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OAHU - The Gathering Place
Aloha! Let’s talk Hawaii. I never really felt drawn to it for some reason. Sure, it looked gorgeous and exotic on TV and film but there always seemed to be somewhere better to go when it came time to travel. Somewhere I would need my passport. Somewhere more exotic than a U.S. state, for sure! There are beautiful beaches within driving distance of where I live now so seeking that out in Hawaii just seemed too far to go. Volcanoes? I could find those in Central America, if I wanted. Good food? Well, that’s just about everywhere. When I was offered the opportunity to experience the islands, I hesitantly said yes, not knowing that I would soon be very much taken aback by the beauty and culture of our 50th state. Flash forward two Hawaiian Islands later, Oahu & Kauai, and I am happy to report that I am now a believer. And a newly certified Hawaii Specialist and Oahu Master Specialist, to boot!
For a blissful five days, Delta Vacations and the Oahu Visitors Bureau (OVB) showed a group of 10 other consultants and myself exactly why Oahu is so much more than Waikiki and Pearl Harbor. It was easy to convince us to extend our client stays in Hawaii to include this dynamic and energetic island. You could visit for a week or more and still not see everything it has to offer. I really was pleasantly surprised and beginning to realize just how different the islands are and why each one is seen as a destination within a destination.
We started our grand tour in one of the most iconic spots on the island of Oahu – Waikiki Beach. Never a sleepy surfer haven by any means, Waikiki Beach has been revitalized in the last couple years and I have been told that it is better than ever. With tons of restaurants and plenty of unique shopping opportunities, it is a modern, contemporary city with an incredible view of Le Ahi, more commonly known as Diamond Head. I will never forget entering the room at our first hotel, the chic and new Alohilani Resort, and seeing the perfectly framed Diamondhead through the glass balcony doors. Knowing that this was also one of the first things that the Polynesian settlers saw upon their own arrival to the islands centuries ago made it seem even more special.
With dozens of beach side resorts (no beach front here, but it is right across the street!), there is something for every travel style and budget. You will find that it is easy getting around on foot. Unlike the other islands, renting a car is not absolutely necessary here but it is recommended for a day or two so that you can get out and see the sights on the rest of the island. It is a great way to see the contrast between each side of the island, too – the Leeward (west) Coast vs. the Windward (east) Coast. Dry versus temperate, both have incredibly impressive scenery. I felt like I was on another planet at times. There are many parts of the island that are still undeveloped, so it has pristine landscape for those looking for the untouched. You should also plan to visit the very popular North Shore, where surfers come to test their abilities against some of the largest waves in the world. All in all, Oahu is extremely photogenic!
For first time visitors, I suggest the “Town & Country” approach to an itinerary. Spend a few days in “town” or Waikiki and then venture out to a place like the Ko’olina resort area on the Leeward side of the island for a more rural experience. You can enjoy the vibrant and energetic city life and then lose yourself in the natural beauty and quiet beaches of Hawaii. No matter where you are, however, you will always encounter the “Aloha spirit.” This concept of treating everyone like family was exemplified everywhere we went and the level of service and courtesy extended to us was both amazing and infectious. Smiles abound.
Now, Hawaii is not just for those looking for a beach chair in the sand. There are so many activities to keep you moving. We only enjoyed a small taste of what is available, but I can tell you that I was afraid to blink and miss out on something fantastic! We snorkeled with dolphins and sea turtles on a catamaran excursion one day and the next we were rolling through the ranch where they filmed Jurassic Park, Hunger Games, LOST and King Kong (plus many others!) in a big old school bus. Outdoor enthusiasts will also find fishing, horseback riding, ATV excursions, ziplining, and surfing to keep them busy. Of course, food is plentiful and the culinary scene in Honolulu and other parts of the island is quite unique. Lots of Asian inspired seafood dishes in addition to the local cuisine such as poi, lau lau, fish stew and so much more. For a sweet treat, be sure to visit the famous Leonard’s bakery in Honolulu for their fried malasadas topped with cinnamon and sugar…Hawaii’s own version of a beignet. Delicious!
Our base for the “country” part of our itinerary was Disney’s Aulani Resort, which is right next door to the Four Seasons in the developed resort area of Ko Olina. I have to say, at first glance, I did not feel like I was at a Disney property. And I loved that! Sure, there were children running around everywhere and once in a while it would feel a bit kitschy but overall, the classic Hawaiian décor easily masked the fact that I was indeed at a Disney property. This resort was quite literally a destination within a destination within a destination. With a huge water park, complete with a lazy river, and lots of dining and entertainment options, you could stay several nights and never have to leave! Activities are available throughout the day or you can get out and explore. It is the perfect base due to its central location about an 45 minutes north of Honolulu & Waikiki.
We ended our adventure back on the south shore of the island at the infamous Kahala Hotel & Resort, located on the far side of Diamond Head, about a 10 minute drive from bustling Waikiki. This property is perfect for guests looking for a quiet, relaxing and exclusive experience. The Kahala is well known for being THE place to stay by movie stars, government officials – including past Presidents, and musical artists. It was very “lifestyles of the rich and famous.” The resort has one of the best beaches around, too. All the beaches in Hawaii are public but the one here had an almost private feel to it because of the lack of pedestrian traffic. The amazing sun rise views cannot be beat, either.
By the end of my visit, the island had definitely won me over with its dramatic landscape, the diversity of its people in an East meets West dynamic, and the endless opportunities to explore - historically, culturally and physically. The highlights of my trip were snorkeling with sea turtles, Waikiki beach and all the delicious food. Hawaii was exotically familiar and perfect for those wanting a comfortable escape. Oahu was such a fantastic introduction to the Hawaiian Islands and I regret not visiting sooner! I look forward to returning to continue my exploration of this amazing state!
Check out more photos from my trip here!
Tabacon Resort & Spa - Arenal
The three plus hour drive from the San Jose Airport to the resort in Arenal wasn’t bad at all. The driver stopped at a local restaurant on the way for lunch (a platos tipicos with chicken, rice, beans and plantain - delicious!) and even though the place was a bit touristy, the valley view across from it was beautiful. Tabacon Resort was equally incredible and a great way to start off the trip. Our room was in the new Orchid building and it had an amazing view of the volcano out the window (would highly recommend building #3, second floor). Every morning I would wake up and whip open the curtains just to see if the volcano was “out.” The restaurant and pool at the main part of the resort was being renovated and inaccessible but it wasn’t a big deal. We made the short 5 minute walk down to the hot springs facilities and enjoyed the amenities there. The entire springs “complex” was outstanding…the winding paths and individual pools were inviting and so relaxing. The main pool with the swim up bar was fun, too. One thing to note is that onsite food and beverages are rather expensive, but they probably had the best breakfast out of every place we stayed. We did make a couple of trips into La Fortuna ($15 cab ride, each way) and ate there. Costa Ricans sure do love their Italian food; it was EVERYWHERE.
We really enjoyed the Mistico Hanging Bridges experience and would recommend. Our guide was knowledgeable and funny. We saw a sloth, a jumping pit viper, dozens of different birds (including a turkey!) a tarantula, lizards, leafcutter ants and more. The weather was perfect that day and we got to see the volcano without its cloud cover…so so so fantastic. The visit to Poject Assis was worthwhile, too. I’m glad we went with the option to feed the animals because that was my favorite part. I shook hands with a howler monkey, too! My least favorite part? Getting bit by these tiny devil ants. Those bites lasted for weeks! When in Rome, right? I’m not even upset…they are mementos in a way!
Rio Perdido - Guanacaste
Holy moly, I was not prepared for the road to Rio Perdido. The last 30 minutes of the two hour ride was on a dirt road into what seemed like the middle of nowhere. I did enjoy seeing the change in landscape from the tropical area of Arenal to the dryer climate of Guanacaste. The view from the main building at the “hotel” had elevated views of the surrounding forest and I was immediately drawn to how the woods and streams around the property reminded me of the East Coast, very Appalachian Mountain-esque. I also enjoyed how isolated it was (my sister, the city girl, didn’t!). The little bungalow/cabin we stayed in was really neat. I was swinging in one of the hammock chairs on the porch one day and spotted a small troupe of White Faced Monkeys scamper past in the trees nearby. It was surreal! The food and cocktails at the hotel was great…given that it was really your only choice for dining for miles. The thermal pools were fantastic, too. We didn’t do any organized activities but did take the hike to the nearby look out and down to the thermal river to explore the canyons. Rio Perdido certainly will not appeal to everyone but it is was a unique experience.
The Westin Playa Conchal - Guanacaste
The Westin Playa Conchal was a sight for sore eyes, especially coming from such an isolated area. Here we enjoyed the all-inclusive environment with its many restaurants and bars. We decided to splurge and upgrade to the Royal Beach level so we were treated to our own adults only pool, bar and restaurant in a separate area of the resort. The staff here were among the friendliest that I have ever encountered throughout my years of traveling. They really did their best to ensure we had everything we needed. We spent our brief two day stay by the pool bar and even rented a jet ski at the beach. Speaking of the beach, it was completely made of shells and coral. A bit rough to walk on barefoot but really neat. There were plenty of howler monkeys beachside to keep us entertained, as well! In fact, there was wildlife everywhere! We saw giant iguanas, howler monkeys, resort cats and dozens of different birds.
El Mangroove – Guanacaste
After enjoying the easy life for a couple of days we headed to the last stop on our itinerary, El Mangroove, which is located about an hour north on the coast. First impression of was that it was very modern and contemporary in design. It was also a very small resort, nothing like the Westin Playa Conchal. It was a more intimate environment with two restaurants/bars, a pool, gym and spa. The best part about our room was the screened “porch!” As you enter the guest room, there is a living room with large screen windows, creating a porch-like setting. The bedroom and bathroom were closed off from the porch by large sliding glass doors. It was really nice to sit out there in the evening and listen to the bugs, birds and sounds of the night…not to mention an NBA star’s wedding reception adjacent to our building.
Since there really wasn’t much to keep us busy at the resort, other than sitting by the pool all day, we decided to rent a car from the onsite Avis office and explore a bit before leaving for the U.S. We hopped on down to the popular beach and resort area of Tamarindo, also known as a surfer haven. The town had a very bohemian feel and was not super touristy. I would definitely go back and stay there. The beach was gorgeous, too, and very active with tons of people enjoying the sun and surf. After picking up some dinner and supplies for a last night in Costa Rica pizza party, we headed back to our hotel, enjoying the views of the setting sun over the mountains on the way. We were pleasantly surprised with how easy it was to get around by car on our own.
My first thought upon returning to the U.S. after the trip was “I’m never going to Mexico again.” Costa Rica has the all-inclusive resorts I’ve come to know Mexico for and I feel like the locals are just so much nicer and less pushy. The landscape is unbelievable and I was captivated by how it changed as we traveled from region to region. It is a relatively easy destination, too. You can get by with only knowing a little bit of Spanish and in some places you can even use USD but most places accept credit cards. It is comfortably exotic and is best explored at an easy pace, giving you time to take everything in. I cannot wait to return to check out all the areas that I missed. That is the nice thing about Costa Rica, every part of the country so different and unique that it deserves a second or even third or fourth visit!
In June 2017, I had the opportunity to travel to Los Cabos to discover the area’s top luxury resorts and experience some of the best service and hospitality in the country. Los Cabos, an area made up of two cities – San Jose del Cabo & Cabo San Lucas, is a quite different than the tourist areas in the Yucatan. Where Cancun is lush, green and tropical, Los Cabos is the total opposite. Here you will find desert, mountains and dry, sunny conditions year-round. It is also a convenient destination for those living in the Southern US, with daily flights operating that can get you there just in time for lunch.
My first stop was Chileno Bay Resort & Residences, a relatively new kid on the block which opened in February 2017. This resort is doing something a bit different and I love it. The light-colored architecture and dry climate landscaping fit perfectly with the desert surroundings. The vibe is cool, clean and comfortable – Baja California Chic. The property sits on a swimmable beach with relatively calm waters ideal for snorkeling, which is complimentary with your stay. Chileno Bay is a good fit for couples, families and small groups of friends. The staff go above and beyond ensuring that you have everything you need for a relaxing stay. The resort is currently expanding and guests can see some construction at the back of the property but nothing that will disrupt their stay. I would recommend this property to frequent visitors of Los Cabos for a uniquely different sort of resort stay.
The dramatic cliffs and rock formations near the downtown area of Cabo San Lucas is the perfect setting for The Resort at Pedregal, a luxury resort property catering to a more exclusive lifestyle. There is a mountain separating the resort for the city center which provides the perfect escape for those looking to get away. Great for honeymoon couples and even small families (they both have their own sections of the resort), this resort is very in tune with traditional Baja culture and has the décor to match. Most of the rooms feature a private terrace complete with plunge pool and fire pit. Unlike Chileno Bay, the beach here is on the Pacific Ocean side and, therefore, not swimmable. Conditions were quite windy, too. The beautiful infinity pools, gorgeous dining venues and Beyond the Beach excursions will prove to be enough to keep everyone busy. Additionally, all our guests at The Resort receive complimentary daily breakfast, a spa credit and possible upgrade upon check-in.
Back on the Sea of Cortez side of The Arch, you will find the newly renovated Esperanza, An Auberge Resort. This tropical and green resort is comparable to The Resort at Pedregal with its traditional Baja feel, just in cooler tones. However, at times I felt as though I was in a gated apartment complex with guest rooms and suites split up into separate a dozen or so 4 story buildings, all with ocean view accommodations. This resort has the only private beach in the tourist area, making it a great place to relax oceanside without the distraction of public beach goers. One side of the property is reserved for resort guests and the other half is made up of 2, 3 and 4 Bedroom Residences. For those looking for a laid-back, private retreat, Esperanza meets all your needs. Our guests at Esperanza, not only will you be treated like a VIP but you will also receive exclusive amenities such as breakfast daily, resort credits, welcome amenities and a possible upgrade.
We go from relaxing to retro with The Cape, A Thompson Hotel. Also on the Sea of Cortez side, this resort must be one of the coolest properties in Los Cabos – a definite must for the super hip and millennial-minded traveler. This beach front resort is full of urban style and eclectic design. You will find lots of unique wooden furniture and funky art in the guest rooms and public areas. There is a certain casual masculine feel to this boutique resort and perfect for independent guests that like to entertain themselves. It is also good for young couples or group of friends. You will find incredible views of The Arch from the pool and funky rooftop bar. The ocean is surf-able but swimming is not permitted due to the large, crashing waves. As with The Resort & Esperanza, our guests will receive amenities here such as daily breakfast, food and beverage credit and possible upgrades.
There are a lot of amazing properties in Los Cabos but one of the most iconic is the One&Only Palmilla, located right outside of San Jose del Cabo on the Sea of Cortez. Once the former home of the President of Mexico and complete with its own church, this resort is extremely inviting and full of Mexican charm. Attention to detail was everywhere, even with something as small as the tiles in the bathroom or the chocolate truffle tree in the living room to the beautifully landscaped grounds and unbelievable dining. Each room and suite that I visited felt like a homecoming, it was that serene and cozy. This resort is constantly winning awards for top choice and best resort experience and it is easy to see why. Almost completely rebuilt after Hurricane Odile in 2014, you will not find massive resort complexes here; accommodations are spread out over the property, creating an air of seclusion. This favorite is also in our hotel collection so guests can enjoy extra amenities here, as well!
The final stop on my whirlwind tour was the new (December 2016) Grand Velas Los Cabos, the only all-inclusive resort I was able to see during my stay. You will find many very nice 3 and 4 star all-inclusive properties but the Grand Velas is your best bet in terms of 5-star experience. However, I would have to say some of the Mexican ambiance is lost in the trade for 24-hour food and beverage. The Grand Velas was one large 10-story building wrapped around three large swimming pools – one for kids, families and adults. Although very beautiful and lavishly decorated, the resort felt more like a Miami Beach property with its modern and contemporary décor. Regardless, that didn’t stop me from enjoying one of the best spa experiences that I have ever had. The spa has a fantastic hydrotherapy pool and their treatments focus on local ceremonies and rituals for unique relaxation. Our clients can enjoy the spa, too, with a complimentary spa credit, in addition to an airport transfer, other resort credits and possible upgrade.
It is obvious that, like most resort destinations, there is a property in Los Cabos that can fit every desire, need, travel type and budget. Most, if not all, have stunning views of the coast with the mountains behind. Some have swimmable beaches but all have great pools. These factors keep people coming back year after year and with an average of only 15 days of rain a year, there is never a wrong time to visit! For me, it was the combination of the dramatic coastal landscape and exceptional service and hospitality that made this trip so memorable. Muchas Gracias, Los Cabos!
I was recently invited on a site inspection trip for travel consultants to experience several different resorts in the Bahamas. This was my first visit to the islands and I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to get there and the amazingly beautiful beaches. You can leave the States in the morning and have your toes in the sand by lunchtime! I realized now that is so much more than just a cruise port of call on the way to the Caribbean. I would recommend the Bahamas to anyone looking for a resort destination that is close to home. With a variety of resorts and accommodations to suit all tastes and group sizes, the Bahamas appeal to everyone.
The Albany, a Luxury resort community
After landing at the Nassau International Airport, my first stop on New Providence Island is The Albany. This luxury resort community is an exclusive retreat for those looking for a quiet, secluded atmosphere, where you don't even have to leave the property if you do not want to.
Modern and sleek in design, this resort allows you to be as active or inactive as you want. Enjoy their world class fitness center or play a round of golf on the resort's course, designed by Ernie Els. Or do nothing at all and relax on a lounge chair at one of the pools or beach front, where you can be waited on hand and foot.
Perfect for multi-generational families or a group of friends, accommodations range from the contemporary marina residences, overlooking mega-yachts in the harbor, to comfortable and sophisticated beach houses ranging from two to five bedrooms. Every unit is different and we can help you pick the best one suited to your needs and desires at the time of booking. The Albany would be a great destination for a special anniversary or retirement celebration.
Once the resort is complete in the next few years, it will have a certain draw for well-to-do individuals looking for a retreat in the Bahamian Islands without having to stay at the mega-resort, Atlantis.
Atlantis paradise island resort