In Search of the Blarney Stone

“The Blarney Stone,” is also known as “The Stone of Eloquence,” and it is both a legend and fact. If you have wondered about the location of this fabled icon, the answer is to be found atop the 12-foot thick walls of the bleak and eerie ruins of the magnificent Blarney Castle near Cork, Ireland. Come along and join our quest.

The magical legend

In early 15th century Ireland, a Munster king named Cormac MacCarthy constructed a grand fortress in the village of Blarney – upon the edge of a towering cliff near the town of Cork.

The castle top was crowned with a machicolation that was built about two feet out from the main building and held in place by a series of large stone corbels. The objective of this separate wall was to protect castle defenders from flying arrows while they dispatched attackers with hot liquids and rocks dropped through the opening between the suspended outer wall and the structure’s main wall.

The witch did it

During the castle construction, a good and grateful witch, who had been saved from drowning by a member of the builder’s family, placed a numinous power into one of the machicolation stones. Unfortunately, she chose a rock in the most awkward location on the battlement. The enchanted stone is set in the bottom of the outer wall positioned more than 5-stories above the ground.

The Leprechauns made it public

After the witch empowered the stone, she gathered the local Leprechauns and requested they tell all the “good people” of County Cork that anyone who had the courage to kiss her “Stone of Eloquence” would be rewarded with “the eternal gift of gab.”

Well, you know how Leprechauns are. Before long the whole of Ireland knew of the magical powers of the Blarney Stone, and within 100 years – the whole world knew.

Kissing the Blarney Stone

If you visit Blarney Castle to see the famous stone, you may as well get the benefits of caressing it with your lips, because it is very hard to get a good look at the Blarney Stone without being in the kissing position.

The witch did not make this an easy task. First, there is the long and laborious climb up a narrow spiraling rock staircase to get to the parapet. There is no elevator in the ruins. We counted 124 steps, but we may have missed a few.

Getting ready for the smooch

Once you reach the top of the castle and address the stone, the kissing effort requires you to lie on your back, grab onto two iron rails fixed to the outer wall, and wiggle and suspend your head and shoulders out into space in order to reach your objective.

We can tell you first hand that it is a good thing to be on your back during this experience, because you would not want to be facing down. Visitors who suffer from acrophobia have a difficult time standing close to the opening.

Not to worry, the castle provides an able-bodied helper to hold your legs while you stretch over the opening to put lips to stone. A note of caution that we learned the hard way – remove everything from your pockets before you assume the position.

Millions of kisses and still counting

300,000+ lip caresses a year have turned the stone’s kissing spot a rather dismal shade of dark gray. The color and sheen is understandable considering the many millions of people who have kissed the magic rock over the past five-hundred years.

No one knows the full measure of famous and eloquent politicians, actors, literary giants, and business and religious leaders, who owe some – or perhaps all – of their success to the magic of the Blarney Stone.

Blarney Castle belongs on your Irish itinerary

Blarney Castle is a first rate tourist destination with a fine gift shop, charming gardens, and a superb Rock Close that is said to be built on a former Druid ceremonial site. Check out their website at http://www.blarneycastle.ie

Happy travels!

We flew from New York to Dublin on Aer Lingus. We enjoyed the Irish hospitality in the sky, you will too.

“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

© Travels with Wayne and Judy
Photos © Wayne and Judy Bayliff

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Viking Luxury on a Longship Vacation up the Danube River

After writing scores of articles about ocean cruises, we decided to see what motivates vacationers to take European river cruises. We are glad we did.

So much to choose from

There are endless selections of river cruise itineraries on the internet, so we sought the guidance of three prominent river cruise companies in Europe – Amway, Uniworld, and Viking.

Viking River Cruises comes through

Viking River Cruises was most generous with their public relations department and customer service time, so we selected their 11-day Budapest to Bucharest cruise on the Danube.

Casting off

We boarded our Viking longship, the Jarl, in Budapest. We pulled away from the dock just after dark.

If you have seen the Viking commercials featured on shows like Downton Abbey on PBS, you know what the Hungarian Parliament Building looks like by day. The picture above, shows it at night – it is a spectacular sight!

Our itinerary

Our chosen itinerary would take us to five eastern European countries including Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, and Croatia.

This is the first story from our first river cruise experience.

Romania

Romania is a country steeped in mystery and shadowed folklore. Brahms Stoker never visited the country, but he borrowed from the harsh legend of Romania’s 15th century Prince Vlad Tepes of Transylvania to create his eerie and unforgettable character, Dracula.

Another famous (in Romania) real-life character was King Decebal. He was the last king of Dacia, an ancient land located in present day Romania. He is the subject of the historical curiosity in this story.

King Decebal

Decebal was a strong and popular leader who dared defy Rome and Emperor Trajan’s conquering legions. 

The thundering silence of Decebalus Rex

Decebal is immortalized in an enormous stone likeness of his solemn face gazing toward the far (now Serbia) shore of the Danube – the place where the Roman armies camped and prepared to attack – two thousand years ago.

After many years of struggle, the Romans finally crossed the Danube River and decimated the Dacian armies in circa 105 AD.

Surrounded by faceless generals of stone, Decebal’s ghostly visage stands alone to witness the final defeat that took his country, and eventually his life. He is fated to stare into the distance, and relive his humiliation, throughout time.

A giant undertaking

At 140 feet tall, the Decebalus Rex monument is the tallest rock structure in Europe. It is considerably taller than the more famous U.S. Mount Rushmore at 59 feet.

The stone monument appears ancient, but was actually just completed in 2004 after a difficult decade of site preparation and carving. The project was funded by a private Romanian citizen, Giuseppe Constantin Drăgan.

The Tabula Traiana

Just across the river on the Serbian side lies the Trajan Table. It is an ancient carved memorial at the Danube’s edge commissioned by the great Emperor Trajan to commemorate his victories over the Dacians in the first century.

Trajan considered the ending of the Dacian Wars to be one of his greatest triumphs; so important that Trajan had another monument constructed to commemorate the event – the famous Trajan’s Column in Rome.

Pressing forward

Our Viking river boat glides silently under the brooding face of Decebal and past the ancient Trajan Table, and on through the Kazan Gorge, one of the four narrow gorges that make up the legendary Iron Gate of the Danube. This is the most scenic part of a Danube river cruise.

Our next stop will be Bulgaria.

About our river cruise ship

The Jarl is one of the 60+ longships in the Viking river fleet. She’s a sleek 443 foot vessel with 95 comfortable water-view staterooms.

She has a crew of 50 and moves effortlessly and quietly through the water with a modern diesel/electric hybrid powerhouse.

Most of the Jarl’s staff is multi-lingual, and all are well trained in the nuances of excellent customer service.

On our cruise, the food was good and ample. The chef featured cuisine from the countries we visited. If you have a palate for paprika, you will be delighted.

River ship’s hierarchy

Aboard a river cruise ship, the Captain is responsible for the operation of the vessel and the safety of the passengers. Everything else is the responsibility of the Hotel Manager.

During our 11-day cruise, we changed our Captain once. Our Hotel Manager, the genial Franz Wusits, was with us the entire trip and kept the ship’s staff on their toes – everything ran smoothly.

We interviewed Franz in our Explorer Suite located at the back of the ship.

The suites aboard the Jarl are large, and well appointed without being trendy.

Franz’s “river stories,” will provide smiles in future articles about our Viking River Cruise. Stay tuned.

More to come

We will also write about several of our excellent bus excursions on the Danube trip, which by the way, are all included in the price of the cruise. A nice bonus to river cruising.

If you go

Viking River Cruises has an itinerary to please every taste. Check out their website at www.vikingrivercruises.com.

Viking made the arrangements for our flights to Budapest and back to the US from Bucharest. We appreciate the effort.

This will not be our last river cruise, and we highly recommend the experience.

As always, if you have questions, write us at the2writers@gmail.com

Happy travels!

“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

© 2017 Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © 2017 Judy Bayliff

The Magnificent Coast of Oregon in Winter

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Much of the Oregon coast consists of miles and miles of beautiful sandy beaches, which may be exactly what you are looking for if you seek total relaxation.

However, if you crave excitement, check out the wild 40 miles of rocky shoreline that begins in the north at Waldport, Oregon and zigzags south along curvy Highway 101.

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Here, for your winter touring pleasure, nature provides scenic headlands and lofty volcanic outcroppings that plunge precipitously to the unbounded Pacific several hundred feet below.

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The best of the stretch is known as Cape Perpetua. The views are so exceptional that the rugged expanse has been federally designated a National Scenic Area.

Local history

Captain James Cook discovered and named Cape Perpetua in 1778. The mountainous wooded territory remained virtually unreachable until it became part of the Siuslaw National Forest in 1908.

In 1914, the U.S. Forest Service carved a rough road around the Cape and joined the two small neighboring towns of Yachats and Florence by constructing a wooden bridge across the Yachats River.

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By 1930 the old wooden bridge had been replaced by a span made of steel. The road was greatly improved and is now part of historic Highway 101 stretching 1,500 miles from Port Angeles, Washington to Los Angeles, California. The panoramic Central Coast of Oregon is now accessible to all.

Thank you CCC

The Civilian Conservation Corps was created in 1933 to provide jobs to thousands of America’s youth during the Great Depression. The result of the CCC effort in Oregon made Cape Pepetua a unique travel destination with miles of inviting trails.

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Imagine being young and strong and working in this pristine domain of breathtaking beauty where you can see for miles along the jagged coastal shoreline. 

Visualize waking to a crackling fire amid a silent coastal fog, and gathering with your fellow workers for that first warming sip of morning coffee.

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The work was hard, but satisfying, and the participants of the CCC experienced life in convivial communal encampments — the remains of which are still visible at Cape Perpetua.

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These were the lucky ones in hard times, and although most of them are now departed, their lasting legacy of trails and shelters are still in use today.

Attractions at the Cape

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There are three major natural attractions within a short walk from the parking lot of the Cape Pepetua Visitors Center. Thor’s Well, Spouting Horn, and Devil’s Churn – the most exciting being Thor’s Well.

In simple terms, Thor’s Well is a collapsed underwater volcanic cave that formed a large round hole on the surface – think very big blow hole. 

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The hole is about 20 feet deep, and during incoming tides and rough seas, the water rushes into the submerged cavern and erupts into a mighty blast of foaming ocean that can easily tumble curious onlookers that venture too close.

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Seconds after the upward explosion, the Well dramatically inhales the ocean that it just hurled-up.

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Be careful, you don’t want to be on the ride back to the sea!

Trails

It’s an intermediate-level hike across the rocky shoreline and up through dense spruce forests to the outlooks.

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Fortunately, the trails adjacent to the Visitor’s Center are paved for easy access by all. There are 11 trails to choose from; a total of 27 miles of hiking adventures and spectacular views.

Sea lion caves

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Approximately five miles south of the Cape Pepetua Visitors Center is another unusual natural attraction – The Seal Lion Caves. This is North America’s largest sea cave, and well worth a visit. You can learn more about what to expect at the caves by viewing our photos and reading our article on the subject here.

Heceta Lighthouse

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While in the area, plan to visit the historic Heceta Lighthouse. We spent two nights in the lighthouse keeper’s residence — a unique experience indeed. You can read that story here.

If you go

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For campers there’s the nearby Washburne State Park Campground where you can pitch a tent, and park a trailer or RV. For under $50, there are also several yurts for rent.

For more creature comforts

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If you prefer something more comfortable than living in the great outdoors, we highly recommend the Three Rivers Casino and Resort  in nearby Florence, Oregon.

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This is our favorite casino, and is less than 15 miles from Cape Pepetua.

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The rooms at the Three Rivers Casino are reasonably priced, clean and spacious, and just steps away from an exciting gaming facility.

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We are non-smokers, so the separate smoking and non-smoking gaming halls are most welcome.

Outstanding buffet

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If you love great food, you cannot beat the World Market Buffet at the Three Rivers. The buffet offers a wide selection of savory entrees, with several made-to-order specialties. We have reviewed many buffets, and we rate this one – tops.

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For more information or reservations, click on the Three Rivers Casino website.

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A Winter Odyssey

For an awe-inspiring look at the Oregon Coast, check out this excellent video from Uncage the Soul Productions.

We love the Oregon Coast in winter. We think you will too!

Happy travels!

*************************

“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

Sitka: The Old Capital of Alaska

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Stepped in history and culture, and surrounded by picturesque forested islands, towering mountains, a distant volcano, and soaring eagles – Sitka is what most tourists imagine when they think of Alaska’s natural wonders.

Founded by Russian explorers in the eighteenth century, Sitka (once called New Archangel) is within easy view of Mt. Edgecombe, an extinct volcano that adds drama to an already rich and colorful landscape.

Sitka before Juneau

The city of 9,000 residents was the capital of Alaska between 1867 when the United States purchased “Seward’s Icebox” from Russia and until 1912 when the territorial seat of government was moved to the current state capital, Juneau. The site where the transfer of ownership of Alaska took place is a brief walk from the cruise-tender dock on Sitka Bay.

Things to do in Sitka

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A visit to Sitka offers the traveler an opportunity to participate in Russian cultural tours, and outdoor activities that include fishing, hiking, biking, kayaking, and nature walks and other attractions.

Visit the cemetery

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We always try to offer up something a little different in our travel reviews, and our choice for Sitka is the Old Russian cemetery, which dates back to the early 1800s.

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Noted on tourist maps, but not on any organized tour, the old burial ground is located a short walk from the center of town.

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The graveyard entrance is not conspicuously marked, and judging by the narrow footpaths, it is not frequented by many visitors.

100_3358The cemetery was built on a difficult landscape of densely forested hills – along dark winding paths lined with moss and ferns – not particularly conducive to carrying a casket.

The grounds are not maintained. Most of the century’s old weathered headstones have sunk into the wet peat soil and rest at odd angles to the surrounding terrain – resulting in a macabre geometric mélange of ghostly forms. If you like reading Poe, you will enjoy a visit to this eerie yet enchanting graveyard.

Eagles everywhere

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The last time we saw a bald eagle was at Big Bear Lake in California, when a fellow tourist spotted one soaring high above the water. The sighting caused quite a stir among the onlookers.

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Contrast that single sighting experience to Sitka where there are bald eagles everywhere – hundreds of them.

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The proud and beautiful American symbol with the white head and huge wingspan is an integral part of life in Sitka.

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Bald eagles soar overhead – constantly, and look like white Christmas ornaments as they perch in the tall evergreen trees that line the shore.

How to get there

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Sitka is situated midway up the Inside Passage in the Alexander Archipelago on Baranof Island, and is frequented by most of the cruise ships that sail the Passage.

Sitka is also serviced by the Alaska Marine Highway ferry fleet, and Alaska Airlines.

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If you travel the Inside Passage, be sure that Sitka is on the itinerary. You will not be disappointed.

Happy travels.

**************************

“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

Stay at a Beachy-Keen Resort while Exploring Oregon’s Sea Lion Caves

The famous San Francisco sea lions that occupy prime dock space on Pier 39 first appeared there shortly after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Then in 2009 they mysteriously disappeared for three months. Where did they go? 

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Oregonians believe that the celebrity sea lions headed north to holiday on the turbulent and exciting shores of the central coast of Oregon. To be exact, they headed for the famous Sea Lion Caves in Florence. 

As evidence, the Oregon locals point to the massive increase in the annual sea lion population soon after the SF lions turned off the lights in their famous City by the Bay. 

Sea lions everywhere 

Sea lion fans rejoice. Currently, nature is providing ample amounts of the odoriferous mammalia to go around.

Along with the flabby fellows comes the infamous sea lion aroma. The gamey bouquet is pervasive on the famous California pier, and is inescapable in the celebrated Oregon cave. Take heart, most people recover rapidly from the first initial shock.

When they are in Oregon 

From about December to August the jolly lions inhabit the largest sea cave in America, which is located just 11 miles north of Florence, and some 200 feet below the roadbed of busy US Highway 101. 

The cave is 25 million years old, tall as a 12-story building, and about a football field in length. It’s big.

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The building entrance to the cave sits on a curve in the road that during the summer months percolates with tots and teens under the watchful gaze of parents – all anxious to view the famous pinnipeds in their natural habitat.

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Once you have paid your admission fee inside the gift shop, it’s a relatively-short and scenic walk down to the elevator pavilion. 

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The elevator was installed in 1961, and today it’s fun to watch people cheerfully bunch into the hoist that transports them 208 feet down to the giant sea grotto below.

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The cave’s resident Steller and Northern Sea Lions are viewed in their natural habitat from behind a metal mesh screen, which can be a challenge for picture taking, but it is doable. 

Now you see them and now you don’t 

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The lions come and go from the Sea Cave on a loose schedule determined by Nature. The choice rock space begins to fill up around December 1st of every year, and the last of the several hundred cave inhabitants usually have somewhere else to go by mid-August. 

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Even when there are just a few – if any – sea lions in the cavern, the Cave is a worthwhile experience. 

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Over the years, the owners of the Sea Cave have embellished the attraction with ample parking and a great topside gift shop (try the delicious homemade fudge – yummy). 

What you will find down under 

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Look for the natural rock room where the public can view an engrossing film about the sea, cave, and the flora and fauna of the area.  It’s interesting to note that there are several species of endangered birds nesting in the cave.

Additionally, there are educational displays, and creative colors and lights that are conducive to the grotto setting.

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From the subterranean sea lion viewing level, walk up the staircase to the observation platform.

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There you will find a dynamic panorama of the sea – an excellent place from which to view the historic Heceta Lighthouse* perched on a cliff just a few miles north of the cave. 

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The Sea Lion Caves is a fun family activity. We suggest you give it a go.

Where to stay 

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On this visit we chose to stay in Florence at the Driftwood Shores Resort, the only oceanfront hotel in the area. 

The view astonishes

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Every room and suite at the Driftwood Shores has a spectacular view.

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All the rooms overlook miles of pristine beach, and the fresh air, and roar of the crashing waves is a welcome sleep inducer.

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In addition to the usual hotel conveniences, our generous lodging had a full size kitchen,

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and a front row seat to breathtaking sunsets from our private balcony. 

Other unique amenities include an indoor aquatic center, and an electric car charging station.

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The resort offers ocean cuddling accommodations from single rooms, to one bedroom suites, and three bedroom condos. It is a comfortable base from which to explore the many attractions and activities offered in this scenic part of the Oregon coast. 

The Driftwood Shores Resort would be a great venue for a wedding, large family, or small corporate gathering. There’s ample gathering space for about 100 people. 

It’s a beachy-keen accommodation that we think you will like.

Where to eat

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The Surfside Restaurant and Lounge is located right on property. The food is first rate. Open seven days a week, the restaurant is a celebration of the region’s produce in a striking setting with panoramic views.

If you go 

For more information about Sea Lion Caves reach out to their website at http://www.sealioncaves.com 

To check on current specials or make reservations at the Driftwood Shores Resort click here

*To read our story about the historic Heceta Lighthouse look here

Happy travels! 

**************************************** 

“Get out there, but be prepared.” 

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance

You can plan your trips with Google Maps

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

Copyright © 2016 Visit great vacation destinations with Wayne and Judy Bayliff 

Photos Copyright © 2016 Judy Bayliff – some Driftwood Shores facility photos courtesy of Driftwood Shores Resort.

The Poet and the Dictator that Shaped the Destiny of Italy

By Bob and Janice Kollar

A Surprise Discovery in Gardone Rivera

We selected the town of Gardone Rivera on the shores of Lake Garda because of its proximity to the Sirmione Peninsula, and the archaeological site of well preserved “Roman Ruins”.

We usually plan some “open time” in our travel itineraries to allow us some flexibility to explore an interesting town, or museum, or just take a spontaneous side trip.

The “Vittoriale degli Italiani” (The Shrine of Italian Victories) Museum worked out perfectly and it was only five minutes from our hotel.  We actually discovered a fascinating introduction to one of Italy’s most famous, as well as, interesting personalities… Gabriele D’Annunzio.

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D’Annunzio’s Villa

 The final residence of Gabriele D’Annunzio is now a museum dedicated to his life and accomplishments.  A review of this incredible man’s life makes an excellent read, and provides an entertaining glimpse into the political side of Italy’s history leading up to World War II.

In the era before World War I, he was one of Italy’s most influential politicians, and a charismatic leader adored by his followers.  He served valiantly in the Navy, Air Force, and Army as a true war hero known for his boldness and outright courage. His many medals and awards are on display in the museum.

D’Annunzio was also regarded to be a national treasure.  A “Renaissance Man”… he did it all as an artist, poet, journalist, playwright, and one of Italy’s most popular, as well as, controversial writers of the 20th Century.

But another part of his lore was derived from his legendary affairs as he boasted to have seduced over 1,000 women.  Being married to a young aristocrat with three sons did not stop him from his constant affairs (sometimes multiple at once) throughout his adult life.

At 5’ 4” and not terribly attractive (some said ugly) he possessed a sexual magnetism that proved to be quite irresistible.  Perhaps this attraction also attributed to his outlandish, exhibitionist lifestyle, his purported suave Italian demeanor, and presumably his many erotic publications that may have peaked their interests… it had to be something!

The Era of the Fascist Regime

During World War I D’Annunzio became a powerful figure and began asserting his very strong ultra-nationalist doctrine.  But at the same time Benito Mussolini was developing his movement with a more extreme right leaning tilt.  After the dust settled, Mussolini had more power, influence and aggression than D’Annunzio and created a more dominant form of Fascism.

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The Dictator and The Poet         

Photo Credit —  Vogue Italia  —  Corbis

D’Annunzio supported Mussolini and his rise to power but did not participate in the Fascist political party, remaining neutral. One consistent thing; he did not like Germans and the Nazi movement and continually counseled Mussolini to avoid an alliance with Hitler… to no avail.

 Eliminating the Competition

On the evening before a fateful assembly to determine the “meeting for national pacification”, the Poet was thrown out a window of his Lake Garda Villa onto the courtyard and his active career came to a bone crushing halt.

Two months later, Mussolini did his march on Rome and took control of the country. IMG_7242

The Bone Crushing Courtyard Landing Zone

 Mussolini and his followers adopted a great deal of D’Annunzio’s ideas, his approach to government, his skills with motivating and influencing masses of people, the elaborate nationalistic ceremonies, etc… right down to the Roman Salute.

 Maintain and Control

The Dictator kept D’Annunzio on the side lines and out of his way.  Mussolini was known to have said… “With a rotten tooth, you either pull it out, or fill it with gold!  With D’Annunzio I have chosen the latter treatment.”

So he vastly enhanced D’Annunzio’s villa into a monumental residence, and provided him a constant supply of cocaine… in essence he literally paid him to remain out of politics… the window drop would have done it for me!

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Vittoriale degli Italiani

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Entrance to the Auditorium

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Garden Sculpture atVittoriale degli Italiani”

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Amphitheater

Also on display at the museum are his books, uniforms, medals and art work as well as a few of his war relic mementos… such as a torpedo boat, the front half of an armored cruiser, and even the hero’s airplane.

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D’Annunzio’s Actual Combat Aircraft IMG_7227

One of Many Military Installations

 On March 1, 1938 D’Annunzio died at the age of 75 of a cerebral hemorrhage.  His funeral was a large Fascist state affair and Mussolini walked with his coffin.

Mussolini was quoted to say… “You may be sure Italy will arrive at the summit you dreamed of.”

In Summary

The visit to Lago di Garda and the town of Gardone Rivera provided us with memories of beautiful scenery, excellent cuisine, and exposure to the absolutely wonderful, warm and friendly people.

A definite highlight was the surprise history lesson.  By leaving some “open spots” in your daily itinerary, it is amazing what rewards come your way.

Please follow us in the next article… Exploring the Roman Ruins of Lago di Garda.

After all, what is the hurry… be inspired.

© 2016 Inspired Travel Itineraries with Bob and Janice Kollar

© 2016 Picture Credits Bob & Janice Kollar

The Drive from Innsbruck, Austria to Bolzano, Italy

By Bob and Janice Kollar

We left Innsbruck and crossed into the northern region of Italy known as Alto Adige via the Brenner Pass.  The lowest of the Alpine passes, it is situated about 4,500 feet above sea level and has played a major role in Italy’s history.

Centuries ago it was an important trade route for Rome, and eventually becoming the strategic roadway for invasions into Italy by Austria and Germany to name a few.

Today the Brenner “Highway” remains a very significant route between Italy and Austria. But this time the invaders are holding credit cards and shopping bags as it is a major tourist gateway between these countries.

Alto Adige

The region’s cultural fusion is fascinating as the native Alpine (Austrian) people are rooted to the land and their heritage.  The impact of the World War II “adjustments” to the borders of both countries resulted in a blend of traditions, customs, wine making, cooking, and the language having a slight twist.

With German being the predominate language at hotels, restaurants, and even the street signs… we asked ourselves… are we really in Italy?

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Finding the Schloss Hotel Korb        

Finding Bolzano was easy, but finding the hotel was a challenge especially with an address like this one:

Schloss Hotel Korb ag-spa,

Hocheppanerweg 5 via Castel d’Appiano

1-39050 Missian/o – Eppan/Appiano

South Tyrol / Italy

The GPS got us to the right area but that was it.  The hotel came up as unknown.

We now had to depend on our language skills (using that term lightly) and began asking directions to the hotel near Bolzano.  We wound up in a vineyard, on a gravel road, with a new car, four wheeling under a beautiful blue sky.

Bob said, “No problem, I’ll find it!”  as he reached for the cell phone to call the hotel. The Schloss Hotel Korb was very helpful and tried to find a landmark to pin point where we were and to guide us to their property.

With questions like: “Can you see a church steeple?  Does it have a cross or an onion on top?”  OK, it has a cross… now what?   We were instructed to simply drive towards that structure and we will be right on course for the hotel.

No we cannot make this stuff up… classic isn’t it?

We asked yet another local and through his 7 year old daughter (the interpreter) we were told to go down this road and turn left at the fountain and the church is down the hill on the right.

As we are finally making our way out of the vineyard, a peloton of cyclists (about 50 +) were going by at a rapid pace… where the heck did they come from?

Following the cyclist was a bunch of celebrating wedding guests, plus the bride and groom, and a dozen or so cars blaring their horns and having a great time.

There we sat, in a cloud of dust, just looking at each other. We smiled and said…welcome to Italy!  

The Schloss Hotel Korb Experience

We finally found the Schloss Hotel Korb sign and navigated our way through more vineyards but this time on paved roads.

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The hotel is set on top of a hillside surrounded by vineyards, overlooking the Dolomites and the valley below leading up to the village of Bolzano… picturesque is an understatement.  IMG_6859

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     Manicured to perfection and almost ready for the harvest 

 Schloss Hotel Korb Ambiance and Setting

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 Welcome to Schloss Hotel Korb

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The Tower IMG_6862

Outdoor Dining with a View IMG_6871

Registration Area and Foyer in the Castle

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The First Floor Foyer View

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Sissi the Guard Dog and Greeter IMG_6853

The Battlement Suite in the Castle Building with an Expansive Outdoor Balcony 

In Summary

A visit to Northern Italy is not complete until you experience the Alto Adige region.  The people, Italian & German blends of cultures, food and wine… bellissimo!

After all, what is the hurry… be inspired.

© 2016 Inspired Travel Itineraries with Bob and Janice Kollar

© 2016 Picture Credits Bob & Janice Kollar

Staying at a Lighthouse Keeper’s House May Not be Luxurious, but it is a Fun Experience!

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We had heard so many fascinating stories about lighthouses along the scenic Oregon coast that we decided to make a road trip from San Francisco to visit one. Here’s what we did.

Breaking up a long drive

Ours was to be a considerable drive of 552 miles, estimated to take approximately 9-hours, so we decided to break our journey into two days. 

The first thing we looked for was a convenient bed and breakfast along the route.

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We contacted the Old Thyme Bed and Breakfast, 217 miles north of San Francisco in the town of Redding, which came recommended by a subscriber to our articles.

The inn is just minutes from Interstate 5, where we spent most of our driving time, and gave us the perfect break in our travel.

After a super slumber and a delicious breakfast, we were ready for the final leg of our adventure.

On the road again

Interstate 5 traffic continued to be light from Redding to Weed, California, and the scenery improved with each passing mile. The intermittent views of Mt. Shasta from I-5 were often breathtaking.

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The most picturesque route to the central Oregon coast begins after leaving I-5 at exit 136 and connecting to Oregon state highway 138. Be sure to make the drive along 138 in the daylight, because you do not want to miss the panoramic blend of lush forests and verdant mountains.

We arrive

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By mid-afternoon we were approaching the coastal town of Reedsport, Oregon. From there it’s a quick 20-minute drive along historic highway 101 north to the art-deco inspired Siuslaw River Bridge that spans the river running along the Florence waterfront.

It was a beautiful crisp day on the Oregon coast.

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We took lunch at the Bridgewater Ocean Fresh Fish House in the quaint “Old Town,” section of Florence.

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Our selections were fish and chips and fried oysters. Exceptionally fine sea food at reasonable prices.

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The ambiance of Florence is “American Quaint,” and we were immediately comfortable with the town and our surroundings.

On to the lighthouse

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One of the reasons we chose Florence for our base camp was its close proximity to the Heceta Lighthouse.

History

In 1891 President Benjamin Harrison reserved a coastal headland known as Heceta Head, in Lane County, Oregon, for the sole use of a lighthouse, which was subsequently constructed and dedicated three years later.

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The lighthouse, boasts a 1.2 million candle power light — the most powerful on the Oregon coast. It can be seen from far out at sea, and also, from various points along Hwy 101. 

The last keeper left when the giant light was automated in 1963. Thereafter, the keeper’s notably unique residence went vacant.

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The Heceta lighthouse keeper’s dwelling was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

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Twenty-two year later in 1995, Lane County opened the building for tours and a six guestroom B&B.

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We had the privilege of spending two nights in the Mariner II (the one we recommend) guestroom at the Heceta Lighthouse Keeper’s Bed and Breakfast.

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Our room was one of three with an en suite bath. If you enjoy traveling back in time, this is a place you will not want to miss.

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Painstakingly furnished with period antiques, the vintage Queen Ann style keeper’s house is a giant step back to the late 1800’s.

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The house is reputed to be haunted, and the setting is perfect for the phenomenon, but alas, we did not see any ghosts.

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The view from our room was inspiring. The windows were like a powerful lens through which our expectations of the beauty of the rugged Oregon coastline became a reality.

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A stay at the Keeper’s home includes a house tour, lighthouse tour, wine and cheese social, and a gourmet breakfast. All worth the price of admission.

See the lighthouse in daylight and after dark

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It’s a brief walk from the keeper’s house to the lighthouse atop the craggy knoll.

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There is also a cliff trail that rises above the lighthouse.

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The view from that vantage point invites your gaze over the shimmering ocean and the southern aspect of the Siuslaw National Forest and its rocky shoreline.

A flashlight is provided in every guestroom in the inn, along with encouragement to climb the easy trail after dark.

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At night the lighthouse is showcased in the dramatic glow of its illuminated Fresnel lens, which tirelessly scans the sea under the gaze of a million stars.

Do not miss breakfast

Original innkeepers Mike and Carol Korgan are both certified executive chefs. They are retired now, but their daughter Michelle, and partner Stephen have upheld the tradition of fine dining at the house.

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A seven-course day-opening meal awaits each guest. At this table, delicious food keeps coming until every guest is fully nourished and satisfied.

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Accompanied by rousing coffees and teas, the multi-plate tapas style breakfast was a great way to start the day. The experience was further enhanced by the congeniality of our fellow guests.

Our recommendation

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For those heading to Oregon and ready for an authentic 19th century lighthouse keeper’s experience accompanied by a gourmet-envy seven-course breakfast, we think you will enjoy the Heceta Head Lighthouse B&B. Learn more about it here.

Because this vintage B&Bs has very few guestrooms, be sure to make reservations several weeks in advance to avoid disappointment.

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Happy travels!

********************************

“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

An Elegant Outdoor Experience with the Lighthouses of Quebec

Le Quebec Maritime

The Province of Québec, Canada has so much to offer the global tourist that we found the best way to present the many vacation options was to separate them into several categories; this story zeroes in on just one of Québec’s major attractions – lighthouses.

On the trail of the lighthouses

North America’s most spectacular lighthouse trek is in Canada’s Le Québec Maritime, which is located along the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and the St. Lawrence River. Central to the Maritime region is the Gaspésie (or Gaspé) Peninsula and that is where our adventure begins.

Getting there

We flew non-stop from San Francisco to Montréal on Air Canada. It was a long flight and we were happy to arrive at the modern Trudeau International Airport, and even more pleased to be able to walk to the convenient and stylish Marriott hotel located right there in the airport building next to the US Departures Terminal.

After a quick dinner, we were off to bed – anxiously looking forward to continuing our venture with the rise of the sun.

The next morning we took an Air Canada Jazz flight on a small aircraft to the quaint town of Gaspé, which is situated at the easternmost end of the Gaspésie peninsula and about 575 miles northeast of Montréal.

There we met up with friends who had already secured a mini-van and within minutes, we had our luggage aboard and were off on our search for accessible lighthouses.

There are 43 historic lighthouses in the Québec Maritime, but not all are easy to reach, or open to tourists.

Our goal 

Twenty lighthouses in the Maritime have been restored and/or converted to museums, lodging, and otherwise made available to the public. We were eager to explore and photograph as many of them as our short visit would allow.

As we drove, it did not take long to realize that all of our subjects were located in gorgeous natural surroundings thick with boreal forests and vistas of the sea. At every turn, the scenery was breathtaking, and we were fortunate to be blessed with ideal weather to enjoy our outing.

Forillon National Park

Forillon National Park

Our first stop was at a large and spectacular park not far from the town of Gaspé. At the Grande-Grave Heritage House at Forillon Park, we met up with Ranger Bruce O’Connor who is a wealth of information about the area.

Ranger Bruce introduced us to the local flora and fauna, and pointed out the interesting irregularities of the topography of the park.

We also learned that this area is rich in the history of 20th century fishermen and merchants. You can read all about the history and culture on the park’s website linked above.

Tourists can easily spend days exploring the vast Forillon Park, and if you decide to do that, there are convenient overnight accommodations right in the park. There are over 350 campsites, and if you aren’t ready for the fun of sleeping on the ground, try a Yurt, or tent trailer, both are available for rent in the park at reasonable prices.

Forillon was the place where we saw our first lighthouse

The Cap Gaspé, was established in 1873 and at 30-feet in height is short by lighthouse standards. However, there was no need for it to be tall because it is perched atop a high cliff overlooking the great St. Lawrence.

In the same park, you will also find Canada’s tallest lighthouse (112-feet) from 1858, the Cap-des-Rosiers. This light was constructed at a considerably lower elevation that has easy access to the sea.

Both lighthouses are in excellent condition. Canada takes great pride in the upkeep of their historic lighthouse treasures.

“Thar she blows”

This entire area is a vast causeway for migrating whales of many species, and we were able to see several of the magnificent animals from the Cap Gaspé cliffs.

Back to Gaspé for dinner and a rest

This is an article about lighthouses so we will not dwell on the inns where we stayed – except for this one. We spent our first night at the charming (circa 1860) Auberge William Wakeham in Gaspé.

This is a vintage inn that has been scrupulously maintained by generations of owners. The restaurant ambiance is uniquely European in flavor and the food – oh my – is regionally famous and rightfully so. There are scrumptious mains from local waters and ice cream and deserts made on site. Yummy!

The 132

In the morning, we were back on Canada Route 132, the signature highway of the Lighthouse Tour that circles the Gaspé Peninsula. There are at least 15 lighthouses on this scenic drive that runs along the entire coast of the peninsula. The 132 is rich in photo ops of colorful villages, cliffs, beaches, capes, and of course – lighthouses.

Pointe-á-la-Renommée lighthouse

Established in 1880, this 49-foot charmer is called the most traveled lighthouse in the world having been moved to and from its present site. It once resided in the Port of Québec for 20-years. It was returned in 1997.

The museum on location is not to be missed. This was the site of the first North American maritime radio station installed by Marconi in 1904. The grounds are as spectacular as the seemingly endless views. This is another place where our day passed too quickly. We want to return.

La Martre lighthouse

The La Martre is located in a quiet setting near a church overlooking a panoramic coast. This 63-foot tall lighthouse was constructed of wood in 1906. It is a rare treat to see because most wooden lighthouses ceased to exist years ago. The lighthouse still works with the original cable and weight system that operates the illumination mechanism.

Pointe-au-Pére lighthouse

This is the site of Canada’s worst maritime disaster, the sinking of the passenger ship Empress of Ireland on May 29, 1914. One-thousand and twelve lives were lost.

Resting in just 130 feet of water, the old wreck has taken many more lives through the years. Subsequent deaths were mostly recreational scuba divers who put themselves in harms way by entering the wreck seeking treasures. It is now forbidden to enter the wreck of the Empress.

The original lighthouse at this location was built in 1859, followed by three more, the latest and final rendition is 108-feet tall and was completed in 1975. It was deactivated in 1998.

The current structure is one of the tallest lighthouses in Canada with 128 steps to climb – if you are game. For those who dare, a breathtaking view of the St. Lawrence River awaits you – if there is no pea soup fog.

The Pointe-au-Pére was the last lighthouse we had time to visit on our short four-day trip. We took the time to thoroughly investigate five lighthouses, but there are so many more to see. We will make it a point to add more days to the lighthouse tour on our next visit to Le Québec Maritime.

The ferry to Forestville

We decided to explore, albeit briefly, the north shore of the St. Lawrence River before returning to Montréal and our flight home. We took a pleasant ferry excursion to Forestville from Rimouski. The crossing was complete in about one-hour.

The van was unloaded in short order we were driving to Baie-Comeau and the Garden of the Glaciers. The Garden is another of Québec’s attraction that deserves its own story, so we wrote one. You can read our article about that exciting family experience by clicking on http://is.gd/caZNCg

We highly recommend the Québec Maritime for a fun-filled fly and drive vacation. There is so much to do and the sightseeing is terrific.

To see more photos from our lighthouse tour click *here.*

If you go

To avoid disappointment, we suggest you arrange your vehicle rental and accommodations before you arrive in Canada.

For more information about what the Québec Maritime has to offer, check out their great website: http://quebecmaritime.ca.

Take special note of their unique self-guided tours.

Happy travels!

*************

“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

We Joined a Whale of a Party in Baja, Mexico, and You Are Invited!

 

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The next time you get tired of winter, book a flight to La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico. During the months of January through April, the weather in La Paz is absolutely perfect, and it is a wonderful time to take the opportunity to get up close and personal with gray whales and their calves.

Getting there

La Paz has its own airport, but the bigger Cabo San Lucas airport to the south has more flights and services.

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When we arrived in Cabo, we took a taxi for the almost three-hour scenic ride on Mexico Route 19 from Cabo to La Paz – the road was good and we zipped right along.

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It does not take long to confirm that Baja California is indeed a desert, and we found ourselves imagining that the thousands of cacti along the highway were humorous stick “characters.”

Route 19 runs parallel to the pristine sandy beaches of the Pacific for about 50 miles north of Cabo and before cutting east across the peninsula to La Paz.

We stopped only once for a bite to eat in the small town of Todos Santos on the Pacific side of the peninsula. We ate at La Coronela restaurant in the Hotel California. We dined in the hotel’s comfortable courtyard, the food was excellent – and the beer was ice cold.

 The city of La Paz

La Paz is a city on the Sea of Cortez with some 200,000 residents, but much of the tourist activity is near the water where La Paz’s flavor takes on the vibe of a prosperous seaside village.

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Traffic wasn’t bad coming into town along the shore and picturesque La Paz Malecón, so we reached our hotel in short order.

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The Hyatt Place is a new hotel in the exclusive Costa Baja area of La Paz.  It’s right in front of a marina that is home to magnificent yachts from around the world. The hotel rooms are spacious and modern, and each booking comes with a tasty hot breakfast with eggs your way, pancakes, fruit, juice, coffee, etc.

Our videographer friend Richard Williams was on the trip, and put together a creative film clip about the Hyatt. See it *here*

Up in the morning

It was breakfast at sunrise and into a van for the 170-mile drive across the Peninsula, to the Pacific side and Puerto Lopez Mateo.

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The journey took about 3.5 hours, with a brief stop for a delicious lunch (we had fresh fish) in the small town of Constitucion.

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When we arrived at the whale watching dock in Puerto Lopez Mateo, we were anxious to don our life vests, board our boat, and be introduced to the mighty gray whales that were waiting for us in the inlet.

About the whales

Every year, traveling at speeds of about 5 miles per hour, 10 to 15 thousand gray whales make their way from the freezing waters of Alaska’s Bering Sea along the Pacific Coast of America to the warm waters of Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula. It is here that the female grays bear their calves.

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There are only three places in the world where gray whales give birth, and all of them are in Baja, Mexico. After birthing, the mothers and their offspring stay in the safety of the lagoons for several weeks in order for the mothers to teach their newborns to feed, swim, and socialize with other whales.

The male grays leave Baja first, and by April the majority of the whales are on their 5,000+ mile trek back to Alaska.

An organized adventure

State and federal licenses are necessary to go whale watching in Baja. Your tour company will instruct you on how to obtain them.

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Only guides who have been tested and certified in the nuances of protecting the whales can lead a tour that intends to get close enough to touch the gentle giants.

Our tour boat, like all the others in the fleet, had to pass a passenger safety inspection.

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There is a limit to the number of boats that can congregate in a given area, which assures that the whales are not threatened, and have ample room to maneuver.

About our tour boat

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The whale encounter boats are called “pangas,” and are 22-feet long. They are specifically designed for the purpose of whale watching.

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Jose, from the Cortez Club, led our tour and helped us into an uber-clean panga that easily and comfortably seated the eight people in our group. The quiet outboard motor moved us briskly along the placid water of the lagoon as we searched for whales.

The weather was a pleasant and dry 78 degrees, and when we stopped to visit with some grays, there was just a slight chop on the water.

Calling the whales

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Jose advised that by slapping the water on the side of the boat we would attract whales, and sure enough it took just minutes of splashing before a 50 foot long, 70,000 pound gray whale, accompanied by her calf, decided to play.

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The photo above shows a baby whale approaching a neighboring panga.

At first, it was a bit disconcerting to watch this shallowly submerged creature, the size of a school bus, bearing down on the center of what felt like our quickly shrinking panga.

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However, in every case, the breathing bus slowed to a glide as it neared the boat. At that point, the whales cruised closely along-side, and we quickly comprehended they were encouraging a friendly pat on the head.

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As they approach, the whales might do a shallow dive under the boat only to appear on the other side spouting plumes of water high into the air – what fun for them!

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Be sure to keep your camera lens protected for the duration of these momentary monsoons.

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Sometimes, mom will hang back and watch her calf interact with the excited guests, but most of the time she is right there in the thick of the action – getting her own strokes.

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During these encounters, there is no doubt in any passengers mind that these are highly intelligent mammals that fully comprehend their enormous power and prowess.

What a thrill

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It is all very exhilarating, and any concerns of personal safety are quickly dispelled as everyone lunges to get in a back slap, head pat, or a chin tickle on the gigantic mama whale or her frolicking 20-foot calf.

This is fun of the first order, time passes quickly, and it never gets boring. Some people laugh, some scream like they are on a roller coaster, and some cry with joy over the spiritual connection they feel with these magnificent animals.

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Eventually, and probably when mom thinks that junior has had enough attention, she heads off towards open water.

Several whales gave us fluke or tail waves as they departed – maybe it was coincidental, but we choose not to think so.

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It is safe to predict, that all the thousands of people that experience this annual celebration of life and nature become life-long advocates for the complete banning of whale hunting.

These gentle denizens of the deep, who are so much more powerful than we mere mortals, deserve our ultimate respect and protection.

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We heartily recommend this adventure for anyone yearning to fully experience the beauty and grandeur of nature – on a very large scale.

For more information about whale encounters and the other wonders of La Paz, check out this website: www.en.golapaz.com/

Be sure to view our friend Richard’s film clip about our exciting whale encounters. Click *here*.

For other exciting sea adventures, see our stories about:

Shark diving in the Bahamas

A night encounter with giant Manta Rays in Hawaii

Diving in a submarine in the Cayman Islands

Sailing the coast of Maine on a magnificent schooner

Happy travels!

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Wayne and Judy Bayliff

You can see the world with Google Maps. http://maps.google.com/

Best Suites for Couples Aboard the Golden Princess Cruise Ship

Our goal in taking a month-long cruise around Hawaii and Tahiti on the Golden Princess was to experience – and then write about – how a major cruise line like Princess caters to its suite passengers. It was one of our most enjoyable projects.

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Suites for two

Over the past ten years, we have photographed and written about suites in B&Bs, hotels, resorts, and on cruise ships. It is our writing practice to always consider our subjects from a “couples” perspective. In that light, we have found many suites to be overly expensive or disproportionately large for two people. However, on the Golden Princess, we found a group of full-size suites that were not only luxurious, but the perfect size for two people on a cruise of any duration.

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After boarding the Golden Princess, an elevator whisked us up eight levels to the Sun Deck where we were escorted along an elegant wood-toned hallway to the Palermo Suite – our home for the next 28 days.

A suite life

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The Palermo Suite, was one of ten new suites added to the Sun Deck of the Princess during a 2009 revitalization.

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There are two entry doors to the Palermo Suite, with a small barrier foyer between. The second door acts as a noise and privacy baffle. Upon entering the living room we were immediately impressed by the polished marble floors and shinning granite counter surfaces.

The walls and ceilings in the Palermo are a mixture of delicately textured golden earth-tone material and light natural woods. Light fixtures and other suite features are of brushed stainless, and the suites well-chosen art is framed in a soft muted gold – perfect for the elegant and airy setting.

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The living area can be separated from the sleeping room by floor to ceiling privacy drapes, and there are large flat panel TVs in both chambers. The living area TV also has a DVD player. Guests can select from a library of recently released or vintage movies, and they are delivered right to your door.

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The bedroom has an ever-so-comfortable Queen sized bed, which can be made into two twins, and the wooden ceiling vault houses a handsome alabaster dome that illuminates the room in a warm and subtle glow.

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Bathrooms on cruise ships are not noted for their spaciousness. However, this style of suite on the Golden Princess offers a sink and toilet room, and another room for a large marble shower and a separate full size soaking tub.

A spacious walk-in closet and an electronic safe are also nice amenities for a long cruise.

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Most couples are not working on computers while on a cruise, but we particularly liked having two granite-topped work spaces for the purpose.

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Handily, one space was also a well-lighted vanity with multiple mirrors – such a help when preparing for an evening of exquisite dining and entertainment aboard the Golden Princess.

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Two sets of floor to ceiling sliding doors provide extraordinary changing views of the islands, and two finished teak deck lounges make for excellent conversation, private reading, and contemplation at sea. 

Other in-room distinctions

The first mini-bar setup is complimentary, and the premium upgrades include fresh flowers, delicious canapés, and special bath amenities. Also, one small, big thing – electrical outlets. Plugs for your electric devices are as rare as Indian Head Pennies aboard cruise ships. Being able to plug in only two devices in a stateroom is normal. In the Palermo suite we had eight outlets. Electric Valhalla!

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The Palermo Suite, along with its nine siblings (Corsica, Florence, Grenada, Malta, Pisa, Provence, Sardinia, Seville, and Tuscany) are not the largest suites on the Golden Princess, but we found them to be a perfect accommodation of size, layout, and comfortable décor for a vacationing party of two.

All in all, the full-size Palermo Suite has about 600 square feet of living space, including the balcony. As a comparison, a mini-suite aboard the Golden has approximately 323 sq. ft., and a balcony stateroom about 250.

Suite privileges

Those that occupy the luxurious full-size suites on Princess ships enjoy amenities and privileges not afforded other passengers. After completely reading this article, you may decide that the roominess of a suite along with the following additional niceties, are sufficient reasons to consider reserving the best accommodations your budget will allow.

Breakfast at Sabatini’s

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One of our favorite Princess full-suite perks is the exclusive and private dining breakfast at the Sabatini’s restaurant.

Every morning, the Sabatini’s is transformed from an elegant Italian dinner eatery into an exclusive breakfast retreat for the passengers that occupy the 30+ full-suites aboard the Golden Princess.

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However, not all suite guests take advantage of the Sabatini’s privilege; some prefer the ultimate personal option of suite room service, while still others choose one of the conventional dining forums like the Horizon Court Buffet above.

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The limited number of tables in the Sabatini’s provides an intimate setting for a quiet breakfast.

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An exemplary staff of four waiters is orchestrated by a congenial Head Waiter who greets and seats each arriving guest. Food is prepared by three cooks supervised by a Chef de Cuisine.

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The Sabatini’s Breakfast Menu includes everything imaginable for the morning meal, carefully prepared and skillfully presented.

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The artistic presentation may change with the muse of the chef – but is always to the highest culinary standards.

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We generally started out with a wake-me-up Mimosa and freshly squeezed orange juice.

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That was usually followed by a delicious decaf Cappuccino and a warm-to-the-touch baked mini-pastry and a chilled stemmed glass of hand selected berries.

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For our main course we picked from a unique assortment of waffles and French toasts, and the usual varieties of fresh eggs, such as Benedict, omelets, scrambles, etc.

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Even simple cereals are brilliantly presented in Sabatini’s. 

Sabatini’s by night 

Found only on Princess ships, the Sabatini’s restaurant is a specialty Italian restaurant that is open every night to all passengers. There is an additional charge for dinner dining in the stylish and intimate Sabatini’s, but well worth it to celebrate a special occasion – or simply to enjoy truly outstanding Italian cuisine.

More Suite Privileges

VIP boarding

In many ways, Preferred Boarding can be equated to waiting for an airline flight in a private lounge instead of the communal terminal. Preferred boarding means you are the first passengers to board the ship at embarkation, therefore among the first guests to be settled into their stateroom and afforded early access to the delicious buffet that awaits oncoming passengers. There’s always plenty of food for all, but it is a comfort to be at the front of a line, is it not? 

Priority ship to shore tender passes

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Three of the nine ports we visited on our cruise required being tendered to shore. For those not familiar, this is a procedure where the cruise ship does not dock, but rather anchors offshore, or remains stationery away from the land.

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Passengers wishing to go ashore are shuttled by means of motorized launches called “tenders.” The process is called “tendering.”

The act of tendering is very organized, and within a short time a few thousand people can be transferred to the shore with relative ease.

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While general passengers are issued group numbers on a first come first served basis, and comfortably wait for their group to be called to “tender,” suite passengers are afforded a privilege that allows them to board the next available tender, therefore getting them to shore a bit earlier to enjoy the port.

Complimentary laundry and dry cleaning

Although laundry and dry cleaning services are available to all passengers for a reasonable charge, full-suite guests are provided the service as part of their complementary privileges. Should it be your preference, there are also self-service laundry facilities throughout the ship for all passengers.

Internet Café

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For those suite customers who want to keep in contact with the world while at sea, there is a suite internet program for use either in the Internet Café or from any part of the ship when a personal wireless device is used.

Our recommendation

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During our month long cruise on Princess we noted a consistent level of excellent service for every category of passenger aboard. But, the additional perks afforded suite occupants, made a most pleasant journey that much more elegant and enjoyable. Our recommendation – do it if you can. You only live once, and how suite it is!

Happy travels!

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More stories about our 28-day cruise to the South Pacific on the Golden Princess will be forthcoming. For more information about the Golden Princess check out the PDF file *here* For additional information about booking a cruise on Princess look at their website at www.princess.com or call your favorite travel agent.

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

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Photos © Wayne and Judy Bayliff

You can see the world with Google Maps. http://maps.google.com/

Sleeping in a Paradise Garden in the Florida Keys

The Florida Keys offers a multitude of interesting options for places to stay. We found a small resort in Key Largo that was different from anything we had previously experienced. If you like the romance of “Old Florida,” you are sure to love this getaway. 

The Kona Kai Resort

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When it comes to family owned resorts we have learned to expect the unexpected. Such properties often reflect the imagination and ingenuity of entrepreneurial owners, and the Kona Kai Resort is the essence of the concept.

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Owners Joe and Ronnie Harris purchased the two acre Kona Kai grounds in 1991. They immediately began to painstakingly renovate the stunning waterfront property and transform it into a comfortable “Old Florida” resort – a style that is most becoming in the relaxed setting of the Florida Keys.

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The resort is designed in bungalow fashion and consists of single level guestrooms and one and two bedroom suites that vary in furnishings and views. All 13 accommodations have air-conditioning, ceiling fans, flat panel TVs with DVD players. Suites have CD players and fully equipped kitchens. This is an excellent resort for a stay of any duration.

Enter Eden

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What sets this property apart is that it is an integral part of an exclusive botanical garden. Starting with mature mahoganies, gumbo-limbos, coconuts, and Washingtonians, the plant loving owners began adding hundreds of new tropical and exotic flora and the Botanic Gardens of Kona Kai was born.

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Today, guests get to live in a garden that features more than 150 orchid specimens, 42 different species of palms, 25 native plant species, 11 bamboos, 21 grasses, 15 tropical fruiting trees and plants, and numerous bromeliads.

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New plants are being added regularly.

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Each guest of the resort also has a unique opportunity to take a self-guided tour of the gardens, or a 90-minute “Transforming Your Understanding of Plants” tour guided by one of the credentialed staff at the resort.

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The garden is a veritable walk through time with plants that can be traced to the Age of Dinosaurs. Joe and Ronnie have focused their garden around the science of Ethnobotony, the study of the relationship between people and plants. They want to provide their guests and visitors with a better appreciation of the role that plants have played in the development of human life.

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To that end, the Kona Kai Gardens sponsors a successful annual environmental outreach program for kids that offers students in the upper Florida Keys the opportunity to research and analyze environmental topics, and appreciate the beauty and importance of plants in nature.

The Gallery at Kona Kai

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The Harris’ interests are not limited to the earth sciences; they have also used their Key Largo resort to showcase original works of art in the Gallery at Kona Kai.

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The Gallery is where incoming guests register, giving all an opportunity to peruse the interesting art exhibits and purchase the many unusual specialty items found in the guestrooms.

Choosing a suite 

Lest we forget that this wonderful botanical and artistic enclave is also an extraordinary resort of the first order, let’s look at the hospitality aspects of the Kona Kai Resort.

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When we were shown the Pineapple Suite we loved it.

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We had a view of the waterfront, and were just steps away from the sparkling pool and hot tub.

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We felt right at home the moment we entered the suite through the living room door.

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Additional facilities

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The Kona Kai swimming pool and hot tub is pictured above.

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There’s also a tennis court, kayaks and paddle boats – the use of which is complimentary for guests. Dolphins and Manatees are seen just to the front of the Kona Kai beach, so keep a watchful eye.

Scuba divers will be happy to know that the resort provides equipment lockers, and a fresh-water soak and equipment wash down tank. Diving in the famous John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is just minutes away at Mile Marker 102.5.

Eating

The area around the resort has many dining venues, and there is a supermarket near the property for those wishing to cook in their suite’s kitchen.

Sunsets

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The resort offers some of the best sunset watching in the Keys.

For more information

The Kona Kai website is *here* There is also a website specific to the gallery at www.g-k-k.com. Each site has information you will want to read if you are planning a trip to the Florida Keys.

If you go

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Take the Overseas Highway – US 1 South into the Keys for approximately 30 miles – watch for Mile Marker 98 in Key Largo. Then watch for the oval Kona Kai Resort sign on your right. You have arrived, have fun!

African Queen

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By the way, the resort is not far from the dock of the authentic African Queen. Fans of the 1951 movie starring Hepburn and Bogart, won’t want to miss an opportunity to see and take a ride on this historic boat – we photographed our adventure on the “Queen,” and our pictures and story will be published soon.

Other Key information

You will also benefit by checking out general visitor information about the Florida Keys at www.fla-keys.com

As you head further south on Overseas Highway US 1, you will find two uber-luxurious resorts, one on Islamorada, the other just off Little Torch Key. We have visited both these properties, and you can click on their names below to read about them.

Cheeca Lodge and Spa – Marker 82 – in Islamorada

Little Palm Island Resort and Spa – Marker 28.5 – island is off Little Torch Key

Happy travels!

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff. Photo of children on stage courtesy of Kona Kai Resort

You can see the world with Google Maps. http://maps.google.com/

Relaxing In Luxury on Little Palm Island in Florida

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Tired of run-of-the-mill luxury vacation destinations? Looking for something extraordinary and exotic for that very special occasion? We have found a world-class tropical resort – in the United States – that will have you talking about your getaway for years to come. Here’s the story of Little Palm Island in the Florida Keys.

Driving south from Miami, it took us about 2-hours to cover the 120-miles to Little Torch Key and to reach mile marker 28.5 on scenic US1. There we found Pirates Road and the Little Palm Island Welcome Station (aka resort check-in and transport dock).

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The vibe for this destination resort is South Seas Island elegant and the Welcome Station fits right in. The Station building is a high-peaked thatched roof structure that is nestled against a lazy mangrove lagoon. The lagoon is where passengers board the shuttle boat to the Little Palm Island Resort and Spa.

As we entered the door of the Station, we were greeted by a Little Palm Island employee who quickly and efficiently arranged for our luggage to be removed from our auto and placed on a bell cart to await transport to the island.

Registration was an unfussy affair that was made enjoyable by a complimentary beverage – we chose a refreshing rum punch – very tasty. Check-in went quickly – no doubt attributable to the fact that there are only 30 guest quarters at the Little Palm Island Resort.

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We parked our rental car in the lot adjacent to the Station, and proceeded to the Gift Shop, which was chock-full of interesting objects including sundry headgear and upscale clothing.

It was a beautiful day, so we lounged on the outdoor patio while waiting for our motor launch ride to Little Palm Island. There are just two ways to get there – boat or seaplane. The island is only 3-miles from the Station, and the launch departs hourly, so the choice of transport was an easy one.

Everything done in style

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At first glance, we thought our transportation to the island was a sleek 1930s Chris Craft motor launch – but it wasn’t. In reality, it is a 1990s built replica that looks and sounds like the real thing.

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Before we knew it, we were being whisked away by a uniformed four-stripe captain in a classic motor yacht to an offshore island paradise.

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As we approached the dock of the lush palm-laden island, we would not have been surprised to see Tattoo in his little white suit shouting “De boat, de boat.”

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Instead, we were greeted by a very cordial island guide in smart tropic attire. He told us that our luggage was already waiting for us in our elevated thatched palm roof “Sandpiper” suite. The bungalow suites are harmoniously named after tropical birds – and that is so very fitting in this Audubon haven.

Speaking of birds

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One of our first introductions was to “Spencer” a dominant gray heron and distinguished character. Spencer lords over the shallows of the island.

Our guide told us that Spencer could be occasionally cranky and territorial when it comes to other “big” birds eyeing his island for a roost. Later in the day, we were privileged to witness Spencer doing a ceremonious roust of a very big and lanky white crane.

Five acres of paradise

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We toured the entire Little Palm Island in about 45-minutes. The meandering manicured white sand paths and thick tropical landscaping are ingeniously designed to ensure bungalow privacy.

During our walk, we passed by the Spa Terre, the Library, the Zen Garden, the splendid outdoor pool, the outdoor chess set, the island gift shop, and the bar and restaurant.

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Guests have free access to fishing rods, kayaks, beach boats, small sailing crafts, and romantic double umbrella shaded lounges that are strategically placed throughout the island.

Harry and Bess

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There is much ado about the Trumans on the island, including two full-length oil paintings of the famous couple in the Library. The pride stems from the president’s affinity for the isle when it was a private fishing resort.

Admiral Bill “Bull” Halsey was one of the many famous island guests of the Trumans after the War.

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Another president and Navy veteran, JFK was on Little Palm in 1962 to watch the filming of PT109 – a movie about his heroic exploits aboard a PT boat in the Pacific during WWII.

Cue the deer

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Just when we thought we had seen everything imaginable on this contemporary Fantasy Island, a tiny-toddler of a Lilliputian creature walked onto our white sand path. Here before us was a Key Deer fawn – so cute – and quite tame.

Before long, the fawn’s mom came along, happy to join in the photo op.

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The Key Deer is an endangered species native to the Florida Keys, and the Little Palm Island mini-herd swims over from a neighboring island – maybe to nuzzle the various celebrities that populate the resort from time to time. It is illegal to feed these little guys, but a joy to commune with them.

Photographing our hut-suite

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Each room in the Palm Island bungalows is like a character in a play. When combined, all the clever little things inside the suite add to the ethos of high living in paradise.

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Our suite was #23, The Sandpiper Suite, and it is very much like the other bungalow suites on Little Palm – a good thing because all 30 bungalows were occupied. We only had an opportunity to photograph the inside of the suite where we stayed.

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All the bungalows are South Seas castaway dream homes with a dash of British Colonial charm.

Each thatched roof suite-hut is outfitted with a well-appointed living room with comfy woven-seagrass sofa and chairs, a softly humming ceiling fan, military style birding binoculars, a stand of old-fashioned umbrellas, and a replica antique telephone with which to communicate with the Quarterdeck (Concierge).

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In the evenings, the large bedroom in each bungalow is softly lit by a simulated-candle that enhances the romance of the lavish room by casting exotic shadows on the wooden beams above.

Your sleeping comfort is guaranteed by an elegant and uber-comfortable king four-poster bed complete with decorative netting and zephyrous ceiling fan.

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Our suite also had a soaking tub, a large modern shower, and an attached outdoor bamboo shower room.

Of course, all the suites are fully air-conditioned. This is what present-day tropical luxury is all about.

Relax

Little Palm Island is a place of leisure. Go fishing, kayaking, listen to the birds or the quiet lap of the sea against the shore.

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Wait for a Key Deer to entertain while you sip a soothing beverage on your veranda, in the garden, or by the pool. Lounge on the beach or on one of the wooden walkways overlooking the sea – there are no bad choices on Little Palm Island.

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Relaxation sometimes requires help. That is why the suites do not have Wi-Fi service, TVs, or off-island telephones – and there are no children allowed on the island.

If you must

If you are a tech-junkie some of the above might make you nuts, so there is limited Wi-Fi service in the Library, which is also called the Great Room. If you look hard, you will also see a flat screen TV among the books and games – it is the only one on the island.

The Spa Terre

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Unlike many spa experiences that are a singular event in a busy day, the Spa Terre experience becomes an essential part of your total day on Little Palm Island.

We selected the ancient and deep Sacred Stone Massage – but perhaps you would rather a soothing massage on a table in the shallow water of a secluded beach.

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Whatever your choice, you can continue the bliss by immediately entering the warm and tranquil sea or nearby island pool.

Follow your dip with a shaded rest on one of the islands many comfortable lounges or couples hammocks.

Now is the time for a contemplative assessment of the joys of living. Little Palm Island is about Elysian serenity – your personal Shangri-La.

Dining on the Island

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Food plays a role of cardinal importance at the Little Palm Island Resort and Spa.

Savor a focused cuisine of Latin ingredients and French techniques. The menu created under the influence of Corporate Executive Chef Luis Pous, and enhanced and orchestrated by Executive Chef Brendan Mica and his team is nothing less than superb.

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Need we say more than Zagat rated the Little Palm Dining Room as the third best dining facility in the United States, and number one in the state of Florida.

The menu choices are both sophisticated and approachable, and reflect the location and relaxed atmosphere of Little Palm Island.

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For our appetizer, we chose a uniquely presented shrimp cocktail.

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Our main courses consisted of Key West Lobster accompanied by sweet corn, apples, fennel, onions, and Caviar Beurre Blanc and

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Rosemary Braised Short Ribs with a lavish medley of aged white Cheddar, creamed potatoes, mushrooms, truffle, and crispy shallots.

The night is young

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As guests opened and closed French doors between the restaurant and adjoining lounge, we could hear barely audible conversations and laughter.

Even with the doors closed, we enjoyed the faint familiar tunes being played by an entertainer on the lounge piano.

An after dinner digestif, accompanied by the murmured tinkling of piano keys in another room – and a sky full of seemingly touchable stars – it does not get more romantic than this.

The late Paul Newman, and Marvin Hamlisch relaxed in this restaurant – we suspect they were equally captivated by the setting.

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If you go

Little Palm Island Resort is the Florida address of the elite traveler. It has a cachet that will appeal to those with discriminating travel tastes. We recommend it to anyone wanting to experience the luxury of exclusive private island vacationing.

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For more information about availability, services and rates, look at the Little Palm Island Resort and Spa website at http://www.littlepalmisland.com/

Happy travels!

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Wayne and Judy Bayliff

You can see the world with Google Maps. http://maps.google.com/

A Connecticut Castle Built by Sherlock Holmes

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We arrived at Gillette’s Castle, in East Haddam, Connecticut, just as the staff had put the final touches on the holiday trimmings.

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We were almost alone in the vast castle, and as we photographed each room, we sensed an aura of serenity and contentment about the place, possibly actuated by some manifestation of gentle ghosts of Christmases Past – and all the wonderful decorations that surrounded us.

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This is the story of how the castle came to be.

William Gillette

gcmt 3William Gillette was a renowned American actor and playwright who portrayed Sherlock Holmes over 1300 times in stage adaptions of Arthur Conan Doyle’s mystery novels in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Gillette’s long popularity on stage, and added fame from starring in early silent films, including one called “Sherlock Holmes,” brought him a commensurate fortune and a desire for off-stage seclusion.

At a point in his career, he looked to bucolic Connecticut for his solitude, and in 1914 he commissioned a strange and mysterious 24-room castle to be constructed on a 184-acre bluff overlooking the Connecticut River.

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Gillette personally designed the anomalous castle and many of its interior furnishings. He called his estate “The Seventh Sister,” because the purlieu was the southernmost of the Seven Sisters Hills that stretch along the Connecticut River Valley. The castle was built to Gillette’s exact specifications and completed in 1919.

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There are stunning views of the shimmering waters of the Connecticut River far below – it is exquisitely serene.

Gillette was a celebrity in many spheres of influence. Stage, radio, film, books, and he held at least five US patents – one for the first sophisticated sound effects machine. Much of Gillette’s creative genius is displayed in his castle. Visitors will quickly see that he took a different approach to defining country living for the aristocracy of his time.

Unique castle features

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William Gillette created what is believed to be the first fire sprinkler systems used in a building. A huge white metal tank containing water was installed in a room high above the main floor and could be activated by a valve that would spray water through pipes installed in the ceiling.

Another feature of the castle is its unique indoor surveillance system. Designed more for fun than spying, Gillette arranged mirrors in the Great Hall so he could observe the coming and going of people in the house from his bedroom.

From his bedroom position he could also see reflections of guests trying to open his mysterious liquor cabinet. Gillette took great pleasure in watching frustrated visitors, and then magically appearing to solve the enigma of the locked cabinet – just as Sherlock Holmes would have done.

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There is much to discover here that is not immediately obvious. It is reputed that no nails were used in the construction of Gillette’s Castle – ingenious if true. Beams are held into place with large iron rods, stone is used as an art form as well as an engineering necessity.

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Light switches are made of carved wood, as are door mechanisms and window blocks.

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Each room in the castle is like a character in one of Gillette’s plays. Light streams through the fretted windows of every chamber, illuminating each to an unusual mood.

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One curious mystery is why Gillette used hospital style white metal beds throughout his castle.

Gillette’s Aunt Polly

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William Gillette registered his cruiser-houseboat in the name of “Aunt Polly” in 1905. He added 40-feet to her length, making her 144 feet long, and she was almost 19 feet wide. She weighed 200 tons, and had all the comforts of a luxury yacht for the time.

The story of the Aunt Polly is as significant in Gillette’s life as was his Seventh Sister estate home.

William Gillette was married only once, and his beloved wife Helen died in 1888, just a few years after the nuptials – they had no children.

After Helen’s death, William secluded himself in Thousand Pines, his 500-acre summer estate in Tryon, North Carolina where he resided off-and-on until 1910. At that time in his life he was suffering from an illness some thought was tuberculosis. A local resident he called “Aunt Polly” nursed Gillette back to health, and as one token of his gratitude he named his cherished cruising houseboat after her.

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It was also at Thousand Pines that Gillette showed his skill at wood carving and his admiration for house cats. Henry Zecher, in his book entitled William Gillette, America’s Sherlock Holmes indicates that Gillette had as many as 75 cats living in and around his dwelling on the estate.

The Aunt Polly was moored at the base of the Seventh Sister for the four-year term of the castle’s construction. Gillette enjoyed living aboard the Polly with his favorite cat “Angelina” who shared a nightly dinner at his table.

The Aunt Polly burned at her dock in 1935, but fortunately several furnishings including a piano were saved and moved to the castle where they are currently displayed.

The Seventh Sister Railroad

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The estate had its own railroad and Gillette enjoyed commanding the throttle and touring guests along three-miles of narrow gauge track at speeds up to 20-miles per hour. After Gillette’s death in 1937, the engine and railroad cars were sold.

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Gillette’s “Grand Central Station” is now a picnic area…

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with stone carvings of Gillette’s beloved cats sitting on the roof. Had the railroad been maintained, it would no doubt add greatly to the attraction of the castle, but at the expense of some wonderful hiking trails that replaced the tracks.

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The state of Connecticut acquired the Seventh Sister estate in 1943 and converted it to Gillette Castle State Park.

Gillette’s Castle is a top tourist attraction in Connecticut. The park’s substantial Visitor’s Center was closed during our visit, but we are told that it is an excellent introduction to the castle and grounds – and should not be missed.  For more information about Gillette’s Castle State Park look at their website here.

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A visit into Gillette Castle is a step across the threshold of time to a golden era where personal luxury was a given and attention to architectural detail a watchword. We recommend the experience hardily.

If you go

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The park is located at 67 River Road in East Haddam, Connecticut.

From I-91S:  take Exit 22.  Route 9S, Exit 7, for a bridge crossing of the Connecticut River.  Follow route 82E and park signs. From I-95N or S:  take Exit 69.  Route 9N to Exit 6 or 7.  For the Chester-Hadlyme Ferry, use Exit 6.  Follow Route 148 and park signs. The ferry operates spring through fall.

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Note: The famous Goodspeed Opera House is just across the river and less than five miles from the castle.

Happy travels!

Need places to stay while visiting Connecticut? Read these stories and recommendations by Wayne and Judy:

The Mayflower Inn: The best of Connecticut resorts and spas

The Curtis House: Welcoming wayfarers before the American Revolution

Tidewater Inn: A storybook Christmas in Connecticut

Delamar Greenwich Harbor Hotel: By land or sea the place to be

Nehemiah Brainerd House: Enjoy the splendid fall colors

Starbuck Inn: The inns by Kent Falls

Hotel Sierra: A budget travelers’ delight

Inn at Longshore: Historic inn in Westport

Rock Hall: The best B&B along the backroads of northwestern Connecticut

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff – old photos are retakes of pictures on display in the castle.

Celebrating 50 Years at the Sheraton Maui Resort and Spa

Those of you who have frequented the beautiful Hawaiian island of Maui over the years will remember the queen of Ka‘anapali Beach – the Sheraton Maui.

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The hotel was new and glamorous in 1963. Back then, it was sitting quietly alone near the legendary and now famous lava jetty called Black Rock. It has been 50 years, and you should see the resort now!

The Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa

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Renovated many times through the decades, this classic Hawaiian resort still sits on 23 acres of pristine sand and tropical landscaping and overlooks the island of Lanai, just a short sail to the west.

Warm trade-winds float through the 508 spacious rooms and suites – most of which face the ocean.

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The Sheraton is a landmark destination resort on Maui that has gained in stature as the island has developed around it.

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We have watched this Sheraton resort blossom and become a favorite for generations of tourists. To stay at the Sheraton Maui is like coming home to a rich Hawaiian heritage, and we always find new and exciting things to write about during each visit.

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This tropical vacationland offers something for everyone in the family. In season, you can catch a catamaran right from the beach of the resort and head out to watch the humpback whales as they migrate to their ancestral mating and birthing grounds.

Another activity that originates from the beach in summer is parasailing. Get swept high into the sky and revel in the panoramic views of Ka‘anapali and the mountains beyond. It’s exciting regardless of age.

Explore the underwater world of Maui

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The Black Rock lava outcropping is at the far end of the resort, and is the best venue for oceanic underwater entertainment in the area.

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Known as Pu‘u Keka‘a to the locals, it’s the “in” place to get up-close and personal with turtles, rays and scores of Hawaii’s colorful tropical fish. It’s best to do your underwater activities early in the day – that’s when the sea is most calm and the water clear.

On previous trips we have made SCUBA dives around the jetty, but you can see just as much by snorkeling. If you are not a certified diver, but would like a SCUBA-like experience, try SNUBA.

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SNUBA is similar to SCUBA, but the air tank is not on your back – instead it floats above you on a small raft. You breathe air through a long hose that extends from the air reservoir to a regulator that you put in your mouth – much like a snorkel.

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Since your depth is limited by the length of the air hose, there’s no danger of going too deep, therefore certification is not necessary. The guides teach you everything you need to know. SNUBA is great fun and perfect for the waters surrounding Black Rock!

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Our SNUBA guide was with Shoreline SNUBA Divers

Watch the time honored Black Rock cliff dive

The acclaimed Black Cliff Dive Ceremony has taken place every evening at the Sheraton Maui since its opening in 1963 is a tradition that dates back to island royalty. The story is that Maui Chieftains made ceremonial dives from these same lava cliffs while their admiring warriors looked on.

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We watched the youthful diver start his fire run from the Cliff Dive Bar across the wide lawn and onto the sand that would bring him to the base of the great lava jetty.

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He climbed at a speed indicative of his age and prowess, and was soon atop the rocks lighting a series of torches as he made his way to the place where he would call upon the Gods to watch his entry into the dark water below.

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With a burst of energy the diver reached for the stars, then his outstretched body slowly turned downward toward the sea. He made a perfect entry – all to the wild applause of the spectators.

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A great place to watch the ceremony is from the Cliff Dive Bar. Try the resort’s signature Black Rock Lager and some homemade potato chips while you are there. Tasty!

More for the foodies

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Start the morning with breakfast at the Black Rock Terrace, it has a very nice buffet with all the trimmings – and really great coffee.

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We had lunch at the Cliff Dive Bar and enjoyed the grilled hamburgers and giant chips while watching some kids take their first lesson in the Hula. What a kick.

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There were guests swimming along the lagoon that encircles the bar, and after walking off lunch we joined them in a refreshing swim odyssey through pools, landscaped settings, under bridges, alongside waterfalls and a water slide. This is a splendid way to enjoy a tropical afternoon in paradise.

There’s a luau

The Ka‘anapali Sunset Luau takes place on the Ocean Lawn of the Sheraton Maui. The luau comes with all the time honored trappings of a great Hawaiian celebration inclusive of stories and songs of the islands, and an awesome fire knife dance. A Kalua Pig is roasted in a traditional underground oven, and the event includes an all-you-can-eat Hawaiian buffet, with unlimited drinks. A great family entertainment outing.

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A stroll along the Ka’anapali paved beach path is a great way to walk off a delicious Hawaiian dinner while you check out the resorts, shops, restaurants, and bars.  Mid-way along the footpath is the famous Whaler’s Village – a great place to watch people, window shop, and grab a drink or food. If you forgot to pack anything, one of Hawaii’s ubiquitous ABC Stores is located in the Village.

The Sheraton has shuttle service to the Whaler’s Village and the old whaling town of Lahaina – just 4 miles south of the resort.

Pièce de résistance

For an extra special treat don’t miss the romance of a Sheraton Maui “Dinner under the Stars.” It is an extraordinary romantic event that you will remember forever.

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Our dinner under the stars took place in a quiet corner of the resort, just in back of Black Rock.

We arrived at our reserved tropical hut just after the torches on Black Rock were lighted, and the sunset was flooding across the far horizon. Sunset was bitter sweet that evening. The day was perfect, and we did not want it to end.

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Our personal waiter motioned toward a chilled bottle of champagne, and what better way to celebrate a wonderful day – and a magnificent vacation – than with a cold glass of sparkling wine.

The menu

There is a choice of three unique offerings in the Sheraton Dinner under the Stars program. We selected the Moonlit Menu.

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Our Starter was out of this world. It was presented in Ice Pearls, which are large globes of hollowed ice surrounding the most delicious fresh island sashimi, served with a savory wasabi dipping sauce. It was almost too elegant to eat, but we got over it.

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Salad consisted of a floral of upcountry greens with oriental dressing, sour dough Kaiser Bread and whipped Molokai Honey Butter.

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The Entrée was exquisite. Seared filet mignon with crab legs and asparagus, glazed with béarnaise sauce and served with garlic mashed potatoes.

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All this was topped off with what else? Hawaiian grandma’s apple pie and coffee. However, we could have also selected heavenly haupia cake, double chocolate dobash, or Italian tiramisu. We don’t know about the other desserts, but we can certainly recommend the apple pie.

There are only three available outdoor settings for your private Dinner under the Stars. Don’t be disappointed, make reservations early.

If you go

The award winning Sheraton Maui Resort and Spa is on the northwest shore of the island and a 45-minute ride from the Kahului Airport.

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The resort is situated at the northernmost point of three-mile long Ka’anapali Beach. The beautiful silky sand beach is lined with many condominiums, resorts, shops, and restaurants. On the eastern side of the buildings are two of Maui’s ten popular golf courses.

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For more information about the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa visit their website at www.sheraton-maui.com.

While you are on Maui

Maui is an island that was destined to be be a place for recreation and relaxation. See the sunrise from the summit of Haleakala, and view the sunset from the sandy beach of the Sheraton Maui as you watch the Black Rock Cliff Dive Ceremony.

Visit the Maui Ocean Center to learn about those with which we share our planet. Stroll the old streets of Lahaina and spend some time under the historic giant Banyan Tree that shades all who seek it.

There’s much more to do in Maui than we could fit in this article. Visit: http://www.gohawaii.com/maui

Happy travels!

For more of our stories about Hawaii and Hawaiian resorts, click on the subjects below:

The Royal Hawaiian Elegantly Preserves Its Heritage on Waikiki Beach

Reliving the Privileged Past at the Moana Surfrider on Waikiki Beach

Remembering December 7, 1941 At The Pearl Harbor Memorial

Luxury Cruising From San Francisco to Hawaii on Princess Cruises

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Wayne and Judy Bayliff – Underwater photos courtesy of Shoreline SNUBA

You can see the world with Google Maps. http://maps.google.com/

A Great One-Day Catamaran Cruise in Antigua

Antigua is a beautiful tropical island in the West Indies situated east-southeast of Puerto Rico. This is an isle with an assortment of extraordinary leisure pursuits for vacationers of all ages.

One fun activity worthy of consideration by every age group is an all-day catamaran cruise. Here’s what we experienced when we signed up with Antigua’s #1 tour operator, Tropical Adventures.

Selecting the activity

We had just arrived in Saint John’s, Antigua aboard the Celebrity cruise ship Silhouette. One of our shore excursion choices made available by Celebrity Cruises was a day sail on a 65-foot catamaran named the “Mystic.”

The offer

We wanted to get wet, and the promise of a remote sandy beach accessible only by boat was romantic and appealing. Picturing ourselves on the bow, with a gentle sea breeze wafting through our hair as we sailed to paradise was most alluring. The fact that a lobster lunch and beverages were included, and all we had to do was sit there and enjoy the experience – sealed the deal.

Welcome aboard

It was a short walk from where our cruise ship was docked to the Mystic’s small wooden pier.

The Mystic catamaran is quite roomy and can hold about 90 guests. There are two bathrooms aboard, and the center of the spacious deck is dedicated to a well-stocked open bar.

There were about 70 passengers aboard our excursion. Our fellow sailors hailed from a mixed bag of island accommodations including vacation rentals, hotels, and several cruise ships. Ages ranged from the low 20s to the mid-80s. We wondered how the mix would influence the outing.

A quiet start

We did not know any of the other passengers and that appeared to be true of most of the guests. On our outbound sail, people kept to themselves as they enjoyed the warm tropical sun and sea.

A remote beach

After about an hour of passing small islands with flowing palms, we approached a charming cove with a white sandy beach and the absolutely clearest turquoise water. Our captain pulled the Mystic close to the sand and we all waded ashore.

The passengers stayed with their familiar groups and took off in all directions to enjoy beachcombing and swimming in the warm and inviting ocean. For those interested in snorkeling, the equipment was available aboard the Mystic at no extra charge.

Just when we started to get a little hungry, the Mystic crew enticed us back to the boat with the promise of grilled lobster and champagne.

One by one, the passengers returned from their swimming and shore explorations. Once aboard they selected places to sit and have lunch.

The crew did a marvelous job of passing out the lobsters and corn – and champagne. Within the hour, everyone had their fill of food, but apparently not – champagne.

Heading home

As the Mystic pulled away from the beach, a metamorphosis overcome the guests. The heretofore-soothing island music seemed to grow in dimension and volume, and there was a definite repositioning of people on the deck of the boat.

Dancing ensued

Energized by champagne and a delicious rum punch, some of the younger folks began to strut their limber stuff on the makeshift dance floor in front of the now busy bar.

This was followed by somewhat older passengers and the merry Mystic crew engaging in a limbo contest upon the bouncing sea.

Beverages for all

Beer began appearing alongside the rum punch cups that covered the bar, tables, seats, hatch covers, and deck. Water, fruit punch, and soft drinks were also available – but not in great demand.

Some elders found a loose case of champagne among the empties, and were happy to share their bounty with their juniors.

A gathering of spirits

Smiles turned into laughter, and quite miraculously, everyone seemed to find long lost friends across generational lines. All over the boat, new entrants to ongoing conversations were greeted with handshakes, hugs and hearty slaps on the back.

Good things do end

Before long, we were back at the Mystic dock. The roughly 6-hour day sail had ended all too soon for everyone on board. As the passengers carefully disembarked the boat, they all gave high-fives and tips to the wonderful Mystic crew.

Memories

On our slow and cautious walk back to the Silhouette, we could hear our fellow Mystic passengers singing the now familiar tunes that we shared all day. In fact, we could hear them singing in the passageways of our cruise ship throughout much of the early evening. We just smiled – along with the other 50 or so new best friends that we met on the Mystic.

If you go

Information about the fabulous “Mystic” sailing catamaran and other excursions and tours run by Tropical Adventures in Antigua can be found *here*

This tour is definitely worth the price of admission. Be sure to bring a swimsuit and camera.

Happy travels!

Here is a list of other Caribbean stories written by the authors. Click on the title to read the article.

Fun at Labadee on the Island of Haiti

A vacation aboard the Celebrity Silhouette

The most exciting vacation starts in the Bahamas

Service aboard the newest Celebrity cruise ship

Best of the Sans Souci Resort  in Jamaica

A submarine adventure in Grand Cayman, BWI

Couples only Tower Isle Resort in Jamaica

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Wayne and Judy Bayliff

You can see the world with Google Maps. http://maps.google.com/