Posts Tagged ‘cruising’

After visiting Sydney and Melboure, Australia we were finally ready to board our ship, The Sea Princess.  By noon we were back at the hotel from our Hop On And Off Trolley we had taken to the international market.  Since it was only a block away to the ship we made two trips.  We got our suitcases checked in and went back to the hotel for our carry-ons.

Boarding the ship was pretty easy since so few people got on in Sydney.  The ship, which is one of their older ships in the Princess fleet, holds just under 2,000 passengers.  It started in Brisbane.  Then 400 of us got on in Sydney, although some of those people will get off in Auckland, New Zealand.

In Auckland they will take on another 400 passengers and then we would be on our way.  We found out later there were only 26 Americans on board.  We would travel across the South Pacific to Santiago, Chile, where we got off.

We only did a small segment of the cruise (21 days) but many people were on for the whole cruise. After Santiago the ship would continue south to the tip of South America and then all the way up the Eastern side and through the Panama Canal.  Then they would travel half way back down the western side of South America before heading back to Australia.
That evening the ship sailed and we began our journey East back through several time zones. We moved our time up an hour that night and the next day was the first of three days at sea before we reached our first port.  We were sailing in the Tasman Sea and the Coral Sea was just above us.  This was a typical sea day.  I looked in on trivia, went to a couple of dance classes and got ready for dinner.  We were at a table for 4 where we met a very nice Australian couple.  After dinner I went to the show with a Johnny Cash impersonator who was very good.

The next sea day was a shopping spree outlet day and my brother and I bought some T-shirts for $6.99 Australian (only about $5.00 US). I spent time in the gym and sauna and went back to line dancing class and trivia.  There are so many activities onboard you always felt very busy.

That evening was formal night.  After dinner there was a champagne reception and then we saw a light opera show.  After that was another show with “Mr. Sandman.”  He had a box of sand and made incredible creatures in the sandbox.  When we went to bed we had to change our time forward once again.

Our third sea day was a repeat of the day before.  We read a lot and I went to trivia again.  I met two couples from Australia I sat with every day for trivia.  I didn’t know much Australian trivia and they didn’t know much American trivia so we made a great team. There was a sit down pizza restaurant on board and we decided to do that for dinner.  Then we watched a movie under the stars.

The fourth sea day we landed! We were in Auckland, New Zealand.  We had reservations for the Hop On & Off Trolley as well as Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Life Aquarium.

There are two large islands in New Zealand.  One is called the North Island and the other is the South Island.  Auckland, the country’s largest city, is on North Island.  Although there are tall buildings downtown the landscape is unique with cones, craters and lakes.  These came about due to eruptions from the Auckland Volcanic Field a long time ago.

The Hop On & Off Trolley met us right on the ship’s dock. This was called the Red Line. Our second stop was Kelly Tarlton’s Aquarium so we got off.  There was a large penguin display that was pretty awesome and then we went on a rolling floor called the shark cave.  We watched huge sea mantas and sharks above and beside us.  There was even a tank full of the largest lobsters I have ever seen.  They have to keep them apart from other sea life because they said they are constant predators.  Sure wish I could have eaten one!

After the aquarium we got back on the trolley (it stops every ½ hour) and continued on to the Auckland Museum.  This held a huge collection of Polynesian artifacts as well as memorabilia from the two world wars.

At the museum we transferred to the Blue Line.  This took us to another part of the city.  We saw a soccer field that was built inside a crater, although you couldn’t really tell any more.  Our most interesting stop on this line was Mount Eden.  This is the highest point in New Zealand and is the top of an extinct volcano.

The Blue line ended back at the museum and we transferred again back onto the Red Line.  We went through an old part of town with lots of shops and restaurants that was quite charming.  They mentioned that Bill Clinton liked the area so much he had visited there twice.

Our next stop was Sky Tower, 1,072 feet high.  It is the tallest free standing structure in the Southern Hemisphere.  Like the Space Needle in Seattle and other similar structures sprinkled throughout the world, you ride a glass elevator up to a platform with 360 degree views.  Once you get off the elevator the tower has glass floors which make it a little scary.

If you have ever been to the Sears/Willis Tower in Chicago you know there is a small glass area you can walk on and see the ground below.  But on this tower the whole platform had a glass floor which was a little eerie to walk on seeing the ground so far below.  This last summer I was in Seattle and they said they were rehabbing the Space Needle and would be putting the same type of glass floor in that structure. The tower also had several restaurants and even a casino but we did not stop.

The trolley took us over four hours to complete and then we found an internet café so we could check online messages. The ship sailed at 5:30 p.m. and we sat on our balcony sipping wine as we slowly watched the city slip away.  It had been a fun day.

The evening show was the cultural songs and dances of the region and we called it an early night after that.

Next up: Our cruise continues

***Note***  I am having a special book sale.  If you go to my website (www.kileenprather.com) you can preview the first few chapters of each book.  I am selling the books for $10.00 apiece and if you buy three or more, shipping is free.  For more information email me at:  kileenp@gmail.com.   Great idea for Christmas gifts.

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***Note this is the 2nd part in a series.  My brother and I took a 21 day cruise across the South Pacific last winter.  Before the cruise we explored Sydney and Melbourne, Australia.***

After arriving in Sydney, my brother and I decided to take a side trip to Melbourne to see a little more of this wonderful country. We were flying Jet Star which is a budget airline.

After a long walk through the terminal we arrived in a waiting room.  My son had told us about an app called “What’s Up” which we loaded on our phones.  As long as anyone we knew loaded it onto their phones we could call or text our friends and relatives for free anywhere in the world where there is free Wifi.

We wanted to try it out so we called our brother in Madison, WI.  It was very weird.  It was Sunday morning for us in Sydney but early Saturday afternoon for him.  It was strange speaking to him like we were near each other instead of thousands of miles away and the call was free!  If you are traveling overseas I would definitely recommend you and your family and friends downloading this app.

Next was our budget airline surprise at a big airport like Sydney.  We didn’t have a gate at the airport.  Everyone was bused (it took 3 buses because it was a big plane like Southwest) out to the tarmac where we walked up the steps to board the plane.  On arrival we were in for another surprise.

An hour and 15 minutes later we arrived in some place called Avalon.  It was a tiny little airport that only Jet Star uses.  We were not in Melbourne.  We were 40 miles away and had to take a shuttle for $22 each to get to the city.  Melbourne does have a regular airport but we never saw it.

Staying at another Holiday Inn we once again lucked out.  We arrived downtown around 10:00 a.m. and discovered they had a room ready for us.  Regular check-in is 2:00 p.m.  So we put our bags in our room so we could begin our tour of the city.

Before our trip started we found a site called “Viator”.  You can get hotels, airline, or tickets to attractions whatever you need all over the world at discount prices.  We had preordered the Hop On & Off Trolleys for both Melbourne and Sydney.

Our Melbourne Trolley was for 48 hours and included an airport transfer on the return.  Naturally we discovered we would not be able to use the transfer since we were at the alternate airport.

The Visitor Center where we needed to catch our trolley was a distance away but the hotel told us there was a tram one block around the corner that ran all over and the downtown area was a free zone.
So we were off on our adventure.  We were hungry but one of the stops was the Queen Victoria Market.  This is the largest open air market in the Southern hemisphere.  We decided to get off there for lunch and shopping.

The place was huge—at least two city blocks wide by a long city block deep.  There were also little cafes everywhere as well as a food court.  Being so close to the ocean naturally I ordered the fish and chips and it even came grilled which I prefer.  About an hour and a half later we hopped back on our sightseeing bus.

By 5:00 p.m. we were worn out and stopped at a convenience store and got a sandwich for dinner that we ate in our hotel room.

The next morning we once again took the free tram to the first trolley stop. There are two separate tours in Melbourne.  Yesterday we had done the city tour so today we were taking the St. Kilda tour.  This area is south of the city and is considered Melbourne’s seaside suburb.

I enjoyed this area and we hopped off to stroll through the little shops and have lunch at an outdoor café.  The day before had been very hot but a cool front had come through so it was quite pleasant.  It had also been so hot the day before that a great white shark had been spotted near shore so the beach had been closed to swimming.

Since we saw everything there was to see we took an earlier shuttle to the airport.  We were hoping to get on an earlier flight, but no luck.  They had plenty of seats available but wanted to charge us $300 extra.  So we sat in that dinky airport and read while we waited for our 8:45 p.m. flight.  This was definitely all part of the learning experience.

We did not get back to Sydney until after 10:00 p.m.  We found a cab to take us to Darling Harbour for our luggage and then on to our Holiday Inn in Old Sydney for the next two nights.  To say we got in late was an understatement!
We had another 24 hour Hop On & Off Trolley scheduled for around Sydney.  Since we got in so late we decided to sleep in.  By starting our first tour around noon we were able to use the trolley until noon the next day and then it would be time to board our ship.

We did two tours.  One was all around the city of Sydney and the other to the Bondi Beach area.  I liked Sydney; especially the old mixed with the new.

We also discovered the city had two cruise terminals.  Much to our surprise there was a Princess ship parked across the street from our hotel when we awoke and the hotel desk said our ship, the Sea Princess, would be docked there the next day.  That would save us a cab ride to the other terminal since we could just take our suitcases across the street and down the steps.

For dinner that night we walked down the street to the “oldest pub in Sydney.”  My brother decided on the Kangaroo steak and it was surprisingly good.  It tasted like filet mignon.

We got up early the next morning and took The Hop On and Off Trolley to the City Market, called Paddy’s Market, which had been closed since our return from Melbourne.  There were a couple of hundred stalls with all kinds of souvenirs.  My brother found a hat he liked and we got sweatshirts at $10 apiece.  I just hoped we could find room in our suitcases for our purchases.

Next up: Our cruise

***Note***  I am having a special book sale.  If you go to my website (www.kileenprather.com) you can preview the first few chapters of each book.  I am selling the books for $10.00 apiece and if you buy three or more, shipping is free.  For more information email me at:  kileenp@gmail.com.


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Hey, guess what? I have a new book out and it is available on Amazon! I write Travel Romance stories that are classified as “Boomer Lit.” They are romance stories for 50+ and the problems they encounter.  The stories also read like travelogues. “Journey Beckons”
takes place in the Pacific Northwest. “Journey To Port” takes place in Wisconsin and Michigan. And, my new one “Journey to The Tropics” takes place on cruises to both the Bahamas and the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico.

In my new book, the ship stops at Key West so I thought that would also make
a good travel article in case you are looking for a warm place to visit next winter.                         The Florida Keys are a coral cay archipelago in the southeast United States. They begin at the southeastern tip of the Florida peninsula, about 15 miles south of Miami, and extend in a
gentle arc south-southwest and then westward to Key West, the westernmost of
the inhabited islands.

The islands lie along the Florida Straits, dividing the Atlantic Ocean to the east from the Gulf of Mexico to the west.As I mentioned in my St. Augustine article, Henry Flagler, an industrialist, began building hotels in St. Augustine in the late 1800s. His goal was to turn that city into
an exclusive winter retreat.  However, the temperatures were not as warm in northern Florida as
they were in the southern part of the state. So he began building hotels further south, eventually all the way to Key West. However, there was just one problem; getting tourists to the island

Flagler had started a railroad which stretched from the Northeast states to St. Augustine to get his hotel guests to that city. Next he laid the railroad track that became the roadbed that put the Keys in easy reach. In that way, he could transport the wealthy Northerners to his hotel there. Eventually a two lane road was built, which stretched one hundred thirteen miles on US Highway 1, from the Florida mainland down to Key West. The road was a marvel in the making with forty two bridges connecting the different islands. Key Largo (made famous by the Humphrey Bogart film and in song) was the island next to the Florida mainland in the upper keys. The road ended at Key West, the southernmost city in the U.S.

At the nearest point, the southern tip of Key West is just 90 miles from Cuba.The population is only about 25,000 but naturally that figure is higher when the tourists are in
town.  The island has long been a haven for writers and artists such as Ernest Hemmingway, Tennessee Williams and Robert Frost.

Naturally so close to Cuba, the island has been a refuge for Cuban political exiles. The island has also served as a base against pirates as well as a large salvage business from the many shipwrecks in the area.

When my brother and I visited the island, the shuttle bus from the ship dropped us at Mallory Square where you can catch the conch tour train. The trolley is a ninety minute narrative about the island and it is a good overview of the area. We saw both the old and the new Key West including Hemingway’s house, the waterfront, and a stop at a sign that said we were at the southernmost point of the United States

The island’s look reminds you of a coastal New England town but with lush vegetation as found on many Caribbean islands. As we rode the shuttle bus for the 10 minute trip to the downtown, we could see palm trees, hibiscus, and bougainvillea. The architecture is predominately Bahamian and the ship captains’ used wooden pegs instead of nails to build their homes. Living in a salt environment, they did not have to worry about the rust and corrosion that comes
with using nails.

Today tourists flocked to the area for the beautiful sunsets and nightlife, as well as margaritas and key lime pie.  But don’t forget to tour the Hemmingway house if you have a
chance. The mansion was built in 1851 and Hemmingway bought it in 1931. The
lush tropical garden, planted by the author, is home to more than fifty cats
descended from the author’s felines. No worries about rats or mice getting into
that house. And you can see a penny embedded in the concrete at the head of the
pool.  Hemmingway supposedly did that when he found out what the pool would cost to install.  You can almost picture the author sitting in his house writing “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” as he watched his cats running around in the yard.”

In the evening you can take a ghost tour and hear all the legends of haunting and shipwrecks. And just before sunset, everyone flocks to Mallory Square to watch the various street performers. Musicians, jugglers, and contortionists vie for the attention and donations of the spectators gatheredto watch them.

That seems a great way to make a living.  Be sure and have a margarita in hand as you wait for the sunset.  There are also several museums you can visit or even go diving on some of the shipwrecks in the area.  Just remember, you are now on “island time.”

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            It’s getting close to winter time and that means one thing for many.  Thoughts of a winter vacation in the Caribbean.  Many people like to take cruises and if that is you, check out my article on cruising for some good tips.  Others like to fly to a destination and soak up the sun and sand at a beach resort.
           One of the more popular places to visit in the Western Caribbean, especially if you like to dive, is Cozumel, an island just off the Yucatan Peninsula closed to Cancun.
            Cozumel has a population right around 65,000.  It is surrounded by the beautiful turquoise colors of the Caribbean Sea.  It is not only the largest island in Mexico but probably its most beautiful.
            The island’s only town is named San Miguel de Cozumel and between December through April during the day you are surrounded by wall to wall tourists going into the shops and restaurants that line the waterfront.  There can be as many as eight cruise ships docked on a single day and there are not enough berths for them, so some have to use the tenders to get people ashore. 
            The island runs about 29 miles long and about nine miles wide and there is a 3,000 foot channel that separates it from the Mexican mainland.  Most of the interior is jungle filled with insects and a few unpreserved Mayan ruins.  But the island is really known for its beautiful beaches and a center for diving.  I have a friend who dives there and he said at 4:00 p.m. as soon as the last cruise ships pull out, all the store prices drop.
            Naturally the western side of the island has the best beaches since it is protected from the open Caribbean.  The eastern side is rockier and faces the open sea which creates a pounding surf and dangerous swimming conditions.   But those beaches also have a wild beauty to them.
            For the ancient Maya, Cozumel was an important ceremonial and trading center.  It was like Mecca and the Mexican natives all tried to make one visit there in their lifetime.  In the 1500’s, Spanish explorers used the island as a base to attack the mainland Indians.  By the end of the 1600’s most of the Indian population had been wiped out by the European diseases.  And then from the early 1600’s through the mid 1900’s, the island was a favorite hideout for pirates.
            Until World War II, no one even realized the island had potential until the U.S. Air Force was stationed there to scout for Nazi submarines in the Caribbean during World War II.   There was some development after the soldiers spread the word about its beauty but it took until an early 1960’s documentary by Jacques Cousteau before things really started happening.  The documentary showcased the spectacular coral reefs and caught the attention of scuba fanatics.  This tropical isle twelve miles off the Yucatan coast is now one of the top diving destinations in the world.
            As you head downtown from the cruise ship terminals, a short block in from the waterfront is the Plaza Principal, the central plaza.  A bright yellow clock tower rises behind the plaza and a red tiled roof gazebo sits in the center.  There are wooden benches where the local vendors sit and visit as well as a statue of the Mexican president and hero, Benito Juarez.  There are a couple of bars where you can sit and have a cerveza—either Dos Equis or Corona are good choices—and watch the world go by like the locals or shop in the stores that surround the plaza. 
             And, if you are docked at the cruise terminal and have to take a taxi to town, ask another couple to share the ride with you.  There is a set rate & four ride for the price of one.
             There are also ruins on Cozumel to visit that aren’t as spectacular as on the mainland but a local guide told me that a recent hurricane uncovered some wonderful ruins that are being carefully preserved by the Mexica government and will soon be opened to the public.  Watch  for the announcement in the next couple of years.  They claim they are even better than the ones now visited on the Yucatan mainland.
                FYI: I am working hard this winter to finish my next book.  It takes place on cruise ships in the Bahamas and Yucatan Peninsula.  Watch for the announcement when it is finished.  Meanwhile don’t forget to visit Amazon for soft cover or kindle versions of my other books.  They would make great Christmas presents.  And if you visit my webpage–www.kileenprather.com–& email me, I can send autographed copies to you for your friends or relatives.

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Can you name the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World?   Probably not. I am a history major and I can remember a couple of them but all but one have been destroyed mostly by earthquakes.
 The one you can probably remember still exists today and that is the Pyramids of Giza. I took a Mediterrean cruise that hit the high spots…Barcelona, Spain, Rome, Athens, Ephesus in Turkey, and 2 nights in Alexandria so we could go to Cairo. I have mentioned before that I love cruising because I unpack once but keep moving.
I know you could easily spend a week or more in each area I went to but when you haven’t been overseas a lot, to me, a smattering is better than nothing.  Being able to see the Pyramids of Giza up close along with the Sphinx is a totally awesome sight, especially considering they have been around since 2584–2561 BC.  The problem is visiting Egypt right now can be pretty dicey.
 The other wonders which are all gone now were the Hanging Gardens of Babylon (600BC), the Statue of Zeus at Olympia (435 BC), the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus (351BC), the Colossus of Rhodes (292-280BC), the Lighthouse of Alexandria (280BC), and the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus (550BC & 323 BC).
 If you are interested you can read up on these wonders.  Someday there will be more to see in Alexandria.  They have found Cleopatra’s temple underwater at Alexandria and are doing excavations there in the harbor.  In fact there was a Cleopatra exhibit that was touring museums in the US this last year to help raise money for the excavation and I went to the one in Milwaukee, WI.
Also on my cruise I went to Ephesus and I have to say I  really like Turkey.  I want to see more  of that country.  The people there were  friendly and very welcoming to the tourists.   My friend has been to Pompeii and she said the ruins there are  fabulous but she told me Ephesus was right up there.  I am sure the Temple of Artemis was a sight  to behold after seeing what I did.   And, did you know the Blessed Virgin Mary supposedly spent the last  years of her life in a place not too far from the ruins.  It is amazing to think in those ancient  times, people would get in a boat and cross the Sea or climb over mountains  to get someplace.
The ancient Greeks loved making  lists and it isn’t surprising that many of the wonders reflected Greek  culture.  Of all the lists made 6 of  the wonders were agreed upon.  There  was a debate on the 7th with some other places being recognized,  but it was the Lighthouse of Alexandria that made the final cut, as we know  it.
 While the pyramids were built centuries  before the rest and are still with us, most of the others only lasted a few  hundred years or even less with the Colossus of Rhodes being destroyed by an  earthquake after only about fifty years.
Of course, the Great Wall of China and  Stonehenge, to name a couple others, also existed but the ancient Greeks did  not travel to these places so had no inkling of their existence.

The reason I decided to write about this, is  I recently came across some research for my new book about the “new” list of  the 7 Wonders of the Modern World.   Some of my book takes place in the Yucatan Peninsula and the ruins at  Chichen Itza in Mexico is considered one of the Modern Wonders.
My next article will focus  on the Modern Wonders because you may want to think about visiting them.  Or perhaps you already have.  And a little background on the Ancient  Wonders never hurts.

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“Galveston, oh Galveston.  I can hear your sea winds blowing…” as the words of Glen Campbell’s song goes… “on the beach where we used to roam.”
And the beach has been tied totally to Galveston’s history.  You may not know this but Galveston is an island, actually a barrier island, about 45 miles southeast of Houston, TX. 
Galveston is part Southern, park Texas blooming with towering oleanders of every color and has more history and stories than cities 20 times its size. Part of the charm of Galveston is that it is so much a town in its own right, and it always has been. Even today, many residents refer to the city as “The Republic of Galveston Island” because it is so unlike the rest of Texas.
In 1528, the Spanish explorer Cabeza de Vaca was shipwrecked on the Island and lived among the Indians for several years as a medicine man and slave. In the late 1600’s, the French explorer Robert Cavelier La Salle claimed this area for King Louis.  However, the island was named for Bernardo de Gálvez, a Spanish colonial governor and general.  Gálvez sent Jose de Evia to chart the Gulf of Mexico from the Texas coast to New Orleans, and on July 23, 1786, de Evia named the waters Galveston Bay. Later, the island and city took the same name.  Bernardo de Gálvez died the same year, never setting foot on his namesake island.
How can you resist the charm of this 32 mile island (only 2 miles wide at its widest) whose first known European settler was a pirate? The cultured and debonair pirate Jean Lafitte established the colony of Campeche on Galveston Island in 1817, numbering about 1,000 people at its peak. Lafitte was eventually forced to leave by the US Navy who didn’t appreciate his pirateering.  As he was forced off the island, Lafitte burned his town behind him and literally sailed into history. No one knows what happened to him and if interested in learning more look into joining the Lafitte society. Many theories abound, including settling in Alton, IL and continuing his dynasty.  Personally I think a storm overtook him and sank his ship somewhere off the Yucutan Peninsula.
However, Galveston, as we know it, was officially founded by Michel Menard and Samuel May Williams, among others in the 1830’s. The homes of these early island pioneers are still standing and tours are offered.
Everything is bigger in Texas and in the nineteenth century, everything in Texas was done first in Galveston. Incorporated in 1839, Galveston quickly became the most active port west of New Orleans and the largest city in the state. This exciting and sophisticated city built the state’s first post office, first opera house, first hospital, first golf course, first country club…the list goes on and on.
But everything changed on September 8, 1900.  Back then hurricanes had no names but this one was so bad it was dubbed “The Great Storm.” Most estimates put the deaths at 6,000 and some say there were another 6,000 people who went missing.  Over 1/3rdof the city’s population was wiped out by that tragedy.  The problem was the next spring, 1901 the first gusher came in at Spindletop, not far from the island.  But since the city was so devastated from the hurricane, the money went to Houston, since people deemed that area safer in hurricanes.  Consequently, Galveston never again attained the glory it had before the hurricane.
Although devastated, the citizens were strong and rallied.  They built a 16 foot seawall.  It took 60 years to complete all 10.4 miles of it.  Then the remaining structures were jacked up and sand pumped in raising the island 6-8 feet.  But it was definitely worth the effort.  In 1915 another hurricane with the same intensity as the Great Storm hit.  90% of the structures outside the seawall were destroyed but only 8 people died (and another 300 not behind the seawall).
In the 1920’s, Galveston found a new source of income.  There had always been prostitution and gambling due to all the sailors stationed there, but with Prohibition, bootlegging was added to the list. Eventually 2 brothers, the Maceo’s, took controlIn the swinging 40’s & 50’s, the Balinese Room was legendary along the Gulf Coast.  Some of the famous performers were Tony Bennett, Peggy Lee, Sophie Tucker, the Marx Brothers, Guy Lombardo, Harry James, Mel Torme and so many others. Frank Sinatra sang there in 1950 (he was in decline at the time & didn’t get back on top until his role in From here To Eternity got him an Oscar nod) and he asked for his meals to be included as part of his pay.
The Texas Rangers tried to raid the place several times, but a call was always placed to Maceo and by the time they walked the long pier, the gaming tables had been converted to backgammon and the slot machines folded into the walls. The chips were stashed in the kitchen and one suitcase full was inadvertently roasted in the oven once. One time the sheriff was asked why he didn’t close the place down.  He replied, “Shucks, I am not a member so I can’t get in.” In the late 1950’s, after the brothers died, someone in a boat under the pier saw the machines folded into the walls and after reporting this to the law, the Texas Rangers were able to close gambling down then.   
There are two historic hotels in Galveston.  The Tremont House is down on the Strand.  The owner, George Mitchell, brought Mardi Gras to the island in the 1980’s and it continues as a big 10 day celebration to this day.  The other hotel is the Hotel Galvez across from the seawall.    Phil Harris married Alice Faye in 1940 and spent his honeymoon in the penthouse.  And, Dan Rather gained national fame sitting in the Galvez reporting as Hurricane Carla came to Galveston in 1960.  From this recognition he got a news job reporting in the Kennedy White House and the rest they say is history. 
The Galvez was known as the “Queen of the Gulf” on the day she opened in 1911. For nearly a century, this charming hotel built in a Spanish Mission style, has been the choice for guests as  diverse as Franklin Roosevelt and Howard Hughes, as well as the famous stars mentioned above.  Palm trees line a stretch of grass in front of the property’s double doors.  Mahogany beams cross the ceiling of the expansive lobby and down a long hallway known as the Loggia, the veranda (where Dan Rather reported from), overlooks the formal gardens and the hotel’s outdoor tropical pool.  And, of course, the famed Balinese Room used to be right across the street.
Currently more than 2,000 buildings in town are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  The Strand, once known as the Wall Street of the Southwest, has dozens of Victorian Office Buildings with antique stores, art galleries and gift shops.  It’s a fun place to roam around and the cruise ship terminal is only a block away.  Several ships now call Galveston home which has definitely stimulated the economy.
There are so many things to do on the island.  There are several Victorian homes and churches you can tour.  Climb aboard the tall sailing ship The Elissa, check out the Railroad Museum,or take in the movie, The Great Storm, at the Seaport Museum.  The downtown area (which many people don’t realize is there because they only go to the beaches and seawall area) is known as the Strand.  It was once called “the Wall Street of the South” and has many wonderful Victorian buildings that have been converted into shops and restaurants and is a fun place to explore.  This area is the heart of Mardi Gras in the spring as well as the Christmas festival, “Dickens on the Strand.”
Naturally the biggest attraction is the sandy beaches but besides that you can gorge yourself on freshly caught seafood, especially shrimp, at a number of restaurants all over the island.
Tragedy struck once again September 13, 2008, as Hurricane Ike made landfall on the east end of Galveston Island, leaving behind the damage of 100 mph winds and a storm surge estimated between 17 and 20 feet. Today the Island continues its journey of recovery and rediscovery since the hurricane. 
I am not sure what it is about this island but it constantly calls to me.  I try and visit at least once a year.  I used to live there awhile back and maybe I will be able to again sometime. Hopefully the sea breeze will call you to this wonderful romantic Victorian Island.

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 Well it’s the Caribbean cruise season and one of my favorite places (although it is not located in the Caribbean but rather the Atlantic Ocean) is—Nassau
          You can stop on a cruise ship for a few hours or you can fly there and stay as long as you want.  It is just a short 45 minute hop on an airplane from Miami.  Although the English spoken is with a British accent and they drive on the left hand side of the street, American dollars are taken everywhere, which gives the feeling of being home.
           There are over seven hundred islands (but only twenty islands have measurable population) and two thousand cays that make up the Bahamas, with a population around three hundred thousand.  However two hundred thousand people live on New Providence Island, of which Nassau is the capital and largest city.
                Nassau has had its up and downs over its history (Christopher Columbus landed there in 1492), but the island began to really prosper during prohibition.  Resorts were built and the first casino opened in 1929.  Pan Am airlines brought people over to drink and gamble.  Along with gambling, banking facilities also began to flourish which helped the economic development of the island.  In addition, Bahamians are prohibited from gambling by law which resulted in a lack of crime usually associated with gaming cities.
                Downtown Nassau is a very colorful place.  The buildings are painted yellow, pink, coral, teal and other rainbow colors.   Shopping, including a fun straw market, is a major downtown activity.  You can walk everywhere or hop on a jitney bus for $1.25 (exact change) to go out to Cable Beach. 
                I never get tired of looking at the turquoise colored waters next to the white sandy beaches as the jitneys drive along the waterfront.  There are large hotels, a casino, and golf courses along the way to Cable Beach.  Colorful flowers, like bougainvillea, oleander bushes and hibiscus are everywhere.  Or maybe you want to take a water taxi from downtown to Paradise Island.  That is, if you have decided not to stay on Paradise Island.
                  Atlantis on Paradise Island is an incredible resort.  Whether you come by cruise ship or fly in and drive to Paradise Island, the first thing you see is a huge coral structure known as the Atlantis Resort.  In the early nineties before the major construction, there were four or five hotels anywhere from three to ten stories tall sitting on the white sand beaches.  The area was bustling, but in a more quiet and peaceful way.  Now Atlantis has become a mega resort with almost a circus atmosphere.  You can’t even walk the beaches without either staying there or being on a ship shore excursion where you pay a fee to get in.  You are allowed to walk into the hotel without paying.
                At first glimpse, you see big buildings connected by what looks like a room at the top between them.  This is called the Royal Towers and there are five towers.  The “bridge suite” (about five thousand square feet) spans between the towers and costs about fifteen thousand a night.  Rumor has it Michael Jackson spent a month there once.
                In the winter “the rich and famous” come to Paradise Island on their mega yachts.  Some live on their boats and others rent rooms in the hotels or townhouses and gamble and play.  That is why the resort contains an aquarium tube (where you see fish in their natural habitat), a water park, rock climbing wall, speedway, free theater with the latest movies, tennis courts, library, several nightclubs, live concerts, a comedy club, and several restaurants.  The owners strive to keep the rich and famous entertained.  And, of course, just enjoying the beach during the day is always an option.
                Off season is October to Thanksgiving where some deals abound if you are not part of “the rich and famous”. 
                  Welcome to paradise…….

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—I have to say this is my favorite type of vacation. Since I am in hotels over one hundred nights a year, when I go on vacation, I like to unpack once but keep moving. And that is exactly what a cruise ship does. My brothers and I try to take at least one cruise a year (although lately I have done some for my job, too). Living in Texas in the winter we have been able to go on cruises pretty reasonably since we don’t have to fly and can book last minute. There are some great deals to be had if you book in the last 45-60 days. And we have learned a lot along the way. To me, an inside cabin is the least desirable. Some people say you don’t spend that much time in your room, which is true. But I hate the closed in feeling in an inside cabin. A balcony, of course, is great but for the price, a room with a window is fine. You get a good view and don’t have that closed in feeling. I have never done a port hole but I suppose it would be better than an inside cabin. I have done a lot of research on the internet and there are many good sites but my two “musts” are booking last minute on “Vacations To Go” for great deals and don’t forget to check “Cruise Critic.com.” There is invaluable information on that site about ports you will be visiting, as well as cheaper but safe things you can do to avoid those expensive shore excursions. One thing we have learned, especially on Caribbean cruises, is to skip city tours and go by taxi. If you use the taxis at the terminal they have to have a special license to be able to come into the terminal area and therefore are very safe. They may negotiate a fare but when you get in the terminal, go to the information booth and ask what a “city tour” will run. If you have read your ship bulletin and checked cruise critic you should know the sites you want to see. Then go talk to the driver. Never get in the taxi until you have negotiated your fare. And, the taxis have the same rate for 1-4 people. So….we find a couple on ship who wants to share a taxi with us. That way we split the cost and & there is always safety in numbers. On our last cruise we stopped at five ports. Every city tour ran $60-65 on the ship. In a taxi it was $40 which ended up costing us $10 each plus a small tip. At the end of the cruise we had spent $65 each on all five city tours total. One time in South America, we went to see the penguins in a national park in the region. The ship wanted $130 each. We went with another couple and we paid $25 each plus a $5 tip each for a total of $30! But, I can’t stress enough how important it is to do your homework. You don’t want your vacation ruined because you didn’t do your homework Next up: An indescribable Western Lake

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