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Greetings! Last week we flew from New Yorkís LaGuardia Airport on Song airlines. As is always the case with flying to South Florida, itís smart to price fares into Fort Lauderdale (airport code: FLL) as well as Miami. FLL is only 26 miles north of Miami International (MIA), and is a great alternate airport -- itís usually a lot cheaper and less hectic than flying into Miami. Another alternate airport is West Palm Beach (PBI), but thatís usually more expensive and is 70 miles north of MIA. Before I buy I always check alternate airports for departure and arrival cities, to see if the drive there is worth the savings. To find alternate airports in the U.S., click on AlternateAirports.com .
This was my second trip to Florida in October, and I was not even running for office. Instead of writing about those trips twice, Iíll combine the pictures and stories. I was in Florida both times to visit my sister Carolís family, who had moved there in late August. I know -- perfect timing for the move, huh? They were evacuated three times in three weeks because of hurricanes. Luckily, their neighborhood in Delray Beach did not sustain serious damage. The first time I visited was a week after Hurricane Jeanne. Plenty of cleanup was taking place -- mostly bush and tree removal -- and the weather was not great. The second time was this past weekend. I saw the kids trick or treating, and both the scenery and weather were much more desirable.
Delray Beach is 54 miles north of MIA, 33 miles north of FLL and 18 miles south of PBI. The first time I arrived in Fort Lauderdale, I took a taxi to my sisterís. She told me it would cost around $35, but I found out that was the price from PBI, not FLL. The taxi dispatcher told me the fare is more like $70. When he saw me wince, he said I could try to make a deal with the driver to not use the meter, and just do a flat rate. I did, and paid $60.
My sister and her husband Tom left Erie because they couldnít take any more harsh winters (I donít blame them). Theyíre now renting a pad while they try to find their dream house (my childhood neighbor, Todd Wilson, is their realtor). Their rental house is a sweet 4-bedroom, 5-bath place, with a pool the kids love. Itís right on the Intracoastal Waterway, so the kids have become quite the fishermen. They not only catch everything from minnows to barracudas; they also catch other wild things like lizards and crabs, using either a pool net or bare hands. My niece Amanda is not afraid of using her hands, but she wonít put bait on hooks, or take fish off when she catches them. Uncle Johnny gets stuck with those lovely jobs.
These past two trips I didnít go to the beach to swim. However, I did go to the beach to take a few pictures, and for some early-morning walks. The water was not its usual beautiful blue (the ocean floor is still settling from the storms), but the beach and water are still pretty to look at. Iíll never get tired of listening to the sound of the waves crashing, and the smell of the fresh ocean air.
We dined out a bunch of times. Here are some highlights. The first place we ate at was the Pineapple Grill. My sister says the food is usually better than the night we went, so Iíll give it another try and let you know. What was really different about this place was their prices. They were bizarre: Everything ended in a different number. Instead of listing the pear salad at $8, they charge $8.54. Why they add the cents, I donít know. Pineapple Grille: 800 Palm Trail, Delray Beach, FL; tel.: (561) 265-1368.
The best place we went was with my Uncle Joe and Diane (his other half). Paradisoís is about 20 minutes away in Lake Worth, and well worth the drive. My uncle knows the owners, who are originally from Positano (in Southern Italy, very close to where my grandparents grew up). The food at Paradisoís is very similar to my grandmotherís cooking, so you know itís good! Paradiso Restaurant: 625 Lucerne Ave, Lake Worth, FL; tel.: (561) 547-2500.
The most memorable was a place where Carol, the kids and I went on Halloween afternoon. While we were window shopping along Atlantic Avenue (the heart of Delray Beach, where people come from all over to shop and dine), the kids became hungry. Carol suggested Cheeseburger Cheeseburger, a greasy spoon place. We agreed the kids would love it, but I said I wasnít going to eat. I was not feeling well from all the Halloween candy I ate while carving pumpkins and decorating the golf cart (Iíll tell you about that in a minute).
After I ordered my child-size cheeseburger, my sister was talking to the waitress. Carol asked why there were Polaroid pictures of customers all over the wall, and how could we get our picture on it? The waitress said one of us had to eat their famous one-pound burger. At that moment I knew that Carol and/or the kids would egg me on. A second later, just as I imagined, Carol and the kids screamed, "Uncle Johnny, you have to do that!" I told them that if I was feeling hungry I could guarantee our picture would be on the wall, but not that day.
The waitress returned a few minutes later with Carolís chocolate peanut butter milk shake. Despite an upset stomach, I had to try it Ė I have no control for peanut butter OR chocolate. It was so good I ended up drinking most of it (make that "eating" most of it -- it was so thick I had to use a spoon instead of a straw). The waitress heard the kids and Carol trying to talk me into getting the giant burger, and said with a smile, "Itís not too late to change your order." I said, "Thanks, but Ö" Then I made the mistake of looking at the kidsí faces. They said, "Uncle Johnny, do it for us!" Uggh! I told them Iíd give it a shot, but not to be disappointed. The way they were carrying on, we had an audience around our table. I really didnít want to eat that thing, but somehow Uncle Johnny Jet found a way to pound that one-pounder. If you thought I wasnít feeling well before, imagine how I felt after swallowing that thing (along with a milk shake that was more like cake batter). I felt and looked as pregnant as a man could. Cheeseburger Cheeseburger: 450 E Atlantic Ave, Delray Beach, FL; tel: (561) 265-1959
Back to the golf carts: Delray Beach is next to the town of Gulf Stream, a very upscale community where everyone cruises around in golf carts. On Halloween those golf carts are the centers of attention. Everyone decorates their carts, and takes their kids trick or treating. Many of Carol and Tomís friends live there. They decorated their carts too, and took the kids trick or treating. Golf carts are so popular during Halloween that a company actually rents them for 24 hours (for $112).
I must admit it was fun cruising around in a golf cart in balmy 75-degree weather. However, nothing beats trick or treating in New England. I still remember vividly those cool, crisp autumn nights I spent running up and down my street with a pillow case to hold my candy. To this day, the smell of a wood-burning fireplace and fresh fallen leaves brings me back there.
When the night was over the kids said they had their best Halloween ever, as they dragged their bag on the ground. When they were told to pick it up they said, "But itís too heavy to carry." Thatís when I knew the kids received way too much candy. Donít worry, though: Uncle Johnny Jet took care of lightening it up.
When Halloween was over, so was my trip to Florida. Both times I flew home to Los Angeles. However, I used two different airports and two different airlines. The first time was out of Miami on United; the second was out of Fort Lauderdale on Northwest.
Instead of spending over $100 on a taxi from Delray to MIA, or asking my sister for a ride, I found a convenient and inexpensive alternate transportation. The Tri-Rail is a double-decker train that travels from Miami to West Palm Beach. It stops at all the major towns along the way, including all three major airports (MIA, FLL, PBI). The best part is that it costs only $5 one way from Delray Beach to Miami, and takes an hour and a half. TIP: Make sure to buy your ticket before getting on, by using the machine in the station. Tickets cannot be purchased on board.
My flight was at 9:25 a.m. I said my goodbyes at 5:30 a.m. My brother-in-law Tom was nice enough to take me to the Delray Beach train station, so I could catch the 6:11 train to Miami. The train was comfortable, and everyone was very nice. I sat next to a man who informed me I couldnít put my luggage on the seats or even in the aisles, because the conductor would yell me to use the luggage racks. He was right. However, as a precautionary measure I didnít take my eyes off my bags. I wanted to make sure no one walked off with them. (NOTE: Passengers are allowed no more than three bags each). Miami Airport is the last station, about a half a mile outside the airport. A free bus shuttle travels from the station to the airport. It left two minutes after we arrived. It took four minutes to get to the airport. The entire trip from Delray Beach was $5 well spent.
If youíre planning a trip to South Florida (or Orlando), you can find great deals right now. However, high season starts December 15th, so hurry. Tourism is nearly back to normal following the hurricanes, but it canít hurt to call your hotel directly before booking just to make sure everything is A-okay.
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Don't fly into Florence airport directly- it's really really expensive. You can fly into Pisa and Bologna for much cheaper prices, and they're only 45-1 1/2 hrs. away by train.
Joe - Alaska
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Five strategies for booking holiday award travel |
So you want to fly home for the holidays, but your upcoming gift shopping has you strapped for cash. If you've got upwards of 25,000 miles sitting in a frequent flier account, you could book your holiday travel for free. It may not be easy to find an available award seat this late, but follow these five strategies and you may be able to outwit the competition and snag the seat you want. Click Here To Read Article
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