Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Insider Tips for Whale Watching Season in Maui

By Matt Villano
Maui-whale-watch.jpg Every winter, when storms sweep through the North Pacific and the ocean gets particularly chilly, humpback whales head south—specifically to the warm waters of Hawaii's Au’Au Channel alongside Maui. And if you're hoping to catch a glimpse of these graceful behemoths, January through mid-March is the best time of year to see them. Here's a rundown of everything you need to know for a great trip—including the best places for low season deals.

Where to Watch from Sea

It’s no wonder that Lahaina, the tourist capital of West Maui, is the best spot from which to witness humpbacks from sea—it a big whaling town in the 1800s. You’ll be floating amid the whales less than 15 minutes after leaving on just about any of the whale-watch boat tours out of Lahaina harbor.
An outfitter named Ultimate Whale Watch operates some of the most intimate vessels—rigid inflatables that hold no more than 12 passengers at a time. Alternatively, booking with the Pacific Whale Foundation guarantees at least a portion of your fee will support whale research.
In Wailea, Hawaiian Sailing Canoe Adventures runs trips on a historic craft powered by wind and paddles. Tours depart daily from Polo Beach in front of the Fairmont Kea Lani resort.

Where to Watch from Shore

Scan the horizon from just about anywhere on the beaches of West Maui and South Maui this time of year and you’re pretty much guaranteed to see whale spouts and flukes. Still, some places are better than others.
The best: Kaanapali Beach, the resort area a few miles north of Lahaina. From the sand here, you can see mother and baby humpbacks breaching and flipper-slapping just a few hundred yards off shore. Farther north, atop the bluffs near The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua, you’ll get the same show (just pray it’s not too windy).
You’ll also spot surface activity from narrow Kihei Beach, near Maalaea Bay.

Where to Celebrate Great Sightings

Witness a two- (or ten-) ton animal launch itself out of the ocean and you’ll want to celebrate the experience with a delightful tropical meal. Perhaps accompanied by a Mai Tai. Or a Pina Colada.
In the Lahaina area, swing by Kimo's, a favorite of whale researchers since they started conducting research here in the late 1970s. In Kaanapali, try the "barefoot bar" area at the Hula Grill, where all rum drinks are served with cocktail umbrellas in Tiki goblets.
On the other side of the island, in Wailea, options are swankier; though the saltwater lagoon at the Humuhumu restaurant in the Grand Wailea Resort Hotel & Spa is over-the-top tropical, the drinks are spot-on.

Where to Stay

It’s off-season in Maui through May, which means that most hotels—even the big and fancy ones—have availability for extended visits. It also means that certain properties (especially those in the Kaanapali area) have rolled out a variety of seasonal package deals tied to the annual whale migration.
One deal, from the Kaanapali Beach Hotel, includes four nights in a room with a view of the Au’Au Channel, a rental car, daily buffet breakfast for two, a bundle of beach amenities, and—of course—tickets to a whale watch trip. The price: $1,388, an overall savings of about 20 percent.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

client letter

Dear Debby,
I want to take this time to let you know how grateful we were for your help in planning our trip to Disney World. Having a large family it was a last minute decision to go and with your assistance, we were able to have a truly "Magical" experience!
We stayed at the Caribbean Resort. It was a great choice for us. The rooms were ready early and the staff was very willing to work with us and help us with questions or any concerns we had. They even let my oldest daughter check us in. What a fun way to begin the experience. The pool was fun and the grounds were beautiful and inviting. The options for the quick service meals at the resort ranged from pizza to baked chicken with mashed potatoes and fresh vegetables. All seven of us could find something we were pleased with and we dined at the resort twice. My middle daughter loved the towel creatures!
My favorite part of the experience was the meal plan you suggested. We had more than enough food to eat, and used our leftover snack points to buy treats that we could carry back home and enjoy. We loved all the sit down diners, The Cape may Breakfast at the Beach Club was our favorite. The characters were very friendly and spent time at each table with revisits that were playful and fun. Even Minnie got my high school son laughing. We also enjoyed the Tusker House, and our princess dinner in Norway, at EPCOT. The princesses were very fun and the birthday girl felt very celebrated! Tony's on Main Street Disney was delicious. Avery cool bonus was the treatment of my daughter's food allergy. The chef at each meal would come out and tell her what they could fix for her, main course to the desert. For once she felt special and not singled out for what she could not have. The food was amazing, and like everything else exceeded my expectation.
Having the park hopper passes were very useful. We were able to go back and get souvenirs, eat dinner, take pictures, and do rides that we wanted to experience for a second time. We also made the most of our magic hours. Staying on grounds gave us this extra benefit at this busy time of year.
The dining reservations helped us plan our days. We made the most of each day. In my youngest child's words "This was a dream come true." Thank you for your work in a very short time. I would not have known where to start, and it worked out better than I could have hoped. We hope to go back as soon as we can and will call again as well as send anyone we know your way. Have a "Magical" day!

All our thanks, Shawn and the Watson family

Monday, January 23, 2012

New rules make airfare seem higher (even though it isn't)

Editor's note: Columnist Brett Snyder is the founder of air travel assistance site Cranky Concierge, and he writes the consumer air travel blog The Cranky Flier.
(CNN) -- When you look to buy airline tickets later this week, it might seem like prices have shot up. For once, that's not actually the case.
Higher advertised fares are the result of new Department of Transportation rules that are going into effect under the banner "Enhancing Airline Passenger Protections #2."
Higher prices shown up front is one of the four main changes that you'll see when the the new rules go into effect starting Tuesday, so let's talk about what will happen.
Full fare advertising

On some airline websites and in ads, you've probably seen fares displayed as a certain amount plus taxes and fees. That's a pretty common thing throughout society, but the DOT has decided that it's unacceptable for airline travelers. Beginning Thursday, the advertised price has to be the total price including any mandatory per passenger taxes and fees.
Let's say that there's a sale for $59 each way between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Now, the airline can advertise it as $59 each way plus taxes and fees.  On Thursday, it will have to be shown as $69.80 each way. This applies to advertisements, but more importantly, it applies to reservation websites. They can no longer show just the base fare in the search results.
This may seem a little strange since it's not the case in other industries. Hotels still show base rate before taxes and fees, for example. But this is how the DOT wants the airline industry to work.
Wondering what exactly is included in this new fare? Fuel surcharges must be included in the rate (as has been the case for years anyway) and any mandatory fees. Of course, most of the fees people see adding up today are optional fees, like baggage charges, and those can still be broken out. There are, however, a slew of regulations impacting them as well.
Fees become more prominent and standardized
The DOT has decided to regulate optional fee disclosure to make pricing clearer, but unfortunately, the new rules might end up doing the exact opposite.
A couple of things make good sense. If there is a change in bag fees or baggage allowances, the airlines must prominently display a link to the change on their homepages for at least three months. Airlines will also have to make available a complete list of rates for all optional services, from pillows to food and drinks.
While airlines have to get into specifics for bag fees, the rest can be listed in ranges of fees, making the information somewhat less useful. These changes sound good, but then the DOT steps up disclosure where it might hit the point of overload.
Under the new rules, anytime a fare quote is given, airlines have to let passengers know that "bag fees may apply." In addition, when a ticket is purchased, the airline must include in the e-ticket receipt, a complete list of all possible bag fees and allowances.
That means detailing different rules for elite frequent fliers, different rules by class of service, etc. If you're wondering where they'll put it, it will undoubtedly go into the fine print at the bottom that nobody reads anyway because there are already too many disclosures down there.
One actual victory for travelers here centers around which bag fees get charged when a traveler is booked on codesharing airlines for trips beginning or ending in the U.S. Today, if you buy a ticket on, say, American, but your first flight is on its codeshare partner Etihad, then the baggage rules on Etihad usually apply.
The new rule means that the policies of the marketing airline, in this case American, apply regardless of who is operating the flight. That sounds good, but in practice it's going to be very difficult to implement and enforce.
No more opt-out
If you've ever bought a ticket from an ultra low-cost airline like Allegiant or Spirit, you might have found yourself frustrated by the dreaded "opt-out" procedure. You know how it works. The travel insurance or some other optional service might be automatically checked. If you don't want it, you have to uncheck it before you continue or it will be charged. This rule makes that illegal going forward.  All optional services will be "opt-in" only.
No price increases after you buy
This might sound silly, but fares can no longer be increased after tickets have been purchased. Has this been a problem? No. But it does prevent Allegiant from doing something that travelers might have liked.
Allegiant had discussed the idea of giving travelers the choice of two fares. One would be higher, but would not change. The other would be lower, but would go up if the price of fuel went up. So it would simply tie a piece of the fare to the cost of fuel. If people wanted to take a gamble on fuel prices, they could buy the lower fares. That, however, is no longer an option. But it really is minor since the option wasn't yet offered anyway.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

9 once-in-a-lifetime family vacations

Uriel Sinai / Getty Images
The Aurora Borealis glows in the sky, September 03, 2007, in the Greenland town of Kangerlussuaq. The Northern Lights most often occurs from September to October and from March to April and are a popular tourist attraction.
We all have that dream trip in the back of our minds. Perhaps they have even registered on a Bucket List of places to visit before we die? While dream trips are in our dreams because they are harder for us to take -- budget and kids seem to put a stop to those dreams -- there are certainly some once-in-a-lifetime experiences that the entire family can enjoy. When saving up for that big vacation, consider saving for one that will leave a lifetime of memories.
1. Go on an African safari
Who hasn't thought of someday taking on an African safari and bonding during a technology-free exploration of the African plains filled with wild zebra, giraffe and lions? These days, tour companies are making it easier for families to enjoy safaris together in settings as simple as mobile tents to "glamping" excursions to thatched-roof lodges. Most safaris will not allow children younger than 6, which is OK, you want your child to be able to appreciate what they will see and have the patience and ability to stay silent when it comes to animal sightings.
2. See the Northern Lights
The aurora borealis is a natural phenomenon where light dances across the sky. And it only occurs closer to the North Pole. (The South Pole gets a harder-to-spot version.) The best time to witness the occurrences is between April and October. Alaska may get you a glimpse of this natural wonder, and it's easier than ever to tour Alaska when you enjoy an Alaskan cruise. For a more exotic adventure, northern Canadian provinces and Scandinavian countries also provide excellent views. Or perhaps a trip to Iceland, where you can also swim in the Blue Lagoon's hot springs?
3. Take a barefoot cruise
While cruising may not be a once-in-a-lifetime endeavor, chartering a sailboat and enjoying a barefoot cruise is certainly something that may cost a little more but is guaranteed to provide some bonding time with the family. Instead of numerous dining rooms, arcades, waterslides, shows, and activities found on the larger cruises, a charter is simply your family with a captain and small crew (maybe just a skipper/cook) and nothing but open seas in which to swim, snorkel and diving in. For meals, you will gather in the galley or on deck in your bare feet and swimsuits. For entertainment, you'll hike a deserted island or wander around a small port. It's one-on-one time in a gorgeous setting, most likely the Caribbean. A great area for barefoot cruising is the British Virgin Islands, which offers more than 60 islands to hop and the beautiful Baths? Nicholson Yacht Charters set me up for a fantastic barefoot cruise I have yet to forget.
4. Work a dude ranch
The Wild West is truly America's last frontier and a visit to a dude ranch is a vacation like no other for your kids. Joining a dude ranch for a week or weekend will ensure a technology-free vacation where you and your kids will sit around a camp fire and just be together. Of course there is some work before that point: trail rides, fishing, hiking and more. Sure, you can turn City Slicker and try your hand at a working dude ranch, but these days family dude ranches provide both roughing it and luxury options (think spas). Even if you are not the outdoors type, someone will be on hand to help you saddle up, bait up, and call out the do-si-dos on the evening square dances.
5. Go to the Olympics
This one is easiest to do when the Olympics are held on American soil, such as the 1996 Atlanta games, so even if you do not want to fly overseas to witness the entire world come together in a competition that dates back to Ancient Greece, you can save for the day they return. However, if you want to enjoy the spectacle with the kids, you'll have to pick one of the upcoming games: London 2012, Sochi, Russia 2014 and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil 2016. Me? I am hoping to make it to the London summer games because London is a great place for kids and my children will be 8 and 7.
6. Ride a mule to the bottom of the grand canyon
Perhaps it's my outdated vision of the Brady Bunch episode where the Bradys ride down to camp in the Grand Canyon, but the idea of doing something that has been done in these parts for more than a century just screams "try it before it's too late!" The Grand Canyon is something every person should see in person once in their life, for its scope cannot be imagined until seeing it first hand. Letting a mule do all the work going down and up the canyon also lets you take in the vistas from your changing point of view.
7. Catch a sunrise from the top of a volcano
Well, maybe a sunset so you don't have to wake the kids too early, but catching one or the other standing at the top of a volcano looking down into its crater is definite a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Luckily, the Hawaiian Islands are littered with volcanoes, and happen to be exotic, warm-weather, family-friendly destinations that are dream vacations in themselves. Tour groups offer rides up to the tops of volcanoes so you don't have to hike it, but if you feel adventurous, some tour groups let you hike back down, or even bring bikes for you to bike back down. (Save both for the older kids.) If you really want to splurge, take a helicopter ride to the top.
8. Sleep in a castle
Any child bewitched by Harry Potter (or adult, for that matter), will get a kick out of spending an evening in a bona fide castle. Something about arriving at a castle and being inside its stone walls with woven rugs and armor making up the decor is magical to all ages. Thankfully, this dream isn't too hard to come by if you head to Europe, where centuries-old castles are being converted into family-friendly resorts. You'll find castle resorts in places like Germany, Scotland, England, France and Ireland, particularly Dromoland, where old and new are combined to create a luxurious experience.
9. Climb to the top of a man-made wonder
For me, the dream trip would be flying to Sydney, Australia (business class, of course) and climbing the Sydney Harbor Bridge. I've heard so much about the daily climbs up and down the bridge, particularly starting the late afternoon to walk up as the sun begins to set, and back down as day turns to night over the Harbor. Considering the length and price of flights to Australia, all is not lost for anyone wanting to stand atop an iconic man-made structure. The easiest way to check this one off the list is a trip to New York City to climb the hundreds of stairs to the crown of the Statue of Liberty. Or fly to Paris to ride the elevator up to the top of the Eiffel Tower. Both cities are easy to get to with airfare deals always in the works, and both cities have an array of things to see and do with the kids. Of course, if you really want to aim for a destination further afield, Sydney calls, as does China's Great Wall.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

10 great places to explore the world's best-kept secrets

If you've resolved to explore new horizons this year, Joe Yogerst has some suggestions. As one of the primary authors of Secret Journeys of a Lifetime: 500 of the World's-Best Hidden Travel Gems (National Geographic, $40), he says many incredible sites are overlooked. "Some of them aren't that far away, but you may not know about them because they're not that publicized." He shares some favorites with Larry Bleiberg for USA TODAY.
By Kazuhiro Nogi, AFP/Getty Images

Isla de Margarita

One of the largest islands in the Caribbean remains largely undiscovered by Americans. Yogerst says it offers a huge variety of landscapes and culture in a small area. "It's all of Latin America on one island. It has rainforests, deserts, fabulous beaches and little Spanish colonial towns." margarita-travel.com
Colca Canyon

The "Grand Canyon of South America" is more than twice as deep as its Arizona counterpart. It's also one of the best places to see Andean condors. "You can go and watch them ride drafts up the canyon wall. It's a majestic desert landscape that goes on forever and ever," Yogerst says. tours.peru.travel/Colca/index_ing.php
Wrangell-Kluane Wilderness
Alaska and Canada

Head north to explore one of the world's largest protected areas, the combined lands of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Canada's Kluane National Park. Taken together, they reach from the Gulf of Alaska to northern boreal forests and cover about 20 million acres. "It's some of the
most spectacular wildlife viewing I've had anywhere in North America," Yogerst says. In one trip, he spotted grizzly and black bears, caribou, mountain goats, Dall sheep, and dolphins. 907-822-5234; nps.gov/wrst OR pc.gc.ca/eng/pn-np/yt/kluane/index.aspx
Salt Mission Trail
New Mexico
Before the Pilgrims arrived, Spanish missionaries were settling the Southwest. But the desert landscape in one corner of what later became New Mexico proved to be too challenging. "What's left now is red-brick adobe ruins," Yogerst says. "People will be surprised by how big some of these missions were with very large churches." newmexico.org/scenicbyways/salt_mission.php
Brimstone Hill Fortress
St. Kitts

Once called the Gibraltar of the West Indies, this former British colonial fort dominates a flat-topped seaside mountain. Abandoned 100 years ago, it has been restored and offers views of a volcano on the nearby Dutch island of Sint Eustatius. "It's the most impressive of all the British forts I've seen in the Caribbean," Yogerst says. 800-582-6208; stkittstourism.kn
Tsitsikamma Trail
South Africa

This 40-mile path is laced with streams and heavy subtropical forests that reminds Yogerst of the Pacific Northwest. He hiked it over the course of five days staying in unstaffed, basic huts along the route. "It is a wild part of Africa. There are monkeys and baboons and leopards there." sanparks.co.za
Galle Fort
Sri Lanka
Now that Sri Lanka's civil war has ended, visitors are again discovering this charming fortified colonial city. Built on the Indian Ocean in the 16th century, its tall stone walls protected it from the tsunami that ravaged the region in 2004. "It's preserved almost intact," Yogerst says, and now even has a chic boutique resort. "It's unexpected and not too well discovered." srilanka.travel
Small Museums of Tokyo
Like New York, London and Paris, Tokyo has many major museums, but Yogerst suggests seeking out more obscure galleries, such as the Sumo Museum, devoted to the unique Japanese sport, or the Ota art museum. "It's probably the best collection of Japanese wood block prints on the planet," Yogerst says. Another highlight: the Mingeikan Folk Crafts Museum with more than 17,000 objects. "In some ways these say more about Japanese culture than the big museums do." 212-757-5640; www.jnto.go.jp
Suffolk, England
Yogerst says it's just a coincidence that the Tudor town where his mother-in-law lives makes his list. "It's the epitome of a quaint English countryside village." There's a cobblestone square with pubs, and no sign of "twee shops," he says. It also has England's largest collection of half timber buildings. "It's the real deal." When he visits he likes to take half-day hikes through the countryside that surrounds the town. www.discoverlavenham.co.uk
Ta Prohm temple Cambodia
This Southeast Asian ruin near the more famous Angkor Wat reminds Yogerst of something out of an Indiana Jones movie. "The stone ruins are literally wrapped in the branches and roots and arms of jungle trees." He says visitors have the feeling they are discovering the site for the first time. "It's cleared enough so you can walk through, but that's all."

Monday, January 9, 2012

5 apps every flier should have

5 apps every flier should have
By Caroline Morse, SmarterTravel.com

Now that almost every flier has a smartphone, and almost every airport has charging stations to power up these devices, savvy travelers know to load up on handy apps. But which ones are the best for your entire flight process—from booking that cheap ticket to saving yourself when things go wrong? The apps below are so helpful, we suspect the airlines would prefer you didn't actually use them.
Inside the Deals
By David Guralnick, AP
Whether your flight was cancelled, or you're pining for an airport lounge to take the edge off of a long layover, these apps can offer some on-the- ground intelligence.

•Flyers Rights ($0.99): Did you know that airlines are no longer legally allowed to keep you trapped on the tarmac for more than three hours during a domestic flight delay? If you had the Flyers Rights app, you would. Plus, you'd be able to log your delays in real time, using the app's GPS system and map for future evidence. The app also gives helpful tips about what to do in the event of a delay, and specific information about your legal rights as a passenger.

•SkyScanner (Free): Airlines would rather have you book directly through their website than going through an online travel agency (OTA) like Expedia or Priceline. But who has time to search all the airline websites separately? Use Skyscanner instead, which not only scans all the major airlines' websites for the lowest fares, but all of the OTAs as well. Search by specific date, destination, and even time, or see where you can go anytime in January for $200 with their broader search functions. You can search for flights from your airport to everywhere, and Skyscanner will return a list of destinations and prices. Skyscanner will also tell you if it's cheaper to book one-way tickets on separate airlines rather than a round-trip on one provider, something that airlines hate.

 •Priority Pass (Free): Stuck with a really long layover?
Use Priority Pass to check out the airline lounges available to you at the airport. View photos and offerings before deciding if you should shell out for a pass inside, or if the regular waiting room for the plebes looks just as nice.

•B4 You Board (Free): No more charging $10 for a desperation in-flight meal of food. The B4 You Board app lets you order food from nearby restaurants to be delivered directly to you at your gate. Order up healthy (or just delicious) food that wasn't reheated in the airplane galley, often for cheaper than an in-flight meal. Best of all, you'll have way more choices than just a wrap with mystery meat.

•Next Flight ($2.99): The priciest app in our list, Next Flight can be worth its weight in gold during a snowstorm at a crowded airport. Whether your flight is canceled, delayed, or you just missed a connection, this app will show you a list of all available flights (from all carriers) for the same day and the next two days. While everyone else is waiting in line trying to get the gate agent to put them on standby, you can help yourself! No flights going out at all? The app also has a search for hotels, cabs, and car rentals.

One last word of advice. Make sure to turn your phone off when the cabin crew asks, because there's no app to rebook after you've been kicked off for playing Words With Friends.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Deal watch: Princess Cruises puts Europe, Alaska on sale

Courtesy Princess Cruises
Add Princess Cruises to the list of lines offering up deals for "Wave" season, the busy booking period between January and March.Princess' Balcony Bonus Sale, unveiled Wednesday, brings savings of up to $1,000 per couple on upcoming sailings in Europe and Alaska as well as a free balcony upgrade.
The promotion will continue through Jan. 31 and includes Europe and Alaska cruisetours -- trips that combine a cruise with a land tour.
Examples of sale fares include:
-- Seven-night Alaska cruises starting at $799 ($1,399 for a balcony cabin).
-- 12-night Mediterranean and Greek Isles cruises starting at $1,490 ($2,540 for a balcony cabin).
-- 11-night Scandinavia and Russia cruises starting at $1,049 ($2,540 for a balcony cabin).
The fares listed are per person, based on double occupancy. Under terms of the promotion, they're available to residents of the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico and Mexico. Additional details are posted at Princess website.
Other lines offering Wave season promotions include Norwegian Cruise Line, which launched an upgrade offer in December that continues through March 31.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Destination: Bahamas

The 10 ultimate Bahamas experiences - CNN.com
By Amy Balfour , Lonely Planet 2011-12-30T12:42:56Z

(Lonely Planet) -- The Bahamas. Seven hundred islands. Twenty-five hundred cays. Four days of vacation. What do you do?
From Nassau to the Out Islands, here's our cheat.
1. Kayaking & kiteboarding, Exumas. Hundreds of cays swoosh over a 120-mile span of crystal blue in the Exumas, a shimmering natural playground anchored by lonely coves and critter-filled reefs. Glide past palmettos and plovers near George Town or paddle to iguana-owned shores in Exuma Cays Land & Sea Park. Adrenaline junkies may prefer swooping the gusty banks by kiteboard.
2. A goombay smash at Miss Emily's, Abacos
Miss Emily's Blue Bee shines like a bright blue gumdrop near the center of New Plymouth, a gingerbread town clinging tight to windswept Green Turtle Cay on Abacos. For decades, yachties and day-trippers have drifted into the Blue Bee for jug-poured goombay smashes -- the drink was created here -- and the easygoing charm of Violet Smith, Miss Emily's daughter. Tack your business card to the wall.
Ferries depart the Green Turtle Ferry Dock near Treasure Cay ($15 roundtrip).
3. Diving with friends, Andros
Divers swap stories and lies at Small Hope Bay Lodge, Andros, where the only thing better than peering over the Tongue of the Ocean is talking up the adventure with friends. And everyone's a friend at this affable, family-owned retreat near Fresh Creek. With its home-cooked buffets, eco-friendly accommodations and laugh-filled happy hours, Small Hope serves up everything but the camp songs.
4. Junkanoo, Nassau
Christmas doesn't leave Nassau on lullabies and sugarplums. It parades out of town in a jostling blast of whistles, horns, drums, and cowbells that whirls down Bay Street in the wee hours of Boxing Day. In this brightly costumed celebration, which traces its roots to West Africa and plantation-era religious rites, neighborhood teams compete for prizes.
If you miss the parade on Boxing Day, there's a second one on New Year's Day and a warm-up in the summer.
5. Stylish loafing, Harbour Island, Eleuthera
Roving roosters and sputtering golf carts are part of the charm in Dunmore Town, a chichi Harbour Island village where Wall Streeters, supermodels and kitesurfers come for the shimmering pink sand beach. Beyond loafing, requirements are few: lunch at Sip Sip, cocktails at Rock House and mingling at Vic Hum, where the basketball court doubles as a dance floor.
Lonely Planet: Culebra vs. Vieques -- Puerto Rico's contrasting islands
6. Aquaventure & aquariums, Paradise Island
Got the grownup blues? Hurtle back to your childhood with a 60-foot plunge, a bobbing river ride and a shark-encircled waterslide at the 141-acre Aquaventure at Atlantis, on New Providence. More than 20,000 exotic fish and sea creatures -- from orange Nemos to stately manta rays -- float past in the resort's vast-but-walkable network of tanks and lagoons.
7. Apres-snorkel at Nippers, Abacos
Mother Nature smiled when she created Great Guana Cay, a breezy isle floating just a few kicks away from the fish-and-coral treasures of the Great Abaco Barrier Reef. Nippers Beach Bar & Grill adds a wink to that smile with cold Kaliks, beach-shack conviviality and free use of its snorkel gear. The Sunday afternoon pig roast is a legend.
The ferry to Guana Cay ($25 roundtrip) docks beside the Conch Inn in Marsh Harbour.
8. Pirate wanderings, Nassau
Governor Woodes Rogers may have expelled Nassau's pirates in 1718, but that doesn't mean they actually left. Engaging displays about parrots, peg legs and Blackbeard keep swabby legends alive at the Pirates of Nassau Museum while the 260-year-old Graycliff Hotel charms guests with swashbuckling tales of its buccaneer founder. A statue of Rogers stays vigilant from his pedestal in the middle of town.
9. Smith's Point Fish Fry, Grand Bahama
Every taxi driver on the island knows the way to the Fish Fry, a Wednesday night tradition at Smith's Point, east of Lucaya on Grand Bahama. Locals queue early for grouper, lobster and snapper, fried up Bahamian-style under a wooden shack by the sea. Trust us, everyone's here or on the way. Stick around for after-dinner dancing.
10. Friday-night jam at Elvina's, Eleuthera
First-timers always ask the same question: Where did all these people come from? Elvina's, a ramshackle roadside shack in lonely Gregory Town, lures 'em in from far and wide for short sets by native musicians and traveling pros. Who's here? Low-key locals, gregarious old salts, sun-baked surfers and, occasionally, Lenny Kravitz.
© 2011 Lonely Planet. All rights reserved.