Choosing a Beach Vacation in the Carolinas

The Carolinas for many people are the best of all worlds. At any given place, you’re typically no longer than a half-day’s drive from both the mountains and the beach. While most of the U.S. is getting back into the normal routine as fall is around the corner, now is one of the best times of year to hit the beaches of the Carolinas since the crowds are down, plus the heat and humidity is much less, making for a more pleasant trip. So how do you choose where to spend a beach vacation in North Carolina or South Carolina?

North and South Carolina feature some of the best beaches in the U.S. Many highly ranked islands and resorts can be found in the Carolinas. It’s often not enough to narrow down a vacation to just the Carolina beaches, as each is unique in their own way and offer different experiences. Do you want an all-inclusive vacation? Are you more of a laid-back seaside beach town kind of traveler? Do you need a beach city that has plenty of entertainment for the entire family? These are all questions that need to be answered when choosing where to spend your beach vacation in North Carolina or South Carolina.

If you’re the type of traveler that likes the laid-back, small seaside town with a beachfront cottage, then your best options are usually going to be in North Carolina. The North Carolina coastline has made a name for itself because of its quaint seaside towns. Many of these beaches and islands are lined with beach homes, although the towns themselves may only consist of a grocery store, a few seafood restaurants and a couple stoplights. The crown jewel of the North Carolina coastline is the outer banks. The 200-mile stretch of barrier islands features long sandy beaches and doesn’t have the same commercialism that so many other beaches do. The central to northern end of the outer banks is usually the choice of many vacationers with Cape Hatteras and Kitty Hawk, both which offer more historical attractions than many of North Carolina’s other beaches. The Kitty Hawk area is a little more commercialized, as it includes many more restaurants, as well as shopping opportunities, but not the same commercialization and crowds that you would find at Myrtle Beach.

Travelers who prefer bigger beach towns and the elements that come with them, will probably prefer South Carolina. The two most popular beach destinations are Charleston and Myrtle Beach. Myrtle Beach is more popular with younger crowds, as it features much more entertainment and nightlife that caters to teenagers and singles, although many older couples and families own timeshares or take a family vacation every summer to the Greater Myrtle Beach area. Charleston is one of the gems of the south, with its historic downtown cobblestone street, horse-drawn carriages and character that is unlike any other city in the Carolinas. Families and travelers who like cities that offer plenty of things to do will probably enjoy Charleston the best. It offers the widest assortment of accommodations as well, offering beach homes, luxury hotels, historic inns and resorts.

My personal favorite is Charleston. It’s the full package with its offerings for all types of people. Although many of the beaches along the North Carolina and South Carolina coastline cater to a certain type of traveler, the greater Charleston area caters to all types. It even offers inclusive resorts, including Wild Dunes and Kiawah Island Resort.

Photo courtesy of Kiawah Island Resort.

The Gulf Coast-That’s a Wrap

It’s been over three weeks since I visited the Gulf Coast and wrote about my experiences. Though originally planning on writing a wrap-up piece immediately after my visit, I decided to wait. I know what you’re probably asking: “Spencer, why have you waited so long to write a summary? Will it not have lost it’s effect by writing it many days after going and now that the end is possibly in sight?”. I’m writing it now for the very reason that the ending COULD possibly be in sight. The more days that go by, the less times the oil spill will be in the headlines. It’s not what’s new and fresh. Somewhere else in the world another celebrity is getting arrested, another weather disaster is spinning out of control and another gadget is debuting. This is what’s new and fresh. On December 26th, 2004, a Tsunami made landfall in Asia, forever changing people’s way of life. I read this week staggering statistics, that in Thailand alone, it killed over 5,000 people, left 1,500+ children orphaned and damaged 4,500+ fishing boats. But when was the last time you heard news about it?

Soon enough we will see little to no news about the Gulf Coast, yet the effects will live on for the fisher who lost his business, the family who lost their husband to suicide and many others. This is different than any hurricane in the Gulf before, as the effects are still unknown and it’s hard to just move on when it continues to loom. However, life goes on; as the Gulf residents are a resilient people and lives are moving on. Just like everyone else in the world is getting up every morning and going to work, so they are doing the same thing there. Although I did see people sitting around, drinking beer early in the morning and talking about the demise, life is going about predominantly these days as it always has.

I’ve had a lot of people ask what they can do. First and foremost, go down to the Gulf. Gas prices are less this summer than in many past summers and accommodations are cheaper than ever along the Gulf. Tourism is down over 50% and just trying to keep their head above water. As is the case, the Gulf has some of the cheapest accommodations in the U.S. right now. The Beach Club in Gulf Shores, for example, is offering resort credits on four-night stays from $250 to $450. By doing this, you’re helping support the economy and tourism that is in such need of it right now.

Although many have gotten the vibe there’s nothing they can do to help, there’s actually plenty of volunteer opportunities. One of the biggest needs has been the need for surveyors to walk along coastlines and shores to spot oiled animals, as well as remnants of oil, such as residue and tar balls. People with boats or access to boats are encouraged to donate either their boat and/or time to helping with cleanup efforts. Many families, especially ones involved in fishing-related industries, have come under hard times, therefore food banks and aid organizations need not only financial support, but also items such as non-perishable food and time from people who can help organize and distribute items to families. The Deepwater Horizon Response Command has a variety of resources and information to help mobilize volunteers.

Most importantly, I encourage readers to be aware of what’s happening in the Gulf. Like all disasters, they eventually stop appearing in the headlines and ultimately stop appearing in the news at all, though the effects continue to live on. I hope this inspires even more wanderlust and travel; that it would remind us of the beautiful, yet fragile world we live in, empowering us to explore and take it all in to the fullest while we can.

Day One-Gulf Coast

After an 8-hour drive, I finally arrived at the Gulf Coast at 11:30 p.m. tonight in Spanish Fort. The drive was a little longer than I expected and of course traffic is never a walk in the park coming through Atlanta. What’s worse, I hadn’t seen rain in several weeks, and it rained horizontally for half the drive. This was the longest road trip I had taken in quite a while and reminded me of my love for travel and why I do what I do.

Probably the best news of the day was when I got to my hotel, the Courtyard by Marriott, and found out that the hotel was at max capacity. This was music to my ears, as I had talked to one of the Gulf Coast CVBs earlier in the day who I had said that tourism was down at least 50% this summer with the oil spill. Most of this can be observed by hotel bookings, where hotels are practically trying to just give hotel rooms away. As I assumed, the CVB is making a strong push to still woo visitors with many of the activities and attractions that are off the beaten path. Early observations indicate that this is the biggest problem is that the local tourism industry and businesses in general are barely making ends meet and need more support from tourists. The tourism industry is the largest industry in the Gulf and when it suffers, then everyone suffers.

Fishing is often the lifeblood of the Gulf Coast region, and it’s taken the biggest hit with the oil spill. I tried talked to a fisher earlier today, but he didn’t want to speak about the issue, although he sounded more optimistic then some of the things I’ve seen on the news. He was very helpful in referring me to a couple places that would have fishers that are interested in talking with the media.

Tomorrow I get an early start, filled with interviews with local residents. I’m heading to one of the local marinas and am trying to get on either one of the skimmer boats or wildlife rescue boats. I’ll be posting Day Two’s update late in the afternoon tomorrow. For live photos, videos and updates, you can follow me on Twitter with the hashtag #gulfa.

Cruisin’ in Charleston

Did you know that for sometime travelers have been able to go cruising out of Charleston, South Carolina on Carnival during the winter months? Well if you didn’t know that travelers could cruise out of Charleston on Carnival during the winter, then you probably haven’t even heard that travelers can now cruise year-round on Carnival cruise line out of its Charleston port. Carnival recently announced that starting in May, travelers can now cruise anytime of year on several of their different cruise ships in Charleston.

 

I talk to travelers often who’ve never been on a cruise. The reason most often cited is the distance they have to travel to even get on the cruise. The addition of Charleston as a year-round port city for Carnival now makes it easier for travelers on the east coast to go on that cruise vacation they’ve always wanted to. Carnival is a leader in the cruise industry and actually sails from 12 different North American ports, including Miami, New Orleans and of course Charleston.

Charleston is a great port city because of many of it being well-known in the south as one of the leading vacation and historic spots in the south. Travelers can enjoy spending a few days in downtown Charleston before or after embarking on their Carnival cruise. Downtown Charleston offers a great vacation experience for both the young and old with great things to do. Charleston attractions for many younger travelers include the beach, water sports, a vibrant nightlife and ghost tours of the city. If you like catching the historic attractions, consider the South Carolina aquarium, the Charleston Waterfront Park and Charleston’s famous attraction, The Battery.

Carnival with begin their new embarkation out of Charleston beginning May 18, 2010. There will be several ships sailing out of Charleston on 5, 6 and 7-night trips to the Bahamas and Key West. In addition, there will be many ships visiting Charleston as a port of call throughout the year. What better way to experience Charleston and the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean than on a cruise.

 

5 Best Luxury Hotels in Charlotte

We’re in North Carolina this week discovering the best luxury hotels in Charlotte. Now although Charlotte is the largest city in North and South Carolina, it still doesn’t offer the same quantity of luxury hotels that you may find in a city like New York. However, Charlotte offers many luxury accommodations. Below is my round-up of the 5 best luxury hotels in Charlotte.

  1. Ballantyne Hotel. The Ballantyne Luxury Hotel in Charlotte is hands-down the best all-around luxury hotel in the queen city. The luxury Charlotte hotel features all you would expect from luxury accommodations, including a golf resort, tennis, spa, fine dining restaurants and plush rooms. If there’s a Charlotte hotel you want to spend your vacation, then this is it.
  2. Ritz-Carlton. You’ll find few “best” hotel lists that don’t have a Ritz-Carlton on it. This luxury hotel in Charlotte continues its award-winning hospitality and top-of-the-line accommodations. Standing at 18 stories tall with 146 rooms, the luxury hotel in uptown Charlotte offers many luxury amenities, including a bi-level wellness center and Aqua Lounge with a swimming pool and spa. You can always count on a luxury experience from a Ritz-Carlton.
  3. The Westin Charlotte. Like the Ritz-Carlton, you can usually expect a first-class experience at just about any Westin location around the world. Located in Uptown Charlotte, the hotel is known for its beautiful architecture that stands out in Charlotte and its luxurious interior decor. Every room in the Charlotte hotel offers a beautiful view of the city.
  4. Omni Hotel. This luxury Charlotte hotel is another example of a hotel with unique architecture in Charlotte. The hotel is known for being geared toward business travelers. with its first-class business services and location just a couple blocks from the Charlotte Convention Center. Contrary to many luxury accommodations, the four-diamond Charlotte hotel offers many services for children, including various activities and games to help keep children busy.
  5. Dunhill Hotel. Although the Charlotte hotel may not have the same unique architecture as some of the other luxury hotels in North Carolina, the Dunhill is a suitable alternative for luxury accommodations in Charlotte. The hotel is rich in history, as it dates back to the early 1900s. The Dunhill offers a historic and luxury experience that many of the other luxury hotels simply can’t provide, since they are but one of many hotels of a larger brand.

Greenville, South Carolina Restaurant Week

Greenville, South Carolina has now joined the long list of cities across America that now do a restaurant week every year. If you’re not familiar with restaurant week, the week-long event held in cities around the U.S. bring together the culinary delights of each city. Starting back in the 90s as a low-key restaurant event, it has now blossomed into one of the most popular events in many cities each year. Many cities even do one twice a year.

Restaurant weeks usually cater to large cities, like New York and Los Angeles, as they often feature hundreds of restaurants that participate. However, in Greenville, since it’s a much smaller city, there’s not the opportunity for nearly as many restaurants to take place in the event. Greenville’s Restaurant Week has still brought together many of the best restaurants Greenville has to offer, from the finest dining to very casual dining. The event kicked off yesterday, Monday, January 11th and will be going on until Sunday, January 17th.

Like I said, Greenville’s Restaurant Week won’t nearly be on the same scale of my other cities, however, some of the best restaurants in Greenville have come together to take part in the event. A few of the participating Greenville restaurants include Wild Wing Cafe, Soby’s Restaurant, Ruth Chris Steak House and Stella’s Southern Bistro. Most of the restaurants are offering special deals and multi-course, fixed price meals that you couldn’t get during the rest of the year. Many will either be three or five-course meals, offering an appetizer, dessert and a couple different entree options. However, if none of the multi-course offerings appeal to you, then you can still simply order off each restaurant’s menu and take place in the Greenville restaurant event that supports and celebrates the great culinary cuisine the city has to offer.

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5 Best Reasons to Travel with a Smartphone

There’s been a lot of buzz recently in the mobile market. The introduction of the Droid by Verizon, price and ad wars by Verizon and AT&T and the recent unveiling of the Google Nexus One. This has all meant a lot for businesses and people who rely so heavily on being connected at all times, but what does it mean for travelers. For years traveling meant leaving your entertainment systems, laptop and phone at home and enjoying your leisure time away from these items that our lives center around. However, things have changed. That was before you could watch your favorite television show, download a movie, read a book, update your Facebook and order food, all from one device. If anything, in today’s culture, your phone is the one thing you can’t leave home without.

I finally after much talk recently got a smartphone, the Droid Eris from Verizon. I did quite a bit of research and honestly picked the phone because it did everything I needed a phone to do, and more, plus it was pretty cheap. I have to say that even though I haven’t traveled with it yet, it’s already made my life much simpler and mainstreamed. With all these things taken in mind, I’ve included below the five reasons you should have a smartphone while traveling. 

  1. You never know when an emergency will come up. Whether you have a smartphone or that old Nokia that you’ve had for five years and works like a charm, it’s important to have a way to easily find and reach emergency contacts when the time comes. We never expect or plan for emergencies, but the fact remains that they come up. If for no other reason, this is why you should have a smartphone while traveling. Traveling with a smartphone comes in handy when you can browse the web for that one emergency service that the police or fire department simply cannot provide.
  2. When you gotta go, you gotta go. Yes a smartphone can even help you find a bathroom. Everyone knows that there are always bathrooms around when you don’t have to go, but no place has a public restroom when you just can’t hold it. The mobile application SitOrSquat helps you find public restrooms near you and even includes user reviews.
  3. When you want to find the real Ray’s Pizza. Everyone has their opinions and preferences about their favorite smartphone, but the same can be said about them all, that they all make it easy to find things such as local restaurants or hotels and reviews on them. There are a plethora of applications for the Droid, Iphone and BlackBerry that can help you find the best restaurant near you and pull up reviews to help your decision process. It’ll even help you find the original Ray’s Pizza in New York.
  4. Keep a budget. It can often become cumbersome to keep up with your budget while traveling, especially if you’re using a credit card everywhere you go. You may start off well, but by the time you get home you realize that although you had a nice vacation, it’s at the expense of an insurmountable credit card bill. There are a variety of mobile applications that can help you do things such as track mileage if traveling on business, submit expense reports and track your beer tab at each pub.
  5. Stay productive.  No matter what kind of business you’re in and no matter what smartphone you have, smartphones can either increase or decrease productivity while traveling. There are a variety of applications and tools that can keep professionals working, from writers to accountants to business owners. WpToGo for the Droid for example can help writers stay up-to-date on their website content and blog by allowing them to write and publish straight from their Android phone.

 

Before going out to your mobile store and buying your first smartphone, be sure to do your research and not get carried away with getting a smartphone. They can easily make you less productive and can often rack up charges when traveling. On a recent conversation on Twitter with fellow Uptake Writer Kayt Sukel from the Travel Savvy Mom, she stated the importance of educating yourself about roaming and international charges when traveling. Kayt stated: “A lot of cool apps require data transfer, and it can be $20/5MB or so. It adds up very quickly in foreign countries”. Before you know it, you have a $1,000 phone bill on your hand when you return from your trip.

There are many other useful ways to use a smartphone while traveling, but I hope these are some of the best five reasons you find to use your mobile device of choice while traveling.

 

The Gulf Coast-That’s a Wrap

It’s been over three weeks since I visited the Gulf Coast and wrote about my experiences. Though originally planning on writing a wrap-up piece immediately after my visit, I decided to wait. I know what you’re probably asking: “Spencer, why have you waited so long to write a summary? Will it not have lost it’s effect by writing it many days after going and now that the end is possibly in sight?”. I’m writing it now for the very reason that the ending COULD possibly be in sight. The more days that go by, the less times the oil spill will be in the headlines. It’s not what’s new and fresh. Somewhere else in the world another celebrity is getting arrested, another weather disaster is spinning out of control and another gadget is debuting. This is what’s new and fresh. On December 26th, 2004, a Tsunami made landfall in Asia, forever changing people’s way of life. I read this week staggering statistics, that in Thailand alone, it killed over 5,000 people, left 1,500+ children orphaned and damaged 4,500+ fishing boats. But when was the last time you heard news about it?

Soon enough we will see little to no news about the Gulf Coast, yet the effects will live on for the fisher who lost his business, the family who lost their husband to suicide and many others. This is different than any hurricane in the Gulf before, as the effects are still unknown and it’s hard to just move on when it continues to loom. However, life goes on; as the Gulf residents are a resilient people and lives are moving on. Just like everyone else in the world is getting up every morning and going to work, so they are doing the same thing there. Although I did see people sitting around, drinking beer early in the morning and talking about the demise, life is going about predominantly these days as it always has.

I’ve had a lot of people ask what they can do. First and foremost, go down to the Gulf. Gas prices are less this summer than in many past summers and accommodations are cheaper than ever along the Gulf. Tourism is down over 50% and just trying to keep their head above water. As is the case, the Gulf has some of the cheapest accommodations in the U.S. right now. The Beach Club in Gulf Shores, for example, is offering resort credits on four-night stays from $250 to $450. By doing this, you’re helping support the economy and tourism that is in such need of it right now.

Although many have gotten the vibe there’s nothing they can do to help, there’s actually plenty of volunteer opportunities. One of the biggest needs has been the need for surveyors to walk along coastlines and shores to spot oiled animals, as well as remnants of oil, such as residue and tar balls. People with boats or access to boats are encouraged to donate either their boat and/or time to helping with cleanup efforts. Many families, especially ones involved in fishing-related industries, have come under hard times, therefore food banks and aid organizations need not only financial support, but also items such as non-perishable food and time from people who can help organize and distribute items to families. The Deepwater Horizon Response Command has a variety of resources and information to help mobilize volunteers.

Most importantly, I encourage readers to be aware of what’s happening in the Gulf. Like all disasters, they eventually stop appearing in the headlines and ultimately stop appearing in the news at all, though the effects continue to live on. I hope this inspires even more wanderlust and travel; that it would remind us of the beautiful, yet fragile world we live in, empowering us to explore and take it all in to the fullest while we can.

5 Things You Shouldn’t Pack

Depending on who you talk to, 2010 is being tagged as the year of travel. There are tons of travel deals and giveaways and it looks like these trends will continue for at least the first half of 2010. If you don’t have any plans for traveling, then it maybe it’s time to start making plans for the first half of the year.

As you plan your trips, you’ve probably heard about all the items you absolutely can’t forget to pack, but you probably haven’t heard about all the items you shouldn’t pack. Below, I’ve listed the 5 things you absolutely shouldn’t pack. Whether you’re taking a second honeymoon to Paris or taking a tropical vacation on the sandy beaches of the Carolinas, leave these things at home.

  1. Fanny Pack. Do I really have to tell you that you should leave that faded fanny pack at home that hasn’t missed a trip since you bought it for your first trip to Woodstock? Fanny packs just scream “american tourist” and they really don’t do anything but weigh you down, plus they just aren’t fashionable. Instead, invest in a backpack or small travel back you can throw over your shoulders. It needs to be something that isn’t cumbersome and will hold you up while traveling.
  2. Neck Wallet. I remember the first and last time I wore one of these was when I was 12 years old and was taking a family trip. I was told that this was the best things that I could have as a traveler, but instead quickly discovered that it was the worst. I might as well have been wearing a license plate around my neck as a pendant. The neck wallet is very cumbersome and can be downright uncomfortable, especially in warm climate.
  3. Zip-off pants (Recommended by @travelerlauren http://lonelygirltravels.com). As quickly as these became a fad, they even quicker became a fashion no-no. The zip-off items are praised because of their versatility, yet what do you do when you unzip them in the middle of the warm afternoon? Do you just casually stuff them in your fanny pack?
  4. Zinc Nosecoat. Maybe you’re not familiar with the name, but it’s the sunblock you only rub on your nose and upper cheeks, except it doesn’t rub into your skin, but instead makes you look like an offensive lineman with green or pink face paint on. Although this may be good for you, it’s imperative that you find something that doesn’t show like Zinc Nosecoat. One advertisement actually said that it makes you look cool. Go figure.
  5. Hawaiian shirt. Who doesn’t own a hawaiian shirt? And just because you own a hawaiian shirt doesn’t mean you should pack it on your vacation. That’s the one thing that belongs at a thrift store, but the one thing nobody wants to give up.