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Some friends and I were heading to Panama City Beach, FL to do the Ironman triathlon. We of course needed a place to stay. My buddy Shannon had already been to this race a couple times, so we relied on his advise. He told us about Laketown Wharf and said they even had a deal on the rate going. I booked a room for 5 nights, and some of my friends also booked rooms there. We had to pay a deposit which I think was around a third of the cost. My wife ended up getting a job and was unable to go. And Shannon’s wife was also unable to go. So I cancelled my reservation and got a refund of what I paid minus $50. Shannon and I shared a room. I think we paid a little over $100/night plus some fees. Shannon and I split the cost. And they even let us add a 6th day to our stay at the same nightly rate.
The rooms was great. There was a master bedroom with a private bathroom. There is also a pair of bunk beds that are right next to another bathroom. The bunk beds were positioned right off a hallway, and don’t have a door for privacy. Shannon got the room, and I took a bunk bed. There was also a full kitchen and living room. We also had a washer and dryer. They gave on tiny box of detergent, but you might want to bring some. There was a free wi-fi in the room. We had a TV and DVD player. The room was clean and comfortable. Oh, and we had a balcony with an awesome ocean view. The hotel had several pools, but we only had a chance to try one of them.
The hotel was located just a short walk from the race expo, and transition area. On the days before the race, we would walk across the road, cutting through Pineapple Willy’s to the beach to do some practice swims. And Pineapple Willy’s also had a pretty good pasta dinner special on the night before the race for $10. There are a bunch of other restaurants within a short walking distance from the hotel. I ate at Waffle House nearly every morning, which was right next door. And across the road is a Walmart store to pick up anything you might need.
One minor annoyance was that check out was at 10am. We were working to get our stuff out of the room, and loaded into the truck, and our room key code stopped working before 10am. Daylight savings time had ended, and apparently they forgot change the time in the system that controlled the expiration of the room key codes. I had to go back down to the desk, get a new temporary key code. So I wasted about 15-20 minutes dealing with this as we were trying to get on the road for the long drive home. But as I said , this was a minor annoyance.
I would definitely stay here again. It was a great place to stay and very well placed for anyone doing the Ironman race. There were lots of other triathletes staying here also.

Some friends and I were staying in Panama City Beach, FL for the Ironman race. We were going to go out to dinner with some friends of one of my friends. They suggested a place called Uncle Ernie’s. They said it was really good and the prices were reasonable.
It was Halloween and the servers were all in costumes. Our server was dressed in a karate uniform. It was hard to make a choice as there were so many things on the menu that looked good. I asked the waiter for his recommendations. He said a lot people like the catch of the day. He suggested a few different kinds of fish. I chose the grouper. Then I had to decide how to have it cooked. I chose grilled. The prices were a little higher than my friends had anticipated. I guess reasonable prices means different things to different people. But the prices weren’t outrageous. While we waited for our food, we enjoyed watching the water at sunset. It was a beautiful view. Our food came in a decent amount of time. OMG, my grouper was so good! I had never had grouper before so I don’t know if that is how it always is. I am guessing it was their preparation. It was wonderful. My buddy Shannon wanted to try it, so I gave him a sample, and then he wished he has ordered it too. The service was excellent, and the food was great. The prices were a little higher than I would have liked to pay. I might eat here again if I make back to Panama City.

I booked a white water rafting trip, and wanted to take pictures and possibly video. On previous raft trips, I bought those plastic encased disposable film cameras. They worked, but tended to take crappy pictures. And with the cost of the camera and developing, they really aren’t that cheap. And then if I wanted to post the pictures on Facebook or something, I would have to scan the prints. Digital is much better!
I actually have an underwater case for my older Nikon Coolpix camera, but it is kind of bulky, and maybe overkill for a raft trip. I started researching, and found Dicapac underwater camera cases. They are soft plastic cases that you slide to camera into. I had a case like this years ago, and it wasn’t designed very well. I used it on a river tubing trip in Belize. The lens had to push the plastic out, and it caused the lens on my camera to get jammed. But the Dicapac was designed much better. It has a rigid part for the lens to expand into, so the lens won’t get jammed. There are different models of the Dicapac bags and I did some googling to figure out which model I needed. I planned to use my Samsung camera as it was older and if it got damaged, I wouldn’t be heart broken. I found that the model I needed was the Dicapac WP-410. I went ahead and ordered one. It came quickly. The concept is simple. It’s like a thick vinyl zip-lock bag with a thing for the lens to extend in. I unscrewed the lens cover, and opened the zip-lock part of the bag. I slid the camera inside, and lined the lens up with the lens opening. I turned the camera on, and it extended the lens. I saw it was going to be a bit long for the bag’s lens appendage. But it came with a little spacer ring. I removed the camera from the bag, inserted and positioned the spacer ring, and reinserted the camera. Perfect! I reinstalled the lens cover. The camera was a little difficult to operate through the bag, but was mostly doable. The knob on the top of the Samsung to change modes was nearly impossible to turn though. It would be fine if I only wanted to take pictures, or only wanted to take video. I decided to try my Casio Exilim camera in the bag. I found this bag was also to recommended bag for that camera as well. It slid in much easier than the Samsung as it is a smaller camera. But the buttons on the Exilim would be mush easier to use. I sealed the ziplock part of the bag, rolled it up, and fastened the Velcro. I snapped some test shots. They turned out pretty good. There as a little bit of lens cover part of the bag visible in some of the test shots. I didn’t do a full blown water proof test as I wasn’t going to be using it under water this trip. Or at least I didn’t plan to.
I took my Exilim in the bag on the raft trip. One problem I had was the camera sliding around inside the bag. So each time I wanted to take a shot, I had to slide it into position to line of the lens with the bag’s lens appendage. If I didn’t get it quite lined up, and the lens was obstructed from coming out, I would get an error. I just needed to turn the camera off, and try again. I think if I have used the big Samsung camera, it wouldn’t have slid around so much inside the bag. Other than that, camera was easy to use. The shots mostly came out great. There were some water drops visible in some of the pictures where they had splashed onto the lens cover. This wouldn’t have been an issue if I was filming under water. The corners of some of the pictures show the edges of the lens cover. But overall I am very happy with the Dicapac bag! It is way nicer than the cheap disposable underwater cameras. And I can reuse it in the future. The more I use it, the more economical it will be over the disposable cameras. And the quality is was better!

Click here to see it at Amazon.com!!!

I got an email from Living Social about a couple heavily discounted raft trips here in New York from an outfit called Adventure Calls. The first trip was in Letchworth State Park and was $45 for two people and was about 2 1/2 hours on the water. It was only a class I/II. But there was another raft trip that was 3 hours on the water and was class II/III+. That was on Cattaraugus Creek and cost $60 for two people and that included wetsuit, wet top, and wet booties rental. Also included was hot soup on the river, and pizza afterwards. My wife and I had already done white water rafting back in Washington State. I had done rafting on the Wenatchee River (class III/III+) and we had both done a trip together on the Methow River (class II-IV).
We were told the arrive at the rafting office at 10:30 for a 11am start. We arrived shortly before 10:30 and there were people already there getting signed in and getting their wetsuits. We filled out the waivers, but were asked to wait to get our wetsuits. Apparently there was another group going out before us. After a bit, we got inside and got our gear and got suited up. Under my wetsuit I wore a long sleeve Under Armour Cold Gear shirt, swim shorts, and thermal socks. I wore Under Armour Extreme Cold Gear gloves. I locked our clothes and stuff in the trunk of my car. I had removed the key from my key chain and tied it to the draw string on my swim trunks. I wished I had brought a lanyard as it would have made it easier to access the key. After a while I started worrying that I had removed the wrong key from my key chain as I have two Honda keys on there. Oh well, nothing I could do about it now.
We boarded the blue bus, and rode to the starting spot on the river. They were working on inflating the rafts. One of the guides gave us a short instructional speech. Then we helped carry the rafts to the water. We actually got onto the river about noon. It was cold, though fortunately not as cold as was predicted.
The rafts are smaller than the ones we rode in back in Washington. We were told they used smaller rafts because they were more maneuverable. There were only four of us in our raft, me, my wife, Our guide Don, and a guide in training named Brian. It was interesting listening to Don teach Brian about what to look for on the water. The first half the trip was relatively mellow. Lots of nice scenery.
About halfway, we stopped along the rivers edge and they fed us cups of hot tomato soup. That hit the spot. Then we were back on the river. The cold gear gloves didn’t help a lot to keep my hands warm. I wished I have gotten some of the neoprene mittens that other people had. I guess they got them at the rafting office. I didn’t remember seeing them though. My hands were freezing, and my feet were starting to get cold too.
The first real rapids were named Pinball. Then there were rapids sporadically spaced after that. There were also pretty waterfalls along the way. I brought a camera in a waterproof case, and took pictures along the way. I wasn’t able to get pictures of the rougher rapids though as I was always busy paddling during those.
Various people got tossed out of the rafts, and one raft dump trucked and dumped everyone out, including the guide. Neither I, nor my wife got dumped out. Maybe because our guide who knew how to hit the rapids, or because my wife and I knew how to wedge our feet in to help keep us in the boat, or a combination of the two. I didn’t mind going into the water on the trips back in Washington when they were in the middle of summer. But I am glad not to have gotten dumped into the freezing Cattaraugus Creek when the temps were in the low to mid 40s. That would not have been fun! We did get wet anyway. We ended up spending closer to four hours on the water. By the end I was shivering and was looking forward to being done. One of the drawbacks of having 5% body fat is I don’t have that natural insulation.
Soon were at the finish, and we went and climbed onto the bus. I start shivering heavily as my body tried to warm itself. After a while it started to subside. We got back to the rafting office which was just a shirt ride away. I grabbed our clothes out of the trunk of the car (thankfully, I had the right key). It was really nice to towel off, and change into dry clothes. I took our stuff and put it back into the trunk of the car and headed in for pizza. There were two big sheet pizza boxes, but no pizza. We were told they ordered some more. A smaller pepperoni pizza arrived. My wife got one small slice and I got two small slices. We also got some hot chocolate. I guess that was all the pizza. We were still starving. We headed to the nearby McDonalds and got some more food while we both warmed up.
Overall, it was a great deal. The checkin process could have been a little more organized. The raft trip itself was great. The guide we had was excellent. My one complaint was the lack of pizza at the end.

I have had the chance to use these guys twice now. They seem to have the cheapest rates. But I guess you get what you pay for.
The first time I used them was in Las Vegas. In Las Vegas, most rental car companies operate out of the rental car center. You catch a shuttle at the airport, and a few minutes later, you are at the rental car center. No problem. But with Fox Car Rental, you need to catch another shuttle from the rental car center, to the Fox rental car lot. While the shuttles to the rental car center are frequent, the shuttles to the Fox lot are not as frequent.
I had reserved an econom car. But they seemed to be out of these, and were giving people PT Cruisers. Pretty cool. My only complaint was that the PT Cruisers didn’t have cruise control. I picked the car up, and dropped it off, no problems.
My second experience with Fox Car Rental was in Seattle. Man of the rental car places in Seattle are right at the airport. But Fox Car Rental is off airport. We got there, and didn’t know how to get to the rental car place. I called Fox Car Rental and got a recording about going to the courtesy phones and calling extention 32 or something. But on the courtesy phones at the airport, you cant dial anything. I did manage to go through the menu on the phone, and contact Fox, and was told to wait  island 1 or 3. We got out there, and just missed a Fox shuttle. We had to wait 20 minutes or more for the shuttle come back. Getting the car was no problem. We got a Kia. Great car. It even had satellite radio installed.
The biggest issue came when we went to return the car. Out flight was a little after 6am. We planned to be at the airport at 4am, so we planned to drop the car off at about 3:30am. We arrived at the rental car place at 3:30am only to find them closed. WHAT? I called the local Fox Car Rental number and got a message saying thei hours were 4am-1am. WHAT? I had checked the Fox Car Rental website and didn’t see anything about hours. When I called the Fox  Car Rental 800 #, I didn’t hear anything about hours.  We waited until 4am, and they opened a few minuted after that. It still took time for them to get opened to check us out. The whole thing was kind of annoying. I will have to think before I choose to use these guys again.

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