A Must Stop When in Waikiki: Dukes Lane Market & Eatery
One Stop Shop, Dine and Drink
When my hubby and I heard that a “super” ABC Store will open soon in Waikiki, we were ecstatic.Learning that it would be open upon our return, we knew what our first mission would be: get there as soon as our bags are unpacked.And, we did.What we found was exactly what was needed—a full market, a grab-and-go market, wine and spirit shop, a bakery with beverages, a full restaurant, with full bar, and simpler fare, such as pizza and sandwiches.
Note: All these stores and restaurants are within steps of one another.In fact, Chill, Island Gourmet Coffee and the Bakery share the same counters—built in an “L” shape.Thus, one can grab a pastry from the Bakery, order a cup of Kona coffee from Island Gourmet Coffee and choose a cup of gelato from Chill all at once.
Great little ABC Store: Market
This ABC appears a bit higher end than the typical ABC with its perfectly arranged produce and fine gourmet foods.Their cheese selection was impressive.
It’s difficult to choose a treat when faced with freshly baked Malasada (especially those filled with coconut cream), donuts, breads, scones and cookies.All are delicious.On our first visit, I had to try a Malasada since I had seen them on the Hawaii Five-O television show.Lucky for us, two were misshapen, so the young man at the counter gave us three for the price of one.Yum!In earnest, they are so dense and filling, I could only eat part of one.
Check out the doughnut schedule per their website.
We tended to order the flatbread, which was always delicious.Perfectly baked with fresh flavors.Our favorite was the “Yes No Meat!” $ 9 with grilled eggplant, squash, wild mushroom, kale, and tomato sauce.
They also have:
Plates, served with your choice of two sides for $12-$18.
Fresh Poke bowls for $11 - $15
Salad for $9
Note: You’ll notice many walking the streets with Spitfire’s boxes in their hands.It’s that good!
When I first peaked into Basalt—around their lovely full bar—I was sure it was an over-priced upscale venue.That’s simply not the case.Sure, the food is top notch.But, the prices are mindboggling for Hawaii.The highest priced item on the lunch menu is $22 and that’s for steak and fries!We would pay that in Davis, CA.This place is a gem.Their happy hour is even more impressive.
Happy hour: Every day 3-6 PM.
Cocktails, beer and wine.
Lower priced appetizers and various menu choices.For example, burgers are $5!
Note: Inside and outside dining with over 150 seats.
After witnessing the Pearl Harbor 75th Commemoration Parade last year in Honolulu, my expectations about the MLK parade were limited.I figured the parade would arrive late and disorganized, but still memorable.Was I surprised?Oh yeah.And, how about the People’s Rally/Women’s March?Well, that was worth the price of admission.
MLK Parade Honors a Remarkable Man with a Remarkable Parade
Marching bands...check.Unknown persons riding in cars...check.Typical, right?Some aspects of this parade simulated most.Nevertheless, most of the multiple marching bands were animated, each member displaying emotion not typically found in the “typical” parade.After all, we’re in Hawaii.I never flashed so many “Shaka” signs in my life.
Enough of my opinion.Check out the video above.
The People’s Rally Honors all People—Hawaiian Style
Not to get political here, as each of us has our own opinions and beliefs on what our government should be.For this rally, much of it is left leaning.However, the message was of love.Or should I say, “Aloha.”
I must admit; my hubby and I are two lucky people.We stumble across a docent who is an expert of amphibians and reptiles at the Honolulu Zoo.And, then the very next day, we stumble across a retired Professor at the Waikīkī Aquarium.How lucky is that?!Having someone at our side explaining habitats and the ocean life we were witnessing enabled us to enjoy our visit more.We came to see, and we found knowledge.
To fully appreciate this gem, please watch my video.
Lions, Tigers, No Bears...But They Do Have Gharials
With so many activities to choose from while visiting Honolulu, deciding on a trip to the zoo might not make a lot of sense.After all, most home cities have zoos, so why waste precious vacation time on visiting one in Honolulu?Because it’s this one.
What makes it so darn special?
This may not be the largest zoo in the U.S. with its 42 acres, but it is home to 995 different animals from the tropics.Making this zoo quite cool.Also cool, is that this is our only royal zoo.Okay, not quite royal, but the land once was.King David Kalakaua, Monarch of Hawaii granted the people these lands in 1876.Point of fact, he actually granted an entire 300 acres that became the zoo and Kapiolani Regional Park.For those of you who have visited Oahu, more specifically the Honolulu area, you are, most likely, familiar with this massive park breathtakingly overshadowed by Diamond Head.
The grounds are lovely and separated into three tropical ecological zones: African Savanna, Asian and Pacific Islands/American Tropical Forests.So, as you stroll through the zoo, the landscape foreshadows the types of animals you’ll see.
In fact, this is the Honolulu Zoo Mission Statement directly from their brochure/handout.
“The mission of the Honolulu Zoo is to inspire stewardship of our living world by providing meaningful experiences to our guests. The Zoo emphasizes Pacific tropical island ecosystems and our traditional values of malama (caring) and ho`okipa (hospitality).”
What type of animals live here?
One can find the typical zoo animal here, like elephants, giraffes, lions and primates.But, there is also a variety of reptiles and amphibians that might be new to many of us.The tiny Poison Dart Frogs that eats poisonous ants to help keep them poisonous to their enemies.Their lipophilicalkaloidtoxins is so poisonous it can kill many men, which is why some used the poison for their darts.Interesting, huh.
Of course, there are many other “pretty” and less dangerous animals here as well, such as sloths, ring tailed lemur and American flamingo.All are amazing, though, and not to be missed.
To get an idea of what you might see there, check out their website before your trip to Oahu.The zoo website hosts amazing pictures and descriptions of each animal living in their care.Luckily for us, we happened upon experts who spent an extended period of time educating us on Amphibiansand various Reptiles.One such expert was Conner.Just a teen in high school, he educated us in the three different types of poisons/venoms found in amphibians and reptiles.Extremely interesting!I probably learned more in an hour than in most university classes.
Not just a zoo, but a classroom as well.
Besides teaching material for teachers, the Honolulu Zoo provides Zoo Camps, Twilight Tours, Field Trips and Zoo to You.
Relaxing and Exploring is Easy at the Hilton Waikiki Beach Hotel
Stay, Go, Eat, Swim, Workout...Do it all
Ah, Waikiki with its white beaches, iconic hotels, high-end shops and the aloha spirit.I simply cannot get enough.So, even though we recently visited via a cruise, I found we didn’t have enough land time, necessitating a Waikiki stay in one of our favorite hotels: Hilton Waikiki Beach Hotel.
As full disclosure is everyone’s friend, I must admit my rabid fandom for Hilton Honors and their various properties.It’s for good reason though, as this post and many others will affirm.Membership is free; most room upgrades—based on availability—is free; Free Internet access, and for many properties, a hot breakfast is included.For this property, as Gold Honors Members, we were offered a free hot breakfast and an excellent evening appetizer buffet, which was more of a meal.Coffee, tea, juice and soft drinks were available all day.
Even though our flight was delayed, we still arrived at this Hilton hours early.As is common with Hilton properties, but not many others, the front-end staff always does everything possible to find an available room that will be an upgrade.Love that!Jamie, the staff member who assisted us, searched and found one, but didn’t consider it the best room.She offered us this choice, which was available at the time, or the best choice near the top of the hotel with an ocean view.Uh...let me think about that for a second.Obviously, we chose to wait.She gave us a temporary card, allowing entry to the “executive lounge” so we could wait in comfort—great coffee and tea.Additionally, she texted us when the room we ready.Jamie is a gem. Free Food in the Executive Lounge
As I mentioned above, this Hilton has an Executive Lounge which offers Hilton Honors Gold--and above--Members free soft drinks, coffee and tea 24/7. Additionally, it provides a hot breakfast and evening appetizers, which is more of a light meal. Most evenings, it was our dinner.
How close are we to the ocean?
Although not directly on the beach, it is an easy two-block walk to the warm, white sands.
Is there easy-to-use public transportation?
Renting a car to explore the island is an easy task but finding parking isn’t always easy and isn’t cheap.So, public transportation is key.Staying in this Hilton property is much like being in a transport hub, but in a good way.Numerous bus lines and various trolleys stop just steps from the front doors.These traverse much of the island making this a great place to begin each day.
What are the hotel activities and amenities?
Because this is primarily viewed as a business hotel, there aren’t the typical Hawaiian hotel activities, like lei making or hula lessons.Nevertheless, there is a gym, executive lounge, pool, gift shop, gardens, multiple bars and a well-reviewed restaurant.Get to know, Karin in the LBLE bar.She is a sweetie with a wonderful sense of humor.
Besides all these amenities, there are no daily resort fees, making the stay a great value.
When they say, “Anything. Anytime” they mean “Anything.Anytime.”
M.A.C. 24/7 is a casual restaurant/bar inside the hotel.It is accessible from the street by a separate entrance as well.This restaurant is well-known in Hawaii and well-reviewed--known for reasonably priced, enormous meals.
I learned a very interesting fact about M.A.C. this visit.Because they tout “Anything. Anytime.” on their menu, one can order something from one menu choice and something from another.Or one can order something from the menu and alter it.For example, what follows is a choice from their menu.
Kalbi Steak Salad
marinated boneless short ribs, local island greens, thai basil, mint, hamakua tomato, locally-grown papaya, avocado, crushed peanuts, fried shallots, cucumber, cilantro, sesame seed, thai lime vinaigrette
Now, say I only wanted the short ribs and side-winder fries—yep, I’m that weird.It would be possible.The price just may be less than the entire dish profiled above as well.Cool, huh.
I thought I knew the Hilton Waikiki Beach Hotel inside out, up, down and front to back, but I learned a few new facts on our second visit. (Please readmy first review) The things I adore are still the same.One of those “things” was our room, which was upgraded due to our Hilton Honors membership.The room was spacious, beds comfortable and the view is to drool over.However, there is much, much more though.
I found the room squeaky clean, décor bright and welcoming, and the furniture comfortable.In fact, the bed was so comfortable, I slept with our slider open all night, even with city racket, which included a good deal of construction noise.(This area tends to be a constant state of heavy-duty construction.)
The same as last visit, we had a large flat-screen television, refrigerator, coffee maker and lanai.What was new, is that each room now has an electric tea kettle.Woo-hoo!I lovethese, as I drink tea all day.
This is News to Me!
Now this was a surprise.I was disappointed by the absence of a microwave.After all, this room is supposed to be an “executive room.”In my mind, “executive” translates to “there should be a microwave in the room.”I know, silly.But, that’s me.So, if you feel the same and want one, simply ask.One will be delivered.Cool, huh?
New as well, is something I learned about M.A.C. 24/7, but you’ll have to read my review on this post to find out more.
Three Different Meals, Three Different Experiences
During our stay at the Hilton Waikiki Beach Hotel (review), we decided to try the food atM.A.C. 24/7, as it typically receives excellent reviews. It is a casual restaurant with a full bar, accessible by venturing inside the hotel.It is well-known in Hawaii as one where you can find a stack of pancakes about the size of a hubcap and their competitions to eat multiple stacks.Not sure I could eat more than one myself, though.
They are also known for reasonably priced, enormous meals.Although not typically appealing to me, as I’m a light eater, I do enjoy sharinga good meal with hubby.So...to M.A.C. we went.The meals were, well, inconsistent.
Our first meal was pretty good.We shared a mushroom burger and fries.The burger was cooked perfectly, and not dry like so many others.The bun was a toasted brioche—yum.The fries were crisp “side-winder fries”, not at all oily, and salted perfectly.I couldn’t get enough.The only downside were the mushrooms. There were three measly pieces.In my opinion, a mushroom burger should include an overabundance of these fungi.What follows is the description directly from the menu:
Mushroom Swiss Burger
8 oz. wagyu beef patty, grilled onions, sautéed mushrooms, vermont swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato, island baked brioche bun. $18.00
The Uh... What?
So, one night we decided to forgo our free appetizers (learn about the free food in this post) to enjoy a full meal.Knowing how large these meals could be, I suggested sharing again.Nevertheless, hubby wanted the full meal.Fulldescribes the results exactly.
I chose a simple salad.However, Hubby wanted to make sure I had enough to eat and added grilled chicken.Fine. I thought at the time.
Simply Mixed Greens
local spring mix, hamakua tomato wedges, cucumber, red onion, carrots, mushrooms
$10+chicken breast $6.00
The salad wasn’t too bad, but the dressing had little flavor, tomatoes were flavorless, and the added chicken was dry and cold.I felt it was a waste of calories.
We both thought the “Pacific Rim Style Braised Beef” might be interesting, especially after discussing it with the waiter.He stated the seasoning is a specialty of the chef, hence the “Pacific Rim” in the title.I was excited to try it.
Pacific Rim Style Braised Beef
fork-tender, demi-yaki sauce, garlic mashed potatoes, sautéed island vegetables. $24.00
Imagine my surprise when this humongous chunk of beef—four inches square x two inches thick—covered with generic brown gravy arrived on the plate surrounded by mashed potatoes and over-cooked veggies.Darn.Where was the “demi-yaki sauce”?The meat was cooked to perfection, but the flavor wasn’t any better than a budding-home chef’s attempt at cooking pot roast.Double darn.
Beverages were pretty darn good.
For our lunch, we both chose iced tea.It was especially good—nice and dark with deep flavor.We chose wine for dinner, which was a great choice.The wine list was pedestrian, but good for an average diner.My Edna Valley Chardonnay, $9 a glass, was the best white wine in the entire hotel, which is unfortunate.M.A.C. was the only place to get it. My hubby chose Bridlewood Cabernet Sauvignon, $11 a glass. It was amazing.Bridlewood is a favorite that never disappoints.
Will we return?
Even though our experiences were mixed, we will return.M.A.C. has many dishes that work well.However, as is true with many restaurant, there are good days and bad days.We experienced both.Next time will be better and there is a good reason for that viewpoint.Check out this post to find out why.
My Five Favorite Activities on the Grand Princess Cruise to Hawaii
There are not many phrases a person wants to hear more than “You are a winner!”Another would be “The painting is yours,” especially when it is a painting dear to one’s heart and at a remarkable price.Well, I experienced this and many more enjoyable and exciting adventures on our last Princess Cruise.This time, it was the 15-day, round trip cruise from San Francisco to the Hawaiian Islands on the Grand Princess.
Princess Fine Arts Program
Two Paintings I purchased in auction.
Princess Cruises teamed up with the creditable Park West Galleries to provide educational art seminars, which include art history and art auctions.I never imagined myself as a serious art collector, as my discretionary funds don’t line up with my taste in art.Nevertheless, our Art Director, Naomi Baldwin made me deals I couldn’t refuse.Although, those deals were presented to the entire auction, it felt individualized.Naomi and her team, (Martin, Chantel and Bianca) are experts in learning the taste of each “regular” and presenting incredible opportunities to own those pieces.
Attendees to the seminars and many of the auctions receive packets of art that include a sheet of authenticity and information about each artist.If one attends all functions, he or she receives a huge packet of art.I was in art heaven.
Effy Jewelry Seminars & Raffles
Attracted by the opportunity to win a piece of jewelry is intoxicating.But winning an Effy piece...pure delight.That’s not to say that everyone wins or that the pieces are exceptionally perfect.Nevertheless, it’s great fun and I did win—twice.
As much fun as the raffles were, the seminars were even more so.As mentioned before, my budget is not one that allows such extravagances, but learning about gemstones and the methods jeweler use to increase value of each piece of jewelry was enlightening.If I was to purchase something outside my typical budget, I would want to know if it was worth the price.These seminars/classes helped.Of course, I did find out that I have great taste.Everything I loved were the priciest pieces.Figures.
Those of you who have read my previous posts about cruising know just how much I LOVE Zumba.Yep, love in all caps. And, this cruise didn’t disappoint.There wasn’t just one morning Zumba class.There was two—two chances to dance off Horizon Court Buffet excesses. These classes were held back-to-back and directed by excellent, professional level Zumba instructors.As someone who wiggles her behind to music every day, I found these classes first-rate.
I am top left in this Hula Class
Ever wonder what message hula dancers are attempting to convey?Those who participated in Rowena’s hula classes know exactly that now.She was more than just a hula dance teacher, though.She held extensive Hawaiian Cultural Awareness seminars and nightly entertainment.In fact, she and her husband, Brian, were all over the ship sharing aloha day and night.
Her classes were enjoyable and stimulating, as she taught us Hawaiian culture during these sessions as well.One of her early lessons was responding to the command, “Kaukaukau,” which means “make ready.”The appropriate response is “Ae”.
Like many others, I love Hawaiian music.So much so, that my favorite “Pandora” channel is Hawaiian Radio.Thus, it was natural that I would want to participate in the ship’s ukulele classes presented by Brian.It seems that most everyone had the same thought though, as these were extremely large classes.It’s advisable to arrive early to secure a ukulele.Still, even if you play “air ukulele” you can learn the cords.
As an example of how popular these classes are, many brought their own ukulele from home.Even so, I found myself without a ukulele often.Ultimately, I decided to give up on the classes and study via YouTube.Brian is an excellent teacher who taught me enough to feel comfortable doing so.
Near the end of the cruise, all the students from both the hula and ukulele classes participate in a performance on the big stage for the entire ship.I didn’t participate since I didn’t take all the classes.But, my dear friend, Elizabeth Leonard did.You can hear me cheering for her in the video.
Future Activities On My Checklist
Trivia.Most ships have some sort of Trivia games going on during the day and evening.On this particular voyage, there were multiple games each day.For example, there was a “Morning Trivia” which was generic—typical of most trivia games.In the afternoon, there was “Cruise Long Trivia”.These games changed each day.One day, the topic was “Movies & TV.Fun!There were several other games held as well.Each day, each game was a bit different.
Dance classes.Every time I plan a cruise, I promise myself to take dance classes.On this cruise, there were multiple classes, besides hula.For example, most mornings there were “Line Dance” classes.The classes held later in the day varied, like one day it was “Merengue” and another it was “Ballroom Blitz”.Unfortunately, with so many activities onboard, I couldn’t fit any of the classes in my schedule.The same is true for most of the Discovery seminars, although I did make it to a few.
Discover Seminars.Princess Cruise Lines has partnered with the Discovery Channel, which means guests are treated to multiple educational opportunities.One day, the morning seminar was “Encounters with Discovery at Sea: Flora & Fauna of Hawaii.”I actually had time to attend and enjoyed it immensely.
There were that many quality activities held each day, that my only regret is that I couldn’t be in more than two places at one time.
Top Three Things About Princess’ Balcony Staterooms
Caribe Balcony Stateroom Review
Imagine sitting on the balcony of a cruise ship to watch the warm waters of the Pacific roll by.Now, imagine those waters closer to the California coast.Yep.For most days, there was no sitting or doing anything else on the stateroom balcony of our most recent cruise to the Hawaiian Islands.This part of the Pacific can be choppy if not down right wild.Cold too.Very chilly.Nevertheless, as we rolled closer to the islands, the waters and the air warmed, allowing us to finally enjoy our upgraded room.Watching the mountainous, green shore of Kauai grow larger as we neared was priceless.
The balcony aside, these rooms are not large—roughly 274 sq. ft. including the balcony—but was ample enough for a fifteen-day cruise.Storage is limited.However, if one is organized, most every item finds a logical home.
There is, of course, a closet, albeit very small.So, take this into consideration before packing your entire wardrobe. My suggestion is to use your suitcases for clothing you won’t wear for a few days and hang the remainder.Use, the small drawers flanking the bed/beds for clothing that does not require hanging.I found these to be sufficiently large enough.The shelves in these drawers made for great computer/electronic storage.The drawers in the adjacent desk are perfect for medication, paperwork, phone chargers and other miscellaneous items.
One storage option that works very well is a long, narrow cabinet opposite the closet.Besides the convenient safe, it has ample room for makeup, shoes—that won’t fit in the closet—souvenirs and toiletries.Speaking of toiletries, there is a small shelving unit next to the mirror inside the bathroom.There’s plenty of space for most daily toiletry items.Some just may fit on a shelf underneath the sink as well.
Upon opening the door to the stateroom, you may be disappointed in the space.However, you will find most everything you need for the cruise right there in that small room.The balcony is large enough for two large patio chairs, foot rests and a table with room to spare.The sliding-glass door allows for enjoyment of ocean breezes and offers plenty of warm sunshine to fill the room.
Look around inside the room and you’ll find a mounted flat-screen satellite television above a chest topped with glasses ready to fill from your small refrigerator filled with libations you find on the ship.We were lucky enough to score a “Sip & Sail” promotion for this cruise.So, we stocked our fridge with small bottles of Korbel—great for sipping on our balcony.
Across from the hidden refrigerator is the desk.Hidden in plain sight is the hairdryer mounted on the wall next to the mirror above the desk, making this the perfect place to primp for the day.Shampoo, conditioner, soap and lotion is also complimentary.
Princess has been touting their “Princess Luxury Beds” as “The most comfortable sleep at sea.” And I must tell you, that is an accurate statement.Of course, the rough seas did assist in those sleep-filled nights.Combine the comfy bed with the rocking ship...dreamy.
Jet-leg confusion can cause travelers to do some pretty silly things, but over spending shouldn't be one of them.Careful planning and some insider tips can help you save, even when traveling to the city of lights--Paris,France.For my small business, I need to adhere to a strict budget and use the same philosophy when traveling.Follow me as I share some of my favorite money saving tips.
Rent an apartment
With a little due diligence, a couple can stay in Paris on the cheap and have a kitchen to boot.Of all the tourists we interviewed, HomeAwaywas the most popular sites for finding great rentals.For example, we found a cute, newly remodeled ground floor apartment in the quiet, but famous Montmartre neighborhood -- five minutes from the Moulin Rouge -- is € 500 per week plus a € 50 cleaning fee.
Shop for hotel deals
For our most recent visit, we chose a small hotel in the heart of the Saint-Germain neighborhood, the sixth arrondissement, because we wanted to be within walking distance of most of the sights.To save money, we researched hotels with the help and power of the Internet.There are a number of websites where fellow travelers share their stories, like TripAdvisor and Rick Steves' Graffiti Wall.In fact, our visits to the Graffiti Wall resulted in finding and joining a travel group that meets once a month.
While visiting ParisJune through August offers the very best weather, it is also the most expensive regarding flights and lodging.We have visited in May and September and received quite a discount.Those who are willing to pile on a heavy coat can save even more by traveling during the winter months.
Eat on the run
Street food in Paris is amazing!Street vendors sell a multitude of satisfying food choices, such as baguette sandwiches, paninis, crepes, and inexpensive beverages.Boulangeries, found everywhere, sell excellent sandwiches for a few euros.
Every morning I ate breakfast on the cheap with a croissant or pain de chocolate and a cup of cafe longue, which is a tall cup of coffee, for approximately three euro
Peruse the outdoor markets
Most outdoor markets in Paris don't just sell fresh fruits and veggies.Many also sell cheese and deli items.I pair these finds with a baguette and a bottle of wine -- both inexpensive in France -- and dinner is delicious and affordable.
Sit at an outdoor café and still save money
Sitting at an outdoor café is a real treat when in Paris.Besides people watching, it's just...relaxing, as Paris waiters do not rush diners.
If hankering for a meal, I choose the meal of the day.It's typically inexpensive and delicious.However, my favorite choice is a croque monsieur -- an open face ham and cheese sandwich -- and salad, which typically costs around € 8.If wine is your beverage of choice, save money by choosing a carafe or pitcher of the house wine.
Seek out free entertainment
Besides the first Sunday of the month, museums are also free numerous other times during the year.For example, cultural heritage is celebrated one weekend in September with most museums and government buildings open and free.Additionally, street entertainers can be found in many parts of the city, especially the Latin Quarter and around Notre Dame.
Travel by the metro
The Metro, the Paris subway system, is efficient and easy
Unexpected Upgrade at Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Hotel
For our most recent visit to the “Gathering Place”, better known as Oahu, we decided to split our ten-day stay between two excellent Hilton properties: Hilton Waikiki Beach Hotel (review) and HiltonHawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Hotel.During our stay at the Hilton Waikiki Beach Hotel, I thought it couldn’t get any better.We enjoyed our stay immensely.Nevertheless, Hilton surprised us once more.
We’re upgraded to where?
Yep, because we are Hilton Honors members, we were upgraded again to...wait for it…the Ali’i Tower!Breathe, breathe.Amazing upgrade.Here’s a bit of the background about this excellent upgrade.
Earlier this year, my husband noticed an unbelievable half-price deal on suites at the Hawaiian Village property.So, without hesitation, he grabbed five nights for a Jr. suite in the Rainbow Tower.We had never stayed in that tower and were looking forward to an excellent view in a lovely tower.When he checked in online the day before our stay, he noticed an upgrade was available if he wished to accept it.Easy decision. Hilton upgraded us from a Jr. suite to a full suite in the most exclusive tower on the property and on the same floor royalty, celebs and government officials stay.Even President Obama has stayed there.Wow!
Slideshow of our stay
Our Private Oasis
Due to the Elvis Presley’s love of staying in the Ocean Tower, it was once called the Elvis Tower and is now called Ali’i Tower.This is just one of the reasons it is so special, but there are many, many more.It has a private welcome desk, concierge and private facilities, including a private pool, bar and gym.It even has a library and free DVD rentals.I know.Who would want to watch a movie in a hotel room when the beach is just outside our door?Well, it did come in handy when my hubby fell ill and needed to stay in for two days.
The Ali’i Tower is located next door (ish) to the Tropics Bar & Grill where we had the most delicious burger to share.It is a bit pricy at $18, but is large enough to share and the Seasoned French Fries and Onion Brioche Bun really sell it.Even though it would be easy to purchase a meal, box it up and take it to our room, we chose to sit and enjoy watching the ocean from this lovely open-air restaurant.
May we just live here?
After checking in at our “private check-in desk”—which was special, by the way – we jumped into an opening elevator.As we exited the elevator, I noticed more housecleaning staff than I am used to seeing in a small area.It appears that a housekeeper is assigned to very few rooms as opposed to other hotels—or towers.Our housekeeper was a lovely, caring person.I enjoyed my many conversations with her.
As we approached our room, I was again surprised with a double door entry.Double doors?That’s a first for us and just the first surprise.Once those doors opened, I turned and asked my hubby, “Are we really supposed to be here?”Check out the video.
As the name “Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Hotel” suggests, this is a huge resort.I won’t list everything on the property, as this information is easily referenced on Hilton’s website.However, I will tell you that you shouldn’t need to leave the village unless you want to.It has 90 various shops including two ABC Stores and one Whaler’s General Store.Deciding to stay in one night, we purchased deli items, rum, pineapple and pineapple juice at one of the ABC Stores.Yum.Usually a wine drinker, I love a good rum and pineapple juice.
Besides shopping, there are 20 restaurants, bars, water features—including five pools—and plenty of activities.I signed up for several complimentary lessons, like hula and ukulele, but never had time to participate.
Between the five towers—the Ali’i, Tapa, Rainbow, Kalia and Diamond Head—each with its own individual charm and amenities, we found plenty to do and to explore.My favorite shops were the ABC stores and the Honolulu Cookie Company—lots of free samples.
A $30 per day resort fee is added to hotel charges.This fee pays for a number of amenities and is worth it.Please read all it covers.
What are your experiences?
Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Hotel
2005 Kalia Road Honolulu, Hawaii, 96815, USA Tel: 1-808-949-4321
It’s all About Ohana at the Polynesian Cultural Center
Realizing that I would lose an entire day of my trip to paradise has kept me from visiting the Polynesian Cultural Center for years.However, it got to the point that I had to ask myself, “Why?”.Why would I consider visiting a place so full of history and island culture a waste of my time when I highly value ohana (family/home)?Silly and wrong thinking.I am so glad I finally made the commitment of a single day, because I found the experience to be an enrichment of the soul and exciting to boot.It is definitely not a waste of an entire day.
Getting there isn’t easy
Unless staying on the north end of Oahu, getting to the cultural center takes time.It takes over an hour to reach the Polynesian Cultural Center from Waikiki.Much of this is on a busy highway that has more than a few potholes.
But then again, don’t most of our highways need repair?I’ll save that last comment for another article.
Arrive early, but not hungry
It’s best not to dawdle when you arrive.We made the mistake of stopping at the Pounder’s Restaurant for coconut crème pie (Yummy!).As amazing as this was, it cost us time in the park and you’ll need every second of your time to see every show.
The park is separated into different islands: Aotearoa (home of the Māori), Fiji, Hawai’i, Samoa, Tahiti, and Tonga.The peoples of each “island” present a traditional performance—usually a dance and lecture every 30 minutes or so.
Unfortunately, we missed the Islands of Hawai’ipresentation.As wonderful and enjoyable the remainder of the shows were, I can only imagine this one is as well.
Please watch these snippets of three shows I recorded to share with you.
Are those people dancing on those boats?
Of all the performances in the park, the Canoe Pageant is the one to see.Dancers from each island perform traditional dances atop a canoe, more of a raft, which is guided down the river that flows through the center of the park.The pageant is narrated so guest learn even more about each of the Polynesian culture.It was fascinating and something I will remember fondly.I mean really, what could be better than large rafts topped with energetic dancers?Well, perhaps it could be watching the unique play, Hā; The Breath of Life.
Hā; The Breath of Life
As wonderful as I imagined the play to be, I still wasn’t sold on sitting for 90 minutes at night after a long day of exploring.To be honest, I thought I would want fall asleep soon after my behind hit the bench.But, no.There was no possible way anyone could sleep though this lively performance.
Over 100 performers of each Polynesian island perform in this beautifully acted play.The story revolves around a couple who flee their island as a volcano erupts.Luckily, they arrive at an island just in time for the wife to give birth.Friendly villagers—played by Tongans—take them in and offer them a home.From this point, we watch the boy grow into a man, fall in love, fight off intruders and finally have a child of his own.Each scene is played by a different island people.I LOVED it!
The audience wasn’t allowed to record any of the Hā; The Breath of Lifeperformance.However, there are several YouTube videos available that share portions of this unique show.Have a peek:
Why the fluttering hands?
While I enjoyed exploring and learning about each culture, I had a nagging question while watching the energetic and prolific Maori dancers.During their dances, they flutter their hands quickly.I knew it meant something, but wasn’t sure what that “something” is.Luckily, we have Google and Bing to aid us in circumstances such as these.Evidently, the fluttering hands symbolize shimmering waters, heat waves or breezes depending on the dance.Makes sense!
Arrive early and skip dining before entering the park.
Take the “Island Canoe Ride” to the end of the park to begin your journey.
There is more to each island than the performances.Please check out their website for more information about what you will find.
Known primarily a business hotel, the Hilton Waikiki Beach Hotel is our new home-away-from-home when staying in Honolulu.It’s close proximity to the beach, zoo, shops and all the happenings makes this a great jumping off spot as well.
Our Comfy Room
The rooms are spacious and well-appointed with large flat-screen television, refrigerator, coffee maker and lanai.Since we are Hilton Honors members, we were automatically upgraded from a city view on the 5th floor to an ocean view on the 29th floor in addition to free WiFi.Hilton rocks!It was a lovely room.Check it out!
What you’ll find inside
The massive, lively lobby is adorned with numerous seating areas, welcome desk, bar/entertainment area, and hallways to the giftshop, Starbucks and M.A.C. 24/7.M.A.C. 24/7 is the place to be for most anything you’d want to eat or drink.Their happy hour is generous and the bartenders are always friendly.Interesting fact, this property has three bars with all three staggering their happy hours, which makes for less expensive imbibing.
It’s all free in the executive lounge
Downstairs is the executive lounge, where—due to our Hilton Honors membership—we received free breakfasts and nightly appetizers.The appetizers were more of a meal.
Coffee and specialty tea flowed throughout the day. I loved the unique herbal teas.
We met some great people there as well.
Staying fit in Waikiki
Life just seems better after a good workout.At this property, I had access to a full gym which help me burn off all the great free food.
It’s not just a business hotel to me!
One night we decided to belly up to the lobby bar.Serendipitously, there were two empty seats next to a pleasant looking couple.The lovely female half of the couple ushered us into those seats and our lives are richer for it.Soon, we found that this couple has been visiting this same hotel through three different owners for 30 years.Yep, that is 30 years!What makes this story even more interesting is that they stay—each year—for three months!Lew and Gena are now our best buds.We plan to reunite next year around the same time.
Another fascinating new bud we met is Aaron.As an artist—among other interesting things—he is nurturing one of his daughter’s artistic ventures.I have seen her work and am very impressed.
Even without our new besties, if possible, we would jump on the next available plane just to be THERE.The entire staff was exceptionally friendly and made a sincere effort to know us and to provide us with the very best experience.In fact, the manager of the gift shop enjoyed helping me choose an ornamental flower for my hair, that she gave it to me as a gift.She even showed me the traditional way to wear it.Now that is the Aloha Spirit!
What is Universal's King’s Cross Station & The Hogwarts Express
Channeling the excitement Harry must have had for his first ride on the Hogwarts Express – and finding platform 9 ¾ – I nearly ran through a wonderfully replicated King’s Cross Station to get to said train.Totally unnecessary, but I couldn’t help it.I am an old lady who still thinks she is a kid.
Let’s Make a Little Magic
Attention to detail is on overload at King’s Cross, right down to the perfume ad Harry and Dumbledore stood in front of near the beginning of the movie Half Blood Prince.Slow down and try to appreciate the setting.Gaze at the brick walls.Appreciate the ubiquitous musician at the front of the station—very typical at the actual King’s Cross in London.
Platform 9 ¾
Once up a flight of stairs, you’ll find an area that appears to be storage for luggage.Check out my video showing people pass through the wall between platform 9 and 10.Notice my hubby’s confusion about walking through a narrow walkway, which is what it is.From my angle, it appears that all those around him – and ultimately, he too – walk through a wall.Lovely sleight of hand.
Pass through the wall/hallway and onto platform 9 ¾ to find a perfect replicate of the Hogwarts Express.Once inside the train and into your compartment, settle in for a short journey into the magical world of Harry Potter.Notice the bench seats, upholstery and luggage racks.Of course, all is on a much smaller scale than the movies, but still... .
Once the train begins to move, it appears as if we are leaving London and traveling through the countryside due to a video playing on the “window”. Characters from the movies appear adding to the experience.
Beware the dementors at the door!Watch the door windows as well.I found myself whipping my head back and forth trying to catch each little gem.At one point, Harry stopped a dementor in the train hallway and was awarded with a free box of chocolate frogs which escaped, each jumping across our door’s window.
Essentially, the train is a vehicle to transport guests from Diagon Alley in the Universal Studios Florida Park to Hogsmeade in The Islands of Adventure Park.So, you’ll need a park-to-park pass.
Ride very early, during mealtimes or later in the evening to avoid crowds.
Take the return trip from Hogsmeade to Diagon alley.The story is completely different.In my opinion, the return trip story is even more exciting.
Priceless Entertainment Surprises At Universal Orlando
Where can one find performances by The Blues Brothers and Marilyn Monroe, not to mention singing frogs and break-dancers?As I have been to Universal Orlando, I have experienced some of the professional entertainment offer by the parks and was expecting some of the same.However, I was pleasantly surprised during my most recent visit.
Marilyn woos my hubby.
Since my daughter is a fan of Marilyn (pictures adorn the walls of her home), I took every advantage to get photos of this iconic figure.The actress playing Ms. Monroe is always in character and a hoot to meet.
Checking our Universal Studios Florida park map, I found times – and place – where Marilyn and her “Diamond Bellas” would be performing and tugged on my hubby to venture on into “New York”.There we found an interesting fellow dressed as a 1940’s movie producer frantically pacing the street.Since we were first “on the set”, he complimented me on my “natural” hairstyle, reassuring me that it would be perfect for the shot and told my husband that he was glad to see him.Should we be worried?Yep.
Soon, a vintage vehicle arrived carrying Marilyn and a bevy of beautiful women dressed in skimpy sailor uniforms.Before helping Marilyn out of her car, our producer usher my hubby into the director chair.Woops.I am the ham of the fam.He isn’t always so willing to be in the spot light.Watch on to see how well he did under pressure.
Schmooze all you want with Marilyn, butI have a future date with Elwood.
(Video by Elias Alberto Elvir Godoy)
Wish I had a video of my five seconds of fame, but alas...no.During a Blue Brother’s performance (awesome!) Jake promised a date with the pretty blond if Elwood sang Rawhide with him.Of course, I played along.As an unabashed ham, I couldn’t help myself.
Hogsmeade: Mega amounts of spirit in this Spirit Rally, Frog songs & more.
On our previous visit, we watched the Hogwarts inspired performances, which I enjoyed immensely.For this visit, I couldn’t wait to revisit the excitement and I wasn’t disappointed.
Diagon Alley: Tales of Beedle the Bard & Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees
Celestina and her Banshees wowed us again belting out tunes apropos for the setting, like “You Stole My Cauldron but You Can't Have My Heart," "A Cauldron Full of Hot Strong Love," and "You Charmed the Heart Right Out of Me.”Celestina chooses an unexpecting man from the crowd to join her in one of her songs.I had to laugh when my husband sank behind a vendor’s cart when she began looking around for her victim.
We missed Tales of Beedle and the Bard this trip, but here’s a video from last time.
Beat Builders & Flying Fish
What is it about men wearing a tool belt?Or is that just me?What makes these muscular males different than the average construction worker is what they do with those tools.The “Beat Builders” use typical building supplies to make incredible music.
Was that a flying fish?Yep.Acrobatic fetes await those who slow down to watch the show.Unfortunately, I didn’t get a video, but “TouringPlans” did.The song Fireball plays during the show, but appears to be muted in this video.
Music turns me into a dance machine; my body just starts moving.Still, watching Street Beats confirms that this dance crew has moves I never had and never will.The music is contagious and their acrobatic breakdancing is topnotch.During their performance, they choose victims...ah...volunteers from the crowd to participate in a group dance, which makes this show even more fun.Some had impressive moves.
Note: The map holds the key for the scheduling of most entertainment, but not all.Ask a vendor in Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade for a schedule of entertainers in that area.Amazingly, it also includes other areas.
Dining while visiting Universal Orlando could get expensive.However, there are inexpensive and yummy options.So, follow along for some great tips.
It’s always good to have a plan.
As is true with other parks, Universal Orlando offers a Dining Planthat provides a significant discount on meals, snacks and beverages.The price varies from $14 to $28.We are not huge eaters, so this program wouldn’t have benefitted us much.However, with hungry young children, you might want to consider it.
Speaking of children...
On the whole, restaurants catering to children/families tend to be the least expensive.Some of these establishments offer a variety of choices One of our choices this visit was “Fast Food Blvd” inside “Springfield: Home of the Simpsons”.Inside this food court, one can choose between several eateries based on the television series The Simpsons: Krusty Burger, The Frying Dutchman, Flaming Moe's, Cletus' Chicken Shack, Luigi's Pizza, and Lisa's Teahouse of Horror.So, one can find most anything, including the simple hotdog, which was our choice.What surprised us most, though, was the delicious curly fries—the best in the park.
Exciting Note:Birthday babies received a free cupcake at the register.Yum.
I’ll take the Danish pastry, please.
Besides delicious pastries, cheesecake, cakes and pies, the Beverly Hills Boulangerie offers well-priced sandwiches, soup and salads.It’s also a great place to sit outside to watch the parade pass by.
Wands, spell books and...great food?
Inside both Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade are two of the best casual sit-down restaurants in the parks.The Leaky Cauldron—inside Diagon Alley—and The Three Broomsticks—inside Hogsmeade—offer traditional British pub food for a decent price.Cost of the beverages are a tad high though.One exception is butterbeer—less than $5.
Step outside the parks and explore City Walk to find a great meal.
A winding river separates the two parks from colorful and boisterous City Walk, home of thirteen casual to formal dining choices.With so many choices, like the spanking brand new The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen(Wow!) and Emeril’s Orlando, how can one choose?The great thing is, that we are lucky to have small appetites.So, we can share one entrée here and one at another restaurant another night.
All restaurants and their respective ambiances are great choices, but the meal and atmosphere that resonated with me this trip was our meal at Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville.To be honest, it wasn’t anything especially brilliant or complicated.It was just perfect for the moment.
Deciding to sit outside on the “Porch of Indecision”, we were entertained by a talented guitarist and lulled into a calm state by the warm breezes.Our enthusiastic waiter, Kenny, briefly interrupted our sedate manner offering us a menu filled with diverse choices.Since, we were especially hungry that night, but still didn’t want two meals, I chose a Caesar salad and my husband a Black and Bleu burger.Seems rather simple, right?Well…not so much.My salad was huge, filled with Cajun chicken, house-made croutons and fried onions.Fried onions?!Awesomeness! The combination of bleu cheese and bacon on my hubby’s burger was over the top delicious.His fries were amazing as well.Both meals were reasonably priced—around $15.Wine was $8 for a generous pour.
Because we were celebrating my birthday, we also received a generous piece of key lime pie for free as well.Yum!
There were other dining options that could be even less expensive on the walk, like the Bread Box where you can make your own sandwiches on their amazing homemade breads.I highly recommend checking out the “Top of The Walk Food Court” in the City Walk.Stop in at Menchie’s for a yummy frozen yogurt.
Do you ever arrive at a vacation destination and feel as if you’ve been misdirected?This is somewhat what I felt at first sight of Sapphire Falls Resort.We are supposed to be in Florida.Right?Well, what I am witnessing appears to be a piece of the Caribbean dropped directly adjacent to a deep-blue river leading to Universal’s Parks.
Upon entering this Caribbean delight, I immediately felt tiny, as the lobby is impressively massive.Tall ceilings, overly large light fixtures and a giant stone turret wall finished off this exquisite room.The staff treated us like family, even to the point of the manager attending to us personally.I had to ask myself if he mistook us for celebs.Finding that our reserved room wasn’t quite ready, he upgraded us to a family suite, which meant that we now have two beautiful rooms instead of one.We treated the extra room as our “dining room”.Awesome!
Dining: Amatista Cookhouse
We tend to eat smaller portions and wanted something simple for our first night’s dinner, so we visited the Amatista Cookhouse for an early dinner.Typical Caribbean style options dotted the menu, like black beans, rice, fried plantains and jerked chicken.We chose to share the Amatista Caribbean burger.Yum!The burger was topped with roasted pork, which was melt in the mouth delicious.Caramelized onion and sweet plantain butter on the Cuban roll was the crowning glory.It came with a surplus of fries, making this a filling meal for two.At $17, we found this to be a great deal.(Menu)
Receiving a great package deal from Universal, we enjoyed a free buffet breakfast each morning—worth $45 each person.This isn’t the typical oatmeal, waffles, pancakes and cheap, uneatable pastries.Nope.This is over-the-top breakfast buffet options, including fine pastries (croissants are delish!), quiche, fresh fruit, various egg choices, yogurts, various meat choices, upscale pancakes, etc.
Dining: New Dutch Trading Co
Most nights, we wanted to enjoy our grand room (s) before returning to the parks.So, we chose to pick up our dinner at the New Dutch Trading Co, the “grab and go” dining option on the property.They have fresh packaged cold and hot sandwiches, hot meal choices, ice cream, pastries, coffees and various packaged food items.
Our favorite dinner choice was the “hot pot” options with rice.Everyday there is a different meat option that is cut into chunks, sliced or shredded, rice, beans and fried plantains.We chose the meat and rice, which is plenty for two ($8).The full meal with all the options is $12.
The staff at New Dutch Trading Co couldn’t be more pleasant.Each person took the time to get to know us and even gave me a special dessert for my birthday.
Lush greenery, massive lagoon-style pool and shimmering waterfalls surround a one-of-a-kind Caribbean inspired resort.Walking around the pool – a mixture of hardscape and sand – takes some time as this is one extra large body of water.At one end is a water fall/slide, which I ignored due to what I found setting next to it—a large stone turret labeled Drhum Club Kantine (menu).Not ready to eat yet, I ordered tropical drink, sat for a while and soaked it all in.Warmth...Excitement...Relaxation...Ahhhh.
Tip: Tropical/mixed drinks are a bit pricy.Purchase your drink in a souvenir glass for $18 (Yikes!) and your following drinks are $10 each.
The Water Taxi
Since a video speaks clearer than words at times, check out this one.
Early park admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which is one hour before the theme park opens, is included with this property.
Visiting Universal Orlando is like reliving a childhood only realized in a fantasy world.Since I am a vintage variety of child who thrives on fantasy, this is the place for me.What follows is my list of favorite “cookies” found around the two parks.
Hooray for Hollywood and ...
Turn to the right as you enter the park and you will find yourself in Hollywood—one of my favs and one of the best places to find iconic characters, like Marilyn Monroe and Lucille Ball. One can also find...wait for it... Scooby Doo and the Gang!The gang even drove the Mystery Machine.As a die-hard Scooby Doo fan, I was ecstatic.
Not so fast, Hollywood isn’t just about actors dressed up, it is also about setting.The attention to detail is evident at every turn of the head.This is true in every section of the park: Hollywood, Woody Woodpecker’s Kidzone, Springfield: Home of the Simpsons, World Expo, San Francisco, New York, Diagon Alley and Production Central.Check out these photos.
“There's only one place we're going to get all this. Diagon Alley."
The entire area is a huge chocolate chip cookie dipped in chocolate!It’s like walking through a Harry Potter movie.For the maximum Potter experience, go very early and then again at night.Nighttime lends an air of magic.
Is that a fire breathing dragon on that building?
Every 10 minutes (ish) a rather large Ukrainian Ironbelly dragon warms the crowds with a gigantic burst of flames.Impressive during the daytime, but even more so at night.
“Ain't no safer place. Not one. Except perhaps Hogwarts."
Very impressive!Attention to detail makes both Gringotts Wizarding Bank and Gringotts Money Exchange a must-see.I could describe in detail the beautiful marble and gold of the bank, but a video is even better.
At Gringotts Money Exchange, one can find bags of wizarding money and other trinkets for sale on display shelves; but the real draw is the grouchy interactive goblin bank teller.Ask a question, he will answer.For fun, exchange some of your muggle money for wizarding money to spend in Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade.
Curious, very curious
Since Ollivanders has been in the wandmaking business since 382 bc and Mr. Ollivander is considered one of the finest wandmakers in Europe, I decided to visit his shop...again.Those of you who have read about my last visit to Diagon Alley and Ollivanders know that I was chosen to participate in the “wand choosing”.Well, I must have perfected my “pick me face” because I was chosen again—even over all the children in the crowd.I should be embarrassed, but no.BEST DAY EVER!
Cookie alert! Ollivander and his shop is worth the price of admission.Slow down for a few minutes and take in the detail of his clothing, his demeanor, the wand boxes and the shelves on which they lie.When in his presence, one is inside a Harry Potter book/movie.
“You shouldn’t be hanging around in such a dodgy place”
Singing shrunken heads, dancing skeletons await those brave enough to venture into the dark and foreboding Knockturn Alley.All of that aside, the real cookie here is Borgin and Burkes.On every shelf, one will find an object directly out of the movie.Check out the “Hand of Glory” that grabs Harry in Chamber of Secrets and the “Vanishing Cabinet”.Listen carefully to hear the bird Malfoy placed inside the cabinet in the Half Blood Prince.
Shop Windows in Potter Lands
Potter Heads really need to visit both parks to receive the maximum Potter experience.After all, this is the only way one can ride the Hogwarts Express, which leaves from the King's Cross Station in Universal Studios Florida.More about this in“Special Cookies in the Islands of Adventure”
For now, let’s just focus on shop windows.Many of the shop windows in both Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade are filled with “magical objects” that move and make noise, such as the Monster Book of Monsters (Diagon Alley) and the crying mandrake plant (Hogsmeade).
Tip: With an interactive wand, one can use magic at specific spots in both parks.Look for the brass diamond in Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade.
Where is platform 9 ¾?
Saving the best for last is a tossup.As much as I LOVE the ride to and from Hogsmeade on the Hogwarts Express, watching people disappear through a brick was is quite a treat.
Everyone loves a good cookie and when on vacation, why not seek out the best.Here I share with you the very best cookies I found during my most recent visit to Universal Orlando’s Islands of Adventure.
Pity the villains who dare to enter the Marvel Super Hero Island
When I first entered Marvel Super Hero Island, I wasn’t a fan.Loud music and super hero posters lining the streets didn’t impress me.My view completely changed on this recent visit.Walking down the street in this area of the park is like being in a super hero comic book.Only here, all the super heroes and villains are alive.
Besides the Green Goblin sightings – which are always fun, as he pulls pranks on guests – the golden “cookie” here shows up at the top of the hour.Near the top of most hours (check the schedule) guests are alerted, via loud speaker, that Dr. Doom and the Green Goblin are causing havoc and the Super Heroes will be on the scene soon.Line up along the street to watch them arrive on motorbikes.Super Cool.Stick around to get your picture taken with your Super Hero of choice.
Beware the Gates of Kong! Better known as “Skull Island”
(Official Universal Orlando Announcement Video)
Even if you are not a ride person, peek through the fence of this new attraction to check out the intricate detail of Skull Island.It is amazingly similar to the movies.BTW I loved this ride!I rode it four times and would have ridden more if time allowed.It was amazing.
To my knowledge, this is not like any other ride in the park.Guests pile into a large jeep-like vehicle that feels as if it is driving.It is a “trackless” vehicle.I am not quite positive about the mechanics of the ride, but we do move—forward and side to side.It is a 3D experience without the motion sickness.It’s as if we are inside the most recent Kong movie.
Tip: Sit in the 10th row—first or last seat.Awesome!Also, do ride more than once, as there are five different drivers and experiences.
Strolling Through the Jurassic Era
I love some rides, but not those that could hurt me.An 85-foot drop?Well, that would leave a mark.Nevertheless, this area of the park is great for the sights alone.It is as if Jurassic Park actually exists.Check out the Jurassic Park Discovery Center.Here, one can name a newly hatched dino.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter -- Hogsmeade looks exactly like the books, right down to Honeydukes and The Three Broomsticks.What really stands out, though, is Hogwarts.It is amazing!Even if not interested in the ride, tour the castle slowly taking all of it in.The detail will excite all Potter Heads.
The Three Broomsticks
Get Lost in The Lost Continent
Shopping bazaars and exotic eateries await guest directly outside Hogsmeade in The Lost Continent.I found a beautiful pair of earrings and necklace at the “Treasures of Poseidon”.However, the “Mythos Restaurant” is the real find here.Carved images embedded into gigantic rock formations surrounded by waterfalls and pools of water hide one of the most unique restaurants I have ever seen.Stop in to tour the restaurant and grab a cool drink of flavored water which is always available on the reception desk.
Note: Free flavored water for guests.
Things, Cat in the Hat and “Oh! The Stories You’ll Hear”
Walking through Seuss Landing is like walking through pages of Dr. Seuss’s books.Turn around in one direction to find Cat in the Hat and the other to find, one of my favorites, “The High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride!”It’s great fun to ride over other guests and through buildings.However, the real cookie here is watching children enjoy listening to Dr. Seuss stories being read to them outside while they watch their reader engaged by one of the characters of the book.I find it enchanting.
After a long drive, a motel sign welcoming “Aliens” brings a smile to my road-weary face.Stopping for only one night, we found this Quality Innexactly that: quality focused.Why?Follow along.
One of the biggest benefits of this and many other Choice properties is that guests can find the properties easily.To search for the night’s bed after a day on the road is never fun.An additional benefit is that it is near the freeway, but also quiet.
The Lobby and Dining Room
A space ship could probably land in this lobby it is so large.It is an interesting motel, as it serves—buffet style—most of the breakfast in the lobby, but dining is in a spacious, comfy upstairs loft with large windows which allow guests to enjoy a view while munching on scramble eggs, sausage and waffles.There are many other food items available as well.Coffee and tea is available 24/7 in the lobby as well.
As a college town, it figures that the staff would consist mainly of young adults.We found them playful, energetic and personable.When I approached any of them with a few minor issues, they attended to them promptly.
Sure, this motel could use a facelift, however it was clean and comfortable.It was basic, as it had no refrigerator or microwave.The television was a flat screen and offered a wide variety of cable channels—great for unwinding after a long day.
My only complaint is that, even though this is a non-smoking property, I could smell cigarette smoke in the room.Staff took this complaint seriously, but I doubt they can prevent it entirely.With its close proximity to the Grand Canyon, it is a popular stop for international travelers who tend to smoke. (Quite a few of our citizens still do too)
The property was so quiet all night, we had no idea it was entirely full—mostly with these travelers.Two buses awaited dozens of guests the next morning.It was interesting to share breakfast with those who spoke several different languages.
Although this property encourages visits from neighboring planets, regrettably none have accepted their hospitality...yet.
Traveling for business can be a tiring, sometimes dreadful experience, especially when driving.This trip was no different.Once again, we drove thousands of miles from our hamlet in Davis, CA to the most northeastern corner of Arizona.The reason for this trip was to present a couple of workshops for the Navajo students of Dine′ College, which went very well.Our return trip (post) wasn’t quite so pleasant.That said, our choice of the Quality Innin Boulder City, NV was a good one.
Ah, finally.After many hours behind the wheel, we found this motel, tucked behind a gas station, as a shining beacon of hospitality.The setting was serene, even though near the highway.As our room was overlooking the grounds and pool, it felt secluded, especially when sitting out on the spacious balcony.
The room was clean and roomy; so roomy it felt like a suite.It was also well equipped.I love rooms with an extra—kitchen or bath type—counter with or without an extra sink and this room delivered.It also had a fridge, microwave and television.After so many hours on the road, eating in was a luxury.And, the large table and chairs made it very comfortable.
The Not So Great
When we first arrived, there was an air of disorganization in the office.A trainee—with her manager looking over her shoulder—informed us that she couldn’t find our reservation.Double tasking, the manager was also trying to find a suitable room for another guest who had made a reservation.Stepping up and smiling, I handed her our confirmation paper and made light about computer issues we all seem to have these days.Within a few frantic minutes—for the trainee—she found us and our assigned room.Calm wins again.
Unfortunately, the air conditioner was placed on the balcony.So, even though it would have made for a lovely setting and welcome respite, we couldn’t enjoy it for long. The exhaust from the unit was much too hot.
Additionally, the next morning—as many of the guests—we needed to leave around 6 am, which was an hour before breakfast was served.Who does that??They didn’t even have coffee ready.Not happy.
Will We Return?
On balance, it was a pleasant stay.If we had to be in the area, we would choose this motel again.However, I would rather have dental surgery than to make the drive through Nevada again.Highway 95 was a nightmare.
Traveling through Nevada stuck behind a long line of semis on the two-lane Highway 95 is not enjoyable, especially when one has food poisoning.But, that’s another story.Let’s just say, I was looking forward to a nice quiet motel room at the day.Did that happen?Ha!This trip through the hell of high desert Nevada, didn’t end well.As if traveling with food poisoning without the typical roadside restroom options was hellish enough, our choice of motels that evening was...well, it fit in with the theme of the day.
What is that smell?!
Stomach cramps, road weary and ready to shed my clothes to leap into bed, we finally arrive at our motel and are greeted with an overwhelming smell of a gigantic outhouse.Yep, our motel was directly next door to the city’s sewage plant.Great.Figuring that I might not have to deal with the odor when I closed the door of my room, we rushed into the office to get our keys.
Hey, aren’t these the inns of Q’s?
Quality Inn prides itself on what it calls its Q’s.
Evidently, the employees and manager of this Quality Inn have no idea what Q’s are.The previous night we faced friendly, but disorganized staff who lost and then found our reservations.Other than that, our stay was generally positive.At 4 pm this particular evening, we were faced with worse.
Our room keys, please.
This staff were unfriendly and uninterested.There were no clean rooms available, no fresh coffee, and the manager didn’t offer us bottles of water—a perk for Gold Members like us.When asked about the water, they informed us, “We don’t do that here.”Instead, we were instructed to wait in the lobby for 20 minutes until our room was available.Yea right.And, pigs fly.After 15 minutes, where we noticed little action, we decided our time would be better spent picking up take out.
Whew!Finally, we have a room.But, what is this?
At 5 pm our room was finally “clean”.Nevertheless, we found the refrigerator hot and full of water, hair on the bathroom floor—yuck—missing toiletries and a used bag in the ice bucket.Ugh.So, out we went again to find everything that was missing.Instead of simply gathering the items, the person in charge asked us to follow her while she gathered them for several motel rooms.Weird.They had two filthy rooms filled with supplies.Nasty.
What else is dirty or used??I thought and kept thinking all evening and into the night.I was afraid of the bed.Did they change the bedding?Carefully, I lifted the covers—then the sheets.Everything looked fine, but the unsettling notion made for uneven sleep.
Ready to jump ship.
Even though groggy from little sleep, we decided to leave early the next morning.We also decided to skip the free breakfast due to the unclean, nasty looking buffet area.Eww.While grabbing a hot tea to go, I noticed the incredulous expression on my husband’s face as he was talking to the receptionist.Shaking his head and heading out the door, I followed.As he opened my car door (yes, he is a gentleman), he just laughed and muttered, “Figures.They didn’t have our folio due to a lack of copier paper.”Our copy arrived via email, but still...
Will we ever try this motel again?Ridiculous question, but easy to answer.NO!How about giving Quality Inn another chance?Absolutely.For the most part, we have enjoyed Quality Inns.This particular property was an aberration, not the norm.
Breakfast and Food Poisoning Served at Burger King, Tonopah Nevada
Good and Bad Traveling Through Nevada
Photo doesn't show exactly how filthy this place is.
For the last four years, we have been traveling south from Davis through California and into the most northeastern portion of Arizona to provide workshops for the students of the Dine′ College.Every visit has been enjoyable.However, since we are traveling thousands of miles—and we are members of the well-seasoned club—we tired of driving the same highways.Driving through the Mohave, staying in Barstow and driving the arrow-straight Highway 40 was making me very cranky.And, no one wants to see me cranky.Thus, we decided to change it up by taking Highway 95 north through western Nevada and connecting with Highway 50 west for our return trip.
Our First Stop
After seven hours of driving through a colorful, mountainous northern Arizona, we settled into a roomy oasis in Boulder City, Nevada.(Review) With this, mostly, pleasant stay, I had high hopes for the remainder of our return trip to California.Unfortunately, this was not to be.Nevertheless, my impression of Boulder is positive.It is rocky, hot, but beautiful, especially when looking out over Lake Mead, which our motel did.
A Long Painful Trek
The next morning, we set out too early for our “free” breakfast—one of my major beefs with this Quality Inn.Evidently, management banks on travelers skipping out before 7 am when they slowly parcel out their packaged fare.“No worries,” I thought.I figured that we could grab some Starbucks coffee down the road and later stop in Tonapah for a late breakfast.Not typically a “fast food” person.I will stop at a McDonald’s for their Egg McMuffins sans the cheese.Yum.
Imagine my despair when we white-knuckled our way through Las Vegas commute traffic, to find ourselves on a two-lane, semi-filled desolate highway through more of the same type of desert we avoided in California, only to find that McDonalds moved and left we hungry travelers with the only viable option—a Burger King inside a truck stop.Yikes!
I should have known when I bit into a cold ham and egg croissant.Staved, I risked two more bites before tossing it while declaring that I may have to stay near a restroom for the remainder of our journey.Yep.So true, as I quickly became very ill.The only positive was that mine was a light case of food poisoning.Even so, I had stomach cramps for four days following.
Word of Advice
Please try to avoid driving the entire length of Highway 95 through Nevada.There were very few restaurants, very few gas stations, and only two (that I found) rest stops.If it is unavoidable, take your own food and beverages.Fill up before entering the long stretch between Las Vegas and Minden / Gardnerville.Finally, when faced with a cold sandwich that should be hot, do not eat it!
Nugget Market has been voted as one of the top 100 best places to work. I would not know it if I hadn’t read it. Nevertheless, what I do know is that everyone seems to enjoy the day, every day. And, they are eager to help their guests find exactly what we want.
I have a ritual. Actually, I have many. However, this particular ritual involves a weekly visit to Nugget. Every Sunday my husband and I will stop in for coffee and a pastry. It is typically very busy, even early in the morning. After all they make the best croissants this side of France.
No one seems to mind that I mustabsolutely mix my coffee at their self-serve coffee bar. I liken it to a well-tuned orchestra. When an orchestra is comprised of just the right instruments and players it can bring tears to the eyes—in a good way. Mine is always perfect. Of course, the pastry is suburb whether or not I choose the croissants. Nevertheless, I always have to take at least one chocolate croissant home to munch on the following week. They taste as if they were flown in that very morning from Paris. I thank the friendly and ever helpful bakery and beverage staff on each visit. They are the best.
Now that I have my coffee, and pastry is secured in my basket, it is time to search for the perfect cheese for tonight. Typically, the cheese specialist is slicing rounds of cheese into consumer sized packages. I won’t miss an opportunity for a sample and to learn more about each cheese. The staff trains constantly and works tirelessly to ensure that they are able to answer all questions. However, if I decided that I didn’t want a cheese plate for dinner, there are many options of freshly cooked items to choose from as well. The choices are endless and scrumptious. The butternut squash ravioli is my daughter’s favorite.
However, what about the wine for dinner? Nugget’s well-trained wine stewards can navigate and simplify what seems to be a daunting task of choosing just the right wine. After all, the wine department is vast. They make the visit even more rewarding with their knowledge and courteous assistance.
If I am lucky enough to have some free time during the week, I will spend it visiting early in the morning. On one visit, I sat with my coffee at one of their tables near the coffee kiosk. A man came through with a broom to clean and apologized for being in my way. Now, that is great manners. As I sipped, I noticed men in suits and retired ladies gabbing next to those who clearly define Davis—Birkenstocks, loose fitting jeans or sweats, and a thoughtful look on their faces all waiting to order their coffee. I just had to smile at the thought of belonging to such a diverse and yet stimulating blend of people.
Thank you to those who brighten our day. Thank you to everyone at Nugget.
I’ve always wanted to visit New Orleans.With its reputation for good food, good music and penchant for celebration, I couldn’t wait to sampling all of it.And, that’s just what I did recently.What follows is my review of the Market Café.
NOLA Street Music, Including the Market Café
At the end, very near, the famed French Market where one can find just about anything, the Market Café offers good food at reasonable prices.Ample outdoor seating allows for people watching and close proximity to the ever-present jazz band—great music.
There is also comfortable indoor seating surrounding a well-stocked bar.Street facing windows advertise various drinks of the day to passersby.I understand that the drinks are excellent, although I never indulged.
Be sure to take your time to explore this area.A statue of Joan of Arc rests directly outside the restaurant.Art galleries, statues and various works of art line the vehicle-free walkway behind the restaurant.
The Market Café serves traditional New Orleans style breakfast, lunch and dinner nearly every day.The aromas of Cajun seasonings wafted through the restaurant.All around me, I noted that their Gumbo, Po-Boy sandwiches and the “Taste of New Orleans” appeared to be the most popular meals.The Taste of New Orleans is a sampler of Gumbo, Crawfish Étouffée, Jambalaya, and Red Beans and Rice.Po-Boy sandwiches are typically packed with catfish or shrimp.Here, one can find the buns filled with just about anything, including alligator.
As a fan of sandwiches, I decided to try—twice—their Muffuletta.Yum.Baked slightly, this Italian style bread filled with thin slices of ham, salami, mortadella, Swiss and provolone cheeses, topped with a tangy chopped olive salad was a delight.These sandwiches are so large, that one-half was plenty for the two of us.The cost: $8.95.Perfect!
Service is fast, efficient and friendly.Servers are quick to give advice about specific dishes and to check on diner’s satisfaction.
Would I return?
Oh yes.In a heartbeat.I loved the location, food, music, ambiance and the people.When in NOLA, I will be there.