5 day Las Vegas travel plan

Las Vegas is an ever-changing fantasy world of bright lights, fabulous hotels, glittering casinos, exciting shows, and breathtaking attractions. Vegas is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the U.S., ranking alongside Disneyland and Disney World. Over 40 million people come to Vegas each year to experience the nightlife and non-stop, live entertainment, as well as to visit Las Vegas attractions and day trip tours. There’s a definite appeal to seeing the Grand Canyon, a casino, and a live show all in one day.

Day 1 – Arrive at McCarran Airport and take the shuttle ($7 p/p) to the Mirage Hotel located in the center of the Strip. Our accommodations are quite nice, with up-to-date amenities and modern decor. After unpacking, we have lunch downstairs at the Paradise Cafe where we enjoy the weather at poolside. Reasonable prices and good menu variety.
Mirage Room Rates – $100 & up. Packages and promotions available.

This afternoon we are looking forward to a deluxe helicopter ride to the Grand Canyon, one of the most amazing natural wonders in the world. We have an incredible panoramic view of Hoover Dam, extinct volcanoes, and Lake Mead, as the helicopter gradually descends to the Canyon floor. We are now in the land of the Native American Hualapai where we have time to explore and take spectacular photos of our surroundings. We enjoy a complimentary picnic lunch & champagne before leaving the Canyon floor and returning to the hotel.
Tour (3-4 hours): Adult – £246, Child – £235. Round trip transportation/transfers from hotel included.

Back in our room, it’s time to relax before dinner tonight at Sushiloca restaurant, about 30 minutes from the Mirage. Pleasant atmosphere with authentic Japanese cuisine featuring sushi, sashami, and a wide assortment of specialty rolls. Friendly service and excellent chefs.
Hours: 11am-2am. Prices: $11-$30

Day 2 – Early morning breakfast at Cravings buffet in the hotel. Breakfast hours – 7am-11am. Price: $16 p/p. Off to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway and the thrill of a Richard Petty Driving Experience. We’re not quite daring enough to drive it alone, so we decide on a less-challenging 8-lap Rookie Tour. Rookie Tour – 9am or 1pm. Open – Tues, Wed, Fri, Sat, & Sun. Price – £317. A stop at the Race Shop and Gift Store and round trip transportation to hotel included.

It’s time for lunch and a visit to the Forum Shops, a famous Vegas attraction across the street from the Mirage. The Trevi restaurant in the Forum features a menu of traditional and gourmet Italian from pizza and pasta to Bruschetta and Carpaccio.
Prices: $20-$35. Hours: Mon-Thurs,& Sun, 11am-11pm. Fri & Sat, 11am-12am.

We stroll through the 3-story Forum of Roman statues, fountains, and swanky shops such as Gucci, Tiffany, and Vuitton, as well as many others catering to the budget-minded shopper. Cobblestone streets, reminiscent of Paris and Rome, and ornate spiral staircases leading to the painted ceiling of a Mediterranean sky add to the splendid decor of the Forum.

Shopping bags packed away, we join the fun of happy hour downstairs and a casual dinner at Stack. Appetizers and popular American cuisine, steak and seafood.
Cocktails, beer, & wine: $4. Avg Dinner Price: $50. Hours: Sun, Tues-Thurs, 5pm-10pm. Mon, Fri, Sat, 5pm-11pm.

Day 3 – We begin our day with a full breakfast at the Paradise before seeing more Vegas’ attractions. First on the agenda is a short walk south on Las Vegas Blvd to the LINQ hotel, which houses a fabulous auto collection of over 250 classic, muscle, and historically famous cars. Some of these are worth over $100 million, and all are actually for sale. Whether you’re a collector of antique cars, just like cars, or have only a casual interest, here is “history on wheels,” the largest classic car showroom in the world. We spend several hours here before lunch. Open daily, 10am-6pm. Cost – Adults, $11.95, Seniors & Children, 6-12, $8.

The Yardhouse restaurant nearby is a good place for a light lunch with beer or ale, about $15. Open daily, 11am-after midnight. Lunch 11-5pm.

Next stop, a visit to the world-renowned Madame Tussauds Wax Museum in the Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian; located in 14 cities worldwide, this is a must-see attraction while in Vegas. We take pictures beside our favorite celebrities (over 100 lifelike figures), watch the 4D Marvel Super Heroes movie, and spend most of the afternoon exploring the Museum.
Admission: Adults, $29.95, Children 4-12, $19.95. Hours: Open daily year, Sun-Thurs, 10am-9pm, Fri & Sat, 10am-10pm.

We dress for dinner tonight and taxi to the Top of the World restaurant in the Stratosphere hotel tower. The wine and 3-course meal of lobster & prawns, small filet, and dessert are superb. The Top of the World is a unique experience in fine dining, with an extensive menu of gourmet contemporary and international specialties and amazing selection of wines. Enjoy great views of the city 840 feet below as the restaurant slowly revolves 360 degrees. Hours: 11am-11pm. Prices: $50 & up. Special 4-course tasting menu, $90.

Day 4 – Starbucks opens early, so we go downstairs for espresso and pastry before joining the 90-minute cruise on Lake Mead. This is a delightful cruise on a paddle-wheel boat past Boulder Island to Hoover Dam. We have two hours to explore this man-made wonder of engineering, visit the museum, and Observation Deck. A bonus stop at Ethel M’s Chocolate factory and Botanical Gardens on the way back to the hotel. Light lunch onboard and round trip transportation to hotel included. Lv at 8:30am, 45 minute ride to Lake Mead, entire excursion about 7 1/2 hours. Price: £64 p/p.

We relax before going to Treasure Island for dinner at the Kahunaville restaurant and the spectacular 90-minute performance of Mystere Cirque du Soleil.
Hours: 7pm & 9:30pm. Price: $79 p/p.

Day 5 – We get an early start with a full breakfast downstairs at the Carnegie Deli, open 24 hours. Avg prices: $15-$20. There’s still plenty of time to watch the dolphins play and explore the world of lions and tigers at Seigfried & Roy’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat, a popular attraction at the Mirage. Carnegie Deli, open 24 hrs, $15-$20. Seigfried & Roy’s, 11am-5pm, Adults – $19.95, Children 4-12 – $14.95. Before returning to our room, we decide to check out the casino; who knows, we might get lucky!

We dine tonight in the warm, romantic ambiance of Tuscany decor and soft, classical music at Portofino in the Mirage. After dinner, wetake a short flight over the sparkling lights of Las Vegas at night. A glass of champagne and a ride in a deluxe helicopter are a perfect way to end the evening. Individual headsets & complimentary round-trip limousine service included.
Hours: 12-15 minute narrated flights from 6-9pm, Winter, 6-10pm, Summer. Price: From £57 + $5 fuel charge p/p.

Las Vegas is an adventure, a fun-filled, memorable experience for anyone, whether you come just once or return again. Although the energy, glamour, and glitz of Vegas remain the same, chances are you’ll discover something new and different each time you visit this exciting city.

Sharon L Slayton

Survival guide to days out in Miami

Miami speaks to tourists on so many different levels: the endless stretches of beach, the food of Little Havana and the boutique shopping downtown. However, there’s still plenty to offer a family with kids, whatever your budget and time scale. The key is to know where to go, plan in advance and see where you can cut costs.

Top 5 Visits with Kids

To begin the survival guide, let’s have a look at the top five must see sights in Miami when you’re travelling with kids:

• Miami Seaquarium – it’s unsurprising for a city on the sea that Miami has an amazing aquarium, and the live animal shows are definitely the highlight of any visit. Kids will also definitely get a kick out of watching the deadly sharks being fed.

• Bayside Marketplace – this is the best place in the city for souvenirs, including several rock and fossil shops for younger children.

• Jungle Island – a rainforest in the middle of the city filled with exotic birds, animals and insects. There’s also a petting zoo, making this a perfect break from the busy streets.

• Little Havana – it may surprise your kids to see bits of the Caribbean in America, but they won’t forget the Latin vibe and the Spanish inspired food in hurry.

• Freedom Tower – this famous historical landmark in Miami is one that will give a bit of culture to your fun trip. Climb to the top for a spectacular view over the city.

Surviving the Day Out

Now you know where to go, it’s time to think about the practicalities of making your trip a success for everyone involved:

How to cut costs:

• Travelling with the whole family can become very expensive very quickly. Buy a Go Miami card that gives you access to over 30 attractions, including the Hop On/Hop Off tourist bus.
• Take advantage of the free stuff going on in the city, like the Miami Children’s Museum, Carnaval on the Mile in March and Biscayne National Park.
• It’s always worth looking online or ringing up places in advance, to see if there are any discounts available on the attraction you want to visit.
Plan in advance:
• Miami is a city built for tourists, but it still pays to book ahead and reserve seats or tickets.
• See what festivals are taking place during your stay so that you can fit it into your itinerary.

Don’t overheat:

• Miami is hot for most of the year and even the locals tend to slow down around lunch time. Plan long breaks somewhere cool in the middle of the day to recharge your kids and avoid those horrible I’m-too-hot arguments. Finding somewhere with a pool will massively improve their happiness and yours.
Whichever sites you plan to visit, the golden rule for surviving family days out in Miami is to be flexible. Adults are able to push through tiredness, hunger and overheating in the name of tourism, but children are much less understanding. Being adaptable means having a list of things that you’d like to do, but not having a set order for them, as well as list of back up kid-friendly activities to keep everyone happy

Travel plan for Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire

Over 40 square miles between the Wye and Severn River valleys lies the “Forest of Dean” in Gloucestershire, England. The vast woodlands were favorite hunting grounds for wild boar and bear in medieval times and the days of the Tudors. Inevitably, hunting for food and sport in the forest became less important with the industrialization of iron and coal mining. Loosely formed settlements of small cottages grew up around the forest, as Freeminers and their families gathered in community support and involvement. In time, however, modern technology arrived and the scenic beauty of the “Forest of Dean” and the surrounding area soon became a source of pleasure as a popular tourist destination. Visitors can find English country cottage vacation accommodation and enjoy their holiday in this peaceful spot.

Day One – We arrive around noon at our accommodations, Holt Farm Stable, on the borders of Herefordshire and Monmouthshire. The stone stable turned cottage is on an organic farm and has great views. After unpacking and settling in, we decide to go into the village to look around and buy some Gloucester “old spot” bacon, smoked Severn salmon, and other items at the Farmers Market. It’s time now to enjoy the experience of “having tea” in the afternoon at the highly recommended Aunt Martha’s Victorian Tea Room. This is a lovely place with beautiful gardens and an elegant atmosphere enhanced by candles and oil-lit lamps. The menu includes a variety of tea sandwiches, scones, preserves, and cakes. Before leaving, we stop at the shop for a large basket of treats to take with us.

Hours: 12Noon-4pm. Price for 2 – $30. Reservations advisable.

After a delightful tea, we take a short 20-minute drive to Newent and visit the International Centre for Birds of Prey; many of these can be seen living within the forest. We find an incredible conservatory of over 250 birds of prey including eagles, owls, hawks, and falcons. The Centre also has a small shop and cafe. A camera is a must; you’ll capture some amazing shots.

Hours: 10:30am-5:30pm, 1 Feb-30 Nov. Prices: Adult – $17, Ages 4-15 – $11, Senior – $15.

Day Two – We awake to the early morning sounds of the forest and begin our day with a short drive to see the Severn Bore. You may prefer cycling or even walking if you’re feeling especially energetic. Considered the 3rd highest tidal range in the world, the waves average 9′, but have been as high as 49′; it’s a surfing paradise. After a few hours here, we’re off to catch the Dean Forest Railway at Lydney. The train travels 4 1/2 hours through the woods, stopping at 5 stations along the way, which gives passengers time to get off and explore some of the area. We skipped lunch, so we splurge on seats and a 4-course meal in the royal dining car. Price: $120 for 2. Back to the cottage to rest after a fun-filled day.

Day Three – There are plenty of goodies in Martha’s gift basket for a quick breakfast before an early start to Clearwell Caves. It’s about 6 miles to Coleford and another mile and a half to the visitor center at the caves. The nine caverns of Clearwell form a fascinating museum of mining and geological displays and demonstrations owned and maintained by former miners Ray & Jonathan Wright. Famous people have visited and filmmakers have used the caves in movies such as Narnia, Dr Who, and Merlin. We watch the resident blacksmith, Claire Robertson, at work and visit the gift shop to see her finished items, minerals, and other souvenirs, After a light lunch in the cafe, we walk over to the pond by an old mine shaft before leaving. Special events throughout the year. Free parking.

Hours: 10am-5pm. Back at the cottage for supper, relaxing in the tranquillity of the forest evening.

Day Four – It’s a nice day for a brisk walk or a short drive to the 11th century Chepstow Castle high on the cliff above the merging of the Wye and Severn rivers. The well-preserved stone castle has undergone extensive renovations through the centuries, but the oldest wood castle doors in Europe and other original items still remain on exhibition.ours: Mon-Sat, 10am-4pm. Sun,11am-4pm. Closed 24, 25, 26 Dec & 1 Jan.

Admission: Adults – $5, Seniors – $3.75. Free admission to museum at the car park.

After spending several hours exploring the castle, we drive about 8 miles to the Woodlands Tavern in the village of Llanvair Discoed for a late lunch. Excellent food, specialty coffees, and a variety of ales.

Hours: Tues-Sat, 12Noon-2pm, Sun, 12Noon-4pm.

Prices: $21.00, 3-courses

Day Five – We begin our morning with a 90-minute walk on the discovery trail through town past the historical landmarks of Cinderford. The rest of the day is spent browsing the small shops, chatting with the townspeople, and having lunch at a local pub before returning to our cottage to pack before leaving tomorrow.

Through the years, the “Forest of Dean” has received public acclaim and recognition in books, TV, music, sports, and movies. It is certainly one of the loveliest areas to visit in the UK less than 3 hours from London, a beautiful drive through the countryside past quaint towns and villages on the way to Gloucester. There are various types of accommodations including self-catering cottages, bed & breakfast inns, old farmhouses, and some hotels. Why not plan a holiday to the “Forest of Dean” amid the beauty of nature and the old-world charm of village life.

Sharon L Slayton

Free cruise – Caribbean Cruise Line scam suspicious behavior

Today I received a call from Caribbean Cruise Line, offering me a free cruise because they wanted to fill unsold cabins and generate positive word of mouth advertising.

My first thought was that they were reaching out to travel bloggers, the way Royal Caribbean reached out to me a few years ago. Then I realized that they were cold-calling me – they had no idea I was a world-famous travel blogger. Yes, I am kidding about the famous part.

So what is this free deal? They have no idea how special I am so this is a free cruise for anyone? Sort of. They say the will give you 18 months to book your cruise as long as you pay $118.00 (government port fees) right now. That’s when I told them I wasn’t interested. I prefer to pay my fees after I make a reservation.

I searched the net for other people who have given this a try and CruiseCritic had some information to share. Seems Caribbean Cruise Line is a wholesaler for Celebration Cruise Line. Caribbean Cruise Line probably loses money when they sell the taxes only cruise (we need your $118 right now), but they probably make their money off of people who never get to take the cruise and simply give up on getting their $118 back. There are also reports that you don’t get your taxes only cruise until you sit through a timeshare sales pitch.

Naturally, they don’t tell you about the timeshare sales pitch on the phone. They will take your money first and then disclose the hoops you need to jump through to take that taxes only cruise. Is it a scam? I think so. It might be a legal scam but it’s still someone trying to gain your confidence in order to trick you. Surprise! Now that we have your money you have to jump through hoops to get your tickets. You have to listen to someone selling timeshares. You have to pay $10/person/day for tips. Who knows what else you have to do?

Orlando travel plan – Universal instead of Disney?

Why Universal instead of Disney?

Universal is geared towards older kids. So if you took the kids to Disney a few years ago, and they think they are all grown up (like if they would rather get their picture taken with Spider Man than with Mickey Mouse), you should consider Universal. If you have little kids, there are a lot of rides at Universal that will be a bit much for a 7 or 8 year old (some 3-D rides are pretty intense). Some rides have height restrictions that younger kids are unlikely to meet. Speaking of rides, don’t miss Spiderman at Islands of Adventure, or Back to the Future in the other park. Terminator is also very cool… You might want to check out their website for some guidance on the suitability of rides but Islands of Adventure seems to have more of the rides that younger kids can enjoy.

Also, Universal is not as expensive as Disney and most people who have visited both tell me Universal is the better value. You can often find specials on tickets for Universal Studios in Orlando – if you compare prices, the Universal deals are just more compelling than the Disney ticket deals.

How many parks? How fast?

Can you see both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure parks in one day? If your little one is too small for the big rides, you can definitely do both parks in a day. The express pass that lets you pay a little extra to skip the general line is very good for saving time but if they run your card through their scanner, you can only go on the ride once. Having said that it’s possible to see both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure in a day, why rush? You’ll end up needing a vacation to recover from your vacation.

Travel itinerary

Day 1

Universal Studios is up first. This park is mostly for the older kids. Start with Transformers. Then in order I suggest: Revenge of the Mummy, Men In Black Alien Attack, The Simpsons Ride, Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem. This can take all day without a Universal Express Pass.

Hopefully, you took my advice and got the pass so that you can see a show or two later in the day. The Universal Horror Make-up Show is cool. So is the mid-afternoon Superstar Character Parade. In the evening, Universal’s Cinematic Spectacular is worth seeing.

Dinner is at Universal City Walk. You have several choices. I chose the Hard Rock Cafe when I was there because the food is good and the rock star items on the walls are always fun.

Day 2

Islands of Adventure today. Those with older kids head left. toward central lagoon. Start with Spider-Man, then move on to Hulk (this can be an intense ride – it is not for everyone). Next up are two water rides- Dudley Do-Right and then Popeye. They will soak you.

Families with younger kids head right instead of left. Find Seuss Landing to enjoy the Dr. Seuss-inspired attractions there – Go for a ride on the High In The Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride then visit One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish and The Cat in the Hat rides.

People of most ages should enjoy some Harry Potter action. The Hogwarts walk-through involves the Gryffindor common room and other memorable places. The very sweet non-alcoholic butterbeer is sort of a must-try even though most people don’t seem to crave butterbeer when they get back home.

Dinner is at Manny’s Steak House. Excellent steak, reasonable prices. The portions are huge so don’t order too much unless you want leftovers for breakfast the next day. I hope you have a fridge. The atmosphere is pretty neat with American signs and memorabilia on the walls. If you’re saving room for desert, save a lot of room.

Day 3 – Celebration Golf

You need a break from the kids although I can’t tell you what to do with them. Celebration is a Disney related community of homes with a stunning 18-hole golf course and fantastic clubhouse with a nice pool and other amenities. The course is great and tourists love seeing alligators lounging near the water traps.

You can eat at Celebration but I never found anything exciting there. The one place (not in Celebration but not too far) I always saw tourists having a great time is Joe’s Crab Shack. It is incredibly noisy but the crab pots are yummy and it is definitely an experience.

Day 4 – Kennedy Space Center

Kennedy Space Center may be a little over an hour away depending on where you’re staying. Space buffs will love the large NASA assembly building. Visiting Kennedy really gives you an idea of scale – space ships, buildings, transporters, etc. are all big. The history of the place is inspiring and they even have a few rides. It’s no Universal, but Kennedy is very cool. You learn something, appreciate the magnitude of effort required to leave the earth, and get to brag to your friends that you did something cultured. You’re better than other tourists.

Day 5 – Discovery Cove

I hope you know how to swim so you can fully enjoy one of the highlights or your Orlando holiday. Discovery Cove is pricey but in this case, you get what you pay for. Meet dolphins (and swim with one), float down a tropical river, see otters and sharks, snorkel in a coral reef with lots of different fish and manta rays. This is an experience you will remember.

Travel Plan around San Antonio – Texas Hill Country in the Fall

Thousands of travelers visit San Antonio each year to see the Riverwalk, shop at major department stores and fascinating boutiques, attend sports events, fiestas, and theater performances, as well as indulge in a variety of international cuisine at some of the best restaurants in the U.S. Others want to get away from the city and the crowds of tourists to explore the vibrant colors of autumn in the Texas Hill Country. Lost Maples State Park is a popular choice, especially in October and November, for residents who welcome the end of another hot summer and a change of season, and for the many visitors who want to spend a few days in one of the loveliest areas in the state. Nature enthusiasts travel from across the U.S. to view the spectacular red, orange, and gold of the foliage in Lost Maples, the only place in the southern states where these rare bigtooth maple trees can be found.

Day One – We leave San Antonio Friday morning and take TX-16 west to Bandera and Medina, then RR 337 to Vanderpool on one of the many scenic drives through the Texas Hill Country. The air is definitely cooler as we follow the winding road through the rugged terrain marked by steep canyons and limestone cliffs and reach the higher altitude of over 2,100′. We can visit some of the other small towns in the scenic loop from Vanderpool, which is located about 5 miles from the entrance to Lost Maples. Be sure and get a map of the towns and farm roads in the surrounding area. We made reservations in advance at The Lodges located between Vanderpool and Leakey in an area called the “Swiss Alps of Texas.” Our fully equipped cottage is quite nice with a kitchenette, fireplace, central a/h, and our own private balcony. After settling in, we return to town to buy a few necessities we’ll need during our stay at Lost Maples.

There’s time this afternoon to visit The Lone Star Motorcycle Museum, which houses an interesting collection of vintage motorcycles from 1910 to the present. Hours: Fri, Sat, & Sun – 10am-5pm. Entrance fee: Adults, $6.00, Children under 15, Free. The Ace Café in the museum is a good place for a light lunch before heading back to The Lodges. Relax outdoors in the quiet of early evening and savor the aroma of mesquite from the outdoor grill while the sun sets over the Sabinal River and the Texas Hill Country.
The Lodges: Linens & outdoor BBQ grill provided. TV, but no reception, so bring your own DVD or VCR player.
Rates: $145/night, $175/night for the smaller, more intimate accommodations for couples in Solomon’s Den, ideal for honeymoons or anniversaries.

Day Two – We awake to the sounds of nature and the early morning calls of the birds, have breakfast, and we’re off to spend the day exploring the park. It might be a good idea to pack a picnic lunch and plenty of water to take along. There is a lot to see and do in the 2,000+ acres of Lost Maples Park from more than 11 miles of hiking trails and bird watching to picnicking by the lakes or beside the river. Bring your camera for some great shots of your surroundings, the amazing views, the rock formations, and the variety of plants, birds, and wildlife in the park. It’s cool, comfortable weather for hiking in the park on the well-marked trails; some are steeper than others. The East Trail is much more challenging, going up and down, but you’ll have some great views of autumn colors on the canyon walls above Monkey Rock. The Maple Trail is shorter and easier to hike with good views of the trees, lakes, and hills.

We spend most of the day in the park, so we’re ready to “kick back,” as we say in Texas and head back to our cottage before going out for a leisurely dinner in a nearby town. It’s about 15 miles from Lost Maples on Hwy 187 to Utopia, which inspired the movie “Seven Days in May” with Robert Duvall. From here it’s another 2½ miles to the Laurel Café. This delightful restaurant surrounded by oak trees and herb and vegetable gardens has a definite European appeal. The ambiance of candlelight and flowers enhances the superb gourmet cuisine featuring fresh ingredients prepared by renowned French chef Laurel Waters.
Open only on Saturdays. Prices: $39/five courses include everything but the wine, since this is a “dry” district. We bring our own. Reservations: 830-966-5444

Day Three – This morning we stop for delicious, inexpensive breakfast tacos at the Lost Maples Café on our way to another Texas historic landmark, Enchanted Rock State Park, located about two hours from Vanderpool. According to the legend of the Tonkawa Indians, mysterious sounds and lights are said to come from the Enchanted Rock. This huge dome of pink granite rises over 400′ above ground, a marvel in itself and the second largest batholith of this type in the U.S. Vegetation and weather pits of endangered plants and pools of fairy shrimp cover small areas of the surface of the rock. If you’re into rock climbing, you’ll need to check at the park headquarters for climbing guides. Hours: 8:30am-4:30pm. Entrance Fee – Adults, $7, Children under 12, Free.

We’ve spent most of the morning taking pictures, hiking on and around the Rock, and have worked up an appetite for brunch or lunch, depending on the time. The town of Tarpley is in the general area, and we stop at Mac and Ernie’s restaurant, which has been featured on the Travel Channel and in Southern Living magazine.. Excellent food and downhome atmosphere. Hours: Fri & Sat, 11am-9pm. Sun-11am-2pm. Reasonable prices. It’s a short drive back to Vanderpool and the Lodges where we’ll unwind and enjoy the evening.

Day Four – Today, we’ll go back on TX -16 and drive about 30 miles to Bandera, known as the “Cowboy Capital of the World,” for a step back in time reminiscent of the Old West. From old hitching posts downtown, trail rides, and rodeos to dude ranches and lively country music, this picturesque small town is a favorite of visitors and locals alike. There’s a lot of history in Bandera from the days of the Apache and Comanche Indians and Conquistadors, along with an interesting mix of Mexican, Polish, and Western cultures. A walk through town is the best way to check out some of the Texas landmarks from the late 1800’s including the old jail, general store, St. Stanislaus Catholic Church, and the Silver Dollar “honkytonk,” in business since 1901. Country western music is a big part of Texas and Bandera’s Cabaret dance hall has featured many famous country western stars such as Jim Reeves, Bob Wills, and Willie Nelson.

Have lunch at Busbee’s for some of the best BBQ in Texas. Hours: Wed-Mon, 10:30-8pm. Closed Tues. After lunch, spend a few hours browzing the shops and boutiques for Western wear, antiques, gifts, and Southwestern items and souvenirs.

After a busy, fun day in Bandera, we are looking forward to a quiet evening at the cottage with a cold beer and the BBQ we brought back for supper.

Day Five – We are eager to spend a few more hours in the park before loading up the car and returning to San Antonio. After lunch at the Lost Maples Café, we head back on a different route, FM187 north from Lost Maples to Texas 39 east to Kerrville and I-10. We have had an amazing road trip, bringing back the memorabilia and beautiful photos of the Texas hill country we’ll share with those at home.

Entrance Fee, Lost Maples State Park:: Adults – $6, Children under 12 – Free. Visitor Center.

Sharon L Slayton

Where would you go to make an anniversary holiday more like a second honeymoon?

My wife and I had our 13th anniversary a few days ago. Every August we begin thinking about a second honeymoon – not just a trip but an another honeymoon. This year, resorts were the main topic of discussion because friends recently told us about their honeymoon holiday in Mauritius. This was their second honeymoon and their 15th anniversary. Their first honeymoon was at Woodstock 1999 – more on that later but let’s just say that Woodstock 99 was not great honeymoon material.

Mauritius, our friends say, is perfect honeymoon material. Mauritius has mountain views, turquoise seas, palm trees, and white sandy beaches. Our friends spent 4 of 6 days in their resort. They relaxed on the beach, played in the pool, ate and drank whenever they felt like it, napped on the beach, snorkeled and swam in the ocean, practiced archery (good for a possible future zombie apocalypse), rose horses, and played golf. Other days, they would take day trips. They had a guide for Les 7 Cascades. Hiking at the Seven Cascades, means great scenery as long as you have hiking boots. It also means playing underneath a waterfall as long as you bring your bathing suit. You may also want to bring a light raincoat. Another day they rented a scooter from their hotel and toured the island, noting that Port Louis waterfront and market and Grand Bay are especially worthwhile.

So let me interrupt our friends’ story with my own thought for my second honeymoon. The second honeymoon has to be low-stress. Our first honeymoon involved me taking a language teaching course in Rome for the first month. I didn’t get to pay much attention to my beautiful new bride because of school. Then we went to Assisi, which was much better because we spent all our time together. But Assisi was still not stress-free. We still had to find accommodation and find our way around the (thankfully small) city. I think getting lost was a stressor and the expenses of eating out maybe stressed us out some too. We were simply too poor for a 9 week honeymoon, but we did it anyway.

So to make the second honeymoon low stress, you want to budget the trip – make it a week instead of a couple months so you don’t have to try to honeymoon on the cheap. Take our friends for example. When they arrived, friendly tour operators met them. The tour operators took care of the luggage and took them to the resort. There they received a welcome drink and an ice towel to help cool off. Hotel staff delivered their luggage to the room. The room had a great view of the bay, “Just Married” sandals, and letter from the Hotel. They didn’t have any of that stuff at Woodstock 99 and we didn’t have any of that stuff when we did Italy on a shoestring budget. I guess it’s those luxury things that make you feel pampered, like you’re honeymooning. Of course I still need to test that theory.

Our friends option included breakfast and dinners. They received a complimentary foot massage at the hotel’s spa. They had a romantic dinner at Chateau Mon Desir (a five star restaurant). They certainly didn’t have gourmet meals at Woodstock 99 (although the prices were gourmet-like) and I don’t think anyone there was touching anyone else’s feet. We had it a little better in Assisi – there was one restaurant, Il Duomo, that we loved and visited probably 20 times during our stay. No massages for us either though.

So what do you think makes a holiday a second honeymoon? Is it relaxing on the beach? Getting pampered at the spa? Luxury vs. budget travel? Would you recommend Mauritius for a second honeymoon?

Travel Ideas: Camping Adventures Out West (preferably with your dog)

Another month or so and fall arrives in many parts of the U.S., another school year begins, and summer vacations come to an end. Fortunately, there is still time for the family and the family pet to enjoy a camping adventure at a dog friendly national park somewhere out West. The weather is ideal for being outdoors in the exhilarating air of the high elevations (5,000′ to 11,000′ at Eagle Peak) at Yellowstone National Park. Average daytime temperatures are in the 70’s and much cooler in the 40’s at night.

Established in 1872, Yellowstone is one of the largest national parks in the U.S., covering more than 2,000,000 acres in Wyoming and into Idaho and Montana. Famous for geysers (Old Faithful), mountain herds of bison and elk, forests, petrified trees, and waterfalls, the scenery and diversity of plant and animal life are simply breathtaking.

Campers can choose from 12 different campgrounds located throughout the park; five have more conveniences and require reservations. The other seven have more than 400 campsites which require no reservations. Although there are five different entrances to Yellowstone, this article will focus on campgrounds with tent sites near the South Entrance. Campsites are limited to six people, and your dog or dogs (usually limited to 2), for a maximum of 14 days in July – Labor Day. Drinking water is available and wood and charcoal campfires are allowed, subject to wildfire restrictions, quite common in Yellowstone. Your dog must not be left unattended and kept in a carrier or on a leash, 6′ or less, at all times. Owners are responsible for their pet’s behavior on the trails and in the campground. Be aware of wolves, grizzly bears, mountain lions, and other wildlife which roam freely through the park and can be a threat to yourself and your dog(s).

Grant Village campground at Yellowstone Lake is about 22 miles north of the South Entrance of the park. The campground offers 430 campsites with flush toilets, dump station, pay showers, and laundry. Visitor Center (open 8am-7pm), post office, gas station, campground store, and other facilities nearby.
Campsite cost – $26/night (two showers a night included). Reservations required (307-344-7311).

Bridge Bay is another popular campground with 432 beautiful sites by the lake, about 30 miles from the East Entrance. Dump station & flush toilets; pay showers and laundry about 4 miles away. Boat launch and store at the marina. Campsite cost – $21.50/night.

Lewis Lake campground, only 8 miles from the South Entrance, is a good, inexpensive choice, especially if fishing is part of your travel plans. This is a very basic campground with vault toilets, but you will enjoy the peaceful setting and still have the facilities of Grant Village, a short distance away. Campsite cost – $15/night, reservations not required. There are only 85 campsites, so arrive early. Fishing permits – $18/3 days, $25/7 days.
(Notes: There are eight visitor centers and a museum located within the park. See nps.gov/yell for detailed information on Yellowstone.)
Park Entrance fee – $25/vehicle (for seven days)

Grand Teton National Park, about 10 miles from the South Entrance of Yellowstone on the John D. Rockefeller Memorial Parkway, can be easily included in your camping adventure. The 310,000 acres of the park are much less than Yellowstone, but just as beautiful on a smaller scale. Known for stunning views of the Teton Range in the Rocky Mountains, more than 100 lakes, and wildlife, the high elevations provide wonderful camping weather during the summer. Grand Teton is a dog friendly park, but they are not allowed in certain areas such as on pathways or inside park facilities. The basic rule is they can go wherever a car can go. Be aware this is bear country, and always carefully store food, cosmetics, and any items carrying a scent to avoid attracting them. Be sure and Include bear spray in your camping gear.

The seven campgrounds, Colter Bay, Gros Ventre, Jenny Lake, Headwaters, Lizard Creek, and Signal Mountain, charge $22/night per campsite for a maximum of 14 days. Jenny Lake campground is the one exception with a 7-day maximum stay. Reservations are not required for campsites, but they fill up quickly. The same rules apply for your dog(s) in Grand Teton as in other national parks. Primarily, dogs must not be left unattended and kept on a leash or in a carrier, with their owners responsible for the cleanup and behavior of their pet.

Colter Bay, 25 miles north of Moose, has 350 large, wooded sites with dump station, laundry, and showers nearby. Gros Ventre, just south of Moose, also has 350 campsites by the river. Jenny Lake, only 8 miles north of Moose, has 49 campsites for tents only. This is a very popular campground, so arrive before 10am.

Headwaters campground at the Flagg Ranch on the John D. Rockefeller Parkway is an ideal choice and the most convenient for campers visiting both Yellowstone and Grand Teton. There are 36 tent campsites with flush toilets, laundry, and 24-hour showers on the campground. Fishing is great at the Snake River, 1/4 mile away. Store, restaurant, and gift shop nearby. Rates: $35/night for 1-2 adults, $5 more for each additional adult. Call 1-800-443-2311 for reservations.

The 60 sites in the forest at Lizard Creek, further north from Moose, are not as well developed as the other campgrounds and not as popular. Campsites are usually available even in late afternoon. Signal Mountain, not far from Jenny Lake, is probably the more scenic campground with views of the mountains, lake, and forest. The 81 campsites are somewhat smaller than at other campgrounds, and there are no showers or laundry on the campground. Store, gas station, two restaurants, and gift shop nearby.

Entrance to Grand Teton – included in the $25 Yellowstone fee. Pathway permits – $12/pp (7days)
(Note: Five visitor centers – Craig Thomas (Moose), open 8am-7pm; Colter Bay, 25 miles north of Moose, 8am-7pm; Jenny Lake, 8am-5pm; Lawrence S. Rockefeller, 9am-5pm, and Flagg Ranch, 9am-3:30pm.)
(Note: See nps.gov/grte for more information.)

The popularity of camping has grown rapidly in America since the early 1900’s with more families discovering the freedom and enjoyment it provides. We live in a hectic world where many of us feel “the hurrier I go, the behinder I get.” Camping is educational and healthy family recreation where everyone, and your dog(s), can share the adventure and excitement of being close to nature. Forget the hassle of airline travel, avoid the traffic and the crowds, and have fun for less money on a camping trip.

Sharon L Slayton

5 day Seychelles travel plan

Seychelles boasts many beautiful islands, 16 with accommodation. Planes and ferries get you around reliably but I vote for ferries whenever possible. Seychelles islands luxury holidays has good information on weather, accommodations, cruises around the islands (some are uninhabited!), and more.

Days 1 & 2: Mahe

On day 1, you hit one of the best beaches in the world. Anse Intendance may feel like a lost world with jungle, boulders, and a beautiful white sand beach. On your way in, look for the rum shack near the entrance from the parking lot. You can have your Rum cocktails in the shade or in the sun. On weekends they may have BBQ burgers. There are waves and strong currents from June to September, but usually calmer spots where you can play in the surf. After September the water calms down quite a bit.

On day 2 we start with a hike. Climb Morne Blanc (30-60 minutes depending on your pace). The hike is not too strenuous but there are a few places where you could step into a little crevice so do be careful. The path is easy to follow, and at the top is a wooden platform with awesome views of southwestern Mahe
Since the hike won’t take all day, we visit another amazing beach later in the day. To get to Petite Anse, on west coast of Mahe, you need to head to the Four Seasons Resort. You have to show identification on the way into the Four Seasons, but Petite Anse is a public beach. It’s a 15 minute walk to the beach, but you can ask hotel employees for a lift in one of their club cars. Don’t wait for them to offer, but they are friendly when you ask. While at the beach, you’ll be near a restaurant and bar. The water is usually calm and clear.

Days 3 & 4: Praslin

Seychelles’ second largest island features Vallée de Mai, once thought to be the original site of the Garden of Eden. The forest features huge ancient palm trees including the Coco-de-Mer palm (famous for fruit shaped like a female pelvis) and the Seychelles Black Parrot, a very rare and beautiful bird.

You’ll want a full day at Anse Lazio. Get there early to find a nice spot on the white sand. You can climb over some of the granite rocks to look for smaller sections of beach. The swimming is usually good (waves sometimes get big but even then you are usually fine if you stay close to shore) and there is excellent snorkeling. Between walking, swimming, and snorkeling you might think one day is not enough.

Day 5: Grand Soeur

If you like to haggle, this is where you have a chance to shine. At La Passe Jetty you will find some agencies offering a Grand Soeur day tour with with snorkeling at nearby islands Coco and Felicite. Prices range from 75-100 euro per person depending on season, party size, and how well you haggle. Strong currents May through October do make swimming difficult.

If you’re a diver, you will probably need more time – lots of great diving to be done around Seychelles’ islands and the industry is safe and well-established here with several excellent operators.

You can find more itinerary ideas at http://www.seychelles.travel/en/plan_your_visit/

Travel idea: Camping at Dog Friendly National Parks

More than 40 million people in the U.S. go camping each year, and about the same number have at least one dog, as much a part of the family as the kids. When summer arrives, schools are out, and it’s vacation time for many families across America. Camping, a tradition since the late 1800’s and even before, became more popular by the 1930’s as Americans found the pleasure in exploring nature and spending time in the great outdoors. Visiting a national park sounds like a great idea, always educational and fun for the whole family, but dogs love a camping adventure and want to go too. Fortunately, most national parks permit dogs on a leash, 6′ or less, at all times, subject to Federal regulations and individual park rules and restrictions

Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor, Maine was the first national park established east of the Mississippi. There is a wide diversity of the environment from mountains and forests to lakes and shore within the group of islands which form the 45,000 acres of the park. Dogs will love camping at Acadia where they are allowed on more than 100 miles of trails, as well as on the 45 miles of historic carriage roads. They are restricted, however, from beaches, lakes, steep hiking trails, and trails where peregrine falcons are nesting.

You can camp with your dog at Blackwoods, open 1 May – 31 Oct, or Seawall, late May-Sep. There are approximately 300 campsites, restrooms, running water, a dump station, and shuttle bus service, but no hookups at Blackwoods. One vehicle, two tents, and up to six people are permitted at each campsite. Entrance fee – $20/night for 7-day maximum.

The Seawall campground on the western side of Mount Desert Island, the largest part of Acadia, is about a 10-minute walk to the ocean. Each of the 122 campsites allows tents and RVs up to 35′ long. Seawall has drinking water, flush toilets, campfire rings, and a dump station, with free showers and camping stores about a mile from the campground. Shuttle bus service is also available. Entrance fee – $14-$20/night, 14-day maximum.

Duck Harbor (Isle au Haut) is a one-hour ride on the ferry from the mainland. Although dogs are not allowed to stay in the Duck Harbor campground, it might be fun to take him along for a day trip of exploring. A $25 special permit is required to go to Duck Harbor.

(Note: Campsites are specifically marked.) Campground reservations – 877-444-6777

Visitor Centers:

Hulls Cove – 15 Apr – 30 Jun, 8:30am to 4:30pm; Jul & Aug, 8am to 6pm.
Park HQ – Open year round, 8am to 4:30pm; Apr – Oct, Mon thru Fri. (Winter camping hours vary.)
(Note: See nps.gov/acad for more information.)

Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona is simply awesome. With a spectacular panorama of color at sunrise and sunset, an amazing variety of plant and animal life, and incredible scenery, it is truly one of the seven natural wonders of the world. The South Rim is open year round, subject to fire danger restrictions, weather conditions, and road closures. You and your dog are welcome to check out the view along the two ½ mile Greenway trail along the Rim. A well-behaved pet can go along with you on the 3/4 mile guided Geology Tour. Dogs are restricted, however, from park buses, lodging areas, and trails along the North Rim.

One of the most popular campgrounds that allows pets is Mather, located within Grand Canyon Village. Mather, about a mile from the South Rim, offers 327 camping sites among the Ponderosa pines for tents and Rvs. Mather can be crowded and is usually full by noon. Each campsite has room for up to three tents, a fire grate, and picnic table, with drinking water, dump station, and restrooms on the campgrounds. Laundry, showers, bank, pay phone, and other amenities available at the Visitor Center, a short distance away. Summer hours 8am-5pm. Campsites – $18/night, 7-day maximum. Reservations Required: 877-444-6777, or online at recreation.gov/

Desert View has 50 campsites for tents, small Rvs, and travel trailers, for a 7-day camping limit. Each campsite permits up to six people, two tents, and two vehicles or 1 RV/trailer, and your dog. Be sure and include water with your camping equipment and wood or charcoal for cooking on campsite grills only. Only certain types of firewood can be used, “certified” wood is sold at the Visitor Center. There are only two water faucets, no hot water, and no hookups. Showers are available for a fee at Mather campground, 25 miles away. Overall, you can consider Desert View offers very basic camping.

Camping fee – $12/night/7-day maximum. ATM machines are conveniently located near the campground restrooms. Reservations not required, so come early.
Entrance fee – $25/vehicle for seven days. Visitor Center – 8am-8pm (summer hours)
(Note: See nps.gov/grca.)

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited and one of the largest in the U.S., encompasses more than 522,000 acres of forest, mountain trails, and an amazing variety of plant and animal life in this part of the Southern Appalachians. Free entrance to the park.

Located on both sides of the North Carolina and Tennessee state lines, the main entrances are at Gatlinburg, TN and Cherokee, NC. There are nine designated campgrounds including Abrams Creek, Balsam Mountain, Big Creek, Cades Cove, Cataloochee, Cosby, Deep Creek, Elkmont, and Smokemont. Campsites have individual fire grates, picnic tables, and restrooms on the campgrounds, but no showers, hot water, or hookups. Fees vary from $14-$23/night at each campground. We will look at two of the largest, Cades Cove and Elkmont, with individual campsites for up to six people, two vehicles, and tents. Both require reservations for a maximum of 14 days and permit motor homes up to 40′ and trailers up to 35′. Both have food storage lockers and dump stations onsite or nearby. There are specific restrictions on firewood, but bundles of “certified” firewood can be bought at Cades Cove and Elkmont. Keep in mind this is bear country, and all food must be stored in your vehicle or storage lockers.

Cades Cove, in eastern Tennessee, is an ideal choice for viewing wildlife with more open areas in this part of the park. You can find everything you need at Cades Cove Campground Store from groceries, souvenirs, and camping supplies to a variety of express food and beverages. Hours – May-Jul, 9am-7:30pm. Aug, 9am-7pm. Sep-Oct, 9am-6:30pm.

Elkmont campgrounds, 8 miles from Gatlinburg, date back to the early 1900’s as a summer resort in the Appalachians. The 220 campsites range in price from $17-$23/night, 7-day maximum, and reservations should be made in advance for this popular campground open until 29 Nov. Limited selection of camping essentials available at the campground concession.

Your dog cannot be left unattended at the campsite, and he is allowed on only two trails in the park, the Gatlinburg and the Oconaluftee River Trail. The first trail follows the Little Pigeon River about 2 miles through the forest from Sugarlands Visitor Center to the edge of the town of Gatlinburg. Sugarlands is an interesting part of history, which you may want to explore further. Check at the Sugarlands Visitor Center if your dog can go along, or if any kennels is available. Visitor Center Hours – Jun-Aug, 8am-7:30pm. Sep & Oct, 8am-6:30pm. The Oconoluftee trail through the forest is about a mile and a half walk beside the river to the town of Cherokee. Visitor Center Hours – Jun-Aug, 8am-7:30pm. Sep-Oct, 8am-6:30pm.
(Note: Detailed information at nps.gov/grsm.)

Surrounded by the sights and sounds of nature, camping is healthy, inexpensive recreation. Whether it’s the shore, the forest, or the mountains, you’ll escape those hectic travel arrangements and the stress of everyday life. Leave behind the modern conveniences, and inconveniences; your dog will enjoy it as much as you!

Sharon L Slayton