11 Ways to Make Your Cruise Ship Cabin Feel Bigger

Who says interior designers are the only ones capable of making a small room feel bigger? With cruise ship cabins being significantly smaller than hotel rooms, avid cruisers have got making the most of the space they’re given down to a science. With a little ingenuity, anyone going on a cruise can work wonders in their own cabin.

To put cabin size into perspective, Carnival’s standard inside cabins start at 185 square feet, which is slightly higher than the industry standard. Meanwhile, the average U.S. hotel room is roughly 330 square feet. So cruisers who want to maximize space need to get creative.

From adding your own storage space to bringing in ocean views, we’ve compiled a list of ways to make your cruise ship cabin feel bigger that even the least crafty cruisers can accomplish. Eat your heart out, HGTV.

1. Don’t overpack.

How many times have you packed outfits, shoes or accessories only to realize at the end of your cruise that they were a waste of space, because you never used any of them? Nothing makes your cruise ship cabin feel smaller than unnecessary clutter that inevitably ends up scattered all over the place. Simplify your packing routine by avoiding an excessively large suitcase (less than 28 inches is ideal), and packing smarter — such as rolling your clothes and bringing one layer you can wear repeatedly.

Discover more tips on how not to overpack for your cruise.

The Interior Cabin on Celebrity Silhouette

2. Look for “hidden” storage space …

When it comes to cruise ship cabins, storage can be found where you least expect it. On Disney Cruise Line ships, for example, cabins feature ottomans that open to provide additional storage space. Some Royal Caribbean ship cabins have secret compartments behind the vanity mirrors. And don’t forget there’s always room underneath the bed. The more, loose items you can get out of the way, the bigger your cabin will feel.

Who knew? We reveal secrets the cruise lines don’t tell you.

3. … Or make your own.

Now that your overpacking days are over, you’ll have more room in your suitcase for items that help you eliminate clutter — ultimately making your cabin feel bigger. Seasoned cruisers swear by travel organizers like over-the-door shoe bags and hanging shower caddies. They’re foldable and lightweight (thus easy to pack) and keep all your shoes, accessories and toiletries in one place.

Unleash your inner interior designer with these seven cruise cabin hacks.

4. Remove small furniture.

While most cruise cabin furniture is either too large or too heavy to move or is bolted to the ground and thus can’t be removed, some smaller pieces can be taken out of your cabin to create more space. On embarkation day, ask your steward if it’s possible to take out a stool or even the throw pillows. Don’t try to move anything yourself.

Surprise! Here are nine things you don’t know about your cruise ship cabin.

5. Keep your cabin tidy.

By no means are you expected to clean on your vacation, but you also shouldn’t leave your cabin looking like a laundry bomb exploded. Hang clothes in the closet, and use your suitcase as a drawer for additional items — then slide it under your bed. This makes it easier for your cabin steward to clean and make everything look pristine.

6. Take advantage of the walls.

Don’t forget to pack those magnets! The majority of cruise ship cabins are metal, even though they might not look it. Instead of leaving your daily planners and cocktail party invites all over the desk and nightstands, consider hanging them up on the walls — perhaps near the door, so you can take a peek at the day’s activities on your way out.

7. Move the beds.

Cruise ship cabin layouts are already designed to maximize space and efficiency. But depending on your ship, you might be able to have the bed moved to create more room in a desired area — as long as it’s not blocking a door or walkway. Additionally, beds can be configured to two twins or one queen or king (depending on room category), to tailor the layout to your liking.

The Outside Cabin on Noordam

8. Utilize natural light.

Natural light is an interior designer’s best friend. It can make any small space feel bigger by brightening up dark corners and crevices. If you’re staying in an ocean-view or balcony cabin, keep the curtains open while you’re inside so the room doesn’t feel so dark and cocoonlike. Just remember to close them if you plan to hop in the shower — especially on port days. The last thing you want to do is moon someone on the ship docked next to you.

9. Turn on your TV.

Ocean views, whether from a balcony or through a window, can make any cruise ship cabin feel bigger. But not every cabin comes with a view. On the bright side (no pun intended), most cruise ship TV programming includes a bridge and/or bow cam station. If you’re staying in an inside cabin, set your TV to the captain’s view to give your cabin a roomier feel.

10. Choose the right cabin.

If not having enough space is a deal breaker for you, make sure to pick a cabin that suits your needs before booking. Cruise ship rooms vary in size, even within the same category. Check to see if there are special inside cabins with higher square footage, consider an accessible cabin (though be prepared to give it up if you’re not disabled but someone who is needs it) or look for a “hump” cabin, which offers significantly more balcony space thanks to its unique location. Check out our roundup of 14 unusual cruise ship balcony cabins to see if there’s a layout that piques your interest.

11. Book a guarantee cabin.

Another planning strategy to (potentially) land more space is to book a guarantee cabin. Contrary to traditional booking, in which you instantly receive a cabin number, a guarantee cabin is unassigned — it can be anywhere on the ship, in the category you choose, but you won’t know the exact room until closer to your sailing. The plus is that lines offer these cabins at a lower fare andthere’s also the tempting possibility of an upgrade at no extra charge. On the flip side, if the ship fills up, you could get stuck in a cabin that’s on the lower end of the category spectrum and thus smaller than you anticipated (since cabins within the same category tend to range in size).

Sneaking Alcohol on a Cruise: 5 Reasons You Should Never Try It

Sneaking alcohol on a cruise has always been a popular pastime for those who are willing to break the rules to avoid paying for drinks onboard. Mainstream cruise lines prohibit passengers from bringing their own liquor, beer and other alcohol (with the exception of wine or Champagne) on ships. Why spend more money than you have to, when you can try to pull a fast one on security staff?

Many “rum runner” passengers have sneaking alcohol on a cruise down to a science, stuffing refilled mouthwash bottles and purpose-made plastic bags in their checked luggage. Some even go as far as appointing the least guilty-looking family member to do the dirty work. Grandma doesn’t deserve this.

As stealthy as these rule-breakers think they are, cruise lines know all about alcohol-packing hacks. They know all the common hiding places, as well as which containers are most suspicious.

While the worst that likely will happen is a trip to the naughty room and having your prized bottle of Caribbean rum confiscated, we can think of five reasons why you shouldn’t sneak alcohol on a cruise. Don’t worry, rule-breakers: You can still enjoy a carefree vacation by cutting in line at the buffet and hogging as many deck chairs as your heart desires.

1. It’s embarrassing.

Remember how it felt to be called down to the principal’s office in grade school? Getting caught sneaking alcohol on a cruise is twice as embarrassing. Cruise lines will usually slip a note in your suitcase before it’s delivered to your cabin on embarkation day, letting you know if something was confiscated. If your bag is locked, and they suspect you might have some inside, you’ll be summoned to the naughty room to open it. Talk about feeling like a misbehaved child.

2. You’ll get the stink eye from other passengers.

Cruisers bold enough to try sneaking alcohol in their carry-on bag will not only have to suffer through public humiliation, but also reproach from passengers who are stuck in line behind them. Waiting in line is bad enough; the last thing anyone wants is to put their vacation on hold because someone else didn’t follow the rules. Even though you might be sailing with thousands of other passengers, somehow the people you annoyed at security will be the ones you run into over and over onboard.

3. You could end up losing money.

If you dropped $10 to $30 on purpose-made containers to sneak alcohol on a cruise, you’ll lose all that money — plus whatever you spent on the booze inside — when you get caught. If you opt to hide bottles in your suitcase instead, whether or not you’ll see those bottles again depends on the cruise line. Some might confiscate it indefinitely, while others will hold on to it until the end of the cruise. As you’re likely going to pay for drinks once your stash is gone, you’ll end up spending more money after a failed smuggling attempt.

4. You’re under 21.

Generally speaking, 21 is the minimum drinking age on any cruise that begins in a U.S. home port. (An exception is Norwegian Sky, sailing out of Miami, which allows young adults between the ages of 18 and 20 to consume alcohol with a legal parent or guardian.) Underage passengers who try to sneak alcohol onboard face the same repercussions as anyone else; the booze will get confiscated. The only difference is they won’t get it back at the end of the cruise. If you do make it through, you put yourself at a high risk for hurting yourself or others (for example, with alcohol poisoning, falls and sexual assault). Cruise lines reserve the right to disembark passengers who violate their alcohol policies, so obey the rules and avoid sticky situations. Age limits are in place for a reason.

5. You can bring wine or Champagne instead.

Most cruise lines let you bring at least one bottle (typically 750ml) of wine or Champagne onboard. (Some even allow bottled water, cans of soda and juice, no questions asked.) Although corkage fees might apply if you decide to drink your own bottle in the main dining room or a specialty restaurant, you can save money by enjoying the wine in your cabin. If you do bring your wine to dinner, the corkage fee is often around $15, cheaper than purchasing a bottle or several wines by the glass. You also get to enjoy whatever red, white or rose you please.

 

By Gina Kramer

Cruise Critic Editor

Best Cabin Placement on Any Cruise Ship

It’s that moment in the cruise booking process that requires you to select your cabin. You know you want a balcony (or inside or suite) but now you need to choose the specific room you want. The only problem? There are hundreds to choose from all over the ship!

How do you know which deck is best, or if you should choose a midship room or one more forward or aft? The truth is, there is no objective answer to the question, “What’s the best cabin placement on my cruise ship?” It all depends on what’s important to you. Whether you need a cabin that won’t aggravate your motion sensitivity or want the best view possible, we round up the locations you should book, based on your stateroom preferences.

Best for a Great View

Cabins at the very front or very back of a cruise ship are most likely to have the best views, as they offer the widest vistas of the ocean stretching out behind or in front of the ship — or in the case of forward cabins, your next port of call. Views are especially fantastic on ships that offer front cabins with oversized floor-to-ceiling panoramic windows. Select Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Line ships fall into that category.


Best for a Large Balcony

aft balcony

Aft cabins typically have some of the largest balconies on a cruise ship as there are usually just a few rooms lined up along the back of a ship giving each one more space for a bigger balcony. In particular, aft cabins located on the corners of the ship often have wraparound balconies, creating enough space for chairs, loungers and sometimes a small dining table.

Also good for a larger balcony are cabins located on the so-called “hump” of a cruise ship that is designed with a curvy outline. Cabins located where the ship transitions from a narrower to a wider width have angled balconies that are roomier than a typical veranda. Hump cabins can be found on select Celebrity and Royal Caribbean ships.


Best for Those with Motion Sensitivity

The closer to the edges (top, front and back — but not bottom) of a sea-going vessel you are, the more likely you are to feel the movement of that ship in the water. It’s worst at the front of the ship, which hits the waves first and rebounds upward. (How high the resulting bounce is depends on how rough the water is.) The higher on the ship you are, the more exaggerated the up and down motion of the ship hitting the waves feels. It’s less noticeable at the back of the ship, but even there the motion of the ocean can be felt, especially if the seas are at all rough. Cruisers with a sensitivity to motion will do best midship (midway between front and back) and as low down as possible, as the rocking and rolling of the ocean is much less perceptible the closer you are to the waterline.


Best for Light Sleepers

If you want the quietest cabin possible, eliminate cabins located by noisy areas. Do not book cabins located directly under the pool deck or buffet, too close to the elevators, across the hall from a laundry or crew entry door, and under or over the casino, theater or nightclub. You’ll also want to skip cabins located low and forward (where the anchor being lowered or raised can generate a lot of sound) or at the back (where the ship’s generators create a hum that rarely, if ever, stops). You’ll need to study a deck plan for the best placement or call on a travel agent who knows the ship you’re booking. However, a general rule of thumb is to surround yourself with other passenger cabins — on either side of you, across from you and above and below you.


Best for the Mobility Impaired

Crowds are the bane of cruisers with any type of mobility impairment, and while you can’t avoid people all the time on a cruise ship, you certainly can choose a cabin in a location that’s easier to navigate to or from. Cabins on decks that also host passenger services or public spaces are usually harder to traverse; there will often be people milling around, blocking the walking area so selecting a deck that only has cabins on it is advisable. Even though the hallways tend to be narrower, there are rarely people standing around. If possible, try to snag a cabin near an elevator so there’s less distance between your cabin door and the lift.


Best for Spa-Lovers

The Spa on Viking Star (Photo: Cruise Critic)

If you’re a thermal suite aficionado and plan to spend lots of time in the spa, relaxing on a heated lounger or soaking in the ship’s thalassotherapy pool, you’ll probably want to get a room that’s as close to the spa as you can get. (That way you don’t have to traverse the entire ship in your robe and slippers!) On some ships, you can find designated spa cabins on the same deck as the spa; on others, you’ll probably be one or two decks away. Other ships get you even closer; on Seabourn you can actually get a room with direct access to the spa via a staircase located in the spa’s lobby. On Costa ships, the spa cabins have direct access to the Samsara Spa via a semi-private glass elevator. If you’re a thermal suite aficionado and plan to spend lots of time in the spa, relaxing on a heated lounger or soaking in the ship’s thalassotherapy pool, you’ll probably want to get a room that’s as close to the spa as you can get. (That way you don’t have to traverse the entire ship in your robe and slippers!) On some ships, you can find designated spa cabins on the same deck as the spa; on others, you’ll probably be one or two decks away. Other ships get you even closer; on Seabourn you can actually get a room with direct access to the spa via a staircase located in the spa’s lobby. On Costa ships, the spa cabins have direct access to the Samsara Spa via a semi-private glass elevator.


Best for Water Babies

The most obvious room location for any water-lover is as close to the pool as you can get. On some cruise ships, you can get a cabin on the very same deck as the pool, so it’s out your door and a quick stroll to paradise. On other ships, you might have to get a cabin one deck below the pool, adding a minute or two or more to your cabin-to-pool commute.

Another, less obvious choice for water babies is a cabin that’s located close to the water line. While you can’t go into the water, you’ll be able to hear it lapping against your balcony or porthole window. For those for whom cruising is just as much about being on water as anything else, these cabins — like the cove balconies on select Carnival ships — are the perfect home away from home.

By Dori Saltzman

Cruise Critic Senior Editor
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What to Expect: Wine on Cruise Ships

I don’t drink cocktails. Do cruise ships have wine onboard?

Yes, cruise ships serve wine onboard. While luxury and premium cruise lines sometimes include some wine in the fare, all wine costs extra on mainstream ships. You can buy it at most, although not all, bars onboard, as well as from your waiter at lunch and dinner. In general, you are likely to find sparkling wine (including Champagne), white wine (usually sauvignon blanc and chardonnay) and red wine (usually merlot, pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon) from the U.S. and other countries. Some cruise lines also sell dessert wines, as well as port. A general rule of thumb is that the more upscale the cruise line, the more varietals it will offer.


How much does a glass of wine usually cost onboard? What about a bottle?

Wines range in price, depending on the quality. You might pay as little as $6 for a “house” white or red, or as much as $18 to $20 for a glass of a well-rated wine from a known vineyard. Bottles of wine might start at $25 to $30 for a basic varietal like pinot grigio or merlot and go up to several hundred dollars, depending on quality. In general, expect a markup similar to restaurants — about two or three times what you’d pay in a wine store on land.


How can I find out which wines my ship will have onboard?

It can be surprisingly hard to find this information. Because wines can change from sailing to sailing, cruise lines usually don’t publish their wine lists online. In the Cruise Critic forums, passengers often upload photos of wine lists, both by the glass and by the bottle. Sending an email to the cruise line might also elicit information.


Are wines included in a drink package? If so, how do I find out which ones?

A limited number of wines by the glass are included in most drink packages. Included wines are chosen based on price. For example, in a basic drink package, glasses of wine up to $6 to $8 might be covered. A premium drink package might allow for wines that cost up to $12 or $15.

To find out whether the drink package includes the wines you like, you’ll have to find out which wines the ship has and how much they cost. As we noted above, this can be difficult, as the cruise lines don’t publicize their wine lists online. Send an email to your cruise line and check Cruise Critic forums for recent prices.


Can I buy a drink package that only covers wine?

Not by the glass. However, many cruise lines have discounts on wines by the bottle, if you buy a package. Package prices are set by the number of bottles — usually ranging from three to seven — as well as the quality; the gratuity might or might not be included (read the fine print before you buy). If you don’t finish your bottle, your waiter will store it for you until the following night.


My cruise line says that wine is included in the fare. Is that all wines onboard or just certain ones? How do I find out?

Most luxury cruise lines, such as Crystal, Regent, Silversea and Seabourn, and some ultra-premium cruise lines such as Azamara and Viking Ocean, include some wine in the fare. (On Viking, for example, wine is available at lunch and dinner only.) The number of wines that are included depend on the line; usually, you’ll have more choice of varietals on luxury lines. Luxury lines also give passengers the option of having wine placed in the in-room bar, free of charge.

Despite making complimentary wine available, luxury and premium cruise lines are often still cagey about releasing the names of the vineyards and vintages available. The reason is the same as the one given by mainstream lines: Wines onboard often change frequently, so it’s impossible to release specifics. Your best option is to send an email to your cruise line (or butler, if you’re on a luxury line) and check Cruise Critic for recent prices.


I’m going on a luxury cruise. I don’t like any of the wines on the included list. Are there others?

Luxury and upscale cruise lines sell bottles of wine beyond the included list that go from $40 to several thousand dollars. If you’re picky about your wine and think you’ll be buying from the extra list during your trip, it’s worth dropping a note to your cruise line and connecting with the sommelier to get specifics of what’s available. With enough notice, a cruise line might stock something you like!


Two bottles of wine and appetizer plates on Noordam

Will there be a sommelier at dinner to help me pair wine with my meal?

On mainstream cruise lines, you usually find sommeliers in the specialty restaurants and occasionally in the main dining room (depending on the line). They are usually more than happy to help you navigate the choices and find something to go with your meal.

On premium and luxury lines, you’ll likely find sommeliers with more expert knowledge that can make appropriate recommendations.


If we order a bottle of wine and don’t finish it in one night, what happens? Can we take it back to our room or save it for the next night?

You bought it, you own it! You can either ask your waiter to cap the bottle and store it for you for the next night to eat in whatever restaurant you choose or you can take it back to your room for a nightcap on the balcony. The one no-no here? Bringing the bottle to a bar or lounge. Unless you’re on a luxury line, where wine and spirits are included in the fare, BYOB is generally frowned upon in cruise ship bars.


Are there bars onboard that specialize in wine? What about wine-themed events?

Many cruise lines have dedicated wine bars. Check out this list of our favorite wine bars at sea.

In addition, almost all cruise lines have tastings and other events for wine lovers, although they likely carry an extra fee. Foodies will enjoy the chef’s table that many lines have, including Carnival and Azamara; while these cost an extra fee, they usually come with wine pairings that have been specially selected for the meal. If you’ve ever wanted to try your hand at wine making, look for blending classes on MSC and Holland America’s Koningsdam, where you can create your own vintage. And for the ultimate experience, check out a Food and Wine Cruise or other wine-themed voyage where vintners come onboard. On these trips, wine is the focus and you’re sure to expand your wine horizons (plus, hang out with other winos!)


I want to bring my own wine onboard. Can I? Will I pay a fee?

Cruise lines have varying policies on carrying your own wine onboard. Some, like Carnival, allow each person to bring one regular-sized bottle of wine with them as a carry-on; you can drink it in your cabin, but not elsewhere on the ship. Others allow more bottles, but you pay a $25 corkage fee for each when you board. And others don’t care how much you bring, as long as it stays in your room. Read more about Cruise Line Alcohol Policies.


I brought wine onboard that needs to be chilled. What do I do?

If you have a bottle or two that needs to be cooled down, your room steward should be able to bring you an ice bucket; if there’s room, you can also store the bottle in your mini-bar. If you’re on a luxury line and have brought a special case for meals, contact the cruise line. They will put you in touch with the sommelier, who will discuss the best way to store your bottles.


My cruise line is stopping near a port where I plan to go to wineries. Can I bring wine back onboard the ship to drink?

Again, it depends on your cruise line. On a mainstream line, you’ll have to check your wine when you get back onboard, and it will be held for you until the end of the cruise. On a luxury line, you’ll be able to bring it on with no penalty, and drink it at dinner.


I’m going on a river cruise. Are the rules the same for those ships?

River cruises are usually more wine-intensive than their ocean counterparts; on the majority of river lines, wine is included with lunch and dinner. River lines are also less uptight about passengers buying wine onshore and bringing it onboard, either to enjoy in the cabin or bring to the dining room. Finally, river cruise lines regularly offer wine-themed itineraries. Check out River Cruise Tips for Wine Lovers for more information.

 

By Chris Gray Faust, Senior Editor

 

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Score the Best Cruise Price Every Time

When it comes to booking a cruise, not much feels better than knowing you scored the best deal possible. Savvy travelers understand that getting the best pricing and perks means you have to be vigilant. But, if you’re willing to put in extra time and work, the payoff could mean you’re saving hundreds of dollars more than the folks in the next cabin.

The best deals come to those who are flexible, loyal to a specific line and who have a good relationship with a travel professional. While some people love last-minute deals, booking well ahead of time can give you plenty of opportunities to save. Follow these steps to save big on your next cruise.

Step 1. Book your next cruise while you’re on a cruise.

Cruise lines want you to sail on their ships again and again, and they’ll reward you for your loyalty. Devoted cruisers and big spenders get perks like free cocktail receptions, complimentary laundry or cabin upgrades, but even first-time cruisers can score big if they book more cruises while still at sea.

Most cruise lines have programs that reward you with onboard credit, reduced deposits or discounts if you book while you’re sailing. Generally, the rewards and conditions are better if you book a specific sailing, rather than simply an unspecified “future sailing.” Celebrity Cruises, for example, offers up to $500 in onboard credit if you pick your ship and sail date, while you’ll get up to $200 if you choose to commit later. Onboard credit can be used for virtually anything, including gratuities, so the savings go straight to your bottom line.

Booking onboard? Find out how to score extras and discounts.

Step 2. Keep an eye out for the big sales.

Your work isn’t done just because you’ve booked. If you’ve locked up a sailing early and given yourself the luxury of time, you have a lot of built-in flexibility and can take advantage of sales that cruise lines run periodically throughout the year, such as wave season deals. Many cruise lines allow you to combine an onboard booking with at least one other offer, so if you see a great deal, you could be eligible for better pricing and even more perks such as drink packages, additional onboard credit or prepaid gratuities. Cruise lines also have flash sales throughout the year, and those are famously great opportunities to snag cruise add-ons.

Check out Cruise Critic’s deals page for the latest cruise line sales.

booking with a travel agent

Step 3. Transfer that booking to your favorite travel agent.

When your chosen cruise line is having a sale with perks you like, transfer your booking to a travel agent you trust. This way, you can keep all the benefits from your original onboard booking, gain access to the current cruise line and agency sale perks, and have someone manage your booking so you don’t have to. Yep, you read that right. Not only can you double-dip on some cruise line deals, but travel agencies might even offer further perks — additional onboard credit, for example — and work with you to access price drops and cabin upgrades. One caveat: Some cruise lines give you a limited time frame in which to transfer your booking, usually 60 to 90 days after the onboard booking.

Read our tips for finding a travel agent who fits your style.

Step 4. Monitor your cruise pricing daily, or let someone do it for you.

With most lines, if a price drops, you can get the lower price all the way up until you’ve made your final payment. Cruise fares change a lot more than you probably realize, and sometimes low rates last for only a few hours at a time. Some travel agents will monitor prices for you and alert you to drops, for a fee. There’s also power in numbers. After you’ve booked a specific sailing, sign up for a Cruise Critic Roll Call. Often, Cruise Critic members will share information on when a price falls. If you learn of a price drop, contact your travel agent right away to get the new lower rate. If you’ve already made your final payment and come across a price drop, it doesn’t hurt to contact the cruise line; cruisers have told us they’ve received upgrades or onboard credit even after that last payment.

Follow these four steps, and you can board your next cruise feeling confident that you got a great deal. Here are a couple of additional ways to save, if relevant to your booking.

Book with a group.

Booking a cruise with a group can lead to some nice savings. While the perks vary from line to line, most companies will reward large groups with discounts and incentives. If you’re the leader of a group, you could end up with a free cruise, or you can spread the wealth by sharing the discount with the rest of your party.

Refer a cruiser.

Some travel agents will offer a small onboard credit if you refer a new client to them. Similarly, Crown and Anchor loyalty program members receive onboard credit ($25 per cabin) for referring new-to-Royal Caribbean cruisers.

By Colleen McDaniel, Senior Executive Editor

 

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How to get VIP Status on Big Ship Lines

7 Big-Ship Cruise Lines With VIP Options

Perks like free cocktails, an exclusive hangout and a concierge who makes restaurant and spa reservations are not limited to small-ship, luxury cruises. Several big-ship cruise lines wanting to coddle frequent cruisers and passengers residing in high-rent suites are now offering members-only concierge lounges as an attractive perk with VIP options.

These lounges serve as private hideaways for passengers in the most expensive accommodations. They’re typically outfitted with couches and comfortable chairs, big-screen TVs and private bars, so elite passengers can relax or socialize as they see fit. The other major plus is the added service of the actual concierge, who can do niggling chores, such as booking shore excursions or dinners at specialty restaurants, arranging shore tours or resolving any issues that come up.

Are you itching to get your foot in the door of one of these shipboard hideaways? Here’s a sneak peek inside seven big-ship concierge lounges — as well as qualification requirements for acquiring the right key card so you can access all these perks on your next cruise.

1. Celebrity Cruises

Lounge Name: Michael’s Club, available on all Celebrity ships.

How You Qualify: Passengers in Sky, Signature, Royal, Penthouse and Reflection suites and Captain’s Club Zenith members all have access to Michael’s Club. Concierge-level cabin occupants receive concierge services but may not use the club.

Amenities: Continental breakfast is served in Michael’s every morning, while complimentary pre-dinner drinks and tapas are served from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. The lounge also features a large-screen TV and reading chairs with a variety of magazines, newspapers and books on hand.

Concierge Services: The concierge helps to arrange specialty dining reservations and procure shore excursion tickets, and can even answer general questions about ports of call.

Open Hours: Michael’s Club is open 24 hours a day, though the concierge desk hours vary by itinerary.

2. Disney Cruise Line

Lounge Name: Concierge Lounge, located on all Disney ships.

How You Qualify: Passengers must be booked in a suite or concierge-level stateroom in order to utilize the space.

Amenities: The Concierge Lounge serves up complimentary snacks and nonalcoholic beverages (cocktails can be purchased), along with an included Wi-Fi package. There is also a private sun deck for Concierge Lounge-eligible guests — located on Deck 13 of Disney Fantasy and Disney Dream or Deck 10 of Disney Wonder — featuring a dedicated host, lounge chairs and complimentary sunblock.

Concierge Services: Eligible passengers can attend a private welcome reception, with food and drink, in the lounge. During the voyage, concierge services can be used to book excursions, make restaurant reservations or in-room dining arrangements, secure spa appointments (or arrange beach cabana spa treatments on Disney’s private Bahamian island, Castaway Cay), organize child care services or help plan special occasions.

Open Hours: The Concierge Lounge is open 24 hours a day; the concierge is on duty from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.

3. Holland America Line

Lounge Name: Neptune Lounge, available on all Holland America ships.

How You Qualify: Only passengers who book a Neptune or Pinnacle Suite are allowed in.

Amenities: This private relaxation area features a wide-screen TV; reading areas stocked with magazines, newspapers and books; and specialty coffees served throughout the day. Continental breakfast with coffee and tea is available from 7 until 10:30 a.m., light lunch (including sandwiches) is served from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., tea time follows from 2 until 5 p.m., with appetizers and snacks served from 5 to 8:30 p.m.

Concierge Services: Concierge services include booking reservations at the Pinnacle Grill alternative restaurant, express booking for shore excursions (suite passengers get priority on tours), handling inquiries about car rentals or restaurants in ports of call, arranging spa appointments and settling billing questions.

Open Hours: The Neptune Lounge is open every day from 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.

 

4. MSC Cruises

Lounge Name: Top Sail Lounge, found in the MSC Yacht Club on MSC Divina, MSC Fantasia, MSC Preziosa, MSC Splendida, MSC Meraviglia and MSC Seaside.

How You Qualify: Book a Yacht Club cabin, part of MSC Cruises‘ private-access suite enclave.

Amenities: The lounge is decked out with comfortable couches and TVs. Complimentary drinks, pastries and appetizers are available all day long. MSC’s Top Sail Lounge also features gourmet light fare for breakfast, lunch and dinner — a perk not found in most other cruise lines’ concierge lounges. Because the aptly named Top Sail Lounge is located on a top deck, passengers can enjoy beautiful views through floor-to-ceiling windows. Yacht Club passengers also have access to a private pool area and an alfresco bar serving food.

Concierge Services: The concierge staff will make reservations for alternative dining venues and spa services, arrange private shore excursions and facilitate onboard shopping. Plus, your cabin’s personal butler, available 24 hours a day, will cater to your whims; he or she can help with unpacking, serve you afternoon tea and bring you your preferred newspaper daily.

Open Hours: The lounge is always open.

5. Norwegian Cruise Line

Lounge Name: Passengers staying in Norwegian‘s The Haven, the line’s all-suite enclave, available on Norwegian Epic, Norwegian Getaway, Norwegian Breakaway and Norwegian Escape, have access to a private concierge desk and adjacent cocktail lounge, as well as an exclusive restaurant and outdoor courtyard. The same amenities are found on Norwegian Joy, which caters to the Chinese market, and will be implemented on Norwegian Bliss, scheduled to debut in 2018.

How You Qualify: Passengers booked in The Haven qualify for these privileges.

Amenities: The concierge desk is set just next to The Haven Lounge, which is equipped with a bar, light bites and several seating areas. Next door, a lavish breakfast and lunch from a special menu are served to eligible passengers in The Haven Restaurant. Haven passengers also have access to a gorgeous private courtyard with a pool, hot tubs, sauna and sun deck with lounge beds.

Concierge Services: Based in The Haven complex, a dedicated concierge is available to make dinner, entertainment and shore excursion reservations; book airport transfers and print boarding passes; answer questions and attend to special requests. The concierge will also facilitate priority disembarkation for suite passengers on port days and the last day of the cruise.

Open Hours: The concierge is always available by phone, but is available for in-person consultations every day until 4 p.m.

6. Princess Cruises

Lounge Name: Concierge Lounge, located on Royal Princess and Regal Princess.

How You Qualify: Princess‘ suite passengers are granted access to the lounge.

Amenities: The Concierge Lounge is outfitted with couches and chairs, a selection of books and magazines, and offers light snacks and beverages. The lounge also is used as a private disembarkation lounge for suite passengers.

Concierge Services: Full front desk services are available to concierge-level passengers, plus the concierge can help with shore excursion, specialty dining and Lotus spa reservations.

Open Hours: The Concierge Lounge is open 24 hours, but a concierge is only on duty from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m., noon to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. most days. (Hours vary on turnaround days.)

7. Royal Caribbean International

Lounge Name: Every Royal Caribbean ship is equipped with a Concierge or Diamond Club lounge.

How You Qualify: Passengers must be Diamond Plus or Pinnacle Club members of the Crown & Anchor Society, or be booked into select suites to access the Concierge Lounge. On Freedom- and Oasis-class ships, as well as on Radiance of the Seas, Diamond members also have access to a similar lounge, called the Diamond Lounge.

Amenities: A continental breakfast is served in the Concierge Lounge every morning from 8 until 10 a.m., and hors d’oeuvres and petits fours are served before and after dinner. A self-service, no-fee bar is available in the evenings. DVDs and CDs are available to borrow during concierge hours. (There’s no TV in the lounge.)

Concierge Services: The concierge will help VIP passengers make reservations for specialty restaurants, book shore excursions and spa appointments, assist with the arrangements for private parties, help with purchasing show tickets, offer personalized shopping advice and pre-order wine for dinner. The concierge can also assist passengers with business services, such as faxing or copying, for a fee.

Open Hours: The Concierge Lounge is open 24 hours a day; the concierge is on duty from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

 By Elissa Garay, Cruise Critic contributor

The Best Places for Women to Travel Solo

We looked at safety rankings and accessibility to determine our list of the top cities for a solo female traveler.

Three years ago, I sat on the wooden chair in the back of Randi Bjellands’ kitchen in Norway, waiting. And waiting. A gentleman walked in and sat down. She quickly emerged from the back room and greeted him in Norwegian with a plate of food.

I don’t speak—or understand—Norwegian, and couldn’t tell if she understood that I was hungry, too. Did she think I was sitting here waiting for a travel companion to join me? Did she not realize my feet were aching from winding up-and-down the San Francisco-like streets of the Nordnes neighborhood, in Bergen, trying to find Bjellands Kjøkken (Bjellands’ Kitchen) before she closed shop?

It was clear Randi wasn’t to be disturbed. I had stumbled upon the recommendation online, stating that Bjellands, who is in her late 70s, single-handedly ran the restaurant and had her own methods.

When I first entered, all she said to me in broken English—a bit brusquely—was: “You hungry? You want fish? Cod?” I had nodded with every question and sat down, a good 20 minutes ago. She hadn’t acknowledged me since, while several locals had entered and been served immediately.

After another 15 minutes of clanking in the back, she appeared in front of me with plate, piled high with battered cod, potatoes, and slaw—and the heartiest grin on her face. Even though we couldn’t carry on a conversation, her expression said it all. She wanted to impress the one tourist—and only other female —in the room and had gone out of her way to prepare my meal with an extra dose of care.

The beauty of solo travel is the ability to immerse yourself in the community and to stumble upon those moments of international connection organically on your own. But as a woman, fears—sometimes innate—over the silliest things can spin into overdrive, especially in a foreign environment.

While the destination you choose should be somewhere you’ve always wanted to go, being in a safe location where it’s easy to navigate both the transportation and culture alleviates major worries and lets you focus on being present. And the more hotels, activities, and sights you’re able to find in a centralized, accessible area, the simpler it is to blend in, and allow yourself to experience those special travel moments that you’ll remember for a lifetime. Here, our list of the best places for women to travel alone.

Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona is an extremely walkable city, and you’re unlikely to get lost as long as you have a map of some kind. In the city, you can window shop along Las Ramblas, stroll down the beach boardwalk, and or wander through the Gaudi-designed Park Güell. And the dining options are great for a solo traveler too—you can eat al fresco at waterfront paella restaurants (people-watching is built-in entertainment) or opt for a counter seat at one of the city’s many incredible tapas bars.

Seattle

Thanks to the omnipresence of the Seattle’s coffee culture, a solo diner (or drinker) is commonplace in Seattle. Plus, the profileration of cafes means there’s a rest stop around every corner in between visits to Pike Place Market, the Space Needle, or the funky EMP Museum. The compact downtown area made it easy for me to zip between sights, restaurants, and shopping on foot—and anything that was slightly farther was accessible by the easy-to-use Link light rail, which just expanded to stations in Capitol Hill and the University of Washington this month.

Munich, Germany

The jolly German mentality shines in this Bavarian town, where on each of my visits, locals welcomed tourists with a grin, whether it was at a small ma-and-pop bakery or the touristy Olympiapark tower. The best way to immerse yourself in the Munich lifestyle? Grab a pint at a local biergarten or scour the aisles of the Christmas markets for a glühwein (hot mulled wine) stand. Since a mug requires a deposit, Germans hang around the stand, ready to chat (or give recommendations), while warming up over the traditional drink.

 

Austin, Texas

Austin’s festival culture makes it really easy to get pulled in multiple directions. But it’s also a great way to meet new people. As soon as I arrived, I wandered over to one of the many food truck trailer parks to line up for the indulgent Gourdough’s doughnuts truck, which still had a long line well after midnight. The next day, I juggled sessions at the ATX Television Festival and concerts at the X Games Austin. When you do need a little quiet time, head downtown for a walking tour, or find a spot to see the Congress Avenue Bridge bats soar.

Saba, Caribbean

The Netherlands-owned five-square-mile island is only a 15-minute flight from St. Maarten. Within hours of my arrival, the tight-knit diving and hiking community made me feel right at home. Even though I’m scared of fish (seriously), they convinced me to try scuba diving, and I was so glad I did. The Dutch Caribbean island has the most translucent waters, where I spotted turtles and schools of fish among the untouched reefs. Another highlight: I challenged myself to summit the 2,877-foot peak, Mount Scenery—aptly named for the stunning views.

Washington, D.C.

The manageable size and easy layout of the nation’s capital makes it a simple solo stomping ground. In between exploring the iconic memorials along the National Mall, take in the exhibits at your own whim at the 17 Smithsonian museums (plus the zoo!), all with free admission—for more free things to do in D.C., click here. The 6,184 docks of the Capital Bikeshare stretch into Arlington, Alexandria, and Montgomery County, as do the 91 stations of the DC Metro, making day trips into the nearby areas accessible. And if public transportation doesn’t get you to your destination, book an Uber: D.C. was one of Uber’s first cities, and I’ve never had a canceled or unreliable driver in the area during any of my many annual visits.

Kripalu Center in the Berkshires, Massachusetts

Escape to the nestled sanctuary of this 300-acre all-inclusive center tucked in the BerkshireMountains between the forest and peaceful Lake Mahkeenac. While the 40-year-old nonprofit is technically a yoga and health retreat, the true focus is on self-discovery, whether through guided kayak trips, walks through the meditation labyrinth, or solitary hikes in the woods. The structured programs make it an easy getaway for first-time single travelers, while the R&R Retreat option offers just as many activities a la carte. During my summer weekend there, I was paired with another female traveler in a double room, and also ventured out to catch the Boston Symphony Orchestra playing under the stars at Tanglewood music center across the street.

 

8 Travel Hacks That Will Get You More for Your Money

Travel experts reveal how they get more for less on the road.

September 01, 2017

Whether you have the money to vacation like a rock star or not, traveling is all about the experience. And while there are plenty of travelers out there who can afford blow-out vacations (we’re looking at you, Chrissy Teigen and Pippa Middleton), some of the most seasoned explorers know you can have a life-changing experience without draining your savings account.

Here are a few tips from the professionals on how to get the most value — from dollars saved to experience points earned — out of your vacation.

Find out where the locals eat.

That stylish restaurant/lounge in your lobby may be calling your name, but Christina Pedroni, senior vice president of Liberty Travel, recommends always venturing outside of your hotel if you’re looking to save money. Dining off-site, she noted, also adds an air of authenticity to a vacation.

“One of my best tips for customers is to speak to hotel staff and find out what their favorite local restaurants are,” she told Travel + Leisure. “I have received some of the best recommendations from hotel bartenders. Finding that local gem gets you an amazing meal without the premium hotel restaurant prices.”

Spend happy hour wisely.

While five-star accommodations may not be in the budget for a long vacation, you can still dabble in luxury by visiting an upscale venue around cocktail hour time, advises actor-turned-travel writer Andrew McCarthy.

“If staying in an apartment or cheap hotel, I’ll slip into the fanciest hotel around at cocktail hour and order a $20 sparking water and have a great time basking in how the other half lives, and eating the free pretzels and chips — then I’m always glad to leave and get back to the real people,” he told T+L.

 The founder of The Luxury Travel Expert, who goes by “Xavier,” says that by traveling when business season slows down, you may be able to score business class airfare for an economy price. He explained that during school holidays, airlines struggle to fill their business class seats as the demand for economy booms. Watching airfare and deals around those times could be the ticket for an upgraded flight without the added cost.“British Airways had a sale a couple of months ago in which transatlantic business class seats for summer 2017 were offered at the same price as economy class tickets,” he said. “So subscribe to the newsletter of your favorite airlines, and don’t ignore the business class sales. If you are traveling with family or a companion, you should keep an eye out for 2-for-1 business class sales that are occasionally launched by some airlines for a limited time only.”

Jack Ezon, owner of Ovation Vacations, added that timing your flight bookings either well ahead of time or at the last minute can result in savings.

“Booking way ahead, as in one year, allows you to take advantage of early booking bonuses,” Ezon said. “On the other hand, booking last minute, as in one to 15 days prior, gives you leverage to negotiate rates on leftover space. Of course, this means you have limited options, but it can save you big.”

Think about amenities before booking a hotel.

When selecting your hotels, comparing your needs with amenities is an easy way to save money, Pedroni says.

“Not all ratings — or hotel properties — are created equal. In Europe, a five-star rating often indicates a set of hotel features such as a fine dining restaurant, spa, pool, etc. It is not solely based upon the quality of the room and service,” she said.

When booking a stay in Europe or a city, she advises considering a smaller three- or four-star hotel that excels at what you many consider a luxury experience: a large comfortable room with plush furnishings, a great location, and stellar personal service. For a beach vacation, she said to prioritize your desires and book accordingly.

“If you plan on eating and drinking to your heart’s content, all-inclusive will be the best value. For those who prefer a nicer hotel and enjoy getting out and exploring and dining in the destination, an EP hotel would be best,” she said. “Lastly, for those looking to relax in plush accommodations who don’t mind doing a bit of cooking and cocktail making on their own, check out villa-style accommodations for the best value.”

Always visit the local tourism office.

“They know about everything going on in town. They can point you to free activities, special events happening during your stay, and everything in between. Use this resource,” said Matthew Kepnes, founder of the travel blog Nomadic Matt.

He also added that asking local hotel/hostel staff for recommendations on free or budget-friendly things to do will add to your experience.

“They deal with budget travelers all day, every day. They know exactly where to go for cheap meals and attractions,” he said.

Travel to emerging destinations.

Trending travel destinations are popular — and expensive — for good reason. However, choosing an up-and-coming destination can allow you to save big on travel without compromising too much on luxury.

“A few countries… on my radar to visit in the near future, before the crowds — and with that a rise of room rates — are: CubaIranMadagascar, and Mongolia,” Xavier said.

Related: The Most Affordable Countries to Visit in 2017

Two words: shoulder season.

Ezon said to look at shoulder seasons for viable vacation opportunities. While traveling in the off season can mean exploring some places in the bitter cold or dodging hurricanes, shoulder season usually has similar weather and experiences to peak season, he said.

“There are amazing values to be had during this time. For example, you can snag a room at one of the best five-star hotels in St. Barts for €800/night in mid December for the same room that sells for nearly €3,000/night one week later,” Ezon said.

However, Pedroni adds that off-season travel is worth considering as well, as it may save you even more money and give you more time to experience a place without waiting in lines and dealing with crowds.

“If your schedule allows, avoid holiday weeks and popular long weekends. Your dollar will go farther when avoiding the high-volume travel times. Because you are traveling off-peak, there will be less crowds at the iconic cultural sites, giving you almost a VIP experience,” she said.

Related: How to Experience Popular Tourist Destinations Like You’re the Only One There

Stay at a new hotel.

New hotels are looking for customers and reviews, said Xavier, and will do whatever it takes to get you to book a stay — sometimes even allowing you to negotiate your own price.

“That’s one of the travel tricks that I have been using for years. I always try to stay at luxury hotels that just opened to make use of their opening offers to lure guests,” he said.

Here Are 11 Of The Wildest Legends To Ever Come Out Of Florida

Florida is famous for its theme parks and perfect beaches, but our state also has a reputation for quirky charm and a general weirdness (which is not necessarily a bad thing). These unique urban legends and ghost stories are some pretty good examples.

1. The Fountain of Youth

You’ve probably heard stories that conquistador Juan Ponce de Leon was positive that the mythical Fountain of Youth could be found somewhere in Florida. The truth is that these rumors were only recorded after the explorer’s death, but I like to remain hopeful that Florida’s water possesses some magical powers that will slow my aging.

2. The Skunk Ape

The Skunk Ape is basically Florida’s version of Bigfoot, with the addition of a terrible odor. Its leading researcher is Dave Shealy, who has spent his entire life living in the Everglades, searching for the mysterious beast.

3. The I-4 Dead Zone

There’s a stretch of I-4 between Orlando and Daytona that has had so much strange activity (as well as accidents and injuries) that it has been nicknamed the “I-4 Dead Zone.” Legend has it this small stretch of highway was built over the graves of four German immigrants who died of yellow fever. This area has supposedly had an unusually high number of accidents as well as two hurricanes that seemed to follow its path.

4. Spook Hill

A lot of people know about this hill in Lake Wales where cars in neutral seem to roll uphill. The legend states that a huge battle with a Native American chief and a giant gator took place in this spot, ending in the death of both parties. A sinkhole formed in the area, and when the road was later paved, people noticed this strange phenomenon.

5. Pensacola Lighthouse

Supposedly an unhappy couple lived here in its early days. Many years later, the woman eventually chopped up her husband, but was never convicted due to lack of evidence. These days, the place is supposedly haunted, with reports of visions, sounds and a spot of blood that returns no matter how many times the floor is cleaned.

6. The Fairchild Oak

The Fairchild Oak sits in Bulow Creek State Park in Ormond Beach, and it has for centuries. I knew about this great old live oak, one of the largest trees of its kind in the South, but I hadn’t heard about its urban legend. Apparently a man named Norman Harwood who owned the property a long time ago, before James Ormond II bought it, killed himself under the tree. Ormond also killed himself under the tree a few years after purchasing the property. It’s possibly haunted, and supposedly fills anyone who stands beneath it with a great sadness.

7. The “Mexican Pet”

In this urban legend, a family vacationing in Florida buys or finds what they believe is a (very ugly) dog, possibly a chihuahua, and when they bring it home it immediately eats their cat. They take it to the vet and discover that it’s actually some kind of giant rat. I’m guessing this story was invented by a local who wanted to keep more people from moving here.

8. Bellamy Bridge, Marianna

Built in 1914, this steel-frame bridge is over 100 years old, and the oldest of its kind in Florida. Elizabeth Bellamy and her husband, Samuel, had been married for three years when she died in 1837. Elizabeth actually died from fever, and her infant son died a week later from the same illness. Her husband became deeply depressed and turned to alcohol. 15 years after her death, he slit his own throat with a straight razor at Chattahoochee Landing. He was not buried next to his bride, despite his last request. Sightings of a ghostly woman near the bridge have been reported since the late 1800s.

9. Lovebugs

On to a bug that most of us wish was a myth: the lovebug. There’s a legend that lovebugs were somehow developed by the government to stem the mosquito problem you’re all probably very aware of down here in Florida. Supposedly, they were trying to create only a female bug that would attract male mosquitoes, distracting them from actual reproduction. Unfortunately, they accidentally created a male as well, and the things bred like crazy.

10. Cassadaga Devil’s Chair

Rumor has it that there is a chair in the cemetery in the spiritualist town of Cassadaga, where the Devil will visit you if you sit in it late at night. Apparently, he enjoys a good brewski. It’s said that if you leave a beer on the seat overnight, when you return in the morning it will be empty…possibly without ever being opened.

11. Toilet Paper Spiders

How many of these Florida legends have you heard of? Do you know any others that we might have missed? Let us know http://www.941magazine.com

 

Posted in FloridaAugust 25, 2017by 

Eight Reasons to Make Sarasota a Florida Destination

Sarasota a Florida Destination:

SARASOTA, Fla. — The Sunshine State has so many attractions that it’s difficult for potential visitors to know where to start. Should it be the beaches of the Panhandle or Miami’s South Beach; the horse country around Ocala or the Mouse Kingdom in Orlando; the Florida of yesterday at Captiva or the Florida of tomorrow at Cape Canaveral?

For this reason, one might be excused for not immediately thinking of Sarasota when planning a Florida getaway. The city, located on the southern Gulf of Mexico, along with its surrounding beach communities of Longboat Key and Anna Maria Island, have a lot to recommend them. Here are eight reasons to put the Sarasota area on your “must-see” list.

— Ringling Museum Complex — Where the  Big Top lives on

As of May, the tradition of the American circus is no more; its spectacle and glamor, however, live on at the Ringling Brothers Circus Museum. Children and adults marvel at exhibits ranging from elaborately hand-carved calliopes to the tiny clown car from which famed contortionist Lou Jacobs unfolded his six-foot frame. The piece de resistance is the 3,800-square-foot Circus Miniature, painstakingly crafted over a 60-year period by circus historian Howard Tibbels. With eight tents and some 42,000 tiny objects – from elephants peeping out of train cars to spectators in the seats — it depicts life in the fictional Howard Brothers Circus during the early part of the 20th century.

The Circus Museum is just one aspect of the 66-acre former winter home of John and Mable Ringling who spared no expense in making it a Florida showplace. Ca d’Zan, the couple’s mansion, has been lovingly restored and is open for tours, and the pink Renaissance-style art museum houses a collection of European paintings, with special emphasis on works by Peter Paul Rubens.

The grounds and gardens are equally spectacular and just across the way is the acclaimed Asolo Theater, the largest repertory theater in the Southeast. It’s hard to decide which is more impressive — the innovative performances (the one I saw, Jules Verne’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” had a scene-stealing squid) or the theater itself, which was originally located outside of Venice, Italy, and was moved piece by piece to Sarasota and recreated in all its splendor. https://www.ringling.org/

— Marie Selby Botanical Gardens — Where flowers become art

When William Selby, an executive with Texaco Oil Company, and his wife Marie built an imposing mansion overlooking Sarasota Bay, they probably didn’t realize that the 15 acre grounds would evolve into the only botanical garden in the world focusing solely on epiphytes, plants that get moisture and nutrients from the air.

Visitors wander through meandering tropical gardens under a canopy of trees draped in Spanish moss. This natural habitat allows for reflection on the true essence of Florida. As befits a place where flora is art, the Selby hosts an annual art exhibition, strategically interspersed among displays of orchids and bromeliads. http://selby.org/

— The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Spa

For those who want the ultimate pampering package in an opulent oasis, the “Day of Indulgences” at the Ritz-Carlton is just the ticket, although admittedly something of a pricy one. You get what you pay for, however, and here you’re paying for 16,000-square feet of luxury and 100 treatment options.

The Relaxation Sanctuary will have you thinking you’re lounging in a Roman bath, waiting for your attendant to pop a grape in your mouth. If you prefer your grapes in liquid form, enjoy a flute of champagne on the outdoor terrace before lunch (included in your package). Also included are three treatments of your choice — one of which should be the Ritz-Carlton’s signature massage, customized to fit the individual needs of each client.

— Upscale chic on Longboat Key

On the barrier island of Longboat Key, 12 miles of spun sugar beaches attract retirees and visitors. If you’re the latter, join the former and stake out your spot overlooking the turquoise Gulf or play a round of waterfront golf.

You won’t lack for places to experience fine dining on the Key. Harry’s Continental Kitchens is the perfect brunch spot (it also has a deli for takeout); Dry Dock Waterfront Grill is the place to go for sunset-watching and seafood platters, and if you’re still hungry after dinner, head for Euphemia Haye Restaurant and the Haye Loft for delectable desserts accompanied by live music.

— Casual chic on Anna Maria Island

If you prefer bare feet and beach attire to dressy duds, you might opt for Longboat Key’s more down-home cousin, Anna Maria Island. Here, accommodations are more likely to be guest houses and quaint cottages than luxury resorts, and a burger at the beach heads up the dining scene. The main street, however, is chock-a-block with art galleries and one-of-a-kind shops such as Tide and Moon Jewelry, Bella by the Sea and the Anna Maria Olive Oil Outpost. Funky but fabulous.

—  St. Armand’s Circle

With 150 shops, boutiques, cafes and restaurants, the Circle is the best place to shop and dine in Sarasota. It has the exclusive, “village-y” feel (although not the steep prices) of Miami’s Bal Harbour. You won’t lack for places to indulge your appetite, but the Circle’s most famous eatery is Columbia, a sister restaurant of the Tampa landmark in historic Ybor City.

Although the Sarasota property doesn’t have the legendary flamenco show like in Tampa, it does have the signature sangria, the mouthwatering paella and the atmospheric dining room which will put you in mind of an evening in old Havana.

—  Clam Factory, West Bradenton

Located near the fishing village of Cortez, the Clam Factory is a roadhouse in the best sense of those establishments. Bi-valves (don’t pass up the crabby balls) and brewskis dominate the menu; T-shirts, shorts and flip-flops are acceptable attire, and don’t expect to have a quiet conversation with your dinner companions as the decibel level is ear-splitting.

Save the talk for later, especially if you go on Tuesday nights when the house rocks at the “Clam Jam.” Patrons are treated to an epic jam featuring bands such as B.C. and the Gang, on stage the night I was there. While most of the band members looked to be more familiar with Social Security than social media, they could rock out with the best of them.

You can have a good time (and hear great music) at the jam for relatively few clams. https://www.clamfactory.com/

— Casa Del Mar, Longboat Key

While Longboat Key has no lack of beachfront condo accommodations, many of them can make a serious dent in your wallet. Even those at the less expensive end of the scale often require a one to three month minimum stay. An exception is Casa Del Mar that offers four and seven night rentals (www.casadelmarlbk.com).

All 102 units have two bedrooms and two baths, fully equipped kitchen, living and dining quarters, and many of them have a large screened-in porch perfect for sipping a glass of wine and listening to the surf. Guests enjoy flat screen TVs and free Wifi, as well as a pool, six acres of landscaped grounds and an on-site staff.

The entire family can stay at Casa Del Mar for a rate equal to or less than that of a single room at many of the island’s pricier hotels.

By PATTI NICKELL | Lexington Herald-Leader | Published: August 24, 2017