Go See Do Photography

A Lot of Travel, A Little Bit of History, and a Whole Bunch of Photos

Cruise Planning Tips

Ship at Sunset

Sunset on Norwegian Gem

It is quite possible that I enjoy planning a trip as much as the trip itself. Planning and research makes the anticipation of a trip so exciting! Alright, you used my tips from last week to book your cruise. Now, what?

Gem in Nassau 19/100

Norwegian Gem in Nassau, Bahamas

1. Buy trip insurance. Trip insurance is something I never really thought about before, but for a cruise it is incredibly important. If you get sick and have to be evacuated off of the ship, your health insurance will not usually cover it. You don’t want to end up with thousands of dollars of medical bills that could’ve been prevented with a $100 insurance policy. I really like the options on insuremytrip.com.

2. Find out what travel documents you need. Are visas required for any of your ports? Do you need to renew your passport? It can take weeks to get a new passport so you don’t want to put that off.

3. Set a flight alert on Hopper. I love that Hopper searches for flight deals for me and lets me know when is the best time to book. It frees me up to think about other parts of the trip that are much more fun!

4. Research the ship. Read about it on the Cruise Line’s website. Cruise Critic also has lots of ship reviews to help give you an idea about what your cruise  is going to be like. Figure out what needs to be booked in advance. Can you book dining or shows before boarding? Is it necessary to book it in advance?

5. Research the ports. Cruise Critic has great port guides that tell you everything you need to know about your ports. What are the most popular things to do in each port? What currency do they use? What language do they speak? How safe are they? This will give you an idea about if you want to explore the port on your own or if you should take an organized excursion.

Evening on Deck

Evening on Carnival Valor

6. Start looking for a hotel or pre-cruise stay. I think by now, you know I’m a huge fan of AirBNB. If you are driving to the cruise port, look for a hotel that offers free parking for cruise passengers. That could save you a lot of money!

7. Book your excursions. Finding the perfect excursion can be a little overwhelming. Do you want to book through the cruise line or do you want to use an outside company and save some money? For our upcoming cruise, we got a $50 shore excursion credit through NCL, but even with that, they were significantly more expensive than Shore Excursioneer on the cave tubing in Belize City. For our Costa Maya day, we booked through NCL because we have a limited time in port and I was worried that an outside company won’t get us back to the ship in time. If you book a shore excursion through an outside company, make sure you let them know what time you have to be back on the ship. Most of them have a guarantee that they will get you back to the ship in time, just like the cruise lines. This is how they make money so they will do everything they can to make sure you don’t miss the ship.

Skyline Sailaway 14/100

Sailing out of New York Harbor

8. Book onboard activities. NCL opens up their dining reservations 60 days before sailing. If you are not planning on doing any specialty dining you probably don’t have to book anything in advance. They do reserve some times to be booked onboard, but to get a table at the busy times, it doesn’t hurt to book in advance. For the larger ships, you can even book your shows online ahead of time. This is my first time on a mega ship, so I will let you know how that goes!

9. Pack. Ok, you don’t want to do this too far in advance, but you can start planning what you want to bring before you actually start to pack. Maybe you have to go shopping. That’s always fun! Space is limited in cruise ship cabins, so you do not want to overpack. Think about how many formal nights there will be. How many swim suits will you need? What will you wear on sea days or in port? I’ve been trying to find a good Caribbean Cruise packing list and I haven’t been able to find one I like. I may have to post mine after this cruise!

Thanks for stopping by! Did I forget anything? Let me know in the comments! If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page, follow me on Instagram, and Flickr! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my Gear Page. For information about our new Guided Photography Tours, visit GuidedPhoto.com.

Choose Your Cruise

Carnival Valor in Ocho Rios, Jamaica

It’s the time of year where it’s hard to get the motivation to get outside and take pictures. It doesn’t help that this has been such a weird winter with its temperature fluctuations and winter storm after winter storm. Planning for our upcoming cruise is the only thing keeping me going right now.

Our cruise is getting close and I think we have everything booked. We have booked our flights and our pre-cruise stay. We’ve made our specialty dining reservations and booked our shore excursions. I think all that’s left is packing our bags but it may be a little early for that.

In all of my planning, I think I’ve learned a thing or two about picking and planning for a cruise and I thought it would be a good idea to share! Here are the steps I use to pick my next cruise!

Atrium on Carnival Valor

1. Think about when you’d like to cruise. As a teacher, my travel times are limited to times when it is busier and more expensive to travel. If you have more flexibility, you can get great deals and avoid the crowds. Hurricane season tends to be the cheapest time to travel, but be prepared for itineraries to change to avoid storms.

2. Think about where you want to go. The Caribbean is one of the most popular cruise destinations and because of three availability of cruise ships in the Caribbean, it tends to be cheaper than other destinations. Cruises to Alaska are big in the summer months, as well as Mediterranean cruises. My absolute dream cruise is a Hawaiian islands cruise.

3. Think about what kind of atmosphere you’d like on your cruise. Are you looking for something formal? You may want to look at Princess or Celebrity lines. Are you looking for something more high energy? Check out Carnival. Do you want something more laid back? Check out Norwegian.

4. Think about the size of the ship. Smaller ships tend to be more intimate while bigger ships have more options in dining and entertainment.

5. Think about your stateroom. How much time are you planning on staying in your stateroom? If you’re only going to use it for sleeping, you can save money and go with an inside or oceanview cabin. If you plan on spending more time in your room, you should splurge for a balcony cabin or a suite.

Towel animal on Carnival Valor

6. Book your cruise. Typically, the best deals are found booking way in advance or waiting until the last minute. Of course, if you don’t live near a cruise port, booking last minute means higher flight costs, so keep that in mind. Cruise fares are typically the same no matter if you book them through a travel agent or straight from the cruise line. So, once you find your cruise, unlike airfare, shopping around is not really going to save you money.

Thanks for stopping by! Be sure to check back next week when I give more cruise planning tips! If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page, follow me on Instagram, and Flickr! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my Gear Page. For information about our new Guided Photography Tours, visit GuidedPhoto.com.

Lets Talk About Food

Wings at Duff’s in Buffalo, NY

“Do we really want to travel in hermetically sealed popemobiles through the rural provinces of France, Mexico and the Far East, eating only in Hard Rock Cafes and McDonald’s? Or do we want to eat without fear, tearing into the local stew, the humble taqueria’s mystery meat, the sincerely offered gift of a lightly grilled fish head?” -Anthony Bordain

Hot Brown from Ramsey’s in Lexington, KY

If you fly across the world, see the sites, but then eat at a restaurant that you have by your house, did you truly experience the culture of the place you visited? I have to say you did not. I don’t think you can truly experience a place and a culture without trying their food. James Beard said “Food is our common ground, a universal experience.”

In all of our travels we try to find unique dining experiences, foods we can’t get at home. Do we typically dine at 5 star restaurants, of course not. Sometimes it’s as basic as finding a local fast food chain that we don’t have at home. If it’s something I can get at home, I try to avoid it while traveling. There was a time a few years ago that we were in Chicago and I was getting hangry. I really wanted to try to find a cool, local place to eat, but my hunger was getting in the way of making decisions. We ended up eating at Panera and I was so upset that I wasted one of our few meals in Chicago on something that is 5 minutes from my house.

Bento Box from Wild Ginger in Corning, NY

With all the technology we have it is so easy to find good and authentic food wherever you go. I talk about it all the time, but TripAdvisor is a great way to get travelers’ honest opinions on restaurants and find places that are under the radar. When we were in Boston we found this very trendy Mexican restaurant called Lolita Cantina. The food was unique and the dining experience is one I will never forget. The meal started with a granita with a splash of tequila and it ended with cotton candy and temporary tattoos.

If you’re looking for something less fancy, go to the dining tab on TripAdvisor and there should be a section labeled cheap eats. We tried all kinds of good restaurants that were unbelievably inexpensive. My favorite was a tiny Italian restaurant in Concord, Massachusetts that served huge portions of pasta. It was not a place I would’ve found just walking around. We also had really good gyros near the campus of Southern New Hampshire State University.

Thin Mint Latte at Higher Grounds in Traverse City, MI

When you travel, branch out of your comfort zone. Try some foods you wouldn’t try at home. It will expand your horizons and transform you. Talk to the people where you’re staying. Find out where they like to eat. Of course check out TripAdvisor. You won’t be disappointed.

Do you have any tips for finding authentic places to eat when you travel? Let me know in the comments.

Thank you for stopping by! Do you have any trip planning tips that I missed? Let me know in the comments! If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page, follow me on Instagram, and Flickr! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my Gear Page. For information about our new Guided Photography Tours, visit GuidedPhoto.com.

National Plan for Vacation Day

The last Tuesday in January is designated as National Plan for Vacation Day. Why? I have no idea, but I have been doing a lot of planning lately and thought I could talk about it here. As I mentioned in my annual New Years post, I have two trips coming up in the next few months and I have been busy planning for all the little details for those trips.

Since it had been a few years since we had flown, the search for the perfect flights took a lot of searching and waiting, and searching some more. One thing I learned from this search is that nowadays, most of the best deals will actually be found booking directly through the airline, instead of Expedia or a company like that. I used both Kayak and Skyscanner to search with Hopper to tell when the was the best time to book. For both of our trips, we got better deals on one-way flights than on a round trip tickets. Those sites helped us pick through all of the flights find the best deals.

For both of our upcoming trips, we are staying in AirBNBs. AirBNB is great because it allows you to find inexpensive vacation rentals for every need. You just want to crash on a couch, you can probably find it on AirBNB. You need a house for 10? They have that too. AirBNB was a saving grace for our pre-cruise stay in New Orleans because hotels near the port are $300+ per night.

There aren’t many AirBNBs near the Grand Canyon that still have availability a month out, so we went the hotel route for that night. My trick for finding hotel deals is to look at both TripAdvisor and Priceline. TripAdvisor has the reviews and Priceline has the best deals. We ended up getting a great price on the #1 hotel in Grand Canyon, Arizona by checking Priceline before booking TripAdvisor’s deal.

I have been scouring Pinterest for how to handle one day at the Grand Canyon as well as must dos for a short trip to New Orleans. TripAdvisor is great for finding the heart of an area, but it can be overwhelming, especially with a limited amount of time. I’ve been enjoying reading what Bloggers enjoyed during their trips and what they would recommend skipping.

Thank you for stopping by! Do you have any trip planning tips that I missed? Let me know in the comments! If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page, follow me on Instagram, and Flickr! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my Gear Page. For information about our new Guided Photography Tours, visit GuidedPhoto.com.

Wordless Wednesday: Snow Sculpture

Toledo Museum of Art

On a rainy, late December day, we headed out to explore the Toledo Museum of Art.  We visited this museum on a field trip in high school, but we had bus trouble that left us with not much time left to explore. Ever since then and I have been wanting to return. I’m glad I finally got the chance.

I was most excited to check out the glass gallery. Opened in 2006, the glass gallery is located on the other side of the street from the main museum and the building is made entirely of glass. Several times a day, the glass gallery showcases glassblowing demonstrations. When we were there, the artists made one of the Three Little Pigs while telling the story. It was fun and kept the kids in the audience entertained as well. The glass gallery was a lot like a smaller version of the Corning Museum of Glass. They even offer glass workshops that allow you to create your own glass projects on certain days. These are not offered every day, so check the website for details.

The museum is a bit smaller than the Detroit Institute of Arts, but there was still a lot to see. The thing that I remembered most from my last visit were the ruins of the monastery at St. Pons de Thomieres (above, right). They have the artifacts put back together and arranged in a room with blue lights on the ceiling that make it look like you are outdoors. It stuck with me from all those years ago and it was good to see these artifacts are still on display for people to experience art and architecture of the middle ages.

The museum is free for anyone to visit but parking is $7 for nonmembers. To plan your visit visit ToledoMuseum.org. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page, follow me on Instagram, and Flickr! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my Gear Page. For information about our new Guided Photography Tours, visit GuidedPhoto.com.

Wordless Wednesday: Curling

Off Season Camping

Autumn at Tahquamenon Falls

Now is the time of year where people start clamoring to get the perfect summer campsite. Michigan State Parks 6 month reservation window is open now for summer and all over the internet, campers are posting about the difficulties of getting their favorite spot. All this hype makes it really hard to get into the popular campgrounds especially over the busy weekends. There is one way sure fire way to avoid all this hassle: camp in the off season. Camping in Michigan outside of the summer, you practically have the campgrounds to yourself.

The slowest season for camping is definitely winter. Winter brings less options as some campgrounds close completely while others limit availability. Many campgrounds that remain open close the bath houses in winter as well. Of course, winter camping brings lower temperatures and snow (although not much of that yet this year) so you need to be prepared with a quality tent and sleeping bag rated for the cold. Bring your snowshoes or cross country skis and take to the trails during the daylight. If you are prepared for it, camping in the winter is a unique experience.

For those who are not that hearty, spring and fall are less busy than the summer, but more comfortable than winter. And if you are able to go during the week, you might not have many neighbors. Last May we took an impromptu one night camping trip at Holly Rec just to get out of the house. There were a few other campers around, but it was much calmer than the summer and we were able to walk right in and get a spot without booking months in advance.

Of course, camping in Michigan in the fall adds a whole other layer to the experience. The trees put on a show that dress up the campgrounds. I love going up to the Upper Peninsula in the fall. The colors really add another layer to an already beautiful wilderness. We camped at Tahquamenon Falls a few years ago in the fall and there were only a handful of other campers around after the weekend. Of course, it gets chilly up there in the fall so you need to be prepared for it, but the views make it worth it!

Thank you for stopping by! If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page, follow me on Instagram, and Flickr! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my Gear Page. For information about our new Guided Photography Tours, visit GuidedPhoto.com.

Wordless Wednesday: Church at Sunset

Point Iroquois Lighthouse

Point Iroquois Lighthouse is located in the Eastern Upper Peninsula, on the shores of Whitefish Bay (that is the same body of water guided by the Whitefish Point Lighthouse), at the entrance to the St. Mary’s River. Point Iroqouis Lighthouse is located in the Hiawatha National Forest and is operated by the National Forest Service. Because of this, it is very hard to find information about it, such as their hours. Despite this, this summer, while camping at Straits State Park, we made the drive east to check out this historic lighthouse.

Interestingly, the name Point Iroquois comes from a 1662 battle between the local Ojibwa people and an invading Iroquois war party, looking to dominate the fur trade. The Ojibwa were able to stave off the Iroquois, halting their westward expansion. It is said that the Ojiwa refer to Point Iroquois as “Nau-do-we-e-gun-ing”, which means place of Iroquois bones. (NFS)

The lighthouse itself, is a classic, Michigan lighthouse with attached lighthouse keepers’ quarters. The current lighthouse was built in 1870. After 107 years of lighting up the bay, it was replaced by an automatic light. I am so glad these beauties are being preserved for future generations to enjoy and learn about the Great Lakes maritime history.

Thank you for stopping by! For more information about Point Iroquois Lighthouse and to plan your visit, visit the Hiawatha National Forest. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page, follow me on Instagram, and Flickr! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my Gear Page. For information about our new Guided Photography Tours, visit GuidedPhoto.com.

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