Thursday, January 27, 2022

Swimming with dolphins: a treat to cement bond between species

Enchanted families have the rare experience of being up close and personal with dolphins
in Hilton Waikoloa Village's acclaimed Dolphin Quest program. Participants may help feed
the mammals, swim with them, watch them play and bond with them in unique ways.


GETTING UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL WITH ONE OF NATURE'S STARS OF THE SEA


STORY By CHRISTENE MEYERS

PHOTOS By BRUCE KELLER

Dolphins are very intelligent and bond with the highly skilled trainers,
who know each one by name and develop close relationships.

IF YOU YEARN to connect with another species, and have watched in wonder the joyful antics of dolphins, there's no better place to bond with these playful and intelligent creatures than Hilton Waikoloa Village's Dolphin Quest.

We watched these graceful and friendly mammals recently with a few dozen other hotel guests during their regular morning play time near the resort complex's stylish Makai Tower.

WHAT A THRILL.  What a treat.  Their eyes seem to express their love of humans, and their faces actually seem to smile as families gather on the shore of the lagoon to watch, then walk into the waters and commune for a thrilling half hour.

As preparation, we did some homework on Dolphin Quest, which operates in Bermuda, Oahu and on The Big Island.  It was at that operation on the Kona Coast where we experienced the dolphin magic during a week-long stay.

Skilled trainers work with the dolphins
each day; their care is meticulous.
 
THE PROGRAM was developed by compassionate veterinarians specializing in marine mammals, and its founding premise is all about connecting humans with these fascinating, intelligent creatures. A primary goal is to educate the next generation to appreciate and nurture them.  There are other dolphin experiences in the world, but this one gets top reviews for its focus on quality animal care and education.  Training programs ensure that staff are committed to loving care of the animals and the program's mission: to enrich the lives of these wonderful dolphins and foster respect and appreciation for marine life.

We watched on the lawn as families gathered for the experience. It's expensive -- but every single person we chatted with after the session was thrilled.  "Once in a life time," said one beaming grandmother. She treated her daughter, son-in-law and three kids and said "It's the best money I ever spent. Absolutely worth every penny!"

While parents, grandparents, aunties and uncles bring
their little ones into the water, photographers wade in, too.

For the money, a 45-minute experience includes a briefing session, then a half-hour with the dolphins, to touch, play and perhaps help with feeding. The group is limited to six, so you're able to join another small family if you are only two or three, or you can book the private six-maximum experience. 

Individual tickets start at $269 for the 45-minute session (there's a pre-dolphin  briefing then a half-hour with them.) There's a 30-minute possibility starting at $230, for kids only, highly supervised by the well trained and congenial staff. We watched hosting parents, grandparents and aunties take photos from the side lines, delighting in watching their progeny so excited in the water.

WE WERE SO captivated by the experience that we watched it part of each day for a week, from our ringside balcony seats in Makai, at Hilton Waikoloa Village.  The lush landscape of blooming plumeria, orchids, bougainvillea and palms makes a beautiful backdrop for the dolphin experience.    

Twice a week, early morning, before the Dolphin Quest
experience begins, trainers work with the beautiful
mammals, while guests at Hilton Waikoloa Village enjoy. 
ANOTHER HAPPY person, father of a young daughter, said it was "an extraordinary bonding experience -- for all of us:  for me with my kid, for each of us with the dolphins.  It was quite magical."

Photographers join the group at a respectful distance, recording the experience for souvenir photos, which are an additional cost.

Special needs children and adults with disabilities are also happily accommodated on an individual basis.  The staff goes out of its way to tailor each experience, so everyone is happy and gets what he or she is looking for. Extraordinary customer service and great awareness of COVID protocol, hygiene and safety have made the program a rollicking success.

If one thinks about the benefits of the time with these graceful, affectionate creatures, it's a worthy investment of time and money.

Bruce Keller and Christene
"Cookie" Meyers happy with
a dolphin view on the
shore of the Kona Coast.

And can one really put a price on something that accomplishes so much in so little time?

 The smiles tell it all.  On both human and dolphin!

 More information or to book: dolphinquest.com/health/ (808) 987-3434.reservations@dolphinquest.com; Hilton Waikoloa Village is at 425 Waikoloa Beach Drive, Waikoloa, HI 96738

 

Keller and Cookie, ready for take-off, for a bird's eye view
of Kauai, here by Air Ventures' air van at the Lihue Airport
.



UP NEXT: Hawaii's magic is timeless -- we've proven that in over a half-century of visits. This trip takes us first to quiet, lush Kauai, "the garden isle," known for its verdant landscapes, pleasant people and tranquil surroundings. And there's nothing like taking it all in by air. We head for the Lihue Airport to hop aboard a state of the art air van, with Air Ventures Hawaii. What a thrill to see the beauty of this lovely island from on high. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly: www.whereiscookie.com

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Dining delights in Key West: Munching a tasty, Cuban inspired path through town

Before the restaurant opened  to the public, our small tasting group was invited in to El Siboney,
a small, family-run eatery part of an enjoyable food tasting tour in Key West, Florida.  


Conch fritters are on the menu at Mangoes, a lively fish eatery in Key West.
The walking tour features five fun restaurants and lots of local history.

Pork, beans and rice are
a staple of the Cuban
        diet here served            
casually at El Siboney. 

CUBAN FOOD, VINTAGE CARS, MUSIC, COFFEE SCENERY SUGGEST HAVANA -- BUT YOU'RE HAPPILY DINING IN KEY WEST, U.S.A.

STORY By CHRISTENE MEYERS

PHOTOS By BRUCE KELLER

ONE CAN dine like a king, snacking your way through a leisurely few hours in Key West, where the scents and tastes of Cuba and the Caribbean are a very real part of life.

We took a fun foodie's walking and tasting tour and we're going back for seconds!

El Siboney takes its name from the Indian
people who inhabited the Key West region.
Here Kayla introduces herself and the eateries.

What a moveable feast -- small bites of food, glorious food, with the emphasis on spice and seasonings one associates with the Caribbean, Cuba and South America.

Throw in vintage cars sprinkled around the town, a walking tour with stops at historic places, and you've got a fun three or four-hour escape.   

The Speakeasy Rum Bar  is a Key West landmark, and
both it and its adjacent inn is popular with tourists.
WE BEGAN eating while our guide, Kayla, introduced us to the restaurants and our first dish, a classic pork, beans and rice offering.  Cubans eat lots of pork  and the Florida transplants brought their dining traditions. Kayla, who grew up in Mexico, is studying business and saving for her own food truck to specialize in Caribbean cooking. She comes from a family of good cooks, knows her Key West history and has flair and ambition.
Every stroll in Key West
is bound to encounter a
protected rooster or two.




WE TOOK OUR comfy chairs at our first restaurant,  El Siboney, with its colorful posters and friendly, family oriented ambience. Many consider El Siboney the most authentic Cuban restaurant in Key West. It is named for an indigenous tribe that inhabited Cuba circa 1492. It's also the name of a small town where the Cuban revolution began. 

Image result for key west conch people
Vintage cars are part of the Key West allure,
much as in Cuba, where old cars are on show.
 
Kayla gave us an overview of our two-plus hour adventure while a group of six enjoyed a small plate of shredded pork, rice and a side dish of beans, served in the traditional way, with a wedge of lime and a slice of buttery Cuban bread -- slightly sweet and tasty.
Mahi mahi with goat cheese
and mango is a hit at Kaya.

 AFTER A FUN, quarter-mile stroll through a pretty palm tree-lined neighborhood, we arrived at the Speakeasy Inn and Rum Bar for a refreshing libation.  The bar tender briefed us on the history of the famous landmark. Now a bar and guest house, it was once the home of Raul Vasquez, who was a cigar selector at the Gato cigar factory. Raul’s passion was rum-running between Key West and Cuba. 

The signature key lime
pie, with whipped
cream and berries.

Kaya Island Eats is one of the stops on the
tasting tour. It is favorite with locals. 
 WE CHOSE a non-alcoholic alternative to the rum cocktail since it was barely mid-day, then we were off again, headed to Mangoes on Key West's main artery, the colorful and lively Duvall Street. Here, we enjoyed the town's most famous menu item, conch fritters, served fresh and hot from the fryer, with lime and a tangy aioli. 

At each stop, we were given time to stroll, ask questions of the chef, enjoy the artwork, and relax between courses. Next, Kaya Island Eats, where the chef, a Maui transplant, served us a delicious  small-plate serving of delectable mahi mahi, perfectly seared and topped with lovely goat cheese crumbles and a lime reduction. 
After the food tour, Keller and Cookie took a
short stroll to Key West's beautiful lighthouse.
The town is walkable and user friendly with
historic homes and museums all around.
    



     LIMES ARE as much a part of the Key West culture as are the roosters and chickens which stroll about, protected by law with stiff fines for annoying or  hurting them. So our finale was that classic dessert -- Key Lime Pie -- served on the palm lined patio of Cuban Coffee Queen, where we'd stocked up on coffee beans the day before. The savory pie and a small glass of sweet, kick-ass Cuban coffee capped the tour.  Each of these places would make a fun separate stop, but the food tour's the way to go for a delightful edible overview of a fascinating town.  

 Fla-keys.com/key-west/ keywestfoodtours.com; historictours.com; cityofkeywest-fl.gov/

keywestchamber.org

A fun family outing to swim with the dolphins await
at Hilton Waikoloa Village on The Big Island of Hawaii.
UP NEXT
:  The dolphins are calling. And Hawaii beckons. We've got our traveling togs back on, fully vaccinated, "boostered" and enjoying hitting the airways again with courtesy, distancing, masking and respect for our fellow travelers. Although getting to Hawaii is not as easy as it was "pre-COVID," it can be done, if you're prepared. In search of dolphins and a chance to swim with them, we arm you with pointers to help clear the virus scanning procedure and shorten your wait in line. Then we take you to Kauai, and the Big Island for some fun away from crowds. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for a fresh spin on travel, cruising, the arts, family, nature and more: www.whereiscookie.com

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Key West legends: Hemingway, Truman shared love of a unique place

President Harry Truman spent happy, relaxing times during his tenure, establishing a southern
White House in Key West, and hosting cabinet members and many dignitaries for poker and fishing.


Guides tell colorful Hemingway stories at the Key
West home where he lived 11 years, from 1931.

HOME
SWEET 
HOME:

FAMED WRITER, U.S. CHIEF LIVED IN KEY WEST, SHARED A LOVE OF  LAID-BACK

 FLORIDA TOWN 

President Harry Truman's "Little White House" offered him
a warm, relaxing break from the tensions of public office
.

STORY By CHRISTENE MEYERS
PHOTOS By BRUCE KELLER

THE PRESIDENT who ended World War II and the writer who ran with the bulls in Pamplona loved Key West, Florida. Neither could claim to be a "conch" (native son) -- but each fished the waters and relaxed in the town. 
Both men established homes in this laid-back berg, spending treasured days there.  Harry Truman escaped Washington D.C.'s cruel winters, spending 11 extended stays during his Presidency,1946-1952. Beginning in 1931, Ernest Hemingway spent a half-dozen years in Key West. Both men are remembered in museums centered in the homes they lovingly furnished.

The Hemingway House in Key West is a lovely
Spanish Colonial home, beautifully maintained
.

TRUMAN HELD card games, planned fishing trips and hosted foreign dignitaries. His Presidential limo is parked outside.  Hemingway staged lavish soirees and designed a special cemetery for his famous six-toed cats, offspring of a captain's gift.
Both men's homes and gardens are  meticulously maintained as museums and visitor attractions with well informed, story-telling guides.

On Hemingway's upstairs bed, one of 50 cats
naps. Each one is carefully chosen from
 offspring of the author's famous six-toed cats.






LAID BACK Key West has a bohemian feel, much as it did in the days Truman and Hemingway fell in love with the place. It continues to attract an assortment of eccentrics, sun seekers and tourists -- with a loyal "local" clientele who proudly call themselves conchs -- that is, proud people born in Key West. The range of admirers includes dozens of writers, politicians, actors and five presidents besides Truman. According to our volunteer guide, a retired history professor, Truman found Key West

Two of the mostly
spayed and neutered 
felines in the garden
.
    to be a sanctuary -- a welcome respite from the pressures and tensions of life in the U.S. Capitol.  He lovingly created his fascinating Florida White House.

Hemingway tributes, friends, ex-wives,
hunting expeditions, cats are celebrated.

ACCLAIMED WRITER Ernest Hemingway was equally captivated, purchasing a lavish home -- mostly with his wife's money -- entertaining fellow writers and artists.  It, too, is now a fine museum. The Hemingway House, across from the Key West Lighthouse is on the far southern coast of the island.

THE HEMINGWAY house has an open, airy feeling, with plenty of natural light and a compact study up the stairs in a separate building, where the author spent long hours writing.  Among the memorabilia are sculptures, trophies of his hunting expeditions, drawings and photos of wildlife and family portraits. One wall brings chuckles.  On it hangs a four-part collage of the author's quartet of wives:  Hadley Richardson, Pauline Pfeiffer, Martha Gellhorn and Mary Hemingway, his last wife, with him until his suicide in 1961.  Hemingway is in the center.

President Harry Truman loved Key West and kept a selection
of short-sleeved tropical weather shirts in his closet.
It was during the "Pauline years" -- 1927 to 1940 -- that Hemingway lived in Key West, and it was through her uncle Gus that the house came to the couple. According to our lively guide, the couple spent happy years raising their boys and socializing before he left her for his third wife, Martha, originally a friend of Pauline's.

The lovely pink and coral hues
of the protected conch. Florida
restaurants serve conch harvested
in other parts of the Caribbean. 

TRUMAN'S TENURE came when his doctor recommended a warm place to rest during his 19th month as President.  He returned each November and December, February and March for the next seven years, relaxing on the wrap-around enclosed porch, playing cards, strolling the town and escaping secret service guards to have coffee and shoot the breeze at a beloved restaurant, Pepe's Cafe.

Conch fritters -- enjoyed by both
Truman and Hemingway --  are
 a popular item but the seafood
is from outside Florida waters.
(In Florida, conch is protected.)
 Reportedly, he loved seafood in particular conch fritters. Hemingway's fondness for seafood  is well documented, too. He particularly liked to eat fish he'd caught. Truman  hosted many fishing trips for Cabinet members and other politicians, who stayed in guestrooms of the 1890 building, once officers' quarters on the town's submarine base naval station.

SO MUCH about Key West captivates the imagination.  Thousands of people have felt the allure and magic of this southern most point on the continental United States.

 MORE INFO: 

www.fla-keys.com/key-west/

www.trumanlittlewhitehouse.org/    www.hemingwayhome.com/

 Footnote about "conch" as applied to people: Mayor Dennis Wardlow, in a statement of protest and secession, declared the independence of Key West on April 23, 1982. The Mayor was designated the Prime Minister and the territory was given the name Conch Republic, with local citizens called Conchs.

The Conch Republic was declared in 1982 during a 
tongue-in-cheek secession from the United States.
"The Conch Republic" tongue-in-cheek moniker has been maintained as a tourism booster.  One is not a conch (pronounced "conk," like "conk your head") simply by living in Key West.  You must be born there. If you've lived seven years, you're considered a "freshwater conch" a la Hemingway.  The conch is a large sea snail living in the depths of the Gulf of Mexico.  The beautiful, coral-colored critters were almost extinct and are now protected, with heavy fines for taking a shell with the living creature within.

  So while the former President was a visitor only-- albeit for long stays -- he didn't actually live there full time.  The famed author, on the other hand, did, and thus his ranking as a "freshwater conch."

Mahi mahi is part of a Cuban inspired food tour in
Key West, featuring five small-plate delicacies and
a walking tour of the town's historic district.

UP NEXT: No, not conch, but tasty mahi mahi in photo at right, served with a Carribean-style rice side dish and mango salsa during our foodie walking tour in Key West, Florida.  We sampled conch fritters (photo above) along with other popular bites on this Cuban inspired tasting tour.  We sampled five small plates, including a shredded, roast pork deliciously spicy and served with freshly baked, slightly sweet Cuban bread and barbecue sauce. We cap our walking tour and feast with key lime pie, made famous in the Florida Keys. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us each week for fresh spins on the arts, travel, nature, family and more. food: www.whereiscookie.com  

 



 



Thursday, January 6, 2022

Key West charms with activity, history, sun, sand, homeland safety

Christene "Cookie" Meyers and Bruce Keller stroll the waterfront in Key West, readying to sail. 

U.S. TRAVELERS ARE LUCKY TO HAVE THE LIVELY YET LAID BACK FLORIDA KEYS IN OUR BACK YARD

STORY By CHRISTENE MEYERS
PHOTOS By BRUCE KELLER
The Conch Train is a well loved travel option downtown.

WHEN ONE
yearns for balmy breezes, fun food and the soothing sound of the sea, it's not necessary to book a ticket to Fiji, the Canaries or French Polynesia.
Those are beautiful places, but with COVID, and all the time, angst and red tape necessary to enjoy foreign travel, U.S. citizens can't do better than Key West, Florida.
OUR COUNTRY'S southernmost subtropical paradise is a unique blend of all that we seasoned travelers yearn for: perfect climate, the beauty of nature on both land and sea, flowers galore, cultural diversity, history, and a romantic appeal that one usually has to go to another continent to enjoy.
Cookie shows her ticket to board Old Town Trolley.
One of its stops is Hampton Inn near the water.
ALL OF
THAT MAKES
Key West attractive to us, with one huge additional advantage.  We're still in the good old U.S., and don't have to fill out entry forms and paperwork to experience the new.
While many restaurants and hotels now ask for proof of vaccination, it's much easier to head for south Florida than it is to cross a sea and risk getting detained or quarantined on foreign soil.
So the appeal of Key West is enormous.
Coffee is a huge industry in Key West, and you'll
find coffee stores as well as cafes serving the 
sweet, strong and pungent Cuban coffee. 
There's the exotic amenities one looks for in foreign travel: interesting architecture, new food options, history with an opportunity to learn, top hotels, comforting familiar language and enlightening nature experiences. There's also a fine butterfly conservatory and world-famous museums, including Mel Fisher's fascinating one, where one views artfully curated treasures found on the shipwrecked Atocha.
If you want to see the sights without the expense of renting a car, the wonderful Old Town Trolley offers is a delightful way to get around with access to nearly everything of interest.
Old town Trolley gives bird's
eye views of homes, museums
.
It picked us up at our Hampton Inn to transit famous Key West streets and squares, popular local places and tourist attractions ranging from the fine Key West Aquarium, Key West Lighthouse, the shops and restaurants of Mallory Square and other historical and entertaining places.  
Sunset sails are a popular Key West option.
Close-up of a cigar poster, touting the stogie grown
from Cuban seeds, but on other Latin American soils
.
Salvaged from the Spanish
ship, Atocha, pottery in the
fine Mel Fisher Museum.
Key West's history is filled with drama and the amiable, well informed trolley guides share the history with colorful anecdotes, engaging stories and humorous asides. You'll see the coffee shop where President Harry Truman ditched the secret service at his Florida White House to share a morning cuppa with Florida friends. You'll see key lime pie adverts and get tips on the best places. You'll stop near Ernest Hemingway's lovely home and see how the writer lived and worked -- with his adored six-toed cats. 
A wonderful museum is housed in a historic building run by the non-profit Key West Art and Historical Society.
This handsome rooster
 and all chickens are
 protected in Key West.
OTHER TOWNS in the U.S. -- including our own San Diego -- have successfully introduced Old Town Trolley.  The entertaining trolley operation also runs in Savannah, Washington D.C., St. Augustine, Boston and Nashville. 
Key West is an artistic town, with galleries
and museums showcasing everything from ship-
wreck treasures to carvings and paintings.

Cigar making was once a huge industry in Key West and Island Cigar Company still sells them. Key West has a rich cigar history, but most stogies in the Keys are now made in other parts of Latin America with tobacco grown from Cuban seeds.
Watersports abound in Key West, with sunset sails, dolphin and snorkel watching, eco and paddleboard
tours and many other options,
Among many historic buildings, this one is the
original office of Pan American World Airways.
It is now First Flight, a brewery and restaurant.


including a wonderful rare opportunity to sail on General George Patton's custom made schooner
"When and If," which he designed and hoped to sail with his wife around the world "when and if" World War II ended. Sadly, Patton died in 1945 and didn't accomplish his world sailing tour.  He did sail it up and down the East Coast, and Chesapeake Bay, and down into Key West, according to biographers. (More about this lovely boat later.)

For more info: https://fla-keys.com/key-west/
www.hilton.com/en/hotels/eywkkhx-hampton-key-west/
www.historictours.com
www.keywestchamber.org 
https://www.trolleytours.com/key-west
www.furycat.com
www.keywestbutterfly.com
www.sunsetsailkeywest.com 
www.kwahs.org/museums/custom-house/visit
www.sunsetwatersportskeywest.com 


The Hemingway Home and Museum showcases the author's
literary memorabilia, awards, collectibles, portraits, history
of his several wives and his unusual six-toed cat progeny. 
UP NEXT: Our visit to Key West and the Florida Keys continues with a look at two famous fellows who loved the place.  Famed author Ernest Hemingway lived many years in Key West, and President Harry S. Truman set up a White House in this charming Florida town.  Both made friends with the locals and enjoyed the leisurely, warm and inviting life the climate and temperament offer. Descendants of Hemingway's famed six-toed cats  roam the place as privileged, pampered pets. Truman's beloved vacation home gives insight into why he loved Key West.  Both homes are interesting museums. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us each week for a fresh look at travel, nature, family, the arts: www.whereiscookie.com