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!


Port of Call-Skagway

24 10 2012

Port of Call-Skagway

Stroll the preserved wooden boardwalks and restored historic buildings in Skagway and imagine yourself a part of the 20,000 prospectors who made the city the base for their quest for gold. Skagway was one of the starting points for miners seeking their fortune in the Klondike. Since the Canadian government required each prospector to bring 1 ton of provisions to survive winter, imagine the logistics hub Skagway once was.  One of the most popular attractions for Skagway is the narrow gauge White Pass and Yukon Railroad which was completed just as gold production fell. The city  has attractions to fit interests from historic to active.

White Pass and Yukon Railroad

Photo via, Cecvoffman

The terrain from Skagway to Carcross is so challenging, the construction of the White Pass and Yukon route required 450 tons of explosives and earned a place as an International Civil Engineering Landmark, along with the Eiffel Tower, Panama Canal and the Statue of Liberty. Ride in fully restored cars (the oldest four were built in 1881) pulled by vintage diesel engines over 20 miles of steep grades, and cliff hanging curves to climb the 3000 feet to the White Pass summit. The route retraces the original White Pass summit trek, offering a magnificent vista of mountains, glaciers, gorges, waterfalls, tunnels, trestles and  gold rush sites. The train agent is your historic guide, entertaining you with captivating tales of Gold Rush history. Various combinations of train ride are possible, round trip train ride, train up and bus back, bus up and train back. Variations of the train ride also include gold panning, dog sledding, and riding a bike back down the summit.

Skagway, AK

The famous Red Onion, former upscale brothel, now Bar/Restaurant

History lovers can envision what Skagway was like when it was the gateway to the Yukon. Historical tours of Skagway can be done self-guided, guided by one of the Madams from the Red Onion Saloon, or by tour car. Once an exclusive bordello, the Red Onion Saloon is now a bar/restaurant and a member of the Historic Registry.

Many wildlife excursions leave from Skagway. If seeing a bear is on your list of things to do, your best odds for a sighting is in Haines, a 40 minute fast ferry ride from Skagway. The Chilkoot Lake area teems with bears and bald eagles beginning in mid July as salmon begin their spawning runs.  Kayak on the Chilkoot Lake or raft in the Chilkat Mountains. Nearby Haines is the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve, so eagle lovers will want it on their list.

Photography fans can choose excursions specifically designed to provide photo opportunities and advice. Adventure lovers have many opportunities to enjoy their favorite pursuits. Since the ports in the Inner Passage offer similar adventures, it is possible to raft in one port, hike in another, and bike, horseback ride or fish in the next. Skagway offers scenery, history, active days, train rides, bus tours, and wildlife. Your choices range from walking off the ship and self touring the town to flight seeing by float plane. Enjoy your day!

Celebrity Millennium refurbishment

16 07 2012

We were excited to experience the recent refurbishment of Celebrity Millennium, so jumped at the opportunity to ride along on the repositioning along the West Coast to its summer home in Vancouver. The ship had just finished adding the popular Solstice features like Qsine and Cellar Masters. A repositioning cruise, where a ship is moving from one market to another is one of the exceptional bargains in cruising.


The Celebrity brand identity is Modern Luxury and the theme is reflected by the modern subdued decor in the ship. No Vegas glitz and mirrors here. Luxury is featured in the food, wine and service. A growing theme in cruise ships is offering cabins with a unique level of experiences. Celebrity offers this in the Aqua Class® veranda cabins. Aqua Class® guests have unlimited access to the Aqua Spa® Relaxation Room and Persian Garden, along with seating in Blu, the restaurant exclusive to Aqua Class® guests.


We found much to like on the ship. There are plenty of quiet corners to relax and read on sea days. Our favorite hangout was Cafe Al Bacio, the coffee shop and Gelateria. We were able to really enjoy because of another of our favorite features for Celebrity, the All Inclusive Beverage Package. For $44 per person per day (plus 15% gratuity) we got unlimited glasses of premium teas, specialty coffee and glasses of wine and cocktails up to $8 in value. Since our wine and coffee tab can normally exceed our cruise fare, this was a great deal for us. Also offered is the premium package for $54 a day, which we will try on our next Celebrity cruise.


Qsine, the specialty restaurant on deck 11 was one of the top 5 dining experiences of our life. It is a must do experience for foodies! In addition to the unique, mind blowing flavor combinations and creative presentations, we got to enjoy sailing out under the Golden Gate Bridge while we had our meal. A priceless experience.


Cellar Masters features self service dispensers of premium wines. No need to wait for a wine tasting to enjoy an extra special wine. While I would never buy a bottle of Opus One, I would share a glass. The wine selection offers enjoyable quality wine with prices and wines from moderate to exceptional.


We had been wanting to go to San Francisco for months, and are glad we did so by ship. San Francisco is an ideal cruise port. While we were in San Francisco, we enjoyed a view from our balcony that was better than any offered by the expensive hotels downtown. Considering the per day cruise price that included the ride under the Bridge, meals and a room with an awesome view, we got a great deal!  Between walking and cable cars, it is easy to enjoy much of The City by the Bay in a day.


We walked up to the North Beach area and then went to the Ferry Building to enjoy a plate of oysters at Hog Island Oysters. Shore excursions are offered for San Francisco.  Napa and Sonoma shore excursions are also offered for wine lovers. I can see the difficult decision for passengers not from the West Coast. Spring is a beautiful time to be in the Napa area, the vineyards are every bit as picturesque as Italy or France.


One of the signature entertainment features for Celebrity is an a cappella singing group. This group along with a chamber group, a piano player and a classical guitarist rotated through the ship’s public areas during the day and evenings. We rarely enjoy the evening entertainment in the theater, usually opting for the smaller venues. The night we did go to the theater, we found it large enough to accommodate everyone who wanted to see that performance.




Napa Valley Terrior

1 04 2012

The terroir (tare-wa) of an area is the specific combination of geology, climate, soils, and topography that adds unique characteristics to wine.( Terroir is normally italicized because it is borrowed from French.)  The components will be the soil type, depth, drainage, water holding capability, rain totals, minerals in irrigation water and the climates and microclimates within a vineyard. The concept is the basis of the French Appellation d’origine controlee (AOC) system that gives us the famous wine regions. Burgundy, Rhone, Loire, and Bordeaux are a few of the 300 French AOC’s .

Here in the United States, areas are broken into American Viticultural  Areas (AVAs). The AVA designation is awarded by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. To receive an AVA, the region must have unique climate, elevation, soil and other physical characteristics that can distinguish the boundaries of the area. The most famous AVA would be the Napa AVA.

The Napa AVA covers a diverse geography. What must be remembered is that within an AVA as large as Napa and even within a single vineyard, there are numerous soil types and depths. The Napa AVA contains 33 different soil series. The topography of Napa ranges from the valley floor, to the rolling foothills, to steep mountains. This diversity creates the controversy over terroir. If you find a wine defined as defining the terroir of an AVA, you must assume it represents the majority of the vineyards. A key component of Napa terroir is the warm days and cooling marine layers that slow down vegetative growth and allow fruit to mature more slowly and with more depth.

The geologic foundation of the Napa AVA consists of three rock bodies. The older two, the upper Mesozoic Franciscan complex and the Great Valley sequence, are composed of mostly marine sandstone and shale which can contain serpentinite and greenstone. The younger, Pliocene Sonoma Volcanics can contain components from basalt to rhyolite. The important discriminator for the vineyards is the soil profile. These are divided into three groups: bedrock, sediment forming alluvial fans and a mixture of deposits.

The Napa Valley AVA is divided into 14 sub appellations. Divisions can be both geographic and political.  As winemaking in the area evolves, so does a tension between those winemakers striving to create a uniform product despite the differences in sunlight, microclimates, and rock patterns and the winemakers striving to create a unique product that can only be found in the grapes coming from a block within a vineyard. As wine drinkers become more sophisticated, it will be interesting to see how this tension is resolved in the market place.

Which Cruise line is right for me?

14 03 2012

You’ve decided to find out what cruising is all about. You have friends or relatives who now mostly take cruises for vacation and you like the fact that your hotel will take you to your destination, while feeding and entertaining you. But there are so many cruise lines, how do you decide which one to take??


Cruise lines have personalities and there is at least one that will match your personality and lifestyle. Cruise lines target specific demographics. The industry term for value cruise lines is Contemporary.  If you like vacations in Vegas, traveling with the family and are younger, Carnival’s fun value package will be for you. Carnival has Early Saver prices for those who plan ahead, so think 5 to six months out for your vacation! Do not underestimate Carnival, they have excellent food, and are more than party ships. Carnival does an excellent job of providing value for the cruise dollar!


Don’t like to color between the lines, and don’t want to be told when or where to go to dinner? Norwegian Cruise Line has the resort feel at sea, and is the “ non conformist” cruise line. Also good for families, Norwegian will often offer discounts for seniors, military and teachers. The newer Norwegian ships are moving out of the value level up to the premium level, with suites and higher prices. Entertainment ranges from improv comedy from Second City to the Blue Man Group.


At the higher end of the value lines is Royal Caribbean. It’s two larger ships, Oasis and Allure are destination resorts. If you have family and the Disney prices scare you, look at Royal Caribbean. The kids programs are excellent, with programs divided by two year increments. If you are active, and sports minded, you fit the keys for Royal Caribbean.


The next step up is the Premium category. Celebrity is modern, smart luxury. Luxury at a value price. If you appreciate world class cuisine, and a higher level of service, you will appreciate the hip quality of Celebrity. The high staff to guest ratio means you will be pampered more than on the contemporary lines.


Azamara is the sister company to Celebrity and offers smaller ships. In addition to the intimacy of a smaller ship, Azamara is all about the destination. Stays in port might be two days and the smaller ships can go where the larger ships cannot. Azamara would be at the value end of the small ship experience. Ages tend to be in the 40-50 range because you will be hanging out with people making $200,000 a year plus.


Princess sets the standard for Premium cruise lines in my opinion. Princess is the Consummate Host, offering Comfortable elegance in their ships, and sailing to 330 ports in the world.  The Princess Alaska cruise and cruise/tour program is consistently one of the best in the industry. Princess allows you to “Escape Completely” on your vacation. You will have an intimate feel on a large ship, with entertainment and excellent dining and educational opportunities.


Holland America is Princess’s sister company and offers medium sized ships with a traditional feel. If your brands are Fairmont Hotels, Lexus and Ralph Lauren, Holland America is for you. The wide teak decks and marine artifacts appeal to lovers of tradition and the classics. Holland America has an excellent kids program, so is an excellent choice for multi-generational vacations. Holland America offers a package that satisfies cultural and sight seekers, romantics, relaxers and extended family vacations.


Straddling Premium and Luxury is Cunard, the true ocean going vessels designed for ocean crossings. The Grills level is at the Luxury level and the entire experience is more formal than most cruise lines. Appealing to worldly sophisticated travelers who enjoy an affluent life style, Cunard presents the opportunity to “dress up” and be pampered with luxury. For travelers with the time, it is often less expensive to sail on Cunard than fly economy to Europe, and with a much nicer experience!


Disney fulfills the Disney affinity for both kids and adults, although if you are not a big Disney fan, you may not enjoy the cruise as much as the kids. Staterooms are 25% larger than the industry standard. A Disney cruise is the ultimate family vacation. if you plan to sail at spring break of other popular times, try to plan a year in advance for best cabin selection. For Disney fans, the ships are often also a Honeymoon destination.


Also straddling the Premium/Luxury line is Oceania. Fellow guests will be, on average, 50+, have a higher education and have an income of $150k+. Like the luxury level, the experience is more all inclusive, no extra charge for specialty dining, or specialty coffees. You can buy a wine package for $49 per day. Foodies will love Oceania. The older ships have 700 passengers and the new ones 1000. An attraction is the fact that Oceania calls on the most desired ports in the world. One of the attractive promotions for Oceania is their 2 for 1 air promotion. Watch for it.


Seabourn fits the Luxury and small ship category. The older ships have just 104 suites and while they do not have verandahs, the ships offer an exceptional level of service. The newer ships have 225 suites, many with verandahs. Seabourn targets the retired rich and the working wealthy CEO. If you expect to be wowed on your vacation, Seabourn can do it. A true luxury level experience, only the shore excursions are extra. Ports are unique destinations that the smaller ships can access.


If you plan to sail in a suite, the best luxury value in my opinion is Regent, even the shore excursions are included. Included is air, pre hotel, alcohol, shore excursions and gratuities . The ships are smaller and do not offer the level of entertainment found on the larger ships. If you like the 4 Seasons, Regent fits your life. If you love entertainment, go to Crystal.


Silversea caters to an international clientele at the luxury level. The ships are elegant and intimate with an almost one to one crew to guest ratio. Being at the luxury level, all is included. The ships are all suites with 85% private verandahs. If you desire luxury on the way to your destination, Silversea will make you happy.


If you want a luxury level cruise and the entertainment and dancing you can only find on a larger ship, Crystal Cruises with their “large” 900-1000 passenger ships will fill your need. Fellow cruisers will on average have been on several cruises and are there for the destination. The 89% return rate says it all about how satisfied they were. The brand pillars for Crystal are: Service, Space, Quality, Choices.   


The questions to ask yourself before a vacation are: do I want to get away and just relax, or am I looking for a destination that will give me an experience. Do you want an active vacation with thrilling activities like zip lining, or soaking up sun and reading. Do you want to experience other cultures, view historical architecture, sample regional cuisine?


Does the sound of only unpacking once while the ship moves you to port to port in an overview of the area appeal to you? Talk to your travel agent who can find the sailings that meet your meets at the best price through the ability to leverage the agencies’ pricing abilities. Cruises can be complicated and dealing with a travel agent rather than a discounting boiler room will give you someone to go to for answers to your questions.




Montserrat, Spain

8 02 2012

Finding the right shore excursion for your one day cruise stop always leaves you anxious. So many choices, so little time. We had picked our Med cruise for an overview of Europe. I had never been to the Med, my more traveled wife had been years ago. We based our shore trip choices for well rounded exposure to the culture and sights of the region. For Barcelona, we did the city tour and then a trip to Montserrat. We got the highlights of Barcelona, with plenty of Gaudi, a drive through the country side and a tour of the remote abbey at Montserrat.
A rewarding day trip destination from Barcelona is the Benedictine monk retreat of Montserrat. Montserrat or “jagged mountain” in Catalan is the home of the Benedictine abbey, Santa Maria de Montserrat. It has called pilgrims for hundreds of years. The Monastery has religious significance and the ride there will treat you with visions of small villages tucked in the mountains. Once you are there, the vista is breathtaking.
Hikers will be rewarded with some of the most unusual rock formations in Catalonia and of course vistas of the country side. Take the funicular (cable car) to the top of the mountain If you enjoy walking there are also some interesting walks through the mountains where you will experience magnificent views of some of the most unusual rock formations in the whole of Catalonia. You can take a funicular to the top of the mountain and from there you can choose a number of different walks, all with amazing views of the Catalonian countryside.
Montserrat’s religious significance began in 880 when a group of shepherd children saw a bright light descending from the sky accompanied by angles singing. The children ran to tell their parents who went to see for themselves. The parents experienced the same vision, not only once but for whole month. The obvious conclusion was that this was a sign from God.
A local vicar substantiated the vision in a cave on Montserrat. Exploration of the cave yielded an image of the Virgin Mary. The site of the visions is marked by a Holy Grotto, an ordained holy place that is visited by pilgrims and the curious from around the world.
The monastery is home to one of the oldest publishing houses in the world, publishing since 1499. It also is the home for the Virgin of Montserrat, Catalonia’s favorite saint. The Montserrat Boy’s Choir (Escolania) is one of the oldest in Europe. The Basilica’s museum houses works of many important sculptors and painters, including El Greco, Dali and Picasso.
Ever the foodies, one of our found memories of our day was the local farmer’s cheese and honey we bought from the vendors inside the grounds. The altitude will bring a chill, be sure to take a jacket, and bring a good camera. On a clear day you can see Majorca, but even if it is not clear, you will be rewarded with a breathtaking panorama of Catalonia.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 44 other followers