Monday, December 18, 2017

Activities on the Grand Princess--Hawaiian Cruise


My Five Favorite Activities on the Grand Princess Cruise to Hawaii




There are not many phrases a person wants to hear more than “You are a winner!”  Another would be “The painting is yours,” especially when it is a painting dear to one’s heart and at a remarkable price.  Well, I experienced this and many more enjoyable and exciting adventures on our last Princess Cruise.  This time, it was the 15-day, round trip cruise from San Francisco to the Hawaiian Islands on the Grand Princess.  



Princess Fine Arts Program

Two Paintings I purchased in auction.
Princess Cruises teamed up with the creditable Park West Galleries to provide educational art seminars, which include art history and art auctions.  I never imagined myself as a serious art collector, as my discretionary funds don’t line up with my taste in art.  Nevertheless, our Art Director, Naomi Baldwin made me deals I couldn’t refuse.  Although, those deals were presented to the entire auction, it felt individualized.  Naomi and her team, (Martin, Chantel and Bianca) are experts in learning the taste of each “regular” and presenting incredible opportunities to own those pieces.   

Attendees to the seminars and many of the auctions receive packets of art that include a sheet of authenticity and information about each artist.  If one attends all functions, he or she receives a huge packet of art.  I was in art heaven.

Effy Jewelry Seminars & Raffles

Attracted by the opportunity to win a piece of jewelry is intoxicating.  But winning an Effy piece...pure delight.  That’s not to say that everyone wins or that the pieces are exceptionally perfect.  Nevertheless, it’s great fun and I did win—twice.  

As much fun as the raffles were, the seminars were even more so.  As mentioned before, my budget is not one that allows such extravagances, but learning about gemstones and the methods jeweler use to increase value of each piece of jewelry was enlightening.  If I was to purchase something outside my typical budget, I would want to know if it was worth the price.  These seminars/classes helped.  Of course, I did find out that I have great taste.  Everything I loved were the priciest pieces.  Figures. 

Zumba Instructors
Zumba!

Those of you who have read my previous posts about cruising know just how much I LOVE Zumba.  Yep, love in all caps.  And, this cruise didn’t disappoint.  There wasn’t just one morning Zumba class.  There was two—two chances to dance off Horizon Court Buffet excesses.  These classes were held back-to-back and directed by excellent, professional level Zumba instructors.  As someone who wiggles her behind to music every day, I found these classes first-rate.  

I am top left in this Hula Class
Hula

Ever wonder what message hula dancers are attempting to convey?  Those who participated in Rowena’s hula classes know exactly that now.  She was more than just a hula dance teacher, though.  She held extensive Hawaiian Cultural Awareness seminars and nightly entertainment.  In fact, she and her husband, Brian, were all over the ship sharing aloha day and night.  

Her classes were enjoyable and stimulating, as she taught us Hawaiian culture during these sessions as well.  One of her early lessons was responding to the command, “Kaukaukau,” which means “make ready.”  The appropriate response is “Ae”.


Ukulele

Like many others, I love Hawaiian music.  So much so, that my favorite “Pandora” channel is Hawaiian Radio.  Thus, it was natural that I would want to participate in the ship’s ukulele classes presented by Brian.  It seems that most everyone had the same thought though, as these were extremely large classes.  It’s advisable to arrive early to secure a ukulele.  Still, even if you play “air ukulele” you can learn the cords.  

As an example of how popular these classes are, many brought their own ukulele from home.  Even so, I found myself without a ukulele often.  Ultimately, I decided to give up on the classes and study via YouTube.   Brian is an excellent teacher who taught me enough to feel comfortable doing so.

Near the end of the cruise, all the students from both the hula and ukulele classes participate in a performance on the big stage for the entire ship.  I didn’t participate since I didn’t take all the classes.  But, my dear friend, Elizabeth Leonard did.  You can hear me cheering for her in the video.

Future Activities On My Checklist

Trivia.  Most ships have some sort of Trivia games going on during the day and evening.  On this particular voyage, there were multiple games each day.  For example, there was a “Morning Trivia” which was generic—typical of most trivia games.   In the afternoon, there was “Cruise Long Trivia”.  These games changed each day.  One day, the topic was “Movies & TV.  Fun!  There were several other games held as well.  Each day, each game was a bit different.  

Dance classes.  Every time I plan a cruise, I promise myself to take dance classes.  On this cruise, there were multiple classes, besides hula.  For example, most mornings there were “Line Dance” classes.  The classes held later in the day varied, like one day it was “Merengue” and another it was “Ballroom Blitz”.  Unfortunately, with so many activities onboard, I couldn’t fit any of the classes in my schedule.  The same is true for most of the Discovery seminars, although I did make it to a few.  

Discover Seminars.  Princess Cruise Lines has partnered with the Discovery Channel, which means guests are treated to multiple educational opportunities.  One day, the morning seminar was “Encounters with Discovery at Sea: Flora & Fauna of Hawaii.”  I actually had time to attend and enjoyed it immensely.  

There were that many quality activities held each day, that my only regret is that I couldn’t be in more than two places at one time.  

Please share your experiences!


Sunday, December 17, 2017

Princess Cruise Stateroom C626


Top Three Things About Princess’ Balcony Staterooms


Caribe Balcony Stateroom Review




Imagine sitting on the balcony of a cruise ship to watch the warm waters of the Pacific roll by.  Now, imagine those waters closer to the California coast.  Yep.  For most days, there was no sitting or doing anything else on the stateroom balcony of our most recent cruise to the Hawaiian Islands.  This part of the Pacific can be choppy if not down right wild.  Cold too.  Very chilly.   Nevertheless, as we rolled closer to the islands, the waters and the air warmed, allowing us to finally enjoy our upgraded room.  Watching the mountainous, green shore of Kauai grow larger as we neared was priceless. 


Storage Tips
The balcony aside, these rooms are not large—roughly 274 sq. ft. including the balcony—but was ample enough for a fifteen-day cruise.  Storage is limited.  However, if one is organized, most every item finds a logical home. 

There is, of course, a closet, albeit very small.  So, take this into consideration before packing your entire wardrobe.  My suggestion is to use your suitcases for clothing you won’t wear for a few days and hang the remainder.   Use, the small drawers flanking the bed/beds for clothing that does not require hanging.  I found these to be sufficiently large enough.  The shelves in these drawers made for great computer/electronic storage.  The drawers in the adjacent desk are perfect for medication, paperwork, phone chargers and other miscellaneous items.  

One storage option that works very well is a long, narrow cabinet opposite the closet.  Besides the convenient safe, it has ample room for makeup, shoes—that won’t fit in the closet—souvenirs and toiletries.  Speaking of toiletries, there is a small shelving unit next to the mirror inside the bathroom.  There’s plenty of space for most daily toiletry items.  Some just may fit on a shelf underneath the sink as well. 

Room Amenities 
Upon opening the door to the stateroom, you may be disappointed in the space.  However, you will find most everything you need for the cruise right there in that small room.  The balcony is large enough for two large patio chairs, foot rests and a table with room to spare.  The sliding-glass door allows for enjoyment of ocean breezes and offers plenty of warm sunshine to fill the room.  
Look around inside the room and you’ll find a mounted flat-screen satellite television above a chest topped with glasses ready to fill from your small refrigerator filled with libations you find on the ship.  We were lucky enough to score a “Sip & Sail” promotion for this cruise.  So, we stocked our fridge with small bottles of Korbel—great for sipping on our balcony.   
Across from the hidden refrigerator is the desk.  Hidden in plain sight is the hairdryer mounted on the wall next to the mirror above the desk, making this the perfect place to primp for the day.  Shampoo, conditioner, soap and lotion is also complimentary.  
Sleep Tight
Princess has been touting their “Princess Luxury Beds” as “The most comfortable sleep at sea.” And I must tell you, that is an accurate statement.  Of course, the rough seas did assist in those sleep-filled nights.  Combine the comfy bed with the rocking ship...dreamy. 

Please share your experiences!

Friday, February 24, 2017

Paris, France: Saving Money

How I Save Money When Visiting Paris, France


Eight Great Traveling on the Cheap Tips





Jet-leg confusion can cause travelers to do some pretty silly things, but over spending shouldn't be one of them.  Careful planning and some insider tips can help you save, even when traveling to the city of lights--Paris, France.  For my small business, I need to adhere to a strict budget and use the same philosophy when traveling.  Follow me as I share some of my favorite money saving tips.  

Rent an apartment

With a little due diligence, a couple can stay in Paris on the cheap and have a kitchen to boot.  Of all the tourists we interviewed, HomeAway was the most popular sites for finding great rentals.  For example, we found a cute, newly remodeled ground floor apartment in the quiet, but famous Montmartre neighborhood -- five minutes from the Moulin Rouge -- is € 500 per week plus a € 50 cleaning fee. 

Shop for hotel deals

For our most recent visit, we chose a small hotel in the heart of the Saint-Germain neighborhood, the sixth arrondissement, because we wanted to be within walking distance of most of the sights.  To save money, we researched hotels with the help and power of the Internet.  There are a number of websites where fellow travelers share their stories, like TripAdvisor and Rick Steves' Graffiti Wall.  In fact, our visits to the Graffiti Wall resulted in finding and joining a travel group that meets once a month. 

Visit off-season

While visiting Paris June through August offers the very best weather, it is also the most expensive regarding flights and lodging.  We have visited in May and September and received quite a discount.  Those who are willing to pile on a heavy coat can save even more by traveling during the winter months. 

Eat on the run

Street food in Paris is amazing!  Street vendors sell a multitude of satisfying food choices, such as baguette sandwiches, paninis, crepes, and inexpensive beverages.  Boulangeries, found everywhere, sell excellent sandwiches for a few euros. 

Every morning I ate breakfast on the cheap with a croissant or pain de chocolate and a cup of cafe longue, which is a tall cup of coffee, for approximately three euro

Peruse the outdoor markets

Most outdoor markets in Paris don't just sell fresh fruits and veggies.  Many also sell cheese and deli items.  I pair these finds with a baguette and a bottle of wine -- both inexpensive in France -- and dinner is delicious and affordable. 

Sit at an outdoor café and still save money

Sitting at an outdoor café is a real treat when in Paris.  Besides people watching, it's just...relaxing, as Paris waiters do not rush diners. 

If hankering for a meal, I choose the meal of the day.  It's typically inexpensive and delicious.  However, my favorite choice is a croque monsieur -- an open face ham and cheese sandwich -- and salad, which typically costs around € 8.  If wine is your beverage of choice, save money by choosing a carafe or pitcher of the house wine. 

Seek out free entertainment

Besides the first Sunday of the month, museums are also free numerous other times during the year.  For example, cultural heritage is celebrated one weekend in September with most museums and government buildings open and free.  Additionally, street entertainers can be found in many parts of the city, especially the Latin Quarter and around Notre Dame.

Travel by the metro

The Metro, the Paris subway system, is efficient and easy

Monday, January 2, 2017

Venue Review: Hilton Hawaiian Village


Unexpected Upgrade at Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Hotel



For our most recent visit to the “Gathering Place”, better known as Oahu, we decided to split our ten-day stay between two excellent Hilton properties: Hilton Waikiki Beach Hotel (review) and Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Hotel.   During our stay at the Hilton Waikiki Beach Hotel, I thought it couldn’t get any better.  We enjoyed our stay immensely.  Nevertheless, Hilton surprised us once more.

We’re upgraded to where? 

Yep, because we are Hilton Honors members, we were upgraded again to...wait for it…the Ali’i Tower!  Breathe, breathe.  Amazing upgrade.  Here’s a bit of the background about this excellent upgrade. 

Earlier this year, my husband noticed an unbelievable half-price deal on suites at the Hawaiian Village property.  So, without hesitation, he grabbed five nights for a Jr. suite in the Rainbow Tower.  We had never stayed in that tower and were looking forward to an excellent view in a lovely tower.  When he checked in online the day before our stay, he noticed an upgrade was available if he wished to accept it.  Easy decision.  Hilton upgraded us from a Jr. suite to a full suite in the most exclusive tower on the property and on the same floor royalty, celebs and government officials stay.   Even President Obama has stayed there.  Wow!

Slideshow of our stay

Our Private Oasis

Due to the Elvis Presley’s love of staying in the Ocean Tower, it was once called the Elvis Tower and is now called Ali’i Tower.  This is just one of the reasons it is so special, but there are many, many more.  It has a private welcome desk, concierge and private facilities, including a private pool, bar and gym.   It even has a library and free DVD rentals.  I know.  Who would want to watch a movie in a hotel room when the beach is just outside our door?  Well, it did come in handy when my hubby fell ill and needed to stay in for two days. 

The Ali’i Tower is located next door (ish) to the Tropics Bar & Grill where we had the most delicious burger to share.  It is a bit pricy at $18, but is large enough to share and the Seasoned French Fries and Onion Brioche Bun really sell it.  Even though it would be easy to purchase a meal, box it up and take it to our room, we chose to sit and enjoy watching the ocean from this lovely open-air restaurant. 

May we just live here?

After checking in at our “private check-in desk”—which was special, by the way – we jumped into an opening elevator.  As we exited the elevator, I noticed more housecleaning staff than I am used to seeing in a small area.  It appears that a housekeeper is assigned to very few rooms as opposed to other hotels—or towers.  Our housekeeper was a lovely, caring person.  I enjoyed my many conversations with her.

As we approached our room, I was again surprised with a double door entry.  Double doors?  That’s a first for us and just the first surprise.  Once those doors opened, I turned and asked my hubby, “Are we really supposed to be here?”  Check out the video.

The Village

As the name “Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Hotel” suggests, this is a huge resort.  I won’t list everything on the property, as this information is easily referenced on Hilton’s website.  However, I will tell you that you shouldn’t need to leave the village unless you want to.  It has 90 various shops including two ABC Stores and one Whaler’s General Store.  Deciding to stay in one night, we purchased deli items, rum, pineapple and pineapple juice at one of the ABC Stores.  Yum.  Usually a wine drinker, I love a good rum and pineapple juice. 

Besides shopping, there are 20 restaurants, bars, water features—including five pools—and plenty of activities.  I signed up for several complimentary lessons, like hula and ukulele, but never had time to participate. 

Between the five towers—the Ali’i, Tapa, Rainbow, Kalia and Diamond Head—each with its own individual charm and amenities, we found plenty to do and to explore.  My favorite shops were the ABC stores and the Honolulu Cookie Company—lots of free samples. 

Note

A $30 per day resort fee is added to hotel charges.  This fee pays for a number of amenities and is worth it.  Please read all it covers.


What are your experiences?



Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Hotel
2005 Kalia Road
Honolulu, Hawaii, 96815, USA
Tel: 1-808-949-4321

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Venue Review: Polynesian Cultural Center


It’s all About Ohana at the Polynesian Cultural Center



Realizing that I would lose an entire day of my trip to paradise has kept me from visiting the Polynesian Cultural Center for years.  However, it got to the point that I had to ask myself, “Why?”.  Why would I consider visiting a place so full of history and island culture a waste of my time when I highly value ohana (family/home)?  Silly and wrong thinking.  I am so glad I finally made the commitment of a single day, because I found the experience to be an enrichment of the soul and exciting to boot.  It is definitely not a waste of an entire day. 

Getting there isn’t easy

Unless staying on the north end of Oahu, getting to the cultural center takes time.  It takes over an hour to reach the Polynesian Cultural Center from Waikiki.  Much of this is on a busy highway that has more than a few potholes.

But then again, don’t most of our highways need repair?  I’ll save that last comment for another article. 

Arrive early, but not hungry

It’s best not to dawdle when you arrive.  We made the mistake of stopping at the Pounder’s Restaurant for coconut crème pie (Yummy!).  As amazing as this was, it cost us time in the park and you’ll need every second of your time to see every show. 

The park is separated into different islands: Aotearoa (home of the Māori), Fiji, Hawai’i, Samoa, Tahiti, and Tonga.  The peoples of each “island” present a traditional performance—usually a dance and lecture every 30 minutes or so. 

Unfortunately, we missed the Islands of Hawai’i presentation.  As wonderful and enjoyable the remainder of the shows were, I can only imagine this one is as well. 

Please watch these snippets of three shows I recorded to share with you. 



Are those people dancing on those boats?

Of all the performances in the park, the Canoe Pageant is the one to see.   Dancers from each island perform traditional dances atop a canoe, more of a raft, which is guided down the river that flows through the center of the park.  The pageant is narrated so guest learn even more about each of the Polynesian culture.  It was fascinating and something I will remember fondly.  I mean really, what could be better than large rafts topped with energetic dancers?  Well, perhaps it could be watching the unique play, Hā; The Breath of Life.

Hā; The Breath of Life

As wonderful as I imagined the play to be, I still wasn’t sold on sitting for 90 minutes at night after a long day of exploring.  To be honest, I thought I would want fall asleep soon after my behind hit the bench.  But, no.  There was no possible way anyone could sleep though this lively performance. 

Over 100 performers of each Polynesian island perform in this beautifully acted play.  The story revolves around a couple who flee their island as a volcano erupts.  Luckily, they arrive at an island just in time for the wife to give birth.  Friendly villagers—played by Tongans—take them in and offer them a home.  From this point, we watch the boy grow into a man, fall in love, fight off intruders and finally have a child of his own.  Each scene is played by a different island people.  I LOVED it!

The audience wasn’t allowed to record any of the Hā; The Breath of Life performance.  However, there are several YouTube videos available that share portions of this unique show.  Have a peek:  


Why the fluttering hands?

While I enjoyed exploring and learning about each culture, I had a nagging question while watching the energetic and prolific Maori dancers.  During their dances, they flutter their hands quickly.  I knew it meant something, but wasn’t sure what that “something” is.  Luckily, we have Google and Bing to aid us in circumstances such as these.  Evidently, the fluttering hands symbolize shimmering waters, heat waves or breezes depending on the dance.  Makes sense! 

Tips 
  • Arrive early and skip dining before entering the park.
  • Take the “Island Canoe Ride” to the end of the park to begin your journey.
  • There is more to each island than the performances.  Please check out their website for more information about what you will find. 
What are your experiences?

1-800-367-7060

Hotel Review: Hilton Waikiki Beach Hotel


Comfy and Friendly Hilton Waikiki Beach Hotel


View from our room.
Known primarily a business hotel, the Hilton Waikiki Beach Hotel is our new home-away-from-home when staying in Honolulu.  It’s close proximity to the beach, zoo, shops and all the happenings makes this a great jumping off spot as well.  

Our Comfy Room

The rooms are spacious and well-appointed with large flat-screen television, refrigerator, coffee maker and lanai.  Since we are Hilton Honors members, we were automatically upgraded from a city view on the 5th floor to an ocean view on the 29th floor in addition to free WiFi.  Hilton rocks!  It was a lovely room.  Check it out!



What you’ll find inside


The massive, lively lobby is adorned with numerous seating areas, welcome desk, bar/entertainment area, and hallways to the giftshop, Starbucks and M.A.C. 24/7.   M.A.C. 24/7 is the place to be for most anything you’d want to eat or drink.  Their happy hour is generous and the bartenders are always friendly.  Interesting fact, this property has three bars with all three staggering their happy hours, which makes for less expensive imbibing.

It’s all free in the executive lounge


Downstairs is the executive lounge, where—due to our Hilton Honors membership—we received free breakfasts and nightly appetizers.  The appetizers were more of a meal.  

Coffee and specialty tea flowed throughout the day.   I loved the unique herbal teas.   

We met some great people there as well.

Staying fit in Waikiki

Life just seems better after a good workout.  At this property, I had access to a full gym which help me burn off all the great free food. 

It’s not just a business hotel to me!

One night we decided to belly up to the lobby bar.  Serendipitously, there were two empty seats next to a pleasant looking couple.  The lovely female half of the couple ushered us into those seats and our lives are richer for it.   Soon, we found that this could has been visiting this same hotel through three different owners for 30 years.  Yep, that is 30 years!  What makes this story even more interesting is that they stay—each year—for three months!  Lew and Gena are now our best buds.  We plan to reunite next year around the same time. 

Another fascinating new bud we met is Aaron.  As an artist—among other interesting things—he is nurturing one of his daughter’s artistic ventures.  I have seen her work and am very impressed. 

Even without our new besties, if possible, we would jump on the next available plane just to be THERE.  The entire staff was exceptionally friendly and made a sincere effort to know us and to provide us with the very best experience.    In fact, the manager of the gift shop enjoyed helping me choose an ornamental flower for my hair, that she gave it to me as a gift.  She even showed me the traditional way to wear it.  Now that is the Aloha Spirit!

Your experiences?AHF

2500 Kuhio Ave., Honolulu, Hawaii, 96815
1-808-922-0811

Friday, December 23, 2016

Venue Review: King’s Cross Station & The Hogwarts Express


What is Universal's King’s Cross Station & The Hogwarts Express


Channeling the excitement Harry must have had for his first ride on the Hogwarts Express – and finding platform 9 ¾ – I nearly ran through a wonderfully replicated King’s Cross Station to get to said train.  Totally unnecessary, but I couldn’t help it.  I am an old lady who still thinks she is a kid.

Let’s Make a Little Magic
Attention to detail is on overload at King’s Cross, right down to the perfume ad Harry and Dumbledore stood in front of near the beginning of the movie Half Blood Prince.  Slow down and try to appreciate the setting.  Gaze at the brick walls.  Appreciate the ubiquitous musician at the front of the station—very typical at the actual King’s Cross in London. 
Platform 9 ¾
Once up a flight of stairs, you’ll find an area that appears to be storage for luggage.  Check out my video showing people pass through the wall between platform 9 and 10.  Notice my hubby’s confusion about walking through a narrow walkway, which is what it is.  From my angle, it appears that all those around him – and ultimately, he too – walk through a wall.   Lovely sleight of hand.


(Video by TemporaryTourist)

The Train Arrives and The Fun Begins
Pass through the wall/hallway and onto platform 9 ¾ to find a perfect replicate of the Hogwarts Express.  Once inside the train and into your compartment, settle in for a short journey into the magical world of Harry Potter.   Notice the bench seats, upholstery and luggage racks.  Of course, all is on a much smaller scale than the movies, but still... . 

Once the train begins to move, it appears as if we are leaving London and traveling through the countryside due to a video playing on the “window”.   Characters from the movies appear adding to the experience.  
Beware the dementors at the door!  Watch the door windows as well.  I found myself whipping my head back and forth trying to catch each little gem.  At one point, Harry stopped a dementor in the train hallway and was awarded with a free box of chocolate frogs which escaped, each jumping across our door’s window.  
Tips
Essentially, the train is a vehicle to transport guests from Diagon Alley in the Universal Studios Florida Park to Hogsmeade in The Islands of Adventure Park.  So, you’ll need a park-to-park pass.
Ride very early, during mealtimes or later in the evening to avoid crowds.
Take the return trip from Hogsmeade to Diagon alley.  The story is completely different.  In my opinion, the return trip story is even more exciting. 

What is your experience?