Tag Archives: travel

Sunscreen Required – Melting Optional

It’s not exactly a well-kept secret that summer in Florida is HOT and insanely HUMID. While similar weather might draw people away from Houston, our gorgeous beaches, breathtaking views and ample sunshine continue to lure people in no matter what the temperature. But if you’re no good with heat like I am, you’ll need the perfect way to stay entertained and cool while still getting a tan and feeling tropical. A tall order almost anywhere else, here’s a list of the best ways to enjoy a Florida summer without melting – or parking yourself in front of the A/C:

  • Jetpacking

A truly awesome experience, this combines the fun of the water and sun while FLYING. Yep, you saw that right. Jetpacking involves strapping on an apparatus made of a pod and two hoses to your back, from which water projects out allowing you to quite literally fly over the water. The jetpacks enable you to fly 30 feet in the air, dive 30 feet under water and reach a top speed of 30 mph. It’s essentially the Jetsons meets the Gulf.

  • Flyboarding

Similar to jetpacking, this experience is even more surreal and awe-inspiring. It involves strapping a board to your feet and using your own weight to move left, right, up or down – kind of like Iron Man. In fact, you should probably bring your Iron Man Halloween costume when you do this.

  • Pontoon Boating

A Gulf favorite, pontoon boats are the perfect way to get around the warm, typically calm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Bring plenty of family and friends aboard, grab some good food and a cooler, and drive around or find a sandbar, like Crab Island in Destin, to hang out at. As long as you’re along the coast, it’s pretty difficult to go more than 100 feet without running into a place to rent one of these beauties.

  • Jetskiing

An oldie but goodie – jetskiing could never be boring. Most rental places will allow anywhere from 1-3 people to ride on a single jetski, but being in the driver’s seat is by far the best way to go. And if you think you’ll be hard pressed to get out of your comfort zone, ask the rental company for tricks that are daring (but safe) – you’ll be surprised at the answers you’ll get. Get out there and be cooled off and amped up in no time.

  • Aqua Triking

These hilarious-looking, giant, plastic tricycles are a bit of a workout, but a lot of fun. Much tamer than the above activities, it’s an interesting experience to feel like you’re literally biking on top of the water. Generally built for two people, aqua trikes are a perfect date activity or fun day out with a friend or relative.

  • Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddle Boarding

No explanation required – these are all fun and extremely low-cost ways to beat the heat and enjoy Florida this summer!

No matter your tolerance for heat (trust me – mine is LOW) or your budget, there are tons of ways to enjoy Florida this summer. So get up, get out and come visit! The water’s warm (but refreshing), the people are friendly, and the photo opps are endless.

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X Marks Anything You Want

We’re not pretending to be doing anything crazy revolutionary or ground breaking here. I’d love to say that we are, but I promised not to lie to you guys. It’s not going to be the best thing since sliced bread – hopefully that title will be able to be saved for a healthcare system that actually works. But what it is going to be is a new spin on an old trick. Here’s why:

Every state has a tourism council that puts together a magazine/booklet/website that tells you why their state is the greatest thing to ever happen to America and why you should use your vacation time to visit them over anyone else. And I have nothing against these – heck, I’ve used these plenty of times. It’s always pretty interesting to find out the quirks and attractions about a state you may never have given a second thought. However, all these guides are generally pretty generic in who their audience is, and they all boast that they have been contributed to by born-and-raised locals. Now before I put my foot in my mouth, I have nothing against born-and-raised locals. The one place that I can claim that for myself, I will probably be more arrogant about my know-all than anybody. It comes with the territory of being familiar with a place to the point of having a list of 147 different back roads to take to avoid traffic or construction. That being said, there’s a certain advantage you get to having the insights of a transplant.

Explore Florida is a brand new (just launched on Friday 2/7) virtual publication about (drum roll)… Florida. Yep. Shocker. What makes it unique is that it is put out by my wonderful company, Military Media. Most of my co-workers have lived here a lot longer than I have, but only one of us are from here originally. Otherwise, we hail from Rhode Island, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Colorado, New Jersey, California, Texas, Honduras… the list goes on. Why is that a good thing? Because we have our local girl keeping us in check, but we get to take our extremely varied life experiences and form opinions about places some locals may have never thought of. And what’s more is that, as our name hopefully gives away, our roots are in the military. We are contracted by bases all over the country, and everything we do is in the interest of pro-military. So while Explore Florida is definitely useful and user-friendly regardless of your military status, it was designed with the mindset of fun things to do on a day-long or weeks-long leave.

Now that I have talked your ear off – here’s what we did. Explore Florida is basically a virtual magazine – the pages are designed for you to “flip” through. The home page showcases our five main sections – fun, food, lodging, shopping, and transportation – as well as Florida-related articles by yours truly, links to our social networking sites, and links to some of Florida’s great businesses. Pay special attention to the social networking links. We want to be different, and your input will help. Explore Florida is going to be a constant work-in-progress. We’ll be adding more businesses, pages, topics, and articles all the time. Using the social network links to share with your friends or give us your feedback will help make this thing as much catered to you as possible. And wouldn’t it make you feel important to have all these people here creating content just because you said so?

Now, if you click on one of the five section links, you’ll find a magazine-like intro page. Click on one of the links to check a place out, or click on one of the three colorful logos on the bottom left to explore an entire region at a glance. These logos will be your guide throughout. Here’s your key:

  • Blue Dolphin: North Florida
  • Green Palm Tree: Central Florida
  • Pink Flamingo: South Florida

We know we’re not exactly the smallest of states, so we wanted to help you out. If you’re as Florida-illiterate as I was about a year ago, you’ll thank us for this.

So click away, check it out, and give us your input! Like I’ve said before, we’re a small enough company that we can make things happen pretty quickly – so speak up! Ideas, thoughts, comments, concerns, questions… we love ’em all. Happy exploring!

http://www.xploreflorida.com/

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Beachin’ Ain’t Easy

Ready to have your mind blown? Are you sitting down? Ok, here it goes…

Florida has great beaches.

Actually, that’s an undersell. They’re some of the most beautiful in the world. And yes, I know you’ve heard that. But no matter how common knowledge it is that people come here to lounge on the sand and play in the water, you’d be lying if you said you didn’t want to know more about it. As someone who has spent most of my life on one coast or another, I know just being in a town surrounded by great beaches doesn’t mean you’re going to find that great beach. My all time favorite beach back up where I’m from in Narragansett, RI is one which is off the radar unless someone tells you about it. I promise, you won’t find it on Google.

While I may not be willing to give up that secret, I’ve been compelled to give you the inside scoop on each region’s must-visit beach here in sunny Florida. Some might be hidden gems, some might not be hidden at all. But I promise, take my advice and you won’t leave disappointed that you didn’t find what you’ve spent months imagining in your head. Grab your sunscreen, folks.

North Florida:

James Lee Park

Destin

This beach is about as good as it gets. While you really can’t go wrong with a Destin beach, this one is my favorite. It’s a little ways of a drive from the bridge and down Scenic 98, but it’s well worth it. Trademark of this area, you are almost certain to find crystal clear, blue-green water and powdery, white sand beaches. The beach is kept up very well and seeing trash on the ground is few and far between. There is ample parking, convenient pavilions and picnic tables, and several dune walkovers that allow for a great view. The beach will get busy in the summer months, but I have never seen it to the point that there isn’t hardly any room to move. The water is perfect for surfing, paddle boarding, skim boarding, body surfing, snorkeling, etc. And when you get hungry or could go for a good libation, there is a local seafood restaurant right on the beach with a tiki bar and open-air deck. It is quite literally the perfect beach to lose track of the time on.

Central Florida:

Maximo Park

St. Petersburg

St. Pete is a treat in and of itself, but this beach is really something to talk about. Aside from the beautiful, soft white sand beach characteristic of the Gulf Coast, crystal clear, warm water and litany of water-related activities, this place has it all. First of all, it has seven boat ramps – things which are for some reason shockingly tough to find. Second of all, it has beachside, covered playgrounds for the kids, picnic areas and restrooms. But what makes Maximo Park really unique are all the extras that give you an unexpectedly fun break from basking on the shoreline. Bring a bike along and take advantage of the trails, or talk a walk along the nature trail and enjoy some of life’s simple beauty. For you history buffs, there’s a 70-acre archeological site to take advantage of. I won’t spoil the story for you, but Maximo Park has an intriguing backstory that most won’t find themselves yawning through. And then there’s my personal favorite non-water attraction – the 18-hole disc golf course. For those of you that haven’t played, it’s not necessarily easy, but it’s fun regardless of how terrible you may or may not be. And to finish it all off, take a hike to the top of the 50-foot observation tower that will help you soak in all the beauty and excitement you just experienced.

South Florida

Sombrero Beach

Marathon

This hidden gem on the Florida Keys island of Marathon may not have all the bells and whistles of the other beaches we’ve covered, but it is worth a day of your time. This is one of the most pristine, unspoiled beaches you will find anywhere in the world. Not your usual white sand beach, picking up a handful will reveal to you what makes it unique. You’ll find interestingly shaped grains, shells and characteristics of the special environment that exists in the area’s warm waters. Speaking of the water, it is calm, warm and almost unbelievably relaxing. Lay down on a raft for a bit, and watch in amazement of what is around you. You’ll see dolphins playing, unusual fish swimming the world below and people with a level of enjoyment on their faces you just don’t see anywhere else. There is a playground for the kids and an expansive stretch of land that won’t leave you feeling claustrophobic. Sombrero Beach is not filled with vendors, however, so bring a cooler and plan accordingly. Even if you always need action and to be on-the-go, take a chance on this beach. I promise you won’t regret it.

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Ever Get Directed to the Hardware Store When You Wanted an Ice Cream Parlor?

Assuming you’ve moved to a new region or gone on vacation, you’ve probably experienced what I like to call “the head tilt” (you probably just tilted your head there, didn’t you?). This is when you ask a question that seems perfectly simple, but the person you are asking tilts their head and looks confused, as if you’ve just randomly decided to start speaking Russian.

Far more sly than accents that are obvious and well-known, you are a victim of your lingo. If you’ve bounced around a lot, you’re used to this. But if not, there are a few things you should know that are giving you away as an “outsider” and confusing the new people you’re talking to.

You may choose to do what you wish with this information. I, for one, might be a little obnoxious and stuck in my ways, and continue to use my messed up New England vocabulary no matter where I live. What can I say, it’s built in and I love it. But, I know as soon as I say something that I might have to explain it. Or, you can choose to rule it out altogether to be nice and allow people to better understand you. It’s your call. But it might be fun to bring a little culture to wherever you go.

Kicking off this series is your New England translation guide. The first word is what a New Englander would say, the second is what the rest of the English-speaking world would understand. We’ll do a different region next time. Between my lovely co-workers and myself, we’ve lived in just about every part of the country – so I promise, it’ll be accurate (even though the call to mess with you guys is kind of tempting).

Note: For those of you using this to find out what other people have been saying, if any word below ends in “er”, replace the sound with “ah” to pronounce it correctly.

  • Bubbler → Drinking Fountain

I’ll never forget the horror on my eighth grade, Texas teacher’s face when I asked where the bubbler was.

  • Wicked → Very

Pretty commonly known, but this wouldn’t be complete without it.

  • Bureau → Dresser

Try shopping for furniture when you move… it’s an experience

  • Cabinet → Milkshake

Seriously, the housewares shopping thing. Nightmare

  • Downcellar → Basement

More of a directional than a place. If you left something in the cellar (sella), you left it “downsella” (spelling is accounting for the accent). But, you wouldn’t say “My house has a downsella”. That’s just wrong.

  • Grinder → Sandwich/Sub

Also more commonly known, but necessary.

  • I’m all set” → I’m good / I’m fine

This is accepted in some regions, but will get you a lot of weird looks in others.

  • Jimmies → Sprinkles

You gotta get the rainbow jimmies on your ice cream cone.

  • No suh!” → No Way

I really thought this would be self-explanatory when I first started moving around… but it wasn’t

  • Packy → Liquor Store

Another one that is used in a couple of places, but will get confused looks in most others.

  • Regular Coffee → With normal amounts of cream and sugar

If you were hoping this would get you coffee with the perfect amounts of cream and sugar, you’re out of luck. You actually have to say “coffee with cream and sugar”. Black coffee is regular coffee. And if you want your coffee “extra extra”, you actually have to say “with extra cream and extra sugar”. I know… it’s the worst. I’m still trying to train my local Florida coffee shops on the right (New England) ways of ordering.

  • Side by each” → Side by side

Yep, we just like being different

  • Stuffie → A Stuffed Clam

Instead of a beyond delicious appetizer, you will be given a stuffed animal in other parts of the country. Or more likely, you will be given a look telling you you’re crazy if you ask for this in a restaurant, like I imagine you would be.

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There Is No Hotel Deal Fairy

It has to be one of the most Googled phrases in recent travel history: how to book the best room for the best rate. And while I wish I could say I hadn’t wasted my time doing this… a lot… I have. And the outcome is almost always one of two things. Either the information is completely useless and makes searching “cheap hotel rooms” seem like a revolutionary, Nobel prize worthy idea; or the results are achieved by nothing short of calling out sick from work for two weeks straight, developing a masterful spreadsheet, and probably getting put on some sort of government watch list. But don’t worry, you’ll get the room five dollars cheaper per night (maybe).

So, in response, I’m going to try to give you my version of it. Part of me thinks this is futile, but the other part of me tells me this: I’m better with technology than your average person, but I’ve also had to teach people how to use it. I work full time and I work on a Master’s degree part time. And I will fight you if you think I’m going to waste time doing anything else when I could be watching football. Why should you care? Because that means I’m not going to suggest something so painfully obvious your great grandmother would know to try it, or something so complicated you need a doctorate in engineering to do it. I’m also not going to suggest things that “ain’t nobody got time for”. I welcome your criticism (or loving praise) after you read this.

  1. It’s already time for the tough love.

No matter how good you are at this, how far in advance or last minute you’re looking, or if it’s a Tuesday and the weather is bad – you are not going to get a stellar deal every time. Sometimes, all your tricks and research just lead you to the sad realization that the cost is what it is. But hey, at least you know you’re not getting ripped off by whatever hotel or site you book through.

  1. Analyze your circumstances.

Ask yourself a few key questions before you start looking. Is your trip soon or in the distance? Do you need a specific neighborhood or will anything in the general area do? Do you have the funds to pay up front, or do you need to be able to pay when you check out? Is your trip flexible enough that you’re comfortable booking something the same day you want to check in? These are all important questions, and I will address them in the “Tips” section at the bottom.

  1. Use more than one website. But don’t go crazy.

I know, there’s websites like Kayak and Priceline, as awesome as they may be, that insist you only need to search their site to find the best price. But only trying the deal sites just tells their marketing departments that they’re as brilliant as they think they are. I generally pick one deal website, and then Google something like “hotel specials February 7-9 in Fort Walton Beach”. Sometimes, a coupon or something will pop up. More often, though, I get a big old list of hotels across the top of the page. And now, I compare. Go through your deal site and try to find a price you like. If you don’t see one, find a hotel you like that might be more money than you’d like to spend, but isn’t so far gone you can’t find a better deal.

  1. Compare Simply.

Baby steps here. Let’s assume you’ve now picked a hotel or two (or three or four) from the deal site. Next, go to the hotel’s website itself and run a search. Sometimes, the deal site is better. Sometimes, it’s the same. But other times, you might find that if you select a AAA rate or military rate (from the search box when you’re typing in your dates and number of people…typically in a drop down menu or under “advanced search”), the price ends up being lower than the deal site. Think about it: the deal site can’t assume everyone booking qualifies for a discount. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Refer to point #1.

  1. Compare Creatively.

Don’t get stuck in a rut. I know you’re probably thinking I’m breaking my time rule here, but the above two steps shouldn’t take you more than five minutes (ten if you’re researching a lot – but you should save that for the end). Quickly skim through and cross reference the deal site’s list with your Google list. Just like Southwest Airlines tickets can only be purchased from their own website, not all hotels allow deal sites to work with them. When you see some on Google that you didn’t on the deal site, do a new search for that hotel. Here’s the best part: quite often, since the hotel is not participating in a deal site, they’ll have some pretty great deals. Especially for multi-night stays.

Tips:

Now that I’ve given you some ideas, back to those questions I asked you to evaluate in point #2. The best way for you to treat the following bullet points is like a matching quiz in school. Figure out what applies to you based on your answers to the questions, and then take my advice accordingly.

  • If you’re in a situation where the deal site and hotel site are the same price, consider this: deal sites require full payment up front and are rarely refundable; direct hotel sites typically do not actually charge you until check out and have pretty lenient cancellation policies
  • Monitoring the price of a hotel you like over a period of time can typically lead to a decreased rate. If you see it drop, grab it.
  • Many hotels have last minute deals. I don’t mean the week before, I mean the same day you want to check in. You can use the hotel site, deal site, or an app like Hotel Tonight
  • Unless you really can’t afford a hotel at the initial price you find it, don’t play the bargain game if it’s going to really put you in a bind to stay anywhere else
  • Pick up the phone after you’ve found a hotel you like. The vast majority of the time, their best deals are online. But some offer secret promotions you’ll never find out about if you don’t call and ask

The bottom line here is establishing your priorities, then doing what you need to do to achieve them. There might be a lot of stuff here, but if you ask those key questions first, you shouldn’t need to spend more than 15-30 minutes finding the best deal possible for you. Any tips or tricks of your own? Post them here and share the wealth!

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Truth or Dare (But It’s Really Just Dare): Airport Edition

The idea of traveling is really exciting. That’s because when we are planning a trip, we tend to think of all the great things we’re going to do once we get there: where we’re going to go, how relaxed we’re going to be, how tan we’re going to get… It’s wonderful. So wonderful that we often forget about the necessary evil required to get to that vacation – the airport.

Unless you almost never fly or are the world’s luckiest person ever, you’ve had the misfortune of dealing with a long layover, a delay and/or a cancellation at least once. Or basically every time you’ve flown, if you’re anything like my sister. I’m willing to bet you’ve tried the usual time-passers: Facebook obsessively, live Tweet about your boredom (some lady just sat down next to me…. great she smells funny… awesome she has terrible taste in music and even worse headphones), watch shows or videos on your phone, listen to music, read a magazine, get a drink at the bar, stare into space, strike up a conversation with a stranger you wish you hadn’t…. blah blah blah. And what makes all this worse is that you feel like you’re stuck with these mind-numbing options because, let’s face it, the airport isn’t exactly the place to do daring, out-of-the-box things. Unless you feel like hanging out in interrogation and spending some time on the “no fly” list, that is.

Well, lucky for you, I have spent more time in an airport than I would like to admit – a misfortune that has allowed me to create a pretty reliable list of things to do when you’re bored at the airport. A list which I have decided to share with you. Just remember, like I said, airport officials aren’t big on having a sense of humor in the workplace… so amuse at your own risk.

  • Greet passengers at a random gate as they disembark the plane.

Stand to the side of the door, and be a little creative. Say things like “I knew you could do it”, offer high-fives, or try to start a slow clap and see if it catches on.

  • Become a character.

Grab a seat at the gate or at the bar and start talking to a stranger. But don’t do this like you normally would. Invent a completely different personality and back story for yourself that seems ridiculous. See if they believe you.

  • Make a baggage claim sign.

Use a generic last name, like Johnson or Clark. Then just stand by baggage claim, holding it up and see if someone approaches you.

  • Work out.

This could be a legitimate way to get some circulation going. Or, you could be fun and get really into it. Stretch out, sprint around the moving sidewalk, do crunches, use water bottles as dumbbells – the more ridiculous the better.

  • Go on a scavenger hunt.

You can do this whether you’re alone or traveling with someone. Make a list of things: the most absurd thing for sale in a gift shop, the least practical novelty shot glass, someone dressed like they forgot they were going into public, a pay phone (good luck), etc. Happy hunting!

  • Walk backwards on the moving sidewalk.

This is one of those “do at your own risk” things. Trust me, it’s fun. But not everyone thinks so.

  • Pick up an accent.

Try out your accent skills while talking to a stranger. See if they call you out on it.

  • Try to figure out who the Air Marshal is at each terminal.

It’s harder than you might think.

  • See if you can talk your way into an airline club lounge.

Challenge accepted.

 

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