Exploring the Islands of Tahiti

While most dream of visiting the islands of Tahiti or Bora Bora, French Polynesia is actually made up of 118 islands. Located halfway between California and Australia, The Tahitian Islands are in the same time zone as Hawaii and offer year round tropical weather. With an average temperature of 80 degrees year round, the scuba, snorkel, water sports are just diversions to time on the beach or at an over water bungalow.

Cliffs, peaks, caves and waterfalls offer amazing hikes and views that can only be see in the Pacific. I didn’t realize there were so many colors of blue or green until I saw the sea from above.

The people and cultural histories of the Polynesian people may not be what brings you to the islands the first time, but it is what brings guests back year after year.

Unique Things to do in Puerto Rico

There is just so much more to Puerto Rico than the beaches, casinos and nightlife.  Below is a list of unique things to do in and around San Juan, Puerto Rico.  Many of the activities can also be done independently for travelers with a vehicle.

Bioluminescence Bay and Kayak Adventure
Duration: 4 hours Cost: about $125 per person
Under the blanket of the night sky and the historical lighthouse of Fajardo, you can touch the waters that glow with the bioluminescent organisms. It’s an unforgettable experience available in only five lagoons around the world and Puerto Rico holds three of them. Join us on this tour that will leave you breathless. Don’t let your day end when the sun goes down! Take part in this relaxing Kayak tour at sunset that leads to rge fascinating lagoon at Las Cabezas de San Juan Reserve.  Hotel pickup times are 3:30 and 5:30.
El Yunque Rain Forest Eco Wonder
Duration: 5 hours Cost: About $60 per person
Discover the exotic vegetation of El Yunque, the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. National Park System. It features over 240 species of plants and wildlife, waterfalls, streams and hiking trails leading to enticing locations. With a professional guide you will visit El Portal Visitor Center, La Coca Falls, and a low-moderate impact trail to admire the flora & fauna. Visit all this popular locations accompanied by an expert guide that will make your trip meaningful and joyful. Tour includes: Motor-coach transportation, guided tour, entrance to El Yunque Rain Forest. Hotel pickup is generally at 8 AM.
Rio Camuy Cave Park and Arecibo Observatory
Duration: 9 hours Cost: About $120 per person
A trip to Puerto Rico is not complete without descending into the depths of a million year old cave! Few cave systems in the world are as massive or dramatic as the Rio Camuy Cave Park. Wait until you see the Arecibo Observatory, the world’s largest radar/radio telescope, nestled in the tropical mountains of northern Puerto Rico.

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Why do airlines charge more for group tickets than single tickets?

Why is group air fare sometimes more expensive than a single ticket?  It seems like I should get a discount for purchasing 20 tickets, not pay more.

image of seats inside an airplaneThe bin system most airlines and trains use is very complicated.  As a consumer, there are normally up to 6 adult tickets available for purchase at a single time.  This is one very likely reason that a group leader will and should consult a travel planner.  The agent will have access to unlimited numbers of available seats at the best available rates.

First, let me explain the ticketing system.  It is similar for flights and trains with a few differences.  In general, all available tickets on a flight are divided up into bins.  These bins will contain a number of tickets between 2 and 50 seats.  It depends on the size of the aircraft and expected sales.

Each bin has tickets available at a different price.  For instance, a really great sale “limited tickets available at $59” may be in a bin with just 4 tickets. Then next bin may hold tickets that are priced at $129 and the next at $179.  They will continue to increase in price until full price first class seats are listed.  Some bins may be more money but offer a different value, such as with Delta Economy Comfort seating. Comfort passengers receive extra leg room, more recline, early boarding and more.  Complimentary beer wine and spirits, a sleep kit, premium entertainment and a pillow and blanket may also be included.

When a consumer shops for one ticket, the lowest priced bin may be shown.  However, if more tickets are needed, the next higher bin with that number of tickets will be offered.  Often, once a consumer presses that purchase button, the ticket is removed from the bin.  If the purchase isn’t completed, sometimes the ticket is then placed in a totally different bin (one with a higher price).  This is the reason that consumers see prices jumping around so much when doing multiple searches.

Another consideration is that the fare shown is often without the ticketing or processing fee charged by online ticket sellers, so the buyer won’t necessarily know the final price until they press purchase and work their way toward the checkout.  At that time, if the purchase isn’t completed, the tickets could drop back into a new bin.

While some travel agents don’t sell air tickets because of the complexities, others, like myself take the guess work out of the process by purchasing single or multiple tickets.

Back to group air, when a travel planner is asked to purchase a block of seats to a destination, this is generally done directly with the airline which means the very best possible price for that number of tickets becomes available to the consumer through the agent.  There are also a number of benefits involved with purchasing through the agent.

While each contract varies slightly, many group air contracts require a $100 per person deposit to hold the tickets until 60-90 days prior to travel when the final guest list is required and payment in full is needed.  Unlike individual purchases, where the exact traveler name and date of birth is needed, there is room within a group to make changes in the event that one traveler changes plans.

Deviations for a number of guests, such as a few people who want to stay longer or return via an overnight layover, are often available within the contract. Group size can often be decreased by about 10% and cancellations are sometimes allowed with a fee.

The extra set of eyes checking for the best flight pairs and the guest list often catch slight errors.  These errors would add up to large fines and fees if not caught.  The agent will also likely be able to recommend visas, airport transportation, transfers, travel insurance and any other items that will insure a transparent and worry free vacation for the group leader as well as the group.

Puerto Rica…yes, again.

This visit to Puerto Rico was during the  Christmas Festival season.  Every day and night found us entertained and interacting with the locals.  The decorations are endless and Christmas spirits and tunes abound.  

  In Old San Juan, a Sunday afternoon procession includes hundreds of priests and parishioners welcoming advent.

Another favorite was the local Christmas celebration in Lajas, where an added bonus is the glow of the bioluminescent bay after dark.

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Every restaurant and hotel has a unique and outstanding Christmas tree. This is one of my favorites located at the casino entrance in La Concha Hotel.  

With unlimited nightlife and shopping, it’s a great place to escape while waiting for Santa.

Need to know New Zealand rules of the road

Rules of the road when driving in New Zealand are pretty basic in this country of just 4 million people.

Keep left.  This former British land, made up in majority of Polynesians, continues to drive on the left.

Not to worry, it’s easy to navigate as road signage is well defined and easy to comprehend.
  One big difference you will find driving in NZ is the one way bridges.  When there is space for one vehicle at a time, follow this signage.
The speed limit is never over 100 kilometers, or 62 miles per hour.  In built up areas, it is normally about 50 km or 32 mph.  Camper vans, trailers and other heavy vehicles are restricted to 90 km or roughly 55 mph.

The minimum age for rental cars is generally 21, however those 18-20 year olds can rent and pay an extra insuance premium with some agencies.  

While drivers over 20 have an alcohol consumption limit of two drinks, drivers under 20 have zero tolerance. They can’t drive if any alcohol was consumed.

Seat belt usage is compulsory and carries a $150 fine for non Comanche.

New Zealand Radio Stations

 There are so many great options for music and news radio stations in New Zealand.  This Radio Network listing shows not only the major music choices but their location on the dial in all parts of the country- North or South Island.  Enjoy the tunes and keep left.

New Zealand Air Travel from the USA


New Zealand Air Travel from the USA

I have finally arrived in New Zealand, having departed San Francisco on a non-stop flight on Air New Zealand Monday night at 9:30 PM and landing in Auckland on Wednesday morning at 6 AM (lost a day crossing the international date line).  As long flights go, this was relatively easy. We were in darkness the whole time, so it made it super comfortable to get 8 hours of sleep, two meals and a few hours to play around with the computer or watch a movie.

Auckland is the main gateway city to New Zealand and its largest city, but interestingly it is not the capital. Still it’s a place that nearly every arriving guest to New Zealand will visit and it will be the main destination for some guests.

Although the airport is only about 40 minutes from the city center, there isn’t a direct highway. Enroute to our downtown hotel, we passed through several homey neighborhoods, most houses are built with timber; wood from the khouri tree is perfect for construction, it’s light with beautiful grains and grows straight, so the logging and cutting make it the perfect choice for bungalow type homes.

Some will venture to the Northlands where the Pacific Ocean meets the Tasmanian Sea. Known for snorkel and dive adventures, the famous Kaori forests and the Maori culture center. The North Islands can be reached in under three hours by car and the most Northern Islands are about 4-5 hours from there by car or ferry.

Others will head down the west coast of the North Island along the Surf Highway. I dream of having the time to tramp along one of New Zealand’s nine Great Walks or to ski on a glacier during another trip.

Today, though, I will tour Auckland, a city of 1.4 million residents. A city set between two harbors, where there is no shortage of water activities. Located in the northern half of the North Island, it has a moderate climate, suitable to sun worship and relaxation. It is also perfect for those seeking adventure.

Un-Cruise Baja Mexico Highlights

I had the pleasure of spending last week in Unstoppable Baja Mexico on an Un-Cruise Baja adventure.  As promised, it was unrushed, uncrowded and unbelievable.  The Safari Endeavor had approximately 60 guests onboard, most were between the ages of 40 and 70.  All loved light adventure, great food and wine and the incredibly devoted staff.  The Baja is a great spot for year round outdoor fun.  With over 300 days of sunshine each year and over 100 islands to explore,  we explored  someplace new each day.  Unlike a traditional cruise ship, we were able to unwind at unclaimed beaches within the National Parks of the Baja Peninsula.

Snorkelers had the opportunity on Day 1 to refresh their skills with Un-Cruise Snorkel 101 training, or to just enjoy a small group explore.  This prepared them for their next uncommon adventures: snorkeling with whale sharks one day and sea lions another day.  Equipment including wet suits masks and snorkels were provided and thanks to the massive supply, everyone found wetsuits they were very happy with.   While there were many masks to choose from, a few guests had a hard time finding their perfect fit.  I suggest that guests bring their own mask along for convenience.

A docking station on the back of the ship carried kayaks and stand up paddle boards.  During the seven day cruise, we had the opportunity to use these items about five different days.  We had a few guided kayak trips and a few

Kayaking in Baja
Kayaking in Baja

open times to uncover hidden gems on our own.  While there wasn’t formal training, the staff was very helpful and encouraging in getting everyone out on the water.

I tried SUP for my first time and also took full advantage of the kayak opportunities.  While I was not interested in snorkeling, I had the opportunity to see all of the wildlife on a skiff tour or even from the ship, so I didn’t feel I was missing out on any unbelievable views.  We also had a few opportunities to hike the untamed and unpredictable desserts on shore.  We uncovered quite a few unique treasures such as the unrattled rattle snake, a scorpion, several types of sea shells and skeleton pieces from fish and mammals including a dolphin spine.  Being a land lubber, I took advantage of every opportunity and managed to log 28 miles during the course of the week, counting hikes, walking tours and just moving around.

We were provided with three wonderful meals daily.  Each consisted of three main course options (meat, fish, vegetarian for instance).  Fear of missing out (FOMO) was never a problem because we could request half and half or extra portions of all choices.  I opted for the half and half at every meal, just to try all of the amazing Mexican specialties as well as traditional fare.  There were also unending bowls of fruit, snacks and appetizers available throughout the day in the lounge.  The bar was always open and had about every drink imaginable.

One thing I really loved was the unanticipated table service at every single meal.  There are no assigned seats, so we got to know most of the 60 guests on board and within a few days, each staff member knew most of us by name.

Wendy and Eric Baja Peninsula
Wendy and Eric Baja Peninsula

The cabins were unceremonious, small but efficient.  Each was equipped with refillable water bottles, binoculars, extra blankets (for inside or outdoors), plenty of 110V power outlets, good lighting and places to hang bathing suits and towels.  The twin beds were small and if budget allows, I would definitely recommend the upgrade to larger beds.  The bathroom also was very small but efficient.  Shampoo, soaps and a hair dryer were all a good quality.  Sun block and bug spray were also supplied, although we never needed the bug spray.

Wendy on Cousteau Island
Wendy on Cousteau Island

After spending each day active on the water, it was nice to kick back and relax at night.  Following dinner each evening, a casual gathering was offered.  Expedition staff was always on hand to explain the unanswered questions from the day.   One night, there was a campfire on the uninhabited beach with smores and a full bar in place.  This was also an opportunity to meet a few of the locals, as they enjoy meeting the tourists as much as we enjoy meeting them.  Hannah was a brilliant guide and she did a presentation on John Steinbach one night, describing his writings about the local area.  Another night brought a presentation about sharks and mammals and the final night brought us all closer together as we reminisced about the highlights of the week with a 300 picture slide show put together by the expedition team.

I look forward to returning to Un-Cruise for another adventure.  A huge thank you to Un-Cruise for stepping out of the box and bringing this truly unforgettable adventure my way.  I picture myself as a returning guest, just like so many of the folks I met on the cruise, who enjoy sharing their last Un-Cruise stories as much as they look forward to their next Un-Cruise journey.  Which one should I choose next?  Alaska, Hawaii or Galapagos?

Fairmont Hotel Monte Carlo Monaco

The Fairmont Hotel in Monte Carlo is the perfect destination.  Enjoy the Grand Prix Raceway, glamorous casinos and clubs as well as views of the Mediterranean Sea.  One of the most elegant destinations in the Cote D’Azur area.  Our group tour in October, 2015 will conclude at this (or similar) hotel prior to our flights home from Naples or for some, onward passage to nearby Tuscany, Italy or other destinations.

Cote d’Azur Fairmont Monte Carlo

fairmont monte carlo
fairmont monte carlo

A Deluxe Resort and Convention Complex jutting over the Mediterranean, overlooking the Grand Prix Racecourse and just 35 minutes from airport.

Hotel Amenities Include: Free WiFi Elevator Fitness Room Concierge desk Bar/Lounge Spa Services Dry Cleaning Pool Currency Exchange Business Center Gift Shop Beauty Salon Parking/Valet Restaurant On-Site ATM
Room Amenities Include: Coffee Maker Non-smoking Rooms Television Window Opens Cable/Satellite Mini-bar Hair Dryer Voicemail Room Service Internet Access In-Room Safe Climate Control Desk Complimentary Toiletries Air Conditioning Phone
Located at: 12 Avenue des Spelugues Monte Carlo, Monaco



Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum a must see attraction.


My favorite exhibit at the Rijksmuseum has got to be The Milkmaid by Johannesburg Vermeer. He actually poked a pin hole in the canvas to be sure all lines lead back to one point. This is a still with the exception of the perception of the milk pouring into the bowl. This is one of many Vermeers proudly displayed in the hall with Rembrandt’s Night Watch and others.

While one hour is enough for a quick peek, two or more hours will allow guests time for an audio tour or self guided in depth look at the many artists on display. Note: bring your own headphones to save a few euro on the audio tour which will cost 5 euro.

Cross the square and visit the Van Gogh Museum too. Get tickets in advance to avoid the lines.

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