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Active Travel Budget Travel Business Travel Food & Drink Health & Wellness Travel Trends

SmarterTravel Spotlight: EVEN Hotel Eugene, Oregon

If you’re a wellness guru, or simply someone who likes to keep up with their exercise and eat healthy food when traveling, EVEN Hotels might be for you. The new “lifestyle” hotel brand comes from IHG, the hotel group that also includes Holiday Inn, InterContinental, Kimpton, and more than a dozen other brands. And it’s fast-growing: EVEN Hotels so far has 11 locations throughout the U.S., with 24 more in the pipeline.

And it’s a comfortable mid-range choice even if you aren’t into fitness. I tried the brand at the EVEN Hotel Eugene, Oregon, location—which fully exemplifies the new IHG line’s concept. Travelers on TripAdvisor (SmarterTravel’s parent company) have so far rated this EVEN Hotel as the fourth-best hotel in Eugene. Here’s why.

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The Location

EVEN hotel eugene, oregon daytime

The Eugene EVEN Hotel is located near the center of the city, in a quiet neighborhood surrounded mainly by office buildings. It’s one of only three hotels within a 15-minute walk to Autzen Stadium and PK Park, where the University of Oregon Ducks play football and baseball. It’s also about a 10-minute walk from the Cuthbert Amphitheater, Eugene’s center for outdoor summer concerts and other events. And it’s quite close to other Eugene visitor highlights, including the university, Amtrak Station, and the Hult Center for the Performing Arts. Getting here is easy, with quick access from the highway.

The Rooms

EVEN hotel eugene, oregon room.

This EVEN Hotel has large rooms, at about 400 square feet, with a mix of full-size, king, and two-bed sleeping options. The rooms are modern and provide all that you’d expect, with free and fast Wi-Fi. Bathrooms offer a choice of tub-shower and walk-in shower designs.

What makes EVEN Hotels unique is that each room includes some free, basic fitness equipment, including a roll-out mat, an exercise ball, and resistance bands. EVEN Hotel Eugene is part of a small pilot program that ups the ante on exercise even further: Some rooms have an in-room Mirror fitness system, a full-body mirror with a holographic image display in the center that presents one of several selectable workout regimens taught by trainers. It’s impossible to see it accurately in a photograph of the display, but the in-person image is high-quality.

Dining

EVEN hotel eugene, oregon food.

The Cork & Kale bar and dining area that’s standard at EVEN Hotels features a menu listing mainly healthy food options—heavy on salads and other vegetables-centric dishes as well as burgers and flatbreads. Breakfast is buffet-style, again with lots of healthy options. Cold infused drinking waters at the lobby are also ideal for filling a travel water bottle at any time. The bar serves the usual gamut of choices, including healthy drinks, plus a full bar with the local draft IPAs that are virtually mandatory now in the Pacific Northwest. In addition, the hotel lobby provides healthy packaged grab-and-go snacks for purchase.

EVEN hotel eugene dining area and snacks.

The dinner menu—which seems to be the same at all locations—isn’t going to attract many foodies. Fitness enthusiasts who travel often seem to be the hotel’s main focus; if you’re hoping to stay at a property with a unique dining option, you’re probably better off staying elsewhere or planning on eating dinners around  Eugene (more on that below).

Amenities and Things to Do

EVEN hotel eugene fitness center.

The fitness center is the main amenity for EVEN Hotels. It’s large with far more devices and facilities than most exercise options in comparable hotels. The Eugene property’s fitness center also includes a Mirror work-out system, in case your room doesn’t. A pool and hot tub cater to just about every traveler, and there’s also an all-purpose lounge with a ping pong table. Parking is free—some is covered, some is open, with no reservations required. The Eugene EVEN Hotel also offers a free airport shuttle service. And while the hotel even emphasizes using the stairs for fitness, there is an elevator for those who prefer or need it. The property also has an outdoor patio with a fire pit.

EVEN hotel eugene patio with fire pit.

The hotel concierge  can arrange just about any local activity for you: During my visit, I took a tour of the burgeoning local wine industry, courtesy of Eugene Wine Tours, featuring tasting rooms that could rival Napa or Sonoma’s. Included on the tour is The King Estate, a huge complex that includes an excellent full-service restaurant. Oregon is an esteemed wine destination with special focus on varietals like pinot gris and pinot noir. Other outstanding local wineries include Sweet Cheeks and Iris.

Price and How to Book

Regular flexible rates start at around $124 per night, and IHG member rates start as low as $106 but are nonrefundable. Package options including breakfast are available. On football weekends, expect to pay more than the starting rate—but only next year, as the hotel is already sold out for this football season.

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More from SmarterTravel:

SmarterTravel’s Ed Perkins stayed at the EVEN Hotel Eugene as a guest of the property.

A consumer advocate, Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuses every day at SmarterTravel.

Categories
Beach Island Romantic Travel

Why Now Is the Best Time to Go to Hawaii

The bright and tropical Hawaiian Islands you see on vintage travel posters represent an island chain on the brink of mass tourism during the Golden Age of travel in the 1920s and 30s. Those pictures depict a warm, welcoming, and wanderlust-inducing world in a faraway land.

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The true Hawaiian Renaissance occurred in the ‘60s and ‘70s, however, and it’s culturally similar to other movements of the era: pioneered by music. And while many visitors experience hula dancing and traditional music at a luau on vacation, it was the renewed interest in Hawaiian language, farming techniques, and other traditions that led to an overall increase in Hawaiian pride. The resurgence also encompassed Polynesian culture and voyaging, which remain ever-present in the Hawaiian identity.

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Nowadays on the Hawaii Islands, you’ll find shopping malls, chain restaurants, and expensive and romantic resorts shaped by the tourist habits of the masses—which to some is a far cry from the culture they’re actually looking for. Development and urbanization aren’t necessarily bad things, but it has meant that the Hawaiian Islands haven’t been as accessible to solo travelers, budget-conscious travelers, East Coast residents, or those looking for an authentic Hawaiian experience.

Is another cultural Hawaiian Renaissance on its way, though? Thanks to a generation of inspired locals and travelers, as well as the introduction of a new airline and routes, it just might be. This year is shaping up to be one of the best times to plan a vacation to Hawaii, no matter which island is on your bucket list or the type of traveler you are. Here are five reasons why a visit to Hawaii should be on your 2019 travel radar.

Honolulu Is More Accessible Than Ever

hawaiian airlines flying over diamond head crater and ocean.

Honolulu, Oahu, is now serving nonstop routes from many major U.S. cities beyond the west coast, including Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Houston, Minneapolis/St. Paul, New York, Toronto, and Washington, D.C.

Air Canada, Alaska, American, Delta, Hawaiian, Southwest, Sun Country, United, and WestJet all fly from the mainland now, which increases price competition, especially on some of the long-haul routes. JetBlue members can also earn points with Hawaiian Airlines, so if you’re coming from the east coast, that’s a decent number of earned miles.

Another win for travelers is Hawaiian’s introduction of basic economy fares, which will be about $30 to $50 less than regular economy fares. Unlike Sun Country’s and United’s basic economy fares, you can bring a carry-on for no additional cost. Alaska, American, and Delta also offer basic economy fares to Honolulu.

Hawaii Interisland Flights Have Never Been Easier

aerial view of a pool with graffiti art at the bottom.

The beauty of the Hawaiian Islands go well beyond Waikiki’s glitzy beaches. Each island has its own culture, unique activities, and geography, and they’re all worth exploring in their own right. Now with more nonstops to Honolulu, it’s easier to access them.

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Hawaii interisland flights are also more frequent and less expensive thanks to increased price competition from Southwest’s entrance into the market. Because of this you can now you can fly more easily from Oahu to Kauai, Maui, and the Big Island (Kona and Hilo), especially from the east coast. Stay up to date with Southwest’s Hawaii interisland flights here.

Hawaii Isn’t Just for Honeymooners Anymore

person kayaking on river in jungle.

On a recent visit to Hawaii, I traveled to both Oahu and Kauai as a solo traveler. Previously I had been to Maui with my family and Oahu with my boyfriend, so this was a totally different type of trip for me. Sure, the Hawaiian Islands make for a great romantic destination or family vacation, but thanks to my somewhat off-the-beaten-path itinerary, I was able to enjoy Hawaii in a unique way.

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In Honolulu, I toured street art with local artists and ate poke from a fish market; I sampled fried mochi at a farmer’s market; swam with sharks on a dive led by a marine biologist; and visited a working produce farm. In fact, I barely went to the beach or hotel pool.

In Kauai, I rented a car and drove to the Waimea Canyon for hiking, toured a coffee farm, kayaked to a waterfall, and hung out at a juice bar in the laidback town of Kapaa.

I also noticed the hotel landscape in Oahu changing. Recently developed hotels like The Laylow, the Waikiki Beachcomber by Outrigger, the Shoreline Hotel Waikiki, and the Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club are catering to younger crowds looking to go beyond the beachfront resort experience—think trendy designs, in-house coffee shops, boutiques, onsite breweries, and pool parties. Many of these newer hotels are located a block or two from the beach, which also means they have lower nightly rates.

Hawaii Can Be Budget-Friendly

food trucks in hawaii.

I also found on-the-ground costs to be more affordable on Hawaii than I was expecting. Fish markets, farmer’s markets, juice bars, and food trucks give travelers plenty of authentic food options beyond those provided at big resorts or tourist centers.

In Kauai, my four-star hotel, Aston Islander on the Beach, had a kitchenette and dining table where I could prepare my own food; the nightly rate was under $200.

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On both islands, I found plenty of free activities like hiking in Kokee State Park in Kauai, lounging on the North Shore in Oahu, and participating in a beach cleanup in Honolulu.

Overtourism Isn’t a Huge Problem … Yet

farm land on hawaii.

Overtourism is cause for concern in any popular tourist destination, but I didn’t feel the negative effects of it on my recent trip. In Hawaii, locals and the government seem to be working to protect the land and culture.

That’s not to say that tourism doesn’t place any strain on the islands. Oahu sees the most tourists with close to 6 million annual visitors; second to that is Maui with just about half of that, followed by the Big Island at 1.7 million, and Kauai at 1.3 million.

Oahu, where more than 92 percent of food is imported to support demand, has seen a rise in small farms to help meet the demand in a sustainable way. One example of this MA’O Organic Farms, which has a youth program for teaching agricultural sustainability and practices (you can take a tour of the farm with Hawaii Forest and Trail). Other companies, like Ko Hana Distillers, converted a sugar cane plantation into a rum distillery. And ranches, like Gunstock Ranch, offer a tree planting tour in addition to horseback riding tours, which helps restore native tree species on plots of farmland.

The tourism industry is doing its part, too, by promoting agritourism activities, participating in carbon offset programs, and distributing reef-safe sunscreen. Additionally, island habitats are given time to heal after natural disasters, as seen with the recovery efforts after the volcanic eruption on the Big Island, or with road closures on the North Shore of Kauai after damaging floods and landslides.

With this mindset of sustainability and protection, Hawaii looks to be committed to curbing the effects of overtourism for future generations.

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More from SmarterTravel:

Ashley Rossi visited Oahu and Kauai courtesy of the Oahu Visitors Bureau and the Kauai Visitors Bureau. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram for travel tips, destination ideas, and off the beaten path spots.

Categories
Arts & Culture

Write a Good Travel Essay. Please.

Editor’s Note: We know that many of you are looking for help writing travel experience essays for school or simply writing about a trip for your friends or family. To inspire you and help you write your next trip essay—whether it’s an essay about a trip with family or simply a way to remember your best trip ever (so far)—we enlisted the help of Professor Kathleen Boardman, whose decades of teaching have helped many college students learn the fine art of autobiography and life writing. Here’s advice on how to turn a simple “my best trip” essay into a story that will inspire others to explore the world.

Welcome home! Now that you’re back from your trip, you’d like to share it with others in a travel essay. You’re a good writer and a good editor of your work, but you’ve never tried travel writing before. As your potential reader, I have some advice and some requests for you as you write your travel experience essay.

Trip Essays: What to Avoid

Please don’t tell me everything about your trip. I don’t want to know your travel schedule or the names of all the castles or restaurants you visited. I don’t care about the plane trip that got you there (unless, of course, that trip is the story).

I have a friend who, when I return from a trip, never asks me, “How was your trip?” She knows that I would give her a long, rambling answer: “… and then … and then … and then.” So instead, she says, “Tell me about one thing that really stood out for you.” That’s what I’d like you to do in this travel essay you’re writing.

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The Power of Compelling Scenes

One or two “snapshots” are enough—but make them great. Many good writers jump right into the middle of their account with a vivid written “snapshot” of an important scene. Then, having aroused their readers’ interest or curiosity, they fill in the story or background. I think this technique works great for travel writing; at least, I would rather enjoy a vivid snapshot than read through a day-to-day summary of somebody’s travel journal.

Write About a Trip Using Vivid Descriptions

Take your time. Tell a story. So what if you saw things that were “incredible,” did things that were “amazing,” observed actions that you thought “weird”? These words don’t mean anything to me unless you show me, in a story or a vivid description, the experience that made you want to use those adjectives.

I’d like to see the place, the people, or the journey through your eyes, not someone else’s. Please don’t rewrite someone else’s account of visiting the place. Please don’t try to imitate a travel guide or travelogue or someone’s blog or Facebook entry. You are not writing a real travel essay unless you are describing, as clearly and honestly as possible, yourself in the place you visited. What did you see, hear, taste, say? Don’t worry if your “take” on your experience doesn’t match what everyone else says about it. (I’ve already read what THEY have to say.)

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The Importance of Self-Editing Your Trip Essay

Don’t give me your first draft to read. Instead, set it aside and then reread it. Reread it again. Where might I need more explanation? What parts of your account are likely to confuse me? (After all, I wasn’t there.) Where might you be wasting my time by repeating or rambling on about something you’ve already told me?

Make me feel, make me laugh, help me learn something. But don’t overdo it: Please don’t preach to me about broadening my horizons or understanding other cultures. Instead, let me in on your feelings, your change of heart and mind, even your fear and uncertainty, as you confronted something you’d never experienced before. If you can, surprise me with something I didn’t know or couldn’t have suspected.

You Can Do It: Turning Your Trip into a Great Travel Experience Essay

I hope you will take yourself seriously as a traveler and as a writer. Through what—and how—you write about just a small portion of your travel experience, show me that you are an interesting, thoughtful, observant person. I will come back to you, begging for more of your travel essays.

Take Notes in a Cute Journal

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Beach Island Romantic Travel

St. Lucia Travel Advice: 6 Things to Know Before Visiting St. Lucia

Ready to dive headfirst into the tropical paradise that is St. Lucia? Before you step off the plane, here are a few pieces of St. Lucia travel advice that you should know to help make your trip even better. I’ll even let you in on a secret about access to that ultra-private-looking beach you think is off limits.

St. Lucia Travel Advice: Bring Cash

When I first arrived in St. Lucia, I tried three different ATMs (attempting with multiple debit cards each time) and was unable to get cash. When I called my bank, they told me that there was no block on my card and that there wasn’t even a record of me trying to take out cash. I was finally able to get cash from a machine, but I heard from many people (including locals) that this was a common problem with ATMs. Fortunately, I had brought some American dollars that I was able to exchange at my hotel, but if you don’t want to be stuck without cash, make sure you bring U.S. dollars or exchange some local currency in advance.

The local currency in St. Lucia is the Eastern Caribbean dollar (XCD), but U.S. dollars are accepted pretty much everywhere. (The E.C. dollar is linked to the U.S. dollar, at an exchange rate of $1 USD to $2.70 XCD). If you do pay with U.S. dollars, you should be aware of these caveats:

  • If you pay in U.S. dollars, you may not get as good a price.
  • You may receive change in Eastern Caribbean dollars.
  • Vendors may not accept wrinkled, older, or torn U.S. dollars.

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St. Lucia Travel Advice: All Beaches Are Public

By law, all beaches and waterways in St. Lucia are public. So if you see a gorgeous beach, even at one of the more exclusive all-inclusive resorts in St. Lucia where you are not a guest, stroll right up and lounge on the sand or go for a swim in the water. Note that some resorts won’t allow non-guests to use any of their beach facilities (chairs, restrooms, etc.) although some offer limited access for a charge. You can bring your own chair or towel to enjoy the beach for free.

St. Lucia Travel Advice: Watch for Service Charges 

Most establishments on St. Lucia will automatically add a 10 percent service charge to your bill (which will be clearly noted on restaurant receipts). If the service was especially great, you can add an extra tip on top of the 10 percent, but it’s certainly not required.

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St. Lucia Travel Advice: Think Twice Before Renting a Car

In St. Lucia, drivers stay to the left and the roads are very narrow and winding (with steep drop-offs in some areas). I highly recommend using a taxi or hiring a driver for your stay, which is a much more relaxing way than renting a car to get around the island. If you do choose to drive yourself, go slowly and remember to honk around blind curves. Also be aware that many rental car agencies in St. Lucia have both a minimum age of 25 (or 21 with a hefty surcharge) and a maximum age of 65 for drivers.

St. Lucia Travel Advice: Don’t Forget to Pack Pants

St. Lucia is a laid-back and fun island, but many of the upscale restaurants do have a dress code for dinner, and many require men to wear long pants and closed-toed shoes (women can get away with a dress and fancy sandals). I did see this dress code enforced, so if you’re considering a special dinner out (or are staying at a nicer resort), be sure to pack a few outfits you can dress up.

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St. Lucia Travel Advice: Daylight Savings Time

St. Lucia does not participate in daylight savings time change and remains at UTC -4 throughout the year. This means there’s no time difference between the eastern U.S. and St. Lucia during the daylight savings’ months in the United States (March to November), but that there’s an hour time difference during Eastern Standard Time months.

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More from SmarterTravel:

Caroline Morse Teel was hosted by St. Lucia Tourism on her visit. Follow Caroline on Instagram @TravelWithCaroline for photos from St. Lucia and around the world.

Categories
Active Travel Arts & Culture Outdoors

Remembering the Way to Tokyo

I’m awakened by the sound of slippers shuffling just beyond the sliding door of my room. With my ear close to the ground on my floor futon mattress, each soft step sounds like a distant thunderclap. It’s the innkeeper preparing morning tea and miso soup. I open my eyes to yellow daylight—the soft, filtered light has waltzed right through the paper walls into my room. I should wake up, but my futon is so warm, and I can afford to stay a minute longer. When I stretch my limbs, I feel my muscles burn and joints crackle like a log on the fire, and I remember: I am taking the long walk to Tokyo.

This is how mornings go when you walk the Nakasendo Way: A warm awakening, a protest from your sore muscles, a traditional Japanese breakfast (with non-traditional instant coffee), shoes on, a quick goodbye to the innkeepers, and then you’re out the door. You’re back on the trail, on your way to Tokyo.Nakasendo way inn

Walking from Kyoto to Tokyo, especially when there’s a perfectly good bullet train, seems like a ridiculous journey for the modern traveler. But on this trip, I’m on vacation from modern travel. I may have flown around the world to get here, but I have chosen to see Japan the old-fashioned way, along one of the country’s oldest highways.

During the Edo period between 1603 and 1868, pedestrian highway systems like the Nakasendo Way were used by feudal lords, samurai, and even princesses to travel the country. The old and stony trail of the Nakasendo passes through mountains and valleys, even carving a path through the Japanese Alps. The full journey took weeks, so to accommodate travelers, small towns—known as post towns—were established along the way. Each post town opened inns offering travelers hot tea, fresh food, and soft futons. For 10 spring days, I followed this course of history, sleeping in the same inns that once served the old travelers. But while the samurai rode on horseback and princesses were carried by their subjects, I walked.

If you’re looking for bragging rights, the Nakasendo isn’t for you. The trail is mostly flat, and comforts like ryokans and vending machines are never far. Along the road, you’ll never have to sleep outside or go more than a few hours without bottled water—or a chilled can of coffee, my preferred vending machine product. Some days you’ll emerge from what feels like an isolated forest to find yourself in a small town alongside locals strolling with their grandchildren and tending their backyard gardens. Other days, you’ll endure stretches of walking alongside major highways and filling up your backpack with Japanese snacks from the gas station. (My backpack never lacked a box of Pocky or green tea Kit Kats.) On the best days, you’ll climb through mossy forests high in the mountains, leaving offerings at small shrines whose stone countenances have been worn down by centuries of rain, and realize you’re in a part of Japan few foreigners have ever seen.

Nakasendo way statue

Every day on the trail is simultaneously new and familiar, like circling back to an old memory only to realize how much has changed. I went in April when the cherry blossoms were in full bloom in the lowlands. My favorite trees were the ones I couldn’t get to but could spot a mile away, those standing alone in a sea of evergreens, shouting out loud in pink.

In every season, the trail is embellished with historical gems. Treading the centuries-old ishidatami, the original stones that paved the Nakasendo, I lingered among the ruins of tea houses, walked through fields where samurai once battled and bowed at the statues of Jizo, the Buddhist protector of travelers. Small, bald, and smiling, Jizos decorated with traditional red bibs line the Nakasendo all the way from Kyoto. At the feet of each are stacks of coins—the universal offering—and we left our own tokens along with a small prayer for safe passage on our journey.

On paper, the Nakasendo looks like a one-way journey, but really, it is a circular wandering. Each day I’d wake up in a ryokan, walk through quiet forests, sit down for a delicious meal, and fall asleep at a new inn, having made it just a little bit farther down the road. The days blurred together not because they were unmemorable, but because they were tranquil, gently indistinct like an impressionist painting. Along the way, I found connection and companionship among my fellow walkers—people who, like me, had found this obscure trail in an old travel book or by word of mouth.

Fewer visitors may find their way here these days, but this trail is well worn. It has carried pilgrims and royalty, tourists and locals; and more, it has carried again and again the people who remember it often. Those of us who have walked the trail frequently return to it through memory, our feet remembering the uneven stones and our fingertips recalling the weight of a coin holding on to a prayer. We walk it over and over again, always in circles, always as one long beautiful day.

More from SmarterTravel:

Jamie Ditaranto traveled to Japan and experienced the Nakasendo Way tour as a guest of Walk Japan. Follow her on Twitter @jamieditaranto and Instagram @jamieditaranto.

Categories
Business Travel

Time on the Thames

Author: Megan B.
Date of Trip: June 2006

I arrived in Henley-on-Thames in a 14-passenger minibus crammed with 23 people’s luggage.

On a trip to England with the women’s crew team for two regattas, we were split between two homes to stay for the ten days we were there. Called “landladies,” women in the community volunteer their family homes to take in foreign crews for the Henley Women’s and Henley Royal regattas. It’s a fairly common occurrence during late June and early July when the town’s limited amount of hotels and B&Bs fill to capacity with regatta spectators.

Our first weekend in England the team rowed in the Reading Amateur Regatta. The town of Reading sits at the point where the rivers Thames and Kennet meet. Reading flourished as a cloth-making town but declined from the early 17th century to the beginning of the 19th century. The town is now a working class area, heavy on industry.

Although a local warned us about the safety of the neighborhood, a walk down the Thames path showed nothing but well-kept homes, restaurants, and hotels. People sailed mini-yachts and barges alike up and down the river, which is itself a greenish-blue and home to scores of swans and ducks.

If you took either Boston’s Beacon Hill or Philadelphia’s Main Line and put them on the river and filled them with Georgian architecture, you’d have Henley-on-Thames. Stately, sprawling homes dot the banks of the Thames, and Georgian row homes stand in neat lines along the streets.

I passed a wonderful birthday watching our girls win a race at the Reading Amateur Regatta before eating dinner at the Flowerpot, a recently remodeled hotel and restaurant in Henley. It offers both traditional and modern cuisine and a divine chocolate puddle dessert involving brownies, chocolate ganache and vanilla ice cream.

There are plenty of food options in Henley, from pubs to tearooms to restaurants, but for dining with a view, choose Angel on the Bridge pub. The back deck, offering pub fare, sits right on the bank of the Thames and provides idyllic scenes full of swans and passing motorboats, canoes, and sculls.

Also situated along the riverbank are several private rowing clubs, including the exclusive Leander Club which counts British rowing heroes Sirs Matthew Pinsent and Steven Redgrave as members. Pinsent frequently can be found in the club, relaxing with other rowers and guests.

If you’re up for shopping, be prepared to spend your money. Not only do currency rates favor the pound, prices reflect the wealth of the town. While the clothing styles tend to skew to older generations, the town does offer younger styles in shops like Monsoon and Deep. I packed for a typical English June and instead got a typical Florida June, so in one hour in one store (Deep) on three items, I spent 77 quid (approximately $150 at the time). But it was no small comfort I then had stylish clothes to combat the weather. There are also plenty of bookshops, cooking stores, gourmet food shops and even a well-stocked toy store, Bagatelle’s.

The Henley Women’s Regatta, our second regatta of the trip, sponsored a reception for participating crews at the River & Rowing Museum. Opened in 1997 by Queen Elizabeth II, the Schwarzenbach International Rowing Gallery, which was recently reopened after a major redisplay, tells the history of international rowing in an eye-catching and extremely informative way.

One of the highlights of the new gallery is the “In the Cox’s Seat” interactive exhibit, giving visitors a unique, 360 degree experience of what it is like to take part in a race at the world famous Henley Royal Regatta. Other parts of the exhibit include models of 1700s Artic whaleboats, elaborate Venetian gondolas, coastal lifeboats that pulled people from the North Sea and the gold medal boat from the ’96 Atlanta Olympic Games.

Visitors from all over the world come to Henley for the regattas. The women’s regatta features crews from all over the world that race on the third weekend in June. The preliminaries for the senior events (collegiate and club crews) and the junior events happen on the Friday followed by senior semis and finals races on the Saturday and Sunday.

The Royal regatta occurs over five days in late June and early July and dates from the reign of Victoria. It’s one of the country’s premier racing events. There are several enclosures in addition to plenty of space along the riverbank to watch the races. The fanciest and most exclusive is the Steward’s Enclosure. Spectators gain entrance by means of an invitation from a member of the Leander Club. The women wear hats and skirts or dresses to the knee while suits and rowing blazers are the norm for the men. There are no dress codes for general spectators in other enclosures or on the bank. Consumption of Pimm’s, an alcoholic lemonade garnished with fruits is also equal opportunity. Up to 100 races a day go off, often at intervals of every five minutes.

Beyond the regattas, Henley can be canvassed in a day or two, but it is fairly centrally located to other attractions. You can take the train virtually everywhere, but a change at Twyford is necessary for any trip. Stonehenge and the town of Bath can be seen in one day if driving. London is an hour away by train and Oxford is one and a half hours. I managed day trips to Bath, Windsor, Oxford and London all by train. The train schedules are easy to figure out and the rail lines are extensive. One thing to bear in mind is the cost. Fares are cheaper when you buy together in groups of three or more, called a GroupSave.

Categories
Active Travel

4 Days in Paradise (Jamaica)

Author: Adrienne L.
Date of Trip: September 2010

Lots has been said about Jamaica and all that it has to offer: beautiful landscapes, rushing waterfalls, fresh seafood, spectacular beaches, breathtaking sunsets, delicious cuisine, warm hospitable people, Blue Mountain coffee, and of course Appleton Rum.

On our recent visit to the island we found all of these things and more. We stayed at the Riu, an all-inclusive resort in Montego Bay. Upon arrival in the lobby we were greeted by hotel staff offering an assortment of rum punches and other refreshments. Along with the refreshments we enjoyed a colorful performance by the resort entertainers. After check-in we proceeded to our suite, which blew us away. It was expansive and beautifully decorated with a huge Jacuzzi tub and an awesome beach view. We were so impressed that we immediately made a video to capture its beauty. Then it was time for lunch.

The resort has 4 restaurants, each with a different theme, all exquisite. Our first meal was at the Steakhouse, an open-air buffet, right on the beach. The food choices were plentiful and delicious. The team of master chefs put together a plethora of foods including Jamaican dishes.

Later the view from our balcony, facing the ocean was a perfect place to experience one of the most beautiful sunsets imaginable. After watching the sun melt into Montego Bay, we decided to attend the evening beach party. Approximately 200 people were in attendance at this food and beverage extravaganza. The atmosphere was festive and everyone was in a party mood. Even the sand fleas and mosquitoes came to dine — little did we know that we were their cuisine of choice. The entertainment was outstanding. The dancers arrived by boat carrying flaming torches and proceeded to perform a dance that paid tribute to Jamaica’s Taino and African history. Our video of the dance can be viewed at http://bit.ly/aXGXhP.

The Riu is a perfect family vacation destination that offers activities for all ages including snorkeling, water sports, and great excursions to other parts of the island. One of the excursions we really enjoyed was the Chukka Cove Zipline Adventure where we saw some of the most beautiful vegetation on the island. The adventure began with a rugged 30-minute bus ride up into the mountains. At the top of the mountain a team of expert guides outfitted us with helmets, pulleys and harnesses. After a safety briefing we were led down a trail through the rainforest that consisted of 376 steps.

We knew then that this adventure was not for the faint of heart, but it was too late to “tap out”. Eventually we arrived at the first of 10 launch platforms — and the adventure began. One by one we descended from launch pad to launch pad, along zip lines that ranged in length from 300-600 feet.; but seemed more like a mile. We whizzed past trees and seemed to be only inches away from a major collision. There were times when we felt like Tarzan and Jane. What a great way to be reminded that you are alive!

Although we had enjoyed Jamaica before, this experience was entirely new and even more enjoyable; perhaps because we were seeing it with “second time” eyes. Other than the sand fleas that insisted on feasting on us, it was a perfect trip. Even those little hungry critters can’t keep us from returning to this Jamaican paradise.

Categories
Active Travel

15 Days in Alaska

Author: Lonnie
Date of Trip: June 2016

We started out going north after flying into Anchorage. We stayed 3 days at a B & B close to Trapper Creek. The view of Denali was wonderful. The host was great and the lodging was 2nd to none.

The trip up to Denali I’ve always found to be disappointing, as most days it’s cloudy and/or rainy in the summer. Then we ventured over to Glenallen for a couple days. Again to a B & B and the host/lodging were great. The day we chose to Valdez was our worst of the 15 days for weather. Very foggy and cloudy so we didn’t see much. The we drove down to Moose Pass for two days. The lodging was adequate; clean and spacious with good views, but it ends there.

Drove up to Hope and then to Cooper Landing for rafting and had a wonderful time. Oh, ate at Gwin’s. A great old roadstop. Then down to Homer for 3 great days. The best views in the world when you stay at a B & B on the mountain overlooking glaciers, the spit and bay. The ferried over to Seldovia for one nite. The best day of the 15. We saw whales, birds, otters and the B & B there was the best ever. Money well spent. Then back to Moose Pass to be centrally located close to Seward, Whittier and Girdwood. Took the tram up the mountain at Girdwood; then to Whittier and finally to Seward. Now the bad news. I’ve been to Alaska now 6 times and the last time I went to Whittier; took in the train back in the 90s. Now, you’re herded into town via the train tracks converted to auto use. A complete waste of $13. It is so crowded and so little to do; why waste your time going there.

Lastly; the tour buses. Thousands of people are herded up and down from Fairbanks to Seward each day like sheep, hardly seeing anything but trees. From the dozens of people I’ve talked to about seeing Alaska; don’t do it. They don’t see wildlife like roadtripping. My advice; rent a vehicle or drive all the way up. On our trip, we saw lots of moose, caribou and even a porcupine, along with all the sea life and birds.

Categories
Cities

Two days in Belfast

Author: Nomadette24
Date of Trip: May 2006

After hanging out in Dublin for six days I decided it was time to head up north to check out Belfast and beyond. I compared the bus and train prices and schedules and decided to take the bus since it was half the price of the train (14 Euro roundtrip. Great deal!) and only took a half hour longer. After a pleasant two and a half hour ride, we arrived at the bus/train station in Belfast. The main bus station is just behind the famous Europa Hotel and across from the famous Crown Liquor Saloon. Both places are “must see” locations on the main street.

I checked in to the Jury’s hotel about a block away from the train station and immediately booked a “Black Cab Tour” for the coming afternoon, as well as a Giants Causeway Day Tour for the following day. The Black Cab Tour was a great way to learn about the history and current situation between the Catholics and Protestants. (They have a Web site, which you can see by clicking here.)

That night I went to the Crown Saloon for dinner and had a very pleasant meal and pint of Bass. The hotel is nice, but a bit pricey. If you want to use the internet, then don’t forget to buy a internet code card from the front desk before going up to your room. Also, don’t forget that Northern Ireland uses the Pound instead of Euro.

The next morning I jumped on a “Mini-Coach Tour,” which took us to the Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge, Bushmills Distillery, Giant’s Causeway, and DUnluce Castle. This was a wonderful tour and a great way to see some of the gorgeous Northern Ireland coastline. A little “insiders info” is that the guide will ask for volunteers at the end of the tour — if you volunteer you get to be a taste tester. The only downside to this tour was that we got back to Belfast almost two hours later than scheduled, but other than that I would suggest this tour to everyone.

After getting back to Belfast, I got on the last bust to Dublin (9pm) and was back at my B&B by midnight. Good trip!

Categories
Holiday Travel

Christmas in New York

Author: TinFins
Date of Trip: December 2006

The limo left our place in New Jersey at 8am and we were parked in front of Radio City Music Hall by 9:30am. We grabbed some croissants and coffee on 51st (don’t remember the name of the bakery because I was still, well, pretty much sleeping) and we all warmed up a bit. Took a walk out to 5th Ave. and over to see the Saks Fifth Avenue holiday window displays. HERDS of people, but the views were worth it. This year’s whimsical display had a cartoonish snowflake theme replete with ballerinas, the empire state building, music and movement.

We made our way back on 50th through the ridiculous mob to see the tree at Rockefeller Center. The 88-foot Norway Spruce proved to be quite a sight for the young and old — would love to see it’s arrival and set up. We fought our way through the crowds and then over to get in line for entry at the world famous Radio City Music Hall.

We entered the historical theater and made our few obligatory purchases (a vodka tonic for me and the official program for my little girl), and were swiftly ushered to our seats.

The Christmas Spectacular was quite spectacular. As touristy as this may sound, the show was highly entertaining and anyone with an appreciation of dance as an art form will applaud the extremely talented Rockettes. The production value,music, choreography, costumes — it was all equally terrific. It’s a larger than life production and just pure family-fun holiday entertainment in one of the world’s most marvelous theaters. My grandparents enjoyed it (Pop especially during the “Twelve Days of Christmas” routine, cough cough, skimpy outfits, cough cough) as did my little girl and wife.

After the show, our ride took us over to Ellen’s Stardust Diner, the retro 50’s themed diner with singing waitstaff (Broadway at 51st). To say this place was JAMMED would be an understatement — fortunately, the patrons and staff were patient and seemingly festive! We were told the wait would be 20 to 30 minutes (not as bad as I had expected), but our host ended up seating us after about 45 seconds.

We were taken downstairs — to the Iridium Jazz Club — “overflow” seating for Ellen’s. The basement level makes for a great jazz club, but offers a sorta dull eating environment. The walls had sparsely spaced jazz photos and a bad paint job. Our table ordered a veggie burger and fries (mine), cheddar omelet (wife), kids chicken fingers (duh, the kid), a soup and salad (grandma) and ham omelet (pop). Drink orders included vodka tonics, a spiked apple cider and a vanilla thick milkshake. My apple cider was just perfect (but, really, how can they mess that up) and the shake was one of the best I’ve ever tasted. Overall, our meals were so/so and the portions/serving styles were weird too — big plates with 5 fries? Why bother?

Our waiter was attentive, friendly and for sure, the best vocalist in the house. Wife wanted to get his signature and said he was gonna be famous someday. Might be… if he can make it in New York, as they say…

As for the entertainment, it was overwhelming! It really never stopped. We thought they would do sets here and there, but it was really one big karaoke jam. One waiter was fairly grating — seemed to be straight out of an old Saturday Night Live skit — so the humor factor was one redeeming quality, I guess. (Note, I said OLD SNL, not that new stuff). One fellow looked like a complete pointdexter and belted out Aerosmith’s Dream On — shook the house, earned him a big tip and a standing ovation from one whole section of the restaurant. Very funny. Looking back, we would have preferred the first floor for the mix of attractions (the train, decor, etc.) and set-singing to just bare walls and pure non-stop karaoke.

After that, we all needed a drink (!) and some peace and quiet. We walked our way down Broadway to the Marriott Marquis. There was no wait so we caught the express elevator up to the The View and perched ourselves in the revolving lounge for the next two hours. One sunset, a slight bit of vertigo and $168 later (geez, that kid’s Shirley Temple cost us a fortune) we booked outta that joint. Oh, and the wait to get into the loungewas now close to two hours. I would NEVER wait that long to get into that place. As nice as the views may be, the ambience is really nil.

I love New York City no matter the season or reason for going in, and the holidays are just the best. Sure, the streets are gridlocked, the sidewalks are crowded and you have to wait a little longer for a seat at the bar. In NYC, you’ll find it all — magical performances and events, that perfect gift for the one you love, and most importantly, that holiday spirit you forgot you had.

Categories
Island

8 Days in St. Maarten

Author: hootor
Date of Trip: September 2006

Our 8-day rental from Thrifty was $150.00 out the door and they provide airport pick-up. If you plan on seeing the Island, rent a car. If you will be staying at a resort most of the time, you can get by with a cab now and then.

Our first night was at the Summit, just northwest of the airport. Nice little place with pool, bar and open air restaurant, The Kissing Fish, operated by a great couple, Chole and Teri. The one night stay for 2 people was $70.00, out the door $84.

Then on to the Pelican Resort for the rest of the stay. Very nice place, lots of units and activities. Our unit did not have a beach view but we had a pool right outside our door. Did a two tank dive trip from their shop, Aqua Mania, and had a great time. The water was a little choppy and things were stirred up a bit but all in all, a great morning dive trip. We saw sharks, rays, eels, lobster and numerous other fish and creatures.

There are some nice secluded beaches on the west side just over the French side, Baie Longue, Plum Bay, and Baie Rouge. There are little parking areas next to beach access paths. The snorkeling was great. I saw many fish, squid and a couple of barracuda. Orient beach was a nice place to check out, lots of people and watersport activities but the water was pretty stirred up and there were a bunch of jelly fish around. Dawn’s Beach was about the same. The east end of Little Bay was great for snorkeling. There are a lot of nice rocks and a dive station with a sunken submarine to check out below Fort Amsterdam.

Restaurants are plentiful and we had great food and company at the ones we ate at; Kissing Fish (Teri cooks a mean omelet), Marks Place (great burgers and Dutch food), Uncle Harry’s, Miss C’s (allyou can eat ribs), Harbor, Rachels (at Mairgot), and roadside stands (ox tail stew and fish). We did most of our grocery and booze shopping at Gran Marche just above Philipsburg near KFC and by Marks Place.

Great views abound all over the island.A couple of exceptional views are at Peak Paradise (Pic Paradis) and French Cul de Sac area. The drive up to Pic Paradis was and adventure, one lane road and steep. There are a couple of hiking trails at the top and the view was awesome.

The open market area of Marigot near the water front is loaded with shops and souvenir items. As is the downtown area of Philipsburg’s Front Street. We had a great time, met a lot of nice people and the weather was beautiful to go along with the beautiful island.

Categories
Miscellany

Charming Bed and Breakfast (Woodlake, CA)

Author: Ann Cooper
Date of Trip: May 2006

I visited Wickyup Bed and Breakfast (www.Wickyup.com) in Woodlake, California, in the foothills just near the entrance to the Sequoia National Park. This beautiful one hundred year old craftsman home built by the owner’s great, great uncle, a State Senator from Illinois, by the name of Harding was so charming and lovely, full of warmth and elegance, that I really wanted to stay much longer. Monica and Jack Pizura are the owners and are so very gracious and informative, and really take the time to insure a wonderful experience. The attention to detail by Monica and Jack insured a memorable time. The house is located on an organic orange ranch with lovely gardens surrounding the home. Jack’s whimsical copper sculpture greeted us as we entered the driveway and more are here and there around the house.

The candle light breakfast is scrumptious, and we lingered to hear stories about organic farming and the history of the area. The dining room is paneled with this very rare port orford cedar wood which glows warmly by the light of the candles. The port orford cedar paneling is all over the downstairs, adding to the charm and beauty of the house.

In analyzing our stay there, it’s not just the beauty and charm of the home, but the warmth and charm of Monica and Jack which make this bed and breakfast so outstanding. They really love what they are doing and take so much care with their guests. It’s probably my very favorite bed and breakfast and I’ve stayed in many all throughout the United States. So, as you can see, I would highly recommended a visit to Wickyup.

Categories
Senior Travel

Not Too Happy With RCCL

Author: Priscilla
Date of Trip: December 2007

TRANSPORTATION: My husband and I are senior citizens and love to cruise. We have been on several with HAL and one with Celebrity. We decided to try the 12 night RCCL – Brilliance of the Seas – Caribbean and Panama Canal cruise out of Miami on December 21st, and booked the transportation with the cruise line – 10AM flight from PHL. Since it was holiday travel time, it was hectic, however we arrived at MIA – 20 minutes late – at 1:30PM. There were 4 other groups on our plane from PHL. We were met at baggage pickup and had to wait for several other planes to arrive before going to the ship. Did not arrive at pier until 3:00PM. The bus let us off pretty far from the check in area, where we then waited some more. I had even gone through the cruise line’s on-line check-in. We arrived at our cabin – after another mile walk – at about 4PM – too late for lunch -and just in time for lifeboat drill. Did not receive our bags until after dinner, at about 7:30PM. Disembarkation went smoothly and we boarded the bus to the airport. The driver asked us all to remember to tip him generously, then he let everyone off at a midpoint instead of at each terminal. There we were with our bags and no carts in sight, quite a distance from the US Air terminal. Finally, an airport employee walked by, asked if we needed help, and found a porter for us. This left us with a pretty bad opinion of RCCL and I do intend to write to them regarding their poor quality of transportation service.

MINSTREL DINING ROOM: There were not that many selections on the dinner menu and we were not at all impressed with the quality of the food. WINDJAMMER CAFE: Breakfast was very good with a good variety of food. Lunch was not too good in selection or quality. OVERALL MEAL COMPARISON: HAL has the best food and many more selections to chose from. Their Lido has an excellent arrangement of counters and varied sections, such as: Asian, Italian, Deli, etc.

ON AND OFF SHIP: The ship went through one lock of the Panama Canal, and later that day we docked at Cristobal Pier for some shopping at the terminal. The lines to disembark snaked all around the 4th floor and took close to an hour to get the line moving off the ship. We shopped for only 30 minutes and then found that the line to return to the ship was even longer. There were 2 gangplanks and they would only use one of them. It was close to 5PM and at the rate they were going we would miss our early dining time. I walk with a cane so my husband went to speak with someone in charge. After about 15 minutes of many more passengers complaining, they finally opened the second gangplank. When we docked in Colombia, it was 11AM and most people were up and ready to go ashore. However, there was mass confusion as everyone crowded the elevators, stairways, and exit area. This was not handled well by the crew, but they were not entirely to blame, as passengers should have also followed instructions more closely.

CREW PERSONNEL: The crew on this ship were the best and friendliest we have ever seen on any cruise ship. HAL may have excellent food but this ship had the best crew ever.

POOL AREA: There seemed to be plenty of chairs available – even on sea days.

GENERAL AMBIANCE: The ship was beautiful, the dining room lovely, and again, all the crew were fantastic. We were a little annoyed with mid-ship elevators, though, which passed by floors because signal lights kept going out.

FINALLY: Not sure if we want to travel with RCCL again. Does anyone have any suggestions?

Categories
Island

Boracay is Simply the Best!

Author: Simple Traveler
Date of Trip: May 2007

After my knee surgery in 2005 I did not travel as much as I used to. I started jetsetting in the year 2000 and it seem that nothing is going to stop me – til my motorbike accident in 2005.

I took the courage to pack my bags again in 2007 when a friend’s tale told me about an island in the Philippines called Boracay. The way he described it, it seem to me to be like the Bahamas, or the Caribbean.

The traveler in me would not settle. I could not stop surfing the internet about Boracay. One day, particularly on the 2nd of May, I flew en route Asia.

The trip was the very first among the many trips since the accident. It was a little bit awkward, with the gawky way I walk and all. But it was one of the best trips in my life.

If you can only spend a weekend in Boracay, you have experienced one of heaven’s blessings!

The tropical island of Boracay is one of the Philippines’ most popular world’s destinations. Its white sand beaches are the island’s main draws. Choose from Yapak Beach, with its white shells, White Beach, with its amazing sunsets, and romantic, secluded Balinghai Beach. Off the sands, good restaurants, enticing shopping and Boracay Butterfly Garden provide other appealing diversions. Explore the 4.5-mile-long island by motorized pedicab or rent a bicycle or motorbike from your resort. Boracay is divided into three main districts: Yapak in the north, Balabag in the center, and Manoc-Manoc in the south. Central Boracay is situated in the mid-west of the island along White Beach.

White Beach, with its blindingly white and powdery sand, is the main tourism beach. It is a bit over four kilometers long and is lined with resorts, hotels, lodging houses, restaurants, and other tourism-related businesses. In the central portion, for about two kilometers, there is a footpath known as the Beachfront Path separating the beach itself from the establishments located along it. North and south of the Beachfront Path, beachfront establishments do literally front along the beach itself. Several roads and paths connect the Beachfront Path with Boracay’s Main Road, a vehicular road which runs the length of the island. Bulabog Beach, across the island from White Beach, is the second most popular tourism beach on the island

The first settlers of Boracay are called Negrito or people we called Aeta. They spoke a language known as Visayan language or Inati. Later settlers brought other languages to the island, including Aklanon (as Boracay is part of Aklan province) and other Visayan languages, Tagalog (and its variant, Filipino), Spanish and English.

I came to wonder how the islang got its name. The word “Boracay” originated from the word bora or bubbles due to its foamy appearance that the waves make when it softly crashes onto the whitish sands. No less than the natives themselves said that as far in time as their memory as one of the original settlers and natives of Malay and Buruanga, the island which is now known as “Boracay” had no name before until a couple blurted out of their personal conversation about the froath and foam of the oceans of boracay. Malay was a part of Buruang or was only a barrio or barangay of the municipality of Buruanga, and people merely called the place “Ro Isla it Buruanga”. The name “Boracay” was first given to a very tiny island off the northern tip of the “Isla” by a native upon hearing conversation between a couple, now known to be the Father and Greener of the island of Boracay – Lamberto and Sofia.

Folks have it told that many years ago (late 1800 or early 1900), when a settled named Soping or Sofing married a Tirol Judge, they came to settle at the northern coast of the “Isla” to engage in planting coconut trees and selling tobacco leaves as their means of livelihood

A coconut oil gatherer known as “mananggete” eavesdropped and overheard a conversation between the couple at their dwelling. Lamberto was at the beach or in the beach water as he observed thick froath being washed ashore by the waves that clased between then tiny island and the “Isla” agitated by the Amihan wind. He said he saw the Tirol Judge observing the thick froath and so he called out to his young meztisa wife Soping or Sofing and said “Acay, hanggod ka bora, Acay,” which when translated can mean: “Darling, there’s plenty of froath, Darling.”

There is not much history after that. Now all we hear from the news are environmental issues, sex scandals, human rights violation and government intervention in Boracay.

Such a waste of good piece of heaven.

When my friend asked me if I intend to go back to the island, I said of course I will. This time with my family and some friends.

Here’s to hoping that by the time I get back, the island stays as heavenly as it was when I left.

The Simple Traveler (Blogging since 2007).

Categories
Active Travel

Caribbean Cruise

Author: jerome b.
Date of Trip: February 2010

from delray beach , florida we drove to miami for our 12 day cruise on the oceania regatta . we had booked the least expensive outside cabin .it had a porthole and was well furnished etc . we arrived at noon and had to wait an hour to board .seats , water and orange juice were available . promptly @ 1pm they started boarding . it was all civilized as we were given numbers upon arriving at port . we boarded within 15 minutes .

went to buffet which was very good . this ship has appoximately 700 guests and a crew of 400 . coffee and other drinks were served by crew . there is a main dining room , 2 optional restaurants ( no additional charge ) and a pool open restaurant . the food was good to very good . we were disappointed in the optional restaurants as the food was not served hot .

we ate all other meals in the main dining room as we enjoyed the meals more . the crew was fabulous giving excellent service . this crew was pleasant , friendly and pros . my wife said that they were given happy pills . every wish was catered to . for me my big problem in cruising was that I never could get a cup of hot coffee . from the first cup served in the buffet to our last meal in the dining room the coffee was hot .

the activities and entertainment needed improvement . there are no las vegas type review shows only caberet acts . we were not haooy with the ports as there is too much poverty and I do not cope well seeing it . we did enjoy st . barts . all in all It was a great cruis and I do recommend oceania cruises .I am 89 and my wife is 87 . we are booked on the eclipse in december .hoppy cruising !