Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Getting to Caye Caulker-Part 2

The trek through the Belize airport was uneventful. This included getting money from the ATM, once we found the ATM of course (it is exactly at the exit). We took a moment to catch our breath, and collect our thoughts for the next leg of our journey. We knew we had to…
1)  Get a taxi to the water taxi terminal
2)   Take the water taxi to Caye Caulker Island 

Task 1- We walked out of the doors of the airport to find an extremely polite, organized, and efficient taxi system. We were escorted to a car, and began zipping through Belize City.

We found out later in the week that solid yellow lines are brand new in Belize. They only arrived a few weeks before we did. Most Belize residents still didn't know exactly what the lines meant. 

 Our driver was very friendly and chatty. By the time the 25 minute ride was over we knew about one another’s families, travel preferences, and we learned some nice background information on Belize. He was great, and not a super crazy driver, though he did show off some moves that would make any avid player of Tetris proud.

When we stopped at the water taxi terminal, I was ready to put my figuring out logistical things cap on. Our taxi however was greeted by a nice man from the San Pedro Express Water Taxi. The man took our two larger bags and escorted us to the luggage drop off. He tagged our bags, explained how to retrieve them once we got to the island, then gave us directions to the ticket counter. He even let us know where the restrooms were located. I was once again amazed by the efficiency.

The water taxi terminal was nicer and more modern than I expected. It had places to eat or grab a drink, stores to buy snacks or other needed items, and clean restrooms. 

Task 2- We walked to the opposite end of the terminal and found the ticket counter. 

There are two windows. You purchase your tickets at the window to your right (the one marked cashier). 

I  read some things before the trip advising against getting the round trip tickets( if the boat is full they may not let you on in favor of one-way tickets), but we got the roundtrip ticket twice and had no issues. One-way is $15, and a round-trip is $25. If you are at the Caye Caulker dock early, you can even get a coupon for a dollar off.

Important Information- After purchasing your ticket at the right side window, you must get it punched at the left side window (marked ticket booth), otherwise they won’t let you on the boat. Since I’m a researcher, I knew this ahead of time, but others did not. We watched a group who thought they were all slick and cool being first in line to get on the boat, only to discover that they couldn’t get on because they never got their tickets punched. They then had to wait in the line for the punching, which had become quite long, and almost missed the boat. Get your tickets punched.

The inside waiting area isn't bad, but we got in line a lot earlier than we had to, because the people watching in line was better.

We rode the water taxi six times in total during our trip and never rode on the same boat twice. They have a lot of different boats. I’m not going to sugar coat it, the ride, no matter which boat you are on, can be pretty butt jostling. Usually not the whole time, a lot of it is fairly smooth, but be prepared to do a bit of bouncing. 

Our first ride  on the smallest boat, was the most bouncy, and also my favorite. We got a nice amount of air time on some of the waves. It was fun, and was made more fun by a group of college girls who squealed and giggled every time we flew up in the air. The breeze blowing through my hair, the occasional sea spray, and the constant visual of blue water, amped up the excitement that we were almost at an island.  

Also fun, was Sleepy Guy. You could tell the visitors from the locals on the boats. The locals used the boat ride as nap time, while the wide eyed visitors ogled the pretty blue water. Every time Sleepy Guy nodded off, he would start to fall over onto Shannon, jolting awake just seconds before he snuggled against Shannon’s shoulder. 

It started to become a source of entertainment for us as well as another passenger. The other passenger generously shared his pretzel M&Ms with us and would later become our stalker (or maybe we stalked him, we never quite decided).

We got off of the boat and set foot on the Caye Caulker dock with that initial, slight, disorientation of, wait, where are we? We are in a completely unfamiliar, new place. What do we do now? 

This quickly dissolved into becoming Randy on Christmas morning with exclamations of,
“Wow look at this. Wow look at that. Palm trees, blue water, that’s mine!” 

We were so excited. It did feel a lot like Christmas morning.

Being good direction followers, we handed in our bag tickets and received our duffle bags. We didn't know how far we were from our accommodations and if we needed a golf car taxi (we didn't, we could have walked), but we ended up deciding to hop in one with a man and his young son E.J., who was being shown the golf cart taxi ropes. Now we were off to our home for the next few days, Oasi.

Getting to Caye Caulker-Part 1

Friendly Hotel Desk Clerk: Okay, I have you booked here for two rooms.

Us: What? No we should only have one room.

Friendly Hotel Desk Clerk: Hmmm, let me see {click-clack-clickity-clack} No, it says here two rooms. You are definitely booked for two rooms.

Us: Sigh.....

 We decided to spend the night near the Newark airport as our flight departed at 5:45am. It was surprisingly difficult to find a hotel near the Newark airport whose Tripadvisor reviews did not include photos of guests riddled with bed bug bites.  Springhill Suites seemed to be our best option if we didn’t want to carry unwanted insect passengers in our luggage. 

Our bug free bed 
The best available price was the one actually stated through Tripadvisor’s website, so I ended up booking directly through them. Of course what I found out at the desk of Springhill Suites is that Tripadvisor then books you through a third party. Through some glitch in their system they had accidentally, simultaneously booked us through two different third parties, Expedia and Get a Room. I had absolutely no Expedia information. No paperwork, no confirmation number, but I did have the paperwork for the Get a Room confirmation, so the clerk booked us in using the Expedia reservation and advised us to call Get a Room and have them cancel their reservation. If we didn’t get one of the reservations cancelled, we’d be charged for both rooms. 

Me: I explain the situation to the person answering the phone

Joe: I'm going to have to transfer you

Terrible hold music

Me: I explain the situation

Pete: I'm going to transfer you...

More terrible hold music

Me: I explain the situation

Donna: Actually, you have to call a completely different phone number, here I'll give it to you....

The issue seemed like something that should have been easy to resolve seeing as it was a glitch on Tripadvisor’s end, but it took forever. We spent almost two hours, precious hours we should have been sleeping before our 2:30am wake up call, on the
phone. Fortunately we did end up getting the second reservation cancelled, but I will be hesitant to book a room through Tripadvisor again. It wasn’t the best way to start off a trip.

 2:30am, we got ready in record speed, then caught the hotel’s 24 hour airport shuttle to the Newark airport. 

This part of traveling always gives me anxiety. Not the flying part, I enjoy flying, just the making sure that everything falls into place part. I’m usually not fully relaxed until my bag has been successfully set down on the floor of my accommodation. 

Craig from the Indie Travel Podcast suffers the same anxiety and described it as feeling like taking a final exam. That really is the perfect description.

We passed through security smoothly, though while I was waiting for Shannon, I witnessed two of the security screeners arguing and almost getting into a fist fight. Ah, New Jersey.  

I'm always mesmerized by the people who can chow down on greasy egg sandwiches and massive fruit and yogurt parfaits at 4:30 in the morning. All I can manage to do is sit down in my seat and stare. While I was staring, there was a girl yelling at her boyfriend for eating a muffin because it wasn't vegan. 

Once we were in the air, I pulled out my iPod. It was a little too early for reading or movies.  I wanted to go Meta for the first flight, so I saved up some of my favorite travel podcasts to listen to while in the air. Particularly, Betty in the Sky with a Suitcase, because then I was listening to a podcast about flying, while flying.  Whoa.  

We had one of those fancy screens at our seats where you can choose to watch a plethora of different movies or shows, but I preferred watching the flight progress.

We both have our airplane drinks. I don't drink Coke a lot, but I always choose it as my airplane drink. Shannon always gets Ginger Ale.

We landed in Miami in a bit of a panic. We had a very short layover and were aware that our next flight was probably already boarding as we waited to exit the plane. It seemed to take FOREVER for people to mosey their way off of the plane.  We bounced impatiently on our heals as Slowy McSlowster took his sweet old time retrieving his bag from the overhead bin, completely unaware of the backup of eager to disembark passengers behind him. The dread of a possibly missed flight started to envelop me.

In the most wonderful stroke of luck, our boarding gate was directly across from the gate we departed from. We even had time for the quickest bathroom break in the history of airport bathroom breaks. 

Next stop, Belize City, Belize.

Friday, April 22, 2016

The Genesis of Caye Caulker, Belize

We were going to Spain. 

I purchased a copy of The Rough Guide Andalucía. I read it.

 I started to plan out an itinerary. A day trip to Ronda. At least a few days in Granada, etc… I went to sleep with visions of tapas and churros dancing in my head.

As Shannon closed out our budget for 2015 and began setting up our budget for 2016, he noticed something. We could go to Spain, or we could take a few smaller, less expensive trips in 2016, and have our mortgage paid off by the end of the year. Less debt means more travel funds, so the Andalucía book was placed on the shelf, along with our trip to Spain. 

Now the question, where do we go for our winter escape trip?  

There was a Google search. We really enjoyed our Holbox Island trip last year, and although we wanted to go somewhere we’ve never gone before, we were hoping to find a place with a similar vibe. 

I typed in,
“places like Holbox, Mexico.”

The answer that popped up over and over again, Caye Caulker, Belize.

Belize has been a contender over the years, but always ended up in second place behind Costa Rica, or Mexico, etc... After completing my usual initial research, I found that Caye Caulker ticked off our boxes.


-Palm trees and Blue water

-Laid Back


Thus our trip to Caye Caulker, Belize was born. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

A Little Nucky at The Knife and Fork Inn

Birthday Dinner #3 

I’ll admit it, I mostly watched the show Boardwalk Empire with my hands covering my eyes. It was a bit too violent for my delicate sensitives, but still I watched. I loved the characters. I loved how you find yourself rooting for a bad guy. I especially loved the fashion, and I loved seeing Atlantic City during a time when it was beautiful and glamorous; a time before it was filled with chain smoking, slot playing grannies in well-coordinated sweat suits, and drunken girls wearing tiaras and bedazzled shirts reading, bridesmaid. 

Atlantic City has eradicated most of its old school, prohibition charm, but if you look hard enough, you can still see a few glamorous ghosts from the past.

“We should eat there sometime,” we say as we drive by The Knife and Fork Inn. We say it during every trip to Atlantic City, every time we drive by it, every single time. After a hard nudge by Anthony Bourdain during last season’s New Jersey episode, we made eating at The Knife and Fork Inn priority number one.

Note- The Knife and Fork Inn has a dress code. This is probably an important thing to know before packing for your trip to Atlantic City. If you did not know this information beforehand, I recommend (if you are not a vegetarian) fortifying yourself for a crap-we- need- to- get- clothes –for –dinner shopping excursion by getting some free, tasty samples at the Jerky Outlet.

With tags freshly cut from our new clothing, we made our way to The Knife and Fork Inn.

The restaurant was established in 1912 by “The Commodore.” It started out as a private club for gentlemen. No girls allowed. During prohibition it was known as a place to go to get a drink, and counted the infamous Enoch “Nucky” Johnson as one of its frequenters. I can only imagine the nefarious plans that were discussed over cocktails and cigars. 

From the moment we walked through the door, my eyes darted everywhere. The architecture and décor of the restaurant is stunning. The history of the place envelops you. 

We were escorted upstairs and seated at a table near the fantastic mural.

The cushy chairs, white linens, and smartly dressed servers, inform you that you are in a special place.

The thing to get at The Knife and Fork Inn, and what they are most known for, is the Knife and Fork Dinner. For $64 you can get a full meal that includes soup, salad, lobster thermidor, and a filet mignon. Since we aren’t huge fans of lobster, we stuck to the regular menu.

I always love reading what people complain about on Tripadvisor. When I read reviews of The Knife and Fork Inn, multiple people complained about the rolls. The problem they said, you only get one roll, not an entire bread basket. 

Our server came to our table with a selection of rolls to choose from. 

We both got the onion roll which tasted exactly like french onion soup in bread form. It was a delicious roll. I'd rather have one outstanding piece of bread, than a basket of mediocre bread. I was happy and satisfied with my single roll. Silly Tripadvisor people. 

We started out with salads. A beet and goat cheese salad for Shannon, 

and a wedge salad for me. I’m pretty sure that the reason that I like wedge salads is the blue cheese dressing. 

Honestly, if they brought me a bowel of just blue cheese dressing, I’d be a happy girl. The wedge salad at The Knife and Fork Inn was exceptional, mostly because the blue cheese dressing was homemade, and thick, with ample chunks of fresh blue cheese. There is nothing worse than a wedge salad with a watery, runny dressing.

I have a weakness for risotto. It always seems like a good idea at the time.  In the chill of January, the warm, hearty, creamy goodness sounded especially appealing. I got the seafood risotto, and it was everything I hoped it would be; it was also very filling. I plugged away, I did my due diligence, and yet it in the end, it barely looked like I touched it.

Shannon went for a lighter dish, and got one of the evening's specials, the scallops Oscar. He said it was very good. Since he doesn’t like crab, it was added to my risotto.

Dessert; here I must apologize to Emeril’s City Walk in Orlando. You have been bumped to number two for best banana cream pie.

I love a good piece of banana cream pie, but often find myself disappointed when I am greeted by a slice that is mostly whipped cream and runny banana flavored pudding. 

I wouldn’t be surprised if my slice of banana cream pie at The Knife and Fork Inn had an entire sliced banana in it. The crust, the filling, the topping, everything about it was amazing. Favorite banana cream pie so far.

We absolutely enjoyed our dinner at The Knife and Fork Inn. We would go back again. I will say that it is more of a place to go to for a special occasion, than a just drop by for dinner. The food is top notch, the atmosphere is sophisticated, and if you imagine hard enough, you can almost see the faint echoes of the old boys, wheeling and dealing, sipping on their illegal hooch.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Borgata Breakfast Buffet

Nothing says you’re not at work like a vast landscape of breakfast meats. 

We have never been to a breakfast buffet in Atlantic City. Usually there is no time for breakfast as we need to stampede to the Harrah’s pool for a good lounge chair, but since we were staying in less demanding accommodations this time around, we figured we’d have a little morning treat.

The breakfast buffet at The Borgata has a lot going on. It is a magical land of breakfast items.

If you like pastries and sweeter items, they have them.

I know these bananas were for waffles, pancakes and such, but I ate them all by themselves.

The omelet station is very popular. It almost made me wish that I liked omelets. 

There are biscuits waiting to be covered in sausage gravy or cream chipped beef.

The roasted tomatoes with bread crumbs were so good, I ate more than one.

Carnivores can enjoy ham, bacon, sausage, and I’m sure a few other meats that I cannot remember.

There are eggs cooked several different ways, and a selection of breakfast potatoes.

If you want to pretend to be healthy, you can partake of the yogurt bar and fruit selection.

It was a bit overwhelming. I had to plan my plates carefully.

My favorite thing was the selection of fresh juices in adorable, little glass bottles. It was like a juice rainbow. 

The only disappointing thing was the coffee. As a lover of a good cup of Joe, I found the Borgata coffee too strong and bitter. It needed way too much creamer and sugar to make it palatable.  I get it I guess. They want to get all of the gamblers nice and caffeinated. 

After breakfast, we took a stroll around the Borgata. 

I still regret not getting one of these pretty macarons, even if I was too full to eat it right away. 

The Borgata is my second favorite Atlantic City casino to walk around, just after the Tropicana. 

The funky glass artwork is very cool. 

It was a relaxing morning spent at the Borgata. They buffet needs to work on their coffee, but a morning that involves unlimited bacon can never be bad.