Anguilla Has Great Beaches

If you love the beach, then you'll love Anguilla. There are over 30 beaches here (check out this comprehensive site about Anguilla's beaches). What's nice is that there are different kinds of beaches, all on the same island, and the furthest points of the island are probably not more than 45 minutes from each other by car. Some are deserted, nearly private beaches, others more crowded with a lot of activities, some a little rocky, most with soft white sand. Some beaches have great swimming and decent snorkeling, others are too treacherous to risk wading out. Terry and I have been to six beaches on this trip:

First we went to Maunday's Bay, but basically just took one look and turned around and left. A hurricane hit the major resort on this beach a few weeks before our arrival, and while the sand and sea looked beautiful about 1/4 mile down the beach, the easily accessible part was pretty torn up by the heavy construction equipment that was busy rebuilding the oceanfront restaurants that had been wiped out.

Cove Bay is the next beach up the east coast of the island, and that was lovely. It was very long, the sand was soft, the water clear and warm. It was also very private, there was just one other family on the beach the day we visited, and it was a weekend. There is only one restaurant at this beach, but it hadn't opened yet for the season, so that probably accounted for just how quiet the beach was.

We booked spa appointments at the Venus Spa at the Cuisinart resort one afternoon, and spent the morning at their beach. That is one sweet resort-- the landscaping is luscious, the pools are beautiful, and the adjacent beach (Rendezvous Bay) is just as nice. They provided chairs, umbrellas, and water at the beach, as well as drink service and a few floating rafts. We took advantage since although we weren't staying at the resort we were "spa guests" that day. It is just at the very beginning of the season here, but we still had a decent hike down the beach to find some unoccupied chair at 11am. I've got to suspect that in high season the beach is absolutely packed. While Rendezvous Bay is extremely long, the beach is slightly narrower than other beaches. But I do appreciate a beach with good services, and Cuisinart stocked their beach with attendants, so that was a big plus.

We went to Shoal Bay East a couple times. There are quite a few bars and restaurants on the beach, the water seemed to be a little warmer there on the Atlantic side of the island, and the waves were larger. There was a lot going on at that beach-- bands playing at the bars, people playing paddleball, there was a swimsuit fashion shoot one afternoon. There are chairs and umbrellas available, but without attendants so it was a much more casual arrangement than down at Rendezvous Bay. Terry and I didn't bother with an umbrella since there was shade by some trees that we took advantage of.

We watched the sun set over Road Bay, which I think is also called Sandy Ground. There is a white sand beach, but it's also a harbor. There were a handful of bars and restaurants over there, and there was a band playing as part of a jazz festival the evening we were there. I get the feeling that beach is more "happening" in the evenings when the bars fill up than during the daytime.

Barnes Bay is the Atlantic beach furthest west on the island. It's small and rocky, although there is a decent strip of soft sand to walk along, so you don't have to worry about walking on the rocks. The rocks are a little further back and to the sides-- the waves break over the rocks scenically. I also found the best shells on this beach. I got a lot of tiny ones with black and white stripes that I will make into a necklace when I get home. The restaurant Mango's is on this beach, but it wasn't yet open for the season when we visited. There is a lot of construction going on further down this beach, although I couldn't determine exactly if it was on Barnes Bay or the next beach over, Meads Bay. I think Viceroy is building out a large property there, but there might be more than one development going in at the same time. We didn't bother going closer to look at the signs.

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Shade Hotel

Terry and I just spent three nights in Shade Hotel in Manhattan Beach, CA, and I highly recommend the place. It's three blocks from the beach, but since it's the only hotel in the area that's fine. It's a short walk. It's part of small complex converted from a pottery factory that includes several restaurants and shops. A Vons grocery store is just down the block, and it seems like about 100 bars and restaurants are within walking distance. It's a great location.

The lobby includes a long bar and also plenty of lounge seating with table service. There's an outdoor patio with ten to twenty small metal cafe tables. We ate breakfast there on Sunday morning, but weren't impressed with either the food or the service. It was in stark contrast to the rest of our stay, since the hotel service in general was very good.

We took advantage of an internet deal and chose one of the rooms above the outdoor patio at a substantial discount since it's loud on Friday and Saturday nights. It was indeed loud outside, but only from 9pm through midnight (they closed the bar at 11:45pm). It didn't bother us, but we weren't trying to watch a movie or go to bed early or anything, plus we knew about it ahead of time. It wasn't loud at all on Sunday night, but they do keep the patio lights on which shine into the room through the balcony door. Not a big deal, the heavy curtains can block out the light.

Our room was one of the smaller ones, and our "balcony" was only large enough to step out onto (too narrow for a chair) but I actually liked overlooking the courtyard. A jazz band was playing out there Sunday afternoon and we had a very comfortable vantage point from our room. The size of the room was fine, it couldn't be called spacious, but it didn't feel cramped, and it was very stylish.

There was a jacuzzi tub in the middle of the room, which could be partitioned off by sliding doors. A "chroma" light above the tub could be set to cycle through all the colors of the rainbow, so if you had the sliding doors closed (they were wood with translucent panels) you basically had a big "box" in the middle of the room that changed colors.

Another crazy little feature was a "cyclone" flame in one corner. Imagine a glass cylinder about three feet tall with a gas fireplace flame gizmo in the bottom. But instead of a flame dancing over fake logs, it shoots straight up like a candle flame. Except it's not really like a candle flame since it's thinner and taller, and the flames, well, rotate like a cyclone. I've never seen anything like it. I took a photo, when I get home I'll post it. But I don't think a photo can really do it justice. It's like something I'd expect to see at Disney's Epcot Center, not a hotel room.

The tub was spotless, so I did take advantage and had a bath. There were a lot of jets, it was a nice way to relax, doubly nice since it was right in the room, usually you have to go out near the pool or to the hotel spa to use a jacuzzi. Plus that overhead chroma light made it appear that the water was constantly changing color so that was a fun novelty. There was a stand-up shower in the corner; the shower head was normal, but the floor was made of what looked like smooth river stones set in concrete. I say "what looked like" stones since they're all shades of blue and I've never seen blue river stones although I guess they could exist. Regardless, I wouldn't exactly call standing on them comfortable, but I liked it a lot better than those hotels with marble floors in the shower since those things can be dangerously slippery when wet. I felt very safe standing on the stones.

Long Beach Airport

I like LGB. It's a small airport, with the usual small-airport advantages. If you haven't flown through a small airport, you can expect shorter lines from check-in through security. But you can get that if you fly off-hours at larger airports. The exclusive advantage is that you don't have to walk as far. Just getting from the parking lot (or rental car drop-off) to the terminal takes no time at all. Contrast that with JFK, our departure airport, which took us a full hour from the time we parked in the long-term lot, walked to the airtrain, rode it to the correct terminal, checked in, got through security, and made our way to our gate. It took all of 10-15 minutes here, and that's only because it's crowded today with lots of delayed flights.

The negative aspect of small airports is generally a lack of services. There's not a lot of choice if you need to buy a snack to eat on the plane, and forget about more general airport shopping. Long layovers at small airports can be really dull.

I'm actually writing this review from Gate 3, where my 1pm flight has been delayed about 1.5 hrs due to weather problems in NY. Jet Blue gets a gold star for providing free internet access. It's slow, but useable.

The problem is that there is no TV anywhere here. The particular area I'm in is "gates 1-3" although maybe gate 4 is also here and I just don't see it. But the last two holes of the tie-breaking round of the US Open are being played right now, and there's no way for me to watch them. I find it particularly ironic since Jet Blue gets live TV if you're on a plane, so the lack of any TV in the terminal baffles me. So that's bad.

There's a small newstand here, with an average selection of magazines, bestsellers, snacks and sundries. There's a counter with coffee and hot sandwiches (under heat lamps) for sale, but nothing looks good enough for me to try it.

The waiting chairs aren't particularly comfortable, but they are spaced far enough apart that one doesn't feel cramped. The ceilings are low by airport-terminal standards. Just the usual drop-ceiling you'd see in any office. The carpet is gray and the walls white. It's a really dull and non-descript place to wait. Not that I'm complaining since Jet Blue is a discount airline and I'd rather not have the maintenance cost for a luxurious gate area built into the ticket price. It's clean, doesn't smell bad, brightly lit with a view of the planes. It's fine.

I don't know if there is a TV in the larger part of the terminal, but we can't really go back there the way security is set up. By the way, security was really polite here. I had some sunscreen in my "medical" bag where I have some prescription creams. I thought it was ok as a medical item, but since it didn't have a prescription sticker they stopped me. But when I explained that the prescription creams require the use of sunscreen since they make me more prone to burning, the agent checked with her supervisor and let me take it through. But next time I'll just get some prescription sunscreen that I'll use when traveling.

TripIt

I've used a free itinerary service called TripIt for my last few big trips. It's not perfect, but it's the best thing I've found so far (Dopplr is another itinerary site, but it lacks many of TripIt's features).

When you travel, it's prudent to keep certain reservation information on hand; like your flight times, flight numbers, confirmation code, hotel address, check-in time, hotel confirmation code, etc. Plus restaurant reservations, meeting times and locations (for business) or information about various tours, museum hours, etc. (for pleasure). If you're traveling to multiple cities over the course of a week or two this can be a lot of information to keep up with.

TripIt automates all this reservation-tracking. Once you sign up with your email address, all you have to do is forward the confirmation emails you get from airlines, hotels, car rentals, and restaurants to plans@tripit.com. TripIt then automatically organizes it all into an itinerary that you can either view online from any computer, or that you can print out and carry with you.

I've never had an airline or car rental not automatically work. All the major hotel chains sync up nicely, although there are smaller hotels whose emails are not in a format readable by TripIt. So those you can enter by hand. OpenTable reservations also work when forwarded.

Entering information by hand is quick and easy (basic name/date/time/location sort of form). It's also easy to get driving directions added for your trip (for the most part, just point-and-click the start and end addresses from the activities already in your itinerary).

There's a browser add-on "trip clipper" I think they call it that allows you to just "clip" info directly from websites and save it to your trip. This is useful especially when you just want info about a handful of things to do at your destination. Just "clip" the museum hours, tour booking phone numbers, zoo events, whatever, so you can print it all out and refer to them while on your trip so you can decide which you want to pursue that day.

Now while TripIt does save a lot of writing or typing, it's not perfect. For one, I don't like how it always shows everything on its site in its "expanded" layout starting from the first item. A lot of scrolling is necessary once you're a few days into your trip, and as far as I can tell it's unavoidable. Highly irritating.

It also uses a lot of pages. On one hand, when I print out the itinerary this does leave room so I can add hand-written notes by each item. On the other hand, it would be convenient to have everything on one page so I could just glance down the page to find the bit of information that I need, rather than flipping through multiple pages to find that tidbit.

A nice feature is that you can "share" your itineraries with people with varying permissions. They can either just view what you've entered, or view and enter additional items themselves. For example, I typically let my mother view whatever I've got in there, so if there's an emergency she'll know not only what city I'm in, but also the hotel phone number, etc. This is less important now that mobile phones are ubiquitous, but they do sometimes run out of batteries or go out of range on a trip. If you travel with friends, you can all clip activities that might be of interest so the planning needn't be done by just one person.

TripIt recently added more "social networking" type of stuff. I think they track your cumulative travel statistics (miles traveled, days on the road, etc.) and you can show them on various websites. I haven't paid any attention to that yet, but I do put various summary things like that on my Facebook page, so I can foresee adding that myself in the future.

Bottom Line: Give TripIt a try the next time you go on a trip with multiple hotels or flights, let it help you keep track of all those confirmation numbers and other info.

Alamo Car Rental

I think I'm just going to book directly with Alamo from now on, and not spend time shopping around. Both for my upcoming trip to CA and my January trip the task of shopping around for a rental car fell to me.

First I compare prices using the usual travel sites (orbitz, travelocity, etc.) plus the Sam's Club site to get an idea of what the rates are for my location and dates. Then I check retail-me-not for coupon codes, and try some of those.

In Florida, the best rate was actually a "last-minute" rate at Alamo. Same when I booked a car in HI (that "last-minute" rate was actually over $100 less per week than anywhere else). This time, the "last-minute" rate was indeed less than the next-best rate I found (through Sam's Club), but the Alamo site actually listed its own internet coupon code that was even less than their "last-minute" special. I'll have to make a mental note of that for the future, that there is no consistency about which rate will be lowest.

Anyway, on some sites Enterprise appeared to have a better rate, but upon further clicking I couldn't seem to get that rate on the class of car I originally selected for that. The reason wasn't clear, so I gave up and went to Alamo which was next up on the price list.

The Alamo site is easy to use, they've always had availability when I needed it, and they've also always had the most convenient locations (not only in the airports, but also near hotels). They also have this "save time" feature so you can enter the drivers' license info, extra drivers, and all that online before your trip, so when you show up to get the car they just print out the completed form. So when you actually pick up the car you don't have to stand at the counter answering all their questions as the clerks fill out the form while you wait. The clerk in FL was so slow the first day I rented, that when I wanted a car a few days later I purposefully entered it all online and was out of that office so much faster than when he hunt & pecked out each answer.

What's even better, if you register online then Alamo saves all that information, so you only have to drag out your driver's license once and you're done so future trips are booked even faster. But the best part of course is that you won't be delayed by a slow employee with poor keyboarding skills when you're jet-lagged and just want to get going so you can take a nap at the hotel. You just give them the reservation number, they print it up then hand you the keys. I'll keep my fingers crossed that it will go that smoothly on Wednesday. . .