Sent by Joanna Davies
North Newington 18/06/2020
Based in Banbury
I am Donna. I love to travel and to help my clients get the most from their travels.
Before joining Travel Counsellors, I worked exclusively in arranging holidays to Florida. I have been fortunate to travel across much of the sunshine state where my favourite places are Anna-Maria-Island and Key-West. I have also spent time in California and New York.
My most recent travels have been to Aruba, Croatia, South Africa, Hong Kong, Mauritius, Antigua, Barbados, St Lucia, Sri Lanka, Marrakech, Dubai and Cyprus. I have also enjoyed recent city breaks in Prague and Barcelona
I have visited all of the Canary and Balearic Islands many times. Particular favourites are Playa Blanca in Lanzarote and Puerto Pollensa in Majorca
I have travelled throughout Europe particularly, Italy, Spain, Turkey and Greece but also France, Portugal, Switzerland and Germany.
I absolutely love the Caribbean islands where I have travelled extensively. I have also taken several Caribbean Cruises and can recommend them as a great way to get a taste of the different islands before deciding which island you are going to fall in love with......for me its always been Barbados.
I am delighted to be able to share my travel experiences, good and bad, with my clients!
Holidays are precious and our time is valuable. Although the internet can often offer a quick fix, you end up having to trust online reviews which aren’t always accurate. My clients don’t have that worry because they are able to trust the advice I give. I treat every enquiry as if it were my own holiday. I always go the extra mile to ensure that I find you the best value at the best hotel in the best location that suits you perfectly.
Travel Counsellors are truly independent therefore you can be assured that you will receive 100% impartial advice. As there are more than 1,400 Travel Counsellors across the globe I have access to their expertise and advice so can often make the impossible possible.
Travel Counsellors are the market leaders in financial protection with everything you book 100% financially protected. So whether you book a flight or a tailor-made holiday with me you can have complete peace of mind.
Take the guess work out of your next holiday or business trip by giving me a call or sending me an email. I work from home so I am always available. Find out how having your own personal Travel Counsellor can make a difference to your next holiday.
Honesty, integrity, care and expertise ~ at the core of everything we do.
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.
15 November 2016
I was thrilled to be given the opportunity by the Aruba Tourist Board and KLM to visit the tiny exotic Dutch island of Aruba on an educational trip with 10 of my fellow Travel Counsellors. It was an intense, five day tour of this postcard paradise island with blond beaches, located just off the coast of Venezuela in the southern Caribbean. Being located outside the hurricane belt, this 19-mile-long by 6-mile-wide island enjoys average year-round temperatures of 30°C and very little rainfall, which makes this island a perfect year-round holiday destination. The trade winds provide a constant cool breeze which causes the islands famous Divi-Divi trees to slope in a south-westerly direction. Due to the high levels of employment, a decent minimum wage and good standard of social housing makes Aruba a safe place for tourists to visit. You can even drink the tap water as they desalinate all their water due to the low rainfall. To get to the Dutch Antilles island of Aruba you can fly direct from Amsterdam with KLM. There are plenty of regional UK airports offering connecting flights to Amsterdam – I flew from Birmingham whereas my colleagues flew from various other UK regional airports. Aruba’s strapline is ‘One Happy Island’ which makes sense when you experience their super laid back a friendly attitude towards life. The capital of the island is the bustling harbour city of Oranjestad with its unique blend of old and new Dutch influenced Caribbean architecture. Most buildings are brightly coloured with shuttered windows. Cruise ships dock here, so you will find plenty of international designer shops as well as plenty of restaurants, cafes, nightclubs, bars and casinos. The southwest coast is where all the amazing beaches can be found and the majority of the hotels are located. There are two distinct resort areas – the high rise hotel area on Palm Beach with big brand hotels like the Ritz Carlton, Hilton, Grand Hyatt and Holiday Inn and the low rise hotel area located on Eagle Beach (considered to be the best beach on the island), which has a more boutique feel and is very popular with couples and honeymooners. Here you will find the stunning adult only Bucuti and Tara Resort – my personal favourite, especially the Tara Suites. I enjoyed visiting the Grand Hyatt located in Palm Beach which has beautifully landscaped gardens, spacious rooms with nice sea views, and plenty of space to relax around the different pools! In Oranjestad, I visited the Renaissance Aruba Beach Resort which consists of three sites covering the beach and main hotel across the road in Orangestad’s main shopping complex. The third site is their own private island accessible via speedboat through an underground tunnel from inside the main hotel. On the private island you can swim and take pictures up-close with the famous and very tame resident pink flamingos. At the western most point of the island is the low rise and traditionally Caribbean-style Manchebo Beach Resort & Spa, which has some lovely facilities including a beautiful Balinese style outdoor spa on the beach and a very intimate restaurant and bar. To the north of Palm Beach there is the wonderful privately owned and small Boardwalk Boutique Hotel, which is set in lush small tropical gardens with roomy self-catering accommodation for families that included kitchen facilities. This hotel is perfect if you want to hit the beach all day, come back, put the kids to bed and then sit out on your balcony and terrace, BBQ, relax in a hammock and open the nice bottle of wine - I liked this one a lot and especially enjoyed the colourful local artwork which adorns the hotel throughout. The Amsterdam Manor Beach resort, located at top end of Eagle Beach is a Dutch style property with attractive apartment style rooms ideal for families with the beach literally just across the road and they have their own beach bar and restaurant where you can sit and enjoy a spectacular sunset dinner experience. No visit to Aruba would be complete if you have not experienced the Kukoo Kunuku, Aruba’s infamous party bus pub crawl, which includes riding along in a bus with no windows, lots of flashing lights, loud music and you get your own maracas to shake to the beat. Revellers enjoy singing and dancing and you couldn’t help but enjoy the ride around the town, stopping off at local bars, before being dropped off back at the hotel at around 12:30am. It’s a great laugh, not for the faint hearted. I must say however, it is not recommend to do a 9am start 5 hour Catamaran Cruise the day after the Kukoo Kunuku party bus…. which we did. The cruise includes 3 stops to snorkel around some shipwrecks and then closer to land to see some wonderful marine life. Lunch is included, served up by the entertaining and very accommodating crew. Even though the island is relatively small, there is absolutely loads to do including a rich array of water sports including snorkelling and scuba diving the great selection of shipwrecks and reefs offshore. You can also partake in windsurfing, sailing, fishing, ATV & Jeep Safari tours or visit the national park. Other attractions include the California Lighthouse, Alto Vista Chapel with its variety of different shaped Cacti, Natural Bridge, Casibari Rock formations and the Bushiribana Gold Smelter ruins. On the north coast there is a tradition where you can make a wish by stacking stones – reminded me of the same in Canary Islands. If you would like to visit this one happy island, please feel free to call me.
14 November 2016
Croatia has been on my radar for many years and this summer I got the opportunity to explore this fascinating and beautiful country. A direct flight to Dubrovnik from London Gatwick only takes 2 hours 40 minutes and there are plenty of choice in flight times and departure airports. We found the people to be very friendly, the food delicious and excellent value for money, the Adriatic Sea crystal clear and warm, the landscape breath-taking and so much culture to take in – some places look like the Romans only moved out recently! To get a flavour of Croatia, we decided to visit three areas along the southern Croatian coastline encompassing the gorgeous city of Dubrovnik staying in nearby harbour town of Cavtat, Makarska and the stunning cultural city of Split, staying in nearby Stobrec. The lovely town of Cavtat is less than 10 minutes’ drive from Dubrovnik airport and yet is not affected by planes landing or taking off. Cavtat being the southern-most town in Croatia before the border with Montenegro, is the perfect place to stay if you want to see Dubrovnik, but dread being closed in by Dubrovnik’s ancient city walls. Cavtat is a small harbour town just south of Dubrovnik and offers a refreshing, attractive naturally wooded alternative nearby where you can breathe pine scented fresh air and relax. The quiet yet vibrant harbour town offers so many lovely places to visit and excellent restaurants offering amazing food and drink at ridiculously cheap prices. The harbour area with its luxury cruisers and local fishing boats is a delight to walk around or enjoy a drink or lunch at the many outdoor bars and restaurants. We took a walk up the hill to the white octagonal Mausoleum and graveyard where you have spectacular views of the luminescent blue Adriatic. You can’t but notice how clear the seawater is in Croatia – you can literally see 30 feet or more down and observe the numerous fish swimming about. Dubrovnik is a short and extremely cheap water taxi ride from Cavtat and is an amazing place to visit. If you have ever watched Game of Thrones, you will be in your element as you recognise the numerous filming locations of the fictional fortified port city of Kings Landing. The walk along the top of the city walls that surrounds the Old City is a must and takes a couple of hours, offering stunning views of the Dalmatian Coast and a bird’s eye view of the city with its traditional terracotta roofs. After four days in Cavtat and Dubrovnik we moved three hours up the coast to Makarska where we stayed in a villa high on the hillside overlooking the attractive harbour town of Makarska. Makarska is perfectly located to explore the idyllic islands of Brac and Hvar. There is a regular ferry service to the islands from Makarska harbour. The town itself offers many quality low-cost restaurants and bars where you are spoilt for choice on the numerous delicious meals on offer. We took a day trip to the lovely fishing village of Sumartin on Brac Island by ferry from Makarska – the car ferry trip was a very pleasant journey. Sumartin is an attractive village with small shops and restaurants around the harbour. We took a long walk around the village and coastal road which offered stunning views of the Dalmatian coastline. The rest of this stunning island is easily accessible if you have a car. The final leg of our holiday was in Stobrec about 1 hours’ drive north of Makarska and only a 15 minutes’ drive from Split, Croatia’s second largest city. Here we visited the amazing 1,700-year-old living museum city of Split with its near perfect Roman buildings and aqueducts built from the finest Brac marble and still standing like there were built just recently. The walled old town is simply stunning with something amazing to see around every corner. There are plenty of outdoor bars and restaurants to sit and watch the world go by. From the harbour you catch one of the many ferries to the islands of Brac, Hvar, Vis, Solta and Korcula. If you want to do something out of the ordinary, you need to visit the very unusual Froggyland museum which boasts over 500 frogs preserved through taxidermy and then posed in a variety of human like scenarios like playing tennis, going to the dentist or performing in a circus. One day we hired a brilliant local guide to take us on a circular route taking in Krka National Park with its vast number of splendid lakes linked by impressive waterfalls – the best place to enter the park is by boat from the small town of Skradin. Once in the park we found many visitors crowding around the spectacular Skraninski Waterfall where you can swim in the crystal-clear waters. We found that by going clockwise around the picturesque circular walk around the park we found very little queues as all the visitors were travelling the opposite way around and literally shuffling along whereas we managed a decent leisurely stroll. After a good four hours enjoying the park, we then travelled through the impressive mountain range back to the coast where we had a delicious lunch in the Sibenik overlooking the attractive harbour. We then travelled along the stunning undulating coast road to the lovely town of Primosten. The attractive old town is situated on a small island which is connected to the mainland by a narrow land bridge forming a peninsula. In the past it was connected to the mainland via a moveable bridge. It is easy to see why Primosten with its picturesque architecture, 20km of beautiful beaches and crystal clear waters, is so popular with tourists. We wished we had longer to stay. We will definitely be visiting Croatia again with so much still to explore in particular the many islands which we have yet to see.
17 May 2016
Mauritius is an island that truly does have something for everyone and it didn’t disappoint on a recent trip that my husband (Simon) and I took to celebrate our anniversary. Mauritius is best known as a honeymoon destination, and it’s easy to see why with the stunning beaches and turquoise waters. It is however fast becoming a popular choice for family holidays with many choosing it as an alternative to Europe during the summer months or as another option for those who favour the Caribbean in winter months. Direct flights from the UK take 12 hours but we opted to break up your journey with a stop in Dubai , a great way to experience a two centre holiday The Mauritius weather is ideal, year round, with average temperatures rarely dropping below 24 degrees Celsius. The island does have rainfall year round, but it tends to fall in short, sharp showers( we saw a few of these but they lasted typically about twenty minutes and then the glorious sunshine returned) The wonderfully temperate climate, year round sunshine and low humidity is an obvious appeal for holidaymakers and families in particular. You can be as active or relaxed as you like in Mauritius. The island caters to a wealth of activities on land and sea. We particularly enjoyed a boat trip to the Ile aux Cerfs and a visit to the waterfalls…..although I can recommend relaxing with a coconut daiquiri too We took the opportunity to hire a car to enable us to explore the island, get off the beaten track, experience local life, shop with the locals and really get a feel of the island. I highly recommend this, although be prepared for some “erratic” driving in larger towns – particularly Port Louis ! Driving on the left does make life easier though! We were fortunate enough to be in Mauritius for their Independence Day celebrations and were entertained by local children singing the national anthem “Motherland” in French, English and Creole. We certainly felt at home and very welcome on this enchanting island. You don’t even need to pack travel adaptors as everywhere has UK sockets. That left a little extra space in my bag to bring back some of the St Aubin local rum ! Mauritius is a strikingly beautiful island that I feel sure will leave a lasting impression on everyone who visits, however my lasting memory of Mauritius will be the Mauritian culture which is based on the diversity of its population, that's why there is no “official religion” in Mauritius. Hindus, Tamils, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists and others from all over the globe live in harmony and respect the free practice of all religions in Mauritius. What a wonderful way to live …………….. Who wouldn’t want to visit such a wonderful example of how simply beautiful life can be. "You gather the idea that Mauritius was made first, and then heaven; and that heaven was copied after Mauritius?" Mark Twain
15 November 2016
I was fortunate enough to be invited to visit Cyprus with eleven other Travel Counsellors courtesy of the Cyprus tourist board. After we touched down in Larnaca with Aegean Airlines, we headed for the Olympic Lagoon Resort in Ayia Napa. The resort is a collection of pools and rivers surrounded by a variety of rooms and apartments. Some with private pools, some with small gardens. It’s perfect for families with a vast array of things to keep the little ones entertained and across the road from the resort is the beach which boats soft sand and crystal clear, calm waters. Ayia Napa town has long been associated with young intoxicated Brits partying into the early hours of the morning. However, our Cypriot guide assured us that this is now a bit of a myth as only 10% of holiday makers to Ayia Napa are 18-30 years old. And I’m inclined to take his word for it because my experience of Ayia Napa is that it seemed an orderly and well-kept little town and well worth a visit. If nothing else visit the Monastery which has been standing on the hill since the 15th century. Back at the hotel in the early evening when the sun was going down, the resort switched on its vast array of coloured lights bringing to life the numerous lagoons, rivers and pools around the place. It really was a postcard picture. We dined outside with the hotel management after a tour of the resort which showed us all the facilities and entertainment available for the guests. We were impressed, especially the catering for families with its baby room and computer gaming room. The evening entertainment in the poolside bar, which included singers and acrobats, also looked enticing and well-polished. We drank coffee at the recently built Limassol Marina while admiring the luxury yachts moored up along the edge. Stelios, our Cyprus tourist board friend, informed us that there are plans to build similar marinas in both Ayia Napa and Pathos. My impressions so far was that Cyprus is enjoying an affluent period in its history and that tourism is at the forefront of that. The next thing to mention is the wine tasting session at the family run Zambartas Winery up in the hills near Limassol. Like any Travel Counsellors event that involves a sniff of alcohol, we all seemed to enjoy it very much. After a few rounds of tasting the whites, pinks, and reds, out came the Euro notes purchasing as much as could be squeezed into suitcases. All in the name of contributing to the local economy! On to Pathos we ventured. The ancient UNESCO Archaeological Park which houses Roman mosaics is well worth a visit and the fact that more areas of archaeological interest are still being uncovered adds to the mystery of the place. Interestingly, there is an old lady who still lives in the middle of the site because she refused to be moved from her home when the first discoveries were made back in the eighties. Fair play to her! The Tombs of the Kings, also a UNESCO site, is where you will find tombs carved into the rock dating back to the 4th century BC! I believe there are still more of these tombs to be excavated. Who knows what they will find? We visited many hotels along the water’s edge of Pathos but the one that really stood out for all of us was the Elysium. This was an exquisite hotel that oozed understated class and elegance and rumour has it that the Beckham’s have stayed there. Cyprus also has much to offer in terms of water sports. We had a meeting with a local scuba diving operator called Cydive whose facilities were excellent. They informed us that the main attraction for divers is the Zenobia Wreck. This ship sank in 1980 along with her £200 million worth of cargo. It’s in the top 10 wreck dives in the world and is a must for all serious wreck divers. On the final day we were given a tour of the Aphrodite Hills Resort which was set in a very beautiful and tranquil location yet close enough to town if you wanted more excitement. The resort is made up of a large collection of apartments and villas build around the golf course. There are other sporting facilities including a football academy where Rio Ferdinand has taught and also a tennis academy course. Most of the villas have private pools and there are various sizes and styles to suit all tastes and budgets. We were then treated to a golf lesson at the driving range followed by an amazing three course lunch at the clubhouse courtesy of the management. The on-site restaurants are of a very high standard indeed. If you would like to know more about Cyprus, or are thinking about visiting, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Cyprus has something to offer everyone.
25 June 2015
South Africa has been on my wish list of destinations for some time therefore I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to visit this amazing destination on an educational trip with ten of my fellow Travel Counsellors. We had an intense, whirlwind few days visiting Cape Town, Stellenbosch and Knysna before finally spending our last few days at the outstanding Shamwari Game Reserve. We arrived early on our first morning in Cape Town and went straight on a tour to view the beautiful beach areas of Camps Bay and Clifton. We then visited the wonderfully modern and chic Victoria and Alfred waterfront with it restaurants, bars and superb upmarket shopping mall. We enjoyed a fabulous lunch at The Market Place and this was our first experience of the amazing value for money in South Africa. Tired but exhilarated we then checked in to the totally charming Vineyard Hotel, located just 15 minutes from the city with stunning views of Table Mountain. This beautiful hotel perfectly blends traditional and modern design with a truly personal and elegant touch. Day two in Cape Town and we headed off to Houts Bay, a local working port just 20 minutes from Cape Town. Here we were treated to a cruise with Drumboat Charters to see a seal colony. It was amazing to see hundreds of seals happily at play in their natural habitat. We then travelled a little further along the coast to Boulder Bay which is home to the African penguin colony – an truly awesome sight to see so many penguins and view their nesting and breeding sites. Our onward journey to Simons Town offered wonderful views of the stunning coastline and what can only be described as an outstanding sea food lunch at the Black Marlin restaurant – highly recommended! Heading on to Cape Point, driving over the famous Chapman's Peak Drive, this route offered spectacular scenery. Once at Cape Point, otherwise known as The Cape of Good Hope, we took a drive through the natural reserve. We then took the Flying Dutchman funicular up to the viewing point and climbed the many steps to the lighthouse at the top – well most of us did, as by then bad weather had set in! Day three saw us leaving Cape Town to head off to the Winelands and ultimately one of my favourite places on the tour – Stellenbosch. En-route we stopped at Babylonstoren, a Cape Dutch farm with vineyards and orchards surrounded by the dramatic mountains of the Drakenstein Valley. This is a truly unique little oasis of tranquility where guests stay in beautiful accommodation and are encouraged to pick fruit and vegetables from the organic gardens to enjoy. There are also a wide range of activities on offer including yoga, cycling, canoeing, swimming, guided walks, hiking and wine tasting. The spa looked very inviting too as did the onsite restaurant that is booked months in advance by locals but tables are always reserved for hotel residents. We enjoyed an amazing tour of the gardens and grounds, which is available to all, free of charge daily at 10am most days. Back on the road and only a short trip to The Delaire Graff Estate for wine tasting in the most beautiful setting at the top of the Helshoogte mountain pass, the high altitude and cooling breezes make excellent wines, which we were fortunate enough to taste. We then moved on to Stellenbosh, the oldest town in South Africa which is enviably situated amidst the many wine farms and vineyards of this beautiful region. We enjoyed a walking foodie tour sampling many local delicacies such as Biltong, artisan breads and Roobos tea with rusks. This historic town stole my heart with its culture, beautiful historic buildings and vibrant community. It is also home to one of my favorite hotels ever – “Oude Werf” which expertly blends its 200 year old Georgian origins with modern luxury and also boasts an outstanding restaurant and exemplary hospitality. Day four took us along the Garden Route to Knysna which was a five hour drive but it felt like no time at all when taking in the spectacular sea and mountain views. The roads were all well maintained and free moving and of course driving on the same side as the UK makes this an easy any enjoyable drive. We arrived into Knysna which is nestled on the banks of a spectacular lagoon and surrounded by indigenous forests and the Outeniqua Mountains. A market town, there are many craft and flea markets and Knysna is also well known for its oysters. Featherbed Nature Reserve, across the lagoon, offers day tours to spot the sea horses and Knysna Loeries.. We stayed at the Protea Hotel Knysna Quays, set on the Knysna Quays Waterfront with the lagoon at your doorstep. We enjoyed a sunset cruise on the ‘John Benn' before dinner at the Cruise Café, a short walk from the hotel. We set off for day five, very excited as we were headed for the crown jewel of private game reserves situated in the malaria free Eastern Cape - Shamwari Game Reserve. Shamwari was everything I expected and more, set in 25,000 hectares with contrasting savannah and jungle in which there are many animals roaming free. In Africa the big five game animals are African Lion, African Elephant, Cape Buffalo, African Leopard and White or Black Rhinoceros of which we were fortunate to see all of, at close quarters with the help of our expert rangers Phillip and Tops. We stayed at Riverdene which is more family focused than the other lodges with a dedicated programme and facilities for children of all ages. This lodge offers a luxurious yet relaxed environment where families can feel at home. We also visited the other four lodges Long Lea Manor, Bayethe, Sarili and Eagles Crag. They each offer unique experiences to suit all types of holidaymakers. Whilst an incredible safari experience there is a more serious side to Shamwari as it is home to the only Born Free Foundation Rescue Centre in South Africa.The goal of this foundation is to create an awareness of the horrific way in which wildlife is exploited in captivity around the world. We were very lucky to meet some of the rescue big cats. Shamwari guests have a complimentary guided tour of The Born Free Foundation. There is also a Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre in Shamwari which is currently helping “Hope” the rhino whose horn was taken by poachers leaving her for dead. The aim of this centre is to rehabilitate and return all animals back into the wild. There is a real ’wow factor’ to South Africa. Stunning scenery, beautiful countryside, fabulous people, amazing food and wine and the icing on the cake….a once in a lifetime opportunity to see animals as they should be seen - in their natural habitat. There is something for everyone in South Africa – foodies, wine lovers, wildlife enthusiasts, families, honeymooners, single travellers and couples. What are you waiting for? This destination exceeded my expectations and I will be happy to tailor make a trip that will exceeds yours. Let South Africa steal your heart too!
21 November 2016
We had the fortune to be invited to stay with my fellow Travel Counsellor, Graham Parker and his wife Jane, who recently moved to Hong Kong. We flew direct from London Heathrow with Cathay Pacific. On arrival in Hong Kong we were met by Graham and Jane who took us via the scenic route to their apartment in the lush hills above Sai Kung to the north east of Hong Kong. They have the most enviable views from their apartment. Graham and Jane were amazing hosts and tour guides showing us all the best sights in Hong Kong and it wasn’t long before we were proficient ourselves in navigating Hong Kong using the futuristic Mass Transit Railway (MTR). Whilst in Hong Kong we were fortunate to be able to visit numerous great sights like Victoria Peak where we took the Peak Tram funicular railway 1,300 feet up the mountainside to the top, where we had spectacular panoramic views of Hong Kong from the Sky Terrace, which is the highest 360° viewing terrace in Hong Kong. We also took the Peak Circular Walk which gave us amazing views of Hong Kong below. We loved the 90 minute Aqua Luna cruise on an authentic red-sail Chinese Junk from Victoria Harbour all around Hong Kong Island to Stanley on the south-side of the island, where we saw the colourful market, had lunch at one of the waterfront cafes and visited the Chinese Tin Hau Temple. Within the tall buildings of Kowloon is the beautiful and tranquil Nan Lian Gardens which captures the essence of former China with authentic historical buildings set in stunningly landscaped gardens and ponds with numerous mature koi carp – such a contrast from the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong. Next door is the equally stunning Chi Lin Nunnery. Once we had our bearings and had mastered the MTR, we visited Lantau Island where we took the Ngong Ping 360 cable car ride across Tung Chung Bay from where you can have an amazing aerial view of Hong Kong airport continuing up the Lantau Island mountainside to the Po Lin Monastery where we climbed the 268 steps up to the famous 34m tall bronze statue known locally as Big Buddha. This is a must visit when in Hong Kong – just spectacular! One evening we enjoyed a visit to the Happy Valley Racecourse which one of the most famous horse racing courses in the world surrounded by sky scrapers – an amazing assault on the senses with bright lights and enthusiastic crowds cheering on their horses. We even had a flutter ourselves – a great fun evening. No visit to Hong Kong is complete until you have ridden on the famous symmetrical green and white Star Ferry which took us from Hong Kong Island across Victoria Harbour to mainland Kowloon at night, where you can really appreciate the evening skyline of Hong Kong. We also visited the former Portuguese colony of Macau Island via high speed jetfoil, where we visited ruins of St Paul’s Cathedral, the stunning A-Ma Temple, Senado Square and the Monte Fortress as well as taking a look around one of the many casinos that are found in Macau. We also visited the Macau Giant Panda Pavilion where we saw many Panda’s. Macau is a definite worthwhile visit whilst in Hong Kong.
20 June 2014
I visited the beautiful Caribbean Island of St Lucia in May 2014 on a whirlwind five day educational trip to experience three different resorts and to explore the islands many attractions. St Lucia is in the Eastern Caribbean chain of islands known as The Windward Islands, 21 miles South of Martinique and 90 miles NW of Barbados. English is widely spoken in St Lucia although a French influence is evident in many areas due to the many periods of occupation by the French as well as the English before St Lucia finally became independent in 1979. The official currency is the Eastern Caribbean dollar but the US dollar is widely accepted. We flew direct from Gatwick where direct flights to St Lucia’s Hewanorra Airport depart daily and take only 8 hours. We arrived just after lunch time local time and departed the airport which is pretty much in the southernmost point of the island for the road transfer to our first destination in the northernmost point of the Island. The drive was a great opportunity to see the rainforest first hand and appreciate how lush and green this beautiful island is. Arriving at The Body Holiday was quite breath taking. The resort sits on Cariblue Crescent Beach and is set in 42 acres of tropical gardens. This resort is quite unique in that its all inclusive package includes not only all food, drinks and water sports but all inclusive spa treatments. The ethos of this resort is to give you a fun, rejuvenating and pampering holiday. From the moment I arrived I was blown away with the array of included activities on offer to guests some that I can remember are: T’ai Chi, Yoga, Pilates, Meditation, Windsurfing, Water Skiing, Hobiecats, Kayaking, Tennis, Golf, Cycling, Fencing, Archery, Spinning, Gym and every exercise class you can imagine. You can book in for as much or as little as you want and it’s all included. If you feel like taking it easy you can just chill out at the beach – put your little flag up by your lounger and the waiter will bring you whatever you wish……be it a fresh juice or a glass of champagne. I must admit I did go for the champagne option but all in the name of thorough research. The food was also excellent at The Body Holiday, particularly at TAO Restaurant which was my favourite. Rooms are all large and well-appointed at this resort. Notably rooms do not have TV’s which I personally thought was really nice. Wi-Fi was provided free of charge but you were encouraged not to use your phone around the resort – it was a refreshing change not to see everyone constantly checking their phones. Just in the three days that I was at the Body Holiday I could feel myself start to relax, helped no doubt by early morning T’ai Chi, lovely spa treatments and wonderful fresh, tasty food and the odd glass of two of champagne! We visited Rodney Bay Marina which is only 10 minutes by taxi from the Body Holiday where we took a lovely Sunset cruise. We also visited the capital city of Castries on Friday evening to experience the “Jump Up” which is the weekly St Lucian street party – once experienced, never forgotten. Our next stop was just two miles outside at the couples only all-inclusive resort of Rendezvous which is owned by the same family as the Body Holiday therefore guests can use facilities at both resorts. Rendezvous is built on an old coconut plantation located directly on Malbar Beach. The vibe of this resort is both romantic and relaxed. The staff here are exceptional; I have never met such friendly, welcoming, accommodating and above all happy staff – it’s infectious, you cannot help but smile. Every guest that I spoke to at this resort was a repeat guest, which speaks volumes about this wonderful resort. The Water Gardens at Rendezvous are lovely private garden river pools with river side sunbeds and water-waiter service. Secluded, private and romantic. Water sports are all included at this resort too – even a scuba dive. Unfortunately my visit to Rendezvous was all too short and it was time to head south via the rainforest where we visited Rainforest Adventures for a truly memorable zip wire experience through stunning rainforest – spectacular and exhilarating (and a little bit scary in parts). Buzzing from the adrenalin rush of the zip wire experience we headed on further south to Soufriere to visit the Volcano and Sulphur Springs, this is a unique experience as you can drive right in to the volcano and witness the Sulphur Springs up close. You can also bathe in the warm sulphuric pools which are reported to be very soothing but regrettably we did not have time to experience this as we were off on the final leg of our trip to visit our final resort of Sugar Beach. When our hosts said that they had saved the best till last they were not lying…just one word for Sugar Beach…WOW! Located between the famous Pitons and just three miles from Soufriere, this luxury resort is set in 100 acres of tropical forest. The beach is an idyllic expanse of sugar white sand. The atmosphere is one of understated, elegance and luxury. All accommodation from the Sugar Mill Rooms at the heart of the resort to the five bedroom residences set into the hillsides are luxuriously and tastefully finished. Every accommodation is furnished with four poster beds, walk in showers, claw foot baths and private plunge pools. In addition when you are checked in to your accommodation you will be greeted by your personal butler who will take care of you for the duration of your stay – he even gives you a personal mobile phone so that you can contact him from wherever you are in the resort. During our one night at Sugar Beach we were fortunate enough to sample the exquisite tasting menu at The Great Room which has a real old world colonial charm. We then enjoyed late night drinks at The Cane Bar. The morning brought more dining delights in The Terrace restaurant where we dined al fresco visiting the breakfast buffet and then being served our a la carte breakfast selections. There was just time to squeeze in a Swedish massage at the Rainforest Spa before departing for the journey back to the UK. In five short days this beautiful island has left a lasting impression on me and I will be back to visit this stunning tropical paradise island soon…now which resort to go back to??
23 June 2014
Marrakech is a vibrant, colourful city where modern and traditional life are naturally united. At its heart is the ancient Medina, with its myriad of bustling alleyways, souks and the famous Jemma el Fna Square, where you will find snake charmers, story tellers, and the maze of stalls serving delicious, freshly cooked local food. In contrast, there is the new town where you will find sophisticated restaurants, bars and nightclubs, where fashionable locals and tourists mingle together; Marrakech offers the best of both worlds and this is without doubt part of its appeal. Marrakech is a true “year round” destination. Spring and autumn sees the city at its best with almost guaranteed sunshine and bearable temperatures (days are warm and nights are not too chilly). Winter can be warm and blissfully free of crowds – but temperatures drop dramatically at night. I visited in April and the weather was gloriously warm and sunny during the day and warm and balmy in the evening. I stayed for five nights at the newly renovated Riad Hikaya which is an absolutely charming, authentic Moroccan guest-house in the heart of the bustling Medina. The Riad is British owned and the owner, John, speaks fluent Arabic, French and even the local Moroccan dialect, Darija. He shared a wealth of information on where to eat, shop and the best local tours and tour guides. I was extremely comfortable in the Rahma room which was one of only seven bedrooms split over two floors. All rooms have been painstakingly refurbished, each with their own individual style and personality, and are decorated in local handicrafts, with handmade furniture designed specifically for the Riad by local artisans. There is a small plunge pool in the main courtyard and the roof terraces are just the perfect spot to start your day with a freshly prepared Moroccan breakfast whilst taking in the breath-taking views over the rooftops out towards the majestic snow-capped Atlas Mountains. The Riad was conveniently located in the Kasbah, just a short walk from the exotic souks, Jemma el Fna Square and the other enchanting sights of Marrakech. I particularly enjoyed the short Caleche ride from the square to Jardin Majorelle which was famously bought and restored by Yves St Laurent. With its deep pink terracotta walls, the scent of orange blossom and jacaranda lined boulevards; this colourful, magical city cannot fail to leave a striking impression on even the most well-travelled of visitors. Marrakech has a unique, hedonistic quality that had me enthralled. This is surely one of the last great 'out of this world' experiences.
10 June 2013
The United Arab Emirates may seem like a whole world away from the cosy shores of the UK, but I was surprised at just how at home I felt while perusing the streets of downtown Dubai. This is a place where cultures collide in a wonderful way – a delightfully cosmopolitan atmosphere where east mingles with west between the souks and the sand dunes. Dubai has so many incredible hotels; this is a country that does chic as though it invented style itself. I chose to stay at The Address Hotel, Downtown which is a firm favourite for its stunning, unique views and a holiday experience that exceeds its five stars, and then some. From the second you walk through the doors, you feel as though you have entered a grand and regal world of effortless class and sophistication, without the slightest hint of pretentiousness. The hotel staff are perfectly attentive; not overbearing, just genuinely concerned that every second of your stay is delightful. I enjoyed total relaxation whilst basking in the Arabian sunshine at the hotel’s gorgeous infinity pool, whilst taking in the view of the Burj Khalifa, the largest building in the world. When taking a cooling dip in the pool I could watch the famous Dubai dancing fountains, which performed every thirty minutes and were completely mesmerising. There is ample shade to relax in during the hottest part of the day and staff are always on hand with cold towels and ice creams to cool you down. For even more relaxation visit the Spa on the 13th floor where you will be pampered in a tranquil haven of contemporary luxury and for the more energetic there is also a gym. For families, there is a covered children’s pool and a children’s club for 4-12 year olds; for party-goers there is a nightclub on the 62nd floor with floor to ceiling windows offering an uninterrupted view of the Burj Khalifa. The world’s largest shopping and entertainment destination; the Dubai Mall, with its 1,200 retail outlets and over 160 food outlets is only steps from The Address Downtown Hotel. Within the mall you will find endless entertainment options including Sega World, Dubai Ice Rink, Dubai Aquarium, Kidzania, Reel Cinemas and the At The Top Burj Khalifa experience. You certainly don’t run out of options of things to do or places to eat. A visit to Dubai would not be complete without a trip to the beach. I visited the Ritz Carlton on Jumeirah Beach, a stunning hotel in a stunning location. The water was crystal clear and wonderfully warm. The Jumeirah Beach Walk is a lovely area, just off the beach, lined with shops, restaurants and coffee shops. I was also able to walk from here to the Dubai Marina which was delightful to stroll around and then stop at a café to enjoy a cool drink and people watch. The water taxis were a great way to get around and are extremely cheap. I also took a city tour whilst in Dubai which I would highly recommend to give you some idea of the geography of the area and the history and culture of the old town. Bur Dubai is a complete contrast to the modernity of the Downtown area and the spice souks and gold souks are an experience! Dubai has left me with an ever-lasting impression of a culture that is so familiar, yet so deliciously foreign. One thing is for sure: big is beautiful in Dubai. Think Dubai, think style, elegance, class and a whole world of architectural innovation that you never thought possible.
30 November 2012
The next morning we arrived at the very pleasant resort town of Kusadasi. We decided not to take the tour to Ephesus and instead enjoyed exploring Kusadasi on foot. We found the many shops much cheaper than in Istanbul and bought several convincingly genuine fake items of clothing for our kids – they won’t know the difference! We enjoyed some good humoured haggling with the local shopkeepers. We were not prepared for the sheer beauty of Mykonos – the pure white low level houses with bright blue doors & windows, the narrow meandering spotlessly clean streets. Apparently the maze of streets was designed to confuse unwitting pirates who would easily get lost and then succumb to the ambushing tactics of the locals. Many other Greek islands adopted the same street layouts to protect themselves. We walked up to one of the highest points overlooking Mykonos town – what a spectacular view. We could see the famous row of five windmills which are a photographers dream with their whitewashed walls and thatched roofs overlooking Mykonos Bay. We also saw Little Venice where the buildings have been constructed right on the sea's edge with their balconies overhanging the water. We fell in love with Mykonos and took the opportunity to check out some of the many idyllic hotels whilst there for a future visit. The next morning, we arrived in Athens and could easily see the Acropolis in the distance from the 14th deck of the Equinox. As we had enjoyed the previous evening in the Martini Bar (the Martini Flights are dangerous - you have been warned!) and the Quasar Club, we decided to savour what this wonderful ship had to offer whilst most of the passengers were ashore. This included relaxing by the pool and sunbathing (in November), as well as using the extensively equipped gym and spa facilities. The next day was a day at sea as we sailed back towards Naples through the straits of Messina between the toe of Italy and Sicily. Mount Etna was quiet when we passed so there was no activity to witness. During the day, my husband enjoyed a three hour behind the scenes tour of the bridge, engine room, galley kitchen, ships stores and crew area which he found extremely interesting – during this time I enjoyed a pamper session at the Aqua Spa. The next morning we arrived in Naples where we took a guided tour to Pompeii followed by sight-seeing in Sorrento. Pompeii was fascinating and we were taken aback with the sheer size and level of preservation of the ancient town. The tour guide was amazing and her knowledge was extensive. We will definitely come back and spend more time exploring Pompeii and nearby Herculaneum which was also preserved by being buried in ash and mud after the violent eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Apparently it can take up to three full days to take in Pompeii on its own! After Pompeii we travelled to Sorrento where we had a couple of hours to explore the many delights of this popular tourist destination with it spectacular elevated views of Naples Bay, Vesuvius and the island of Capri. Whilst in Sorrento, we visited a farm where they make the famous Limoncello and Buffalo Mozzarella cheeses. We were also able to sample these delicious products. On the final leg of our 11 night cruise we headed back to Rome, arriving in the early morning where we caught the train back to the airport for home. What an amazing experience which we cannot stop raving about. We are missing the five star dining, great entertainment, wonderful crew and amazing ports of call. Highly recommended and not to be missed.
30 November 2012
I recently went on an amazing 11 night cruise as a result of attaining ‘Admiral’ status in the Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and Azamara Club Cruises training. One week before sailing I was advised that I had the opportunity to sail on the beautiful Celebrity Equinox, one of the five Solstice Class ships in the Celebrity Fleet. A hectic week followed organising childcare, flights, hotel in Rome and train tickets so that my husband and I could enjoy this amazing opportunity. We arrived in Rome Fiumicino airport and caught the Leonardo Di Vinci train to Rome Termini station. We dropped our luggage off and immediately set off to explore and were immediately struck by the numerous Roman antiquities everywhere. The magnificent Colosseum with its dramatic lighting is a sight to behold, especially whilst enjoying pizza and Prosecco. Next morning we enjoyed the sight-seeing opportunities before heading to the cruise terminal. We saw the monumental Spanish Steps, gorgeous Trevi Fountain and awe inspiring Pantheon. Had we had more time we would have crossed the river Tiber to see the Vatican City – we will definitely return to Rome and this will be first on our itinerary. We took the train to Civitavecchia where we checked in and boarded the fabulous Celebrity Equinox. We set sail at 6pm for a day at sea passing between the toe of Italy and Sicily, before arriving the next day in Santorini. Celebrity Equinox has a crew ratio of one to every two passengers. 85% of all the spacious stateroom cabins have sweeping balconies. The 5* dining is truly amazing and the crew are very friendly and attentive, without becoming overbearing. There is a unique Lawn Club with real grass where you can play mini golf, boules and croquet. The Corning Glass Blowing, where you watch glass blowing demonstrations is a great feature of this ship, as is the Martini Bar where the cocktail waiters put on a great show when producing their delicious drinks. We arrived in Santorini in the early afternoon to be greeted by the spectacular sight of Thira town perched on the top of 300m high cliffs. The beautiful Greek island of Santorini is part of a small, circular archipelago on the edges of a large volcanic caldera, the result of a violent volcanic explosion. You can clearly see the central point of the caldera from the beautiful whitewashed town of Thira set on the cliff top. We tendered in from the Equinox to the small port below the cliffs and chose to take the cable car to the top rather than the donkey ride up the meandering donkey trail. The contrast of the dark cliffs against the white washed houses with blue windows and doors made for spectacular views. The attractive blue domed churches stood out just like in the picture postcard images. As sunset approached, we found a great taverna in an elevated position overlooking the caldera to enjoy a drink whilst watching the sun slowly sink into the sea – beautiful! The next day we arrived in Istanbul, a fascinating city worthy of an extended visit. Our stay was overnight so we had the whole day, evening and morning to visit the amazing culturally rich city at the intersection of Europe and Asia. From the port we boarded a shuttle bus to the Grand Bazaar in the cultural centre and headed for the Blue Mosque. Unfortunately as it was Friday, a day of prayer, non-Muslims are not permitted inside the mosque so we moved on to the magnificent Topkapi Palace built over 500 years ago and the original residence of the Ottoman Sultans for some 300 years – a fascinating visit. Next we saw the Sophia Museum which was originally an Orthodox church later converted to a mosque and is now a museum. After lunch we visited the Grand Bazaar which is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world. We were warned that we could easily get lost as none of the exits were numbered in any logical sequence – luckily we managed to keep our bearings. If you are looking for Turkish carpets, spices, Turkish Delight, jewellery or just genuine fake goods, this is the place to visit. The next day we decided to stay on board to enjoy an empty ship with reduced cost spa facilities before everyone got back on board to head off at 2pm for Kusadasi.
30 November 2012
In October 2012 I was invited by our supplier, Villa Select, to visit the beautiful Balearic island of Mallorca. We viewed some of the villas they offer in the resorts of Pollensa in the north of the island and Cala D’Or in the south east. We flew from East Midlands to Palma in approximately two hours and 20 minutes. The transit through Palma airport was fast and efficient as was the collection of the hire vehicle. The hours’ drive to Pollensa was a lovely opportunity to see the beautiful mountainous countryside before arriving at Villa C’an Peric where we would be based for the first two nights of our visit. Set in tranquil countryside, this authentic three bedroom two bathroom villa had a rustic yet luxurious charm. The extensive outside space overlooking open countryside and beautiful private pool are the perfect setting for a relaxed holiday in the countryside whilst being only a few minutes from Pollensa town. A barbecue, table tennis table and even an exercise bicycle are provided for your added enjoyment. We headed into Pollensa town where we met the Villa Select resort managers who were friendly and extremely knowledgeable. I knew immediately that any guests I sent to Pollensa with Villa Select would be in very good hands indeed. Nothing is too much trouble for these lovely ladies and they both have a great sense of humour too. For the next two days Georgina and Wendy took us on a tour of many of the villas that they manage in Pollensa and Puerto Pollensa. Some villas such as San Plomer in the old town are ideally situated within walking distance of all of the local restaurants and suit those that do not wish to drive whilst on holiday. Other villas in countryside locations require a car, such as San Rotger and Casenoves, which was a personal favourite of mine. It sleeps up to eleven and is set in five acres of land with a stunning infinity pool. Puerto Pollensa was originally a fishing village and retains the time old tradition of the evening stroll along the Pine Walk, past pavement cafes and restaurants whilst admiring the yachts moored in the marina. One of the properties we viewed here was the three-bedroom Esperanza Apartment which boasts spectacular views of the bay and is in walking distance of all that Puerto Pollensa has to offer. After spending two days in Pollensa we headed south to the resort of Cala D’Or which is just 30-40 minutes from Palma airport. This is a lovely resort with great beaches and a pedestrian area full of restaurants, cafeterias, shops and not forgetting its famous marina. Many of the Villa Select villas in Cala D’Or that we viewed were within walking distance of the beaches and the local town, so perfectly suited for those who don’t wish to hire a car whilst on holiday. We stayed overnight in Villa Terrassas which is a large family villa with two double bedrooms and two twin bedrooms, all of which are en-suite. We also visited Villa Blanco and Villa El Delfin, which was my personal favourite. We visited the Caves of Drach, which are a popular attraction and boast spectacular displays of stalagmites and stalactites. There was also an impressive light show. All in all the few days spent in Mallorca have given me a great insight into what this island has to offer and which areas and properties would suit different client’s requirements. I was fortunate to get the opportunity to sample several local restaurants and to visit some local attractions, including the Pirate Show in Magaluf which is a very impressive show including acrobatics, singing and dancing – great family entertainment with basic food service. The villas managed by Villa Select in Mallorca are all of a high standard and are immaculately presented and very well equipped, added to this the excellent resort management service, I would not hesitate to recommend these villas. Having now seen many of the villas first hand I feel confident that I can advise my clients of the best choice for their perfect Mallorca holiday - be it a rustic secluded getaway or a modern, chic resort villa close to all of the action.
10 July 2012
I spent the Royal Jubilee weekend in one of my favourite UK seaside resorts – beautiful Brighton. I have been to Brighton many times as it just a two hour drive from my home in Oxfordshire. On previous occasions I have stayed in one of the many Seafront hotels, probably the most notable of which is The Grand Hotel - one of the most iconic seafront hotels in the world and it certainly delivers full on five star opulence. On this occasion however as there were a group of five ladies we decided to rent a little house just off the beach front so that we could have a bit of a home from home during our little getaway to the Great British Seaside. There is much to recommend Brighton not least of which is the warmth and friendliness of the people, although most people you speak to have come to Brighton from all over the UK and Europe; you do indeed get the feeling they arrived and just could not bring themselves to leave, and who can blame them. We spent our first afternoon at The Royal Pavilion, which was built for King George IV and also later used by Queen Victoria when she visited Brighton. It is well worth a visit particularly if you get a wet day, as we did. The Pavilion is quite a distinctive landmark due to its exotic oriental appearance both inside and out. It’s worth doing the audio tour as the history of the Pavilion is fascinating. We enjoyed a lovely meal at The Breeze Brasserie on Trafalgar Street The food was wonderful, so fresh and flavoursome and the service was really impeccable, attentive but not obtrusive. After dinner we took a trip on the Brighton Wheel, which only opened in October 2011. It is not as big as the London Eye but it is good fun. The commentary is narrated by Steve Coogan and is very amusing. A great way to get around Brighton is to cycle. There are cycle lanes all along the front and you can download cycle routes before you go. We hired bikes on this occasion and it was only £10 for the whole day. It was just as well we burned off some calories before our visit to Choccywoccydoodah……..if you love chocolate this place is simply paradise, full of the most beautiful chocolate creations you have ever seen. As if that was not enough chocolate we also visited the Bar au Chocolat where we visited the Choccywoccy Boudoir! No trip to Brighton is complete without a trip to Brighton Pier although I must admit I don’t remember the Waltzers being that fast last time I took a spin! The sun put in a brief appearance so we had a little rest on our deckchairs deck chairs on the pier and watched the world go by for a while so that we were recharged and ready for our evening Cocktail master class. We had our own mixologist for the evening at a lovely traditional bar called Brighton Rocks in Kemptown. It has been a bar since 1832 and is both traditional and quirky; and a great place to meet locals and learn the art of Mixology……oh and you have to taste all of your creations too. It was a tough job but we managed! On our last day we did what girls do best…..hit the shops. We loved The Lanes with all of the narrow streets, boutiques, quirky independent stores and antique jewellery shops. It’s a great way to while away a few hours wandering through all of the little lanes. We also paid a visit to Churchill Square Shopping Centre for a bit of high street shopping. We really were spoilt for choice but we rose to the challenge. We had an early dinner at a Food for Friends a great vegetarian restaurant on Prince Albert Street – great food and wonderful service. My first visit but it won’t be my last .We spent the rest of the evening at the Komedia comedy club which we all agreed was a great end to our weekend in Brighton. As always when I go to Brighton I have never managed to fit in everything I wanted to do – we didn’t even make it to the beach! Oh well it’s always an excuse for another visit. If you have never been to Brighton…….what are you waiting for?
27 September 2011
As the idea of Cruising became more intriguing I became quite concerned that I was hurtling towards middle age at break neck speed. Cruising had previously evoked images of the blue rinse brigade, sequins and ceremony. I could not have been more wrong and am happy to report that my first cruise this year was a revelation As we are always looking for the next thing to explore on our Florida vacations it was inevitable that at some point we would investigate the many Cruise opportunities from Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Port Canaveral and Tampa. On our trip to Florida last year (2010) we spent a lot of time in Miami admiring the Cruise Liners in port, it was then that we decided that 2011 would we the year we finally got our sea legs !! We chose a two centre break with the first part of our Florida Vacation being in Orlando where we spent a week enjoying Disney World, Universal Studios and all of the other attractions in the Kissimmee and Disney World area. My personal favourite is Epcot as I love to explore World Showcase, where else can you enjoy lunch at a little French patisserie followed by dinner in Japan and then end the evening with the magical Epcot fireworks.....by far the best fireworks of all the parks. My favourite ride at Epcot is a multi sensory experience which simulates a hang-gliding flight over the Golden State of California – you can even smell the Orange Groves. Make this your first ride of the day as the fast passes run out early in the day. After a fun packed week in Orlando we headed off to Miami to start our cruise adventure. It’s around a three and a half hour drive from Miami which we enjoy as we stop off en-route and make it part of the experience, however budget airlines fly frequently from Orlando to Miami. We took a 7 day Western Caribbean Cruise on the Carnival Valor, which is a massive 952 feet long and has a maximum capacity of 3,700 passengers!! Our cruise was over the Easter break therefore the ship was busy but not so much so that you could not find a lounger by the pool or a table to have lunch at etc. There was a great mix of people of all age groups with the main numbers being made up of family groups although there we lots of couples too. The food was amazing with our favourites being the formal dinners each evening in the Lincoln Dining Room; however the Pizzeria was also a firm favourite as was the Mongolian food station. Every palate was catered for and food was available (and included in the cruise price) 24 hours per day. I am not sure if this was a good thing as we seemed to eat every couple of hours!!! Book in a week at the gym after your cruise ......you will need it!! Another big hit on the Cruise was the Kids Club, our daughter is 10 and she loved the activities, especially the scavenger hunts, t-shirt painting and party evenings. We liked having a little time each day to ourselves too. The Serenity area is adults only with luxurious loungers and cabanas.....oh and a bar too in case you need a Margarita to cool you down. The ports of call on the Western Caribbean cruise included Grand Cayman, Isla Roatan, Belize and Cozumel. Our favourites were Grand Cayman where we went on a Snuba activity (cross between Scuba and Snorkel) and Cozumel where we swam with Dolphins. I cannot recommend a two centre break in Florida highly enough. An action packed week in Orlando followed by a week cruising the Caribbean is a heavenly experience..... We are already looking at the Eastern Caribbean Cruise to tag on to our next vacation in Florida.
01 May 2012
Following on from Key West.... The next morning we set off back to the mainland along US1 and took a left onto Route 41 also known as the Tamiami Trail, which got its name from the Tampa to Miami Trail. This road goes straight through the Everglades, a vast expanse of sub-tropical wetlands and home to the Seminole Indians – it’s a common sight to see Alligators basking by the side of drainage channels. This leg of the trip took 5 hours to reach Marco Island where we stayed at the very luxurious Marco Island Beach Resort and had a one bedroom suite with balcony and sea view. The suite even had a small kitchenette which came in useful on our first night as we enjoyed a pizza and wine. The next day we enjoyed the immaculate white sandy private beach which was accessible from the hotel via a private boardwalk and the staff could not do enough to ensure our comfort on the beach. We hired a jet ski and then parasailed high above Marco Island which were both great fun. That evening we ate at Da Vinci Ristorante Italiano, a short walk from the hotel which was recommended to us by the hotel – perfect !! The following morning we drove up to Venice Beach to continue our holiday staying with friends for another week of a fantastic holiday.
01 May 2012
Following on from Miami, we had a 167 mile drive ahead of us along US1 over the spectacular Overseas Highway, where at one point it looks like you are going to drive right into the Gulf of Mexico. The Keys are a string of islands ending with Key West at the southerly most point in the USA and only 90 miles from Cuba. As we wanted to get to Key West as soon as possible we didn’t stop along the way and arrived 2.5 hours later. You notice the difference in the appearance of Key West compared to the other islands as soon as you arrive. We stayed at the Ocean Key Spa & Hotel at 1 Duvall Street and got an automatic upgrade to a one bedroom suite with sea view and enormous en-suite bathroom. The hotel was perfectly placed next to Mallory Square and Sunset Pier, ideal for celebrating the famed Key West sunsets where locals and tourists all gather to watch street performers perform stunts and magic, browse the vendors, and watch the sun go down. Whilst we were there an enormous Cruise liner docked at Mallory Square – what an awesome sight. We took the conch tour train (pronounced “conk”) on our first day to get our bearings which was very informative and enabled us to know where everything is so we could explore further. We visited US1's Mile Marker 0, the Southernmost Point in the United States, Ernest Hemingway’s House, Shipwreck Museum, Pirate Soul Museum and even checked out the Key West Cemetery with its hilarious inscriptions on some of the tomb stones. We loved the many lively bars with live music, soaking in the unique atmosphere and the restaurants all served excellent food at very reasonable prices. On the following day, my husband went on a day’s diving on a large ship called the Vandenberg, a purpose sunk artificial reef and he had a great time in the crystal clear waters. On our last day we took the glass bottom boat tour in the morning over a beautiful coral reef full of brightly coloured fish and in the afternoon we spent the rest of the day at Fort Zachary Taylor beach, which is close to a pre-Civil War Fort. It is one of the best beaches in Key West, though a little bit rocky. It has restrooms, a decent food and drinks kiosk, chair rentals, picnic tables and BBQ's available. At the end of the day, we even saw a wonderful sunset from the beach – brilliant!! The next day we set off early for the long drive to Marco Island…
01 May 2012
We decided in August 2010 that we wanted to explore the southernmost part of Florida which includes Miami, Key West, the Everglades and Marco Island. We started our trip with a direct flight into Miami. As parking is quite expensive in Miami and there is absolutely no need for a car as everything is within walking distance, we decided on a taxi transfer from the airport to the Loews Hotel on Miami South Beach (SoBe). We picked this hotel as it suited our budget and it was located right in the heart of SoBe with a palm tree lined promenade leading into the famous cultural sector of SoBe, with its beautiful and colourful Art Deco buildings. The Loews is a very nice five star hotel with a great pool and direct access onto the beach. We had a wonderful spacious room with a King sized bed and sofa bed for our 9 year old daughter, topped off with an amazing sea view. On our first full day to get our bearings we booked to do the 90 minute Duck Tour in the morning, which is an amphibious bus that takes you to all the famous Miami landmarks, before a dramatic “splashdown” in beautiful Biscayne Bay for a close-up look at the many homes of the “Rich & Famous” on Star Island, Fisher Island & Millionaire Row – the humorous narrative made it even more enjoyable. We also spotted the enormous cruise liners in the harbour – wow they were impressive !! In the afternoon, it was great then to retrace part of the route on foot to see some of the famous SoBe landmarks close up. We even stopped for a drink at The Carlisle, the same restaurant bar where they filmed “The Birdcage” starring Robin Williams. At dusk, all the well-heeled cruise by on Ocean Drive in their gleaming open top sports cars – I’ve never seen so many Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Aston Martins together. It all added to the amazing eclectic multicultural atmosphere you find along Ocean Drive on SoBe. We then stopped to eat at the famous Johnny Rockets – great burgers!! The next day we had a relaxing time by the pool which was not overcrowded and we found a pleasant location where we could find shade under a palm tree. The staff were great bringing everyone ice cooled flannels and frozen grapes – very refreshing. In the evening we walked the short distance to the pedestrianised area of Lincoln Road for some window shopping and dinner. We ate at a very nice Italian restaurant with outdoor seating and I must admit we spent most of our time people watching – there were so many interesting and eccentric characters everywhere. On our third day, the weather was a bit overcast so we decided to go shopping proper at Lincoln Road & Washington Road – great shopping!! In the evening we dined on excellent seafood. The next day we were off to Key West. A hire car was delivered to our hotel and we set off early to get the most of the day. See next journal…
13 June 2012
For our wedding anniversary we decided on a week’s holiday to the popular dive resort area of Sharm el Sheik in Egypt. As my husband is a qualified diver, we were able to combine his interest in diving whilst also enjoying the luxury resort at the Royal Grand Sharm hotel. This was our first visit to Egypt and we were delighted by the warmth and friendliness of the hotel staff and locals. The hotel staff were attentive without being obtrusive and nothing was too much trouble for them. My husband mentioned, in passing, to the head waiter that it was our wedding anniversary and within moments he moved us to a private table on the terrace overlooking the enormous underwater lit pool and offered us a candle lit a la carte meal with wine at no cost. To top it off, the waiters presented us with a small cake and serenaded us in a typical Egyptian style - what a nice touch !! There was a small sandy beach at the hotel plus a floating pontoon where we could get in to the sea without damaging the protected coral reefs. We spent most of our time either snorkelling and marvelling at the beautiful colours of the many different fish or relaxing by the wonderful pool which had more than enough sun loungers for everyone. My husband signed up for a days diving by the local Camel Dive centre located on the hotel beach. He had an amazing day diving with sharks, rays and colourful fish and returned with literally hundreds of underwater pictures plus a DVD of his dive. I enjoyed a lovely relaxing massage at the spa followed by a few hours reading and sunbathing by the pool….bliss !! One evening we booked an excursion on a Camel Safari, with traditional Bedouin Dinner. We were picked up from the hotel by small minibus and taken to the mountain foothills which form the backdrop to Sharm el Sheik. Here we were each assigned a suitable camel - this was an interesting experience as I have never ridden a camel before !! The camels were led by Bedouin people so at least we were not expected to “steer” the camels. As we arrived at the Bedouin camp we witnessed the most spectacular sunset over the mountains. We were welcomed to the camp and treated to a traditional dinner and a show including Bedouin singing and Tanura dancing. We had a wonderful time in Sharm and can recommend it to anyone looking for a lovely relaxing break and if you like Scuba diving then you are in for a real treat. The warmth and friendliness of the Egyptian people alone will ensure that we return to Egypt, maybe for a Nile Cruise next time.
12 January 2012
Swiss Chalet Holiday Overlooking Lake Luzern – April 2010 As my husband (Simon) was brought up in Switzerland as a child, we have always talked about visiting Switzerland to show our daughter where her father lived and for Simon to relive past memories. Simon used to live on outskirts of Zurich, but for our holiday we decided that we wanted to be located somewhere picturesque to experience the true beauty of Switzerland, so we rented a beautiful 3 bedroom chalet with panoramic views overlooking Lake Luzern (about a 45 minute drive from Zurich). As the chalet was self catering, we decided to take our car so we could easily transport everything we needed. We took the ferry from Dover across to Calais and drove four and a half hours to St Avold in France, close to the German border where we booked a Campanile Hotel for an overnight stay. At 9am the next morning, suitably refreshed we set off for Switzerland via Strasbourg and Basel travelling on the E25, arriving in Luzern just before 1pm. We had to stop just before the border and buy a compulsory Vignette (Swiss Road Tax sticker) for CHF40 (~ £26 in 2010) to display on our windscreen before entering Switzerland. The chalet was wonderful (just like in the photos) in an elevated position and had amazing views of the lake below. There was a flagpole in the garden with a large Swiss flag gently flapping in the breeze. There was a small but very well equipped kitchen, lounge with large dining table and views over the lake, double bedroom and a downstairs shower room with WC. Upstairs there were two further bedrooms with splendid lake views. We wandered down the hillside to the lake front – wow was it a big lake! We were close to one of the many stops where the very nostalgic white lake steamer drops off and collects travellers. There are five of these beautiful lake steamers that take a circular route all around Lake Luzern allowing visitors to see the whole lake and surrounding towns. Just like the Swiss railways, they run like clockwork! The next day we took the very pleasant lake cruise on the steamer to the city of Luzern where we crossed the wonderful wooden 14th century Chapel Bridge (Kapellbrücke) – a must see. I can see why it was voted the fifth most visited tourist attraction in the world in 2010. Walking through the streets of Luzern you cannot help but be astounded by the beauty and diversity of the buildings, we did this for several hours! On another day, we went up the hill to see the Lion Monument at Lowenplatz – it is a very striking yet emotive statue of a dying lion carved to commemorate hundreds of Swiss guards killed during the French Revolution. Next to the Lion Monument is the very fascinating Glacier Gardens where you can discover how Europe looked 20 million years ago and how glaciers changed everything during the ice age to the present day. My daughter especially enjoyed the historical labyrinth of mirrors where we got some very amusing photos. Other sights we visited included visiting the Old Town (Alstadt) and old city walls which are almost totally intact – we walked along the top of the walls with their breathtaking panoramic views over Luzern and the lake beyond. On another day we went to the top of the snow covered Mount Pilatus (7000 feet) – what an amazing experience – the gondola cable car takes you via two 2 stops to the top where you are rewarded by a stunning 360° panoramic view on the central Switzerland – don’t forget your camera. Another top tip; make sure you try the Swiss hot chocolate – it’s to die for! The one lingering memory I have of Switzerland is the sheer beauty of the country – I have never experienced such stunning landscapes and beautiful surroundings with air that is so clean – you just can’t help taking deep breaths! Of course a trip to Switzerland wouldn’t be complete without a visit to a famous Chocolatier – take a trip to Max Chocolatier in Luzern and sample their mouth-watering Swiss chocolate!
10 July 2012
This was my second visit to Turkey having stayed many years ago in the beautiful Olu Deniz area on the Turquoise Coast. On this trip to Turkey we opted for Belek which is located about 21 miles to the east of Antalya airport in this fast developing golfing region. We stayed at the Cornelia Deluxe Resort Hotel which was very comfortable and offered us an excellent all inclusive package. We received faultless, friendly and efficient service which we have found to be customary in Turkey. Food choices were excellent with themed dining evenings offering everything from traditional Turkish fare to Asian cuisine. Our bedroom was very comfortable with wonderful views out to the sea. There is plenty to do in and around Belek and one thing that strikes you straight away is that there are so many Greek & Roman antiquities to visit within a very short distance. Although there were excellent excursion trips on offer, we decided to hire a car whilst in Belek to give us maximum flexibility and allow us to explore at our leisure. Whilst in Belek we visited the following amazing places…. Perge, an ancient Greek city founded around 1000 BC and located about 12 miles west of Belek near the town of Aksu. During the Hellenistic period, Perga was one of the richest and most beautiful cities in the ancient world – it is amazing how much is still standing and you can walk down the streets and easily imagine what it was like in those days !! 12 miles to the east of Belek is the amazing Aspendos Amphitheatre located near the town of Serik. We were astonished at how well preserved the Roman marble amphitheatre is with its splendid arched corridors & terraces. Built some 2,000 years ago, it is still used for open-air classical concerts as well as ballet and opera festivals. We just missed an opera festival which ended a few days before we visited, so if you are planning a visit to Belek, check before your trip what the programme is at Aspendos and you may be lucky enough to get tickets for an event there. Side (pronounced “See-Day”) is a small harbour town with friendly bars & restaurants. At one particular harbour side restaurant adjacent to the Apollo Temple, we were made to feel very welcome – great cocktails to accompany the excellent food and very reasonably priced. Side was once one of the biggest ancient Roman cities in the Mediterranean. The Temple of Apollo is very impressive and very photogenic – we lost count of how many photos we took. We also enjoyed wandering around the cobbled shopping streets in the town. There is also a small archaeology museum, an Agora, well preserved amphitheatre and many other Greco-Roman remains worth visiting. We loved Side and it is well worth a visit. We also loved visiting some of the amazing natural sights including the Kursunlu Waterfall located in a pine forest, where we went behind the waterfall into a hidden cave – amazing experience and the cool water was very refreshing. Also we visited the attractive Manavgat Falls which was quite busy at the time we visited, but still was very pleasant, especially at the nice restaurant overlooking the falls. There is also a boat ride down the river to the sea where you can take in the beach before taking the boat back to the falls – about a 2 hour round trip. All in all we loved the Belek area of Turkey and indeed have recommended it to many of our friends who are keen on golf holidays as the region has many excellent golf courses many associated with luxury resort hotels which have their own excellent beach frontages. We love visiting Turkey and hope to return soon when we plan to visit the Kalkan region.
North Newington 18/06/2020
Thorpe Mandeville 01/06/2020
Santon, Isle of Man 29/05/2020
Chipping Norton 02/09/2019
Little Bourton 02/09/2019
SIBFORD FERRIS 30/05/2019
CHIPPING NORTON 30/05/2019
MIDDLETON CHENEY 30/05/2019
Milton Keynes 12/09/2018
MIDDLETON CHENEY 16/04/2018
Woking, Surrey 25/01/2018
Wadhurst, east Sussex 25/01/2018
Chipping Norton 18/11/2017
Middleton Cheney 07/09/2017
Middleton Cheney 07/09/2017
Littlehampton, West Sussex 11/07/2017
Chipping Norton 05/06/2017
Chipping Norton 05/06/2017
Bloxham, Oxfordshire 10/04/2017
Chipping Norton 30/01/2017
Middleton Cheney 19/01/2017
middleton cheney 11/04/2016
New Jersey 22/03/2016
Kings Sutton 05/02/2016
New Jersey, USA 08/04/2015
North Newington 10/02/2015
Chipping Norton 22/05/2014
High Wycombe 03/01/2014
Chipping Norton 11/09/2013
Billericay, Essex 01/05/2013
Bloxham, Nr Banbury 11/04/2013
New Hampshire, USA 11/02/2013
Middleton Cheney 22/11/2012
Bloxham, Banbury 13/06/2012
Bloxham, Near Banbury, Oxfordshire 04/04/2012