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Santa Catalina Island in Southern California

Monday, September 1st, 2008

My family and I have always wanted to make the trip out to Catalina but up until recently did not have the chance. We had always heard about how beautiful, green, and full of life Catalina was, and just had to see it for ourselves.

Catalina Island

Catalina Island

Once in the general area, we purchased round-trip tickets on the Catalina Ferry, from Marina del Rey to Two Harbors. It only took our catamaran about an hour to make the trip directly to Two Harbors, which was our target destination. From there, it was only a half hour to Avalon. There are also ferries directly to Avalon, but we wanted to walk and explore on Santa Catalina Island.

We had to book our tickets early, since we were concerned that they would be sold out when we wanted to go. That ended up being the right thing to do, since we later heard that there were plenty of people who tried to book late and were unsuccessful in securing tickets.

Santa Catalina Island Ferry

Santa Catalina Island Ferry

Once we saw the beautiful nature surrounding us, the family also decided to sign up for a snorkeling tour.  Since we were in the area for over a week, we also took a dolphin tour. The staff on each excursion was very helpful and gave us lots of suggestions for additional activities in the area.

The best recommendation was the City Passport Tour by bus. This excursion was filled with outstanding scenery and staff commentary. The trip provides a great deal of value to travelers and serves as an excellent introduction to the aesthetic beauty of the island.

The tour lasted 45 minutes, and in that time I was able to document on film just how gorgeous and colorful the area really is. The bus climbed to dramatic heights and I was able to look down and get a spectacular view of Avalon Canyon where we passed the Catalina Golf Course as well as the site where the Chicago Cubs used to hold their spring training.

This tour was well worth the trip over to Catalina, and everyone who rode the bus with me was thrilled to be able to learn and see so much in such a short amount of time. It was also very cost-efficient, which is of the utmost importance when traveling on a budget, especially in the current economy.

There is so much to do on Catalina Island that it was hard to choose, but we all feel that we chose well with our tours. We tell everyone who asks about our trip how much we enjoyed seeing Catalina by land and by water and we have fantastic pictures to prove it!

Alcatraz Cruises and Tickets from Fisherman’s Wharf

Monday, September 1st, 2008
No one can visit San Francisco, or even California for that matter, without visiting the legendary Alcatraz Island.It is typically just referred to as Alcatraz and sometimes as ‘The Rock’ as it is simply a rocky island in the middle of the San Francisco Bay.The famous prison held notable convicts such as Al Capone, James “Whitley” Bulger and Alvin Karpis.
Alcatraz Island Cell Block Tours

Alcatraz Island Cell Block Tours

While Alcatraz is a popular and busy place, you can book online tickets in advance before you visit the infamous location.The best selling tour ticket is the ‘Day Fare with Audio’ tour which cruises you through the bay to Alcatraz Island and includes an audio-guided cell block tour.You tour through the prison at your own pace giving you the freedom to look at individual cells, exhibits, or the spectacular views of the Golden Gate Bridge for as long as you wish.While walking around Alcatraz, you are provided headset highlighting Alcatraz with interviews and stories from former prison guards and inmates.

Another top selling tour is the ‘Alcatraz Night Tour‘ which offers you an after dark experience of the prison that few get to enjoy.The tour is limited to a few hundred visitors each evening and includes special programs, tours and activities that the day tours do not offer.

You begin your Alcatraz tour by riding the ferry across the bay to The Rock with the addition of live boat narration along the way.During your walk from the Dock to the Cellhouse, you receive a guided tour and once at the Cellhouse, you experience an audio tour.Additionally, everyone in the tour receives a keepsake souvenir brochure and an assortment of presentations only offered at night.If you love how San Francisco looks at night, this tour is perfect as its views of the city are amazing.

Finally, while the ‘Alcatraz Tour & San Francisco Open Top Double Decker Hop-On & Hop-Off Bus Tour’ may be a mouthful, it is a great way to see all the amazing sites San Francisco has to offer in just one tour.With this tour package, you can enjoy the audio tour of Alcatraz and then visit all the exciting attractions, museums, restaurants, and shops in San Francisco.

Double Decker City Tours

Double Decker City Tours

The Hop-On/Hop-Off flexibility can actually make the bus tour last for two full days!That ensures you get to see everything you can possible visit while in San Francisco.Depending on hours and dates you are able to visit Fisherman’s Wharf, Chinatown, North Beach, Wells Fargo Museum, Union Square, the Asian Art Museum, Alamo Square, Golden Gate Bridge and Park, Hyde Street Cable Car and the Palace of Fine Arts.

If you are on a time constraint, you can simply ride the bus through the entire loop where it lasts about 1hr 45 minutes, but if you have the time, I recommend you visit all of these fabulous San Francisco locations.

An Astronaut Training Experience at NASA

Friday, August 22nd, 2008

Five, four, three, two…lift off!

Kennedy Space Center

Kennedy Space Center

The Kennedy Space Center’s Astronaut Training Experience Tour was one of the highlights of my family’s recent Spring Break trip to Orlando.  Intended to be an educational ‘adventure,’ I reserved tickets a few weeks prior to the fun-filled week.

The tour began at 10:00 AM, our group excited and energized for the hands-on experience.  We met a professional astronaut, and in her presentation she explained training procedures, shuttle equipment, and described her highly intensive first launch.

NASA Astronaut

NASA Astronaut

Later, we had an opportunity to visit the L39 Observation Gantry’s authentic shuttle and launch pads.  All of the kids were excited at the opportunity to “touch a piece of Mars” during the Exploration of the New Millennium exhibit.  Lunch was served midway through the tour, and afterwards, a visit to the IMAX theater exhibit and Gravity simulator.

After the tour, my fourteen-year old sister expressed her desire to be just like Dr. Mae Jemison and become an astronaut.  I give the Kennedy Space Center’s Astronaut Training Experience Tour a ten, not only for its recreation and innovation, but more importantly, for its ability to inspire and motivate.

Now Entering Music City, USA

Wednesday, August 20th, 2008

 

When you think of Nashville, what is the first thought that comes into your head? Country music of course! Nashville is a vibrant city with music to the core.  It is the home of the legendary Grand Ole Opry.  The Opry was started as a live country music radio show called WSM Barn Dance, which was housed on the fifth floor of a radio station studio, but the audience soon became so large that it could no longer fit in that space.  After several moves it eventually settled into the Ryman Auditorium where it stayed until 1974 when it moved to the Grand Ole Opry House.

Downtown Nashville Tennessee
Downtown Nashville Tennessee

Today, you would be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn’t heard of the Grand Ole Opry and how it has launched the careers of so many successful key players in the country music business such as LeAnn Rimes, Dolly Parton, and Loretta Lynn.  I recently took in a show and was hypnotized by the scope of it all and felt like I was witnessing history in the making.  For aspiring country music stars, it is an honor to be asked to perform at the Grand Ole Opry, and to watch the relatively unknown performers on stage is to watch the beginnings of a new life unfolding for them.  A day at the Opry for a performer can kick a performer’s career into overdrive, and many of today’s country superstars have been transformed by this life-altering experience.

The show lasts about 2 ½ hours and it is well worth every penny you will spend on tickets.  I was able to sit back and enjoy the show while knowing that my transportation was taken care of, since round-trip transportation was included with the package I purchased.  You may decide to purchase tickets with or without this option, depending on if you plan to stay around the area before and after the show.  This trip is a must-see, but it sells out fast so be sure to buy tickets well in advance of your trip.  It will be a day to remember forever- the day that new stars were born.

While you are in the area, you will want to check out the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, located just a few steps from the Ryman Auditorium.  The museum chronicles the story of country music with a collection of video clips, recordings, exhibits, and dynamic live performances.  If there is time, I also recommend visiting the Grand Ole Opry Museum and The Opry Shop for a closer look at the history of the Opry and to take home a keepsake to remember the occasion.

You can purchase tickets to the Grand Ole Opry online with convenient e-ticketing.

 

Miami is a great place to spend a vacation.

Tuesday, August 19th, 2008

Miami is one of the most vibrant cities in the United States, and thus one of the best to visit. It is a wonderfully intriguing mix of Hispanic charm, modern financial wealth, beautiful beaches, and glorious shopping opportunities. While it can be very easy to get caught up in the energy and pull of the city, there are plenty of relaxing tours and activities to enjoy.

Miami Tours

Miami Tours

Make sure to bring an extra memory card for your camera because the city tour hits all of the major areas, including quirky South Beach, quaint Coconut Grove, colorful Little Havana, and the energetic financial district. The best part is that you can experience all of the people watching without having to walk around in Miami’s infamous heat. You’re sure to recognize many places around South Beach from movies and television shows, while Little Havana will give you and experience reminiscent of Cuba.

At night, you will want to experience some Miami high life as you tour the Biscayne Bay islands and the see the expensive homes of Florida’s elite. You’ll really feel as if you are one of the rich and famous sailing around in a luxurious yacht for a few hours. The yacht we enjoyed featured both indoor viewing, from picture windows on the bottom level, and outdoor viewing from the open terrace. Biscayne Bay is certainly not to be missed, as it is a landmark of Miami’s high culture and wealth.

In addition to spending time within the city limits, Miami also offers close proximity to the Everglades, Key West, Orlando, and other popular destinations in Florida.

Visit Historical Savannah, Georgia

Friday, August 15th, 2008

Car rentals Deals

Savannah is not your average old southern town; it encompasses everything a town in the south should be with its historical aspects and charm while also expressing a big city vibe to its tourists.There are so many wonderful amenities to take advantage of while visiting Savannah that the only solution is to revisit many, many times.

Savannah Streets

Savannah Streets

The charming city of Savannah provides entertainment for all ages but if you are looking for something to do with the whole family, the Historic Savannah Tour is one thing you should make sure to see.This 90 minute tour takes you through downtown historic Savannah where you can experience and enjoy 270 years of fascinating history.

On the 35-passenger open-air trolley, you go through some of Savannah’s most famous historical squares, or small city parks.The squares are surrounded by beautiful oaks, dripping with Spanish moss, historic homes, churches, museums and businesses.Many of these squares have a monument in the center with wide sidewalks and benches for visitors to sit.You will even get to see the famous bench in the movie Forrest Gump.Each square has its own story, name and personality.

River Street is a one-of-a-kind experience.As the trolley takes you along the cobblestone path of River Street, you will notice the beautiful and calm waters of the Savannah River, and will probably see several river boats travelling through it as well.You will also see the many shops and restaurants along the way.

The simple layout and structure of Savannah, Georgia is what makes it alluring and appealing and is also what has brought it international recognition.If there is one place where you can experience a small town charm mixed with big city life, Savannah is that extraordinary place.

Branson Show Guide – A Directory of Shows in Missouri

Tuesday, June 10th, 2008

There are so many shows in Branson, it is hard to find time to fit them all into your vacation.  For this reason, Branson Shows developed a show schedule that helps with planning your trip.

Here is a list in alphabetical order of shows in Branson, with links to additional information and ticketing:

14 Karat Country Show
2 O’Clock Rocks Show
50′s At The Hop Show
Acrobats of China Show
Amazing Pets Show
America’s Favorite Finalists Show
Back in The Saddle Show
Baldknobbers Jamboree Show
Bart Rockett Comedy Show
Bob Nelson Comedy Show
Bobby Vinton and The Glenn Miller Orchestra
Branson Blues Late Night Show
Branson Country USA Friday Night Live Radio Show
Breakfast with Mark Twain and Norman Rockwell
Brett Family Singers Morning Show
Broadway The Star-Spangled Celebration - Summer Special
Buck Trent Morning Show - With Breakfast - With Lunch
Celebrate America Show
Circle B Chuckwagon Supper and Cowboy Music Dinner Show
Clay Cooper’s Country Music Express Show
Club 57 Bob Anderson Dinner Show - with 57 Heaven
Comedy Jamboree Show
Country Tonite Show
Crossties Hometown Bluegrass Show
Dalena Ditto Show
Daniel O’Donnell Show
Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede Dinner and Show
Doug Gabriel Show
Dueling Elvis Contest
Dutton Family Show
Elvis and The Superstars Show
Elvis in the Morning Show
Freddy Hamilton Show
Good Morning Branson Variety Music Show
Grand Jubilee Show
Hamner Barber Variety Show
Hank and Patsy Together Again Show
Hits of the 60′s Show
Hughes Brothers Dinner Show - Without Dinner
Island Fire Show and Luau Buffet
Jazz and Dixieland Breakfast Show
Jim Stafford Show
Joe Diffie Show
Joe Green Show
Joey Riley Comedy Revue
John Denver and Country Music Legends Tribute Show
John Tweed Show
John Wayne and America’s Yodeling Sweetheart Show
Justin Flom’s Magic Parlor Show
Kirby Van Burch Beyond Belief Magic Show
Larry Gatlin & The Gatlin Brothers Evening Show - Morning Show
Legends in Concert Show - Summer Special
Liverpool Legends Ultimate Beatles Experience
Loretta Lynn Tribute Show
Magnificent 7 Show - With Dinner
Mickey Gilley Show
Moe Bandy Show
Music Makes the World Go Round Show
New’s Country Show
Ozark Mountain Jubilee Show
Paul Harris Live Show
Rankin Brothers Show
Red Hot and Blue Show
Red Skelton Tribute Show
Redhead Express Evening Show - Midday Show
Redneckers Good Morning Ozarks Show
Ricky Boen and Texas Mud Show
Righteous Brothers, Bill Medley, and Paul Revere & The Raiders Show
Roy Rogers Jr. and The High Riders Show
Shake Rattle and Stroll Evening Show
Shoji Tabuchi Show - Summer Special
SIX Dinner Show - With Dinner
Smoke on The Mountain Show
Son of The Pioneers Chuckwagon Dinner Show
Spirit of The Dance Show - Summer Special
Sunday Gospel Jubilee Show
Tall Timber Lumberjack Dinner Show
The Branson Divas ShowWith Lunch
The Elvis Experience Show
The Haygoods Show
The Oak Ridge Boys Show
The Original Stars of American Bandstand Show
The Promise Show
The Shephard of The Hills Outdoor Drama
The World Famous Platters Show
Tillis Family Reunion Show
Turkey Creek Opry Show
Twelve Irish Tenors Show - Summer Special
Yakov Smirnoff Show

Top 10 Things to Enjoy In and Around San Francisco

Friday, June 6th, 2008

REMINDER- Father's Day Sale

There are so many fun things to do in San Francisco that it is difficult to narrow the list down to only ten items.  I have attempted to cover all of the “musts” while incorporating a few fun things that are less widely known to the visiting crowd.

1.  Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz is a small island in the middle of the San Francisco Bay.  It is the location of the first lighthouse and US fort on the west coast.  It served as a military prison during the early 1900′s, and became a federal penitentiary from 1934 to 1963.  In 1972, it became a national recreation area and the National Park Service continues to operate the island today as a tourist attraction.  Alcatraz Cruises depart daily from Fisherman’s Wharf and provide a ferry ride to The Rock, an audio-guided cellblock tour of the prison, and time to explore the island on your own.  Boats return approximately every 30 minutes to San Francisco so you are able to spend as much time as you like at Alcatraz.

2.  Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge View from Marin

The Golden Gate Bridge was completed in 1937.  It connects the city of San Francisco with Marin County.  Before the bridge was built, the only practical way to Marin was via boat.  Ferry services were established beginning in the 1820′s.  Although the color of the bridge may look reddish, it is actually International Orange, a color chosen by Irving Morrow, a relatively unknown residential architect who also designed the overall shape of the towers as well as several other elements.  There are several ways to see the bridge up close.  Bay Cruises travel under the bridge.  Sightseeing city tours see the bridge and trips to Muir Woods drive across the bridge.  If you want a unique experience, fly over the Golden Gate on a seaplane tour or a helicopter flight.  If you are more active, you can always walk across the 4200-foot-long bridge, or rent a bicycle and ride across.  Just be sure to wear a jacket as the breeze coming off of the ocean can be very cool.

3.  Coastal Redwoods

Muir Woods Coastal Redwoods

Muir Woods is located in Marin County, 12 miles north of San Francisco.  It is 554 acres of protected coastal forest land controlled by the National Park Service.  The tallest tree in John Muir Woods is 258 feet.  Day trips to Muir Woods depart in the morning and early afternoon from San Francisco by bus, limo, van, and jeep.  You can also drive up in your vehicle, but you might have to park far away from the park entrance.  As long as you don’t mind a potential hike to get to the park, and you have a car, this is a viable option.  There is a small gift shop, snack bar, and basic services available inside the park.  There are several hiking paths to follow suitable for all schedules and skill levels.

wine.com

4.  Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley

Napa Valley Wine

Taking a trip to Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley from the city is a really fun way to spend the day or stay overnight.  Driving to the wine country is ideal because it is so beautiful, but if you plan to drink or visit the wineries, I suggest a guided wine tour from San Francisco.  Keep in mind that the legal drinking limit in California is lower than some states and many are considered “over the limit” after one drink.  There are many transportation options from the city including limousine, jeep, bus, and van.  Once you are there, the Napa Wine Train is one unique experience that I consider to be an absolute must.  The train is first class, the food is exceptional, and the scenery is unlike anywhere else.  Hot air balloon rides are available at sunrise, including a private flight for two with champagne and breakfast.  If you are staying in Napa or Sonoma, there are also limo tours and antique car tours that depart locally.  Some of my favorite wineries in the area include Viansa, which has a fantastic marketplace, and Artessa, which features modern art on display throughout their impressive facility.

5.  Italian North Beach

North Beach

North Beach is a San Francisco neighborhood surrounded by the former Barbary Coast, now Jackson Square, the Financial District south of Broadway, Chinatown to the southwest of Columbus below Green, Russian Hill to the west, Telegraph Hill to the east and Fisherman’s Wharf at Bay Street to the north.  If you want to visit North Beach, you can easily walk there from the wharf and most downtown hotels.  Most San Francisco city tours incorporate Italian North Beach into the tour, and there are also some food tours worth trying.  At night, there are loads of restaurants that stay open late and many people dine outside, similar to what you would find in Europe.  My personal favorite in the area is a small indoor spot called Caffe Sport on Green.

6.  Winchester Mystery House

Winchester Mystery House

There are both Winchester Mystery House tours from San Francisco and tickets to the well-known mansion located in San Jose, California.  The home once served as the personal residence of Sarah Winchester, wife of famous gun-maker William Wirt Winchester.  At her control, the home remained under construction from 1884 until her death in 1922. The mansion is known for its size and total lack of a master building plan.  Apparently, Sarah Winchester felt the house was haunted by the ghosts of people killed by the rifles her family built, and that her continuous construction would appease the spirits.  There are several tours of the house that vary in length and content.  You will see windows built into floors, stairways that lead to nowhere, and man other oddities that make this house unique.  Guided tours depart every 30 minutes or so from 9:00am until at least 5pm.  On the grounds, there is a snack bar, a gift shop, an arcade, and places to sit and relax both indoors and outdoors.

7.  Monterey Bay

Monterey Bay California

The city of Monterey is located along the Pacific Coast approximately 120 miles south of San Francisco.  The city is known for its history of resident artists beginning in the late 1800′s as well as its famous fishing.  Day trips to Monterey and Carmel depart daily from San Francisco.  Once you are there, the Monterey Bay Aquarium should not be missed along with a walk through Steinbeck’s Cannery Row.  After seeing Monterey, be sure to visit Carmel-By-The-Sea, which is a quaint little town.  On my last visit, I really enjoyed a walk along the beach and a great dinner at The Hog’s Breath Inn, which is owned by Clint Eastwood.  The first time I ate there was in 1983, and the food keeps me coming back.  If you decide to drive on this excursion, I would also recommend that you include 17-Mile-Drive and Pebble Beach.

Cheap Flight Discounted hotels

8.  Haight Ashbury

Haight Ashbury

The Haight Ashbury district of San Francisco is named after the intersections of Haight and Ashbury Streets.  The area is most famous for its role as the center of the 1960′s hippie movement.  It is surrounded by Golden Gate Park on the West, the Golden Gate Park Panhandle on the North, Buena Vista Park to the East, and Ashbury Heights and Cole Valley neighborhoods to the South.  Today, the street is full of merchants with everything from thrift stores and clothing boutiques to toy stores and head shops.  There are also a variety of restaurants and bars along Haight Street including a personal favorite, El Balazo.  There are not many tours that visit Haight Ashbury due to the fact that street traffic and parking make the area difficult for large tour buses.  For this reason, jeep tours are the best way to enjoy city sightseeing without excluding this neighborhood.

9.  Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park

A visit to Golden Gate Park in San Francisco is a perfect way to spend a sunny day.  With over 1,000 acres of public grounds, this is an extremely large urban park.  There are many attractions to enjoy including the De Young Museum, the Japanese Tea Gardens,  the California Academy of Sciences, and the San Francisco Botanical Gardens to name a few.  On a recent trip to Stow Lake, we rented bikes and enjoyed a leisurely ride around the lake and park.  Rentals are available on site on an hourly basis and include helmets.  A picnic in the park is another fun suggestion with no shortage of great places to setup your spread.  If you plan in advance, there are barbeque grills and park benches that can be reserved through the city.

10.  Chinatown

San Francisco Chinatown

Chinatown in San Francisco is a truly unique place.  It is one of the largest Chinatowns in North America, as well as the oldest.  It is a huge tourist attraction, drawing more tourists per year than the Golden Gate Bridge.  There are a number of bus tours that incorporate Chinatown, but if you want to get a really good look, try one of the walking tours.  If you decide to explore on your own, there is a really interseting fortune cookie factory that should not be missed.  For food, I highly recommend Yee’s on Grant Street.  The food is delicious, and once you are on Grant Street, you can shop in all of the stores, bakeries, and unique markets.

So, that is my top ten.  There are so many other places that are worth visiting that I could easily fill a top 100.  A few highlights might include Ocean Beach and the Cliff House, the Mission and Dolores Park, Twin Peaks, the Marina, and the Presidio.  There is so much to do…

New York Bateaux Dinner Cruise Experience

Thursday, June 5th, 2008

If you are looking for something really unique and entertaining to do in New York City, look no further than the New York Bateaux Dinner Cruise.  These boat tours around Manhattan are available for lunch cruises, dinner cruises, and holiday cruises.

Bateaux Cruises

We enjoyed this dinner cruise last month during our visit to NYC.  The food was great and the view was simply amazing everywhere you looked.  Overall, I would rate the experience a 9.5 (a highlight of our holiday) because of the attention to detail provided by the staff.  They were excellent!

The ship cruised along the Hudson River and East River.  We were able to see all of Manhattan from the deck, including the Empire State Building.  We also saw the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, the Brooklyn Bridge, the site of the World Trade Center, Battery Park City, South Street Seaport, and a number of other famous landarks around the city.

Statue of Liberty

Since we saw the Statue of Liberty at night, we decided that we wanted to go back during the day.  We got our Statue of Liberty Tickets online and that was another highlight of our vacation.  I highly recommend that you experience both tours since they provided two completely different perspecives of Ellis Island and the Statue.

Sightseeing on a Boston Duck Tour…Quack!

Thursday, May 29th, 2008

Everybody has heard them quacking as they pass…it’s the Boston Duck Tour.  With great weather here to stay, there is no time like the present to get our and enjoy sightseeing in Boston, Massachusetts.

Boston Duck Tours

This tour provides a truly unique experience in Boston.  Not only will you cruise by all the places that make Boston famous, but you will also see the golden-domed State House, Bunker Hill, TD Banknorth Garden, Boston Common, Copley Square, Government Center, fashionable Newbury Street, Quincy Market, the Prudential Tower, and more.

Boston River Tours

We recently took this tour while visiting Boston and had a really nice time.  My 9-year-old daughter especially enjoyed when we splashed into the water.  We booked our tickets online and printed an e-ticket before we left.  It was very simple and we did not have to wait in line because we planned in advance.  We also took a dinner cruise that we booked through the same site and the food was exceptional.  We will be heading back to Boston in the near future.


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