When I was younger, I would sometimes have bouts of depression. As I got older, I realized that there was a pattern to my depression. I realized that I usually felt depressed in the dead of winter when the days were short and there was not as much light. I realized that I must suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder. This is what caused us to start planning most of our vacations in the winter months. We love the San Francisco Bay Area in the summer because there is so much to do. There are still things to do in the winter but when the days are short and dark, I really don't feel like doing much at all. I found that if I go somewhere sunny for a few days around February, March or April, it really helps me get through the winter doldrums.
We had already planned to go to Europe at the end of the summer in 2005 but in February, that seemed like a long way off. I was craving some sunshine and knew I needed to get away. I looked on Priceline at packages and came across one that included airfare to Orlando, Floridan and hotel for a very reasonable price. Milton and I discussed it and decided we could keep the price down if we avoided Disney World, Universal Studios and other theme parks. We would just go for the sun essentially.
We had a great time. The flight to and from Florida takes all day and was pretty exhausting since we started out from home and from the hotel there about 3:30 am going and coming. We had a pretty nice little extended stay kind of rm that had a little kitchenette for $41/night from priceline. You know I always like a good deal when we travel. We got a Grand Am from Budget for $151 for the whole time.
On our first full day it did rain and I was pretty dissapointed since the whole point of going was to get away from the rain. I guess we brought it with us. We drove over to Tampa/Saint Petersberg which is about 70 miles from Orlando and is on the Gulf Coast. We went to the Salavador Dali museum there which was pretty interesting. Dali has become so commercialized in some ways but seeing his actual paintings really renewed my respect for his art. We took a tour there that told about his life and explained a lot of things about his art that I didn't realize.
On the second day the sun came out and we drove over to Daytona Beach on the Atlantic Coast which is about 50 miles from Orlando. Within just a couple hundred miles, you have four major cities and so if we lived there, I think there would be plenty of things to do. On the way to Daytona Beach we stopped and looked at a house in Deltona. We did not like the particular houses we looked at but it gave us an idea of prices.
As we approached Daytona Beach, we started noticing a LOT of people on motorcycles. There were people on motorcycles everywhere. As we got closer to the beach itself, it became wall to wall motorcycles.
I had never seen so many motorcycles. They were having a HUGE street party... or practically city-wide party although for several blocks there were bands and a street faire thing going on with bands and a lot of partying. We walked through for several blocks and enjoyed it. We also visited the beach itself and this is a pic of me... notice the BLUE, CLEAR sky! It was like SUMMMMER!!
The sand was as white as the sand in Cancun. It was a bit windy though and I am wearing a jacket in the pic. Daytona Beach was a much bigger city than I had expected. It looked pretty intact for having been hit by three hurricanes in the last year.
When we got back to Orlando, we rested a little bit and then headed out to explore downtown Orlando's Church Street which is kind of a hip little area downtown with a lot of club activity and 20 & 30 somethings. We wandered around downtown Orlando and looked at condo developments. It reminded me of L.A. or S.F. thirty years ago... it's urban downtown living is just starting to emerge. If we were to retire in Florida as little old men, urban, downtown living might be more appealing than living in the suburbs. We would also feel safer in a hurricane in a highrise probably that isn't going to blow away. I think we might have gone to Universal Studios City Walk that night too. It was free and we were only doing free things pretty much.
I think it might have been the next day that we decided to go back to Tampa to see Ybor City. On the way we stopped at Disney's Celebration and looked at a couple of condo's there. Celebration was very interesting. It is really a beautiful, pristine little town. It was only built about eight years ago but they have used classic architectural styles and apparently have very strict HOA rules. You would certainly feel safe there. Milton says that he thinks Stepford Wives was filmed there. It was actually very pleasant-- very Norman Rockwell. It was interesting that you see happy looking people everywhere but no rowdy teenagers. We wondered what they had done with them. I couldn't imagine any driving down these streets with their subwoofers thumping. It was such a perfect little town. Maybe these people were robots? I don't know but I wouldn't mind joining them and living in such a pleasant looking place.
On our way to Ybor city, we stopped and looked at several housing developments. Houses run about $150,000 or so less than they do in the Bay Area. We would have to live in Modesto or Fresno to get similar prices and maybe even then, it would be hard to find houses as nice probably. Apparently a lot of the homes are sold as "vacation homes." People buy them as investments and then rent them to tourists for $200.00/night that come to Orlando to visit Disneyland. The real estate market seemed very hot in the area- there was a lot of building but in some areas, you had to enter a lottery to actually get a house because they were going so fast.
We also looked at some manufactured homes. We saw some as low as $64,000 but they had walls that looked like plastic and we couldn't have lived in them. You had to spend about $150,000 before all the walls looked like sheetrock. We saw some pretty nice manufactured homes and even saw one that was two stories. That was weird. The ones we really liked though were in the $150-200,000 range and by the time you bought the land and moved it, I couldn't see any advantage over buying a regular house. You could get a great regularly build, brand new house with a yard and about 1600 square feet for $220,000 so am not sure why anyone would bother with the manufactured ones. I wouldn't want to live in one with the hurricanes anyway... regular houses all seemed to be made of cinder blocks and those wouldn't blow away.
When we finally got to Ybor city, we were pretty tired after looking at houses all day and we just stayed a few minutes and turned around and headed back to Orlando.
On our final day, we went out and looked at more houses early in the day and then just relaxed until we left for the airport. We had a great time. Ever since we got back we have been working on our Europe vacation for September. We bought our airline tickets to London and have booked hotels in London, Paris, Venice, Florence, Rome and Athens. We have also booked flights from Rome to Athens and Athens back to London. We have been immersing ourselves in books on Europe and art galleries and sites.
I was always a little apprehensive about visiting Mexico. Cancun was good for a first time visit though. It is very American in many ways while still giving you the ability to sample Mexican culture. Cancun is a good base from which to explore Isle Mujeres, Cozumel and Chichen Itza which I will discuss in this review. I will also tell you of our experiences with the all inclusive Blue Bay Village (same as Blue Bay Getaway but NOT the same as Blue Bay Club!) and will briefly mention our experience with the one gay club we visited.
Just to let you know my perspective, I am a fifty year old white gay male with a forty some year old black lover. My lover of twenty years was taking me to Cancun for a fiftieth birthday present. Neither of us had ever visited Mexico before. We had done quite a bit of research and had decided to stay at the Blue Bay Village because it was advertised as adults only and was all inclusive. The price of our package through MexSeaSun (same thing as Apple Tours) came to about $1100.00 each for round trip air fare, seven nights lodging, meals and drinks including alcohol.
Overall, I think we got a pretty good deal but there were some problems I would like to alert you to. You can read my opinion regarding Mexicana airline elsewhere on epinions in which I discuss getting to Cancun and my warning regarding customs and immigration.
Upon arrival at Blue Bay Village after not sleeping the night before (because of my schedule at work), we were exhausted. A bellboy was called and we embarked on a long, winding route that took us to our room which was at least a city block from the Blue Bay Village lobby and in a much older and shabby looking building where everything was marked "Plaza Los Glorias." We later realized that we had gone through a wall that had recently separated Blue Bay Village from the separate resort of Plaza Las Glorias. Were we being shuffled to a less desirable resort? Apparently Blue Bay had recently bought the next door Plaza Las Glorias and we were being put there instead of what we had paid for!
The Plaza Las Glorias building was in desperate need of painting and some of the hallways we were taken through were rather dark. When we finally arrived at our room, the first thing I noticed was the torn curtain sheer which had a big gaping hole in it. This was certainly alarming and my excitement quickly turned to dissapointment. I looked around the room. The furniture was old with paint chipped. The room was an awful peach color and had a mild wet cement odor. The door locks on the doors were the old fashioned key locks rather than the modern card electronic locks which the actual Blue Bay main buildings had and most American hotels prefer for security reasons. The door frame- the part where the bolt of the lock goes into the wall- was broken and the metal part was dangling by one screw. You would not have needed a key to get into the room- just a gentle push on the door! There was no remote for the TV. The bathtub appeared to have hairs in it (which later turned out to be cracks in the surface of the tub- the tub really looked disgusting). This is not the kind of room you want to see after planning and being excited about a trip for months and being exhausted upon arrival!
I went and located Ms. "B", the Apple Tours representative. She seemed to be busy with others. When I interrupted and started my tirade, the woman with whom B had been speaking said "Oh, they put you over there too?" Apparently there were others that were not getting what they had been promised by Apple Tours and Blue Bay Village. Finally, B brought me to the front desk and talked with them. She told me if they were not able to find a better room, she would put us in a different property. Well, we had done our research on Blue Bay and already knew they had another property called Blue Bay Club which was in a remote location and allowed families. We knew we definitely did not want to end up there so when she said this, it felt more like a threat than an assurance.
The front desk gave the bellboy the keys to three more rooms- all of which were still in the Plaza Las Glorias property. Each of these rooms were rather shabby too but the last one had a microwave and refrigerator. At least the curtains, tub and doorjam seemed in better condition. We were tired of fussing and just wanted to rest and caved in at this point. We had to bring a table lamp from another room since this last room had none. We also had to exchange the TV in this room with another room because there was no remote available for the tv that was already there.
After several hours and quite a bit of haggling in our exhausted state, we were finally able to rest for a couple hours before heading for the dinner buffet (a side note- we did notice over the week that we were there that there was activity toward renovating Plaza Las Glorias and the name was being removed from the building and the logo for Blue Bay was being applied-- I just think it was outrageous that they had put guests in BEFORE the renovations!!).
I have to say that I was impressed that first evening with the buffet. There were a lot of choices. The food was good but I have to warn you that over the period of a week, the buffet becomes very repetitive and kind of boring. I suppose I would compare it to Hometown Buffet in the states. Adequate- nothing exceptional- I guess mediocre is the word I am looking for. Slightly better than mediocre maybe. The food is plentiful though, from 7AM until about 10PM at night and all drinks are included as well. There are also a Chinese and an Italian restaurant available to break the monotony of the buffet but they both require reservations a couple of days ahead of time and they require a little more getting dressed than what the buffet required. We never made it to either one.
The activities were fun to observe at Blue Bay. I think if you were a heterosexual that likes to drink alcohol, you would really have a very good time. There are various activities through the day and evening. There are three different pools. The main one is quite nice and this is where many of the activities take place but I have to tell you, if you want a poolside beach chair at the main pool, you will need to get there about 6AM! If you want a beach chair in a good location on the relatively small beach at Blue Bay, you will need to be there by 7AM. These people get up early! And they put their towels on the chairs and wonder off for hours (maybe they go back to bed) but nobody else feels comfortable sitting there since there is already a towel there.
There are various games we observed such as horseshoes, volley ball and such. We also attended one Disney themed show (energetic but not every polished) at the theater they have there and then one night they set up a stage in the buffet room and had some Mexican dancing which ended with a French Can-can.
There are also free non-motorized water sports available- wind surfing, hobbie cats and that sort of thing. The water sports guy Jose was great and very helpful. They have lessons available for free. Motorized water sports were available for a fee.
The beach at blue bay does have the cool limestone sand for which the area is famous but it does not have the beautiful turquoise water. If you want to stay at a hotel with the beaches you usually associate with Cancun, you will need to say on the Caribbean side of the hotel zone (and probably pay quite a bit more money than we did), not the bay side where Blue Bay is located.
During our stay, we also visited Blue Bay Club which allows children. If you stay at Blue Bay Village, you are allowed to visit Blue Bay Club and have all the same privileges. Blue Bay Club did have a nicer building overall- (certainly better than the Plaza Las Glorias in which we had been stuck)- but the location is terrible! It is VERY remote. You would have to take a LONG bus ride or a boat shuttle to get to Blue Bay Village or downtown or the hotel strip where everything is going on. The beach at Blue Bay Club is even smaller than Blue Bay Village. I would only recommend staying here if you are just going to stay at the resort and read.
Speaking of reading-- bring lots of your favorite magazines and books- they are hard to find in Cancun. Also, even though Blue Bay promised "satellite tv" which in my mind would be a good selection of channels, we were only able to get English CNN, HBO, HBO Plus and Cinemax. And sometimes those were even showing stuff in Spanish. You probably won't spend a lot of time watching tv anyway but sometimes in the evening, we would have enjoyed a better selection of channels.
We had been warned several times about time share salesman. You will be accosted repeatedly on the streets and even in the hotel with great sounding offers of free tours, meals, etc. but just keep in mind that nothing is free in life! There is usually going to be a high pressure time share salespitch string attached. If anything sounds like too good a deal or someone seems overly eager to help you, just remember, I told you so. (on a side note, it is also interesting that when I complained to one Blue Bay representative about our treatment, they tried to sell us the Blue Bay "Premiere Club" which they assured us would get us a better room NEXT TIME!! They wanted us to go listen to some lengthy salespitch for this but, of course by this time, we would not have trusted anything said from this organization)
The day after our arrival, we were supposed to meet with the Apple Tours representative at 5PM. We were there but they had not showed up by 5:45 and so we gave up on them. Essentially, we learned, they were going to try to sell us various excursion packages. I would advise avoiding these anyway since they are way overpriced. For example, you can get to Isle Mujures on a ferry for about $3.00 but the hotel charges about forty (although the hotel is probably more convenient and does include food, drinks and snorkeling). We just like to be able to come and go when we want rather than being on someone else?s schedule. The same with Cozumel. It was very easy to get there on our own. The tours sold in the hotel left too early in the morning and went too long in the day for us..
Isle Mujures, Cozumel and Chichen Itza are HIGHLY recommended! For Isle Mujures and Cozumel, or probably anywhere that you need to take a cab, just be sure you don't need much change from the cab driver because they won't always have it or at least they will say they don't. I would recommend NEVER taking a cab in Cancun itself since the bus system is so great and easy.
There are various "theme" parks that will be foisted upon you and maybe they are okay but I would say the highlight of the trip for me was the real deal at Chichen Itza. Read up on it before you go. The Maya pyramids are really impressive. It is an all day trip but very much worth the time and money. We had debated whether to go on that tour but I am so glad we did. We also found that Gray Line tours has a better bus going to Chichen Itza than the hotel or Apples recommended tour- Gray Line has a bathroom on their bus but we were told the hotel's recommended tour bus did not have a bathroom. If I am going to be on a bus for this long of a trip, I want a bathroom. Lunch is included on most tours.
I highly recommend you set some time aside for snorkeling. Isle Majures has a park called Garrafon that makes it convenient but it is probably not adequate for serious snorkelers or divers. Nice for us though. I would recommend bringing your own towel although you can rent everything you need there. I also snorkeled at Chankanaab on our day trip to Cozumel. My lover doesn't swim and so I did not really try to do anything more serious than just these parks but there are many other options available.
My lover and I were curious about the gay activity in Cancun. We had our Bob Damron (a gay guide) with us and could see that Cancun was rather limited compared to Puerta Vallarta. We went to Karamba on a Wednesday night about 10:30PM. There was absolutely nothing going on. We went back on Saturday around 11:30 and a few guys were sitting at tables. The music was some awful techno crap. You are brought to a table by one of the waiters and they bring you your drinks and then they obnoxiously return every couple of minutes asking if you are ready for another drink. Very pushy.
This scene at this bar did not really get under way until after midnight. It finally got pretty crowded. They had some performers- a male and female doing some dance with batons with lights on either end. Pretty boring. Then they had these strippers that took FOREVER to strip. Well actually, I don't know if they ever did finally finish stripping since we left by that time. It was probably about two in the morning and we were tired by that time. The music actually did get pretty good for about thirty minutes out of the couple of hours that we were there. I guess if you like techno that just drones one and on and on, you would like it.
There is another bar called Picante according to Bob Damrons but we could never locate it.We also so a building with a big rainbow flag with the name "Le Club" which was not listed in Bob Damrons but we never got there when it was open.
The weather while we were in Cancun varied. We did have about three days where it was pretty overcast and we got rained on a few times but it is that warm tropical rain that doesn't last very long. You don't really even need an umbrella because it is usually brief but it would not hurt to have one in case you want it. We were told that it was unusual weather for April- that the rainy season usually starts later in May. Most of the time it was in the eighties during the day. I love tropical weather!
All in all, I enjoyed the trip and was thankful that my lover had been so generous to take me. Cancun is a good base from which to explore Isle Mujures, Cozumel and Chichen Itza none of which I would miss. Blue Bay Village was adequate although there is obviously a lack of integrity here- I would never trust Apple Tours or Blue Bay to meet the expectations that they set up but I do think that overall we still got a pretty good deal once we changed rooms and I did have a great time--- even though I did lose a little sleep over being in Mexico illegally... but that is another story.. which you will find in my review of Mexicana airlines in which I discuss getting to and from Cancun.
We had been to The White Party in 2005 and decided it was time to check it out again. Northern California had been having a very wet winter and we were ready for some sunshine. Since I can't tolerate more than about four hours in a car, it takes two days for us to get to L.A.. Kettleman City was our rest stop. We stayed in L.A. for a couple of days and stayed at a great Best Western on The Sunset Strip, a few blocks from The Whiskey. The room was large and the hotel was covered in bouganvilla and the sun was out. We enjoyed touring around L.A. to the Disney Concert Hall and Olvera Street. We enjoyed riding the metro to Union Station. The Getty museum was wonderful. We got to Palm Springs on Friday and went to Hunters Bar and danced that night. On Saturday, we went to the pool party. On Saturday night we went to the actual White Party. We had a great time.
This article is just being written. Please come back in a week when it is finished.
After Milton and I returned from our first cruise on the Carnival Destiny, we were excited to tell others about our experiences. One of the things I loved about cruising was that there was no dragging suitcases around. Once you are on the ship, you unpack once at the beginning and don't have to deal with the suitcases for the week. I much prefer living out of drawers and closets than a suitcase!
We were visiting my brother, David, and his wife, Leslie, about our trip to Las Vegas and then our cruise trip on The Destiny. Leslie commented that when they had gone to Vegas, they were not able to do much because they had their kids with them. I told them about Club Carnival for kids on the ship and how that frees up the parents to have a vacation for themselves as well as the kids.
I told everybody about our cruise and Donna was particularly interested. Over a year or so, we decided that Donna and her husband, Teddy, and their two kids, Nick and Christina, and David and his family would all meet in Florida and take the Carnival Valor cruise.
This is some footage from the first couple of days on the cruise out of Miami on the Carnival Valor. David had insisted that he didn't need to take any dramamine or wear a scopolamine patch but that first night was a bit bumpy as we passed Cuba. By morning, David was asking for a patch.
On day three, we are in Grand Cayman. We tender in from the ship. Milton and I go on the Atlantis submarine excursion. Apparently the water is rough on the usual side of the island where people usually do the submarine and so we are doing it at an alternative site. Many excursions were cancelled because of the rough waters on the other side of the island. After we do the submarine, we took a "taxi" which is actually a minivan, over to 7 Mile beach and then another one to downtown Georgetown before returning to the ship.
This is footage of our beach day at Tabayana Beach on Isle Roatan in Honduras. The water was warm and beautiful and the snorkeling was great. We paid for the Carnival exursion which took us there in a crammed minivan and brought us back in a more comfortable school bus. The beach chairs were included in the price. No problem with "no see-ums" as others had reported.
In Belize, Milton and I had signed up for the Belize City- Altun Ha Mayan excursion. We had a great tour guide for the day, Simone.
On day six we docked in Cozumel. Donna, Teddy, Christina, Nick, and Milton and I all took a very bumpy ride on a ferry over to Playa del Carmen and then a bus ride to Tulum. It was a fun day. It was a great cruise. It was a great vacation.