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Category Archives:North & Central America

5 East Coast USA Places That are Way Off the Beaten Track

I’ve been to the USA a number of times, and each time I go, the list of places I want to see grows. One of my fondest trips was a month long loop around the Northeast, starting and finishing in Chicago. A carload of buddies and I hit most of the major cities in the area, but we also managed to balance that with a few locations closer to nature. If you’re planning to drive around the Eastern Seaboard, consider these places when you go.

Cape Cod, Massachusetts

A Beach in Cape Cod, MA

I visited Cape Cod on that loop, and it served perfectly as a quiet break from a road trip itinerary otherwise dominated by cityscapes. The sleepy town of Provincetown was our destination on the furthermost tip of the hook that is Cape Cod. We walked on beaches and explored MacMillan Pier Marina, but the best thing to do in Cape Cod is to eat seafood. You don’t live this far out into the sea without mastering the art of shellfish.

Atlantic City, New Jersey

Atlantic City

Image via Flickr by shinya

I’m a big fan of Las Vegas, so the idea of Atlantic City also intrigues me. Atlantic City is billed as the Las Vegas of the East Coast, but it really does have its own character. With its long boardwalk along the Atlantic Ocean, you can easily zip out for some fresh air, something severely lacking in most casinos.

For the kids and kids at heart, the boardwalk actually extends out into the ocean, sporting a massive amusement area, not unlike those in Galveston or Santa Monica. I’m also a massive “Boardwalk Empire” fan, so picturing the boardwalk during the Roaring 20s and pretending to be a mob boss is all I’d think about.

Ocean City, Maryland

Two states south of Atlantic City lies Ocean City. A resort town on a thin strip of land bounded by the Atlantic to the east and Isle of Wight Bay to the west, Ocean City is very much a family vacation spot. It boasts a water park, an amusement park, and plenty of sandy beach. Don’t worry, though, as there are also plenty of golf courses for the parents to escape.

The presence of a Ripley’s Believe It or Not! definitely signals that you’re in tourist territory. But if you’re just after a beach break, the wide, sandy beaches of Ocean City will definitely do the trick.

Luray Caverns, Virginia

Luray Caverns, Virginia

Although not on the coast, Luray is definitely off the beaten track. Located just two hours from Washington, D.C., Luray is perfectly nestled in Shenandoah National Park. There are three reasons to visit Luray: the incredible ribs and wings at Uncle Buck’s Steakhouse, the hiking in nearby forests, and the ancient Luray Caverns.

There are three reasons to visit Luray: the incredible ribs and wings at Uncle Buck’s Steakhouse, the hiking in nearby forests, and the ancient Luray Caverns.

Acadia National Park, Maine

Acadia National Park, ME

Image via Flickr by heipei

If you make it as far north as Acadia National Park, you might feel like you’ll run out of land soon. And you will, as the park is located on an island off the coast of Maine in the far Northeast. Acadia is a beautiful spot year round. Camping and hiking are popular in the summer, with hundreds of trails of all difficulties. In the autumn, the island is awash in oranges and browns, as the canopy becomes the trail. The winter then brings snow, where hiking turns into cross-country skiing.

As a traveller, it is a constant balancing act between seeing what you came to see and exploring serendipitously. By taking a detour to some of these lesser-known destinations, you can not only make your dollar go a little further, but also create some unique experiences that few others will.

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Space Centre Houston: How to make the most of your day

If you do a Google search on things to do in Houston, NASA’s Space Centre Houston will undoubtedly appear on every listicle you come across. And there’s a very good reason for this: there’s actually not that much to do in Houston. Well, that is unless you get your jollies off in museums; in that case you might never leave the place. Space nerds, regular nerds, and people with a vague interest in space travel will all find Space Centre Houston a must-see attraction.

And just to clear the air so there is no confusion: Space Center Houston is the museum or visitor centre, Johnson Space Centre is the NASA control Centre where the astronauts play.

This is what we did on our day there, and what you can do to make you day run smoother.

Rocket Park at Space Centre Houston
Rocket Park at Space Centre Houston

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Los Angeles: Fun things to do in the world’s worst city

Hollywood sign over the hills from Griffith Observatory

Los Angeles is a sprawling mess. Highways criss and overpasses cross, and despite 7 lanes of traffic they still manage to get possibly some of the world’s worst traffic jams. It’s attractions are vastly spread and you can feel like you might waste your entire vacation in transit, especially if you try and rely on public transport.

So with that wonderful introduction done, welcome to a blog post all about Los Angeles!

Alright so the above is what we generally know so far. If Florida is America’s dong (look at a map), LA must be America’s butthole. So when Kynie said she hasn’t seen any of LA before and wanted to do Disney’s California Adventure, I took it as a challenge to find some good in the city that has given me so little.

And I succeeded. I had 4 days in Los Angeles and  this is how I spent it.

Hollywood Sign, the closest you can walk to

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St Maarten: How to spend your cruise day ashore

Not many islands this small offer visitors the opportunity to visit two very distinct cultures on the one island. Settled by the Dutch and the French, each side has its own personality, culture, and language. Saint Martin/Sint Maarten is one such unique island and was the first stop on a 10 day Caribbean cruise with Princess.

The easiest way to maximise your St Maarten cruise day is to hire a car. Hertz and a few others smaller operators have offices there and you can pre book. But if you don’t, just be prepared to have a Plan B incase they are sold out.

Our cruise gave us a total of 8 hours on shore; from docking at 8:30 to all aboard at 4:30, which was almost enough time to see almost all that we wanted to, but it was a little tighter than we’d have liked. Nonetheless, here is how to do a DIY highlights tour of Saint Martin and Sint Maarten.

Maho Beach

You will arrive in the Dutch capital of Philipsburg, but it will likely be too early for anything to be open so save your time there until the after on your way back to the ship.

Assuming you’ve picked up a car, start by driving counter-clockwise towards Maho Beach. Maho Beach is famous as being plotted at the end of the runway of the St Martin Juliana International Airport. From this small strip of sand you are seated in prime position to witness small passenger planes and jumbos come into landing.

Planes flying over Maho Beach St Maarten

The first thing to note is that it is a small beach. If not for the airport this beach would never rate a mention. But, the brilliant turquoise sea is an excellent place to take in the action.

And if the sand blasts from the jet engine power becomes too much (and if you are directly behind it, it will) you can just duck under the water. But I preferred to stand off to the side to get the dramatic over-sand plane photo.

The Sunset Beach Bar right next to the beach posts the landing times of the major aircraft, which are the exciting ones, but you’ll find planes of all sizes coming in to landing every 10 or so minutes.

I was pretty disappointed that I didn’t get to see any jumbos come in (we’d been there an hour and others wanted to move on) so your best bet is to work out prior when they’ll be coming in. They started for us around 11am, which was, sadly, just as we were leaving.

Marigot

If you couldn’t tell by the name, Marigot will be your first stop on the larger French side.

We didn’t give Marigot a lot of time, however, it is worth noting we also happened to visit on New Year’s Day, which was also a Sunday, so most things were closed anyway. The Sarafina Bakery was open though and it was pumping.

Fort Louis Marigot St Martin
View from Fort Louis, Marigot.

What actually made us stop in Marigot was Fort Louis, an old fortress ruin from the 18th Century that the French used to defend their territory against the Dutch and the British. From the main street it is no more than a 10 minute walk up an obvious path of steps and pavement (flip flops are sufficient).

For such a small walk it’s a magnificent view, giving a 360 degree panorama of Marigot to the east and Simpson bay to the west. It’s well worth the stop and you can be up and down in 30 minutes, easily.

Grand Case

Because we’re on the French side still, it is pronounced Gron Kaz. Grand Case was not what I expected it to be. I generally read guides and blogs before going to a place and I expected little shacks dotting the beach with locals selling food and beers to visitors. If you’ve read any other guides you might have this same assumption.

The town was more low key than I expected, and actually felt quite residential, save for a handful of local eateries and accommodations along the beach and main road. These places were all raised above the beach, with stairs down for easy access.

Grand Case Beach St Maarten

The beach at Grand Case is still a nice beach, in fact it was definitely more spacious and less crowded than Maho Beach, but keep your pants dry for now because I think there are better beaches for swimming and relaxing if you aren’t tied here.

I’m getting sidetracked. the reason to go to Grand Case is actually to have lunch. Of the handful of eateries along the shore a few are referred to as lolos. I’m not sure what the translation is, but essentially they are small diners serving local delicacies such as Grilled Lobster, Conch sausage, Ribs, fish, and jimmy cakes.

All this while sipping a few $2 Carib beers with the local steel drum band, nay orchestra, serenaded you with unique melodies, backed by bass guitar and drums. It was quite something. In the video below, the last 20 seconds are of the band and you’ll understand what I mean.

Lunch was served and was incredible. I mean, it was no luxury resort seafood buffet (that was Christmas Day!), but it was barbecued to perfection. Even though the day was only half over this was already the highlight.

Incredible local food at Grand Case St Martin

Pic du Paradis

Pic du Paradis was one thing we missed, but even if we had have planned the day differently, it still would have been a stretch. You see, around St Maarten is a ring road. It’s not a big island, but most of the attractions are on the coast.

…Except for Pic du Paradise, which translates to Paradise Peak. I.e. a big ol’ mountain in the middle. There’s a road that goes up, but to get the view that’s worth seeing it was going to be a 1km walk from the car park and back, which was time we at the time could not spare.

If eating the local food is not important to you, you might choose Pic du Paradis over lunch at Grand Case, because they are quite close. Or if both sound like non-negotiables, think about what else on this list you could forego.

Already you are starting to feel like 1 day on this magnificent island is not enough!

Orient Beach

If you wanted to come to St Maarten for a day and just spend a day at the beach, this is where you’d come. The beach is long, it’s wide, and it’s bursting with water sports.

Orient Beach St Martin

For these reasons the beach is very popular with visitors and there are a great number of resorts that back onto the beach. The resorts all have a plethora of beach chairs and umbrellas that you can hire and park yourself for the day.

Orient Beach is perfect for the family, couple or group who want to get off the ship, and just want to relax on a beach with a book, absorbing the idyllic surroundings.

Philipsburg

About 10 minutes from Orient Beach is Philipsburg, the capital of the Dutch side and landing point for all cruise ships. It is perfectly setup to receive tourists with no shortage of beach bars, cafes, clothes and souvenir shops, and of course places to buy the famed guavaberry liqueur.

The beach is pretty big, also with plenty of umbrellas and beach chairs, and it is right in front of the ship so it’s very easy to setup camp here for the day. However, I found the beach at Orient Bay to be much nicer. The sand was softer, and there were more opportunities for activities.

Front Street Philipsburg Sint Maarten

Other Notes about St Maarten

Gambling is oddly legal here, we saw casinos everywhere. In fact, the first building we saw when we disembarked was a casino. It made me wonder how many people don’t actually make it any further.

The beer on St Maarten is mostly $1.50. This was the cheapest beer I found in the Caribbean so I made sure to bring some back onto the ship (which was really easy).

St Maarten was one of my favourite islands I visited on the cruise, and one that I would happily return to. If you’ve been to St Maarten, what was your favourite place?

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St Maarten cruise day: How to spend one day ashoreMaho Beach, St Maarten. How to spend one day ashore St Maarten.


Las Vegas: The Epic Guide to Drinking, Gambling and Entertainment

Endless rows of flashing machines; free drinks galore; and arguably more ways to be entertained than almost any other city on earth: Welcome to Las Vegas.

I consider Las Vegas to be like Disneyland for adults: pretty lights dazzle every guest, visitors are inundated with seemingly endless entertainment options, (and the workers are all probably on low wages from giant corporations).

I have been to Las Vegas 4 times now, which I consider quite impressive for someone that lives in Australia. There’s a few reasons for this: I love the energy of the place, it’s always buzzing, and there’s always a sense of excitement. I love the grandeur of the casinos, rising out of the desert, completely out of place.

But most of all it’s just fun. Continue Reading

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