The Jersey Shore and More


The Jersey Shore


Gotta Have an Ice Cream

Hi! Rylie here. Shhh. I’m hijacking Mom’s blog once again to share a brief Moment with you before she takes over. If your summer has been like mine, it’s flown by. Before the leaves start to turn orange, I decided I better visit a few of my friends in New Jersey before they all head off to work and grad school. Of course, no trip to Jersey is complete without going down to the shore.

Knowing firsthand the devastation our Long Island beaches suffered from Hurricane Sandy, I was prepared to be underwhelmed by the famous area. Boy was I surprised! There was so much beachfront at Asbury Park Beach, far more than any of our favorite beaches at home.

Asbury Park Beach, NJ

Asbury Park Beach, NJ

After lugging our beach paraphernalia and setting up for the day, my friends and I walked the boardwalk in search of lunch. There was a steady breeze, and the temperature hovered in the low 70’s despite a cloudless sky, so the beach was less crowded than expected.

The Boardwalk

The Boardwalk

Still, the thrumming of a heavy bass beat rippled from the bar/club, stores boasted touristy items with neon signs, and patrons at the multiple ocean-themed restaurants spilled onto the boardwalk at umbrella-covered tables. According to my friends, a majority of the boardwalk was rebuilt after Sandy.

DSCN0333The only damage I could pinpoint was on the weathered iron fixtures on the exterior of the Paramount Theater, although the worn building was a fascinating contrast to the shiny aluminum-walled ice cream and gift shops. We ended up buying French fries and large smoked chicken subs overflowing with crisp lettuce, honey mustard, and pickles. The food was great and reasonably priced. (You know how I love to eat!)

Tourists Abound!

Tourists Abound!

After lunch, my friends convinced me to go in the water, and even go out past the breaking waves. I’m a decent swimmer, but I panic pretty easily, so trying to stay above water and keep 1078364_10151588000943511_1002921687_nmy bathing suit from slipping off when we had to jump over the waves was an interesting experience. We dried off under the warm afternoon sun, hoping the lowered temperatures would mean a reprieve from sunburn. It didn’t. Even so, my first Jersey Shore adventure was a success. I can’t wait to go back next year, and maybe check out the shore further north or even visit Atlantic City.

Oh no! Here comes Mom. See you later…

Sunken Meadow State Park

I see that Rylie couldn’t resist telling you about her recent travels. I keep telling her she should start her own blog. It’s fun stuff. Anyway, here’s your Moment from my perspective, a few photos taken at a tranquil Long Island beach. Enjoy!

The Dunes

The Dunes


A Lazy, Hazy Day

A Lazy, Hazy Day

Sunken Meadow's version of a boardwalk

Sunken Meadow’s version of a boardwalk

Which kind of beach experience do you prefer? Lively or laid-back? Or does it depend on your mood?

Watch Hill, Fire Island


Long Island, New York has many wonderful, hidden gems. I blogged last summer about staycations, which focused on one of my favorite Suffolk County beaches. Watch Hill, one of several wonderful spots on famous Fire Island, isn’t exactly hidden or unknown. In fact, It gets downright crowded on warm-weather holidays, although it definitely is one of my home island’s jewels with an aura of otherworldliness, isolated from suburbia. In other words, you can’t drive there.

Getting There

For most travelers, there are two ways to reach this barrier island surrounded by the Great South Bay and the Atlantic Ocean: private boat or ferry ride from the village of Patchogue. One way via boat takes about thirty minutes. The third and most breathtaking experience in getting there would be hopping a seaplane from Manhattan’ 23rd Street Skyport.

Leaving Patchogue Marina

Leaving Patchogue Marina

A Fire Island Ferry

A Fire Island Ferry

If you are travelling on a private vessel, you may opt to go tubing, fishing, or swimming in the bay before reaching your destination of Watch Hill or on the way home. Our group anchored at one point for the kids (and two of the dads) to cool off in the salty waters. Others, like me, may choose to enjoy the sights while onboard.


Watch Hill, part of Davis Park, has a number of amenities (see related links below for more information), including a white sand beach with lifeguards, boardwalk nature trails, a snack shop, tiki bar, and souvenir shop primarily stocked with Watch Hill tee shirts and other clothing. Both the marina slips (day or longer-term) and the tent campsites, provide utility hook-ups. After visiting there for the day, I can easily picture wanting to return with the tent for a weekend stay with my honey.

DSCN7451What to Bring

Visitors to Watch Hill may wish to bring coolers, umbrellas, beach chairs, sand toys, boogie boards, blankets, towels, and extra sunscreen. Dogs technically are not allowed on the beach itself, but my relatives stated they’d seen dogs at the far end of the beach at times and the people in charge hadn’t seemed to mind.

If you are traveling by ferry, be aware that the changing rooms don’t have curtains. You could wash off in the outdoor showers to rid of the salt/sand and air-dry your bathing suit. On the other hand, if anyone in your party has sensory needs and MUST change into clean clothes at risk of a sensory meltdown, you may consider bringing a shower curtain to hang up and use as needed. Since I traveled with my fourteen-year-old son with autism (his dad had to work), we were very fortunate to have my in-laws’ boat available for this purpose.

Boardwalk to beach and nature trail

Boardwalk to beach and nature trail

DSCN7447If you plan to purchase items from the snack shop, be aware they only accept cash. My son had the hamburger (fresh slice of tomato and dill pickles on a seeded bun), fries, and a large Sprite. The total came to twelve dollars and change. The food was good, although you may wish to ask for no ice in your drink if you truly want a large soda. The shop had a large enough selection if you happen to be camping for the weekend, with breakfast items included.

Snack Shop & Tiki Bar

Snack Shop & Tiki Bar

Watch Hill Beach

Watch Hill Beach

Restrooms, seating area, and souvenir store

Restrooms, seating area, and souvenir store

There are a number of Fire Island communities to explore within walking distance of each other. There are full-service restaurants, twenty-something bars, gay communities, and small towns with shopping opportunities. The beaches are gorgeous and the people friendly. If you live on Long Island or plan to visit, Fire Island is a terrific summer alternative to the Hamptons.

DSCN7463Related Links:

Have you discovered any new gems in your summer travels?

Sunken Meadow Beach at Sunset


Photo Credit:  Jen Gracen

Photo Credit: Jen Gracen

I attended a book launch party for a dear friend at Sunken Meadow Beach, Long Island this past weekend. When I caught a glimpse of this incredible sunset, I was heartsick that I’d left my Nikon at home. Luckily, my romance writer pal saved the night with her iphone camera. Beautiful, huh? Thanks, Jen.

Then I discovered the sunset in Jen’s wine glass, and I asked her to take a shot of it so you could enjoy it too.

Photo Credit: Jen Gracen

Photo Credit: Jen Gracen

What did you do this past weekend? Any special accomplishments or simple pleasures?

Enjoy Key West Without Going Broke–Top Five Tips

2012-07-21 11.13.10Being a tourist can be expensive. If you’re blessed financially, more power to you. However, if you’re like most people, you make sacrifices in one area of your life to afford spending in another.

After a dozen trips to Key West in the past decade, I’ve learned a few tricks to experiencing the getaway of a lifetime without going home broke.

  1. Rent a bike or scooter. Traveling in Key West via taxi and car can be expensive. By biking or motoring around Old Town, you will avoid the hassle of parking fees and experience the island on a more personal level.
  2.  Eat where the locals eat. Bo’s Fish Wagon at 801 Caroline Street isn’t much to look at, but provides an inexpensive, tasty lunch-on-the-go. Enjoy a delicious Cuban meal for a very reasonable price at El Siboney on Catherine and Margaret. Trek over to Petronia Street and check out the Bahama Village stores for other hidden food deals. Take advantage of local bar and restaurant Happy Hours, such as Alonso’s 1/2 price appetizers.
  3. Enjoy its public beaches. Pack your water bottles (purchase a 6-pack at CVS) and a couple pieces of fruit (from your Continental Breakfast or mom-and-pop deli), beach towels, and your favorite book. Snorkel the clear waters at Fort Zachary for a nominal entrance and gear fee, and then read on the beach in the shade of a tall pine tree until you get your fill.
  4. Stroll Duval Street. People-watch your way from Upper Duval with its upscale retailers and art galleries to Lower Duval with its quirky souvenir shops and tourist bars.
  5. Intersperse splurge activities with budget ones. You’ve traveled a long way to enjoy a dream holiday with your loved one. Choose one or two extravagant activities–go all out! (SEE BELOW for suggestions)

2012-07-20 16.10.12

SPLURGE Activities:

2012-07-20 16.09.57

MODERATE Activities:

  • Sunset Sail
  • Eco Kayak and Snorkeling Tour
  • Party Boat — Fishing or Snorkeling with a larger group
  • AQUA Club Drag Show
  • Parasailing
  • Jet Skiing

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BUDGET Activities:

  • Key West Cemetery
  • Key West Butterfly Conservatory
  • Nancy’s Secret Garden
  • Ghost Tour
  • Ernest Hemingway Museum and Home
  • West Martello Tower
  • Peruse local FREE newspapers for lectures, exhibits, concerts, matinees, gallery openings, or library programs

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Please share your travel tips with us! We all love to save money, right?

Please Forgive Me

I’m having one of those weeks…will post soon.


Exploring the Eastern Caribbean

Explore \eks-plore\ v. 1. to investigate, study, or analyze: look into 2. to travel over (new territory) for adventure or discovery.

RCL Explorer docked at St. Thomas

As much as my husband and I enjoy Key West, we have a soft spot in our hearts for the Eastern Caribbean islands, each of them gems in their own right. In 2003, We were fortunate enough to explore Puerto Rico, St. Maarten, St. Thomas, and the Bahamas on a seven-day cruise

Our first stop is San Juan. We opt to kayak the San Spiritu River, a calm river northeast of Puerto Rico’s capital city. Chattering monkeys and squawking parrots greet our small tour group as we paddle along, surrounded by the greenery of El Yunque Rainforest. I spy two manatee in the water and an iguana in the trees. What a wonderful start to our Eastern Caribbean experience!

Whimsical water feature outside a shop

St. Maarten/St. Martin is our next destination. It’s a unique island, ruled on one side by the Dutch and the other by the French.

We shop on the Dutch side, grabbing incredible bargains on cameras, linens, and rainbow topaz jewelry. The Belgian chocolate is delicious. Don’t plan to bring any home with you, though. It’s not a good traveler.

On the French side, there are beautiful beaches (including a nude beach if you’re so inclined). We visit a butterfly farm, where I get my first glimpse at the elusive blue morpho butterfly.

My lamb isn’t too baa-d, is it?

Days at sea gives us an opportunity to explore the ship. We play mini golf, learn how to make towel animals, make friends with our dinner mates, and take in the nightly shows. There’s so much to do, but we spend part of each day simply sipping a cool drink and taking in the stunning Caribbean views from our comfy spot in the Solarium hot tub or pool.

St. Thomas is another port. We venture out on our own today, the taxi ride through the hills to Magen’s Bay Beach a bit like a roller coaster ride without the safety of the rails! We arrive early, so the beach isn’t crowded. I soak in the crystal blue water. It’s heavenly.

Magen’s Bay Beach, St. Thomas

We leave the beach before I turn too pink, travel down the windy road into town, and then take a tram up to Paradise Point, St. Thomas’ lookout point. The blues of the Caribbean mix with the vibrant tropical flowers and trees. Everything is lush and beautiful.

 Leaving St. Thomas

For our last day of sun, sand, and water, we join a friendly group on a booze cruise to Pearl Island away from the busy commercialism of Nassau. We enjoy a spicy lunch and rum drinks as we wade in the warm waters. Later, we explore the island’s tiny lighthouse and look at the seashells. The boat trip back to the ship includes music and dancing, and puts us in the mood for a fun last night at sea before returning to reality.

I enjoy our getaways to Key West, never tiring of its natural beauty and its people, but cruising is a wonderful way to learn which destinations may hold promise of an extended holiday to suit your needs. I’d definitely like to visit St. Thomas again, perhaps while vacationing in nearby St. John–secluded and romantic.

Oops, gotta go! I hear the blender whirring and steel drums playing in the kitchen. Time for a margarita moment or two. Until next time…

Key West Beaches

Smather’s Beach, Key West

Key West is known for many things, including its Caribbean atmosphere, its crazy nightlife, and incredible seafood, but its beaches aren’t typically on a tourists’ Top Ten List when planning a trip to the Florida Keys’ southwesternmost island. Having grown up with lake beaches made of rock and/or dirt, maybe my expectations are less than people accustomed to ocean beaches. Whatever the case, I was pleasantly surprised by my first glimpse at three of Conch Republic’s public beaches. Fort Zachary Taylor, Southernmost, and Smather’s beaches each offer a slightly different experience on a Key West getaway.

Beachside views on bike trail

Fort Zachary Taylor Beach, located in Truman Annex, is wonderful not only for beach goers, but for bike enthusiasts and history buffs as well. There is a park fee, less for bikers or walkers than for cars.

We rode our Conch Cruisers to Fort Zach, where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Gulf of Mexico, and on its sandy trails. Surrounded only by the tranquil beauty of beach grasses and azure waters made me feel as if we were the only two souls on earth–a scene I won’t soon forget.

Fort Zach Beach, Key West

Tours of the beach’s namesake are held daily at noon. As for the beach itself, we brought the usual gear. People either lie on towels or rent chairs. I enjoy sunning and floating here. Fort Zach’s seafloor is quite rocky, making wading uncomfortable. I’ve heard the currents can make it difficult for snorklers to find much sealife, but those we talked to said they saw parrot fish and yellowtail snapper.

Southernmost Beach, Key West

Southernmost Beach, named because of its location at the southern end of Duval Street, is tiny and flanked luxury resorts. This is a great place for social butterflies, with a friendly, open-air restaurant where locals and tourists mix.

Smather’s Beach, Key West

Chairs are available to rent here, too. I don’t like wading at Southernmost Beach because the seafloor has the consistency of oatmeal, but it’s fun to float in the warm water. Be aware:  This beach sometimes closes early for a late afternoon or evening wedding. Isn’t that romantic!

Smather’s Beach is located on South Roosevelt Boulevard on the Atlantic Ocean. For tourists staying at the Sheraton Suites, it’s right across the street. If staying in Old Town, it’s too far to walk but is a pleasant bike or scooter ride away. Smather’s sand was imported from the Bahamas in 1961.

This beach is huge compared to the other two, and offers the greatest variety of water sports, including parasailing and kayaking. As for swimming, the only complaint I’ve heard is encountering the occasional clump of seaweed. Otherwise, the water is crystal clear. The video below is a good depiction of Smather’s Beach during peak season:

Of these three beaches, I prefer Smather’s. I love its silky sand, the freedom to lounge apart from the crowd or be part of it, socializing and people-watching. We like to rent a kayak and explore the shallow waters as we enjoy each other’s company–away from the daily stresses of work and home.

Key West’s beaches may not compare to the pink sands of Bermuda or black sands of Hawaii, but I believe they are well worth the bike ride to enjoy the views, the sun, the activity, and interesting people.

Do you have a favorite beach experience?

Ocean life up close!

A Day in De Haan, Belgium

I’m excited to present my first guest post, written by Nicole Basaraba, a lovely Canadian writer living in Europe.  I met her via her entertaining travel and book lover’s blog, She kindly offered to share a Belgian beach getaway with us today. In return, I’ll be posting my review of THE HELP on her blog later next week. Please feel free to comment as usual, and enjoy this bonus mini-escape!

A Weekend Getaway in De Haan, Belgium

Guest post by Nicole Basaraba at

A Sunny Day at De Haan

While the weather isn’t known to be the best in Belgium, ok its not known to even be good, but when the sun decides to make an appearance most people head to the North Sea.

The word, North, automatically makes you think – cold – and its true it can be chilly, but if you want a weekend away in early spring or late summer, De Haan is the place to go on the Belgian coast.

There are quite a few cities to visit along the Belgian coast, but De Haan is the most inviting. It’s smaller than the popular Oostende and I find that every time we are driving away from De Haan into the sunset I’m always wishing that we could stay longer.

Sit back and relax.

De Haan is in the Flemish part of Belgium and the people are always friendly and cheerful. The residents of these coastal cities dress differently than people living in other parts of the Belgium. You will see young and older people alike riding their bicycles wearing white pants, pastel or navy blue shirts, bright red shoes and hats. They have the sailor-look down pat.

The main street in De Haan is narrow, allows cars, and also happens to be one of the cleanest main shopping streets I’ve seen in Belgium. The shops have tall glass windows with an endless display of pristine clothing, shoes, beachwear, perfumes and other toys that are dying for you to buy them.

You can bring a towel or pay a fee to rent a lounging chair to bask in the sun for the afternoon on the longest sandy beach on the Belgian coast. If you want to be closer to the main road with access to bathrooms, restaurants and terraces to enjoy a cool drink and a snack, then the top of the beach is where to set up camp. Or if you plan on getting a great tan, playing Frisbee and splashing in the salty water you can walk down to the lower end of the beach and sit where the real action is at.

Traveler’s tip: There aren’t any lifeguards to be seen scoping out the waters, so make sure that you keep an eye on your children. On the plus side, you don’t have to worry about any sharks or jellyfish.

De Haan is also known for its sand dunnes. So if you’re spending a weekend, you may want to dedicate a full day to sunbathing and frolicking on the beach and another day to enjoying the views of the sand dunnes, the picturesque villas with the endless balconies, window shopping along streets lined with flowers and visiting the two windmills: Hubert Mill and Geerssens Mill.

The best part about De Haan is not only its beauty and charm, but that it has a population of about 12,000 so it doesn’t get overcrowded like some seaside destinations in Europe and you’re sure to find relaxation.

For more information about De Haan tourism, visit this website.

For more photos of the De Haan beach, visit Nicole Basaraba’s Facebook page.

Nicole Basaraba is a Canadian expat working in print/web publishing in Brussels, Belgium – the land of chocolate. When she’s not eating chocolate and blogging about her European travels, you can find her writing, chatting on various social media, curled up with a good book, watching a movie or hitting the beach.

Bikes and Bubbles

Do you ever find yourself blowing bubbles alone, skipping rope just for fun, or dunking a cookie in milk without counting calories?

Simple pleasures like these can bring you back to a time before you worried about laundry, bills, and work deadlines, when summers lasted a year and Halloween was near the top of your favorite holidays’ list.

As a kid growing up in New York’s rural Adirondacks, my bike was everything. First my Big Wheels, and later, my beloved ten-speed racing bike. I was excited to be independent, breezing along field-lined roads as my skinny legs pedaled to and from my friends’ houses.

Like many childhood toys, I left my bike behind upon entering college. By the time I pulled it out of the backyard shed, the bike was rusted and in need of new tires. Being an impatient twenty-something, I figured I’d buy a new one after my move. The NYC metro-area provided many wonderful opportunities for my husband and me, but traffic and the growing demands of family life convinced this transplanted country girl to switch over to a more conventional vehicle–the minivan.

Beautiful Southernmost Beach

Fast-forward twenty years, and my husband and I are on vacation in Key West, Florida. What’s the suggested mode of transportation?  Bicycles, of course. Called beach or island cruisers, these bikes are equipped with baskets in front, perfect for carrying a beach bag or souvenirs. They can be ridden at night, too, with strobe lights attached to the wheels’ spokes instead of handlebars.

My eyes light up as I gaze at the bike. In spite of niggling doubts about having enough energy to traverse this five square-mile island, I agree to rent one.

We bike to Smathers and Fort Zachary Taylor beaches, bask in the sun like lizards and float on the warm Atlantic waters.

A Banyon Tree, spied on one of our bike excursions (Click photo for KW Bike Trails Info)

Later, we sightsee. In the evenings, I scoop up my flowing skirt to tuck around me as we take a leisurely ride side-by-side to Michael’s or another of our favorite haunts for a romantic dinner, followed by sunset cocktails at Mallory Square.

On our more adventurous nights, we lock up our bikes on Duval Street, and begin an impromptu Duval Crawl. Hours later, we return to our bikes (Sometimes the toughest part is remembering where the bikes are located!), and take the exhilarating two-wheeled trip back to our B & B. We whizz past quiet, side-street houses in the darkness–with nothing but mesmerizing strobe lights guiding us.

I’ve learned it’s never too late to enjoy simple pleasures like the ones I loved as a kid. Key West is my favorite getaway, and the fun we have riding our rented bikes everywhere is definitely a big part of the draw for me, being a kid at heart.

What childhood toy or activity have you left behind that you’d like to revisit, or maybe adapt to your life as an adult?


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