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A First-Timer's Guide to St. Augustine, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep

A First-Timer's Guide to St. Augustine, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com

Over its 450 years of existence, St. Augustine has had to reinvent itself many times to stay relevant and to continue thriving. The modern day city is no exception, and St. Augustine has found new life in reworked classic attractions, daring chefs, and upfitted shops and streets. It might have plenty of history, but St. Augustine, Florida, is anything but old and stuffy!

Where to Stay

Since I'm a huge proponent of staying at locally owned accommodations, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the city's 25 bed and breakfasts within the historic district. The St. Francis Inn, where I stayed during my most recent visit, dates to the 1790s, and is located at the intersection of St. George and St. Francis Streets [read my review here]. The Hemingway House (just a block off of the bay) and the Inn on Charlotte (which dates from the early 1900s) are popular and well-situated.

A First-Timer's Guide to St. Augustine, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
Lobby of the St. Francis Inn

Other popular places to stay include the recently built Hilton Bayfront Hotel, which overlooks the Mantanzas Bay, and the Casa Monica, a hotel from the Flagler era of St. Augustine, and upfitted in a beautiful neo-Moroccan style.

Booking.com


What to Eat

So. Much. Good. Food. Come with an empty stomach because you're going to find plenty of places that will tempt your taste buds!

A First-Timer's Guide to St. Augustine, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
Tapas at Taberna del Caballo


  • Johnny's Oyster Bar: fresh seafood, overlooks the bay
  • The Raintree: upscale food in a romantic setting. A St. Augustine staple!
  • O.C. White's: casual vibe, live music, amazing options from seafood to pasta, great drink menu
  • Taberna del Caballo: Spanish tapas and cocktails in the heart of the historic district
  • Hot Shot Bakery and Cafe: to-die-for breakfasts and paninis, home of the chocolate datil pepper challenge!
  • Hyppo: gourmet popsicles in over 450 unique flavors
  • Claude's Chocolate: handmade chocolates and sweets
  • Ancient Olive: not a restaurant, per se, but an olive oil and vinegar shop filled with unusual flavors and varieties
  • A1A Ale Works: craft beers served with Floribbean dishes, great location near the Bridge of Lions
  • Vino del Grotto: unique wines, and wine smoothies to go
  • Cafe Alcazar: Greek-American food in an unusual location (the deep end of the Hotel Alcazar's former pool!)
  • St. Augustine Distillery: tours of the facility and free samples of their gin and vodka

For a more in-depth opinion on many of these restaurants, check out my guide to eating your way through St. Augustine.

A First-Timer's Guide to St. Augustine, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
Beef Wellington at The Raintree


What to See

This section would be much easier for me to write if I just entitled it "What not to see" (a list that would include practically nothing since St. Augustine is so awesome!). But that's not exactly compelling travel writing, so let's talk about some of the can't-miss sites in this beautiful city.

Castillo de San Marco has been a staple of the St. Augustine attractions for as long as I can remember. In fact, taking a guided tour of the Spanish fort is one of my earliest memories of visiting the city. Allot at least half a day to full explore the fort, and make sure to take one of the ranger-guided tours. Catch one of the re-enactments for a taste of life in the fort!

A First-Timer's Guide to St. Augustine, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com


Other classic, been-there-forever attractions include Ponce de Leon's Fountain of Youth (which really has no historical basis for Ponce's famed water, but it's still fun), the world's first Ripley's Believe it or Not, and the Old Jail (where Martine Luther King was held after his arrest in 1964).

Just across the street from Castillo de San Marcos is the St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum, a pet project of Pat Croce, television personality, author, and former Philadelphia 76ers basketball team president. With pieces from his own personal collection and extensive research throughout, the museum is focused on education--and is far less hokey than you'd expect.

A First-Timer's Guide to St. Augustine, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
Artifacts in the Pirate Museum


The shops and restaurants along the pedestrian-only St. George Street are at the heart of the historic district. Check out the Colonial Quarter to walk through 400 years of St. Augustine history--you won't be disappointed with the amazingly talented (and thoroughly amusing) tour guides who will have you enthralled to learn about the diverse history of the city.

A First-Timer's Guide to St. Augustine, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
The thoroughly entertaining Colonial Quarter guide, Mr. Grimm, at the artillery demonstration


Head over to the quiet Aviles Street to browse through art galleries and cute boutique shops, or sip your coffee at one of the sidewalk cafes. The Ximenez-Fatio House Museum is down this road, and is a great place to learn more about the entrepreneurial women who helped create 19th century St. Augustine.

A First-Timer's Guide to St. Augustine, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
Aviles Street: supposedly America's oldest street!


It might be an institution of higher learning now, but a guided tour of Flagler College allows you to walk through the building that helped define St. Augustine's golden period under Henry Flagler. You'll see the opulent ladies' room, the stunning Tiffany windows in the dining hall, and the incredible details that Flagler put everywhere in his hotel. These tours are run by students and all proceeds go back to help the ongoing preservation efforts of the property.

A First-Timer's Guide to St. Augustine, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
The former Ponce de Leon hotel, now the women's dormitory at Flagler College


The nearby Lightner Museum was also a Henry Flagler hotel and now houses an eclectic collection of antique housewares, costumes, and home furnishings.

While a walking tour is a great way to see the city, you might want to check out the two tram companies: Old Town Trolley Tours (the green and orange trams) and the Red Train Tours (the red ones, obviously). Both zig zag all over the historic district and include running commentary to help you with your local history.

Another great way to see the city is through a boat tour: with an emphasis on environmental protection and education, the staff at St. Augustine EcoTours goes out of their way to make each boat tour more than a trip around Mantanzas Bay. All proceeds from EcoTour go back into the preservation of St. Augustine's waterways and a joint research venture with Flagler College.


What to Know



  • Parking is extremely hard to come by in the historic district. The city recently put up a parking garage near the Visitors' Center to help alleviate some of the parking woes. Look for the well-marked signs pointing you to the Visitors' Center and the garage as you enter St. Augustine. 
  • September 2015 marks the city's 450th anniversary of continual habitation, a milestone that makes it an older city than both Jamestown, Virginia, and Plymouth, Massachusetts (which were founded earlier, but have not had people living there continuously). While the biggest events--including potential visits by both Pope Benedict and the Spanish royal family--are in September, St. Augustine is celebrating throughout the year with concerts, a special exhibit in the Visitors' Center, and tours. 
  • Be prepared to walk. While historic St. Augustine isn't a huge area to cover, you'll still want to strap on your best walking shoes to get the most out of the city. Because of the parking issue and the many pedestrian-only areas, your best bet for navigating the city and its attractions quickly and easily is to hoof it. 
  • The least crowded times to visit the city are in early fall (after school takes back in) and early spring (late January and February). If you plan your trip during these times, you'll have more of the attractions to yourself and you don't have to traipse around in the sweltering heat of the most popular months: July and August. 
A First-Timer's Guide to St. Augustine, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com

Have you visited St. Augustine? What are you favorite places to see? Where is your one can't-miss restaurant?

If you liked this guide, you'll love my other first-timer's guides! Check out the guides to other cities by clicking on each image:
First-Timer Travel Guides First-Timer's Guide to St. Augustine, Florida First-Timer's Guide to Savannah, Georgia First-Timer's Guide to St. Pete Beach, Florida First-Timer's Guide to Charleston, South Carolina
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Edisto Island Serpentarium, South Carolina

Edisto Serpentarium, Edisto Island, South Carolina | CosmosMariners.com

Just after I'd gotten back from St. Augustine, Florida, I repacked my suitcase and headed to Edisto Island, South Carolina, for a week with my husband and his side of the family. It's a tradition to spend a week at the beach there, relaxing and catching up with everyone. While Edisto has a fairly quiet beach and beautiful sunsets, there are some hidden surprises tucked amongst the huge live oak trees--one of which is the Edisto Serpentarium.

Unlike other beach locales (I'm looking at you, Myrtle Beach), Edisto Island is completely devoid of Ripley's Believe or Not museums, Medieval Times restaurants, and neon lights. The fact that there's a reptile exhibit at all on this out-of-the-way stretch of Carolina coast is surprising on its own. But what's even more unexpected is how well done the Serpentarium is.

I imagine that it might be easy to cobble together a few glass aquariums, stock them with snakes you bought online, and charge admission. This is not the approach that the Edisto Serpentarium took, and thank goodness for that.

While admission is higher than you'd expect ($14.95 for adults, $13.95 for seniors, $10.95 for kids 4-12, and free under 3), this mini-zoo is well worth a few hours of your vacation time. As someone who suffers severely from ophidiophobia--the fear of snakes--my recommendation to visit this place does not come lightly.

In fact, the first time that I visited was back when I was still teaching at a homeschool program; the other teacher and I brought our four students to the Serpentarium as a part of their back-to-school fun day. I thought I was going to die when the kids told me where I wanted to go, but I decided to just deal with it for their sakes. They were so excited to go, and I wasn't going to stand in their way! On that trip, more than four years ago, I was blown away at the large collection of snakes, the obvious respect that the owners have for their animals, and the ease of learning about each reptile resident.

Because of that trip, I knew that I wanted to bring my daughter back once she was old enough to interact with the experience. This year, at a lively and inquisitive two years of age, Britton was ready, so the three of us headed out one morning.

As soon as we stepped into the indoor exhibit, Britton (and my husband, who'd also never been) was transfixed. We talk to her a lot about snakes and safety since we live in a part of South Carolina where cottonmouths (water moccasins), timber rattlers (canebrake rattlesnakes), and copperheads are common--so we thought that this would be another way for her to learn more about these creatures while seeing them in a safe environment.

The indoor area has glass exhibits ringing the wall, and you can see and learn about everything from an albino alligator to a python to a pygmy rattlesnake. Each reptile is placed in an exhibit that showcases where you might find the animal in nature, and you can tell that plenty of research has gone into the details.

Edisto Serpentarium, Edisto Island, South Carolina | CosmosMariners.com


Then, in the middle of the indoor space is a sunken garden, where you can see dozens of constrictors as they swim, crawl up trees, and hide in stumps. Landon and I were amazed at how well they could camouflage themselves: the longer we looked in the garden, the more snakes we saw!

Edisto Serpentarium, Edisto Island, South Carolina | CosmosMariners.com

We headed outdoors into the swampy South Carolina June morning (we had to visit during a record-setting heat wave) to explore the large exhibits out there. We started with the non-venomous snake area, where the residents were quite active. We spotted several black racers in there, which we've also seen on our property back home.

Edisto Serpentarium, Edisto Island, South Carolina | CosmosMariners.com

It was almost time for the noon alligator talk, so we found a shady spot where we could safely watch the alligators from a distance. They look large in the water, but they look positively gigantic when they're moving around on the ground!

Edisto Serpentarium, Edisto Island, South Carolina | CosmosMariners.com

After the alligator talk, we took Britton to the venomous snake exhibit. While these snakes were plentiful in their sunken arena, they were far more languid than their non-venomous counterparts. Since they were just kind of hanging out, we looked at them, got the heebie-jeebies, and headed over to see the turtles. There are some huge alligator turtles near the new king cobra exhibit, and you can buy some turtle feed if you're interested in helping them grow even more.

On the other side of the outdoor area, there are even more turtles, where you can see two examples of the world's largest land turtles: the African Spur-Thigh Tortoises. Right next to them is a whole collection of your favorite hard-shelled reptiles: box turtles, snapping turtles, and terrapins are among the offerings.

Edisto Serpentarium, Edisto Island, South Carolina | CosmosMariners.com

We completed our visit with the live snake handling demonstration at 1:00 p.m. (there are usually several throughout the day). Here, a herpetologist teaches the audience about six different kinds of snakes while carefully handling each. From the docile and non-venomous rat snake to the terrifying timber rattler, the snakes shown are mostly found around South Carolina, and there is an emphasis on respect and safety throughout.

Edisto Serpentarium, Edisto Island, South Carolina | CosmosMariners.com

The herpetologist who ran our program was approachable, conversational, and calm, and did a great job at talking to both the parents and the kids in the audience. There was even a photo opp at the end with a ball python!

Edisto Serpentarium, Edisto Island, South Carolina | CosmosMariners.com

The Serpentarium was opened in 1999 by two local brothers who had a lifelong interest in herpetology. As we walked through the exhibits, I could see that passion in the attention to detail. The next time you're in the area, make sure to block off time to visit: the beach can wait a few hours! It's also a convenient drive from downtown Charleston (about 40 minutes) and would make a great day trip from the city.

Would you be interested in visiting a reptile-focused exhibit like this one? Have you visited Edisto Island?
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Labadee, Haiti: Royal Caribbean's Private Caribbean Island

The first stop on our fifth anniversary cruise, Labadee, Haiti, didn't begin with a lot of promise.

After a medical emergency with one of the fellow passengers caused us to return to Cape Canaveral several hours after we'd set sail. Because of that, the captain had to make up 10 hours of lost sailing time during our first day at sea. Since we were so behind on our schedule, we'd been told that we were losing all but 5 hours on Labadee.

Labadee, Haiti: Royal Caribbean's Private Caribbean Island | CosmosMariners.com


And on top of that, we'd heard from a few people back home (and from a bunch of internet reviews) that Labadee was dirty and not even worth getting off the boat to see.

Labadee, Haiti: Royal Caribbean's Private Caribbean Island | CosmosMariners.com


Since we didn't have any shore excursions, we debated about whether we were even going to wander around on the island.

After shaking off the lazy, we headed down into Labadee. And I'm so glad that we did.

Labadee, Haiti: Royal Caribbean's Private Caribbean Island | CosmosMariners.com


Once we'd made it past the front gate, we meandered along the path nearest the coast while several local steel drum bands brought the sounds of the tropics to us.

Labadee, Haiti: Royal Caribbean's Private Caribbean Island | CosmosMariners.com


About halfway to the main beach area, we heard a young man with a megaphone talking about a cultural show. My ears perked up immediately, and our trajectory changed so we could locate the ampitheatre.

Once we found it, a very friendly young Haitian led us around to the back of the ampitheatre where there were some picnic tables in the shade. Landon almost immediately left again to find something to drink since it was so warm out there. I made friends with two women from Iowa who were also waiting for the show to start.

After 15 minutes, Landon finally showed back up--he'd found something to drink, but he'd learned the hard way that the Haitian vendors were very aggressive. A vendor led him to the drinks area, but then pressured him into purchasing two bracelets for his services. (I absolutely adore the bracelets, so the hard sell tactics ended up being worth the hassle.)

Just after he came back to the ampitheatre, the show started. It was a pretty casual affair with a live band (mostly trumpets with a drummer and a singer), a dance troupe, and a few gymnasts. Even though there was a fairly small audience (20 people or so), the MC was quite lively and kept all of us excited about each act.

Labadee, Haiti: Royal Caribbean's Private Caribbean Island | CosmosMariners.com


It was so fun to see the cultural dances performed by the dance troupe--their colorful costumes and enthusiastic attitude for their art was contagious, and the audience was clapping along in no time.

After the dance troupe had their time on stage, three gymnasts came up. They were awesome! Unlike an American performance, they didn't have any floor pads or safety equipment, but that didn't stop them from bouncing all over the place. Their accuracy and flexibility made me feel completely lazy for sitting back and watching them.

Labadee, Haiti: Royal Caribbean's Private Caribbean Island | CosmosMariners.com


For the rest of the time on the island, we grabbed lunch at the Royal Caribbean buffet area, then hung out by the beach for a while.

Labadee, Haiti: Royal Caribbean's Private Caribbean Island | CosmosMariners.com


We loved the fact that the ship was docked onsite so we didn't have to wait for a tender boat when we were ready to head back in for the day.

Labadee, Haiti: Royal Caribbean's Private Caribbean Island | CosmosMariners.com

We might have only had a few hours on the island, but I'm so glad that we decided to experience Labadee for ourselves and not listen to the naysayers! It just goes to show that travel--and each destination--is an incredibly personal experience. Always try things out for yourself!

Labadee, Haiti: Royal Caribbean's Private Caribbean Island | CosmosMariners.com


Know before you go:

  • Be prepared to haggle if you decide to purchase from the local vendors or artists. Of all of our stops, the Haitian vendors were the most aggressive and really pushed for a sell. Be firm, know your final price, and be prepared to walk away if they don't bargain with you. 
  • If you attend the cultural show, it is free. However, they will pass around a box for tips after both the dance routines and the gymnastics routine. If you enjoyed both acts, divide your money and give both times. 
  • There are lots of activities to do on Labadee, but most (in my opinion) are seriously overpriced. There's a really long zipline for $100 per person, and a rollercoaster for $30 per person per ride. You can also take your kids on a bouncy inflatable area. From others we talked to on the boat, the rollercoaster and the bouncy area weren't worth the money. We heard that the zipline was great, but I'm far too cheap to pay that much money for 25 seconds on a ride. Hang out by the beach, listen to the bands, and go to the cultural show for an inexpensive way to experience Labadee.
Have you been to Labadee? What's been your favorite port of call on the cruises you've experienced?
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Eating Your Way Through St. Augustine, Florida

Eating Your Way Through St. Augustine, Florida | CosmosMariners.com

St. Augustine, Florida, is well-known for its vast array of historical offerings and beautiful beaches. What most people don't know is that the city has some incredible culinary options. While you're in town, explore these local favorites and discover the tasty side of St. Augustine!

Cozumel, Mexico: Paradise, Shopping, and Some Crazy Good Guacamole

Cozumel, Mexico: Paradise, Shopping, and Some Crazy Good Guacamole | CosmosMariners.com

After climbing a waterfall and exploring a cave system in Jamaica, and snorkeling in the clear blue waters off Grand Cayman, Landon and I were ready to relax when we reached our last port of call on our Western Caribbean cruise: Cozumel, Mexico.

Since we had an entire day ahead of us at the port with nothing to do but wander, we decided to just get off of the ship and see where we ended up. The area between the cruise pier and the downtown area is safe for visitors, so Landon and I laced up our walking shoes and headed out into the sunshine.

We'd been told conflicting information about the distance between the pier and the downtown area: one map said it was 1.5 miles, while another said it was 3. We figured that we were young and healthy and would be able to make the trek regardless of whether it was 1.5 or 3 miles. Plus, we're really cheap, and we didn't want to spend the $8-$10 on a taxi ride (one-way) when there were sights to see on foot. If you choose to walk, know that the distance is just over 2.5 miles. There are nicely constructed sidewalks on both sides, but there are parts of the walk that aren't covered at all. Take plenty of water!

On the way to the downtown area, we were stunned by the gorgeous blue water that hugged the left side of the Avenida General Rafael Melgar--and were extremely pleased that we'd skipped the taxi ride. There was plenty to see along the way: hotels, beach bars, scuba centers, and even an iguana or two.

Cozumel, Mexico: Paradise, Shopping, and Some Crazy Good Guacamole | CosmosMariners.com


By the time we spotted the SeƱor Frog's (not our destination, as that's not really my scene), I was getting hot and sweaty, as the temperatures were quickly climbing into the lower 90s and the last bit of the walk hadn't been covered with trees. Landon and I ducked into the Plaza Punta Langosta and grabbed some water from the small farmacia there.

After we'd cooled down for a bit, we decided to wander through the shops--and we began to learn what shopping in Cozumel was like. The vendors weren't pushy, exactly (I've been harassed far more in other places on my travels), but they wanted to make sure that you knew they were there.

It's not uncommon to have the shop attendants or owners sit outside their place of business and call to you as you walk past: "Great sale today!" or "Can I show you _________?" A firm "no, thank you"or "no, gracias" given without breaking stride ends the conversation (though you're sure to have been spotted by another shop owner just down the way!). My favorite call was after we'd come out of one store: another shop keeper was sure to call to us, "My turn now!" as if it were a game and we were breaking the rules.

Cozumel, Mexico: Paradise, Shopping, and Some Crazy Good Guacamole | CosmosMariners.com


We also discovered that haggling is alive and well in Cozumel, even in the brick-and-mortar shops. We went into one place to look at an embroidered dress for our toddler, and the shop assistant quoted us $25 for one. We weren't looking to spend that much, so we offered her $15, and she countered with $45 for two of them. That was still too much for us, and we left the shop. She must have told the owner that we were serious about buying the dress, so she called out to us as we were leaving the alleyway. We decided to go back and Landon haggled (in Spanish! I was super proud of him) the owner down to $30 for two hand embroidered dresses. When you're haggling, be firm in what you want and be prepared to walk away if you're not getting the price you want. If the seller is serious, he or she will work with you.

We browsed all over the downtown area, collecting a few other souvenirs along the way. By 2 p.m., we were both tired and hot (as the temperatures had settled in the mid-90s and the sky was cloudless), so we began the trek home.

I need to learn my limits, as I was hungry, overheated, and tired--but I kept pushing onward even after Landon asked if I wanted to stop and rest or get a taxi. I ended up completely shutting down and sitting in the shade for several minutes before I was able to get back up and walk.

Landon, being the awesome husband that he is, knows that a hangry/tired/overheated Natalie is a grumpy Natalie began looking for a place for us to grab a bite to eat. He settled on La Hach, which is this cute little place just off the Avenida.

Cozumel, Mexico: Paradise, Shopping, and Some Crazy Good Guacamole | CosmosMariners.com


We settled into a few chairs out on the porch overlooking the perfect blue waters of the Caribbean. Our waiter immediately helped us log into the free Wifi (so we could see our adorable daughter!) and brought us some huge frosty cocktails. Those helped me cool down a little, so I was able to then dive into the best guacamole I've had in a long time. It was so good we ordered a second platter!

Cozumel, Mexico: Paradise, Shopping, and Some Crazy Good Guacamole | CosmosMariners.com

La Hach has an extensive drink menu in addition to its full food menu. We were so full after two plates of guacamole that we didn't make it to the lunch menu, but everything we saw coming out of the kitchen looked delicious. It's not too far from the cruise pier (we could see our ship as we dined), so if you want to jump off the ship for a quick meal and cocktails, this would be a great destination.

Cozumel, Mexico: Paradise, Shopping, and Some Crazy Good Guacamole | CosmosMariners.com


After I'd eaten, I discovered that I'd gotten a heat rash (how attractive) that was now itching. Since I didn't want to make it worse, we headed right back to the ship after we were done eating.

Cozumel was a lively spot to wander around, and I'd recommend taking the walk from the ship to the downtown area (just drink more water and take more breaks that I did!).

Cozumel, Mexico: Paradise, Shopping, and Some Crazy Good Guacamole | CosmosMariners.com


Have you visited Cozumel? Would you be up for the challenge of haggling?
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St. Francis Inn: Historic Accommodations in the Heart of St. Augustine, Florida

St. Francis Inn: Historic Accommodations in the Heart of St. Augustine, Florida | CosmosMariners.com

Tucked away on a quiet street in the middle of Historic St. Augustine's residential quarter is a three story timbered building. At first glance, it blends into this area of beautiful historic homes, but if you venture into the courtyard, you'll notice that you've stumbled onto one of the city's most revered bed and breakfasts.

Now in its 3rd century of existence, the Inn holds two historical record in this very historic town: it's the oldest property that's currently being used as an inn, and it is the longest running lodging in St. Augustine.

With excellent customer service, a quiet location, and a purported ghost, the St. Francis Inn offers a gorgeous spot for anyone looking to create new memories in this old town.

St. Francis Inn: Historic Accommodations in the Heart of St. Augustine, Florida | CosmosMariners.com


History
Built in 1791 by a Spanish soldier (who may or may not have been dipping into the coffers to pay for the house), the St. Francis Inn was a private home for the first few decades of its existence. In the 1800s, the Dummett family purchased it as a city home when they needed time away from their plantation.

By the 1840s, the house had passed to brothers in the Dummett family; they allowed their sister to stay, free of charge, in the house, but did not give her any other financial support. To help cover her bills, she began to take on boarders, and the Inn's long history of lodging began. In the 1880s, it became overflow housing for Henry Flagler's Ponce De Leon hotel, one of the poshest spots in its day.

As the inn changed hands, so too did its name. It was originally known as the Dummett-Garcia House (and is still called this on the National Historic Register), then as the Graham House. Finally, it was renamed the St. Francis Inn when it was bought in 1948, and the owners wanted a title that focused more on the area's geography and less on each individual owner.

The current owners, Margaret and Joe Finnegan, are celebrating their 30th year of running the St. Francis Inn, and still continue to reinvent what the Inn offers to its guests.

"Everyday at a bed and breakfast has the potential to be an adventure," Joe told me, so he, his wife, and their staff stay prepared for whatever might arise. When one of the innkeeping staff, Linda, was asked about her strangest experience, she mentioned the goose in diapers that has frequented the property, as well as the family of ferrets who make regular appearances each year. (As you might deduce, the Inn is very pet friendly--even to non-traditional pets!)

Location
The St. Francis Inn is (as its name suggests) located on St. Francis Street--at the corner of St. Francis and St. George, to be more exact.

It's only about three blocks north to the pedestrian-only area of St. George and just a block to the waterfront. Everything that you'd want to see in St. Augustine is within an easy walk, yet, because the Inn is nestled among private houses, you'll escape most of the hustle and bustle you'll find on the larger streets.

Plus, if you're planning on riding the Old Town Trolley, stop #17 is just four houses down on St. Francis in front of the Gonzalez-Alvarez House.

Room
I stayed on the 3rd floor in the Dummett Room. I loved stretching out in the queen bed while watching television each night before I went to bed. The large soaking tub (with jets!) was a great way to relax my sore muscles after I'd hiked all around St. Augustine each day.

St. Francis Inn: Historic Accommodations in the Heart of St. Augustine, Florida | CosmosMariners.com


The room also had a mini refrigerator, small closet (with fluffy robes!), and cream sherry each day.

For a single traveler or couple, the room would be fantastic. For those who want more room, or for larger families, the Inn offers a variety of sizes of rooms in the main building, the cottage, and the Wilson House. There are 17 rooms and suites at the St. Francis property, and another 5 at their sister property on St. Augustine Beach.

Know that there is no elevator on the property, so guests in wheelchairs or who have mobility issues will need to secure a room on the first floor of the Wilson House or in the cottage. The stairs are quite steep in the main house, so use caution as you're walking up and down to the 2nd and 3rd floors.

Service
The day that I checked in, the desk staff was getting a workout with all of the guests coming in at once. Even though they were swamped, the ladies working the front desk remained calm, put-together, and polite to everyone.

St. Francis Inn: Historic Accommodations in the Heart of St. Augustine, Florida | CosmosMariners.com


When it was time for me to check in, Beverley walked me through the check-in process and then took me up three flights of stairs to my room. My stay was punctuated with personal touches like that.

Anytime I had questions, the staff was there to answer them. The Finnegans have worked hard to assemble their 14 staff members, and it shows!

Amenities
For a smaller inn, the St. Francis has plenty to offer. Start the day with a home-cooked buffet breakfast: I was treated to a delicious quiche and strawberry soup one morning, and cheesy eggs and biscuits another. There's also fresh fruit, coffee, cinnamon rolls, apple and orange juice, and homemade granola.

St. Francis Inn: Historic Accommodations in the Heart of St. Augustine, Florida | CosmosMariners.com


Stop by throughout the day for coffee, ice tea, and fruit-infused water--and don't miss out on the afternoon cookies.

Then, in the afternoon, there's a cocktail hour in the courtyard where you can mix and mingle with the other guests if that's your thing.

If you want to get out of the city for the day, head over to the Inn's sister property at the beach, where you can use their chairs, umbrellas, and parking area.

The Inn also has a heated pool, Wi-fi, electric car charging stations, complimentary bikes, and off-street parking across from the main hotel.

And, if you're into the paranormal, you can count the Inn's supposed ghosts among its amenities! Lily, the resident ghost, as well as a male figure, have been seen throughout the hotel by guests. While most of the activity seems to concentrate on Lily's Room (on the 2nd floor) and on the 3rd floor, the innkeepers mentioned having strange experiences throughout the main building. I didn't have any out-of-the-ordinary experiences (I was actively trying to avoid them, actually, since I'm about the most scaredy cat person ever), but the inn has quite a few fans who come there in the hopes of learning more about Lily! (For more about the Inn's ghosts, see their website.)

Final Thoughts
Believe it or not, I've never stayed in a B&B on any of my travels before--but now, I feel completely spoiled since my experience at the St. Francis Inn was so wonderful. Although the historic district of St. Augustine has many small inns and bed and breakfasts, none other have the charm, history, and location that the St. Francis Inn has.

St. Francis Inn: Historic Accommodations in the Heart of St. Augustine, Florida | CosmosMariners.com


The next time you're in St. Augustine, book a room, and tell Joe that I sent you!

Have you been to St. Augustine? Do you like staying in B&Bs? Would the rumor of a ghost at an inn be awesome or terrifying for you?

Disclaimer: I was provided a complimentary stay at the Inn in exchange for my honest opinions. 
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Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas Western Caribbean Cruise: A Review

Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas Western Caribbean Cruise: A Review | CosmosMariners.com

For our fifth anniversary, Landon and I headed off into the clear blue waters and sunshine of the Western Caribbean on Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas ship. We were hoping for a balance of relaxation on board and adventure in our shore excursion.

So, did our experience match our expectations?

Parking
At $150 for our car for a week, the parking rate is a little ridiculous. That being said, I don't know how much of the price is set by Royal Caribbean since the garage is a part of the Port Canaveral cruise terminal.

Check-in
This was my fifth time cruising, and, by far, the most hectic check-in. I was pushed through security, figuratively by the security guard who kept yelling at me, and literally by the grumpy man behind me in line. I was so harried by the process (which was far worse than what I've endured for international flights) that I ended up tripping all over my luggage and stubbing my toe: not exactly the glamorous start to my cruise that I expected.

I was confused as to why both the cruise employees and the other guests were so pushy: it wasn't as if the boat was getting ready to leave or there were massive lines. Quite the opposite, actually! We were there five hours early and there weren't that many people in the lines.

Room
We usually go really cheap and get an interior room (since we're not in the room all that often anyway), but this time we upgraded--slightly--for a room overlooking the Royal Promenade. Technically, it's still an interior room, but the view was much better than a standard interior room: I think anything is better than a view of the wall! We enjoyed being able to people watch or check out the parades without leaving our room.

Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas Western Caribbean Cruise: A Review | CosmosMariners.com


It was a cruise compartment, so it was anything but spacious. In the bathroom, the shower looks like a space capsule or something, but is about the size of your daily vitamin. I can't blame Royal Caribbean for the cramped quarters, as this mini-sized bathroom has been the case on every cruise.

The room had a couch, vanity, a closet, several open shelves, and four drawers. There's also space under the bed to put suitcases, which meant we weren't constantly tripping over them.

Dining
While there's always something to nibble on, the quality of food on the cruise varies wildly depending where you're eating.

Windjammer Cafe is a buffet where you can get breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The breakfast there was the best of the three meals, with bacon, sausage, waffles, fresh fruit, hashbrowns, omelets, and pastries. For lunch, I really enjoyed their salad bar which had over two dozen different salad toppings (broccoli, cheese, croutons, sprouts, etc.). The hot food items and lunch were sometimes good, but we had to try several times to see what would win out that meal.

We ate all of our dinners in the main dining room, where the quality of food was far more consistent than it was at the Windjammer. I had an amazing cream of mushroom soup one night and a banana Bailey's creme brulee every single night. Have I mentioned how much I love creme brulee?!

Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas Western Caribbean Cruise: A Review | CosmosMariners.com
On the way to dinner for the first formal night!
One thing I loved about the main dining room was the group of people we got to sit with. Choosing to sit with 4-8 strangers every night can be a bit of a shot in the dark, but Landon and I lucked up this time. We met Chris and Paul from England, and Katherine and Jack (newlyweds!) from Wales, and all 6 of us got along famously. Those meals and conversations were some of the best times we had on the trip.

Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas Western Caribbean Cruise: A Review | CosmosMariners.com

There are specialty restaurants on board, too, but (being the cheap people that we are) we didn't try any since there's an additional charge to eat there.

We didn't get the drink package this time around (which starts at $65 per person for the length of the cruise and can top $300 per person if you spring for the top shelf liquor one), and ended up being fine with our decision. There's plenty of fruit infused water, lemonade, hot tea, iced tea, coffee, and orange juice around that we didn't miss having soft drinks all of the time.

Entertainment
I've heard more than one person say, "I'd be bored on a cruise." Yes, you can absolutely be bored on a cruise--if you want to be. There's absolutely no shame in hanging out by the pool with a book for hours on end.

Otherwise, there's no excuse. At any given time on the boat, there are multiple activities going on, from Zumba class to scrapbooking tutorials to spa tours to casino tournaments.

Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas Western Caribbean Cruise: A Review | CosmosMariners.com
One of the game shows that required a lot of audience participation!

There are dance classes, sports tournaments, the Flowrider, an 18-hole putt-putt course, a golf simulator, an arcade, multiple lounges, a library, and a computer center. Landon and I played trivia, lost money at blackjack, and went to two parades and a silent disco (so much fun!).

Every night, we went to the shows (a comedian, a musical, arial acrobatics), listened to multiple bands, and had several dancing options if we were feeling like some last night club action.

Ports of Call
Of all the cruises that I've taken, the line-up of ports on this voyage was the best yet. We had two days at sea--at the beginning and end of the cruise--with four ports in between: Labadee, Haiti; Falmouth, Jamaica (where we explored the Green Grotto Caves and hiked Dunn's River Falls); Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands; and Cozumel, Mexico.

We liked the variety of activities, shopping, and dining available at each. Plus, we only had to tender once (in Grand Cayman), so we could come and go off the boat as we pleased.

Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas Western Caribbean Cruise: A Review | CosmosMariners.com


Disembarkation
We chose to do the walk-off that morning, so we were able to leave the boat around 7:15. To take advantage of that disembarkation, you've got to take your own luggage, but you get to leave much earlier than other guests. Leaving the cruise was much easier than getting on (thankfully).
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Overall, we had a wonderful time. The staff, as usual, bent over backwards to make sure the ship was clean, that our dining experiences were great, and that we had everything we could need. Royal Caribbean remains the favorite of the three cruise lines that I've been on for the attention to detail that they give their guests. 

Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas Western Caribbean Cruise: A Review | CosmosMariners.com

If you're looking for a fun getaway, I'd highly recommend the 7-day Western Caribbean Cruise. We're already thinking of doing another cruise for our 10th anniversary in a few more years!

What cruise(s) have you been on? Do you have a favorite port of call?

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