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!
Eastern Europe River Cruise
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???
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