Based in Redditch

Mark Hallam

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It's Nice To Meet You

In today's uncertain world around travel all travellers want is to know where they stand – what is going on? Who can I speak to? Look no further! Hi, I'm Mark Hallam, your dedicated, award winning, luxury travel agent based in Redditch.

As someone who truly cares about your happiness and satisfaction, I do my utmost to ensure that your trip will be a memorable experience. I'm not just another travel agent; I'm your personal travel advisor, committed to understanding your unique preferences and crafting a tailored itinerary that matches your desires.

But that's not all! My dedication to you goes beyond regular working hours. I am available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, ensuring that you always have someone to rely on during your travels. Need to make last-minute changes? Facing unexpected challenges? No problem! I am just a call or message away, ready to assist and provide timely solutions.

So, say goodbye to the hassle of planning and hello to a stress-free and personalised travel experience! Let me be your partner in making your travel dreams a reality. Contact me today, and let's chat about a journey you can tell your Grand Children.

I have visited 57 countries so far on my own trips and on working educationals to enhance my knowledge. One of my biggest passions is cruising and I have been on 28 ships to date. If you are new to cruising and are looking for someone to steer you in the right direction or you are a seasoned cruiser looking to lose the stress of booking and planning your own trips, you have come to the right place. Using a specialist cruise travel agent to plan the trip of a lifetime may be the best thing you ever do!

As standard I contact the hotels my clients are going to stay at prior to their arrival to inform them of any specific requests or special occasions, giving clients a VIP concierge service is the norm not the exception.

Everything you book with me is 100% financially protected, giving you peace of mind. It is the best financial protection in the industry - every penny you spend with me is safe.
So if you need any more information please give me a call or email with your enquiry and I will respond immediately.

I look forward to hearing from you soon.


Mark Hallam - Bespoke travel agent in Redditch.


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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.

Beyond Expectations

31 October 2022

Celebrity Cruises latest Edge class ship did more than live up to my expectations, just like its name it went Beyond My cabin was one of the new style infinite veranda/balcony which again allows you to have a larger room if required and still have a decent size balcony, the bed was wonderful and felt luxuriant and the multi plug charging unit was an unexpected surprise. The first time I walked into Eden it took my breath away, it spans 3 decks with a bar, a restaurant and a living wall, it exudes calmness and gives a sense of wellbeing, then at night it comes to life with immersive entertainment happening amongst you, its utterly superb. Usually, one of my favourite pre dinner spots is the Martini bar, well on Beyond they have gone bigger and its better, more bar area and more tiered seating makes this a must go to for a cocktail or an aperitif of your choice and try catch the nightly bar staff show at least once. Another top spot is the Sunset bar, a two-story sun trap which is as comfortable as it comes. I absolutely loved the sports bar which shows Premier League football matches as does the huge screen at the Rooftop Garden. Main dinner can be taken in one of four different restaurants Cosmopolitan, Cyprus, Normandie or Tuscan, However Beyond features 32 Food & Beverage venues including 8 speciality restaurants and 2 exclusive for that special occasion, you are literally spoilt for choice. The theatre is state of the art with 3 huge screens that enhance any show that is being put on, one show featured the backing of the London Philharmonic Orchestra who had recorded the score to match the production, after the show I went to an after show show in ‘The Club’ where once again you are an audience that feels part of the show, it really is an upgrade to anything I have experienced on a ship before. When we docked in Naples and lots of people went ashore to visit various places such as Sorrento but having been to these places before I stayed aboard to wander around peacefully in fact at one point, I was the only person around the never been seen before 25m pool I was only on the ship for 4 nights but could definitely spend a couple of weeks trying everything the ship has to offer which is Beyond Belief (sorry)

Discovering Thailand

04 June 2019

I had never been to Thailand before but sold it as a destination so many times and I was looking forward to all the fantastic experiences my clients had told me about. Our plan was to spend three nights in Bangkok then fly down to Koh Samui for a twin centre - 6 nights in each. However, our plans were dashed right at the start due to a mixed connection in Dubai resulting in an overnight in the Emirate. Needless to say, we made good use of this surprise layover. On arrival the following day in Bangkok the transfer I had organised was nothing short of excellent, we met our guide at the designated spot, he then whisked us to our air-conditioned people carrier (thank goodness) and 35 mins later we were checking in to the Anantara Sathorn. I had chosen a premier room upgrade as the price difference was negligible because of Travel Counsellors direct contract rate and boy was I glad I did, the rooms were amazing with a large living room, a large modern bathroom and a balcony. We quickly changed and met our friends up on the rooftop bar which has superb panoramic views of the Bangkok night skyline, great bar snacks but the wine is very expensive as it is throughout the country. We decided having lost a day in the capital to hire a private guide to maximise our time and see as much as possible, which we did. She picked us up in the morning for a short drive into the centre to see certain tourist must sees and then she showed us around some lesser known areas which was a treat. Perhaps racing around the canals on a long motorboat being my favourite. Again, the transfer service back to the airport was excellent and before long we were touching down on the little jewel that is Koh Samui the quirkiest thing being just a short drive from the plane we alight into a hut with a small carousel and our luggage was already coming through. The Hotel of choice for the first stint was Centara Villas on the South-East coast, they had sent a driver to pick us up once again fantastic transfers. The villas are in a quite part of the island which is great after the hustle and bustle of the past few days. Ideally located right on the beach but the resort has lots of steps to be aware of. Our Sea View room had probably the biggest bed I have ever slept in, more like two King beds pushed together. The beachside restaurant and bar within the hotel is great but there are a few places to go outside the complex within walking distance. My favourite was the cool bar just a short walk along the beach, it plays great chill out music, has some hammocks and serves fantastic food at great prices. We had asked our next hotel the Zazen Boutique Resort & Spa to send a car to pick us up which they duly obliged for a nominal fee of 700Baht (£18) which is not bad between 4 of us now this hotel is situated on the North-East of the island on Bophut beach. Carefully chosen to be near enough to the bars and restaurants of fisherman’s village but far enough away not to be bothered by the throngs of people that descend on the area every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for the street markets which are truly a feast for the senses you see and smell some wonderful interpretations of ‘Street Food’. Aside from these nights the beach road is lined with some very good restaurants to satisfy any palate but if you love Thai food you are in for a treat. As ever if you require any more info on the country, or any of the resorts visited just drop me a line.

Italian Lakes - Lake Garda - Is it for me?

22 November 2018

Having done the Amalfi Coast, Rome, Venice and Sicily the opportunity to visit Lake Garda for 5 nights was too good to pass up, myself and 3 other agents were treated to an immersive experience of everything the Lake has to offer courtesy of our hosts Hotelplan whose portfolio includes Inghams. This Educational trip was not about the hotels they feature although we saw quite a few, it was why Lake Garda? Who does it appeal to? What can you do? What can you see? We were based in Gardone and travelled to various places and points of interest by mini bus driven by one of the most knowledgeable representatives of any area I have met – Jayne really knew her stuff and clearly was passionate about the region. Driving the Lakes roads could be concern for a nervous driver due to the number of cyclists and motorbikes/scooters, so I would recommend maybe a twin-centre and visiting other places via ferry this is an economical, enjoyable way of getting the most from the Lake e.g. a return ticket from Limone to Malcesine is just 9 Euros. Clinging to the rocks on the north-western shore of Lake Garda, the picturesque town of Limone is renowned for its dramatic setting and fragrant lemon groves. I would gladly spend a few days here soaking up the sunshine, meandering around the streets eating authentic Italian food and sipping some of the local rose wines. A hot spot to visit not far north of Limone is Lake Tenno, set up in the mountains it’s a feast for the eyes, a turquoise diamond, it takes about an hour to walk around but not for people with walking difficulties due to the number of steps and uneven walkways. Also, not far from there is the Varone Waterfall with 2 observation points at 40m & 80m surrounded by botanical gardens and a large picnic area. Probably best to do these 2 activities on an organised tour. We took a car ferry from our base to Garda on the east of the Lake and drove up to Malcesine, one of the most popular towns and very popular with people getting married. The centre point being the Castello Scaligero and the views are well worth the climb to the top. Plenty of riverside restaurants and bars to satisfy your appetite as well as some hidden gems to discover in the cobbled back streets. Our guide knew every nook and cranny and we were treated to some of the finest prosciutto I ever had, washed down with some quality prosecco - just search out da Pedro. You can even take the cable car up to Mount Baldo a magnet for walkers, cyclists and paragliders. In Punta San Vigilio we were treated to a gem, a small harbour with some serious boats, boutique hotel and an ideal place for a long lunch, people/boat watching. Simione is one of the most visited places and I can highly recommend a speedboat tour of the peninsula. Our final ½ day was spent in Verona, we had a fantastic lunch at Le Cantine De L’Arena on the main square by the Arena which host such great shows like Carmen and The Barber of Seville. Overall, I found the area less expensive than expected and suitable for all types of holidaymaker from a 5-star hotel lover to a self-catering camp site aficionado, great for people who wish to do nothing whilst great for the active windsurfer, hiker. Definitely a foodie’s delight - real authentic Italian cuisine and if you like a drop of good wine you will not be disappointed. Couples, Families, Young, old everyone will enjoy all that Lake Garda has to offer.

Canada - Coast to Coast - Niagara Falls To Vancouver and The Rocky Mountaineer

22 November 2018

First stop Niagara and I have to say it’s only the Falls that appeal. One night here and perhaps one night at Niagara on the lake is perfect. I think it is well worth having a great view of the Falls from your hotel, so you can see it first thing in the morning and last thing at night when it is all lit up. Selecting your hotel and room type is important. (pic 1) The drive to the lake is littered with wineries that you can go visit and tour if you like. It is a very picture postcard town with plenty of good restaurants to choose from so don’t just go in the first one you see. Walk down the Main St. then back up the other side before you decide where to go for lunch/dinner. Maybe even stroll to the lakeside and have a picnic as many people did. I can also recommend a stopover in Toronto for a few days as well, having been before, but we were expected over in Vancouver where we had six nights in three different hotels. The first was the Four Seasons. True to the brand this is a lovely hotel and the pool area was a great chill out zone. I have to say the beds are some of the comfiest I have ever slept in. Good choice at breakfast but pricey if not in your room rate. J W Marriott Parq Vancouver was hotel two. It only opened in Oct 2017 so it’s shiny and new. We were upgraded to a waterfront view and club room access which we were most impressed with, the staff really could not do anymore for us at all. The hotel incorporates a casino and five restaurants, one of which has a happy hour on food and drink from 9pm ‘til midnight which is exceptional value. Finally, we moved to the Sheraton Wall Centre and again were upgraded as we are members of their rewards scheme. They gave us a corner room with a balcony which, although small, was a little sun trap come the afternoon and with floor to ceiling windows we had a great panoramic view of mountains. Most people who visit Vancouver do so as part of a cruise or land tour package. It is a very busy port for sailings up to Alaska and a starting point for the famous Rocky Mountaineer train journeys. We were there for the latter but first I want to tell you all about what you can see/do in this fabulous city. As with most big cities there is the hop on hop off bus circuits and for here there are two routes: the City Route and the Park Route. Utilising these gives you your bearings as well as allowing you to explore various areas as you see fit. Canada Place is by the cruise port and is a hub of activity. Here you can admire the ships in dock, stroll along the promenade and maybe try Flyover Canada, an immersive ride that takes you on a journey from coast to coast. Try a horse drawn carriage ride around Stanley Park (pic 2) or maybe get an aerial 360-degree view from Vancouver Tower. However, don’t pay the entrance fee just go up to the restaurant and grab a drink or a bite to eat as you get to see just as much. You can try out a seaplane ride or get on a free shuttle coach that takes you to the Capilano Suspension Bridge then up to Grouse Mountain for a truly fabulous view of the city and mountains beyond. Every city has a Chinatown but our guided tour from Bob Sung (pic 3) of A Wok Around Chinatown was fantastic, truly an in-depth insight into the history and culture. It starts out in the beautiful Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden (pic 4), built only by artisans from China and with only Chinese materials. The tour takes in culinary aspects as well as culture, visiting various food and alternative medicine stores (pic 5), a fascinating tea shop (pic 6) where Daniel Lui taught us how to make and taste tea. This is a must visit as is the whole tour which culminates with a traditional Dim Sum Lunch. Bob also gave us a two-hour tour the following day around Granville island which is another must do whilst in this vibrant city. It’s not just a market place, it’s an entertainment centre as well as having lots of artisan shops to discover not to mention the places to eat and drink. You could spend a full day here and still want to return. Finally came the day we boarded the famous Rocky Mountaineer. Our trip was called ‘First Passage to the West’ and we were lucky enough to travel in their Gold Leaf carriage from its very own station (pic 7) in Vancouver to Banff in Alberta with a night’s stopover in Kamloops. Interestingly every member of staff from the station lined up and waved you off. The train itself was very comfortable with glass domed windows that allow you to view the splendour of the Canadian Rockies without straining (pic 8). The staff were exceptional not just in their service, but they were constantly on the lookout for wildlife and yes, we did see a bear briefly, but you need to have your cameras ready constantly if you are to get that shot. The food was remarkable and served in the carriage below over two sittings. In the seat pocket was a kind of newspaper called the Mile Post which details some of the historic points along the route as well as letting you know where the good photo opportunities are, so you are well prepared although the train does slow down usually at these points. From the moment you check in you do not touch your luggage as it travels separately and just appears in your rooms in both Kamloops and your final destination, which for us was Banff where we stayed at the Moose Suites. This is a very central hotel with a great feature – two large Jacuzzi pools and a sauna on the roof (pic 9) which I am sure after a hard day skiing you would just love. Not being ski season we just did the touristy stuff and had a good walk around the town. There are hiking trails, you can go canoeing or take the free shuttle bus up to the Banff Gondola and ride up to Sulphur Mountain and view six stunning mountain ranges which is breath-taking. I am left with a lot of memories from this trip and do not have the space to go into more detail. However, if you want more details about anything I have mentioned just drop me a line and I will be in touch. Thanks for reading my Canadian blog. Roll on my next adventure: a Mediterranean cruise. P.s. we did spot a moose and a bear (pic 10)

Life's Too Short - Write Your Bucket List

07 August 2018

Life is just too short We do not know when our time is up so it’s very important to try and achieve your life goals. Call them what you want, be it be ‘A Bucket List’ or ‘Wish List’ - just set it and do it. I am sharing mine to hopefully inspire others to ‘Live their Dreams’! Some I have already achieved and some I may never get to do but I am going to die trying… • Spot the Big 5 on Safari – this one I have done but would do it again in a breath - lions, rhino, buffalo, elephants, leopard and as a bonus hippo, warthog, giraffe, zebra • The Galapagos – Having seen so many documentaries on these fascinating islands, it’s on my list • A Trip on the Rocky Mountaineer – I will get to do this and its booked for May 2018 and a journal all about it will be posted on this website • Iceland and the Northern Lights – Such a different country and ever so popular, need to go at the right time of year to maximise your chance of seeing the phenomenon Aurora Borealis • Visit China and everything this vast country has to offer – Great Wall, Pandas, Terracotta Warriors, Yangtze River cruise, Shanghai, Beijing and many more • Maldives over water villa to totally chill out and relax after a hard day snorkelling • India’s Golden Triangle – Delhi, Agra and Jaipur to see the Taj Mahal, the Red Fort and hopefully Tigers • Rio de Janeiro for the carnival combined with a trip to Iguazu Falls needs no explanation • Cherry Blossom time in Japan, visit Tokyo and Osaka, ride on their bullet train and see many of the UNESCO sites • And to cap it all – a world cruise visiting every continent (this one might have to wait until retirement though) Above are my top ten but believe me when I say I have many more here are a few • Ride in a Hot Air Balloon – Booked for next year • Centre Court Tickets for men’s final at Wimbledon • As many Grand Prix events as possible – Done 2 so far Silverstone and Monaco • 14-night River Cruise down the Danube • Witness the annual Migration in Tanzania • Cuba • Visit every state in the USA (22 so far) Ticked off so far • New York • Vietnam • Norwegian Fjords Cruise • Narrow boating in the UK • Behind the bar at the Rovers Return • Beaches of Bermuda • Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam • Niagara Falls • Flown Business Class • Had dinner at Captains Table on a Cruise • Been up the Burj Khalifa – tallest building in the world (and CN Tower Toronto) • Surfed at Surfers Paradise in Queensland Australia • Snorkelled with turtles in Barbados • Rome – Coliseum, Vatican City, Sistine Chapel etc • Singapore Sling at Raffles in Singapore • A West End show once a year (ongoing) Doing what I do for a living, I organise all of the above for clients and when someone asks for something different it usually gets added to my list. Thanks for reading and hopefully it will help you define your lists!

The Truth About Hard Rock Hotel Tenerife Is About To Be Revealed.

07 August 2018

One of the perks of being in the travel industry is that we get the opportunity to go, look and see for ourselves certain resorts and specific destinations. One of the trade magazines advertised a competition to win a week's stay at the Hard Rock Hotel in Tenerife. All that was required was to complete online training about the hotel and three lucky travel agents names were drawn out, mine included. So all I had to do was pick the dates, turn up at the airport and enjoy the hotels hospitality. We arrived at the hotel in a private taxi and that’s when the Hard Rock Hotel experience started. We were greeted by a member of staff who obviously was into Elvis. He escorted us to the check in desk where we were handed a welcome glass of fizz. We were on a B&B basis but I wanted to try all the hotels restaurants so upgraded to half board for €20 per person per day. A porter offered to take our cases to our room and it was then I noticed all the staff name badges had the name of their favourite group or artist in the music business, which was a nice touch. We were allocated a deluxe silver room, which is the lead in category, and it was excellent, from the very comfy beds to the rainforest shower with a decent sized balcony that caught the late afternoon early evening sun. I made arrangements to view other room types for the following day. After a tour of the hotel and lunch at the Constant Grind Coffee Shop, we settled at the adult only pool area which for me personally is a haven, but if I had children with me then their designated areas were superb, catering to all age groups. This is not to mention the beach club area with its man-made beach and huge pool, private cabanas and upscale restaurant for lunch. Everywhere you go around the complex you have music playing, which you would expect of a HRH, what I would not expect is a few people complaining about it...what did they expect? And to be fair, it is not all loud in your face as Hard Rock provide a complete mixture of all types of music, rock, pop, ballads and funk. All around the hotel you see music memorabilia, there is even a rock shop to get the all-important HRH prezzie or souvenir for folks back home. And now the restaurants – 3rd Half is a sports bar with an extensive menu to choose from and no doubt packed when a big sporting event is on - I had the ribs! Narumi is a Japanese style restaurant where you can have the traditional teppanyaki, order from the pre-set half board menu which includes a drink, or from the a la carte with a €25 credit per person. I am not a big sushi fan but my wife really enjoyed everything served up. On our third night we booked in to AliOle, a Spanish tapas style restaurant. We opted to eat outside on the terrace, which has stunning views and was very pleasant. As we were going through our starters, I realised that the music was not piped but a gentleman was singing live easy listening ballads, he was terrific. I ordered off the half board menu and went for the beef cheeks, which looked succulent but were covered in an overpowering garlic sauce. The staff in this case were superb, and swapped it for me for something off the main menu – a dish called ‘Broken Eggs and Iberian Ham’, with no mention of Canarian potatoes. It was so tasty, I would recommend to anyone and not just fussy people like me who do not like garlic. Every morning we had breakfast in the buffet restaurant called Sessions, which provides great variety, and to my delight, fantastic sausages. The whole buffet had something for most nationalities. We also tried this place on our penultimate night, again finding lots of variety. Our final night was in Montauk Steakhouse, of which I had heard fantastic things about from some colleagues who had stayed here previously. We dined with a charming couple we had met a couple of times. I was very impressed with the fact they have a knife choice (see pics) – Japanese, Spanish, German or English, and they advise on which to pick depending on your choice of main, although no half board option here so there was just a €25 per person credit towards your bill with a drink included. I chose the fillet, while Michelle had the rack of lamb, with both cooked to perfection. All in all it was a superb dining experience. Most evenings we watched the singers performing, with one lady in particular being amazing. I think she will be trying out for X-Factor and will definitely get my vote. A couple of evenings after the show we went up to The 16th, a sky rooftop chill out zone with live music and cocktails, where you can stare at the stars or go out early evening for great sunsets. We took a couple of half day excursions, a small 10 person yacht out to see dolphins and whales where we saw plenty, and a trip up to Mount Teide, the highest peak in the whole of Spain at 3718m above sea level, both excellent all in all and great trips. Top tips if you book half board - make sure you book your restaurants on day one so as not to be disappointed. For any more info just drop me a line!

Why You Must Experience Amsterdam At Least Once In Your Lifetime.

07 August 2018

We arrived at Schiphol airport after a 45 min flight on KLM from Birmingham. Following the signs for the train to Amsterdam Central was easy enough then just a short 15 min ride. Our chosen hotel was less than a kilometre away, and it was a lovely sunny day so we decided to walk. Then it hits you - how diverse both the age range and the sheer amount of nationalities that descend upon the Venice of the North. The streets were teeming with folk literally from all over the world. Our hotel was just metres from Dam Square. It was the Rho Hotel, quite basic but very central to roam about the city. The bed was smaller than we were used to and with individual quilts which is typically Dutch. Breakfast was adequate but nothing spectacular. Would I stay here again? No I would rather pay more for maybe something more boutique. After we checked in we went to discover why this place is so popular we wandered aimlessly with no real plan, feeling a bit peckish we popped into a little tapas bar and restaurant for a snack following this more walking around soaking it all in then settled in a great people watching street bar for a nightcap or two. Plenty to see and do so first we chose a canal boat hour long cruise which was fascinating and great value for money at 11 Euros each. Back by Central Station we took the free ferry over the water to go and see the A’Dam Lookout an observation deck which has an unrivalled panoramic view of Amsterdam well worth a visit at only 12.5 Euros each it’s also a place you can have lunch or dinner and not overpriced as I would have expected. Man City were playing so we caught the second half in a Dutch sports bar. For dinner, and after a lot of research into good quality Dutch restaurants, we decided on a quaint local place called Van Kerkwijk again only metres from our hotel. I popped along to try reserve a table only to be told that nobody can book, and there is no menu. Intrigued we went back at about 19:30 - sure enough it was full. We waited in the bar area and got sat down after 45 mins then one of the charming waitresses came and explained what’s on offer that day, both our starter and main courses were divine with a bottle of wine as well we thought 84 Euros was a great deal. After dinner Michelle wanted to see ‘The Red Light District’ so for 10 mins we walked towards the area which I have to say was something of an eye opener for her. The place was awash with curious tourists, stag groups etc. Then after a nightcap in a bar near our hotel we retired for the evening as I wanted an early start so I could see the city in all its glory before the masses descended once again. So after an early breakfast we had a very pleasant stroll through the streets and along the canals almost bereft of locals and tourists, watching cafes and shops setting up for another busy day even on a Sunday. We had chosen the late flight back to Birmingham so what to do with our luggage as check out was 11 am. There was no room or security in the left luggage section of the hotel anybody could have taken what they wanted so off back to central station where they have great facilities and for just 10 Euros I could leave our suitcase in one of the larger lockers – Sorted. I noticed that a Leonardo Da Vinci exhibition was on in town and always been fascinated by the man’s genius off we went, it was a bit steep at 14 Euros each but I got a free apple! After even more strolling around it is evident that the nation's relaxed view on cannabis is a real draw for some folk, but not for us. There will be something for everybody in Amsterdam and if you have a real love of art there are plenty of other museums and galleries to visit. I read recently that the city spends nothing on self-promotion not one Guilder sorry Euro and I can understand why – it does not need to. Bedankt Amsterdam

Choose Your South China Sea Cruise Itinerary Carefully

07 August 2018

We set off on 2nd March flying from Birmingham with Emirates. We decided to break up the 14 hour flight to Singapore by spending a couple of days in Dubai with some friends who live there a fellow Travel Counsellor no less, and what a couple of days – we did the compulsory brunch choosing the Westin, it was supposed to last 4 hours but we stretched it to 8! The following day breakfast was at Jumeirah Beach Hotel with the Burj Al Arab as a backdrop and a whistle-stop tour of the Palm. Then it was onto Singapore to pick up our cruise ship Celebrity Constellation, not the most modern of the cruise lines fleet we have been on but it felt like home after a couple of days. First port of call was Ho Chi Min or Saigon and we selected an excursion that took us to the Mekong Delta it was a very long day which took us 3 hours to get there and 3 hours back with 3 hours in between but we did get to see a lot of the countryside as well as driving through this extremely busy city. After a day at sea we docked in a port called Chan May and we booked a trip to take us to see Danang a very popular area for American GI’s during the war, we got to ride and a pushbike Tuk Tuk as well as stroll through an authentic market, the beaches were excellent as was our guide who learnt to speak English from soldiers during the conflict. Another day at sea before we docked in Hong Kong where we were met by another TC Graham and his wife who had kindly offered to show us the sights which we were so glad about as our time was limited, wish we could have overnighted here to get a proper flavour of this ever popular point of call. The whole day was overcast and foggy so glad we had locals maximising our time, we spoke to other cruisers later that night who had booked on tours which included going up to Victoria Peak to see effectively a whole load of nothing. We were well impressed with Stanley Market. Next stop was to be Manila and quite frankly not sure why it is on the cruise as a stop, the waters around the ship once docked were full of rubbish and the port itself leaves a lot to be desired It’s a fair old walk to get to anywhere if you were not on an organised tour, none of which appealed to us and you have to run the gauntlet of street peddlers and beggars. We could easily have spent an extra day in Hong Kong and had a lot of fun. Also Due to Philippine law the shops on board and casino were not permitted to open as we were calling in next to Boracay also in the Philippines. Now this little paradise was completely different to its capital, beautiful beaches and lots of water sports going on, I don’t think I have ever seen as many people parasailing at the same time I counted 12 in the air at once. At sea for the next day once more before docking on the island of Borneo at Kota Kinabalu once again it’s a fair old walk into town in intense heat but we had to get the exercise in to counter act the food and drink that flows on an all-inclusive cruise. Last at sea day and another chance to top up the tan before we dock back in Singapore for an overnighter. Having been before I was able to plan some little surprises for Michelle. First up was a spot of lunch overlooking the whole of the bay from our vantage point the restaurant and microbrewery Level 33, great views of all things Singapore is well known for – The Marina Bay Sands Hotel, the Merlion, the floating football pitch, the Helix bridge and Gardens by the Bay. We also took a bum boat ride down the Singapore River before strolling over to The Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest - 2 Biospheres that have to be seen to be appreciated before the evening light/music show of the Super trees. Back on board ship for our last night and disembarkation the following morning. One of the best ways to see a city especially if the weather is good is on the Hop On – Hop Off buses we did 2 different routes taking in all the sights and sounds of Little India, Chinatown, Raffles Hotel to name a few. Overall a fantastic trip and happy to discuss with anyone who is thinking of doing something similar as there are other itineraries so getting the right one for you is essential for the perfect trip.

Reasons Why You Should Go California For Your Next Vacation.

07 August 2018

On arrival in San Jose the immigration process was so smooth no queues but then the luggage took 40 minutes to come through – win some, lose some. Our first hotel was the Fairmont in San Jose and very impressive it was, you can usually find some flaw of some description but not on this occasion. A great breakfast with plenty of choice. Our first full day began with a drive to Mount Herman for a chance to zip line through Redwoods courtesy of Redwood Canopy Tours (pic 1). There was excellent tuition and a lot of fun, we followed this with a two mile hike up the Zinfandel trail and at the end our reward was a picnic lunch followed by wine tasting at the Pittecchi brothers winery (pic 2). California’s state capitol Sacramento was next and we were running late due to heavy traffic so we opted to go straight to dinner at 'South', a place I fancy only known to locals. One of the house rules is you cannot take a table until you have ordered and the long queue spoke volumes about the quality of the food. Fortunately for us our host pulled some strings and had a table cordoned off citing we were British VIPs. The food was indeed tasty and wholesome; deep fried chicken, mac and cheese, corn bread etc. I would happily recommend to anyone. Our hotel for the evening was Embassy Suites by Hilton and once again great accommodation on the riverfront promenade. Any visit should also include a trip to Old Ironsides, the oldest pub in town, with a great atmosphere and live music. The next morning was a treat and a first for me. Courtesy of the SacBrew Company (pic 3), 12 of us sat at a bar on a bike and cycled our way around some cool spots including a traditional farmers market. We just had time for Champagne brunch at the Tank House before our next challenge - paddle boarding (pic 4) on Lake Natoma Aquatic Centre. Basically standing on a surfboard on a lake with a paddle. I did catch the hang of it quite quickly until one of my colleagues thought it would be funny to upset my balance still lots of fun. Due North for 180 miles to Redding staying at the Gaia Hotel & Spa. Very spacious rooms with very comfortable beds and a top breakfast. Our evening was interesting with a private tour of Turtle Bay Exploration Park as well as an al fresco meal underneath the famous Sundial Bridge which spans the Sacramento River. Onwards to the Lassen Volcanic National Park with bubbling pits (pic 5) and a very strong smell of sulphur. As the snow (pic 6) started to fall we made a decision to get over the mountain pass before it was closed off – we made it about 10 minutes to spare. The more we descended the clearer the weather got so by the time we arrived at Burney Falls (pic 7) the sun was shining again. After viewing the falls we went on a lakeside hike which was great until the heavens opened and we got drenched. Still it’s not often you can witness all the seasons in just one day. Mount Shasta Resort accommodated us this evening in their very comfortable chalets, unfortunately no time to take advantage of their golf course as the light had faded but not before we had a great view of the majestic Mount Shasta. We did enjoy a lovely meal and retired for the night as we had early breakfast and a tour planned up the mountain unfortunately the cold and poor visibility cut the morning short. A long drive of 260 miles down to Santa Rosa and our next stop was the Courtyard by Marriott home for two nights and although a corporate type of hotel the best night’s sleep I had on the whole trip. Dinner that evening was at Willi’s Wine bar one of the top restaurants in the area. Sonoma Canopy Tours hosted us for our second Zip Line experience of the trip, however this was perhaps a more challenging course and I learnt a lot more about the Redwoods. Half an hour’s drive through the county and time for some serious wine/food pairing thanks to Kendall Jackson (pic 8) - the best popcorn I have ever eaten. The evening was an absolute treat as we did a site visit of the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa. We could not view any of the rooms as the hotel was full but they did give us a tour round the property and finished it off with dinner in ‘Sante’ their Michelin star restaurant. Highly recommended. So now the longest day – up at 04:30 to beat the traffic over the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco to the airport for our flight down to San Diego we were up and down in an hour then met by our coach for the two hour drive to Borrego Springs and our hotel for the night La Casa Del Zorro. This resort is in the middle of a Desert State park (pic 9) and boy was it hot. We were greeted with drinks and snacks in the centre by locals, many of them ex-pats before being whisked off on a tour off the area (pic 10) and with 45 mins to spare to prepare for the big finale where five groups all who had done alternative Californian itineraries came together to share our experiences. I am really pleased I got to see a lot of places not normally seen by visitors to the Golden State. California has a lot more than just San Francisco and Los Angeles so if you want to see something different just drop me a line.

Discover The Top Secret Norwegian Fjords Cruise Hideaways.

07 August 2018

The Norwegian Fjords were breathtakingly beautiful and sailing into them on Celebrity Eclipse made the trip even better. We sailed out of Southampton on the 8 night cruise in May Scheduled to visit 5 of Norway’s most popular ports, first up was Bergen famed for having one of the highest rainfalls of any city on earth and on our arrival it did not let us down, so with a courtesy umbrella from the ship we headed off to find the ‘Fisktorget’ (fish market) and I was amazed at the size of the fish for sale nothing like what our supermarkets offer, long gone now are the days of proper bustling markets so I really enjoyed checking out all the stalls, next item on our agenda was to find the Floibanan (funicular) to take us up over a 1000 ft. above the city for a spectacular view, a bit windswept but back at sea level found a bar to sit outside complete with overhead heaters and seat blankets. Flam was our second port and is best known for the worlds steepest railroad which climbs up 2800 ft with a stop off at the Kjosfossen Waterfall, some friends of ours went Kayaking on the Aurlandsfjord whilst getting back on board the ship we were offered a lovely hot drink of chicken consommé which was gratefully received. Superlatives fall way short when trying to describe the stunning beauty of Geraingerfjord and to ensure I got the best of it I was up very early at 6am to witness our sailing into what has to be one of the most spectacular places I have seen and it was still a few hours before we docked in Gerainger Whilst I was researching our 3rd port of call I came across a company that hired out electric cars which allowed us to navigate the hairpin bends and rise way above sea level to Eagles Point, simply stunning. The port of Alesund is surrounded by numerous islands and is home to Norway’s largest cod fishing fleet however on the day of our visit it was a bank holiday and most shops, bars, places of interest were shut so we just strolled around the streets marvelling at how clean everywhere is, back on board greeted by a hot beef bouillon this time. Final port was Stavanger and the weather was glorious now so, together with some friends I hired a private taxi (buying excursions from the cruise line can be very expensive)to take us to an historical place of interest Harsfjord where Sverd I fjell (swords in rock) where an epic sea battle took place it felt a bit like ‘Game of Thrones’ then back into town where all the pavement bars and cafes were teeming with locals and fellow passengers soaking up the sun and a few beers then when we got back on board time for a well-earned Jacuzzi. All in all Celebrity Cruise has improved as a brand and it was pretty spectacular when I first cruised on the Eclipse 5 years ago, advancements to Wi-Fi and internet connections made staying in touch with family and friends via social media very easy as well as being able to watch premiership football in the sports bar. On our first day before we set sail we had already booked our next Celebrity cruise a 14 night South China Sea itinerary as the deals are so great – free drinks package & $300 on board credit and on our last day Michelle got lucky on the roulette and won $400 as well as a $2500 Necklace & Earing set in an exciting draw where 10 people had a chance of picking a key to open the glass case – she was ninth in line!!!

Things You Probably Didn't Know About South Africa - Cape Town And Beyond.

07 August 2018

South Africa - Cape Town Firstly let me say if a trip to South Africa is not on your ‘To Do List’ then please give it some serious consideration. As a popular destination for my clients I was very keen to sample what this fantastic country has to offer its visitors. The journey began with our first experience of the newly opened Terminal 2 at Heathrow and having read all the travel blurb I was really looking forward to the experience. It did not disappoint at all, lots of light, very spacious a good shopping experience and excellent food and drink options. Our first destination was Cape Town and as we were flying courtesy of South African Airways (SAA) we flew via Johannesburg and once again a very impressive international airport. Our arrival although ‘winter’ was unseasonably wet and cold but hey no one can control weather – right? Our first place to visit was the V&A waterfront it was also our first opportunity to sample the local cuisine in a place called Market on the Wharf – inside were many vendors that would cater to any palate. I was tempted by Gourmet Samosas - five different fillings to choose from and only £2! I have a limited amount of words to share this experience which will definitely prove a challenge, so with that in mind I will be brief on accommodations and hopefully if interested you can contact me for a more detailed appraisal. Our first stay was at the Vineyard Hotel in the leafy Newlands suburb a must for cricket fans and incidentally where England/Portugal football teams stayed for the World Cup 2010. It was also for me the best breakfast on offer throughout our trip and an introduction to Rooibos tea or ‘Red Bush’ it is only grown in the Cederberg, a small mountainous area of the Western Cape it has no caffeine and very low tannin levels - I loved it. Our two evenings in Cape Town were sampling the delights of 15 on Orange, a delightful city centre hotel and Gold Restaurant – an interactive drum and dance culinary experience not to be missed. The unusual adverse weather did not spoil our fun however did prevent us from visiting Table Top Mountain but it did allow us a visit to Hout Bay and a short cruise to view a seal colony on Duiker Island, next stop Boulders Beach where another colony – the Jackass Penguins reside. It is totally surreal, we expect to see penguins in a much chillier climate but no, here they are having what I can only describe as a lot of fun on the beach (see pics). Lunch was at the ‘Black Marlin’ (not blue) at Simons Town and if you like seafood then this is your heaven. We had a Seafood Chowder to start with a platter of Lobster, King Prawns and a piece of Hake which melted in the mouth, followed by a cheesecake dessert. Cape Point Nature Reserve home to the ‘Cape of Good Hope’ is an absolutely fascinating place and according to our guide contains more fauna and flora in its small promontory than the whole of the Brazilian rainforest - also home to wildlife such as Buck, Zebra, Baboons, Red Hartebeest and hundreds of species of birds. Literally no place on earth like it. When you arrive near Cape Point it is possible to walk up to the lighthouse or you can catch the funicular that runs every few minutes. Although once there the weather was so inclement not much could be seen. I will have to return. Cape Point is often mistakenly claimed to be the place where the cold current of the Atlantic Ocean and the warm current of the Indian Ocean collide. In fact, the meeting point fluctuates along the southern and south-western Cape coast, usually occurring between Cape Agulhas and Cape Point. The two intermingling currents help to create the micro-climate of Cape Town and its environs. Contrary to popular mythology, the meeting point of the currents produces no obvious visual effect; there is no "line in the ocean" where the sea changes colour or looks different in some way. There are, however, strong and dangerous swells and tides around the point. This area has witnessed countless maritime disasters in the centuries since ships first sailed here. I am in total awe of the significance of this part of the world with respect to modern history. Our continuing journey then took us inland through the famous Winelands stopping en route at a 200 hectare working farm / hotel called Babylonstoren. I have never come across a place like it before and what a fantastic place to relax and return to nature, whilst at the same time enjoying smart, clean, modern even luxurious accommodations complete with a very good Wi-Fi signal if you choose not to completely switch off. If you do though then you are in for a treat and any visitors I send here will be advised to seek out ‘Mother Nature’ herself - real name Gundula, her knowledge of living off the land would put Bear Grylls to shame she is truly a fascinating person. They are extremely self-sufficient and your meals will consist of seasonal produce from the farm and with its own wine for me it is a must visit place – I will return as a guest and will start my holiday right here, its only 25 km from the university town of Stellenbosch and 23 km from Franschhoek both of which I intend to stay a night or two then only an hour’s drive back to Cape Town before setting off on the Garden Route finishing off with a three-night Safari experience. Word count has beaten me and I refuse to bullet point so my Stellenbosch, Garden Route and Safari experience will follow in a separate Journal. Thanks for reading and please get in touch for more information on anything at all.

5 Top tips for first time cruisers

07 August 2018

Many of my clients say they would like to try something different for their holiday and I always suggest a cruise. Unfortunately, lots of people have their reservations as there are many myths surrounding cruising. I decided to put together 5 top tips to ensure that people get the most out of what I believe is the best way to see a collection of wonderful places - while only having to unpack once! Tip 1: Booking your cruise: use a Travel Counsellor Cruising is not the time to decide to be your own travel agent. Anyone new to cruising should work with an expert travel agent who is knowledgeable about the industry. They will help you to decide which is the best cruise line to meet your taste, help you choose the best cabin from the different grades and types available, whilst ensuring it is best positioned for your budget. Cruise lines have very different offerings, and the reason why most first time cruisers do not enjoy their first experience is because they choose the wrong cruise line. Some cruises are very formal which is great if you like dressing up but others are much more relaxed. You can also choose from adult only cruises or family friendly ones. Size is also important to consider as you can get huge cruises like floating cities while others are more intimate so can access smaller ports. With so much choice there really is a cruise line to suit everyone. Tip 2: Before you book a full cruise, try a ‘taster’ cruise for 2 or 3 nights Before you go ahead and book a full cruise, I always recommend first time cruisers to try out cruising by going on one of the ‘taster’ or ‘mini’ cruises that most cruise lines offer. These are from 2-4 nights long and will travel to 2-3 ports in Europe. They give you the chance to try out your sea legs, live ship board life and see if the whole experience is for you. Tip 3: Do not let worrying about being seasick put you off going on a cruise Everyone worries about getting seasick, although almost no-one actually gets seasick on a cruise ship these days. Cruise ships are designed to be stable, even in rough seas. They have stabilisers that they deploy that reduce the rolling effect which is what’s used to cause sea sickness. If you are concerned there are still a number of things you can do when you go on your first cruise: 1. Go in the middle of summer when the sea will usually be calm 2. Chose either a Fjords cruise as the Fjords are inland and very calm, or go on a Mediterranean Cruise that departs from a port in the Mediterranean 3. Choose a cabin that is in the middle of the ship and on a lower deck 4. Take some over the counter anti motion sickness pills or wrist bands with you to reassure yourself Tip 4: Always request a dinner table for eight people As a new cruiser, I recommend you request a large table of 8 people for your dinner. If you are on a cruise that has ‘free seating’ and not set tables then of course this does not apply, but most cruise lines still have fixed seating for dinner. As a new cruiser being on a large table has many benefits. Even if you do not get on with one couple, there will be other people to chat to. The table will have experienced cruisers on and they will be able to answer all your questions, give you tips and secrets on how to get the most out of the ship and cruise. People on cruises like to talk and you will find it much easier than on any other holiday to start a conversation. Tip 5: Watch the ‘extras’ as they can mount up quickly Cruises used to be much more ‘all inclusive’, but over recent years this has started to change with increased competition and the need to fill ships during tough times. So while we have seen the headline fare of the cruise fall and appear great value, it means that the cruise lines are now working very hard to drive up the average spend by passenger through extras. These include on-board activities and events, special restaurants, courses and training, gym classes, stores, excursions, on-board photos, internet access and of course drinks.

First Aboard The Royal Princess Cruise Ship

07 August 2018

The Princess Royal has officially been named by her Godmother Kate the Duchess of Cambridge. I was one of the lucky ones to get to spend an afternoon exploring all she has to offer as well as an evening sampling the food and entertainment. From the first glimpse of the ship I have to say she definitely looked regal. My self-guided tour took me all over and on many of the different decks. I got to see the owner’s suite but was surprised that it was not larger than it was. We were unable to view other penthouse suites as people were booked into them. However I had a deluxe balcony cabin which was more than adequate. In fact all the outside cabins have a balcony and there is no ocean view on this ship. I checked out the gym and was very impressed – it was probably the best equipped gym I have seen on a cruise ship. Every piece of equipment had its own screen with a choice of channels to choose from whilst working off the calories that you will inevitably put on if you visit the ‘Pastry Shop’ - the largest of its kind at sea. The Horizon Court and Bistro will also house novel areas such as ‘The Crab Shack’ which is a seafood fan feast and a Fondue station. An innovation is the SeaWalk and Seawalk bar; a glass bottomed walkway that cantilevers out 28ft beyond the edge of the ship with views 128ft below. The Sanctuary is an adult only haven featuring cabanas, some of them private with refrigerators and flat screen TV’s. Movies under the stars is a Princess signature and on this latest addition to the fleet the screen is twice the size of previous ships. The atrium which spans 3 floors is simply stunning. Dinner was served in one of the main dining rooms with a set five course menu and everything was delicious after which there was some entertainment laid on up on deck 16. Most people gravitated to this then filtered down into the other bars as the night drew to a close. We finished off in the Crooners Bar with a very entertaining singer/piano player. Thanks for reading!

Can I Tease You To Try Malta?

07 August 2018

A very early start from Gatwick gave us three full days in Malta and I regret to say it simply was not enough. Although a very small island you need a least a week. Our cram packed itinerary saw us visit nine hotels/resorts, a walking tour of the capital Valletta which included a history of Malta show and lunch in a fabulous restaurant called Nenu the Artisan Baker as well as a boat tour of Valletta’s harbours which I highly recommend. Our host hotel was the Fortina Spa Resort in Sliema, famous for its wellness and spa facilities and frequented by the rich and famous such as Angelina Jolie. I was treated to a hot/cold stone massage which hit the spot. The resort also boasts six different a la carte restaurants as well as a separate pool bar and a panoramic view restaurant of Valletta right on the waterfront. Families are well catered for at the Westin Dragonara in the resort of St. Julian’s. All the rooms are sea view and they have some great restaurants, we dined at Quadro and it was exquisite. Not far from the Westin is the Hilton which does not let the brand name down at all. It has a good mix of classic and contemporary rooms, a huge gym, two squash courts, a 5 Senses Spa and a Toni & Guy salon as well as five restaurants and a great cocktail bar with a spacious terrace overlooking a yacht marina. Corinthia Hotel in St. George’s Bay boasts 13 restaurants, offers free Wi-Fi and has its own scuba diving school. As Malta has been voted the third best place to dive behind the Maldives and the Red Sea then this might just be the place for you. For people considering diving for the first time a try dive is a very affordable 25 Euros. The Dolmen resort at Qawra St. Paul’s Bay has a fabulous pool area and the rooms have great décor. With its own casino this place may well appeal to those who like a flutter or if you are into tennis then they have a couple of courts available. The Intercontinental also flew the flag for the brand, it has access to a private beach area which is also blue flag and overlooking this waterside is Paranga restaurant where we were treated to an excellent lunch. Children under 14 go free to this resort on both B&B and half board, and with 40 interconnecting rooms and 14 family rooms this also caters very well for families. You get free Wi-Fi and depending on room type chosen you get free movies and can stream British TV direct to your screen as well as complimentary use of an I Pad for your stay. The Phoenician is the oldest hotel on Malta steeped in history it is very grandiose with a fantastic lobby as well as a great pool and gardens area considering this is right in the centre of Valletta, you can get free Wi-Fi in public areas. The only boutique hotel we visited was Argento which is ideally situated for everything the St. Julian’s has to offer. It has a rooftop swimming pool and good views over the area. Only 74 very modern rooms but tastefully decorated. I will definitely recommend Malta to a variety of different clients as it truly can please lots of different types of holiday maker. It is the second safest country in Europe. It has great nightlife for younger clients who want to nightclub, fantastic choices for food lovers, and great for Scuba and very interesting for the history buffs, and if Spa treatments tick your box you will not be disappointed. On top of all this you can fly to Malta from 18 different UK airports and it is only 3-3.5 hours flying time. If you would like any more detailed information on any of the hotels I have visited, please drop me a line. Thanks for taking the time to read.

Bermuda - So Much More Than A Triangle

07 August 2018

Why Bermuda? I don’t have enough space to review each hotel individually but there is something for everyone on Bermuda and if this destination appeals we can discuss which of the 11 properties I visited would be most suitable. If beaches are your thing then Bermuda will not disappoint at all. I saw some stunning pink sandy secluded locations and even one Horseshoe Bay (see pictures) which appears in the top ten in the world according to Conde Naste. I visited the Royal Naval Dockyard, now an area for shopping and a cruise terminal, and whilst here I recommend lunch at the Frog & Onion. I tried the homemade Bermuda style mussel pie which was lightly curried, individually prepared in homemade pastry and was very tasty. Other things to see here are the Bermuda Maritime Museum, glassworks where you can watch skilled glassblowers. You can try and buy some of the famous different flavoured rum cake, my favourite was the coconut. There is also a multitude of other shops and activities to while away a few hours. St. George's, the old capital and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is also a must see where you can see 400 years of living history and heritage, check out Kings Square where all the major ceremonies take place and don’t miss St. Peters church which is the oldest Anglican church in continuous use outside of the British isles. On display they have 17th century communion silver and the new capital Hamilton has a vibrant nightlife as well as plenty of shopping opportunities and some fabulous boutique hotels. Getting round the island is relatively easy. Although there is no car hire available, you can rent mopeds but I do not recommend this at all. Even though the speed limit is only 20mph it is still quite hairy around all the bends. The local bus service can get you where you want to be or, depending on where you stay, you can take ferries to most other places of interest. Let's not forget the very friendly, knowledgeable taxi drivers who also offer great value for money. Foodies will not be disappointed either as this island offers so many culinary delights from the sumptuous beachside breakfasts at Elbow Beach (our host hotel) to lavish lunches at Tuckers Point. Fresh fish in abundance as you would expect but the presentation and service are to be highly commended. The hotels I visited were Elbow Beach, Coco Reef, Cambridge Beaches, Rosedon, Royal Palms, The Reefs, Fairmont Hamilton Princess, St. Georges Club, Rosewood Tuckers Point, Grotto Bay and Pompano Beach Club. In a nutshell – why Bermuda? There are direct flights from Gatwick which take approximately seven hours. Bermuda has no rainy season as such, showers can be heavy at times but the skies usually clear quickly. The warmest weather is July to September with an average 29.5 degrees whereas December to March averages 20 degrees which is perfect for golf and scuba diving. There are no bugs of mosquitoes and it is safe and crime free!

How to get the best of New York in a few days

07 August 2018

Having only three nights in New York, we decided to cram in as much as possible! We were very lucky on arrival as we sailed through immigration, but be prepared for this to sometimes be a lengthy process. We joined the cab queue which is a standard $52 dollars (plus any tunnel toll fees) for a Manhattan drop off. We stayed at the Staybridge Suites and were really happy to be granted our request for a high floor thus avoiding any street noise. It was a good size room for New York, with a fully equipped kitchenette. The hotel offers free Wi-Fi which, for me, is a major plus. They also offer complimentary breakfast which is also a quite a novelty in the USA and the breakfast choice was excellent. The hotel was just a few ‘blocks’ from the starting points of the hop on/hop off open top bus sightseeing tours. This is a must if you have limited time in the city. We bought tickets that allowed us to do the Uptown/Downtown loops as well as a Brooklyn tour and a night time tour. This also included a pass for the Empire State building and a ferry over to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. All this was for less than £50 per person! These tours are a great way to allow you to get your bearings in this bustling metropolis. On our first night we stumbled across the Houndstooth pub on 8th Avenue which offered great food and an excellent wine selection. I also must mention a charming pub called the Galway Hooker, just off 5th Avenue, which offered a two course meal with a beer or glass of wine for only $9! We also went on A dinner cruise courtesy of Hornblower where the food was amazing and the Manhattan skyline by night was breath-taking. I now understand why lots of people love to go to New York for the shopping experience - it’s incredible. Macy’s is an amazing department store to visit. We also took in the Empire State building which offers fantastic 360 degree views of the city. My only regret of the trip is that we did not get to see ‘Ground Zero’ but I plan to go on my next visit. I would definitely recommend at least four days in this ‘city that never sleeps’ to enjoy all the delights that it has to offer!

Rome in 3 days is it possible? Oh Yes

07 August 2018

Early flight with Monarch (my preferred low cost airline) from Birmingham got us into Rome around midday, We thought we would try the express train into the main railway station 'Termini', as opposed to the expensive transfers just to see how they compare and to be honest it is an easy thing to do at a fraction of the cost (€28pp as opposed to £40pp on a shuttle transfer if booked in the UK). Our hotel was only 1.3 km away from the train station so we decided to print off directions and walk to The Hotel Oxford. Our room, although small with no view at all, was functional with a good shower. Having never been to Rome before I had made up a little must see list, as we were only here for 2 nights. To get our bearings I had pre booked a hop on hop off open top bus tour of the major sites and at £20pp for a 48 hour pass it was great value for money. We stayed on the bus for the full tour which not only was a great photo opportunity but gave us a great idea of distances between all the top sites. You can simply get off at any of the designated stops and get back on to suit yourself as they come along every 15-20 minutes. Rome like any other major city can be expensive to eat out (as we found on our first lunch), but there are some great places to get great value for money if you look around. We found by accident a top place to eat on the Via Veneto called Caffé Strega. The restaurants and bars on the opposite side of the street were very over priced but we thought that this place was just about right. The food and service were excellent and if you go try the club sandwich - it was delicious. We walked a lot as well but then you can in Rome although not advisable in 30 degree heat. We walked to the Spanish Steps but unfortunately it was crammed with a political rally so did not really get to see this properly. We used the hop on hop off bus again to take us to near the Trevi fountain - again very busy but worthy of a visit and again at night time once all lit up. The Colosseum is an absolute must and we went both on foot and around on the bus. Queues to get in are long and unruly so pre paying for your tickets is advisable. But for me the highlight of the trip was the Vatican City and in particular the Vatican Museum which houses the Sistine Chapel. At €15pp it was money well spent although you can get free entry on the last Sunday of each month. I won this trip in a prize draw but would not recommend a 2 night stay as there is so much more to see and do, definitely a minimum 4 night stay. Ah well I will just have to return and as I threw a coin into the Trevi Fountain it is certainly on the cards. Next time I will get to explore Villa Borghese (Romes ‘Hyde Park’) and dine out in the Trestevere Area. Arrivederci. Thanks for reading.

How to make the most of Australias' Gold Coast Twinned with Sydney

07 August 2018

We flew out to Brisbane via Singapore with Qantas and were fortunate to be upgraded to premium economy on the final leg. I would definitely recommend this experience if you can afford it as the little touches are so worth it not to mention the larger seats and extra leg room. We were greeted by our host for the trip and whisked off to our first accommodation Peppers Broadbeach. An early check can be quite rare but luck was on our side so as we walked to a nearby diner for breakfast, our luggage was taken up to our apartments. The apartments are stunning in every aspect – décor, size, amenities, cleanliness and the breathtaking views. First activity was a boat trip courtesy of ‘Duffy Down Under Boat Hire’ and I recommend this to everyone visiting the area. They’re the only company in Australia with green-friendly electric boats, and Colin our skipper gave us a great 2 hour trip along the water in the area which by the way has more km of waterways than Venice and Amsterdam combined. Day 2 started off with a trip to Currumbin Wildlife Centre which is a not-for-profit sanctuary and this place is a load of fun for all age types and group sizes. We fed Kangaroos, zipped through the trees on an adventure challenge, and even watched a sheep shearing show!! A surf lesson greeted us on Day 3 at Surfers Paradise with our hosts ‘Go Ride A Wave’. It was an unforgettable experience. After a 2 hour lesson I’m now proud to say that I know the basics of how to surf but I still need lots of practice! We then travelled inland for a couple of hours rising about 1000m above sea level to a place called O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat. We met with Australian wildlife expert Mark who introduced us to some of the indigenous animals they were caring for. Our host whilst in the mountains was Jana who then guided us round the tree top walk which boasts some stunning views. Before dinner we were taken on O’Reilly’s glow worm tour, we were driven in a 4 x 4 to a clearing and because there is no light pollution we saw some of the star configurations such as the Southern Cross and quite clearly visible was the Mars - breathtaking. As we trekked through the our final stop on the tour was the glow worm grotto and once everyone had switched off their torches and our eyes became accustomed to the darkness we were treated to a fantastic sight of these creatures in their natural habitat. Dinner was nothing short of spectacular and our evening drew to a close with a nightcap or two in the bar. Day 4 and I got up early to attend the bird walk tour but as we cannot control nature we did not see so many, however I did come across a few wild Wallabies. We viewed some of the private villas available for rent and checked out the spa facilities before another 4 x 4 experience to Moran Falls. More rainforest trekking with expert guidance from Royd. As we started our descent we stopped off at a park and had a lesson in throwing boomerangs which was an unexpected treat. Our accommodation for the next 2 nights was the Sea Temple in Surfers Paradise which towered over the beach, Once again stunning apartments with every mod con you could want. We took breakfast at the hotel and my Eggs Benedict were superb. We strolled along the seafront down towards Skypoint, an observation deck 77 floors up at the top of the iconic Q1 tower which gave us 360 degree views of all the golden beaches and lush Hinterland. We followed this with a hotel inspection of the Hilton and a special lunch menu by renowned Australian chef Luke Mangan which was a mouthwatering treat. One of his signature dishes crab omelette with enoki mushrooms and miso mustard broth looked too good to eat. Another treat in store that afternoon was a jet boat ride guaranteed to get you wet but all part of the fun, our skipper also slowed down and took time out to show us some of the multimillion dollar waterside homes and tell us about their owners. On our last night on the Gold Coast we were treated to dinner and a show at Jupiter’s Casino.

Is The Red Sea For You? - You Decide

07 August 2018

Red sea holidays are an Egyptian specialist and I was lucky enough to go on an educational trip to see firsthand their accommodations portfolio in not one but four separate resorts. We flew into Hurghada and spent two nights at the 5* Grand Resort which is a great hotel for both couples and families, it is distinctly split into two areas with two large pools one more lively than the other so if you like peace and quiet round the pool then this one would be ideal. With plenty of dining options available our first meal was to be at Nigma which has an oriental flavour to it, the food was fantastic and the entertainment was a belly dancer who encouraged a bit of audience participation from some of the ladies. Day 2 and down to work as we went on orientations of all the properties in Hurghada we started in our own hotel the Grand Resort then just over the road to the 3*+ Grand Hotel whose grounds lead all the way down to the beach we looked at the various room types and took a tour of all the bars and restaurants available again 2 pools quite different from each other one looked brand new and had a swim up bar. At first sight the beach looked very crowded with sun beds and parasols but as you get up closer they are quite spread out and there are facilities to do all manner of water sports. We then strolled on to what will be the Grand Marina this property is still under construction but one showroom was finished for us to view and it was stunning. A short coach drive away took us to the 4*+ Grand Siva this was my personal favourite very light and polished marble also with private beach and a promenade over the water to have drinks or dinner of an evening, speaking of which our dinner that evening was back at base in an Argentinean Steak House my fillet was cooked to perfection and very tasty. Very early start for day 3 as we headed off to Luxor which is on average a four hour transfer whilst I took in all the sights along the way I was also able to access the Internet and my emails courtesy of the free Wi-Fi available on all Red Sea Holidays coaches. Once we arrived we had the opportunity to see three of the Nile cruise ships on offer The Grand Prezioza, The Grand Star and the Grand Rose and I can see no better way of getting to see all the historical sites up and down this famous stretch of water. Whilst in Luxor we visited two such sites The Karnak and Luxor temples which are amazing. Day 4 and after breakfast we were treated to a motor boat trip down the Nile just wish we could have gone all the way to the Aswan dam unfortunately the itinerary would not allow so back on the coach to Hurghada with afternoon at leisure and an Indian meal for the evening which was a sumptuous feast. Day 5 and we took a short internal flight to Sharm El Sheikh first visit Soho Square near Sharks Bay with duty free shopping and bars/restaurants galore a cineplex, a bowling alley and it's very own Queen Vic there is plenty to do. Hotel visits next we got to view The Sharm Resort & Plaza, The Grand Sharm, Ghazala Beach & Ghazala Gardens before sampling the Naama bay experience. Day 6 and short flight back to Hurghada after a 30 minute transfer we were viewing the Red Sea projects for the future at Sahl Hasheesh once complete this will be a much sought after resort. Five minutes drive and we arrive at Makadi Bay for a tour of the 5 hotels within the complex which caters to every taste from families to Spa lovers even its own waterworld. Day 7 and we were treated to what is a popular excursion – a boat trip with snorkelling and a visit to Paradise Island to chill out and do whatever we pleased. Word space does not allow me to go into too much detail on all properties visited so if anyone would like any more information on any of the Red Sea Holidays hotels just drop me a line or call.

Adriatic Coast on Thomson Spirit - What an itinerary!

07 August 2018

I have been on quite a lot of cruise ships and it was with a little trepidation that I joined 18 friends and booked onto Thomson Spirit, but the thought of being with so many friends and not least the actual itinerary – The Adriatic, I went for it. Thomson ships have taken a battering in the press and on TV so I am pleased to report that the ship and cruise exceeded my expectations. The Itinerary kicks off with a flight to Corfu and having been there on several occasions once on board I just explored the ship and did not go into town. We set sail overnight and headed for Montenegro to the port of Kotor, sailing into this beautiful town was incredible as the world’s most southerly fjord enveloped us. Once docked I set off to discover the town which all though quite small it was great to meander through all the cobbled streets. Next day was spent ‘at sea’ as we sailed all the way up the Adriatic coast to Slovenia and the port of Koper; much more of a strategic working industrial port than Kotor but the town itself again was well worth a look around. And then onto Venice, the jewel of the Adriatic. It is often said that if you are sailing into Venice in the morning it is wise to get up early and witness the spectacle. I did but was disappointed by the fact that we arrived early, and we were already pulling into the docking area. The usual way to go into Venice and St. Mark’s square is by water taxi but I decided I wanted to see a part of Venice not normally seen by the tourist. I set off on foot. I wandered in via the road system which operates on the south east side and after crossing a bridge or two found myself lost in a maze of narrow streets, canals and bridges it was fabulous, armed only with a good sense of direction and the odd map now and then telling you exactly where you are I headed off to the famous square. As I got nearer the more touristy areas it became extremely busy with sightseers of many different nationalities. The Square did not disappoint and although the queues to go up the bell tower were quite large it was worth it in the end with some great views but surprisingly from every angle you could not see one Canal as everything is so compacted. After this and a well-earned very expensive beer it was off to the famous Rialto Bridge. Then back to the ship but on one of the Vaparetto’s water buses. Sailing out of Venice I got an idea of what people were saying about being there first thing. Croatia next and the emerging popular port of Split, the walk into the old town took about 15 minutes and the heat was intense so need to stop for a little refreshment before wandering round and discovering this vibrant town with street traders and more cobbled streets with shops haphazardly placed all this surrounded the main area of Diocletian’s Palace which has a touch of Covent Garden about it. Dubrovnik was amazing I took a taxi into the old town from the port (about £6) again a fortified old town but still fascinating to walk around. I spotted a cable car (about £10) going up the mountain and thought it might be a great vantage point – It was superb (see photos). The ship was excellent value and although we had inside cabins, they were spacious. The food was excellent only problem was there was too much of it. Plenty of entertainment and staff were very good. They even managed to fulfil my request that our friend who was 50 got a seat on the captain’s table. It is very difficult with so limited an amount of words to properly do these places justice so if you need any more information just drop me a line.

Niagara Falls is it all that?

07 August 2018

My first view of Niagra Falls was from a helicopter and it quite simply breathtaking! I got to see the falls in many other ways during our 2 night stopover at the fabulous Sheraton on the falls. My falls view room, high on the 21st floor presented this natural wonder of the world in all its glory both in the morning and bathed in light in the evening. The first night we dined at the revolving Skylon Tower, which offered yet another way to see the splendour of the falls. Day 2 started off quite damp as we took the famous ‘Maid of the Mist’ boat trip into the Horseshoe Falls, which is a truly amazing experience! After we had dried off a little we took a ride up to a local winery, Chateau des Charmes, which was set on a magnificent estate. Our guide gave us a fascinating tour and explained the process for making the famous Canadian ‘ice wine’ and of course the tour culminated in a chance to taste some of the products. We then carried on our journey to Niagara on the Lake, which has been described as the prettiest town in Canada. Obviously I have not seen them all but I kind of know what they mean! It is picture postcard pretty and charming with a very laid back atmosphere. We took lunch at the Prince of Wales hotel (you can see how pretty this looks in the pictures)! After a stroll around the town and down by Lake Ontario we took the scenic route back down to our hotel. Our second evening was to casually wander round the rest of the town, which is very touristy with a smaller version of the London Eye. It was an early night for the next leg of our Ontario experience The Muskoka Region……

Why Toronto? - Here's Why

07 August 2018

Canada has 13 provinces and territories and if they all have as much appeal as Ontario then I want to visit them all. They say first impressions last and how true – arriving at Toronto airport which was spotless and efficient we were then whisked off to our hotel Le Royal Meridien King Edward. Steeped in Britishness but with a very friendly North American level of service, the rooms were spacious and the beds so comfortable. The lobby was elegant and functional (IT) and the breakfast room charming. We lunched out at Marche, which is a unique experience in itself and definitely a must for anyone visiting, so many culinary options to choose from all the stalls set out like a marketplace. Whatever your taste they had it covered - très bon, as they say! After lunch we walked over to the CN Tower to get an aerial perspective of this great city which did not disappoint as the views were contrasting as you stroll around the top - skyscrapers to beach! That evening our gracious and very knowledgeable host Brian took us to the Distillery district which was set up by the man who built our hotel. Its function now however, is to delight our taste buds with the local fayre on offer especially fresh oysters from all over Canada flown in daily. It was also used a film set for Chicago! Toronto is used extensively by Hollywood movie makers with hits such as my big fat Greek Wedding and Good Will Hunting so you just never know who you may bump into. After a sumptuous breakfast our guided tour of Toronto took us all round the many districts where Brian pointed out all the sights (they have 4 China Towns!) We then made our way to the Delta Hotel which boasts to be the largest hotel in Canada with 1590 rooms where we had lunch (I had some delicious fresh mussels), after which a guided tour of some of the rooms and facilities was on offer. This is a great option for families and couples alike with an indoor pool with waterslide and children’s activity centre. Also ideally positioned in a central location, you are in walking distance of the many great places to see - with its own theatre district, high end shopping up Bloor Street West plus Yorkville’s restaurant area as well as 28km of underground shopping (ideal in the sub zero temperatures). You will never be bored in Toronto with the Art gallery of Ontario where they are displaying not only Canadian artists work but also famous artists such as Rueben’s (Massacre of the innocents $117million Canadian Dollars). The Inuit art is a must see crafted by the original inhabitants they display a sense of humour through their art which is refreshing. The name Toronto means meeting place, which is quite apt as 49% of the population were born outside Canada and if you get a little time to people watch you can see the blend of so many different cultures all living together very harmoniously, which is more evident when you hear the low crime statistics. Our time here was limited to a day and a half which was a shame but has left me pondering when will I be back to spend some more time exploring what the city has to offer at a more leisurely pace. C'est Magnifique!

Why Not Try An Unspoilt Turkish Riviera Delight?

07 August 2018

This trip started off very well due to the fact I booked a Meet & Greet service to park my car – as we were not due back until the early hours I thought a little indulgence was in order and what a fabulous service it is, you just drive up hand over keys and stroll into departures and on return they are waiting for you in the same spot very smooth and no waiting for shuttle buses. We decided earlier in the week to book the VIP Lounge where we had a few complimentary pre flight drinks and snacks well worth it! Having never been to Turkey before despite it being one of my top selling destinations all I really knew was what my clients had told me. My trip along with some TC colleagues was an educational to visit some soon to be exclusive properties to Travel Counsellors. Our base for the few days was the Oasis Hotel in Kalkan – a small and very friendly boutique 17 bedroom hotel which would definitely suit couples. Lady luck was on my side and I ended up in one of the penthouse suites. Situated just 5 mins walk into the centre where there are many restaurants and the quality of the food really surprised me for a small town. Everyone takes great pride in their service and presentation. After breakfast we visited the Asfiya Hotel still suited to couples but good for families as well, this place has a massive pool and a cool chill out area, Spa facilities – Sauna , steam room, Turkish bath. With only 42 rooms you get a lot of hotel but never will you feel crowded. Only 10 mins walk into town I cannot go into detail about every property we visited but I have to give a special mention to the Lykia Residence and Spa whose chef cooked for us on a couple of occasions – if Gastronomy is your thing you will not be disappointed here nor anywhere we went to be honest this is a town for foodies. two restaurants definitely worth a visit are the Aubergine and Kalamaki (try the rooftop dining) We did visit quite a number of villas which quite honestly blew me away not only the quality but the locations. A number of these villas were twinned so it would be able to cater for a large group We took a trip 20km down the coast to a very charming village called Kas – out on the peninsula we got to visit the Kas Peninsula Gardens hotel & spa. Simply stunning location, the majority of the suites have plunge pools, this place is perfect for couples or honeymooners see the attached photos. For more in depth details about any of the properties or towns visited just drop me a line I for one will definitely be returning to this charming area of Turkey along with some friends we will probably pick one the villas and try a different restaurant each night.

Dubai with Etihad via Abu Dhabi

05 November 2010

The collaboration of Dubai Tourist Board and Etihad Airways was to show us another gateway into Dubai via the award winning airlines hub airport in Abu Dhabi. Flying from Manchester we met some colleagues who flew from the other UK route Heathrow. The flight took 7 hours but really did seem like a lot less. The touch screen entertainment screens were different in so much as you could get camera views from the cockpit or look directly beneath the aircraft which is fun when landing. There were 42 films to choose from (26 current and 16 classics) which you can pause, rewind, fast forward at any time. The food was excellent with a choice of 3 main courses and a warm pudding served after this allowing you that little bit more space and comfort whilst eating also the main meal was perfectly complimented by quality wines, then about 90 mins before landing you could have a snack of a choice of hot soups or a hot chicken fajita washed down with another Wolf Blass Chardonnay – Excellent service throughout the flight. We were greeted by a representative of Desert Adventures – our ground handler in the United Arab Emirates and we were hit by the 38 degree heat but were quickly ushered onto our air conditioned transport for the duration - our very own mini bus and surprisingly only a 50 minute transfer to Dubai We stayed for 2 nights at the Pullman Hotel Mall of the Emirates which had only been open about a month. It is directly connected to the Mall which houses over 470 stores also connected was the Kempinski Hotel and Ski Dubai an indoor Ski Arena with real snow. The hotel is beautiful and the swimming pools, sauna and gym on the top floor were fabulous and a great way of working off the calories from the top notch breakfasts we had, which by the way we had on the veranda with a backdrop view of the Iconic Burj Al Arab. The standard rooms were very spacious and very well furnished and an exquisite bathroom. During the stay we visited some other class hotels and were treated to lunch in a few, I list them here but for more in depth details just contact me. We had guided tours of the One & Only Royal Mirage, Madinat Jumeirah 2 hotels in one complex Mina A’salam and Al Qasr these properties were stunning and connected via waterways which transport people around on little boats called Abras. The beachfront complex also boasts its own Souk which is a traditional market place type bazaar. We also visited the old town and had a tour of The Palace after viewing the tallest fountain display we were treated to a sumptuous dinner. Also in the old town we were guided round The Address the new in place for corporate guests, both of these hotels within walking distance of the Dubai Mall with a staggering 1200 shops! Our second host hotel was the Desert Palm which boasts complete privacy if required in its 2 or 3 bedroom villas, it has a fantastic spa and is perfect for being away from it all but near enough to pop back in to Dubai if required. The owners’ passion is polo and we were fortunate enough to catch sight of a game in progress. It is also award winning for best steak restaurant. Aside from the hotel visits we also got chance to visit the downtown Souks which were lots of stores all tightly packed in selling their wares of Gold & Spices and any number of things you can imagine we also crossed the creek in the traditional way on an Abra just 1 dirham (20p) for passage, quite an experience. One evening was set aside for a Desert Safari and traditional BBQ dinner, also known as Wadi Bashing our very experienced driver took us on a ride to remember over the huge dunes and finally to a flat spot where everyone was able to get a sunset shot. The entertainment was traditional with Belly Dancing and a Henna tattooist, you could try smoking a shisha if you wanted and even dress up like a local, On our return flight we upgraded to Business class and had use of the excellent facilities available in the lounge including complimentary spa treatments. The additional benefits of upgrading are so many to mention so please call me to ask more about it.

What Happens In Vegas...............

07 August 2018

On entering the Hotel Bellagio I was amazed at the size of the reception area even the concierge desk had 6 people manning it. Until you actually visit Vegas yourself it’s hard to imagine just how busy all the hotels are. Hotels is probably not the best way to describe them, more resorts or a complex. As the week progressed the Bellagio grew on me and I got used to the constant ebb and flow of people checking in and out, same goes for all the other hotels I visited from the Mandalay Bay at the foot of ‘The Strip’ to the Wynn. This town is 24 hours and the familiar 7/14 night breaks we are used simply does not apply, I lost count of the number of ladies in wedding dresses just married who fly in & out with a day either side for fun. Whilst visiting all the other hotels it very soon became apparent that they were very similar in the fact that they all had plenty of places to eat and drink as well as many shopping opportunities but they all had a unique selling point as well, be it a special resident show like Cirque Du Soliel or attraction like the Lion habitat at the MGM Grand. Not least they all have a casino area to relieve you of your hard earned cash. The shows and nightlife are a main draw to Vegas and we got to see some crackers, we saw Legends at Harrahs, The Rat Pack at The Plaza (downtown) and finally ‘O’ by Cirque Du Soliel at our own hotel. Legends is like Elton john, Donna summer, Tom Jones and headlining of course the ‘King’ himself Elvis, all were excellent lookalikes but more importantly sound alikes. Downtown Las Vegas where it all began is where we headed firstly to the Plaza to see Frank Sinatra and his boys they were outstanding, we then moved on to the Fremont Street Experience which is a must for every visitor to Vegas. Excursions are on offer on most holidays but very few can boast having one of the 7 wonders of the world on offer – The Grand Canyon absolutely breathtaking and I hate to use this word but an ‘awesome’ visual treat, getting there by light plane or helicopter though is not for the faint hearted. Another fantastic excursion is the Lake Mead and Hoover Dam tour. Voted as one of the most remarkable feats of engineering in modern times. We did the dam tour including the hydro plant as well as seeing the dam from the other side which was done in a very pleasant way on a paddle cruiser. Las Vegas simply should be on everyone’s to do list as it has much more than gambling to offer

Staycation - Hoseasons Heaven

07 August 2018

Just got back from a fantastic 4 night stay in the peak district we stayed at Hoseasons award winning Darwin Forest Country Park. We went with another family who has a Labrador and stayed in a 4 bedroom lodge which was so modern in every way – fully fitted kitchen with a washing machine, Mira showers and flat screen TV’s. The facilities on site were amazing namely the ultra modern Swimming pool / Spa / Gym named Evolution, The phenomenal Little Monkeys play area , Tennis court , Mini Golf , The woodland store , Reception had an area for WiFi as did Evolution if you needed to stay in touch with the outside world , pool tables and an amusement arcade and last but certainly not least a proper pub called the Foresters Inn where you can get a very warm welcome from Mike & Julie these guys must be one of the many reasons so many people go back time after time we ate in twice and had a ‘take away’ once and on all three occasions no-one was disappointed or left hungry , great portions and value for money. Lots of little touches which worked for me like the dog wash off area, two red telephone boxes as mobile phone signals are limited in the area, free BBQ hire, book swap library, DVD rental in the store. I wanted to check on some emails I had received so went down to the reception area and set up. As I was there I got to see how efficient and helpful all the staff were as people dropped by and said that a lamp was not working or they needed a change of towels whatever their requests were dealt with instantly via walkie talkie to maintenance or housekeeping. One guy just need to be shown how to use the modern TV/DVD player and was seen to within minutes. Top class service from all on reception with a special mention for Becky as she looked after me very well. They also have a wealth of information about the surrounding area and what to go and see and do. We took a short drive over to the Heights of Abraham and rode up there in cable cars it was facsinating the girls also took another drive out to Chatsworth House. Anyone who likes the country side and a peaceful environment will not be disappointed. I can highly recommend this country park to anyone with or without children/pets. I was totally relaxed and read almost 2 books during my stay. It is open year round and Mike was even taking bookings for Christmas day lunch I can fully understand how this park won the regional and national 2009 top park awards in Hoseasons

European River Cruising - Here is the lowdown

07 August 2018

Fancy a bit of culture? And a bit of fine dining? If the answer is yes then you need to look at a European river cruise. I was lucky enough to be chosen to go on an educational by a company we use called APT. In just one week I saw Mozart's birthplace in Salzsburg as well as the famous fountain used in a scene from the Sound of Music. The castle which kept Richard the Lionheart captive for 6 months. Austria's capitol Vienna where I attended a Mozart recital. Bratislava the capitol of Slovakia and the fabulous opera House and St Stephens Basilica in Budapest. As well as a few other smaller excursions like wine tasting etc. I could go on and on describing the amount of places we saw but I think pictures tell a better story see attached I was fine dined all the way with food and drink relative to where we actually were at the time check out a sample menu in the attached photos. This is a serious alternative to Ocean cruising and offers a great deal of choice from the Rhine to the Rhone and the Blue Danube not to mention river cruises in France, Spain, Portugal and Russia.

P&O AZURA Inaugural Launch

12 April 2010

P&O’s Azura was my very first time aboard a brand new ship but hopefully not my last. She was as beautiful as her Godmother ‘Darcey Bussell’ the ballet dancer who named her officially My only complaint is that I could not spend more time onboard – however I did get to see everything I had planned on. In case anyone has any questions about her – on embarkation we were given a guide book which had a suggested route to see all the ship had to offer – check out the pictures attached to this journal First port of call once onboard was to the Venezia Restaurant for a spot of lunch after which I strolled around the ship taking pictures and talking to the staff who were so proud to be serving on a maiden voyage. Worthy of a mention also is the Sea screen which is a giant screen situated above the Aqua Pool, this will show a variety of classic films, family films and some latest blockbusters as well. Although there are fantastic children’s facilities on board I got the impression it was aimed more so at a particular sort of client in the 50+ age bracket who like a bit of affordable luxury The retreat is a lovely part of the ship – an adult only area for spa treatments and total relaxation. Later we were treated to a champagne reception and a presentation from the Sales and Customer Services Director Giles Hawke, after which we had a little more time to explore and grab a drink (or two) in one of the many bars available. I chose The Glass House – which is a fantastic wine bar designed by the TV Presenter and wine expert Olly Smith He is responsible for the blending of the ships house wines as well as selecting a fantastic array of world class wines I also checked out Sindhu restaurant run by Michelin star chef Atul Kochhar as well as the Oriental restaurant You will never get bored of the food choices on this ship Dinner for us was served in the Meridian Restaurant and did not disappoint – a fabulous choice of starters, mains and desserts. Later that evening we had an almost impossible choice of entertainment to choose from so I went from venue to venue to try and see as much as I could this included a ‘Soul Experience’ , Piano bar , Comedy , 70’s style blame it on the boogie. All in all a great ship with the traditional values P&O are famous for together with a modern look and feel Roll on my next ship launch NCL’s brand new ship EPIC – what this space

Fred Olsen's Flagship - The Balmoral

18 September 2009

I wanted to get on this educational mini cruise with Fred Olsen for the very good reason. Although I am selling a lot of cruises I have had no enquiries for this company nor was I sure who the target market was, read on and all will be revealed. I booked car parking at the cruise terminal which was so effortless. I drove straight in and right up to the ship where I unloaded my luggage, which was quickly whisked away and processed whilst I was directed to a parking bay and shuttled back to the ship. Once on board my luggage was waiting for me outside my cabin which was an outside cabin with a large window, and twin beds – first impressions were that the amount of storage space was more than adequate for 2 people even though I had the cabin to myself. What with the flat screen TV with loads of interactive features that saved you queuing at reception. With this interactive TV you could open up an onboard account and be able to view your balance at any time, you could order shore excursions or book Spa treatments to name just a few. Once settled in I began my familiarisation of the ship which is always the same when I go on a cruise - straight to the top deck and walk around every feature on the Balmoral. The very top was the Observatory Lounge which is a great place to see the world sail by and at night it became a Piano Bar and after that a disco. On this deck is also a bar which serves ‘sandwich & soup of the day’ from 12pm to 2pm. Outside on the top deck is a swimming pool and a couple of Jacuzzis as well as a sun deck and finally golf nets for those wishing to practice their swing. Deck 10 or ‘The Highland Deck’ is home to the Beauty Salon, Fitness centre which was larger than I expected, a steam room and sauna. There are quite a number of Suites on this deck and at the stern are a couple of delightful smaller restaurants. The Avon & Spey are either side of the ship and offer a different dining experience due to the décor and large glass walls offering great views. Two decks down on the Lido deck I found the Lido Lounge where by day it is a place used for many different activities from ‘fun fitness’ to bingo to lectures and in the evening it transforms into a place for dancing then an entertainment show. I found another bar with both inside and outside seating. And for the gamblers they have a roulette and black jack table. The main deck known as the lounge deck is where most of the activity is with the Neptune lounge where all the main evening shows take place. You have a library, an internet room, a card room, boutiques, a pub and the palms café - another alternate to the main restaurant, and outside you have another pool and some more Jacuzzis The main restaurant Ballindalloch is found on deck 6 and further below on deck 3 are the Launderette, an arts and craft room and the medical centre. The cruise itself sailed from Dover and our first point of call was Guernsey. After breakfast in the Avon Restaurant I went shore side. I could have explored St. Peter Port as many others did but I have been here a few times so I arranged to meet up with a client who has a business on the island. We had a coffee and caught up – he told me over 90 cruise ships a year visit the island. Next stop was Cobh in Southern Ireland which is just a small town really with not much going on so I went on an organised excursion to Cork City and onto the Jameson’s Irish Whiskey Distillery in Midleton. The tour was fascinating and made all the better by a very enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide and of course we got the opportunity to sample a drop at the end. (Check the photos to see the taste challenge) Overnight we set sail for France and visited a delightful town called Honfleur (see pics) Overall the trip was great – I interviewed guests and found out why they choose Fred Olsen. The main responses were Value for Money - pub prices - 5 star food & service – excellent entertainment. This cruise is highly recommended.


17 April 2009

Prague impressed me for many reasons, not least the fantastic buildings which were all so clean and well kept. The distinct lack of any birds flying around maybe had a lot to do with this, but even the streets were very tidy and I saw very little in the way of litter, and any there was, was quickly swept up and removed, I got the feeling that all the locals were very proud of their city and rightly so. The city is full of theatres, museums and statues to tempt the avid culture seekers but even if opera or classical music is not your thing you cannot help be impressed by the statues and architecture that surrounds you wherever you walk. My trip was with a group of lads on a ‘Stag Do’ but this did not prevent me from savouring a lot of what Prague can offer different types of tourist. I did not see many children around though. During the day many of the group was happy to sit in sports bars watching football whilst some of us were happy to stroll around and find bars and cafes have a few drinks and a spot of lunch whilst watching the world go by. Come the evening then there are lots of dining options quite reasonably priced and a whole host of different types of bars to merry the night away. I have to say though that there are some not so salubrious establishments that do attract some stag party members and there is no shortage of spotters on the lookout for groups of males to escort to these ‘Clubs’ to earn a commission. Regular tourists though I’m happy to say were not targeted. The weather was absolutely fantastic and this made the weekend even more enjoyable as we strolled over the famous Charles Bridge full of locals selling handmade products and others offering to capture your features in a caricature drawing we then came across some rather bizarre statues before stumbling across a charming fish restaurant on the riverside. My only regret is that I did not try one of the river boat cruises. All in all a great weekend trip.

Cyprus Part 2

15 April 2009

My first point of call on the second leg of my trip was to the legendary birthplace of Aphrodite –Petra tou Romiou we took pictures from a great vantage point. Another archaeological site next called Kourian which was very busy with tourists around lunch time much better to go see this fantastic place earlier in the day I was told. It is situated on cliff tops overlooking the sea. I saw evidence of under floor heating and plumbing from centuries ago, I would have liked to have explored the entire site but the itinerary didn’t allow, next time I go I will check out the House of Achilles and the Temple of Apollo. Back into the tour bus and off to a wine museum in a village called Erimi where the resident curator gave us a history lesson on how the various wines of Cyprus were made. There is also evidence to suggest that the first wine ever produced was on the Island itself. After lunch at a traditional Taverna where we had a Cypriot Meze which is lots and lots of different dishes, we headed over to our next point of call where we would base ourselves for the remainder of the trip. Le Meridien Spa & Resort is 5 Star all the way and many celebrities are known to stop here. It has many different types of accommodation besides the main hotel block all of which are tastefully decorated, the grounds were in immaculate condition and as a resort it catered for every type of holidaymaker. It had an extensive daytime and evening entertainment programme for all ages. I got to sample another Spa experience but this one was all wet - Thallasotherapy. This involved spending time in different pools which had different properties all supposed to make the body more healthy – It was fun is all I can say with any certainty. The following day we headed up into the Troodos mountains stopping twice on the way to the summit firstly at a working winery. We met the owner Mario Antoniades who explained this business had been in his family for generations. He was very proud of his wine and said he would never sell to the likes of supermarkets. Cyprus Tourist Organisation provides free booklets that have food and wine routes to explore at your own pace. Once we reached the top of the mountains we were confronted with snow is was a little bizarre. There was a little market place selling the usual and some not so usual gifts and snacks. Coming back down we stopped off at Kakopetria Village which was wonderful wandering around the old town which was been redeveloped to its original glory without spoiling the look at all. As we dropped further down the weather turned and it started to rain, we stopped for another Meze lunch in Plano Platres and the rain turned to hailstones, this was not a problem as we were undercover but the noise made on the roof was deafening for about ten minutes then it all cleared up and back came the sun. Our final day was a treat on the way back to airport we stopped off at another old town Tochni that was being redeveloped back to its original splendor with some European grants, each property was completely different than the next and these are available to rent. The main types of people who stay here are those who want a more traditional type of break, also a lot of people use this as a base to explore everything that Cyprus has to offer. Thank you for taking the time to read my Cyprus journal and if you require any more information on anything you have read please do not hesitate to contact me.

Cyprus Part 1

17 April 2009

My recent trip to Cyprus was fascinating in many ways. I have been to the island twice before but never taken in any of its history which I did this time, however the main purpose of my visit was to view a selection of its hotels. I have not gone into great detail here but if you need further information on any of the properties just let me know and I can elaborate, but please look at the pictures that accompany this journal – as the old saying goes - a picture paints a thousand words….. My first stop was a huge 568 acre complex called Aphrodite Hills Spa & Golf resort which is a hotel surrounded by a small town full of restaurants and private villas. It also boasts an 18 hole championship golf course as well as a top class spa and fitness centre, and fabulous tennis courts with tuition available. You would need a car though if you were staying on the outskirts of the complex. All of the accommodations I viewed were of very high quality. I was lucky enough to be treated to a Thermae spa experience there. This is a Greco-Roman way of cleansing and relaxing the body, you go through a sequence of heat rooms which progressively increase in temperature and are moderated by intermittent showers, I must admit I was feeling very good after the 70 minute treatment! My next stopover was Paphos where I got to see the archaeological park – our guide was very knowledgeable about all matters relating to the site. It was quite mind-blowing to stand over the mosaic floors that had been laid over 6000 years ago and painstakingly restored in their original position. On to Paphos harbour where I could have chosen from about 20 different restaurants to have lunch but settled for an ice cream as we were due to have lunch at the Elysium Hotel, where the food was exquisite. After lunch we visited another historical site -The Tombs of the Kings - a burial place (although not just for royalty). Again our guide gave a full and interesting brief of what happened all those years ago. One of the Leading Hotels of the World – The Amathus Beach invited us round to view the hotel and check out some of the rooms available. It certainly did not disappoint, set amidst lush gardens but yet on the beach it offers luxury but with quite a contemporary style. Later that day we visited the Constantinou Bros Hotels: The Athena Beach hotel: The Athena Royal Beach Hotel (adult only): The Pioneer Beach Hotel and the soon to be available Paphian Bay, which when finished will consist only of deluxe suites. I stayed at the Athena Beach and was very impressed with everything about the place. It is a very popular hotel for people who play bowls and of course I had to have a go. The buffet restaurant catered to every taste and the beef consommé was delicious, so as to sample all the available culinary delights our main course was served in the A La Carte restaurant – I chose a steak flambé which was cooked to perfection. What particularly impressed me about this group of hotels was the staff, always smiling, pleasant, genuine and eager to please. For more information on this trip check out my next journal - Cyprus Part 2

Fabulous Florida

12 December 2008

Wow - I have just spent the most action-packed, fun-filled week of my life in Florida, courtesy of the Orlando Tourist Board. They flew me and over 90 other travel agents from all over the UK on an educational trip to see exactly what it has to offer the British tourist. Well from day one we set about fact finding all there is to know about Disney parks - we had a whistle stop tour of Blizzard Beach which is a themed water park. It was too early for guests so we wandered around to get a flavour of the place, then it was off to The Magic Kingdom for 4 hours, where we were encouraged to visit all the highlights of the park which was a stretch in the time allowed. After a short break back at our Disney Hotel on the Boardwalk we took a boat ride to Hollywood studios, again we went to all the top spots and rides then we had some serious VIP treatment with a buffet dinner overlooking the Fantasmic show. After the park closed we were allowed to stay and indulge ourselves with a few rides as well as meet some characters and see the magical spectacle of a million dancing lights. Day two started early with half a day in Animal Kingdom which blew me away with the shows and rides on offer. Then late afternoon we walked from our hotel to Epcot and spent 5 hours discovering all that this unbelievable place has to offer – the highlight for me was the ride ‘Soarin’ which is a must for any visitor, a close second though was Test Track. The evening was topped off with a buffet in China and a firework display which we watched from Italy. Day three saw us transfer to a Universal Hotel - The Portofino Bay which was stunning. We were split up into smaller groups and each given a guide who then fast tracked us all away around Universal Studios so no queues ( express pass and fast pass are complementary to guests of Disney or Universal hotels) they made sure we got to see everything possible. In the evening we were guests of Hard Rock Café and went to see a hilarious and entertaining show ‘The Blue man Group’ Likewise with day four we had our own guide who showed us all that Universal's Islands of Adventure had to offer – we even got a sneaky look at the biggest forthcoming attraction in years; The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, due for completion late 2009 to early 2010. The evening was free so a few of us went to Universal’s City Walk which had lots of choices for food and entertainment- all on our doorstep. The next day we went to Discovery Cove which for me was the highlight of the whole trip as I got to snorkel in a real life coral environment with hundreds of different fish and countless stingrays and manta rays! This was then topped only by my Dolphin experience where I spent a good half hour interacting with a couple of dolphins which literally had some of my colleagues in tears. I highly recommend this experience to everyone. After lunch we were transported down to Tampa to visit the fabulous Busch Gardens. We interacted with animals and went on all the top rides. Once back at our hotel we opted for a quick pizza in one of the 7 restaurants it had to offer, then off to bed as the next day would be very long without any time to rest or get changed. Our sixth day began with a trip to the newest park in Orlando – Aquatica which is SeaWorld’s water park with a proper sandy beach, wave pools and a host of fun slide rides. It was a great time to chill after the activities of previous days. After lunch we hopped over the road to SeaWorld which never ceases to amaze. We toured the park and in the evening watched the special Christmas Shamu show and finished off with dinner in the restaurant surrounded by sharks. Our departure day was eventful too with a trip out to Lake Tohopekaliga for an airboat ride at Boggy Creek in the morning followed by 3 hours in a huge premium shopping outlet for some bargains before our flight back home – I now need a holiday to recover!!!

West End Weekend

02 October 2008

Everytime I made a booking for a London West End theatre break everyone kept feeding back how much of a fantastic time they had. So with my birthday coming up we decided to go see how our capital city was fairing as it has been some time since my last recreational visit. We went and did all the touristy sightseeing - Trafalgar Square, Houses of Parliament etc which was great and because we landed really good with the weather we booked onto a river cruise from the London Eye to Tower Bridge. This little voyage was really informative and just the right length at 45 mins. Another excellent little diversion is Covent Garden with all the shops & stalls and street performers - it is such an enchanting place to spend a couple of hours. I have to say though the highlight of the trip was the actual show itself. Never forget - a comedy musical based upon a Take That tribute band. The cast performed like it was opening night, it seemed so fresh. All the main singers would pass auditions on X-Factor and probably make the final cut. The stagecraft was superb with stunning visual effects. As far as short breaks go London has it all, from magnificent buildings to the very best shops, bars and restaurants and lastly lets NEVER FORGET the West End. If it's just a short break or a celebration I can highly recommend London to all.

Perfect Portugal - All Inclusive

22 July 2008

The reviews we read about this resort prior to booking were a mixture of good and bad but having worked for a season in the area as a holiday rep about 10 years ago I wanted to give it the benefit of the doubt. I am so glad I did - what a wonderful week we had from beginning to end - it surpassed my expectations. We opted for a taxi transfer from the airport which started the trip off really well with an air-conditioned Mercedes to whisk us to the resort. Once checked in we were driven to our apartment block by golf buggy and the driver carried our cases up to the second floor for us, and with no expectation of a tip ran back down to assist the next people checking in. These little golf buggies were darting around the complex all day long and if like us (we were in the middle) you wanted to hop on if they were passing no problem. The complex is spread over quite a large area but walking was not a problem to either of the two main areas that have restaurants, bars and pools. The main area where the evening entertainment takes place also has a larger pool and a bigger restaurant. The food was varied and of a high standard for buffet style and the drinks were all very good quality not the weak versions of locally produced spirits you sometimes get at some all inclusive hotels. This hotel sits above a fantastic beach with free sunbeds to guests if they are prepared to negotiate the 94 steps to reach it. You can also walk the 3km into Vilamoura/Quarteira if the fancy takes you. We found the resort to be very cosmopolitan with not just British and German guests but also French, Dutch, Scandinavian and Portuguese. The hotel seemed to be catering to almost every type of holiday maker - Families with both young children and teenagers, groups, couples both young and mature. The gardens were kept immaculate and the whole complex was very clean and tidy. Our rooms were cleaned everyday and fresh towels were always provided. The complex is cleverly designed in respect of it's activities they are all set in areas that would not disturb anyone just looking for a relaxing holiday. So with football , tennis, volleyball, mini golf, table tennis, pool and an electronics games room there is plenty to do for the active or if gentle water aerobics in the pool or yoga classes in a shaded area are more your type of activity you will not be disappointed. If professional evening entertainment is important to you then this is probably the weakspot for the hotel as they employ a fantastic team to keep you entertained during the daytime but in the evenings it is somewhat inclined to be just for children. This did not spoil anything for us because after dinner we would stroll down to the other area for a few drinks and chat to other guests. We would recommend this holiday to any of our friends and family.

Navigator of the Seas

23 September 2008

I have never been on a cruise before, and like most people I had pre-conceived ideas of what a cruise was like – Too formal /stuffy/average age 60+/ not family friendly etc. I couldn't be more mistaken, all these popular misconceptions are now gone and my first taste of cruising was simply wonderful. I feel the experience of just 4 nights on board has given me an insight into cruising that simply reading about it would not allow. I am now able to pass on the knowledge I gained by using my senses - touching, tasting, seeing, hearing and smelling. The whole experience far exceeded my expectations and have since talked about it to nearly everyone I have come into contact with since the trip. I have and will recommend this to any age group or any size group, honeymoon couple and families alike, all of which I saw represented on board. I found cruising to be fantastic value for money. Taking into account all the things that are inclusive, plus the full range of activities that I was able to partake in was incredible. I found it so much more enjoyable than a normal package holiday on land. There was a vast difference with the continual changing scenery and of course waking up in a different country every day. The weather was not kind on the whole so when it did rain and the swimming pool and sunbathing areas were deserted it made me wonder where over 3,000 people had disappeared to – I literally walked along every deck from top to bottom familiarising myself with all the available activities for all age groups and I have to say no one place was overcrowded. People were spread out all over the ship enjoying spa treatments or the gym/ the salon/ the games rooms for kids/ the numerous bars/ shopping on the promenade/ playing bingo / taking lessons or simply eating at the fantastic restaurants available. I am soon going to be hosting an intro to cruise party/BBQ for all my family and friends at which I will propose that we all get booked up for 2009/10 as one group. My partner and children will absolutely love it. I can understand why so many people who have cruised do so again and again.

Monaco Grand Prix

17 May 2008

Last year I was lucky enough to guide some clients on a trip to watch the Monaco Grand Prix. We stayed in a small village outside Monaco called Beaulieu-sur-Mer as hotel rooms are booked years in advance for this particular event. As it happens I am glad that we were not in Monaco for the whole 4 days as it gave us an opportunity to see more of the Cote d'Azur. We saw some fantastic coastline via train and taxi. On the friday night we ate at Les Agaves just opposite the train station and judging by the signed photographs on the walls it has been frequented by some famous people, which did not surprise me as the food was excellent. We took the 15 minute ride into Monaco to meet up with some friends who knew some people that had a boat moored in the centre of the harbour with a grand stand view of the part of the racetrack. We were invited to board and enjoyed a few drinks whilst lapping up this lavish lifestyle. As for the event itself, I can honestly say that my interest in motorsport prior to this was minimal, but I defy anyone to not get caught up in the atmosphere of the weekend. On the saturday for qualifying, we weaved through the crowds and chanced upon a charming Pizzeria, I asked for a 'Speciale' which was excellent but surprisingly had a fried egg in the middle. Lewis Hamilton qualified on the front row which was extremely popular with the large British contingent. Saturday night we spent walking round some of the racetrack and we finished the night off drinking champagne in the Cafe de Paris just across from the famous Casino. Raceday was a phenomenal experience which saw Lewis Hamilton take 2nd place on the podium. After the race we had reservations at 'Stars and Bars'; a very American experience which strangely did not seem out of place. We observed many parties taking place on the boats and ships moored in the harbour; these probably went on until the wee small hours but we were all worn out by the weekend and made our way back to the hotel. All in all this was a brilliant trip which inspired me to take my partner Michelle later on that year to see Monaco in it's natural state with no fences forming the racetrack but that's another story ..

My customer stories

Sent by Bill Groome

Superb service as usual from Mark everything booked within an hour from our call.

Sent by Denise Wigley

Very professional ,friendly and always responds in a quick time, also very knowledgeable about where we are going and gives us lots of options to choose from. We would have no hesitation to recommend Mark to anybody and know they would be pleased with the service he provides and the passion he has for his job is outstanding

Sent by Sally Fox

We continue to be very happy with the great service Mark offers.

Sent by Gareth Beecham

Mark is fantastic for holiday advice and will use again!

Sent by Barry Osborne

Mark was able to respond very quickly to the requests I had, a range of options was given and I was able to select the one that best suited my requirements. professional and quick service Thank You.

Sent by Elaine Ames

There was never any doubt that mark would assist me in finding the perfect holiday after a bit of juggling different ideas we got there in the end :)

Sent by Syed Gulrez

Mark is awesome, super responsive and highly experienced to know exact requirements and meet the expectations.

Sent by Chris Hopkinson

Very helpful, listened to what we wanted and went the extra mile to ensure everything was done correctly

Sent by Sally Fox

I would totally recommend Mark Hallam, our previous experiences have led us back to him. He is extremely helpful, informative and efficient. This leaves us free to be excited about our next adventure.

Sent by Emily Mann

Great service, understood the task, no hassle booking and looked after me throughout! Loved the little extras too!

Sent by Adam Duckett

We’ve trusted Mark for well over 10 years to find and book our holidays including Florida, Japan and many European locations. The holidays are always excellent and we will continue to book with Mark for many years to come.

Sent by Jackie Brown

Speed of response; wealth of knowledge; excellent customer service. Reassurance that you have someone supporting you every step of the way.

Sent by David Colman

Although we have yet to experience the holiday , Mark’ s communications and general demeanour have filled me with confidence in dealings with him. 28/03/2022

Sent by Emma Taylor

I have already recommended mark and travel Counsellors in general to friends. Mark is amazing, knows just what we like from our holidays and those little extra bits he adds and provides makes the service he offers just perfect! March 2022

Sent by Rosalie Whitehead

Faultless, considerate, efficient support at these uncertain times for travel. Would simply NOT use anyone else

Sent by Daniel Pfadenhauer

Trip to Las Vegas - Mark has been exceptional throughout. He has managed to put together a package I seldom could’ve dreamed of when we started the process. On top of this, he has worked tirelessly on it in an ever changing Covid world and kept me updated at every single stage. Not only will I be using him exclusively from now on, I shall be recommending to all friends and family. Superb.

Sent by Janine Philpott

Mark was very professional and knowledgable about cruising as only two people out of our party of ten people have ever been on a cruise. I feel confident that myself, my husband and guests will have a lovely time celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary.

Sent by Valerie Coles

Excellent service from Mark, sorted just what we were looking for in no time at all. Very impressed with his knowledge, understanding and experience. I have already recommended him and will definitely use him again. Great work!

Sent by Anita Baily

Mark has been brilliant! He has been so patient and yet so helpful in getting us the best deal for our holiday. I am so pleased with how he has kept us informed about any updates that affected our holiday that included Thomas Cook flights. I would recommend him.

Sent by Vicky Kangurs

Mark was brilliant and made the booking process stress-free. It was so straightforward - we gave him our budget, an idea of the destinations we'd like to try and the dates we'd like to go and he came back to us with plenty of options to choose from. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend him to my contacts and will definitely be booking future holidays with him.

Sent by Arturo Ottengo

A few months ago my wife bought plane tickets to visit family in the US, I will give her Mark’s telephone number for next time. I recently had a conversation with Mark and learned all the benefits of doing things differently. I should have bought insurance and car hire at the same time, among many other things to get a better deal. Don’t do what I did and don’t waste your time, go speak to Mark first. He is taking care of the things I did wrong and sorting out travel insurance among other things for me. Dealing with Mark is easy and convenient, options are clearly displayed and everything is done online. You should all book your travel with Mark Hallam

Sent by Shan Corn

We just can’t praise you highly enough, you think of absolutely everything, and give a great customer service.

Sent by Peter Heath

Just to let you know that our trip to Malta has been a great success. All the travel arrangements worked perfectly, Lufthansa was a pleasure, what a contrast to Ryanair and Flybe etc. The hotel was jolly good too. So many thanks for setting everything up.

Sent by Mark Rowlands

Mark knows me well so always gives a quick & personal response that meets my needs

Sent by Peter Heath

Until now, I have never encountered a travel agent who has taken such a personal interest in one's holiday plans and ideas.

Sent by Anthony Lam

Extremely professional service in a friendly way! Highly recommend to friends and family.

Sent by Judith Workman

I had a good rapport with Mark who was at all times helpful and patient.

Sent by Keith Watkins

Responds to requests swiftly. Reliable and gets things done.

Sent by Stuart Mayhead

Always a brilliant professional service

Sent by Nicola West

Fantastic service as always! It's great to book knowing 100% that you will be happy with the destination. That's why we come back to Travel Counsellors and Mark Hallam every time

Sent by Sophie Gatehouse

From day one of discussing options, Mark has been patient with us. He has been able to confidently guide us into making decisions which fill us with excitement and joy. We cannot recommend Mark enough. Infact we already have recommended him to friends and family due to his hard work and swift turn around with ideas and quote. Thank you for all your help and organisation.

Sent by Terry Thorpe

Already recommended Mark to many contacts, he provides superb service and delivers every time, always going that extra mile for his clients.

Sent by Bill Groome

Mark has yet again sorted out all our holiday requirements. I thoroughly recommend him to all our friends I cannot imagine why you would want to use anybody else. Many thanks Mark.

Sent by Melanie Bonas

Mark listens to your requirements and quite simply delivers. The service he provides is personal, professional, knowledgeable, helpful and friendly. His response times are great and the documentation is clear and precise. I have no hesitation in both using Mark's services for our next adventure and recommending him to others.

Sent by Richard Porteous

Mark's been very attentive, planned the holiday around our specific requirements, given us a variety of options to choose from and altered things when asked so that the trip has been tailor made.

Sent by Peter Lazard

Excellent personal service and totally reliable.

Sent by Keith Watkins

Cannot fault Marks attention to detail and communication. Top notch!

Sent by Sally Fox

Mark has given us excellent, friendly speedy and informative service and we will continue to book through him as well as recommending to others. He always goes the extra mile, including hand delivering a shore excursion map and ensuring we were happy using the TC phone app.

Sent by John Moody

Mark is always very thorough making sure every detail is right. A very safe pair of hands

Sent by Pamela Roberts Pamela Roberts

We have booked two holidays with Mark, his knowledge and comments we found very useful and recommended him to several friends.

Sent by Geoff Turrell

Mark gave us all relevant information we required and suggested ideas we found useful - would recommend mark to our friends

Sent by Stephen Wigley

Always helpfull and knowledgable on all aspects of travel and holiday requirements

Sent by Michael Keeling

Very fast efficient service, and adapted requirements to my needs. Thanks for everything

Sent by Sally Fox

Mark is very patient, friendly and knowledgeable.

Sent by Sarah Poole

When friends talk about going on holiday I always recommend Travel Counsellors and Mark in particular - Would never book a holiday any other way now

Sent by Julia Baily

A big 10 from me Thank you so much Mark

Sent by Philip Goldsmith

Mark is very helpful and professional nothing is to much trouble very happy with the service he provides.

Sent by Ian Stevenson

Mark clearly has worked hard putting together the best solution and travel plans for my trip with my boys. All bases covered and great suggestions and recommendations. All questions and concerns covered, extremely helpful. Thank you!

Sent by Keith Watkins

Superb pre and after sale service. Responds in a timely fashion. An absolute requirement when discussing travel plans.

Sent by Bill Groome

We wouldn't even attempt to book a holiday or book travel ourselves, there's no point, as Mark even seems to find a cheaper deal. Glad we were recommended to you Mark.

Sent by Emma Taylor

I have recommended mark to everyone! He is so helpful and makes planning our holiday much easier! My friends and family have all used mark for planning their holidays on my recommendation and they are just as happy as we are!

Sent by Nikki West

Once again, Mark found the perfect trip despite all my complicated requirements and we absolutely cant wait to go. I would never book a holiday any other way.

Sent by Jane Watson

Nice friendly and good banter Also knowledgeable about the cruise ships always a bonus

Sent by Jane Cox

I always find Mark Hallam from Travel Counsellor extremely friendly, helpful and knowledgeable making sourcing and booking holiday a pleasure. Will continue to use your services for all my holiday requirements.

Sent by Jacqueline Richards

He was very prompt with his responses and listened and got me exactly the type of holiday I want and at the right price!

Sent by John Alldrick

Fantastic service from Mark, very knowledgable giving us options which we would not have thought of ourselves interms of flights & transfers . Then supplying us with a range of options to choose from for both accommodation & flights. Nothing was too much trouble really looking forward to the trip.

Sent by Mark Rowlands

This trip to Germany came up at short notice, so I e-mailed Mark at 18:30, asking him to look at airport parking / Flights / Car Hire / Hotel. Mark responded within 15 minutes with a quote and some options Last winter I was in Boston when New York was getting slammed by a snow storm. As soon as I got to the office, Mark called my cell phone with flight options to get me home early before the snow storm struck I get the feeling Mark is permanently on-line and acts like your own concierge!

Sent by Shan Corn

We have experienced the best service ever nothing too much trouble brilliant

Sent by John Atherton

Mark has organised several holidays for us as well as my daughter the last one being Lapland at Christmas to see Santa which was absolutely amazing , not only for the children I might add. Mark is very professional in dealing with your requests and tries to get the best deal available. He organised a trip to Canada for us four years ago which took in Montreal, Quebec and Ottowa ,all the Hotels were very different styles but fantastic which made it more interesting. Everything was spot on and hassle free. We are now going to Canada again ,with Marks help we can just enjoy the ride!

Sent by Tahir Ali

He even sorted me out on a bank holiday! What a star! Dr Tahir Ali FRCS

Sent by Mark Rowlands

Mark Hallam is like my "guardian angel" - always on the end of the phone when I need him and he even calls me proactively during a trip to warn about potential travel disruption due to weather etc

Sent by Sarah Poole

We were totally impressed with everything that was arranged for our holiday .We hadn't been home a week and we have already booked through Mark Hallam to go to the same hotel in Benidorm next year

Sent by Mark Rowlands

This trip to Germany came up at short notice, so I e-mailed Mark at 18:30, asking him to look at airport parking / Flights / Car Hire / Hotel. Mark responded within 15 minutes with a quote and some options. Last winter I was in Boston when New York was getting slammed by a snow storm. As soon as I got to the office, Mark called my cell phone with flight options to get me home early before the snow storm struck I get the feeling Mark is permanently on-line and acts like your own concierge!

Sent by Colin McMeekin

Mark has been exceptional throughout the whole process of booking our vacation. Since we are not going until October, I can't say much more but if the holiday itself goes as well as the booking process, I'll be over the moon.

Sent by William Groome

First time we used Mark he was excellent, did everything we asked and more, very quickly at a competitive price. Will definitely use him again.

Sent by Antony Pearce

Mark has been consistently supportive with arranging holidays for myself and my family. I have recommended his services to others and would do so again without hesitation.

Sent by Emma Taylor

I have used mark to book our holidays for a while now, he is always friendly, happy to talk and always very helpful. I have recommended him to many friends and family and some have indeed booked with him.

Sent by Lorraine Duckett

We always tell our friends and family about the great service we get from Mark! We like having our own personal travel agent that knows who we are and what we like!

Sent by Susan Clark

Mark has been extremely helpful, nothing is too much trouble, and more to the point…he offers before he's asked! He thinks of everything…

Sent by Julia Larmour

Mark has been extremely helpful over the last 2 years - this is the 2nd holiday we have booked through him as well as a trip to New York for our daughter and friends. I have already recommended him to several relations and friends and would not hesitate to keep doing so. This trip especially as it required booking multiple hotels which I wouldn't have been confident to book myself. I will definitely keep using Mark for our holidays!

Sent by Craig Lilley

Thoughtful and detailed travel consultancy, Mark understands the requirements and delivers the best options considering value/quality/client. Good advice and knowledge of resorts add to planning the holiday experience. The Travel Counsellor service takes out the stress in trying to book everything in a short time in a crowded Travel Agents, allowing more time to consider all the options before committing to booking. Mark has delivered consistently for us over several years now and is speed of response to enquiries is excellent.

Sent by Sally Williams

I have recently returned from a trip to Australia, having never flown so far across the world on my own before I wanted someone who I would be able to contact whenever I needed to-day or night! Mark not only sent everything to me in a handy travel wallet but was also available for me to ask questions online before my trip and even via text when I was out there. Excellent service, very friendly and helpful. I will definitely be using him again to go travelling next year and Im sure my mum's mind will be put at ease knowing that I haven't booked it with some faceless corporation who aren't interested as soon as I've paid! Thanks Mark! Sally.

Sent by Lorraine Duckett

Mark is officially our personal travel agent! We used to book trips online, sorting out each part individually. Then a friend told us about Travel Counsellors and we got in touch with Mark - we've never looked back and wouldn't even think about booking a holiday without speaking to Mark first! Most recently, Mark helped with our honeymoon to Japan and it was just amazing!

Sent by Frances Townsend

I travel regularly and to many places - Cruises, Mediteranean, Caribbean and Far East as well as multi centre holidays and the service I received was outstanding. He always goes that extra mile for you.

Sent by Alan Best

Mark is a diligent gentleman who takes his career very seriously and strives to satisfy his customers in every way and to that end he has proved himself to me and my family. He is very responsive to questions and he actually listens to what you have to say -- rare quality nowadays.

Sent by Jonathan Eden

If you are looking for someone in the travel industry who genuinely goes the extra mile for his clients, then look no further than Mark Hallam

Sent by Dianne Roberts

Couldn't fault Mark when booking a holiday for Fuerteventura. Gave quick reply of all details and insurance. After confirming our booking all details sent swiftly in a nice wallet for safe keeping will certainly use him again.

Sent by Elaine Morrissey

My husband and I have booked several trips with Mark both for Business and Pleasure and each trip Mark has been most helpful and I have to say very patient with us. Nothing is too much trouble and Mark goes that extra mile to ensure that we get the trip that we want. I always recommend Mark to friends and business associates,as we both feel he is excellent both in knowledge and value for money.

Sent by Mel Ellis

Mark fully understands his clients needs and requirements and arranges holidays accordingly, even finding alternatives to chose from. I have already recommended Mark to friends, family and other travellers I met on holiday.

Sent by Michael Wager

I wanted to arrange a special trip to Canada for Christmas 2009 and could not get what I wanted either price wise or time wise by dealing direct with the hotel we wanted. After speaking to Mark about what we wanted everything was arranged for us with no hassle and at an acceptable price. What more can you ask for?

Sent by Jonathan Eden

Ma Hallmark is a suitable anagram as Mark Hallam is worth his weight in gold in terms of taking away all the hassle of searching, selecting and booking an annual holiday. Our requirements were last minute, not straightforward, changed a few times and yet Mark went much more than one extra mile to sort everything out. Customer service of the highest quality from a person who clearly loves his job.