Our Maui Family Adventure
by Jill Romano
Note (November 2021): When I traveled to Maui with my family group of 11 in January 2021, things were different with stronger COVID restrictions. As of 11/8/21, if you are vaccinated and complete the pre-trip online paperwork for the state of Hawaii, it is much easier to go. The governor of Hawaii has announced that the islands are welcoming all vaccinated visitors. Non-vaccinated travelers must present a COVID test from one of their specific laboratories. Also, due to a rental car shortage, our travel advisors will make you have your rental car reserved before booking anything else.
Hawaiian Airlines flights
I always enjoyed flying with the local airline - I feel like the trip begins the moment I step on the plane. At the SFO check in counter, you will be asked if you are registered on Hawaii State website. If you are only bringing carry on and go straight to the gate, no one will ask you about registration. It is not mentioned onboard the flights either. Be sure you are registered so there are no surprise refusals of entry when you arrive in Hawaii. Hawaiian Airlines is in the SFO International Terminal and there was only one small food outlet with bakery items, sandwiches, salads and drinks to eat before your flight or take onboard. All bottled water now in refillable bottles.
Of course masks are required at the airport and during the flight. We boarded from rear of aircraft (1st class could board at any time), and our plane was only 1/3 full. The Hawaiian Airlines crew was masked and greeted us with a sanitizing towelettes. Be sure to download the Hawaiian Airlines app to your phone or tablet for streaming as there is not any seat back entertainment on the flights. The first class section had regular meal service and economy offered bottled water and sodas as well as hot breakfast sandwiches.
Arriving at Napili Surf Beach Resort
My family and I stayed at the Napili Surf Beach Resort. Just steps from Napili Beach and overlooking neighboring Moloka’i and Lāna’i islands, this resort is within walking distance to both fine and casual dining, the Kapalua Coastal Trail, golf courses, nature hikes, and multiple bays suitable for snorkeling, paddle-boarding, and surfing. It is the ideal place for anyone seeking a boutique beachfront vacation experience. The resort offers recently renovated one-bedroom and studio accommodations featuring fully-equipped kitchens, private lanais, and air conditioning. They are still offering their 2x week yoga classes.
As with most resorts in Hawaii now, the Napili Surf is a Touchless Check-In. They have not had keys for years. They texted us a link to register (with car details for parking tag) and then texted the code for the front door of our unit. This was easy for us as returning guests but not so easy for a first time guest. They will still help you out at the front desk if needed.
We went to Kimo’s in Lahaina for lunch. It felt much the same as it always has and they have a fair amount of outdoor tables...but with fewer travelers it was easy to get in. This likely will not be true during the festive season. Downtown Lahaina was a ghost town...did not see hardly a soul walking along Front Street....at 1pm, shocking! When I mentioned about stopping at the ABC store (don’t we all?!) the waitress said she would check to see which ones are open. We went to the ABC Store in the Lahaina Gallery shopping center. While the parking lot was fairly full, I think it was more for Longs Drugs and Safeway. The rest of our crew went to Costco for the big “shop” and they said the crowds were not very big either. Lahaina, the town, closes down about 9:00pm. There are some shops open, many of the restaurants have outdoor seating but I recommend calling ahead.
Recommended Maui Restaurants
If you are traveling with a group, call the restaurants in advance to see how many people can be seated together. Local capacity requirements do change. We ate at:
Our Family Snorkel & Whale Watching Adventure
We booked a private trip for 11 with the Magic Mermen aboard a custom built boat operated by owner/captain Derek with Samantha and Nate. Normally they provide a lunch but due to Covid, only fruit, water and fruit juice/sodas. They allowed us to bring our own lunch and drinks. With a custom trip, they worked with what we wanted to see/do. We were very lucky and saw lot’s of whales, including some with calves and were able to spend as much time as we wanted. We snorkeled at Olowalu, just south of Lahaina. Both Nate and Samantha were in the water with us, (both locations) taking time to show and explain what we were seeing, We spotted sea urchins and even an eel - yikes! They provided styrofoam noodles, boogie boards, life jackets as well as snorkel and fins. We saw more whales on the way to our next snorkeling spot - Mala Wharf. Usually it is very busy, it’s one of the best places to see Honu (turtles) as they come here for the “cleaning station” where the fish clean/eat the bacteria off the green sea turtles - fun to watch! We also saw a eagle wray and a white tip reef shark. This was a four-hour trip and one I can highly recommend!
One great tip: they used Johnsons No Tears baby shampoo as a defogger in our mask’s and it worked great!
There was not much traffic at the Maui (OGG) airport, so we easily made it from Napili to the airport with a stop for gas in about an hour. There is a gas station just past the Ocean Center or a bit closer to the airport (if you have not been in awhile, the new road does not go through town, so fewer options) and easy car return. They are managing access to the tram to the terminal, to keep everyone distanced.
HA only staffs First Class check in, Economy is at the kiosks and then a Drop Bag line. All easy these days as there are so few travelers. There are no shops open on the departures level. TSA pre-check had no lines, even regular security line moved quickly. After security upstairs, there was only Starbucks, Sammy’s ( pre-made sandwiches, chips, hot dogs and hamburgers) and one small convenience store open. So, do your shopping before you get to the airport! The “fruit security” screening was done inside the gate area.
Again on the flight, they served water, sodas and a sandwich. First Class was serviced either a meat or pasta and dessert. The crew definitely kept on eye on folks for mask usage. My husband forgot to put his mask back on after eating and they nicely reminded him to do so.
All in all, it was a wonderful family escape and worth the time it took for everyone to get registered online. Hawaii is always a good idea!
My trip to Greece was a familiarization trip hosted by Classic Vacations, Emirates Airlines and Starwood. These “fam” trips allow travel advisors like me to explore a large number of hotels, restaurants, transportation and attractions in a very short amount of time so we get an authentic feel for a part of the world. Come with me to Greece now!
The flights to Athens (via Newark) were very comfortable with wide aisles, large seats and large spacious overhead bins. The crew was friendly and accommodating. Since the plane was not full we had 3 or 4 seats to spread out and plenty of leg room. Before take off, menus were handed out along with a zippered bag full of nice amenities.
In Athens we stayed at the Grand Bretagne hotel. Our very elegant rooms were large with huge bathrooms. Our group met up for cocktails and dinner at the rooftop restaurant, GB Rooftop Garden Restaurant. Surrounding us was a breathtaking view of the Acropolis, glowing with every changing lights.
The hotel is located on Syntagma Square, across from the Parliament Building, where the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is located in the courtyard. The 24-hour Presidential guard, in dramatic Greek uniforms, changes every hour on the hour.
The next morning, we headed out on an Athens City Tour. We stopped at the Acropolis and climbed up to view the Parthenon. From there, we walked down to the Acropolis Museum for a short visit. The museum is built on top of the ancient city of Athens and the entire entry walk is built so you can view the ruins below.
We did a short inspection at to the Electra Metropolis, a modern hotel a few blocks from Syntagma Square. The rooms are built around an open atrium that rises from the lobby to the top floor. Several blocks away is the Electra Palace Hotel, which had more traditional décor and is closer to the Plaka, a charming but rather touristy neighborhood with pedestrian streets, shopping and restaurants. After lunch, we had a site inspection of the King George Hotel and the Grand Bretagne Hotel.
Dinner was at a typical rooftop Greek taverna, then we walked back to the hotel. Along the way, I was coaxed into going into the subway station at Syntagma Square. What a surprise! The station is a museum of what was there before the excavation. The walls and artifacts are all beautifully displayed behind plexiglass.
A Brief Stop in Crete
The next morning we were picked up and transferred to Athens Airport for a 20-minute Olympic Air flight to the airport in Heraklion on the island of Crete. Due to a ferry strike, we checked into the Blue Palace for just one night. The hotel is on a hillside over looking the sea across from the island of Spinalong. Dinner was at the Blue Door restaurant which was located in one of the original houses on the property.
The next morning we transferred to the Port of Heraklion for the ferry to the volcanic island of Santorini. Boarding the ferry is very confusing and it was quite crowded. You board on the cargo deck and leave your luggage under a sign for your destination. The passenger decks are two decks above. It is definitely worth an upgrade to Club seating for the two-hour ride. It is a separate cabins with bar and food service and the seats are very large and comfortable. Disembarking the ferry is pretty much a cattle call. Crowds descend upon their luggage and then push and shove to get off. . Once off the ferry, it is just as crowded ashore. Taxis are few and a private transfer is a must. I think the rush and crowds without one could ruin the start of a Santorini vacation. Our very nice 24-passenger coach transferred us to the Vedema for three nights.
The Vedema is located in the village of Megalohori. The property is a small village all by itself. Your enter through the gates of a stone wall that surround the property. It was once part of a winery and the village relied on the grapes and wine. The main gathering area is around the Pergola Pool Restaurant, the pool and pool bar. From there, cobblestone pathways wind around the property to the suites and villas. All the accommodations are different and very charming. After our site inspection, lunch was served at the Pergola Pool Restaurant with the owner, Kalia Konstantinidou.
After lunch, we had a site inspection at Nafsika. This 5-bedroom, 5.5 bath villa is owned by the same family that owns the Vedema. It is two stories, has two kitchens and overlooks the sea. The front driveway doubles as a helipad. There is a large pool off the ground floor bedrooms. Vedema hosted dinner at their Alati Restaurant, which felt like we were in a medieval dining hall. It is across from the wine cellar where a wine tasting can be arranged for guests.
Since the Vedema is located in a village and not on a beach, the hotel has a private shuttle to and from Perivolos Beach. There is wonderful beach bar with light food and plenty of beach palapas, lounges and couches to enjoy the beach. We spent about an hour there but since we were there pre-season, it was windy and the water was cold.
From the beach, we transferred to the Caldera area of Oia. This is the area people think of when they think of Santorini with all those white buildings along the hillside with blue domes overlooking the beautiful sea. We had a site inspection of the Androni Luxury Suites and Santorini Secrets, which both have breathtaking views, private pools and white glove service. Mr. E Restaurant hosted us for dinner. It opened just three days prior to our arrival and is also owned by the owners of Vedema.
The next day we were taken to Akrotiri for a guided tour. This site is similar to Pompeii as it was totally covered by volcanic ash. One difference is that the town had been excavated due to severe earthquakes. Archeologists are researching to see if the eruption of the Thira volcano was responsible for the collapse of the Minoan civilization. This is the fabulous tour that I highly recommend for anyone traveling to Santorini.
After this tour, we drove back to Oia to inspect the properties on the cliffs. We saw the Altana Traditional Houses, Altana Cliffside and the Astra Suites. These places are all on cliffs with MANY stairs. The stairs are uneven and there are no banisters. Clients should be aware that they are going to encounter lots of stairs and they should bring appropriate shoes. After lunch, we were transferred to Canaves Oia, Canaves Suites and Canaves Villa. All of these properties were perches on the hillside, many with private pools. After this afternoon of hiking in Oia, we were treated to a Catamaran ride. It was a great experience to view the hotels from sea level and to look back at the stairs we climbed.
After the Catamaran ride we arrived at Mystique (another owned by the Vedema family). It has 39 suites and villas, ASEA (Japanese lounge restaurant), and the Charisma Restaurant at Mystique with owners Kalia Konstantinidou and Emmanuel Niotakis.
The Food and Wine
All of our lunches and dinners on this trip were three hours long. Six or seven courses were normal. We always had the traditional Greek salad with cucumbers, red onions and slab of feta cheese. Couscous salad and quinoa salad were included in every meal. Vegetables were served in every form – eggplant, zucchini, zucchini flowers, stuffed grape leaves and all things olive. Chick peas were in soups, used as dips, and spread as a base fro seafood bits on toast. Main course was a choice of fish, prawns, octopus, lamb and occasionally beef. Just when you thought it was the last course, another plate was put in front of you. Wine flowed at all meals and Greek wines and beers were given high marks. We had an occasional dessert, but most meals ran late and we opted out of having dessert.
After our final breakfast at Vedema, we were transferred to the Santorini port to take the ferry to Mykonos. This proved interesting due to the ferry strike. We arrived at the pier early and were at the front of the line. The ferry that arrived was about half the size of the normal ferry and announcements were made that if you were not a part o a group, you would have to take the 4pm ferry. Needless to say, people were not happy and pushing and shoving started. When the yelling started, the man at the door shut it and walked away. Fortunately we were travelling with Classic and phone calls were made that identified us and we were let on to the ferry.
When we finally arrived in Mykonos, we were transferred to the Myconian Ambassador in their luxury van for a site inspection and lunch with the owner. We were running late and arrived at the Santa Marina three hours late. We had about 15 minutes in investigate their beach. It was right on the bay and the yachts were starting to arrive. Later, we met for a site inspection. This property was built on a hillside and some of the rooms were quite a hike from the public areas. Dinner was at the Colonial Pool Bar and Restaurant, hosted by the Director of Sales.
The next morning, we were met and treated to a guided tour of the island of Delos. In Greek mythology, Delos is the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis. The water was very rough and some declined the excursion. It was very windy on the island but ruins and museum were fantastic to experience. On the way back, we had a site inspection at the Myconian Villa and lunch. The last dinner of the fam was at the Buddha Bar in the Santa Marina. It was a bit of a celebration and a reward for a great group surviving all the stairs.
Heading Home Via Athens
After breakfast, we transferred to the Mykonos Airport for a 40-minute Olympic Air flight to Athens. Upon arrival, we claimed our luggage and walked across the street, a 4-5 minutes walk to the Sofitel Athens at the airport, to inspect the property. The entry level rooms are quite large and have black out curtains and soundproofing. Day rooms are also available. It also has a 24 hour bar and restaurant. The subway from the Sofitel goes directly to the Syntagma Square, right in front of the Grand Bretagne.
At the airport we boarded our Emirates return flight back to the USA.
Over the course of 9 days, I walked 91,469 steps, an average of 10,163 per day. I walked 43.2 miles and climbed 232 floors, 26 floors per day. I checked out 21 hotels. It was a lot of work exploring so much of Athens, Santorini and Mykonos but it was a great work out, I learned so much and really enjoyed My Big Fat Greek Fam Trip!
Highlights of Eastern Europe Aboard the S.S. Beatrice with a Winery Group
by Carol Farnworth
This was the fifth riverboat cruise Dimensions in Travel has done with Oregon's Broadley Vineyard owners and cruise hosts, Claudia and Craig Broadley. We had a total of 23 people on this Uniworld Boutique River Cruises lower Danube itinerary from Budapest to Bucharest. My husband John and I were so pleased to be the escorts and it was such a pleasure to connect with dear travel friends again.
Starting in Budapest
We spent one night in Budapest, which we had visited in the past. We stayed at a Marriott Autograph hotel called the New York Palace. It is a gorgeous property with a restaurant called the New York Café which is quite famous in the city. The décor rivals the Ritz in London. Very ornate, lots of people taking photos. The hotel reserves a section of the café exclusively for its guests because of the popularity. The hotel itself was originally built as an office building and was lovely, quiet, and had good service. But it is definitely NOT good for anyone with a mobility issue. No wheelchair ramps.
Aboard Uniworld's S.S. Beatrice
The service was excellent in all areas. The crew was friendly and warm. The S.S. Beatrice was renovated in 2018 and we thought it was a beautiful riverboat. Though our group has staterooms spread around the small ship, we would connect up over meals, during included shore experiences, at our private wine tastings and in the evenings in the lounge where there was always music or local entertainment.
The dining room was nicely configured. I found the dinner menu was expanded from our winery cruise aboard Uniworld's River Queen in 2017. Salmon, chicken and fish were always available. Tables were set up for 4 or 6, but if 7 or more of us wanted to eat together we could make reservations and they would set up a special table. Breakfast was buffet and always had a special morning dish that could be served at the table and there was always a meat carvery item at lunch. It was also possible to eat in an area off the cocktail lounge, with tables for two that were fairly close together when we wanted a more private chat during dinner. The lounge offered the same menu as the dining room and was very popular. There was also Max’s, where a special Chef’s Table and steak dinners are offered for an additional cost. We used Max's for our group's private wine tastings where we compared local wines bought ashore to Broadley Vineyard wine brought from home.
One of our group members also made a point of saying this cruise offered wonderful food, and the friends they'd brought as well were vegan. The S.S. Beatrice chef made special dishes just for them which were not just tasty but had beautiful presentation. She was impressed also with the service of all staff. Wines poured were mostly local and were very good. During the cocktail hour the shore excursion manager talked about the next day’s touring options and the wine sommelier spoke about the wine selections offered at dinner. The captain was quite visible on this trip which we enjoyed.
This itinerary visits Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria and Bucharest. Some magazine articles give the impression that we would experience uncrowded river conditions, with few if any riverboats doing this lower Danube cruise. However, that was not the case. We saw many other boats doing this cruise. Unlike many river trips we have taken, there are not numerous locks that you pass through, in fact there was only one the entire length of our cruise. Because of distances between ports, much of our travel was by night.
For Those With Mobility Issues
Uniworld offers wonderful curated included shore experiences at a variety of levels for active travelers, the culturally curious and gentle walkers. However, they state very clearly in their brochures and on their website that their itineraries are not ideal for anyone with mobility issues, wheelchair user, etc. And this is certainly the case. So do consider your European river cruise vacation decision carefully if you are someone who has difficulty getting around. I had two long time clients with me, on their first riverboat trip, and the wife who suffers from a very bad back, said they would probably not do another one. It was just too hard trying to keep up with guides, even on tours for gentle walkers.
Post-Cruise in Bucharest
Our cruise ended in Bucharest with an included two-night stay at the Radisson Blu. It was a lovely place to say farewell to old and new friends. This city center hotel stands near Bucharest Old Town, a short walk from the famed Revolution Square. Also nearby, you can admire the architecture of the National Museum of Art or Biblioteca Centrala Universitara, walk along the Calea Victoriei or attend a performance at the Romanian Athenaeum Concert Hall. Those with a passion for the outdoors enjoy strolling through the beautiful gardens of Cismigiu Park, adjacent to Radisson Blu. You can also enjoy shopping in Piata Unirii, one of the largest squares in central Bucharest, and the old town area of Lipscani.
THE MAGIC OF KONA
by Wynette Brecher
"The trade winds kick in, and you know the hurdles are all worth it...
The overall feeling on property is magical...This is a resort that makes you truly cry when you leave."
I love Kona. The starkness that leads the way to the lushness of the Island…it’s a remarkable transition, from the black lava rock to the vivid shades of blue of the ocean beyond….stunning!
GETTING THERE & CAR RENTAL CHALLENGE
Jumping through the various hoops (Covid tests, uploading, downloading, various forms, wrist bands) is for now a thing of the past. But my husband and I did it all. Flew United Airlines round trip. So-so flight out, great flight back. Everyone was on their best behavior! Once you land, the hurdles are a thing of the past, as you walk down the steps on to the tarmac, the trade winds kick in, and you know it was all worth it. The Hertz car rental situation was as bad as you had heard. I reserved one 3 months out and still paid a ridiculous amount. But we were glad to have it. And yes, some hotel guests pulled up in very oversized vehicles.
First stop is the Fairmont Orchid, about 40 minutes north of Kona Airport. I love this hotel as it has so much to offer on its property. From the first steps into the lobby, there is no mistaking you are in Hawaii. It is gorgeous! There was no koa nut lei greeting due to the pandemic but hopefully they will restore that tradition. The resort is 32 acres. There are two wings to the hotel, we had the North tower golf/ocean view. The South tower has a pool/beach view. Meeting rooms, spa without walls, tennis, culture, shops, 18 hole golf, and a great beachside activity desk.
The pool area is large and has an adults only area roped off. There are a lot of chairs around the pool, on the surrounding lawns and on the beach. The chairs in the shade are of course a hot ticket, and yes, the hotel staff WILL remove your belongings after the allotted time, if you do not inform them prior, so hurrah to them from guests everywhere, frustrated by the 6am pool chair “savers”! ( We actually saw it happen twice, and yes, believe it or not, to the same couple! )
The activity shack at the beach supplies COMPLIMENTARY 1 hour usage of snorkel gear, kayaks and paddle boats (to be used on property). How many times have you PAID A LOT to take the tour bus to the snorkel boat, to be served a bad lunch and watery cocktails and then vice versa? Lost a whole day? The Orchid’s on property lagoon is a great snorkeling option right at your feet! Lots of beautiful fish….and turtles! They also have life vests for adults as well as kids.
There are three dining options on property plus room service. Browns deli for some very good grab and go, Hale Kai for a casual meal with your toes in the sand, and for a fine dining option, Brown’s Beach House. All very good. You can also have private dinners on the beach at sunset. Talk about romantic! And there are many restaurants ($-$$$) within a 10 minute drive via hotel shuttle.
FOUR SEASONS HUALALAI
After four days we checked out, drove 30 minutes south and entered Heaven on Earth, aka The Four Seasons Hualalai. I have been to the 800 acre resort before but always get the same feeling of awe driving on to the property. To gaze out on the gorgeous grounds, onward to the infinity pool, leading to a spectacular view of the Pacific Ocean is indescribable.
Check in was a breeze in the beautiful open air lobby, we were provided with ice cold fruit juice, and were then gifted with beautiful floral and fragrant leis. They even have a special spot in the room to hang them…In the two level resort, we chose a downstairs corner room with private patio. The accommodations have been recently refurbished and the colors and tones of the woods are beautiful.
The room was spacious and very comfortable. Wooden full length shutters to the patio. Lots of outlets, a refrigerator, and small minibar selection. The bathrooms are very large, two sink vanity, separate toilet closet, stall shower and separate full size tub. But the best part is the outdoor shower, which is only available in lower level rooms. Completely private, tropical vegetation, bamboo roof covering.
The overall feeling on property is magical. We felt happy and blessed to be there. With four pools, there is an option for everyone. The recently refurbished Kings Pond area is spectacular. New boardwalk, new chairs, and lots of new sea life to snorkel with(and one familiar face..)! The Four Seasons beach is long but narrow due to all the hurricanes Hawaii had encounter over the years...but you can snorkel there, as lots of tropical fish, and keep your eyes open for turtles.
There are three dining options, plus room service. Fine dining (and breakfast) at ULU Ocean Grill, the Hualalai Grill, and casual dining at the Beach Tree Restaurant.
We dined at Beach Tree Friday night and it was entertainment central! While sipping an amazing cocktail, we enjoyed fire dancers, a hula show, singers, drummers, and the infamous torch bearer with the line of children following him around the property was like a fairy tale. This all occurring approx. 500 feet from our table.
And then the sun set. Everyone left the restaurant en masse to take photos, then en masse we all came back. The servers smiled from start to finish. They had obviously taken in this scene many times. We were happy to be there and they were thrilled to have us.
We did a quick drop in to see everyone’s favorite, Uncle Earl, which is always a highlight in itself. The man is sharp a tack! This is a resort that makes you truly cry when you leave. And by the way, I’m going back in June 2022! Will I see you there???
The Camino, a Walking Journey for the Soul
September 3-15, 2020
by Diana Saint James
“A core question arises: what turns a walking holiday into a pilgrimage?”
A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago: Camino Francés by John Brierley
My brother Brian and I walked the last 100 km of the Camino de Santiago. It was both challenging and fascinating. We hiked 10-16 miles each day through forests, rolling hills, charming villages, Roman ruins. It is impossible to get lost as the trails are always marked with yellow arrows and scallop shells symbols. The Camino de Santiago dates back to the 9th century when the remains of Christian apostle James were discovered in what is now Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain. The final part of the journey is entering the city gates at Santiago de Compostela and giving thanks at a pilgrim’s mass .
There are a number of pilgrimage paths through France, Spain, and Portugal all leading to the Cathedral at Santiago de Compostela. Like in the movie The Way, many people traditionally start at the France/Spain border and walk 778 kilometers (483 miles) of the “French Way” over the 30-40 days. Growing in popularity is walking the last 100 kilometers (68 miles) of the French Way over a week. 100km is minimum distance required by the Catholic Church to be an official pilgrimage. The 100 km walk can be done on your own or as part of a group. Luggage can be packed on your back, transported for you daily by a tour operator. We used the tour operator, Cosmos, with the Globus Family of Brands. They provided a tour director, map, luggage transfers, hotels, rail tickets, and most dinners at an affordable price.
Day 1: September 5: MADRID: Our tour began tonight at the Orientation & Welcome Dinner at the Hotel Praga. We met our 14 tour companions and local Madrid host, Julian. Everyone was at least 55-75 years old – all nice people. Two couples (Northern CA and Virginia), Brian and me (Northern CA), two retired priests (Nebraska) and the rest were women (Illinois, Minnesota, Southern CA).
Rain is predicted for a good part of our journey ahead. We all anxiously talk about clothing, rain protection, socks, and boot choices. Did we bring the right stuff? Did we train properly? Can we do the 70+ mile walk over the next 5 days? Everyone hoped they had the perfect plan. I had walked four to six miles several times a week over the past six months and did least 9-12 miles in a day a few times in the weeks prior. I had well-broken-in Salomon hiking shoes, medium weight Darn Tough wool socks and an 18 liter Osprey daypack. I'm short (5'0") so finding the right size pack took time. Fingers crossed this works for me.
Pilgrims from all over the world have walked to Santiago de Compostela for over a thousand years, originally seeking forgiveness for their sins, and most often today they are making a journey of personal growth. They walk for many reasons – to mark a zero birthday, express gratitude, celebrate recovery, or to move on from loss. For me, I'm contemplating the next steps in my life.
DAY 2: September 6: MADRID–SARRIA Our group transferred by motor coach midday today to Madrid’s Chamartin rail station to board the train for Sarria, 4.5 hours north in the Galicia region of Spain. The town of Sarria, at 117 km away from Santiago de Compostela, has the closest train station to the 100km start point. We had seats in 1st class train coaches. Upon arrival, we checked in at the Alfonso IX Hotel, one of my favorite hotels on the trip for its riverside location.
We met Carvin tonight, our local Galician Tour Director. She is a young Australian woman who lives in Spain and speaks fluent Galician Spanish. She is resourceful, funny and easy-going. This is the first Camino Walking Tour that Cosmos has operated in 18 months. She got us all connected together by phone using What’s App, and handed out our Pilgrim Kit that included John Brierley’s Camino Francés guidebook, an official Pilgrim Passport (credential) and the traditional pilgrim’s scallop shell.
DAY 3: September 7: SARRIA–PORTOMARIN We walked 14.7 miles (23 km) today in 6 hours. No rain - whew! It was a peaceful but long walk in shady oak forests and through villages on dirt paths. My brother and I, who have never really hiked together, found that we do walk quite well as a team. It was wonderful to have so much time to talk with Brian. After climbing many stairs to arrive in Portomarin, we checked into Vistalegre Spa Hotel and explored the quaint town.
It seems Galician Spain can be tough for vegetarians. Meals are mainly meat, seafood, potatoes, eggs and rice. Brian is generally a vegetarian and he is having to be flexible. Vegetarian means just no meat in your entree and there were few vegetables served at dinner. We took fruit from the breakfast buffet for trail snacks and found cafes along the way that served salads for lunch.
DAY 4: September 8: PORTOMARIN–LESTEDO We walked 16.6 miles (27 km) today in 6.5 hours. At Castromaier, we took a short detour and visited the ruins of an ancient Roman village (4th century BC). As we explored, one of our group members talked about her family’s arduous journey in the 70’s from Vietnam to the USA. We were in awe of their strength.
It poured rain in the afternoon and even with ponchos, we got quite wet. After taking a 1.5 mile detour off the Camino to see Monastery of Our Saviour of Vilar de Donas, a little chapel with 13th century pilgrimage frescos (restored now) and the tombs of nine Knights Templar, whom protected Camino pilgrims across the centuries. But the door was locked due to COVID. Tour Director Carvin found a local woman with a key who unlocked the door. I had a weird feeling that the lifelike knight statues on their tombs would change from stone and come to life – I’ve seen too many movies! We overnighted in Lestedo at a large family estate/farmhouse: Casa Roan y Casa Grande. Thank goodness for hair dryers to dry my shoes. After dinner, the farmhouse owner showed us his copper still and brought out several strong, home-brewed orujo liqueurs for us to taste. It was extra challenging to get up the next day…
DAY 5: September 9: LESTEDO–MELIDE
We walked 16 miles (26 km) today in 6.5 hours. Enjoying our dry morning, the Camino took us past acres of farmland and over medieval bridges. I even made a new friend. We stopped outside Melide for lunch where the Galician delicacy is savory grilled polbo a feira octopus. We had more rain this afternoon and got soaking wet and completely lost in town (no internet signal for GPS) before we found our way to Pension San Anton in Melide. This was the funkiest place we stayed in. I had an odd rooftop room with a skylight, no windows. Only one hairdryer for the whole hotel, so my shoes would be was damp the next morning.
We had a big dinner at 9:00pm at a nearby local restaurant. It is not easy for me to eat so late. Dinners after 9:00pm are traditional in Spain but they can be tiring for foreign pilgrimages after arduous days with early starts. All of our delicious dinners were multi-course and hearty with generous wine/beer pours. But it was not comfortable going to bed so full. Eventually some in our group started skipping dinner, and eating bigger lunches and late afternoon tapas.
Day 6: September 10 MELIDE–ARZUA
We walked 9.5 miles (15 km) in 4 hours on this sunny day. It was very important to stay hydrated before, during, and after each day's walk. Brian and I drank all local water from the tap and were fine. Others in the group would drink only bottled water. I only got one small blister from yesterday's wet socks. Thank goodness for Compeet blister pads. Others in our group dealt with big blisters and chronic pain and to their credit, they would all finish the pilgrimage.
For a time today we walked with one of our group members who is recovering from cancer. Her fierce commitment to complete the journey is admirable. We stayed at Hotel Arzua and dinner was a massive but delicious seafood paella. Arzua is a modern town that circles around its medieval center. We went to mass tonight at the Church of St. James.
Day 7: September 11: ARZUA–AMENAL
We walked 15.5 mi in 6 hours. The route today is over gentle slopes and through woodland, with some stretches along a busy road, which we had to cross on occasions. We came upon the Chapel of St. Irene with a spring renowned to be a “fountain of youth”. Reluctant to drink from it, I did wash my face in it but have not noticed a difference L. The rest of the route to Amenal was a mix of country roads and shady forest tracks. We were shuttled to a very nice, huge 4* hotel, Gran Hotel Los Abetos with great views of the region just outside of Santiago de Compostela. Tonight one of our group members told us about her struggles as an immigrant, how much the Church had helped her and her conversion to Catholicism. One of our group members fell today, sprained her wrist and bruised 2 ribs. After an emergency room visit, she returned still fiercely intent on finishing the Camino tomorrow.
Day 8: September 12: AMENAL–SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA
This is the final stage of our Camino. We walked 9.5 mi in 4 hours. There was a steep climb up to San Marcos, then we stopped at Monte do Gozo (Mountain of Joy) where we caught our first glimpse of the spires of the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. Our group met up at a café for lunch so we could enter the city walls together.
Finally…we entered the old city walls of Santiago de Compostela. We made our way to the main square marking the end of our long walk. I DID IT! I felt joy, relief, and a huge sense of accomplishment.
We gathered for a group photo with the cathedral in the background. Since I walked at least 100 kilometers of the Camino I did receive my Compostela, the Certificate of Accomplishment. Cosmos took care of validating our fully stamped passports with the pilgrimage office so we did not have to wait in the long lines to get it. We attended the 6:00pm mass in the beautiful cathedral and Cosmos had arranged for priority seating. While we could see the botafumeiro (a giant hanging incense burner), it is only swung like a pendulum at the 12:00 noon mass so we did not see it in action. We stay at the centrally located Hotel Compostela.
Day 9: September 13: SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA & FINISTERRE
It was baking hot today. Our group took a full-day (60 miles) motor coach excursion to the Atlantic Ocean to Cape Finisterre peninsula, believed in Roman times to be the end of the world. Many pilgrims keep walking another four days past Santiago all the way to Finesterre. They used to throw their worn boots into the ocean here (but now that is considered littering) so my brother and I cast stones into the sea to let go of all the things that no longer serve us. On the way home, one of the priests and I talked in depth about the communion host, a fascinating conversation I never expected I would ever have. Meeting the two priests, who actually are siblings and good kind men, has helped me think so much better of the Catholic Church.
Americans need a negative antigen Covid test within 3 days of returning to the USA to re-enter the country. Everyone was thrilled that Cosmos arranged for a nurse to come to the Hotel Compostela to give the tests to the group and even covered everyone’s the testing costs - a very generous gesture. Brian and I and two others needed a PCR Covid test for our British Airways return flights via London. Cosmos even arranged for this test too at a local hospital and covered those tests as well.
In the afternoon, our group took an in-depth guided walking tour of the city center of Santiago de Compostela with a local guide. We joined the queue to go beneath the Cathedral into the Crypt and pause reverently to gaze upon see ornate silver casket that is said to hold the remains of St. James. We walked a very LONG way to see this. Brian and I went out for wine and tapas with the priests – a fitting end to a momentous pilgrimage.
Day 10: September 14: SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA–MADRID
This morning we transferred to the Santiago train station for the 4.5 hour train ride back to Madrid. We said goodbye to our Camino/Galician Tour Director Carvin and hello again to our local Madrid host Julian in Madrid. Brian and I made late afternoon trip to visit the Prado (love the intricate art of Hieronymus Bosch) and had dinner at Vega, one of Madrid’s few vegan restaurants. We stayed one final night at the Hotel Praga.
Day 11: September 15: MADRID-LONDON-SAN FRANCISCO
Early pilgrims then had to walk all the way back home again. We were fortunate to have had a morning flight to the UK then a final plane ride home to San Francisco.
Thoughts after the pilgrimage. During the Camino, I didn’t think as many of the profound thoughts as I hoped I would. Traveling in the time of COVID was challenging. The walk logistics often distracted me. But now that I’m home again, I'm seeking joy. The insights are starting to flow and I look forward to where they take me, my career and my relationships in Act III, the next part of my life.
“At the end, ask yourself, what was the gift of the journey and then expand the moment”.
From “The Art of the Pilgrimage – The Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred” by Phil Cousineau
by Jill Romano, Owner and Travel Advisor
What, When, Why, Where!
What? Silversea, Silver Muse
11-day sailing out of Seattle, to Ketchikan, Sitka, Icy Straights, Skagway, Endicot Arm and Juneau
When? August 9-18, 2021
Why? Invited to experience the Return to Cruising with Silverseas!
Where? Alaska - don’t wait, go now and go often!
Today's Port - Ketchikan
Arrived via the Tongass Narrows, be sure to be up early to watch the Alaskan scenery from your balcony or the comfort of your suite. Our local guide says, “there are 2 seasons “Winter and August”!
Travel Tip for Today:
Take a scroll down Creek Street, the painted houses just a few blocks from the pier and enjoy the artisan shops or pick up a souvenir of two!
Fascinating, small port, quite near Juneau (35 miles away) Short gondola ride for those that want to see a bit of the island, walking a short way to the old cannery and shops.
The village prides itself on being home to more “brown bears, than humans”. This is the place to be adventurous, ATV and Jeep expeditions to zip lining through the canopy of trees to kayaks and canoes and of course whale and orca excursions…there is something for everyone.
Travel Tip for Today:
Great port for bear viewing and whale watching….or try the Ziprider!!!
Easy walk into town if you are not doing a shore excursion - highly recommend the White Pass Scenic Railway (departs from a rail line, steps from the ship) ferries over to Haines, visit the Skagway Museum or a variety of wildlife viewing excursions. Remember, as you walk around the town, forms part of the Klondike Gold Rush National History Park!
Travel Tip for Today:
“Did you know…why there are so many jewelry stores in Skagway…it’s because there a max of $132 dollars tax place on any jewelry purchase, no matter the price! So do your shopping here!
Dinner at Kaiseki Tonight
Reservations required and a small booking fee. You can eat at the bar as you watch them prepare each delicious dish or choose for a table for 2 or 4. Each dish was beautifully presented and delish!
Morning Mendenhall glacier and whale watching photo safari through Gastineau Tours is a Must here! Short ride to the harbor about 20 mins, great commentary along the way, combing local history, beautiful sights like Auke Lake (Auke is the Tlingit word for “little lake”, so it’s Little Lake, Lake!)
Great captain, worked for the Coast Guard for years, now working these trips, full of local insights into daily life. Our guide was excellent, working about 20 years and thrilled to be working again!
Quick set up for everyone with cameras and a pointer or two for the Camera/Phone users such as, when you take a video, “start” with the phone horizontal, if you start vertical and then turn…. the video will record in vertical only and you will miss 1/3 of the scene.
Great time of year to see the whales, they are feeding like crazy, and we saw 15+ very near our boat and both the captain and guide were able to tell us, by their tale markings, which whales they know…it was like listening to someone greeting an old friend “look there’s Sasha!” “Over there is Flame and her calf, Bolt” (named for the lightning bolt marking on his tail!)
Travel Tip for Today:
Remember, after madly taking photos and video…put everything down (maybe the binoculars too) and just watch and enjoy…these are precious moments with these majestic mammals.
Short ride Back Loop Road towards the start of our walking tour up to Mendenhall glacier. Gentle walk, through the rainforest, feels a bit like Hobbit Land! Our guide took time to point out where the bears have been feeding on the various plants, the flora and fauna as well as how to approach taking photographs.
Travel Tip for Today:
If you can, get down low and look back up towards your subject (everyone else will take theirs from above…get a different perspective)
We photographed a variety of interesting mushrooms, the Devils Claw, very transparent so take a picture from underneath! And of course, waters walls and streams…currently full of spawning salmon. Markers along the route signal where the glacier was in the early 1900’s outlying the speed at which it has been moving.
Did you know…the ground under your feet is rising at an average of one inch per year! Why, it’s due to glacial isostatic adjustment the pressure from the glaciers, once they have passed through, releases and the ground begins to rise again, fascinating!
Travel Tip for Today:
This type of tour also provides some great vantage points to view the glacier, many tours only take you to the Visitors Center and the effect is very minimal.
Endicott Arm - Dawes Glacier
This was a last-minute change as we were due to visit Tracy Arm but as the ship cannot get in very close, they opted for Endicott Arm. A “must see/do” is the catamaran trip into Dawes glacier. Normally this starts out early in Juneau, but Silverseas arranged for the boat to moor alongside and 120 pax were able to easily board and head out on our journey. Along the way we stopped at Ford’s Terror and Wedding Cake falls, with commentary along the way. But everyone was waiting to see the glacier and we were not disappointed! While the Silver Muse was able to get up to about a mile away, not a bad view for those on board…. we were right up within about a 1/4 of a mile to see this wondrous, wall of ice, with spikes like high-rise buildings. The sound of silence broken only by the “bang” as the ice calved - wow!!!
Returned to the ship in time for lunch and continued to enjoy the view of the Dawes glacier from La Terazza restaurant!
Travel Tip for Today:
Board early if you can and sit on Deck 1, front row, great view. At each stop, they open up access to Deck 2 and 3, where this is plenty of room to view and take pictures. Deck 2 has 2 levels, so if you don’t find a place at the railing, you will still get a great view. Top Deck, go up at least once, but be prepared, even without the wind, it’s a bit chilly!
Two more wonderful days at sea, so it’s off to the Zagara Beauty Spa for a bit of pampering before I decide what else to do!
Today we turn the clocks forward one hour as we make our way back down the coastline to Seattle.
Travel Tip for Today:
“If you love Caviar, like I love Caviar” you can order it anytime, anywhere on the ship. I enjoyed this with a cocktail up in the Observation Library on Deck 11 as we sailed along, at dinner in Indochine and in our suite.
by Wynette Brecher, Travel Consultant
Dinner under the stars...A sunset beyond words...
It was hard to leave such a magical place...
I was fortunate to be able to sail around Tahiti and the Society Islands aboard the Paul Gauguin. If I can assist you with a Tahiti vacation (or anywhere!), please reach out to me.
My trip was pre-COVID. If you'd like to now more about the current health entry requirement, please visit https://cibtvisas.com/health-requirements and choose French Polynesia.
Flying to Tahiti
I flew on Air Tahiti Nui from Los Angeles. It is a nice carrier and we had an on time departure.
Two meals were served (main course and later a snack), I ordered my vegetarian meals in advance and they were quite good. They gave out little amenity bags with socks, eye mask, ear plugs and headphones. There were pillows and blankets on every seat with good entertainment options. We arrived Papeete in the early evening, transferred to ship, and we were in our cabin on the Paul Gauguin by 10:00pm.
Aboard the Paul Gauguin
Ship is lovely, small but very functional. The staff ratio was practically 2-1 and they were very accommodating. The pool is small but just big enough. It was filled with salt water, drained each evening and refilled each morning.
We had a far front cabin on starboard side. The the only issue was that we were above the show room (and went to sleep to the sound of drums) and near the anchor. Luckily we are early risers. I will make sure I don't book that cabin for my clients!
Our cabin was a nice size with tons of storage and good size bathroom. Our balcony was small but great and I could not imagine sailing without one on to that destination. The in-cabin arrival amenity was a big bowl of fresh fruit and bottle of champagne. The fridge is fully stocked with whatever you want as this cruise line is all-inclusive.
We started off our dining experience with a nice food buffet available for the late arrivals (us!). The food was very good, plentiful and fresh. I did meet with head restaurant maitre’ d as there were not many vegetarian options, but he said “we will make you anything you want”, and they did! Desserts were over the top! There were three restaurants on board, two of which required reservations for dinner and passengers need to do that as soon as you can onboard. We did not and could not get into those restaurants til end of our trip. This is another thing I will tell my clients!
The Other Passengers
The ship's capacity is 330 guests. Most are well traveled and over 50 yrs. There were a few small children and some teens, but I hardly ever saw them. There was a mix of nationalities with half of the passengers being French Canadian and the rest were Americans, French and Polynesian.
Spotting wildlife: From our stateroom balcony, we saw dolphins early one morning and some flying fish. I also a turtle in port at Bora Bora.
Water Sports: The water sports marina is off the back of ship, and kayaks, paddle boards, and wind surfers were available. They provide snorkel equipment but you cannot snorkel off back of ship, only ashore on the motus.
Spa & Fitness Center: The fitness center was small but satisfactory but no view. I did not use the spa but it looked nice.
Blessing Ceremony: We did not attend blessing ceremony as it was on the overnight in Bora Bora, but I saw the photos and it looked lovely. Lots of guests took part to renew their wedding vows.
Flowers: During lei and hei making, I made right there on the spot to match my dress. I was adorned with a neck lei as well as a wrist lei!
Entertainment: The shows were good and the Polynesian night was fun!
Shore Excursion - Moorea
Moorea: Our snorkeling excursion in Moorea was cancelled due to lack of sign ups. So we took the ship's shuttle to go to the InterContinental Moorea Hotel. The property was very nice and they gave us full access to pool/beach. Snorkeling was not great on property, but beach was lovely. Food was good, staff very nice and the grounds pretty. They do call their bungalows “over water” but they are actually on land and the deck is over the water. And they are just oversized rooms, not suites like at the Four Seasons. They do have a few that are truly over water and they are in the premium category.
Shore Excursion - Bora Bora
Bora Bora: it is possible to overnight ashore as a shore excursion at the Four Seasons Bora Bora. The resort picks you up in their private boat at the port of Bora Bora and 30 min later you are at the resort. They met us at the dock with juice, towels and leis. The resort is absolutely jaw dropping!
We did a site inspection upon arrival, exploring the property by golf cart. It is all over water bungalows or private villas on the beach. They are converting some of the bungalows to allow families to stay, not connecting, but with a wall built for privacy to house two bungalows together by a walkway.
We stayed in a mountain /lagoon view over-the-water bungalow, which are the best on property.
The bungalows are actually huge suites, large living room with sofa bed, leading to huge bathroom with separate tub and shower area (tub looks out on lagoon!). bedroom has king bed, also facing lagoon. It even had a glass bottom floor and we did see fish. We had room service and we did not want to leave! The deck was also huge with a large table for dining, two chaise lounges and a ladder leading right into the water.
The sunset was beyond words.
As full as the resort was we never saw anyone til we went to the restaurant the next morning. The breakfast buffet was plentiful.
They do about 1 wedding a day at this time of year. We did see a beautiful bride!
The resort had snorkel gear waiting on our deck. We snorkeled in their private lagoon and saw every fish under the sun and gorgeous coral. We were the only ones in the lagoon! Incredible.
Upon departure, the General Manager and Director of Sales came to see us off. They put a shell lei around our neck (right from their fridge, so very cool on a hot day!), and presented a glass of juice. Then the resort shuttled us back on 11:15am boat to the port in Bora Bora and we rejoined the cruise. It was hard to leave such a magical place. It was the cherry on the cake of the trip. Our last night was in Papeete and we had dinner under the stars. It was lovely!
The next morning we had a 4am wake up call, were off the ship by 5am,caught our flight at 7:50am, landed in LAX at 8pm.
Farewell to Paradise!
HAWAII CRUISE 2012
Aloha! Our Hawaii cruise sailed roundtrip from Los Angeles December 5-19, 2012 aboard the Golden Princess.
2009, 2008, 2007, 2006 and 2005 GUIDE DOG CRUISES TO MEXICO - OLE!
Guide dog teams, cane users, and wonderful family and friends have joined us on 10 or 11-day Princess or NCL cruises to Mexico roundtrip from San Francisco. We have visited Puerto Vallarta, Acapulco, Mazatlan, and Cabo San Lucas, La Paz and Topolobampo along with relaxing days at sea. Our Mexico cruise memories are an amazing jumble of dog kisses, snorkeling and kayaking for the first time, swimming with dolphins (dogs watch poolside), handicraft marketplaces, tequila tastings, bicycle cab rides and the swinging bridge of Puerto Vallarta..
By Jodi McNamara | Travel Advisor
I was fortunate to be able to join a familiarization cruise aboard the Celebrity Edge. If I can assist you with a cruise (or a trip anywhere!), please reach out to me.
By the way...a familiarization trip, or "fam", is an educational group trip often just for travel advisors. They are hosted by cruise lines, tour operators, hotel owners, local attractions and restaurants. The sightseeing pace or training can be intense, like a cram course, but it allows me to see and learn so much, meet key local people and leave feeling like I really got know a part of the world much better.
Arriving in Ft. Lauderdale
Flying out of Sacramento to save a few dollars on the evening of July 9, the airport was eerily empty. Hardly a soul in sight. We changed planes in Salt Lake City and arrived in Fort Lauderdale about 6:30 am on July 10th. Red eyes are just like I remember them, horrible. A couple notes about the flights, etc. You had to wear a mask at all times on the plane, (even when asleep and in between bites or sips of your beverage) and in the airport, but there was no real social distancing at all. We ended up getting a day room in Fort Lauderdale as our check-in time at the port with Celebrity wasn’t until 3:30 pm. The Rodeway Inn was a great stop to shower, nap and eat before we embarked on the ship. Luckily, we didn’t fly in later as there was a bomb threat at the airport after we left and the airport was closed as flights were diverted. I know of at least one person who didn’t make the cruise because of it. Good reminder to get in the day before so you don’t miss your cruise.
Embarkation on the Edge was a breeze! Most of it was done via the Celebrity app on my phone before we even got onto the ship. The app is pretty cool. It turns your phone into a cabin key and also keeps track of anything you reserve, such as a fine dining night or a show on a daily calendar. Security was very tight at the port, everyone had masks and social distancing was in play. They took our temperature, checked our vaccination records and on we went. The final step of check-in was to go find our Muster Station and check-in there before 4:30 pm. We made our way to the casino and checked in with the personnel located there.
Ship capacity was about 50% capacity with 2908 passengers and almost 1,000 crew. The customer service was unbelievable. They were so excited to be cruising again and we were taken care of like royals. No Masks on ship. It was 99% vaccinated and the 2 people that weren’t vaccinated had already had the virus and they had to wear masks and bracelets. It was so nice to move about the ship without masks.
The Infinity Veranda
Our cabin was an infinity edge balcony. Done is soft blues and creams, it had a balcony that could be part of the room, or partitioned off. The window moved down from above and the glassed in veranda could be either part of the whole room or sectioned off by itself. It was very spacious with the extra footage from the balcony included in the room. There was also a blackout blind that we could lower so we could block out the light. The closet was a nice size as well as the bathroom. The shower was lovely and very roomy. The sitting area in the room was very comfortable also. The décor was very contemporary, sleek and very relaxing. We were on the 7th floor, aft. Dennis felt a bit of ship movement but I didn’t feel anything.
We were assigned to the Cosmopolitan Restaurant on Deck 4 from 5:30 to 9:30 pm. Our servers were Dewi, Suzannah and Queenie. Dinner was excellent every night we ate at the Cosmopolitan! There are four main restaurants, the Cyprus, Normandie and Tuscan. We ate at the Normandie the morning we disembarked. All the menus were very similar and the food was very good.
Typically 3 to 4 courses starting with a bread basket, then soup or salad, a fish, chicken or some steak entrée and dessert. The dress code was smart casual with one night of Evening Chic. There were also the fine dining options: Raw on Five, Eden Restaurant, Fine Cut Steakhouse, and Le Petit Chef & Friends at the Grand Bistro. Luminae was for the Retreat guests and Blu was for the AquaClass exclusively.
Le Petit Chef - WOW Dining!
Dennis and I tried Le Petit Chef and friends at Le Grand Bistro. It is a very clever 3D dining experience that projects an animated movie from the ceiling onto your plate. Four animated chefs engage in a competition by each assembling a course on your plate in front of you at your table. Then the actual waiter comes out with the finished product and puts it on your plate. Very innovative and quite entertaining, we enjoyed the show between each course and it was quite delicious as well.
How Do the Buffets Work Now?
The buffets were open and doing a hearty business. There were dedicated handwashing stations at the entrance and an attendant that directed you to use them in case you weren’t aware. Very well done dining options, fresh fruit, salad, cheese, bread, charcuterie all served to you as you stood in front of the food stations. Entrees varied from chicken, seafood, beef and vegetarian options… I noticed quite a bit of Indian options which were delicious and a Mexican option when we were in Cozumel. A great favorite was the Pizza bar open until 1:00 am. Dessert was different daily and offered cakes, puddings, and other fruity delicacies. Waiters roamed the tables to take drink menus and I never really had to wait for anything – very well staffed. There was a wonderful station for ice cream and cookies as well.
Spa & Fitness Center
The Sea Thermal Suite in the spa is unbelievable. (Aqua class guests have unlimited access). There are a quite a few different experiences.
by Carol Farnworth, Travel Consultant
I had clients stay at Marquis Los Cabos in March and reported in such a positive way that thought this might be the closest thing to a cruise vacation available right now for my husband John and me. So we did travel to Cabo in late April and loved it. It was so nice to vacation where the sun was sunny and weather warm and have no humidity. If I can assist you with a Mexico vacation (or anywhere!), please reach out to me.
Our nonstop flight on Alaska from PDX to SJD took about 3 ½ hours. Alaska currently has a very limited beverage service, soft drinks and coffee or tea, and no sale of alcoholic beverages. A cookie on the morning flight and pretzels on the afternoon return. It is possible to pre-order a snack/sandwich in advance online. Otherwise no food available for sale on the flight. Either order online or bring your own food onboard.
I was alerted by Alaska Airlines that we needed to fill out a form for Mexican health authorities at www.vuelaseguro.com. The website indicated that there was no ability to do it on paper for either San Jose del Cabo or Puerto Vallarta. I asked some of my hotel sources what they knew about it, and they were unaware of this needing to be done. But I filled it out anyway day of flight and nobody asked us for any information on arrival. However, it WAS mandatory on the return flight. You couldn’t enter the final check point at San Jose del Cabo airport without having the QR code on your phone or device.
Hotel Marquis Los Cabos
The resort is about 25-30 minutes from the airport. The resort was built 18 years ago. It’s a beautiful and has been very well maintained. It was originally built as an AM Resort—Secrets Los Cabos. It is currently affiliated with Leading Hotels of the World. It is located at the tip of the Cabo peninsula, so the ocean is actually Sea of Cortez. You sign a statement at check in that you understand this is NOT a swimmable beach. There is a dangerous undercurrent. However, the Hilton is a 10 minute walk from the Marquis and it has a cove/bay where it is safe to swim.
On arrival resort was about 40% capacity. When we left a week later it had increased to 50% which is currently the capacity they are allowed to operate. Before going to the check in you walk through what looks like a metal detector device, like at an airport, but you are stepping onto something that disinfects your shoes and does a light mist of disinfectant. Of course you are asked the usual questions about exposure to Covid, your temperature is taken, etc. And they have health authorities on site and can schedule your Covid test which is necessary to get back into the U.S. Cost is $50 U.S. We had our results both sent to an email and a paper copy within a half hour of the test the day prior to flying home. Well organized.
About the Hotel Guests
A surprise was the demographics. I would say on average people were in the 35-45 year category. Some younger, only a few as old as John and me! He stood out as the only person in a wheelchair, and I as the only lady with grey hair! All Americans except for perhaps 10% Mexican nationals.
The entry level accommodations are junior suites which are 650 square feet. Oceanview suites are the lower floors of the main resort building. Upper floors are sold as oceanfront suites. Each room type has a balcony. All rooms feature marble floors, Jacuzzi bathtub, large shower, and double sinks.
There are also Master Suites but I did not see any. I did see casitas. These are beautiful suites with separate living room and bedroom, dining area. None are stand alone. There are 4 units per casita. Some are garden view, some ocean view or ocean front. All have plunge pools. So two units lower level and top upper level with access by stairs—not suitable for anyone who has difficulty with stairs. I think these are very popular with honeymooners, but I would not count on the plunge pool to be private—most can be viewed from the main building. So no pool hanky panky unless you want to share with an audience.
There are five restaurants. The main restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. They offer an international menu for breakfast and lunch and Mexican cuisine for dinner. The food was excellent. For breakfast there is a buffet, nicely appointed with silver servicing dishes, but you are not allowed to help yourself. Staff are there to serve you. For the time being the menus for the most part are available only by scanning by phone. There is indoor and outdoor dining in this restaurant.
There is also an Italian and an Asian restaurant. They are open at dinner only. Also an outdoor café called Dos Mares which serves three kinds of ceviche and light meals like shrimp tacos. It is open from 11 a.m. till mid-afternoon.
There is also a coffee bar but it’s mostly a take away place with sandwiches, many kinds of espresso/cappuchino drinks, ice cream, cookies, etc. This area also has a book exchange area for people to leave a book and pick up a new one. People will stop here the last day of their stay to have a sandwich or something else packed to take along to have at the airport or on their flight home.
The fifth restaurant is a French tasting menu restaurant called Canto del Mar and is the only one with additional cost. We thought it was expensive and not worth the cost at $108 per person. Our complaint was the quality of the wines served here, which were supposed to be paired to the dinner. We spoke with the food and beverage manager who seemed concerned we were disappointed and refunded the cost of the meal.
When I saw where the only lunch options were the main restaurant and Dos Mares I thought crowding might be a concern. Wrong. It was interesting, the vast majority of guests chose to have their lunches ordered and delivered to them at their lounge chairs. This seems to be the case for breakfast as well, where it appeared most people seem to order for delivery to their rooms. The room service menu was quite varied and good. There were also 3 or 4 afternoons where the Italian restaurant became a grill restaurant for lunch with hamburgers, various grilled meats, etc. available. There were also of couple of themed dinners served outdoors. A BBQ night and a Mexican night (with good entertainment) during the week we were there.
Outdoor seating at the resort is mostly lounge chairs grouped two by two with a small wooden table between and with shade umbrellas.
Pool and Outdoor Space
As with many resorts, or even on cruises, people are up early to claim their spot. Most popular areas were those closest to the ocean. This is a sophisticated resort—no loudspeaker announcements about activities taking place. There is a daily program listing when there were classes like yoga, or aquatic pool exercises.
On-line reviews of the resort emphasize the high level of service. It was excellent. The staff take only a day or so to recognize and know your name, what you like, English Breakfast tea for John in the morning, and green tea for me. One day I got a mixture of green and mint tea, and mentioned how good it was and the next thing I knew the restaurant manager was there horrified I had been delivered the wrong order! Beginning at about 11 a.m. there are servers checking with everyone in lounge chairs about drink orders, and later, as I mention, about food they want ordered and delivered. All done professionally but with warmth.
We were told that the owner kept all employees on payroll during the three months they were forced to close last year. These are people who are grateful and happy and it shows it how they interface with guests.