Monday, November 29, 2010

Allure of the Seas--Is It Too Big?

How big is too big for a cruise ship?

Royal Promenade is a busy avenue
That’s a question people have asked since I returned from a special two-day media voyage on Royal Caribbean’s newest mega-ship. It’s a concern I had, too. Would its size overwhelm guests? Would they continually find themselves lost at sea? Would crowds of people defeat the purpose of relaxing on vacation?

Central Park viewed from an upper deck
Not to worry: Allure of the Seas is a modern marvel—beautifully decorated, cleverly designed, accommodating of guests’ needs, and easily navigated by directionally challenged people like myself (thanks to the interactive maps found on every deck for providing easy-to-follow directions to any location onboard).

Interior balconies have great views, too
Able to accommodate 5,400 guests and more than 2,300 crew members, Allure is the largest cruise ship in the world. Yet its spaces are manageable due to the neighborhood concept pioneered by Royal Caribbean on the Oasis of the Seas and further refined on the Allure.

“We were determined to create a variety of spaces to end the thoughts of the ship being too big,” says Adam Goldstein, President and CEO or RCCL. “Because this ship is so large, we can afford to make numerous smaller spaces that all work well together,” he adds.

Captain Hernan Zini agreed: “Despite its size, guest experiences in many venues are quite intimate. For example, walk through Central Park at night and you’ll feel like you’re alone there, or stroll by moonlight on deck 14 for fantastic views of the front of the ship.” He was right.

Along with Oasis, Allure of the Seas features seven neighborhoods highlighted by lush Central Park. Open to the sky, it’s a gardener’s dream with live plants and a “green” wall covered with vines flowing across 25 feet and soaring five decks high. A custom-designed irrigation and drainage system and micro-climate control techniques give Mother Nature a little help in maintaining this tranquil environment.

Other themed neighborhoods include activity-loaded Boardwalk, featuring a hand-carved carousel; Royal Promenade with many guest-friendly services; Pool and Sports Zone for anyone who loves excitement or just relaxing; Vitality at Sea Spa and Fitness Center to ramp up the exercise level; Entertainment Place with multiple shows and theaters, and Youth Zone encompassing the Ocean Adventure kid’s club.

Boogie boarding on the FlowRider wave pool
Restaurants, shops, music, dancing, DreamWorks characters, theaters, shows, 3-D movies, lounges, ice rink, wave pool, zip line, rock walls, miniature golf, table tennis, jogging path, pools and hot tubs, spa and workout facility—if it can be found at a luxury resort, it’s probably on the Allure. With so many choices, passengers spread out around the ship. If you crave serenity, book a cabin with private ocean-view balcony or head to one of 16 passenger decks onboard. The choice is yours: you can party hearty, or find plenty of spaces to read, relax, and soak up some sun.

According to RCCL, the median age of guests is low 40s—keen travelers looking for a quality vacation that caters to an array of needs and preferences. That’s exactly what Allure of the Seas provides for couples, singles, and families. In this case, bigger means better.

Photos by Larry Burmeier

Read more about Allure of the Seas at

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Kayaking Big Cypress National Reserve in Florida

Larry in the mangroves
When our guide said to lay down the paddle and just grab and pull, I realized this wasn’t going to be the usual kind of kayaking adventure. Paddling through the mangroves of Big Cypress National Reserve meant using branches, roots, and vines along the Turner River just north of Everglades National Park to maneuver our way down the river.

Reflections show dense foliage we kayaked through
Earlier we had disconnected our two-sided paddles and used only half to forge our way through the river’s narrow channels. Although I’ve kayaked in many rivers and lakes, this was a new way of managing turns and tucks around a variety of natural obstacles. Not only were we constantly watching for alligators and feeding birds so we could paddle far enough away not to disturb them, but we also had to dodge low-hanging branches, sharp sawgrass along the water’s edge, and dense hydrilla patches in the river.

We kayaked past alligators in the swampy waters
Our group of four—my husband Larry and me and a young couple from Germany—had listened to a brief introduction by our guide from Everglades Adventures. She explained that for this excursion we would drive to the put-in off Florida’s Hwy. 41, paddle upriver on the Turner River Paddling Trail, swish through the river of grass, return to the put-in for a bathroom break, and then paddle south to the mangroves.

Big Cypress National Reserve was created in 1974 to protect water quality, natural resources, and ecological integrity of Big Cypress Swamp. It is home to the American alligator, Florida’s largest reptile. Anhingas, egrets, and herons are plentiful. Lucky visitors may see river otter, bobcats, black bear, and the endangered Florida panther. A variety of plants, including tiny purple orchids and spiky bromeliads were in rare bloom during our October adventure.

Larry emerges from the mangroves
For almost two hours we paddled upriver, enjoying the beautiful sunshine, cloudless blue sky, and lush foliage. Our paddles swooshed in the water as we listened to birds cawing, fish splashing, and bugs buzzing. Tiny alligators slithered among breaking branches and rustling leaves. Occasional sighs and whispers from kayakers interrupted the dainty chorus of nature sounds.

After our break, we glided under a low bridge, slithering our bodies way down into our boats for passage. Shortly after that our guide suggested we separate paddles to better maneuver through tight spaces. Lunch time came with nary a parking spot in sight, so we backed our kayaks into a tiny cove and devoured our packaged sandwiches.

Back on the trail, we entered the mangrove tunnel where paddling was impossible. Abandoning our paddles at this point, we used our hands to grab and go. That technique worked fine as long as stumps, roots, and vines were within easy reach, which wasn’t always the case. Thoughts of stopping to take pictures vanished as the current didn’t allow movement to pause. The moment I let the kayak drift I ended up stuck in a clump of sawgrass and had even more work to get myself free and pointed in the right direction.
Lovely reflections when the pool opened up after mangroves

At one point the guide hitched my kayak to hers, and the two of us cleared a path for the others through thick hydrilla. After struggling through the mangroves, the river suddenly opened into a spectacular pool, the perfect sport for reflecting on our journey.

Big Cypress National Reserve manages a broad range of recreational activities including kayaking/canoeing, hiking, and hunting. The entire Turner River Paddling Trail covers almost 10 miles and takes four to seven hours depending on river conditions and ability of the kayakers.
Photos by Beverly Burmeier

Read about riding the bicycle trail at Shark Valley in the Everglades at

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Celebrate Christmas past at LBJ National Historical Park in central Texas

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park in Johnson City, Texas, will host "Timeless Christmas at the LBJ Boyhood Home and the Johnson Settlement" on Saturday, November 27. In conjunction with Johnson City’s 21st annual “Lights Spectacular,” park rangers will provide an open house from 6-9 pm at these historic sites, whick will be all decked out for Christmas celebrations reminiscent of the 1920s and the 1860s.

The LBJ Boyhood Home will be lamp lit, giving visitors an opportunity to experience family life at the Johnson's house as it was more than ninety years ago. National park rangers and volunteers will team up to portray a 1920s Christmas, complete with a cedar tree in the parlor adorned with handmade ornaments and a toy display beneath. Authentic decorations and seasonal goodies will be displayed throughout the home on December 4, 11, and 18, also.

Visitors can walk the short lighted trail from the front of the visitor center or board the shuttle bus at the back gate of the LBJ Boyhood Home for a five-minute ride to the Johnson Settlement, where they’ll be guided by lantern light even further back in time to a late 1860s Christmas in frontier Texas.

Decorations in Johnson City
Further up the path is the original Sam Johnson cabin, where Lyndon Johnson's grandparents first homesteaded in 1869. Here the lighting will be provided by candles, oil lamps, and two fireplaces. Decorations are much simpler, but there are also a tree and toys. Just as strangers were welcomed in the past, visitors may partake of refreshments before they strike out again on the trail home.

The Exhibit Center will be open for visitors wanting to know about life on cattle drives of long ago or learn what life was like for Lyndon Johnson's ancestors and other families who came after them and farmed this settlement land.

The LBJ NHP Visitor Center, located at 100 Ladybird Lane, will be open with lighted parking for visitors. The park store will offer a 15% discount on all purchases Saturday evening, November 27.

Blanco County Courthouse glows during the holidays
 These free park events are complemented by the stunning lighting display at the Pedernales Electric Cooperative, across the street from the LBJ Boyhood Home. Majestic live oaks are resplendent in hundreds of thousands of tiny white lights. Don’t miss the Blanco County Courthouse, centerpiece of the town's seasonal "Lights Spectacular" celebration.

For directions or additional information, call (830) 868-7128, extension 244.

Information courtesy of Liz Lindig, National Park Service

Photos by Larry Burmeier

Read more of Beverly's articles at and

Monday, November 15, 2010

Allure of the Seas: spectacular new megaship sails soon

 Allure of the Seas, Royal Caribbean International’s newest megaship (carries 5,400 guests), will sail its first week-long itinerary from Fort Lauderdale, Florida on December 5, 2010. Allure of the Seas joins sister ship Oasis of the Seas as the world’s two largest and most innovative cruise ships. Billed as a “city at sea,” Allure promises to be a truly amazing ship.

Along with Oasis, Allure of the Seas features the seven neighborhood design concept, highlighting lush Central park open to the sky. It’s a gardener’s dream with live plants and a “green” wall covered with flowing vine that spans 25 feet and soars five decks high. A custom-designed irrigation and drainage system and micro-climate control techniques give Mother Nature a little help in this special environment.

Aft view to Royal Promenade (under construction)
Other themed neighborhoods include Boardwalk, which features a hand-carved carousel, Royal Promenade, Pool and Sports Zone, Vitality at Sea Spa and Fitness Center, Entertainment Place, and Youth Zone.

Advanced information promises something for everyone in the entertainment department--from immersive DreamWorks Animation and 3D movie screenings to the at-sea premier of Broadway’s longest running theatrical production, “Chicago: The Musical,” ice skating shows, a spectacal of aerial acrobatics called “ Blue Planet,” and unique AquaTheater productions.

Main dining room (under construction)
 Hallmarks of Royal Caribbean ships that are featured onboard the Allure include the FlowRider surf-simulator, climbing wall, Royal Promenade and Adventure Ocean kids program. Specialty dining options run the gamut from Rita’s Cantina, an eclectic Mexican dining venue, to 150 Central Park, an upscale and intimate restaurant.

Passengers can experience Allure of the Seas on a five-day cruise to Labadee, Haiti departing December 1. Regular seven-day cruises start on December 5, 2010 with inside cabins going for $879. Once sailings begin, the ship will alternate between an Eastern and Western Caribbean itinerary. For a spectacular Christmas vacation, book a cruise on the Allure for December 19-26. Check sailings and destinations for 2011 at

I’ll be on a special media excursion of Allure of the Seas later in November and will provide first-hand reports about cabins, amenities, entertainment, and environmental and safety features.

Photos courtesy RCCL

Read more about travel at and

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Travel smart--stay healthy

Overcome motion sickness by focusing on scenery
outside windows of planes or cars.
Photo: Larry Burmeier
You’ve been waiting for vacation all year—time to relax and kiss stress good-by. Lounging on white sand beaches, hiking in crisp mountain air, shopping in foreign cities, or sampling exotic cuisine may be your vision of the perfect get-away.

But vacation plans can be sidetracked quickly if you get bogged down by extra baggage in the form of jet lag, diarrhea, motion sickness, sunburn, or altitude illness.

Read tips to help you stay healthy so you can enjoy your time away at .

More travel articles at and

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Puerto Vallarta is the place to celebrate a family holiday - Austin Adventure Travel |

Lovely beaches and plentiful accommodation
make Puerto Vallarta a great family destination
during the holidays
This Holiday season enjoy quality family time during an activity-packed Christmas and New Years with folkloric dances, fiestas celebrating Mexico’s Bicentennial, a Christmas circus and more. Get one night free at the oceanfront all-inclusive family-friendly Velas Vallarta.

No kids? Same deal at Casa Velas, an adults only boutique hotel and ocean club on the Marina Vallarta Golf Course. Both properties welcome Texans (fly direct from Houston) and will pamper guests with the best of everything.

Read the rest of the article at:,0

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Arlington Hotel stands out among Hot Springs bathhouses

Beautiful ceiling in Arlington Hotel
The Arlington Hotel was designed with bathers and vacationers in mind.  Originally opened in 1875, it was the first luxury hotel in Hot Springs, Arkansas, commanding a prominent spot in the heart of historic downtown. During the city’s golden age in the early 1900s, more than a million world travelers came annually to immerse themselves in the steaming waters, and there was no better place than the Arlington to become immersed in the social scene as well. 

Read the full article at

Monday, November 8, 2010

Hot Springs, Arkansas is perfect spot for bathing beauties

Original tubs adds to historic appeal
The bathhouse attendant handed me a plain paper cup of hot mineral water collected from the tub spigot and said, “Drink this before it cools. It will acclimate your body from the inside.” This was important, said my attendant at the Arlington Hotel Spa in Hot Springs, Arkansas, because I had just slipped my naked body into water that was over 100 degrees.

I had come to “take the waters,” as multitudes of travelers have done for more than a century.
Read the rest of the article and see more photos at