A Cuba Vacation is in Your Future

Legislation passed by the US House could ease travel restrictions, among other things, to Cuba and the Cuban embargo in general. The next hurdle, thanks to our bicameral system, is the Senate.

Don’t put on your guayabera just yet. Even if this bill does pass it would expire on September 30 unless President Obama extends it. But Obama may be on board per his previous statements. According to Reuters, “Obama has made clear he favors relaxing limits on family travel and cash remittances by Cuban Americans to Cuba… [but that the] U.S. trade embargo against [Cuba] should stay in place to press for democratic reforms.” That means travel to Cuba may become easier, but the Kennedy-era embargo may remain in effect.

What does the bill do? Per Reuters, while the embargo is still in place, it does prevent the Treasury Department from upholding “…rules requiring payment of cash in advance for agricultural sales to Cuba”.  Ok, so traveling to Cuba may be difficult but purchasing grain would be less complicated.

Perhaps in the future the embargo will end, Communism in Cuba will be abolished, and we will be free to travel to Cuba which once was a beautiful, thriving country.

Air Travel: Is it Safe?

Due to the recent airline neglence (thanks autopilot), some of you may be wondering if air travel is safe.  And if not, how can one travel far distances without boarding a 757?  If it is, how often do these airline incidents occur?

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, airline fatalities worldwide fell 25% in 2008 as compared to 2007. In fact, last year was actually one of the safest years in airline travel history.  However, that’s still 539 fatalities or about 55 per month.  But worldwide, with over 6 billion people, it’s a relatively small number.

My feeling is this: every time you get behind the wheel of a car, ride a rollercoaster, or even cross the street, there’s a chance something could go terribly wrong.  But we keep on doing those things, because we don’t want to live sheltered, boring lives.

Is there an alternative? What’s the future of air travel?  According to MSNC.com, microjets could be the next innovation of the airline industry.  These air taxis would only be useful for short range travel (less than1,300 miles apart) and would most likely be costly.  But perhaps as time progresses, these microjets could become mainstream.

Overall, air travel is safe.  It’s also the most time efficient way to travel.  And much of the time it’s cost effective.  Besides, do you really want to drive every time you need to travel a long distance?

Islamorada, Florida Keys

Have you been to Islamorada, the “Purple Island”, in the Florida Keys? It’s about 20 miles south of Key Largo around mile marker 80.

A quite, Keys village, Islamorada serves one, singular purpose: relaxation. That’s because besides a handful of restaurants, a movie theater, bowling alley, and fishing, there’s not a plethora of activities. But that’s quite alright because as I said people head to Islamorada to unwind, and that’s exactly the effect the Keys can have on you.

Don’t mistake Islamorada’s demeanor for that of Key West. Gays and booze don’t abound here. This is not a party town. Instead, it’s a laid back key with good hospitality.

I’ve probably visited Islamorada over one hundred times, but it never fails to provide a new experience each time.

Besides R&R, what’s there to do on this particular key? One activity that’s sure to please is dining out. There are not many restaurants, but the places available can be quite good. One such location is the Lorelei.

The Lorelei has great seafood and great view thanks to its bayside location. They have daily specials which will leave your taste buds asking for more.

Another great place to chow down is the Cheeca Lodge. Generally, hotel food is not great (not a restaurant in a hotel, but one run by a hotel), but this restaurant has a great poolside restaurant. Here’s a tip: when you drive up to the security gate, tell the guard your there for lunch. Then grab a table by the pool. Once you’ve finished eating you can slip right into the pool. Our secret.

Ok, so there are a few tasty plates at some random eateries, but what else can I do besides expand my waistline? Well, there’s fishing of course!

If you don’t own a boat which you can run down from Miami, the next best option is to charter a boat. Captains-for-hire are abundant in Islamorada and the Florida Keys, so locating one shouldn’t be a challenge.

A third great option while in the Keys is Holiday Isle. There you can have lunch, rent jet skies, and lay out on their beach.

Needless to say, there are many great activites in Islamorada. Stop by anytime.

Toronto, the New York of Canada

It’s been several years since my last trip to Toronto, Canada, the New York of Canada.  But I remember enjoying my trip and wanted to share some travel advice about Toronto with you, the readers.

Toronto is located in the province of Ontario and has over 2.5 million residents.  An noteworthy fact is that almost 50% of Toronto residents were born outside of Canada making Toronto a truly international city.

So what can you do in Toronto, you wonder?  Here are some sights you may want to visit:

Niagara Falls (it will require a short day trip, but is a breath-taking waterfall which offers a water-soaking boat ride)

CN Tower (the former, world’s tallest building which towers at over 1,800 ft high)

-Royal Ontario Museum (world culture and history of Ontario)

Yorkville neighborhood (one of the most elegant shopping/dining districts in Toronto)

Toronto is very similar to New York or Chicago (if they were in Canada, ay) due to the large, metropolitan area, bountiful attractions, culture, and fine dining.

What about the exchange rate? One USD is worth about $1.24 CAD.  So everything is effectively cheaper.  That means that you may even be able to save some of your hard-earned cash.

If you do travel to Toronto, airfare and accommodations are another consideration.  A good time to travel is in the summer as it may be cold other times of the year.  Also, if you live in the Northeastern US, there are many inexpensive flights you can choose from.  Hotels are also well-priced at as little as $84 per night.  I didn’t check hotel-flight packages, but you can almost always find a better rate that way.

Finally, here are a few restaurants that sparked my interest:

Embrujo Flamenco tapas restaurant (pricey, Danforth/Greektown area, food sounds interesting and there is live flamenco)

Ten-Ichi Japanese (inexpenive, Scarborough area, has all-u-cant-eat dinner menu and cheap lunch specials)

Dos Amigos (moderate, Downtown area, has nice-sounding, authentic Mexican food)

Here’s a good restaurant review site you may want to consult.

If you have a chance, check out Toronto, Canada on your next vacation.

San Francisco: Sweet Spot of California

One of the highest populated cities in California, San Francisco is a beautiful city with many fantastic attractions.  I’ve had the pleasure of visiting San Francisco twice, so I attest to that sentiment.

San Francisco is a beautiful city on the bay which has great food, cool temps, and is one of the few cities lined with staircases on its streets.

Assuming you have a chance to travel to San Francisco, here are a few attractions you won’t want to miss:

1) Golden Gate bridge (a bright orange, suspension bridge that crosses the Golden Gate which connects the bay to the Ocean)

2) Alcatraz (infamous, island prison where super g-men such as Al Capone were housed)

3) San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (home to masterpieces from artists such as Jackson Pollack and Paul Klee)

4) Fisherman’s Wharf (a major tourist attraction on the San Francisco waterfront that has Ghirardelli Square, a wax museum, fresh seafood, and much more)

5) Chinatown (California and San Francisco in general have large Asian populations so it’s no surprise they have great Chinese food. You can find tasty dim sum and other Asian delicacies)

What about traveling to San Francisco?  I live in Miami and researched flight/hotel info using Expedia.  I was able to find a deal for less than $650 per person which included airfare and a three-night stay in a mid-level hotel.  Considering the high cost of flying to the West Coast, that’s a relatively good deal.  If you have the means, I would certainly consider flying there for your next vacation.

San Francisco is a great city, with wonderful weather, that will amaze you at every turn.  The hilly streets and cable cars help to define this unique city in California.

Orlando, FL: Theme Park Heaven

Repost of trip to Orlando, FL:

Several months ago, my girlfriend and I spent the weekend in Orlando, FL. Thanks to a great online vacation package deal, I was able to find round-trip airfare and hotel accommodations for a very low price (less than $160).Our flight arrived late Friday night, so we went straight to bed in an effort to wake up early the next day.We stayed at the Howard Johnson Maingate East Hotel in Kissimmee which was very basic and didn’t include breakfast. But it was only 15 minutes from Disney and 25 minutes from Universal. Unfortunately, the free shuttle to Disney, which should have taken about 15 minutes door-to-door, took an hour as the the driver made several stops. The only shuttle to Universal was not free via Caesar’s Transportation, but it was much more efficient and only $18 round-trip for a 25-minute ride. It’s also a great option for the airport at about $7 less than a cab.

Saturday, we took a shuttle to Universal and went to both theme parks there. Because the parks were swamped, we decided to get Express Passes which are about $60 each for the two-park passes. If you don’t want to wait in line, I highly recommend these passes because you can make your way through any line in 15 minutes or less versus 60 – 90 minutes for some of the more popular rides. A few times, we practically walked right on to the rides! Gotta love Orlando.

Sunday, we took the shuttle to Epcot where we spent most of the day drinking and sampling different cuisine from the World Showcase which is a collection of mock, international cities. It was enjoyable to see France, Japan, England, etc., but there really aren’t too many other attractions. Besides Mission Space, every ride had an hour wait with no Express Passes available for them. Instead, Disney uses free, Fast Passes which basically allow you to come back to do a ride at a specific time, but they were completely gone by the time we arrived at the park. The moral here is get to the park early if you can.

Overall, the trip was lots of fun in Orlando, even if we were exhausted afterward, but in retrospect I would have done things differently. If I were booking this trip today, I would have picked a set of theme parks (probably Universal over Disney) and stayed at one of the hotels at that park. That way we wouldn’t need to take 15 – 45 minute shuttle rides to the parks and if you stay at a Universal hotel it entitles you to free Express Passes. The only caveat is that this option is more expensive. But some deal sleuthing on travel sites may yield deals.

Visit Louisiana: New Orleans (NoLa)

Repost of a trip I took to New Orleans, Louisiana:

About a month or so before the Labor holiday (September 2007), I decided to take a vacation with my lovely girlfriend. Originally, I wasn’t planning to travel, as I had recently been to St. Lucia for Memorial Day, but I was between jobs and needed an escape.

My good friend suggested I travel to New Orleans (NoLa), but my first reaction was that hurricane-demolished, Crescent City was still in ruins. However, after some research I learned that Louisiana, and NoLa in general, was in full-swing and that areas such as the French Quarter, the very neighborhood I would visit, were almost fully restored.A few days later, I booked the trip using Expedia.com and found a great deal: $700 for non-stop, round-trip airfare for two and a three-night hotel stay at the Sheraton (in the French Quarter).We had a lot of fun on the trip. Some of our outings included:

-Going to Valley Oak Plantation (very cool to see how people lived hundreds of years ago)

-Exploring the French Quarter (New Orleans famous neighborhood)

-Dining at Dominque’s and NoLa (Can’t visit NoLa with out dining here)

-Drinking/clubbing on Frenchman Street (much more chic than Bourbon Street and the Mardi Gras scene Louisiana is known for)

-Eating creole/cajun food until we couldn’t stand up!New Orleans was a lot of fun, and I would definitely recommend visiting if you can.

At any rate, if you have not been to New Orleans, it’s a good time at reasonable prices.

Trip to Manhattan: New York, NY

Back in December of ’07, I traveled to New York back in December of with my girlfriend for the Christmas season.  We spent 5 days and 4 nights on the Upper Westside of the city at my parents time share.  Manhattan is a great city and there’s plenty to do.  Some of our activities included:

-Going to Chinatown (the days of quality and fake purses are over for good!)

-Visiting the MoMa (it’s free on Fridays after 4pm)

-Visited Soho/The Village (Great areas of New York)

-Seeing “Is He Dead” a hysterical, Mark Twain Play (a late 19th century, French artist fakes his own death in order to sell his work at a premium)

New York in December, believe it or not, isn’t that cold. I chalk it up to global warming.  Manhattan is a mysterious city full of wonder and excitement, and as I result it’s no surprise that each time I visit I see or learn something new. Also, because I’m a foodie at heart, I always appreciate the new restaurants I discover which seem to be in endless supply. If you haven’t been to Manhattan; it’s time to visit. And even if you have, you should plan a return visit.

Tales of Washington, DC and Newseum

This is a useful repost of my recent trip to Washington, DC:

I need to doubleup on this blog as I didn’t write anything about Sunday night. Here’s goes nothing.

Yesterday, after a quick lunch at the apartment, we headed to Tyson’s Corner, a mall in McLean VA, where we did some holiday shopping. There were some great deals at Macy’s, so I didn’t have to spend too much money on gifts. After several hours of shopping, we dined at Sandia, a mexican restaurant, that was moderately priced, and moderately tasty. Once we finished, we headed home as some of the gang had to work today and much of this week.

Today, I got off to a late start. I was a little bit tired (and preoccupied about my girlfriend’s visit to Colombia). But I eventually dragged myself out of the apartment into the twenty-four-degree weather of DC. I headed to Chinatown to get some dim sum, but I couldn’t find the restaurant on my iPhone (and the 80mph wind gusts were freezing my ears), so I stumbled into an inexpensive Chinese eatery where I had a quick meal. It wasn’t anything to blog home about, but it did the job. Next, I found my way to the Newseum. It’s completely dedicated to the historic moments of America’s past. There, I watched a short film in 4-D about innovations in reporting and saw a 9-11 exhibit. It was quite interesting. I may go back tomorrow as I didn’t have much time to spend there.

I met my friends for dinner at Raku, one of the first restaurants at which I dined when I came here for college almost seven years ago. I had the fried calamari, a spicy tuna roll, and a miso soup. Very low-carb for sure. We topped-off the night by seeing Frost/Nixon (they stole the title styling from Nip/Tuck). It was very well-done and Frank Langella (Nixon) and Michael Sheen (Frost) gave superb performances. If you haven’t seen it, I would recommend it.

Madrid: The Center of Spain

Gran Via, Madrid

Ah, Madrid. It’s one of my favorite European cities. And definitely one of the top destinations in Spain.

If you have a chance to visit, here are some places to see and things to do:

1) El Museo Prado (one of the best museums in Madrid)

2) Retiro park (a gorgeous park with trees, fountains, a lake, and much more)

3) Any cafeteria (or small restaurant/bar) which serves tapas

4) Day trip to Granada to see La Alhambra (Spanish castle)

5) Day trip to Toledo

6) El Rastro (outdoor market)

7) Go to Plaza de toros for a bullfight (not for the faint of heart!)

These are my suggestions. But check out this more comprehensive list of almost 300 Madrid attractions for more ideas.