Cruising through Florida and the Caribbean

While growing up, I was always told that the west coast is the best coast. San Diego and California’s diversity made this a statement that was hard to argue, that is until my recent trip to south Florida. It wasn’t my first time traveling to Miami, a city that I adore, a city that makes me feel like I am not in America. Full of culture, good food, amazing beaches and wonderful nightlife makes it one of the best cities in the USA. Miami airport connects the world and before boarding a weeklong cruise through the Caribbean, I decided to fly in the night before. There are always many choices to choose from when selecting a hotel, but in this particular situation I wanted something that had a free shuttle and access to other surroundings near the airport. Cambria Hotel Miami Airport was the perfect fit. Their shuttle service comes around the clock and it’s under a 10 minute drive to their beautiful location on the bay. The hotel suites are perfect for individuals or families, with an amazing room service menu, pool, gym and views, it exceeded all expectations. The hotel shuttle will also take you to nearby shopping centers or places within a 3-mile limit, so a quick trip to the store allowed me to get everything I needed before boarding my cruise.

As a world traveler, I have found that many people like to share their opinions on cruising. For me, there is nothing better when it comes to a vacation! I’m typically living out of a suitcase and am always having to plan where I will travel and film the next TV program. On a cruise, I can board it and not have to decide what I want to do until the day comes. I love that I am transferred, fed and entertained when I walk onto that large ship. Besides this way, I get to unpack and move into one room while traveling to mulitiple destinations. First order of business is to find your room, the dining room and where the next trivia game will be played (yes, I’m obsessed with playing trivia).

On the weeklong journey, we first had a day at see onboard Holland America’s Nieuw Amsterdam. This is a great time to get familiar with the ship, the activities and adjust to the time change (if necessary). With sun chairs, good food, drinks and amazing sunshine- the vacation officially begins. The first port of call was Turks and Caicos, to the island of Grand Turk. This island is owned by some cruise ship companies so there will not be many other people on the long sandy beach. You are technically restricted to an area, unless you arrange to have a tour or cab ride to another part of the island. I was perfectly happy enjoying a local bar and the amazing sea- where the color could not be more perfect!

The next day was a trip to Puerto Rico, a place I have always wanted to visit. Since the hurricane came through about one year ago, its fascinating to see how much the people have rebuilt and recovered after such severe damage. I was mostly excited to be able to spend the entire day in the old city of San Juan. San Juan is gorgeous with colorful buildings, narrow alleys and a fun, lively culture. I first walked along the water to visit the fort (which is free) where are breathtaking views and photo points. After the fort, I went to meet up with my guide for The Old San Juan Food Tour. Throughout my travels around the world, I have learned that a walking food tour is really so much better than a normal tour. You learn the history while indulging in local cuisine and meeting local people. My tour was amazing, private and the most important thing is I was not hungry at the end. I tried everything from coffee to mojitos and traditional food to delectable desserts. By the end of the tour I had learned so much history about the town, met amazing and generous and Puerto Ricans and got a very good first impression of this gorgeous island.

It wasn’t my first time to St. Thomas, but it was the first time to the port of Charlotte Amalie. This island is not very large, but was also heavily damaged during Hurricane ??. I didn’t sign up for a shore excursion, but instead decided to walk into town. After exploring the small town, I hopped into a local “taxi” which is more like a pickup truck with benches. You pay the driver $2 and get out when you arrive to your stop. Once I got inside a local told me that the taxis go in a circle all around the island so that if I didn’t have anywhere I needed to be I could just take a ride. I thought this was a great idea and during the ride I found out quite a bit about the island and where it would be a good place to get off. I stopped in Red Hook and walked around the marina and enjoyed a coffee by the sea before continuing my journey back to the port. Before boarding I recommend taking the cable car up to the top of the hill (right next to the ship) for a great view of the ship as well as the surroundings!

With another day at sea before the final stop, it’s a great time to relax and enjoy the onboard activities. Holland America does a great job with the entertainment including live cooking shows, dueling pianos, and one of my favorite things is watching the comedian. The food onboard is also top notch, with 3-course dinners every night, I never had one meal that was disappointing. I loved switching up the flavors and types of food, getting to try a bit of everything! The days at sea are also the gala dinners where you can dress up, take pictures, and I loved dancing at the BB King Blues Club later in the evening.

The final port was Holland America’s Cay island in the Bahamas.   With beautiful white sandy beaches, it’s a great place to chill on the beach for the day and perfect that tan before heading on the final day. It’s crazy how fast the week goes by, but as they say, it always does when you are having fun! My trip from Florida was a perfect way to escape winter, yet relax and enjoy the beauty at sea. Nieuw Amsterdam was a very practical and lovely ship with amazing food, friendly staff and great staterooms. I look forward to my next adventure traveling with them.

It is always a sad moment when you get off a ship that you called home for one week. It’s almost as if you start to know where everything is and then it is time to leave. Luckily my trip in paradise wasn’t over yet. I rented a car and drove south to the Florida Keys. The Florida Keys is made up of 1700 islands in the archipelago and is about 2.5 hours away from Miami. Connected by bridges, you quickly notice many of the islands are quite small with lots of local restaurants, cafes and hotels throughout. My destination was to the town of Marathon to Tranquility Bay Resort. This resort is a great retreat and place to base yourself while exploring the keys and the surroundings. The rooms are large and spacious and spread out around the resort. With two pools, a tiki bar, water sports, and an amazing beach, you really don’t have to leave. One of my favorite experiences was eating at the Butterfly Café, the fantastic restaurant on the property. I went for the local seafood dishes, indulged in their warm cheese bread and topped my meal off with a famous key lime pie and martini! Afterall, key lime pie was invented in the Florida Keys.

One day I went to explore Key West and visit the southernmost point in the United States. Just 90 miles from Cuba, it is crazy to think that it might be the closest I ever get to Cuba. Key West is an amazing little tourist spot. I recommend parking your car once and leaving it there the whole day. I walked around all day, exploring shops, visiting Sloppy Joes Bar (to try a sloppy joe), saw Hemingway’s house, and finished the day watching the sunset at Sunset Pier.

Florida is a special place blessed with nice weather (sometimes), lots to see and many places that seemed like paradise.