Smooth Sailing: Top Reasons For Choosing A Cruise Ship Vacation

To the uninitiated, the thought of a cruise ship vacation may seem rather dull. They mistakenly believe that there will be nothing to do and that such a holiday will be boring. They may have fears of getting sea sick. They may think there will be little to see, they think they won’t have enough time or believe the price of a cruise holiday to be exorbitant and prohibitive. These folks cannot speak from experience.

Anyone who has been on a cruise ship will tell you there is nothing better. For them, cruising is the ultimate vacation. They are able to talk at length about how much fun was had, the amenities, the delicious food and the exotic destinations. Their eyes sparkle when they recall the adventure and they yearn to do it again.

We went in search of these seasoned travellers and asked them for their top reasons for taking a cruise ship vacation.

Double the fun, half the fuss!

With a conventional holiday, a lot of time and effort is spent on planning. One needs to plan the route to a chosen destination. You need to make bookings for accommodations and car rentals. You have to deal with unreliable third parties for transport. You have to spend time working out an itinerary. You have to juggle various activities so as to squeeze in as much as possible. Activities for the kids should not clash with activities for the adults.

Hotels may be fully booked. Flights may be delayed or cancelled at the last minute. Conventional holidays can be a traffic congested nightmare, where you hope for this and pray for that. You rush through things at such a frantic pace that at the end of it all, you need to take a holiday to recover from your holiday!

A cruise ship holiday is exactly what a holiday is meant to be; a relaxing experience where you get to unwind. All you need to do is chose your cruise and pack. Everything else is taken care of. Itineraries are prearranged and, with a vast array of amenities on board, entertainment and fun are guaranteed. You are met with a level of professionalism that one seldom encounters with conventional holidays. You get to see and do more without the worry or stress.

Spoiled for choice

From rock-climbing to cabaret, from cinemas to night-clubs and casinos, you will be amazed at the number of amenities cruise ships have to offer.  Leave your little ones at the crèche while you learn ballroom dancing. Go shopping or get a massage. Enter a ping-pong tournament or attend an art exhibition before feasting at a selection of restaurants.

Worried that you may pack on a few pounds? No problem! A fully equipped gym with personal instructor is at your disposal. Mini golf, swimming pools, squash and tennis courts; zip-lining, roller blading and wine tastings; these are just some of the offerings from the likes of Royal Caribbean, Costa Cruises or Princess Cruises.  Daily activities are designed for both young and old. Who knows, you may even meet your significant other!

Value for money

Caribbean Cruise HolidaysWith a conventional holiday, sticking to budget is not so easy. Everything from food to transport, accommodation and entertainment is paid for separately. You can never be certain if your next purchase will be value for money or not. You spend hours cramped up on busses and trains or brave congested traffic in a rented car.  Kids become restless and irritable. As your stress levels increase, you realise you took the wrong exit turn and now you are lost. That is no way to unwind.

A cruise ship offers a very different experience. Meals, transport, entertainment and exotic ports of call are all inclusive. This means you can holiday with peace of mind, knowing that you won’t go over budget. You are guaranteed the finest dining experiences.

Cruise ships provide dozens of themed restaurants to tantalise your taste buds. All entertainment is centralised. You are never pressed for time, scurrying around in a frenzied attempt to squeeze everything in. With activities available 24/7, you can doze off around the pool or retire to the privacy and comfort of your stateroom whenever you like. Now that is a holiday worth having!

A multiple destination station

With a regular holiday, you typically chose one destination for the full duration of your trip. You try to squeeze in as much as possible. With no detailed knowledge of what is on offer, you may miss out on the real gems that are worth seeing.

With a cruise, you get to see several destinations. Why spend a full week at Grand Cayman when you can get to see Cozumel and other exotic Caribbean ports too? Each port of call has its own unique set of delights. If you choose to disembark, you can rest assured you will be experiencing the best of the best. Why settle for anything less?

Travel simplified

A typical holiday involves packing and unpacking every step of the way, carting suitcases around from one hotel to the next, getting in and out of taxis, rushing to catch the next bus or train, over-priced rooms that don’t meet your expectations, arguing with obnoxious personnel and standing around in endless ques of sweaty tourists. Is this what you want to spend your hard earned money on?

With a cruise, you only need to unpack once. You can travel to multiple destinations and still have the privacy of your stateroom. You are never burdened with the need for public transport systems. You don’t have to face hours of traffic. You don’t have to stress about being late to catch a show because on a cruise ship you are just a stroll away from where you need to be.

Is this hassle free method of travel not a far superior option? You bet it is!

 

Royal Caribbean Cruises Norwegian Cruise Lines - Cruise Deals MSC Cruises - Mediterranean Cruises Cunard Cruise Holiday Offers Celebrity Cruise Holidays

Cruising – It’s not all about zimmerframes

Cruise holidays are a topic we’ve been passionate about for a very long time. Since the launch of the original game changing cruise ship “Voyager of the Seas” from Royal Caribbean, we felt cruising “opened” up. Cruising was no longer the preserve of the senior traveller. That my friends was 15 years ago. In 1999, Voyager introduced us to ice skating rinks, and a street in the middle of a ship as just two of her innovations. Voyager has 4 sisters which followed, Explorer of the Seas, Adventure of the Seas, Navigator of the Seas, and Mariner of the Seas. A while later, what we feel are “big brothers” the Freedom Class arrived “Liberty of the Seas”, “Freedom of the Seas”, “Independence of the Seas”. Freedom class was approx 1/3 larger by gross tonnage, and added “Flowriders” – the surf simulators, along with “jacuzzi’s” hanging over the side of the ships……you’ve got to try them! And in recent years, Royal Caribbean added the largest cruise ships afloat – “Oasis” of the Seas and “Allure” of the Seas with a third “Oasis” class ship on the way. However, we’ve just seen the “Anthem of the Seas” and the “Quantum of the Seas” and boys have these two stepped everything up again……..”Ifly” the skydiving simulator……….and a host of fantastic imaginative entertainment and food eateries to “Wow” you! Royal Caribbean really has something for everyone!

Royal Caribbean is joined by a number of other cruise lines in the “Middle” ground. Norwegian Cruise lines who innovated in “Freestyle” cruising – dining as you want so to speak, along with a few more twists. Norwegian also has been adding new ships at a pace – the first of the “innovators” was Norwegian EPIC, one of our all time favourite ships. EPIC added cool entertainment such as Blue Man Group, the Spiegeltent ……..a Cirque De Soleil style dining experience at sea. Norwegian combined the large venues  with cool jazz and brilliant comedy in more intimate settings. In last year or two, we’ve seen Norwegian Breakaway, and Norwegian Getaway. These three ships – EPIC, Getaway and Breakaway are all large, “resorts” at sea……..and are simply fantastic. Again they tend to cater for “all”……

Following on from Royal Caribbean and Norwegian is actually the largest cruise line in the world – Carnival Corporation. Carnival amongst their armada have the Carnival Cruises fleet, “the fun ships”. Again a family staple, And to be fair, Carnival have been adding new ships such as the Breeze and Dream. Carnival have sat more main stream adding dining venues such as “Guys Burger Joint” names after the Food Networks “Guy Fieri” of Diners Drives In’s and Dives fame. Our cruises on Carnival could certainly be described as fun!

Now, adding into the mix of the above which are all “American” based companies, we have a European offering. “MSC” the Mediterranean Shipping Company. MSC cruises sprouted from one of the most successful and largest container companies in the world. Initially buying older cruise vessels, modernising and I suppose “learning” the trade. Ambition indeed went on the rampage, MSC is now one of the largest cruise ship companies in the world. The MSC Fleet are “detailed”! Most notable are the “Fantasia” Class with the first of the Fantasia class being “MSC” Fantasia”, this has been followed by sister ships “MSC Splendida”, “MSC Preziosa” and “MSC Divina”. Fantasia being the first of the fleet, coming into service as recently as 2008. MSC offers serious value, with excellent facilities and the “cruise ship” within a cruise ship “Yacht Club”. Yacht Club is the five star experience on board the Fantasia Class. We love the ornate designs on the Fantasia Class with crystal staircases, and an almost intimate feel in these floating resorts. Excellent children’s facilities and in the case of Preziosa – a fantastic waterpark …….at sea.

MSC Cruises, Norwegian, Carnival and Royal Caribbean we see as covering a spectrum of ages, and have something to offer pretty much everyone.

In the luxury end of the market, there is serious value from Holland American (Part of the Carnival family), Cunard (again part of the Carnival family) and Celebrity Cruises which is owned by Royal Caribbean. Cunard being 175 years old this year has a rich seafaring history which embodies modern British culture with grand tradition. In the case of Cunard, they have three ships in the fleet, Queen Mary 2 – the worlds largest ocean liner, Queen Victoria, and Queen Elizabeth. Victoria and Elizabeth are traditional cruise ships in styling but absolutely ultra modern both being very young ships. Queen Mary 2 has just passed her 10th birthday, which in cruise ship terms is “hardly run in”. The cruise ships spend their summers mainly in the Mediterranean or plying the waters out of Southampton to the Mediterranean with twists to the Norwegian Fjords, British Isles and Baltics. Queen Mary 2 on the other hand travels transatlantic and longer “World Cruises”. All three of the Queens take on world cruise holidays normally from January to May or so each year. Cunards ships have a certain “Calm” to them. Of course all the normals are there – fantastic spa’s, beautiful pool areas, wonderful restaurants with mouth watering food offerings. …….it’s all just “another” world.

For all the best discount cruise holidays and extravagant last minute cruise deals – we have you completely covered at www.cruiseparadise.ie

Travel – it’s simple really……..but do your homework!

The sage of Omaha, Warren Buffet, once famously said that ‘price is what you pay; value is what you get!’ He was talking about choosing stocks but the principle holds true for practically everything that is traded and travel arrangements are no different. The Internet is an amazing resource which millions of users benefit from and it is certainly a useful (albeit time-consuming) tool that consumers use when they are researching their next trip abroad. The problem with the medium though is the fact that many consumers tend to measure and compare various options — whether they be airline fares, hotel rooms or cruise holiday itineraries etc. — by little more than price, often doing themselves and the services or products on offer, a disservice.

Take air fares for example: Say, someone wants to fly from Dublin to London, a distance of approximately 290 air nautical miles and a flight time that takes around 60 to 75 minutes. Many tend to rationalise that since the journey time is only going to take an hour, why bother to evaluate the pros and cons of which airport is better or which carrier represents greater value for money since they’re not going to be up in the air long enough for any of that to matter! Whoever is offering the cheapest fare surely gets to capture their business?

The fact of the matter is that such ‘details’ do matter! The greater London area is served by four airports (five, if you include Southsea) the other four being Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton and Stansted. So straight away, they need to question which arrival airport is in closest proximity to their final destination within London as that will have a significant bearing on the following factors:

  • The journey time to their final destination.
  • The roundtrip cost of that ticket
  • The frequency of the service being provided
  • The ease with which they can access the mode of transport from the arrivals terminal. (In Luton for example, you need to queue for a shuttle bus to take you to the local rail station in order to get a regional train service into central London.

 

Other variables that might also negatively impact on their brief customer ‘experience’ might also include factors that they may not have even thought of such as:

  • The terminal facilities that they can avail of on the return journey (particularly if there is a long flight delay).
  • The efficiency of the security protocols in place (how long it takes to get through).
  • Whether or not the airport in question is more prone to flight delays or cancellations due to adverse weather conditions. (Some airports suffer more from fog than others, for example).
  • The number of check-in desks made available to board flights. (Fewer open check-in desks equals longer queue times).
  • Distance of departure gates from main departure (or arrival) terminals ( A problem if you’re older, unsteady on your feet or nursing a recently injured limb!)
  • Quality/range of duty-free shopping.

 

And we haven’t even covered the choice of airline yet and which is often determined by your choice of airport. Ask yourself, are any of the following factors likely to adversely affect your enjoyment of your flight between A and B?

  • The size and type of aircraft that you fly on (The larger the aircraft, the smoother the flight — a factor to always bear in mind if you are a nervous traveller)
  • The seat pitch — e.g. the distance from your seat to the seat back in front of you. (An extremely important factor if you are tall and especially if you are going to undertake a flight duration longer than a few hours)
  • The generosity of the free cabin baggage allowance (Also, you may not be able to fit your cabin luggage in the overhead bin of some smaller aircraft)
  • The costs of all those hidden extras such as checked-in baggage, seat assignments, in-flight catering etc.

And as if that wasn’t enough, we haven’t even begun to cover the relative merits of competing airlines when it comes to the friendliness and helpfulness of their staff and their willingness to ‘bend the rules’ occasionally due to human error!

But there’s more: What kinds of conditions attach to each air fare type — particularly in those instances where travel plans become disrupted due to unforeseen changes in circumstances (sickness or bereavement, new job offers, incorrectly booked dates/flight in the original reservation etc.)? Will you have to take out a second mortgage on your property in order to pay for the change fees or penalties?

 

The fact of the matter is that even the simplest travel arrangements belie a level of complexity in decision making that often goes over the heads of many people with often costly consequences. That’s why using a travel agent to make such arrangements on your behalf often works out cheaper in the end as they act as a devils’ advocate by asking all the relevant questions that perhaps even you haven’t thought of — ‘prevention being better than cure’ — being the order of the day.

There are even more factors to consider than just the above but I think I’ve laboured the point enough at this stage for you to get the general idea. Of course, I’ve only been talking about simple point-to point air fares between Dublin and London. What about those more convoluted routings to far flung destinations around the world where the level of complexity increases almost exponentially because of things like higher intermediate points, maximum permitted mileages, free stopovers, passport and visa requirements, inoculations, personal security issues, monsoon seasons etc., and don’t even get me started on choosing the perfect cruise holiday!

So you see, using a travel agent isn’t just about paying them to find you the cheapest way of getting from A to B. It’s about revealing where the value lies and delivering it to you and in a manner that will enable you to enjoy the process of travelling to your destination so that the journey itself becomes almost (but not quite) as enjoyable as the destination itself!

 

Caribbean Sale – Book before 29th September 2015

Well now, who’s for the Caribbean this winter? If you’ve not made up your mind on a pre Christmas zoom away. Here are some cracking good holiday deals to warm the heart.

Mexico  – 4* Riu Cancun – 7 Nights – All Inclusive from €1125.00 including flights, bags, transfers and all inclusive accommodation at this fantastic property.

http://www.riu.com/en/Paises/mexico/cancun/hotel-riu-cancun/hotel_fotos.jsp

Prices are based on 2 Share for 7 Nights. We can organise longer if you wish. Travel between 1st November and 20th December 2015. Midweek flights. Weekend supplement of €35.00 euro per person.

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Mexico – 4* Grand Xcaret – 7 Nights – All Inclusive – 7 Nights – from €1239.00 per person – including flights, bags, transfers and all inclusive accommodation!

http://www.occidentalhotels.com/resort/occidental-grand-xcaret

Prices are based on 2 Share for 7 Nights. We can organise longer if you wish. Travel between 1st November and 20th December 2015. Midweek flights. Weekend supplement of €35.00 euro per person.

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Jamaica – 4* Riu Montego Bay – 7 Nights All Inclusive from €1449.00 per person – including flights, bags, transfers and all inclusive accommodation.

http://www.riumontegobayresort.com/

Dates – travel between 5th January 2016 and 14th March 2016.

Prices based on 2 Share for 7 Nights. As always longer stays are not a problem – subject to availability and updated costings.

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Something different for the weekend!

Turkey - Istanbul - HolidaysWhere Old meets New in Istanbul – Turkey!

People often assume that just because you work in the travel business, you must have been everywhere. I wish! Don’t get me wrong.We do travel extensive  but what tends to happen is that you end up visiting the same destinations  quite a lot (especially in my case – cruise holiday destinations) — particularly if they feature heavily in the markets that you trade in — and much less so for places that you don’t. Now, personally I’ve hit the states in excess of 50 times now, and growing every quarter. And in that, I still feel like I’m only scratching the surface. By contrast, there are loads of places that I have yet to experience and which are definitely on my ‘To Do’ list. Places like Brazil, Japan, Madagascar, Antarctica to name but a few. In the list of visiting spots, Istanbul I’ve hit twice, and again recently our team in the office have for various reasons ended up transiting Istanbul as they criss cross the globe.  I had never been to Istanbul. We all agree quite simply, Istanbul is an amazing city. It is full of contrasts — especially the contrasts between the new and the old as exemplified by the differences one finds in the areas close to the Hagia Sofia or Topkapi Palace (old) and Taksim Square (new).

Istanbul is not for the faint hearted but if you give it — or more specifically, its inhabitants — a chance, you’ll be paid back in spades! Estimates of the cities’ population vary widely but you can confidently assume that it’s in excess of 15 million! That’s a lot of people and Istanbul spreads out in all directions as far as the eye can see across mountains, rivers, headlands, inlets and ultimately continents! If you’re into your history then you’ll think you’ve died and gone to heaven as the city is like Rome on steroids and encompasses rich remnants of not one but multiple civilisations that have called the area home since before recorded history began.

The opening of the last Bond – “Skyfall” featured the Grand Bazaar, you’ll also find Istanbul in “The World is not enough” and “From Russia with Love”. Istanbul is frequently picked off in cinema as a featured location. Istanbul is a true cultural melting pot, and this is reflected in the cities amazing architecture.

And the best news? It’s cheap to get to with the national carrier Turkish Airlines (a great carrier!) often offering roundtrip airfares for less than €200 return per person. There is also excellent value in hotels with alittle homework. The obvious “name brand” hotels can be expensive, but, we’ve picked off plenty of great value. It’s also a shoppers paradise and a world-renowned centre for leather goods, ceramics and high quality textiles and rugs/kilims. Do yourself a favour and get yourself out to Istanbul before the population of the city increases and you have to haggle with another million or two of their country men!

 

Grand BazaarGrand Bazaar 2

We could be here forever!

London,

There is just so much to it! Where do you begin? As Irish people, we’ve been almost attached to London since travel began. We’ve emigrated, enjoyed and built London as natives of Ireland.

London was my own first “destination” as a travelling soul. And there’s not been a year in 30 years I’ve not been there. Recently I had the pleasure of flying VLM from Waterford Airport to London Luton and scooting into the City via the excellent train service. Entertainment in London is endless – from Thorpe Park – the often forgotten but tip top theme park to the varied museums, fantastic shopping, and really – the buzz. Even in the recession, London buzzed.

You can do London on a budget – even allowing for sterling. Here are some notes colleagues and friends have contributed on the subject.

With the Euro now only buying you 75 pence sterling (as of 02/02/’15), London has become even more expensive than it normally is so all the more reason to choose your accommodation carefully — particularly if staying in town for a couple of days. As with all large cities, choosing your location carefully is extremely important if you don’t wish to spend half your time getting from A to B and whilst the term ‘central’ is a relative one in a city the size of London, I don’t think anyone would disagree that the South Bank is about as central as it gets! Located right beside the London Eye (it is literally outside the hotel), the Premier Inn County Hall ticks all the boxes in terms of location. It is just a three minute walk from the nearest underground station at Waterloo (the entrance on Belvedere Road. Not York Road) and is located directly across the river from the iconic Houses of Parliament. The hotel is slightly unusual in that it does not have a traditional reception area but rather a series of self checkin/checkout kiosks with two lectern-type desks from where extremely helpful staff assist guests with enquiries or requests. The rooms are all soundproofed and they operate an all-you-can-eat buffet breakfast along with a left-luggage facility where you can leave your bags if you have a flight later on in the day and want to fit in some last minute sightseeing or shopping. The entrance is located around the back of the huge County Hall building which looks like it has been recently given a major clean so you need to approach it from Belvedere Road which is a Cul de Sac. The Jubilee Gardens are located just beside the hotel and the London Aquarium is housed in the same block, just around the front by the Thames. At around £100 per room per night on average, the Premier Inn represents excellent value for money, given its superb location, friendly and helpful staff and proximity to many of London’s major tourist attractions. The hotel also has a bar. The hotel is located at the rear of the building shown at the lower left of the photo accompanying this blog.

Check it out the next time you’re in town.

Getting to London – costs to remember –

From Heathrow – you can take the tube – approx 50 mins and you’ll be pretty close to the absolute Heart of London. Cheap by Heathrow express the alternate – but very fast way of getting to the centre. https://www.heathrowexpress.com/

From London City – London City is a breeze. Based in the Docklands, the only airport actually “IN” London. Again easy striking on the Dockland Light Rail/Underground means – you can save money essentially by paying lower train fares. So when you look at the cost of getting to London, the airfare into London City might be a touch higher but factor in the bones of £30.00 of a difference.

London Luton – you can buy return train tickets for less than £20.00 into London which is dead handy. Combine with a 6 zone travel pass on the underground and you have a weapon of mass travel! From Airport to St. Pancras should take approx 1 hour total time – allowing for hanging around. There are also frequent bus services to Victoria Coach station – and again are very economic.

Gatwick – the Gatwick express is simplicity itself into Victoria. Not cheap – but it runs every 15 minutes from Gatwick and takes 30 minutes. http://www.gatwickexpress.com/

Contact us and we’ll help put together your London break……..Picadillt Circus London

Hit the road Jack!

Fly Drive Holidays - RoadAs travel agents………we travel………..each chance we get, we try to experience the new, or revisit our favourites. If you are thinking of the American South West……….give us a call or pop us an email……we’ll be happy to help plan your United States “Vacation”. We hope you enjoy our story

 

Bucket List 101.
Sunday – Los Angeles, by Wednesday 5 National Parks, 10,000 feet hotels, 1500 miles in a jeep, by myself with religious radio channels. ……..what’s not to like? …………by the end of the tour………..3947 miles, 19 tanks of petrol, still counting the number of National parks, one spectacular coastline and 18 roller coasters.
When you are wobbling between 8000 and 10,000 feet above sea level, bits of your body you’ve not heard from in a while begin to turn up…………such as your lungs! The stairs in the hotel suddenly feels like Everest (there are only 2 floors, so no lift required……breath……breath). Honestly, only the chart tells me I’m at over 8000 feet, I’d have no clue. This is a plateau as such…on the trek from Monument Valley to Bryce National Park. It’s not an alien planet. Although it does tell me why the Esso lorry has been stalking me for the last 2 days! On the way up I was bitching to myself …….note, if you talk in the car and there is no one else in it…….are your theories wrong? Anyways, the car for the last day sounded like my first driving lesson, revving the soul out of the engine and and you’ve no idea why! Then you discover the clutch. Well this is an automatic, so there is an auto clutch, but the poor jeep sounded like it was clutching at straws! Was this a defective jeep? NOPE Now it’s clear, bless it’s cotton socks …….it was climbing and dropping 8000 feet. Google’s map almost hides the altitude unless of course you get really intimate with it with the mapping!  Other items you notice, if your engine calves, you are screwed, there’s no phone signal, at least not for the days around the canyons, and the car radio only seems to have religious channels, some sneaky with decent music, others more catholic than the pope……or mormon……..or…….but, if you’ve not brought C.D’s and your car is not fitted with ipod style unbiloical cords………be prepared for lots and lots of silence……..
So, edited highlights, since leaving Los Angeles, the route has been, Los Angeles, San Andreas Fault line (yea that the big scary earthquake epicentre which lives just outside Los Angeles, and a bit like other natural terrors, it does not go around with hazard lights. Unless you know where to look, you’ll drive right by)the Mojave desert, Death Valley, Las Vegas. Death Valley is a detour going between Los Angeles and Las Vegas..but you’d be mad to miss it! It’ opens into vistas …………I’ll interject here………this is a trip of a lifetime! We as a race can build towers and bridges etc, nobody, but nobody beats mother nature for true spectaularisation! Honestly, I could have sat for hours, looking into the valley before arriving over to the next valley – Death Valley. High mountains, dunes, rocky outcrops. You come in along US 190, passed the Panamint Springs Resort. I couldn’t but stop the car at one the viewing points. Stopping the car to look very touristy happens alot on this route! Looking in over the valley, and then out of no where……..below me popped two F16 fighter jets, shooting along the desert floor and zooming straight up alongside the canyon walls to some incredible height. Looking at them zoom out of sight my mind is meanwhile thinking……….I wonder is there a rattle snake looking at me going “I’ll open a take away if I bag this guy”……and the rattle snake would have home advantage! ……….God don’t let me die………I don’t want to be a take away dinner!
104Fahrenheit as I arrive at the Mesquite Flat Dunes.http://www.nps.gov/deva/learn/nature/sand-dunes.htm
This was a shock to the system! Irish people do heat to the same extent as bowling balls float. I’m not sure if I was just high on emotion, but I then set off across the Dunes. Tommy of Mesquite does not have the same aura to it as Lawrence of Arabia……..but suddenly I knew how the inside of his flip flop felt! Also of note, on google maps, Death Valley shows as green, green to Irish people is……Wicklow, or Kerry! Leitrim has a better chance of winning an all Ireland hurling medal than Death Valley has of been green! If ever a National park had the Ronseal effect ………does exactly what is says……..Death Valley is it! For human anyways. There are three superlatives to sum up Death Valley, driest, hottest, lowest! Do it.
From Death Valley, it’s a straight shot across the desert to Las Vegas! I’m not going to write about Las Vegas except to say …….Palazzo! FAN FLIPPING TASTIC! Class joint. …….I was booked in as everyone else, but boys did they make you feel like a king in a palance!  The whole quality aspect was outstanding, google Palazzo and look at the superlatives, this is no wigwam! As I departed the hotel at 5.30am I was amused to see many roulette and blackjack tables……….going strong! You expect the little old lady with a plant pot on the slots………I don’t know which brand of Red Bull the guys on the roulette tablewere smoking…….but these guys were hardcore.
Following the 05.30 departure. My next stop was the Desert Rose Inn, Bluff, Utah! Utah ……….it does not trip off the tongue as a place to visit. Utah………name one thing you know about Utah…….other than religion? …….sod all! Utah hosts some of the key Superpower National Parks.. Bryce, Zion, Monument Valley! Starting with John Wayne in Stagecoach (1939), Utah has been infront of your eyes since your childhood! The movie list goes on…….How the West was Won, the greatest story ever told, Footloose, Indiana Jones and the last Crusade, Thelma and Louise, Forest Gump, Maverick, Con Air, Independence Day………to name but a few.
I think I began to suffer from “Travel turrets syndrome”………”tree, canyon, rock, sky, road, pink, red”……..and that was just what was in front of me. Honestly words fail me in trying to describe the landscape. Monument Valley…….just blew me away. It’s another spot from which you could sit for hours just watching the sun’s glow beginning to fall away behind you, the colour dynamics continue to change with each change of degree as the sun moves torwards the horizon. As I left Monument Valley it was almost like leaving a girl you loved but would never get to see again! There is so much history, nostalgia here…..it’s simply incredible.
Bryce and Zion Canyons were the next stops. Along the way, it was Canyons to the left of me, canyons to the right of me. …….as I climbed, trees begun turning up which added a new green dimension to the whole show…….along with rivers, and streams..each gently flowing through the various canyons. Again, it was stop start driving, the GPS said it was 4 hours to Bryce………if I didn’t keep stopping…….6 hours later I arrived. Bryce at sunset, and Zion for sunrise. …….be prepared for early starts, but trust me, they’ll make you cry! Facebook, Xbox…anything you like, this pair just make you feel like you are alive and well and thankful for both.

Since setting off from Bryce Canyon, almost 1500 miles ago, I’ve nipped into Colorado, Wyoming, Nevada and now back into California. Last night before going to bed, In the weather forecast, there was a mention of “20% chance of snow”…….well for 3 hours solid that 20% stalked my car. Judging by the interstate (motorway) speeds, the locals are well used to it, judging by the number of 4X4’s stuck off the road having skidded, not all of them went to the same school of motoring!
Closing in on Salt Lake City, my home for the night was the Marriott Park City. Park City being a ski resort http://www.visitparkcity.com/. However ,it was also a very lovely little town, where everything fell to hand and was a change from the usual overnight stops some of the websites suggested. To be fair, Salt Lake City has some charms to it. But, as a stop with everything close to hand Park City was the shot. So far on my trip I’d dodged the usual suspect’s when it came to food. In a revelation to myself, I was happy not eating three times per day, one decent mean per day was spot on. I no longer drink the normal brands of beer, preferring instead to dig out micro brews etc purely from a taste perspective. And this trip did not let me down…….every town almost had a micro beer……all stunning. Likewise on hotels, I tried to stick to not the usual box room, in the same old crème coloured rooms, independent hotels, once they had a pool, air conditioning and a parking, my job was done! Obviously I didn’t choose hotels which needed cleaning up either. In the case of Park City, I had to go for a Marriott, but on the other hand I discovered a GEM of a restaurant. It was just lovely, to sit looking out the window onto what was a golf course…..they told me….but a snow covered golf course on my visit, into the mountains and the lovely little “town”. The vista from this little restaurant was more charming than a classic chocolate box cover, and I suspect as summer poured in, the greening would add more dimensions to the picture.
http://www.thesilverstarcafe.com/

A virtual revolution has broken out in North America………..real food! It jumped at me on an earlier trip to Boston where the New Englanders were proud to advise – over 80% of Boston restaurants are non chain! Likewise since arriving, I’ve stayed away from the usual suspect restaurants…..and do you know I feel all the better for it. Microbrews are big business and when you taste the usual brands in comparison they are tasteless. Similar situation with food, when it hasn’t been injected with all sorts, I just think your body handles it so much better.
I left Park City at 05.00am in order to get to my first stop “The Bonneville Salt Flats”. http://www.utah.com/playgrounds/bonneville_salt.htm
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fmbH1ApUG8M
Currently the UK holds the land speed record……..which was set at the second stop on my tour. However, Bonneville had the making of legends. It stretches back to a time when mankind almost weekly seemed to stretch it limits. An exciting time in history.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Rock_Desert
Black Rock Desert is host to two events……..one, the above land speed record and two “Burning Man”. http://burningman.org/
So for a spot, you’ve most likely never heard of. The Black Rock Desert has its place in history and is firmly on the map.

On the road again - Fly Drive HolidaysNow, after 15 hours in the saddle of my car, I thought I’d be sick of Priscilla Queen of the GPS, and Paddy the Patriot, my Jeep Patriot. However, I arrived in the Yosemite Park region with the excitement of a child on its second Ice-cream (the first one shows how nice ice creams really are).
“Our happiest moments as tourists happen when we discover something in the pursuit of something else”. Well, once you leave the Freeway, you break into route 120, the hills begin to gently roll, not just one or two, this continues for miles, the road gently rolls along with the hills and it’s gently fabulous!  Then the trees around you grow taller, smaller towns bubble up along the way, you’ve almost left California or at least what we think is California. And you begin perhaps one of the most astounding drives in the world, the entranace to Yosemite National Park. I was back to being a tourist. The excitement took over, every  ½ mile I had to jump from the car to photo…….something……trees, a river valley, a bridge, it is all a touch surreal. This is forestry on a grand scale; Yosemite is almost 1200 Sq miles! Approx 50 times bigger than Dublin. You are driving for maybe 30 miles, stepping from the initial rolling hills, to sheer cliff mountains landing 4000 ft above you. …………almost suddenly you arrive into Yosemite Village itself. I say suddenly because you’ve been too busy! Your brain, and eyes are optically challenged. This time I’ve chosen to go ……….camping! The hardest decision was “heated” or  a“non heated” tent in the Curry Village. I chose heated (Mammies boy). It was sublime listening to the air falling almost 4000ft around you from the nearby mountain tops, to the valley floor. The sky above looked to be laminated by stars, and this amazing glow from the bright full moon. ………only the periodic staccato of snoring from the tent beside me broke the silence. Since entering Yosemite, my senses felt like they were being cleansed, the air was crisp, it felt like every hair on my skin was in touch, it was —6C outside my blanket so every molecule of cold air which tried to sneak under the blanket was quickly dealt with. I’ve never seen a sky so dark, so bright, so crystal clear. And the air matched the vision, this was living in 3D.
Rising again before sun up, Curry village has “communal showers” etc………..so first up best dressed. Now, I’m a townie inside and out, none of this camping lark, so, IPHONE flash lamp, a pair of runners and I was off to find the “Half Dome” before sunup. It was amazing to sit in a walled river valley looking up at the stars being replaced by the faint whitewash of blue sky slowly being illuminated by the sun’s rays. The transformation was bliss, the sky transforming from black to dark blue, blue and a milky blue. All this whilst sitting on the edge of mirror lake following the transformation of night to day. I really felt upto this point, I wasn’t living. I wasn’t sure if it was air or scenery I was breathing. Sitting on my rock, meadows at my feet, just looking at this huge rock being illuminated in the beginning by the setting full moon, and then on the opposite side of this incredible landscape by the warmth of the morning sun. You could feel the air instantly beginning to warm up and lift.
In my pre planning, the only station I had settled which needed two nights was Yosemite…..who was I kidding………it needs alot longer. As a good friend Deccy McCann has said “Americans invented the word “”Awesome”” when they say Yosemite!.
As you’ll have gathered from the above………Yosemite is fantastic ……..but do your homework so you don’t miss it!
So from 103F to 20F……….nothing like some small extremes to get the heart started!

Yosemite to San Francisco, the Big Sur, Walley World and home!
Leaving Yosemite, heartbreaking! The National Park which just keeps giving. However, the last 10 miles of the exit were not as stunning going out as coming in! Going , you had the rolling hills building up to this fantastic buzz you developed without alcohol. On the way out, once you left Yosemite, the hills rolled away and flat vineyards took over. Now you could make another holiday from visiting vineyards and they all invited you in with “All day winetasting”…….heaven for some!
However, I did have a schedule to keep and the Golden Gate bridge was my next date. ……San Francisco is, everything is says, Alcatraz, Golden Gate, Fishermans wharf etc. If you are driving, do an advance check on parking charges. $50.00 the first car park wanted for overnight parking, the hotel wanted $50.00 for parking also. I found parking across the street for $36 dead……no taxes or fees. As for food in San Francisco, $30.00 for a pizza! However, I did find fresh, and I mean fresh fish and chips for $10.00 – job done! And real chips, again 100 yards from my hotel. San Francisco was a turnaround point, and the hotel had laundry and dryers, so it was a good time to bring the car ambiance back under control. All I can say here is “I was a tourist”.
The following morning, well, to be fair, the following morning was a big portion of the reason I did this trip in the first place. The Big Sur, California highway 1. I’ve been before, but, I felt time may have helped my appreciation of doing it. And indeed it did. You essentially begin Highway 1 in San Francisco and that’s how you do it. If you go out through San Jose and Culpertino – unless you want a photo outside Apples headquarters, then take the coast road to Monterey. Monterey is for those on a budget, you really want to stay in Carmel, but, it can be expensive. Monterey is a lovely town, you can stay in a coast hotel and take it from there.
Monterey to Carmel, I began thinking of the Dingle peninsula……….on drugs. I could meander like the roads, not getting lost, but each turn of the road was a journey in itself. For 3 hours I stopped and started the car almost every minute. One place not everyone spots in planning is http://hearstcastle.org/. Depending on if you begin in Los Angeles or San Francisco, it’s at the beginning of the drive or the end. It’s just beautiful. I’m being short in my notes today, I really don’t want to spoil the surprises along the way. This drive offers so much more than you really read about. But do allow time!
Now, I had planned on overnight in Monterey but the hotels were jammers, or at least the ones I wanted to stay in, so, I actually pushed right down to Ventura, just north of Los Angeles. Now, there was method in my madness. My hotel the Crowne Plaza was on the beach in Ventura, which was rather lovely. Yet again within in a short stroll I had a lovely brew pub to help me ponder my day. But within 45 minutes drive I had the little known theme park of “Six Flags – magic mountain” in Valencia, California. Now, for most, Universal and Disney are “theme parks”. But for those who know their roller coasters……..number 3 on the top 10 roller coasts globally is…….yes you can meet Bugs Bunny! Yes you can do the family rides………..but………..in six flags – this is hardcore!
For movie buffs, you’ll have seen Six Flags before……….“Walley World” in National Lampoons vacation. You can google it. However, I did think the music from the end titles fitted my journey really well! Along with Willie Nelson ……….”we’re on the road again”.

My final morning, involved a brief spin to the Premium Outlets just below Ventura, and then back to Los Angeles international for my flight back on British Airways fantastic A380…….and I might add, the simplest security I have ever been through. Los Angeles international is not the drama it used to be!

The New England-a-thon Adventure

Having lived in New England, some years back, a revisit was on the cards. The New England region is one which perhaps we forget how close we are to it!

Aer Lingus have direct connections from bother Dublin and Shannon. In our case we flew from Shannon. Shannon to be fair is almost an unsung hero! No waiting for check-in. US pre clearance was a breeze. All good my friends.

Anyhow, our home in Boston was the Sheraton Back Bay. I’m glad to say a hotel I’ve stayed in a number of times. Whilst Back Bay isn’t “Downtown”. To be fair, the M (Metro) runs under the hotel as such from the Prudential Building. And the two buildings are connected! Continue Reading →

Florida: The Sunshine State

Florida, the “Sunhine States” is more than a City with a big mouse! Sitting between the Caribbean and Atlantic Florida offers you over 1200 miles of coastal playground. From bronzing on golden sands to sitting on the dock in Cedar Key with a cold one! You are never far from the ocean in Florida!

Of course move inland and you are now landing upon the World of Disney, Universal Studios, Sea World and the many new parks such as Legoland which have sprung up around Orlando. Of course, we’d be silly to forget to mention world class shopping in the Mall on Millenia, Premium Outlets, and the massive Florida Mall. Continue Reading →