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Beach sunset panorama

Aulani Resort on Oahu

Aulani: A Disney Resort and Spa with Teenagers and Adults

by Michelle Woodruff

Our immediate party of 7 departed from St. Louis, flying via Southwest Airlines, to San Diego, CA. We decided to spend the night in San Diego, each party separating to spend the day enjoying local sights. Our family drove to Hollywood for the day to take in the Walk of Fame. It made for a long day and, had we not been visiting our daughter, we should have stayed in San Diego. We spent the day locating the iconic buildings that Disney’s Hollywood Studios recreated in the theme park, identifying some of our favorite stars on the walk and eating at Musso and Frank. Musso and Frank was a step back into the Golden Age of Hollywood.
We departed the next morning via Hawaiian Airlines and arrived in Honolulu around lunch time. We rented our car from the airport, well in advance of our arrival as it was half the price of a rental from Aulani. The resort is 17 miles from the airport, an easy drive. The staff immediately took our keys (in case they had to move the car before we returned), handled our luggage and made us feel welcome. We participated in online check which allowed us to utilize the outside kiosk where we were offered infused water, obtained our room key, a resort map, the ‘Iwa (daily publication of scheduled activities and information) and our greeting leis. Our rooms were ready upon arrival, allowing us to immediately locate our rooms and begin exploring the resort.

Our rooms were at ground level, with the Island view. The Halawai lawn was outside our patio and we could sit on our patio when they presented outdoor movies, the Halloween party and the Starlit Hui (a Hawaiian inspired show followed by a typical Disney dance party). We had a deluxe studio room which had a mini refrigerator, coffee pot and microwave. The bathroom is a split bathroom allowing several family members to get ready simultaneously.
The resort’s architecture reflects the Hawaiian culture, stories and history. Those seeking an authentic Hawaiian experience will be pleased with the grounds. They offer a tour of the grounds highlighting the nature and art of the resort, fire pit storytelling by “Uncle”, local bands, lei making, hula class, and Aunty’s beach house ( for the children in the group).

The pool area is heavily landscaped and shaded. We found a secluded area alongside the lazy river where we frequently convened. The pool area has several pools, four whirlpools, two splash areas, and two slides-all beautifully landscaped with native plants and trees. There is an adult only pool and a couple of adult only whirlpools. We chose to remain on the resort a couple of days, as it had a lot to offer.

Our party had 10 travelers, as we met up with more friends at the resort. The youngest was age 12, followed by 2-16 year olds, a 19 and 20 year old. Those were our younger members. The rest of us ranged in age from 49-58. We brought snorkel equipment and snorkeled in the Aulani lagoon almost daily. They have snorkel equipment available for rental, as well as stand up paddle boards and kayaks. The beach is meticulously clean with plenty of beach chairs. There is a paved pathway along the lagoon that extends to the Ko Olina Marina and runs alongside the four lagoons in Ko Olina. I enjoyed early morning walks along the lagoons and participated in sunrise yoga one morning.
Our young people spent the majority of their time on the beach, whereas the rest of us spent the majority of our time in or near the lazy river and whirlpools. There is a fine dining restaurant, a buffet-style restaurant which doubles as the location for character breakfasts, a pool side restaurant and bar, and a counter service location. We ate at the counter service and pool side bar, the food was pricier, but not unreasonable. One of the best amenities for us was the Weber gas grill stations!! We checked out grilling utensils from the community hall and grilled several evenings as the men in the party were quite enthusiastic about their grilling. No need to wash the tools, just return them to the community hall in the trash bag and they will take care of the rest. While we are on the subject of food and beverage: A DRINK IN THE FROZEN PINEAPPLE IS WORTH IT!!! One of my most relaxing memories is sitting poolside in the evening, listening to live Hawaiian music and drinking from my pineapple drink.

I am a Disney shopper and was pleased with the shops (2) at the resort. Just a warning, if you see something purchase it. The tour buses stop by the resort for non- resort guests to shop, making it crowded at times. Photopass service is available at the resort. One morning we got up early and dressed for pictures. We took several of our own in addition to utilizing the Photopass service. Photos can be taken in the Community Hall, where you can chose additional backgrounds. Stitch actually photobombed us when taking pictures outside.

We didn’t partake in the spa services, but maybe next time when it’s just myself and my husband. The kids enjoyed working out in the gym and participating in the beach cardio rush and circuit work out. Some of the other onsite activities offered include canoe races, lei making, hula, teen scavenger hunts, Disney Character meet and greets, Supplied air snorkeling at Rainbow Reef (Aulani’s reef in the pool area), seaside stretching, pool parties, storytelling and Aulani art and culture tour. As with most Disney experiences, there are children’s clubs and activities.

This is an early morning resort; they are up before the sunrise and close shop early. The slides close at 6 and the pools at 8 (we visited in October). It is easy to get up before sunrise when there is a 5 hour time difference from the states. Speaking of sunrise, one activity I failed to mention was watching the sunset, which goes on for a long time. You won’t miss photographing it because it last for at least 45 minutes and continues to change colors until the last speck of light has faded.

We stayed 7 nights at Aulani and did venture off the resort taking in Hanauma Bay snorkeling (don’t expect a beach chair here), North Shore (Giovanni’s Shrimp truck), the Island drive, Koko Marina (Kona Brewing Company at the Marina for lunch), Waikiki, Waimea Valley and Falls, surfing at Iwa Beach (a beginning surfing lesson we booked out of Aulani), the Arizona Memorial and 2 half days at the Aloha Stadium Swap meet.
Aulani-A Disney Resort and Spa has a lot to offer onsite and is steeped in the Hawaiian culture. As always, Disney delivers something for everyone.

Magical Ireland

I recently had the opportunity to visit and experience the southern loop of Ireland with Celtic Tours. I flew through the night and arrived in the early morning. As we descended through the clouds into Dublin, the greens of the Emerald Isle came into view. Once I cleared customs, I was met by my guide/driver, Martin an Irishman through and through. He not only provided historical references during the tour, he kept us entertained with Irish folklore and shenanigans.

From Dublin we headed west. We stopped in Tullamore for lunch and a tour of the Bridge House Hotel. Beautiful hotel, in the heart of town and priced very well. Tea and scones were served in a lovely library.  Then on to Galway. Walking along the shore of Galway Bay, you can see the Connemara Mountain Range. We took the time to shop and sample some of the pubs. We spent the night at Menlo Park Hotel. A 4-star, family owned hotel with a great pub that has become the community hub. Visitors and locals mingle for drinks and dinner. Such a fun way to spend the evening.

As we traveled along the western coastline, we stopped to hike the burren. The limestone landscape formed as sediment approximately 350 million years ago. It’s an amazing walk along the crashing sea! On to the Cliffs of Moher. Wow!  I was totally enthralled by the huge black cliffs, sheer drops and the wild and windy walk along the cliffs. It felt slightly familiar. It’s been used as the location for many movies, such as The Guns of Navarone, The Princess Bride and Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. O’Brien’s Tower sit’s along the top of the cliffs. It was built in 1835 as an observation tower by a local landowner with the belief that tourism would one day benefit the local economy.

Limerick was next. St. Mary’s Cathedral, founded in 1168 sits near the middle of town. We stopped and toured the Greenhill’s Hotel. It’s a family run 3-star hotel that shows like a 4-star. The staff was extra attentive and the food was great. It’s close to Shannon airport too. It also neighbors with Thomond Park “home of the Munster Rugby”

Our final stop for the evening was at the Killarney Avenue Hotel. It’s a superb 4-star hotel, close to city center, in the shadow of the McGillycuddy Reeks.  The Reeks are the highest mountain range in Ireland, close to 12th century Listowl Castel and near the shore of Brandon Bay, known for its windsurfing, kiteboarding, surfing and fishing. It’s also neighbors with Thomond Park “home of the Munster Rugby.” After touring and checking into our lovely, family owned hotel in downtown Killarney, we spent the evening “inspecting” several of the local pubs, listening to amazing Irish music.  It was clear that the hotel was family owned and it shows in the hospitality of the staff and the beauty of the property.

A new day brought us through County Cork. We saw Macroom Castle (circa 1200), the boyhood home of William Penn. One of the many things I loved about Ireland….the history and the architecture!!  Next stop was the Cobh Heritage Center. Cobh was the last port for the Titanic before its ill-fated journey. Interesting fact…between 1848 and 1950, over 6 million adults and children emigrated from Ireland – over 2.5 million from Cobh. After a morning of learning all about this port town, we boarded our coach and headed for Waterford. First-stop was a tour of the House of Waterford Crystal. These craftsman are amazing! Watching the artistry as they blew class, created beautiful pieces and then patiently etched each into a unique masterpiece.

Our driver, Martin arranged for us to experience the celebration of life (traditional Irish wake style) at the most amazing pub, Jack Meade’s in Waterford dating back to around 1705 . (In 2010, the Sunday Times Travel Guide listed Jack Meade’s as one of the 10 Great Pub Gardens in the British Isles and the only one in Ireland to be recommended) It was an afternoon filled with song, toasts and lots of storytelling!

We checked into Dooley’s hotel, a beautiful family-run hotel in the heart of historic Waterford City overlooking the waterfront. Their goal is to make you to feel like family with live music every weekend.  Our morning began with a walking tour with a local historian. What a fascinating city. Waterford is the oldest city in Ireland. In 914, a Viking adventurer established a settlement and built what would be Ireland’s first city. We saw beautiful landmarks …Reginald’s Tower, a 13th century tower that endured attacks by the native Irish, The Roman Catholic and Church of Ireland Cathedrals.

Back on the bus, we headed to the Guinness Storehouse. We learned the history and heritage of Guinness and the science of how it is made. In the center of the building is world’s largest pint glass, filled it would hold 14.3 million pints! Our tour guide took us to the tasting room where we were immersed in “beer school” and the proper way to pour a pint of Guinness! How fun and tasty. We were all issued a diploma certifying that we crafted the perfect pint of Guinness.  For our final night in Ireland, we checked into the Pillo Hotel Ashbourne, a very contemporary 4-star hotel located on the outskirts of Dublin and easy drive to the airport the next morning. Quiet and relaxing with great food.

It was an amazing week filled with beauty, history, laughter and fun. The Irish love people and truly enjoying sharing with visitors. We saw so much, but there was plenty of time to shop and explore. I can’t wait to go back!

If you would like more information on my journey and help with designing your own adventure in Ireland, please contact me today!

Terri Kunselman
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American Empress River Cruise - Columbia & Snake River

American Empress River Cruise Review
May 30-June 7, 2015
Columbia/Snake River Eastward

Sat May 30- Pre-Cruise overnight in Vancouver, Washington

Flight on Delta from ATL to Portland was smooth. Airport was easy to navigate and finding Blue Star shuttle was right outside on Island 2 as indicated on our paperwork. Our ride across the Columbia River to Vancouver, Washington to our Hilton Hotel only took about 10 minutes. We were checked in within minutes and ready to explore. (Ask for a room overlooking the park for the best rooms). An overnight stay is included with every sailing for the night before your trip begins. The Hilton was a great way to start our trip.

Luckily for us there was a farmers market and free family day at the Ester Short Park across the street. We spent the afternoon exploring by foot and constantly in awe of the beautiful flowers. Many vendors were making bouquets for sale. I really wanted to purchase one for our balcony, but we were not going directly to our ship, but on a city tour tomorrow and I wasn’t sure how I would be able to maintain it’s beauty until we boarded. Too bad because they were gorgeous (for $10 the bouquets were over a foot in diameter). I will be on the lookout for flowers in Astoria, our first port stop.

We chose to eat dinner in the hotel and adjust to the three hour time change. Watching a little TV we were lucky to catch the night parade for the Rose Festival which happens to begin this weekend. Lucky for us to be here during the rose blooming season. Portland is known as the Rose City and our tour tomorrow will take us into the city and allow us to see how Portland got their nickname.

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Disney Magic Cruise from San Juan, Puerto Rico

My family and I were lucky enough to enjoy a recent Disney Cruise aboard the Disney Magic sailing a Southern Caribbean Cruise from San Juan, Puerto Rico.  We flew into Puerto Rico the day before embarking on our cruise. After collecting our luggage, we were greeted by the Disney Cruise Line personel who directed us to our hotel shuttle. We chose to stay at the Caribe Hilton. I had researched this hotel prior to arrival and thought the beach area would be inviting. We arrived to the open air hotel lobby and checked into our room. The hotel was undergoing renovations, but we did not find that to be any problem. After enjoying our complimentary chocolates and fruit, we set out to explore the hotel grounds. The hotel is positioned on a peninsula, offering both oceanview and downtown skyline view. The grounds are beautifully landscaped and include a bird sanctuary and tropical garden. In addition to the pools, there is a beach area that is protected from the oncoming waves. Historical ruins are within eyesight and on the grounds, as is the case with this region of San Juan.

There are several eating establishments at the hotel and even more within walking distance. We chose to walk a bit and eat at a local restaurant. Go no further if you are a Starbuck's fan, as there is a location in the Caribe lobby. We found our rooms pleasant but the highlight of the Caribe for our family was the magnificent beach area.

The next day we boarded the Disney Magic, it was a short shuttle ride from the hotel to the port.  Our Southern Caribbean cruise was reversed in itinerary due to Hurricane Gonzalo, which was scheduled for landfall in Antiqua on our arrival date. The Disney Magic was able to rearrange our cruise to still include all ports but in varying orders. It was probably my imagination but the first day, it appeared we were sailing quickly for such a large ship. In my mind, we were outrunning the hurricane, but I had no inside information to support this thought. Nevertheless, our weather was wonderfully sunny for nearly the entire cruise.

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Honeymoons….The last piece of the puzzle.

How many times have you had friends talk about their honeymoon disasters?  Your honeymoon can be an amazing trip which marks the beginning as husband and wife, or a stressful and disappointing trip that disrupts the focus of why you’re there.

There are several purposes of a honeymoon.  It is a time for rest and relaxation after the hectic months prior of planning and ……your wedding.  It is a time to be alone with your new spouse, a time to adjust to your new marriage. 

Having someone who specializes in honeymoons can really help you to avoid problems.  It is often heard that the honeymoon did not go as hoped.  That problems occurred due to unexpected issues.  When you are so busy planning all the necessities for your special day, planning a honeymoon may seem like the easiest part.  You look at some pictures, talk to some friends, read a few reviews and mostly go with your budget.  So often, when not planned well, the cost is much higher than expected.  Shuttle service was not there, some restaurants at the all-inclusive cost extra, call brand drinks were not included in the ‘package’.  Entertainment was extra, and the list goes on.

Using a travel agent is free, and will save you money.  They are well traveled, educated on the destinations as well as the resorts.  Knowing what the differences in resorts are can save you money and frustration.  Looking at the pictures online, resorts can often look similar.  But the truth is, there are huge differences.  From the menu selection to the activities, from the free amenities (shuttle service, water sports) to the ratio of staff to the guests.  Resorts also cater to different types of guests, and you want to make sure you are one of those.  If they cater to Europeans more than Americans, their menus might be a little challenging for those less traveled.  Many cater to honeymooners, but not as well as others.  Why pay for something you are not going to partake in? 

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