Travel Destination: Clearwater Florida USA

If you are looking for a cheap beach vacation in the US, don’t forget about Clearwater beach in Florida. I read an article in a tourist magazine that said that Clearwater Beach was named one of the best beaches in the US. I have to agree. I have been to a lot of different beaches and everything in the experience receives a rating. I look at the beach access, cleanliness of the beach, beach traffic/parking, beach hotel costs, and the quality of area restaurants. On a trip to visit some friends that live near Tampa, I took my Nana for a short vacation last December to Clearwater.

There are hotels within the $70 – 100 range that are not beachfront hotels but the beach is walking distance. To save some money, we picked an ocean view hotel. The hotel did not have beach access, but we could sit on their patio which overlooked the ocean. We were a less than 5 minute walk from the beach. So I was able to head out to the beach and put my feet in the water. Another plus was that the hotel parking was free. So many times, parking is $20 – 30 range at the nice hotels. And there are plenty of affordable restaurants in the area that are walking distance from the hotels that are along the beach.

The beach itself, the main attraction, was so pretty. I went out several times just to lay on the beach with my eyes closed listening to the waves. I went at dusk to watch the sun set. The sense of tranquility that I felt was from the best type of stress reliever.

Clearwater beach is accessible by the St. Petersburg/Clearwater small regional airport (abbreviation PIE) or Tampa international airport. We used a low cost air carrier Allegiant Air that flew from Greenville, SC into PIE. Using a flight special, the ticket price was $150. I do not know if you have the option of using a carrier like Allegiant Air, but if possible fly into PIE because smaller airports mean less hassle getting in and out. Just to give you an idea of how small the airport was- walking outside to the rental car parking lot was like walking outside of Wal-Mart to your car. There are no parking garages here.

Overall, the beach, surrounding area, hotel accommodations, and total trip cost made this an enjoyable, relaxing beach vacation.


Travel destinations: New York City

Whenever people tell me that they have not been to New York City, I begin to tell them why they HAVE to visit at least one time in their life. Manhattan is 100 cities vacuum packed into an island. Over the years, I have visited many of the places that I recommend for people.

Here my top ten recommended places to go in New York City

Grand Central Terminal needs no explanation. Just go. Stand in the middle of the floor and absorb the energy. People will walk around you as they rush to their trains or out the door.

Rockefeller center is another gathering place for people. In the wintertime, you can see people ice skating in front of the building.
Times Square – Day or night, Times Square is alive and ready to party. As you can imagine, the craziest time to go is New Year’s Eve since the ball is dropping to bring in the New Year. If you want to people watch, just find a spot and check out the thousands of people going by. Take a picture with one of the many costumed characters (see picture of me with Chewbacca), but do not forget to give them a tip. They are not standing out there for their health.
Central Park is a patch of grass and trees in a concrete jungle. In the summertime, you can check out a play in the park.
Empire State Building – 350th 5th Ave (near 33rd Str) Admission $17.61 (during my last visit). Go on a clear day and you can see for miles. It is breathtakingly, ultra-cool.

Ground Zero – 352 7th Ave. There is a museum located that gives a 2 hour tour. Last time I went, the recommend admission is $25. While most of the NYC trip might be fun and games, visiting Ground Zero allows for somber reflection on the senseless lives lost because of terrorism.
Little Italy – It is fun to walk through and visit one of the many Italian restaurants. The food is delicious.
Chinatown – Go to Canal Str and see how good your bargaining skills really are. Never EVER pay the first quoted price for anything off of the street. Even if you think it is a good deal, you can probably get it cheaper. Once you are finished shopping on the main strip, go down the side streets to check out the Chinese herbal stores. I have found the best prices for jasmine tea in one of these little shops. The only caveat is not to wander too far by yourself or too late at night. You do not want to be a target for backstreet crime.
American Museum of Natural History & Metropolitan Museum of Art – I love museums and these are two of my favorites. I can spend the whole day in each. There are many other museums, but if you only have for two, these are the ones to go to.

Broadway or off Broadway for a show. Ask the concierge at your hotel (or google) about the best way to get affordable priced show tickets.

Optional jaunt: Style is the name of the game in the Fashion District off of 34th Street. For any fashionista, this is the place to go to check out what trendy goodies are available. Clothes, shoes, scarves, jewelry. You name it, they have it. When you get your treasures home, you will get so many compliments.

Travel tip: The subway is the most efficient way to travel. Don’t let it intimidate you. Get a map of the subway lines (now available as an app for the iPhone) and you will be good to go. Taking taxis with NY traffic is like giving away money to me. I will say that the subway is not always the cleanest place, but it is not like I go there to eat.

Keep your wallet safe and have fun!

Travel destinations: Las Vegas

Whether you are a single person who wants to party or a parent who wants to enjoy time with your family, Las Vegas has something for everyone.

If you do not care about staying off the Strip, the Orlean is a location and they have family activities like a cinema on site.

If you want to stay on the strip, here are some suggestions:

Caesar’s Palace, Venetian, Bellagio – All their rooms look like luxury. If you are trying to go to Vegas on the cheap, you probably will not be able to afford to stay here. They have deals sometimes, but these hotels are usually going to be the higher priced options.

MGM (My favorite) – All of their rooms clean, neat, look like new. You can find rooms at affordable rates without worrying that the quality will be similar to a Super 8 or Motel 6. I have stayed here for as low are $59/night (it was a Wednesday night in the middle of winter but I am still talking about it).

At the Stratosphere, Excalibur, Luxor, Paris, Tropicana and Circus Circus, it is best to stay away from the cheapest rooms they have to offer. Most of the time, the cheaper rooms have not been renovated as the premium rooms. Those rooms could be on par to rooms you might find at a Super 8 or Motel 6. I pay the extra few dollars for the upgrade instead of taking a chance on the quality of the room. And
Stratosphere is on the shetchy end of the strip.

When deciding on a hotel, check what coupon books you receive with your room. Most likely you will receive discount coupons for hotel stores and restaurants. For example, Stratosphere offered a coupon for a free pass to the observation deck which was a $13 savings. Once up there, I had to get on the roller coaster and some kind of spinning fair like ride. Might as well since I am not afraid of heights. Nothing to it but to do it !

Wherever you stay, Saturday night is probably going to have the most expensive room rate. I have paid $200/night and $89/night in the same visit! Many shows have “dark” days when they are not performing, so keep that in mind when planning what days you are going to be in the city. There is a lot to do in Vegas. You can go shopping, pamper yourself in the spa, try out different celebrity chefs’ restaurants, visit museums, or see one of the many shows. Any time of day or night, there is fun to be found.

I advise renting a car or else you will stuck on the strip. Being stuck on the strip is fine if all you want to do is throw your money away at the slot machine and blackjack tables. But I don’t have that kind of money. Once you have rented your car, like I did, you have to ride to the Hoover Dam. It is only about an hour away and worth every minute (even if you have to endure all the “dam” jokes). It is also worth the drive to go to the Grand Canyon too. Be prepared to spend close to $50 for entrance to the Hualapai Indian Reservation Grand Canyon West to see the Grand Canyon. The tourist trap of a skywalk is located here and you can walk on it for an additional $29.95. The Grand Canyon may be breathtaking, but I was still grumbling about the entry fee. It seemed to be excessive to me.

Since I love desserts, I have to go by Freed’s Bakery every time I am in Vegas and get some of their wedding cake (white cake with strawberries and Bavarian cream between the layers and buttercream on top). Delicious!! That is the only place I have found from Food Network’s Rachel Ray’s $40 a day (remember that show?) that I actually like.

Overall, Vegas is a fun town and there is something for every budget. It is not all about playing in the casino. There is no doubt that Vegas is an extremely commercialized that is designed to get you to spend your money, but there are ways to spend as much or as little as you want. Whether on or off the Strip, you can have a great time. And remember “What happens in Vegas, STAYS in Vegas”

Jack Daniels Distillery

Jack Daniels Distillery
Lynchburg, TN

On a recent trip to Nashville, TN, the hubby and I decided to drive a little more than 1 hour over to Lynchburg to take the Jack Daniels Distillery tour. Regular tours are free from 9-4:30. They also have a tasting tour which cost a little extra. There is only a certain number of people that that take that tour and it gets full quickly. We were there at 12 and the 2:30 tasting tour (last for the day) was already full.

Since I am not a whiskey fan anyway, it I did not bother me. We signed up to take the regular tour. It was interesting to see the process of creating Jack Daniels. Starting with a few quality ingredients and a unique process that is more than a century old, a delectable liquor is created that is full of flavor.

While on the tour I could not take pictures inside the facility of the cooking and brewing process. So I suggest the next time you are close to Lynchburg you should stop and take the tour. But beware! If the smell of liquor will make you drunk, be prepared to get tipsy.

South of the Border

If you have travelled Interstate 95 North from Florida through Georgia and South Carolina, you have probably seen the signs telling you about South of the Border. South of the Border is a tourist trap at the SC/NC line. After years and years of seeing the signs urging me to visit, I felt like I had to go just to see what it was all about. Yes, I knew it was a tourist trap but my curiosity got the best of me. Once we took the exit to South of the Border, I saw a hotel, reptile lagoon, gift shop, and a small amusement park. I did not go to the reptile lagoon because I did not have a desire to see a bunch of snakes. The hotel, with its faded paint, looked like a downgrade from Motel 6 from the outside. Not commenting on the number of stars of the hotel per se becasue I don’t know what the rooms look like. Just saying, it did not look like much from the outside. The amusement park was not open but the rides looked like fair rides for children. I do not have children, so I did not check that out either.

The place is as kitschy as you can get. I thought that they go overboard with the stereotypical depiction of Mexican people. Brightly colored ponchos and other souvenir items were for sale in the gift shop.
Back in its hay day, I am sure that South of the Border was probably a happening, lively excursion for the enjoyment of the entire family. Now days, they probably need to figure how to revamp the place, slap on a new coat of paint, and come up with some activities to attract more people. Water park anyone?

Overall, since I do not have children, there is probably not anything that would inspire me to go back.