Sent by James Poynor
Based in Hinckley
Looking for help with your business travel? Find out how I can help here
If you truly value service & expertise, you have come to the right Travel Counsellor.
I provide a highly personal & exceptional service from start to finish. I make travelling easy so all you need to do is pack and turn up. I have worked in the travel industry for 35 years. In this time, I have travelled all over the world to some stunning places and had some amazing experiences along the way. For 12 years, I lived abroad and worked in some fantastic places, most notably Kenya where I had the opportunity to visit the many national parks and go on safari. My time in the Seychelles was another stand-out highlight.
I became a Travel Counsellor in 2005 so I am celebrating my 17th anniversary with the company this year. I am a specialist in many areas but if I was to name one, I would say Africa - it's one of my favourites and I love putting together safari itineraries for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I also enjoy tailor making bespoke itineraries to the Far East where I have visited many times.
Why book with me?
Well, why spend hours on the internet trawling through hundreds of websites for your next trip? Let me have the opportunity to amaze you and turn your much-deserved holiday into the dream escape it should be. It will be unrivalled to any experience you have ever had before.
As I am part of Travel Counsellors I can offer a bespoke one-to-one service. My customers love the fact that they will always speak to me and not just someone who happens to pick up the phone in a call centre. As a result, they know that that I am in-tune with their holiday plans and expectations. I am always only a call or email away for any queries or requests 24/7. 98% of all customers that have booked with me last year said they would book with me again and refer me to their friends and families.
Travel Counsellors have a bridal registry service this is a video which explains what it is all about . Please get in touch if you would like me to set this up
Corfu a stunning island in The Ionion Islands - in western Greece. The first ever island I ever visited and the first island I ever worked .
Magical lapland - what a lovely time my friends had . I asked them to video some footage when they were in Lapland in December
My holiday to MADEIRA in 2021 Funchal , Monte, Botanical gardens, and the coastal path
A day out in teh rigged land rovers around the north and east coast of Barbados
Visited Waves hotel a new all inclusive in the south coast ( opene) 2020) & O2 Beach club & spa which has built a new wing and also now is all inclusive.
I was on a short trip to Barbados in 2021 - this is my day out on Silver Moon Catamaran . Lots of rum punch , food and swimming with turtles
video of the climb or Dunns River #jamaica #dunnsriverfalls #waterfalls
I worked in Kefalonia for 2 years and know the island really well so have put a video together about the island
March 2019 when we were free to travel i went with fellow travel counsellors to Mexico to check out Secret & Dreams hotels .
Work trip seeing different hotels in Cancun/Riviera Maya . This was a Secrets property
stayed here is 2019 - the most amazing rooms with spectacular rooms right on the strip . #secretsresorts #amresorts #greatview #beachotel #tcexperience
November 2020 a window of opportunity to travel before the lockdown! We were here for 5 days before returning early and squeezed every moment out of it
More of a party hotel with Amazing rooms where I stayed in 2019 .Loved the pool furniture and the rooms were stunning . #breathless #amresorts #tcexperience
My stay in 2019 in MAURITIUS #lowseason#trouauxbiches#tcexperience#dreamnowtravellater
Our friends joined us on our trip to Croatia. This is a video of our time on the waves #neilsonactivity #familyactivityhol #tcexperience #dreamnowtravellater
Our wonderful activity holiday in Croatia #stunningwalks#fitnessholiday#activityholiday#neilsonssummer
A cruise stop in Grand Cayman on my Panama Canal Cruise Boxing day 2019 #grandcayman #makingmemories #stingrays #cruisestop #panamacanal #tcexperience
I did an event on the 9th December all about Africa in collaboration with African pridetour operator
A video of my stay at the Shanti Maurice in June 2019 showing what a magical place it is . Great for honeymooners or anniversaries
This is the video of the event I held on the 22nd Oct on Lapland. For those who are intested in travelling to lapland well worth watching!
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.
10 May 2022
To win a place on Celebrity Beyond was so exciting . I have cruised on the Reflection, Equinox and Silhouette so I was just so excited to see what an 'Edge' class ship would be like . On this sailing it had lots of different nationalities on board from all the ports she would sail into , as well as journalists, influencers and tour operators We arrived at Southampton early so we could make the most of our 2 night trip . We were in a E2 Infinite balcony cabin which was very techie as we could open the glass on the balcony with the touch of a button . The cabins were larger than normal with the balcony extending to be part of the room There was ample space for clothes though with only 2 days worth with us we didnt need it ! Safe , hairdryer , and 3 pin plug sockets as well as sockets for our phone chargers So we went off exploring heading for lunch at the Grill . I have often mentioned before how much I love celebrity burgers ..and then joined our colleagues at the Rooftop Garden for a few drinks before exploring the ship. This is a new feature on pool deck and there is a huge screen to watch sports or movies with lovely alcoves to sit with friends There is also a restaurant the Rooftop Garden Grill which was fully booked so we didnt get chance to eat here ( you pay extra for this) The food was typical American BBQ it looked delicious . Two days isnt a long time to get around and see everything . There is art work everywhere ( even in the public toilets) . But did my best . The popular Sunset Bar has been extended , and there is much better use of space with lots more eateries being introduced . The main dining option has been split into 4 areas Cyprus , Normandie , Tuscany and Continental and has a small restaurant feel about it rather than a grand dining hall . The food was exceptional lobster , beef wellington and snails graced the menu . plus mouth watering desserts . The portion sizes were small but just right We had a coffee and cake in Cafe Bacio in the lobby and took in the beautiful surroundings . The Grand Plaza over 3 floors is where you find the Martini BAR The focal point of the ship in the evening was buzzing , We came across Eden which is a new concept which is also 3 stories and is really light due to the glass where you can look out to sea that transforms to an entertainment venue in the evening . The entertainment was world class we saw 2 shows and they were both superb with dancers , acrobats and special effects it was mesmerising This ship has made me want to go back and spend more time on board - it was really classy without being stuffy . Great food entertainments and good sized cabins attentive staff All inclusive now too so you don't have to worry about gratuities or what your bar bill will be
30 October 2021
When I was offered a work trip to Barbados - it didnt take me long to say yes! It was only for 3 nghts so very much like a long weekend very similar to my trip to St lucia last year It was flying from Manchester on the Inaugural flight service from Manchester to Barbados with Aer Lingus. Fantastic news as the north of England do not have many direct services to the Caribbean as majority of services are from London I stayed over night at the Clayton hotel which has a free shuttle bus to the airport close to terminal 3 ( which was closed) I was heading for terminal 2 and prebooked my free shuttle the night before with reception. There was balloons and steel bands near the check in desk to mark the occasion so you couldnt miss it! . I also pre paid for express at security which was a godsend as the airport was busy . We all met at the executive lounge 1903 before heading for the gate where we sipped sparling wine (at 8am) and helped ourselves to a cooked breakfast. We had been upgraded to business class which was an added bonus. At the gate I realised how VIP it was with hundreds of cupcakes and refreshments in the lounge for all passengers which was a lovely touch .Plus lots of photos from the press! The flight was really smooth with great food ( prawn cocktail to die for) and afternoon tea too later in the flight . With a few drinks along the way and a couple of films to watch before getting a few hours shut eye in my full sized bed . The staff were so helpful and extremely friendly on Aer Lingus and nothing was too much trouble. On arrival at Barbados there was a band to welcome us on the tarmac, more photos and then we went through all the immigration processes with folder in hand! We had to have a test ( no more for Barbados this has now stopped ). Show our vaccinatinon certificates, negative test certifictae , immigration qr form and then arrived at the Crystal Cove hotel on the west coast in a wonderful room 346 on the third floor overlooking the resort . We had to wait for our covid results before we could go on the beach but were allowed to move around in the hotel . This is now stopped by the way for vaccinated people. There was mask wearing in teh public areas of the hotel and also outside . Crystal cove is a premium all inclusive hotel on the west coast of Barbados and has just 70 room so quite boutique. It was half term so lots of families staying here . It is part of the Elegant Group of hotels which also includes Waves , Tamarind and Colony Club with a boat taxi that runs 5 times a day to the sister hotels if you wanted a change of scenery. Over the next 3 days we had a great time seeing the best features of Barbados with great hospitality making us feel VIP. The staff were really friendly and made us really welcome for our 3 days . I was in room 346 which had an amazing view of the resort and sea .It had a safety deposit book , iphone charge point , alarm clock , ironing board and iron . All toiletries were also provided too and nice fluffy towels! The bed was really comfey plus the view was to die for We also visited a couple of hotels on the South coast . I have stayed on the south side before several years ago . The beaches are still stunning but the water is a little choppier. We spent time looking around new hotels 'Sands' which opened in December 2019 and also the O2 Beach Club and Spa a place where I will be staying in June 2022 which has changed from a self catering property to all inclusive. There is still some building work going on putting the finnishing touches to the property to be ready in Dec 2021 it wil be stunning when it is finnished it had a fabulous roof top bar and really nice padded sun loungers cant wait to return in June! We went on a catamaran cruise on Silver Moon where we will able to swim with turtles on a sunset cruise which was a wonderful experience with food and drink included . We went on an 'Island safari'on the rigged land rovers to the rugged north and east coasts which has a completely different landscape. Finnishing our whistle stop tour with a visit to St Nicholas abbey which has been lovingly restored by its artitect owner. We did a bit of rum tasting on an old sugar mill plantation and even went on a steam train ( restored in Tamworth Uk - just up the road from me ) around the grounds. We ate some amazing food in the Fairmont Hotel on the west coast and also in st Lawrence gap at the' Cocktail Kitchen 'which was a caribbean fusion restaurnst . The chef here was awarded CHTA Caribbeab Chef of the year in 2018 . Plenty of rum and cocktails were drunk over the time we spent in Barbados . It seemed we were there longer than we were ! we were economy on the return to be honest plenty of leg room so the seats were not uncomfortable though you did have to pay for drinks . TBH we had so much to drink over the last few days it was nice just to have tea/coffee and a snooze . It felt like we had been away for weeks not 4 days! An amazing break and an amazing island full of very friendly people waiting for your return
30 October 2021
The Northern Belle is a train that operates in the Midlands and the North of England. There are 'different day outs' you can explore through out the year. I was on the 'afternoon tea' experience (as I love cake) for a birthday celebration. So we set out from Coventry station heading for Wales and back . Everybody on board was all dressed up for the occasion in their finery . The staff were amazing on board especailly when i accidentally spilled my prosecco - they completely relaid the table - superb service The processo flowed all day and so did the tea and coffee. The sandwiches and cakes were lovely plus the quiche and scotch eggs ( plus they came around with seconds) I have to say we were full and on the train for 7 hours it went so quickly and gave us time to catch up with friends on a wonderful sunny september day The staff were no engaging and friendly and the train transports you back in time a lovely day out and worth every penny
17 September 2021
The cruise to nowhere - with Princess cruises from Southampton Seactaions in 2021 are al the rage - I was booking lots of customers so thought I would go myself They were incredible value and all inclusive .So silver service dining and lots of cocktails with the option of getting dressed up in the evening If you are double vaxxed then only an antigen test on arrival at the port . I went with my friend Sue who also works in travel and was twiddling her fingers as she was unable to work and had never been on a large cruise ship Regal Princess is one of the newer ships . It would only be about a third full so plenty of space on board and a chance for me to take a look around as well as have a bit of a break Before I went on this cruise I was cracking up . All the government announcements were taking their toll and there wasnt a day when i just wanted to cry so I needed a break! This did me the world of good. Lots of sea air , good food and too many cocktails what isn't there to like. The ship is really pristine and beautiful. Spotlessly clean and shiney . Lots of bars with live music to enjoy . Plus a nightclub ( if you can last out that long) It was a comedy cruise when we went which had a different comedian on in the evening. There was also a guest speaker Judge Rinder who was excellent. We had an afternoon show with dancers and one evening show over the 3 nights. There were quizzes and competitions late afternoon to join in with though the music quiz as way before my time !. A gym and spa too plus a sports deck for the active. Plus the casino was operating as well When we arrived we were tested at the port in a 'drive in' and then waited 30 mins for the results before boarding and picking up our medalions. I forgot my phone charger so went immediatley to the shop to purchase one .You pay on baord with the medallion . The medallion also opens your cabin door too. The cabin were spacious and had a small balcony and plenty of cupboard space . With a big TV . They did movies under the stars where there was a big screen on pool deck to watch some of the latest films. They also did this during the day . The weather was nice on our last day where we could soak up the rays on deck . Plenty of food venues we frequented Alfredo pizzeria for lunch for gourmet pizzas , did afternoon tea one afternoon and had the choice of 2 different restaurants in tHE evening with 'dine my way' where we could choose our time. the restaurant opened at 5pm and you could book slots up to 9pm . . There was a buffet with plenty of choice , grill on deck for snacks plus the international cafe too. So lots of choice . 2 days wasnt a lot of time and it was over before it begun . We had a lovely time just chilling out and having more than a few drinks . For me it was good to see Medallion class and how it worked also how a covid cruise operated . Masks had to be worn when not eat and drinking which was odd in the theatre especially watching comedians . The lack of itineray didnt bother us Medallion Class The free internet wasnt very good so that was disapointing as I had been planning to do live videos from the ship and my phone kept crashing . The internet is needed to use the app as everything is on the app on this ship as it is medallion class. There were a few teething problems with the app which have now been sorted I am glad to say before boarding you can booking dining, pay for drinks and even play the casino on the app. You can pay for enhanced internet and if you are planning to use your phone alot it might be worth taking out
02 August 2021
We had assumed that our trip would be cancelled so when Madeira was put on the 'green list ' we realised we would be travelling and had 9 days to prepare.Travel in covid times is a little different there are tests to book and forms to fill in . So we started to get organised! Madeira was one of the few destinations open for travel in 2020 so things were in place . We are double vaccinated so didn't need a PCR test on arrival and also were given a free test in resort before we took our return flight. Birmingham airport was quiet so check in was quick and there were very little queues through security and passport control . In Madeira it was the same it looked a lot worse than it was from landing to hotel was about 75 mins. There is no time difference so we arrived at the hotel to be greeted with a drink and we went straight to our room . It was a lovely room at the Pestana Carlton sea view junior suite with two balconies and wicker sunbeds on our balcony on the second floor . We set off straight away into town to explore it was humid and warm and it was nice to walk around and get our bearings . It had been a few years since I had visited the island probably 15 years and I also worked as a rep here 30 years ago! We had loads planned and also needed to fit in the England football games too into our evening schedule. So every minute counted . Day 2 We went on the cable car up to Monte visiting the Botanical Gardens which were stunning. Monte is where you find the toboggans so that is how we descended They don't go all the way down to Funchal so we walked the remainder of the way ( which was a killer as it was 90 degrees in part) . That evening we watched England play in an Indian restaurant having the screen to ourselves as we had our Indian banquet! Day 3 We did a tour of Funchal by tuk tuk . That was fabulous as the roads are quite narrow so the best way to do it especially the old town. Day 4 We did a Jeep Safari which was in a Land Rover which took us to the north of Madeira which was amazing . Getting a closer look at those ancient forests and high peaks Day 5 We chilled Day 6 We had afternoon tea at Reids ( and suffered the England game in the evening in a Craft beer bar) DAY 7 We did the 9km coastal walk from Camera do Lobos. The place made famous by Winston Churchill who use to paint there . We did so many miles of walking on this trip and have so many wonderful memories. Over the last few years we have gone all inclusive when we have been away not on this occasion. We were on a bed and breakfast basis which gives you the flexibility to choose where you want to eat and when you want to eat! Madeira is perfect for this . There are plenty of options and a good variety from Michelin star to more traditional. I tried the local scabbard fish with banana, and the Espetada ( huge meat skewer) . We ate at a wonderful restaurant called Avista which was Michelin star and close to where we were staying . We also ate in the old town too where it was more traditional . We were on a bed and breakfast basis which gives you the flexibility to choose where you want to eat and when you want to eat! Breakfast had everything egg station, pastries, salmon, full english , cereal but I stuck to having fresh fruit grown on the island and wonderful coffee ( just as good as starbucks). In the evening we drank lots of giant g&t's and it felt great to be away in such a beautiful place. We did a little bit of sunbathing but it wasnt our priority exploring was so I could show you what a wonderful destination this is . There are black sand beaches along the coast and various lidos so the pool is the main sunbathing area if you prefer to chillout the climate is pretty constant all years around
02 August 2021
This was supposed to be 10 nights but sadly when we arrived we received an email to say we had to come home! So we made the best of it . When we arrived at Gatwick to leave our car it was really earie . There was no one about and our airport hotel was the same I think only 5 flights were due to fly out . We had our PCR test we were escaping and we could hardly believe it! We had all our paper work and we moved quickly through the airport arriving at our hotel with an hour after landing Coconut bay beach resort which was only 5 minutes drive from the airport we were planning on staying here 5 nights ( due to teh proximity to the airport) then move on for 5 nights and stay at the Body hotel ion the Caribbean side of the island This is on the Atlantic side of the island so sea was a big more 'dramatic' not really for swimming , But beach the longest stretch on the island with palm trees lining the beach to make it very picturesque. Lovely to walk along not shared with any other hotels the hotel have a beach bar on the beach and a few hammocks in the water The hotel is split between Adult and family wings we stayed in the adult wing and we had our own adult only pool and sunbeds which were lovely The rooms are a little dated thought they were perfectly fine . We had a lead in garden view ( which was ocean view) and were on the ground floor All the sunbeds were really comfortable - big mattresses and spread out The WIFI was good at the hotel especially as we had to change our flights and communicate with the UK The family wing had a huge pool ( unusual for the caribbean) and a big kids club activity area and lazy river with a couple of slides. Being a family resort didn't impact our holiday Restaurants were all good with great food and not 'huge' portions which we prefer . Wearing masks in restaurants and queuing for restaurants did not impact our holiday We had a squeeze as much as we could in 5 days so we drank more cocktails than we normally would and also got up earlier than normal When we vacated our room they had a shower area where we could get ready for the flight home we couldn't keep our rooms on . No regrets - it was a great 5 night trip and do not regret travelling out for this short amount of time
03 February 2020
The plan for our last day was to take an excursion from the ship to Miami - that way our luggage would be taken care of and the excursion finished at the airport. No hanging around, as you have to leave the ship about 8am so they can get ready for the new passengers. Two days before the end of the cruise we had a notification that the tour was cancelled due to lack of numbers. The 'tour' staff were not forthcoming as to what we should do other than book another tour or go to the airport all day - and seemed to know nothing of how they could remedy this for us. It was the 30th December so booking a day room was out of the question as everything would be booked up now with inflated prices. We didn't have our driving licences with us so hiring a car was also not feasible. Booking an independent tour was tricky as we would have all our luggage with us. So we opted for left luggage at Miami international. Luckily we had paid for internet connection on the ship so were able to source the information as the crew had no idea if there was a left luggage office or if it would be open! The left luggage office was on concourse E about as far away from our terminal as it could be and was $10 a case. We got our steps in for the day! The yellow taxi was £25 to south beach each way (do not take a white one as they are cowboys who charge $45)! It was an overcast day in Miami and very humid. Shame really as I am sure those lovely Art Deco buildings would have looked so much better with a blue sky background. Miami south beach was buzzing and had a wonderful vibe to it. All the bars and restaurants were full and there were Mustangs and Corvettes parked up along the beach road. We didn't have long just a couple of hours so we walked along the beach road and onto Collins Avenue and had some lunch. A starter of nachos for 1 was enough as a main for 2! I would definitely return to Miami as it was very different to what I was expecting. South Beach felt very safe and had a good selection of small hotels with the beach nearby. I think in future I might suggest this to my customers rather than Fort Lauderdale as an addition to the cruise.
02 February 2020
We embarked in Fort Lauderdale on the Island Princess. Normally the weather would be blue skies and we would all be sunbathing on deck. However it was wet and windy for the first two days so we spent most of our time indoors as we sailed to Jamaica. When we docked in Falmouth we had beautiful blue skies and normal weather was resumed. I have been to Jamaica quite a few times so have climbed Dunns River Falls, and have been to see the 'Cool Runnings' toboggan run on a previous visit so this time I wanted to do the river rafting down the Martha Brae river - I have actually done this before in 1990 so wanted to do it again as I remembered it as a really lovely experience. Where you can see a different side to Jamaica. Cartagena was our next stop which is a world heritage site beautiful city reminded me very much of Havana (but with shops and not in a crumbling way!) The old town was beautiful with lovely colourful buildings we opted for a half day walking tour which was just enough as it was quite hot and humid here. The tour finished with interaction with peacocks and parrots which were in a zone just before we ended the tour and boarded back on the ship. Costa Rica - it absolutely poured here and lived up to its rainforest billing. We were down to do a canal journey in the national park plus a jungle trek. We didn't see much - one shy sloth, a few herons and one very small green frog. On the bright side we didn't get bitten as even the creepy crawlies decided not to show! A shame really as we were really looking forward to this stop. However on the bright side, the shopping here set up on the port was excellent and we bought a few souvenirs to cheer ourselves up. At Panama Canal we stayed on the ship and paid to be in the 'Sanctuary' at the front of the ship. As none of the tours appealed to us and after all it was Christmas day. There were only about 10 of us booked in so we had the whole area to ourselves cost is about $60 per person. On P&O & Celebrity this would have been sold out. It was well worth the money to have the wonderful views and ambience of going through the locks and being looked after by the stewards for the day. They served us lunch and afternoon tea so we didn't have to move too far. It was an overcast day but still warm and dry so not too overbearing. At Grand Cayman we went to Sting Ray City and also visited the 7 mile beach area before we went back to the ship. It was really organised here with mini buses available to whisk us away to the beach once we had finished our excursion. The water clarity here is amazing as they don't have any rivers on the island( but it is very salty). It was really hot here and our last stop before returning to Florida. We were the only ship in (normally there is usually quite a few) so we were lucky as the island wasn't too crowded. The sting rays were amazing though we didn't see too many fish when we snorkelled the water was so clear.
02 January 2020
We flew out from Heathrow to Miami to connect with our cruise to the Caribbean and Panama Canal. We flew direct with Virgin Atlantic and booked the economy delight seats which gave us more leg room. At first I thought there maybe was a staff Xmas party at Miami Airport as only 2 of the 24 desks at immigration were manned. We had to queue to get finger printed by machine then join another queue which didn't move for over an hour to do exactly the same. Ho Ho Ho! Not to be dispirited, when we got to our luggage it had all been put into neat rows so it was ready to go. We then headed to Miami Lakes to 'Shulas Hotel' where we stayed for the night. It was raining but quite festive, with shops and restaurants nearby. The following day we joined the cruise at Fort Lauderdale on 'Island Princess'. One of the smaller ships that can go into the Panama Canal, which has plenty of character. There was plenty of tinsel and Christmas trees adorning the decks. All we needed now was some good weather. Just our luck; there was wet weather and strong northerly winds for the first 2 days though it cleared up once we got to Jamaica. We had an outside cabin with restricted view on deck 8, which was a great location as we were mid-ship and had easy access to restaurants and also the lifts for the pool deck . There weren't too many electric sockets in the cabin, but there was a hairdryer provided. There was a decent sized flat screen TV plus a large very comfortable double bed with plenty of hangers and cupboard space. Our first day at sea was a little bit on the choppy side so we spent the day at the gym and attending the various talks on the ship. Something I wouldn't normally do if the weather was good. The internet package we purchased was the best I have had at sea so I could also check emails and any messages. The passengers were mainly American with very few Brits on board so the entertainment was geared up for US customers so we saw plenty of NFL American football and no Premier League. There were also movies under the stars which had concerts during the day and films in the evening with the screen set up in front of the pool. In the evening they provide blankets and a cushioned bed to watch the movies. We saw 'Blinded by the light' and 'Yesterday' complete with subtitles which amused us as they were obviously struggling with the Watford and West Country accents! Entertainment on board was low key. There was a small theatre that had shows and comedians. Plus the crooners bar had an excellent pianist who could belt out a few songs. There was a house band that was more 'reggae' in the explorers bar plus quizzes that were heavily weighted towards the American audience. Apart from the decorations it wasn't all that Christmassy. They did have carol singing on Christmas Eve and they had a gingerbread house-making competition, but the music was quite repetitive with 1950's Christmas songs being payed quite a lot (no Slade or Wizzard for us!) The dining arrangements were the same as every day so no gala dinner. On Christmas Day we spent the day in the 'Sanctuary' at the front of the ship, where the sunbeds were a bit more luxurious and you were waited on for lunch and afternoon tea. We thought this would have been full but there were only 10 people who took up on this, so this was actually really nice. The lunch was delicious with skewered prawns and avocado salad as we basically had the place to ourselves. We were sitting in the locks of the Panama Canal and although not sunny it was pleasant and dry and really peaceful as a lot of people had left the ship. We picked this cruise for its itinerary as we hadn't done a couple of stops Cartagena, Panama, Costa Rica and Grand Cayman and Jamaica We were anytime dining which meant we didn't have to sit at the same table every night. We shared a couple of nights and occasionally ate on our own at a table for 2. The food was OK and the portion control was good though nothing really 'wowed' us as it had on other cruise lines. Though I thought the staff were the friendliest I had come across. Dress codes were not adhered to and the staff seem to turn a blind eye so people were allowed in the restaurants with trainers and also t-shirts which I thought was not very impressive. The buffet was nice with wonderful pastries and there was also a grill that did burgers and pizza if you just wanted a snack. When the weather got better we even had some star gazing on the 16th deck! I must admit my expectations were high for this cruise. The ship wasn't as good as I expected. It is 'small and friendly' and low key. We met some lovely people on board and had a great time but I was disappointed with the ambience and also the facilities on board. That is my opinion as I have cruised with several cruise lines now and have something to compare with. I think Princess' newer and larger ships out of Europe would be a completely different experience!
15 October 2019
I worked in Tenerife back in the mid 80's as a rep. I haven't returned since as, to be honest, I didn't have the best of memories. What I remember is a busy place full of building work, high rise buildings and time share sharks around every corner. It felt strange coming back even at the carousel picking up my luggage remembering the chaos the other side - which is why I booked a private taxi unable to face the coach park. I wasnt expecting the calm and organisation. In the taxi it was interesting recognising the skyline of Playa De Las Americas passing the new areas of Torviscos and Fanabe onto Costa Adeje where our hotel was located; the Bahia Principe Tenerife. This is located on the hillside overlooking the sea. This hotel is in Playa Paraiso but set away from the main road on its own so quite tranquil. The hotel is quite pretty resembling a village with bright colours and beautiful large pools. There are 2 hotels next to each other, the smaller of the two was the Bahia Principe Tenerife and next door the larger (and longer) Bahia Principe Costa Adeje which extends down towards the sea. There isn't a beach here but then Tenerife isn't famous for its beaches! Our room was on the 4th floor, a junior suite facing the pool and the sea. There are plenty of lifts so not too much of a chore getting to the room. Although the room was a little dated the plus points are that it had plenty of storage space, with a huge balcony with wonderful views and a very large comfortable bed. We were on all-inclusive which I guess was sensible as the hotel doesn't have any bars and restaurants within walking distance and they did it rather well. By the pool and in the lobby they had drink 'self service' stations where you had draft soft drinks, water, wine and sangria. Proper glasses for the wine and plastic for the soft drinks. There was a serviced bar which we used in the evenings for any spirits or cocktails - but never a queue. It is a large hotel but it didn't seem big and never seemed crowded. There were always plenty of sun loungers and we always had a nice table in the restaurant. We had the opportunity to eat in the a la carte restaurant 3 times in a week. There was a Mexican, Brazilian, Italian and Asian to choose from. The buffet restaurant always had a good variety of food and had a nice ambience. The staff here are wonderful. Nothing is too much trouble and they are very helpful. The entertainment was live music in the evening in both hotels near the main bars or if you wanted something more then there was the 'village' area which had a show on every night. This was an area between the 2 hotels with shops and an English pub (you pay for drinks). There wasn't much around the hotel in the way of bars/shops. You can walk to Praia Paraiso which takes about 20 minutes if you take the short cut through the ravine. Or alternatively get a taxi/free bus/local bus to Playa de las Americas which is only 10 minutes away. Which we did as I wanted to see how much it had changed. We got a cab to Los Cristianos which took about 10 minutes and then walked back on the promenade that lines the coast. It has been a long time. It had changed but I felt it looked a bit tired whereas Playa De las Americas looked like it had more investment. Man made beaches had popped up along the coast as we walked the coastline with offers of cheap beer and cocktails. The newer areas looked quite classy especially 'Fanabe' and 'la Duque'. It was there we ran out of path! The South of Tenerife is not pretty as it is volcanic and has always been a place to come for sunshine in the winter. The weather was superb, easily 29 every day and not a cloud in the sky. There are things to do such as whale and dolphin watching, water parks, jeep safaris and visiting Mount Teide for star gazing. We didn't do any excursions on this trip as the plan was to do nothing and recharge the batteries. I liked the mixture of nationalities in the hotel and the general ambience so much I have booked for next year.
11 June 2019
This would be my third trip to Mauritius. On previous trips I flew with Air Mauritius from London which is the direct flight. This time I flew from Birmingham as there are some great advantages of flying local. The best thing was flying on the evening flight that meant I had a full day to work, take the cat to the cattery and pack without too much stress. Rather than leaving the day before and staying overnight in a hotel. The A380 Emirates operate from Birmingham is a lovely aircraft. There is plenty of legroom in economy and the entertainment system is excellent (if you can’t sleep) with games and the latest films to keep you occupied. The flight wasn't full on the Birmingham - Dubai sector so we had an empty seat next to us so we could spread out. Most people travelling on this flight are using it to connect to another destination as well as stay in Dubai. There is a dedicated screen on the entertainment system when you land to see what terminal and gate your connecting flight will be from so you can organise yourself accordingly (they think of everything). The hold luggage goes straight through to your next flight, so you only need to have your security check with your hand luggage when you go to your new terminal. The trip to Mauritius is split 7hr/6hr which I think is a really good way to do it. The connection is about three hours which gives you time to get to your new terminal and have a look around the duty free. They also had some lovely 'bed style' chairs if you wanted a kip. The Mauritius leg of the journey was very busy with lots of different nationalities on the flight so no empty seats on that one. You arrive refreshed as there is only a three hour time difference late afternoon just in time for sunset to start your holiday.
11 June 2019
This is my third trip to Mauritius. I normally travel to the island in their ‘summer' months which is our winter. This starts in May to August and as a travel agent I wanted to see for myself what the weather would be like. The humidity in Mauritius is very low so it isn’t sticky like other tropical places. Plus, it needs the rain to keep its lush beautiful sub-tropical gardens. So, I knew the weather may not be perfect and was prepared to take the low season gamble. My first hotel was Shanti Maurice - I had won this three-night stay from the tourist board and I will be honest it wouldn't have been a hotel I would normally choose. It was B&B, boutique and had an award-winning spa and leaned towards being 'holistic'. This hotel really won me over - I loved it. Shanti means peaceful in Mauritian and the Shanti Maurice to me was heavenly. It is located on the south coast of Mauritius, about 90 minutes from the airport. We arrived just before sunset - like a lot of Mauritian hotels there is a long driveway and then a stunning entrance where you can see through the bar, to the pool to the sea. It is a boutique hotel with 61 suites and villas in 36 acres of tropical gardens with a wonderful spa. There must have been 100 people staying at the hotel, but we very rarely saw them. it was like having the hotel to ourselves. The staff were very welcoming with cold drinks and towels informing me they had upgraded my room to beachfront located next to the jetty. The windows were full sized opening on to a large balcony and I was overlooking the beach with an uninterrupted view. There were gifts in our room of a hat, beach bag and also stainless-steel water containers so not to use plastic. We hadn't slept much on the plane however we didn't feel tired as there is only a 3 hour time difference so no jet lag. Then the sky was full of 'stars' which was pretty impressive. Clear skies and lovely sunny weather around 26degrees means perfect temperatures. I felt this was a hotel all to ourselves. There were plenty of padded comfy sunbeds dotted around with so much space, so you were not on top of each other. We upgraded to all inclusive 'Shanti bliss' whilst we were here which was €145 per day and gave us lunch/dinner and selected drinks (we stuck to south African wine). The food was very high quality and was mostly a la carte. We could eat when we wanted, and the table was ours for the evening. The main restaurant ‘Stars' next to the beach was just so lovely it was hard to pull yourself away. We also ate at the shabby chic Rum shack which had a lovely ambience set away from the hotel. In the day we had stunning views of the ocean and in the evening the stars took over. The spa is one of the highlights of the hotel it is award winning (and was very reasonable). We treated ourselves to a couple of massages plus, if you wanted, there were one to one yoga sessions on the menu! I truly wish I had had more time at this hotel to have more. We had a photo shoot included from a professional photographer in the grounds of the hotel for an hour. This was great fun as we could choose where we took the photos. Even my camera-shy husband enjoyed it. We got some great shots around the pool, gardens and the volcanic black rocks at the far side of the resort with the waves crashing down. We could choose our favourite photo and have this as a gift from the hotel, but we ended up buying the whole lot as they had done such an amazing job. We were only here for 3 nights so we tried to fit in as much as possible. We played tennis, had fun on the putting green and even found time to sunbathe. We didn't do any of the water sports available. I didn't want to leave, and I actually felt quite sad when we had to move on. It really exceeded my expectations. I came away feeling rejuvenated and remembering why I loved Mauritius so much. In the short time there we built up a bond with the staff who were really friendly especially in the Rum Shack and the chocolate fondant pudding with butterscotch ice cream was amazing and far surpassed the QE2 which set the benchmark for me in the Stars restaurant. Ironic the hotel restaurant is called stars as this is something that will stay in my mind looking up at all those constellations which was truly amazing.
11 June 2019
After our heavenly stop at Shanti Maurice, the next hotel was the romantic Beachcomber Trou Aux Biches located in the north west of the island, 15 minutes’ drive from Grand Baie. West is best in the Mauritian winter which is why I chose this hotel. This is Mauritius’ first eco-hotel. It’s a much larger hotel (306 suites and 27 villas) located on a narrow white sand beach where you are able to walk out of the hotel into the village where there are a couple of shops and a supermarket. The entrance isn't as grand as the Shanti a little bit more functional with its seating areas and shops. We were taken by buggy with our luggage to our room which was central to everything. We weren't anything flash here just the lead in room which was a junior suite (63m2) with a garden view. The gardens are pretty spectacular with 34 hectares of gardens which are stunning and lots of birds too! I did get chance to see the Senior Suites here (wow) and the villas (double wow)! There are 6 restaurants here and you need to book them - our favourite was the International restaurant and Italian which were facing the sea and gave you the feeling you were on the French Riviera. There was also Thai, Indian, seafood and buffet. The food was amazing - even the lunches were fantastic. You had the choice of a la carte or buffet and the presentation was amazing. We were on full board, so we just needed to pay for our drinks. We are not big drinkers so it would interesting to see how we would cope with paying as we went along. Cocktails were about £12 and a bottle of water/soft drinks £4. Good job we were playing tennis, or we could have put on some weight! The activities were great. We played a lot of tennis, went snorkelling (they have a boat that takes you to the reef), and used the pedalos when we needed to cool down. They also had a glass bottom boat to take people out to where the turtles were plus canoes and sailboats. We didn't do this but there were always boats in the vicinity taking people to see them. You could also pay to go deep sea fishing or underwater walking. Despite being 'romantic' it does have a teen club which has a bar football table, pool and table tennis and a children’s club which takes them from 2 years old (happy days for parents) and stays open until 10pm so parents could have their romantic time. The sunbeds are big padded ones on the beach - there were always plenty of them available. The weather was mixed for this part of our holiday (as we expected). It was good to get up early and get to your sunbed for 9am. When it was really hot, you could see the clouds coming behind you when there would be a shower for a few minutes then it would brighten up. The evening cooled down and you definitely need a jacket or shawl as a lot of the restaurants are al fresco. The garden at this hotel is stunning and well-tended. There are about 6 pools dotted around them as well as the main pool. The pool at block 3 was heated. There were lots of birds around making their nests which was like something in a nature programme. There were a couple of cute dogs who would adopt you and walk with you which was quite sweet they didn't look stray but loved the attention. Evenings were low key with live music and dance shows, but most people went to bed early so if you want to party it isn't that sort of hotel. The quality of singers was very good, and they also sang in the restaurants while you ate. Despite being a larger hotel, it doesn't feel like this, only in the evenings when you see the full restaurants and wonder where these people have been all day! We did a couple of excursions including underwater walking and also took a taxi for half a day to see the Botanical Gardens at Pamplemouse and then on to Grand Baie ( I have done a separate blog for this). This will not be my last trip to Mauritius. In the words of 'Arnie' I WILL BE BACK!
11 June 2019
It looked like it was going to be an overcast day, so we had a chat with the concierge of the hotel and arranged a half day to the Botanical Gardens and Grand Baie. This is a great way to do excursions in Mauritius and can be done at a moment’s notice. In previous visits to Mauritius to the south we had hired a car and saw all the highlights in that part of the island. We had never stayed in the North before so had decided prior to travelling that we would do this. The famous Botanical Gardens of Pamplemouse. The entrance fee is about £4 per person and then if you want a guide it is £2.50pp. It is one of the first Botanical Gardens and is 300 years old - we spent about 2 hours here though you could spend longer. It’s famous for the giant water lilies but there are 650 varieties of plants. There is also a pen with giant tortoises in too. We then went on to Grand Baie - this had lots of shops and a small market. There were bars and restaurants plus plenty of shops and it had really grown since we were last here. We bought a few souvenirs and some cashmere scarves (for the evening at the hotel). We then returned back to sunshine at the hotel - well worth doing, a very enjoyable day.
14 April 2019
We continued our journey across the Riviera Maya stopping at Secrets Akumal Beach. This is in what they call 'zone E' in the Tulum area so you are looking at a 2 hour transfer from the airport. Tulum is the famous Mayan walled sea port ruins which date back to the 6th century. It is quite unique as it is coastal and had access to sea and land. Located on top of a 45-foot cliff face it is known as the city of the dawn as it faces sunrise. It is the third most visited site in Mexico and is relatively well-preserved ruins. Not very sheltered so don't forget your hat! Plus, there is a beach below if you want to cool down. I visited this site 16 years ago outside now there are plenty of shops and restaurants outside so good for picking up a souvenir or two. Two other places to see close to this area (which are full days out) are: Xelha: the world’s largest natural aquarium is nearby which is fantastic for snorkelling. Xcaret: a nature park with more than 50 natural and cultural attractions plus you can snorkel in underground rivers. Secrets Akumal is less commercialised than the other Secret hotels and has a lot more foliage and 'jungle' feel about it with twisting pathways leading to hideaway restaurants and bars. There are 3 pools and a fabulous beach where you can snorkel with turtles. Akumal means 'place of the turtle' in Mayan so excellent for snorkelling. The seaside restaurant did the most amazing shrimp tacos for lunch (I could have ordered all the menu) and crepes with banana and strawberries for breakfast. I was living the foodies dream. The rooms were lovely with swim up rooms for the romantics with plenty of activities going on around the hotel but not disturbing anyone.
05 April 2019
The Secrets Maroma hotel has a world-famous beach which is one of the best in Caribbean and has won many awards. It is an adult’s-only resort and although it has 400 rooms, it has a feeling of space and a nice mixture of relaxation and activity. The hotel has plenty of inviting sunbeds located by the pool and white sand beach. The gardens are beautifully manicured and in the heart of the hotel there is a huge infinity pool. I joined in with some of the activities such as Connect 4, basketball and bocce ball just to break up the sunbathing. There were plenty of sunbeds and gazebos free by the pool so I grabbed myself a mojito from the swim up bar. There was wildlife in abundance at the hotel. Agouti (like squirrels), iguanas (lizards), Coatis (member of racoon family) as well as the reef being for fish and turtles. We were in a preferred room which originally was a swim up pool room but because it was a double, we had to change to a higher room with a jacuzzi on the balcony, still with a fabulous view and all the same facilities. I love the way they think of everything with hairdryers, a safe, coffee machine, iron, iPod, stocked mini bar, free Wi-Fi and of course 24-hour room service. The layout is really good as well so finding your way around the hotel is OK. Despite there being 400 rooms you don't feel you are in a large hotel. I had booked a hot stone massage at the spa. I decided to go early and use the hydrotherapy circuit. I used the steam room, jacuzzi and water jets. I then had a wonderful 80-minute massage so returned ache, pain and toxin free back to the room to get ready for dinner. I had booked in to the teppanyaki table at the Himitsu restaurant but only could get in at 10pm so we went to the show and had a few drinks before dinner. They have theme shows every night and this evening was Mexican so there was a Mariachi band and dancers to keep us entertained. The food was excellent: shrimp and beef cooked in front of me by the chef which was worth waiting for. The quality of food has surprised me during this trip, everything is high quality. We tried room service in the morning which was a banquet in itself. Staying only one night I wasn't able to sample everything at this hotel. There’s a gym, yoga, beach volleyball, sailing, windsurfing, water aerobics, kayaks and snorkelling to name a few (and so many other restaurants to try)! Plus nearby you have Xcaret and Xelha which are excellent venues for culture and snorkelling if you want to get out of the hotel - I most definitely will return.
03 April 2019
I was last in Mexico in November 2008 in the September hurricane Katrina hit, which closed down Cancun and damaged the rest of the coast. I knew Cancun would be a completely different place. This is a resort if you want to party with clubs and designer shops and a fantastic public transport system which operates a bus every 5 minutes in the hotel zone that operate 24/7 and are a cheap way of getting about. We did go to a show in Cancun called Congo Bongos which was like a small night club, packed with people on the dance floor and included a show with dancers, lasers and large screen videos which I think I might have enjoyed if I had a few more rum and cokes and was 30 years younger! The resort itself is just a narrow strip with the beach on one side and the ocean on the other. The 'lagoon side' was where the water sports operated. Our trip this time was at the busiest time of year 'spring break' in the USA so Cancun was party central. As we drove into Cancun the hotels beach side were higher and had familiar names such as Marriott, Hard Rock, Westin, Iberostar, and Crowne Plaza, before we arrived at Secrets. We stayed at Secrets the Vine which is totally different to all the other low-rise properties in the Secrets portfolio - it was 28 stories tall! My first thoughts were that it belonged on the Vegas Strip and it maybe looked a bit corporate. I was very wrong - this is a classy hotel. The hotel was a wonderful oasis of calm in the centre of the strip. The privileged rooms are on the 21-27 floor and have their own concierge who on each floor who are there to assist. Privileged rooms also have their own quiet pool/restaurant on the 12th floor and a free visit to the spa to use the hydrotherapy. I was on the 27th floor. The room was amazing, huge with the most spectacular view on the ocean and the whole of the strip. This hotel is adult only and you have the luxury of access to 6 gourmet restaurants. We had lunch in the World Cafe Buffet and the food was of a high standard with sushi on offer plus a chocolate fountain available on the desert selection. We had dinner at the steak house which was excellent. The hotel has a huge selection of wines so you can even partake in wine tasting This hotel is chic with amazing rooms, has great restaurants and is close to the action if you want to get out of the hotel and sample Cancun.
03 April 2019
Breathless surprised me - I knew it was an upmarket brand as I had visited a sister hotel in Jamaica. But I wasn’t prepared for what was to come! It is a unique hotel. The rooms were amazing I see a lot of rooms as a Travel Counsellor, but these rooms had the wow factor. Very contemporary and very techie with sensor lights and a turbo switch for the TV volume which I pressed in error which made my room into party central! The shower was a huge glass dome in the middle of the room plus I had a jacuzzi on my balcony with a wonderful view of the Xhale pool - it was stunning. This was the quiet pool and it was a beautiful haven of very cosy sunbeds and loungers - to gain access to this pool you must book Xhale club rooms. This entitles you to personalized check in, access to the Kibbeh restaurant, and a free hydrotherapy session amongst other things. The other two pool areas were very different, so I think booking the club rooms for this hotel isn’t a bad idea if you want to get away from the ‘party’ atmosphere. We visited the hotel during American Spring Break. During this time many college students from the USA descend on Mexico so it is a lot more 'lively' than normal. However, this hotel would attract a high-end clientele as it is very classy. There are 3 pool areas. The Energy pool was a bit livelier and noisier so had all the activities going on there. We had lunch at the Barefoot Grill which was quite casual dining as they had a pizza oven on the beachfront. Then there was the Xcelerate pool with podium dancers, DJ’s, loud music and more of a pool party scene. I thought I might be a bit old for this, but I have to admit it was fun and we joined in with the dancing in the pool, there is a swim up bar so cocktail in hand. DJ’s play a prominent part at this hotel as there was one also in the reception, plus in the restaurant at night. The night we stayed they even had a ‘vibe party’ after dinner into the small hours where they painted our arms and face in bright colours. I was up for it but the music was a bit too on trend for me, so I slipped away early. There are plenty of a la carte restaurants to choose from. With French, Mexican, Pan -Asian, Mediterranean and Italian plus all bases covered. The bars here have really cool names like Fizz, Foam, Purple and Wink and if you feel like a change of scenery you can visit one of the Secrets or Dreams properties and have a meal there. Breakfast was so good in ‘spoons’ their buffet restaurant which is open 24 hours– lots of choice and freshly squeezed orange juice to start the day. I don’t normally like buffet restaurants but this one was so cool, and the service was great. A buffet restaurant with 'wow effect' whatever next!
31 March 2019
This is my third visit to Cancun/Riviera Maya. The Yucatan peninsula was created as a resort for 3 main reasons: 1. The best snorkelling outside of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia 2. Historically there are a few Mayan temples in the areas 3. Great weather and beaches I was interested to see how the destination had changed since I last visited. Especially after Katrina (in 2008) devastated most of the coastline so most of Cancun had to be rebuilt. I must admit the overall quality of hotels has surprised me as this trip exceeded my expectations. This area is very popular with Americans and Canadians, with us Brits being the minority. A great destination for weddings or a tropical getaway without breaking the bank. We stayed at 5 hotels in our 7 days in Mexico so we could sample the different hotels, style and ambience. The hotels are also different in layout and design all very high quality. There was a good variety of food with plenty of ala carte restaurants unlike a lot of hotels that rely on buffet. The food was of a high standard - I would say that I haven't not had this quality of food anywhere in the Caribbean. The spas were excellent with hydrotherapy pools and places to relax and unwind. Generally, the hotels were large with around 400 rooms but there was enough space for them not to feel crowded or soulless. Every room we stayed in was spacious with everything taken care of; coffee machines, irons, flat screen TVs, hairdryers and if you like, a jacuzzi on the balcony. They have these in abundance or splash out on a swim up room. All the latest technical gadgetry (especially in Breathless) or swimming with turtles (Akumal) there was something for everyone. We stayed at Dreams Riviera, Breathless, Secrets the Vine, Secrets Maroma, Secrets Akumal – individual blogs to follow on each property!
31 March 2019
After a 10-hour flight from Gatwick immigration was pretty smooth we were met by our guide Dario and whisked off to Dreams Riviera is in Puerto Morelos which is between the main resort of Cancun and Puerto Del Carmen. I have no sense of direction and after a 10-hour flight I was amazed how easy it was to find my room. Especially as this is a larger hotel than I would normally stay with 400+ rooms I am more of a 'boutique' kind of girl. The hotel was 90% occupied so I was expecting crowds, noise and mayhem but it was relatively calm. The room exceeded my expectations it was spacious despite two large queen beds which would normally drown a room. Through the curtains I could see the ocean and on my large balcony a hot tub. It doesn't get much better than that! They pretty much think of everything, there is a stocked bar, expresso machine, all the toiletries, hairdryer and even a steamer for your clothes. Massive bathroom with his and hers sinks plus a wonderful shower and bathtub. Free Wi-Fi so you can download the hotel app to check out what's going on, so you don't miss out. When I last came to Mexico only 10 years before, the food was very average with either a buffet or beach restaurant with plastic plates and no dress codes. My expectations were not too high. You can imagine my surprise of the quality with the restaurants on this trip! The restaurants at Dreams are fab. No 'canteen' style buffet, far more stylish than this with a choice of a la carte restaurants that would keep the fussiest eater happy. Plus, casual dining with a grill (for burgers), pizza ovens and healthy options. Plus, there is the market cafe if you prefer buffet. This is a huge step up from where I stayed before. This hotel keeps everyone happy so is for families, couples, singles and groups of friends with sports facilities, spas and children’s clubs. It has a great swim up pool bar which is heated located parallel to the white soft sandy beach great for a late afternoon cocktail.
04 January 2019
Anyone that knows me knows I do not do cold so a North European Cruise in December for me was quite drastic! This year from the 29th Dec -3rd January we were on Aurora sailing out of Southampton bound for Belgium and the Netherlands. We decided to stay in Southampton overnight before so checked into the very chic and trendy Novotel which was located next to West Quays shopping centre perfect for a bit of sales shopping pre-cruise. On the day of cruise, we checked out headed for the mayflower terminal which was a breeze. It did help that we had pre-booked the parking on site, so we drove right up to the terminal, got rid of luggage and were checked in with 20 minutes and walking on board the ship. There is no luggage allowance so my answer to not knowing what to pack was to take everything. The weather had been quite mild, so we were able to sit on the higher decks, enjoy some lunch and have a drink before making out way to the cabins. We were on deck 8 which was quite convenient for restaurants and bars and I had gone for an outside cabin with a port hole. Our original party of 6 had expanded to 12 so we decided to go for club dining which is second sitting at 8.30pm. Normally we would do freedom dining and eat when we want to. On set dining we sat with the same people every evening on the same table so perfect if you are with a group of friends. The food on board was really good. There were four courses in the evening with plenty of variety to suit every palette and the portions weren't huge, so you didn't waddle out of the restaurant. From the restaurant you go straight to the show where you are entertained by singers and dancers plus a couple of nights, we had a comedian. There was live music in different bars, a cinema with the latest films and even a pub with live football on. We had breakfast in the a la carte restaurant with waiter service (or the buffet as an alternative). We rarely made lunch as we were out and about in either Bruges or Amsterdam but managed afternoon tea at 4pm with sandwiches and cakes just to tide us over. Bruges was lovely with its Christmas markets and delicious chocolate waffles and wonderful beer. We had to get a train there but it’s all part of the adventure and it’s a really pretty town to stroll around. In Amsterdam we were able to berth within 10 minutes’ walk of Grand central station. We had 48-hour tram/metro tickets to help us around the city. Our first stop on New Year’s Eve was the Resistance museum which is located opposite the zoo. it was fascinating and definitely worth a visit and helps you see what happened to Amsterdam during the occupation in the second world war and how local residents dealt with it. We were in there nearly 3 hours! We wandered around the different streets and individual shops and made our way back to the ship to get ready for the New Year’s Eve party. What a night! We were entertained by a great show which was highlighting musical theatre which was to a very high standard and dinner was amazing. Then we made our way to the higher deck and put on our coats to watch the most amazing firework display put on by the city of Amsterdam and we had the best seats in the house! It went on for an hour and along the horizon there were firework displays all over Amsterdam. We then went into the masquerade disco and danced until about 3am. On New Year’s Day we went into Amsterdam exempt from hangover. We expected it to be quiet but far from it, it was full of people. We went cheese testing at an artisan cheese maker with wine included and concluded our day with a scenic cruise along the canals to see the Christmas lights art installation, before returning to the ship just in time to get ready for dinner. It was one of our party’s birthday, so I arranged a cake for him as a surprise. The captain even sent him a card! The waiters all sang happy birthday - it made his day! The last part of our cruise was a day at sea - there were plenty of activities going on. The 'boys' braved the deck to see us go through the locks from Amsterdam port to the sea. I went to see Mama Mia 2, there was a Killer Queen dance show on, pantomimes, fitness classes and a roulette tournament. It all went so fast I couldn't believe we would be landing back to Southampton in the morning. So all in all a great experience that I would highly recommend. Great for groups of friends or family wanting some special time together over the festive period without breaking the bank and no luggage allowance!
14 September 2018
I thought this year after the very hot summer in the UK, hot wasn’t my highest priority. I wanted to do something different. So, when I came across this trip it ticked all the boxes: an active holiday in a National Park in Croatia. I know in September the weather can be cooler in this part of the world, so it would be ideal to do activities rather than just lazing by the pool. We were travelling with friends who had never done this style of holiday before with their 19-year-old daughter, so it would be interesting what their take would be. Croatia is a place I have always wanted to visit. We were heading to the uncommercial part of the country in Dalmatia, near the Paklinica National Park. We flew to Zadar and headed along perfect, traffic free toll roads to Starigrad. 40 minutes later we arrived at the Alana Beachclub. It was raining and there was thunder and lightning but woke up to blue skies the following day which stayed with us for the entire week. The beaches here are pebble but the water is crystal clear (you can see fish in the water) and it is so peaceful as there is no other hotel (just campsites) and very little traffic. It is a picture-perfect setting of mountains to the back and you can see the mainland from the sea, so you feel it is more of a lake side setting. The sea was generally like a millpond in the day time with the wind picking up for the sailors in the afternoon with the most beautiful sunsets (apparently Agatha Christie’s favourite place for them). The board arrangement was full board, but for three nights we could do our own thing and eat in local restaurants, so we weren’t cooped up in the hotel. This was brilliant as we were able to sample local cuisine and atmosphere, as well as helping the local economy. Eating out was reasonable and the local house wine was really good as well. Plus, there was lots to choose from within a short walking distance. The hotel has been recently refurbished and the rooms were lovely, very fresh and the shower was great. Plus, a better hairdryer than I had at home! The hotel was kept spotlessly clean and rooms and towels cleaned daily. Our friends were really happy as their room included a separate sleeping area for their daughter, so they were not on top of each other. I really don’t know where to begin with the activities – they were brilliant, and they employ the most amazing staff. Everyone was well catered for be it a baby, toddler, teen or adult. You could dip your toe in any activity you wanted to - it was all included with the holiday and you could do as much or as little as you wanted. My friends surprised themselves trying different activities. If anything, I was the inactive one! Steve even commented 'where is my wife' as Anne constantly surprised us! I have never been to a hotel where so many people attend the classes! I found the whole concept relaxing and the informal atmosphere a refreshing change. Our day would start with tennis. We split into four groups (there must have been 70+ people playing). There were lessons in the morning and social matches in the evening. There were always plenty of coaches on hand to assist. Lunchtime water aerobics that was great fun in the 50m Olympic sized pool (I have a video of this) with Alana and Sam who had boundless energy. After lunch to cool down we attempted to stand on the water boards (I didn’t get to stand up) but the others did and then we went canoeing. We didn’t get around to water skiing, sailing, windsurfing or rock climbing as there were not enough hours in the day! Late afternoon we took a gentle cycle to the local village or tried out a fitness class - this was Anne and Amy’s forte – boxercise, Pilates, yoga and stretching to name a few. Steve and Jim enjoyed the cycling, going off into the national park where there were plenty of tracks. They also did an excursion kayaking on the Zrmanja river which included rapids and waterfalls. From the hotel we had a three-hour guided walk into the national park where Titos underground bunker is hidden. We climbed to the top of a track to get wonderful views. The hotel had a spa, so I was able to have a full body massage and there was also use of the Thalassa pool, saunas, steam room and Jacuzzis. In the evening the entertainment was low key with quizzes, live music, and acoustics by the multi-talented Matt. So how do we feel – we actually feel fantastic! My friends had a ball and are still buzzing from the whole experience. We have all had a tough year and this holiday was just what we needed. We have a great suntan, we are not burnt, we have so much energy and some amazing memories. I think this holiday was amazing for groups of friends like us as we can all do our own thing and then meet up later and have plenty to talk about.
05 June 2018
We have had the opportunity to visit Florence before but the '10 hour' day trip put us off so we spent the day in a Livorno instead which in all honesty isn't a pretty town. So this time we decided that it was worth our while. The ship had to relocate to La Spezia which is a military port due to a change in the weather so maybe just as well! This added an extra hour onto our travelling time but in all honesty the coach journey to Florence is quite scenic. It is very lush and green, and you can see why people love Tuscany. My interest in Florence started after having watched the film 'Tea with Mussolini', the most famous film made here is 'Room with a view'. As we were visiting Florence on a Sunday which should have been a 'quiet day' I was looking forward to wandering around the backstreets and enjoying the ambience. However, it was the '10km DJ race ' so we shared Florence with 12,000 people in Lycra! This made wandering the city a little tricky as some of the roads were closed off for the runners and it was a bit chaotic. Florence has 7 million visitors a year so is always busy. If you want to do the museums of Florence I would advise taking a 3-day break as you can’t do it in a day unless you like queuing. We had a short guided tour around the main sites and then free time to have a look around ourselves. The city is mostly pedestrianised and isn't large with the Duomo, the main cathedral, a good point of reference if you get lost. The history of Florence is a lot to do with the Renaissance movement so the whole city feels like a work of art with fountains, sculptures and statues everywhere. There are 70 museums and I didn't go in one! On the other side of the Arno you find lots of lovely gardens. The Ponte Vecchio bridge which crosses the river doesn't feel like a bridge at all as it is adorned with jewellery shops and just feels like another street. As well as art Florence is famous for its leather shops and ice cream. My hubbie purchased a lovely soft leather jacket (and not that expensive) plus we had an ice cream from the gelateria which lived up to its billing. I think I need to go back to Florence and see it properly a day isn't enough but it gave me a taster of how beautiful it is.
05 June 2018
From a cruise ship this is quite a long excursion as the port is a good 90 minutes’ drive away from the city itself. You can travel independently but I like the security of going with the cruise company as if you don't get back in time the cruise company are responsible for you getting back on the ship! I had travelled through Rome before to make a connection to a ship but hadn't visited the city before. The impression I had in my head was nothing like the reality and it exceeded my expectations. I loved Rome - it was a pleasant surprise. I thought it would be busy with traffic, polluted and difficult to navigate. Not so - the Colosseum is a bit crazy with lots of ticket touts pestering you but once you get away into the backstreets it is magical. Lovely old buildings, piazzas with restaurants, lovely shops and Roman ruins around every corner. I loved the whole atmosphere and the fact it is walkable from the Colosseum to the Vatican is really impressive. We did the excursion from the cruise ship where we had a guide who took us in and then we had three hours to do our own thing. Our tour started at the Colosseum which was a bit crazy with lots of people queuing and jostling but enough time to take a few snaps. We headed along the Via Dei Fort imperial which had lots of archaeological sites to browse, and beautiful palaces. At the Piazza Venezia we left our guide and headed to the Trevi fountain which didn't disappoint and then onto the Spanish Steps. The shops were small and individual with very few chain stores and as we meandered through the streets we found ourselves at Paizza Di Spagna for lunch. We then headed over the Tiber to the Vatican to meet up with our group. I think May was a great time to do this. The day started a bit chilly but then the temperatures started to rise and were pleasantly in the 70's which made it manageable to walk around and take it the sites. I will definitely go back to Rome on a city break to spend more time shopping and also checking out the sites as I am sure we only scratched the surface.
05 June 2018
This was a late deal. I wasn't planning to do a cruise, but this was such a bargain especially as the flights were from Birmingham I could hardly refuse. The itinerary included Rome and Florence, two places I had never been. The dates weren't ideal as it was the start of the summer season, so the weather could be mixed but perfect for sightseeing. A real feature was when we checked in our luggage we never saw it again until it turned up at our cabin. Our ship 'Oceana' is 18 years old and in her day a glamorous ship. Today she has still retained her looks but a little tired here and there. She is loved by the passengers on board who have sailed with her many times. The atmosphere is welcoming, and it doesn't take long to find your way around. We opted for an inside cabin on deck 5 which was perfectly fine. The cabin is small, but it has everything you need plenty of cupboard space, a large bed, basic hairdryer, small TV, tea and coffee making facilities and a shower. The shower was a little tired, but the towels were fluffy and White Company provide the toiletries. The location on deck 5 was good as we were close to restaurants and entertainment venues. The ship is a lot smaller than the ones we have been on, so it was actually nice not to walk miles to the cabin. We felt quite young as the people on board for our sailing were a lot older and the entertainment seemed geared to the older guest. There were a lot of singles and mothers with daughters on board. The food in the restaurants was nice and geared to the UK palate with four courses - plus a few different formal nights where guests did dress up. The Beach House was lovely and did the most amazing seafood kebab. The breakfast buffet reminded me more of a Premier Inn style with less choice than you get on other cruise ships I have been on (so no smoked salmon). We kept fit doing the stairs and played tennis on the sports court. We didn't make the gym but walked for miles on the excursions and I actually feel slimmer than when I left the UK. You can buy a pre-pay for an internet package on board which was reasonable though it stops on the final evening. If you a workaholic like me, you can check your emails by the pool. Some cruise lines charge a fortune for this, so this was good value for money.
05 June 2018
I did a Caribbean cruise last year but not with Celebrity. Sadly, most of the itinerary was changed due to the hurricane that hit in September. We were no longer visiting Puerto Rico, St Martaan or Dominica. Instead we were spending more time at sea and visiting a private island in the Bahamas plus Martinique. The itinerary was to visit Bahamas, Antigua, Grenada, St Lucia, Martinique and St Kitts. We stayed overnight in Fort Lauderdale and transferred to the ship in the morning. There was very little queuing at the check in before we were on the ship with our glass of champagne. We have been on this ship before, so the layout was familiar, and we immediately made our way to deck 14 to the grill. I am not a burger sort of girl, but the cheeseburgers are to die for! Whilst waiting for our cabin to be ready we laid on the padded sunbeds with a G&T to start as we meant to go on. They had just put the Christmas decorations up on the ship which were really tasteful. The atmosphere on the ship is very different to the European cruise experience on Celebrity. The average age of customers is a lot older and more casual. Many of the American passengers are from Florida and don't tend to leave the ship to do excursions. The bars were a lot busier, especially the sunset bar. Though for the first time we were able to get a bed in the adult only solarium area on a regular basis. We had on board credit which we put towards the speciality restaurants. These restaurants are a lot smaller and a bit more intimate. The food is fantastic and there is Italian, French, Japanese and the Grill. My favourite was Murano where they flambé food at the table and the lobster was amazing. At the Lawn Club Grill the steak melted in your mouth but the portions are so big you need to have a huge appetite to manage it. The starter of a flat bread was a meal in itself. The entertainment was great on board with silent discos and theme nights. Plus, some great shows, singers and comedians. The staff on board were lovely. The cruise steward we had, Wilson, was the best steward we have ever had. We had an obstructed balcony cabin on deck six which was perfectly fine. The lifeboats didn't spoil our view at all, plus we were close to the restaurants and bars on deck five and four. We did a couple of excursions in St Lucia. We went horse riding in the countryside close to Cotton Bay on the Atlantic side and even went into the water with the horses. In Martinique we went snorkelling. In St Kitts we went shopping for t-shirts, duty free and jewellery (it is very good here) and then went on the scenic railway - a 30-mile, three hour tour around the island which was great fun. In the Bahamas the hotel crew set up a bar and barbecue on the beach which was exclusively used by the ship which was a real chill out. Sting rays hovered in the shallow water and iguanas slept in the trees. We had a fabulous time and it was nice to feel young. To be honest those oldies know how to party!
25 January 2018
I was taking a cruise out of Fort Lauderdale and needed to book accommodation either side of the cruise to fit in with the flights. I decided that on the way out I would choose a hotel with free transfers and save a bit of money as the hotel would be a base. Then on the way back I would go for something in a better location. Fort Lauderdale airport was a breeze! I was so happy I chose this airport. We were the only international flight in so there were no queues and we went straight to the security area. From aircraft to bus in 1 hour 30 minutes - outstanding! To get the free shuttle bus we made a quick call to the hotel and then within 20 minutes the bus was there. Pre-Cruise We were staying at the Quality Inn and Suites airport which provided shuttles to and from the airport but also to the cruise ships. It is located near to the airport. The hotel exterior was quite basic, but the rooms were nice and large. We immediately got a shuttle to the Sawgrass Shopping mall which cost us about $20pp. This is one of the largest malls in the USA and it was the day after Black Friday. It sits between Fort Lauderdale and Miami and is a huge tourist attraction - a bit manic still but plenty of bargains to be had. The intent was to do our Christmas shopping but also to buy a leather jacket (a belated birthday present). You need a plan at this mall as it is huge, but all shops are represented. I got my jacket and a few Christmas presents but it was hard going! Post Cruise We stayed at the Fort Lauderdale Hilton Marina. Fort Lauderdale is a lovely place and the weather was in the 70s so very pleasant when we got off the ship. This was a much nicer location on one of the many waterways that links Fort Lauderdale. We spent the day on the boat taxi. You buy a ticket for the day and it is really nice as you get a guided tour of the waterways with the guide pointing out the multimillion dollar properties and who owned them. This killed a few hours whilst we waited for our room to be ready. Our room had a lovely view over the waterways from the balcony. The beach area is nice with bars and shops across the road. We ate in Café Ibiza with great food and friendly staff and the entertainment was superb. We had a classical flamenco guitarist from Argentina who was also a bit of a comedy act. I would most definitely go back to Fort Lauderdale for a holiday. The people were nice and it had a nice vibe.
21 August 2017
We were going to get use of our express passes - and go on all the fun rides in Universal we so far hadn't tried. I was with the brave Gang of 5 who went off to do the exhilarating rides. So we decided that we wanted to do the Mummy, Transformers, Spiderman, Popeye Water Ride ( that's the photo where we look a bit wet), the Hollywood Ride (that's the big one), the HULK (again not for the faint hearted), Jurassic Park, Despicable Me, and Kong. You get the picture they are all great rides and takes me back to my days doing 'Back to the Future' 25 years ago. The technology on these rides is amazing and the queues can get long with the express pass you are still waiting for 15 minutes which is hard work when it is so hot, I would say triple it if you are on normal passes. On a normal holiday I wouldn't do so many rides on the same day I would pace it out and enjoy the ambience as there is so much going on. The rides still go on later so if you are staying on site wait until later when it is cooler and sample the rides as by then the crowds will have gone. The water rides do not operate when it rains and the pools close to which is a bit of an odd one so good to check the weather forecast. In the evenings we enjoyed different restaurants and venues on the City walk which is just outside the park. Pat O'Briens with its dueling pianos, took a few casualties the following day with its potent hurricane cocktails. We ate at a few interesting locations Toothsom chocolate factory. A replica restaurant to the one in Jaws, replica of Mo's Bar from The Simpsons for lunch. My favourite night spot was Rising Star the karaoke bar which made me feel I was on X-Factor, as I had a live band and backing singers and no voice by the end of the evening It was a crazy few days fitting everything in including shopping at the mall before we got on the plane. The malls are excellent by the way so leave some room in your suitcase. Orlando still has its magic, we were in a bit of a bubble staying just at Universal but there was enough to see and do. It has changed so much since I visited 25 years ago and I can't wait to go back again!
24 August 2017
Today was spent looking around all of the hotels in Universal. The main benefit of staying on site is that you can get into the park at 8am an hour earlier than non residents. People staying at Royal Pacific, Hard Rock Hotel or Portofino get upgraded to the express pass. This is worth $99 per person per day so if you do the maths (and don't like queuing) then it has real benefits. We were based at Sapphire Falls which is Caribbean inspired and is the newest of all the onsite hotels. The pool is really impressive - 16000sqft and it also stays opens late at night, something I found this fascinating to still see people in the pool so late. The only time the pool closes is when it rains. The standard rooms are the normal 2 double beds. I need to mention the breakfasts as well as they were excellent - and dare I say healthy - at the Amatista Cook House. There is a boat to take you to the parks apart from Volcano Bay which you can access through Cabana Bay or a boat to the parks, or alternatively you can walk. The hotel next door is Cabana Bay which is retro 1950's/1960's themed. It's a lot bigger than Sapphire Falls, adjoined to Volcano Bay Park. They have a bowling alley, lazy river, gym, and two pools including one with a waterslide, and even its own beach. The Volcano Bay view rooms are impressive and also the suites for larger families. There is a lot going on here with food courts and waterslides - impressed us as the price is quite low to stay here compared to the other onsite hotels. Royal Pacific is south seas themed and is one of the more reasonable hotels if you want the express passes. This is another hotel you can get to Universal by boat transfer and has more of a south seas feel. This has a spa, plus a lagoon style pool with beach and also a supervised kids camp so if parents want to go out on their own it's $15 per hour. This to me had a beach resort feel to it and was a bit more laid back Portofino Bay could be in Vegas - it is very impressive they have basically copied Portofino so the resort looks like the village and is really tastefully done. The foyer is really impressive with art works and antiques dotted about. It is really peaceful and classy with cobblestone streets and outdoor cafes. There are 3 pools to choose from - including one adult only. There are even a couple of vespas parked in front of the foyer to give it that Italian feel. Hard Rock Hotel is the smallest of all the onsite hotels, and the vibe at this hotel is great with live music around the pool. Rock memorabilia is dotted around the foyer, and there is even an underwater stereo sound system. There are jacuzzis, and a 260ft waterslide. It is lively but laid back with some good eateries and the closest hotel to the parks.
25 August 2017
One of the main reasons we were in Orlando was to sample Volcano Bay the new theme park which opened at the end of May 2017. We were the first travel agent group from the UK to sample it. It is replacing Wet & Wild, which closed a few months before, as the go to waterpark in Orlando. We had a bit of a wild night at Pat O'Briens the night before. Which was on the city walk with its duelling pianos and potent hurricane cocktails. So a water park would be quite sobering! We were told to be prepared to get wet so dressed appropriately. We started or day having breakfast in Sapphire Falls which was excellent (not cheap about $20) but a wide selection and high quality though if you are going to go on 'exhilarating rides' you need to be careful what you eat. The water park is joined on to Cabana Bay Hotel so just a short walk from Sapphire Falls. We did take a bus from reception but didn't really need it. It is a bit more technical here as they have a Tapu Tapu wristband which allows you to be cashless in the park and also eliminates you standing in long queues for the more popular rides by giving you a time to return to the virtual queue. You need to be registered on the Universal Orlando resort app (on your phone) and you need to register your credit card details. When you scan the barcode on the tickets this will link everything together. So it will open your locker, pay for drinks etc I must admit I am not a water baby (more of a land girl) and so to do the different slides takes me right out of my comfort zone. I wore a swimsuit and then put everything else in my locker including camera so not many photos I am afraid. There are different areas so you don't need to be 'brave' and try some of the more exhilarating rides, such as the 'Kopiko Wai Winding river where you can relax around the tropical landscape of the park and if that is too exhausting then there are pool areas with sunbeds to relax and sunbathe, and makeshift beach with waterfalls. There are also areas for small children to play in too. The names of the rides are not easy to remember I do remember doing a kamikaze ride where I went head first on a raft down a cresta run of tubing (I closed my eyes the whole time), Honu of the Honu Ika Moana hanging on tight on a raft like a sea turtle and the Kratatau Aqua coaster, a four person canoe slide and the Maku Puihi Round River Rafts. So plenty of exhilaration! I didn't get chance to do all of them you do need to be fit as there are a lot of steps to the top but remember once you are up there only one way to come down!
24 August 2017
One of the main reasons we were in Orlando was to sample Volcano Bay, the new theme park which opened at the end of May 2017. We were the first travel agent group from the UK to sample it. It is replacing Wet & Wild, which closed a few months before, as the go to waterpark in Orlando. We had a bit of a wild night at Pat O'Briens the night before. Which was on the city walk with its duelling pianos and potent hurricane cocktails. So a water park would be quite sobering! We were told to be prepared to get wet so dressed appropriately. We started our day having breakfast in Sapphire Falls which was excellent (not cheap about $20) but a wide selection and high quality though if you are going to go on 'exhilarating rides' you need to be careful what you eat. The water park is joined on to Cabana Bay Hotel so just a short walk from Sapphire Falls. We did take a bus from reception but didn't really need it. It is a bit more technical here as they have a Tapu Tapu wristband which allows you to be cashless in the park and also eliminates you standing in long queues for the more popular rides by giving you a time to return to the virtual queue. You need to be registered on the Universal Orlando resort app (on your phone) and you need to register your credit card details. When you scan the barcode on the tickets this will link everything together. So it will open your locker, pay for drinks etc I must admit I am not a water baby (more of a land girl) and so to do the different slides takes me right out of my comfort zone. I wore a swimsuit and then put everything else in my locker including camera so not many photos I am afraid. There are different areas so you don't need to be 'brave' and try some of the more exhilarating rides, such as the 'Kopiko Wai Winding river where you can relax around the tropical landscape of the park and if that is too exhausting then there are pool areas with sunbeds to relax and sunbathe, and makeshift beach with waterfalls. There are also areas for small children to play in too. The names of the rides are not easy to remember I do remember doing a kamikaze ride where I went head first on a raft down a cresta run of tubing (I closed my eyes the whole time), Honu of the Honu Ika Moana hanging on tight on a raft like a sea turtle and the Kratatau Aqua coaster, a four person canoe slide and the Maku Puihi Round River Rafts. So plenty of exhilaration! I didn't get chance to do all of them you do need to be fit as there are a lot of steps to the top but remember once you are up there only one way to come down!
24 August 2017
The last time I went to Universal Studios was in the early 90s; it was very new and the star attraction was 'The Back to the Future' ride. This was going to be a trip with a difference - five days spent at Universal Studios in Florida cramming in as much as possible into our time there with 22 fellow Travel Counsellors. The first thing that strikes you at Sapphire Falls when you arrive is although it is late everyone is in the pool they don't close here (unless it rains) but we have no time for relaxing we are on a strict timetable and we are at breakfast at 7am. The breakfast is fab with a huge selection of fruits, pastries, pancakes etc. But when you are going on 'rides' not a good idea to eat too much. To get to the park we take a boat and because we are staying onsite we are allowed in an hour earlier at 8am. We are doing the VIP tour of Harry Potter which is huge in Universal. VIP means we don't queue. I am not a big Harry Potter fan so a lot of what was happening went over my head ( so to speak) but still very impressive how they have recreated the world of Harry Potter. We started our journey at Diagon Alley located in Universal Studios. There are streets with shops selling wands, butter beer, dragons breathing fire and a ride that takes you under Gringotts bank which is a motion simulated ride with the addition of 3D - it is really good and it prepares you for the day ahead. Afterwards we took the Hogwarts express to Hogsmeade where you do walk through a wall onto Platform 9 3/4 onto the steam train, are taken to your compartment, drive through the English countryside and appear in Universal Islands of Adventure. This is where there are some very hard core theme park rides. The simulation ride of Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is where you soar above the castle and the effects are brilliant. We then went on the Dragon Challenge - this is for the thrill seekers as it is two roller coasters that twist and loop at high speed - not for the faint hearted (but I did it back to back). We then did the Incredible Hulk immediately after (this is 67mph) with zero gravity rolls and I sat at the front - was I mad? I must admit after doing these three rides I felt a little bit queasy. After this it was chill out time before heading out to Pat O'Briens dueling pianos on the Universal City walk and the 'famous' hurricane cocktails. Luckily I only had one of these potent drinks - those who had more had difficulty walking home that night.
19 September 2017
This trip to Jamaica was a conference for all the Gold travel Counsellors plus I could take my husband. It is not my first time at the Half Moon hotel in Montego Bay; I actually stayed there for my special birthday in 2012 in one of the suites which was closer to the facilities. The hotel is vast, so vast you need golf buggies to get about. In the villas we stayed in we were allocated 2 gold buggies per villa. The hotel has its own Equestrian centre and has two miles of beachfront and a 18 hole par 72 championship golf course. The villas where we stayed were far from reception we had our own butler, maid and cleaner. It was a 7 bedroom villa with its own pool. We shared with fellow TCs and luckily we all got along! The trip was only for 5 nights and we had a lot to fit in this time. Breakfast was served in the villa with the butler putting everything out for us; pastries, breads, cereals and taking our egg order. With plenty of coffee to wash it down. If we needed drinks or lunch we could pay the butler to go shopping for ingredients and he would make up lunch for us I did treat myself to a spa treatment the spa was closed due to renovations but they managed to do this in one of the cottage rooms, and played a bit of tennis. We attended lots of cocktail parties at Sandals Montego Bay on the beach ( gosh the runway is close great for plane spotters), a white & gold party at Secrets Montego bay (amazing food) and the beautiful Round Hill Villas (wow factor). We even managed to have a go on the Cool Runnings toboggan at Mystic Mountain in Ocho Rios. The ride takes you through rain forrest and you control the speed .There is a zipline here to at Mystic Mountain plus a sky explorer chairlift which takes you above the treetops. We stopped at Scotchie's on the way back for some traditional Jamaican food which was delicious.
11 April 2017
We were lucky that we hadn't flown the week before as there had been heavy snow and a week later it was still evident as we made our way from JFK airport! It's not a pretty journey to the city and the traffic gives you an indication of what is ahead... New York is bigger than you anticipate! We were heading to mid town Manhattan, which is where I feel the majority of tourists stay. I have to say that I wasn't 'brave' enough to stay in a hip neighbourhood so we decided on the Barclay Intercontinental located down a side street on 48th street. We were close to Grand Central station & Park Avenue. A big tip is to wear comfy shoes as there is a lot of pounding to be done on these mean streets. We had our New York City pass and we were going to use it! Even though we were pretty central a lot of walking was done and we put in some mileage. Our first stop was the Rockefeller Centre for the view of New York. New York has a lot of skyscrapers and art deco style buildings the Chrysler Building is impressive. Grand Central Station is a lovely building with the famous 'stairway shootout' from various films. We went to see a musical on Broadway -'Get on your feet' the story of Gloria Estefan which was excellent. This wasn't included in the pass, we pre-booked the show in the UK. If you are prepared to queue there are places in Times Square to purchase discounted show tickets. Our evening finished with hot dogs from a stand - $3 each, a bargain compared to some of the pricey restaurants around Times Square. Day 2 What I did notice, people never seem to stop in New York - everything is on the go! Breakfast was at a local deli which was cheap and cheerful. We visited Central Park and the Museum of Natural History. Central Park is quite vast and we passed the Dakota building the place that is famous for where John Lennon lived. There were a few vendors selling John Lennon pictures & a few buskers singing. The museum is very impressive with a fantastic dinosaur display! On day 3 we went to theNational September 11 Memorial & Museum and took the subway. The memorial was very sobering. I think most of us were affected by the event and can remember that day really well . The accounts and vehicles, items salvaged gives it an eerie quality, it is also big enough to absorb visitors so it doesn't feel busy or crowded. From there, we took the subway back to Grand Central Station then walked down to the pier (this is a very long walk) to pick up the circle cruise around the Statue of Liberty. This cruise takes about 2 hours and would be lovely on a sunny day but not on a freezing cold day in March! It was included with our city pass. We went up the Empire State Building at night time but unfortunately didn't see much as the mist had descended, which was a shame as it would have been nice to see the skyline. On our last day we experienced the rain of New York and it lashed down, flooding the pavements! We had a look around the shops, Macy's the largest department shop in the world and Bloomingdales with all its designer shops before departing for the airport. JFK was a little bit like a small regional airport in that it didn't have much in the way of shops and facilities just the bare minimum so maybe a good tip is to not rely too much on the airport on the return for gifts, get them in the shops during your stay. Gte in touch if you'd like to find out more about visting New York City!
11 January 2017
St Maarten was the last port of call on our Christmas cruise on Britannia I didn't know quite what to expect when we landed at St Maarten. I had in my mind a small, pretty, sleepy place with lovely white beaches and aqua blue water . Which it indeed was! There were also lots of cruise ships in port as well when we arrived - and it seemed a staggering amount of people had arrived but the island seemed to cope! There were two ways into St Maarten, to walk which takes 30 minutes as you walk from the ship, which is hard going in the heat, or to take the boat taxi for $7 - a bargain and much more civilised way to travel! There were various excursions on this stop, one was to do plane spotting as the island has an infamous airport where you can get up close and personal as the planes take off and land. There was snorkelling, schooner trips and catamarans but we didn't do those, no... ...My husband talked me into doing something different at this stop which was out of my comfort zone. An Americas Cup race. So, we were to crew an original Americas Cup Yacht. We were on Canada 2 and my job was Bartender (a non-activity!) whilst Jim was some sort of grinder. We all had our roles and some of us had life jackets, one of which was me. The skill was to avoid touching or sitting on the movable wiring cords/rope around the boat and to basically hang on. It was great fun and although we didn't win we had a great multi-national team of Brits, Canadians and Americans pulling together. Plus, they were all well catered for having the most hard-working bar person on sea, me! After we left the boat we went on a boat taxi to the main part of St Maarten. It felt like we were in the Cote d'azur dazzling blue seas and a postcard pretty beach. The waterfront had lots of shops, both local and international. It is a duty-free haven with upmarket jewelry shops and watch shops in the road, parallel to the waterfront. The prices on the island were very reasonable in the shops and bars. We wandered around the shops buying some duty free and having a drink in a local bar watching the world go by. It was a lovely end to the cruise!
05 January 2017
We sailed into Dominica on boxing day What a gem of an island! Whenever I mentioned Dominica, everyone assumed Dominican Republic. But this island is completely different to its namesake! It has a small population, and has so much to see. We could have easily done 5 excursions on this island, deciding to do the 4x4 army truck island tour half-day, which gave us a real feel to the island. We also visited the Botanical Gardens and hot springs, as well as swimming in the mineral pool that was used in the Pirates of the Caribbean movie, which leads to a waterfall. Dominica is really beautiful with hot sulphur pools and very lush because of the volcanic soils.
05 January 2017
We arranged a day pass at Rendevous in St Lucia on Christmas Eve. I have been to St Lucia 3 times before staying at Eastwinds, Sandals, and the Body hotel. To get to the hotel we walked from the port as the minibusses surrounding the cruise ship seemed only interested in full day tours rather than a short which took about 30 minutes. It is the first hotel you come to once you leave Castries. Rendevous is a couples only hotel immediately you notice that the hotel has wonderful personal service and a lovely ambiance. They made us feel welcome the moment we arrived at the hotel. The room we were given was a junior suite pool view. Which has a wonderful terrace with amazing views of the pool and beach. With beautiful balcony furniture. The rooms were large and light. There was beach cricket being played on the beach and water aerobics at another pool (without music) Hidden away in the gardens you can find sunbeds with thick mattresses located by a lazy river in total seclusion. No wonder they call this the romantic holiday! We had a lovely meal in the Malabar beach Club and a romantic walk on the beach. All the restaurants have a beach view and there are plenty of activities such as tennis, yoga pilates, beach volleyball, and water sports available. We both decided that we will most definitely be coming back as we enjoyed the atmosphere, service, and food. So glad we made the decision to do the day pass and sample the hotel.
05 January 2017
So our Caribbean Cruise begins. The first 3 stops are islands I have never visited before. They were quite and not commercialized.What surprised me was that despite this they were geared up for the cruise ships with expensive designer and jewelry shops. Aruba, Curacao, and Bonaire. These form part of the Dutch Caribbean so not so easy for us Brits to get to as it is normally via Amsterdam. The excursions on the island didn't really tempt us its mostly diving and snorkeling trips so we opted for walking off the boat and into town. Curacao won the award for the most Festive island as they had some interesting Christmas decorations, Huge Santas in a circle, Reindeers on a roundabout you get the gist! The town of Willemstad is very dutch you could be in Amsterdam but with pastel colored buildings. It has a pontoon bridge which stretches along the bay. Which is quite impressive when the boats come in as it swings open. There is also a free ferry service as well to get you on the other side. Overall I found it quite a sweet destination though more expensive for drinks than on board the ship! Bonaire was a very small place with crystal clear water great for diving and snorkeling with a couple of shopping streets near the waterfront. It had a discerning feel to it. Aruba was a bit of a surprise there was a lot of designer & Jewelry shops there we did do an excursion to palm island where we were able to snorkel. However, I wouldn't recommend this excursion it was very crowded and not worth the money The food was very basic burger and chips, the waterpark here was for children only. we were able however to do some snorkeling here and got some footage. Now that I have been to the 3 islands I wish we had done snorkeling on Bonaire and maybe the shops in Aruba. A good tip is to maybe go to the presentations done by the personal shopper & gem specialist on board the ship as he knows his stuff as I am sure there are bargains on these duty-free islands but you need to know what you are looking for!
06 January 2017
This cruise had been booked in January.We never usually booked early but this deal was just too good. 2 weeks covering the Caribbean and with the bonus of flying from Birmingham. It meant flying out direct to Barbados with the entire flight all cruise passengers which meant once we checked in we never saw our luggage again until we were in our cabin. When we landed no immigration queues we were put on coaches and whisked off to our cruise ship 'Britannia' - We checked in and told our cabin was ready so no waiting around and time to explore the ship. The luggage took a bit longer but we had prepared in advance and had something to slip into just in case. The ship was in Barbados overnight and had 2 days of arrivals with the newbies recognisable by the garlands that decorated them( given at check-in). We had an inside cabin this was on D deck ( 11) 208 we hadn't picked the cabin but had gone for a saver which meant the cruise line picked our cabin in the category we had booked and also allocated what time we ate in the restaurant. So we had freedom dining which suited us as then we chose what time we ate and also the size of the table. There was traditional dining as well which is fixed dining times and you eat with the same people every day. Britannia is famous for having the cooking school so we enrolled to do an Indian cooking class whilst on board which was a laugh and after we prepared the meal we got to eat it afterwards and it was really niceThey gave us the recipe cards so we can try at home but they did measure the ingredients for us in advance. Britannia is the largest P&O ship and the design is different to other grand cruise ships going for less glam and understatement. There is always lots going on. The Horizon newsletter which is put on your bed every evening tells you a bit about the port, and what is happening on each deck every hour and on what deck. Also any special offers - the spa seemed to have one everyday so maybe worth holding out until you get on board. I had a massage & facial which was on special £92 which was very good( they use Elemis products). She did a hot stone massage which took away my aches and pains. The sunbeds on board are not padded unless you pay an extra £30 per person and go to the retreat. Which is an adult only area at the front of the ship? This is quite exclusive and only allows 70 people maximum and is available from 9 am -6 pm . There are water and coffee on tap plus you can have breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea up there too which was a nice touch and very comfy sunbeds.There are plenty of sunbeds on deck to choose from there is a Serenity area for adult only and then there is the main pool deck which was always very busy. The ship was full 3600 passengers 500 of which were children as it was Christmas there were a lot of families spanning 3 generations, special birthdays I saw a few banners on doors for 50th,60th and 70th birthdays, wedding groups and also a mystery group of 100 travelling together. A cruise caters for all though I didn't anticipate so many children though they were no bother and the kid's clubs looked after them brilliantly. Entertainment was held together by the excellent band Pulse who were worked hard in the live lounge.There were also tribute bands , comedians , singers and shows to keep us occupied. We paid extra to see Jackie Graham in the Limelight club who was excellent. We missed a couple of shows as we had pre-booked restaurants only to find they clashed as the entertainment programme is only released the day before. The casino on the ship is very small and the payouts also! There is a pub that did quiz's and karaoke if you spent enough time there, there would be a subject you specialised in. It also had football on live from the UK so the men were able to watch on boxing day Food is very geared up to the British palette and also portion size. We ate in all the restaurants this ship is different as the dining areas are lighter and give an impression of a small dining area. There are a few restaurants where you pay a cover fee The Beach House is definitely worth a visit (£10pp surcharge) and the Epicurium the food is lovely (£40pp surcharge) though it didn't give the wow factor that I have had on other ships, The Sindhu (£20pp surcharge) also was just ok. The main restaurant I found the menu didn't change much the food was good and reminded me more of home cooking rather than a restaurant. There is also an afternoon tea which was well worth it. just for the fresh cream eclairs that were delicious So Christmas - yes it was festive Christmas music on at every opportunity. Santa arrived on the funnel of the ship on Xmas eve, there were carols, pantomimes, Christmas films and shows Christmas themed, Turkey dinner on Christmas day with party hats and crackers and live music on the pool deck. The kids had a Santa's grotto as well on Christmas day. The ship was tastefully decorated with trees & decorations dotted about the ship. Our sitting was 5.30pm which meant we had to get ready early in our finery as it was a black tie night. A bonus with the ship being air conditioned is that unlike a Caribbean resort which can be quite humid the ship allowed you to wear what you want without fear of melting. So in summary, if you are looking for a great family trip at Christmas look no further as this caters for everyone.
19 October 2016
As an ex Greek holiday rep I know Greece pretty well. I speak the language and know lots about the culture and history of most of the islands. I never worked on Rhodes but have been on holiday several times as it is great at low season as it keeps the weather longer than other parts of Greece as it is further south. The first time I visited was 1982 when Falaraki was just a beach and I was a party animal. My last visit was my brother’s wedding 12 years ago when I stayed in Pefkos. This time I was in Kolombya which is about 30 minutes’ drive from Rhodes town by taxi. Normally if I go to Greece it is basic self-catering and I go out to tavernas and like to mix with the locals. This time I was on a different style of holiday. A Mark Warner 5* which was half board and more an activity style holiday. Those of you that have read my previous blogs may note that I do go on a lot of tennis based holidays and this one is no exception. I also do adult only holidays a lot. Mark Warner caters for families, mainly because it has excellent childcare so it was going to be a big change for us. At the airport I was wondering if this was such a good idea with the children running around burning off their energy on the luggage carousels before getting on our bus. However once we were at the resort they seem to mysteriously disappear. The hotel is a little out on a limb and it takes 20 minutes to walk to the nearest resort so if you are looking for typical Greece you are not going to get it. The beach in front of the hotel is mostly stones so again not the prettiest beach but perfect for the sailors (as well as tennis Mark Warner does sailing courses). It also has lots of bicycles as well so if you wanted to you could go on an escorted bike ride, or out on your own. I would like to say that I did this but 'cycling' isn't really my thing Jim did try and persuade me and get me out of my comfort zone. The hotel is actually really peaceful. The rooms are large and have lots of towels, air conditioning and even a bath and shower cubicle. Gone are the days of the shower curtain when the water went everywhere. The rooms are cleaned every day and the hotel is spotless. There are plenty of swimming pools - adults only, family, children pool, lively and even an indoor one. There is a spa, yoga, water aerobics, a gym and children’s clubs.so plenty to do. The staff are so lovely. I can’t remember staying in a hotel where the staff have been so friendly. A special mention to Mika the restaurant manager who is amazing plus Phillipou and Kiki who worked in the restaurant who were just so lovely. There was plenty of variety in the restaurant for breakfast and dinner. Before I left the UK I read on Trip Advisor someone slated the food and said they were starving (how could this be?) The cuisine was international so always plenty of selection for even the fussiest of eaters. Now on to the tennis. We signed up for the academy with the great team Jack, Rafa and George who never seemed to stop. We were put into groups of ability so that no one would hold the groups back and I thought the drills and lessons were excellent. There were social sessions and tournaments taking place at the end of the week and me and Jim managed to win the mixed doubles competition - I have the certificate to prove it! The courts are all floodlit, they provided racquets and balls and you could play early morning or late at night if you wanted. Plus you can pay for lessons locally if you didn't book the academy. One day 36 people turned up to play social. As a Grecophile I needed to go out and explore so we took the local bus to Rhodes town which takes about an hour. I love Rhodes town - the old town is so quaint with shops, restaurants and bars within the walls of the castle of the knights of St John. I had a gyros (a pitta with Port and tzatziki and salad) and a boot of beer and watched the world go by. We also took a trip to Lindos which is one of the prettiest villages in Rhodes and walked up to the acropolis at the top which had amazing views. It gets very busy there as it has an acropolis and castle up at the top with the beaches at the bottom. Our calf muscles were bulging by the end of the day. We did this by local bus as well which took about 45 minutes and about €4 each enough to do in half a day. So all in all a great holiday with great weather. This was a really active holiday where we went at our own pace as didn't have to worry about rushing back for meals at the hotel, it wasn't a late night holiday so if you like to party this hotel probably isn't for you. But if you like sports then it is perfect.
27 July 2016
We got the ferry over from Bequia to Bridgetown in St Vincent. It took about an hour and although there was a little bit of 'rolling' as you got close to St Vincent it was a calm crossing. It is a bit of a culture shock after the calmness of Bequia as St Vincent had shops, people and traffic jams. Well, it was rush hour when we arrived. We had a minibus waiting for us and were transported to a dock where we picked up the boat to Young Island. This boat runs 24 hours so we were over on the island within 30 minutes of leaving the main ferry. Young Island isn't everyone’s cup of tea - you will either love it or hate it. It is very back to nature, very steep and it is very rustic. My suite had 79 steps to get to it. It was a lovely room (room 28) with a plunge pool attached to it as well. There was a sitting area with tea and coffee making facilities, huge bed with overhead fan, a resident lizard (useful for eating any creepy crawlies), outside shower and plenty of cupboard space but no air conditioning. You have to rely on the shutters being open and the fan. You are also in a bit of a jungle which becomes apparent at night as the tree frogs, birds, trees etc come to life. So when you are alone in a large suite with no TV or music, just the sounds of nature, it is very hard to sleep at night. There are lots of lamps but no central light switch so you have to turn them off individually. As I said at the start some people will love this. I can see the benefits if my husband was with me, both sitting by the plunge pool enjoying the view over to St Vincent. The following morning we all came down to breakfast bleary eyed due to lack of sleep and air conditioning. We sampled the hotels special delicacy cinnamon bread which was delicious. We then went on a tour of St Vincent - this is a beautiful island. We did the east coast which has a very dramatic coastline of black beaches and angry seas, palm forests and rum distilleries. The strongest rum in the Caribbean is made here - Sunset 80% proof. This cannot be taken off the island as it is flammable. Pity as it might have helped us sleep. I tried it neat and it burns your insides it is so strong! We also had a hearty local meal in Bridgetown but as we had not long had breakfast we really struggled. Like all well brought up girls we ate what we could! Our second night we decided a late night was needed to help us 'sleep' but as there wasn't any entertainment - we ended up having an early night in the jungle though the nightlife of the mainland was amplified to drown out the creatures of the night which helped us sleep a bit better. As I said at the start, you will love or hate this hotel - Trip Advisor gives it great reviews. People we spoke to have been going there for years - just as long as you know what you are getting. I loved St Vincent as an island and would go back especially as they are building a new airport to make it more accessible. Next stop St Lucia.
27 July 2016
I was on a triple centre work trip to the islands of the Grenadines, a part of the Caribbean I hadn't yet explored and was so looking forward to it. When we touched down in Barbados we had to pick up an internal flight to Bequia. Customs was quite swift and we were through to our lounge before be picked up our 20 seater aircraft. It was a little tight on board and not designed for tall people as I had to stoop when I got on. One hour into our journey we stopped at Union Island and then flew over Canounan before finally landing at Bequia. We were met with a rum punch and cold towels and had 45 mins to get showered and ready for dinner. My room was divine - very art deco with a huge four poster bed, ocean front with a real 1950's feel. There were Elemis products in the bathroom, three pin plugs, and a powerful hair dryer - what else could a girl need? Dinner was a sea food extravaganza with plenty of cocktails to wash them down. The new chef Simon Goodson was trying out his new menus (Caribbean with a twist) which was finished off with passion fruit crumble. I woke in the morning to the sound of the ocean and the lapping of the waves and met my colleagues for breakfast which was a la carte before retiring to a sun lounger. The hotel has the most adorable cabanas by the pool. Again, very art deco. We then waited for our spa treatment. I had a lovely neck and back massage and then headed out to explore the island. There is not a lot to Bequia. We visited a turtle sanctuary, learnt a bit about the whaling history (it was a whaling station) and walked along Princess Margaret Beach (we weren't too far away from Mustique). There is a lovely cliff pathway that winds past the harbour, along the beach and past the local restaurants in Port Elizabeth - the capital. The roads on the island are very steep and narrow but there is very little traffic at all so it isn't really a problem. From the top of the island you can see over to the other Grenadine islands such as St Vincent and Mustique. Then it was back to the hotel for more food and this time we were going out for dinner to a local restaurant the hotel had just purchased in Port Elizabeth. Whilst the chef went through all his plans for the hotel and the theme nights and changes sounds amazing. If you like great food this is the place to come as the food is amazing. The staff are lovely and friendly and the place is so peaceful. Not for people who want loads to do - this is strictly a switch off sort of place. The island isn't densely populated and has very few hotels so there aren’t lots of tourists here. If you are looking for something a bit different it is ideal.
04 March 2016
Once we had done the tennis , horseracing , souks , malls and metro it was time to relax. We were off to the palm to the beautiful Jumeriah Jabeel saray. The hotel is indeed very beautiful there is so much detail and grandeur its hard to know where to begin. We were virtually at the end of the branch of the Palm . This was going to be our rest and recooperation for the next 3 days. We checked in and went off to the beach the sand is not soft sand but quite course and the sea was still cold. So we went to the pool. It is a beautiful pool so warm and hubbie calculates about 25 m so you are able to swim lengths . There is a lot of small children at the hotel who prefer the main pool to their perfectly lovey childrens pool area so if you are not keen on kids this is not the hotel for you. The chairs are pretty much packed around the pool so you are very much on top of each other. The staff are attentive and you get free water in a lovely bag with ice in to keep it cool so no need to purchase water. Drinks of the alcoholic nature are expensive about £12 for a spirit and £8 for a beer so unless you take advantage of happy hours the drinks bill can be large! The rooms are lovely lets start with the bathroom massive double bath , rain shower, luxury products. last time when I stayed in Dubai we had Bulgari this time Penghalian, I felt like a sultan in my dressing gown. I will let the photos tell 1000 words. There were various restaurants we could use for our first night we went to the Lebanese lovely food but I was so full The only downside for me and this is a personal think it was too quiet in the hotel . I am not a party animal but I found the hotel a little bit too quiet with nothing really going on and because we were in the middle of nowhere this meant we would need to get out and about . The hotel had a free shuttle bus which took you to the other Jumeriah hotels and the Mall of the emirates so we ventured out . We had the half board vouchers which allowed us to eat in a choice of 25 restaurants owned by Jumeriah We ate at the Jumeirah Beach hotel a world class hotel maybe a little dated but we had a lovely meal in the Italian restaurant with the Burj Al Arab in the background on the way home we stopped in to the Mina Al Salem hotel where we went on a tour of the waterways on a dhow which was lovely . We went to wild wadi water park (free for jumeirah guests) which was brilliant and I did all the rides. Then on night 3 we did the Mexican at the Mina Al salem which was a lovely finale to our trip . I loved Dubai it is a wonderful holiday destination though you need to dress a little bit smarter , you get through a lot of money , but transport is cheap the shopping is amazing , food is 1st class we ate in some amazing places and yes I will be back !
04 March 2016
The last time I was in Dubai was 10 years ago when I first joined Travel counsellors. So it would be good to see all the completed buildings that were at that time being constructed. We flew from Heathrow taking the overnight flight and arriving early morning. This way we didn't lose a days accommodation and hopefully wouldn't have to wait to long for our room to be ready. When you get off the plane there is a quite a walk to immigration /luggage reclaim so make sure you pack comfy shoes! The first thing that hits you when you arrive in Dubai is how modern it is. It reminds you of 'metropolis' with the assortment of sky scrapers and designs of buildings. It is very clean and there is a lot of traffic. But not any old traffic all the cars are new and not unusual to see Ferraris, Rolls Royces and luxury vehicles on a regular basis. Our first hotel was the Rotana Al Murooj in downtown Dubai. Classed a s a business hotel I would not dismiss this hotel as a holiday stop as the location is really good The hotel is a little oasis in downtown with good pool areas , facilities . very friendly helpful staff and a great location. On day one we explored the Dubai Mall which was walking distance from the hotel ( though you do have to cross the main roads to get there) The mall isn't just about shopping it also houses an ice rink, the aquarium and the wonderful fountains . These fountains are amazing and are far better than the ones at the Bellagio in Vegas. By the fountains there are lots of eating places and also the Burj Khalifa the tallest building in the world. ..and the Urban myth about alcohol we ate at a Mexican restaurant Fuego located in the Souk Al Bahar and were informed it was ladies night free margaritas for me ! The hotel was in between 2 metro stops Financial Centre and Burj Khalifa. This is one of the cheapest ways of travelling about though taxis were inexpensive there was a lot of traffic. We were going to watch the tennis so opted for the Metro to get there. The metro is so clean , safe and comfortable and new and is a great way of getting about in Dubai as it is air conditioned. The Dubai ATP tennis tournament draws some of the worlds best stars. We had pre purchased tickets for a nominal £15 for centre court where you can sit where you want . There are other courts where it is free to watch. But the hi-light for me was Irish Village which completely took me by surprise. This is connected to the stadium next to the Jumeirah creek hotel. It is lovely atmosphere of a green area and a lake plus lots of outside eateries and bars with a wonderful care free atmosphere. It even had a large screen so people not on centre court could watch the game with a beer lounging on a bean bag. The next day we explored Dubai Marina again by metro/tram . This was what was being constructed 10 years ago and is a really nice area to stay as you are able to go out and walk on the beach with bars and restaurants. We also went horse racing at Meydan with a meal /drink package which was a very luxurious evening with wine included ( they never stopped topping it up and it was a very good quality) We went to the gold souks and spice markets in the old town. We ate Thai at the Dusit Thani, Indian at the shang ri la Hotel at a Michelin starred restaurant all close to where we were staying In all the time we were there I found the Dubai people to be very engaging, respectful and at no time did I feel intimidated . In the evenings I found people generally smartly dressed so it wasn't really 'resort wear' but a little more 'designer'. Everywhere was spotlessly clean. Yes there are building projects going on everywhere but you tend to accept that after a while and enjoy Metropolis with some of the amazing architecture
18 January 2016
Birmingham airport wasn't as busy as we had anticipated.Though we experienced a delay checking in as the people queuing for our flight had far more than the 20 kg so there was a bit of a wait whilst excess baggage was paid. If only they had used a travel agent who would have informed them of this... We finally checked in and were through security swiftly. On arrival in Montego bay there was the usual queuing caos at immigration. We went to the Couples lounge changed into shorts and Tshirt and then we decided to pay £100 each to take the internal flight to Negril rather than the 2 hour transfer. The flight took 15 minutes and was great as the views were amazing from the light aircraft with just 4 passengers. I have stayed at this hotel 5 years ago and I loved it . This time we were in a partial sea view room which was very close to the beach. There wasn't as much privacy in this room as it faced onto the walkway from the beach so you felt that you needed to put a curtain across I much preferred the Atrium rooms we had before more for the privacy located in the gardens. Everyone was repeat customers who meet up every year it felt more like 'groups' than 'couples' and for the Christmas break the people were older 50+ .Everyone was quite fit and healthy the tennis group hit 16 at one point which is pretty good going and there were a lot of people jogging and doing yoga. There were Christmas lights on the balconies apparently people bring their own out so it looked very festive. On Christmas eve we had a wonderful champagne cocktail party with lovely canapes, Christmas carols. steel bands and a chocolate fountain with lost of petite cakes and chocolates it was really lovely. Afterwards they had a bonfire on the beach with the sunbeds in a circle around it with an acoustic guitar singer. Christmas day santa could be seen paragliding over the beach and then came to the hotel with his group of elves giving all the ladies presents. Everybody dressed elegantly over this time though the atmosphere changed around the 27th as the new intake became younger ,casual and a bit louder. We played tennis - this is a main feature of the hotel and its USP the facilities are excellent with daily individual coaching and a tennis pro from the USA taking group clinics. This is located at the sports centre which has pool, table tennis, gym,spa ,squash and a walking track. We tended to play 7.30am -8.30am as then it wasn't too hot and then later in the afternoon at 5pm where you got rid of all your impurities and excess weight! There is also great water sports but I am a 'land' person though we did take out a canoe Evenings are low key there is a piano bar and disco which we didn't bother with too much and there is a group on in the palms restaurant doing the normal reggae numbers. There was cinema on the beach which was really good, and a martini bar which is great to start the night. The restaurants were very good loved the scallop and tiger shrimp pizza , or the deconstructed chicken kebob with tzatziki and pittas at Patois restaurant for lunch. The lobster night , and the beef in 'Feathers' The portions are just small so you don't feel that you have over eaten The beach you get all sorts singing, or selling you spa treatments(much cheaper next door), beach wraps and a few 'other' things. If you not interested they go away. The weather was amazing with just 2 days when it clouded over in the afternoon . On the way home we took the bus and it took about 1hour 30 minutes to the airport. the check in quick and the duty free very quirky but good with a few gift shops ,,cafes and also the normal duty free essentials I think Christmas you get different people to any other time of year. The staff at this hotel are normally amazing but this time I would say they were good but not their usual exceptional selves I do hope this was just because it was Christmas and not the norm. If you love diving ,tennis, watersports this is a great hotel Pool scene - no as the main pools are very average, swimming -yes as the lap pool is ideal.
09 December 2015
I think people always associate Las Vegas with Elvis (he wasn't in the building), casinos, the Rat Pack and mobsters. It is so much more. We viewed 16 hotels and the originality of the art work and design really is amazing and every hotel has its own personality. The shows are incredible I have been to Vegas before and saw Jersey Boys. I loved the Beatles music tribute by Cirque de Soleil which was breath-taking. This time I saw 'Le Reve' (the dream). This show is outstanding and is based around water so there are synchronized swimmers and high divers all telling the story of the dream. It is a pretty stunning production that you will never see anywhere else. It is a true one off. We also had an award winning crooner in our hotel - Michael Monge who sings in the East Side lounge in the Encore with his band. He does a lot of Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Dean Martin numbers. Plus the cocktails in this lounge are potent so they are not mean on the alcohol! When we were in the bar we heard on the grapevine that Sylvester Stallone, Arnie, Bruno Mars and Lady Gaga were in the house but alas they didn't pass by. Bit like seeing the big five on safari on day one. In the Wynn they have an area called the lake of dreams which has a 40 foot waterfall that turns into a show created by 4000 lights and holographic projectors. It is very Avant Garde and never crowded. We watched by the edge of the terrace. The Mob museum is a must to visit but we didn't have enough time to get around it (we had a flight to catch)! When I return to Vegas I will most definitely visit it again and spend more time here. There are films, photos and exhibits through the decades, even FIFA now gets a mention! It is on the double decker route in the old town not far from Freemont Street so you can kill two birds with one stone. But I think it is a must as there is lot to see and it is really interesting. Yes I had a go on the slots in the casinos, on the 1 cent ones as I am not brave enough to do the roulette and blackjack. It’s a great way to get free drinks!
09 December 2015
So after visiting 16 hotels in Vegas we had an opportunity to have some free time. We had walked an average of seven miles a day so wanted to try an alternative form of transport. Our day started with a helicopter ride over the Hoover Dam, Lake Mead and then onto the Grand Canyon. We met up with Tony our pilot from Papillion helicopters at Boulder City airport about 25 minutes’ drive out of Vegas. We had been pre weighed and allocated seats to balance the helicopter. There were three seats at the back and front for passengers and the take-off was so smooth. We were in the air for an hour on a beautiful clear sunny morning and were able to see the wonderful rock formations and colours of the Canyon against the blue of the Colorado River. It was really stunning. We were up in the air for about an hour in total before returning back to the airport. The rest of the day we had free time to do what we wanted so we all split up, some going to the North Outlet shopping centre. We decided to go to the miracle mile shopping at Planet Hollywood which was pretty hilarious as the most difficult part was exiting the hotel. If you haven't been to Vegas before, the hotels are huge. So we crossed over to Treasure Island picking up the Tram to Mirage (which is free). From Mirage we crossed over to Harrahs and walked through to the Monorail. The monorail is a really good way to get about. They don't really promote it but it runs from SLS hotel (the old Saraha Hotel) as far as MGM Grand. We got off at Ballys and walked through to Paris. En route we were distracted and had a hydro massage in a machine that is similar to a sunbed for $10 – a bargain which promised to revitalize us (and yes it did)! We then admired the Paris casino (very picturesque), took a peak outside at the Bellagio fountains and then arrived at miracle mile and had a look around the shops and had a spot of lunch before returning back to the Wynn. We still walked about 8km! The following day we went to the fashion mall. The shopping was amazing in Macys and I got some real bargains. It was well worth a visit and I was able to finish my Christmas shopping. I think maybe you don't need to go to the outlets as this shopping area is really good. Then we got the local bus. There is an art to this! Have the right money ($8 for 24 hours) as they don't give change. It took a while to master the ticket machines which are close to the stops. There are two buses but the double decker is slower. The single decked bus is much quicker but with less stops. We were going to the Mob museum so had to get the slow bus. The mob museum I will mention on my next blog. The local buses were perfectly fine and an easy way to travel on the strip once you have your ticket. Though the traffic on the strip is pretty busy.
08 December 2015
This is a different type of report as it was a work trip and in all we visited 16 hotels and walked an average of seven miles a day! We flew business class from Heathrow with BA which was an amazing experience as it the first time I have experienced flat beds. It is also the first time I have looked forward to a flight - the staff can’t do enough for you and I can see why it is worth the price to do this if you can. From the moment we got on the plane we were pampered; given champagne and had amazing food. We had scallops (my favourites) for starters and I was in heaven. At Las Vegas the security was quick (and friendly) and then we were whisked to our hotel for the next four nights. The Wynn is a fabulous hotel and one of the most elegant in Las Vegas. My room type was the Deluxe panoramic overlooking the golf course on the 58th floor with two double beds. The room is 640 square feet and there are buttons for everything so a little bit techie with bedside touch screen. The main feature is the floor to ceiling windows which give you an amazing view over the hotels private golf course. There are Molton Brown products in the bathroom and loads of towels and the bed was so comfortable. I wish I could have spent more time in it but we had a pretty loaded itinerary! The hotel is a little bit smarter than other hotels I have been to on the strip. When we arrived we were told that Bruno Mars, Lady Gaga, Sylvester Stallone, Usher and Tony Bennett were dining at the hotel. We waited in anticipation but they didn't pass by. The hotel is full of beautiful quirky modern art worth millions and is really beautiful with a carousel and hot air balloon made of flowers greeting you as you arrive with Chanel, Dior, Prada and Cartier shops (though we never saw anyone in them). There is the fashion mall across the road which had amazing shopping – Las Vegas is a girl’s paradise for shopping! I consequently finished my Christmas shopping when I had the opportunity on my last day. We did not have the resort fee added to our room which is $29 per night per room and includes free internet plus local calls and also gym use twice a day which is paid locally. 'The buffet' at the hotel is very classy 'as buffets go' with 15 food stations. We didn't try the fine dining but did sample the Society café which had American classics like burgers and fish and chips before we headed to the 'La Reve' show. This show takes place in an aqua theatre with synchronised swimming, high diving and aqua theatre. It was a pretty amazing show and nothing like you will see again it is so unique and spectacular. If you want something more traditional Michael Monge is a lounge singer at The Wynn who performs at the Eastside lounge at the Encore. He does a lot of Sinatra songs and has a three piece band to keep you entertained with a cocktail (the Singapore slings are potent)! The location of the hotel is right in the centre of the strip next door to The Venetian and over the road from the Fashion Mall (a great place for shopping!) So my overall impression was a lovely classy hotel with beautiful artworks about and very tasteful.
19 October 2015
After my wonderful experience on Celebrity Reflection last year I decided to do a cruise once again on Celebrity Silhouette her sister ship. The itinerary this time was slightly different with a couple of crossovers but we decided this time maybe not to do as many excursions and enjoy the ship more. So we started off at Rome heading towards Salerno ( Amalfi Coast) then heading towards Sicily , Marseilles, Nice, Corsica and finally Livorno in Italy before returning to Rome . We knew the weather could be a bit iffy due to the time of year so were delighted to be greeted with hot sunny weather in Rome. As soon as we were on board I changed into my swimwear and headed straight to the master grill. I am not a fast food sort of girl however the burgers on Celebrity are to die for ! The benefit of doing a sister ship was we felt we were returning home and could find our way around quite easily and decided that this year we would try and get to more of the entertainment venues. The casino bar and the cinema was showing the Rugby world cup so the men could keep an eye on what was going on and also premiership football as well . We were on the free classic drinks package which meant we could drink cocktails and spirits to our hearts content without worrying about the bar bill . You can also have speciality coffees in the Café al Bacio on this package which is a great addition. The food on celebrity is awesome. The buffet restaurant is great so much choice . Breakfast I settled on fresh fruit and muesli for the first few days. Then I decided scrambled eggs and smoked salmon might be nice , or should I go for full English, omlettes ,pancakes or pastries. Or do I go and have ala carte where I am served and there might be some portion control. Evening was 4 courses and the good was amazing Beef Wellington, Lobster, steak Diane, scallops and snails in garlic deserve a mention. So to fend off the calories we walked a lot we did the stairs , we went to the fully equipped gym, we shot a few hoops of Basketball ,and played table tennis. We did also lie on the very comfy sunbeds wondering when the next meal time was. The buffet also did afternoon tea which we made once such a huge selection of cakes.we only made it once. Plus a brunch on day whilst we were at sea. It was beautiful with ice sculptures and a huge selection of food including a chocolate fountain on the sweet table. The Grand Curvee restaurant where we ate is very glamorous we were on select dining so we just turned up and we were allocated to our table. We mostly had a table for 2 but we did opt for a table of 6 one night and met some lovely people from Australia and USA. Entertainment was very good there was live music all around the ship plus a DJ who got everyone dancing with Themed nights utilizing the Sky deck.. The activities team worked really hard with quizzes and competitions throughout the cruise.I also played on the slot machines an addiction I picked up in Las Vegas and was quids in finishing about £200 up which paid for the spa treetments. We also ate in The Tuscan Grille one night as a belated birthday meal . Our table was by the window so we could see the full moon and the trail of the ship in the ocean what a perfect spot We also did a few tours Herculaneum, Monte Carlo and Taormina in Sicily just half days which were perfect durations as that way we were back in time for lunch and to recouperate on a sun bed. Weather was perfect until the last 2 days when a storm caught up with us but it was no big deal. The indoor solarium was perfect with its jazussi, pool & loungers is a great place to switch off and read a book So if you love good food , need to switch off and see some great places a cruise is a must!
28 October 2015
I should have gone to Monte Carlo over 30 years ago (showing my age) when I was on a Harry Shaw camping holiday in Port Grimaud in the South of France. But I never got up in time for the excursion so alas I never made it. So I decided that it was somewhere I needed to see whilst on my cruise. The ship berthed in Ville France which was a lovely French town with plenty of character, bars and restaurants. If you didn't want to go on an excursion it is a perfectly fine place to spend an afternoon. It was a pretty drive to Monte Carlo of about 45 minutes. There are a few tunnels to navigate, passing famous people’s homes en route. A half day tour is perfect. The thing that hits you in Monte Carlo is how clean it is. It is spotless. There is obviously a lot of wealth and this is shown with the flashy sports cars that pass. It feels a bit like 'Disney' as it all seems so pristine. We were able to visit the Cathedral where the fairy-tale wedding of Grace Kelly and prince Rainier took place and we also got the opportunity to have a look around the casino that opens its doors to the public for a general browse for your own casino Royale (or Dirty Rotten scoundrel) experience. The casino is a work of art very beautifully decorated. But has the same flashing light fruit machines found on board the cruise ship (and in Vegas). Monte Carlo involves a fair bit of walking. There are a lot of steps to get to places so you need comfortable shoes and to be reasonably fit. You get chance to see the grand prix circuit and our coach was able to drive on a section of it. It was a windy, cloudy day in Monte Carlo as a storm was approaching which was a shame as I am sure in the sunshine it would have come over a lot more striking. But it left an impression of a place we would like to re visit on a city break as it had a nice feel to it.
19 October 2015
Day 2 on board the Celebrity Silhouette our first stop was the port of Salerno We had done Pompeii last year so this year we did Herculaneum. This is the lesser known of the two sites located in the shadow of Mount Versuvius. It isn't as big as Pompeii however Herculaneum is preserved better as it was covered in mud so the wooden and organic based objects such as wooden roof tops , doors, food and skeletons were preserved. It was a coastal retreat where the rich people lived . Most of it hasn't been excavated as it is beneath the town that is now built there and it is also not as crowded. However you still cover a lot of mileage on this trip so comfy shoes or trainers are a must!
19 October 2015
Next stop on our cruise was Sicily to the port of Messina Taormina is a beautiful holiday resort with very pretty cafes and shops Which has ruins of a greek roman theatre is about 30 minutes drive from Messina The cruise ship does a half day excursion where they take you in to the town and then leave you to your own devices. Once all the cruise passengers arrive in the town it can get quite crowded. It would be a nice place to come back to for a couple of days break in the future
05 January 2015
The journey by road from Havana is about 2 hours to Varadero by private car. After our busy 3 days in Havana we were ready for the beach where we would be spending Christmas. The beach resort is a different world. The hotel is has a stunning lobby and is a wonderful sight when you arrive and the hotel does live up to the paradise of its name. There is plenty of space and the staff are immediately friendly and organized. Our room wasn't ready so they advised to go in for lunch and gave us cards to get our pool towels. The buffet restaurant has plenty of selection and immediately the quality of the food is a better standard than Havana. Once we have eaten we queued and book the a la carte meals for the week - essential as there are limited places in these much smaller restaurants. Then we headed to the beach, which had stunning white sands and beautiful azure water. This hotel has the most beautiful pool areas but the beach is much more appealing. Once our room was available at 4pm we got unpacked and then explored the hotel. There are lots of different nationalities at the hotel we can hear Spanish, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese and French. Not that much English! It is a family hotel and the entertainers look after the kids early evening, but to be honest, you hardly know they are there. The space of the hotel absorbs them. It is quite refreshing as the kids are building sand castles with their parents and digging tunnels. There is a good mix of ages as well of nationalities and everyone seems 'happy'. I would say the entertainment is quite cultural - violin players, saxophone, normal Cuban guitar and double base, heavy rock (one night I swear I heard ACDC!), opera, syncronised swimming show, illusionists and the cabaret! The Romantic restaurant was my favorite it had live music and a nice ambience and there was Flambe on the menu, the Mexican was ok, the Italian was good, We did the buffet once at night which was reasonable but not a patch on the a la carte. I guess it is all down to personal preferences. We had a spa treatment on Christmas Eve - the massage I had was coffee and rum which made my skin very soft and definitely relaxed me (my body was obviously intoxicated). Christmas Day it was wet - the only bad day though. The gala meal was on Christmas Eve - where we had a set meal which was lovely. The buffet put on chocolate sculptures in the restaurant. The hotel didn't go big time on decorations there was a tree close to the restaurant. Though the show in the evening was 'Disney Musicals' so was very colourful. Internet connection wasn't great it was quite slow so I didn't bother checking emails and was able to chill out. The weather was fantastic, slept really well, food good. We did a lot of walking on the beach so easily covered 4km a day so feel very toned. I didn't want to leave at all and wished we could have stayed a couple more days, loved it! I think because I was not expecting too much, it really exceeded my expectations. I hope Cuba does not change - the whole experience was so refreshing and makes the destination so unique.
05 January 2015
This for me was a different type of holiday my customers always raved about Cuba though off others I had heard mixed reviews. So it was good to see for myself. At Havana Airport it is a little slow. The visa processing takes quite a while (I calculated 5 minutes per person) there are 18 desks processing people. If you were unlucky like us to arrive with 3 other aircraft take a deep breath and go with the flow. The luggage carousel was a bit chaotic as expats were bringing in all sorts of consumable goods through. It took quite a while for us to retrieve luggage and then we went through to the coach park and within 30 minutes we were on our way. Suzy Tip: Try not to check your luggage in too early - and then it wont be one of the last of the plane! We arrived at our hotel at 8.30pm and quickly got showered and changed. We were staying at the Nacional Hotel which is in the centre of Havana. We were facing the 'Malecon' esplanade which is 5 miles long.and up to 7 lanes wides (though generally the occasional car) and it is a lot quieter at this part of Havana. The hotel is quite majestic and is one of the most famous hotels in the city as it is where the celebrities and mafia would stay when they made their trips to the island pre-Castro. The hotel is a step back in time and retains a lot of its original features including the lifts. It has a lovely garden and pool area with peacocks in the garden and even has its own bunkers and cannon at the front. There is live music in the evening on the outside terrace where you will find several other restaurants serving local Cuban and seafood. The staff are polite, the rooms large and comfortable, with the blinds not quite covering the whole window in the bathroom which brings a whole new meaning to 'big brother's watching you'. The following morning we booked on a city tour which was great value and took us to places around Havana such as Revolutionary Square and to Cathedral Square in the Old Town. This was great to help us get our bearings when we explored on our own. We did a bit of rum tasting as well. It is probably one of the safest cities around - you can wander through the streets without fear of being reproached and there are lots of surprises around each corner. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and there is currently a lot of restoration going on restoring the art deco buildings to their past glory. I felt as if I was in Disneyland with bright coloured chevvies in pinks, reds and greens passing by the wonderful art deco buildings untouched by time. We hired out a purple chevvy '1965' soft top with our driver Leon who was dressed in a Harley Davidson t-shirt, cowboy hat and shoulder length hair tied back in a pony tail. I lost count of the amount of times we were photographed by other tourists as the cars are a huge attraction. Plus the street entertainers, bands and the fortune tellers. The fortune tellers are usually quite buxom middle aged ladies sitting on sidewalks in colourful attire and big cigars in their mouths. There are museums, monuments and water features everywhere in the city and a few famous bars. We had a mojito in the 'Bodeguita del medio' and a a wonderful ice cream coffee in the Café Lamarillo, with lunch in one of the side treets on Avenue Mercaderes, We finished off at Sloppy Joes - the bar that the Hollywood set would visit when in Havana - and got the hugest gin and tonic. Before heading back to the hotel in a chevvy its the only way to do it in Havana. We even managed to see the world famous 'Buena Vista Social Club' on our last night, who played in the concert room of the hotel whilst we were there who have recently won a Grammy. A wonderful way to end our stay before we headed to the beach of Varadero.
11 October 2014
Still aboard Celebrity Reflection; just a recap. Starting in Rome we headed to Santorini where the Minoan civilization was wiped out by an eruption of a volcano. Then on to Istanbul with its fascinating history of Byzantium and Constantinople the capital of the Roman Eastern Empire where east meets west. We visited Mykonos where there is the ancient site of Delos where the gods worshipped the gods! We also went to Athens, home of the Acropolis and Parthenon, and finally Naples which is 30 minutes from Pompei. Pompei always stirs the imagination. We had a half day tour planned to takes us around the streets of the city. This is a huge site so we only did a small corner of the city with our radio tuned into the same frequency as the guide. Technology plays a big part on tours now and a guide is essential to bring the city to life as if you went on your own you wouldn't know where to start. However we didn't see many 'petrified' people, mostly buildings, but we did get lots of stories that were attached to the buildings to bring them to life. On return to Naples we walked from the ship to the archaeological museum. This isn't straight forward so my advice is get a taxi or a good map as it is not sign posted. Naples is a working town with old style, colourful, tall buildings with protruding balconies. It isn't really set up for tourists at all. There are a lot of mosaics and statues from Pompei in the museum (we picked this up from the guide who kept ending sentences that things were in the 'museum'). Again I will let the photos speak for themselves. Naples didn't do anything for me as a town. It’s a port and doesn't really embrace the tourism it receives.
02 October 2014
So onwards from Mykonos to Athens - we hadn't planned to do anything here at all. I had been several times before so had done the Acropolis and Parthenon. I did think about jumping on a flying dolphin or ferry and hopping over to the islands of Poros or Aegina but you forget the vastness of Piraeus and the ferry boats seemed too far away from where we had docked. So we got off and walked. A man with a mini train approached us to have a guided tour of Piraeus. We didn't fancy that so we carried on walking away from the ship and into Piraeus. Finally I hailed a cab I was able to use my Greek to negotiate a price to Plaka in the centre of Athens. The city still had its congested roads despite the new infrastructure and we were able to pass various stadiums on route built for the Olympics. He took us to the centre of Athens to Plaka which took about 30 minutes. Plaka is lovely, a little pocket of Athens with shops, tavernas and a view of the Acropolis without having to do all the steps. We sat in a tavern with a cold frappe watching the world go by under a plane tree you can’t get more Greek than that. This kept us cool and on a day when it was 34 degrees, Plaka was perfect. Its funny how trends change - 20 years ago it was all Greek vases painted with gold leaf and pottery now it is all t-shirts and jewellery and not a vase in sight. I bought a lovely Greek key bangle and some silver Greek key earrings as a souvenir. On the way back we did the metro this was introduced to Athens when they had the Olympics in 2004 - we found it by chance as we were looking for a taxi. It is a lot easier than London as there are only a couple of lines but a lot quicker than a taxi and no congestion taking us back into Piraeus. Considering we were going to not bother with Athens I am glad we did as we had a lovely day.
11 October 2014
I have been to Mykonos when I worked on Naxos but it has changed so much and grown. There is a new marina and much more in the way of buildings that I hardly recognized it. We berthed a fair distance from the town so had the option of free shuttle bus or boat taxi for 2 euros. We went by boat as it took us into the centre of town near the windmills. There are a myriad of streets in Mykonos so it is hard to find your way to anywhere and you tend to go around in circles. But it is very pretty with white buildings, narrow cobbled streets and green shutters. Very picture postcard. The plan was to go to the beach as it was my birthday. My Greek came in use as I was able to get directions to the bus station and we opted for Agios Ionnis beach which just happens to be the famous 'Shirley Valentine' beach and only 15 minutes from the town. There is an abundance of choice in Mykonos for beaches unlike its neighbour Santorini. The water was lovely and so clear I could see fish swimming in the water and really peaceful. There are now three tavernas on the beach but it’s still a lovely spot. We didn't stay for lunch as we had decided that we needed to curb our appetites as the food was so good on the ship.
11 October 2014
I have never been to Turkey before. I blame it on watching the film Midnight Express as a child. So on our cruise we were visiting two very historical places; Istanbul the old city of Constantinople, the Eastern capital of the Roman Empire and later in the week Ephesus close to the port of Kusadasi, which has some of the best Greco Roman ruins. As we sailed into Istanbul you realise how vast it is. They have a European side and also an Asian side. It was peaceful and dark and all we could see were the Topaki Palace minarets lit up and the Basilica of Agia Sophia. The ship docks a fair way from the sights - believe me we walked it and it was hard work. We had a guide waiting who took us to the Agia Sofia Basilica which once was the largest cathedral in the world. It has some great frescoes but the history side is quite hard going! We then went to the grand bizarre which has 22 gates! We decided not to go too far and get lost. It was quite touristy and compared to souks I had visited in North Africa it was a breeze. So far so good - rather than get the tram back to the ship we thought we would walk back to the ship. Big mistake - it took forever and the traffic was very busy so what we thought would be 20 minutes was over an hour! Kusadasi was so much nicer. Great vibe, nice people and I loved Ephesus. The people were lovely and not too pushy. I will let the photos of Ephesus speak for themselves. It is only 30 minutes from Kusadasi and we did the audio tour so we could go on our own and use an iPhone for the information. The ship was parked close to the town so tavernas and shops on our doorstep and it was fun to wander around. Changed my perception of Turkey and I would definitely now go back for a holiday in the future.
30 September 2014
I have never been to Turkey before. I blame it on watching the film Midnight Express as a child. So on our cruise we were visiting two very historical places; Istanbul the old city of Constantinople, the Eastern capital of the Roman Empire and later in the week Ephesus close to the port of Kusadasi, which has some of the best Greco Roman ruins. As we sailed into Istanbul you realise how vast it is. They have a European side and also an Asian side. It was peaceful and dark and all we could see were the Topaki Palace minarets lit up and the Basilica of Agia Sophia. The ship docks a fair way from the sights - believe me we walked it and it was hard work. We had a guide waiting who took us to the Agia Sofia Basilica which once was the largest cathedral in the world. It has some great frescoes but the history side is quite hard going! We then went to the grand bizarre which has 22 gates! We decided not to go too far and get lost. It was quite touristy and compared to souks I had visited in North Africa it was a breeze. So far so good - rather than get the tram back to the ship we thought we would walk back to the ship. Big mistake - it took forever and the traffic was very busy so what we thought would be 20 minutes was over an hour! Kusadasi was so much nicer. Great vibe, nice people and I loved Ephesus. The people were lovely and not too pushy. I will let the photos of Ephesus speak for themselves. It is only 30 minutes from Kusadasi and we did the audio tour so we could go on our own and use an iPhone for the information. The ship was parked close to the town so tavernas and shops on our doorstep and it was fun to wander around. Changed my perception of Turkey and I would definitely now go back for a holiday in the future.
11 October 2014
We had a day at sea before arriving at the beautiful island of Santorini. I have been here many times before as when I was a rep I worked on the nearby island of Naxos so I was constantly back and forth to the airport. I decided rather than go to the island and see Oia and Thira which are the major draws to the island with its beautiful Cycladic architecture. I decided I would climb the volcano instead! So we went off to the caldera and learnt about the eruption that wiped out the island and the Minoan civilization. It was interesting seeing the pumice and rock formations and the view over to Santorini. We had the opportunity to swim in the sulphur pools but I declined and stayed on the boat. We had time to go and see Thira there were two options of getting to the town; donkey or cable car. We went up in the cable car and had a wander. It had changed a lot since I was last there. More shops and a little more commercial. We managed to find a lovely taverna and had tsatsiki, calamari and a glass of rose overlooking the Caldera before making our way back to the ship. The queue was long for the cable car so we did the donkey track at our peril. It was a lot longer than we anticipated!
24 October 2018
I have just come back from my first Celebrity Cruise and it exceeded expectations. It takes a lot for me to be excited about a holiday as I have travelled to so many wonderful places. I haven't done much cruising at all, but I was excited about this holiday as it was very different to the type of holiday I normally take and we had lined up some pretty amazing days out. The bonus was we were flying out of Birmingham which was great when you consider leaving home, checking in and through security it took 50 minutes. The flight to Rome was just over two hours and coaches were waiting to take us to the ship. The check-in was quick, and we were in our cabin straight away. We went straight up to pool deck where we had a G&T and a huge comfortable sun lounger awaited. We popped into the ocean view cafe restaurant to check out the buffet for a spot of lunch where we were spoilt for choice with everything from pizza to a carvery, Indian and Chinese. Our departure was prompt from Rome; there was live music and the ship once out of port came alive. Shops opened, casino lights started to entice, live music played, and we all got familiar with our surroundings. Dining is a major part of cruising. The food is superb. Breakfast has everything; egg stations, freshly made pastries, pancakes, fresh fruit and cereals so you are spoilt for choice. You can go a la carte or buffet. By the pool there is a grill that does wonderful chunky beef burgers or hot dogs. The buffet did a huge selection of food ranging from stir fry to curries, pasta, salads, pizza and a carvery. And don't mention the sweets! You could have an a la carte meal in the Opus restaurant. For evening meals, we opted for flexible dining so we could turn up between 6.30-8.30pm at the main Opus restaurant or pre book and could choose our size of table so each day in theory we ate with different people. You could choose to be anti-social or romantic and have a table for two. There was plenty of choice on the menu and plenty of courses too - four in all so you needed an appetite to get through it all. Or if we could not be bothered to go to the restaurant then there was the buffet or one of the fine dining restaurants (for these you pay extra $45 per person on average). There were two formal nights on the cruise where we were able to dress up in our finery. There was always plenty going on aboard the ship during the day though the weather was so good it was hard to pull yourself away from your sunbed. Each evening a newsletter was put on the bed with an hour by hour account of what was going on and information about the next port we were visiting. There were things going on throughout the day such as art auctions, quizzes, and dance classes. With lots of live music in the evenings, an original touch was the night club which moved venue every night and was themed. One night it would be in the solarium and be themed around a Vegas nightclub and another in the sunset bar as a harem with belly dancer. We picked a pretty amazing cruise visiting historical venues such as Ephesus in Turkey, Agia Sofia Basilica in Istanbul, Plaka in Athens and Naples for Pompei. We also visited the beautiful islands of Santorini and Mykonos famed for their Cycladic architecture. You needed to be fit as there was a lot of walking involved but it was worth it (plus we needed to work off all that food). The cruise ship itself was very elegant with a lot of thought put in on every deck and the cabins were a good size. We slept really well and have come back feeling energized and felt we were away much longer that the 11 days we were away. I loved having a balcony and were never disturbed by noise or any turbulence. There are lovely pieces of artwork dotted all over the ship with a library on one deck, the hideaway with its quirky furniture and plenty of bars. Having the classic drinks package we could indulge ourselves with lattes, speciality coffees, freshly squeezed orange juice at breakfast and G&T’s plus Baileys for night caps and not worry about the bill at the end. People have this illusion that a cruise ship will be crowded, and you get stuck with people but to be honest there is so much space on board you are lucky if you see the same people twice.
27 March 2014
We left our beautiful Rattray's camp in all its splendour to head for our last 'surprise' night in South Africa. En route we did a site inspection at Lion Sands game reserve which was overlooking the Sabie River. They had been cut off the week before due to the extremely high rainfall. This is a beautiful resort which had five categories of lodges and we saw two types of room as the lodge was full to capacity. River lodge was the basic room which was beautifully furnished and more contemporary than Mala Mala. The Ivory lodge is like a private villa and is stunning with lots of glass and light with its own pool. Of course, afternoon tea was provided. I must add at this stage that we were starting to cut our intake of food as clothes were starting to feel a little bit on the tight size! Off we went to our secret location. What would it be? Glamping? A luxury tented camp? Not quite. It was basic camping in a two man tent. I am a girl who likes her comforts so I looked at the tent in disbelief, with shower rooms a short walk away. The camp was located in Kruger at Pretoriuskop Rest Camp. We arrived just in time for a game drive with all eight of us this time in the vehicle. In Kruger you do not go off road so we didn’t have the luxury of viewing the animals closely as in Sabi Sands. The guide wasn’t as knowledgeable and it was up to us to spot the animals. The difference was the two way traffic as people can come in with their own cars and we even saw a coach! This is the self-drive way of doing a safari so it’s not as exclusive. Spotting animals is down to luck and being in the right time at the right place. Also, at the time of year we were here the grass was very long so in May, for example, this would be gone and so it would be easier to spot animals. Plus they would be on the move searching for food so conditions would be different. March was not great for game viewing but good for birdlife. Back in the camp it was dark so Jackie and I headed for the shower block. There were three showers and there was electricity and sinks. It was clean. However, as we had been living out of our suitcases all week, finding items was now becoming a problem. We had a meal around the campfire and bought our own drinks. We had been up since 5.30am so were tired and ready for sleep. I slept well and didn’t hear any strange noises in the night, though I was told I was snoring so I probably frightened the animals away. We then headed to Johannesburg, a five hour road trip. The scenery was actually really nice and the roads good. It put the UK to shame. We arrived at the gated community at the lovely oasis that was the African Rock Hotel in Johannesburg which was our day room to shower and tidy ourselves up (we had 90 minutes). Johannesburg is very different to Cape Town with bungalow style houses but surrounded by barbed wire so it’s essential to stay somewhere secure. This is located at Kempton Park about 15 minutes’ drive from the airport and it was a luxury house converted into a hotel. It was lovely and peaceful. It had a lovely garden, pool and outside patio where afternoon tea was served. There are only nine rooms at this hotel and each room is named after a rock. The decoration is determined by what rock it is named after. The staff were very friendly and drove us to Johannesburg airport where we picked up our flight home - what an adventure!
27 March 2014
We caught a morning flight from Cape Town to Nelspruit airport. Then headed to the Mala Mala. This is located in the Sabi Sands off Kruger Park. Sabi Sands is a private reserve so there are boundaries as to where you can go which each lodge adheres to. There is also the threat of poachers so there is security at the entrance to the park. There had been a lot of rain the week before we arrived so conditions were difficult as even though we had Range Rovers there was always the threat of getting stuck if we went off road. The terrain is very different to the Mara in Kenya as there are a lot more trees and grass so the animals are well fed and there is a lot more birdlife. However there aren’t the huge plains that you have in Kenya where you see huge herds of animals so it’s a different safari experience. The accommodation at Mala Mala is outstanding. We stayed at Sable Camp. The room was amazing with views over the sand river which was flowing due to the recent rainfall! The rooms had two bathrooms and had huge ceilings. The rooms are decorated in an African style with huge tapestries mounted on the wall and a big double bed. There are luxury bathrooms with Molton Brown products. The game drives are first thing in the morning and then again in the afternoon. You go out with four passengers in open Land Rover vehicles which are comfortable plus with no obstructions. The game drives last for about three hours in all. It’s not just about the animals it's about the flora, fauna, insects and birdlife as well. We did get to see the big five, especially leopard that are very rare to spot! On our second day we moved to Rattrays which was amazing. The rooms were huge and had a huge decked terrace and their own plunge pool. After the game drives then it’s a full breakfast and a bit of relaxation - I had a spa treatment which was reasonable for a massage at £25. The rangers were very knowledgeable and good fun and they looked after us in the evenings as well as serving drinks from the bar.
26 March 2014
After reluctantly leaving The Residence at Franschhoek (I could have stayed there forever) we headed on to Cape Town via a place called Babylonstoren Gardens, which is located in the Drakenstein Valley about 60km from Cape Town. This originates back to 1690 and has 300 varieties of edible plants of which we were encouraged to try! It is divided up into different areas over three kilometres and I must say the guide, Gundula, was really passionate about the gardens and made the walk really interesting. We had lunch here (yes more food - the waistline now is bulging). From the gardens we headed to Cape Town via the Steinberg winery. This is a very beautiful area in Constantia about 20 minutes’ drive from Cape Town. The hotel is a converted old barn and has attached to it a golf course and bar/restaurant. This is where we did a bit of wine testing in Bistrosixteen82. We tried about five different premium wines which was good fun and there was a nice vibe in the bistro which was full of locals socialising. Finally we arrived in Cape Town and checked into the Queen Victoria hotel which was going to be our home for two days. The hotel is located within walking distance of the Victoria and Albert Waterfront. The hotel is a boutique hotel compared to the lavish and opulent 'Residence' hotel. It was quite minimalistic and clean with everything white or beige in colour. We had dinner at the Cape Grace hotel which has a wonderful setting on the waterfront after looking around the hotel and its bar with 1000's of whiskies. Once we had settled in we did a couple of Tours in Cape Town. Uthando, a community project took us into the townships which was a really uplifting experience. We were entertained by a local choir which was so powerful and emotional. They took us to projects they were working with such as a vets, garden project and a dance school giving young people motivation and also instilling self-confidence and discipline in a world which is really challenging for them. We had free time in the afternoon to go off and explore. Not to waste the opportunity we decided to go to see the penguins at Boulders Beach. One of our fellow Travel Counsellors who is based in Cape Town offered to drive us, taking in the scenic route around the peninsular and viewing the stunning beaches (on shark watch) and the wineries all within reach of Cape Town. We had a quick beer at Calk Bay at the Brass Bell, a famous establishment that sits on the waterfront before heading to see the penguins who were really cute and funny to watch. We then headed back to Cape Town in time to do site inspections at a couple of hotels on the front before having a beautiful dinner at the Victoria, what a contrasting day!
26 March 2014
We were really privileged to start this trip in the business class lounge at Heathrow for Virgin. It was most impressive as it was like a 'club' with its own spa with free treatments! There were also restaurants and even a pool table. The flight was over 10 hours and immigration was very quick and friendly in Cape Town. The first stop was the wine lands which was a one hour bus journey from the airport. The Residence in Franschhoek was amazing. The brochures do not do it justice! It definitely has the wow factor. It is a very quirky hotel with lots of detail in the rooms and the most amazing views of the vineyards and mountains. A perfect haven and retreat to get away from the world. The rooms were beautifully decorated and we stayed in the two bedroom villa which was pink on one side and light green on the other. No room is the same in this hotel but they are all large and are decorated with French antiques and Picasso styled paintings in bright colours. There are chandeliers everywhere and the bathrooms were just awesome. The attention to detail is second to none. The plan was we would go into Franschhoek and explore but to be honest we didn’t want to leave so we all agreed after a delicious lunch served (naturally) with wine that we would chill out at the hotel and take in the breath-taking scenery and enjoy our surroundings. At 4pm afternoon tea was served by the main pool and it would have been impolite to refuse. I have taken a photo (the chocolate cake remained untouched). We had our own pool so sat in the sun for a short while before getting ready for dinner. We had a sumptuous meal hosted by Ed the manager who was very entertaining and again plenty of wine was served. We sadly were only staying at this hotel for one night but it left a lasting impression as the service was spot on, the food was amazing and the rooms were just so quirky and different to anywhere you will stay. Loved it!
04 January 2014
I haven't been away at Christmas since the millennium when we uprooted to Spain for a week. Vegas seemed far more exciting as an entertainment destination with casinos and fabulous nightlife. I had been before in 2001 in the heat of summer so this trip was going to be very different as the weather was going to be cool in comparison. I packed jumpers, jeans and boots leaving the wet and windy UK behind. The weather was glorious, 70 degrees during the day with clear blue skies. Security at the airport was a breeze from when we landed to collecting out luggage. It only took about an hour which was pretty good going and the airport staff were pleasant. We stayed at The Mirage and the reception there is quite unique with a fish tank behind the main desk. The hotel is located in a little corner centre of the strip on the 23rd floor facing Caesars Palace with the Eiffel tower in the distance. Once we had unpacked we went off exploring - first to the Venetian hotel opposite with its beautiful Christmas decorations, there was even an ice rink outside and a tree decorated with brightly coloured bulbs which changed colour and then on to Bellagio who were putting the final touches to the decorations all made of flowers. The big difference from ten years ago was the shopping: it is everywhere - Fashion show mall, Venetian, Bellagio and also Caesar Palace, Macy's, Barney's (very upmarket incidentally), Sacs as well as Bulgari, Tiffany’s, high end couture and even a mile of shops at Planet Hollywood not forgetting the outlet mall on the outskirts! All with pre-Christmas sales! I managed to pick up a pair of nine west ankle boots for just £23 - bargain! The dining as well has changed though we didn't sample the 'buffets' as the queues were just too long. There are lots of celebrity restaurants including a couple of Gordon Ramsay restaurants though we never got the chance to eat in them. On Christmas Eve we went to Freemont Street for the light show which had taken a Christmas theme. This is in the down town area of Vegas and is traffic free. On Christmas day we opted for the Paris Casino and pre booked the restaurant at the Eiffel Tower for a late lunch. It was lovely, with great service from Sebastian our French waiter and we also had a window seat table opposite the Bellagio Fountains. After the meal we headed to see the 'Jersey Boys' show which was brilliant. I’d highly recommend this show and would easily see it again. We also got to see the Purple Reign prince tribute band which was in a small room so very close and personal at Planet Hollywood. On the gambling side we did go on the slot machines but it is very much hit and miss although it’s fun and if you play it right, it can pay for your drinks all night! We finished the holiday seeing cirque du soleil Beatles Love show which was on at The Mirage. This was a beautiful, colourful show made even more special as it was only a small audience of about 400 people. We definitely fit a lot into our trip - we never stopped and shopped till we dropped and have now come home for a rest. Las Vegas is Disneyland for adults with no shortage of clubs, bars, restaurants, shows (Britney Spears, Bruno Mars, Fleetwood Mac and Maroon 5 were all there over the Christmas and New Year period plus other activities such as NFU world title fights). It is very busy and there are a lot of queues and traffic but so much to see and do it will keep you busy… just remember to take some comfy shoes!!
29 October 2013
I had never been to Barbados before so was interested to see how it compared to its neighbours. This year we flew with British Airways. The aircraft wasn’t full and we were lucky to have an empty seat next to us. The flight was comfortable and on time. On arrival we were met and transferred to the Dover Beach area of Barbados in the south of the island, to a couples resort. The transfer was only 15 minutes. A cold towel awaited and a glass of champagne before going to our room. The hotel only officially opened the week before (it was previously Almond Casarina). It was made up of six blocks with block one being near the beach. All of the blocks are four storeys high. We were located in a Palm View room which was in block five and was at the back of the resort overlooking the gardens. The only lifts are in block one. There are three small pools nearby but no breeze so can be quite stifling. The rooms were a reasonable size and quite understated. They have the usual couples facilities such as a stocked mini bar, iron, ironing board ,coffee maker, safe, hairdryer and iPod docking station. There is also a flat screen TV. The balcony furniture is quite sparse with chairs and a table. The hotel is located on turtle beach and we even experienced the turtles hatching on the beach whilst we were there! The beach is a long soft sandy beach but a little on the choppy side so not ideal for swimming. The hotel operated a flag system on the beach for drinks and had a couple of hammocks located in the trees by the beach which were nice to chill out in. The main pool was relatively large surrounded by sunbeds and had a swim up bar. The pool was quite loud with music and pool volleyball going on so not for those wanting peace and quiet. The restaurants were around this area and the grill did lovely cheeseburgers at lunchtime, plus there was always a good selection of food at the buffet for lunch. There was also a small pool by the 'yes please' a la carte restaurant and spa but again you needed to be a hardened sunbather as it was very hot and very little breeze around this area. This bar did smoothies during the day and vegetarian food. You need to get in early with your spa booking as it is always fully booked as there are only two treatment rooms. Tennis was a little disappointing as the tennis pro didn’t really arrive until the middle of the trip so we didn’t get the excellent coaching we normally get on a couples break. There was only two courts. The activities and entertainment generally were a little low key. Included in our stay was a visit to Oystins on the Friday evening where we sampled some flying fish and we also swam with the turtles when we did the catamaran trip. We were close to St Lawrence gap so also had the opportunity to get out of the hotel and eat at a local restaurant called Harlequins which was lovely. The water sports available on the beach were restricted to body boards and canoes so not as much activity that you would get at other couples hotels in Jamaica. I will return to Barbados as I thought it was a lovely island with lovely people.
13 September 2013
The weather held this year and it was blue skies, though a bit on the chilly side. The club had put on a finger buffet in the morning and a BBQ later on. I was in 2 finals this year at the club championships. The ladies doubles and the 90+ (combined ages of the 2 players) ladies doubles. The first game was early in the morning and was a tough encounter against first team opposition. I was playing with Judith Thomas who is my regular partner in the second team. We put up a valiant effort but lost 6-3 6-2. At 12:30 we played our second match and it was close all the way through but we came out victors 6-4 7-6. Coming back from 5-3 down ( I did not want it to go to 3 sets). It was very tense! The match of the event had to be the mixed doubles final which was won by Sally Webber & Matt Quinn who put in an amazing performance to beat Dave Green & Sarh Kirk who were red hot favourites for the title. We finished the day with a few glasses of rose to celebrate!
06 June 2013
I was a rep in Kefalonia in 1987 and 1988 when tourism was new. Like Odysseus I returned back to this part of Greece 25 years later so was a little apprehensive of what I would find. For a change we flew locally from Birmingham the flight was comfortable and we arrived on time. Our taxi transfer was waiting and we were at our hotel in Lassi within 15 minutes and ready for the beach. I chose Lassi as it a great base for discovering the island. It was overcast so I decided in my wisdom to walk to the capital Argostoli which was a pleasant 30 minute walk. Not the prettiest of towns but it does have character. I was able to show my husband the main shopping street and wander along the waterfront. On the return journey we walked the long way; five miles to be precise along the coast. We went past the famous water wheel, the Fanari lighthouse and through the pine trees to Lassi. We stayed at the Lorenzo Hotel which is a family run hotel that I knew was basic but had the friendliest staff you will find anywhere. It also had a lovely pool area with fantastic views over to Lixouri. Makris Yialos beach is only a 10 minute stroll. There are closer beaches but Makris is a beautiful sandy beach and one of the best beaches on the island. Bars and restaurants were even closer to the hotel. We were booked on bed and breakfast and it was a typical Greek breakfast of bread, jam, cake, eggs, ham and cheese with tea or coffee. The hotel was spotless and cleaned every day. We had a car booked for three days so after a few days on the beach we were ready to explore. Car hire is great on Kefalonia; it is the fifth largest Greek island so there are plenty of places to explore. I had the advantage of knowing the island well to plan our days accordingly so headed south to Katelios; one of the resorts I used to work in which has doubled in size but still has its cluster of tavernas and character. Then we went on to Skala popping into the Mikelatos Taverna to see my old friends George and Jimmy. Skala now is the busiest resort on the island with a mixture of old and young and was really buzzing. We then headed on the new Skala to Poros road where there are a lot of new hotels and then through the hills to Sami. This is a beautiful drive; you could be in the Alps. The following day we went to the very famous Myrtos beach; the most photographed beach in Greece and then headed to the very picturesque villages of Assos and Fiscardo. These two villages have the oldest buildings as they were not destroyed in the 1953 earthquake which devastated the majority of the island. Assos was stunning. Fiscardo can be a little bit touristy with its cafes and tavernas and also attracts the sailors who are coming from Lefkas and Ithaka. We managed to go on a boat on the Melissani Lake, an underground fresh water lake on the east coast with the most beautiful translucent water. We even had time to go to the Robola Winery (Kefalonia produces great wines), have a pastry in the port of Agia Efthimia and did the Lixouri Ferry which took us to back over to Argostoli. The island has changed and there is probably a bit more choice and different nationalities but it’s still as beautiful as ever. If you want nightlife it may not be for you but if you want to totally switch off and have peace; it is a perfect tonic.
01 May 2013
I was really looking forward to this cruise as the itinerary looked really good and it was something that we wouldn't normally do. I had previously worked in each of the ports of call we visited and left it to my husband Jim to decide what excursions we did. We travelled on Adventure of the Seas for seven nights out of Malaga in southern Spain. I had done a ship visit on Freedom of the Seas when it was launched in Southampton so knew how big these ships can be but had never really 'experienced' the facilities properly. The cabin was just basic inside but it was fine. In fact, I was very impressed with the storage space and also the mirrors! The size of the ship was no problem and it didn’t take us long to get our bearings. Deck seven was good for going up to the pool (deck eleven) and restaurant (deck five). The gym was always busy and we did make it several times. There were plenty of sun loungers around the pool and there was an adults only area if you wanted to get away from children. It was half term so there were a lot of children on board. In all honesty they didn’t bother us at all. The cruise is so well geared up for families that I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to families. In fact I quite enjoyed a game of Pacman in the amusement arcade and some mini golf! The food was very good in the main restaurant; however we opted for the al a carte ‘Portofino’ on a couple of nights. For an extra £12 per person cover charge, who wouldn't? The scallops were to die for. The drinks were not as expensive as I had anticipated and the measures were very generous, especially in the Schooner bar. Here we took part in the 70's music quiz (3rd) and the 50-60's music (3rd again) which we nearly won! We took part in a couple of excursions which were excellent. The fire mountain trip in Lanzarote was really good and the jeep safari in Madeira was a thrill a minute. In Tenerife we just pottered into Santa Cruz where we watched life go by in one of the cafes in the square. The organisation on board the ship was really good as was the entertainment. We went to a couple of shows; the Motown one was excellent and so was the ice show. Every night in the shopping arcade there was a 'market' on selling jewellery or souvenirs. I would definitely recommend this cruise to couples and families alike.
19 November 2012
This visit to Couples San Souci was my third couple’s hotel visit and I must admit I love this group. The hotels are boutique; the facilities are great and the staff are some of the best I have come across for service. Our favourite so far was ‘Swept away’, so San Souci had a lot to live up to but we loved it! From the moment we arrived there was a drink, a cold towel and a friendly welcome. There are a lot of steps in this hotel so you need to be reasonably fit. The way the hotel is designed is like an Italian piazza and all the rooms are sea view with generous balconies. There is also a fridge on the balcony with spirits and mixers. The hotel gives you an order form so you can order what you want in the minibar (we never finished out bottle of Gin and bottle of Rum) and there is also free Wi-Fi in the room so it’s perfect if you want to check on your emails. Our room was near the hotel spa and mineral pool (which was so peaceful) and the hidden Jacuzzis which were fabulous in the evening. The spa was very original with its little individual hideaways on the hills and we idled away many an hour at the mineral pool (and munched on home made biscuits). It’s just as well we could work them off with the steps! We went to the Tennis coaching where there was just the two of us and Joe (the US pro). It was brilliant. I also managed aqua aerobics once which was a good work out. The restaurants were all great. This is where I think San Souci has the edge as they have room for a beach BBQ and gala night which were excellent. Though we rarely managed pudding we were so full! The Casanova Bar was really nice and intimate with its tables lit with candles for two. I discovered the piano sing-along on the last night which I loved! I found the hotel quite social towards the end of the stay and there were a few Brits staying there. Entertainment was generally of a good standard. We loved the lake area where you could watch the bird life and the turtles. (We also befriended Crackers the parrot who took a shine to my husband!) We climbed Dunns River Falls; an excursion included with the hotel which was excellent and only a 20 minute drive away which was even better. All in all, this was a lovely stay and up to the usual high Couples standards.
13 June 2012
Hong Kong has always been on my list of places to visit. So this short visit proves a nice little taster for me. I stayed at the Harbour Plaza 8 degrees. This hotel is located in Kowloon next to the old airport (which is going to be converted into the new cruise terminal). The hotel was simply furnished but for what time we spent it the room in was ideal. We like that it was slightly out of hustle and bustle of the city yet close to the regular shuttle bus which gets you into the centre of the city near to where the star ferry takes you over to Hong Kong island. Our first evening we ate at the Harbour Metropolis hotel and chose their amazing buffet which had everything including lobster, and chocolate fountains. It also had a great view of the light and sound show which lights up the high rises in Hong Kong at 8pm every night. We went for a walk up to Natham road, passing the avenue of the stars (which features the statue of Bruce Lee) and found ourselves in a bar at Natham Road where there was live music for a very nice night cap. The following day we headed for the shops at Elements station which is full of designer shops, before moving on to City Plaza which is a huge shopping centre. We had planned to have high tea at the Penisular Hotel but found we couldn’t get in with our flip flops on so jumped on the star ferry and headed to Hong Kong island to sample the worlds cheapest Michelin star restaurant 'Tim Ho Wan' . This restaurant looks nothing special from the outside but the food was fantastic - no queues, and £3 a head. Absolutely wonderful. Back in Kowloon, we hit the markets for a bit of girlie retail therapy followed by a chillout in an Italian restaurant, which was a quiet haven from the city pace with a couple of Pizzas and a few bottles of wine to wash it down with. The following day we had an organised trip to Lantau island, where the airport is located. This island is a real contrast to Kowloon and Hong kong island – peaceful, beautiful beaches, the traditional fishing village 'tai o' and is home of Po Lin Monastery and the Giant Buddha. Here you can also access the cable car for spectacular views of Hong Kong. The Giant Buddha is a giant and the location is simply stunning. The cable car journey was fun and a much better way of seeing the sights. In the evening we had a lovely meal in the stunning restaurant Le 188 degrees overlooking the harbour on Hong Kong Island which proved to be a perfect end to a jam packed trip. I will most definitely return to Hong Kong as I feel I’ve only scraped the surface.
11 June 2012
I flew into Japan with Cathay Pacific via Hong Kong and was one of the first people to experience the new premium economy seats which have been operating since the beginning of May. I even did some celebrity spotting on board as rapper Nikki Minaj (complete with green wig) and her entourage were on board the flight to Osaka. Kyoto used to be the capital of Japan and is known as the cultural capital, with a population of 1.5 million and 2000 temples. We stayed at the Westin Miyako Kyoto which was on the outskirts of the city but very comfortable. Despite being out of town we could still just cross the road and come across the Nanzenji temple. The Japanese are very polite & hospitable people - our welcome meal was amazing and consisted of a box of different appetisers and then chef stations across the room, each preparing fresh food such as tempura, noodles and the most gorgeous beef. For the next two days we immersed ourselves in Japanese culture starting with a bit of Zen Buddhist meditation at the Shunko-in temple. We were given a tour of one of the food markets followed by a cooking lesson teaching us how to make sushi which ended up as our lunch, washed down with healthy green tea (yum yum). We also visited the Ando Japanese Doll shop which is very famous in Japan for its handmade dolls but not cheap at between £500- £40,000 each! I also had the opportunity to dress up in a kimono, visit a samurai film studio and have a meal assisted by real Geishas, so never a dull moment. We didn’t do many temples in Kyoto but on our last day we visited the Golden Pavilion (Kinkakuji) and it was absolutely stunning, located by a lake with really pretty gardens. However we did share this experience with several hundred school children. We mostly ate vegan style food with chop sticks which believe me is a great way to lose weight. Alcohol can be very expensive in the hotels (£8 for a beer, £20 for a spirit) so a great place to detox in general. The hospitality of the Japanese was second to none... so well mannered and everywhere was so clean, despite the large population of people. The standard of hotels is very high though you do pay a premium - we stayed at the St Regis in Osaka which had the real wow factor with the best shower ever created and amazing views of the city. Unforgettable.
20 October 2011
I got married in Mauritius in 2006 and we were so looking forward to returning as it is a very special island. We flew from Heathrow terminal 4 (a new one for us) and used the purple parking valet chauffeur service - why didn’t we use this before? It is so efficient from car to check in and on to the departure lounge took a mere twenty minutes. Terminal 4 wasn’t as busy as some of the other terminals in Heathrow so all in all, stress free! Our previous stay was at The Heritage which was five star which we knew would be a hard act to follow… On arrival after our 12 hour flight we were whisked away by taxi, which took about twenty minutes to the Preskil Beach. This is a three and a half star hotel on the south east coast near Mahebourg. Our room 181 was on the ground floor with a lovely view of the sea, beach and Ile aux Aigrettes. The room was quite simple it had a huge double bed, nice reliable hot shower, toiletries, hairdryer (take your own!), wide screen TV with movie channels and a terrace where we could enjoy the view and watch the birdlife in the gardens too. We had upgraded to all inclusive because it gave us access to all 3 restaurants which we managed to get booked in to without any trouble every evening. I would recommend upgrading not just for the drinks but also for more of a variety of eating places. Half board is restricted to the buffet restaurant and there wasn’t a great deal of variety or choice in that restaurant. We like to have waiter service on holiday so chose to eat at the à la carte restaurants we had read that the Charka restaurant was very good and the steaks did not disappoint though the portions were very big! The tapas bar was beautiful in the evening on the beach and served Mediterranean fusion and the portions were again on the large side but the service was better. Entertainment was the usual 'dance' shows but quite low key generally so not for people that like to party. The beach is coarse sand at Le Preskil and the water is very shallow so you can walk out quite a way and still touch the bottom - not great for swimming. It was a beautiful aqua blue and crystal clear; if you wanted to snorkel you could pay for equipment from the watersports hut. There were pedalos, canoes and sailboats free of charge and the hotel also had its own glass bottom boat which operated up to a Ile aux Aigrettes which overlooks the hotel which is a nature reserve fabled home of the Do Do. Bicycle hire is available as well as it was relatively flat (though we didn’t try this) taxis are parked outside the hotel if you wanted to get out and about or take a walk! We did walk back from Mahebourg which was the nearest town, which didn’t take us too long and wasn’t hazardous. The weather was very mixed – we had an anticyclone- this meant it was windy, cloudy and occasionally wet. The good and bad days alternated though you did need a jacket in the evening. We managed to go out on the hotels own catamaran based at the hotel and had a lovely day snorkelling at blue bay and visiting Ile aux Cerfs which was stunning. We visited the hotel spa a couple of times and had a nice relaxing aromatherapy massage and used the hamman (steam room), we played a lot of tennis as the temperature was perfect. Mauritius isn’t a humid island so you are able to do activities without feeling drained. We had done all the excursions on our previous visit except the Capital Port Louis. So we had a half day out with a taxi looking around the waterfront shops and local market. A wedding took place everyday at the gazebo so excellent for weddings (one a day). My overall impression is although this hotel has its imperfections, this is a pretty hotel for people who want to see Mauritius in beautiful surroundings without breaking the bank. Another bonus is the proximity to Ile aux Cerfs, which was a highlight for me and also proximity to the airport was a bonus.
03 April 2012
We stayed at the Sheraton Orchid Hotel in Bangkok for 3 nights in March 2011 before moving on to Khao Lak. It was just after the earthquakes in Japan, which were causing havoc with the weather patterns. People in Bangkok were cold and wearing jackets, but to us it was perfect and not too unbearable. We stayed on the river at the Sheraton Royal Orchid. Which is a five star hotel on the Cha Praya river. The rooms are amazing with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the river and Bangkok. It also had a swimming pool and terrace which benefited from a nice breeze from the river I have been to Bangkok 3 times and the last visit was 15 years ago before the skytrain was introduced so I wondered how it would affect the traffic. I didn't need to worry too much as we went everywhere by river taxi, which is the best way to travel around Bangkok. We even hired a boat just for the two of us to discover the klongs in the old part where people still live on houses on the river. We of course did a tuk tuk - you have to in Bangkok though they are crazy drivers. We did the normal tourist things including Pat Pong where Jim was asked if he would like to have some late ping pong (if you have been to Bangkok you will understand that one!) We also visited Chinatown which is a shopper’s paradise, although the heat got to us and we had to retreat! We also went to the Royal Palace which is so beautiful and a must in Bangkok and I had a Thai massage at Wot Po. I actually prefer this to the Palace as it isn't as crowded but equally as beautiful. They train masseurs here therefore the massage is done in dormitory like surroundings so if you are looking for privacy go to a spa. I got a full length silk dress made in record time for my conference a must do in Thailand as they have fabulous tailors. Then we went off to the coast...
09 April 2011
This was the second part of our twin centre holiday in Jamaica. We didn't have to move very far only 15 minutes down the road! We moved on to sister hotel of Swept away- Couples Negril. Located on Bloody bay one of the most beautiful beaches in Jamaica. We took the shuttle bus from Couples Sunswept to Couples Negril. Even though they are run by the same group the hotels are very different. Couples Negril has in fact won more awards that Swept away. We stayed at Couples Swept away until 4pm still using our all inclusive facility then we checked in at Negril at 4pm so that our room would be ready. Couples Negril also has a no tip policy which puts you at ease straight away when the porter whisks your cases away. Couples Negril is a smaller hotel with only 234 rooms. The rooms are more tropical style and the hotel has a more laid back approach. The service and organisation however I felt was not up to ‘ Swept away’s very high standards. Couples Negril is more compact with the focal point of the hotel being the main pool . This is the nucleus of everything so it is easy to find your way about. It is a hive of activity there is always a basket making,hat making or jewelry class going on . There is water polo in the pool or volley ball on the beach. What was a nice touch was the craft fare on the beach where local traders on the beach several times a week this gave you an opportunity for browse without any hassle. We even had a couples massage lesson from one of the ladies from the spa. The hotel is located in a bay and is more sheltered. The hurricane brought up more seaweed here which took 2 days to bury so the beach was out of bounds though we were able to do the catamaran cruise at the end of our stay which was great fun. There is a flag system on the beach is you want a drink if you are feeling lazy or a swim up bar in the pool. There is also tennis tuition at Couples Negril with a tennis pro from the US putting us through our paces though there are not as many courts as Swept Away and they are all hard court. The hotel sun mattresses are water proof so can double as a lilo which was a brilliant idea . The fine dining restaurant at this hotel was top notch ‘Otaheite’ restaurant. But you do need to book we managed to get in twice. Once on a shared table which was great as luck would have it we knew them from tennis. The second time we got one of the ‘love seats’ which sounds a bit cheesy but is great for people watching we loved it! The ambience ,lighting and food superb . This fine dining restaurant surpassed its sister hotel. The hotel also had cinema on the beach one evening which was a laugh as you could lie on a sunbed late at night and watch a film. There was also a beach party with limbo dancers ,and steel bands Because we had only stayed 4 nights at the hotel it was difficult to get a real feel for the atmosphere of the hotel as we had at swept away Couples hotels are excellent value for money when you consider what is included in your stay.I would definitely return and would not hesitate to recommend this group. The standards are high.
09 April 2011
I hadn’t been to Jamaica since 1992 so I decided I needed to ‘re-visit’ and see how it had changed! We flew from Gatwick with Virgin the aircraft was a jumbo and was full! We were staying at Couples Swept away for 7 nights and Couples Negril for 4 nights. Couples Swept away is Located in Negril on seven-mile Beach and is the best part of the island for sunsets. We received a cold towel and drink on arrival in reception and our luggage was taken away by porters. Couples have a no tip policy so you don’t have to worry about tipping. We had booked an Atrium room which surpassed expectation . This was the only room type not to have a TV. It located amongst mature tropical palms and trees which gave you privacy but also gave you the feeling you were in the jungle. Everything from dressing gowns as were toiletries, ironing board, iron, umbrella everything you could think of! When we arrived they were expecting a ‘hurricane’e but in the end it passed over and all we had were a couple of tropical showers…In the morning thousands of conch style shells were washed up on the beach which were promptly dealt with. However because of the hurricane we were unable to do any water sports as the sea was too choppy (like Blackpool on one day as the storm passed over). Which was a shame as included on our all inclusive package was glass bottom boats, snorkelling trips ( there is even a wrecked boat close by to do this)All scuba diving equipment is provided & hobie cats. The hotel is quite large around 27 acres in all and spread out so it is easy to get lost . The ‘sports centre’ was out of the hotel over the main road and had the best tennis facilities you will find anywhere. There were 10 courts 5 clay and 5 hard courts. You could book 1-1 tuition free of charge and also there were tennis clinics twice a day taken by a Tennis Pro from the USA. This was all included. It became tennis boot camp as we got up at 8am to play every morning. There were 2 air-conditioned squash courts & free golf as well but we didn’t have the energy! The sports centre also had a 25 metre lap pool , spa, squash courts, gym,yoga & table tennis etc and was our little sanctuary as not many people used it. The service in the hotel was excellent the staff were brilliant with fantastic personalities and always a smile. You could have buffet breakfast which was excellent good choice of fruit (muesli was delicious- I don’t normally eat muesli), patries, egg stations..and delicious coffee. Or go for ala carte at the Patois Patio. Lunch was either buffet (again scrumptious ), or ala carte( there were 4 options).Evening meal – 2 al a carte (very rarely buffet), and 2 fine dining . The food was lovely especially the surf and turf at’ Feathers’ which was lobster and steak which melted in your mouth. The bars were great ..we loved the chocolate martinis at the Martini bar before dinner.The cocktails flowed especially bamboo bar where innocently went in for a quick drink one lunch time 3 cocktails and 4 shots later staggered to lunch! On the subject of alcohol the room had a minibar where you could order your spirits (full litre bottles) daily and your mixers on a daily basis… The entertainment was really good..the bands they had on were very good quality ,steel band players were brilliant playing the latest hits including Lady Gaga – bad romance on their reppetoir. We didn’t make the nights club,late piano bar or casino but it was all there if we wanted it. I have never been to a hotel with so much going on and I have to admit the whole holiday was pretty much faultless (despite the weather) The staff are the best I have ever come across anywhere .
15 July 2010
I have been to Antigua before two years ago but didn't really see very much outside the hotel so I lucky to get a second chance to see the real Antigua. I stayed at two hotels the Hawksbill and the Inn at English Harbour. The Inn is a 5* boutique hotel and is not all inclusive so gave me the opportunity to get out of the hotel and try the local restaurants. Luckily there are plenty in the area as it is located above English Harbour. English harbour has to be one of the most beautiful parts of Antigua. When you leave the capital St Johns the landscape becomes a lot more greener and a little bit hillier.With old rustic churches and villages that look a bit more upmarket. The Inn is located above the harbour with the most spectacular views, on the south west tip of the island. When you first arrive at the hotel you can not help notice the little personal touches here and there. This is a boutique hotel and was owned by an Italian Couple who have put a lot of their own personality and sense of style into the Inn. The view from the terrace restaurant is breathtaking as you look over English harbour and all the beautiful grounds leading down to the beach.The bar looks a little bit like an old english style pub again with views to die for . A minibus took us down to our room I had room 15 which was a deluxe room on the ground floor. WOW! I felt like a princess the room was gorgeous. In the middle of the room was a four poster bed and the colour scheme was creme and brown with lovely furniture and a large flat screen TV. The terrace was huge. The terrace furniture was just as beautiful which overlooked the pool and sea. The area is so tranquil with its own pool, beach and restaurant 'the reef' .This restaurant by the beach was where we had breakfast or a snack for lunch. So it was just the sound of the birds (of which there were plentiful) and the lapping of the waves a really romantic spot. The hotel had a medium sized pool which was very tranquil and comfortable thick mattresses. With its own small beach in front.The beauty of this property is that you can get out and about. Historic Nelsons dockyard isn't far away and there is a choice of dining there as well as well as the historic buildings. Late afternoon Sunday we headed for Shirley heights which is the best place to catch the sun setting. This was only a short drive away and you are greeted by steel bands, bar b-que, a bit of dancing and vey strong rum punch so handy having it on our doorstep. It rained whilst we were there as June tends to be showers and sunshine but it soon cleared up and we managed to get some dramatic sunset photos. We ate out at the Copper & Lumber Store and had fish and chips! This is in the style of an old english pub and has a lovely leafy courtyard the owner had a larger and life personality and loves England! She has dedicated the whole hotel to Nelson naming rooms after battles and his comrades! We also ate out at the Catamaran Hotel near English Harbour and had a typical caribbean meal. the hospitality was amazing - they even put air con units outside to keep us cool! We were a bit on the active side and were able to zip wire in the rainforest which was great fun and also kayaking in the mangroves or into the mangroves as was our case! Followed by a bit of sunbathing on one of Antiguas amazing beaches. There are 365 beaches in Antigua but it is so more than a beach!
15 July 2010
I had never been to Hua Hin before on previous visits to Thailand I had been to Pattaya and Phuket. It was hard to believe I hadn't been to Thailand for over 15 years! We flew with Thai airways from Heathrow. What struck me was how hard the staff worked they never stopped forever coming around with drinks! On arrival in Bangkok we were whisked away in a luxury minibus just for the two of us and hit the high way. The journey is around 2 hours from Bangkok it is all on the highway so not the most interesting of journeys. The Dusit Thani is a lovely hotel what greets you is a spotless foyer with huge glass chandelier in reception. It has a 'polo'club feel about it with pictures and artworks relating to horses. Although arriving at 8am our rooms were ready so no waiting around straight in and by the pool.I could not fault this hotel the rooms all look over the pool and sideways on to the ocean absolutely stunning. Everyday we had bottles of water in our room plus we were given bottled water by the pool twice a day which was a lovely touch. We had booked for 10 days which entitled us to a free buffet meal and also a credit towards a meal as well it just got better and better. There wasn't many english in the hotel it was mostly Thai families and German guests we were definitely the minority. I tried one of the spa treatments which was heavenly (though expensive) the spa was beautiful. The pool was huge which is quite rare one that you could swim lengths in and at a lovely temperature. Whilst in Thailand in the evenings everyone heads to Hua HIn. The hotel had a minibus which dropped you off in the centre (15-20 minutes drive) that was a little bit less than a taxi. My vision of Hua Hin being a quiet beach resort was no more it is manic lots of traffic, lots of people, and of course the night market. It takes a couple of days to get your bearings but you feel totally safe. The restaurants are inexpensive and if you like seafood you are in heaven as it is inexpensive about £5 per person for a 2 course meal. We drank the local tiger beer which was good and didn't break the bank. There are plenty of tailors around that can make you what you want. My husband got a couple of hand made shirts made and I had a suit made. One thing I loved from previous trips to Thailand was the bartering but no one wanted to play in the markets maybe it was because it was a Thai holiday resort or maybe it doesn't happen anymore!.I let my husband decide which excursions we did we decided on the River Kwai where we visited a japanese prisoner of war camp and went for a ride on the Death Train it self..it is a very moving experience at the British Cemetery. So in summary I enjoyed Hua Hin but 10 days were enough. The hotel Dusit Thani was faultless. The only negative was the beach you can walk on the beach for miles either way( and we did!) But it is not a beach that you sunbathe on or a sea to swim in. The weather was scorchio.The Thai people are the friendliest people you will find anywhere. The english spoken was very limited . The food was good and cheap but not wow factor. The best meal we had was in the hotel a sea food platter which was amazing but not cheap. With crab ,lobster,tiger prawns in abundance.
25 November 2009
On arrival at the airport a white limousine is waiting to whisk you off to La Source. They take you down a track and you can’t help but wonder ‘Where am I going’? The transfer is all of 5 minutes and once you get there you will be amazed. The resort only re-opened in 2008 and it is the ultimate all inclusive. It includes spa treatments, all kinds of land sports, water sports and tuition. There is also yoga, meditation and tai chi for the less active. Every evening a newsletter is put by the side of your bed to tell you what activities are happening the next day. They start as early as 6:15am with Tai Chi on the beach, power walking at 7.10am and then stretching at 8am. There is also an air-conditioned gym, pool tables, table tennis, cycling…the list goes on! For the less active the sunbeds are plenty and very comfortable with thick mattresses and plenty of shade and there is plenty of reading material available should you finish your book. There was so much to do but you can’t do everything, so I stuck to my strengths - water aerobics (Andy the instructor what a physique - no photos I am afraid!), tennis lessons with Leonard (who would have needed another week to sort out my technical faults-I would have stayed!). I also tried stretching, beach and pool volleyball and snorkeling. Jim (my husband) also had golf lessons. The food was the best I have had at any hotel, with fine dining every night. For lunch it was either the Deli which sold some lovely smoothies, paninis and salads, buffet at The Garden restaurant buffet or a la carte at Oscars on the Beach. The non alcoholic cocktails were great during the day and there were lots of premium drink choices in the evening. A waiter was constantly going around the pool with drinks just in case we were thirsty! The spa treatments were another treat with a mixture of massages, facials and wraps. The men particularly liked the facials. We didn't do much in the way of water sports but divers could take advantage of a free dive every day. We did have a go at snorkeling. The beach was cordoned off into a 'lagoon' type area where Angel fish swam in shoals and there were plenty of fish to see near the rocks. The watersports team organised trips to various bays and to the famous underwater sculptures (for an extra $25pp). If you wanted to get out and about it was quite reasonable to hire a car and driver or take part in the excursions. The island overall is very beautiful with waterfalls and spice plantations so well worth a look around. St George the capital reminded me of the Greek islands with its pastel coloured houses and terracotta roof tops, always with a cruise ship in port. This hotel is so well organised and every detail is thought of. It is well managed, has great staff and is spotlessly clean with great facilities. We can’t wait to go back . The amount of people going back to the hotel time and time again is a testament to the hotel’s success.
23 November 2009
This year we decided on a two week holiday staying on the wonderful island of Grenada in the Caribbean. The Grenadian was our first point of call - it is a 3 star hotel three minutes drive from the airport (what a bonus). You don't get too many flights into Grenada so no real hardship. We stayed in a beachfront room which overlooked one of the two lovely beaches. The majority of rooms are on the hillside and there are no lifts so you need to be reasonable fit to stay here. This hotel is perfect for a chill out if you want to do nothing but laze around. The beaches are always empty and the pool area never appeared to be crowded. The all inclusive consisted of meals in the Cinnamon Restaurant which was buffet and spicers for lunch which was also buffet. There wasn't a huge variety of food but for 3 * it was very good quality. If you wanted a change then you could eat in Indian restaurant and have a credit put towards your meal. It was a combination of Far Eastern and Indian food and boy was it hot! Grenada is not the spice island for nothing! I had to down 2 glasses of water after one mouthful of my starter. The hotel has plenty of grounds boasting a lake which is nice for a stroll as there is plenty of birdlife and a couple of turtles living there too, giving it a bit of an eco feel. The hotel also has a couple of cats that reside. Apparently Port Saline is where the wild cats live on the island. These cats have impeccable manners and are very clean as well (not grubby like other parts of the globe, in fact they look and act tame). My favourite place at the hotel was the pool bar where you had the most amazing views of St George, the capital of the island and also where you can see the most amazing sunsets just beyond Pink Gin Beach. St George is a 20 minute drive from the hotel and is worth a visit on Saturdays as that is market day. We got 'Michael', a local driver we befriended, to take us in his private air conditioned car for $20 each way and were able to browse the spice & fruit markets. The island is know as the Spice island so there was an abundance of different spices to purchase, especially ginger, saffron and nutmeg. There is also an upmarket shopping mall that is linked to the cruise terminal which is air conditioned and a welcome escape from the heat. We also took a trip out to Gran Anse beach, one of the top ten beaches in the world, where we went to 'Garfields Bar' to watch the football. It was nice to get out of the hotel and sample local life - it is so safe to go out and about in Grenada. The carib beer is so reasonable $2 a bottle (£1.50). So my verdict is that the Grenadian is a great hotel to base yourself if you want to get out and about and see the island. You will find that it probably is in need of a bit of refurbishment, and a coat of paint here and there. But in all honesty you overlook these things because the staff are so nice and the location is lovely. We spent our second week at La Source which is in a different league all together) so if you are on a budget this is a good hotel to stay.
04 October 2009
I was so excited about staying at The BodyHotel Le Sport. Their strap line is ‘Give us your body for a week and I will give you back your mind’. It is quite a unique holiday that combines activities, rejuvenation and pampering under one roof. We flew direct with Virgin; they have just upgraded their entertainment system so we had a choice of 24 of the latest films which kept us busy during the 8 hour flight. The hotel is located on the northwest tip of the island, not far from Rodney Bay, on a beach in 42 acres of lush tropical gardens. From the moment you arrive, you feel you have arrived at a ‘retreat’. Cold towels and a refreshing Peter Punch cocktail await. My room was lovely, located on the first floor overlooking the sea with plenty of cupboard space, mirrors (oh bliss), a huge double bed and even an iron and ironing board. The hotel is all inclusive and includes so much that it is hard to know where to begin. Le Sport has one of the best spas in the world and a spa treatment is included everyday (except first and last day) with the all inclusive price. There are extra a la carte treatments that you can pay for locally. I treated myself to a deep tissue massage to help with my back and neck and it was amazing. There is so much to do at the hotel - you are spoilt for choice! We signed up to the meditation class one day and on another day we were taken out on the hotel speedboat to Marigot bay to sample the abundance of sea life snorkeling. I had taken my tennis gear but there was no time to play. I did however participate in a 3 mile guided walk to Cas en Bas; this was an intermediate walk which was really tough but the views were awesome. We also managed to fit in zip wiring, at Dinnery National park, through the rainforest which was such an adrenalin rush as we tackled 11 different wires. It’s a good job there was so much activity as the food was excellent so we seemed to be eating all the time! There was a good choice of restaurants at the hotel. There was also a Deli for healthy food and the Club house for afternoon tea. We mostly ate at the Cariblue restaurant, which was buffet during the day and a la carte in the evening. The most exclusive restaurant was ‘The Tao’ restaurant which has AAA 3star diamond award and has been included in the Conde Nast travelers list of ’60 hottest tables’; reservations were required. There was also a more informal barbecue restaurant at the Boat house. In the evening the Piano Bar opens; it’s a great place for cocktails before dinner and it stays open until the last person leaves. Nightlife was very low key but they do have a variety of entertainment including jazz bands, saxophonists, limbo dancing, a disco, a staff show and a quiz night. The weather was very hot (the hottest on record for September) and it only rained on one day when we went snorkeling. Rain did fall in the evening in sharp short bursts. There were various water sports available such as canoes and waterskiing with friendly staff available to assist with instruction. We used the beach to relax - they even had a flag system for drinks so you didn't need to move if you needed a cool drink. I have come back wishing I had more time there to try more things, however, despite my short stay I feel that I have a lot more energy and do feel rejuvenated.
02 March 2010
My first Nile Cruise was in the winter of 1991. It was a fantastic experience and I decided this year to go back and see how things have changed. We travelled up from Coventry on the Sunday afternoon and stayed overnight at the Mercure Hotel at Gatwick taking advantage of the special park and stay rate. The airport was chaotic but once the desks opened things moved quickly and we were all checked in. Luxor airport is very impressive, it is very new, clean and relatively organised. On arrival you have to queue at the bank to pay the £15 per person for your visa, then join another queue before eventually arriving at baggage reclaim. The journey to the boat was about 20 minutes from the airport. We arrived about 6pm just in time for a sand storm! So departure was delayed for several hours which messed up the itinerary slightly. Our boat was the Magic 1 which is a 4* boat and is all inclusive. Our cabin was 419 with just the sundeck above us. I had opted for a triple cabin which had a double bed and a settee seating area. The cabins were larger than I expected and the bathroom was modern with a hairdryer supplied. But no drawers! The coat hangers had no grip on them so very difficult to hang anything up as it just slid off. Dinner was between 7pm-8pm and just one sitting and always buffet. The table you are allocated on the first day you have for the whole cruise. They were sized from 6 to 12 people. There was plenty of choice on the buffet but the food didn't change that much over the week and was good but nothing special. All inclusive meant that drinks were included. I would say this was well worth it as the drinks were quite pricey. The bar staff were very generous with their measures as well. Entertainment was very average - they have a group of Nubian dancers, the belly dancer (oh dear) in body stocking, a disco, plus the Galabaya party which gives everyone the opportunity to dress up in 'fancy dress'. The outfits don't cost that much and it is a good laugh. I had a very 'jingly' number in black silver and gold coins all over with a black and gold coin belt attached. I felt like Cleopatra! The best thing about the Nile cruise is watching the changing scenery on the banks which is stunning. The sun beds were very comfortable and there is a lovely breeze to keep you cool. The swimming pool is just a splash pool and is freezing cold. It was 30 degrees plus for the whole week so you are able to sunbathe in between visits. The temple visits are usually at the crack of dawn ‘to beat the crowds'. In Aswan we were docked a long way from the centre of the town which was disappointing as you couldn't walk in to town. I wanted to visit the Catarat Hotel but found out that it was closed for refurbishments, the Mausaleum of Aga Khan was no longer open to the public and the botanical gardens in Aswan were a disappointment. I found the itinerary quite relaxed and we seemed to have a lot of free time unless you took the 'optional excursions'. The only optional excursion we did was the hot air balloon ride over the Valley of the Kings. Well worth doing but it is only on Mondays (departure day) and you have to get up at 3.30am! The views are fantastic and you can also see a bit of local life as well as is quite agricultural on the west bank. Luxor has so much history we docked near the Luxor temple which is awesome and there is also the Karnak Temple which is the largest temple which was brought to life by our Egyptologist ‘Earnest’. We took a horse and carriage independently and were taken down the narrow side street markets which were great fun. Even in March the temperatures are hot but it does cool down in the evening. Tipping is expected everywhere even to go to the loo so be warned even though we were all inclusive we spent quite a bit of money as even on organised tours you are taken to a 'shop' and bartering is the order of the day. If you don't like just sitting by a pool this is for you!
19 November 2008
Like most people we needed to get away from 'the doom & gloom' sweeping the country. We chose Antigua because the dates fitted in perfectly plus it was somewhere we hadn't been before. As a special treat we booked the Virgin Vroom which is a new airport lounge at Gatwick - this exceeded our expectations. There was a good selection of food (bacon butties/croissants/muffins) plus plenty of warm drinks before we boarded the flight. The flight was just over 8 hours and the flight had a good selection of latest films including Mamma Mia which I watched on the loop. It was a little bit chaotic when we arrived, we queued for about 30 minutes through passport and immigration and the cases were slow in arriving. Once through we eventually got in our Minibus with 6 other guests and we were off. The Verandah Resort where we were staying was 30 minutes drive from the airport on the north east coast of the island on the Atlantic side. The hotel is built within the National Park so is very eco in design. A golf buggy took us to our room and it was like being within a jungle. The gardens were wild but well tended and all the rooms are suites and are huge; 700sq ft with a large balcony and amazing views over the bay. The best part of this resort was that it was so peaceful. The food was a very good standard. I decided to be healthy, eating fruit for breakfast (with a few pastries), for lunch there was plenty of choice and I enjoyed the stir-fry and the sweet tray was enticing. In the evening we got to eat in the a la carte restaurant; Nicole's, which was lovely. Nightlife in Antigua was low key and we tended to have early nights to ensure we got up early as by 8am it was already hot!. We played tennis a couple of times in the evening on the floodlit courts.. located in a secluded section of the resort where we could have been in the jungle. The beach had a few non motorised watersports. We did try the kayaks but the main entertainment on the beach was the Pelicans diving for fish. A short walk from the beach was the famous Devils Bridge which has been carved out of the limestone cliffs by the sea. We didn't venture out too much from the hotel, but we were able to walk to Long Beach which is 5 minutes walk! We enjoyed a boat trip which circled around the whole island and we were able to take in all of Antigua's 365 beaches. The catamaran was also a good day out and a great way of seeing the island. We were only here for a week and had come to do as little as possible. The majority of people staying at the hotel were wedding couples and their friends and families, and people like ourselves there to relax. The England Cricket team had stayed the week before for the 20-20 series. The beauty of the hotel was it never felt crowded. The pool area was large with plenty of beds, there was free internet (though I was banned from checking my emails) and no one abused the All Inclusive so it never got rowdy. The weather was great; 82-90 degrees and we did have rain (and when it rained it poured). We got fit walking around the resort as it is quite hilly, however you could get the golf buggy if you preferred. I did have a Spa treatment - the facial plus massage which was for 2 hours which wasn't cheap but I felt great afterwards. A lovely, relaxing break!
31 July 2008
In November I was sending a special offers email out to my regular customers when I noticed one to the Maldives which was a fantastic deal so I followed my own advice and booked it. To be honest I didn't think it would be my cup of tea as I am quite an active person and thought I would go stir crazy stuck on a small island! I love going away just before Christmas because the prices are brilliant and also you miss all the rushing about and queueing in town centre car parks for Christmas shopping. So a week in the Maldives was just the tonic, plus it was my first wedding anniversary so I wanted to see if it lived up to its billing as a great place for romance. We flew on a direct flight from Manchester and opted for the speedboat transfer. In hindsight I would have preferred to have taken the sea plane as the speedboat isn't quite what you imagine especially when you are on it for an hour. Kuramathi Island where we stayed is one of the larger islands which has 3 resort hotels we were staying at the all inclusive Kuramathi Village in a deluxe room. The rooms were located in the gardens but only steps away from the beach. I would say the circuit of the island was over a mile so you didn't feel too claustrophobic. We got a fair bit of mileage in as we would spend the day at the Blue Lagoon Resort at the centre of the Island which had a spa, a pool and a tennis court.Then we would come back to the village for lunch and then back to Blue Lagoon for a game of tennis in the late part of the afternoon. I must admit tennis was difficult in the humidity but we managed to play everyday. . The Blue Lagoon also had a spa. I was in dire need of pampering and the 45 minute trigger point massage took an hour and a half and was evil (no pain no gain). However I have had a pain free year this year so it has saved me a fortune in chiropractor fees. We had our massage at the end of the jetty in the open air bliss. In the shallows you see plenty of fish. the catfish (miniature sharks) looking after their patch, and the beautiful coloured parrot fish and because the water is so shallow we walked out quite far from the sand bank so didn't need to snorkel as the fish were in abundance. One night we ate in the Laguna Grill restaurant and all the crabs came out to play on the beach, it was great entertainment! As I mentioned before we were on all inclusive which meant we ate in the buffet restaurant or had a credit in the other restaurants in the resort.I don't like to be tied to one restaurant so to have a credit was great so we could try alternative restaurants and just pay the difference. The all inclusive bar had a great atmosphere and the entertainment was surprisingly good, especially the live band that played a good variety of music. The weather was excellent - it rained once or twice but we just headed to the haven of the bar. So did it live up to its romantic billing? Yes it did, and would we go back? Yes we would. It's not just a divers destination but a great place to chill out. I am so glad I have experienced the 'desert island' holiday.
31 July 2008
I was really looking forward to going away for my birthday and me and my husband decided to go to Sandals Halycon Resort to sample the ultra All Inclusive for ourselves. The plan was to have a total chill out and the beauty of Sandals is that all 3 hotels are within close proximity to each other, and you are able to use all the facilities. We could only take a week so we just wanted to take it easy. September is not the best month to go as it is still the 'hurricane season' in the Caribbean so we went with the expectation that the weather would be changeable. I was also quite excited as I was going to fly Virgin as I had heard some really good reports about their flights to the Caribbean, as there are individual screens on the back on the seats for personal entertainment, and of course free drinks on board to get the holiday off to a great start. We stayed overnight at the on site Hilton Hotel at Gatwick which is perfect for an early start. The flight was as good as I anticipated and then we were at St Lucia where a 'Sandals Minibus' whisked us away. The journey was very bumpy (be prepared). Then we were at the Halcyon . The hotel was very pretty with the most beautiful gardens but in need of a little refurbishment ( refurbished this year I believe) however the rooms were adequate. We thought the air conditioning was a bit noisy in the evening but later we found out it was the insects!! On my birthday we ate in the Pier restaurant at the Halycon which many thought was one of the nicest restaurants. It extends over the ocean with lovely views. The service was excellent and they even went to the trouble of providing a birthday cake for me at very short notice. I did try out the Red Lane Spa at Sandals. I had to go to the Regency Hotel and I had a lovely massage which was top notch.. this you have to pay for but well worth it! At Sandals you have a quiet pool and an activity pool. We tended to hang around the quiet pool to read our books in peace, if you wanted to be loud then there was the activity pool . I also took advantage of the free tennis coaching. I was his only pupil so it was fantastic for me as it was a one to one coaching and this was a real highlight. We also got into playing shuffle board everyday which was great fun. We took advantage of the snorkelling where we were taken out in a boat to snorkel as we are not divers. If we were we could have gone diving everyday free of charge - fantastic value. We didn't play golf either but could have played for free but there wasn't enough time. There is a shuttle bus which runs between the 3 hotels throughout the day and we were the middle hotel. The Regency and The Grand were 15 minutes drive either way. I did like the Sandals Grand, it has a lovely Italian Restaurant where the dress codes were strictly adhered to. We also drank Baileys by the gallon in the English pub and had a game of snooker (watched attentively by the Americans who were baffled by it) I did enjoy the variation of restaurants and activities and to be honest a week wasn't enough.. that is why we never got round to do any sight seeing. I am glad I have stayed at a Sandals property as I now understand what type of people it would suit. It was more informal than we expected. The weather was very good.. we did have rain but it mostly rained at night or a sharp shower in the afternoon. It was good to experience the 'Sandals' culture.
31 July 2008
When we decided to get married, we decided that we didn't want a big formal affair in the United Kingdom.. we wanted to do it abroad. After looking at many destinations from Greece to Africa we based our decision on where we wanted to go rather than what would suit others. As I am very well travelled, Mauritius was somewhere where we both hadn't been and somewhere I had always wanted to go. It also fitted in with dates, as the best time to go to Mauritius is in the winter months which suited us with it being the best time to get away from work. We chose the 'Heritage Hotel' because it was a recommendation from a colleague and also the All Inclusive at the hotel included spa treatments everyday for both of us which was a real bonus. Mauritius is an ideal place for weddings or honeymoons as the bride receives a discount on the accommodation. We found the paperwork is very straight forward in order to get married. After our long flight, we flew Air Mauritius direct from London, (but you can fly from Birmingham with Emirates via Dubai) we arrived at the hotel. No dragging our cases into reception - we were looked after from the moment we arrived being offered a cold towel and cocktail..perfect! The wedding arrangements involved spending half a day in Port Louis, the capital just to complete the formalities and have a meeting with the wedding co-ordinator. This was just to decide where we wanted to get married. We opted for the Gazebo which is located in gardens and had a beautiful backdrop of the sea. There is only one wedding a day at the Heritage so we were able to pick our time and we did not feel as if we were rushed. We did have guests at the wedding. When we first told the family they were a bit shocked as I think they thought it was going to be an expensive holiday. They were pleasantly surprised! Everyone was at different hotels that suited them as we didn't want everyone at the same hotel on top of each other. We all opted for All Inclusive which I felt was the best option as the drinks can be a little bit pricey. My husband didn’t know 9 of his family were coming and I managed to keep this a secret from him until we were up there saying our vows. For anyone one that knows me that is no mean feat! We got married a week after we arrived so had time to do a bit of sightseeing. We hired a car and driver and saw many of the sights. Doing it this way was just as cost effective as hiring a car. My nephew who was 3 at the time was fascinated with the crocodiles and giant tortoises that we saw at the Vanilla Crocodile Park. My dad opted to go fishing in Black River and caught a huge marlin. We also hired a car later in the holiday as driving is on the left just like home so it was easy to discover the island. The highlight however was a dolphin trip where we were taken by boat out to a bay to see dolphins swimming in the wild. Truly amazing! So to the wedding... They gave my husband a separate room and made him stay in it until we had hidden his family. The ceremony is 45 minutes long and in-between they have a 'trio' who sing songs chosen by us (as long as it is in their repertoire) with acoustic guitar. After the ceremony we enjoyed canapés before moving on to the Infinity Blue Restaurant on the beach for our meal. On our last night the hotel set up a candle lit meal for 2 on the beach and our favourite waiter Jimmy gave up his day off to be our personal waiter for the night. We were very sad to be going home because we had felt so special during our two week holiday. Nothing was too much trouble and this now is the benchmark for future holidays. I built up relationships with the staff and management of this hotel and always drop them an email when I am sending any customers. My family absolutely loved Mauritius and they didn’t all necessarily stay in 5* accommodation. Mostly 3* but the overwhelming response was it was the best holiday they have ever had and they all want to go back... what better recommendation!!
22 February 2009
I have travelled to many parts of Egypt. I have done the Pyramids in Cairo, a cruise down the Nile visiting Aswan & Luxor and have also been to Taba on the Israeli border. So this time I decided to try Sharm el Sheikh. In the winter it is a great alternative to the Canaries as the weather is still very warm. It wasn’t just warm it was 'scorchio' - there was a heat wave so it was over 100 degrees. We weren't planning on leaving the resort so didn't bother to get a Visa at the airport. Our taxi driver was waiting for us at the carousel with our name on his board and we were ushered off to the Hilton Sharks Bay. I chose this hotel because it is a hotel I send a lot of my customers to and they go at least twice a year!. It isn't a fancy hotel but the food is good and the staff are very friendly. The Hilton is geared towards UK guests as a lot of the hotels now cater for the Russian or Italian customers. There isn’t a lot in the way of entertainment in the evening. After a meal in the Italian restaurant we would have a drink in one of the bars or play table tennis. We ventured into Naama Bay which had bars, shops and night life. But you do get harassed a lot by the stall owners so it was nice to get back to the tranquility of the hotel. The food in Naama Bay was reasonable and good quality though the service was a bit on the slow side. The Hilton had several pools but the water was like ice despite the hot weather. So I was one of the few who braved the water. We were on all inclusive at the Hilton. We tended to have buffet at lunch because the sweet trolley was really tempting and in the evening we would do the al a carte Italian. The staff were lovely at the hotel and once you got to know them they would look after you; they always had a smile despite working very long shifts. We didn’t bother doing any excursions though there are plenty of options Cairo, Luxor or even a trip to Jordan and Petra (which I have already done from Taba) but highly recommend. We just lazed in the sunshine, drank lots of gin and tonics, played volleyball and of course snorkelled. The Red Sea is very popular for diving and snorkelling. The hotel has its own jetty out to the reef so you can snorkel. So in all a nice, relaxing holiday and we made some great friends who we still keep in contact with and it was perfect for a winter break without having to fly too far.
22 February 2009
This was my third visit to Mexico. I had previously been to Puerto Vallarta on the Atlantic coast and a work based trip to Cancun in 1998. I chose Playa Del Carmen because it was more Mexican and as it happened it was the only resort open after the recent hurricane which had damaged most of the hotels in Cancun. The tour operator had combined the flight from Birmingham with Manchester which was not ideal and added 3 hours onto the journey. We stayed at the RIU Tequilla Hotel which allowed us to dine around in the two other sister hotels. From the hotel we were able to walk into Playa Del Carmen and look around the many shops where bartering was essential as everything was marked up incredibly, maybe because the cruise ship passengers were due in town! We went to Xelha for a day trip which is an eco park. Snorkelling equipment is included in the price of the ticket and life jackets are provided. The park is lovely especially if you love snorkelling it’s a must. Unknown to many, Cancun has the second largest reef in the world (to the barrier reef). For me, the nervous snorkeller, it is easy as the inlet where you snorkel is shallow in parts. There is a lazy river which takes you through the waterways to the inlet in a large rubber ring. It is here where I developed a passion for snorkelling. We then visited Xcaret - this is a Mexican themed park which gets you into the culture with different shows at different times of the day. The highlight was the underwater cave system which runs for miles around the park. Plus the native Indian hockey match with a ball on fire. The Indians are all in war paint and are very scary up close. The beach at Playa del Carmen is a lovely long sandy beach and is much nicer (and safer) than the beach in Cancun. The water was beautiful and clear. The hotel was good though not outstanding. The entertainment was a bit 'Hi Di Hi', and dress codes were non existent in the restaurant in the evening. Though we did have optics in the bathroom as part of the all inclusive and our minibar was always fully stocked. Our flight was delayed on the way home by 5 hours so we utilised our time having a slap up meal in TGI Fridays which was fabulous; steak fajita...best airport food ever. Mexico has beautiful beaches, great sightseeing, but you need to choose your hotel well as they are all very different. It is very commercialised and geared towards the American market.
06 February 2009
We were invited to my friend Sue’s wedding in Ithaca. Sue use to work with me in Greece and whilst visiting me in Coventry one New Year’s Eve she met John who was to be her future husband. So Sue chose to go back to Ithaca to get married as she fell in love with the island whilst working there. Ithaca lies just off Kefalonia and to get to the island you have to get a ferry - it takes about an hour from the mainland. It’s a lovely journey as you come into the port of Vathi you get this feeling of 'coming home'. Vathi is the Capital of Ithaca, it is a pretty town with houses built up into the hills. I worked on the island in 1987 but in 20 years the island has changed so little in fact there was probably less going on now than then!. We stayed in apartments on the waterfront with a pool overlooking where the ferries come in. John and Sue’s family were scattered all over Vathi. There were about 20 of us in all, some had come as far as Holland & Thailand to be there. Ithaca doesn't have many beaches, from Vathi they are a bit of a trek to the other side of the island so we needed transportation. I hired a moped and as the island is only 30 minutes from one end to the other, took Jim on a bit of a tour of the island. The island is very hilly and at one point is only 1km wide so the scenery was absolutely stunning. I popped into the Nostos Hotel in Frikes and said hello to Nikki & Andreas with a glass of orange juice. Then further down to Kioni the most beautiful Greek village with just two tavernas on the waterfront for lunch. We had a hen night in Vathi where I came out of retirement to demonstrate my party piece of Greek dancing with a glass on my head! We just congregated in a local bar so nothing too rowdy. Donna, who use to rep with us in the 80's, organised the wedding. She never left and married a local so started up 'Kefalonia Weddings'. The wedding was the first for UK citizens to marry on Ithaca. The wedding was held in the town hall in Vathi and from there we immediately boarded Andreas’ boat (Andreas use to do our boat BBQs in the 80's so took a bit of tracking down) and circled the harbour tooting his horn whilst we drank champagne. He dropped us off at 'Gregories' a traditional seafood restaurant on the waterfront where we had a mezze of Greek specialities and plenty of wine. Some people had too much wine - John 'the groom' decided he wanted a swim and decided to strip off to his birthday suit (with his mother present sitting next to me) and Sue the bride cycled off getting her dress caught in the spokes! Although it was great to be back in Ithaca a week was enough especially because of the lack of beaches. There are no discos and only a few bars to go to and not too many restaurants. However there is very little tourism here and it’s a great place to go if you want to do nothing at all but relax.
06 February 2009
I worked in Kefalonia as a holiday representative in the late 1980's and know the island very well. When I returned in 2005 the island had changed very little. It had its moment of fame when the epic movie 'Captain Corelli's Mandolin' was filmed here. Kefalonia is the 5th largest of all the Greek islands so there is plenty to see. The island has its own vineyards and produces some of the best wines in Greece. It also has some of the best beaches which are generally uncrowded. The island is dominated by Mount Aenos which can be found in the south of the island. The main resorts in the south are Lourdas, Skala and the fishing village of Katelios. These resorts face on to the island of Zante. Kefalonia is a very beautiful island. Unlike many of the other islands in the Ionian Sea it is relatively unspoilt with stunning scenery so car hire is a must. I hired a car and drove from Lassi to Scala. The roads are in good condition so no goat tracks like there were in the past and generally very quiet. We were returning from my friend’s wedding on the nearby island of Ithaka and had time to kill so we drove down to Skala where I use to work. Skala is a very friendly resort and there aren’t too many properties with swimming pools as the resort has a lovely long sand/shingle beach. There are about 13 tavernas with a couple of lively bars but it tends to be a low key resort and the tavernas tend to be more traditional. It was quite funny returning as I must speak Greek with a certain 'accent' as when I ordered the drinks the waiter nearly dropped his tray. We spent time on the lovely beach at Skala fringed by pine trees before returning to Lassi. Lassi, which is only 20 minutes from the airport, has some of the best beaches - Makris (large), Platis (long) and Yialos are the main beaches. There is a good selection of tavernas and restaurants with an international menu. If you want nightlife the capitol Argostoli is only a short taxi ride away. There you will find shops, bars and more restaurants. In the summer the shops open late so it’s great to visit in the evening and soak up the atmosphere. We didn't have time to sample the charms of Lassi but I am sure I will return very soon as Greece is my second home.
28 February 2009
I have been to Madeira many times. I worked in Madeira in 1990; I visited on a cruise ship in 2004 and I holidayed in 2004. Madeira is a very special place. Many people associate it with the older generation. This is a bit of a myth. I would say it is for people who appreciate quality, great service and beauty. The island is very beautiful; it is a volcanic island like the other Canary Islands but far more greener. I worked there during Christmas and New Year as a holiday representative and I would say that it was the best place I had been this time of year. They take things seriously - firework displays, great Christmas lights, I even remember seeing a live nativity scene! The cruise boats all come in and at midnight on New Years Eve it is spectacular. The hotels arrange champagne receptions and parties; it’s a great place to be. Going back in 2004 I was surprised how much it had grown past the lido area and how many improvements had been made with EU money. Especially the waterfront which was all pedestrianised and the new marina. There is a cable car that will take you up to the village of Monte which has some beautiful botanical gardens. This village is where the 'sleighs 'operate from, originally used to transport wine they now transport people down the cobbled streets. You need to be fit and healthy to stay in Madeira as it is very hilly the hotels are a distance from the main town of Funchal and there are two hills that I named ‘cardiac’ (90 degree angle) or the more gentle hill past the Casino Park. There is an old town with lots of traditional restaurants to cater for every budget. The countryside is covered in Levadas (irrigation channels) where you can go walking to beautiful unspoilt countryside. If you prefer to go by vehicle you can hire a taxi for the day with the driver as a guide or go on a coach journey. The guides are fabulous they speak English better than us and the sightseeing is amazing. The food you will get is usually Espada (fish and banana) which is a local delicacy. There are not any beaches as such in Madeira as it is very high cliffed but Porton Santo is a ferry journey away which has the best beaches in Europe! There is a constant temperature all year round I went in March and we had a heat wave - something we didn't expect. Though it does get a bit more rain than its counterparts in the Canaries. But then it’s more green and beautiful. Madeira is a class act.
02 March 2010
When I was asked to work in the Seychelles it was a bit of a shock. It's not every day you can say 'when I worked in the Seychelles' but I am one of those lucky people. It wasn't my first visit to the islands - I had been there on holiday two years before as my friend Sue was based out there. It is a very beautiful place. The Seychelles must be the most romantic place in the world. When you fly in to the main airport on Mahe below you are hundreds of islands dotted in the ocean like diamonds. I lived on the main island of Mahe in the 'Mahe Beach Hotel'. This was on the West Coast at Port Glaud about 15km from Victoria. I had a car so did the drive everyday from the hotel to Victoria. The island is very hilly and the roads are very windy within the interior so you needed your wits about you. The humidity is very high in the Seychelles and to keep its beautiful green interior it tended to rain every day just short, sharp showers which would clear the air. Around every corner the scenery takes your breath away. The most popular beach is Beau Vallon on the North West coast; here the beach was safe for swimming (not all the beaches are safe) and was popular for water sports. I am not a great swimmer so didn't take advantage of the 5* PADI diving services on offer, though I did attempt snorkelling. There is a very popular excursion that went to Cerf Island where there was an abundance of sea life followed by a slap up buffet. Other excursions I would recommend would be to visit the beautiful island of La Digue which is paradise on earth. They have no vehicles on La Digue only ox carts and it has been host to many films including Robinson Crusoe and Farewell Emmanuelle! Praslin is the second largest island in the Seychelles and has a World Heritage Site -the Vallee De Mai - which is said to be the original Garden of Eden and it is great to wander around the virgin forests untouched by man. Just off Praslin you can access other islands such as Cousin and Cousine. Cousin is a sanctuary for birds and is an absolutely amazing place. When I visited the birds were hatching all the time and I am sure David Attenborough visited whilst I was on the islands. My favourite creatures on the Seychelles were the giant tortoises. They used to have an enclosure at the Mahe Beach and I would always smuggle food out of breakfast for them. Their favourite food was the pastries and they would surround me when I came to visit with some goodies for them. Lots of people came out to get married on their own without family so I was asked to be a witness to quite a lot of weddings. The weddings on the Seychelles were only one a day and very tastefully done. As I had a car I would decorate my car with tin cans and ribbon and drive the couple to the beach afterwards for photos. The Seychelles is very exclusive and you pay for the exclusivity. There’s not lots of night life and nothing is 'cheap' when you get there but there is nowhere like it for beauty and romance.
30 July 2011
I was based in the Greek Islands as a holiday representative for many years. My favourite island was the Island of Naxos one of the lesser known islands but a real hidden gem. Naxos is one of the less sophisticated of the Cyclades Islands. Many people would have heard of Santorini or Mykonos, two of her more famous islands. Naxos is the largest of all the Cyclades Islands and has a lot of history plus a lot of villages - 77 in total! I lived in Naxos Town, which is the capital of the island. At first glance it looks a bit of a miss-mash but behind the Myriad of streets is a fascinating place full of secrets and history. The island is a working island and is famous for its potatoes; the food is the best food I have eaten in all of Greece. In my capacity as a rep I would take my customers on a guided walk of the old town though all the old Venetian-style streets. The Venetians were in charge of the islands for many years and the crests of the knights are still evident. The island has many marble quarries and in several parts of the island are Kouros - huge boy statues made of marble and found just lying in orchards. The island has many beautiful uncrowded beaches; I used to head to Agios Anna and Plaka where I would be the most clothed person, for a bit of seclusion. On the beaches you can find the sea snail stones called 'The Eye of Naxos’, which are used to make into jewellery. There are said to keep away the evil spirits and bring good luck. The island didn't have any official Greek dancers so that was my job in the village in Kato Potamia up in the hills, drinking the potent local wine. Once I got up the locals would join in and it would all get so out of hand! My favourite village was Apirathos, which was a town made of marble with the most breathtaking views. Every week four old guys would wait under the tree on the town square for our coach to arrive and certainly looked better than any postcard picture, watching the world go by. Naxos is a 3 hour ferry journey from Santorini. What awaits you in the Temple of Dionysos dating back to 500 BC and is a bustling harbour with fresh octopus hanging from ouzouries, which brush shoulders with souvenir shops. You can visit nearby islands easily - there are day trips to Mykonos, Kounfanissa and Paros, there are also ferries from Piraeus in Athens. There is good nightlife, nice shops, and great restaurants. You need more than a couple of days to discover it...a real hidden gem and my favourite Greek island.
03 March 2010
Looking at the date of this journal you are probably thinking that my experience was a long time ago. But it was the best time of my life and so I wanted to share this with you. I worked in Kenya as a rep for 10 months in 1992. I had never been anywhere quite like it and the experience was amazing. When I arrived in Mombasa I was allocated to work in the south of Mombasa in the area of Diani Beach. Those of you that haven't been to Mombasa before, let me explain that when you land on Mombasa Island it is surrounded by reefs and a creek. The south is connected by ferry, the north by bridge. I was put on a coach and then had to go on the ferry - a bit daunting as it is a glorified raft and you can’t stay on the bus but you have to leave your valuables behind on it. Diani Beach is lovely - although you are a bit cut off it is so relaxing. There aren't so many hawkers on the beach as you find in the north. The first things you need to get used to are the monkeys; baboons are regular visitors, as are Ververt monkeys. My balcony was above the restaurant so mother-and-toddler monkey groups often frequented my balcony. The monkeys are very clever and they know when tea and cakes were served by the pool so they were always there stealing people’s cakes! The birds liked sugar and you would often see them flying off with a sachet in their mouth at breakfast time. On safari the monkey’s associated food with plastic bags so were after grabbing them off people. I was allocated the car in Mombasa; this was something I wasn't happy about as there are no street lights and as well as vehicles there are chickens goats, bicycles, carts and pedestrians. I tried to avoid driving at night, but I got used to it eventually. My first safari was amazing, I was broken in gently and did a one day trip at Tsavo, which you can do by road from the coast. Seeing your first lion close up is an amazing experience, they are so docile (unless they are hungry). Over the ten months I was in Kenya I did all the main parks staying in tented camps, lodges and even did the hot air balloon over the Masai Mara. There are two types of safari - road and air. The road safaris allow you to see more of local life as you travelling from one national park to another. The air safaris are where you fly from camp to camp. I did an air safari direct from the airstrip in the south which flew directly over snow-capped Kilimanjaro. When we landed in the Masai Mara just below us were a herd of elephants - wow. I lived for 6 months in the north of Mombasa at Kikambala Sun 'n' Sand hotel, which was a little remote, a car was essential and we were able to sample the nightlife which was really good. In Mombasa there are some excellent restaurants such as the Hard Rock Cafe and the Tamarind restaurant plus Mamba, a cave disco, which was a great Friday night out. We were also able to go shopping in Moi Avenue for soapstone and wood carvings. I was so sad when I left Kenya, I wanted to stay forever. It is an amazing experience. The people, the places, safaris are all still fresh in my mind.
03 March 2010
Nobody probably had heard of Skopelos before the film Mama Mia featured it. Before that it was known as the sister island of the more glamorous Skiathos. I worked as a holiday representative on Skopelos in 1990. Skopelos is the largest of the Sporades (scattered) islands. You cannot fly to it direct, you have to fly to Skiathos and then either take a hydrofoil (flying dolphin) or ferry over. The town of Skopelos is lovely as it is full of terracotta rooftops and is a labyrinth of white-washed streets with the ruins of a castle at the top. I lived in the town on the other side of the bay with beautiful view. The town is quite busy; there are wine bars mixed in with shops, local bakeries and tavernas and the town is the main resort on the island. You need to travel to get to the beaches; there is one road out of the town to get to them. The nearest beach is Stafilos which is about a 30 minute walk out of town, but the better beaches are Milia and Panormos further along the coast. The island has three ports in the main town including Glossa (in the north) and the emergency port when it’s a bit choppy, which is Agnondas (in the Mama Mia film this is where the boat docks). In my capacity of holiday rep I was often on the hyrdrofoil and also guiding the BBQ boat trip, which was my favourite. The best excursion to do from Skopelos is Meteora, which is an amazing place. For any James Bond fans this is where the famous helicopter scene was shot for the film For Your Eyes Only, where the churches are perched on huge rock formations – a definite wow factor. You could also visit Athens from here. I have many great memories from Skopelos. The holiday makers I had were a great laugh, we often had BBQ's at accommodations up at the top of the town at 'Patsis'. This property had the most amazing views but also no one could ever find their way back after a night out - it was hilarious. I used to have a message book on the property in which people would pen their latest adventure about getting lost! Half way up the hill there used to be a man with a drum of ouzo and I am sure he had something to do with all this! People that visited Skopelos for a day out from Skiathos were never impressed, but Skopelos has hidden charms such as the quaint backstreets, its lovely walks and beaches away from the town. The beaches aren’t as good as Skiathos, but I think they have more character. The secret’s out now I just hope that it doesn’t get too spoilt….
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