Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The First 10 Minutes of your Car Rental

We've all done it -- hopped into the rental vehicle, started it up and headed out into the streets. Then, in the midst of airport traffic with buses bearing down on you and taxis nearly swiping you, you're trying to read utterly illogical signage as you start groping for knobs, posts, headlights, windshield wipers, window controls, defroster/heat controls, the radio seek button.As you get your bearings, you find yourself making every error of every bad driver you've ever hated. To safely find your way into the big bad world in your next gutless rental car, follow this guide.

Check for scratches, dings, tears. If the car rental agent is circling your car with a pad making notes of scratches and blemishes, make sure you do the same. I've rarely failed to find a scratch or two that the agent missed, and if they're going to hold you to this process, you should do the same in return.

Start the car. Although it wastes gas and pollutes, you might find that allowing the car to warm up is a good call. It also affords you the opportunity to make sure the car is running fairly well, with no strange noises. Although most people take a good look for scratches and dings so they won't be charged upon return, they rarely check how the car is running.

Find and turn on heat/air-conditioning. This will allow the interior to heat up or cool down depending on the season while you get your bearings. A dark blue Neon is going to be blistering hot in the summer. Turn on the air-conditioning and let the car cool down while you continue your orientation program.

car lotConsult your map. Car rental lots are often inconveniently located in the outer reaches of the airport loop road organism. If you take a wrong turn out of the lot, you may find yourself back at the baggage claim before you know it. Most car rental agencies will give you a map of the area that pinpoints the location of the rental lot; take out and consult this map, and formulate your intended route out of the car rental void and into the world. Next, hand the map to a copilot if you have one, who can conceive any enhancements to the plan.

Fix your mirrors. A quick adjust to the rear view won't do it -- you've gotta deal with the side mirrors. If you're traveling with someone, he or she can help. This will save you some heartbeats when you first have to merge into heavy traffic.

Figure out the radio. Despite the nonessential nature of the radio, this may be the most important step. In fact, more accidents are caused by drivers tinkering with radio dials than using cell phones. (In my case, the only accident I've ever caused occurred when I rear-ended a police car while rooting around for a cassette tape.)

For the quickest approach, turn on the radio, figure out how to program stations into memory, find the seek button and move on.

I encourage you to take your time with this -- although the corporatization and franchising of radio has rendered the public airwaves almost uniform from coast to coast, some vestige of regional character remains at both ends of the dial and on both bands.

Find the window controls. When you arrive at the first toll booth and you're fishing around for the controls, and doors are clicking open, windshield wipers are going on and off, and rear windows are going up and down, you'll thank me for saving you the embarrassment.

Find the turn signals. This one is usually pretty straightforward, and will be exactly where you expect it to be. With all the ergonomic "improvements" to auto interior spaces that have forced me to write this article, the location of the directionals has changed very little since I was learning to drive.
car windshield wiper

Find the windshield wipers. Do this before you figure out the lights. As the sun sets, you'll have plenty of time to discover how to turn the lights on and off. If it starts raining suddenly, you'll be frantically hitting buttons in search of your wipers.

Locate the lights. This is a two-step task.

1. Find the on-off switch. When an approaching police car starts flashing its lights at you to turn on your own lights, you can now do so before the cop is past you and he won't turn around and pull you over.

2. Figure out the high beams. When you turn on your lights and the high beams are on, you can now turn them down -- you can also give a "thanks!" or a "go ahead, I'm lost" flash to the guy who cuts you a break when you're trying to figure out how to drive this high-tech Neon.

Find the fuel latch. Save yourself the embarrassment of popping open the trunk during your first fill up at the pump by figuring out where the fuel cover latch is right now.

Check the emergency brake. Is it on? You don't want the car rental employees to pick up the smell of burning brakes even before you leave the lot. Find it and release it.

Put the car in gear and head for the exits.

Head out the driveway and into the world.

Say, "Darn it, which way do we go again? Where's that map? How do you put this window down? Could you fix that mirror?" Repeat.

Got it? Remember, it can get worse -- there's driving in the U.K.

Go Anyway,

Article by Ed Hewitt Features Editor The Independent Traveler

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Being prepared for an Emergency

Weather conditions these past weeks have been challenging - from airports unprepared for extreme weather, counties and neighborhoods experiencing extra heavy snowfalls and icy conditions to unusual highly rain fall and flooding. Regardless of where we live, or what the cause may be, it serves as a reminder to be prepared for circumstances beyond our control and revisit a suggested list of items needed in a case of emergency.

* Water—One gallon per day per person for at least three days if evacuating, two-week supply if home.

* Non-perishable food—canned items: juices, vegetables, fruits, meat, fish and low-sodium soup, peanut butter and jelly, granola bars, dry cereal, protein drinks, nuts, cookies, dried fruit, bottled water and boxed milk. Need three-day supply if evacuating, two week supply if home.

* Pet needs—two weeks supply of canned or dried food, water, medications and garbage bags for cleanup, photos of pet in case of separation, food and water bowls, small cage, aluminum pan for kitty litter, bag of litter and scoop, long leash.

* Tools—manual can opener, flashlight, batteries, wrench to turn off utilities, utility knife, small ABC-type fire extinguisher, duct tape, plastic sheeting.

* Communication devices—cell phones and chargers, NOAA weather radio with alert tone and battery backup, hand-cranked or battery-operated radio, loud whistle, local map, poster board, waterproof markers.

* Personal/medical needs—sewing items, scissors, garbage bags, paper towels, cups, plates and utensils, matches in zip-close bag, candles, waterproof portable container filled with travelers checks, cash, bank account info, identification, extra keys, inventory of household items, copies of medical records and records for pets, cars, wills, trusts, Social Security cards, birth certificates, marriage and death certificates, other financial information and insurance policies.

* Sleep needs– small tent, sleeping bag or warm blankets, change of clothing per person appropriate for current weather.

* Infant needs—formula, bottle supplies, diapers, diaper rash ointment, warm change of clothing and blankets.

For more information visit

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Cruise Ship Firsts through the Ages

Cruises as we know them today are really only about 50 years old, but the tradition goes back more then a hundred years when passengers started booking travel on mail ships crossing the Atlantic. These cargo vessels evolved into the grand ocean liners whose names we still remember: Lusitania, Titanic, Queen Mary. Now the cruise lines are always competing to have the newest, the best, the biggest, and the most exciting ships at sea, morphing them into massive floating resorts where the onboard experience is just as important as the ports themselves, if not more.

10. 1840: First Transatlantic Cruise
When Cunard started carrying mail across the Atlantic on steamships, the company didn't know it was starting a whole new industry. A record number of passengers lined up for the crossings from England to New York, not because the boats themselves were that spectacular but because they were faster than previous vessels. Those paying customers came to expect more creature comforts than the crew, of course, so the on-board amenities got an overhaul, including the addition of a cow to provide fresh milk.

9. 1900: First Cruise Ship
The first dedicated cruise ship set sail in 1900, but it was a short-lived experiment. Named for Kaiser Wilhelm II's daughter, the Prinzessin Victoria Luise from Germany's HAPAG line cruised the West Indies and the Mediterranean. The Prinzessin was not actually a ship, but a grand yacht with 120 first class cabins plus a library and darkroom. At more than 407 feet, it was also longer than the Kaiser's own yacht, much to his irritation. The boat unfortunately ran aground in 1906.

8. 1912: First Ultra Luxe Ocean Liner

The first over-the-top luxury ship set off on its maiden voyage on April 10, 1912 with new features like a shipboard swimming pool, a la carte dining, a Parisian café, and a Turkish bath. Competition between the lines had become fierce, and the White Star Line sought to challenge Cunard, whose ships the Mauritania and Lusitania held the record for fastest Atlantic crossings. The Titanic and her sister Olympic trumped them in size and lavish amenities (at least in first class), even featuring running hot water in some of its cabins. Of course, we all know how that ended.

7. 1958: First Surge in Caribbean Cruises
The modern cruise era was born when the first passenger jet took off from London heading to New York, causing a sharp decline in the popularity of Transatlantic cruising. Air travel was not only much faster, but also took on the glamour and prestige that had formerly been associated with ocean liners. Those now-passé ships weren't dry-docked though. They found a new purpose plying the Caribbean waters. This opened up a while new category of cruising, still one of the most popular today.

6. 1965: First Affordable Cruises
The 1960s saw the founding of the first of the modern powerhouse cruise companies, bringing down prices through competition. Princess was born in 1965, offering the first short, reasonably priced cruises on its Princess Pat, which sailed from California and down along the Mexican coastline. Norwegian Cruise Line went into business in 1966 providing the first budget Caribbean cruises on its Sunward and soon became the first cruise company offering packages including low-cost airfare. The Royal Caribbean Cruise Line debuted with the 724-passenger Song of Norway in 1970. Finally, Carnival opened in 1972, instituting their "Fun Ships" and quickly becoming a behemoth, absorbing nearly a dozen other lines including Cunard, Holland America, and Seabourn.

5. 1977: First Big Ships on the Small Screen
As kitschy as it seems today, The Love Boat brought the notion of cruising (previously perceived to be only for the elite) to the masses. Viewers ate up the hijinks that top stars of the day got into with the fictional passengers and crew on a Princess cruise and booked their own vacations with hopes of running into cruise director Julie or maybe even Charo. The cruising frenzy was further fueled in 1984 by Carnival's Ain't We Got Fun ads starring Kathie Lee Gifford, the first to appear on television.

4. 1980: First Mega Ship

The '80s was the era of the size wars and the debut of the floating resorts. In 1980, Norwegian Cruise Lines introduced the first supership, the Norway. NCL bought the former S.S. France and spent $80 million converting it into a ship measuring in at 150 percent the size of its competition, capable of carrying 2,181 passengers and offering entertainment to rival Vegas shows. In 1988, Royal Caribbean's Sovereign of the Seas had a then-record-setting capacity of 2,350 passengers and was the first ship equipped with the now-ubiquitous multi-story atrium with glass elevators. The title "world's largest cruise ship" has continued to be passed from company to company ever since.

3. 1996: First Cruise Line with a Private Island

Disney Cruise Line purchased the small Bahamian island of Gorda Cay and rechristened it Castaway Cay, spending more than a year expanding the beaches and installing a dock big enough for the line's megaships. They have been continually updating it ever since and in the summer of 2010 will debut a new waterslide platform, an expanded stingray habitat, and 20 new beach cabanas. And of course, this being Disney, the ship from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies is moored offshore. Holland America, Princess, Norwegian, and Royal Caribbean all followed suit and snapped up their own private islands in the Bahamas. Royal Caribbean actually has a second island, Labadee, off the coast of Hispaniola.

2. 1999: First Skating Rink
Royal Caribbean debuted the first shipboard ice-skating rink on the 3,114-passenger Voyager of the Seas and ushered in the amenities war. Cruise lines continue to one-up each other with more and more outrageous forms of onboard entertainment like surf simulators and intricate waterslides. In 2003, Royal Caribbean was the first to add rock-climbing walls. In 2006, NCL installed bowling alleys on its Norwegian Pearl. In 2008, Celebrity was the first to feature 15,00 square feet of lawn space on Solstice. Launched in late 2009, Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas became the biggest ship ever built with a capacity of 5,400 passengers, offering a zip-line, a park with outdoor cafes, the first onboard carousel in its Coney-Island inspired boardwalk, and performances of the Broadway show Hairspray.

1. 2010: First Look into the Future...and the Past
This will be another year for firsts. Nine lines are launching new ships (all ordered before the recession). NCL is debuting the Epic, which will offer the first studio cabins for people traveling alone-without the onerous single-supplement fare add-on. The ship will also have the Epic Plunge (a 7-deck tube waterslide), 20 restaurants, and an Ice Bar made of, yes, ice. Seabourn will debut the Sea Cloud Hussar, the largest masted sailing ship in the world. Cunard's Queen Elizabeth will bring back the Art Deco décor of the grand old passenger ships of the 1920s to the 1940s. Princess, too, is returning to the nostalgia of the grand passenger lines, offering Bon Voyage parties. For four hours before the ship's departure, passengers can bring friends and family on board for a tour and lunch.

by Laurel Delp AOL Travel News Posted Mar 5th 2010 07:19 PM

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Go Slow in Caye Caulker, Belize

One of my favorite places to experience laid back island life is Caye Caulker in Belize. The island itself embodies the word relax, with clear blue sea, palm trees swaying in the breeze, friendly people, great food and amazing underwater scenery. The motto on Caye Caulker is ‘Go Slow’. The island is only 3 miles long and narrow at points so there is no way to get lost. The thing I like best is that there are only two streets on the island, Front Street and Back Street. I didn’t run into a single car as they are not allowed. However, I did witness the largest crab I’ve ever seen walking down sandy front street

Upon flying to Belize City, you can take a quick flight or a water taxi service to the island. The Caye Caulker Water Taxi Association has six scheduled trips each day (10USD) on fast, reliable boats serving the Marine Terminal in Belize City and Caye Caulker. The Marine Terminal is located next to the Swing Bridge in Belize City; a thirty-minute (20USD) land taxi ride from the International Airport. Tropic Air flies from the International Airport to and from Caye Caulker connecting conveniently with International flights.

Just off Caye Caulker you can snorkel in the world’s second longest barrier reef. In the Coral Garden you can see so many fish and beautiful colorful corals. Explore the beautiful Hol Chan Marine Reserve and see marine life in its natural habitat. Snorkeling with nurse sharks and rays in Shark Ray Alley is a once in a lifetime experience! While in Caye Caulker, over a 4 day period, I got PADI certified for scuba at Frenchies Diving Service. Imagine taking your classes at the beautiful Belize Barrier Reef!

Caye Caulker has many restaurants offering Belizean and international cuisine, including lobster, conch and red snapper. You can actually sit on the patio of a Caye Caulker restaurant, eating lobster, staring at the reef where your dinner was caught just a few hours ago. My favorite night spot is The II Bar, pronounced like a sailor’s ‘Aye Aye’. One section has swings hanging from the ceiling and it’s connected by a hanging rope bridge to another section. Upstairs is an open air area with a thatched roof, hammocks, and a couple of picnic tables, with nice views across the island and out to the water. Try the local Belikin beer or a drink made with the local rum.

Brilliant Trips - Submitted by Chris