How was that vacation? Reader stories and photos from their summer fun

September 8, 2013 

Our readers went lots of fun places this summer. Here are a few of their stories:

Visiting Mayan ruins and snorkeling with turtles

Who went? Todd and Terri Bernhardt, of Belleville, and children, Brandon, 19, and Taylor, 17. Taylor attends Belleville West. Brandon is a sophomore at Loyola University in Chicago.

Where did you go? Playa del Carmen, Cancun, Mexico

When? July 12-19

What were some of the highlights? "We snorkeled with the turtles and visited the Mayan ruins," said Terri.

Favorite part of the trip: "The day we took the tour to Chichen Itza (a pre-Columbian city built by the Maya civilization). The archaeological site is one of the new seven wonders of the world. It was amazing. Everyone enjoyed seeing such unique history from the Mayans. We then had a traditional Mayan luncheon. The tour continued to a cenote, which is a natural sink hole for swimming. It was beautiful."

How did you choose Cancun? "We chose Cancun because the kids wanted to travel outside of the United States and were getting bored with Florida. Ha! Cancun seemed like a great first step for international travel."

Best advice: "Research any tours you want to take prior to leaving. We got much better deals by booking before we left the States. The prices are higher once you are there. And, when you go shopping, don't pay the first price you are offered. They will always lower the price."

Any surprises, good or bad? "We were really surprised at the weather. We expected 100 degrees, high humidity. The weather was low to mid-80s. It really helped when we went on the Chichen Itza tour because most people say it is miserable in July.

"When there was cloud cover, especially near the beach, it actually was cool. Some people sat with their beach towels as covers. A few nights we had goose bumps sitting outside watching the nightly show. It was a welcomed surprise. I had brought cooling towels, misting fans, and other items which we never used."

Terri was also surprised at how smoothly their snorkel excursion went. "I honestly wasn't crazy about the idea, but wanted to see the turtles. We saw many, many turtles. Big and little turtles. We also saw stingray and a barracuda. It was such an adventure."

Where you will go next? "We are thinking about Jamaica."

Belleville family goes to Spain and Africa

Who went? Don and Dora Anderson, of Belleville, and their daughters, Abby, 15, and Lexi, 14. Abby is a sophomore and Lexi, a freshman, at Belleville East. "This is their second time traveling abroad," said Dora. "In July 2006, we visited Paris and London."

Where did you go? "On our 10-day trip to Spain, we visited Madrid, Seville and Marbella on the Mediterranean Sea, and Africa!"

When did you travel? July 31 to Aug. 9

What made you decide to visit Spain? "We wanted to visit Morocco and HOP continents! Spain was nearby so that's just what we did. Our daughters had the same interests. They wanted to put themselves into the pictures they had seen of Spain and they really wanted to see Africa. We made that happen -- from sightseeing in Madrid, to seeing a flamenco show in Seville and riding camels and shopping in the markets of Tangier, Morocco."

Did you do the trip planning yourself or have help? "My husband Don did all the trip planning online."

What's your favorite memory from the trip? "Sunbathing in Marbella on the Mediterranean Sea. You can see the coast of Africa in the beautiful sunsets."

What place did you like best? "Marbella, Spain. It's a haven for luxury seeking travelers and beach-goers ... like us!"

Retired couple take Costa Rica off their bucket list

Who went? Larry and Judy Schurman, of Carlyle, who are in their mid-60s. She's a retired Germantown elementary school teacher and computer tech. He worked for Ameren.

Where did you go? Costa Rica

When? Jan. 7-21, 2013

Why? "It was on our bucket list," said Judy. "We were getting older and knew it would be an active trip. We wanted to do it while we still could. We had heard it was a people-friendly country and that quite a few spoke English. Our Spanish skills are not up to par.

"We chose Costa Rica because it is such a varied country. There's so much to do from the mountains to the rivers to the rain forests. There's a wealth of animal species."

How did you prepare? "We did a lot of research -- we had six books on Costa Rica. We decided what we wanted to see and what we could do in three weeks. We were on our own as we explored the Central Highlands, the Northern Region, and the Central Pacific. We used (vacation renter by owner) before our trip to book rentals which included a small 'casita' and our beloved 'tree house' 90 feet into the treetops overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It was in our tree house that the capuchin and the squirrel monkeys swooped through the trees onto our deck for a daily visit. Hand-feeding them became one of the highlights of our trip!"

What did you see? "We encountered wondrous things in the diverse country: the coffee growing hillsides, the fabulous waterfalls of La Paz, the active volcanoes of Paos and Arenal, fishing for machaca in Lake Arenal (the machaca looks like piranha on steroids!), white-water rafting on the Balsa River (Class II-III), surfing on Playa Esterillos on the Pacific side, hiking the Cloud Forest of Monterverde, experiencing the suspension Hanging Bridges, the Rain Forest of Manuel Antonio in the Quepos area, the beautiful deserted sand beaches of Playa Espadrillo, and a multitude of animal species."

How did you get around? "We relied on Costa Rica's public transportation. It was cheap and reliable -- plus no hassle with driving."

About the people: "The Ticos (as the Costa Ricans are called) are so very friendly, punctual and overly helpful to all tourists. It was a great experience and one we would suggest to everyone."

Favorite trips of all time? "A month in Alaska or the three weeks in Costa Rica."

Mother and daughter choose Cancun

Who went: Cheryl Druse and daughter Jenna, 15, a sophomore at O'Fallon Township High School

Where did you go? Cancun, Mexico

Why? "I wanted to take her somewhere that she would always remember the rest of her life," said Cheryl. "We haven''t gone on vacation for over four years and I just thought Cancun would be beautiful -- and it was! I also wanted an all-inclusive so we wouldn't have to worry about carrying a lot of cash with us."

When: A week in June

About the trip: "We had so much fun," said Cheryl. "I am a single mom of a 15-year-old daughter (almost 16), and I wanted us to have a very special vacation. At her age, I thought it would be hard to get her to go with me anywhere, but she was so excited that we were going together. We are very close and do lots of things together.

"We went snorkeling, shopping, to theater shows, to water events and just relaxed by the pool and beach. ... I know the time will come when Jenna won't want to do things with mom, but I hope she will always remember this vacation. I would definitely recommend a trip to Cancun. I plan to go back some day."

Great bonus: "How hard the resort staff worked to make our trip very special. I will never forget them." Cheryl and Jenna stayed at Ocean Coral & Ocean Turquesa in Cancun, Mexico. A friend recommended it.

Habla espanol? "Jenna took Spanish her freshman year and it was fun telling the locals. They started conversing with her in Spanish and she would respond back in Spanish. I sure didn't know what they were saying, but it was cool that she knew some of the language."

Any surprises? "We were on the bus getting ready to head back to the airport when my daughter noticed her luggage was still sitting on the sidewalk. I tried to jump over her to stop the bus from leaving when my knee 'popped.' I could hardly walk! We got her luggage loaded onto the bus. I went to the doctor the next day and had a strained knee -- I had to have physical therapy for four weeks. I was upset but glad it happened on the way home."

Did you buy souvenirs? "For family and friends, we brought back T-shirts, magnets, keychains, artwork made by locals and some great deals on bottles of Kahlua. I also purchased photos of Jenna and me posing with the monkey. That was really fun! He was so tiny and did just what he was told."

Where next? "We have discussed our next trip, but it may not happen for a few years as we need to save money for a car for Jenna. She would really like to go back to Pensacola, Florida. That is her favorite beach, Lots of shells."

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