A Travellerspoint blog

A Tour of California Wine Country Part III-Sonoma

I complete my California Wine Country Experience with a Visit to Sonoma County and more of Napa Valley

The final 2 days of my California Wine County Experience were busy and long. The morning after the outstanding dinner on the Napa Valley Wine Train I was up early to grab some coffee and a plate of the Embassy Suites delicious pancakes with a side of bacon before boarding the tour bus for the ride to Sonoma County. Our first stop for the day was in Petaluma, California for a visit to the Cowgirl Creamery Cheese Company. The Cowgirl Creamery, opened in 1997 was started by Sue Conley and Peggy Smith in Pt. Reyes Station on the coast of California, about an hour north of San Francisco. They put in a small plant for making hand-crafted cheese, bought organic milk from their neighbor and began to make delicious, artisan cheese. Today, Cowgirl Creamery makes just a small collection of cheeses, four, soft aged and three fresh, totaling about 3,000 pounds per week. Our host from the Creamery greeted us with some freshly made cottage cheese and strawberries that tasted wonderful (and I don't like cottage cheese) and gave us a short talk on cheese making before taking us on a tour of the plant. We tasted several different cheeses in different stages of aging before boarding the bus to continue to our next destination, the Adobe Road Winery.

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Adobe Road Winery is owned by renowned sports car racer and entrepreneur Kevin Buckler and his wife, Debra. Located in the middle of a Porsche race car shop, Adobe Road Winery produces award winning Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Grenache, Meritage, Petite Sirah, Pinot Noir, Rosé, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Zinfandel and Dessert Wines exclusively from Sonoma and Napa County sources. Walking into the winery, you immediately notice all of the race car memorabilia and there are actual Porsche cars on the floor just outside the tasting room. Not being much of a race car buff, I was more interested in the wines which were very good. For an out of the ordinary wine tasting experience, I definitely recommend the Adobe Road Winery, if not for the wine, definitely for the winemaker, a Josh Groban look alike if there ever was one. Here is a link to tell you how to find it:

Adobe Road Winery...

Adobe Road tasting room
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Adobe Road winemaker, Michael Scorsone
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Leaving the Adobe Road Winery we moved on to two area resorts, the Sheraton in Petaluma and the Flamingo Conference Resort and Spa in Santa Rosa. While the Sheraton was a nice property where we had a nice sit down lunch, I really enjoyed our visit to the Flamingo. Straight out of a 1950's movie set, the Flamingo is a historic landmark. A privately owned family resort for over 30 years, the hotel opened in 1957 and became a society hot spot and was the place to see and be seen. Movie stars like Jayne Mansfield were often found sunning themselves by the pool in those days. Walking on to the property I was impressed at how well maintained everything was as well as the warm and friendly family atmosphere. Our hosts from the resort ushered us out to a covered patio where we had delicious cocktails and wine waiting for us. It was another sunny and warm day, with bright blue skies and we were all ready to sit down and cool off for a little while taking in the scenery. We enjoyed our cocktails for a bit and then took a tour around the resort. We had a really nice visit.

Flamingo Resort entrance
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Flamingo Resort pool
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Comfortable bed at the Flamingo Resort
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Our final stop of the day was the Hilton Sonoma, a beautiful property in a quiet picturesque location in Sonoma County. Our host took us on a short tour of the resort before guiding us to their onsite restaurant where we they had some great wine and delicious food waiting for us. The view from the restaurant was wonderful and it was the perfect location to end the day. On the way back to Napa Valley we drove through the town of Sonoma where they were holding a festival in the town square. There were people camped out with picnic baskets and bands playing music in the shaded square. It looked like fun, but we did not have time to stop so I put it on my list of things to do on my next visit.

Sonoma Hilton
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Hilton hotel room
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Hilton pool
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My final day in California Wine Country started early again with breakfast and a tour of the Napa Westin and Napa River Terrace Inn hotels near downtown Napa. The Westin was a large resort in a great location within walking distance of many tourist spots including fine restaurants and tasting rooms. The River Terrace Inn was right next door. Both properties backed up to a public walkway along the Napa River and were great places to stay for a visit to Napa Valley.

Westin Resort lobby
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Our group enjoys the Westin patio
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Westin hotel room
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Path along the Napa River toward the River Terrace Inn
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River Terrace Inn hotel room
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River Terrace Inn Lobby
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Our next stop of the day was the St Helena Olive Oil Company. Everyone just loved this store because of all the samples of olive oil, pasta sauces, mustards, vinegars and flavored salts available to taste. In just over 30 minutes we all found something to buy to take home. I found some expensive white truffle salt and some smoke flavored salt to take home. I decided that if I wanted anything else it would be easy to order it online once I made it home.

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St Helena Olive Oil Company inside
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For lunch we visited the Silverado Resort & Spa in Napa Valley. Set upon 1,200 beautiful acres, in the heart of Napa Valley, Silverado combines state-of-the-art business facilities with endless recreational choices. You can play a round of golf on one of two award-winning, PGA championship courses, or enjoy a soothing fireside massage in the full service spa. There are 10 swimming pools and 13 tennis courts along with many hiking and biking trails. Silverado is close to more than 200 wineries so you're never too far away from a spectacular Pinot Noir or Chardonnay. Lunch was provided for our group out on the lawn under umbrellas that provided some shade form the summer sun. We were also treated to free 10 minute back and neck massages before taking a short tour of the resort. I was feeling really good by the time we left the Silverado for downtown Napa!

Silverado Resort
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Lunch on the lawn
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Silverado Resort golf course
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In downtown Napa we visited the Napa Valley Visitor's Center and the Oxbow Market, a indoor shopping and restaurant complex. Leaving downtown, our tour bus returned us to the Embassy Suites for some down time to relax and pack for our departures home the next day. That evening, I enjoyed some great wine and a delicious dinner with 3 of my new Travel Agent friends at Bistro Don Giovanni in Napa Valley. It was a lovely relaxed evening with wonderful Italian food that included an order of fantastic fried olives as appetizers. It was a wonderful conclusion to our fantastic California Wine Country Tour. Flying home to Alabama the next day I reflected on my experiences of the last 4 days and I decided that it had been an almost perfect trip. I was already planning my next visit to California Wine Country and I planned to bring lots of people back with me!

Next, I return to my A Trek Thru the British Isles travel diary.

The End!

Gerrilyn Grant Gipson Esq.
Owner/Travel Consultant
Meetings & Events Unlimited Travel Services

Posted by Gerriv 07:38 Comments (2)

A Tour of California Wine Country Part II-Napa Valley

Wine tastings and Dinner on the Napa Valley Wine Train

The second day of my California Wine Country experience began with a morning of seminars presented by Penney Rudicil our tour leader for NACTA, the National Association of Career Travel Agents and other travel industry experts, detailing facts and information about Napa and Sonoma Counties. We received lots of information on the area, what we would see and do, with maps and brochures to take home for our clients. I was feeling great after a great breakfast at the Embassy Suites breakfast buffet and I felt even better when the hotel manager greeted us at the start of the seminar with glasses of mimosa cocktails (champagne and orange juice)! The manager told us that this drink was a great way to start the morning because it is in very bad taste to drink red wine before lunch. I could not agree with him more!

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After the seminar sessions were concluded we were divided into 2 groups and told to meet in front of the hotel and board our tour buses for our tour of Napa Valley. I headed out front early, anxious to get a good seat. I was completely taken by surprise when I boarded the bus because it was not at all what I was expecting! Instead of the regular 2 seats on each side of a center aisle, this is what I found:

Our tour bus is a Party Bus!
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I just had to have my picture taken before the crowd arrived!
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The Napa Valley Wine Country Tours company would be our host transportation for the week and they were definitely planning to chauffer us around in style. Both tour buses had a sound system, video system and free wi fi on board! This company would definitely be getting my business in the future!

We soon headed out for our first destination of the afternoon, the Rutherford Hill Winery, where we would have wine tastings and a picnic lunch. Founded in 1972, Rutherford Hill Winery is a pioneer in the development of California Merlot. Merlot remains the flagship wine of the company with 75 percent of Rutherford Hill's production dedicated to this varietal, one of the leading Merlots of Napa Valley. Stepping off the tour bus at the winery, I could not help but notice how beautiful the grounds were. Fantastic views of the valley and beautiful flowers were as much of an attraction as the wine.

Pretty flowers on the Winery walls
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View of the Napa Valley floor from the Rutherford Hill Winery
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Our host from the Rutherford Hill Winery met us as we exited the tour bus and led us down to our tables among some olive trees for our picnic lunch.
The food was wonderful. Each of us had a choice of fresh sandwiches made of tri tip beef, chicken or vegetarian style, with pasta salad, mixed fruit salad and a cookie. It was lovely to sit outside and enjoy our food while we talked to each other about what we had experienced so far.

The picnic tables for our NACTA group lunch
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Other visitors to the winery enjoying their lunch under the trees
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After lunch we were given a tour of the winery and we enjoyed several tastings of some excellent white and red wines including a Port which was a little sweet for me. However, I did learn something new. The Port was served with chocolate covered blueberries which tasted wonderful together! I never would have guessed the two would combine so well. After the tour we had time to visit the gift shop before boarding the bus for our next stop, the Louis Martini winery.

Our first wine tasting was outside on the lawn. A great Sauvignon Blanc!
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Tasting wine in the Rutherford Hill Winery "cave" where wine are stored
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The Louis M. Martini Winery was the scene of another lovely wine tasting experience. For more than 75 years, the Martini family winemakers have crafted World-class Cabernet Sauvignon wines from the exceptional vineyards of Sonoma and Napa counties. Michael Martini, Third-generation winemaker carries on the tradition at the historic winery in Napa Valley with his "range of unforgettable Cabernet Sauvignon wines".
The grounds of this winery were shaded and set up for relaxation. We left the tour bus and were directed to an outside courtyard where a bar was set up with a tasting of a cabernet sauvignon wine. I took a glass and found a seat where I could relax and enjoy my wine. It was very good. A travel agent friend took my picture so I could remember this experience.

Me enjoying my wine and the lovely setting at the Louis M. Martini Winery
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Others in my group enjoying their wine too!
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Our host from the winery offered us a tour of the winery so some of us followed her inside. We were educated on the making of the Martini wines and then given a short but informative instruction on wine tasting. The short tour ended down in the wine cellar with the tasting of a special red wine that I found out later cost over $100.00 dollars a bottle! Oh, that's why it tasted better than the rest I had tried that day! A visit to the gift shop finished our tour and I bought another visor because I had once again forgotten to bring one on a trip and the summer sun in this region was pretty strong. Feeling pretty terrific by this time, I headed back to our party bus for the trip to our last stop of the day, the Napa Valley Wine Train for dinner.

Our host gives the group a short course on the proper tasting of wine
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One sign says it all!
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As one can imagine after a delightful afternoon of "tasting" wine, we were all in a very good mood. It was fortunate that our last stop of the day was dinner aboard the Napa Valley Wine Train. The Napa Valley Wine Train experience consists of a leisurely journey through the beautiful wine country of Napa Valley in " meticulously restored" vintage rail cars. The Wine Train is essentially a bar and restaurant on wheels that rolls through the beautiful Napa Valley floor while you are served delicious food and drink. I can happily report that this experience is everything it is supposed to be. The food was fabulous (I had seared salmon with garlic mashed potatoes and fresh vegetables after salad with goat cheese and walnuts) and we had a course of white and red wine supplied by our host winery, Elizabeth Spencer Wines. All this after first being served wine and appetizers in the lounge car before dinner! It was an awesome evening. The slowly passing scenery was the perfect complement to the delicious meal and the service from our waiters was excellent. I can say that this was a wonderful way to end our day in Napa Valley. We had a wonderful time!

New friends Melodye, Jody, Anne and Me on the Napa Valley Wine Train (after a few glasses of wine)
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Our dinner being served on the Napa Valley Wine Train
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A romantic table for two on the Wine Train
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Leaving the wine train around 9:30pm after a fantastic dinner, dessert and wine, we were all more than ready to fall into our beds. It had been a delightful day and the best part was, there was more to look forward to the next day!

Coming up, we take a tour of Sonoma County where we visit a unique winery and learn how to make cheese!

To be continued......

Gerrilyn Grant Gipson Esq.
Owner/Travel Consultant
Meetings& Events Unlimited Travel Services

Posted by Gerriv 08:47 Comments (6)

A Tour of California Wine Country

A Wine Lovers Enjoyable 4 Day Excursion to Napa Valley and Sonoma County California

For lovers of good food and great wine there are Mecca’s all over the world where one can indulge in their favorites and find new ones to enjoy. Italy, France, Spain, New Zealand and Australia, I have enjoyed great wine and food from all of these places, although they are far away from my home in the USA. How wonderful it is to know that great wine and food can also be found in a part of the United States called the Wine Country of Napa and Sonoma Counties in Northern California, just a few hours away by plane.

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Approximately 1 hour from San Francisco, Napa Valley, California is a wine lover’s paradise. This beautiful area is covered with lush green hills, layered with rows of grapevines and stunning views. There are lovely world-class hotels, Inns, restaurants and shops. Napa Valley is about 30 miles long, and devotes about 45,000 acres to growing grapes. Some 450 wineries call the Napa Valley home, and most of them are open to the public. About 4.5 million people visit the area each year, and Napa Valley was named “The World’s Best Food and Wine Destination” in the Trip Advisor 2010 Travelers’ Choice Awards just to name one of the many destination awards it has received. Sonoma County is more rustic and diverse, with dairy farms dotting the hillsides as well as grapevines. Both areas are known around the world for great wine, food and beautiful scenery.

Of course there is more to do besides sipping glass after glass of the area's signature cabernets or chardonnays on Napa Valley and Sonoma wine tours. You can experience soaking at Napa Valley spas, indulging in delicious Napa dining and olive oil tasting, or the more adventurous can take to the skies in a hot-air balloon. There are endless opportunities for shopping and best of all you can find endless ways to treat yourself on any budget.

Balloon rides over Napa Valley
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Domaine Carneros Winery in Napa Valley
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I arrived in San Francisco, California a few days ago on a sunny and cool July afternoon. The 60 degree temperature was a welcome relief from the oppressive 97 degree heat and humidity of Alabama. I had visited Napa Valley before, but only for day trips from San Francisco. This trip would be very different. I would actually get to spend 4 days in the area and be treated to a guided tour with other travel consultants provided by the Napa and Sonoma Convention and Visitors Bureaus. The schedule was a busy one, but I would finally get the real wine country experience that I had missed on my previous trips.

I met two fellow Travel Agents in Baggage Claim at the airport in San Francisco where we had arranged to meet a private car for transportation to the Embassy Suites in Napa Valley. I had only communicated with Anne and Melodye by e-mail before we met in baggage claim, but we soon became fast friends and talked nonstop on the drive to Napa. Our driver, a native of Napa Valley, agreed to give us a mini tour of the area before dropping us off at our hotel. We drove through the outskirts of the city of Napa and stopped at the Carneros Inn , a unique type of accommodation made up of 86 individual cottages and suites, set among gardens and vineyards. We stayed just a few minutes to take in the scenery and get some brochures before heading off to Yountville, a small town just up the road.

Carneros Inn entrance
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Carneros Inn lobby
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Carneros Inn Cottages
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Carneros Inn bedroom
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The small town of Yountville quickly became my favorite place in the Napa Valley. With a population of just under 3000 people, Yountville is the home of the French Laundry, a famous gourmet restaurant owned by chef Thomas Keller, Bouchon restaurant and the Bouchon Bakery and Richard Reddington's Redd and Étoile at Domaine Chandon owned by French champagne house Moët & Chandon, a stellar winery that I had the pleasure of visiting some years earlier. Yountville is a beautiful little town where everything is in walking distance of your hotel. We stopped at the Villagio Inn and Spa to take a look around. What a lovely, charming hotel!

Villagio Inn entrance
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Villagio Inn lobby
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Villagio Inn hotel room
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Leaving Yountville, we headed back to Napa and our hotel the Embassy Suites Napa Valley to get checked in before a scheduled reception at 5:30pm. The Embassy Suites turned out to be another gem of accommodation in the Napa Valley. Beautiful grounds and public areas, small but comfortable 2 room suites and the included breakfast buffet and Managers Reception every night made it an excellent home base for my wine country experience.

Embassy Suites entrance
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Embassy Suites Lobby
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Embassy Suites lobby
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Embassy Suites courtyard and pool area
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Gerri (me) Anne & Melodye arrive at the Embassy Suites in Napa Valley California
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With just a few minutes to spare I arrived at the reception for our group. Finding a table on the patio I sat down with a glass of chardonnay, some fine cheese and meats and some grilled vegetables. It was a nice mini meal after eating airplane food earlier in the day. Over the next hour I met more fellow travel agents, a group of 50 in all and relaxed to the sound of the courtyard fountain in the background. Finally calling it a night after a long day that began at 6:00am, I retired to my comfortable bed so I could be ready to continue my California wine country experience the next day.

Next up, a visit to some wineries for tastings and a picnic lunch, a tour of the gorgeous Napa Valley and dinner on the Wine Train.

To be continued.....

Gerrilyn Grant Gipson Esq.
Owner
Meetings & Events Unlimited Travel Services
Follow me on Facebook (The Travel Concierge) and Twitter!

Posted by Gerriv 08:05 Comments (10)

A Trek Thru the British Isles III - Southampton & Guernsey

Remembering the Titanic and A visit to the Channel Islands

The trip from London to Southampton began on a bright sunny morning with fantastic warm weather. Our Princess Cruises driver was friendly and very skilled at maneuvering a large bus through the narrow streets of London before we reached the expressway. After about an hour or so we approached the Southampton, UK cruise pier where the Crown Princess was docked.

Anyone familiar with the story of the Titanic knows the significance of Southampton. Southampton is on the south coast of England, about 75 miles southwest of London. Southampton has always been a sea port, and the docks have long been a major employer in the city. It is a port for cruise ships and in its heyday it handled almost half the passenger traffic of the UK. Today it remains home to luxury cruise ships, as well as being the largest freight port on the Channel coast. In April of 1912, the RMS Titanic, a new mega ocean liner built by the White Star Line, sank on her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York City, United States after hitting an iceberg. The ship sank on April 15, 1912, resulting in the deaths of 1,517 people in one of the deadliest peacetime maritime disasters in history. The story of Titanic has been written about endlessly in books and depicted in movies and I could not wait to see the place where her ill fated voyage began.

RMS Titanic docked in Southampton in 1912
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We left the transport with our luggage and boarded the Crown Princess after a very short wait (being a Platinum Princess repeat guest has its privileges). Looking around at this new ship I felt immediate comfort in the familiarity of the decor and some delight at the new features that were a part of Crown Princess. After depositing our carryon luggage in our stateroom, another spacious mini suite, Mom and I made our way up to the Lido deck to check out what was for lunch in the Horizon Court. It was still pretty early in the day so I stopped by the pool to relax in the sunshine after lunch. There were concert videos playing on the large outdoor video screen above the pool and I had a great view of the shoreline of Southampton.

Crown Princess pool deck
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Port of Southampton, UK
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View of Southampton, UK from the Crown Princess dock
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The Crown Princess filled fairly quickly over the next few hours as more passengers boarded the ship. I immediately noticed a trend. A large percentage of the passengers for this voyage were from the United States, in particular, the north eastern states of New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts with a few southerners like Mom and me thrown in. It was going to be an interesting trip. I enjoyed seeing the large family groups of grandparents, parents and children all traveling together, along with lots of people in their 20s and 30s to round out the demographics.

Sail A Way that afternoon was pleasant with the coast of England slowly fading away. Dinner that first night at sea was fun. We sat at a table for 8 with some fellow Americans from various parts of the US. The food was delicious as expected and the service from our wait staff excellent. We decided to call it a night not too long after dessert so we would be ready for our first port of call, St Peter Port on the island of Guernsey in the Channel Islands the next day.

Morning brought a gorgeous view of St Peter Port. Saint Peter Port is the capital of Guernsey as well as the main port. The population is around 16,488 and the official language is French as it is just a few miles off the coast of France. This island also has the distinction of being half British and half French. This port is for the most part a small town consisting mostly of steep narrow streets and steps on the overlooking slopes. A trading post or town has existed here since before Roman times.

St Peter Port on the island of Guernsey in the Channel Islands
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This particular port required passengers to use a tender (small boat) to reach the shore, so Mom elected to stay aboard the Crown so as not to risk falling and injuring her newly mended leg. I had booked a half day tour of the island before the cruise began, so I made my way down to the tender deck and then to the tour bus on shore. The weather this day was again clear and relatively warm. There were beautiful flowers everywhere. We rode along sightseeing for a while before stopping at a historic Manor House for a short tour and a chance to stretch our legs.

Historic Manor House, St Peter Port on the island of Guernsey
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Leaving the Manor House we returned to the town of St Peter Port. I had planned to do some shopping but found most of the stores were already closed for the day. So, after milling around for a while looking at the scenery, I boarded one of the tenders and returned to the ship to spend the rest of the afternoon on our balcony. It was a short but pleasant first day of our British Isles cruise with much more to see and do in the days to come.

Next up, we dock in Liverpool, England, the home of the Beatles and I take a ride down Penny Lane!

Too Be Continued....

Gerrilyn Grant Gipson Esq.
President/Owner
MEETINGS AND EVENTS UNLIMITED TRAVEL SERVICES
Follow me on Facebook (The Travel Concierge) and Twitter

Posted by Gerriv 08:33 Comments (0)

A Trek Thru the British Isles Part II-Touring London, UK

A View of London's Famous Places and Historical Landmarks brings Education and Enlightenment

My first day in London, UK continued on from my visit to Buckingham Palace across the street to St. James Park. St. James's Park is a 58 acre park in Westminster, central London and is the oldest of the Royal Parks of London. The park is bounded by Buckingham Palace to the west and The Mall and St. James's Palace to the North. St. James's Park Lake is part of the park and has two islands, West Island, and Duck Island. A bridge across the lake gives you a view of Buckingham Palace framed by trees and fountains and a view of the London Eye in the other direction. It was approaching mid afternoon as I walked down toward the lake. I had not had lunch so I stopped at a food stand next to the lake and purchased a hot dog, then continued on to sit and enjoy my food on a park bench next to the water, content to watch the ducks swimming nearby. It was a peaceful and tranquil setting.

View of the London Eye from St James Park
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View of Buckingham Palace from my park bench
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Finishing my lunch, I walked along the path around the lake for a bit, enjoying the lush greenery and beautiful flowers before deciding to head back to the hotel. The crowd in front of the Palace had grown quite a bit and I was glad that I had made an early visit to see it. I crossed the street and headed back down to the Crown Plaza stopping to snap a few photos on the way.

A London Phone Booth, I was surprised that they were still around in this day and age!
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A Street Sign marking my location!
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Walking into the Crown Plaza lobby after picking up some bottled water at a nearby convenience store, I went to the Concierge Desk to ask about buying tickets for a tour around London the next day. The Concierge suggested a tour that would not be too strenuous for Mom, but would still take us to see the highlights of London. It all sounded good to me so I purchased two tickets and headed up to our hotel room for the rest of evening. Finally feeling tired from the long trip from the US, I ordered some soup and a sandwich from room service for dinner and enjoyed it while looking out our hotel room window at the beautiful courtyard outside.

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Calling it a early night, Mom and I both slept very well that night and we were refreshed and ready to head out early the next morning for our all day tour of London. Our London City tour was the highlight of our stay. We traveled around the city in a comfortable tour bus, stopping at specific sites along the way. I enjoyed taking photos with my digital camera. The tour included the Royal Albert Hall and the Memorial dedicated to Prince Albert by his beloved wife Queen Victoria, Westminster Abby, Buckingham Place and the changing of the Guard, walking The Mall and seeing St James Palace, then on to St Paul’s Cathedral, London Bridge, Piccadilly Circus and The Tower of London were I stood in a very long line to see the Crown Jewels. All along the way we were treated to our tour guides descriptions of each site and the amazing history that surrounded them. As a student of History in college, I thought I already knew a lot about London, Great Britain and the English Monarchy. I was surprised to find that there was a lot I did not know and I soaked it all up like a sponge. Learning the history of this part of the world was like reading a Regency Historical Novel, but with more drama, intrigue, betrayal, war, and the never ending quest to attain and maintain power, all interlaced with elegance, majesty and centuries of tradition. It was all fascinating stuff!

Royal Albert Hall
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Prince Albert Memorial, yes that is REAL GOLD!
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Royal Band during the Changing of the Guard
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Impressive Guardsmen on horseback
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St Paul’s Cathedral
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The famous Double Decker Buses!
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The awesome London Bridge from the grounds of the Tower of London
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The Tower of London Royal Jewel House
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The Tower of London is a fascinating historical site. It is actually a historic castle on the north bank of the River Thames in central London. It was founded towards the end of 1066 as part of the Norman Conquest of England. The White Tower, which gives the entire castle its name, was built by William the Conqueror in 1078. The castle was used for a while as a prison, although that was not its primary purpose. Early in its history, it also served as a royal residence. The Tower is a complex of several buildings with a moat, and the pathways are cobblestone and difficult to walk on in places. The Tower of London has played a prominent role in English history and has served as an armory, a treasury, the home of the Royal Mint, a public records office, and the home of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom. In the First and Second World Wars, the Tower was again used as a prison where several men were executed for espionage. After World War II, damage caused during the Blitz was repaired and the castle reopened to the public. Today the Tower of London is one of the United Kingdom’s most popular tourist attractions.

Having accomplished my task of seeing the Crown Jewels toward the end of the tour (for all of 2 minutes after standing in line for a half an hour) I made my way out of the Royal Jewel House to the souvenir shop and bought some items to commemorate my visit. Mom had seen it all before and elected to wait outside rather that make the long walk to the grounds of the Tower complex. The last part of our tour was a cruise on the River Thames which gave us some wonderful views of some other famous sites. The London Eye, a wonderful observation platform, the buildings of Parliament and Big Ben, and the London Aquarium could all be seen during this leisurely cruise down the river. It was a great way to relax and take it all in.

An impressive Crown from the Royal Jewel House on the grounds of the Tower of London
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The London Eye as seen from the River Thames
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The buildings of Parliament and Big Ben as seen from our cruise on the River Thames
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Our day touring of London was wonderful and we returned to our hotel feeling like we still had only seen a fraction of London and its surroundings. Once again I had to add another city to my list of places to return to one day because the time I had spent in London was clearly not enough. The next morning Mom and I boarded a bus with many other Princess Cruises passengers staying at our hotel for the trip to Southampton to board the Crown Princess for our 12 Day British Isles Cruise. This long awaited trip to the United Kingdom, Ireland, Scotland and France was just beginning and I was eager to get started!

Next up we travel to Southampton, UK, the home port of the famous Titanic cruise ship, to begin our British Isles Cruise.

To Be Continued.....

Gerrilyn Grant Gipson Esq.
Owner/Travel Consultant
Meetings & Events Unlimited Travel Services

Posted by Gerriv 07:53 Comments (0)

Loving Las Vegas

A Recent Trip to Las Vegas Brings a Longing for the Good Old Days

My first trip to Las Vegas, Nevada was in 1982. A recent Law School Graduate, I was yearning to break free and cut loose for a few days after years of hitting the books in school. While visiting my parents over the summer, my best friend Yolanda (who was in Medical School) my Mom and I agreed to do a girls only trip to Las Vegas for a few days. We booked a cheap hotel package on the strip, bought our plane tickets through a Travel Agent and took off for what we hoped would be an exciting and fun trip to the dessert. We were not disappointed. We had a ball taking in the sights, the Sands, Caesars Palace, The Dunes, The Stardust and the Tropicana, all the great casino hotels of the day. We came home tired, overweight from the $2.99 steak dinners and exhausted from all the late night shows and the trip out to Hoover Dam. It was a wonderful first trip to Sin City.

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Since that first great Las Vegas excursion, I have been back to Las Vegas many times. I have seen it grow over the years and witnessed the rise of the Mirage, the MGM Grand, New York, New York, the Venetian, Paris, the Luxor and the Bellagio, all fabulous resorts that changed the Las Vegas skyline in wonderful ways. For many years Las Vegas has been a great vacation spot with great deals on lodging and food so the gambling losses don't hurt so much. I can honestly say that until very recently, Las Vegas was the perfect place to take a vacation (if you can stand the summer heat). Now after just returning from there last week, I am not so sure. Don't get me wrong, I still love Las Vegas, just not in the same way that I used to. Gone are the days when you could rent a car and cruise down the strip taking in the casino lights and the beautiful view of the dessert mountains in the background. Today you drive in bumper to bumper traffic down Las Vegas Blvd passing by huge high rise hotels and under pedestrian walkways overhead. You cannot see the mountains at all unless you are well away from the strip. While room rates are great because of the weakened economy, food is pretty expensive and ticket prices for most of the Las Vegas shows are ridiculously expensive unless you buy them well ahead of time. Las Vegas has definitely changed, but not all for the better.

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I did enjoy my trip last week. The MGM Grand was a great place to stay, with great hotel rooms, tons of dining and entertainment options and lots of places to gamble. I visited the new Aria and Cosmopolitan resorts, the perfect locations for the ultra hip and cool under 40 crowd, and bought some great shoes at the outlet mall. The food and drink, while pricey, were very good as my waistline can attest and people watching opportunities were everywhere as the crowds are definitely back after 2 years of a down economy. Yes, I still love Las Vegas but I do wish those casino developers would realize that more is not always better and bigger is not always the best. Las Vegas is a unique world all of its own and it should be enjoyed, savored and experienced, not just survived.

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If you are planning your own trip to Las Vegas, be sure to take your time, slow down and enjoy the experience. There is no way to see it all in one trip. Loving Las Vegas means taking the good with the bad and the bitter with the sweet, but overall it is definitely worth the trip, even to a Las Vegas Veteran like me!

Gerrilyn Grant Gipson Esq.
Owner/Travel Consultant
Meetings & Events Unlimited Travel Services

Next up: I return to my "A Trek Thru the British Isles" journal.

Posted by Gerriv 08:56 Comments (0)

A Trek Thru the British Isles

My First Visit to England, Ireland, Scotland, The Channel Islands and Paris, France

A few months after my Sailing Through History tour of the Eastern Mediterranean (see earlier Blog Post for details), I felt it was time for another trip to Europe. My personal preference for doing long vacations (12 days or more) overseas is to travel by cruise ship if there is a suitable itinerary. The benefits are being able to visit lots of ports and only having to unpack once and having just about everything, accommodations, food, entertainment, included in one price. Taking a cruise of Australia and New Zealand and the Eastern Mediterranean had worked out fabulously before, so I was very excited about seeing the British Isles in the same fashion. Princess Cruises had a ship, the Crown Princess sailing a 12 day itinerary of the United Kingdom, Ireland, Scotland, the Channel Islands and France that looked wonderful so I booked it right away.

Why the British Isles you may ask? Well for one reason, it is a part of Europe that I had not seen before and second, living in the steamy hot and humid southern United States, I was looking forward to spending some time some place cool and green in the middle of July. So once again I called my Mom and asked her if she was ready for another all girls cruise adventure and she said yes! My husband was left to hold down the fort at home this time, so the second week in July 2010 we flew off to London, England, United Kingdom to begin our trek through the British Isles.

The flights from Montgomery, Alabama to Atlanta, Georgia and Atlanta to London were especially comfortable. Being the determined traveler that I am and doing diligent research on air fares scored us 2 Business Class tickets on Delta for an unbelievably cheap price. My Mom had broken her leg and had surgery some months before and I was worried about her comfort on such a long trip, so getting some good seats on the plane was a major goal of mine in planning the trip. I was also very diligent in picking just the right hotel for our pre-cruise stay in London. Princess had several pre cruise hotel packages to choose from and I wanted something close to Buckingham Palace. The Crown Plaza St. James fit the criteria perfectly!

Crown Plaza St James, London, England UK
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Crown Plaza St James Guest Room
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The Crown Plaza has a luxury spa and courtyard garden, offers 4-star guest rooms and 3 restaurants. Buckingham Palace is just a few blocks away and Victoria is a 10-minute walk. The spacious guest rooms at Crowne Plaza St James have flat-screen TVs and luxurious beds with air-conditioning, a minibar and a modern bathroom that come with bathrobes and slippers.

Arriving at the Crown Plaza early in the morning after a long flight to London were pleasantly surprised to find that our room was ready for check in, so we headed up stairs to relax before heading out to see the city. I loved our room. It was large, bright and spacious with high ceilings and the windows looked out into the courtyard where there was outdoor seating for one of the restaurants and bars. The weather was cool and pleasant and promised to warm up later in the day. Lunch was had from room service, and then, feeling excited and antsy about being in London for the first time, I set off on foot alone headed to Buckingham Palace. Mom decided to stay in and rest as the time difference took some getting used to. The cheerful doorman pointed me in the right direction and before I knew it I was standing in front of the Palace, thrilled to death to see what I had only seen before on TV. It was just 1:00 in the afternoon so I took my time and lots of photos and video, trying to take it all in. My trek was just beginning and I could not wait to see more.

Buckingham Palace
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Palace Ornate Gates
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Palace Guards
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The famous Balcony; No William or Catherine this time!
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A tourist passing by took my photo for me!
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Coming up next, touring London before heading to Southampton, England to board the Crown Princess!

To be continued......

Gerrilyn Grant Gipson Esq.
Owner/Travel Consultant
Meetings & Events Unlimited Travel Services
Follow Me on Facebook and Twitter!

Posted by Gerriv 09:41 Comments (0)

Hawaii Revisited-Kauai Day 2 & Home

More resorts, great food and Hawaiian Rum before heading home.

Day 2 of my stay on the island of Kauai started early with a ride to the Kauai Marriott Resort on Kalapaki Beach for breakfast as a tour of the property.
The Marriott is only 5 minutes away from Wailua Falls and close to 18 holes of Jack Nicklaus golf. The resort has 345guest rooms and suites and 5 open air restaurants. It also has the benefit of being close to the airport. By the time we arrived at the resort I was ready for a cup of coffee and some breakfast to start the day. We were shown along the outdoor walkways of the resort and I could not help but notice the high ceilings, beautiful gardens and ponds around the property.

Grounds of Marriott Kauai
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Marriott Kauai
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A nice breakfast buffet was set up on a quiet terrace for us with lots of delicious looking dishes. One dish in particular caught my attention. It appeared to be a small plate with a patty of ground beef sitting on a layer of white rice, topped with a fried egg and covered in brown gravy. Having never seen anything like it before, my curiosity got the better of me and I decided to try it. It was wonderful! I asked our host, the sales manager what the dish was called and she said it was called a "Loco Moco" , a type of Hawaiian soul food. Well, I was definitely hooked on it and I made sure before I left Hawaii that I got the recipe. I have made it several times at home since then.

A delicious and filling Hawaiian Moco Loco
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After finishing breakfast we toured the resort and I got some great photos of this beautiful property. The Marriott resort has a magnificent pool and beach area and the guest rooms are large, comfortable and colorful. I could easily picture myself enjoying a great vacation there, with anything you could want being very close by.

Marriot pool view from a guest room balcony
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Marriott guest room
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Marriott Pool and Beach
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After leaving the Marriott, we toured a smaller ocean front resort called the Kauai Beach Resort. This resort was very nice with an intimate family feel. I thought it would be a great resort for a young couple or a small group or family.

Kauai Beach Resort grounds
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Buffet Restaurant at the Kauai Beach Resort
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Around 11:00am we were transferred to the Kauai Plantation Railway were we would enjoy a fun ride around the plantation before having lunch at Gaylord's Restaurant. Following lunch we would do some rum tasting at the Koloa Rum Company before heading back to the Sheraton to have some time on our own before a Farwell dinner at the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa. It sounded like an enjoyable afternoon and evening, and it was with only one hiccup along the way.

The Kauai Plantation Railway, runs through the grounds of the Kilohana estate and adjoining 70-acre tropical plantation. The attraction recreates the days when steam powered narrow gauge trains moved harvested sugar cane from field to mill, and raw sugar from mill to the wharf for shipment. The 2.5-mile rail line passes stands of original island crops, sugar cane and taro, the staple starch of ancient Hawaiians, through groves of mango, banana, papaya, coffee and pineapple. Train riders are given an informative narration during the trip of Kauai’s unique agricultural history in Hawaii. There is also a gift shop and Farmers Market located at the Depot.

Kauai Plantation Railway Train
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A funny thing happened on our train trip. After an enjoyable 15 minute ride on the train, the steam engine suddenly stopped running and could not be restarted. It was finally determined that we would need to walk back to the depot because the old steam train would take a while to be repaired. While we certainly needed the exercise, we were all very happy to find out that the Depot was only a short trek through a pineapple field from the train. We laughed all the way back to the Depot and were more than ready for lunch when we arrived!

Leaving the train to walk back to the Depot
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Gaylord’s Restaurant
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The Gaylord Restaurant is located on the grounds of historic Kilohana Plantation. Named after Gaylord Parke Wilcox the restaurant was established in 1986 when the Wilcox home was restored to a historic site accessible to the public for the first time. The homes old kitchen and garage areas were adapted to a working commercial kitchen without destroying the historic feel and value of the location. I loved the look and feel of Gaylord’s right away. We were seated in a private dining area where we enjoyed a fabulous lunch with whatever we wanted to drink. Many of us chose to sample the local wines which turned out to be a wonderful choice. We spent the next hour eating, drinking and laughing over our misadventure on the train.

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Finishing lunch we wandered over to the Koloa Rum Company were we sampled the local rum made at the Company. We had a great time tasking various types of rum and I purchased a couple of bottles to take home as a gift to my husband who I knew would appreciate it. Arriving back at the Sheraton after the rum tasting, I was more than ready for a nap, but I did all of my packing for home first because I knew we would have a very late evening at the Grand Hyatt Kauai.

Everyone chose to dress up for our farewell dinner at the Hyatt. After seeing this sprawling luxurious property, our attire was very appropriate. The Hyatt is an oceanfront oasis and seeing it at sunset before dinner was a real treat. I could not take enough photos as everywhere you looked you saw a perfect scene.

Grand Hyatt Lobby
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Grand Hyatt Dining
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Grand Hyatt Guest Room
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Grand Hyatt Grounds
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Grand Hyatt Beach
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Dinner was an elegant and leisurely affair at one of the onsite restaurants. We ate wonderful food, drank great wine and talked among ourselves with the sound of a nearby waterfall in the background. Returning to the Sheraton late in the evening, I had no problem falling asleep in my comfy bed. It had been an awesome day.

The next morning we headed to the airport for our various flights home. I had experienced a fantastic stay on Maui and Kauai and I could not wait to return one day to see what I had missed on two of America's Islands of Paradise!

The End!

Gerrilyn Grant Gipson Esq.
Owner/Travel Consultant
Meeting & Events Unlimited Travel Services
Follow us on Facebook and Twitter!

Posted by Gerriv 09:01 Comments (2)

Hawaii Revisited-Kauai

A visit to Kauai brought time to relax and enjoy "the Garden Isle".

I arrived on the island of Kauai about mid afternoon after a short flight from Maui that morning. A representative from the Kauai Convention and Visitors Bureau met our much smaller group of meeting and travel planners at the small airport. After loading up our baggage we were transported to the St Regis Princeville Resort where we would have lunch and do a site inspection of the resort. Our driver for this trip was a very jolly local who entertained us on the drive with stories of the history of the island and pointing out sights along the way.

Kaua'i is the oldest island in the Hawaiian chain and often called the Garden Isle because of its lush green landscape and endless beauty. Kauai is draped in green valleys, sharp mountain peaks and jagged cliffs. Centuries of growth have formed tropical rainforests, forking rivers and cascading waterfalls. Some parts of Kauai are only accessible by sea or air, revealing stunning views. The Capital City of Kauai is Lihue and the island has a population of approximately 62,640 people.

In 1778, British explorer Captain James Cook landed in Kauai’s Waimea Bay for the first time. Cook’s discovery of what he called the “Sandwich Isles,” named after the Earl of Sandwich, introduced Hawaii to the world. During this era of western discovery, King Kamehameha I attempted to unify the Hawaiian Islands under his rule. Kauai and the small neighboring island of Niihau (part of Kauai county) were the only islands to resist his efforts. Eventually, Kauai’s King Kaumualii decided to peacefully unite with Kamehameha and join the rest of the Kingdom of Hawaii.

Arriving at the St Regis we were greeted by the resort manager who offered to give us a short tour of the resort before lunch. The St Regis is a refined and elegant property overlooking legendary Hanalei Bay in the premiere 9,000 acre resort community of Princeville at Hanalei. The resort has 252 elegantly appointed rooms and suites and well as a luxury Spa.

View of the St Regis from the beach
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St Regis guest room
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Lunch for our group was enjoyed outside at a restaurant by the pool. The views of the pool and beach were stunning and the weather was warm and wonderful. We were invited to sample anything we wanted from the restaurant menu and we all took advantage, selecting different sandwiches and dishes and passing them around the table for everyone to enjoy. After and early morning flight to Kauai and traveling 32 miles from the airport to Princeville, this relaxing lunch was just what the doctor ordered.

St Regis pool area
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My fellow Planners and I enjoy lunch by the St Regis pool
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Following lunch our group was transferred to our accommodations for the next 2 days, the Sheraton Kauai Resort. Walking into the lobby of the Sheraton I immediately notice the open air layout of the resort located right on the South Shore of Kauai, right on Poipu beach. You could hear the sounds of the ocean waves and feel the tropical breezes while standing in the lobby of the resort.

Sheraton Lobby
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Looking over our schedule for the rest of the day, we had a tour of the resort and a Welcome Reception beginning in less than two hours, so I hurried to my room to relax before the evenings events. Entering my room, I was surprised and pleased at what I found.

My elegant room at the Sheraton Kauai
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View from my balcony at the Sheraton Kauai
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Preparations being made for our Welcome Reception
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The tour of the Sheraton gave us quite a workout. Spread out over 20 acres of ocean front property, the Sheraton has 394 rooms and suites in small low rise buildings situated around the resort grounds and pools. The resort also features a beach activities center, 3 tennis courts, and ocean-view dining. On selected evenings, a torch lighting ceremony with Hawaiian entertainment is offered for guests to enjoy. I have to say the resort and the setting was really beautiful.

Sheraton Kauai pool area
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Sheraton Kauai beach
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Lagoon at the Sheraton
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Walking around the resort for almost an hour left our group tired hungry and thirsty. With great anticipation we approached the reception area and we were finally able to relax and enjoy the food drinks and scenery. We were not disappointed. The food was wonderful, the tropical drinks were tasty and the view of the ocean was gorgeous. We ate, drank and talked until the sun went down; then we all retired to our rooms for the rest of the night.

My fellow planners and I enjoy great food, some delicious Mai Tais and each other!
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My first day on Kauai was a whirlwind, but totally educational and enjoyable. There was still a lot to see the next day and I was more than ready to see and experience as much as I could before my Hawaii Revisited tour came to an end.

Coming up, another day on beautiful Kauai before heading home. To be continued......

Gerrilyn Grant Gipson Esq.
Owner/Travel Consultant
Meetings & Events Unlimited Travel Services
Follow me on Facebook and Twitter!
www.facebook.com/thetravelconcierge

Posted by Gerriv 11:58 Comments (0)

Hawaii Revisited-My Last Day on Maui

A tour of the Hyatt and Ritz Carlton resorts round out my Maui Visit

My last day on Maui began early with breakfast and a tour of the Hyatt Regency Maui. Upon arrival at the resort, the Manager of the property greeted us and ushered our group to a breakfast buffet set up by the pool and the beach. The Hyatt is another beautiful resort on Maui. There are over 800 guest rooms with Private Lanai and stunning views of mountains or ocean. The beach front resort has numerous pools, a luxurious Spa, 4 restaurants and 5 lounges. Seating ourselves at beautifully decorated tables with umbrellas to protect us from the morning sun, we relaxed and enjoyed our breakfast before going on an extensive walking tour. The food was plentiful and delicious and the mimosas and smoothies put all of us in a great mood!
After breakfast, we began our tour.

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Our group heads over to the Breakfast Buffet by the pool and beach
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View of the Hyatt pool and beach from guest room
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Hyatt Guest room
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You can get a massage on the beach at the Hyatt
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After our tour of the Hyatt we headed back to the Sheraton for an educational session presented by the Kauai Convention and Visitor's Bureau. I would be headed to Kauai the next day with a few of the other planners. The rest of the morning was spent talking one on one with resort representatives before traveling over to the Ritz Carlton Resort for lunch and a tour of that property.

The Ritz Carlton is located in the Kapalua area on the western edge of Maui. This AAA Five-Diamond 463-room hotel is truly amazing with exquisite ocean views that overlook the neighboring islands of Moloka‘i and Lana‘i. We were guided around the resort by the sales staff before sitting down to lunch and a cultural presentation. I must say that the Ritz Carlton was really amazingly beautiful.

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View of Ritz Carlton grounds from a patio of the hotel
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View of hotel from the Ritz Carlton Pool
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Ritz Carlton Pool
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Ritz Carlton guest room
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With lunch and the tour of the Ritz Carlton behind us, we headed back to the Sheraton to pack up and relax before dinner. I was pretty tired by this time, but I had enjoyed the tours, the food and the day. The first hand education that I had received on Maui from our hosts would be invaluable to me as a travel consultant. I loved the idea that I could tell future clients that I had actually seen and experienced so much on the island. Dinner was a relaxed and fun affair at a restaurant in Lahaina. Our group sat at a large table watching the sunset while eating local specialties and enjoying tropical drinks. At 10:00pm we arrived back at our hotel, taking the time to trade business cards and phone numbers. Our group would now be splitting up, with some planners going to the Big Island for a few days while the rest of us traveled to the island of Kauai the next day.

I absolutely loved the island of Maui. I cannot wait to return. The island of Kauai was next on the agenda and I was more than a little excited to see what that experience would bring. Next up, I arrive on the island of Kauai and get my first taste of an Hawaiian Loco Moco!

To be continued.....

Gerrilyn Grant Gipson Esq.
Owner/ Travel Consultant
MEETINGS AND EVENTS UNLIMITED TRAVEL SERVICES
Follow Us on Facebook!

Posted by Gerriv 13:49 Comments (0)

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