Category Archives: Lodging

Orange Hill Beach Inn and Orange Hill Beach

Orange Hill Beach Inn (Note: the rainbow isn’t always present.)

Patrick leaves lodging up to me. I’ve got a decent track record for finding interesting places to stay – everything from friends of friends to boats to a hostel devoted to Gram Parsons. My criteria are this: I like to stay local (no chains if I can help it), I need coffee in the morning, so a kitchenette or at least coffee maker, and location. Once I get there, copious hot water, a view, the proprietors, and the ability to open the windows or a door pretty much seal the deal. (I hate hermetically sealed rooms.) The Orange Hill Beach Inn offered all of that and a wild octopus.

Orange Hill Beach

When we started to plan the trip, I looked at airfares (frequent flier points largely cover those), car rental (ouch), and hotels with kitchenettes. Most places were outside of our price range, but one caught my eye: Orange Hill Beach Inn. The website touted a pool, an honor bar, and there were cottages across the road from the ocean. I called and spoke to someone there about rates and availability. I also checked Trip Advisor and Google reviews. The positive reviews mentioned the beach, staff, and rooms, and the negative reviews served to reinforce our decision to book. The negative reviews mentioned bugs, stray hairs, cats, and, in my opinion, unrealistic expectations. In other words, it sounded perfect for us and like the negative reviews would deter entitled assholes.

View from inside the cottage, balcony and beach beyond

One of my great joys in life is watching Patrick’s reaction once we reach our destination. We walked in the front door and he said, “How do you find these places?!” The room was octagonal, with French doors leading to a small balcony overlooking the ocean across the street. The kitchenette was perfect for our needs and we cooked most of our meals at the room. The water pressure and temperature were damned near perfect. It was a relief to have only a few TV channels, and the wifi was stronger than expected.

Cottage
Cottage balcony; coffee tastes best here
There are like three things in the freezer. This does not deter him from standing like this, over and over again, hoping the freezer fairy visited.
Resting mid-day watching bad horror movies.

We opened and closed the balcony doors with the rhythm of the day. In the morning, it was nice to have them open and listen to the bird song. Mid-day, when the sun was blazing and we needed a break, the AC came on. In the evening, after mosquito hour passed, we opened them again and could hear insects and frogs signing. Tree frogs, anoles, a young green heron, and cicadas surrounded us, as did smooth-billed anis. I noticed ants outside, but few inside; once I spotted the house geckos I knew why. I also spotted a brown racer on the property. If you are a traveler afraid of the natural world these things might freak you out. I have no doubt that the hotels on Paradise Island go through copious amounts of bug spray and noxious cleaning agents. However, I would point out that chemical pesticides are far more dangerous than wee lizards and a few bugs. I was on a tropical island; I expected (hoped) native wildlife to be part of the experience.

Cicada
Anole
House gecko protecting ramen
Tree frog

We largely kept to ourselves the first few days, keen to adventure around the island. Our next-to-last night, we ventured over to the pool, where a family from Texas, a family from the UK, and two of the hotel staff were engaged in a trivia game. Before we knew what happened, we too were shouting out answers. “Are You Being Served?” is always a good answer.

Playing a trivia game with the other guests that had few discernible rules and involved swimming.

The next night, our last night, was Patrick’s birthday. We had planned to head back to the pool, but it was a stormy afternoon and we ended up hanging out with one of the hotel employees, Dave, as well as the owner’s son (who is Garnet’s age), and another kid who was visiting him. We enjoyed Watling’s rum while they built a water balloon cannon out of PVC pipe and a bicycle pump.

Orange Hill Beach
Orange Hill Beach

At some point, Dave asked if I had seen the octopus yet. My response was almost cartoonish. Seeing an octopus in the wild has been a perpetual goal for well over a decade.

Grounds and WPT at Orange Hill Beach Inn

Dave directed me to the third rock from the left, just offshore in front of the hotel. Look for the large red sea urchin, and then look up to spot the octopus’s hole. He also said to look for crab detritus, that they are messy housekeepers. While these directions seemed vague and distinctly Bahamian, by that point in our trip, I knew exactly where he meant. We had spent hours swimming and snorkeling across the street at Orange Hill Beach. I remembered seeing the small patch reef area of three rocks.

This is often everything I travel for

Orange Hill Beach was even better than the pictures on the hotel website. The sunsets were lovely and most of the time the beach was empty. It also offered decent beachcombing. The water was warm and the visibility was great. Most of what I saw snorkeling were young fish, starfish, lobsters, corals, and sea urchins. I could see a reef line farther out from shore, but I didn’t want to risk being so far out and getting run over by a jet ski.

Starfish
Beachcombing, lots of sea glass

On our final morning, we walked over and I went straight for the three rocks. I was so hoping that I would finally get to see an octopus in the wild, but also realistic enough to know that I had been looking for one for well over a decade. I found the third rock. I found the sea urchin. And then I found the octopus. I was so excited I started making honking noises with my snorkel. I spent about 15-20 minutes circling the octopus rock. He watched me and I watched him. I could see why I didn’t notice him before. He camouflaged himself perfectly and added some rocks near his entrance that looked just like him. I was giddy.

Octopus and young sergeant majors

I would have given Orange Hill Beach Inn a five-star rating based on my own quirky criteria, but with the octopus factored in, they now rank in my top 10 of lodgings.

Lounge area
Cottage and rental car
Honor bar
Orange Hill Beach Inn
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The Outer Banks in the Off-Season

The reason our anniversary trip is in January is rooted in economics. When Patrick and I decided to take our first trip money and time off from work were major hurdles to travel. We decided to take advantage of MLK Day, as well as off-season lodging and airfare. In the intervening years we learned to go warm places in January, which were more expensive, but they were warm and that was all that mattered. Last year we blew our travel savings on a trip to Ireland, which while off-season was still expensive. We also moved, so between the two things we went back to our roots and looked for a cheap trip we could take over MLK Day weekend.

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We opted for a simple road trip. Going north would be colder, so we decided to go south. We hadn’t been to the Outer Banks together in well over a decade. It would be cheap in the off-season, slightly warmer, and the ocean is there, so the decision was made.

There is something to be said for the hearty souls who pronounce “open all year.” For them we are grateful. I do think that traveling in the off-season gives you a chance to experience the place and the local culture in a way that those who arrive and depart the high season would never dream of.

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Lodging: In an effort to keep the progeny entertained and fed, as well as ourselves, we looked for local lodgings that had an indoor pool, kitchen, and a view. We found a place that offered all that for a relatively modest sum in the Outer Banks Beach Club Resort. It was cold and blowing much of the time, but we enjoyed DVDs we brought, enjoyable meals, a view of sunrise over the ocean, and a hot tub.

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Meals: We cooked most of our meals at the hotel (resort?), but we managed two very memorable meals at two local spots – The Thai Room and Outer Banks Taco Bar. After a long day adventuring in Ocracoke (post forthcoming), we drove straight to the The Thai Room. The service was superb, even after they realized we were not another similar family with the exact same eating habits. Garnet enjoyed the fried tofu so much that he got an order to go. They have many vegetarian options and understand that hot means hot.

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On our final day, we waited around Kitty Hawk until The Outer Banks Taco Bar opened. This ranks up there with the best decisions I’ve made in life. We ordered a round of appetizers and the fried tostones were so good that I would have just sat and eaten those until the end of time. Patrick and I polished off the tostones, while Garnet finished the chips and salsa. The homemade corn tortillas were the best I have ever eaten. Seriously. If you can get rice and beans right, you are doing it right, but the tortillas put it over the edge. I sat there wondering of this is what a goldfish thinks as it eats itself to death? I just wish we had eaten there earlier in the trip so I could have had more tostones. TOSTONES!

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Entertainment: Driving into Nags Head Woods, the temperature was well below freezing with a bit of a wind. That said, I mused as I looked at the swamps if the bugs would be worse than the cold. And I like bugs. I wanted the ponds to be full of frogs and turtles, but the frost and winter light were beautiful in their own right. If you can enjoy this kind of place in the dead of winter, there is no excuse from missing it in spring when the world is alive.

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Jan2016-VA-NC-0621During the storm that blew in on our second day, we hit the local bookstore before returning to the room to hunker down. Island Books has three locations, but we hit up Kitty Hawk. Patrick found the new Derf Backderf, Garnet found a Star Wars book, and I found an ARC and gift for a friend. A good selection all the way around.

Elizabethan Gardens is a 10.5 acre public garden located within Fort Raleigh National Historic Site in Manteo, NC. The gardens are lovely by day, but at night in the winter they come alive with lights, music, and even movies. We wandered around in the dark and came across a campfire and old holiday cartoons being projected. The holiday lights were extended due to inclement weather, but that meant we were able to enjoy them into late January.

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While June would offer endless shopping and all sorts of beach-going, there is something about traveling to a shore town in winter. You have to want to be there. There is an appreciation for place that isn’t there when it is an easy landscape. And the year-round shops and restaurants are locals who want you there. Consider some off-season travel and avoid the maddening crowds.

Thank God We’re Surrounded by Water

Clontarf Castle
Clontarf Castle

Davida and I first crossed paths with Bram Stoker in January 2000, on the moors of North Yorkshire. With daylight bleeding out and many miles till Edinburgh, we arbitrarily decided to seek lodging in a brooding little waterfront town on the North Sea.

It was by chance, for us, that Whitby bears the literary distinction of being the point at which Stoker deposited his greatest creation, Count Dracula, on Albion shores. Although I had read Dracula, it had been many years since, and I had no recollection of the town or its role in the novel. However, this connection, we soon learned, has made Whitby, with its lurid tourist draws and ruined cliff-top abbey overlooking the sea, the Coney Island of goth culture that it is today.

We still travel this way – every January, often spending the night wherever the day has taken us. Ireland in the off-season, we figured, would be no exception. In fact, when planning our January 2015 road trip of the Emerald Isle, we had booked lodging for only one of our seven nights – the first, not far from Dublin Airport.

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Clontarf Castle

 

Online, Clontarf Castle had appeared a bit more upscale than our usual digs, but we figured some comfortable sprawling room might be in order following a full day and night of travel; plus, our son would enjoy the prospect of spending his first night abroad in a castle.

Clontarf Castle
Clontarf Castle

Now an affluent suburb on the north side of Dublin, Clontarf was, a thousand years ago, the site of an epic battle that in the annals of Irish history commands a hallowed status comparable to that of, say, Gettysburg for Americans. It was here, in 1014, that Irish Ard Ri (or high king) Brian Boru defeated a joint force of Viking marauders and contentious Irish factions from the kingdoms of Dublin and Leinster. Nearly every commander on all sides , including Brian, died that April 23 – Good Friday – but the bloody Battle of Clontarf effectively ended 200 years of Viking raids in Ireland. Unfortunately, with Brian’s death, it also spelled the end of the fragile alliance between various Irish clans that he had spent a lifetime crafting, setting the stage for socio-political unrest that would pave the way for invading Normans in 1169.

Battle of Clontarf
Battle of Clontarf

In the 1960s, songwriter Dominic Behan (brother of author and playwright Brendan Behan) poetically summarized the Battle of Clontarf in his oft-covered tune, “The Sea Around Us”:

The Danes came to Ireland with nothin’ to do
But dream of the plundered old Irish they slew
“Yeh will in your Vikings,” says Brian Boru
As he pushed them back into the ocean

Those combatants would recognize nothing of Clontarf today…save, perhaps, for nearby Dublin Bay. However, the extant Clontarf Castle, which dates (only) to the 19th century, might be a familiar sight for the area’s most renowned native son – one Abraham Stoker, born here in 1847, at the height of the Great Famine. Fifty years later, Stoker would turn loose upon the world one of the most enduring icons of gothic horror with the publication of his magnum opus, Dracula.

Bram Stoker's childhood home
Bram Stoker’s childhood home

While I knew Bram Stoker was Irish by birth, I could not have told you his particular place of origin – that was, until Clontarf, where, to our mutual astonishment, we once again found ourselves in his presence. Fifteen years and who-know-how-many-thousands-of-miles had found us on the very grounds of the ruined church in which he had been baptized, and but a short walk from his birthplace. Indeed, it was enough to render the most rational mind superstitious.

But that could be said for much of Ireland – and this was only the beginning…

Carlton Arms Hotel

Carlton Arms Hotel, lobby
Carlton Arms Hotel, lobby

There is a wonderful, dare I say, magical hotel in NYC. It is an artist’s dream, a child’s fantasy, and a budget traveler’s deepest desire. I speak of the Carlton Arms Hotel.

Carlton Arms Hotel, The Heart Chamber, Room B9
Carlton Arms Hotel, The Heart Chamber, Room B9

The hotel is eccentric and has quite a history, but as a traveler I love that about it. Every room is painted (or sculpted) differently and nothing is plumb (it is a 100+ year-old building). Located at 25th and 3rd, there is a pedestrian area right outside the hotel with tables. It is within walking distance to a ton of stuff, including a fantastic all-veg Indian restaurant a few blocks away. There are also at least two hotel cats, which is always a plus in my book. Based on personal observation it seems to be popular with international travelers.

Carlton Arms Hotel
Carlton Arms Hotel

When I made the reservations, I didn’t specify which room I wanted (you can see them online), I just let them know we had two adults and a child and wanted a room with a private bath. For $150, we got just that AND we got the best room ever. As with all of their rooms, the art is amazing, but this room offers a scavenger hunt. It starts on the wall and leads you to the dresser drawer with another clue, a hidden drawers and notes, and eventually a hidden compartment in the floor with a box. Inside the box are notes and mementos from previous guests. As an adult I thought this was cool; for a child, the scavenger hunt made the Carlton Arms Hotel (and his first real trip to NYC) nothing short of magical.

Carlton Arms Hotel, The Heart Chamber, Room B9
Carlton Arms Hotel, The Heart Chamber, Room B9
Carlton Arms Hotel, The Heart Chamber, Scavenger Hunt
Carlton Arms Hotel, The Heart Chamber, Scavenger Hunt
Carlton Arms Hotel, The Heart Chamber, Scavenger Hunt
Carlton Arms Hotel, The Heart Chamber, Scavenger Hunt
Carlton Arms Hotel, The Heart Chamber, Scavenger Hunt
Carlton Arms Hotel, The Heart Chamber, Scavenger Hunt
Carlton Arms Hotel, The Heart Chamber, Scavenger Hunt
Carlton Arms Hotel, The Heart Chamber, Scavenger Hunt
Carlton Arms Hotel, The Heart Chamber, Scavenger Hunt
Carlton Arms Hotel, The Heart Chamber, Scavenger Hunt

 

Carlton Arms Hotel
160 East 25th Street, New York, N Y, 10010
Phone:  212-679-0680; 212-684-8337
Website: http://www.carltonarms.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Carlton-Arms-Hotel/180074818707159
Email: artbreakhotel@aol.com

WPT, at Carlton Arms Hotel
WPT, at Carlton Arms Hotel
Carlton Arms Hotel, The Heart Chamber, Room B9
Carlton Arms Hotel, The Heart Chamber, Room B9
Carlton Arms Hotel, The Heart Chamber, Room B9
Carlton Arms Hotel, The Heart Chamber, Room B9
Carlton Arms Hotel, The Heart Chamber, Room B9
Carlton Arms Hotel, The Heart Chamber, Room B9

Boston B&B on a Boat

 

Boston Harbor, Liberty Clipper
Boston Harbor, Liberty Clipper

Anyone accustomed to traveling on business is familiar with the cash cow that the work conference circuit is for the hospitality industry, which commands top dollar for everything from wifi to dessert. Bearing that in mind when she was called to Boston for a three-day conference in late June 2013, Davida began researching more economical alternatives rather than spend her annual travel budget all in one place.

Liberty Clipper, Boston Harbor
Liberty Clipper, Boston Harbor

With my own annual conference out of the way, I planned to take a few days off to accompany her. Knowing my love for all things nautical, it was with great enthusiasm that Davida emailed me to ask if I’d be interested in taking a cruise one evening aboard a schooner she discovered during her online digging.

Sailing in Boston Harbor, Liberty Clipper
Sailing in Boston Harbor, Liberty Clipper

“Absolutely,” I replied.

She emailed me again two minutes later: “How would you like to stay aboard the schooner?”

“Hell yes!” I exclaimed, and with that she promptly booked us for two nights aboard the 125-foot Liberty Clipper.

Boston Harbor, Liberty Clipper
Boston Harbor, Liberty Clipper

At $130 a night (with less expensive options available), the deluxe cabin cost roughly one-third the price of a room at the conference hotel. Better still was the fact that, whereas the latter is situated in a stretch of reclaimed industrial waterfront a mile or two south of downtown, the Liberty docks at Long Wharf, well within walking distance of downtown attractions like Faneuil Hall and the Old North Church. Granted, this made getting to and from the conference more of a chore, but the ambiance of staying aboard a working schooner moored inside Boston Harbor more than made up for it.

Sailing in Boston Harbor, Liberty Clipper
Sailing in Boston Harbor, Liberty Clipper

Both of us being on the shorter side in height, the cabin (which included a two-person top bunk) proved an ideal fit for our compact frames. We also took advantage of the 30 percent discount on any cruise offered to anyone staying aboard.

WPT at home on the Liberty Clipper
WPT at home on the Liberty Clipper

Mind you, such accommodations are not without challenges, starting with the fact that your room effectively disappears for several hours each day (the dockside office will gladly hold any belongings you might want to access during that time). Also, with features like a common head (bathroom) and shower, the operation more closely resembles a hostel than a hotel.

Sailing in Boston Harbor, Liberty Clipper
Sailing in Boston Harbor, Liberty Clipper

While such arrangements should be carefully considered when planning a trip, especially if traveling on business, the experience will prove both memorable and affordable for the more adventurous traveler. And be sure to call ahead, as Liberty heads south every winter, to ply her trade in the Caribbean.

Sailing in Boston Harbor, Liberty Clipper
Sailing in Boston Harbor, Liberty Clipper

The Liberty Fleet of Tall Ships
Address: 67 Long Wharf, Boston, MA 02110
Phone: (617) 742-0333
Website: www.libertyfleet.com
Email: liberty@libertyfleet.com
Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/pages/Schooner-Liberty-Clipper/128590424883?fref=ts

Sailing in Boston Harbor, Liberty Clipper
Sailing in Boston Harbor, Liberty Clipper