by Marcia Simon , CTA, APR
The ferry from Cedar Island on North Carolina's mainland to Ocracoke takes two and a half hours – just enough time to transition from "hurry up" mode to "island time."
Ocracoke is the bottom of North Carolina's barrier islands known as the Outer Banks, or OBX. The ferry pulls into Ocracoke's island-vibe village where you'll soon see enticing small shops, intriguing seafood and BBQ restaurants - and a few motels that make it pretty tempting to stay and soak up the atmosphere.
Being on a discovery mission, a lunch stop of fresh tuna and mahi-mahi sandwiches at touristy Howard's Pub and Raw Bar was enough of a break before heading north along Ocracoke's 16-mile stretch to the Ocracoke-Hatteras ferry. This crossing took an hour from point to point. Unlike the Cedar Island trip that allowed reservations and cost $15 for a car and two passengers, this ferry is free and operates on a first-come basis. Mid-afternoon in June was early enough to beat both the summer crowds and the day-trippers from Hatteras to Ocracoke who wait in long lines to return before dinnertime.
Continuing the journey up the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and hoping to stumble upon the kind of quaint B&Bs and inns that mark the New England coastline, the area was instead dotted with family-style motels and row after row of big beach houses on stilts. It was evident that house rentals are the big draw for families who come for a week or more to Hatteras and neighboring Frisco, with kids, beach toys, and sometimes grandparents in tow. The Outer Banks are all about the beach. These barrier islands stretch for 200 miles along the Atlantic Ocean off the coasts of North Carolina and southeastern Virginia. Mini-golf and ice cream are always within reasonable distance.
For adults traveling without kids, it may be about the shrimp and oysters, both of which are local, fresh and delicious. Want a really fresh catch? Head to one of the outer Banks' five fishing piers or head out on a charter boat. Parasailing, jet skis and kayaks are all easy to find. But chilling at the beach is the #1 pastime here.
Without a care or a reservation, the Surf Side motel in Nags Head, about halfway from bottom to top of the barrier island, came into view and had an available oceanfront room with a balcony. Sipping wine and watching sunlight fade away, that magical sound of ocean-meets-shore made for a relaxed evening, voluntarily disconnected from emails and nightly news.
It's funny how you can overpack and then realize you brought long pants you'd never wear, but not enough shorts, and how suddenly you yearn for a new pair of flip flops. What a great excuse to pop into stores along the way. You'll see a chain called Wings (sometimes Super Wings), which is not a restaurant as Northerners may initially think, but a T-shirt, sunscreen, beach towel and souvenir stop.
A little farther north is Kill Devil Hill, home to the Wright Brothers National Memorial. If you happen to have a National Park Pass, you'll get in for free; otherwise, it's $10 per person. If you have time, make it a point to stop.
Orville and Wilbur Wright chose this spot to test their dreams of flight because its windy for lift off – and sandy for (hopefully soft) landings and inevitable falls during trials and development. Kitty Hawk, as the area was known when the Wright Brothers came here in 1902, is today known as Kill Devil Hills. In 1903 the brothers achieved success with the first-ever powered aircraft. Orville flew and controlled the plane. And this marked the very beginning of airline travel as we know it today.
The Sanderling in Duck
Duck is a town toward the northern end of the Outer Banks, and The Sanderling is a lovely hotel about four miles north of Duck's town center, wedged between the Atlantic Ocean and Currituck Bay. The Sanderling is truly the only resort of its kind in OBX, with 120 guest rooms and suites, plus house rentals (accommodating from 8 to 16 guests) and views of the ocean or the bay. Two outdoor pools (one for families and kids; the other adults-only), one indoor pool, a spa, outdoor hot tub, fire pits, plenty of beach chairs and umbrellas, and bike rentals make this a comfortable place to spend a few days.
Restaurant choices include the Lifesaving Station, which serves three meals daily in a casual, family-style atmosphere. The cuisine is southern coastal and regional using locally sourced ingredients when possible. It has a friendly bar, too.
Fine dining at the Sanderling's Kimball's Kitchen features floor-to-ceiling windows facing west to watch the sunset.
The third restaurant is the outdoor Sandbar where bare feet are acceptable and frozen drinks are specialties. From top-quality salads to burgers, it's a convenient spot to grab a bite near the pool, the beach, or your room.
Although not part of The Sanderling, The Paper Canoe is a highly recommended restaurant directly across the street. It's a favorite with locals, so make a reservation far in advance if you want to watch the sunset and enjoy a creative menu.
By the way, a sanderling is a bird – a type of sandpiper that runs up and down the beach chasing waves. Sweet.
Duck – The Town – and Beyond
To get to the Sanderling, you'll pass through the town of Duck, known for its boutique shops and low-key restaurants. Duck is cute.
The town park offers one of the access parking lots to the boardwalk, which is about a mile long, and weaves its way along the coastline, dipping in and out of retail clusters, pubs and ice cream stands.
Venturing north of Duck you'll find Corolla, a lively yet laid back tourist area. Take a 4WD beach Hummer tour to see the wild mustang horses on the northernmost beaches of the Outer Banks. Another option to see the horses is by kayak tour.
The mustangs are descendants of domesticated horses brought to the area in the 1500s by Spanish explorers and left behind — either by choice or accident. They are technically now wild. By the way, wild horses can also be seen on Ocracoke Island just south of the Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry docks.
Leaving the Outer Banks to return north on the mainland from Corolla or Duck, requires a short drive south to Route 158 just north of Kitty Hawk. This goes over the Wright Memorial Bridge, the most-travelled route to and from OBX. You'll pass H2OBX Waterpark, which screams fun and makes you wish you had made time to go there for a great family fun day.
The closest commercial airport to the Outer Banks is 60-miles away in Norfolk, Virginia. Most people pack the car and make this a road trip. If you plan to go in summer, reservations in advance are highly recommended.
Marcia Simon is a travel advisor, travel writer and founder of FriendlyGroupTravel.com, specializing in customized trips for families, small groups and solos. Connect at facebook.com/friendlygrouptravel, Instagram @friendlygrouptravel, Twitter @friendsgotravel or call 860-399-0191.
by Marcia Simon, CTA, APR
A European river cruise is a bucket list trip for a lot of people and, once hooked, making multiple journeys is quite common. If you’re exploring a river cruise for the first time, there’s a lot of nitty-gritty information that river cruise companies don’t tell you upfront. Working with a travel advisor can save you a lot of time, money and aggravation in the long run.
First of all, there is no “one size fits all” best river cruise company. Some are true luxury, which is fabulous for those who can afford it, but are beyond the budget of most people who travel as a lifestyle. Some river cruises cater to older (aka retired) travelers while others direct their activities to active adults and multigenerational families. There’s also at least one river cruise company that designs the ship, cuisine and itineraries for younger (under 40) travelers who want to hang with people in their millennial age range. So, make sure you choose a cruise directed to your personal interests and demographic.
7 Factors to Consider When Exploring a River Cruise Vacation:
The best way to get great deals on river cruises is to take advantage of early bird and last-minute deals, off-season schedules, and bargaining power of travel advisors who work with a consortium that brings high-volume special perks. Travel advisors keep their radar up for what clients want.
7 Great Things About River Cruising:
Marcia Simon, APR, CTA, is a PRSA-accredited public relations practitioner, and an IATA-accredited travel advisor. Connect through facebook.com/friendlygrouptravel, Instagram @friendgrouptravel or email@example.com.
by Marcia Simon, CTA, APR
Think about the ‘60s era of peace and love in America, and images of San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood come to mind with tie-died shirts and girls wearing colorful flowers in their hair. On the other side of the San Francisco Bay Bridge, in Berkeley, another cultural phenomenon was stirring at that same time.
The Free Speech Movement of the 60s rapidly grew across college campuses nationwide. At first, outspoken college students focused on the struggle for civil rights; then when opposition to the Vietnam War developed, students at UC Berkeley ignited the spark that led to large scale protests and the nationwide Anti-War Movement.
UC Berkeley was a university campus that challenged the status quo back then, as it does now. The school serves as the flagship institution of 10 public research universities affiliated with the University of California system. It’s the anchor that allows the City of Berkeley to remain the free-spirited sanctuary where inclusion is second nature to a generation of open minded hipster intellectuals, and leftist baby boomers find contentment being surrounded by people who share their nonjudgmental approach to life.
The constant energy that seeps from academia is evident; serious discussions between professors and students can be overheard at local coffee shops; public events are scheduled frequently on a regular basis.
With more than 30,000 undergraduate students, about 70 percent of whom are from California, and more than 11,000 graduate students from around the world, UC Berkeley is a hub for thinking outside the lines in search of new and better ways to solve world problems. Its graduate engineering school is ranked #3 in the country (behind MIT and Stanford) by US News & World Report for 2020, luring some of the world’s brightest minds hoping to score a Silicon Valley dream job in artificial intelligence, virtual reality, robotics and autonomous vehicles.
Both technology and hippieism bubble beneath the surface of Berkeley’s social climate. The old and new seem to exist very well together. It’s a gentle yet edgy vibe amid the undertow of a bustling college community. The Greek Theater, an amphitheater located on the outskirts of campus, brings top name acts.
Telegraph Avenue, beginning at the south entrance to campus is lined with cafes, shops and music stores, and extends through the city and into Oakland. Shattuck Avenue is another of Berkeley’s main streets filled with shops and restaurants. For movies, you can enjoy current popular flicks on one of the big screens at the Regal Cinemas, or walk one more block to the Shattuck Cinemas for a thought-provoking indie film.
Fun for Foodies
Keep walking down Shattuck Avenue and you’ll smell your way right into the affectionately named Gourmet Ghetto with plenty of choices for any type of appetite. This is home to the legendary Chez Panisse, opened in 1971 by Alice Waters, whose organic, locally grown, seasonal ingredients sparked the term “California cuisine” way before the nation’s farm-to-table consciousness. Chez Panisse has maintained its status as one of the best restaurants in America, if not the world. Reservations are necessary – both for the main dining room and the lighter café. Reservations may be made up to one month before your preferred date.
Right across the street is The Cheese Board Collective, which is a bakery, a cheese shop, and a creative pizza restaurant where you can sit inside or out and get a dose of Berkeley’s local live music.
If you want to be seated and served at a restaurant, stick with Shattuck Avenue and places away from campus or one of the nearby hotel restaurants. Close to the school you’ll find an amazing variety of very affordable food choices, where you order at the counter and hope to find a place to sit before your meal arrives. From Chinese, Japanese and Thai to Korean barbecue, noodle bowls, pizza by the slice, hot dogs, burgers, salads, smoothies, two aromas permeate the air – Asian food and marijuana.
But Berkeley has its problems, too. The homeless rate is high. Maybe it’s because the weather’s decent, or there are plenty of places to eat for a low price, or that people are generally kind enough to occasionally spare some change. There seems to be a community among the down and out, and a feeling of compassion for people who have landed in this situation – war veterans, spaced out aging hippies, those who are estranged from families because of lifestyle or gender or those who have slipped between the cracks of the nation’s mental health system.
Getting to Berkeley
Crossing the Bay Bridge that leads from San Francisco to Oakland and neighboring Berkeley can take up to an hour by car if you’re stuck in daily rush hour traffic, or you can zip from San Fran to Berkeley in under 30 minutes when traffic is light. Locals don’t drive it at all. Bay Area Rapid Transit, known as the BART, is the San Francisco area’s underground metro system that takes you under the Bay into Oakland and Berkeley. It’s easy, clean, fast and the most affordable way to travel to Berkeley from both San Francisco and Oakland International airports.
If you happen to visit the Oakland and Berkeley area, consider a visit to the 34-acre UC Berkeley Botanical Gardens. It’s recommended to allow at least two hours to take it all in.
The landmark at UC Berkeley, which can be seen from across the bridge, is Sather Tower. Standing 300’ above sea level, the tower, or Campanile as it’s known, is one of the world’s tallest free-standing bell and clock towers. For four dollars you get an adult ticket that takes you via elevator almost to the top, where you then 38 steps to the outdoor patio for a bird’s-eye view of the campus and San Francisco Bay. If you time it right or get lucky, you can hear a carillon performance at scheduled times each day. The carillon has 61 bells, weighing from 19 to 10,500 pounds each.
And one more note… The Bay Bridge stretches across San Francisco Bay connecting San Francisco to Oakland and Berkeley. The Golden Gate Bridge goes from San Francisco to Sausalito in Marin county. Both bridges lead to wine country.
Marcia Simon, APR, CTA, is accredited as a travel advisor and public relations professional. She is principal/owner of friendlygrouptravel.com and MSE Public Relations. Connect through facebook.com/friendlygrouptravel or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Marcia Simon, CTA, APR, has been exploring new places since she was 17 years old and traveled around Europe on a Eurailpass with her best friend. Decades later, she still considers travel the best investment of time and money she's ever made for herself and her family.