The Real Fantasy Island

Have you ever been to Hawaii? For those of you who said yes, have you ever been to an island other than Oahu/Honolulu? When I was younger my mother took me to Honolulu on a work trip. I loved it! I thought it was paradise….until Tim and I visited the island of Kauai. 
Last year over memorial day weekend Tim and I went to Kauai. The island is an amazing botanical garden filled with lush vegetation as far as the eye can see. The island has big beautiful waterfalls everywhere and is an outdoor enthusiasts paradise. Flight prices over Memorial Day weekend are also normally affordable (for Hawaii). 

There are so many things to do and delicious food to eat, but after our little debate, this is a list of our Kauai favorites:

  • Drive up Waimea Canyon State Park, great views, nice hike and rainbows everywhere!
  • Na Pali Coast: by helicopter or by boat, either way it’s breathtaking. 
  • Wailua Falls: a quick drive from the airport to see a very powerful waterfall. 
  • Stay at the Hyatt, we love their pool and water slide. Or if you are bringing your family stay at the Marriott vacation club in Poipu.​

Favorite food spots:

  • If you want to have fancy dinner, visit Merriman’s Fish House or Tidepools at the Hyatt.
  •  Grab a drink just before sunset at the Beach House. It’s a famous waterfront restaurant. The food was good, but the view was awesome. 
  • You can’t beat breakfast at Kalaheo Cafe & Coffee Company: 2-2560 Kaumualii Hwy, Kalaheo, HI 
  • Or try a low key spot like Bamboo Café: It is in the shopping center next door to the Marriott Beach Club and Duke’s. We loved their giant pineapple macadamia nut pancakes and fried rice with breakfast. So yummy! 
  • Crazy delicious ice cream (worth the long lines):  Lappert’s Hawaii: 2829 Ala Kalanikaumaka St, Koloa, HI  

Random note:

If you are staying at a resort that has grills, drive to Costco and buy Kauai Shrimp. Seriously the best grilled shrimp in the world! We would fly back tomorrow just for the shrimp. Costco is also where you should buy your chocolate covered macadamia nuts, etc to bring home.

Lastly, to appreciate the prices here on the mainland, visit a grocery store. When you see that a half gallon of regular (not organic) milk is $9, you may stop whining about the prices at Whole Foods. Oh and last but not least, eat poke….it’s delicious and cheap everywhere!! 

Hmmm, when are we going back? Till next time!

L & T

Don’t lose sight of your passion

Yesterday my remodeler asked me why I haven’t been traveling. He said he had been following my blog but noticed I had not written anything in a long time. I had no idea that he had any interest in my travel blog (or knew that it existed). Also, I have spent a great deal of time these past two years, taking my day job home with me. It’s time to find the balance, work hard, play hard.How often do we lose sight of our passion? How often do we allow the noise of life to get in the way of what we love? My New Year’s resolution was to take the time to return to talking about travel. And to make sure I follow through, my husband Tim is joining me. We are both passionate about travel and although we may not be traveling as often, we are still seeing the world. 

Next time we will talk about memorial day weekend; how we spent it last year and trends we’ve seen for 2017. 

Please feel free to share this with others, as that may help keep us on track. We will recap hotspots for 2016, and share thoughts for 2017 travel and beyond. If you have traveled with us recently, don’t be surprised if photos or video of you are posted. 

L & T

The End of Airline Miles As We Know It

CIMG9424We just returned from a quick getaway to Istanbul. I know what you’re thinking…quick and Istanbul shouldn’t be in the same sentence when you live in the Washington DC area. So why take a 3 day getaway to a place that is over 5,000 miles away each way? Well, the “rational” response to that question, is that it was a very inexpensive trip and we couldn’t pass up a great deal to a historic location that is also a shopping mecca. That is true, the price was crazy cheap and through my agency link I was able to book the airfare and hotel for less than the cost of just the flight alone direct through United. But the real decision maker was the miles.

Beginning March 1st, United is joining the other airlines who have decided that earning miles will be based on dollars spent and not distance flown. As my husband Tim and I thought more about the impact of this change on our potential status on United, we decided to stay on the lookout for one last distance trip on the cheap before the end of February. Sure enough, Turkey was the winner.

Let me breakdown what that means in mileage earned:

Based on the current miles earned for distance flown system, we will each earn 10,875 miles for distance to Turkey, but with my bonus miles because of my status I earned a total of 14,812 miles.

Under the new miles for dollars spent system, the earning is based on the value United assigns to the discounted airfare as a part of the package. $416 was the airfare price, now referred to as PQD (points qualifying dollars). As a Premier Gold member, I have a multiplier of 8 for PQD spent.

If I took that trip after March 1st, I would have received 3,328 miles…11,484 miles less then I receive now. As I said, it’s the end of miles as we know it. Well, what’s done is done and at the end of the day, I’m still married to United. So, if you plan to take a short getaway before March 1st

Here are a few tips to enjoying short term distance travel:

1st Enjoy the journey as much as the destination! If you already have airline status, the airline lounges are your key to rest, entertainment, food and beverages. International lounges always have free alcohol, often in a serve yourself set up. So why not try a new drink or enjoy your standard preference. Either way many of my friends will tell you the vacation begins when the first beverage is served.

2nd – Bring entertainment with you. Our connecting flight was delayed (no surprise when you travel in the winter) but since we connected in Toronto, we were able to just extend our time in the Maple Leaf lounge. We always travel with an iPad loaded with movies and we also have books. We found a quiet area with comfy chairs and my hubby read to me. It’s amazing the little things that don’t take much effort and are really romantic, but in everyday life we never find the time. Since we like to begin vacation once we hit the airport, we took what others may consider a negative (a delay) and turned it into quality time together.

3rd – Sleep on the plane. Some people can naturally sleep on a plane. If you are not one of those people, sometimes a Benadryl is your friend. It serves a dual purpose, stops any allergic reaction you may have to something on the plane and puts you to sleep for at least 4 hours. Also, bring an eye mask! Shutting off all light from your eyes will aid in your sleep efforts.

4th – Be prepared to caffeinate when you land. You’ve landed, in a country that 7 hours different from your time zone…let me guess, you’re tired. Of course you are, but don’t let that hold you back. Drink some coffee or tea, or eat chocolate. Even drinking water will help wake you up, that and the cold air when you walk outside. If you arrive in any location before 3pm, there is a likelihood that you won’t be able to check in. No worries, plan for it and hit the streets. Grab a map from the concierge and start your touring immediately. If you sit still you will want to go to sleep anyway. Try the local food and drinks. Almost every country has a caffeine drink that they are famous for and we had Turkish coffee and Turkish tea upon arrival. Another trick is to pack Crystal Light Energy packets and pour it in a water bottle. Don’t give in to exhaustion, you have your whole life to sleep.

5th – Take a full city tour then visit the key spots. Most CIMG9516major destinations have a “hop on hop off” bus tour. They are normally 2-3 hours at the most to circle the whole city. If you are visiting a city for a short period of time, I recommend that tour to get a general overview along with the history of the town in a quick time frame. Then, take some time to go back and go inside the key tourist spots. You don’t want to be the person that went to Paris but forgot to see the Eiffel Tower. The hop on hop off tour will bring you past all of those major sites so that you can at least get a picture of the highlights.

http://afsgetaways.com/destinations/asia/turkey/istanbul.html

To close this article, I had to reference a Huffington Post article and say thanks to my friend Adena for tagging me in her post on FB! It is such a generous compliment to say that this article makes her think of me.

“How To Avoid One of The Most Common Life Regrets http://huff.to/17G4FQ1 via @HuffPostTravel”

Toronto, a fun weekend getaway eh

Opening day weekend my husband and I made a quick weekend getaway to Toronto. Several of my friends asked why we selected Toronto, so even though this is delayed, I thought I’d give a quick recap of the highlights of this fun city.

We live in the Washington DC area, so Toronto is a short flight away. Spring is a great opportunity to take advantage of lower air fares and the US to Canadian dollar exchange is pretty much even. There are a ton of hotel options in the downtown #Toronto area but we stayed at the #Marriott Eaton Centre. Eaton Centre is a massive shopping complex that is also near several restaurants and every store you desire. The service at this Marriott was fantastic from the front desk to the restaurant staff, we were in customer service paradise.

We arrived pretty late on Friday night but our goal was to hit the club scene. Since the drinking age in Toronto is 19 I did some advanced research to make sure we selected a club that was of the appropriate age range. After reading several reviews it looked like Cinema would be the best location. Parts of the reviews were correct the bar staff were friendly and it was not filled with 19-year-olds. However they left out a few important details so let me fill you in. Cinema is not normally open on Fridays, but they opened up for this guest DJ. We kept waiting for the club to fill up but that never happened. It wasn’t empty but it was a half filled sausage festival. Let’s just say I wish I had several of my single girlfriends with me when I went to this club. The number one issue with the club is that the music comes in and out, the sound system is weak. I thought it may be the DJs equipment but the staff said it happens all the time. It’s too bad because it’s a nice size club in a cute neighborhood. At the end of the day the music was very good…when it was playing and it felt like our own private dance club.

The next morning we thought we should take advantage of opening day weekend and catch the Toronto Blue Jays vs the NY Yankees. We went to the concierge and asked if he could help us secure tickets to the baseball game. Opening day weekend is the only weekend in Toronto where the baseball game is sold out. So if you’re going another time of year, feel free to walk right up to the gate and get yourself a ticket. The upper decks normally run about $13. But for opening day weekend, with broker fees the ticket was only $30. We wanted to see the city so we got on the hop on hop off bus which also took us right to the stadium. We arrived a little early and discovered that all the locals visit Steam Whistle, a local Toronto brewery before each game. Steam Whistle is located right outside of the stadium. The line was long so we didn’t get to take the tour but we did get to sample the beverages, just like the locals. It’s a tasty beer, this opinion coming from a non-beer drinker, but Tim agreed so I highly recommend it if you visit.
The Blue Jays play at the Rogers Centre which has a retractable dome. It was the perfect place to watch a baseball game when it’s a little cool outside. There is a hotel connected to the Rogers Centre, so if you want a different perspective on the game, book a room at the Renaissance with the windows facing into the stadium.

Saturday night we had tickets to Second City in Toronto to watch their show Sixteen Scandals. The show was fantastic and there were only a few Canadian jokes that we didn’t quite understand. They even have an improv show late-night that people can watch for free.
There are many restaurants open late night on a Friday and Saturday in Toronto. After the show we walked over to Copper Creek steakhouse. In support of opening-day weekend they had a giant projection TV showing the game in the dining room. We opted for a more romantic style dinner in the bar area which was shockingly empty. We shared the salmon salad and filet, both were amazing.
After dinner we took a quick taxi ride over to the entertainment district on King Street. There are a large number of pubs and clubs that line the street. It’s a very active area with a great vibe and friendly people. We enjoyed our night out and all the people we met.

We were determined to have some Canadian oysters before we left town. So on Sunday before our flight we made our way over to the highly rated Starfish Oyster Bar for lunch. It was perfect. The restaurant is owned by an Irishman who also runs a nearby B&B. They had fresh oysters from Canada, Washington and Ireland available, in addition to some delicious lunch selections. We ordered a dozen of the mixed Canadian oysters paired with a Sav Blanc and a Cava. Then we ordered the grilled calamari salad and the shrimp po boy. Everything was delicious but the shrimp po boy, on a lobster roll type bun, grilled in butter, was out of this world. I wanted to order another one.
After this perfect lunch, the car picked us up and took us straight to the airport. It was a quick weekend getaway, but a fun escape. If we had another day we would have added on a day trip to Niagara Falls to catch a glimpse of the falls and to visit wineries like Peller Estates to sample the ice wines. But that will have to wait for our next trip. If you have a passport and are in search of a change of pace from the standard beach or American city getaway, take a hop up to the other part of North America.

20140512-095132.jpg

20140512-095119.jpg

20140512-095057.jpg

20140512-095040.jpg

20140512-094443.jpg

20140512-094403.jpg

20140512-094326.jpg

Tasting the Springs in Colorado

I’m currently in Colorado Springs, Colorado for a board meeting at the #Broadmoor. The resort is beautiful and as I enjoyed the fall weather, I can’t help but think it was designed as a stage for wedding photos.

This resort attracts a lot of business meetings but it is also a great spot for families or those who want a quiet escape. The spa (which I hope to visit soon) is an award winning facility and many people stay at the Broadmoor every year just to visit the spa. The resort is like a compound, with multiple restaurants, shops, pools, bowling alley, paddle boats and even a zoo. They make it easy for you to forget that there are other sights in the area.

Well I found time to make a quick escape to check out Manitou Springs and the surrounding area. First we stopped at the Garden of the Gods. It is a park with beautiful red rocks and mountains and hiking trails throughout. It’s a must see location if you get a chance to visit Colorado Springs.

Then we went into the little town of Manitou Springs. An old friend from high school mentioned that it was a must visit location when in Colorado Springs. I assumed that we would see little waterfalls in the town, as that was my visual of “springs.” We stopped at the visitors center where the very friendly staff gave us a map of the “springs” and a little cup. There are seven springs in the town, not waterfalls but basically more like glorified water fountains. It was actually very cute, as you walk to each fountain and taste the water. Each spring has different elements and based on the needs of your body, you will select your favorite. My favorite was the Twin Spring and my co-worker Donna preferred Stratton Spring. http://www.manitousprings.org

The area was actually first discovered by the Native Americans many years ago and they said the bubbles, or natural carbonation in the water, represented to them the breath of the Great Spirit “Manitou”. Apparently in the early 1920’s this was a healing town. People would visit the springs with prescriptions from their doctor to drink from specific springs to help them with illnesses. I’m not sure if the waters had healing power, but I felt refreshed. We truly enjoyed taking in the elements of this little town at the foot of Pike’s Peak during our short break. Fingers crossed that we find time before we leave on Sunday to also visit Seven Falls. But for now, we are back to work.

20131011-112612.jpg

20131011-112656.jpg

20131011-112716.jpg

20131011-112733.jpg

20131011-112809.jpg

Before Tripadvisor, a review of a lovely hotel

I was searching for a document on my computer today and came across an old review that I sent to a hotel that I visited a few years ago. I was never good about actually typing up a detailed review, no matter how good the service. But this time I forced myself to get it done in honor of the great staff @TheWestinGrand.  OK, so maybe Tripadvisor exsisted when I went there, but I didn’t use it at the time. Having re-read this review, I think I want to visit Vancouver again, if just to stay at this hotel and see if they service is still just as good.  If you ever fancy a visit to #Vancouver, Canada, you will want to read this review:

I travel a great deal, for both work and personal needs. My experience at the Westin Grand Vancouver was the best of any hotel, including the 5 diamond properties I have visited in the past. Everyone on your staff: including valet, bell service, concierge, front desk, housekeeping and restaurant staff, made our stay memorable. I am glad you sent this survey because I was preparing to write a letter.

It was not any one big thing that made the trip great; it was all the little details with which your team was attentive. We arrived around 7pm on a Friday, after flying cross country to Seattle and then drive up and sitting in border traffic for hours (a total of 16 hours of travel time). I wish I remember the names of the two gentlemen that were on duty as valet that night. They greeted us with a smile assuring us that the worst of the trip was over and that they would point us in the direction of food and a drink and we would feel much better. The 3 ladies that I was traveling with were all happy with the friendly greeting and then bell service quickly brought our luggage to our two rooms so that we could get out to dinner.

At the front desk, after a quick check in, were advised to speak with Tony to find the best restaurant nearby and he called and made a reservation at a fantastic sushi restaurant just a short walk away. He also gave us some advice on what to do the next day because the weather was supposed to be beautiful. He was right and our day on GranvilleIsland was well timed, as it rained every other day we were in Vancouver.

The next morning we had breakfast in Aria. We had breakfast separately and yet when we got together later that morning we all raved about the great service we received from Kyle. Again, it was the little things: the coffee cup was never empty, the dirt plates were moved quickly and when I looked out the window with the thought of leaving for a big latte from Starbucks, Kyle said, I can make you a vanilla latte if you would like one. It was fantastic.
Each day when we left for breakfast, by the time we got back to our room it was clean. No sign of housekeeping in the halls EVER, no knocking on the door when we were sleeping, no disruptive noises outside… but like magic the moment we walked away in short order the room was spotless.

On Sunday it was raining and as we were eating breakfast we realized that we should take a city tour. I went to the front desk and Michael (I think) immediately found the tour bus brochure and booked the 4 of us on that morning tour. He didn’t send us downstairs to concierge (which normally happens in hotels) he took care of our needs immediately.

The great service continued daily and on our last morning, at 6am when we checked out with the hope of having breakfast we realized that the restaurant did not open until 6:30. We were barely awake enough to realize what was happening but sure enough, the restaurant opened a little early so that we could get in a quick bite before our drive back to Seattle. The gentleman at the front desk (whose name I cannot spell.. I think it started with an I?) please find out because while we were eating he had our luggage brought downstairs, had our car pulled around and everything was in the car and ready to go by the time we finished eating. We didn’t ask him to do it, but he knew it needed to be done.

I truly hope that you will share this information with your team and REWARD them for not just believing in the brand, but showing it through their actions. I noticed on the first day that Tony’s card read “guest experience associate” and that is what everyone at the hotel lived up to. We had an amazing experience at the Westin Grand Vancouver, not just a stay. Congratulations to whomever hired and trained that team, they are one of a kind.

We left Vancouver happy and chattering about the great experience we had at your property and when we arrived at the Sheraton Seattle for the start of our board meeting, we were greeted with just the opposite. Ugh. Oh well. That’s another survey.

My Mykonos Holiday

It’s my busy work travel month, so I’m in the midst of long days and lots of time on planes. As I sit in a ton of meetings, I can’t help but day dream about my fabulous vacation to #Mykonos last month. I think I promised a few friends that I would blog about Mykonos, so here are the highlights of that trip.

Where to stay:
We were greeted at the airport by our hotel contact Panos and brought to the #Adonis Hotel. The lobby is open and comfortable with big windows that face the sea. You can sit on the porch at sunset for a lovely view. The rooms are a nice size with fairly large bathrooms and many have a balcony or access to their patio out back. This hotel sits on the edge of town, with the beach around the corner to the left and the bus station around the corner to the right. To me it’s the perfect location because you can walk straight into town to shop, eat, party and/or take in the sights. But you can also quickly hop on a bus to go to one of the many beaches, including the popular Super Paradise Beach. The staff at the hotel made you feel like family and when I return to Mykonos I will stay at the Adonis Hotel again.

What to Do:
I tend to focus on being lazy on holiday, so this list may not be lengthy. Haha
The primary activities are beach, shopping, dinning and bars.
Each day we would hop on a bus and go to a different beach. Paranga beach was very relaxing and had decent underwater life if you wanted to snorkel. If you want to enjoy the beach during the day but then start dancing and drinking by mid-day, Super Paradise Beach is you mega party destination. They have girls dancing on tables to entertain the boys and when the booze starts flowing…the girls and guys in the crowd tend to decide they want some attention also. I was quite shocked by the “show” some vacationers put on, in this day and age of #YouTube, etc. But clearly some peeps just don’t care and I was looking for the girls gone wild camera crew.
The best thing our group did in Mykonos was book a private #yacht for the day. It is lovely to view the island from the water. We booked the yacht through the hotel and it included lunch and beverages onboard. It was very relaxing and just a nice touch. If you want to meet other people, then book a spot on one of their group boat tours. You can find several options that include snorkel equipment for about 40-60 euro per person.
At night there are several mega clubs, but I also just liked hitting the bars/clubs in town. They have happy hour specials around 10:30pm till midnight, so Americans be aware that no one goes out till much later. Dinner time normally starts around 9, but this town has a lot of cruise customers, so food is available all day. If you want to hit a big club, we enjoyed Club Tropical which has a pool in the center and just has a nice flow. Please note, if you take the bus to the club, they pack people onboard and several people may already be wasted. On our journey to the club the bus driver stopped halfway and kicked someone off the bus for getting sick in route. Are we in college??? Ugh.
One last thing for activities, a ton of people rent scooters and ATV’s. They also have tons of accidents daily. Be aware before you rent (especially a scooter) how’s your health coverage on an island out of the country? I’m just saying…be aware. On our last and first day, we wondered through town looking at the shops and buying gifts. There are a lot of original pieces of art and hand crafted jewelry, plus fun gifts to bring home. Take some time and support the local economy.

What to eat:
I would give you a run down of my favorite restaurants, but honestly there are so many that are good I’d rather mention what to eat. First, if you don’t like seafood you are missing the point of eating on an island. My recommendations of must have foods:
– Fresh fish (so amazing and normally priced by kilogram)
– Calamari (Little Venice had the best)
– Gyros (our favorite spots were Jimmy’s and one that was to the right of the bus stop…crap I can’t remember the name)
– Greek salad (a must every day)
– seasoned meats, they have a variety of dishes that they refer to as BBQ but is nothing like American BBQ. It’s simply lovely seasoned meats, primarily pork, steak and chicken.

Whatever you do, be sure to take in the sights and enjoy the city. Mykonos can be as fast paced or chill as you want it to be. Take the city at your pace and have fun.

20130816-115007.jpg

20130816-115036.jpg

20130816-115056.jpg