Saturday, April 11, 2015

the French Riviera-- old world opulence

With a litany of posh resorts and perennial sunshine the French Riviera provides the ideal backdrop for an idyllic European retreat. Everyone from adoring couples and families will appreciate the sheer raw beauty of the southern coast of France. Dramatic coastal cliffs meet the calm Mediterranean Sea... The setting is absolutely gorgeous, quiet and peaceful.

The Cote d'Azur's high-style, unashamed splendor and luxurious resorts-- will impress the most discriminating of tastes. When vacationing in French Riviera, Nice is a comparably inexpensive option as opposed to star-struck Cannes or lavish St.-Tropez. Nice, the country's fifth most populated city is replete with a wide assortment of shopping, perennial sunshine and superb dining.
Getting There:

Most visitors to the South of France will fly into Nice Cote d’Azur Airport, services flights from all over Europe including the UK's Heathrow and Gatwick International airports. Rapide Cote d’Azur provides safe and reliable bus service from the Airport throughout the coast.

Staying There:

A conveniently located boutique hotel, The Splendid- Nice is few blocks from the Promenade and train station. Although a bit dated, the airy rooms remain well maintained, large and comfortable. Their roof top restaurant serves a hearty continental breakfast and provides a picturesque view of the city. The rates are reasonable and offer a good bang for your buck.

No trip to the French Riviera is complete without a day trip to the small principality of Monaco. Monte Carlo is a city known for fast cars, opulence and their world famous Grand Casino. The twenty-two minute scenic train ride from Nice only costs a scant $5.00 USD. It’s best if you hail a cab for exploring the steep and congested streets of Monte Carlo. If you decide to huff it on foot to the Prince’s Palace-- good luck, and allow plenty of time for breathers. Tourists flock to the city's old quarter for a quick bite to eat and another notable attraction, The Oceanographic Museum of Monaco.

Kultours - Day Tours:

For a backstage pass to the French Riviera, reserve your private guide with Kultours - Day Tours. Open the doors for you to experience the beautiful countryside and shoreline as you enjoy a custom tour of coastal France. Kultours combines  all the essential ingredients of a best tour operator... experience, trustworthiness and fun. A luxuriously appointed van complete with beverages and snacks ushers you through the beautiful countryside and coastlines. Another viable option is to have their private shuttle meet you at the airport and spend the day touring breathtaking new sites. The roadside picnic adds charm and creates a memory that will last a lifetime.

Theatre de la Photographie et de l'Image:

When it comes to the nature of art, beauty, and sophistication nothing beats the creation of pure photography. Theatre de la Photographie et de l'Image is one of France's largest and most respected photography galleries.
This dedicated space for fine art photography houses a mind-bending collection of vintage and modern photographs. The viewer walk away take away images of beauty in this form of art and be left speechless contemplating the thought provoking works behind the photos they've just seen.

Shopping and Fashion:

One of the best shopping districts in picturesque Vieux Nice is Cours Saleya. This is the epicenter of unique fashion emporiums and designer brand boutiques. Visitors will stumble upon great dining opportunities and shoe tapping street performers as they ferret out that one of a kind art or antique selection at the local Flea Market. All in a friendly old world setting complete with no major parking hassles -
Eat All the Time

Let's be honest, you don't go on vacation to diet-- however, a Mediterranean diet is one of the healthiest ways to eat. At the cornerstone of this healthy fare is Extra Virgin Olive Oil, featuring hints of pepper and ground cardamom.
One of the best places in the world to immerse yourself in fabulous recipes featuring this essential ingredient is at the Oliviera Restaurant. For gluten-free goodness-- order the fresh the Chicken with Vinegar Roasted Peppers another standout is their Mediterranean Olive Bread. Located in Old Town-- Vieux Nice
No Need For Lethargy:
We all know breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so you may as well blow it out... At the Boulangerie Multari Bakery nothing will lift the enliven your senses better than the smell of fresh baked buttery croissants first thing in the morning. Besides breakfast they offer ready-made salads, sandwiches and bite-sized desserts for the taking... Seating is scare and extremely limited in the tiny bakery so grab your morning coffee to go and get your motor running.  Boulangerie Multari  has several bakeries peppered throughout the Cote d'Azur so odds are you won't have trouble finding one.
Le Sentier du Littoral, Cap d'Antibes:
One of best ways for you to get a treasured feel for this Mediterranean region is by your feet. Grab a cold beverage and experience firsthand the thrills of walking through rich vegetation on this legendary walking area. The perfect complement to your vacation and behold nature at its most dramatic. Along the scenic walking route you will take in many species of sea birds and sparkling ocean views of the South of France. Allow one to two hours possibly longer...

Friday, February 13, 2015

Roll Out the Red Carpet-- Playa del Carmen

It's all part of the travel experience. Boarding the plane... Passengers squeezing between tight aisles-- Luggage straps snagging on armrests-- Cramming the duffle bag into the overhead bin. A flight attendant's reassuring smile. The smell of the airplane's lavatory permeating the already stale cabin air. On the airplane's monitors-- waves crash on some random exotic beach... and that portends something good.

Getting pushed back from the gate, in a matter of hours you will arrive at your sought after breezy and balmy destination. Judging from the packed 767 flight, everyone must be well aware of the intrinsic beauty and hospitality of the Mayan Riviera. Upon approach to the Cancun Airport the Caribbean Sea grows shallow and the water becomes more turquoise. 

Each of us like to relax in their own way and at our own pace... Well on a Playa del Carmen getaway you can do just that... Whether you like to get toasty on the beach, take a little longer at the food bar or linger a little longer at the Cantina--  Regardless, the Mayan Riviera offers each of us something on our pathway to rest, relaxation and recreational nirvana.
But be advised, between the ancient Ruins, Cenotes, and tantalizing beautiful underwater sea life...  a long weekend's stay will only scratch the surface of what this tropical jewel has to offer.
Getting There
Since you will find yourself returning again and again, you may as well familiarize yourself with making quick work of the Cancun International Airport. After what seems to be a relatively short domestic flight will land you in the tropical climate of the Mayan Riviera. This is the second-largest airport in Mexico and serves more than 10 million passengers per year. The airport is located 31 miles from Playa del Carmen.
On your way out of the airport, many tour and  timeshare sales people descend on you and for some inexplicable reason, you feel obligated to talk with them-- well you don't. Proceed directly to the airport exit doors where you will find the awaiting shuttle operators either holding a sign with your family's name or their clearly marked logo.
Transportation rates are to Playa del Carmen are an affordable $31US per person. If your flight is delayed or cancelled, simply contact the transportation vendor-- either by email or phone-- to update them with your new flight arrangements. Tipping the driver is recommended but at your discretion.
For the ideal romantic retreat in Playa Del Carmen do not hesitate to book your  accommodations at the luxurious beachfront Royal Hideaway. Pampering and graciousness are par for the course at this adults only resort. This is where you can be seen -- but other guests are not heard. This place is as intimate as it is stately. There is a reason they have so many repeat clients-- considering the high level of style and sumptuous comforts.
Nestled in a gated and secure community, the sixteen year old Royal Hideaway Playacar was the community's first all-inclusive resort. You can't go wrong considering the temperate ocean breeze, attentive service and air conditioned rooms-- so good your sunglasses fog with condensation upon leaving the suite. You could easily spend a month at this property, which would unfortunately feel like a week. Or a week, which would feel like a few days.
There's an overly attentive concierge for each bungalow-- to meet whatever vacation whim or protocol you might have-- six gourmet restaurants, and nightly entertainment on an impressive scale.
The Royal Hideaway's Chef's Table-
You've seen all the top cooking shows... You've waited for this day since you've booked your vacation.... You probably had trouble sleeping the night before due to the sheer anticipation of treating your taste buds to the experience of a lifetime. Finally, now is the one of a kind opportunity to be welcomed into the inner sanctum of an International Master's operating room.
The dining experience includes an exquisite multi-course private dinner hosted by one of Mexico's most esteemed culinary wizards, Executive Chef Eugenio Villafaña. He is world renowned for his inspirational blending of up-to-the-minute and traditional cuisine... Without question, you'll find this to be a treasure of your vacation.
However, doesn't come without a cost-- $250 extra per person.
Get your Hibachi on...
A Japanese steak house at a Mexican all inclusive resort-- yes, you guessed it! At another one of the Royal Hideaway's six gourmet restaurants, guests will delight as a Teppanyaki chef prepares succulent steak, chicken, and seafood dishes. In accordance to the ancient Hibachi style of food preparation and all the qualities of a perfect dining experience. Enjoy the finest in steak and seafood skillfully prepared and presented with great flair by a over a table top grill.
You won't pay extra for this foodie delight-- but there are only two serving times nightly so to make your reservations as early as possible-- Check in is as good of time as any.
Go Holistic or Go Home--
For stress release, and pain management, awaken your inner healing at the Royal Hideaway's Luxury Spa. Drawing on techniques from many traditions, a holistic treatment aids your body in mending itself and increases your well-being. As for that matter-- why opt on a fifty minute massage, when you can have eighty... it's not as though you have anything else going on.
No need to scuba to go deep-- your massage therapists soft hands will guide you into the far reaches of the cosmos--  mysteries of the universe will soon be revealed. Walk away feeling brain dead, yet on the pathway to personal enlightenment.
Xcaret- México Espectacular
As evening unfolds, relaxation will set in at one of Playa del Carmen's wildly popular dinner shows. Combining stage combat, special effects and aerial theatrics the México Espectacular is one of the top rated attractions to take your family on a Mayan Riviera vacation. This dinner theatre extravaganza will help you feel connected to the Mayan culture in a way that you never knew was possible.
Gain a deeper appreciation of the Mexican heritage through music, song and dance as well as taking in a delicious entree. That's what happens when dinner and theater collide at the Xcaret Eco-archeological Park.
If you get there early-- don't miss the Equestrian Show and lariat spinning exhibition. The México Espectacular Dinner show runs at least two hours long and approximately $49US per person.
What happens in Playa...
With all this laid back approach to your vacation, you naturally will want to mix it up a little and kick up your heels. A night at the legendary discothèque Coco Bongo will have you and the throng of other tourists basking in glow of neon strobes & hopping to deep bass rhythms.
Tecate and tequila will assuredly be flowing, but the prices are reasonable to enjoy an evening of mischief-- complete with all the best clubbing songs. But the most booty shaking will be on the dance floor's top tier... That's right, this venue seemingly recreates a Mayan Temple where everyone feels connected the stage show.
Well. it's getting near dawn and your trip is drawing to an end-- no troubles, simply means it is time to book your next trip to the Mayan Riviera.

Friday, January 16, 2015

beauty happens-- Yosemite National Park

You have heard the tales of Mist Trail and Bridalveil Falls. You have seen the iconic images of El Capitan and the Half Dome. Even the famous Tunnel View is on the California state quarter. Sometimes in life we need a source of power that will double the output of our current energy. If that's the case then Yosemite National Park is the place to recharge, rewire and replenish ourselves.
This is a magical place where children's smiles beam and there are sparkles in the eyes of every adult. Utter beauty and diverse landscape greet you at every turn. The natural vistas are soothing and invigorating. This is a wondrous place of nature that should be on everyone's list of Lifetime Places to Visit... you cannot help but fall in love with the gorgeous scenery and spiritual rejuvenating power.
But plan ahead, make provisions and use forward-thinking... As in-- make your reservations now. Most all of the National Park is-- No Occupancy-- during the peak Yosemite summertime.
Getting Around--
If you choose to lease an automobile out of San Francisco-- be sure to secure Tire Chains at the car rental agency. The window for NO snowfall in Yosemite National Park is short-- realistically June through August. There are public transit options that run between Bay Area airports and the small Yosemite town of Merced. Amtrak train service is also available to the scenic Valley.
Once you arrive, hop on the free Half Loop Valley Shuttle that runs throughout the year. The Valley Floor Loop starts at the Lower Yosemite Falls Trailhead, shuttle stop #6. Hiking the 6.5 mile loop takes approximately 3 hours.
The Hefty Price Tag
Crusaders of the national parks Teddy Roosevelt and naturalist John Muir would cringe at the cost of booking a four night Yosemite vacation nowadays. Lodging inside the Valley can run to an astronomically high rate of $955 per night. For a more affordable hotel alternative stay just outside the National Park. Located a scant five minutes from Yosemite entrance is the well-appointed
Cedar Lodge Hotel
This lodge appears to have seen it's better day but no worries... With fresh linens and clean rooms you can still find time to immerse yourself in the local landscape. A short walk across the property's road yields a romantic gazebo-- nestled up alongside the swift moving Merced River.
They proudly feature an indoor as well as outdoor swimming pool. But bring along some groceries-- there is one on-site restaurant, but no really exciting dining opportunities for miles. They even have a YARTS (Yosemite Regional Transportation System) Bus Stop located outside the rustic Cedar Lodge.
No Missteps:
With descriptions of Yosemite like 'the glorious place,' or 'breathtaking,' you knew there was going to be a catch. And there is-- this place is as dangerous as it is beautiful. At Yosemite, one misstep doesn't come without a price-- Watch out for mice-- or hantavirus. Hikers hit by lightning atop the famed Half Dome. Drowned bodies plucked from the Merced River. A large tree or boulder falling... Getting swept off a 317 foot waterfall...

Even on a short hike to the mighty Sequoias one can hear the warning growl of the mountain lion. They even have a website dedicated to the people that have lost their life at this legendary National Park.
Aren't Enough Hours in the Day--
Self-Bailing Rafts
Shredding tight channels and whisking past incredible scenery is more than just speed and fun. Zephyr Whitewater Expeditions sets the standard of performance on the Merced River. Whitewater paddling adventures through twisting torrents with friends and family will never be forgotten. These long lasting memories of  the fast-moving and a powerful streams will live on.... If you're looking for a whitewater raft expedition to sneak away to, this is the group to trust.
The length of the Yosemite rafting season changes from year to year and depending on river depths, water temperature and atmosphere weather conditions.
Hike, Hike, and More Hiking
Yosemite Guide Service
Why follow the masses along the Yosemite Valley loop when you can strike out on your own-- with a personalized guide, of course. Backpacking and  Day Hikes can be an extremely humbling and rewarding experience. They build affordably priced trips around you or your family interests.
By pacing the difficulty level to abilities of your group this is your opportunity to trek the daunting Sierra Nevada Mountains. Commune with Nature and don't miss this one of a kind this private hiking tour to feel you are one with the elements. Yosemite Guide Service offers an optimal guide to client ratio and specializes in backpacking.

Crushing Takedowns
This is where fantasies of crushing takedowns, taunt fly lines and strong runs-- meet reality. When it comes to angling on the river, Jimmie Morales offers the sport fishing exploit of a lifetime. Few experiences rival the adventure and thrill of fly fishing. After spending an afternoon with Sierra Fly Fisher Tours you'll be able to spin a few yarns-- recalling the aerial acrobatics and how you reeled in the big feisty one. No need to feel left out-- fly fishing classes and trips are customized for anglers of all skill levels.        
Nature Photography

Get the most out of your camera at the Phil Hawkins Workshop. Participants will to take their wildlife and nature photography to the next level. The two full days course will set you back $450 US...  But a bargain considering a signed poster reprint of a professional costs easily that much.
Have a good time capturing quality imagery and getting the most zing from your Digital camera. What's best still... no more than six participants per instructor. Landscape & Night Photography Classes, Workshops and Photo Tours in an inspirational setting-- you can't ask for more..

Sunday, December 21, 2014

blaze a trail-- Roatan, Honduras

There's nothing like carving your own path-- forging ahead and leaving the masses behind. Discovering unchartered territory is what a true vacation is  all about... Yes, finding that unspoiled and attractive plot of land you can stick a flag in (or plunk a beach towel on) and call it-- your own. Well that's what a Roatan, Honduras vacation will have you feeling like... the bold, intrepid explorer.

At every turn in Roatan-- you’ll be immersed with deep green views of Honduran hillside as well as rich hues of blue bouncing off the sea. The world’s second largest coral reef lies just offshore, making this Bay Island a popular destination among those in the diving community. However, Roatan is uncongested and not overflowing with the familiar tourist crowd that often taint other commercial Caribbean Islands… Roatan, Honduras is an excellent option not only for its exquisite beauty but for a truly inexpensive vacation.

Ground Transportation

On a cab ride from the Roatan International Airport to the West End of the island expect to pay $25.00 US. However, like everything else in the Caribbean-- the taxi fare is negotiable... So a little lighthearted haggling with your driver will ensure the best rate. Also, you can usually find lower prices outside the airport gates.

The island's most reliable shuttle service-- Detour Roatan-- guarantees curbside “pick up or drop off” service to the airport at all hours of the day.

 Bus fares connecting the island are relatively inexpensive... but the vans are unreliable, jammed-full and often not air-conditioned. The public transportation run along the major roads, generally on the half hour.

 A Bungalow with a View:

Located a short distance from the popular West Bay Beach is one of the island's most quaint and charming hotels on the Honduran coastline... You can't help but revel in the tranquil setting and panoramic views at the Las Rocas Resort And Dive Center.

The charm of their nautically decorated, large one bedroom Bungalows will not go unnoticed. Each room is outfitted with the customary amenities-- wireless internet, air-conditioning, and mini-bars.

Needless to say the island's best diving, snorkeling as well as paddle-boarding are conveniently located right offshore. For additional communing with nature--there are many paths nearby for exploring and reflective walks... even a dock for swimming. A complimentary full breakfast is served each morning and leave the bulky hair dryer at home-- they have you covered....

Dining Out:

On the Island's renowned, West End there are wonderful dining options to satisfy everyone's palate as well as-- budget. However, the Roatan Oasis Restaurant should top your list when it comes to dining out on this Honduran Island. The restaurant is nestled into the countryside overlooking the scenic jungle. Their succulent Wasabi Flank Steak and farm to table fresh Chicken Caesar Salad come highly recommended. A standout entree has to be the tender Chipotle Glazed Baby Back Ribs... cooked to perfection and falling off the bone. The owner, hailing from Scotland, is extremely personable and the service staff goes out of their way to see that your entire evening has been a magical dining experience.

Enjoy Roatan:

South Shore Canopy Zip Line:

Experience the restorative power of the Island as you careen down a zip line at break neck speed. You will fly like Superman over the jungle canopy on the ultimate Roatan thrill-venture. South Shore Canopy Zip Line offers several aerial and zip line tours with something for everyone and all without breaking your budget. Gear up, toss on the safety harness and bring home some incredible family memories.

Arch's Iguana and Marine Park:

Visitors and children of all ages will delight in taking a closer look at this amazing reptile.

The program aims to create awareness of how vital these colorful creatures are to the ecological balance of the Honduran habitat. The entire family will find this tour captivating as you get up close and personal with many young iguanas. But, be sure to have a keen eye as most of the resident iguanas are blending-in with the trees. Admission is $8 to this campy Iguana farm in French Harbour.

Cooking Classes with Chef Paul:

Love to Cook?  Love to cook? Want to do something unique during your Island stay? Then by all means drop in the Ooloonthoo Restaurant for a fun cooking class. Chef Paul focuses on assimilating healthy foods with mindful preparation to enhance the flavor and tasting experience. He has been entertaining the masses and teaching the art of Indian cooking to home chefs for years.

On The Water's Edge:

You've always dreamed of a guided horseback ride on the sandy-white beach, right? Who hasn't... but thanks to all the swimming, kayaking-- and other relaxing activities you do on vacation-- an unforgettable horseback tour always seems to be pushed to the back burner.

Well not in Roatan, Honduras-- you will get to ride in the remote portion of the Island that few ever experience thanks to the professional handlers at Rancho Barrio Dorcas Horse Riding. All dates and times are scheduled to coincide with lowest tide possible to ensure that you have the widest stretch of coast.

Don't put it off any longer-- they do two rides at the beach almost every day.



Saturday, October 18, 2014

Idle Free Vancouver

The most common mistake made by cruise ship passengers is to completely overlook the hosting city as a vacation destination. In the haste and excitement about getting onboard and to the holy grail of all food buffets-- 'rookie cruisers' will regularly make a beeline from the airport to the cruise ship terminal.

Port cities, like Vancouver B.C. are often overlooked and offer much more than just a random docking location. For the price of a few measly shore excursions you can stay a couple extra nights in the spectacular city of Vancouver-- set against the Canadian backdrop of mountains and sea.  

On a Vancouver vacation, there's a time to be in low-mode and a time for the opposite-- to get moving and take in all the attractions. With all the things to see and do in this British Columbia port city-- I suggest you become idle-free by hitting it and getting it..

Getting There

Conveniently situated within Vancouver's  International Airport there is a SkyTrain or Rapid Transit stop--  and don't let the luggage stop you. The SkyTrain system is world renowned for wide cars, hallways and large elevators and wide cars-- So needless to say,  it's easy to get around the city with personal belongings and just a 23 minutes jaunt directly from the airport... A taxi from the airport Vancouver to downtown runs approximately $30 CAD.                       

Opus Hotel--

For a residential vibe Award Winning Boutique Hotel, be sure to book your accommodations at the Opus Hotel. Located in the fashionable Yaletown district, this Forbes-rated 4 Star boutique hotel is within walking distance of quaint shops, unlimited spas and top tier restaurants. With Award Winning Boutique HotelAward Winning Boutique Hotel96 unique and comfortable rooms-- you will feel like you're home, but away.

The rooms retro 70's colors and playful turndown service are sure to bring out your inner child... instead of the usual chocolates on the mattress, they leave fun candies like Pop-Rocks or Charms Blow Pops. All rooms offer complimentary Wi-Fi and even come equipped with an Apple - iPad and iPhone that you can use throughout the journeys inside the city.

With complimentary car service and a Cruise Package Special, where they will reimburse the cab fare from the ships dock, you can't go wrong with a stay at this marvelous  hotel.

The Places to be Seen--

If you are looking for a departure from the run of the mill, conventional style dining establishment then look no further than the West Oak Restaurant. This chic bistro draws a throng of younger diners that crave an upbeat, energetic, casual yet elegant dining experience.

The West Oak Restaurant seasonally changing menu sets the standard with new delectable trends that create an ideal palate experience. The kitchen staff use locally sourced-- farm fresh ingredients, grass-fed beef and  free-range chicken. From perfectly seared scallops with citrus and spices to their savory steak gold standard-- tenderloin beef-- the delicious fare will melt in your mouth.

Whether you take in a wonderful dinner or sip a cocktail in their stylish cocktail bar... you can't help feeling like you've just stumbled into one of Vancouver's most highly prized restaurants.

Brunch Worth the Wait

How long would you wait at for brunch at Vancouver's highest rated breakfast eateries? Ninety minutes? Two hours in the pouring rain? Well that's what the locals do, just to get a coveted seat at Café Medina... so you know it's going to be good.

There is always a wait for brunch at Café Medina, and with good reason-  the menu is innovative, it's hearty, smart, and prepared beyond everyone's expectations. With trademark dishes like Saumon Fumé, a fried egg with smoked wild salmon and cream cheese over arugula-- Executive Chef Jonathan Chovancek's kitchen staff live up to the hype and then some...

And don't forget to order 'The Caesar,' a classic Canadian version of the Bloody Mary.

Idle-Free Suggestions
Spend an afternoon at one of Vancouver's most well-liked draws, Granville Island. And it's fun getting there too-- little Aquabus ferries set sail every 5 minutes from the West End of downtown Vancouver to Granville Island. Packed full of craft studios, boutique shops and pubs you won't be at a loss for things to do...


Best known for its festive atmosphere and amazing souvenir bargains, Gastown is one the City's oldest neighborhoods. This popular historic borough blends elegance, with cobblestone streets. Easily walkable with open-air shopping kiosks that also feature food carts and street entertainment.

Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival
Every June through September, Bard on the Beach professional Shakespeare Festival conjures up the enchantment of the playwright's great works. The festival performs Shakespeare in two open-ended performance tents, located on the scenic waterfront in Vancouver’s Vanier Park.


Friday, September 26, 2014

Go Your Own Way... Alaska by Land + Sea

We have all heard tall tales of prospectors carving their path through the Canadian Yukon during the 1890's gold rush... well now it's your turn. But instead of lugging a thousand pounds of provisions up the Chilkoot Trail, you can do it in luxury and style by taking a Holland America Line-- Alaska Land+Sea Journey.

On this adventure you will be granted an all access pass to Denali National Park as well the opportunity of experiencing the mightiness of Mt. McKinley up close and personal. On this one of a kind cruise experience -- not only will you have the possibility of spotting whales, sea lions, and dolphins... but also take in the likes of grizzly bears, moose,  and elk.

As we all know the glaciers are melting at an alarming rate, soon they will be evaporated, dried up and gone. It's time to gather the whole family together and see the glacial ice mass before it's too late. This is no ordinary vacation... this is a bonding experience that will last a lifetime--

Getting There--

It is wise to arrive in Anchorage, your city of embarkation, a day or two early. Your body will need to have time to adjust from a long flight-- pretty much guaranteed, no matter where you depart from...

Thankfully the Anchorage International airport is well thought out and very navigable. Outside of baggage claim they even run a municipal bus system-- on the hour-- that will get you to the hotel district for a mere $4.50. Taxi's are very affordable as well... a short 10 to 15 minute  jaunt into the city will only set you back-- $25.00 and that includes a gratuity.

Where to Stay--

With overnight stays at the Westmark Hotels in Fairbanks AK, Dawson City and Whitehorse YT--  you'll become familiar with this hotel brand. Seeing that their parent company is the same as that of the Holland American Line-- the property is what you would expect from a hospitality driven enterprise-- tidy, outfitted with comfortable beds and have an exceptionally conscientious staff.

Another nicety they offer is a wake- up call for the Northern Lights. If any of their staff spies the aurora borealis throughout the dark of night-- The front desk will give your room a ring-- so you can grab your camera and snap a few photos of the dramatic spectacle of nature.
For a treasured experience, Air Denali-- not only offers a flightseeing tour of Mt. McKinley-- the highest peak in North America-- but they also will land on a glacier near the summit. Nowhere else can you take in unspoiled and unfettered views of the mountain top unless of course you are an avid climber.
The sturdiness of their planes lend themselves to your confidence, although the pilots self deprecating humor gets a little tired--- But considering the chatter over the headset sounds so cool, you forgive the staleness of their corny jokes.

Also, don't pass on being one of the proud-- the select few that venture in to the Article Circle. You'll even walk away with a certificate to prove you made it this far north.

Upon your arrival in the tiny community of Fort Yukon, don't expect to be greeted with much fanfare from locals... They aren't the most all-embracing of outsiders, but then again who would want to feel like they are put on display as a tourist attraction--

Nevertheless, you made it to the Arctic Circle and a village so remote that it is accessible only by plane and river transportation-- with no roads leading in or out.

Don't forget the mosquito repellent.
Take a peaceful 7.5 hour train ride slicing through the pristine Alaskan countryside on the domed rail cars of the McKinley Explorer.  A half hour of out of Anchorage, there's the possibility of sighting Mt. McKinley-- weather permitting of course.
Take in some good eats on white table clothed tables as your dining car swiftly rambles along the railway. The tasty cuisine is delightful and the service is welcoming and gracious.
Hop aboard the White Pass and Yukon Route,  a train ride that careens past mountain rock pools, scenic gorges and dramatic waterfalls. On this unforgettable train ride experience you will journey along virtually the same path that the Yukon prospectors originally summitted during the 1890's gold rush.
This wildly popular pleasure trip lasts a surprisingly quick 3.5 hours and will allow for some memorable photographs-- provided you will brave the whirling cold and stand in-between the cars as they bump and whisk down the tracks.
On much of the Holland America Land + Sea Journey you will be shuttled from place to place on a narrated luxury coach. You'll feel like a Rock Star of the Canadian Yukon-- being on the tour bus and living out of a suitcase.

Sure many mornings you will be leaving at the crack of dawn, but your meticulous tour host will always see that the shuttle picks you up and arrives on time. As an added bonus-- it's as though they have like invisible luggage Sherpa's-- simply leave your belongs outside your room and poof they're gone... Only to reappear the next day upon your arrival  and inside your new hotel room--
And a Cruise Ship-- for Good Measure

Once you arrive at the Cruise Ship terminal in Skagway and board the ms Zuiderdam, you will feel like royalty. All of the ship's crew will be scurrying and working to ensure your voyage is the best possible.
Often times on cruise ships you can't help but hear the murmur of other passengers complaints-- People complain about the weather-- People complain about the food-- people complain about their health... Well on Holland America Line--you will hear no complaints. The staff performs at such high standards and with such gladness in their heart-- you can't help but be amazed.

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Summer of Loving... San Francisco

The ding of the cable car is in the air, the ding of the cable car cuts through the morning fog... Where else can you be-- none other than in the city by the Bay, the city of  San Francisco.  This is a resilient community that has bounced back from natural disasters and persevered through cultural clashes that have defined a nation.

It's a diverse municipality where each neighborhood is more authentic and distinctive than the one that preceded it. Any trip to San Francisco is guaranteed to be a thrilling mix of incomparable dining, activities and nightlife that will easily occupy each day of your vacation.

We are all aware of San Francisco's trademark attractions, from the Golden Gate Bridge to the brooding prison Island of Alcatraz and of course Chinatown--to mention a scant few. But be sure to bring along some bread and we're not talking the sourdough variety, because they have plenty of that.... Trust me you'll need it for this memorable of a vacation.


Getting to downtown San Francisco has never been easier on the Bay Area's subway system. Out of the Airport, simply hop on the Air Tram to the International Gate-- there you will find the entrance way to the city's rapid transit system.  A nominal $8.65 per person will secure passage directly into the downtown hotel district.

At times, the wheels get mightily squeaky and loud on the Bart Tram, so bring along your favorite MP3 outfitted with noise cancelling ear buds... and as an added bonus they will assist in you avoiding eye contact with several of the subway's, let us say,  more colorful characters.
Union Square

Suffice to say that in San Francisco, you have several options of where to stay... My favorite being Union Square, which is centrally located and loaded with inexpensive transportation options that will allow you to navigate the city like a breeze.

'All Pleasure'
Where else would you pamper and indulge your awesomeness in San Francisco than with a stay at the Hotel Diva? Pamper yourself in a discreet room that marries the Old San Francisco with a stylish,  new contemporary vibe.

Actually the Hotel Diva is only one of three 'Personality Properties' located in the posh Union Square district.  These hotel's set themselves apart with clean paint schematics, vaulted ceilings and a good flow. Personality Properties' Kensington Park Hotel offers up European styling-- a tight yet efficient use of space... you also will appreciate the crisp bay breeze cascading through the room's open windows.

Hotel Union Square-- is steps from the upscale department stores, and  their rooms are surprisingly quiet considering the bustle of foot traffic on the street below. If Hotel Diva has no vacancy, feel comfortable opting with one of these other sister properties for an escape to remember.
'All Business'
On a  tight schedule? In town on an assignment? Looking for a consistent room product  with a trusted hotel brand that is detail driven and run by a skillful management team? Look no further than the Parc 55 Wyndham smack dab at the core of Union Square.

This is easily one of the Union Square's largest hotel's boasting 1024 rooms and seemingly hundred's of stories tall . When you are this high above the fray-- each room's  large Bay windows will translate into grand, sweeping views of the city below-- Their full size room combine a no frills style with a straightforward design. 
With over 30,000 sq feet of meeting room space, and a fitness center that overlooks Union Square this is a great option for large groups and business minded traveler.

Dine About Town

When in the City by the Bay don't toss away your hard earned dining budget on a quick bite at a greasy spoon restaurant... Make sure to hit each one of these standouts-- you can't go wrong, and you'll understand why San Francisco is world renowned for their cuisine.

Historic John's Grill-- Their signature clam chowder is considered the tops in all of San Francisco. With some of the most succulent and mouthwatering steaks around-- Historic John's is not the place to be starting a vegan diet. This three story dining landmark even served as inspiration for Daschle Hemet's, The Maltese Falcon--
Parallel 37 Restaurant-- Tucked inside the swanky Ritz Carlton Nob Hill this fine dining gem is famous for its art deco setting and ever pleasing cocktails-- Their standout chef outduels the rest with creative offerings and cuisine of great finesse.   
Piperade-- 'Movers and shakers' come together in this financial district dining hotspot. Snap a great photo of the Transamerica building-- be sure to stop by the Financial district for dinner at Piperade.

Bix Restaurant-- This dining establishment harkens back to when the nights smoldered and jazz was in full swing. One of the city's best for crab cakes, hand-cut steaks and old fashioned cocktails. Also, featuring exemplary service where the water glass never reaches-- half full.   
Palio d'Asti-- The next best thing to having visit Italy. The wood fired pizza here is delicious and the Italian entrées -- top notch. Affordable, busy, and a great atmosphere set this trattoria apart. Service tends to be on the slow side but the food is worth the wait.   
Urban Tavern-- Attentive service is the benchmark for an outstanding dining experience at this centrally located establishment. Their crispy battered Fish & Chips are the perfect lunch option and explode with tasty delight.
Fog Harbor Fish House  One of the great fish houses in San Francisco with a breathtaking view of the Bay. Featuring fresh caught Alaskan Halibut, Sea Bass and mouth-watering Prime Rib their menu will offer something for everyone… Set in a casual Pier 39 environment.
Fog City-- Enjoy their laid back morning vibe for an incredible Sunday Brunch-- Featuring succulent French Toast and a signature Bloody Mary that is a meal all unto itself-- Don't forget their patented doughnuts and homemade ice cream.
Definitely Do:
Beach Blanket Babylon-- Club Fugazi hosts this over the top cast of bubbly and spirited characters. Even the Queen of England and Prince Charles have taken in this mad capped musical revue during their San Francisco stay.
Tower Tours Wine Country-- This exceptionally picturesque and guided drive into Wine Country is a sure bet for the avid wine enthusiast. Tour historic wineries and snap the quintessential photo of a California vineyard that is suitable for framing. When visiting the Napa Valley-- if you've quit drinking... let's be honest-- it's a good time to start back.

Adventure Cat-- Choose this Sailing Crew for a wild evening of raucous fun and dramatic views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Gale force winds tousle the hair and the sea splash will  invigorate your core. However, they do have an inside cabin for those wanting to remain warm and fuzzy.
Little Italy Walking Food Tour-- Sample the tastes, sights and sounds in this celebration of North Beach. Lead by a knowledgeable guy named Jimmy-- a wise guy-- who's to say? But I sure did laugh loudly at all of his jokes.   

Hornblower Dinner Cruise-- Hop aboard the San Francisco Belle for those wanting a tranquil, romantic and unforgettable dining cruise. Spectacular imagery awaits as you witness firsthand the evening fog that envelops the small town Sausalito.
Aquarium by the Bay-- Studies show when fish are in the tank-- there's a natural lowering of one's blood pressure... Just think how many points will drop when you take a 'Behind the Scenes tour' at this Pier39 mega-attraction.