Port of Call: Vancouver

20 06 2013

JohnKTravel Vancouver Port of Call

If your Alaska cruise starts or ends in Vancouver, BC, be sure to plan to stay a few days before or after the cruise. The safety, international energy and the vibrant restaurants are just some of the many attractions that will make you want to return. It is a world class city offering food, culture, nature, and more.

The city is easily walked, with a convenient light rail system that makes getting to the downtown from the airport quick and affordable. The Skytrain also makes getting around the city quick, easy, safe and affordable. If you are arriving by cruise ship and not able to stay, there is a stop a block away from the cruise terminal that will take you to the airport.


JohnKTravel Vancouver Port of Call

 Stanley Park, one of the best parks in the Americas is minutes away from the downtown area. Like a Central Park on the water, the park offers 14 miles of ocean side paths, native totem poles, lakes and beaches. Stroll the paths or rent a bike to cover more territory.

In the Northwest, “summer” can be short and the norm is a mixture of sun, clouds and quick showers. Weather moves fast in the area and it is possible to see all within an hour, so go prepared with a jacket or an umbrella.  

The melting of  many cultures has created a mix of restaurants to meet all tastes. Like many large cities, competition means that the restaurants have to be great to survive. The proximity to the Pacific ocean and the milder climate provide local chefs with a mixture of local seafood and vegetables. Vancouver also has a lively food truck presence. Download the Eat St app to find your favorite food experience on a budget!  www.foodvancouver.com

JohnKTravel Vancouver Port of CallGranville Island is one of the must see attractions for both locals and tourists. The Island is home to galleries, shops, and restaurants overlooking the water. Be sure to visit the local Farmers Market where you can find produce, pastries, flowers and more! For a colorful ride there, take the Aquabus ferry across False Creek. http://theaquabus.com/ http://granvilleisland.com/granville-island-farmers-market   

For a more authentic experience, take Skytrain to Commercial Drive. The location on the far east of the city is an eclectic community. Known locally as The Drive, you will be mixing mostly with locals. ere H Over 57 of the Best of Vancouver winners or located on The Drive. www.thedrive.ca

Vancouver is where we were introduced to the hop on hop off bus. Several serve Vancouver and are a perfect way to hit the high points of the city in a day. The buses make a loop of the city, stopping at the main attractions. You hop off, visit and catch the next bus to go by. I would recommend splurging for the more expensive lines with the nicer buses. The lower end buses can get overcrowded and cannot always accommodate everyone waiting at a stop. http://govancouver.about.com/

Insiders Tip: watch the sunset from one of the beaches in Stanley Park, or go to the bar at the Pan Pacific at sundown to watch the sun set and the lights come up across the harbor. 

In short, if you enjoy music, food, nature, native American culture (called First Nations in Canada, don’t say Indian), or shopping, don’t miss the opportunity to spend a few days in Vancouver. It instantly became one of our favorite cities, and I am sure you will feel the same.


Hawaii by Sea

20 03 2013
Day at Sea John K Travel

End of another wonderful day at sea

I am sitting on our balcony, mesmerized by the rolling waves and the darkness of the blue. We have been at sea for a few days so I no longer even notice the gentle roll of the ship unless I compare the railing to the horizon. Most of my life was spent standing on beaches listening to the seductive call of the sea. What would it be like to be far from land, surrounded by blue?

What a blessing knowing my next two weeks will be spent having a ménage-a-trois with my wife and my mistress the sea. (If your wife is there it is not an affair, right?) Leaving on a cruise is unique vacation transportation. You join generations of sailors who watch land disappear on the horizon and succumb to the seduction of rolling waves, and starlit nights.

We normally make your yearly Hawaii pilgrimage by air and then spend a week in a condo or resort. The first few days we spend exploring, but soon we fall into relaxation mode. This year we took an extra week and took a 14-day Hawaii cruise out of LA. If you have the time, a 14 or 15 day Hawaii round trip is often less expensive than the cost of airfare and the 7 day cruise that makes the weekly round trip out of Honolulu.

The extra benefit of a 14-day cruise is nine sea days. The uninitiated will wonder what they would do with nine days at sea. The experienced know that on modern cruise ships, the choices are so numerous it is difficult to choose among the many options. Education choices include dance lessons, photography lessons, wine tastings, port lectures, and on this itinerary: Hawaiian culture, nature and language lessons, ukulele lessons, hula lessons and lei making classes. Entertainment choices include first run movies, romance movies in cabin, nightly shows, bingo, casino, and audience participation game shows. Unlike flying, cruising is still a fun form of transportation.

Did I mention you do not have to cook (Yvonne’s definition of a true vacation), your cabin is cleaned for you, and it seems friendly staff is everywhere to help you enjoy your vacation? Freed of these daily tasks, we now have time to relax on our balcony or find a quiet corner to read a book.

A Place of Serenity

2 12 2012
Byodo-In Temple

A place of serenity on Northern Oahu

Serenity in our hectic lives is a luxury. On the Kahekili Hwy (83) on North Oahu is an unlikely attraction. In the back of the Valley of Temples, which is a cemetery, is a replica of the 950 year-old temple in Uji, Japan. This replica was built in the 1960’s to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Japanese immigrant workers arriving in Hawaii.

The temple and grounds are like taking a mini-trip to Japan. The background of the Ko’olau mountain range and the large pond filled with koi and swans lull you into serenity. The temple is still used by worshippers, and the custom is to ring the large bell before entering.

There is a $3 entry fee with is collected before you enter the grounds. At the entry to the cemetery, just let them know you are going to the Byodo-In.



Insiders tip: Across the street from the entrance to the Valley of the Temples is Ninja Sushi, we had very good and reasonably priced sushi there. It’s just a strip mall restaurant, but the food was great.

Hawaii is more than just Waikiki

26 11 2012

As we were sitting in the Honolulu airport returning from our trip to the Islands, we met a couple who had just stayed in Honolulu for their week long stay. It was easy to see they were disappointed with the stay as they had spent their entire time in the city, not venturing out of town to experience the rest of Oahu. The Hawaiian Islands have so much to offer, and unless your focus is high end shopping and dining, you will find so little of it in Honolulu.

Honolulu Sunset Waikiki Beach

A Romantic Sunset on Waikiki Beach (aren’t they all)

While the Hawaiian Island have a common history, culture, and share the aloha spirit of hospitality, each Island has some unique geography that gives the Island a character and personality of its own. All the Islands provide picture perfect memories of tropical shores, green slopes and valleys with cascading waterfalls. Experiences can range from relaxing on the beach to zip-lining, to ocean kayaking, snorkeling, biking, shopping, dining. Picture yourself taking that romantic moon lit walk on a beach. Can you feel the trade wind and hear the surf?

Volcanic activity formed the Islands and are a prominent part of each island. Tropical rains keep half of the islands green but the volcanoes block the rain, creating a wet and dry side to the island. Most of the resorts are found on the drier side of the island. This is most apparent on the Big Island, where the wet Hilo side is a rain forest and the dry Kona side looks like a parched lunar landscape.


Kauai is one of the quieter Islands

The oldest of the populated Islands is Kauai, “The Garden Isle”. It is also one of the quieter Islands, a spot for relaxing and rejuvenating the body and spirit. Here you will find serene tropical rivers, beaches so famous for their beauty they are the stars of numerous movies, and Waimea Canyon, the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific”.  You can enjoy hiking on the Napali Coast, learning to paddle board or kayak on a river or on gentle bays. Kauai allow you to be as active or relaxed as you desire.

Oahu is home to the iconic Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head. The Hawaiian picture most people have in their minds is the view down Waikiki Beach with Diamond Head in the background. Honolulu is a big city with almost a million people, so do not plan to just stay in Honolulu, you will be missing the “real” Hawaii, which you can also find on Oahu. Just 10 minutes out of town, you can find deserted beaches and lush tropical gardens to tour. The north shore of Oahu features rustic towns, famous surfing beaches and the unique shrimp truck dining stops.

Maui is “The Magic Isle” and offers green-carpeted mountains, quiet waterfall pools, along with luxury resorts and five-star dining. The iconic view of Maui is Haleakala volcano towering over the center of the island. Here you will find zip-lining, biking down Haleakala, sailing, golfing, and shopping ranging from malls to the small towns of “Upcountry”. Maui is probably the most visited of the Islands after Oahu, but smaller towns and rural areas are easy to find. If you really want to get away, the Islands of Lanai and Molokai are part of Maui County and offer quieter getaways.

Hawaii, “The Big Island” is confusing because the name Hawaii is the name for the state and one of the counties (islands). The Big Island is home to Kilauea, the active volcano. This is the only place you can find an active volcano on the Islands. The Big Island is big too. It is best broken into two segments, one to see the volcano based out of Hilo, and one for relaxing at one of the luxurious resorts or condo developments on the Kona side of the island.

Mid December to mid April is “official”  humpback whale season, although it is not uncommon to see them before and after season. Boat tours are available to get a closer look at the whales, but they are often close enough to shore for you to see them  from the beaches and resorts. Whale season is a good time to have an ocean view room.

Winter on the Islands is from November to April and temperatures will range from the low 70’s to the mid 80’s. The other season, summer offers temperatures into the 90’s but normally trade winds cool you year round. Evenings can cool off, so bringing slacks and a long sleeve shirt or sweater can be a good idea.

Unlike a Caribbean or Mexican vacation, do not plan to spend all your time in your resort. The Island is a major part of your experience, so plan to have a rental car to explore the Island (unless you are in Honolulu). Local dining is also part of the experience, so you will generally not find all-inclusive resorts in Hawaii. There are ways to dine on a budget, so make dining part of your explorations.

Hyatt Place Waikiki

25 10 2012

At 426 rooms, the Hyatt place is a boutique hotel at the quiet end of Waikiki, down by the zoo and two short blocks from the beach. Compared to the neighboring Marriott with 1175 rooms and the 1239 room Hyatt Regency down the street, Hyatt place is a quiet sanctuary from the bustle of Waikiki. The hotel is a recent purchase by Hyatt, and was remodeled and updated.  Hyatt retained many of the former staff, meaning the staff is helpful, professional and happy to be working under the Hyatt brand.

The standard model for the larger hotels on Waikiki is to have shops on the first floors and common areas. The interiors of the Marriott and Hyatt Regency look more like shopping malls than hotels. While the Hyatt Place does not have restaurants, they are within easy walking distance. Instead of shops, the Hyatt Place has a modern contemporary common area with a 24-hour bar.

Hyatt Place WaikikiHyatt Place has two different Towers, The Pali Tower is considered the deluxe tower due to the size of the rooms at 500 to 550 sq feet. The Diamond tower has standard room accommodations room size 220 to 250 sq ft. The penthouse floor is identical to all the other rooms in the Pali Tower, only difference is that the PH floor is the top floor.


Insiders Tip: On your next visit, you can request to be on a higher floor. If you prefer ocean views, on the website you will need to confirm Deluxe King or Queen Ocean View, and request the penthouse floor.

Our room had a sitting area and more plugs than I have ever seen in a hotel room. A skillet breakfast is included with the room. Fried egg is combined daily rotation of breads for an open-faced egg sandwich. Yogurts, fruit, granolas, cereal, miso soup and bagels with cream cheese are additional choices. Breakfast is from 6:30 to 9:30.

Hyatt Place bar and snacksThe lobby area has a 24-hour bar and snack bar. In the back corner of the area is a gift shop with remarkably competitive prices. The water and juices there were less the neighboring ABC store! Would you rather pay $3.25 for a bottle of water in the room or $.85 in the gift shop?

Insiders Tip: Park at the Aston Banyan diagonally across the street. You get in and out privileges and it is half the price of valet parking at the Hyatt Place.

We had a deluxe city view room, which actually faced Diamond Head and had a partial ocean view. Our room had a small lanai (balcony), which we enjoyed in our down time. We were on Oahu for just a few days so we did not intend Hyatt Place to be a place of relaxation. If you want relaxation, head to Maui or Kauai. If you want mixing with lots of people, nightlife and high energy, Waikiki is the place for you!


The Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Resort Villas

17 09 2011
Westin Ka'anapali Villas Resort

Beach entrance

The Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Resort Villas

6 Kai Ala Drive

Lahaina, Maui

808-667-3200 westinkaanapali.com

Located on the famous Ka’anapali Beach, the Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Resort Villas offer studio, one bedroom and two bedroom villas. It is very popular with young families and as a babymoon destination.  The grounds are artfully landscaped and the resort consists of two towers. The resort is a blend of condo living and resort amenities. You would not guess the resort has 1021 rooms.

There is direct access to the ocean and the walking path that runs along Ka’anapali Beach. The beach activities huts offer snorkeling, on-site SCUBA, kayaking, wind surfing and paddle boarding.   A short walk south on the walk is a public park that offers great snorkeling. We also found the snorkeling right off the property to be excellent, with a variety of coral and tropical fish. If you have never tried snorkeling, you can rent a snorkel package from one of the discount providers on the Island. They now also provide corrective masks for those of us who wear glasses.

There are five pools, including a children’s pirate ship pool, four whirlpools and a the ever popular water slide.  The kitchens are fully equipped, allowing you to avoid what can be the high cost of eating on the Islands. A full grocery store is a short drive away,  offering  prepared foods and a great assortment of fruit.  If you are a fan of Poki, the best is found at Food Land in Lahaina.

Main Pool

There is also an outdoor gas grilling area. A washer and dryer are included in the unit, allowing you to bring less clothes and avoid excess baggage fees. There are two  mini stores on site with basics for your stay, along with a deli. You can also have your refrigerator stocked before you get there, allowing you to jump right into vacation mode.

The property has three restaurants. The breakfast buffet is good quality and pricing ($29 per person when we were there) is consistent with resorts on the Islands. We found the strategy of having a late breakfast and skipping lunch allowed us to control calories and cut the cost of one meal. We have fruit and cookies with our coffee in the morning. The resort will sometimes offer specials that include breakfast and of course it offers the Starwood Kids Dining and Keiki Aloha program for ages 5-12.

We were pleasantly surprised by the Italian restaurant under the lobby and prices were consistent with dinner at Whalers Village. We did not find the sports bar to be a good venue for our favorite evening activity of watching the sunset while having pupus (appetizers) and a glass of sparkling wine.  You can walk up the beach to Roy’s at Honu Kai for a better sunset viewing venue.

Since this is a Starwood vacation property, the concierge will offer you a  time share presentation, they are not obnoxious about it. A simple no works. There have been some complaints on travel forums that the concierge focus is on selling condos, if the concierge is not interested in booking your activities, contact your travel agent who will be delighted with the business.

A shuttle will take you to the Sheraton and Westin close to the Whalers Village so you can avoid the outrageous parking fees at the Village.  Whalers Village has shops, restaurants and a food court.

If you have never been to a luau, the Old Lahaina Luau is one of the best on the Islands. It sells out early, reservations are a must! Get there early to find a parking spot.


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