This site is dedicated to all those people who have the time and resources to feed their wanderlust and are looking to enjoy a certain level of comfort. At the same time are not inclined to waste money that could be put toward more traveling…
With this site we hope to share some of our travel experiences and offer some useful advice. We are hoping some of our travel friends will help out from time to time as well. We are just getting started but hope you will check back often.
Please take note of a few features on this site. Any underlined blue text is a link to another website with additional information. The general menu has a search page entry that has additional links and a search bar. Comments are not generally posted in an effort to reduce clutter and avoid confusion but we do welcome comments and contributions. Please email us at:
Of specific interest are recommendations on hotels and restaurants and overviews of destination cities. We are also looking for details on getting around a city or if you experienced a particularly interesting event we would love to hear about it.
For over twenty-five years the heart of our business was servicing customers in the Caribbean. It would be easier to list the places we haven’t been than were we have. As a result we like to think we know the neighborhood pretty well.
Back in the beginning, Eastern Airlines was the primary carrier from the U.S. to most islands and they sold an island hopper ticket that allowed us to travel around the islands for a discount price. We would usually go out for a couple of weeks at a time spending a day at each island and staying at local or discount accommodations. Fast forward a decade or more and Eastern is gone (mostly replaced by American) and, because we now have to book each flight in and out with between islands mostly being LIAT and seaplanes, the trips take in fewer stops at much higher prices. Fortunately our business is more successful but travel has gotten more complicated because we are hauling children with us.
The restaurants, hotels and resorts are more upscale and we tended to spend more time in each location, partly because of the airfare, but also because we are spending time with more customers. We also took a number of busman’s holidays because we liked skin diving and beach combing but also because we could include business and offset some of the costs.
There are some places that we haven’t been back to in a while but we can still talk about the character of the islands. There is one place we can’t go back to because a volcano buried it (Montserrat). There are a number of places we return to often and can offer current tips and suggestions. Keep an eye out as we add articles about our little corner of the world including:
We spent all of February cruising with Celebrity’s Constellation in the South China Sea on back-to-back itineraries. We visited twelve ports with only one repeat (Ho Chi Min City). If you are going to fly twelve thousand miles you probably should make the most of the trip. We flew into Singapore and with the return for the second cruise and the extra day in port at the end we had five days to explore the city and all we could say was wow! The ship also spent two days in the port for Bangkok and we spent that night in a Bangkok hotel and booked a private tour (more about that at another time ;-).
Beyond the usual reasons for cruising there was an additional advantage on this trip. If you are not into a diet of noodles with dried fish flakes or hot curries, the ship gives you the opportunity to return to a Western style menu. The ship also takes care of visas and immigration ahead of each port.
Besides our time in Singapore our trip included four stops in Vietnam, Hong Kong, two stops in the Philippines which included Manila, two stops in Borneo, Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, Brunei and two stops in Thailand. We had an opportunity to see a lot as well as try a number of cuisines. Many of the destinations were studies in extreme contrasts but it was also obvious that things are greatly improving economically. It is also interesting to switch from Muslim to Buddhist to Western cultures as we went from one port to the next. On board there were a number of excellent in-depth lectures on the history and culture of the various countries which provided a good perspective on the ways the region developed.
Over the last number of years we have found cruising gives us an opportunity to sample a number of places and than we decide where we want to come back to for extended stays. Southeast Asia is no exception to this and we certainly have a few we will add to our return list.
Phone Service: We were traveling on this trip with an iPhone 5 on Verizon service ($80 for 250 international minutes)and with a Blu 5.5 phone with a prepaid international plan from One Sim Card service. Vietnam and Brunei were not part of the Verizon international service so we switched use to OneSimCard. Phone calls with Verizon worked well everywhere else but there were problems getting text messages out on a few days. The only reliable data that we found on the Verizon service was in Singapore (didn’t attempt in Hong Kong) most other places indicated “Data Service Failed”. The One Sim Card service worked as expected except in Vietnam. There we connected with the recommended service provider (Viettel) but instead of text messages costing the expected 25¢ they were charged at a couple of dollars. One Sim Card did send a text message warning of high costs on this service recommending we switch networks, even though Viettel was their recommended provider.
In the near future look for posts covering each of these countries with pointers on must do things, food, transportation and hotels.
Beyond the Parks there is a whole collection of experiences and things to do at Walt Disney World. Some are designed for all ages and some just for adults. Some are available year round and some are special events. Most require reservations that need to be made way in advance.
Here are a few selections to consider when you get “parked out.”
Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue at the Fort Wilderness Camp Ground is one of the longest running and most popular dinner shows at Disney. A great evening for the whole family.
YeHaa Bob Jackson at River Roost Lounge ( ). If you are staying at Riverside or Port Orleans try to catch Bob’s show in the lounge. Bob usually performs to standing-room-only crowds, so try and get a spot early. There is piano playing, comedy and of, course, sing-along.
An evening at Disney Springs. Evenings at Disney Springs usually feature a number of free shows and concerts and a Strolling Piano (yes a strolling piano act that motors around the Springs). Plan on dinner, some shopping and fun.
Eat with some characters. Pick from a number of restaurants featuring breakfast, lunch and dinner with the kids’ favorite Disney characters. Check with your hotel for locations and reservations.
Take the family bowling at Splitsville ( ) over at Disney Springs or
Have dinner or lunch with a movie at the AMC Dine-In-Theatre also at Disney Springs.
Every evening the Boardwalk Resort area features a series of entertainers that include jugglers and magicians. Along with the performers you can enjoy funnel cake, ice cream, pizza, margaritas, popcorn and carnival games.
The Boardwalk area also offers some adult fun at Jellyrolls Dueling Pianos (one of our favorite things to do). There is non-stop music, a full bar and free popcorn (admission is $12.50, higher on some nights like New Years Eve).
Again, for the grown-ups, is the Atlantic Dance Hall also at the Boardwalk. Dance the night away to selections from a DJ at an iconic Atlantic City boardwalk dance hall.
Go over to the Animal Kingdom Lodge for animal viewing and narrative by naturalists. At night they pass out night-vision goggles on the viewing patio. Relax around the fire-pits with a drink (both outdoors and in the lobby). Spend a little time looking at the exhibits in the lobby and strolling around the grounds.
Play Fantasia miniature golf at two 18-hole courses based on Disney’s classic animated film Fantasia. One designed for family fun and one for people with some serious skills. The complex is located near the entrance to the Swan Hotel.
Watch some fireworks. Find a location with a view of the evening fireworks. For the Magic Kingdom there are a number of good locations
around Seven Seas Lagoon. Some of the restaurants offer tables sited for watching. Over at the Boardwalk you can catch the Epcot fireworks from the bridge between the Boardwalk and the Yacht Club resorts or on the Boardwalk down near the Atlantic Dance Hall. There are also a couple of locations on the Boardwalk where you can catch a glimpse of the Magic Kingdom fireworks across the lake.
In addition to the four theme parks and the two water parks, the people at Disney World have added a few seasonal park specials and premium events. One of the most popular is “Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party” which is a special evening admission ticket to the Magic Kingdom on specific nights over the holidays. Similarly, there is “Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween” at the Magic Kingdom in the Fall. You can purchase tickets through the Disney web site or at Disney Stores.
Epcot has two seasonal events that do not require special tickets. (Entry is included with your Epcot ticket.) Both festivals tend to be much busier on weekends then during the week as there are more lectures and demonstrations during that time.
The “Food & Wine Festival” in the fall, usually runs from early September to mid October. The festival has the look and feel of a street fair where you can purchase sample foods from around the world as well as a number of featured wines and beers. In addition there are cooking demonstrations and lectures. The other event is the “International Flower & Garden Festival” usually running from early March to late May. This festival is all about flowers, featuring sample gardens, topiary, lectures and demonstrations. Weekends during this festival also include music concerts.
There is also a selection of dessert parties around “The World” including:
Celebration at the Top – Sip, Savor, Sparkle
Ferrytale Fireworks: A Sparkling Dessert Cruise
IllumiNations Sparkling Dessert Party
Pirates & Pals Fireworks Voyage
Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular Dessert Party at Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Tiana’s Riverboat Party
Fireworks Dessert Party at Tomorrowland Terrace
They all require reservations well in advance, some also require park admission and all have a fee involved.
For an up-to-date listing of special events around Walt Disney World click HERE.
When you visit Hawaii it doesn’t take very long to realize you have come to a place like no other on earth. Isolated from continental land by at least 2,400 miles of ocean. It is blessed with year round average temperatures in the eighties and abundant rainfall. Its history is both ancient as well as recent. First populated by the Polynesians over fifteen-hundred years ago it was not discovered by the European explorers until January, 1778, when the English explorer Captain Cook set foot ashore. The native Hawaiians speak a language unique to them and proof of this is everywhere from highway signs to greetings from the locals. Because of Hawaii’s isolation the flora and fauna are a blend of unique as well as introduced species from all around the world. Modern Hawaii has also the most ethnically diverse population found anywhere with seven races each representing over five percent of the population. This includes the Polynesians, Asians with Japanese being the largest segment, whites, Filipino, Blacks, Hispanics with twenty-one percent of the population being of mixed race decent. Even the geology and origins of this island chain are unique. Welcome to paradise…
Hawaii – a Geological Wonderland
Most of the earth’s islands are found at tectonic plate boundaries either from spreading centers (like Iceland) or from what are called subduction zones where one tectonic plate slides under another (like the Aleutian Islands). Hawaii is geologically unique because it is caused by a ‘hot spot.’
There are a few ‘hot spots’ on earth and the one under Hawaii is right in the middle of the Pacific Plate, one of the earth’s largest crustal plates. A geologic ‘hot spot’ is an area under a crustal plate where volcanism occurs. It is easy to geologically explain volcanism at plate spreading centers and subduction zones but not as easy to explain a ‘hot spot’ where molten magma breaks through the crustal plate. (Some theories describe this as a particularly hot part of the molten magma).
Another hot spot under the American plate is Yellowstone National Park with its geysers and other thermal features. The Hawaii hot spot is under the seafloor producing undersea volcanoes. Some of these volcanoes build up to the surface of the ocean and become islands. Over millions of years the plate moves across the ‘hot spot’ and the original volcanoes become extinct and new volcanoes begin to form in the area of the ‘hot spot.’
Understanding all of this explains why in the Hawaiian islands, the more southeast you go, the more active the volcanoes are. This shows that the plate is moving northwestThe island farthest south is the big island of Hawaii with no fewer than five volcanoes with some active most of the time. The farther north you go, the islands are older and the more time erosion has washed away the land. Niʻihau is the largest and last lightly inhabited island before the ten islands and atolls in the uninhabited Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
He iconic profile of Diamond Head east of Waikīkī Beach on the island of Oahu is the crater of a long extinct volcano.
Hawaii – The Big Island
The three largest volcanoes on the big island are Kilauea, Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. Volcano National Park encompasses Kilauea with a number of different volcanic features.
Picture caption: Halema’uma’u, a pit crater, inside Kilauea Caldera started erupting in 2008 creating an almost constant plume of steam and volcanic gases (sulphur dioxide).
On a recent visit to the big island we went up to Kīlauea. The caldera was shrouded in rain and fog so we didn’t have an opportunity to see much but we did get to Halema’uma’u. We spent time at the USGS museum and also hiked thru the Thurston Lava Tube.
Thurston Lava Tube is part of a trail in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Visitors enter through a ‘skylight’ (collapsed roof of a lava tube), walk a ways through the tube and exit via another ‘skylight.
Lava tubes develop as the lava flows and hardens on the outside. The inside continues to flow and may drain out of the ‘lava tube’ entirely. Some of these lava tubes are small but some are very large (as much as 20 feet in diameter). Many of the lava tubes have a flat bottom as the lava hardens when it slows down and look like subway tunnels. When the top of a lava tube breaks through it is called a ‘skylight.’
Due east of Kilauea, lava from Pu’u O’o volcano travels downhill for miles in lava tubes to reach the ocean where it spills out along the shoreline creating large clouds of steam and volcanic gas. Our cruise ship crossed around the southern coast at night and around midnight moved to within one mile of the lava flows as they poured into the ocean. Viewing the display at night from the sea is an awesome event. There are also trails that allow hikers to get down near the area where the lava spills into the sea but we’ve been told that the hike down and back can take most of the day.
In addition to the volcanoes on the island of Hawaii there is a new eruption just south of the island called Loihi. This volcano has been erupting from the sea floor and currently its peak is at a depth of 3,000 feet. At its present rate of growth it will probably break the surface of the Pacific after another 10,000 years.
Haleakala is home to the highest peak on Maui, at 10,023 feet. It also holds the world record for climbing to the highest elevation in the shortest distance- a mere 38 miles from sea level to the top! Because Maui is north of Hawaii the volcanic activity is dying down. It is believed that the last major eruption was in the seventeenth century with only a few smaller events in the twentieth century. The USGS lists the eruption risk now as normal. A Normal status is used to designate typical volcanic activity in a non-eruptive phase.
We visited the top of Haleakalā a couple of years ago and it is almost like traveling to another planet: bare peaks and slopes covered in a spectrum of colored rock, dirt and sand. Clouds hung near the slopes with vistas across the crater* that stretch on forever and views back across the island are breathtaking. The drive to the top of the volcano is an adventure in itself as the road snakes back and forth up the slope with temperatures dropping as you ascend and winds blowing as you reach the summit.
The profile of Diamond Head on O‘ahu is the western rim of an extinct volcano and is perhaps one of the most recognized volcanic mountains on earth. In addition to Diamond Head there are a few additional extinct vulcanoes on the island including Hanauma Bay, Koko Head, Punchbowl Crater, Mount Tantalus and Aliapa’ak.
Throughout the Hawaiian islands the high and jagged peaks catch the tropical trade-winds causing huge amounts of rainfall. This micro-climate results in a lush landscape crossed with rushing streams and dotted with beautiful waterfalls. The islands are noted for their vertical cliffs, isolated valleys, incredible beaches and acres of farm land. This tropical climate and rich soil yields plentiful cash crops that include pineapples, macadamia nuts, coffee and cacao nibs used for making chocolate. Welcome to paradise…
Snow cones go way back. We have memories of walking the boardwalk in Ocean City, MD with a snow cone in hand. Even before that we used to mix up concoctions with freshly fallen snow. More recently our children, and now our grandchildren, also love this icy creation. In Hawaii it has become an institution called shave ice and the original was brought to Hawaii by Japanese migrants. Shave ice is literally that, ice shaved from a block of ice.
The undisputed king of Hawaiian shave ice has been around since 1951: Matsumoto Shave Ice located on the Oahu North Shore at 66-111 Kamehameha Highway, Haleiwa (808) 637-4827. They are so popular that on a good day the line goes out the door and around the courtyard. Matsumoto offers a couple dozen flavors and tradition dictates that you select three for your shave ice. As extras they offer mochi (Japanese rice cake), condensed milk, azuki beans (Japanese red beans cooked with sugar and water) and, of course, ice cream.
While shave ice is probably not worth the trip all the way from Honolulu (45 minutes each way), a visit to Haleiwa and the North Shore is worth it. The town has great shopping with art galleries, jewelry stores and numerous eating options including a wide variety of food trucks. The main road runs along beautiful beaches including Waimea Bay, Sunset Beach and the Banzai Pipeline so it’s easy to spend an entire day in the area. In addition, Waimea Falls Park offers a nature trail through lush botanical gardens leading to the great waterfall.
When we spent the day in Lahaina over on Maui we also treated ourselves to shave ice at Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice. Their main location is in a courtyard on the north end of Front Street in an area full of shops and galleries. In addition, they have five other shops and stands on the island featuring their Maui inspired flavors which, in our opinion, are even better then Matsumoto.
When we spent the day in Lahaina over on Maui we also treated ourselves to shave ice at Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice. They’re located in a courtyard on the north end of Front Street. We liked theirs even better than Matsumoto and they are also located in a great area for gallery shopping.
On a recent trip to Australia we spent a day at Bondi Beach outside of Sydney. It turns out that besides being a nearby beach resort and a great surfing venue, Bondi is famous for the largest free sculpture exhibitions in the world. A sculpture event known as Sculptures By The Sea is featured each year in October-November.
Bondi Beach, in addition to surfing, is famous for the Bondi to Bronte Coastal Walk. The walk is an iconic 3-km. paved trail along the coast between two well-known Sydney beaches. The walk offers sweeping ocean vistas of the coastline and sea from a paved trail beautifully fit into the cliffs between the two beaches. From mid October into early November the walk becomes an outdoor sculpture exhibit featuring works of art from all over Australia and beyond.
Anyone visiting Sydney, especially during this time should really try to fit in a visit to Bondi Beach. The town is easy to reach via a Sydney T4 train from central station to Bondi Junction where you switch to a Beach bus. We would recommend getting an Opal card to make the best use of the area transportation (See our post on the Opal Card).
The beach itself is a sweeping two kilometers of crescent sand and the bars and eating venues along the beach street have a resort boardwalk vibe. The real draw though is the surf and in the world of surfers the waves at Bondi are legendary. Even without the art it is one of Sydney’s “must see” destinations and don’t forget to pick up a “Surf Bondi” Tee shirt before you leave.
As we write this, we are just finishing our fourth Alaska cruise. Having done this a number of times before, we recognize that there are a lot of similarities but also some significant differences in these cruises. Because it is so vast, Alaska is a destination that is more easily seen by cruise ship. Cruising gives you an opportunity to view some of the towns, cities, glaciers and wildlife up close and personal. After a first trip, it is then possible to decide if you want to spend time further exploring by train, ferry, car or a combination. It is also possible to add a land portion before or after a cruise which could include places like Denali, Anchorage and Fairbanks.
A lot of ships begin the cruise in Seattle or Vancouver, two wonderful cities to spend a few extra days before or after a cruise. They are easily accessible and offer an abundance of hotels, restaurants and things to do in a wide range of prices (hotels in Seattle are rapidly getting more expensive though). A lot of the cruises are seven nights and depart and return from the same port.
A common itinerary for Alaska cruises is up the inside passage. Normal port stops are Skagway, Ketchikan, Juneau and Icy Strait Point and visits to the Misty Fjords and Hubbard Glacier. Some cruises also visit Victoria, Canada on Vancouver Island. A typical
seven night cruise will include four or five of these places with lots of opportunities for tours arranged through the cruise ship or setting out on your own for independent exploration. If you spend a little time on the internet investigating your ports of call, chances are you can locate an independent tour operator who will take you to a glacier, panning for gold, etc. at a significant savings over the cruise ship tour prices.
One sure highlight of an Alaska cruise is a visit to a glacier. There are three which are easily accessible and each has a different character:
Mendenhall Glacier is a National Park and the easiest to get to since it is only a few minute bus ride outside of Juneau. Ships offer a number of tours to Mendenhall but we would recommend the public bus service that departs from near the cruise ship docks with a round trip fare of $30 per person.
Hubbard glacier is spectacular and is a destination that a limited number of ships can visit. Hubbard would be high on our list of itinerary stops when selecting a cruise. The ships maneuver up near the face of this massive glacier as it calves giant chunks into the sea which makes for spectacular photo opportunities.
Dawes glacier is way up inside the Misty Fjords and also calves chunks of turquoise ice
that float down the fjord. In booking, be warned that a visit to the fjord does not guarantee your cruise getting up to the Dawes glacier as it depends on conditions.
In addition to viewing from land or sea, there are also helicopter tours that can be booked that will take you to glaciers up on the Juneau ice field. These helicopter tours are usually booked in conjunction with stops in either Juneau or Skagway.
Because Alaska is on most U.S. cell service plans you can consider booking one of the helicopter tours directly. We did this in Skagway and saved almost half on the cost of the tour over booking through the ship. Because of scheduling concerns there are times that we would not recommended booking a tour other than with the cruise. In this case we were in Skagway all day, we booked for a morning tour and were back with hours to spare before the ship sailed. It also was the same tour provided by the cruise excursion desk.
One of our favorite towns is Skagway and while its’ primary purpose today is as a seasonal tourist destination it is still a fun and interesting stop. The town is the home to the railroad excursion train known as the Yukon and White Pass Route that climbs up to the pass that was a primary gateway into the Klondike during the gold rush days. The Yukon gold rush was the event that gave birth to this boomtown and was the entrance point to the Chilkoot Trail, described as the “meanest 33 miles in history”. In 1897 the dreams of thousands were attached to the call “North to Alaska” and the promise of gold. Today
the main street of Skagway is lined with gift and jewelry stores along with art galleries and a few bars. Because the cruise ships represent the heart of the town’s economy, once the “season” is over the population of the town drops to only about five hundred intrepid souls.
The largest cruise city and the state capital is Juneau and while the waterfront is dominated by jewelry stores and gift shops, tourism is not its’ principal business. Fishing boats come and go from its’ docks and it is home to a university and, of course, the government dominates the job scene. The famous Red Dog Saloon, founded during Juneau’s mining era, has been in operation
for decades and still serves visitors and locals alike. For a time, “Ragtime Hattie” played the piano in white gloves and a silver dollar halter top. Later, in territorial days, the owners would often meet the tour boats at the docks with a mule that wore a sign saying, “follow my ass to the Red Dog Saloon.” Wyatt Earp is said to have lost his pistol in a poker game there. The saloon also hosted an episode of The Ed Sullivan Show just after Alaska became a state.
Near the cruise docks there is a cable car up to a mountaintop that offers a panoramic view of the area. Juneau is also home to the Mendenhaul glacier and during one cruise we visited the local fish hatchery. It is a remarkable operation that scoops up and processes tons of fresh “wild” salmon and is a good alternative to the controversial salmon farming which has become popular in recent years.
Ketchikan is another popular port where you can, depending on the season, book a fishing trip to bring back your own salmon or, if really lucky, a haddock. There are operations where your charter captain can have your catch smoked or flash frozen and express shipped home (expensive but worth the bragging rights). Again there are jewelry stores and gift shops everywhere and also one of the better opportunities to buy canned or smoked salmon to take home to family and friends. It does seem that each time we come back to Alaska, the price of salmon jumps in price, probably driven by of the growing popularity of Alaska cruising, so shop carefully.
Icy Straight Point is another popular stop with the big draw being whale watching tours. There are also some nice Alaska rain forest hiking trails and a new zipline. On one recent trip when we were anchored out we returned to the ship early and a large humpback whale spent almost an hour near the ship. We have been told that that was not that unusual an event here.
After taking several Alaska cruises, we decided to try something different this time. We selected a Celebrity ship, Solstice, which was doing its’ last seasonal cruise in September, beginning in Seattle and terminating in Vancouver. The ship was then heading to Hawaii and then on to Australia. We decided that we wanted to stay on the ship and disembark in Hawaii which meant we invoked the Jones Act. (See our post on the Jones Act here.)
To avoid a Jones Act violation, we needed to disembark and spend the night in Victoria, Canada, the last cruise port, and then board the ship again in Vancouver the next day. This requires special permission from the Canadian Government to disembark early, before termination of the cruise. The process is called down lining and can be arranged after your cruise is booked. The transfer to Vancouver can be made by helicopter, seaplane or ferry and we selected the latter for both convenience and price.
The disadvantage to transferring by ferry is that the ferry port in Victoria is some distance out of town and in Vancouver is not in close proximity to the cruise ship terminal (Canada Place). The BC Connector solves this problem by offering a ticket which provides bus service to the ferry port in Victoria all the way through to Canada Place. The bus literally drives onto the ferry where passengers spend the crossing in clean and comfortable lounge areas. Upon arrival in Vancouver, the bus drives on to Canada Place. Cruisers head inside for check-in and suitcases are given to porters for loading onto the ship. This service should be reserved and paid for in advance on the internet as there are a limited number of seats available.
On our last visit to Sydney, Australia we set aside a Sunday for a rail trip to the Blue Mountains. From the Sydney Central Station to Katoomba Station is about a two hour trip and if you go and return on a Sunday the trip is a super bargain with the Opal card (see Getting Around Sydney). From Central you can Board an air-conditioned double decker Mountains train. The express trains to the Mountains will most likely stop at Strathfield, Parramatta, Penrith, Emu Plains, and then all stations up the Blue Mountains. We were staying at a hotel near Sydney’s Chinatown (the Meriton Serviced Apartments on Campbell Street) which wasn’t far from the Central Station so we walked and caught an early train. The trains were modern, clean and comfortable. One caution, this trip on Sunday is very popular and if you get the train at the Central Station getting a seat probably isn’t difficult, but after a few stops people were sitting in the isles. On our return we boarded at a station farther south and headed back to Sydney from there to avoid the crowds and to be sure we got a seat.
The town of Katoomba is the center of the Blue Mountains with a number of attractions nearby. Once in the Blue Mountains we booked the Blue Mountains Explorer Bus near Katoomba Station. The day pass was about US$30and begins at the Carrington Hotel, Katoomba Street. There are 29 stops which include Katoomba Falls, Echo Point, Three Sisters and Leura Cascades. There is a cable car ride (extra charge) and a complex at Scenic World with a café and a restaurant. There is also the Trolley Tours running a similar route as The Explorer Bus for about the same fare. Between hopping on and off, hiking a number of trails and enjoying lunch we spent about nine hours in the area.
Our trip was in late October of 2015 and the weather was perfect. The area is beautiful with dozens of good trails and scenic overlooks. We followed a couple of well-maintained trails along streams and were fascinated with the thickets of Australian tree ferns (something we planted in our yard at home). We also started to notice the birds in the trees and saw dozens of big white cockatoos. I picked up a feather for our curio case.
Upon returning to Sydney Central Station we walked back the few blocks to our hotel, freshened up and took a rapid rail to Darling Harbour. We had dinner at Baia The Italian sitting by the water watching the sun set. All and all it was a very good day. We’re thinking on our next visit we will spend a couple nights in the Blue Mountains.
Years ago one of the sure things to expect when the family visited Walt Disney World was spending a lot of time waiting in line. Probably the biggest limiting factor in the number of rides you could take in was the length of the wait lines. Disney was one of the first innovators in reducing this time. Initially the FastPass system used your admission ticket once you were in a park to allow you to schedule a ride or two. Even this system greatly increased the number of rides you could fit in but there have been a number of upgrades since.
While the newest FastPass is again an incremental improvement it is becoming really important that anyone planning a vacation or just a visit to Disney World understand how the system works. If you don’t take the time before your trip you could end up riding a lot less rides. Because FastPass allows people to schedule rides weeks in advance it also makes getting onto a ride the day of a visit a bigger challenge
How To Use FastPass+
There are different ways to make Fastpass+ reservations that depend on where you are staying and what type of ticket you have. In order to make FastPass+ reservations you must have park tickets or a purchase confirmation number. Before you begin you need to decide in advance as to what parks you will visit and on what dates. You will also need names and ticket numbers for everyone traveling with you.
If you are staying at a Disney resort: You can make your first FastPass+ ride reservations 60 days in advance of the hotel reservation date. Once you have made your first reservation you can add ten days to the sixty to make FastPass+ selections in other parks. Also before you start making FastPass+ reservations you should investigate Extra Magic Hours for parks during your stay. That information will help you plan which parks to visit on what dates.
Staying at a non-Disney resort you will be able to make your FastPass+ reservations 30 days in advance.
Before you begin you should have an internet connectable device and we would recommend that you use a smart phone for easy use inside the parks. Download the Disney World App. Next set-up a My Disney Experience account so you can make and record FastPass+ reservations. The only way to make Fastpass+ reservations before your trip is to use your account at the My Disney Experience website. You will also need to provide an email address and be sure to use one that you can access on thru you Disney World App thru your portable device.
If you are staying at a Disney Resort at Walt Disney World you will be issued a MagicBand for each guest in your party. The band looks like a bracelet or watch and uses a battery to communicated with a number of devices around “the World”. Before you arrive you will probably be asked for your choice in color but without making a choice it will be gray. The bands have your name printed inside and not to miss an opportunity Disney stores and gift shops also sell decorations that can be added to personalize the MagicBands. With a MagicBand you can link it to My Disney Experience and add reservations (both current and future) along with park tickets and FastPass+ reservations. Wearing the MagicBand you can open your room door, charge meals at Disney restaurants and food concessions and go shopping at Disney stores that are charged back to your hotel account. You can use them to enter the parks (provided you have synced tickets to your account), identify your account to Disney photographers, and use FastPass+. You can manage your MagicBands on you’re my Disney Experience on line both now and for the future. The MagicBand is set-up where you provide a pin number for all money transactions and just like a card based passkey you can restrict charging privileges to certain members of your group.
Because all purchase transactions on a MagicBand require a pin the process is pretty secure. Even if you lose a band someone would still need you pin to use it for shopping or meals. There is however a possible concern around this remarkable system. Disney has capitalized on a phenomenon that the credit card industry has understood forever. People generally spend more money when using a credit card rather than spending cash. The MagicBand takes advantage of this characteristic in a big way and other than knowing that there has been a spending cap agreed to on your hotel account, it is very difficult to confirm the charged balance on your account. The only way we are aware of is to check at the hotel Concierge desk.
Walt Disney has also made a big promotion for meal plans associated with your room reservation. There are a number of different levels, naturally at different prices. These meals are also recorded on you account and accessed again using your MagicBand.
When you eat at a full service restaurant you will get a receipt that shows how much service was used and how much remains. Unfortunately for a full accounting you will again need to check at the hotel Concierge desk.
Our primary criticism with this completely integrated system that includes The WDW App, the My Disney Experience website, MagicBands, park tickets and FastPass is the inability to check the money and meal plan balances. It would seem a reasonable approach to give you access thru the WDW App?