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Exploring Cusco, Peru

Today we explored more of the Cusco, Peru area.

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We really enjoyed our time at the San Pedro Market.  What a colorful place.  This indoor market is open 7 days a week and attracts more locals than tourists.  It is extremely clean and well organized.  The locals enjoy drinking fresh juice for breakfast so there had to be at least 50 ladies preparing fruit for the fresh juice you can purchase.  Meats are not refrigerated (not even the guinea pigs)!  There are rows of homemade cheese to choose from, flowers, handicrafts, many varieties of potatoes and the big kernel corn on the cob (I find it tasteless).

We were amazed as we roamed around Inca sacred sites.  Some of those stones weigh over 10 tones.  They used rocks to cut rocks and the edges are perfect.

Peru is a beautiful place – this dog was admiring the scenery just like us!

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We were well entertained during lunch.  When a big group of tourists invades a restaurant the local entertainers show up in hope they’ll sell some CD’s.  I leave them a donation on behalf of my passengers.  We enjoyed traditional potato soup, fresh local trout – many of my passengers thought it was salmon and tropical fruit for dessert.

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We are soon heading out for dinner – I keep telling my passengers that I selected a gourmet guinea pig dinner!  Its the local delicacy but I think we’ll skip the opportunity!

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Peru!

We are having a great time in beautiful Peru.  

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I have a terrific group of 32 with me.  There are 6 newbies!  This is basically the largest size group that the local operator can handle.  In some historic areas, motor coaches are not allowed so we will fill 2 smaller vehicles.  

I met my passengers at Toronto Pearson.  Air Canada Rogue flies direct to Lima  – that’s a huge advantage.  I met a wonderful Air Canada supervisor at Pearson who graciously allocated a number of check in agents to only look after my passengers.  In a few minutes everyone had their boarding passes and were on their way to security.

As usual everyone enjoyed lounge access prior to travel – another Travel With Bradley perk.

The aircraft was packed – not an empty seat.  I am not a fan of Air Canada Rogue but the flight crew was gracious, the food ok and most importantly they kept the bathrooms clean!

Our flight was 8 hour in length and was uneventful.  We landed in Lima at 1230am and after we cleared immigration, grabbed our luggage.  I then led my passengers into the main terminal where our local guide, Daniel was waiting for us.    As a guide he could stand closer to the baggage hall than other individuals waiting for passengers .  He was also able to put us in a cordoned off area where nobody other than my passengers were allowed.  Porters were hired to take our luggage to the motor coach.

The motor coach we chartered was ultra deluxe.  I wish we had similar ones in North America.  The leather seats were wide and plush – just like flying in an airlines business class.

After a 40 minute drive we arrived at the JW Marriott Hotel, Lima.  I truly feel this is the best luxury hotel in Lima.  JW Marriotts are the very top tier in the chain and their Lima hotel is exceptional in every way – comfort, staff, facilities, cuisine.  The views from our rooms which overlooked the Pacific Ocean were stunning.

We slept extremely well.  We then gathered for a delicious, big variety buffet breakfast before we started our private Lima City Tour.

We enjoyed seeing the impressive city highlights.  Everyone remarked how clean Lima is.  We could not get over how many Chinese restaurants there are – Chinese restaurants are the locals favourite place to dine – they offer a reasonable menu.  The average wage is 600. USD a month, a teacher makes 700. USD.  Peru is therefore a poor country but surprisingly they do not have a homeless problem – our guide explained that other than some extreme circumstances (eg drug addict on the street ) everyone has a home.

Our welcome luncheon was held in a restaurant across from the JW Marriott in the exclusive Miraflores area.  This restaurant is built into a cliff and features dining rooms on many levels.  We enjoyed a scrumptious buffet with many local specialities.  Ceviche is a favourite and so is anything made with potatoes (they grow many varieties).   I included a Pisco Sour, the famous Peruvian cocktail and a popular purple beverage which is made with corn.

This restaurant is part of an upscale open air shopping mall.  Most of the stores sell high quality merchandise at very fair prices – much more reasonable than many other tourist destinations I’ve visited throughout the world.  Silver jewelry, puma cotton clothing and leather shoes are all manufactured locally.  

The weather was perfect. 

Next to Cairo, Lima is the second driest city in the world – its basically a desert.  Surprisingly most days are overcast with little sunlight.  Our guide joked that locals hardly ever see their shadow but we enjoyed a day full of sun and hot temps, in fact many of my passengers got a sunburn.

The exceptional dinner restaurant was a quick 20 minute drive from the Marriott.  Service was top notch and the variety of entrees was impressive.   Everyone really enjoyed the experience.

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We arrived back at the hotel around 830pm.  It was a very long day, considering we arrived in Lima just after midnight so I believe everyone turned in early.  

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This morning we were the first ones in the dining room for breakfast at 630am.  By 730am we were on the road to the airport for our direct flight to Cusco.  Porters collected our luggage but when we walked into the terminal we were surrounded by a few thousand people – chaos.  Luckily Daniel our local guide knows a few of the supervisors who were working today for Latam Airlines so we received VIP treatment and avoided all the incredibly long lines of passengers waiting to check in for flights.  Clearing security was fast and efficient.  We eventually boarded a bus for the short commute to the aircraft.  The flight was 1 hour long.  The flight crew came around with water and they sold sandwiches and snacks.

Cusco sits at a very high elevation – 11,000ft.  Most of my passengers started taking altitude prescription meds yesterday so they were prepared.  We were served a special altitude tea when we arrived at our 5 star hotel which at one time was a convent.   

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Our rooms are beautiful and many commented that they wish they could bring the artistically designed bathrooms home.  A private lunch just for us was served in the dining room.  We had a choice of beef tenderloin or breast of chicken.

We ventured to a local jewelry manufactures for a tour and shopping.  My passengers selected many pieces of jewelry to bring home.

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Tonight’s dinner restaurant was located in the main square of Cusco.  The waiters served us a delicious meal while we enjoyed live entertainment.


The French Riviera – Oh La La!

The Travel With Bradley, “French Riviera Sparkling Cote d’Azure” passengers and I returned back to Canada last evening.

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We departed on February 25th with Air France to Nice via Paris.  The weather in Southern Ontario was nasty that day.  Some of my passengers were forced to travel on secondary roads because there were many closed highways due to winter white-out conditions.

The Air France staff at Toronto Pearson Airport were very professional.  Our check-in was seamless and before long my passengers were relaxing in the Plaza Premium Lounge (A “Travel With Bradley Perk”).

Due to heavy snowfall the aircraft had to be de-iced which delayed our departure but strong winds mean’t a shorter flying time to Paris.  After going through security and passport control in Paris I directed everyone to our next boarding gate which was close by.  

Our connecting flight from Nice to Paris was a short, 90 minutes.  One piece of luggage was missing but it arrived on the next flight from Paris and was delivered to our hotel later in the day.  

Waiting for us in the arrivals hall was our friendly and very knowledgeable local guide, Catherine.  Pinto was our driver – from Portugal.

We traveled to the charming medieval village of St Paul De Vence for an excellent welcome luncheon followed by some free time in the village.  We watched some men playing pétanque beneath the towering plane trees.

Our home for 6 nights was a relaxing 4 star hotel.  This highly rated seafront property, is located on the famous Promenade des Anglais.  All of our upgraded, sophisticated hotel rooms featured stunning panoramic sea views.  We spent time on our room balconies, especially when watching the stunning, colourful sunrises.  The staff at the hotel was exceptional and so was their bountiful breakfast buffets which we looked forward to daily.

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We visited “Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild” a French seaside villa, located at Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat.  It took seven years to build this villa which is located on one of the most beautiful sites on the Côte d’Azur.  The villa was beautiful inside and its formal gardens were superb.  We sat in the sun while enjoying the charming “dancing fountains”.

We enjoyed a luncheon in the villa’s elegant dining room.  

The many meals we enjoyed during this journey were fantastic   We dined in beautifully decorated small restaurants, where the cuisine was artistically presented, service was always spot-on, and the 3 courses were always delicious – as a bonus everyone enjoyed accompanied French wines.  These were relaxing affairs, often lasting between 2-3 hours.

We spent time in Monaco where 1 in 56 people is worth at least $30 Million!  Monaco’s citizens altogether have more private wealth per capital than any other citizens from any given country – the reason they are drawn here is because there is no income tax.  To be considered a resident, a person must live in the principality for six months plus one day per year.  What it lacks in size it makes up in attitude.  This is the Worlds 2nd smallest country.  We toured its famous casino and dined in a very elegant space.  

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The glamour of Cannes (home of the famous film festival) impressed us all but its natural beauty made our visit worthwhile.  The sun shines here 300 days a year.  

When we visited village of St. Tropez we admired its serene side as we meandered its cobbled lanes.  

We visited Menton, the most Italianate and warmest town on the French Riviera.  its colourful Lemon Festival is a major event attracting upwards of 250,000 visitors every February which makes it the second largest event along the French Riviera.  This unique attraction started back in 1928.  This years theme was “Des Mandes Fantastiques – Fantastic Worlds”.   To create one of the worlds most unique events, over 300 professionals and 145 tons of citrus fruit are used to decorate the Bioves Garden fruit sculptures which we visited at nightfall in order to witness them lit up.  We returned later in the journey,  to attend the events 1.5 hour citrus themed parade which featured a mixture of giant citrus-covered floats, lots of confetti, dancers and folk groups.  

This journey also took us into San Remo, Italy – also known as the City of Flowers.  Its setting is beautiful.  We dined at a very small family run Italian restaurant where the Grandmother was the cook.   We felt like we were eating in her home.

I think a highlight for all of us was when we traveled into the remote French countryside, down some hairpin turns and narrow roads in order to visit a family run olive plantation.  The owner was real character and he treated us like royalty.  The home cooked meal they served us in their dining room was scrumptious and the view overlooked a beautiful valley.   We basically had this place to ourselves – what a wonderful experience.  

We attended the world renowned, Nice Carnival twice.  Once during its Spring Flower parade and we returned for the evening spectacular,  “Carnival Parade of Lights”.  This years theme was “King of Cinema”.  We enjoyed prime reserved seating for both events.  The atmosphere was vibrant and lively.  Many family’s attend, dressed in costumes.  Approximately a million visitors from around the world visit this event which is the largest on the French Riviera region.  The Nice Carnival is one of the world’s major carnival events, alongside the Brazilian and Venetian Carnivals.  This event started back in 1294!  

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The “Battle of the Flowers” Parade was brilliant.  Beautiful floats covered with flowers passed us and costumed people on the floats throw flowers into the crowd.  The evening parade featured illuminated mega size floats, lively music, along choreographed dancers – a party-type family atmosphere.  I think we all appreciate the amount of effort that obviously goes into organizing this mega event. 

We enjoyed glorious weather during our stay.  In fact many days we just needed to wear short sleeve shirts.  This sun was always shining.

Our journey home was smooth – especially the skies.  In Paris airport we needed to board a coach that shuttled us from one terminal to another.  This process definitely took time but the biggest delay was getting through the long lines at Canada customs on our return to Toronto.

This magnificent journey provided us the opportunity to discover the charms of Nice and the Côte d’Azur during the mild Riviera winters.  The events I included were amazing.  Put this part of the world on your “must visit” list especially during this time of the years so you can attend the area’s world famous events.  

Absolutely marvelous!  

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Visiting the Food Network’s “Pioneer Woman Mercantile”

It was an easy drive from Ada, Oklahoma to the Tall Grass Prairies –  home of “The Pioneer Woman Mercantile” in the sleepy town of Pawhuska, Oklahoma.

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Ree Drummond started out as a blog writer and gained many followers including the producers at the Food Network.  In 2011 the Food Network started taping “The Pioneer Women” television series which star Ree and in 2016, the Drummond’s opened The Mercantile, a restaurant and retail space located in a 100 year old downtown Pawhuska building.

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When we arrived in town we were warmly welcomed and enjoyed lunch at the Merchantile.  Typically 6000 tourists a week flock to the Pawhuska in order to visit the Drummond’s Mercantile.

Our lunch was exceptional (I ordered the chicken parmesan with a side of carrots in a whisky glaze) and afterwards I took my passengers to the 2nd floor bakery and they could pick whatever they wished for dessert.

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The Drummond’s have also opened an 8 room Inn which is at 100% occupancy for the entire year!  They also run a banquet space, pizza restaurant and are currently renovating a space for a Steakhouse!

A few entrepreneurs have opened additional shops around the Merchantile – Western Clothing Shop, Western Interior Shop and Ladies Clothing Store.

Dennis Brown and his staff at the “Frontier Hotel” treated us like family.  This exceptional boutique 20 room western themed hotel is located in an historic flat iron building – the first one built west of the Mississippi.  In its heyday the building was filled with over 100 law offices.  At one time this western town was booming.

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We were joined by 2 locals after lunch who proudly showed us around the tall grass country side.

Those that live in these parts contend with wild weather patterns,  tornados (May-Sept) and at times Thunder Snow.

This is cowboy ranch land.  There are over 27,000 buffalo that roam the Tall Grass Prairies – we saw a couple herds from a distance.  Fencing for cattle is 5 ft tall and for Buffalo 6 ft tall.  Some of the best hay in the US is grown here.

At one time this was one of the richest parts of the USA due to its oil.  The Osage Indians benefited greatly then.  A Tiffany Jewelry store and Rolls Royce delearship opened in town.

For 20 minutes we drove alongside the Drummond Ranch – they own 100,000 acres, raise 10,000 cattle and look after 2700 wild horses for the US government.  Their main lodge is off the main road – and then 8 miles down a gravel one.  This picture shows the start of that gravel road.

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With the success of the Pioneer Woman Television Show, retail is now in their mix.  They purchased a closed Walmart on the outskirts of town and its the distribution headquarters for their retail mail order business and it employees 35 locals.

In peak season up to 10,000 retail items every hour are moved between the distribution Centre and their Merchantile store!

Other than the Merchantile and their Pizza Restaurant, there is only one other restaurant in town.  It attracts the locals and that is where we enjoyed a casual dinner.  The staff from the kitchen all came out to meet us before we left.   They were excited to chat with some Canadians.

We were back at the Merchantile for breakfast this morning.  Most order the pancakes – with various butters and 3 types of syrup.  The staff at the Merchantile wished us a good journey.

Dennis Brown the GM at the Frontier Hotel showed up extra early to wish us a good journey home too.

Southern Hospitality has shown through during this western journey to Texas and Oklahoma.

Its sad to start our journey home (where freezing rain is in the forecast)!

Thanks to my amazing passengers – everyone is sharing email addresses this morning.  They wonderful folks will keep in contact – they’d like to travel together on another future “Travel With Bradley” journey and are already trying to decide which one!

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Magnolia Market At the Silos – WACO, TX

If you are a fan of Joanna and Chip Gaines, hosts of the TV series, “Fixer Upper” you would have been thrilled to travel with us today.

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Breakfast was served at our San Antonio hotel before we started our journey towards Waco, TX.  

Waco has a sorted past.  You may recall the horrendous Branch Davidian tragedy and then there was a devasting tornado of many years ago that caused massive destruction.

The success of the tv series, “Fixer Upper” has put Waco on the map in a good way.  The Gaines now employee over 500 locals – if you are going to apply to work for them, one of their stipulations is you must live in the community of Waco.

Our first stop was at Magnolia Market at the Silos.  This complex is located a stones throw from the interstate highway.  Once you exit the highway you can see the Silos – so a prime location.  Joanna and Chip Gaines saw an opportunity and converted these  run down vacant buildings into a shopping/entertainment complex. Now thousands of visitors flock here.  We are visiting during shoulder season and the place was packed.

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For those that are flying like my group, much of what they sell won’t fit in our luggage but that didn’t stop most of us from buying a few wonderful souvenirs.

Unique food trucks make their home here too.  There were lines of hungry folks forming at many of them.  I purchased a ice tea from the Alabama Sweet Tea Company – it arrived served in a glass mason jar displaying their name – another souvenir.

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Alice, our hostess with the mostess,  kindly waited in a very long line so she could purchase the “must buy” cupcakes at the Silo Bakery for my passengers on my behalf.  They are so decadent and well worth waiting in line for.

If you watch the “Fixer Upper” television series you will be familiar with “Jimmy Don” who is Joanna’s “Go To Metal Guy”.  He recently opened a pop-up retail stand on the far end of the Silo parking lot.  I walked over to see what he had for sale.  I asked his staff if he stops by often and a second later, who climbs out of his pick-up truck and walks over to meet me – Jimmy Don, himself.   He shook my hand and said, “I’m Jimmy Don – its a pleasure to meet you”.  We chatted for a good 15 minutes.  

You may have watched the “Fixer Upper” television episode when Chip Gaines purchased a closed iconic Waco Restaurant.  He then renovated  it into a breakfast/lunch restaurant – oh course its been a huge success so getting a group reservation is impossible.

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My group therefore enjoyed a fantastic lunch at the #1 rated restaurant in Waco – its called Cafe Homestead.

Cafe Homestead is located on the outskirts of town.  They serve 135,000 patrons a year and with the influx of tourists due to the Gaines, they jumped on the bandwagon and expanded their restaurant to meet the extra demand.  

Our meal was so scrumptious – meats/poultry are raised on their organic farm, vegetables are grown and everything on their menu that can be home made is…. even their many flavors of ice cream – (try the pecan sorghum).   We’ve really enjoyed a number of excellent meals during our time away but this culinary experience was one of the very best.  

Next to this awesome restaurant is a unique looking barn that has been converted into a quality retail shop.  From the outside you would never think it was once a barn but once you walk in, its obvious that it once was – its beautiful.  There is also very impressive pottery and furniture stores next door – once again everything is made on site by local craftsmen.

 After lunch we were met by an informative local guide who toured us around the community of Waco.  The name of the television show, “Fixer Upper” describes this community very well.   Much of the town is in a depressed, need to be “Fixed Up” state.

As our local guide pointed out when you watch the show “Fixer Upper” they never show the neighborhood that these homes are located in.  On a positive note the community is benefiting greatly from the influx of tourism and investors have started to move in.

During our tour we stopped at Harp Design Co. (frequently featured on Fixer Upper) – they are soon opening up a new much larger location to accommodate the masses of tourists.  We also stopped at Joanna Gaines original retail store (before their television show).  It is seldom open so our guide was excited that it was today – she had never been in.  It features discounted retail items from the Magnolia Market at the Silos main store.

In Texas there is a wonderful chain called, “Buckees” – a massive store where you can purchase everything imaginable – their food items and BBQ is freshly prepared  –  SPOTLESS  restroom facilities large enough to accommodate a sports team plus many, many, many gas pumps.  They have opened 13 of these mega locations.  They compliment their much smaller convenience stores.  Over the next few years they are expanding to other States – if you spot one stop in – you will be SO impressed!

I was especially thrilled to visit country superstar, Blake Shelton’s home town of Tishomingo, Oklahoma and dine at his terrific restaurant called, Ole Red – which is named after one of his many hit songs.  His staff treated us so well and our delicious 3 course meal was a hit with all my passengers.

Our very comfortable overnight hotel was located in Ada, Oklahoma.

A long day but a terrific one!

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San Antonio Touring plus a Terrific SURPRISE Evening!

WOW what a fun day we experienced in San Antonio.

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A local guide toured us around.  We visited many attractions including the Japanese Gardens, the Alamo, Missions and historic residential areas.  It was a beautiful day, temperatures were in the 70’s.  We noticed many spring flowers starting to blossom.

We learned that years ago when Bill Clinton was campaigning in San Antonio he snuck away from the Secret Service so he could enjoy some Mango Ice Cream at the historic Menger Hotel.  The press heard about this after the fact,  and before long that ice cream was almost as famous as Bill Clinton!  I walked into the beautiful Menger and saw Bills picture.

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We explored the colourful Mexican part of town which was packed with locals and tourists.  My passengers raved about our luncheon that was held in a famous family run Mexican restaurant.  This was the first time many of them had tried Mexican food – they were a little apprehensive at first but after a few bites were surprised how delicious it was.

 

Dinner was held at another family run restaurant that has been in operation since 1963.  The Red Barn is such a busy place you need to register for a table at a hostess stand located outside before you can enter.  This isn’t a fancy steakhouse but a local down home one where everything  is home made including the rolls, salad dressings  and desserts.

 

We were treated like VIP’s at the San Antonio Rodeo.  This is a yearly 3 week event that is run by 35 full time employees and a whopping 6000 volunteers!  Due to our VIP status our coach driver was allowed to drop my passengers at the main entrance vs the coach drop off that was a long distance walk from the stadium.   A friendly hostess from Houston welcomed my passengers and escorted us to the International Welcome Centre where a contingent of Texas hosts warmly greeted us and toured us around.  The Texas Fair Queen even welcomed us – she is very hard working – we saw her many times during the rodeo riding her horse in the arena along with the rodeo prize winners.  We were presented with souvenirs and taken to a behind-the-scenes private entrance –  they didn’t even put us through mandatory security before entering the stadium.  We rode a frieght elevator with a number of excited rural kids who were selected to be part of this 2 hour exciting extravaganza.  This is a touring rodeo but San Antonio constantly wins the “best indoor rodeo” awards.  The Calgary Stampede is on the same rodeo circuit – the show we saw was basically the same as you would see in Calgary except there was no Chuckwagon Races here.  Big Name Entertainment follows the rodeo – Brad Paisley and Alabama are two of the famous entertainers that were on stage a few nights ago.  We didn’t stick around for tonight’s entertainment – it was a full touring day so we were ready to retire for the evening.

This evening was a terrific “Travel With Bradley” Surprise Event that was enjoyed by all.

 

Texas has done an amazing job re-purposing their historic city buildings.  Our hotel was at one time a bank and then an office tower.  Look at this picture from years ago that was on display in the hotel lobby.  It shows a worker hanging from the side of the now hotel! He certainly was a brave man.

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San Antonio Riverwalk Impresses!

Today we traveled to San Antonio, TX.

We enjoyed a break stop at Cracker Barrel of Waco, TX where I purchased Tennessee G0O GOO Clusters for the group to enjoy as a morning snack.  The flowers were blooming in the restaurant gardens.

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Traffic was smooth sailing until we reached the State Capital of Austin where it really slowed up – surprising for a weekend.  I pointed out the Capital Building as we drove by.  Austin really sprawls – similar to Toronto.  

We thought the Gruene Historic District in New Braunfels was fantastic.  We experienced the cuisine at Gristmill River Restaurant – a Texas original since 1977. 

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There were many people waiting to get into the restaurant – they have an interesting, outdoor  reservation system with live entertainment while you wait.

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We were seated inside next to a roaring fireplace. 

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It was such a nice day so the outdoor seating was popular too.  This restaurant accommodates 1000 patrons and they were full!  I noticed that almost every table of diners ordered the onion rings for a starter so I ordered them for our table – they were the best ever. 

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A salad with a choice of homemade dressing followed.  We had to decide amongst some wonderful main courses and quality ice cream topped with fresh strawberries was the comforting dessert.

Texas’ Oldest Dance Hall – “Gruene Hall” is located next door so we walked in to hear the live music.  Gruene Hall has been instrumental in starting the careers of Lyle Lovett, George Strait, Hal Ketchum and many others.  

The stage has also welcomed The Dixie Chicks, Jerry Lee Lewis, Garth Brooks and Willie Nelson.  

What a unique venue!  Fantastic!

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Our historic hotel for 2 nights in San Antonio is in a prime location next to the Riverwalk.  The grand lobby is impressive!  

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Our sail along the riverwalk was terrific.  

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Dinner was delicious.  We were lucky to secure a group reservation as the wait to get in was 2 hours – this city is packed.

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Seeing the lantern parade as we walked back along the River Walk to our hotel was a bonus!

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Another wonderful day exploring Texas!


Jam Packed Day Visiting BOTH Dallas and Ft. Worth, Texas

 

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Our local host, Alice kept us moving today but we are not complaining.  We really enjoyed EVERYTHING we experienced.

Breakfast at our boutique hotel was terrific – such a big variety on their buffet.

We toured around the downtown core of Dallas.  Surprisingly there is little retail except for Neiman Marcus, but they have done an incredible job of re-purposing their beautiful historic buildings.   Its a very impressive downtown core.  We also drove through the posh neighborhood of Turtle Creek where mansions lined the streets.  We were surprised to see the garbage collectors return the the residence garbage pails back to their homes after they empty them.  Wish we had the service at home!

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The downtown Baptist Church has 15000 members – Dallas is located in the Bible Belt.

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We were glued to the displays at the “Sixth Floor Museum” – a major Dallas attraction.

 

Alice knows how I search out great restaurants for my passengers to dine in, so she went to work to try to get us into the Petroleum Club – the MOST prestigious private members club in the city.  It use to be men only.  I don’t know how she managed to get us a reservation but I’m SO glad that she did because our experience was phenomenal – elegant surroundings, stunning views, seafood galore, luscious desserts, one-of-a-kind washrooms and most impressive was the attentive service.  The friendly staff refused to let us carry our dinner plates to our table after we visited the exceptional quality buffet.  After we drank a “slip” out of our water or ice tea filled glass it was topped up.  We felt very regal dining in this prestigious place.  We commented that we were glad we were not wearing our summer shorts and t-shirts!  We could have been because todays temperatures soared around 80F.

I’m not a sports fan so I even surprised myself when I loved the VIP tour experience at the AT&T Stadium – the home of the Dallas Cowboys!  Alice, managed to get us a “Private” behind-the-scenes tour – it was exceptional!

We continued another 45 minutes to Ft. Worth were we attended the famous Cattle Drive at the Ft. Worth Stock Yards – so much fun!

Another memorable experience was when we visited, “Billy Bob’s” – the worlds largest Honky Tonk – accommodating 6000!  Country Singer, Blake Shelton’s cemented hand prints are covered in lipstick kisses!

Unlike downtown Dallas, Ft. Worth has a large retail area.

We made a stop at the impressive Water Gardens.

Dinner followed at one of the finest restaurants in Ft. Worth – it was another upscale choice – we were seated in a private room and the cuisine was delicious – I enjoyed a salmon filet topped with a mild pepper cream sauce (the sauce was so delicious I asked for more) – pecan pie was the favourite dessert choice.  Alice and my passengers surprised me when they celebrated my birthday – MONTHS early!

What a FANTASTIC day!  Tomorrow we sadly say farewell to Dallas – we are off to San Antonio.


Everything is BIGGER in TEXAS!

Texas greeted us with 78F temperatures and sunny skies.  Certainly a nice change from the major winter snow and ice storms at home.

Our AC flight arrived late so our local hostess with the mostess was busy on the phone altering our days itinerary.

I’ve known “Alice from Dallas” for a few decades.  I couldn’t ask for a better person to look after us – she is a pro.  At one time Alice represented the city of Dallas so let me tell you she knows “everyone” in the tourism industry plus she is so well respected.  It only took a couple minutes and everyone was at ease with her.  Her personality is infectious and is she so funny.  Alice is a busy lady so we are fortunate that she has cleared most her schedule in order to spend a great deal of time with us during our Texas stay.  I know she has done that especially for me – thank you Alice!

Priorities first – we were hungry.  Alice and her husband live in an exclusive area of Dallas and they know the best restaurants in that area so we had lunch in their  Italian restaurant hangout.  This is a family run operation and the owner kindly showed up to meet us.  She graciously extended their lunch time service in order to accommodate us.  We had the restaurant to ourselves – the building dates back to 1911.  Our waiter was very old school – what a terrific gentleman – he used a long pice of narrow paper to take down our orders in his own code.  I’m sure he would be the only one that could possibly figure out what he had written.  The chefs cuisine was truly homemade – just like going into Grandma’s kitchen – no wonder Alice and her husband love this place.  The salad dressing, soup, entrees and lucious dessert are all made from scratch.  If I was a local this would be my hangout too!  So happy that Alice’s husband joined us – a true southern gentleman.

As we drove around the city I was really impressed – what a beautiful place.

In the downtown core Alice walked us around the area where President Kennedy was assasinated.  She has collected so much conspiracy information which she has compiled a binder type book.  Tomorrow we will go to a museum where we will learn even more about that tragic day.

Our drive to Parker, Texas was during the heart of rush hour.  Traffic was heavy but it moves well – certainly not a headache like Toronto’s rush hour.  Parker is an impressive bedroom community and as Alice explained $500,000 will buy you a mansion in this area – a beautiful home might set you back a couple hundred thousand – certainly a bargain in comparison to home.

Talking about mansions we felt like VIP’s when the Southfork Ranch staff, home of the television series, DALLAS welcomed us after hours for a “Travel With Bradley” EXCLUSIVE Valentines event.  They even staffed the massive gift shop after hours just for us.

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We walked through an excellent memorabilia museum before we boarded a very modern John Deer tractor pulled tram that took us to the well known mansion.

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Our Cowboy guide was a real character – very genuine – I think we are going to meet many very friendly and welcoming folk during our Texas stay.

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We could explore the mansion at our leisure and take all the pictures we wanted.  We then gathered in one of the mansion rooms for a Valentines Texas BBQ Dinner featuring brisket that has been slow cooked for 30 hours and very moist bbq chicken – variety of salads, homemade baked beans, pickles and peppers,  freshly baked southern cornbread and of course very hot apple cobbler for dessert.  Enjoyed by all!  Valentines treats were on our tables and my passengers wore Western bandanas – after all we are in Texas!

We were ready for bed when we arrived at the unique, downtown core hotel that is our home for a couple of nights.  Alice arranged for our luggage to be delivered while we enjoyed our lunch so it was already in our rooms.  She had our keys too so we just boarded the elevators when we arrived.  Felt like VIP’s again.

This hotel is housed in an old building that has been repurposed into two hotels and residential suites.  Our rooms are fantastic – massive – incredible high ceilings – original wood floors – oversize washrooms and the most unique feature in my room is one of the original building cement columns.  When I put my arms around it they reach just about 1/2 way.  Its a huge column – but everything is bigger in Texas!  These hotel rooms are larger than many of the condos in Toronto.  The bed is extra comfy too.   This hotel only been open a couple of months.  What a great find – I could move in!  Thanks Alice for suggesting we stay in this unique boutique property – so perfect for a “Travel With Bradley” Journey.

Day 1 was an awesome one – a wonderful city to spend Valentines Day!


Antigua – our final stop on this amazing 12 night cruise

Christopher Columbus “discovered” Antigua back

in 1493.  Sugar cane became the dominant force, with the first sugar plantation established in 1674.  

Antigua is our final port of call.  This 12 night cruise itinerary included a Caribbean Island port of call everyday.  Tomorrow will be our only “at sea” day as the Captain will be busy sailing back to San Juan.

The town of St. John’s is busy as we are sharing this port with both the Crown Princess (Princess Cruise Lines) and the Anthem of the Seas (Royal Caribbean).  There is also a tall ship docked across for us.

 

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Some of our passengers are enjoying a 6 hour Catamaran Excursion which will take them around the island.

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I walked into a jewelry store and I must have looked as though I had money to burn.  The salesperson proudly showed me and placed on my wrist a $140,000 USD bracelet (not my style…) with a matching $400,000 necklace that he thought I should purchase for “someone special” at home.  I’m still thinking about how many sets I’ll bring home… he offered to give me a “deal”!

There are many creative named shops around town.

We’ve certainly have enjoyed an amazing cruise.  Its the very professional and extra friendly personal on board that have elevated our experience on the Celebrity Summit.  The ships Captain started sailing this ship when it was introduced back in 2001 and its obvious that he is highly respected by the staff on board.  Everyone has gone out of their way to make sure our cruise experience was an excellent one.

So many of the staff recognize my passengers and they call me “Mr. Bradley” as I stroll around the ship.

I’m finding my passengers are preferring these longer length cruises because they are much more relaxing – you certainly feel as though you have been away for a substantial length of time.  

We will never again see the Celebrity Summit like it is now.  After this cruise it sails a short 5 day itinerary and then the Celebrity Summit will be dry-docked in the Bahamas and will undergo a $55 Million dollar refurb – during the 45 refurbishment days approx 2000 workers will transform this cruise ship.  I’ll be anxious to see the results!  I wish them all the best with this challenging endeavor.  

During tomorrows Sea Day I probably won’t have access to WIFI so you won’t hear from me.  

I remember my Dad today.  This would have been his birthday – he loved sailing on cruise ships and had been to this port of Antigua a number of  times with the entire family.  Its dress up night on the Summit tonight so they are serving lobster in the dining room – that was always Dad’s favourite and he’d finish off his meal with a caramel or chocolate sundae – the bigger the better!  Miss you Dad!

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I’d like to thank my amazing passengers for joining me on this winter getaway.  We all agree that we escaped the worst of this Canadian winter – snow, record cold temps and freezing rain.  We’ll do our very best to bring some Caribbean weather home with us.


Exclusive Invite On The Celebrity Summit Helipad!

I arranged for my passengers to receive an Exclusive Invite “Helipad Sailaway” on the Celebrity Summit as we departed from the Island of St. Kitts.  A fun time was had by all.  The sunset was spectacular and the beverages were refreshing…. Warm Caribbean Greetings to all of you!

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St. Kitts and Nevis – just beautiful!

St. Kitts and Nevis – just beautiful!  A picture perfect morning for our sail in.

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Once again the seas were smooth as the Celebrity Summit Captain sailed towards St. Kitts.  There hasn’t been any sea motion during this 12 night cruise.   At times you need to remind yourself you are at sea and not on land.

St. Kitts is a beautiful backdrop to any Caribbean adventure.   This favourite island features dormant volcanoes, golden sand beaches and gorgeous green hills.   

We are sharing this port with 2 other cruise ships passengers – a Windstar Sailing Vessel and Royal Caribbean’s Serenade of the Seas.    St. Kitts will soon be welcoming more cruise ships as a new dock is currently being constructed.

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Our friend from Brazil was ready to give us a bottle of water before we departed the ship.

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Basseterre is the capital of the Federation of Saint Kitts in the West Indies.  Its regarded as one of the best of the Caribbean’s small capitals.

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There was a welcoming committee waiting for us.

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If you a shopper the port area features enough shops to keep you busy.

Another beautiful sunny 80F day!  

My passengers and I are excited about our nice BONUS prior to dinner.  I arranged for us to enjoy front row seats for the best view at sea as we watch our sail away from the ships helipad.  This exclusive invitation is typically just for suite guests AND “Travel With Bradley Passengers”!

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French Martinique and Independent Dominica

Martinique and Dominica – 

Yesterday we visited French Martinique, which is renowned for the beauty of its beaches and vegetation.  At 425 square miles it is roughly the size of Maui and is similar due to its mountainous terrain, banana plantations, pineapple fields and sugar cane.  The French have retained this island so you can readily find products from France in many of the shops.  The town of Fort De France is very attractive.  We couldn’t help but to notice the prime located McDonalds but Kentucky Fried Chicken remains the fast food giant on these islands.

 

This morning before venturing into Dominica many of my group enjoyed a private 1 hour tour of the galley.  Konstantinos Vogiatzoglou, the 31 year old Executive Chef onboard the Celebrity Summit truly entertained us.  He is by far the youngest executive chef in the fleet and he has a 97% approval rate from his staff – VERY impressive!  We were served champagne as we entered the dining room.  He assembled the head chefs from every department to meet us before taking us through the galley.  There are 236 staff in the galley and they prepare 14,000 meals a day!

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Dominica is situated between the French islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique.  Its bordered on the east by the vast and beautiful Atlantic Ocean and on the West by the calm and romantic Caribbean.  Dominica gained its independence in November 1978.  Its rugged terrain, volcanic activity, pristine coral reef and untouched rainforests make it an attractive island to tour.  Vendors set up their wares along the pier.  One of them was singing country music with a drawl!  

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Another picture perfect day.


St. Vincent – is newly opening to tourism

St Vincent and the Grenadines

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The Atlantic Ocean that surrounds St. Vincent is crystal clear.  The water sparkles with vibrant shades of greens and blue.  Its obvious why the movie producers picked this island for the filming of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie.

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St Vincent offers mountain peaks, waterfalls and rainforests.  The tourist roadmap that the locals handed us when we arrived on the island shows that the islands main road only goes around 80% of the island – its therefore impossible to drive all the way around.  

The population on this island is approx 110,000.  Kingston, where the Summit docked is the Capital.

Kingston has a population of 20,000.  Its a busy, lively town.  As we strolled down the Main Street we noticed arches, cobbled streets, historic churches and historic stone buildings.  There were many “Back in Time” retail shops that cater to the locals.  The largest retail shops are grocery stores.  With so many cruise passengers on the street there is a feeling of security but I don’t think anyone ventured too far.

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The first Monday of the month brings islanders to Kingston as its pay your bills day.  The vegetable and fish markets were in full swing as the vendors knew this would be a busy day.

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This is not a prosperous island.  Unemployment is 18% so there are many locals “hanging around” but the cruise ships are starting to arrive more often (4 this week) so this influx of money will hopefully help the community.

Retail wise there is little that tourists are going to want to buy on this island but eventually the vendors will catch on with what products will make tourists open their wallets.  Hopefully their government is savvy enough to start training the locals vendors that are after the tourist dollars.

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Celebrity cruises welcomes families of their workers onboard their ships.  Today a family from St Vincent boarded so they could see where their daughter works.  I could see the excitement in their eyes as they boarded the ship.  How wonderful. 

Its dress up night again.  On Celebrity this isn’t a required dress code – more of a “suggestion” so you will see passengers wearing everything from tux’s to t-shirts and ball caps….. but the majority of the passengers do dress up.  I hear from many passengers that they wish Celebrity would go back to when they had a dress code on dress up nights, with an option for those that don’t wish to dress up to dine at the lido buffet.  Most agree that seeing passengers wearing ball caps in the dining room shouldn’t be allowed at any time.  

Weather remains perfect – we couldn’t ask for anything better – temps in the low 80’s with sunny skies.  Glad to hear that those at home are enjoying a bit of relief from the recent cold winter blast.  

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Barbados of the West Indies

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Barbados is the easternmost island of the West Indies.  It combines beautiful beaches with a British charm.  The west coast of the island is lined with over 10 miles of perfect white-sand beaches and crystal clear water.  This pear shaped island is relatively small – only 166 square miles.

Bridgetown is the capital city.  Its architecture is a combination of Modern and Victorian.  I knew that the shops on Broad Street would be closed because its Sunday so made sure my passenger were aware of that.  Later in the day I ran into a number of ship passengers that went into Bridgetown in order to shop so they were disappointed that this information had not been relayed to them.  The downtown core of Bridgetown resembles a ghost town on Sundays.  Passengers were surprised that shops are closed especially when there are a couple ships in port but I expect its a law that prohibits them from opening.

Many of my gang visited Barbados beautiful local beaches today.  A couple of my passengers took scuba diving lessons and loved the experience.   The rest explored the islands on tours.

In Barbados shuttles are provided from the ship to the terminal building.  In the terminal there is a tourist kiosk, some shops and complimentary WI-FI if you are lucky enough to get connected.

With us in port was the former, Celebrity Infinity which I sailed on with groups a number of times a “few” decades ago.  Back then it was considered a state-of-the-art “large” cruise ship.  An European company renamed her the Marbella Explorer.  I  easily recognize this ship and her sister the Horizon (still has that name but not under the Celebrity flag).

I thought the ship staff did a bumper job, co-ordinated a number of excellent “Super Bowl” Parties throughout the ship.  The biggest event was held in the main theatre which was elaborately decorated for the big event.  A variety of game day appetizers were served – sliders, chicken wings, hot dogs etc..  The smaller lounges became the entertainment venues for the evening so there was plenty to do for those that were not interested in watching the game.  The international broadcast feed unfortunately did not show the game commercials.  

One of my favourite places on board to spend time on the Summit is “Cafe al Bacio”.  I visit so often the staff automatically prepares my “chai tea latte with unsweetened almond milk” as soon as they see me coming.  Its a relaxing venue and our groups included beverage package includes the speciality coffee and teas that are prepared here.

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Glimpses of St. Lucia and Grenada


Grenada – The Spice Isle

Grenada is known as the Spice Isle.

A couple of my passengers were anxious to visit the “Nutmeg Bar” in the port town of St. George  – it was their hangout when they were last on the island 40 years ago.  To get there they needed to walk through the Sendall Tunnel – opened in the year 1894 by the British – the tunnel is approx 350 feet long and 9 feet high – it connects the east and west side of town – both vehicles and pedestrians pass through at the same time….. A number of us walked through but a couple of my passengers said “No Way”.  My passengers reported that the “Nutmeg Bar” was pretty much the same as years ago – good things don’t need to change.

In the little town of St. George, KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) is the major fast food chain with 2 locations.  Pizza Hut can also be found here.

The local market vendors sold fresh produce/fruit, no-name fragrances and 2nd hand clothing.  A loud evangelist was saving everyone as he passed through the market and his 2 helpers carried a bucket for donations.  It was interesting watching them make their rounds.  The town of St. George’s, Grenada is a colourful place.

A young gentleman on board from Brazil who provides me and my group with a bottle of water before we head to shore everyday was excited because the local smoothie cafe in the mall adjacent to the cruise dock makes “avocado” smoothies.  At home in Brazil he drinks an avocado smoothie every morning so he was very anxious to purchase one today.  

I stopped at the smoothie stand so I could buy him one but they had no avocados today….  I came back to the ship and reported the news – he was so disappointed but I gave him some cash so he could buy another flavour as a treat from me and my appreciative passengers.  This stand is the busiest shop in the mall – locals and especially staff from the Summit were in line to purchase.

Many of my passengers had orders from their friends and family to bring home the local island spices.  There were many opportunities to purchase spices

without going far.  The souvenir shops in the mall charge very inflated prices for low quality products but you can buy the local spices quite reasonably.

The farther you walk down Main Street the more reasonable the local 3 hour island tours become – they start out at 25.00 per person at the cruise terminal and 15.00 was the bargain rate down the street.

The weather was one again perfect today – low 80’s, blue skies.

This evening the friendly staff at the speciality restaurant, Qsine hosted our group.  I provided our passengers with $100.00 cruise credit so they could take advantage of the speciality restaurants on board.  This restaurant has a $45. Cover Charge but since my group is so large I was able to negotiate a $30. Cover Charge for everyone.  The speciality restaurants on board are worth a $30. Cover Charge but I’d have a hard time recommending them if my passengers had to pay $45. when the food in the main dining room is excellent.

I invited Canada’s Illusionist Ryan Joyce to join us for dinner as my special guest.  My passengers appreciated having this extra time to visit with him.  Some called his arrival a “Bradley Walters Surprise”.  They teased that I needed to keep track of my watch or Ryan was bound to steal it (like he does during his shows).

Ryan and I are kindred spirits.  Our life experiences mirror one another.  We are entertainers that spend extended periods away from home, family and friends so we easily relate to one another.

Having Ryan on board was a thrill for not only me but my passengers.  We were all proud to watch an terrific Canadian entertainer on stage.  Have a safe journey home, Ryan.  Look forward to visiting with you again sometime soon.  Break a leg!

The Qsine dinner was exceptional.  The chef and staff really went out of their way to make it a very memorable evening.  Qsine offers an around the world, culinary experience – there was way too much food but nobody was complaining except to say they were VERY full.  I sat down with the Qsine maitre d’ ahead of time to select a menu for my passengers which they served family style.  

Surprisingly the maitre d at Tuscan Grill (the other onboard speciality restaurant) wasn’t too excited about welcoming our group when I approached him at the start of this cruise but the staff from Qsine certainly well exceeded my and my passengers expectations.  The Qsine restaurant experience is unlike anything you will find at home so that makes it extra special.

An entertaining juggler took to the stage this evening.

Seas remained smooth throughout the evening sail to Barbados.  


St. Lucia – Paradise of the Caribbean

St. Lucia is a very ruggedly beautiful Caribbean island – definitely lushly tropical – its what you’d think a tropical Caribbean island should look like.  There are a number of exclusive resorts located here and many of my passengers have spent time here over the years (one couple celebrated their honeymoon on this island).  

St. Lucia is the second largest of the Lesser Antilles Windward Islands. It has been blessed with a magnificent shoreline.  The island offers forested mountains, gentle valleys, banana plantations, wide beaches, tree ferns and wild orchids.

A smaller Viking cruise ship is sharing the port with us today.  A ship larger than the Summit probably would not be able to navigate this port as the harbour is quite small.  

In the gated port area there are a number of shops just for cruise passengers.

A number of my passengers explored the island.  Its most famous natural landmark is the Pitons (twin mountains) but its a bit of an adventure if you wish to see them.  The drive from the cruise port is long and the roads windy.  A few took a boat to the Piton side of the island and they encountered a section of rough seas, so as I said its an adventure when you want to see the Pitons but once you reach them its well worth the effort.

I received a wonderful comment from the Dining Room maitre d’.  He commented how  happy and friendly my passengers are.  He thought they all knew one another so when he was told that they did not meet until they arrived at Toronto airport he was very surprised.  He told me they of course have many groups sail with them and he wishes they were as “happy go lucky” as my group.   Since my passengers are so friendly he said their servers are at ease and look forward to serving them.  He also likes how my passengers wear their Travel With Bradley name tags as it makes it easier for the waiters to learn their names.

I took a front row seat in the theatre for my good friend, Ryan Joyce illusion show.  Over the years Ryan has impressed audiences with his modern, mind-blowing feats of magic which include vanishing a fire truck and levitation of a two ton SUV on stage.  Most importantly he has devoted himself to humanitarian causes by raising over two million dollars for charities.  

He dazzled my passengers who are still saying “how did he do that”?   I sat next to 2 gentleman from Germany during Ryans performance.  Since their English isn’t great they avoid some of the ship shows where lots of English is spoken (like the comedian) so they were thrilled with Ryans show as every nationality can appreciate it.  


Glimpses of beautiful, St. Maarten

The stunning Celebrity Edge was docked next to us in beautiful, St. Maarten.

We very much enjoyed our day in the port town of Philipsburg.

 

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St Maarten – still my fav….

The brand new state-of-the-art Celebrity EDGE was the first cruise ship to take its dock position in St. Maarten this morning.  Our Celebrity Summit was next and next in the line was the Oasis of the Seas and then the Carnival’s Horizon.  

The island of St. Maarten is only 37 square miles in size and is the smallest land mass in the world to be shared by two different nations.  It is owned by both France and the Netherlands Antilles, thanks to a treaty signed over 350 year ago.  There is no red tape or border difficulties between the two sides.  This contract of peaceful coexistence turns out to be the oldest active, undisputed treaty on our planet.  Today these two separate lives coexist in contrast but perfect harmony.

You may recall just over a year ago St.  Maarten was hit with a devastating hurricane.  The Captain and staff onboard the “Celebrity Summit” warned us about this a couple times before we arrived.

I researched ahead of time which cruise ships were going to be docked her today so I knew there would be thousands of visitors in St. Maarten.  I therefore advised my passengers to depart into the tourist town of Philipsburg early in order to avoid the crowds.

The best way to get into town is by water taxi and that runs $7.00 cash (the purchased wrist band allows you to go back and forth as many times as you wish throughout the day).  My passengers took my advise and boarded an early time water taxi.  They all thanked me when I saw them throughout the day because on their way back to the ship they saw tremendous lines of cruise passengers waiting for a water taxis to take them into town.

The tourist area of Philipsburg has rebounded nicely since the devastating hurricane.  I’m sure it was a priority to get things cleaned up in the town so they could welcoming the cruise ships again.  Most stores have reopened and many needed to be newly renovated.

Jewelry stores still dominate.  There are so many of them I have to wonder how they can all stay in business.  I priced a few watches.  I almost dropped one when the young sales person told me he’d give me a special deal – only $20,000 – instead of $24,000!  Obviously somebody is buying these pricey items or the stores wouldn’t be full of these expensive pieces of jewelry.

There is one men’s clothing store that I always visit.  The shirt I really liked was “only” $495.00.  I overheard staff calling customers worldwide advising them they just received new stock.  The owner told me a great deal of their business consists of shipping clothing to their existing clients.

Of course there are many reasonable items to buy in St. Maarten.  Most of my passengers purchased souvenirs, gifts for family and jewelry.

Some relaxed on the beautiful beach on the shore of Philipsburg.  

It was another picture perfect weather day – sunny skies – 82F.

The Celebrity EDGE was the first ship to depart around 5pm.  It lingered waiting for our ship the SUMMIT to leave the pier.  Then there was the customary horn blowing farewells.  This is the first time that both of these cruise ships have been in port together.  

Dinner in the main dining room was excellent once again.  When I was making my rounds my passengers asked me many questions about the Celebrity EDGE.  After seeing the ship many of them now wish to join my EDGE Caribbean departure next winter.

In the main theatre tonights performance was a Beatles Tribute that was enjoyed by all.

My passengers enjoy the Celebrity Summit because its a very comfortable size – in todays age its considered a smaller cruise ship.  When it was built that wasn’t the case.  On a ship this size its very easy to get your bearings and you often run into the same passenger and crew which makes it very personable.  


Glimpses of St. Croix – US Virgin Islands

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St. Croix – US Virgin Islands – 83F – beautiful!

Throughout the night it was a very smooth sail and quiet as can be.  Most of my passengers reported an excellent rest.

A number enjoyed breakfast in the dining room instead of the lido buffet this morning.  It’s definitely a much more relaxing experience.

Another beautiful day greeted us – temperatures are in the low 80’s and the sun is beaming.

Today we are visiting St Croix, U.S Virgin Islands.  This is the largest of the U.S Virgin Islands and the most eastern island that is part of the USA.  This quaint, picturesque place is brimming with history and beauty.  Located just 19 miles south of much more known, St. Thomas the lifestyle here is much more relaxed.

Sadly this island has been battered by a number of hurricanes.  Hugo was the worst as it devastated 90% of the island during a 13 hour hit.  New homes are now built using a cement roof which our driver claimed will save a house during a hurricane?  

When Venezuela and the US were feuding a number of years ago Venezuela pulled their oil from this US refinery in St Croix putting thousands out of work – the island never recovered and you still see the aftermath – closed stores, businesses and schools.

 

There is little work.  Our tour driver works once a week during the winter season when a cruise ship is in dock.  His wife does not work.  I just have to wonder – how can they survive?

The island is clean, very hilly and the ocean surrounding it is a stunning shade of blue.  

With so many Canadians onboard it almost feels like we are at home.  Yesterday a farmer from Shakespeare, ON stopped me as his family is a regular at our dinner theatre.  We had a great chat.

I met a fascinating couple that made my list of countries visited look like a beginner.  They retired, sold their house in Castlerock, CO and travel full-time.  Its like reading a travelogue when chatting with them.  This years Travel With Bradley “International Mystery Tour” destination is one of their top 2 favourite worldwide destinations.  I was excited to hear that.

I’m continually hearing horror stories about those being caught up in the winter storm that hit our part of the world of a couple days ago.  Some that were stranded finally made it to St. Croix but with no luggage.  I met an elderly couple that were so flustered when they arrived I helped get them to their stateroom.  They slept on the floor at Toronto Pearson,  finally arrived in St. Croix very late last night, ended up in a crappy hotel feeling helpless.  Flying out the day of a cruise this time of year is a very risky proposition.  Staying in San Juan like my group did may be costly but everyone could relax, enjoy a nice dinner and have a good rest knowing the following morning the ship would only be minutes away.  

Dinner was exceptionally good in the dining room as it was optional dress formal night.  

My passengers reported wonderful experiences in St. Croix – especially those that booked my recommended Captain Morgan rum tour.

This evenings production show in the main theatre was enjoyed by all.

Waves were 3ft during our evening sail so we didn’t feel any movement as we sailed towards St. Maarten.

Pictures may need to wait til the end of the cruise when I have strong wi-fi.

I have been able to post pictures on Facebook under Travel With Bradley.


San Juan Marriott Resort Impresses My Passengers

I’m sitting on my room balcony at the San Juan Marriott Resort and Casino, enjoying the perfect temps, cloudless blue skies and stunning views.

Yesterday my group of 52 gathered at Toronto Pearson in the early AM for our American Airlines Flight to Miami connecting to San Juan.  Anymore it is so important that you give yourself 3 hours at Pearson to check-in and go through US custom/immigration procedures.  It took many of my passengers almost 3 hours before they arrived at the boarding gate.

Since I knew we were going to have very little extra time instead of including airport lounge passes like I usually do,  I gave everyone $30.00 USD to grab a bite to eat either at the airport or on the plane.

We had a good flight to Miami.  By the time the plane was de-iced in Toronto we were 30 minutes later than scheduled departing but the Captain announced we were not going to be able to depart any earlier than 6:30am anyway.  Other than maybe 5 minutes of turbulence it was smooth skies.

On arrival in Miami there was enough time for lunch before connecting to our San Juan departure.  We remained in the same terminal which was a bonus and the walk between gates was an easy one.  Everyone had breakfast money left over so it easily covered lunch too.  I enjoyed charbroiled salmon – excellent.  There are many small food stands in this terminal offering a bit more upmarket take-out.  Well done!

Its a 2 hour flight to San Juan but you need to add an hour with the time change.  Since it was a short flight there was no snacks/food items for sale on the plane so luckily we had time to grab something in Miami.  

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It was an uneventful flight – smooth the entire way.  I sat next to a lovely lady from London, England.  She was very talkative so the time flew by.  The views of the island on arrival were stunning.

A young lady greeted us at baggage claim with a “Travel With Bradley” sign and in no time all our luggage arrived in the terminal  and she then escorted us a short distance to our chartered motor coach for our journey to the 4 star Marriott Resort and Casino.  Our driver spoke little English but was a very kind and attentive man.

We are all surprised how large the population is on this island.  We traveled through the main resort area and in this section there are few visible signs of the destructive hurricane other than a vacant 10 story building that I can see in the distance from my hotel balcony.  Last night I noticed that building was dark/no lights on and today on closer inspection its obvious that its been abandoned, but its been closed up in such a professional manner that at first glance you don’t notice.

This resort is EXCELLENT.  The staff was SO well organized for our arrival and there was a crew of bellmen that delivered luggage to our rooms very quickly.

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San Juan is a very expensive resort destination.  Its big bucks to stay at this resort and others on this island.  Not all hotels have re-opened so those that are can charge because of high demand and limited rooms.  Airfare to this island is also VERY expensive.

Instead of a formal group dinner I presented everyone with $40. so they could do as they wished.  It was a lengthy travel day and many were tired.  A large group dined outside on the pool deck overlooking the ocean.  Some went directly across the road to the very fun Hard Rock Cafe.  Others grabbed a light meal at Starbucks which is also across the road.

The hotel concierge of course recommended a very expensive restaurant to me so I asked one of the hotel retail shop employees and she told me about a restaurant that attracts the locals and her because the seafood is fresh and reasonable.  It was only a 5 minute stroll from the Marriott.

I could not have asked for a better recommendation – enjoyed freshly squeezed passionfruit juice, avocado salad (1/2 of a massive avocado on a bed of lettuce) came with no dressing as it wasn’t needed – without an exaggeration the most delicious avocado I have ever eaten.  For my main I took the servers recommendation – local caught salmon with a white caper sauce on the side and the daily mash which was some purple looking vegetable I never heard of before but so good….

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The restaurant was packed, service top notch.  Pricing with the US exchange similar to eating at the Keg at home but so much better.

I casually made my way back to the hotel and as I was walking along I thought I heard a quiet “Bradley?” – I turned and Oh My Goodness there was an amazing friend of mine and the Walters family, Ryan Joyce – definitely the best Canadian illusionist there is, hailing from Fergus, ON.  Ryan is so busy performing and as you know I’m either at the theatre or on tour with my groups so Ryan and I stay in touch via social media.  I haven’t seen him in a few years.   What are the odds we would run into one another on a street in San Juan!

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It gets better though – its a long story but Ryan quite unexpectedly is going to be performing on the Celebrity Summit!  He is so excited that I will have a Canadian group in the audience and my passengers will be thrilled when they hear the news.

Breakfast buffet at the hotel was excellent – everything you could ever want and the fresh fruit awesome – especially the purple dragonfruit!

 At 9am today as always I was going to make sure that our luggage collection had started – walked into my room from the balcony and my luggage was already gone – no call needed – this resort really has their act together.

At 1030am I asked my group to gather as I want to make sure they all see their luggage before its loaded onto the coach.  At 1045am we will head to the beautiful Celebrity Summit.  

I have a bit of a problem though – my passengers love this resort and don’t want to leave!

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Our Caribbean cruise is about to start!  Sad to hear that at home a major snowstorm hit yesterday.  With 30% of flights cancelled at Toronto Pearson it might be true – that horseshoe always seems to look out for me and my groups!


Going Topless on New Years Day in Amish Country!

Going Topless on New Years Day!

Its feels and looks like a Spring morning in Lancaster County, PA.  The temp is so mild, you definitely do not need to wear a coat.  The sun is beaming,  The grass is green.  Some hotel guests are outside bouncing a basketball.

From Intercourse, PA to the main highway its around a 8 minute drive and during that short time we counted 17 Amish buggies on the road including 2 courting open air buggies.  The young couples sitting on the Courting Buggies looked so proud.  The young men obviously were trying to impress their dates by picking them up with their open air, “courting” buggies on New Years Day and of course the weather was ideal for their journey.

What a fun “New Years Eve Day and Night” we experienced in Lancaster County.

Our day started with a beautiful sunrise.

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Dolly met us once again – this time to tour us around the Amish countryside and of course we could not have asked for a better expert – Dolly is just amazing.  The musicals she writes about the Amish are exceptional and my family looks forward to having Dolly and her cast of actors back at our Walters Theatre this summer.

We a number of unique stops as we traveled through this beautiful countryside  – Amish Bakery, Amish Craft Shop, Amish Hardware Store.  Many Amish farmers were busy working in the fields.

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Most importantly and a tour highlight was a luncheon in the Miller’s Amish home.  Ruth Miller prepared us a delicious meal – salad with homemade dressing, boneless chicken (slow cooked for 3 hours so its very tender), beef that my passengers said was delicious, fluffy mashed potatoes that obviously had been whipped for a long time, homemade thin noodles, green beans from her garden, homemade warm bread with Amish peanut butter spread, strawberry jam, pickled beets and finally a very satisfying apple crumble with ice cream.   I loved the look of the old barn on their property.

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After our leisurely Amish luncheon we arrived back in Intercourse at 2:45pm so there was finally time to enjoy this quaint town.

We gathered a bit later for our New Years Eve event – an upscale dinner followed by a very entertaining Beatles Tribute Show from Atlanta, Georgia.  These entertainers played the parts really well.  My passengers really enjoyed their performance and were singing along to the many Beatles hit songs.  A dance band, then took the stage and soon a lively countdown brought us into 2019 with a live feed from Times Square in New York City.  Champagne was served and there was more than enough hugs and kisses to go around.  The theatre was packed so you could feel the excitement in the air.

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When we arrived back at the hotel, the staff put out platters of cheese and sausage for us to enjoy before we turned in.

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In this part of Pennsylvania, New Years Day dinner for most of the locals, primarily consists of pork with sauerkraut.  This is considered a “good luck” meal to start the New Year.

We certainly enjoyed an exceptional start to the New Year!  

What a fun journey this has been.

Today’s New Years Day Massive Luncheon Buffet will be an earlier 11am one at Country Cupboard in Lewisburg, PA.  I have brought many groups here over the years.  Its a wonderful spot.

We’ll then continue North to Canada.  Its a fairly long drive so we won’t return until early this evening.

Thanks to my amazing passengers.  Most of them booked this journey many months ago.  I could not have asked for a better group of friends to share New Years with.  Thanks again to our Motor Coach driver, Paul.  My upcoming winter travels take me and my groups to International destinations so I’ll miss not working with him until the Spring.

Happy New Year from all of us to you!

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