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Oakton House Jamaica

Oakton House

The Oakton House, a stately wooden structure caught my eye. Located in Half Way Tree, Kingston, it’s a stone’s throw from the Old Courthouse that I wrote about a few posts ago.

It was probably built in the 19th century, during the height of Jamaica’s Georgian period (1702-1910), but no records have been found to show who the original owner was. [Read more...]

Orlando, Top Family Spring Break Destination

Cinderella

I have a confession: I’m not big on theme parks, but most of my relatives are. So when we had to choose a city to hold our family reunion a few years ago, we looked for a location that had activities that everyone would enjoy. Orlando fit the bill.

It was probably the easiest decision we made as a family in all the years we’ve been organizing our reunions, and serendipitous for me as that year, I was running the Walt Disney World Marathon, one of the annual racing events that takes place on the property.

Orlando is a hit not just with our family. Fifty-one million visitors agree annually, making this central Florida city the top Family Spring Break destination in the US.

It’s easy to understand why Orlando is so popular. With several different properties, from the Walt Disney World Resort’s four theme and two water parks, to Universal Orlando, Seaworld and Legoland, there are entertainment options that are appropriate for every age group.

Everyone in our party agreed on Disney World, the sprawling 20-acre complex just outside of the city where two of the main attractions, the Magic Kingdom and Epcot Center greet 38 million visitors every year.

The Disney staff helped us plan our reunion to coincide with the time of my marathon weekend in January.  It was perfect as there are fewer people at Disney in January than in the summer, when we usually have our reunions.

Given its size and the number of attractions, we had to agree on a plan for how we’d spend our seven days at Disney so that everyone would enjoy the entertainment they preferred and all 35 of us would still have our ‘together times.’

We stayed at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Villas. With its African safari theme, it was a hit with the younger ones and even with the adults. Staying in the same hotel, made it easier to gather up the early risers for breakfast together and head out before the park got too crowded.

I wasn’t prepared for the lines, which for most of the popular activities, were long. Fortunately, they moved along quickly but with more people out and about in the afternoons, everything slowed so we knew then to take the little ones back to the hotel for afternoon snacks and naps. We saved the evenings for dinner and conversations.

After a week of family togetherness, it was my time to shine. My race started with a bang, literally, as dozens of fireworks lit up the still dark sky on race morning. It was the most spectacular race start I’ve ever had! Throughout the course, several cartoon characters from Mickey and Minnie Mouse to Goofy and Snow White greeted us and cheered us along. They definitely took my mind off the miles I had to run and the growing ache in my feet.

After the celebration, I joined my family a bit sore but with a definite sense of accomplishment, for our last night’s dinner together and reunion close-out. Everyone said they’d return to Orlando to enjoy more of the city outside of Disney World.

Getting There

There are several flights to Orlando from most major US cities, Canada, the UK and Europe. A variety of accommodation options, from hotels, resorts and vacation rentals make this an attractive place to visit whether you are traveling with a family or group or with a loved one.

If you’re planning a trip to Florida, be sure to check out the theme parks and all the other attractions that Orlando has on offer.

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photo by: PrincessAshley

Jamaica Chosen “Caribbean’s Leading Destination” at World Travel Awards Ceremony

Jamaica was voted the Caribbean’s Leading Destination at the 2012 World Travel Awards Ceremony for the Caribbean and the Americas at Beaches Turks & Caicos Resort Villages & Spa on September 14th.

Jamaica took home several other awards including “Caribbean’s Leading Airport” (Sangster International Airport), “Caribbean’s Leading Cruise Destination,”  “Caribbean’s Leading Villa Resort” (Round Hill Hotel), “Caribbean’s Leading Meeting and Conference Center” (Montego Bay Convention Center), and “Caribbean’s Leading Meeting and Conference Hotel” (Half Moon).

Other winners include St. Lucia (“Caribbean’s Leading Honeymoon Destination”), Tobago (“Caribbean’s Leading Hotel – Coco Reef Resort”), Necker Island (“Caribbean’s Leading Private Island”), and St. Vincent (“Caribbean’s Leading New Hotel” – Buccament Bay Spa & Resort).

Rio de Janeiro won the award for “South America’s Leading Destination,” while Cancun was voted “Mexico & Central America’s Leading Destination.”

The “North America’s Leading Destination” award went to Las Vegas while New York City was voted “North America’s Leading City Break Destination,” and American Airlines “North America’s Leading Airline.”

South Africa was the big winner at the WTA Africa ceremony with awards including “Africa’s Leading Luxury Hotel,” (Saxon Boutique Hotel, Villa & Spa), “Africa’s Leading Luxury Train” (The Blue Train), and “Africa’s Leading Safari Lodge” (Shamwari Game Resort). South Africa Airways and Abercrombe & Kent were among the organizations voted finest in their fields. Marrakech took home the award for “Africa’s Leading Destination.”

Dubai earned honors as the “Middle East’s Leading Destination” while Abu Dhabi’s Emirates Palace copped the “Middle East’s Leading Luxury Resort.”

In addition to the Turks & Caicos ceremony, others were held in Nairobi and Singapore. Europe’s event will take place on October 6th at the Conrad Algarve in Portugal. The winners of these legs will go head-to-head in the WTA’s Grand Final, which is set to take place at The Oberoi, Gurgaon on 12th December 2012. Read more about the winners here.

The World Travel Awards (WTA) was launched in 1993 to acknowledge and recognize excellence in the global travel and tourism industry. Now celebrating its 19th anniversary, it is regarded as the very highest achievement that a travel product could hope to receive.

 

Can You Afford Not to Have Travel Insurance?

Having travel insurance should be a no brainer for those of us who travel. But most people don’t think of it until it’s too late.

Take my friend, Jessica, for instance. On her first trip to Africa, she arrived at her destination only to find that her luggage had not. For two weeks, all she had was the clothes on her back, a few items given to her by others on the trip, and some personal articles. Her suitcase went on its own adventure. Following her return home, she had to produce receipts for the contents but received a check from the airline that only covered the cost of a new suitcase.

In the grand scheme of things, a lost suitcase is a temporary inconvenience. But what if my friend had become ill and had to be hospitalized, or worse, evacuated home? Without travel insurance with appropriate coverage, her trip and her finances would definitely have been ruined.

Why then are we so cavalier about travel insurance?

One of the reasons we give so little thought to travel insurance is because we believe it will be prohibitively expensive. But at a cost of a fraction of the actual price of the trip, it’s a small amount to pay for our peace of mind.

There’s also, I suspect, the expectation that vacations will be perfect interludes where nothing bad ever happens. Ironically, it’s also the time when we’re most likely to venture way outside our comfort zones and engage in activities we’d probably never do at home.

According to Britain’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO), 10 Brits have been hospitalized abroad every day this year. Last year, the figure was 70 a week.

And so far this year, there have been 13 cases of young Brits falling from balconies while on vacation.  Unfortunately, 3 lost their lives while others ended up with very serious injuries.

Because of this, the FCO along with the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA – The Travel Association) are now campaigning jointly to help prevent further incidents.

But it has to go further than that. Of 2,000 people surveyed by the Foreign Office, 48% revealed that they did not realize that they would be responsible for their medical expenses if they became ill abroad.

The situation isn’t better in America where the United States Travel Insurance Association (UStiA) found that since the summer of 2010, one in eight adults have had their travel plans changed because of natural disasters. Of that number, only 29% had travel insurance.

To further underscore the importance of having travel insurance, it is one of the requirements for obtaining a Schengen visa.

So how much coverage should you get? Whenever I buy travel insurance, I make sure to have medical coverage, including provision for evacuation in the event of an emergency; trip cancelation and interruption; lost, stolen, delayed, or damaged baggage or personal effects; missed connections and flight delays. I’ve also bought coverage in case my hotel or airline becomes insolvent while I’m on my trip.

Thankfully, I’ve never had to file a claim but knowing that I was protected was worth the additional expense.

So whether we’re making plans for that Caribbean vacation, the trip around the world or to take the kids to see their grandparents, we should always include travel insurance to the budget. Can you afford not to?