Vieques, Puerto Rico

First Happy New Year to everyone!  Sorry I haven’t been posting for awhile.  I enjoyed a nice Christmas break with my family.  Our boys absolutely loved Christmas.  I hope this new year brings everyone much happiness.

I’ve talked about how I lived in Puerto Rico for a year and a half in other posts.  In one of the posts, I made mention of Culebra and Vieques.  They are smaller Puerto Rican islands.  Vieques used to be the home of a US military base until 2003. 

If you are looking for a more secluded Carribean vacation, you should consider Vieques.  I spent a weekend there with my coworkers back in 1999 and it was one of my favorite weekends of my time in Puerto Rico.  It was so relaxing since it wasn’t crawling with tourists and it wasn’t over-developed.  We rented Jeeps and stayed at a remote B&B.  In 2008, Travel & Leisure named Vieques the Best Island in the Carribean, Bermuda and the Bahamas.

If you decide to take a trip to Vieques, you may feel like you’re stepping back in time when you try to find information about the island and book reservations.  Many of the hotels, rental car companies and restaurants do not have web sites.  Don’t let this deter you.  I think this is part of the reason that the island is still so remote and such a great find. 

The Vieques Travel Guide web site is a great start for planning your trip.  It gives you information about the options you have to the island, lists of various accommodations (B&Bs, luxury villas and resorts), rental car companies, attractions and beaches.  I did a quick review of the web site and it has great information.  I like that it gives you the different options of how to get to the island (make sure you check out both the Air Services page and the Getting to Vieques page).  My assumption is that most people take flights from San Juan Airport because it’s easier.  When we went to Vieques, we flew from Ceiba Airport to Vieques.  You could also take a ferry from Fajardo.  I can’t say what would be the best for you.  It really depends on your plans.  If you’re not planning on visiting the main island, you probably will want to book flight from San Juan (SJU) to Vieques (VQS).  However, if you’re going to spend some time on the main island, you might consider flying out of one of the other airports or taking the ferry.

If you’ve never been to Puerto Rico, I’d suggest spending at least a few days on the main island.  Old San Juan and El Yunque (the rain forest) are not to be missed.  In my other posts, I talked about all the other activities you can do on the main island.

If you go to Vieques, do not miss the Bioluminescent Bay!  It is a bay with micro-organisms that glow when touched or shaken.  The best way that I can describe it is it’s like fireflies in the water.  When you go on a tour of the bay, you are allowed to jump in the water and it just glows around you.  You can lie on your back and make “snow angels” in the water.

Also make sure you go scuba diving or snorkeling.  There is information about it on the Things to Do page.

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Lufthansa End-of-Year Deals

Lufthansa is running reduced fares to Europe.  You can fares as low as $507 (including taxes) from New York City to Dublin.  A Saturday stay is required.  I did a quick check to see how hard it was to get the fares and it doesn’t seem very hard right now.  I absolutely loved Ireland!  The people are so friendly and it is incredibly beautiful.  This is a very reasonable way to get there if you have to pay for your flight.  Here are the rest of the details on the deal.

Book by: Jan 12, 2012
Depart between: Nov 24, 2011 – Mar 22, 2012
Offer not valid for departures between Dec 15, 2011 – Jan 8, 2012

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Vacation Closer to Home

So often in this travel game, we are looking to book exotic vacations.  Collecting miles has been so easy the past few years, which has made it more affordable to take those kinds of vacations.  However, we shouldn’t forget about vacations we could take closer to home.  Maybe it’s just for a quick weekend getaway.  Most of us live within driving distance from locations that people all over the world use their hard earned vacation time and money to travel to.

As I’ve mentioned before, I grew up outside of Buffalo, NY.  We lived about 30 – 45 minutes from Niagara Falls.  This is a dream destination for people all over the world.  However, I don’t think that I visited it until I was in college.  If I did visit before then, it was once or maybe twice when I was a kid. 

I was talking with my sister a few weeks ago about this concept.  She lives in North Carolina and was spending Thanksgiving at the Outer Banks.  We talked about how many people don’t think about the wonderful places near them when planning a vacation.  I can say that I’m certainly guilty of that.  I’ve lived in Connecticut for over 10 years and have yet to visit Cape Cod. 

Now I will say that I have been focused on visiting places that take a long time to travel to.  My mom has told us that as we get older, we won’t want to travel as far.  While I’ve heard of people in their 90s still traveling to Europe, I figure it can’t hurt to get some long distance travel done when we’re younger.  Still that is no excuse not to have visited Cape Cod.

Think of all the great places to visit in the US – Cape Cod, NYC, Revolutionary War and Civil War Battlefields, Washington, DC, the Outer Banks, so many southern cities, the Great Smoky Mountains, the Florida Keys, Wisconsin Dells, Chicago, the Lake Erie Islands, Niagara Falls, Las Vegas, LA, California wine country, the Gulf Coast, New Orleans, Nashville, Austin, the Alamo, the Grand Canyon, the Rockies, all the National Parks, Disney World/Disneyland, the Pacific Northwest and so many more.

Think of places you might not have thought of visiting before.  My husband lived in central Mississippi for a year and a half.  I don’t think I would have thought of putting Mississippi on my travel list, but I will tell you that we had an amazing time when he lived there.  The people are incredibly nice.  One of the guys at the mill he worked at decided that my husbad looked like one of his nephews and treated us as such.  Every time I came to visit, they would have us over for supper (lunch in Northern terms) as we headed back to the airport.  Glenda’s cooking was unbelieveable!

We also traveled around the state.  We stayed at a bed and breakfast that were former plantation in Nachez, MS.  We visited the Gulf Coast at Biloxi and also went to New Orleans for a weekend.  One of my favorite memories from Mississippi was a party we were invited to in the countryside.  The person throwing the party had a chef come up from New Orleans to cook the crawfish for a crawfish boil.  The “tables” were a piece of plywood held up by 2 garbage cans.  There were holes cut out over the garbage cans.  They cooked the crawfish in an outside building.  They then put it into a cooler to carry it over to the tables.  They dumped it out on the table and everyone stood around the table eating the crawfish and throwin the shells into the holes.  It was one of the best meals I’ve ever had.

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Want to take a vacation but not sure where to go?

Although most of my airline travel is now booked using points, I do see value in sites that help you save money for paid travel expenses.  I’ve talked about Priceline, Hotwire and Last Minute Travel for hotel stays.  I’ll talk about another hotel site in the coming days, but today I want to tell you about a cool feature on Fare Compare.  It’s called the Where-to-Go Getaway Map.

If you have flexibility in when you travel and you’re not sure where you want to go, this site is perfect for you.  It allows you to say where you want to travel from, the month you want to travel and your budget.  Based on that criteria, it will give you a list of locations you can travel to.

If you like one of the fare, you can click on the Find Flights button.

That will bring up a window where you pick the day you want to depart.

When you pick your departure date, you will get a selection of return dates to choose from.

After you choose your return date, you will be brought to a screen where you choose your specific flights.

You then click the Select button next to the flights you want.  That will take you to the carrier’s site where you can book the tickets.

And these flights actually turned out to be a little cheaper (about $15 less) than the map showed.

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Technology to Make Christmas Special for Your Kids

I’ve got Christmas on my mind.  We’ve been quite busy in our household preparing for Christmas.  We spent this past weekend having an early Christmas celebration with my husband’s family.  It’s always so much fun to see all our kids playing together – reminds me of Christmas at my grandparents’ house.  Like me, my mom was one of eleven children.  And every Christmas, everyone would go to my grandparents’ house.  It was a packed house, as I’m sure you can imagine.  It was my favorite memory from Christmas.

Being the middle child of eleven children, I don’t think I ever really believed in Santa Claus.  My oldest sister is 8 years older than me, so figure that they must have told me at some point.  In any case, I wanted to give my kids the magic of believing in Santa.  For many years, I have photoshopped Santa into a picture of our living room using Gimp (a free photoshopping application).  I would print out a picture and leave it on the coffee table for the boys to find in the morning.  They absolutely loved it!  It also confirmed with them that I knew Santa personally so they better behave or I could call him.  However, this year my older son asked if I could video tape Santa at our house.  Apparently, because of photo editing software on his DS, he put together that you could add Santa to pictures.  Luckily, he seems to have forgotten about that request.

Last year, I learned about Portable North Pole.  I love this web site!  It’s a site that allows you to create a free personalized message from Santa!  You fill out some information about your child like name, age, where you live, if he/she has been good this year and what he/she wants for Christmas.  You can also upload a picture of your child and 2 pictures of things you did that year (like vacation, sports, accomplishments, etc.)  And from that information, the site creates a message for your child.  If you have multiple children, know that the video is the same except for the personal information that you give it.  Our kids didn’t seem to care; they were actually excited that they were similar.  Every night I ask my kids what their favorite part of the day was.  Last night, they both said finding out that they are on the nice list!

And on Christmas Eve, we always check out the Norad Santa site.  This year they have games on the site you can do before Christmas Eve.  You can find them on the Countdown Village tab.  On Christmas Eve, they post Santa sitings from around the world.

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