CAPTURING THE ADVENTURES OF OUR LIVES....Mary Anne Benedetto's travel experiences and beneficial information about interesting places. Her posts will entertain and enlighten the armchair traveler, as well as the seasoned visitor, to various national and world locations.
Do you prefer to spend your
cruise time cuddling on cruise ship deck chairs with your sweetie, or do you
like to travel with groups of friends?
Costa Maya, Mexico
Fred and I have enjoyed three
cruises during our almost thirty-six years of marriage. The first was our
honeymoon cruise from New York City to Bermuda, and the second was a Western
Caribbean cruise from Miami to Cozumel, Mexico, Grand Cayman and Ocho Rios,
Jamaica. Last fall, we received an email from a golfing friend who had booked a
seven day Exotic Western Caribbean cruise that would sail in early February,
2016 from Port Canaveral, FL. He wanted to organize a group to sail on this
Although we had been to
Cozumel, this voyage offered the opportunity to visit some additional ports
that were not covered in our prior cruise--Belize, Isla Roatan (Honduras) and
Costa Maya, Mexico. So we asked around and found several friends who were
interested in joining us on this winter vacation.
Our two previous cruises were
strictly “us time,” so we thought it would be fun to enjoy a journey with
people we already know and like. This traveling group was comprised of five
couples, including three individuals who were first-time cruisers.
I imparted all of my cruising
knowledge to guide the newbies through the process, which truly does involve
many details that require attention. Knowledge is power, and I wanted to be
certain that they were well-informed. Cruises are not one-size-fits-all. It is
helpful to decide whether you want a casual or a more formal cruising
experience before you book. A little bit of research goes a long way to
educating everyone about the ships, accommodations, styles, ports, prices and options.
If you are planning a cruise
that includes friends and/or family or a combo of the two, here are some
valuable tips for you:
1-Some folks like to dine
early, some prefer to dine late. Discuss the dining room seating time in advance and be sure everyone is
in agreement. Some cruises also have a flexible time dining option, so it is
helpful to iron this out for everyone to be on the same page if they want the
group to dine together. Adjustments can be made to a reasonable extent, but it
is far better to settle this issue in advance.
2-Establish that breakfast is “on your own”
unless there is some reason why it is essential for everyone to meet for
breakfast. This gives each person ample flexibility in the time they wake up
and make themselves presentable for the other passengers to see. Some folks
love to see the sunrise from their balconies and then embrace an early morning work
out in the fitness center. Others enjoy sleeping in while they are on vacation
and are in no rush to hit the deck running. In terms of trying to corral
everyone to breakfast at the same time, frequently it is not that easy to
secure a table in the breakfast buffet area that will accommodate a cast of
thousands or even dozens. Keep it simple first thing in the morning. Let
everyone relax and do their own thing.
Mayan Ruins in Belize
3-Be certain that each individual
in your group carefully reviews the
excursion options and chooses what THEY want to do. Some excursions
require physical agility, and not everyone in your group may be able to keep up
or navigate difficult terrain or steep stairs. Booking an excursion for each
port is not a requirement, and not everyone is comfortable in a tender (small
boat) that may be bouncing along on rough waters to take passengers from ship
to shore and back in some ports. Read the reviews which have been written by others who
have taken those same excursions. You will receive a great deal of insight from
these testimonials. Not everyone has the same experiences, so you will read the
good, the bad and the ugly and then make your own decision. Excursions are not
usually cheap, so choose the ones that appear to give passengers the best
encounter for the relatively short time you are in port. Just remember that if
everyone makes their own choices, they cannot blame you if they are not charmed
by the experience.
4-Encourage everyone to
invest in non-drowsy Dramamine and
motion sickness wrist bands. Seas can swell during any season when a
storm pops up. It is far better to be prepared for the worst and not have to
use these items than to need them and either not be able to buy them or have to
spend a fortune to acquire them.
Port at Isla Roatan (Honduras)
5-Please remember that when
traveling with folks who have never cruised before, there is always the
potential to have someone in your group who becomes cruise-phobic once you are already out to sea and they get
antsy because they are locked into following the program for the next seven or
more days. Occasionally, there is a cruiser who feels confined or trapped by
not being able to simply say after a couple of days, “I don’t want to do this any
more.” It really is not their fault. They have never been in this situation
before and could not predict that they would feel this way. Try to encourage
them by keeping them busy with activities and the multitude of fun things to do
that are available to them on the cruise.
Warning! One last tip that
comes to us from Cruise Expert, Kate Jensen: For any travel outside the U.S.
borders, be sure that everyone in your party has a valid passport that does not
expire within six months from your trip departure date. That sounds like a no-brainer, but Fred
and I actually have a friend who was on his way to the Newark Airport for a
fabulous golf trip in Scotland with his buddies and discovered that his
passport had just expired. He had some serious scrambling to do to get to
Connecticut to obtain an expedited passport renewal and re-book a flight to
catch up with his friends. He missed most of the golf outings and spent a
fortune securing a last minute flight.
Back to the benefits of
cruising, Fred and I believe that cruises are a fabulous way to experience a
variety of destinations for short periods of time, gaining insight on whether
or not we would have the desire to return for a longer stay. A cruise offers
the opportunity to do as much or as little as you wish. You can stay busy from
morning until late at night, or you can kick back and do nothing. The sunrises and sunsets from your balcony can be amazing and unforgettable. One thing is
for certain--you will never go hungry on a cruise, and each port is a new
If you have any questions about cruises, contact Kate Jensen who is
an expert resource:Kate
Jensen, ECC CruiseOne-Myrtle Beach (843) 655-5158 cell phone
See you soon for a visit to another fabulous location...
With only a twenty-four hour window for New York City sightseeing, a recent brief stopover in this vibrant,
bustling city brought a whirlwind collection of experiences.
View from our New York Athletic Club room
Knowing that we three couples
had a limited period in which to cram our variety of activities, we
checked into our room at the New York Athletic Club on Central Park South
(which was arranged by a good friend who happens to be a member). After
depositing our belongings in our rooms, we met in the lobby to begin our
We had conferred and agreed
in advance that we would utilize our day to visit 1) the 9/11 Memorial and
Museum, 2) One World Observatory, 3) meet our NYAC friends for dinner, 4) see
Jersey Boys on Broadway. With our plan in place, we had already procured all
tickets and reservations online.
Let’s talk for a moment about
transportation within NYC. As a veteran of countless trips to this wonderful
city, I can tell you that using public transportation from trains to taxis to
the subway system is far easier than trying to drive your own vehicle up and
down, back and forth among these one-way streets--or even the two-way streets.
Just driving into the city and attempting to navigate to the NYAC was
challenging because in multiple instances, our GPS directed us to turn onto
streets that were barricaded for a parade to be held the following day. Add
that to the fact doing battle with the yellow cabs, which seem to own the
roads, is tricky at best. We could hardly wait to hand the car keys over to the
valet and say, “Bye bye” to our vehicles.
Yet, I must be honest and
tell you that it is helpful to be educated in advance about use of the subway
system. Just a few tips are: 1) Acquire a Manhattan map. This valuable tool
will give you some sense of the geography and street layout. Familiarize
yourself with the streets surrounding your destination, and know the address.
Standing on a crowded street corner and attempting to figure out a direction
can be frustrating as pedestrians rush past you in their haste and annoyance at
attempting to proceed.
2) Acquire a subway line map
so you know exactly which line you are looking for and where to find the
3) When you enter the subway,
go to the ticket booth and don’t hesitate to ask questions. The (hopefully) friendly
people selling the subway tickets are the keepers of tremendously beneficial
4) Once you have your
Metrocard ticket in hand, go to the turnstile, slide it with the black strip to
the left so the ticket will be read. Quickly enter the turnstile. I
repeat…quickly. I believe that these devices were designed for a fast-moving
public, because I made the mistake of hesitating for a moment and encountered a
turnstile that would not move. My entire party was already on the other side
waiting as I pushed and tugged at the stubborn arm of the turnstile, re-swiped my
ticket and gained no ground. I had to go back to a machine, purchase yet
another ticket and try again. Lesson learned. Swipe the ticket on the correct
side, move quickly.
5) As with public
transportation in any city in the world, carefully secure and guard your
belongings. It is better to be paranoid and cautious than deal with a missing
6) Pay attention to the
stops. You really do not want to discover that you have missed your stop, especially
if you are on a tight schedule.
So the first leg of our
adventure was a subway ride from Midtown Manhattan to the site of the 9/11
Memorial and Museum http://www.911memorial.org/. The memorial is free to visit
and, understandably, evokes a generally solemn, reverent atmosphere. Everyone
beyond toddler age remembers where they were and what they were doing when this
horrifying event in American history occurred. The names of all who died in the
terrorist attacks of 2/26/93 and 9/11/01 are inscribed in bronze around the
memorial pools. To locate a name, access the name finder at the above
referenced link or visit a kiosk at the memorial site.
The 9/11 museum is also a sobering reminder, but is a wonderful tribute
to those lives lost in the senseless acts of terrorism at this location.
Tickets purchased in advance online enable the visitor to choose the date and
time of their entrance. Being armed with that advantage during our
time-crunched tour was incredibly useful.
Onward to the newly constructed One World Observatory https://oneworldobservatory.com/,
we were once again holders of date and time reserved tickets. In less than sixty seconds, visitors are
transported to the top of the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. These
views of New York City are amazing, and we all agreed that we are delighted
that we included this in our itinerary.
Just a couple of hints: 1) Do not get too crazy taking photos on the
first level after your departure from the elevator. The second level actually
affords far better photo opportunities. Just saying… 2) If you have planned an
ambitious schedule, it behooves you to keep an eye on the line that forms at
the elevator to return you to the ground level. You will want to watch your
time and become a part of the queue accordingly. For the most fabulous New York
City views, the One World Observatory is a must.
The next item on our agenda was returning to New York Athletic Club to
freshen up before our dinner date with dear NYC friends. Having spent a great
deal of time in the city over the years, I knew exactly what to wear--my little
black dress and black heels.
We enjoyed a lovely dinner at BECCO http://becco-nyc.com/, where
I devoured a scrumptious veal piccata special. This restaurant is conveniently
located in the theatre district, and reservations can be made up to thirty days
in advance. It was a perfect choice for us, and the servers are most conscious
that many of their patrons are comprised of the theatre crowd.
As we dined, the rain began to pour from the skies. My husband excused
himself from the table and dashed up the street to a vendor to purchase
multiple umbrellas for our party, and then we marched the few short blocks to
see our show. The umbrellas were a bonus, but when it rains heavily in NYC, one
can be sure that massive pools of water will collect by the curbs at
intersections. Unless you have kangaroo-like abilities to leap over the flooded
puddles, your shoes and feet will become saturated. So much for the little
Although I had already seen Jersey Boys during a Chicago trip a few
years ago, as well as the more recent movie version, I still found the show to
be a great entertainment experience. Regardless of where or how many times you
may have seen a particular show, viewing it on Broadway is always more
memorable. There is a special ambience in New York City’s theatre district that
cannot be duplicated.
Following the show, we walked back to the NYAC because…well, try to
hail a cab on a drizzly Saturday night in New York City, and see how successful
you are. You might as well be looking for a taxi in the middle of the Sahara
Desert, and we needed two of them to accommodate a party of six. Besides, a brisk walk is always good for the
heart and for absorbing the NYC atmosphere.
After a peaceful night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast, we once again
faced the challenge of trying to navigate the city with a GPS that does not
recognize parade barricades. Eventually, we succeeded and headed south toward
our eagerly anticipated South Carolina beds.
As the traffic abruptly ground to a halt in the typical stop-and-go
fashion perpetually present in the Quantico/Manassas region of I-95, we
wondered if sleeping in our own home that evening was an unrealistic fantasy.
Finally, the painful auto crawl gave way to smooth sailing and we were, by the
grace of God, safely home.
Visiting New York City is one of my all time favorite things to do. The
sights, sounds and smells soak into my pores and always lure me back again.
Just remember that for an optimal visit, particularly a brief one, you cannot
do too much research and advance prep work. NYC is not a destination where you
want to wing it and flounder. Having confidence in your schedule and directions
will be the perfect setup for an enjoyable travel experience.
See you soon for another travel adventure!
Hugs from Mary Anne Benedetto
of Eyelash, Never Say Perfect, 7 Easy
Steps to Memoir Writing, From Italy with Love & Limoncello, Write Your Pet’s
Life Story in 7 Easy Steps!
I did not give it a second thought. In fact, I was beyond excited about it!
a September, 2014 conference setting in lovely Santa Barbara, California at the Four
Seasons Biltmore Resort, I was presented with a variety of options for an
afternoon activity. The choices were golf (something I frequently do where I
live in South Carolina), kayaking in the ocean (tempting, but I felt that my
kayaking debut should be in calmer waters), a facial or massage at the spa (I could
do that any place, any time), whale watching (except we were told that it was not
whale season), or hiking. Ah, hiking! When I lived in New York, I loved hiking
in the Adirondacks and even formed my own hiking group. I recall being at the
top of Buck Mountain and looking down on small aircraft. Hiking it would be!
there were fourteen people signed up, but due to the unusually soaring
temperatures for this area, seven cancelled. So, off we went with two affable guides,
four younger hikers and three…shall we say… senior citizen hikers, of which I
pumped as we began the trek, Brian led the pack while his co-worker, Jake,
stayed at the rear with us old codgers. The younger folks practically ran up
the sun-drenched trail, but I sensed that it was in my best interest to pace
myself. After about fifteen minutes of climbing straight up, my heart was
pounding like a big bass drum, and I was utterly out of breath. How could that
happen? Then I remembered--my last hiking event occurred over ten years ago. I
quickly discovered that I needed frequent rests and could not dash up the
mountain. Stopping occasionally to survey the spectacular view and gulp some chilled
bottled water served as a valid excuse to catch my breath.
climbing the trail for what seemed like an eternity, I finally asked Jake, “Okay.
How much longer will it take us to reach the top, and will it be this steep all
the way?” Obviously, the last question was silly. Of course, it would be
steeper as we reached the top.
humored me and replied, “About another half hour straight up.”
I said. “Remember that shaded area we just passed a minute ago? Well, that’s
where you’ll find me when you come back down. This body isn’t going any further
radioed Brian to advise him that I was stopping in my tracks, and the two other
senior citizens in our group breathed audible
sighs of relief, thrilled to be joining me. I think they were just
waiting for someone else to cry “uncle.” No one wanted to be the first to stop,
but I did not want to have to be airlifted off the mountain.
others joined us in about fifteen or twenty minutes, having made it to the top,
taken photos and returned to our little social circle in the shade. Brian asked
us if we wanted to descend the mountain the same way we came up, or did we want
to try the “fun” way down?
this adventurous group opted for the “fun” way, which contained no trail at
all, but was comprised of huge boulders that we had to navigate in order to
progress down the mountain. To say it was challenging would be a gross
understatement. I survived it and did not break an ankle or leg, even when I had
to sit on gigantic rock formations and slide down to the next level.
was gratifying to be able to declare that I did it. I had hiked the major
portion of the mountain and had the privilege of viewing the picture-perfect scenery
that would have been impossible to see from ground level. On the way down, I
traversed the rugged terrain with the best of them and finished unscathed. A huge thank you to Brian and Jake for their expertise and patience!
the end of the day, I felt great for putting my body to the test,
stretchingmy limits, participating in
the “fun” way down. The destination was called Inspiration Point, and I
actually left there inspired to depart from my comfort zone more often. Now,
where do I sign up for that massage?
All the best,
Mary Anne Benedetto
Author of Eyelash, 7 Easy
Steps to Memoir Writing: Build a Priceless Legacy One Story at a Time!, Never
Say Perfect and From Italy with Love & Limoncello.