Siesta Key Best Beach in United States

SIESTA KEY, Fla. (AP) — The sand on Siesta Beach on Florida’s Gulf Coast is as fine as powdered sugar, a pure, sparkling white and soft as a kitten’s fur — all because it’s comprised of 99 percent pure crushed quartz.

For that reason, and many others, it was selected this year as the best beach in America by a professor who’s made a career ranking and studying beaches around the United States.

“The sand is outstanding,” said Stephen Leatherman, aka Dr. Beach, a professor at Miami’s Florida International University. “Every time I go there, I’ve got to take a bag home with me. It’s almost sacrilegious to walk on it with shoes on.”

Other beaches that made the list this year, in order of ranking, are: Kapalua Bay Beach in Maui, Hawaii; Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach on the Outer Banks of North Carolina; Grayton Beach State Park on the Florida Panhandle; Coopers Beach in Southampton, New York; Coast Guard Beach on Cape Cod in Massachusetts; Caladesi Island State Park in Dunedin/Clearwater, Florida; Hapuna Beach State Park, Big Island, Hawaii; Coronado Beach in San Diego, California; and Beachwalker Park on Kiawah Island, South Carolina.

On a recent workday, Siesta Beach was packed with people, even though it wasn’t particularly sunny. The turquoise water was still gorgeous, the sand still fine. The beach is about 200-300 feet (60-90 meters) wide in some places, which means people can stretch out and not feel crowded. The beach was last year’s runner up and one of three in Florida on this year’s top 10 list.

“It’s nice and clean, that’s what I look for,” said Jamie Gaskin, a 59-year-old retiree from Lakeland, Florida, who was scoping out the beach for a family Memorial Day party. She especially liked the two-story pavilion, which boasts a snack bar and restrooms. It’s only two years old and even offers sweet crepes for breakfast and tapas dishes in the early evening.

“There’s plenty of tables to barbecue and to hang out. And the restrooms were nice and clean. I’d definitely recommend this,” she said.

Siesta Beach is on a barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico, and is located just southwest of downtown Sarasota. The water is placid on most days — Leatherman says you can measure the waves “in inches” — and is shallow and safe for swimming, with no sharp drop-offs. Added bonuses include lots of parking, a trolley service to and from the island’s adorable downtown area and plenty of lifeguards. The beach also has natural dunes, which is a bit rare for Florida, and the fine sand is excellent for building sand castles.

“I look for kind of a balance between nature and a developed environment,” said Leatherman, who lives on the other side of the state, closer to Miami Beach. “Fourteen million people go to Miami Beach every year. There’s just too many people there. I think a lot of people are looking for more of a getaway.”

Leatherman, who is director of the Laboratory for Coastal Research at Florida International University, uses about 50 criteria to assess and rank beaches across the country. In recent years, he has given extra points to beaches that prohibit smoking, saying cigarette butts are not only environmentally damaging, but can ruin the experience for beach-goers. Safety and environmental management are other major factors, he said.

He’s rated beaches since 1991.

The Maui beach that came in at No. 2 on the list, Kapalua Bay Beach, is smaller than Siesta Beach. It’s crescent-shaped and flanked by palm trees. Unlike lots of Hawaii beaches, there aren’t many waves at Kapalua, he said, making it perfect for safe swimming.

“The coral reefs almost go right to the beach. There are tropical fish swimming all around.”

The third beach on the list, Ocracoke, is unique in both history and location. Leatherman points out that it was once the pirate Blackbeard’s old haunt. And it’s only accessible by a state ferry.

“The only negative I have, it seems like too many cars,” he said. “I wish they would turn car ferries to pedestrian ferries.”

Leatherman says he tries to select locations that are a bit off the beaten path, yet immensely rewarding once visitors arrive. Siesta Beach, he points out, is an outstanding place to watch the sun dip below the Gulf horizon — one more reason why it made the top of this year’s list.

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Packing Cubes

 

(article was recently posted in Escape.com)

For the uninitiated, packing cells, or cubes as they are sometimes called, come in various sizes and allow you to transform your suitcase into a beautifully organised space.

My clothing categories change depending on the trip, perhaps one cell for beachwear and others for the city slicking part of a trip, or all shirts in one, dresses in another and so on.

I love the way I don’t have to frantically dig through my suitcase to find that one thing I want to wear. I know which cell it’s in, and everything in that cell is still in its unruffled place. Often it’s already sitting in a hotel room drawer.

When I settle into a room I simply put the cells into drawers, unzip the top and voila! Neatly packed drawers with my things. When it’s time to move on it takes mere seconds to zip up and go.

While packing cell fans are rather passionate about them, there are of course other ways to organise your suitcase.

Some people use laundry bags to divide their clothes up, others use vacuum bags, though with all of the air squeezed out of your clothes you may want to keep an eye on your suitcase’s weight with those.

I also use old airline amenities kits for toiletries, and keep all of my chargers in a cute little giraffe bag from The Animal Project, a group that supports artists with special needs.

My shoes travel in shoe bags that I’ve picked up over the years, though a simple shower cap can also keep any dirt on their soles contained. And to save space there’s always something inside them, from socks to sunscreen.

Revealed: What’s in a professional traveller’s suitcase.

That said after learning the hard way I’m now careful to prep gels and creams for travel by removing the lid, putting a little square of plastic wrap on top, and putting the lid back on, so if it pops its lid in transit the liquid stays in place. I also carry Ziploc bags so any hotel toiletries that I’ve started to use can continue the journey with me, rather than being thrown out when I leave.

When it comes to jewellery I’ve seen some people wrap theirs in plastic, laying one sheet of cling film down, putting their necklaces and things on top and sealing them in place with another sheet. Pill cases are another way some travellers keep their smaller pieces of jewellery separated.

As for me, years ago I decided to treat myself to a beautiful soft leather jewellery roll. It has special sections for rings and earring to be held in place and separate compartments for everything else, and it adds a certain something to my packing routine as I prepare for a trip.

In the end it doesn’t really matter how you organise your suitcase, as long as it makes your trip easier and makes you smile.

Six Ways to Cruise to Cuba

 

(This article was recently published in Cruise Fever)

Cuba is the hottest new Caribbean cruise destination and with several cruise lines now approved for cruises to the Caribbean island, here are the six different ways you can cruise to Cuba.

Carnival Paradise – Starting in June 2017, Carnival Cruise Line will begin their first cruises to Cuba on Carnival Paradise out of Tampa, Florida.  The ship will offer four and five night cruises to Cuba with some voyages including an overnight stay in Havana.  The five night cruises will include a stop in either Cozumel or Key West.  View Cruises on Carnival Paradise

Norwegian Sky – Norwegian Cruise Line will be offering cruises to Cuba through 2018 on the all-inclusive Norwegian Sky.  These four night cruises will depart from the Cruise Capital of the World, PortMiami with the first trip scheduled for May 2017.

Empress of the Seas – Royal Caribbean’s first cruise to Cuba will take place in April 2017 on Empress of the Seas.  The ship will relocate to Tampa from Miami and sail a variety of four to seven night cruises to Cuba.

Oceania Cruises – Oceania Cruises will offer a nice variety of six to 24 day luxury cruises to Cuba on several of their cruise ships. The cruises include multiple stops in Cuba including Cienfuegos, Santiago de Cuba, and Havana.   View Cruises on Oceania Cruises

Fathom Adonia – The first cruise ship to sail to Cuba from the United States in 50 years, this new cruise line from Carnival Corporation opened the door for other cruise lines to visit the country.  Adonia sails week long cruises to Cuba and 7 night cruises that stop in both the Dominican Republic and Cuba.  If you want to sail on Adonia, you’ll have to hurry. The cruise line sails its last voyage on May 28, 2017.  View Cruises on Fathom Adonia

MSC Cruises – MSC Cruises offers round trip cruises to the Caribbean from Havana, Cuba.  However, U.S. citizens are not allowed to embark on these voyages.  View Cruises on MSC Cruises

What The Cruise Lines Won’t Tell You About Cuba

 

(the following article was written by Greg Shapiro)

Of all the ports I’ve sailed into as a crew member, Havana is my favorite. I fell in love with the city while working as a guide on the first round of Cuba cruises. We were the only ship from the United States, with just 700 passengers every 2 weeks. This summer is the beginning of a new era for Havana. If you’re considering a cruise to Cuba, don’t hesitate! But make sure you follow my insider tips to get the most out of your visit.

#1- Don’t miss the sail in: Sailing into Havana is like going back in time. On the port side of the ship, you’ll get up close and personal with the Morro Castle as you sail through the narrow harbor. On the starboard side, you’ll enjoy a panoramic view of hustle and bustle of central Havana, Art Deco facades, classic cars, and pedestrian traffic on the Malécon, Cuba’s ocean-front boulevard. Get a good spot on the top deck early in the morning and bring your binoculars.

#2- Carry a lot of water with you: It’s going to be a long, sweaty day and you need water by your side. I suggest investing in a 40 oz. Hydroflask. Fill it with ice and water from the ship before disembark. You’ll have cold water for 12+ hours and create less waste from buying and disposing plastic bottles.

3- Don’t get stuck in the line to exchange money: Your credit and debit cards from the United States likely won’t work in Cuba so you’ll need to exchange money…and so does everyone else. Either get off the ship before you’re fellow cruisers, or get stuck in an hour long backup at the exchange booths in the cruise terminal. Another option is to exchange money at the San José Artisans Market down the street. Save money: Make sure you bring Euros, Pounds, or Canadian Dollars to avoid the extra 10% exchange fee on United States Dollars.

#4- Get away from the bus: Tours are great, but let’s face it, you spend more time stuck on a bus than you do immersing in the local culture. Budget some time in your schedule to stroll around the Plazas of Old Havana or visit a museum near Parque Central. Just make sure you check the “self-guided” box when you fill out your affidavit. This means that you agree to document the educational and cultural activities you do while you’re in Cuba.

#5- Do some research beforehand: Enrichment presentations can be hit or miss, so don’t wait until you’re onboard to start thinking about Cuban politics and culture. This doesn’t mean you have to bury your head in a long history book. Rent the movie Una Noche. It’s a thriller about teenagers who try and escape Havana on a homemade raft. If you’re looking for a quick and easy read, checkout my cruise-friendly guide 12 Hours in Havana available on Amazon.

About the Author:
Greg Shapiro is a millennial travel hacker, an expert at packing lots of fun into short periods of time. From backpacking South America to sailing around the world, he’s visited over 35 countries and counting.

Will Your Health Insurance Policy Cover You Overseas?

 

(recently posted in Travel Agent Central)

Many Americans remain unclear about the cost of medical care while traveling, according to a new study from InsureMyTrip Research Center.

In a 2017 survey, 35 percent of respondents were not  sure whether their domestic health insurance plan would cover any doctor or hospital visits while traveling out of the country. 35 percent said it would provide coverage, while 30 percent believed their domestic health insurance plan would offer no coverage.

According to InsureMyTrip, large insurance providers like Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Cigna and Aetna may provide emergency and urgent care coverage abroad. However, the definition of emergency varies. Medicare will rarely pay for inpatient hospital, doctor, or ambulance services travelers get in a foreign country.

Travelers can request clarification of coverage prior to departure. Here’s how:

  1. Call your medical insurance provider
  2. Ask to review your certificate of coverage for explanation of benefits
  3. Ask for hospitals and doctors in area of travel

According to the U.S. State Department, very few health insurance companies will pay for a medical evacuation back to the United States, which can easily cost up to $100,000, or even more, depending on a travelers’ condition and location.

In addition to seeking proper medical protection, travelers can also reduce health risks by learning about destination-specific medical concerns, including required vaccinations, InsureMyTrip said. The U.S. State Department is a helpful resource. The U.S. Federal Consumer Action Handbook also provides travel insurance recommendations for travelers.

The survey was conducted online among 500 respondents in the U.S. All respondents either researched or purchased travel insurance within the past 12 months.

Read more on

Bavaria, Germany

 

(Recently posted in Travel Agent Central)

My parents (in the North of England ) always said that the Romantic Road is the “Real Germany” with its medieval towns and half timbered houses on a route winding south from historic Wuerzburg and ending at the Alpine glories of Fussen and nearby Neuschwanstein Castle, Bavaria’s number one tourist attraction. I have been there at least 30 times, usually flying into Munich, which is worth a visit. There’s wonderful shopping, restaurants, and a great selection of unique hotels. It is always an enjoyable visit. Brown road signs announcing Romantische Strasse mark the way. For 255 miles, the road passes through stretches of beautiful countryside, cobblestoned villages and the medieval towns of Bad Mergentheim, Rothenburg (with its world famous Kaethe Wohifahrt Christmas store) and Nordlingen. This is about as traditional, quaint and charming as Bavaria gets.

Bad Mergentheim is a spa resort and wine town along the Romantic road near Rothenburg. The city is surrounded by the gently rolling hills of the Tauber Valley and the vineyards in Markelsheim. Highlights include the picturesque old city with its well preserved half timbered houses, the castle of the Teutonic Order, three spa parks and a wildlife park.

Rothenburg is a romantic medieval gem and is one of the top sightseeing spots in the country. Artists have long taken inspiration from this medieval town whose skyline is quite unmistakable. With its winding alleyways and artistic treasures it is an ideal place to relax. Definitely take the “Nightwatchman Tour” to explore this unique town.

Kaethe Wohlfahrt’s Year Round Christmas Store and Museum is world famous and each time I go I say – I don’t need another Christmas ornament but I always find something I can’t live without. It is magical, set up like a Christmas village, and you can see an extensive selection of German Christmas decorations. The wood carvings are magnificent. The German Christmas Museum is located above the store and shows the history of German decorations and traditions.

Nordlingen is a perfectly preserved medieval town and is the only town in Germany that is encircled by a town wall with a walkway. A stroll on this approximately 1.7 mile long fortification with its countless gates and towers affords splendid views across Nordlingen’s romantic labyrinthine lanes. Climb to the top of the Late Gothic St.George’s Church’s bell tower for stunning panoramic views.

Fussen is the southernmost point on the Romantic Road and is only an hour and a half drive south of Munich. It’s the perfect spot to stay and explore must-see historic places. Strolling through the romantic center of the 700 year old town is delightful. Must-sees include baroque churches, the former Benedictine Abbey of St. Mang and the High Castle.

One important word of advice: wear comfortable flat shoes. You could break your neck if you try and negotiate your way around all the cobblestone streets in heels.

If you don’t feel comfortable driving yourself on the other side of the road, why not take a tour, which is of good value, less stress, and so much more enjoyable, especially since you will have English speaking guides. . Not only are there great year round tours, but also the tour in November-December to visit the German Christmas Markets. Two other options are one which goes to Austria, Germany, France and Switzerland, or one which goes to Prague, Vienna and Budapest. You can’t go wrong with any one of these trips. The food, wine, atmosphere make this destination a good choice. You definitely save money by taking a tour.

What To Do On a Repositioning Cruise

(This was recently posted in Escape.com)

Repositioning cruises notoriously have a high proportion of non-port days.

With a five-day ocean crossing scheduled for the second week of ours, we learned after coming aboard that rerouting to avoid Cyclone Cook would give us even more time at sea – three consecutive days before we reached the first port.

Are long stretches at sea a problem? I was going to find out.

PRECONCEPTIONS

“I’d go crazy” was the most common response when I told friends my 15-day cruise included more sea days than ports. Yet, once I started asking other passengers how they felt about the upcoming days at sea, many said they were looking forward to them.

“We always choose the cruises with the most time at sea,” one woman told me. “We can’t get enough of it.” When I asked her why, she stared as if it was obvious. “Because it’s so relaxing!”

The Space-Time Continuum

But it may not be relaxing for you. Spending day after day at sea challenges your normal sense of space and time. You’ll have more time and less space than you’re used to.

For some of us, that’s a wonderful thing. Away from our normally rushed lives, we suddenly have all these free hours, and can spend them any way we want. That’s a true gift.

But you might find the combination of expanded time and confined space hard to handle. You may not know what to do with yourself and start thinking about being off the ship. Except there’s nowhere to go – then the gift has become a trap.

It’s so relaxing! Some people love the idea of days at sea.

PLANNING V IMPROVISING

The key to surviving and enjoying long periods at sea is knowing which of these personality types you are. If it’s the second, you’re going to need to plan your day – and the ship’s daily newsletter should make it easy to do that. If it’s the first, you’ll be fine however you play it.

I met a lot of planners. “I just follow Navigator” (the Holland America Line phone app for scheduled activities and entertainment) one woman told me. Another couple, seasoned cruisers, said they looked for other card-players at the start of each cruise and established a routine of meeting up at the same time each day.

Then there were the “go-it-aloners”. People who settled on a deck lounge each morning with a book and may, or may not, end up falling asleep. Knitters and embroiderers, quietly absorbed in their craft. Jigsaw enthusiasts poring over puzzle pieces. And, alone at the back of the deck, someone serenely practising an unusual stringed instrument.

ME TIME

These long sea days are a golden opportunity to do things you want to do, but never get around to – book a spa treatment, sit for a photographic portrait, learn new computer skills, attend an enrichment lecture, go dancing in the afternoon, or spend all day playing, drinking and chatting with friends.

Or just sit on deck and stare into space. Does it really matter if the sunshine and the fresh air and the movement of the ship send you to sleep? As one woman put it, when she told me how she appreciated having to rest: “You’d never take the time for yourself at home, would you?”

WATER, WATER, EVERYWHERE

There’s something special about slowing down and re-focusing while on a ship that’s alone on a vast ocean. Whether you’re a photographer who spends hours trying to capture the effects of clouds and lights over water, or someone who doesn’t consciously notice the maritime “scenery” at all, this natural environment can have a calming and liberating emotional effect.

The world looks different from here. You’ll reconnect with some things and disconnect from others. My partner took the opportunity to liberate himself from internet and email, which in itself creates a special space.

Hit up the ship’s activities, such as mini golf or ping-pong.

HOW I SPENT FIVE DAYS AT SEA

My first three sea days were spent getting to know the ship and planning new shore excursions for our changed route. Only during the five-day ocean crossing in the second week did I really get to test my “at sea” survival skills.

I settled on a mix of planning and improvisation. Each day began with the same routine – a cup of tea on deck, and a swim or session at the gym before breakfast. Most days also ended on deck, meeting new friends for a drink or enjoying a quiet cup of tea before bed.

In the hours between, I rekindled a childhood love of ping-pong, listened to a lecture on celestial navigation and attended a digital workshop on photographic editing. I learnt some basic hula steps (where else would that have happened?) and joined a pop-up watercolour painting class organised by a fellow passenger. I read one book and started another, went to high tea and martini samplings, attended an art auction, and spent hours gazing at the water and the sky.

KNOW YOURSELF

I loved my days at sea, but what worked for me won’t necessarily work for you.

One man, who overheard me discussing with another passenger how relaxed we felt, couldn’t wait to offer a contrasting viewpoint.

“There’s not enough to do!” he complained. His wife, he said, would have liked line dancing and Zumba. He wanted to play mini-golf or take part in a pickle ball tournament. “We’re active people,” he said. “I can only sit in this deckchair for about half an hour, and then I have to get up and move around.”

For him, the number of sea days wasn’t the problem. He had built up brand loyalty to another cruise line with a different activities philosophy, and this voyage was an experiment that hadn’t worked. “I’m just on the wrong ship,” he said.

So you must understand your needs and choose a ship that can meet them. That’s never more important than when a voyage includes long stretches at sea. Some people like a busy ship, while others prefer peace and quiet. Some will adapt to any circumstances, while others have clear ideas about the activities they want.

When considering a repositioning cruise, research the culture and facilities of the particular ship you have in mind. Do you like watching movies? Make sure your ship has a proper cinema. Would you enjoy organised and sociable physical activities such as dance lessons or sports competitions? Check whether these will be available.

Cruise ships have personalities and you need to find one that matches yours. On a ship that’s right for you, extended periods at sea can provide a wonderful opportunity to rest, practise hobbies or socialise. But find yourself on the wrong ship and those days will drag.

My First Travel News Letter

May 30, 2017

Tourwithdave Travel tips

First edition

As most of you know I love to travel. Also I enjoy researching and learning new things about places and events.  So I thought I would share a few items I have come across in the past few weeks and months.  This is not intended to be in-depth but just to give you enough information so you will want to go and find out more for yourself.  So let’s begin.

Cuba

As some of you know I took a group to Cuba about a year ago.  We really had a great time.  Since that time a lot of cruise ships have announced they are going to include Cuba in their itinerary. The latest to do so just a few days ago is Holland America.  They will begin sailing to Cuba from Fort Lauderdale starting on December 22nd of this year.  It will be aboard the Veendam.  Most of the cruise ships that are going to Cuba usually stay docked in Havana for a day or two and then go to other places in the Caribbean.

One interesting thing about travel to Cuba is that it has not been as big a draw as many of the American based airlines thought it would.  Therefore some of the flights that were announced have been cut back.  There are plenty of seats still available but you might not have a large a selection as you did six months ago.

Finally on Cuba you still are required to list one of 12 reasons why you want to go to Cuba.  Just to go to beach does not count.  The most popular is “people to people” tours where you go out and meet many of the average Cubans and even stay in some of their homes.  We did this on our trip and it was just as good as staying in a Bed and Breakfast here in America.  A visa is required to go to Cuba.

Mississippi Delta

If you have not been to the Mississippi Delta recently you should go.  One new attraction that is getting a lot of attention is the Grammy Museum in Cleveland.  There are two Grammy Museum in America, one in Los Angeles and the other in Cleveland, Mississippi. The reason Cleveland was selected was because per capita there are more Grammy winners from the Mississippi Delta area than anywhere else in America.  Now that is saying something.

There is a large Taylor Swift exhibit at the museum until August of this year.  Also you will have a chance to see a ten minute video about Taylor Swift and all the Grammys she has won.  It is really professionally done.  In addition they also have a wonderful film that showcases all of the Grammy winners across the decades.  By now they will have the 2017 Grammy winners included in the film.  The cost is only about ten dollars to get in.  So it is quite reasonable

Remember you can see many other tourist articles at my web site Tourwithdave.com.

Culinary Travel Continues to Boom

 

(article was recently posted in Travel Agent post)

Culinary travel continues to boom, according to a new report from AAA.

AAA’s latest travel survey found that an estimated 22 million Americans expect to take a culinary-focused vacation in the next 12 months. Seventy-five percent of Americans feel that food and dining are an important part of their travel experiences and four in five say they have engaged in such unique activities as touring wineries and distilleries, eating with local families and engaging in hands-on experiences such as cooking classes led by local chefs while traveling.

“There is no better way to learn about a destination and immerse yourself in the local culture than by experiencing its unique food and dining customs,” said Bryan Shilling, AAA managing director of travel products and services, in a written statement.

The younger generation is particularly interested in culinary travel, AAA said, with 88 percent of Millennials having participated in food-related experiences while vacationing, outpacing members of Generation X and Baby Boomers. In fact, 43 percent of AAA travel agents report a recent increase in the number of members planning culinary-focused vacations, with most planning foodie trips to Italy, France and Spain. Ironically, however, travel agents also say that one of the top mistakes travelers make when preparing for an international trip is not planning their meals and activities in advance.

“Travelers spent an average of $63 per person, per day on food and dining purchases during their last vacation,” said Shilling. “Meals can quickly become a significant portion of a family’s vacation budget. That’s why planning ahead is key to enjoying a memorable culinary vacation.”

AAA’s report presents the findings of a telephone survey (landline and cell phone) consisting of 1,013 adults living in the continental United States. Interviewing for this survey was conducted March 9-12, 2017. This study has an average statistical error of ±3.8 percent at the 95 percent confidence level for all U.S. adults, AAA said. Additionally, AAA and CAA travel executives responded to an online survey conducted February 10-24, 2017. Each travel executive was asked to respond on behalf of all travel agents at their club, and responses were weighted by the number of full-time travel agents at that club. The club travel executive survey represents the input of 2,110 AAA/CAA travel agents.

Source: AAA

Grand Canyon By Train

 

(This was recently published in Travel Agent Central)

We have visited the Grand Canyon in Arizona many times. My husband requested a train trip for Christmas and one of my clients who recently lost her husband asked could she come with us. It is one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and gets 5 million visitors a year.

We went by train from the San Francisco Bay area to Los Angeles, a 10 hour journey down the coast, and stayed overnight in Los Angeles. We then got the train for an overnight journey to Williams, Arizona.

The best part of the trip is the train ride from Williams to the Grand Canyon. An old steam train has a robber on board, and the sheriff comes and puts him in handcuffs. Banjo players roam the two and a half hour journey, and the refreshments and drinks are excellent. Scenery is spectacular, and it is one of the top five train journeys in the world. This train has been running for over one hundred years and the classic coaches are extremely comfortable. It departs at 8.30 am and arrives at 11.45 am.

In December, they run the Polar Express, a journey from Williams to the North Pole, a spot along the route to the Grand Canyon. It’s an absolutely wonderful experience for children and adults. I love to see everyone in their pajamas and robes, many being carried by their fathers, as they take the train to see Santa’s village. Everyone stays at the Grand Canyon Hotel, and it is a fun night out. They carry a list of what they would like for Christmas, and they are jumping up and down with excitement to get on the train.

My husband was on a walker, and I found the staff everywhere we went anxious to be of assistance.

Of the hotels on the rim, the best is the El Tovar, which gets booked up very quickly. Even if you don’t stay there, go to lunch or dinner and enjoy the elegance of years gone by. My second choice would be Bright Angel Lodge. It has an excellent restaurant, and the individual cottages are all along the rim. I find that the Yavapai Tavern Lodge and the Maswik Lodge were not in a good location. You have to get the shuttle bus to get to the rim which I don’t like doing. I don’t like using a cafeteria for all meals.

We had a few days of heavy snow, and had to ask for a car and driver to take us between the hotels for meals, since it was impossible for my husband to get around with his walker.

This is a very organized National Park. No traffic is allowed, so you must use the shuttle to get around. They have three different routes, so you can plan on where you want to go.

If you drive yourself in from Las Vegas, which many people do, heaven help you if it snows, since you cant find your car in the parking lot. I would recommend that you don’t rent a car since you can’t use it in the park, but take a bus in from Las Vegas.

I am always surprised at the number of people from overseas visiting the park. It was packed.

Even in the winter months, there are lots of hikers. One sign made me grin. At the head of the trail there is a sign, “If you can’t run the Boston Marathon (25miles in length) then you can’t take this trail. Don’t even think about it.”

They don’t want you carrying plastic water bottles so encourage you to carry your own water container, and there are many places for you to fill up with water.

The only lodge at the bottom of the canyon is the Phantom Ranch, which gets booked up 12 months in advance. The websites are www.grandcanyonlodges.com and www.nps.gov/grca.

This is one of the most difficult hiking areas in the world. The walk to the Phantom Ranch is eight miles down the South Kaibab Trail. The average hiking time is four to five hours down. It’s 10 miles on the Bright Angel Trail (average hiking time down is four to six hours, and hiking time up is six to 10 hours). Summer temperatures can reach 120 degrees and winter conditions can be very icy and treacherous. I saw people putting snowshoe racks on their boots. There is no water source on the trails and no shade. The south Kaibab Trail is not recommended for hiking out of the canyon. People are shocked at how steep these trails are, and even if you are extremely fit, it is difficult.

Another option is to do the journey by horseback, or do a river raft in the warmer months, which means camping.

High altitude (9,000 ft) sickness can cause fatigue, dizziness and vomiting. To be air lifted out by helicopter is jolly expensive. It is too difficult to hike to the river and back in one day.

You have to see the Grand Canyon to believe it. Photos don’t do it justice.