Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Hawai/'i is worth the effort to get there

The beautiful shores of Hawai‘i. Photo © Judy Wells
Having grown up in Florida I never had the urge to go to Hawai'i because I already had beautiful beaches, blue water and tropical flowers in my own state.

Having just spent two weeks visiting four of the 132-island chain - Kaua'i, Hawaii the big island, Maui and O'ahu - boy, was I wrong. From the attitudes of the residents of this multi-cultural state to its endearing mountains and enticing aromas, Hawai'i should be on everyone's bucket list.

Here's a brief synopsis of those four islands.
AKilauea National Wildlife Refuge, Kilaue. Photo © Judy Wells.

Kaua'i, the Garden Island

 It comes by its sobriquet honestly. Five million years since its volcano went dormant has given Mother Nature time to cover lava with a flourish. You soon realize why Kaua'i is Hollywood's first choice for scenic jungle. Ever since "South Pacific," when Mitzi Gaynor washed that man out of her hair and Bali Hai called, the film industry has been a frequent visitor.

One branch of 'Opaeka'a Falls. Photo© Judy Wells.
The lush green slopes of mountains meet the blindingly blue ocean. Slices of golden sand beaches, jagged black rocks and a sliver of two- or one-lane roads separate the two forces. Fruit and flowers abound, the invasive African tulip and and albizia trees stalk the slopes adding fringed canopies over the roads and flame orange blossoms to the multiple shades of green. Stalks of ginger, hibiscus, plumaria blossoms, crotons, Ti plants and ferns add color and aroma.

The Alula, was thought to be extinct until a few examples were found among he cliffs on the Napali Coast cliffs. Botanists at Limahuli have propagated it and hope to reintroduce it back on the island some day. Just one reason the American Horticultural Society named it the best natural botanical garden in the U. S. A. Photo © Judy Wells.
Limahuli Gardens, just short of where the road ends along the north shore, is a must-see for gardeners and anyone curious about the early Hawai'ans or what all of these tropical plants are and how they were used.


Waimea Canyon. Photo © Judy Wells.
Waimea Canyon, Hawai'i's version of the Grand Canyon, cuts through Kaua's  midsection, and the island's west side, the Na Pali Coast, is accessible only by helicopter, boat or on foot.
"The Cathedral," Na Pali Coast, Kaua'i. Photo © Judy Wells.

Roosters and chickens probably outnumber the human residents on this least developed of the main islands.
Jungle fowl. Photo © Judy Wells.

Maui, the Valley Isle

Hana, Maui. Photos © Judy Wells.

Two volcanoes whose lava flows overlapped to form one island make for many valleys, thus the nickname.

Windsurfers at Kanaha (Kite) Beach Park, Maui. Photo © Judy Wells.
Humpback whales love its waters. Surfers love its swells; amateurs at Ho'okipa Beach, the pros at Pe'ahi (Jaws). Wind and kite surfers/boarders love its water and wind at Kanaha (Kite) Beach Park. Astronomers love the lack of light pollution atop Haleakala crater, the younger of the volcanoes.
Observatories at Haleakala State Park, Maui. Photo © by Judy Wells.

Daredevils like getting there.

"We don't have carnival rides on Maui," said our guide and driver. "Our number one thrill is Haleakala Highway."

Haleakala rim at sunset. Photo © Judy Wells.
The journey up 10,000 feet to Haleakala National Park is a curvy challenging one with several stops to adjust to altitude. At the top you realize how diverse Maui's climate can be. Sunset, sunrise and moonless nights are the most popular and dramatic times to visit and whenever, you are likely to encounter very cold temperatures, sometimes even snow, and a strong wind that chills to the bone. The observatories are visible but off limits.

Black sand beach at Wai'anapanapa State Park, road to Hana, Maui. Photo © Judy Wells.
Another challenge to reach is the sleepy burg of Hana. The road to Hana confronts visitors with 56 one-lane bridges, 617 curves, waterfalls, black sand beaches, fern and bamboo forests and a halfway stop for ice cream or shave ice.




Hawai'i, the Orchid Island, the Big Island


Wild orchids growing from lava fields and its size - larger than the other islands combined - account for its identifiers.

Hilo


Kilauae lava ash field, caldera in the background. Photo © Judy Wells.
I started in Hilo, the dry side of the island. This is where you come to see and experience active volcanoes complete with steaming calderas and lava lakes, boiling steam vents, lava fields and tubes, flowing lava and vog, noxious fumes from lava that can cover the slopes like fog and send visitors to emergency stations.

A group walking on the lava ash field seen in photo above. Photo © Judy Wells.
And yes, you can get up close to the hot stuff at Volcanoes National Park.

Kilauea's crater. Photo © Judy Wells.
 Kilauea, the "spewing" in Hawai'an, is the most active, erupting lava daily since 1983 and adding 36 acres a year to the Big Isle. Moana Kea is the snow mountain and Moana Loa, long mountain, is not only so heavy it has made a dent in the ocean floor, it is overdue to blow, say the natives. Don't be surprised if the Jimmy Buffett song, "Where ya gonna go when the volcano blow," keeps popping into your head.

Didn't see any rainbows at Rainbow Falls but it was worth a stop.

At 1:04 a.m. 1946, a tsunami from an earthquake in Alaska hit the old town of Hilo, destroying much of it. Since then the town has been rebuilt but farther up the mountain.

Kailua-Kona

Hawai'i coast at night where live lava spewing from Kilauea can be seen hitting the ocean. Pele, goddess of volcanoes, decided to obscure the mountainside flow with vog, heavy steam, but we did see the explosive meeting of two elements.
Kailua Kona is almost directly across the Big Island on the leeward (sunny and dry) side. You learn this is the site of the annual Ironman World Championship as soon as you land at the pier because this is where it begins and ends.

A combination land and sea tour is the best way to appreciate this piece of paradise where King Kamehameha the Great ruled before uniting the islands

There is another volcano here, Hualalai. It shakes from time to time but hasn't erupted since 1801. However, it has been on a 200-year cycle.


When you reach 800 to 2,000 feet above sea level,  you have reached coffee, Kona coffee, territory, grown only here. Prepare to learn about coffee culture and to sample dozens of varieties. Never much of a coffee drinker, I went along but wouldn't you know, actually found one I truly liked, pea bean, at $50 a pound. Think I'll stick to tea. 

The Painted Church. Photo © Judy Wells
British explorer Capt. James Cook arrived here in 1778, missionaries followed in the 1800s. Belgian priest Jean (John) Berchmans Velghe had yet to learn the Hawai'ian language so when he built a church painted its interior to teach the natives through pictures.

The result is charming as well as a remarkable piece of work. Officially the St. Benedict Roman Catholic Church, everyone calls it the Painted Church.

Two ki'i warn visitors of great manu here. Photo © Judy Wells.
Poohonau o Honaunau National Historic Park is a great spot to learn about pre-Cook Hawai'ian culture. In addition to housing the bones of 23 chiefs, including King Kamehamea's great-grandfather, which gave it manu, great spiritual power, this was pu'uhonua, a place of refuge.

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Kapu was the spiritual law of the land and death followed for anyone who broke it. Unless lawbreaker could escape on foot, swim to a place of refuge, cross the sharp volcanic rocks and reach land, he or she could be absolved by a priest.

Snorkel boats surround the monument to Capt. James Cook's landing. Photo © Judy Wells.
By sea, everyone looks for whales, sea turtles and spinner dolphins. Along the way, tour boats head to Lealakekua Bay. It's easy to spot thanks to a white pillar, memorial to Captain Cook's landing place. Snorkelers head here, too, as this marine reserve is the best place to commune with fish. So good that Disney researchers came here for the film Finding Nemo. 


Speaking of fish, those beautiful, golden sand beaches around Kona? Parrotfish poop. Yup. The colorful finned ones eat algae it finds on chunks of coral, grinds it in it teeth, digests it and voila! sand. Isn't travel educational?

Madam Pele is watching you. Photo © Judy Wells.
Back en route you will pass by Madame Pele's Eyes. They do seem to be watching the water so that no one removes any of her lava from the island. Those who do are cursed. More than one resident tells of post offices with a pile of souvenir lava rocks that have been mailed back by repentant tourists.

O'ahu, the Gathering Place


Honolulu and Diamond Head. Photo © Judy Wells.
No question about that nickname. Honolulu comes as a shock. Skyscrapers, wide paved streets, traffic lights, expressways, traffic, lots of people.  It is the state capital, the business capital, a city rather than the towns and villages we've been in for the past two weeks.

Time is short here. Arrive at 7 a.m., fly out at 7 p.m. A tour of Pearl Harbor and the Arizona Monument followed by a quick city tour will have to suffice.

The U.S. Arizona Monument. Photo © Judy Wells.
The Pearl Harbor complex is impressive and the itinerary is set. Tickets are timed for entrance to a film on the Japanese attack on the base from which you exit to a boat to the memorial over the sunken Arizona. It is impressive and incredibly moving.

 Bowfin. Photo © Judy Wells.
Before or after, take advantage of the museums, equally compelling thanks to the stories of those who lived through the war there. You can take the submarine tour of the Bowfin,  the aviation museum tour or of the U.S. Missouri. read the memorials and listen to the high school bands that play daily.  Most of all, pay tribute and give thanks for the men and women who sacrificed their lives.

'Iolani Palace. Photo © Judy Wells.
We paused to take pictures of the royal 'Iolani Palace and of King Kamehameha's statue in front of Alioli Hai Judicial Museum .

King Kamehameha. Photo © Judy Wells.
Then it was out for a look at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in the Punchbowl Crater,  high above the city.
National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.


We soon realized that like the rest of Hawai'i the beauty of nature is not far away as the driver took us up to Nuuanu Pali lookout.

Standing at the railing, gazing out at the Koolau cliffs and lush windward coast left an irresistible desire to return.
Windward Coast, O'ahu. Photo © Judy Wells.

 As we learned on Kauai, Makana,or Bali Hai as South Pacific dubbed it, will call you.

 











Monday, February 27, 2017

Cautionary Tips


Beware lowest price airfare

You may have heard the reports of new levels of discomfort at the bottom when it comes to airfares, but it is going to take time for everyone to become fully aware of the implications.

American, Delta and United have them up now on their websites which means eager do-it-yourselfers best be careful.

What does going lowest mean?
• Stringent carry-on limits (think under-seat size)
• No assigned seating (middle seats anyone?)
• Board last
• No overhead storage
• No free changes
• Very limited if any redeemable miles earned.

OK for a short flight and stay or a spur-of-the-moment hop to couch surf with a pal, but not satisfactory for most of us.

American begins stripped down fares for flights on 10 test routes from hubs (including Charlotte to Orlando and Philadelphia; Dallas/Ft. Worth to Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Tampa; and Philadelphia to Ft. Lauderdale, Miami, and New Orleans) as of March 1.  

United begins April 18 with test flights to and from Minneapolis/St. Paul. 

Delta has sold them for awhile.

Not for you?

Check the fare class of your ticket before competing the purchase. 

Avoid 
• “B” class tickets on American.
• “N” class tickets on United.
• “E” class tickets on Delta.

 Don’t say we didn’t warn you!



 Sea Going Caution
Ocean "Medallion Class" cruising is another term worth pondering. 

Princess Cruises is the first to adopt it, installing the interactive platform technology on Regal Princess for a November 2017 debut. In 2018, Royal Princess goes Medallion January 2018, Caribbean Princess March 18. 

Promoted as your personal 24/7 concierge, Medallion eliminates the need for cabin keys, I.D. cards for port trips and on board purchases or even ordering your favorite beverage more than once. Next time you want a drink  staffers, who will know you by name, can deliver your "usual" immediately be it in the bar, poolside or anywhere else.

Medallion allows passengers to locate friends and family wherever on the ship they might be, a true convenience on a 19-deck floating city.

Convenient for sure but ... 

Have you ever wondered how ads for what you've looked at once pop up onto your computer screen? The process is called "scraping," incorporating your actions - surfing, perusing, ordering and everything else your fingers access - into a "portfolio" of your interests that can and probably will pop up endlessly.

Medallion's technology does the same thing to accommodate you on your cruise. Great while you are on board, but what will happen to that information after the cruise? 

Good question.


Seaside Fun Fest
I've been to a lot of food festivals over the years, but Jekyll Island's Whiskey, Wine and Wildlife fest Feb. 9-12 was one of the best.

Large enough to satisfy your palate yet small enough that lines aren't of Disney length, the setting Between Beach Center, The Jekyll Island Westin and the Atlantic  Ocean, is perfect. 

The event began with a wine dinner at the Westin Thursday night and climaxed with a whiskey dinner at The Jekyll Island Club's Crane Cottage patio Saturday night. A gently jolly brunch concluded activities Sunday. In between,  wine, whiskey and beer seminars, a gala tasting party at the Westin Friday night and the main event Saturday afternoon kept us entertained and enlightened. 

Bloody Mary mixologist served them hot or mild.
Chefs, vintners, brewers, mixologists and other exhibitors knocked themselves out to win the various competitions and to gain new fans.
Westin Chef Worden





 (You'll find the recipe for Chef Skipp Worden's Chocolate Bourbon ice cream at www.foodafar.com). 

Your taste buds, the conservation of the island and the Sea Turtle Center all benefit.

Be warned, though. This was the event's second year and word of its success is out. In a few years it may become too popular to be the congenial, casual event it is now. 

My recommendation: Come January 2018, check the website for dates and start making your plans. I recommend the VIP pass, which gets you access to everything, and at least one of the special dinners.






 

Monday, January 30, 2017

Travel Trends and Tips from the N.Y. Times Travel Show


 
Waiting to enter the N. Y. Times Travel Show 2017. Photo by Judy Wells.

 
The annual New York Times Travel Show brings the world together for trade and public alike. Industry insiders and CEOs rub shoulders with travel agents, wannabe travelers and travel media like me at colorful booths and in seminars.
 
Colorfully costumed attendants attract visitors to the Malaysia booth. Photo by Judy Wells. 






The Times show is the largest and longest-running trade and consumer travel event in North America. An enormous space with 500 exhibitors from more than 150 countries made it a candy store for potential travelers Jan. 17-29. I cruised booths, dashed from seminar to seminar and returned with a book of notes and a much longer bucket list.

Number one trend from all of this: DO IT. Go NOW. Consider staying longer, too.

You can save 20 percent on travel in Asia. Photo of Royal Palace in Phnom Penh by Judy Wells.
The dollar is stronger against other world currencies than it has been in a decade. You will get
• 20 percent more for your money in Asia.
• 30 percent more in Canada.
• 33 percent more in Japan.
• The Euro and British pound are close to par with the dollar. Thanks to Brexit, American travelers are carrying empty suitcases for purchases in Great Britain. It is 50 percent cheaper to go to Switzerland than it was 10 years ago.

As one panelist said, for the cost of breakfast that morning at his Manhattan hotel he could have bought two lunches in Brussels.

Even the Parisians are glad to see us; tourism there is down 30 percent.

From sea to shore. Photo by Judy Wells.

On the Water
Three quarters of our earth is water, which means there are a lot of places to put a ship, an incredible platform for transportation and transformation. Still, all of the cabins on all of those ships in the world account for less than 2 percent of hotel rooms. Seven percent is the maximum rate at which the industry can grow so no wonder 50 percent aboard many cruises are first-timers.

 Little known reality: River, barge and ocean cruise lines want their competitors’ cabins to be fully occupied, too. If not, prices drop and profits decrease.

Iron Gates on the Danube River. Photo by Judy Wells.
On Land
Europe is still the number one offshore destination for Americans. If you are one of the many looking beyond the traditional grand tour destinations, trend spotters suggest Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Serbia. Why? Unique customs, folk dances and costumes, medieval towns, castles, walled cities, palaces, food, wines, festivals, scenery and genuine welcomes. All are now serviced by major airlines and considered among the safest destinations.

Cape buffalo spotted on safari in South Africa. Photo by Judy Wells.
South Africa is another trendy locale. Safari is the prime motivator. The Big Five – lion, leopard, elephant, cape buffalo and rhinos – abound in Kruger Park, an area about the size of New Jersey. Don’t forget whale watching, shark cage diving or the wine, which has been cultivated for 300 years, much longer than in California. South Africa’s tourist board has been voted the best as has South African Air, its airline.

Heritage travel to trace one’s roots is hot and countries like Germany have developed special programs to make it easy for the 50 million Americans of German heritage. Hot, too, are historical anniversaries. The 100th anniversary of America’s entry into the Great War (WWI) occurs in October. In 2017 Montreal will celebrate its 375th anniversary and Nashville the 125th anniversary of the Ryman Auditorium.


If you’ve always wanted to see the Northern Lights, do it in 2017, the last in the 10-year cycle of the phenomenon’s peak show. Otherwise, wait another 10 years for the next cycle.


Getting there
Reaching your destination is cheaper than ever.
Milan has become the new bargain gateway to Europe, thanks to Emirates Airline’s entry into the market with incredibly low fares.

Look into less well-known airlines. Norwegian, WOW, XL to Paris, Thomas Cook, Emirates, Air Asia, Euro Wings and possibly Jet Blue. All offer decent service and these days, any line flying into the United States must meet our safety standards.

Many experts disagree but according to Pauline Frommer
• Saturday, Tuesday and Wednesday are the cheapest days to fly.
• Do your booking on weekends for a 19 percent savings.
• When flying domestically, book 57 days in advance or 176 days in advance to Europe for savings up to 11 percent.

And a last piece of advice from her: If Cuba is on your bucket list, go now. President Obama opened up the country by Executive Order and President Trump could close it by Executive Order.

 Thank you to my sources for this: Author, guide book editor/publisher, television personality Pauline Frommer; Nicola Iannone, Crois Europe; Larry Pimentel, President/CEO, Azamara Club Cruises; Navin Sawhney, Ponant Yacht Cruises and Expeditions; Sandy Stevens, American Cruise Lines; Carl Walsh, Visit Britain; Anne-Laure Tuncer, Atout France; Ricarda Linder, German National Tourist Office; Pascal Prinz, Switzerland Tourism; Eduardo Santander, European Travel Commission; Alison Metcalfe, Tourism Ireland; Krista Tassa, Estonian American Chamber of Commerce; Carlo Corazza, European Commission; Jiri Duzar, Czech Tourism; Marija Labovic, National Tourism Organization of Serbia; Zuzuna Andreanska, Slovak Tourist Board; Jenny Kaiser, Visit Sweden; Kristy Angellotti, South African Tourism; Todd Neuman, South African Airways; Ninan Chacko, CEO, Travel Leaders Group; Arnold Donald, president and CEO, Carnival Corporation; Alejandro Zozaya, CEO, Apple Leisure Group; Brian King, global officer, Marriott International.

Whiskey, Wine and Wildlife

The folks on Jekyll Island know how to put on a party. Beginning Feb. 9, the annual culinary event, Whiskey, Wine and Wildlife, offers a wide range of tastings in an oceanfront  setting.

Between Beach Village and the Westin Jekyll Island, dinners and spirits matching, tastings, cruises, cooking demonstrations, entertainment, street party and a grand finale brunch run through Feb. 12.

Tickets begin at $35 for singles to $549 for two to take in everything during all four days. Both the Jekyll Island Westin and the Jekyll Island Club Hotel on the other side of the island offer getaway packages that include tickets to events.

For details on the event and getaway packages, visit www.whiskeywineandwildlife.com.