Based in Crowborough

Cornel Schalkwyk

Available for new enquiries

It's Nice To Meet You

Travel and holidays are what I have worked and lived for all my life, and I am a firm believer of always having my next holiday booked to have something to look forward to. Holidays mean something different to every person, maybe it is quality family time or a romantic breakaway, exploring a new destination, a honeymoon or a well-deserved break after hard work.

Whatever holidays mean to you, I am here to take the headache out of holiday arrangements and make your dream vacation come true.

As an independent Travel Counsellor, my customers are at the heart of what I do and your needs are my top priority. From staycations to exotic destinations, a couples retreat to family get-togethers, safaris to cruises, skiing trips to diving excursions…I am passionate about creating your perfect trip, whilst providing a professional and personal service. Whatever time of the day, I am available to contact for help, and when you are on holiday my assistance is a touch of a button away.

Having grown up in South Africa, I have been on countless safaris and wine tours and have found my passion for nature and animals in my beautiful home country. Once I had spread my wings beyond the South African borders, my journeys took me to the snowy slopes of Scotland, the pyramids of Egypt, the amazing landscapes of Italy, the coast of Portugal, the crazy rides of Walt Disney World, France, Russia, and countless more. I found I had a serious soft spot for islands and beaches and have been to Zanzibar, Mauritius, Hawaii, Maldives, Sharm El Sheikh, Mozambique and Miami to name but a few! In addition to travelling within most continents, I also discovered the exciting world of scuba diving! Words cannot describe the wonder of being face to face with a whale shark in the Red Sea, hearing dolphins under water in Zanzibar or swimming peacefully next to green turtles off the coast of Maui.

I look forward to working with you to create your perfect travel experience!

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My Blog

I absolutely live and breathe travel and I love to write about my experiences! Please take a look through my posts - you might find your own holiday inspiration.

Surprising Saudi Arabia

07 November 2023

In November 2022, I was honoured to be asked to visit Saudi Arabia along with several others in the travel industry. I won’t deny that I had many preconceptions before visiting and thought I knew exactly what to expect… well, I don’t mind admitting how wrong I was and how completely astonished I was by this beautiful country. We were on an organised tour, designed to take in the main Saudi attractions. My main takeaway was the wide misconception around culture, women’s rights and what it’s like for women visiting. I found it is entirely possible for women to walk around unaccompanied, and with arms and heads uncovered. Of course, there are places and occasions when this isn’t the case and that must be respected. Other things I noticed were that on the whole, English is widely spoken and that the people are incredibly friendly and welcoming, very open and warm - shopkeepers and stallholders in the souqs were all friendly without being pushy. I felt safer walking round the markets in Saudi Arabia than I did in Egypt. No one was calling out and it felt much more respectful. The Saudis are so proud of their heritage and country, and it’s part of their culture to be welcoming and share what they have. This is evident in their hospitality, even with complete strangers. As a country, Saudi is quickly becoming westernised. There are some obvious cultural differences, such as separate gyms, but the more touristy areas are introducing mixed areas, and some hotels, for examples, have mixed pools. Not all of the local customs necessarily apply to tourists in the same way they do to locals. Unmarried couples can share hotel rooms which is otherwise forbidden. A point worth noting is that there is absolutely no alcohol available anywhere. This applies from the minute you board your flight (if flying with Saudia), including in resorts and hotels, to the moment you return home. This could be a deal breaker for some travellers, but I considered it a detox and really wasn’t bothered by it on the whole. THE FUTURE FOR SAUDI ARABIA: There is a big project underway, Vision 2030, to drive tourism. There is some feeling that the strict alcohol rules may relax a little to attract more people. But it seems a shame for the country to have to change its customs in order to become a big tourist destination. Or is that just needing to move with the times? There’s a big debate to be had here – why should the country and people feel the need to change? The welcoming and openness of the people may also change if they get bombarded by tourists and particularly if alcohol is introduced. Just from my short visit I felt that the locals would not take well to this and their patience and hospitality might be tested. And this would really detract from the charm of the country. MY TRIP AND THE SITES I VISITED: My trip was very well organised and designed to show off the best attractions to recommend to customers. Here’s what we experienced: RIYADH - the largest city and capital of Saudi Arabia. We visited Diriyah, a UNESCO Heritage Site, and the seat of the Al-Saud family, the first Saudi rulers. The site includes Al Masmak Fort, a palace built in 1895 and the birthplace of modern Saudi history. We also visited Dira Souq from where we saw the old kingdom, a real contrast to the modern architecture of sharp lines in glass and steel, including the Sky Bridge in the Kingdom Centre Tower, which offers stunning 300 metre-high views of Riyadh. And we were lucky enough to experience a traditional Saudi lunch, complete with a lesson in the historic coffee making ritual. ALULA AND HEGRA – we drove from Medina to AlUla (c.300km) largely through the desert, frequently stopped by ambling camels. Our night’s stay was at the Shaden resort, a luxurious complex and very traditional building set amongst the ancient rocks. The chalets we stayed in were tent-like with private patios overlooking the enormous rocks. Absolutely stunning. From AlUla we visited the city of Hegra, the Saudi Arabia version of Petra, and the second city of the Nabataean kingdom. It is a major archaeological site with a temple carved into the rocks, truly amazing. We were welcomed at the door and then left to soak in the atmosphere with no rushing in and out. It was very laid back and relaxed compared to the standard tourist experiences. We also visited Elephant Rock, which is quite a popular site. That evening we went stargazing, a massive attraction in this area, and with so little light pollution it is easy to see the Milky Way and lose yourself gazing at millions of stars. I would recommend at least 2 nights here in case of bad weather. MEDINA – this is Saudi Arabia’s second holiest place and essential for women to cover arms, shoulders and heads. We were in the vicinity of the Prophet’s Mosque (Al-Masjid an-Nabawi), a major Islamic pilgrimage site. This was another mix of new meets old – the ancient mosque and surrounds and then modern umbrellas for sun shade. From Medina we took the Al-Haramain Express Train to Jeddah, travelling at 300km/h. JEDDAH – we spent a lovely evening in Jeddah where we saw the local families on their Thursday night stroll by the river - Thursday in Saudi Arabia is the equivalent of our Friday. It was insightful to see them all relaxing, enjoying their time together. The next day saw us visiting the waterfront, the Jeddah Corniche, and we even had an unscheduled stop and private view of the Formula One track at Jeddah, which was awe-inspiring, as well as a surprise sunset cruise. WHO MIGHT VISIT SAUDI ARABIA? Saudi Arabia is an amazing place to visit. It’s an authentic experience and it is a country full of culture, history and religion - UNESCO sites, stunning architecture and fantastic climate – all without being overrun by tourists. I’d recommend Saudi to anyone looking for a genuine experience now, before it gets too crowded or over developed for Vision 2030. Without doubt it’s a high end destination, certainly not cheap, but it is very special and different. A visit to Saudi is a very different kind of trip. If you want somewhere quiet, good food, good for families, safe for women, then it’s ideal. It would make a great twin centre with Egypt or Dubai where you could do the partying before getting a culture soak here. Or visit before 2030 to experience it in its relative naivety. Right now, it’s comfortable without feeling restricted. But that could all change if it starts to get more commercialised.

Rodrigues: Stunning, Sustainable and Serene

30 May 2023

I was lucky enough to be treated to a trip to the island of Rodrigues in October 2022, courtesy of the Rodrigues Tourism Office. Pronounced Rod-reeg, it is an island territory of Mauritius, 600km to the East and 1.5 hours away by air. I fell in love with Rodrigues before we even landed. It is an absolutely beautiful, unspoilt island, inhabited by fewer than 45,000 people. The island’s language is Creole, though the children are schooled in English so most islanders’ command of English is excellent. It’s a perfect size to be able to explore the whole island in a car or scooter. There are few signposts and everything is tucked away off the beaten track so be prepared to explore! My best advice is to just stop and ask a local for directions. What is so special about Rodrigues? 1. SUSTAINABILITY Despite its tiny size, Rodrigues has a miniscule carbon footprint. Sustainability is key to the island and this is evident in their focus on eco-tourism. I love that for every passenger arriving by plane, an endemic species of tree is planted. In terms of resources, Rodrigues is almost self-sufficient with very few imports. The islanders produce almost all their food and export little. The main imports are electricity and water, and these are recognised as valuable commodities and definitely not to be wasted. There is no fresh water on the island, this is delivered monthly, and there are generators for electricity. All the main tourist hotels and resorts have desalination facilities so they’re not reliant on imported fresh water. One of the places I stayed, Origin, is the first eco-chalet lodge on the island, and is almost completely self-sufficient. The owners bought the land and built four chalets, set in a mango orchard and where all food is produced on their own orchard and farm. They handmade all the chalets’ facilities, with materials available on the island, including the plunge pools outside. As well as a fruit orchard, there are hens and geese, bread is homemade and they are planning to start making jam and butter. All grey water is reused on the land and any leftover food goes to the pigs. 2. FOOD I was so impressed by the food. I will admit I was expecting low budget, but I got high-end luxury. Every single food encounter was like this – the quality, the variety and the presentation. It was all completely natural and totally fresh and I could taste all the flavours. I’d be happy to send food lovers and those who want a luxury, high-end experience. Even the street food was incredible – less pretty, but still tasted unbelievable. And the lack of imported food doesn’t stop the choices. For example, no rice is grown on Rodrigues so a polenta-based alternative is used. 3. UNSPOILT For now, Rodrigues is a hidden gem, untouched and unspoilt. The island is fringed with empty, white sandy beaches, even in the resorts. I imagine this is what Mauritius was like before it became discovered and loved by tourists. Mauritius is a stunning destination but it does feels commercialised with its hotel-lined streets. In comparison, Rodrigues still feels undiscovered. Rodrigues is still relatively unknown in the UK travel market, although it has started to feature in some travel write ups. At the moment, the tourists come from Mauritius and other Indian Ocean islands – they come here for a holiday from their own beautiful homes. 4. ACTIVITIES All activities on Rodrigues are sustainable, of course, and nothing is engine-based. The island is surrounded by a lagoon, making it super safe for swimming and water activities. Some of the activities on offer, and all of which I tried are: • Kite surfing - a major activity with Rodrigues a destination for kite surfing lovers. There is an International Kite Surfing festival every July. • Zip lining through the trees with great views of the coastline, the valleys and gorges. Here you will be able to experience amazing views, from 100 metres in the air. • Walk across the suspension bridge, which is 120 metres long and 40 metres high. Being suspended above the trees and gorge on a wobbly bridge is not for the faint hearted but is worth it for the fabulous views. • There are lots of walking and running trails, though few road signs, so be sure to remember your bearings. • François Leguat Reserve, which is a sanctuary for giant tortoises that are native to the island. They were actually driven to extinction in the 18th century and the tortoises that live on the island now are the closest living species, reintroduced by Francois Leguat. There are now more than 3000 giant tortoises at the reserve. It is only open for guided tours. • Grande Montagne Nature Reserve, which has an affiliation with Chester Zoo, and is focused on the conservation and preservation of endemic plant and animal species. There are giant tortoises here too, but they are left to fend for themselves as if in the wild. Also only open for guided tours. • Rodrigues is a mecca for bird watchers and the international crowd come for just one night to catch the birds at dusk and dawn. Despite it being relatively unknown, the island does cater for tourists. All accommodation has a boutique feel and comes in all shapes and sizes – there are resorts with 100+ rooms, hotels with around 60 rooms, and chalets for 8 people. One of note that I visited but didn’t stay at is the Tekoma Boutik Hotel with its 32 individual chalets, all with sea views. I sampled the amazing food and enjoyed walking on the peaceful beaches – where I didn’t see another single person. Getting to Rodrigues is fairly straightforward. Both Air Mauritius and British Airways fly to Mauritius, then you take a connection to Rodrigues, flying over the turquoise Indian Ocean into what feels like the middle of nowhere. It would be ideal to tie in a trip to Rodrigues when visiting Mauritius. You could easily stay for a week, or longer if you’re a kite surfing fan. There’s not so much for families to do unless you all enjoy the type of outdoor activities on offer – there are certainly no kids’ clubs, for example. But it is the perfect destination for couples, singles, honeymooners, friends – anyone looking for somewhere unspoilt and away from the crowds. I absolutely loved the beautiful island of Rodrigues – the people, the natural beauty, the food – and I would be delighted to help you plan a trip there to try it for yourself.

Walt Disney World Park Strategy

16 December 2022

There are so many parks in the Disney resort that even if you’re not a planner, it’s definitely worth thinking about which park you want to be in on which day. You can spend a lot of time travelling around and between the parks when you could be enjoying the attractions. I’d advise staying onsite in a resort hotel or affiliated hotel. Not only are you in the heart of the action, but onsite hotel guests get early access to the parks. Currently, this is 30 minutes before the parks open to the public. That is quite important if you want to work on a strategy where you minimise your queuing time. ROPE DROP STRATEGY At present, park admission requires valid park tickets as well as a park reservation. Park hopping is only possible after 2pm if your tickets allow park hopping. I’d recommend being at the park where you have an admission reservation at least half an hour before early entry. This is what you call a rope drop strategy. And if you don't want to pay extra for Individual Lightning Lane (ILL) experiences at each park (these will be the most popular rides), you want to rope drop that ride as soon as you get access to the park. In Animal Kingdom for example, you could rope drop Avatar Flight of Passage because that is the only Individual Lightning Lane attraction in Animal Kingdom so you can't use Genie+ to get a Lightning Lane (LL) entry. Instead, rope drop that ride and queue with all the onsite hotel guests. Then when the gates open for onsite hotel guests’ early entry, you run! It's like a proper stampede and you run for Avatar Flight of Passage to get to that ride first. This will minimise your queuing time – you get onto that ride first, and it’s done without massive queueing. And you wouldn't need to purchase an Individual Lightning Lane for that one on top of your Genie+ for the day. Another example is our recent visit to Epcot. We rope dropped and were there half an hour before time. We actually managed to do Frozen Ever After, a very popular ride with little princesses, three times in a row, just using the standby queues. The moment the public gets access to Epcot, the waiting times shoot up to 90 - 120 minutes just for that ride. We also went for the rope drop strategy in Hollywood Studios for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. We chose that ride first so we didn’t have to purchase the Individual Lightning Lane. And the longest queuing time I saw for that while we were there was about 250 minutes - that is a long time if you don't have Individual Lightning Lane entry or try and rope drop! FACTOR IN THE SIZE OF THE PARKS The next thing that you need to keep in mind with your park strategy is that the parks are very big. If you are only guided by Genie+ and what is available for your next Lightning Lane slots, you might end up running from one end of the park to the other, criss-crossing the park all day long. It does sometimes happen with Genie+ that you have to go across the park unfortunately, but try and always keep in mind the map of the park to reduce this. Have some sort of strategy where you start at one end of the park and work your way around during the day, walking from one end to the other end in one direction instead of criss-crossing. The toing and froing might not be a big issue if you're just a group of adults, but we had a five year old with us and were there in the summer when it was super hot and needed to minimise walking time. Don’t forget as soon as you enter a Lightning Lane queue, get your phone out, open the app and book your next one straightaway. That is how you maximise Genie+ for the day. It's important to do it as soon as you enter the queue because if the queuing system takes you inside a building, you may lose Wi-Fi signal. If you’re standing in a Lightning Lane queue for 5 or 10 minutes and lose Wi-Fi connectivity, you're only going to be able to book your next Genie+ experience when you exit that ride. That means losing 20 or 30 minutes which is quite a lot of time for booking your next Genie+ experience for the day. And you'll also find that during that time, the available slots for rides would have moved later. VIRTUAL QUEUES Sometimes there are brand new rides in Walt Disney World where there are virtual queues rather than actual standby queues. For example, with the new Guardians of the Galaxy ride in Epcot, there is currently no standby queue. And it's not included with Genie+ either. So unless you want to pay extra for the Individual Lightning Lane entry for Guardians of the Galaxy, which is quite difficult to get a slot for in any case, the only other way to get on that ride is with a virtual queue. Virtual queues are booked through the Walt Disney World app on your phone. Like everything else, bookings open at 7am. My tip here is to have multiple people making reservations at the same time. So in our party recently, I was in charge of making our first Genie+ booking for the day at 7am. Another adult in our party was also on the app at 7am and they got us a slot on the virtual queue for Guardians of the Galaxy. If you try to do both of those things one at a time, you're going to lose out on one of them. Another tip here, you can link family and friends on your Disney app, even if you’ve made holiday bookings separately. This makes it easier to book restaurants or Lightning Lanes for your entire party, ensuring you all do things together. MY PARK STRATEGY Because I have been to Walt Disney World several times, I understand the value of planning your trip. And I’m not ashamed to say I do prepare an Excel spreadsheet in advance and will be happy to share this with you as it will help you make the most of your time. My spreadsheet includes park opening times, early access times for resort guests and which areas are open early (not all of them) and where I plan to have breakfast. This really helps with a strategy of where you're going first for your rope drop ride and what you potentially want to book for your first Genie+ ride as well. I truly believe planning is the best way to get the most out of your time in Disney. There are more than 100 attractions and rides to experience, so a little bit of pre-planning will help you fit as much in as possible.

Walt Disney World Park Strategy: Genie+ and Lightning Lanes

16 December 2022

Going to Walt Disney World soon? No doubt you’ll want to maximise your time there, going on as many rides and attractions as you can. But the queuing can be legendary, especially in high season, which might mean spending most of your time in queues. Not so much fun, especially with little ones. My top tip would be to plan your visit in advance. When it comes to planning, you don’t need to go overboard and spreadsheet the heck out of your visit. Although, if you’re like me, you can do that ??. But it is perfectly possible to go with the flow and have no strategy at all, see what you fancy when you get there. You could note down the rides you absolutely want to go on and prioritise those. Or you could take advantage of Disney’s new queue busting, time saving Genie+. WHAT IS GENIE+? Genie+ is a paid add on to your visit that allows you to enter a ride via a Lightning Lane (the new version of the FASTPASS), rather than the ‘normal’ standby queue. 99% of the experiences have a standby queue. You can just join the standby queue for any ride or attraction and wait until you get to the front and do the experience. With a Genie+ pass, you can book a Lightning Lane (LL) for around 95% of the attractions and avoid the standby queue completely. HOW DO YOU BUY A GENIE+ PASS? You must have a smartphone with the Walt Disney World app (sometimes called My Disney Experience app). Your tickets and advance park reservations will be linked to this app, which you will also need to purchase a Genie + pass as well as make Lightning Lane reservations. Genie+ goes on sale on midnight of the day you’re visiting, and you can book your first Lightning Lane from 7am, so you need to have decided in advance which park you’ll be visiting and have a confirmed park reservation. Currently, the Genie+ pass costs $15 per person per day, although this might change in the future and the price might become date based as well. Your strategy will be to book your first Genie+ experience for the most popular ride that’s included in your Genie+ service. And you want to get your first Genie+ experience slot for as early in the day as possible, after the park opens to the public. Here’s an example using Animal Kingdom. When I was there, it opened at 8am with a 7.30am early entry for onsite hotel guests. So at 7am, we were at the gates queuing with all the other on site guests. At 7.30 the park opened and we ran for Avatar Flight of Passage first (not included in Genie+). I had already booked my Kilimanjaro Safaris Genie+ for just after 8am. With Genie+ you can’t select an exact time, you can only book the next available slot that the app shows you. So if you refresh your app and the next available slot for Kilimanjaro Safaris is only at 4pm, you can only book 4pm. And that’s why it’s important to be on time with your first selection. HOW DO YOU BOOK LIGHTNING LANES? Decide in advance which attractions and rides you would like to visit. Lightning Lane bookings are made via the app and you can only book one at a time. Book your first one as early in the day as possible so you can try and get several in. Disney reckons on average people can use 2 or 3 Lightning Lanes per day, but depending on the attractions you choose, it could be more than that. And the more times you use it, the more cost effective it becomes – so plan wisely! You can only make a Lightning Lane reservation once every two hours or once you have finished the ride you have the reservation for, whichever comes first. And another important point is that you can only use Genie+ and Lightning Lane once a day per ride. So no booking on the same ride time after time. The Lightning Lane slots also get booked up pretty quickly, within seconds of 7am. You will need to keep refreshing your app a few seconds before 7am to get in there first. If you are late and go on the app at 30 seconds after 7am, you won’t get a slot until the afternoon. They really go that quickly. LIGHTNING LANE TIP The moment you enter a Lightning Lane experience you’ve booked, or two hours after you’ve made your first Genie+ booking, you can make your next Lightning Lane reservation. It’s important to get your first Lightning Lane reservation early in the day so you can book as many as possible. If your first Lightning Lane isn’t until the afternoon, you will impact your park strategy and how many attractions you get to see. INDIVIDUAL LIGHTNING LANES In addition to Genie+, there are also Individual Lightning Lane (ILL) attractions, those not included in Genie+. So even if you've paid the $15 per person per day for Genie+, there are a handful of rides and attractions that are not included. These tend to be the most popular ones per park. For example, currently in the Magic Kingdom, the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is Individual Lightning Lane; at Epcot, it’s Guardians of the Galaxy; in Hollywood Studios it's Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance; and in Animal Kingdom it’s Avatar Flight of Passage. So even if you have Genie+ and you want to book a Lightning Lane, for these attractions you will have to purchase the Individual Lightning Lane as well. These rides may change over time so keep an eye on what is and isn’t included with Genie+. Keep in mind just because you purchase Genie+ or Individual Lightning Lane, it doesn't mean you're going to get the slot you want. It is important to be on the app at the right time to book those things. If you're going to sleep until 8am and then try to do your first Genie+ selection for that day, you're going to be sorely disappointed because all the slots are going to be in the afternoon and you might use your Genie+ for just one ride. Take a look at my Park Strategy blog for more detail and planning tips to maximise your time in Walt Disney World.

Where to Eat in Walt Disney World: Themed Dining, Quick Service and Bookings

09 November 2022

Less formal dining in Walt Disney World falls under themed dining and quick service. Themed dining in particular can really add to your whole Disney experience. Here I'm going to share my favourites as well as some quick service gems and some booking tips. Let's start with the Sci Fi Dine-In Theater, which is a drive-in movie theatre-style restaurant. This one is mainly about the experience. You literally sit in a 1950s sort of convertible car, which really adds to the atmosphere. There’s an old fashioned movie on a big screen in front of you, and they take orders from the car and bring it out to you. It is a really cute experience. It's quite dark inside and you can see the stars twinkling. It really does feel like you are watching a movie in a drive-in theatre at night. It's not fine dining, but the food we had was really lovely. I can highly recommend the pan seared chicken pasta. An amazing pasta dish with lemon-butter sauce, rainbow tomatoes, onions and garlic. It was really delicious. If you’re in Hollywood Studios and you don’t want fine dining, I would say the Sci Fi Dine-In Theater is a must, especially from an experience point of view. Next is Oga’s Cantina in the Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge area of Hollywood Studios. When it comes to themed restaurants, this place is really something to experience. It is styled as the local cantina where all the colourful locals come together to enjoy the music, do their business and so on. There’s a droid DJ and some fabulous characters as well as weird and wonderful drinks. A lot of people go to Oga’s Cantina now mainly for cocktails and drinks and while there is a little menu of finger foods, most go for drinks and to experience the cantina inside. Top Tip: you will be allocated an area or table but you do not necessarily sit down. You could have a booth where you sit down or they might give you an area at a bar-like table where you stand to have drinks so just keep that in mind. When we were having our drinks, a couple of Storm Troopers came in looking for someone which was quite a nice add, and gave more experience to the whole theme because it really does feel like you’re in a different world at Star Wars: Galaxy's edge. So Oga’s Cantina, quite expensive, but definitely worth the experience. My top recommendation for themed dining is definitely the new Space 220 restaurant located in EPCOT. The whole experience starts as you walk into a lift. There’s one hole where you can look up and one where you can look down. As the lift starts to move, you can see how you‘re travelling away from Earth and watch it disappearing below you, everything getting smaller. You arrive at a space station then you go past an area where vegetables are being grown in a cool space-age setting to a check-in area where you get a ticket for your table. As you walk into the restaurant, there are windows to both sides with views of Earth. As you eat, you look down through the twinkling starry sky, and the scenes and views keep changing. You might see a spaceship going by, a satellite, the moon or two astronauts fighting, as we did. It all makes it such an amazing experience. Then when you leave the restaurant, you literally go back down to Earth. It is genuinely weird to be walking around outside, back on Earth, because you do feel like you’ve been in space. And while the food is not classed as fine dining, it is really good. I had the Neptune Tartare to start, a yellowfin tuna sushi type of starter with sesame crackers, then the Spaghetti & Shrimp with Chocolate Cheesecake for dessert. Divine! So when it comes to themed dining experiences, Space 200 is completely out of this world. It is difficult to get a reservation here because it’s so good. You have to jump on as soon as reservations open but I highly recommend you try because you’ll love it. QUICK SERVICE RESTAURANTS: There are absolutely loads of these throughout Walt Disney World. No reservations needed, you can just walk in, queue up and order your food. Some do mobile orders if you have the Walt Disney World app and will tell you when to collect your order. In the Magic Kingdom park I would highly recommend Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe. It's quite a big, quick service restaurant, but the main reason I would recommend it is there's loads of tables available and it has air con, essential for a break from the sun and heat. There’s also a character DJing so something to watch and listen to while you’re waiting and eating. The next recommendation is Hollywood Scoops in the Hollywood Studios theme park and very well located if you want to see the Fantasmic or Beauty and the Beast outdoor theatre shows. You can take your ice cream from Scoops with you into the shows - and it’s amazing ice cream! Last, I recommend the Milk Stand in the Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge area of Hollywood Studios. A must-have in this area is a cup of Batuu’s legendary blue or green frosty milk from the Milk Stand! BOOKING RESTAURANTS: All character, themed and fine dining restaurants require prior booking. Online reservations open 60 days in advance. Anybody who has a Walt Disney World reservation or park reservation can book restaurants 60 days in advance. And if you are an on-site hotel guest, you can make dining reservations 60 days ahead of your check in date, and make up to 10 days of advanced dining reservations that same day. So if you stay for a week, you'll be able to do your dining reservations for your entire week 60 days from your check in date. Dining reservations open at 6am Eastern Time and phone lines an hour later. I found it safest to be online just before 6am, refreshing the page so I could see as soon as reservations opened. Top Tip: Before making reservations, make sure you have downloaded the app and set up your My Disney Experience account. You will also need to have registered a credit card for restaurant confirmations. Restaurants like Cinderella's Royal Table and Be Our Guest will take prior payment for the entire booking. But all the other table service restaurants will take your card details and if you don't turn up at the restaurant, there will be a cancellation fee charged back to your credit card. I hope this has helped you plan your own trip to Walt Disney World. I am more than happy to talk through any options for park bookings and advise on all aspects of visiting the parks - they are my second home!

Where to Eat in Walt Disney World: Character Dining and Fine Dining

28 October 2022

Think you know the kind of food that’s served at Walt Disney World? Think again! Yes, there are burgers, but there is so much more. There are more than 200 places to get food, a mixture of quick service food outlets and full service restaurants and it can be difficult to know where to head for and where to avoid. I must say that the food and dining experiences were the highlight of my most recent trip. I was lucky enough to sample fine dining and character dining, but every single meal we had was impressive. This blog focuses on character dining and fine dining and is based on my personal experience of where I’ve been. CHARACTER DINING: Character dining is literally dining with characters! Before you eat or during your meal, you will actually meet the characters and have some time to take photos with them. It's the best way to be up close and personal with the characters instead of just seeing them at a distance. Top tip: Advance reservations for all character dining restaurants are essential. My favourite meal for character dining is breakfast. And my favourite experience is Tusker House Restaurant in Disney's Animal Kingdom. It's an African/American-themed restaurant where all the classic characters such as Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy are in themed clothes - it’s so cute to see them in their safari outfits. The inside of the restaurant looks very African as well. But the reason this is my absolute favourite is because even the food is themed. There’s leopard print and zebra print bread, sweetcorn muffins and Simba-shaped waffles, all adding to the fabulous theme and experience. Another popular choice is Chef Mickey’s, a restaurant in Disney’s Contemporary Resort, a hotel close to the Magic Kingdom. Here you see all the classic characters like Mickey, Minnie, Goofy and Pluto, all in their chef outfits. I particularly like Minnie Mouse in her chef outfit. I prefer the chef outfits to the safari outfits, but liked the theme of Tusker House more. The food is similar in both but the overall Tusker House experience wins it for me. As you’d expect, there’s a great choice of Disney Princess dining. If your children are into princesses this is a bit of a must, depending on which princess they prefer. Cinderella’s Royal Table and the Be Our Guest restaurants are good options, both located in the Magic Kingdom. At Cinderella's Royal Table you eat in the castle, in the centre of the park, and you get to meet Cinderella while you're there. The Be Our Guest restaurant is Beauty and the Beast themed and you get to meet Belle and the Beast. These two restaurants are classed as fine dining. The food was nice, as you’d expect, but I wasn’t blown away by it. It’s more about meeting the princesses than the food. Top tip for these two restaurants is to book for dinnertime. If you book around 6pm, you can have dinner from about 6pm - 8pm and finish in time to go and get your preferred spot to watch the fireworks. FINE DINING: I’m going to start with Tiffins, an African-themed restaurant in Disney’s Animal Kingdom. I have a bit of a soft spot for it, as I am South African, and it is fantastic. Fabulous food. A Tiffins’ signature dish is their Bread Service where different flavours of bread come with things like coriander yogurt, ginger-pear chutney and guava jam. I had the 50th Celebration Braai-spiced Veal - braai is the Afrikaans word for barbecue - which was super tender and tasty and covered with South African spice. Amazing. And my dessert was pretty special too, 50th Celebration Lemon Meringue Pie, one of the best desserts I had. If you like African food or any type of barbecue, Tiffins is definitely a fine dining restaurant to consider. My next recommendation is the Hollywood Brown Derby, a fine dining restaurant in Disney's Hollywood Studios. It serves American food with signature dishes of Cobb salad and fillet of beef. The signature dishes on all the menus really are to die for! A lovely fine dining restaurant in the Contemporary Resort Hotel is the California Grill. This is American/seafood/sushi, absolutely fantastic food. It’s set on the top floor with great views, and the main attraction for me is the massive floor to ceiling windows looking out on the castle. You have access to the rooftop terrace where you can see the fireworks and hear the music played as if you were in the Magic Kingdom. The perfect spot if you hate crowds! If dining here, choose a time of around 8pm so you can watch the fireworks at 9/9.15pm. The restaurants carefully time your courses so that you are not in the middle of eating when the fireworks start. We initially thought that the service was quite slow because we had a reservation for 8pm and we only finished our starter before the fireworks started at 9.15. But then we realised they were slowing things down to give us time to go and watch the fireworks first - they’re a 15 - 20 minutes show so if you're in the middle of your meal and you want to stop eating to watch the fireworks, your food would be cold by the time you get back. Next is Flying Fish, probably my absolute favourite restaurant in the world. It's located on Disney’s BoardWalk. This is quite a different area. If you've spent a lot of time in the parks or in hotels, then having at least one night in the BoardWalk area is quite a nice change of scenery. It's next to a lake, in front of the hotel and a big lawn. There are movies for children and everything is lit up with little fairy lights in the evening. There’s a row of restaurants and shops, and even a nightclub. It’s a really nice evening area to visit. Flying Fish doesn't look like much from the outside but it is an absolute gem. If you haven't been there before, it's one of those restaurants you have to visit and once you've been, you will go back every time you visit Walt Disney World. It is absolutely fantastic. It's an American/seafood fine dining restaurant with an amazing menu. But every time I go I order the same thing because it's so good - their Seafood Pearl Pasta is just gorgeous, one of the best dishes. A signature dishes is potato-wrapped red snapper which I have on good authority is also delicious. But Flying Fish is my favourite restaurant in Walt Disney World - highly recommended! I hope this has helped you make some decisions about where you might like to eat in Walt Disney World. My next blog talks about themed dining and the best way to make bookings.

Winter sun in Tenerife

18 December 2019

In October 2019, I travelled with my husband and three-year-old daughter to Tenerife for a much-needed pre-winter break. I could have picked almost anywhere in the world to travel to, so why Tenerife? Well, it’s easily accessible from the UK with plenty of direct flights every day and flight time from London is only 4.5 hours. It’s warm all year round with average October temperatures in the mid-20s. We went for a week’s holiday, split across two resorts on the southwest of the island. The nearest resort town was Costa Adeje and the area, much like the rest of Tenerife, is rich in Spanish culture and Moorish influences. Lots of typical Spanish cuisine on offer but remember that Spaniards tend to eat later in the evening so if you have young children in tow, be sure to check opening times as you’re not likely to find a restaurant ready to serve you before 8pm – this is certainly true of towns and beaches but not so in resorts. Tenerife is a volcanic island in the Atlantic Ocean, and the landscape in the south matches that. The area is quite barren-looking and desert-like, and there are quite a few black sand beaches, so don’t expect lush greenery in this part of the island. The weather is amazing though and a big draw! RITZ-CARLTON ABAMA The first two nights of our stay were in the luxurious 5* Ritz-Carlton Abama resort. It is located on the outskirts of Costa Adeje and certainly not within walking distance of anywhere. But it is an incredible resort with so much on site that there’s no need to leave! It is quite a size, set over several levels and areas. There are 12 restaurants (two of which are Michelin-starred) and 7 pools, all of which are heated year round. There is also a state-of-the-art fitness centre, a spa and an 18-hole championship golf course. The accommodation at the Abama is beautiful. There are 459 rooms, suites and villas, with options for families and adults-only. Every type of room is extremely well furnished and equipped, with marble bathrooms and generous-sized beds. Some have balconies and gardens, and some have their own pool. The attention to detail is impressive. My daughter was particularly taken with her own age-appropriate toiletries which she insisted on packing when we left. The food throughout the resort was incredible. We had the best Chateaubriand in the 20/20 Steakhouse that we have ever tasted. There is so much to choose from, from the two Michelin-starred M.B. and the Michelin-starred Kabuki (Japanese fusion), to the Verona (Italian) and the Beach Club and Sports Bar. Two nights wasn’t nearly long enough to do it all justice! The views from some of the restaurants were particularly stunning, overlooking the Atlantic, and the seafood restaurant, El Mirador, is set on a cliff top. The perfect view for sunsets. Food-aside, there is a beautiful adult-only spa offering treatments, classes and wellness activities. A good opportunity to make the most of the brilliant Kids’ Club and enjoy some quiet time. There is also a secluded beach, only accessible through the resort. Private beaches are not allowed on Tenerife and this is as close as it comes. Guests can take a funicular down to the beach from reception and there is even a Beach Club which serves directly to the sun loungers. Or with 7 pools to choose from, all catering to different needs, you may not even venture to the beach! I particularly liked the infinity pool which is only open to those over 14. As well as the 5* luxury for all guests, there is a private club, a feature of Ritz-Carlton resorts. The Club programme is a service exclusive to Club guests with privileges including a special lounge on the 10th floor with complimentary meals and refreshments and beautiful views, as well as a separate check in area on arrival. Our two nights quickly vanished and it was soon time to move on to our second stay. BAOBAB SUITES We didn’t have far to travel to our second destination. The Baobab Suites are nearer to Costa Adeje, situated on the hill looking down to the bay, a 10-15 minute walk to the beach or a free taxi ride from the resort. The Baobab Suites form a 5* complex of fully serviced apartments with hotel facilities – quite an unusual arrangement but offering the best of both worlds. You can opt for self-catering, or a variety of board basis. Breakfast can either be enjoyed in one of the restaurants (with Cava) or delivered to your room for you to enjoy on your private terrace. There are 4 restaurants on site, one of which is particularly amazing – Sucas. The chef there, Lucas Maes, has worked in several Michelin-starred restaurants and I highly recommend the Taster Menu. Absolutely delicious. The apartments themselves are really well thought out. Ideal for families as they all have 1 – 3 bedrooms and offer a variety of sleeping options. Some are suites, some have private pools – these are either raised or sunken so it’s worth checking beforehand, especially if you are travelling with a young child. The Baobab Suites has a great Kids’ Club with a disco every evening. And possibly its most attractive feature is the fitness centre, the Activate Sports Club. It is a superb facility with so much on offer – yoga and Pilates, padel tennis, personal training sessions, a suite of fitness machines, a beach area with sports, as well as meals and drinks - and more! For anyone looking to stay active on holiday, this is a great option as there is so much to do indoors and outdoors. SIAM PARK We went for a trip one day to the local waterpark, Siam Park, voted the best waterpark in the world on Trip Advisor. It’s certainly impressive! I was a bit concerned that there wouldn’t be enough for my three- year-old, but I needn’t have worried. She loved the Lost City which is tailored towards younger children. Jumping over the waves at the Wave Palace was a big hit as well. There are some incredible adrenalin rides and slides too, so well worth a visit. By the end of our week, I had thoroughly enjoyed my time in Tenerife. Both holiday experiences had real plus points. The Ritz-Carlton Abama was undoubtedly the most impressive and luxurious. If money was no object, that’s where I’d stay for an entire holiday. The Baobab Suites provided great value for money, especially for a 5* venue, so for families looking for a good location and that extra bit of room space, but with an eye on budget, I’d recommend it.

Walt Disney World - Part 2

22 November 2019

Following on from our first two days in Disney, read on for my next diary instalment DAY 3 In my free time in the morning, I went back to Hollywood Studios to meet all the characters and get my autograph book signed. Anyone staying in a Disney resort hotel gets Extra Magic Hours which allow guests access to the parks earlier and later than the general public on certain days of the week. I highly recommend getting to the parks early to make the most of this benefit. I packed in 10 character meetings before meeting up with our hosts again! The rest of our day was spent in the hallowed Magic Kingdom, where all the original Disney World delights started. Here is where you’ll find the first-ever Disney ride, the Prince Charming Regal Carrousel, and the legendary Main Street parade and fireworks at the castle. Our guides had reserved space for us at Main Street station, so we had prime seats for the superb parade. Halloween was in full swing in the Magic Kingdom and that evening we went to Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween party. We knew about this in advance and so brought our Halloween outfits with us – strictly no Disney character costumes allowed! Once dressed and ready to party, we went back to the Magic Kingdom with our Trick-or-Treat bags. Lots of treats were available in specially themed bags and there were themed characters galore and many nods to Halloween on the rides and attractions. Even the firework display was Halloween inspired as was the evening’s parade. A Halloween never to forget! DAY 4 I spent my morning free time at Disney Springs, a mecca for shopping fans as well as offering 61 restaurants and more than 20 daily shows and events. Don’t forget to take your wallet – you'll find everything Disney-related you can dream of! Next stop was incredible Epcot, which features 11-worldwide activities and attractions along with seasonal festivals. When we visited, the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival was in full swing. We had tokens to exchange for food samples and visited the stalls which were set out in their respective countries. Keeping on the food theme, we were next taken to the China Pavilion for a dessert buffet followed by the spectacular Epcot Forever fireworks, viewed from prime lake-side seats. DAY 5 Animal Kingdom day. We went on safari through the Harambe Wildlife reserve and I was pleasantly surprised by the variety of animals we saw; rhinos, wild dogs, giraffe and zebra amongst others. We then spent a good deal of time in Pandora – The World of Avatar which was stunning. For any fans of Avatar, it is a must-visit. It was just like being part of the movie. There are floating mountains, a bio luminescent rainforest, mountain banshees – all the Avatar touches that fans will appreciate. The Avatar-themed rides are simply incredible. Flight of Passage is a virtual reality 4D experience where you taste life as a Na’vi and ride an ikran across Pandora’s moonscape. It is the most amazing ride I have EVER been on. I could feel the banshee beneath me, breathing. I could smell the forest, feel the spray of waterfalls and it felt like I was actually flying. It is a 4.5 minute ride and the queue is always between 2-3 hours. Thanks to our VIP guides, we skipped the line - and went on it twice. Don’t miss this one! After the delights of Pandora, we were taken to the Festival of the Lion King live theatre show which includes all you could wish for from this favourite tale – acrobatics, fire, Broadway songs and characters galore. Our day of exploration continued with dinner at Tiffins Restaurant, delicious food inspired by far-flung places. The evening’s entertainment was River of Light: We Are One, an extravaganza of music, lights and fireworks. Imagine the circle of life unfolding on a lake before your eyes! To finish off this unbelievable day, we returned to Pandora to experience the Na’vi River Ride, a boat trip through the rainforest with incredible lights, sights and creatures and the most complex robot in the park, the Na’vi Shaman of Songs. What an end to an amazing day. DAY 6 Our last full day at Disney World. I made the most of my free time with a revisit to the Animal Kingdom where I enjoyed the Expedition Everest rollercoaster ride and It’s Tough to be a Bug, a 3D film and show with 4D special effects. In the afternoon we went back to Epcot for some more rides. This time we drove around Test Track, an attraction where we could design our own car and then go for a thrilling ride around a track and try and beat the times of other drivers. Soarin’ Around the World came next, a superb IMAX experience where we virtually flew all over the world, seeing the wonders on offer. Truly breath-taking. Then to the complete opposite and under the Seas with Nemo and Friends – don’t worry, you will find him! We kept the watery theme for Frozen Ever After, a boat ride through the frozen forest to Arendelle. Of course, Let it Go featured. Our day ended with a rooftop dinner at the California Grill in the Magic Kingdom where we were treated to a perfect view of the Happily Ever After fireworks display. The only way to end our perfectly magical and extra special Walt Disney World experience. MY KEY TAKEAWAYS FROM THE TRIP: - Stay on site at a Disney hotel to get the most from your time & dining plans. - Use your Magic Hours, if you have them, and get out to the parks early. Plan to be at the characters you want to meet or the rides you want to try, as they open. - Take a break for lunchtime when the parks get super busy and hot. Head back in later in the afternoon, in time for the shows and fireworks. They’re superb! - VIP tour guides are expensive but so worth it. They take up to 10 people at a time for a minimum of 7 hours and will give you such insights to the wonderful world of Disney. - Prebook your main FastPass tickets and make sure you get to the fabulous rides in Pandora as well as Oga’s Cantina! But don’t stress about getting everything pre-booked. I managed to book a FastPass to meet Tinkerbell the night before I met her! I hope you can tell from this that I am an absolute die hard Disney fan and love to share my knowledge. If you’d like help or advice booking your perfect Disney trip, I would really like to be the one who helps you make your Disney dream come true. My trip was an extreme VIP adventure, but I now know so much more about Disney than ever before. And the more I know, the more I love the magic!

Walt Disney World - Part 1

22 November 2019

In July 2019, Travel Weekly, the UK travel industry’s market-leading publication, launched a competition that got the industry buzzing – the 10th and final edition of their famous Cover Stars competition. It was open to all travel agents in the UK and Ireland, including previous winners, and there were 12 prizes up for grabs. 12 of the most coveted prizes going – each winner would feature on one month’s cover of the Travel Weekly magazine with an accompanying article AND be sent on an incredible, all-expenses paid VIP trip to Walt Disney World in Florida. As well as being passionate about travel and helping my clients get the most out of every trip, I am a lifelong Disney fan. This competition ticked all the boxes for me and I didn’t need to think twice about entering. Not surprisingly, there were a record number of entrants (170) and a record number of votes (more than 22,400). Votes were cast by customers and followers on social media, based on quality of service they’d received. I won a place! I can’t tell you how excited I was! I was the only representative from Travel Counsellors to win. THE TRIP In October 2019, I met up with our Disney Destinations host and my 11 fellow Cover Stars in the V-room at Gatwick airport. That was the start of our VIP treatment and set the tone for the whole trip. For the duration of our stay, all our food and drink was paid for, as were all transfers and transport. After our Virgin Atlantic flight landed in Orlando, we got picked up in a limo-style VIP shuttle bus and driven straight to our hotel and home for the next week. We were staying in the recently-opened Gran Destino Tower at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort, a beautiful hotel at the southern end of the Disney World area. It is a bit of a departure to the usual Disney accommodation – there are definitely nods to Mickey Mouse but in a very subtle way. The hotel has a Moorish feel and was inspired by an unfinished collaboration between Walt Disney and Salvador Dali, which explains the sweeping staircase and décor. DAY 1 I was one of the first to have my photoshoot for the Cover Stars cover so I was up at 6.30am on our first full day and whisked straight into hair and make-up. Before the trip, we each had to choose our outfits and mine had a real 1980's feel which was then matched by my hair and make-up. I truly felt like a model for the morning – treatment I could get used to! People were stopping and asking who I was, thinking someone famous and glamorous had come to town. My shoot was in Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood Studios, with the Tower of Terror as my backdrop. My 80's style was offset perfectly by the magnificent scenery. Nothing was too much during the shoot. If the photographer needed a bin moving out of the way, the Disney team would whisk it away. If an extra prop was needed, the Disney team would find it. I can’t wait to see the final images. Once my cover shoot was done, it was time to hit the first of four parks. The days followed the same routine – while someone was having their shoot done in the morning, we had free time to visit areas on our own before meeting up later with our tour guides for our VIP trips around the parks. Our guides planned each day around what our hosts wanted us to see and do. We were super lucky and skipped all the queues (apologies to the patient people waiting!). We had VIP seats and treatment throughout our trip on rides, shows, firework displays and restaurants, complete with videographer and photographer to capture our experience. Our first park was Hollywood Studios where I’d also spent my glamorous morning. This park is home to some of the big rides and there is something for everyone, from Toy Story Land to the Star Wars experience, Sunset Boulevard and more. We tried out the new Slinky Dog ride as well as the fantastic Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. That was just like stepping onto the film set – there were characters everywhere and the attention to detail was incredible. Everything is scaled and coloured exactly as we know it from the films and every single element has been included for a reason – nothing extraneous at all. I piloted the Millennium Falcon (very glad to skip that queue) and visited Oga’s Cantina for an exotic traveller’s cocktail – not entirely sure about the frog’s droppings in my drink but they were tasty! (Not a real frog or real droppings, by the way.) Everything about the cantina was authentic and just like being on location. The last stop on our first day was the Fantasmic Show, a trip through Mickey’s imagination, ending up with him fighting Disney villains, all accompanied by a soundtrack of incredible music, pyrotechnics, lasers and animatronics. And all enjoyed from the best seats in the house, a private area with an unobstructed view and a delicious dessert buffet. Amazing! DAY 2 Spa Day! We were whisked off in the morning to the Saratoga Springs Resort to experience the luxurious Senses Spa. Inspired by wellness retreats of 19th century New York, this is a fabulous place to unwind and relax with an enormous choice of treatments, from facials and massages to nails and more. After such a strenuous morning, our next stop was the Grand Floridian Hotel for lunch/afternoon tea. This Cinderella-themed hotel has a whole host of restaurants and we sampled the delicious food at the Garden View Tea Room, overlooking the gardens and pool. There are traditional English morning and afternoon tea menus, as well as a Disney Princess option. That evening we visited the BoardWalk, an area inspired by the great boardwalks of some of America’s famous coastal resorts. A huge variety of shops, restaurants and nightlife venues stretch along the quarter of a mile waterside promenade. There really is something here for everyone: open air movies and televised sporting events, every type of restaurant and eatery plus shopping, dancing, shows and seasonal events. I can highly recommend dinner at the Flying Fish! Read Part Two for the rest of my Disney diary!

JetKids™ by Stokke® BedBox®: user review

26 December 2018

Any parent flying long haul with a young child in tow can get obsessive about how they’re going to get their child to sleep for at least some of the flight. Stokke® brand, JetKids™, have a well-designed and clever piece of kit to give your child room to lie down and properly rest, the BedBox®. Hand-luggage sized, there’s room inside for your child’s snacks and in-flight activities, alongside a neatly folded, lightweight mattress. The little case is light enough for the smallest of children to be able to pull it along behind them in the airport, doubling up as a fabulous distraction from the surrounding busyness. If they don’t fancy pulling it themselves, they can sit astride and either propel themselves if their feet reach the floor, or rest their feet on the ledge, hold on to a strap and get towed. The BedBox® has swivel wheels at the front making it easily manoeuvrable. The cleverness lies within the box itself. When you board the plane, the BedBox® fits neatly under the seat in front or overhead compartment. Once the seatbelt signs have been switched off after take-off, undo the lid and remove the mattress and sides. The lid fits back on and a ledge slides out, filling the footwell. The mattress sits across the plane seat and the top of the BedBox® and the sides sit next to the armrests. And there you have a mini bed. We used a BedBox® on our 11.5-hour flight to Thailand with our two-year-old. It was great using it in the airport and, as the trip wore on, she got more used to it and loved riding on it. The BedBox® isn’t formally approved by all airlines because it could block access to a lifejacket, or an exit if used on an aisle seat. But used discreetly by a window or after cabin lights have dimmed and cabin crew might turn a blind eye – or not even see it. You might want to check in advance with your airline if you’re concerned. We flew with TUI, and although Thomson is informally listed by JetKids™ as an airline that allows the use of the BedBox®, we were told onboard that they do not formally allow the use of it. However, since we only used it after dinner was served and lights were switched off, we were not asked to put it away. My daughter wasn’t ready to sleep as soon as we unpacked her BedBox® so the mattress did move as she did, but once she was asleep it wasn’t a problem. We also found the ledge on top kept moving which we had to realign under the mattress. Would I recommend the BedBox®? Overall, yes, if you want to invest in a long-term suitcase to aid travelling with a young child. It is multipurpose and great at keeping little ones busy pre-flight. But you might be asked to put it away during the flight, in which case you won’t get the full benefit of the product. So not a product downside but airline-related. Check before you travel for peace of mind or take the risk knowing that whatever happens, you have a fab piece of luggage for your little one.

Elephant Hills

26 December 2018

Travel Counsellors are currently the fifth biggest seller in the world and as such a preferred supplier of Elephant Hills in southern Thailand. It made perfect sense for me to visit while I was staying in nearby Phuket, to give me first-hand experience of this renowned destination. I was picked up early one morning and driven to Khao Sok National Park, the second largest rainforest in southern Thailand. Elephant Hills consists of two camps, Elephant Camp and, a short distance away, Rainforest Camp, floating in Cheow Larn Lake. Transfers to the camps are available from eight places, including Koh Samui, and take between 2.5 and 5.5 hours. Mine was 3.5 hours driving time. The itinerary I had selected was the First Time Explorers Jungle Safari package for two days and one night, based at Elephant Camp, and there are several on offer up to a four day/three-night stay across Elephant Camp and Rainforest Camp. Elephant Hills was born out of a need to protect domesticated Asian elephants. There are estimated to be approx. 4000 domesticated elephants and 3000 living in the wild. Historically, owning elephants was a sign of wealth and they used to be tested for strength, intelligence and temperament, and put to work according to their strong points. Many worked in the logging industry, but in 1989 it became illegal in Thailand and hundreds of working elephants suddenly became jobless and as a result of deforestation, their survival and habitat were in jeopardy. Elephant Hills now offers sanctuary for many domesticated elephants, where they live side by side with their individual Mahout, or keeper, with absolutely no chains, tricks or performing. So, what was my elephant experience like? My first day was my opportunity to interact with them: washing and feeding them, getting up close to them and all on their terms. If they weren’t in the mood, they could walk away. The elephants roam freely within the Elephant Hills area and there is a fenced off section purely for the interactive element. This is the main pull of Elephant Hills, for obvious reasons. Because I am South African, and grew up understanding elephants to be wild, untouchable animals, I felt a little uneasy. Without a doubt they are incredible and magnificent and the opportunity to get so close to one of these gentle beasts is not to be missed. But it wasn’t my favourite part of my trip. The afternoon held a canoe safari along the Sok River, between towering limestone mountains and through densely populated rainforest. We were lucky enough to catch sight of an enormous Bengal monitor lizard, a kingfisher, a well-camouflaged tree toad and a snake – I wasn’t too keen on passing beneath the tree the snake was resting in, but the guide assured me it was safe. The guide was amazing as there’s no way I would have spotted a tree toad or even known where to look. A fabulous way to enjoy the natural beauty of the rainforest. That evening we watched a highly interesting rainforest video and a traditional dance performed by some local schoolchildren. Elephant Hills sponsors local schools, a further example of their sustainability ethos by giving back to the community. The children were so proud to be there. Day Two was the absolute highlight for me: the jungle trek. We were taken through the real, authentic Thai rainforest, with guides stopping often to talk about the environment and showing us all the life within. From rubber trees and their harvesting to jungle folklore and the many thriving plants, it was fascinating and truly beautiful. We crossed many rivers and streams, so I’d say it’s a trip for the sure-footed and probably not suitable for children under eight. Our lunch stop was incredible – no pre-made, clingfilmed sandwiches for us. We had coconut and ginger chicken curry, with freshly-made coconut milk, all prepared and cooked on the spot. It was so refreshing to see all the super-fresh ingredients, including turmeric root, and watch them being transformed into the most delicious curry cooked over coals in the middle of the jungle. Sustainability still not forgotten, we ate from bowls made from coconut shells and sat on hand-made bamboo chairs. I didn’t visit Rainforest Camp although I must say it looks and sound spectacular. The 20 tents float on the lake and the site is designed and run as sustainably as possible, incorporating wind and solar energy. Surrounded by limestone mountains and jungles, there is ample opportunity for exploring and discovering this stunning part of Thailand. Elephant Hills is described as ‘Thailand’s first luxury tented jungle camps’. Considering the Elephant Camp is set in a rainforest, each tent has a proper bed, electricity and a bathroom with hot and cold running water, and it is certainly impressive. However, it is still very much camping (with a bit of comfort), rather than 5-star glamping you’ll find in some private game reserves in Africa. Everything about Elephant Hills is carefully considered with sustainability in mind. All the furniture, for example, is handmade locally from natural resources, even down to bamboo coat hangers. It is certainly deserving of the many sustainability and tourism awards. Elephants are an intrinsic part of Thailand’s history and culture. Long revered through folklore and centuries of royal connections, the elephant – chang - is the symbol of Thailand and is visible everywhere. If you want to understand first-hand why they are held in such high regard in Thailand, visit Elephant Hills. You will get the chance to get up close and personal with them, as well as enjoying the rainforest and jungle with expert guides in a sustainable and positive way. British people I’ve spoken to since my visit have all said Elephant Hills was the absolute highlight of their stay in Thailand. It was an incredible experience and I would recommend anyone to visit when they’re in this area of Thailand.

Travels in Thailand, Part II: Come to Koh Samui!

18 December 2018

Following a fabulous week in Phuket with my husband and daughter, we flew north east to Koh Samui, less than an hour’s flying time. It is Thailand’s second biggest island, after Phuket, and similarly is a very popular destination as it is well-serviced with its own airport making it very accessible, a massively important consideration when travelling with a child. We stayed in Mae Nam on the north coast at the Santiburi resort. Another well-placed gem, away from the tourist hot spots. The beach here was picture postcard perfect and probably the most beautiful on the island. Soft white sand, turquoise sea, palm trees gently waving in the warm breeze. The resort was amazing with luxurious suites and pool villas, stunning views and gardens to enjoy and relax in. The local and authentic Thailand that we wanted to experience was immediately outside the resort, so we had the absolute best of both worlds. We ventured out often to explore local restaurants which were much cheaper than the resort eateries and absolutely incredible. Once again, we received a fabulously warm welcome from the hotel. They were delighted to see our daughter and the resort had a pleasant family focus to it, from the kids’ pools to the Disney dinnerware to the dolphin-shaped rice timbales. Our accommodation was well-proportioned and spacious, as were all the rooms and villas I saw. Afternoon tea was provided every day and I did my best to try it every day – purely for research purposes. Highly recommended! Something for everyone For those who want mainstream, Chaweng is just 20 minutes from Santiburi and is Koh Samui’s biggest town. A gorgeous beach, umpteen restaurants and bars and a famous nightlife catering for all tastes. It is also a shopper’s paradise with its enormous shopping mall, featuring many big brand shops and astonishingly cheap prices compared to the UK. We took advantage and caught a taxi to Chaweng where we did all our Christmas shopping – it’s worth taking an extra empty suitcase if you’re visiting Chaweng! Island excursions from Koh Samui are plentiful, including to the nearby Koh Pha Ngan, a jewel in the Gulf of Thailand. When to go? We visited Thailand in November which used to be the start of the peak season as it marked the end of the rain. This has changed in the last few years, thanks to climate change, with the rains continuing through November and the peak season properly starting around Christmas and the New Year. We did experience some rain – our mornings were sunny and there was a daily afternoon thunderstorm. The temperature remained in the high 20’s, and the rain coincided with our daughter’s nap time, so not a big issue for us. Definitely something worth considering, though, for anyone after a beach holiday. A hit, a miss or a maybe? Throughout our trip, we found Thailand to be very family-centric. Everyone was very happy to talk about their families and while they may only see them once or twice a year, everything they do, work-wise, is to provide for their families. They loved seeing our little blonde daughter and we were frequently approached as blonde children are regarded as lucky. But we didn’t ever feel uncomfortable, although she began to feel jaded by all the attention towards the end of our trip! There is no doubt we loved Thailand. The top takeaways for us were the unequivocal friendliness of the people and the incredibly delicious food. I can’t overlook the amazing value for money shopping either. It was an easy trip for us and a destination I would highly recommend to any traveller, for any type of trip. I have a rule of never visiting the same place twice otherwise I’d go back in a heartbeat. But rules are made to be broken.

Travels in Thailand, Part I: Getting a Feel for Phuket

15 December 2018

November saw me take my first trip to Thailand. This beautiful southeast Asian destination is around 13 hours flying time from the UK and, with direct flights to Phuket available, wholly manageable with children. There is a multitude of places to visit in Thailand on both the mainland and the myriad islands, making it a perfect island hop destination. As I was travelling with my husband and two-year-old, we decided to opt for a two-week twin centre trip in Phuket and Koh Samui. Accommodation Phuket is Thailand’s largest island and served by its own airport. We stayed in the southeast of the island, close to Rawai, at the stunning Vijitt Resort. A luxurious and comfortable resort, accommodation consists mostly of pool villas of varying sizes, where each has its own beautiful infinity pool leading direct from the bedroom, some with a jacuzzi and private garden. On our arrival, we received a traditional Thai welcome with flower garlands for me and my daughter. There was a well-appointed kid’s club and the resort was extremely child-friendly, all the while offering sumptuous 5-star standards. A special touch for me was the child-specific bathroom products provided alongside the toiletries for grown-ups. A real hit for us! Vijitt has its own private beach with beautiful views over nearby islands. It’s tidal, but this doesn’t detract from the beauty of this place. It’s ideally located for day trips to Banana beach on Ko He and Racha island. The famous James Bond Island is still doable from here but will require quite a bit of travel and a longer day. Location This corner of Phuket is tranquil, picturesque and authentically Thai. Think street food stalls and local markets just outside the resort. Compared to the west coast – Karon and Phatong beaches, for example – with its broad tourist appeal of big brands, such as Hard Rock Café and Starbucks and packed with high rises, the southeast coast provides a local flavour, amazing value for money and is incredibly open and friendly. Our local beach to Vijitt Resort was Rawai Beach. Thailand is famed for its lush, breath-taking white sandy beaches. Rawai certainly wasn’t the prettiest beach but, again, it felt local and not spoilt by tourism. It’s a fishing beach and we could see the fish, freshly caught, taken from the boats and delivered directly to the beachside restaurants, ready to be hand-selected by diners. We also enjoyed watching some of the lively lobsters trying to climb into neighbouring tanks much to the disdain of the restaurant owners who had sorted them by size. As you’d expect, a large proportion of the food on offer is fish, super-fresh and with so much to choose from in many different restaurants. Peanuts feature in pretty much every dish, and while it’s possible to request no peanuts, I’d be wary if I had a peanut allergy because they are literally everywhere. Not to be missed During our time in Phuket, our favourite place was Promthep Cape. It’s the southernmost tip of the island and displays the ultimate in sunset views. The local resorts provide shuttle buses every evening and busloads and carloads of people descend each evening to catch the magnificent sight. It can be busy but absolutely worth it – there’s good reason it’s the most photographed place on Phuket. Our week in Phuket seemed to quickly come to a close and before we knew it, it was time to pack up and head for destination number two, Koh Samui. More of that in my next blog! But we loved Phuket. The food at the Vijitt Resort was exceptional, the people we met were warm, open and welcoming and it is a truly beautiful corner of Thailand.

Flying with your baby

25 June 2018

Having arranged countless family holidays before, it was still an eye-opener to travel with my own baby for the first time. The amount of luggage you need is staggering, and you quickly adjust to holidaying in the shade, on your sunny beach holiday! During my baby’s first year, we’ve done four countries and time zones, eleven flights, four rental cars, and a number of hotels and self-catering villas. I loved travelling with our daughter and seeing her having so many first experiences in her short life. Experiencing different cultures, seeing different animals and tasting new things, all contribute to shaping her experience of this world. A family holiday is a great opportunity to spend quality time together, but I now realise it can be very hard work! We nearly missed a flight due to a car breakdown. We had two broken suitcases, medical emergencies abroad, for both daddy and baby, and a missed connecting flight due to an airline printing-error on our boarding passes. Twice I’ve been running through airports with our baby bouncing up and down in the carrier against my chest in an attempt to catch our flight. Twice, I had to trust Wi-Fi connections to find us the nearest A&E facility. After all our travel this year, I’m still waiting for my morning to lie in and relax (those days are over!) So, based on first-hand experience, here are some of my top tips for travelling with your baby: 1. MEET & GREET If you need to drive or get a taxi to the airport for your departing flight, consider paying a bit extra to drive and park using a ‘Meet & Greet’ service at the airport. Between two adults and one baby, we had 3 suitcases, 3 hand luggage bags, a stroller and car seat, to take with us. Our first trip was a two-week holiday to South Africa but then, we realised this was what we needed for pretty much all destinations! Having barely used airport trollies before, we now needed 2 trollies at the airport to get everything to the check-in desk. I was stunned by our mountain of luggage! Being able to load all your luggage into or out of your own car and park right at the entrance of the terminal, makes your life so much easier. No need to struggle with shuttles from a carpark to the terminal. 2. ESSENTIALS IN HAND LUGGAGE Pack as if your baby’s suitcase might get lost in transit. All essentials for your baby should go into a carry-on suitcase, including medicine for emergencies during the flight. Pack enough clothes, nappies, food and milk to last you for at least two days at your destination. This will give you time for shopping at your destination, if your luggage got damaged or lost during your flight. We hope not, but very occasionally this can happen. This does mean you’ll have liquids and baby puree in your hand luggage, which is absolutely fine. Please mention to the staff at security that you have baby food and medicine in your luggage, and they’ll look at that separately. Don’t forget to pack spare clothes for yourselves as well, in case you share a ‘messy’ moment with your child. 3. USE YOUR BABY CARIER AT THE AIRPORT I would recommend checking your stroller in at the check-in desk, and carrying your baby through the airport, in your carrier, against your chest. Baby will be happy and comforted being close to you (and might even sleep), but you’ll have your hands free to handle passports and carry hand luggage. 4. BASSINET AND BULK-HEAD SEATS Most long-haul flights will have bassinet seats available for infants, where your baby can sleep in front of you. These seats are not automatically allocated and need to be requested from the airline, which I can assist with. These seats are great for night-time flights, so you can put your baby down to sleep, and hopefully get some sleep yourself. For day-time flights, the extra leg room can still be useful so your little one has space on the floor to play at your feet. A word of caution though. Most families with small babies are being seated in this area, so it might be quite noisy, with more than one crying baby in the vicinity. 5. FEEDING DURING TAKE-OFF AND LANDING Feeding or drinking during take-off and landing helps reduce pressure in your child’s ears, so try to plan a milk feed during these times or get them to suck on a dummy. 6. ENTERTAINMENT ON THE FLIGHT A fun and exciting activity pack is essential to keep your little one busy on a plane, especially for day-time flights. Even better if it looks like a present which they can open and explore during the flight. A brilliant company I've used for this is www.KeepEmQuiet.com 7. A ROOM WITH A VIEW You may end up spending more time at your accommodation than you planned for, so paying a bit extra for your own comfort is really worth it. If your baby is sleeping, you can relax on your patio or balcony, enjoying the sunset and still feel like you are on holiday. Also, as ironic as it may sound with a baby, if it’s possible to have accommodation with two rooms or a suite with a separate lounge area, it would be even better! If baby goes to sleep at 7pm in the evening and you are all in one bedroom, it means you go to sleep at 7pm as well as it’s lights off and no noise! 8. BOOK WITH A TRAVEL AGENT…ME! A good travel agent will look after much more than just booking your flight and family-friendly accommodation. They can arrange bassinet seats on planes, car seats, cots, fridges in rooms, connecting rooms, dietary requirements and more ahead of your travel. More importantly though, having 24/7 personal support when things go wrong on a holiday is invaluable, especially if you have a tired hungry baby that demands your attention. When we had a car breakdown abroad, I was on the phone with Travel Counsellors in the UK as soon as we realised we might miss our next flight. They immediately looked into alternative options for us, if we had to miss our planned flight. It removed the stress and I had my case of ‘baby essentials’ right beside me. Having a baby is a wonderful time to travel. You are not tied to school holidays and can benefit from off-peak prices. Until your baby is two years old, they can practically fly for free! Make the most of this time and go see the world. Please get in touch for more tips on travelling with babies. I have plenty of personal experience and am a phone call away. I would be delighted to take the headache out of all your travel arrangements and organise your next family holiday - 01892 882750 or cornel@travelcounsellors.com

Sicily

26 May 2016

I stare dreamily at Isola Bella (which means “beautiful island”) across the rim of my Strawberry Colada, soaking up the sun and relaxing with the sound of gentle waves rocking pebbles back and forth across the beach…and I ponder the location of my next exotic seafood meal! I find myself literally just off the toe of Italy’s boot in the beautiful town of Taormina, enjoying Sicilian hospitality and food. The journey from the airport to Taormina was a strange mix of feelings for me. On the one hand I had the familiar excitement of drinking in the sights of a brand new destination, but on the other hand the landscape felt strangely familiar to me triggering childhood memories from South Africa. Despite increasing tourism, Sicily is predominantly agricultural due to the fertile volcanic soil and pleasant climate. So driving from Catania to Taormina, the roads are lined with vineyards, orange trees, olive groves, but most importantly to me: prickly pears! I remembered how we used to go on holiday to my granddad's farm in the Northern Cape and he would send us with empty food tins to pick the prickly pears and protect our hands against their tiny little thorns. The world is certainly a big place, but it’s nice to see a bit of Africa in Sicily. But then again, a lot of Sicily lies above the convergent plate margin between the African Plate and the Eurasian Plate, so maybe the African similarities are not so strange after all. Sicily is a surprisingly big island, with lots of places to see like Palermo, Cefalu and Syracuse, but no visit should go without a trip to the picturesque town of Taormina. The town lies on the slopes of a very steep hill plunging into the sea with breath-taking views of the Ionian Sea as well as Mount Etna, Europe’s tallest active volcano. A coach trip up to Castelmola makes you suck in your breath and hope the bus stays firmly on the narrow road winding its zig-zag way all the way to the top, but the views when you get there is incredible. I’m just glad that digital cameras allow me to take as many pictures as I like without worrying about the film running out of space. The ancient theatre of Taormina (“Teatro Greco”) is probably the main tourist attraction of the town, and rightly so. With remarkable preservation and a beautiful location, this is one of the most popular ruins in Sicily. I was lucky enough to visit in shoulder season with very few tourists and was rewarded with photo opportunities of a near empty theatre. Unfortunately the day was a bit hazy and you could not really see the top of Mount Etna clearly, but for the more active traveller you can get up close and personal with Mount Etna with various excursion options from Taormina. Mount Etna is one of the world’s most active volcanoes, with recent eruptions forcing the shutdown of Catania airport on several occasions. If you are a foodie, you definitely won’t be disappointed with Taormina either. Seafood is tasty and plentiful, so don’t be surprised if you can order grilled prawns for breakfast! Fruit is fresh and sweet and you can buy buckets of bright red juicy strawberries from street stalls to nibble on whilst you wander the streets enjoying the views. And let’s not forget the amazing Gelato…you need quite a few days to work your way through all the flavours. But if you are looking for something a bit more formal, you have a few Michelin star options to choose from as well. Our date-night was at Principe Cerami (2 Michelin stars) at the San Domenico Palace Hotel…amazing food with impeccable service. I felt like a princess all night long! I was sad to leave Taormina but it was only to move on to the Aeolian Islands, so I had another week to enjoy in the Italian sun…but more about that in my next blog…

A place of wind, fire and earth

01 June 2016

I set foot on Vulcano, quite green in the face after a 40 minute hydrofoil journey from Milazzo. After a week on mainland Sicily, we were heading over to the Aeolian Islands for another week of relaxing. Named after the god of winds, Aeolus, the Aeolian Islands are a volcanic archipelago off the North-East coast of Sicily and comprise of 7 islands: Vulcano, Lipari, Salina, Filicudi, Alicudi, Panarea and Stromboli. From the moment you arrive at the Vulcanello port you know you are close to nature as the sulphur smell of the nearby mud baths hit you in the face (not helping with my sea-sickness at this point!). The islands are of volcanic origin and have two active volcanoes on Vulcano and Stromboli. The islands attract about 200,000 visitors every year, from nature lovers to adventure seekers, mostly British, German and French. There is something for everyone on the islands…relaxing on a black-sand beach, hiking up a volcano crater, enjoying the glittering blue sea with boat excursions, diving and wine tasting. Each island offer a unique experience, so if you plan to see them all, a week should give you sufficient time to do that. Vulcano is the easiest to get to from Sicily, with healing mud baths, black sand beaches and a massive volcanic crater to explore. Lipari is the biggest island and most inhabited. Salina is the greenest, known for its olive and wine produce. Stromboli is probably the most popular (although difficult to get to) with a volcanic eruption happening almost every 15 minutes. Panarea is the most fashionable attracting celebrity visitors, whilst Filicudi and Alicudi are giving you complete isolation to get away from it all. So whatever your preference, one of the islands ought to be a perfect base for your Aeolian holiday. Vulcano worked perfectly as a base for us and I particularly liked the view you get of the other islands from here. On a clear day you can see all 6 of the other Aeolian islands from Vulcanello (or from the popular viewing point at Capo Grillo), and in the South of the island you have a clear view of mainland Sicily and Mount Etna. We had a guided tour of the island which I cannot recommend enough. The local guide was amazing, with a lot of knowledge about the history of the islands, volcanic activity, as well as the fauna and flora. Keeping in mind that he probably speaks about 4 or 5 languages, his English was really very good. But I had to laugh when we got stuck with my question over sharks…he was not familiar with the word so I eventually described it as a “dangerous fish” which he immediately understood checking whether I’m talking about the type you get in Australia! Apparently there are no dangerous sharks in the Tyrrhenian Sea, but he said we could definitely see dolphins off the coast. Whilst on this tour, our guide showed us a picture of the submerged volcanic system, which I found fascinating. It puts everything in a different perspective when you realise what lies beneath and that the pretty islands we are taking pictures of are really just the very tips of what looks like a massive volcanic mountain range underneath. I used Google to find this picture after we got home, which is included in the pictures for this blog (Source: www.mbpost.com, with the picture a kind courtesy of Eolie freelance reporter). But once again, it was time to board the hydrofoil and leave these lovely islands behind, starting our journey back to a rainy UK. Until our next adventure…

Danube Delights

13 December 2015

I am a converted river cruise fan! Why I haven’t done this before is beyond me; river cruising is without a doubt the best way to see multiple destinations in one trip. You unpack once, you get fantastic views right from your cabin, excellent service, good food, exclusive excursions, on-board entertainment and an all-round unforgettable experience. The trip that got me raving like this, was an eight day cruise on the Emerald Sun sailing from Nuremberg in Germany to Budapest in Hungary. I was lucky enough to be chosen as part of a group of travel agents to experience this itinerary early in December 2015. Although I am sure the summer would be an amazing time to cruise down the Danube as well, the timing was just perfect for me. Everywhere we went we had Christmas markets, various flavours of Gluhwein, and gingerbread biscuits in all shapes and forms. It was fabulously festive and highly recommended if you like Christmas markets. We did five countries in eight days, how amazing is that? The best for me must have been the day we started in Germany, drove through the Bohemian Forest for an excursion to the Czech Republic, and met up with the ship again in Austria! You can honestly spend as little or as much time on the ship as you wish. You sail mainly through the night and when you wake up in your next destination there are excursions and enough free time available to really get a feel for the city you are in. With Emerald Waterways the majority of land excursions are included in the price of your cruise, as well as gratuities, which makes for excellent value for money. The highlights of my trip were definitely Budapest, Vienna, and Cesky Krumlov. I’ll start with the latter and leave Budapest as the grand finale it deserves. Cesky Krumlov is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a small medieval town with cobblestone streets in the Czech Republic which is definitely worth a visit. The bell tower in the gothic castle provides you with panoramic views of the town that is nestled in the horseshoe shaped Vltava River. If you have lunch in Cesky Krumlov, save some space for Trdelnik as your dessert which is a traditional Slovak cake and sweet pastry, originally coming from Hungarian-speaking part of Transylvania, Romania. Vienna is really something special. It is a beautiful city with majestic buildings and the Christmas markets were just phenomenal, in my opinion the best of the whole trip. Being famous for its coffee shops, we got recommendations from our local guide about more traditional coffee shops in the city centre and off we went…a gigantic apple strudel with a café latte later, and I could barely walk! But it was so worth it! One of the best excursions of the itinerary must be the evening in Vienna. You get whisked away to an abbey on the outskirts of Vienna for an exclusive classical concert for Emerald guests. Whether classical music is your thing or not, it is an amazing experience and something not to be missed whilst in Vienna. And finally you glide into Budapest as your last destination, and what a way to finish! I am completely in love with Budapest. It is an extraordinary city with amazing beauty, both old and new. Rich with culture and history, with amazing architecture and friendly people. The Danube really comes to life in Budapest with all the big buildings right on the riverbanks. I would highly recommend an evening cruise with cocktails and canapés to experience this picturesque city lit up at night. A day is way too short for this beautiful city though, especially if you want to experience one of the many geothermal baths the city has to offer, so definitely extend your stay with a couple of nights in Budapest after your cruise. Next on my river cruise wish list…The Mekong in Vietnam! So watch this space…

Unlimited Luxury in Mexico

22 July 2015

Lively, modern and chic – the perfect description for the adult-only haven of Secrets Silversands. Situated in the Riviera Maya on the Eastern Coast of Mexico, this 5 star resort is conveniently located to experience the best that the Cancun area has to offer. Just 15 miles South of Cancun City, the resort is close enough to the city to enjoy the shopping and nightlife, but far enough to escape the hustle and bustle and relax with nature on your doorstep. Further to the South, it is just over an hour to reach Tulum where you can experience the ancient cliff-side Tulum ruins. A guided tour is highly recommended to hear all about the history of the Mayan people, their beliefs and traditions. Force yourself to get up early for a morning tour of Tulum, since the sun is brutal when it gets to noon and the crowds become unpleasant. On your way back you can cool down at a couple of cenotes (natural sinkhole shaped freshwater pools) or by snorkelling with turtles at Akumal. Back at the resort, Secrets have truly raised the bar when it comes to ‘All Inclusive’. The exclusive privileges of their Unlimited Luxury program will treat you to the highest standards of quality and service where everything is included. Gourmet dining at eight different restaurants, various bars with unlimited top-shelf spirits, 24/7 room service, day and evening entertainment, tennis, complimentary greens fees, non-motorised water sports, eight pools and an ocean front jacuzzi. No hidden costs for towels or romantic sun loungers. It is all included. The luxury doesn’t stop when it comes to the rooms either. Secrets Silversands is an all-suite resort with elegant Jacuzzis (big enough for two) in every single room! The modern rooms are extremely spacious and come with a tropical, pool or ocean view. And yes you have guessed it, the mini bar is all inclusive and restocked daily. My favourite part of the room is the Secrets Box, which is a discreet and romantic way to get your room service delivered without the need to even open the door. Even with all this distraction in an exotic holiday destination, our technologically driven world often results in the increasingly familiar question of wi-fi. And I hope that having read this far, you would know the answer without me having to spell it out… Welcome to the world of Unlimited Luxury.

Celebrity Eclipse cruise to Paris

11 May 2015

I feel like a little child on Christmas morning, waiting to tear open all the presents. My camera is already working overtime, clicking away, as I walk from the car park staring at the majestic beauty in front of me. As I get closer I walk into the shadow of the newly refurbished….Celebrity Eclipse. I am met with a glass of champagne as I set foot on board, and the journey of modern luxury begins. Every corner of this mid-size ship brings another surprise. Multiple restaurants, numerous bars and endless entertainment. Food is a gastronomic experience on the Eclipse, whether you feel like buffet meals, fine dining, a picnic in the sun, or a quick pastry with coffee, the choice is yours. Entertainment ranges from West End shows, night clubs, cooking demonstrations and destination specialist presentations to wine tasting. But if you are looking for something more quiet, you can hide away in the cozy library, play a board game, take a nap in a sun lounger or receive a relaxing treatment in the spa. The cruise was only a 2 night itinerary from Southampton to Paris and back, but our time was jam packed with fun and it seemed way too soon when we docked at Southampton again. The time literally whizzed past, but a few special events really stood out for me: An amazing talk from destination specialist Ben Fogle. A truly jaw dropping experience where you listen to the amazing travel experiences throughout his life, from rowing across the Atlantic and running across the Sahara, to swimming with crocodiles to document the life of these interesting creatures under water. A wine tasting event in partnership with Oz Clarke. Wow! What this guy doesn’t know about wine, grapes, and the wine producing regions around the world, is not worth knowing. Oz Clarke took us on a journey around the world and into the history of wine making for each tasting. My personal favourite… The Montgras Reserva Carmenere from Chile. What an amazing red! The West End show was a pleasant surprise. The crew delivered a highly professional show, with amazing dancers, music and performances, with standing ovations from the audience. Who needs London for a good show? Try the Eclipse instead! I was still discovering little nooks and corners of this ship when we had to disembark, there is just so much to do! Add the amazing food and drinks to non-stop entertainment, and you get a floating All Inclusive paradise at sea. That is the definition of modern luxury.

Indian Ocean Paradise - Maldives

20 November 2014

Hidden in the middle of nowhere, South West of Sri Lanka, the Maldives is an exotic holiday destination. British Airways operates direct flights from Gatwick so it is easier than ever to add this popular destination to your travelling bucket list. However, with nearly 1,200 islands of which almost 120 are resort islands, it can be overwhelming to choose where to go. From a recent visit in October 2014, I can make the choice a little bit easier having seen a wide range of alternatives. A HAPPENING PLACE - KUREDU As the second biggest island in the Maldives, Kuredu really offers something for everyone - from young to old, honeymooners to retired, sport fanatics, families and romantic breaks! If peace and quiet is what you are looking for, Kuredu offers you the typical tropical water villa paradise you always see on pictures, with quiet corners if you want to just enjoy the view or an excellent spa where you can get the tension rubbed out of your shoulders. At the same time, if you are looking for activities to keep you busy, Kuredu has it all! Kuredu hosts one of the finest golf courses in the Maldives, a water sports centre where I tried my hand at my first wind surfing lesson, a fully certified dive centre, a great house reef for snorkeling, evening entertainment and many more activities! Kuredu values guest services very highly and they do everything they can to provide you with a memorable experience. I witnessed a sunset cocktail party for repeat customers who ranged from their second idyllic experience to one couple on their 33rd stays and their 34th already booked! However, staffing is high and continuity of service from individual staff is not always possible. Having said that, I will definitely be adding my name to the list of repeat customers, we absolutely loved our time at Kuredu and the cocktail party is calling! AN INTIMATE HONEYMOON DESTINATION - KOMANDOO Sharing the same atoll as Kuredu, Komandoo is much smaller, housing only 65 rooms with a strict age policy of 18+. The island is quiet and intimate, an ideal location for honeymooners if you are looking for quality time away from the crowds. Walking around the island I couldn’t believe the peace, quiet and solitude that we experienced. It was an amazing rejuvenation of one’s soul! However if you are considering a couple of weeks on Komandoo, be aware that chillaxing and snorkeling are the main activities, with only one pool, a main restaurant, a couple of bars, beach and sunshine to pass your time. BACK TO NATURE - FILITHEYO Filitheyo lies to the South of the capital of the Maldives, Male and is very well known for its amazing house reef, a fact I can personally confirm. The island has a diving centre as well, but if you are hoping to see beautiful underwater scenery and rainbow coloured fish, then snorkeling will capture all of this. I have even seen reviews of people seeing whale sharks whilst snorkeling the house reef of Filitheyo. With about 130 rooms, Filitheyo is a medium sized island with two restaurants and two bars to choose from. Facilities are more basic and food less luxurious than on Kuredu or Komandoo, but still with multiple choice and ample feasts to satisfy any taste. The atmosphere is rustic, laid back and you get a real sense of being close to nature.

Exploring the Big Apple

19 November 2014

It is one of those places that is on many a bucket list. The city that never sleeps definitely lives up to its name, a pulsing hub of 24/7 activity for young and old. The best way to see Manhattan with its famous sky scrapers is probably by hop-on hop-off bus. Different lines cater for Downtown v Uptown, and often includes a boat trip to the Liberty island. Downtown is an amazing experience! My favourite sites were: 9/11 MEMORIAL I struggle to think of the right words to describe this place... Ground zero is where the twin towers used to be, which has now been turned into massive square metal waterfalls. With the sound of water and trees all around, the peaceful setting is in stark contrast to the thousands and thousands of names etched into the metal. Unlike myself, I was totally overcome by emotion at the 9/11 memorial. Looking upon the names, you can’t help but imagining the horror that must’ve occurred on the very spot you are standing on. It is a humbling and touching experience, and something that should be on the top of any to-do list to show respect to the locals who have suffered such a terrible loss. TOP OF THE ROCK Everyone is looking for that famous New York skyline and snapping a well-deserved selfie with the Empire State building in the background. I can’t think of a better place to get this than the Rockefeller centre (Top of the Rock). Situated in the middle of the Empire State building and the Crystler building, you get amazing views of both, including Central Park and every other landmark in Manhattan. On a clear day, you can even see the Statue of Liberty in the distance. The Top of the Rock is open in the day and the evening, so if you prefer to capture the glittering lights of the New York skyline, an evening visit is well worth it. STATUE OF LIBERTY What would a visit to New York be without the famous face of the Statue of Liberty. Standing tall and proud as a symbol of freedom, this is a site not to be missed. If you want to avoid crowds, cost, and standing in queues, you can get onto a boat that goes past the island but doesn’t stop there. You get amazing close up pictures of the statue as well as a brilliant view of Manhattan looking back from the island. Of course, there is much more to New York than the above, but it will become a book rather than a blog to write about it all. But to list a few others for your to-do list: - CENTRAL PARK: It is bigger than you can imagine. Make sure you plan enough time to go and explore the peaceful gardens, and pack comfortable walking shoes! - GRAND CENTRAL STATION: Yet another well-known landmark, familiar to most of us from the many movies that have been shot there. - NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY - WALL STREET And last but by no means least, don’t leave before you have cocktails on a ROOFTOP BAR. The nights come alive on the top of buildings with glamorous dresses and expensive cocktails. For an excellent location I would recommend “230 on Fifth”, which is New York’s largest outdoor rooftop garden with stunning views of the Empire State Building. You are so close it feels like you can touch it.

Wandering the streets of Venice

18 November 2014

Italy has been a favourite of mine for a long time. I have a rule never to go back to the same location twice because there is just so much to see in this world. But with Rome, I have broken my rule twice already. When I finally visited the romantic city of Venice I realised that I have to make Italy an exception to my rule. Venice is an amazing place and hopelessly romantic. If it is not already on your bucket list, add it soon before the sinking city disappears beneath the sea. A long weekend in Venice is a perfect break for an anniversary, birthday, or just to spoil yourself. Time flies by with aimless wandering through cobblestone streets, exploring the art and shops, and trying the superb restaurants throughout the city. My highlights in May 2014 were: VENICE The whole of Venice??? YES, absolutely! My highlight was walking the streets of Venice for a full two days...feeling the heartbeat of the city, breathing the atmosphere and appreciating all the stunning picture-perfect little corners you find on your way. You will be tempted to constantly snap photos to capture each slightly different angle or reflection. However, they never quite reflect the feeling of being there in person. Venice is a maze of cobblestone paths, restaurants, art shops, markets, and famous landmarks. Make sure to explore the quieter residential areas as well and don’t always stick to the “tourist highways”. You will be amazed at what you find. A Gondola ride is very popular in Venice and a very romantic way to see the city, but be prepared to pay and even haggle for a good price. Gondolas can go where Vaporetti (public water transport) can’t, but your feet are as good as a Gondola if you are willing to walk instead. Some of my best memories are about sitting down to eat. We pre-booked restaurants in advance, but also had some excellent finds by just stumbling across a restaurant and enjoying the local Italian food and drinks. Sit on the terraces if you can and watch Venice pass by you. RIALTO BRIDGE One of the biggest tourist attractions in Venice, this bridge attracts hundreds and thousands of visitors on a daily basis, so make sure you are prepared for a crowd! To take a photo of yourself at the top of the bridge, with the grand canal in the background, can be a bit of a waiting game and requires some quick fingers to capture that split second moment when a stranger is not rubbing shoulders with you, but absolutely worth it! Be sure to wander beside the canal and admire the bridge in all its splendour. And of course it is not just a bridge, but also a hub of little shops selling everything from jewellery to masks, drinks and food. BURANO You will often see very colourful pictures of “Venice” and then wonder where they were taken, the answer is Burano! The main island of Venice is surrounded by smaller islands, each with its own trade, culture and atmosphere. I would highly recommend making a trip to Burano. You literally walk into a smartie box town that bursts with colour, so don’t forget your camera! The island is tiny so probably only a half-day visit (including lunch), but from Burano you can walk across a bridge to Mazzorbo and spend the rest of your day in an Italian vineyard tasting wine. More about that below. Over and above the beauty of Italy, the other reason I am a big fan is the food! I love everything Italian...pizza, pasta, gelato, wine and limoncello! What is there not to like?! So, having said that, I absolutely have to list a few of my favourite places to eat and drink during your visit: CLUB DEL DOGE, THE GRITTI PALACE A perfect place for a date night in Venice, with a romantic view of the Basilica di Santa Maria. With tables located right next to the Grand Canal, you can stare at the reflection of lights on the water and even be wooed by singing Gondola drivers who take a quick tour out on the Grand Canal waters. Having mentioned that I like pizza, it is probably worth noting that pizza is not available on this menu! This is a fine dining restaurant with high ratings and prices, so if you are looking for something special, consider booking a dinner at Club del Doge. But if you are looking for pizza or pasta, this is not your place. ACQUA PAZZA RISTORANTE We stumbled across this restaurant whilst exploring Venice, but ended up staying for a whole afternoon! Ristorante Acqua Pazza is an elegant restaurant with an outside terrace on Campo Sant’Angelo, specialising in fish and seafood shipped directly from the Amalfi coast. The food is amazing, with an excellent wine menu to match your plate. Limoncello is served after dessert in different flavours and bright colours, providing quite a unique experience, no driving no worries. Highly recommended! VENISSA VINEYARD, MAZZORBO We would never have found this treasure if it wasn’t for Twitter! So cheers to @winewankers (sorry, but true) for retweeting my request for recommendations that lead us to Venissa. You can choose from quietly enjoying the surroundings with wine tasting in their sampling room, or enjoying a glass of local wine whilst lunching in the restaurant. The people are friendly, the wine is amazing and the atmosphere is just wonderfully relaxed and Italian. AL VAGON RESTAURANT, VENICE Quite close to the main attractions such as the Rialto Bridge, but away from the massive crowds, Al Vagon is an excellent choice if you are looking for good food and a romantic table next to a canal. Locals will share the tables next to you, so you know they do Italian food in the right way!

Eating our way through Cape Town

19 November 2014

It’s called the Cape of Good Hope, but in my books it’s more like the Cape of Good Food & Wine! Whilst Cape Town and the surrounding areas are widely known as the wine region of South Africa, I will leave that for another blog...let’s talk food first! From our recent trip to Cape Town in April 2014, I would like to share some of my favourite food spots you should be sure to visit when you get the chance: 1. LA MOUETTE This is an absolute must! Rated as one of the top restaurants in Cape Town and recognised worldwide, I would definitely go back here every time I visit the mother city. Quite pricey if you pay in Rands, but very reasonable when paying in a stronger currency like the British Pound. La Mouette is situated in the Seapoint area of Cape Town, and serves French cuisine. The service is excellent, as is the food, with wine I am still dreaming about. I would highly recommend the Marianne Pinotage 2008! Cape Town’s taxi / cab service has improved dramatically over the past few years, so I would recommend booking a taxi to and from the restaurant and not to walk or drive. 2. MILLERS THUMB If you are after a restaurant that will give you more of a “local” experience, Millers Thumb is the place to go. Freshly prepared seafood and fish dishes dominate the menu, with mouth-watering combinations of flavours you would never even think of. In between the V&A Waterfront and the Table Mountain cable carpark, you can’t miss Millers Thumb with its bright painted walls. Make sure you book in advance though, since this place is popular with both locals and tourists! 3. CODFATHERS A hidden gem in the Campsbay area, Codfathers is a seafood restaurant highly recommended by both locals and myself! Hidden away behind the beachfront shops, it is easily missed, but definitely worth a visit. A unique feature to this restaurant is the fact that there is no menu! You get a very friendly waiter assigned to your table who then accompanies you to the fresh fish and seafood counter to select your own food. The waiter will tell you about the different fish and will make recommendations based on your taste and appetite. Once you’ve selected your food, the waiter will bring the price based on weight to your table to approve before cooking will commence. Sounds like a lot of effort? It is so worth it! The food is absolutely stunning! Booking in advance is recommended. 4. BURATTA If you are passionate about pizza, pasta and everything Italian, have dinner at Buratta. Voted as South Africa’s best Italian restaurant, and with local Italians choosing this as a get together spot, you know they are doing Italian food well! The antipasti starter is an absolute winner and the perfect social dish to slowly kick-start dinner with family / friends over a glass of wine. Not to mention the pizza dough that is causing passionate reviews all over the internet! Located in Cape Town’s Old Biscuit Mill, I would recommend booking a taxi to and from the restaurant. Booking in advance is recommended. 5. HUSSAR GRILL Another Campsbay contestant, but this time specialising in steak. Hussar Grill is situated in-town towards Chapman’s Peak. Quality South African meat is the theme in Hussar Grill, for both starters and main course. The atmosphere is rustic and relaxing with a wooden wine cellar feel to it. 6. THE BRASS BELL The Brass Bell is not technically in Cape Town, but if you are heading over Chapman's Peak to the other side of Cape Point, make sure to visit the Brass Bell in the trendy harbour town of Kalk Bay for excellent sea views and a casual lunch. The restaurant is much bigger than what it looks like from the outside. It has various different sections with different themes. You can choose from lounging next to the tide pools, having a casual lunch on the deck, sitting in a more formal restaurant or making use of the upstairs area for a better view. A lot of the restaurant is outdoors, so you can catch a few rays whilst having lunch, but there are also covered areas for when it rains. This is definitely not a place to dress up. With most of the clientele in flip-flops and kids splashing around in the tide pools, it is a place to go to if you are looking for a laid back lunch in the sun. I can really recommend the grilled calamari at the Brass Bell. It must be some of the best calamari I have ever had. 7. THE TEST KITCHEN & THE POT LUCK CLUB Not only is The Test Kitchen South Africa’s top restaurant, but it is also listed under the “The World’s 50 Best Restaurants” in 2014. The Pot Luck Club is the sister restaurant of The Test Kitchen and almost as popular. Unfortunately I have not been able to experience either one of these yet, since they are both fully booked for several months in advance. So if one of these famous restaurants is on your foody bucket-list, make sure to book WELL in advance if you want to fit a visit into a set holiday itinerary.

Wine farm hopping in the Western Cape, South Africa

19 November 2014

South Africa hosts one of the world’s most famous wine regions in the Western Cape. Without being biased (since this is my home country), it is really a spectacular place to see, with natural beauty, sun, sea and of course...amazing wine! We had the pleasure of spending a whole week in this area in April 2014 and managed to visit seven wine estates in five days, so here is my ranking and recommendations of our adventure: ASARA An absolute treasure and winning my top spot! If you are keen to experience both the Stellenbosch area as well as the calm atmosphere of a wine estate, you should definitely stay at Asara. Situated only 5 minutes drive outside Stellenbosch, you get the best of both worlds by being close enough to restaurants, shops and night life, but also having the peaceful setting of the mountains with the sun setting over the various shades of green vineyards. Definitely ask for a room with a balcony overlooking the pond which is just amazing to wake up to. We’ve made good use of the balcony by buying some local bread, cheese and wine as a light meal whilst enjoying the view. The service is excellent and there are multiple activities within the grounds to stay busy with if you don’t feel like leaving the wine estate. There are various restaurants, pool, spa, bakery, gift shop, wine tasting, vineyard exploring, etc. SPICE ROUTE PAARL Spice Route provides a very unique combination of culinary experiences, wine tasting, nature and art. We have spent an entire day at Spice Route and we could have stayed much longer! Food choices range from top quality charcuterie to biltong, pizza, chocolate, locally made ice cream, afternoon tea or fine dining. Drinks are in full supply whether you prefer wine or beer tasting, and brilliant views of Table Mountain draw the eye to the horizon while you enjoy your drinks! So put a day aside in your itinerary for visiting the Spice Route, and remember to pack sunblock and a hat to protect from the strong South African sun. ALTYDGEDACHT Altydgedacht holds a very special place in my heart since we had the most amazing bottle of red at the top of the Sandton Sun in our early dating days. It will always bring fond memories and a dreamy smile to my face. So it goes without saying that we wanted to visit the wine farm producing our dream bottle of wine. Situated in the Durbanville area of Cape Town, you will experience a down to earth wine estate with a lovely garden setting. For an idyllic lunch, Eat@altydgedacht should be on your list. ******* Note - We have visited the next four wine farms as part of an Easyrider wine tour. They are based in Stellenbosch and part of a backpacking company, so transportation is fairly basic and customers are typically young people / students. If you are looking for a more affordable wine tour option with a lively bunch of customers, definitely consider going with Easyrider wine tours. They will also pick you up from your hotel (or Asara!) if you are located in the Stellenbosch area. If this is not your cup of tea, there are many alternative options to tour companies based in this area. SIMONSIG Simonsig is a wine estate where the wine is made locally on the estate itself. As part of the wine tasting you also get an overview of the wine making process and a tour through the factory to see the various stages of fermentation. Simonsig is widely known for its excellent wine and I have never left this wine estate without buying a few of the bottles from what I have tasted! FAIRVIEW Fairview is situated next to the Spice Route in Paarl, so if you are not going to visit this wine estate as part of a tour, you can definitely visit it when you do your own day trip to the Spice Route. The unique feature of Fairview for me is the cheese tasting which is obviously the perfect accompaniment for wine. Get your glass of preferred red from the tasting area, stroll over to the cheese counter and simply enjoy the delectable tastes before finishing your wine tasting. Having been here a few times and being a big cheese lover myself, I always seem to leave with a decent cheese purchase. As a totally random “did you know” fact, keep your eyes open to spot chameleons in the car park! They are hard to see in the bushes but they seem to love the Fairview car park for some reason! BOSCHENDAL Boschendal is a big name, and definitely doesn’t need me to do any introductions. The name speaks for itself, with a reputation that is known worldwide. My first impression of the Boschendal estate can be described by one word: elegance! Sitting under the massive oak tree with the big lawn and Cape Dutch mansion as your background is just simply lovely. Please note that if you visit Boschendal as part of a wine tour, you are often given the standard tasting menu. However, for a little bit more you can have an enhanced tasting menu with more of the flagship wines which you will enjoy as either a wine buff or novice. DIEU DONNE A wine tour will definitely not be complete without visiting Franchhoek, which is a picturesque little town, in the middle of towering mountains within the Cape winelands. We had lunch at Franchhoek before visiting Dieu Donne on the outskirts of the town for more wine tasting! Dieu Donne is not so well known and receives less visitors. However, the view is incredible from the estate which makes it well worth visiting.

Aloha Hawaii!

10 November 2014

Hawaii...a childhood dream, an idyllic destination, dreamy white sands and palm trees, picture-perfect sunsets and colourful cocktails next to bright blue water. It’s been on my bucket list like forever! And I finally got the chance to travel there in November 2013. First question you will probably ask is: “Which island to go to?” Good question! Hawaii is made up of 8 islands, three of which I have visited. So let’s start with Oahu and the Big Island, and I will leave my favourite for last...Maui OAHU Oahu is home to Honolulu and the world renowned Waikiki beach. If you fly from anywhere but the United States, chances are you will fly into the international Airport at Honolulu. If this is the case, it is well worth spending some time in Waikiki before moving on to a different island. Waikiki is a bustling city of skyscrapers, white beaches, shops and nightlife. You can spend hours walking through fascinating shops or along the beach, and when you get tired you can retire to one of many beachside bars for a tropical cocktail. Whilst in Waikiki, be sure to catch a glimpse of Diamond Head from the seaside, watch a mermaid show in one of the hotels, and do some snorkeling at Hanauma Bay. THE BIG ISLAND As the name suggests, the Big Island is the largest of the Hawaiian islands and holds a particular charm as it has one of the world’s few active erupting volcanoes, Kilauea (as at 2013). My top recommendation on the Big Island would be to do a Volcano Tour. Make sure to choose a tour that will let you see Kilauea at dusk / night time to get that million dollar picture of the lava glow against the dark night sky. I strongly suggest “The Volcano Van” as a tour company. They specialise in smaller, more personal tours and Scott is an expert with contagious enthusiasm and a love of volcanoes which really rubs off. To get close to the lava, you might need to consider either a boat or helicopter trip, depending on the lava flow when you are there. Be mindful though of the cost versus how much lava you can see in reality. A very special spot to visit on the Big Island is the Punalu’u Beach, where you can get up close and personal with sea turtles on black sand! Yes, you’ve heard me right, black sand! It is a very unique sight in this volcanic area, so be sure not to miss it. Kona is a good area to stay in whilst on the Big Island with quite a few ocean facing hotels along the coast, a golf course and an easily accessible town (Kailua-Kona) for shopping and eating out. The Sheraton at Kona is located on dramatic lava cliffs and hosts the popular Rays on the Bay restaurant where you can have your dinner whilst watching the Manta Rays feeding of the plankton at night. MAUI Ahhh...the name makes me smile. A favourite for many, this is really a charming island with the best of everything. From white sand beaches to lava rocks, all the way to water sports, Zagat rated restaurants and shops! Here you will find something to keep the whole family entertained. I would highly recommend a stay in the Wailea area on the Western side of the island. There is literally a row of hotels to choose from all lined up along the coast. We stayed at the Wailea Beach Marriott Hotel and Spa which is ideally located for alternating between lounging next to the infinity pool, playing golf, hitting the gym, or running along the coast. The Marriot hotel is also within walking distance of the shops at Wailea, so there is plenty to keep you busy. Maui is a popular spot for diving, snorkelling and turtles! One of my favourite days in Maui was a day out with the Alii Nui sailing charters. We snorkelled with turtles, saw the first breaching Humpback whale of the season, and got accompanied by dolphins on our way back home! And what would a trip to Hawaii be without attending the Luau? The show illustrates the history of Hawaii via a dance show, and is accompanied by a traditional pig roast feast for dinner. As another one of my highlights of our trip, the Luau is a perfect event to round off a holiday to Hawaii you are bound to remember forever.

“Spa-licious” gems

19 November 2014

I’ll admit it; I have a huge soft spot for spas. Getting that stress rubbed out of your shoulders, marinating in thermal water, getting an overload of pampering and a general detox! So here are some of the hidden gems I have discovered whilst exploring these thermal havens... HOTEL VILLA HONEGG, SWITZERLAND Winning the top spot on my list, is Hotel Villa Honegg. What a gem! Against the slopes of a mountain, overlooking Lake Lucerne, this is a stunningly romantic location that will leave all your friends green with envy when you post those pictures on Facebook. Secluded, and hidden away (if such a thing is possible on a slope of a mountain), I have not come across anyone who has discovered this magical place. Winter is breathtakingly beautiful with snowy slopes and mountain peaks and gentle snowflakes gathering on your head as you hang on the edge of the infinity pool overlooking the stunning vista. You can spend hours in the spa simply staring at the view. Cozy fireplaces welcome you inside where you will enjoy cheese and wine or afternoon tea. And when it comes to dinner, the restaurant gets five stars from me! Fine dining, excellent wine, magnificent spa, breath-taking views...What more do you want? AQUA DOME, AUSTRIA With easy access from Innsbruck International Airport, Aqua Dome is an ideal location for a spa breakaway weekend. But you might want to consider staying longer than just a weekend, since you will most certainly be smothered in luxury! Labelled as Europe’s best spa, it really lives up to its name. Aqua Dome has something for everyone, from a crèche and waterslides for children, to fitness facilities for the exercise fanatics, beauty treatments for general pampering, sauna, spas, hot springs, and more. Hours just slip by as you move from one pool to the next trying out various detoxing scrubs and steam rooms, or cuddling next to a fireplace with a book. Don’t be put off by the reviews about nudity, most areas are not! The Sauna World is exclusively nudist, but then again there are loads of saunas in other parts of the building which require you to be in swimwear. Day visits are possible and quite common, but I would recommend booking into the Aqua Dome hotel for a full experience. Being one of the hotel guests, you get access to exclusive areas purely for hotel guests, away from the crowds, providing you with a sense of zen. If you are into skiing, the local village Langenfeld caters for skiing equipment and there are ski slopes quite close by at Solden.

Diving for the jewels of the Red Sea

13 November 2014

If you are looking for guaranteed sunshine, crystal clear waters and world famous diving sites, Egypt is an obvious choice! Sharm El Sheikh is a popular holiday destination to enjoy luxury resorts and sunshine all year round at affordable prices and we had the pleasure of enjoying this Egyptian hotspot in July 2012. We were sadly reluctant to come back! Now, the first thing to say is that July is HOT!!! We were desperate for warm weather, but the peak of the Egyptian summer is definitely not for the faint-hearted. Temperatures were close to 40 degrees Celsius every day with little difference at night. If you are looking for milder weather, select a different time of the year to visit. Egyptian winters are very mild with an average of 26 degrees Celsius, but overnight temperatures can drop significantly. STELLA DI MARE During our visit we stayed at the Stella Di Mare Resort & Spa for two weeks, which was absolute bliss! This is one of my favourite locations and hotels ever, and we have promised ourselves to go back again. Stella Di Mare is ideally located on the edge of the famous Naama Bay but not in the town itself, which means you have the perfect balance of peace and tranquility versus the hustle and bustle of shops and restaurants. The hotel has a private beach with an amazing house reef for snorkeling immediately off the hotel jetty. You have a choice of numerous restaurants, bars and evening entertainment, and the hotel provides a free shuttle into Naama Bay if you prefer to explore elsewhere. Whilst you enjoy luxurious cocktails and food every day, you can stay healthy in the wellness centre and spa. During our stay, I had my first ever Thai massage, and am now a converted fan! My days of aromatherapy massages is something of the past ;) NAAMA BAY The shuttle service from Stella Di Mare is great and we have made use of it more than once. Should you do the same, be sure to visit these great little treasures during your time in Naama Bay: • Little Buddha, for amazing sushi and cocktails • Camel Bar, for rooftop views and after dinner drinks • Local markets with stalls full of inviting merchandise DIVING Whilst Stella Di Mare hosts their own diving centre onsite, it is worth doing your homework to compare prices for scuba diving day trips. Most diving sites require a boat trip, so it is a good idea to plan a full-day outing and most companies will pick you up from your hotel. Ras Mohammed is a popular diving spot, and absolutely stunning! We were lucky enough to see a hammerhead shark, whale sharks, turtles, crocodile fishes, a lion fish, a stone fish, big schools of colourful angel fish and many more. The water clarity is unbelievably clear, one of the best I have seen. If you are a scuba diver and have not yet been to the Red Sea, pack your gear and head over to Sharm El Sheikh for an unforgettable experience, it is well worth a visit.

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Brilliant swift service took all the stress out of organising a holiday!

Sent by C Brazell

Cornel saved me so much time! I was baffled by choice and she just made it all so easy.

Sent by T Gallagher

Cornel has been very helpful and I will be contacting her for any future trips. I will also definitely recommend Cornel to people I know. Thank You.

Sent by T van der Walt

In all our past holiday and other travels, we've never been as impressed with the arrangements done. If one take into account your brief was very limited and you managed to arrange and plan a holiday which pleasantly surprised us, on a daily basis. It was as if you knew our tastes in travelling, accommodation, interest, etc. The hired vehicles, the accommodation, the places and sights, was exactly what we wanted. At one stage it was not possible to do our flight check-in, you immediately offered to do that on our behalf, notwithstanding the fact that you had to get up in the very early hours of the day to enable that. So much commitment to ensure our pleasant and enjoyable holiday, we have not seen in all our previous trips. We have no problem to highly recommend your professional travel agent services, to experience what a pleasure it could be to use your totally committed services. Thank you once again for your professional travel services. We will be in contact soon with the next planned trip.

Sent by D Ansell

Cornel was always available to ask questions and helped us book our holiday with ease. Would absolutely recommend to others!

Sent by R Lecomber

Very happy with the service provided, would definitely recommend to others.

Sent by A Randall

Excellent service with a personal touch. Sometimes it’s the little things that make the difference such as the Barcelona pocket lonely planet guide.

Sent by L Davis

Cornel has been brilliant, she has been exactly what we we’re looking for. Cornel has answered all our questions and done all the hard work for us. We highly recommend Cornel. Hopefully our holiday in September won’t disappoint.

Sent by A Glekin

Everything I asked Cornel to find out she did so immediately and with explanations and recommendations.

Sent by W Chopping

Great personal service. Lovely touch to receive a quality guide book for the destination as well. Highly recommended.

Sent by S Copland-Jones

Cornel is extremely professional and brilliant at what she does and has been helping us book our holidays now for a number of years. Cornel is someone who always does that bit more for you to ensure your holiday is just what you wanted. A fantastic exemplary service every time! Many thanks Cornel from The Copland-Jones family

Sent by C Hickey

Excellent service. Friendly, knowledgeable and super efficient and helpful.

Sent by S Gillmore

Very good service

Sent by J Brankin

We really enjoy discussing and planning holidays with Cornel and recommend her at every opportunity we get!

Sent by E Blakeborough

Amazing, friendly, informative and super quick service. It was lovely not to have the hassle of finding the perfect villa - Cornel found it for us in no time at all.

Sent by K Jackson

Cornel's personal service cannot be faulted and has taken care of all my requirements. All I did was chose my preferred holiday from the wonderful options she offered me. Thank you.

Sent by P Nightingale

A very professional, knowledgeable, friendly and thoroughly reliable service provided at all times. Already recommended to others.

Sent by L Bodvin

Cornel did a great job on this assignment, from beginning to end! She helped us plan an amazing holiday with a couple of iterations during planning to suit our thoughts and budget. Whilst we were in Halong Bay, the monsoon came in early and we had to alter plans for safety reasons. We reached out to Cornel and Ms Nga on the ground, who helped us bring our scheduled itinerary a day forward - all in the middle of the night for Cornel! We had a great team on this holiday, definitely recommended Cornel and Ms Nga for organising any trip to Vietnam, and providing support in time of need!

Sent by A Hutchins

Cornel has been extremely helpful and answered all my questions that I have had very professionally. She gave me various different quotes so that I could compare what holiday was best suited to us. Cornel was really efficient and got our holiday booked very quickly and offered us advice along the way. I would definitely recommend her services and would have no hesitation in booking a holiday with her again.

Sent by I Goldsmith

Our scheduled ferry crossing from Portsmouth to Bilbao was cancelled immediately prior to departure. Cornel reacted immediately and within an hour had booked alternative flights, changed hotel reservations and secured re-funds. This is our third experience with Cornel and Travel Counsellors. Definitely to be repeated again.

Sent by T Wells

Cornel was amazing and spent so much time organising what will be a very special holiday. There were numerous changes on dates, people and itinerary but she dealt with it all with so professionally and made it so easy for me. I can't thank her enough.

Sent by L Bodvin

Cornel goes the extra mile to accommodate all our requirements- thank you!

Sent by M Swart

Excellent professional service!

Sent by I Tolowinska

The helpful advice and taking away the time required for searching/finding the best deals that suited our budget made booking this holiday so easy.

Sent by B Granville

The service that Cornel gave us was exemplary with amazingly speedy replies to all our questions even late in the evening and imaginative suggestions. First Class.

Sent by K Jackson

I made one phone call to Cornel and from that I have a complete holiday with all the extra care with travelling and hotel arrangements made for me.

Sent by L Jackson

A fantastic travel experience for a short trip again. Cornel made it really easy - I didn't have to think about a thing from start to finish. Thanks!

Sent by T Parrott

Highly recommended, Cornel is amazing, truly passionate about travel and booking holidays as if they were her own. A lovely personal service and completely hassle free! Thank you Cornel.

Sent by N Henderson

Cornel has been amazing. In just one week we had planned and booked a special trip to celebrate our silver wedding anniversary including multiple flights, destinations, transfers and trips. First hand knowledge of destinations offering helpful advice and tips with excellent personal service. Thank you very much and would highly recommend your services to our friends and family.

Sent by P Mason

Cornel has done a great job of helping us narrow down our requirements for our summer holiday and found us a fantastic villa which was exactly what we were looking for. I would have no hesitation recommending Cornel to friends and family looking for a personal service when arranging their next holiday.

Sent by I Goldsmith

We were delighted with your rapid and thoughtful response to our enquiries.

Sent by P Nightingale

Cornel worked above and beyond expectations to organise a special holiday tailored to our needs. She worked incredibly efficiently to complete our itinerary in such a short time scale and was always quick to respond to any of our queries. Overall, a first class service and we look forward to our holiday with excited anticipation.

Sent by E Page

Cornel understood exactly what we required and very quickly put together realistic options for us, handling our rather complicated wishes with aplomb. She has imbued us with confidence in the arrangements and offered ideas for add-ons to consider without being at all pushy. Thoroughly recommend!

Sent by A Henson

Cornel has created us a wonderful honeymoon trip for next year. She carefully listened to all our requirements and then worked hard with the ground team in South America to bring it together. They've provided an excellent service and I can't wait for the actual trip! I would thoroughly recommend her services to anyone. Thank you in advance Cornel!

Sent by K Leeves

Cornel is a very lovely, thorough travel counsellor who always gives the best advice. She takes time when I don't understand something and makes me feel as if I am her only customer!

Sent by P Keeley

Cornel understood my complex needs, as it wasn't just a package holiday. Everything was done correctly, without any hassle and saved me spending hours going through the internet trying to find flights/deals. Would highly recommend.

Sent by T Wells

Cornel was simply outstanding. I spoke with her briefly and she completely understood what we were asking for. I'm traveling with my disabled cousin. Cornel not only located the ideal holiday, but arranged absolutely everything which has been remarkably helpful. It's taken all the stress out of making sure we have all we need as she has thought of absolutely everything. So thankful for her assistance.

Sent by J Scales

Efficient, courteous and prompt service. Thoroughly recommend to anyone.

Sent by L King

Excellent service thank you

Sent by S Calton

Very good service, efficient, quick getting back to you. Would definitely use Cornel again.

Sent by S Carpenter

Cornel has at all times through the process been accommodating, knowledgeable, patient, informative and fast in her responses even when she was on assignment in other countries. She has made the process of booking a cruise holiday, a type of holiday that I had no clue where to start, a dream. She made all the tiny detailed adaptations that I have asked for and as such tailored the holiday exactly to what my parents wanted for their 70th birthdays' cruise! Thank you so much.

Sent by L Knapp

Such a fabulous service, I love not having to worry about anything!

Sent by L Dziaszyk

Cornel has been a pleasure to deal with. She listened to our request and responded promptly with options that matched our wishes in all respects. Cornel attended to all booking and related issues, made sure we understood any travel requirements, and was always accessible, friendly and helpful. She has earned full marks!

Sent by A Lancaster

Very helpful, good service, brilliant price. Would recommend to friends and family.

Sent by G Ellis

Cornel always thinks about what would be the best options instead of just going with your first thoughts or what is easiest. Cornel typifies the meaning of being a "Counselor" as opposed to an agent.

Sent by J Lawrence

Cornel was great when booking our trip to Sorrento last year and got us everything we were looking for. She has helped us with a multitude of options for our honeymoon this year and we have now successfully booked it!! :) She has gone above and beyond, even providing suggestions of places to go and restaurants etc. Couldn't be better. We have recommended her to lots of family and friends already.

Sent by P Wilson

Cornel worked incredibly hard to get my husband and I on our perfect romantic getaway working with some very difficult and conflicting requirements from us! She managed this with a sense of humour and determination, and all I need to do is sit back with a mojito on the silvery sand.

Sent by L Ashby

Second time of booking through cornel for which is not ever a straight forward list of requirements and from a family that are useless in making timely decisions and she always comes through with such a "nothing is too much trouble" attitude and thinks of everything. I honestly can't rate her service any higher she is by far a god send !

Sent by A Chatwin

Excellent service, taking us from a vague 'we fancy a holiday' to a fully booked itinerary. Very supportive as we um-ed and ah-ed and changed our minds a lot!

Sent by G Looker

Many thanks for the amazing service you provided when booking the holiday for me and my wife at New Year. I’ve never used a personal travel agent before so was somewhat uncertain as to what to expect. My only thought afterwards was “why haven’t I done this sooner?!” The selection of hotels in Venice that you recommended were all excellent and the one we finally selected was perfect – it suited every requirement: centrally located, romantic atmosphere and within budget. I was very impressed with your attention to detail – the flights you selected were ideal, the tickets arrived in their own wallet, you had highlighted any important notes, you supplied a guidebook to the city and there was a bottle of bubbly waiting for us in our room. And even after we returned you contacted us to make sure everything had gone to plan. I am more than happy to refer people to you whenever the opportunity arises so that they too can enjoy your fantastic service.

Sent by K Jackson

Cornel went above and beyond my expectations in researching and booking my cruise. She even planned a cabin on the side of our cruise ship which offered the best views of the coastline rather than an ocean view. All the minute detail is so appreciated.

Sent by G Tedder

Cornel was the most patient, positive and thorough person we've ever booked a holiday with. Loads of great ideas and nothing was too much trouble. Thank you.

Sent by M Swart

In Sept 2015 we travelled to Europe with our 5 year old son for almost seven weeks. Cornel was our travel agent and she handled all the bookings for our whole journey: Disney Mediterranean Cruise, Barcelona, Lisbon, Algarve, Athens, Corfu, London, Euro Disney, Paris, Netherlands, Oslo, Bergen and Stockholm. 11 flights, 9 hotel bookings,1 cruise, 1 rental car, numerous taxis, 3 train bookings and countless, priceless advice! Our long-awaited family holiday was a huge success mainly because of Cornel's careful planning and attention to detail to ensure that we all, including our son, have a wonderful time! I will recommend Cornel anytime, to anyone! If you want to go on a carefree, hustle free business trip or holiday, look no further! Thanks, Cornel, for everything you did to make our holiday really special! Our memories will last for ever!

Sent by T Parrott

Fantastic service with a personal touch. Holiday options provided to perfectly suit us!

Sent by A Benson

Cornel was so patient and thorough in planning our honeymoon, and most importantly she really listened to what we wanted and what we were concerned about and worked around it accordingly. I couldn't recommend her enough!

Sent by S Byrne

Cornel took all the hassle out of arranging our trip to New York and came back very promptly with travel and hotel options.

Sent by J Hickman

Absolutely brilliant service, cannot fault it!

Sent by J Watson

Cornel found us an amazing deal, we are very pleased and have and will recommend her to friends and family.

Sent by S Berry

Excellent service. We will be booking more travel ourselves with Cornel as well as telling others.

Sent by L Dziaszyk

Cornel has been friendly, patient and extremely helpful. She found our ideal holiday where we had failed.

Sent by T Adams

Cornel provided us with an excellent service. We were not entirely certain about what we wanted but she presented us with a few tailored options based on our discussion, making the experience of booking a holiday seamless. Thanks Cornel

Sent by J Mather

Totally and unreservedly impressed with the service. I gave, what felt like, minimal information as to our family make-up and holiday requirements, yet Cornel managed to source and suggest every element required to make this one of the most relaxing and enjoyable trips that we've had in a very long time. Add to this, the fact that she answered her phone on a Sunday morning and managed to get us a luxury transfer car within the hour, and we have the perfect service. 10 out of 10, all day long.

Sent by J Scales

Very informative. Clear explanation. Couldn't fault at all.

Sent by A Boakes

We are so pleased at the amount of time Cornel has put in to finding us the holiday of our dreams in Australia. Cornel often sends us little snippets of things to do and see in Australia, which we find very useful. I would and have already recommended her to my family and friends.

Sent by H Bibi

Thank you very much Cornel! Incredible service - really helpful, friendly and accommodating. Cornel helped plan, organise and ensure we had a fantastic holiday. I would definitely recommend Cornel to anyone looking to book a holiday - never thought booking and planning a holiday could be made so stress-free! Thank you.

Sent by Giles Ellis

Highly professional service, covered several changes in plans and destinations, plus special requests with consummate ease, very knowledgeable and flexible...

Sent by Karol Leeves

Cornel was very pleasant and helpful and took the time to explain things carefully when I did not understand.

Sent by Doug Clarence

Thank you Cornel. So helpful, friendly and professional in accommodating my challenging circumstances and needs. Thanks!

Sent by Di Von Hagen

Cornel was friendly, highly professional and spoke with confidence. She listened to my requirements, guided me where she thought it would be better for the family holiday and was an absolute pleasure to put our holiday in her hands. I didn't have to wait long for her to come back to me with a quote, putting me at ease and giving me good value for my budget. I will definitely recommend her to friends and family. It is great to deal with a true professional again within the industry and her attention to detail is beyond expectations.

Sent by Liesbeth Bodvin

Cornel's service was superb! We will use her services to help us with our honeymoon and look forward to planning it with her.

Sent by Richard Adcock

Cornel treated me with professionalism and was very efficient in dealing with my request.

Sent by Andrew Todd

Excellent service and I have already recommended Cornel to our friends going on holiday with us to Morocco at Easter. Certainly everything has been covered and will be in a position to gauge the whole package once we have returned from our holiday in April 2015.

Sent by Sam Moore

My partner and I booked our honeymoon through Cornel and I would thoroughly recommend her to anyone. She was very organised and professional. We also really valued Cornel's personal experience and her flexibility to consider different options!

Sent by Marinda Swart

Cornel is passionate about delivering a quality, professional service! I will recommend her to anyone who wants to travel!

Sent by Johan Roberts

Managed to find a Christmas holiday for a family at short notice!

Sent by Karina Jackson

I have never had such thorough and complete attention to detail and I have travelled a lot. I love to take photographs and I even have details of how to set my camera for the perfect shot of the northern lights!