The Nature Conservancy protects lands worldwide. But in South Florida, the only protected space managed by TNC is Blowing Rocks Preserve in Jupiter Island.
I had been thinking of visiting this area for quite some time; I used January 1 (New Year's Day) as my motivation to get out there and finally "just do it"!
If you decide to visit Blowing Rocks Preserve (and I think you should!), please note that parking is very limited (even with the addition of a second parking lot on the west side of the road adjoining the education center. Typically, they discourage standing/waiting for cars to leave and security encourages cars to keep moving. There is NO street parking available.
As of January 1, 2022, the education center was closed, as well as the donation post when you enter the beach side (due to COVID restrictions).
I started from the west side parking lot next to the education center. [Also note that since the education center is closed, so are the restrooms; there are 2 portable bathrooms for use plus hand sanitizer stations, but no running water.]
The highlight here is definitely on the beach side of the preserve. Cross South Beach Road (unless you are lucky enough to find parking on the beach side!), and take the short path to the beach. At this point, you can enter the beach, or continue north along another path. I continued north for a bit, and then walked along the beach to end up at the actual "Blowing Rocks"!
On the southern part of the preserve, the sandy beach changes to a landscape of rocky formations that reminded me a bit of Hawaii. According to The Nature Conservancy, this is the largest Anastasia limestone shoreline on the Atlantic coast!
If you visit during high tide, you'll be able to see the water blowing up through the rock formations. I visited at lower tide, and was able to walk along the water line and explore some of the cave-like features of the rocks next to the ocean. I didn't get to see the water shooting up through the rocks, but it was still a cool experience.
If you plan to just walk the trails and explore the beach without swimming, you can easily spend an hour or two here. The beach is also good for swimming and snorkeling. But since it is a nature preserve, don't bring picnics, alcohol, or your pets. And you are asked not to collect any shells, plants, or rock. (I found a few nice seashells and then tossed them back into the water.)
Current park hours are 9am - 4:30pm 7 days a week (except Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day). If you go on a holiday (like New Years Day), be prepared with patience in the parking lot. Around 4pm they will come over to the beach and let everyone know that the parking lot will close.
This was a great way to kick off 2022, and I look forward to doing some more local South Florida exploring this year!
Although Sunshine Travel is a travel agency dedicated primarily to cruise planning, I can't always be on a cruise or traveling somewhere "new and exciting". I've lived in Florida since I was 2 years old, thanks to New Jersey snow that my parents didn't want to deal with anymore. As pretty as snow Is (to look at), I'm happy to be a year-round flip-flop wearer, and be able to sink my toes in the sand whenever I want!
I plan to use this blog in 2022, along with my new Instagram, as a little digression from major vacation planning. 2020 turned the travel world upside down; 2021 was supposed to get better (and it did...a little bit). Now 2022 is starting out with uncertainty again. I decided to share some travel photos and experiences here, just for fun. Some are throwbacks to previous times; some will be current from local explorations.
One of my resolutions (not just for the New Year, but for life) is to do the things I've been talking about for a long time. I don't necessarily mean big bucket-list items (one trip to New Zealand, thank you), but smaller things that are easy to accomplish but that I somehow never get around to.
Here's an example: in 2012, Sunshine Travel did a spotlight on a different part of Florida each month. One month, I picked Clearwater Beach. As a travel consultant, I've also planned numerous trips for clients to the Clearwater Beach area. It's a great destination here in Florida! But somehow, I never managed to squeeze it in for a personal visit.
In 2019, I finally decided that enough time had passed us by, and I took my kids to Clearwater Beach for a few days! We enjoyed not only Clearwater Beach, but Caladesi Island State Park, Honeymoon Island, Indian Rocks Beach, a sunset dolphin watching boat tour (with ice cream!), and the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. It didn't actually take a lot of effort, and it was more than worth it. A few months ago when Winter the Dolphin (from Clearwater Marine Aquarium) passed away, we were even more glad that we made that trip and had the chance to see Winter in real life!
The big bucket list trips may be on hold for a little while longer, but in the meantime, enjoy your local area (safely!) and do what you can now, instead of saving it for some other time (which often never manages to present itself).
Noble House Hotels says it's now the time to "make up for missed memories" ~ birthday and anniversary celebrations, family vacations, girls' weekends, and more! There are several Noble House resort properties here in Florida so you can start planning something amazing!
Have you stayed at any of these properties before? Which one is your favorite?
Ocean Key Resort & Spa, Key West
Little Palm Island Resort & Spa, Little Torch Key
Sole Miami, North Miami
Pelican Grand Beach Resort, Fort Lauderdale
LaPlaya Beach & Golf Resort, Naples
Some people like to describe Club Med like "camp". This is probably pretty accurate, although you're not REQUIRED to take part in any of the activities. You could just lounge by the pool with a pina colada all day. But most people who I encountered during my visit to Club Med Sandpiper Bay were not lazing around.
The children's clubs have a busy roster of fun activities scheduled throughout the day...and the adults have not been forgotten!
Each Club Med is a little bit different. At Club Med Sandpiper Bay in Florida, there is a clear focus on wellness and sports academies.
What are the academies?
Unique to this Club Med property are the Tennis Academy, Golf Academy, Fitness Academy, and the Beach Volleyball Academy. Group lessons are included for those who are beginners or looking to improve their skills. For an additional fee, you can opt for private lessons or more intensive instruction.
Currently, the Tennis Academy is directed by Gabe Jaramillo and Scott Del Mastro and their coaching staff. Gabe Jaramillo has trained many top tennis players in the world. Daily group lessons are included In your vacation, whether you are a beginner or you've been playing for years. You can also include the Tennis Boost Package (at an additional cost), that combines a personalized coaching program with spa therapies, healthy cuisine, and specialized fitness training and analysis.
The Golf Academy is currently under the direction of Don Law, a founder and director of one of the largest golf training programs in the country. Group lessons (and full equipment) are included in your vacation package, for beginners up to more advanced players. Guests also have full access to the driving range, putting green, and practice facility. While you're visiting, you can also take advantage of the Active Boost Golf Training Package; if you can't make it, don't worry - there are also remote training options available!
If you're looking to train for a triathlon, or just improve your fitness overall, then consider the Fitness Academy at Sandpiper Bay. Though several packages are at an extra cost for more intensive focus on fitness training, there are several programs offered at the resort that are included, and geared for all levels. Each day, you can try classes in Yoga, Cardio Fusion, Water Aerobics, Zumba, Pilates, and more.
Beach Volleyball Academy
This is actually the first and only Beach Volleyball Academy in the world at this time. Like the other sports, there are group lessons offered that are included in your vacation package. But if you're looking to take your sport to the next level, a Beach Volleyball Boost Package is available.
With all of the enticements from the Academies, I'll admit that I didn't get a chance to try any of them. I think if I stayed for a whole week I would have had more time to branch out and try new things. On a day to day basis, I don't play tennis or golf or volleyball, and I don't have any current plans to participate in a triathlon.
However, my family and I did try to partake in some of the other sports offered around the resort!
Basketball ~ Soccer
I noticed that the basketball courts were often being enjoyed, but anyone who wanted to play could join in. There were also daily pick-up soccer games, including one for kids (every day at 5pm!) After a while, I noticed some kids on the field who seemed to be there all the time! I guess that was just their favorite thing to do!
Flying Trapeze and Circus School
This is a popular activity found at several of the Club Med resorts. I gave it a shot, and it was fun. Again, if I had more time at the resort, I think I would have been able to definitely learn some new skills! The staff at the trapeze was great at making you feel comfortable and confident!
Circus school and Trapeze were also highlights for my kids. Children as young as 4 years old are allowed to participate (though an adults-only session is scheduled each day so the grownups can have their own play time!). For kids, there is also a smaller version that they try before going up on the big trapeze.
Sailing ~ Standup Paddle Board
Though the resort is not located on a typical white-sand beach, it is situated on the St. Lucie River. So the resort's small beach is used as a base for setting out on sailboats and paddle boards, and some people do swim there. Instruction is given for sailing twice a day; once you've taken a lesson, you're free to take a boat out as often as you'd like. Kids as young as 6 can be passengers on a sailboat, but you need to be at least 11 to learn to sail.
Stand-up paddle boarding seems to be a new popular sport these days, and I finally had the chance to give it a try. I thought it was easier than it looks (I was brave enough to try it upside down too!). My 13 year old daughter really picked up on this and loved it. She doesn't really like typical sports, so I was glad she found a new activity that she enjoyed. That's part of the beauty of a place like Club Med - there is a huge variety of things to try, that maybe you wouldn't do in your day-to-day life, and it could turn out to be a personal favorite. You needed to be at least 11 years old for paddle boarding; but for kids under that age, but over age 6, they can be a "passenger" on an adult's board.
On my last day, I noticed an informal sign-up for a sunrise paddle board tour the next morning. It was a 2 hour tour, and included in your vacation package. Too bad we had to leave. I thought about Izzy and the folks at the beach the next morning when I was driving the kids to school!
Swimming ~ Water Polo
There were 3 pools at Club Med Sandpiper Bay: the main pool, where water aerobics and games were held each day; the heated lap pool for swim training (and water polo?); and the children's pool, which was a shallow pool with spray features and a small climbing structure.
Table Tennis ~ Bocce Ball
I saw plenty of people having fun with ping pong! The bocce ball court was not used as much, but my guess is that most people probably don't know how to play bocce!
Club Med Sandpiper Bay is part of a large group of French-owned resorts - over 70 properties around the world! Though Club Med may not be a household name in the U.S., it is well known in Europe. And as a result, a lot of Europeans visit the property. During our stay, we heard other people speaking in French, Spanish, Russian, Hebrew, and more. At evening shows, the chef de village (i.e. Village Chief, sort of like your 'cruise director') would make announcements in both English and French. As American English-speakers, we never felt out of place or had problems communicating with people. The children's clubs were very accommodating to children who spoke other languages too; I noticed at least one family of children who only spoke French, and the counselors spoke to them in French and made sure they were included.
The rooms are spacious, and clean. But they are not "fancy". On the outside, the buildings do appear quite dated. But on the inside, they have been reasonably updated. There are seven buildings in all, each with 3 stories (and elevators to reach upper floors). Club Rooms are the standard rooms, and most have balconies. Deluxe Rooms are the same size, with slightly different furnishings. You'll also get evening turndown service (with chocolates on the pillows!), a stocked mini-fridge (with water and sodas), robes and slippers for in-room use, and a nicer view. Catering to families, there are plenty of connecting rooms available, as well as Family Deluxe Rooms that have a separate bedroom area for the kids.
Tip: If the cost difference is minimal, definitely choose the Deluxe Room! The kids loved getting the chocolates on their pillow at night, and everyone appreciated the cold bottled water in the evenings, or to bring along to the beach.
If the overall look of the hotel underwhelms you, just remember that the highlight here is not "the look". The rooms are clean, and the food is fresh and tasty... but what's really outstanding here are the programs for kids and families, and especially the Sports Academies. In the next post, I'll highlight what really makes Club Med a great resort for families and people who like to be active.
Happy New Year from Sunshine Travel!
Have you made your New Years Resolutions? Do they include travel?
Let's pretend just for a minute that your big dream comes through this year, and you can take a trip anywhere in the world. Where would you go? What would you do?
Honestly, if it were me, I'd have a hard time deciding...I might just have to hop on one of those world cruises! But if you had to choose just one destination...what would it be? Take my poll - and let's see what the most popular "Dream Trip" is!
If you're headed to Seattle for some sightseeing, whether it's your entire vacation or a pre- or post-cruise trip, I highly recommend the Hyatt Place Seattle/Downtown.
I recently had the opportunity to check out this Hyatt Place, and it was every bit as great as I expected!
Th Hyatt Place Seattle/Downtown is quite similar to other Hyatt Place properties - spacious rooms, a hot breakfast buffet, free wi-fi, and a super-friendly staff. A big standout here, though, is the location. You literally step out the front door of the hotel, and you can see the Space Needle. For a first-time visitor, it's pretty exciting!
It's less than a 5 minute walk to the Space Needle, EMP Museum, and more! And for places a little further away, the Hyatt Place runs a free on-demand shuttle service. They will take you to the Pike Place Market, or anywhere else you'd like within a 1-mile radius, and when you're ready, give them a call and they'll pick you up!
The lobby was friendly and inviting, with several tables, chairs, and couches for hanging out, or if you're waiting to meet someone. There's a small nook with computers available so you can do your airline check-in, if needed, or for a quick check of your email. If you have your own computer or tablet, there's free wi-fi available. And of course, there's a kitchen area, where a nice hot breakfast buffet is served each morning. For other meals, there is a small counter with a few items for grab-and-go, as well as a small menu (we tried the nachos - they hit the spot!) offering a variety of foods and drinks throughout the day.
One thing I really appreciate about Hyatt Place is their larger rooms. If you have a bigger family, like I do, you know it's tough to find a single hotel room that will accommodate 5 or 6 people. But the Hyatt Place always works out great for us, with a room with 2 beds and a sleeper sofa. And if you are a smaller family, or not traveling with kids at all, you'll still appreciate the extra space in the rooms!
The hotel also had a few other amenities, such as a small gym, an indoor pool, and conference facilities.
If you're going to be in the Seattle area, I highly recommend the Hyatt Place Seattle/Downtown - it's a new, clean, and modern hotel with some great amenities at a fantastic value. Be sure to contact Sunshine Travel for the best prices for your travel dates!
If you're going to Alaska, no trip is complete without a train ride. Whether it's a glass-domed train trip all the way to Fairbanks, or a shorter version from Anchorage to Whittier, a train is a great way to sit back and enjoy all of Alaska's beautiful scenery.
I just got back from an Alaska cruise that sailed from Whittier. The closest airport is Anchorage, which is over 2 hours away. If you're sailing from Whittier, and flying into Anchorage like I did, you have a few options: rent a car, take a bus, or take the Alaska Railroad. We opted for the Alaska Railroad's Glacier Discovery Train, and I'm so glad that we did. The ride is extremely scenic, the seats are comfortable, and it's easy to get up and walk around, get a snack, and some fresh air too. Renting a car might seem like a more flexible option, but it's hard to look around at the scenery while you're driving, and you might run into a slight issue at the tunnel (more on that later).
Our train ride was scheduled to leave Anchorage at 9:45am, and arrive to Whittier at 12 noon. We were supposed to arrive an hour early for check-in, but since our hotel's shuttle left every hour on the hour, we ended up arriving closer to 8:15 vs. 8:45; that worked to our advantage as there were absolutely no crowds! It was easy to drop off your suitcases - just put your cruise luggage tags on there, and they took care of getting them to the ship for you in Whittier. Then go inside and pick up your tickets... and that's all there is to it! While you're waiting, you can browse in the gift shop, go outside to take some pictures, or purchase a cup of coffee or small snack.
Boarding is quick and easy. The seats are pretty plush, and there's plenty of room under the seat or above you on the overhead shelf to store any bags you've carried on. Just sit back, relax, and enjoy the view now!
There are Alaska Railroad train route booklets available for purchase onboard for $5 (cash only, prices as of July 2013), as well as a free magazine that was still relatively informative about what we were passing along the way.
Note: the last portion of the ride to Whittier involves 2 tunnels, so it does get dark for a few minutes. The benefit to railroad is that they have priority through the last tunnel, which is shared with trains and cars, and only allows one-way traffic. If you decide to drive, you'll need to know the schedule, or you may be stuck waiting up to an hour until it's safe to drive through!
Great Views of Turnagain Arm
Keep a lookout for Beluga whales in the water!
More Scenery along the way
There's more wildlife to watch for in the mountains, especially Dall Sheep. You can also see some remnants from the big earthquake from the 1960s.
When you arrive in Whittier, it's a short walk across the street to the cruise ship terminal for checking in. Since your luggage was tagged for the ship back at the depot in Anchorage, it will automatically meet you at your stateroom in the afternoon!
The Alaska Railroad Glacier Discovery Train was a really easy and scenic way to get to the cruise port - I highly recommend this for cruisers flying in or out of Anchorage! We also met several locals who were doing a daytrip to Surprise Glacier, so note that the Alaska Railroad has many options, not just cruise transfers.
A thumbs-up from the kids
A few notes on kid-friendliness: This was a great trip with children! Here's a few reasons why:
I recently had the opportunity to take a tour of the luxury ship Crystal Serenity. On the day of my tour, guests were embarking on a 74 day World Voyage. To some people, 74 days on a typical cruise ship would NOT be on their list of dream trips! But this is not a typical cruise. Onboard, you'll find an all-inclusive experience: no extra fees for yoga or pilates classes; free enrichment activities like language learning, musical instruments, wine tastings, crafting, and more; all wine, beer, and spirits; specialty dining; even all of the gratuities are included.
But where Crystal shines is their itineraries and ports of call. On this particular World Voyage around South America, guests will have the opportunity to:
In case you're too late to experience this year's journey, there are a few other future voyages that you might want to learn more about. On January 18, 2014, the Crystal Serenity will set sail for an 89-day Full World Cruise, beginning in Los Angeles and ending in London. Featuring 3 full days in Tokyo, Hong Kong, Ho Chi Minh City, Singapore, and Cape Town, and the opportunity for a 3 night Cambodian adventure to Angkor Wat, you can see how this is more than just a cruise, but a truly immersive experience.
Looking ahead to 2015, there is a 108-day voyage planned that will circumnavigate the globe - truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Sailing roundtrip from Miami, guests will experience:
Click here for the full itinerary and more details.
If you don't have the time or budget for a World Cruise, it's good to know that all of these longer voyages can also be booked in shorter segments of 12-24 days. And throughout the year, Crystal Cruises features several "shorter" weeklong cruises, allowing even the busiest of people to escape for a truly relaxing and luxurious vacation experience.
For more details on World Voyages, or Crystal Cruises, please contact Sunshine Travel today!
Do you like the convenience of cruising - the ability to visit several destinations without having to pack and repack? An all-inclusive feeling onboard, with meals and entertainment rolled into one price? But are you tired of the same old ports and destinations?
What if you could cruise right into the heart of some of the world's greatest cities, without having to worry about tenders or long transfers into town? What if all of your shore excursions were already included in the cost of your cruise? Or better yet, wouldn't it be nice if you could just borrow a bike from the boat, and ride around on your own, exploring at your leisure?
Now factor in wine and beer with meals, free wi-fi throughout the ship, and scenery along some of the most famous rivers, and things are starting to sound pretty good, huh?
Add to this the fact that there is absolutely no seasickness to worry about from the motion of the ship. And to top it off, you're cruising with about 100 other people, instead of THOUSANDS!
With river cruises, you can really explore the heart of the countryside, whether it be scenic towns along the Danube, while you're cruising between Prague and Budapest... or the Rhine, cruising between Amsterdam and Basel. And don't think you're limited just to the rivers of Western Europe - that's just a starting point! These days, river cruises can allow you to easily explore Portugal, Russia, Vietnam, Africa, and more. There are also special themed cruises, centered around wine in the fall, or even around Holland's tulips in the springtime.
And what about bringing the family? Note that due to the small size of the ships, none of the major river cruise companies offer a kids program or babysitting like the major ocean-going cruise lines. However, most do accept children, even as young as 4, making the river cruise an ideal trip for extended families traveling together to share a special experience, a unique summer family vacation, or even just a grandparent-grandchild trip. For example, Tauck Bridges offers 2 family-friendly river cruise options in 2013: 2 nights in Paris followed by a 7 night Rhone River cruise; or a 7 night Blue Danube cruise between Budapest and Regensburg. Both are excellent introductions to Europe for children, yet offer enough to keep every member of the family happy!
If you've always dreamed of visiting Europe, and think a river cruise sounds great, contact Sunshine Travel to find out which itinerary and river cruise company might be right for you!