Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

We recently attended a work conference in Las Vegas.  If you’ve done the same in the past, you know how that can be.  Between the meetings during the day and late nights followed by early mornings, we were happy to get to spend a couple of days in Scottsdale after the conference.  We were fortunate to stay at the Royal Palms Resort, right near the line between Phoenix and Scottsdale on Camelback Dr., where many of the other larger Scottsdale resorts are also located.  But we felt that the Royal Palms really stood out in how intimate, cozy and charming it felt in comparison to the other more expansive, luxurious but less personable golf resorts.  It was originally a private vacation home-built in a hacienda style and as a hotel, it has kept all the charm and homey feel of the original home.  There are many beautiful spaces and nooks and crannies throughout the property with beautiful antique doors, Mexican tile benches, cacti, fireplaces and bougainvillea in bloom, palms, fountains and more.  The rooms are not large but very comfortable, homey and nicely decorated with decor to match the rest of this beautiful oasis of a hotel and some, like mine, with large and beautiful deep soaking tubs.  The food at T. Cook’s was absolutely delicious. The pool was small but quiet and relaxing with great poolside service (try the guacamole!).  All in all, The Royal Palms exceeded our expectations and I would highly recommend it as a great R&R getaway.


After a full day of just relaxing at the hotel and catching up on some much-needed sleep, we woke up the next morning and headed out of Phoenix for a full day of sightseeing on the Apache Trail. After some research, we decided this was the perfect way to see some great local scenery in the summer, since most of it can be viewed from the comfort of your air-conditioned car.  I had read conflicting stories about how beautiful the drive was but also some complaints about the safety of its partially unpaved roads. These stories made me even more curious and appealed to my spirit of adventure. So we set out in our rented compact car, with plenty of water and snacks (it was summer after all!), a full tank of gas, and our charged cameras and cell phones.

After passing Apache Junction (the official start of the drive) we came to our first stop, the Superstition Mountain museum. It is an indoor as well as outdoor museum with a reproduction 19th Century Wells Fargo office, stage-coach stop, barber shop, assay office and chapel, all with the beautiful backdrop of the Superstition Mountains.  It was a great first stop to get a feel for the history and landscape of the area. Just down the road is Lost Dutchman State Park, where a number of great trails lead to the Superstition Mountains.

Our next stop was Goldfield Mining Town, an old west ghost town with picturesque “main street,” consisted of shops, a chapel, saloon, brothel, jail and more (some in operation and some great for pictures).  A mine tour and a short train ride are also offered.  We stopped at the cactus shop and picked up some great original souvenirs (Yes! You can bring cacti on planes and they did a great job packing them up).

We continued the drive and admired the desert landscape with intriguing rock formations, saguaro cacti and other interesting vegetation which was foreign to us, when we first came upon Canyon Lake. This is one of four lakes created by the damming of the Salt River and it’s well described by its name. After finding a mostly deserted road on the Apache Trail, we were surprised at the number of local families we found picnicking, swimming, fishing, boating, grilling and generally enjoying their Saturday at this popular spot. The lake shore is easily accessible by car, and with its close proximity to Phoenix, yet remote feel, it is easy to see why it is popular with the locals.


After some more driving, we arrived at the much-anticipated old-west stage stop of Tortilla Flat, the only place to grab food and drinks before continuing on the Apache trail.  Here we found good food, a friendly bartender, saddle bar stools, walls covered in dollar bills and some very interesting bathrooms!  And before getting on the road, we tried some of the well-known prickly pear ice cream and were pleasantly surprised. We also met a friendly Harley-driving wanderer named Mike Whitewolf who told us about the drive up ahead and contributed to the allure of our Southwestern drive.

The road becomes unpaved shortly after leaving Tortilla Flat.  It is windy, with the mountain on one side and significant drops on the other but fairly wide and flat so the driving did not feel dangerous or very uncomfortable though we did notice some cars whose drivers seemed very much out of their element driving on unpaved roads.  The scenery and vistas throughout this part of the drive were stunning. There were canyons, gorges, fantastic rock formations, one-lane bridges, distant views of Apache Lake, flats, Saguaros, prickly pear cacti, etc.  There are several places to pull over and even some paved overlooks where you can stop and admire the beautiful vistas as much as you’d like.

The final stretch of the drive took us up to Roosevelt dam, the sight of which surprised us after going around yet another bend in the road. Before we knew it, we were staring right at the massive structure, and stopped at the large parking lot to admire the dam and its surroundings more closely. Given none of us were familiar with this dam, we were all very impressed with its sheer size and feat of engineering. On the other side of the dam, Roosevelt Lake gleamed in the sunlight as did the attractive suspended bridge that we later drove over. Boaters, campers and day-trippers all took advantage of the good weather and calm lake surrounded by the beautiful mountains.

Back on major paved roads after our stop at the dam, and after admiring the lake, we made one last quick pit-stop  to check out the RVs setting up camp with their boats and jet-skis by the lake shore. Then we got on the highway headed back to Scottsdale, arriving back just in time for a local Mexican dinner and a stroll through quaint “downtown” Scottsdale with its many shops, restaurants and bars where tourists and locals mingle and enjoy outdoor seating under the cooling misting hoses . We decided to end our day by testing out this unfamiliar and clever invention by sipping on margaritas while talking about our day’s adventures.

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Linda and Warren H. traveled to Costa Rica this spring for the first time and had quite an adventure! They visited Monteverde and the Quepos and Manuel Antonio areas. This is what they had to say:

“We had a FABULOUS time! All the arrangement worked out great.  The drivers were on time, the hotels had our reservations, the flights  were perfect, and we LOVED COSTA RICA!

I’ll take a little time to tell you about it now because, to tell you the truth, I’m a little depressed about being back and I like talking about the trip!  Of course, the road to Monteverde was a surprise even though I knew what to expect.  But it was a beautiful day and we enjoyed the adventure and the scenery very much.  Even saw a rainbow as we got higher.  Hotel Belmar was on a beautiful site–spacious lush grounds and high enough to see the Pacific.  Selvatura was wonderful.  It wasn’t crowded so we took our time and spent about 3 hours on the hanging bridges, then visited the hummingbird garden.  We discovered that Warren is an excellent “spotter” and he even pointed out animals to our guides throughout the trip.  We also went on a night tour.  The hotel itself was nice enough.  It’s pretty old and smelled a little musty, but it was quaint.  The only real disadvantage was that it is far from town.  Breakfast was excellent.  We ate the rest of our meals in town.  One full day was just enough time there.
It was very exciting to go down the mountain the next day and get closer and closer glimpses of the ocean.  Arenas del Mar is gorgeous!!!!  You have to go there the next time!  It feels like it’s the only hotel for miles around because they’ve kept so much of the rain forest intact.  We felt like royalty from the beginning.  The check-in process was very smooth.  They greeted us at the welcome pavilion and took us and our bags (on golf carts) up the steep, winding path to the reception area (spotting a sloth on the way up) and gave us delicious drinks while they took our bags on to the room.  Our room wasn’t quite ready but we didn’t mind sitting by the pool overlooking Manuel Antonio.  Breathtaking!  Our room was in the lowest building, which meant we were right on the secluded beach where the outdoor lunch area and second pool were.  The beach was so perfect–lots of sun and waves for Warren and all the shade I could ever want.  It never felt crowded even though the hotel was full.  There were always plenty of chairs and room to spread out under the trees.  Lots of white-faced monkeys and 2 sloths entertained us every day on the beach.  And the iguanas were so interesting and comical.  We could hear howler monkeys a lot but they were harder to spot.
The food at the main restaurant was excellent.  There were plenty of vegetarian options for us and they even gave us an additional vegetarian menu to pre-order for a future nights if we wanted to.  We also splurged and took advantage of the spa–very nice.  (We were given a free demonstration on the beach.)
We took two excursions.  The first was a guided walk through Manuel Antonio park.  Our guide was wonderful and since we only had 6 people in our group he was able to answer all of our questions and help us take pictures.  The only disappointment we had was that all the trails except 1 were closed (due to landslides) and that made it a little crowded.  The next day we did a zip line tour and loved it!!!  The one we took was by Safari.  It included lunch (surprisingly large) and a butterfly garden tour.  The course had 11 zip lines, 2 ropes to rappel, and a tarzan swing.  I didn’t know if I would be afraid, but I had no problem at all.  I was very impressed with how it was run.
The hotel staff were superb.  They encouraged us to learn Spanish.  We got to know several  of the staff personally.  I could go on and on about how well we were treated.  We did a little exploring in Quepos and ate 2 dinners there.  The food was good.
Our overall impression of Costa Rica was that the people are very friendly and the country is very beautiful, with mountains and beaches very close.  We were glad that we didn’t rent a car.  We heard from several people who got lost or felt it wasn’t worth the expense.  We are telling everyone that they have to go.  If we had had more time we would have like Arenal, I’m sure.  Everyone we talked to said it is gorgeous.  But I felt like we spent the time we had wisely.
Thanks SO much for all your help.  All of your suggestions were right on target and very helpful.  I don’t see how any hotel in that area could be any better (than Arenas del Mar).  Being right on the beach and in such a lush forest made it very special.”  by Linda H.

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It had been too many years since I last visited Jamaica, so when I was invited to participate in an annual resort golf tournament, I accepted. I had played the Sandal’s Golf Course ten years ago and I knew it wasn’t maintained as pristine as the Doral, Pinehurst, or other well-known courses, but it was a fun course to play with small greens and Jamaican caddies.

AirTran departed early from both Richmond and Atlanta and we actually arrived early. Sandals has a comfortable private lounge in the Montego Bay Airport; refreshments and light snacks are provided as they arrange your transportation to your resort. Ocho Rios is a 90-mile drive from MoBay but I was glad to see that the improved highway (the one that had been promised for ten years) was FINALLY completed, so the drive time has been somewhat shortened. A rest stop complete with cold Red Stripe beer makes the 1 ¾ hour drive endurable.

 By the time I went to register for the golf tournament, stopped to grab a light snack, and got to my room, my luggage had been delivered to my room. At Sandals, one of the original and luxurious all-inclusive resorts, everything at the resort is included in a pre-paid price. My room was stocked with a complete bar, refrigerator with cold drinks, mixers, and beer, so I got into the island culture with a rum and tonic as I unpacked. At the opening reception and dinner that night, I met the hotel’s General Manager as well most department heads and many Sandals’ executives.

After a breakfast buffet featuring just about anything you could want, including mimosas and every variety of tropical  fruit that I’d ever heard of, we spend time reviewing the many Sandals’ upgrading projects currently being executed. We then headed to the golf course where we were assigned caddies for our entire stay, and off we went. “StarBoy” and Payne headed down the fairway and watched all four first drives find the fairway. As we approached the first green, we could see that the greens weren’t all “green”, in fact a lot of sand on the greens made them half-brown. I was pleased that although slow, the greens actually putted fairly smooth and even. It only took a few holes for us to realize that the caddies did know the way the greens broke, although after mis-clubbing me several times, I started getting my own distances and pulling my own clubs. Most holes were well-marked with 100, 150, and 200 yardmarkers, so calculating distances was not hard. All of the caddies were dressed alike in khaki shorts and yellow polo shirts ~ this gave a very nice and professional look. A well stocked refreshment cart circulates frequently. After golf, we tried the course’s 19th hole. This covered patio features an adequate food menu of chicken, burgers, hot dogs, and a fully stocked bar.

Our outdoor dinner at “MysticMountain” was cancelled because of threatening weather, so in its place, we were invited to the villa of Sandals’ chairman, Butch Stewart. Over one hundred of us had cocktails and hors d’oeuvres in his home and then dined under banquet tents that had been erected in just a few hours. We left the villa and returned to our host hotel, Sandals Grande Ocho Rios, where the piano bar was just getting cranked up.

After golf and a relaxing afternoon the next day, we were hosted for dinner at Sandals Royal Plantation. Located next door to our host hotel, the Royal Plantation, is Sandals’ first boutique resort and has earned membership in The Leading Small Hotels of the World. Our buffet was set on the resort’s elevated patio that overlooks their private beach set fifty feet below. A magnificent buffet of everything tropical awaited us including oysters, shrimp, lobster, lamb, jerk chicken and pork (of course, what’s a Jamaican’s meal without one of these) assorted veggies, and a dessert table that must have kept the pastry kitchen busy all day.

Time did not allow me to visit the Red Lane Spa, but from past experiences, a trip here will relieve most things that ail you.

Jamaica continues to receive undeserved “bad press”. If you observe common sense and stay on your resort after dark, Jamaica is as safe as any other island in the Caribbean; the weather is great and the people are friendly. Don’t expect U.S. service levels and you won’t be disappointed.

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Today we anchor early in Los Cabos with its large marina and beautiful bay where the Sea of Cortes meets the Pacific Ocean. Our sail in is amazing with a full view from our veranda of El Arco, the natural rock formation, at Land’s End. Imagine our surprise when we open our drapes to find the most photographed sight in Cabo right in front of us, in the early morning mist. 

We took lots of photos and wonderful Paulo brought us our breakfast. As we had our coffee and Danish, we suddenly could see well over 100 small dolphins diving in and out of the waves.

Just after the dolphins, we were treated to a view of the ‘shotgun start’ of the days fishing vessels from the marina, all racing out to be the first to get the best fishing spot. I have never seen so many small boats racing along at one time. It reminded me of home and the famous races on the Isle of Wight! 

We tender into the Cabo Marina. We were accompanied on our tender by Christian Krempl who is the General Manager on board Regatta. His team cares for all the dining areas on Regatta as well as the accommodations on board. The staff on the Regatta is incredibly friendly and professional, anticipating need versus reacting to a situation. He must have the world’s longest ‘To Do List ! I call this snap “‘The Thinker’. 

Cabo has a marina and town area perfect for a stroll with lots of shops and little cafes. Ed gets up to mischief in the shopping area, he so loves to read the tee shirts in the shop windows. He also likes the signs! Hand crafted items in the windows are the cause for many stops on our stroll.

We relax and have drinks at the marina and spend time watching the boats and all the people. There are 3 cruise ships at anchor in the harbor this morning so Cabo is a busy place. The marina is beautiful with many yachts, sail boats and fishing vessels. There is even a huge yacht with a helicopter on board.

Back to Regatta for lunch and some sun bathing on our veranda. You can see the hotels in line on the beach in Cabo San Lucas. The air is cooler than Acapulco and there is much less humidity. As we sail away, the air turns cold after we pass El Arco and make our way into the ocean for our sail on to San Francisco. We will have cold temperatures in the low 60’s now for the rest of our journey.  

A special event this afternoon. There is a get together for British Guests. How nice of Regatta to host a party and include the British Bear.

Bye for now, TTB

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Since I was a very young bear I have wanted to see the famous cliff divers of Acapulco. Today we have an excursion to see them and to drive along the very scenic coast line for views of Acapulco Bay.

The cliff divers dive from the high rocks in the area La Quebrada. The cliffs tower about the sea. The diving area is part of the Miraflores Hotel and we are treated to drinks on their high terrace overlooking the dive site. The main show is at 1:00PM with additional shows at night, we have a private show on our excursion.

The divers climb the steep cliff side barefoot. The climb to one of three natural dive platforms carved into the rock. There are two shrines, alcoves of bright blue where the divers pray before they poise to jump from the cliff. See the two divers launched in tandem!

At the highest point, the diver must be able to launch himself a minimum of 6 feet out from the top to ensure he does not make contact with the rock face of the cliff. From the top dive perch, the diver cannot see the water below, just the face of the rock cliff. The dive from the tallest point is the show finale. The divers all wait in the seat at the bottom of the cliffs for the last diver to join them.

After the show we met the divers and they posed for us!

Off on our drive along Acapulco Bay away from the old city where the dives take place, along the busy coast, through the area of Las Brisas and finally all the way to Diamonte where the Fairmont Pierre Marques sits on a beautiful golf course. Many old films were made in the jungle area along the inlets. Do you remember the Creature of the Black Lagoon? We stopped alongside the very lagoon where the film was made!

We stop on the road on the way back to port to get a full view of Acapulco Bay from a terrace in the area of Las Brisas. What a wonderful day!  Bye for now, TTB

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We arrive early to the port of Huatulco. Today is a special tour on a catamaran to see all the Bays that run along the coast. Our guide is with us on board to tell us the history of the developing coastal areas. It is a beautiful day to sail the coast!

As we sail along the coast we see the areas that have been developed to date.  Resorts and beautiful homes are created in these small bays. Each developed area must have it’s own marina plus piped water and sewage systems. The development will continue over years to come. Right now, the coast is pristine with few resorts. 

There are 4 resorts that are clustered together on a longer stretch in one of the bays. The Quinta Real with its Moorish towers, the low rise Barceló Resort, Dreams and the clusters of white units that are the Camino Real. All share a long and wide stretch of beach.

Perfect place for a relaxing vacation with warm water and lots of space for long walks.  

We complete our sail on this side of the coast and then turn to go back to see the other end of the coast with its own National park area. The hill sides are dry and brown now, this is a dry rainforest. The rainy season will begin in June and once the rain starts to fall, the entire coast line will be green and lush. We sail into the designated National park area to stop at Tangolunda Beach. This is a stretch of beach with only small restaurants, no hotels. Our catamaran anchors just off the beach and we are able to swim off the back of the boat.  The water is perfect, and we all float lazily for about 40 minutes.

Our tour returns back to the port area which is filled with small shops and beach restaurants.  There is a lovely small chapel in the center. See how beautiful and calming it it. The chapel is open to the air.  The tiny restaurants line the small beach so you can enjoy lunch and a stay on the beach. 

We return to the Regatta and spend the afternoon on our verandah…..

Bye for now, TTB

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A very special treat in the Port of Chiapas was our tour of the Regattas’ Bridge. A small group met at reception and were escorted the bridge on deck 8. The Bridge was much larger than I expected, and so tidy. Everything was in its proper place. Nikola Sprem, Second Officer kindly posed with me. I was allowed to take snaps but not allowed to push any buttons!

Denislav Kosev Tonchev, Second Officer explained the layout of the ship in terms of water tight doors, alarm systems and security. These large panels on the wall have lights for these key areas of the vessel. He showed us all the instruments and explained their function.

And this is Vitaliy Silvachynsky, Master of M/S Regatta. He spoke to us about our cruise and answered lots of our questions. We have travelled over some VERY deep areas of water since leaving Miami. On either side of this huge window are observation decks for the Master and his crew to watch our maneuvers into and away from ports.  In each port, a local pilot comes aboard to stand watch on the Bridge while the Master steers us. The M/S Regatta is in very capable hands.

Just look at the view from the Bridge!  I can see everything from here. 

Bye from the Bridge…TTB

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