These macarons are the best that I’ve ever tasted and they are entirely gluten free.  Check out their website at www.marchedemacarons.com.

We all really enjoyed our little winter get away.  It is a great place to take the family to.  If you’ve been to Hilton Head Island, I’d love to hear what some of your favorite places there are.

Nashville

We just returned from a music filled weekend to Nashville.  This is my fourth time down in Music City and this was certainly our weekend for music.  We started out the weekend seeing a Randy Travis tribute where 37 top artists sang his songs.  Some of the acts we saw were Garth Brooks, Travis Tritt, Allison Krauss, Kenny Rogers, Wyonna and just so many more.  The highlight of the show was at the end when Garth was singing Forever and Ever and Randy joined him for the finale.  We went to the Opry one night and saw Crystal Gayle who was also awesome and yes she still has her long hair.  We ended the weekend seeing Martina McBride and Lauren Alaina.

This past fall we came to Nashville with a group of 20 friends and rented a mansion on Music Row.  It was a great location and a great house for all of us to share.  We did all the tourist things on that trip.  We went to the Country Music Hall of Fame, The Grand Ole Opry and the Studio B Tour.  I think the highlight was the Studio B tour because we did a recording of one of Elvis’ songs.  It sure didn’t sound as good as Elvis’ version, but we had a blast recording it.

Studio B Tour

Country Music Hall of Fame

The Grand Ole Opry

The Mansion that held all 20 of us.

Eating gluten free in Nashville does have its challenges, but it can be done.  One of the places we’ve found is the Pharmacy.  They have really good burgers and they are gluten free; just make sure not to get the bun with it.  The servers appear to be knowledgeable on what you can eat.

The Pharmacy

We love going to Layla’s to see Sarah Gayle Meech.  She is a really good singer.  Most of the honky tonks have really great acts.  It’s nice to go in and out of them and checking out the talent.  Below are a couple of places that we’ve found that we really like.  George Jones’ Rooftop Bar is a great place to go on a pretty day and the view is very nice.

George Jones’ Rooftop Bar

Layla’s

Nashville Skyline

I would definitely add Nashville on your list of places to go to as there is something for everyone there and even if you don’t like country music, you should be able to find music for your taste there.

Chicago

I just love visiting Chicago.  Not only is it one of the most interesting places to visit, my girls also live there.  I have two daughters.   The one that used to live in the DC area, recently moved to Chicago and is working at Loyola University.  My youngest daughter is going to DePaul and working on her masters.

There is so much to do and see in Chicago from shopping at the stores on Michigan Avenue, to exploring places like Millennium Park, Navy Pier, the Willis tower and so much more.  We just love to go and explore.   Take a Wendella boat tour while you are there.  They have several.  We took the architectural tour when we were there in September and really enjoyed it.  They also have a night time tour that was beautiful to take with skyline all lit up.  Millennium Park is a beautiful place to visit as well or just relax in the sunshine on the beach and enjoy the beauty of Lake Michigan.

Chicago Skyline

The Bean in Millennium Park

The Lincoln Park Zoo

Navy Pier

 

Ghirardelli – We always make a stop here for ice cream.

Chicago offers some of the best gluten free restaurants.  I love going to Wheat’s End when we are in town.  This is off their website; “Wheat’s End Artisan Foods is a family owned company that believes people with celiac disease or who are gluten intolerant shouldn’t have to sacrifice quality or taste. That’s why all our products are handmade in our 100% dedicated gluten free facility with only the best ingredients and no artificial preservatives—into what we think are the best, natural tasting and flavorful gluten free breads, baked goods and fresh pastas available today. ”  When we are in town we like to visit here for Sunday brunch.  The food is fantastic and as you can see from the website explanation, it is totally safe for celiacs to eat in.  There are several other places that are also good, however, none that are totally gluten free like this one.  Check out their website www.wheatsend.com and you can see what they offer.  I’ve also ordered items online and had them delivered to my home in Ohio.

If you’ve ever been to Chicago and have some sights that you would recommend, please let a comment and let me know.

Washington DC

Another one of my favorite areas to visit is Washington DC.  I truly believe everyone needs to visit Washington some time in their life.  It is an amazing place to see.   My daughter lived in the area for about 8 years so we got to see Washington quite a number of times and it just never got old as there are just so many monuments and museums here to see.   Here’s a few of them:

Marine Corps War Memorial

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier – If you get a chance, time your visit here to see the changing of the guard.  It is awesome to see!

World War II Memorial

Korean War Memorial

There are so many Smithsonian Museums that you can visit for free.  Some of the ones that we have visited are:  National Air and Space; National Museum of the American Indian; National Museum of American History; National Portrait Gallery; National Museum of Natural History; and the National Zoo.

If you decide to go to Washington contact your local congressman and he will be able to set up a time for a tour of the Capitol.  It is very interesting and fun to see.  You can also set up a tour of the White House through your congressman.

I have found that the bigger cities tend to have lots of options for gluten free eating.  Just google gluten free eating in the DC area and lots of restaurants come up.  I was always very lucky because my daughter who lived in the area also had a friend who was Celiac so she knew which way to steer me for safe eating.  One place that we went to the last time in DC  was Jeleo.  The chef has trained his staff on gluten free so they understand exactly what you can and cannot have.  Another place that we have gone to in the past was called Rosa Mexicano.  At this restaurant, they fried me a special batch of corn chips in a dedicated fryer when they found out I was Celiac.  I would highly recommend both places.

 

Sanibel/Captiva Island

I think we all have that special place that we’ve traveled to that we always want to go back to again and again because it is relaxing or the memories from that place are just so special.  Sanibel Island is that place for me.  I went there on my honeymoon for the first time in 1982 and have been back many times.  Many of my favorite family memories are from vacations spent on Sanibel Island.  Here is a beautiful sunset picture that we took when we were there.  If you go to Sanibel you must look up Danny Morgan.  He is a singer on the island and he sings a beautiful song about the sunsets you can see there.

Beautiful Sanibel Sunset

This is the Sanibel lighthouse that is on the tip of the island.  It has a public beach access to it and you can find some great shells on that end of the island as well as see dolphins swimming around that area.  Sanibel is known for all the shells that are on the beaches.

Sanibel Lighthouse

One of our favorite restaurants in the area is called the Mucky Duck and it is located on Captiva Island which is connected to Sanibel Island by a small bridge.  You can see some of the most beautiful sunsets on the beach outside the Mucky Duck.  The Mucky Duck doesn’t necessarily have a gluten free menu, but if you ask the waitress what they can do for you, they are very accommodating.  Sanibel does not have chain restaurants except for the Dairy Queen.  A couple of great spots for breakfast are The Lighthouse Cafe and The Over Easy Cafe.  Again, both are pretty accommodating on eating gluten free, but I did prefer The Over Easy Cafe for the gluten free choices.

The island offers a variety of things to do there.  They have bike trails over the entire island.  Most of the beaches are private, but there are a couple that are open to the public.  We enjoy going to the Ding Darling National Wildlife Preserve which covers a good portion of the island.  You can drive through, bike ride or walk through this Wildlife Refuge.

Please feel free to leave a comment on where your special vacation spot is as I’d love to hear about it and maybe even visit there some time.